Drink of the Week: Alternative Ulster

Alternative Ulster.As I noted towards the end of last week’s post, I tragically missed St. Patrick’s Day this year. That’s sort of unfortunate since it’s probably the U.S.A.’s second biggest drinking holiday following New Year’s, though here in the Southwestern edge of the United States, Cinco de Mayo might be bigger. (Or not. I’m a cocktail blogger, not a demographer, damnit!)

In any case, I am attempting to make amends with a pair of posts featuring Irish whiskey. Considering that it’s smoother, sweater and less smokey than its Scottish cousin, it’s a bit of mystery to me why there aren’t more popular cocktails featuring this mythic force behind one of the world’s most fascinating nations and peoples. It’s time to do my part to make up for that sad fact.

Today’s cocktail is actually a variation on a classic cocktail we’ll be exploring next week, the Brainstorm. I started with the latter day version, though, because it features Amaro Montenegro. I got to enjoy this popular European liqueur thanks to a gift from a wise and good friend some time ago — and I had just barely enough left to use it in one more cocktail, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only used it for a DOTW once before. That’s because the bittersweet orangey member of the amaro family of liqueurs is much to my liking with just a little bit of soda water or on the rocks. If you enjoy Aperol, and boy do I ever, definitely give this one a try.

As I learned via Kindred Cocktails, Alternative Ulster was developed by New York bartender Joshua Perez. It appears to have borrowed it’s name from the punk rock anthem by Northern Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers, or perhaps the now defunct music magazine that also borrowed it’s name.

It’s a lively and simple little cocktail that’s fairly bracing and balanced between the sweet and bitter, as befits its Irish and pop-punk rock heritage. I like it and maybe you will, too.

Alternative Ulster

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
3/4 ounce Amaro Montenegro
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (highly advisable garnish)

Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Either stir vigorously or shake and strain into a well-chilled coupe or martini-style cocktail glass. Add your lemon twist and enjoy.

As for the toast, why not salute Northern Irish peace? When I was kid, solving “the troubles” was often compared to Middle East peace in terms of difficulty. Yet, this April the world will be celebrating the 17th anniversary of the 1998 agreements that really did seem to end this much too lengthy near civil war. Maybe someday, probably not any time too soon, I fear, we can have some similar luck of the Irish in other places where hatred and fear still seems to rule. It’s worth drinking to.

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While Mr. Perez’s original recipe suggests using Jameson Irish whiskey and Dolin’s dry vermouth, I didn’t have either of those on hand. Instead I used Martini for my vermouth and three different brands of demon whiskey: Bushmills, Kilbeggan, and Concannon. All three worked fine, though I lean slightly more in favor of the results that I got using the latter two brands. They had a bit more bite to them, leading to tangier final products.

Also, though I usually lean towards shaking over stirring, this time I think bartender Perez perhaps had it right by suggesting stirring this drink. Don’t ask me why, but it just seemed to come out every so slightly better that way. Just make sure you stir a lot and make sure your glass is very thoroughly chilled.

And now, this is the time at Drink of the Week when we pogo.

 

  

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Drink of the Week: Basil Hayden’s Power Play

Basil Hayden's Power Play.This week we finally come to the end of a cycle of posts featuring a number of good-to-fantastic cocktails, all courtesy of the gods of booze publicity and the free bottles of booze they are kind enough to occasionally send me. This week’s drink is a very tasty way to end the series and is intended as a sort of salute to the relatively new season of what I imagine has to be the most popular of all web-only television series, Beau Willimon’s bass-heavy, caustically compelling “House of Cards.”

Basil Hayden’s Power Play caught my eye not so much because of the promotion tied in with the latest adventures of the ultra-ruthless Democratic pol-on-the-rise played by the great Kevin Spacey, but because of one very unusual cocktail ingredient. You see, we’re actually a week late for the premiere of the new season and I’m only just now caught up with season one. However, the combination of one of the USA’s great bourbons and the inclusion of root beer was the grabber.

I’ve often wondered why, unlike ginger ale/ginger beer, cola, and 7-Up/Sprite, root beer and cream soda never seem to make an appearance in cocktails. And, yes, these are easily my two favorite sodas. Let’s give it a try.

Basil Hayden’s® Power Play

1 1/2 ounces Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 drops of vanilla extract
2 splashes of root beer
1 lemon rind slice (highly advisable garnish)

Combine the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, vanilla extract and one splash of your favorite root beer in a double sized rocks/old fashioned glass with plenty of ice. Pour into a cocktail shaker, mixing glass, or really any receptacle large enough to hold the entire drink. Do not shake, but instead pour directly back into your double rocks glass. Add another splash of root beer and  your lemon rind garnish for a bit of additional ruthlessness. Toast the fact that you are almost certainly a much nicer and/or less broken person than Frank Underwood or almost anyone he knows. It might be fun and, sadly, educational, to watch political thrillers about conscience-challenged humans, but niceness is underrated!

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First of all, I usually hesitate to actually include the names of booze brands — no matter how excellent — in the names of the cocktails we use here, even if that’s the name I’m given by its purveyors. However, there’s already another drink called the Power Play, which is very different from this one. Also, as is my usual practice, I tried this with a good Brand X bourbon and it was disappointing. Stick with the call brand this time.

Justifying it’s super-premium price tag, Basil Hayden’s is one of the very few bourbons I’ll drink semi-straight (on the rocks, say) by choice. It’s got a Scotch-like astringency to it and is less sweet than a lot of other bourbons. That’s important because, between the simple syrup and the root beer, this is a pretty sweet concotion and sweeter bourbons are a real problem here.

I also typically like to give readers an option to switch out simple syrup with suger as a way to may life easier. That substitution didn’t work either. You can always simply combine a heaping tablespoon of easily dissolved superfine sugar with an equal amount of water and mix them together for simple syrup on the fly.

Finally, I wish I could report you to you how this drink worked with various brands of root beer. I love root beer at least as much as I love my favorite cocktails and there are a number of brands I like more than the others. Still, the stuff is, to me, far more addictively irresistible than booze, and I feared the impact on my blood sugar if I bought more than one brand. I fortunately found a half-size six pack of my beloved ultimate default root beer, A&W, and stuck with that. It was mighty good as long as I didn’t overdo the splashes.

And one last thing. I know, I know, this post has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day this Tuesday. I’m sorry…I failed to give the calendar a look before it was too late. Frank would try to capitalize on my weakness, but I hope you’ll be more forgiving and not try to blow my house down.

  

Drink of the Week: The Cru-Zen

the Cru-Zen.People keep sending me free bottles of booze and recipes to go with them, and I keep noting that many of the cocktails developed to promote liquor brands are extremely good…all the better to market the product, after all. I just wish I could tell you the name of the genius who came up with this week’s drink, because I think it’s really superb.

Yes, it features egg white, which never hurts with me, but it’s also introduces some other new ingredients, including bianco (white) vermouth, a product I’ve often seen at my area’s big box liquor stores but which I’ve only just now tried. As the immortal Mr. Spock might have said if he could ever get beyond his Saurian brandy, it’s fascinating stuff and deserves to be featured in a lot more cocktails. Expecting me to be working on that in coming weeks.

Moving on, this week’s sponsor-booze is Cruzan Aged Light Rum, an extremely decent mixing rum with a nicely low price point that’s very comparable to the somewhat less complex nationally known light rums. It’s a bit less dry than some of its competitors, with definite hints of vanilla and maybe some extra alcoholic burn. It therefore arguably makes an excellent base spirit foil for an otherwise gentle drink.

I honestly think the Cru-Zen has the right stuff to become a new cocktail classic for sophisticated sippers seeking out a truly balanced beverage. It’s a thoughtful, more sweet than sour mixture that’s at least as worth contemplating as the sound of one hand clapping.

The Cru-Zen

1 1/2 ounces light rum
1/2 ounce bianco vermouth
1/2 ounce chamomile syrup (see the instructions below)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
1-2 dashes of bitters

Before we can started, a word about that chamomile syrup. I usually strictly avoid any drink that demands I make my own syrup. I like to keep things simple because I don’t want to scare readers away from making these drinks, and also because I’m lazy myself. Still, I broke my own rule because this drink sounded great (I was right) and the camomile syrup is ridiculously easy to make. You just submerge a single pure chamomile teabag in four ounces of boiling water for five minutes, as if you’re making a double strength cup of herb tea. Next, you add four ounces (half a cup) of sugar, stirred a little bit, and voila, syrup…though you probably want to stick it in the fridge for a little bit before actually using it.

Okay, so to make our Cru-Zen, we combine our syrup, rum, and all the other liquid ingredients including egg white. (If you’re using pasteurized commercial egg white, like I generally do, use three tablespoons to approximate one large egg, sans yolk.) First, “dry” shake it without ice, as always being careful to prevent messy explosions powered — I think — by the albumin in egg white. Then, add your ice and shake again very vigorously for about ten seconds.

Next, double strain it into a well chilled cocktail coupe or regular style martini glass. By “double strain” I mean simply running the liquid through a regular fine mesh strainer as well as the standard cocktail strainer to remove any stray lemon juice pulp. You should wind up with a very nice head foam on top. Finally, add one or two drops of aromatic bitters — Angostura works beautifully here — as a garnish, exactly as you would when making a Pisco Sour. You can toast your favorite zen master or public school teacher, you’ll be in a good mood regardless.

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Lest there be any confusion, I think this is a really amazing drink and a rather sturdy one as well. It was designed for the more flavor-heavy Cruzan rum, but I tried it with an extremely well known, plainer but smoother brand X white rum, and the result was almost equally delightful. I would, however, counsel anyone to stick to the instruction regarding the double straining.

I was initially skeptical that it was necessary to strain out the near-microscopic bits of lemon pulp that might end up in single-strained version of the Cru-Zen, but then I tried eschewing the additional strainer, and the result wasn’t nearly as good. Apparently, the pulp emphasized the lemon notes and drowned out a number of other flavors.

Also, it’s crucial not to get confused here about what bianco vermouth, sometimes called white vermouth, actually is. The dry vermouth you should use in your martini might also be white, but it’s not bianco. It is actually even sweeter than ordinary red sweet vermouth. Since this was my first bianco experience, I decided to go with the ultimate default brand of Martini and Rossi.

I tend to think of Martini as being a good but basic brand, but I nevertheless found it to be a full bodied product; it’s not surprising to find out that bianco vermouths are hugely popular in Europe, drunk on the rocks with maybe a lemon twist or with carbonated water as a spritzer. A good portion of the really subtle, you might even say zen, aspects of this drink have to do with the many floral flavor notes you’ll find in this product. It’s a beverage I plan to explore further, for sure.

 

  

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery: A Russian River Valley Classic

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery is a longtime Russian River Valley producer best known for their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Their portfolio contains numerous examples of each and they focus on single vineyard wines, as well as multi-vineyard cuvee-style offerings. Over the years I have found that they have maintained a consistent level of quality and a really appealing house style. Really, it’s not a style so much as a decision to let the grapes and specific vineyards speak instead of hiding their charms with overwrought intervention. I recently tasted through a handful of their 2012 vintage wines. This particular vintage is noteworthy at Gary Farrell for two reasons: it marks their 30th vintage as a producer, and is also the first vintage for winemaker Theresa Heredia who joined them in the spring of 2012.

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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Russian River Selection Chardonnay ($35)

Fruit from ten Russian River Valley vineyards was selected for this offering. After pressing and fermentation with wild yeast, it was aged more than seven months in French oak; 35 percent of the barrels were new. Exactly 6,902 cases of this release were produced. Meyer lemon, toasted hazelnut, and hints of linseed oil present on the welcoming nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is jam-packed with a solid core of orchard fruit flavors, along with bits of pineapple and a bevy of spice notes. Graphite, wet limestone and hints of burnt sugar join continuing echoes of apple and pear on the lengthy finish. This is textbook Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It has just enough oak influence to add some complexity, but not nearly the amount that would overburden it, or distract from all that gorgeous fruit. Serving this Chardonnay a few degrees warmer than the average white allows it to really shine, so resist the temptation to over chill it.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Westside Farms Chardonnay ($45)

This single vineyard effort was produced from fruit sourced exclusively at the namesake vineyard. After fermentation it was aged for eight months in entirely French oak; 40 percent of the barrels were new. About 580 cases were produced. Baker’s spices, toasted almond and yellow delicious apple aromas dominate the nose. The palate is full-flavored and even-keeled. It’s stuffed with spice, orchard fruits, bits of lemon curd and vanilla bean. The long finish is crisp and refreshing with continued fruit and spice. Firm, racy acid adds to the mouth-watering appeal. I paired it with lemon-thyme roasted chicken for a killer match.

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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir ($45)

The fruit for this wine came from nine distinct Russian River Valley Vineyards. Fermentation and aging tool place in French oak; 35 percent of the barrels utilized were new. They produced 9,206 cases of this offering. Wild strawberry and light bay leaf aromas are present on the appealing nose of this Pinot Noir. The palate is loaded with red fruits, savory spices and bits of mushroom. Continued fruit, bits of cocoa and a touch of cola are all present on the long finish. This is a fine example of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55)

All of the fruit for this single-vineyard offering came from the Hallberg Vineyard, which sits in the Green Valley section of Russian River. Fermentation took place in French oak; 40 percent of the barrels were new. Aging took place over 14 month. They produced 1,198 cases. Thyme, bay leaf, strawberry and bits of black cherry are present on the effusive nose of this Pinot Noir, along with wisps of plum pudding spice. Spice box, red and black fruits and bits of earth dominate the chewy palate. Cinnamon, minerals, black tea and pepper spice are all part of the long and deeply layered finish. The Hallberg Pinot was a revelation paired alongside cream of porcini soup.

No surprise here, but this is a lovely quartet of wines from Gary Farrell. The Russian River selections offer classic flavors and qualities that broadly represent the hallmarks of that area. The single-vineyard wines speak of those specific plots of land, as well as the conditions of the 2012 vintage. In short that’s what I’m looking for from those designations. Across the board these wines offer more than sufficient quality for the prices in question. Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery has been a go-to producer for tasty Russian River Valley Wines for 30 years; the 2012 vintage simply reinforces that.

Check out Gabe’s View for more wine reviews, and follow Gabe on Twitter!

  

Drink of the Week: The Big and Stout

the Big and Stout.I see my share of boozy pitches here at Drink of the Week Central and, believe it or not, I ignore a great many of them. Still, I couldn’t ignore the one that came from the melding of the great nations of Japan and Kentucky that we call Beam Suntory. Why is easy to explain.

I’ve been increasingly interested for some time in cocktails that include beer or ale. Also, regular readers will note that I’m mad for drinks that include raw egg whites or, better yet, whole raw eggs. So, no surprise that the Big and Stout immediately caught my attention as it contains both stout and whole raw eggs! It’s also created by Midwestern celebrity chef Michael Symon and I gather he’s a very big deal in Bullz-Eye’s home town of Cleveland. Based on this drink, I’m definitely willing to plunk down $75.00+tip and cocktails for one of this guy’s dinners.

The Big and Stout is, I should add, well named as I’m personally a bit bigger and stouter after drinking it for an entire week, but it’s just about worth it. It’s a full-fledged desert in a glass, a full bodied drink that’s the perfect 100% adult sophisticated milkshake without the milk, wonderfully simple and quite hard to mess up — it’s been pretty much a home run every time I’ve tried it, which is saying something. Let’s not waste any time.

The Big and Stout

1 ounce bourbon (true sophisticates will want Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve)
1 1/2 ounces milk stout/sweet stout
1 whole egg
3/4 ounce simple syrup (or 1 rounded tablespoon superfine sugar)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice first (the famed “dry shake”) to properly emulsify the egg. Be careful; between the egg and the slight carbonation of milk stout, there’s an excellent chance the top of your shaker will want to come off. Add ice and shake again, this time very vigorously. Strain into a well chilled old fashioned or cocktail glass. Toast your feet. Drink enough of these and you might never seem them again, though you probably won’t care.

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So, yes, this drink comes to us courtesy of the gods of promotion over at Jim Beam land and their small batch collection. It was, I gather, created for regular Knob Creek bourbon, but what I actually got was Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve and an old favorite, Basil Hayden’s. It’s a very interesting spread because both of these are thoroughly adult, sophisticated bourbons but at vastly differing strengths. Hayden’s is 80 proof, actually below average strength for an upscale bourbon but well above average in flavor and drinkability. The Knob Creek Single Barrel is a whopping 120 proof and has a full 10 percent more alcohol than regular 100 proof Knob Creek. It’s definitely the good stuff but not for the faint of heart or liver.

I’m delighted to say that both extremes held up brilliantly in a Big and Stout. Sure, the complexity and pure fire of the 120 proof brew gave all the sweet ingredients something they could fight against for a somewhat more complex beverage. Still, the 80 proof Hayden’s was a delight and anything but insipid. I also tried a pretty decent 94 proof brand X bourbon and it was great, too. Frankly, I have a hard time imagining any bourbon failing with this one, and I’m contemplating giving rye a chance.

As for the stout’s, the original recipe called for sweet stouts but that turned out to be nearly impossible to find here in L.A.’s NoHo/San Fernando Valley land. Milk stouts, which have a sweeter flavor thanks largely to some lactose, are much easier to come by and may or may not be synonymous with sweet stouts, I’m still trying to figure that one out. My choices were Moo Thunder Farmhouse Ale and Belching Beaver Brewery’s Beaver Milk. Gotta love the names and both worked really winningly.

Trying to figure out why I like this drink so much may go beyond a simple love of sweet, creamy, ice-cold refreshing booze flavors and have something to do with my love of coffee…which I actually prefer with a decent amount of milk and sweetener, despite my alleged gourmet tendencies and tolerance/love for bitter flavors. Even more than the similar yet very different Coffee Cocktail, this drink really looks and tastes a bit it like a frozen latte but with a very different impact. Maybe that’s it.

  

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