Local Micro-Distilleries

img_0292Proposed By: Jonathan

Pursued By: David

Bigger is better, right? In the world of spirits one could think that must be the case. Name a well-known liquor or liqueur and it is probably owned by one of the ten largest conglomerates of all things alcoholic. The biggest of the big is Diageo. Their collection includes scotches like Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff in the vodka category and Baileys for a smooth liqueur touch. Throw in Guinness and a very long list of others and they are a one stop company.

There are plenty of others like them. Pernod Ricard is number two, Beam Suntory three and the most well-known name in rum, Bacardi, four. Bacardi doesn’t just limit themselves to rum though. Their varied stable includes Grey Goose, Dewars, Bombay and even the liqueur with one of the best marketing stories  – St. Germain.

The point is not that bigger is worse. These are well established brands that are using the recipes that made them popular, and they have to stick to industry requirements. Scotch, bourbon, and tequila as categories all include deep ownership from these large companies, but they still have to meet the laws that define that spirit.

The idea with the current proposal was to try something local in a classic or inventive cocktail. David was to use spirits found in and around Chicago and I have used some found in the Charlotte region.

It is actually an easy challenge that is getting easier. Two years ago North Carolina had around 30 micro distilleries. Today, the trail includes over 40 stops. Those spirits are heavy on moonshine but include a number of other liquors. The moonshine is understandable to anyone who has ever heard the history of stock car racing in the Carolinas. Early racers honed their craft of making race cars from publicly available vehicles (stock) in order to out run authorities when hauling illegal hooch. Of course, moonshine is really just raw unaged liquor and if you are going to start a distillery that is a good way to get started. The growing maturity of the industry is beginning to show with those white liquors being flavored (gin), aged (all sorts of whiskeys), and crafted (aged gin, brandy, sweet potato vodka and the like).

I made two cocktails but only tasted one of them. The first was a classic of sorts using single malt whiskey called The Modern Cocktail:

1.5 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon bar sugar
1.5 ounce Rua (Great Wagon Distilling) single malt
1.5 ounce Sloe Gin
Dash Absinthe
Dash orange bitters

Mix lemon juice and sugar in shaker, add ice and all other ingredients, shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with cherry.

The second was a suggestion included on the web site of the distillery called the Maple Cooler. Oddly, Muddy River Distillery is one of the few I found that offered unique ideas for their spirits.

3 dashes bitters
1.5 ounce Queen Charlotte’s Carolina Rum
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.5 ounce maple syrup
1 ounce club soda

Mix everything but soda in a shaker with ice, shake, strain into an old fashioned glass with ice and top with soda. Garnish with orange peel.

The Scotch drinkers that tried the Modern seemed to like it. Maybe even enough to have another before going back to Scotch on the rocks. I forgot to taste it myself but I did try the Maple Cooler. It was a nice crossover drink that people who like a little sweet, interestingly maple syrup sweet in this case, and those that like a non-sweet drink cocktail could agree on. It is a very nice use of the more complex spirit that Muddy River offers.

A few more things: I wanted to use Southern Artisan Spirits Cardinal Barrel Rested Gin in a drink. I did that back when we made gin and tonic variations, however, and decided not to repeat in a part as punishment  for them for not keeping their web site up to date. Al Gore invented the web to advertise craft spirits didn’t he? Carolina Distillery makes an apple brandy perfect for the Fall season. At our last tailgate a number of guests enjoyed a drink that was equal parts of that brandy, Barritt’s ginger beer and fresh apple cider. Made a bunch but never tasted those either.

David’s Entry:

img_1777Some believe cocktails are a waste of good spirits. If the bourbon, scotch, gin, or even vodka is good enough, they say, why adulterate it? That perspective certainly seems crucial to micro-distilleries hoping to attract connoisseurs willing to pay for the extra costs of small-scale production. Like many boutique-styled markets catering to those in the know, the process sometimes matters as much as the product.

Like Charlotte, Chicago seems to have a new micro-distillery popping up each week. For this post, however, I chose Koval, one of the first and the first distillery founded in Chicago since the mid-nineteenth century… if you don’t count prohibition bootleggers. Their website describes a “grain-to bottle mentality” that includes locally-sourced organic ingredients, milling and mashing on-site, and signature packaging and bottling. You’re as likely to encounter Koval at a Lincoln Park farmers’ market as at your neighborhood liquor store. They mean to establish themselves as a Chicago thing, and their marketing, though quiet, has been quite effective. Their product is also much respected. Since its founding eight years ago, Koval has won many gold, silver, and bronze medals at international whisky competitions.

The website points out that, in many Eastern European languages, “Koval” means “blacksmith,” but they prefer the Yiddish word for “black sheep, or someone who forges ahead or does something new or out of the ordinary.” I’ve tried a number of Koval products (they also make imaginative liqueurs), but for this post I’ll talk about their Rye Whiskey. Their rye is unusual because it’s made from 100% rye, but that’s not why I chose it. Rye is a spirit I may possibly maybe might know somewhat well enough to judge. Truth is, all those unadulterators have me at a distinct disadvantage—my palate has never been so advanced that I can speak confidently about what anything tastes like.

And I always sound ridiculous when I pretend I understand how to describe spirits. But here goes: people who know rye might expect spiciness and little of the mellow or corn-y warmth of bourbon, and this rye doesn’t have that sort of body either. But Koval’s approach isn’t to make a spicy rye. Theirs is clean and crisp—more white than brown sugar—and has a bright, light, and unusual quality. If you’re thinking about rye bread when you have a sip, you’re going to be surprised… this isn’t that.

Not that this isn’t good for sipping. Wine Enthusiast gives it a 91 and says, “This rye has aromas of vanilla and coconut. A faint sweetness shows on the palate, with initial notes of coconut and almond, while the finish is gently spiced and drying.”

And to that, I say, “Yeah, what they said.”

As this proposal asked, I also tried this rye in a classic cocktail, the De La Louisiane, which you loyal readers may remember is equal parts rye, red vermouth, and maraschino liqueur (with Peychaud Bitters in an absinthe-washed coupe). I figured that would give me the plainest picture of how Koval might stand up to other ingredients, and I was right. To be honest, however, the Koval nearly disappeared, which made me wonder whether it’s too refined for mixing.

Or maybe it’s just too refined for me. The expense of most micro-distillery offerings means they aren’t likely to supply my usual bourbon, rye, scotch, gin, or vodka. It’d be nice if local micro-distilleries could compete with multi-nationals on price, but alas and of course not. They’re a nice treat, yet remind me that, when it comes to boutique spirits, I’m just not worthy.

Jonathan’s take: I understand global companies but it sure is nice to support creative people making local product.

David’s Take: Like Jonathan, I support local commerce and spirituous ambition… though Old Overholt is probably too good for me.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

So, it’s that time of year again, and I googled “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails.” Disappointingly, many of the old stand-bys turned up (Mulled Wine, Eggnog, Hot Buttered Rum) as did many wretchedly sweet drinks (Peppermint “Martinis” and Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate). Finally, I discovered something that might be warm enough and light enough to enhance rather than drown the good cheer, Spiked Pear Cider.

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Equal Parts Cocktail

ughProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Mixologist author Kara Newman describes equal parts cocktails as, “Easy to remember but challenging to develop.” Well, I guess that depends on your standards, on both counts. If you’re just looking to balance sweet, sour, bitter, and spirit, a host of combinations will develop in interesting ways. However, if you’ve had a few of these cocktails, remembering might be harder than you imagine.

Newman’s book, Shake. Stir. Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts, will come out in October. The book, she says, encourages versatility. She urges cocktailians not only to create new drinks but also to re-envision and re-proportion some favorites.

What appealed to me was simplicity. For once, I might make something I can remember when someone says, “How do you make that?

I’ve been experimenting with the equal parts cocktail for the last month or so—and sorry readers, our blog-silence is my fault, not Jonathan’s. I’ve reached important conclusions:

  • plan before you act—failing means failing entirely
  • don’t expect a single ingredient to establish itself as the star—maybe that will happen, but probably not
  • use ingredients you like by themselves
  • add some non-alcoholic elements; otherwise, the drink or it will be lethal

I made a number of these cocktails, and most I invented. I’ll offer two for your consideration—one sweet and one sour

Sam I Om (a Mimosa Variation)

one ounce each…

Gin

St Germaine

Lillet Rose

Orange Juice

Tonic

Shake the first four ingredients, add to glass and top with tonic

Whatever

one ounce each…

Lime Juice

Mezcal

Benedictine

Triple Sec

“Take a ratio that already works,” Newman suggests, “and just swap out elements one at a time until you end up with a drink you enjoy.” And maybe that’s all the advice you need to begin experimenting.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0218-2The first thought when I read David’s proposal was that I should make a sweet and a non-sweet drink. The second thought was that this idea would also allow me to re-visit the concept of layered drinks and the fascinating, to me, use of specific gravity to figure out the order of the layers. Neither thought was realized with great success.

There were all sorts of sweet and semi-sweet drinks that came to mind. I knew that I did not want to proportion a group of different alcohols which meant that I needed fruit drinks, milk products, syrups and the like to mix as a non-alcoholic portion. All of those make the drink sweet. I just could not come up with the equivalent in a savory or bitter drink although I hope on reading David’s intro that he was able to do so. The ultimate choice in this category was my version of the key lime cocktail:

1 ounce vanilla vodka
1 ounce tequila
1 ounce half and half
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce lime syrup (maybe it was cheating but I mixed key lime juice and simple syrup 50/50)

Shake everything together with ice and strain into a glass rimmed with crushed ginger snaps and garnish with a lime.

The result was an all too white, fairly sweet drink that fell well into the tiki category. Good but one was plenty.

One of the main purposes of the layered drink, besides testing specific gravity, was to use a liqueur from South Africa that seems to be gaining the popularity it deserves. Amarula is sweet cream liqueur from South Africa made from fruit derived from the marula tree. That tree is also known as the elephant tree due to the pachyderms fondness for it. Interestingly, elephants eat the fruit, bark and branches of the tree so they can be hazardous to its health except in the spread of fertilized seeds in their dung.

I made two layered drinks with amarula the first of which is called the Monk’s hood. That one, with specific gravity in parentheses is Kahlua (1.14), Frangelico (1.08) and amarula (1.05). The second one substituted white crème de cacao (1.14) for the Kahlua. The gravities are so close that separation was going to be difficult so I used chilled shot glasses, poured each liqueur over a bar spoon to introduce them delicately and chilled the drink to let them separate further. None of that worked very well but the drinks were great. As great as doing shots for a not too young person can be that is.

Jonathan’s take: I am sure that sometime this week I will wake in the middle of the night and realize a proportional drink with rye whiskey that I could have made. Then I will go back to sleep.

David’s take: Reviewing a whole class of cocktails? Clearly more empirical evidence is needed.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Vodka is not my favorite. It must not be David’s either since it is the major spirit that we use the least. The time has come, however, to try a cocktail with vodka at its core. There are plenty of classics that we could, perhaps should, try. There are also variations of those – such as the madras version of the screwdriver. It’s the beginning of blueberry season though so I am proposing the gravely named Razzle Dazzle cocktail.”

The Blinker

Proposed By: DavidBlinkerDBM

Reviewed By: Jonathan

It’s “Spring” break here in Chicago, but the quotation marks refuse to come off—only a few hours last week crested 60 degrees, and, though some trees are thinking about budding, most of the landscape remains gray. Yet, when I get back to work, I’ll no doubt encounter the tanned faces of all those people who escaped the city for Florida or other warm climes.

At least we have grapefruit from those places.

This week’s cocktail, the Blinker, features citrus in a wishful way. On some sites, it’s described as a “winter citrus cocktail,” and that label fits the way Chicagoans consume grapefruits this time of year. Though Americans have become accustomed to getting any fruit we want any time of year, grapefruit remain a popular winter treat here. Organizations still sell boxes or bags of grapefruit to raise money. People occasionally give prodigious amounts of citrus as thank you gifts to distribute among officemates.

The Blinker dates back to times when a winter grapefruit was probably more exotic. Though the exact origins of the drink recede into the fog of history, the recipe emerges in Patrick Gavin Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual, published in 1934, and Ted Haigh (or Dr. Cocktail) renovated it for his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails in 2004. The original recipe called for grenadine, but his version uses raspberry syrup or raspberry preserves. Here’s the iteration that appears in my source, The PDT Cocktail Book:

2 oz. Rye Whiskey

1 oz. Grapefruit Juice

.25 oz. Simple Syrup

1 barspoon Raspberry Preserves

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

What makes the Blinker a winter cocktail is the rye, which, besides lending a spicy backdrop to the citrus, makes the drink more robust than gin would. However, you could try this cocktail—as my wife and I did—with gin as well. The result is more botanical than robust (and probably has a different name I didn’t discover) but the gin version highlights the grapefruit nicely. The raspberry certainly adds to both rye and gin, but using gin makes grapefruit the star.

The recipe I used didn’t call for a garnish, but what fun is that? I added a twist of grapefruit peel I’d rubbed on the edge of the coupe. One recipe online said not to use ruby red grapefruits, but we did. The color was gorgeous. Besides, Jonathan and I used to eat a lot of Texas ruby reds. Our older brother achieved almost factory efficiency cutting and dispatching them. The smell of a grapefruit peel still provokes powerful nostalgia for me and makes me long for short-sleeve shirts… or at least no coat heavier than a windbreaker.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

blinker.jbmClassics have usually stuck around for good reasons in particular because they taste good. But what about a classic that disappears, gets dusted off and then comes back with a slightly different identity?

David sent me a link for the Blinker which like most references credit Ted Haigh with its resurgence. I have Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails so I turned to that as a primary source. The part that intrigued me was that it was originally made with grenadine, one of my favorites, yet Haigh changed it up to add raspberry syrup. It is also interesting that the current recipes for this cocktail all use the raspberry but with little consistency in the type specified. Oh the quandary of mixology – what kind of raspberry syrup should I use or dare I break ranks and make it with grenadine?

Well, who am I to question Ted Haigh? I went with raspberry syrup. I made my own simple syrup with fresh raspberries. Once that had simmered a little to thicken, I let it cool, strained it and added a little vanilla vodka (there has been little use for that in my liquor cabinet) to stabilize it.

The final proportions, which I am curious to compare to David’s, were two ounces rye, one ounce fresh grapefruit, and two teaspoons raspberry syrup. The classic did not fail. Rye stands out but the full ounce of grapefruit provided a counterbalance. The raspberry was a little lost except for color and sweetness. I think a thicker and sweeter syrup might have worked better and given the drink more body. This seems to be a drink that is meant to be about the rye, though, and I am good with that.

Jonathan’s take: Still wonder what the grenadine did to get jettisoned.

David’s take: I like rye. I like grapefruit. Together? The jury is still out.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

There are so many quality tequilas and mezcals available, which we have written about before, and I keep trying to find cocktails that highlight them. Searching for that brings up a drink that seems to be slowly pushing the Margarita back – the Paloma. My guess is that the resurgent cocktail movement has deemed the Margarita pedestrian while the Paloma is a less known, just as malleable for crafting new versions and well suited to warm weather refreshment. Or maybe I hope all of those things.

Top 100 Cocktails

drink.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Proposed By: David

The proposal that each of us try a top 100 cocktail should have included a link to a definitive list. The problem, of course, is that there is no definitive list. Sure there are plenty of opinions, lists by drink category and even more scientific lists that purport to determine popularity by internet searches but all of them have differences based on their perspective.

David had sent me a list many months ago from a restaurateur in Houston. Bobby Heugel’s top 100 is from his restaurant Anvil Bar & Refuge. It has gone through the occasional revision but has remained mostly consistent in representing the best from various categories of drinks. Since I was going to be traveling, including in Houston, that seemed like a good list to use. It also seemed serendipitous and my plan was to go to Anvil to try the top 100 cocktail there. Only problem was that I read somewhere that Anvil is not open on Sundays (the day I would have a chance to go) so the best I could do was go by on the way to a couple of places near there on Westheimer Road.

We’ve written that David and I spent our formative years in Texas and that resulted in my being a lifelong Astros fan. My two sons and I were in Houston to see a couple of games, and my nephew picked us up on Sunday night to have dinner with him and my niece. We ended up in on Westheimer at a couple of wonderful places for a beer and then dinner and Anvil was in between. Anvil was open. Sometimes serendipity is a booger, but I sure am glad we got to spend some time with my niece and nephew.

It all worked out the next night though when my oldest son and I found a classic cocktail spot in San Antonio. The Last Word is not too far in distance from the Alamo but its location below street level is a long way from the standard tourist spots downtown. They have their own short list of classic cocktails, including some on tap and some of their own creations. After a long day of walking and a great meal, I chose the classic Boulevardier as both a digestif and a way to unwind and relax. Their version is served on the rocks (nice medium square ones) rather than strained into a coupe. Something worth trying for the Negroni in my opinion.

The Boulevardier is the older cousin of the Negroni. The latter may be the more famous with its mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but the former predates it based on published recipes. It substitutes whiskey, either bourbon or rye, for the gin and depending on taste includes more of that base rye or bourbon.

The drink dates back to the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris that is credited for the creation of a number of classics. Harry McElhone of that bar is sometimes given credit though it seems more likely that Edward Gwynne was the one who came up with it or inspired the drink. Gwynne had moved to Paris around prohibition and had started a magazine called The Boulevardier that was intended to mimic The New Yorker. The term “boulevardier” is synonymous with flaneur and indicates, on very simplistic terms, a stroller, lounger or man about town. That seems very apt for a sophisticated drink that combines the depth of whisky, the bitter of Campari and the smoothing properties of a quality sweet vermouth.

David’s Drink:

Bramble2One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about this blog is, “How long have you been doing it?” Recently—now that we’ve written about over 100 drinks—another question follows, “Are there any drinks left?”

Well, obviously. I’m not sure how many cocktails exist. That may be a Neoplatonic question, after all, more a matter of asking “What IS a cocktail and is it a material thing or an ideal that exists apart from the physical universe?” I’m sure, however, of more than 100. In fact, as Jonathan said, there seem to be more than 100 Classic cocktail lists for the top 100 cocktails. Using the list above, we’ve tried 27 (I counted) and that leaves 63 (times the number of other lists).

In choosing which of the remaining classics, I let my liquor cabinet do the talking. I looked for what was possible given my supplies, and I discovered a recipe, The Bramble, that asked for Crème de Mure (a blackberry liqueur), half a bottle of which I just so happen to possess, thanks to the generosity of a friend… and cocktail abettor.

There are many Bramble recipes online, but here’s a link to the one I used.

Like many of the classics, the Bramble is a simple concoction, relying on gin, simple syrup, lemon, and the Crème de Mure, but—also characteristically classic—it requires a certain sophistication in its use of these ingredients. If it’s to work really well, you need two types of ice, cubes to cool the cocktail (minus the liqueur) in a shaker and crushed ice for the glass. You also have to be pretty good at pouring patiently, as drizzling the blackberry over the gin—and lemon and simple syrup—soaked ice creates a cascading effect as the heavier liqueur drips through.

Alas, as you might see in the photo I’m not savvy enough to capture that moment in my photo. Nonetheless, take my word for it, for a second or so the drink was beautiful.

The non-egg-headed explanation for the proliferation of cocktails, of course, is that so many variables (and variables of variables) make a drink what it is. We’ve tasted a number of fruit based drinks recently, for instance, but what makes a Bramble different is the refinement of the liqueur. It isn’t fresh blackberry or blackberry syrup but closer to a brandy, so it gives this the mixture depth and gravity. In fact, the simple syrup is optional, as far as I’m concerned, because a Bramble is sweet enough without it, and the lemon doesn’t overwhelm the Crème de Mure, which has sufficient density to even things out.

As Jonathan explained, one reason for this week’s post is that he was in Houston and wanted a drink he might order out. I’m not sure many bars have Crème de Mure on hand, but, if they do, it’d be worth asking for a Bramble. You’ll certainly look like you know what you’re doing, and you’re likely to enjoy it too.

Jonathan’s take: It could just be the drink, or the good company with whom I enjoyed it, but I am ready to give Campari a try again after the delicious Boulevardier.

David’s Take: The Bramble is a genteel drink, and, as the Crème de Mure ran through the ice, I felt just a little savvy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My break from teaching is waning. As I approach returning to class, I’m up for a final celebration of one of my favorite fruits of summer, the fig. The recipe I’ve chosen seems the ideal transition to the fall ahead.  My proposal is a Roasted Fig Cocktail using the fruit cooked in balsamic vinegar, then puréed, then combined with bourbon, lemon juice, and a little maple syrup. I hope the prep won’t be too onerous… or at least worth it.

 

Drinks With Amer Marshallon

AmerProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

A number of factors make this week’s post unusual. First, though I proposed the drink, it builds on a version of a spirit no longer available in the U.S.—Amer Picon—that David concocted from an internet recipe over the span of a month or so.

Second, the two of us are together… like, in one place… and at the same time… actual, not virtual.

We’re visiting our sister and mother in San Antonio, and, in the spirit of this too uncommon event, we thought it would be fun to construct this week’s post as a dialogue between our blog’s two cocktailian brothers.

Here goes:

JM: So, David, what is Amer Picon exactly?

DM: It’s an amaro. The word means “bitter” in Italian, but Amer Picon is a French variety no longer available in the states. A guy named Gaetin Picon developed it in the 1830s as an aperitif meant to aid digestion. The recipe changed in the 1970s—they altered the ingredients and lowered the proof a lot—so the current commercial version in Europe is very different from the original, Still, a lot of classic recipes call for it. You won’t find it at any liquor store, and, on the web, you’re more likely to encounter a discussion of what might substitute for it than a way to obtain it. That’s what I did. After a friend made me his version of Amer Picon, I returned the favor by making one of my own.

JM: How did you make it?

DM: I sent away from some dried orange peels—two ounces from bitter oranges and two from sweet orange—then put them in a big glass jug with some high proof vodka. They stayed together for a month. The recipe actually asked me to leave the jug two months, but I compensated by shaking the mixture up every time I passed by it. I think I was driving everyone mad with all the shaking. Then I added Amaro Ramazzotti, another amaro with gentian root and quinine and a little sweetness, some water to reduce the proof, and about half a bottle of orange bitters. I was supposed to use blood orange bitters, but I couldn’t find those. Instead I chose orange bitters aged in Old Tom Gin barrels.

JM: How do you know if it tastes anything like the original Amer Picon?

DM: I don’t, obviously. The internet recipe is a guess, and, changing the bitters and choosing the orange peels I did, I decided to call it Amer Marshallon. But I thought you might approve of the name.

So, anyway, it’s your turn. Why did you choose the Amer Picon cocktails you did?

seven drinks JMJM: Since Amer Picon (or Amer Marshallon) isn’t readily available, there are very few recipes that call for it. The classic cocktail is Amer Picon punch, which is the national drink of Basque, and we have Basque origins. Since we’re visiting our mother though, and she is the mother-in-the-law of our three spouses, I chose the Mother-in-Law cocktails. I also chose the Brooklyn cocktail because we were serving a lot of people and did a Bushwick version of the Brooklyn in honor of David’s son, who lives in that section of Brooklyn.

DM: And the recipes?

JM: The Mother-in-Law is the most complicated… and this version makes three drinks.

1 tsp. Peychaud bitters (but we couldn’t find any and chose Orange instead)

1 tsp. Angostura bitter

1 tsp. Amer Picon

½ oz. orange curacao

½ oz. simple syrup

½ oz. maraschino liqueur

9 oz. bourbon

DM: So what’d you think?

JM: I only tasted it, but the mild sweetness was more to my preference.

DM: For me, it was also the sweetest, and maybe the most subtle. There really isn’t a huge influence from any of the secondary ingredients, though. As it’s nearly all alcohol and the others complained it was too strong.

JM: The other drinks were a Brooklyn and a variation of the Brooklyn called the Bushwick… these both make one drink.

Brooklyn:

2 oz. rye

¾ dry vermouth

2 tsp. Amer Picon

2 tsp. maraschino liqueur

Bushwick:

2 oz. rye

¼ oz. Amer Picon

¼ oz. maraschino

DM: What was the difference, do you think?

JM: I only tasted the others, so it’s hard for me to say, but the dry vermouth made the Brooklyn less sweet, and it seemed even more potent.

DM: I thought so too, though I preferred it to Bushwick. I drank half of mine then switched with someone to try the Bushwick.

ad 1JM: I have a three-drink rule and succumbed to trying some Texas beers before we started.

DM: Me too, and maybe I should have had some rules, but… well… I didn’t. I had plenty of everything.

JM: So, what was the Bushwick like to you?

DM: It seems like we’ve used sweet vermouth a lot. Unless you choose a bitter form of it, sweet vermouth adds an almost punch taste.

JM: Punch taste?

DM: You know, like Tahitian Treat, or Hawaiian Punch.

JM: Ah, the drinks of our youth.

DM: Overall, I’d say I need to find some new uses for the Amer Marshallon. Your wife told me she doesn’t like these all-alchol drinks, and I’m beginning to understand her perspective. I may find some new ways to couple Amer with fruit… to balance its bitterness and echo its sweet elements.

JM: Or maybe just a splash with some lemon-lime seltzer. Or add it to something that calls for bitters.

DM: What would you think of it with tonic instead? You know how I love my tonic.

JM: If you love it, drink it. If you don’t love it, don’t drink it. There’s a rule for you.

DM: A good one. In any case, it was fun to actually make the drink together. Besides dividing the labor, I learned much more about how you operate as a cocktailian.

JM: Virtual has been great fun and accomplished our goal of communicating much more. Actual is a lot more fun.

DM: And those were our takes.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Visiting our sister, I recognized that she has a half a bottle of cachaca from my last visit, so I looked for something that might make effective use of it. I chose the Amazonia, in part because the description said it’d be perfect for Sunday barbeque. Having tried some good barbeque on this trip, the recipe appeals to me. Summer has more than begun in Texas, but back in Chicago, we are just starting to de-winterize our grills.

Whiskey Sour

WhiskeySourJBMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The sour is one of the most basic of cocktails. A mix of spirit, sweet, and sour elements with no augmentation required provides a simple and refreshing drink. We’ve tried the Pisco Sour, which is in the end a direct derivation of the early brandy sour, but to this point have not had a whiskey sour. Perhaps the end of the Mad Men series was a good week to try this classic that started its fall out of favor in the 60’s-70’s.

The popularity of sours spanned more than a century from the 1860’s to 1960’s. David Wondrich tracks sours of all types back to a time before the famous Jerry “Professor” Thomas—although the father of all bartending, or so it seems, included the drink and discussions of it in his guides. If there was a debate about such a simple drink, Thomas engaged in that discussion about how sweet or sour the end product should be. There were also the inevitable flourishes, a swirl of claret perhaps, as mixologists provided their own touches to lessen the simple.

That sweet/sour debate is obvious when one looks for recipes for a classic whiskey sour. Bourbon is the preferred spirit, but, after that, the proportion of sweet, proportion of sour and what type of sweetening agent varies by source. Early recipes are marked by sugar dissolved in a small amount of water, which gave way to sugar and seltzer water, and that in turn was replaced by syrup.

There were eventually variations that used some egg white for a frothier drink (a Boston Sour), and, in what was probably part of the demise of the drink, sour mixes that provided sweet, sour and froth all in one bottled mix. I settled on a simple ratio:

2 ounces bourbon
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice (approximately one small lemon)

Mix those three, shake with ice, strain over new ice in a glass and garnish with an orange slice and cherry. This is a drink that has its own glass, a small goblet style, but my cabinet runneth over on glassware so I went with an old fashioned glass.

I had every intention of trying one basic sour and then a Boston Sour but one was enough. It’s not that this isn’t a classic for a reason—it was very good—it’s just that the combination of sweet and sour all too effectively blends with the bourbon to the point you almost forget it is there. A dangerous combination on a warm afternoon so one was enough.

Here’s David’s Review:

WSDMIn my cocktailian experience, the classic drinks aspire to the greatest subtlety. A serious mixologist will tell you that introducing a quarter of an ounce more vermouth to a martini, substituting a different bitter in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, or reordering the preparation of a Caipirinha makes all the difference. Still not-so-savvy after nearly two years on this blog, I wonder how much subtlety is lost on me.

People often say of art, “I don’t know much about it, but I know what I like.” That’s my response this week. I tried three Whiskey Sours, one with the traditional bourbon, one with rye, and a third with Canadian Whisky. All were good. To me, the key to the drink isn’t in the spirit but in the lemon that stands up well in such a spirituous libation—otherwise, but for a little optional sugar, it’s all alcohol. I’m not at all sure what the word “bracing” means in culinary diction (if it means anything at all), but that’s the word I want to use. From the first sip, you know you are holding a real drink.

And, actually, if you like the ingredients, I wonder how you could mess it up. The taste certainly changed with the different spirits, but the bracing aspect of the cocktail didn’t. Of all the whiskeys, I like rye most, so I enjoyed that Whiskey Sour, but the other tasters in my family thought the mellow and round character of bourbon balances the lemon best. I’m not averse to testing their theory further, as this cocktail is not only incredibly easy to make but also incredibly easy to quaff (see: Three Whiskey Sours).

Which leads to my one quibble about drinks like the Whiskey Sour. They’re perfect for sipping, and with all the ice, the quantity seems tiny. For me, it disappears too quickly, and I want another. That said, my brother will confirm that I am the world’s fastest consumer of food and drink. I often look down to discover an empty plate or glass with symptoms of “foodnesia”—I search my mind to remember what I just ingested and how it may have tasted. I’m no sipper, and making Whiskey Sours my constant drinking companion might lead to slurred speech, lambada demonstrations, and/or impromptu Elvis impersonations (my personal favorite: Love Me Tender).

You, Dear Reader, might consider that outcome a good thing, and my worry of cutting loose certainly says volumes about my enjoyment of this classic cocktail. But I’m generally a restrained and reserved person who hopes to navigate life with as much dignity as I can manage. If I’m only going to have one drink, the Whiskey Sour won’t be it.

Jonathan’s take: The great debates of cocktails still amuse me. Too much sour! No too much sweet!

David’s Take: Now I know what to order whenever I’m sitting at the bar waiting for our table to be ready.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

There’s no guarantee that, even by next weekend, our fancier cocktail glasses will emerge from moving boxes, so I devised two requirements for next week’s choice—it has to use a Collins glass (we have those) and it has to include Gin (I like Gin). So we’ll be making a Salty Dog, a variety of the Greyhound Cocktail (gin, grapefruit juice, and lime) that calls for salting the rim of the glass. That, we can also do.

Jane Russell Cocktail

JanetoblameProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

We have tried cocktails with great provenance, some with disputed backgrounds and a few with only sketchy details. The only ones that I can recall with no back story, however, were ones we created. The Jane Russell cocktail is an exception. Other than a description as “voluptuous” like the eponymous star, there is no explanation why her name is associated with this drink. I couldn’t even find a reference that she did drink and would warrant a guess that spirits were not a large part of her life.

The drink itself is another Manhattan variant like we tried a few weeks ago. In this case the bitters change from Angostura to chocolate and the sweetening agent is a mix instead of the simple sweet vermouth. The exact recipe that I used:

2 ounces rye whiskey
¼ ounce Benedictine
¼ ounce Grand Marnier
¼ ounce sweet vermouth
Dash of chocolate bitters (I used Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate)

Mix all ingredients, stir with ice until chilled, strain into a coupe, and garnish with orange zest.

Like the Monte Carlo which used Benedictine for the sweet vermouth to great success, the mix of three spirits in this drink provides an interesting range of flavors and background. I can’t say that I could taste the chocolate bitters directly, but there was a roundness to the drink that invoked the comfort of that confection.

The question that remains is, “Why there are drinks named after Rosalind Russell and Jane Russell and along with that what about other famous Russells?” As I said in the introduction, there doesn’t seem to be answer to the first question, and I may be the only person that cares about the second. In hope that I can change the latter, I am going to propose some ideas for other Russell cocktails:

The Bill Russell. Arguably the greatest shot blocker in the history or basketball, this drink has to be the opposite of a shot. It needs to be a long tall drink with some type of whiskey, seltzer and bitters. Take that weak ass shot out of here.

The Kurt Russell. I read that he is libertarian so any drink that follows a set recipe makes no sense. Just take whatever is on your liquor cabinet, throw it together and drink until you begin to believe you need to escape a dystopian society.

The Leon Russell. Classic, long lasting and cream based. Leon is still writing and making music and presumably still sports the long white/gray locks. I’m thinking moonshine, cream and a little southern comfort on ice.

The Patrick Russell. What, you have never heard of the famous Scottish herpetologist who was an expert on the vipers of India? This drink tries again to make use of Scotch in a cocktail, but disguises it with something so sweet you never see the kick coming until it strikes like a serpent. I have some honey sweetened chai tea that might work well.

The Pee Wee Russell. This jazz musician might have drank himself to death and was known for rousing himself in the morning with drink, so an alcoholic beverage may not be appropriate. He also enjoyed brandy milkshakes, whatever that is, so I am proposing a simple vanilla milkshake with an accent of the same chocolate bitters we used in this week’s drink. A sure hangover cure.

The Nipsey Russell. With that first name how is there not already a drink named after him? It needs to be a small nip, good for the working man and invoke some wry humor. Maybe a rye, stout beer and Absinthe shot.

And Here’s David’s Review:

JanyI confess some suspicion about cocktail recipes like this one that call for specific brands of this or that—Grand Marnier instead of triple sec or two kinds of rye instead of just rye. For one thing, no one ever asks for Old Overholt or Dekuyper Triple Sec and, for another, they assume a refinement of taste I can’t always manage… particularly when I’m drinking.

That said, I can tell the difference between Carpano Antica and sweet vermouth and, whether a recipe calls for it or not, I rely on it. As I’ve not doubt written before (and forgotten… because of the drinking), Carpano Antica is a more bitter and, dare I say, more complex than Martini and Rossi. And it was the right choice for this cocktail because it cut some of the sweetness in the triple sec and Benedictine.

As for the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, they were a nice touch, and, being a bitters fiend, I happened to have some chocolate bitters on hand. Did I taste them, you ask, did they make a big difference? I wish I could claim they did, but see my earlier comments about drinking and reviewing. I’ll plead the fifth and say they added “Something quite subtle and refined” to the recipe, but they aren’t cardamom bitters, which is to say I’m not still tasting them two days later.

This variation on a Manhattan produced a wonderful collective effect. A successful cocktail, after all, might rest more on the harmony of its components, a harmony so complete that you can’t separate them… particularly after you’ve had a couple. This drink certainly fits that description. With the Benedictine and Carpano Antica (yes, I am trying to see how many times I can inject that name into this review), the herbal notes of this cocktail came forward but in a mixed way. If you make this drink, you may want to bump up just a touch the Grand Marnier—I had Mandarine Napoleon on hand, which is a wonderful alternative. And no, these people whose products I tout don’t pay me a cent.

Jonathan’s take: Sorry about the repetition of Manhattan variants. At least it was good and I skipped the cross my heart puns from so long ago.

David’s take: I’d have another. Wait… I did have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

As Saturday is Valentine’s Day, I’d like to raise a toast to the two people who share in and, my wife might say, make this silly hobby of ours possible. To assure we appreciate them appropriately, I’m proposing a Vanilla Champagne Cocktail, which is a little like the French 75 except that it substitutes bourbon for brandy and will require Jonathan and I to make some vanilla simple syrup between now and Saturday. I’m counting on Jonathan being willing to make the sacrifice. I hope, like me, he doesn’t mind having another simple syrup on hand.

Monte Carlo

monte carloJMProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The cocktail this week is a variation on the Manhattan called the Monte Carlo. There is little history to be found on this drink other than it is one of many, although very simple in this case, alterations of the basic classic. The recipe substitutes Benedictine for sweet vermouth and specifies rye whiskey. As stated in last week’s proposal, the recipe comes from The Art of the Bar:

2 ounces rye
¾ ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon twist for garnish

The recipe suggests that the ingredients be combined, stirred with ice to chill, strained into a glass and garnished with the lemon. There is a discussion included in the book about shaking versus stirring and my synopsis would be to follow a simple hint. If the drink is all spirit one should stir, but if it includes a non-spirit like fruit juice or an egg it needs to be vigorously shaken to combine. There’s more to it, but that is easier to remember.

There is a layer of taste to this drink that I think is missing in the classic Manhattan. It could be that sweet vermouth is simply too subtle for me, but there is little doubt that the herbal presence of Benedictine is more assertive. We tried it with rye one day and then with aged rum the next (why not vary a variation after all?) and in both the herbal sweetness dominated in a good way.

This cocktail also brings me back to the concept of the perception of taste and how it is affected by place or setting. There is the very real concept of terroir and its effect on taste, but I am talking more about psychology than geography.

Terroir is the effect of geology and geography on the qualities of something one consumes. Soil and climate may be the most common elements that affect the taste of such things as grapes (wine), milk (cheese), spirits (Kentucky bourbon) and many other consumable products. There are also differences in production methods, but anyone who has tasted something as subtle as a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand compared to one from California has experienced this.

Earlier this week I heard an example of what I consider the psychology of taste. A show on one of the food channels included a discussion how bagels are better in New York City, which they undoubtedly are. One of the people commenting in the story suggested that the water in the city provided the subtle, but distinctive, difference. I would argue (apparently about anything since I am arguing about bagels) that the difference in taste comes from years of experience and the repetition of making so many bagels. I also think that bagels are one of the classic foods associated with New York, and people simply expect them to better in that setting—so they are. Similarly, one can make beignets and café au lait, but will they be as tasty as they would be if you were sitting at Café du Monde in New Orleans? No, no they wouldn’t.

You don’t need to travel to Monte Carlo to heighten the taste of this cocktail, but the right place and time can accentuate its taste. To me, this is a drink for a dark bar or sitting in front of a nice fire. It is one to be enjoyed pre-meal, with quiet music, conversation and good company. Maybe even a smoking jacket and comfy slippers although the nice fire is a better setting for that than the dark bar. That’s up to you though.

Here’s David’s Review:

MonteCarloDMThe highest compliment my geometry teacher ever delivered was “Elegant.” She used the word only for some solutions to proofs. An answer with seven or eight steps might be just as correct as one with three, and a shorter but more pedestrian response was fine too. What made a proof elegant in her eyes was the combination of novelty and economy.

I would describe the Monte Carlo as similarly elegant. After last week’s overcrowded cocktails, it was nice to try a recipe with so few ingredients and so simple a preparation. However, what made the drink, in my estimation, was the dominance of a single spirit and the subtle—yet evident—contributions of the other parts. If you like rye (as I do) and Benedictine (as I do) and bitters (as I do), you will probably enjoy this cocktail.

The dominance of Rye—my recipe used 2.25 ounces, to only .5 for the Benedictine—also made the Monte Carlo a stiff drink. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Seawright, my geometry teacher, never used the words “stiff drink,” but potency may contribute to elegance as well. From the first sip (and you’d better sip), the purpose of this drink seemed plain, and, on another cold Chicago evening, it seemed particularly warming.

The recipe I used invited me to play with the proportion of Benedictine, warning that the drink might be sweeter than some imbibers like. I didn’t find that to be the case. I wouldn’t describe the Monte Carlo as an overly sweet cocktail. But, after one, I wasn’t tempted to try it again with different proportions. Some bitter element might add something—Carpano Antica or Amer Picon (if you can get some or have a generous friend who lets you have some of his homemade batch)—yet I wouldn’t want to play with the elegance of this concoction. Though it’s straightforward, it’s complex without any additions.

Jonathan’s take: sometimes the variation is better than the original.

David’s Take: I felt so sophisticated drinking the Monte Carlo. That must be good.

Next Week (proposed by David):

During my usual agony over what to propose next, I located something on Difford’s Guide to the Top 100 cocktails that has always piqued my curiosity, Blood and Sand. The name is the greatest appeal to me… though the origin of that name is interesting too, as I’ll tell you next week. Plus, it uses Scotch. I’m generally not a Scotch drinker, but I would love to rehabilitate the spirit. There must be something out there that makes good use of the bottles in my liquor cabinet. In any case, it’s time to find out.

Beer Cocktails

DB@Proposed by: David

Proposed by: Jonathan

Here are two reasons we both proposed drinks this week. First: I’ve been curious about beer cocktails (or “beer-tails”) for quite awhile and, since it may be some time before we revisit the style, it’s better to have two representatives instead of one.

Second: I don’t have any more Chartreuse. Jonathan’s choice—Last Call to Porter —requires Chartreuse, which I used to have, which people drank up at a cocktail party I hosted (because they never drink up the Crème de Menthe), and which is too expensive to replace.

Only the second reason is true.

But let’s pretend it’s really the first. Beer cocktails have been around forever—there are recipes for mixing beer with other ingredients from the 17th century—and a lot of people know the basic ones, like the Shandy (beer and lemonade) or a Liverpool Kiss (Guinness and Crème de Cassis), the Michelada (a sort-of beer Bloody Mary) or a Black Velvet (stout and champagne, beautifully layered to separate) or a Boilermaker (beer with a shot of whiskey, sometimes just plopped right in the pint glass). However, with the growing interest in the various styles of craft beer plus the growing interest in cocktails, bartenders are experimenting with other spirits—even gin!—and/or liqueurs.

A beer cocktail has certain advantages. Instead of extending volume with a soft drink or mixer, you complicate the flavors—in a good way—with beer. And, depending on the beer you use, the combination can be quite merrymaking. I started to say “potent,” but I’ve decided from now on that, today, “merrymaking” will be my synonym of choice.

Volume, however, can be a challenge. “When you’re working with beer, you’re dealing with longer drinks. You have to make sure that what you add accentuates the beer,” says Daniel Hyatt, bar manager at The Alembic Bar in San Francisco. The second challenge he identifies is, “Just getting people to drink it.”

He believes the key is finding cooperative flavors. Brown spirits—scotch, rye, bourbon, and all the whiskeys—pair well with ales, stouts, and porters, where gin and white ales might align for another alternative. Belgian beers, which can sometimes be herbal and merrymaking, go well with Tequila, and dark or spiced rum might work well with a lager. Some folks apparently use beer in creating syrups for mixed drinks, which is another way of introducing hops to a cocktail without making it too merry.

De Beauvoir

In deciding which beer-tail to try, I had many choices, including one popularized by the author of Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, called Hangman’s Blood that combines Guinness and gin, rum, whiskey, brandy, and port and then tops that with champagne. I thought about that one but decided it’s much too much merry to make.

So I found a drink called De Beauvoir (which I thought might be literary too but is actually a place) that won a beer cocktail contest in 2013 and uses smoked porter with Rye, Frangelico (no one at the party drank that either), plus a little sugar and lemon juice.

Here’s the recipe:

1 oz. Rye

2/3 oz. Frangelico

1/2 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

2 oz. Smoked Porter

1 tsp. brown sugar

1 dash Whiskey Barrel Bitters

The recipe calls for shaking these ingredients with ice and then fine straining them into a coupe glass garnished with orange peel. As I don’t like my beer shaken or diluted, I just combined them with a spoon. It worked.

Some quick notes: I tried this cocktail twice with two different porters, and I definitely preferred the smokier of the two because it balanced the sweetness best—as far as I’m concerned, the sugar is optional—it’s sweet enough without it. I couldn’t find Whiskey Barrel Bitters, which, as I communicated to my brother, was mighty disappointing, but I used Jerry Thomas bitters. They were nicely woody and smoky too. That’s what you want I think.

Last Call to Porter

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After two weeks where we discussed ideas for drinks and where we get those ideas, this week was a sourcing challenge. David suggested cocktails that incorporate beer. He provided a link that thoroughly reviewed the concept, and suggested some recipes, but he didn’t specify any cocktail in particular. That left a lot of latitude and a great deal of fun in finding a couple of contrasting ideas.

The first idea was the easiest. I get a weekly e-mail from The Splendid Table that spotlights a recipe and links a number of others. There is often a noveaux cocktail included with those links, and a couple of weeks ago it was one called the Last Call to Porter. Being considerate of my brother, and manipulative since I wanted to try it, I forwarded the e-mail with a strong suggestion that it might be appropriate for the next week. That was when I found out that David’s friends had liberated his Chartreuse one cocktail at a time. Fortunately, he suggested a category rather than a drink which left me, and my half bottle of Chartreuse, in business.

The Last Call to Porter is the invention of Katie Rose of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The drink was inspired by an historic, and in many ways tragic, event in England. In 1814 the Meux Brewery of London suffered a catastrophic event when a large vat of porter beer ruptured and in turn caused other vats to rupture. The resulting flood, there was an estimated 323,000 gallons let loose,  caused the tragic death of as many as nine individuals but also led some Londoners to head to the streets to capture the flowing porter with buckets.

Katie Rose’s cocktail combines the historic porter with bourbon and two liqueurs. Bourbon (she specifies 1 ounce Knob Creek) is combined with a half-ounce each of two monk made liqueurs – Green Chartreuse and Benedictine. Those are shaken with ice, strained into a coupe and topped with porter. She suggested a Milwaukee porter but I used People’s Porter (seems more fitting since the townspeople were most affected by the flood) from Winston-Salem, N.C.

The recipe sounds like a battle of flavors, especially since the two liqueurs have so many ingredients, but it is the Chartreuse and porter that shine through. Porter is so mellow and balanced from the roasted malts and the herbs of the liqueurs balance that perfectly. I am not sure where the bourbon fits in but the drink is smooth like a porter, and complex like a classic cocktail. Same admonition I often give though, this drink should be sipped.

I wanted a second beer cocktail that would contrast the herb heavy flavor and richness of the Last Call to Porter. That led me to a variation on the shandy which is often a summer cocktail. Typically a shandy is beer mixed with lemonade, ginger beer or a soft drink. They have become so common that there are a number of varieties pre-mixed and sold in the beer case.

I chose a shandy style cocktail called the Beer’s Knees which is a riff on the gin based cocktail the Bee’s Knees. A Bee’s Knees mixes gin, honey and lemon in a coupe while the Beer’s Knees is a mix of gin (1.5 oz.), lemon juice (1 oz.), honey syrup (1 oz.) and hefeweizen (3 oz.). Mix the first three ingredients, top with beer, add ice (or not if you so choose) and garnish with lemon. Since it is not summer anymore, unfortunately, I was used a hefeweizen style winter white ale from Bell’s to use in the recipe. Compared to the first drink, this one was a beautiful color, light and brisk thanks to the lemon. The honey offers slight sweetness in perfect combination with the lemon and wheat beer. This cocktail also kept me in good graces since it is a style of drink, and beer, that my wife enjoys much more than porter and herbed liqueurs.

Jonathan’s take: This week combines the old world and new, beer and cocktails, and a challenge to sources, all with a history lesson thrown in.

David’s Take: I loved the De Beauvoir—it was rich and warming, perfect for the season—and I’d recommend making it a double. You have to finish the porter anyway…

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year, I had suggested a drink that could be served to the masses for Thanksgiving. This year I messed up and made that suggestion, Pear Bourbon Cider, two weeks too early. That won’t prevent me from mixing up a variation of the PBC (who knew TJ’s Pear Cinnamon sold out so quickly and I would have to use something else) for a house full on Thursday. That leaves a drink of the week, though, so my suggestion is the B-52. It is a blast from the past that is part shot and part dessert drink. It is also small enough to fit into whatever space is left after all of the gluttony. There are a great number of variations too, all with unique names, so guests can choose their own version.

 

The Livorno

fireProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

One of the things I have worried about with this blog is excess. I am here to admit I have reached that point. Not in drink, but in literature. The basis of the cocktail blog is that we are tasting and experimenting which means that, except in very rare occasions, the weekly drink is only one or two cocktails. The books about spirits, though, have begun to mount especially in digital format. I had no idea there was so much variety to the genre of alcohol related non-fiction. The latest is Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson and it is the inspiration for this week’s drink.

The drink is the Livorno and the recipe is as follows:

1.5 ounce bourbon
.75 ounce Tuaca (tu’ a ka)
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Preserved or maraschino cherry

Fill glass with ice, add bourbon, Tuaca and bitters. Stir until cold and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

The main, and most interesting ingredient, is Tuaca an Italian liqueur with flavors of vanilla and citrus. Like many of the liqueurs, especially those from European countries, it has an interesting history. The original recipe goes back to the Renaissance period and was rediscovered by two Italian families the Tuonis and Canepas who lived in the city of Livorno. That recipe has evolved from what was once called Milk Cognac to a less alcoholic version that certainly contains no milk. Originally produced in Italy, the brand was purchased by liquor giant Brown-Forman of Louisville. It had reached a point that most of the product was made in Italy but exported to the U.S., so it is not surprising that the production has moved to the U.S. I should mention that to complete the Louisville connection, I chose a bourbon from the same company that is produced in that city – Old Forester.

Jason Wilson describes the liqueur in a chapter that focuses on St. Germain, Jagermeister and Tuaca. Each of these liqueurs has a fanciful history that stretches the imagination and one of them, Jagermeister, has reached a level of popularity through marketing and placement that far surpasses any history or tall tales. Tuaca was marketed and positioned to challenge Jagermeister in bars as a shot for the younger crowd, but I think the confused looks I received when I mentioned that to some recent college graduates speaks to the failure of that marketing. In fact, I would say the expressions of that same crowd when I served this cocktail speak to part of the reason for that.

Here’s David’s Review:

LivornoSaturday being my birthday, my wife and I invited guests for dinner and served them the Livorno. And, because I’ve become the Cliff Clavin of cocktails, I explained what Tuaca is, where the cocktail got its name, how the drink might be considered a Manhattan variation… yadda, yadda, yadda. I must have sounded pret-ty savvy because a guest asked me if I’d try the drink again prior to writing the review. I said “No.” Though I liked this drink, I didn’t need to take notes or swirl the cocktail around the glass or in my mouth.

When we tried whiskeys a couple of weeks ago, I watched some videos of tasters online and came away feeling inadequate. Perhaps you’ve had this experience watching a blu-ray DVD on your friends’ new floor-to-ceiling flat screen TV or listening to that super expensive sound system that sends waves through baffles or into an anchored sub-woofer or up into space and back. One whiskey taster online detected marshmallow charred over oak and mesquite smoke, and I thought the whiskey was kind of burn-y because I accidentally aspirated a sip.

So, if you’re not already, please regard my comments as the views of a well-meaning philistine. Tuaca, like many liqueurs I’d put in the TLAOL (Tippling Like An Old Lady) category, is quite sweet, syrupy even. The description on the bottle describes it as “A Vanilla Citrus Liqueur,” but I don’t really taste the citrus at all—certainly not the bitter citrus of a peel. Tuaca has a sort of amaretto or praline flavor, faintly nutty and matching mellow bourbon or complementing the sharp taste of Rye.

The spiciness of the Rittenhouse Rye I used and the warm, spirituous Tuaca, in fact, largely erased the Peychaud Bitters. One of my guests—who seems far more savvy than I—commented that this cocktail, lacking bitter elements, couldn’t stand up to the complexity and depth of a Manhattan. Though I like sweet drinks, that response makes sense to me.

One of the most interesting conversations at dinner was about the nature of cocktails, whether they are like cooking, which accommodates improvisation, or like baking, which sometimes punishes experimentation with abject failure. No doubt, invented cocktails can be utter flops (particularly when they include Crème de Menthe) but I like to believe cocktails are more like cooking because I have all these silly things in my liquor cabinet (minus Crème de Menthe) to fool around with. Maybe I just can’t taste failure, but, when it comes to mixology, I have an infinite capacity for hope.

If I do try the Livorno again, I may experiment with a lower measure of Tuaca to cut some of the sweetness of the drink, and make up the difference with a bittersweet vermouth like Carpano Antica or dry vermouth. The alterations might add another dimension, or—like that time I tried to bake cookies on the grill—only create another tragic tale.

Jonathan’s take: Bourbon overwhelms any subtleties of the Tuaca, but for a sipping drink by the fire it’s not too bad.

David’s Take: I enjoyed the Livorno. It could be I was swayed by the wonderful company, but it seemed a warm and wonderful way to start an evening.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Moscow Mules have become a staple of bar menus. I’m not sure what those copper cups add to the drink, but I do think they give it an appealing festive feel. Up to now, I’ve stayed away from making Moscow Mules at home because I didn’t have the proper bar ware. No more! My wife gave me two cups for my birthday, so it’s time to try one (or some variation). If the cup is important, maybe Jonathan and his wife can have one out at a bar, but it’d be interesting to see what the cup adds (if anything at all). Shouldn’t it be the same drink, regardless of its container?