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Intercontinental Smoke -- The East-West Magic

Where there's smoke, there's fire. Or in the case of the East-West Magic, where there's a bit of smoke, there's an exquisite and earthy cocktail. Cheongsam is an American company that hand makes unique tea liqueurs in China from locally sourced tea. Ms. Cocktail Den and I met the people behind Cheongsam at the Tales of the Cocktail conference this year, and after trying the liqueurs we were dying to conduct some experiments with them. The East-West Magic is an original creation incorporating some smoke from Cheongsam's Smokey Mist liqueur (the East) and Scotch (the West).

East-West Magic1.5 ounces Scotch (see below)
.75 ounces Cheongsam Smokey Mist liqueur
Juice from 1/4 lemon
3 dashes cardamom bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the initial jolt of seeing smoke even when you're expecting it, and strain into a chilled glass.

The East-West Magic has some unusual ingredients that might be hard to find.  Reward yourself and find them. You can get all of them online. While the Smokey Mist liqueur is a critical part of the East-West Magic, don't overlook the Scotch.  Use one with a little smoky undertone, but not too much (I used Highland Park 12). If the Scotch is too smoky or peaty you'll miss the subtle joy of the Cheongsam liqueur. If you like the East-West Magic, you might like the Penicillin (or my tequila and mezcal based spin on it, the Mexicillin), or an even smokier drink such as the Fireside Chat. The cardamom bitters give the East-West Magic some liquid nuance.

As you savor this cocktail, it's ok to channel the popular 1980s tune from the Cars (mentioned in the Blinker) and sing --uh oh, it's East-West Magic.


An Ode To Irish Cocktail Joy -- The Good Cork

Ms. Cocktail Den had a business trip to Cork, a small city in southwest Ireland, and I shamelessly tagged along. I had a wonderful experience playing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (you know this great tune, just Google it) on the Shandon Bells in St. Anne's Church. The Good Cork, a creation from Phil Ward in New York City, is much younger than the Shandon Bells, and it evokes fond memories of my brief time in Cork.

Good Cork1 ounce Irish whiskey
1 ounce mezcal
.5 ounces Benedictine DOM
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with stereotypical Irish liveliness, and strain into a chilled glass.

Irish whiskey and mezcal (tequila's smokier cousin)?  It works. The Renegade has a similar pairing (bourbon and mezcal) of spice and smoke, and like that drink, the Good Cork is spirit forward. The original calls for Redbreast 12, which is a fine whiskey.  I merely suggest using one of the many whiskies from the New Midleton distillery (the subject of Sine Metu), which is near Cork. Benedictine, an herbal liqueur you use in drinks such as the Racketeer and Widow's Kiss, is flexible enough so that it pulls everything together.

Looking for something unusual, tasty, and strong?  The Good Cork joyously delivers.


A Drink for Iron Man -- The Stark

In the superhero universe Tony Stark is Iron Man.  Played by Robert Downey, Jr. in the eponymous movies and the Avengers movies, Tony Stark combines technological genius with style and a devil may care attitude. The Stark cocktail has nothing to do with Iron Man, at least not that I've found. I discovered it on the Cocktail Detour site. Fortunately you don't need to be a genius to make it.

Stark1.5 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces yellow Chartreuse
.5 ounces honey syrup
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Angostura bitters

Combine everything except the bitters in a shaker, shake like you're Iron Man hurtling through the sky (or you're competing in an Ironman triathlon), strain into a chilled glass, and add the bitters on top.

The Stark is a nice combination of boozy, sweet, and sour tastes.  The bourbon brings the booze, the yellow Chartreuse (which you'll see in drinks such as the Naked and Famous and the Renegade) brings the booze and a little bit of sweet, the honey syrup (which you'll see in drinks such as the Mexicillin and A Thief In The Night) adds a little more sweet, and the fresh lemon juice (you are using fresh juice, right?) brings just enough sour.

Even though I am not a big fan of comic book movies (Ms. Cocktail Den is), I do like many of them.  Similarly, even though Iron Man is not my favorite Avenger (Captain America is, see the Whiskey Smash), I do like his character. Like its unintended namesake, the Stark is a combination of cocktail genius, style, and attitude.


A Wealthy Drink -- The Millionaire

Who wants to drink a Millionaire? There's more than one. The Millionaire is a group of drinks that came around before and during Prohibition.  Just like other cocktail groups with the same name, e.g. the Corpse Reviver #1, the different Millionaire numbers have different base spirits and recipes.  However, there's no clear consensus about which number corresponds to which base spirit.  Here are two variations of the rye based Millionaire.

MillionaireThe first million:

2 ounces rye
.75 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces glorious grenadine
1 egg white

The next million:

The first million
.25 ounces absinthe
Juice from 1/8 lemon

Whether you're making your first million or your next million, combine everything except the egg white in a shaker with ice, shake with the thrill of winning the lottery, strain everything into a glass, toss the ice from the shaker, pour the contents of the glass back into the shaker, add the egg white, shake as if your stock portfolio quadrupled in value overnight, and strain into a separate chilled glass.

The Millionaire (first million) has an appropriately rich taste.  This is due to the froth of the egg white, and the sweetness of the grenadine and Cointreau (or some other triple sec). Make this one if you and/or your favorite millionaire like drinks a little bit on the sweet side. With the next million the Millionaire develops a subtly sharp undertone. While I've used absinthe to coat the glass for a Sazerac, this is the first time I mixed it directly into a cocktail.  It works well.

While the Millionaire won't cost the same as Dr. Evil's initial extortion attempt in the first Austin Powers movie, after one or two of them, you'll definitely feel like a millionaire.


Canadian Whisky (the book, not the booze)

Whisky drinkers frequently and mistakenly overlook Canada's contributions to the global whisky portfolio.  I was one of those people until I read Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux.  After speaking with him at Tales on Tour in Edinburgh (he was a presenter at the seminar that led to Tales of Grain and Suggestion), he provided me with a free copy of his new book.  What you're reading now is a first in the Den -- a book review.

As a sign of respect to de Kergommeaux and my northern neighbor's distilleries, I will spell whisky the way he does. To paraphrase the famous line William Shakespeare penned in Hamlet, to e or not to e, that is the question.

Canadian Whisky final cover copySometimes non-fiction books get so hung up on minutiae they turn off readers who are either casually acquainted with the subject, or not at all.  That's not a problem with Canadian Whisky. De Kergommeaux deftly provides enough detail to satisfy whisky neophytes and aficionados, but not so much that it becomes exhausting to all but obsessed whisky geeks. His writing style is neither too simple nor too intellectual.

The first quarter of the book focuses more on science.  On a very basic level, Canadian whisky must contain some rye and age for at least three years in oak barrels. Of course, there's a lot more to it than that. The chapters on whisky components and the production process take what could be really boring subjects (particularly for people like me who aren't into science) and make them really interesting. De Kergommeaux's discussion about the science behind flavors, aroma, and taste is equally interesting. Even though he presents it in the context of Canadian whisky, one particular observation from de Kergommeaux resonates with me because it applies to all sorts of things, including cocktails -- the fun is in the nuance.

The rest of the book focuses on the history and evolution of the Canadian whisky industry.  Fortunately de Kergommeaux largely eschews what could be a mind numbing recitation of facts, and he paints evocative pictures of some of the people who made the industry what it is today. To his credit, de Kergommeaux makes a point of separating myth from fact, such as with the section about Sam Bronfman (who made Seagrams a powerhouse in the 20th century). In addition, de Kergommeaux is clear eyed about some unsavory aspects of Canadian whisky history.  For example, I had no idea lawlessness associated with frontier whisky trading led to the establishment of what is now the Mounties (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). 

I appreciate the breadth and depth of de Kergommeaux's research. Don't let the possibility of information fatigue dissuade you.  Canadian Whisky is a fascinating, valuable, and informative resource. Those who love whisky and those who want to learn more about it should thank de Kergommeaux for his work about this underappreciated spirit.

Writing about Canadian whisky has made me thirsty, so I'm going to get a bottle or two ... and conveniently, the book has tasting notes for many Canadian whiskies.


Tales of Grain and Suggestion

Grain and suggestion are not words you usually see in the same sentence. They were the subjects of an interesting seminar Ms. Cocktail Den and I attended during our fabulous time at the recent Tales on Tour in Edinburgh. The presenters at the seminar, titled "Against The Grain," were Davin de Kergommeaux, an acclaimed Canadian whiskey expert and author, and Kevin Vollebregt, the senior brand ambassador for Libbey, a glassware company. Our conversations with them after the seminar exemplified some of the nice features of Tales of the Cocktail and the global cocktail community in general -- they were very approachable and more than happy to share their knowledge.

It's all the same whiskey ... or is it?
This whiskey all tastes the same ... or does it?

Some of the seminar focused on the science of grains and how they become whiskey. Even someone as science-challenged as me was able to follow along and retain some facts. For example, each of the four grains used in whiskies (corn, barley, rye, wheat) have different primary flavors (creamy, nutty, salty, bread), and pulling whiskey off a still at high proof causes it to lose a lot of its flavors. If you want to read more about the whiskey making process, you can go to past posts such as What's In Your Bourbon?, as well as numerous other resources.

Courtesy of Davin de Kergommeaux and Kevin Vollebregt.
Image courtesy of Davin de Kergommeaux and Kevin Vollebregt.

The fascinating part of the seminar pertained to the power of suggestion. Illustrating their point, Davin and Kevin had everyone taste the same whiskies in different glasses. Did they taste the same? No. Your brain activity will be a huge influence on your drinking experiences. You're not just tasting a drink with your mouth and nose.  You're combining all of your senses, your past memories and experiences, and other variables.

I know this stuff sounds basic, but did you ever really stop and think about it?  For example, if you recoil at the mere mention of a classic cocktail such as a Whiskey Sour or a Margarita, ask yourself why.  Was it too strong, too sweet, too sour? Maybe it was.  Or was it the context surrounding the drink, e.g. the glass in which it was served, your mood, etc.?

For me the important takeaway from Davin and Kevin's seminar is simple -- open your mind. Be receptive to new flavors, new experiences, and new influences. Consider reframing and reclaiming your past bad cocktail experiences. Whether it's the proportions of the drink, the glass in which you drink it, or the music that's playing in the background, the resulting experience could be profoundly different and positive. Cheers!


Italian And Not Really "Bitter" -- The Amaretto Sour

In celebration of National Amaretto Day, the Amaretto Sour pays homage to this ubiquitous liqueur. The Italian word roughly means "little bitter."  However, amaretto liqueur is quite sweet. Traditionally it's made from bitter almonds, but some versions also incorporate apricot pits. The history behind the Amaretto Sour is unknown.  The standard recipe (amaretto, lemon juice, and simple syrup, or God forbid some sour mix) is too sweet for me, so I prefer this very minor adaptation of an enhanced recipe from the renowned Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

Amaretto Sour1.5 ounces amaretto
.75 ounces bourbon (preferably at least 100 proof)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
.25 ounces super simple syrup
1 egg white

Combine everything except the egg white in a shaker with ice, reverse dry shake (see Shake, Shake, Shake your Egg Whites) with stereotypical Italian exuberance (you can put everything in the shaker all at once, but reverse dry shaking is worth the effort), and strain into a chilled glass.

As you might think, this Amaretto Sour is reminiscent of the Whiskey Sour and its variations such as the Midnight Train and the Icelandic Sour.  In some respects it also is reminiscent of the Stiletto. The bourbon keeps the Amaretto Sour from becoming overpoweringly sweet.  The egg white gives the Amaretto Sour a richer flavor and protein boost (Morgenthaler uses 1/2 of an egg white, but for me it's easier to use all of it), which makes the cocktail sort of ... healthy?

Despite it sweet base, this Amaretto Sour isn't all that sweet.  It's not bitter, it's buonissimo!


A Majestic Cocktail -- The Royal Blood

Royalty is an odd and fascinating concept to those of us who live in countries without the formal tradition.  There's official royalty, e.g. Queen Elizabeth II in England, and unofficial royalty, e.g. the Kennedy and Bush dynasties in the United States.  The Royal Blood is a creation from Fraser Campbell at Dewar's, and I slightly adapted the recipe I found in Chilled magazine.

Royal Blood2 ounces Scotch (see below)
1 ounce sweet vermouth
.25 ounces cherry Heering liqueur
1 dash chocolate bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, stir with noble purpose, and strain into a chilled glass. Luxardo cherry garnish optional.

Along with the Royalist and the Whiskey Queen, the Royal Blood proudly continues one of the many cocktail themes in the Den. The original calls for a particular single malt in the Dewar's portfolio. While I'm not sure it makes a difference if you use a single malt or blended Scotch, use one that is not too smoky or peaty. For example, if you're using a particular Scotch to make a Fireside Chat, don't use it for the Royal Blood. The Royal Blood has the same base (Scotch and sweet vermouth) as the Bobby Burns and the Rob Roy, which essentially is a Scotch based Manhattan. If you like this drink or vice versa, you'll probably like the other one.

If you're like me and more than 99.999% of the world's population, you're not royalty.  A Royal Blood will make you feel like you are.


Et Tu, Cocktail? -- The Ides Of March

The Ides of March refers to March 15.  That's the day Roman senators stabbed and assassinated Julius Caesar.  In the eponymous play by William Shakespeare, Caesar does not heed the soothsayer who warns him to "beware the Ides of March." Shakespeare did not create the Ides of March.  That honor goes to my fellow cocktail enthusiast Michael Bounds.

Veni, vidi, bibi (I came, I saw, I drank).
Veni, vidi, bibi (I came, I saw, I drank).

1.5 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Aperol
.75 ounces blood orange syrup (see below)
Juice from 1/8 lemon

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the ferocity of stabbing your mortal enemy, and strain into a chilled glass. Lemon twist garnish optional.

The Ides of March is a nice mix of American (bourbon) and Italian (Aperol). Aperol is a lighter, orange flavored, and easily accessible amaro used in other drinks such as the Part-Time Lover.  The blood orange syrup can be trickier.  There are a number of ways to make it.  I must confess that when I was in the middle of making the syrup, I forgot how Bounds made it, so I improvised.  I used the same method as I use to make glorious grenadine. If you have to use processed blood orange juice for the syrup, see how sweet it is and adjust the proportions as needed.

Unlike Brutus, who betrays Caesar (his recognition of Brutus is what sparks the line "et tu, Brute" ("and you, Brutus?")), the Ides of March will not betray your taste buds or your liver. As Brits like James Bond might say (especially amusing because he has a license to kill -- get it?), cheers!


Caffeine And "Green" Booze -- The Irish Coffee

Irish CoffeeToday is National Irish Coffee Day, which celebrates a cocktail that doesn't actually have green booze.  In 1943 Joe Sheridan created the Irish Coffee in order to warm passengers at a flying boat (seaplane) terminal in Foynes, Ireland.  The drink's popularity exploded after travel writer Staton Delaplane got it on the menu at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco (Sheridan later worked there). Purists may scoff at my take on the Irish Coffee (does that make me a Scofflaw?).  I'm fine with that because my version is simple, easy to make, and most importantly, Ms. Cocktail Den loves it.

6 ounces coffee
1.5 ounces Irish whiskey (I used Jameson Caskmates)
.5 ounces super simple syrup

Pour the coffee into a glass, add the other ingredients, and stir with the tranquility of the rolling Irish countryside.  Top with whipped cream.

I don't drink coffee (I know, I'm weird), so I suggest using whatever you prefer, especially if it has a robust flavor.  The same goes for the Irish whiskey. While I've featured Jameson in other posts such as the Intense Irish and Sine Metu, keep in mind there are a lot of other Irish whiskies on the market.

Traditional Irish Coffee is very good (we had some in Dublin), but it's more labor intensive.  Whether you prefer the traditional version, my easy version, or something else, the Irish Coffee is a great booze boost for your caffeine boost. Sláinte!