Thursday, April 30, 2009

Round Two: Early Times

Woodford Reserve likes to say that it is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, but everyone who has been there knows that’s not exactly true -- scratch that, it is only exactly true. Woodford paid a lot of money to tag the Derby. While they were at it they sponsored the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, which immediately precedes the Derby. Fair enough, but the drink that is poured at Churchill is the Early Times premixed Mint Julep. There’s even some people dressed up in giant Early Times bottles dancing around in the paddock. (Other people saw that, right?)

When the fans stand and wobble and slur through the forgotten lyrics of “My Old Kentucky Home” the whisky they are spilling on their shoes is Early Times Kentucky Whisky.

I don’t know why Brown-Forman decided to spell it whisky, without the American ‘e,’ but I do know that the reason it is not a bourbon is because some of the product was aged in barrels that are not new. Bourbon must be aged in unused barrels, period. According to Chuck Cowdery, bourbon expert of the first water, this saved some money and brought the Early Times spreadsheet into shape when they needed it to be. Since Brown-Forman sells (lots and lots of) Jack Daniel’s Cowdery says that they believed at the time that no one cared if the bottle said “bourbon” or not.

I like Early Times a lot, always have. It’s straightforward, a little rough around the edges, good with ice. Walker Percy’s Dr. Tom More drank a lot of it, and that’s a good recommendation. It’s unbeatable at its price point. And it makes a killer mint julep, especially if you’ve had mint syrup infusing in the fridge overnight.

Pour a tablespoon or two of mint syrup (I leave it to you, it depends upon how minty your mint is, and how sweet you like your drinks) into a glass, pour in a double shot of Early Times, fill it with crushed ice (half a tray of ice in a clean towel smacked with a meat tenderizer will fill one rocks glass), stir it a couple of times with a spoon. Don’t fold it when you stir, just make the ice turn around in the glass. I swear I can almost taste the ink on the betting slips.


The pre-mix is very good, too, and lots of liquor stores have stacks of it come Derby Day. I’ve been made fun of for this, but the truth is that the pre-mix is best if you add a shot of bourbon to it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Enter the Julep

For a horse player there is no week like the week that leads up to the Kentucky Derby. Basically, leading up to the first Saturday in May, if it’s not about the Derby, my brain cannot process it. Luckily, the Derby comes with a drink. It’s a drink I think I can talk about for a week, and I’m going to try. Welcome to Mint Julep Week 2009. Expect lots of action.

Today, I picked mint out of the yard.

I put a good bit of it in a jar of simple syrup to soak. Simply put equal parts sugar and water in a pot, (I used a cup and a half of each), and turn on the heat and stand there, stirring lackadaisically until the liquid is clear. It shouldn’t come to a full boil, and really doesn’t take long at all. I stuffed a jar with mint, filled it with cool syrup (actually still slightly warm, but definitely not hot), and stuck it in the fridge. This is my favorite way to make juleps, but it is not, by any means, the only way.

And that is a fortunate thing, since I don’t like to wait. Especially for a mint julep.

The julep was first referenced in 1803,  "dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning." (For those of you counting, I think the Old Fashioned is first mentioned in 1806, and the Sazerac in the 1830s. More on this -- and perhaps some morning drinking, just to see how that plays, I’m a Virginian, after all -- throughout the week.)

The simplest, oldest recipe I know is to take some superfine sugar and put it in the bottom of a julep cup and dissolve it in 3 ounces of bourbon. Crush ice and pack it on top of the bourbon. Put a big sprig of mint on the top of the drink. You’re supposed to drink it through a straw, and the straw is supposed to be short, so your nose is right in the mint the whole time.

(Here’s a trick: it’s hard to get the straw through the ice, and, in fact, it’s hard to get the mint in the ice, too, if you pack it well enough. You can put two straws in the cup before you put in the ice, remove one and put your mint in there, drink through the other, while nosing the mint.)

This seems, of course, like a very lackluster method, but I tell you it is not. It works. I’ll admit to bruising the mint in my hands a little, to wake it up and get the oils going (and while I’m at it, I’ll admit that the mint in my yard is actually called “Kentucky Colonel,” I assume due to its propensity for satisfying juleps).

You’re supposed to drink the thing really slowly. The ice melts, the mint gets mashed up, the whole thing gets together in that wonderful julep cup (which you’ve wrapped in a linen, because it’s too cold to hold).

Even this simplest of recipes is fantastic. In fact, there’s something so fresh and bright about it, I’m going to call it the morning line favorite for the week. Surprise counts, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A brief undercover operation

Agents in North Carolina brought down a Moose Lodge where folks were gambling and drinking moonshine.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moonshine hits the Economist

Although I think I know of what this was apropos, The Economist dropped an out-of-left-field moonshine story. Click to see it.

The Kansas City Super Tiki

I’ve been remiss in updating the Ocean, and I send out apologies to all who were hurt during my absence. I tried to get a post up about the Income Tax yesterday (it’s a bronx cocktail with angostura instead of orange bitters and it would have leant itself really well to some sort of Proverb), but found the requisite sense of humor hard to muster after I’d finished my own pile of forms. What I needed was a drink, not a post about drinks.

But today is a new day. The sun is shining. The birds are on the wing. And I have had something in my back pocket that’s been coaxed out.

Behind my house we have a micro-barn and last year we emptied it out, made it into a dining room / bar, and named it Kansas City. The name is in homage to the famous Max’s Kansas City, and also simply because we figure you can do anything you want in Kansas City.

Kansas City is a seasonal venue:

It’s not heated, and we need to put the deck chairs somewhere. In the off season, I developed a signature tiki drink for the place: The Kansas City Super Tiki.

I was going to wait until we actually got the deck chairs out of the joint and opened up, but tonight’s Thursday Drink Night at the Mixoloseum is about absinthe, and there’s absinthe in the KCST, so I figure now is as good a time as any.

The Kansas City Super Tiki

1 t absinthe (simpler sweeter absinthe with strong fennel/anise flavors are better here)
1 t creme de noyaux (sub orgeat, but the pink really makes for something pretty to look at)
3 strong dashes Angostura Orange
1 oz lime juice
1 oz orange juice
1 oz white rum
1 oz golden rum
Float dark rum

Shake with ice until really cold, strain into an old school tumbler, like the one from which your aunt used to guzzle white horse scotch and soda, with lots of ice in it. Float dark rum on top. Lay a couple of citrus slices on top the drink.

TDN is hilarious, by the way. Anyone with even a passing interest in cocktails should log in and watch, and contribute, and drink, and mess up the kitchen. The KCST was considered a little tart, and I think Gabe might be right. Suggestions for improvements are always welcome.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cadillac DeVille

The American Distilling Institute Conference kicks off tonight with a party at Anchor Distilling. There’s judging all day at St. George today, and conferencing all day tomorrow, and Meet the Maker on Sunday. The theme this year is brandy, and I’ve been thinking and drinking on brandy all week in anticipation.

Brandy -- and here I mean any spirit made from a mash of fermented fruit -- is the foundation spirit. When the persian alchemist Jabir ibn Haiyan al-Azdl put together the first alembic (and declared the vapor “of little use!”) he was boiling wine.

This is simply because grapes and apples and peaches and whatnot basically ferment themselves. It takes a lot of work to turn corn into gold. From the foundation spirit, in turn, comes one of the foundation cocktails: the sidecar.

There are a lot of cocktails worth learning, but I’m going to go out on a (admittedly sturdy) limb and say that the sidecar is among the most versatile.

Lemon Juice, Cointreau, and Spirit. If you put a bottle of Cointreau on your bar or something like it, you can always make a cocktail. Use gin, it’s a Chelsea Sidecar. Use Tequila, it’s a margarita. Irish whiskey makes an excellent drink. I like them up and I like them on the rocks. Recently, a friend wrote in to announce that he’d had an excellent sidecar made with Cardinal Mendoza and lime juice. It’s so versatile I think it qualifies as a parlor trick. But before you go off into the hinterlands of sidecar experimentation: make it with brandy. (Even cheap brandy.)

Find the proportions that appeal to you. Classic drink writer David Embury likes 8:2:1 (obsessively) and his cocktail (2 oz brandy, 1/2 oz Lemon Juice, 1/4 oz Cointreau) is far too dry for me. Perfection is somewhere between that and equal parts of all. I can’t tell you what you like. Make them, if you don’t like them, make them again.

What I don’t like is the sugared rim. It makes the drink far too sweet, and headache inducing, and really the last thing you need is sugar water dripping down the side of the glass and coating your hands like you’ve been spilling juleps in the infield at the Kentucky Derby.