Hopped Distillate Construction

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I’m still trying to construct a gin like product. Many formulas are known but I am trying to break away from them to create something new with a lot of direction. I’m still intensely interested in hops, particularly the fruitier smelling varieties. Hitachino’s Kiuchi No Shizuku has a gorgeous aroma that seems to lean more on fruit from their hops than an herbaceous character. Apricot is easily perceived but the fruitiness may be exacerbated by their choice of orange peel. I thought that maybe I could split botanicals off into pairs to find good proportions like balancing coriander and orange peel. But now I see that hops may need to be paired with the orange peel to produce the seductive fruity character. So this seemingly simple trio becomes more interrelated than any other trio I can think off. Juniper seems like it could easily be split off from coriander & orange peel which is the case in many classic gin recipes where you see seriously variable amounts of juniper to the fairly constant ratios of coriander & orange peel.

For my latest five liter batch I used:
75g coriander
200g creole shrubb
200g pacific jade hops

These hops proved to be more herbaceous than the Palisades but they are still very enjoyable. Finding the right hop variety will be key to locking down a recipe. I split off the coriander and orange peel and distilled them from a liter of 80 proof spirits plus the small amount of the alcohol in the Shrubb out to 120 proof. I distilled the hops with 3.5 liters of 80 proof spirits out to about 150 proof. I did lose about a 100 mL or so at the end when the distillate turned cloudy very quickly on me. To bring things to about 5 liters at 80 proof I needed to add 500 mL of 80 proof spirits plus the 100 or so mL I lost when I tossed the really cloudy tails. Upon cutting everything down to proof with distilled water everything turned really cloudy on me which I’m afraid may be the nature of hops. Hitachino has a crystal clear product but I suspect when they distill the beer to 30 proof and let it sit in barrels with extra botanicals before re-distilling, it may have something to do with leaving behind what ever produces the cloudiness. My understanding is that only the middle run at 80-85% alcohol is saved for gin which is not what I’m practicing.

So I should state that I love the taste but I need a crystal clear product. I guess I could re-distill and risk loosing some aroma to try and gain clarity, but I should probably also read up on techniques for cutting down over proof spirits.

***update***

Part of the cloudiness has subsided and decent amount of separated oil has risen to the surface which indicates that I accepted far too much of the tails even though the taste and aroma was not objectionable. I’ve read that you can sometimes skim off the oils but it doesn’t totally solve the problem. I will probably still need to re-distill.

***update!***

I re-distilled everything to maybe 160 proof or so separating everything into five pints. I was then planning on diluting them one at a time to see at what point thing would be cloudy (if at all). Well things didn’t work out so well. The first jar become very cloudy which means that there is a problem with the heads and the second jar is cloudy but far less so. I was pretty sure the second jar would be far into the middle run and not leave any problems. Now I really don’t know what to do. The distillate is especially delicious by the way so I have a good motivator to move forward. I also did learn that the hop variety that Sierra Nevada used in their beer schnapps was Cascade. If anyone would come forth with any advice I’d be happy to take it.

So I may just have to dilute with 80 proof spirits instead of water. If gin must be clear there may be limits to its intensity. This is also relative to the final alcohol content. I’m probably just making my recipes too intense.

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Antiseptic Botanicals and the Human Condition

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Lets set some ideas down on paper.

Stephen Harrod Buhner does the greatest job I’ve ever encountered of explaining the relevance of antiseptic botanicals to our human experience in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers. Maybe I will elaborate eventually but my immediate goal is to help people in the distilled spirits world get over their botanical myopia so that we can move forward into the 21st century. I need more from my antiseptic experience. Juniper always gives me the same bland fix while hops and their diversity thrills me. I got a taste of the potential of this from the brilliant people at Hitachino who nearly perfected the hopped distillate while no one was looking. You’d think I’d be satisfied but Hitachino’s Kiuchi No Shizuku is so hard to come by and I can’t afford to drink as much as I want. My solution is to figure out how to capture hops, coriander and orange peel for my self.

2 oz. of Palisade hops re-distilled in 1 liter of Appleton white Jamaica rum is a gorgeous olfactory experience but more intense than the standard gin and cutting it won’t be a problem. The half the weight of juniper equals coriander gin formula won’t work either. But I can keep adding more and re-distilling until I get it right or compound a tincture. and I can’t get small amounts of quality orange peel. But no problem, I don’t know how many grams are in a liter of Cointreau but it is about the best bitter orange tincture money can buy. Cointreau’s consistency will help me develop bottle sized batches. Eventually I will be drinking this stuff at $15 a liter.

We are up to 2 oz. Palisades hops in the first distillation which was quite good but probably would need to be diluted with neutral spirits to come down to comparable gin intensity.

Then we re-distilled with 14 g. of coriander merely boiled in the spirit as it heated to distill. The room does fill with hop aroma which shows that lots of our flavor unfortunately leaks during a re-distillation. I never really see botanicals described well by the spirits or cocktail world but beer brewers do an excellent job and the orange character of the coriander botanical they profess is no joke. I can see how a little natural orange can lend a degree of synonymous flavor depth but it should be far more minimal than you would think. My limited experience would say orange is a more noble botanical but here coriander really is the show. Perhaps more than the hops.

Now all I have left to add some Cointreau to taste before I re-distill yet again to achieve my rough draft. I wonder how much it will take.

***update***

I had no Cointreau after all so I used Clement’s Creole shrubb as my orange tincture but I was thinking of even giving Fee’s orange bitters a go as my standard for orange. My sample has volumetrically diminished after many tastings, so I’m down to about 600 ml therefore all of my ratio’s so far have become kind of meaningless. (I used 20 grams of shrubb for the 600ml) Maybe next time I need to make a 5x batch so that my sampling will be insignificant enough to not mess up the botanical ratios I’m trying to figure out.

One other thing to note is that I rediscovered how incredible real licorice is in a tea my boss shared with me. I need to figure out how to fit it into one of these simpler more muscled types of formulas.

Botanical aromatized distillates keep becoming more interesting to me from a consumer interest perspective. Consumers seem to accept vodka as an aesthetic goal of neutrality but gin has to contain juniper and be about juniper. If you use the “gin” name even slightly loosely for some reason you get stopped in your tracks with a “then its not gin” comment more often than any curiosity about a new idea. Vodka gets a lot of freedom. It can be made from grapes and not be brandy and made from sugar and not be rum. As long as it is neutral its vodka. Gin gets all the conservatism. People don’t even seem to give coriander any credit, even though its used in huge amounts relative to any other potential supporting botanical. To me, coriander seems less replaceable to the formula than juniper. To help any new products onto the market, gin needs to shift from something very literal to something of a more general aesthetic goal.

So in what direction do I need to move to lock down a solid recipe? Keep distilling everything together or compound fairly potent mono concentrates and spend some time playing with some carefully measured blends?

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French Top Punch

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I just recently presented at a charity culinary event for Rett syndrome with chef. Liquor was not exactly part of the presentation but we decided it would be fun to put something together for the chefs and line cooks working the event as well as our attending friends among the many donors to the charity. In the past we have mixed these drinks a la minute or created small batches but I’ve slowly learned the wisdom of the flowing bowl. I actually just did a cocktail party for 40 or so people that really reinforced the wisdom. People only wanted to get drunk. Barely anyone noticed the drinks. And I spent too much time working because I didn’t batch anything. Now for parties I’m only using the flowing bowl format.

This event’s punch required fernet because it was mostly for chefs and line cooks a.k.a. the people who work the french top who are also addicted to the amaro. To make it less masochistic, I added some fruit flavor contrast via chambord (specifically over any other fruit based liqueurs) then something tart to balance (lemon juice) then something bubbly and slightly acidic (cava) to make it more punch like and elegant.

375 ml fernet branca
375 ml chambord
375 ml lemon juice
750-1500ml cava (segura viudas)

Combine all in a punch bowl with large chunks of ice. Change the ratio of cava for your desired alcohol and flavor intensity.

This was loved or feared like the best things in life. I personally felt like I could spend a solid evening drinking nothing but this punch. Those that didn’t like it are already known to be vodka-soda wusses. Some astute drinkers thought the punch brought into focus the aromatized elements of the chambord. If I changed this recipe in any way it would be to add a couple hundred milli liters of Batavia Arrak or Cape Verdean rum.

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Absinthe

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This post is old and an updated version is in my Distiller’s Workbook exercise on Absinthe.

Yesterday I whipped up some “absinthe“. I have never liked the stuff and always found it over hyped so I tried to produce something that would keep my interest. My main complaint about absinthe (besides the prices!) is that anise is such a cloying dominant flavor. To get around this in my parody I thought I’d add a comparative element to the naked anise and see if I could stretch it out on the tongue. A long time ago I used this concept with strawberries but lately I’ve been enamored with the basque country Patxarian sloe berry-anise combo. I don’t have a hedge of sloes so I added sloe gin to my spirits and then got impatient and also added framboise brandy because I wanted more comparative flavor and a way to bring the alcohol content up into true absinthe territory. I used the Turkish Raki to capture the anise botanicals because I got it for free and it was 90 proof so it seemed like a good idea.

The amount of wormwood in g/L was extrapolated from other people’s large batch recipes. Yarrow and yerba-mate seemed like a good idea for wormwood comparative flavors to contrast the fruit and anise. Yarrow brings a meadowy aroma while yerba mate is slightly more foresty. I noticed many people’s formulas had coriander which is really important to London dry gins so I thought it may be a nice extra contrasting element. I probably should have added more.

All of my liquids added up to one liter but I only pulled out 750ml because I wanted to preserve the same amount of anise that was in the Raki. The additional alcohols bring the proof up to slightly less than 120.

Something that I noticed which probably adds a great layer of artisanship that most people miss is that you have to distill at only a certain reflux rate to get all the alcohol you want but not disturb the anise-alcohol-water solution. I started distilling at a really high reflux rate and took all of the alcohol off very quickly but when my temperature went up and I was trying to hit my 750 ml end volume mostly by distilling water it started to louche and my absinthe yellowed slightly. Next time I should probably do some math, look at some charts and work at a less intense reflux rate to keep my high alcohol and clarity of distillate.

750 ml turkish raki
100 ml sloe gin
150 ml framboise brandy
15 g wormwood
5 g yerba mate
5 g yarrow
2 g coriander
distilled to 750ml (115 proof or so)

Absinthe is still boring but I liked this compared to Kubler. As subtle as they are, the fruit aromatics really make it.

***update***

So I finally tasted the St. George absinthe verte and was really impressed though I was surprised by its coloring and intensely distinct aromatics relative to Kubler. I only had a taste from a really nice bartender and was not lucky enough to see it louche or not but I was surprised by the chartreuse like nature of its color. And its level of anise seemed to be lower than Kubler. The nose was pungent like a monastic liqueur and reminded me of biting into fresh basil but with more anise. The herbs make it really penetrating and antiseptic feeling but in a different way than juniper. I think I could understand the appeal of cocktails like the sazerac better if knew they were made with an absinthe that had more contrast to the anise. I think I should explore more fruit and working in a secondary infusion to my recipe. If we are thinking antiseptic, hops anyone?

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A Simple Drink

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2 oz. aguardiente! (90 proof distilled i.p.a. with pomegranate seeds)
1 oz. chamberyzette (replica)
dash peychaud’s

The grain like character of the young spirit is really cool and the hop-strawberry contrast is divine. The spirit is uncut but I don’t seem to mind. I wanted to make sure I got all the aromas. I was always told a distilled heavily hopped beer would suck because the hops would be obnoxious but that doesn’t seem to be so. I think a big part of the hops are left behind (bitter) and all you get is a floral capacity. This supposedly has a large amount of pomegranate seeds but their distilled character is really subtle.

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Deconstructing Campari

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[6/7/2015 This post just recently got a lot of traffic from a discussion at Reddit. The initial concern was simply the sugar content of Campari for a calorie counter, but the discussion quickly turned to the lack of consensus on the sensory values of Campari. Some people were not aware that Campari was sweet while others were sure of it. A few astute people thought that if Campari did not have sugar to suppress the bitterness it would be so bitter it would not be palatable. The talk eventually gravitated to measuring the sugar content. This post was one of my very first experiments with sugar measurement and since then I’ve advanced a lot. Now I would measure the density of the Campari, figure out ethanol’s influence on that density and then find the sugar content of that unobscured density in g/L instead of brix. I also estimate a 30g/L margin of error.]

I thought I knew a lot about all things alcoholic but I keep finding lots of holes in my knowledge. One to clear up is whether amaros like Campari are infused then re-distilled or not. Do they simply infuse and filter then color? Sounds more practical. Distilling has huge energy costs and sometimes it seems to over engineer the results. And, are any bitter principles volatile enough to come through in a distillate? Do the results either way have any implications for an understanding of absinthe containing wormwood which is the most bitter substance I’ve ever come across?

For the experiment I took 500ml of Campari and added 500ml of water then distilled out 500ml. Using a nice amount of reflux, Campari’s small amount of alcohol came out quickly then I was mainly distilling water to make up the volume.

Now I have two 500ml volumes. One is clear, has the 24% alcohol, and whatever aromatic principles came through. It smells just like Campari but is barely bitter or maybe just has the aroma that my brain associates with bitter things. Now the second volume is slightly darker red than the Campari (maybe because I caramelized the sugars?) and does not smell Campari-esque at all. It actually smells slightly like juniper but who knows if that is from residues in my still or from the containers I’m reusing. The second volume definitely has a lot of bitter to it but less than Campari. (or maybe not when I sit down and drink the real stuff.)

So the results here are really similar to my distilling of a quinine tincture. No bitter in the distillate. Now I have to try it with wormwood and see how the results come out. If the results are not bitter, Absinthes could have had lots of wormwood in them. My previous understanding was that you could never put so much wormwood in because no one would be able to palate the stuff.

One more thing that I can derive from the Campari experiment is how much sugar is in the product. Now that I have a volume with no alcohol I can use either a refractometer or more accurately a hydrometer to gauge how much sugar they add. (I just ordered some specialized hydrometers… can’t wait to try them out!)

***update***

So I finally tried out my specialized hydrometers. Campari lays just between the end of one and beginning of another so my very good estimate is there is 22 brix to campari. Now I could take this farther and see how much the alcohol obscures the measure of the Campari’s sugar content using the same hydrometer on the real stuff.

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Hacking Gin

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So there is a lot of talk of Genever style gin going around. Yet I haven’t really been able to get my hands on any. A select few bars around here have it and have been coming up with gorgeous drinks but I would love to have a go at the stuff in the comforts of my own kitchen. But if its not readily available in any liquor store, how could I approximate it?

500 ml gordon’s london dry gin
12 oz. malta india (malt soda)
slowly re-distill

Though I’m not sure if there is any sugars added to Genever style gins, the malt aroma gives a warm sweetness to the gin and I don’t really feel the need to add any sugar. Any insights?

The distillate may need to rest but I think it may need more than 12 oz. of malt soda to get closer to young genever from the tap.

So now that some genevers are coming to market is there any producer that is simply going to add malt as a botanical to their existing processes to bang out a product?

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‘Tis The Season.

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[My god have I learned so much since this tiny adventure.]

Pears are in season and Jason just gave me a large bag of some fruit from the tree in his back yard. The goal is to make some pear eau-de-vie. To start with, we will need a wine. I only had enough pears for a gallon recipe. Which even if it hits 10% alcohol will only give me a couple cups of brandy. Luckily distilling things scales down really well. To make the wine I cut out any bad spots in the pears and put them through a cheese grater to get some pulp. This filled about 75% of the gallon carboy. I then added the rest of a jar of clover honey that was in the pantry to up the sugar content somewhat. This was maybe 3/4 of a cup of honey. I also added a teaspoon of Fermax yeast nutrient to help things along and a couple imprecise spoonfuls of tartaric acid to help protect the wine from bacteria. I added an entire packet of Lalvin k1-v1116 fruit wine yeast to hopefully snuff out all the other yeasts and stuff growing on the pears’ skin. hopefully fermentation will break down the pulp enough that it comes out of the carboy easy enough. I think I’m hoping things ferment as much as possible with out racking anything so I can just toss the wine solids and all in the still. Discarding only the foreshots, saving all heads and tails, then having just enough remaining for a small drink among a couple friends.

Wish me luck!

****update!****

So things fermented really well, but I did fill the carboy too full and things expanded and frothed. This did create a mess but definitely didn’t spoil the wine. Next time I need to plan better to save more time. The wine did appear to brown and not look too appealing but the distilled alcohol came out quite nice. I tossed the wine into the still (my new boiler is a 10 liter pressure cooker) on top of a steam tray that I suspended a little to keep the wine’s solids from scorching. This seemed to work really well. Going into distillation I had no idea how much alcohol I produced. The first thing I did was bring the still into equilibrium then pull off the foreshots which amounted to about an ounce. I tried to separate the heads but then determined that I liked them. I left in the tails as well. For some pears from an ordinary tree made with incredibly simple technique, the result is gorgeous and the aroma is sensational. Next year I hope to get the best of the whole tree. My total yield is a cup and half that is well over 80 proof. After it rests I may cut it down a little with some water. Over all, the product reminds me of Navip Slivovitz from Serbia bottled at 100 proof.

****update!****

2 oz. pear brandy from the above recipe
.5 oz. simple syrup
4 dashes angostura

Divine flavor contrast. If you can’t make your own brandy try it with Clear Creek.

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Hypothetically Speaking

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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?

***update!***

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.

***update!***

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?

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An Extinct Style Of Drink?

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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.

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