I’m excited to announce what may be one of the most useful features available at Simple Cocktails yet: home bar buyers guides! Whether your budget is $50 or $500, I outline for you the basic ingredients to make the largest amount of cocktails in your price range. Now go shopping!
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is likely the most unique name for a distillery I’ve ever encountered. Art in the Age for short, they believe in “empowering artists producing high quality work marked by fine craft and intellectual rigor.” On a practial level, this means they design and manufacture everything from belts to booze. This is not a belt blog, however, so I’ll focus on the booze.
There are currently 4 Art in the Age spirits: ROOT, SNAP, RHUBARB, and SAGE. I believe the first three (not SAGE) are considered liqueurs as they contain sugar, but they are not sticky-sweet, are totally organic, and are 40% AVB (most liqueurs are around 20%). I tried ROOT and SAGE.
Art in the Age says they made ROOT because they “thought it would be interesting and fun to turn back the clock and recreate a true pre-temperance alcoholic Root Tea.” The initial scent is root-beer-like, but the finish is surprisingly not sweet. In fact, it’s very much like an unsweetened black tea, quite herbal, and a flavor almost like a lit cigar. I mixed a “ROOT and Tonic“: 1 part ROOT to 2 parts tonic with a splash of maple syrup. I’ve yet to find a way to drink ROOT that I enjoyed.
Then I opened a bottle of SNAP, a ginger snap liqueur. I liked the ginger flavor right away and found it sweeter than ROOT. I then mixed SNAP with bourbon, equal parts of each, and fell in love. It’s Fall in a glass. Whether at room temperature or stirred to freezing cold, it’s an outstanding flavor combination that finishes very clean and tasty. For the lack of decent Fall cocktails out there, this one has already made it to the top of my list. I loved it and you’ll find that pairing this with bourbon makes an outstanding simple cocktail. I only hope my bottle of SNAP stays around until the Fall.
- 1 1/2 oz SNAP liqueur
- 1 1/2 oz Knob Creek Bourbon
- serve room temperature, on the rocks, or stirred and strained into a cocktail glass
India’s larget distillery Amrut makes Old Port Deluxe Matured Rum ($25) along with their large line of single malt whiskies. The scent of the rum is creamy butterscotch and it’s got a bit of spice in the finish. It also makes a fine ingredient for this simple cocktail:
According to the extremely complex rules of the English language, there are 2 spellings of “whiskey.” There’s whisky and whiskey. Generally the differentiation is how much the stuff resembles Scotch, which is the e-less whisky. American and Irish whiskies, like Jack Daniel’s or Jameson, use the extra e.
Amrut is in the tradition of Scotch, but it is distilled in India. Amrut Whisky is distilled from “Indian barley grown at the foot of the Himalayas.” As a quick reminder, usually for whisk(e)ys, barley = scotch, corn = american whiskey, and rye or other grains may be used, too.
“Regular” Amrut Single Malt was something brand new to me. I was met with a buttery and rich flavor combination that I would describe as “filling.” It finished in a very earthy, Indian fashion. It’s a much more complex flavor combination than I’m used to. It’s 46% ABV, and like anything over 40%, I found that adding water helped the flavor to settle and kept it from hitting me too intensely. Amrut Single Malt will run you about $55 a bottle.
Amrut Single Malt Fusion is a different animal as it is even more complex in flavor. The distillery combines the Indian Himalayan barley with Scottish barley (that’s the “fusion”). It’s 50% ABV, and I ended up adding both water and ice in order to properly taste all the flavors it offered. Smoke is a prominent flavor that came forward in Fusion that I had not noticed in the standard Amrut. There is much more peat/mossy flavor in this rich whisky as well.
My concusion about barley-based single malts from this tasting, then, is they have a very complex flavor set that has to be savored slowly – it may be the most full and rich liquid I’ve ever encountered in a glass. This is an amazing whisky for sure and if you’re seeking a smokier, peatier whisky, this is certainly the one to try. Amurut Fusion retails for $75. As with any bottle of liquor of this quality, this is one to drink straight. Few, if any, simple cocktails will do these justice.
KGB Spirits in Alcalde, New Mexico has a gin that everyone should try because it’s great. Winning a bronze medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition this year, Los Luceros Hacienda Gin is unique in that it has a potato base (instead of neutral grains), and according to KGB owner John Bernasconi, it’s the only potato-based gin in the world. Hacienda is a London Dry Gin, so you’ll notice the juniper immediately on tasting it, but there are elements that are unique to Hacienda that I found familiar as well, from its earthy finish to Hacienda to it’s pleasant freshness. Bernasconi said that he wanted to make a world-class product with his gin, so he’s sought out rare botanicals to use in Hacienda from around the world.
After a sip of straight Hacienda, I made my favorite cocktail, the Gin Old Fashioned. I tasted the difference in the flavor profile and it was great. A minty, herbal freshness told me I was dealing with something southwestern, but the flavor was still very comfortable for a London Dry gin lover. Even the bottle will draw you in, with a small, classy label, a handmarked distillery tag, and a crystal-clear glass stopper to match the gin. If you’re in or near New Mexico, buy yourself some Hacienda gin – it’s an excellent buy at $35. The rest of you? Start praying now for distribution to your part of the world.
- 2 1/2 oz Hacienda Gin
- 1/2 oz dry vermouth
- olive garnish
A new brand of tequila has made an appearance in Albuquerque liquor stores: JLP Tequila. Named for the former governor of the Villa of Tequila, Jesus Lopez Portillo Y Galindo, JLP is a mid-range tequila will run you about $20-30, and it’s made from 100% agave. I tried all 3 of the varieties: Blanco (unaged), Reposado (aged 6 months), and Añejo (aged 12 months), and I’m pretty impressed. While it has been widely available in California, JLP is new to New Mexico.
First, an explanation about the two types of tequila manufacture. Tequila is distilled from agave, just like some whiskey is distilled from corn, but there are 2 different ways of processing it from there: 100% agave or mixto. 100% agave is the most pure type, with no added ingredients. A mixto uses at least 51% agave, then sugars are used to make up the remainder of the mixture. This would expain why 100% agave tequilas start at $20, but a bottle of Jose Cuervo is $13. It’s a mixto.
The older a tequila is, the less appropriate it is for cocktails, so I made a margarita with the JLP Blanco and found that it made an outstanding margarita, one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s a very smooth tequila and the muggyness that tequila is famous for is a bit more subtle.
Tasting it in a glass by itself, the JLP Añejo is very smooth, highlighted by an outstanding peppery/chili finish. The middle child, JLP Reposado, is a fine tequila for a Tequila Old Fashioned:
Tequila Old Fashioned
- in an old fashioned glass, add:
- 1 tsp of raw sugar
- 3 dashes of orange bitters
- 2 oz of JLP Reposado Tequila
- fill with ice and stir well
- garnish with a lime wedge
Spodee is a brand new wine-based drink, combining red wine with moonshine, garden herbs, and a little chocolate, to end up with a very unique fortified wine. Like vermouth or port, combining the wine base with a higher-proof spirit makes Spodee more shelf-stable, as wine alone would spoil a few days after opened.
Spodee comes in a old-timey milk bottle and one of the signature drinks is “Spodee and Sody,” mixing Spodee with your soda of choice. The company recommends using a 1:1 ratio of Spodee to soda, which is good, but most folks who tasted it with me felt that a ratio of 1:4 Spodee to soda was better. The chocolate is the primary flavor you’ll taste, ending up with a Chocolate-Coke-type drink. You can see why Spodee’s clever marketing is a throwback to soda fountains and diners. There are even a few breakfast recipes with Spodee, like the Rise and Wine or Spodee and Joe.
Spodee retails for about $9 in a half-liter jug.
The Negroni, a simple cocktail with 3 ingredients:
- 1 oz gin (I used Martin Miller’s)
- 1 oz Campari
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
You can mix these together on ice in an old fashioned glass (on the rocks) or stir them with ice and strain them into a chilled cocktail glass “up.” Either way, garnish with an orange slice.
Whiskey, like most distilled liquors, is made from grain. Depending on the type of grain that’s used, the whiskey will take on those particular characteristics. Corn whiskies, like Tennessee whiskey or bourbon, may have a sweetness and sometimes sour flavor. Barley whiskies, like Scotch, may taste peaty or grassy. Rye whiskies are spicy, like cinnamon, and that flavor gives them their own unique place in the library of whiskies. It’s the primary ingredient in the New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac. While rye whiskey has been hard to find over the past several decades, it’s making a comeback in the U.S. and many distillers have released brand new ryes this summer.
Though I have famously described myself as a “gin guy” and occasionally a “whiskey hater,” rye’s unique flavor has really won me over, and I’ve enjoyed all the ryes I’ve tasted so far. Some friends and I got together to taste 3 of the top American Straight Rye Whiskies this year, according to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. We tried:
- Knob Creek Rye, the “Best Rye Double Gold Medal” winner
- Bulleit Rye, a “Gold Medal” winner
- Taos Lightning Rye by KGB Spirits, a “Bronze Medal” winner (we tried both the 5- and 15-year varieties)
The spiciness and flavor of these three rye whiskies is outstanding. I would say the rye taste corrects the flavor objections I normally have when I drink whiskey. It doesn’t have that sweet finish of bourbon or the sourness of Tennessee corn whiskies, but leaves a nice tingle on the tongue. Knob Creek was the smoothest of the 3 brands, though I assume that’s because it contains less rye (Bulleit and Taos Lightning both contain 95% rye, Knob Creek is unspecified). If you normally enjoy whiskey, these three ryes will give you a unique flavor profile that you may grow to appreciate, too. If you’re not normally a whiskey fan, try a sip of rye and see if the difference is significant enough to sway you. These particular ryes are 90-100 proof, so a splash of cool spring water or a bit of ice helps the flavor to blossom before you drink it.
Bulleit, Knob Creek, and Taos Lightning 5-year are all similar in age to one another, and will run you about $30, $40, and $55 respectively. All three are certainly worth their price tags. The first two have national distribution and you can likely get them at your local liquor store. Taos Lightning can be purchased at these retailers in northern New Mexico. From the perspective of age though, the 15-year-old Taos Lightning is particularly unique, as 15 years is a very rare age for a rye whiskey (5 years is more common). The age does make a difference in this case as the older Taos Lightning is quite smooth. The more mature Taos Lightning retails for $85.
This recipe comes courtesy of Sami Capshaw, bartender at Apothecary and my fellow Albuquerque the Magazine publishee. This recipe will be one of many featured in my upcoming ebook “Simple Cocktails from the Experts.” This is a tasty beverage (recipe below)!
- In a shaker, add a 1/2″ cucumber slice and 1/2 oz simple syrup.
- Muddle that cucumber to bits.
- Add 2 oz of Hendrick’s Gin and shake with lots of ice.
- Double strain into a cocktail glass (pour through the shaker and a tight mesh strainer too).
- Garnish with a cucumber wheel.