Category Archives: Spirits

Cocktail Equipment and Technique

A bartender's took kit, with all the equipment required for making stirred and shaken cocktails.We often describe cocktails as “mixed drinks”.  In this post we will discuss the two main ways we mix drinks -stirring, and shaking – and the equipment required for each.

Before diving in, two important points on consistency: the dry build, and accurate measures.

Dry Build

  • Whether shaking or stirring, best practice is to “dry build” your drink, that is, combine all of the liquid ingredients together before adding any ice.
  • This is a technique from professional bars where consistency is paramount. The idea is that you want total control over the time that your drink spends on ice, so that you control the dilution and the final concentration of the drink.
  • If you were to put ice in the
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Kona Breeze Cocktail

I could hear it coming, rustling softly through the coffee trees, stirring the monkeypods, and sighing through the sugar cane.

 

A Kona Breeze cocktail, with Koloa dark rum and Trader Vic's macadamia nut liqueur.For no reason besides my own creative enjoyment I am developing a set of Hawaiian-themed cocktails.

From the start I knew that one of my Hawaiian cocktails was going feature coffee, and it didn’t take long to settle on the other components, all classic Hawaiian flavours that pair well with java: dark rum, macadamia nut, and orange.

Kona is a city and region on the western, leeward side of the big island.  For many it has the perfect weather: warm days, cool nights, infrequent rains, and a nearly constant, gentle breeze.  There is a lengthy description of Kona’s balmy … Continue reading.

Ouzo

Ouzo is a strong, clear, anise-flavoured spirit made in Greece.  The taste may remind you of liquorice candy, or other anise spirits like sambuca, pastis, and Pernod.  The term is a protected regional designation within the EU, meaning that if it’s not made in Greece, it can’t be called ouzo.  It is usually about 40% ABV.

Ouzo is made by infusing a relatively neutral spirit with anise and other botanicals.  The neutral spirit is a grape pommace distillate, just like Italian grappa or French marc.  In most of Greece this grape pommace distillate is called tsipouro, though the Turkish word raki is also common, especially on the islands of Crete and Cyprus.  Tsipouro has been made for centuries, and over … Continue reading.

Irish Coffee

Originally published March 18, 2012.

Cream, rich as an Irish brogue;
Coffee, strong as a friendly hand;
Sugar, sweet as the tongue of a rogue;
Whiskey, smooth as the wit of the land.

-a traditional toast accompanying Irish coffee

 

Irish Coffee with Floated Cream

The Irish coffee typically served in restaurants here either has cream stirred into the drink, or whipped cream floating on top.  The traditional way to enjoy the drink is to gently pour heavy cream onto the surface of the coffee so that it floats, then sip the coffee through the cream.

Let’s discuss ingredients.

The Coffee – Use good coffee.  Brew it strong.

The Sugar – Irish coffee is made with brown sugar which has a distinct, cooked, molasses-like taste.  … Continue reading.

Blood and Sand Cocktail

The ingredients and equipment needed to make an interesting twist on the classic Blood and Sand cocktail.This is the tedious origin story of a cocktail, or rather my version of a cocktail.

I’ll start apologetically and admit that I don’t know very much about cocktails.  I read one book about them last year (Imbibe!), and then started mixing them at home.  Probably no book has had such a deleterious effect on my liver and general health.  Anyways, I think the drink described in this post is delicious, but I acknowledge that it’s a bit over the top.  I have absolutely no idea how it would play in the real world with real bartenders and patrons.

Blood and Sand is a classic cocktail, typically composed of equal parts blended scotch, orange juice (often blood orange … Continue reading.

River City Kir

River City Kir: dry apple cider with a splash of cherry liqueurThe River City Kir: sparkling hard apple cider with a splash of cherry liqueur.  Something so simple shouldn’t need a complicated origin story.

[Pauses awkwardly, before rapidly relating a complicated origin story]

A Kir is a French cocktail, a glass of white wine with a bit of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur).  There are a number of common variations.  The Kir Royal, for instance, uses Champagne instead of still white wine.  The Kir Breton uses hard cider.  So this most recent invention was inspired by the Kir Breton.

I’ve tentatively titled this drink the River City Kir.  I’m open to other suggestions.  This is the first cocktail I tried with my homemade cherry liqueur.  It’s a knockout.  … Continue reading.

Homemade Cherry Liqueur

cherry_liqueur.JPGIn retrospect this is a pretty straight-forward homemade cherry liqueur, but it was actually inspired by a drink from Normandy called pommeau.  To make pommeau, Normans combine two parts fresh apple juice with one part Calvados (apple brandy), then age the resulting mixture in barrels for several months before bottling.  You can purchase this traditional, aged pommeau at fine liquor stores, but fresh pommeau made with just-pressed cider and consumed without barrel-aging has become one of my favourite parts of the cider season.

This formula (two parts fresh juice, one part spirit made from that juice) occurs in a number of other places.  Pineau de Charentes is another famous example, made with grape must and Cognac.

So I wondered if … Continue reading.

Aperitivo

Mise en place for Italian aperitivo.Aperitivo is the Italian word for aperitif.  Ostensibly it is a drink taken before dinner.

In practice it is both drink and food.  The fundamental idea of Italian aperitivo is that you order a drink and receive complimentary food.  That food may be a fistful  of olives, or it may be a no-kidding smorgasbord.  Isn’t that amazing?

Let’s talk about drinks, then about food.

A Simple Bar for Aperitivo

Amari.  If you can buy only one bottle of liqueur for aperitivo, it should be Campari.  Campari is a bitter liqueur of about 25% ABV, flavoured with obscure herbs and fruit (eg chinotto, the myrtle-leaved orange tree).  It was invented in Novara, Piedmont, by Gaspare Campari.  It was first … Continue reading.

Rye Whisky

Rye whiskey makes the band sound better,
Makes your baby cuter,
Makes itself taste sweeter.  Oh, boy!

-The Punch Brothers

 

I have friends that get mad when I say this, but Canadian whisky is not necessarily rye.  Unlike, for instance, Bourbon, which has very specific requirements for the grain bill (at least 51% corn), Canadian whisky is not highly regulated.  Actually you can read everything that the Food and Drug Regulations have to say about Canadian whisky in about 90 seconds, here.  Basically to be called Canadian whisky the drink needs to be made of cereal grain (no mention of specific types like barley or rye), it needs to be at least 40% alcohol, and it needs to … Continue reading.

On Spirits

brettosSpirits are distilled beverages, made by concentrating alcohol and other volatile, aromatic compounds to make heady, shelf-stable drinks.

The sheer number of different types of spirits available in most liquor stores can be confusing.  What, for instance, is the difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey?  Or tequila and mezcal?  Why is all Cognac brandy, but not all brandy Cognac?  These questions can be answered by knowing a few things about how liquor is made.

All spirits can be classified using the following four pieces of information:

  • region of production;
  • ingredients, including the base fermentable material and any other flavourings like spices or caramel;
  • distillation details, including type of still used, number of distillations, and other nuances;
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