Thursday, July 28, 2011

Posting Forecasts: The City

"One day if I do go to heaven – I’ll look around and say, 'It ain't bad, but it ain't San Francisco." - Herb Caen

This weekend I will be spending a few days in "The City" with my brother and father. Always considered my second home when I was growing up and the place where I was introduced to the wider world of Jazz,  professional baseball, and tequila (no thanks to my brother), this city holds a very special place in my heart. However these next few days will definitely not be spent anywhere near the Fisherman Wharf or Ghirardelli Square. My main goal, besides some serious relaxing time and hiking Mt. Tamalpias, will be visiting some great pubs and watering holes, touring the St. George Distillery in Alameda, and if possible Distillery 209. So along with a new bourbon and rye which I am very excited to review, many new posts to come. Until I return, drink what you like, and make it a double!

An Emblematic Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey: Redbreast 12 Year Old Whiskey Review:

“Redbreast is the secret restaurant tucked away in the back of the strip mall that only a handful of people know about. The atmosphere is great and the food divine, but no one is sure that they should tell other people about it because either it’ll become too crowded (and thus will be impossible to get a table) or the increased production by the staff in the back will affect the overall quality of the place.” – Kate Hopkins in 99 Drams of Whiskey

I’m always amazed with Redbreast 12 year old. The simple fact is that over time our palates change; we can’t do anything about it. We begin to gravitate towards certain brands and move away from others. At least this is how it has been for me. Currently I have been drinking more bourbon than anything else, so when the time came to retaste Redbreast 12 I was a bit worried how I would take it. Would it stand the test of time, holding the place on the shelf as the “whiskey which started it all” for me? The answer is yes. Passing with flying colors I actually enjoyed this more than ever.

Awarded the 2011 “Irish Whiskey of the Year” award and given a 96 rating by Malt Advocate, Redbreast 12 is a whiskey which truly shines. But before I go on, what is Irish whiskey anyway? How does it set itself apart from its Scottish brethren to the east? Generally, for starters, Irish whiskey is triple distilled and Scotch whisky is distilled twice. But the character which develops from both processes can vary significantly, so one can only talk of twice/triple distilled with a grain of salt. The more significant factor in distinguishing Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky is the fact that Irish whiskey (traditionally) was pure pot still whiskey. The pure pot still process is one of producing whiskey in copper pot stills from malted and unmalted barley. In the olden days pure pot still whiskey was simply called Irish whiskey – now that has changed over the years since the larger distilleries (Jamison’s and Bushmills) have come along and made things nice and smooth for everyone, partially taking away the pot still process, and thus taking away some of the complexity. But Jameson, Power’s, Midleton Very Rare, and other Irish whiskey brands do contain portions of pot still whiskey, providing tasters with a unique Irish experience. 

Redbreast 12 is a complete (100%) pure pot still whiskey. And apart from Greenspot, it is the only pure pot still whiskey widely available in the United States. Produced at the New Midleton Distillery by the Irish Distillers, Redbreast has a 12 year version and, only recently released in the United States, a 15 year old version. But from what I have heard Redbreast 12, with its more traditional pot still notes, outmatches the 15.   

Redbreast 12 Year Old Review:

Price: Around 39.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Beautiful green bottle with a lovely cap cover. The label almost borders on cheesy with the perforated edges, but that is only a small complaint.

***Packaging/Labeling Update: Not a huge deal, but Redbreast just changed its label (at least within the last few months) which uses a similar design but higher quality material. Much more ascetically pleasing.

Alcohol Content: 40% alcohol by volume, 80 proof.

Color: Pale Gold.

Nose: Young and green. Creamy and silky notes. Strong notes of bitter honey and bitter brown sugar. Not heavy jack fruit as I've seen in 100 malted barley whiskey. Some of the character borders on rye.

Tasting: This is a polished whiskey with loads of complexity. There is a green bitterness with a sweet disposition. The sweetness matches golden raisins which is then superseded by a salty spiciness. Nougat and strains of cookie dough. Brazilian nuts, Kiwi fruit and vain of tobacco-ed oak and ginger. The spice is extremely long lasting which develops into a liquorish creaminess left on the finish.

Conclusion: I was surprised by some fairly popular blogs labeling this whiskey as Speyside in nature, which honestly makes little sense, not to mention the same blogs going onto say that Redbreast was not on par with the complex rich Speyside single malts... What?! Not only is this trying to compare apples and oranges, yes, fruit none-the-less, but it simply goes against what many are saying and it goes against the extremely different processes that make up Irish and Scotch spirits. It needs to be understand that this is an extremely unique whiskey, which holds a different style and character of its own. As classic an Irish whiskey one can buy, this is a very highly recommended whiskey because of its complexity - just don't put this in a cocktail, it deserves its own glass.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Imbibe Mondays: Bourbon Cake-in-a-Jar with Bourbon Butter Sauce, Whipped Cream, and a Rummed Cherry:

"A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best 
ingredients and having someone sit on it." - Daniel Steel

It's time for the first baked product of Imbibe Mondays. Anyone who has been perusing the blog world for baked treats will know very quickly that the cake-in-a-jar is currently the thing to do and looking at various recipes my wife and I thought we should give it a go. The thought of putting jars in the oven was a little strange at first, but being that we have been doing some canning as of late (i.e. heating glass jars in boiling water) it wasn't too much of stretch to move onto baking with glass. This version of the cake-in-a-jar was most appealing not simply because of the use of whiskey, which is the whole reason for blogging it here, but because the flavor arrives beautifully. And when it comes to the bourbon butter sauce, the alcohol doesn't cook out entirely, leaving you with a stronger and more pronounced baked whiskey product  in line with something like a rummed tiramisu.

I do want to give a shout out to our neighbors and their friends who graciously tasted and sampled the finished product. Needless to say, we didn't have leftovers!

Also to Sprinkle Bakes, from which much of the recipe is adapted.

We used tall and short jars. Any will do, just make sure they are 8 oz.

The main key is to fill the jars halfway - they rise quite a bit so filling the jars more than halfway will cause overflow.

Note: that the sauce is thin, so the skewer makes the perfect size hole for the sauce to seep into.

Yes, they're good!

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups brewed coffee (instant coffee works fine)
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. Bourbon whiskey
1 cup unsalted butter

1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
2 eggs

1 1/3 tsp vanilla extract
10 - 8 oz. or 12 oz. glass canning jars

Directions for Cakes:
Step 1: Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Step 2: Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a large mixing bowl and set to the side.
Step 3: In a medium saucepan, add coffee, whiskey, butter (
cut in slices), cinnamon, and cocoa powder.  Place over moderate heat and whisk until butter has melted.  Remove from heat and add the sugar.  Whisk until combined and pour into a large bowl. Give a small amount of time for it to slightly cool. 
Step 4: Whisk eggs and vanilla extract and gradually pour into chocolate mixture.  Add flour mixture and whisk until combined.  Note: that the mixture will be very thin.
Step 5: Place canning jars on a cookie sheet and fill each with batter halfway. Bake for 45-55 minutes. 

Bourbon-Butter Sauce:
1/4 cup Bourbon (I used Bulleit Bourbon)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup water

Directions for Bourbon Butter-Sauce:
Step 1: Combine ingredients in a small saucepan, and cook gently over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Then remove from heat.
Step 2: After the cakes have cooled for ten minutes, with a skewer, poke holes in each of the cakes.Divide up sauce evenly between all jars.

Final Step: Top cakes with whipped cream (recipe below) and rummed cherry.

Homemade Whipped Cream (2 cup heavy cream yields about 4 cups whipped cream):
1 pint heavy cream and flavorings in mixing bowl. Note: Avoid ultra-pasteurized cream.
3 teaspoons of vanilla extract per cup of cream
3 tablespoons of sugar

Directions for Whip Cream:
Step 1: Add all ingredients into mixing bowl.
Step 2: Using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat cream. Starting slowly, increase speed of the mixer until it can go as fast possible without splashing. As the cream thickens, turn the speed up. The end product should form a soft peak which bends over at the top when you remove the whisk. As it starts to lighten, begin checking for this soft peak. Once this peak begins to form, slow down, so as not to over whip (essentially making it into butter). If needed adjust the flavorings as you go along.
Step 3: Top on Bourbon Cake-in-a-Jar.

Total Time: 5 minutes
*After a few hours, it will start to lose volume. But you can mix it again and it's still good to eat, even after a day or two.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adventures in Moonshine: A Book Review of Max Watman’s Chasing the White Dog

“Authenticity is evasive and hard to understand in America. Why were there half a dozen honky-tonk beer joints in New York City at the turn of the century? I don’t know what to make of Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, or the French Quarter in New Orleans. For that matter, I don’t know what to make of my own town, in which the historical review board insists that the houses continue to be built as if it were the middle of the nineteenth century, to maintain an authentic cohesion, without stopping to consider that nothing is more artificial than building nineteenth-century houses in the twenty-first century.

It’s a slippery thing. There is no denying that the French Quarter is really the French Quarter or that Fisherman’s Wharf is built on the quays. These places have found themselves, due to the pressures of commerce or culture, in a state of aggravated self-consciousness, compelled to emulate and replicate their salient features until artifice overtakes authenticity.”
– Max Watman from Chasing the White Dog

Checking out from the brewers shop with flaked maize, 6-row pale malted barely, flaked rye, rye malt, a 3-gallon carboy, champagne yeast, a hydrometer, and a thermometer, Max Watman's cashier (Bella he calls her) explains to him that she isn't going to enter his information into the computer, saying, "You were never here." Watman is up to something and Bella knows it. For fear of imprisonment, for Bella and Watman both, it was better pretending that nothing was going on. Watman was in pursuit of the white dog and the first hurdle was to get out of the shop as quickly as possible.

Watman’s book Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine, is about moonshine. It is about drinking moonshine, making moonshine, and the history of moonshine. What separates Watman’s account from all the previous history books and novels written about the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, Prohibition of the 1920s, and “backwoods-boozers” of the South is that, when one comes to the end of page 290, the legends and mysticism behind the outlaw spirit dissipates, yet the allure is still just as appealing. As with any introduction to the history of distilled spirits, one begins to understand that much of the alcohol resting on ones bar is the product, not simply of quality producers winning out over the less able-bodied distillers, but rather it is the culmination of a complex and intricate history. After reading Watman’s book one is brought into a world which is quite uniquely an American phenomenon and yet completely separated from the multinationals of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, two of the torch holders of American spirits.

Marvin 'Popcorn' Sutton, one of Watman's crucial characters,
sits next to his still in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
In 2007Sutton was arrested for illegal sales of alcohol.

Watman’s book, though very well received, has generally received flak for providing “historical interpretations [which] are not always reliable.” But on reading his book I find his interpretations are not necessarily unreliable, rather they draw the reader into the history of white dog from an entirely different vantage point – one not generally received by traditional interpretations. The book doesn’t detail the exciting times of Al Capone, the movements of temperance and those licentious speakeasies of New York. Though he does touch on each, Watman’s focus is one of self discovery, his journey of producing his own home-distilled white lightning, and one which details the genuine and personal lives of those who have been producing the stuff for the last century. One learns the largest illegal moonshine black market is located, not in the South, but in Philadelphia, and that many moonshiners, though some matching the classical “backwoodsy” glamour we are all familiar with, are fairly "normal" family-oriented people just trying to make a living. One of the most important features of the book being the historical linkage Watman creates between moonshiners, new and old, with micro distillers of today.

Not that this is some kind of revisionist account. With the allure of the history still very present in this book, this is not a thorough and detailed history of moonshine, or spirits in general. Rather it is a starting point where one can get their feet wet. Intriguing and wonderfully written, one is hard-pressed, finishing the book, to resist the urge to take a trip down to their local liquor provider and pick out a bottle of white lighting. Highly recommended, this is a fun and exciting account of one mans journey into the world of moonshine.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Upcoming Films: Ken Burns' Prohibition

"The population of the United States in 1919 was 104,514,000, and those folks were serviced by 180,000 licensed saloons and many, many unlicensed ones. Per capita consumption of alcohol hovered around 20 gallons a year, and most of that (90 percent, by some sources) was beer. Whether or not the dries had actually been winning their war against ardent spirits, tastes had been changing with immigration, transportation, and refrigeration. Whatever we drank, however, we drank quite a bit. We were, just as we had always been, tipsy." - Max Watman from Chasing the White Dog

In honor of Max Watman's book I will be reviewing this weekend I thought I would publish a short post on the up-and-coming three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick: Prohibition. As Max Watman states in Chasing the White Dog, "For thirteen weird years, the Constitution of the United States of America made beverage alcohol illegal." Prohibition is bound to be an interesting and informative documentary of those thirteen years. To be released this fall:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Imbibe Mondays: How to make the Harvest Moonlight Cocktail

Presenting a Portland Craft Cocktail:

"I got my Dickel, I got my sausage, this is a happy hour!"
- Anonymous Camper (hint: I'm married to her.)

So far, for most of my Imbibe Mondays (I know its Tuesday, oops!) I have stuck to fairly simple recipes. I have generally used recipes with few ingredients, and any “cocktail seasoning” I have used consisted of store bought bitters. Good bitters no less, I thought I would stretch out a little and make a cocktail, still fairly simple, but with an added twist of adding homemade cinnamon spiced agave simple syrup.

Constantly perusing the net for good cocktail recipes, especially ones that fit my current stock of spirits, I always seem to find myself coming back to Portland Craft Cocktails. Due to their dedication for quality, promotion of craft spirits, and their simply huge catalogue of great recipes, I can always find what I’m looking for. Recently I found the Harvest Moonlight cocktail, one of the best recipes to use for a white dog whiskey because the cinnamon agave syrup complements and tones down the the tenacious quality of the white dog. Easier than the Old Fashioned, this is a quickly made and satisfying cocktail.

Harvest Moonlight Recipe (1 Serving):
1.5 oz white whiskey (Edgefield White Dog)
Dash of the cinnamon spice agave simple syrup (Directions for making the syrup are listed below)
2 dashes Angostura bitters 

Directions (simply simple):
Step 1: Place all three makings in a lowball glass. I still had Edgefield's White Dog on hand so that's what I used, but any white dog works, especially barley based unaged whiskeys.

I used about a quarter to half a teaspoon of the cinnamon spice agave simple syrup.

Step 2: Mix ingredients, add one or two large ice cubes, and mix again until well chilled.

Step 3: Enjoy! 

Cinnamon Spiced Agave Simple Syrup Recipe:
Heat raw blue agave syrup with spring water at a 1:1 ratio with 1-2 medium broken Ceylon cinnamon sticks on stove-top until fragrant. Bottle. Stores 7-10 days.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Whisky Review:

An Inexpensive Scotch That Stands On Its Own:

With its iconic triangular green glass bottle Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, my last review on the "camping series," is one of the most recognizable and popular single malt scotch whiskies in the world. Though it is in no way an entry level spirit, with enough oomph and vigor to stand on its own, it is the first line of defense and the bread and butter for the Glenfiddich distillery. Located in Dufftown, Scotland and owned by William Grant & Sons Ltd., Glenfiddich meaning ‘Valley of the deer’ in Gaelic, utilizes water from the Robbie Dhu springs and is one of the few scotch manufacturers still left producing and aging all its whisky on the same site.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old Whisky Review:

Price: Around 25.98 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Approaching the bottle it is bound to give first-timers an intimidating stare with its strong rectangular shape and stags head peering back at you. This bottle embodies the craftsmanship and pride inherent in the label. And it stands up to the test, again and again.

Alcohol Content: 40% alcohol by volume, 80 proof.

Color: Light Amber Straw.

Nose: Green gauged barley, pear/melon, floral notes. There is chocolate and toffee with caramel and Brazilian nuts that develop into light fudge. Really, the whole nose has a fairly light quality to it.

Tasting: On arrival there is bittersweet and smoky barley, with cinnamon and spice developing into bubblegum and jack fruit qualities. Mid-palette develops into apple and caramel. Fresh hay and sea salt on the finish. The back is very inoffensive and definitely will not scare any newcomers away.

Conclusion: Overall, Glenfiddich 12 is a great scotch whisky for anyone to start on. Everything about this drink, besides the packaging, has an unpretentious character. I would never call this an “entry level” scotch as some reviewers do – you don’t want to be the one who is only satisfied by being kicked in the face from peat every time you need a dram – but this can be used as a gauge like I wrote about in the Black Bush Review. Being such a highly available and quality scotch Glenfiddich 12 is essential in anyone's malt repertoire, while it can also easily take a place at the bar during Christmas parties.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Basil Hayden’s Whiskey Review:

“The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.” 
– Denzel Washington in American Gangster

For the very reason we can be hardest on those we love, invariably the more one does whiskey tastings the more issues one can pick out. Basil Hayden’s is one whiskey I seem to have a love/hate relationship with. Along with Booker's, Baker's, and Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s is part of Jim Beam's Small Batch Collection. It is bottled at 80 proof, lower than the other three in the collection and Jim beam, trying to stay true to the name the whiskey holds, has prepared this whiskey with a very rye heavy mash bill. This would make sense since it was Basil Hayden ("Old Grand-Dad" himself) who, back in Kentucky via Maryland in 1785, was recognized as using larger quantities of rye in his mash bill, at the time not a common practice for most Kentucky distillers. With as much as twice the rye content in the grain recipe as the other three in the Beam collection, Basil Hayden holds a quality which borders on taste as a complete rye whiskey.

Basil Hayden’s Whiskey Review:

Price: Around 39.95 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling:  I have to say Basil Hayden's has one of the most ridiculous labels I have ever seen. If any of you know a better one I would like to know. If I had judged the whiskey by its cover I would have made much harsher judgements of its content. A hint to the people upstairs: present your products with clear and practical packaging. Beyond that I don't know what else to say.

Alcohol Content: 40% alcohol by volume, 80 proof.

Color: Fair yellowish and golden tone. 

Nose: Characters of mint leaves which haven’t been picked. And fresh honeycomb. Fresh citrus peel, but not limes or lemons, think oranges and tangerines. The rye comes on strong above the corn. Hint of vanilla and maple syrup. The nose overall is very clean and crisp which is a distinct characteristic of a rye whiskey.

Tasting: The front is cool, clean and crisp. Honey mint and vanilla. I think of candy orange slices and jalabi, a sweet Persian dessert. Finish takes a sharp plummet and dries out suddenly – less complex than I remember from last tasting it – but this is due to it being such a tight and clean beverage.

Conclusion: Basil Hayden’s appears to be the loudest one in the room, dressed up for a party, but lacking enough substance to entertain all night. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a good bourbon, yet when the story ends, it is still bottled at 80 proof and it still cost 40 dollars. Give it 2.5 percent more abv, knock down the price to 30 dollars, and exchange the ridiculous roman dress and belt for a real label, and this whiskey would be great. Being bottled at higher proof would lift up the heat and character, giving it more complexity and flavor. Though it is a little diluted, the style itself is light and it needs to stay that way to keep its uniqueness, but Jim Beam should test the waters (literally?) a bit more rather than playing it safe at 80 proof and trying to make it look like it has a lot going on inside. Either way, you won’t be surprised to find this on my shelf again, just not any time soon.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Best In Class: George Dickel Superior No. 12 Review

"There are only three laws [of distilling success]: 
Quality, quality, quality." - Ralfy Mitchell

The first review I attempted in the woods was George Dickel Number 12, a true Tennessee whiskey. In the whole of Tennessee there are only four legal distillers: Jack Daniels, George Dickel, Collier and McKeel, and Benjamin Prichard. Of the four, Jack Daniels, owned by Brown-Forman of Louisville, Kentucky, not surprisingly overshadows the other three in production, due to it being the number one selling whiskey in the United States. But besides the incredible output of Jack Daniels, the four Tennessee distillers have more in common than they are distinct. They are all, by law, Tennessee whiskey. And as the great Ralfy Mitchell sums it up in his whiskey review of George Dickel Number 12, “in my view Tennessee whiskeys are bourbon, but before their bourbon, their Tennessee whiskey.”

Legally established under NAFTA, Tennessee whiskey is “a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced in the state of Tennessee.” Why is this important? Tennessee whiskey usually has a grain mashbill in the same range as most bourbons, but what differentiates Tennessee whiskeys from bourbons, other than the state they are all born in, is the utilization of maple charcoal filtration prior to bottling. This maple charcoal filtration leaches out some of the fusel oils and impurities, claimed by the distillers to make the whiskey “smoother.” And perhaps most important, this method undeniably provides the whiskey with a sweet maple sugar taste, giving a unique and important stamp to identify Tennessee whiskey.

Today I’ll be reviewing George Dickel Superior Number 12 Brand. Somewhat of a cult Tennessee whiskey and based in the city of Tullahoma, George Dickel is presently owned by Diageo. Dickel is much considered the “other” Tennessee whiskey compared to that of the Jack Daniels giant. Besides the obvious Scottish spelling of whisky to Jack Daniels using an “e,” Dickel chills the whisk(e)y down before transferring it into the barrel. This purifies the whisky by allowing the vegetal composition from the grains to solidify for the charcoal to catch. 

George Dickel Superior No. 12 Review:

Price: Around $19.99 for a 750ml bottle. 

Packaging/Label: Somewhat typical old-school American whiskey label with a good amount of legend to peruse. I actually think the bottle is a really good representation of the whiskey, in that it is an unassuming, neat and clean bottle with an inexpensive screw top, signifying quality without hubris. 

Alcohol Content: 45% alcohol by volume, 90 proof. 

Color: Soft bullion. 

Tasting: Refined corn, but not an overly sweet corn. This is nothing which will knock you over. Honey – dark forest honey and pepper. Not necessarily a green whiskey, but young no doubt, which speaks to the four years it’s in the barrel. Floral and perfume – old school tones, which make me think of something like a bed and breakfast in a small town. Maple-wood vanilla and fire grilled pineapple. Dried apricots and fruit, almost a trial-mix aroma. 

Flavor: The sweetness of the corn becomes pronounced in the palette which then develops into a nice brown sugar and butter. Very much like biting into a nicely seasoned corn on the cob. The pepper note is less pronounced and yet there are some real flavorful spices going on. They are herbal in nature, lining up with the perfume/popery notes in the nose. No wood spices. The noticeable buttered corn throughout develops on the end palette into a wonderful vinegar and fruity flavor and texture. 

Water: Water can be added, though I found not overly necessary. Lessons the sweet corn flavor and increases the fruit. Salt and vinegar which dies away in the finish. 

Conclusion: This is an outstanding whiskey for the price range. In the opinion of Jason Pyle of the Sour Mash Manifesto, he explains this is possibly one of the top three whiskeys for its price range in the world! The nose is a bit light but if you’re into bourbon and the corn based spirits then I defiantly encourage and recommend you pick this up. It’s something you can drink by yourself, but not feel guilty for letting your less experienced friends drink it without pause.

Forecast: Three Reviews

Yes that bird is real - I know, I know, amazing photo... Thank you!

"The tools I need for my work are paper, 
tobacco, food, and a little whiskey."  - William Faulkner 

Well I am back from a great week of camping and I'm pretty excited about what I produced. Unexpectedly (well, not really unexpected), there was more whiskey at my fingertips then simply George Dickel, so I took full advantage of reviewing the American Dickel and Basil Hayden's, and Glenfiddich from across the sea. Obviously I had some fun with my father-in-law's DSLR. *I think its time I upgraded from a point and shoot!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Posting Forecast:

"The last time I turned down a whisky, 
I didn’t understand the question." 
- A friend of John Hansell

I just wanted to write a small update about some new upcoming blog post. I know I haven’t yet reviewed Chasing the White Dog by Max Watman but that should come soon. I also plan on writing up both an American and Irish whiskey review in the near future. But, since I will be spending the next week camping in Crater Lake National Park, nothing will be posted until the weekend. Lastly, and what I am most excited for, I might be taking a trip down to San Francisco. Meaning, if I’m lucky, I will be touring a couple of the local distilleries and thus generate some new entries. Until next time: Drink what you like, and make it a double. I know this week I will!

Imbibe Mondays: How to make the Manhattan Cocktail:

Conspicuous Origins:

"Talking about compounders of drinks reminds me of the fact that never before has the taste for "mixed drinks" been so great as at present and new ideas, and new combinations are constantly being brought forward. It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters came into vogue. It went under various names-- Manhattan cocktail, Turf Club cocktail, and Jockey Club cocktail. Bartenders at first were sorely puzzled what was wanted when it was demanded. But now they are fully cogtnizant of its various aliases and no difficulty is encountered." 
-"The Democrat", New York, 5 September 1882

By name the Manhattan cocktail stirs thoughts of grandeur. It is one of the most classic of all cocktails, rivaling the Sazerac and Old Fashioned at best.  Today with the new great trend of rye whiskey, using rye in the Manhattan is again becoming more common. And truly one of the traditional ingredients in a classic Manhattan was rye, hinting, as I’ve said before, to a past when rye was equal to, if not greater to, bourbon. Well known as possibly the perfect cocktail for any party, the Manhattan is all an American drink, but this isn’t the All-American drink of West in which John Wayne is knocking back “rough young rye.” This is the American drink of brightly lit skylines and the "Golden Years" of the 20s – an America which suggests growth and prosperity. As with any good cocktail the origin is always fuzzy and over glamorized , but the name at least suggest that it originated from the city which has always lived on the edge (though the name most likely originated from Manhattan Club in the early 1870s - no doubt a place on the edge). And Indeed the 1928 film of the same name, expresses this desire to push the envelope. By playing the part in bridging the gap between silent and talk films, much less being filmed by, Dorothy Arzner, one of the only women in the early 20th century making major motion pictures, the Manhattan Cocktail film solidified the Manhattan cocktail as imbibing audacity. And today the Manhattan still lives up that image.

When I first made this drink I mixed up the two recopies. Using bourbon whiskey I followed the rye version and used one part whiskey to one part vermouth and orange bitters. This taught me a quick lesson. The problem with using 1 part bourbon to one part sweet vermouth is the sweet vermouth will overcrowd the bourbon. And unless you are an ultra-sweet tooth, I suggest using rye in the rye version since it just perfectly balances out the sweetness. Either way I would suggest you experiment until you find what you like.

Rye Version (1 Serving):
1oz rye whiskey
1oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters (I use Fee Brothers)
Maraschino cherry

Bourbon Version (1 Serving):
1.5 oz bourbon
.5 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry

Directions (as straight forward as they come):
Step 1: Add whiskey, vermouth, and bitters to a mixing glass filled with ice.  Chill a glass with ice and water or put the glass in the freezer to cool. For my particular mix I used Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth.

Step 2: Stir for about 30 seconds until ingredients are well chilled.

Step 3: Strain into cocktail glass and add a cherry or two.

Step 4: Enjoy!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bushmills Black Bush Whiskey Review:

A 10 Year Old Single Malt

"Whiskey is by far the most popular of 
all remedies that won't cure a cold." - Jerry Vale 

My first encounter with Bushmills Black Bush was a pleasant one. My parents had come up to Portland, OR to visit my wife and I. On one of the days, while the girls spent a day in NW Portland, my dad and I indubitably went to have a cigar at El Gaucho’s cigar bar. Only recently, at the time, had I begun to investigate whiskey in a more thorough manner, and on that day I just sort of went out on a limb. So many choices filled the menu I held in my hands and I wasn’t really familiar with any of them. With the waiter’s eyes peering down at me in my sunken leather chair I nervously blurted out, “I’ll take the Black Bush please.” Fortunately I made the right choice. 

And as time passed I somehow managed, unintentionally, to keep choosing Irish whiskeys, Redbreast 12 Year Old being the first whiskey I really took to. Only now, as I keep coming back to Black Bush, do I realize how lucky I had been with many of my first tasting. Now I don’t think it is necessary, much less recommend, for one to start exploring whiskey by choosing ultra-premium bottles at the get go, but to avoid being “unlucky” I would suggest starting off by getting recommendations (personally or through reviews) from someone who knows whiskey. Though sampling Jack Daniel’s Old Number 7, for example, can be beneficial, it is not going to get you very far, nor is it worth shedding blood, sweat, and tears over. I suggest starting with a good quality mid-range whiskey from which you can then develop a bench mark, and then from there you can compare preceding whiskey.

Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $29.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Label: There is something about Bushmills iconic square bottle with a small stubby neck at the top and the 1608 at the bottom that I just love. It feels great in the hand and you have a lot of control in pouring. The Black Bush label seems to change more often than needed, it currently works nicely with the name and color of the whiskey.


Alcohol Content: 40% alcohol by volume, 80 proof.

Color: The name says it all, a dark Carmel color which is partially due to the sherry cask it is aged in. Nevertheless there is certainly caramel color in this (E150a), but not very much.

Nose: Strong floral character which is reminiscent of most Irish whiskeys, but Black Bush has a much larger range with notes of fruitcake, raisin, pear and green apple.

Tasting: Really great tasting whiskey. On the introduction the flavors round out very nicely on the palette. Reminds me of a flourless chocolate cake, or some kind of light chocolate mousse with an overriding fruitiness and nuttiness – the idea of fruitcake still stands strong as it was in the nose. The spiciness comes on very substantially on the mid-palette, but in a gentle way, not a knock in the face and it develops into a slightly salted buttery and earthy note which transform into a crisp oak finish - wonderfully complex.

On Adding Water: I would highly suggest not adding water to this. Irish whiskeys, especially when bottled at 80 proof, are quite fine flavored, fine natured whiskeys and they tend to drown quickly with the addition of water.

Conclusion: This is a great Bushmills, and a great representative for an Irish whiskey in general. Defiantly for sipping neat, no water, and I wouldn’t suggest using this in a cocktail.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Imbibe Mondays: How to Make an Inverted Martini and A Review of Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth

A Northwest Twist on a Classic Cocktail:

Occidental Hotel from Montgomery Street, San Francisco 1866

“There is nothing revolutionary about cocktails, only evolutionary” - Chris McMillian

Dubbed by H.L. Mencken to be “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet,” the martini cocktail has its origins from the middle of the 19th century with a drink called the Martinez. Served at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, the Martinez evolved over time from a sweetened version of gin, called Old Tom, and sweet vermouth to a version of dry vermouth and gin we know today.

Though commonly associated with our favorite “Double O” agent, the classic martini used gin rather than vodka. On this Monday afternoon I will be making a Northwest variation of this martini called the Inverted Martini which uses two parts vermouth to one part gin. But before I get into the actual recipe I want to quickly review my secret ingredient of the day.

Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth Review

I recently purchased a fairly new locally produced Portland vermouth (the company just celebrated its first year), called Imbue. Not only is this vermouth made with Oregon Pinot gris, the white grape varietal of which the Willamette Valley is mast famous for, but it is unique in that, it has created an entirely new category of vermouth, “bittersweet.” Imbue plays a beautiful balancing act between the sweetness of the classic “blancs” with a wonderfully strong character of bitterness.

Notably Imbue Vermouth is not to be associated with your granny’s preferred post-supper snifter. Created in collaboration between longtime friends and winemakers Derek Einberger and Jennifer Kilfoil, Imbue is aged in American and French oak barrels, macerated with botanicals and then infused with an artisan Oregon brandy from Clear Creek Distillery (known most famously for their single malt whiskey).

Price: $22.99 for a 750ml bottle. Sold at various Portland locations or request your local wine merchant to special-order it through

Alcohol Content: 16.5% alcohol by volume.

Color: Somewhere between a chenin blanc and chardonnay, Umbue is imparted with faint aurelian tint and accents of light honey.

Nose:  An unassuming and delightful fresh bitter sweetness. An inviting crisp and easy citrus with freshly cut oak (though not overly woody) and cream fragrances.

Tasting Notes: The front has a robust and articulate tart arrival which lands on the mid and stern of the palate and develops into comprehensive and lovely pear, lemon and pineapple essences. Melding these flavors together is an overriding creaminess which coats the entire palate. Attempting to arise out of this herbaceous bittersweet treat is a spiciness which never fully emerges, though this is not a negative thing, I feel it simply adds to the complexity and pleasure of the drink.

Conclusion: I was pleasantly surprised by the composite and full bodied flavor of this beverage. This is a gin I would actually enjoy drinking on the rocks.  

Inverted Martini Recipe (1 Serving):

2 oz Imbue Vermouth
1 oz Gin
Ice and Orange Zest

Step 1: Fill martini glass with ice or place in the freezer to cool while you prepare the beverage.

Step 2: Fill ice up to the top of a mixing glass and add the 1 oz of gin. If I wanted to give this cocktail the ultimate Northwest experience I would have used House Spirits Aviation Gin but I still have some Tanqueray left in my bar so the Aviation will have to wait.

Step 3: Add 2 oz of Imbue vermouth. Just as I said with the bitters in the Old Fashioned post, you neither need to be afraid of Vermouth, especially in a Martini. Gin is an aromatically and botanically based spirit. It has herbs and spices which are soaked or infused in it during the distillation process to give it flavor. Vermouth is an aromatically and botanically infused wine. The herbalism of the vermouth and the herbalism of the gin are complementary to each other which allow the magic to happen. On top of this Imbue vermouth phenomenal standalone.

Step 4: With one hand holding the mixing glass, stir ingredients until it is as arcticly cold as possible without being over diluted. And I know what you’re thinking. While James Bond’s iconic cocktail, the vodka martini, can be shaken, which allows the beverage to become as extremely cold, it's simply a preference issue because doesn't have any vermouth within it. A gin martini, however, should be stirred, not shaken. As with all cocktails, part of the enjoyment of the beverage is the ascetic nature embedded within each drink. And only a few cocktails can achieve the translucent crystalline clarity such as the martini. A gin martini should be silky and smooth. When you shake the drink you deposit air bubbles in the drink, making it frothy. This is where you hear people say the gin is “bruised.”Stirring takes more time, but it is worth it.

Step 5: Take your chilled martini glass and strain in the makings. Take a lemon zest (leaving off the white pith) and spray lemon oil over the beverage by twisting the zest. Brush the edge of the glass with the twist and let it go for a swim.

Step 6: Enjoy! And Have a good Fourth of July!