Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Years and Counting

I'm not going to spend too much time on blog anniversary talk, because I don't really think people care about that kind of ceremonial stuff.

Two years ago today, Spirited Remix shoved off with the first post of the Cask series, where I poured some un-aged Wasmund's rye spirit into my small aging barrel, thereby starting the still largely undocumented activity of personal at-home spirit aging. I still write about my adventures with my cask, along with other rants and musings that, apparently, a few people find interesting.

I'd like to thank anyone who's returned to the Spirited Remix because they read something they liked one time. I'm humbled, and I plan for my site's content to only get better and better from here on out.

Perhaps this milestone can be marked with my entrance into the mainstream media. I've been quoted in an article about flavored whiskeys in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette written by Bill Toland. While I'm certainly not an expert on the topic, I do feel that I take the subject of flavored spirits (and other newfangled things) a bit more seriously than your average booze blogger, and also you'll find that I've been getting pretty cozy with reviewing American honey whiskey liqueurs. (The review for the new Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey liqueur is coming soon, btw.) I was happy to provide a few thoughts to Bill, and I thank him for the opportunity.

Thanks again, everyone. If you stick around, you'll find posts in the coming weeks about the Old Fashioned cocktail and how to make it work harder for you, more revelations in making homemade bitters, how to get a little crazy in making variations of Limoncello, and some reviews of both spirits and cocktails that you probably won't find many other places on the interwebs.

And now I leave you with a song.

Monday, May 9, 2011

MxMo LVII: Floral Bitters

The month of May's Mixology Monday host is Dave from The Barman Cometh. His theme is "floral cocktails" and he says:

"As the sun starts becoming more frequent and the temptation to play hooky mid-week gets stronger, nothing brightens the day better this time of year than the fresh blossoms hanging from the trees on the street and popping up in your neighborhood gardens. Goodbye cabin fever, hello springtime!"

Dave must not suffer from any sort of botanical allergy, but otherwise, I couldn't agree more. Despite that all the blossoms are here and green is everywhere to be seen, Washington, DC's long winter still lingers with temperatures that have barely broken the 70's (F) and constant rain. Looks like we'll need some liquid persuasion in order to change the mood...

I'm going to be "that guy" and make my post about a floral ingredient instead of a cocktail. Sorry, Dave. I've been waiting to post about my floral bitters for a while now, and surely you can understand how I wouldn't pass up this convenient and serendipitous MxMo opportunity.

As I detailed earlier in my homemade coffee bitters post, I make bitters using a conservative method; I make individual tinctures and combine them in various proportions until I find something that works. This is a method that surely showed its merits in the process of making these floral bitters, because it took me months of combining and testing to arrive at a first decent iteration. If I had done it via single compound infusions, I'd only be on my 2nd or 3rd try. I'd estimate that these floral bitters were made on the 30th or 40th try.

The star and major component of these bitters is pomelo. The pomelo is a cousin of the grapefruit. It's much larger, its peel is green, and its flavor is similar to the grapefruit, except that it's milder, sweeter, and less bitter. But I'm interested in the pomelo's peel, whose flavor can vary a bit... but I've found that especially among the smooth-skinned Israeli variety of pomelo which is available in the winter, the peel's flavor is mostly floral with just a bit of grassiness as well as grapefruit tones.

I made the pomelo tincture just like any other: by soaking its peel and pith in high proof alcohol. On the subject of citrus infusions, most people will advise you to remove the fruit's bitter pith from the peel, but in making bitters, it goes without saying that I'm perfectly ok with having plenty of pith. And pomelos are infamous for having a huge amount of pith between their peel and fruit.

To support the pomelo with a more straightforward floral note is simple rose water. Rose water is a distillation of a mixture of water and rose petals. The result is a strong solution that smells like perfume. Rose water is very common in cuisine (especially desserts) all across the world.

Once again, I'm using a tincture of wormwood as my primary bittering agent. It also has some sour herbal tones to it that I felt would be useful.

The final ingredient is one that I tinkered with for quite a while. I tried tinctures of black tea, green tea, jasmine green tea, hibiscus, and even of green bean and bell pepper. In the end, I went with a lime tincture. I didn't want to add much fruitiness to these bitters, but I feel that the bitter side of the lime really adds to this mix.

In the end, these bitters are less complex than I originally wanted, but I'm satisfied with them as a first version... a Floral Bitters #1, if you will. The pomelo mostly acts a bass while the rose water tends to sing the high notes. The lime and wormwood both add a bit of sourness while the lime also provides a dark vegetal "green" tone.

I essentially made these bitters for gin. I've had great luck with gin Old Fashioneds, Martinis, and Gin & Tonics. I'm still working on how these bitters go with other white spirits like light rum or pisco.

A week or two after I finished these bitters, I learned that the bartenders at The Gibson in DC have concocted a similar brew called "Angel Bitters", which uses chamomile and also rose water. I told them to make me a Martini with them, just for good measure. They taste very much like mine, except that they seemed a bit peppery. Overall, it was a great drink.

Thanks again to Dave for hosting this fun theme.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Cask: Round 6

Having taken a bit longer than I thought, my gin is finally ready to be removed from my little barrel. If you'll recall, almost 2 months ago I put some Gordon's gin into my barrel that was still dripping wet from its occupant before that, apple brandy. I was hoping to make an apple-kissed aged gin, like the Seagram company does, and my experiment was a huge success.

My apple-brandied gin arrived having left the angels very unsatisfied; adding a bit of high proof grain alcohol has yet again proven itself as a surefire method to prevent liquid loss via evaporation. Even though this aging session was short, the gin loss less than I thought it would. I extracted over 1.5 liters this time around, which is pleasing indeed.

The Review
Apple-brandied gin, at-home aged

In the Glass

The color of the stuff is a light gold... darker than light rum, but lighter than a gold rum or whiskey... it's more like the pallor of genever. It swirls cleanly just like a young spirit should.


The smells come to me in stages: juniper, alcohol, and wood... in that order. Inhaling deeply gets more alcohol and the faintest aroma of apples.


Immediately I realize that this tastes less of gin than it did before its time in the barrel. The wood has again imparted a sweetness that's very much like all its previous occupants. After the now muted botanicals die down, the flavor of apples arises, and much more strongly than I anticipated. The swallow ends in a bit of dryness from the wood.

Ice Cube

The addition of water to this gin increases its sweetness and dulls its flavor. I could barely taste any of the flavors that I had before.


This apple-brandied gin performs in gin cocktails with style. It's great in a 1:3 Martini, but the vermouth in a "fifty fifty" Martini tends to overpower this tame gin. It also does fine in a gin and tonic, but the amounts of gin and tonic need to be about equal. The drink in which this stuff performed best was my previously-posted unnamed drink, where the gin's dryness and flavor of apples added exactly what the drink seemed to be needing.


This round is really a perfect demonstration in liquor production. The concept of aging spirits was born in order to tame and mellow spirits whose flavor were a little too wily and aggressive. Whether its the grassy pungency of rum, the cereal-like corn of bourbon, the peppery assault of tequila, or the pungent peat and smoke of Scotch... all of these sometimes overbearing flavors can be mellowed and sophisticated during aging. It's no surprise to me that the well-balanced herbs and spices in my beginning gin are barely there in the final aged product. It was simply bound to happen.

As for kissing the gin with apple brandy, I really didn't expect so much of the apple flavor to come through in this final mix. I had previously drained the barrel of apple brandy before pouring in the gin, and so what remained was only perhaps a few drops of brandy, and what brandy that was present in the soaked wood. In the end, this aged brandy claims apples as one of its prominent flavors, and so I'm happy to say that I was completely successful in mimicking Seagram's Apple Twisted Gin product.

What's next?

I'd like to convey an interesting detail I found on the internets. Here you can find the website of small distiller in the state of Washington called Woodinville Whiskey Co. Among their products they offer an Age Your Own Whiskey Kit, not unlike the one I've been using to drive this Cask series. (Should you want to be like me, pick one up and have at it! A reminder that I'm using a barrel from Wasmund's Copper Fox Distillery of Sperryville, Virginia.)

An interesting note on Woodinville's site says that the small aging barrel can be "refilled and reused 5+ times." Well, I'm about to put my 6th passenger into this little barrel. I wonder if Woodinville knows something I don't about the lifespan of at-home aging vessels. Perhaps mine is on its last legs and I don't know it? It's certainly not showing me any signs of such. ONWARD, THEN!

Next up for the barrel is something about which I'm even less confident than I was about the gin: wine. White wine, to be more specific. I'm using a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand called Nobilo. I've enjoyed this product for quite a while now... its crisp and sour bite is paired with an extreme fruitiness... depending on the day, I can detect hints of grapefruit and pineapple, and sometimes even lime.

I'm going to spike the 1.5L of wine with about 100 mL of grain alcohol, just to punch up the proof, since we know the proof will lessen.

I have no clue how this is going to work. I don't know if anything about a barrel needs to be changed when going from spirits to wine. I hope the wine's sugar doesn't gum up the barrel into a sticky mess. I don't know how well this Sauvignon Blanc takes to aging. I hope the bright fruity flavors don't become disgusting when aged. I have no clue how long this should age. If you have any predictions about any of this, feel free to lay them on me.

With fingers crossed, I bid you farewell until next time.