Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How To Tell If You Are Dead

After several months of experimentation, I've devised a simple test which, with a few common household ingredients, can be used to temporarily resolve that nagging question "Am I Dead?"


1.  Fill a shot glass 1/2 full of Aquavit
2. Stare at it for 45 to 180 seconds
3. Fill the shot glass to brim with Green Chartreuse
4. Drink shot glass in single swallow

Interpreting Your Results

Did you feel anything at all at any point in this process? If so, then you are likely not dead. If doubts remain, feel free to repeat the procedure as many times as needed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Which Palates are Atypically and Unconvetionally Pleased - Plum TUiCĂ & R. Jelínek Original Recipe Fernet

One of the excitements of making cocktails at home is that each unique drink that you undertake is a new opportunity to fail completely; to ruin otherwise delicious (and frequently expensive) ingredients, waste your time, and bespoil the mouths of friends and Margaretts. Wouldn't it be better to make a 'classic' drink, any of the dozens which have been developed by experts and refined by a century of evolution, sure to please the palate and simplify the pre-dinner hour? No. The stakes at risk in drink-making are quite low compared to most other aspects of modern life. That's not to suggest that somehow by failing at drink making you are less likely to fail somewhere else, but more that by getting accustomed to failure on the small-scale, by making failure part of life's routines, you can better inure yourself to the grand shocks that the great Thunderer surely has in store for you.

"Failure has made a good old man of me. It was horrible at first, but I'm glad I've failed. Praise be to God for the failure!"

I mention this both because I am chronically depressed and deeply pessimistic, but also as a counterpoint and reminder, because I have recently SUCCEEDED, succeeded beyond measure and precedence. My metric for concluding this is simple and iron-clad. In asking Margarett if she would like a drink, instead of requesting her usual glass of cold gin or Mezcal Sour she said "could you make that yummy cocktail again?" a heretofore unheard of experience. What could be contained in such a magic elixir? Romanian-style Tuica (Plum Brandy) and knock-off Fernet from the Czech Republic. Wham! I AM GREAT AND SMART.

Plum Brandy has become my spirit-of-choice in these last few months. Now that we have hit Peak Whiskey, I have been exploring other options in the hopes of finding a more democratic spirit. Plum brandy (or tuica, slivovitz, palinka, prune, or whatever balkanization you wish to employ) has an honest taste. The flavor says 'I am about to work' or later 'I have worked.' Perhaps that is why plum brandy fails to resonate with the puerile American tongue. The complaint that 'it's too strong' is possibly valid if you belong to a certain demographic. Even so, when someone rejects my plum brandy as being too robust a water, it is difficult not to advise them to stick with thin beef broth until their invalidity passes.

As you can see from that, while the flavor of fruit brandies move me profoundly, there are other perks to championing them.  Plum brandy, alongside grappa, provides the best opportunity to sneer at the ignorance and weakness of others. When grappa comes up in conversation, they (the philistine) will often make a face and say something with the goal of conveying "ugh, I've been to Italy, what wretched stuff." Quickly, give them a look composed of equal measures scorn and pity, as though they said something like "why should I see the Sistine Chapel, I have a ceiling at home." Your glare should suggest that they are what is holding back the progress of art and humanity, which angers you, yet you can't help but have sympathy for someone to whom so many of nature's wonders are closed to.

This cocktail features Milibit's (or possibly Lil Bit) distillery's Plum TUiCĂ, which is made in Woodburn, Oregon. It is difficult to tease out much information about them, as their website features a Geocities-era Men At Work jpeg. FACTS: It is made out of some kind of plums, and is 40% alcohol. It is also quite tasty, with a different flavor than Clear Creek / Slivovitz style plum brandies, more sour and savory, with a strong smell of fermenting plum.

R. Jelínek Original Recipe Fernet (my second trip to Wikipedia to find letters with diacritical marks...) is a liqueur from the Czech Republic which bears little connection to the Italy or other assorted Fernets I've tasted. Sweeter, far less bitter, with more of the warm fall baking spice aspects (prune, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, caramel) and less mint. R. Jelínek is known for their plum spirits, but for some reason Oregon only receives the Fernet.

oregon plum brandy tuica R Jelinek Fernet sour cocktail
I Need To See A Map

1.5 oz Plum Brandy (Mili bit Tuica)
.5 oz R. Jelinek Original Recipe Fernet
.75 oz 50/50 Lemon & Lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
Egg White (fresh)

This is how I make a whiskey sour, but with no whiskey, and extra plum brandy and Czech liqueur. Follow general whiskey sour making procedures. This is very delicious, so after you finish this quickly prepare a bad-tasting drink to return balance to your life. I made one featuring grappa and a decoction of dandelion root and catnip that I'd prepared as a herbal remedy for my cat's dandruff problem. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MxMo LXXXIX - In Which The Treasures And Abominations of Italy Are Examined

Mixology Monday happened, but also 1500 lb of very ripe plums arrived at the distillery, so unpaid (and typically under-appreciated) content Milling was put on hold temporarily. The plums are happily bubbling away now, and boy could I go for a drink.

The theme this month was selected by Chris at A Bar Above. His blog is everything mine isn't, namely informative, friendly, and useful. To each their own. The internet is a big place, and I firmly believe there is still room for both people who want to spread knowledge that will empower people to make better drinks AND for bitter cranks with ugly, poorly-formatted sites that are useful to no one. The theme selected was "unknown"

Basically the idea is to try something new, an ingredient or technique that you’ve never had experience with before and create a cocktail around it… Use a spirit that you’ve never used before. It could be a base spirit, modifier or that Belgian Ale that rings in at 15% alcohol. Use an ingredient that has always captured your imagination in the supermarket. Maybe that weird looking fruit that you always walk by at Whole Foods, or that unusual looking vegetable that you can’t even pronounce. [or] Use a new technique that you’ve never tried, but have always wanted to. Have you been dying to make your own vermouth, amaro, or martini glass made completely out of flavored sugar.

The 'unknown' is my bread and butter around here, and I am enmeshed with it deeply enough that it sometimes becomes difficult to separate the unknown from the commonplace. In the same way if someone asked me to write about a jazz flutist, I would be left sputtering for something to say, not because know nothing but because I know too much. So basically after going uuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh for a while, I decided to try a few 'italian' cocktails, ordinarily something I'd give a wide berth.

There are a few italian cocktails that have achieved fame; the recently inescapable Negroni, the mostly similar Americano, the tasty but I suspect Austrian Aperol Spritz and the barely a cocktail Bellini. All delicious things, but not a very diverse list. Should you choose to venture beyond those the options quickly narrow and grim results loom. A Manhattan ordered at an otherwise delightful piazza-side 'bar' stands vivid in my mind as one of the worst drinks I've ever paid for, and the general sense seemed to be that further exploration would not be rewarded.

Why? My time in Italy has not been extensive, but you don't need to be there very long to grasp how different their drinking culture is from Americas. Primarily, there are no 'bars' in the sense of a place you go to get really fucked up. Drinks always (and just about only) accompany food, a quick glass of wine arrives with a snack plate, or the shot of fernet you desperately require to survive the digestion of la cucina tipica will come with some cookies. The cocktails which get served are mostly low alcohol, fizzing, and served only in a slim pre-dinner window. It's outside their conception that an otherwise healthful person might want to drink 5 oz of rum on an empty stomach. So it seems other cocktails are approached from that viewpoint of befuddlement about how or why someone would drink what they are preparing.

With that in mind, lets try a few Italian drinks.

The Moretta is a hot coffee-based drink which is claimed by the town of Fano in Marche, a port town of some 64,000 souls. The wikipedia entry for this drink very tellingly claims "In the past, the poor economised, so leftovers were gathered together as a liquor. Over time, these ingredients became the basis for moretta." I've used Mistra, a type of anisette typical to the Marche/Lazio region, because this is the only recipe in the history of the world that specifically called for it. Mistra is excellent in coffee, as it contains very little sugar compared to many anise spirits.
1/2 oz Mistra or other Anisetta
1/2 oz Rum
1/2 Brandy (Grappa Piave is great in coffee)
4-5 oz espresso or Moka Pot
spoonful of sugar
Lemon peel

Rinse glass with hot water to warm, then blend together spirits (warmed in another vessel) with sugar and lemon peel. Add coffee. Pretend you are a rugged peasant fisherman, warming up after a tough day hauling in your meager bounty, rather than someone sitting in a warm house and blogging in their boxers.

You know what, I quite enjoyed that. Breakfast has been dispatched but the cutting board is still dirty so lets have Second Breakfast. This next recipe is courtesy of Renato G. Dettori's 1953 book "Italian Wines and Liqueurs". While his cocktail recipes are somewhat suspicious, in his section on "Nutritional Properties" he offers my personal credo that "alcoholic drinks are a valuable supplement to food and undeniably have a positive effect on health".

Italian Bloody Mary

1/2 Absinthe
1 Tomato Juice
1 teaspoon of grenadine syrup
Pinch of Salt

Renato's recipe didn't include directions, but I mixed everything together to dissolve the grenadine and then rolled with ice between two shakers. I also made this very small because absinthe is 64% abv, and because I thought it would be fucking horrible and I was right.

If you ordered a Bloody Mary in America and it came out like this, no bartender could complain if you socked them in the mouth. I was going to make an additional drink (an intriguing combination of gin, red wine, orange juice, and fernet) but this has crushed out my will to go on. So, as they say in Italy Non mi rompere i coglioni!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In Which Oatmeal Nourishes Both Body And Soul

I will admit to a relatively diminished interest in whiskey these days. While much of note is undoubtedly happening in the wide world of whiskey, (Mr. Cowdery's tireless efforts to shame liars, the fall releases of unobtainables and unaffordables, the excitement about whether Chip Tate will be the first craft distiller to 'put two into the chest' of Mammon...) I am not sure that I give many or any shits at all about it. From the ever deepening trench of my poverty, my blackened groping hand finds purchase on the necks of few whiskey bottles these days. The explosion of interest and variety in whiskey is certainly a good thing, but the density of options has surpassed what I feel is necessary to enable an enjoyable life, and instead leads whiskey enthusiasts who want to keep up into a hierarchically-driven box 'ticking' mode devoid of much pleasure. "Not philosophers but fret sawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society" 

As a distiller I am still very excited about making whiskey, but as a drinker it's harder to get a thirst up.

So I am moving on.

Wait, first a drink.

The production of this drink is somewhat involved, which is a twist as the recipe is adapted from Kingsley Amis' book of drinking advice "Everyday Drinking" and he sometimes felt a lemon twist to adorn a glass of gin was too much of a fussy struggle. As is likely apparent from this blog, I owe Mr. Amis many debts. As someone who has made relatively little headway into deciphering the world of wine, Amis gave me the greatest piece of advice on wine buying, easily trumping  anything Eric Asimov or Robert Parker ever supplied, to "Keep at hand a good supply of beer, stout, and cider, not to speak of stronger waters, to console you when the whole business gets too much for you".

An Atholl Brose, the alcohol version of oatmeal brose (uncooked porridge, truly the product of a culinary impoverished society), according to Wikipedia and Kingsley Amis has significantly more viscosity, alcohol, and sweetness than I desire. Below is my preferred technique

laphroaig morning drink of oatmeal
I Pity The Scottish Stomach

8 oz Hot Water
1.5 handful rolled oats
3/4 oz Smoky / Islay Scotch
Spoonful of Wildflower Honey

1. Heat up 8 oz water to tea making temperature, and pour over an oversized handful of oats. Stir to mix and allow to sit.
2. Sit outside in the garden in the chilly drizzling rain for 30 minutes while musing on how few possibilities for fulfillment the coming day will offer.
3. Strain the liquid off the oats (which should be cloudy and slightly thickened) and reheat in the microwave.
4. In a separate glass, measure out the scotch.
5. Stir a spoonful of honey into the hot oat water, and then pour into the scotch glass
6. With your steaming mug, return to the drizzly garden, and in general fell much better about the prospects of having to exist for at least one more day.