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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Hangman’s Blood

HangeronProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, librettist, and composer, but he’s most famous for Clockwork Orange, the book that became a controversial Stanley Kubrick movie and assured Burgess’ lasting fame. That… and Hangman’s Blood, of course.

Hangman’s Blood was Burgess’ signature concoction, and if you’re a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you noticed the comment section stir (well, relative stir… we have about 25 regular readers) caused by my proposing Burgess’ favorite indulgence, a cocktail he said “tastes very smooth, induces a somewhat metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover” but which everyone else sees as the spirituous equivalent of a “suicide,” that fountain drink mixed from orange, Coca Cola, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and Nehi Grape your seventh grade friend Mark (or Bobby or Steve or Jeff) dared you to drink:

1 1/4 oz gin
1 1/4 oz rum
1 1/4 oz whiskey
1 1/4 oz brandy
1 1/4 oz port
5 oz Guinness® stout or stout beer
4 oz Champagne

Add all five shots to a pint glass. Top to desired level with stout beer, 5 oz is just about right. Fill to top of glass with champagne.

Okay, so call me a fool if you like. I prefer to see myself as a thrill-seeker willing to stand apart from the genteel martini drinkers also after a spirituous experience but reluctant to say so. I could, of course, claim I meant to add to our list of literary drinks, the Hemingway Daiquiri, the Bobby Burns, etc. That, however, would be a lie. Mostly I wanted to see if something so crazy could possibly be good. I mean, it’s possible. Maybe I just grew tired of threatening and wanted to make good on the threat.

Was that a good idea? I’ll leave the review for later, but, well, hey, all hopes are somewhat foolish.

Jonathan and I both chose a collection of bottles to depict this drink—though he suggested it might have been more appropriate to show him stretched out on his den floor—and a row of spirits may be the best (and only possible) tribute to Burgess’ invention.

In any case, here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0204-2Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like an ice cold Hangman’s Blood. Most people were thinking about a nice bottle of bubbly, a glass of red wine, or perhaps an innocent cocktail like a mimosa. Not us, we were emptying the liquor cabinet, throwing in half a bottle of stout and for an ounce, or four, of redemption adding some champagne.

There’s an image of the rough guy who sits at a dimly lit bar. No one sits near him as he orders a beer with a shot a rye. He drops that shot in the pint glass and downs them together. He is the most basic and roughest drinker. That is until someone walks in, takes the bar stool right next to him and orders a Hangman’s Blood. Fifteen minutes later the bartender finishes grabbing half the bottles he has available, throwing on some beer and bubbly and presents the drink. The new drinker winks at his bar mate and downs the concoction in one long draught. The only options left for Mr. Boilermaker are to relinquish his status as the toughest fool there or wait ten minutes for Mr. Hangman to fall off that bar stool and take his rightful place on the floor with the peanut shells and pretzel crumbs.

I have dim memories of a punch that was popular among college students who had tired of mixing grain alcohol and fruit juices into PJ. Battleship Punch, and I am going from memory here since I can’t find it on the internet, is a mix of grain, vodka, brandy, and champagne among other liquors. There were some non-alcoholic ingredients but the concept was that the champagne hit you first followed by the brandy, vodka and grain in that order. By the time you had drunk too much it was too late. Your battleship was sunk.

This is that punch in cocktail form. I mixed up a half batch, shared that with my wife and still didn’t come close to finishing it. The effervescence helped the drink and brightened it, but nothing could erase the thought that I had just poured four liquors, one fortified wine and beer together before I had topped it with that champagne. My mind wouldn’t let me taste any subtlety, judge the color, or even start to think why someone would drink a full cocktail of this. Sorry David, I am not the meanest son of a gun at the bar.

Jonathan’s take: Champagne can redeem a drink. Not this one.

David’s take: Really awful. Sorry, Mr. Burgess. Sorry, everyone.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Ever since David proposed the current drink I have been trying to think of the sweetest drink, one that was mostly Irish Cream, or how I could mix crème de menthe and blue curacao. Guess what? There is drink called the Frostbite (perfect for the Chicago winter I suppose) that is tequila based but includes blue curacao, crème de menthe and a sweet element – chocolate liqueur. I hate there is no Irish Cream but you can’t have everything.

 

Bobby Burns

BB4Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

“Hey, where have you been?” an imagined reader may be crying. For the first time since starting this blog, Jonathan and I took an unanticipated stop. We’re both terribly busy and, when illness intervenes or anything surprising, it’s tough to find the time to make a cocktail. Sad but true. So we’re going to be scaling back, offering our cocktailian journey every other week rather than every week.

Policy announcement passed, onto this week’s drink…

Robert Burns (1759–96) is variously known as as Robbie Burns, Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s Favorite Son, the Ploughman Poet, Robden of Solway Firth, the Bard of Ayrshire and, simply, “The Bard” but not, anywhere I can find, “Bobby Burns.” He is THE Scottish poet, an early practitioner of Romanticism, a general aesthetic hero in his homeland, William Wallace with a quill.

A large portion of Burns’ fame springs from his writing in Scots vernacular as English overtook his nation. Though he was the son of a tenant farmer, a tenant farmer himself, and not a college graduate, he rose to prominence in his own lifetime. “I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as… to see my birthday,” he wrote, “inserted among the wonderful events in the Poor Robin’s and Aberdeen Almanacks…. and by all probability I shall soon be the tenth Worthy, and the eighth Wise Man, of the world.”

Okay, I’m not sure he ever made those books and those lists I never I heard of, but he is famous enough to have a cocktail named after him.

Many Americans know Burns (without really knowing him) because they sing his lyrics to Auld Lang Syne each New Year’s Eve or because they’ve heard a few lines from “A Red, Red Rose.” Even though I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in literature, I don’t know his work that well either. I just like cocktails with literary names.

My true attraction to this week’s drink, however, was the main spirit Scotch. Like Jonathan, I have some unfortunate memories of encountering it and some deep-seated need to rehabilitate it. How can any decent cocktailian, really, sidestep one of the chief whiskeys and the favorite of so many connoisseurs?

That would be like, well, dissing a major poet of Scotland.

My hope for the Bobby Burns hinges on its other ingredients, Benedictine and Sweet Vermouth. The drink from this blog that has come closest to winning me over to Scotch was, after all, another sweet entry, the Rusty Nail. That, however, was Scotch overkill, as it combines Scotch and Drambuie, Scotch liqueur. The Bobby Burns promises something like the Vieux Carré, a Manhattan style concoction. There’s no fruit—so no distraction from the spirits—but Scotch purists probably oppose even this much adulteration.

2 oz. Highland malt scotch
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. Bénédictine

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

The Bobby Burns is the creation of Dale DeGroff, author of The Essential Cocktail and one of the favorites of this blog. For my version, I chose Glenmorangie, a reasonably priced single-malt that, as the picture indicates, even came with two nifty glasses. Right now, some reader is probably saying, “Hey, those glasses are for Scotch, not some wifty sweet drink” or, alternately, “Hey, what do you work for Glenmorangie, or what?” I’ll accept either insult if, at long last, I’ve found a palatable use for Scotland’s most famous export.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

bobbyjbmIn the last drink review David quoted Stephen Dedalus and for this drink he proposed one (purportedly) named for the Ploughman Poet, Robert Burns. I sense that I have exited the cocktail blog world and entered an English literature course. Of course he says he was looking for a successful Scotch based cocktail, but that is too simple.

Our close followers probably noticed we missed a week. That was my fault. Between a bad cold and work obligations, I never had a night when I could, or wanted to, try the cocktail or any alcohol at all. There are those that claim a medicinal benefit to liquors. In fact it kept the distilling industry alive during prohibition to some extent. I even cited that medicinal claim at one point when I noted that our Dad had a sore throat/cold cure that consisted of bourbon, honey, lemon juice and occasionally onion. I still think that was to induce his whining children to fall asleep and have never looked to spirits for their curative properties. The end result was that it took me two weeks to try the Bobby Burns and any opinion I express should be couched in terms of still limited tasting abilities.

Scotch based drinks are a short list and I think I have an idea why. Scotch is very assertive and doesn’t play well with others. There was hope though as this mix with sweet Vermouth and Benedictine had more promise than the others we have tried.

I used a blended Highland Scotch, Dewar’s, to try and tamp down the assertiveness. It still overcame the sweetness and herbal tones of the other additions. If you like Scotch, my guess is that those additions would be unwanted distractions and if you do not favor Scotch they are not enough. It was better than any Scotch drink we have tried, which is saying something, but my recommendation would still be to leave the Scotch neat, on ice, or alone.

Jonathan’s take: The Bobby Burns is a lovely Fall color but Scotch was not the medicine I needed.

David’s take: Maybe Scotch is the loner of the spirits.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I love Fall which should be apparent from my past drink selections (and that I have said that before). My love does not include pumpkin beers or the abominations that are committed in the world of coffee concoctions, but the rest of the tastes of the season are great. And what says Fall more than Better Homes & Gardens? I am going back to that source for the Grand Autumn cocktail. Made with rye whiskey, St. Germain, lime juice and ginger beer, I hope that it can be enjoyed on a crisp October evening with nice fire in my new fire pit.

The Daedalus Cocktail

DaedalusJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There is not much Greek mythology that I remember. That is a great shortcoming when playing along with Jeopardy. It is also surprising considering how much it was taught throughout my early education. Surely David does not share this hole in his knowledge. One story that I do remember, however, is the tale of Daedalus and Icarus.

Daedalus was a craftsman and had been imprisoned on an island. He could not escape by land or sea so he used his skills to weave together feathers with string and wax to make wings. Once he was sure it would work, he created a second pair of wings for his son Icarus. Before they escaped by flying away he warned Icarus that flying too high would cause the sun to melt the wax and the wings to fall apart. Like many a petulant child, Icarus became excited by the thrill of flight and forgot his father’s admonitions. The sun began to melt the wax and the wings fell apart. Icarus plunged into the sea below and drowned.

I am not sure if there a greater parable that the story provides or if it has anything to do with this drink. It is entirely possible that the story is as apparent as it seems – pay attention to your parents. Maybe ancient Greeks told this to their children as a warning that they should heed what they were told. Kind of a “eat your peas or you will plunge into the sea and drown” piece of advice. The same may be true of this drink. Try this cocktail and feel the thrill of flight. Or try too many and experience the calamity of a dip in the raging ocean.

The recipe appears to be an original from the bartenders at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar. Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz have included it in their book The Art of the Bar as an example of drink that features carefully made syrups. The syrup is slightly more difficult than the standard simple syrup:

1.5 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 ounces peeled and thinly sliced ginger
1.5 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a simmer and then simmer 40 minutes longer (presumably to infuse and thicken). Strain and refrigerate.

The drink is then a simple mix:

2 ounces Irish Whiskey
.5 ounce ginger syrup
Dash of orange bitters
Orange peel garnish

Combine first three ingredients with ice, stir for 20-30 seconds, strain into the appropriate cocktail glass and garnish with the orange peel. I loved the ginger syrup and used a little more than indicated in the recipe. I also found that the whole drink extended well by adding some ginger ale and serving with ice.

Here’s David’s Review:

daedalusdmFirst, I have to thank my wife, who made the ginger syrup and purchased the missing ingredients for this cocktail while I was away assistant coaching at a downstate cross country meet. The bus left at 5 am. It returned at 6 pm.

Perhaps that description of events also explains my reaction to the Daedalus. The ginger syrup seemed improved with its small infusion of pepper and, while I couldn’t say whether Irish Whisky or another type would make a difference—my palate isn’t so exacting—the proportion of spirit to sweetness seemed good. At not even three ounces, this drink seemed a little small, but maybe that was the situation too.

Like Jonathan, I also thought about the name of this drink. I too know the Daedalus of Greek myth, the creative wizard who designed the labyrinth on Crete and was imprisoned to protect its secrets. But I can add that, in ancient Greek art, daidala are a play on Daedalus’ name, ceramic sculptures of particular artistry as a general tribute to his creative genius.

Nothing in any of that, however, suggests to me Irish Whisky, orange bitters, or peppery ginger spirits. It took me two helpings to see a connection. Perhaps this drink is a tribute to Stephen Dedalus, the hero—and alterego—of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Critics say the protagonist’s name arises from Joyce’s theme of exile, his desire to escape from the constraints of his national religion and politics and his simultaneous nostalgic tie to the cultural forces that made James Joyce (and Stephen Dedalus, ostensibly). “Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience,” Dedalus says, “and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

That, by the way, is on my to-do list as well.

Perhaps these grand words account not only for the Irish Whisky but also for the more exotic elements of this cocktail, the ginger/pepper and orange. What makes this drink work, in my estimation, is the combination of expected and unexpected, its warmth and spiciness, its bracing potency and sweetness.

Of course, I may be entirely wrong, but, after a full Saturday away, it certainly seemed a welcome return to me, a recipe worth remembering.

David’s Take: I’m grateful to my wife that we have the ingredients for more.

Jonathan’s Take: Why is Scotch Whisky called “Scotch” but Irish Whiskey not called “Irish”?

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Speaking of Scotch… I think it’s time we return to the spirit. We’ve tried a couple, but this time I’d like to pursue a drink based on the literary hero of Scotland, Robert Burns. The Bobby Burns cocktail includes Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, and the dreaded Scotch. It’s always tough to guess what’s left in our liquor larders, but I’m guessing we have plenty of scotch.

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.

Pear Bourbon Cider

Proposed by: JonathanPearCiderJM

Reviewed by: David

First order of business the drink. It is described more than named as Pear Bourbon Cider. The recipe is straightforward, simple and in proportions suitable for a holiday punch:

2 – 3 cups bourbon
3 cups pear cinnamon cider
1 liter bottle of sparkling apple cider
1 cup of club soda
Pear slices for mix and garnish

Mix all ingredients, pour into double old fashioned glasses with ice and garnish with pear.

I never realized it before trying to find some background for this drink, but the definition of cider specifies apples. That’s a pretty boring fact, even if I can now annoy someone by pointing out that “apple cider” is redundant. The truth is that the cinnamon pear cider, whether named correctly or not, is the star of this drink. It is so dominant in flavor that the bourbon gets lost. As a public service I want to make sure and emphasize that in case anyone takes my suggestion to use this as holiday punch. The recipe suggests 2 – 3 cups of bourbon but if grandma wants to try it, double the sparkling cider. You could use just 2 cups of bourbon, of course, but this isn’t a cider blog.

Last week David pulled back the curtain to explain how he arrives at his drink suggestions and that it is not his favorite part of the process. To some extent, I am the opposite. I like to do the review more than I do the write up and as part of that I obsess about what to suggest next. We often correspond by e-mail making sure each of us are aware who has which week, possible issues with drink ingredients (who let David use up his Chartreuse!), and the timing of events and holidays that should be accompanied by an appropriate beverage.

Pay no attention to that bartender with the bulbous nose behind the curtain, ideas are all over. It should be no surprise, though, that the most common factor in what I suggest is the latest idea from my growing list of spirit literature. I also find ideas from other sources such as stealing them from cocktail menus and helpful suggestions from regular readers. It’s almost scary how often I get text messages accompanied by pictures of some wonderful looking cocktail. Now that we’re almost a year and half into this, David and I may need to sync up our Christmas lists to expand the ingredients, but there’s lots of places left to go.

Here’s David’s Review:

PearCiderDMThe only cocktail I invented for this blog was one I called The Pear Culture, and I couldn’t help thinking about it as I consumed Pear Bourbon Cider. The ingredients—the pear and bourbon combination—and the look of the two drinks—a golden and warm autumnal shade—were similar. The difference, however, was the Trader Joe’s connection. Where my cocktail called for puree, this recipe took a much lighter course with TJ’s Pear Cinnamon Cider (trademark). And where I included ginger (in the form of liqueur), this drink called for TJ’s Sparkling Apple Cider (trademark).

I admit, as I was making the drink, something said to me, “Where’s the ginger?” because I think ginger and pears go well together. For reasons I don’t understand—Former life? Propaganda by the ginger industry? Brain tumor?—having one ingredient makes me think of the other. I’m glad I resisted the temptation, though. The cinnamon in the cider provides some necessary spice, and the gravity of this drink, which was much lighter than my cocktail, made it more refreshing and quaffable.

All of which is to say, maybe this cocktail is the one I should have created.

I couldn’t resist a little experimentation though. The recipe I found online required adjusting the amounts because they were punch quantities, cups instead of ounces. For simplicity, I decided to convert cups to ounces, with the sparkling apple coming in around three cups, hence three ounces. However the instructions also contained varying proportions, offering “two to three cups bourbon (depending on your affinity for bourbon).” What a silly thing to say! It should be three, and, if it isn’t three, then look for another recipe.

And here’s another thing to try. If you look back at earlier posts, I think it’s safe to say Jonathan has an affinity for fruity cocktails—he’s certainly made me appreciate them more and seek them out at restaurants and bars—but, even with the effervescence of the club soda and cider and the touch of cinnamon, this drink could use a more prominent bitter element… not Campari or Malört or any amaro but maybe… well, bitters.

I’m under strict orders never to use the word “cloying” ever again so I won’t, but my recommendation would be to balance this drink’s sweet components with some exotic and mysterious counterpoint, something that will make your guest say, “Hmm. What’s that botanical I’m tasting?” As a great collector of bitters, I happen to have Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla and also Black Strap bitters (flavored with Molasses, Sarsaparilla, and Ceylon Cinnamon). I didn’t make two more drinks to try them out. “An affinity for bourbon” is one thing, but three drinks another. However, I did add a drop or two of The Black Strap before finishing the drink. It added a little something that’s missing, I think.

I may try the cocktail with Scrappy Chocolate Bitters next, which I also have on hand, naturally. Then there’s an idea I have for substituting Crabbie’s Ginger Beer for the sparkling apple cider and soda, and… well, you get the idea.

David’s Take: Perfectly pleasant and flavorful, but, with a little doctoring, it could be a more distinctive and memorable cocktail.

Jonathan’s Take: This punch needs a name and I think it should be Sneaky Cider. Where did that bourbon go?

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Picture a Venn Diagram. In the past, the set of beer drinkers and the set of cocktail drinkers rarely intersected. That is, their intersection was the empty set or the damn-near empty set. However, next week, Jonathan and I will follow one of the hip and trendy practices of bars all over the place and concoct (and of course imbibe) cocktails that incorporate beer. It’s a two-for-one week. I won’t dictate his choice nor he mine, but we will explore how beer might add or subtract from the mixed drink experience… and offer our usual largely uninformed but well-meaning commentary.

Whiskey (or Whisky) and the Old Fashioned

heavenProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are classic cocktails and there is the classic cocktail. If the Old Fashioned is not the most classic cocktail, it is on the very short list being considered. A cocktail, or bittered sling for you old fashioned types, is defined as a spirit, water, sugar and bitters. The Old Fashioned is traditionally a whiskey, sugar, water and bitters. There may have been a different bitter in the original recipe but since it is no longer available Angostura is the most common.

This may be one of the few drinks, despite its age, for which there is some consensus about the history. It was created in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1880’s at the Pendennis Club. The recipe was introduced to New Yorkers through one of the Pendennis Club members, Col. James Pepper, who had it made at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. There were variations that included different types of gin, brandy and other whiskeys and it is not too hard to imagine that rum was another alternative at that time.

The most traditional way to make an Old Fashioned uses straight sugar. The sugar, in lump or granular form, is muddled with a small amount of water. The whiskey and bitters are added followed by ice and a garnish of lemon peel. I chose a recipe that used simple syrup instead of the muddled sugar and water:

2 ounces whiskey (rye or bourbon classically)
.5 ounce simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitter
Lemon peel for garnish

Mix all ingredients in glass with ice, stir and strain into a glass (old fashioned of course) with a large chunk of ice then garnish with lemon peel. I also made a version with demerara simple syrup and orange bitters. Purists may argue that the classics should remain steadfast to the basic recipe, but this is a drink that has almost as many variations as the simple list of components permit.

The second part of this week’s selection was a whiskey tasting, in part to determine what to use in the cocktail. Thanks to this blog, I had a number of options to taste and friends contributed more. A group of us ended up trying two regular bourbons, one high proof bourbon, a wheat whiskey, a rye whiskey and one from Tennessee.

Tastings can be as detailed and complex as you want, but we settled on some introductory comments and instructions from Bourbon Jerry on what to look for and consider and a basic rating system. All the participants tried small, very small, tastings of numbered whiskeys (so there would not be any bias), rated them on a scale from 1 to 10 with the higher number the better rating, and added short comments if they chose.

Not too surprisingly, the higher end selection of the two bourbons was rated best. It was a little unexpected that the other straight bourbon, which by itself on ice has been a very popular brand with some of the regular bourbon drinkers, was the lowest rated. The wheat, rye, Tennessee and high proof bourbon all had similar ratings with notes that ranged from the basic “smooth” to the more detailed “tastes like pine trees.” Not exactly pure science, but an interesting way to compare and contrast. One final note – after the tasting it was hard to get folks to try the drink so maybe one endeavor or the other at a time would be better.

And Here’s David’s Review:

whiskers1As seriously as I took this tasting process—and I thought of it as the main event before making my Old Fashioned—my assessment was anything but scientific. Even if I put aside using one version of each whiskey to represent the style and overlook my suspect tasting apparatus, the task itself was troublesome.

When students miss the purpose of comparison-contrast analysis, I sometimes demonstrate with paperclips. The paperclips I pass around look identical but, on closer examination, differ in subtle ways. One is more tarnished, another noticeably re-bent into shape. One is slightly larger or smaller, a frailer gauge, another grade of metal, or looser than another. The point is that, when two things seem alike, you become more discerning and make subtle—we hope, more valuable—distinctions.

Whiskeys are so different it’s difficult to compare in subtle ways. Were they paperclips, they’d be a brass fastener and a bobby pin, an alligator clip and a clothes pin, or a surgical clamp. I wondered, “What do these seemingly unlike things have in common that makes them all whiskeys?”

Of course, you can look elsewhere for the technical answer, but as a taster (with some help from a friend, thank goodness), I recognized oak in nearly all and a mellow, rounded sweetness that, depending on the type, announced themselves or demurred. On top of that flavor base, the way they entered and exited my notice varied considerably.

A taster’s vocabulary is usually much more savvy, but comparing unlike things is tough. Six bourbons or scotches might incite subtler, more taster-worthy diction, as Jonathan’s process suggests. However, here’s my line-up, with preferences (and ranks) after each:

Scotch Whiskey (Glenmorangie Single Malt, 10 Year Old): Thanks to an unfortunate experience at a Revolutionary War reenactment many years ago, I have a pretty indelible sense of what scotch tastes like. It’s earthy, often peaty or smoky, and, compared to some of the other whiskeys on this list, seems harsher in its attack and more lingering in its aftertaste. Though the particular scotch I tried was mellower and less leathery than the Islay scotches I’ve tried, it nonetheless reminded me that scotch is the most distinctive whiskey, redolent of tannin and more sulfurous (to me) than the others.

Though I’m not a scotch man, I can appreciate its unabashed idiosyncrasies (4).

Irish Whiskey (Powers Gold Label): Depending on your taste, the multiple distillations of Irish Whiskey either make it smooth (and thus highly drinkable) or domesticated to the point of being too tame. To me, the Powers evoked caramel that almost erased the oak until it reappeared at the finish and created something refined, more gentle than bold. Fieriness and distinctively different components weren’t as notable in this Irish whiskey. Maybe the proof of two spirits—the scotch was stronger—accounts for that, but flavors appear to cooperate more in Irish whiskey.

Drinkable, partly because some flamboyance seems washed out by distillation (5).

Canadian Whisky (Bison Ridge Canadian Whisky, 8 Year): A fine line divides “subtle” and “confused.” People who love Canadian Whisky will say my tasting apparatus is flawed, but, in this field of whiskeys, the Canadian variety seemed tame, relatively uniform in medicinal flavor start to finish, thoroughly distilled. It could be the brand I chose, but this spirit possessed less woody or sweet overtones than its brother-whiskeys. Were they a family, Canadian Whiskey would be the reticent one—visitors lean in to catch a few words.

Canadian Whisky is solid, likeable, and maybe not ambitious enough for me (6).

Bourbon (Rebel Yell): Bourbon seems all about corn and displays a rounded gravity and sweetness that sets it apart from the other whiskeys. Any bitter or tannin-y flavors imparted by the oak are largely subdued by a taste that, for me, recalls cornbread. There’s something quite cooked about bourbon that some enjoy and some don’t. My tasting companion finds its grain elements so overabundant they distract from its spiritousness. Bourbon comes closest to the candied flavor of liqueurs (without their overt sugariness).

I like Bourbon’s recollection of cornbread, though I see why some don’t (2).

Rye (Rittenhouse): As a higher-proof rye whiskey, my version made itself known right away in a very alcohol-forward first impression. However, the sharp and spicy taste of rye also rests with rye itself, which—think about rye bread—can conjure anise or fennel. The sweet element in rye takes a second seat to an almost botanical taste, seeming more burnt—think pralines—than refined. Rye’s popularity in cocktails may rest in its capacity to echo whatever spice, sweetness, or botanical taste the other ingredients provide. One its own, its more direct, and for some, probably too harsh.

Among whiskeys, rye may be less palatable straight but is a welcome chameleon in cocktails (1).

Corn Whiskey/Moonshine (Buffalo Trace White Dog, Mash #1): Having encountered moonshine only in movies and television, I expected it to be close to ethyl alcohol in potency and distillation. However, the particular variety I chose reminded me much more of cachaca. It seemed uncooked, and, having never been aged in any sort of cask, nothing mitigated its almost candy corn smell and taste. Yes, it was potent (quite) but not at all in the medicinal way I thought. In fact, it felt closer to raw bourbon or rum than vodka.

This whiskey’s corn power and taste seem crude, which is a good and bad thing (3).

My choice for the Old Fashioned was Corn Whiskey—not because I liked it best but because it seemed the most dramatic. After tasting all those whiskeys, it seemed especially alcoholic to me. I see why the Old Fashioned is Don Draper’s favorite. It’s straight and sweet. Yet, I’d never in a million years make another with Corn Whiskey (and doubt he would either) because the spirit seems to steal the show.

Jonathan’s take: I am no purist, so the basic Old Fashioned offers endless possibilities and an excuse to acquire more bitters.

David’s take: Cocktails that promise variation and experimentation are a this not-so-savvy cocktailian’s dream.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

As my late and long posting indicates, this week seemed pretty ambitious to me. Next week, not so much. After a week of drinks that made me feel like I was being embraced by a series of grandfathers in wool cardigans, I thought it’d be nice to try a Cosmopolitan, an easy and breezy combination of vodka, cranberry juice, and orange liqueur… and quite a leap from Mad Men into Sex in the City.

The Black Eyed Susan

b-eyed sProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The Preakness Stakes is the second race of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Two weeks ago we celebrated the first race, the Kentucky Derby of course, with the traditional Mint Julep. This week’s cocktail is named after the official flower of Maryland and is the cocktail of The Preakness – the Black Eyed Susan.

Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore hosts the Preakness which was run for the first time in 1873, two years before the Kentucky Derby. Unlike the Derby which has been run every year since 1875, though, the Preakness missed a few years and was run at other tracks during its history. The race features its own traditions in the singing of Maryland’s state song (Maryland, My Maryland), a blanket of flowers for the winner (Black Eyed Susans or their substitute since they bloom later in the year), and the cocktail that we are celebrating.

The official cocktail has changed recipes over the year and any quick search will turn up a number of variations. The history began in a cloudy way when the first versions were premixed and the exact makeup kept secret by the company that made them. The story goes that the folks at Pimlico decided to make their own and a recipe was created to mimic the original. Since then though, there are versions different enough that they do not even contain the same base liquors. The Preakness web site includes what is now the “official” version made with Finlandia Vodka, St. Germain (an elderberry liqueur), and the juice of lemon, limes and pineapple. Needless to say it is official because it is sponsored by Finlandia and St. Germain.

My proposal last week was that we each try the version of our choice. Last year, before this blog was envisioned, our household celebrated the Derby with Juleps. The races that followed seemed to be a good excuse to try the traditional cocktails of each and we did just that. The Black Eyed Susan I made then included vodka and Kentucky whiskey (Early Times Kentucky Whisky, and yes, the spelling difference is correct). Based on that and few extra taste testers I found a recipe for a pitcher of the drink that was close to it:

1.5 cups vodka
1.5 cups rum, whiskey, or bourbon (I used bourbon)
.75 cups triple sec
4 cups orange juice
4 cups pineapple juice
1 tablespoon of lime juice

Garnished with an orange slice, cherry and fresh pineapple.

Add in some kind of crab dish, singing along with Maryland, My Maryland and you have your own tradition. At least until they change the recipe again.

beyedsuzDavid’s Review:

I had no intention of including St. Germain in this recipe, despite what the track says this year, but I did. It was on sale at a high falootin’ grocery I visit (but still mighty expensive) and I just couldn’t resist. Say what you will about the cost of St. Germain, it’s delicious and, I think, adds a great deal to this cocktail.

The Preakness usually goes unnoticed for me—it’s the first race after the Kentucky Derby—but this cocktail called for close attention. I’m no fan of pineapple juice, as the juice is another case where the fruit can’t be improved upon. Yet this drink offered a fresh and refreshing combination of flavors. Unlike Jonathan, I stuck to vodka and rum (and St. Germain), which made the fruit that much more prominent. In addition, St. Germain has an odd resonance with citrus. Tasted by itself, the liquor is positively protean, seeming at turns herbal, spicy, and fruity. And, at times, it tastes positively pineapply to me.

As we’ve suggested before, the ultimate review of a mixed drink is whether you order another, and we did. We missed the race—why so early, Maryland?—but the drink was a fine way to wind down as spring (finally) seems to be arriving in Chicago.

Maybe expense doesn’t matter so much if the result is a quiet moment of celebration. You don’t need a race or anything else, just the will for gratitude, a desire to acknowledge how good a moment of calm can be.

Jonathan’s take: Fruity. No other way to put it – fruity.

David’s take: Fruit is good, maybe even healthy. Whether it is or not, though, I’ll have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Time for another classic, I think. Let’s try a Tom Collins. I don’t have any idea who Tom Collins might be (though I’m certain I’ll find out), or how the drink arrived at that name, but as just about everyone seems to recognize the concoction, maybe it’s time to try one. We have the ingredients after all, and that’s a definite plus.