Maker’s Mark ’46’!? Yes. The New ’46’.

Posted in 1 on March 21, 2010 by alcohology

About ten thousand years ago, Bill Samuel Jr.’s mother made some bread, this bread turned into the recipe for the mash, which then became the beer which then went into the still which finally resulted in the Maker’s Mark whisky that we know today.  Since then, Maker’s swore to never make another bourbon since they got the first one so perfect…

Well…that’s the legend…

Bill's Back Yard

Late last summer, a few of us were invited by the nice Maker’s Mark folks  to come out to Kentucky and see Maker’s from the mash to the bottling, from the basement to the attic and the distillation to the wax…  And, on this beautiful late-summer afternoon as we were sitting in Bill Samuel Jr.’s back yard sipping his bourbon and partaking in the Samuel’s family genuine Southern hospitality, Bill told us a tale…one of many…about how they would NEVER make another Maker’s because Maker’s; after all, as Bill says…Maker’s is perfect…

Imagine my surprise as Cody the Maker’s Mark Wonder Rep tells me that there’s a new Maker’s Mark coming out soon…  Wait…  What happened to ‘perfection’?  Well, it appears that perfection can in fact be improved upon…

Maker's Mark '46'

We all like Maker’s.  It’s a sweet, balanced, quality sipping whisky.  Not too hot, just the right amount of heat.  In most bars, Maker’s is pretty much the high-end bourbon.  Most bars won’t have a Pappy…perish the thought that they ever have heard of Blanton’s or Willett.  Parker’s?  Forgetaboutit.  So, for most of America, Maker’s is bourbon.

This new Maker’s though…?  This is a whole new Maker’s, born Riply-like out of  regular ol’ Red Wax Maker’s Mark, which is at 90proof – that’s 45% alcohol, the rest being good ol’ Kentucky water, distilling effluent and oak impression.  Running straight from the still, the white dog goes into the barrel at 115proof and is around 125proof when it’s at it’s full age, which is between a minimum of 5, to ~7 years and bottled from nine barrel batches.  So, that means that Bill Samuel’s and his head distiller Kevin D. Smith taste all the barrels and when they are just right, nine barrels are take for the slaughter…taken out of their safe resting place in the rickhouse, dumped, married together, filtered and watered down, packaged and taken to it’s new house – yours.

Maker's Mark Black

And, except for a brief experiment with Maker’s Mark Black, which was a black labeled and black waxed, 95proof bottling long since extinct for the most part.  Additionally, of course there was the odd Maker’s Mark Mint Julip, green waxed release – there has not been any other Maker’s whisky put in a bottle and sold to the masses for thirty-odd years as far as I know.

Now…there is – named Maker’s Mark ’46’.

’46’?  Why is it called ’46’?

There’s another difference besides the higher proof – and this difference is why this new Maker’s is called ’46’, because ’46’ is a descriptor of this new Maker’s other differentiating factor: French Oak staves, No. 46 French Oak, to be exact.  What happens is that the whisky is taken out of the barrel, and one-inch charred staves are loosely attached to the inside of the barrel, at which time the whisky is put back in for an additional five to eleven weeks.

The result?  Well, I’ll tell ya’, it’s delicious.  It’s a 94 proof, stave-aged Maker’s Mark – with a body matured like Sophia Loren in her late-30’s, a lasting flavor, still full of the expected sweetness typical of Maker’s Mark, but with a surprising weighted lingering oak finish which I have to say – is very satisfying.

Maker’s ’46’ is meant to be mixed – this may be the new Manhattan Cocktail standard for many bars, and as the cocktail craze that you and I are already living starts to affect the fly-overs, this new whisky is perfectly positioned to take over an industry.  Maker’s already has the name, and now ’46’ has a new whole road ahead of it.  And, you know…I believe that it’ll be a good trip.

Bartender Guilds Part.02

Posted in 1 on November 30, 2009 by alcohology

[Please Click Here For Part 1 Of This Series]

So!  Let’s talk about Bartender Guilds in general.

Since Bartender Guilds are just a collection of like-minded individuals, collectively, through their individual interests, in general the members have the same intent and interest.  The intent is to further the industry, and the interest is to work together to achieve this goal.

For instance, the Washington State Bartender’s Guild’s (WSBG) charter, for which I am one of the founders and current president, states, “The WSBG exists as an organization of professionals and enthusiasts with an enduring mission to elevate the standard of bartending as a craft. The key to this goal is simple: we are a state- wide collaborative community dedicated to a heightened expectation of quality cocktails, spirits, wine and beer, the promotion and recognition of an excellence in service and an ongoing education of our membership.”  And, we mean it.  We’re a group of individuals who each have our own private reasons for working within the WSBG, and being that we are an independent guild, we can do what we want as we choose how to operate with this goal in mind.

I suppose that this is a good time to describe the different types of guilds.  There are the Independent, the National and the International guilds, each with their own agenda and purpose.

Independent:  To my memory, there are I do believe around five independent guilds in North America.  The WSBG, the Oregon Bartender Guild (OBG), the Kentucky Bartender Guild (KBG), the D.C. Bartender Guild and a guild in Vancouver B.C.

National: The USBG.  The USBG is a collection of at least 14 connected guilds under the greater USBG umbrella.  One interesting note about the USBG is that they are at this point basically a group directed and ‘owned’ by Southern Wine and Spirits, which may be the largest alcohol distribution and marketing company in America.  At first, the USBG was an independent guild that slowly branched out, but at some point ‘Southern’ moved themselves to the helm of this organization, and for good and ill, it’s now the 500 pound gorilla of the spirits industry.  The ‘Southernization’ of the USBG is in itself a very interesting discussion.  In and of itself, having  Southern leading the USBG is not necessarily a bad situation, but the argument has been made that there is an intrinsic conflict of interests by having Southern direct the operations of “an organization of beverage service professionals dedicated to the continued refinement of our craft.” [Note: Since writing this post, I have had conversations with a number of friends that are part of the USBG, and while there has been some that are concerned about the Southern Wine & Spirits aspect of their guild, others also voiced their support of Southern's effect on their local guild, mentioning that they have not ever been seriously or negatively influenced by having the distribution company so closely involved.  In fact, some found their contribution to be a positive element to their start-up, existence and ongoing operations.]

International:  There are a number of international guilds, the most notable the International Bartenders Association (IBA), with a very interesting history.  There had been professional bartender guilds as the word truly represents in Europe for a long time, but in ’51, they got together to form the IBA, still running strong these 58 years later.  In communications with Derrick Lee, the current president of the IBA, he remarked, “The IBA is the ‘Leader in Professional Bartending’. Our purpose is guided by this and our objectives. Our missions are to upgrade skills and standards of the bartenders globally, strengthen guilds and engage younger bartenders to join our society, as they are our future.”

Back here in the ‘States, bartenders will always thrive in a climate warmed by a bartender guild, “There has been an amazing growth in the Cocktail Culture here in Denver over the past year and I’d like to think that the guild has been key in that development.”, says Sean Kenyon, Secretary of Spirits of the Colorado Bartender Guild (COBG), whom I met while we were taking the B.A.R. course in NYC [Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) Course ‘09].  He continues, “We have created a network for bartenders to email or call if they have questions on products, equipment, or methodology. We are more connected than ever before.”  Hitting really on what I believe to be the most important part of having a guild, the COBG works to improve the expectation of what constitutes a good cocktail and experience in Colorado.  This is a sentiment shared by Bryan Dayton, the president of the guild, “I feel that the guild helps CO in the fact that there has become a greater awareness of better cocktails through the guild and it [helps] educate all of us to be better bar people…”

Probably the largest contribution that a guild can make is to actually CHANGE the direction and expectation for what constitutes a good cocktails, “The cocktail culture has been growing in CO the past couple of years. I think this has coincided with the Guild.”, says Bryan, and I would agree with that.  Here in Seattle, what started a few years ago as a few really great bartenders has grown into a whole industry of bartenders and bars that care for their product and the whole experience, including how we make our cocktails, “Also, we strongly believe that the rising tide lifts all of the boats, so we have worked very hard to spread the gospel; fresh juices, good ice, quality spirits, bitters etc.”, said Sean.  The same could be said of the Kentucky Bartender’s Guild, where I found a core group of fantastic bartenders who found no substitution for great products and fresh ingredients which I happily discovered on my trip to Kentucky [‘Whiskey Homeland’].  Nowhere is has this trend been more noticeable in my experience than in Oregon.  For such a relatively small town, Portland, Oregon has some of the best bars in America, most of not all of their bartenders being members of their OBG.  OBG founder and past executive member, Daniel Shoemaker and his great bar, Teardrop Lounge is a perfect example.    [Return here for updated post and quote from Daniel]

Back to the IBA, Mr. Lee sees the IBA and their different associated bartender guilds as working “in tandem” and furthering the craft of bartending, “Spirits industry use the bartenders as an avenue to market their products by recommending and  pouring to patrons.  Being associate with the Leader is synonymous to being a leader too.”  He has a great point – since guilds work to promote the industry, one part of this image is how a guild can promote individual spirits and products.  Why drink Big Global Brand A when Local Brand B may be an all-around better product?  “The WSBG, and its members, have been a great resource in helping bring Voyager [gin] and Pacifique [absinthe] to the forefront of the local bar scene.”, says Pacific Distillery’s Marc Bernard, “I believe that bartender guilds and spirits producers can work together for the benefit of spirits consuming public.”  Here in Seattle, our guild has worked with Maker’s, Bacardi, Buffalo Trace/Sazerac & Co., Appleton’s, Laird’s, St. Germain, Martin Miller’s, Plymouth, Dewar’s, Pacific Distillery, Marteau Absinthe, Del Marguey, Jim Beam, Domaine de Canton, 42 Below…  The list goes on and on and on.  Only through the interest from our members to learn from these spirits producers have we become more than ‘just’ bartenders.  We’re educated.  We’re better for it, and we can thank our Guild and our membership, a point for which Kent Fleischmann from Dry Fly Distillery agrees, “Unless we, the craft distiller can further educate anyone in this industry, on the merits of what and why we do what we do be it the independent bartender or a guild,  the day just goes on and we all do business as we will.”   And, not having someone or an organization to assist and teach you, “business as we will” may just mean colorful liqueurs with approximated flavors…

In the end, the real strength and value of a bartender guild is simply the cumulative affect of how the combined works of a number of interested parties will often improve the results compared to the efforts of an individual.  In the future, I believe that the success of any city’s bar culture will be directly representational to the success of their bartender guild.  Great minds think alike, and together, great minds will become even greater and their efforts more worthy.

Thanks to those that helped us, and we look forward to helping others in the future.

OK.  But, how does one START a guild!?

Bartender Guilds (Part 1)

Posted in 1 on November 23, 2009 by alcohology

Think back throughout all of your life to the bartenders that you’ve known…  Hell, do you remember the first bartender that served you?  I do – I remember when I was…17 maybe?  Back then in those days of TVs with knobs that went from 1 – 12, front doors that never locked and a minimum age of 19, everyone knew the bars in their cities that served us young’ns.  I used my cousin’s ID and pretended that the doorguy and myself were not in this dance together.   He’d look at the ID and then at me (I must have looked 14), and I said to myself, ‘I sure hope that he believes the ID’…

After the first time in that bar, the world was a whole new place – never the same again.  Think about it – bars were always the places where we saw on TV where SHIT WENT DOWN!!!  I mean, in ’87, a few of the top movies were Fatal Attraction, The Untouchables and Dirty Dancing…  Goddam!  I wanna get some of that!  I may meet a chick in a bar if those movies were any hint of my future since I sure as hell was not meeting any at my high school…

That first bar was a pit…it was dank, dark, smelly, humid, ugly, dangerous and fantastic.  One drank longneck Budweisers, the shots were sickeningly sweet, women were a thousand times more beautiful than they were outside and violence was always an option.  AND, the most important part: the bartender was king.  He’s the guy that gave you your longneck Buds, he’s the guy that mixed those shots that the girls loved, and he was either controlling or adjudicating the violence.  That was the real world.

Jerry 'The Professor' Thomas

Today though, bartenders are generally no different, really.  There are still bars in your city just like that one, and somewhere, some young kid is pretending to be 21 and feigning as if he’s not freaked the fuck out while he holds his beer and dreams of the false promise of those older women, drunk on shots the colors of rainbows.

But, I did say generally.  I said this because even back then, when dinosaurs walked the earth and Dale DeGroff was emulating the Gentleman Bartender of lore at the Rainbow Room, there were barmen all around the world who knew what it took to be great barmen, such as the “Professor” Jerry Thomas.

Since those days, many great bartenders have been created, and, as there have been more and more bartenders interested in the craft of bartending, many of those bartenders have together formed Guilds in order to professionalize their careers and their industry.  For instance, just over a year ago, three bartenders, Andrew Bohrer, Keith Waldbauer and I got together in Seattle and started the Washington State Bartender’s Guild.  We didn’t really know what we were doing, but it seemed like a great idea.  Our first meeting had 12 bartenders at it, and this founder’s group has led to there now being over 250 people on our mailing list.

But, before we had a guild, there were many before us.  For instance, Keith Waldbauer and I; he being the Vice President and me being the President, we looked to the already established Oregon Bartender’s Guild to help us write our charter.  At that time, the president at that time was Daniel Shoemaker, owner of the great Teardrop Lounge, and he had his own battles to go through in formation and operation of the OBG.  But, we’ll leave that discussion and to the next blog post where I will bring into the conversation leaders of bartender guilds from around the country and the world.

Please click here for the updated Part 2 of this post.

Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) Course ’09

Posted in 1 on October 16, 2009 by alcohology

Think of the bartenders that you recognize as great bartenders.  What makes them so great?  Is it that they make fantastic classic and creative contemporary cocktails?  Is it because they are consummate gentlemen/women?  Is it because they wear cool vests and hats or throw bottles around with synchronized abandon?

Customers tend to think that any bartender that knows more about spirits and cocktails is a great bartender, so when I tell my customers that I went to NYC for this B.A.R. course, they imagine and picture in their heads something FAR different than what I experienced.

Beverage Alcohol Resource, as they say, “is the spirits and mixology equivalent of a Masters of Wine or Master Sommelier program…whose mission is to propagate the healthy and responsible use of beverage alcohol products through innovative and comprehensive training programs and seminars. Formed by six of the world’s leading spirits and cocktails authorities, Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steven Olson, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour and David Wondrich, BAR is revolutionizing the way in which spirits and cocktails are viewed, understood, appreciated and enjoyed.”

Before I even start to talk about the course itself, do you recognize at least a few of those name?  If you read any books or magazines concerning cocktails, you will recognize names which surely you have heard before and whose research and efforts have made all of our lives better.

Taking the B.A.R. course is like taking a literary course taught by a living Mark Twain, a breathing and fighting Ernest Hemingway, a deliberate Yukio Mishima or even the wonderful Patrick O’brien.  Yes – this is a course taught by the recognized living giants of the industry.

Dale Degroff?  He “has been credited with reviving and reinventing the profession of mixology.”  He’s the founding partner of B.A.R, and has been awarded such notable honors as a James Beard Wine & Spirits Professional award, Lifetime Achievement Award from Nightclub & Bar Magazine, 2008 TOTC Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the 2007 Cheers Beverage Industry Innovator of the Year.

WondrichDave Wondrich?  If you’ve read any of the best-selling books on spirits and cocktails, surely one of the books that you have read was written by Wondrich, who “is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on cocktails and their history.”  Dave Wondrich is the author of Killer Cocktails, Esquire Drinks and has been a contributing author of many other great books and is a contributing editor to Esquire magazine.

Are those two enough?  Could you fill your week listening to those two teach you about spirits?  If you had to pick just ONE more guy, the shortlist would have this name:

F. Paul Pecault.  The author of the Spirit Journal, and “is the only journalist in the world to concurrently be a life member of Keepers of the Quaich whisky society (Edinburgh, Scotland), a life member of Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, and a life member of France Company of Armagnac Musketeers“.

Would that be enough?  Sure, but then you find that teaching at the B.A.R. course is not only Steve Olson, aka Wine Geek but…holy shit…Doug Frost, one of only three people in the world to be not just a Master Sommelier, but also a Master of Wine.

There were 40 people at the course – a course that is run only one time a year.  Between this annual course, some B.A.R. instructors teach Barsmarts, the most innovative direct-to-the-bartender spirits, mixology and service training and certification program available. Designed exclusively for Pernod Ricard USA and instructed by the celebrated partners of Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR).”  But, on this first morning of the course, the 40 of us were sitting in the pack-to-the-gills tasting room at the Astor Center, all staring around the room at each other, wondering who the hell we all were as we watched stroll into the classroom, one by one, these giants of the industry.

In the weeks preceding the course, most of us received in the mail our almost two-pound course manual.  Our textbook.  Our 207 page collection of a surely small portion of the life’s knowledge of our instructors.  207 pages, bridging three sections and 11 chapters, covering everything from Chapter 1, “An Introduction To Distilled Spirits” to Chapter 11, with resources to help the reader find “Products, Services and Sources”.

Next thing that we knew, were were knee-deep in introductions, learning who our instructors and other classmates were.  In the classroom were bartenders from all over the country.  In the back row, stage right from the front, directly to my right was the lovely Tara McLaughlin, one of the only three Pacific Northwesterners to ever join the course.  Apparently, in this seventh year of the course, most of the time the course was populated by East Coasters, but this year besides us Pacific Northwesterners (Tiki-king, Portland’s Blair Reynolds being in attendance),blair off the top of my head there were bartenders from San Francisco (Jacquie Patterson and Martin Miller’s John Santer from Heaven’s Dog), bostickLos Angeles (Chris Bostick from Varnish), Las Vegas (Amanda Gager – $100K winner of the Absolut Top Bartender Reality Show winner), Colorado Bartener’s Guild’s Sean Kenyon and Annika Zappe…  Just to name a few.  Hell, I’ve not even mentioned Sergio Fernandez from Miami, or Boston’s Jackson Cannon from Eastern Standard or Chicago’s Todd Appel from Crimson Lounge. AND!rhiannon How can we forget North Carolina’s Gary Crunkelton from The Crunkleton!?  Yellow!!!! (Long story…)  What about New Orleans’ and Cure’s Rhiannon Enlil?

Oh, the list could go on and on.  I could name Angus Winchester, House Of Tanqueray’s Global Ambassador,  all the way from The Continent, or Adam Devermann, voted Best Bartender in Shanghai, showing up all the way from China where he is a bartender and has a cocktail consulting company.

But first…sleep.  It’s almost 5am and damned if I should not get some sleep.

The next installment will talk about the generalities of the course itself, the day-to-day occurrences that made the course so unique.

“Smell and taste twice”.  Remember that.  “Smell and taste twice.”

Posted in 1 on August 18, 2009 by alcohology
Dryfly Wheat Whiskey

Dryfly Wheat Whiskey

Washington State has not seen whiskey leave a still in 76 years.

Wait…  Hold on…  I’m going to go back on that. Let’s try that again.

Washington State has not seen whiskey legally leave a still in 76 years.

Washington Whiskey

Before 1919, Washington State had a number of distilleries, but that chapter ended with the Volstead Act – that story closed with prohibition.

Happily, this book was again opened last year when the State of Washington passed HB 2205, which finally allowed for distilleries to be operated in Washington State. Dryfly Distilling worked with the state to draft the legislation and deservedly were the first distillery to take advantage of these new abilities, distilling in Spokane their vodka and gin that is for sale on your local liquor store shelves. Starting this month though, Dryfly released their first whiskey, selling the results of 10, fifteen gallon barrels that were put down 14 months ago which resulted in around 900 bottles for sale, all which sold out within the first week that Dryfly offered their wheat whiskey for sale with people waiting outside of the liquor stores when the doors opened in order to guarantee that they were able to get their hands on a few bottles.

Whiskey can be made from many things. For instance, bourbon, that uniquely American product is made from at least 51% corn, the balance often being rye (which is the basis for many Canadian whiskies), barley (which is the basis for Scotch whiskey) and wheat – which is what Dryfly whiskey is made from: 100% Washington Wheat.

wheatThere’s something special about an all-wheat whiskey. In fact, it’s rather rare, the most known all-wheat whiskey being Bernheim, which is made in Kentucky and has been since travelling salesman Issac Bernheim’s horse died and he was stuck in Kentucky finally opening a distillery in 1896. But, what made Dryfly chose an all-wheat whiskey? Well, I asked Kent Fleischmann that exact question,

“We being in Wheat country and all, well it just seemed to make sense. And besides, you know we like to do things a bit different.”, he replied.

Since Washington started allowing distilleries to operate, there are three licensed distilleries producing and selling products – Dryfly in Spokane (vodka/gin/whiskey), and then Pacific Distillery (Voyager Gin/Pacificque Absinthe) and Softail Spirits (grappa), both located 20 minutes outside of Seattle in Woodenville. Soon though, you’ll see distilleries operating in Sodo (Sodo Distillery) and Sound Distillery, located in Ballard. So, that makes at least five distilleries which will presumably be in operation by the end of the year – but, catching up with Oregon’s 17 distilleries…? We shall see.

Taste Test

What does it taste like?  Well, THAT is the important question, is it not?

Wheat whiskey is known for being a touch more sweet and bit less harsh on the palate, and this whiskey conforms to that expectation.  Dryfly is whiskey, no doubt – light, sweet and surprisingly pleasant for such a young spirit, with a rich golden/light-amber color.  Contrast this with other new whiskeys, such as Tuthilltown Spirits who distill their whiskeys up the Hudson in Gardiner, NY, whose many different options are … um … less than quite as successful as is this first Dryfly batch.

Watch this link at Straightbourbon.com for reviews.

And, if you find a bottle, give it a taste and  let us know what you think.

Making Your Own Liqueur

Posted in 1 on July 9, 2009 by alcohology

infusing02_

When planning to cook a nice spaghetti dinner, some will leave the well-lit confines of the grocery store with a bottle of prepared spaghetti sauce.  Others though will leave the store with a bag bursting full of beautiful tomatoes and ingredients to make their own sauce. Viva la difference! It’s the same with making your own liqueur – some people like to play in a kitchen, some don’t, and making liqueur is pretty much the same as any other culinary effort, where some like to experiment and some like to open cans and order take-out.

First of all, let’s get past the distinction between ‘Liqueur’ and ‘Liquor’.

Liqueur: li•queur (l -kûr , -ky r ) n. Any of various strongly flavored alcoholic beverages typically served in small quantities after dinner.

Liquor: liq•uor (l k r) n. An alcoholic beverage made by distillation rather than by fermentation.

Think of a cocktail that you enjoy that has a liqueur as an ingredient. What’s in it? cassisCassis for an El Diablo? Lemoncello for a Lemon Drop? Orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier for…well, a million and one cocktails?grandmarnier Amaretto? Bailey’s? The list goes on and on, but the commonality…? The commonality here is that many great cocktails you can make a lot of these liqueurs yourself – and in fact you can make them all by yourself and to great effect.

Limoncello was my first home-made experiment. I remember being amazed that I could take the same lemons that I am already using anyway and – voilá! Play around for a bit and next thing I knew – Limoncello! Or, an orange liqueur? Why not? Ginger? Grapefruit? Raspberry? Cherry? Rhubarb? The farms and orchards of the world are open to you, limited only by your tastes and imagination.

How does one make liqueur?

Before making my first liqueur, I bothered and questioned a dozen people who make their own ingredients, I dug all over the web and I even found some of those book things… Between all of these suggestions and all of this research, I found what seems to work the best for me and if you choose to play around, I hope that you use my suggestions to great effect.

Just to let you know – I’m a slacker (as evidenced by the infrequency of these blog posts). So, in researching home-made products, I naturally found myself gravitating to the more simple effort to make liqueurs balanced with the ‘best way’. Balance in all things, you know. For instance, if one really wants to get serious about this, one can get a new credit card with a big spending limit and purchase an immersion circulator to sous-vide [pronounced ‘soo-vee’, which is Frenchy for “under vacuum”]. Or, you could go and order a vacuum setup to really go crazy if you like, the immersion circulator being a hot water bath that – as advertised – circulates the hot water for a perfect constant temp and used with a sous-vide and vacuum setup, one can push forward the time taken in making any final product.

infusing

Before we go any further though, let’s talk real fast about the general idea of how these liquors are made.  It’s very simple: You take your veg/fruit, you let it sit in a high-proof spirit for a time between 2hours (flowers/leaves, such as mint or Louisa) and 4weeks (depending on what you’re creating, such as an almond liqueur), pour through a filter and mix with water and sugar! There you go! Liqueur! Simple, ‘eh?

But, well…let’s get more specific. For instance, I’m again making limoncello this week, and so for making this useful liqueur, here’s what I need:

  1. First, you’ll need an infusing agent, and for this the medium, I find to be the best option the highest proof base spirit that you can find. Some states will allow the good stuff at close to 190proof (95%) alcohol (Evercleer), but here in Washington, 150poof (75%) is generally the best that one can get, and this works just fine – no problem. Most of the time this will be a corn or a wheat spirit, but you can also get a really high proof rum if you look around. But I’d caution you against just infusing anything with this sugar cane/molasses spirit, as its taste is very distinctive so you’ll want to steer clear of this one for most simple infusions unless you are going for this particular and peculiar flavor.
  2. Lemon Peel. Now, this means JUST the lemon peel, no pith. You’ll have to get a good peeler and cut off JUST the rind and I would suggest a good wide-bladed peeler because if you’re stuck with a normal peeler for this job, you’ll be peeling long after the blinding pain from your wrist is numbed by the blinding boredom of the peeling. And, again, you want to peel JUST the rind, because if you get the citrus pith involved, that soft white inner flesh of the citrus, your liqueur will take on a dull, bitter accent that you really don’t need since you want just the oil and concentrated flavor from the peel. So, for making .750ml of limoncello, you’ll need the delicious smelling peels of around eight average-sized lemons. What I found worked best was to take these peels, put them in any kind of container and freeze them overnight. What happens when you freeze them is that (as you’re well aware, no doubt), the walls of the cells of the fruit will break apart because the water in the cells expand during freezing, allowing for a better, shorter infusion. Note: make sure to wash the fruit before you get a’peal’n. Besides the pesticides and possible dirt on the outside of the fruit, there is often wax also, so you will want to wash this off with just a simple light-soap scrubb’n.
  3. Now, you’ll need a good jug in which to infuse your fruit. I tend to use glass, because plastic; unless it’s pharmaceutical grade, will often pollute the infusion with that plastic taste and smell, which helps no one. So, I use a glass gallon jug generally, but in the past have used a gallon-sized decorative jar, as the infusion looks beautiful on a kitchen surface or especially in a window.
  4. All done! Just drop these rinds into the jug, pour into this container the base spirit, close the lid tight and put this to the side for at least 5 days. The general rule is that the longer in the spirit, the stronger the infusion and this is true, but by day 5, having frozen the rinds – your infusion is unquestionably strong enough to make your lemoncello, so taste it then and see what you think. Maybe a few more days? You’ll see. Citrus peel will take at least this much time, maybe even twice as long or even longer if you really want to leech out every bit of the flavor from the rind, but following the freezing method, you should have no problem after 5 days. (What’s kinda fun to do is to daily start a smaller amount infusing, using the exact same ratio of ingredients for these 5 days in smaller jars so that you can see and taste the difference between day one, and day five. You’ll be amazed at the rate of infusion.)

Here in Seattle, there are a number of bars such as Liberty which use a lot of their own infusions in their cocktails, most notably Spur and Vessel. And, again, just like Liberty, at both bars, you’ll find a nice treasure trove of their home made ingredients such as liqueurs, bitters, tinctures, and straight-up infusions. For instance, at Vessel, check out their bacon infusion. At Spur, I’m a fan of David Nelson’s Pear Rum Swizzle, and Jamie Boudreau makes a fine Amer Picon replica. At Liberty, my favorite right now is a rhubarb liquor that I use for a punch which is mixed with Martin Miller’s Westborne Strength gin, St. Germain liqueur, lemon juice and lemon bitters, the rhubarb liqueur being very, very easy to make it turns out. Yum.

The clear winner of this effort goes to Portland’s great Teardrop Lounge, which I have mentioned before. At Teardrop, at any one time, Daniel Shoemaker will have produced up to 60 different liqueurs, tinctures, infusions and bitters. Amazing. As you look through the menu at the Teardrop, you will see how practically EVERY drink includes at least one home-made product, resulting in cocktails that are TRULY unique to Teardrop. I must say that I’m rather jealous, and if I was less of a slacker I’d be making more of these products more often, but even as it stands now, at any time I’ll have around 10 home made products on the menu, but improvement is always necessary.

Back to the process!

So! Now you have this lovely colored, deliciously infused very high-proof spirit and you want to make a liqueur. This is the easy part, because all that is left is the blending of your infusion to water and sugar, the ratios being whatever suits your taste. For the limoncello, I use 350ml of the lemon infusion to 200ml simple syrup to 200ml water. Now, don’t be surprised when the infusion will ‘louche’ (pronounced ‘loo-sh’, when it gets cloudy, like absinthe when mixed with cold water). Your infusion will absolutely louche a little, and that means a good well done. The big companies will add emulsifiers and artificial colors to their batches to make sure that the liquid is perfectly clear and uniformly colored, but don’t worry about that. The louching is a mark of a job well done.

Keep in mind, even if you don’t have the time to do one of these more involved infusions, you can do a simple infusion with a bottle of your favorite liquor. My favorite simple infusion of late is using Martin Miller’s Westborne Strength gin, adding some of fruit du jour and waiting a few days. Like cucumber? Well, you’ll LOVE Martin Miller’s gin with some fresh cucumber sitting in it for four days. Like a gin and tonic? Well, throw some rinds into the same gin bottle (after drinking bit to make room, to be sure) and four days later, you’ll have the best G&T of your life. My other favorite of late was a cantaloupe infusion.   Absolutely delicious.

OK.  Well, I’ve spent a few days on this, and I sure wish that I had better pictures, so I’m going to dig around and see what I can find to better illustrate what I’ve been discussing here at Alcohology, but I hope that you enjoyed this voluminous blog post, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

In the near future, I’ll be including a few cocktails that use infusions and the recipes for the infusions themselves.

Enjoy.

Whiskey Homeland

Posted in 1 on June 7, 2009 by alcohology

kentucky01_01 Ken⋅tuck⋅y /kənˈtʌki/ -noun:

1. a state in the E central United States. 3,661,433; 40,395 sq. mi. (104,625 sq. km). Capital: Frankfort. Abbreviation: KY (for use with zip code), Ken., Ky.
2. a river flowing NW from E Kentucky to the Ohio River. 259 mi. (415 km) long.

In Kentucky, Jesus may be Lord, but Bourbon is King.

(This post is going to be the first in a series, all concerning my trip to Kentucky.  Please watch here for future posts, which will be about my visit to Louisville,  Buffalo Trace and Four Roses distilleries.)

In the spring, Kentucky is the place to be if you can affect some reason to find yourself there.  The weather is just right, it’s in the 80’s most of the time, rarely are there the kinds of traffic jams that many of us are expected to have to tolerate, and people seem to be pretty damn nice.   I found myself on my first hour in Kentucky in Louisville (pronounced: ‘Lu[i]-vul’) at the famous Seelbach Hotel, sitting front and center at their even more famous bar, the Old Seelbach Bar.osb

Since 1905, the Seelbach has hosted kings, politicians, Cardinals and criminals – some more criminal than the actual criminals.  F. Scott Fitzgerald thought enough of the place to include it in “The Great Gatsby”, which used the hotel as the backdropcapone for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding and one of the most famous bootleggers was purportedly the  model for Gatsby hisself.   Al Capone kept a room (and escape tunnels) in the hotel.  “The Hustler” was filmed in the hotel’s former pool hall and nine U.S. Presidents have stayed there since Taft first filled the rooms with his impressive bulk.  Yes, the Seelbach is a great base of operations if one wants to see bourbon country.   Or, to be more specific, Bourbon County.

mmbottle

This was my first trip to Kentucky, and I was incredibly lucky to be the guest of Maker’s Mark, a bourbon with an unparalleled lineage.  This is the lineage of the Samuel’s family, six generations of whiskey distillers, but this story really starts in ’33, just as Prohibition ends, when the current leader of Maker’s Mark, Bill Samuel’s Junior’s father and grandfather started distilling whiskey again.  To make a long story short, it was really in ’59 that the current version of Maker’s Mark was created, the bottle designed by Bill’s mother who came up with the whole red-wax feature that has been so successful for so many years.

MM is a wheated bourbon.  This means that the recipe for the mashbill has the red winter wheat that now many of the more sweet and softer bourbons use (such as the Pappy Van Winkle 15yr) instead of rye, which is more often the case.

The distillery itself is surprisingly small, being reportedly the smallest of the major distilleries.  Here in Seattle, we drink a lot of MM so I expected a much larger distillery.  I mean, MM makes a lot of bourbon, but compared to some of the other distillers, they are a small-batch distillery, even though their annual output is currently 6 million bottles.

mmfieldThe Maker’s distillery is around an hour from Louisville, and Bill Samuel’s Jr’s house is just a little farther than that.  To get there, you drive until the farmland around is almost unparallely beautiful, and then you get off the main road.  From there, you wind around a small two-lane side road until you can’t believe that those incredibly beautiful and massive houses are real.  Keep going from there and keep winding up that country road until at the top you see this single one-lane driveway running into a small copse of trees.  Take a left there.

mmbillThe Samuels family was incredibly nice to invite a small group of bartenders from Seattle to stop by on a nice warm afternoon and say hello and drink some bourbon.  Bill Samuels himself is a tall, energetic fellow.  Full of good cheer and sourmash whiskey, and his home is a museum of Southern and American whiskey history.  For instance, his family is related to not just the James Brothers and the Boone family but Robert E. Lee and two of the Archdukes of Canterbury to name just a few of the notable characters that live in his family tree.  In his home, you will see Robert E. Lee’s personal sidearm and if when you ask about a checker’s board, you’ll find out that one of his past relatives played checkers on that board with Thomas Jefferson.  I could go on, but it’d start to sound like I was making things up.

mmcabinet02Bill’s Bourbon Cabinet

My best memory of his home was his liquor collection, a truly amazing sample of almost two hundred years of American whiskeycraft.  Standing in front of his whiskey shelves, a glass of Maker’s in one hand, Bill Jr. casually tells us about his collection – about the bottle on the bottom shelf, fourth from the left, which is probably the oldest bottle in the world of unopened bourbon dating back to the 1820’s.  And another was one, that lovely number all the way to the right with the white lable?  From 1881. (That bottle that says ‘Old Boone’?  Well, everyone in those days made whiskey)  mm1881Between them are just some beautiful carafes, dating back to the 1800’s, when one would buy a carafe and then have it refilled at the bar or corner store.  (Which is why Maker’s has the red wax, because it was a sure sign that the whiskey was not changed from what should be in the bottle to what it maybe was put into the bottle…)  Drinking his whiskey, sitting on his patio furniture in his back yard, gazing at the just down the hill river running towards the Mississippi…you kinda forget the rest of the world.  It does not seem to exist, it does not seem to matter.

mmbackyard

For the geeks, Maker’s is a specifically differently produced bourbon.  From the mashbill itself, to the barrel that holds the whiskey to the incredible and unprecedented care taken in putting the bourbon into the bottle, Maker’s is different.  For instance, the barrel is a “10 to 3″ char, which means that it’s not really a high-char and the char, almost a #3.  This is what allows the whiskey into the wood, which constitutes the nature and soul of the bourbon, the barrels only being charred for 40 seconds.  In fact, after cutting the staves for the barrel, Maker’s Mark is the only distillery that will sit the staves outside, open to the forces of Mother Nature for a year, which causes the tannins to be washed out, resulting in what they suggest is a smoother and less acidic whiskey – less bite.

The still itself that produces Maker’s Mark is a copper alembic, which processes in a continuous fashion their ‘low beer’, or ‘white dog’ whiskey which comes out at a 120proof.  This is the first distilled product that is a result of their unique yeast, their relatively smaller stills and 37foot, second-run 13-plate column still, which results in the final ‘high beer’, which comes out of the column stills at 130proof.  This run is then watered down to 110proof and put into the barrel, and then rolled on it’s way into it’s home for around six to seven years, which will be one of many rickhouses which will house these barrels until the Maker’s Mark bourbon is dropped, those many seasons later.

For bourbon lovers, going to Kentucky is like a trip to Graceland for Elvis fans.  I’d like to thank Maker’s Mark, all of the bartenders from Seattle and Portland and Cody Rossen in particular for having me out there and giving me such an almost unprescedented experience on my first trip of many to Bourbon Valhalla.  Thanks again.

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