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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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.

Moving Sale

Moving Sale Ver 2Proposed By: David

Enacted By: David and Jonathan

Maybe the expression, “Necessity is the mother of invention” shouldn’t apply to cocktails. Putting aside the troublesome aspects of drinking being a “necessity,” mixology seems a more deliberate science involving arduous research and development, subtle variation and adjustment, measurement and refinement. The ingredients are too precious after all, and no one wants a bartender who presents some sloppy, improvised “invention.” And yet…

We’re moving this week, and, for the past week or so, I’ve been roaming my house sorting through our possessions, boxing some and giving or throwing the rest away. Anyone who’s transplanted recently knows that moment when you realize these things possess you and not the other way around and decide you really should have hired a hot-air balloon for your move instead of a truck.

As fun as it is being a not-so-savvy cocktailian, my liquor shelf feels especially burdensome, with all those bottles I’d opened for a few ounces and the others I’ve used nearly to the bottom. Well, the luridly colored Crème de Menthe, Crème de Violette, and Blue Curacao will have to come with us, and—who knows?—someday I may have a serious hankering for Kahlua or Tuaca (because stranger things have happened), but surely I can do something about those dregs.

Anyway, that’s the thinking behind this week’s cocktail challenge. I wanted to invent a drink called The Moving Sale to consume those spirits and other ingredients near exhaustion. On my mythical moving company hot-air balloon, every ounce is precious, so I gathered some candidates for casting off and set out to experiment.

Had my standards been lower, I could have chosen a number of bottles, but I ended up with just those pictured above, each with an ounce or two of liquid remaining, plus some stuff in the refrigerator like coconut cream and homemade grenadine that simply had to go. I even included my Pechaud and Orange Bitters, though it might take another year or so to spend the last couple of ounces of those.

Here are the two drinks I invented (followed by a brief appraisal):

Moving Sale Drink 1Moving Sale 1:

1 oz. Frangelico

2 oz. Aquavit

2 oz. Grenadine

1 oz. Lemon Juice

Fill a shaker with ice and all the ingredients, shake, and serve.

The Frangelico stands up remarkably well against the Aquavit, and, because it’s on the sweet side with the addition of grenadine, it needs the lemon and bitters to balance it.

Moving Sale 2:

2.5 oz. Tequila Blanco

2 oz. coconut cream

Macerated Mint Leaves

2 dashes orange bitters

Fill a shaker with ice and all the ingredients, shake, and serve.

This one seemed a little odd to me. For one, coconut cream must work better with rum and, for another, mint and coconut? Still, as strange as it seems, this version had a nice botanical gravity.

Here’s Jonathan’s version:

This week’s drink proposal, concept really, was birthed from David’s need to purge before a move. Every time David mentions relocating I think back to when he and my sister-in-law, Beth, left Louisville. He is anything but a sentimentalist when it comes to things, at least ordinary things, and he claimed that each time during that move there was a disagreement about whether to move something or chunk it he slipped a note in the box. That note said something to the effect that if it had not been discovered before the next move the item or items had to be abandoned.

With that memory in mind, I have been imagining Beth paying him back. I see her dropping tiny waterproof capsules into the odd bottle of spirit. Each capsule in this scenario contains an even tinier note that tells the discoverer the liquor must be dumped if the note has not been read by a set date. Of course, I haven’t told my wife about this strange fantasy for fear that I will someday wonder what is floating in those bottles of crème de menthe, blue curacao, and crème de violette.

The real idea for this week was to take three items that were in short supply and exhaust them in a simple mixed drink. It could also have meant that I was supposed to make up my own drink, but during the week I rediscovered the Preakness cocktail. Devoted readers and followers of all things horse racing know that the official drink of The Preakness is now the Black Eyed Susan (a new sponsored version), but at one time it was a Manhattan variation. It is a mix of 2 ounces rye whiskey, 1 ounce red vermouth, ½ teaspoon of Benedictine and two dashes of Angostura bitters. All of that is stirred with ice, strained into a coupe and garnished with lemon peel.

If the true intent was to empty bottles it was a smashing success. First, I had an old bottle of vermouth that had long ago gone bad in the fridge and it was emptied and recycled without using any of it. The next dead soldier was a bottle of rye. In fact, I thought I had two of those, but the other must have gone away long ago so we worked on finishing a wheat whiskey that may never be gone. The bonus was that we had relatives over and a dwindling bourbon bottle breathed its last vanilla and oak scented breaths. We’re not moving so I can’t wait to see what takes their place.

Jonathan’s take: I like this idea. Wonder what crème de violette, crème de menthe and blue curacao mixed together would taste like?

David’s take: Maybe both of my drinks should be called accident, but—if so—they were happy accidents.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I knew there had to be a classic that we have missed, and there was. Since David will still be in the process of moving, I am suggesting a whiskey sour. Surely in a big city like Chicago, David can find that and a few dozen variations too no doubt.

 

The Livorno

fireProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s David’s Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week (Proposed by David):

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

One Year Drinking With My Brother

embarrassingAs announced, we’re celebrating a year’s worth of posts by putting aside our usual practice to reflect on all the lessons we’ve learned as not-so-savvy cocktailians:

Jonathan:

One of the many benefits of growing up in a large family are the things you learn from your siblings. Some are more important than others, but all add to who you are. David and I are the fourth and fifth children, respectively, of five in our family. As the two youngest we shared rooms, seats next to each other in cars, places at the table and spots on couches. More than that we shared a lot of time with each other, and even today I hear myself using expressions that I know come directly from him. One of my absolute favorites is and has been the description of someone as “a master of the startlingly obvious.” And that is what I feel like I am with my observations and lessons gleaned from our first year of this blog. That won’t stop me from sharing my thoughts though.

1. A close observer/reader should know that fresh ingredients and homemade mixers are the key to better drinks. To make cocktails I have juiced lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, pomegranates, and kumquats. Simple syrups have been created from sugar, brown sugar, demerara, sorghum, maple syrup and honey. Those syrups have been flavored with herbs, spices, nuts and more fruit. Store-bought sweet and sour, grenadine and orgeat? Why, when you make your own during the week. The end result may take longer, but the difference is well worth it.

2. It is often repeated in our weekly write up, but prior to this blog, beer and wine were pretty much the extent of drinks I enjoyed. I always assumed, however, that I knew the basics of liquors and the drinks made with them. Wrong, very wrong. Gin might be the best example of a liquor with incredible variation and types, so much so that using the right one in a drink can drastically improve the taste. Then there are the liquors that I never knew existed (a few of which I could still get by without knowing Mr. Campari) like aquavit, cachaça, and pisco. The stories of these unique distillations is in itself a lesson in history and culture. Every time I think we are reaching some level of understanding and knowledge, there is another one that appears and begs to be used. I hope David is ready for Cynar because it, and a pronunciation guide, will make an appearance soon.

3. We compared notes this week and the next lesson is one that overlaps for us—taste. There have been more drinks that we have both enjoyed, and a few where we both did not, than there has been disagreement. Next week we will get a better idea of that when we choose our hits and misses, but, before that, there are some generalizations to be drawn. The classic cocktail, in my mind, is the standard sour. Liquor, sweetener and sour element are the basics of that drink. Almost any mix that has followed that simple idea has met my approval. I especially like those with interesting sweeteners like maple, or odd sours like grapefruit. There are other categories of drinks besides the sour, such as those with effervescence from sparkling wine or club soda, that also stand out but in a pinch I fall back on the sour.

4. Another general rule of taste is the use of bitters. It is an odd ingredient in most drinks because, to my taste, it never stands out. In fact you can rarely identify that one has been added, but, like salt, it seems to intensify and improve the other parts of the drink. The drinks that are all liquor, bitter elements and actual bitters have not been my favorite, but take a simple drink like bourbon and ginger then add some Angostura and you can taste a transformation.

5. My final lesson is one that I did not really learn so much as re-learn. Drinking is a social experience. The first and most obvious part of that is the very basis of this blog. David and I started this as a way to interact more, even if it was a virtual interaction. Along the way, my wife has joined me in almost every weekly tasting, as David’s wife has in his. Our children are adults so they not only try some of the drinks, but are great sources for suggestions. There have been tailgates, family visits, happy hours, celebrations and random get-togethers with friends and neighbors. It has reached the point that even as the specific drinks escape memory, the events do not. Of course there is also the virtual interaction with readers who comment on-line, or through text and e-mail. It is a rare week when I do not receive some feedback, suggestion or drink recipe in some form or another. Those of you who keep sending pictures and menu snippets, and you know who you are, keep sending them and I will keep looking for edible glitter.

booksDavid:

I few weeks ago, when we were thinking about ways to celebrate our 52nd post on this blog Jonathan speculated how long we’d keep it up, then asked, “Until we’re famous?” That sounds good to me, mostly because we aren’t famous yet and therefore must continue. This enterprise is too much fun to give up. Beside the benefit Jonathan has mentioned—our increased communication—a weekly cocktail gives me something to look forward to, and, yes, I’m learning. Sure it’s not the same as learning differential equations, but growth is growth. Don’t judge. Though I’m not yet a savvy cocktailian, I’m certainly savvier. Thinking about the lessons of the year, many occurred to me, and as Jonathan said, most won’t be surprising. Still they’re important… just the way this blog is important even if we aren’t famous (yet).

1. Get to know someone. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the helpful and friendly people who answer my every silly question about the difference between Cachaça and Rum and Rhum and Rum. Echoing Jonathan, this blog teaches me how much there is to know, but it also teaches me how many patient, generous, and funny teachers are out there. I don’t get a “Norm!” when I visit my local upscale grocery, but I do get, “What’s the cocktail this week?” and some thorough and thoughtful advice.

2. The alcohol isn’t everything but it’s something. Let me say for the record that inebriation isn’t a good hobby, but Jonathan is right, part of the joy of cocktails is that they announce an intention to relax and a desire to put aside much too crowded and busy lives to share relaxation with others. Were my brother and I involved in a remote popsicle club, I’m sure that’d be fun too, but, in moderation, spirits are much more fun.

3. De gustibus non est disputandum: I’ve memorized few Latin phrases, but I know that one. It means, “There’s no disputing about matters of taste.” Week to week, I’m struck by how differently people react to cocktails. Just when I think no one could possibly stomach an Aviation, my wife asks for another. Human organisms must experience taste (literal and figurative) in so many different ways. And, not to be too philosophical, but what’s worth celebrating more than that?

4. On a related note, smell matters, and not just smell but all the senses matter. I’ve discovered every sense is critical to a cocktail—its look and its taste and its smell and its “mouth feel.” Okay, so maybe its sound doesn’t matter so much, but really enjoying a cocktail requires engaging your whole sensory self. Maybe, in fact, that’s the secret, pausing long enough to appreciate the extraordinary apparatus with which we’re blessed.

5. Don’t overcomplicate the complications. A few times during this journey—okay, more than a few—I’ve thought “Why all the steps?” Yet trouble is part of the investment you make in the result. Although I worry sometimes about all the hoops I make Jonathan leap through—particularly in the spirit-backward state that is North Carolina—anything wonderful is worth working for. I have nothing against simple and elegant cocktails, but as in many matters, the journey endows the destination with special meaning.

Next Week:

Jonathan and I will be examining the hits and misses we’ve encountered this year. It’s not too late to let us know what you think!