Archive for the ‘mixology’ Category

With the ever-increasing popularity of bourbon, a new article comes out every few months explaining what rules need to be followed in order to have a whiskey classified as “bourbon.” But there are also differences in whiskies. I try to explain all of it as best I can in this blog. 
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the spelling of whiskey and/or whisky, but the use of the letter “e” (or the lack thereof) is not random. Here’s the best explanation I’ve found…
whiskeywhisky
The spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for those distilled in Scotland , Wales , Canada , and Japan. Whiskey (with an e; plural whiskeys) is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and in the United States. The BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) in 1968 specified “whisky” as the official U.S. spelling, but allowed labeling as “whiskey” in deference to tradition.  Most U.S. producers still use the “whiskey” spelling, though as you can see, Maker’s Mark chooses not to.
International law reserves the term “Scotch whisky” to those whiskies produced in Scotland. Scottish law specifies that the whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years, in oak casks. Whiskies produced in other countries in the Scotch style must use another name. Similar conventions exist for “Irish whiskey,” “Canadian whisky,” and “Bourbon whiskey.” In North America, as well as in Continental Europe, the abbreviated term “Scotch” is usually used for “Scotch Whisky.” In England, Scotland, and Wales, the term “whisky” almost always refers to “Scotch Whisky”, and the term “Scotch” is rarely used by itself.
So what is bourbon?
Bourbon is a type of whiskey.
According to federal law, bourbon must be at least 51% corn, distilled at less than 160 proof, and aged for at least two years in new, charred oak barrels. (There are some other requirements, but those are the main ones.) Bourbon also must be made within the United States. In other words, a foreign product that meets all the other requirements still cannot be sold in the U.S. as bourbon.
Contrary to popular belief, there has never been a legal requirement that bourbon be made in Kentucky, which is why most Kentucky producers call their product “Kentucky Bourbon.” 
Still confused? My advice is to sit back with your favorite glass of whisky, whiskey or bourbon…and just enjoy. Cheers!

It takes a few weeks for this limoncello recipe to be ready, but, hey…we’ve got nothing but time!

 

It starts with beautiful lemons…

 

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Amalfi coast, and we spent several nights on the beautiful island of Capri. On our last night, we dined at the historic Grand Hotel Quisisana, and our meal ended with a glass of the most delicious limoncello I ever had.

I asked the waiter if it was possible to get the recipe of the limoncello, and he made a big deal about the recipe being a “secret.” Though disappointed, I understood, and I left Capri thinking that I would never taste it again.

 

Sure, you can buy limoncello from Capri in a bottle, but what fun is that?

 

Two weeks later, back at home, I was reading the latest issue of Conde Nast Traveler, and there in black and white, was the Quisisana limoncello recipe! WTF?

After making many batches of this limoncello, I started experimenting with other citrus, and the most successful by far was with grapefruit. Now I make a batch of each: lemon and grapefruit. It’s important to use 100-proof vodka in this recipe. Most vodka is 80-proof, so you’ll need to go to a liquor store with a better selection to find it. Absolut makes a good one, as does Stoli.

Four ingredients, easy to make. The toughest part is waiting for it to mellow a bit.

 

4 lbs. of lemons, but you only use the zest!

 

4 lbs. lemons, zest only
2 750-ml bottles 100 proof vodka
5 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups filtered water

Just the zest!

 

Peel the zest off all the lemons, trying not to get any of the white pith that could make the limoncello bitter. (There will always be some…that’s OK.) Place all the zest in the bottom of a one-gallon glass jar with a lid.

Pour the vodka on top of the lemon zest pieces, seal the jar, and keep it at room temperature for a week, swirling the jar around gently once a day.

 

Vodka and zest.

 

On the sixth day, combine the sugar and water in a pot over medium-high heat, and stir until all the sugar completely dissolves. Remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it thoroughly cool to room temperature (overnight is best.)

On day seven, strain the lemon zest, pouring the infused vodka into a clean glass jar. Discard the lemon zest.

Pour the sugar/water mixture into the vodka and mix it well.

At this point, you can pour the finished product into bottles. I like to let it mellow for about a month before drinking. (It’s worth the wait…although nobody says you can’t take a few “cheating sips” every now and then!)

I keep my limoncello refrigerated.

Years ago, I gave my self an important research project: Create your own version of the perfect espresso martini.

It took painstaking research, which required drinking many espresso martinis in many a bar on my travels.

My favorite version came from a bartender working at Knave, the lobby bar at the at Parker New York, the former Le Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan. It featured Coole Swan, an Irish cream liqueur I had never heard of before. The bartender was nice enough to write down the recipe for me, but I guess I had a little too much to drink…because I lost it! So it was up to me to use those brain cells I didn’t fry and come up with my own combination.

A lot of mixing late into the night, and I came up with what I consider to be my perfect espresso martini. As the marines say: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

 

Alz Espresso martini

My espresso martini

 

 

3 oz. good quality vodka, like Belvedere
3 oz. freshly brewed espresso
1.5 oz. Kahlua
1.5 oz. Coole Swan

 

Chill your martini glasses. Pour all the ingredients into a large shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glasses.

This recipe makes 2 martinis. Let me tell ya…this tasted as good the first time as it did several martinis later! I’ve found that using a high-end vodka really does make a difference in the quality and taste of the martini…as does freshly brewing your espresso just before assembling the drink.

I love watermelon margaritas, especially when they’re made with the sweetness of fresh watermelons.

 

All you need.

 

Many recipes add a lot of sugar: sugar on the rim of the glass as well as sugar in the margarita itself. I think that a ripe watermelon and the Cointreau add enough sweetness, so I leave any extra sugar out of my recipe.

 

4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
4 oz. (or more!) tequila (I like Patron silver)
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

 

Combine the watermelon, tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur in a blender. Process until it’s smooth. Pour it into margarita glasses filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.

 

Watermelon margarita, aerial view. (No drone required.)

 

 

I love tequila. I love Pimm’s. And I love Dark & Stormies. I’m a lush. This cocktail has an interesting nod to all three.

tequila cup

 

 

3 oz. Patron silver tequila
1.5 oz Pimm’s No. 1
good squeeze of fresh lime juice
Chilled ginger beer
Ice cubes
Fresh mint
Cucumber slices (optional)

Combine the tequila, Pimm’s and lime juice in a highball glass filled with ice.
Place slices of cucumber in the glass, if desired.
Top it with your favorite ginger beer and stir gently.
Garnish with a mint sprig.

Just because I’ve got a garden full of fresh veggies, it doesn’t mean I have to gorge on nothing but salads! Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what I need after a long day of yard work. This one fits the bill!

Imagine a vodka mojito, using cucumbers….

 

 

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded
Small ice cubes
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 oz. vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée them in a food processor until smooth. Strain them through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Or, if you have one, use a juicer. Set the extracted cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle the ingredients so that the mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain the cocktail into the glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or peel…or mint.

Skip the necktie. If your dad’s a food nut, he deserves something better! All of these ideas have been rigorously tested by our panel of experts (OK, just me), and get a big thumbs up. This article was originally published a few years ago, but I’d still be happy to get any of these for Father’s Day!

 

Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smokehouse: I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to grilling. I refuse to use a gas grill because I think there’s no difference between that and my kitchen stove. I use real hardwood charcoal, with real smoke and real flavor. But when it comes to smoking meats, basic smokers require constant maintenance so that the temperatures don’t fluctuate. I’m just too busy for that, especially if I’m cooking something low and slow for about 12 hours. So I have a digital smoker. I plug it in, set the time and temperature, and then periodically add wood chips through a side drawer to smoke the meat. I can literally set it and forget it. I have it cook through the night, so I wake up to a beautifully smoked slab of meat in the morning.

 

Cognac! How can you go wrong with booze for Father’s Day? But if you’re looking for something really special to give Dad (or your favorite blogger), it’s Kelt XO. What makes Kelt XO special is that before bottling, they place the barrels of cognac on board ships that sail the world for months at a time. During this time, the cognac gently rocks back and forth in the barrels, slowly acquiring a smoothness you can’t find in other spirits. Each bottle even comes with a tag that tells you exactly what ports around the world your cognac has been to. Worth the search at high-end liquor stores.

jack daniels

 

Jack Daniels smoking chips: Whether you have a smoker or not, these chips will make anything you cook taste better. Made from the old oak barrels that they use to age Jack Daniels, you get a serious hit of whiskey in every bag…and in your food. Simply toss a handful of chips you’ve soaked in water for about a half hour, and they will infuse the food on your grill with flavor. You can also use them dry, on charcoal or gas grills.

 

Cookbook favorites: “Jamie at Home,” by Jamie Oliver (a great combination gardening/cookbook), “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (the best book on how to cure and smoke meats), “Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts, and Other Great Feeds,” by Jeanne Voltz (my absolute barbecue Bible!), and “Martin Yan’s Feast: The Best of Yan Can Cook” by Martin Yan (the authority on Asian cooking.)

 

Redi-Check Remote Cooking Thermometer: Even someone who has barbecued all their lives runs the risk of burning or undercooking a roast or a large bird. Opening the grill and jabbing the meat with a thermometer several times causes the juices from the meat to run out, leaving it dry…and every time you open the grill, you lose precious heat. This is the better solution: You stick the needle into the roast or bird and leave it in there the entire time it cooks, so no juices leak out. You plug it into the monitor which then calls you when the meat is ready (from as far as 100 feet away!) You set the time or temperature, and then get to join your guests for the party.

smoking gun

 

Smoking Gun: There are times when you don’t need a full-on smoker. All you want to do is smoke a small piece of fish or a hunk of cheese.  You simply take some of the finely ground wood chip powder (comes with the gun) and place it in the pipe-like bowl. Light it, and the Smoking Gun will blow that smoke through a hose into the Ziploc bag where your piece of fish is waiting for its magical transformation to smoky deliciousness.

 

Mason jar cocktail shaker: A fun new way for Dad to make his martini.

mason jar, baking steel

 

Oh, and by the way…dads don’t care if your gift is late. You can still buy it now and give it to him later!

It used to be that only the big distilleries were able to age their finest spirits in charred oak barrels. But now, there’s a movement goin’ on…and hand-crafted oak barrels are available to aficionados at home.

Companies like Redhead Barrels (http://www.redheadoakbarrels.com) are offering oak barrels for aging that range in size from 1 liter to 20 liters. And that’s where this enthusiast comes in: with a 1-liter barrel, I’m able to age my favorite spirit–vodka, rum, whiskey, bourbon, mixed drinks, anything–in just a few weeks, elevating the flavors to levels previously unknown.

 

wood

My  1-liter barrel arrived with the spigot and bung separately. Curing the barrel is necessary before using it. I do this by rinsing the barrel out a few times to remove any loose pieces of wood chips or splinters that may still be inside. I hand-turn the spigot into the barrel until it fits snugly and place the barrel in the sink on the included stand. I fill the barrel with very hot water…and watch. Some barrels are totally watertight and will not leak. Others may take literally a few days of repeated fillings with hot water before it thoroughly seeps into the wood, expanding the wood fibers to seal the barrel.

Once there are no leaks, it’s ready to go. I empty the water out of the barrel and fill it with my favorite spirit. Because there is more wood surface area to less liquid (as compared to large barrels), alcohol will age faster…in weeks instead of years. Once I’ve aged it as much as I want (tasting it along the way is the best way to determine this), I simply pour it into a bottle to stop the aging process. I rinse the barrel out thoroughly, and I’m ready to age yet another spirit.

I chose to age a cocktail that I first savored at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio, the brainchild of talented chef Jonathon Sawyer. The call it a Negroski, their take on a Negroni. It features equal parts Campari, Cocchi sweet vermouth, and OYO stone fruit vodka. They make large batches of it and keep it in a barrel until they serve it. So enamoured my wife and I were with this drink, that I begged the bartender to give me the recipe.

Doing the math, equal parts of each ingredient meant 1 1/3 cups of each to make a quart…which fit perfectly in my 1-liter barrel. Once I corked the top with the bung, it was time to let it age.

A slight daily rotation of the barrel gently rocks the liquid inside, exposing it to the barrel’s charred wood interior, giving it more flavor. And at the end of  a week, I was ready for my first tasting: the wood had a subtle influence, rounding out the flavors. I wanted a little more, so I waited another week…even better, but not quite there. It took a total of 3 weeks before the drink reached its flavorful peak.

I poured some of the drink into a cocktail shaker with ice, stirred briskly with a spoon, and strained it into a martini glass, garnishing with a twist of blood orange peel. Delicious!

 

cask

 

Since my first batch, I’ve aged Manhattans, my homemade Lithuanian honey liqueur (Krupnikas), and even simple spirits. It’s amazing how an average whiskey becomes something quite spectacular after just 3 weeks of aging!

There’s only one thing better than a freshly made mojito when you’re hanging out at home…and that’s a pitcher of freshly made mojitos! Organic raspberries and blueberries are in the markets right now, and my mint plants are taking over the yard! All the ingredients for a great mojito!

Very often, I’ll use raspberries alone, but mojitos are even better when you combine the raspberries with blueberries. I stock up on organic berries, rinsing them and placing them in plastic bags that go in the freezer until I’m ready to make my mojitos. I always go organic with berries. Pesticides should never be a cocktail ingredient!  Pay a little extra and get the good stuff…it makes a difference!

Once you make mojitos by the pitcher, you’ll never have them any other way. (Even if you’re drinking alone!)

 

The ingredients

 

Make ahead of time…
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lime juice
1 1/3 cups turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw is a common brand)

Mix both ingredients together, letting it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. I like to combine them in a Mason jar, then shake really hard until the sugar has dissolved. I keep it in the fridge, and it’s good for up to 3 weeks…ready to use any time. Shake it well again before using.

 

mojito pitcher

For the Mojitos…
1 cup sugar/lime mixture
1 cup mint leaves, packed
1/2 pint blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 pint raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 or 4 cups white rum (I use Don Q Cristal rum)
3 or 4 cups club soda or seltzer

Combine the mint leaves and 1/2 cup of the sugar/lime mixture in bottom of a pitcher. Muddle the mint up very well to release mint oils. Add the blueberries and continue to muddle.

Add the remaining sugar/lime mixture, rum and raspberries. Mix well. Just before serving, add the club soda and ice. Stir. Pour into tall glasses.

Or…for drinks one at a time, I put in a shot of the sugar/lime mixture into a tall glass. I throw in about 8 mint leaves and muddle them for a minute. Then I add 2 shots of rum, and a few raspberries and blueberries. I muddle again.  I add ice, and I top it with the club soda, stirring well. An option is to pour it all into another tall glass. Garnish with a mint leaf.

 

Cheers!

Cheers!

Since we’re quarantining, it’s time to dig out those bottles of booze that might be lurking somewhere in the back of the old liquor cabinet. Inspired by my travels, I’d like to share some of the cocktails I’m rediscovering these days, as I lock myself in my basement bar!

A few years ago, I sampled a negroni-inspired cocktail in Cleveland, Ohio, dining at chef Jonathon Sawyer’s The Greenhouse Tavern. Crazy creative food, and this mind-blowing drink that inspired me to buy a small oak barrel and start cask-aging everything I could get my hands on at home. Alas, the OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, a key part of this cocktail, is not available here in Rhode Island. And my online source will no longer ship it! But I still have a little bit remaining in my stash…

 

 

OYO STONE FRUIT “NEGROSKI”

1 oz. OYO Stone Fruit Vodka
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

 

If you’re doing it The Greenhouse Tavern way, combine large quantities of these ingredients in the right proportions and pour them into an oak cask, then let it age! Experience tells you that newer and smaller casks will mellow flavors faster than larger, older ones. But it’s all about experimentation. Having a taste every once in a while is must, because you don’t want to over-age it, either.

If you don’t have an oak cask lying around at home, it’s still delicious without it…

Combine all the ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir gently, adding a splash of soda, and garnish with an orange peel.

 

OYO Stone Fruit Vodka gets its wonderful flavors from stone fruits: cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. Terrific on its own, but amazing in this recipe.

Campari is a world-famous aperitif and bitters, and a must in any decent home bar.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a sweet vermouth, made in Italy from the Moscato grape.