Category Archives: education

Walk the Line: Smirnoff

smirnoff vodka product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Smirnoff is not only the best-selling vodka in the world, but it’s the best-selling spirit brand in the world, too. While most of it’s varieties are just in different flavors, I stuck with what I consider to be the basics: two versions of Smirnoff and two classic vodka flavors. All in all, Smirnoff falls right in the middle: for the price, you could do much, much worse, but it’s not a perfect vodka.

Smirnoff. This is the standard red label Smirnoff vodka, also known as “Recipe No. 21.” Distilled from a corn, 80 proof, and selling for $10-15 a bottle, Smirnoff is a pretty safe buy. Tasters found it had a bit of an alcohol bite, particularly in the smell, but that it was a pretty smooth-tasting vodka overall.

Smirnoff Blue Label. Also known as “Recipe¬†No. 57,” Blue Label is 100 proof and is slightly more expensive than the Red Label ($17). It really ignites your taste buds all around when you sip it and tasters found that the burn you get from it is a significant step up from Red Label. There are a few reasons to choose Blue Label over Red: to make infused vodkas, to make stronger cocktails, because you have the extra money to spend, or…let’s be honest here: because you want to get drunk faster.

Smirnoff Citrus. Citrus is one of the “original” vodka favors, from way back in the days when¬†Fruit Loop vodka was unheard of. Citrus vodka is recommended when you make a¬†Cosmopolitan. Smirnoff Citrus has a fresh, clean, and dry lemon flavor. Tasters said it was very smooth and one said they could easily sip it on the rocks. For $14, this is a great choice if you’re looking to incorporate some vodka flavors into your home bar without¬†embarrassing¬†yourself.

Smirnoff Vanilla. The Vanilla vairety is quite a bit sweeter than Citrus, but still fells like a classic vodka flavor. Tasters liked it in general, and said they could see this one used in a Chocolate Martini or give White Russians a nice flavor boost. The taste of Vanilla felt a little manufactured, particularly when compared to the Citrus, but like the other Smirnoffs, Vanilla is a decent buy at $14.

Walk the Line: Johnnie Walker

johnnie walker bottles product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Johnnie Walker joins the Walk the Line series to help prepare us for the return of Mad Men on Sunday. Christina Hendricks (who plays Joan in the show) is the brand ambassador for Johnnie, which is the top-selling brand of whisky in the world. Prices of some Johnnie Walker varieties sell for hundreds of dollars, and every type of Johnnie is a blended scotch, as opposed to single malt. This means Johnnie Walker is a blend of different scotch varieties from different distilleries, and it also means their taste is well-balanced and predictable.

Johnnie Walker Red Label. Originally blended in 1909, this is the most affordable Johnnie of the line at $23 a bottle. Red Label is the scotch of choice for mixed drinks, stuff like a¬†Rusty Nail¬†or a Scotch and Soda. Red Label is a blend of “young malts,” so it’s a bit less mellow than a more mature scotch. This blend is dry and clean and the flavor is light.

Johnnie Walker Black Label. A blend of whiskies that are at least 12 years old, Black Label will run you $34 a bottle. Outside of maybe ice or a splash of soda or water (your¬†preference), this Johnnie is one to drink¬†straight. As this is an older scotch, it’s more mellow and has a more wood and spice in the flavor. This blend was the preferred one for all the testers except for one who prefers a smokier scotch. For the price and taste, Black is a great buy.

Johnnie Walker Double Black. A limited-edition release for Johnnie in 2011, Double Black was permanently added into the line late last year. Double Black retails for $40 in a taller, smoked glass bottle that hints about what lies inside: a blend of smokier whiskies from smaller Scottish distilleries. Double Black is surprisingly less aromatic than the others, but makes up for it with rich, smoky, slightly mossy flavor. This label was preferred especially by drinkers who love bolder, smokier whisky. One taster¬†said it was like “smoke in a bottle.”

Infusions

gin rosemary infusion
by guest writer David Coveney, The Spirit Cellar Online

I have been doing liquor infusions at home for quite some time now, and I love using gin.  One of my favourite infusions is rosemary gin:  leave 20 sprigs of rosemary in an entire bottle of gin for around 9 hours, depending on the gin. If you use a richer gin like Tanqueray or Beefeater then leave the rosemary too steep for a little longer. If you are using a light gin like Bombay Sapphire or Martin Millers, then 9 hours is enough. Once the rosemary has fully infused, the gin will be a red/brown colour.

Are you a fan of those after-work Cosmopolitans? Why not make your own lemon vodka, instead of buying Ketel One Citroen? Simply peel 10 lemons, making sure you remove all the pith, as this will add too much bitterness. Add the peels them to a bottle of vodka and leave to infuse for 24 hours. Once the 24 hours is up, peel a further 10 lemons in exactly the same way, remove old peel from the vodka and add the fresh lemon peel.  This double infusion will create a fresh, zesty vodka after another 24 hours of infusing.  Perfect with a dash of simple syrup and soda water and brilliant in your Cosmos:

Cosmopolitan

  • 50 ml (1 1/2 oz) lemon vodka
  • 20 ml (1/2 oz) Cointreau (or orange liqueur/triple sec)
  • 25 ml (3/4 oz) lime juice
  • 20 ml (1/2 oz) cranberry juice
  • garnish with a lime wheel

If you have a sweeter tooth, mix two thirds of your new lemon vodka to 200ml (about 7 oz) of simple syrup. Mix it well and you have a fantastic, punchy, homemade Limoncello.

Walk the Line: Tanqueray

tanqueray flavors all bottles

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Tanqueray.¬†The flagship Tanqueray in the green barrel-shaped bottle. Tanqeray is a classic, iconic London Dry gin with juniper as the primary flavor and traces of spice, coriander, and licorice. Tasters felt like the flavor was “classic gin” and those who prefer the stronger juniper really loved it. A bottle will run you $20.

Tanqueray No. 10.¬†In 2000, Tanqueray 10 was created in¬†the tenth still at the Tanqueray distillery. Meant¬†as a premium and modern martini gin, 10 retails for $30. Tanqueray 10 is made in smaller batches than the flagship, and there is more citrus in the overall flavor. Tasters found Tanqueray 10 to be very balanced, with¬†lots of flavors but none of them standing out as particularly ¬†dominant. 10¬†finishes in your mouth very dry and martini fans thought this may just be the best martini gin they’d tried, saying it would taste great stirred on ice and served straight up.

Tanqueray Rangpur.¬†Tanqueray Rangpur is named for the¬†citrusy hybrid fruit that it’s made with. Lemon-lime-citrus is the substantially predominant flavor in Rangpur, with a hint of ginger and almost no trace of juniper. As a straight pour into tonic water, Rangpur wouldn’t require the typical lime wedge garnish for a gin and tonic. Tasters felt like Rangpur would be a great accompaniment¬†to Indian or Asian food. Bottled at a lower proof than the two Tanquerays above (82 proof instead of 94), Rangpur will run you $22 a bottle.

Tanqueray Malacca.¬†Originally hitting the market about 15 years ago, Malacca was discontinued a short time later and has subsequently become the unicorn of the spirits world, selling for hundreds of dollars a bottle. Re-introduced in February 2013 in limited quantity (100,000 numbered bottles), Malacca is based on an 1839 Charles Tanqueray recipe and some say it’s one of the truest gins you can find to the recipes from centuries ago. ¬†Malacca is a very mild, soft gin that finishes with a hint of sweetness. It’s lower proof than those above (80) and is a friendly sip of gin with virtually none of the sharpness you find in London Drys like the flagship Tanqueray. Adorned in a unique gold-stamped and emerald/gold labeling, it comes in a crystal-clear bottle which signifies its uniqueness in the Tanqueray line. If you can find it before it’s gone again, Malacca run you about $30 a bottle.


Thank you for following the first several posts of the Walk the Line series these past 2 weeks. Expect to see other occasional explorations of large brands in the future as we walk their product lines here at Simple Cocktails!

Walk the Line: Jim Beam

jim beam bourbons and whiskies

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Jim Beam. The flagship bourbon and one of the top-sellers in the world, aged 4 years. The fire from the toasted barrels comes out in Beam White and it has a “hot” finish as a result, the tasters¬†said it felt higher proof than it actually is. Ms. Ubon told me her favorite southern cocktail is to mix Beam with Coke, which they fondly call¬†Brown Wine. Jim Beam is $15 per bottle.

Jim Beam Black. Using the same recipe as the white label bourbon, Black is aged 8 years and bottled at a higher proof. An affordable bourbon with a long age, Black is smoother and cooler than Beam white, and it marks an affordable ($20) upgrade from the flagship bourbon.

Red Stag. A black cherry flavored bourbon, and while it’s not marketed as a liqueur, Red Stag is quite sweet, with almost¬†a snow-cone quality to the flavor. It seems that it’s meant to be mixed into an Adult Cherry Coke. Red Stag is a very popular line for Beam and very affordable at $15 per bottle.

Devil’s Cut. A newer member of the Beam clan, Devil’s Cut is Jim Beam bourbon that includes whiskey that’s steam-extracted from the barrel wood. Whiskey that evaporates from the barrel is traditionally called the Angel’s Share, so what’s left inside is the Devil’s Cut, right? This Beam variation is certainly woody and spicier on the tongue. For our tasting panel, was a favorite of the Beam line. Devil’s Cut is $25.

Jacob’s Ghost. The newest Beam-family whiskey, just hitting stores now. It’s named for Jim’s great grandfather Jacob Beam (the first Beam to sell whiskey). This is a unique white whiskey because it’s actually¬†aged¬†for a year and the color is filtered back out of the liquor, leaving a ghostly pale colored whiskey. It is certainly more mellow than other unaged whiskeys I’ve¬†tasted, which often have the pungent quality of tequila. Tasters thought this one was almost like sake with a fruity finish. Ghost retails for $23.

Walk the Line: Bombay

bombay gin product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Bombay¬†distills premium, modern gins using “vapor infusing,” which leads to a softer tasting gin overall.

Bombay London Dry.¬†Bombay Dry was first introduced in 1959 and it has 8 botanicals that lead to a classic London Dry flavor with a touch of spice in the finish. Tasters who prefer classic London Drys liked the flavor of Bombay Dry, saying that it’s a good gin overall. Though not as widespread as the iconic Bombay Sapphire, Bombay London Dry can be found for $21 a bottle.

Bombay Sapphire.¬†Bombay Sapphire arrived in 1987 in a¬†distinctive¬†square blue bottle with the botanicals etched into the sides. Sapphire takes the recipe of 8 from the original Bombay Dry and adds cubeb berries and grains of paradise for a total of 10 botanicals. Tasters found Sapphire to be an extremely balanced¬†gin, with flavors of lemon and berries, a touch of spice, and a long, lingering taste on the tongue. Sapphire is a bit sweeter than other London Drys and gin’s typical piney flavor is more subdued. At about $23 a bottle, Bombay Sapphire is extremely popular, and has a mild, fruity, soft profile overall.

Bombay Sapphire East. In 2012, Sapphire East was introduced with 12 botanicals, adding lemongrass and black peppercorns to the existing Sapphire infusion. At $30 a bottle, Sapphire East is mostly peppery, and the flavor is less balanced than Sapphire as the two new ingredients are the primary flavors. Initially tasting like Bombay Sapphire, followed by a peppery licorice bite, Bombay Sapphire East finishes fast and cool with a faint trace of sweetness.

Walk the Line: Jack Daniel’s

jack daniel's whiskies

Welcome to a series at Simple Cocktails called Walk the Line, where I¬†explore¬†the entire¬†product lines of the most popular¬†liquor¬†brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. I realized in a recent visit to the liquor store that there are some huge brands with different versions of their liquors, and I wasn’t really sure which was the best, or why, or how they differ from the flagship brand. I’m sure that there are others who feel the same, so let’s¬†Walk the Lines of these brands together.¬†Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


While it almost seems silly to begin with something as familiar and iconic as Jack Daniel’s whiskey, some people take this brand for granted in spite of its rich and fascinating history. We tasted the 3 primary expressions of Jack Daniel’s¬†Tennessee Whiskey. Here’s the breakdown:

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7.¬†The flagship black-label Jack Daniel’s has been distilled for over 100 years. Jack differentiates itself in the market by being a Tennessee Whiskey, filtered through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal before it’s aged in barrels. It had been a while since most of our tasters had Jack on it’s own, and we admittedly expected to be tasting “cheap whiskey.” Old No. 7 pleasantly surprised the panel with it’s quality, though, especially for $20 a bottle.¬†This flagship Jack has a familiar sweet corn flavor and a smooth, lingering finish.

Gentleman Jack. Introduced in 1988, Gentleman is the mid-range Jack. The recipe is the same as with Old No. 7, but this version is charcoal mellowed twice: once before and once after barrel aging. Gentleman Jack is sweeter and smoother than Old No. 7 because of the double mellowing, and the tasters really liked the flavor and price (about $30) of this one in particular.

Jack Daniel’s¬†Single Barrel Select.¬†This is the premium Jack Daniel’s product. While it’s life begins the same as the other Jacks, Single Barrel Select is chosen from¬†the top barrels in¬†the aging¬†house at the distillery. ¬†Those barrels experience the biggest temperature fluctuations, and as a result Single Barrel Select has a complexity that warrants the ¬†higher-priced bottle (about $45). This whiskey has a rich color, and the tasters all smelled traces of maple syrup, though the flavor is not as sweet as it’s little brothers. Bottled at a higher alcohol content than the others, tasters felt Single Barrel Select is much more of a¬†serious¬†sip and should share the shelf with¬†other high-quality American whiskeys.

What is a cocktail?

definition of cocktail

The very first definition of “cocktail” is believed to be published in an answer from the editor of The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806. It said: “Cock-tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” This definition–shown above–is still a helpful guideline for drinkmaking, though it certainly shouldn’t bind you to particular ingredients. For instance, I noticed this definition doesn’t include citrus juice, which is used pretty often.

Let’s describe each element:

Spirit: gin, whiskey, vodka, brandy, tequila, rum, wine, vermouth, even beer.

Sugar: granulated sugar; a liqueur (which is a sweetened liquor); simple syrup; maple syrup; agave syrup.

Water: diluted ice from mixing the cocktail; club soda.

Bitters: cocktail bitters, like Angostura or Bitter End; digestive bitters like Fernet Branca or Campari, which are also considered liqueurs.

So let’s put it all together in a classic simple cocktail, the Manhattan:

  • 2 oz rye whiskey (spirit)
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth (let’s call this a spirit and a sugar)
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • stir with ice (water) and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish¬†with a cherry