La Belle Quebec

LaBelleProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The choice this week is more about the liquor than it is the cocktail. My somewhat overfull shelves in the liquor cabinet include rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, American whiskey and some sweetened versions of a few of those. It was time to try Canadian and the vehicle was somewhat of an afterthought. As it turns out, at least in my opinion, that is a shame.

Canadian whisky or Canadian rye is not nearly as regulated as its counterpart to the south. In the U.S. rye (whiskey not whisky) must contain at least 51% rye grain in the mash with the remainder likely corn and barley. It is aged in charred oak barrels that have not previously been used. Canadian whisky is referred to as rye whisky more out of tradition than actual makeup. The mash mix may contain some rye but there are no restrictions on how much if any. Aging is accomplished in wood barrels, but once again the methods do not mandate the type of wood, charring or if they have been used previously. It follows a stereotype, but when it comes to Canadian whisky, those Canucks don’t let a bunch of rules bog them down.

The whisky I chose more resembled a scotch than the rye whiskey we have used in previous drinks. I bought Canadian Club small batch classic. Bottled at 80 proof, it does not identify the exact mix in the mash, and, with 12 years of aging in charred oak barrels, it is as smooth as a single malt to me. I tried a very small amount straight to compare it to the rye, and, though I am not one to taste all the subtleties, my first thought was that I need to offer it to friends who are scotch drinkers to see what their reaction will be.

This is a cocktail blog and I don’t want to forget the drink itself. La Belle Quebec is an obscure drink I found in an older Gary Regan book The Bartender’s Bible. The recipe is

1.5 ounce Canadian whisky

.5 ounce cherry brandy

.5 ounce brandy

.5 ounce lemon juice

half teaspoon fine sugar

Shaken with ice and strained into a coupe.

I used Cherry Heering instead of cherry brandy because I had it and would suggest that in doing so the sugar could be omitted to create a cocktail with a little less sweetness. The end result was a very nice drink, hardly deserving obscurity. It has a nice color, smooth taste and finish and just enough complexity to make it interesting.

photo 4-31Here’s David’s Review:

My wife and I have visited Quebec—we honeymooned there and made a return visit for our 25th wedding anniversary. She does much better with the French than I do, but it doesn’t matter much. Everyone seems equally friendly whether you say “Bonjour” or “Hello.” I’m a little surprised, in fact, that in our visits to Quebec City, no one has offered me one La Belle Quebec.

The flavors are certainly appropriate—Canadian Whisky, Brandy, and the one non-brown (but still dark) spirit I substituted for cherry brandy, Cherry Heering. Though the lemon juice lightens the combination a little, this cocktail is as potent and dense as it sounds. And, with sugar added, it’s quite sweet. About half-way through her glass—full or empty, you decide—my wife wondered if it would be a sin to fill the balance with seltzer. I joined her, and the drink seemed more refreshing, more suited to the heat that has finally descended on Chicago now that it’s late August and really ought to start cooling off.

Which is a natural segue to my review. I liked this drink. The warmth and depth and gravity of the cocktail would make it wonderful after dinner, but—if you need loosening up—maybe before dinner is good too. We have a deck of cards from the Chateau Frontenac that depicts the old hotel covered in snow, and I couldn’t help picturing us sitting in the hotel bar, happy we didn’t have to go out and happy for calm and friendly company. For me, it fits the same category as the great dark drinks—Sazerac, Manhattan, Vieux Carré, De La Louisianne, etc.—and we will never try enough of those as far as I’m concerned.

Is it the best summer drink? No. If you like the taste and want to have couple, the addition of seltzer isn’t a bad idea, particularly if you include lemon seltzer. Is it too sweet? Maybe, and I’ll certainly skip the sugar in the recipe when I make it again. Here’s “however”: I sometimes hear people say something has “Good bones” when they mean it has solid components, whatever objection you might have to their assembly or appearance. That.

On a related note, having never tried Canadian Whisky I was curious to try some on its own. A regular reader of this blog undoubtedly knows I favor the darker spirits (and the darker versions of the lighter spirits), and I’m grateful to Jonathan for introducing me to this one—it has the spiciness of rye and mellowness of bourbon and a clean, direct flavor all its own. Those Canadians are onto something.

And Cherry Heering, it’s delicious. Jonathan sent me an email earlier this week saying I should have Heering from an earlier recipe (I didn’t—I substituted something else). Then he added, “Unless you’ve been tippling like an old lady.” I don’t know. Maybe I will tipple that Heering away… or find another cocktail where it takes a central role.

David’s Take: Worth adding to the repertoire, and I’ll definitely return to it this winter.

Jonathan’s Take: I like the idea of less rules, and I like La Belle Quebec. A good combination.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, I’ve been looking for a definitive Chicago cocktail and have finally found one, The Cohasset Punch. I know it’s wrong that it should be named after a small town in Massachusetts, but (as always) there’s a story behind that. A popular drink from the turn of the 20th century until after World War II, it even appears in native son Saul Bellow’s debut novel, Dangling Man. The specific version I’m choosing is the update, The Cohasset Punch #2, which will require cinnamon simple syrup. I may also sneak in the original as well, which will require a canned peach… really.

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2 thoughts on “La Belle Quebec

    • I chose Bison Ridge 8 Year Reserve, which is produced by the Crosby Lake Spirit Company in Minnesota (but which must be distilled and aged in Canada, since it can’t have the name Canadian Whisky unless it is… the Canadians do have some rules apparently). The review by Chip Dykstra on a useful site called The Rum Howler Blog gave it an 83, meaning “We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails).” It also contained this piece of prose, which puts me and my brother to shame:

      The entry into the mouth reveals more flavour than the nose was implying. Things begin with some sweet butterscotch giving this Canadian Whisky more of a candied flair than others I am familiar with. Alongside that sweetness is the taste of corn whisky and some sour fruit (apricots in particular) which seem to carry elements of that damp earthy cellar along with it. This isn’t a clean crisp Canadian Rye Whisky, rather it is more of a hybrid with corn flavours and earthiness sharing the stage with the rye. There are rye spices fighting through, but these spices seem almost blunted by that damp corn flavours. As I sip, the spiciness of the whisky seems to increase with black pepper and a touch of cloves and cinnamon sharing their heat. The rye flavour becomes moderately bitter, which serves to pucker the mouth, causing me to reflect that this whisky has excellent mixing potential.

      It’s the last bit that persuaded me to choose it, as I wanted the best whisky (in the middle price range) that would mix well.

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