Something to consider when reading old bar guides.  Not all proofs are created equal.

Proof as a measure of alcohol content comes from the British Navy.  While sailing there are a number of factors that need to be managed on a long voyage.  Among them the need for fresh water, vitamin C and Morale.  Water kept in casks for a long time would spoil, growing algae or bacteria.  Being at sea, fresh fruit was often hard to come by.  And getting doused on rum was far easier than trying to keep the crew entertained in any other fashion.

At some point an enterprising seaman combined the three items together and struck upon a single solution to all three issues.  The citric acid of lime juice and the alcohol content of the rum kept the water from growing anything.  The addition of rum and lime made water an attractive proposition for sailors to stay hydrated and the lime juice kept everyone from getting scurvy.   Once this caught on the number of limes being consumed by the Navy led to all brits being called Limeys.

The one downside to this proposition was greed.  Like cheap bar owners since the dawn of time, someone wanted to save money on rum by watering the drinks.  They were already watered anywhere from 2:1 to 6:1, but there is a point at which what you’re drinking isn’t really a cocktail anymore and the sailors would grumble.  Eventually even the accusation that the Grog might be watered was enough to start the officers worrying.

A wily purser hit upon a method to assure the crew that they were getting the full cask strength.  Gunpowder doused with rum will not ignite if there is less than 57% alcohol in the liquid.  So at the start of every voyage the purser on british ships would take a sample from the rum casks and *Prove* to the crew that the rum was sufficiently strong.

So in the British Navy 100 proof was equal to 57.14%.  Anyone familiar with American spirits might find this a bit odd.  That is largely because American distillers use a different formula for proof simply doubling the ABV.  So in the UK 100% alcohol was 175 proof and in the US it was 200 proof.

A lot of this is moot since the US hasn’t had a Grog Ration since 1862 , and the UK hasn’t had a Grog Ration since the 1970’s.  In addition the UK switched from the proof measurement to ABV in the 1980’s making the distinction about 30+ years out of date.

This all becomes important when you’re reading prohibition era or post prohibition bar guides.  A lot of those guides were written in countries other than the US because cocktail culture in Britain didn’t dry up in 1920.  As a quick look at the Vesper will tell you if Bond is calling for a 100 proof vodka in his drink is that a 50% ABV US measure vodka or a russian import using the UK scale at 57% ABV?

Is that vintage bottle of gordon’s gin the original 84 proof at 48% or the modern reissue 80 proof at 40% ABV?

Drinking History


There is an element of history that cannot be ignored when looking at drinking and cocktail culture.  I’ve recently started re-watching Mad Men the period series from AMC about madison avenue in the 60’s.  It has been given many awards and nominated for many more.  I can’t seem to get over the AMC writing problem.  Every series I’ve seen from them seems to have it.  The Killing, Walking dead and Mad men all seem to be set to a level of pacing exactly one step behind my attention span.  Every plot twist is one note slower than what is needed.

Since I have a lot more time to watch the show right now I’m letting my mind wander and I’m watching it for the drinking more than anything else.  Watching people drink at work seems stranger than even the constant smoking and sexual harassment.

Early in the series there is a wonderful semi-monologue from Roger Sterling one of the firm’s partners on the subject of drinking.

Roger Tells it like it is.

One could quite easily place his statements in the context of any two generations talking about differences in culture but they seem interesting given the time periods in question.  Don Draper is 36 in this instance, meaning he was born in 1936 about three years post prohibition.  His boss Roger is a Navy Veteran of WWII and was born in 1910.

Roger had the experience of growing up and entering adulthood during the shadow of prohibition.

Neither is really portrayed as having a serious drinking problem given the standards of the time but 3-5 drinks a day for a busy professional is considered “normal” by a doctor giving Don a checkup.

The series gives a number of other interesting moments, such as the novelty of an imported beer like Heineken and the frequency of such drinks as the gimlet.  At one point Don receives a bottle of stolichnaya and a box of cigars as a present.  It underscores the global nature of alcohol culture how easily we take something like Russian vodka for granted.

Events: OMSI Mixology Night

At least once a year the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)  Does a night dedicated to cocktails, local distilleries and alcohol tasting.  Running from about 6-11pm it was an interesting and excellent way to spend an evening.

Normally I do my distillery crawl which is 5-6 locations over about 6 hours with stops for food.  OMSI offered up 15 different distilleries in about 5 hours without the option for bunk sandwiches in the middle.

The entry fee of $12 comes with a nice souvenir shot glass and a stack of 10 drink tokens so you can’t over indulge.  The glass has a molecule on the side but from what I can tell it’s not an alcohol molecule, if anyone can tell me what it’s supposed to be I would be grateful.  You can’t buy these in the OMSI store so I don’t have any other details about them.

As for the tokens, I think someone needs to clue the distilleries in as to their use.  I was able to toss in one token for the pair of us and sample pretty much everything each of the booths had on offer, there was an option to purchase additional tokens but I didn’t see the need.  I gleaned that some of the presenters were required to limit what they brought.  Clear creek in particular looked sparse compared to their normal selection.  They had their cranberry liqueur, some brandy and some grappa but not much else.

All of my favorites were there, Eastside was showing off their new spiced rum, New Deal, House Spirits, and Clear Creek all had their usual excellent option on offer.

Of those I was not familiar with I attempted to try anything that looked unique.  Several kinds of Bourbon, more than a few gins and some stand out unique items.  I won’t say I liked them all.  I won’t even name names here since my tasting was brief and didn’t give me the kind of time I would put into a review.

Things that stood out:

IMG_20130529_190703Imbue Vermouth – A locally made vermouth that uses oregon Pinot Gris, distilled into brandy at Clear Creek and then flavored with herbs.  I was not previously  familiar with this brand but they impressed me.  Both with their presentation and their product.  Unlike many classic vermouths this one contains no wormwood.  Not sure how that makes it stack up but I’m warming to the ideas of fortified wines and aperitif wines.







Grog – Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery located in St Helens produces some interesting products.  I had thought that grog would be just rum, water and lime juice but these guys managed to surprise me with a lot of flavor packed into these products.  I don’t know how soon I’ll pick any up, but if you’re a fan of rum drinks this is something to sample.




Sinfire – A new Cinnamon Whiskey from the Hood River Distillers, the same fine folks who make Pendleton Whiskey.  This was a very tasty drink, less sugary than fireball and with a good flavor.  Price point on it was in the line to compete, I saw a fifth going for around $17.






Things that Irked:

Everyone makes vodka.  This isn’t a new thing, I’m sure that since the dawn of time everyone has taken the neutral spirit distillate of their choice, slapped a vodka label on it and put it out the door.  What occurred to me then as it has so many times before is that “Vodka teaches you nothing.”  Your options when you make a vodka are either to do as well as the ultra premium brands and produce a tasteless, odorless product without the serious burn of alcohol, Or you can fail miserably.

Once you have an premium well filtered vodka the only thing you can do is compete on price.  I have a vodka that I like.  It hits all the markers for me.  No taste, no scent, no burn in the front, no burn on the back, nice soft mouthfeel, and it runs about $20 a bottle.  To get me to switch brands, you would either have to do something remarkable, or have your bottle be half that price.

Keep in mind that I’m only talking about plain silver vodkas.  Once you start adding flavors to them it’s an entirely different ball game.  Hazelnut or hot pepper is going to change the matter for the better because you’re no longer in a wide open field.

If you fail to make a decent vodka there are a couple of things that will happen.  First off it will be immediately obvious.  You can’t hide things in vodka.  It’s not aged, there’s nothing to take the sting out of failure or to hope that it will get better with age.  The second thing that will happen is people who know will assume everything else you make is equally bad.

There were two very nice booths at the OMSI show.  They each had vodka and gin, one had bourbon as well as a few other things.  I tasted both of their vodkas, both were awful.  I can’t say there was any real flavor problems but the burn was front back and center.  I assumed that if someone couldn’t do vodka well then their other products might suffer a similar lack of expertise and after tasting their gins and the one bourbon I can say that I was right on all counts.

For the love of all that is holy, do not put out a vodka simply because you had some leftover spirits.  If you put out a vodka, do it because you want to make good vodka.

Next time I do this, I promise, More pictures, better pictures even if I have to drag a photographer with me the whole way.

Also OMSI’s little presentations are cute but there are only a couple of them and they’re really reaching on trying to get the science around this stuff.  The chemical lab had some of the most interesting but it was packed the whole time so you have to wait forever to do any of them.

Flavors and Tastes

A lot of things can be said for liquor, but one that will seldom be uttered is that liquor is tasteless and boring.  Sure if you drink only the best premium vodka then you’re likely to have that problem, but there is a world of flavors both excellent and sublime that tickle the imagination and tantalize the senses.

For those not already familiar the western type of culinary practice now recognizes 5 types of basic flavors Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, and Umami.  Umami is the most recent addition and conforms to a richness of flavor found in many meats, fermented foods and things like soy sauce.  For a long while it was thought that these flavors resided in specific areas on the tongue.  This was disproved in 1974 but the myth still lingers today.  Your tongue is capable of tasting a lot of different things depending on how the receptors on your tongue are stimulated.

One of the more interesting aspects of taste is the Pungent-Spicy/Coolness divide.  Spicy foods like peppers that contain capsaicin create their unique sensation by activating the same nerves that give the body pain.  Especially those that respond to heat or abrasion.  Because the brain is getting signals from a heat/pain receptor it classifies the sensation as “hot”.  Similar effects can be had from things like menthol or camphor as they target the nerves which detect cold.  You are not actually hot or cold but the pain receptors in your mouth are being stimulated in that same fashion.

Alcohols like creme de menthe, aftershock, Fireball whiskey, Hot Monkey, and SinFire all take advantage of this type of sensation to add experience to their liquor.

Numbness as a sensation is a bit harder to achieve.  To my knowledge there are not many drinks that attempt this but it isn’t out of the realm of the possible.  Some varieties of asian chili peppers have this quality and chili pepper vodka has become very popular in the last few years.
Astringency, Metallic, and Calcium tastes are not necessarily good things in an alcohol but they are sensations of taste all the same.  Astringency can be a dry feeling in the mouth.  This is not comparable to dry wines which are simply unsweet, but more to the puckering sensation in the mouth similar to skin stretching as it dies out.  One of the most common flavors to have this sensation are Sloe Berries used to make Sloe Gin.

Fattiness – Fat is the seat of flavor.  In meat all of the most important flavor components come from the fat portions and a good amount of fat marbled into the meat is considered the mark of the best kinds and cuts.  The feel of fat is another thing altogether.  In the mouth it can feel thick and coating or it can feel oily and slick depending on the source and the temperature.  It can also indicate a richness of certain types of flavor like bacon or tuna.  This is similar to umami but instead of flavor here it is discussing feel.

Temperature:  Alcohol is the perfect example of what the temperature of a drink can do to it.  For example brandy is an aromatic drink that is best served warm when it is very good.  The glasses traditionally used to serve brandy are large enough to sit comfortably in the hand and allow the drinker’s body temperature to heat the alcohol to the point where the aromatic compounds start to boil out of the glass.  This is also the reason you may see people in snooty cigar bars or old movies hold their lighter under the ball of the glass.  A small amount of heat can cause the brandy to blossom and release all of the wine grape’s hidden scents into both the air and the drink.

Whiskey or scotch, too can have this impact.  One of the reasons true whiskey drinkers will take their drinks neat, (without ice) is that whiskey gathers many aromatic compounds both from the distilling and from the barrels used to age the drink.  A cold whiskey will hold onto those compounds resulting in a much reduced experience.

In some cases chilling can have a beneficial effect.  Because Alcohol has a much lower boiling point than water if the liquor is chilled then it will take much longer for the alcohol to boil out of the drink once it comes in contact with body heat.  So for booze which has a much stronger alcohol taste the chill can keep it to a minimum while drinking.  It can’t eliminate it entirely since alcohol also has a very low freezing point but it will do something to mitigate the taste of rotgut.

Almost all cocktails are served cold with the components being either shaken or stirred over ice.  This brings the drink down to around -5C which is honestly the ideal temperature.

Mudder’s Milk Part 3

To Recap:  Mudders Milk 1  In which we set our sails to distraction

Mudders Milk 2 In which we fail and learn that having to eat your mistakes can still be damn tasty.


Chapter 3: A dish best served cold…

A suggestion was made by my mother, who is a dietitian (and married to a very nice executive chef), that I should first cold soak the oats before attempting any shenanigans with the recipe.

So the basic cup and a half of rolled oats goes into a tupperware and to which is added a quantity of milk not to exceed 1.5 cups.  Addition of cinnamon and nutmeg in an attempt to get the flavor to impart over a longer time and then the whole boat goes into the fridge overnight.

Post-Fridge Results


At First blush the results are not appealing, it looks watery and has no apparent change in texture.  As you can see it looks about the same overall.

Oats removed from liquid for reference.

The next part is to heat the oats up, add apples and liquor.  This part went about as expected, they didn’t reduce as much as previous attempts which is good as a slightly watery texture will make them easier to drink.  But as the final photos show this is still a bit lumpy compared to what we’re shooting for.

IMG_20130423_100020 IMG_20130423_100040


Lessons learned: As a prep method cold soak would allow someone in the field to put this entire mess into a large sealed container and then simply break out and heat to desired portion.  Apples can be prepared separately and added without issue.

Problems:  Still not thin enough, needs blending but will that release starch and turn into a mess.

Next attempt: Put rolled oats into food processor to get desired texture, then cold soak.

Make Your Own: Sweet and Sour Mix


Part two in my lovely series of how to replace the horrible mixers that you buy at the store.  This one is a big one, sour mix is probably one of the The go to party mixes of anything out there.  It’s a component in the amaretto sour, the whiskey sour, dozens of tiki drinks and even cheaper end margarita mixes.  Holding some of the most baseline flavors in the cocktail world this is something that you should have on hand for any party and making even a big batch is pretty easy.

A lot of the difficulty in this recipe comes from the fact that there are few ingredients.  This may seem counter-intuitive but if you think about it, the fewer things you put into it, the greater weight each has in the outcome.

Much like my adventures in making limeade taste is everything.

Sour Mix:
2 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Lemon Juice
2.5 oz Simple Syrup
Mix all ingredients in a squeeze bottle, shake well, refrigerate.
Like the simple syrup itself this will keep for about 2-3 weeks unless you add vodka to it.

This is my version, and I will stress from the get go that it is not the perfect ratio to please every taste.  This happens to be a very simple outgrowth of the ingredients at their basest.







Using fresh limes and lemons is essential.  If you let them sit too long the pith starts to make the juice bitter and all kinds of things can happen to the outcome.  Your average sized store lime/lemon will press for ~2 ounces of juice.  Larger or smaller than normal you can kinda guess but if you’re shooting on drinking for two people, the juice of one of each will suffice for this project.

The 2.5 ounces of simple syrup come from my previous MYO posting where I used 1/3 of a cup of sugar to get the syrup.  This turns out to be perfectly balanced based on the amount of juice you get from one each of the fruit.

The result is a somewhat neutrally acid, sweet mixture that works well in most cocktails.

To get the right kind of taste for your palate, I would recommend the above amounts of base ingredients. Instead of mixing them all together in a squeeze bottle as I’ve done, put varying amounts into a shot glass to taste.  Half ounce increments in either direction will let you give the mixture a bit of play until you find the spot that tickles your tongue.  I would start by scaling back on the simple syrup and see how you like it at an even 2 parts each then raise or lower the lime and lemon until it’s right.

Mudder’s Milk Part 2

Tapback: Mudder’s Milk

So, I’ve set my sails and I have a goal in sight.  The idea to make either a late night drink that will sub out a meal while you’re drinking or a breakfast drink you can whip up in a hurry without having to slave over a hot stove.

The idea of choice was oatmeal.  It’s already a pretty close friend with milk, swapping out a measure of the cream for Irish Cream isn’t beyond thinkable.  But a number of hurdles stand in the way.

For starters I haven’t really cooked oatmeal much before so the nuance there is going to escape me.  Second, we’re looking for something drinkable.  Having to chew is a distant desire on the list of things we would like to have.

So I came up with a couple of possibilities.

Test #1: No pictures because I was dumb and forgot.  It was a late night experiment.  For starters I stewed some apples.  I did far too much for a test batch.  Two whole apples to 1 cup oats was not doing it.  I spiced the apples with quite a few things looking for a taste that would finish out the batch.  Allspice, cloves, cinnamon, possibly coriander, definitely nutmeg.  I didn’t taste most of them in the finished product.   Could be the balance of spice is off could be that I didn’t give the spices time in the oats.  I’m going to try simpler settings, start with sugar/cinnamon add items from there.  No irish cream in the house at the time I was doing this, I used a somewhat crappy chocolate cream liqueur that had been doggedly hanging on like an unwanted party guest.  Next time coole swan or something better for sure.  Need heavy cream for testing.
2 apples cubed and stewed with a small amount of lemon juice until soft.  Added nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, ground ginger, turmeric.
add 1 cup water, 3/4 cup whole milk, bring to boil.
add 1 cup oats, cook 5 minutes.  Add cream liqueur to top and loosen.

Verdict, good first pass.  Now I know what not to do next time.  Taste was ok but consistency was way off.

Test #2:

In an effort to cut down on the lumpiness of the previous experiment this batch was going to see the business end of a stick blender before I was done.

1 Apple, peeled cubed and sweated with agave nectar.
Spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.
1 1/2 cup of Heavy Whipping cream, brought to a slight boil
1 cup quaker oats

Once the cooking process was done and the oats looked soft enough I applied the stick blender.  Now at this point the entire mess was a bit off.  Owing to the fats in the cream it had become a sticky blob in the pot and was not loose at all.  The application of the blender, I was later to find, was to release all of the starches bound up in the oats at once which made the previously sticky blob into a bona fide glue.

Which is not to say that the day was without victory.  The resulting glue was even, smooth and had a very nice feel in the mouth.  The apples were not obvious in either flavor or shape.  I’m betting that was my other mistake.  Agave nectar is not as hygroscopic as baker’s sugar and it didn’t draw out the moisture of the apples enough to soften them.

So three steps backwards, one forwards.  But we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.

Mudder’s Milk: Part the First

180px-Jaynes_hatA little background about the series of posts I’m going to be doing on this topic.  While this is a drink creation it isn’t the kind of thing one might normally find in a bar or even in a restaurant I’m hoping it will eventually be something unique and tasty.

For starters those who don’t know what Mudder’s Milk references need to go out and buy a copy of the firefly box set.  The show is 10 years old, only had half a season and it still blows the doors off of most stuff on TV today.

The crew lands on a moon where the primary export is mud used to make ceramics and most of the inhabitants are indentured servants, basically slaves.  The bar in the worker village serves a (presumably) disgusting “beer” called Mudder’s Milk.  As Jayne describes it “All the protein, vitamins and carbs of your grandma’s best turkey dinner, plus fifteen percent alcohol.”

They go on to describe it as liquid bread used to keep the workers healthy and knock them out to prevent revolt.

I had the good fortune to meet a woman who spent time with one of the local pirate groups.  There are apparently several, and similar to the SCA they do a bit of period recreation and more than a bit of camping, hanging out and drinking.  She served as both ships cook and alchemist, meaning that she made up the menus and bought all of the alcohol for their little crew.  We traded ideas back and forth about mixed drinks, alcohol quality, camping equipment and ease of transport.  After a few drinks and quite a bit of conversation the question became if anyone had developed a drinkable version of Mudder’s Milk or if someone had made a cocktail of the same name.

Casual research didn’t turn up much:
Item 1 was an attempt to do justice to the quote mechanically, but a combination of cider, Guinness, milk, rye and vodka not to mention the whey powder and multi-vitamins was beyond gross sounding.

Item 2 Similar idea but easier execution.  Still, soy milk and brewers yeast are not in my list of best drink ingredients.  Nor is the combination of soy and grain alcohol really much of a crowd pleaser.

Item 3 Actually comes from a reference to the same drink as an item in World of Warcarft.  I was more pleased with the results here but it’s really just a white Russian with milk and bailey’s.   Nothing original here.

Item 4 Is actually a site for home brewers giving options for making your own beer.  I’m not much of a beer drinker, or any kind of brewer so I can’t say much about these except that the highest one caps out just above 10% ABV which isn’t anything like the 15% claimed in the show.

So lacking anything unique, tasty, complete or appropriate it behooved me as a budding bartender to correct this mistake and make something both good to drink and in keeping with as much of the quote as I felt necessary.