Make Your Own: Irish Cream Liqueur

irishcreamI’m going to save you a lot of time.  The post on making your own Irish Cream on The Modern Proper has some beautiful photos, the recipe itself is solid, but skip the post itself.  It’s long winded and kind of pompous.  I don’t know what else you would expect from something called The Modern Proper so give it a +1 for meeting expectations.

The basic elements here are actually frighteningly similar to the crema limoncello I made for Christmas 2013.

The core of the idea is that milk can be made semi-stable if you add enough sugar to the process.  In the case of Irish cream you can save some time by buying a can of sweetened condensed milk or you can have some control over the sugar/fat content by making your own.  Additionally the fat content of the cream will help to prevent the mixture from curdling.

Condensed milk is really just simple syrup where you have substituted milk for the water. You do want to make sure that you don’t over-heat the milk or it will scorch.  Additionally once you add the sugar you’ll want to keep the heat low or you’ll start to caramelize and again ruin the flavor.

200 g sugar
200 ml 1% milk
1 tsp dutch process cocoa powder
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cold press coffee concentrate (or 1 Tbsp bottled cold press)
1 cup Irish Whisky
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp cream of coconut

This is slightly more complicated than Modern Proper’s version.  For one thing I’m going slightly less off the shelf and with a bit more than just a blender.

Place milk in a small saucepan and bring it up to boil using a medium heat.  Immediately reduce heat and slowly combine sugar and cocoa powder until they are fully dissolved.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in vanilla and coffee concentrate.  When fully combined move to a mixing bowl (preferably with a pour spout), using stand mixer or hand mixer whip cream and cream of coconut until mixture is frothy.

Lastly, add whisky slowly while whisking or stirring constantly.  This is important.  Whiskey is very acidic compared to milk and the change in Ph is the primary reason that milk curdles.  The fat content of the milk and cream will help to buffer this until the mixture is fully combined but you don’t want to dump the whole cup of whisky in all at the same time.  You can read more about the process here.

Place in air tight bottles and refrigerate.  It doesn’t really need it because of the alcohol content but it will last longer.

If by some miracle the mixture does curdle all is not lost.  Curdles in your product may be texturally undesirable but they do not mean that the milk has spoiled.  Milk curdles on its own because it turns more acid as it ages.  You might have to drink your own failure but it will still be potable.

The result will likely be a bit thinner than you are used to from commercial products unless you either double down on the sugar content or reduce the milk more than you would otherwise.  Using heavy cream won’t really thicken the product much but it will change the texture.

 

How Do I Ship Alcohol?

Every Christmas season shoppers the country over are buying presents for relatives in the form of bottles of wine, beer and spirits.  They’re thinking of stuffy in-laws who like their single malt and brothers who just want a taste of the local craft distillate. When they get the whole thing wrapped they get a severe shock at the post office when they try to ship it.

USPS

The USPS publication 52 on Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail lists liquor with a ABV of 0.5% or higher as prohibited.  That means the US mail is a no-go for anything even remotely drinkable.

Big Shippers

The two other major delivery services UPS and FedEx have the following to say.

UPS does not accept shipments of beer or alcohol for delivery to consumers.

And

Only licensed entities holding a state and federal license or retailers holding a state license may ship alcohol with FedEx. Consumers may not ship alcohol.

Several of these companies will ship to a licensed receiver if you are also licensed.  It took some digging to find, but the license they are talking about is a state permit to produce or sell alcohol.  In most cases this would be the same one you would have as a brewery, distillery, bar or winery.  It is possible that the shipping portion is an add-on to the basic license but this kind of thing varies from state to state so it’s impossible to say what the local regulations are for sure without a lot more digging.

What I can tell you is that the costs of a license vary all over from a $0 permit in Missouri to  South Carolina’s $650 fee.  Since each state would require a separate license and it appears you would need a license in both the state you are shipping from and the state you are shipping to, the costs add up quite quickly and the application lead times make last minute shopping impossible for such a simple purchase.  The need for 50+ license with appropriate rolling fees also means most breweries, wineries and distillers are not going to hold the requisite approvals to ship your purchase out of state.

Others

On the Grey Market side of shipping there are websites like Uship.com where one can proffer shipments to be taken by private services from here to there.  Since the jobs are bid on by the various haulers there isn’t a fixed price but the estimate tool on their site does allow you to select alcohol as your product.  I punched in two zip codes on either side of town, a trip of about 40 minutes in the right traffic and was presented with a bid of just over $200 for a 5 lb bottle of liquor.

Hand Delivery

If you have the desire, you can take the bottle to your loved one yourself.  According to the TSA you can take ,any quantity of alcohol (in checked bags) at less than 24% ABV as it isn’t regulated.  You may also take up to 5 Liters (a little over 6 normal bottles) of alcohol in you checked luggage so long as none of it exceeds 70% ABV.  Anything above 140 proof is right out.  For some more long winded and detailed info about taking alcohol into and out of the country see this post.

Carry-on still has the dumb limits on bringing liquids on board unless you managed to buy an overpriced bottle at the duty free shop.

One serious exception to the shipping rules are for wineries.  Several states, many of them big wine producers have joined a common cause pact.  Under this pact people may visit a winery, buy a bottle and have it shipped to their home.  The purchase is treated as if it occurred in their home state and the winery takes care of all the necessary paperwork.  This is a nice benefit if you’re taking a trip through Napa or seeing the sights of the Oregon Wine country, but not so great for beer drinkers or whiskey lovers.

Yeast Cultures

For years beer brewers have been shipping homebrew suds by calling the product live yeast cultures as a gentle fiction for shipping purposes.  If you absolutely must ship your product for the love of god don’t use the USPS.  It is actually a crime to do so where for UPS and Fedex it’s simply against company policy.  When using an alternate shipper ensure your bottles are packed in boxes without a lot of dead space.  Ensure adequate packing material to prevent impact damage.  Bubble wrap is preferred but inflatable pillows are also excellent if you can get them.  Lastly, don’t ship more than one bottle at a time.  If you have appropriate packaging you can risk it but the bottles are more likely to break each other than they are to fall to something outside.

Drinks on a Plane

AirbagI’m not a frequent traveler.  I seem to have found my location in the universe and seldom wander far from home.  On the rare occasion that I do travel, flight is not my preferred method.  I have nothing against it, it simply has gotten too hairy since the TSA started their security theater project.

In particular I dislike not having access to my own beverages.  Having to toss a perfectly good bottle of water and purchase another at the exorbitant airport prices is galling.  Even worse if you want to drink on the plane or in the airport you can have the added experience of highway robbery without ever leaving the plane.

In flight beverages can be even worse.  A single airplane bottle of crown royal that goes for $1.50 on the ground can run $7-$10 in the air.  Admittedly you can get a free coke and ice to go with it but that’s still a pretty hefty markup.

With a little careful planning you can drink on the plane and avoid paying out the nose for it.

It turns out that there is a little loophole in the TSA regulations.  You can bring any liquid through the security check so long as it is A) Less than 3.4 oz and B) fits into a quart size zip-top bag.  This means if you are willing to make due to hotel shampoo you can use that quart size bag to bring almost a dozen 50ml bottles of various alcohols onto the plane with you.

I have confirmed all of this through personal experience.

Even a couple of bottles of personal stash can make the difference between a good flight and a poor one.

Some things to keep in mind:
Don’t let the attendants see you open them, it’s just easier to avoid the hassle of having them tell you to put it away.
Plan your cocktails.  Getting free mixers from the drink cart is great.  Having a handful of single malts and a bottle of jagermeister to help them along is not.
Don’t overdo it.  Being drunk and disorderly on a plane is a great way to end up in federal prison.

Lastly, I came across this after my trip but I fully plan to snag a couple for road trips and future flights.

Jack Rudy Carry-on Cocktail Kit

Glaser Distilling

glaserLogoI was very pleased to run across a new addition to the Portland distillery scene.  While they don’t operate their actual stills in Portland it is the place to be for tasting rooms as many others have already proven.  Based out of a celebrated winery located near Roseburg they produce a number of very keen products that I was able to taste on my visit.

Glaser in the Pearl can be found at 1230 NW Hoyt A, Portland, OR 97209
a few scant blocks from I-405.  Parking is a challenge unless you’re there during the day.  They are open 2pm to 8 pm Tuesday through Sunday.

Among their offerings were both Vodka and White rum as well as a spiced rum and a few other items that I can’t seem to find on their website.  This may mean they were seasonal or could just indicate that they don’t update their site often.

Their more interesting items were a Limoncello, coffee, and Butterscotch liqueur.   I would have loved to have bought a bottle of each but funds limited me to a single bottle of the butterscotch.  I was assured by the very lovely Sandy Glaser herself that they produce all of the butterscotch used in the liqueur themselves which makes it doubly wonderful.

It has been a while since I visited but their selection does not appear to change often.  Prices were reasonable for the region and the liqueurs were excellent.  Personally I didn’t find anything in their regular spirits to write home about but your mileage may vary.

Make Your Own: Coconut Sugar Simple Syrup

wpid-wp-1426623842805.jpegThere are as many kinds of sugar out there as there are fruits and vegetables.  Most sugar we consume is made from either sugar cane or from sugar beets.  While there are numerous sugar substitutes the number of all natural sweeteners is also constantly expanding.  Case in point, Coconut sugar.  I had not seen this product before but there it was on an endcap at the grocery store.

Ever the experimental dabbler I picked up the only size bag they offered and endeavored to see what you could do with it.  This is the Madhava 1lb bag and it runs about $6.50.  For starters it is brown.  Not brown like brown sugar is brown, but a kind of rough woody brown with oddly uneven grains.  It is also unlike most other sugar cane based sweeteners in scent.  It lacks the bitter molasses notes that are so common to sugars and caramels.

I started with a test base of about 30g of sugar to 30g of water.  I elected to do this as a quick and dirty microwave batch rather than my normal stovetop method.  After about 10 seconds the grains had begun to dissolve and it took a full 20 more seconds to get the entire mixture combined.  It took some additional stirring to dissolve the grains and I think without that action they might not have dissolved at all.

The resulting syrup is dark, almost black opaque liquid.  The scents present before of woody, palm like aroma have increased dramatically.

On the tongue this is a very rich product.  The flavor is closer in content to an unsulphurated or blackstrap molasses than anything else I can compare it to.  There is very little in the way of a coconut flavor, this may stem from the source of the sugar.  Coconut sugar is dried palm tree sap, perhaps closer akin to maple syrup than granulated sugar.

While not sweeter than sugar the extra flavors present are not always complimentary and do make this a much harder sweetener to use in context.  I attempted a basic old fashioned and found that the woodiness of the sugar clashed horribly with the lemon in my cocktail.  Given the quantity of citrus drinks in the general catalog this could be a major hindrance.  Additionally the darker color makes anything you put this into a much darker drink that it would be otherwise.  In a bourbon or whiskey cocktail that might not be an issue but again the flavor is not fantastic with oak either.

I did use some of this syrup when making Irish Cream and the difficulty with getting the grains to dissolve again caused for problems in the finished product.  I have yet to find a cocktail that works well with this but I think more experimenting with rum and possibly an orgeat or falernum addition might turn this around.

In all, I cannot recommend this product.  The price per pound, general inflexibility in use, lack of availability and oddness of flavor make it so much less desirable than agave, honey or cane sugar.

Bourbon Heritage: The Whiskey Rebellion

rebellionIt may seem a little unusual now but until the passage of the federal income tax via the 16th amendment in 1913 the federal government received almost three quarters of their revenue from alcohol taxes.

After the end of the revolutionary war the federal government had racked up something in the order of $54 million in war debt.  By 1789 the debt had become a problem and by 1791 the government had found a solution in the form of excise taxes on distilled spirits.

This was the first time the government had imposed a tax on domestically produced goods.  This was especially hard on farming communities in the “western” part of the country.  Whiskey was used to convert excess grain into a cash crop which given the lack of a national currency was a common medium of exchange.

The rebellion started in 1791 with the tarring and feathering of a tax collector.  Followed by the murder of a process server, delivering papers to the tax collector’s murderers.  Tax offices were burned and the federal response was the brutal suppression of the dissenters.

The entire affair can and does occupy several books of history but the end result is that the rebellion failed and many of the people involved left Pennsylvania moving westward and south into what would eventually become Kentucky, Tennessee and the rest of the bourbon belt.

All your favorite brands in one way or another owe their existence to those Pennsylvania Rye makers who fought hard to keep their moonshine.

Casker

I was searching for a place online that I could buy some rarer bottles when I stumbled upon a fantastic site.  Caskers.com is a plethora of bottles both mundane and unique.  The only drawback to the site I’ve found so far is that it requires you to create a login or use facebook to access the site at all.  Once you’re beyond that hurdle the site is very responsive on both desktop and mobile.

Breaking it down the site has 5 sections.  Firstly is the spirits themselves, a massive list that can be filtered by your location, the spirit type, point of origin and more importantly by in or out of stock.  The least expensive item in their catalog appears to be a $28 bottle of honey flavored vodka and the most expensive a $1000 bottle of 30 year old Balvenie.  I could swear that I’ve seen more expensive and unique bottles that have likely sold out and been removed.

Next up is the clubs.  Much like the current fashion for mail order boxes of unique stuff from places like lootcrate, glambag or Citrus Lane these clubs offer a curated selection of spirits.  Choosing from whiskey, vodka, or spirits you can have up to 4 shipments a quarter sent to your home for about $100-160 per package.  There is also an office option where starting at $250 you can have as many spirits as you want delivered as often as you need.

There is also a line of accessories with everything from drinking horn novelty cups to engraved glassware.

Something I have only seen offered by Jack Daniels is the private cask.  Starting at $1500 you can choose an entire cask of a spirit of your choice and have it custom bottled with your own label, be it for a wedding, graduation, retirement, hunting cabin or private club.  The Jack Daniels option was close to $1000 and generally required a licensed agent to facilitate the transaction, I can only assume caskers is taking on the more boring portions of this in exchange for a higher price tag.

Lastly is their concierge service.  If you’ve ever had a white whale that you couldn’t locate on your own and despaired of having the time and funds to travel to the places that might have what you need then this is the site for you.  Caskers offers a service to track down rare, ultra-premium and small batch products.  There’s no listed prices as this is the kind of service where if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it but I’d be tempted to see if they could find something limited but mundane like the Mt. Vernon rye or Anchor Christmas Spirit.

This site has shown me some very interesting stuff, from a vodka made entirely out of of honey to an absinthe named for Emperor Norton.  I haven’t had the chance to place an order but I’ve played around with their shopping cart and with a shipping cost of only $9.99 for a single bottle and $24.99 for a six bottle case they are more reasonable than several other sites I’ve visited.

Pricing is obviously going to be tricky but on a few items I could compare online they were the same as other web vendors.  For the items that appeared locally on oregonliquorsearch.com the pricing was pretty close with a difference of a few dollars here or there but neither caskers nor the local shops appeared to have the advantage.

The real benefit here is selection.  The internet has not been the boon to liquor sales that you might expect due to the problems of distribution and the costs involved in shipping.  If caskers can offer Lost Spirits, Balcones, or even just a wider selection of small batch major label products then they’re already ahead of anything else I’ve run across.

Tilt in the Pearl District

A recent addition to the Portland landscape Tilt currently operates two locations.  One on Swan Island in north Portland and another in the Pearl district.  A third location on east Burnside will be opening soon.

I’ve been to the pearl location several times now and I can say that the experience loses nothing by repetition.  Squarely on the corner of 13th and Everett, Tilt is among good company with restaurants such as Hamlet, Oven and shaker and Vault Martini.

Inside the decor is spartan with chrome and black in abundance and the odd piece of industrial equipment squarely situated for flavor.   There is a seating area and a long bar with numerous stools, booths and a ping pong table.

The menu is heavy on the american standards of hamburger, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and pie.  Despite the greasy spoon similarities the menu is exquisitely prepare and each portion is of a quality that knocks you off your stool.  The burgers are huge, juicy and filling.  The sides and appetizers are equally robust.  I personally recommend the bacon tots.  The tots are made fresh and each is a tiny wad of deep fried potato that delights and stuffs you like a thanksgiving turkey.  They come in 6, 12 and 18 pieces but beware as they are each huge and stick to your ribs.

Pie is the other serious offering here.  Everything sweet from cinnamon rolls to tarts is on offer but Pie is king and like any good late night diner you can get a slice of just about anything hot, a la mode, or even done up as a milkshake.

Now, you might ask why I would bring all this to my blog.  The answer is simple, they have possibly the second deepest bar I have seen in Portland.  Many places can get by with a smaller selection of more complex items but sitting in Tilt you can start picking out great bottles for ten feet in either direction and still not see everything they’ve got.

The cocktail menu appears to be seasonal, with about 10 unique options every season.  Their winter menu was still on board when I first went and I had the opportunity to drink something made with rum, nocino and lime that gave me new ideas.   In the spring I had a little coupe called a night swim that involved a basic martini splashed with vanilla syrup and creme de violet.  Everything I have had there is complex.  Flavors from bitter to sweet play in a wonderland of presentation and selection.

More tellingly the bartenders are never coy about what they are using and when asked to make a bourbon milk punch for the Hopboxer they gamely took down the recipe and presented an excellent cocktail in reply.

I look forward to their east Burnside location finally opening as I want something closer to my work and home where I can take friends and family.  My downtown options were previously locked in but I think that given the quality of the food and the much better selection I’m moving Tilt to the top of my list when it comes time to pick a restaurant.

Why can’t I take Everclear on the plane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whiskey Tees

Update: Upon reviewing the picture for this story I found that the site appears to no longer be active.

 

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

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

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

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