Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Cocktails: The Truth (Anything But)

This little drink was something I put together while trying to finish off my bottle of Cruzan Single Barrel rum. While definitely a dessert-y drink, I wanted to make sure that it had enough structure to avoid becoming cloying.

The Truth (Anything But)
2 oz Cruzan Single Barrel rum
0.25 oz chocolate spiced rum
2 tsp cherry Heering
0.5 tsp cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Fee's Whiskey Barrel bitters

The nose is rich, with lots of wood, spices, coffee, and chocolate. The sip begins with light cherry sweetness, which moves into baking spices, then bitterness, then chili pepper and chocolate going into the finish.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rum Review: Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum

Smith & Cross is one of those rums that was simply unavailable in the States before the cocktail renaissance. Thankfully Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz has made it his mission to bring forgotten spirits back to the light of day.

The Smith & Cross name traces its history back to 1788 when a sugar refinery was set up at No. 203 Thames Street near the London Docks. Eventually the company became a major importer of Jamaican rum. More recently, the space was taken over by Hayman Distillers, which produces a number of spirits that are also imported by Haus Alpenz.

The current iteration of Smith & Cross rum is produced by the Jamaican distiller Hampden Estate. The distillery normally produces high ester rum on contract, both for blending, as well as for food and perfumes. Smith & Cross is roughly an even blend of Wedderburn high ester (200+ ppm) rum, which is aged for less than a year, and Plummer medium ester (150-200 ppm) rum, which is aged for 18-36 months. High ester rums seem to be like heavily peated whiskies - age tends to diminish their power, so you want something young for full effect. Additionally, Smith & Cross is bottled at 57% ABV, which is also known as 100 English proof (50% alcohol by mass) or Navy proof (the English Navy required all spirits on board to be of sufficiently high proof that gun powder would still light if the spirit was spilled on it) While this rum is primarily designed for making cocktails, it's still a fantastic sipper.

Smith & Cross

Nose: dry esters, nutmeg, caramel, berries, a bit of vanilla, dusty oak, brandy, coffe. After adding a few drops of water, the ester and caramel aromas become more integrated, with more berries and vanilla along with the appearance of nougat.

Taste: very rich overall, mild molasses sweetness starts up front and carries through, esters, berries, and pepper explode mid-palate, then fade a bit into the finish. After dilution, there is a thicker mouthfeel, more integrated flavors and additional sweetness up front and bitterness at the back.

Finish: heat, pepper, esters. After dilution, overripe fruits and earthy vanilla frosting emerge.

It's a little bit weird given that Smith & Cross was put together explicitly for making cocktails, but this is honestly one of my favorite sipping rums. Part of it is that the flavors are very robust - no need to hunt for details because everything is clear and upfront. There's also excellent balance on the palate - the sip begins with pleasant but not overwhelming sweetness, then swings almost 180º into dry esters and pepper. That switch reminds me a lot of Highland Park 12.

Which leads me to wonder what a high ester Jamaican rum would taste like matured for 2-3 years in ex-sherry barrels (amontillado would be my first choice, but you could drag it in either a drier or sweeter direction with either fino or oloroso casks). I feel like there might be an untapped market in appealing to the extremophile tastes of peat connoisseurs with well-made, lightly aged Jamaican rums.

I've already brought out Smith & Cross for a number of different cocktails, including Mai Tais, the Ashtray Heart, and Montego Bay. But I thought that it might fit nicely into the Boulevardier/Negroni mold...

The Kingston Negroni
1.5 oz Smith & Cross rum
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose still has a strong hit of esters, but they've been smoothed out a bit. There are also some lovely fruit notes from the Campari and vermouth. The sip begins with almost syrupy sweetness, segueing into a blaster of esters, fruit, bitterness, and spice, which all continue through the finish with a long, slow fade.

While not precisely complex, this is simply a beautiful cocktail. Everything fits together perfectly, the esters layering on top of the combined bitter notes from the Campari and vermouth. While initially sweet, the finish is anything but, keeping the drink from being cloying. I highly recommend this variation if you're used to the more standard Boulevardier or Negroni.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Whisky Review: GlenDronach Vertical Tasting - 12, 15, and 18 Year

For my 200th post, I'm going to take a look at three of the standard expressions from GlenDronach.

The history of the GlenDronach distillery stretches back to 1826 when it was founded by James Allardice in the northeast corner of the Speyside region, making it one of the earliest licensed distilleries in Scotland. It was extremely successful during the 19th century, paying the highest duties of any distillery in the country. Over the centuries, the distillery passed through a number of hands until ended up with Allied Distillers, who mothballed it in 1996. It was restarted in 2002 and was held briefly by Chivas Brothers before being bought by the owners of the newly independent BenRiach distillery in 2008.

Under the ownership of BenRiach, GlenDronach has significantly changed their line-up, moving towards more of a craft presentation with the abandonment of chill-filtration and most expressions being bottled at 46% ABV or above. One of the main things that has not changed is that GlenDronach's whiskies are all matured, at least initially, in ex-sherry European oak casks. This tends to put their whisky on the rich and sweet end of the spectrum.

GlenDronach 12 Year 'Original'

Nose: medium-rich creamy oloroso/amontillado sherry, a slightly sour tinge, fresh grapes, raisins, berries, underlying malt, light vanilla, slightly floral, milk chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking spices, romano cheese. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes softer and more malty, with more integration of the sherry, floral, and malt aromas, plus bigger milk chocolate and vanilla.

Taste: medium floral and sherry sweetness up front, early big pepper, dueling malt and sherry at the back, with bitter cacao at the back and a bit of sourness throughout. After dilution, it becomes more rounded and only drops off a bit at the end, with the initial sweetness and pepper becoming more integrated and brighter sherry notes and the addition of some vanilla.

Finish: bitter and slightly astringent, but not very oaky, malt, pepper, sherry. After dilution it becomes more tannic with the addition of some dark chocolate.

I think this is a very solid whisky for their entry-level single malt. Bottled at 43%, it has a decent amount of body. However, it did lose a bit after adding water, so I do think it would be a stronger contender at 46%. While sherry is very present, it hasn't yet completely overwhelmed the malt, like some sherried whiskies. This is a little bit surprising as the whisky going into this expression is aged in both ex-oloroso and ex-PX sherry casks, though that may mean that there are more refill rather than first fill casks involved. I'd place it right in between the 12 year old single malts from Aberlour and Glenfarclas in terms of the level of sherry influence. With that said, I'm not sure it's a great value, as both of those other two are significantly cheaper here in Oregon. However, the balance may tip depending on where you live (for instance, it's only $40 from Hi-Time Wine Cellars) and I don't think you can go wrong with any of them.

GlenDronach 15 Year 'Revival'

Nose: much richer sherry (more first-fill casks?), raisin sweetness, some fresh berries, hints of floral malt, vanilla, rancio - well-aged cheese, dark chocolate (60-70%), coffee. After adding a few drops of water, chocolate becomes the dominant aroma, with sherry underneath, more funky rancio notes, blackberry liqueur, more oak, a bit perfume-y, hint of baking spices, and an overall increase in creaminess.

Taste: smooth but ponderous sherry sweetness up front, big but less bright pepper, bittersweet cacao, mild oak, perfumed. After dilution, it retains the smooth start but with less sweetness, then sweet berries and pepper hit mid-palate, with cacao nibs in dark chocolate at the back.

Finish: bittersweet sherry, cacao and light oak tannins, baking spices, and a certain sharpness

The 15 year old is bottled at a solid 46% and clearly has much more sherry influence. Aged exclusively in ex-oloroso sherry casks, the richness comes through very clearly. This is edging right up to the line of overwriting the malt, with only hints of its agricultural origins left in the nose. However, it is balanced by the more bitter notes on the nose and palate. It very much feels like a dessert dram and would not be out of place next to a roaring fire on a winter evening. While priced too high in Oregon for me to consider it a good value here, it's only $72 from Hi-Time, which is a much more attractive proposition.

GlenDronach 18 Year 'Allardice'

Nose: dark, rich, savory oloroso sherry, bright raspberries, hints of malt and vanilla, sweetened oatmeal, maple syrup, 60% dark chocolate, a touch of coffee. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes dustier, with the sherry and chocolate dominating, the fresh berries are still present but in diminished form, the raspberries seem more like a compote, and buttery sugar cookies emerge.

Taste: sweet and creamy sherry and berries, pepper comes in mid-palate, a bright burst of oatmeal, dark chocolate, and maple syrup, leading into a bittersweet finish. After dilution, there is a distinct sense of an acidic raspberry tang overlaid on the creamy sweetness up front, pepper is slightly diminished, and the chocolate becomes more like cacao nibs.

Finish: berries, pepper, sweet sherry, a touch of oak, oatmeal.

Like the 15 year old, the 18 year old is bottled at 46% and aged exclusively in ex-oloroso sherry casks. I really like how it seems to have turned a corner, returning to a certain kind of graininess on the nose and palate. However, it definitely seems more like sweetened oatmeal than malt, to me. The sherry also seems a bit less in your face than the 15 year old, which is pleasant. Maybe there were more refill casks in the mix? The only major downside is the price - it's usually well above $100, which is pretty spendy territory. While previously it was an exceptional deal from the UK, that route is somewhat closed off right now if you're like me and live in one of the countries where shipping is now excluded (or at least stinkin' expensive). However, if you can still take advantage of their lower prices, this is a fabulous sherried whisky that I would love to drink more often.

This was a really interesting set of whiskies to try. There's a very strong familial resemblance between all three - a pattern of initial sweetness, then a big burst of pepper mid-palate, the combination of sherry and chocolate on the nose, and a fairly bittersweet finish. This gives the series a strong sense of evolution - the details changing, but the core of the whisky remains the same.

Last, but not least, I want to take a moment to thank GlenDronach for releasing such a nice little pack of miniatures. It's really nice when distilleries put them together and I really wish more would do this as a way to promote their products. Not too many people are going to plonk down the cash for their older bottlings without tasting them first and this is a pretty cost-effective way to get a sneak peek.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wine Round-Up

Many thanks to everyone who participated in this month's Mixology Monday theme - Fortified Wines. The response has been fantastic and I've learned a lot in the process. We got lots of sherry, port and madeira-based drinks, but be sure to check out some of the more obscure fortified wines, like marsala, ginger wine, and Pineau de Charentes, that are scattered through the posts.

The first entry this month came from Dustin Doran of Dunder & Lees, the Wheels of Zeus cocktail. A riff on Manhattan-style drinks, it should be an interesting tipple due to the inclusion of the Hungarian liqueur Zwack.

Next up was a fancy flip from Raffaele Bellomi of The Shorter Straw, the Flippin' Sicilian. Answering the call both Fred and I put out for marsala-based drinks, this complex blend of marsala, fig aquavit, Galliano, lemon, sugar, rosemary, and quail eggs is quite the twist on the basic flip.

Scott Diaz of Shake, Strain & Sip brought us an aromatic aperitif - The Long Journey, with an oloroso sherry base modified with Cynar, Bonal, and celery bitters.

From Jacob Grier's Liquidity Preference, we get the classic Adonis, another lighter aperitif with sherry, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters. Definitely one I'll be reaching for in the future.

Dave at The Noble Experiment gives us a fine lesson in the history of sherry along with his Big Bang - Dry Sack sherry, Cynar, Carpano Antica vermouth, and Aztec chocolate bitters. Similar to Scott's cocktail, but with a different balance and flavor.

The Bone Luge team considered how best to make sherry compliment the marrow taste from bone luging, starting with a delicate base of manzanilla sherry inflected with touches of Bonal, PX sherry, and orange bitters.

Chris McDowall wrote up his version of a drink I've made and enjoyed before, the Artist's Cocktail - whiskey, sherry, lemon, and bitters. Chris tweaks the cocktail by using super-sweet PX sherry instead of red currant syrup, which should shift the balance and mouthfeel.

Putney Farms also went in an aperitif direction with the classic Bamboo Cocktail - oloroso sherry, dry vermouth, and orange and Angostura bitters.

From Alex at Malt Puppy, we get the another classic, the Bon-Accord, an eclectic mix of sherry, gin, Chartreuse, and Aurum.

My own contributions include the Miso de Gallo Punch from Imbibe, a light and dry drink leavened by soda water with bourbon, sherry, lemon, sugar, allspice dram, and bitters.

Pulling from the Mixilator, I created a madeira-based drink called the Defalcating Honeymoon, which includes a healthy slug of bitters, rye whiskey, orgeat, and green Chartreuse.

Dagreb of Nihil Utopia brings us a bevy of cocktails made with amontillado sherry. First, a sweet vermouth variation of the Bamboo, then the Heart of the Stone - a daiquiri variant with rum, sherry, apricot liqueur, lemon juice, and maple syrup - and finally the Flor de Jerez - an inverted daiquiri with sherry, Jamaican rum, lemon juice, maple syrup, and apricot liqueur.

Ian of Tempered Spirits also went big with three sherry-based cocktails. First, the La Perla - made with tequila, sherry, and apricot liqueur - then the Spanish Bay - a potent combination of sherry, green Chartreuse, and orange juice - and lastly the Montresor and Fortunato - sherry, Grand Marnier, and sweet vermouth.

DJ Hawaiian Shirt of Spirited Remix brings us an Old Fashioned-style drink with his madeira and cognac-based Later That Day. And he's right about bitters being key to pulling drinks together. Might have to make this one myself.

Fred of Cocktail Virgin Slut brings us a cocktail using a fortified wine I had never heard of before, Pineau de Charentes, in a 1934 recipe from The Artistry of Mixing Drinks - The Third Man, a gin-based drink that should appeal to martini drinkers.

Mark of Cardiff Cocktails brings the history with the Sherry Cobbler - now almost unknown, but one of the most celebrated drinks of the 19th century, which also popularized ice in cocktails.

Mike of DrinksBurgh hits us with another Old Fashioned variation, this time with reposado tequila, tawny port, jalapeño syrup, and mole bitters. Looks like a wild ride.

From the Booze Nerds we get the wickedly good looking Pleasure Vampire made two ways - reposado tequila, Aperol, sweet sherry, chocolate bitters, and a float of either Minero or Tobala mezcal from Del Maguey. This one is definitely going on my 'to make' list.

From Elana at Stir and Strain comes the Smoke on the Vine, another drink with mezcal, this time including port, apricot liqueur, and Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters. A complex potion, I'll have to see if I can adapt it to the ingredients in my own liquor cabinet.

Joseph at Measure and Stir pulls out an ingredient that I was reading about recently, but have never tried, ginger wine, for his Stepchild cocktail. The spicy wine base is enhanced with Fernet Branca, pineapple and ginger juices, and a mint garnish.

For my last post, I went with port wine in the aperitif-style Montana cocktail, which also has cognac and dry vermouth in the recipe. I went with tawny, but it can also be made sweeter and fruitier with ruby port.

From JFL of Rated R Cocktails, we get a tiki-fied tipple, the Dr. Phibes - Virgin Island and Jamaican rums, cinnamon syrup, ruby port, lime juice, and a touch of absinthe. This twist on the Dr. Funk looks terrifyingly tasty.

Zak of The Pocket Square goes molecular with a Port Gin Sour Gel - one layer of cherry and port on top of a layer of gin, lemon, and sugar. Not your average Jell-o shot by any stretch of the imagination.

Andrea from Rumblings of a Gin Hound brings us, a gin-based drink with Dubonnet and Kina L'Avoin d'Or, the Amalienborg. This twist on a perfect Martini is named after the royal palace in Denmark - it looks like it will shine just as much.

Zach from The Venture Mixologist comes in with something akin to a Last Word, the Saint Martin's Summer - gin, Lillet Rose, yellow Chartreuse, lemon, and Hopped Grapefruit Bitters. Named after the French phrase describing an unseasonably warm period in fall or winter, Zach seems to be hoping for a little warmth in the Windy City.

Todd at Concoctails delivers both a polished drink, The Kilted Heir, as well as a few of his less exceptional experiments with madeira. The first is a pleasant looking blend of madeira, blended scotch, Amaro Nonino, and Angostura bitters. He also tosses in some nice history about the colonization of the island of madeira during the period of Portuguese exploration and expansion under Henry the Navigator.

Rowen at the Fogged in Lounge takes a break from Manhattans and tiki drinks to give us the classic Whispers of the Frost, a winter warmer made with equal amounts of bourbon, port, and sherry.

From The 3 Archers we get a Scandinavian classic, Glögg, a warm punch made with port, bourbon, rum, spices, raisins, almonds, and sugar. Plus fire. What's not to love about this?

The Muse of Doom graces Feu-de-Vie with two different madeira cocktails, highlighting different varieties. First, the sercial-based The Light Will Guide Me, which includes Irish whiskey, Bénédictine, and several varieties of bitters. Second, a lighter drink with rainwater madeira, Lillet rose, grappa, and teapot bitters.

Thanks again to Fred for pulling Mixology Monday back from the brink. I can't wait to see what February's theme is going to be.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wine - Port

Last, but not least, in my series of posts for this month's Mixology Monday theme of Fortified Wine: a port-based drink from the vaults of the Cocktail Database.

Port is a fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal (though wines in this style are produced in many other parts of the world). The name is derived from the coastal city of Porto, where the wines were loaded for export. The wines are produced from either red or white grapes (nearly one hundred different varieties are permitted). After the juice is partially fermented, grape neutral spirit (auguardente) is added to bring the alcohol concentration up to 20%, killing the yeast and halting fermentation. This is done so that residual unfermented sugars are left. The wines are then either stored in steels tanks to prevent oxidation before bottling as ruby ports, or aged in oak barrels to oxidize and evaporate, producing tawny, vintage, or late bottled vintage ports. Tawnies are aged in oak for a minimum of two years and up to decades before bottling. Vintage ports are from a particularly good harvest and are aged in oak for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, gaining in quality the longer they are in the bottle. Late bottled vintage ports are aged in oak for between four and six years before bottling, gaining in quality after bottling only if they are unfiltered. As a general rule, the longer a port spent oxidizing the barrel, the longer it will last after being opened - it's already oxidized, so air can't do much more.

1.5 oz cognac
0.5 oz dry vermouth
0.5 oz port

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose has a lot of off-dry grape notes - reflecting the contributions of each ingredient - inflected with the vermouth's aromatics and a touch of green apples. As the drink warms, the nose becomes richer with brighter fruit notes - the port and cognac playing a more assertive role. The sip begins lightly, with flavors building towards the back. The cognac comes in first, augmented by the port. The flavors become drier and more aromatic towards the back as the vermouth gains ascendency, leading into a slightly astringent palate-cleansing finish. As the cocktail warms up, the acidic bite of the vermouth becomes stronger, making for a snappier drink.

This is a very grape-centric drink, so you have to like those flavors to enjoy this one. As pointed out by Fred, the drink can be changed significantly by the ingredients used. I went with a pretty well-aged tawny port, so it doesn't shift the drink out of a dry mode. A sweeter, fruitier ruby port would make it more counterpoint instead of point (especially given the young and fruity Hardy VS cognac I used) with the vermouth. To make it even more aperitif-like, building the drink over ice and adding some soda water would tame it even more. Either way, it's a very pleasant cocktail without a lot of alcoholic heat.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wine - Madeira

Another fortified wine entry for Mixology Monday, this time with madeira. This recipe was a lucky find on the Mixilator, the always entertaining random cocktail generator, which I tweaked a shift towards the sweeter end of things.

Madeira is largely unknown these days, despite being one of the favorite drinks of the Founding Fathers (it was drunk both at the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution). Like many fine drinks, it was slain by Prohibition and never regained its rightful place in American drinking habits. However, it's a fabulous choice of wine, both because of its flavor and because its production methods make it one of the sturdiest wines around (bottles produced in the late 18th century are often not only drinkable but astoundingly good). While not common in cocktails, it can be found in a number of pre-Prohibtion tipples.

The Defalcating Honeymoon
2 oz madeira
0.75 oz Angostura bitters
0.5 oz rye whiskey
0.25 oz orgeat
0.5 tsp Green Chartreuse

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice for six seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose requires the drink to warm before opening up completely with notes of madeira, rye whiskey, and savory spices. The sip begins with subdued grape and almond sweetness, then subdued bitterness, more savory spices and herbs, leading to darker wine notes, and leaving with a final herbaceous and nutty puff.

This is a bit of an odd duck, with a fortified wine base, a lot of bitters, and Chartreuse. Yet it all manages to come together nicely. The original version didn't have orgeat, which I think is necessary to keeping all of the ingredients in harmony. As with other cocktails made with significant quantities of Angostura bitters, it also develops a lovely foam. While it took a few tries to get right, I'm quite happy with how this drink turned out.

Looking forward to all of the other Mixology Monday entries to come.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wines - Sherry

This month's Mixology Monday theme is fortified wine, so for my first post I decided to dip into the variety I know best - sherry. This nice little punch comes from Imbibe magazine.

Misa de Gallo is the mass celebrated near midnight on Christmas Eve in Spain and Portugal - a tradition going back to the second century. The name comes from the cock's crow that would herald the start of the day.

Misa de Gallo Punch
2 oz bourbon
0.75 oz sherry
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
0.125 oz allspice dram
1 dash Angostura bitters
2 oz soda water

Build over ice, saving soda water for last. Stir briefly to combine.

The nose is dominated by corn and barrel notes from the bourbon along with savory hints of sherry. The sip begins smoothly, along with bubbles. The proceeding flavors are rather dry, trending towards acidic, with bourbon, sherry, and spices from the allspice dram and bitters.

While this drink was designed with PX sherry, I decided to take it in a slightly different direction with a full dry oloroso. The drink becomes more of an aperitif/digestif, even with the healthy dose of bourbon, as the soda water keeps it relatively light and the dry/bitter finish gives it snap. I think this would be a great warm-weather punch. You can adjust the final flavors with different sherries. Oloroso for full dry, amontillado/East India Solera for medium-sweet, or PX for lots of sweetness.

Looking forward to all the other MxMo contributions!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rum Review: Oronoco

Oronoco was, in a sense, the first rum I ever bought. I say 'in a sense' because it's actually a blend of Brazilian cachaça and aged Venezuelan rum. As I came into the world of rum via cachaça, this was my bridge.

From what I can gather, the cachaça portion of the blend is produced from fresh sugar cane, which is fermented and then distilled in a mix of copper pot stills and continuous stills, for a total of three distillations. The cachaça and Venezuelan rum are married together in Brazilian Amendam hardwood casks, adding another unique layer to the product. The spirit is then diluted down to the standard 40% ABV for bottling. The bottle is definitely eye-catching, with a big leather map of Brazil wrapped around it (being a good resident of the PNW, I do wonder what the recycling people will think when I finally get rid of the bottle).

If you want to read more of the history behind the producers, it's written up here. It's surprisingly difficult to find solid information, as there isn't even a proper product website these days, just a Facebook page (that's nearly a ghost town). While there was a lot of hype in the mid-2000s around this rum, the lack of information doesn't speak well for its sales.

Oronoco Rum

Nose: strong vegetal notes, berries, apple blossoms (though a bit artificial like hand soap), bubblegum, light coffee, cream, earthy vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it becomes creamier, with the vanilla dominating even more, while retaining a cachaça edge, and gaining a bit of pineapple.

Taste: light, creamy alcohol, sugarcane sweetness and grassiness, pepper kick mid-palate, bitter towards the back. After dilution the bitterness is more pervasive, but more in balance, due to the sweetness extending further back along with a healthy dose of vanilla.

Finish: vegetal, slightly bitter, astringent

I can see why this tickles some people's fancy, but it just doesn't do too much for me now. The cachaça and Venezuelan rum components seem to form layers rather than an integrated whole, making for a slightly unsettling experience.

What I really can't tell is what kind of consumer this is aimed at. The MSRP is rather high for a white rum, usually running around $30 a bottle (which is a price-point where you can get a lot of nice rums). The copy on the bottle is rather confusing, simultaneously claiming that "the cane has an intensity of flavor and complexity leading to a rum with a light smooth flavor". The two halves of those statement are almost diametrically opposed. That does seem like the fundamental flaw - the producers couldn't decide whether they would rather emphasize the unique funky flavors of cachaça or the smooth vanilla of Venezuelan rum. In trying to split the difference, I'm not sure they accomplished either. It's got too much going on to pull in vodka drinkers, but not enough to satisfy those looking for a robust rum. This saddens me, because I think they could have had something really interesting on their hands if they had gone full-bore on flavor instead of trying to make it a white rum. However, that's just my opinion and you can find other reviewers singing its praises, so it seems to have hit the mark for some people (though not Cap'n Jimbo).

So how does it fare in cocktails? In a standard daiquiri, the nose is rather flat, with just a hint of grassy vanilla. The sip begins lightly, with flavors of lime, cane, light coffee, and vanilla building towards the back. The finish is peculiarly bitter, but still light It's a rather unique experience that I haven't found in any other rum. I think I would appreciate this more on a warm day that in the middle of winter, as it presents a daiquiri on the lighter side without being insipid. It also might work better in a caipirinha, where the lime oils from the lime shell would give it a bit more dimension.

Leito de Rio
1.5 oz Oronoco rum
0.25 oz Luxardo Bitter
0.25 oz Bénédictine
1 dash Regan's orange bitters
1 dash Fee's orange bitters

The nose is very vegetal/herbal, a melange of the rum and liqueur, with floral vanilla. The sip is bittersweet, continuing through mid-palate. The flavors are in turn herbal- and coffee-centric, with orange wending its way through and a very smooth mouthfeel. The finish is bitter, split between the rum, Luxardo, and orange bitters.

Even with all those flavors, the overall effect - like the appearance - is fairly light. The Luxardo and Bénédictine accent the rum's flavors without overwhelming them. This would be a fairly good pre-meal cocktail as the various bitter ingredients give it something of a palate-cleansing effect. It might be even better as a highball and with the soda water helping to balance out the sugar.

I think this rum works much better in cocktails, where depth can be added via other ingredients. However, for the money there are just better options. Banks 5 Island has much more richness and depth, while still retaining white rum crispness, for a fair bit less cash.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Whisky Review: the Many Faces of Johnnie Walker Black Label

Even if you're not a whisky drinker, you know what Johnnie Walker is. The most ubiquitous whisky brand in the world is found just about everywhere people belly up to a bar.

Johnnie Walker is the focus of the spirits behemoth Diageo, who put very nearly every single one of their scotch whisky distilleries to work producing fodder for their blends (Oban is the one exception). Thus they have a broad pallet with which to construct one of their main products, Johnnie Walker Black Label, a 12 year old whisky that is sourced from nearly all of those malt distilleries (primarily Cardhu, Lagavulin, and Talisker), along with a large percentage of grain whisky.

What's especially peculiar about this whisky is that it tasted very different each time I tried it, despite coming from the same miniature.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Type 1

Nose: medium-weight sherry, a little nougat, slightly floral, tiny whiff of peat, distant maltiness, raspberries. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes lighter, creamier, and more vegetal, with a bit of cinnamon.

Taste: sherried sweetness throughout, a bump of pepper and vanilla near the back. After dilution, it becomes maltier, with less sherry, more bitterness at the back, and a prickle of peat.

Finish: bittersweet, sherry, vanilla, oak - but not tannic, cinnamon

This is a very pleasant mode for JWBL. Very sweet and relatively light, emphasizing the sherried component of the whisky. I found this very comparable to Compass Box Oak Cross, but lighter and with less intensity (which is unsurprising given that Oak Cross is a blended malt with no grain whisky in it).

Johnnie Walker Black Label Type 2

Nose: Caol Ila/Lagavulin/Talisker savoriness minus the peat, oloroso/amontillado sherry, toffee, maritime salt, nougat, sweet oak. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes even more savory, with a hint of creamy dry sherry and berries, oak, and some underlying sweetness.

Taste: sherry sweetness and berries up front, something savory (vegetal peat?) mid-pallate, tannic oak and bittersweet chocolate near the back. After dilution, the sweetness become syrupy sucrose, with a tingle of pepper, some sherry and oak near the back.

Finish: bitter oak, vegetal peat, residual sweetness

This is a very different side of JWBL, emphasizing the coastal distilleries in Diageo's portfolio. What's interesting is that while it's much more savory, I didn't pick up much more peat. Caol Ila does make unpeated whisky on a semi-regular basis, so that might be what's going on, but it may just be that there is so little peated spirit going into the blend that it's not really showing itself. Overall I would rate this mode as interesting, but not something that I want to be drinking on a regular basis.

I'm left unsure quite what to think about JWBL. If I could be sure to taste what I got out of it the first time, I'd actually be tempted to buy a whole bottle. It wasn't a complex set of tastes, but it was very, very pleasant. The second tasting really threw me off, as it was rather unexpected and less approachable. I may have to return to this whisky another time to really nail it down. Right now I'm just a little baffled.

For some different perspectives, check out reviews from Diving for Pearls and Scotch Noob.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Cocktails: Bobcat Special

Looking to try out my new cardamom bitters, I decided to reach for the earthy flavors of tequila and ginger to complement the spice notes in this Negroni/Boulevardier variation.

Bobcat Special
1.5 oz añejo tequila
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
0.25 oz Luxardo Bitter
0.25 oz ginger liqueur
1 dash Scrappy's cardamom bitters
1 dash orange bitters

The nose is dominated by the cardamom bitters, with only a hint of the Luxardo's vanilla peeking through. The sip begins sweetly with an undertone of cardamom, which grows towards the back where it is joined by a complex interplay of orange, bitterness, and vanilla. Throughout the tequila plays a supporting role, giving some barrel and agave flavors.

This drink worked out nicely, though I would go easier on the cardamom bitters next time. A few drops should be enough to provide an accent rather than having the bitters dominate the drink. The Luxardo and sweet vermouth were also surprisingly pushed to the background, though they did become more present near the end of the sip. A tasty drink, but you do have to be careful about properly balancing the ingredients.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rum Review: Cockspur 12

Cockspur is a Bajan rum company founded in 1884 by a Dutch sailor, Valdemar Hanschell and located right on the beach north of Barbados' capital Bridgetown. The company was passed off to the Stade brothers, who installed a continuous still alongside the company's original pot still. While less well known than Mount Gay, the other big distillery on Barbados, Cockspur puts out solid products at very reasonable prices.

Cockspur 12

Nose: dusty berries, dry toffee/caramel, a bit of vanilla and light oak. After adding a few drops of water, the nose becomes richer, with increased but well-intengrated oak presence, brown sugar, and more vanilla.

Taste: caramel sweetness builds from the front, a bit of muddled berries mid-palate, very light oak tannins and pepper near the back. After dilution, the sweetness becomes more like simple sucrose, which is also a bit overwhelming.

Finish: oak, pepper, residual sweetness

Cockspur 12 (it never actually says 'year' on the label) is a blend of 8, 10, and 12 year old rums. For as old as this rum is, I suspect that it is mostly made from rums aged in refill barrels, though they claim to use both ex-bourbon and fresh oak barrels. The rum has clearly been impacted by oak, with the strong caramel and vanilla notes, but there is very little of the tannic quality one finds in a lot of long-aged rums (which would be especially evident from new oak barrels). I find it very comparable to Cruzan Single Barrel, both in terms of flavors and price. However, Cockspur 12 gains an edge by having more natural flavors than Cruzan, the latter of which is slightly marred by an artificial cast to its vanilla notes. So if you're looking for a sweeter, easy sipping rum, Cockspur 12 is going to be a very good choice. It's also a solid value, usually retailing for under $30. With a bit more complexity it would be elevated in my estimation, but it does what it does very well.

Earthly Delights
2 oz Cockspur 12
1 tsp allspice dram
0.5 tsp vanilla syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
3 drops cardamom bitters

The nose is a delicious blend of rum, vanilla, and cardamom. The sip begins sweetly, building towards the back. Molasses notes from the rum, vanilla, and spice from the dram and bitters all come in mid-palate.

While not the most complex drink, the ingredients add to the rum without overwhelming it. Quite a satisfying sipper.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Announcing Mixology Monday LXIX: Fortified Wines

Fortified wines began, in large part, as a way to deal with the difficulties of shipping wine long distances in the holds of sailing ships. Without the rigorous sterilization that is possible today, wines would often spoil en route. However, increasing the alcohol concentration to around 20% ABV was enough to keep them from going off. Coincidentally, this also made it possible to age those wines for very long periods, increasing their richness and depth.

These wines held an important place in the ur-cocktails of punch and have continued on in cocktails proper, the personal punches of the past several hundred years. Though less common nowadays, sherry, port, and, to a lesser extent, madeira and marsala, all find their way into various mixed drinks.

For this month's Mixology Monday, I'd like to see what you all can do with these versatile wines. They can play many different roles - from taking the place of vermouths in classic drinks, to providing richness and sweetness in winter tipples, to serving as a base for lighter aperitifs. Whether forgotten classics or new creations, let's see what you can put together.

Here's the plan:

•Write up your thoughts and the recipe, take a picture, and post it on your own blog, Tumblr, or eGullet's Spirits and Cocktails forum. If you don't have any other way of posting, you can also email it to me.

•Make sure to include the MxMo logo, a link to the Mixology Monday page, and the announcement post. If you want to go back and add a link to the round-up post, it'd be much appreciated.

•Let me know about your submission, either by commenting on this post, tweeting to @cocktailchem, or emailing it to me via gmail at cocktailchem. Do all of this before midnight PST on January 21st so I can put the round-up together. Some slop will be allowed, but the sooner the better.

Thanks to Fred Yarm for keeping MxMo going and see you all back here on the 21st.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Whisky Review: Compass Box Oak Cross

I purchased a sample of this whisky from The Party Source a while ago but only got around to trying it during the holidays. Which is a shame, because I wish I had cracked it open sooner.

Compass Box is one of the most innovative companies in the scotch whisky industry today. Headed by John Glaser, they have been working since 2000 to change the way people thinking about blended whiskies and blended malt whiskies (now that the 'vatted malt' designation has gone the way of the dodo). The company has put together a wide range of whiskies, from the more value-oriented Asyla and Great King Street blended whiskies, to high end blended malts like their annual Flaming Heart releases. But the goal is always to create quality products that couldn't be put together by any one distillery.

Compass Box Oak Cross

Nose: floral, very rich, creamy, mildly sweet oloroso sherry, wine notes, banana, tropical fruits, mineral notes, malt. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry becomes more assertive and shifts towards bittersweetness, a lot of vanilla emerges along with some dusty oak and sour tang, plus there's a sort of floral bubblegum note, with the floral aspects becoming more vegetal.

Taste: floral malty/honey sweetness throughout, sherry and pepper build towards the back, vanilla and mocha plus mild oak near the back. After dilution, it becomes sweeter - shifting towards sucrose and wood sugars, with more intense flavors of sherry, berries, sweet wine, and coffee beans or cacao nibs mid-palate, with slightly bitter oak at the back.

Finish: floral, vanilla malt, bittersweet oak and mocha, a bit of sherry, and a hint of soap

Oak Cross is a blended malt (i.e. no grain whisky in the mix) sourced from Clynelish, Teaninich, and Dailuaine. The whiskies are first aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, then married together in a mix of 60% ex-bourbon and 40% 'Oak Cross' casks, which are ex-bourbon barrels with new French oak heads. The latter are designed to impart more spicy notes to the whisky, which is evident in the big pepper notes mid-palate. Bottling is at 43% ABV without coloring or chill-filtration.

The results remind me a lot of the Rosebank I tried last year, with the combination of sherry and strong floral notes mixed with tropical fruits. However, Oak Cross has more intensity and stronger spice notes to help counterbalance its sweetness. It's easy drinking without becoming boring. Additionally, Oak Cross can actually be purchased without much trouble, whereas Rosebanks are getting pretty thin on the ground.

John Glaser has, in my opinion, hit one out of the park here. It's an exceptionally tasty malt for a very reasonable price. I'm really looking forward to trying more of his company's whiskies.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Classic Cocktails: Improved Whiskey Cocktail #3

The last and final version (for a while) of the Improved Whiskey Cocktail from the series I've been posting.

Improved Whiskey Cocktail #3
2 oz bourbon
1 tsp blackberry liqueur
0.5 tsp Swedish punch
2 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a rocks glass.

The nose is redolent of overcooked berries, rye spice, and smoke. The sip opens with moderate sweetness, split between corn and stewed fruit. The flavors slowly progress towards bitterness, with smoke, tea and oak tannins, and Angostura's classic notes.

It's hard to pick favorites, this one may take the cake. The interplay of bourbon, blackberry, and tea smoke is just transcendent. Some of this may have to do with using a bottle of blackberry liqueur that's been open for almost three years, resulting in enough oxidation to turn the brighter fruit flavors into something richer and almost cooked. Whatever, this one was magic. Highly recommended if you have the ingredients on hand.