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.
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
Mixology Monday One Hundred and Six! This month's theme is "Spring Break". One of my favorite Twitter follows, Joel DiPippa, is hosting the rodeo this time around at the Southern Ash blog. The reasoning behind Joel's theme this month is similar to my rationale for having Tiki Month in February: We are done with Winter. Even a mild one like this one. (Shut up Washingtonians! You had it coming.) We are invited to present a liquid interpretation of what Spring Break means to us, to hurry along that blessed celebration of the return of Spring. So what does Spring Break mean to me? The classic, Hollywood-approved image of the holiday is of beach parties with people like this. [caption id="attachment_11022" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Sadly, all the ice in her Navy Grog seems to have melted...[/caption] Or these fine beach party goers... [caption id="attachment_11025" align="aligncenter" width="750"] You didn't think I'd get through a Tiki Month without a Rule 5 post, did you?[/caption] One more image of the classic Spring Break, because rule 5 posts at the Pegu Blog always serve up something for everyone: [caption id="attachment_11026" align="aligncenter" width="750"] I apologize to the ladies for that girl who is in the way...[/caption] Do these images work for me? No. (Well...) By "no" I mean that I grew up on the beach. In the South. Beach vacations in March always seemed a bit silly to me, so I never partook in the whole "Mardi Gras outside Miami" thing. For me, the actual arrival of Spring is more associated with being able to get outside and (try to) hit the tennis ball. [caption id="attachment_11027" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Not pictured: Me[/caption] And my tennis drink, the single most refreshing sports beverage there is, is the venerable Gin Rickey. Gin, ice, soda. Done. It quenches thirst, drives away cramps, and softens the memory of that overhead you just butchered (possibly because this is your second Gin Rickey). But this MxMo comes in the middle of Tiki Month, so I've spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to make a Tiki Gin Rickey. (And figure out a good name that wasn't already cruelly plagiarized from me four years before I myself thought of it.) It is harder than it looks. Crossing a Rickey with a Tiki drink is a bit like crossing a peach with an aardvark. There isn't a lot of common ground. Rickey's are simple, clean, and strident. Tiki drinks are complex, indefinable, and melodious. I ended up keeping most of the clean simplicity of the Rickey, added a few classic Tiki background notes, and for judging purposes gave it the most ridiculously over the top presentation I could come up with.
RICKEY'S DUGOUT DELUXEYes, it's ridiculous. But I couldn't shake the image of playing tennis in an Hawaiian shirt, then casually sipping from a pineapple half on changeovers... [caption id="attachment_11028" align="aligncenter" width="675"] "Man, could I use a Rickey's Gin Dugout right about now!"[/caption] Now, the thing is, I succeeded beyond my expectations. This drink really kind of works, so I had to go back and do a practical version that you might make as something other than a lark.
- 2 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
- 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz. homemade falernum
- 4 oz. Perrier
RICKEY'S DUGOUTIt's my first MxMo in ages, folks! I'll try to not be such a stranger. abc
- 2 oz. Bombay Sapphire
- 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz. falernum
- 1/4 oz. pulpy fresh pineapple juice
- 4 oz. Perrrier
I've really come to love egg cocktails lately. And it is not just because they piss off all the right enemies, like the clueless nutrition nazis and the overzealous food safety inspectors. Eggs can do things for a drink that nothing else can really even approximate. The fats in a yolk can provide a rich, unctuous texture on the tongue that is pleasantly... sturdy. Even heavy cream doesn't make the mouth seem as full as a good egg yolk. And whether it was the finest professional molecular mixology I've had across the land, or my own feeble efforts, I have yet to see a foam that matches the frothy protein matrix of a well shaken egg white. Certainly there are fat or foam effects that you can't manage with an egg, but for the basic task of creating sheer cozy decadence in a glass, there is no substitute for the incredible, edible egg. That said, I don't drink a lot of egg cocktails. They double the prep time of a drink, and usually the cleanup time too. And egg drinks are calorie bombs, too. I can't help getting older, but I do make sporadic attempts to stop getting fatter. So while egg drinks are a serious indulgence, they do have the good graces to taste like one too. Now that I've convinced you to drag a few eggs down to your basement bar, what shall we do with them? How about a Flip? Flips are one of those magnificent cocktail multi-tools, like Rickeys, Sours, and Juleps, that are not so much recipes as templates. A Sour is: spirit, citrus, sweet. Juggle the specific ingredients and ratios to your taste. A Flip is: spirit, egg, sweet, and spice. (If you add cream, you technically have a Nog.) You will often these days see the yolk of the egg swapped out for cream. I think this is because cream is a lot easier to employ that egg yolks, and even the hardest-working bartender in the world can get kinda lazy fast when customers start clamoring for eggs. I think this tendency is why I have never been totally satisfied with Flips I've been served in bars, and why I had not really experimented with them at home, because Holy Foghorn Leghorn, is an egg white and yolk Flip a cut above an egg white and cream one. This Flip, lifted from Serious Eats, shows off both the awesome power of the egg, but also the wonderful opportunities for matching specific spirits in multi-tool cocktail categories like Flips.
BUTTERMILK MAPLE GIN FLIPI chose this recipe because I was looking to use this delicious, but frankly weird, Guild House Chamomile Flavored Gin I just bought. It is a custom expression for Cameron Mitchell's Guild House restaurant by Columbus's Watershed Distillery. It's defining characteristics are of course the chamomile, but also a distinct nutmeg element. The Guild House is not a delicate gin, but it is bright, and I guessed, correctly, that the sturdy flavors of the buttermilk in this recipe would stand up to this gin in a complimentary fashion. I omitted the nutmeg, which is the traditional spice in a Flip, because the Guild House brought its own to the party. And I halved the maple syrup called for in the original recipe because I think maple is a cocktail bully that will take over any cocktail it is in if you don't keep it under control. The only place to buy the Guild House by the bottle is at the distillery, so if you want to try this variation elsewhere, I'd try something like Bluecoat. Definitely add back in the nutmeg, though. Finally, remember this is a Flip. Do whatever the hell you want with it. It's a template. Drop the gin entirely and use a rum or rye. I think I'll actually try some tequila next. I'll swap the maple for agave syrup, and drop the buttermilk. I doubt nutmeg will work, though. Any suggestions for a spice? abc
- 1 whole egg, separated
- 1 oz. buttermilk
- 1/4 oz. maple syrup (1/2 in the original)
- 2 oz. gin (I used Watershed's Guild Series Chamomile, which you probably can't get.)
- nutmeg (optional)
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