Category: Brandy
Tiki Month 2018
Rule 2

Tiki Cross-Post: In Which Joe Garcia Fixes the Scorpion Bowl

Joe Garcia is a blogging compatriot of mine from Florida. That makes him a Florida Man, but don't worry, he's not one of those Florida Men, just a Florida Man. I actually have a number of friends who are Florida Men, including my brother, none of whom have joined the ranks of Florda Man. Yet. To my knowledge.... Anyway, Joe and I share the same blogging work ethic.
Oh, really? As in none at all?
I'm saying, as in posting about 20 times a year these days... though his are more evenly distributed.
So you are saying you have much to learn from him?
I'm saying, why are you still here? I'm trying to do a simple Rule 2 link post, but if you keep trying to pick a fight, this post will be two pages long!
Hey! By your own admission, you don't blog often. And you let your's truly out of the drawer in an even smaller number of posts...
Ok. Ok. I get it.
A sock's gotta play while the sun shines, is all I'm saying.
Thank you. Your cogent and insightful remarks are well taken. [Quietly but firmly closes sock drawer.] Anyway, Joe is always great about doing a Tiki Month post or three himself every February. In his first of #TikiMonth 2018, he addresses the classic "Scorpion Bowl". The accompanying photo is glorious, and you can see lots more of his work at his blog Same Thing, But Different, and on his Instagram feed. In his post, Joe identifies the same problem I have with this "classic", i.e. it is an utterly undrinkable citrus bomb. I've made them before and never liked them. It makes me wonder if the well-known recipe, as published by Trader Vic himself, is really some kind of counter-intelligence ploy to damage bars that try to copy his drink. But Joe claims to have through the redacted portions of the memo to unlock how to Make Scorpion Bowls Great Again. It's his research, so I'm going to make you click through if you want to see how he does it. Cheers! And Happy Tiki Month 2018!abc

Distillery Tour: Copper & Kings, Louisville, KY

CnKSign My wife and I take a trip down the Bourbon Trail about once a year, visiting a distillery or two. Our first stop this year was at Copper & Kings, a Louisville Kentucky outfit that I don't think is technically part of the Bourbon Trail, since they don't actually make bourbon, or whiskey of any kind! Copper & Kings is primarily a brandy maker, though they also make brandy from apples, as well as a variety of absinthes. Oh, and the very occasional tiny batch of gin. Located in the Butchertown section of Louisville, C&K is located opposite a working slaughterhouse, a fact which announced itself to our noses rather dramatically after a brief rain. No distilling was going on, as this is August in Kentucky, but I can only imagine the war of aromas on a hot May morning.... Aside from the high quality of their basic brandy, I knew literally nothing about Copper & Kings before arriving at the facility. One look at the striking and beautiful facility placed the company in my mental category of "highly capitalized 21st century startups". This is a category that produces some of the best, as well as some of the most over-rated and over-priced, products I've explored since discovering that I'm a cocktail geek. I was eager to find out where C&K would settle across its product line. CnKExterior The distillery is worth at least a brief trip, even if you have zero interest in booze, but just like architecture. The main facility is an ancient brick warehouse, with a modern steel addition to the side. The entrance to the grounds is formed by a very neat building formed by three former shipping containers. The container to your right as you come in is a shop where you can sign up for tours, buy product, and do a little tasting if you haven't time for a full tour. The one to your left is a waiting area where you can relax in air conditioned comfort while you wait for your tour. A third container bridges the gap overhead between the two and seems to contain the HVAC for the two containers. I love the use of cargo containers as human habitations. As recycling goes, it is about as efficient an example as you can find. (The idea can be take way too far, of course.) The installation here is one of the more creatively laid out and designed examples that I've ever seen. Once you pass through the entrance, there is a huge patio/party space in front of the main building, with a huge moat to keep morons visitors from just walking up to the big copper stills and burning themselves. CnKMoat The patio, with it's well-equipped bar, firepits, and modern seating, is surrounded by lush wildflower beds, designed to attract butterflies and otherwise provide a little natural habitat in this industrial area of town. CnKGarden The three glorious copper stills sit in a line at the front of the main floor, small, medium, and large. Behind them is the bottling line, and cage for finished product where they hope to place a fourth still one day. The smallest, Sarah, is so small it it raised up a few stairs. They use it for running experimental batches at an affordable scale, as well as making their intermittently-produced, micro-batch gin. The medium still is used to produce Absinthe, and the largest, Magdalena, is used exclusively for producing their core product line of aged grape wine brandies. All three stills are Kentucky made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works. The bottling line significantly automated and high-speed enough to attest to the reasonably high capacity of the distillery. [gallery type="slideshow" link="file" columns="2" size="large" ids="11393,11387,11392,11394"] By this time, I've seen so many distilleries, large and small alike, that there is usually only a few new things to be learned with each tour. (This is a tragic side-effect of having too much fun on the Bourbon Trail and elsewhere.) It also means I obsess over each new detail that I do learn. The big takeaway from Copper & Kings has to do with aging brandy. To reach the rickhouse, we had to descend to the basement. I immediately was puzzled by this. Enough trips to whiskey distilleries and you get used to the huge wooden houses designed to maximize temperature swings that will push and pull the whiskey in and out of the barrel wood. Brandy does not respond well to this treatment and becomes over-wooded well before it is properly aged. The basement protects the brandy from these swings. CnKBarrels But what is more interesting is the fact that loud music blares twenty-four hours a day down there. This is actually a part of their aging process. The heavy vibrations act on all the barrels to increase contact with the wood and deepen flavor. Is this trick for real? Heck if I know. They aren't the only distiller using this method, but it isn't widespread. Regardless, it is kind of fun, and if you want to listen to the same music your future brandy is rocking out to, just drop by the front page of the website and check out today's Spotify list. Don't listen as loud as the barrels do. It'll hurt your ears. Besides the patio outside, there are several other spaces in the distillery designated for entertainment space. Directly over the stills is a large room (lavishly decorated in the distillery's signature orange) that is used for large tours, seminars, and wedding receptions. You know it is directly over the stills, since the absinthe aromatic basket is located here, and uses steam from the still right beneath it. [caption id="attachment_11400" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Out tour guide Ian poses with the "Weapon of Mass Creation" Out tour guide Ian poses with the "Weapon of Mass Creation"[/caption] The tasting room at the end of the tour is a large, well-lit space that opens out onto the rooftop. Your group will taste the basic brandy, and each visitor gets a couple of their own choice from most of the distillery's entire line. In addition to the base model brandy, Copper & Kings offers a reserve brandy, a young brandy, and a cask strength bottling. They also offer an aged and a young apple brandy, though I was kind of ticked to discover that they were out of stock of the aged apple spirit. Finally, they have four absinthes to try. The products are, for the most part, very, very good. The brandies are delicious, and completely distinct from the stickily sweet American brandy you may imagine. But they remain distinctly not cognac. The absinthes are interesting. I particularly liked the ginger infusion. The young spirits are... young spirits. The white brandy is Pisco-like. And the white apple brandy... needs time in the basement with the Beastie Boys. CnKProducts When visiting Louisville, I heartily recommend a visit to Copper & Kings. It is a visual treat (and olfactory adventure). The products are tasty, interesting and unique. The tour is well-scripted, and the staff is friendly. You can reserve tickets
Basement Bar
Rule 4

The Best Value in Each of the Six Base Spirits

Value-Quality-puzzle-pieces I thought it would be interesting to put up a list of what I view as the single best value out there in each of the six great cocktail spirit categories. To be clear, these are hardly the best exemplars of Whiskey (North American), Rum, Gin, Brandy, Tequila, and Vodka, nor are they the cheapest. Far from it in both instances. These hit the sweet spot where the price and quality curves intersect. Prices, of course, will vary wherever you are, and in what mood the bottlers, distributors, and Chet behind the counter are in... These bottles also are Swiss Army Knife products, in that they aren't just good, they work well pretty much across the spectrum of drinks you might make with each. There might be a better gin, price to quality, if you only make Dry Martinis with it, but that gin might not be so great a value in an Alexander or a Pegu. So let's begin.

1. North American Whiskey

In the whiskey category, I immediately discarded the Scotches and Irish. (It's OK, we Scots-Irish have been discarded for centuries.) I love both, but neither is remotely a common cocktail spirit. I settled on a bourbon simply because of market share. My choice will be familiar to long-time readers: Four Roses Yellow Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The price wobbles a bit, but you can almost always hand over a single Andrew Jackson and get your Yellow Label back with change. Four Roses Yellow Label I've blogged quite a bit about Four Roses already, and I don't want to do anything like a full review of these six bottles anyway. Suffice to say, you can put a bit of this in a glass with some water, frozen or not, and hand it with confidence to just about anyone and know that if they turn their nose up at it, they are not a connoisseur but an ungrateful jerk. Further, it possesses enough character and polish to feature well in spirit-forward cocktails, but enough fortitude to remind you it's a bourbon drink in more... distracting recipes.

2. Gin

Among gins, I'm going with one that I've never blogged. It is also the closest call on this list. Among these six bottles, it's the only one I don't naturally reach for when looking to try a new recipe at home. (Gin is my first cocktail love, and I tend to overspend within the range. Sue me.) At about twelve bucks a bottle, it is damned hard to touch New Amsterdam Gin. New Amsterdam Gin New Amsterdam is no sipper. But much as I love gin, if you like to sip gin you either have an unlimited budget, or a drinking problem... quite possibly both. (Sorry Angus, you know I love you.) With in the two main categories of gin today, New Amsterdam was among the initial vanguard of citrus-forward, "New American" gins that have risen with the resurrection of cocktail culture. It is a solid cocktail gin that may fall short for a Martini lover, but be a super entrance drug for your juniperphobe friends. It's consistent, reliable, free from any unpleasant notes... and it is twelve damn dollars.

3. Rum

You cannot just say "this is the best rum". It would be a bit like saying "this is the best motor vehicle". Silver, Gold, dark, and Spiced rums all serve different, sometimes extraordinarily different purposes. But the rum I chose to put on this list, Plantation Grand Reserve 5-Year, is obscenely good for the price (about twenty-two bucks) and very versatile. Plantation Grand Reserve Plantation 5 Year Rum is a Barbadan gold, and as I said, quite versatile. They make great rum on that island as a rule, but this bottle has just a hair more character than most. It also far, far too good on the rocks all by itself for any low-twenties purchase. It pairs well with Jamaican pot-still in a Mai Tai, yet slips easily into a standard Daiquiri as well. It's the baritone of rums.

4. Brandy

Here's the thing about basic grape brandy: Americans are only now beginning to grasp what it takes to make it really well. For now, and a while to come, I expect, if you want a brandy to stand up with other world-class products, you go to France. But Courvoisier is in the mid thirties for just a VS, and cognacs tend to go up from there. That's tres cher if you are whipping up a round of Sidecars, or if you are curled up on the couch on a Tuesday night, catching upon NCIS and craving a snifter of something. And then Maison Rouge VSOP entered the State of Ohio, and my life, at just over twenty bucks. Maison Rouge VSOP I do not understand this product. Yes, the packaging is painfully boring. No, no one in the US has heard of this juice since Hardy spends no money on marketing, as far as I can tell. But it is a perfectly fine sipper for non-special occasions, and it is as good a mixing cognac as you will find. And it clocks in at about two-thirds of the big names' entry offerings, while Maison Rouge is a VSOP. If you can find it, buy some. You are welcome.

5. Tequila

Choosing a bottle in the tequila category was easy. Añejos and Extra Añejos, delicious as many are, are mostly too delicate (and too pricey) to mix with. Some of the best tequila cocktails I've been served were made with Reposados, but let's be honest, tequila as a category simply doesn't need wood the way whiskey does to be a legitimate, finished product. Silvers are the most versatile tequila category, as well as the best value. And the price and quality curves are so strong for Olmeca Altos Tequila Plata, I hardly buy much else from the tequila section these days. Olmeca Altos Blanco Is it special? No. Is it unique in some way? No. It is just good. You could sip it, I suppose. You can definitely shoot it, with no need to lunge afterwards for salt or lime. And you can mix the hell out of it. There's a balance in making tequila in commercial quantities between over-reliance on traditional methods, which can add taste elements here and there that can narrow the appeal of a product, and over-indulgence in industrial processing, which usually either sands so many edges off the profile it doesn't feel really like tequila... or just makes it taste like ass. Olmeca seems to have hit the sweet spot, and I hope they stay right there.

6 Vodka

The final great cocktail spirit (the youngest or the oldest, depending on how you look at it) is unique in its place for making cocktails. All the others are crafted to bring certain flavor profiles to the foundation of a cocktail. They are ingredients. Vodka is an accelerant. Yes, yes. I know. There are lots of vodkas out there that are "interesting" in one way or another. But vodka is in a cocktail to wake up and otherwise showcase the flavors of the other ingredients. (Unless the cocktail is a Vodka Martini, in which case, it's just there to get you bombed.) For making cocktails, a vodka should offer the highest purity of ethanol (with the lowest number of other complex molecules) to do its job right. Sobieski vodka does the job beautifully, and at about 12 bucks runs about a third of most vodkas of equivalent purity. Sobieski Vodka Sobieski was one of the very first product samples I was ever sent as a blogger. They still have a link to my eight year old blog post about them, right on their website. I shudder to think how much money I've saved since then, not buying other, more expensive vodkas. (Disclaimer: I've still bought a bunch of other, more expensive vodkas... just not as many as I might have) Sobieski has boring, usually plastic bottles. It's marketing is plain, cheap, and highly intelligent. And it lives in an obscure position down on the bottom shelf, low-rent district of the vodka section of your liquor store. Get some. That's the list. What do you think? I'm always open to better suggestions. abc
Board of Tiki Idols
Other Liqueurs
Rule 4
Tiki Month 2015

TIki Drink: Tiki Tylenol

Banner TikiTylenol Full This cocktail comes by way of Board of Tiki Idols member, Doctor Bamboo. His name for it in its original form is the Pololu. You can find it in Beach Bum Berry's Remixed, since the good Doctor never seems to have blogged it. I changed its name to Tiki Tylenol, because I make some tiny changes in the recipe, and because if Tylenol is a painkiller without asprin, and this is a Painkiller without rum.... Also, like regular Tylenol, too many can result in liver damage.
TIKI TYLENOL Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake very well to fully emulsify the coconut creme. Strain into a largish cocktail glass and sprinkle surface with powdered cinnamon.

This is a particularly delicious, though non-standard Tiki drink. Gin and Cognac work better together than most people think, and at three ounces, pack quite a punch. My main change is to replace the original St. Germaine with the far more potent Thatcher, and adding a little apricot in place of the pear tones in the St. Germain. This change works well, I think. It also lead to an interesting discussion two nights ago. I put the Tylenol on the menu for a bunch of bartenders. An hour and a half in, I observed loudly that I hadn't served a single one of these drinks all night. They all looked at me, and one said simply, "It has St. Germain." I replied that no, it had elderflower, not St. Germain, and what did he have against bartender's ketchup? "Nothing," was the reply. "You put a drink with it on your menu and you'll sell hell out of it to one group of customers, but the others won't touch it for anything." abc
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