Onward with the booze series that is much longer than anticipated!
photo by Conor Harrigan Photography
It dawned on me halfway through writing these that there is really A LOT to write about. Truncating the information to keep it from getting snooze-worthy is not easy! It is important to remember that the nature of this series is to rather keep it simple because let’s face it…not many of us have the kind of money to stock a full bar at home.
On that note:
whisky, whiskey, Scotch, Canadian, bourbon, rye, blended, straight…blimey. I still to this day don’t really get it. But what I can do for you is read a whole lot about it and share the basics of what I’ve learned:
- Base Grain Matters: Straight Vs. Blended
Blended whiskeys contain mixtures of similiar products made by several distillers at different times- such as Scotch. (Others have combinations of straight whiskeys and neutral, flavorless whiskeys – as in Canadian.)
Straight whiskey, are not mixed at all…or are mixed ONLY with whiskey from the same distillation period or distiller.
- Country of Origin
Scotch Whisky- (only from Scotland, spelled without the second “e”): usually has barley, occasionally corn. Scotch is has a characteristic smokiness obtained from roasting barley alt over peat fires. Scotches are ages at least three years (and up to 12) in uncharred oak barrels or used sherry casks.
Irish Whiskey – uses barley but often other grains as well. Methods are very similar to that of Scotch with one major difference: the malt roasts over coal-fired kilns, which means it does not have the smoky flavor of Scotch. It is typically aged 5-10 years in used sherry casks.
American Whiskey – Includes bourbon, rye, corn sour mash, and blended. Bourbon originated in Bourbon country, Kentucky and was orginally distilled from a mash of at least 51% corn. Aging is usually 2-12 years in oak barrels. Rye Whiskey contains at least 51% rye grain in its mash and can be aged anywhere from 1-12 years. Sour mash refers to whiskey that contains a proportion of previously fermented yeast. (example: Jack Daniels)
These differences seem pretty confusing since the term “straight” really only means that at least 51% of the specified grain is present.
51% Barley = straight malt whiskey
51% Rye = straight rye whiskey
51% corn = straight bourbon whiskey
80% corn = straight corn whiskey
- WHISKEY MYTHS!!!! (you guys know how much I love debunking myths by now…)
- Bourbon is only from Kentucky- False! Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US, as long as it is at least 51% corn mash.
- Moonshine is un-aged corn whiskey – False! Moonshine is any distilled spirit made illegally. It’s usually sugar actually…so…it’s kind of rum?
- Putting ice in your whiskey is sacrilege. False! Adding one rock or a little water to a fine whisky draws out the flavors. The key is ONE BIG rock.
- Older is better – False…well, kind of. Aging in oak barrels over time imparts more flavor up to a point…and in some cases this can actually start to have a negative impact. Some whiskeys aged over 12 years are priced based on their rarity rather than their supposedly superior taste or quality.
Get it? Kind of? Yeah, me neither.
Onto some other liqueuers…liqueuers…liquuerres…liquors? Liqueurs. These are my favorite part of cocktails because most of them remain a bit of a mystery and yet the more of them I try the more I want to explore. These are a few of my favorites:
Cointreau & Grand Marnier: Both are orange liqueurs, that are very intense. A little goes a LONG way with these and thank goodness because they are expensive. A bottle of either is a great thing to have around because the drink possibilities are endless. I like to use these in place of triple sec in margaritas, and they are lovely with vodka, seltzer, and a splash of cream for a grown-up creamsicle. Also, if grandma comes over, she may want a little after dinner as an digestif.
Chambord (French, black raspberry) & Luxardo (Italian, maraschino sour cherry): These are great for adding an extra berry/fruit kick to any cocktails, especially those that require a bit of sweetness. Gin & vodka carry these quite well as long as there is a bitter spirit to balance it out (Aperol or Fernet, for example) Also, if you’re into Manhattans, adding a splash of Luxardo in place of a neon red fake cherry changes everything. Even better: marinate your own cherries in Luxardo. Now we’re talkin’.
Aperol & Campari: These are bitter spirits that are great for balancing cocktails and drawing out flavors from their accompaniments. They are flavored primarily with bitter orange, rhubarb, and quinine. The only main difference is that Campari has TWICE the alcohol percentage. So, if you’re looking for a bitter flavor without adding booze factor, stick with Aperol. I am a huge fan of the Negroni which is super easy- one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one part Campari. I usually add a few twists of orange peel as well.
Sweet & Dry Vermouth: Vermouth is fortified wine, with the addition of botanicals/herbs. Vermouth was originally added to the martini and manhattan to bring the alcohol percent down a bit so that folks could throw a few back without falling back themselves. Somehow society has turned this into a whole…thing. Listen guys, if you drink your martini without vermouth…you’re drinking iced gin or vodka in a fancy glass and that’s it. The martini without the vermouth is simply no longer a martini. Vermouth is wine-based, so it should be kept in the refrigerator once opened. Dolin is my favorite brand so far and is fairly priced. I had this great cocktail called the Brooklyn which was a basic Manhattan made with rye whiskey, dry vermouth, and a splash of Luxardo. Delicious.
Creme Yvette & St. Germaine – So floral things normally scare me. I am not a fan of orange blossom water or rose flavored things, and most of my candles and body products are scented after edible things like cake and cinnamon. At first I was really weary of these liqueurs but it turns out these are beyond awesome. Creme Yvette (or Creme d’Yvette) is a liqueur made from violet petals with berries, cassis, honey, orange peel and vanilla. Um, what? Add a shot to any gin or vodka drink and you will be blown away by the complexity and magical je-ne-sais-quoi this liqueur adds! St. Germaine is made with elderberry flowers and adds a sweet floral nose without the “perfume bomb” that most floral waters add. Add a half shot of St. Germaine to some not-so-great sparkling wine to vamp it up BIG time. This is great for cheap bottles of Prosecco or Cava.
Frangelico (hazelnut), Galliano (vanilla/anise), & Amaretto (almond)- The nutty ones. These I don’t put in my drinks very often but I LOVE ME SOME FRANGELICO FOR DESSERT! You like hazelnuts? You like Nutella? Drizzle a shot of Frangelico on some chocolate cake…I think it’s probably what Barry Manilow eats for breakfast.
Holy moly. That is a long post. I am so happy you stuck it through or at least skimmed through enough to make it here. I hope I am de-mystifying some of these things for you! Getting back behind the bar is making this really fun, as I am experimenting with flavor combinations and making basic recipes that are easy and realistic to put together at home!
I’ll be back
Sunday Monday with some basic guidelines to follow when assembling cocktails and some recipes and pictures from the lab.
Also, a little suprise…