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.


Stocking Your Bar: Part 3 Mixers

Posted: 25th February 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Feature
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wpid-0141222_161248.jpgBy this point you should have a basic idea of what kind of alcohol you actually want to drink.  Even if that idea is as simple as “Vodka”.  If you don’t then please see Part I and Part II of this series first.

I have heard stories from friends and customers many times that they “just can’t drink X” because it does something to them either physically or emotionally.  I can understand, having a friend find out the hard way that they are allergic to juniper *after* three gin martinis is an un-fun evening.

Having narrowed the field down from the six or seven major types of alcohol to just one or two is a major accomplishment.  Now comes the harder part.  From here you have to start finding brands that you like and adding mixers to make cocktails.

Finding favorite brands is tough.  The only working method is to go through them one at a time and give them a chance.  Each is going to be a bit different and will have something that appeals to one person over another.  Experience is everything.  This can get expensive quickly if you don’t find one you like early.  You can use my airplane bottle method from part 1 of this series but that won’t work for every brand.

On the other hand, finding mixers and liqueurs is a good deal easier.  Cocktails generally fall into a couple of basic categories.  I choose to break them down into Citrus, cream, fruit, spice/herbal and mocha but this is by no means an industry standard.  Each of these has a couple of flagship products that are accessible to all drinks in that category as well as a few that defy category entirely.

Citrus for example is headed by liquors like Cointreau, Combier, Gran Mariner, limoncello, triple sec and Curacao.  Mocha is led by Kaluha and creme de cacao.  Cream liquors are most commonly associated with Irish cream, or newer liqueurs like rumchata, rumpope and advocaat.  The fruit liqueurs are generally non-citrus such as cherry herring, Parma, or Amaretto.  Spice or herbal liqueurs come from a number of roots but are monastic such as chartreuse, benedictine, kummel or aquavit.

Depending on your preference each of these is a good start for making drinks in the category of your choice.  Having a bottle of each would prepare you for cocktails of almost any stripe.

For example Cointreau or Combier are both examples of Triple-sec a generally clear liqueur made from bitter orange peels.  Triple-sec is the base spirit for classic drinks like the Cosmo and the Margarita.

Application of these mixers to your existing base of spirits, sodas and syrups will give you thousands of quick combinations with little effort and a maximum level of compatibility.  Your best option is to pick an area that you think you want to explore and pick up a smaller bottle of one of the core liqueurs.

As with anything choose flavors that you would pick elsewhere.  Don’t drop money on a chili pepper vodka if spicy foods are not to your liking.  Don’t drink Creme de Cassis if you’re not a big fan of black currant.

Once you’ve got your mixer, your juice and your base spirit a simple 2,1, 1/2 combination is usually enough to get you going.  For every 2 ounces of base spirit add 1 ounce of liqueur and 1/2 ounce of fruit juice.  If that appeals to you somewhat you can work on the proportions until it’s perfect.

Funding and Patreon

Posted: 19th February 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Uncategorized

patreonlogoFor those of you who are not already familiar there are a number of new things around to help content creators fund their projects without the hassle of dealing with low paying advertising.

If you’re not running an Ad Blocker (and honestly why wouldn’t you?) you may have seen that I have both Amazon and Google ads on my site.  I in the two or so years that I have been operating my site I have made a grand total of $1.64 from them combined.  Since they won’t even pay out until you hit $10, I think I will be waiting for my check for a while.

The more recent alternative which is in the veins of a persistent kickstarter campaign is called Patreon.  Using this site you can have people become patrons of your art (writing, photography etc.) and pledge either a monthly amount or a per item amount.  This money allows creators to count on a more regular source of income than random donations through paypal or merchandise sales.

I now have a patreon account.  You can find the link in the top left next to the search box.  Or you can go to www.patreon.com/shakerandspreadsheet

If you like what I do here and would like to see me continue please pledge to become one of my patrons.  I’m currently working hard to process some of my many draft ideas into concrete posts which should give me enough content to post once a week until September 2015.  Beyond that point I can’t foresee as I am often limited to what I can manage with limited funds and time.

Even a small number of patrons pledging the minimum amount would allow me to do more local reviews, more cocktail experiments and to buy products that I would have normally shunned in favor to lower cost alternatives.

If you have an idea for rewards that I haven’t already put up, feel free to drop them into the comments and I’ll put them up ASAP.

Thank you all my loyal readers.  It has been a joy to see people reading my musings up till now, lets see if we can’t kick this up to the next level.


Cup of Awesome Cocktail

Posted: 18th February 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Recipe
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cupoawesomeA while back you may recall that I posted my MYO: Porter syrup.  Aside from the original drink posted in the Happy Hour article there wasn’t a lot I could think to do with it, until recently.  A post on Cocktail Wonk about Knee High Stocking Company in Seattle turned me on to this particular cocktail and I cannot recommend it enough.

The drink includes egg whites, something that a lot of people are leery about.  I can say that if you’re using locally grown eggs or pasteurized eggs that you are in no danger from adding egg whites to your drink.

2 oz Gin
1 oz Porter Syrup
1/4 Tsp Fresh Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Tsp Ground Glove
1/8 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 Egg White

Crack the egg and pour the white into a cocktail shaker, using a small whisk or drink frother whisk the egg white until it is fluffy.  Add everything except nutmeg and shake well with ice, strain into cocktail glass, grate nugmeg over the top

Alternately when making your porter syrup you could add the spices at the same time as the sugar yielding a much more flavorful result and giving you a better chance to combine them before they get to your shaker.

The flavors on this are amazing.  I’ve tried it with and without the clove/cinnamon addition and I think either is a great way to go.  The porter converts the juniper into almost a minty flavor and the aromatics from the nutmeg get you started right off the bat.

The drink also looks fantastic, the dark liquid under a nice thick tan foam.  I encourage you to at least give this one a try.

The Gibson

Posted: 11th February 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Recipe
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gibsonI sometimes wonder why every single variation in a cocktail requires an alternate naming scheme.  In this case you have a fairly simple drink, gin and vermouth.  One would think that these would be the determining factors, but no.  In this case it is the garnish which determines the name.  If you place a cocktail olive in the drink you have a martini, if instead you place an onion in the drink it becomes known as a Gibson.

Like many cocktails the Gibson’s creation is shrouded in mystery.  It is entirely possible that the drink originated in many places at the same time as the components are not rare, difficult to combine or unusual.  Regardless of the circumstances of its creation the drink is similar to the martini in all respects except for the item on the end of the toothpick.

Even further removed if you garnish the drink with an olive, an onion and another olive alternating on a toothpick the drink is called a Patton.

For those not familiar:

2.5 oz of gin
0.75 oz dry vermouth

Stir over ice, strain into coupe glass.
Garnish with cocktail onions.

You might ask how many, the best advice I’ve ever heard on the subject is as follows:

“Always add between one and three, but remember three is a meal and even numbers are unlucky.  I’ll let you figure the rest out.”

Make Your Own: Cocktail Onions

Posted: 4th February 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Make Your Own
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gibson2I’m not a big fan of garnish.  I think far too often it’s like parsley on a breakfast platter and it’s just there for show.  In the food industry parsley is actually called “Pretty” as in, “Be sure to throw some pretty on that plate before it goes out.”  Further degrading the idea of garnish is that many of them are mass produced in a way that robs them of any value to either taste or texture.

For and example see my somewhat rant-y descriptions of maraschino cherries.

Having been experimenting with both vermouth and vinegar shrubs recently I had the idea that it might be worthwhile to create some of my own cocktail olives or onions and see what kind of results the process yields.

My final recipe is as follows:

8 oz pearl onions
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/8 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seed
6 whole peppercorns
1 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/2 cup dry vermouth

Start by peeling back the skins on the onions.  I used a quick cut at the top and bottom then just shucked the peel.  You might also be able to blanch them in a little boiling water to get the outer skill to loosen.

Once you have peeled onions ready take a small saucepan and combine the other ingredients (except vermouth) over a low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve fully.

Add the onions and bring to a quick boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool in the pan.  Once the result is cool add vermouth and stir.  Move to an air tight container and refrigerate.  Should be ready to eat in 1-2 hours and will keep for several weeks.

When I first attempted this I used a recipe that called for Chile flakes as part of the spice packet.  The finished product was quite a bit more spicy than I had intended and was virtually inedible.  I made several other mistakes, including using vodka and everclear in place of the vermouth.  From this I can make the following recommendations.

  1. Don’t spice them with anything you wouldn’t normally eat.  In my case I use chile flake sparingly if at all and would not want it in a cocktail ever.
  2. Vinegar and alcohol are going to extract flavors from the spices much more heavily than say water which will result in a much more powerful flavor.  Fresh spices are going to be more potent than dried (generally) and toasted will be more potent still.
  3. Small batches are best.  The above recipe is my cut down 1 jar version.  Unless you’re going through a lot of gibsons you really won’t need a full pounds worth before they start to turn.

Where do you use cocktail onions?

The most basic recipe is the Gibson.  A classic cocktail that has fallen sadly out of favor.  The drink itself is exactly the same as your basic martini.

2½ oz of gin or vodka
¾ oz dry vermouth

Shake over ice, strain into coupe glass.
Garnish with cocktail onions.

You might ask how many, the best advice I’ve ever heard on the subject is as follows:

“Always add between one and three, but remember three is a meal and even numbers are unlucky.  I’ll let you figure the rest out.”


Impractical Barware: Sempli

Posted: 28th January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Tools
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The history of barware is the history of housewares itself.  Properly storing your home brew required a ceramic crock able to handle the fermentation without breaking down.  Given the stretch of time since the dawn of human civilization the drinking glass has undergone numerous beneficial improvements.

Sempli_Cupa-RocksThis is not one of them.  Produced by the fine people at sempli I give you the CUPA-Rocks glass.

Like a number of products the visual impact of this piece is stunning.  It is from there that the process begins to fall flat.

For starters let us assume that like many people your table is a flat surface.  This glass, when placed upon the table, will have a natural tendency to roll.  Unless of course you used a level to place your table it is entirely possible that your first careless guest is going to have fine bourbon splashing to leeward the first time they need to bend over and tie a shoe.

But wait, surely the designer foresaw this?  You would be partially correct.  I’m assuming that after a few catastrophic dinner parties the light bulb went on, but rather than simply find a way to redesign the glass itself they elected to cash in on their own flaw.  They offer specialized coasters and place mats with a slot in them to prevent the glass from rolling.  (Yours for $18 a 4-pack, $38 for the place mats).

Next problem is the server, when you have a table full of people who want a nice double whiskey you would normally put the cups on a tray and save time.  Attempting to do that with these would result in a short wine-glass version of carol of the bells followed by a lot of spilled whiskey.  Never fear, the CUPA-LIFT comes to the rescue.  A piece of wood with divots in it designed to hold the CUPA glasses flat and stable you can buy them in a 2 slot for $40 or a 4-slot for $80.

Next problem, the pour.  I’m going to assume you elected not to buy the lovely $80 CUPA-LIFT and want to pour a couple of quick glasses for friends.  Normally, with a standard straight sided cylinder you can pour one or two fingers and be relatively assured of an even pour at a standardized amount.  With CUPA the tilt of the glass creates a somewhat oblong trapezoid where the volume requires a slide rule and some advanced trigonometry classes to figure out.

Did I mention that these ROCKS glasses cost $50 for a pair?  A steal after you tack on the $40 tray, $18 coasters and $38 place mats.

If you seriously have the money to burn for a boondoggle like this, send the money to me and I’ll gladly forward you a considerably less troublesome bar glass.

You might say, “It’s just one glass, what’s the big deal?”  Ah ha, there you would be wrong.  The CUPA is part of an entire line of products from wine “goblets” to shot glasses, from wine decanters to water carafes.  All with equally IKEA-esqe names and all with the exact same ridiculous spinning-top bottoms to them.

Make Your Own: Beer Syrups

Posted: 21st January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Make Your Own
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wpid-wp-1418933296883.jpegIf you’re not reading the Happy Hour Blog on Gizmodo you are missing out.  They have some great articles on process, history, gadgets and tastings.

Back in September they posted this article on how to make Beer Syrups and in particular Porter Syrup.  Having just finished a pretty major run of syrups articles I found the idea of using an already flavorful liquid base pretty ingenious.  Not being much of a beer drinker there weren’t a lot of beer cocktails that appealed to me so this made for an interesting way to lead into more adept beer handling.

It also helped that a good friend had left most of a six pack of of Aloha Pipeline Porter.  For those not aware this is a coffee infused porter with a lot of dark chocolate flavors.

The process on this is pretty simple but fraught with potential sinkholes.

First off the biggest issue is flavors.  Beer is going to pick up unwanted flavors like a black shirt picks up cat hair.  Using a ceramic, non-stick or glass pan is going to be your best bet here.  Avoid anything that has to be seasoned like a wok or cast iron.   The next issue is that a lot of the content of beer is very temperature sensitive, it will scorch easily and will turn from liquid to scorch mark in the blink of an eye.  You can char the syrup very easily without noticing and wind up with a bottle of liquid smoke in place of a delicate syrup.

Second is time.  This is a process where we are expecting to reduce out parent product down by almost 2/3.  If you try to rush things by cranking up the temperature you’re going to scotch the whole deal.  At the same time if you do this too slowly you’re going to be standing over your stove all night waiting for the water to finally steam out.

Thirdly, carbonation is going to make this want to boil at the drop of a hat.  It will start to foam up and try to sill over at least three times while you’re reducing.  Stir it frequently and well.

As the article says don’t add the sugar too soon or over reduce.  Both are going to cause problems.

1. In a flat bottom saucepan, over a medium-low heat place 8-22oz of your chosen beer.  It can be anything from an IPA to a stout.

2. Stirring occasionally allow the beer to reduce by 2/3rd.  If you reduce too much the syrup won’t dissolve properly and if you take it too far it will scorch.

3. Using a kitchen scale weigh the reduced beer to determine how much sugar you need.  Measure out an equal quantity of sugar (or honey, agave etc.)  Return reduction to saucepan and bring back up to heat, slowly add sugar and allow it to dissolve.

Allow to cool slightly and place in an air tight bottle.  Add 1-2 Tbsp of vodka if you want it to keep longer.


Make Your Own: Bitters

Posted: 14th January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Tools
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wpid-fb_img_1410544375866.jpgOn July 24th 2014 I backed a kickstarter by Hella Bitters 

The thrust of the idea was to build a kit that gave the home kitchen all of the necessary items to make a simple cocktail bitters.

I have to say that when the kit arrived a few months later I was quite surprised with the quality of what I had purchased.

One basic kit contains a strainer, steel funnel, two infusion jars, 4 small dropper bottles and two spice blends to get you started.

The process is pretty simple.  With the kit you just dump the spice blend jar into the infuser, add your base spirit to fill it and wait about three weeks.  You put the jar in a dark temperature controlled place like the back of your pantry and take it out to shake it every other day or so.  You can age it longer or shorter depending on the spices involved and how much strength you want to impart on the finished product.


I read through the directions and, thinking that I knew better, did my first two infusions with everclear.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that once finished I would have to dilute the product at least 1:1 to bring it down to a usable strength and that the spice volumes in the kit were not prepared with this in mind.  My final product ended up a lot weaker than I expected and was ultimately a waste of good spices.  Now that I have learned from this mistake I will be using 80 proof vodka or rum for anything I do in the future.

Until you get the hang of things I would recommend small batches.  Say 4-6oz at a time is about right.  Having to eat your mistakes can be a very long and costly process.

I would recommend this kit to anyone who doesn’t want to do the work of making a kit themselves.  You can make do with mason jars and bottles from kitchen kaboodle but really the spice blends are the winner here.  The citrus blend and aromatic blend share some common traits.  Many bitters share some common base ingredients such as gentian or cassia bark, these aren’t flavoring compounds so much as base notes from which you build your flavors.

The blend I was most proud of was one I constructed myself.  It contains a fair bit of cacao nib, vanilla bean, allspice, cinnimon stick and a few other things.  I’m leaning towards a hot chocolate bitters in flavor and I think I got there.  The exception being I added a small corner of a star anise pod to the mix and it took over most of the more delicate flavors.

The kit that I purchased is currently going for $65 and is on back-order.  I hate to recommend a product that you can’t just buy but I would keep an eye on this and get an order in for when they do become available.

If you can’t wait for one you can assemble most of the hardware:

Stainless Steel Funnel  – $7
Small Strainer – $9
Dropper Bottles – $12
Infusion Jars  – $20

Total: $49 which leaves about $25 difference for buying bulk spices.



Egg Nogg Creme Anglaise

Posted: 7th January 2015 by Cocktail Alchemist in Recipe
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I made this recipe as part of my experimentation with the Eastside Distilling Holiday Liqueurs.  This one in particular comes from the Egg Nog Liqueur which is usually available through February depending on where you shop.
eggnog custard1 box white cake mix
3 eggs
1 cup Eastside Distilling’s Egg Nog liqueur
1/3 cup sugar

Prepare the cake as directed and allow to cool. Cut cake into 1″ cubes and set aside.  The white cake mix I used called for 3 egg whites which left me with three yolks left over, which is how this whole thing got started in the first place.  If your cake mix calls for whole eggs you might want to adjust accordingly.

If you can’t get Egg Nog Liqueur where you live you can substitute a standard store bought egg nog and 1.5 oz of white rum.

Take egg yolks left over from cake, in a small saucepan whisk egg yolks and sugar. Combine well. Then heat mixture over medium low heat. Slowly add egg nog, mixing and stirring constantly to avoid burning. When all elements have been combined simmer on low for 1-2 minutes. Do not allow to boil.

Allow mixture to cool slightly and thicken.

I’ve covered the whipped topping before HERE but will repeat for clarity.

Coconut Whipped Cream Topping:
1 can full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Eastside Distilling holiday spice liqueur

Chill can of coconut milk overnight to allow water to settle. Scoop white cream out and leave water in the bottom. Should net about 9/10th of a can. In a medium bowl, whisk coconut cream, sugar and liqueur until the sugar is fully combined. Do not over whip.

The cream will not be very stiff but should hold some shape while chilled. Serve In a parfait or dessert cup place 5-6 cake cubes, cover with egg nog custard, top with coconut whipped cream, and then die of ecstasy.