Good afternoon folks,
Lots has happened over the past year. I promise to have more of an update soon, but here’s a bit of a teaser of things to come!
See you soon!
Michael Dietsch over at A Dash of Bitters posted a number of amazing advertisements regarding Green River Whiskey, a now defunct product hailing from Owensboro, Kentucky. Owensboro is just about an hour from the city I grew up in, Evansville, Indiana. According to this article, the craft whiskey movement in the United States has renewed interest in both the Green River Whiskey brand, currently being given a reboot by the great grandson of the founder in a new location in Ohio, and the old distillery, purchased by Angostura and being refurbished for a new whiskey coming out of Owensboro.
It excites me to see this come out of a place so close to home. Good luck to everyone involved, and I look forwards to tasting the new products.
When one begins conversations regarding the Chicago mixology scene, the conversation will inevitably end up on the topic of Adam Seger. As the general manager of National 27, he is able to channel his culinary precision into his works of liquid deliciousness. His latest concoction is Hum Spirit, a raw cane rum infused with a proprietary mixture of hibiscus, ginger, kaffir limes, and cardamom. At his annual New Year’s Day bash, he introduced me to a sidecar using the spirit, as well as spiking many-a-beer with the stuff. It was delicious, and I needed a bottle.
The bottle, however, sat unused on my shelf for nearly a month. I was attempting to find out a proper usage for such an odd spirit. Consulting the ancient tomes gave me no leads. The classics had no spirit that was so powerfully ginger fronted. I tried to use it as a gin for certain items, but it turned out to have too much ‘sweet’. I attempted to use it as a rum, but it had too much ‘spice’. I tried a sazarac using Hum as a rinse to a somewhat satisfying degree. The best “old with a twist” cocktail I was able to find was a take on the aviation, simply replacing the Violette with Hum. I learned through my experiments that Hum is something different. Hum requires a cocktail entirely new.
1 oz. Hum Spirit
1 oz. Courvoisier Exclusiv
.5 oz. Lime Juice
.5 oz. Simple Syrup
.5 oz. Hibiscus Syrup*
3 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Shake over ice. Serve. Enjoy.
The Hum Aviation
2 oz. Tanqueray 10
.5 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
.25 oz. Hum Spirit
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake, strain, serve with a maraschino cherry.
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups dried hibiscus flowers (if you are in Chicago, I got mine from Tea Gschwendner, whom I recommend for all syrup and bitters components)
In a pan, bring water, sugar and dried hibiscus to a boil. Let boil for one minute. Then remove from the heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the hibiscus into a large container. Press the flowers well with a spoon to release all the juice. Discard the solids (although they are edible and tasty when dried again). Let the syrup cool and then place in a bottle and keep refrigerated.
“Gabriel Boudier is a leading micro distiller in Dijon France with a reputation for fine spirits since 1874. Saffron Infused Gin is a unique recipe discovered in the annals of France’s colonial past when England and France both claimed India as their jewel and gin rich in exotic botanicals was the fashion. This handcrafted, small batch distilled gin is made from the finest natural botanicals, in addition to the Saffron which gives a delicately spicy character, the recipe has Juniper, Coriander, Lemon, Orange Peel, Angelica Seeds, Iris and Fennel, creating one of the most complex and memorable saffron flavored gins distilled today. Enjoy Saffron Infused Gin on the rocks or with Tonic.” – from the Saffron Infused Gin bottle
I was walking through a local liquor store in my parent’s hometown. A heady haunt with bars on the windows and signs hanging from the fluorescent fixtures touting their weekly 17.99 specials. I was there looking for a bottle of something wonderful to give to my sister as a Christmas present. Unfortunately, this store was severely lacking in the “something wonderful” category… until I came across this strange bottle. Being familiar with Old Raj, I was excited to try another attempt at a saffron gin. Gabriel Boudier’s Website.
The bottle itself is quite generic in nearly every way. Square shouldered, stout, and the extremely descriptive name “Saffron Infused Gin” printed boldly across the square label. The hyper-orange color is disappointingly the result of “Certified COLOR & FD&C Yellow #5” as stated boldly on the back of the label.
The nose is much less juniper-heavy as some other gins I have had, but is very pleasant. It is acidic and citrusy and the juniper is there, the saffron is there; overall a good mix of botanicals. The first sip tingles and warms the palate. The essences of saffron dance through every corner of the mouth. Juniper has taken a partner role here, but is definitely present. The other botanicals mentioned are the passive audience, appearing on the finish, first the citrus pair, then angelica, and finally the herbal trio. It is a delicious drink, the saffron and coriander work together making it taste almost woody and natural. It is an esoteric gin, worthy of round-table discussions with your favorite group of mixologists. The single downside of the drink is the addition of food coloring. If I remember my Old Raj correctly, saffron creates a wonderful, sparkly, straw color when added to a spirit. The crank-case orange is a turnoff for both the spirit enthusiast seeking purity and artisanship in the drink, and the mixologist attempting to mix this with other colored beverages.
The Saffron Martini
2 0z. Saffron Infused Gin
.5 oz. Noilly Prat dry vermouth (this part is important)
2 dash angostura orange bitters
flamed orange peel
Saffron Infused Gin should begin chilled (from refrigerator). Stir SIG and Noilly Prat and bitters with ice. Not much dilution is necessary in this drink, we are just looking for a chill. Strain into cocktail glass. Flame an orange across the drink and serve.
“This rustic spirit was inspired by a potent 18th century Pennsylv ania folk recipe. It is an alcoholic version of what eventually evolved into Birch or Root Beer. The unity of Art, Craft, Design & Contemplation” – From the ROOT bottle
I received a mystery bottle in the mail a few days ago. A medicinal-looking bottle with various beautiful fonts and designs. The back of the bottle had hand-drawn herbs and spices which make up this mystery elixir. A bit of internet research later brings me to a strange storefront and gallery in Philadelphia, and an amazing collection of art, design, and this inspirational liqueur. From their website,
“ROOT traces its heritage all the way back to the 1700s when colonists were first introduced to the Root Tea that Native Americans would drink as an herbal remedy. Brewed from sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen birch bark, and other roots and herbs, Root Tea was used to cure a variety of ailments. As colonial settlers passed the recipe down form generation to generation, the drink grew in potency and complexity. This was especially true in the Pennsylvania hinterlands where the ingredients naturally grew in abundance. These homemade, extra-strong Root Teas were a favorite in colonial homes and public houses all over the northeastern colonies.”
The design of the bottle definitely plays to this heritage. The hand-drawn images of birch bark, smoked black tea, cinnamon, wintergreen, spearmint, clove, anise, orange, lemon, nutmeg, allspice, and cardamom read like a monk’s manuscript for a healing salve. My favorite detail, by far, has to be the wooden cork. Oh man am I am excited to break into this bottle!
The color is a deep brown, a cola color. As can be expected, the nose is strong with birch root . The cinnamon and spearmint play an interesting game in the back of the sinuses- almost a cooling burn. Anise isn’t as strong as I would have expected, but it is detectable in the potpourri of scents rising from the glass. The initial taste is soft and full-bodied. Not as alcohol-heavy as one would expect from an 80 proof drink. All of the flavors are perfectly balanced, not a single herb can be the star of this performance. All are elegantly mixed into a beautiful array of hot, warm, cool, and cold flavors. It warms the chest on the way down, and the finish is soft and subtle. One would be perfectly happy sipping this after a long dinner on a cold night with friends. The perfect end to a perfect evening.
Availability of ROOT is limited. If you have friends in and around Philadelphia, it is recommended that you have them track down a bottle for you. Neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, it is a great swallow and worth the extra effort.
Our drink of the day is brought to you by Justin Leone, Beverage Director for Benny’s Chophouse in Chicago.
The Sufferin’ Sassafras
2 oz. Maker’s Mark
1 oz. ROOT
.25 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
.25 oz. Simple Syrup
2 dash Angostura Orange Bitters
Flamed Orange Peel
Stir ingredients and pour into old fashioned glass over ice. Flame the orange across the top. Sip. Enjoy.
“Since the earliest days of distillation, the suggestion of a ‘spiritual’ element has always been at play in the appreciation of spirits. It is this that makes spirits an endlessly fascinating pursuit and perhaps even a near-mystical experience.” – Anthony Dias Blue, from the Introduction
I just put down The Complete Book of Spirits by Anthony Dias Blue after having read it the second time through. For an introduction to spirits and cocktails, I cannot recommend this book enough. Blue does an exceptional job at breaking down the history, usage, and requirements for nearly every spirit known in this market. Each section, from Vodka to Gin to Whisky/ey, is incredibly detailed in the history, the specific players in the industry, and how a novice might approach the particular complexities of the category. I do have only two complaints. Since the publication of the book, our industry has changed quite a bit. New players to the market, new trends in “mixology” or “artisanal cocktails” have changed the way that the current players play. Although Blue obviously could not foresee this during the publication of his book, it would be amazing to see a revised, expanded edition hitting the shelves. The second complaint has a bit to do with the format of the sections as a whole. The first two thirds are amazingly informative, making it clear that Blue has done his research prior to authoring this work. However, the last portion of each spirit section includes “major” players in the market with tasting notes and rankings. Although I am not entirely opposed to reviewing spirits in this type of work, he runs the risk of limiting his reader’s spirit(ual) experience with his five-star ranking system. Why would someone ever want to take the extra time to seek out Tito’s brand vodka, when they received the same “ranking” as a more widely available Grey Goose? This blemish is by far a show-stopper, however, and I recommend the purchase of this tome to add to any aspiring or proffesional cocktail-slinger’s well-rounded library.
Buy your copy here.
“Jimmy Clay, a bartender at a classic Chicago tavern, begins a typical quiet afternoon shift lost in his crossword puzzle . Soon enough, his first patron drifts in, a worn and sullen old man who has much to say about the modern state of being. While the patron prattles on, Jimmy becomes acutely irritated by this man’s demand that things be done so particularly, or that otherwise, “things are lost.” The bombastic entrance of a cellphone-addicted day-trader only intensifies a developing crisis, fueled by a maddening drink request that propels the bartender to wit’s end” – written by Bradley J. Taylor
A buddy of mine from my local watering hole has just completed a film and is currently in the process of festival-peddling. I haven’t seen the production yet, but from his description and the images on their website, it looks excellent. You can hit up their IMDB page and read a bit more about it. Please do what you can to support independent film production – at least the good ones – and if you are in the Chicagoland area, keep an eye out for the premier.
A Perfect Manhattan
2 oz. Rye (For this we use Rittenhouse 100)
1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth (My favorite is Punt e Mes)
1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth (Noilly Pratt)
Dash of Bitters (Angostura)
Brandied Cherry (Unfortunately, I didn’t have these ready yet)
“Among the native wildflowers found in the Alps are the Queen Charlotte and March violets. This authentic Crème de Violette captures their fragrance and vibrant colors. Enjoy this liqueur in classic cocktails or as an ingredient in continental cuisine.” – Crème de Violette Bottle
I had seen the slim, square-shouldered bottle sitting on a number of shelves around Chicago. The mysterious purple drinks sliding across the bar after being kissed by this spirit were intriguing to me. It was this reason that I bought my first bottle of Crème de Violette at the local shop. It took a lot of getting used to. Too much of the mix and your cocktails taste like soap. Too little and the color is lost. One has to get used to making sure that the shade is obtained and not muddled or risk turning brown. After a number of disastrous cocktails, I finally scouted the internet and fell on lostpastremembered’s discussion of the classic aviation and her champagne-based nod, the Aviatrix. On Wednesday evening, a friend and I decided to try both.
1 T Crème de Violette
1/2 Cup Champagne or Prosecco (good quality please, no $5 bottles for this)
We used freixenet extra dry for this one because I didn’t want many flavors to distract from the violet. The first few that we tried were less concentrated than we liked and we found that with a light bodied bubbly, you can get away with using a lot less. From the description of the cocktail, it seems like the champagne is used more for texture and bubbles than anything else. We also decided that the addition of gin would be complex and interesting. We ended up with the ratio 1/4oz Crème de Violette: 1/4oz of Tanqueray Ten: enough bubbly to get a rich purple hue (About 6oz.). It was a great drink to start the evening. The purple and sparkles were both exotic and soothing. Thinking about it later, I would have added a sugar cube to intensify the carbonation. It may be an overly simple drink, but when you are warming up a house full of guests, this one may be nice to have in your back pocket.
2 oz. gin (I used Tanqueray Ten)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz. Crème de Violette
—Shake with cracked ice, garnish with maraschino cherry.
This was a perfect cocktail. Too many of these and one realizes the source of the name. The smoothness of the violet, the crisp citrus enlivens the senses.
Unfortunately, having never tasted an aviation, I wasn’t sure how to compare this one to any others. Last evening, I had an awful aviation at a bar very well-known for their drinks. They used Hendrick’s gin and lemon syrup rather than the lemon juice. Unfortunately, this was a cavity causer and the sugar completely overpowered the cocktail. Hendrick’s caused an imbalance in the flavors and they used too much Crème de Violette causing the above-mentioned soapiness. I passed the cocktail around the table (all industry), with a number of winces. Let’s stick the to the script on this one and use as little improv as possible.
“Made with organic hard red winter wheat from Washington Island, WI. Simple – Local – Exceptional” – Death’s Door Gin Bottle
I ran into John from Death’s Door about a month ago. Having already tasted their awesome White Whiskey, I was thrilled when he handed me new bottling of the Death’s Door Gin. It should be noted that I have been a gin fan since the beginning of my alcoholic life. There was always something subtly classy to me about ordering a Gin and Tonic as I walked into any bar, no matter how scummy. It should also be noted that many gins are venomous drinks that stink of chemicals and taste like aftershave. I approach every new gin with caution, but when I find a pleasing product on the market, I am thrilled to tears to add it to my collection.
Death’s Door Gin, is created with locally grown wheat, locally collected organic juniper berries native to Washington Island, Wisconsin, and a mix of organic botanicals from the area. Being an advocate of locally sourced products, I was excited to taste this treat.
All of my taste-tests are conducted in relatively the same way. I pour roughly 50 millilitres at room temperature into a glass, neat. I then conduct the first wave of critique. If the producer has specific requests for their product (splash of warm water, rocks, tonic, etc,), I prepare it that way and repeat the test.
The bottle is one of the more interesting packages that I have seen in a while. The bottle takes the form of an old apothecary bottle. The round neck and shoulder of the bottle crimps and flattens slightly at the base giving the bottle a very stout appearance on the shelf. The label design uses multiple text types and sizes and harkens back to a day where alcoholic elixirs were used to cure ailments of the body, not just as a cure for problems of the soul. The beautiful addition of an antiquated map at the base of the product description is enhanced by the font trailing off of the sides of the map, making the viewer feel as though this product was not just made in Wisconsin, but that this product was made with Wisconsin.
The juniper-pine familiarity is the first thing that reaches the nose with subtle notes of citrus, fennel, and peppermint or hyssop. There is a surprising emergence of bay-leaves, rosebud, and sage as the drink aerates. It is, however, a mouthful of a gin. The juniper flavor hits hard (perhaps a bit too aggressive for some new to gin or juniper-phobes) and then is trailed by some softer cues of coriander/citrus. The strange, but welcome aromas of peppermint, sage, and other more subtle botanicals are all but overpowered by the juniper on the palate. There isn’t the complexity in Death’s Door that many may seek out in gin making this taster believe that this is a bit more accessible to the masses than other potpourri-heavy brews. The finish is long but quickly falls back into the basic juniper until nearly 3 minutes after the initial taste when the rosebud and citrus come back for a curtain call, bow, and make their exit.
Whatever is in Washington Island soil is really taking an almost surprising lead on nearly all aspects of this gin. For those readers who seek out extremely powerful juniper flavors in their gin, than this is definitely one to check out. It is basic and easy on the mind as well as the palate.
“This extraordinary clean taste sensation springs from a unique blend of fresh, light tasting gin infused with a hint of pear flavour.” – BEEFEATER WET BOTTLE
I was excited to finally receive my bottle of Beefeater WET in the mail. After having been told that it had been discontinued by Beefeater, I frantically scoured the country to buy up every last bottle of it… and the first has finally arrived. I had last tasted WET as a completely under-employed member of the service industry. I am not sure if I first came across it in a liquor store, or if a local haunt had it on the list, but if memory serves correctly, it had an unmatched elegance of flavors and was just barely kissed by citrus and pears… It was perfect in a GnT, and great in certain martinis. If memory serves correctly, it was truly a remarkable spirit and well worth the nationwide treasure hunt. And following this test, memory served correctly!
All of my tests are conducted in relatively the same way. I pour roughly 50 millilitres at room temperature into a glass, neat. I conduct the first wave of critique. If the producer has specific requests for their product (splash of warm water, rocks, tonic, etc,), I prepare it that way and repeat the test
Hats off to the designer of the packaging. The label plays with silvers and blues presenting a true luxury goods package with high-end appeal, a nod to the beefeater himself as a silhouette within a silver droplet. It is clear, having the WET so pronounced and the BEEFEATER underneath, that this is not to be mistaken for the traditional Beefeater Dry Gin, this is something different.
The term “perfume” is often overused in reviews, but for this drink, it is well suited. Like a half of a fresh pear sprinkled with christmas spices (allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, a whisper of anise) spritzed with a bit of lime juice. It is light and wonderful.
A somewhat overly soft attack, perhaps reflecting the spirit’s 70 proof. Maybe I am used to higher-octane drinks, but this one is a round, full-mouth, smooth flavor, and is easy to swallow. Pear being the primary taste here, the christmas spices and citrus are lost as the hard-fruit fully takes over the palate. It is interesting to note that they have also done something with the texture of the liquid itself. I believe there has been sugar added to the mixture following distillation. I don’t think that this can be accomplished by spices alone. The viscosity of the drink creates the feeling of the gin slinking through every corner of the mouth. I’m not sure how something can be “more liquid,” but your standard dry gins are definitely that. But just as the product is soft on the attack, it escapes into nothingness quickly. There remains, for several minutes, lingering pear and apple on the palate, but it is faint and delicate.
Why dedicate an entire post to a spirit that has been discontinued? Because I believe that this product, albeit not for all palate, still has some potential for many audiences. It is quite unique. Chances are, by this point, if you do come across a dusty old bottle among the “CLOSEOUT SPECIALS” of your local store, it will be around twenty dollars, and will be worth your taste.