Undoubtedly we will be spending a lot of time on the topic of Whiskey on this blog. There is just so much to know and learn, that it is unavoidable. But don’t let that scare you, the topic of whiskey, or whisky (if you are on the British isles), is one of great joy and intrigue. There are so many variations on this spirit that I can’t possibly try and explain everything in one blog post. We won’t even attempt to get into the Scottish aqua vitae known as Scotch, which deserves a whole blog post on its own. But, i digress, for what i can do is introduce you to some of the basics…and my favorites, of course!
First things first, Whiskey is a distilled spirit that is distilled from different grains, including barley, rye, wheat, and corn. Different mixtures of these grains make up what is known as the ‘mash’.
It’s All About the Mash!!
Each type of whiskey has its own particular mash bill that must be adhered to. So let’s start with a couple of my favorites: bourbon and rye whiskey.
Bourbon, or Kentucky straight, as some call it, is a mash of at least 51% corn. Once the corn is milled at the distillery, it is added to water and heated, to begin the fermentation process. It is in the process that
enzymes break down the grain and produce alcohol as a by-product. The name Bourbon comes from the county in Kentucky where it is primarily produced. It does not, by definition, have to be produced in Kentucky, although most Kentucky-ans (is that a word?) would have you believe otherwise! In fact, neighboring Tennessee also produces a bourbon, but they call it Tennessee whiskey to differentiate it (think George Dickel or Jack Daniels). However, there are SOME stipulations to be labeled Bourbon…
Bourbon must be distilled in the United States
Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels
Bourbon must be at least 51% corn mash
There are other stipulations as well that deal with the proof of bourbon, but this is enough info for now. I should note, that in order for Bourbon to be called ‘straight’ bourbon, that means it has been aged at least 2 years. Furthermore, the aging in the charred oak barrels is what gives whiskey the color and subtle caramel notes. As a general rule, bourbon tends to be on the sweeter side of whiskeys due to the high corn content in it’s mash bill. This is important when mixing cocktails, as you may already know, for you home cocktailians.
American rye whiskey, on the other hand, must contain at least 51% rye in it’s mash bill. On a side note, there is also a Canadian rye whiskey, that may or may not contain rye. Let’s stick to the American rye since it appears the Canucks don’t have their rye right! Besides, why call it rye whiskey if it may not even contain rye?! In any event, the other ingredients in the rye mash are usually corn and malted barley. Like it’s bourbon counterpart, rye must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, and must be aged at least 2 years to be considered ‘straight’. Interestingly enough, rye was the prevalent American whiskey in the Northeast prior to that wretched time in American history known as Prohibition. However, it began to disappear around that time, some would argue, because bourbon was sweeter, and therefore easier to mask the alcohol. This was important should anyone, ahem, inquire about the beverage you were drinking or selling. The main differences between rye and bourbon is the mash and the flavor profile. While bourbon is sweeter, rye tends to be drier, and has some spicier tones to it. One other interesting note…currently, at The Citizen, we are carrying Redemption brand Rye and Hi-Rye Bourbon whiskeys. The Hi-Rye Bourbon got my attention recently because it is > 30% rye and just less than 60% corn in the mash bill. This is indeed unusual for a bourbon, but I happen to really like it. You still get some sweetness of the bourbon, and also some spice notes from the rye – it’s a really nice blend.
So, there lays the groundwork for your whiskey, or whisky, wherever you may be. A couple of cocktails to get you started…shall we??
I have mentioned the Sazerac in one of my previous posts – a quintessential rye cocktail.
So, I will throw out another cocktail that is just as much a classic, and may indeed be used with either rye or bourbon. Here I will use rye whiskey. But next time you are down at The Citizen, ask to make one with the Hi-Rye Bourbon, for an added twist…
2 oz. Rye whiskey (Redemption Rye or Old Overholt works well)
3 dashes of aromatic bitters
2 dashes of orange bitters
1 brown sugar cube
Garnish – orange peel
Place sugar cube in empty rocks glass. Add bitters and just a dash of club soda (to help dissolve the sugar).
Muddle sugar cube until mostly dissolved.
Add 2 oz. of bourbon
Add 1 ice ball, or ice cubes
Finish cocktail with orange peel (squeeze oil from orange peel over drink)
1 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Carpano Antica (sweet vermouth)
Stir in shaker and pour over rocks in short rocks glass
Garnish with orange peel (squeeze oil from orange peel over drink)
This is a great idea.
It would be nice to see some of the larger breweries follow suit…
Not sure how i feel about this one…
What are your thoughts?
I hope everyone enjoyed our Prohibition Repeal Party on Saturday December 4th. We will be posting more on that later, when we can get the pictures uploaded, etc. But for now, on to the upcoming holiday which has become a big night in the cocktail business, and that is New Year’s Eve, of course. While some people prefer to stay in, cozying up with their loved ones and ordering take out, others prefer to gallivant around town and ring in the new year with complete strangers, and of course, their favorite glass of bubbly. This leads me to an interesting discussion on the different types of bubbly that are out there. While there are many different kinds of sparkling wine from every continent (including America), I would like to shine the spotlight on the 3 most prominent, in my own humble opinion, and in no particular order: Champagne, Cava, and Spumanti. Keep in mind that all sparklers have one thing in common – secondary fermentation. That is to say, they ferment again while stored in the bottle.
So where to begin? Well let’s start with the gran’ daddy of them all – Champagne. This has become one of those words that are used as a generalization for all sparkling wines for many people. When someone mentions bubbly – immediately Champagne springs to mind. And why shouldn’t it – it has been produced since the middle ages. However, it began its booming popularity in the more recent 17th and 18th centuries. For starters, Champagne, by definition, is a sparkling wine that MUST be grown in the Champagne region of France. This is actually in the northeast region of France, and more specifically, only about 100 miles from Paris. The location of this region invokes high altitude growing conditions for the grapes, producing high acidity, ideal for sparkling wines. Some of the most popular grapes grown in this region for use in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Au Revoir from France for now!
Next, we move a bit further West on the Iberian Peninsula, to our friends in Spain. Spain is more popularly known for their fantastic red and white wines that can be bought at great values, and of course, their Sherry. However, they are quietly becoming an excellent source of good sparkling wine. And with over 2.9 million acres planted, Spain is the most widely planted wine producing nation. Spaniards began producing the sparkling wine in the late 19th century and originally called Champagna – as it is made in the same tradition as its French cousin. The primary grapes used in Cava production today are Macabeo, Perellada, and Xarel-Lo. Most of the Cava production these days comes from the region of Catalonia in Spain. Interesting note: Cava actually comes from the Latin word ‘cava’ which means ‘cave’. This refers to the early uses of caves for the storage and aging of the Spanish sparkler. Cava has varying levels of dryness and can range from dry to semi-sweet. Either way, Cava makes for a much more economical substitution in cocktails then does Champagne, as it is currently much cheaper. So adios for now as we head East to the Mediterranean country of Italy.
The Italians produce their own kind of sparkling wine known as Spumanti. Some of the more popular kinds of Spumanti are Asti – from the Piedmont region, Lambrusco from the Emilia region, and Prosecco, which is on of the more common sparklers from Italy. While Asti tends to be on the sweeter side of sparkling wines, Prosecco can be dry. However, they do make some sweeter wines from Prosecco as well. Most common grapes used in the Italian countryside for this sparkling wine are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.
Whichever your choice for the holiday season, keep in mind, each sparkling wine has its own unique characteristics. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes to use when making a sparkling cocktail…Cheers!
SPARKLING NO NAME
3/4 oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 bar spoon fresh lemon juice
Shake in cocktail shaker with ice
Pour in chilled champagne flute
Top with your choice of sparkling wine
1 oz. Creme de Cassis Liqueur
1 bar spoon fresh lemon juice
Shake in cocktail shaker with ice
Pour into a chilled champagne flute
Top with Champagne
…as some have called it. It is a dark black liquid that, in appearance, resembles Jaggermeister. But to most people that have tried it, that is where any similarities will end. Often, one can be seen at the bar tipping back a shot of this mystery dark liquid followed with another shot of ginger ale or, better yet, ginger beer…followed by a smile. Or for first timers, you may even see a grimace, like they just got punched in the face, and then comes the smile. For those of you that know me, you know what I am talking about. The ginger beer probably gave it away. If heaven were a liquid, I would indeed be referring to Fernet Branca. Fernet who? Branca What? Undoubtedly, most people do not know what I am talking about. But for those that do…that first sip is probably akin to sticking your head in an ice water bath. But what follows is magical, mysterious, and uplifting all at the same time.
A little background for starters… Fernet Branca is what’s known as a digestive, or digestivo. It is a type of aperitif that is supposed to be drunk after a meal to help you digest. It is an Italian bitter made up of over 40 different herbs and spices. Some of the herbs and spices include myrrh, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, saffron, and anise. The liqueur itself is grape based and has a caramel color added to it. So now we know some of the ingredients that make it up, let’s take a look at who made it up.
Turns out, this venerable liquid is the product of the Branca family. Specifically, the proprietary recipe has not changed since it was invented in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. Initially, there were many health benefits that were attributed to Fernet. Some would use it to quell a common cold, and as a medicine, the drink was still considered legal during America’s Prohibition in the 1930’s.
These days Fernet has garnered quite the cult following here in the United States, mostly amongst bartenders and other “industry” folks. I know many a bartender who has formed love affair with this intriguing spirit. However, it is fun to see patrons come in and request a Fernet and Ginger more and more now without having to suggest it.
It is true that Fernet and Cola has become the national drink of Argentina, where it is drunk there more than any other place in the world, including Italy. Here in the states, San Francisco has attained the ubiquitous title of the Fernet capital of North America. Actually, it is said that San Franciscans drink the most Fernet Branca outside of Argentina. Indeed, I have read articles about places in San Francisco where the Fernet flows freely and in abundance. Whilst Worcester is not quite there yet, we will continue to try and let Worcester-ites in on the secret that is known as Fernet. In fact, “excuse me barkeep, I’ll take a shot of Fernet with some ginger beer on the backside.”
In an effort to kick off the Citizen’s Assembly blog, I would like to celebrate the fact that two of our own, Dave Delaney and Kevin Ludy, are currently down in New Orleans at the Tales of the Cocktail Festival representing The Citizen and the good ‘ol City of Worcester. For those of you that aren’t familiar, The Tales of The Cocktail is an international festival held every year in New Orleans that is everything cocktail, from seminars to competitions. It’s an honor for Dave to have qualified for a trip down by winning two competitions for his cocktail craftsmanship. If he wins at the Tales of The Cocktail, he could be going on to Paris, to compete. We wish you well Dave!
Speaking of New Orleans, there are a couple of my favorite cocktails that were born down in NOLA that are worth mentioning – the Sazerac and the Vieux Carre. These two drinks are classics, and are certainly worthy of being discussed in the Assembly blog.
The Sazerac, like many other great cocktails, has a great story behind it. A gentleman by the name of Antoine Peychaud operated an apothecary down in New Orleans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Peychaud was a Freemason, and would serve the drink at the Freemason meetings held at his pharmacy. Being a pharmacist, Peychaud would serve his own formulation of bitters in the drink. At the time, cognac was used in the drink (as opposed to Rye whiskey today) made by Sazerac de Forge et Fils, in France. And so the legendary drink was born.
The Sazerac is an incredibly delicate drink. In order to make it, one should chill a rocks glass on the side, build the drink in a mixing glass, stirred with ice, and then strain into the empty chilled glass. In other words, it is served neat, in a chilled rocks glass. The reason it is served this way, as the drink warms up, the botanicals open up, and the imbiber is introduced to several different layers of flavor. These days, the drink is served with Rye, simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and an absinthe rinse. As you bring the glass to your mouth, you get a hint of the anise from the absinthe rinse. Upon first sip, you taste sweetness from the simple syrup, citrus from the lemon peel, and some body and structure from that rye. One of my favorites!
A second cocktail of note is the Vieux Carre cocktail. Loosely translated in Old French, the name of the cocktail means “the old square”. In New Orleans, the old square is the French Quarter. While I don’t have as interesting a story for this cocktail, as I did the Sazerac, it is still an interesting drink indeed. In fact, this drink also uses Rye Whiskey and Peychaud’s bitters, like the Sazerac, but the similarities stop there. Other ingredients are cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and Angostura bitters. While the Sazerac is stirred, this cocktail calls for a good shake, in order to incorporate the ingredients, and get some water into the drink, from the ice cubes.
The 3 main ingredients of this cocktail (Rye, cognac, sweet vermouth) are made with equal parts, for a well balanced drink. Add a spoonful of the Benedictine for some spice, and a couple dashes of both kinds of bitters. Classic recipes call for a lemon peel as a garnish, but I like to add a flamed orange peel for some depth to compliment the dark liqueurs.