Archives for posts with tag: Vodka

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)

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.

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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!

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