Hypothetically Speaking

Follow @b_apothecary

Hypothetically if you could operate a still what would you put through it? Were you ever interested in learning anything about distillation through maybe some sample distillations?

So what distills?

Solids don’t. Colored stuff doesn’t but sometimes you get a louche so what is that?

Do acids distill? Do spirits have an acidity that we should be paying attention to? How does distilled vinegar work?

What happens when you distill a vermouth? does it turn into what we would call a gin? How many grams of botanicals per liter are in a typical gin? What else would taste good in a gin? can you re-concentrate the botanical strength and alcohol of gins?

How does framboise eaux-de-vie differ from pears? does one have fermented fruit and the other simply have macerated distilled fruit?

What else would you want to know about the distilled things you drink?


So I re-distilled my African Rye Whiskey infusion. All of the rooisbos flavor was really in the tales of the distillation. The previously aged overholt rye whiskey is now clear again and some of the barrique flavor seems to be left behind. The stuff left in the still after the alcohol and volatiles were stripped was darkly colored and barely flavored. I would love to learn more about the short term maturing of distilled spirits because it seems to taste radically different 24 hours later. It is less harsh like the water is more integrated and you can perceive more of the rooibos identity.


So I had a pound of quinine powder that was sitting in a couple liters of cognac. I let it sit for a couple weeks or so and racked it off to make a quinine tincture via infusion. It is gorgeous. Ebony colored, aromatic, sickeningly bitter. What more could you want? Well the solids, saturated with probably a liter left of the cognac, sat for many months in a 3 liter mason jar. I just decided to re-distill it. What I was wondering was if my distillate would taste bitter? I distilled it at a very high reflux rate until I was sure I was into the tails but the product never became massively bitter. I didn’t bring it up to 212F but I expected to get a lot of flavor without having to. It is very aromatic and flavorful like you would expect quinine to be but not bitter at all.

If I re-distill campari what will I get?

Follow @b_apothecary

An Extinct Style Of Drink?

Follow @b_apothecary

Due to circumstances in my life I have evolved into a vermouth drinker. Some how this stuff called vermouth went from totally being in vogue to being completely ignored and barely written about where nearly all real knowledge of it has been lost generations ago and the producers seem to be as quiet as moonshiners. No one is exactly interviewing vermouth producers for wine spectator which I’d pay to read. Luckily with all this decline of things the price, for the most part, has stayed down in two buck chuck territory as well. One reason I think all this persists in modern times anyhow, is because true connoisseurship and afficion is really challenging. Vermouth is sort of alienating because its flavors are so adult, and apparently for many people its alcohol levels are too low for most people (the lushes) to bother with which I think is really significant to its decline.

Cocktails also are a problem for vermouth. The worst vermouth cocktail ever created was the dry martini. I’m not talking about a 1/8 dry vermouth cocktail or a wave of the bottle. I’m speaking of dry vermouth and gin in any ratio with bitters or not. For some reason variations with little deviation had such a profound impact that so few people moved in other directions after its popularity began. Erosion of taste slowly stripped away all the wine and an impatient culture that needed their buzz from one glass took over.

You don’t have a real vermouth drink until you mix up some flavor contrast. And most importantly, you cannot be afraid of having two or three if a buzz is your goal. A couple evenings ago I was looking for a drink for the Cocktail Chronicle’s MxMo event. In browsing the always inspirational cocktailDB, I came across Stephen’s cocktail. I was really impressed by this forgotten Stephen’s good taste. It totally read as my style.

1 oz. sherry (I interpreted this as dry sherry to get a good balance so I used La Cigarrera’s Manzanilla)
.75 oz. dry vermouth (European Noilly Prat)
.75 oz. Benedictine

The drink has a serious flavor to alcohol ratio and a really elegant acidity to sweetness ratio. I wish I could have a good bar experience somewhere drinking maybe five or six of these and pay beer prices because it has close to a craft beer cost basis. Another big problem for vermouth is the nature of our gouge restaurant economies. To sum it up quickly, distributors and marketers push super expensive products on the market leaving generations not even knowing that $12 liters of rye whiskey and rum are stunningly delicious, and to add insult to injury, restaurants in so many cities rather be half full all night long, gouging guests with super expensive drinks than actually work hard, understand spirits, and use products that don’t have pharmaceutical style promotional expenses.

Is there any room in the market for this class of fortified and aromatized wine drink? In matters of taste, sherry with its intense barrel treatment is like whiskey flavored wine (I group sherry drinks with vermouth drinks). I feel like people should be able to relate to it more than they think. Vermouth and sherry are also damn cheap relative to distilled spirits. Tapas places often sell small glasses of them for $5. Additionally, restaurants are trying to get people less drunk these days in the world of liability and conservatism and many people have to work increasing hours but still need time to unwind with some adult tasting stimulus. If in Milan, the vermouth drinkers happy hour is extended well into the evening by the perfect alcohol content and affordability of aromatized wine, couldn’t this new style of drink help revive many lagging urban bar cultures?

So now you’re curious and want to mix up some vermouth? The king of these drinks is the Half Sinner, Half Saint:

1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
1.5 oz. dry vermouth
.5 oz. absinthe (floated)
twist of something

I still have yet to find someone that doesn’t like this drink. the sweetness to dryness ratio is perfect. This drink also makes a dramatic mockery of absinthe. The cloying versus the relief. You can’t know pleasure until you know pain. I need to give No. 9 park credit for introducing it to me. Now one or two is a daily ritual. The two mentioned cocktails illustrate some of the really simple formats but just a few of the many players. When you know their simple properties like whats sweet and whats dry, things can easily be substituted to your wildest imagination.

The players:

Sherry: sweet or dry. Oxidized to elegance with flor yeast, in love with oak like whiskey flavored wine. Fresh styles like Manzanilla are very chamomily while 30 year old sweet sherries, as made by Matuselem, are like liquid bread pudding.

Vermouth: sweet, dry, or bianco. With so many different brands having styles that are hard to nail down, but with little exception all being good. some drys have more fruit than others. Some sweets are sweeter and some are more intense. Some biancos are more bitter than others.

Played out iconic: Brand names Lillet and Dubbonet are usually sweet, usually really orangey and more or less other stuff is more fun.

Forgotten savoy: The Savoy which covers parts of southern France and northern Italy in and around the Alps is aromatized wine country. There are so many forgotten specialties like Chamberyzette which is vermouth heavy handedly aromatized with Alpine strawberries. Chocolate’s best friend is the epic Barolo Chinato which is elegantly bitter aromatized Barolo wine. This region makes aromatized wines that would remind you of a more handsome Campari or a more complex Lillet. (great ones are made by Vergano)

Americano: More intensely bitter aromatized wines that kind of overlap with the Savoy specialities. Great producers are Vergano, Gancia, and I would say Vya of California. I’ve even made my own with good success.

Aromatized cheaters: Bitter and low alcohol but do not have a wine base (to my knowledge anyhow) Cynar, Campari, Aperol, Picon Bier.

Monastic contrast: Incredibly masterful aromatized high alcohol liqueurs. Masochistic flavor contrast, the Chartreuses which are an artistic synthesis of the flavor “rocket fuel” via booze and botanicals, and Benedictine which is liquid cigar concentrate.

The wines: Passito, Botrytised, Ice Wine. Sauternes, Port, :Madeira (cercial, bual, malmsey, rainwater!) Fresh or oxidized styles, honeyed, mysterious, and made under rare circumstances.

What can be surprising is how well certain brands perform in the randomness of it all. Cribari sweet vermouth anyone? Try it with some dry sherry like La Cigarrera Manzanilla and a finger of Saint James Royal Ambre rhum. There are a million ways to mix this style of drink and a million of them are already on the books. Check it out and see how much less whiskey you end up drinking.

Follow @b_apothecary

Two Summery Dishes And Some Wine

Follow @b_apothecary

I sat down Sunday night to try some wines with a couple new dishes chef put on the menu for restaurant week. The food is Amalfi inspired and I had thought one of their wines would easily come out on top. Unfortunately its never that simple…

The first dish was a simple chicken milanese accompanied by a chilled arborio rice salad with pees, corn, prosciutto cotto, and caper aioli stuffed into an organic native tomato. The dish has a fun hot-cold contrast and at first glimpse a dry coastal wine would seem appropriate.

For the wines I had open most of the usual suspects plus a couple of new ones:

Max Ford Richter’s “Zepplin” reisling was up first. The wine has a really elegant level of residual sugar probably under what would be a called a Spatlese. The pairing was a simple richness on richness comparison. the reaction is hard to describe but worked well with no ill effects.

Bridlewood’s viognier, which is rather full bodied and low acid, produced a pretty neutral reaction but for some reason I think I noticed the wines high alcohol a little more.

Martin Codax’s albarino tasted thin when all its fruit was stripped away for some reason by the dish. The reaction which was definitely negative did seem to reveal the wines minerality.

Matrot’s Bourgogne chardonnay reacted strangely, and the wine’s oak influence was brought out in a kind of inelegant creepy way. Oak in white wine isn’t summery to me.

White Haven’s New Zealand sauvignon blanc was kind of nice and complementary. The dish brought out the grapefruit in the wine, but I don’t understand why this wine may have worked but not the dry albarino.

Terra di Paolo’s falanghina was dominated by the aioli and like the albarino, may have been too delicate.

So for the dish, the slightly sweet reisling was a complete pleasure and the dry New Zealand sauvignon blanc may have fared better than the other dry wines because of its over the top expressive intensity.

The next dish up was salmon wrapped in grape leaves and grilled then served over what is essentially a chilled Nicoise salad (heirloom tomatoes, hericot verts, olives, onions) with a separated perfectly cooked hard boiled egg. I shared this with some of the other guys so I didn’t get to taste it with all of the wines I had open. What was cool to see is how a lot of the guys don’t enjoy the Zepplin reisling but found it sensational and counter intuitively the best pairing for the dish. I should also note that the dish never read well to me on paper but was really sensational, summery and completely perfect for the hot august evening.

The “Zepplin” reisling when combined with the sweetness and particular acid level of the heirloom tomatoes brought out all the apricot flavors of the wine, but then you noticed the steeliness of the tomatoes on the finish. the results were quite cool. The salmon and especially the smokiness of the grilled grape leaves provided even more sensational contrast to the wine. The fruit just grew in intensity and luckily the sweetness was always manageable.

Matrot’s Bourgogne chardonnay was too heavy and definitely not bright enough in character for the electric flavors of the dish. I was worried about the subtle oak of the wine encountering the egg but it didn’t seem to be a problem.

White Haven’s sauvignon blanc definitely brought some electric intensity, but just provided a strange contrast that didn’t really maximize the potential of the dish.

I didn’t get around to trying the falanghina but others thought it may have been too dry and delicate. Whats seems strange to me though, is how falanghina usually ends up as the only wine that can stand up to big flavors like parsley and pepper flake in a red sauce.

So all in all, we found some stunning matches for the food, but strangely in the same wine. Is there any coincidence involved in the reisling coming out on top or does it reflect a chef’s distinct summer time ethic of how lighter dishes should be balanced?

Follow @b_apothecary

Fighting the Good Fight with Cocktail Acids

Follow @b_apothecary

[Me thinking out loud so long ago]

I keep reading about stiff drinks made with interesting liqueur combinations. an example would be the window’s kiss.

1.5 oz. calvados or apple brandy
.75 oz. yellow chartreuse
.75 oz. benedictine
dash angostura bitters

This drink has wild flavor contrasts and massive nuance but it is still cloying and I can barely enjoy more than a sip unless it is stingingly cold. This style of drink is sweeter than port or ice wine, but you can learn great lessons from it. Epic liqueur duo with an apple-y contrast, amazing idea. How can more drinks get in on that action? I need some serious contrast to that sugar. My thought was to split the calvados into a barrel proof spirit diluted with a very dry apple-y sherry like a manzanilla. I tried making the drink as:

.75 oz. old potrero 18th century style rye (124.3 proof)
.75 oz. la gitana manzanilla (30 proof)
.75 oz. yellow chartreuse
.75 oz. benedictine
dash of angostura bitters

I preserved the alcohol content that the calvados contributed and added acidity but still found the drink cloying. I then added another ounce of manzanilla and things started to be within the average of my tastes but my alcohol content went down which is also not good for what I wanted. Of course I could decrease the amount of liqueur relative to fortifier.

1 oz. old potrero 18th century style rye (124.3 proof)
1 oz. la gitana manzanilla (30 proof)
.5 oz. yellow chartreuse
.5 oz. benedictine
dash of angostura bitters

Mother’s milk, even when reduced, the contribution of the liqueurs is sweeter than the sweet vermouth of a Manhattan but now I have acidity from the sherry. This definitely needs to be strained over fresh ice so it can be as cold as possible and for some reason I wish it smelt of oranges.

I like this concept. The right sherries with barrel proof spirits doesn’t really interrupt my barrel flavors and gives me acidity and something economical because barrel proof spirits are never priced correctly and sherry is so affordable. Now I need to find more dry sherry and more barrel proof spirits.

Follow @b_apothecary