Monday, December 27, 2010

Local Flavor, Pt. III: Sound Spirits

© Sound Spirits

As per usual, I took a few days off to go visit my family in Seattle over Christmas. On Boxing Day we all decided to try the city's first distillery, Sound Spirits. Noticeable only because of the tentacles painted on the wall, the distillery is tucked in between two other businesses and is somewhat easy to miss while driving down W 15th Ave.

Started by Steve Stone about three years ago due in part to the fact that Steve met Christian Krogstad of House Spirits. After putting together a business plan, acquiring space and the necessary permits, the distillery is now up and running. So far he has put out a barley-based Ebb + Flow vodka and is also doing an Ebb + Flow gin, which was completely spoken for by the time we got there. The gin was, incredibly good and smoother than any other I've tried. While I like drinks a lot, straight liquor usually makes me sputter a bit, but that gin had barely any burn at all. The particular batch we had (the first production run) clearly still had some rough edges to work off as it was a bit cloudy, probably from the citrus oils coming out of solution when the gin was brought down to proof. But I'm not one to care so much about appearance, especially when the flavor is good. The E+F gin is definitely in the New West mold, with subdued juniper and a fairly citrus-heavy flavor profile. While none of the other botanicals jumped out at me, it seemed to be a nice and balanced mix. This is something that I could easily imagine drinking with a couple dashes of bitters and nothing else. While I'm normally loath to make the "this is too good for cocktails" claim, any drink you put it into would be better off highlighting the gin rather than swamping it.

We also got to try an experimental herbal liqueur that Steve described as harkening back to spirits like Chartreuse or Benedictine, so it's distinctly sweet, floral and herbaceous. While I didn't hear anything about a release date, I'm really looking forward to trying that liqueur again. Bonus points if the price point is a tick bit lower than either of those established products, which hopefully won't be too hard to do.

Overall, I was quite impressed with the products that Sounds Spirits is putting out. While it's clearly early days, there's a lot of potential and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do in the future. Here's to the expansion of distilling in the Northwest!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book Review: The Joy of Mixology

© Gary Regan, 2003
As I've noted before, Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology is one of the books that helped to send me down the path of cocktail nerdery. Though nominally aimed at aspiring bartenders, this is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the theory behind cocktail recipes.

The book opens with a condensed history of cocktails, going all the way back to the 18th century when cocktails emerged as a drink form in Colonial America. As Gary points out, the cocktail is one of the few culinary inventions that is entirely unique to America rather than being derived from imported ideas.

In my opinion, the most useful aspect of this book is the way that drinks are broken into families and presented in spreadsheet form to show how changing the base spirit or an ingredient can produce an entirely new drink. For instance, the Margarita and Daiquiri are all in the sours mold of spirit, sour and sweet, with different spirits (tequila vs. rum) and sweeteners (orange liqueur vs. simple syrup). Understanding those foundations allows one to easily swap one ingredient for another to create new drinks. This has led Regan to create new cocktails to fill "holes" in the cocktail canon where there is an obvious and easy swap that for whatever reason had previously not been made.

The Joy of Mixology would be the first book I would tell someone who wants to learn more about cocktails to buy. It contains all the basic recipes you'll need to keep yourself and others happy. There's plenty of technique and recommendations for equipment you'll need. And it will give you a huge leg up on how to making your own cocktail recipes. If it's not on your shelf yet, go out and buy it right now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chocolate Spiced Rum

One of my first experiments in making my own ingredients was an attempt to make chocolate bitters. I was fairly excited to read about Fee's Aztec Chocolate Bitters and Bitterman's Mole Bitters. Unsweetened chocolate seemed like a perfect compliment for a lot of drinks, especially those containing rum or tequila. However, the reviews of the Fee Brothers product were less than stellar and the Bitterman's product runs $18/bottle, which seems pretty steep to me. Since my local store for spices, Limbo, carries cacao nibs, I decided to try making them myself. While I was less than impressed with the results, it came to me that the same flavors would also work really well as a spiced rum. So I tossed in some Appleton and let the mixture soak for a week. The results were fabulous. Deep chocolate flavors surrounded by a spicy kick. After that batch was finished, I made another batch with fresh ingredients. That worked out fairly well, though the chocolate was somewhat subdued and the chili flavors were more predominant. My guess is that because the spices extract at different rates, there was more chocolate than spice flavor left over in the once-used spices in the first batch. Either way, it's really tasty and featured prominently in the drink I made for the last Mixology Monday.

Chocolate Spiced Rum
12 oz Appleton V/X rum
5 oz cacao nibs
0.5 tsp chipotle pepper
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cloves
0.5 tsp black pepper

Combine all spices and grind lightly with a mortar and pestle. Infuse the rum for ~1 week or to taste. The spices can be reused at least once more after filtering.

Last, but not least, another recipe to highlight the wonderful uses for this spiced rum:

Spiced Shrubb
0.5 oz Jamaican rum (Appleton V/X)
0.5 oz chocolate spiced rum
0.5 oz Creole Shrubb
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.3 oz simple syrup (or less to taste)

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

This is a really tasty drink and a great one for the holidays. Imagine a chocolate-dipped spiced orange that's full of alcohol. The Jamaican rum adds some funk, the citrus juices keep it tart and the spiced rum brings a whole host of flavors. For a liqueur, the Shrubb is very fruity, but drier than one would expect. Depending on how sweet you like your drinks, the extra simple syrup may or may not be necessary. While other orange liqueurs won't work in quite the same way, something like Cointreau might be a decent substitute. No matter what, this is another example of how tiki-style drinks can take a fairly wide array of flavors and meld them into a coherent whole rather than a muddy soup.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rum Reviews, Pt. I: Barbados

Barbados is, by most accounts, the birthplace of rum as we know it. According to the excellent ...and a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis, rum was likely first distilled on the island around the mid-17th century. While this probably began as an effort to use up the all of the molasses generated from sugar production, it soon became a booming export industry.

All of that is to say, Bajan rums have a long history. And the most famous rums from the island come from the Mount Gay distillery, the oldest continually operating rum distillery on earth. A deed for the estate from 1703 marks the oldest piece of evidence for the distillery's history, which likely goes back even further.

I've raved before about how good Mt. Gay Extra Old (XO) is and I stand by that first impression. It really is one of the quintessential rums on the market today. A lush, rich rum, so smooth that the alcohol is barely detectible. The nose has a fair amount of oak, a bit of brown sugar and a hint of citrus. Straight, it glides across the tongue with just the right amount of buttery body and a taste entirely consistent with its smell. There's almost no burn, only a light peppery finish and residual taste of oak. While that's all well and good, I'm more concerned with how it works in a cocktail. And there's no better way to judge a rum, in my opinion, than a Daiquiri:

1.5 oz rum
0.5 oz lime juice
0.4 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

Compared to crisper, white rums, making the ingredients of a daiquiri balance can be a bit trickier with an aged rum. Mt. Gay XO has a healthy dose of oak, which provides body for the drink, but can seem harsh if the proportions of lime and sugar aren't right. When they all come together, this is an incredible drink to sip outside on a summer day, the flavors coming together in perfect harmony.

A now defunct part of the Mt. Gay portfolio, their Sugar Cane Rum (or Brandy, outside of the states) is a rather peculiar product. Though produced from molasses, it has a lot of the characteristics of a fresh cane juice rum. This rather peculiar nature and the fact that it was released a bit too early to ride the burgeoning wave of rum means that it was dropped sometime within the last couple of years. Like I mentioned, in some respects it resembles a rhum agricole, with a light but distinct scent of cane in the nose. However, the smell and flavor are much lighter than a true agricole, producing a much smoother and less aggressive taste. Beyond that more unique flavor, it's a fairly standard Bajan rum, smooth, with a pleasant amount of molasses and spice. However, it does shine in one place, the Mai-Tai:

1 oz Mt. Gay Sugar Cane Rum
1 oz Smith & Cross Rum
075 oz lime juice
0.5 oz Clément Creole Shrubb (or other orange liqueur)
0.25 oz simple syrup
0.5 oz orgeat

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass, either up or with crushed ice.

While the Mai-Tai was originally made with one rum, J. Wray & Nephew 17-year, we now have to make due with substitutions. One of the best is a combination of a robust, funky Jamaican rum combined with a Martinique rhum agricole. I find that the Sugar Cane Rum provides just enough grassiness and smoothes out the rather assertive nature of the S&C to make a really excellent mai-tai. For those making it at home, be sure to use homemade orgeat. It's vastly superior to commercial products and relatively easy to make.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book Review: Beachbum Berry Remixed

© Jeff Berry, 2010
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry is, without a question, one of the most important figures in the current tiki revival. I am far from the first to sing his praises. While a self-professed bum, he has spent countless hours scouring old cocktail books and interviewing the remaining tiki bartenders to pry the secrets of lost tiki drinks from them. Given the secrecy surrounding a lot of tiki drinks, that was no easy task. The founders of tiki, namely Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, used all sorts of tricks to prevent their bartenders walking off with the most important drink recipes when they were hired away by rivals. Some of the trickiest ingredients, like "Don's Spices" and "Don's Mix" were such closely held secrets that it took decades of investigative work and no small amount of luck to figure out what they were.

Beachbum Berry Remixed contains most of the recipes from two of his earlier works, Grog Log and Intoxica!, which have been updated and reworked as necessary. In addition, there are a number of new recipes, both from Berry himself and from the growing legion of tiki-phile bartenders across the globe. All said and done, there are several hundred recipes, most tested and honed over the last decade. To make things even more interesting, the recipes are interspersed with bits of tiki history, from the long running debate over the creation of the Mai-Tai to the complex trail of leads that the 'Bum followed to determine the true recipe for the Zombie.

This is definitely the best book to get if you want an introduction to tiki. You'll get some good background and enough recipes that it's pretty much guaranteed there'll be something in there for everyone. To reduce the confusion of all the obscure ingredients, there's a list in the back that explains what everything is.

Even for the more established cocktailian, this is a must-have book. Think tiki drinks are all sugar and no balance? Peek through the Bum's work and be amazed. People like Donn Beach and Trader Vic were absolute geniuses behind the bar, carefully utilizing obscure components to create nuanced and balanced drinks. Not a huge fan of rum? There are drinks in here with just about every base spirit imaginable.

My one quibble with this book is that it should have been shipped spiral bound, especially considering that several of his earlier books came that way. Trying to make a drink and keep the book open at the same time is a bit of a pain. Thankfully you can just drop by your local FedEx/Kinko's and get it rebound, but that does cost a few extra dollars.

So, go forth and get Beachbum Berry Remixed! If you can't find it locally, check out Trader Tiki, where it's $5 off with free shipping.

Monday, October 25, 2010

HR 5034: Because It's Not Hard Enough to Find Good Booze

Word of a proposed bill in the House of Representatives, HR 5034, has been bouncing around the cocktail blogosphere for a while now. The gist of the bill is that states should be allow to restrict the private shipment of beer, wine and spirits from outside their borders. In an effort to cloak this concept in an air of respectability, the bill has been named the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2010. It is absolutely nothing of the sort.

A simple browsing of the funding sources behind the bill reveals that it is all about protecting the power and money of wholesalers, who are worried about the growth in internet sales of alcohol over the last decade. They claim that the law should be changed for a variety of silly reasons, ranging from reinforcing the regulatory powers of states to inconsistent oversight by federal courts (the law would prevent challenges to restrictions by the states) to preventing minors from buying alcohol.

Those notions are a transparent farce. As well all know too well, states already exert an enormous amount of control over alcohol, often going so far as to retain state monopolies on alcohol sales. States are already allowed to prevent the shipment of wine, beer or liquor to private individuals within their state, as long as the same is true for in-state producers. Scare-mongering about minors buying alcohol over the internet is entirely overblown as the law already requires that the shipper check ID before handing over the package.

The bill is entirely about protecting the middleman position of wholesalers at the expense of individual consumers, restricting the availability of products that otherwise can't be obtained within the state. Passage of the law would allow states to act in a protectionist manner, privileging in-state producers at the expense of everyone else. For all their talk of free market principles, the politicians supporting this bill are blatantly selling out. No party comes out looking good from this as the sponsors are pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Please look at the post on Doug's Pegu Club blog and see if any of your state representatives are currently listed as sponsors of the bill. I'm glad to say that no Oregon or Washington Reps. have signed on, but there are plenty of states where almost every Rep. is a sponsor. If one of your Reps. is listed as a sponsor, please contact them to protest a bill that does nothing for consumers and seeks only to protect vested interests.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rhum Agricole Reviews, Pt. I

As I mentioned not too long ago, a love of rhum agricole has been kindled in me fairly recently. While it was a shunned category for some time, I'm now diving in head first. While the flavors that tend to be found in rhums aren't quite what most people expect from rum, they can be quite incredible in their own right. For those who are new to rhum, I'll lay out a quick primer. The main feature of agricole rhums that makes them distinct from other rums is that they're made from fresh cane juice.

While there are other rhums made from fresh sugar cane juice, notably Haiti's Rhum Barbancourt and a handful of others, rhums made on the island of Martinique lay claim to the name "rhum agricole", as any rhum claiming that name theoretically has to follow the rules laid down by the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). With that said, rhum agricole can also be used to describe cane juice rums in general, so that really only matters when it comes to packaging. In addition to being made from fresh cane juice, AOC rhum agricole also has to be distilled to ~70% alcohol, which is then cut down to 40-50% alcohol after aging.  Being made from fresh cane, agricole rhums tend to have very strong vegetal flavors, often described as grassy, which can be disconcerting to drinkers who don't expect them. However, in certain circumstances, they can also be very tasty.

Clément V.S.O.P.

Produced by Rhum Clément, the VSOP borrows a term from the cognac industry, Very Special Old Pale. After fermentation and distillation, this rhum is aged in French oak for a year and then transferred to re-charred ex-bourbon barrels for another three years. Even though it's a relatively young rum, VSOP has a lot going on and is much smoother than its age would indicate. Amber honey-colored, the smells are primarily cane, a touch of brown sugar and some alcohol. The taste carries through with the same flavors as the nose, adding a bit of brandy and a bit of pepper followed by a very mild alcohol burn. While those qualities are all well and good, I'm ultimately more concerned with how it works in a cocktail. And there is no finer cocktail to showcase rhum agricole than the Donga Punch:

1.5 oz aged rhum agricole
1 oz grapefruit juice
0.75 oz lime juice
0.5 oz cinnamon syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

This is, in my opinion, one of the truly perfect drinks. One of Don the Beachcomber's early creations, though less well-known than others like the Zombie, it does exactly what Donn was so good at: blending ingredients around rums to highlight those rums' best qualities. The lime juice provides a pleasant amount of tartness, while the grapefruit juice slightly smoothes that out. The cinnamon syrup syncs up perfectly with the Clément, providing a coherent, delicious whole. While incredibly simple to make, it's an unmatched experience that I doubt I will ever tire of.

Barbancourt Five Star

As I noted at the beginning of this post, there's a certain amount of debate over whether or not cane juice rhums made outside of Martinique can be properly called rhum agricole, but given that the AOC designation only started in 1996 and doesn't even cover the other French islands, that seems more than a little bit silly. Made almost entirely by hand on the estate of La Société du Rhum Barbancourt, their Five Star rhum is produced from fresh squeezed cane juice which is then fermented for 72 hours, distilled to ~90% alcohol, aged at ~50% in oak for eight years and finally diluted to 43% for bottling. Somewhat surprising for its age, this is a fairly light colored rhum, somewhere between straw and pale gold. Oak in the smell and taste are more apparent, without completely dominating the spirit. The alcohol is apparent, but not overwhelming. The taste is very clean and somewhat light, likely due to being column distilled to a higher proof than AOC rhums, which removes more of the congeners. The spirit smells of cane, fruit, a touch of brown sugar or molasses and oak. The taste recapitulates the smells, but they seem fairly high and without a lot of depth. That's not exactly a knock against Barbancourt, as it's an excellent product and an incredible value (it costs about half what a lot of other rhum agricole does), but I do wonder what it would be like if they distilled to a lower proof. They've been doing this for hundreds of years and know a lot more than I do, but I'd be interested to try the result if they did it. Everything is there, but without some of the roundness and depth that I tend to enjoy. However, I do have to say that Barbancourt Five Star works excellently in a Three Dots and a Dash:

0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz orange juice
0.5 oz honey syrup
1.5 oz rhum agricole (Barbancourt Five Star)
0.5 oz Demerara rum (El Dorado 5 Year)
0.25 oz falernum
0.25 oz allspice dram
Dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

This is a really great drink. There's a lot going on, as there are multiple layers of spice and several kinds of citrus, but they all come together really well. The Barbancourt rides along the top, providing some great smells and a clean base for the other ingredients. The ED5 plays really well with the fruit and spices. Definitely one of the classics.

One of the best things about rum is the breadth of products made from very simple ingredients. These are two of the best examples of what fresh cane juice rhum can be without breaking the bank. The Clément is an incredibly good choice, but it's also definitely a bit spendier than the Barbancourt. Either way, you really can't go wrong with either introduction to rhum agricole. It's a category that can take some getting used to, but can also be very rewarding.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Drinking in PDX

As a follow-up to my piece about good places to drink in NYC, I thought I'd bring things a bit closer to home.

Portland, while far from the biggest city on earth, has a lot going for it in terms of being able to get a good drink. The OLCC may be a pain in the rear, but we more than make up for it with lot of local producers of beer, wine and spirits, coupled with a burgeoning mixological movement. Since they're usually the drinks I'm willing to go out of my way to get, this is however going to be a bit tiki-heavy.

Thatch Tiki Bar

Thatch is a fairly recent addition to the Portland bar scene and provides some competition for Portland's other tiki bar, The Alibi. Thatch does have a fair amount of history to it, as much of its decor was rescued from Jasmine Tree, a former Portland tiki staple, which had obtained its decor from the former Kon-Tiki of Portland. Tiki never dies, it just gets passed down the generations. So the atmosphere of the bar is absolutely perfect, from the little bridge over a water feature that you cross when entering the bar to the pufferfish lanterns to the (in)famous Marquesan Baby Eaters. However, what really matters are the drinks. I first went to Thatch for my birthday earlier this year and make the mistake/entirely correct choice to get a 1934 Zombie. It's not a drink for the faint-hearted, as the total alcohol content is equivalent to about 6 oz of 80-proof spirit or roughly four regular drinks. They're usually listed as a "limit two per customer" drink and one was more than enough for me. Both my roommate and I ended up sitting around the bar for another couple of hours just downing water in an effort to sober up so we could get ourselves home. During our next visit, we were able to get there for happy hour, so the $5 mai-tais were more or less mandatory. Mine was totally decent, though I'm a bit happier with some of the ones I've made at home. The Nui-nui I had was also totally decent, though it was a little weak in the rum department, mostly tasting like orange juice and cinnamon. Tasty enough, but since I tend to like rum-forward drinks, this one felt lacking. With that said, my own attempts at the Nui-nui have left something to be desired, so I can't really fault them. I seems like a tricky drink to get right, even though all of the ingredients seem dead on. Some day...

But to wrap things up, Thatch is definitely a place to visit, even if you've never had a tiki drink or have been unfortunate enough to only be exposed to low quality versions so far. They have an excellent selection of rum and other spirits and seem to take a lot of pride in making solid drinks.

Teardrop Lounge

While the Teardrop has a reputation for making solid cocktails all the time, it was the siren song of tiki drinks that drew me in. Due to a relationship with Trader Tiki, the Teardrop has tiki nights from time to time.

My first drink, as pictured to the right, was the Lift-Off! In case it wasn't clear, about thirty seconds before I took that picture the spent lime shell was full of flaming 151-proof rum, which made for a pretty excellent show. The drink itself was a little bit less exciting, with the rum fading into the background more than I would have liked. Still tasty, but it didn't knock my socks off. Thankfully the night was more than saved when I took a bit of a risk and ordered a Donga Punch. I say that it was a risk, not because I didn't trust the bartender, but because I'd had less than wonderful experiences with rhum agricole before. I had previously bought a bottle of St. James Royale Ambre for making mai-tais. However, it proved to be a less than stellar choice as it has an incredibly strong, incredibly funky and generally off-putting flavor. Further experimentation showed that it could be useful, but only in small doses and balanced by other rums. However, the Donga Punch is a one-rum drink, so I wasn't sure exactly what I was in for. But as I've already noted, it turned out beautifully. The sourness of the lime and grapefruit was perfectly balanced with subtle funkiness from the rhum and the spice of the cinnamon syrup. I was absolutely entranced and took a quick peek behind the bar before I left to find out what kind of rhum had gone into making the Punch. While it took a bit of tracking down, the ever-useful Pearl Speciality Spirits came to my rescue so I could pick up a bottle of Rhum J.M. Gold. Ever since I've been happy whipping up Donga Punches, which are now hands down my favorite drink.

While there are many other Portland drinking institutions that I need to sample and write about, these two are a solid start for anyone looking for a tasty libation in town.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Local Flavor, Pt. II: House Spirits

Up next in the series, I'd like to return to the topic that featured prominently in my very first post, House Spirits.

My introduction to their products goes even further back. Back around 2005 I discovered that gin was in fact rather tasty. While poking around the local liquor store, intent on getting a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, I noticed another bottle of gin on the shelf that said it was made in Portland. Since I tend to like buying local products and it didn't cost a whole lot more, I took a risk and got a bottle. That turned out to be a very good choice as Aviation suited my tastes even better than the Sapphire. To explain some of the differences, I'll have to go a bit into the history of gin. These days, people tend to associate gin almost exclusively with the London Dry style (Tanqueray, Beefeater, etc.), but that's only a fraction of what was and lately has lately become available.

The diagram above shows the relationships between different styles of gin and their general characteristics. Bombay is firmly in the London Dry style, which means that it has a very sharp and juniper-heavy flavor profile, due to the fact that the botanicals are extracted by placing them in baskets within the still so that the hot alcohol vapor passes through them and carries some of the flavor along. In contrast, a gin like Aviation, which is modeled after Dutch genever, is produced by soaking the botanicals in neutral grain spirits and then distilling the resulting 'tea'. This results in a much rounder flavor profile.  Aviation is also less dominated by juniper and has a lot of citrus flavor. Overall it still has some of that distinct gin bite, but it's less astringent than a juniper-forward gin. Which is all to say that it's rather tasty to me.

Bring us back to the topic at hand, while my tastes have shifted away from gin since then, I've still been watching House Spirits closely as their product line has grown a lot since I first discovered them. Though they started off doing exclusively unaged, white spirits (vodka, gin and aquavit), they are now producing a much wider variety of spirts, ranging from whiskey (both aged and unaged) to shochu (distilled sake) to rum (unfortunately not very tasty, from my perspective) and more. In addition, their on site store has expanded dramatically in the last few months to include all sorts of cocktail equipment, ingredients and books. House Spirits is a wonderful local icon and I look forward to seeing and sampling the new spirits that they're going to be putting out over the coming years.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MxMo: Lime

Though I've noticed posts on the subject on some of my favorite cocktail blogs from time to time, when I noticed that the most recent Mixology Monday theme was limes, as picked by Doug over at the Pegu Blog, I knew it was time to toss my metaphorical hat into the ring. Lime has always been my favorite complimentary flavor for drinks. It's an obvious companion for everything from rum to tequila to gin. It's safe to say that ~75% of the drinks I make have lime in them either directly, in the form of lime juice, or indirectly, in the form of falernum or some other infusion. With that said, this also makes picking a particular drink that much harder. However, there's one drink that I've been meaning to share that fits the bill rather well:

Caroní Rum Sling
1.25 oz Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (or other dark rum)
0.25 oz chocolate spiced rum
0.25 oz Cherry Heering
0.75 oz lime juice
0.25 - 0.5 oz simple syrup (to taste)

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

If I remember correctly this was one inspired by Eleven Park Madison, though their cocktail menu has changed since I lasted looked at it, so I can't be more precise than that. Further back, it's also an elaboration on the Olympia. Either way, it's a delightfully rich and spicy drink. The base rum needs a lot of depth to balance out the fairly strong flavors of the spiced rum and the Heering, which is why something like the Diplomatico works so well. And last but not least, the lime juice provides a delightful tartness and keeps the drink from becoming cloyingly sweet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Local Flavor, Pt. I: Clear Creek Distillery

As some of you may know, Portland has been at the forefront of the craft distilling movement. They tend to take cues from the craft brewing movement of the last few decades, emphasizing quality and sourcing local ingredients.

One of the oldest craft distilleries in Oregon, perhaps in the country, is Clear Creek Distillery. A few years back I was fortunate enough to take a tour of their facilities in NW Portland. Back in their cavernous warehouse space are a row of gleaming copper stills, surrounded by their fermenting tanks, bottling lines and other sundry items. Further back is a room devoted to their aging spirits, which literally has a heady atmosphere from the "angel's share" of evaporating alcohol.

I recently purchased a bottle of Clear Creek's 2 year-old apple brandy. The work and dedication to quality that Clear Creek is known for are abundantly clear. The brandy smells exactly like where is came from, dry hard apple cider made from high-quality local ingredients. The alcohol smell is surprisingly subdued for something that was only aged two years, but it's young age also means that the apple flavor hasn't been lost amid oak.

The obvious choice for a cocktail was the Sidecar:

1.5 oz apple brandy
0.25 oz orange-tangerine-kumquat liqueur
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.4 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

The apple brandy played exceptionally well with the sweetness of the liqueur and was nicely balanced by the tartness of the lemon juice. The liqueur also has just enough spice flavor to fit with the impending change in season. This is definitely a drink I'd like to have again when the weather cools down.

This should be the first in a series of posts I'm planning to write about local distilleries in Portland and the greater NW. It's a growing industry around here and a great time to be interested in spirits.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Drinking in NYC

I recently returned from a visit to NYC where I visited my brother and attended a friend's wedding in the Boston area. Good times were had, especially on the drinking front.

The first night I was in New York, I went out with my brother, his girlfriend and one of her friends. It was happy hour at the Boxcar Lounge, which means two-for-one drinks. I noticed a bottle of Hendrick's gin on the shelf. As it's something I had wanted to try for a while, I ordered a G&T. Turned out to be incredibly tasty. The drink was almost perfectly balanced, with the cucumber notes pleasantly highlighting the other elements. I got another one for my second drink and ended up spending $15 including tips. The space is fairly narrow, though there is also a small patio behind the main part of the bar. While it was a nice place to sit and chat, I can imagine that it would get crowded fairly quickly on a busier night. If you're in the East Village during happy hour, I highly recommend this bar.

Another fine establishment that I visited, this time a little closer to my temporary home base in Greenpoint, was The Richardson. This bar is set up Prohibition-style, going so far as to have all the bartenders properly attired. Thankfully secret passwords aren't needed to get in. They made me some rather solid daiquiris, which let me try a couple of new rums. The Mt. Gay XO in particular was good enough that I bought a bottle the day after getting back to Portland. The service was excellent and the prices were perfectly reasonable, by NYC standards. Another place that I would highly recommend if you happen to be in the Williamsburg area and fancy a drink.

Having heard of the place some time ago, I was really looking forward to drinking at Painkiller. The place has a really solid reputation, despite the fact that it's a pretty new bar. And hey, tiki drinks! I ended up going by myself, but it was still a nice place to sit and read while I filled up on rum. I took a chance and ordered the swizzle flight. Only one of the three really tickled my fancy, but some of that may have been due to the swizzling, which can dilute the drinks a bit more than necessary. Following that, I settled in to a very tasty Jet Pilot. To make it work even better, this one was served with an ice cone rather than being blended, so it stayed very cold without much dilution. At that point I'd had rather a healthy amount of rum, so it was a good thing that I was getting home by subway. With all that said, I did have a few quibbles with the place. The biggest is that the prices for drinks aren't terribly obvious. There's a little chalkboard sign by the bar, but it's pretty easy to overlook. Secondly, the menu doesn't really list the drinks. The bartender and waitress are more than happy to explain things, but it doesn't seem like an efficient system. I was pretty O.K., but only because I could look at the more comprehensive list of drink recipes on their website. Still, it's a place that I'd probably go back to. Though I'd probably call it good after one drink. Instead of four.

The last place I drank at in NYC was the Roneria Caracas. This is a rum bar that's part of an arepa place. The focus is definitely on the rum and there's an extensive list of rums to sample. The decor was interesting, evoking a place that had been hastily thrown together from found materials, but everything was comfortable and well put-together. The daiquiri I had with El Dorado's 5 year-old rum was interesting (enough that I'm looking to get a bottle for myself), though it was a bit tricky to tell exactly which flavors were due to the rum and which were due to the sugar cane syrup that the bar used in place of simple syrup. Either way, it was tasty and not overly hard on the pocketbook. I didn't sample any of the other drinks, but the menu looked interesting and tasty. Additionally, the arepa I had was also tasty, so this is a good spot, whether you're hungry or looking for a drink.

All said and done, I had a pretty good time drinking in NYC. The prices were a little rich for my blood, but that seems to just be a matter of the different cost of living in the city. But I was on vacation, so whatever. If any of you are ever in the city, give any or all of these spots a try. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heading South

As the weather has warmed up, it seems like a good time to return to my old friend tequila. While I began, as so many do, with the lackluster José Cuervo, I saw the light last year and picked up a rather tasty bottle of Corralejo Reposado that's seen some good use since then. It has a fairly strong flavor that needs to be balanced by the other ingredients in a cocktail, but used properly it'll make for some really tasty drinks.

In an effort to get some new inspiration for drinks, I've been poking around the menus of various bars to see what's been made these days. The Eclipse from Eleven Madison Park struck me as a rather good looking combination of flavors, so I decided to tweak it a bit using the ingredients I have on hand.

Equinox Eclipse
1.5 oz reposado tequila
0.25 oz Cherry Heering
0.25 oz Punt et Mes
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

I'm really pleased with how this drink turned out. The somewhat acerbic nature of the tequila played off of the sweetness of the the Heering, the bitterness of the vermouth and the acid of the lemon juice. The wine from the Punt et Mes intruded a bit more than I would have liked it too, but I'm not sure it was totally out of place with the cherry flavor. It also had a really nice orange and magenta color that reminded me of a sunset. Or maybe the corona of an eclipse (surprise, surprise). Overall a nicely balanced cocktail that I'd make again and be happy to serve to others.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Recipe Roundup

It's been a little while since I last posted, so I thought I'd just throw up a list of the drinks I've made over the last couple of weeks. The instructions for each recipe should be the same: combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

Guyanese Squirrel
1.5 oz ED15 Demerara rum
0.75 oz amaretto
0.5 oz Meyer lemon juice
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.3 oz demerara syrup

After futzing around with the Scottish Squirrel, I thought the smoky flavor of Demerara rum might also work with this formula. Thankfully, it did!

Queequeg's Harpoon (Hip-Hop remix) - modified from Dr. Bamboo's recipe
1 oz ED15 Demerara rum
1 oz ED3 Demerara rum
1 oz homemade chocolate spiced rum #1
0.75 oz lime juice
0.75 oz Queequeg's Blood
0.5 oz simple syrup

Recipes have be modified from their creator's originals pretty frequently. Though I have a pretty decent rum collection at this point, I'm a long way away from people like RumDood, so substitutions have to be made.

Caribbean Clouds
1 oz Jamaican rum
0.5 oz ED15 Demerara rum
0.25 oz Allspice Dram
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz Demerara syrup
0.25 oz orgeat

This was an off the cuff drink, but it turns out to be a hop, skip and a jump away from Beachbum Berry's Ancient Mariner. The drink can also work out well by swapping out the lime juice for 0.75 oz of lemon juice, the Demerara syrup for simple syrup and eliminating the orgeat.

Tidal Wave (a modification of the Golden Wave from Beachbum Berry Remixed)
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
0.3 oz orange-tangerine-kumquat liqueur
0.25 oz falernum
0.5 oz ED3 Demerara rum
0.5 oz Appleton V/X

This one was an experiment to see if I could sub in grapefruit juice for pineapple juice in tiki drinks. Between the drop in juice content (0.5 oz grapefruit vs. 1 oz pineapple) and the higher proofs of the orange liqueur and falernum I have, this ended up being a punchier drink than the original, but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, so the experiments will definitely continue.

The Caldera
0.5 oz Appleton V/X
0.5 oz homemade chocolate spiced rum #2
0.5 oz Clement Creole Shrubb
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz simple syrup

I just filtered a new batch of spiced rum and it turned out to be a lot spicier than the first batch. Not a bad thing at all, but it made for a cocktail with a distinctly lingering taste. Imagine this being made with New Deal's Hot Monkey and Mud Puddle vodkas with a rum base and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Hopefully I'll be able to keep a more regular update schedule in the near future, but for now it's time to buckle down and get ready for finals.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Joy of Cocktail Chemistry

As someone who loves chemistry and cooking, making my own ingredients was a natural step once I became more interested in cocktails. Basic elements like simple and ginger syrups were early first steps. Then came lemon, cranberry and grapefruit tinctures, followed quickly by orange-kumquat liqueur. Some of the recipes ended up being tweaked, such as using cachaça due to a lack of brandy and subbing some tangerine peel for orange peel in the orange-kumquat liqueur, Waiting while these various concoctions steeped on my hallway shelf was almost excruciating:

While I haven't always been thrilled by the results (limoncello was a bit less exciting than I hoped it would be), I've so far continued to make or start a new item every couple of weeks or so. The list so far includes:

•Chocolate bitters
•Cold process grenadine
•Hot process hibiscus grenadine
Orgeat (almond milk)
Spiced rum
•Home-aged rum

I'll probably do posts on these various ingredients some time in the future, as they each deserve their own story.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Saturday Night Cocktail Challenge

Last night I hosted a "Bring Your Own Ingredient" cocktail party. The idea was that everyone would bring something unique that I would then try to integrate into a cocktail without drowning it out. A lot of what got lobbed at me had a pretty strong flavor, ranging from the peaty smokiness of single malt whiskey to peppermint schnapps. With one exception, I managed to roll with the punches. When asked to make a savory cocktail, I stumbled. Savory tequila, aquavit, rye vodka, olive brine and old-fashioned bitters somehow canceled each other out, resulting in a mostly-tasteless but generally off-putting drink. But it was a learning experience. Here are the ingredients I had more luck with and the resulting cocktails:

Scottish Squirrel (from Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology)
1.5 oz McCarthy's Single Malt Whiskey
0.75 oz amaretto
0.75 oz lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

While this drink had potential, the smokey flavors were still too dominant and the drink was rather dry. Adding honey syrup helped a bit, so I think the drink could be turned into something rather tasty with a bit more work.

Rhub Rum
1.5 oz El Dorado 3 year rum
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.3 oz simple syrup
0.25 oz rhubarb liqueur

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

I was much more pleased with this one. The ED3 has something of a savory character, which played well with the rhubarb liqueur. The grapefruit juice also kept the sourness of the lime from dominating. Another one that I can see making again.

Nth Degree
1.25 oz Aviation gin
0.25 oz Krogstad aquavit
0.3 oz honey syrup
barspoon lemon tincture
barspoon cranberry tincture

Stir with ice for 30 seconds then strain into a chilled glass.

Due this drink being almost pure alcohol (the tinctures are ~190 proof), I chose to stir this one a bit longer than normal. The results were fairly good and it had a wonderful opalescent pink hue. Not exactly my cup of tea, but others enjoyed it and the aquavit managed to play a role without taking over the drink. The tinctures also added both color and smell without being too assertive.

Christmas in St. Croix
1 oz Cruzan ESB
0.5 oz amaretto
0.25 oz peppermint schnapps
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.25 oz lime juice
0.5 oz honey syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

This one is in a similar mold to the first cocktail, though I was aiming for a way to utilize the spiciness of the Cruzan and schnapps with the nutty flavor of the amaretto rather than savory bitterness. Almost everyone agreed that it reminded them of Christmas. Perhaps a good one for celebrating the holidays in warmer climes.

I also whipped up a margarita and a Fernandito Cocktail with mango puree that ended going down well. For some reason the mango seemed to be introducing grassy notes to those drinks, but that fit well with both.

Last but not least, I finally got to try out my mai-tai variation:

1 oz Jamaican rum
1 oz chocolate spiced rum
0.5 oz amaretto
1 oz lime juice
0.5 oz orgeat
0.5 oz honey syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

This worked out just as well as I hoped it would. The chocolate and spice flavors from the rum work perfectly with the nut flavor of the amaretto while the honey syrup and orgeat smooth everything out. Another drink that I'll be making again.

Overall, it was a good night for me. I was a bit exhausted by the end, but it felt really good to be able to come up with new drinks on the fly. There's always more to learn, but it means that I have a decent grasp on how different flavors will work with each other and can combine them in a pleasing fashion. Just to really cap everything off, I had incredibly gracious guests who left me with a lot of the new liquor I had been using over the course of the night. I'm now ahead a bottle Single Malt Whiskey, a bottle of Krogstad aquavit, a bit of rhubarb liqueur, some Don Eduardo tequila and some homemade tonic syrup. I'm looking forward to making new drinks with all of these ingredients and hopefully sharing some of them with friends as well.

Especially with summer coming, I foresee many more cocktail parties in my future.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Running on Rum

Time to turn to the spirit that currently occupies much of my attention: rum

I will admit to having a bit of an ulterior motive here. Over at one of my favorite drinks blogs, RumDood is having a contest to write about our favorite rum experiences. And I can't do better than to describe my entry into the world of rum.

I arrived here by something of a circuitous route. For many years I avoided rum after a less than thrilling experience at a rum tasting class held at my alma mater. While I don't remember exactly what was served, I'm pretty sure they were decent aged rums. But straight spirits have almost never done much for me and the unfamiliar flavors left me swearing off rum entirely.

However, after discovering a love for cachaça, I found myself willing to give rum another chance. While there are distinct differences between cachaça and rum, they both come from sugarcane bases. To help the process along, I serendipitously read about a new-ish rum on the market, Oronoco, which is produced primarily from fresh sugarcane, much like cachaça. To put a twist on that basic formula, it is also blended with a touch of aged Venezuelan rum. This sounded like an excellent compromise. After picking up a bottle, I found that it has hints of the vegetal notes usually found in cachaça, but they are subdued by the aged rum. There are also very strong vanilla presence and a fair bit of molasses sweetness as well. While vanilla is a fairly common flavor element in rums, I find that Oronoco reminds me strongly of baked goods. This is in contrast to other rums such as El Dorado's 3-year aged white rum, which has a much more savory vanilla character. So while Oronoco can make for a mean daiquiri, these days I find that I prefer to place it in a supporting rather than a leading role as the vanilla can become a bit overwhelming.

Now that I had come around to the idea of rum a bit, I plunged all the way in and went for an aged rum. Again, primarily on the basis of good reviews, I decided to buy a bottle of Cruzan Estate Single Barrel rum. This really is a different beast. The ESB is a blend of rums aged from 4 to 12 years (the single barrel nomenclature refers to a large mixing vat in which the blend is married for another year or so) and has fairly strong oak notes. So much that when I got my roommate to try some her first response was that it smelled like whiskey. While my first impression was of an overwhelming woody smell, revisiting the ESB has revealed that the oak comes along with a gob of spices and a hint of alcohol and vanilla. The taste is much spicier, overwhelming some of the more delicate flavors in the nose. The more aggressive wood and spice flavors took some work to properly enjoy, but under the right circumstances it can really hit the spot.

Well used and well loved.

Both of these rums were great introductions to the rum world. The Oronoco is excellent for anyone scared by funkier rums and the ESB should hit the spot for whiskey drinkers. In honor of the first three varieties of rum that I genuinely enjoyed, here is a drink that joins them together into a glorious whole:

0.5 oz Cruzan ESB
0.5 oz Oronoco
0.5 oz Boca Loca cachaça
1/3 lemon, cut into wedges
1/3 lime, cut into wedges
0.5 oz simple syrup
Several slices of ginger
2-3 dashes grapefruit bitters

Muddle ginger, lemon and lime pieces with simple syrup. Add rums and bitters, shake with ice and double strain into a chilled glass.

The sourness of the lemon and lime, the bite of the ginger and the flavors of the various rums all play well with each other. The ESB works with the Oronoco, reinforcing the aged rum element. The Oronoco and cachaça bring out each others grassier notes, with all three bringing sugarcane and molasses along. Quite an enjoyable little drink.

Next time, the adventures of making my own cocktail ingredients.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Night Frights

It's a cold, rainy Friday night, which means that it's an excellent time to stay home and try new cocktails. First up, a small tweak on the Bacardi Cocktail:

J. Wray Cocktail
0.6 oz Appleton V/X
0.5 oz J. Wray & Nephew Overproof
0.75 oz lime juice
0.5 oz hibiscus grenadine

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

Since the first time I cracked the bottle, I've been a little bit terrified of the J. Wray. While I've read paeans to it's incredible versatility, even once diluted into a cocktail, there's something about it that smells off to me. The taste is just fine, even kind of interesting, but there's something tickling my nose unpleasantly that I can't quite put a name to. Some days I think it's a bit like off dairy products (how's that for an appealing description), but other times I think it might just be the liquorice and grass notes that other people have found. Either way, I'm now determined to forge ahead and find ways to integrate this unique rum into cocktails. I will not be deterred!

On a more pleasant note, I was flipping through Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology looking for rum drinks when I stumbled upon the Fernandito Cocktail. It calls for a healthy slug of spiced rum and seeing as I filtered a batch of homemade chocolate spiced rum earlier this week (I'll post a recipe for this spiced rum soon), it seemed like a good one to try. While I didn't want to use the full 2 oz. the recipe calls for, a little bit of substitution and a drop in the amount of liqueur resulted in a rather pleasing drink.

Fernandito Cocktail (Modified)
1 oz. Appleton V/X
0.5 oz El Dorado 3 year
0.5 oz chocolate spiced rum
0.25 oz blackberry liqueur
0.5 oz orange juice
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

While I think I shook this cocktail a bit too long, resulting in a too-dilute drink, the overall flavor was still pretty good. The chocolate and spices from the spiced rum played well with the vanilla of the ED3 and berry sweetness of the liqueur with the V/X providing a nice base for it all. Once I've made more spiced rum, I might try this with a 1:1 ratio between the V/X and spiced rums, but this less potent mixture was still a pleasure. Definitely a drink that I will be making again.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cachaça Time

One of my first real adventures in spirits last year involved the discovery of cachaça. For those of you who haven't heard of cachaça before, it's a sugarcane-based liquor made in Brazil. In contrast to rum (with the exception of rhum agricole, but that's another matter), which is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is then fermented and distilled. There are also Brazilian laws regulating factors such as the ABV that cachaça is distilled at and bottled. These factors all contribute to the unique flavor profile of cachaça.

I don't remember exactly how I stumbled upon the first article I read about cachaça, but for some reason I was instantly intrigued. After a bit of searching, I ended up a Cachaçagora, a blog dedicated to all things cachaça. My interest stoked, I end up getting a bottle of Boca Loca cachaça for a little over $20. Not half bad for what amounted to an impulse purchase.

The place to start with cachaça is the caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil*. While it took a few false starts to perfect the technique (the trick is to cut off the ends of the lime and the central pith), my first proper caipirinha was nothing short of an epiphany. My first thought was "I want to sit on the beach and drink these forever". The sugarcane and vegetal notes of the cachaça are balanced by the sour flavor of the lime and smoothed by the sugar. Sadly I had to get up early the next morning, so moderation was exercised, but they are one of the truly perfect drinks that I've ever enjoyed.

More importantly, cachaça eventually became my entrance to the world of rum...

In the meantime, here's a caipirinha variation I made last night. It needs a little tweaking, but I was rather pleased with the results given that I had semi-randomly thrown things together.

Sagatiba Sunset
2 oz. Sagatiba Velha cachaça
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
~6 cranberries
5 mL Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters
0.5 oz simple syrup

Muddle lime wedges and cranberries with simple syrup. Add cachaça and bitters, shake with ice and double strain into a chilled glass.

*The Brazilian government has gone so far as to codify the recipe for the caipirinha into law.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


My interest in cocktails has been growing over the last year or so and it seemed like a good time to start sharing some of what I've been learning.

While I've enjoyed a good cocktail for some years, it's only been in the last year or so that I've delved very deeply into the bourgeoning cocktail culture. I should first thank the wonderful people at House Spirits for this renewed interest. My local alumni association was kind enough to schedule a tour of local distilleries last September and our first stop was at House Distilleries. After the usual tour of their facilities and the tasting room, we sat down to try cocktails made with their main spirits. Christian Krogstad, one of the founders, was mixing the drinks and did a fantastic job of explaining how each of the spirits worked with the other (often fresh) ingredients. It was a revelation, as I'd previously only thrown together rather hack-job cocktails before. I left with my mind buzzing (in more ways than one) and was almost instantly hooked.

As I have long held a strong affection for House Spirit's Aviation Gin, that quickly became the focus of my cocktail experimentation. Many of the experiments had their basis in the Bee's Knees and the Bridgeport Bramble from Jeffery Morganthaler's blog, another source of inspiration. Many of the variations included homemade ginger syrup, which can often add a delightful kick to these cocktails.

Soon my interests turned to other spirits, but that's a story for another time.