stgermainOne of the flavors that I most associate with springtime is the scent of elderflower.  Growing up in the high desert of New Mexico there was a time after a strong sudden rain when the morning glory that laced our little hilltop would open and wash the normally dry air with their scents.  It is one of the few times I can remember the desert smelling like anything other than sand.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur has some of that same clean fresh scent and a delicate flavor like little petals and new grasses.

The full 750ml bottle of this liqueur is huge, with giant fluted sides like a vase.  I have tried to make myself buy one in this size a number of times but my shelf sends me angry texts,  “Really?  SRSLY?” and I have to put it back in favor of the 375 or a couple of the 50ml size.  All of their bottles have the same style to them which makes the little 50’s quite cute and perfect for a little rosewater or lavender oil when you’re done.  Prices in oregon run about $4.50 for the 50ml, $19.95 for the 375 and 39.95 for the 750ml.  Seeing as you need only use this one sparingly the bottle will last for quite a while.

St. Germain is a 20% ABV which puts it nicely below a lot of other mixers and keeps the alcohol flavor down.

As a nice spring cocktail I recommend something simple.

1 oz St. Germain
2 oz vodka
Pineapple chunk garnish

Using extra pineapple juice rim cocktail glass with cane sugar, pour contents into mixing glass.  Stir vigorously over ice.  Strain into rimmed glass and garnish with pineapple on a long pick.

I would use something like a Portland Potato or Ransom’s The Vodka which both have a flavor to them which won’t overshadow the elderflower.

Another good cocktail can be found Here.  Cocktailtube has a great sour, it uses an egg white which might not perfect for everyone but it’s a good drink anyway.

50 licks Ice Cream (and cocktails!)

Posted: 15th April 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Bar Review
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wpid-wp-1421354010691.jpegLocated in SE Portland at 20th and Clinton street 50 Licks Ice Cream represents two of the greatest things about living in Portland, hand dipped Ice Cream and well done cocktails.

Fifty Licks owner Chad is an enthusiastic and gregarious host, he welcomes you into his tiny shop with sample after sample.  Offering flavors as normal as vanilla and chocolate and as esoteric as Vegan Passion fruit with Sichuan Pepper Sorbet there is always something unique to try.

I had the pleasure to sample their Cherry Bourbon (made with Eastside Cherrys left over from Cherry Bomb Whiskey), Thai Rice Pudding, and Blood orange creamcicle.

All of them are well done and are both subtle and flavorful.  A little goes a long way, the scoops are not large but having bought a pint and nursed it greedily for several days it is well worth every penny.

What brought them around to my attention is their cocktail menu.  I don’t know what possessed me to ignore ice cream as a flavor delivery method but Fifty Licks has created some stunning and wonderful drinks.

The one that drew me in was the Bitter Rose

Cocchi Americano Rosa, Orange Bitters and Grapefruit Rosewater Sorbet.

Obviously there is almost no way to replicate the ice cream elements at home which means you should visit them directly, and as often as possible.

2021 SE Clinton Street
Portland OR 97214

Monday-Thursday 3-10
Friday 3-11
Saturday noon-11
Sunday noon-10

Cruzan Blackstrap Rum

Posted: 8th April 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Liquor Review
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cruzanI went looking for a dark rum because I needed one for the Cafe con Leche Flip.  There were several on the market but I quickly became aware of the many differences in how they were marketed and constructed.  For starters there aren’t any real regulations about how rums are classed.  There are rums, rum liqueurs and flavored rums.  Beyond that you’re pretty much on your own in the wilds of marketing speak.

From the little research I’ve done so far the black strap from Cruzan is fairly similar to their aged dark with the addition of extra molasses beyond the normal distillation.  When they add the molasses is up for some debate.  I’m personally betting that they add it after barrel aging as the extra sugar wouldn’t go over well in the oak.

Cruzan makes a pretty awesome rum normally but I was shocked that their Black Strap was actually pretty comparable price wise to my previous standby Meyers.  I paid $14 for this bottle and was glad for the privilege.  Many of the other “dark” rums on the shelf were in the $35-50 range which was well outside my limits for an unknown quantity.

The smells coming off of this bottle were puzzling.  Unlike the more vanilla and sugar smells of meyers there were hints of heavy oak, clove, coffee and some other less identifiable items.  A couple of solo sips almost killed this for me.  The rum is actually a bit bitter and the spice notes do not help to bring it back around.  There isn’t actually any sweetness in the rum, it is not a liqueur.  The molasses is prevalent but it occurred to me afterwards that black strap molasses is the final extract of the sugar process.  It is the gunk left over after you’ve squeezed every last white grain of sucrose out of the liquid that you can.

Fortunately I went straight from sips to cocktails and dropped this into my cafe con leche flip.  The results were an eye opener, the heavy flavors and bitterness were entirely gone and the spice, rum and oak were on full display.

Unlike a spiced rum the spice notes are not the primary flavor.  It’s not picking up a cinnamon stick and beating your drink over the head, it is a light shake of pepper and coriander on an otherwise deep black rum.

If you don’t already have a go-to tiki rum I would strongly suggest picking up a bottle of this.  At least until I start making my own ;).

 

 

Portland Distillery Crawl: Mk II

Posted: 1st April 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Feature
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Distillery RowPortland’s Distillery scene is expanding and exploding.  A recent article about local distilling pegged the number of distilleries at just over 27 between Forest Grove and Troutdale.  This is a staggering number and even more so when you consider that I can think of at least 1 they missed.  In the state of Oregon at large there are 35+ that fall under craft distilling and likely several more that aren’t on the radar beyond a street sign.

In my original Post I outlined some basic stops for a good distillery crawl.  Since then at least 2 new locations have opened on distillery row and some new west side locations have become worth the trip out to the suburbs.

 

 

East Side:

There are two outliers on the Distillery row.  Wild Roots distilling is on NE 6th and Couch, this is easily 15 blocks from the next stop on the row.  Stone Barn Brandy works is on SE 19th and Sandy, 24 blocks from their next most southerly neighbor.  While Wild roots is new they have only two products listed, Stone Barn however has over a dozen at various times and is well worth the trip.  If you have to cut one or the other out for time I would suggest starting at stone barn and then parking near House Spirits and walking the rest of the row.

Some new eateries have sprung up in the last few years as well.  Next door to Bunk Bar is the Boke Bowl a relatively new asian food place that has some wonderful noodles, steam buns and drinks.

On 12th and Hawthorne is one of the best food truck pods in Portland.  Despite recent shakeups and the  threat of their lot being turned into mixed use apartments they have endured and signed a new lease, visit now for crepes, mexican food, whiffy pies and BBQ.  Plus across the street is Lardo.

Around the corner from Stone Barn is 50 Licks Ice cream where you can get a taste of Portland’s hand dipped ice cream culture AND cocktails in the same building.

West Side:

Less of a crawl and more of a road trip, but there are a number of places worth hitting up on the west side.  In the downtown area there are still the steadfast likes of Clear Creak and Bull Run Distilling, each close enough to hit in quick succession.

Far out in the depths of Tigard is Indio Spirits, with 11+ products on their menu and one of the older distilleries in the area they are well worth finding.  Their flights are small but have larger samples so bring friends and share to get a better idea of the full line.

Even further out in yet another unassuming business part you will find Bootleg Botanicals, Big Bottom Distilling, Tualatin Valley Distilling and Vertigo Brewing.  Located just off Cornelius Pass Road near Cornell, many are not open for tastings every day.  Their out of the way nature means zero foot traffic, so some like Big Bottom are only open on Saturday or by appointment.  Be sure to plan accordingly, check schedules and likely call ahead.  Knowing how distillers hours run they could forget to open entirely if they aren’t sure anyone is coming.

Planning the Perfect Crawl

Driving: First and foremost I cannot stress enough the need for a designated driver.  Not all of these places are close enough together to walk and given the versatility of Oregon weather you do not want to rely on your feet to get you everywhere.

Packages: Second, check out PDX Distillery Row.  At $20 it is by far the best value in the city for tasting what the various distilleries have to offer.  The passport is good all year which removes some of the immediacy in trying to hit all 7 locations in one day.

Dates are important, some of these places are not open 7 days a week.  Some aren’t even open 2 days a week so planning for any given day is important.  I recommend Saturday as a prime day, most places are open the longest on the weekends.

Time, some of these places have only 1 or 2 offerings.  Some have over a dozen.  The amount of time you and your group can take sampling at any one is going to vary greatly depending on the length of time you spend sipping and how long you spend listening to the patter about the drink itself.  In general tasting rooms are going to be open from around 11am to 6pm.  It is possible to hit up to 7 locations in one day if you get started early and have an experienced guide, otherwise plan to hit the places that most interest you first on the chance that you will run out of time to do them later.

Food.  Eat before, and make sure you eat something relatively filling.  There are any number of great places to catch lunch before you head out.  The Green Dragon on SE 9th has Rogue Brewing’s great selection of sandwhiches, Oven and Shaker does a great Brunch, hunt around it’s a great chance to find some out of the way Portland Food.

FOOD!  Take a snack break after your first 3-4 stops.  You’ve likely just downed the equivalent of 8-9 oz of random shots.  Time to take a quick breather and reload before you hit the next couple.  Grab some pie, or debris fries.  Take a half hour to work some of that stuff and get the better part of the botanicals away from your digestive tract.

Storage is important, if you’re taking more than 1-2 people with you be aware that you will buy things.  There is too much good stuff for anyone to pass up entirely and after three or four drinks your ability to say no to a good deal somewhat evaporates.  Carting an armfull of bottles around with you from shop to shop is a hassle.  Be sure your transport has space for everything and is handy for when you buy.

Costs:  While distilleries are not required to charge for their samples, most do.  The only one I’ve encountered that was entirely free was Clear creek.  Most others offer a single $5 tasting platter of 4-5 tastes.  Some will do $1 single tastes, others like Eastside have deluxe and premium flights that offer higher end offerings.  If you’re not doing the distillery row passport expect to spend at least $5 per person per location.  You can get this cost waived if you make a purchase in some places but not all.

McCarthysOne of my long time White Whales is a bottle of McCarthy’s.  This is partly from the small size of their yearly release and partly from laziness.  I know exactly when they release every year and I’m on their mailing list.  I can just never seem to get to a store in time to pick up a bottle before they’ve all been snapped up.

Color me surprised when I stumbled into my favorite liquor store on SW 1st and Lincoln and found a bottle innocently sitting on top of a barrel.  This was the 2014 release and it was at least six months since it had come out which made it incredibly unlikely that a bottle had mysteriously appeared.

McCarthy’s is one of the few Single Malts being produced in Oregon.  This is likely because grain to bottle whiskey is incredibly hard to do well and more than a few distillers have failed trying to do even a basic whiskey.  Single Malt, if done in the Scottish tradition, is aged in oak for three years.  That means my little bottle was started in 2011 at the very least.  McCarthy’s was one of the first craft single malts in the US and has been hailed by numerous whiskey books, magazines and authors and has been hailed as one of the world’s elite whiskeys.

Produced by Clear Creek Distilling this whiskey is done in the Islay tradition from 100% peat-malted barley.  It is smokey and clear with a light finish.  My fellow drinker the HopBoxer tasted only smoke but he’s an Irish drinker and not inclined to peat.

This is a bottle that will run you about $55 in Oregon, their next release should be spring of 2015 so keep your eyes open.

Update: Devils Bit Irish Whiskey

Posted: 24th March 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Events, Liquor Review
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wpid-wp-1427222705400.jpegSt. Patrick’s day has come and gone and with it the green beer and drunken revelry of those who want to pretend they’re of Irish extraction for 24 hours.

As every year the distilleries of McMenamins release their small batch Devil’s Bit whiskey.

I wasn’t aware until I put the last three years side by side but each year the release is a little bit different.  The 2013 is a 12-year aged Irish, the 2014 is an 8 year four barrel and this year is a 5 year port barrel finish.

The bottles are all still 200ml and the price has stayed at $17.  I’ve run a side by side tasting on all three and I’m hard pressed to find the differences.  The aging process is pretty light and the finished product is still a little harsh even for the 12 year.

As an annual tradition I still enjoy heading out to Edgefield or CPR, taking the tour and getting my one or two bottles.

Website Review: EUVS Library

Posted: 22nd March 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Around the Web
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EUVS may sound like an odd acronym but it stands for Exposition Universelle des Vins & Spiritueux.  Aside from a wonderful layout the site boasts a catalog of over 500 spirits, details of bar tending tools, techniques and most importantly a digital library of scanned bar books that date back to the 1700’s.  Among them are several of the most well known and sought after bar guides such as the Flowing Bowl, Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, and the Old Master himself Jerry Thomas’ 1862 classic How to Mix Drinks.

Many of these books can be had in paperback or in reprints for anywhere from $10 to 30 but here you can find high rez digital scans of the original prints.

There are at present just under 30 volumes in the collection and all of them are from before the era of copyright so they are easily able to be shared in this fashion.

The pages are crystal clear and are accurate even down to the pencil marks made on various pages in the scanned copy.  Navigation is a snap and has some of the feel of flipping an actual book.

I’ve not attempted to read these on an E-reader but they can all be downloaded in PDF format for ease of portability.

Best of all the entire site is funded via an actual museum situated on an island off the coast of france and founded by Paul Ricard of the Pernod-Ricard company.  This means there isn’t an advertisement to be had on the entire site and it looks beautiful.

tonic sideI have been meaning to make a post about this for over a year.   If any liquor could be said to be my totem spirit it is Gin and of all cocktails the Gin and Tonic is the perfect expression of the botanical basis of both Gin and tonic water.

You can read more about the history of Tonic in my previous post on the subject but for now just a little bit of history.

Tonic water is made with carbonated water and flavored with a alkaloid chemical called quinine.  Quinine is derived from the bark of a tree which grows in the Andes mountains of South America.  The tree is called alternately the Cinchona or the Quina.  Most tonic water is made either with the bark itself or with Quinine extract.

Because the difference between a medical dose and a recreational amount is significant most tonic waters currently on the market are a pale shadow of the potency of tonics past.  Most brands are watery using a synthetic quinine at the absolute minimum amount.

The lack of good tonic waters has been largely cured in recent years with the addition of several new premium tonic brands like Fever Tree and Q tonic.  There have also been attempts to make flavorful tonic syrups available to retail customers, most recently via kickstarter.  While I will still continue to make my own Bradley’s is an excellent product that needs to be more widely carried.

While these attempts are noble they all suffer from the need to create a product that will appeal to the greatest number of consumers.  This generally means that the commercial versions lack any other flavors again making for bland if somewhat more potent tonics.

Using Jeffrey Morganthaler’s Recipe as a base I went about creating my own tonic syrup for use as Christmas presents for friends.  I reduced the quantity of cinchona drastically due to some concerns about quinine toxicity.  It shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re taking quinine medicinally or work with it daily.

The Specs

4 cups water
6-8 oz chopped lemongrass (roughly one large stalk)
2 Tbsp powdered cinchona bark
1 Tbsp fresh lavender
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon (meyer)
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp whole allspice berries
¼ cup citric acid
¼ tsp Kosher salt

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and strain thoroughly.  Start with a metal strainer to catch the big stuff then move to cheese cloth and coffee filters.  Powdered bark is tough to get out of suspension and you don’t want to leave much of it behind so you may want to filter 2-3 times with a coffee filter until you stop getting larger particles.

Once the infusion is clear enough you’ll want to measure what you have left and then return it to the saucepan.  Over a medium heat add about 3/4 to 1 cup of rich (2x) simple syrup for each cup of liquid.  Stir until combined and then place in a sterile bottle with an air tight cap.

Ingredient notes

A number of these things proved more than passingly difficult to track down and you’re unlikely to find all of them in one stop.

For starters I checked every herb shop and self-styled apothecary in town and was finally able to locate Stone Cottage.  They had both powdered cinchona and bark chips at fairly reasonable prices and sold them in bulk allowing me to pick up as little or as much as I needed.  It is possible to find cinchona on amazon, the best value I found was a half pound bag for about $13 Here.  But obviously that is quite a bit of powder and you have no idea in advance what it looks like.

It is also possible to buy the herbs and spices as a kit: Tonic Water Kit, Oaktown Spice Shop

Fresh lemongrass can be had at most supermarkets in little plastic packages, but not all of them.  I had to hit 2-3 before I found some in stock.

Citric acid is often sold in bulk at the grocery store, the same with lavender.  I had better results with new seasons or whole foods but Safeway had a pretty good selection too.

Lastly, the lemons.  Regular lemons are fine, but if you can find some meyer lemons they have a slightly sweeter, waxy and aromatic zest on them and are great for many things.

Quantity

Before you begin, please note that this will produce something like 8 cups of final syrup (and nearly 4 times that in actual soda).  If you need a half gallon of tonic mix this is great.  If not then you might wind up with a lot of spoiled syrup long before you can use it.  It is quite easy to halve this recipe, quartering it may take a bit more effort as you’re not getting nearly as much fruit zest and juice in the infusion.  More testing is needed.

Cafe con Leche Flip

Posted: 11th March 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Recipe
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wpid-wp-1421662228526.jpegThe original version of this drink comes via a news story in the New York Times about the health department cracking down on raw eggs used in cocktails.  This specific recipe was inspired by the one served at Pegu Club in New York.

Good dark rums are heavy on the ground so picking one is pretty easy.  If you have one you like use that instead but I used a new Cruzan Blackstrap as I have been looking for a good dark rum for some time and wanted to try it out.

Similarly in Portland coffee liqueurs are a dime a dozen.  You can’t throw a hipster belt buckle without hitting a distillery that makes a coffee liqueur.  A lot of it comes down to base spirit and the roaster they’re using but anything from the Below deck Coffee Rum to the House Spirits liqueur will work, use what makes you feel good.

Medium cream (30% fat) might be a little hard to find.  I hit three or four stores looking but didn’t see any.  I eventually subbed in normal whipping cream (25% fat) as it was a little lower fat than medium but significantly less than heavy cream (45%+)

 

Recipe:

1 oz Dark Rum
1.5 oz  coffee liqueur
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz medium cream
1 Egg yolk
Fresh grated nutmeg

This one is going to take some doing.  First put your simple syrup and egg yolks in a dry shaker.  Using a whisk or frother you’ll want to whip them really well.  Next add the cream and ice and give them a good shake to combine.  Add your alcohol and give it a final shake with ice, strain into double old fashioned or flute and grate nutmeg over the top.

I used a cheap frother I picked up at the kitchen gadget outlet store and it worked great.  I wanted to replace the ice in this for the second shake but after looking at the results I thought it was more work for not much difference in result.

The flavor on this is delightful, the egg yolk gives the entire drink a solid mouthfeel.  The coffee flavor is primary but the dark rum lets the cream and sweet flow into more subtle hints of molasses.  It’s almost like a whipped dessert and slides gently around the tongue.  The dark rum and coffee flavors favor each other well and give a nice spiciness without a heavy or syrupy taste.

Ty Wolfe Whiskey

Posted: 4th March 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Liquor Review
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ty wolfe whiskeyThis bottle presented something of a conundrum to me when I first acquired it from a co-worker.  This bottling comes from the tasting room at Skiprock Distillery in Snohomish WA and is only sold there.  I inquired of the distiller about it because the label is a little odd and they were thankfully able to clear up some of my confusion.

I am told that Ty Wolfe was originally a label owned by Mac Donald Distillery which was bottled by Skiprock and that Skiprock has since bought the brand.  As with any change in company there are bound to be changes in marketing and it can be costly to relabel products already on the shelf.

This should be the same product as the Ty Wolfe Aged Bourbon currently on offer from Skiprock.  This is a wheated bourbon, meaning their grain bill is at least 51% corn with the remainder being primarily wheat instead of rye.  As rye tends towards a more spicy character this is a much smoother more mellow whiskey than say the Bullit Rye.

After letting my sample breathe for a bit I was able to get some very nice caramel notes in the nose.  The flavor isn’t flashy and while it does have a little burn up front it isn’t a serious burner.

This is not a very soft selection, it is aged only about 18 months which means it’s not a straight whiskey.  A year and a half gives it some oak but means it lacks a lot of the stronger flavors that oak imparts such as vanilla, leather or coffee.

It blends sweetly, a little water can smooth out some of the rough spots.  It does like a little air to let some of the higher fumes burn off.  Mixed into a cocktail it works as well as any other bourbon and doesn’t mess about with odd flavors.  I wish I could speak to price comparison but I could not find a store that stocked it anywhere in range so I think this will likely remain a regional flavor for a while yet.