Sunday, March 31, 2013

Classic Cocktails: De La Louisiane

I was pointed towards this fantastic twist on the classic Sazerac cocktail by Thomas Prieto. It originally comes from the Restaurant de la Louisiane, a famous French restaurant in early 20th-century New Orleans. The recipe was recorded by Stanley Clisby Arthur in his 1937 book New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em.

De La Louisiane
2 oz rye whiskey
0.75 oz sweet vermouth
0.75 oz Bénédictine
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
3 dashes (~0.5 tsp) pastis or absinthe

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

The nose is dominated by the anise notes of the Herbsaint and Peychaud's, herbaceousness from the Bénédictine, with hints of sweet wine and rye. The sip begins with honey and wine sweetness from the Bénédictine and sweet vermouth, becoming herbal rye mid-palate, then leaving with a shower of anise sparks.

This is a really interesting mash-up of the Sazerac and the Vieux Carré. It's less sweet than I would have guessed looking at the recipe - the ingredients balance each other rather well. I would highly recommend this if you enjoy rye whiskey cocktails.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Classic Cocktails: the Rum Curacao Cooler

Can't find many references about this drink other than in the Cocktail Database. Still, a simple but tasty drink.

Rum Curacao Cooler (Adapted)
1 oz aged rum
1 oz curaçao
0.5 oz lime juice
1 oz grapefruit juice
0.25 oz simple syrup

Build over ice in a chilled glass, top with soda water and stir briefly to combine.

The sip begins with a hit of grapefruit, segues into orange, rhum agricole, and lime, then finishes bittersweet-ly.

While not complicated, this was a very pleasant drink. I adjusted the recipe because, while I had grapefruit juice and soda water, I didn't have any grapefruit soda. I think the improvisation worked just fine. But if you do have grapefruit soda around, drop the grapefruit juice and simple syrup. Also, while I used rhum agricole to give this one a bit of a kick, any kind of aged rum should do. Jamaican would be my next choice, but something from Barbados, St. Croix, or Puerto Rico will be even more mellow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Classic Cocktails: the Blinker

I snagged this drink from Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. The drink first appeared in Patrick Gavin Duffy's The Official Mixer's Manual in 1934. That suggests that it probably came out of Prohibition, when lots of drinks were developed to hide the taste of bad spirits. While I'm using finer ingredients than what would have been available at the local speakeasy, it still manages to hide an awful lot of whiskey.

2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz grapefruit juice
2 barspoons raspberry syrup

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

The nose is full of grapefruit with hints of lemon oil from the garnish and there is a bit of rye and raspberry underneath. The sip begins with mildly sweet grapefruit, which grows towards mid-palate. The rye and raspberry rise alongside. The finish is all raspberry and rye grain.

This drink definitely fits the Prohibition mold. With that said, unless you want the whiskey to hide even more, I wouldn't try substituting bourbon into this cocktail - it probably won't be able to hold its own. If Rittenhouse can barely punch through, no bourbon short of George T. Stagg is going to make much of an impression. Either way, it's either an easy drinking cocktail (build it over ice and dilute it with a squirt of soda water for something a bit snappier in the summer) or a good way to ease someone into rye whiskey.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Whiskey Review: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon

Rock Hill Farms is one of the single barrel bourbons distilled at Buffalo Trace using their 'high rye' mash bill. I got a sample of this bourbon from Florin, one of my readers, as I'd been itching to try it since reading Josh's review. Rock Hill Farms is an actual location near BT, the home of Albert Blanton - the founder of the distillery.

While reading the comments on Josh's post I became aware of one of the confusing things about Buffalo Trace - they distill whiskey made from a number of different mash bills - a wheat recipe bourbon, a low rye (8%) bourbon, a high rye (15%) bourbon, and a rye whiskey (51%). However, despite a number of flagship products including Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee, and Rock Hill Farms coming from the high rye mash bill, the distillery's name never appears on those bottles.

It turns out this is because the brands associated with the high rye mash bill are actually the property of  a Japanese company owned by Takaro Shuzo, Age International, who previously owned a major stake in Buffalo Trace and also owns a number of other spirit companies (the Tomatin whisky distillery, for instance). This came about due to the distillery's rather turbulent history during the late 1980s and early 1990s - at that point the distillery was still known at Ancient Age and Age International bought in after a less than successful attempt by executives from the previous owner, Schenley, to run the distillery on their own. Subsequently, the Sazerac corporation, which had previously bought bourbon under contract from Heaven Hill, purchased a majority stake in the distillery in the late 1990s so that they would be able to distill their own bourbon and renamed the distillery Buffalo Trace. This ended up pushing AI into a minority shareholder position, creating quite a bit of friction between the two companies. However, BT still produces bourbon using the high rye mash bill under contract for AI, as well as distributing it in the US. AI does international distribution on its own - meaning that some versions of their bourbons are only available abroad. This also explains why none of the high rye whiskey produced at BT has made it into their top-of-the-line Antique Collection - BT doesn't actually own any of it.

From Buffalo Trace
Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel

Nose: red wine/brandy notes (acidic and grape-y), underlying dusty corn and rye grain, berries, dark chocolate, sandwich bread, rich caramel/toffee, a bit of vanilla. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes lighter and airier, the rye retreats but corn gains more ground, there's a touch of oak,  it seems sweet and dry at the same time, and there are stronger berries and vanilla.

Taste: brief sucrose sweetness up front - which subtly rides underneath the subsequent flavors, then big black/chili pepper spice and grapes/berries mid-palate, ending with mildly bitter oak notes. After dilution there is a more integrated flavor profile - the sweetness extends further back and the pepper/berries/oak come in sooner, and the berry flavors become much bigger with spikier pepper notes.

Finish: berries, rye, lightly bitter oak, toffee/vanilla, coffe beans, pepper, corn

This is a very, very good bourbon. While I will once again state my annoyance that there's no info about the barrel that this whiskey came from on the bottles, the person picking it did an excellent job. The only stumbling point comes when you want to talk about value. Out here in the great state of Oregon, Rock Hill Farms is above $50. Even from cheaper sources it's above $40. That's single malt whisky territory where there's a lot of stiff competition. If you want a bourbon of this caliber I'd lean towards something like Wild Turkey Rare Breed, which has a similar flavor profile and is also a whole lot cheaper.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Whisky Review: Glen Scotia 17 Year

This is the last part of my vertical tasting of Glen Scotia's previous range of single malt whiskies during a trip to the Highland Stillhouse. See the review of the 12 Year for lots of background and the 14 Year for some late-breaking news about the distillery.

Glen Scotia 17 Year

Nose: creamy barbecue, light apple cider and vegetal peat, dusty grapes, cacao/chocolate, gentle oak, wood sugars. After adding a few drops of water, the apple notes became fresher, with more malt, less smoke/barbecue, lots of wood spices/sugars, some maritime notes, creamy vanilla, and mint.

Taste: grape/sucrose sweetness throughout, black pepper comes in quickly, bittersweet oak and a touch of vinegar near the back, creamy overall. After dilution, it becomes maltier and a little flat, with more pepper and oak, some wood sugars up front, and hints of salt and baked apples.

Finish: mild peat, malty, pepper, oak

Like the 12 Year and unlike the 14 Year, this one is bottled at a decent but not extravagant 43%. While it had much more in common with the 14 Year, especially in terms of the grape notes, it felt a little less coherent. There was a bit of a sour edge to it that detracted from the other flavors. Most importantly, the palate was a bit of a letdown in comparison to the nose. It seems like there's solid malt in there, but the component casks could have been picked with a bit more care. As noted by LAWS, it's hard to make an argument for the 17 Year over the 14 Year, though at this point it's all academic. I'll be keeping my eye out for an opportunity to pick up the new expressions from Glen Scotia because I'm so intrigued by these offerings. I think the distillery has a lot to offer as a slightly more refined version of Campbeltown, in comparison to Springbank's rougher charm.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mixology Monday LXXI - From Crass to Craft

It's that time of the month again - Mixology Monday has rolled around. This month's event, hosted by Scott Diaz of Shake, Strain & Sip, is Crass to Craft. To summarize -

"The evolution of the cocktail has been a wondrous, and sometimes, frightful journey… But with all this focus on “craft” ingredients and classic tools & form, it seems we have become somewhat pretentious. The focus on bitter Italian amari, revived and lost ingredients such as Batavia Arrack or Crème de Violette, the snickering at a guest ordering a Cosmopolitan or a Midori Sour has propelled us into the dark realm of snobbery… Remember, the bar was created with pleasing one particular group in mind: the guest. As such, this month’s MxMo theme… will focus on concocting a craft cocktail worthy of not only MxMo but any trendy bar, using dubious and otherwise shunned ingredients to sprout forth a craft cocktail that no one could deny is anything less. There are a plethora of spirits, liqueurs, and non-alcoholic libations that are just waiting for someone to showcase that they too are worthy of being featured on our home and bar shelves. So grab that bottle of flavored vodka, Jägermeister, cranberry juice, soda, neon-colored liqueur, sour mix, or anything else deemed unworthy of a craft cocktail, and get mixin’!"

Thinking about what's been languishing in my booze collection, I pawed some spirits out of the way to find two bottles of amaretto hiding at the back of one shelf. While little used now, amaretto was my unglamorous introduction to mixology. Near the end of college I loved Amaretto Stone Sours - 1:2:2 amaretto, orange juice, and neon yellow sour mix. Even with bottom shelf amaretto (seriously, I think the bottle cost $5), the sheer artificiality of the combination somehow just came together perfectly. 

But those days passed and the amaretto wasted away, rarely to see the light of day. Trying to think about what to do with it, I remembered Jeffrey Morgenthaler's post extolling the virtues of his Amaretto Sours. While I'm a bit low on cask-strength bourbon, I do have a lot of high proof rum. So I decided to take it in a slightly tiki direction.

Amaretto Spiced Sour
1.5 oz amaretto
0.75 oz high-proof Jamaican rum
1 oz lemon juice
1 tsp falernum
0.5 oz egg white

Combine all ingredients, dry shake, then shake with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a long strip of lemon peel and a few drops of Angostura bitters

The nose holds just a bit of funk from the rum and some woody/spicy notes from the bitters on top of the foam. The sip begins in a balanced fashion, perched between sweet and sour, slowly segueing through almond notes from the amaretto, Jamaican rum funk, eggy creaminess, and finishing with very mild bitterness.

While retaining the basic structure and character of the Amaretto Sour, I think this version manages to make things just a bit more interesting. The rum, bitters, and falernum are present without overwhelming the amaretto and lemon juice. The egg white acts as a good integrator, smoothing over the cracks between the other flavors. If you're sensitive to egg flavors or just feel weird about raw egg whites, you could back off a bit an use a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon, or even just omit that entirely. Either way, it's a hell of a drink.

Thanks again to Shake, Strain & Sip for hosting this month's MxMo. I look forward to seeing what other drinks people have hauled up from the depth of the bottom shelf.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Tiki Cocktails: The Clermeil

This is another cocktail from Imbibe's rum feature in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue. The drink was invented by Maksym Pazuniak of Cure in New Orleans, who named it after the Haitain Vodou loa who makes rivers overflow their banks.

For a slightly different take on this drink, you should check out Cocktail Virgin.

The Clermeil
1.5 oz aged rum
0.75 oz green Chartreuse
0.75 oz lime juice
0.5 oz maple syrup
0.75 tsp allspice dram

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

The nose is dominated by the Chartreuse, which gives is a rather savory aspect, with an undercurrent of rum and maple syrup. The sip begins lightly, with sweetness, lime, and herbal notes growing stronger mid-palate, then slowly fading out with a bit of spice from the allspice dram. The rum plays more of a supporting role, giving the flavors a certain roundness.

I made the drink with the last of my bottle of Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva. While an excellent choice in many applications, it felt overwhelmed by the green Chartreuse. As Fred noted, even El Dorado 12 Year can get beat out by the herbal liqueur, so maybe only something like a Jamaican rum would really be able to hold its own. Another alternative would be switching to the lighter and sweeter yellow Chartreuse and easing back a bit on the maple syrup. That could let the rum shine a bit more. Either way, this is a very nice tiki-ish take on the Last Word format.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Whisky Review: Glen Scotia 14 Year

Part two of the vertical tasting I recently did of Glen Scotia single malts at the Highland Stillhouse. Check out my review of the 12 year for more info about the distillery and its history.

It has recently emerged that Glen Catrine and Loch Lomand, the owners of Glen Scotia (as well as the Littlemill Lowland distillery), are up for sale. What this means for Glen Scotia remains unclear, but I can only hope that the new owners will give the Campbeltown distillery the care and investment it needs to really shine.

The 14 year version is a little bit weaker at 40%, but doesn't show it, as the malt is packed with flavor.

Glen Scotia 14 Year

Nose: floral apple cider, light vegetal peat undertones, slightly malty, cognac grape-iness, cacao, cookie dough, dry-ish overall. After adding a few drops of water, the malt takes over with coastal/maritime salt, light cacao/peat, milk chocolate? cognac undertones, light smoke, a touch of barbecue.

Taste: malty sucrose sweetness and pepper hit simultaneously up front, cognac fruitiness mid-palate, very subdued peat at the back - lightly astringent and bitter. After adding a few drops of water, there is more cognac grape-iness up front and more malt towards the back, with cacao/oak/peat bitterness intertwined.

Finish: apple cider, malt, residual cognac notes, a whiff of peat and oak

You know how spirits are often said to be like cognac when the writer wants to compliment them? This one genuinely reminds me of cognac. The combination of brandy notes, malt, and peat was utterly beguiling.  Admittedly I found the nose to be more complex than the palate, but the flavors weren't a slouch either. Sadly this one is long-gone from the shelves, never to be seen again. Hopefully one of the older expressions in the revamped Glen Scotia line will be similar to this whisky, as it would be a shame if the flavor profile disappeared.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Cocktails: And to All a Good Night...

This drink comes from Tim Stookey of the Presidio Social Club in San Francisco via the 2008 holiday cocktail guide from Imbibe. A bit of a puzzler on its face, it was much tastier than I thought it might be.

And to All a Good Night...
1.5 oz bourbon
0.75 oz reposado tequila
0.75 oz cherry Heering
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters

The nose is dominated by the cherry Heering, with flashes of agave. After the drink warms up, corn notes from the bourbon start to emerge. It begins sweetly, but that is quickly tamed by a combination of the bitters and tannins from the bourbon, with the tequila weaving through it. The finish is bittersweet chocolate.

This is a somewhat peculiar cocktail. The combination of bourbon and tequila is rather unique. I feel like the results are going to be dependent on which spirits you pick. The Elijah Craig 12 I used is a dominant force in the drink, pushing the tequila into the background. It doesn't help that higher proof tequilas are pretty thin on the ground, so all of the ones I own feel a bit outmatched in this situation.

Most of all, while I liked the drink, I don't think it's something I'd serve to anyone other than a booze nerd. It's not quite harmonious enough, at least with the ingredients I picked, to sit well with most people. Maybe with a wheated bourbon and a lighter tequila, it'd all fit together better. And either way, I'm not sure that there's anything particularly festive about it. Still, it piques my interest in seeing how well tequila works with other spirits, so at least it will make me investigate further.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Whisky Review: Glen Scotia 12 Year (Old Presentation)

For many years now, Glen Scotia has been the rarely remembered member of the Campbeltown survivors - the very few distilleries that made it through the disintegration of a once-mighty whisky distilling region on the Kintyre Peninsula.

Originally known as simply Scotia, the distillery was founded in 1832. It has had a complicated history, passing through over a dozen different owners over the last 180 years. Currently it is owned by Glen Catrine/Loch Lomond Distillers, who purchased it in 1994 and performed a major remodel of the site, resuming production in 1999. However, it remained comparatively quiet, occasionally being mothballed for short periods of time and sporadically putting out only a small number of official bottlings, which were reduced to one (the 12 year old) until very recently. Production during the current millenium has been very low, with only three staff members producing an annual output of between 100,000-150,000 liters (this is ~%20 of their maximum capacity and puts them in the same league as very small distilleries such as Edradour and Kilchoman).

However, it was announced late last year that Glen Scotia would be updating its packaging and simultaneously releasing a new range of whiskies. To beef up the profile of the brand, all of the new expressions will be bottled at 46% without chill-filtration. This is a nice development, even if the packaging seems a bit over the top. In anticipation of these new whiskies, I head over to the Highland Stillhouse to try the old versions, starting with the 12 year old.

Glen Scotia 12 Year (Old Presentation)

Nose: mild vegetal peat, fresh apple cider, barbecue, malt, very light sherry influence, lightly floral. After adding a few drops of water, it became very creamy (almost like whipping cream) and sweet, with a hefty dollop of vanilla, the peat gently integrated with the apple flavors - which became more floral, and the peat became stronger with time

Taste: begins with lightly sweet malt, which slowly trades places with slightly bitter peat, black pepper emerges mid-palate, and a creamy sherry note throughout. After dilution, it became just a bit flatter, but with stronger and sweeter malt plus whipped cream up front.

Finish: mild peat, malt, slightly tannic, a touch of sherry

I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I liked this whisky. Reviews had been thoroughly mixed, with few talking it up, so my expectations going in were fairly low. However, it was a solid lightly peated whisky. At 43% ABV and likely chill-filtered, it didn't quite have the heft I was looking for, but it seemed like a solid foundation. With craft presentation (46%, NCF) and maybe a few more sherry casks in the mix, I think they could have a real winner. So I have a fair amount of hope for the new versions.

I also hope that Glen Scotia follows Springbank's lead in putting out more single cask bottlings. At full cask strength, I can see this whisky doing really, really well in fino or manzanilla sherry casks. The saltiness would compliment the peat and help emphasize the trademark Campbeltown maritime character.

I also tried the new-defunct 14 and 17 year old Glen Scotia bottlings, which were really something special. Reviews to follow.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Science and Engineering of Cocktails

Kevin Liu blogs about both food, at Science Fare, and cocktails, at Craft Cocktails at Home. Taking a science and engineering approach to the construction of food and drinks, he has a new book of the same name. While I haven't had time to dig into it completely yet, what I've seen is rather interesting and compelling. Best of all, you can get the eBook from Amazon for free until Saturday afternoon. So if you fancy learning about everything from the physics of creaminess to the precise balance between sweetness, sourness, and bitterness, give it a look. I'll be sure to give it a more thorough review at a later date.