Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Cask: Round 7

Well, I've gone and done it. Because of certain life circumstances (and an overall lack of confidence on how the aging wine was turning out), I let the Sauvignon Blanc sit in the barrel way too long. What began as a whimsical and haphazard experiment slowly morphed into an exercise in morbid curiosity. Well, it ends today.

If you'll recall, I poured a bit of the New Zealand Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc into my small barrel to see if would age poorly. It turned out to age quite poorly. The slight initial sweetness of the wine was overtaken by sourness. Much like how I slowly saw the aged apple brandy turn disgusting and then back again to great, I thought the same might happen to the wine. I was wrong.

I evacuated the wine and found that about 40% had been given to the angels (because of the long aging time... the longest so far in this series). The remaining mixture had a brown tint almost as dark as whiskey. The smell, as expected, was a confusing mixture of light white wine and heavy oak. The flavor was similar to the smell, but with an overpowering vinegary sourness that seems to cut the tongue. The overall experience is not unlike a dry vermouth, but with much more age and acid in it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this stuff yet.

I'm going to give the barrel a rest, especially considering that its wood is soaked in sour wine. I'm going to be leaving the bung removed so that the inside can thoroughly dry as it sits. Once that's accomplished, I'll consider refilling it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Easy Christmas Bitters Made at Home

Here is your chance to easily make your first bitters at home, if you haven't already.

Several times now I've written about making your own home-made bitters. The jist of the process is soaking a variety of herbs, spices, roots, etc. in alcohol to create a strong and bitter concoction which tastes delicious when added to spirits a dash at a time.

Well, I just realized a really easy way to make them: mulling spices. I'm talking about the packets of spices that you can find anywhere in supermarkets at this time of year. Occasionally you'll find a dissolvable powder that claims to be mulling spices, but I'm talking about the roughly chopped stuff that resembles (and can be used as) potpourri. The mix usually contains cinnamon, orange zest, cloves, allspice, and occasionally nutmeg.

What you have here is a pre-fabricated mix of a variety of spices begging to be soaked in alcohol. Simply pour the spices into a bottle or jar of vodka/grain alcohol. As we've learned, one wants to let the source soak in the booze for as long as possible... a week or two should suffice. When it's done, one only need strain the mixture through cheesecloth or coffee filter.

This soak will yield you a very potent tincture. All you need is to add some sort of bittering agent to your mulling spices in order to turn your resulting tincture into bitters. Derek Brown gives a short list of bittering agents here. You can also browse this list compiled by Darcy O'Neil to find a few more bittering options.

I added a few pieces of star anise to my mulling spices, along with some wormwood. Ten days later, I have my Christmas(y) bitters. A dash or two of the stuff to any drink gives it a nice merry touch. It's great in a rye Manhattan, and even better in a brandy Old Fashioned.

If you've never made bitters at home before, here is your golden chance to start. You can probably find some mulling spices on your way home. Look at the lists I provided to find a bittering agent you can procure. If you start now, you could have your easy Christmas bitters before Christmas.