Drink of the Week: The Angel’s Decree

the Angel's DecreeDespite the fact that many U.S. denominations frown on booze or ban it outright, it’s nevertheless no surprise that Christian imagery has found its way into the argot of whiskey distillers based in some of the most devout regions on the planet. “The Angel’s share” refers to a certain small percentage of whiskey that seeps into the wood in barrels and usually evaporates.

It’s become a minor trend to refer to this phenomenon. A bourbon fancier’s magazine is named for it, Jim Beam has found a way to extract the bourbon back out of the wood and perversely named it the Devil’s Cut. Meanwhile, famed bourbon distiller Lincoln Henderson, previously associated with the fine brands Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, has crafted a Kentucky straight bourbon he calls the Angel’s Envy.

The booze press has been very kind to this bourbon and for good reason. It’s designed for the serious whiskey lover and is described as being ultra small-batch and super premium. By intelligent design, it’s not as smooth as some products but it mostly justifies its large, but not enormous, price (about $45.00 in most places) by being plenty flavorful. It makes for an excellent Manhattan, quite a sturdy Old Fashioned, and I imagine it would work equally well in most classic bourbon cocktails. It’s also excellent with just a little bit of soda water.

Still, there’s always room for innovation. Henderson and his colleagues finish their product in casks previously used for port, and there is a hint of the richness of the dessert wine in the whiskey’s flavor. Logically enough, port is a significant ingredient in a number of recipes they’ve developed, including the one below that’s pretty ideal for the unseasonably warm weather going on in parts of the Midwest, even if it’s actually a bit cooler than usual here in sunny So Cal. In any case, this beverage is a nice one and simple enough for any soul.

The Angel’s Decree

1 1/2 ounces Angel’s Envy bourbon
1/2 ounce port
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
ginger ale

Combine bourbon, port, and bitters in a smallish Tom Collins glass with ice cubes and stir. Top off with ginger ale…it’s more interesting if you don’t stir it again at this point. Sip and ask for divine guidance on whether or not your soul will be safe if you try this very tasty concoction with another brand of bourbon.

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I really like the Angel’s Decree but, at the risk of sounding as if I’m in a state of heretical despair, I’m not sure it loves me. My issues with all true red wines — they make me feel, if I may use a technical term, icky — are what drove me to explore cocktails in the first place. Port is easily my favorite kind of red wine but, as I learned again this week, it’s still red and even in very small doses for me leads to feelings that are short of heavenly. That, however, should not stop you from enjoying the drink.

The good news for me is that the sweet vermouth you use in a Manhattan only looks red. (The color is mostly from the caramel used to give it’s sweetness.) I think that’s how I’ll largely be taking my Angel’s Envy. Regardless, I trust no celestial being will be in hot pursuit of my footwear as a result.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Whiskey Smash

The Whiskey SmashThe Whiskey Smash is probably one of the clearest examples of a drink rescued from complete obscurity by the ongoing classic cocktail revival. Although the modern version featured in a growing number of retro-friendly bars differs enough from the recipe written up by cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas in 1862 to be an entirely different cocktail, the more polished and slightly more elaborate version below is certainly a classic of sorts.

As it stands, the Whiskey Smash is a close relative of the Mojito and the (I swear upcoming) Mint Julep. It’s outstanding for a warm day or in a bar so crowded if feels like a warm day. Certainly if you’re a fan of whiskey, lemon, mint,  and heavy muddling, this is your drink.

The Whiskey Smash

2-3 ounces whiskey (bourbon, rye, Canadian, etc.)
1 quarter lemon, cut into four or more pieces
5 or more mint leaves
2-3 teaspoons superfine sugar
3 dashes of bitters
1/2-3/4 ounce water (optional)
1 mint sprig (semi-optional garnish)
1 maraschino cherry (very optional garnish)

Combine your whiskey, lemon pieces, superfine sugar, mint leaves and, if you like, splash of water in a cocktail shaker. (The water is really only there to approximate the 1/2 to 3/4 ounces of simple syrup most recipes call for instead of sugar, but I found the results about the same whether or not I included it.)

Muddle it all rather intensely, paying special attention to give a good mushing to the lemon pieces — this is a “smash” after all. You can take it a bit easier on the mint if you like. Make sure, however, that your sugar is dissolved in the liquid, which should happen without too much effort if you’re using superfine sugar and not cheating with ordinary table sugar.

Add lots of ice — cracked or crushed ice is probably better — and shake vigorously. Strain into a well chilled old fashioned glass with a few ice cubes in it. Because of all the lemon, mint, and crushed ice you may have to exercise a bit more patience at the straining stage, but your forebearance will shortly be rewarded. If you’d like an extra dash of sweetness and color, add a maraschino cherry along with the semi-obligatory mint-spring.

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I found the results remarkably consistent regardless of which whiskey I used, though I found using Buffalo Trace bourbon resulted in a slightly more mellow and interesting smash than the super-reasonably priced Evan Williams I picked up for a ten spot. 100 proof whiskeys seem to work well here, and I had good luck using my standby Rittenhouse Rye as well as the hard to find 100 proof Canadian Club I’m lucky enough to have. (You can buy it online here.) I also found that this one drink that worked very nicely not only with traditional aromatic bitters like Angostura, but also with the bottle of Fee Brothers Celery Bitters I recently picked up. (Speaking of revived classics, as I understand it, celery bitters pretty much disappeared between sometime in the middle of prohibition and, believe it or not, 2008.)

I’ve also noticed there’s something of a fetish among bartenders not to end up with bits of mint in the final, strained drink. It happened to me a lot of the time, and it wasn’t a problem  either in terms of taste or aesthetics, in my view.

And just a reminder that you will really need a good, solid muddler suitable for lemon smashing as described so long ago in our guide to bar implements. If you don’t have one, you can improvise but you want something solid. A freshly washed hammer used with extreme caution, perhaps.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Dry Manhattan

the Dry Manhattan It is time to correct an old oversight this Friday the 13th. It seems that way back on the second DOTW, in which I dealt with that sturdiest of classic cocktails, the Manhattan, I failed to mention one of the most important of the classic variations. The Dry Manhattan eschews the usual sweet vermouth in favor of dry vermouth for what amounts to a very sophisticated drink that is essentially a whiskey martini for true cocktail snobs sophisticates. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing but good luck for whoever drinks it.

The occasion for me revisiting this drink at this time is bottle of the very hard to find 100 proof version of Canadian Club that was very kindly sent to me by my personal good whisky fairy employed by Hiram Walker. It’s good stuff, maybe the best base I’ve found yet for this particular drink. We’ll get back to that later. First, the drink itself.

The Dry Manhattan

1.5 ounces whiskey (Canadian, rye, or bourbon)
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash Fee’s Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters or Angostura
Lemon twist (garnish)

Pour your whiskey, dry vermouth (as always, Noilly Pratt is my personal default choice here), and bitters over ice cubes into a shaker. Shake or, if you simply can’t abide clouding, stir very vigorously for as long as you can stand it and pour into a chilled martini or wide-mouthed champagne glass. Rim the glass with a lemon twist and toss it into the drink. Best enjoyed with Dinah Washington’s rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Manhattan.”

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Okay, let’s talk ingredients. First of all, I haven’t tried it this way lately, but I’m pretty sure this would also work with Scotch, though that would actually be a dry Rob Roy. Still, I’m of the opinion that Canadian whiskey in general and Canadian Club in particular might be better than bourbon and possibly even rye.

I will say that the stronger, slightly more complicated and oaky flavor of the 100 proof version of Canadian Club might possibly work best of all. I’m really liking this stuff in general and I can’t wait to try it in a sweeter type of Manhattan. However, you should be aware that, at least here in the States, this stuff isn’t easy to come by even at your local big box beverage retailer. You can, however, purchase it online from select vendors, and I was able to find it just now for an extremely reasonable price at the website of Denver-based Argonaut Liquor.

Of course, this drink will also work with the 80 proof stuff just fine. Especially if you’re going that route, you might well want to round up the portions to 2 ounces of whiskey and 1 ounce of dry vermouth. In that instance a second dash of bitters might not be the worst thing if you’re a bitters sort of person.

Speaking of bitters, you’ll note that instead of suggesting the traditional Angostura brand of aromatic brew, I’ve given preference to the lesser known Fee Brothers brand. I recently picked up a bottle of this on a whim when I was visiting an unfamiliar liquor emporium far away from my usual digs and have kind of fallen in love in love with it. For my money, it’s flavor, though still apparently dominated by angostura bark, is a bit more subtle than its venerable competitor. It’s definitely tailor made for a drink like this which can’t stand up to too much straight bitterness, though regular Angostura will still work. I found using Regan’s Orange Bitters, however, to be a somewhat overpowering citrus experience when combined with the lemon peel.

One final variation, if you’re as mad for olives as I am, you can really go the whiskey martini route here and using an olive or two or three as your garnish in place of the lemon twist. It won’t be anywhere near as good as this drink in terms of sophisticated complexity, but it will be olive laden. Sometimes, that’s all I need.

  

Drink of the Week: Eggnog

eggnogI have a confession to make.  Despite my enormous love of all things sweet and milk fatty, I was fully prepared to bale on what has to be the ultimate seasonal drink. I have to admit there were concerns for my waistline — you guys have no idea how much weight I gained as a child knocking back the carton based non-alcoholic stuff. Also, as I grew older, I usually was disappointed by the spiked nog I’d had at parties. Somehow, the booze always seemed to destroy the cheap and creamy charm of the store bought nog. It was like putting vodka in chocolate milk. (I’d rather have a shot and choco-moo chaser, thank you.)

Still, the real reason I was going to go AWOL on eggnog was that I was simply intimidated. I imagined fresh eggnog to be a very complicated drink to make; a drink that might even force me to break my no-blenders rule, classic drink though it be. The online recipes telling me that I had to start with a 6 or more eggs, separate the yolks from the whites and perform various operations on them only reinforced that assumption.

Then, however, I started Googling “eggnog for one” and a great revelation came to me. Really, all this drink is a raw egg — provisos and disclaimers to come — milk, sugar, vanilla flavor, and booze. I have to say that, even if I have a sentimental attachment for the gooey store bought stuff, this shockingly easy, if slightly messy, home made version beats that all to heck.

So, here goes, the drink recipe I never thought I’d post.

Eggnog

1.5 ounces of your choice of cognac/brandy, bourbon, Canadian whiskey, or rum
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 ounce heavy cream (optional)
2 ounces full fat milk if not using heavy cream; with cream use 1.5 ounces
4-5 teaspoons superfine or powdered sugar
Ground nutmeg (garnish)
1 cinnamon stick (optional garnish)

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Drink of the Week: The Hot Toddy

The Hot ToddyHave you ever found yourself wondering exactly what a hot toddy is? I know I have. I’ve had them in bars maybe once or twice at most and occasionally messed around with heating up some whiskey and water with a little sugar or something else, but I’ve never quite had a handle on what makes a toddy a toddy. The funny part is that after working with them a bit more earnestly the last week or so, I’m still wondering what a hot toddy is.

The problem is that every recipe I’ve found seems to bear relatively little relation to every other recipe, to the point where I’ve determined that there is no baseline recipe for hot toddies there way there might be for other cocktails. Beyond involving hot water, sweetener, and some form of hard liquor that’s usually is whiskey but could also be brandy or rum, there’s nothing very much in common between any two recipes, though a lemon usually comes into play and some people, who may tend to be from the U.K. or British commonwealth countries, use tea instead of hot water. Figuring out the “classic” hot toddy seems to be a fool’s errand.

Therefore, I’m presenting, instead, my own personal hot toddy. Of the various combinations of boiling water, whiskey, and sugar that I’ve experimented with this week, this is the one that’s worked out the best for me.

The Hot Toddy

4 ounces boiling water
1.5 ounces bourbon or Scotch whiskey
2 teaspoons of sugar, preferably brown
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice or lemon slice or peel
1 cinnamon stick as optional garnish.

Place sugar in a small coffee or tea cup. Pour in boiling water and stir to dissolve sugar. Add lemon juice — or don’t and substitute a very thin lemon slice garnish with your cinnamon stick. Based on personal preference feel free to increase or eschew the juice entirely. Add your booze, stir, and sip. (If you have a heat sensitive like me, don’t worry. The room temperature booze should cool the drink down to a reasonably drinkable temperature.)

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Feel free to experiment with your favorite brandy, rum, or another type of whiskey. The sweetness of bourbon seems to appeal to me the most here, though using a decent single malt scotch was also very nice. You can boost the booze up to 2 ounces if you want or maybe reduce the water though it will get cold faster. I should add I was using Old Fitzgerald’s 100 proof bourbon, but I suspect 1.5 ounces of 80 proof Jim Beam or what have you would be good and potent enough for most people with 4 ounces of water.

Just watch the lemon juice and/or lemon slice as a little can go a long way. If you go the lemon slice route and want to warm up your drink, remove the lemon before nuking it in the microwave. On that road lies nastiness.

Toddies are nice. It’s actually fairly hard to mess up whiskey, a bit of sugar, and some water and wonderful for warming up on a cold night.  You might find you don’t need that sweater or sweatshirt after consuming one of these.

On the other hand, the docs tell us that, contrary to what some of us have been told, it’s really not the absolute best thing if you’re actually sick, especially with a fever. The dehydrating diuretic properties of alcohol makes momma’s chicken soup better for cold of flu sufferers, leaving aside the whole issue of drug interactions. (For starters, booze and anything containing Tylenol/Acetaminophen should not really mix in your body. It’s a liver thing.) On the other hand, if you’re simply sick from worry or stress on a cold winter evening, there is no simpler remedy.

  

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