Category Archives: reviews

Drinking with the Republicans & Drinking with the Democrats

drinking with the republicans drinking with the democrats

Election Day in the United States is tomorrow, and it has increasingly become a polarizing event in our country. Based on the outcome of the election, Americans will most certainly be drinking tomorrow, whether in celebration or to bathe their sorrows.

Mark Will-Weber, also the author of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking (Amazon link), has chosen to divide our drinking pasttime as we’ve divided our political pasttime, and that’s by political party. He’s published two, 200-page books that allow you to choose your favorite party, and drink your way through history.

Both books are seperated into chapters by president, and each of those chapters has some short historical tales of the leader’s preferred tipples and one cocktail is chosen for each president. Will-Weber uses interviews, newspaper stories, and sometimes a bit of lore to figure out his stories for each prez, though based on his previous book, be’s pretty much the authority on presidential drinking. Will-Weber does a great job or writing 2 very entertaining cocktail books, regardless of the party you identify with.

These books server as excellent bathroom or coffee-table reading because of the books’ short, sections and sidebars. One of the first cocktails that jumped out at me as I flipped through was this recipe, imagined by Will-Weber as George W. Bush’s drink of choice:

Beer Old Fashioned

  • in an old fashioned glass, add:
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 2 tsp superfine sugar
  • 1 oz bourbon
  • stir
  • fill with ice and top with 3-4 oz of chilled lager or pilsner beer
  • squeeze an orange peel over the glass and drop in

Buy the books on Amazon here: Drinking with the Democrats // Drinking with the Republicans

William Wolf Flavored Whiskies

william wolf coffee whiskey

Over the course of the past several weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to try a couple of varieties of William Wolf whiskies on the podcast. Available in about half the states in the U.S., William Wolf’s line is distilled in Holland and imported.

William Wolf Coffee has an amazing coffee scent, rich and creamy tasting with a bold coffee finish. This is a great alternative to the bigger-name coffee liqueurs like Kahlua or Tia Maria. It’s not too sweet, it’s high alcohol (35%) and it has a great coffee flavor.

Don’t forget with is a whiskey, though. As I’ve pointed out on the podcast, this drink tastes nothing like whiskey. Not a trace. We have enjoyed it on the rocks with cigars and, as I said, in place of Kahlua and it’s a good value at $25.

william wolf frisky whiskey

Now this week’s podcast episode revealed a bit of a mystery that lay in our bottle of Frisky Whiskey, namely what is it? Frisky arrives in a purple crushed velvet bag and sports a pink-ish label with a guitar-playing Mr. Wolf. It does not tell you much about the whiskey itself though, so I went to Wolf’s website to research it more:

“William Wolf Frisky Whiskey has an enticingly caramel nose, smooth taste, and a lingering vanilla finish.”

That didn’t help either, particularly with one big question I had: is this a flavored whiskey? Well, after one taste, it very much is. Just like their coffee whiskey (can we just call these liqueurs now?), Frisky is flavored and sweetened, too. This is not a typical caramel nose and vanilla finish, that you experience with other whiskies, it’s actually caramel and vanilla flavored! This is a creamy, vanilla liqueur posing as a whiskey, and I wished there was more clarity on the label about that. As we experienced with their coffee “whiskey,” Frisky really doesn’t taste like whiskey at all, in fact, it tastes even less like whiskey than the coffee variety.

Frisky has it’s place in a cocktail bar as a vanilla liqueur, and it does a noble job in that role. At $25 a bottle, either of these liqueurs are a good buy.

Just don’t tell us this is “whiskey.”

Frey Ranch Gin and Vodka

Frey Ranch Distilling, near Reno, Nevada, is a near-200-year-old family farm that began distilling in 2010. One of the few “estate” producers in the U.S., the ranch’s current caretakers Colby and Ashley Frey oversee production of everything in each bottle of Frey Ranch products, including growing and farming all of the grains.

I has an opportunity to taste both their vodka and gin. Frey Ranch Vodka is unique in it’s ingredients, using 4 grains in the distillate: corn, rye, wheat and barley. Its typical of a vodka to use one of these grains, usually corn, sometimes wheat, and only occasionally rye or barley. The end result, then, is an earthy, balanced, fresh and clean-tasting. Frey Ranch Vodka retails for $23.

Frey Ranch Gin is distilled from Frey grain, too, then blended with estate-grown juniper berries and sagebrush with other botanicals sourced from around the world. The Fray’s Gin has a nice bite (it’s 90 proof) and an expected juniper note, with sweet sap and floral notes in the midpalate and a long finish with clove and anise spices. It’s bold enough to hold up in a Gin and Tonic, though delicate enough to make a solid Martini as well. Frey Ranch Gin retails for $35.

Like their vodka, some varieties of the soon-to-be-released Frey Ranch Whiskies will contain all four of these grains in the mashbill, plus their take on ryes, bourbons, and more. Their whiskey products are currently being aged, to be released in the coming years.

There is a real value in controlling all aspects of the production of a spirit, including the moment the seeds are planted for the grains, and the Frey family is working hard to make a solid product that’s both unique and versatile enough to make great classic cocktails, plus the price is hard to beat when you consider the work that’s gone in to it’s production.

For more details on the Frey farm and history of the family, check out my friend Geoff Kleinman’s visit to Frey Ranch at Drink Spirits.

Walk the Line: Knob Creek

knob creek walk the line

Knob Creek is a familiar name for whiskey drinkers and widely available. Here we’ll add another brand to our long-running Walk the Line series with Knob Creek, a Jim Beam brand (now owned by Suntory) and one of the best-selling “small batch” lines at Beam. Bourbon Curious, my bourbon reference bible, places Knob Creek’s line with the cinnamon-forward bourbons, like Wild Turkey, Bulleit and Four Roses, most of which are my favorite bourbons, so Knob Creek is in good company in my liquor cabinet.

Here are some notes on each, pictured from left to right above:

Knob Creek Bourbon. 100 proof, about $35. For a 100-proof bourbon, Knob Creek is surprisingly sweet and smooth. The mashbill isn’t released by the company, but I’m assuming it’s a pretty typical corn/rye/barley, maybe wheat. The blend is balanced and cool, with just a mild touch of rye spiciness to it. This is a 9 year old bourbon.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon. 120 proof, about $45. Similar in taste to the staple bourbon, S.B.R. is a touch spicier and has a more pronounced barrel flavor. It’s not uncommon to find a “high-end” high-proof bourbon these days, but for $45, this is a bargain as well.

Knob Creek Rye. 100 proof, about $40. I love the bite of a high-rye whiskey, and Knob Creek isn’t quite that. Hear me out, though: this is a rye that I really love to drink. Again, Knob Creek’s mashbills are secret, but many (including me) suspect it’s just a reversed version of the bourbon recipe. That is to say, this is not the 95% or 100% rye mashbill that some others brag on, but this whiskey is a balanced experience with the right amount of sweet and spice and ultimately, it’s a sipper with a little more character than the spice bombs out there. Knob Creek’s ryes don’t currently have an age statement, they just say “patiently aged.”

Collingwood Whisky

collingwood whisky

I’m going to jump right in to this: Collingwood is unlike any other whisky I’ve tasted.

A Canadian whisky (which explains excluding the “e” from whisky), Collingwood is distilled from corn, rye (a staple of Canadian whiskys) and barley, finished in oak barrels, then rested additionally with toasted maplewood staves.

It must be this final step of the aging process that adds the uniqueness to Collingwood’s flavor profile. I’ve passed it around to friends who are whisky fans, and the results and preferences have been mixed. The nose of Collingwood is sweet, but the flavor and finish are unexpectedly sweet and sharp, and we gathered it’s the maplewood finish that’s contributing to that (oak is far-and-away the wood preference over maple when it comes to whisky). I felt it tasted like a quick-aged whisky, which usually involves smaller barrels or additional wood added to the aging process. Friends noted the unusual finish, too.

What we did learn at about the halfway point of the bottle, and after several weeks of trying it out, is that Collingwood seems to go better in cocktails than as a straight sipper. The flavor profile never quite delivered with the whisky-drinkers in my camp, but a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Whisky Sour with Collingwood were some tasty cocktails that tended to be incrementally sweeter than their bourbon or rye counterparts. The Sour in particular seemed a great fit for this whisky.

Collingwood retails for about $30 per bottle.

Suntory Toki

suntory toki

Suntory is a legendary Japanese distillery, one of only a handful of whisky makers in that country. They have become famous for quality, well-crafted single malts in the tradition of scotch whisky. Their fame is so solid, in fact, that they were able to purchase Jim Beam in 2014.

This summer, Suntory introduced and affordable whisky blend that’s designed for cocktails. Toki is comprised of 2 Suntory single malt “pillars”: Hakushu (light and fresh) and Chita (heavy grain). These two combine for a flavor that’s malty, crisp, light and sweet with a mild spice finish.

At $40 per bottle and 43% ABV, Toki is a light sipper for the warm months, and goes well neat or on the rocks. It’s malty character is reminiscent to me of Dutch Genever and barley-based Shochu. It pairs well with milder, lighter cigars, sipped neat.

While Toki can be mixed in cocktails any way you choose, Suntory has a specific “ceremony” they recommend for making the Toki Highball (pictured above):

“To begin a highball recipe, fill the glass to the brim with ice. Add one measure of whisky. Stir to cool the whisky and glass. Again add ice to the brim. Pour three measures of chilled sparkling water along the side of the glass to avoid melting the ice or bursting the bubbles. Add a twist of lemon. Enjoy.”

As a cocktail, the Toki Highball is subtle, malty, refreshing and easy to make, and at $40, Toki may serve to be an introductory Japanese whisky if you’re unfamiliar with the category.

Dry Line Gin

dry line gin

Dry Line’s Cape Cod Gin is made by the same distillers of Twenty Boat Spiced Rum, a “Cape Cod rum” that we scoffed at on the podcast….until we tasted it. I’m happy to say that Dry Line lives up to that same, good reputation.

We got to try “batch 1” of Dry Line and it has many of the tasting notes I love in a gin (I prefer bitey London Drys): a solid clove/spice tasting note, together with what I can best describe as hot mustard-like: a unique sweet/spice note. Dry Line is distilled from cane sugar, not neutral grain, which is unusual and may contribute to that sweet touch in the flavor profile.

The bottle itself is sexy, to be sure: perfectly square, moreso than Jack Daniel’s, even. South Hollow Spirits has delivered a solid, northeastern gin with a great deal of character, that’s somewhere between New Western and London Dry gins in it’s overall flavor.

I’ve been drinking Dry Line mostly in Gin Rickeys (gin/soda lime), and it’s a solid product for that drink. The drink I was really curious about, though, was a Etrog-tini (or is it a Dry-Lini?): Dry Line with a dash of Etrog liqueur (which we tasted recently on the podcast). Here’s the recipe:

dry line etrog cocktail

Etrog-tini

  • in a mixing glass, add:
  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 of Etrog liqueur
  • stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon peel

Just as they did with Twenty Boat Spiced Rum, South Hollow Spirits has released another solid entry into an established space, yet has impressed with the unique and tasty flavor profiles they’ve been able to achieve there.

Los Angeles: Caña Rum Bar

cana rum bar sign

In the world of liquor, often the story behind a bar is often just as important as the modern-day reputation. The Petroleum Building in Downtown LA (built in 1925) is one such storied location, and it houses Caña Rum Bar.

Part of the same group that runs Seven Grand (which I posted about a few weeks ago), Caña is a tribute to rum and rum-producing countries like Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Nestled into the back of the old Petroleum Building, you find the entrance to Caña at the back of the building’s parking garage.

Caña is a private club and a $20 annual membership is required for admission (though you may bring guests with you). The bar itself is Continue reading

Shaker 33

shaker 33

Shaker 33 had a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, and has now released their product in 2016. Shaker 33 aims to improve the decades-old design of the cocktail shaker with modern materials and technology, addressing a few “problems” they see with the classic 3-piece cobbler shaker.

Starting with the most obvious, Shaker 33 is not made from metal like the shakers you’re used to. It’s made from clear, black or frosted plastic, and I got the frosted one. I expected the shaker to feel like a plastic water bottle, but the sides are much thicker and more rigid. The plastic is BPA free and shatterproof, though I wasn’t brave enough to drop mine to test it out.

Both the lid and the strainer of the 33 are twist-off designs, definitely easier than breaking the vacuum seal on a traditional shaker. Since you screw it on, the lid stays closed when you shake, or even if you drop the shaker. The volume of the shaker is much larger than I expected at 24 oz. Because of the thick plastic sides, this shaker never gets cold in your hand, either. The strainer cap (closeup in the photo above) is particularly useful in that it’s diameter is very large and is has two options for straining size.

Shaker 33 will run you $30, about twice as much as a comparable cobbler-style shaker. Though they show Shaker 33 in bars on their website videos, it’s unlikely these will replace tried-and-true Boston shakers at your favorite watering hole. It is a nice new option to have for home bartenders. It’s simple to learn to use, simple to clean and an interesting updated design of the classic cocktail shaker.

Buy Shaker 33 from Amazon here.

Los Angeles: Seven Grand

Seven Grand - Sign

The presence of craft cocktail bars has been growing exponentially since the early 2000s, and finding a craft bar in many cities (even smaller ones) is becoming easier and easier. It’s strange, then, that one of the largest metropolitan areas of the United States, Los Angeles, has lagged behind other cities in the U.S. in the development of their own cocktail culture.

The reason for this, I’d hypothesize, is that there was no central location for bars to establish themselves as Downtown LA had only begun its revitalization in the early 2000s. In 2007, though, one craft bar launched in Downtown and has built a great reputation since then.

Seven Grand, at 515 W 7th St, is a whiskey bar primarily Continue reading