Friday, September 28, 2012

The Satchmo Cocktail: A Sazerac... With A Twist

By Warren Bobrow

It's easy for me to wrap my fingers around a thick glass filled with a twisted Sazerac. First I need the right ingredients. The classic cocktail named the Sazerac is a staple of New Orleans. The ingredients are set into cocktailian history - it's tough to mess with something sublime and savory… 

The Sazerac cocktail is a combination of only a few ingredients. First of all, Herbsaint goes into your Sazerac glass coating the inside, wetting it. Then a sugar cube gets dropped into the washed glass. It needs to be saturated with Peychaud's Bitters, then crushed with a cocktail stick. Following this mashing, a lemon zest is rubbed around the inside of the washed glass. Then finally a measure of Rye Whiskey enters the glass. That's it!

Unless you have a twisted sense of reality and purpose, you might not even consider deviating from the norm. This friend, is why I call myself the Cocktail Whisperer. I have a different sense of flavor, one honed from years of working around food (as a chef) and drink (as a bartender).

I love the flavors of New Orleans and the Sazerac is box office royalty in a glass.

 My unique version of the Sazerac doesn't include Herbsaint. It contains Tenneyson Absinthe. The reason I chose Tenneyson over Herbsaint is the slightly juniper tinged finish. I also include a small measure of Death's Door Gin. There is something about this Gin that permeates your memory of the Sazerac turning it into quite the different kind of aromatic cocktail. 

I also like to mix in a small measure of Campari. I like adding Campari because only Campari offers a tasty and bitter element missing from the classic Sazerac. You may be also be wondering which Whiskey I would be using in this very dangerous cocktail. Four Roses 2011 Limited Edition Small Batch Barrel Strength is my choice.  I’m picking this limited edition Bourbon over Rye for the simple reason that a Bourbon as fine as Four Roses needs to be included in a dangerous cocktail because of the proof level.  Rolling in at 110.2 proof, I think that the Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition offers more depth and spicy character than the typical Rye Whiskey.

Of course it is only dangerous if you use too much of anything.

And finally the ingredient that truly twists this cocktail up is the Bitters. In this cocktail I use The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters. I think the Creole has a bit more depth than the typical Peychaud's Bitter and certainly the concentration necessary to this drink.
I've renamed this marvelous concoction from a Sazerac to the Satchmo Cocktail in honor of Louis Armstrong - born on the fourth of July in New Orleans.

Ingredients for two extremely potent cocktails:
-Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition Bourbon
-Tenneyson Absinthe (for the washed glass)
-Death's Door Gin
-Sugar cubes
-Bitter Truth Creole Bitters
-Lemon zests

-Chill a crystal glass with ½ shot of Tenneyson Absinthe, packed with ice and water, let cool for a bit then pour out (preferably down your throat - no wasting good liquor!).
-In this pre-chilled crystal glass, rub the inside well with a lemon zest.
-Add a sugar cube soaked in the Bitter Truth Creole Bitters to your glass.
-Crush with a wooden cocktail stick to release the flavors.
-Add 2 oz. Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition Bourbon
-Add ½ oz. Campari
-Add ½ oz. Death's Door Gin
-Stir with a lemon zest threaded onto a cocktail stirrer.
-Sip to Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Inside Caol Ila

By Geoffrey Kleinman

Caol Ila produces the most whisky on Islay but ironically releases only a tiny amount of that whisky under the Caol Ila brand. It wasn't until 2002 that Caol Ila was released in any significant quantity as a single malt. With a recent upgrade to the distillery, Caol Ila now produces 6 1/2 million liters of whisky a year and goes through 338 tons of malted barley a week. More than 95% of the whisky that Caol Ila produces is used as a key blending ingredient for Johnnie Walker Black and Double Black.

Caol Ila uses the exact same grain as Lagavulin, which is malted and peated to identical specs at Port Ellen Maltings. With slight differences in the mash tun process and fermentation, a lot of what makes Caol Ila and Lagavulin so distinct has to do with what happens during the distilling process.

While Lagavulin uses a very slow distilling process which is centered around minimizing some of the interaction the spirit has with the copper stills, Caol Ila distills much faster with stills that are less full to maximize the copper contact. Contact with copper in the still reduces the amount and intensity of volatile elements, so Caol Ila ends up with less peat reek than Lagavulin and tends to be less smoky and peaty.

Caol Ila ages their spirit on the mainland of Scotland, shipping the finished spirit in tanker trucks to be put in barrels and aged. The Caol Ila whisky is aged in barrels that were previously used to make bourbon. These bourbon casks are filled with grain spirit and left to age for three years, dumped, and then filled with new make spirit from Caol Ila.

Aside from the Caol Ila 12 Year Old Whisky, Caol Ila can be difficult to find. It's often included in Diageo's annual Classic Malts Selection series, and once in a while Caol Ila 18 (which has been discontinued) and Caol Ila 25 pop up for sale.

The 2012 Caol Ila release is a rare unpeated whisky. Caol Ila used to produce non-peated whisky for Johnnie Walker but stopped in 2006. This year's Caol Ila unpeated is a 12 year old whisky released at barrel strength (64% abv/ 128 proof). Without Caol Ila's signature peat smoke, the whisky tastes remarkably different from the traditional Caol Ila 12. Caol Ila 12 Year Old Unpeated has a strong honey and vanilla note in the nose along with strong cereal grains. The taste matches the nose fairly well until the mid palate where it picks up a fair amount of spice and heat, and then has a dry finish.

While the Caol Ila line may not be as extensive as other whisky brands, their standard 12 Year Old Caol Ila is simply exceptional. Of all the Islay whiskies, Caol Ila presents its peat smoke in a much softer and well integrated manner. It's a great way to ease into the Islay single malt whisky category and a nice transition spirit for someone who only drinks a blended whisky like Johnnie Walker Black.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Interview by Geoffrey Kleinman, a nationally published drinks writer who has appeared in Playboy, Tasting Panel Magazine, and runs

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Exploring Skinos Mastiha Liqueur

Hailing from the small Greek island of Chios, Mastiha liqueur is a Mediterranean tradition that dates back to the ancient world. Hippocrates (500 BCE), the father of medicine, used to mix it with honey to cure stomach pains and fight sickness. Dioscurides (100 BCE), doctor and herbalist, used Mastiha to aid digestion, strengthen gums and whiten teeth. As Mastiha spread throughout the Mediterranean, Roman emperors used it to spice their wine and the harem women of Turkish sultans chewed it to freshen their breath.

While Skinos certainly does not claim to heal what ails you, it's definitely a unique spirit that is one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages in the Mediterranean. 

To create Skinos Mastiha Liqueur, the Mastiha tree is harvested for its resin once per year in the months of June and July. Small cuts are made in the tree bark which releases small amounts of resin that are collected over ten to twenty days. One Mastiha tree usually produces a humble annual production of eighty to two hundred grams of resin - not a particularly large amount, especially considering that each bottle of Skinos contains six to seven grams of Mastiha! The Mastiha crystals are then transported to the village in wooden casks, where the women of the village carefully select and hand-clean the highest quality Mastiha. The crystals are then mixed with alcohol, allowed to infuse for at least three months, then delicately distilled in copper pot stills. After distillation, sugar, alcohol and mineral water are added, then the finished spirit is bottled in quality glass from Limoges, France.

The result is delicately sweet, impeccably balanced spirit with distinctive notes of cucumber, pine, anise and fresh herbs. Its unique flavor profile earned Skinos the Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards in 2011.

Skinos can be served neat, chilled, as an aperitif or digestif, or incorporated into cocktails as well as food.

Skinos Fresh 

1 1/3 oz Skinos
2/3 oz premium gin
1/3 oz fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1/4 cucumber (without skin & seeds)

Muddle cucumber in base of shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a thin slice of cucumber.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Buffalo Trace "Single Oak Project"

By Warren Bobrow

Bourbon is my new go-to for brown spirits. Perhaps it's the burn at the finish, or maybe the elegance in the glass? Whatever the situation is, I can usually find a selection of Bourbon in a restaurant that includes the usual standards, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey - those are the basics that are available most everywhere. My topic of choice is Rum, but with the plethora of flavored Rum on the market, the diversity of quality (at least on a restaurant/bar scale) is pretty disappointing. I don’t make a habit of reviewing flavored Rum, nor flavored Vodka. It's like shooting fish in a barrel - there are so many similar brands on the shelf that I don't have the time to even look at them.

That's why I like Bourbon! Quality over sheer numbers of brands makes Bourbon my go-to for flavor!

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project is my newest love. There are about a dozen individual expressions that form this project. Each bottle reflects a different barrel, char, location of the wood on the tree (upper, middle, and lower) composition (wheat, rye) and char (#3 or #4).

I'm enjoying tasting a few nips of Barrel # 32 and it reveals a pungent, cinnamon tinged rye composition. Sweet on the back of the tongue, this brightly flavored slurp sports a #4 Char and was aged in Warehouse L - made of concrete. The color of this Bourbon is bright honey and gold. A sip reveals a rye with finesse. Sure it's plenty hot, rolling in at 90 Proof, but it also has an amazingly long finish of freshly ground grits laced with caramel syrup and a peppery whirl across my tongue. Almost cola like on the mid range, the Barrel #32 is lovely in a snifter alone or served with toasted nuts. I'd say that Barrel #32 has all the stuffing to compete against the finest Whiskies in the world.

Barrel #64 is completely different. First of all the composition is primarily wheat. Softer in the mouth and not quite as spicy, wheat based Bourbon needs a touch of water to liven up the finish. Rolling in at 90 Proof, the "wheated" version is magnificent with grilled corn on the cob and even caramel custards. I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest good old barbeque with the #64. Each expression has its own pleasure, its own style and power. #64 is a #4 Char. This means it has the most fire toasted wood, releasing sweet vanilla fire directly into the barrel of Bourbon.  Recently I visited a distillery in Bristol, Pennsylvania named Dad's Hat. They actually bag the char from within the barrel for your barbeque grill. When I hear about barrels containing this char I get very hungry. I can almost taste a rack of ribs, cooked over still wet charred Bourbon wood. This is one of life's true pleasures.

Barrel #62 is sweeter and less fire driven than #64 or #32. This is sipping Bourbon with white flower notes and pulled candy sugar mid-ranges. The finish is pure and refined. There is nothing harsh or crass about this Bourbon.  Elegant, sweet and tart comes into view - a certain sticky nature to the finish - similar to opening a jar of Sage Honey with the spicy, savory elements holding themselves true to form. Distilled from wheat, #62 has purity and opulence. It's most sophisticated with a multi-minute finish.

Barrel #96 is like jumping into an over powered hot rod automobile. Comprised of rye, #96 is the liquid version of the perennial Jewish Deli favorite, the hot pastrami on rye with sauerkraut and Russian dressing.  This is a liquid Rueben sandwich. I'm blown away by the sharp, yet sweet finish and crisp aromatics. Darker gold in the glass, the #96 possesses an inner heat that goes on and on in the finish. Good stuff!

Barrel #94 is also comprised of rye with a Ginger Beer nose and a cola finish. This Bourbon is dry and complete in very few words. It has a much shorter finish than #96, but much more emotion than the #96 or the #32. I'm emotionally charged after drinking #94. Thick and rich on the tongue, #94 is even better with water sprinkled over the top of your glass. Something about sprinkling water over the top of a glass of Bourbon releases the secrets held deeply within. A bit deeper in color than its peers, #94 is a #3 Char. This stuff is my personal favorite of the tasting.

Barrel #30 is comprised of rye. Spicy on the tongue, laced with Caribbean baking spices, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and hot peppers - this expression has marvelous character to it. Barrel #30 is a #3 Char. Quite powerful and dare I say juicy, it reminds me of Pappy Van Winkle's 20 year version. Both juicy and aromatic on the finish, #30 would be fabulous with chopped chicken livers smeared over fatty corned beef on rye with spicy Jewish mustard. Bravo!

But what good are tastings if you cannot taste them for yourself? DrinkUpNY has secured a limited supply of the Single Oak Project series. Elegantly packed in 1/2 sized bottles, this Bourbon is not inexpensive, but it is certainly satisfying to the careful drinker.

Available in strictly limited numbers - like everything good in life, get it now or forget about it later!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Behind the Scenes with Chip Tate of Balcones Distillery

By Geoffrey Kleinman

Balcones Distillery was started in the remote town of Waco, Texas and has quickly gotten national attention for their whiskey. In 2010 they took home a Double Gold for their Baby Blue Whiskey from the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Chip Tate is considered by many to be one of the most significant and unique small craft distillers. Chip is outspoken, opinionated, slightly iconoclastic, and has one of the most interesting takes on American whiskey that you'll hear. DrinkUpNY sat down with Chip Tate to talk about his whiskey and how his hometown of Waco has influenced what he does. 

Chip Tate - Founder, President & Head Distiller
DrinkUpNY: So you are located in Waco, Texas, not the first place that people think of when they think of whiskey.

Chip Tate: But everybody can do something cool in Austin, huh? 

DrinkUpNY: When you were looking at starting a distillery, why did you choose Waco?

CT: It's really kind of simple - I live in Waco. When I decided to start a distillery I wanted it to be close to where I live. Not a very elaborate story, but it's a true story. I also wanted to do something that is local in every sense, not just constructed. You find yourself where you are and then be inspired, you know - culinarily, culturally, and so forth like that. That's why I did it. 

DrinkUpNY: What was your first product?

CT: BabyBlue Blue Corn Whiskey. Baby Blue and Rumble were released in September of 2009, and it wasn't until the following summer of 2010 that we released the True Blue. The others were a little more recent. I think it was in May of 2011 that we released Brimstone, and then probably September and November respectively for the Rumble Cask reserve and Malt. The Malt would be the most recent, totally different release that we've put out.

DrinkUpNY: Blue corn and whisky aren't things that you would think necessarily go together. So what was the thought process starting with blue corn?

CT: It started more as a concept of corn whisky and then moved towards blue corn. I was thinking about bourbon, which is something I love. It's a little bit like barbecue - the meat is certainly important, but when you think about the dominant flavors in barbecue it's really more about smoke and the spice with the rub or the sauce, and bourbon is like that. The ingredients that go into it are important but the character of the yeast, the percentage of wheat versus rye, and the barrel all really significantly influence the flavors that you get from bourbon. Which is great, but it just made me wonder out loud, 'What if you made a corn whiskey that was supposed to taste like corn? Not moonshine, not bourbon, but something that was aged, refined, and made to almost completely taste like corn?' That was the initial idea that I ran with and started tasting through different corns. In the end, the roasted Hopi blue corn was the one I thought had the most interesting, full corn flavor. That's what we used for the base in the blue corn whiskey. 

DrinkUpNY: From Baby Blue you go to Rumble, which is made with honey, which is kind of known universally as difficult to work with. So we go from something very uncommon to something very difficult.

CT: I've brewed and made mead for even longer than I've been distilling and you are not wrong, it is difficult in a number of ways to work with. Those problems are very easily solved. It has mostly to do with what honey does not have in it in terms of nutrition for yeast. As long as you are kind of a nerd about yeast biology and metabolism and so forth, that's a problem that can be fixed. Of course in the Rumble it's not just honey, it's sugar and figs. Fruit has a lot more nutrients in terms of amino acids that yeast need to be healthy and to grow and therefore make good smells. The obvious downside of not having healthy yeast is not only not getting enough alcohol, but getting stinky smells, which you don't want when you are making consumable perfume. You want a really nice aroma of off the fermentation. So honey is roughly a third of what goes into Rumble, and it's Texas Wallflower honey, which is a really deep, dark south Texas honey. The other two thirds are Turbinado sugar and Mission figs. Those three things together are kind of a celebration of what I think of as Texas flavors, and pulling those together into a unique Texas spirit was the point of Rumble. 

DrinkUpNY: How did the Texas Single Malt come about?

CT: The malt is probably the hardest to explain outside of just saying that I had an idea that I thought would be really good. I took a lot of brewing principles that I learned as a brewer and applied them more directly to whisky. This meant doing things like taking more care with the fermentation and having a longer, cooler, slower fermentation. A lot of it was just flavors that I thought would be lovely together that we don't typically see. For instance, most malt whiskeys are Scottish, Irish, perhaps Japanese, and they're typically aged in second and third barrels which is delicious, but it does raise the question: What if you created a bold malt whisky that had more grain emphasis and then complemented that with not all first till wood, but more wood components? We use really nice, pretty expensive custom barrels and have enjoyed exploring how those two things can complement one another. 

DrinkUpNY: One of the things that you did with the whisky was really create a new category of single malt whisky.

CT: That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to create Texas styles of whisky. One could ask, "What's distinctively Texas about making malt the way that you do?" Outside the influence of the heat and our aging process, nothing. But then honestly, what is it about Scotland that they use second fill and not first fill barrels? What is it about America that they use heavier char? It's just tradition. We did set out to make a unique style of malt that combined a lot of different influences, both American and Scottish, to form a new unique type of malt whisky, and one that frankly is interesting a lot of bourbon drinkers who shy away from traditional Scottish and Irish malt whiskeys but tend to find our malt more approachable. I'm guessing in part because there's more wood there, more sweetness, more color.

DrinkUpNY: What has the reception been for it?

CT: It has been really good. It's always on allocation, so for the most part, we contact distributors when it's available for purchase and they purchase it, so we're very fortunate that way. Of course part of it is just that we're a small distillery, we're trying to grow a little bit but we're not going to let any malt out, even though we have very many barrels, until it's fully matured. I'm really happy with the blend - it's probably our most popular. It's hard to say whether Baby Blue or Malt would be more popular, but I would think probably the malt. 

DrinkUpNY: What are some of the spirits that both inspired you to do Balcones and continue to inspire you?

CT: There are so many distillers that I find inspiring and not just in whisky. In Scotland, Bruichladdich is obviously one of them. The Balvenie is an amazing whisky. Buffalo Trace does some amazing stuff, especially their antique series. It's really inspirational in terms of defining what American whisky can be. Some Japanese whisky, too, as close as that is to Scottish whisky - you see some deviation with the use of Japanese oak and so forth. I also find it really inspiring to work outside of the whisky category, like brandy, a number of traditional and new brandies that are most fascinating. Some of the aging methods that we've used are actually inspired more from traditional brandy distilleries. There are too many to name… 

DrinkUpNY: One of the products of yours that we haven't really covered is Brimstone. What's the back story on it?

Chip Tate with Jared Himstedt, Production Manager & Distiller
CT: Well, the true back story is that I had a little time to myself, which doesn't always happen. It was just me, an axe, some wood, and a few cigars in the backyard and I started having crazy ideas. I love peated malt whiskeys, and we'd actually intended to make a peated malt whisky at some point. But the thought just popped into my head: what if we made ours smoked whisky, which would have been our peated whisky. What if we made it with the corn? And what if we use wood rather than peat? And further, what if we smoked the whiskey rather than smoke the grain? We don't talk about exactly how we do that but anybody who works with smoke will tell you, what you are smoking determines a lot of how you need to smoke it and what flavors will be absorbed. A smoked salt is going to act very differently than a smoked fish and so forth. It was just a fascinating thing to wonder what it would be like to work with whisky, a very good solvent, and how intense would the smoke be. The result turned out to be kind of an iconic Texas whiskey - you've got a corn whisky with our Tex Mex tradition and tortilla flavors, combined with the Texas scrub oak, one of the traditional woods that defines some of the barbecue cuisines in the state. We pull all those together into a pretty unique whisky.

DrinkUpNY: What is in the products you are working on now and what can we expect from Balcones going forward?

CT: Well, we just recently released True Blue 100. A lot of people struggle with a whisky that is cask strength and have difficulty watering it down to where they want it. High proof is also problematic for export markets in Europe where the excise taxes are quite high. So it lead us to produce a lower proof version that has had time to settle down and really relax in at 100 proof. It turned out pretty nicely.

We're also working on rum. Why? Because I thought it would be fun. If you are a big rum fan, you realize that a lot of the sipping rums out there are super interesting but they're also in some cases a little unapproachable. What if somebody made a round sipping rum that has a lot of the same kind of complexity and integration that our malt whiskey has? That was the initial concept. For the rum, rather than using a lower grade molasses that’s typically used to make your average rum, we got the finest we could possibly get, a nice Barbados style molasses, which taste to me kind of the ale malt of the molasses world. So we carefully, slowly ferment that and try to bring out the natural flavors of the molasses and preserve those, and then age in newer oak, which again is not typical of most rums. 

DrinkUpNY: What are some of the events around the country that you'll be appearing at with Balcones?

CT: I'll be in New York in September, from the 7th to the 11th. We have a tasting at DrinkUpNY which we're excited about. Also, there's a producer dinner at Dell' Anima, which is a great West Village restaurant in New York. I'm very excited about that. We’ll be at the Indie Craft Festival in Chicago in October. A few small craft festivals in Florida. This will be the first year that Whiskeys of the World is in Texas, so we'll be doing that on November 2nd and 3rd in Austin.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Interview by Geoffrey Kleinman, a nationally published drinks writer who has appeared in Playboy, Tasting Panel Magazine, and runs