The Home Bar

Creating craft cocktails at home can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be.  I personally prefer easy, and if you’re set up right, even complicated drinks can be simple to make.

The first thing you need to decide is how much you want to invest.  Booze is expensive.  It also takes up a lot of space, which adds to the cost.  I suggest you start small.  First, small is less expensive and you can spread your cost over time as you expand your bar.  Second, if you try to accomplish too much too quickly, you will buy things you won’t use.

Once you’ve settled on a budget, you will need to decide what to buy, where to store it and where you will make your cocktails.  The following are some thoughts on these subjects.

The Shopping Lists:

          The Tools

          The Ingredients

Putting it all together

         Setting Up Your Bar

         Getting Started

Just a few things to know before you dive in.

Mixing

Straining and Filtering

Muddling

Sweeteners

Juices

There are several popular cocktails that are simple to make and require only a few ingredients.  Check out these:

  • The Old Fashioned

    The first cocktail.  It is a base liquor, usually rye or bourbon, plus bitters and a sweetener.  That’s it.  No red candy cherries and no muddling orange peels.  So check out these examples to get started

  • The Martini

    Either gin or vodka.  Add a fortified wine, typically vermouth, and stir.  Sorry James.  This cocktail is easy to make and to customize.  Look here for examples

  • The Manhattan

    A popular classic cocktail that has remained virtually the same for decades.  Check out the classic and some variations here.

  • The Margarita

    The famous drink from Mexico.  Use good tequila and fresh lime.  Here are a few easy recipes.

  • Sours

    This is a wide ranging group of drinks.  From a whiskey sour to Tiki drinks, they’re booze and juice.  Look here and start shaking.




Barrel Aged Cocktails

Barrel CropPage updated April 28, 2016

Read on to learn the basics of barrel aging and how to get started.  To see some additional barrel aged cocktails and spirits go here.

Once the concept was introduced by Jeffrey Morgenthaler around 2010, barrel aged cocktails became the next great drink and are now easily found at upscale bars across the country.  When a cocktail is barrel aged it takes on flavors from the wood and if it contains a fortified wine, from some oxidation as well.  The result can be amazing.  The idea seems easy enough: make up a cocktail, pour it into a barrel and wait a few weeks.  Of course, there is a little more to consider, especially if you are wanting to do this at home.  I do recommend trying this at home.  So, let’s look at how best to do this, and at some choices you will need to make.

We are going to discuss:

  1. What does the barrel do to the cocktail
  2. Obtaining and using a barrel at home
  3. Which types of cocktails lend themselves to barrel aging
  4. Step by step examples
  5. A possible alternative for similar results

What is happening to my drink?!

Barrel Aged Negroni BarrelWhen you barrel age a cocktail you are doing two things:

  • Allowing the liquid to oxidize
  • Infusing the drink with wood – and with whatever was previously in the barrel.

We generally consider oxidation to be a bad thing.  Think of red wine that has been sitting on the counter a week after it was opened.  Actually, oxidation is essential for the development of wine – especially fortified wines such as Sherry and Madeira.  It is oxidation occurring after fermentation that is generally considered a bad thing.  In this case, oxidation will develop flavors of apple, cider, nuts (especially almonds), candied fruit and yeast. There is also a bitter component.  The flavor can be described as “flat,” with a loss of fruitiness.  In a barrel aged cocktail, this presents itself as a mellowing of flavors.  The extent to which each of the above mentioned flavors occur will depend on the contents of your cocktail.  The process of oxidation is most pronounced with drinks containing fortified wines.

Manhattan Barrel Aged InhancedAs noted, barrel aging is simply infusing with charred wood. If you age a cocktail in a new barrel, the flavors added to the liquid are frequently described as a combination of bitterness, vanilla, nut, caramel, walnut, coconut, and clove.  If your barrel is used, it will impart additional flavors from whatever was in it previously.  Examples are cherry from sherry and sweet spice from bourbon.  All of this becomes more interesting when the barrel’s previous occupant was a different cocktail.  I will discuss this more later, but for now let’s move on.

What kind of barrel should I get and from where?

Like any infusion, the greater the surface area of the solids to volume of liquid – the faster the process.  This means that smaller barrels will infuse (barrel age) the cocktail more quickly than larger ones.

Barrel Aged Sherry BWThe other consideration in deciding the barrel size is: How much do you want to make of a single cocktail?  A liter barrel will make 8-12 drinks.  Larger barrels will yield more drinks, but you can make multiple small batches with smaller barrels.  Plus, as we will discuss, you have to keep the barrel going.  You can’t let it sit empty – you have to keep using it.  So, keep in mind how many barrel aged cocktails you will serve.

We chose to go with two, one liter barrels.  Two barrels allows some flexibility.  The one liter size will produce the number of barrel aged drinks that we are likely to serve.

Barrels are available at some high end liquor stores and online.  Try:  Tuthilltown or Oak Barrels Ltd.  We ordered from Tuthilltown.  Just be sure that the barrel is charred and made for actual use and not for decoration.

Which Cocktails to Try?

Barrel Aged Negroni SmAs noted, cocktails containing some fortified wine lend themselves best to the aging process.  This is most probably due to the oxidation of the fortified wine adding to the complexity of the finished cocktail.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to barrel age a drink made solely from already aged ingredients: such as barrel aging an Old Fashioned.  We thus far, have aged a Martini and various Manhattans and Negronis.

An interesting side product has been the Sherry and whiskey that we used to flavor the barrels.  The Sherry took on a pleasant flavor of oak with dried cherries and figs.  The whiskey initially began to taste like a young bourbon with vanilla, cinnamon and clove.  After the barrel was used for a Negroni, the whiskey went back in for a few weeks.  This time there was an added dried fruit and richness along with the smoky, charred oak.  After the Martini was aged, the whiskey picked up herbal notes from the dry vermouth and gin.  What we try with the Sherry and whiskey will be a tale for another day!

The Step by Step How to

Initial Rinse and Soak

The first thing you will need to do, after obtaining your barrel, is to wash it thoroughly with water.  Simply fill, shake, drain, repeat – until black bits stop coming out.  If you fill your barrel with liquid at this point, it will leak.  You need to fill it with filtered water, close it up and let it sit overnight.  This will cause the wood to swell and seal the majority of the leaks.  I say “majority” because the barrel will still drip some.  For this reason I suggest you set the barrel on something like a plastic container lid.  Once you’ve rinsed and soaked it, your barrel is ready for use.

Barrel Aged SherrySeasoning the Barrel

While a cocktail could, at this point, be put into your barrel, I strongly suggest that you flavor the barrel first.  Starting with a fortified wine or whiskey will add flavors that you can’t get from new charred oak.  The goal is to add something that the cocktail doesn’t already contain.  We used Sherry for the barrel to age Manhattans.  Other options would be Madeira or Port.  Our other barrel was started with un-aged corn whiskey.   This barrel was destined for Negronis and other cocktails.  After 4 weeks, rotating the barrels 1/4 turn each week, we drained the barrels and rinsed them.  The 4 weeks was arbitrary.  It could have been longer, but probably not shorter.  The aged Sherry and Whiskey were returned to their original bottles.  They were then reused in the barrels between cocktails.

Calculating the Ingredients

Now it is time for your cocktail.  Whatever you’re going to age, use your best, most favorite recipe.

Calculating the quantities of each ingredient is simple:Barrel Aged Negroni Bottles 2 BW

  1. Convert your measures:  If your barrel is in gallons and you are using metric, convert the gallons to liters. If your barrel is in metric and you are using ounces, convert the barrel to ounces.  We used the later.  A liter barrel is a little more than 35 ounces.
  2. Total the number of ounces (mils) in one drink, (figure 1/8 tsp for a dash).  Then divide that number into the volume of your barrel.  This will give you the number of drinks the barrel will hold.
  3. To calculate the volume of each ingredient, multiply the amount for one drink by the number of drinks the barrel will hold.

You will obviously want to round down to not waste any ingredients.  You do want to plan enough liquid to nearly fill the barrel.  Partial filling can lead to an area of dry barrel which will leak and possibly to excessive oxidation.

The Aging Process

Barrel Aged Whiskey SepiaWhen you’re ready to load your cocktail, combine all ingredients in a single container, preferably with a pour spout.  You may or may not want to include bitters.  You can always add them to individual servings.

Push the spigot tightly into the barrel.  You may want to test this the first time by adding water thru the bung whole to check the seal.  If you do, be sure to completely drain the barrel.

Using a funnel, carefully pour the cocktail into the barrel.  Once the cocktail is in the barrel, push the bung tightly into the bung hole.

Important note:  When you push the bung into the bung hole, you will create a small amount of pressure in the barrel.  This will lead to an initial increase in leakage.  To prevent this, once the bung is in place, turn the barrel on end, spout end up and open the spout.  You will get a tiny spurt of liquid.  Close the spout and set the barrel on it’s side in the cradle.

Taste your cocktail frequently.  This should even be daily for lighter drinks.  Heavier drinks, such as Manhattans and Negronis, can wait a week, but taste frequently.  Cocktails age from ‘not-quite-there-yet’ to ‘over-the-hill’ very quickly.

While aging, turn the barrel 1/4 turn each week.  This keeps all of the barrel wet and exposes the liquid to all of the wood surface.

Bottling and Storing Aged cocktails

Before I get to actual recipes: how you store your aged cocktail is important.  First, use a glass bottle with a tight seal.  A bottle with a cage top will work very well.  Secondly, refrigerate the cocktail.  This will slow further oxidation.  Your aged cocktail will change over a week or two.  To me, the flavors become flat, more bitter and less complex.    In short, plan to finish it off in a week to 10 days.

To serve, measure out the volume that would have been in the original, single drink.  Add this to a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill.  The chilled cocktail will be stronger than one you started with at room temperature.  This is because chilled ingredients will not create as much dilution from melting.  Before you serve the drink, taste to see if it needs a little water.

Maintaining the Barrel

When not in use, the barrel must be kept wet.  If you fill it with water, it will rot.  If you fill it with watered down Everclear, you will soak out flavors.  I have kept ours full with either cocktails or the original Sherry or corn whiskey.  At any rate, at some point the flavors will be extracted – like used tea bags.

Examples

Barrel Aged Negroni

Barrel Aged Negroni BottlesUse a whiskey barrel.  Plan on 3-4 weeks of aging.  I left the bitters out of the aging process and added them to the individual cocktails.

Original Negroni

  • 1 oz. Plymouth Gin
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. Dolan Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters
  • 1 fat orange peel for garnish

For a 1 liter whiskey barrel:

  • 11 oz. Plymouth Gin
  • 11 oz. Campari
  • 11 oz. Dolans Sweet Vermouth

Age for 3-4 weeks.  This varies with each batch.  So, just because the first batch took 4 weeks, the next may be 3 weeks and a couple of days.  TASTE OFTEN!!

Barrel Aged Negroni SmTo serve:

  1. Pour 3 oz. Aged Negroni into a mixing glass with ice.  Add bitters. Stir to chill.
  2. Taste for strength and add water if needed.
  3. Strain into a chilled Old Fashioned with a large ice cube.
  4. Flame the orange peel over the drink and float the peel.

Barrel Aged Manhattan.

Manhattan Barrel Aged 3I think that this is by far the best cocktail to age.  Use a barrel that has been seasoned with a fortified wine.  We used Sherry.  Plan on 4 weeks of aging.

Original Manhattan

  • 2 oz. Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon
  • 1 1/2 oz. Italian Vermouth (sweet)
  • 1 tsp Grand Marnier
  • 1 – 2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
  • maraschino cherries for garnish

For a 1 liter Sherry barrel:

One liter is equal to about 35 ounces.  The Manhattan recipe above makes a drink that is just shy of 3 3/4 ounces.  So 35 divided by 3 3/4 is 9 1/3, or 9 drinks.  Multiplying the quantity of each ingredient by 9 gives us:

  • 18 oz. Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon
  • 13 1/2 oz. Italian Vermouth (sweet)
  • 1 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
  • 9 dashes (or 1 tsp) Angostura Orange Bitters

Age for 3-4 weeks.  This varies with each batch.  So, just because the first batch took 4 weeks, the next may be 3 weeks and a couple of days.  TASTE OFTEN!!

Manhattan Barrel Aged InhancedTo serve:

  1. Pour 3 1/2 oz. Aged Manhattan into a mixing glass with ice.  Stir to chill.
  2. Taste for strength and add water if needed.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with maraschino cherries and perhaps an orange twist

Gin and Fortified Wine Fail

I include this as an example of what not to do!  I like this cocktail, though I’ve never given it a name.  Barrel aging it in a Whiskey/Negroni barrel sounded like a good idea.  However, I got distracted and failed to taste it for a week.  By the end of 1 week, it was ruined.  This cocktail is bright, floral and herbal.  After 1 week in the barrel it was left flat, with faint oak, a touch of juniper from the gin and that’s about it!  If I had tried this with the ‘Alternative’ below, I could have saved a lot of alcohol!

Original Single Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz. Ford’s Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Dolan Dry Vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Liquore Strega
  • Lemon peel for garnish

For a 1 liter whiskey/Negroni barrel:

  • 19 1/2 oz. Fords Gin
  • 9 3/4 oz. Dolan Dry Vermouth
  • 3 1/4 oz. Liquore Strega

Aging brought nothing to the party.  I do not even plan to try this with bottle aging.  Bottom line: Don’t waste the booze!

 An Alternative

4058_Barware_Mixers-_Bottle_Aged_Cocktail_Kit_largeSo, can barrel aging be done without a $50 – $75 barrel, 1+ liters of expensive booze and 3 – 4 weeks?  The short answer is “Yes.”  The long answer is “Yes, but it won’t be quite the same.”  Tuthilltown did offer a Cocktail Aging Kit consisting of a 12 oz. bottle with a charred “barrel stave.”  With this, you could age a cocktail in 2 weeks or less.  I don’t think they still offer this product, but you can purchase staves here.  These will fit in any  750 ml bottle or use a 375 ml bottle.  The results will not be identical to barrel aging.  You will have less complexity probably due to less oxidation in the sealed bottle.  This can be a good thing….or not.

Pros

  • Inexpensive – $6.32 plus S&H for 1 stave
  • Smaller volume of ingredients
  • Can try aging a cocktail before committing to a larger volume in a barrel
  • Shorter time to completion
  • Less oxidation
  • No maintenance

Cons

  • Smaller volume of ingredients
  • Less oxidation

I have tried to flavor a stave with whiskey and then use it to age a cocktail in the bottle.  This did not work.  The staves don’t have a lot of life so you have to toss them after 1 or 2 drinks.

Overall, the Pros outnumber the Cons.  I still suggest that you try the real deal and get a barrel or two.  The bottle would be a good way to test age a cocktail before committing to a large volume and a lot of time.

Bottle Aged Negroni

The only equipment you need for this is the Cocktail Aging Kit

DSC00042Original Negroni

  • 1 oz. Plymouth Gin
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. Dolan Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters
  • 1 fat orange peel for garnish

For 1 Bottle

  • 3 oz. Plymouth Gin
  • 3 oz. Campari
  • 3 oz. Dolan Sweet Vermouth
  • 3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
  • 3 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

To Serve

  1. Pour 3 oz. Aged Negroni into a mixing glass with ice.  Add bitters. Stir to chill.
  2. Strain into a chilled Old Fashioned with a large ice cube.
  3. Flame the orange peel over the drink and float the peel.

 Bottom Line

Barrel aging is definitely worth doing at home.  I also recommend the use of Tuthilltown’s Cocktail Aging Kit, if for nothing more than age testing your cocktail recipe before going to the time and expense of barrel aging.

In addition to Manhattans and Negroni variations, (such as the Boulevardier,) you should consider aging tequila based drinks, cocktails combining fortified wines, and Maritinis.  Just Google “barrel aged cocktail recipe” for some great ideas.

Cheers!




MxMo Manhattan

We have two offerings for this Month’s Mixology Monday, “I’ll take Manhattan!”  This one, from our fearless MxMo leader, Frederic of the CocktailVirgin blog, challenges us to revisit the classic cocktail.

Mixology Monday

Mixology Monday

Our first submission is the Manhattan 2.0 – a “Modern” version of the Manhattan with the added nuance of Sherry.  For the second, we jump ahead to an article we are preparing to publish on barrel aging cocktails at home.

 Manhattan 2.0

Manhattan Sherry Inhanced

For the the bourbon in this cocktail, we tried Basil Hayden and Belle Mead.  Both were excellent.  The bourbon brings flavors of maple, tobacco, smoke and vanilla.  This blends well with the rich, earthy Carpano Antica’s tastes of herbs, spice and slight bitterness.  Tasting this without knowing the ingredients, one could easily miss the sherry.  It intermingles with the Italian Vermouth, smoothing the bitterness and adding to the richness.  Here is the recipe:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz.  Carpano Antica
  • 1/4 oz. Sherry
  • 1/8 tsp. Grand Marnier
  • 1 dash Angostura Orange  Bitters
  • Garnish: Luxardo Maraschino Cherries and an orange peel
  1. Chill a cocktail glass with ice and water
  2. Add the ingredients, except the garnish, to a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill
  3. Strain into the chilled cocktail glass
  4. Add the cherries, (or place them on a pick), and express the orange peel over the drink and discard.

Sherry Cask Aged ManhattanManhattan Barrel Aged Inhanced

This cocktail comes from our look into barrel aging cocktails at home, which we will publish soon.  We started with a new charred white oak, 1 liter cask, which was then seasoned by aging Lustau East India Solera Sherry for 4 weeks.  As an aside, the Sherry came out very nice and is great in the Manhattan 2.0!  The barrel was then used to age the cocktail.  The small cask allows a larger surface to liquid ratio than will a bigger barrel.  The larger the barrel, the longer will be the aging time.

Barrel aging a Manhattan is awesome!  The charred oak adds an expected slight oakiness and smoke flavor while the Sherry brings the slightest touch of sweetness.  The overall effect is a richness and depth of flavors that are melded together in a way that you’re not going to achieve any other way.Sherry Aged Cask

Here is the recipe for a 1 liter barrel:

For the Barrel:
  • 1 new, 1 liter charred oak barrel with stand which has been filled with water for 24 hours
  • 1 bottle Lustau East India Solera Sherry
  1. Drain and rinse the barrel
  2. Secure the tap
  3. Fill the barrel with the Sherry and seal the bung.
  4. Place the barrel on its stand and set aside on a water proof shallow container, such as a plastic container lid
  5. Turn the barrel 1/4 turn each week
  6. After 4 weeks, drain the sherry through a fine mesh strainer and store, refrigerated, in its original bottle.
  7. Rinse the barrel and refill immediately with a cocktail – do not allow the barrel to dry out.
For the Manhattan: Manhattan Barrel Aged 3
  • 20 oz. Bourbon
  • 10 oz. Carpano Antica Italian Vermouth
  • 1 3/4 tsp Grand Marnier
  • 1 3/4 tsp Regans Orange Bitters
  1. Rinse the sherry aged barrel with water
  2. Combine all ingredients in a 1 qt. pitcher
  3. Carefully pour ingredients into the cask
  4. Set the cocktail filled cask on a plastic lid or other flat, liquid proof surface (the barrel will leak).
  5. Turn the barrel 1/4 turn each week
  6. Taste the cocktail at least weekly until you think it’s ready – about 4 weeks
  7. When the cocktail is ready, carefully pour it from the barrel through a fine mesh strainer into a 1 quart pitcher.
  8. Decant into a seal-able glass bottle
  9. Store your cocktail at room temperature.
To serve:Barrel Aged Manhattan 4
  1. Chill a cocktail glass with ice and water
  2. Pour 2 1/4 oz. Sherry Cask Aged Manhattan into a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill
  3. Strain into the chilled cocktail glass
  4. Garnish with premium maraschino cherries and an orange peel

Not ready to commit to a barrel?  You can approximate the same aged cocktail effect using a small bottle and a charred barrel stave, available here.4058_Barware_Mixers-_Bottle_Aged_Cocktail_Kit_large  It will lack the richness and depth of flavor of barrel aging, but it will be close.

The bottle holds 12 oz.  The recipe is then:

  • 7 oz. Bourbon
  • 3 1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Italian Vermouth
  • 1/2 tsp Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 tsp Regans Orange Bitters
  1. Combine the ingredients in the bottle and add the barrel stave
  2. Swirl it everyday
  3. It will probable be ready in 2 weeks

Cheers!




Manhattan 2.0

For the the bourbon in this cocktail, we tried Basil Hayden and Belle Mead.  Both were excellent.  The bourbon brings flavors of maple, tobacco, smoke and vanilla.  This blends well with the rich, earthy Carpano Antica’s tastes of herbs, spice and slight bitterness.  Tasting this without knowing the ingredients, one could easily miss the sherry.  It intermingles with the Italian Vermouth, smoothing the bitterness and adding to the richness.  Here is the recipe:

Manhattan 2.0

Manhattan 2.0

  • 1 1/2 oz. Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz.  Carpano Antica
  • 1/4 oz. Sherry
  • 1/8 tsp. Grand Marnier
  • 1 dash Angostura Orange  Bitters
  • Garnish: Luxardo Maraschino Cherries and an orange peel
  1. Chill a cocktail glass with ice and water
  2. Add the ingredients, except the garnish, to a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill
  3. Strain into the chilled cocktail glass
  4. Add the cherries, (or place them on a pick), and express the orange peel over the drink and discard.

Cheers!


 




Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is just one day away.  The Day was originally observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French at Puebla in 1862.  Today, it is usually celebrated in the US by indulging in chips, salsa and margaritas.  While margaritas are really, really good, we would like to offer a few additional tequila cocktails to enjoy.  (And maybe some food as well!)

Grapefruit Tequila SourGrapefruit Tequila Sour

This has just the right balance of sweet, tart and sour.  It will be prettier with white grapefruit juice, but we usually can only get ruby reds.  Just be sure to use fresh juice. Continue reading 

San Antonio Cloud

SA Cloud 2I found the recipe on a scrap of paper along with a bunch of other little “notes to self” hiding in my desk a few years ago.  There was no reference on it, so I have no idea where it came from.  Anyway, it’s a tequila based cocktail with the tartness and color of pomegranate.  The elderflower foam floating on top makes for a pretty as well as delicious drink.    Continue reading 

 

Tequila Old Fashioned

Tequila Old Fashioned 2This is another bitters forward old fashioned.  The tequila is perfectly complimented by the sweet, smoky agave and the  chocolate and spices of the bitters.  Continue reading 

 

Yucatan Old Fashioned

Yucatan Old Fashioned 2This is a smoky, spicy version of the Tequila Old Fashioned.  You can use an iSi Whipper for instant gratification, or give yourself a couple of days to let the tequila infuse with the chipotle.  Either way, this is an impressive, complex cocktail.  Continue reading 

Tequila Manhattan

Tequila Manhattan 1Definitely not a chocolate martini, this is a southwestern makeover of the Manhattan.  Continue reading 

Rosita Cocktail

Rosita 1I’m fairly certain that this is Robert Hess’s version, but the Rosita Cocktail first appeared in a Mr. Boston recipe book in the 1980’s.  The plata tequila blends nicely with the complex flavors of the sweet and dry vermouths and the herbal/bitterness of the Campari.  Continue reading 

 Tequila Moonlight

Autumn SpiritThis was our entry into MxMo, “The Unknown.”  The combination of Reposado Tequila, Cocchi Rosa and Kahlua Midnight makes a perfect after dinner drink.

Continue reading →

Now, how about some snacks to go with these drinks!

Smoked Gouda-Chorizo Jalapeno Poppers

Jalapeno Poppers

Jalapeno Poppers

These are easy and quick to make, and the filling can be made ahead of time.  Continue reading 

Fish Tacos

This is our version of the iconic street food.

Fish TacosThese are great with whatever fish you have on hand.  We usually use tilapia or mahi mahi.  The tacos can be made with flour or corn tortillas or with lettuce wraps.

Continue reading

Finally, if you really NEED a margarita, here’s our most requested:

Classic Margarita #1

Margarita 3A simple but classic margarita on the rocks.   Beware: the sweetness hides the alcohol content.  Continue reading 

Cheers!




Fat Tuesday is Upon Us!

Mardi Gras 1 - CopyHere we are with another excuse to party!  Fat Tuesday always means Mardi Gras and New Orleans. So to celebrate, let’s take a look at two iconic libations from the Crescent City, the Vieux Carré and the Sazerac.

Vieux Carré

The Vieux Carré dates to 1938 and was the creation of Walter Bergeron, the head bartender at the Monteleone Hotel.  This cocktail, which is similar to a Manhattan, combines the spiciness of the rye with the sweet and mellow flavors of the Cognac and vermouth.  Add to that the herbal notes of the Benedictine, and you have a smooth and complex drink.

  • ¾ oz. rye whiskeyVieux Carre 1
  • ¾ oz. Cognac
  • ¾ oz. sweet vermouth
  • ¼ oz. Benedictine
  • dash Peychaud’s Bitters
  • dash Angostura Bitters
  1. Chill either a cocktail glass or an old fashioned glass with ice and water
  2. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice
  3. Strain into the chilled cocktail glass and serve up or over fresh ice in chilled Old Fashioned glass
  4. Garnish with thick lemon twist

Sazerac

Sazerac 3The Sazerac is, basically, a bitters forward, rye Old Fashioned with an absinthe rinse.  The history of this drink is somewhat clouded, but it does originate in New Orleans in the last half of the 19th century.  There is also supposed to be a ritual for making the Sazerac.  The ritual simply substitutes a second Old Fashioned glass for the mixing glass in the recipe below, (or you could mumble a line from Monty Python as well!)

Whatever ritual you follow this is a cocktail you need to try.  The flavors are the spices of the rye and bitters combined with the hint of anise and herbs of the absinthe.

 

 

  • 2 oz. quality rye whiskey such as Sazerac or Templeton Small Batch
  • 4 dashes Peychaud’s BittersSazerac 4
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup
  • absinthe
  • lemon peel
  1. Chill old fashioned glass with ice and water.
  2. Combine all ingredients, except absinthe, to a mixing glass and stir with ice.
  3. Drain ice and water from chilled old fashioned glass and rinse with dash of absinthe.
  4. Strain drink into chilled, absinthe rinsed old fashioned over fresh ice.
  5. Twist lemon peel over drink and discard peel.

Laissez les bons temps roulez!!

Santé!

Mardi Gras later - Copy

Later That Night….

 




Not-Quite -A-tini

Mixology Monday

Mixology Monday

Mixology Monday XCIV is upon us and this month’s theme is “That’s Not a Martini!”  Our host, Nihil Utopia, has hit upon something we really enjoy: messing with gin and fortified wines.  We have two offerings for this round, (We had to pare it down from 6 or 8!!).  First is the G-n-Tini, which, combining gin, dry vermouth and quinine syrup, might also qualify as “That’s Not a Gin and Tonic!”.  For our second we offer The Wellington: barrel aged gin, sweet vermouth and amaro.

GnTini Poster

Fords GinI think that Fords Gin cries out for grapefruit.  It so happens that grapefruit is one of the primary flavors in Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s tonic recipe.  His quinine syrup, that you can add to club soda to make tonic water, is simple and takes less than an hour to make.  I thought that including the quinine syrup directly with the drink would make an interesting bitter sweet addition.  I believe I was correct!  Here’s the recipe:

G-n-Tini

 

GnTini

  • 1 1/2 oz. Fords Gin
  • 1/2 oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. Quinine Syrup – see here
  • Grapefruit peel for garnish
  1. Stir the first three ingredients in a mixing glass with ice to chill
  2. Strain into a chilled coup
  3. Express the grapefruit peel over the drink and float the peel

The Wellington

 

Treaty Oak Distilling is aging their gin in whiskey barrels to create their Waterloo Antique Gin.  This is truly a unique gin.  It has the sweet caramel nose that you would expect from the barrel aging but with the addition of the herbaceous input of gin.  The flavors are citrus, spice and herbs with a finish of charred oak that is long and smooth.   We combined this with Italian vermouth and Amaro.

 

  • 1 1/2 oz. Waterloo Antique GinWellington
  • 1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. Averna Amaro
  • Lemon peel for garnish
  1. Stir the first three ingredients in a mixing glass with ice to chill
  2. Strain into a chilled coup
  3. Express the lemon peel over the drink and float the peel

Cheers!




Belle Meade Bourbon

We had a magnificent time at the Cured – Belle Meade Bourbon Paired Dinner this past week in San Antonio.   A meal at Cured Charcuterie is always a treat and this 5 course pairing was no exception. Visiting with Andy Nelson of Green Briar Distillery and hearing about the resurrection of his family’s legacy was fascinating. (You can find the complete story on their web site here). The cocktails, featuring their Belle Meade Bourbon, Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon and Tennessee White Whiskey, were excellent and complimented the, as usual, superb food.

Well, this set me to creating some libations with Green Briar Distillery‘s most excellent Bourbon.  At Cured, they served a sour and a bourbon/amaro cocktail.  The “Chas Sour” contained their Sherry Cask Finished Bourbon, cardamom syrup and lemon juice.  The bourbon/amaro, the “Old No. 5″, used Belle Meade Bourbon, Averna and bitters.  I guessed at and came up with my version of the “Old No. 5.  However, I decided to also make a bourbon sour and a Manhattan both using Belle Meade Bourbon.

Belle Meade TastingFirst, lets talk about Belle Meade Bourbon.  I tasted this neat, both at the Paired Dinner and home.  Let me start by saying that the Nelson brothers have a winner out of the gate!  Belle Meade bourbon is worth drinking neat, on the rocks or in cocktails.  Full disclosure note: I am partial to high rye bourbons which includes Belle Meade.  That being said, here are my tasting notes:

  • Nose: Maple syrup and caramel with grapefruit
  • Taste: Rye spice with caramel, smoke and tobacco with vanilla
  • Finish: Smooth.  Several reviewers report that it has a short finish but I disagree.  It is a smooth, long finish with distinct cherry and spice.  If you “chew” it, you up the spice.

Old No 5

Old No. 5

So, on with the drinks.  Here is my version of the Old No. 5:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Belle Meade Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz. Averna
  • 1 dash Fee Brothers Barrel Aged Bitters
  • Orange peel for garnish
  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled
  2. Strain into a chilled coup
  3. Express the orange peel over the drink and float

Belle Meade Manhattan

Belle Meade Manhattan

Belle Meade Manhattan

This bourbon has legs, so I went straight to a 2:1 bourbon:vermouth ratio.  You can go with more vermouth, but I like the flavors of the Belle Meade and prefer that the vermouth complements and not over powers.  I used Angostura for the bitters and Grand Marnier for the sweetener.

  • 1 1/2 oz. Belle Meade Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz. Carpano Antica Vermouth
  • 1 dash Grand Marnier
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • Orange peel and maraschino cherry for garnish
  1. Add everything but the garnish to a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill
  2. Strain into a chilled coup
  3. Express the orange peel and float then drop the cherry into the drink.

Belle Meade Sour

I like my whiskey sours 1:1 bourbon and lemon sour.  For the lemon sour, I prefer 2:1 lemon to simple syrup.  I also like the mouth feel of egg white.

Belle Meade Sour

  • 1 1/2 oz. Belle Meade Bourbon
  • 1 oz. Fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. Simple syrup
  • 1 large egg white (can use 3 Tbl. pasteurized egg whites but it will not be the same)
  1. Add all ingredients, in order to a shaker and shake for 30 sec without ice to emulsify the egg white.
  2. Add 3 regular sized ice cubes plus on large cube (1 1/2 – 2 inches)* to the shaker and shake to chill 10 – 15 sec.
  3. Double strain into a chilled coup and serve

* using a large ice cube creates a silky finish that complements the egg white.  You can omit this and use regular ice but you should get a large ice cube tray!

So there are three drinks using Belle Meade Bourbon.  I will soon be posting cocktails using Green Briar Distillery‘s Tennessee White Whiskey.

Cheers!

 

 




In Search of the Perfectly Balanced Manhattan

This came out of my recent exploration of the venerable Manhattan.  The combination of whiskey and vermouth has not been my personal favorite.  A few weeks ago, we attended a dinner where the chef paired each course with a specific libation.  He included an excellent  Manhattan with a small batch bourbon and an Italian Vermouth.  Inspired by this, I have determinedly pursued the perfectly balanced Manhattan.

“Well,” one may ask, “what makes any drink ‘perfect’?” 

ManhattanThe answer is, of course, the one for whom the drink is made.  Recipes for the Manhattan from the turn of the 20th Century, call for vermouth in a much higher ratio than those from the last 20 years.  In fact, the vermouth in the Manhattan suffered the same fate as vermouth in the Martini – it practically vanished.

The Manhattan is a simple, yet complex drink.  Some time back, I noted Gary Regan’s discussion of the Manhattan in his book The Joy of Mixology.  He points out that the ratio of whiskey to vermouth varies with the chosen ingredients.  Anywhere from 2:1 – 2:1/2 whiskey to vermouth.  The stronger the flavors of the whiskey, the more vermouth it can handle.  The goal is to construct a cocktail that balances the sweet spice of the base whiskey with the complexity of the vermouth.

With that goal in mind, creating your “perfectly balanced” Manhattan will require premium ingredients and some trial and error.  In other words, purchase your favorite bourbon or rye along with a good sweet vermouth and start mixing and tasting!  I suggest that you start with a whiskey that you enjoy straight.  I also suggest that you spring for a couple of different sweet vermouth’s, maybe a French and an Italian.

Manhattan Al

Our Butler Al serves a wonderful Manhattan!

Start building your drink with a high whiskey:vermouth ratio – say 2:1/2 or even 2:1/4.  Chill with ice in a mixing glass and taste from a shot glass.  You can then add a little more vermouth as you taste.  When your ratio is getting close, start thinking about what bitters you would try and any sweetener the drink might need.  To try bitters, taste the bitters on your finger followed by a sip from your shot glass.  You can do the same with the sweetener.

When you think you are close, stir up a fresh drink and strain into a cocktail glass.  What does your nose tell you?  What is the first thing you taste with the first sip?  What garnish will enhance these?  The classic is a brandied cherry and possibly a citrus peel.  Here I used Grand Marnier as the sweetener and brandied cherries for the garnish.  I did not think that either orange or lemon oils added much.

carpano anticaFor the vermouth I chose Carpano Antica, a sweet Italian.  I found this quote concerning Carpano Antica from the Wine Enthusiast dated 2011:  “This dark, mysterious vermouth is rich, complex and layered, boasting aromas of mint and other herbs, plums and figs, reminiscent of Madeira. The rich flavors are hard to pin down: cocoa, red wine, almonds, bitter marmalade, hints of spice and toffee all play across the palate, finishing with a bracing bitter edge. This delectable sweet vermouth would shine in a Manhattan.”  I think that sums up the Carpano Antica!

So, here are my recipes:

Irish ManhattanIrish Manhattan

While rye and bourbon are the classics in the Manhattan, I don’t see any reason not to try an Irish Whiskey.  Specifically the Tullamore Dew 10 year old Single Malt.  As I’ve noted before, the Tullamore Dew has the earthy, grassy flavors of Irish whiskey with the flavors of fruit, (apricot, pineapple, raisin) and wood.  Just the depth of flavors that blend with vermouth.

  • 1 1/2 oz. Tullamore Dew 10 year old Single Malt Irish WhiskeyTullamore Dew
  • 3/4 oz. Sweet Italian Vermouth
  • 1 dash Grand Marnier (1/8 tsp)
  • 1 – 2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
  • brandied cherries for garnish
  1.  Chill a cocktail glass with ice and water.
  2. Stir to combine all ingredients, sans cherries, in a mixing glass with ice.
  3. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cherries

Bourbon Manhattan

RussellsFor the bourbon Manhattan, I used Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old.  This is a bit of a lighter bourbon, but still has the sweet and spicy notes you expect from a quality aged bourbon.  Note that in addition to using a higher ratio of vermouth, the recipe includes more Grand Marnier.

  • 2 oz. Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon
  • 1 1/2 oz. Italian Vermouth (sweet)
  • 1 tsp Grand Marnier
  • 1 – 2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
  • brandied cherries for garnish
  1.  Chill a cocktail glass with ice and water.
  2. Stir to combine all ingredients, sans cherries, in a mixing glass with ice.
  3. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cherries

Rye Manhattan

Sazerac-Rye-Black2-1-290x290Sazerac is my rye whiskey of choice.  Made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, it is spicy and sweet with flavors of orange peels, pepper and allspice.  It blends very well with the Italian Vermouth.  Note that this is the same recipe as the Irish Manhattan, just substituting the Irish Whiskey for the rye.

  • 1 1/2 oz. Sazerac Rye Whiskey
  • 3/4 oz. Italian Vermouth (sweet)
  • 1 dash Grand Marnier (1/8 tsp)
  • 1 – 2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
  • brandied cherries for garnish
  1.  Chill a cocktail glass with ice and water.
  2. Stir to combine all ingredients, sans cherries, in a mixing glass with ice.
  3. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cherries

When your guest asks for a Manhattan, he or she is probably expecting a drink that is long on the bourbon or rye and very short on the vermouth.  It will be up to you to introduce them to your version of the perfectly balanced Manhattan!

Cheers!

 

 




Mixology Monday XC

Mixology Monday

Mixology Monday

Golden Kiss

Golden Kiss

This month’s Mixology Monday theme is “Perfect Symmetry.”  Hosted by Southern Ash, the idea is to find a balance between two related liquors or liqueurs.  His examples included sweet and dry vermouth, bourbon and rye, gin and vodka, and tequila with mezcal.  I would like to offer two drinks this month.  The first, a bit of a cheat on vermouth and vermouth, is the Golden Kiss.  A blend of Lillet Blanc and Kina L’ Avion D’ Or with dry curaçao.   Of course Kina Lillet, of 007 fame, is no longer available, so combining Lillet with a quinquina makes some sense, (to me anyway.)  I have been playing with Suze and Kina L’ Avion D’ Or so the segue to the Golden Kiss was simple.  The Lillet and Kina L’ Avion D’ Or share the fruity taste of orange, marmalade and apricot.  While the Lillet has a floral note, the Kina L’ Avion D’ Or has the bitterness of cinchona.  Together with the dry curaçao, they play together nicely.  I originally used Suze instead of the dry curaçao, and if you like bitterness, I would suggest you try it, but it will be bitter.  Here is the recipe:

  • 2 ozs. Chilled Lillet BlancLilletBlancAvio d OrPierre-Ferrand-Curacao
  • 2 ozs. Chilled Kina L’ Avion D’ Or
  • 1 oz. Dry curacao such as Pierre Ferrand
  • 3 or 4 frozen strawberries
  1. Combine all ingredients in a chilled champagne flute
  2. Serve with the strawberries as ice cubes

My primary offering is the Autumn Spirit. This drink combines Irish whiskey with American single malt whiskey and bittersweet burnt honey. I finished it with Fees Brothers Whiskey Barrel- Aged Aromatic Bitters and served it neat in a brandy snifter.

For the whiskeys, I used Tullamore Dew 10 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskey and St Georges Single Malt Whiskey. The Tullamore Dew has the earthy, grassy flavors of Irish whiskey with the flavors of fruit, (apricot, pineapple, raisin) and wood. The St Georges has a forward almond flavor with a floral nose and the taste of cocoa. Having been aged in similar casks (bourbon, sherry and port) the wood flavors blend nicely.

Being partial to bitters forward old fashioneds, I thought that burnt honey syrup would be fun to try with whiskey. The burnt honey, which I burned to a dark coffee color, brought out some of the wood while the honey brought along the floral and grassy notes. The cinnamon, spice and wood flavors of the Fees Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Aromatic Bitters enhanced the earthiness, cocoa and fruit of the whiskeys.St Georges Whiskey Tullamore Dew

  • 1 oz. Tullamore Dew 10 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
  • 1 oz. St Georges Single Malt Whiskey
  • ½ oz. burnt honey syrup (see below)
  • 10-12 drops Fees Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Aromatic Bitters
  1. Combine all ingredients in a brandy snifter
  2. Serve neat

    Autumn Spirit

    Autumn Spirit

I obviously like this drink. I want to thank Joel at Southern Ash for hosting this month’s Mixology Monday XC and for inspiring me to try these combinations.

Burnt Honey Syrup

Burnt Honey Syrup

Burnt Honey Syrup

Equipment:

  • Large pot – 8 qts
  • Long sleeve jacket/apron/chef’s jacket
  • Pair of heavy heat proof gloves

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Grade A Honey
  • 1 Cup Water
  1. In a large pot with steep sides, heat the honey over high heat stirring frequently. Note: the honey will foam and multiply several times in volume, so use at least an 8 qt pot.
  2. When the honey begins to boil, about 3 minutes, begin stirring constantly. The foam will be so thick that you will only see the color of the honey in the spoon.
  3. Continue to boil, lowering the temperature if needed to keep control of the foam, until the honey is dark brown to black – about 12 minutes.
  4. Slowly add the water. WARNING: the water will spit molten honey onto exposed skin or your eye. Keep adding water, stirring constantly until incorporated.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
  6. Store in the refrigerator.