Archives for posts with tag: Booze

The Grog Dog, being something of a lone, er, wolf, is not a parent and has never regretted it. But I respect and admire dog dad kneeparents in general and especially those who teach their children well – as in, teach them good things and teach those things in the right way. In the context of parent “holidays” like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, this means giving up an entire day of doing things they want to do and modeling gracious acceptance of items and activities they may not have chosen for themselves… pretty much like any other parenting day, but with cards and handmade gifts and questionably edible breakfast in bed.

If you and your dad (or mom, or the person who is like a parent to you) would like to quietly celebrate their importance and influence in your life, I recommend the Nocturnal. This deep, mellow, slightly bitter nightcap can accommodate a variety of brown bases, so just about any bourbon or rye you prefer will work. You can also adjust the bitterness by using Amaro instead of Fernet Branca, but with either variation this is going to go down better after dinner, as the sweet maraschino liqueur and Cointreau (triple sec) make it slightly syrupy.

The Nocturnal is 1.5 oz bourbon (or rye), 0.75 oz Fernet Branca (or Amaro), 0.5 oz maraschino liqueur, 0.5 oz triple sec (Cointreau), 1 dash Angostura bitters. Stir well in a mixing glass with lots of ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist. This drink opens up nicely as the ice melts, and the cold will cut the sweetness.dog dad 2

While most of the parents I know could use a day off, for the best of them, that’s just not an option. And they wouldn’t want it to be. So raise a glass to Dad, and give him the next best thing: a quiet night with a good drink.

Thanks to my drinking buddies at Kindred Cocktails for offering cocktail enthusiasts an excellent forum and cataloging tool!
Image credits Hanna-Barbera, LovePet

dog-drinking-water_safebeedotcom“Oh!” the Grog Dog’s companion exclaimed after taking a gulp and sputtering a bit, “I forgot we’re having cocktails; I thought we were having drinks!” I knew what he meant, but is it correct to make the distinction between a cocktail and a drink? Does it even matter?

Wikipedia tells us that, “Drinks, or beverages, are liquids intended for human consumption.” It helpfully adds that water is not generally considered a beverage; alcoholic beverages contain ethanol (though alcohol itself includes many other chemical compounds); and non-alcoholic beverages are made with (or are modified so as to contain) less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

So technically, we were having drinks – they were liquid and intended for human consumption. But we were consuming the top tier of the drink hierarchy, the cocktail, which deserves a more refined description.

The Wiki definition of a cocktail is, “[A] beverage that contains two or more ingredients if at least one of them contains alcohol.”

Even without a hangover, this explanation makes my head hurt, because it implies that a “non-alcoholic beverage” at 0.5 pct ABV can be the main ingredient in a cocktail as long as it’s mixed with a second ingredient – for example, a near-beer shandy. But no one – at least, no one I’ve ever met, heard of, or read about in the history of human civilization – really looks forward to kicking back with a concoction of cooked-down malt beverage with a splash of lemon-flavored high-fructose-corn-syrup that has zero capability to alter their mood or please their palate.

And for me and my drinking buddy, therein lies the distinction.

vintage-cocktail-party_thirtysomewheredotcomDrinks (the alcoholic kind) are what you consume at parties, where social lubrication is more important than the flavor profile. Surely you wouldn’t criticize your host for using bottled juices or middle-shelf spirits when serving a crowd; the important thing is that they encourage guests to have a good time together.

Cocktails, in the Grog Dog’s lexicon, are beverages containing a balanced combination of two or more flavorful ingredients and enough alcohol (technically, ethanol) to make their consumption a physical and emotional pleasure – an experience to savor. Cocktails can and do enhance a gathering, a meal, and other activities, but they mostly are crafted for the sheer joy of the tastes, textures, and effect they deliver. The higher the quality of your ingredients, the better the drinking experience, whether you’re alone or with a group.

Whatever you call them, delicious cocktails can be as simple as the Salty Dog, a slightly savory mixture of gin (or vodka, 1.5 oz), grapefruit juice (5 oz), and kosher salt (1/4 tsp) stirred with ice. This is a variation of the even-simpler Greyhound, which eliminates Dogstar_paws4clawsdotcomthe salt.

Having taken the first swig of a craft cocktail as if it were a mere drink, my remorseful friend thereafter sipped, enjoyed, and relaxed… as the cocktail gods intended.

Image credits: safebee.com (drinking pup); thirtysomewhere.com (party); paws4claws.com (dogstar)

Profits are through the woof.

The GrogDog does not have an MBA, but understands well the potential for big dogs to bully the small ones out of business. Here I present the case for respecting the big dogs whose very existence helps protect the small ones.

As with dogs, it’s not the size of the breed but the environment that counts. In terms of liquor, yes, there are huge global corporations that own many brands of spirit, liqueur, beer, and/or wine. And they protect their brands fiercely – they don’t want to share shelf/bar space with their competitors for the same reason a Chevy dealer doesn’t keep a Ford on the lot for test-drives. That does not necessarily make them bad companies or poor stewards of the craft. The truth is that without corporate investment, many small producers would have gone out of business (and did), leaving us all thirsty for high-quality ingredients and a good cocktail experience. One can argue that company “controls” have stripped out character and quality, and in some cases that may be true. But the resurgence of cocktail culture owes something to the companies that caught on to the expanding market for craft liquor and are giving their customers and their shareholders what they want.Big Dog Small Dog

It’s up to us, the drinking public, to continue to demand the quality and craftsmanship that will support profitability and continued investment in small, local producers. And, of course, directly supporting your local craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries will give the big dogs a run for that money!

Being a free canine spirit, the GrogDog doesn’t appreciate having a “master”. Knowing a master, however – someone with a lifelong dedication to acquiring knowledge about a specific topic – is an entirely different proposition. Masters of knowledge not only teach, but engage, and are passionate about sharing their interest with others. When the topic is liquor, and the sharing adds to the sum total of happiness in the world, it’s the Master who’s earned a good scratch behind the ears and a most excellent job as an expert drinker.

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham:

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” (1789)

I met such a master this week at a tasting event at Petite Cellars (Ellicott City, Md.). Nick Crutchfield is a Master of Whisky with Diageo, “the world’s leading premium drinks business“. The topic was bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys (and ryes), and Nick spoke about the resurgent American “brown spirits” with the reverence and delight of a man who has found his true calling.

The nice folks at Petite Cellars put together an excellent written introduction to bourbon and whiskey for their guests, which described their history and definitions, processes, and ingredients and equipment used in making whiskey (or whisky). After a brief introduction to the differences between bourbon, whiskey, and rye (which involve much more than nomenclature), we tasted, learned about, and compared six spirits, each with a distinctly different character: IW Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon, George Dickel No. 12 Sour Mash, George Dickel 9 Year Petite Cellars Single Barrel, Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon, Bulleit Bourbon Rye, and Orphan Barrel Forged Oak.

As dedicated GrogDogBlog readers know, I advocate taking the time to learn not only what you like to drink, but why you may like a particular flavor profile, and how to use that knowledge to enhance your overall pleasure in drinking. Whiskey Master Nick echoed the GrogDog’s drinking philosophy when he recommended people drink good liquor for “the escapism of that first sip”. This is why I highly recommend attending a tasting of your favorite spirit at your local liquor retailer. Not only will you learn a lot about the spirit in general and have a chance to ask questions of a master (or at least a very knowledgeable expert), but you’ll have an opportunity to taste different variations side by side for a reasonable price. The knowledge you will gain about your own preferences can save your happy hour or salvage a bad day. It can also help you be attentive to the preferences of friends, family, and party guests who may discover a new cocktail experience from your carefully selected gift or well stocked bar – thus increasing the sum total of happiness in your inner circle. That’s always a good thing!

Keep in mind that just because they work for a specific company doesn’t mean the experts won’t give you good advice, or honest assessments of particular brands or products. Mr. Crutchfield spent many months in formal, hands-on training at Diageo’s properties to learn the histories and nuances of each product, how they are made, why they are made that way – and getting to know the people who make them. (George Dickel, for example, has about 30 employees total, and no plans to get bigger; Bulleit is dedicated to sustainable, zero-impact production.) His insights have made my drinking experiences more enjoyable, and I’ll be less apt to judge a bottle by its branding now that I know more about how it’s produced and (most important) how it tastes.

Dog PhilosopherMany thanks to Whiskey Master Nick Crutchfield and Petite Cellars for a fun and informative event!

p.s. Petite Cellars is a candy store for cocktail culturists (or cultists, if you prefer). They have a huge selection of small batch spirits, craft beer, and fine wine, along with hard-to-find liqueurs, premium mixers, unusual bitters, and an impressive number of miniatures so you can try out a new cocktail or spirit before investing in 750ml. The owner and staff couldn’t have been more accommodating of their tasting guests, and laid out a generous charcuterie/ cheese plate to accompany the drinks. They clearly care about giving their customers a good experience, from the attractive decor to the sensible layout and knowledgeable staff. As an extra added bonus, Petite Cellars also offers a growler program for craft beers, a selection of cigars, and gift-boxed handmade chocolates, which are not only beautiful but decadently delicious. If you’re in the Central Maryland area and love craft cocktails, go there!

As a cooking as well as cocktail aficionado, the Grog Dog believes in following a recipe… at least at first. It takes a few run-throughs before I’m comfortable with the timing, techniques, and last-minute fixes that mean the difference between a dish that looks like the picture in the cookbook vs. one that looks like, well, the dog’s dinner.

If you want to know what a proper cocktail looks, smells, tastes, and feels like, check online reviews and take a field trip to the bar that’s most highly rated for their ability to serve a good drink. Decor, ambience, price even – none of that matters if the bartenders really know what they’re doing. (The proof of this principle is the success of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives“.) Once you’ve had a good-quality sample of the cocktails you like most, you’ll be better able to re-create them for yourself.

Image: startcooking.com

Image: startcooking.com

Most US drink recipes are given in (no surprise) US standard measurements – ounces, tablespoons, etc. Occasionally you’ll come across a recipe where the ingredients are given in “parts”, which are simply ratios – 1 part gin, 1 part Campari, 1 part sweet vermouth (Negroni; stir with ice in a rocks glass). I’m a fan of using parts as opposed to ounces. First, the standard US measurements are not universal, and it’s pretty arrogant to push our scheme, especially when we’re the one major holdout from the metric system. Second, it allows for scale. Sometimes you want a 3-oz drink; sometimes you want a double. The recipe is the same ratio of spirit to juice to liqueur, just more of each.

Regardless of the absolute numbers, ratios are important. When you’re baking a cake, it’s not critical that your measuring spoons are crafted to space-shuttle precision; it is critical that your set of measuring spoons is accurately proportioned to one another, or you’ll end up with a cake that’s flat as a brownie.

So once you know what a really good Jack Rose tastes like (2 parts applejack, 1 part lemon or lime juice, 1/2 part grenadine; shake with ice; strain into a cocktail glass), and you’ve made it a time or two by the book, you can riff on the recipe according your taste. I tend to like sours and herbal cocktails, so I’m liberal with citrus and bitters. But some days I have a sweet tooth and add an extra dash of syrup.

Another important measurement every drinker should know is his/her alcohol tolerance.

Image: Dreamstime.com

Image: Dreamstime.com

I’m not talking about the legal limit (though knowing what it is in your state is probably a good idea on general principle). I mean, how much alcohol can you take in before the pleasure is outweighed by a fuzzy head and twisted tongue? By embarrassing behavior or unpleasant mishaps? By snoring during the movie?

This will vary according to circumstances, so pay attention to how your flavor profile and tolerance changes before or after eating, seasonally, when you’re stressed, etc.

Identifying your own tastes and limits – How much vermouth is too much? How strong a drink can I tolerate and stay awake through a rom-com? – will make it easier for you to make, order, and even invent new drinks. You’ll have a core set of cocktails that you’re good at making, so you can always whip up something that suits your mood without having to think too much. And you’ll be able to order something you know you will enjoy from any drinks menu, saving money and the disappointment of choking down a cocktail you dislike because you can’t bear to let alcohol go to waste. (We’ve all done it…)

Image: dogtime.com

Image: dogtime.com

The true measure of a good cocktail is how much pleasure it gives you in the moments you are drinking and how much it enhances your pleasure in the event you’re engaged in. The more you know about your own drinking preference, the more confidence you have in your mixology capabilities, and the more recipes you have in your book, the more pleasure you’ll take from every cocktail engagement – from a solo sip of toasty bourbon after work to a fruity, fizzy brunch Bellini.

Cheers to a happier happy hour!

p.s. I cannot stress this enough: Do not give any dog alcohol, any time, for any reason.