Monday, June 27, 2011

Imbibe Mondays: How to Make a Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail:

Redeeming a Classic:

"When properly made, this cocktail [the Old Fashioned] can represent the 
pinnacle of the bartenders trade. When done improperly, which is 
more often the case, it can be a disaster of mediocrity."
- Robert Hess, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail

The original definition of a cocktail was any sugar, spirit, and bitters. Conforming to that definition, the two drinks in today’s cocktail lexicon, are the Sazerac and the Old-Fashioned. For this post I will be walking you through (one of) the correct ways to make an Old-Fashioned in the classic sense.

Holding the current title of invention, the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky is reputed to have invented the Old-Fashioned in the 1880s. Though it is much more likely the name resulted from someone asking the bartender to fix a cocktail “the old fashioned way.”

The Old-Fashioned is one of the most personal of all drink one can have, yet in recent years this drink has somewhat “lost its way.” Whether it be made with club soda, orange syrup, or muddled fruit at the bottom of the drink – all of which I don’t think have proper places in the drink – one or all of these ingredients can produce a negative experience. This "Old-Fashioned" pictured above is the bastard product of years walking down that wrong path. And no, I will not tell you where I bought this ugly thing. Hopefully though, this post can lead us back to the right path.

Old-Fashioned Recipe (1 Serving):

1 sugar cube
1 splash of water (approx. 1oz.)
1 small piece of orange zest
2-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters
2 oz (quality) bourbon whiskey

Step 1: Place the sugar cube in an Old-Fashioned (lowball) glass. Soak it down with 2-4 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water. Don’t be afraid of bitters. Bitters is a term which came out of the 18th century and today would much better be described as cocktail spice or seasoning. Binding and blending all the flavors together, you don’t notice when it’s present in the drink, but if it’s not there you really notice something is missing. I tend to really like bitters so don’t be squeamish about being generous.

Step 2: Crush the sugar with a muddler, chopstick, strong spoon or anything you have on hand. I generally cut out my orange peel while I wait for the sugar to soak up all the water and bitters, making it easier to crush. Just make sure to avoid the “ice-tea effect” by grinding the sugar into a completely clear solution. You can use simple syrup if you prefer, but sugar cubes are preferable because it allows you to adjust the level of sweetness without further diluting the cocktail (ex: 2 sugar cubes w/ same splash 1 oz. water).

Step 3: As said before, I don’t think orange syrup or muddled fruit have a place in the drink but you do want to add the layer of flavor which comes from the citrus, so adding a small piece of orange zest is a necessary. Using the zest (making sure you have only the zest and not the bitter white part of the orange) you need to press the orange peel with a muddler into the bitters and sugar. What you are doing is releasing and expressing the oils, so make sure not to tear apart the zest. At this point you should have a wonderfully fragrant foundation.

Step 4: Next I add the bourbon, or rye if you like. I generally prefer the spiciness which comes along with a nice rye whiskey but some great substitutes for a rye would be bourbon with a high rye mash bill such as Basil Hayden or Bulleit Bourbon (my “go-to bourbon”). Both provide the spiciness you get from rye but still maintaining some of those nice vanilla undertones of a quality bourbon.
*You can switch up step 4 and 5 if you like. This is just my personal way of doing things.

Step 5: Add a large ice cube. Stir and combine – till it’s nice and cold. I understand that many won’t have large ice cube trays, so regular freezer ice is fine. The reason why large ice is preferable is because the dilution rate will be much slower, thus allowing for a more pleasant experience. For those who object to using freezer ice – I’m not going to detail that out – that’s a bit demanding for a homemade cocktail.

Step 6 (Optional): Add 1-2 maraschino cherries. Now this is also important: make sure you buy quality maraschino cherries. The worst thing you can do is build a quality drink and then destroy it with maraschino cherries dipped in High Fructose Corn Syrup. And believe me, there is a difference in taste.

Step 7: Enjoy!

For Portlanders: Those of you looking for a bar/restaurant in Portland, OR who are weary of ordering an Old Fashioned, or any cocktail for that matter, due to bad experiences, try Clyde Common or Beaker and Flask. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

McMenamins' Edgefield Hogshead Whiskey Review:

Complexity in Subtlety

"Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore always carry a small snake." - W. C. Fields

Finally I get the chance to open up the Edgefield Distillery Hogshead. Rated best in class at the 2011 American Distilling Institute Conference, surprisingly I’ve had trouble finding many reviews of this whiskey, much less very positive reviews.  Obviously, just because some organization says that a whiskey is good doesn’t mean it is, but it should lead someone to raise an eyebrow when all the reviews being read are rating the whiskey as moderate or lacking complexity. Not to mention that the ADI is geared toward promoting craft distilling. They know their stuff and they are not the big wigs from one of the multi-nationals so I would say you can generally trust their opinion.

However, many of the reviews are expected with this sort of whiskey. In the same way Irish whiskey is overlooked by Scottish whiskey, I have been seeing the same trend with the Hogshead reviews. We should always be careful to distinguish between light/heavy and simple/complex. They are two different things and being light or heavy generally has nothing to do with the complexity or lack thereof. Light whiskeys, just like Irish whiskeys, should not be distinguished as lesser than heavy or Scottish whiskeys, they are simply different. Though comparing unlike whiskeys is great practice and should be encouraged, you always need to remember that they are different and should be allowed to stand on their own in their various fields.

Not to mention the same thing could be argued for when it comes to unaged verses aged whiskey and how they are of different categories – though it is interesting to make comparisons to understand the change in the barrel, as I will talk about below.

Edgefield Hogshead Review:

Price: $32.50 for 750ml bottle. Sold exclusively at McMenamins locations.

Packaging/Label: Similar to the White Dog – same positive comments and complaints as before. But I personally think the Hogshead design is more preferable.

Alcohol Content: 46% alcohol by volume, 92 proof

Color: Copper like. Honeyed amber shade.

Nose: The first scent I picked up was a beautiful floral aroma. Green gauges. Kiwi fruit, and light strawberry and banana. Sour green apple which is much more toned down and refined compared to the white dog.

Taste: Arrives with that delightful floral note next to a unassuming peppermint strain which then develops into a lovely pepper note. Smoky vanilla and light black licorice. On the finish caramel and chocolate produces a light fudge flavor. Nice dry finish.

Re-Tasting of the White Dog: The nose of the White Dog changes entirely with my new Hogshead vantage point. On the nose a jammy fruit appears more pronounced. I think of melon, and again jack fruit. The sugary sweetness is more pronounced and on tasting the pepper note once again it is more articulated. The sour green apple which I love in the hogshead comes through more fully. I was reminded of a house margarita and tequila until it hit me - I went to my kitchen cabinet and pulled out Blue Agave (used as a sugar, simple syrup and/or pancake/waffle syrup substitute) and nosed it. Exactly what I was looking for! I tasted a few small drops which perfectly matched the sugary sweetness I was tasting in the White Dog.

Conclusion: Arriving full-circle back at the Hogshead from my re-tasting of the White Dog I could taste chocolate which transformed into to malt, as in malt balls or a malt milk shake. This whiskey arrives like an Irish whiskey but some of the spicy overtones develop like a high rye bourbon, but never over-demanding. Because of this unassuming mild natured whiskey it is easy to assume there is little going on, but this is exactly why I would say this is a very good 100% malted barley whiskey. You have to search in its subtlety.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Edgefield White Dog Whiskey Review:

What's the Deal with White Dog?

"Well, between Scotch and nothin', I suppose I'd take Scotch. It's the nearest thing to good moonshine I can find." -William Faulkner

One of the trendiest spirits on the market right now is unaged whiskey, that is moonshine (or white lightning, white dog, mountain dew, etc). It seems that almost every micro-distillery, and large corporate distillery following in their footsteps, are jumping on the moonshine wagon. Now to clarify, moonshine is technically the name given to illegally produced liquor which, as I have been reading from Max Watman’s book lately, is generally distilled from sugar (more on that another time). But benefiting on the nostalgic aestheticism of a backwoods hooch producers many distilleries are naming their unaged whiskey moonshine, currently the label dominating the US market is being White Dog.

So what is unaged whiskey? Basically it’s the crystal-clear newborn distillate which after coming right of the still, rather than being but into a barrel for aging, is packaged and shipped as is – lacking color and all of the flavor gained from the barrel, the distillate keeps the “base of the spirit” which provides the participant with the distinct flavor of the mash. Where one hears of Vodka being distilled one hundred times so as to have purest and most tasteless spirit possible, the distillers of unaged whiskey are attempting to maintain the distinct flavor and aroma of the spirit, unassociated from the caramel, cinnamon, vanilla flavors, etc., typically found in aged spirits.

Some believe the recent popularity of unaged whiskey will not became a dominant category, but I on the other hand feel that to say it won’t is to overlook the reason its popularity has grown in the first place. There are various reason the trend of new-make (Scottish term) has risen over the last few years but the greatest factor for increase follows hand-in-hand with the Micro-distilling boom which is occurring in the US and abroad. Mainly as an outgrowth of economic pressures white dog has become the first choice spirit to produce for any start-up micro-distillery. Setting up a distillery is a large investment coupled with the long term investment of having to wait for whiskey to develop into maturity. Producing an unaged spirit allows a distiller to have immediate cash flow. If the distillery boom keeps up pace, we are simply going to see more white dog on the market and more competition and experimentation along with it. And Moonshine has always had a large market, as was shown in Max Watman’s book, but the difference today is there is a legal market for it – one which desires to produce quality products to a thirsty population of old and new whiskey drinkers who are wanting something new, as well as wanting a way to connect with the past legacy of American moonshiners.
On reading a New York Times article on moonshine, there was an interview of an unnamed moonshine hobbyist of 30 years. He states that he has been “telling people for years that they have to taste [unaged whiskey], so that when they taste [aged] whiskey, they can find their way around the inside of their mouth.” Unaged whiskey can provide something the general public has had little access to: a whiskey that can be a teacher and a transition spirit into other aged whiskeys. One which can actually allow them to taste and follow the change which is made through the barrel. This first tasting I am providing is one such example. With the Edgefield distillers presenting this fairly new White Dog Whiskey to the public, one can taste a unique whiskey in its own right while also having a great comparison for their Hogshead Whiskey, since the White Dog is simply the unaged version of it.

Edgefield White Dog Review:

Price: $17.50 for a 375ml bottle. Sold exclusively at McMenamins locations.

Packaging/Label: Straight of the shelf, there is no box or excess packaging. The label is simple, yet holding the McMenamins artistic flair as always. On a small note the material of label feels a bit cheap to the touch, but overall not a big issue. There is a plastic wrap on the top cap which seems unnecessary since they have a sticker/seal strip over the bartop cork. Synthetic cork (the more I read on these the less I am convinced they are a better alternative to corks in terms of their environmental impact) however I don’t feel they take away from the aesthetic appeal.

Alcohol Content: 46% alcohol by volume, 92 proof

Color: Clear and oily.

Nose: Upon the first nosing I was very surprised by how strongly the barley stood out while the alcohol note was subtle to the point that I could breathe deeply without being hit in the face. A sourdough flavor rises quickly but settles down into something more yeasty. Hints of banana and citrus. Green gauges, unripe apple, bitter grapes, and bitter rice wine and some floral notes. Dark chocolate - very dark. I was still quite baffled by the nose until jackfruit came to mind. Most likely, if you have never been to India or some other southeast Asian country, you have never tasted jackfruit. It's similar to a tart banana  and smells... well, it’s very unique. Think Juicy Fruit.

Taste: What a transition from the nose to the first taste – it is only upon tasting it does the real whiskey overtones come out. Unripened, fresh Brazilian nut and possibly a hint of pistachio. I think of fresh green bark or the inside of a fresh twig when split in half. Cereal grains. Raisin Brand, yet unripe raisins. Mild hints of banana and citrus nuances which were found in the nose. The texture comes off oily yet ends grainy and dry. The light burn settles on the tongue and not in the back of the throat which warms ever so slightly as you swallow.

Conclusion: Honestly, I am still quite undecided about it. I defiantly enjoyed the tasting compared to the nose, which confuses me more than anything. I don’t think I would designate this a place on my “relaxing time” shelf. I still feel that I need to give it another go. I haven’t yet tried adding water, nor have I let it sit very long to open up which could be a significant factor in allowing some of the harshness to die down. I am very interested in trying this in a cocktail since it has such a great texture and because there are so many great unaged spirit cocktail recipes floating around these days. Another update will be needed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Edgefield Distillery Tour:

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much 
of good whiskey is barely enough."
                                  -Mark Twain

Located in Troutdale and designated a National Historic Landmark, McMenamin’s Edgefield comfortably sits on a 74-acre tract which use to house the county poor farm. Perfectly situated just 13 miles from downtown Portland and just on the cusp of the Columbia River Gorge, one can tour the numerous falls which dot the historic highway or take a quick drive into Portland for a day of sightseeing. 

Nonetheless, even with Multnomah Falls and Downtown Portland having plenty to offer, the real motivation for someone choosing to stay at Edgefield is precisely Edgefield – a destination in-of-itself. Built for the very reason to showcase the grandeur of the McMenamin’s Empire, Edgefield is the McMenamin’s Brothers crown jewel and it is awesome. One can spend hours (days), literally getting lost through pub crawling many of the ten distinct and unique bars, watching a movie in the theater, playing golf on one of the two par-3 courses, getting a full spa treatment and spending time in the giant outdoor soaking pool, wine tasting in the winery, smoking cigars in the cigar bar, or just simply hanging out on one of the large porches or picnic areas strewn throughout the campus.

It is here at Edgefield where they produce their wine, much of their beer, and most importantly to myself and this blog, their spirits. Opening its doors in 1998, the Edgefield Distillery has built production up to a number of gins, brandies, whiskeys, and liqueurs. Considered one of the preeminent micro-distilled whiskeys in America, their Hogshead Whiskey is what has brought McMenamin’s Distillery into the light. Of which I will have a review of both the Hogshead and its much younger version of itself, the White Dog.

The Edgefield Distillery is located near the south end of the Edgefield campus housed in a converted dry barn which was originally used to store vegetables during the poor farm days. Surprisingly the space is fairly small for such an operation – but the aesthetic quality of the converted barn is fabulous with the woody aromas of the constructed barn mixing with the current fermentations and distillate. Packed full of old mash tanks which use to be used for their beer production they now hold distillate in various stages. During my tour I was fortunate enough to observe the current distillation of their rum production as well as nose its head. Don’t get me wrong, the process of distillation, once it’s in the still, is akin to watching water boil, literally. But the scent of the rum distillate, which at the time of my tour was at about the center run of its heart, smelled amazing. On the first step inside not only does one get the bready smell which is common in a distillery, but also present was a sugary-sweet fragrance which comes from the sugar-cane molasses used in rum production.

Near the end of the tour, while I was being shown the barrel room which is also a surprisingly small space for the amount of spirits they produce, I was told that the Hogshead whiskey, of which I purchased, was bottled at about 37 months. Their goal, the head distiller explained to me, was to eventually reach five years in the barrel. Leaving the tour I could defiantly say I was, and am, excited to try this barely three year old spirit which is something quite unique which will not, in the present future, be available again. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Posting Forecast:

"The best whiskey I've ever had is like the best horse race ever run: the next one."
- Max Watman from Chasing the White Dog

I’ve been envisioning my first genuine post and what items of interest should take this grand position to finally get things rolling. This is a rather short post to present a forecast of the next month or so and what I plan to display: 

1.     Be it that I live in Portland, OR, what many consider the heart of the micro-distilling movement, I felt that I would start off with some local whiskey. Recently I made an excursion out to McMenamins Edgefield which is the location of McMenamins current distillery. I had a chance to tour both the distillery and to stock up on two of their current selections. I intend to include a few posts detailing my experiences, as well as use their whiskey to execute my first tasting.

2.     Associated with my visit I had the unfortunate experience of ordering an Old Fashioned while at McMenamins. When I received the drink it was… well… I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t the traditional Old Fashioned I know and love. So I will allow this experience to push off a weekly or biweekly DIY, this first DIY highlighting the type of Old Fashioned I appreciate.

3.     Lastly, I recently picked up a copy of Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur’s Outlaw Adventure in Moonshine, so I thought I would give it a review and cover several of the interesting historical points and current trends which are developing in the whiskey world presented by the author.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Commencement of the Bourbon Intelligencer (Formerly The Whiskey Intelligencer):

The philosopher Jacques Derrida used the dictum, “There is nothing outside the text.” And so I write, “There is nothing outside the bottle.” When it comes to whiskey you ought to drink what you like, not what the “experts” think you should value. If it is choosing a bottle of Old Grand-Dad over some super-rare-extra-premium bottle of Macallan, then you, and only you, should make the choice (especially since Old Grand Dad might save you a few hundred dollars/pounds). That is not to say, like Derrida, I believe taste is wholly founded on social conventions. I believe there is good whiskey and I believe there is better whiskey. In this blog I will attempt to distinguish between the two. That being said, my intentions for this blog are completely selfish. I am not attempting to compete with the other whiskey bloggers out there. Indeed, the simple fact that I don’t have the experience prevents me from competition anyway. This space is for my enjoyment and my relaxation - and it is far from being anything too serious at the moment. But that is not to say that someone, especially someone new at this like I am, cannot benefit from the content which I hope to exhibit.  Hopefully, by the end of each new tasting, each new tour, each new cigar, and possibly after some useless historical pseudo-philosophical expositions, some of my passion can rub off and encourage you to go out and try something you have never experienced before.

Drink what you like, and make it a double!

Update as of Aug. 10th 2011: There has been a name change. Click here to read about it.