Archives for posts with tag: Spirits


Happy spring! With its beautiful colors and come-out-and-play weather, spring awakens our awareness of sensual pleasures like no other season. For the Grog Dog, it’s time to run like the gate was left open and roll in the sweet new grass!

While drinking dogs generally limit themselves to basic hydration, Dog Drinking GIFpeople drink for many other reasons, and pure enjoyment is not the worst of them. Modern cocktails in particular offer an almost unlimited range of flavors and textures (thank you, molecular gastronomists!), and due to their intoxicating effect, are the perfect medium to deliver a sensational spring day… or evening.

The tongue and palate are the major organs of taste, naturally, and although they are highly sensitive, they can only “report” their data to the brain, which must catalog and record the information so you remember that warm hint of absinthe in your Inside Job, or the surprising spark of celery bitters in your Oxford Comma.

So next time you mix or order a cocktail, take a moment to really taste it. Taste the cocktail. First, inhale at the rim of the glass and notice its scent as you take in the first sip with just a bit of air. Let it roll over your tongue, slowly. Bathe your taste buds in viscous sips of deliciousness. (And then try to say that phrase three times fast.)

drinking martini-dailymailukAs you swallow, open your lips slightly to allow the alcohol vapors to rise into your palate. Breathe in slowly through your mouth and nose, and savor the flavor of each ingredient as it evaporates. Lick the remaining drops from your lips and warm to the final tingle on your tongue. Sigh, and sip again. Notice how the first sip is different from the next, and the next, and the last. Take in the astringency of the gin, or the heat of spicy bourbon, or the sweet complexity of the liqueurs.

That’s the physical process of drink-tasting. While the temperature, flavor, and texture are dancing down your throat, your brain still needs to keep a firm grip on its analytical faculties to learn and catalog those taste sensations – warm or cool; sweet, spicy, or fruity; thick, foamy, or frosty. Is it too tart? Too watery? Too cold, or not cold enough? What individual flavors do you detect? Give your brain time between tastes to record the flavors, the textures, temperatures of each sip.

It doesn’t matter whether there’s absinthe in your cocktail – if you taste anise, there must be some chemical cousin to it in your glass. That won’t be fun if you don’t like anise, but you’ll have learned to do a little more taste-testing to find out what exactly you do like about that particular drink. Make a different cocktail that includes – or excludes – the ingredient you’re not sure of. Compare and contrast. Have a tasting party, and try several varieties of the same base spirit to see how they affect the overall flavor of one of your favorite cocktails.AJ1180423

Spring is the perfect time to rejuvenate your palate with some fresh sensations. Drink up, slowly, and savor the season!

Image credits: (dog drinking); (sipping); (daffodil)

It could be the festive Christmas lights or Santa’s snow-chilled cheeks, but at GrogDogBlog that warm, red glow means Maker’s Mark bourbon! The GrogDogs recently attended a wonderful evening of Maker’s Mark cocktails and fellowship with local Maker’s Mark Ambassadors at the County Cork Wine Pub in Eldersburg, Md. World Whiskey Specialist Ryan Lyles (yes, that’s a real job, and I am envious of it) provided a wee taste of Maker’s 46 in a souvenir wax-dipped glass as well as some education about Maker’s 46 and what makes it so special. (Hint: It’s in the barrel. See that nicely charred stave in the photo? It smells amazing!)

GrogDogs at Maker's Mark Ambassadors Event - County Cork Wine Pub, Eldersburg, Md.

Maker’s 46 ages in charred French oak barrels for intensified vanilla and caramel flavors.

While true GrogDogs enjoy just about any spirit that makes a good cocktail, I’ve been a Maker’s Mark Ambassador for many years, and it’s my go-to bourbon for mixing, cooking, or just plain drinking. (Maker’s 46, the longer-aged version, I save for special occasions.)

The County Cork Wine Pub offered a light buffet featuring – what else? – Meatballs in (MM!) Bourbon Sauce and other delicious noshes to accompany the featured Maker’s cocktails: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Mint Julep, Side Car, Maker’s Mule, Kentucky Coffee, Maker’s (non-egg) Nog, and Maker’s Hot Cider. Here’s one recipe as provided by the excellent County Cork bartender:

Side Car – 1 oz Maker’s Mark, 1/2 oz triple sec, 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Check back for more recipes soon, and in the meantime, enjoy that warm, red glow throughout the holiday season!

In my last post I offered a list of basic spirits that will serve you and your guests well. But drinkers do not live by spirits alone, for the most part, and everyone enjoys a little variety. So what else should you keep on hand so you can have a delicious cocktail any day of the week?

Fresh lemons and limes and oranges are great, though you’re the only one who will know if you use bottled juice. (I keep bottles on hand myself, in case my fruit goes bad or I just don’t feel like squeezing. Purists will damn me for it, but whose drink is it anyway?) You can get larger bags of citrus at a warehouse store like Costco, and if you drink a cocktail or two a day (or several on weekends), you will generally use them up before they turn brown or grow mold. A half-lemon or half-lime produces around 1 oz of juice, but if you’re OK with your cocktail being on the tart side, don’t get too precise: just squeeze in half the fruit and get on with it. Thus one lemon or lime makes two drinks, which is probably more than your doctor would be happy about, but at least you can tell him you’re adding fresh juice to your diet.

Mixers: Tonic water, club soda, ginger ale. I don’t use tonic or ginger ale much, so I spend a bit more on the six-pack of tiny bottles so I don’t waste it. I can make about two Gin & Tonics from one of those little bottles, which makes for a nice happy hour. But I go through gallons of club soda (because I also drink it straight), so I pick up the 5-for-$4 liter-bottle deal at my local supermarket. If you use them often, keep your mixers in the fridge – you will not enjoy the watery result when room-temp soda hits the ice. My policy is one-out, one-in, so I always have at least one chilled bottle on hand.

Bitters: Angostura bitters are readily available at supermarkets and are used to add some depth and (obviously) a slightly bitter flavor to many of the common sweet cocktails. It’s tempting to look at the per-ounce price and go for the large bottle, but until you have a reason to shell out for that much (like, you’re writing a cocktail blog and do a lot of taste-testing), just buy the small one. You’ll only use a few drops at a time, and the small bottle will last a good while.

I also recommend orange (or blood orange) bitters, which are stocked at most larger liquor stores. There are several classic cocktails that call for them, and you don’t want to miss out on a more complex flavor for want of a simple ingredient.

Vermouth: Keep a small bottle each of red (sweet) and a white (dry) vermouth. If you tend to drink Manhattans or Negronis frequently (recipes below!) and know you’ll use it up, go for the larger size. But this is an inexpensive, widely available ingredient, so just restock when you need it.

Campari: I have used a surprising amount of Campari since I started drinking cocktails. It’s a bitter herbal liqueur that’s shockingly red in color, which makes an attractive drink. I used to think it tasted like cough syrup (and it does, somewhat), but it makes a very nice balance to vermouth and other sweet flavorings. It can be an acquired taste, so pick up a small bottle at first, and experiment with the proportion of Campari-to-sweetness in your Negroni or Boulevardier. You may find you enjoy it more than you expected.

Other liqueurs: I happen to like Chartreuse and St-Germain (floral/herb-based liqueurs), and I keep 750ml bottles in my bar because I use them. But many specialty liqueurs are available in small sizes or even miniatures behind the counter at your neighborhood liquor store, so you can sample something new without shelling out for a huge bottle that may end up gathering dust. (More recipes to come in future posts using those and other “exotic” ingredients!)

Garnishes: Ordinarily I don’t bother with garnishes because they seem a little high-maintenance for a drink you just want to sip while heating leftover spaghetti and catching up on the evening news. But there is a science behind their use, and I’ll get into that in a future post.

RECIPES! I referred to a few cocktails above, so here are the recipes that use many of the ingredients in this post.

Manhattan: 1 oz each whiskey (preferably rye) and sweet vermouth, with a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Boulevardier: 1 oz each bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari, stirred in a short glass with ice.

If a Manhattan or Boulevardier is a little too sweet for you, you may enjoy the Old Pal: 1 oz each whiskey, dry vermouth, and Campari, stirred in a short glass with ice.

If you like your Boulevardier on the bitter side, you could expand your repertoire to the more astringent Negroni: 1 oz each gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, stirred in a short glass with ice.

The ice helps blend and smooth out the flavors in each drink, and the slight chill is reviving.

Now you have a choice of four simple cocktails to help your no-hassle transitions from workday to evening. Cheers!

You can spend a lot of money on bar basics, especially if you’re trying to re-create the precious craft cocktails designed by people whose job is to come up with specialty drinks at trendy bars and restaurants. Just this morning I read a recipe for a drink that required two different kinds of Guyanese rum (plus one from Trinidad). To me, that’s ludicrous. Drinking is supposed to be a readily available human indulgence, not an Amazing Race scavenger hunt to the far corners of the world.

For those of us who just want to have enough spirits on hand to make the basic cocktails that we like and our guests might ask for, here is a list of what I call the foundational spirits:

  • Vodka
  • Gin (London Dry will do for most of your gin cocktails)
  • Rum (light or dark depending on your preference)
  • Whiskey (if you drink it regularly you probably have a favorite)
  • Bourbon
  • Tequila

None of these should be in any way “flavored”! If you like a flavored vodka and use it regularly, buy that in addition to a plain version – trust me, “birthday cake” vodka will not mix well with tonic (or much of anything else).

Your neighborhood liquor store will generally carry two or three “tiers” of these spirits – the higher the shelf placement, the more expensive they will be. For regular usage, stick to those in the middle range, at about eye level. They will taste a lot better than the stuff in the plastic jugs on the bottom shelf, and give you a less hellacious hangover should you happen to over-indulge. The taste of the top-shelf items won’t be exceptional enough in your pre-dinner drink to justify the additional expense. Save those for special occasions, or if you really want to impress your fiancee’s father.

There are cocktail recipes that call for a specific version of these spirits – Canadian whiskey or aged rum, for example. In my experience, the bottle you have in your bar will taste just fine in most mixed drinks. If you want to be sure that making authentic Irish Coffee is worth purchasing the Irish whiskey, buy a pint of it and make both versions at the same time, so you can taste-test between the Irish and the whiskey you keep in your bar. If you like the Irish version better and are going to make a lot of Irish Coffee this winter, you’ll know the cost of the 750ml bottle will be worth it.

Next: Other essential bottles