Home Macerated Gin – Part 1

As part of the Mixoloseum’s Beefeater series, I was inspired to try and recreate it at home. I had been wanting to try a home-steeped gin of the sort I’d been reading about on the blogs. Obviously, I couldn’t redistill after maceration for a proper gin, but perhaps something potable could come out of it. I read (incorrectly, as it turns out) on the internet that Beefeater was made from the following botanicals: juniper, coriander, angelica root and seed, cassia, licorice, bitter orange peel, and lemon peel. Well, since I have all of those except angelica seed, I decided to give it a go.

Starting with a base spirit of 47% alcohol from a blend of vodka and high proof unaged whiskey, I added the juniper in the evening before bed. In the morning, I added the rest of the ingredients. The pungency of the juniper in the morning made me hopeful. Smells like gin!

ginbottleSylvania Gin #1

  • 350 ml 47% alcohol
  • 1 Tbsp crushed juniper (purple)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed coriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried angelica root
  • 1/4 tsp licorice root
  • 1″ stick of cassia (‘regular’ cinnamon)
  • 1 tsp lemon peel (fresh zest)
  • 1 tsp Seville orange peel (fresh zest) + 1 big dash of dried orange peel tincture

Soak juniper for 24 hours, rest of botanicals for 9 hours. Fine strain.

In the evening, I filtered out the botanicals with a fine nylon strainer bag, and then I tasted it. The juniper pungency got  a little lost under the overload of citrus peel. In fact, I seem to have made orange gin. Checking back with my sources, I realized that I had screwed up the ratios. I s’pose that’s what I get, trying to invent recipes early in the morning before work. Anyway, the coriander amount is supposed to be half of the juniper, the rest of the spices one tenth of the juniper and the peels one hundredth of the juniper. Good thing I have an accurate scale for the next batch.

In order to taste my new gin, I mixed a fitty-fitty martini with some Martini and Rossi Bianco. I did not add orange bitters, since I definitely overdid it on the orange addition. Surprisingly, the cocktail was pretty good! The sweetness of the Bianco balanced out the bitter orange of the gin quite well.fittyfitty

Unfortunately, after making up the batch, I discovered that the ingredient list I had found was wrong. For the record, the correct 9 botanicals are: juniper, coriander, angelica root and seed, bitter almond, orris root, licorice, bitter orange peel, and lemon peel. Can you guess what Part 2 of this post will be?

Beefeater Gin Review

As part of a series of Beefeater product features over at the Mixoloseum, last Thursday’s Drink Night (TDN) theme was Beefeater gin. As usual at the Mixoloseum Bar, many original drinks were created, submitted and enjoyed. The next online event will feature Beefeater 24, a new luxury gin and its introduction to the American market. This new product is differentiated from their original one by the additions of Japanese sencha and Chinese green teas, as well as grapefruit peels.

Dan Warner, brand ambassador for Beefeater gin, joined in the fun. He shared with us some fascinating facts about Beefeater, like the fact that there are only 6 employees at their sole plant in London producing 2.4 million cases a year. Beefeater is the only major distiller left producing London Dry gin in the city of London. He also dropped tidbits like the Negroni being a favorite of Desmond Payne, Beefeater’s celebrated Master Distiller. Dan even hinted that he might return on the TDN discussing Beefeater 24 on 4/30.

beefeater

The Gin

I’ve always been pleased with Beefeater as a mixing gin, but in order to taste the individual components, I tasted it neat and then slightly diluted with water. The first smell on opening a bottle yielded the sharp aroma of juniper and citrus. Upon sipping the undiluted spirit, I tasted the rounded soft spiciness of the coriander. The mouth feel was rich and even a bit oily. The mid palate had a bit of a pleasant woody flavor, probably from the licorice and angelica root. The finish was bitter but not lingering. Overall the impression was very crisp and clean.

They don’t call this London Dry Gin for nothing. Beefeater is proud of their 24 hour maceration claiming that the “long steeping time gives a gentler extraction, but builds complexity, and fixes the aroma in the spirit more solidly.” The resulting bold and clean flavor makes it a great mixing gin. I love the sharp citrus tang of Beefeater relative to other gins. When you mix a drink with Beefeater, you know that you’ve put gin in there! Sometimes you want the gin to be the star, like in a gin and tonic, a Martinez, or a Clover Club. Orange drinks like a Bronx or Monkey Gland really benefit from a bold gin like this; otherwise the drink can get a little soft on you. But other times you want your gin to play more of a  supportive role. For a drink like a Suffering Bastard, I recommend a mellower, more rounded gin.

Just recently at the market, I happened to come across fresh bergamot fruit, and having been waiting over a year and a half  since reading about the following recipe at Married with Dinner, I snapped up the last one and made the following:
fridayafterfive

Friday After FiveMarried with Dinner

  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
  • 3/4 ounce bergamot juice
  • 1 dash Herbsaint, absinthe or Pernod

Shake over ice, and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a bergamot twist, if desired.

I have to say that this was my first experience with a real bergamot and I was totally impressed. As soon as my peeler bit into the peel, the pleasantly sharp odor of fine Earl Grey tea sprang into the air and surrounded me. I peeled the whole thing and set the peels out to dry for later use. This bergamot was quite tart, so I ended up adding a dash more Chartreuse to sweeten it a bit. The Friday After Five was still pretty tart, but the aromas of the bergamot peel worked well with the aromatics of the gin and the herbal sweetness of the Chartreuse. I was reminded of Audrey Sander’s MarTEAni, made with Earl Grey tea infused gin. So much so that I was inspired to invent the:

Trans-Europa

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1/4 oz Earl Grey infused gin (Tanqueray – 4 tbsp loose tea to a bottle for 2 hours)
  • 3/4 oz bitter Seville orange juice
  • 1/4 oz green Chartreuse
  • 1/4 simple syrup (or more as needed)

Shake, strain and serve up with a bitter orange twist.

I’m a big fan of Beefeater gin because of its bold, high quality taste coupled with its affordable price point. I have been stocking Beefeater as my house gin for some time now because sometimes you just need a gin with some oomph when mixing. Personally, I’m really excited about the American release of Beefeater 24. I hope you can come on down to the Beefeater 24 TDN we are having on 4/30.

Highballs

So what is a highball? A highball is just a base spirit and mixer served over ice, ideally in a tall glass. Whiskey soda, rum’n’coke, gin’n’tonic, and 7′n’7 are easy to say and even easier to make. They are usually quite forgiving as to the amounts and qualities of various ingredients used.  However, Dale DeGroff in The Essential Cocktail cautions that a highball shouldn’t be too strong – if you want a strong drink, have a Martini or a Manhattan. A good guideline for a highball is 1 1/2 ounces spirit, maximum, and 4-5 oz of mixers.

So let’s start with one of my favorites, the Presbyterian. It’s like an upgraded whiskey and soda, but drier than a whiskey and ginger.
presby

Presbyterian (Degroff)

  • 1 1/2 oz rye, bourbon or blended whiskey
  • 2 oz ginger beer
  • 2 oz soda

Build over ice in a tall glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

A proper ‘Press’ needs a strong ginger beer with some oomph to it. Sweet supermarket ginger ales won’t cut it. I really like Rittenhouse rye in this one, but an affordable aged bourbon like Elijah Craig 12 y/o is also quite tasty. In the past, an economical blended whiskey would have been used, as the sweetness and carbonation of the ginger and soda takes the harsh edges off of the whiskey.

The Fallback

A common topic of discussion when cocktail geeks get together is what to order in bars that you know couldn’t make a ‘proper’ cocktail if you explained it to them for an hour. Highballs are a great fallback because most bartenders know them and they are hard to screw up. Even in cocktailian bars where every drink is carefully measured, the highballs get free-poured. However, that doesn’t mean that a sophisticated drink is out of reach, although you might have to talk your next airport bartender through this next one.
americano2

Americano (DeGroff)

  • 1 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano)
  • 3-4 oz soda (or as little as a splash)

Build over ice in a tall glass. Garnish with an orange slice, if desired.

An Americano is a very satisfying refresher. I find that it makes a good introduction to Campari, as the bitterness is balanced a bit by the sweetness of the vermouth. Apparently the name comes from the American fashion of mixing different boozes together, which was somewhat novel in turn of the last century Italy. By the way, this drink is also the inspiration for the Negroni. The story goes that the Count wanted something stronger and had the soda replaced with gin.

Another fascinating topic is where the term ‘highball’ comes from, since it precedes the drink. The glass, presumably, was named after the drink. One early use of the word was in railroading -  the Encyclopedia Britanica says “One early type of American signal consisted of a large ball that was hoisted to the top of a pole to inform the engineman that he might proceed (hence, the origin of the term highball).”

The Glass

A highball glass is a straight sided cylindrical glass from 8-12 ounces. I’ll go out on a limb and say that a highball glass should be 10 oz for use with the pre-ice recipes of about 6 ounces that we’ve been using. But just try to buy one or two glasses that small at a homewares store. The American home market seems to demand bigger and bigger glasses -to the point where the highball has become a 14 oz chimney glass appropriate for a Zombie and all its lovely ice. Commercial service still uses smaller glass, but unfortunately a case of 10 oz glasses at a restaurant supply place is 36 glasses, probably more than you’ll ever need.

Highballs do not have to be carbonated – they can be made with juice as well. As an example, here is one I recently whipped up for a guest.madras

Madras

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 3 oz cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1 1/2 oz orange juice

Build over ice in a tall glass.

One last thing about highballs – they are, of course, excellent hot weather drinks. Thirst quenching and refreshing, a tall icy gin and tonic is practically emblematic of summer.

Vieux Carré

New Orleans has been on my mind this week, with Mardi Gras being this last Tuesday and all. I’ve found that one of the more elusive classic New Orleans drinks to get out on the town is the Vieux Carré. It seems that few bars, even at Southern or Cajun/Creole restaurants, deem it necessary to have Bénédictine on hand, presumably due to the expense. I would remind them that there has always been a distinctly French influence on the cuisine of New Orleans, and this drink only uses 1 teaspoon. And you just can’t duplicate this drink without it.

The Vieux Carré is one of the few drinks that we conclusively know the origin of; it was invented in 1938 by Walter Bergeron at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. Vieux Carré (meaning ‘Old Square’) is also one of the local names for the French Quarter. vieuxcarre

Vieux Carré

  • 1 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz cognac
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 tsp Bénédictine
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Stir with cracked ice, strain and garnish with a lemon twist and its oils.

This is a fine and balanced drink that turns out to be very sensitive to the exact amounts called for. When proper care is exercised in measuring, I love the way the spiciness of the rye and the sugar notes of the cognac mellow with the sweetness of the vermouth and the Bénédictine. Then the drink gets a quadruple blast of herbal complexity from the herbal liqueur, the vermouth and the two kinds of bitters. It’s kind of like a Manhattan, but smoother, sweeter, more refined, and more complex.

If I use 100 proof rye, I’ll back it down to 3/4 oz. Be careful when measuring the Benedictine; use a proper kitchen teaspoon and don’t overdo it or the drink will veer into cough syrup territory. While I have used brandy as a sub for the cognac, there is definitely room here for a nicer cognac. You can control the amount of water added by the fineness of the ice. Freshly hammered ice with a reasonable portion of crushed/powdered ice makes for a smoother potion. And, of course, with a classic mostly whiskey and bitters cocktail like this, be sure to get a goodly spray of lemon peel oil on the surface and rub the peel around the rim for a wonderful citrus entry as you bring the glass to your lips.

The Vieux Carré is really one of the most enjoyable signature New Orleans cocktails and it is a shame that more of the restaurants purporting to deliver the unique cuisine of the Crescent City do not serve it on their menus.

A note on pronunciation – I’ve heard a number of folks put the full Gallic gargle on the end ‘r’. But both proper French (note the accent on the é) and current New Orleans usage is ‘voo cah-ray’ or ‘voh cah-ray’, and of course some are going to say ‘view cah-ray’.

Margarita – America’s #1 Tequila Delivery Device

This last Sunday (2/22) was National Margarita Day. It may seem like a strange time of year to schedule this, but my hunch is that it is because limes are in season right now, and the best margaritas use fresh squeezed lime juice. Whatever you may say about commercial margaritas, we can thank this drink for bringing tequila to America. As recently as the 1950′s, tequila was seen as a tough man’s drink and wasn’t very popular at all. Let’s shake one up.

Margarita (7-4-3)

  • 1 3/4 oz Tequila
  • 1 oz orange liqueur (Cointreau/Citronge)
  • 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

Shake with cracked ice until frosty and strain into a chilled, salt rimmed (optional) glass.

margarita

No, I didn't drink that monster all in one sitting.

A margarita is really a simple drink, basically a New Orleans
Tequila Sour and a predecessor to the Cosmo, with its roots traced back to the Daisy. In fact, ‘margarita’ means ‘daisy’ in Spanish.

With so few ingredients, you really need to pay attention to each one. Make sure to get a ‘puro‘ (100% agave) tequila and look for ‘Hecho en Mexico‘ on the label. Otherwise it is likely to be low quality stuff shipped over the border in a tanker and USA bottled. Some prefer a blanco here, claiming the oaky notes of a reposado or añejo are unwelcome, but I disagree. Obviously the base tequila makes a huge difference, but my experience had been that this is a classic example of the kind of mixology that gives you a way to use more inexpensive bottlings. My house mixing tequila was the Margaritaville blanco (a cheap mixto), but I recently picked up some Lunazul reposado. It’s 100% agave and available at a very reasonable price point. Next, do yourself a favor and trade up that old Triple Sec for something better. Jay over at Oh Gosh! has a great write-up of bottlings. Continuing on with the ingredients, you absolutely must use fresh limes, and if necessary adjust sweetness with the liqueur to balance out any extra tart limes.

Variations

How much variation before it is no longer a margarita? Margaritas are quite bastardized these days, but the recipe is surprisingly flexible. I currently favor the 3-2-1 recipe I first tried after reading Regan’s Joy of Mixology, mostly because it is easy to remember. Before that I used a recipe of approximately 4-3-2. There are schools of thought that use some lemon, maybe some simple syrup and a fair number of the current crop of gourmet recipes includes some zest from the citrus. Gran Marnier is a common component of a ‘Cadillac Margarita’, but this is starting to stray a little far for my taste. Blood orange juice, pomegranate, mango and even passion fruit (lillikoi) have made their way into ‘margaritas’ I’ve seen in restaurants.

Going simpler, there are those that substitute agave nectar for the orange liqueur, to better taste the tequila, but I have trouble calling that a margarita.

Anyway, don’t forget about the venerable margarita when you are looking for a drink to make. I don’t make a heck of a lot of margaritas around the house (at least not in the winter) but it is a classic for a reason. And next time you find yourself sipping on a top-shelf tequila or mezcal, think about the humble margarita and its role in bringing that spirit to the American market.

Rye – Back from the Brink

There was a time not too long ago when rye whiskey almost disappeared, another victim of Prohibition. It didn’t, though, and thanks to the internet, rye has enjoyed something of a revival in America. So much so that there have even been shortages caused by its rapid return to semi-popularity. However, despite this new popularity, you can still get blank stares from cocktail waitresses on Main St bars and questions like, “Is that a kind of whiskey?”

Yes, Virginia, it is a kind of whiskey. Believe it or not, a whiskey made from rye, which is a close cereal relative of wheat. For American producers to label their bottles as rye whiskey, the mash bill must be at least 51% rye, among other things. Using the word ‘straight’ adds a requirement of at least 2 years of aging in new, charred oak barrels. Canadian producers are under no such restrictions, and currently very little rye is used in whisky making north of the border. The ever reliable wikipedia even claims that Canadian law allows the label ‘rye whisky’ on products that contain no rye at all! That said, there are a few 100% rye whiskys (Alberta Springs, for one) being made in Canada, and I’d love to try them. Banff is lovely this time of year…

Rye can also feature in the recipe for a bourbon whiskey. Bourbons are only required to use 51% corn, leaving plenty of room for other grains, especially one as distinctive as rye. It is commonly used and a number of bourbons show more or less of rye’s unique musty and spicy flavor. For instance, the Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon could be mistaken for a rye in a blind tasting and the Four Roses Single Barrel 100° is 35% rye.

rye Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Old Overholt and Rittenhouse are the major brands on the market. Other ryes are basically specialty items, with the possible exception of the Sazerac 6 year old – called the ‘Baby Saz’ to differentiate it from its 18 year old stablemate. Pikesville Rye is the only surviving Maryland rye, and has limited distribution. Moving up the price scale a little, you’ll find the Tuthilltown Manhattan Rye and Michters US1. In the ‘very expensive’ category, look for A.H. Hirsch, Van Winkle, Black Maple Hill and Sazerac.

I recently acquired the Thomas Handy Sazerac from the Buffalo Trace 2008 Antique Collection. Maybe I’ll make a Manhattan with some Carpano Antica and cherry vanilla bitters one of these days. For now, I am content to sip it with some water and a bit of ice as it is barrel strength, a tongue blistering 127.5 proof. It is truly a joy of a sipper, starting out with a vanilla, filling the mouth with a wonderful buttery texture, and finishing with notes of black pepper and cloves.

Mixing wise, rye is a great ‘bottom’ or ‘bass note’, that pairs well with sweeter or brighter things like citrus, Benedictine or St Germain, yet has enough punch not to get lost in the mix. One of the best ways to enjoy it is in an Imbibe!-style Fancy Rye Cocktail or a Sazerac.

SazeracSazerac (a là Imbibe!)

  • 2 ounce rye whiskey (Rittenhouse)
  • 1 scant teaspoon simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 dash absinthe ( as a rinse)

Stir with fine cracked ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a nice curly lemon twist.

Wow, that is fantastic! Ordering these out at bars usually results in a sickly sweet rye syrup, and when I usually make these freehand they have much more bitters than this. Carefully following Thomas Handy’s (by way of Wondrich) recipe is well worth it.

Another classic cocktail utilizing rye is the Manhattan. However, only having space for one more drink, I couldn’t neglect that wonderful Negroni variation known as the Boulevardier.

Boulevardier

Boulevardier

  • 1 ounce rye whiskey (Old Overholt)
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1-2 dash rhubarb bitters (optional)

Stir well over cracked ice for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry or a twist of orange peel.

A fine, balanced cocktail with the Campari and rye characters tamed but still present to be savored. Another plus – the basic recipe is simple enough that you might be able to get a decent one out of your bartender.

A few links for those interested in further reading:

Here’s Mud in Your Rye

How to Make it at Home

All but Lost, Rye Is Revived as the Next Boutique Find

For some tastings of various ryes, check out Paul Clarke’s nine post series at The Rye Chronicles and LeNell’s Rye Class.

Hawaii Drinkin’

This week, I got the chance to take a vacation in Hawaii and lucky for you (or maybe not), a laptop joined our trip at the last minute. So here is my quick and extremely subjective impression of drinking here on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Drinking in Hawaii

Bars in Hawaii are pretty similar to mainland bars, except maybe for the gorgeous sea views and general lack of walls. I get the impression that locals primarily drink beer. While a lot of rum is on sale in the local stores, I think most of that gets poured into Coke. Visitors appear to want one or more of the following: whatever they have at home, something luxurious to celebrate being in Hawaii, and/or something tropical. And by tropical, I mean rum and fruit. Of the ‘burgeoning cocktail culture’, there were no traces to be found. But then again, the Big Island is not where I would look if I was serious about finding it. The big city- Honolulu, on Oahu- would be much more likely to reflect mainland trends.

Don the Beachcomber

Mai Tai from a luau, not Don the BeachcomberBefore leaving home, I checked with my tiki sources (OK, TraderTiki and critiki) and turned up nothing of tiki interest to visit on the Big Island. So imagine my heart-warming surprise (and dread) when finding a listing in a guide book for Don the Beachcomber’s Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Kona Resort! Having honeymooned at the Royal Kona some years ago, I knew where this was, and also knew that any bar would be better than what had been there. Rum and sour mix Mai Tai, anyone? Donn Beach himself was clearly not involved in this new endeavor, having died in 1989. We had to see and drink for ourselves.

We got there before sunset and snagged two house Mai Tais, which turned out to be pretty decent. The “Don’s Original Mai Tai” was made with Bacardi 8 rum, orgeat, curacao, mystery fruit juice and a float of Whaler’s dark rum. The menu claimed the fruit included lime, but it tasted primarily of pineapple. They repeatedly claim on their logo and advertising that Donn Beach invented the original Mai Tai. I thought that the controversy over who invented the Mai Tai had been settled in Trader Vic’s favor, but it lives on, at least on the internet and here.

We flagged down a manager and asked for the story. Turns outs that a bunch of resort manager types had been walking around their Lahaina property and passed one of the old, boarded-up Don the Beachcomber restaurants. They decided to revive the legend and bought the rights to use the name. They redecorated the existing bar and restaurant at the Royal Kona Resort, which both have gorgeous wide open surfside views of the sunset over Kailua Bay. For you tiki-philes, yes, they have gone ahead with full tiki décor. There are Hawaiian style tiki heads placed around the bar, a trio of floor-to-ceiling concrete tiki idols in the center of the main grill room there, and a plethora of tiki torches lighting up the surf around the lanai. I apologize for the lack of photos; my digital camera is one casualty of this trip.

Moving through the menu, we tried the Don’s Plantation Mai Tai and the Tiki Tai. The Plantation had orgeat, apricot brandy, a potent blend of dark and light rums (Bacardi white, Whaler’s Dark, and two other unidentified rums) and fresh squeezed lime juice. (Hand squeezed from the garnish wedges for some reason). The Tiki Tai was very similar to the Original, but used a big dollop of very fine shaved ice. The rest of the menu features about 6 Mai Tais, as well as Navy Grog and a Scorpion. After that it veers into such crowd-pleasers as a Chocolate Martini and a Ginger Mango Martini. The fact that happy hour prices coincide with a glorious Hawaiian sunset makes these forgivable. And Don the Beachcomber has a much better Mai Tai than I expected to find on this Big Island vacation.