Archives for posts with tag: Whiskey

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!

While the Grog Dog likes to indulge in a well themed cocktail for special occasions (Woodchuck Cider for Arbor Day?), there are certain holidays and events that encourage far too much indulgence in cutesy names, ingredients, and colors over flavor. Valentine’s Day is one of those.

Not that I have anything against a holiday celebrating romantic love, but I appreciate an understated sentiment.

Understated

Understated

Overstated

Overstated

For this Valentine’s Day, I’m recommending a few variations on a classic cocktail, La Vie Rose (roughly translated as, “life in rosy hues”). This lovely libation owes its subtle pink hue to Grenadine, a sweet/tart pomegranate bar syrup, but the other ingredients will make La Vie Rose your sentimental V-Day favorite.

Here are the original recipe and variations. To make any of these cocktails, measure ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake about 10 seconds, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or cherry if you want to add a little flair.

La Vie Rose: The original is 1 part dry gin, 1 part kirschwasser (aka kirsch, a distillation of cherries), 1/2 part Grenadine, and 1/2 part lemon juice. This delicious classic is sweet but not overstated. Drink carefully, though – the smooth kirsch adds an extra kick!

La Vie Rose Parisienne: 1 part dry gin, 1/2 part kirschwasser, 1/2 part St-Germain, 1/2 part Grenadine, and 1/2 part lemon juice. This dials back the kirsch in favor of the herbal depth of St-Germain elderflower liqueur.

La Vie Rose Francaise: 1 part dry gin, 1/2 part kirschwasser, 1/2 part yellow Chartreuse, 1/2 part Grenadine, and 1/2 part lemon juice. In this variation, another famous French herbal liqueur lends a slightly different taste. If you’re feeling adventurous, use green Chartreuse instead of yellow; the green has a stronger herbal flavor.

La Vie Rose Americain: 1 part rye whiskey, 1/2 part kirschwasser, 1/2 part Grenadine, and 1/2 part lemon juice. The American version substitutes a barrel-aged spirit for the gin, which tends to disappear under the sweet syrup and liqueurs. (This makes La Vie Rose dangerous drinking!) The rye makes for a darker, slightly earthier drink.

If you’re thinking, “I know I’ve heard that name somewhere…”, you’re right! La Vie en Rose is the signature ballad of famed French chanteuse Edith Piaf. You can hear her sing her heart-aching version here.

Although La Vie Rose (the cocktail) has an entirely romantic pedigree – Paris, Piaf, a rosy blush, an intoxicating effect – it’s definitely not an in-your-face valentine covered in glitter. For more suggestions for drinks not to serve your loved one, check this slide show at Liquor.com.

Wishing you a happy heart this Valentine’s Day!

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!

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