Sunday, July 29, 2012

Classic Cocktails: the East India Cocktail

This drink comes, once again, from Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. There are quite a number of different versions of this drink, but the original appears to have come from Harry Johnson's New and Improved Bartender's Manual, published in 1882. You can find some of the other versions in the Cocktail Database, but I'll be sticking with the VSFC version today.

East India Cocktail
3 oz brandy
0.5 oz raspberry syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 tsp orange liqueur
1 tsp Maraschino liqueur

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for 15 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose is mostly a sort of vague fruitiness from the raspberry syrup and cognac, with just a hint of spice from the Maraschino and bitters. For all the syrups and liqueurs in this cocktail, the sip is not terribly sweet. It is, however, very, very smooth. Complexity builds up towards the back of the mouth, with the brandy coming in first, followed by the orange liqueur and Maraschino funkiness. The finish is all Maraschino and bitters.

I'll have to admit, this is not quite as good as I hoped it would be. I wonder if it might be better with only 2-2.5 oz of cognac, to let the other ingredients shine just a little bit more. You could also theoretically make it a bit brighter with an unaged brandy like pisco, which would be a little sharper, without the rounded barrel flavors of an aged brandy. However, it does improve a bit as the drink warms up and the aromatics become more volatile.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Win Some, Lose Some: Thoughts on the Shift Towards Higher Proof, Non-Chill Filtered Whiskies

There's a lot of changes going on in the scotch whisky business these days. One of the latest trends is for distiller's to revamp their product lines by releasing higher proof (46-50%), non-chill filtered versions of their standard whiskies that were previously bottled at lower (40-43%) proof with chill filtration. Given that whisky enthusiasts have been griping about the lack of heft in many single malts, this is an answer to a lot of requests of the years. However, as I talked a bit about with Michael over at Diving for Pearls, there is one major downside.

In many cases, this change is being carried out by less well-known distilleries such as Bunnahabhain, Aberlour, Tobermory (and their peated Ledaig expression), and Glen Garioch. This helps them to stand out from the crowd and usually brings a certain amount of critical praise. Which is awesome. Better whisky on the market is almost always a good thing.

But here's the downside: almost all of these distilleries have used the relaunches of their product lines to bump up their prices, often significantly. Take, for instance, Aberlour 12. The 43% version has long been an extremely good deal, regularly available for $40 or less. With the release of the new 46%, un-chill filtered version, prices have jumped up to $55 or even more. At that point it's getting really, really close to Aberlour's cask-strength A'Bunadh whisky, which usually runs for about $65. Right now it's fairly common to see all three on the same shelf. The question is, when a potential customer looks at this lineup, which are they going to choose? If I was going to hazard a guess, they're either going to pick the 43% version because it's relatively cheap or the A'Bunadh, because it literally offers a lot more bang for your buck. While there are some significant differences between the two beyond the bottling strength (A'Bunadh is sherry cask only, the 12 Year is a mix of bourbon and sherry cask), I just don't see the 12 Year as being a good value anymore. Even once stocks of the previous 43% version sell out, is the 46% really going to be an attractive proposition?

The other distilleries I mentioned above have also started to push their base 10-12 year old whiskies into the $50-60 range (though Bunnahabhain was always that expensive). To a degree, this just seems to be where scotch whisky is headed. Demand is up, so prices are rising. But I've got to wonder when we're going to cross the threshold when customers start to balk at the prices. It seems especially difficult to tempt prospective buyers to take a risk on an entry-level single malt, doubly so if it's not from a well-known distillery like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, or Macallan. Even worse, how many new scotch drinkers are going to be put off and stick with blends or just keep drinking other spirits? Personally, I know I wouldn't have even dipped my toes in if it hadn't been for reasonably priced single malts like the 43% version of Aberlour 12 or Glenmorangie Original. At that point, even $30-40 seemed like a bit of a risk for an entire bottle. If the prices had been 50-100% more, it wouldn't have even been a question.

So here's where I stand: I applaud the decision to increase bottling proofs and get rid of chill filtration. However, the price increases are hard for me to swallow. Getting rid of chill filtration means one less step of processing before the whisky is bottled, which should cut costs. Increasing bottling proof does mean that I'm getting more alcohol, but the price increases are much larger than can be justified on those grounds. So as things stand, many of these whiskies have simply priced themselves beyond what I'm willing to pay. And if I'm not buying their entry level whiskies, the odds are that I'm not going to take an even greater risk on their older expressions. Maybe I'm the exception and this is a great route to extra profit. But I can't imagine that I'm the only person looking at the little tags on the shelves of the liquor store and reaching for something else.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rum Review: Ron Matusalem 15 vs. 18

Ron Matusalem is a brand that traces its history back to 1872 when the distillery was first established in Santiago de Cuba. Fast forward about fifty years and the company was doing great business as American tourists flocked to Cuba in an effort to escape Prohibition. However, things took a turn for a worse when Fidel Castro seized power on the island, which led to the family fleeing to the Dominican Republic. A new distillery was set up that sought to replicate the rum previously made in Cuba (the labels all declare that it is made with the "original formula of Cuba") and has been operating ever since.

Right now I'm going to review two of their older bottlings, the 15 year old and 18 year old Gran Reservas. One of Matusalem's claims to quality is that these rums are aged using a solera system. That means that a layered system of barrels periodically has aged spirit withdrawn from the bottom layer, then each layer is topped up with slightly younger rum, with new make getting added to the top layer. With a number of levels in action, this means that there is a significant amount of blending going on as the spirit ages and a small portion of the rum in the final level is very, very old. As with all age statements on bottles in America, the number must show the age of the youngest spirit in the blend. How much of a difference this really makes has been hotly debated, but in theory it should help to add complexity to the final spirit.

Ron Matusalem 15

Nose: rich vanilla, marshmallow, light molasses and tropical fruits, nutty (walnuts?), oak, more alcohol than expected

Taste: recapitulates the nose - sugarcane sweetness and vanilla up front, a solid blast of pepper follows quickly, oak and molasses come in near the back

Finish: bittersweet molasses, wood, some chili

Matusalem 15 is a duel between the sweeter flavors of sugarcane and vanilla against the sharper notes of chili pepper and oak, with rich molasses forming a bridge between the two. While I can wish that it had just a bit more oomph from a 43-46% bottling strength, it mostly manages to hold its own at 40%. Sadly it does tend to fall apart with only a little water, so just leave it neat.

Matusalem wanted a fine, relatively smooth sipping rum and between the solera system and the skill of their blenders, we're getting a pretty tasty dram. And for as little as $20, it's a superb value. It also does extremely well in the aged Puerto Rican rum role for tiki drinks, delivering an exceptional smooth and rich experience. To see what I mean, try it with El Dorado 12 and Appleton Estate Extra in a Navy Grog. The results are decadently delicious.

Ron Matusalem 18

Nose: a healthy dose of rummy vanilla, slight undercurrent of oak, bourbon barrel notes

Taste: sweet, but not overly sweet, opening, with sugarcane carrying across the palate, more molasses, a bit of pepper and dark fruits come out at the back

Finish: molasses, pepper

While I only got to try this one at a bar and initially thought I might be missing something, reading over the official tasting notes makes me think that this is exactly what they were shooting for. It's an extremely smooth, sweet vanilla-focused spirit. That they managed this without it becoming over-oaked is quite a feat in a tropical country. However, I'll admit to being a little disappointed as I expected more complexity from a well-aged rum. Some more chili heat would have provided a nice balance, but it was only a hint, rather than a strong element. I have to wonder if a little less dilution might help, but given what it sounds like they were trying to create, more burn could be counterproductive, so we're going to get it at 40%.

Overall I'll have to agree with Cap'n Jimbo: the 18 year is a limp reflection of its younger sibling. Don't pony up the extra cash for the 18 year old, just stick with the more reasonably priced and lively 15.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Classic Cocktails: the Diki-Diki Cocktail

This is another drink from Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. While there isn't a lot of info in this book, Our Libatious Nature suggests that it originated in 1922 at the Embassy Club in London. I also agree with them that though Mr. Haigh suggests that the name is meant to evoke a tropical feel, there's nothing tropical about this drink.

Diki Diki Cocktail
1.5 oz apple brandy
0.75 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz Swedish punch
1 tsp honey syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice for 6 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose is redolent of the distinctive notes of Clear Creek's apple brandy, along with the dry fruitiness of grapefruit, and hooks up with the honey to bring out a slight floral aspect. The sip opens with very mild sweetness, as the apple brandy, grapefruit, and honey jostle for space. Then it fades into drier flavors from the grapefruit and Swedish punch, which becomes slightly bitter, astringent, and distinctly dry on the finish.

Overall this is a rather interesting drink. As written in VSFC, it was a little bit too dry for my taste, but the addition of a bit of honey really helped to balance it out and, I think, enhanced the drink significantly. And even with that modification, it's not going to tickle your sweet tooth too much - the other ingredients keep it rather snappy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

New Cocktails: the Hooded Watcher

This is a drink that I tossed together in an effort to finish off my bottle of Clear Creek's apple brandy. It was partially inspired by the Lucien Gaudin Cocktail I wrote a post about a while back, though I aimed for something a little less sweet.

The Hooded Watcher
1.5 oz apple brandy
0.25 oz sweet vermouth
0.25 oz dark falernum
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for 15 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose is dominated by sweet apple notes from the brandy and spices from the falernum and Angostura bitters. A very peculiar fruitiness also emerges from the interaction between the apple brandy and vermouth. The sip is initially fairly mild. The apple brandy provides a smooth canvas for the other flavors, continuing through the experience but not asserting itself too strongly. There is once again a slightly odd interaction between the brandy and wine that dances around for a bit. The falernum and spice elements of the bitters come in strong mid-palate, riding a wave of cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Going into the finish there is a building sweetness underneath the bitterness from the Angostura and vermouth. The finish continues the heavy spices, bringing out an almost chocolate-y flavor.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whisky Review: Talisker Distiller's Edition 2000

While I've put up a review of Talisker DE before, that was from a dram at a bar, so I didn't get as much time to spend with the whisky as I would have liked. Fortunately I managed to get a bottle of the 2011 release and have finally got around to properly tasting it.

Talisker is the only distillery on the island of Skye. The island lies off the northwest corner of Scotland, between the mainland and the isles of Lewis and Harris. While the temperatures are extremely temperate due to the moderating influence of the ocean, the weather is anything but, regularly lashing the island with wind and rain. The distillery was built nearly two hundred years ago in 1831, having since changed hands a number of times before ending up in the Diageo portfolio. Talisker's whisky is known for having a moderate (~20 ppm) level of peat as well as a heavy dose of pepper and some maritime characteristics.

The 2011 release was originally distilled in 2000, making it roughly an 11 year old whisky. As with all of Diageo's Distiller's Edition whiskies, it was aged in a fortified wine cask for an indeterminate amount of time (more info, please, Diageo) after some period in standard ex-bourbon barrels. In this case, the whisky was finished in Amoroso sherry casks. Amoroso sherry is a mixture of dry Oloroso sherry that has been sweetened, usually with Pedro Ximenez sherry. This is similar to the East India Solera sherry that I reviewed a while back.

Talisker Distiller's Edition 2000

Nose: soft fruit, strong floral notes, malty sweetness, underlying creamy peat reek with well integrated TCP intertwined with wood spices, rubbery sherry, chipotle pepper, a hint of brine, oak, vanilla, a bit of banana, charcoal. After adding water, the malt becomes more prominent, while the peat, sherry and floral notes are somewhat subdued.

Taste: malty, sugary sweetness up front, pepper comes on strong early on the tongue and maintains its heat, peat builds slowly towards the back of the mouth, sherry comes in mid-palate, becomes earthy, trending towards bitter mocha. After a few drops of water, the whisky gets a little bit less sweet up front, but sweeter at the back, and everything but the pepper is slightly toned down.

Finish: classic Talisker pepper, bitter, peat, cacao, oak, and a hint of sherry

This is very different from the barbecue-heavy, peat-forward version that I tried back in December. The nose is very, very floral, with the peat taking on a more vegetal rather than smoky aspect. It makes me think of what Aberlour 12 would taste like if the distillery used peated malt. Also similar to Aberlour, the sherry influence is relatively subdued, providing some underlying fruitiness, but not dominating the other elements of the spirit. I prefer the peat-heavy version, but this is a rather interesting study in how much variety can come from a single distillery, even when they're nominally trying to produce the same whisky each time. It'll also be interesting to compare this to a small bottle I have of Talisker DE that was distilled in 1992, which will be part of a Talisker vertical tasting that I have planned.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Classic Cocktails: The Widow's Kiss

This cocktail comes from Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. It was invented by George Kappeler and first published in his Modern American Drinks in 1895. A drink from another era, it showcases the formidable power of the herbal liqueurs that fell out of favor during Prohibition and the advent of shelf-stable fruit liqueurs.

The Widow's Kiss
1.5 oz apple brandy
0.75 oz Chartreuse
0.75 oz Bénédictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

The nose contains elements from the apple brandy, Chartreuse and Bénédictine twining about each other without crowding for attention. Sweet and fruity but also gently herbal. The sip comes in reverse order from what I expected, with the bitter notes from the herbal liqueurs coming in first, fading into the clove and allspice of the Angostura, which finally leads to the liqueur's strong sweetness. The finish is still sweet, with lingering herbal and spice notes. Through everything, the apple brandy rides in the background, supporting the more potent herbal liqueurs.

As a note, the recipe calls for the more heady 110-proof Green Chartreuse, but you can sub in the more restrained 80-proof Yellow Chartreuse. Under the circumstances, that's not a bad plan. With Yellow Chartreuse, the final drink will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-proof.

This cocktail is aptly named. Strong, sweet and mysterious. You don't want to trifle with this one, as it's all spirits with nothing but ice to moderate its strength. Approach carefully, but don't try too hard to resist its charms.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bruichladdich - the Power & Danger of Stories

Those plugged in at all to the scotch whisky infosphere will probably already have heard about the now public negotiations to sell the Bruichladdich distillery to the Remy Cointreau drinks conglomerate. Unsurprisingly, there has been quite a bit of noise generated by the decision - the distillery has prided itself on independence since its relaunch at the beginning of the millennium. While getting back on their feet was not an easy task - seven years of silent stills left a hole in the stocks of whisky remaining from the distillery's previous life - their phoenix story and iconoclastic production methods ensured a steady stream of attention and accolades.

The hole in their stocks was both a curse and blessing, forcing the distillery to get creative while they patiently waited for their own spirit to mature. One of the easiest ways to generate cash flow was to release a plethora of cask finished whiskies using the older stock. However this meant that prices were high and quality was not always stable. But the innovation was often appreciated and they had plenty of other tricks up their sleeve.


Bruichladdich became known for consciously being a part of the Islay community, employing a larger staff than most other distilleries on the island and sourcing their materials as much as possible from the local area. More than any other distillery than Springbank, Bruichladdich produced an enormous varieties of spirits, ranging from unpeated all the way up to the highest phenolic compound levels of any scotch whisky produced before. Unlike most Scottish distilleries, Bruichladdich didn't sell any of its whisky for blends, even though this is how many distilleries keep up the bottom line. All of these characteristics meant that there was a great amount of affection among the scotch whisky community for the distillery.

Which brings us to the present day. Bruichladdich appeared to be going from strength to strength. A number of younger whiskies such as the heavily peated Port Charlotte and extremely heavily peated Octomore range were released during the early 2000s, with much fanfare. In 2011 they finally released the first 10 year old whisky produced entirely under the new ownership, which brought hope for the regularization of the brand.

A couple of days ago, it was announced on Twitter that Bruichladdich was in talks with Remy Cointreau to sell the distillery. There was a significant amount of consternation, both because of the foundational perception of Bruichladdich as an independent distillery and because of statements last fall that the owners were not interested in selling. The reactions flew fast, furious, and furiously. While technically not a done deal, it's unlikely that the talks would have been announced if they weren't already in the final stages and mostly waiting for a few signatures.

I have no dog in this game. Even though I've thought about trying some of Bruichladdich's whisky, it hasn't been a priority and I still haven't tasted any. With that said, it has gotten me thinking about the ways in which a lot of distilleries are selling a story as much as they are a physical product.

New distilleries are, as I've noted before, in a very tough position. While cash flow can be generated by putting out white spirits, many have the ultimate goal of putting out aged spirits, whether it be whisk(e)y, rum, brandy or anything else that needs a long sleep in oak to fully mature. This creates a dilemma: while aging, spirit is worse than a sunk cost, given that there are expenses for space, taxes, etc. In the meantime, distillers can either wait, hoping that their capital will last long enough to see them through, or put out younger spirits.

In the second case, much of what the customers are buying is the story of the distillery. Are they the first in the area for decades or centuries? Are they using obscure production methods? Distilling spirits never seen before on earth? No matter what the story, it seems like that is all too often the main product on offer. There may be some hits, but there are usually quite a number of misses as well. But in many cases, fans are willing to shrug it off, hoping that by purchasing a less than fabulous product now, the owners of the distillery will be able to produce something magical down the road.

Bruichladdich is in an interesting position - a mixture of both old and new. The distillery has existed for well over a century and the managers were old hands in the business, but the story being told about its rebirth was all about newness. New methods, new experiments, new ways of running the business. And the fans bought that story. As I mentioned above, some of the whiskies coming out of the distillery were either only O.K., not great, incomprehensible, or bizarrely bad. But fans were willing to overlook the flops because the good stuff was just so staggeringly good. And that fed the story they were buying into - that supporting the distillery now would ensure better and better products as time went on.

Which brings us back to where we are now. Bruichladdich will, in all likelihood, no longer be an independent distillery by, say, this time next year. But what does that really mean? Part of the problem is that no one knows. Maybe nothing will change. RC will throw some cash in their direction and the distillery will keep being the innovative renegade that it's been for the last decade. Maybe RC wants a malt whisky distillery that they can expand to feed blends, turning Bruichladdich into another cog in the machine like Diageo's distilleries. Maybe it'll be somewhere in between, with changes being made to make the distillery a little more normal, but letting them tinker and put out wild experiments from time to time, rather than the flood that they became known for. The trouble is that not knowing makes it harder to buy into the story.

And as I mentioned above, a lot of Bruichladdich's business was built on people buying into that story. Sure, you were taking a risk by purchasing the latest cask finished 'Laddie, but if it was a dud, at least you were helping to support something new and different. So the question becomes whether they can maintain that kind of support under different ownership. Will they be able to garner the same kind of support for their experiments if the customers know that they money they're spending, on what is often pretty expensive whisky, is going to another big conglomerate.

Personally, I'm not sure how much I care. Business is ultimately about making money and I can't fault the investors in Bruichladdich for jumping on what is honestly a pretty sweet deal. While the managers and employees may have put more than just money into the operation, that was ultimately what it was supposed to generate. And if they can get a pile of cash without having to sweat over another mash tun or still, more power to them. Expecting more out of a business is a very tenuous position for a consumer to be in.

However, as I mentioned above, it's hard to ignore how often we're being sold a story as much as a product. And I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that either. If a customer feels better about buying whisky from a little guy instead of one of the corporate behemoths, it's silly to say that it's wrong for them to derive enjoyment from that part of the transaction. The problem is ultimately for the distillery, as the quality of their story needs to stay up to scratch just as much, and possibly even more, than the quality of their spirits. A business can fall apart just as quickly if one isn't up to snuff as the other, and as I explained above, a story can sometimes hold things together even better than good product. That makes the story as much an asset of the company as its buildings, equipment, and employees.

So where does that leave us? Ultimately I don't think there's a right or wrong answer. Each whisky drinker will have to decide where their priorities lay. 'Laddie may end up with more customers - more capital means more capacity and the advertising dollars of Remy Cointreau will also be behind them. But it could also go the other way. Will Bruichladdich continue to get the effusive praise from critics that it's garnered over the last decade? Will previously loyal customers become disgruntled, unhappy that the story they bought into is no longer the same? Small companies relying disproportionately on word of mouth and Bruichladdich has had some powerful mouths raving about its whisky. Only time will tell whether this is the beginning of a new chapter in Bruichladdich's success, with new capital helping to build the business, or a move that will destroy much of the goodwill that they have garnered, stymying grow. Or it could come out somewhere in the middle I don't know nearly enough about the business to make a solid prediction. Only you can decide how much the story matters.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Cocktails: Flor del Agavo

Just a little follow-up to my post about Solear manzanilla sherry. This time I wanted to make a sour, but the trick was how to make it without covering up the wonderful flavors of the sherry. Thankfully, the lemon/grapefruit combo seems to work beautifully, though I did have to use a much higher ratio of spirits:juice than normal to keep things balanced.

Flor del Agavo
1.5 oz blanco tequila (Corralejo)
0.5 oz manzanilla sherry
0.25 oz lemon juice
0.25 oz grapefruit juice
0.375 oz honey syrup
3 dashes orange bitters (Regan's #6)

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for 15 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose contains earthy, vegetal agave, savory sherry, a slight mineral tang, along with a hint of bitter orange and grapefruit. The sip begins with tequila and honey up front, followed by the sherry mid-palate, then lemony grapefruit, and fading into bitter orange

The agave and sherry pair extremely well, with the vegetal agave of the tequila and the briny olive of the sherry playing off of each other. The grapefruit provides a bridge between the spirits and the lemon juice, while the honey tempers the drink and is kept in check by the orange bitters.

I've also made this with simple syrup instead of honey. This version emphasizes the tequila, whereas the simple syrup version emphasizes the sherry. Pick whichever sounds better to you or, you know, try both and see which actually tastes better to you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sherry Review: Barbadillo Solear Manzanilla

While I'm almost a complete neophyte to the world of wine, I've slowly been dipping my toes in through the back door of fortified wines. While my interest was originally in aged olorosos, as my palate has changed I've become more intrigued by the lighter fino and manzanilla styles. While pursuing Portland Wine Merchants store in search of sparkling wine, I noticed some extremely cheap manzanilla that was highly recommended by the owners. I was willing to take a risk for $5 and purchased a bottle.

Barbadillo is a sherry bodega located in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, one corner of the "Sherry Triangle" along with Jerez (the corruption of whose name gives us the English word sherry), and El Puerto de Santa María. The bodega's history stretches back to the early 19th century and the company has remained under family ownership for nearly 200 years.

Manzanilla sherries are a variety of fino sherry that is produced exclusively in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, absorbing salty flavors from the sea breezes. Additionally, the moderating influence of the sea on the local climate means that the layer of flor that prevents oxidation of the sherry can survive year round, giving manzanillas a fresher flavor than other finos. This particular manzanilla is interesting in that it has been aged longer than usual, clocking in around 8 years under the flor.

Solear Manzanilla

Nose: rich olives, brine, underlying creamy herbs, hints of oak and jammy fruit

Taste: thin and moderately acidic up front, becomes richer near the back of the mouth with olive and white wine notes

Finish: slightly bitter, hint of wine

My notes are from tasting the sherry while it was fresh out of the fridge. As it warmed up I noticed that the nose got more heft, but the palate got even thinner. I'd probably recommend drinking it chilled, but your mileage may vary.

For all the talk of fino and manzanilla sherries being delicate and not lasting too long, even when stored in the fridge, I found that this sherry was just as robust after a week in the cold as it was when I first opened it. Apparently some people agree with this assessment, so I wouldn't worry too much if you can't finish a bottle in one sitting.

And, as always, I wanted to try making a cocktail. Poking around the internet, it looked like tequila and sherry went together particularly well.

Del Mer
1.5 oz reposado tequila (Cazadores)
0.75 oz Bénédictine
0.75 oz manzanilla sherry
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash grapefruit bitters

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for 15 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose combines the savory elements of the sherry with the herbal sweetness of the Bénédictine. The tequila hides in the back, providing some sharper, mineral notes along with the bitters. There's also some fruity raisin and brine from the sherry. The sip opens with herbal sweetness, counterbalanced by the acidity of the sherry and the agave of the tequila. This fades slowly towards bitterness, with the savory elements of the sherry coming together with the tequila, liqueur, and bitters. It fades with fruity bitterness, largely from the orange bitters, but with just a hint of olive from the sherry.

Overall, I think this is a really great way to showcase what manzanilla sherry can do in a cocktail. The tequila, Bénédictine and bitters enhance and wrap around the sherry's flavors, bolstering it where there's weakness and amplifying what's already there. I based this drink on Camper English's Del Rio, which differs primarily by using elderflower liqueur instead of Bénédictine. For being the main component, the tequila actually takes a supporting rather than a lead role in this cocktail, giving a subtly accented canvas for the other ingredients. Overall I'm really pleased with the savory/sweet balance of this drink.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Classic Cocktails: The Avenue

I got this drink out of Dr. Cocktail's always-useful Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. The cocktail originally comes from the Café Royal Cocktail Book published in 1937. For more about the Café Royal and it's eponymous cocktail book, check out Our Libatinous Nature and their review of this cocktail.

The Avenue
1 oz bourbon
1 oz apple brandy
1 oz passionfruit syrup (B.G. Reynolds')
1 tsp lemon juice
2 drops orange flower water

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

The nose is an interesting melange of the oak and corn bourbon notes with restrained fruit from the apple brandy and passionfruit. Using passionfruit syrup gives this drink a fantastically creamy mouthfeel. The sip opens with fruit from the syrup and apple brandy, which transitions to bourbon, then back to the passionfruit. It finishes with the orange flower water. A very elegant cocktail.

A few notes about the way I put this together. The drink originally called for passionfruit juice rather than syrup and a dash of grenadine. As per VSFC, I subbed in passionfruit syrup and balanced it with a bit of lemon juice. I think this worked out well as the drink was sweet without becoming overwhelming. Lastly, Paul Clarke and I appear to think the same way as we both reached for Weller 12 Year bourbon, as its soft wheat mashbill makes it a good pairing with the apple brandy and passionfruit. A rye-recipe bourbon might give the drink a bit more pep, but I like the way everything comes together in a very smooth fashion with a wheated bourbon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Classic Cocktails: the Tahiti Typhoon

This is another drink from the Cocktail Database without a lot info about where it comes from. As suggested by Sylvan, that means it probably comes from Stan Jones' Complete Bar Guide. From whence it found its way into that book, no one knows. But no matter what, this is a fine example of the drinks to come out of that inestimable bartender's pen.

Tahiti Typhoon
1 oz gin
1 oz Cointreau
0.75 oz lime juice

Build over ice in a chilled rocks glass and top with sparkling wine.

The nose is dominated by the sparkling wine, with a hint of orange from the Cointreau. The sip is effervescent with crisp notes from the wine joined by juniper and lime, which are smoothed by the orange liqueur. The gin and Cointreau give the drink a slightly bitter finish. Overall this isn't the most complex drink ever, but it is an excellent summer cooler with enough punch to remain entertaining and light enough to be a good long drink.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mixing With Malt: Scotch Whisky Cocktails

While scotch whisky is a notoriously difficult spirit to mix with, it just takes a certain amount of care to find ways to make it integrate with other ingredients.

Speyside Sunset
1.5 oz Aberlour 12 Year
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz honey syrup
0.25 oz allspice dram
1 dash Angostura bitters

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

The malty, sherried scotch and allspice twine together on the nose, while a bit of lemon oil and clove poke their heads up. The sip opens with dueling honey sweetness and a bit of sourness from the lemon. The malt whisky and allspice dram appear smoothly near the back of the mouth, with the drink finishing similarly with a slight return of the lemon. Throughout it all, the bitters help to keep the drink from falling apart into disparate pieces.

I wanted to put scotch and allspice dram together. There was a false start, but this version came together beautifully. The lightly sherried Aberlour fits well with the allspice for a lovely sour cocktail.

1.5 oz Glenfarclas 12 Year
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
0.25 oz orgeat (B.G. Reynolds)
1 dash Fee's Whiskey Barrel bitters

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

The nose is dominated by the sweet vermouth's wine, with rich almonds from the orgeat, cinnamon from the bitters, and hints of lemon from the twist. The sip is deliciously thick and opens bittersweet from the interaction between the orgeat, bitters, and vermouth. There is also a strong underlying maltiness, which shifts briefly into wine flavors from the vermouth and the whisky's sherry cask aging. There's a sense of something building, then a fantastic wash of cinnamon and chocolate leads into the finish. Just a hint of the Glenfarclas' ginger bite lingers for a good long while.

Once again, I think the bitters really make this drink. I had been trying to think of a way to get Glenfarclas 12 into a cocktail as the flavors are so deliciously rich that I thought they would stand up well. However, the trick was to find a drink that would compliment the whisky without completely overwhelming it. This mashup between a Rob Roy and a Japanese Cocktail seems to have done the trick.

Papa's Crutch
1.5 oz Glenmorangie Original
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz grapefruit juice
0.5 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and strain into a maraschino-rinsed cocktail glass.

The nose is extremely fruity. It reminds me a bit of rhum agricole, with the whisky and maraschino coming together to produce a funky pear note. There's also honied apples, grapefruit, and cherry blossoms. The sip comes a little bit thin with some light apple juice, but then there's a wave of malt, sweet lemon, bitter grapefruit, and funkier flavors from the maraschino. It finishes with honey, almonds and some floral notes.

This drink is right on the edge of being a confused mess. The maraschino and scotch just barely play well with each other, threatening to come to blows. Glenmorangie Original is a relatively light, floral whisky and the interaction with the maraschino brings out a lot of interesting fruits. While not quite as coherent as its Hemmingway Daiquiri inspiration, it's all an exciting ride.