March 31, 2009

Top 12 Step Program Obscure Booze Facts

12. An alcoholic beverage cannot be greater than 95% alcohol (190 proof). At concentrations higher than that, the solution will actually pull moisture from the air and self dilute. However, if you're relying on fermentation alone, you won't even get close. The best you can get with fermentation is about 36 proof, or 18% alcohol.

11. Most people are familiar with panagrams (phrases or sentences that contain all the letters of a native alphabet) from the phrase "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." However, predating that, a common one among typesetters was "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs."

10. Most drinkers in the US become acquainted with Jägermeister as an somewhat unpleasant liqueur to be downed in one gulp. It was originally used in much the same way as bitters are today, as a flavoring agent, not as the "main course." However, it's sweeter than most spirits carrying the "bitters" label, and is therefore termed Halbbitter or Kräuterlikör, respectively half-bitter or herbal liqueur.

9. The logo on Jägermeister, the head of a stag with a glowing cross between its antlers, refers the the stories of St. Hubertus and St. Eustace; both are patron saints of hunters.

8. The Bacardi logo, on the other hand, refers to the distillery that the Bacardi company had while still based in Cuba, which had fruit bats living in the rafters.

7. Estimates of rum consumption in the Colonial United States, prior to the American Revolution, averaged out to every man, woman and child drinking the equivalent of 3 gallons (13.5 liters) of rum annually.

6. By an act of Congress, bourbon whiskey has been declared to be the official spirit of the United States.

5. Bourbon whiskey must, by law, be made of at least 51% corn. Rye whiskey, on the other hand, must be made from at least 51% rye. Bourbon tends to be sweeter, as a result, while rye tends to taste more "peppery."

4. Whiskey/whisky encompasses a broad range of spirits that are distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks. The appellation includes rye, bourbon and Scotch, among others, and derives from uisce beatha in Irish Gaelic (uisge beatha in Scottish Gaelic) and means "water of life."

3. "Water of life" is also used, albeit in different languages, as the term for other spirits: "Akvavit" from Scandinavian countries, is a spirit distilled from grain or potatoes and flavored with herbs such as caraway, dill, fennel, or anise. "Eau de vie" is a clear distilled fruit brandy, often made from stone fruits, pears or apples.

2. Apart from consuming alcohol with a meal, there are also precedents for drinking before and after, to alternately stimulate or aid digestion. Before-meal drinks, such as champagne, ouzo, or vermouth, are referred to as apéritifs, while those consumed afterwards, like bitters, port, brandy, limoncello or grappa, are called digestifs.

1. There is a cloud of pure alcohol in outer space large enough to make four trillion-trillion drinks -- if it weren't made of methanol, that is. Sadly, it's not the drinkable kind.

Tonight's first drink is, sadly, a failure. I'm still drinking it, though.

I thought tonight I might, in some foolish expectation that spring may actually arrive here in the midwest prior to June, have a springy-type drink. I settled on a Gin Fizz, a very simple highball, just gin and lemon juice and sugar and fizzy water.

Sadly I didn't plan ahead on this, and I neglected to get fizzy water at the grocery. So I thought I could make do with what I had on hand. Can you guess what it was?


Yeah, that was a foolish choice, as Sprite plus the sugar plus the real lemon in the cocktail makes for a rather synthetic flavor. Rather than let the perfectly good gin go to waste("It's not your fault, gin, it's me!"), I'm bravely quaffing this in the hopes that whatever I make next is a vast improvement over this sad excuse for a drink.

So let that be a lesson to you. Never fail to buy seltzer, or you too may end up with a Gin Fizz that fizzles. Ha ha! Get it?! It...never mind.

another rerun, but this one's still pretty recent.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog on March 27, 2009.

I made up another cocktail tonight. Well, I didn't "make it up" so much as modify it. And it's sort of aiming at a niche market, really. It's for people who like gin and for people who miss that classic EPCOT attraction, Horizons. Yes, I'm a Disney geek, I have been since I was 6, and no, I don't need an intervention.

Instead of the drink it was modeled on, the Orange Blossom, I call it the "Lorange Blossom." In Horizons, you may recall the citrus farm scene in the ride, where the smell of "loranges" were pumped towards the ride vehicle. It wasn't quite orange, but it was close. Well here's the Lorange Blossom.

2 oz London dry gin (although if you or your bar have it, Hendrick's would be best, or at least vastly more interesting)
1 1/2 oz blood orange juice (regular orange juice will do in a pinch, but if using that, drop the OJ to 1 oz and add the tiniest splash of grenadine for color)
1/2 oz lemon juice (if using regular orange juice, boost this to 1 oz)
1/4 oz dry vermouth
dash of orange bitters

Build over ice in a double old fashioned glass and give a good stir with a bar spoon.

Yes, this drink, like the Orange Blossom before it, is a glorified Gin n' Juice. However, I don't have a pocketful of rubbers, and I'm not wacked out on chronic, so I'll go with this nomenclature. I'm also serving it in a DOF glass, rather than the traditional Collins, and I'm not straining the ice out. Plus, the original doesn't have vermouth. So really, this is a mixture of a gin Martini, an Orange Blossom, and a Gin n' Juice.

As I've mentioned before, I've been cheating and using bottled organic juices rather than squeezing fresh, but that's just how I roll, yo. Plus, blood oranges are out of season most of the year round these parts, but I can get a twin pack of blood orange juice from Costco for $5, rather than paying a buck an orange when I can find them. I call that a bargain (though not the best I ever had.)

So, tastewise, this is a slightly more complex version of a Gin n' Juice, as expected. The vermouth tempers the sweetness a little bit, the spices in the orange bitters and the botanicals in the gin add some depth, and the blood orange juice takes it a bit further from the one-note you can frequently get from just plain OJ. If you can make it with Hendrick's or Citadelle gin, that'd be even better, as you'll get some really interesting flavors going on with those...cucumber and rose from the Hendrick's, a noseful of exotic spices from the Citadelle. In fact, you could turn this into an interesting Gin Fizz in the summer, if you wanted. Mix it up, strain into a chilled Collins glass, and top up with soda water. Garnish with a twist and you'd have a pretty refreshing drink for after you mow that damned lawn.

March 30, 2009

Bourbon and spice and everything nice

Quite some time ago, I was experimenting with making some extracts. I started off with a vanilla extract (just a couple of split pods, cut up and soaked for a couple months with the seeds in vodka) and then thought that a spice extract could be useful for both baking AND mixing.

So I took a an empty fifth bottle, added a pair of cinnamon sticks, about 5 cloves, and a nutmeg that I'd split in half and then filled the whole thing with vodka (it was Svedka brand if you're really wondering). And then I let it sit for a long time. It turned an incredible fiery amber color and smelled very powerful. It's definitely a useful and unusual ingredient, and would make a good counterpoint to pimento dram (more on that in a later post!) I bought a couple little cobalt bottles with eyedroppers in the caps and store it in the fridge with the homemade vanilla extract, a quick ginger extract I made with overproof rum, and a eyedropper full of pimento dram. They don't take up a lot of space, but they're great to have on hand.

So tonight (yes, I'm posting in real time) I mixed up a little bourbon cocktail with the spice extract and a couple of extra flavors:

2 oz bourbon
5 drops spice extract
3 drops vanilla extract (if you want to use commercial, by all means do it, but I'd use just one or two drops...that stuff's a LOT more powerful than homemade)
2 dashes Angostura bitters

I just built the drink over ice and gave it a good swirling with a bar spoon. The result is really quite nice. You get that sweet-sour hit from the bourbon, a nose full of the deep floral of the vanilla, a little bit of nuttiness, and a lingering spiciness in the back of the throat from the extract. If you can devote a couple months to making your own spice extract (and a little goes a long way), you'll have a fun little ingredient that will add depth to a lot of different drinks (and foods).

Another blast from the past.

This was originally posted on my personal blog back on March 6, 2009

I'm going to give you the recipe for the perfect Ward Eight. A Ward Eight is another variation on a Whiskey Sour, more or less. I futzed with the recipe a little bit, and this one that I made is wicked good.

2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. orange juice
1/2 oz. blood orange juice
scant teaspoon grenadine (if you're using homemade grenadine, bump up to a 1/2 oz.)
dash of orange bitters
dash Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients save for the Angostura bitters with crushed ice and pour, ice and all, into a double Old Fashioned glass. Add a dash of Angostura as a sort of float on top of the ice, and let it seep down.

You can also pour it as a cooler in the summertime...strain the cocktail into a Collins glass half full of crushed ice and top up with club soda or seltzer.

The drink was so named because (once again referring to Wondrich),
they say this old smoothie was inaugurated at Boston's ancient Locke-Ober restaurant, at the victory party (the night before the election, naturally) for Martin "The Mahatma" Lomasney, running for something or other from Boston's Ward Eight -- then located, as a reader informs us, "in the old West End...between Beacon Hill and the North End." We'd like to know how many Ward Eights they're pouring these days on Lomasney Way (yep -- they named a street after him).

So now you know; and knowing is half the battle. Go Joe! Er...Martin.

Well, for the first drink post, let's venture back to last night...

I should point out for the benefit of my readers (all three of you right now) that I'm currently out of work. I was laid off last November along with a third of the company I worked for in a bout of downsizing. So I've had to go with cheap hooch and a slim variety. Lately, I've been dealing almost entirely with bourbon, rye and gin. Which is good, because those three spirits are very very versatile.

Thanks to an awesome article by David Wondrich, rapidly becoming one of my heroes in the world of cocktails, I learned some good base spirits for the frugal lush. So, on his advice, I've been using Evan Williams for bourbon, Gordon's London Dry Gin, and Old Overholt for my rye. All are really quite good for the money, although as Wondrich points out, the Gordon's is a little too weak, both flavor-wise and proof-wise, for anything like a martini. Best to leave it to play off of citrus.

So last night, I was perusing one of my cocktail books, the inimitable "Esquire Drinks" by the aforementioned Wondrich, when I spotted an interesting one called the "Metropole," named after a rather, erm..."colorful" hotel in New York City that went bankrupt in July, 1912. Normally, this one contains an ounce and a half each of brandy and dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters and 2 dashes of Peychaud's bitters (they're big in New Orleans, as they're a staple in a classic Sazerac).

The problem was, I had only an ounce remaining of my dry vermouth, and no brandy. So I subbed bourbon for the brandy, still used equal measures of each (so an ounce) and bunged in a half ounce of lemon juice.

It turned out to not be too bad. It wasn't very well balanced, but it was definitely drinkable. It was pretty understated and dry (not to mention weak, as there wound up being less than a full shot of hard liquor in there) but the lemon juice and Peychaud's made it almost martini-like in its dryness. It seemed, oddly, almost British in its austerity, but there was a little tickle of spice in the back of the mouth from the bourbon. It wound up being an interesting concoction, though perhaps not one I'd try again without being able to make it a closer to full-strength. All that being said, it still was nowt more than a glorified Whiskey Sour. The addition of the Peychaud's and vermouth kept it from being too sweet, and made it a bit more interesting, was all.

March 29, 2009

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany. Unless you go to a "Chili's"

Greetings and salutations to you all. I'm Chris, and I've decided that I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and start a booze blog. I, like so many, started drinking in college, and viewed it as a quick and easy way to, well, get quick and easy (moreso than normal, anyway). My tastes went from vodka (for its lack of taste) to beer (for its availability and low price point) to pretty much anything I could afford and/or mooch.

Since (ostensibly) growing up and getting into the real world, I've gone through a few more phases. For a while I was gaga over fruity drinks (don't judge me!), then I learned more about wine and grew to appreciate that, and then I moved into rum and the Tiki drink culture, which I'm still very interested in. But I've come to have a real appreciation for the drinks that predated Prohibition, and the ones that returned and arose after its repeal.

That's what started me posting on my own blog about cocktails, and that's what made me think "Hey, why not just start a blog devoted to your consumption of liquor? That way your friends can choose to see how much of a lush you are!" (The answer is "Not very." I usually don't have more than two a night, when I drink. My liver is grateful for that, I'd imagine.)

Part of the reason I latched onto "golden era" drinks, I think, is that they represent the antithesis of the predominant school of bartending here in the US...the mantra of "faster! bigger! cheaper!" and trying to pour simultaneously for 38 giggling sorority girls who want, "like, a Cosmo, but not something as totally cliché as a Cosmo, you know?" A Cosmo, as David Wondrich, eminent cocktail historian comments in "Esquire Drinks," is "[a] mutant child of the Sidecar and the Cape has all the appearance of tradition without any of the workmanship." We will not ever make one here. Hence the name of this blog. We are aiming to be urbane, not cosmopolitan...

Now, I've never been a full fledged bartender. I was a bar-back at a restaurant for a while, and I had my license and everything, but I saw what my bartenders would go through during the dinner rush, and it's hard to display any element of craftsmanship when you're pouring and shaking as though the very hosts of Hell are sitting at the bar, reaching for the salted peanuts. I much prefer the (most likely idealized) notion of the laid back gentlemen bartender of yesteryear. For a sense of what I think we need, please read "The Local Bar" by Kate Hopkins at "The Accidental Hedonist" (who's incidentally got a book on whiskey coming out later this year). If you find yourself nodding agreement, you're exactly the kind of person I'm aiming this blog at. If you think she's out of her gourd, may I suggest you head for TGI McTchotchke's GoodTime FoodDrinkery and pick up something candy-tasting in a commemorative hurricane glass?

My first posts will likely be reworkings of some of my greatest hits from my old personal blog, but after a while, I hope to get some new stuff up on here. Hope you'll stick with me.