Archives for posts with tag: craft spirits

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!

Spring has finally sprung and the GrogDog is enjoying the sunshine, daffodils, and traditional spring and Easter treats that have been used to celebrate the Earth’s renewal since humans discovered the miraculous egg.

Image credit:

Image credit:

While St. Patrick’s Day is all about the green, Easter and its companion non-Christian holidays clothe themselves in pastels – pink, yellow, blue, and green reflecting blooming botanicals. This year, enjoy a semi-sweet brunch cocktail that incorporates all the ingredients of a bright spring day full of promise: The Grand Royal Fizz.

Image credit:

Image credit:

The Grand Royal Fizz is ½ oz. orange juice, 1 oz. lemon juice, 1 tsp. sugar, 2 oz. gin, ¼ oz. maraschino liqueur, ½ oz. cream, and 1 fresh egg. Pour all the ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake long and hard – you want to incorporate as much of the egg into the drink as possible, and enough air to give it a silky mouthfeel. Pour into a tall glass, top with club soda, and give it a light stir.

Note: I understand that people are wary of consuming raw eggs. There was a massive raw-egg scare a couple of decades ago and now every chain restaurant menu in the country warns against them. If you’re squeamish about drinking whole raw eggs, feel free to substitute 1 oz. of pasteurized egg white from a carton – but if you skip the egg altogether you’re changing the character of the cocktail substantially, and I can’t vouch for the result. In the interest of education, this article completely debunks the myth that consuming raw egg is a health hazard. (The egg-producing process is highly regulated and salmonella contamination rates, already pretty low except for the long-ago outbreaks that caused the seemingly unending hysteria, are hardly worth mentioning now.)

Making the SNAP Sour, image credit

Making the SNAP Sour,
image credit

For those who prefer a less spot-on Easter cocktail but want to enjoy a zingy taste of spring, I offer the Pineapple-Mint SNAP Sour, a fresh, sweet/sour cocktail that features SNAP liqueur, “…a sophisticated organic spirit based on authentic folk history designed for people who know how to drink”.

This delicious ginger spirit was developed based on a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch gingersnap recipe by my drinking buddies at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction cooperative (conceived by Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum creator Steven Grasse). You can find SNAP, along with its equally delightful playmates ROOT, SAGE, and RHUBARB, at many well stocked liquor stores, and cocktail recipes in addition to this one on their web site.

Image credit: AWREdinburgh

Image credit: AWREdinburgh

The Pineapple-Mint SNAP Sour is 1 oz. SNAP, 2 oz. fresh lemon juice, 3 oz. pineapple juice, and 5 mint leaves. Muddle the mint with the lemon juice, add SNAP and pineapple juice, stir, and top with club soda.

Happy Easter, happy gardening, happy spring from the Grog Dog!

Happy Monday, football fans, party fans, Seattle and New England residents – you made it through the mega-gigantopolistic-wham-o-dyne extravaganza known as Super Bowl!

The Grog Dog couldn’t possibly have offered better game-time cocktail recommendations than my drinking buddies at Liquor and Drinking In America, so I didn’t try. But I enjoyed my own Super Bowl cocktail so much, I just had to blog about it!

My brother and sister-in-law – to whom I credit my cocktail journey – gave me a bottle of Vermont White vodka for Christmas, and it’s a delicious follow-up to last year’s gift of award-winning Barr Hill Gin.

Had I been rooting for a Super Bowl team I might have chosen some themed cocktails for the evening (Cape Codder? Washington Appletini?), but I was simply thirsty – and Vermont White, it turns out, is an excellent quencher.


Vermont White is made by the Vermont Spirits Distilling Company, a craft distiller located in Quechee, Vermont. (Unrelated note: My autocorrect wants me to spell it “Quiche”, Vermont. There’s a small joke in there somewhere.)

Vermont White is distilled from whey – yes, the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled and strained to make cheese. Vermont being a huge dairy state, it’s terrific that Vermont Spirits is finding an excellent use for that unglamorous by-product. (Never fear; this vodka does not taste anything like cheese or milk!)

Before chilling the bottle in the freezer (the only way to keep your vodka), I tasted it neat at room temperature. It felt “big”, with a blooming heat from the alcohol rather than a sharp bite. It had an unusual but pleasant creamy flavor and slightly viscous mouthfeel that reminded me of a liqueur.

During the game, I poured a basic vodka-and-soda: 2 oz. Vermont White over ice in a tall glass, topped with club soda – with no garnish, as I wanted to taste-test the vodka itself. It was very smooth and slightly sweet, with no discernible alcohol bite when mixed with soda. As the ice melted and diluted the vodka further, it became lighter but didn’t lose the distinctive mellow taste. Score!

So take a moment to search your local liquor store or online for some unusual craft spirits like Vermont White and Barr Hill Gin. Craft distillers are doing what they do because they love it, and if they’ve been successful enough to market their products in stores, they’re probably pretty good at it. You just might find a new favorite to include in next year’s Super Bowl party lineup!