Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Woodchuck Winter & the Amber Stonewall

A popular alternative to beer in the United States is hard apple cider. Simply put, hard cider is beer that's been made with apple juice as a source of fermentation instead of beer's barley mash, but don't be fooled... cider isn't simply an alternative to beer, but a great drink in it's own right. (For a way to make a simple cider at home, check out my review of Spike Your Juice.)

As I understand it, cider is a much more popular drink in the UK than it is in the US. Truth be told, cider is rarely drunk by American beer drinkers as an alternative, but instead usually drunk by small cadres of cider fans. There are various kinds of cider around certain regions of the US, but Woodchuck is a brand that you’ll find almost nationwide. Luckily for us Americans, it’s a great brand, and they make great products.

Woodchuck's flagship is their Amber variety, a simple cider made from red apples. It's sweet and delicious. They make a Granny Smith cider, and one called 802 Dark & Dry, which is mixed with caramelized sugar. They also have Raspberry and Pear ciders, though consumer be warned: these are simply flavored apple ciders, not ciders of a different fruit.

Recently I learned that Woodchuck makes limited release seasonal ciders. While most websites pertaining to beer and spirits are dreadfully out-of-date when it comes to documenting their products, is different. It tells me (albeit in marketing-speak) that they sell barrel-aged Winter, honeyed Spring, blueberry Summer, spiced Fall, and even Private Reserve Pumpkin cider!

But depending on where you live, they may be quite difficult to find. Even wine and beer authorities in my area such as Ace Beverage and Total Wine were unable to handily make a special order for me. But, for some reason, Harris Teeter has always had a superior Woodchuck selection, and that is where I haphazardly found a pack of Woodchuck Winter.

The Review
Woodchuck Winter

From the website:
"Somewhere between a delicate snowflake drifting down to your tongue and a hard-packed snowball to the teeth, the power of this winter Cider is a balanced culmination of Premium French and Traditional American Oak, giving the cider great complexity and broad characteristics that neither style could produce on its own."

I don't mean to give anything away, but I really had to compare side-by-side the Winter cider to Woodchuck's Amber cider in order to be able to discern some of the former's characteristics.

In the Glass

Like any cider, when poured into the glass, the Winter developed nowhere near the head that beer fans are used to. Once settled, the cider's color is a few shades darker than the Amber.


The smell of the Winter is delightfully apply, as expected, though its aroma is less powerful than the Amber.


This is the point where I realized that I needed to bring in the Amber cider for comparison and start over. The flavor of the Winter cider seemed undetectably different than the Amber, if perhaps a little less sweet. Disappointed, I cracked open some cold Amber and took a few sips. When I revisited the Winter, the differences finally arose.

The flavor is definitely less sweet, probably more on par with the Woodchuck 802 Dark & Dry. I finally taste the woodiness of the cider's extra aging... it's a very faint dry flavor much like the characteristics I taste in my own Cask-series spirits. I'm also able to detect a little bit of vanilla in the mix.

But alas, after a few sips, I can no longer taste the unique character of Winter. But when I switch back to Amber for a few sips and return to Winter once more, I can taste it again.


I guess I see what Woodchuck is doing here. They make a varietal of their cider whose flavor doesn't appreciably stray from their "core" ciders. That way, their loyal fans are able to drink their varietals without having to adapt their tastes or think too hard. But when someone like myself can barely taste the difference between your core and varietal ciders, then you have a problem.

I dearly wish that beverage and spirit companies would take more chances in issuing unique variations of their products. It really comes down to money versus innovation: you can either ensure that a new product is close enough to the old to keep consumption the same on average, or you can take a leap that may fall on its ass, but it may also advance the industry.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh or hyperbolic, but I'm quite disappointed with Woodchuck Winter. I wouldn't go out of my way again to obtain it. I'd buy it again only to impress my cider-drinking friends at a party. I'd recommend it only to those who could obtain it easily. As for the other Woodchuck limited releases, I'd still love to try them, but knowing how nebulous it is to get my hands on them, I don't know if I ever will.

While we're on the subject of cider, let me share with you a great drink: the Stonewall cocktail.

You won't find too much information on the Stonewall for some reason, but some quick research makes it clear that the drink consists of whiskey and apple cider, hot or cold. I've found that Woodchuck Amber and bourbon make a fine Stonewall, and its flavors really hit the spot in fall or winter, for whatever reason. The bourbon manages to bring out the yeastiness of the cider, and the cider manages to highlight the pungent corn flavors of the bourbon. Do yourself a favor and pick up a pack of Woodchuck for this year's New Year celebration, and do yourself a second favor by making an Amber Stonewall.

Amber Stonewall

2oz Woodchuck Amber hard cider
1oz bourbon

Pour ingredients into a tumbler filled with ice. Optional cinnamon stick for a stirrer/garnish.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: Spike Your Juice

One of my favorite blogs is the Drinkhacker. Primarily a booze review blog, it constantly reviews anything alcoholic with a discerning palate and thoughtful notes. My favorite is when some of the more rare or unusual products are reviewed.

A while back, I saw that the Drinkhacker had reviewed a curious product called Spike Your Juice. I was so excited by it that I emailed their Customer Service on the product's website to see if they would send me a free sample to review, and they did. Because of their kindness and their great product, I will be ordering more soon with my own hard-earned money.

Spike Your Juice is a small kit that contains all you need in order to begin making your own cider or wine at home. The kit comes with a bubbler airlock that will fit on most large commercial 64oz juice bottles, six packets of yeast, and a bunch of quaint labels to put on your homemade hooch once it's done.

The process to make your own booze with this kit is simple and fun. You take a bottle of your favorite kind of juice, pour in a packet of yeast, plug the bottle with your bubbler airlock filled slightly with water, and wait! The yeast immediately begin consuming the sugar in the juice and begin emitting alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste... delicious, delicious waste. Within 8 hours you can see many tiny bubbles rising to your juice's surface while your airlock lets out excess gas and keeps out bacteria. If you didn't have an airlock, your capped bottle would explode in a matter of hours.

As a side note, it turns out the the Spike Your Juice yeast packets are in fact yeast and a bit of sugar mixed in. It may be the added sugar or that it's a particularly fast kind of brewing yeast, but the effects of the yeast's consumption can be seen hours quicker than if you used a simple run-of-the-mill yeast from your grocery store... I experimented and confirmed it.

The fermenting will stop when either 1) you put the bottle in the fridge to chill and kill the yeast (but cap it loosely if your airlock doesn't fit in the fridge!), 2) you drink it, 3) there is no sugar left for the yeast to consume, or 4) when the alcohol-by-volume of the juice reaches about 14%, which is an environment that naturally kills off the yeast. But watch out, if you let it ferment much past 48 hours, most of the juice's sugar will be consumed by the yeast, and your juice/hooch will no longer be very sweet.

This stuff is great fun. The first thing I fermented was Welch's Concord Grape juice, a product on Spike Your Juice's recommended juice list(pictured right). After 48 hours, the juice was carbonated, still sweet, and slightly boozy. The yeast lend a pungent flavor to the juice, which is tolerable, but not ideal. I found that running the juice through a coffee filter can remove most of the yeast (taste)... also another way to slow down the fermentation.

After I tested a recommended juice, I set out to try it on my own favorites... and I learned a valuable lesson: carefully check your juice's ingredients list before you try to ferment. It goes without saying that yeast will only consume natural sugar and not artificial sweetener, but another aspect to consider is preservatives. I wanted nothing more than Hawaiian Punch wine, but it is not to be; after the yeast floated in the punch for a day, I realized that (with the help of my friend who's a doctoral biology student) the culprit is the punch's Potassium Sorbate, a preservative which is specifically used for killing yeasts and molds. Whoops.

So far I've fermented grape juice, apple juice, cranberry cocktail, fruit punch, (bottled, non-refridgerated) orange juice, and a big jug of apple cider. I brought the fermented cider to Thanksgiving, and it was a hit (pictured below).

Herein lies, in my opinion, Spike Your Juice's best application: parties. The life of your fermented juice will be short; like soda, the hooch's carbonation quickly dissapates, and further, the yeast's consumption doesn't stop on a dime. What tastes delicious and sweet today might be dry and sugarless tomorrow, even if you put it in the fridge. Further still, Spike Your Juice recommends throwing away your juice's cap once you begin to ferment it, because you can essentially never safely cap the bottle again without it exploding, which doesn't exactly encourage you to keep it long before drinking it. All this volatile nature means rapid juice drinking is best, and that is best done among friends or family.

I highly recommend this product. It's cheap($10), simple, educational, and a lot of fun. You can turn your favorite juice into a wine or cider and enjoy it in a different and novel way.

Experiment responsibly!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

theSpeakista reviews the DJ's experiments

There is a chap named Keith who lives in New York City, and he runs a booze blog called theSpeakista. You should read his blog, because it details the coming-of-age of a novice cocktailian, and if you like drinking Manhattans in Manhattan bars, then you should really read his blog, because that is a subject in which he's quickly becoming an authority.

And now you have yet another reason to read it, because he has recently crafted a in-depth and detailed review of both my home-aged Composite Grape Spirit and my homemade Coffee Bitters, of which I sent him samples.

Thanks for the kind words and the thoughtful analysis, Keith. I'm dedicating my next Manhattan to you, sir.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

MxMo: Forgotten Cocktails

This month's Mixology Monday is hosted by Rock and Rye, and the theme is "Forgotten Cocktails". Contextually, Dennis of Rock And Rye is referring to cocktail recipes that may be of old age and, even better, underrated!

I have just the candidate, and as one of my favorite cocktails, I've been waiting to post it for quite a while.

The mythology behind the Oriental cocktail is that the recipe was loosed upon the world when an American engineer shared it with a Filipino doctor as repayment for his having saved his life from some tropical disease, as first mentioned in the Savoy. I personally find cocktail histories to be untrustworthy and dull, and so I'll stop here. Let's get on with the drinking.


1.5 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz orange curacao*
.75 oz sweet vermouth**
.5 oz lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

*Triple sec, if you must
**Try to use a sweet vermouth that isn't overpowering. I find that certain brands, such as Martini & Rossi, are veritable herbal assaults on the tongue, and just a bit too much. If your vermouth is too strong, it will upset the balance in the drink.

What separates this from many other obscure vintage cocktails is the flavor. Erik at the Underhill-Lounge remarks that it has a "very modern" taste, and he's right. As I've mentioned before, whiskey and lime is a fairly uncommon combination, which is what might lend to the drink's modern flavor. Furthermore, as Erik also points out, the amount of sweet and sour in the drink is high, such that the whiskey isn't exactly singing the lead.

It's the struggle between each ingredient in this recipe that makes it so interesting. Nothing is accenting and complementing the other here; instead, it's like a flavor free for all, where each is vying for your attention. It's an unusual dynamic for a cocktail, but it proves that it can be done, and in an entertaining way.

A variation on this recipe is the James Joyce which replaces the rye whiskey with Irish whiskey, constructed by the legendary Gary Regan.

James Joyce

1.5 oz Irish whiskey
.75 oz curacao/triple sec
.75 sweet vermouth
.5 oz lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Chuck Taggart declares this drink to be superior and more complex than the Oriental, but I don't agree. (Probably because I used the balmy Jameson as my whiskey.) For me, this variation throws the Oriental's balance a little out of whack, as the subtler whiskey recedes to let the fruit and the sweetness take over. Regardless, it's still a fascinating drink, but in a different way.

Lastly, I have my own variation, which I daresay is my favorite version so far. One simply replaces the Oriental's rye with bourbon...



1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz curacao
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

This drink tips the recipe's balance ever so slightly into the "sweet" direction, thanks to the bourbon, but I feel it's not too much. If you use something on the sweeter side, like Knobb Creek or Woodford Reserve, you'll find a deep spiciness appear in the drink causing you to praise whatever god you worship (or lack thereof).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homemade Coffee Bitters

One of the things I try to do on this blog is not be redundant toward subjects that have already been touched upon by people smarter than I. For example, I began this blog with the beginning of my Cask series, an experiment with at-home spirit aging, something about which had been scarcely written. Also, the reviews on this site are of products for which there are scant reviews already. My original remixes tend to be fairly unorthodox, and not simply echoes of what you'll see in a book or another booze blog. Ultimately, I'm not going to pretend that I'm more clever than I really am, and so I choose only to write about things which might sound interesting coming from me in particular.

So, when I finally decided that it was time for me to try my hand at making my own bitters, I knew that I didn't want to simply start with the most-popular aromatic-type bitters. Aromatic bitters are typically made with a plethora of roots, spices, and herbs. Instead of simply finding some zany twist to some popular type of bitters, I instead sought to create a type of bitters that I always wished existed (or rather, wished was easier to obtain): coffee bitters.

How does one make bitters? Fairly simply: you infuse a bunch of crap in alcohol (not unlike some of my infusion experiments), but instead of stopping the infusion when the flavor is modest and palatable, you let it infuse for days, weeks, or months. And then sometimes, you remove the flavoring material, and infuse the alcohol again with more material. What you're going for is a result that is undrinkable, literally. In the end, what you want is something that is generally high in percentage of alcohol, overwhelmingly strong in flavor, and intensely bitter. Even though these attributes are usually negative, none of them are negative when you apply your finished product one dash at a time.

Someone who's been doing some pretty interesting stuff lately with bitters is CaptainMcBoozy. He's given me advice on making bitters, but I find that he and I stand separately on what appear to be two different schools on bitters fabrication. The Captain likes flying by the seat of his pants, throwing all his ingredients in one jar of alcohol, and infusing it until it's done. I myself am much more pessimistic about my chances of success, and so I subscribe to how Jamie Boudreau does it: infuse each flavor separately into its own tincture, and experiment with blending the tinctures in different proportions until you have it right. Otherwise, you greatly risk destroying your bitters; a pinch too much of any one ingredient can make it taste completely wrong.

Jacob Grier made some coffee bitters of his own, but my recipe took a very different flavor approach.

So for my coffee bitters, my process was fairly simple:

1) get 3 jars/bottles

2) put coffee grounds (I used Starbucks Summer Blend) in the first bottle, cinnamon sticks in the second bottle, and wormwood in the third bottle*

3) pour a mixture of vodka and grain alcohol in the bottles, enough to cover the contents completely

4) wait at least 2 weeks

5) strain each bottle (using a coffee filter, pictured right), and re-infuse them with new contents if you find that their flavor is not yet strong enough for your liking

6) store the tinctures separately, mix them in various combinations until you find one that tastes good (drunk with another spirit, not necessarily tasted alone)

7) mix more in those ideal proportions, and bottle it

Captain McBoozy recommends using Everclear as his solvent of choice. In order to save money, I use a mixture of vodka (80 proof) and grain alcohol (190 proof) that balances out to about 140 proof. A higher proof solvent with give you more "chemical surface area" (as I once read it so eloquently put) to capture the solute's flavors, and more specifically, its alcohol-soluble compounds. A simple vodka wouldn't do quite the same thing.

Where the hell do you get bitters bottles? Well, I don't know, really. The bitters-style cap that's meant for dashing is not something easily obtained. My solution is one that works fairly well: I go to, which is an absolutely fabulous site. There, you can buy just about any type of bottle you want(some of mine are pictured above). While they don't have dasher bottles, they do have dropper bottles and spray bottles, both of which, I find, apply bitters in an acceptable way (though you have to get a feel for how much to use using these new methods).

*Wormwood isn't easy to find. There are websites that sell herbs which you can order from, but I was lucky enough to find it in a local hispanic market. Trawl your local ethnic markets, and if they have an herb/spice/root section, be sure to look for it. It also may be useful to learn what your desired thing is called in a target language. I knew that wormwood was ajenjo in spanish, and I found it.

The coffee bitters ended up quite good. They ended up being a combination of tinctures of coffee, cinnamon, and wormwood, with a little vanilla extract in there as well. I could have tried to make my own vanilla tincture, but vanilla beans are very expensive, and I expect it would have cost me about 20 dollars to get any respectable amount of it infused.

The bitters taste most strongly of a burnt and smokey flavor, which let the moderate coffee flavor sit in back, fairly muted. The spiciness of the cinnamon works well with the smokiness, and the vanilla is there to soften everything. The wormwood provides little to no flavor, and instead serves to make everything more bitter, though this concoction is on the less-bitter side (compared to a commercial bitters). These bitters of mine may not actually be quite bitter enough. I'll just have to try harder next time.

What can these bitters do? Well, I find that these are best in a Scotch Old Fashioned(pictured above), for some reason. Perhaps the smokiness of the bitters plays well in scotch. The coffee bitters also go well in rum and rye whiskey. Both Rob Roys and rye Manhattans play nice with them.

I encourage you to try something like this. All you need is some high proof vodka, some spices/herbs/roots/whatever, some bottles, and some time! Combine your favorite flavors, and you can make your very own personal bitters!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Review: Evan Williams Honey Reserve

A while back I reviewed a new Seagram product called "7 Dark Honey", a whiskey liqueur that is flavored with honey. The product mostly missed the mark: its whiskey base was the underwhelming Seagram's 7, its aroma and flavor were dominated by alcohol, it tasted just as much of a generic (brown) sugar as it did honey, and its character was completely lost when mixed with anything else. This failure was particularly salient when compared to its competitor, Wild Turkey's American Honey liqueur. American Honey was bourbon based, and its honey flavor was prominent and enjoyable.

Well, I spoke too soon. Shortly after the review(s), I stumbled across Evan Williams' entry into the product segment.

I'm a huge Evan Williams fan. For about $15, their normal black label bourbon is one of the best liquor values I know. The price makes you feel fine while mixing it away, but it's certainly refined enough to enjoy alone in a glass, which I do often.

The Review

Evan Williams Honey Reserve

Most of the Evan Williams bourbon flavor doesn't come through, despite its bourbon base, though if you pass up trying this product, you'll regret it severely.

In the Glass

I daresay that Honey Reserve is thicker than its competitors. Its viscosity is luxurious. But with that, its color is so light that you'd swear it uses a base other than whiskey.


The aroma of Honey Reserve immediately hits you, and it's fruity... mostly of lemon. Whereas the 7 Dark Honey's aroma is nonexistent and the American Honey smells faintly of bourbon, the Evan Williams immediately makes its aroma known. Aside from lemon, I'm detecting a brown sugar aroma, much like its competitors.


Strangely enough, the overwhelming flavor in this stuff is of fruit. It's got an overall fruitiness that is constant, and soon enough you realize that most of it is lemon. The sweetness coats your tongue, like this others; this one is mostly of honey, but there's some brown sugar in there too. After a while, you can begin to notice faint hints of vanilla, and even the sweetness of corn from the whiskey. The swallow brings more fruitiness and brown sugar.


This stuff is heavenly over a few ice cubes... you'll find yourself struggling to stray from either doing that or mixing it with bourbon in various proportions. I think I successfully mixed this stuff into a Manhattan and it was good, but that was a long time ago. You can make it into an Old Fashioned by simply putting some bitters in it and throwing on a good twist of lemon.

I set out to do something much more radical with it, just for giggles. I came up with something of a Martini variation, but it doesn't taste like it. Let's call it the...

Laced Straight

2 oz gin
.5 oz Evan Williams Honey Reserve
.5 oz dry vermouth

Stir with ice, and strain. Garnish with lemon twist.

This thing is great. The honey manages to keep the gin's botanicals in check, and there's a resulting nuttiness in the mix. It's sweeter than most clear gin drinks you'll ever have, which is a little disconcerting.


This is by far the best American honey whiskey product on the market. It takes a slightly different tack from its competitors by embracing a lemony fruitiness to accompany the wheat and the honey, but the risk paid off.

The moment I tasted Honey Reserve for the first time, I knew it was the best in its class. Weeks later, my suspicions were confirmed when I saw it behind the bar at the exceptional PS7 in Washington, DC.

Oh, and by the way, its price is smack dab in the middle of its two competitors. I'm not sure what more to tell you, other than to go buy some now.

Bonus: Here's what the Drink Hacker said about the stuff, and here is a piece done by Bourbon Blog on how one restaurant uses it to make a cocktail along with BBQ sauce.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Review: Hiram Walker Original Cinn

I'm a young guy. I'm still at the point of my life where I'm trying to financially balance the fact that I have an expensive cocktail habit and the fact that I'm living alone in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the US. And, much like a cash-strapped parent might go for the from-concentrate orange juice in order to save a few cents in the grocery store, I have no problem with lowering my eyes a shelf or two in the liquor store in order to save a few dollars.

I'm not ashamed that I don't demand the best every time. As someone who's still learning this craft, I value quantity just as much as quality, since quantity allows my experimentation-per-dollar to fly farther. You won't see me making Beachbum Berry's famous $100 dollar Mai Tai... I can make a Mai Tai for half the price that tastes better than half as good.

I've found that liqueurs are a product segment where money can be very easily saved with little ill effect. Why? Because liqueurs generally constitute small volumetric amounts of any given recipe (so any imperfections aren't too noticeable). Simply put, it is my opinion that you're better off using a lower quality triple sec in your Sidecar cocktail, for example, than lower quality brandy.

But let's get one thing clear: if your eyes wander to the bottom shelf of the liqueurs, you're in for trouble. Many times have I generously given chances of impression to bottom-shelf triple secs, for example, and continually I've been disappointed. I believe one time I salvaged a bottle of the stuff by infusing it with orange peels, but I later found that it doesn't always work. The key is to realize that less-than-premium liqueurs (and spirits) can yield fine cocktails, but that lowering your standards too much can make the drinks suffer.

Hiram Walker is a brand I find myself returning to very often, in this respect. Its prices are completely affordable, and it always tastes better than the nonsense you find on the bottom shelf. For instance, if I choose Hiram Walker's Triple Sec over Cointreau, I can save over $20. My drinks may not be quite as good, but they certainly won't be twice as good with the Cointreau. A few of the products I like most from Hiram Walker are the Triple Sec, Orange Curacao, Creme de Cassis, and Cherry Brandy (mentioned previously here).

And now I have another favorite: Hiram Walker's Original Cinn cinnamon schnapps.

Wait, don't go away! I have a feeling this stuff isn't what you'd expect.

Schnapps is an interesting topic in the land of liquor. When one speaks of schnapps, there is value in clarifying what you mean. Why? Because there are two different types of schnapps, and they are very, very different.

The first type is the product to which the name originally referred: German schnaps (spelled with only one "P"). German schnaps(pictured right) is very similar to the french term eau-de-vie; it means any liquor that is distilled from fruit or fruit juice, bottled at about 80 proof, and contains no additional sugar, colors, or flavors. These are most commonly produced using apples, pears, plums, and cherries. Technically, schnaps is a kind of fruit brandy.

Americans have a knack for bastardizing foreign things, and schnaps is no exception. American schnapps bears little resemblance to its German grandfather. Typically, American schnapps' base is a neutral grain spirit (read: vodka) with colors, flavors, and sugars added to the final product. While the German stuff is technically an eau-de-vie, the American stuff is a liqueur.

Most people serious about spirits scoff at schnapps (two "P"s), and I don't blame them; the vast majority of them are flavored artificially. Some of them are much better than others, however. And in the case of Hiram Walker's Original Cinn (pictured right), its quality and singularity merit a second look.

When it comes to cinnamon flavors in modern food and drink, I think of two main categories: natural cinnamon and candy cinnamon . When it comes to cinnamon schnapps, the overwhelming flavor is usually of candy cinnamon. Even Hiram Walker's original Cinnamon Schnapps is this way.

The Review
Hiram Walker Original Cinn

Original Cinn is a cinnamon schnapps that clocks in at 90 proof. A high proof cinnamon schnapps? Sounds like a textbook competitor for Goldschlager.

Goldschlager is a clear liqueur that is also high proof and quaintly decorated by edible and delicate 24-carat gold flakes that gracefully float inside the bottle. At 87 proof and mostly consumed via shots, the fiery stuff screams down your throat with the strong flavor of hot candy cinnamon. It's very popular, especially among those who don't like harder spirits like tequila or whiskey, but still like the effects of intoxication.

I thought Original Cinn was gonna be the same experience, but I was wrong. And thanks to this free bottle of Original Cinn that was given to me as a gift, I'm able to tell you how.

In the Glass

Original Cinn pours thick, like a liqueur should. Its color is that of a lightly aged rum(pictured above). It's disconcerting at first to see a cinnamon liqueur that's not red, but after a moment I begin to appreciate the withholding of obligatory red coloring on the part of Hiram Walker.


The nose of this stuff is strongly of cinnamon (like it was freshly grated), but as you'll learn with Original Cinn, a streak of vanilla invades the experience as well. Its aroma is a bit creamy. Other than that, there's a strong waft of alcohol. It is 90 proof, after all.


Original Cinn hits your tongue with a syrupy viscosity. After a moment there's a blooming and full flavor of fresh cinnamon (as opposed to candy cinnamon) that fills your mouth. Following the cinnamon is a wonderful flavor that's identical to a good vanilla frosting, and even with a touch of red apple. You'll also find the slightest hints of nutmeg and maybe even clove. You'll most definitely notice some alcohol, as the 90-proof vapors rise to the roof of your mouth.

While the mouth feel is thick and the flavor is sweet, this won't fool you into thinking you're drinking Drambuie; the base of this is clearly not aged, and so there's a cheap vodka-like body to it. It's not to the detriment of the experience, but it's noticeable.

The swallow finishes sweet. After each sip, it feels like you've taken a bite of a piping hot frosted cinnamon roll right out of the oven.


I had trouble mixing this stuff. Liquified cinnamon buns aren't begging to be paired with anything that I know of. However, I did have some limited success with a few ideas.

The first was something you could almost call an Original Cinn Old Fashioned. The stuff doesn't need any more sugar, but with a few dashes of aromatic bitters and on the rocks, these schnapps are just fine. Frankly, Original Cinn on the rocks(pictured left) might be the best easy way to drink it. After dinner, this stuff is great.

Ever heard of B&B? It's a bottled product that you can buy which is half Benedictine (a sweet herbal liqueur) and half brandy. The brandy cuts the Benedictine into a nice drink. I took a similar route and mixed some Original Cinn with an equal part of bourbon, and the result was nice. I bet it'd work great with rye whiskey as well.

Lastly, I poured about two dashes of Original Cinn on a big ol' lump of vanilla ice cream. I always get irritated when the back of liqueur bottles suggest use with ice cream... I think it's a cop-out, mainly because no one buys liqueur for that. Anyway, Original Cinn on ice cream is great, period. Don't go overboard with it, though, because the high proof makes itself known a little too much in this application. For the record, the Original Cinn bottle doesn't actually suggest consumption with ice cream.


Original Cinn is different than I expected, and I was pleasantly surprised. I'm glad that Hiram Walker took a different tack with this product, which I still feel is a competitor to Goldschlager. Unlike Goldschlager, however, what you get is not an intimidating liquid fire that people can only manage to drink when forced down a shot at a time, but instead a completely inviting liquid sweet roll that reminds you of your grandmother's house on Sunday morning. While I imagine that Hiram Walker believes that Original Cinn will be most often consumed in shot form, I feel that it's much more at home swimming with ice cubes while you lounge after dinner on a cold night.

I also feel that Hiram Walker is doing itself a disservice by marketing this product with an edgy, mischievous image. Though I suppose that the American schnapps segment is rarely marketed on its own product quality, and so perhaps this sort of "sinful" image is really needed to get sorority girls to pick up the bottle for their next party.

What I wish they had done instead was simply marketed it as a "Cinnamon Roll Liqueur" or something like that. Perhaps that image is a bit novel, but I feel there's a glut of products on the liquor store shelves which rely on the "bad boy" image. I could point out examples in schnapps, vodka, spiced rum, tequila, and that's not even counting products whose commercials depict naughty sexual suggestions in some night club.

There aren't enough wholesome products which are marketed on their own merits, and I feel that Original Cinn could benefit from it. It is a boozy and sweet liqueur whose flavor is unique, fascinating, and delicious. It's worth having a bottle around simply for its singularity. And, with a price tag that I imagine will be well under $20, the decision isn't difficult. If it's not already in your local store, it will be soon.

Drink responsibly!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Scoreboard: Angel's Share 2, DJ 1

It's that time again. I opened the spigot and drained the grape spirit out of my little aging barrel. The liquid had been in there for a little over 4 months.

If you recall, this time around I had "brandy" sitting in the barrel. In reality, it was actually a mixture of two spirits; in order to not ultimately have over-aged brandy on my hands, I originally mixed an aged Cognac with a young pisco and poured it in to age and mingle a bit more. What I had in the barrel was essentially a composite grape spirit.

The good news is that my "desperate swipe" at the Angel's Share was effective. And I don't know why. Before the aging, I topped off my grape spirit mixture in the barrel with a generous pour of high proof grain alcohol. I'm not sure why... perhaps I thought that upping the proof of the overall mixture would somehow slow the evaporation. Well, it seems to have worked. While I only aged the stuff for about 15% less time than I usually do, I ended up with over 150% of the expected end volume. Can someone explain this to me?

Well, the spirit's time in the barrel has yielded something for which I was thoroughly unprepared. The character of the end product is entirely different than anything that's been in the barrel previously. This is why aging at home is so fun and riveting. Here is a picture of the stuff housed in a beautiful re-used bottle from Tommy Bahama rum. I have another 750mL bottle that's half-filled with the rest of it.

Composite grape spirit, at-home aged


Its aroma didn't surprise me. It manages to have what is apparently my barrel's signature smell; it smells of wood and wood only. In fact, by its aroma, I could have mistaken this for the rum that was previously aged in this barrel. I had to ask myself "What bearing will this trend have on the development of the spirit's flavor?"


(The answer to the above question is "None at all.")

The spirit falls onto the tongue very dry, much like the previous products of this barrel. It's a characteristic dry/sweet combo that this wood has been known to develop. It spreads across to coat the tongue. Next I taste an ever-so-slight twinge of vanilla wafting up to my palate, if I concentrate hard enough.

Despite the fact that most of this product (in terms of volume) consists of Cognac, the mouth feel of the stuff is decidedly of a young spirit, like the pisco. (Perhaps because the Cognac used was on the bright and fruity side.) Despite the initial woodiness on the tongue, wood is absent from the rest of the tasting, instead replaced by a biting grassiness and spiciness. The swallow is peppery, as if it's refusing to be ignored, and I sense the slightest cinnamon aftertaste.


I'm at a loss for words as to what this "brandy" has become.

When spirits of all types are initially distilled and still clear and young, they often have flavor descriptors such as: spicy, pungent, peppery, grassy, rough, fiery, earthy, etc. The concept of aging spirits in barrels was designed to mellow these traits in spirits, while also building more complex flavors from the wood and evaporation. Well, it seems that in this case, the opposite was achieved.

Into the barrel was put a combination of fairly smooth, sweet, and fruity grape spirits and out of it has come something spicy, earthy, and more rough than before. This time around, the barrel imparted little to no flavor into its contents, but rather coaxed out completely different flavors that may have been hiding there all along. Fascinating.

I'm dying to see what's going to happen to the next barrel batch...

Into the barrel now is going a mixture of apple brandy. Yes, you could consider this a "seasonal" aging since the clock just struck "autumn", but don't forget that spirits keep almost indefinitely! The word "seasonal" has no power here!

Anyway, most of this new mix is comprised of Captain Applejack and Laird's Straight Apple Brandy, both 750mL, both bottled in bond, and both 100 proof. Frankly, it's my shoddy understanding that Captain Applejack is simply a Laird's product under a different label. In fact, they have the same bottling plant code in the fine print on the back of their bottles. Regardless, they are actually different products. The straight apple brandy is through-and-through an aged eau de vie of apples. The applejack is a combination of straight apple brandy and neutral spirit (vodka) distilled from apples. Their characters are different, and I wanted both in the barrel.

I topped the contents off with two more things: the grain alcohol that was so useful in combating the Angel's Share, and about 200mL of Chateau O'Brien apple wine, produced right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The wine is at the same time intensely sweet and intensely tart, and should liven up the other spirits.

After the grape spirit experiment, I have absolutely no clue what to expect on how the character of this apple spirit will change. Will its flavor get darker and deeper or will the barrel once again reveal some more feisty flavors? Will any wood flavors be imparted? Has the little barrel finally lost its ability to traditionally "age" spirits inside it? I'll let you know in a few months.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MxMo: Lime

(This post won't gain me any friends.)

Once again, it's Mixology Monday, and this time around Doug Winship of the Pegu Blog (one of my favorites) is hosting. Doug named his blog after his favorite cocktail, the Pegu Club, an old mainstay that has gin and lime juice, among other things. Accordingly, he has chosen lime as this month's theme. Well, I have brashly decided to use this theme as a flimsy soapbox on which I shall preach and rant. (Winship and the guy, please forgive me.)

You can find the Round-Up for this MxMo here!

Today I'm not talking about lime per se, but rather a product that uses it: Rose's Lime Juice. Rose's Lime Juice is a cordial, which essentially means that it's a sweet fruit-flavored liquid that's meant to be diluted with something. In this case, Rose's Lime Juice is really only used in one popular alcoholic drink: the Gimlet cocktail (A simple combination of Rose's and gin).

Rose's Lime Juice is a controversial product, which I'll address in a second. The stuff is old; it was originally created to prevent scurvy in the British Royal Navy. The recipe has basically been left unchanged over the years (although the modern American version of it uses high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar... this sounds like it would taste worse, but strangely, I came across some British Rose's made with sugar a few years ago, and the stuff was so overwhelmingly sweet that it was essentially unusable in a Gimlet). Its taste is somewhere between a natural lime flavor and those green lolipops you were given as a child. Some say that the sweetness is cloying, that the flavor is of chemicals, and that it's an overall inferior product.

Many people have maligned the Gimlet over the years because of this distaste for Rose's Lime Juice. I'm not going to point fingers, but a simple web search for Gimlet (blog) articles can reveal this opinion. As a result, many people choose to forego the cordial and substitute lime juice and sugar syrup. And that's fine. But please, if you do, don't call it a Gimlet; it may taste delicious, but it doesn't taste like a Gimlet should. Some people (and bartenders), however, choose to make the drink without Rose's and give it the same name, in an attempt to expunge the cordial from modern mixology. Regardless of your politics, THAT is what's called "rewriting history".

There are a few sources which I consider authorities on cocktail recipes, and the Internet Cocktail Database, Robert Hess, and even the Savoy Cocktail book and David Wondrich all call for Rose's in the Gimlet recipe. Hell, even the Mixoloseum, run by a group which consists of some of the most prolific booze bloggers, including Doug Winship himself, calls for Rose's.

This brings to mind a blog post by Matt Hamlin, a blogger here in DC who I've personally met. (Great guy!) Here, he details how good a Gimlet can be with another brand of lime cordial called Employees Only. Matt remarks how "sticklers" insist that a cocktail without Rose's can't be a Gimlet, but also remarks how his taste for Rose's has waned, having liked it previously. As I type this, there is only one comment to Matt's blog post, but it's a poignant one. Arctic Wolf's final sentence in his comment reads: "if I have been making my Gimlets wrong [with lime juice and simple syrup] for all these years…can I really call them Gimlets?"

Recently there have been controversies concerning both the legality and appropriateness of building certain cocktails using only a specific brand of spirit, but the Gimlet's case is not quite the same. (Incidentally, Doug Winship has touched upon that subject here and here.) This isn't really an issue of promoting a specific brand in a recipe that would otherwise be perfectly comparable with substitutes. This is much more akin to the tiki "sticklers" who insist that the elusive (and presently discontinued) Lemon Hart 151 rum can not be substituted without keeping the spirit/character of any recipe that uses it. The same is true here with Rose's. I'll admit, however, that the game changes quite a bit in cases of discontinuation, like Lemon Hart. The recurring problem of discontinuation is a scourge that's touched every corner of the cocktail world and its history. Ultimately, this rant is to preserve history and tradition.

Bottom line: Rose's Lime Juice is an old and unique ingredient on which the Gimlet is based. Its long-standing tradition and singularity are such that if you substitute it for something else in a Gimlet, it's not a Gimlet. Your distaste for Rose's Lime Juice does not give you the right to change the Gimlet. If you make a drink with fresh lime juice, sugar, and gin, please give it a different name... it could be something as simple as the Fresh Gimlet, Natural Gimlet, or even something cheeky like the Improved Gimlet or The One and Only Gimlet. But if your drink does not have Rose's, your drink is not a Gimlet.

Gimlet (on the rocks)*

2 oz gin
.75 oz Rose's Lime Juice*

Combine ingredients in a glass and stir vigorously with ice. Serve.

*I prefer a Gimlet on the rocks. The Gimlet is not a drink that suffers from dilution.
**The key to enjoying a Gimlet is knowing how much Rose's Lime Juice that you prefer. Recipes vary this amount, but if it's undrinkable for you, then what's the point? Even a dash of Rose's in a glass of gin is closer to the spirit of the Gimlet than fresh lime juice. Find an amount that suits your tastes

Friday, September 3, 2010

Weird is not Bad

There is a man named Phronk, and he runs a blog that documents his experiences with putting weird things in coffee. More accurately, he mixes weird things in coffee, dunks weird things in coffee, and even brews weird things with coffee grounds, all because he loves coffee so much that he tests the bounds of coffee's deliciousness beyond society's arbitrarily established conventions. Some of my favorite posts of his are coffee with Hollandaise and curry.

Well, Phronk has finally put on his mixologic hat, and has decided to create the Mojijoe: a mojito with hot coffee instead of seltzer! The verdict? Find out for yourself right here.

Note: Phronk is a snobby Canadian who chooses to flaunt his Cuban Havana Club rum in my rum-loving American face. I performed a persuasive speech in high school over the futility of the Cuban Embargo... I just didn't realize it was for a reason that I would find much more engaging 10 years later!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MxMo: Brown, Bitter, and Stirred

This month's Mixology Monday event is themed after the blog hosting it: brown, bitter, and stirred.

As it just so happens, I have a recipe that I've been working on for quite a while that perfectly fits this theme. I've been waiting to post it, and so now seems like a great time.

As much as I'd love to be long-winded about this thing, there's really not much to say about it. You can really think of it as an elaborated Manhattan cocktail: you have two ounces of bourbon, you have dry vermouth and cherry brandy to replace the Manhattan's sweet vermouth, and you have Fernet Branca to replace the Manhattan's aromatic bitters. The final result tastes very much like a Manhattan, but just a bit more complex, herbal, and bitter.

Fernet Branca is a bitter liqueur from Italy called an amaro(amari, plural), one of many. It's made from a multitude of ingredients, and it's not for the faint of heart. For example, it's a go-to armament of mine when I win bets with friends, where the consequences involve shot-taking. Not only is Fernet Branca considered an amaro, it's also considered a potable bitters, meaning that it can serve as a digestif but also play the role of bitters in a cocktail. Campari is also in this category. A favorite anecdote of mine is that Fernet Branca can stain linoleum(it's as black as ink), and whoever said this isn't wrong; my last apartment has Fernet stains at various places on the kitchen counter.

Here is the MxMo roundup!

If you like this blog, please, PLEASE, try this drink (if you're able to make it) and post your comments below. I'm quite proud of this drink, and I'd love to know if anyone has opinions on it.


Old Knoxville

2 oz bourbon
.5 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz cherry brandy*
.25 oz Fernet Branca

Stir ingredients with ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with maraschino cherry.

*Cherry Heering liqueur is the best choice here, but I prefer Hiram Walker's cherry brandy. If you use something other than Heering, double the amount. No, a clear cherry spirit/liqueur is not appropriate for this recipe.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cocktails & Ego

It's not a foreign practice for cocktail fans to simply make up a drink as they go. Maybe we feel like having a whiskey drink and don't know which, or maybe we have a few bottles with just a bit left in them that we want to get rid of; it's quite common for us to just get a few ingredients, throw them together, and see what happens. Sometimes the results are quite nice, and recipes are honed to result in a great original drink.

Well, a few years ago this happened to me. I wanted a gin and vermouth drink and I only had sweet vermouth, so I cooked up a quick ditty. Gin, sweet vermouth for its sweetness and herbal character, a dash of Angostura bitters for spice, and I peeled a bit of orange over the top of the drink for a bright fruity punctuation. I did this in my preferred proportions for a Martini or Manhattan. I didn't have a name for it, but it ended up looking like this:

2 oz London dry gin
.5 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters

Stir together with ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

It was delicious, and I found myself making these all the time in the following months and years. What seemed eerie to me, however, was that such a simple drink with such common ingredients with such a classic recipe structure hadn't already been invented. One could even simply call it a sweet Martini or a gin Manhattan, by a stretch. Well, I took to the Mixoloseum Bar chatroom one night to ask the experts if there were such a drink that existed.

The best answer I got is that it was a variation on the Martinez cocktail. The Martinez is much like the recipe above, except that it uses orange bitters instead of the aromatic, a lemon twist instead of orange, and sometimes adds a dash or two of Maraschino liqueur. (The Martinez is a very old drink, and recipes that you'll find vary widely)

But then I came across the Hearst cocktail, and old favorite of David Wondrich, one of the cocktail demi-gods that we should all worship and adore. The Hearst varies from my above recipe by adding just a bit more sweet vermouth as well as the addition of orange bitters along with the aromatic.

Then I found myself readdressing the online cocktail list of Robert Hess, the single figure who pulled my tastes away from tiki and toward classic cocktails. His page documents the vintage Martini recipe from around 1900, when dry vermouth was not so much en vogue. This recipe is essentially a Martinez without the Maraschino!

And then comes along Erik from the Underhill-Lounge who is known for mixing and reviewing every single cocktail in the great Savoy Cocktail Book in alphabetical order. He's already at the S's, and recently mixed the Sunshine cocktail, which differs from my above recipe only by the proportions of gin and vermouth! (I've been known to make fun of the Savoy as an entire book of Martini variations)

This is getting ridiculous, I said to myself. I looked harder and found that even more folks had the same bright idea that I did...

Cocktails similar to mine above, and how they differ (using a generalized recipe):

More sweet vermouth, lemon twist instead of orange, additional orange bitters
vintage 1900 Martini
More sweet vermouth, lemon twist instead of orange, orange bitters instead of aromatic
classic Martini
More gin, sweet vermouth instead of dry, lemon twist and aromatic bitters instead of the orange counterparts
More sweet vermouth, additional orange bitters
More sweet vermouth, less gin
More sweet vermouth, less gin, lemon twist instead of orange, optional Boker's bitters
two variations of the Yale
Less gin, additional orange bitters, additional Maraschino
Less gin, more sweet vermouth, orange bitters instead of aromatic, and no twist
Less gin, more sweet vermouth, lemon twist instead of orange, additional creme de menthe

I could go on. If I considered all cocktails with this basic structure and additional dashes of other ingredients, the list would continue to grow. And aside from the addition of strong ingredients like aromatic bitters and maraschino, these drinks are mostly going to taste the same, if not very similar.

Why create a new name for each one, then? I dunno... ego? Probably not. As you can see, I, your lowly DJ, effectively created this recipe from common sense and minimal creativity all by myself, and so it goes to show how the same thing probably happened to bartenders and mixologists during the past 100 years.

Yet I have the power of the internet. I have databases at my disposal. I see the universality of the recipe I created. I know that others more creative, more talented, and smarter than I have already crafted such masterpieces, and so I shall let my modest persona lay prostrate as these mixologic giants tower above me. My voice need not join this already harmonious symphony. I sit only as a learned spectator, appreciating the craft as someone who occasionally and humbly partakes.

So what am I calling my drink? Nothing. It deserves no name, and certainly isn't qualified to be an "original remix". It's simply a variation on any of the recipes you see listed above. More important than any name is that you make it for yourself, or any others listed on this page, and enjoy.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just how much booze do I really have?

I recently moved across town, and this gave me the opportunity to view my liquor collection in its rarely-seen upright form. I was amused and took a few photographs, and I thought to share just a few here.

Mind you, this is by no means a large liquor collection. I probably have over 50 bottles, but for example, I've seen SeanMike's collection in person, and it's at least three times the size of mine. Even with my collection, I would say that I'm only able to make any given cocktail recipe about 25% of the time.

So no, this is not some narcissistic flaunting, but instead reflective musing. I always enjoy seeing pictures of others' collections and what comprises them, and so I figured some of you may also feel the same.

There's no way in heck that I'll attempt to list my liquor inventory, because my bottle turnover rate is embarrassingly quick. **hiccup** My stock is dynamic.

Once I moved in, however, I returned the booze to its horizontal state on its wine rack.

I keep my aged rums and other wonky bottles on the top of my shelves here. If you look closely you can spot my Pyrat Cask 1623, the prize of my collection.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Recipe & Rating: Mint Muse

Mint Muse

Source: small tag on Lucid bottle

1.5 oz Lucid absinthe (used Lucid)
2 oz pineapple juice (used Dole)
top with Sprite/7-Up (used Canada Dry Bitter Lemon, about 2 oz)
6-8 mint leaves
2 wedges lime

Muddle 1 wedge of lime and mint leaves in a tumbler glass. Add the soda, juice, and absinthe, then stir. Fill with ice, and add last wedge of lime as a garnish.

I bought Lucid because I was told it underplays the anise tones more than other absinthes on the market. Lucid was the first absinthe that one could buy legally since it was outlawed in 1912, but as such, I hear that its flavor profile is a bit subdued specifically for the American market. I hate lack of authenticity, but I hate overpowering anise even more, so I'm fine with this purchase (so far). This drink is about what you'd expect from a product's official literature. The absinthe thoroughly trounces both the pineapple and the bitter lemon (which is hard to do). I chose to use bitter lemon instead of lemon-lime soda because it's a more sophisticated product, frankly. Overall the drink isn't bad... the flavors do actually combine into something unique. The tanginess from the pineapple is there, but the absinthe bullies it around. The mint adds an herbal undertone that doesn't necessarily taste like mint. The bitter lemon provides a nice sharp base... I'm not sure how this drink could be made with something so syrupy and bland as lemon-lime soda. After the swallow, the absinthe refuses to let you forget about it.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, May 28, 2010

The DJ Drinks Disney

It should be telling, if anything, that as an arguably grown man I choose to take my hard-earned and precious vacation time off from work to go to Walt Disney World. The place Where Dreams Come True© isn't really known for its drinking culture, but people like Doug Winship, for example, have done a surprisingly good job of rounding up a few good places to start.

To me, drinking at Disney is an exercise in discerning what defines a good place to drink. Should you always expect craft cocktails? Not really, but innovative bartending isn't the only thing that makes a pleasant experience; for me, atmosphere is also a big component. For example, I don't care how good a certain bar's cocktails are if it's generally populated by frat boys or is too loud to hear yourself think.

Well, while Disney World can't always deliver on value for money, it almost always delivers on atmosphere. I'm no bar reviewer, but I will share a few positive experiences that I do recommend, should you choose to embrace your inner child so stubbornly and ceaselessly as I.

I've loved geography ever since I was a child, eventually getting a degree in it when the time came to graduate from college. And so, Epcot is easily my favorite Disney World park. In Epcot's World Showcase, particularly in the country of Mexico is what's called the Mexican Pavilion. On the outside, it appears to be an enormous Mesoamerican temple. Inside it you will find one of the greatest spaces in all of Disney World. Its interior is designed to look like a lively Mexican market at night. You enter to the sound of festive Mexican folk music with guitars and trumpets. It's very dark, but the center is lit with a warm orange glow. To each side are what appear to be store fronts, and there are kiosks in the center. Toward the rear of the large room is a pyramid with a beautiful mural on the back wall of a lush tropical forest with a lazily smoking volcano in the distance. The mural is lighted and parts of it are animated by effects.

Toward the back near the temple is a lagoon, which happens to be the last leg of the pavilion's attraction, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. On a lower level next to the lagoon is the main dining area of the restaurant San Angel Inn. For years I've always wanted to dine there, and so I finally did this time around.

The drinks at the San Angel Inn were not bad. I and my lovely lady ordered two Margarita variations. (I later also took advantage of getting a bit of the Mezcal they had on the menu.) I got the Blood Orange Margarita, and she, the Pineapple version. (While I don't expect to get a Classic Margarita basically anywhere, I do welcome a "modern" one occasionally when it looks like it's made with good ingredients.) Both of them were good, not great, much like the food. But the atmosphere of the place is what would have me return; you dine in relative darkness, your faces lit by a small lantern on your table... all with the gentle music of marimbas in the background mixed in with the sounds of the erupting "volcano" in the distance... these combined with the pavilion's indescribable pleasant "water ride smell" makes this an experience I would recommend to anyone.

Another place at Epcot worth stopping by is the Coral Reef Restaurant, tucked in a corner of the park next to the Finding Nemo ride. The restaurant consists of a large dining room, one wall of which is the glass of the enormous aquarium that is part of the adjacent ride. The dining room is dark, and most of the light in the room comes from the fish tank. We were able to get a table right next to the glass.

I ordered one of the few drinks on the pan-Disney drink menu (which is surprisingly large) that looked decent called the Eco-tini. I know, the name doesn't really scream "quality", but it had what looked like to be decent and natural ingredients. It uses an Acai spirit called VeeV, lemon juice, ginger, and agave nectar. Sounds good, right? Well it wasn't. It was way too tangy, the kind that hurts your cheeks. I ordered a shot of vodka and added it to the drink, and it still was overpowering. (The drink came with a cute bracelet made of dried acai berries though...)

What the lady got, however, was much better. She got the Magical Star cocktail, which is one of the signature Disney drinks. Is it a balanced cocktail that is complex, interesting, and shows off the best traits of whatever high quality spirits were used to make it? Not really. But is it delicious? Yes. So delicious that I ordered one later at another Disney drinking establishment. It's served on the rocks, and has pineapple juice, Parrot Bay coconut, and X-Rated liqueur, garnished with a pineapple crown leaf. It sounds like a complete disaster, but it's actually interesting and delicious. What's more, the drink comes with a campy LED "ice cube" that sits in your drink and glows different colors. You can turn the cube off at will and take it home with you for use in your own bar. For the effect to really shine, however, you need to use it in a drink that's semi-opaque, so that the whole damn thing glows.

Finally, an honorable mention is the bar at Citricos, a classy joint located in the Grand Floridian Disney Resort. The bartender was friendly, their spirit selection was better than most bars I saw at Disney(including 2 different premium Grand Marnier vintages), and they have adorable little lamps bolted right onto the bar surface. I can't speak to the cocktail service, as we just got dessert wines (their wine selection is very impressive). Go there if you want to feel classy.

If you're a blogger and you have Disney drinking experiences, please post about them. If you're not a blogger, post about them in the comments below! :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Infusion #2: Strawberry Rum

You really have to feel sorry for strawberries. Much like limes, their flavor is one that very poorly translates into our modern world of processed foods and artificial flavors. Sure, you may enjoy those old strawberry candies or even that strawberry-kiwi drink from the soda machine, but those don't actually have a flavor like fresh strawberries. This is also mostly true of liqueurs and flavored liquors. Strawberry vodka is an abomination, as is the bottom shelf syrupy nonsense that you can sometimes find at your local liquor store. Long have I wanted an honest strawberry flavor in a spirit, and so that's what I set out to accomplish. It's quite easy, really.

A concoction that's been floating around for a while is the Tequila Por Mi Amante. It's basically a recipe for a strawberry-infused reposado tequila, and I've heard from several people that it's simply delicious. I chose to start there for my experiment, but used rum instead of tequila because, well, I know rum better than tequila, and frankly put, good rum is cheaper than good tequila.

I reached for the Cruzan Estate Light, like I always do. Its subtle but likable flavors are a good platform on which to build things. I poured about 500mL of the rum over top about 3/4 pint of fresh strawberries and 3/4 pint of organic frozen strawberries. (You just can't get sweet fresh ones in the spring here on the east coast.) I stored this mixture in small container and stashed it in the fridge, where I let it sit for a little over 3 weeks.

When I took it out and strained it, it was a tad bitter. I believe I should have removed the fruit earlier, but it still tasted good. I made a rich simple syrup and began to slowly add it to the rum in order to counterbalance the bitterness. Would it not have needed sugar if it infused for less time? I don't know, that's a question for another time.

In the end, I finished with a slightly sweet strawberry rum (not unlike the sweet flavored rums you can buy on the market) that actually tasted like it should, and has a beautiful almost-neon red color (though not as pretty as the cranberry rum). Its best application I found so far? In an aperitif glass over crushed ice with a lime wedge/twist.