Bourbon Heritage Month

Knob Creek, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit, Maker's Mark Bourbons

National Bourbon Heritage Month is September, and this year I decided that it was about time to give a whole bunch of bourbon whiskey a try. I drank bourbon all month, and now it’s time for a report.

To be legally called bourbon, a spirit must be:

  • Distilled from a grain mash that’s at least 51% corn
  • Aged in new, charred, oak barrels for a period of time (not specified)
  • Distilled and aged in the United States.

Congress recognized bourbon in 1964 as “America’s Official Native Spirit,” and while not required to be made in Kentucky, 90% of bourbon is. I tried bourbons from Knob Creek, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit, and Maker’s Mark, and outside of the above characteristics, they vary quite a bit from each other. A good bourbon is usually sweet from the corn and quite smooth, but there are some unique characteristics that each of these has:

Knob Creek ($30): Corn, rye, and barley, aged 9 years, 100 proof, black stamped wax seal on the bottle. Pretty spicy, and not the smoothest of the bunch. Abraham Lincoln’s father distilled whiskey near Knob Creek, and Hank served Walt some of this in the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad a few weeks ago.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($40): Corn, rye, and barley, aged 9 years, black stamped wax seal on the bottle. Significantly smoother than it’s little brother and absolutely delicious. Add water, ice, or both, because this one is bottled at 120 proof.

Buffalo Trace ($20-25): Corn, rye, and barley, aged at least 8 years, 90 proof. Very spicy to the point you might mistaken it for a rye whiskey and likely the best bourbon you can drink in it’s price range.

Bulleit ($35): Known for being a bourbon with high rye content, it’s probably the spiciest bourbon you’ll try. Aged at least 6 years, 90 proof. These iconic bottles were used as props in the bars on Deadwood.

Maker’s Mark ($30): A stand-out in this bunch, Maker’s uses no rye and instead uses red winter wheat with the corn and barley mash. Aged “to taste,” so usually 5-8 years, 90 proof, with the red wax seal. The wheat makes Maker’s very smooth, probably the most accessible of the bunch. You can seal your own bottle with wax if you visit the distillery.

Maker’s 46 ($40): Similar to Maker’s in every way but one: when a barrel of Maker’s Mark is ready, it’s removed from the barrel and 10 seared French oak staves are added to the barrel. Maker’s 46 is then aged “for several more months,” then bottled at 94 proof. Maker’s 46 is a more serious, spicy drink than the standard Maker’s. The number 46 represents how many variations of a “new” Maker’s Mark they tried before the distillery settled on this product.

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Caorunn Gin

Caorunn Gin

Caorunn is a new Scottish (or is it Scotch?) gin in the tradition of small batch, handcrafted Scottish gins. As a gin lover, I’m always looking for new stuff to try, and when I saw this gin, I was surprised that I had not yet heard of it. Caorunn (pronounced ka-roon) has 5 unique ingredients: rowan berry, heather, bog myrtle, dandelion, and coul blush apple. This idea of 5 translates into the marketing too, as a five-pointed red asterisk appears on the bottle and the stopper. The bottle shape itself has five edges and there’s a five-pointed star hidden below the bottle, too. Apples are used often in Caorunn’s marketing, too, and many of their signature cocktails have apple slice garnishes.

I would describe the flavor of Caorunn as mild, floral, and soft. Juniper, the primary ingredient of gin, is the “pine tree taste” that people usually love or hate. Juniper is very subtle in this gin, unlike more juniper-heavy gins like Tanqueray or Beefeater. Caorunn also lacks the sweet citrus of Bluecoat or Bombay Sapphire. This is not a gin to use in a complex cocktail because it’s delicate and the flavor is overpowered easily. So far, I’ve enjoyed this gin most in a very simple cocktail, the totally dry martini.

Totally Dry Martini

  • 2 oz high-quality gin
  • stir vigorously on ice for 20 seconds
  • strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • no garnish

Perrier and Cocktails [+ Giveaway]

perrier flavors

A staple to any home bar is club soda, and I find myself running out of it more often than anything. There are several “fizzy waters” that you can outfit your bar with – club soda, seltzer, or mineral water – are they all the same and will they all work in cocktails? I’ve found the answer to be yes, but The Kitchn will give you the science behind it all. My short answer? Mineral water can be more flavorful and is more natural. That brings us to the mother of all mineral water: Perrier.

perrier cocktails

Lemon, Lime, Pink Grapefruit, and original Perrier, all great in their own right, also make some great simple cocktails:

Perrier Mojito

  • 2 oz white rum
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • muddle the above with mint leaves
  • fill with ice, top with Perrier Lime
  • garnish with mint sprig and a lime wedge

Perrier Tom Collins

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • fill with ice, top with Perrier Lemon
  • garnish with a lemon wedge and a cherry

Cape Perrier

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz cranberry juice
  • fill with ice, top with original Perrier
  • garnish with lime

Perrier Greyhound

  • 2 oz vodka
  • fill with ice, top with Perrier Pink Grapefruit
  • grapefruit or orange peel garnish

Perrier has generously offered to ship one of our readers a 2 month supply (2 cases) of Perrier for your home bar! Just leave a comment below saying which of these cocktails you would try first, and you’ll be entered to win! (sorry, U.S. addresses only) Contest ends September 30, 2012.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Martini

Chocolate Covered Cherry Martinis

This cocktail is really simple once you have the ingredients. I tried it with both Don Quixote Blue Corn Vodka (a sweeter vodka) and Bombay Sapphire Gin (a softer, more citrusy gin). They were both really good, so just use what you prefer or what you have in the cabinet.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Martini

  • 2 oz vodka or gin
  • 1/2 oz Luxardo Cherry liqueur
  • 2 dashes of Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate bitters (Amazon link)
  • stir well with ice, strain into a cocktail glass
  • garnish with a cherry (of course!)

Glenglassaugh Revival Scotch

Glenglassaugh Revival Scotch

I’d venture to say that Glenglassaugh Revival is the only Glenglassaugh line most of us will be able to afford. It’s a speyside scotch that is the youngest available Glenglassaugh, selling for around $55. Other vintages of Glenglassaugh are 26+ year old and start at about $200 a bottle. Their 45-year old sells for over $2,300 a bottle. The distillery closed down for several years and Revival is the first product they’ve released since reopening.

I added some cool water and found Glenglassaugh Revival light, fresh, and mild. Scotch is distilled from barley and the earthy barley of Revival prevails in a cool, clean way. It’s not as rich or buttery as Amrut, but both have their own appropriate drinking occasions.

Mercy

Mercy

Mercy is a “hangover prevention drink” that comes in a little 8.4 oz can (like Red Bull) and it is meant to be consumed either as a cocktail mixer, while you are enjoying several cocktails, or after you’ve had several cocktails. The internet is peppered with people testing the effectiveness of Mercy – some praise it, while others felt it didn’t help. Because you can read lots of different opinions all over the web, and because I didn’t want to get drunk to “test” this stuff, I’m taking a different approach.

In the FAQ section at drinkmercy.com, I found that Mercy can help prevent “Alcohol flush,” which some of my friends get and I can rarely make them cocktails as a result. I made a little “Mercy Kit” with G’Vine Gin, Mercy, and a lime, and I asked my friend Kevin to try it out. He told me “my alcohol intolerance symptoms involve a) being miserable when I drink because my sinuses get super plugged and b) a crazy hangover. After drinking this elixir, I still suffered the sinus craziness but have no hangover. It’s worth it.”

mercy pack

Mercy is a potentially helpful companion to alcohol in several ways: it can prevent alcohol flush, it can protect your liver (it contains milk thistle), it can amp up your immune system, and it can potentially prevent illness the next day. It’s a practical drink, so the fact that it has a very pronounced vitamin flavor is pretty much irrelevant. Mercy is available in New York and Miami, or you can order direct online.

Jalapeño Bacon Margarita

Tanteo Jalapeño Bacon Margarita

Tanteo Tequila is a mid-range ($40-50) flavored tequila that comes in tropical, chocolate, or jalapeño-infused flavors. The jalapeño variety is a faint green and has a very natural taste, but can be a bit off-putting in the wrong drink. I found Tanteo Jalapeño in a regular margarita to be interesting, but a bit too pungent because the jalapeño on your breath will likely stick around longer than the tequila in your blood.

I developed a drink based on an idea my wife had. She makes these killer bacon jalapeño poppers and said “why don’t you try to make a drink like that?” I created something that worked really well.

Tanteo Jalapeño Bacon Margarita

The Jalapeño Bacon Margarita (by Greg Mays)

  • 2 oz Tanteo Jalapeño tequila
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz Torani bacon syrup
  • serve in a salt-rimmed glass, up or on the rocks
  • lime wedge and/or jalapeño garnish

For the vegetarians out there, Torani Bacon is both vegan-safe and Kosher, so this may be one of the few meat-based cocktails that’s safe for all consciences. On a safety note, however, don’t get this in your eyes. As I was dropping ice in my shaker, I got a splash of the lime/jalapeño in my eye. Ouch.

Bluecoat Gin

bluecoat gin

Bluecoat Gin is an “American Dry Gin” distilled 5 times in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s made from all natural, organic ingredients, including a “proprietary citrus blend” (more on that in a moment), and it comes in a sexy etched blue bottle. I tried it for the first time in a martini, which I’d argue is the perfect apéritif (before dinner) drink. I added 2 1/2 oz of Bluecoat, 1/2 oz dry vermouth, and stirred until ice-cold, then strained into a chilled glass with an olive garnish.

Gin geek rant (everyone else, skip down a paragraph): Bluecoat is a very tasty gin, and as I taste more and more gins, I’ve come to realize that unbridled citrus can spoil the flavor of gin for me. John Bernasconi (KGB Spirits owner) told me he discovered that too much citrus causes a gin to clash with the olive garnish in a martini. Since I made this discovery, I realize that my gin palate has me loving a gin like Tanqueray the most and further down would be a gin like Bombay Sapphire. The more prominent the juniper and more muted the citrus, the more I like it. Here’s a quote (by me): “I want my gin to taste more like pine trees and less like an orange grove.” A gin like Martin Miller’s Gin, though, has some subtle, soft citrus flavors, but still tastes good to a juniper lover like me. This brings us back to Bluecoat.

Unless citrus is handled properly in a gin, it can detract from my enjoyment and the mixability of that gin. While Bluecoat proudly touts citrus on the ingredient list, the gin still works incredibly well in a martini. The unique flavor you’ll find in Bluecoat is a mid-drink sweetness that still finishes quite dry. This is a good gin to drink straight, too, as it’s got some great complexities to it’s flavor. If you love gin, I think you’ll appreciate Bluecoat. God bless America.

Karlsson’s Gold Vodka

Karlsson's Gold Vodka

Karlsson’s calls their vodka “a natural vodka with taste.” It’s distilled from virgin potatoes in Sweden once, which is really unusual for vodka – most vodkas are distilled 4-6 times to render it properly flavorless. Karlssons has lots of flavor then, just as they claim. It has a very earthy scent, not the usual vodka ethanol smell I expected. I had it in their signature drink: the Black Gold. This may be the simplest cocktail yet.

Black Gold

  • 2 oz Karlsson’s vodka, poured over ice
  • dust the top with fresh cracked black pepper

I could never imagine drinking vodka this way and being able to describe it as “refreshing,” but it is certainly that. Karlsson’s is full-flavored, sweet, earthy, with minimal alcohol burn, and as far as I can recall, it may be the most interesting sipping vodka I’ve tried.

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