On our honeymoon, we stumbled across what is apparently the only whisky distillery in New Zealand by sheer dumb luck. The distillery itself hasn’t been up and running for quite a few years, but all the stock was bought by another company and is still being packaged and sold. This means everything they have is very old, and very limited. I brought back a bottle of the 21 year old single malt for Whiskey Club, and decided to run with the theme by getting one single malt from 4 different places around the globe.

After finally finding SOMETHING made in the US (PA has a sad lack of American malted whisky available in stores), the four we settled on were:

1) South Island Single Malt 21 Year – New Zealand
2) Yamazaki 12 – Japan
3) The Dalmore 12 – Scotland
4) Hudson Single Malt – USA

We were a bit surprised by the results. The South Island Single Malt was good, but very mild with very little memorable character. Everyone agreed that they enjoyed it, but it was forgettable. The term “Sessionable Single Malt” was thrown around only half-jokingly.

The Dalmore wasn’t very well received. I’d never had it before, but more than one person opted to not finish their glass. It was astringent, and stronger than it should have been at such a low proof. Not one person stepped up to defend it. Universally panned. Granted, this is in the context of single malts. I wouldn’t hesitate to drink it over something like Johnny Walker.

The Yamazaki was the crowd favorite. More “Scotch” than the Scotch, It had a great flavor, nice burn and was just pleasant to drink. Everyone making a stink about Suntory buying Beam would really do well to try a glass of this. I’m willing to bet it would change their mind. It may not be a 1:1 comparison, but you can tell these are people that care about making a good whisky.

Surprisingly, I found the Hudson the most interesting of the lot. I didn’t like the first sip, but warmed to it quickly. It smelled and tasted briny, almost like oysters, and of cinnamon. It wasn’t as harsh as I expected it to be after just 4 years in the barrel, but admittedly it didn’t taste exactly like a single malt. For all it’s odd flavors, it was almost a bridge between malted whisky and rye, with a boldness and sweetness not really common in the Scotch family. I may not always love what Hudson is making, but for a young producer, I really do like that they are erring on the side of interesting and bold and not trying to play the “micro-batch aging because we have science” card at every turn, opting for innovation over actual substance. I’m looking forward to seeing how the whiskeys evolve over time.

All in all, another successful meeting. I never cease to be amazed at what surprises me in the side-by-side tests. My favorite is almost never what I thought it would be.

In other news, Jen has a surplus of frozen smoothie fruit, which means it’s time for me to make some syrup. Hopefully I’ll have a cocktail experiment to post soon, especially if we’re going to get snowed in again. No better time to drink than when you’re trapped in your house.

SHORT VERSION: South Island Single Malt: smooth, drinkable, forgettable; The Dalmore: not fantastic; Yamazaki: predictably great; Hudson Single Malt: surprisingly interesting.

Housekeeping and Site News


Hey everyone! Happy holidays!

It’s been a hell of a year. Jen and I got married in November, after which we spent 3 weeks drinking our way around New Zealand. As soon as we got back, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our (if I do say so myself) super fun Whiskey Club with a great party put together by Denise at Twisted Tail in Philadelphia. Before all that, most of our time was spent doing the absolute mountain of work associated with throwing a wedding.

But, 2014 is a new year, and if I’m going to make one resolution, it’s to stop neglecting HomeSpeakeasy. We haven’t been doing quite so much cocktail experimentation lately, but Jen has been getting really into learning about wine, and I’ve been dedicating a lot of time finding and trying interesting whisk(e)y. So in the coming year, you can expect a wider array of alcohol-related things. Rather than just mixology, we’re going to be posting more about what we are drinking, even if it only happens to have one ingredient. There may even be a trip to New Orleans or the Bourbon Trail in a few months.

In the meantime, we’ll start trying to update the Liquor Cabinet section, and posting more frequent updates about all things alcoholic. We’re looking forward to it!

-Jon & Jen



Two weeks after initially bottling up the first step of our bitters, it was time to move on to step 2.

For this phase, we need to separate the solids from the alcohol by placing a cheesecloth-lined funnel over a new, clean jar. Strain out all the solids and squeeze the cheesecloth bundle to get everything out before transferring the solids to a saucepan. stir in a cup of water and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, and then pour the whole thing back into the original jar. Let it cool to room temperature, seal it up, and let it sit for another week, shaking daily.

At this point, you’ve got 2 jars for each batch of bitters you’re making. If you happen to be making four at once like we are, make sure you label the jars clearly so you know which alcohol corresponds to which jar of botanicals.

Some of them are starting to smell REALLY good, so I’m pretty excited to see what we come up with this time. If the smell is any indication, I’m going to have to re-name the “Cherry Cola Bitters,” because they smell nothing like cherry cola and smell very much like the forrest. We’ll find out for sure in a couple of weeks!

Check out the original post for Step 1.


South of the Border, West of the Sun
1.5 oz Monte Alban mescal
1 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz bell pepper syrup (see below)
0.5 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Aztec chocolate bitters

Shake well with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a wedge of grapefruit.

NOTES: This one was a bit of a shot in the dark. Inspired by Cantina’s Tequila Club meeting, I wanted to play with mescal, and I wanted to try working more savory flavors into drinks. While the pepper is sweet in comparison to other vegetables, in the context of a cocktail it added a pretty interesting complexity. The drink was overall surprisingly drinkable. Lightly smoky and herbaceous, a little tangy, spicy and just a touch bitter. It was a nice change from the norm for me, and while I wouldn’t want every drink to taste like this, it was a welcome difference. Might be well suited for a breakfast drink with some alterations, as well. It’s nice to screw around with something unusual and have it end up better than you might expect.

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Whiskey Society write-ups are guest authored by the host of that month’s meeting. This month we were hosted by Sean Mellody of Mellody Brewing, and his well-behaved dog Barley. 

After joining this new group of friends and whiskey drinkers last month, I was excited to host the group at my place in Queen Village. I was equally happy to share with them a special bottle of whiskey that I procureed during a work trip to India. Mind you, hosting is no small task. You need proper glassware, proper ice options (I had some issues making the large ice balls) and of course some food to make sure we aren’t all crawling home on a Tuesday night or too hung over the following Wednesday (mental note – need to eat more food next time.)

Once everyone arrived and was properly greeted by my dog, Barley, we took pour orders and opened the Amrut Fusion. I got the bottle of Amrut when I was in India in January, and it was brought to me by a coworker from the city of Bengaluru – where the whiskey is distilled. It’s a 50/50 blend of Indian Malt, grown at the foot hills of the Himalayas, and Scotish malt.  We were able to track our tasting notes this meeting as Jon designed and printed out some nice note cards for us to do so. It tracks on a sliding scale of 1-5 things like the whiskey’s balance, burn, smokiness, floral and other attributes, and the cards have come in handy in writing this review of the night. The Amrut poured with a beautifully balanced nose of oak and peat, with hints of flowers and what I can only call sugar. It smelled sweet. Upon tasting, it has a nice subdued smoke, which for me is good as I’m not a peat fan overall, but struck a good balance of sweetness and oak and smoke. The consensus was this was a good pour – thankfully I bought two bottles while in India so I can enjoy it again.

After putting some music on the turntable and lighting us a proper fire we opened our second bottle – The Glenlivet 18. I consulted with Jon on this bottle as we tried to find a good follow up to a whiskey we’d never had. The Glenlivet 18, in my world, is a classic scotch. It’s a single malt that poured quite bold with aroma of fruit, “maybe cherries,” I wrote and oak. No smoke here, which was refreshing for me. It was a smooth scotch, with little burn and a nice long dry finish with just a hint of oak aftertaste.  All in all, a nice way to finish the tasting. Some of us went on to try some Dad’s Hat Single Barrel I had, and some homebrew I’ve kegged with rye. Let’s just say – I’m probably not the only one who needed some help the following morning at work.

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2013 Winter Bitters Project


Since the last batch of bitters went over so well we decided to take another shot at it, this time with a little more risk in the flavors. Jen and I each made two jars for phase 1, and in 2-3 weeks we’ll separate and move on to phase 2.

If anyone else is interested in trying this at home, I’d definitely encourage it. As we learned from helpful comments on past posts, Penn Herb Co. (if you’re in Philadelphia) is a great source to find just about all those ingredients that you’ve never heard of. The dried fruit peels & zests are easy to make on your own by putting them on a cookie sheet and setting the oven as low as it’ll go with the door propped open for a few hours. If anyone does make their own, we’d love to hear what went into yours and how they turned out. We’re still just taking shots in the dark. Delicious shots, but shots in the dark all the same.

For now, recipes for what we’ve got steeping after the break!

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new bottles

We’ve been slacking a bit with the updates (and remembering to photograph practically anything we’ve made in the past 6 months), but we’re making a concerted effort to be less lazy. In that vein, we’ve got a few new things to report on:

  1. We’ve posted a whole slew of new bottles to our Liquor Cabinet, and instituted a new system for marking bottled DECEASED once we’ve finished them and decided they aren’t worth replacing. No point in purchasing something we don’t enjoy with so much great booze out there. We got a bunch of pretty great stuff this time, even if most of it is whiskey.
  2. Started a new shrub last night: Lemon Lime & Star Anise, so in about a week we’ll see what we can do with that.
  3. We also made a rather unusual syrup that we’ll be posting about once we work it into a drink. Earlier this week has me inspired, so I’m going to venture a guess that tequila will pop up in there somewhere.
  4. Finally, we’ve started 4 new batches of bitters. Those will be setting for a while. but once they’re done, Jen and I are hoping to do another giveaway for any that turn out nicely. We had a lot of fun with that last time. I’ll put together a post with the recipes for step 1 of the bitters later today.

More on all those coming up shortly!

Tequila Club

The folks at Cantina Los Caballitos were kind enough to invite us along for their first official Tequila Club, an instructional series that educates about tequila, while showing off the kind of food pairings that might not come to mind when you think about when and where to enjoy the oft-misunderstood Mexican spirit.

The club opened with some basic facts about tequila, for example:

  • True tequila comes with some strict requirements, It must be made with 100% blue agave, must be produced in Mexico. A “mixto” is a tequila that only requires 49% blue agave, and is inferior in flavor and production.
  • There are 4 types of tequila: blanco (unaged), reposado (rested) is aged 2 months to 1 year in oak barrels, anejo (aged) is aged 1 to 3 years in oak barrels, and extra anejo (extra aged) is matured for a minimum of 3 years.
  • The traditional drinking glass for blanco and reposado tequilas is, appropriately, called a caballito, or “little horse.” A caballito is a tall, narrow shot glass. We are going to need to get some of these.
  • Highlands agave is sweeter in aroma and taste, while lowlands agave is smaller, more spicy and complex.
  • All tequilas are mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Unlike tequila, mezcal can be made with any type of agave. The agave is roasted over stones and then buried, where it is allowed to continue to roast underground, giving it a distinct, smokey flavor.

Then the fun started. Four rounds of different tequila paired with four different courses. Details of the courses after the break!

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Note from Jon: as I mentioned in last month’s post, we’re going to have guest posts each month after meetings of the Whiskey Society by the host / person that chose that month’s bottles. This month we were graciously hosted by Sarah and Jordan, and Sarah was kind enough to provide us with a write-up of the evening. It turns out she’s far better at describing whiskey than I. 

“This is my favorite thing on my calendar each month.”  This statement and other similar ones were heard a few times at the second gathering of the Whiskey Society of Philadelphia.  And, honestly, it really is. Our selections for the month were the result of trying out Caskers.com, a membership-based site that features difficult-to-find liquors that you can purchase and have mailed to you.

Our first whiskey was from the Aberlour Distillery – Hart Brothers 1994 Aberlour 12 Year Old Scotch Whisky.  A single malt that’s aged in bourbon barrels, the bottle’s tasting notes claimed it had a nutty nose, but I found it to be a mild dram, easily sipped while we sat around discussing trips to India, the Philly restaurant scene, and who could claim the most boring work story.  The whisky falls on the sweet side of the spectrum, but wasn’t too cloying.  The profile was subtle, with a floral sweetness and notes of vanilla and honey.

As nice as the first whisky was, I was blown away by the second.  Compass Box Flaming Heart Blended Malt Scotch Whisky was a last minute substitute for another bottle and was truthfully an upgrade from the original.  The whisky is blended from Highlands, Islay, and Island single malts and was sipped while we discussed how to pronounce “Islay,” what makes a burger a burger, and what we did for New Year’s Eve.  This whisky was definitely on the smoky side, but even those of us who normally avoid the smoke found it to be not as aggressive as Laphroig or Caol Ila.  There was a nice balance between peat and earthy smoke, thanks to the Islay and Islands single malts, but no iodine-y astringency, thanks to its Highlands’ contributions.  The nose wasn’t overly smoky, but the palate was.

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After a month that seemed to take far too long, Jen and I got together with 8 other like-minded drinkers from Philadelphia for the express purpose of opening and consuming a bottle of whiskey that at least one of us had been meaning to try. Due to some really fortunate timing and a tip from a friend of a friend, I was lucky enough to snag a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year from the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery. It’s one of those bottles that everyone wants and no one can find, and opening it just to finish it definitely messed with some of my hoarder tendencies.

With 10 people, it worked out that everyone got a decent 2.5 oz neat, with water or with an ice cube, depending on preference. Honestly, what I had expected to be an intense dissection of flavors actually turned more to 10 people sitting in a room drinking quietly, grunting in approval. I can’t say I blame anyone because (as we discussed once the initial joy faded a bit) it was goddamn delicious. Absurdly rich and spicy in a way that reminded me of rye with a smooth vanilla tone, it was SO good. The hype is not exaggerated and at no point did I regret a cent of the price. After a few minutes of praising the liquor, we turned to just drinking and bullshitting about random topics, which is probably the way whiskey was intended to be enjoyed. We followed the Pappy with a much softer couple bottles of Jefferson’s Bourbon, which while obviously not as good, served as a pretty nice dessert to the Pappy main course.

All-in-all, I’m a big fan of whiskey club. I’m excited to have a group of people that are as interested as I am, and we’ll be putting one together monthly. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone else interested in whiskey to do the same and tell us how it goes! I’ll be trying to talk each of our monthly hosts into doing a guest post on their selected bottle, so look forward to that!





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