Category Archives: Spirits

Lewis & Clark Expedition: 120 Gallons of Whiskey

Do you know what happened on May 21, 1804? Probably not. And that’s okay, because most Americans are not familiar with the fact that it was the day that Lewis and Clark set out for their famous world-defying expedition.

Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark set out with a select few army officers and traveled on their high risk journey for 2 years, discovering much of what is now modern America.canteen-29121_1280 (1)

As a fan of U.S. history and knowledgeable in the realm of alcoholic beverages, I could only think of one thing: the obvious need for a flask on the perilous journey that Lewis and Clark embarked on.

Imagine having to traverse an unknown continent, encountering rocky terrain, long rivers, and Indian tribes. A suitable hip flask is the perfect complement for any journey such as this. Because the journey was so long and perilous, I gather that the flasks they used back then were either made of leather, or may have been in the shape of a canteen.

The real question is, what alcoholic beverages did Lewis and Clark take on their journey? Legend holds that they carried 120 gallons of whiskey on their expedition. If I had to hazard a guess, which I will, I would say 3 of the following:

  • Bourbon Whiskey: One of the most popular American whiskeys, barred aged distilled spirit made mostly from corn. Bourbon has been distilled since the 1700s, and became known as Bourbon in the early 1800’s. This whiskey became associated with Kentucky, and carries a reddish shade and is considered to more full bodied than other spirits. Lewis and Clark may have also used Bourbon for cooking and medicinal purposes.
  • Tennessee Whiskey: Made only in Tennessee, and known to bejack-daniels-551052_1280 distinctly anti-Bourbon. It is the only Whiskey that is put through a charcoal process. This whiskey likely served Lewis and Clark well as a sipping whiskey, and perhaps as a suitable gift to break bread with Indians they encountered in the form of a gift.
  • Rye Whiskey was big in the late 1700’s in states such as Pennsylvania and Maryland. American rye whiskey must be distilled from at least 51% rye, and is also sometimes known as Canadian whiskey. Because it comes from rye grain, it offers up a slightly fruity and spicy flavor. As Lewis and Clark traveled across the sun drenched Midwest with dry mouths and hot air in their midst, there is no doubt that they enjoyed and benefited from the kick that Rye whiskey offered. In a long and strenuous journey, rye whiskey is just the beverage one needs to cap off a tough day of hiking and exploring.

 

Flasks New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

The start of a new year is the time for reflection and introspection. If you have a flask and appreciate good quality alcohol, here are some New Year’s Resolutions you could consider for 2015.

Claive Vidiz whisky collection by Biker Jun, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Biker Jun

Don’t Be Intimidated by the Opinions of Others
When it comes to whisky, there are hundreds and hundreds of different types. People have very different tastes and preferences. Don’t be afraid to like something that isn’t a household name and don’t be afraid to like something that is. Whisky can create whisky snobs who feel as though their opinion is gospel. Whisky snobs love nothing more than to tell you their opinions, especially when you didn’t ask. If they like single malts, that’s all you should drink. If they like blended malts, that’s all you should drink. Forget about their experiences and copying theirs– focus on creating your own.

The only way you can know what you like and what you don’t like is by tasting a lot. The more you drink that you don’t like, the better grasp you have of what you do like.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with listening to what others have to say before making a decision. If a number of people all independently tell you that a certain type of whisky is good or bad, there could be something in that.

Finding an Occasion
Don’t be the person who buys whisky and then never touches it. If you are saving a bottle for a special occasion, don’t wait and wait and wait for some occasion that never happens. Instead turn a nice occasion into a very special and memorable one by opening it. It is the spontaneity of it that makes it special. You finish the special bottle and then go out and get a new one. That is far better than gathering dust.

The tasting by humbert15, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  humbert15

Go on a Whisky Tour
If you have never been on a whisky tour, this is the year you should go to one. Visiting a whisky distillery (and/or any other kind of distillery) just isn’t a great thing to do, but the knowledge of the process gives you an increased appreciation and understanding of whisky. It’s incredible how many people who drink whisky have no familiarity of the process.

Start a Tasting Club
If you and your friends like whisky and/or other alcohols, there is no reason why you can’t set up a tasting club. Be in touch with the distributors and set up a tasting. You could also find yourself the beneficiary of some good prices. If membership to the tasting club comes with your own personalized flask, we know people who could help you.

Best Spirits to Buy as a Christmas Present for 2014

Last week our blog post was about the best whisky to buy as a Christmas present. In this post we want to look at other spirits and alcohol you can put in your flask.

kauff

Kauffman Luxury Vintage Vodka
When it comes down to buying a Christmas present, if you want to spoil someone you should consider the Kauffman Luxury Vintage Vodka. As with some of the whiskies documented last week, this isn’t just a drink but an experience. It is produced in specific quantities and comes with a vintage so you know that each bottle is unique. No more than 20,000 bottles are produced in a single year, and it may not be produced at all if the wheat harvest is considered inferior.
It is distilled 14 times and then filtered through both coal and quartz sand.

Given the difficulties that come with buying this, it may be too late to buy one for Christmas 2014. If, however, you are able to find one, it is a present that will be hard to top.

courv
Courvoisier Brandy
It may feel a bit like back to the future because this could be the brandy that your dad or granddad liked, but this classic French brandy is making a comeback. Established in the early 19th century in Paris, it was the cognac of choice for Napoleon Bonaparte. Any drink that has been around for this long knows what it’s doing. Giving this as a Christmas present just isn’t a special gift but shows you have your finger on the pulse. They are releasing four rare cognacs for Christmas, but buyer-beware – their prices will seriously break the bank.

jinzu
Jinzu Gin
Last week we mentioned the massive Diageo conglomerate – and now they are releasing a gin called Jinzu. It has been in development for over a year and will go up against their more established gin lines in terms of Gordon’s and Tanqueray. Created by Dee Davies, it has juniper berries from Tuscany and other ingredients from Eastern Europe and Japan. No Christmas party is complete without gin, so if your hosts are short, this will come in very handy.

Appleton Estate VX RumAppleton-Estate-V_2FX-Label
This is the oldest and most well-known rum making estate in Jamaica. It has been in business since the late 17th century. It is now owned by Gruppo Campari who purchased from previous owners, J. Wray and Nephew Ltd. The great thing about giving rum as a Christmas present is that it is an instant replacement – given that rum is generally used toward baking a Christmas cake. Nothing like a ready-made replacement.

Giving any of these drinks as a Christmas present is sure way to supply some Christmas cheer. Any of these is your Christmas flask is bound to make it a great Christmas!

Celebrating Food, Flasks & Fun Drinks on World Food Day

Thursday October 16th is World Food Day, marking the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations back in 1945. And what goes better with a delicious meal than a fine cocktail or stiff drink? In celebration of World Food Day, let’s take a look at some of the food-based origins of our favorite cocktail, spirit, liqueur, and hard alcohol ingredients!

DSC00081 Vodka Cranberry by adamdachis, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  adamdachis

Vodka – The staple and supporting actor of most cocktails, vodka was traditionally made by distilling grain or potatoes but we’ve come a long way, baby. Nowadays you can find top-shelf vodka made from sugar cane, corn, and even grapes. Give vodka the star treatment by drinking up with a classic one-ingredient concoction like a Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) or Vodka/Cranberry (vodka and cranberry juice).

Gin & tonic by cyclonebill, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  cyclonebill

Gin – James Bond likes his shaken, not stirred. Snoop Dogg sips on it with juice. We’re talking about gin, of course. The source of this spirit is in its name —“gin” comes from the Dutch, French, and Italian names for “juniper,” the berry from which its flavor is derived. Enjoy juniper berries straight up in salute to gin, or pair with tonic for the classic, eponymous cocktail Gin & Tonic.

El Dorado 12 Year old rum by swanksalot, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  swanksalot

Rum – Light, Golden, Dark, Spiced – all rum may not be created equally, but their inception is the same. Distilled from molasses or sugarcane juice, the sweet stuff isn’t just popular with pirates and in cocktails. Rum is a fixture in rum-flavored cakes, rum-based sauces, and even rum flavored ice cream, offering plenty of ways to celebrate World Food Day with actual food!

Triple Sec by Edsel L, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Edsel L

Triple Sec – If you’ve ever wondered why your cocktail tasted orangey, that’s probably because it contains a helping of triple sec. This tasty flavoring liqueur is made from (surprise!) oranges. And while the liqueur may not provide you with a Vitamin C boost, it definitely boosts the taste (not to mention alcohol content) of classics like the Kamikaze and Cosmopolitan.

bitters by _gee_, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  _gee_

Bitters – Many cocktails call for the use of bitters as a flavoring agent – but what exactly are they? One of the most popular is Angostura Bitters which is a mixture of water, alcohol, herbs and spices. There is a lot of confusion about this as not that many people know the actual recipe. What we do know is that this magical concoction not only adds a tasty element to cocktails, but also has plenty of health benefits. The most popular benefit? Nausea and upset stomach relief.

Grenadine – While not technically an alcohol, grenadine is as vital to fancy cocktails as flasks are to tailgating. The sweet red stuff comes from pomegranate and is used to provide both flavor and color to a drink; grenadine is the setting sun in both a Tequila Sunrise and Sea Breeze. And while the sugar-filled syrup may not make it on its own, enjoy a pomegranate in salute of this saccharine wonder.

What will you be eating to honor World Food Day and more importantly what will your flask be filled with?

History & Facts About Vodka

Some experts believe that the first production of vodka took place back in the 9th century in what is now called Russia, though there are some who claim that vodka may have first been developed in the 8th century in Poland. Unfortunately, however, there is very little historical material available covering the subject of the origins of vodka.

The Gin and Vodka Association maintains that the first vodka distillery was documented over three hundred years later at Khlynovsk, which was reported in the Vyatka Chronicle in 1174. Interestingly, vodka was initially used as a medicine. It had much less alcohol, obtained only by fermentation, and was probably about 14% alcohol. The still, which was used to distill the product, was invented in the 8th century. They used to call it the “burning of wine.”

vodka distillery

Photo Credit: Daryl Mitchell

Court documents called the Akta Grodzkie contained the first written use of the word vodka in 1405. The word was wódka at the time, and referred to a cleaning agent or a medicine, and the word gorzałka was used to describe the “drink.” In 1386, Genoese ambassadors actually brought the first drink to Moscow, called aqua vitae (which means the water of life), and they presented it to the Grand Duke Dmitry Donskoy. The Russian word vodka came into existence in Russia during the late 14th century.

According to another legend, there was a monk called Isidore from the Chudov Monastery inside of the Moscow Kremlin, who made a recipe of the first Russian vodka in 1430. Apparently, this monk possessed a special knowledge as well as the necessary distillation devices, and he also became an author of the then “new type of alcoholic beverage” with a new, better quality. It was first called “bread wine” and was produced for many years exclusively in the Grand Duchy of Moscow, and in no other principality of Russia.

flasks vodka bottles

Photo Credit: Karola Riegler

In Sweden, the distilled beverage was called brännvin also meaning “burn-wine”, and this beverage has been produced in Sweden since the late 15th century. In the 1960s, unflavoured Swedish brännvin was starting to be called vodka. In 1979, the brand of Absolut Vodka was launched, and they cleverly reused the name of the old Absolut Rent Brännvin which meant “absolutely pure brännvin”, and had been first created 100 years before, in 1879.

absolut vodka bottle

Photo Credit: Andrew Cheal

Varieties of Tequila: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, and more!

We had so much fun putting together the last post that we’ve decided to stick with the Tequila theme for this week as well!

Tequila at a wedding

Photo Credit: VancityAllie.com

In case you thought that there was simply one kind of tequila, we’d like to set the record straight and educate you regarding the many varieties of this famous Mexican elixir:

  1. Blanco (“white”) or plata (“silver”) refer to a white or clear tequila that is not aged, but rather bottled or stored immediately after distillation. These at variety names can also refer to tequila that was aged for less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels.
  2. Joven (“young”) or oro (“gold”) is a second category of Tequila.
  3. The Reposado (“rested”) variety represents Tequila that is aged for a minimum of two months, but less than one year in oak barrels of any size.
  4. Añejo (“aged” or “vintage”) refers to Tequila that is aged for a minimum of one full year, but aged less than three years in small oak barrels. This is a personal favorite of the people here at Flasks.com 🙂
  5. Lastly, Extra Añejo, which means “extra aged” or “ultra aged,” is a variety of Tequila that is aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels. This category was not established until seven years ago, in March of 2006.

For an entertaining video explanation of the first four varieties, check out this video from Tipsy Bartender.

100% agave tequila, whether it is called blanco or plata, is harsher because of the bolder flavors of the distilled agave up front, while reposado and añejo are more smooth, more subtle, and more complex. Just like with any other spirits that makers age in big wooden casks, tequila also takes on the inherent flavors of the wood, which has a mellowing effect on the flavor and harshness of the alcohol. The major flavor distinction with 100% agave tequila is the base ingredient, blue agave, which is more vegetable than grain, and often more complex.

The worm you see in some bottles began as a marketing gimmick as recently as the 1940’s. Let it be known that the worm does absolutely nothing to the product and is quite extraneous if you ask us! Most bottles of tequila these days don’t even have the worm added. The worm incidentally, is actually the larval form of a moth called Hypopta agavis, which sometimes lives on the blue agave plants. Go figure!

How Tequila is Made

Tequila Road Sign in Mexico

Photo Credit: Thomassin Mickaël

We here at Flasks.com are big into whiskey, as you already know. But we’re also pretty crazy about TEQUILA. Now, we’re not talking about the stuff that you have to drink with salt and lime to stomach. A fine tequila can be drank straight up. Patron and Don Julio are great places to start your tequila journey.

So you’re ready to start your tequila intake, but wouldn’t you first like to know how tequila is made? If so, read on to get the lowdown on Mexico’s famed national elixir. If not, well, we can’t really help you there, but we wish you much success in your tequila adventures!

Origins

In western Mexico, in the state of Jalisco, in the highlands, which are called Los Altos, there’s a city called Tequila, located about 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara. This is where the popular distilled beverage was first created, and it’s made from the blue agave plant. The blue volcanic soil of that region supports the growth and harvesting of about 300 million blue agave plants each year. According to Mexican law, the only areas in which tequila can be made are the states of Jalisco, as well as the states of Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, and Nayarit.

Harvesting

Passed down from generation to generation, the actual harvesting of plants remains a manual effort. In fact, planting, tending to, and harvest of the plants has always be done by hand, not by modern day farm equipment. The men who harvest the blue agave plants are called jimadores. These jimadores are able to tell precisely when each plant is ready to be harvested, and they use a special knife called a coa.

The Plant

A high stalk that grows from the center of the plant, several yards in height, must be meticulously trimmed on a regular basis, preventing the agave plant from flowering and dying early. If the plants are harvested too early or too late, the piñas will not have the right amount of carbohydrates necessary for fermentation. They are then put into ovens where they are slowly baked in order to break down their complex starches into simple sugars, then they are mashed or shredded.

Distilling

The extracted agave juice is then poured into large wooden vats for a few days so that it can ferment. Then the fermented juice is distilled to produce the Tequila. When it is distilled a second time, it is then called “silver tequila.” Some producers distill it a third time, but this usually reduces the flavor. Agave plants grown in the highlands of Mexico usually yield much sweeter and fruitier-tasting tequila while the lowland agave plants give the tequila a more earthy flavor.

History and Facts about Tequila

Tequila!

Photo Credit: Josh Kenzer

TEQUILA! TEQUILA! TEQUILA! Man, do I get excited when we talk about tequila! Tres hurras por el tequila!

Oh, glorious tequila, where do we even begin?? Well, let’s take a quick recap of some historical background of this world famous, highly intoxicating drink:

Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila (go figure!), in the state of Jalisco, a city that was not officially established until 1666. Long before the Spanish arrived in the year of 1521, the Aztecs had been making a fermented beverage from the blue agave plant. When those conquistadors ran out of their brandy, they started to distill these blue agave plants into an enjoyable alcoholic drink (by their standards, of course).

Agave plantation

Photo Credit: Pepe-Antonio

The tequila we know today, however, was first made in the early 19th century in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Municipal President of the Village of Tequila from 1884 to 1885, Don Cenobio Sauza, was the first person to export tequila to the United States. So if you’re American and you love tequila, you may want to thank him in prayer and say “God Bless Don Cenobio Sauza!” ANd wouldn’t you know it! He was also the founder of Sauza Tequila! The efforts of his grandson, Don Francisco Javier, gained international attention, and led to the rule that states real tequila can only come from the State of Jalisco.

Sauza Tequila

Photo Credit: Lloyd Morgan

In the past 20 years the purchase of the Sauza and El Tesoro brands was made by the massive holding company called Fortune Brands. Another notable big company buy was the purchase of Herradura by Brown-Forman. Additionally, in 2006 a new category of tequila was created, called “extra añejo” or “ultra-aged” which must be aged for a minimum of 3 years. There are currently over 100 distilleries that make over 900 brands of tequila in Mexico and over 2,000 brand names have been registered. Some brands are still made by family owned businesses in Mexico, but most brands are made by huge companies.

In Mexico, the most traditional way that people drink tequila is neat, without any lime, salt, or ice. A variety of cocktails are made with tequila, especially in the USA, including the margarita. The margarita is actually the cocktail that made tequila popular in the United States. To make a margarita, tequila is mixed with sour mix, lime juice, chilled, and served over ice in a glass that has lime and salt on the rim, although there are many variations of the drink. Tequila sunrise is another uber popular drink in the bars.

If you haven’t familiarized yourself with tequila yet, make sure to get on the bandwagon, ’cause you’re missing out! Just be careful. One common side effect of tequila is drinking too much of it. And one major side effect of drinking too much of it is… well, just not pretty.

Regardless, grab a bottle of some Jose Cuervo or Don Julio today and try out some darn good tequila!

For a quick rundown on some more tequila history tidbits, check out the video below!