Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin [+ Giveaway]

Wheeler's Western Dry Gin

Santa Fe Spirits has proudly introduced Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin to their spirits catalog this fall. As we learned with Aviation, Western Dry Gins are similar to London Drys, but usually have an additional stand-out flavor accompanying the juniper.

In Wheeler’s, the standout botanical is Osha Root, known for it’s “spicy celery” flavor and scent. Osha is indigenous to the southwest, and a good fit for this gin. Flavor-wise, Wheeler’s is like a London Dry style gin from serving through swallowing, but as you swallow it, the veggie/earthiness of the Osha sneaks in there. The finish is clearly spicy celery: Osha and Sage. Because Wheeler’s stand-out botanical has vegetation flavor, Fernet Branca is a good complement for Wheeler’s in a cocktail:

Wheeler’s Hanky Panky

  • 1 1/2 oz Wheeler’s Gin
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash Fernet Branca
  • Stir over ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a celery stick.

Wheeler’s is available at most local Albuquerque and Santa Fe retail liquor stores, and online from the distillery. Santa Fe Spirits has offered Simple Cocktails readers a chance to win a Wheeler’s prize pack, including:

  • Wheeler’s Gin shirt
  • Santa Fe Spirits rocks glasses
  • Santa Fe Spirits Glencairn tasting glass
  • Santa Fe Spirits mini flask

To win, just leave a comment below and tell me where would you love to be while you’re sipping this gin? Winner will be selected at random on or around December 10, 2012 and will be contacted by email. U.S. residents only.

Piedra Azul Tequila

Piedra Azul Tequila

Piedra Azul is another quality entry into the 100% agave tequila market. It has the elements of a great tequila: a classic bottle, a beautiful label design, a wooden stopper, and an authentic tequila flavor.

Tequila is distilled and bottled in central Mexico from the blue agave plant that’s native to the region. 100% blue agave tequilas are often preferred to “mixto” tequilas, though they are more expensive, because their flavor is richer and more true to the agave they are distilled from. I have tasted tequilas with stand-out tropical, citrusy, muggy, swampy, spicy, or whiskey-like flavors. Piedra Azul (“blue stone”) has it’s own unique flavor that sets it apart as well – it’s earthy, herbal, and grassy, which makes it taste just a little bit like a pisco.

Outside of the traditional tequila shot with lime, here’s a simple cocktail recipe:

Brave Bull

  • 2 oz Piedra Azul blanco tequila
  • 1 oz coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua or Patron Cafe)
  • Serve in an old fashioned glass with lots of ice

Breckenridge Bourbon and Spiced Rum

Breckenridge Bourbon and Spiced Rum

I always like to seek out products that are distilled near me, and Breckenridge, Colorado is only about 350 miles north. I was anxious to taste the line of spirits that Breckenridge Distillery has coming off the line, and I got to try their award-winning bourbon and their spiced rum.

Their bourbon one of the spiciest I’ve tasted. Bourbon can run anywhere for sweet (like Don Quixote or Maker’s Mark) to really spicy (like Bulleit or Buffalo Trace), but Breckenridge is a bourbon that’s so spicy that you could initially mistake it for a rye whiskey. Is it a good bourbon? For a guy who likes both bourbons and ryes, you bet it is.

Breckenridge also makes a spiced rum, with a pirate-map label and a jolly roger wax seal. I can’t understate the quality and flavor of this rum. I don’t drink a lot of rum because I often find it too sugary, but Breckenridge rum is rich, warming, and spicy, and it finishes with just a trace of subtle sweetness. Whiskey drinkers should definitely get a bottle for their liquor cabinet, because it’s a pleasure to drink straight. Breckenridge spiced rum is great after dinner, and it’s a great complement to a cigar, too.

If you see Breckenridge bourbon or spiced rum in the stores, buy them. Breckenridge’s 750ml bottle of bourbon retails for $40, the 375ml bottle of rum for $25, and you can find them both with the distillery’s “Hooch Locating Tool” here.

Tequila Avión

Tequila Avión

Tequila Avión gets much of its reputation as the “tequila from Entourage,” which was apparently a sweet unpaid buddy deal. As I’ve yet to see Entourage, I just know Avión based on this tasting. Avión is available in Silver, Reposado, and Añejo varieties, with this Añejo clocking in at 2 years old.

Tasted alone, all three of these tequilas are world-class. There is a soapy note particularly in the Silver and Añejo varieties, as well as a bit of fruitiness in the Silver as well, and I’m sure it’s an outstanding mixer as a result. For a sipping tequila, the Reposado and Añejo are both great, but are significantly different from each other. The Reposado has a spicy woodyness that puts it more in line with whiskeys, and the Añejo is a smooth, mellow, subtler version of the the Silver.

avion autumn apple

Avión has a really good collection of recipes on their site, and I found one that looked the best for a Fall drink: The Avión Autumn Apple. I modified it just a bit for my own palate, so here’s my take on their recipe, which is high on the juice and pretty low on alcohol, so this would be a great party punch too:

  • 1 oz Avión Reposado
  • 2 oz apple juice or cider
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • serve over ice in a collins glass
  • garnish with an apple slice

Glassware

Glassware

One of the most important elements of a home bar is glassware. There are several styles of glasses you will find, and each of them fits with a particular drink. Of the absolutely necessary glassware, there are 2 to start with: old fashioned glasses and cocktail glasses.

Old fashioned glasses, also known as rocks glasses, are small and stout, much like the three glasses in the foreground of the photo above. These hold a volume of about 7-13 ounces and are best for serving whiskey straight and for cocktails like Old Fashioneds and  Sazeracs.

Next are cocktail glasses, sometimes called martini glasses. These are tall, stemmed glasses that hold 2 to 8 ounces and are used for drinks like Martinis, Negronis, and many other “martini-style” cocktails. Traditionally, the glassware used for these drinks was the old-style champagne coupes like those in the middle row above, which only hold about 2 1/2 ounces. These can almost exclusively be found used nowadays as glassware manufacturers have discovered that champagne holds it bubbles better in a long, tall glass.

As far as shopping is concerned, glassware can be found anywhere from Target to antique stores and most places in between. Because I like for my glassware to be unique and traditional, I look at thrift shops and antique stores almost exclusively. Here’s what I’ve discovered: Most glassware at Goodwill and other thrift shops will be between 15¢ and $1 each. You will often find multiples of the same glass, but it’s hard to find sets of 6 or more (usually those are missing at least one glass). Even the most ancient glassware can usually be totally redeemed with a good dishwasher and some Jet Dry.

Below is some of my favorite glassware in my home bar. Most of these I have in sets of 3-6 glasses and only one of these was purchased new (from World Market). The “free” glasses were gifts from friends.

Glassware

Pisco

Pisco

Pisco is a unique liquor distilled from grapes in Peru or Chile, and it’s a close cousin to brandy, which is distilled from wine. Peruvian Pisco is not aged, and Chilean Pisco is usually aged in barrels, which means that Peru’s Pisco is colorless and Chile’s is a faint yellow/brown color.

I tried two types: Pisco Portón from Peru, and Don Quixote “Pisqo Brandy,” in the style of Chilean Pisco, from here in New Mexico. When tasted straight, Pisco Portón reminded me of stems and reeds, earthy and aromatic. It has a flavor that I haven’t really experienced yet in spirits – falling somewhere between tequila, vodka, and grappa. Don Quixote Pisqo was more similar in flavor to brandy, with a desert spiciness to it and a really crisp and clean finish.

I made Pisco Sours with both types of Pisco:

Pisco Sour

  • 2 oz pisco
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • shake all ingredients hard in a cocktail shaker with no ice to froth the egg white
  • add ice and shake again to chill
  • pour into an old fashioned glass and top with 3 drops of bitters (exclude the bitters when using Chielean piscos)

Pisco sours

Pisco Portón was the best fit for this particular cocktail. The intense flavor of Don Quixote’s Pisqo overpowered the  ingredients, so I think Pisco Portón is going to be a better fit in mixed drinks, while Don Quixote’s Pisqo Brandy is better to sip unmixed, and it’s spicy character makes it a great complement to a cigar.

Pisco Portón will run you about $40 a bottle and Don Quixote Pisqo is available at the distillery or online for $42.

Punt e Mes

Punt e Mes

Punt e Mes is an Italian sweet vermouth that’s been made for over a hundred years in Turin. I tend to cheap out when I buy vermouth, and usually just stick with the Trader Joe’s $4 variety, only occasionally splurging for a $10 bottle of Martini and Rossi. Punt e Mes is high-quality stuff though, selling for about $20 a bottle. It’s name implies a point-and-a-half of something, and in the case of Punt e Mes, it’s 1 point sweet red vermouth, 1/2 a point of bitter liqueur (like Campari). So while this tastes mostly like an excellent sweet vermouth, there’s a great, bitter finish to it.

Vermouth is one one of the few liquors I keep in the fridge to preserve it’s life, and my Punt e Mes lives there now, ready to be served on the rocks. Punt e Mes also works well in a Negroni:

Negroni

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz Campari (a bitter liqueur)
  • 1 oz red vermouth (I used Punt e Mes)
  • stir on ice and either strain into a chilled cocktail glass or serve on the rocks
  • garnish with an orange peel

I’m surprised how much I liked a more bitter Negroni, and maybe it was just the quality increase from using Punt e Mes, but I fear that every Negroni I make from here on out will require Punt as the vermouth. It’s really excellent, and will run you about $18 a bottle. The Negroni and more recipes can be found in my ebook, available as a free download when you register for my newsletter.

Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry

Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry Coke

If you’ve never tried it, Southern Comfort is a low priced ($15) whiskey-flavored liqueur that’s easy to mix with simple ingredients like sodas or juices. In may ways, Southern Comfort is a ready-to-drink cocktail, so it totally qualifies for this site. Outside of the original SoCo, there is also SoCo Lime and Firey Pepper, and for 2012, they’ve introduced the Bold Black Cherry flavor.

I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by Bold Black Cherry, but I found it to be surprisingly tasty and not overly sweet. I really enjoy it on the rocks after dinner, or mixed with soda in this simple cocktail:

Southern Comfort Cherry Coke

  • 1 1/2 oz Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry
  • 4-5 oz Coke of choice. I prefer Mexican Coke (with sugar instead of HFCS) or Coke Zero.