Posts tagged #whisky

Outbound: storm in a julep cup

How big of a deal is three percent? If you're talking about whiskey, apparently a lot. Last weekend, the news that Maker's Mark was to be bottled at 42% ABVinstead of its current level of 45% ABV brought forth the full range of reaction from the Internet - y'know: disbelief, anger, torches and pitchforks. While the subsequent decision to reverse the ABV reduction has been broadly welcomed, some are starting to draw differentconclusions.

(Not that any of the above is actually relevant in certain markets.)

Topically, there's a very interesting NYT article from Harold McGee. The title? To enhance flavor, just add water.

The eternal Sydney/Melbourne rivalry takes another turn as the former is named Australia's bar capital.

A lot of good people in the Edinburgh bar/cocktail scene get some well deserved exposure, courtesy of the Scotland on Sunday, though the thing itself makes everything feel a little more like Portlandia than I remember it.

A couple of gems via the excellent if acronymically-complex TYWKIWDBI - Mixing alcohol with diet soda may make you drunker  and a pretty epic wine poster for the oenophile in your life.

Posted on February 19, 2013 and filed under Links, Mixology.

Fare thee well, thou first and fairest

Every year, Scots throughout the world set aside January 25th for celebrating the life and work of our national poet, Robert Burns. The man's influence extends far beyond the borders of this little corner of Northern Europe - where would the literary tradition be without "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men", or indeed his influence on the Romantic poets who were to come? - and into some interesting areas.

Now, this being nominally a blog about cocktails and all, would be the point at which I'd direct your attention to the Bobby Burns. It's one of the all-time great Scotch whisky drinks and is more than worthy of carrying the name.

But I'm not going to do that. One of the hallmarks of Burns' poetry is finding the profound, the wonderful in something that might seem otherwise unremarkable. In To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough(1785), one of his most famous works, Burns takes that initial calamity - for the mouse, at least - as the starting point for a train of thought that takes in man's attitude to the world he inhabits and whether all the bells and whistles of civilisation are ultimately worthwhile.

By all means, if you have access to some vermouth and Bénédictine, raise a Bobby Burns to commemorate Burns' 253rd birthday. Me, I'm going to leave off wearing any tartan or listening to bagpipes. I'm going to pour myself some Scotch and see where it takes me.

Posted on January 26, 2012 and filed under Mixology.

The delicate art of the twist

There's one phrase you can guarantee that you'll hear at a cocktail competition. It's the one that starts, "This drink is a twist on..." The concept of modifying an existing recipe and presenting it as a new drink isn't new - look at the sheer volume of gin/vermouth/bitters recipes in the Savoy Cocktail Book, for example - but there's a point at which we should ask where the boundaries lie.

This question - what constitutes a "twist"? - solidified for me at the Drambuie UK Cocktail Competition last month. I'd managed to sneak through the heat with an original recipe, but I'd be required to present both that drink and a twist on a Rusty Nail in the final. It's not unusual for brands to ask competitors to present a modified version of one of their signature cocktails but the Rusty Nail struck me as one of the most difficult to change.

The problem is its simplicity. It has equal measures of two ingredients - Scotch and Drambuie - stirred and served on the rocks. There's nothing in the recipe that can be pared down or outright removed without changing the nature of the drink. So, if I view those two ingredients as fundamental to my version remaining a Rusty Nail, the only thing I can do is add ingredients.

That created its own problems. Once again, I felt that adding too many ingredients would detract from the simplicity of the original formula. Adding a souring agent didn't seem appropriate, nor did overly lengthening the drink. After sifting through combinations of complementary flavours, I ended up doing very little. I added a measure of apple juice to counteract the thick texture of the Drambuie and flamed a couple of sprays of Absinthe inside the glass to add a striking aroma.

The flipside to the approach I took was that it could be viewed as unadventurous and subsequently wasn't far enough removed from a standard Rusty Nail. Having seen my scores (which is a rarity in competitions) I guess that's the view that the judges took. It's hard to argue with the decision, and I came away knowing what things I need to work on for future competitions, but the question's still there. What constitutes a twist?

The Rust of Ages

30ml Drambuie
20ml blended Scotch whisky
30ml apple juice
10ml Absinthe (in atomiser)

Flamed a couple of sprays of absinthe into a small, chilled cocktail glass. Stir the other ingredients with ice and strain into the absinthe-rinsed glass.

Posted on February 12, 2010 and filed under Mixology, Recipes.

Forty Nine: L'Étranger Cocktail

Let's talk a little about context. After all, it's often said that nothing happens in a vacuum - though that's patently untrue given our little marble of evolved consciousness does circuits in one - and so much of the difficulty of creating recipes is creating those contexts in which your chosen ingredients can shine. I've been exploring the idea of seasonally appropriate flavours over recent weeks which, naturally, got me onto thinking about seasonally inappropriate flavours. Things that work in the context of sunny summer afternoons often don't on rainy winter evenings. Beyond that, certain types of ingredient have fallen into specific contexts over time. If I'd thought about it at the start of this project, the notion of using a vermouth in a refreshing citrusy cocktail would have seemed counterintuitive, given my own attitudes towards fortified wines back in the day. Context - or more accurately, the previous contexts in which an ingredient or technique are found - is a useful guide, but it shouldn't be taken as a stonecrafted edict.

And so we come to orgeat. No, this is not supposed to be a non sequitur.

Orgeat is beloved by many, but is rarely used outside of tiki drinks and more rarely still with spirits other than rum. If it appears in a recipe, you'd get incredibly long odds on the drink not falling into Embury's Sour Type classification. This may be as much because including an opaque sweetener in an Aromatic Type drink runs against the standardized aesthetic of a brilliantly clear beverage as it is because orgeat combines so very well with citrus and rum. However, once I'd realized that orgeat is hardly used outside of the tiki/rum/sour context, the obvious thing was to try it in an entirely different one.

This is how we end up talking about hot drinks.

Tea Cup Pot by Eduardo Mueses on Flickr.

There are exceptions - the Irish Coffee being the most notable - but hot alcoholic drinks are rare. It's worth remembering that they existed before iced cocktails, given the difficulty of obtaining a consistent supply ice in the era before refrigeration. One of the most popular concoctions of the North American colonists was flip, which was "mixed with a device called a loggerhead..."

"- a narrow piece of iron about three feet long with a slightly bulbous head the size of a small onion. It was originally created for heating tar or pitch, with the bulb buried in the glowing coals until it blazed red-hot, then quickly withdrawn and plunged into the pitch to make it pliable. The instrument served a similar heating function when plunged red-hot into a beer-rum-and-molasses concoctions. The whole mess would foam and hiss and send up a mighty head." Wayne Curtis, And a Bottle of Rum, p. 83

As I'm lacking in both an open fire and a loggerhead, I'd have to go for less dramatic means of heating my drink. In time, I'd also opt to steer clear of coffee and dairy. Fernet Branca and cloves were chosen as complementary flavours on top of a whisky base, the Glenrothes Select Reserve in this case. As for the orgeat, it really does work in this drink. Sometimes, taking things out of context is the only way to go.

L'Étranger Cocktail

50ml The Glenrothes Select Reserve
15ml orgeat
15ml Fernet Branca
5 cracked cloves
50ml hot water

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass or suitable heat-proof  container. Fine-strain into a small tea-cup or rocks glass (if you're going for a glass, make sure to heat it first so it doesn't crack). Garnish with a twist of lemon zest and a cinnamon stick.