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Absinthe In One Hand…Now What?

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , on February 15, 2009 by alcohology

absintheparty

(This post is actually the second in the series, the first beingA Lesson In Absinthe”  If you have not read that post yet, I would humbly ask that you click that link first.  Thankee.)

So, you now have this absinthe in front of you.  You went to the store, or perhaps went online to find your absinthe and had it shipped to you.  Maybe a friend brought you a bottle because they know that you like interesting spirits…but the outcome is the same:  There is it.  What in the world does one DO with it?

Well,… First of all, you of course can make a Sazerac Cocktail.  That’s a good idea.  At least then, with your Sazerac as company you will have time to leisurely contemplate your absinthe and decide what in the world to do with the rest of the bottle.

Here – assuming that you have some other ingredients on hand is the Sazerac Cocktail:

  • 2oz Rye Whiskey
  • .25oz Absinthe
  • .25oz Simple Syrup
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters

I’ll let the experts describe this one:

Coat chilled old fashioned glass with Absinthe substitute (Herbsaint, Pernod…). Pour out most of what remains, perhaps leaving a small puddle in the bottom of the glass. Add bitters and syrup. You can use a single sugar cube instead of simple syrup, in which case you would now muddle this to dissolve. Add Whiskey.

Those instructions come courtesy of Drinkboy himself – Robert Hess, my appeal to authority in this case.  And, if you don’t believe me, well…this video of Mr. Drinkboy hisself will transport you to proof positive.

OK.  Well?  What in the world should you do with the Absinthe now?  You have made a Saz, but that is really not enough.  This is absinthe after all.  This is the liquid of legend – the muse to the arts.

To do this correctly – and by ‘do this’, I mean – to make absinthe of course, you’ll need a few things.  If Toulouse Lautrec can do it, then by all means so should and can you.

But, you’ll need a these few things:

  1. The Absinthe is at arm’s length, so you have the most important part achieved.
  2. You will need a glass – an Absinthe glass if possible
  3. You will need an Absinthe spoon, if possible.
  4. You will need a sugar cube, no doubt.
  5. You will need an Absinthe Fountain, of course.

absinthedrip_

The rest is exactly as you imagine it:  Pour about an ounce and a half of absinthe in the glass, add spoon to sit on the glass and the sugar cube to spoon and move glass underneath the absinth fountain’s spigot, positioned perfectly as to allow the water from the fountain to drip directly on the sugar cube.  Of course, I am assuming that you have filled or will fill your absinthe fountain up with lots of ice and water in order to allow for that water to drip on the sugar cube.  So – with that assumption behind us – slowly open up the spigot and drip that water on to the sugar cube and through the spoon, dripping about one drip per second.  At this rate, the water will act as solvent, and the sugar cube will break apart and drip into the absinthe.

Here’s the cool part:  The absinthe will become cloudy, it will become opaque…as if by magic.  The magic of chemistry.  What happens is that the cold water will act upon the oil of the anise in the absinthe and will cause what is called ‘louching’, pronounced “luːʃ-ing”, or “lo͞oshing”.    This is because the oil is soluable in alcohol – louch_1but not water.  So, with the addition of water – especially cold water – the oil separates from the mixture in a manner that creates the louching, and if you watch it closely, carefully – it’s quite beautiful, actually.

Now, there’s a lot of debate about how much water to put in the glass.  Some say 3 – 1, some enjoy 5 -1, but this is really a taster’s choice moment for you.  I’d say start at 3 – 1 and stop the drippity-drop from the fountain at this point.  This is when you will find that the ‘spoon’ part of the absinthe spoon will come in handy:  Stir up that absinthe and keep stirring until as few sugar granules are easily seen as possible.  Now, put the absinthe spoon to the side and take a taste.

What do you think?

Next:  What different Absinthes are out there?

(Sadly, my computer pretty much died, so I have not been able to finish this post, but will in the near future…)

A Lesson In Absinthe

Posted in 1 on February 5, 2009 by alcohology

labsinthe3For understandable reasons, the spirit of absinthe confounds most people in America.  First – there is the legend: Absinthe will drive you crazy.  It will cause you to make great art! Then – to the factual inaccuracies: It’s illegal!  It has hallucinogenic properties! absinthepicBut, to be fair, there’s little surprise for this confusion as there has not really been a lot of opportunity for the true story to have had it’s effect and work upon the propaganda.  Do you remember your first conversations about absinthe? Probably, these conversations revolved around how it was illegal, how it’s this terrible stuff that one has to light on fire in order to fine SOME appreciation, how it’ll get you high…

Well…sadly – here’s the reality.  A) You’ll only be crazy after drinking absinthe if you already were a bit daft beforehand, and, B) your art sure will not get any better after you’re into a few cups.  But, like all good stories – the legend survives.  Fantasy trumps reality, fiction overwhelms fact.

What IS the story with Absinthe?

Well, that’s the question that the intrepid foot-soldiers of the Washington State Bartender’s Guild chose to ask themselves.  And, in order to get to that answer, we decided to produce an event and educate ourselves and our customers.  This effort resulted in a forum called Absinthe In America, hosted by Paul Clarke and Gwydion Stone.  At this forum, Paul and Gwydion led the discussion which they reprised from last year’s class that they led at Tales of the Cocktail, “a culinary and cocktail festival features award-winning mixologists, authors, bartenders, chefs and designers in the New Orleans French Quarter at five days of cocktail events“.  At our event, over 80 people were lucky enough to be able to listen to not just these two experts, but also a number more of the world’s most knowledgeable people concerning absinthe.  In attendance and also getting a chance to speak was Ted Breaux, often referred to as the father of modern absinthe, a term which I am sure he’d find unappealing…but…one can’t disown their own legend.

Wow.  Where to start…?

OK.  First of all, let’s go over the basics.  Let’s separate that fact from fiction.  Let’s impart some reality to this fiction:

  1. Absinthe is legal.
  2. Absinthe won’t drive you crazy.
  3. Absinthe should not be burnt in order to prepare the drink.
  4. Absinthe is made in America – and; yes, it’s the same stuff…

herbsWhy, in late ’07, was absinthe all of a sudden allowed back into our country after 95 years, since it was made illegal 1912?  There are plenty of stories.  One entertaining story is that because of the WTO and trade agreements between our countries, the Swiss – the country where Kubler Absinthe is made – forced our government to allow the importation of Swiss absinthe, threatening a case in the WTO courts.  And, thus – absinthe was again legal.  But, the more believable story is simply that the Swiss-made Kubler Absinthe, for four years pushed the process.  During this period, there were many ridiculous requests by our Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau (TTB) – simply because,

For decades “everybody knew” (wrongly) it was bad, illegal stuff – without looking at it in a fair, clear-headed manner.

At one point TTB summarily urged us to “delete all references to absinthe because it’s a drug term (no matter how spelled).”Jared Gurfein

And, Jared Gurfein should know.  He’s the American attorney who for four years marched slowly through the governmental process in order to finally get absinthe to our market,

it was knowing deep down that it’s all a huge misunderstanding, a historical accident not supported by facts or logic or law.

Finaabsinthefountain1lly, on a beautiful, green-tinted day in late ’07 – Kubler Absinthe was finally given the final green-light to sell their products legally here in the US of A.  Four years.  Four long years.  Thousands of lawyer-hours later (that’s around three hours and sixteen minutes in human time), meeting after meeting with government agencies and their blank stares, pages and pages of ill-researched stories masquerading as history.  Oh – the fun they must have had!  They worked hard for four years, so we can only imagine how the Kubler people felt three days after they got their Absinthe here in America when Lucid just waltzed right in and started selling their absinthe…

OK.  So, you have this bottle of Absinthe…

Well, in terms of Absinthe – the world’s now your oyster.  There are now over 80 brands legally sold in America…but what to do with them?  What does one DO with Absinthe!?  I mean, you go to the store and plunk down…oh, say…$75 for St. George Absinthe.  Or, $80 for Absinthe Marteau or Absinthe Pacifique.  Maybe a reasonable $60 for Lucid…  What does one now DO with it?

Well, let’s just get this out of the way…don’t just pour it into a glass and drink it.  Trust me.  That’d do you no good except as a story when you is having one of those ‘the most stupid things that I have ever done‘ conversations with friends.  It’ll  hurt. A lot.  Generally speaking, real Absinthe is around at least 60% alcohol – and if you need guidance here…that’s a lot of alcohol.  That vodka you drink?  40%.  Whiskey?  45 to maybe 50%.  But, absinthe puts them all to shame.  So – you can’t just put it on ice and knock it back.

Here’s the deal, and let’s get this major issue of the way:

  • No, don’t light absinthe on fire.  Just – don’t.  Knock it off.  This was a trend started in the late 90’s in the Prague nightclubs.  I mean, what’s more fun when you’re drugged-up, drunk and dancing till dawn than to see a bartender light something on fire!?  Well, don’t do it.  All that does is…well…nothing.  MAYBE it changes the taste a little bit, but you’ll be doing something stupid and unwarranted to a spirit just like the how the Chinese will take a great old whisky and pour it over a bunch of ice.  Don’t be an idiot like them.

See what I mean?  Not bright.

(Please click on this link if you like, “Absinthe In One Hand…Now What?” to read the next post in this series.)

An Art Divergence…

Posted in 1 on February 1, 2009 by alcohology

Digging around the ‘web, one finds the most interesting things.  Sometimes one finds interesting stories that key one into a whole new interest.  Sometimes it’s a story like one that I heard about this week where some horrifically deranged people use kittens on hooks to fish for sharks…  We also have our friends and family that send us jokes, some that work out well, some…well, flat.

But, it’s really a good day when one finds something that just works out really well for you.  Of all the crap available online, these are the days to which we all unknowingly look forward.

A couple a year and some ago, I started really enjoying the works of the British street-artist Banksy, who resides in his own niche at the pinnacle of his genre.  Today though, I found someone who reminds me so much of Banksy.

Introducing!  Tebe Interesno!

Introducing! Tebe Interesno!

This has actually turned into a really long post with lots of pictures, so I have moved this post to this page.

52 Year Old Bourbon?

Posted in 1 on January 23, 2009 by alcohology
The Pot Still

The Pot Still

Distilling is an art as well as a science.  The art comes in so many ways – from picking the ingredients to how the barrel looks before the run (the just distilled liquor) goes into it.  The science?  Every distiller is a scientist – they know the measurements that cause the run to result in a spirit that will be welcome into existence when it is is invited out of the barrel years after it was put down for it’s nap.

As you walk down the isles of your favorite liquor store and meander into the whiskey isle, most of that whiskey that you see there is between 3 and 10 years in the barrel.  The good stuff starts after 10 years, such as the Pappy Van Winkle 10yr 107proof and

Pappy 10yr

Pappy 10yr

the ever-dependable 12yr Elijah Craig.  When bourbon turns into a young-adult at the ready age of 15, that’s when things get interesting – all the way to it’s late 20’s when the oak has in most cases taken over.  That is the quick age of bourbon.  It’s a short life, more than a dependable dog, but not as long as a cranky parrot – but it’s a good life.  A worthy life.

But that’s the time in the barrel.  After that nap, the head distiller whisks the whiskey away and dilutes it to the perfect percentage – usually between eighty-some to 107proof, such as is that aforementioned Pappy 10yr.  With this as the last act touched by man, the whiskey is then poured into bottles, the bottles have their labels attached to them, those labeled bottles then go into boxes, where the boxes get shipped to a store somewhere and then to your home, awaiting you to fulfill that whiskey’s destiny.

Sometimes though…the bottle is forgotten.  It gets pushed to the back of a liquor cabinet.  Maybe then to the back of a closet or left in a basement for years.  Eventually though, someone finds those bottles – probably to their surprise.  How many years since that bottle lay there?  10?  20?  40?  More than 50?  More than 50 years quietly again asleep in the bottle…

1957's I.W. Harper Bourbon

1957's I.W. Harper Bourbon

That bottle’s contents sat lost for 52 years.  In those 52 years, the ’57 Chevy came and went.  The 60’s baby-boomers turned into hippies.  In the 70’s, it slept as Black Sabbath shocked the world and as the American automobile seemed to never stop getting bigger.  Through the 80’s, that bottle of I.W. Harper thankfully missed Reagan and didn’t even notice the first stock offering of a little company called Microsoft.  It was still slumbering when ‘Teen Spirit’ came out, and didn’t know to be worried about the millenium change.

All this time, the bourbon sat in the bottle, slowly evaporating one molecule at a time – only to be awoken in late in the year 2008 to find that things sure had changed a lot, and the world was happy to see it.

Here’s the problem…52 years is a LONG time.  A very long time.  ESPECIALLY when the bottle has a cork top.  Cork is bio-degradable, so there are soooo oo many things thatcan go wrong in 52 years to cause that cork to dry out, or get too wet…  Maybe the box that contained the bottle was laid on it’s side?  That’d not be good – a cork can only take so much.  52 years?  Improbable.  harper_stamp01

I mean, that bottle’s contents were distilled in 1952 and then contained in the bottle since 1957…so much should have gone wrong in that time, and the expectation is that something DID go wrong.

So, this bottle sat in front of me.  The cork was not terrifically solid in its mounting, some bourbon had at one point obviously leaked out…expectations are low.  I mean, picture that bottle on your dining-room table.  Would YOU open it?  This could maybe be an incredibly valuable bottle!  Thousands maybe!  Or, it may taste like cork soup.  Who is to know?  This is when you’d start to rationalize this situation.  ‘Surely it’s dead.  I mean, 52 years?’ Yes, the chances are good that the $100-some that you paid for it was just to have the chance to see what happened…  ‘Hell with it‘, you say, ‘I’m going to open it.‘  And, with one last thought about maybe this is a stupid thing to do – you pull off the cork.

Breaking the tax seal is the first thing that gives you a start.  No going back now…  It smells good.  That’s a great omen…  Did you make the right decision?  Well, you remind yourself that it’s too late to worry, so you grab a glass and pour some in.

The color is dark – far darker than most bourbons, surely a result of the alcohol’s slow escape over the decades, leaving the caramels, the oak tannins, the heart.  Taste it – just taste it.

First though – what’s the story of this bourbon?  Well, it turns out that in the late 1800’s, a Jew from some tiny town in Germany made his way to Paducah, Kentucky after his horse died, where he somehow built an empire.  Bernheim whiskey is named after him, by the way, celebrating Issac Wolf Bernheim, one of whiskeys least probable forebearers.

OK.  52 years.  What does 52 years do to a bourbon in a bottle?  Taste it.  Well, when the stars align, when fate intercedes…  When all is right in the world, a 52 year bourbon is amazing.  It’s just happily amazing.  It’s amazing like great congnac.  It’s amazing like the perfect bite of an apple – like … well, like something just right.  Something amazing.

New American Gin

Posted in 1 on January 18, 2009 by alcohology
The Beautiful Juniper Tree - sans berries.

The Juniper Tree - sans berries.

Picture this:  A server will go over to a new table, hand the guest a menu, and damned if fairly often we hear, ‘No, I don’t like gin, do you have some vodka cocktails?‘  Ouch.  Really?  Really?  In retrospect, one should not be terrifically surprised.  When I started drinking at the fine old age of 15, my experience led me to the first drink that I had that I recognized as a ‘cocktail’: a Bombay Sapphire and tonic…and after a few years of that, many generally  tire of gin served in that manner, so when someone makes a customer a something-tini made from vodka and pretty syrup, the heavy juniper taste of a Sapphire and tonic often is like a box of old pizza left in in a cheap hotel – it ain’t missed.

Something special has happened though in the last few years…gin has been reborn.  Out of the ashes of the gin phoenix, a new breed of gin has taken off, and the colloquial name for this revolution is the New American Gin.

First of all – what IS gin?  If one goes to Vessel in Seattle, they’ll see an interesting item on the menu the Crushed Strawberry Fizz, which is a cocktail described as having as a component, ‘Juniper-flavored vodka…’  Ha.  ‘How wonderful!!!‘ people say, as they drink their ‘vodka’ cocktail while unknowingly drinking gin.  ‘I hate gin, but this is delicious!!!‘ they have been heard to say.  So, what is it that inspires this confusion?

Gin is really one of the oldest modern spirits still available and commonly consumed.  Before people were drinking gallons of the “tasteless, orderless spirit” otherwise known as Vodka, they had been drinking since the 17th century, Gin – or, as they called it then, “genévrier, both “jonge and oude” (young and old).  It’s really a really longplymouth story (which you can check out here), but the short story is that before prohibition, American drank both ‘dry’ gin (which was distilled to a higher proof before dilution to the common ~80proof), or the ‘Old Tom’ gin, which was slightly sweeter and had a touch more flavor than what we today refer to commonly as ‘London Dry’, as typified by the just-right Plymouth English Gin.

prohibition_raidBut, something terrible happened in 1920…Prohibition.  For a long, unhappy, dry and smug 13 years, it was illegal in these United States of America to distill, traffic, provide or drink any intoxicating liquor.  shudder Before this time, Old Tom gin was happily poured all over our country, and in fact (or, I should say ‘perhaps fact’), the first “martini” was a descendant of a gin drink created in California that some suggest was made with Old Tom gin called a ‘Martinez‘:

  • Gin
  • Sweet Vermouth
  • Maraschino Liqueur
  • Bitters

Did a bartender named Martinez make it?  Did Jerry Thomas invent it and name it after a destination of one of his patrons?  Well, no one will ever know, but what we DO know is that on Repeal Day, December 5th, 1933 – when people started legally drinking again, Old Tom gin was a distant memory, wholly replaced by London Dry, and the Martinez faded from memory.

So, most of the world drank London Dry Gin out of bottles with recognizable names like Bombay, Tanqueray and Beefeater.  For a long time, this was the gin that we drank – the gin of our forebearers…

Don’t look now…something new has happened…

A few years ago, I remember someone brought this new Gin to me – from Scotland of all things.  And, moreso – it hendricks1came in this really attractive, squat, black bottle.  This was a gin where the taste was unquestionably reminiscent of cucumber…of fine and gentle botanicals…….there was no juniper edge….no crisp attack on the tongue…  This gin, called Hendrick’s was a whole new realm of spirt.  Time to re-imagine gin!  And, as Americans are want to do – we will take a ball and run with it.

Next thing that we know, there are many of what have become to be called ‘New American Gins’.  These are labels such as Seattle’s Voyager, Junipero from Anchor Distillery in SF, Bluecoat from Philadelphia, Aviation from Portland (which they call a ‘New Western Dry Gin’) and Cascade Mountain from Bend Distillery in Idaho.

newamericangins

Each of these gins is different from your Grandmother’s tipple.  The Voyager is bright with fresh botanicals, the Junipero is big with as much juniper as you like, the Bluecoat also is rich in juniper while the Aviation is a tad more refined and sweet.  Last but not least, the Cascade Mountain is fresh and sharp, with no small amount of locally-sourced Juniper.

Gin is coming back, my friend.  Wait – gin IS back, and when people say to me, ‘I don’t like gin‘, I’ll usually make them a Jasmine or perhaps a Contenental with Plymouth or Voyager.

Here: Try it yourself:

Jasmine

  • 2oz       Voyager Gin
  • .25oz    Campari
  • .25oz    Cointreau
  • .25oz    Fresh Lemon Juice

Garnish with Lemon Twist and serve in a cocktail shell.

Continental

  • 2oz     Plymouth Gin
  • .5oz    St. Germain
  • .25oz   Amaro Nonino

Garnish with Lemon Twist and serve in a cocktail shell.

Enjoy.

Customers

Posted in 1 on January 9, 2009 by alcohology

The first day that I opened Liberty, it was a Thursday I do believe.  We opened up for lunch if my memory serves me, and I think that we served about six friends.  Back in those day, things were so harried that I don’t even really open1remember that first plate, that first cocktail – but I sure wish that I did.  Why?  Because the memory of those pure servings, free from any reality of whom those plates and glasses are going out to are now muddied, sullied, confused and forever blurred by the stand-out dunderheads that we as bartenders see most days.

exclamation_point01Wait, don’t worry.  Most of the people that we serve we are honored to be able to serve.  I truly enjoy serving someone their first really good whiskey and there’s little better in this big, round world than someone with their old-faithful standard gin and tonic in front of them – forever left un-finished because the Last Word that I poured forever captured their interest.  Those people are our heroes.  As bartenders, we pass these people between ourselves like long-lost family.  We say, ‘Go to Xbar, and sit at Y’s bar, and tell them that I sent you.’  We love to hear a bartender from another town say, ‘Hey, Z was sitting at my bar and told me to come here and have a drink.’  That’s the kind of thing that we love like kids of all ages love snow-days.

But, then there are the others…  The louds.  The sullens.  The walkouts.  The knowitalls.  The violent and the drunkangry.  We don’t like them.  And, we know them – we see them as they walk in our door and we recognize them from a mile away on the street.  They drink Jaeger.  They drink something and Redbull.  With grandiose exclimations, they buy all of their friends their drinks and tip two bucks.  They destroy our bathrooms.  They fall over themselves and break glassware.  They pretend that they know you, that we’re best pals and they forget your name the 50th time that they come in.  They are the poor and bummed about it and they are the rich and want you to know.  They are the incredibly attractive and the depressingly ugly.  They are the smart and the dumb.  The well-bred and the bumkin.  They are a democratic lot – each having the right to be equally and atrociously vexing.

workinprogressHere’s an example: A short period ago, the drain to the well was backed up on a very busy Saturday night.  A party of twenty and some was just getting up to speed.  Another party of 10 just showed up out of the blue…the server was about to start crying, the sushi chef had not had a break in three hours…the barback was a blur…  So, this meant that while the bartender was making drinks and getting his ice out of a bus-tub, the barback was busy simultaneously helping me and helping the bartender as I cleaned out the well one scoop at a time as I tried to fix a problem that simply did not want to be fixed and strenuously resisted all of my efforts.

Have you ever tried to fix a flat on your car in the middle of a rain or snow-storm?  That’s kinda what it felt like.

So – just at the apex of the issue, a fellow comes to the bar from a table and asks for a couple drinks from me, I patiently take his order and let him know that I will have his drinks sent over to him.  He stands there and then wants to order more…at this point I tell him that I will have his server come over momentarily.  So…he goes back to his table and loudly tells his whole table about the jerk that ‘was not doing anything‘ who could not take his order…  Wow.  Any of you that may be of an age enough to remember the original Hulk program…remember the opening sequence, where they show Bruce Banner trying to change the flat tire in the rain where he banged up his knuckles?  In his anger and pain, Bruce Banner then turns into the Hulk?  Remember that?  Well, that’s how I felt.  All I could think about at that moment (besides wanting to go all Hulk on this guy) was, ‘Has this jerk EVER worked in a restaurant?‘  I bet that he was drinking vodka, too…

That’s OK though.  When the revolution happens, a commupance is due.  The clock is ticking, and the piper must be tipped accordingly and appropriately.  The bill will have come due.

Learning to Bartend.

Posted in 1 on December 30, 2008 by alcohology

Ah.  Learning to bartend – this is quite a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  Think about the first bartender of whom you ever asked for a drink.  What brought you two together at that moment?  How did he get there.  ForMr. Murray Stenson to you.

instance, some will want to become a bartender because they see a great mixologist across the bar and want to follow in that bartender’s footsteps (AKA – The Murray Stenson Army).  On the other hand, some have dreams of working in a club bar, pouring shots from a bar-gun into little plastic cups and not getting gonorrhea.  If I had to guess, I’d surmise that none of those folks are reading this, so we will move past their pustules and questionable ‘cocktails’ – that kind of bartending is more fitting for people that think that it’s too difficult to ‘date’ on Myspace.

So, You Want To Be A Bartender

Bartending really is an art.  Rally it is.  AND, it takes the dedicated input of a trained individual!  Someone has to tell you why whisky can also be spelled whiskey, for instance.  Someone has to tell you why one can’t pour a mixture of spirits into a martini glass, stick some silly garnish on top and then call that drink a ‘martini’.  So, if one can’t be lucky enough to find a good teacher, then one needs to go to bartending school!

Kinda like this one.  Let this man be your teacher, be his Padawan.  Especially note how no one uses fresh fruit any longer…and how one should deal with a runny nose…

“There’s many different types of rum…different colors…but…uh…”

Note the full three and a half seconds that he wipes his nose on the back of his hand…this being the THIRD time that he has variously picked and wiped his nose…I don’t know if this is really any worse than how he just poured one ounce of rum into the mixing glass and then TWO ounces of bottled sweet and sour mix…

“Nobody really uses fresh limes anymore…so most times it’s easer to go out and buy a commercial brand of sweet and sour mix…”

“Will it taste better with fresh lime juice?  Yes…but…they’re a lot more work…I’m just trying to show you the easy way to make a drink…”

At least he’s honest…

Japanese Whisky

Posted in 1 on December 28, 2008 by alcohology

suntory_hibiki17black

Japanese whisky is fantastic.  This is just an easy and simple fact:japandistillery50

  • The Japanese spell whisky without the ‘e’, just like pretty much everyone else in the world (except in a few cases for North America).
  • Japanese whisky generally speaking is Single Malt, in the Scottish Whisky tradition.
  • Japan has been producing whisky for around 80years.
  • There are around 12 distilleries in Japan.

When people think of Japan, they think…Samurai.  They think…rice fields.  They think…technology.  They think about some of the oddest teenagers ever…

But, whisky?  Single malt whisky?  Well, yes.  Single malt whisky.  In fact, last year, the single malt whisky chosen as the best single malt of the year was the Nikka Yoichi 20yr – to the incredible shock of those who of course could never imagine that a non-Scottish whisky would EVER win this coveted award.  Then, just as Scotland finished reeling from that shock, they then had to deal with the reality that the Suntory Hibiki 30yr won the World’s Best Blended Whisky.  Ouch.

How did this happen?  I’m sure that as the news spread throughout Scotland, there were a lot of men and women stopping in their tracks for a moment thinking, ‘Wha?  A Japanese whisky…?  How did that happen?

Yes.  How DID this happen?

Well, one has to go back a few years to put the pieces of that puzzle together.  Actually, as mentioned earlier – around 80 years.  What was happening 80 years ago…?  Well, it was the mid-20’s, the Roaring 20’s.  The Jazz Age was turning a lot of people into better human beings, the Commies were making a lot of people unhappy human beings, and the Nazis were just getting into their training pants.

But, outside of all of this, there was a fellow named Shinjiro Torii, who thought that it was about time for Japan to have whisky.  Wisely, Torii-san chose another great gentleman named Masataka Taketsuru to be his distiller.

Masataka Taketsuru

Masataka Taketsuru

As I recall, the story is that this fellow had been in Scotland studying and had written down EXACTLY what the Scotts were doing with their whisky, and then…well, a’ la the American Automobile, the cartoon and the steak…they together opened what would end up being called Suntory, creating two dynasties that would change history.

Fairly quickly, Taketsuru-san would leave Suntory to form what would become Nikka Distillery…and 80-some years later, the Nikka Yoishi 20yr would win the coveted World’s Best Single Malt Whisky award from Whisky Magazine.

Now, you want to try some Japanese whisky, ‘eh?  You’re imagining what this whisky may taste like.  It’s single malt, right?  So, that means that this is barley whisky.  It’s Scottish’esque?  That means that maybe it tastes like smoke?  Like a salty peat-bog?  Perhaps?  Well, unfortunately, probably you will have toyamazaki18 just wonder.  Here in America, we do not get to taste much Japanese whisky.  If you’re REALLY lucky, you may be able to find a bottle of the Yamazaki 18yr Suntory.  Is the 18yr is really an good whisky?  Let me see…Here’s the bottle…I’m pouring a bit into a nice, 6.5oz old fashioned glass…beautiful brown color…aroma of toasted barley and smoke…86proof…mmm.  Sweet at first, a tad oaky from sitting in barrel for shy of two decades…just right.  The taste lasts and lasts and rings all around the palate.  THIS is good whisky.

Sadly, the rest of the many bottles made every year are pretty much unavailable here in the US of A.  I’m not exactly sure why, to tell you the truth, but it’s a terrible crime.  You may be able to find some in England, but besides that, to keep all that great whisky across the ocean…?  A shame.  A real shame.  Looks like I need to take another trip to Japan.  But, this time – I am drinking some whisky.

If the Japanse ever start making haggis, the Scotts are in big, big trouble.

Portland vs Seattle

Posted in 1 on December 15, 2008 by alcohology

Have you been to Portland recently?  Actually, I wonder what the rest of the country knows about Portland?  Probably, the answer to that question is,’Very little’.  If you consider Seattle to be a small town, then Portland is surely then one of the biggest small cosmopolitan cities out there.  There are around 600K people in Portland, which makes Portland maybe five times smaller than Seattle.  And, yet, for this size, they are impressively wise to the world and culturally sophisticated.  As opposead to many Seattleites, Portlanders are hppy to live in Portland and are not afraid to behave as such.

One very noticeable and particular Portland trait is that the Portlanders go out, and when they go out, they have lots of great places to choose from when they spend all this time outside of their home.  They go out.  A lot.  For Portland’s size, I can only surmise that there are more really good restaurants and bars than is reasonable.

There was a pretty good contingent of Seattlites that escaped down to Portland this weekend.  The main reason was the House Spirits 3rd Annual Booze Bazaar on this last Saturday (12/13/08).  Even though pretty much any excuse will do, what a great reason to go to Portland, right?

So, with the news of this event, a contingent of Seattlites decided to go down, as if one needed an excuse.  There were bartenders from Liberty, from Vessel and from Sonja’s, there was a representative of alcohol’s old guard, there were lots of Munats and an epicurian’s epicurian.  Some drove and the more sane amongst them took the train.  Immediately upon leaving their bags at the Ace or Jupiter Hotel, the crew immediately converged upon House.

aviation

House Spirits – House Spirits is a distillery in Portland that distills the Aviation Gin, Medoyeff Vodka and Krogstad Aquavit.  House Spirits was one of the first micro-distilleries in Oregon, krogstaadand since they started distilling these three spirits as part of the official House Spirits lineup, they’ve also taken to distilling products for other alcopreteures, such as the Absinthe Marteau, Ransom Spirit‘s Grappa and their Ransome Old Tom Gin, Sub Rosa Spirits and a few others.

There’s lots of reasons to be fans of House Spirits and especially about their annual Booze Bazaar.  Here, attendees were able to sample the various spirits and other goodies such as local cheeses from the Oregon Cheese Guild and chocolates from Xocolatl de Davíd.  The standout for me (besides the Absinthe Marteau, of which I am a big fan) was the Ransome Old Tom Gin.  I really love the new interest in old tom gins, and I think that Ransome did a fine job with theirs and I look forward to pouring it for customers.  Surely Ransome is a heavy gin, slightly aged in the old tom custom and without any assistance, a cocktail unto itself.

Even though I talk a lot about the impact of the cocktail and distilling cultures in Portland, I should add that per capita, Portland has to have more good restaurants than any other smallish town that’s not a summer destination.  365 days a year, there are all sorts of really good restaurants in Portland, from the really creative 50 Plates to a Greek place that I forget the name of that was fantastic.  All I had was the fool and a gyro sandwich, but they were great.  All the pitas are homemade by this one guy that I watched make batch after batch, surely earning himself the thanks of the many patrons and a good case of repetitive stress disorder.

Next, while we thought that we’d be going back to House for more hobnobbing over micro-distilled spirits (I never was able to taste their rum and whiskey), we actually ended up meeting back at Clyde Common,clydecommon a really enjoyable bar attached to the Ace Hotelace1 These guys know what they’re doing, and of the three times that I have been here, I have gotten not just a great cocktail, but a surprisingly creative cocktail.  For instance, the first time I went to Clyde Commons and sat at their bar was the first time that I really ‘got’ Aquavit in a cocktail:

Viking Quest

  • Krogstad Aquavit
  • Barolo Chinato
  • Campari
  • Orange Juice

This cocktail is everything that a great drinks should be.  It’s immediately and obviously enjoyable, even to those who may think that they don’t like Aquavit.  And, on top of that, it’s creative and surprising.  Whomever invented this drink surely did not take the easy way out when they came up with the Viking Quest.

This time, I didn’t get the Viking Quest, I was sipping on the Weller 107proof bourbon,

Leaving here, we then went to Mint/820, the grande dame of the Portland cocktail revival.  As the story was related to me, Mint was the first real ‘cocktail’ bar in Portland, which is known for this fact, the fame of Mint/820’s owner, and for hiring really attractive female bartenders and staff.  To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about Mint/820 except on a Saturday night the bar section held a private party so we were resigned to sit in the restaurant section and that the staff was rather attractive.  Rocky had a gin and tonic…

I may be mixing up the order, but I believe that after this we went to Secret Society, “Ballroom & Recording Studio” with a nice little bar with a few seats in front of the bartender and a number of tables around the single room that constiuted the bar proper. [Note to self: start taking pictures…]  I liked this place, if not for the same quality of cocktail as we had at Clyde Common but that the bartender was friendly and the general vibe was pleasant.  Oh – it has one of the more pleasant women’s bathrooms that I’ve seen in a while.  Comfy couches, a nice big mirror…men never get this treatment.  Maybe if more of us fucked better?  Who knows.

After this, we went to one of my favorite places the first time that I went to portland: Ten-01.  Ten-01 really has a great bar program.  A) It’s a really pleasant bar at which to sit for a while, B) a good selection of spirits, and C) they have a very creative bar staff.  Both times that I have been to Ten-01, the bartender (Kelly?) was just a pleasure to watch.  One of our possee had the Île de France, another surprising and creative cocktail:

Île de France

  • Sparkling Wine
  • Cognac
  • Chartreuse

Unfortunately, I forget the exact ratio for the Cognac to the Charteuse,chartreusevep but play around with it, put it in a nice tulip glass and I guarantee you that you’ll love it.  It’s one of those cocktails where the ingredients meet each other and becomepicassocubist a wholly different drink, ‘You mean like a Long Island Iced Tea?’, dryly suggested by Robert ‘Drinkboy’ Hess. Yes, Robert.  I suppose so, like a Long Island Iced Tea.  But…in an overstated manner, similar to how one may describe a cubist-era Picasso painting as ‘childlike’.

I had the Pistache:

Pistache

  • Jamaican Rum
  • Pistachio Cordial
  • Lime

Generally, rum holds little interest for me.  My favorite rum so far has been the excellent Havana Club Anejõ, so don’t listen to much of anything that I say about rum.  But, this drink looked interesting, so I went for it and I was happily rewarded.  First of all, Kelly (?) makes the Pistachio Cordial, which he says, ‘Is like Falernum, but with pistacio instead of almond’.  Genius.  Whether he’s the genius that came up with it or someone else I do not know, but I DO know that I’m going to make some this week.  Probably, I should call them and get the recipe before spending hours on this effort, but the process is part of the fun.  Anyway – it’s a very interesting drink.

At this point, the possee broke up.  Some people went to 50 Plates to see Lance, but Robert and I had walked in to the really incredible Teardrop Lounge, Danielteardrop sat us down at the bar, and we were not leaving.  See – the Teardrop is like a really, really terrific and beautiful woman.  Is that a bit meladramatic?  Yes, but I think that you get the point – once we were in there, we were not going anywhere.  In fact, Teardrop needs it’s own Alcohology post, so I will just have to leave now and start a whole new post about this really unique and amazing bar.  Before that though, I will say that this was the last bar of the night for me.  I had seen enough bars in Portland, I had enough drinks over the last few hours and I was sure that no other place was going to top my Teardrop experience.  So, I happily sat at the bar, was handed drinks by owner Daniel Shoemakerh.  Why the fuck I did not write down each drink’s name?  I don’t know.  What the hell is my problem?

Van Winkle Whiskey

Posted in 1 on November 29, 2008 by alcohology

Thank goodness that I am not a journalist, because if I had to be non-partisan and free from bias as I write this blog that no one will ever see about the Van Winkle whiskey – I would have to worry about a visit by Edward R. Murrow’s ghost.

Simply put: The whiskey made with the Van Winkle recipes are simply some of the best whiskeys that I have ever had, from the 10yr 107proof bourbon, through the 13yr 94proof Rye, stepping next to the astoundingly great 15yr 107proof bourbon and then rising to the heights of the perfect 23yr bourbon. Hell – I didn’t even mention the 90proof 10yr, the 12yr and the 20yr bourbons, but let’s put them to the side for another time. This blog is but one small sip of the history of the Van Winkle’s large barrel of history.

That history spans back to 1875, which is the birth of Julian ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle, the scion and progenitor of the Van Winkle dynasty. In fact, if you really want to read about the family, the history, the whiskey and the people, read But Always Fine Bourbon, the story about then Van Winkle Family. Here’s the Cliff Notes version, from the Van Winkle Website:

lineagevw1The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery has a four generation history. The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in the late 1800s with Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. He was a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale house in Louisville, traveling around the state by horse and buggy. Pappy and a friend, Alex Farnsley, eventually bought the wholesale house and also purchased the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller. They merged the two companies and became the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Their prominent brands were W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still.

In May of 1935 at the age of 61, Pappy opened the newly completed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville. He had a heavy influence on the operations there until his death at the age of 91. His son, Julian, Jr. took over operations until he was forced by stockholders to sell the distillery in 1972. The rights to all of their brands were either sold with the distillery or to other distilleries.

After selling the distillery, Julian, Jr. resurrected a pre-prohibition label, the only one to which the Van Winkles kept the rights, called Old Rip Van Winkle. He used whiskey stocks from the old distillery to supply his brand. Julian junior’s son, Julian, III took over in 1981 when Julian, Jr. passed away. Julian, III has continued with the Van Winkle tradition of producing the highest quality wheated bourbon available. His son, Preston joined company in 2001 and the Van Winkles look to continue that tradition for generations to come.

There are only a few items across our globe that have so much of a higher quality than most of the rest in their class, and in this regard, the Van Winkle whiskeys surely stand out in this small family, and has for four generation. With any luck, it will “...continue that tradition for generations to come.” Well, I certainly hope so.

In the future, I will be writing more about the different labels.  Each different whiskey has its own particular nature, and it will be interesting to really go into each vintage.

pvw23yo1