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.