This lovely little video tells a bit of the story behind one of Columbus's fine local distilleries, Watershed. It is a student project by Kelly Insinga here at Columbus College of Art & Design. The quality of this little six minute documentary says great things about Insinga's talent, and the instruction at CCAD. I've featured Watershed's products on this blog before, as well as a (far less impressive) video of my own, but they are worth talking about again. And again. There are small distilleries popping up all over the country, and I visit every one I can when I travel. I have taken to using Watershed, which I have studied since they opened, as a benchmark by which to measure all these other brave ventures. And most every visit to another micro, whether I'm impressed with what they are doing or not, leaves me a bit more impressed with Watershed in one way or another. Their Four Peel Gin is my favorite among their products. I like the citrus-forward profile. The price is reasonable. But most importantly, They have locked it down. Gin is a deceptive spirit to make. It requires no aging, so the economics make great sense for a startup, but it is devilishly hard to make consistently over time, especially for a small manufacturing concern. Watershed definitely had some wobbles after a great start in their first few batches. I know a number of people who first tried it back when their production first started to accelerate... um. I had some of those early two-digit batches myself. I didn't find them bad, just not as special as those very first runs were... or as special as the current gin is, batch after batch. Consistency is the key in gin, and Watershed has had it for a while now. Right now, you can only get their products in Ohio for the most part. Given Watershed's success so far, and the way they've achieved it, I expect that will change in future years. In the mean time, come visit Columbus. Drop me a line.abc
Negroni Week is half over already. Have you had your Negroni today? Sponsored by Campari, Negroni Week is one of the better organized and widespread bartend-for-charity events I've seen so far. Participating bars will donate one dollar for every Negroni (or Negroni variant) you drink this week to the charity of that bar's choice. For a listing of bars near you, and the charities each is supporting, visit Negroni Week's list of nearly 1,300 worldwide. Don't worry, there's a geographical filter. I'm proud to say that Central Ohio has almost twenty places to get your Negroni on for charity. A good many people, including a lot of fairly avid cocktail drinkers, don't really know just what the hell a Negroni is. In fact, the bar world seems to be split into two distinct camps, What the Heck is a Negroni? and How Can You Not Know the Negroni? Let's see if I can flip a few of you, dear readers, from Column A to B. The Negroni is one of the big magilla early Twentieth Century cocktails. Invented at the request of Italian Count Camillo Negroni by Fosco Scarselli, it is a classic three-ingredient drink, and it is as easy to make as it is challenging to drink. Here's the recipe:
NEGRONII say the Negroni is challenging to drink because it is when you are not used to it. Some of the bittering agents in Campari are unique, at least to my palate, and I find it a difficult ingredient to work with, as opposed to many other amari. Plenty of other people just love Camapri to death, so your mileage will vary. In the past, I found the classic recipe above to be hard to enjoy.
- 1 part London Dry Gin (Choose a classic, juniper-forward brand)
- 1 part Italian Vermouth
- 1 part Campari
Bitter and stirred types, please be aware that Doug is a Bitter Wimp!I am not a bitter wimp! Um... but I do tend to prefer drinks where the bittering is there to enhance the other flavors, rather than being the dominant player. In the Negroni, the Campari is the primary spirit, with the gin and vermouth as modifiers. But do not give up on the Negroni, fellow not-bitter wimps. The great value of Negroni Week for me has been how it has opened up my eyes to the world of Negroni variants. I started off with a visit to Columbus's premier craft bar, Curio, for a pre-Negroni Week kickoff. There they debuted their Negroni Week menu of five Negronis. I will mention two of them in particular; both of which were delicious, and both of which would make a fine entry point into the Negroni arena. The first is a Beet Negroni, with fresh beet-infused vermouth. I found, after first experimenting with them as a joke in other concoctions, that beets are really a pretty interesting cocktail ingredient. In the case of this cocktail, the earthiness mellows out the impact of the bitterness nicely, but it also damps down the clarity of the gin a bit. The second one that I particularly liked (I tried them all), was the Sparkling Negroni, which is merely the classic recipe with an added 2/3 part sparkling wine, served in a champagne flute rather than over the rocks. This is an excellent drink all by itself, and an excellent way to temper your palate in preparation for the classic Negroni. It sweetens the profile of the drink without tipping it over, yet still leaves the rest of the flavors clear and distinct and in their original harmony. The rest of this week is a great time for you to visit your nearby serious cocktail joint discover the Negroni. Many have their own variants for you to try if you feel a little hesitant about diving into the big, bold, bitter original. But make sure you try at least on of the original before your experiments are done. I've found the classic version of the Negroni to be a heckuva lot of fun. With the right gin, and a good sweet vermouth like Antica, it is a marvelously balanced, refreshingly bright aperitif. It is still bitter as hell, but with only a little acclimation of your taste buds it becomes readily apparent why this is one of The Classics.abc
In recent days I have been doing some serious damage to a new bottle of OYO Stone Fruit, the fourth product to come out of Ohio's first microdistillery, Middle West Spirits, located here in Columbus. OYO Stone Fruit is based on the same rich winter wheat neutral spirit that makes up Middle West's flagship vodka and fresh, tart Montmorency cherries. It is rounded out with a range of yellow peaches, and apricots, thus giving it the stone fruit moniker. In addition, the flaovr is enriched with almonds and sweetened with hibiscus and wildflower honey from local fields, not China. The result is a deep, complex liquor that is lightly sweet but carries considerable bite. As with all their products, Stone Fruit is made almost exclusively with local products. The cherries are from the Niagara region, and the apricots are necessarily from further afield, but everything else is Ohio grown, allowing them the best freshness and control over quality. The guys at Middle West call Stone Fruit an infused vodka. I don't think this is a good idea, from an accuracy or a marketing standpoint. Like their OYO Honey Vanilla (my absolute favorite among their products), this is much too rich and nuanced a liquor to let be confused with the sea of infused vodkas on the market. And for such a small-run product aimed at the high-end cocktail maker, I think that's a sales suppressant. This is a serious product, not some shelf-space expander. Regardless of how you categorize it, Stone Fruit is a lot of fun to mix with. It holds its own as the primary spirit in a cocktail, yet also mixes very well with a variety of other liquors. It works particularly nicely with a soft bourbon like Four Roses or Maker's Mark, as you'll see in a moment. It pairs with good rum, depending on the variety, in ways either interesting or disastrous. I don't have a rum solution good enough to offer yet, but I will suggest a bourbon pairing that I like quite a bit, another cocktail where the Stone Fruit is the primary spirit, and a third with champagne.
ROLLING STONEThe Rolling Stone is my favorite creation so far with the Stone Fruit. You can up the ratio of Stone Fruit to bourbon to as much as 1:1, but I think you get a more balanced result with these ratios. Four Roses works best for me with this, but try Maker's for a little softer, sweeter result. Bigger, more robust, super-premium bourbons are both a waste and get a little titchy with the Stone Fruit. The drink leaves an interesting impression of passion fruit, or all things, without the distinctive electric vibe that fruit always leaves behind. My bartender buddy, Cris Dehlavi, who also happens to be Middle West's brand mixologist, suggested the Cointreau. Without it, the drink is still delicious, but that electric Passion Fruity effect is very pronounced. Don't overdo the Cointreau, however, as it easily overwhelms the subtler flavor elements. The Stone Fruit works nicely with different citruses, though I haven't tried orange juice yet and make no warranty there. My second cocktail uses only the Stone Fruit which, when by itself, likes lime juice much better than the lemon I used in the Rolling Stone. I wanted to play up the almond notes in it and used a bit of BG Reynold's excellent orgeat for a nice, funky sour.
- 4 parts Four Roses Bourbon
- 2 parts OYO Stone Fruit
- 1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 part Cointreau
STONE SOURThe last cocktail I've come up with so far that is worth sharing is the serendipitous result of New Year's leftover champagne that was much too good to pour out and a Twitter discussion I had with a reader who wanted something like but unlike a Bellini. I've also been on a French 75 kick lately, and things kinda clicked.
- 4 parts OYO Stone Fruit
- 1 part fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 part BG Reynold's Orgeat
STONE BUBBLESA few notes here. Do not use Fee's Cherry Bitters here, as was my first instinct. They bring out the cherry flavors of the Stone Fruit far too strongly. The Peach Bitters instead highlight the supporting flavors. And this is one of those cocktails where the bottled juice just won't do. Squeeze your limes fresh or don't bother. Really. OYO Stone Fruit is available all over Ohio, as well as online nationally at The Party Source out of Kentucky. Middle West also hopes to have retail distribution in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Maryland/DC by the end of February. If you can get ahold of some, I invite you to try it out. abc
- 1 oz. OYO Stone Fruit
- 1/2 oz. lime juice
- splash simple syrup
- 3 dashes Fee's Peach Bitters
- Champagne to top
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