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.

Ardbeg the Islay [‘i:lə]

Posted in 1 on May 10, 2009 by alcohology

arbeg_distillery

Today, the sun was barely out – a common Seattle spring day.   Being that it was Sunday, what a perfect reason for grilling some meat, don’t you think?  Out comes the grill with lots of charcoal briquettes, and after reverting to a ten-year-old boy for a few moments and playing with fire for a little while, the grill was ready for the sacrificed meat and I smelled of the cologne of forest fire.  I smelled like Ardbeg.

A few years ago having first being exposed to Scottish whisky, telling a Scottish friend that I liked Scotch, he rose an eyebrow at me for a second, stared for that moment and wryly replied in his thick Scottish brogue, ‘Scotch is what happens when I piss in a bottle mate, what you’re talking about is Scottish whisky‘.  Yes, I was talking about Scottish whisky, and today, we’re talking about Arbeg, the Islay whisky.

Isle of Islay

Isle of Islay

In my last post, I talked about Laphroaig, another Islay (pronounced ‘eye-luh’ or[‘i:lə]) whisky, so I won’t bother you with the difference between the different classifications of Scottish whisky described in that post, except to say that the most peaty and smoky whiskies in the world are made on this one small island, and Ardbeg does not mess around.

While I may smell like fire and smoke as I type this missive, my clothes smell nothing next to the smoke of a nice wee dram of Arbeg.  Off and on since 1815, the distillers at Ardbeg have always found pride in making one of the most heavily peated and delicious whiskies available, and they have never mess around.

There are whole books written about the history of Ardbeg – but here’s the sure-shot version:  Started in 1815, Ardbeg produced single-malt Scottish whisky until 1981, when the market for Scottish single-malts had dried up and the distillery was carefully put to rest and mothballed.  To make a long story short, a short time later, the world had again remembered that they love single-malts, and the Ardbeg distillery was re-opened for a full production run in 1997.

Now with Port Ellen (themselves having stopped distilling in 1983) doing the malting and peating for Ardbeg, things have changed a bit since Ardbeg did this themselves those few years and many bottles ago, but the taste has stayed true to what any Ardbeg drinker expects, and Ardbeg has four main whisky releases that are commonly found.  These are:

ardbeg10 Ardbeg 10yr – The 10yr is the most fresh of the Ardbegs that I have tasted.  And, by ‘fresh’, I mean all of the different tastes are daringly and proudly obvious.  At 46% alcohol (92proof), the malt, the peat, the smoke, the sweetness and the citrus notes are brash.  Your mouth, from the lips to the roof-palate will all at different times be treated to different tastes, each strikingly obvious.  The 10yr is a good place to start.

ardbeg17 Ardbeg 17yr – the 17yr follows the trend of the 10, but at 40% (80proof) all the fore-mentioned tastes have started to join each other, producing a more balanced and gentle islay whisky, with less peat evident, but it’s still an Ardbeg, still full of peat and stands tall against most other single-malts.

ardbeg_uigeadial Ardbeg Uigeadail – Named after the loch that provides the distillery their water, the Uigaedail joins the great single-malts to define what constitutes great Scottish whisky.  The Uigaedail is wonderfully full.  Still peaty, still smoky, but smooth as a fine cognac, and at 54.2% alcohol (108.4proof), I’m not sure how this is possible, but it’s a fact.  When you taste this Ardbeg, the flavor just coats the tongue with a sweet, nectar-like flavor.  Again, all the smoke and peat is there, but what surrounds these flavors is this fine almost fruit-like reminder of your nip that will happily last for a long time.  This whisky is a treat, no doubt.

ardbegBeist Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist – the “Beast”, as this bottle is affectionately called, is a fine representation of it’s name, holding strong at 46% (92proof).  This bottle seems a bit more obvious than the Uigeadail, to me, less balanced but obviously still a close relative but still wonderful, almost with a light spicy chocolate finish that for my taste ended quickly.  Again, very enjoyable, but in a bratty little brother kind of manner.

Bourbon is still my favorite whisky, but I’m starting to feel like I’m reliving a pleasant deja vu every time that I drink Scottish whisky, and each time this single-malt reminds me of what I am missing between these happy occasions.  Until I again enjoy a single-malt, I forget that I really do love barley-malted whisky. I forget that I like some peat and smoke, and I forget that there’s a world of whisky out there to drink, and I almost subconsciously do not drink it that often in order to enjoy this experience over and over again, I do believe.

ardbeg_bottle

Laphroaig

Posted in 1 on March 31, 2009 by alcohology

laphroaig_top1Apparently, Seattle’s weather is very similar to Scotland’s, so says Simon Brooking, Laproaig’s Master International Ambassador.  If that’s the case, then it’s starting to hint towards an illusion of spring  in Scotland, the citizenry becoming a little stir-crazy.

Yesterday, around 25 of us stir-crazy Seattleites rallied to get ourselves downtown to meet Mr. Brooking, who was in town to talk to us with much song and poetry mixed in about Laphroaig whisky.laphroaig-10yr_v

Have you ever been to a discussion about a spirit with one of the grand experts of the art and science at your grasp?  Well, it’s a pleasure, let me tell you.  Want to taste the actual barley that results in Laphroaig?  Well, ask Simon to come by and hell bring some for you on which to snack.  Want to smell exactly what the peat that so flavors many Scottish Single Malts smells like when it’s burnt?  Then invite Simon to bring his blocks and give him some matches.  Want to hear some ribald stories about kilts…?

In this close room of 25 people, there were experts on whisky ‘Mr. Brooking, are your barrels a #3 or #4 char?‘  There were fans of Laphroaig, ‘I hear that you have some 25yr stuck in your boot…?‘  And, there were a few of the uninitiated, ‘So,  is Laphroaig – Did I say that correctly? – is it very different from Irish whisky?

As we chose our tables, we noticed that each seat had four glasses in front of us.  In these glasses were small tastes of Ardmore Single Malt, Laphroaig 10yr, Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Laphroaig 15yr.  The Ardmore was a pleasant dram, but we were there to taste this most famous of the smoky and peaty Islay whiskies [pronounced ‘eye-luh’ (ī’lā, ī’lə)].

Some basic facts?

  • Laphroaig is the oldest of the nine Islay whiskies, which means that they are located on the Isle of Islay – which not surprisingly means ‘Island of Island‘.  Those clever Scots!
  • Laphroaig started in the early 1800’s, around 1815 when; again with little surprise, it was discovered by the Johnston family that it was a bit more profitable and enjoyable and less maloderous to distill whisky than raise the hardy Highland Cow.
  • Lagavulin– another Islay single malt – started when bad-blood caused the head-brewer of Laphroaig to be hired away to start a new distillery.
  • Laphroaig was the first to pioneer the now standard custom of aging Sottish whisky in used American Bourbon barrels, which commonly are apparently used up to three times or around 50 years, whichever comes first.
  • Prince Charles his’self happens to have a favorite Single Malt, and that Single Malt happens to be…you guessed it…

princecharleslaphroaig

Now that I think of it and before we forget – let’s real fast do a quick re-cap of what constitutes Scottish Whisky and Single-Malt in general.

  • Obviously, all Scottish whisky has to be distilled and aged in Scotland, just like all bourbon must be distilled in America, all Irish whisky in Ireland, Cognac brandy in the Cognac region and Bordeaux wine in the Bordeaux region of France,  etc…
  • All Scottish Whisky is spelled WITHOUT the ‘e’ as in American Whiskey.
  • Scottish ‘Single Malt’ means that ONE particular kind of Barley Malt is used to distill that whisky.
  • There are six distinctive and separate regions in Scotland where Scottish Single Malt is distilled, those regions are: Campbletown, Highland, Island, Islay, Lowland and Speyside (my personal favorite).
whiskyregions1

Scotland's Whisky Regions

Simon didn’t just happen to breeze on through Seattle – it was no lucky accident that we were able to hear him speak about Laphroaig.  Simon was in town because Seattle is lucky enough to twice a year host the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America’s ‘16th Annual Single Malt Extravaganza‘.  At this bonny event, held at the tony Seattle bottlesRainier Club (jeans, tennis shoes and t-shirts not allowed, there’s a serious dress code), one was able to taste up to 85 single malts and a grand number of blends, also.  For the most part, this event has most of the brands of which you’re already aware.  BUT, the grand fun is tasting them neck to neck and really being able to learn the differences between them.  That said, here’s a secret for you: If you’re still there towards the end of the event, many of the reps will quietly start pouring some serious whisky.  We’re talking a Chivas Regal 21 year.chivas211  Highland park 25highland251 and 30 years.  And, please let me tell you about the 25 year Laphroaig, which is described by Dave Broom of the must-have Whisky Magazine as, “Light, lactic and slightly grubby. Milking a cow in a mucky byre. In time, suet pudding, slightly rotting fish and butter. Very odd.”  Well, Mr. Broom, I hate to quibble, and I am sure that my palate is nowhere near as experienced as yours, but I would like to suggest that this was one of the best single malts that I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.  “Milking a cow in a mucky bryre”?  “…suet pudding, slightly rotting fish and butter“, Mr. Broom?  This must be the same poet who once described an unnamed single malt as tasting reminiscent of “longshoreman’s underarm“.  Ah, those Scots! 

To make a long story short (too late, I know…), Laphroaig is one of the rare treasures in the spirits world.  Laphroaig’s history, it’s defining characteristic, it’s control of the mindspace in the world of Single Malts makes Laphroaig a true titan in their clutch of the world’s interests – and, deservedly so. 

Thank you Mr. Brooking.  If I had not met you, I’d not have heard those Scottish songs and poems, those interesting stories involving kilts, and I’d SURELY not have tasted the Laphroaig 25yr.  Thank you again.

Spirit Forums

Posted in 1 on March 3, 2009 by alcohology

rsz_diaryFor oh’so many reasons, this ol’ Internets thing that we’re both using is fantastic.  Today alone while playing around online, I have planned a two separate events: a Gin and a second Absinthe event for the Washington State Bartender’s Guild (WSBG), I have argued politics, I have read the new menu at Portland’s Teardrop Lounge and I have purchased pomegranate molasses online after reading about how one actually makes pomegranate molasses…  The most amazing thing that I did today is sit down here on this comfy couch at Liberty in order to opine via Alcohology’s blog after first being inspired by not just Teardrop’s fantastic cocktail menu but by a great forum for cocktail enthusiasts.  This act is “amazing” simply because this act is possible – thanks to the ol’ Internets.

I am most thankful for what many probably still do now know about: Internet Forums.  These forums where groups of like-minded people meet to discuss – well, whatever they like, and these forums can really be amazing additions to our lives.  For instance, think of an aspect of your life that really captures your interests…  What do you love to do?  What do you love to learn about?  What do you love to help others learn about?  Well, chances are, there’s a web-forum somewhere to allow you to indulge this interest.

And, what’s the most amazing thing about these forums?  Picture this:  Let’s take my particular interest du moment: Cocktails/Spirits/Distilling.  On many cocktail forums, it’s not rare to have top selling authors of cocktail books, celebrated bloggers or other world-class experts join the discussions just like anyone else with a computer, a keyboard and an internet connection.

'Imbibe', by David Wondrich

'Imbibe', by David Wondrich

For instance, have you ever read any David Wondrich?  He educates millions in every one of his columns about cocktails for Esquire magazine, he writes fantastic books and has a flair for the word and a flair for the creative cocktail which he has thankfully combined into a career.  How about Robert Hess?drinkboy He’s the guy that almost 10 years ago created the home on the web for people interested in Cocktails when as a Microsoft Exec, he started the Drinkboy forums on MSN.  Until recently when the Drinkboy forums and ever other MSN form was closed – he had thousand upon thousands of cocktail enthusiasts regularly coming to the forum to read, learn ask questions and give advice – all for free.

So, in terms of liquor forums, which might you find interesting?

The Chanticleer Society

First, let’s look at the most important pan-spirits forum and website – The Chanticleer Society,chaticleer1where their motto is, Ad Galli Caudam Propagandam: For the good of the cocktail.  Says their charter, “In an effort to establish an organization that will be designed by cocktailians, for cocktailians, and allow them to gather together and exchange information and insights, we have created the “Chanticleer Society“…One goal of the Chanticleer Society is to establish ambassadors around the world who will be able to provide local details and information about bars, bartenders, and cocktail trends which will aid others in knowing where in their area to go for a great cocktail experience.

On any day in the Chanticleer Society’s forums, you will see some of the world’s most creative, knowledgeable and famous ‘cocktailians’ discussing the the minutia of the cocktail, of spirits and of the world where these cocktails and spirits are consumed.  Just today alone, there are discussions about Cocktail Shaker History, of Old Tom Gin, of books and great bars and bar experiences.  “Cocktail Shaker History”?  You’ll be surprised that people can discuss with authority the issues relating to this history – which goes back to the time when people were casually drinking Old Tom Gin.

Straight Bourbon

Straight Bourbon is the place to go to discuss bourbon.  Similar to the membership of the Chanticleer Society, at straightbourbonStraight Bourbon, you will find the worlds most experienced and knowlegable people in this context casually contributing to the discussions.  Over 80 different bourbons are still distilled and aged here in America with some labels going back to the turn of the century, and believe me when I tell you that not a nuance is missed!  Want to worry over the question of whether the Old Charter 13yr is or is not being discontinued?  Or, ever dream about reading one punters review of the tasty Four Roses Single Barrel, followed up by a dozen or so comments and shared reviews?  No problem.  You’ll find all that and more.  Enjoy.

Whisky.com

whiskydotcomFor Whisky – the non-American spelling, without the ‘e’ as is the practice for American ‘Whiskey’, there are a number of sites, but the most interesting and successful is the site at Whisky.com.  There’s not much to say about this one, but there is a close-following to this site,whiskymag so look there for any non-American-related whisky.  If you really need a question answerd about an odd single-malt, you may also want to try the forum over at Whisky Magazine, a great magazine to which any whisk(e)y lover should have a subscription.

The American Distiller Institute

Now, this one is for the true liquor geeks.  How is your favorite spirit actually made?  Well, here’s the place to not just read to find adi1out, but – you will actually be able to communicate with the actual distiller if you would like.  And, here’s where to go to see the fireworks, too.  Want to see how two distillers really feel about each other’s products?  Well, dig on in!  This is the full-contact option of the spirit’s related forums out there.

In online forums, great and lasting friendships can be made – all the while for the most part the people never having met each other.  I can think of some forums and how I can tell you tons of intimate information about a number of people – yet I don’t know them a’tall.  Another great aspect of this is the more you get into any one specific issue – you will find out about different kinds of get-togethers, perhaps finally get to meet your long-time ‘friends’.  Whether it’s Tales of the Cocktail or the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, for me – there’s a good chance to meet those that I’ve always wanted to meet, and maybe even stare down anyone that crossed me…

One last cautionary suggestion:  It’s really easy to express oneself in a manner different than how we would normally speak to each other in person, face to face.  I rarely say ‘That’s stupid‘ to someone in the real world, but man o’ man am I challenged to not write something like that from time to time online…

Enjoy.  Please let me know about any forums that you find, I’d love to see what else is out there.

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.