Monday, December 14, 2009

Tiki Drink Contest Entry

I'm a sucker for a cocktail contest... and not usually because of prizes, but rather for the chance to see if any of my concoctions are decent beyond my own delusional tastes. Rick Stutz from Kaiser Penguin is holding a tiki drink contest, and I'm joining in the festivities.

No one needs to hear me blather on about my own accomplishments, so I'll keep it short. I wanted to make a drink with Cherry Heering, which I think is the superior cherry-based liqueur around. I've had tiki drinks that use Maraschino, and they're just not that great. I found myself wanting to put both Cherry Heering and sweet vermouth in this drink; I've been making many more classic cocktails recently than tiki (which do occasionally overlap, btw), so it's like I've been drawn to incorporate some classic ingredients into this drink like some traveller who's picked up a foreign accent after living in some far off land for a period of time. In this drink's preparation, I've shaken the actual drink with citrus peel, an idea I got from Ken at Whether or not this is a popular thing to do, I'm giving Ken the credit, because in my modest cocktail dealings, I've NEVER come across it, and it's really a great idea. I recommend shaking your cocktails with citrus peel/twists... just try shaking(I know, just this one time) your Martini with a few lemon twists... or my favorite... pomelo twists (if you can find them). Enjoy the results.


Flattering Wench

1.5 oz gold rum (something other than Jamaican)
.5 oz white rum
.5 oz falernum
.5 oz Cherry Heering
.5 oz red wine (drier is better than sweeter)
.5 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz lemon juice
1 oz orange juice
1 oz pineapple juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3-4 grapefruit twists

Shake everything, including the twists, in a shaker with ice cubes. Pour all contents into a double Old Fashioned or Mai Tai glass. No additional garnish is needed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wasmund's Single Malt Review

The above picture isn't a publicity shot... it's a picture that my friend took behind Wasmund's distillery, where they have a small table and chairs
set next to the local stream.

If you're tired about hearing me talk about Wasmund's Whisky, great! Because that means you've been reading my blog. This will be one of my final posts concerning their products. There are just too many things to say about them. But today, at least momentarily, I will be shedding my fanboyism and will try to soberly review one of their products.

The Whisky
Wasmund's Single Malt

Wasmund's Single Malt is the only whiskey in the United States that is malted and distilled under the same roof. The enterprise rests on the foothills of Appalachia in a small town called Sperryville in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The small distillery is run by a half dozen people, most of whom are family. They take local barley, malt it with local water, smoke-dry it with local fruitwood, mash it with more local water, distill it, age it in local barrels, and bottle-proof it with more local water. The whisky itself is usually less than a year old in age; the small barrels and fruitwood chips present in each barrel accelerate the maturation. The final product is a unique whiskey and does a fine job of turning professional heads. I'm sorry for the inconsistencies in spelling "whiskey". Rick Wasmund, classically trained in Scotland, insists the absence of the "e" when referring to his specific whisky. Thus, I will attempt to walk this tight rope.

In the Glass

Wasmund's whisky is of a color much more dark and red than your average whiskey, or even single malt. It's like some old Scot poured a glass from his favorite bottle and threw in a dash of coffee and red wine. It swirls readily and its legs are minimal; this is just too young of a whiskey to wow you with texture.


The first thing you notice is smoke, but instead of a slight peat smoke like that of Scotch, you get an assault of wood smoke on the nose, like walking into a restaurant that sells BBQ, or Wasmund's own distillery, for that matter. Continuing on, there's a warm presence of dried leaves, and an earthiness so earthy that it borders on dirt (in a good way). A long sniff reveals foundations of subdued malt/barley and dried apples(probably because of the applewood used to smoke the malt). Lastly, you finish with the hard-to-describe smell of fresh running water, often found near a stream or in a wet cave.


Much like your nose, your tongue will be overwhelmed with smoke. But this time you'll be able to discern the flavor of dried cherries in it(because the malt is also dried with cherrywood). Again, you'll notice flavors of dried leaves as well, which is my personal favorite. You'll taste more earthiness in a slight flavor of moss. Lastly, you'll find the maltiness, and finish with a sweetness that's not unlike the taste of marshmallows.


Wasmund's Single Malt is unlike any other whiskey, stylistically. Its sometimes-rough and thin mouth feel will confuse you when the incredibly complex flavors and aromas hit you, perhaps to its detriment. This is neither a whiskey with which to become inebriated nor something to hold in your hand as you socialize with friends or family at some party; it's to be drunk alone, in the quiet, in contemplation and concentration, where all of its flavors can be noticed and recognized. Drinking Wasmund's is like cracking open a textbook and learning something, then having your opinions challenged and again reinforced... it's a didactic and introspective experience. Although I have to say, making Wasmund's Old Fashioned doesn't hurt the whisky's character. At a price cheaper than most Scottish 12-year Single Malts, Wasmund's Single Malt is invaluable as a conversation piece and a study of spirits in general, and a bold statement on what an American single malt can be. Word has it that Wasmund's products are available in most of the eastern Midwest and mid-Atlantic East Coast, and their distribution is spreading. If your local store doesn't have it, they can probably order it.

With the review over, I'm going to add a few more points on why I think this product is so important to the culture of spirits today:

1) Innovation. Though Wasmund uses old methods that are tried and true for inspiration, his product mimics nothing. While its geography is American and its style is European, it does not taste remotely like either. Even better, the uniqueness of his product is not a gimmick. Brush your gaze across the vodka shelf in your local liquor store and you'll see plenty of recently-launched and soon-to-be-discontinued brands that were forged completely on a business model powered by brand marketing and not product quality. Wasmund's accolades and admittedly humble popularity come from the fact that he's making a product unlike any other, and a good one at that. In a land where Bacardi and Jim Beam dominate the industry... this is a breath of fresh air.

2) Local economy. I won't harp on this, because I myself tire of hearing it sometimes... Wasmund creates his products using completely local ingredients, which not only guarantees freshness, but displays a preference of quality over price; local ingredients aren't always the cheapest anymore, what with today's age of Walmart-style transportation networks. It also makes sense to help energize the economy around you and not one far away... after all, when everyone around you is living well, you probably will too.

3) Terroir. This is the most important, and a result of reason #2. Terroir is the effect that a landscape has on the taste of a food product. For instance, if a winery in France packed up and moved their personnel, equipment, and grape seeds to California to reestablish their enterprise in exactly the same way... their wine would taste different. Maybe not much, but it would taste different. The difference in soil composition, rainfall amounts, and even the chemistry of the air would impart slight variables that would ultimately change the character of the wine. Many people claim that the water in New York City is what makes the pizza there so delicious... I for one think that claim is a bit exaggerated, but nevertheless, it's still terroir. Wasmund's whisky is packed with terroir. Every single input ingredient in the process is strictly local... and by "local", I mean within about a 50 mile radius, if I'm not mistaken. Even though it might sound crazy, the taste of Wasmund's whisky transports me to the Appalachians in the fall, and I suppose that's no surprise. Their whisky doesn't let you forget where the product was made, and that's something exciting. The 2009 International Review of Spirits commented that Wasmund's "finishes with a very long, slowly evolving, mossy river stone, peat, cocoa, cereal, and pepper fade." So in the end, the word "earthy" manages to describe this products taste, ingredients, and process.

Wasmund's went on in the aforementioned contest to score 93 out of 100 points.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Cask: Part 3, Final. The Cask, Round 2: Part 1

So, after a little over 5 months in the barrel, my rye whisky is finally mature enough to exit, I figure. You can read about my at-home aging exploits here and here. I originally dropped 1.5L of Wasmund’s Rye Spirit into this small oak barrel, and I’ve been letting it sit until now.

As soon as I evacuated the whisky(spelled that way by Wasmund’s request), the first thing I noticed was the volume. Aside of the small pours I’ve been taking out here and there for myself and a few of my friends, I was very surprised at the Angel’s Share. I started the experiment with two 750mL bottles, and the result is less than one of those bottles. I suppose it makes sense: the increased surface area of the small barrel which allows me to mature a spirit much quicker than a big distillery also accelerates the rate at which the alcohol (and water) evaporates through the barrel. So, my end product is not great in amount, but great in flavor instead.

I began with Wasmund’s Rye, but the version I had was almost completely unaged, clear as water. What I have now is a whiskey that’s darker than any I’ve ever seen on the shelves. You can see my short review of the unaged whisky here. And now, a review of the final product:

Wasmund’s Rye Spirit, at-home aged


The smell of this is drastically different than from the start, although it's still fairly simple. Five months ago it smelled grassy and pungent, assaulting the nose with alcohol. Now, it smells overwhelmingly of smoke and oak, with still the mischievous tones of butterscotch, as I began to notice 2 months ago.


The smoke and oak still dominate here. It’s impossible to escape the smoke of Wasmund’s whisky, especially considering that they smoke their malted barley with fruitwoods. The pungency of the rye is still there. It still tastes fairly high proof, perhaps still over 100. (Really?? I would have thought just about all of it had evaporated :D) The butterscotch smell does not carry over to the palate… instead you taste honey and spice. You can’t really buy whiskies quite this complex unless you begin to pay over $100… and come to think about the spending for this project… I just about did.

Ice cube

The high proof warrants the ice cube, but the taste of the stuff doesn’t change too much with water. The only difference I notice is that both the pungent rye and smoke become more pronounced. Fabulous!

What’s next for the barrel?

I’ll tell you what’s next: rum. Lots of it. I do hate conforming, but I’m hardly one to shirk tradition. Rum fans know that aged rum is often matured in oak barrels that were previously used for whiskey… bourbon, most often. Well, all I got is a rye barrel, so I’m using that.

I’ve been given conflicting advice on how exactly to begin aging this rum. Do I try to re-char the inside of the barrel? Do I let the barrel air out? Do I “flush” the barrel with water for a few days?

I decided to put in the rum without re-charring the barrel. I really don’t have the resources (or expertise) to do it, not to mention that this small barrel wasn’t designed to be handled so. I didn’t flush the barrel; I want a strong flavor to the rum I’m putting in it, so all I did was “air out” the barrel for about 12-24 hours, and then began to pour.

Pour what? Cruzan Estate Light. Two full liters of it. Cruzan (CROO-zhun) is a company based in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, and their rums are all fairly subtle in flavor, and are often compared to rum from Puerto Rico. Cruzan Estate Light, their lightest product, is one of the best rum values of which I know. When anybody asks me which rum they should buy for Mojitos, or cola, etc... I always tell them Cruzan. (Even though Cruzan just limited their Estate Light aging time from 2 years down to 14 months, it’s still great.) Cruzan is usually cheaper than Bacardi (depending on your state’s distribution system), and while Bacardi Superior usually tastes and smells like rubbing alcohol, the Cruzan is so good that it can be sipped with an ice cube. To me, Cruzan tastes mostly woody with hints of almond and vanilla. You’ll notice that it’s not completely clear, but has a nice beige tint to it. I look forward to seeing how it holds up under the oakey onslaught inside the barrel. So, for the love of your savior, never buy anything Bacardi again (unless it’s Bacardi 8 or Bacardi Solera or another of the few limited products they make), and buy Cruzan Estate Light instead.

So there it is. The second batch of spirit is already aging in the Little Barrel that Could. Any suggestions on what I should age after the rum? I'm thinking Port or Sherry.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Brass Artillery and Boozy Gift Ideas

Last Thursday was Thursday Drink Night: Bourbon in the Mixoloseum Bar. I frequent the place from time to time, and I try to attend TDN whenever possible. The jist of TDN is that a bunch of cocktail fans gather 'round in a chatroom each Thursday and present to each other their own cocktail recipes based around a central theme. Last week's theme was bourbon, and so I thought that I might finally present a drink that I had been working on for a long time.

I began creating the drink after being inspired by the combination of lime and cinnamon syrup often used in tiki drinks. Then, I discovered that the unusual combination of whiskey and lime juice was also very successful, as in one of my favorite cocktails, the Oriental. I finally combined the two ideas and worked for months to perfect the proportions, and I ended up with the Brass Artillery.

I submitted the Brass Artillery for TDN Bourbon and received mostly good responses. A person in the chatroom named "chipotle" deemed its flavor as "tiki-ish", which is no surprise. Forrest called it "classic and focused", and suggested replacing the lime juice with a 50/50 mix of lemon and lime juice.
Dr. Bamboo proclaimed that "the wife and myself give it a hearty 4 thumbs up!" Having more to say, he noted that the Brass Artillery tasted like a tiki drink shaken and strained into a cocktail glass, and eventually... "*expletive* lime and cinnamon are a good combo". I'll agree on both counts. Finally, with perhaps a bit too much liquor in him (I kid), he concluded "I'm thinking that the [Brass Artillery] should be served as one of those slushy, faux-daiquiris they sell in those Bourbon street places. and I mean that as a compliment." As hard as I try to imagine that as a compliment, I [again] very much empathize with the evocations of tropical drinks when sipping on the Brass Artillery. Overall, a very successful TDN for me and most everyone else. The recipe is waiting below.


Brass Artillery

2 oz bourbon
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz cinnamon syrup
3 dashes aromatic bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or a small rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

I want to post two more cocktails from TDN Bourbon which I thought were superb. The first is from the aforementioned chap named chipotle, and the second is from Kaiser Penguin, one of the big wigs of the CSOWG and often the moderator of TDN. Rick from Kaiser Penguin is known for his photography, so I've posted a picture of his cocktail as well.

Controlled Burn

2 oz bourbon
2 tsp maple syrup
1tsp (smokey) scotch
2 dashes Fee's Whiskey Barrel bitters

Build on ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Archestratus' Cockscomb

2 oz bourbon
1 oz Fernet Branca
1 tps simple syrup
1 dash orange bitters
2 oz ginger beer*

Build on ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
* KP said to "fill" with ginger beer, but I found that 2oz was perfect.

For the second half of this post, I will document the fabulous gift that I gave to one of my good friends recently for his birthday: premixed cocktail in a bottle! Well, bottles. Three of them to be exact... and one was a handle sized bottle.

You see, he's a fan of Long Island Iced Tea (snobs are allowed to snicker), but he never has all the ingredients to make it. So (with his prior permission, actually), I bought up a bunch of bottom-shelf bottles of liquor (not my proudest moment... my friend actually wanted the cheap stuff) and combined them accordingly along with some simple syrup into some bottles. The result is pictured below. All my buddy has to do now is mix a certain amount of the booze mix with some lemon juice and cola, and he's got his cocktail.

(I put mixing directions on the back of the bottle. Hey, shut up, those duct tape labels are of no lesser quality than the ingredients in the bottles...)

So the next time you have a loved-one's birthday coming up, think about mixing (the non-perishable) part of one of their favorite cocktails in a bottle for them! Cheers!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rum Punch Contest Entry

It's not often that I attempt to create a tiki drink. Why? Several reasons:

1) My attention span is barely long enough to acknowledge all the ingredients sometimes needed to make a good one.

2) Rum combinations are daunting.

3) Some of the best ingredients are obscure as hell.

4) The best ones have already been done.

I love rum and I love tiki drinks; they're actually what got me into cocktails. And some of the tiki drinks' complexities border on the most interesting things you've ever tasted. They merit you checking them out for yourself(in the links above) instead of ordering them in some restaurant.

But along comes Rumdood, who's hosting his own contest on who can make the best tiki drink, or more specifically, a rum punch. While rum punches may not specifically be tiki(the concept of tiki irritatingly clings to cultures and evocations of the Pacific while all of its ingredients come from the Caribbean), I essentially made it so with my ingredients. The prize for this contest is a free bottle of each product Mount Gay makes. I'm specifically excited about the Mount Gay XO, which is an exceptional rum, and Mount Gay Eclipse Silver, which is probably my favorite white rum. He's also giving away a bottle of his famed falernum, whose reputation precedes it. (But, as Dr. Bamboo has found, one should never give one's true opinion of it. Just smile and nod.)

I'm not allowed to make a recipe with specific products, which I'm disappointed about, so I'm going to do my best to not suggest brands for each ingredient. (Oh, and if you think bourbon isn't "tiki", shut up.) The general rule of rum punches is "One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak", which refers to the parts of the drink, and the proportions between the different parts. I stuck pretty close to this formula for my recipe, which I hope the Dood likes. It's very much the bastard child of the punch that your grandma used to make(you know, the one with the pineapple juice and ginger ale?) and the Champagne Cocktail.



**This recipe can easily be cut in half**

Dragonfly Rum Punch

1 oz lime juice [the sour]
1 oz cinnamon syrup [the sweet]
.5 oz falernum [the sweet]
2 oz gold rum [the strong]
1 oz bourbon [the strong]
2 oz pineapple juice [the weak]
2 oz champagne or sparkling white wine [the weak]
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Shake all ingredients except the champagne with crushed ice. Pour everything into a tall collins glass. Pour in champagne, stir, and top with more crushed ice. Garnish tastefully, perhaps with a brandied cherry, lime wheel, or even a stick of sugar cane.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Golden Rule: Alexander Cocktail Ratio

Mixology isn't the most accessible craft. Notwithstanding things like the cost of equipment and ingredients, the green home bartender that is not armed with tried-and-true recipes can be fairly dangerous. Regardless of what sorority girls may have told you(the ones you actually got to talk to), you can't just throw a bunch of stuff together and get a decent drink.

Now look, I'm not saying that it's not ok to put a nice generous pour of your favorite liquor into your favorite soda, because that can be quite nice (although some of my less successful desperate attempts at bars have been gin & Pepsi and brandy & ginger ale), but as soon as more than one glass bottle is upturned, most people unknowingly enter a minefield of mediocrity.

Allow me to save the day. Ahem....

Dust off one of the older cocktail books that you have and look up the Alexander. Yep, that's right. No, not the Brandy Alexander, but the original. I give you here an ironclad rule of mixology; the Alexander ratio. One part base spirit; one part liqueur; one part cream. Shake with ice, strain into a glass.

The original Alexander is made with gin. Shame on Robert Hess for calling for his Alexander to be made with brandy in his book... Today, you'll see Brandy Alexanders much more often than the original. Why? I don't know, probably because it's better. I find the botanicals of the gin can't stand up to either creme de cacao or cream(at least in those ratios) better than a good aged brandy can. But for the sake of old schooliness, I'm going to post the Alexander cocktail:


1 oz gin
1 oz creme de cacao
1 oz cream

Shake ingredients with ice. Strain into cocktail glass.

However, what I'm getting at is that the Alexander ratio is a surprisingly bulletproof one for you to start making your own delicious cocktails, no matter how crazy you get. You can mix almost anything with the creme de cacao, but you can get much crazier than that: brandy and ginger liqueur, tequila and triple sec, rum and amaretto, vodka and Midori, bourbon and Tuaca, etc. (Several cocktails you know of might be Alexander variations, such as the Grasshopper or the Silver Jubilee, although the former is an ultra-sweet variation, and as you can see with the latter, there are plenty of variations in proportion.)

As a personal preference, I like to throttle down the cream to 3/4 parts instead of 1; some flavors just can't stand up to so much cream. I wouldn't be against advising you to throw in some bitters whenever you can. Also, I find that if you want to use a syrup instead of a liqueur, take a 1/2 part away from the sweet proportion and give it back to the hard spirit, making the new ratio 1.5:0.5:1 instead of 1:1:1. With that, you could start using combos like rum and falernum, or gin and raspberry syrup, etc.

Anyway, before I go, I'll throw in my own Alexander variation to get the party started. Do yourself a favor and pick up some cream on the way home and give this ratio a try tonight. You'll have a lot of fun. Oh, and leave the half-and-half for the morning coffee. If you think you can make a lighter and healthier Alexander with half-and-half instead of cream, you're wrong.

So, the next time you're at a frat party(aren't you a little old for that, anyway?) and some wasted homey in flip-flops and a t-shirt hands you a plastic red cup full of goopy nonsense which, he boasts, contains over 4 different kinds of Bacardi flavored rums, remain confident that flying by the seat of your mixologic pants doesn't always have to end in disaster.



1 oz Appleton Estate V/X (or other gold rum)
1 oz blue curacao
.75 oz cream

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with (blue) maraschino/brandied cherry.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Cask: Part 2

It's been about 2 months since I've put some of Wasmund's un-aged rye spirit into my little aging cask, which you can read about here.

According to heresay, the whiskey is about halfway done toward being appropriately aged. So of course, I'd like to monitor the spirit's progress. I turned the cask's nozzle to let loose some of the liquor. The color now is that of a gold rum, and perhaps about 2/3 as dark as I expect it will be in the end.

The smell of the spirit so far is still fairly strong... I imagine it's still fairly high above 80 proof, and will even stay so after a few more months; alcohol still wafts boldly from the cup. The aroma is mostly of smokey butterscotch, which is certainly not one that I've smelled on any whiskey before. Near the end, the slightest whiff of traditional rye whiskey comes through, finally.

The sip doesn't burn as much as it did when it was clear in color, about 2 months ago... now it's just warming, like a whiskey should be. My guess is that it's about 100 proof right now. As soon as it hits the tongue, there's a fleeting sweetness. The fullest flavor in the spirit is still that pungent rye which blooms on the tongue, and it's not without a touch of fruitiness, staying long after you swallow. Smoke again fills the throat once it's gone.

This would be quite an interesting spirit, if something like this were sold, but it's still a bit too fiery and bold, not unlike a tequila. I would indeed say that this stuff is halfway aged to something apropos, and perhaps a bit less than halfway toward perfection.... but that's a different post. :)


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Original Sweet Tea Vodka Cocktails

I shouldn't really need to talk about sweet tea vodka too much. Myriad others have blogged about it already, and for good reason: it's delicious. While some claim that it's crappy vodka infused with cheap tea flavors, I disagree. As a self-proclaimed Southerner and sweet tea champion, I say that the stuff is mighty fine, and it's a little more versatile than you might think. (Yes, that may or may not be an empty handle of Firefly to the right... ahem.)

While it's mostly drunk on ice (and rightfully so), I propose that a squeezed lemon wedge makes it miles better, and strangely enough, I usually hate lemon in my sweet tea. A sage friend of mine proposed a dash of peach schnapps into her glass, and the result was wonderful. Peach bitters couldn't produce quite the same full-bodied taste that the schnapps did, by the way. (Yeah yeah yeah, I realize that there already exist lemon tea and peach tea flavored vodkas, but one artificial flavor in my spirit is enough, thanks.)

But enough of this. Surely sweet tea vodka can be properly mixed into a cocktail, and I'm not just talking about your John Daly. Try these original recipes, let me know what you think.


Porch Swing

1.25 oz sweet tea vodka
.5 oz Southern Comfort
.25 oz lemon juice

Shake ingredients over ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a half wedge of lemon.

The words you read are that of a southern boy. If you've ever spent much time east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason Dixon, a sip of this drink should instantly tint your vision to a shade of dusk, with the occasional flash of fireflies... you should hear the sound of crickets, and perhaps feel a subtle rocking motion. If southern sweet tea ever had a moonshine version, this is it. I'm just lucky that my old Uncle Buddy never had this stuff on hand... he just stuck to his homemade wine... that's another story altogether.

Southern Soprano

1.25 oz sweet tea vodka
.75 limoncello

Build in a cocktail or aperitif glass over crushed ice.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

This spirit has a tough time escaping lemon, but it's not the only one. This is a nice cocktail after dinner, and it gets better the longer you let it sit on ice. If you're impatient, give it one good shake before you pour it into the glass. Call this the John Daly in high heels.

Rustler's Saddle

1 oz sweet tea vodka
.5 part bourbon
.5 part gold rum (a pungent one, Pusser's preferred, Jamaican and Barbados are ok)
1 dash lime juice
1 dash aromatic bitters

Shake the ingredients with ice, and strain into a... cocktail glass? Hell no. Instead, a small whiskey or old fashioned glass please, and no garnish, BECAUSE COWBOYS DON'T NEED NO DAMN GARNISH!!

This cocktail with the leathery name will give you leathery notes on the palate, something with which aged rum fans should be a little familiar. This cocktail is quiet and soft, comforting and satisfying. I can imagine this coming out of a shaker in an executive's corner office at 5:01 PM. The whole thing isn't the same unless you use the strongest (in flavor) gold/dark rum that you have; my first choice is Pusser's, 2nd is Cockspur 5-Star, and 3rd is Appleton Estate V/X, maybe even Appleton Estate Extra, if you're feeling special. As for bourbon, use the best one that you have closest to 80 proof; much stronger than that, and it will take over.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

MxMo: Ginger

This is my first Mixology Monday, whose theme this time is ginger. It is presently being hosted by Rumdood. Do yourself a favor and check out his site.

The Summit Cocktail

1 wide piece of lime peel
.5 inch long piece of ginger root, sliced thinly into medallions
1.5 oz Cognac
2 oz lemonade, lemon soda, or bitter lemon soda
peel of cucumber for garnish

Muddle the lime peel, ginger, and .75 oz of the Cognac in an old fashioned glass. Fill glass halfway with ice cubes and stir. Add the remaining Cognac and the lemonade. Rub the edge of the glass with the cucumber peel's underside, drop it into the drink, and stir one last time.

At first glance, the Summit doesn't seem like a very special cocktail: the classic combination of lemon and ginger, lime peel just to be different, a spirit, and the increasingly popular cucumber peel garnish.

However, it must be said that the Summit is quite a good drink. The Cognac most definitely plays well with the others, and if your lemonade isn't too sweet, it can be a devastatingly refreshing concoction.

If a decent drink isn't enough for you, the Summit has an interesting story behind it as well. Its origins, however, lie not in some 1908 hotel bar, but in a 2008 marketing boardroom. Cognac's decline in sales during the past few years has caused the industry to look toward the rest of the spirit markets for inspiration. Namely, that cocktails and mixed drinks account for much of the liquor sales nowadays, and that most of these are being drunk by young people. Aware of its image as sipped by smarmy old-timers who actually know the difference between brandy and Cognac, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) figured that it needed to make its products' appeal to younger crowds via cocktails, and ideally, through one specific cocktail which youngsters could request by name (something which Bacardi, for example, has used to full effect with the mojito in the past).

In a move not unlike the "Got Milk?" ads spun by the milk farming industry and with marketing clout as seemingly strong as any, the BNIC summoned a score of top mixologists from around the word to congregate and brainstorm a new and salient cocktail that was delicious, noticeably containing Cognac in flavor and color, and easy to make. What they finally produced was the Summit, a not-unusual cocktail except for the fact that it curiously combines fairly common components with Cognac.

The advertising blitz continues with a website: With beautiful pictures, indy music, and a design so slick that it rivals that of large company websites, it's fairly clear that the Cognac producers mean business (literally).

So, have they succeeded?

At making a delicious drink that looks and tastes like Cognac and is easy to prepare? Yes, yes they did. However, there's one big problem. I think that the drink is still too complicated to make at the vast majority of bars. Have you ever tried to order a mojito at a bar or restaurant that didn't specialize in them? It's usually not a fruitful venture. Most swamped bartenders will scoff at the idea of picking up a muddler, and most bars don't even stock fresh citrus except for the occasional garnish. More bars further won't take the time for a lime peel, and more still do not stock ginger root. Yeah yeah, I know what you're saying, "But really good bars would have all that, including the time and attention to make it." And you're right. But do those bars contain the kind of clientele which Big Cognac seeks to seize? Probably not.

Of course, I'm talking about the bar culture in the United States. I can't speak much to European bars, but I can't imagine that their 20-something rabble hang out in 4-star hotel bars, or alternatively, I can't imagine that their dives' and pubs' bartenders would have the time, patience, or ingredients to make the Summit.

Overall, a great drink, but if anything, I think it might be unveiling a bit of the disconnect between serious mixology and, well, just trying to get a decent drink at your local bar.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Appalachian Single Malt at the Copper Fox Distillery

The Copper Fox Distillery is the home of Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky and Wasmund's Rye Whisky. Neighbor to Virginia's stunning Shenandoah National Park, the distillery rests just a dirt back-road or two from the center of Sperryville, a small charming place that looks just like an Appalachian foothill town should. The whole operation is housed by a wooden building that looks more like a barn than a distillery; only a small sign hanging above the large front doors (with miniature caged peeping door) indicates any enterprise.

Wasmund's intoxication begins with the smell as you walk into their distillery. The walls are imbued with fantastic smells of smoke and grain, and the look and feel of Copper Fox's main visitation area approach that of a dimly-lit Scottish tavern, not a place of industry. This, I imagine, is no surprise; the distillery is lead by a man named Rick Wasmund, a distiller who learned his craft in Scotland before returning across the pond to show us what an American single malt whisky can be. Wasmund is a warm and silly young man who is hard-pressed to take anything seriously except for his craft. His distillery tour is a back and forth of expertise and puns, innovation and anecdotes. His malting room sits near a suit of armor dubbed "Sir Malts-a-lot". Above his stored grain hangs a sign remarking the distance to Scotland's Loch Indaal. Wasmund's good humor reflects his dedication to loving what he does.

Wasmund's products are unique. They're not afraid to fly in the face of tradition in order to forge a new identity for American whiskey. Much tradition is still preserved, however, and the resulting balance yields a fascinating product via a fascinating process. Copper Fox is the only American distillery to malt themselves the same barley that they mash and distill. The barley, just like almost every component of Wasmund's, is locally procured. The barley is smoke-dried in the Scottish style, but say good-bye to peat smoke and hello to fruitwood smoke. Wasmund's barley is smoked only with apple wood and cherry wood from a nearby orchard. It is perhaps this step that imparts the most unique character to Wasmund's whisky.

Wasmund's mash is hydrated with water from deep beneath Sperryville. He remarks that the local water is uncharacteristically rich in calcium, imparting a sweet taste, and perfect for his fruity barley. The mash ferments and distills in a room no larger than a generous garage. Next to the stills is Wasmund's quaint proof-testing table, where he monitors and documents the distillate up to barrel proof for aging.

The aging takes place in American Oak barrels, all in small batches. The overall aging time is quite small, and this is because of Wasmund's chip barrels. He partly ages the whiskey with chips of the very same fruitwood used to smoke-dry the barley. The increased surface area of the chips added with the wood of the barrel produce a surprisingly mature spirit in a small amount of time. With that said, Wasmund's Single Malt, whose age is an average of 9 months, is delicious, yet its viscosity and smoothness won't fool you into thinking you're sipping an 18-year whisky. However, with a dash of water, like Rick Wasmund suggests, you'll find a flavor unlike any other.

Copper Fox is the embodiment of a micro-distillery. Every ingredient consumed is local. Age-old craft traditions are given a new twist. The end product is unique, worth a few extra dollars and a few more miles traveled. Wasmund jokes that not everyone should be able to drink his whisky, and he's ok with that. However, Wasmund's Single Malt can be found in a multitude of stores in the mid-Atlantic and midwest, and Copper Fox's arm of distribution is growing ever longer. If you're in Virginia, ask your store clerk if you're able to special order Wasmund's. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Cask: Part 1

Behold. Wasmund's 2-liter aging barrel: one of the many exciting products being produced at Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. Copper Fox sells at-home aging barrels of various sizes which tailor to different budgets, time constraints, and expertise.

What you see here is Copper Fox's smallest barrel. An average aging in this bad boy should take about only 4 months, and can be re-used several times (something of which I plan to take full advantage). One need only pour in about 2 bottles of (preferably barrel proof) spirit and let the aging begin.

Incidentally, my tastes mostly lean towards rum, and this barrel has the rum fan inside me going absolutely insane thinking about the possibilities. However, Copper Fox is best known not for their barrels, but for their whisk(e)y (Hereafter "whisky". Copper Fox prefers it). Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky (review coming soon) calls Copper Fox home and, along with their aged single malt and rye products, they also provide unaged whisky for the very purpose of at-home aging. How many (good) unaged whiskies do you know of? Exactly. This opportunity leaves me little choice but to christen my barrel with Wasmund's crystal-clear, overproof, Appalachian spirit.

Another consideration is that many rums are aged in barrels previously used for bourbon, and so, especially taking note of Wasmund's fruitwood smoke-drying process used for their single malt, I believe that it's completely appropriate to warm up the barrel with Wasmund's before the rum joins the party.

The Whisky
Wasmund's Rye Spirit, less than 30 days old

This endeavor begins with Wasmund's Rye Spirit, unaged. This product is quite interesting in and of itself. Each rye batch produced is truly a small one, with about only one barrel produced on each run. Their rye spirit mash consists of 2/3 rye straight from a local source, and 1/3 hand-malted barley that's been fruitwood-smoked. This is all offered at 124 proof for your aging convenience. I thought I would taste the spirit before I aged it.


It's hard to navigate though the evaporated alcohol as you inhale this one. After I began to concentrate, the most noticeable aroma is pungent, full-bodied, and grassy. It's not unpleasant, however. A further effort finally revealed a bit of smoke, as expected.


Damn, this stuff is strong. Ok... the smoke comes through much more here, which is quite nice. The sips are dry and short, no aftertaste. Finally come the first hints of rye, a bit spicy and warming. A few sips later, I begin to taste the malt. Even unaged, this is much more interesting than I anticipated. But really, this stuff needs some ice.

Ice cube:

Just a wee bit of ice and its character changes ever so slightly. Much more of the spiciness rises up and lasts longer. I even taste some floral hints as I breathe out. And finally, about a minute after each sip, I can taste apples, likely from the apple wood used to smoke the malted portion of spirit's source barley.


A ridiculously interesting spirit for something so young. I can see why Copper Fox claims that many customers enjoy replacing various spirits in classic cocktails with this stuff, something I also plan to try. The spiciness and grassy character of this spirit beg to be played with. The only hurdle I can foresee is the pr
oof, but if you're like me, you just don't care.

The Aging Begins

The spirit is poured and now time is my friend. I will drop quick samples of my aging product about every two weeks, and will post about any tastings of note or process revelations.

Questions and comments about my endeavor are welcome. Aloha.

Thursday, May 21, 2009