Don Quixote Bourbon and Gin

“Clear alcohol is for rich women on diets.” ~Ron Swanson

Don Quixote Distillery in Los Alamos is one of only 3 distilleries in New Mexico right now (Santa Fe and KGB are the others).  Don Quixote makes 5 spirits, some ports, several wines, and even vanilla extract.

Don Quixote Bourbon

Don Quixote Blue Corn bourbon is “the world’s only bourbon made from New Mexico blue corn” and there’s no other way to say this: it’s outstanding.  I prefer gin most of the time and generally don’t like whiskey much, but this is by far the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  The sourness I usually dislike in whiskey (is it the “malt”?) isn’t there, and when you swallow, it’s cool and fresh tasting with very little alcohol burn.  This bourbon is smooth and sweet and I’m not going to use it in cocktails because it tastes too good on its own.  This will be perfect in a frozen glass with just an orange peel in it.

Don Quixote Spirit de Santa Fe Gin

Don Quixote Distillery also makes two types of gin, and I tried the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin, with “natural botancials; including juniper, pinion, chamisa, sage, and rose hips.”

This gin surprised me.  It’s extremely aromatic, and has a unique “desert” quality to the flavor, I think maybe the sage stands out the most.  The issue I had with this gin was the fact that the alcohol overpowers the initial flavor of it, only to be followed by a big aromatic, botanical finish.  This really prevents it from being good for sipping straight, as it’s just not smooth enough, so I tried it in some cocktails.

A Gin Old Fashioned is one of my favorite drinks, so I mixed the Spirit de Santa Fe Gin with simple syrup, aromatic and orange bitters, a splash of club soda, and an orange and cherry garnish.  This is a cocktail where the aromatics of the bitters and fruit tend to be the first thing that hits you, but not with this gin – that aromatic-desert-pungency remains the primary smell and flavor, just like when you drink the gin straight.

I finally got the idea to try this gin as a substitute for tequila in a margarita, and because of that aromatic-desert-pungency, that combination worked pretty well.

Don Quixote Blue Corn Bourbon is available for $30 at the Don Quixote Store online, or you can buy it at the distillery in Los Alamos.  The gin is sold in half or full bottles for $20 and $30 and it’s certainly something to try because of its unique flavor, though it may not be for everyone.

Don Quixote Distillery and Winery

Genever: “Dutch Courage”

boomsma genever

Genever (or jenever), pronounced “YUH-nee-vur,” has it’s roots in the Dutch word for juniper, as that’s the primary botanical in it, similar to gin. Genever is the most popular spirit in the Netherlands. There are a few brands of genever available in the U.S.: Bols and Boomsma, and American-made “genever-style” Genevieve, but only one is currently distributed to New Mexico, and that’s Boomsma.

There are two types of Boomsma Genever, jonge and oude, and they’re very different from each other. Wikipedia summarizes it great: “Jonge genever has a neutral taste, like vodka, with a slight aroma of juniper. Oude genever has a smoother, very aromatic taste with malty flavours. Oude genever is sometimes aged in wood; its malty, woody and smoky flavours lend a resemblance to whiskey.”

I made the mistake of expecting genever to be like gin when I first opened the bottles. Like it says, there is a light aroma of juniper to the jonge genever, which I smelled when I first opened the bottle, but that was it. After tasting the jonge genever, it was very much like vodka, with a very faint hint of herbs. The oude tasted a lot like American whiskey, which was frankly pretty alarming for me as I’m normally not a fan of American whiskeys.

boomsma genever

Once I got over the fact that I was not dealing with gin (it took me 2 days), I made a Holland Martini with the jonge genever. It was really good, and unique enough that I’d recommend it as a herbal alternative to a vodka martini:

  • 2 oz jonge genever
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • olive garnish
  • stir, strain into a cocktail glass

I also found a recipe to use the oude genever in the Holland Razor Blade:

  • 2 oz oude genever
  • ¾ oz lemon juice
  • ¾ oz simple syrup
  • shake, strain into a cocktail glass
  • sprinkle a pinch of cayenne pepper over the top
holland razor blade cocktail

Surprisingly, the Holland Razor Blade was good and very easy to drink.  I didn’t like the taste of oude genever straight, but it worked really well in a cocktail, just like the jonge.

I would ultimately describe genever as a botanical/interesting alternative to vodka and whiskey, but not much of a gin alternative. As a bartender, genever is a great tool for some variety in your cocktails. As a gin lover, the jonge will give you an occasional alternate flavor to London Dry, but will not ultimately replace your Tanqueray.

Boomsma Oude and Jonge can both be found in Albuquerque at Jubilation Wine & Spirits.

Thrift Shop Book Score!

thrift shop cocktail books

I got some great cocktail books at the thrift shops today:

What, When, Where, and How to Drink (1955) by Richard L. Williams and David Myers for 25¢ (Amazon).

Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide by Mr. Boston for 25¢ (Amazon).

Tennessee Legend with a Pictorial of Old Bottles and Jugs by Jack Daniel’s Distillery for $1.99 (Amazon).

The Complete Bartender by Robyn M. Feller for $3.99 (newer edition from Amazon).

…and the score of the day: Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide (1972) by Trader Vic Bergeron for a whopping $3.49! half.com and Amazon are selling it for $30-300.

Don’t forget to look at thrift shops for your old-timey books and glassware.

Santa Fe Spirits Distillery Tour

santa fe spirits sign

I had the pleasure of taking the VIP tour at Santa Fe Spirits in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Santa Fe Spirits distills unaged Silver Coyote Whiskey, Expedition Vodka, and SF Spirits Apple Brandy.  They have been in business since Spring of 2011 and plans are in currently the works for gin and single malt whiskey, too.  On the day I went, I had the pleasure of meeting everyone: the owner Colin, their distiller Nick, and their all-around good guy Sean.

santa fe spirits distillery

Sean served as my tour guide and showed me the distilling equipment and warehouse.  Everything is distilled at least twice, with the vodka going through 6 cycles of distillation.  Malt is the basis for their whiskey and corn is the basis for their vodka and both are distilled very traditionally.

The first batch of Apple Brandy is sold out there at the distillery (though you may still be able to pick up a bottle at a New Mexico Trader Joe’s) and they were in the midst of aging batch #2.  It’s made in the traditional calvados style and the genesis of it was in Colin’s backyard apple orchard.

santa fe spirits tasting room

I did, however, have the opportunity to try Silver Coyote Whiskey and Expedition Vodka (both are great).  Sean is very knowledgable and between him and SF Spirits’ distiller Nick, I had all the information I could want.  Nick told me about their future plans for distilling gin and gave me tastes of some botanicals for that, too.

It’s important to note that their Silver Coyote Whiskey is unaged, which means it’s a clear whiskey, and very unique.  It tastes like whiskey for sure, but as Sean described it, a whiskey drinker may or may not like it, and folks who usually like clear spirits tend to like it quite a bit.  I agree as it’s the best whiskey I’ve had yet, and I’m a gin lover.

Sean also served me a bit of their barrel-aged Manhattan, which they can serve you when you go to Santa Fe Spirits for cocktails.  Bitters, sweet vermouth, and Silver Coyote in a little mini-barrel makes an outstanding cocktail and I made myself one at home, too, to make sure I was right about how good it was.

All in all, it’s a treat to visit SF Spirits, and the team there is stellar at what they do. I have found their whiskey and brandy at Trader Joe’s in Albuquerque and you can search nearby places to buy their products by clicking here.

Book Review: Gin: A Global History

gin a global history book

I just finished reading Gin: A Global History, which I won from 12 Bottle Bar. David and Leslie run the site over there and since Leslie Solmonson’s the author, she also graciously signed the book before sending it to me.

This is part of the Edible Series on food and drink by Reaktion Books, and the series also has books on wine, rum, whiskey, or even cake, sandwiches, and potatoes. They’re small books, 8″x5″, hardbacks with matching vanilla colored dust covers, each with a simple illustration. They are usually around 150 pages, and they make great coffee table books. The Gin book  has 140 pages of content and 15 pages of recipes and reference.

Gin: A Global History is a good book and the brevity makes it easy to read and enjoy. The illustrations and images are big and colorful, so the text here is to the point. Just like it’s title says, it’s a good, concise global history of gin.

gin a global history book

My favorite part is later in the book when the types of gin are compared and described – London Dry’s juniper-forward flavor in Tanqueray or Beefeater, the more Americanized citrus-forward gins like Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray 10, or the new style craft gins such as Hendrick’s and Aviation. I’ve had trouble figuring out why I don’t like Sapphire, and this section alone helped me get to the bottom of it.

Gin: A Global History is a great book, and if you like gin it’s a must-buy.  Having 10 pages of gin based recipes in the back is a nice bonus, and the first one I’m going to try is the Gin and Tonic Sorbet!

Buy the book here and make sure you visit 12 Bottle Bar.  Their site is very similar to ours in that they aim to make home cocktail making accessible for everyone.

Trader Joe’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey

trader joe's single malt irish whiskey

I’m not much of a whiskey guy.  Every time I tried Jack Daniels, I shivered at the taste. My friend is a Jameson fan, and I discovered that Irish whiskey has the smoothness I couldn’t find in its Tennessee brother.  I found a bottle of Single Malt Irish Whiskey at Trader Joe’s (their house brand) to try out for $20.  Jameson was $30 at Trader’s, but I know you can find it for $20 too if you shop around enough.

It’s good – definitely as good as Jameson – on my tongue.  There’s some bite, but it’s very smooth, and there’s a great citrus nose (fancy drinking word) and aftertaste.  I bought this as a “sippin’ whiskey,” so I haven’t bothered to mix it in a cocktail, though I’m likely to try and Old Fashioned and a Manhattan soon.

206 Distillery in Seattle

206 distillery

I had the opportunity to visit 206 Distillery in downtown Seattle recently, who make Counter Gin and Batch 206 Vodka, and got a tour from Rusty Figgins, their master distiller. Rusty let us start with a small (1/2 oz) colder-than-freezing taste of their vodka, which was good but not particularly different for other mid-range vodkas I’ve tried.  After my palate was cleared, I had an ice-cold sip of their gin.

Rusty then showed us the distilling chambers and some of the new projects they’re working on, which were aging in barrels at the time (hint: whiskey and brandy) and let us see the clean red wheat that their vodka is distilled from.

206 distillery

All in all, it was a fun day, and Rusty is a lot of fun to hang out with. I bought a bottle of Counter Gin for $25, and it’s been well worth it. The gin is great, a good strong taste, very botanical. Rusty showed me the various botanics that go into the gin as part of the tour. To give it a review, it’s got plenty of juniper flavor and some burn, and I’d call it a gin-lover’s gin, which is to say it’s not as smooth and friendly as Hendrick’s is to the common man.

Homemade Cocktail Cherries

I have an aversion to high fructose corn syrup. I began avoiding it 4 years ago and lost a bunch of weight as a result.  One of the final hurdles for my HFCS-avoidance is maraschino cherries.  The jars of cherries at the store contain pitted cherries, red dye, and HFCS.  I’ve been looking for alternatives, and found a simple recipe to make your own.

Homemade Cocktail Cherries

Combine:

  • Trader Joe’s Dried Bing Cherries (these are pitted too).
  • Brandy of your choosing.  I used Pierre Duchene, which is $8 at Trader Joe’s.
  • A container.

Combine them so that the cherries are completely submerged, and leave some room because they’ll swell quite a bit.

brandy cherries submerged

Ew….but leave them in there for 2 days minimum, and here’s what you get:

brandy cherries plumped

Wow! I had to top it off again with brandy as they really swelled up on me.  Now the result is a firm cherry, not sweet at all (I’m considering using a little sugar in the jar next time).  I’ve used them in Old Fashioneds and they come out great!

The Gibson

Gibson cocktail

This is a great opportunity to use your smaller glassware…the “classic” stuff.

Gibson

  • 2 oz. gin
  • a splash of dry vermouth
  • garnish with a cocktail onion

Some suggest that you simply wave the vermouth bottle over the glass, making for a truly dry drink (i.e. straight gin), I go with a little splash though.  Shake or stir with lots of ice until freezing cold with a nice layer of ice on top, strain into a 2 1/2 oz cocktail glass and drink immediately.

As I noted with a martini before, put ice water in the empty glass while you’re mixing – it gets the glass just as cold as freezing it would, but it’s much easier.  The key to this drink is cold!

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