Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Cocktails: the Broken Bicycle

One of Jeffrey Morgenthaler's many contributions to modern bartending has been the reintroduction of batch cocktails. Beginning with barrel aged cocktails, he later moved on to carbonated, bottled cocktails. All of these have the benefit of both creating new flavors and drinking experiences while also improving bar service.

One of the drinks to come out of these effects is the Broken Bike, a modification of the Italian Bicicletta, a drink composed of Campari, white wine, and sparkling water. This trades out the Campari for Cynar and carbonates the whole drink.

The only downside is that it is designed as a batch cocktail, so it's a bit hard to do if you only want a single drink. So I scaled down the ingredients and replaced the white wine with prosecco to give it a bit more fix without having to use a CO2 charger.

Broken Bicycle

1.33 oz Cynar
1.75 oz sparkling wine
2.5 oz sparkling water

Build over ice in a chilled rocks glass. Add a thick strip of lemon peel, then briefly stir to combine.

The nose is relatively restrained and dominated by the lemon peel. The sip largely bounces back and forth between the savory notes of Cynar and the brighter vinous notes of the prosecco, with a bit of extra snap and dryness being provided by the soda water. The finish is dominated by the Cynar, leaving a gentle but persistent bitterness.

This is very much a classic aperitif drink, being light enough to drink without becoming intoxicated and bitter enough to stimulate the palate without completely obliterating the taste buds. I first tried the Broken Bike at Clyde Common and have been wanting to make more ever since. I foresee many of them in my future.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Experimental Whisky: Benriach 34 Year/Glendronach 33 Year Blend

My birthday whiskies from the last couple of years are just about finished, but I couldn't resist blending a bit of them together, especially because the two are now owned by Billy Walker (this could only be better if I had a bit of old Glenglassaugh to add to the mix).

How do these two old whiskies play with each other?

Benriach 34 Year/Glendronach 33 Year Blend

Nose: peaches/apricots, mango, grape/cognac, oily/creamy malt, hints of something green/herbal, gently floral heather,  solid but not overwhelming oak, light caramel. After adding a few drops of water, the fruit is toned down and the herbal/grassy notes become stronger, the malt becomes grainier, with some oak-y raisin notes coming out, making for a more austere effect overall.

Taste: big stone fruit notes throughout, a wash of honey and fresh malt with raisin undertones in the middle, that fades into green/herbal notes through more bittersweet oak at the very back. After dilution, the stone fruit notes and oak integrate with the malt, giving a more direct experience, but with sharper oak near the back.

Finish: raisins, oak tannins, malt, stone fruit, herbal, floral, and just a touch of soap

This is a great display of the power of blending - the best parts of each single malt have been pulled forward, while the flaws have been reduced significantly, leaving the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This reminds me off a Caperdonich I sampled a while back, with the combination of fruit esters and herbal notes over fairly mild oak, though this is, despite being a similar strength, much less aggressively alcoholic.

Friday, May 22, 2015

New Cocktails: Tres Jolie

One of my favorite cocktail trends in recent years is the growth of low alcohol drinks that use aromatized or fortified wines as their base. With a growing number of options (thanks in no small part to Eric Seed's obsession), there's is now a broad palate to work with, a far cry from the basic sweet or dry vermouth that were just about it at the turn of the millennium.

This drink comes from The Modern in NYC, which produced a number of low alcohol drinks for their menu.

Tres Jolie

2 oz dry vermouth
1 oz quina (Punt e Mes)
0.5 oz orange liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for 15 seconds, then strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with lemon or orange peel.

The nose is a nice balance of the two wines, orange notes from the liqueur and bitters, plus citrus oils from the garnish. The sip begins with grape sweetness, picking up orange notes around the middle, then sliding into citrus and savory bitterness near the back.

This is a really good choice if you want a drink with solid flavor density but not too much of an alcoholic punch. The liqueur and quina perfectly balance the dry vermouth so that the resulting drink is neither too sweet nor too bitter.

I also think this could be constructed as a long drink over ice with soda water to give it a bit more snap and push it even further towards being a session drink. Either way, it's perfect for a warm spring or summer afternoon.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Whisky Review: Chieftain's Bunnahabhain 10 Year 2001/2012 Cask #466

Chieftain's is a line of single cask whiskies from Ian Macleod, an independent bottler located on Skye that also owns Glengoyne and Tamdhu.

This particular whisky was distilled at Bunnahabhain in September 2001, aged in what I presume was a fresh sherry cask #466, then proofed down to 46% for bottling without coloring (not that it needs any) or chill filtration in August 2012 with an outturn of 778 bottles (I did the math and that's not unreasonable for a 500 liter butt).

This was one I sampled at the Highland Stillhouse and many thanks to the staff who hunted around for a good fifteen minutes trying to find this bottle for me.

Chieftain's Bunnahabhain 10 Year 2001/2012

Nose: sherry dominates, malt peeks around, a little coastal character, savory undertones, creamy, cured meat, a touch of chocolate, gunpowder, a bit of orange peel. After adding a few drops of water, it is still overwhelmingly sherried but somewhat more mellow, the malt is more noticeable, and it's closer to the OB 12 Year.

Taste: thickly sherried, malt is almost invisible, nutty, baking spices in the middle, peppery oak grows at the back, and it becomes sweeter overall with time. After dilution, it becomes sweeter with more mellow sherry, the malt becomes a bit more clear, and the nutty character is increased.

Finish: sherried/oaky chocolate, very little malt, light coastal character

Unlike the Maltman Bunnahabhain, this one does not have any overt flaws. Instead it's just completely overwhelmed by the cask, with only hints of distillery character visible underneath the heavy blanket of sherry. Admittedly, that is a popular style these days, but this doesn't have the power of cask or batch strength releases like Aberlour A'Bunadh or the finesse of something like Glendronach Revival. So I feel like this would have been better either bottled at full proof or left to age long, so that they sherry could integrate more with the spirit. Admittedly, when they were able to sell these bottles for $70-90, I can't blame them for moving stock out the door, but I won't be grabbing a bottle for myself, no matter how much I usually like sherried Bunnahabhain.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Whisky Review: The Maltman Bunnahabhain 10 Year 2001/2012

Given my affinity for Bunnahabhain, especially when it is aged in a sherry cask, I was really interested to try this whisky at a local tasting. The Maltman is a line of single cask whiskies put out by Meadowside Blending of Glasgow. This bottle was spirit distilled in December 2001, aged in an ex-sherry cask, then proofed down to 46% and bottled in August 2012.

Thanks to Dave McEldowney of PDXWhisky for letting me sample this one.

The Maltman Bunnahabhain 10 Year

Nose: very grassy, moderate oak, thin bubblegum sherry/fruit esters with a touch of vinegar, stewed apples, creamy floral notes (violet/lavender), malty Bunnahabhain core, toast, celery, sweet/savory underneath - after some time it improves with better sherry character and a biscuit-y note emerging. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes much maltier, with less prominent and more integrated sherry, the off-notes are somewhat reduced, plus some vanilla, whole wheat flour, a little salinity, and barbecue/wood char notes come out.

Taste: thin sherry with a vinegar edge over a thick slab of oak tannins giving it a bitter/sour character, solid layer of malt/grain underneath, floral/vegetal notes ride on top of everything, vegetal/celery notes at the back. After dilution, the malt becomes more prominent with some grain husk notes, the sherry and oak are toned down and integrate, with the wine becoming more vinous and reading like a red wine finish, but the vegetal/floral off-notes remain at the back, and it just seems a bit muddled.

Finish: bitterly oaky and vegetal/herbal, sherry/vinegar residue, green malt, unpleasant floral notes,

This is just didn't work for me. While I can tell that the spirit that went into the cask was quality stuff, something happened in those ten years that sent it careening off in the the wrong direction. The off-notes ruin what otherwise could have been an excellent whisky. Maybe it was a duff sherry cask? Maybe just bad luck? Either way it seems like the bottler decided to send this cask out into the world in the belief that it wasn't going to get any better. Unfortunately that means that a number of people have spent upwards of $100 on dud whisky. I also know that it's not just my palate, as there was nearly universal opprobrium at the tasting where I got this sample. It's enough to make me distrust Maltman in general, because the people choosing the casks either have a terrible sense of taste or are willing to try to flog bad whisky on unsuspecting customers for a lot of money.