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2013 Winter Bitters Project

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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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whiskey-society

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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Last week, after the kind of brainstorming that only happens over drinks with friends, we had an idea for getting to drink more whiskey than a reasonable person could afford. Since there are so many types of great whiskey out there, but it’s impossible to try without dropping a hundred or more on a bottle you might not even love, we decided a little divide-and-conquer might be in order. We recruited a group of about 8 people that all really enjoy whiskey to start a club that will meet once a month to split a bottle of something we’ve been thinking of trying (or flat-out lusting over) for a while.

It’s going to work like this:

Each month, a rotating member of the club will host, and the host will get to pick what whiskey we’ll be drinking – Rye, Bourbon, American, Scotch, Japanese and Irish are all fair game. All other participating members will come, pay their portion of the bottle, and we will sit and drink it in one sitting. It’s not the most unique or innovative thing in the world, but I’m certainly looking forward to getting to taste all the whiskey I’ve been hunting for a pretty reasonable price.

For the first meeting, I’ll be hosting, and I’m excited to say that I got my hands on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20 year.

I’d encourage other people to try it out too. I would love to hear about what everyone thought about their whiskeys in normal terms…professional reviews are never much help to me. All you really need is a few friends, some extra rocks glasses, and the urge to drink something delicious.

Untitled Whiskey Experiment #3

0.75 oz Pendleton Canadian Whiskey
1 oz  Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey
1 oz Art in the Age Sage
0.5 oz Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot
o.25 oz apple cider vinegar
2 dashes Bolivar bitters

Shake ingredients well with ice and strain over a large ice cube. Garnish with a cherry.

NOTES: Interesting, but not there. I may have gotten a little ambitious and tried too many things at once. The Sage is misused here, and Orchard Apricot gets shadowed by the stronger flavors. I’m not generally a huge Canadian whiskey fan…for me it’s almost sweet like bourbon-but not sweet enough, and spicy like rye-but not spicy enough. It’s only one guy’s opinion, but I just don’t enjoy the balance of it no matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise. Tempered with the Irish, however, it turned into a flavor I liked a lot more. The idea of using the straight apple cider vinegar is also something I’d like to explore more. It mixed with the whiskeys in a pretty neat way. Worth revisiting, maybe as shrub. Overall, not a very successful drink, but it gave me a few ideas for trials going forward. And I WILL make something I like with the Sage if it’s the last thing I do.

A little aside about the cherry we used: We went with a pickled sour cherry we got canned from Green Aisle Grocery, which was really good. If you live in the Philly area, I HIGHLY recommend you check out their canned stuff. When the weather is nicer, they generally have a booth at the Headhouse Farmers Market, and they’ll let you try just about anything they’re selling.

The Smoking Jacket

The Smoking Jacket
1.5 oz Sandeman tawny port
1 oz Island of Geese Islay Scotch
0.75 oz Grand Mariner
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Baked apple slice
Cinnamon stick

Cut a thin slice of apple and put it in the oven on 400° for about 10 minutes. When the apple is done, take it out and let it cool. Combine the remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain over the apple and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

NOTES: I picked up a bottle of the Island of Geese to see how it would work in cocktails, because we both love the peaty flavor of Islay Scotches, but don’t really want to waste Lagavulin or Laphroaig in mixed drinks that might fail anyway. In the end, it was a pretty good call. I probably wouldn’t drink a ton of it straight, but as a mixer, it turned out to be a sturdy alternative for around $30, rather than the $60-100 that most Islay will cost you.

As for the drink, I had actually expected the Port to really mellow out the drink more than it did. Initially I went with 0.5 oz Grand Marnier, but the drink needed a little boost. In the end, while stiffer than expected, it turned out to be a pretty good cocktail. Smoky and kind of velvety with a nice, well-rounded Scotch kick. Overall, very happy with this one. The second half of the drink gets even better after the cinnamon has had a little time to soak, and the apple slice at the bottom of the glass is pretty tasty, too.

This past Wednesday, Art in the Age was kind enough to invite us back to another of their launch parties, this time for for their newest liqueur SAGE. The whole thing took place in the cocktail lounge at Vedge, which is already one of my favorite places to drink in the city. The extremely well-balanced cocktails were created by Vedge’s bar manager Daniel Miller (running one of the most underrated bar programs in Philadelphia at the moment, in my humble opinion), and for the most part featured very little liquor other than SAGE in order to showcase the new spirit.

Sage itself is a pretty neat liquor when you get down to it. Very close to a gin, but without the juniper, and the herb-driven spiciness that the sage provides. The flavor isn’t as strong or defined as AITA’s other three liqueurs (ROOT, SNAP and RHUBY), but in this case, I think that works to SAGE’s benefit. While I do love ROOT, the opportunity to drink it or mix with it is a little rare. It has the same problem that I assume most bold liqueurs have in that it has a clearly defined role in drink mixing, and can’t venture too far out of that niche. SAGE, on the other hand, is mild enough that it could easily sub for gin in any number of cocktails – the type of drink foundation that I think AITA has been missing in their past ventures.

All of this is great news for Jen, who loves both sage (the herb) and gin more than I do, but I definitely enjoyed the SAGE cocktails and look forward to picking up as bottle as soon as the PLCB gets it together and starts stocking the stuff. I’d recommend the same for anyone building a bar and looking for something unique, yet versatile.

SAGE should be on the shelves in PA any day now for $32.99. Thanks to Art in the Age for including us at another event and Vedge for the great cocktails and snacks. Seriously, if you haven’t gone to Vedge yet, you should really get on that. 

A Good Man is Hard to Find

It’s been a little while since we posted updates, sorry about that! It’s been a busy summer. Since the last post, we had another cocktail party to try out some of our more summer-y drinks on friends to see what’s working and what’s not. In addition to The Pennsyltucky and the Gatsby Swizzle, one of the new experiments was this rum and peach cocktail.

A Good Man is Hard to Find
2 oz Amber rum
1 oz burnt peach syrup (see below)
0.5 oz Luxardo Amaretto
4 drops peppercorn tincture
3 oz seltzer water

Muddle a quarter of a peach in a mason jar. Combine the other ingredients in shaker with a healthy amount of crushed ice. Shake well and pour into glass, unstrained. Garnish with mint and a peach slice, serve with a straw.

NOTES: When we first created this drink, we both really liked it. It had a good spice to it, and a lot of good, rich sweetness. Upon making them at the party, however, the peppercorn ended up tasting out of place. On the second drinking, we decided to remove the peppercorn altogether, and it improved the drink, but dumbed it down slightly. I still like the overall theme of the drink, but I think it needs one more thing to give it a little kick. We’ll be circling back to this one next time we make the syrup.

Burnt Peach Syrup
10 ripe peaches
1 cup brown sugar

Halve and pit the peaches. In a nonstick pan, place the peaches skin-side down in the pan. sprinkle 1/2 cup brown sugar over the top of them and then add 1/4 cup water to the bottom of the pan. Bake at 400° until the sugar on top of the peaches starts to burn slightly and take out of the oven (this took about 35 minutes for me). Transfer the peaches to a pot and add 2 cups of water. Using a muddler or potato masher, crush up the burnt peaches a bit and bring to a boil. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Simmer for 15 minutes on low, and then strain repeatedly. Once your liquid is cloudy, but free of debris, transfer to a bottle and allow to cool. Lasts about 2 weeks, 2 months if you add 1 oz of everclear and shake well.

NOTES: This is probably one of my favorite syrups to date. It’s thick and sweet but really retains the peach flavor with a nice char from the burnt sugar. Pretty versatile syrup, but went best with whiskey and rum in the experiments we tried.

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