Beer Week 2015 (North Carolina)

NC BeersProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

I love spring. My beard is shaved, the flowers are starting to bloom, all the trees are budding, and the slight chill to the air is welcome, not foreboding. This week was my turn to supply the beers and the testing panel assembled on our back patio to do our scientific research and tasting. Here’s the lineup with descriptions mostly supplied by brewery websites:

Triple C Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stout (Charlotte): This beer starts with four malts – German Pilsner, Special B, white and chocolate wheats. It is aged in bourbon barrels and then on cacao nibs. The final addition is to add salt for the full pretzel treatment. Obviously meant to be the dessert for this tasting.

Howard Brewing General Lenoir’s Old Ale (Lenoir): This one was picked for its tie to NC history. The recipe comes from a 1795 hand written note attributed to General William Lenoir. The beer is touted as a traditional ale made with ingredients traced to the late 1700’s and Lenoir’s Fort Defiance. If we are going to taste beers from NC, we might as well taste a caramel and roast ale that is living history.

Highland Brewing Weizenbock Ale (Asheville): Highland is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I got to visit there with my wife, sister, brother-in-law and nephew last fall. They have created a group of small batches to honor the anniversary and this is one of them. The website notes for this beer tout flavors of cloves and bananas and malts that include wheat, barley and chocolate rye. I do have to say that when we toured, our nephew Dan knew more about beer than our guide, so I should have sent him one of these to try.

Foothills IPA of the month for March (Winston-Salem): The label is a caricature of Boston terrier mix named Murphy who in turn was named after a band. They really emphasize the final Citra and Lemondrop hops that provide the citrus bloom to the flavors, and the traditional German malts that give it depth.

NoDa Brewing Hop Drop & Roll (Charlotte): This beer won the 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Medal for American Style IPA which is the most contested category based on the number of entries. Hopping occurs throughout the brewing process with a late addition of Citra and Amarillo hops. Multiple malts add depth and body to this brew.

Holy City Bowen’s Island Oyster Stout (Charleston, SC): There are 2 bushels of oysters per 15 barrels of beer in this stout. I bought this one in Charleston a couple of months ago (as a note to our nephew Dan, it is not skunked being two months old) and sent one of these as a bonus beer. I like odd numbers and I am calling it a bonus so that I was sending 5 beers plus one.

David can rate these in order but I have to provide my tasting notes supplemented by my illustrious panel. One of the tasters is not a fan of IPA’s so we spared him the Hop Drop & Roll. That said it was the best of these beers, even if the award may have biased our judging. The Chocolate Pretzel Stout was probably second with an amazing complexity that reflected the numerous ingredients and careful attention to the brewing process. Surprisingly the General Lenoir Ale was the next favorite. The intrepid tasters noted that is best represented the concept of beer. The Weizenbock was a German style beer with little to distinguish it, the Foothills IPA for March was good but not spectacular, and the Oyster Stout suffered for having followed the Pretzel Stout. A regular beer after dessert? That’s hardly fair.

Here’s David’s Review:

March IPADuring our first week of beer, Jonathan threw down the gauntlet. He sent selections to convince me to like IPAs, and, while I won’t concede it’s my favorite style of beer, I enjoyed both of the IPAs he sent… and the others too. Like last week, not one of these beers was a bust. All were quite good, even and especially the IPAs. Reluctantly, maybe I’ll have to rethink my perverse antipathy toward the beer everyone else seems to enjoy… along with my distaste for many movies, literature, music, and art popular and universally beloved.

Nah.

I’ve ranked these beers, and I can’t help noticing how differently I regarded them… but it’s more a matter of preference than taste. I wouldn’t turn down any:

6. Holy City Bowen Island Oyster Stout: My wife really enjoyed this dense and dark beer, and I also appreciated its evocation of smoked oysters. I liked it much better than I expected I would and think it’d make an excellent cooking beer. Oyster stout just may not be my thing.

5. Triple C Chocolate Pretzel Stout: Chocolate covered pretzels are one of my favorite foods in the world, but I confess some fear of stouts. This one possesses the characteristic intimidating gravity and dark bitterness that sometimes turn me off, but, as a dessert beer, it was surprisingly good. Can’t say I tasted chocolate or pretzels, though.

4. General Lenoir Old Ale: I expected to like this one the best because it’s a sort of red, British style ale, the style I enjoy most consistently. Plus, the history is so cool. I did enjoy it, though its flavors didn’t seem quite as well integrated as some of the others. It tasted alcoholic—though the NoDa was the quite clear champion there!—and its carbonation seemed quite sharp, undercutting its mellow flavors.

3. NoDa Hop, Drop & Roll IPA: I know this one was supposed to be the award winner, and you have to love the name. It reminded me of the posters in my college dorm reminding us what to do should we happen to catch fire. I liked the beer too. It made very positive first impression, but it was the second best IPA for my taste. It amasses layer on layer on layer of hops. In the end, I found the combination of hops overwhelming by the time I emptied the glass.

2. Foothills March IPA: My objection to IPAs has always been how unbalanced many of these beers are, but this one was nicely fruity. For me, the strong hops complemented rather than overwhelmed the character of the beer… like a hoppy plum. Then again, as this beer is from my old hometown Winston-Salem, maybe it’s just nostalgic pride.

1. Highland Brewing Wiezenbock: My understanding of the Weizenbock style is limited, but I know it’s wheat beer and, as such, delivers just what you’d expect—a lighter, cloudier character that’s more subtle than bold—but, for me, the bock part of this ale also made it rich, roasty, and a little on the sweet side. I like the sweet side.

Jonathan’s take: A beautiful spring afternoon tasting beer. That’s probably the winner.

David’s take: Some IPAs are good… but that’s all you’re getting out of me.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

It’s been quite some time since either of us invented a cocktail, but I often fool around with the ingredients we have left over, and I’m ready to risk introducing one of my concoctions to my tough-reviewing brother. I’m calling it a 3GT. The letters stand for gin, ginger beer, Goldschläger, and tonic. Here’s hoping Jonathan hasn’t consumed all of those former ingredients… and won’t be too hard on me.

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Beer Week 2015 (Chicago)

crop2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This weekend seemed especially apt for taking a break from cocktails and trying some local beers. Saturday Chicago dyed the river green and let luridly green bands of 20-something drunks loose to rove the city (mostly its bars, but some get lost) in overcrowded trolleys. Invariably some happy leprechauns will end up caterwauling down my block singing/shouting incomprehensively. An angry leprechaun may start a fight that ends up on the front hood of the parked car in which you’ve taken refuge. Overindulgent leprechauns—which seems all of them—will leave parts of green get-ups and curious splatters on sidewalks.

It’s not my favorite day of the year, so I was happy to escape and have a much smaller celebration at home.

We’ve done this beer exchange before, and, last time, I was so scientific and systematic. This time, I went to my favorite liquor store and picked out four big bottles (bombers) from the aisle labeled “Midwest Breweries.” All the breweries were small, all but one in Chicago, and most were unusual varieties of ale. Here are the bottles I sent:

Enkel, an abbey style ale by Une Annee Brewery: The most conventional and plainly (almost generically) labeled of all the ales I sent, this beer sits solidly in the Belgian monastery style, and the brewery, which is only a couple of years old, focuses on just Belgian and French ales. A little less alcoholic than their other offerings, they tout Enkel as an ideal accompaniment to a meal.

Bam Noire, a dark farmhouse ale by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales: Largely a French style, farmhouse ales can be tart or sour, but, uncharacteristically, this beer uses darker, burnt malts. It’s really a marriage of two types of ales. Jolly Pumpkin was the only non-Chicago brew I chose—it’s from Michigan—and it’s also the one you’re most likely to find outside Chicago.

Can’t Someone Else Do It?, a double India Pale Ale from Spiteful Brewing: As I’ve discussed with my brother, I’m perhaps the only person on the planet not crazy about the IPA craze. I like hops, I do, but this style seems to focus so exclusively on hops that many versions lack any sort of subtlety or nuance. That said, I haven’t given up and know my brother likes them, so I chose one from a “nanobrewery” in town. Plus, I like their labels, which are more than a little surreal.

Pipeworks G&T, a gin and tonic inspired ale by Pipeworks Brewery: What makes this ale “Gin and tonic inspired” is the inclusion of spices besides hops, some botanicals and citrus. I thought I should send at least one outside-the-box selection, and Pipework seems perfect for providing that. They are super-small, and a new self-made and hand-distributed beer seems to come out every week. I haven’t been able to keep up, but I’ve liked what I’ve tried… and loyal readers of this blog will know of my history with gin and tonics.

Here are Jonathan’s Reviews:

JbmbeerThe best part of beer week is that David sends me everything that I need. The doorbell rang early in the week and when I opened it, there was a box full of beer. In this case it was four bombers (a term for oversized bottles of beer I recently learned) to go with the list that I had been sent earlier. All I had to do was assemble my tasting panel and I was ready to go, Fortunately, my son Josh was around and my neighbor Rob is always ready to try the drink, or in this case beer, of the week. So without further ado, here is the list in ascending order:

  1. Pipeworks G & T Ale. As David has described, G & T really means gin and tonic. I could taste those flavors, although they are subtle, but actually wished they were more prominent. The thing that really made me like this less (I liked all the beers so this is just an order of which I liked the most) was the odd mouth feel. That may be a wine term, but this beer had an odd viscosity that distracted from the flavor. My fellow tasters did not mind, and I think it rated higher with them.
  1. Bam Noire Farmhouse Ale. This beer had a wild yeast quality that gave it a welcome sour taste. It was complex, tasty and defied categorization. The body was really nice and it had a deep color that was also pleasant. Beers rarely live up to the label and/or web site description but this one came close. If it were part of a blind test I would have sworn this was a German beer.
  1. Une Annee Abbey Ale (Enkel). I still have questions about the brewery name and the beer name – is it an abbey ale or an enkel and what the heck is an enkel? Add to that the label description that talks about a “brett” taste and I was really confused. Brett, as it ends up, is a negative for wines and a positive for beers. It describes a leathery taste that I must have completely missed. But I loved the beer, it was smooth, had a complex flavor and a really nice color. The other tasters thought it too subtle, but they still liked it.
  1. Spiteful Brewing Can’t Someone Else Do It Double IPA. They had me with the label that was an illustration of two creatures (sloths I suppose) with shirts that read “sloth life.” The description suggested that the right amount of procrastination is always useful in getting someone else to take care of chores—a fantastic life lesson unless you are the one who gives in. David and I differ about IPAs. He feels hops are overused and I think they sing a song of flavor. This beer had the perfect combination of flavor and body to accompany any meal, especially the pizzas we paired it with. I recently tried a white whale beer (the heavily pursued Bell’s Hopslam) that was excellent, but this was better. Josh and I split this one and I wished I had stolen his share.

Jonathan’s take: I hope that my selections offer as much variety. The best part was the massive differences is each of these beers.

David’s take: I liked all of these beers and for different reasons, but, surprisingly, the beer I want to try again is the double IPA, which seemed especially good.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I have already picked NC beers from some of my favorite breweries. I also found one that I had never heard of but it has an historical context. Last time I avoided IPAs, but this time I am going to try to make David like them, or at least one of them that is my favorite. Now we just need to get them shipped so he has time to taste over few days time.

Vanilla Bourbon Champagne Cocktail

VBCCProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The romantic films of the late fifties and early sixties taught me champagne goes to your head more quickly than other types of alcohol. Count on it, once the cork pops Doris Day spills affection she means to keep bottled. Inhibitions vanish with an understanding only possible between the ungirdled. Then unlikely love blossoms, naturally.

Sorry if you continue to attribute special powers to champagne, but, chemically, alcohol is alcohol, and the inebriating potential assigned to champagne’s fizz is, sadly, dubious and perhaps imaginary.

Not that imagination is to be trifled with—science doesn’t support the existence of aphrodisiacs either, but people still invest in the idea.

However, in any case, Valentine’s Day seems like a great excuse to break out the bubbly and indulge imagination. Let’s be honest: husbands often approach this holiday with a special dread. Stakes are high, and my own record of making the day memorable is spotty. I like to think my wife and I have plenty of ungirdled love and understanding—champagne or not—but I’m all for celebrating with the good stuff if it gives me a way to express affection and supplies my wife with an answer when coworkers ask, “So, what did your lousy, good-for-nothing insensitive slob of a husband do for Valentine’s Day?”

They won’t exactly put it that way, of course, but that’s the gist.

As a category, champagne cocktails often aspire to beauty as well as flavor. The first, THE champagne cocktail that appeared (where else) in “Professor” Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book Bon Vivant’s Companion, combines champagne with cognac, angostura bitters and a sugar cube that produces lively bubbles when you drop it in the glass. Visit Martha Stewart’s site and you’ll find many other versions, each with a pleasing garnish and secondary ingredient that makes a celebrant say, “Now, what is that I’m tasting?”

This version, which has a great deal in common with the French 75, substitutes bourbon for that drink’s cognac and omits the simple syrup and lemon juice in favor of a vanilla syrup. Making syrups has become a sort of sub-hobby for me, and, though we’re running out of vessels to contain them all, I’m looking forward to adding this syrup to other drinks.

Here’s the recipe:

To Make Vanilla Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 vanilla beans
  1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise into halves and place in a heatproof jar or bottle.
  3. Pour the hot syrup over the vanilla beans and let stand for 8 to 10 hours.
  4. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To Make the Drink:

  1. Mix the bourbon and syrup in a Champagne flute.
  2. Top with Champagne.
  3. Garnish with a vanilla bean.

As usual, I’ll save my response to this cocktail for the end of this post, but I’ll give this much away—an aspiring husband on Valentine’s Day could do worse than a Vanilla Bourbon Champagne Cocktail and a heart-shaped box of sushi.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmvbcc

There are cat people and dog people, morning people and night people, those who prefer chocolate to vanilla and versa vice. I would say I am firmly in the dog, night and chocolate categories. Of course there are exceptions. I’ve met a lot of cats that are great, morning is not so bad if I am going fishing or playing golf, and I think I understand the subtlety of vanilla better as I grow older.

This cocktail is an odd mix of bubbly, bourbon and the subtle vanilla. It seems like any liquor that is wood aged is described as having “vanilla notes” even if that is a difficult taste to discern. The bourbon that is called for in the recipe, Woodford Reserve, is no exception so it is hard to tell if it is the super simple syrup with its added vanilla bean or the spirit. That taste is there though, and it is that subtlety that distinguishes the drink. Bourbon and champagne are an odd mix but something, maybe that vanilla, ties them together.

The other thing to note about this drink is the combination of champagne with a liquor. I have always felt, with no scientific proof whatsoever, that the physiological effect of champagne is noticed more quickly than other alcohols. It makes no sense, alcohol is alcohol after all, but it seems to hold true and, when combined with a higher proof spirit like bourbon, seems to be even more pronounced. Maybe I can get some foundation to help me study that further.

The last thing to note is that David proposed this as a Valentine cocktail. I do appreciate the fact that my wife puts up with this blog and am grateful that David’s suggestion notes our wives’ role in this endeavor. It seems like it should be all fun, but keeping up with it each and every week, the sometimes odd ingredients, and the strained shelves of our liquor cabinet is not all roses.

Jonathan’s take: The cocktails with effervescent spirits are almost always good. This one proves that rule.

David’s Take: I wish I had an excuse to drink this cocktail more often.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have tried a drink called the Caipirinha de Uva, but I am proposing the traditional caipirinha. It is a very simple mix of cachaca, sugar and lime and is the national drink of Brazil. If David doesn’t have any more cachaca, a sugar cane rum, he is welcome to substitute a similar cocktail called Ti’ Punch made with Rhum Agricole (another sugarcane rum), sugar and lime.

The Black and Gold Cocktail

graduationThe Black and Gold Cocktail does not have a long storied history. Jerry Thomas did not create it in a fit of gold rush inspiration, there is no liqueur derived from some a long held recipe of a secret sect, no literary figure demanded one be placed in front of him as soon as he entered his favorite bar, and variations of it do not appear in hipster establishments. It seems to have been created for its color and to meet a need to match the black and gold that matches many sports teams. The one thing that does set it apart, however, is that there are not many black spirits.

The recipe for this drink calls for vodka and Goldschläger which is noted for the gold flakes that float in the clear spirit. It is quite simply two parts of a black version of the former mixed with one part of the latter. The problem with all of that starts with the black vodka. There appears to be only one type of that vodka, Blavod, and it is not being imported to the United States right now. That means that the only options are to create a black vodka (10 drops blue food coloring, 10 drops red, and 8 drops green per fifth of liquor) or to find another black liquor.

This is a good time for an aside about vodka. There seems to be a love/hate relationship with the spirit. Watch the right event or show on television and you can be assailed with commercials for vodkas to be requested by name. The funny thing is that almost all of those ads tout multiple distilations or many filters for that particular vodka which means that it is rendered almost tasteless. The reviews for Blavod note that the tree extract, black catechu, provides the unique black color but also adds a slight bitter aftertaste that detracts from the neutral spirit. Unless, of course, the taster is blindfolded and then they don’t notice anything. It is no wonder that cocktail and spirit reviewers eschew vodka and that, should trends be believed, it is going out of favor. Oh yeah, unless you count the numerous flavors that have been invented to add taste to the neutral base. In that manner it is not only not going out of favor, but is taking over the liquor stores. Anyone need a shot of pecan pie vodka for dessert?

All of this leaves the maker of the Black and Gold with decisions about the black portion. There is the make your own vodka, the slightly black chocolate vodka, the mostly black coffee vodka, and the more off course black alternatives of other spirits. Since the Goldschläger is a cinnamon schnapps, we looked for a taste to match that flavor. That choice was a coffee flavored java rum from Sea Island. Sea Island is another small batch distillery located on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina.

The resulting drink was a nice dark color, although the gold flakes of the Goldschläger were not terribly apparent, with a pleasing after dinner taste of coffee and cinnamon. It had a good balance of sweetness combined with the bitter coffee element that could have been achieved with coffee vodka, but I like to think the rum gave it a body and background that gave the cocktail a little more gravity and depth. The real purpose of this cocktail was to celebrate an event and one of those black and gold affinities. In this case my niece’s graduation and Appalachian State University. For both those purposes the drink worked well.

Here’s David’s Review:

black and goldFirst, congratulations to Lauren. It’s her graduation this recipe is meant to celebrate. That cannot go unsaid and, whether she appreciated this cocktail or not, I hope she appreciates what she’s accomplished.

I did appreciate this cocktail… and not just in comparison to the wretched blue cocktail I proposed for the last graduation we celebrated. Some months ago, during some simple syrup experimentation, I made one with Vietnamese cinnamon and used it up in no time. The heat and singularity of the flavor appeals to me, and, though I’ve never tried Fireball whiskey, I understand the appeal. I’m not sure about the flavor of gold flecks—or I should say I’m sure I didn’t taste them—and I read on Wikipedia that there’s only 13 mg of gold in a Goldschläger bottle, which means, based on today’s rate, they are worth 51 cents. Still, they’re mighty pretty when you stir them up.

As for the black in the Black and Gold cocktail, Jonathan and I had different solutions. He chose java rum and I chose the Gosling’s Black Seal rum we’d used for the Dark N’ Stormy. My rum wasn’t truly black, and I thought about making it blacker by adding food color. As you can see from my photograph, my version of black and gold was more brown than anything else. And two other blacker alternatives occurred to us, Kahlua and—going back to the beertails a couple of weeks ago—Porter. However, rather than drink another, I satisfied for brown and gold. The gold flecks were less visible than they might have been, but the mixture of the molasses overtones of the rum and the spiciness of the cinnamon seemed a good combination, gingerbread-y and festive. Of course, who knows what complexity the food color might add, but I’ll let someone with a finer palate figure that out.

Regardless of what you add to make the black of this drink, it’s for sipping. The Goldschläger is quite hot and don’t forget that this cocktail is pure alcohol. The recipe I used called it a Black and Gold Martini. The rum and the liqueur were far sweeter than a martini, but, if I had any complaint, it was the martini-like paint-thinner waft of ethyl that met you with each sip. The taste overcame it quickly… and maybe you need something neutral like vodka to cut the sweetness of the liqueur… but I can’t see drinking more than one of these.

As it happens, my college colors were also black and gold (though we always put the gold first), and I was happy to raise a glass to Lauren and hope she was celebrating her milestone and carrying as full a store of memories from her college days as I do of mine.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t look for this to appear on cocktail bar menus, but for an affinity drink you could do worse.

David’s Take: A nice warmer by the fire and appropriately fancy and celebratory.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My proposal is to make some room on my liquor shelf (because who knows what Santa might bring and I’m also uncertain my shelf can bear much more weight). As it’s winter I’m proposing an adaptation of a warm cocktail, which I’m calling Cherry Pisco Hot Chocolate. In the original recipe, the “Cherry” was “Orange,” but then my wife remembered how much Jonathan used to like chocolate covered cherries. He may be over them by now—it seems every Christmas someone (and sometimes more than one someone) gave him a box. I’m using Cherry Herring and the Pisco, however, because both need emptying more than my Grand Marnier. Jonathan can fill in the first blank any way he wants, but the hot chocolate is a requirement that, I hope, will be right for the season.

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

FullSizeRender

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 Great Calabaza

Proposed by: Jonathanj.calabaza

Reviewed by: David

Ed walked into the bar, looked for a stool in the back corner and sat down. He had driven past this place fifteen minutes before and probably would not have noticed it if the “O” in the “Cocktails” sign had not been burnt out. Something about that and the nearly empty parking lot had nagged at him until he finally turned around and drove back.

It had been a long week at the end of a long year. Ed was a clown by profession. Things had gone well for a long time with birthday parties, parades, events at senior homes and even the occasional office party, but then the economy collapsed. Everyone’s entertainment dollars dried up, and the clown budgets were one of the first things to go. He tried not to blame his woes on an increasing fear of clowns among kids too, but he knew that was out there.

In desperation Ed had started doing magic shows, selling novelties and finally had resorted to being a rodeo clown. The rodeo circuit was tough with events often far away, and safety not even an afterthought. One night he went to protect a rider from a bull named Calabaza, for its oddly colored gourd shaped head, and when he went to jump in the barrel at the last second, he found it already occupied by some other clown. There were still days and nights when he could feel Calabaza goring him from behind.

As Ed sat down the owner, Sam, wandered over. “Looks like you need a drink. What can I get you?”

Ed thought for a moment and decided it was time to confront his demon. “I’ll have The Great Calabaza.”

“Never heard of that. You’ll need to tell me what’s in it, or at least what the liquor is.”

“It’s made with equal parts of mezcal and fresh orange juice.”

“I have bottled orange juice that we use for screwdrivers and the best I can do on the spirit is tequila.” Sam turned to get those, but he turned back and asked what a “calawhatzit” is.

“It’s actually a type of gourd like a pumpkin,” Ed answered, “but I was a rodeo clown and it’s the name of a bull that tore me up.”

“Okay then. Is there anything else besides the tequila and orange juice?”

Yeah, the rim of the glass needs to be moistened and a mix of Chinese five spice and salt coated on it.”

“I’m not sure you noticed,” Sam said, “but most people in here drink Budweiser and a shot is the most popular cocktail. I don’t keep Chinese five spice, and I don’t rim glasses.”

“Okay you can skip that, but it does need a little bit of lime juice.”

“Fine, anything else?”

“Pumpkin butter. A couple of tablespoons of pumpkin butter.”

“Get your ass out of my bar, clown.”

This bad fiction is sponsored by a cocktail with no history and no back story. Sure, one can assume that the name is a word play on The Great Pumpkin since a Calabaza is a West Indian gourd that looks like a pumpkin, but other than that, it is an obscure cocktail created by the aptly named writer – Autumn Giles. The exact recipe is:

1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 ounces mezcal
3 ounces fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons pumpkin butter
.5 ounce lime juice

Moisten the rim of a glass with lime, and press it into the mix of five spice and salt. Mix together the mezcal, orange juice, lime and pumpkin butter in a shaker with ice. Shake with ice and strain (I used a fine strainer) into the glasses filled with more ice.

As it ends up, and as my picture shows, I skipped the salt and five spice. That was a mistake since this drink can be sweet and needs that contrast of salt and spice.

And Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_0436I don’t begrudge most people’s pleasures. There are books and movies and music and food that seem terrible to me, but if you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, Nashville, Up With People albums, and stewed sea urchin, fine. I’m not judging, just skeptical.

Pumpkin mania particularly mystifies me. This time of year, they’re everywhere—not just on porches and stoops but in the groceries attached to cookies, air freshener, chips, cider, shampoo, pasta, gum, yogurt, hummus, and beer. To me… no judgment, remember… the beer is a particular affront, but each year, I discover more absurd pumpkin products. Why does Trader Joe’s need to sell pumpkin-flavored dog treats, and what’s the appeal of Pumpkin Spice Four Loko (or regular Four Loko, for that matter)?

The one use of pumpkin I approve of entirely is the (up to this year) annual Punkin-Chunkin’ in lower Delaware. There’s something quite astounding about watching gourds soar.

So imagine my shock when, prepared to scoff, snort, and sneer at The Great Calabaza, I discovered how good it is. I attribute part of its success to the mescal, which gives it an earthy and smoky base, but the spice in the pumpkin butter harmonizes well with it, the orange juice and lime cut the drink’s density, and the pumpkin is just sweet enough to hold it all together. The recipe I used called the cocktail “An autumnal riff on a margarita,” and that seems apt. Like a margarita it relies on a carefully tuned combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy.

The five-spice salt may seem an extra step—and you don’t need to make as much as the recipe calls for—but that element seems important too. Otherwise, the drink might evoke liquefied and spiked pumpkin pie. In fact, when we discovered we only had three (rather than four) tablespoons of pumpkin butter in the refrigerator, we made do, and it seemed plenty. With so many other flavors asserting themselves in The Great Calabaza, I almost forgot the key to it all was supposed to be my friend the pumpkin.

Would I ever order this drink in a bar? Probably not—because of my pride, and because of my disdain for the pumpkin bandwagon rolling down every grocery aisle—but it was a pleasant way to end a fall evening and, for at least a moment, made me appreciate the pumpkin phenomenon a little more.

David’s Take: A quite pleasant surprise and a blow to my pumpkin prejudice.

Jonathan’s Take: The color and ingredients speak of autumn, but the drink says “get your ass out of my bar, clown.”

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Sometimes, in thinking about the next cocktail, all I have is a glimmer of a hint of a day dreaming notion of a possibility. As a second grader in La Marque, Texas, I learned all about how people make maple syrup—I know, weird, right?—so I looked for a cocktail recipe using that flavor and found Medicine Man, a cocktail promising fall’s warm flavors and heat in the form of paprika.

The Mule (Moscow and Otherwise)

muler?muler?Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a drink a drink. Specifically, I’ve been wondering how so many varieties of mules (some call them bucks) can all be all one drink. How can one name fit seemingly infinite visions and revisions?

This week, my wife and I attended a cocktail class taught by Devin Kidner, the founder of Hollow Leg and a master mixologist for the Koval Distillery. Besides having a wonderful time on a roof deck with an awe-inspiring view of the Chicago skyline, we learned a lot about cocktails’ basic components and how they cooperate to create drinks’ distinctive tastes. One of the most illuminating lessons for me was that, once you identify the essential elements of a drink, you can mix, match, and adapt freely and without fear.

Taking that lesson to heart, I tried a couple of variations on the classic Moscow Mule, which traditionally includes lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer, often in nifty copper cups, which—thanks to a birthday gift from my wife—we now own. I can’t distinguish between ginger beer and ginger ale or say what a buck is. Wikipedia will have to help you with the drink’s history, but the web is crowded with many other less than traditional mules. Many restaurants and bars have signature mules. You can change the spirit and the juice and serve it in a glass. You can shake it with ice or make it in the cup. You can garnish it with mint or lemon or nothing. But nearly every mule recipe calls for ginger—ginger beer, ginger ale, ginger syrup, even (I suppose) real grated ginger or ginger candy.

Devin gave me the idea that a sweet liqueur can substitute for simple syrup, and I chose Koval Ginger Liqueur to stand in for the essential mule element. She also suggested, though, that carbonation is never incidental in a well-made mixed drink. It not only cuts the sweetness, but also often balances, enhances, or moderates the spicy and/or hot aspects of a cocktail, which she labeled as their trigeminal effects. You’ll have to ask her what that is, but, as the drink clearly needed something fizzy, I added seltzer for one variation and a combination of seltzer and tonic for another.

Then, just to make the whole enterprise even more complicated, I used bourbon instead of vodka, meaning my cocktail was more accurately a variation of a Kentucky Mule.

A little knowledge can be a powerful thing. Devin compares her mission to the old adage about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish, and it’s liberating to know that a manhattan or a sling or a mojito or a caipirinha can be just the starting point for cocktails in many different guises.

And on that copper cup… while it may not be essential, it does definitely add to the experience of a mule. The metal gets very cold and condensation quickly covers its surface. That’s pretty, but it also creates an enlivening and refreshing sensation similar to drinking spring water from a metal ladle, which—I’m guessing—could be another trigeminal effect. I’m not at all sure about the science, but now that we have those cups, I’ll be looking for other reasons to use them.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

mulishness2

There are so many questions that I hope David has answered. What is the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer? Is there a difference in a mule and a buck? Why does this cocktail have its own designated vessel and does it make a difference? What the heck does Moscow have to do with this anyway? To be so perplexing this classic is worth the questions.

My ginger beer of choice was Crabbie’s, a version from the United Kingdom. That really raised the initial question, since up to that point I thought the difference in ginger ale and beer was alcohol. Apparently not since when I asked in the store for ginger beer the helpful clerk responded with “alcoholic or non-alcoholic.”

This is a cocktail blog – I answered “alcoholic.”

The vodka this week was a grain version from Iceland called Reyka. I am still not sure that the brand, or even base material for the mash, makes much difference when it comes to vodka in cocktails, but this one has a really impressive label. If that means anything.

One of the things I cited as a lesson after our first year of this blog is that it makes a difference who you are sharing the drink with. We were very fortunate to be able to meet one of my sisters, her husband and my nephew in Asheville for the weekend and as a result shared the cocktail with them. It was, as I suspected, an affirmation of the lesson and that much better for the sharing.

There were actually two versions of the cocktail, as anyone who has paid attention should know. The first version used the Crabbie’s and I made a second with Blenheim ginger ale. Both drinks showcase the ginger with the ginger beer version more complex and the lime less prominent. The lime stood out in the Blenheim mix and the ginger, while stronger, did not have the background depth of the Crabbie’s. Push come to shove, I liked the Blenheim version better, but probably because the lime stood out and offered a contrast.

Jonathan’s take: Mule or buck, ale or beer, Borgarnes (Iceland) or Moscow, none of it matters when the cocktail is this good.

David’s take: A Mule is well-worth riding, copper cups or no.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Some of our regular tailgaters, my son David and his friend Trevor, asked if they could suggest a drink. Interestingly it is very similar to the Moscow Mule especially since they didn’t know that was what we were trying this week. They have proposed the Dark ‘N Stormy, another mule/buck using spiced rum, typically Gosling’s. I already tried different versions of the Moscow Mule so I imagine this week will offer more chances to mix up the ginger ale and beer to see how that changes things.

The Cosmopolitan

Proposed by: Davidcosmodbm

Reviewed by: Jonathan

So many claims and counterclaims litter the relatively short history of the Cosmopolitan (or “Cosmo” if you’re a frequent user) that it’s hardly worth offering a history. Suffice it to say, many people thought of it… and many thought they were first.

Whatever its origins, however, the Cosmopolitan quickly became the cocktail of the moment in the 90s and is still quite popular, especially among women. One reason may be its use as the signature cocktail of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City. By the time they made the series into a film, Carrie’s friend Miranda is asking why they didn’t order them anymore. “Because,” Carrie says, “everyone else started.”

Perhaps because of Carrie Bradshaw’s endorsement, the Cosmopolitan, I’m told, is a woman’s drink. I don’t really understand why any cocktail needs to be described that way—what could be more absurd than saying a drink is more suited to men or women?

My interest in the Cosmopolitan came from the favorite drink of graduate school friends, a Cape Codder. That cocktail combines Cranberry Juice and Vodka, and whenever I visited, they’d place one in my hand around 5:15. I thought the bitterness of the juice worked well with the clean and super distilled alcohol. It was refreshing in a way screwdrivers are not because it was never too sweet or dense. The sweet and sour of citrus and the bitter of citrus peel in the Cointreau, I figured, could only add.

As it turns out, those ingredients add a great deal. Whether positively or negatively I’ll leave to Jonathan, but I didn’t feel particularly girlish drinking one.

Here’s the Recipe:

1 1/2 ounces vodka or citrus vodka

1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce cranberry juice

Orange peel for garnish

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Cosmojbm

We have flirted with the Cosmopolitan even though we had not tried it before. Sometime early in the blog, I erroneously referred to the Cosmopolitan in my proposal for a drink for the next week (either my research is faulty or David’s editing has corrected my idiocy because I couldn’t find the reference). I also stated that there is a similarity in the drink name between the Metropolitan and Cosmopolitan, even though there is no similarity in the drink.

The base of this week’s proposal is the neutral spirit vodka. There is always some criticism about vodka drinks, some deserved and some not. The deserving part, in my opinion, is when people insist on particular brands of vodka despite combining them with mixers that completely mask any taste even if there was some. The underserving part is to completely dismiss vodka because it is neutral. That lack of presence allows the other ingredients to stand out more. That is a quality accentuated in this drink.

We tried a couple of different recipes for the Cosmo. The first was true to David’s link and combined the vodka, Cointreau (I did use another brand), lime juice and cranberry juice. The benefit of the orange liqueur in this version was both body (from the brandy base) and taste. The negative was that the color was slightly off from what I expect a Cosmo to be since there is little cranberry. To adjust, I increased the cranberry in the second recipe and used Triple Sec for the orange taste. That one was lighter and more cranberry-er but lacked the depth of the first. Both benefitted greatly from fresh lime juice and probably would have from fresh cranberry if I could have figured out how to juice those little suckers.

The Cosmopolitan could be the drink that defines the negative of shelf ready mixers. Most of my experience with this cocktail has been a quick mix of one of those and vodka. The drink is easy, the look and color are right, but the taste is sugary and off. If you have ever turned your nose up at the thought of this once trendy drink, try it again with fresh ingredients. Worth it.

Jonathan’s take: The base alcohol makes a difference, but if you’re going neutral there is still hope with the right mixers.

David’s take: Though I love sweet drinks, I’d love to play with some of these proportions and try some orange bitters and less Cointreau.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

There was a time, may still be for all I know, when Jagermeister shots were very popular in bars. That was not my time. I had read recently that other liquor/liqueur producers have tried to replicate that success. One of those is Tuaca an Italian liqueur with flavors of herbs and vanilla. There is a cocktail called the Livorno that combines that liqueur with bourbon and bitters and that’s where we are going next week. I just hope I can find Tuaca.

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.

Tequila Sunrise

jmSunriseProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Prohibition plays a part in our family history and the purported history of the Tequila Sunrise. There is a great age gap between generations on our father’s side of the family. Our paternal grandmother was 44 when our father was born and our Dad 30 and then 32 when we were born. She had passed away before either David or I were entered the world, but we were told stories growing up about how she was active in the temperance movement leading to the ratification of the 18th amendment that began Prohibition in 1921. I am sure David can still sing the ditty we learned as children associated with that activism:

The birds drink clear water that falls from the skies,
They never touch liquor, and neither do I.

Obviously the cautionary song, while part of our history, has had no effect on our adult lives. Much like the fact that I have never been dissuaded from my curds and whey by any spider.

The muddled history of the Tequila Sunrise actually includes two separate drinks. The first drink associated with that name was a mix of tequila, crème de cassis, lime and soda water. It may or may not have included grenadine depending on what you read. One story associates the cocktail with an area south of Tijuana called Agua Caliente. It was popular with travelers from southern California looking for south of the border entertainment during the time of Prohibition where those travelers could enjoy legal alcohol.

There is a second tale of the creation of the cocktail that is also based on the crème de cassis recipe. In this version the drink dates back to the 1930’s or 40’s (after Prohibition was ended by the 21st amendment) and the Arizona Biltmore hotel. It is said to have been created by Gene Sulit perhaps as an alternative to the classic Screwdriver. In the Sulit recipe the grenadine would make more sense to mimic the vivid sunrises of the southwest.

The final credit for this beverage goes to a pair of bartenders in the area of Sausalito. This one dates to the 1970’s and is the basic recipe most often seen today – tequila, orange juice and grenadine. This recipe along with the other types of Tequila Sunrises have been associated with hangover cures.  The idea being that the ingredients are common morning beverages, stomach soothers and/or associated with rehydration. That makes sense no matter which recipe you consider.

The article linked in the introduction from last week shows the versatility of this basic cocktail. I chose the version created at the  Departure Restaurant & Lounge in Portland called The Rising Sun. The recipe is as follows:

2 ounces reposado tequila
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.25 honey syrup
.5 ounce grenadine

Shake with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass with ice. They recommend garnishing with an orange wheel and lemon twist.

The first versions I made had no garnish since they were served at a tailgate and were popular with the crowd. The good news is that with the large number of tasters I was turning them out very quickly and no one seemed to care about lack of garnish. The bad news is that I never tried one myself. Fortunately there was enough of each ingredient left that I was able to make a couple more a day later for my wife and I, although I chose to garnish it with 1/7th of my total fig crop (the bushes are young) instead of orange and lemon.

One last note about this drink: there are a lot of cultural references to the Tequila Sunrise including the Eagle’s song, and a movie. My favorite one, though, was brought up my oldest son who has been afflicted with my curse of being a Houston Astro’s fan. He noted people refer to the once famous multi-colored jerseys the Astros wore as “The Tequila Sunrise jerseys” for their classic gradation of colors.

Here’s David’s Review:

Sunrises5Having made a Tequila Sunrise, my worries about matching its proper appearance seem silly. I actually made two cocktails featured in the article Jonathan offered—an “Improved Tequila Sunrise” and the Oaxacan Sunset. Both looked perfect. Gently pouring along the edge of the glass allowed the heavier liquid to sink, and—voila—sunrise. Both drinks stayed sunrises, the taste of the drink evolving as we consumed its layers.

As a close grocery store includes a juice bar, I had no trouble finding freshly squeezed orange juice and, once again, enjoyed the immediate fruitiness of both cocktails. In fact, after seeing the Oaxacan Sunset didn’t include orange juice, I added it anyway. Orange juice seems the backbone of this drink, yet, oddly, the juice almost becomes a neutral element. Everything else about these two versions seemed to dictate the cocktail’s character.

Which seemed particularly true of the Oaxacan Sunrise, which includes three stronger elements, Mezcal, Gin, and a sweet sherry… plus the sneaky contribution of tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters. I had to guess the proportions—it seems bars hesitate to give away all their secrets, after all—but, though I played with the amounts, the smoky Mezcal hit me most and lingered most. The Gin and sherry largely disappeared. The tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters? Fogettaboutit.

I wish I’d had a standard Sunrise to compare, but the second tequila sunrise—the improved version from San Francisco’s Chambers Eat + Drink, substituted brandied cherry juice for grenadine and added Cointreau. At least at first, the result seemed more satisfying, sweet and sour, nicely alcoholic but not overwhelmingly so. In some ways, it evoked a Mimosa—clean and efficient, suitable for a true sunrise, some lazy brunch.

In the end, I’m not sure how I felt about the evolution of flavors as we passed through the layers. My wife thought I should just stir the dang things, but I didn’t want to spoil the appearance of the drink, which seemed pretty important to its nature. With the Oaxacan Sunrise, the transition from Mescal to sherry seemed welcome even if it was incomplete and maybe still too intense. While the Improved Sunrise was more pleasant at the start, the culminating swallows of cherry juice proved challenging after such an enjoyable prelude.

My experience overall helps me understand why so many Sunrises exist. The flavors seem ripe for experiment. The sunrise effect, which turns out to be so easy, gives this drink extra drama. It invites innovation and variation.

David’s Take: I dunno. Maybe I might need to try all 17 sunrises before I decide.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t let the 70’s classic reputation prohibit (pun intended) you from trying some version of this drink.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’m aiming for elegance, but we’ll see what happens. We’ve included a number of classic cocktails in this blog—including the Tequila Sunrise this week—but I’ll answer Jonathan’s fruit-based convention with a more spirit-based one of my own, the Metropolitan. With brandy, sweet vermouth, and simple (I mean simple) syrup, it’s all about dim bars, being in-the-know, and seeking relief from daily cares.