Category Archives: Whiskey

Wicked Spirited

Looking Inward
When we think of distilled spirits in the USA we typically draw our 1st glance to the blue grasses of Kentucky. Images of pot bellied men with long, straggly beards and tightly rolled cigars running a make-shift still in the backwaters pop into my mind at least. We seldom think of California where in 1982 the craft distillers movement started, or Ohio where the local water has almost as much viscosity as in Kentucky. Even though I have had the pleasure and good fortune to have a myriad of distilleries to catalog through I am still shocked when I find something right out my own backdoor. New England has a tradition of great beers and beer is the reason the Pilgrims chose Plymouth rock. The long voyage left them with short supply and drinking water was really nowhere to be found so Miles Standish and his posse weighed anchor at the very unimpressive rock and started brewing. Beer is in our collective blood so to speak. Boston and the surrounding towns and cities play host to countless beer bars like Foundry on Elm, Bukowski’s, The Public House and the like, it is our gastronomic narrative. It is also the base of the embryonic collection of cells that will transform when heated and mature into whiskey. Distillation has had a long legacy in the north east. From Apple brandy to Medford Rum, if we could ferment it; we’d distill it.PilgrimAleAd2
Apples to Apples
In 1774 in the Central Massachusetts town of Leominster, Johnny Chapman was born. He grew up with a fondness of apples. In fact I grew up hearing about his love for them as a child in California but I knew him as Johnny Appleseed. Yes, he was real. He spent his life traveling from state to state planting apples.
At the time drinking water was in short supply and most apples were not very palatable. The ingenuity of gene splicing has given us the Red Delicious, Honey Crisp and Granny Smith but unfortunately if you take a Honey Crisp apple and plant its seed you get a tart, tannic and hard crab apple. When life gives you crab apples you make cider. From here it easily ferments with a little bit of time and yeast. Making a distilled spirit out of cider is naturally the next incarnation of inebriated delight. Apple Jack, the American apple brandy was not made however through traditional distillation. It was made through a process called Freeze Distillation. The freezing point of alcohol is -173.2 degrees Fahrenheit so during the fall months when apples were harvested and hard cider was made, vats of cider were often left out in the frigged cold. Keeping in mind that cider are about 7% alcohol and the rest of the liquid is water, once the winter came the water in the vats would freeze. That frozen water was removed and over the winter the liquid you had left had grown significantly in alcohol. Now that 7% cider is roughly a 35% liquor. This became known as Apple Jack because “jacking” was the term used for this type of distillation.
images (6)This was much easier than distilling trough evaporation. As a farmer you could just let your vats sit out all winter and when you had a free moment just remove the frozen water. By spring your brandy was ready to be enjoyed. This was something you could not do in Kentucky. For the purest, yes I am drawing a wide comparison as Apple Jack was most likely 1st made in New Jersey from a Scotsman by the name of Laird but ciders were very common in New England and the process of freeze distillation easy to recreate. In Old Sturbridge Village there are references to this type of distillation dating back to the early 1800’s. Plus any chance I get to reference Johnny Appleseed I take
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Over the River and Through the Woods
 Around 1715 a gentleman named John Hall built a small distillery with some friends on Riverside Ave, in Medford Massachusetts. 300x205xdistilleries_rum-300x205.jpg.pagespeed.ic.7CPkME7cmU
At the time a sugar byproduct called molasses arrived on boats from the Caribbean. Because Molasses is incredibly sweet, fermentation was quick and easy. Once run through a still the concentrated concoction would be known as rum. Medford rum was traditionally made with the last run of sugar processing known as “blackstrap,” this was rich, viscous and rough. It was intense to say the least and it was also very cheap. Today it is used for cattle feed as it is high in vitamins and is nutrient rich but also make a round and robust spirit.images (7)
By the turn of the 19th century there were a handful of distillers in Medford but by 1830 there was only one rum distiller left: Daniel Lawrence and sons. Daniel Lawrence moved to Medford in 1823 and began working at the Hall distillery. By 1830 he purchased and renamed the distillery and held the market for rum in the north east.215x300xlabels_rum-215x300.jpg.pagespeed.ic.bPH6XI4SXc
Because of his high standards and high quality blackstrap, his rum became world famous. This was not a light, thin rum that needed mint and limes to be consumed. It was a rum for a whiskey drinker.  In 1905 the doors sadly closed due to pressures of the local temperance movement and we would have to wait 107 years to until someone finally decided to reintroduce us to our history.demon-rum-5
Going Against the Grain
In 1777 Rhode Island passed a law banning the distillation of grain based alcohol. Fortunately this did not last too long and by the mid 19th century whiskey production became a staple of harbor towns through out the state. By 1814 spirits distilled with oats, Indian corn, molasses, apples, potatoes, rye and peaches were common place throughout New England. In 1810 it is estimated that 1.4 million gallons of alcohol had been distilled in Connecticut alone, about 3/4 was apple brandy. By the end of the 18th century molasses and sugar were harder to come by so fruits and grains began to take center stage in producing hard liquor. Because whiskey took time to rest in oak and come of age (although not as long as today) and gin was grain based the common country gin became a prominent distillate and soon 3 million gallons were being produced by small local distilleries. This “country gin” was juniper rich and had more of a genever quality than the London dry style we are familiar with todayDrink_BarrHillGin
but for roughly $500 ($10,000 in today’s market) one could set up a crude distillery. This was just efficient enough to make a pretty hardy if not rough around the edges spirit but it was at least a stepping stone. Larger commercial farms built proper still houses and were making refined spirits from New England’s finest produce.
Each state had developed their own specialty and fame in distillation. Maine and Massachusetts as we have read were known for great rums. Vermont and Rhode Island became known for gins, New Hampshire for potatoes based spirits. Connecticut had the largest amount of distilleries with 560 registered in 1810. They were pretty diverse and made well known and respected apple brandies, whiskies, rums and gins.
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Applied Alchemy
In trying to create a cocktail that to me exemplifies New England I wanted to be a little “tongue and check” so I opted for a twist on the classic Long Island Iced Tea but like Boston to NY wayyy bettah kid. the Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya) takes several of New England’s alcoholic delights and blends them into one tasty and potent concoction.
Nor’easter (It sneaks up on ya!)
3/4 oz each of New England Distillery “Gunpowder” Rye, GTD “Medford” rum, GTD Cranberry Liqueur, Berkshire Distillers “Ethereal” gin, Downeast cider, cranberry shrub, maple syrup, lemon
These are shaken in a tin and poured into a double rock glass. It is garnished with a lemon peel and star anise.
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 Looking back at our history and the omnipresent story of alcohol and distillation I have found that great new distillers like Bully Boy, GTD, Berkshire, New England Distilling or Sons of Liberty and Damnation Ally (about 5 blocks from my home) are not just novelties in an ever growing industry. They are as much a part of our regional narrative as John Hall, Daniel Lawrence and all of those who came before. These are the people who paved the path and helped us harvest our nations artisinal freedom all inside simple bottles of inebriated joy.

The Flavor of the Republic

 

The Road Often Traveled is the Road Less Known

So as we get closer to the wearing of the green and shots of Jameson are passed around making perfect strangers the best of friends… until Irish Car Bombs are ordered I think it best we talk a bit about the Irish whiskey you all know and love, or at least think you know but really love saying “can we get a round of Jameson shots?” The history of Irish whiskey is a road that has many paths. It is thought by some that Spanish monks brought distillation to Ireland some 1600 years ago with their Aqua Vita (water of life). The first spirit of Old Ireland was not whiskey at all but most likely a derivative called Poitin which was a reference to the copper pot stills used in the distillation process. This was a blend of malted barley, and sugar beets. Ireland at the time was a wild place where heathen tribes roomed the lands and the monastic culture was just getting its footing. images

 

The early settlements like of Glendalough just south of Dublin may have been the birthplace for what we now call whiskey but like all history this to is a bit cloudy. One thing for certain is the monastic alchemist where the first to began the art of distillation in Ireland, much earlier by the way then the Scots. This was not a drink for the every-man however; it was made for the wealthy. Kings throughout Europe began to hear about this magic elixir Poitin. Over time through trade and wars they began to seek out the spirit and it was widely distilled until 1661 when King Charles II outlawed its production. Here it became a refugee for the Irish traditionalist who would hide it in his cupboard. By this time usice beathe (Gaelic for aqua vita which later became whiskey) was the spirit of choice in the emerald isles.  4728590_f260

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bedtime Story For Building Better Behavior

The beloved St. Patrick and the shots of Jameson has its roots in an old Irish folktale. Once upon a time in Ireland a Priest named Pat sat belly up in an inn and was served what was most likely a shot of Poitin. He felt short changed by the inn keepers stingy pour and immediately told him that a devil had taken refuge in his cellar and was feeding from his dishonesty. Pat then told the inn keep  the only way to salvation and retribution was to seek the light unto a realm of generosity. On his next visit Pat saw that a frightened inn keeper was filling patrons’ glasses to the brim. He and the inn keep went down to the cellar and soon found the devil banished into the nether regions of folklore and obscurity. He then proudly proclaimed that drops of usice beatha shall be consumed in honor of his feast day. What a modesty guy right? I wonder what the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control Commission) would think of the bar keeps pressured generosity but I suppose over severing was not a fear of the time.  st apt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds of a Feather?

Although Jameson is one of the world’s bestselling and most well known whiskeys, the story of the Irish distillers is a sad one. Let’s now jump to around the 1830’s. A young man named Aeneas Coffey who was French by birth but brought up in Ireland had created a unique and revolutionary still. At the time Irish whiskey was very similar to Scotch whisky. They used 100% malted barley, many distillers used peat moss to fire their kilns to dry the barley (this is the smoke in Scotch whisky) and everything was pot stilled making a sturdy, complex and robust spirit. Aeneas had made a modification of what we call the column still. Inside the still were several plates and compartments. As the alcohol vapor reached the next compartment the spirit grew in strength. In the end distillation was faster and the spirit that came out was delicate, light and subtle. When he showed Irish distillers they literally, like St Pat with the heathen snakes, chased him out of Ireland. To the Irish distillers it was not proper whiskey but to the Scots it would become their salvation. Aeneas went across the waters to the Lowlands of Scotland where they began to listen to and experimented with his still. They started to make a grain spirit using wheat and corn as a base. Then they would blend in their single malt whisky with the grain spirit. The resulting dram was light, nuanced and subtly complex. It was almost like a Scotch cocktail. The base of the bottle would be the lighter grain whisky and then you might add a touch of a Speyside Scotch for elegance, a bit of Highland for texture, some Islay for smoke and a finish of Lowland for balance. No one paid much mind to the crazy Scotsmen’s early attempts at blending whisky but in the 1850’s a fungus began to attack grapevines throughout France affecting the regions of Cognac and Armagnac. This limited the export of brandy to England. Then 20 years later a louse called phylloxera began to kill the root stocks of virtually every vine in Europe. This halted all together the export of brandy to England. It was impossible, after all to be an imperial power without spoils so the British began looking north. They came across blended Scotch and Scotland never looked back. It was lighter then single malt whisky, it was cheaper, very easy to drink and the British loved it.  220px-Coffey_Still

Unfortunately for the Irish this meant doom for many small, independent distilleries, in fact it was doom for all of them. As they were either forced to shut down due to lack of interest and sales or were gobbled up by cooperate mongrels names like Jameson, Tullemore Dew and Powers were sold off to mega giants to be distilled in one distillery. As of now there are only 3 working distilleries in Ireland; Middleton, which makes about 40 labels like those mentioned above, Bushmills and now Cooley which is the only independent distillery in Ireland. irish map

Scottish vision meant that smaller, independently owned Scotch distillers could sell off most of their production to a blender responsible for names like Dewars, Cuttysark and Johnny Walker while maintaining their finances to fund their personal single malt bottlings. In fact blended Scotch whisky comprises roughly 95% of the scotch market in the world so to see maybe one or two blended scotches in a restaurant but have to option to order 10 different single malts is an absolute privilege that we have in this country. Unfortunately for many distillers in Ireland the idea of blending didn’t fully take hold until 1947 with Tullemore Dew but by then it was far too late. I think what is interesting is that whiskeys like Jameson and Bushmills, which are both fine spirits have only become popular in today’s market because they now do what 4 generation before thought to be un-Irish and frankly not whiskey. the-old-jameson-distillery

Having no blending company to sell whiskey to and help fund them means that now we are left with just brand names. This is not to say that Irish whiskey is poorly made or that it is not relevant in the world of Whiskey, quite the contrary. There are amazing whiskey’s coming from Ireland. Many of my favorite comes from one place, Cooley.  Locke's Distillery

Today the differences between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky are broad and yet slight. There is a rule of thumb when it comes to the differences but a rule of thumb is only a generalization. The first main difference is the smoky attributes that Scotch has. Often times someone will ask “what is your smokiest Bourbon?” Well, I have a hard time answering this because Bourbon and whiskey in general are not smoky. Perhaps they are referring to the char of the barrel because the smoke we smell in Scotch whisky (which by the way is not intrinsic to all of them) comes from a type of moss called peat. This grows throughout Ireland and Scotland. Peat burns hotter than wood or coal so it is fuel effective to use the heat that peat gives off to dry your malted barley. This was the standard throughout Ireland until about 200 plus years ago. Now wood or coal is used to produce a soft and subtle aroma. The next major difference is in the barley used. The Scotch use either 100% malted barley or a mixture of malted barley and the grain spirit to produce the lighter blended Scotch. Because Ireland imposed a hefty tax on malted barley in the 1800’s distillers (at this point there were plenty of them) began to use a mixture of malted barley and raw barley. This created the delicate elegance to Irish whiskies still present today. The malted barley gives a rich, robust and viscous note where as the raw barley is citric, spicy and leathery. The last major difference, other then the natural terroir both countries have is the length of distillation. The norm (which is not always the case) in Scotland is that the whisky is distilled twice. With each pass through the still the spirit rises in alcohol but becomes cleaner and a bit more pure. There are a few examples of Scotch distillers who will distill three times like Glengoyne and Auchentoshan but for the most part a double distillation is the practice. This makes a heady and robust spirit. With a triple distillation, like in the case of Irish whiskey the spirit becomes much lighter. Initially the alcohol off of the third run of the still will be higher than the second but more water is added to the spirit to bring the strength down to a modest 40% alcohol by volume which will lighten the overall flavor and aromas. Like Scotch whisky, this is only the rule of thumb as there are examples from Cooley that are double distilled and peated like their punchy and yet beautiful single malt Connemara.

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 As far as barley is concerned distillers like Bushmills distill only malted barley rather than the blend of malted and unmalted that is the standard in Ireland. The white label and their Black Bush is 100% malted barley blended with a grain spirit that is produced at the Middleton distillery way south and then transported to the Protestant northern town of Bushmills. Overall there is a subtle sweetness and generosity to Irish whiskey. They can be as light and humbly soft spoken or as Proud, bold and brash when the time is right, as any Irish transplant you may meet on St Paddy’s day.

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Applied Alchemy

 This was a cocktail I originally made last year when our own Cardinal Sean O’Malley had his name thrown in the papal hat. It is simply called The Cardinal. The idea came one night as I was closing the restaurant. I wanted to make a drink in honor of our local kid done right by using Irish whiskey, wine from the Cote du Rhone, home to the lyrically and lovely name of Chateauneuf-de-Pape, i.e. New Chateau of the Pope (There is a cool and long papal history to that name and town that I won’t bore you with today). Then I added Cardamaro (this has nothing to do with Cardinal but cardoons rather although I feel the name fits). Then I finish with lemon and simple syrup. In the end it was a fun and easy drink, but about a week ago I came across a sampling of the Poitin I mentioned earlier and I really wanted to incorporate it into the drink after all it was the “first” spirit distilled in Ireland so I tweaked the recipe to compensate so a grassier, younger elixir

The Cardinal

¾ Irish Whiskey (I like Killbeggan from the Cooley distillery. This has a high malt content which makes for a richer whiskey profile)

¾ Glendalough Poitin Sherry cask finish

¾ Cote du Rhone wine (any easy wine will do here, you just want a wine with soft fruit and spice)

¾ Cardamaro

¾ lemon

¼ simple syrup

Shake well in a shaker and the double strain into a Marie Antoinette glass

Garnish with a crucified Maraschino cherry (I wasn’t sure about the garnish at first but Catholicism is all about the macabre right?)

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In the end what I have learned over the last few weeks of Irish whiskeys and over the last several years of the Irish in general is that they do not live in concept of contrast. Quite the opposite, even within the most unique of Irish whiskeys or the complexity of the Irish spirit there is always a sense of unity, contemplation and understanding of who they are, why they are and where they came from and they don’t give a f@#k who knows it!! 

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A Horse Named Bully

The Good Bully

On a hidden street in the gut of industrial Boston I drove up to an unassuming warehouse where the small sign on the door humbly read Bully Boy Distillery. With an unlocked door, I walked in to the rich and frankly pungent smell of molasses. “I smell rum,” I say as both Dave and Will greet me.

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About a month ago on a chilly December morning I paid a visit to Dave and Will Willis, brothers and co-owners of Bully Boy Distillery. Since Foundry on Elm and Saloon opened our doors we have had a good relationship with the brand. They are local, they price fairly, they are super nice guys and they make damn fine spirits. I went to get a better idea of distillation and spend a little time hanging out to talk booze which they both do very well.

The warehouse itself is not glamorous. There is no reception area, no pretentious person pouring samples of something they know little about. It is a true work space and these two guys work that space very well. In fact, they do everything from driving the fork lift which Will navigates like a Jedi flying through the Death Star to slapping labels on bottles. It is a total hand over fist product. This is as intensive as a farm work or welding and like those the end result is as satisfying sculpting.

They focus on 3 basic spirits: vodka, rum and whiskey. Both the vodka and white whiskey are certified organic and based with winter wheat which makes a soft and elegant spirit. The rums use black strap molasses which as I mentioned is aromatically intense. On the rum and whiskey end of things there are 2 separate styles. For rums they offer a white rum and their newer release, Boston Rum. Both of these see wood but the white rum is charcoal filtered to remove the impurities of oak. Cask is only used just to help the rum settle and soften some of the harsher edges. The Boston Rum spends a hefty amount of time in barrel and does not go through the filtration. This was how rum was made centuries ago in Boston when it was just a port of the British Crown and I’m sure this helped to spark a revolutionary ideology in what would later be the belly button of our independence. Their whiskeys are made using  different types of grain. The white whiskey like the vodka uses winter wheat. How this is different then vodka is how it is distilled. The vodka distills at a higher proof to remove as many impurities as possible. The white whiskey is distilled at a slightly lower proof leaving many of the aromas present in the spirit and like the white rum it has a brief respite in oak and then it is charcoal filtered. Their American Straight Whiskey has a different mash bill all together. It is 45% corn, 45% rye and 10% malted barley. Using an equal ratio of corn to rye offers balance. The spice from the rye is not overpowering and the earthier aromas of the corn subdued. It rests in oak until they feel it is ready and for the money this is one of my favorite whiskeys. 

The name Bully Boy is said to be inspired by Will and Dave’s great-grandfathers horse named after his collage roommate, Teddy Roosevelt.  That’s not a bad pedigree

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Nitty Gritty 

There are two basic forms of distillation. The 1st which is the oldest still used today is called the Alembic Still or Pot Still. Basically you have a single chamber or “pot” that your fermented liquid goes in. For Whiskey it’s in beer like form, in Brandy it is wine and in rum it is fermented molasses.  As the Liquid is heated the alcohol will evaporate at 173 degrees F which is about 39 degrees cooler than water. The alcohol vapor travels up a pipe where it cools. As it cools through condensers, condensation forms. That condensed liquid is now alcohol. To get a simple understanding of how a condenser works simply blow into your hand opened mouth. It will feel hot. Then blow into your hand with a pucker. As the air compresses it cools. Typically the 1st run off of the Pot Sill is called “low wine” which is about 20% alcohol. This liquid is reintroduced into the still to make the final product which will come out at a much high degree of alcohol. 

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 The 2nd method of distillation which is used at Bully Boy is known as a Column Still also called the Continuous Still . This is called a Column Still for a simple reason… its a column. The column has a series of plates or compartments. Like the Pot Still the mash vaporizes. As the alcohol vapor rises it will condense within each plate then it reheats and distills again to the next level. In short it is continuously distilling so the lowest levels are your “low wine” but within each level or compartment the alcohol increases. This is the how most of our beloved vodkas are made. Because Column Stills can easily distill at a higher degree of alcohol it does not leave all those congeners or impurities that can make you fill ill the next day.  I suppose what gives you the headache after so many Cosmos is all that damn sugar. The Vodka or rum in this case leaves a clean, light feeling in the morning. Ah, the miracle of the Column Still and the wonders of scientific drinking. 

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Heads or Tails? I Prefer the Heart

 As your still heats up the 1st thing to evaporate before the alcohol is methanol. This is the hangover inducing, eyesight losing stuff that created much of the roaring 20’s cocktail culture. Once your still heats up to 174 degrees the methanol will burn off and form condensation. Once this is discarded the subtle signs of ethanol begin.This is the good stuff.

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 The 1st truly ingestible parts off the still are called “The Heads“. These are the fruitier aromas that a spirit will have. It is also higher in proof ranging around  95% alcohol or 190 proof (degree is alcohol x’s 2). The heads are way too strong in proof and also can be overwhelming aromatically, the trick here is in the balance. You want enough of those fruity aromas to give body and structure without either overpowering your spirit or your senses. Dave only leaves traces of them in, just enough to give a voice but to bulk up production and product quantity that $6 plastic jug of vodka you find at your favorite package store will be composed almost entirely of “the Heads” which is one reason why cheap liquor is cheap. Then comes “the hearts“. This is the meat and potatoes, the mainstay, the base. Anything that came before and after is only an accent The last part are “the tails” which tends to be funkier and vegetative. Once you you create your final blend of hearts, heads and tails the excess are often reintroduced to the still with more fermented mash (the stuff you start with) hence Jack Daniels Sour Mash .

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From here whiskeys and often rums are barreled. As it sits in the barrel the alcohol, being a gas naturally evaporates. This evaporation is called the Angels Share. Once you feel the spirit has reached its potential in the barrel it will typically be around 130 proof. Then it is either watered down to a lower proof (usually 90 to 80 proof) or if the spirit is complex, smooth and balanced enough at this high proof it might go straight into bottle at what is called “Barrel Strength” or “Cask Strength” and man this stuff can be great but can really pack a wollup.

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With clear spirits like their vodka it will be charcoal filtered to help clean up the edges, water will be added to bring it to an approachable 80 proof and then bottled 

So as I mentioned Dave and Will were making rum that day. It was pretty romantic in what I fell is the truest form of the word. Not a soft emblematic feeling of life, or a withered old Frenchman offering a taste of fine cognac that was laid down by his grandfather. It is the hard work and love that a farmer feels when he tills the land. It was literally gallons of molasses dumping into fermenters to mix with the yeast. Then smelling the intense methanol as it runs off the still until you pick up the faint elegance of what will be the heads, hearts and tails. It is time consuming, it is making mistakes and learning from them, it is understanding not just the science of the still but the intuition of the palate. It is tasting, spitting, dumping and trying again. To me it is inspiring. 

 Applied Alchemy 

Rum is one of my favorite spirits and it is not because it reminds me of tropical vacations where the flavor is taken away by orange juice, lime and coconut. Nor is it watching the bartender painstakingly muddle mint. To me it is a working mans drink. It is a drink of our lineage. It is was one of our 1st undertakings at distillation  and although I get to drink fine wine and try crazy, funky brews I still sweat when I work. Maybe we need the juices and sweeteners to help us feel relaxed from all the hard work we do but I feel that rum can stand on its own and I love spirit based rum drinks. 

After my visit with Will and Dave they graciously offered me a little mini barrel to age a cocktail in. I wanted something to remind me of my visit so I choose the one they were distilling, the white rum. I drew from some of the flavors that are typically paired with rum like the tropical curacao and the fortified Portuguese wine from the island of Madeira which would have been a classic seafaring drink to give some context and history with a bit of dry vermouth to add volume and texture without imparting sweetness (rum has the tendency to enhance sugars in a drink given its base). In the end I wanted to balance the natural flavor that rum can offer but in a way that is not typical but still familiar. The name White Strap is a tongue and cheek reference to the black strap molasses that is used which in the end make a potent and fine white liquor. This is currently available at Foundry on Elm for $8 a pour.

The White Strap

1 1/2 oz Bully Boy White Rum

3/4 oz Dolin dry Vermouth

1/2 oz Blandy Rainwater Madeira

1/4 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

2 dashes Bittermans Tiki Bitters

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

 Age in barrel for 2 weeks 

Just pour into a small rocks glass and add an orange swath.

 No need to water down the flavors with ice. This should be drunk at room temperature right our of the barrel for a casks strength cocktail.

 Cheers

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Local Events Bring Together Friends (Old and New)!

SaloonOne of the things that sets Saloon apart – and there are many – is its welcoming hospitality and its connection to the community. Saloon prides itself as a local Pre-Prohibition style bar with a speakeasy vibe, a neighborhood watering hole where old friends can catch up and new friends can be made. It’s a warm, cozy hideaway – the perfect place to dip in for a drink to unwind after a long day, or to set up shop in a deep, comfortable booth and spend a relaxing evening giving your taste buds a workout.

Saloon’s connection to the local community can also be found in its personal and intimate tasting dinners. The events are spirit-based, with dishes that compliment the flavors of the spirits, whether it’s rum,  whiskey, or mezcal.

The events are kept small, often limited to 25 people, to maintain the intimate feel of a dinner party. Beverage Director Manny Gonzales enjoys these personal experiences, sharing that “there is something special about smaller events.” Held in a warm, inviting dark wood alcove off the bar, the space is conducive to meeting people, chatting with fellow diners, and making new acquaintances.  Manny reflects fondly on past events where previous strangers had met, broke the ice with cocktails and conversation, an ended up talking all night.

Lending itself to this friendly comfortable atmosphere is not only the location but, of course, the libations. Manny carefully chooses the spirits and nurtures long relationships with local companies.  He believes that the great reps who are passionate about their product make the drinks stand out and add a personal identity to each event.

This past summer, Saloon hosted a whiskey themed event in conjunction with Bully Boy Distillers. The founders of the local Boston-based distillery, Will and Dave Willis, were present for the four-course paired dinner and were happy to chat with guests about the product. It’s these personal touches that make Saloon events so special.

November saw a whiskey and pork dinner that featured rye-based cocktails made with WhistlePig rye. Reflecting on the event, Manny pulls a hand-blown glass bottle from a shelf above the bar, a reminder of the successful event. The particular bottle, he shares, is called “102 for the 802” – 102 being the proof and 802 being the area code of the Vermont distillery.  And this is just another one of the personal touches that make Saloon events one of a kind.

But, for Manny, the recent mezcal event was personal for a different reason.  The Mexican spirit is a favorite of Manny’s and one that has ties to his lineage. His mother is from Mexico, and so the flavors of the smoky spirit and tastes of the Mexican inspired menu relayed a personal connection that made the event particularly special.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of these unique events, stay tuned and be sure to check the calendar for updates. Whatever the spirit of choice, with Manny and chef Jonathan Schick planning the menu, you know you are in for a memorable and flavorsome evening.

Saloon’s Manny Gonzales Talks Whiskey on WBUR’s “Here and Now”

SaloonSaloon Beverage Director Manny Gonzales stopped by the WBUR studios this afternoon to chat with award-winning journalist Jeremy Hobson on “Here and Now,” the acclaimed radio news show which airs on over 365 stations nationwide, as part of a segment on the American Whiskey Renaissance.

Manny was excited to share his thoughts on the emergence of craft distilleries and the future of whiskey by leading Hobson through a tasting of three whiskies, from different craft distillers around the country.

The first whiskey Manny presented was Dry Fly’s Washington Wheat Whiskey. Hobson notes the way that Manny handles the drink, tasting it as opposed to shooting it. Manny emphasized the importance of tasting, especially with a whiskey like the Dry Fly, which is “soft, delicate… a nice introduction to craft spirits.”

The second, St. George’s Single-Malt Whiskey, which is out of a craft distiller in California, is sweeter than the first, as noted by Hobson. The sweeter notes, Manny shares, are from the barley itself.

The third tasted was Prichard’s Double Barrel Bourbon based in Tennessee, a whiskey Manny praises as “one of the best on the market.”

When asked by Hobson if whiskey is one of those spirits which is better consumed in its raw form, without the additions of mixers or other elements, Manny muses that it often depends on what you are looking for in a drink, and also, which whiskey is at your disposal.  Some are better in a Manhattan or  margarita. Whiskey in a margarita?, you may ask, as Hobson did.  But whiskey is an adaptable spirit, as anyone who has experienced the creative and flavorful cocktails at Saloon can surely agree. The enthusiasm for the spirit experienced at Saloon — and felt by Manny himself —  is contagious. “A whiskerita,” he affirms, “why not?!”

Listen to the segment online.

Part One: An Inebriated Truth

IMG_1868Nobody really knows history, the true reasons or methodology of anything. It’s all about the story, the romantic notion that what we live through, taste and love is solely there to create a deeper connection within the world we live. Religion has made a career of this in the way that it has built a society of greater truths and history through which it tries to bind us together or sometimes separate us.

Why am I babbling on like this? Perhaps it’s the open bottle of rye next to me, or the thought that all history is a bit cloudy. That even modern history is much like beauty being in the eye of the beholder; it is in the voice of the speaker and the ears of the listener. In short we take what we are capable of taking from history and give back only what we are willing.

That brings me to this blog and whiskey. This has become one of the most sought after beverages in the last 3 to 5 years. But the modern push for golden power has deep roots in our being. It has caused wars, toppled governments, tamed the heathens and given birth to organized crime as we know it today. It has bank-rolled politicians, divided families and created art. Whether it was the beer drunk by the ancients or the distilled spirits used to tempt the curious Irish into Christianity, which they in turn used to convert the Scots, we are all just looking for a better time, a better understanding of our nature and many times we use this to hide from it.

Whiskey, the child of distilled beer, is an ancient word in and of itself – – or at least its meaning is. The original word for whiskey is Agua Vitae or water of vitality (much like the French “eau de vie”). This is an old Latin word but the process predates the ancient Egyptians who used distillation to create essential oils for religious ceremony.

Greek Alchemists had made massive improvements to this process and created the first stills as we know them today over 2000 years ago to help speed warring Europeans along their bloodthirsty path. As they were embroiled in fighting the crusades, it was actually the Arabs who began perfecting the art to produce its perfumes. Then during the Renaissance in an effort to combat the plague the Dutch began distilling wine to create what they called Brandeweijn or “Burnt Wine”, which later became brandy. Over the centuries the produce changed to suit the needs of the consumer.

So now back to Whiskey. Roughly 600 years ago Spanish monks brought with them brandy to help convert the Irish to Catholicism. It was an instant hit. In no time Aqua Vitae became locally known as uisce beatha (pronounced ishka beyha) or water of life. This later became… (drum roll please)… WHISKEY Because grapes were not easily grown in such a cold climate the monks who set out to convert the heathen Gaelic culture quickly turned to distilling beer. Doubtless, this process helped to convince the Celts that Christianity must truly be a great religion if its priests could create such a fine beverage. It didn’t take long before the Irish monks would do the same for the Scots. Maybe there is a reason for the obligatory shot of Jameson on St Patty’s day.

Much later when the colonies were founded it was actually rum and apple brandy that were first made into spirits. You may ask, why did we drink so much? Alcohol was the safest thing to drink; actual drinking water was the luxury. It did not take long for tilled grains to be consumed for inebriation. Rye was really the main grain used to make whiskey this side of the pond.  Later as we settled the southern states where the climate was warmer and corn more readily available the ever resourceful entrepreneurs began producing what is now known as Bourbon. Even George Washington distilled rye, so no matter what the moral majority may think, it is in our heritage.

Part Two: Whats in a Name?

So what’s in my glass right now? Right now I am sipping WhistlePig Straight Rye. This has become one of the hottest whiskies on the market. It was pictured in GQ magazine back in April right next to a little blurb about Saloon featured as one of the top 10 whiskey bars in the country. Not bad for our little Mickey Mouse operation. Raj Peter Bahkta (former Apprentice star and Pennsylvania politician) teamed up with Dave Pickerell (former master distiller of Maker’s Mark) to create an extremely well balanced and complex whiskey. The rye comes through with such a spicy elegance. The woodier notes (aged for 10 yrs used Bourbon Barrels) are present but soft.The grain offers up a drier aromatic. There are notes of fresh cut grass, granny smith apples and orange peel. You can pick up some of the broader bourbon like structure aromatically from David’s corn-based history but the spice is all rye. Actually 100%.

imageAnd why WhistlePig? Well, here’s a paraphrase. A whistle-pig is really another name for a ground-hog. One day Raj was hiking through the Rockies when a nutty Frenchman was screaming “LOOK! It’s a whistle pig. Do you see him? A whistle pig!” Now I can’t remember the story word for word but as I mentioned earlier, is it really important?

Part Three: Applied Alchemy

Islamic_Tradition_of_Chemistry-5Thinking in terms of a cocktail it is vital to understand how to blend based on the flavor profile of the selected spirit. Although Sour-based drinks always sell and I am convinced that most tequila lovers really prefer orange and lime to the true flavor of agave, a spirit like this should be the focus. It should be the subtle cocoa nib elegance of rye, the cinnamon spice and the dry finish that shines through. More and more bartenders love to use rye rather then its more popular cousin Bourbon because of its drier notes. Because it is unmistakable, whereas bourbon — which, don’t get me wrong, can make a fantastic cocktail — tends to overpower with sweetness and viscosity rather than dance with the drink.

It is hard to improve on the Sazerac, or Manhattan; these are perfect cocktails, but this is one of my favorite WhistlePig cocktails.

 The Mortimer

 1 1/2 oz of WhistlePig Rye

3/4 of an oz of cardamaro (wine based amaro from Piemonte Italy)

1/2 oz of Gran Classico (a softer, sweeter version of Campari with less of the intensely bitter bite and a very subtle rosemary note)

2 dashes of Bitter Truth “Jerry Thomas” bitters

This is placed into a bar glass with ice, stirred and strained into a single rocks glass served up and finished with a swath of lemon.

Just a point on the name; Mortimer is the partner in crime to Mauve, the two pigs who have taken residence at WhislePig farm in Shoreham Vermont.Awesome_1384403805391

Last night we held a “Pigs on Plates’ tail to snout dinner featuring a hand reared, free range organic pig from the WhistlePig farm. Chef Jonathan and bar manager Derek McCluster and bar goddess Tracy Witkin came up with some fantastic pairings featuring both the WhistlePig rye and the WhistlePig pig. It was a great night and I would like to thank everyone involved, those that attended and of course those that worked it.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Mortimer and Mauve were not in attendance.