Bootlegging: Import Taxes and the Fresh from Chicago

I have lovely, lovely friends. Sometimes, these friends go places, and sometimes, they ask if I want them to pick me up anything while they’re away. This is how my cousin wound up making her way through customs with half a suitcase full of liquor last weekend.

Let me backtrack a bit, and tell you of my two-year-long hunt for Art in the Age’s RHUBARB Tea spirit. I started expanding my collection a few years back, and I had come across RHUBY (as it was called at the time) in a few recipes that sounded absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, not only can we not get it in Canada, but it was making itself scarce on the west coast in general (at least when I looked – multiple times – in Seattle, or when my lovely parents tried hunting it down in California for me). So when M asked if I wanted her to check for anything in Chicago while she was at a conference, you can guess what was first on my list. She went on her own (extensive) hunt, and lo, it was found, and it was bought, and now I have it. Bliss! I also got her to bring me back some local stuff to play with, along with a bottle of Ransom Old Tom Gin (because, again, Canada).

While I had oodles of plans for the RHUBARB Tea, it was one of the locals – an herbal liqueur called hum – that got pulled first. It’s a ‘botanical spirit’, a blend of hibiscus, ginger, cardamom and kaffir lime that clocks in at 70 proof, and it’s just…interesting. And tasty. This past Sunday, we helped M move, and I took delivery of the precious cargo (and let’s not talk about duty and BC liquor taxes, k?). As we all wound down at the end of the day, I achieved the level of mild-buzz where I’m prone to experiment*. This is what came from it, and damn…you should try it too – tis easy, breezy, and beautifully bittersweet:

freshfromchicagoFresh from Chicago

  • 2 oz Tanqueray Rangpur Lime (or any citrus-y gin)
  • 1 oz hum liqueur
  • 2 oz Whistler Kalamansi Lime Cordial (or make your own lime syrup – I like the cold-pressed method here)
  • 1 dropper-full of The Bitter End Moroccan Bitters (swap as you like, with a nose to the Hum notes)
  • soda

Add all ingredients (except soda) in a glass with ice. Stir to combine, and top with soda.

 

* Call it performance anxiety, but I’m too chicken to go off script when I’m stone-cold sober. All of my ‘from scratch’ recipes come from a place of just-tipsy-enough-to-be-brave. I’m sure I’ll outgrow that…

Beachy Keen: Allspice Dram and the Bake on the Beach

My favourite sub-genre in the cocktail world, bar none, is tiki. I am shamelessly devoted to the sweet, the syrupy and the unabashedly boozy. The second my mind starts wandering toward summer, though, my go-to, no-thought cocktail shifts from some permutation of a bourbon sour, to a bright, punchy hurricane. And really, you just can’t be too serious when you’re drinking something topped with fruit salad and possibly on fire.

It took me a while to venture into creating my own tiki cocktails, though. There were just so many classics (and ‘classics-with-a-twists’) that I wanted to work through, that when I pulled my rums down off the shelves…well, there was always something else to make. But then I got a bottle of pimento dram, and started feeling adventurous. Pimento dram has nothing to do with cheese or olives, and everything to do with warm, winter-spice reminiscent allspice. Note here: it’s very tasty, but it’s also very strong, so a light hand is needed to avoid overpowering a drink. Anyways, I got to tinkering, and came up with the Bake on the Beach. The baking spices in the allspice dram marry with the rum and bitters to create a deep, warm base, and the passionfruit, guava and orgeat layer fruit and floral notes over top.

You know that feeling when you’re lying on the beach, the sun pouring down, and it kind of feels like you’re lying in warm honey? It’s basically like that. It’s very quickly becoming a favourite. Here’s how it goes:

Bake on the Beach

  • 2 oz amber rum
  • .5 oz Bittermen’s Allspice Dram
  • .25 oz passionfruit syrup
  • .25 oz guava syrup
  • .25 oz falernum
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • 1 dropperful Bittermen’s Elamakule bitters

I’m posting this now, and pretending it’s seasonally appropriate. I encourage you to drink it in the same spirit.

Tipsy Pigs: Fat Washed Spirits and the Maple Bacon Bourbon Sour

Bacon. Bacon bacon bacon.

Bacon. Bacon bacon bacon.

Bacon. Washed. Bourbon.

And vodka.

Do I have your attention now? What better way to re-visit this neglected repository than with a tale of bacony-boozy deliciousness?

Basically, it began with me lying to my sister-in-law. I told her I was pretty certain Legacy carried Bakon vodka, which she had been wanting to pick up for caesars. Instead of calling and checking, we drove all the way over to find it sold out (which it had been for a long, long time – go Erin!). She was giving me sad-face, so I did what any good SIL would do – I suggested making our own!

I’ve been meaning to try fat-washing for a while, and I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to it – the process is pretty damn easy. If you can fry up bacon, you can make delicious, porky booze! So after researching a few dozen how-tos, I smushed them all together with some common sense to come up with this method:

  1. Purchase your desired spirit(s). We chose Russian Standard Vodka (my favourite for infusions – it’s cheap, clean and neutral) and Four Roses Bourbon (same goes).
  2. Purchase your bacon. Buy more than you think you’ll need. We bought the 1kg package of Harvest bacon, which wasn’t the best choice – while it’s damn delicious, it’s fairly lean. You want something fattier, but still decent quality (because, duh, flavour). I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for the seldom seen pack of (super fatty) bacon ends from Harvest, next time.
  3. Locate yourself some wide-mouth jars, around a pint in size. We actually ended up using our unreturned Earnest Ice Cream jars, because their tops are nice and wide and, also, we never remember to return them, so we have lots.
  4. Cook off the bacon in a pan. The pan’s important, as you’ll render more fat than if you cook it in the oven. Be prepared to do lots of batches. As each batch comes out of the pan, pour the fat into some kind of container. We used a pyrex liquid measure, and poured until we got 1/2c or so each time. At that point…
  5. Pour the fat into your jar, and then add your spirits (we filled them to around 2/3 – 3/4 full altogether). Shake it like a polaroid picture, and set on the counter.
  6. Leave that jar on the counter for about half an hour while the fat separates from the liquour, and then place it in the freezer for a couple of hours or so.
  7. Repeat those steps until you run out of bacon or spirits.
  8. After the alotted time, pull your jars out of the freezer. The fat should be a solid layer on top of the spirits, now.
  9. Open your jar, and rather gently break through the fat layer with a spoon. Or knife. Or spork. Whatever. Break through, and remove the chunks of solidified bacon fat. You can toss ‘em, or reserve them for cooking.
  10. The straining process depends on how fastidious you are. I’d recommend straining through a fine mesh strainer into/through a coffee filter, though cheesecloth works too. Just be aware that, as it’s not as fine, some solids might make it through, so it doesn’t store as well.
  11. Pour the brew into your container of choice (I use flip-top bottles). And you’re done! Be sure to store in the fridge.

See, easy! Time consuming, but easy. On the bright side, you’ll be left with a lot of crispy, delicious bacon just sitting on your kitchen counter…I’m sure you can figure out something to do with that. Nancy (the SIL) used a couple pieces in place of beans in her caesers, for instance. I just nommed it.

The nice thing about fat washing is that it’s great for instant gratification. Generally, infusions take weeks, but you can start this in the afternoon and make yourself something delicious that evening. In fact, I have a suggestion for that:

The Maple Bacon Bourbon Sour (because bacon. and maple. of course)

  • 2oz. bacon infused bourbon
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz. maple syrup
  • 1 egg white (beaten - stolen tip from Jeffrey Morgenthaler)
  • 2 dashes black walnut bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and dry-shake. Add ice, and shake more. Strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish as you like – I just dripped a drop of the black walnut bitters for the smokiness on the nose.

Now that I’ve fat-washed, what’s next? Chorizo tequila? Duck confit vodka? Who knows!

Cellar Maintenance, Random Thoughts

I’ve got a few too many things bouncing around my head to write a singular topic blog post, so I thought I’d break one up into multiple, bite-sized bits.

-Got around to updating my cellar, it definitely changes a LOT, and keeping up with it is tough. I basically kept them divided into “not ageing” and “ageing”, with my website review links on the bottom, and a link to my Ratebeer ratings. Maybe if the “not ageing” category gets too large, might just get rid of it, and concentrate on having more website reviews of those beers.

-I’ve been really intrigued by Google+ as of late, and I hope more people continue to use it, as it seems to be getting more interesting as time passes. I realize at this point Facebook has such a huge leg up on it, but the main potential I see within it are the “Hangouts”. Starting a Hangout beer tasting event might be an interesting idea…there’s a max capacity of 10 people, though, so there are limitations. That being said, a 10-person beer tasting is a pretty good turnout! After it’s all said and done, it’s even possible to automatically upload the hangout to YouTube for others to watch later on if they so choose. The potential is there, I’m going to have to see what kind of interest there is in it. Here’s my personal page, and the website’s page, if you’re interested in checking them out. The service is great if you’re looking for something similar to Facebook, but more straightforward (and less Farmville spam).

-”Craft Beer” has now been officially defined by Merriam-Webster as “a speciality beer produced in limited quantities”. This has been talked about for the last little while amongst beer lovers, and the general consensus seems to be that the definition is way off. For a craft beer to be deemed as “special” is alright, I guess (though I would have chosen a better word…artisan perhaps? Made with love?), but it’s the “limited quantities” that confuses me. To what degree is a craft beer limited? If there is less of a certain beer produced than what a macrobrewery would produce of one of their beers, is that considered limited? Microbreweries can pump out quite a lot of beer, just look at the Boston Beer Company, Stone or Dogfish Head as examples. It seems as though the definition was a little rushed, if you ask me.

-I recently hit up Elizabeth Station again, the place is quickly becoming my absolute favorite place to pick up beer. The only limiting factor is that I’d usually have to pay duty (I didn’t have to this last time…nice bonus!). Or I could just, you know, go down to Bottleworks in Seattle and spend the night. If you’re in Bellingham, please check them out, I think they’re killing it…they always have some interesting beers on tap, themed nights (sour night, anyone?), a cereal bar, and a staggering variety of bottles for the space that they’ve got.

I’ll be back soon enough with a more focused post in the next couple days!

Stone’s “Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale” Review

It’s been a helluva week for me, what with only 1 day off last week and Erin and my own birthday celebrations to get through, I simply haven’t had that much time to write. Here I am now, at the end of my weekend, finally getting something out the door! Now, as I had planned earlier, I wanted to crack open a few good bottles from my cellar in order to share and review them on the site. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, as there was more than enough liquor to go around during our birthday potluck that I just couldn’t get into more, especially if my senses were going to be fairly “off”. That being said, I did get a chance to try a beer I picked up recently in Washington (Elizabeth Station, to be precise…killer beer store!): Stone’s “Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale”. I’ve had a couple of Stone’s beers just recently (such as the “10th Anniversary Ruination IPA”), but I haven’t had the flagship Arrogant Bastard before. I got a little too impatient to try and wait to pick up a bottle so I could compare the two, and cracked the oaked version this evening. Here’s my take on it…

Appearance:

Apparently, I’m not worthy…

I poured straight into my glass, and almost overflowed it with foam. A little too overzealous, I guess, but I let it settle down a bit before putting the rest in. When it was all over, I was left with a wonderfully thick head, measuring about 2 fingers width, the general “standard”. It stuck around for a while, too, which was nice to have while sipping to give a creamier effect. The colour is a sort of dark cherry red, with some sediment floating around here and there. Other than the sediment, a very attractive-looking beer.

Aroma:

Behind the initial woodiness you get right away, you smell the malt a split second later. It smells like the barrel, which is pretty comforting (to me, at least!). If you wait long enough and keep at it, you can pick up some currant behind it all…

Taste:

When you get around to tasting a bunch of barrel-aged beers (my first ever was the Phillips Double Barrel Scotch Ale, but there are tons of examples out there…), you will be able to pick up on the wood flavour right away. This was pretty prominent, though I can’t say I specifically tasted oak, as I don’t know what oak tastes like from memory (something to work on?). The other dominating flavour was caramel, in addition to tons of malt, but really not much more going on beyond that.

Mouthfeel:

I’m not sure if it was the wood, but this beer stung the back of my tongue like no other beer. Super bitter! It starts out right at the tip of your tongue, but doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it does in the back. I wouldn’t say that ruined this beer, because I got used to it, but it was a bit of a shock at first.

I really enjoy getting into barrel-aged beers, they make me yearn for the fall months, and sitting around a campfire. They add a depth and complexity, though I would love to know what the standalone Arrogant Bastard tastes like, so I could understand just how much. Wouldn’t mind finding out if the original also has that incredibly bitter finish, or if it was the wood that made it so.

Unfortunately Stone’s offerings aren’t available up here in Canada, but they have a fairly wide distribution in the US, so no matter where you go across the border, it shouldn’t be too hard to locate. This particular beer is now offered in 4 packs, along with a few other specific beers from their lineup. I’d recommend picking up the oaked version of the Arrogant Bastard only if you’ve had the original, as that’s my only real regret. Nice beer overall, and if I came across it again I would consider ageing it for 6 months or so to see what happens.

The Bourbon Ginger Thing

Hot, sticky August evenings, where everything is lazy and you move through air like syrup. These aren’t evenings built for toil, no matter how noble the effort. These evenings call for something wet, cold and particularly easy.

So sing it with me…

Let’s do the smash! The bourbon giiiiinger smash!

No?

I read an article about how grapefruit is the under-appreciated citrus (it has no special citrus press!). But considering how often I reach for it for summertime cocktails, on the advice of any number of recipes, I figure I can’t be the only one with a growing appreciation for its own bittersweet charms. In the Salted Tarragon Greyhound, for example. Or this guy here – the (not) Knob Creek Sour Ginger.

I nicked that recipe up above, with a couple of tweaks. Now, it calls for Domaine de Canton liqueur, which (while absurdly delicious) is a pretty major investment. I had a couple of mini bottles that I picked up at Legacy, but I used them already and I haven’t seen them since. As I was just the maid of honour in a wedding and my discretionary spending is thus…limited, I was forced to improvise. I used Giffard Ginger of the Indies, which has a really nice intense ginger flavour, but lacks the sweetness of the Canton. I made up for some of that by adding about a half-ounce of honey syrup – I felt ginger syrup would gild the lily a bit, and honey syrup tastes miraculous with grapefruit. I also tried it with both the Maker’s Mark and the Basil Hayden’s, and found I preferred the former – the latter was just a bit too smooth.

What I wound up with was just the trick to deal with Vancouver’s uniquely deceptive heat. A little sweet, a little tart, a little bitter and very much like a drinkable version of those little spray bottle fan things.

  • 1.25 oz of your preferred bourbon
  • .75 oz of ginger liqueur (Canton, ideally, but Giffard will work)
  • 2 oz good quality grapefruit juice
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • .25 oz honey syrup (omit if using Canton)

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, shake to chill. Pour over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge, but give it a squeeze over the drink before you drop it in. Now take that drink, put a record on and sit on the balcony with your eyes half closed and your feet up. There ya go…

#IPADay

It’s here…today marks the 2nd anniversary of IPA Day, originally started by social media/craft beer personalities Ashley Routson (The Beer Wench) and Ryan A. Ross to celebrate the much-loved India Pale Ale style (and its many variants)! The IPA ranks 2nd, after Imperial Stouts, in my list of favourite styles overall, but it’s pretty damn close. Living in the Pacific Northwest gives me the opportunity to sample some of the most amazing IPAs, as many brewers here seem to be obsessed with it (and rightfully so).

Tonight I’m celebrating with a Central City Imperial IPA, a 9.5% alcohol monster from one of my favourite local breweries. Its beautiful golden orange appearance, sweet grapefruit and reasonably malty aroma, and hoppy-as-hell, caramelly, slightly woody taste make this a seriously kick-ass brew. It’s deceptively smooth. It really shouldn’t be that smooth. This bottled version was a limited release just recently (Legacy still has some, last I checked), but it’s usually available at their brewpub in Surrey fresh on tap, which is brilliant. Admittedly, my bottle is aged to the point where the hops have been muted and smoothed out a bit (the result of cellaring any IPA), but it really doesn’t matter, it’s still bloody good.

It’s events like these that really help to push craft beer into the mainstream, utilizing something as simple as a hashtag to at least pique interest, but it’s really about camaraderie between beer lovers, and an excuse to try something you may not have had before (or simply go on a journey to acquire some fabled Pliny the Elder). Happy IPA Day, all!