Sunday, November 2, 2008

Barrel 44

Driving down high street a few months back, i happened to notice a new bar/restaurant opening up, next to Surly Girl. It's called Barrel 44, and was somewhat of a refreshing surprise to see in the short north. For people who are more familiar with Columbus and the Short North, the Short North is basically poser central for restaurants and bars that are trying to emulate the food and drink scene of New York City. Essentially, a lot of restaurants have opened up lately that have the look of an NYC bar/restaurant, but yet somehow also have the actual food and drink of a diner - a diner with fancier ingredients, but a diner nonetheless.

Given this, it was interesting to see someone try to open a more upscale whiskey bar in the short north. Because of my earlier exposure to restaurants and bars in the short north, I was ready to whip out my mental pad and paper and write down as many flaws as i could find. As it happens, i didn't find another poser bar in the short north - i didn't find drink/food heaven either - but it was promising to see a place that had transcended it's peers in some significant ways.

The decor was nothing worth mentioning. Slightly upscale but not flamboyant. They had a list of what looked to be 50+ whiskeys. They have at least 3 whiskeys in each category - including straight rye whiskey. The bartender says that they are trying to increase their whiskey menu. Unfortunately, like all bars in Ohio, Barrell 44 has some difficulty in acquiring some of the more interesting whiskeys that you might find in other states. The bartender suggested that they are trying to get their hands on a few bottles of Japanese Suntory whiskey, and a few other single-malt scotches as well, but this is a process that takes time. Moreover, it's not likely that you'll find this many whiskeys at any other bar in Columbus, so this is understandable.

I ordered three drinks from two bartenders. Bartender A did a pretty good job. I asked for a Manhattan. I asked her what type of sweet vermouth they had - she said that it was Martini & Rossi - but it was not (I think it was Stock or Gallo) - fortunately her only mistake. The only fault on the menu's part, was that the menu suggests that the Manhattan is made with "a dash of sweet vermouth and bitters" - but any self-respecting person would want more than just a dash of sweet vermouth. In fact, i asked specifically for a Manhattan with 1 part sweet vermouth to 2 parts whiskey - and a healthy dose of bitters. What was nice about the experience was that i didn't have to ask for either of these three things: (a) bitters, (b) stirring the drink instead of shaking it, and (c) rye whiskey instead of bourbon. Their standard rye whiskey is Old Overholt - which made for a great drink. The drink was a good temperature, had no unsightly ice chips, and tasted quite good - a very balanced drink.

The second drink I ordered was their "new old fashioned" - a curious concoction that replaces the orange slice in the old-fashioned with peaches. The only problem with this drink was the inclusion of what looked to be canned peaches. Now, in actuality, the idea of the drink is pretty sound. Peach is a natural pair with whiskey (i.e., think Southern Comfort) - so it was definitely a good idea. However, the inclusion of canned peaches seemed a little cheap. The only problem is that using fresh peaches is a little problematic - i would think that even with a significant amount of muddling, getting peach flavor from fresh peaches would be difficult. Of course, one could simply muddle some fresh peaches and add a small amount of southern comfort. This is just a small quibble though. The drink was tasty. Not only tasty, but (this will sound odd) their choice of ice shape was nice, and added to the drink.

The third drink I ordered was one that they didn't offer on the menu - a plain old old fashioned. Speaking of which, one other small quibble would be that their menu didn't include enough whiskey drinks. (Think of them more as a WHISKEY bar, as opposed to a whiskey BAR). That said, even though they didn't have the old-fashioned on the menu, the second bartender was happy to oblige me. This drink was also quite tasty - in fact i liked it better than their other one. What really struck me most was that the bartender actually knew what was in a regular old-fashioned - and was willing to prepare it for me. In fact, this bartender (a guy instead of a girl) seemed to be pretty on the ball. While he wasn't quite what i would call an expert, he did demonstrate a passion for whiskey and bartending, and also a professionalism that i just don't see at bars anymore. In general, i would say kudos to the bartenders at Barrel 44.

Now, onto one last complaint. The last drink that i attempted to order was one that neither of the bartenders had even heard of - in fact it was a drink that the owner had never heard of - the Sazerac. In fact, they didn't have the ingredients for a Sazerac - which is not surprising, because there aren't too many drinks that you would ask for that contained Peychaud's bitters and pastis. While this might seem a horrendous oversight on their part, i'm not going to fault them too much for it. I take it they're more "whiskey" people than "mixology" people - and so their unfamiliarity with the history of cocktails is forgiveable. That said, the Sazerac is one of the oldest and most well-known drinks in the mixology community - and it would be interesting to see them pick it up - at laest for the sake of authenticity.

All in all, i would give them 7 1/2 out of 10. Given that they've just opened, i would expect that they'll continue to get better, and i sincerely hope that they succeed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

King Eider Dry Vermouth

On a random trip to a friend's house to watch the presidential debates tonight, i decided to stop by the liquor store (i hadn't been in a while). I've been trying to collect more vermouths lately, and to my surprise there was a bottle of vermouth that i hadn't heard of - called King Eider. I bought it, along with a bottle of Wild Turkey Straight Rye Whiskey and a bottle of Noilly Prat sweet. I took it with me to the debate and gave it a spin. Slightly bitter herbal notes, some soft orange, and moderately sweet - really not what i would expect from a "dry vermouth", but kinda tasty.

I tried to look up information on it, but couldn't find anything of note - other than it had stopped going into production in 2007. The bottle must've been sitting there for a while, so i'm glad i found it. Don't have much else to say about it yet, but i'll ask around. Have yet to try and mix with it, and i'm almost sad that i opened it, because i'll have to use it up somewhat quickly.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jersey Appletini

Last week, Mixology Mondays had a theme of "guilty pleasures", and while i did create what ended up being a guilty pleasure, i thought i'd tackle the issue a bit more seriously in my post this week. I don't think i've really had a post where i tried making a new drink (last week didn't really count, since it's just too much work). The project was to try and make a better appletini, using that really horrible ingredient, sour apple pucker.

I actually don't have DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker, but i do have the Mr. Boston version - one that i take to be superior, in part because it tastes more like natural apple. (There is another version called something like "Too Sour Pucker" or something like that at Kroger, but i'm not even going to touch that right now).

According to one Gary Regan, the first version of this drink was actually made for a whiskey festival - and there, it was made of 2 parts whiskey and one part sour apple liqueur. This recipe was one that i actually tasted at a local bar (Club Diversity), who titled the drink a "Grand Appletini". Since that'd been done already, i tried to think of a different base liquor to mix with sour apple. What i did like about whiskey was the fact that it had its own flavor to bring to the party, and its own color. The former was good because it made the drink more complex - the latter was good because the drink stopped looking like a prop for a Nickelodeon show. Given this, i thought a good substitute for vodka or whiskey might be Laird's Applejack. Laird's Applejack is, of course, based in New Jersey, and so i suppose that is where this drink will get its name. Applejack is sort of an odd-ball - it's not used in many drinks - but it does have its own subtle apple flavor. Somehow, its addition both enhances the apple flavor AND tones it down.

Jersey Appletini:
2 pts Laird's Applejack
1 pt Sour Apple Liqueur (Mr. Boston brand)

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve with a cherry.

Here, we see the Jersey Appletini, served in a cocktail glass. It is accompanied by one of my new cocktail picks, and a brandied cherry that i made all by myself!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mr. Boston Liqueurs

For anyone who wanted to start out their own bar, one of the cheapest ways to go is to reach for the Mr. Boston brand of liqueurs and liquors. They have a whole set of 1 liter bottles, each for about 5$, encompassing all of your major liqueurs that you might need in your bartending collection. Creme de menthe (white and green), creme de cacao, butterscotch schnapps, etc..., etc.... Now i know that everyone hates Mr. Boston, and i know that everyone especially hates the self-serving wording that is contained in every single printing of Mr. Boston's bartending guide. However, i really think it's not that bad, and i wanted to point out some interesting comparisons to be made - the main one coming from, of course, is that tasting website where they allegedly train their tasters, put them in a colorless, soundproof room, and make them taste new alcohols at the same time each day. Look at their ratings of a variety of triple secs - including one that comes from Mr. Boston:

Mr. Boston Triple Sec: 87
Blanks Triple Sec: 86
Hiram Walker Triple Sec: 86
Cointreau: 88
Grand Marnier (wine enthusiast): 89

Of course, as you might note - i have not included Patron Citronge (a new triple sec), and also the Grand Marnier rating is not from Tastings, but from Wine Enthusiast - which gives not altogether different ratings than Tastings (it's on the same 100 pt scale). However, you can see that Tastings gives Mr. Boston an 87 and Cointreau an 88. Also note that Grand Marnier and Cointreau are essentially on a par with one another (though not equivalent). They're both respected liqueurs, and have many who enjoy each of them. So, it's interesting to see that Mr. Boston is in some sense, playing on the same field as Cointreau and Grand Marnier!

This, of course, in some sense, is obviously not correct. Cointreau, Grand Marnier and Mr. Boston are all very different liqueurs. Cointreau and Grand Marnier are quite potent in terms of alcohol, while Mr. Boston is not. Cointreau and Mr. Boston are based on neutral grain spirits while Grand Marnier is brandy-based (i hear?). Cointreau and Grand Marnier are bursting with orange flavor, while Mr. Boston is kinda like Kool-aid.

That said, note their review of Cointreau and Mr. Boston: (their review of Grand Marnier is suspiciously absent. hmmm).

Clear. Orange gelatin candy and spicy orange zest cake aromas. A silky entry leads to a sweet and tart medium-full body of vibrant candied tangerine skin, rock candy, and pick peppercorn flavors. Finishes with a long, peppery alcohol and orange zest fade. A powerful orange liqueur that packs a punch.

Mr. Boston:
Clear with a very faint silver pink cast. Sweet candied tangerine peel aromas. A soft brisk entry leads to a buoyant off-dry light-to-medium body of orange and vanilla candy flavors with a clean, sweet fruity fade. Nicely balanced and clean.

Sounds like some really nice reviews for both of them. Most of it is bullshit. (orange gelatin candy, as opposed to orange candy?? where do they make this stuff up?). Of course, that said, they obviously work very differently in a drink. But, i did want to point out that even isn't poo-pooing Mr. Boston's. And so you shouldn't poo-poo them either! They make a quality product - and for a vast majority of their liqueurs, they work perfectly fine in a drink - although you'll have to adjust proportions to your liking.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

China Martini

I guess a traditional thing to do on liquor blogs is to take an odd-ball from the shelf (or a new one) and give it a spin, with some tasting notes. A the moment, i don't really have much in the way of tastebuds (i have a bit of a cold), but i wanted to write something about this one liquor that i haven't seen on anyone's liquor shelf (or discussed on any blogs) - at least in the united states.

The liquor is called China Martini - and it came in a metal box that had an actual working analog clock on it! China Martini is made from cinchona bark and apparently rice alcohol (though i have no way of confirming that), and its a kind of bitters (i guess) which tastes and feels a bit like Jagermeister - very sweet dark and rich. Cinchona bark it turns out is loaded with quinine - and the bark was used in many cases to help cure malaria (or its symptoms?). (An interesting aside - see wikipedia's notes on cinchona bark's role in the birth of homeopathic medicine). Hard to know exactly how to mix it in with anything, so i'll try and do that at some time. The reason it's a relatively rare find in the U.S. is because it's not sold in the U.S. at all - i only got it from a friend who went to Italy for the summer. Even there, i doubt it's hugely popular.

I did find a few funny youtube videos advertising it from a long time ago, which you might enjoy:

Isn't it a really catchy song? If only i knew what they were saying. The first one is particularly funny because China Martini is rumored to be an elixir prescribed in China - and the italian woman on the left is obviously supposed to look chinese (her dress, hair and eyebrows are supposed to be the clue i guess). Incidentally, China Martini is made by Martini & Rossi. Also, if someone happens to have a european cocktail book that has a recipe for China Martini, that would be really cool.

Some random guy from england, commenting on an online italian food store, suggests that this tastes great when mixed with a little italian brandy - or in espresso. who knew?

After a bit of my own research, it turns out that China Martini has a cousin. Cinchona bark is essentially the same thing as Calisaya bark - and there is (was?) a liqueur called Calisaya. (In fact, calisaya is a variety of cinchona that has the highest amount of quinine). has a list of 6 drinks that call for Calisaya/China Martini. They are as follows:

Dronda Cocktail
Montauk Riding Club Cocktail
Glamis Cocktail
Good Fellow

Now, upon looking closer at the cocktails, it appears that either Calisaya isn't so similar to China Martini, OR these are some of the worst thought-out drinks i've ever read. The drink "Calisaya" for instance calls for adding 1 dash of Angostura to a "glass" (it says 1/2 oz??) of Calisaya. But of course, if Calisaya is anywhere near as pungent as China Martini, you would never really taste the Angostura. "Good Fellow" is basically a 1/2 and 1/2 manhattan made with bourbon - and it calls for a dash each of Angostura and Calisaya. Which really doesn't make a lick of sense. We'll see if some online experts can make heads or tails of this. Perhaps an update!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Menu in a blog

So i've been trying to think of ways to get my friends to drink my alcohol, and i came upon the idea a little while back of creating a home bar menu. The idea would be that i would come up with a bar menu with drinks that i've vetted, and then have a menu that they would then be able to look over - just like at a real bar! Originally i thought i would print out a menu, but then i decided that an easier way to go would be to turn a blog into a menu. After all, i would be able to switch out and add drinks whenever i wanted (based on what i had available at the time), and moreover people would be able to comment on the drinks and see them from wherever.

The drink menu (which isn't complete) can be found at:

Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vermouth and more vermouth

So, today i purchased two bottles of vermouth and a bottle of Peychaud's bitters. Peychaud's is something i've been meaning to get for a while, but i haven't tried it out yet, so on to that later. The vermouths are interesting because they are vermouths that you don't usually see on shelves (which is why i decided to get them there - since i wouldn't see them for a while probably - this IS columbus OH after all). The first vermouth is simply the Bianco vermouth from M&R which is pretty delightful - definitely one of the easier vermouths to drink straight up. The other vermouth is the Vya dry vermouth - one that i'd heard about but hadn't tried until tonight.

Why am i interested in vermouths, you say? Well, part of the reason is that i wanted to have a substantial martini offering (and here i include vodka martinis - though none of those candy confections. In other words vodka or gin + vermouth + optional bitters + garnish). I have a bottle of Noilly Prat which i liked quite a bit, and bottles of M&R sweet and dry. Of course, i'm planning eventually to get a bottle of Dubonnet red and white, and the red and white Lillets to add to the collection as well. Anyway - having a variety of vermouths seemed like an obvious way to fill out the martini selections that i had. (of course the other way was to increase the number of garnishes i had - olives and whatnot, which i've done already).

If you haven't tried Vya, i suggest you give it a try. Although i haven't tried it in a martini martini yet (a gin one, that is), i have tried it in a vodka martini, and it tastes pretty good. I would NEVER suggest drinking it straight or on the rocks unless you like sipping things very very slowly. It has a lot of notes that can just be overwhelming if you drink it too quickly. Surprisingly though, a vodka martini with 1 part Vya to 2 parts Vodka works out quite well - especially with a nice olive in the mix. Surprising, because i thought the Vya would just cut through all of that flavorless vodka to make an overwhelming vodka martini - but it didn't.

Apparently Vya also comes in a sweet variety, but i haven't yet tried it - would be interested, but i don't know if i'll ever come across a bottle of that. (Production apparently is pretty limited).

M&R Bianco is interesting. Easy to drink straight up or on the rocks. Strangely, if you make a vodka martini with it, the vermouth is REALLY evident - a lot more than the Vya. I would suggest cutting down on the amount of Bianco if you can - and then pairing it with a sweeter garnish - like a twist. Bianco is sweeter and fruitier with some vanilla mixed in. In fact, i think bianco would probably be a great addition to a martini that's been shaken with cucumber. As long as you're not too generous with the bianco, it gives a vodka martini the right hint of flavor that keeps the drinker interested without being obvious.

Anyway, for anyone who is interested in moving away from the standard M&R sweet and dry, and Noilly Prat - i think that both of these vermouths are good ways to go.

P.S. For anyone who didn't know before (i certainly didn't). Martini and Rossi apparently has a total of 6 varieties of Vermouth. Rosso, Extra Dry, Bianco, D'Oro, Fiero and Rosato. God knows i'll never be able to find these in Ohio. Certainly worth a try if you want to experiment with different kinds of vodka and gin martinis.

Double-infusing vodka

In the freezer now, i currently have two vodka-infusions going on. The first is a carawawy-infused vodka (using some not-so-great-tasting Luksusowa vodka) - it's a simple infused vodka with a tiny bit of sugar-syrup added to it. The second is a double-infused vodka. I started out with a bottle of Smirnoff vanilla and added a finger of fresh ginger - sliced and crushed to help bring out the juices.

Why double-infuse in the first place? Well, it might seem like a silly idea, depending on what kind of double-infusion you're doing. (1) Double-infusion could simply consist in infusing the vodka once - and then infusing it again using different ingredients after you've infused it the first time. (2) Then again, it could also involve re-infusing the vodka in the same type of ingredients (replacing it with fresh ingredients of the same type) to achieve a more pronounced flavor. (3) The kind of double-infusion i seem to be going for is one in which you take a pre-bottled infused vodka (Smirnoff Vanilla) and then infuse it with a new flavor that you pick out yourself (in my case Ginger).

Method one has problems because (depending on the ingredient are using) you can sometimes end up adding too much water weight to the infused vodka - thus bringing the proof down too much. Especially if you're infusing in fruit, you might end up with a product that is weaker than you'd like. Of course you could just go for some higher-proof vodka, but that can sometimes mean (if you're not rich) that you end up going for cheap vodka. Method two has the same type of problem. Method three seems perfect i suppose in the case that you want to make a two-flavored vodka - and a flavored vodka already exists that has one of the components (and you like how it tastes). I guess that's what has happened with this ginger-vanilla infused vodka that i'm storing in the freezer at the moment. (Of course, you could try and make a SUPER-INFUSED vodka by taking a flavored vodka and then infusing it again with the same flavor!)

Of course, why not make a ginger-infused vodka and then mix it in with Smirnoff vanilla in a shaker? Or why not simply just put french ginger AND a vanilla bean into a bottle of plain vodka? Good questions. I guess i just didn't like the idea of a solely ginger-infused vodka - i just don't see the point of it. Ginger-vanilla on the other hand just sounds more appetizing. I suppose there's also the oft-cited claim that flavors need time to "marry" together. I don't know how much I believe that, but sure it sounds possible. Regarding the other question - i just don't have enough money to spend on vanilla beans - so taking a pre-bottled vanilla vodka seemed like a good idea. Another reason is that you get to control the ratio of flavors if you infuse flavors separately. After all, once you've stuck the vanilla bean and ginger into the bottle, the flavor ratio will remain the same no matter how long you let it sit. Infusing in stages lets you control the ratio better - and infusing using a pre-prepared infused vodka means that one of the elements is already set. So, you can see why it might make sense. Anyway, i think the concept of double-infusing - using pre-infused store-bought vodka sounds like a fun idea, so we'll see how it comes out.

Brandied Cherries - Maraschino Cherries

So, a few days ago, i tried making a few different ingredients for my home bar - ingredients that i could use in cocktails that go in my home bar menu. (I'll try and post on that later). One of the ingredients was brandied cherries. Brandied cherries (at least the recipe that i half-followed from Saveur) take about 6 weeks to prepare, so i won't be able to taste them for a while, but i wanted to post some thoughts about them and maraschino cherries before i try them out. Of course, i'm interested in both, because both of them make fabulous additions to Manhattans.

Maraschino cherries are now technically sweet cherries that are produced by a process of brining which leeches the cherry of its color - they are then soaked in food coloring and flavorings to produce the bright red cherries that you see in the bottle. Of course, since the food coloring provides the main color to the cherry, you can basically have maraschino cherries of any color you want (and they do - although i forgot the maker). The name "Maraschino" actually derives from Croatia, where the people there use the Marasca cherry to make a liqueur called "Maraschino" (although there is another company called Marasca that makes a similar cherry-liqueur as well). This is interesting in part becase Marasca cherries are considered a type of sour cherry (actually they are described as kinda bitter) whereas the cherries used in maraschino cherries are a type of sweet cherry.

The difference between sweet and sour cherries is significant. One of the differences is obviously the taste. Another is sexual - sweet cherries are not self-fertile (capable of self-pollinating) whereas sour cherries are. Texture is another issue - apparently sweet cherries remain firmer when macerated in alcohol whereas sour cherries have a tendency to mush up. Last, sweet and sour cherries have different color characteristics - sour cherries have more of a habit of turning brown when exposed to light. I suspect it is these characteristics of sour cherries that probably led to the brining process for maraschino cherries - and then ultimately the switch to sweet cherries.

Brandied cherries are, basically, cherries that have been soaked in brandy. They are very different from maraschinos - and there are quite a few different recipes that i've found. One method of making them is more of a "cook's" method of making them - it involves simply cooking cherries in sugar syrup and then adding a small amount of brandy to give them an extra kick. On the complete other end of the spectrum (i suppose i mean the "bartender's method") is Gary Regan who simply suggests soaking cherries for a significant period of time in a mixture of brandy and a little vermouth. Of course, other version can involve using an alcohol other than brandy (say Maker's Mark - sold in stores). Then again, there is something special about the combination of brandy and fruit. The version that i saw - and am trying out - calls for marinating a pound of cherries for six weeks in a mixture of 2 cups brandy to 1 cup sugar. The nice thing about THIS recipe that you don't get from other recipes is that you ALSO get a nice batch of cherry-flavored brandy - a brandy that they say you can serve in glasses with the cherries.

Now, I never tried this recipe - in part because i'm suspicious of sugar's ability to dissolve in that little brandy (at least without cooking). So, i'm trying out a slightly different recipe - and i'll let you know how it turns out:

1 pound cherries
2 cups alcohol (preferably brandy - i used a mix of brandy and vodka)
1 cup simple syrup (1/2 sugar and 1/2 water)

So, hopefully at the end of this, i will have a nice batch of brandied cherries AND a nice batch of cherry liqueur as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Prairie Oyster - Cowboy Bebop

There was an episode of a Japanese Anime called Cowboy Bebop that features a drink called a "Prairie Oyster" - a drink that is used as a hangover cure. The drink is special in that it features a raw egg-yolk - obviously meant as a way to provide nutrition to the hungover person to make them feel better. Anyway, i've been looking for official versions of the recipe and have found only four(one which i have tried to determine by watching the Anime). Obviously, for whatever version you try, you should always make sure to use FRESH eggs. (Especially for the version that uses a WHOLE egg - as salmonella is more a problem for egg whites than egg yolks). Methods for drinking the prairie oyster also seem to differ.

For a slightly safer version, you can do what i would do, and take the Schumann version of the prairie oyster, and simply poach the egg yolk in simmering water (you can use a slotted spoon) for about 10 seconds (or to your liking). Then dig in with the spoon and enjoy!

1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp tomato juice
1 whole egg yolk
2 dashes vinegar
1 dash pepper
Pour in order given into a wine glass, taking care not to break the yolk.
(Drinkstreet commentators suggest taking the entire drink in one gulp).

From American Bar - by Charles Schumann:
olive oil
1-2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 egg yolk
salt, pepper
worcestershire sauce
vinegar or lemon juice

Rinse a cocktail glass with olive oil, place ketchup in glass, carefully add egg yolk, and season. (Serve with a small spoon and a glass of ice water).
(Assumedly, Schumann is suggesting that you eat the concoction with the spoon).

From Cowboy Bebop:
1 egg yolk
worcestershire sauce
1 oz of clear liquid (a bottle of gin is in the background, but he pours what appears to be bottled water).

layer the ingredients in an old-fashioned glass in order given. hold your nose and swallow in a single gulp. (of course, the clear liquid may be gin - so i suppose you could make it with any liquor at all).

1 whole egg
1 oz vodka
2 dashes vinegar
1 tsp worcestershire
1 tsp ketchup
2 dashes tabasco
pinch of salt and pepper

layer in order in an old-fashioned glass and drink in one gulp.

From Esquire Magazine:
1 whole egg
1 tsp worcestershire
salt and pepper
dashes tabasco

layer in order in an old-fashioned glass and drink in one gulp.

On Bottled Cocktails

So, i've read in a few places about the concept of the bottled cocktail. After seeing the concept written about in Gary Regan's great book "The Joy of Mixology" i decided to try it out myself at a cocktail party that i hosted a few months ago.

The basic idea behind the bottled cocktail is that you mix a larger batch of a particular drink (say a Manhattan) and then add a certain amount of water to the batch to account for the amount of water that would have melted in the shaker had you mad it the traditional way. After this, the bottled cocktail is then chilled in the freezer (or in the back part of the fridge) to the temperature it would have been at had it been made the traditional way. After you've accomplished all this, all you need to do is present the bottles in a chilled bin of ice and accompany it with a set of pre-chilled glasses for enjoyment. The guests can pour drinks themselves, and instead of spending all your time mixing drinks, you can mingle with your guests.

Each 750 ml bottle should hold roughly 5 drinks. So in order to make the bottled cocktail, you take any cocktail recipe that serves 1, multiply all of the ingredients by five, and then add water. How much water? Gary Regan states that "the amount of water in the recipe should be approximately equal to one-third of the sum of the other ingredients". So, say that the ingredients in the recipe add up to 15 oz. In this case, you simply add 5 oz of water and VOILA! you have a bottled cocktail.

Sounds pretty easy, doesn't it? But there are a few suggestions that might help you if you ever try to pull off a bottled cocktail party.

Before i get to that, first an observation about the concept itself. One of the oft-overlooked problems with bottled cocktails are that they are decidedly a lot more frumpy than individually made cocktails. Not only do you miss out on the presentation-flair aspect of making each cocktail individually, but the concept itself is one that can turn off your patrons. They have (and will) think that these bottled cocktails just aren't the same thing as the "real thing" that they got at the bar (or would've gotten if individually made). A lot of this can be dealt with - at least to a degree - by choosing which cocktails you decide to bottle. You should never bottle cocktails that cocktail aficionados would order - and you should never bottle cocktails that usually involve making the drink to taste. So, you should never try bottled martinis (gin or vodka) or bottled manhattans. Not only do they take all the perceived class out of the drink, but you won't be able to make them to everyone's taste.

Some other suggestions:
(1) Use clear bottles. Don't do what i did and use a set of dark green Pellegrino bottles. They can't see what's inside and it makes them less comfortable trying it out.
(2) Provide paper-towels. This sounds odd, but bottled cocktails (when stored in ice) will drip a LOT of water. Make sure to wipe the bottles before you pour to prevent excess water from getting into the drink. Otherwise it can be quite messy.
(3) Only make more popular drinks - preferably ones that they've heard of before. This is not the time to try making some new drink - unless you're sure that its of a type that your patrons will enjoy. You don't want to do what i did and end up with a whole bottle-full of some chocolate-coffee-banana concoction that your friends wouldn't touch.
(4) Have beer on-hand. Wine drinkers will be more likely to try cocktails, but beer drinkers won't touch the stuff no matter how you make it. Keep something around for them to drink so they don't die of thirst.
(5) Make a variety. Don't make drinks that are too similar to one another. Of course, on the other hand, don't make too many different types of drinks either - otherwise you'll be left with a lot of extra. Plan ahead to make sure you're making the right amount.
(6) Clearly label each drink and the ingredients that go into it. Labeling everything clearly will make them less suspicious of what's in the drink. If you used specialty ingredients, that's even better. It helps to combat those people who automatically will think that the same drink at the bar is superior.

That's all i can think of - at least from the experience that i had with a bottled-cocktail party. That said, bottled-cocktails ARE useful for the home bar when you want to entertain the occasional guest. Bottled-cocktails KEEP FOR A LONG TIME IN THE FRIDGE, and so they are perfect for pouring yourself (or a friend) a drink every now and again. Unlike serving bottled-cocktails for parties, you don't have to deal with a bin of ice and the mess that goes with it.

The Home Bartender's Vodka Challenge

I think everyone has a few friends that claim to be aficionados of "top-shelf" vodkas. If you are in the know, you probably have also read that article in the New York Times which designated Smirnoff (an American vodka) as being the tastiest vodka in town (over such vodkas as Grey Good and Belvedere). Since then, there's been some debate between my friends and i regarding whether top-shelf vodkas really are in fact top shelf. The problem is that most top-shelf aficionados are quite scared of one thing - doing a blind taste test which might reveal their pretense. This fear i think is what has driven a number of horribly designed faux-blind taste-tests that i've seen on the internet - the idea i think is that top-shelf aficionados will only do a blind taste-test if it's not really blind.

Can these alleged aficionados really tell the difference between top-shelf and non-top-shelf? Perhaps. What makes the question more difficult is that vodka itself is supposed to be partly defined as a liquor that has had virtually all of the taste sucked out of it. This is why you can have vodkas made from a variety of different materials (voignier grapes, various kinds of wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, etc...). As long as you've distilled and filtered the living shit out of the alcoholic liquid that you have (thus removing almost all of the taste), you have vodka. It makes things difficult, because it's not clear how these aficionados could easily tell the difference between top-shelf and non-top-shelf vodka. On top of this, i should note that it's the lack of taste in vodka that allows external factors such as marketing and price to affect the tasters impression of the quality of vodka. Vodka (in some sense) is specifically designed to be that drink for which marketing and price has its maximum impact!

Of course, there's the question of "burn". People who like top-shelf vodkas say that their vodka of choice has no "burn". This statement by itself is a little silly, in part, because there are lots of different kinds of "burn" when it comes to any alcohol. Some vodkas will have a "smooth" burn, while others will have a "rough" burn. Moreover, liquors will burn in different ways depending on how desensitized you have been to high-octane drinks. If you aren't used to high-octane drinks, then everything will "burn" - if you are used to them, then only your really horrible vodkas will "burn" in the rough sense. On top of this, some vodkas are preferred specifically because they have a kind of burn. A friend's mother claims that she wants to "taste vodka" when she drinks vodka - not taste water.

Why do i care so much about the observations that i've made so far? Part of it has to do with the fact that I have a number of top-shelf vodkas in my liquor cabinet and the people that do drink from my stash always want to drink the top-shelf vodkas. Now, i know what some of you will be thinking. Of course, the guest is always right, and as the host i should always be putting my top-shelf stuff on display. I think this is right to a point. One reason for not using top-shelf stuff is that one is making a mixed drink with strong flavors. Why does one not use top-shelf liquor in this case? Well, the idea, i take it, is that you can't tell the difference between top-shelf and non-top shelf once you mix Grey Goose in with Hawaiian Punch and Jagermeister. It's a waste of money and good liquor. Of course given this, you can see that this reasoning should also apply to serving top-shelf liquor by itself or in vodka martinis. If they can't tell the difference between top-shelf and non-top-shelf stuff when chilled, then you shouldn't pour them top-shelf stuff in these cases either. It would be JUST LIKE mixing Grey Goose with Jagermeister.

Keeping this in mind, i care about the above observations because i don't like it when expensive vodka goes to waste. Now, i'm not one to be horribly snobby and assume that my guests aren't able to tell the difference. Nor am i such a sucker for marketing that i'll assume that there is an actual difference between top-shelf and non-top shelf. What i am going to do is force all of my patrons to take a vodka taste test - a taste test that they must pass in order to reserve the right to order top-shelf liquor from my home bar.

Here are the rules:

(1) $5 entry fee to take the vodka taste-test. $5 will not be refunded upon one's passing the test.
(2) 6 vodkas will be chosen - each consisting of 1 shot of vodka. 5 of the vodkas will be chosen by the home bartender and will be of the non-top-shelf variety. 1 of the vodkas will be chosen by the test-taker and will be of the top-shelf variety.
(3) Taster will be required to rate each of the vodkas on a scale of 1 to 10 - 10 being vodka perfection and 1 being rubbing alcohol.
(4) Prior to tasting the taster can (at his discretion) choose to down one shot of Jim Beam to reduce the higher "burn" that normally accompanies the first shot of vodka.
(5) Vodkas will be poured in shot glasses of the same variety and coded with a numbering system to help the home-bartender identify each vodka. This is to say that the home-bartender will not know which vodkas are in which glass without looking at the numbering system. (the test will be double-blind).
(6) Vodkas will be chilled in the freezer for a period of 5 minutes prior to the tasting (i.e., they will not be chilled over ice).
(7) "Top-shelf" vodka will be defined as vodka that costs over 25$ per 750ml (based on the price of a standard 750ml bottle).
(8) "Top-shelf" vodkas that have a distinctive taste (such as Ciroc, or some potato vodkas) cannot be chosen as the top-shelf vodka, unless a similar list of 5 other vodkas can be found.
(9) Passage of test results in one's ability to order top-shelf vodka for a period of 3 months. Passage of test will also result in documentation of one's passing.
(10) Test is passed when the tester gives the "top-shelf" vodka the SOLE highest rating of all the vodkas imbibed.
(11) Test results will be published for the viewing of all.
(12) Passage of the test 4 times in a row will result in one's license being renewed indefinitely.

If anyone would like to modify or suggest rules, comment below.

About Me

I am by no means a professional bartender. Of course, when you live in the city of Columbus, Ohio, that is probably a good thing. I won't say much about myself aside from the fact that i have a growing collection of alcohol and a wee bit of free time on my hands. That, and I want to document some of my experiments and observations for my own use - so this is as much a blog for my own purposes as it is for anyone else who cares to read it.

Why did i end up collecting all this liquor? Well, contrary to what someone might believe, I actually don't drink that much - the collection was built mostly to entertain other people. Unfortunately, since i don't drink that much and my friends (it turns out) don't drink very much either, the collection has grown larger and larger and now i have a bunch of alcohol that i could do a lot of things with, but i haven't yet. So part of the point of the blog is to figure out what to do with it - another related part is to figure out how to make my friends drink my alcohol.

A list of the liquors I have collected can be seen (link provided - probably on the side, if i did things correctly). I'm also doing an ongoing vodka experiment that I will be updated occasionally after it gets started.

Friday, February 15, 2008

List of liquor by Category

Grey Goose
Ketel One
Taaka Platinum

Flavored Vodka:
Absolut - Mandrin
Absolut - Pears
Pearl - Plum
Seagram's - Citrus
Skyy - Melon
Smirnoff - Vanilla
Smirnoff - Blueberry
Smirnoff - Strawberry
Smirnoff - White Grape
Stoli - Blueberry
Stoli - Vanilla

Bombay Sapphire
New Amsterdam
Seagram's Extra Dry

Appleton Estate VX (Jamaica)
Bacardi White (Puerto Rico)
Bacardi Gold (Puerto Rico)
Bacardi Reserve (Puerto Rico)
Cruzan Black Strap (Virgin Islands)
Malibu Coconut (Caribbean)
Malibu Mango (Caribbean)
Malibu Pineapple (Caribbean)
Malibu Passionfruit (Caribbean)
Mount Gay Eclipse - Gold (Barbados)
Pyrat XO (British West Indies)
Ten Cane (Trinidad)

Laird's Applejack
St. Remy VSOP
St. Remy XO

Whiskey - Canadian:
Canadian Club
Crown Royal
Whiskey - Bourbon:
Bulleit Bourbon
Jack Daniel's
Jim Beam - Regular (Bowling Pin)
Jim Beam - Green
Maker's Mark
Whiskey - Rye:
Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Rye
Whiskey - Scotch - Blended:
Chivas Regal
Whiskey - Scotch - Single-Malt:
Glenlivet 10 year - Highland, Speyside
Laphroaig 10 year - Islay
McCellalands (young) - Highland
Speyburn 10 yr - Highland, Speyside

1840 Silver
Patron Anejo

King Eider - Dry
Lillet - Blanc
Martini & Rossi - Dry
Martini & Rossi - Sweet
Martini & Rossi - Bianco
Noilly Prat - Dry
Noilly Prat - Sweet
Vya - Extra Dry

Liqueurs - Proprietary:
Bailey's Irish Cream
Citronge - Patron
Copa de Oro Coffee Liqueur
Grand Marnier
Kahana Royale - Macademia
Kahlua - French Vanilla
Luxardo Maraschino
Praline - Pecan Liqueur
Romana Sambuca
SOHO Lychee
Southern Comfort
Southern Comfort 100
St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Tiramisu - Italian Liqueur

Liqueurs - Other:
Colonial - Creme de Banana
Colonial - Sloe Gin
DeKuyper - Blue Island Pucker
DeKuyper - Bluesberry
DeKuyper - Cherry Pucker
DeKuyper - Creme de Cassis
DeKuyper - Creme de Cacao, Dark
DeKuyper - Creme de Menthe, Green
DeKuyper - Ginger Flavored Brandy
DeKuyper - Pomegranate
DeKuyper - Raspberry Pucker
DeKuyper - Thrilla Vanilla
DeKuyper - Watermelon Pucker
E&J - Cask and Cream
Hiram-Walker - Creme de Noyaux
Hiram-Walker - Grapefruit
Hiram-Walker - Pear
Hiram-Walker - Pomegranate
Paramount - Apricot Brandy
Paramount - Pomegranate
Mr. Boston - Amaretto
Mr. Boston - Black Raspberry
Mr. Boston - Creme de Cacao - White
Mr. Boston - Creme de Menthe - White
Mr. Boston - Melon Liqueur
Mr. Boston - Peach Schnapps
Mr. Boston - Sour Apple

Bitters - Potable and Other:
Angostura Bitters
China Martini
Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters
Fee Brothers Lemon Bitters
Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Fee Brothers Peach Bitters
Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters
Orange Flower Water
Peychaud's Bitters
Yokaichi Mugi Shochu

Homemade Simple Syrup
Torani Raspberry Syrup

Feta-stuffed olives
Black oil-cured olives
Maraschino cherries