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Is aquavit poised to become the next trendy spirit on craft-cocktail menus?
Perhaps not. Many American drinkers are completely unfamiliar with this Scandinavian spirit, and even liquor-store owners often seem perplexed by it, filing it away incorrectly with sweet liqueurs.
Europe isn’t exactly making efforts to market aquavit over here, either; in a recent trade article about aquavit’s potential growth, a spokesman for Norway’s largest spirits producer, Arcus-Gruppen, indicated that the company anticipates little demand outside of northern Europe.
But I am more optimistic about aquavit’s future in the United States, for three reasons.
Continue reading Spirit of Scandinavia »
The liqueur aisle at the liquor store used to be a scary place, offering row upon row of cheap, neon-colored bottles made with artificial flavors. In the decades during which making craft cocktails was a forgotten art, these spirits found their way into sickly sweet concoctions better left forgotten.
But the recent revival of quality cocktails brought with it a reaction against drinks that are too sugary, with tastes leaning toward subtle, complex, and often challenging flavors. Bartenders have fallen in love with bitter liqueurs like Fernet and herbal elixirs like Chartreuse.
Continue reading Sweet on liqueurs »
It seems that everyone who writes about sherry starts off by talking about how misunderstood it is. They point out that it’s much more than a sugary-sweet drink for old ladies, or that it definitely shouldn’t be confused with the low-quality “cooking sherries” found in the supermarket.
My own first association with sherry is from television: It was the drink of choice for fussy Frasier Crane and his stuck-up brother, Niles.
So yes, sherry has a bit of an image problem.
It probably doesn’t help that the many classifications of sherry, plus the complex way it’s aged, make it an imposing beverage. But there are only a few things you need to know to get started with sherry, and exploration will be rewarded with experience of one of the world’s great wines.
Continue reading Sherry cocktails »
April showers bring May flowers, and May flowers bring . . . June cocktails?
Here are three drinks featuring floral ingredients perfect for enjoying in the budding season.
The Aviation is arguably the most famous floral cocktail, and it’s been one of the emblematic drinks of the past decade’s cocktail renaissance. If you walk into a bar and see an Aviation on the menu, odds are good that you’re in the hands of a capable bartender.
But which Aviation? Two versions of the recipe were recorded, one of them featuring an obscure floral liqueur that until recently was lost to the U.S. market.
Continue reading Flower power »
When you hear the words “beer cocktail,” you may flash back to nights of excess, dropping shots of whiskey into pint glasses to chug a Boilermaker or the politically incorrect (yet irresistible nonetheless) Irish Car Bomb.
But there’s more to beer cocktails than these frat-party concoctions, and bartenders across the country are rediscovering the joys of using beer as an ingredient in mixed drinks. They’re reviving old classics, inventing new libations, and even giving the Boilermaker a craft-cocktail twist.
Continue reading Beer cocktails today »
Sometimes the best cocktail ingredients have their roots in medicine. We owe the development of gin in part to the medieval belief that spirits infused with juniper had medicinal qualities. It didn’t hurt that juniper and other botanicals helped improve the taste of early grain distillates, but why not claim that they fight disease too?
The medicinal benefits of gin’s frequent partner, tonic, are better established. The bitter edge in tonic water comes from quinine extracted from bark of the cinchona tree, long used as a muscle relaxant. More importantly, it’s a life-saving prophylactic and treatment for malaria. The gin and tonic supposedly became popular as a way of making bitter tonic more palatable; a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but a jigger of gin and a squeeze of lime is even better.
Continue reading Take your medicine »
There’s something about the winter holidays that brings out creativity in brewers. A walk down the beer aisle this time of year reveals everything from the cheekily named Santa’s Butt porter to imposing magnums of rich Belgian ale. It’s a lot to choose from, but as the days get shorter and the nights get colder, there’s no better time to sit and relax with a special brew.
Though people often associate winter spices with holiday ales, these seasonal brews are more a tradition than a style. They may be spiced like the wassails of old, or they could be made of nothing but the usual grains, hops, water, and yeasts.
Continue reading Holiday brews »
Take a spirit — say, a couple of ounces of whiskey. Add some sugar. Stir with ice.
Not a very exciting drink, right? So add a couple of dashes of bitters, and stir again. Now you’ve got something.
What you’ve got is a cocktail in the most traditional sense of the term. Though these days we tend to call any mixed alcoholic beverage a cocktail, the word originally referred to drinks made with a spirit or wine, sugar, and bitters.
Over time, cocktails evolved into more elaborate concoctions. If a customer in the late 1800s wanted something simpler, he’d order one of those “old-fashioned” cocktails — hence the name of a standard drink every bartender ought to know.
Continue reading Bitters 101 »
There is perhaps no spirit whose classification is as complicated as rum. There are light rums, white rums, dark rums, gold rums, spiced rums, flavored rums, funky Jamaican rums, overproof rums, and more. The one thing all rums have in common is the plant they’re distilled from: sugar cane. And while most rums are made from molasses or other sugar products, some use only fresh-pressed sugar-cane juice, capturing the aroma, flavor, and sweetness of newly cut cane.
In the United States, the most well-known of these fresh cane spirits is cachaça, which, depending on whom you ask, isn’t a rum at all. At home in Brazil, it’s considered a distinct spirit category. Under U.S. law, it’s classified as a Brazilian rum, much to the consternation of cachaça producers, who want to set their spirit apart. One producer, Leblon, even organizes “Legalize Cachaça” events to make a point (and to market its brand, of course).
Continue reading Rum with it »
In the recently reissued book The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, author Bernard DeVoto sternly writes that there are only two cocktails worth drinking. One is a slug of whiskey. The other is a dry Martini, made precisely to the ratio of 3.7 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. Any other mixed drink is an “abomination.”
Oh, please. While a well-made Martini is indeed a wonderful thing, gin is much more flexible than that, and there’s no better time to mix with it than in the summer. The botanicals in the spirit pair naturally with citrus in refreshing summer cocktails. And even if one doesn’t care for the juniper bite of a traditional London Dry gin, there are plenty of new gins on the market that are perfect for mixing into cocktails not as austere as DeVoto’s idealized Martini.
Continue reading Three gin cocktails for summer »
For beer lovers, oysters and stout are a classic pairing. But how about oysters in stout? It may seem strange, but oyster stouts have emerged as one of the hot trends in beer this year, with brewers across the country tossing a few shellfish into traditional stouts.
If oyster beer doesn’t sound appetizing, fear not; it doesn’t actually taste like oysters. At least, not too much. The hope is that the oysters add a touch of brine to the ale and perhaps some extra body to enhance its mouthfeel.
When tasting an oyster stout, you may struggle to pick out the bivalve’s contribution among the darkly roasted malts and bitter hops that go into stout beers. When it’s there at all, the oyster taste is in the finish, in a slight minerality that lingers on after other flavors fade. If you were to drink an oyster stout unknowingly, you’d probably assume it’s just a regular dark beer; you certainly wouldn’t be assaulted with the taste of fresh seafood.
Continue reading Oysters and stout »
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