Why can’t I take Everclear on the plane?

Posted: 29th July 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Tech
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IMG_20131206_092742One of the more unusual restrictions I found when researching what alcohol you can take on a plane is the limit on proof.  For airlines the limit is 140 proof or about 70% ABV.  This limit applies to checked luggage only from what I can tell.  Bottles in your carry-on don’t seem to get the same treatment.  This led to two possible answers.  First is the fact that high-proof spirits are actually illegal to sell in at least 15 States and transporting them could lead to significant liability.

Second is the possibility for damage to the aircraft and cargo.

For legality purposes it is illegal to sell alcohol at 190 proof in California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  It’s totally legal to own so far as I’ve been able to tell but as with many other things the devil is in the details.

My college chemistry courses taught us about a concept called vapor pressure.  Essentially the boiling point of a liquid is decreased depending on the amount of atmospheric pressure applied to it.  This is the reason that people who live at high altitude or who go hiking in the mountains have to take care when cooking.  Water will boil at a much lower temperature leading to inaccurate cooking times.  As you can see below the boiling point drops significantly as the pressure decreases.   Standard cruising altitude for most aircraft is 30,000 feet at which point the pressure would be around 226 torr outside.  Given the chart below that puts the boiling point somewhere between 40 and 65 C.  The closer to 200 proof you get the lower the boiling point.

When alcohol boils it turns into a gas which rapidly increases the pressure inside the bottle and causes either the cap to fail or the bottle itself to shatter, at which point you have a quantity of highly flammable gas loose inside the hold of an aircraft.

Not to mention that the exploding liquor bottle and flying glass could do a bit of damage on their own.

Depending on the aircraft most cargo holds are generally pressurized and heated.  Some aren’t heated but regardless the changes in pressure and temperature shouldn’t impact a bottle while in flight.

So in the end this amounts to an overabundance of caution from the airlines.  I’ve reached out to some airlines in an effort to better understand this restriction but have not yet heard back from any.

Whiskey Tees

Posted: 22nd July 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Around the Web
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Item of the month clubs that send boxes of fancy stuff seem to be a dime a dozen these days.  From Lootcrate to Glambag the bag of random stuff to your door has returned.  One that caught my eye recently was Whiskey Tees.  A company that for $20 a month will send you a different whiskey distiller’s shirt each month.  Discounts for yearly subscriptions are offered which can bring the total down to $16 per shirt.

They say that each of the shirts uses unique artwork from the various distillers but from the example shirts on their site it looks mostly like the company logo plastered on a random color t-shirt.  The ones I recognize from Corsair, Koval and Few aren’t really that different than what you see on their bottles.

Additionally while it may seem like the hipster thing to do by wearing a shirt from a liquor you probably can’t even buy in your state the shirts are likely not much better than what you could purchase from the various company websites.  Unlike liquor there aren’t any restrictions on what T-shirts you can ship interstate.

Great idea for the whiskey drinking friend who likes to advertise their hobby.

I had an opportunity to work in a distillery retail store, which is much like a standard liquor store only with a limited selection.  People of all types came along with questions like “do you sell scotch?”  At first I was befuddled, that people could be so ignorant of what they were drinking.  After a couple of weeks I stopped wondering and started pulling out the details so I could really answer people’s questions.  One of the most prominent was “What is Bourbon?”

This is actually a much deeper question than it first appears because it comes right on the heels of the more important question, “What is whisk(e)y?”

The term whiskey simply means any grain spirit distilled to less than 160 proof, barreled at no more than 125 proof and aged in an oak barrel.

Bourbon, Rye and Single Malt whiskeys are all sub-types of whiskey that specify a specific grain type that predominates.  So you could make whiskey with 20% each of corn, rye, barley, quinoa and wheat but you could never call the resulting franken-whiskey anything other than just whiskey.  If you have at least 51% of rye you can call it a rye whiskey but anything less and you’re stuck with the general label.  Please keep in mind that much of what I’m going to discuss here is based on American regulations or American trade deals with other countries.  Some things could be different outside the US and I’m also not a lawyer or an expert on TTB regulations.

Aging and the White Dog

The aging stipulation is actually a funny bit.  The rules say you have to age it, but not how long.  Another loophole is that predominantly corn whiskey can be sold unaged.  This is where moonshine comes from.  Moonshine or White Dog is a kind of unaged whiskey where the product spends as little time as possible in a barrel.  In some cases this is simply the time it takes to pump the liquor into and out of the barrel.  Some distilleries like House Spirits let their White Dog rest for as long as 3 days.  Because there is no regulation on the term white dog anyone can use it to mean any number of things.  So if a label says white dog but not whiskey then chances are it doesn’t contain the right amount of corn or that they age it in something other than oak, if at all.  Moonshine is also an unregulated term so it could just as easily refer to a sugar based spirit as shown in Pink Panty Dropper Watermelon Moonshine.

If the whiskey has been aged for at least 2 years and contains no other flavoring or coloring additives it may also be labeled as Straight Whiskey.  This can be applied to any type from Straight Rye to Straight Bourbon.  If a whiskey is over two years it gets the option to be called straight, it’s not a requirement but if you see straight on the label you can infer something about the age.

Beyond that the rules regarding age are rather complicated.  That is a link to the TTB regulations on Age, whiskey occupies a full 6 pages of this 16 page document.  The big take away is that if the spirit is less than 4 years old then an age statement is required.

Bourbon

Bourbon is actually a sub-type of corn whiskey, where corn whiskey requires at least 80% corn in the initial mash bourbon is less stringent and requires only 51% or greater.

All bourbons are aged in new charred american oak barrels, this statement requires some parsing.  New means unused previously, only fresh barrels are used for each batch.  This means that some of the flavors and mellowing involved in the contact between alcohol and wood never gets to carry over from batch to batch.  Additionally it means that there are quite a few used bourbon barrels on the market as the distillery can’t reuse old barrels for bourbon.  These get snapped up by beer brewers, rum makers and scotch distillers for use in their own less stringent aging processes.

The next part of the statement is charred, this means that the barrel will be imparting both color and flavor to the spirit as the charcoal filters the spirit over time.  Uncharred barrels will generally do this to some degree but never to the same extent that even a lightly charred barrel will.  Charring is not an on or off process.  Barrels can be charred or toasted to any number of degrees which allows the distiller to control how quickly and to what extent flavors will be imparted over the aging process.

Lastly we come to American Oak, this is important because there are actually many species of white oak from American to French and even an Oregon specific variety.  Each has a slightly different character due to climate, soil and species that can impart drastically different flavors to the finished product.  For a prime example I suggest tasting the Burnside Oregon Oaked Bourbon alongside its 4 year counterpart and compare the differences.  Requiring a specific species limits the range of flavors that the wood can vary from and also gives a healthy kick to the American Cooperage industry.

Bourbon has some other finicky bits about barrel strength, bottle strength and such but most of these don’t impact the differences between other whiskey.

Tennessee Whiskey

As bourbon is a sub-type of corn whiskey, so too is Tennessee Whiskey a sub-type of bourbon.  Only recently defined by Tennessee state law they have defined Tennessee Whiskey as a bourbon that undergoes the Lincoln County Process.

This means that first off the producers in Tennessee have to adhere to all of the normal restrictions for bourbon with regard to content, age, and process.  The Lincoln County Process refers to a process where the raw unaged bourbon is filtered through sugar maple charcoal prior to being cut and barreled.  This is not an exact process as different distilleries will either soak or trickle the whiskey through the charcoal and will do so at differing proofs and temperatures.

Funny Story, none of the distilleries that use the Lincoln county process are actually IN Lincoln county.  Jack Daniels, George Dickel and several others are located in next door Moore County and have been for most of their existence.  A little digging shows that Moore county was created out of parts of Lincoln county sometime in the 1850’s which means it’s not a new change.

Additionally, the only distillery actually in Lincoln county is Prichard’s.  Through an amazing example of targeted lobbying Prichard’s managed to get an exception to the Tennessee law added which exempts them from the requirement to use charcoal filtering on the basis that they have never used it before.  The law was originally sponsored by Jack Daniels and so I don’t really see much wrong with other distillers getting their digs in against a law which promotes exactly the process JD has been using for over a hundred years.  What makes it funny is that Prichard’s has only been around since 1997 and was able to have enough sway to get something like this done.

Rye Whiskey

Legally a Rye Whiskey is one in which the grain content has at least 51% rye.  As explained above bourbon is primarily corn with the remainder being composed of things like rye and wheat.  It is therefore possible to have a rye and a bourbon in which the difference in the content is a 2% change from rye to corn.

I can’t actually name any whiskey that meets this definition as most companies do not publish their grain bill but under the rules it is possible.

Rye tends to have a spicier flavor as compared to the mellow notes of wheat.  Rye also has a fairly distinctive aroma.  Rye is aged in oak like most other whiskey but unlike bourbon does not have the same level of restrictions on how it is produced and under what circumstances.

This leads to a lot more variance in how rye is composed and a lot less consistency across various brands.  Many major brands offer a Rye from Bulleit‘s rather traditional offering to the Ri-One craziness from beam-suntory.

Scotchy Scotch Scotch

First off all scotch is made in Scotland.  If it’s made outside of Scotland the definition gets a bit more murky but some alternative names include American Single Malt, Single Malt, Malt Whisky, and of course he catch all Whisky (no e).  The second big requirement for all of the types in this category is that they use predominantly barley or malted barley in their grain bill.  Third Scotch is aged for three years in oak casks.

When they say made in Scotland they get really picky, it must be processed, converted, fermented, distilled, aged, bottled and labeled IN Scotland.

Their naming guidelines are equally odd.  You cannot use the name of a distillery on the bottle unless the product actually came from there.  This is in contrast to the US where we are presently having our own growing pains with non-distilling producers.

Single Malt Whisky is actually three terms and not one.  The Single portion means how many distilleries were involved in the process.  Single means it all happens in one shop, Blended means more than one distillery’s product was combined into the results.  Malt means that the contents are 100% malted barley, if instead it said grain it would mean that other cereal grains were used in the grain bill.

More interesting still is that the laws in Scotland actually prohibit the production of non-scotch whisky.  So you will likely never see a Scottish bourbon, or a good Scottish rye.  It would take forever to list out the more salient details of the various kinds of scotch and I’m nothing like an expert on any of them but suffice to say they are many, manifold and delicious.

As to American Single Malts there have been a number of them arising over the years and several of them have outperformed ancient named Scottish brands in tasting competitions.

Irish Whiskey

Previously one of the most popular types of whiskey, Irish Whiskey has taken a pretty hard fall over the years.  Generally similar to scotch, there are considerably fewer restrictions on how it is produced.  For one thing most Irish whiskey is distilled three times compared to two for scotch.  It is also aged for three years.  Beyond that, it simply has to have the character of the component grains to qualify.

For such a famous spirit it is very strange that there are only a bare dozen distilling operations in the entire country.  The most famous of which are the distilleries producing Jameson and Bushmills.

What is Malting?

You might only hear the term Malt when talking about scotch but the process itself is used in a number of areas.  Essentially what happens is that grains are exposed to water and then allowed to sprout, this begins the process of converting the stored starch in the grain into sugar.  The grains are then very rapidly dried and the process stopped creating a product with a lot of accessible sugar and a high content of the enzyme which breaks down starches already active and ready to go.  Any grain can be malted but it is not necessary to put this fact on the label, so if you see malted *grain* on your whiskey it was the distiller’s choice to put that there.

In general this provides for a more rapid fermentation than using unmalted product.  Additionally, barley contains a much higher concentration of the enzyme than other grains which makes malted barley an excellent product for kickstarting the fermentation process in other grains which might take much longer to begin fermenting on their own.

It is also how you begin the process of fermenting things like potatoes which do not normally contain enzymes of their own and would otherwise not ferment.

More recently synthetic enzymes have come on the market allowing distillers to produce similar results without the addition of barley to their products.

What is Sour Mash?

Sour Mash is another optional label component.  The process is a bit like keeping a bit of sourdough starter to begin your next batch.  Some of the fermented mash from a previous batch is added to new washes to allow some of the original yeast strains to carry over.  This has a big impact on flavor and most of the best whiskey is sour mashed whether they say so on the label or not.

A list of terms that don’t actually mean anything

Handcrafted
Small Batch
Barrel Aged
Cask Strength
Moonshine
Single Barrel

Aval Pota

Posted: 8th July 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Liquor Review
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aval pota 2Mcmenamin’s operates two distilleries in the Portland area, one at Edgefield and another at Imbrie Hall.  Their products aren’t generally sold outside of their own operations but with dozens of small strip mall bars all over town it isn’t exactly hard to find their stuff if you want it.

Recently I went shopping for presents and found a number of new products on their shelf.  Among them was this tasty little number.  Aval is middle welsh for apple, Pota is old Irish for a pot still.  From the name you would expect an apple brandy but Aval Pota is basically apple pie.  Unlike a number of the other ones on the market this one isn’t a moonshine base it uses a single malt whiskey.

Blended with apple juice and spices down to a reasonable proof this is a pretty sweet liqueur.  It runs well hot or cold, the apple flavor in most things is normally too mild to notice but this holds up well.  Apple smell on top is a nice aroma followed by the cinnamon.  The flavors carry over into the first and second notes where you get the sweet and crisp kind of apple flavor you might get from a dried apple ring.  The whiskey has a nice bite on the end, being from single malt it doesn’t have the more spicy or rounded notes of a bourbon or rye.

A little spendy for something this low a proof, most flavored whiskey products aim a little lower since they know the whiskey flavor will be covered over and thus any imperfections will be less noticeable. Pick up a bottle when things get colder and drop a little into your tea or cider.  This doesn’t disappoint.

33% ABV and $29.95 for a 750ml bottle.

Gojee Drinks

Posted: 1st July 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Around the Web, Tech
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gojeeI stumbled across this on another bloggers site. Gojee is a food and drink site that helps bloggers.

The basic idea is that they aggregate recipes from various contributing bloggers and display them in an easily searchable format.

Some initial impressions.  I couldn’t get the sign up using facebook or google to work and had to create a new login.  Not a great first impression as I hate creating new logins for things when existing ones will do.

The drinks side of the site is very pretty.  The whole screen is devoted to the photos of the drink with minimal controls around the top and sides to let you delve into things more fully.  Since many bloggers do their own photography you can see some very lovely shots of drinks just scrolling through.

The controls are responsive but somewhat poorly laid out.  If you open the ingredients list you lose the ability to scroll to the right via mouse.  Keyboard scrolling still works using arrow keys but that isn’t really stated, so I had to spend a minute figuring it out.

Once you find a drink you like you can click on the ingredients and get a very scrubbed list of what is in the drink.  It appears that unless you list something by name it will substitute the generic option.  So suggesting Buffalo Trace as your favored bourbon for a cocktail might not carry over but listing Hendrick’s Gin would carry over.  This could result in some AND/NOT OR search problems where looking for one filters out the other entirely.

The lack of some ingredients may have more to do with the source of the recipes than anything else.  Each of these is contributed by individual bloggers and not from some kind of central drink database.  So there could be a plethora of martinis and daquiris but some rarer drinks may fall by the wayside.

Once you have a look at what the drink has in general, you can add missing ingredients to a shopping list, or click on the full recipe at which point you are directed to the original blog post.  This is a nice touch and a neat way to drive traffic to bloggers with good ideas and good photos.

The site also allows you to make a list of things you already have, and things you would like to avoid so that it can actively filter things.  They even let you dislike alcohol which lets you see kid friendly cocktails and sodas.

There is a favorite items list on the site and it has a full range of social media sharing buttons which makes it easy to compile your own cocktail menu.

I applied to be one of their contributors but their submission process didn’t leave me with a lot of information.  I will update if I hear back from them later.

I see a lot of duplication on the site, Just poking around in gin cocktails I found “The Income Tax Cocktail” and “Income Tax”.  A classic from “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”, having it show up twice under slightly different names means that a lot of the recipes here could simply be variants on each other.  I’m not sure how many super glossy photos of a basic martini we need but I know there aren’t that many ways to make it differently.

Final thought, Come for the photos, leave for the blogs themselves.

Tonic Water Comparison

Posted: 24th June 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Feature
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toniclineupMy favorite liquor by far has to be Gin.  There can be no greater expression of gin’s history and utility than the simple gin and tonic.  To that end I am always on the hunt for the next great tonic water.

History

Tonic water itself has a long history and it all starts with the main ingredient Quinine.

Quinine is used for two major purposes, the first is flavoring tonic water and the second is fighting malaria.  The entire reason to make tonic water in the first place was to serve it to people worked in malaria ridden portions of the world.

Quinine was originally derived from the bark of a south american tree called the Cinchona.  A hardy little tree that grows at very high altitudes in the Andes mountains.  The Cinchona contains several alkaloid chemicals and was shown to the Spanish by South American natives sometime between 1560 and 1782.

Because the chemical was so effective a treatment and malaria so common in parts of the world being actively explored at the time, use of the bark as a medicine became common among sailors in the Spanish and English navies.  When combined with the sailor’s ration of lime juice to ward off scurvy and their gin ration you have the beginnings of the gin and tonic as it spread across the British empire.

Modern tonic water bears very little resemblance to that originally crafted in its heyday.  The difference between a recreational use and a medical use is significant.  The US FDA limits tonic water to no more than 83mg per liter while a therapeutic dose is closer to 500-1000 mgs.

As a result modern tonics are less bitter and often sweetened resulting in problems for those seeking to create classic cocktails from older bar guides.

The Contenders

I have assembled five of the top contenders to the crown of #1 tonic water.  Discounting my own house made tonic syrup they are as follows:

Schweppes: Dating back to the 1780s Schweppes claims the title of oldest soft drink in the world.  The company has undergone some changes over the years as it has been bought and sold.  Schweppes brand is currently owned by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group based in Plano, Tx.  They also produce Canada Dry so I saw no reason to include that brand here as they are functionally pretty similar.

Fentimens: Using a recipe that dates back to 1905 the current Fentimens company was relaunched by the Great Grandson of the founder in 1988.  They claim to ferment and brew their sodas for 7 days.

Fever Tree: Based in London, UK their first product released 2005 was their premium Indian Tonic water.  They have since followed up with a number of variants including a naturally light, elder flower and Mediterranean variety.

Q Tonic: Founded in 2004 and based in New York.  Q drinks strives to make a high quality tonic water. They have also released a number of other lines including ginger beer, grapefruit and lemon.

Bradley’s Kina Tonic: Based in Seattle, WA and created in June of 2013 Bradley’s was the result of successful kickstarter campaign.  At present the Kina Tonic is the only product they have.  Unlike the others Bradley’s is a syrup which requires the addition of carbonated water.

The Rules

To make for a fair comparison we need to get each of these into an equal solution.  With one syrup on the bill that means figuring out a fair dilution.  Bradley’s website calls for 0.75 oz of syrup to 3 oz club soda.

So as a baseline we should use 3.75 oz of each product in out setup.

I don’t want to extend much above 5 oz total but a 1.5 oz shot of gin should be sufficient to make things work.

London Dry is the traditional element to use in this case and so I’m going to try two gins, Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray.  Both should give the more significant juniper flavors that this needs.

So our finished recipe should be:

3.75 oz Tonic water
1.5 oz Gin
Small twist of lime

With five competitors and two gins this is going to be a struggle to complete, but I throw myself on that grenade for you dear reader.

The Results

Flavor

In the end I wound up doing this in a couple of batches.  I brought the bottles with me and had various people taste them both with and without gin.

5. Schweppes: About what you’d expect, pretty mild.  Slightly sweet with low to minimum bitterness.  Rated lowest of all of the options.

4. Q Tonic: Lacking the corn syrup of schweppes Q tonic rated slightly higher with all testers.  The flavor was cleaner but also significantly more bitter.

3. Fentimens: There is a distinct lemony flavor to this tonic likely from the use of lemon extract or citrus oil in addition to the citric acid.  It was the only one of the bottles that disclosed the exact flavoring ingredients so it’s likely that others had similar items just in lower amounts.

2. Fever Tree: A close tie with the Fentimens for favorite bottled the fever tree was by far the smoothest of the five for flavor with gin.

1. Bradley’s: The far out winner for flavor was the bradley’s tonic.  I don’t think it was entirely fair as the Bradley’s was built as a flavorful tincture rather than a simple tonic but most people sampled were far more impressed with the flavor of this than any other tonics.

Price and Availability 

It should be said that all of these can be bought over the internet for similar prices as what you’d find in stores.

1. Schweppes – $1.25 for 1L, available pretty much everywhere.
2. Q Tonic – $2.29 for 9oz, Found it in three grocery stores and a number of liquor stores in various sizes
3. Fever Tree – $2.75 for 16.9oz, also in a four pack of 200ml for about $14, found in a couple of specialty stores
4. Fentimens – $3 for 9.3oz, found it in only one store and it wasn’t the kind of place I would normally expect
5. Bradley’s $10 for 8oz – this is the equivalent of about 11 doses at 3/4oz

Final Thoughts

The schweppes, Bradley’s and Fever Tree all have screw caps that close well keeping the carbonation in long enough to use up a whole bottle.  The Q tonic does come in cans and larger bottles with screw caps but the volume is daunting unless you’re throwing a G&T party.  Most of these recommend using the product within three days of opening so gauge your need versus the quantity because it goes flat quickly.

Again Bradley’s comes out the clear winner here because it keeps longer in the fridge and can be used in any quantity you want, the need for club soda to mix is a drawback but having a soda stream on hand makes that an easy adjustment.  It is sold in fewer places but obviously can be bought less often and stored for longer periods.

Update: Beer Syrup

Posted: 17th June 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Beer, Make Your Own
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beer syrupJust an update to my previous post about Porter Beer Syrup.  A Widmer Brewing rep dropped off a couple of 6 packs of Upheaval IPA as a tip in the tasting room and we needed the fridge space.  So, I took three bottles home and attempted to use the beer syrup process.

The initial result is a lot darker that I would have thought.  Upheaval is a pretty dark IPA already but this was almost as dark as the porter before I added the sugar.  Flavor has more bitterness than the porter but this is to be expected from the more hoppy IPA.  With an IBU of 85 /100 I’m expecting this to be more than a bit bitter even after adding sugar.

After it cooled down I was able to tap a bit and try it with a number of samples.  Overall on its own there is a lot of bitter flavor behind the hoppy nature of the IPA.

I took some of the syrup and made a pretty basic old fashioned.  I took the opportunity to try out my rejigger and my silipint at the same time.  The rejigger is a three chamber cap that simplifies the cocktail process somewhat.  In this case I used bourbon in the main chamber, IPA syrup in the second largest and lemon juice in the smallest.

The resulting old fashioned was a little on the strong side given the 2oz of bourbon and I think in retrospect I would have used slightly more syrup and less lemon.  Overall the hops from the IPA added some very good flavors to the bourbon.  I can see why hopped whiskey is becoming a thing.

Much like the porter cocktails I made the beer syrup adds a lot of complexity that would be tricky to obtain through spices or other flavors.  I’m now tempted to try with brandywine, cider or a good pilsner.

Silipint: Tool Review

Posted: 10th June 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Tools
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silipintI just received my first Silipint and I have to say that out of the box I am impressed.  This is a flexible pint glass made out of silicon.  It will not shatter, grips well in the hand and keeps a pretty even temperature regardless of the contents.  Because silicon has such a high melting point you could reasonably bake in this thing but more practically it is dishwasher safe.

I bought this after reading about them via the rejigger.  I bought this one on amazon for less than $10 but you can sometimes find one-offs and clearance version on their website for even less.

They also make cups in old fashioned, shots and various other sizes that I may pick up at another date.

One of my big complaints about the rejigger was the bad seal the device had with a standard pint glass.  The silipint flexes and conforms to even the most oddly shaped opening and makes for a much better vessel for the rejigger.

The flexible rim also allows you to pinch it slightly and create a more functional pour spout.

On the downside, the matte finish is slightly static friendly which in turn attracts dust, hair and all manner of other bits to the outside and occasionally inside of the cup.  Rinsing is easy but the grippy exterior means drying is a little fussy.  As you can see in the photo it holds onto water on the outside as well.  Even just sitting on a shelf the cup will pull in some dust and so must be washed before use every time.  A single trip through the dishwasher shows that it is safe to wash but if you’re using a powdered detergent it can leave quite a bit of residue which will require another rinse before using again.

There were no changes in flavor and it appears to treat carbonation in a pretty similar fashion to glass.  I love the item but recognize that you’re trading off fragile break-ability for fussy dust attraction.

Hazelnut Mother

Posted: 3rd June 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Make Your Own
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hazelnut mother pictureOne of the more neglected areas of cocktail making (IMHO) is the area of nuts.  There are many different and enjoyable flavors to be had if one does a little digging.  Amaretto is one such flavor, a popular light liqueur with the flavor of cherries and made from either almonds or apricot pits.  Nocino brings out the flavors of green walnuts, and lastly frangelico brings us the flavor of hazelnuts.

If you live in the NW or in Oregon specifically you will know the taste of the filbert as a part of your childhood.  Hazelnuts, or filberts as they should rightly be called grow in abundance here and can be had cheaply as raw, roasted, flavored or in any number of milkshakes and confections.

Taking a page from my attempts to make a good almond syrup I began to wonder that I hadn’t tried my had at any other local nuts.

Thus began my quest for a Filbert Syrup.

To create the syrup you first have to extract the flavors from the heart of the nut.  These are best expressed in hazelnuts when roasted.  I chose a quantity of raw nuts, shelled but with skins still on.  Placing them on a silpat on a cookie sheet I roasted them at about 300 degrees for about 10-20 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them, if they start to scorch they’ll give the entire thing a burnt flavor that you really don’t want.

Leaving the skins on was a decision I made given that the entire thing will be strained through cheesecloth in the end and peeling them is a giant pain.

After the nuts have been toasted you’ll want to open them up.  This can be done in a couple of ways.  You can soak them in a bowl of cold water for about an hour until they are soft enough to crush with a rolling pin.  This leaves you with a nice paste but is time consuming and since you discard the water I think you’re losing part of that early flavor.

The process I used is to place them in small amounts into a blender or food processor and chop them to almost a flour like consistency.  Once you have them done either way you’ll need to place them in an air tight jar with a cold water for about 4-6 hours.  Ratio should be about 3 cups water for every 2 cups of nuts, this should let you extract maximum flavor without having to reduce the milk later.  You’ll want to agitate the jar about every half hour, as you can see in the picture the bits tend to separate into lighter and heavier parts.

After your infusion is ready you’ll want to get a funnel and cheese cloth, strain the water and nuts through the cheesecloth and then squeeze the cloth and nuts to extract all the last bits of flavor you can the liquid should be a murky white/brown this is your hazelnut milk.

Measure the amount of milk you extracted, preferably by weight, and then put it in a flat bottom saucepan on the stove.  You’ll want to bring it to a boil slowly and then turn the heat down to a simmer.  Add a roughly equal amount of sugar or sweetener by weight.  A little less is ok as this does not need to be a thick syrup.  If you want something heavier you can make a rich syrup at double the weight in sugar.  Keep in mind that depending on the sweetener you may wind up with something where you only taste the sugar and not the nuts.

Allow the sugar to dissolve and then bring the syrup up to a boil quickly.  Once it has started to boil turn the heat off, stir for another minute and then allow to cool.

Store the syrup in an air tight container in the fridge, it should last for a few weeks alone, or for longer with the addition of a few tablespoons of vodka.

The flavors of this syrup are meaty and rich.  Unlike Orgeat it defies the fruit flavors and goes right for the earthy taste of root, bark and tuber.  The richness compliments chocolate, coffee and other parts of the mocha family.  Mixed with vodka and lemon juice there is a flavor not unlike birthday cake.

I call this product hazelnut mother because in appearance and texture it looks like a sourdough starter but it tastes divine.

flask-drunk_huntAt first blush this appears to be a simple cartridge game from the original Nintendo Entertainment System.  Fond memories and nostalgia for the days when you had to blow on your games to make them work properly will fill anyone old enough to drink at this point.

I know my own childhood was occupied by an NES light gun pushed point blank to the CRT of my TV trying to nail rapidly moving pixelated ducks.

So when the kickstarter for Inkwhiskey.com and their NES inspired flask came out I was intrigued.

Their current line runs to at least 10 styles including tetraquila, Kegaman, Metal Beer and my own favorite CastleVodka.

The flask itself is a neat piece of design, the tab of the cartridge is rubberized and fits snugly into the flask generally preventing leakage.  It also fits flush to the point where many many people have walked right by them thinking they were old games rather than barware.

It isn’t listed on the website but testing has shown the flask able to hold slightly more than 4 ounces.

As funny an idea as this is, the design still suffers from a number of flaws.  Like many flasks you will need a funnel to fill it properly.  The package includes a plasticized card which they claim can be rolled into a funnel.  Experience shows this to be folly.  The card is not a good funnel and often requires two hands to operate properly meaning you would need someone else to pour.

The opening of the flask is recessed into the tab slot, meaning you will need either a straw (recommended) or will need to put your mouth entirely over the cutout to prevent spillage.  Pouring from the flask itself is also difficult as the opening isn’t really a pour spout and is hard to aim.

Finally the flask is entirely plastic.  There is a reason most liquor bottles aren’t made of plastic and it has to do with the solvent properties of ethanol and the tendancy of plastic to leech unwelcome flavors and chemicals into the contents.  Judging from the plastic type I’m not entirely worried about chemicals, but plastic flavors wearing over time could be an issue if the flask isn’t properly cleaned.  Proper cleaning is another problem given the interior corners and unusual position of the spout.

For $20 I’m not expecting a great deal out of this item.  It’s mostly for the wow factor of drinking out of a game cartridge in front of other geeks.  If you’re actually trying to smuggle alcohol into an event or carry it with you there are many other more functional options.