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October, 2013

  1. Perhaps it’s the time of year…

    October 31, 2013 by Russ


    In the last few months, a few new kinds of flavored whiskey have trickled down here to Columbia (AKA the bottom of the distribution chain).  Adding flavors is, of course, nothing new; I’ll save my rant on all the kinds of Kool-Aid that have been poured into vodka for another day.  As far as whiskey (or whisky, depending on… oh, don’t get me started), however, there have already been offerings from some major distillers with flavors like cherry, honey, and cinnamon.  But this new flavor that has come to us is an interesting choice for sure.

    I’m not sure if it’s a seasonal marketing push or if these will be sticking around for a while, but the maple flavors are here.  I guess I should be thankful that there isn’t more pumpkin syrup being dumped into other spirits (I’m looking at you, Pinnacle).  The combination of maple syrup and whiskey seems like a good one, right?  The dark-sugar and caramel notes of maple syrup should make a great compliment alongside the smoky (smokey?  Another ‘e’?  Let’s not bother) wood and smoother caramel side of many a good whiskey.

    For our consideration tonight, we’ve got three options: Crown Royal Maple (out of Canada), Cabin Fever (also from the Great White North), and Jim Beam Maple (from Kentucky).  For contrast, I warmed up some Trader Joe’s Grade A Maple Syrup and combined it with a healthy dose of Larceny.  This approach is only mirrored by two of these offerings, though; according to the information on the website, Crown Royal ages the spirit in “maple-toasted oak” instead of infusing the syrup right into the whiskey.  Let’s see if it makes a difference, yes?


    Of the four contenders here, the home version of syrup and bourbon is the darkest, but this might have more to do with my lack of measurement than the contents.  I did, however, make sure to sip some maple syrup by itself first, just to put myself in the mood.  The Crown Royal and the Cabin Fever were both the mid-amber color of a milder whiskey, about the shade of Barenjager but definitely not the deep, rich color of maple syrup.  The Beam was lighter still, almost the color of an average single-malt.  Finally, my home concoction, about three parts bourbon to one part syrup, was almost as dark as the maple syrup itself.  This lead me to wonder how much aging or blending the whiskey had gone through on the first three to produce such a light hue, even after the addition of maple syrup!

    The Nose

    My first deep sniff of the Crown Royal hit me right in the nostalgia region of my brain.  Not for any consumption of booze or pancakes as a child, but it right away reminded me of the maple creme sticks (think of  a skinny eclair, in Ohio we called them creme sticks) I would eat on Saturday mornings after youth bowling league.  Sure, it was maple-ish, but not quite the full-on maple odor I was expecting. Not too much burn in the nostrils, due to there not being much whiskey to smell there.

    The Cabin Fever was a similar smell, but a little more astringent and even less maple.  That little bit of alcohol in my nose was offset by a lighter maple component, but not because of the sweetness.  It seemed to be lighter without being sweeter.  This one I had trouble placing until I got to tasting it.

    The Jim Beam had a slightly more smoky smell and a better (read: lower) alcohol level in the smell.  Still a little bit of maple to it, but still not much sign of whiskey.  There was the usual signs of maple syrup in the sugar, caramel hints, and butter.

    The TJ’s/Larceny maple I made smelled like bourbon all the way until the end of the inhale, when you could pick up a slight ping of that sweetness and deliciousness.  There was far more of this than what I portioned out of the mini-bottles, so I knew there was more to be done with this one.  Perhaps it needed more maple, but this might not be an experiment that I try again anytime soon.

    Finally, the Flavor

    The Crown Royal came through in the taste in much the same way as the nose.  The taste is light and sugary, not with a brown sugar taste, but with a confectionery kind of sweetness that still reminds me of the Krispy Kreme donuts from childhood.  It is tasty and light, but not in the way that maple syrup is.  It’s probably a result of the way that the maple flavor was added, but it tasted more like an alcoholic maple candy than syrup.

    The Cabin Fever was sweeter still, but had more of a buttery, brown-sugar kind of mojo happening.  It comes across less like maple than the Crown, and more like a Werther’s Original.  A lot like those butterscotch-ish candies, actually.  Again, maybe it was the thin nature of the spirit, but this is more of a maple confection flavor than maple syrup.

    Jim Beam’s offering managed to get a lot closer to what I *thought* I was in for.  Jim was thicker in consistency and had a legitimate maple syrup note to it with less sugar.  But being less sweet didn’t increase the burn; it actually went down rather smoothly.  The taste rolls across the tongue with a tip-of sharpness that bring to mind the idea that a tree somewhere was very, very drunk.  This was the most straightforward of the three.

    My unmeasured homemade version was the only one with an actual whiskey flavor to it, much less a bourbon taste.  It tasted like exactly what it was, but helped me nail down the missing whiskey flavor from the other three.

    Don't judge me, Oedipa!

    It’s not always a glamorous life, but that’s no reason to go editing realistic photos! This was literally my view through the whole tasting.


    Which one of these to choose really depends what you are looking for.  I tried mixing some of this into a whiskey-and-coke, but the maple was lost… as well as the whiskey.  If anything, it just made the Coke even sweeter with little other contribution.  I did not try to make a familiar whiskey cocktail with these out of a suspicion that I would over-sweeten the drink without picking up any maple.  The solution might have been to over-pour the maple whiskey to get it to stand out… but I have a feeling these were not made for mixing.  Feel free to experiment and let me know how it goes!

    I may yet experiment more with the remainders of these mini-bottles, but not this day.  I’ve got lots more to say about whiskey in general, and about The Great American Whiskey Fair!  Next time…

  2. I preach the magic of punch

    October 27, 2013 by Russ

    I was recently given the awesome opportunity lately to help out a gathering of awesome people, more formerly known as the TEDx Columbia SC team and their speakers for this year’s event.  I can’t tell you who was in attendance, since the announcement about who is speaking has not been announced, but I can tell you that I’m very excited for this year’s event.

    Since I had previously mixed drinks for many of the team members for the event, I was asked to ‘tend bar'(I hesitate to say I was bartending, since it was just a table where the beer, wine, champagne, and water were hanging out).  But that was something anyone could have done to help out.  My contribution came in the form of punch.

    But this was not to be the kind of punch that comes to many people’s minds, with bottles of booze, soda, and tooth-withering sucrose neon-colored ingredients.  Oh no, not here.  I drew my recipe forth from cocktail historian David Wondrich’s wonderful book, Punch.  As with his earlier book, Imbibe, Wondrich tells the rich history of punch (which predates cocktails by centuries!) and provides recipes with context and modern-day options for how to make them.  In the case of Punch, the correct verb is ‘compounding’ punch… and I discovered that I do enjoy compounding it.

    I chose a recipe out of this awesome book called Regent’s Punch, and it is so named  because the recipe is attributed to King George IV.  Yeah, I went and made a 200+ year-old recipe for an unsuspecting group of Columbia’s movers and shakers.  In the interest of full disclosure I did quickly print out a placard  with the ingredients and a brief summary of the story, since I knew that sampling something unknown would be just cause for hesitation.  Note: there are TONS of variation on this recipe (as is to be expected with something as popular and aged as this punch is), but that link just above is the same from Punch that I followed.  The magic that makes this work (in my humble opinion) is the oleo-saccharum, which is a beautiful elixir made from the zests of citrus (the very outer peel with no pith) muddled in sugar and left to sit.  The sugar and muddling releases the oils from the peels and becomes this bewitchingly oily, sugary miracle that is the heart and soul of many great punch recipes. 

    It came out a lovely golden color, and despite Elyn’s hesitations (and  a few of my own), it was quickly devoured by the guests.  I’d like to think it was the story and the intrigue that sold them on trying it, and not my insistence and classy hat.  That punch was well worth the day-ahead of prep, and I am still thrilled that so many people gave it a chance and loved it.


  3. MxMo LXXVIII – The Magellan

    October 21, 2013 by Russ


    It’s Mixology Monday time again, and the challenge this month is to be “Intercontinental.”  The idea is to include ingredients from as many continents as possible, including tools, glassware, names, or back stories.  We chose to stick to the mixing ingredients, in order to remain as legit as possible.  I’ll leave the Gold Star work and Antarctica jokes to those more qualified than myself.

    This contribution is called The Magellan, and here’s the recipe:

    The Magellan
    Recipe type: Cocktail
    • 1-1/2 oz. Banks 5 Island rum
    • 1 oz. Swedish Punsch
    • ½ oz. Garam Masala syrup
    • ½ oz. lime juice
    • 1 egg white
    1. Chill your coupe glass and combine the rum, Punsch, lime, juice, syrup, and egg white in a shaker with NO ice and shake like crazy.
    2. Add ice and shake like crazier.
    3. Strain into the chilled coupe
    4. Gently sprinkle a pinch of Garam Masala seasoning on top of the foam and smile.
    5. For the Garam Masala syrup recipe, we used ⅓ cup each jaggery and water and ½ tsp Garam Masala. Combine in a small saucepan and heat. Then allow to cool and strain through cheesecloth.

    In rear: the Annex of the Bar of Glory!  BEHOLD

    Sorry, photo-lovers, I already juiced the best looking lime for the drink!

    If you’ve not tried it, this rum is worth hunting down.  Banks 5 Island rum is named for its blend of rums from 5 different places: Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and one undisclosed location (but I trust them, even though Guyana isn’t an island).  The nose gives you the funkiness of the Jamaican rums and, oddly, a hint of raisins.  Not an unpleasant thing here or in many white, unaged whiskeys, take my word for it.  The taste is smooth and distinctive with a decent burn, while retaining its sweetness.  As far as MxMo, since Guyana is solidly in South America and the rest of the islands of the West Indies (a grossly inaccurate name) are considered part of North America, that’s two continents in one shot!  Boom!

    Next up is the Swedish Punsch, another delightful ingredient that we first read about in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.  This is a rum-based liqueur, seasoned up with various delicious spices.  Basically, Swedish Punsch is to rum as Drambuie is to scotch.  We use Kronan here at home, available on DrinkUpNY.  They include in their description that Kronan is made from sugarcane spirits from the East and West Indies, creating the first link back to the rum.  Kronan Swedish Punsch is, as the name suggests, made in Sweden, so that makes Europe continent #3.

    Finally the fun part: the Garam Masala syrup.  Instead of regular sugar or, my preference, demerara sugar, I wanted a simple syrup that would connect with the complex Garam Masala seasoning.  The best thing we could think of to match the spices of India was jaggery.  It can be made from a lot of things, but this one is molasses-based and in a loaf form.  We used a 1 to 1 ratio of water to jaggery and melted it down with 1/2 tsp. of Garam Masala, also from our local Indian market.  This only yields a small amount of syrup, but it can be easily doubled up since many of the ingredients dissolve.  Anything that doesn’t dissolve will have to strained out through a cheesecloth once the mixture cools.  It’s a complex, dark, and smokey ingredient that works beautifully with the Swedish Punsch.  This also brings full circle to the continental aspect of the cocktail by crossing the waters that Columbus couldn’t and making it all the way to India.  Make Asia continent #4!

    For extra foam, shake extra hard.

    That pinch of Garam Masala on top of the foam guarantees a nice, spicy punch (Punsch?) on the nose.

    The lime juice brings a light, tart note into the mix, and the egg white does its usual magic and makes the mouthfeel silky and smooth without affecting the taste.  If anything, that egg white makes all of the molasses and spices seem almost chocolatey.  To this day, I’ve not made or tried an egg cocktail that I didn’t love.

    Now, the lime could be from anywhere, so there’s no additional land mass there.  The egg could also be from anywhere… but is the same color white as the snow and ice of Antarctica!  POW, that’s fi- nah, just kidding.  Four is enough for me, and this drink is tasty enough for anyone.  Big thanks to Stewart at Putney Farms blog for the inspiration!

    Here’s what everyone else came up with!

  4. Harvest Week at Motor Supply Company

    October 21, 2013 by Elyn


    We got a chance to check out the Harvest Week menu at Motor Supply Company last week. Every year, the folks at the restaurant invite in the farmers and other local producers that make their menu possible for a fun party followed by a week of farm-t0-table inspired menus. This year it wasn’t just the food menu that got the harvest makeover but the cocktail list as well.


    When we arrived, the bar was packed so we got a table and ate some pretty tasty appetizers. We tried a beet salad, pork belly, and a steamed seafood appetizer. I’m still not sold on pork belly and unfortunately this preparation didn’t help, I guess I like mine more tender. But, the beet salad was to die for. We also got some soup and a cheese plate but we didn’t snap pictures of those.


    But, we’re here to talk about the cocktails, right? We had a few with dinner – the “Jazz Go Down” and “The Fall Guy”. “Jazz Go Down” featured Zaya rum, pepper and bacon jam, creme de cacao, and apple cider. It sounded pretty awesome. Unfortunately, the creme de cacao took over and obliterated almost everything else. It was decidedly lacking a sour hit and even the rum got pretty lost in the chocolate flavor. Definitely a concept with some awesome potential, though. That garnish is pretty sassy, huh?


    “The Fall Guy” was a definite hit. I’ve been finding myself pretty attracted to tequila drinks lately and snapping them up when they’re done creatively. This one called my name by matching Dobel Maestro tequila up with cinnamon basil, chipotle, honey, and ginger beer. It was spicy, refreshing, and really let the tequila sing. While the fall flavors were evident, the freshness from the basil made it a drink that I’d gladly sip all year.


    After dinner, we slid over to the bar which had quieted down significantly. Good thing, because we wanted to bend the ear of the bartender. We lucked out and Josh Streetman, the head bartender that developed the harvest menu was there to help us out. Our next round of drinks was excellent. I’m a sucker for rye and witty names so the “Drunk @ Karaoke on Halloween” (Bulleit rye, Cocchi Americano, pumpkin puree, sorghum, carbonation) was a natural choice. Russ stepped out of his usual patterns and was so allured by the description of the “Six String Bass” that he picked a vodka drink! This one was Tito’s infused with smoked pears, calvados, amontillado sherry, lemon, and honey.


    Josh is definitely doing some innovative things behind the bar at Motor Supply. He let us know that a brand new late fall cocktail menu would be unveiled this week so there will always be something new to check out.

  5. House Favorite – The Corpse Reviver #2

    October 7, 2013 by Russ

    CR2 3

    I think it’s about time to showcase a drink that I truly love.  This version first came to me from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, where the excellent Dr. Cocktail speaks to its origins.  The good doctor tells a much better story than I do, so I won’t try to recap it for you; I will leave the history to the experts and tell you about this wondrous potation in the present… as I sip one with a smile on my face.

    First, the recipe:

    Corpse Reviver #2
    Recipe type: Cocktail
    • 1 oz. gin
    • 1 oz. Cointreau
    • 1 oz. lemon juice
    • 1 oz. Lillet Blanc
    • 1 to 3 drops absinthe
    1. Shake and strain into a chilled glass, then drop in a stemless cherry to lurk in the bottom.



    Glass head not required, but recommended!
    Pictured: the usual suspects. Delicious, delicious suspects.

    The ingredients:

    I will leave the gin to you, gentle reader, to decide on.  I’ve tried London Dry gins that did just as well as smaller batch fancy gins, and whichever gin strikes your fancy will come through quietly and whisper lovely things in this drink’s ear.  I like Small’s gin in this for the smooth botanicals and the touch of citrus that plays well with the next three ingredients.

    The Cointreau and Lillet are must-haves, both in general and in this drink, so take on substitutions at your own risk.  The key to this cocktail is the delicate balance (AKA mystical chemistry) between all four main ingredients, and I haven’t found anything that can fill in for these two in this recipe.  Triple sec is too sweet and orange curaçao is too straight-forward orange to let the Lillet really shine.  Careful measurement and fresh lemons are absolutely mandatory, but I don’t need to tell you that…. do I?

    As for those drops of absinthe, I recommend all three.  If anise puts a bee in your bonnet, dial it back to only one drop, but don’t leave it out!  It seems like a few drops of the green fairy wouldn’t have much to say against four ounces of goodness, but there are no strongly-flavored ingredients to compete with here.  On the other hand, don’t feel like a strong absinthe will be too strong.  I used four drops of a rouge absinthe we found at Merchant in Madison, WI, and it barely came through in the drink.  Let the beast out… but only for a few drops.

    Finally, that garnish.  If you haven’t already experienced the joy and enlightenment of Luxardo Maraschino cherries, there is nothing I can say that will measure up.  They are sheer perfection at the end of a good cocktail, and the Corpse Reviver #2 is no exception.  Just make sure you save it for the very end; it’s absolute bliss.

    Hurry up and take the pic, Russ!  That drink is going in my face!

    The Verdict:

    This cocktail is so damn good it gives me goosebumps.  A good friend of mine was until very recently a teetotaler, but has ended this persuasion because life has been treating him very well (which is the right reason to decide to imbibe, in my humble opinion).  He came to me for his first drink after seeing me mix and gush with other good friends about the virtues and furors of liquor, and this was the one I chose to break him in with.  He was not disappointed.