Archive for the Manhattans Category

The Electric Cocktail Acid Test

Posted in Cocktail Science, Manhattans on December 28, 2011 by Mr. Manhattan

Part two of an investigation into achieving balance in spirits-driven cocktails.

[Author’s Note: The following post was mostly written back in June to document the second half of my investigations in acidity in spirit-driven cocktails. July saw me at Tales of the Cocktail and then in early August I turned all of my energies to starting up the cocktail program and bar at Daniel Patterson’s restaurant Plum. Due to differences in style and vision, I parted ways with Daniel & Company few weeks after the opening of Plum Bar in mid-November. In the interest of getting back into blogging, I’ve decided to publish my work to date, though clearly there’s more work to be done. As I get some of the questions it has raised answered, I will report back.]

Back in March I wrote about trying to improve a spiritous cocktail I had created (Criollo #2) which on reconsideration, I felt turned too sweet. The concept started out as a kind of ‘Black Manhattan’ with amaro taking the place of vermouth but I discovered that as I added more amaro I was also increasing the amount of sugar. That in turn led me to think a lot about the options we have for bringing acidity to a cocktail. It’s acid which helps brighten and highlight all the other flavors. However, without citrus as an option, we’re at a distinct disadvantage. I focused on the properties of vermouth, which I described as a kind of super-ingredient, bringing not only needed acidity into a cocktail but also many other interesting and complex flavors. I decided at that point to “do some serious science” by which I meant to I wanted to measure the PH of common cocktail ingredients to determine exactly how acidic. or not, they were.

The Gear

The first order of business was to decide how best to make the measurements. Though my analytic chemist brother-in-law recommended using precision PH strips (different from plain PH paper on a roll) I opted in the end for a digital PH meter. These have become pretty inexpensive over the years, with several models less than $100. After some research, I opted to purchase an Oakton phTestr 10, which can be had for as low as $75. (I actually think many of the meters I looked at were just re-skinned versions of this or vice versa.) Key features of this model are:

  • A double junction probe (generally considered longer lasting—the probes are filled with reference material that can dry out over time).
  • Automatic temperature compensation.
  • Support for three calibration points.
  • Accuracy of PH 0.1.

I also checked with the manufacturer to determine if it was suitable for taking measurements in alcoholic solutions in excess of 50% (100-proof). It was! Finally, I purchased a set of reference buffer solutions, critical for calibration which must be done before every use. Should you buy a meter of your own, it’s important to note how many and which calibration points are supported. The buffer solutions you buy must match these calibration points. There are in fact two slightly different calibration systems: one called “US” based on the points 4.01, 7, and 10.01 and one called “NIST” based on the points 4.01, 6.86, 9.18). The Oakton meter supports both.

“There’s science to be done!”

To date I have tested over 65 cocktail ingredients, including aromatic bitters, syrups, and common citrus juices. The results are summarized in the table below. (NOTE: you can click on the image to download an easier to read version of the table in PDF.) As a reminder for non-science geeks, PH 7.0 is considered neutral, neither acidic nor basic. As PH goes down from 7.0, acidity increases; as PH goes up from 7.0, alkalinity (or basic nature) goes up. Tap water is generally about PH 7.0, though as it gets “harder” (includes more dissolved salt and minerals) the PH value increases. A lot of tap water is slightly basic.

You’ll notice that with only a single exception (discussed below) common cocktail ingredients range from neutral (e.g. gins and sugar syrups) to distinctly acidic (e.g. citrus juices). The most acidic ingredients are, unsurprisingly, lemon and lime juices which measure below PH 3.0. These then set the “gold standard” for bringing acid into a cocktail. A relatively small amount of these juices can be used balance against a large amount of sugar. All other ingredients are distributed between PH 7.0 (neutral) and PH 3.0 (moderately acidic). If we consider them by class, some interesting patterns emerge.

First are the vermouths, sherries, and madeiras: non-distilled products, all based on grapes. These all fall between PH 3.0 and 3.7 and are as a class the most acidic ingredients after lemon and lime juices. Carpano Antica Formula and Dolin rouge are the most acidic members with a PH of 4.0. As I had previously speculated, it’s the acidity in vermouths complemented by all the other flavors they provide that makes them such welcome additions to spirit driven cocktails, or really any cocktail in which we use them. (And I remain encouraged that my enthusiasm for cocktails using sherry and maderia is well founded.)

Second, distilled spirits which start life or are sold at high proof (i.e. are highly distilled) and which spend no time in wood are pretty much neutral. This covers gin, vodka, “white dog,” and products like Everclear. Any acidity that may have existed in the source material prior to distillation has been eliminated. Contrast these pisco, which is made from grapes, distilled only once, and spends no time in wood. PH for the two piscos I tested were 4.1 (Encanto) and 3.8 (Oro), distinctly more acidic than gin or GNS. Also consider the case of Ransom Old Tom gin, which has a PH of 4.3. The Ransom is allowed to rest in used pinot noir barrels, long enough to develop its distinctive color. It also apparently absorbs some acids left behind by the wine.

You’ll also see that spirits which are aged in wood appear to develop acidity over time. I am hesitant to draw too much of a conclusion about this phenomena since my data set is limited in this respect and there are so many variables when it comes to barrel aging: e.g. type of oak, amount of char, new vs. used, temperature/humidity during aging, previous contents of barrel, etc. Still, it is interesting to note that the most acidic distillates, the 23 year old Black Maple Hill rye and the 18 year old GlenDronach, are also the oldest spirits I had available for testing.

Another interesting ingredient to look at is the liqueur St. Germain. which is almost as acidic as some of the red vermouths. Compare that Cointreau, which is practically neutral. This explains, to me at least, why it’s been such a successful product, meriting the sobriquet “bartender’s ketchup.” While it brings lots of sugar, it’s also pretty well balanced in itself. Adding it, even in large amounts, to a cocktail isn’t likely to upset things very much.

One last observation: there was only one ingredient which measured distinctly basic (high PH). That was the Rothman & Winter creme de violette. This was so unexpected that I measured it twice on two different days just to be sure I hadn’t made a mistake. I am speculating this is caused by whatever has been used to color this product, which is a rather deep violet. I am hoping that the folks at Haus Alpenz will be able to answer this for me at some point (and I will certainly post an update if I learn anything).

There’s Always More to Do…

I will continue to test the PH of new ingredients and update my database. Let me know if you’d like a copy. I am also going to be talking to distillers, to see what they have to say about some of my observations, particularly regarding acidity derived from barrel aging. I’d like to understand what’s going on there better. Are significant acidic compounds present in the wood, which then dissolve in the distillate? Do barrels which have previously held wine or sherry cause distillates then stored in them to become more acidic than otherwise?

Vermouth in the Balance

Posted in Amari, Bourbon and Rye, Cocktails, Manhattans, Musings with tags , , , , on April 21, 2011 by Mr. Manhattan

Part one of an investigation into achieving balance in spirits-driven cocktails.

A few days ago I had the occasion to revisit an old original cocktail called The Criollo. I created it back in 2009 when I first fell in love with amari (singular amaro), the class of Italian digestive bitters that many bartenders were experimenting with at the time, most notoriously in the so-called “Black Manhattan.” In that cocktail some or most of the vermouth is replaced by an amaro. My particular goal was to bring chocolate flavors into a manhattan-style cocktail that would appeal to adult drinkers—i.e. not be creamy or too sweet. I had found that Mozart (the people who make the Austrian chocolates) had a liqueur (Mozart Black) that claims to contain 87% cacao mass. It wasn’t creamy but still pretty sweet with plenty of chocolate flavor. My thinking was to balance the sweetness of the Mozart Black against the bitterness of the amaro. Here’s what I came up with:

The Criollo (No. 2, AKA The Mozart Black Manhattan)

2 oz. rye
3/4 oz. Amer Boudreau (or Ramazzotti)
1/4 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1 barspoon Grand Marnier
1 short dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 short dash Angostura orange bitters (optional if you used Amer Boudreau)
Long thin orange peel, for garnish

I liked it well enough when I first formulated it but when I remade it I was struck right away by how sweet it was. Not sickly, but pretty out there. I don’t know why it didn’t strike me so at the time. However, the reason for its sweetness is certainly no mystery to me now: it was the amaro. While we experience them as bitter, most amari contain a lot of sugar. I am guessing anywhere 20 to 30% by volume, possibly higher. Add that to the sugar in the Mozart Black liqueur and then my barspoon of Grand Marnier, and well, my recipe starts to look pretty lopsided. Think of it in terms of major flavoring components:

rye: congeners+wood flavorings
amaro: sugar+bitters/herbs
liqueur: sugar+cacao
liqueur: sugar+orange
aromatic bitters: bitters/herbs

If this were a glass of wine I was tasting, I might apply the adjective “angular,” meaning to me that the flavor is dominated by a couple of notes (in this case sweet and bitter) that don’t particularly harmonize. Nothing much links them together (though the chocolate and orange do help). In my mind, when I picture the flavors of this cocktail, this is what I see:

What this cocktail needed was a major rethink!

Back to Basics

I started by considering my point of origin, the Manhattan and flavors lent to it by the ingredient I had chosen to replace, the sweet vermouth. To be honest, it’s not an ingredient I had given my deepest thoughts to before. I knew which brands I liked but had otherwise taken it more or less for granted. Now however l had reason to really engage with it. Why does sweet vermouth create a balanced cocktail while the combination of amaro and liqueur (a pretty complex set of flavors) fails to do so? For starters, the vermouth is far less sugary. But what else is going on in there? I decided that it would be worthwhile tasting though a number of different sweet vermouths* and cataloging aromas and flavors. Here’s my aggregated list:

vanilla, orange peel, white pepper, wine, licorice, sun dried tomato, cedar, mint, dust, brown sugar, nuts, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, menthol, baby powder (flowers), anise, cherry, plum, chalk, band-aid, bitter

If I then reduce this list to classes of aromas and flavors, I get this more canonical list:

Acid
Sugar
Herbal/Bitter
Oxidized Flavors
Fruit
Minerals
Savory

Looking at this list, two things occurred to me in quick succession:

First, this single ingredient is capable of providing a very wide spectrum of flavors. It has what I believe flavor chemists call high amplitude, where “amplitude” is defined as the total effect of flavor and aroma in a food. The higher the flavor amplitude, the more broadly it stimulates our taste buds. (Ketchup is the classic example of a food which has high amplitude.) So including vermouth in a cocktail provides a big flavor bang for the buck. Depending on the brand of vermouth used, it tickles pretty much every major flavor receptor in some degree.

Second, neither of the ingredients I used in place of the sweet vermouth provided any significant amount of acid. If you think about all the different sorts of ingredients one uses in spirits-driven cocktails, you can see that while it’s easy to get sugar into the drink, its much harder to get acid to balance things out—that’s the brilliance of citrus in a sour. Vermouth, being based on wine, brings acid along with all of its other flavors. In addition to balance, that acid also helps heighten our experience of all the other flavors as well.

It seems pretty obvious that when we replace vermouth in a spirits-driven cocktail, we’ve got a pretty tough act to follow. It’s kind of a super-ingredient: complex flavors and acid. In The Criollo cocktail, I had found a way to bring complex flavors together (there’s plenty going on in there) but I had lost any acid that might balance against the additional sugar in those ingredients. Obviously I could try adding back some vermouth to fix The Criollo and re-balance it. That seemed like going backward. What I really wanted to know is what other options I might have for bringing acid into a spirit-driven cocktail. It was time to do some serious science!

Next: Putting Ingredients to the Acid Test

[*] - Vermouths evaluated were: Carpano Antica, Dolin rouge, Noilly-Pratt rouge, Vya sweet, and Cocchi Barolo Chinatto. Technically the latter isn’t a vermouth but it can certainly be used as one and I happen to have an open bottle.

A Toast to Brooke(lyn) Arthur

Posted in Cocktails, Left Coast Libations, Manhattans with tags , , on April 18, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Last Friday was Brooke Arthur’s last evening as Bar Manager at Range. Folks (OK, bartenders) were dropping by to say good-bye to her there and bid her good luck at Prospect, Nancy Oakes’s latest restaurant, where she’ll be managing as well. Those of us who stopped in were treated to a Brooklyn for which Brooke had so very kindly brought in her own bottle of Amer Picon from Spain (I think she said that’s where she got it). Only in writing this post did I realize how totally appropriate and fitting that selection was.

Now it’s Sunday. A beautiful day here in Oakland, California. I’ve got a few racks of baby back ribs smoking slowly in the Weber. A perfect time for a cocktail on the back deck. Remembering Brooke’s Brooklyn I decided to make one of my own, undoubtedly to slightly different effect using, among other things. Wild Turkey rye, Dolin blanc and my bottle of Amer Boudreau. Yummy never the less and more importantly, worth raising, in toast, to Brooke, where ever she may be today! Cheers!

Brooklyn

2 oz. Wild Turkey 101-proof rye
3/4 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
1/3 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/3 oz. Amer Boudreau
orange peel strip, for garnish

Stir over ice to chill.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with the orange peel.

[For more discussion on this cocktail, take a hop over to Jay Hepburn’s write up at Oh Gosh!]

In Search of the Great White Manhattan

Posted in Cocktails, Manhattans with tags , on April 7, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Does the Manhattan have an evil twin and if so, what would it be like?

In his recent Savoy post on the Seventh Heaven Cocktail (No. 1) Erik Ellestad made passing reference to a “White Manhattan” – a cocktail which I had never heard of before but which I am sure must exist someplace already (*) and which I thought would be fun to try making. My thoughts on this were as follows:

  1. Keep to the Manhattan template as closely as possible, following the 2:1 ratio of spirit to vermouth and to include a bitters.
  2. Use a high-rye white dog as the spirit.
  3. Use a French-style vermouth such as Dolin blanc or Lillet blanc.
  4. Use a bitters which adds little or no color to the cocktail.

[*] Erik says they are making one at Nopa but are using Death’s Door White Whiskey which is bottled at a much lower proof than the Wasmund’s. Neyah is also using Benedictine for the sweet component, but more about that below.

The White Dog

There are several rye-heavy offerings available (and more coming it would seem). A trip to Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley turned me into the owner of bottle of Wasmund’s Rye Spirit from Copper Fox, made from a mash of 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley and bottled at 126-proof. According to the label it’s run off a pot still at 150- and 160-proof, which leaves plenty of grain character. Trying it neat, I could easily detect both the spice of the rye and the sweetness of the malt, which had been itself given a light fruitwood smoke when it was kilned. The whole production made me think of a rye genever except with a lot more kick.

Armed with my rye dog, I went home to start mixing…

White Manhattan #1 (“The Pure”)

1 1/2 oz. Wasmunds Rye Spirit (126-proof)
1/2 oz. water (to bring the rye spirit down to approximately 100-proof)
1 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
Long wide orange peel strip, for garnish

Stir over large ice 50 times to chill and dilute
Strain into a small cocktail glass
Twist orange peel strip over glass to expel some oil and then drop into the glass

So #1 is a simple-minded inversion of the Manhattan substituting white goods everywhere possible. If you are a Martini drinker (and I am not) you’d probably like the #1. It’s sure as heck pretty and not without merit. However, to state the obvious: one of the things which makes the Manhattan so delectable is that it’s something of a sweet cocktail, with the Italian vermouth balancing the spice of the rye. The #1 was just too dry for my taste. So, to my list of criteria for this cocktail, add:

  1. Use a liqueur (ideally colorless) to bring back some of the sweetness and complexity that an Italian-style vermouth would have contributed.

I also found that I really missed the complexity that a “dark” bitters like Angostura or TBT Old Time Aromatic adds to a cocktail. The Regan’s, much as I like it elsewhere, just didn’t seem to bring all that much to the mix.

White Manhattan #2 (“The Opal”)

1 3/4 oz. Wasmund’s
1 oz. Dolin blanc (or try Lillet blanc)
1/4 oz Cointreau (replacing the water from the #1)
3-4 drops Angostura
Long wide orange peel strip, for garnish

This was more like it. Still on the dry side, the Cointreau brings plenty of orange and sweet into the mix while the Angostura seemed to amplify the smoky/woodsy malt components of Wasmund’s. A winner!

The only downside of the #2 is that the few drops of Angostura (a welcome addition) slightly tinted the cocktail which had really wanted to be perfectly clear. It was lovely to look at however and I think this version easily merits the sobriquet: “The Opal.”

I’ll continue to tinker with the White Manhattan—I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeve—and report on any new variations which I feel merit a write up.

[NOTE: careful readers will notice that there was no orange peel in my photo of the #2. The situation was great afternoon light on the back deck or a trip to the store to buy some oranges. The light won out.]

The Criollo: Mixing with Mozart Black Chocolate Liqueur

Posted in Cocktails, Manhattans with tags , , , on August 27, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

The Criollo and Mozart Black

A few months ago Paul Clarke went on an insane blogging spree, writing about thirty different cocktails in as many days. On day 17, Paul wrote about an adult chocolate cocktail called Theobroma made with tequila and creme de cacao. The Camerone (another cocktail from the original LCL) was also mentioned, which of course caught my attention. I had been intrigued by that one for a while and the exotic ingredients required to make it (see The Digression, below). Then in a comment on Theobroma by Jay Hepburn (of Oh Gosh!) I spied the recipe for making this:

Smoker’s Delight
Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro

1½ oz. Laphroaig scotch whisky
¾ oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Aromatic bitters

Wow, didn’t that sound grand and so very very adult! The problem, as I immediately discovered, was that no one in the SF Bay area carried this Mozart Black chocolate liqueur, just the milk and the white (ick!). Ultimately I mentioned my interest in Mozart Black to Ed at Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley and, lo, a month or so later it appeared amongst the other bottles in the liqueur section at the back of the store. (And let me put a BIG HEALTHY plug in here for Ledger’s. Honestly, I don’t think you’ll ever find a bigger and more exotic selection of liqueurs, amari, eau de vie, aperitifs, etc, anywhere in northern California. And in an entirely unpretentious setting. One could easily spend an hour exploring the shelves, as many different bottles are stacked in front of one another. One could also spend a lot of money. Go see Ed!)

So the Mozart Black, in it’s squat round dark glass bottle, touts that it’s made from 87% cacao mass right on the front label. It also instructs you to shake well before use. Does all that cacao settle out? Unfortunately, it doesn’t say what percentage of that mass is present in the bottle nor what else might have been compounded into it. Nothing artificial, I presume, since that would have to be listed on the label. All I can say is that it’s got a heady chocolate nose and a really nice chocolate flavor. Not horribly cloying. Most importantly, it garnered the approval of my “I’m not a big drinker, but I loves my chocolate” partner, Brandee.

The Smoker’s Delight once I made one was all that I had hoped for. The smokiness of the Laphroaig was a perfect foil for all that chocolate. It even stood up to the Quarter Cask. But, ya know, really I’ve got this thing for another cocktail: one made with rye. Yes, I immediately started to wonder how I could incorporate the Mozart Black into a Manhattan variant that didn’t immediately make one think of T.G.I.F. It didn’t take much tinkering to come up with this rather delicious formulation:

The Criollo (No. 1)

2 oz. rye (Wild Turkey is my “go to” these days)
3/4 oz. Vya sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1 barspoon Patron Citronge
1 dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Long thin orange peel, for garnish

Stir well with with ice to chill and dilute.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with the orange peel, cutting it over the cocktail to catch the oils.

[NOTE: Criollo, pronounced “cree-oy-yo,” is a variety of cacao – ostensibly the most noble of all cacao varieties.]

The Vya (from Quady, makers of Essencia) has a significant dollop of orange muscat in it, which complements the chocolate in the Mozart nicely. The Fee Bros. bitters bring a nice rounding cinnamon note into the mix. And, because I wanted even more orange I added a dash of orange bitters in this case Regan’s but you could also try Angostura.

Overall, the No. 1 is more or less just a chocolate Manhattan. The rye spice and cacao dryness play out nicely in the nose. A pleasant enough if rather simple (!) cocktail. Still, I wanted more layers and complexity. Which led me to the No. 2:

The Criollo (No. 2, AKA The Mozart Black Manhattan)

2 oz. rye
3/4 oz. Amer Boudreau (or Ramazotti)
1/4 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1 barspoon Grand Marnier
1 short dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 short dash Angostura orange bitters (optional if you used Amer Boudreau)
Long thin orange peel, for garnish

Now we’re talking! The amaro is great in combination with the chocolate, especially if you are using Amer Boudreau with its “jacked” orange component. And interestingly enough the bitterness of the amaro blends and brings out the bitterness of the cacao. I love this cocktail! [Note: it seems easy to over-bitter this cocktail as it’s made with an amaro. I recommend that you keep the amount of bitters you add under control.]

Finally, emboldened by my experiences with the No. 1 and No. 2 versions, I decided to try one more variation and push firmly into “dessert-style” cocktail territory:

The Criollo (No. 3)

2 oz. rye
1/2 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1/2 oz. Lustau East India (Oloroso) sherry
1 barspoon Grand Marnier
1 dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
Long thin orange peel, for garnish

Here the chocolate in the Mozart combines with the nuttiness of the sherry to create a distinct toasted coconut flavor. In fact I liked that dimension of this cocktails so much that I decide to re-make it, modifying the template by leaving out the orange-flavored liqueur and cutting the bitters way down. I also replaced the orange peel garnish with a cherry:

The Criollo (No. 3, revised)

2 oz. rye
1/2 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1/2 oz. Lustau East India (Oloroso) sherry
Scant dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
Scant dash Angostura orange bitters
3 brandied or amarena cherries, for garnish

OK, there you have it: three variations on the Manhattan, each using the Mozart Black to a different effect. I’d deem this liqueur a worthwhile addition to any bar.

Criollo No 4 Redux

[P.S. There also a Mozart Dry which is clear and not sweet at all. I look forward to playing with that one day – when a bottle shows up at Ledger’s.]

The Digression…

The moment I came across a reference to chocolate bitters in Paul Clarke’s cocktail the Camerone something in me was hooked. It think it was the idea of a chocolate flavoring which didn’t turn your drink into something that “the girls” order at T.G.I.Friday’s. Spiritous chocolate in cocktails for adults. Right on!

The bitters in question were of course Avery Glaser’s infamous Xocolatl Mole bitters. Right away I was like: “Who made these? Can I get some? Can I get the recipe?” I had no idea that I was starting to pull on a long thread that had been winding itself through the cocktail geek scene a good while before I arrived. Avery Glaser had been seeding bottles of these bitters (along with the Grapefruit) on the west coast for a while already. But most of these were empty (or locked away) by the time I became interested in them. Then I found the Bittermen’s web site where I learned about Avery Glaser’s struggle to obtain the permits and licenses necessary to make and sell the bitters legally in the US. (*). I got on Bittermen’s email list and joined Bittermens’s group at Google.

Then late last spring when visiting NYC, I saw bottles, rather large one’s in fact, of the Xocolatl Mole bitters sitting on the shelves of most all of the watering spots I visited. At Mayahuel I even got to sample them for the first time (impression: cacao, musky cinnamon). The buzz was that something was going to happen – and very soon. And then it did. Avery Glaser brought Bittermen’s to Germany where it would be made by Stephan Berg at The Bitter Truth. Bottles have started to flow into the US, though I have yet to see one. Oddly, after all the wait and build-up, I found the price something of an issue: a single bottle is 21,16 € delivered or a bit over $30 USD (depending on the exchange rate). Ouch! I’ve decided to hold off trying them until some place local, like Cask in SF, starts carrying them and defrays some of the shipping costs through a bulk purchase.

(*) – Bitters you may haven noticed are rather alcoholic, generally about 45 proof and fall into an odd category: neither a food nor a spirit (i.e. not a thing you can eat nor a beverage you can guzzle) but with enough alcohol for the government to want to keep a rein on ‘em just the same. I am guessing the easiest, though hardly the cheapest route if you want to produce bitters, is to make ‘em under a distillery license. But, unlike a bottle of spirits, all those additives (read: flavorings) in the bottle also puts them under the scrutiny of the FDA. So every different bitters flavor you make requires it own approval process. Can you say time and money consuming? No wonder Fee Bros. make their “bitters” the way they do. No wonder Bittermen’s moved to Germany. ;-(

[P.S. If someone out there knows more about the process of getting bitters produced legally for retail sale in the US, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or drop me a line.]

Do I Dare to Drink a Peach?

Posted in Cocktails, Home Made Ingredients, Manhattans, Stone Fruit with tags , , , , on May 18, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

A few weeks ago I attended the American Distilling Institute’s public tasting event at Hangar One in Alameda, CA. One of the more interesting things I tried was a peach whiskey made by Peach Street Distillers, located in Colorado. This was not a “for sale” product but rather something the distillers had made for themselves, a bottle of which they’d brought along as something of an “under the table” treat. It piqued my interest sufficiently to do a little research and ultimately to discover that Leopold Bros. makes a Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey which was actually available for sale. Impressed with their other products, I decided to purchase a bottle and give it a try.

The Taste

Before talking about the taste of this whiskey, I should first mention that it is apparently produced in rather small batches and bottled several times a year. I stumbled upon this fact when I noticed that the bottle I purchased held a much darker colored spirit than the bottles I had seen on the shelf of another liquor store. Curious about these variations, I contacted Leopold Bros. by email and got a reply from Todd Leopold on this matter. Here’s what he had to say:

“The color in our fruit whiskies does not primarily come from the barrel. It comes from, as you guessed, oxidation of the fruit sugars. The longer it sits in a gas permeable barrel, the darker it becomes. So what you are noticing is the variation in oxidation levels.

“Normally, an oxidized peach is a bad thing. But when it is blended with whiskey, the oxidation of the peaches isn’t as aggressive, and leads to more interesting flavors and aromas like raisins and plums. This oxidation doesn’t occur on the shelves so much as it does in the oak barrel.”

Todd also told me that they are combining their own “new make” whiskey with the peaches and then aging this blend in used bourbon barrels purchased from Heaven Hill in Kentucky. This of course lends a lot of character to the result.

After learning all of this I decided it would be interesting to pick up a second bottle from a different batch so I could compare the two side by side. Below are my tasting notes.

Batch 08 05

The first bottle I purchased is marked “08 05″ (for 5th bottling of 2008, if I understood Todd’s encoding properly). This batch (which may now be sold out) has a distinct mahogany color – much darker than the other bottling as you can see in the photo. The nose is very raisiny with earthy-peppery notes and a hint of toffee. The raisin character carried directly through into the taste, which coated my tongue and lingered for a very long time. I almost felt as if I was drinking a very old TBA riesling or fortified desert-style wine rather than a whiskey. However despite the suggestion of oxidation, there was nothing dried out or “hot” about this spirit. It’s a bit like drinking liquid fruit. Delicious!
Batch 05_05 Georgia Peach Flavored Whiskey

Batch 08 09

The second bottle I purchased is marked “08 09″ (for the 9th bottling of 2008). This batch is lighter in color than the 08 05, closer to an orange-amber. The nose is also quite different as well and led with much more bourbon character, complemented by citrus peel and vanilla notes. The palate, again quite different from the 08 05, was brighter and crisper, less rich and unctuous. As sweet and fruity as it was, I knew I was drinking a whiskey.
Batch 08_09 Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey

(Aside: I should mention that according to the Leopold Bros. website they are now also making a Rocky Mountain Peach-flavored Whiskey. I have not yet gotten a chance to try this nor have I even seen it for sale here in the bay area. I did however spy an 2009 bottling of the Georgia peach on the shelves at BevMo today.)

The Cocktails

I actually found this something of tricky ingredient to use in a cocktail. I believe that’s because its got such a broad flavor profile: sweet, sour and earthy all at once. If you use too much, it tends to dominate the drink; use too little and it tends to get lost. I concentrated on spirituous formulations and perhaps it would prove more versatile in cocktail that include juices and/or syrups.

Note that all these drinks were formulated with the 08 05 batch.

The J. Alfred Prufrock (AKA Peach Old Fashioned)

1 1/2 oz. Rye (Rittenhouse 100 proof suggested)
3/4 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1 Sugar cube
2″ Lemon peel
Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters

Muddle the sugar cube with 1 – 2 dashes of the bitters.
Add the lemon peel and muddle a bit more to express the oils.
Add spirits and ice (a single chunk if you have it)
Stir to chill.

Note: You need to be careful not to over bitter this drink.

J Alfred Prufrock (AKA Peach OF)
Highland Peach

2 oz. Macallan 12 y/o Single Malt
1/2 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1/4 oz. Benedictine (to add a little spice)

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, add ice, stir to chill.
Strain and serve over a large block of ice in an OF glass.
Garnish with a lime peel.

A Peachy Manhattan

2 oz. Wild Turkey Rye
1 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1/4 oz. Navan Vanilla Cognac Liqueur

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, add ice, stir to chill.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with brandied cherry.

Note: I tried making the manhattan several different ways: with red vermouth, Aperol and then with two different amari (Ramazotti and Nonino). To my palate none of these drinks were quite right. In particular, a bitter component really seems to play poorly against the dried fruit intensity of the whiskey. Even the Aperol, which generally plays well with others, seemed a bit out of place in this context.


Bajan Peach

2 oz. Mount Gay Special Reserve Rum
1 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1/4 oz. Cinnamon Syrup
1/4 oz. Lime Juice

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, add ice, shake to chill.
Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with brandied cherry.

Note: you may need to tinker with this one depending on how strongly flavored your cinnamon syrup is, as well as how sweet.

The Candied Manhattan

Posted in Cocktails, Manhattans with tags , on January 21, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

In which I wax poetic on my favorite drink and learn how hard it is to take a good photo of a cocktail…

The Early Years

I’ve never heard of anyone putting together a list of desert island cocktails before (and a quick peek at the web proves me right) but for certain, the Manhattan would be #1 on my list. That is, as long as I could make it using my favorite ingredients.

The Manhattan is for me something of a primordial cocktail experience. I can recall when Martinis started to become popular and fashionable again in the early 90’s but while I could appreciate the aesthetic, I couldn’t really get behind the flavor. My inclination was to order a bourbon on the rocks and be done with it. Of course bourbon pickins’ were generally slim back then and I drank more Wild Turkey than I’d care to admit. If I was lucky, I’d find a bar with a bottle of Old Grand Dad, a brand I still use to this day.

I am sure it was my little brother who steered me towards my first Manhattan. No, that’s not quite right. What he steered me towards was a Maker’s Mark Manhattan with an orange peel garnish. Very precise and at that time, often a challenge to manifest. Not every bar had Maker’s (yet) and not every bar had oranges laying about (isn’t that funny to think about today). Oh, and pretty much every one of those drinks had the shit shaken out of it till it was frothy and often a bit too diluted. Still, I was hooked and the Maker’s Mark Manhattan became my first real cocktail.

Tweaking Begins

Some years pass, the dot com boom…booms and Maker’s becomes the well pour at a lot of bars. Single barrel and small batch bourbons are the rage. Orange peel still cannot be counted on. I learn I must ask to have my drink stirred, not shaken. I decide it would be fun to make drinks at home. After a bit of tinkering, I gravitate away from Maker’s and towards Old Grand Dad 100 Proof Bottled in Bond. My palate is shifting.

A few more years pass. Many Manhattans are consumed. I have switched from commercial “maraschino” cherries to the candied ones from Italy called amarena. This is a big step up in flavor and cost. I eventually found a store that sold these cherries in bulk. They also sold candied orange peel in bulk as well. Hmm…. Since I like candied citrus peel (yes, and good fruitcake too) I decided to buy some and see if it would work as a garnish in the Manhattan. After my very first drink I knew I was onto something and the first version of the Candied Manhattan was born.

The next thing I tried was to see the effect of soaking the peel in different liqueurs. I tried Luxardo Maraschino but it didn’t quite mesh with the other flavors. Orange cognac on the other hand worked much better. Then I added a vanilla bean to the mix which made things even yummier – so much so that I decided to slip a scant teaspoon of the orange-vanilla cognac into the drink itself. This became the second version of the Candied Manhattan.

Next I discovered the effects of using better and more exotic vermouth. For a while I settled on Carpano Antica and then someone turned me onto Vya. I think the distinctive orange note (from the Orange Muscat, natch) complemented what I had already put together just a bit better than the Antica (which if you’ve never had straight, is totally delicious). Behold version three.

Bear with me pilgrim, we are almost to the recipe…

The Joy of Rye

About the same time as I started playing with the vermouth. I discovered the joys of drinking rye (cue sound of heavenly choir). I read all I could find out about rye and the history of American whiskey making. Wow! The Manhattan had clearly been a rye based cocktail back in the day and so I would start to make the Candied Manhattan with rye as well. I tired several brands like the newly revived Michter’s, Sazerac and Rittehouse 100 Proof. (I eschewed Pikesville and Old Overholt, brands which I cannot quite bring myself to take seriously.) I liked the Michter’s the best but it’s rather an odd fish: a bit of an expensive pour for a mixed drink but not quite in the “sipping neat” class of some other ryes. I also liked the 6 y/o Sazerac but not in the Candied Manhattan. I find it’s got a tendency to “top” the other ingredients in most any of the drinks in which I’ve tried using it – though it makes a great Old Fashioned where it can reign unchallenged. Ultimately, I settled on the Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond for my “everyday” rendition of the drink.

Sliced, Not Stripped

The final tweak involved the candied fruit garnish. Last time I went to the store to replenish my stock of orange peel strips, I found they were also selling candied orange slices. I bought a package, soaked ‘em in my orange-vanilla cognac and totally fell in love with them them. With the slices you have the added flavor dimension provided by the flesh of the fruit along with the more earthy peel. A perfect reward at the end of the cocktail – if you can wait that long.

The Candied Manhattan

2 oz Rittenhouse 100 Botttled in Bond Rye
1 oz Vya Red Vermouth
1 scant teaspoon of Orange-Vanilla Cognac liqueur (recipe below)
1 – 2 dashes bitters (Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged recommended)

Prep a chilled martini glass by putting 2 amarena cherries (*) and one candied orange slice or two strips (if this is what you are using) on the bottom.

Stir or gently shake ingredients to mix and chill.
Pour into prepared glass.

Orange-Vanilla Cognac Liqueur

1 cup orange cognac liqueur (e.g. Prunier Liqueur d’Orange)
1 vanilla bean
A small clean re-sealable plastic container
4 – 6 oz. candied orange peel or slices

- Score the vanilla bean with the tip of a knife and put it into the container.
– Pour the orange cognac liqueur over the bean.
– Add some or all of the candied fruit.
– Store in the refrigerator.
– Soak for 4 – 7 days before using.
– Replenish with orange-cognac liqueur as necessary.
– Replace the vanilla bean after it no longer adds significant flavor to the liqueur, about one month.

NOTE: If the candied fruit sits in the liqueur too long (more than about 2 weeks) it will start to become soft. I recommend only soaking moderate amounts of the candied fruit at a time, keeping pace with your Manhattan habit.

(*) – Most of the Italian candied cherries you find are actually amarenata – not the true amarena which is wild, smaller and softer. Both are pretty delicious however. One day I will write about my cherry fetish. Promise.

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