Category Archives: Whiskey

Celebrate New Orleans with Cocktails & Mixed Drinks

La Nouvelle-Orléans, now known as New Orleans, was founded on May 7, 1718. The original inhabitants were French, under the helm of Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville.

new orleans - mardis gras

After 297 years, New Orleans is continually mentioned as one of the party capitals of America. This means one thing: The history of The Big Easy involves alcohol on a serious level, and not just during Mardis Gras.

To celebrate the anniversary of New Orleans, here are three classic Nawlins drinks that everyone should try:

The Hurricane

While many locals will roll their eyes at the mention of The Hurricane simply because it is a classic tourists’ favorite, there is no denying its place in history. Started in the 1940’s, the Hurricane started as a rum and passion fruit mixture, but now is often offered up as a powder mixed with rum and juice. Proper variations include both light and dark rum, real passion fruit, orange juice, lime juice, grenadine, with an orange slice on the side. Best served ice cold.

The Sazerac

Would you believe us if we told you that this is the Official State Cocktail of Louisiana? Considered to be America’s first cocktail, this drink was created in a French Quarter bar and named after a brandy of a similar name. Nowadays the drink consists of a crushed sugar cube, 1.5 oz of Sazerac Rye Whiskey, Herbsaint, 2-4 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, lemon oil, and a lemon peel. For the most authentic version of this drink, be sure to check out The Sazerac Bar, in downtown New Orleans.

Classic Vieux Carré

Named after the French Quarter, this mixed drink was created in the 1930’s by Walter Bergeron in Hotel Monteleone. The ingredients include half an ounce of Benedictine liqueur, rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, as well as a few dashes of Peychaud and angostura bitters. The ingredients might look funny, but when mixed together, form a deliciously potent cocktail.

Cajun Bloody Mary

What would a proper New Orleans party be without a modified Bloody Mary? Leave it to the Big Easy to take an already intense drink and make it spicy. Super spicy. This version of the Bloody Mary involves a heavy amount of tomato juice, sprinkled with some variation of the following: lime juice, lemon juice, garlic powder, fresh black pepper, tabasco sauce, okra, and of course, a lot of vodka. Garnish with a celery stick if you must.

These four mixed drinks epitomize the various elements of New Orleans: ranging from the fruity, the historic, the potent, and the heavy, all combine together to give one a taste of both the history and the richness of New Orleans. Incorporate one of these drinks in your drinking games when you celebrate! Cheers, and happy anniversary to The Big Easy!

30 Years On From New Coke

On this day in 1985, Coca-Cola introduced New Coke. The backlash to it was so strong that 30 years later, people are mindful of it and nervous of experiencing the same fate. Notwithstanding, innovation is an essential component in becoming and staying a successful company.

Coke II by akeg, on Flickr
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Any company that is still in business and older than 100 years is only around because it adapted with the changing times. And New Coke didn’t spell the end of all Coke product launches. Coke Zero, Coke with Lime, Coke with Lemon and Coca-Cola Life all came after New Coke. So why was New Coke such an unmitigated disaster?

Because consumers were so attached to the original taste that New Coke was too much of a deviation for them. New Coke may have even been a superior product to the original drink, but it wasn’t what they were used to. Consumers don’t buy what is defined as the absolute best, they buy what is their best.

When Coca-Cola scrapped New Coke and reverted back to the original one, sales of Classic Coke skyrocketed. So much so that many skeptics felt the whole thing from start to finish was planned.

Making alcohol is a time-honored process going back hundreds of years and while technology aids the process, today’s end product is very similar to what you were finding in flasks hundreds of years ago.

Learning from New Coke, if makers of alcohol are going to change anything, instead of the new replacing the old, the new needs to complement the old. In this regard, Johnnie Walker has Red Label, Black Label, Blue Label and the like.

Maker’s Mark by Sam Howzit, on Flickr
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It’s the changing of the status quo that upsets people. When Maker’s Mark announced in February 2013 that it was reducing the alcoholic strength of its bourbon whiskey from 45% to 42%, there was a massive backlash. 8 days later, the feedback and outrage from customers was so strong that Maker’s Mark had no choice other than to restore the alcohol levels to what they were. Many couldn’t help but make the comparisons to New Coke.

Similarly the decision was made in 2002 to reduce the proof of Jack Daniel’s black label from 90 to 80. Social media wasn’t as sophisticated then, so while there was somewhat of a backlash to it, it wasn’t to the same degree. One doesn’t drink Coke like one sips bourbon whiskey and therefore a change in taste due to a reduction in proof won’t be that noticeable, especially for casual drinkers.

Taste is a very personal thing. If you asked 100 people what they had in their flasks, you may be surprised by what the answers are. Different people like different things.

And a person’s attachment to a particular brand isn’t solely due to taste – it can also be due to drinking it at a very special time and so one develops an attachment and fondness to it.

The more of the story is that whatever their favorite it, you don’t want to mess with it!

Hamburgers and Alcohol – A Match Made in Heaven

On this day 60 years ago, Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s as we know it. Of course McDonald’s existed previously – it was created in 1940 by the McDonald brothers, but the McDonald’s we know today has its roots with what Kroc created on April 15, 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois.

oldest operating McDonald’s in Downey, C by singamelodie, on Flickr
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Kroc wanted to take control of the company as he didn’t feel as though the brothers sufficiently recognized the potential of the restaurant. They only wanted to have a small number of branches, while Kroc wanted to conquer the world and conquer it he did!

Now it is impossible to imagine a world without an omnipresent McDonald’s. They have 35,000 branches in over 100 countries.

If one was going to have a barbeque and make their own hamburgers, what would be the drinks to accompany it? Fast food restaurants have been serving alcohol for a while and if you go to any pub they are likely to have food to go with the drinks.

Beer is choice of many especially during the hot summer months, but what if you wanted something a bit more sophisticated?

New York Sour – this whiskey sour with red wine on top is great because it looks like a combination of mustard and ketchup. Like many other drinks, this has existed under a number of different names, but whatever you call it is tastes delicious.

Margarita by Maëlick, on Flickr
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Margarita – this is a great drink to have at any time of the day. The combination of tequila, lime juice and Cointreau results in a magical mixture of sweet and salty that is great for getting the party started or washing the meal down. The drink’s merit seems so obvious that it would have invented itself and as such there is a debate about the origins of it.

BBQ by Jun Seita, on Flickr
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Whiskey – When it comes to steak, it’s traditional to pair red wine with it, but 21st century drinkers aren’t so wedded to outdated and ancient traditions. There is nothing wrong with kicking back at a barbecue with a flask. In fact, nothing washes steak and whatever else you may consume at your barbecue than a single malt. It will put the finishing touches on a great meal.

With the family values at McDonald’s don’t expect to see whiskey or cocktails on their menu, although in some of European countries they serve beer. Given Ray Kroc’s family comes near Plzeň in the Czech Republic he would definitely approve of this.

On The Rocks – A Guide to Drinking Whisky With Ice

There is nothing like a swig from a flask when it is freezing outside. It will warm you up and help shake out the coldness that runs along you from head to toe. It will make the cold weather a bit more palatable.

Once it starts to get warmer and you no longer need 4 layers of clothes in order to head outside, the benefits of having a drink won’t dissolve along with the snow. They will still be there.

Whisky by PandamauT, on Flickr
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Whisky though, isn’t a drink one drinks because one is hot. When one is parched and looking for a drink to cool down, one typically doesn’t grab the Scotch. But once you have cooled down and relaxed, you may find yourself looking for it.

Speaking of dissolving, is the much-debated question regarding the adding of ice to your whisky. Should you or shouldn’t you? Is it ok to do so? For many devout whisky aficionados, this is as close to heresy as one can get. They wouldn’t want to contaminate their whisky with anything let alone ice. To people of this mindset, ice is going to dilute and numb the flavor of the whisky.

Just like single or double malt, whisky drinkers have opinions and aren’t afraid to share them. In their palate, their way is the right way so don’t be intimidated by those who question the sanity of drinking whisky with ice.

Whisky already has water added to it. It is part of the manufacturing process called cutting. This is done to bring down the ABV (Alcohol by Volume) of it otherwise it just wouldn’t be drinkable. The ABV of Beer is around 5%, wine around 14% and whisky is in the 40s. If it wasn’t for the water, the ABV would be significantly higher.

 by mtch3l, on Flickr
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If there is any impact on adding ice to whisky, it is going to be negligible

People do drink it with ice otherwise the delightful expression on the rocks wouldn’t exist. And then is something exciting about the phrase – the way it conjures up the notion of whisky with ice.

The irony of this is that you can drink your whisky with ice in it even when it is freezing and snowing outside. If you want to drink it with ice you should feel comfortable about this decision and do so without fear of ridicule.

Of course the whiskey in your flask is going to stay at room temperature. If you want to put some ice-cubes in your flask, make sure they are narrow enough to fit!

Tips to start a Whisky Collection

There is nothing more impressive than a good whisky collection. There is just something inspiring about it. A good collection is going to grow organically over time, but there is no reason why you can’t put some thought and planning into it.

Still Life by aldenchadwick, on Flickr
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What tips should you follow to start a whisky collection and what mistakes should you avoid?

First and foremost, you should buy what you like and not what other people like. It is your collection, so it should be a reflection of your tastes and personality. It is very hard to find bad whisky, so don’t worry about what other people are going to say.

Once you have a few core bottles of tastes you like, you can then start to play around and experiment and move into funkier territory. Whether it’s blended or single, whether it’s different years, there are a multitude of choices out there.

If you have the chance to try new things, you should always take the opportunity. Expanding your taste is a great way to expand your collection.

Having a number of different bottles open at once isn’t a problem. It’s not like wine, but if there is a little bit in the bottle, there is the chance of oxidization. So don’t save the last bit in your favorite bottle.

Graham’s Whisky collection by jennicatpink, on Flickr
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You should always be on the lookout for sales. Subscribing to mailing lists is a great way to make sure you don’t miss out on great deals. Also be on the lookout for auctions where people are selling stuff cheaply. You can find great value there.

A whisky collection isn’t to be looked at – it’s not a museum exhibit, it’s there to be drunk. This means that you will constantly have to restock. You can have your core two or three bottles that are always present and you can complement these with another one or two that you rotate.

Saving an exceptional bottle for a special occasion like a birthday, wedding or the like is fine, but that is one bottle. With the other bottles in your collection, you should have a regular time for drinking otherwise you will find that they are just sitting there. Forget about what you have in your whisky collection, nothing screams amateur more than a collection of bottles that are covered in dust.

If it wasn’t obvious enough, you shouldn’t keep your whisky in a place where it can be exposed to direct sunlight. Put it in a place where it can be kept at a nice room temperature.

There is no better way to have your flask constantly filled than a well-stocked whisky collection. The flask is a great way to become acquainted with new types of whisky.

Whisky from the Rest of the World to Buy for Christmas 2014

In recent blog posts we have looked at the best whisky and spirits to buy as a present for Christmas 2014. The whisky post contained one from Japan and the rest were from Scotland. This got us thinking about whisky from other parts of the world.

After a bit of research and conversation, we discovered that one can certainly acquire some fantastic whisky that doesn’t hail from Scotland.

sulli
Sullivans Cove French Oak
This whisky comes from Tasmania, Australia, and has won a large number of awards including the Best Single Malt Whisky gong at the 2014 World Whisky Awards. The French Oak Port Casks are just part of the reason why this whisky is so popular. The nose contains traces of orange peel, coconut, and hazelnut, and the finish ensures that it goes down smoothly.

This whisky is very reasonably priced, and you are still going to get great value for the money. Many people may be skeptical of whisky that hails from Australia, but this changes the second one is able to taste some of it. Pouring this into your Christmas flask is sure to give you a very merry Christmas.

PikeCrk-Oct12-lg
Pike Creek 10 Years Old

Leaving the Southern Hemisphere and heading towards Canada, we have Pike Creek. It is spicy yet creamy. It has elements of citrus and toffee. Again, people may approach it with low expectations due its place of origin, but likely will be blown away by the quality of the finish. While this may make a great Christmas gift, it is a great drink any day of the year. A significantly better present than socks.

jack
Jack Daniel’s
It may be a cliché to buy Jack but there is nothing wrong with buying something that is comfortingly familiar and well-loved. Old No. 7 is the original Jack Daniel’s and it tastes as good now as it did in the 19th century when it all began. Obviously, Tennessee whiskey or bourbon whiskey isn’t the same thing as malt whisky, but we are including Jack because it tastes so good. What Christmas isn’t going to benefit from his presence? Christmas is about having family together and reminiscing about times past, and nothing aids reminiscing like a bottle of Jack.
And if Christmas at home with the family is going that well, having your Christmas flask filled with Jack is going to make it all the more better.

As Christmas 2014 approaches, we want to take this opportunity to wish you and your families our compliments of the season.

Best Whisky to Buy as a Christmas Present for 2014

We all know that a flask is the best present one can buy someone for Christmas. The real question is, what whisky belongs inside the Christmas flask? What are the best whiskies you can buy for Christmas 2014?

Highland Park 21 year old Whisky

Highland Park 21 year old
When you buy anything from Highland Park, you know you are in for a treat. They are one of the very few distilleries to malt some of their own barley which gives them extra input into the process. They are located in Kirkwall, which is in the Orkney Islands. These islands are situated just north of Scotland, about 10 miles from Caithness. Situated between the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea and Norwegian Sea, there is something in the Kirkwall water that makes it taste incredible.

Highland Park makes whisky from 12 years of age all the way up to 40. The 21 year old liquid contains traces of citrus, dried fruit with a little bit of vanilla thrown in. A whisky for those with a mature palate, it is a Christmas gift that won’t be re-gifted.

Clynelish 23 yo 1989/2012 The Perfect Dram

Image courtesy of http://www.dramming.com/2013/04/28/clynelish-23-yo-19892012-the-perfect-dram/

Clynelish 1989/2012 The Perfect Dram

Clynelish is situated near Brora, which is towards the northern end of Scotland. It pumps out over 4.5 million litres of pure alcohol a year, which makes it one of the most prolific. It is owned by massive conglomerate Diageo which also owns Johnnie Walker, White Horse, Haig and the Dimple Pinch as well as Smirnoff, Baileys and Guinness.

This 23 year old has fruity elements of apples, banana and lemon and you will also be able to detect ginger and nutmeg.

Give this to your father/father-in law for Christmas and you are definitely going to be his favorite son.

Glenfarclas 105 20 year old

Glenfarclas 105 20 year old

Situated in the North East pocket of Scotland, Glenfarclas translates to valley of the green grass.
The distillery was purchased by John Grant in 1865 and his family has been operating it ever since. In 1973, it was one of the first distilleries to open a visitor center and if you visit Scotland, be sure to visit.

This 105 Cask Strength is a whisky you should be saving for very special occasions. It isn’t cheap so be sure to buy it only for someone you want to spoil and you know appreciates whisky. This isn’t a drink but rather an experience!

Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old

The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old

Located in Dufftown, Balvenie is also in the north east pocket of Scotland.

Established by William Grant, this is a sister whisky to other whiskies such as Glenfiddich, Grant’s and Tullamore Dew that are all operated by William Grant & Sons.

If you like your whisky smoky then this is the drink for you. The sherry casks make a real difference to the flavor!

Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013

Image courtesy of http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/11/04/business/japanese-whisky-yamazaki-named-worlds-finest-dram/

Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013

If you are making whisky and you aren’t in Scotland, you better be special and Yamazaki is. This is the first commercial whisky distillery in Japan, and Suntory who owns Yamazaki knows how to make the good stuff.

The Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named whisky of the year in the 2015 Whisky Bible. No attention to detail was spared with the sherry casks coming from oak that hail from northern Spain. The water comes from Mt Tenno in Kyoto.

Only 18,000 bottles were made, so it’s bound to become a collector’s item.

With its deep range of flavors, this isn’t just a drink but rather an adventure. Purchase for a very special friend or family member. It is so special that they may not want to drink it. You could return to them in 12 months’ time only to find it hasn’t been drunk yet.

The great thing about buying whisky as a Christmas present is that it’s something that is going to have a lot of practical value. Whether it’s happy or sad times, people turn to whisky. Hopefully there will be lots of happy events in 2015 worth celebrating with a drink.

How is Bourbon Made? Corn, Mash, and Wash – Oh My!

How Is Bourbon Made?

With careful attention to detail, that’s how!

Bourbon, which is more accurately; Bourbon whiskey, and it is a type of American whiskey. To be more precise, it is a barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn. The name of this spirit is derived from its historical association with an area known as Old Bourbon, around what is now Bourbon County in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (which, in turn, was named after the French House of Bourbon royal family). Bourbon whiskey has been produced since the 18th century. While it may be made anywhere in the United States, it is strongly associated with the American South in general, and Kentucky in particular.

Bourbon wash in open fermenter

Bourbon wash in open fermenter
Photo Credit: Thomas Cizauskas

Bourbon is made from a mixture of grain that’s at least 51% corn, and is aged in new, charred-oak barrels. It is entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume); is distilled to no more than 160 proof by U.S. standards (80% alcohol by volume), and is then bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).

Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period. Products which have been aged for as little as three months are sometimes sold as bourbon. When it meets the standards in the previous paragraph, as well as having been made in the USA, and it  has been aged for a minimum of two years, and does not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits, it may (but is not required to) be called straight bourbon.

For those who process better by way of video, the following video covers some of the basics of bourbon making as well:

The typical grain mixture for bourbon, which is known as the mash bill, is a minimum of 51% corn. The rest usually consists of wheat, rye, and/or malted barley. The grain is then ground and mixed with water. Often, a bit of mash from a previous distillation is added to the mixture to ensure a consistent pH across batches. When mash from previous distillations is carried over, this is known as a sour mash, and is also a quality, tasty whiskey.

One of the final steps in the process is adding the yeast to ferment the mash. Once fermented, the mash is then referred to as “the wash,” which gets distilled to a volume of 65% to 80% alcohol. Modern distillation is done by way of continuous still whereas in the past, an alembic or pit still was used.

The spirit produced as a result of the distillation and fermenting processes is placed as a clear liquid in newly charred American oak barrels for aging, during which the bourbon gains color and flavor from the caramelized sugars in the charred wood. Various chemical processes, including oxidation and evaporation, account for some of the changes to the bourbon as it’s aged in barrels. The longer they mature, the more color and flavor are usually imparted on the aging bourbon. However, if aged too long, bourbon can become woody and unbalanced. It’s important to keep the focus on maturity of the liquid and not necessarily the age 🙂

That’s how you carefully make Bourbon, aren’t you glad you asked?

Kentucky Bourbon Festival & Bourbon Heritage Month in Bardstown

In case you did not know it, September is National Bourbon Heritage Month! Back in 2007, Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, which is the home of Bourbon Whiskey, (sometimes called Kentucky Whiskey) sponsored a bill, which was passed unanimously by the U.S. senate, to make September the National Bourbon Heritage Month.

This bill actually reinforces a 1964 Act of Congress, which declared that bourbon is “America’s Native Spirit,” and by also celebrating the family heritage, the wonderful tradition, and the deep-rooted legacy that the bourbon industry contributes to our beloved country, of these United States!

The city of Bardstown, in Kentucky, which is called the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” has been hosting a Kentucky Bourbon Festival each September, since they started doing so, back in 1991. This delightful festival is dedicated to “celebrating the history and art of distilling bourbon whiskey.” It’s a wonderful celebration, and it’s part of our American heritage. Check out this video from last year’s festival, documented by Nik and Dusty of Two for the Road fame:

Bourbon is only made in the United States, and is sometimes called Kentucky Whiskey, just as Scotch is only made in Scotland. Although Bourbon is also made in other states outside of Kentucky. They would not be able to call it Kentucky Whiskey, but they can call it Bourbon.

There are very specific rules and laws that govern the making of this popular drink, and the consistency of bourbon is the pride of several distilleries in the deep south. Many of them are in Kentucky or Tennessee, such as Jim Beam, Barton 1792, Heaven Hill, Maker’s Mark, and Jack Daniels, to name just a few.

Bourbon whiskey is one type of American whiskey, and it’s a barrel-aged, distilled spirit, which is made primarily from corn. The name of the spirit is derived from an area known as Old Bourbon, located in what is now Bourbon County, Kentucky. This is the place from where Bourbon first originated back in 1776! To this day, there are still several Bourbon Whiskey distilleries in that area.

You can find a lot more information about the Kentucky Bourbon Festival at www.kybourbonfestival.com and these are the participating Bourbons:

  • Barton Brands of Kentucky
  • Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
  • Buffalo Trace Distillery
  • Bulleit Distilling Company
  • Four Roses Distillery, LLC
  • Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc.
  • Jim Beam
  • Maker’s Mark Distillery
  • Michter’s
  • Wild Turkey Distillery
  • Woodford Reserve Distillery

Maybe it is time to fill your flask for the trip, and get down there!

How is Scotch Made? Malted Barley and Yeast — Oh My!

Scotch is made with… great attention to detail! But seriously now, just how is scotch made?! Well it’s certainly not an overnight process. Let’s take a look together.

Whisky in a Glass by Keith F. Knasiak

Photo Credit: -Keith F. Knasiak

Scotch whisky, unlike American Whiskey, is actually spelled without the “e”. An important point to remember when you’re speaking with experts in the field. Although more often than not, it’s referred to simply as “Scotch.”

In order to be classified as Scotch whisky, the liquor must originate from Scotland, and be made from malt barley. In the late 18th century, more established commercial distilleries began introducing more whiskies made from wheat and rye.

Five main categories of Scotch Whisky include:

  • Single Malt
  • Single Grain
  • Blended Malt (formerly known as “vatted” or “pure” malt)
  • Blended Grain
  • Blended Scotch Whisky

It’s also required that all whiskies be aged in oak barrels for at least three years. Any statement of age presented on a bottle, expressed as a number, must represent the age of the youngest whisky used to make that product.

To be called “Scotch”, a liquor must be made in Scotland from malted barley and water. Only whole grains of other cereals can be added to this. These all need to have been processed at that distillery into a mash, converted at said distillery into a substrate that is capable of fermenting. The only material that can be used to initiate fermentation is yeast. Additionally, the final product must sport an alcoholic strength volume of less than 94.8% (190 proof in the USA). It then must mature in oak casks, in Scotland, for at least three years!

Here’s a great video that covers the basics in under 5 minutes 🙂

Single malt Scotch Whisky is made from only water and malted barley while single grain Scotch may involve additional whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals. Both are produced in a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills. When some of these whiskies are blended together it’s called a “blended Scotch whisky.”

Did we leave out anything crucial? Let us know in the comments section below!