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Drink of the Week: The Portly Blackberry

the Portly Blackberry.Let me tell you, folks, sometimes putting on this here cocktail blog is anything but a cocktail party. Sure, making outstanding drinks and occasionally getting free booze delivered by FedEx and UPS is the opposite of torture, but sometimes, well, it’s not the complete opposite.

That’s the feeling I experienced when I attempted to open a gorgeous free bottle of Alberta Rye Dark Batch. As I attempted to pull up the cork stopper, the plastic thingamajig on top broke off, leaving the bottle fully corked. When I actually went out and bought a fancy corkscrew (which I should have around anyway, though I’m no oenophile), all I managed was to push the cork inside the bottle. In fact, I’m still not sure how I’m going to store the remainder of this very good, and very interesting, whiskey.

What’s so interesting? As we learned from the first episode of “Mad Men,” the whiskey called “rye” was at one time more or less synonymous with Canadian whisky. In fact, Wikipedia tells us it’s still that way in Canada despite the fact that only a token amount of rye is in your typical Canadian whisky recipe. However, here in the U.S., rye whiskies by law have to have a much higher proportion of rye grains and the ryes that have been proliferating since the start of the ongoing cocktail renaissance would never be mistaken for Canadian Club, Crown Royal, or Seagram’s V.O. They often have a slightly peppery flavor and are a tad less sweet than bourbon, their close relative.

Alberta Rye Dark Batch is, therefore, of special interest as is passes U.S. rye muster but is manufactured by our friendly neighbors to the north and sold stateside with a little help from Beam Suntory. It is, however, no retread of your basic U.S. ryes because, like ordinary Canadian whiskys, it’s blended. In this case, however, a strong rye brew is combined with good old Old Grandad bourbon and 1% of sherry wine. Canadian whisky, often maligned by cocktailians but beloved by me, is just never going to be for fanatical purists.

Alberta Dark Batch might be using the American “whiskey” spelling on its bottle rather the traditional Canadian “whisky” spelling, but it’s not quite the same as U.S. bred ryes. It’s smoother and a bit sweeter. It’s not super complex — you won’t catch any rye bread notes — but it earns its super premium status with a flavorful depth and smoothness. It also very good in an Old Fashioned. (Also, if you buy yours and the top breaks off the way mine did, I’m pretty sure most retailers will let you exchange it for another bottle. Getting things for free has its drawbacks!)

The Portly Blackberry — I’ve shortened it’s name from the Alberta Rye Dark Batch Portly Blackberry — is a nice, sophisticated spin on many of the improved whiskey sour recipes that have been floating around for forever. (I usually won’t have any sour that doesn’t have egg white.) It builds on that 1% of sherry wine by taking up a convenient port in the cocktail storm and throws in some fresh berries for good measure.

The Portly Blackberry

2 ounces Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky
1 ounce port wine
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash rhubarb bitters
1 large egg white (three tablespoons of packaged egg white)
4 blackberries

Combine the lemon juice, syrup, bitters, and two of your four blackberries into a cocktail shaker. Muddle the blackberries, liberating all the juice you can. Next, dry shake (i.e., shake without ice) to emulsify the egg white, which will be easier (and arguably safer) if you use one of the many prepared pasteurized egg white products on the market.

Next, add the rye whiskey, port wine, and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds or more. Then, double strain it into a chilled, and quite large, coupe or cocktail glass — ideally using a standard bar strainer and a food strainer — to get rid of both the ice and blueberry pulp. Finally, add the remaining two blackberries as garnishes. Toast the difficulties of life; without them, how would we appreciate it when things were easy?

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Speaking of life’s travails, I actually came down with a small bug of some sort as I was working on the Portly Blackberry. I decided to keep going with it, but I didn’t get to try the drink as many times as I normally like to. That means, I didn’t experiment with using a Brand X rye brand.

I can tell you, however, that while I usually allow a substitution of superfine sugar for simple syrup, in this case, I can’t endorse that. Often, drinks can taste slightly sweeter in a good way when you use straight sugar as opposed to the 50/50 combination of sugar and water. Not so with the Portly Blackberry; an already fairly tart drink became excessively so. On the other hand, if you want to boost the sweetness, doubling up on the simple syrup to an entire half ounce might work for you.

Also, though I had to drive across town to find one, it’s worth it to get yourself a bottle of rhubarb bitters. I actually forgot to use them on my first go round, and the drink was definitely much improved by that very small dash. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where such things can be found, you’ll probably end up using Fee Brothers’s bitters like I did. However, if you’re a true DIYer with more time (and cooking skills) than yours truly, you can explore making your own.

Sometimes, one way or another, you gotta work a little for your high-end cocktails.