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.

 

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 Tools

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.”