By Mike Janowski
Our guide to appreciating fine whiskies, whiskys, and the like.
ODDS, SODS, AND SODDEN ODDITIES
This edition, I feature a veritable panoply of potables, a cornucopia of consumables…in other words, I’m cleaning out the closet and dumping a few unused ideas on you.
FIRST UP, my cocktail aging program.
In the true style of hipsters everywhere, who are barrel-aging everything from hot sauce to Blatz beer, I’ve got my own barrels going. And since it’s two, it qualifies as a program, not a hobby. They’re small barrels, about 2 gallons apiece, one of which is boldly stamped with our favorite slogan:In Barrel Number One, I present to you the aged Vieux Carre. In proper New Orleansian, you say “Vyew car-RAY”; a heady mix of rye whiskey, cognac, and sweet vermouth, with just a touch of Benedictine liquer and two classic bitters, Peychaud’s and Angostura. The drink itself is a real chameleon, great as a before-dinner apéritif (appetite stimulant); or afterwards, where its sweetness and herbal qualities make it a nice digestif. The spiciness of the rye, the body from the cognac, the classic addition of sweet vermouth and just a dash of spice and herb make this one complex cocktail. Since discovering this drink (via Jeffrey Morgenthaler and KindredCocktail.com ), It been one of my go-to libations. If I see it on a menu at a drinking establishment I always order it, both to learn the nuances of the drink and to check my own handiwork. I note that I tend to prefer a bit less vermouth than the recipe calls for:
1 oz. Rye whiskey (I’m using Old Overholt)
1 oz. Cognac (Hennesey here)
3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica was my choice here)
1/8 oz. Benedictine
2 drops each, Peychaud’s Bitters and Angostura Bitters
Take two rocks glasses and fill with ice water to chill them while you mix.
Build the ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Stir 30 seconds until ice cold. Dump the ice water, strain the drink into the chilled glass. Some garnish with a nice lemon peel.When aged in a barrel, the cocktail gains a body and heft that is remarkable; the caramel and vanilla oakiness complement the multiple layers of spirit flavor. When I drink one, I have a vision of layered planks of wood, light and sweet on top, stepping down to the darker, heavier flavors below. And an advantage of drinking a pre-mix? Hey, just open the tap over ice in a mixing glass, stir and strain. Cocktail convenience!
In order to properly scribe this screed, of course, I had to drink a freshly-made Vieux Carre. Compared to the barrel-aged version, it’s about as sweet, but noticeably thinner. The barrel adds great body to the drink…it’ll stand up to any steak or BBQ you’re tossing back. A word of warning; if you start to drink this mother, you’re not gonna want to stop. The wife and I have already polished off barrel Number One, and I have a second batch aging, ready to go for my milestone coming up.
Next up on the barrel roll is the handle of El Jimador silver I put up this time last year. I just had the first taste, and although it’s interesting, I’m going to let it ride for another year to see what happens. It’s gained a huge amount of color, giving the formerly clear spirit a beautiful bronze, whiskey-like patina. The aroma is a bit schizophrenic. The wood has imparted a lot of caramel and vanilla overtones, but they haven’t completely overpowered (nor completely blended with) the original tequila nose. Taste, however, is another matter. Though I can still taste the original peppery flavors of the El Jimador, the new barrel notes – caramel, vanilla, charcoal smoke – are quite predominant, more so than I thought would have happened. Stay tuned for an update, this time next year!
Moving right along, you may have seen this article pop up on your Newsfeed (unless you’re one of the six or so Americans not on Facebook). The Luxury Spot has published an article detailing the 10 health benefits of firewater! I’ve always professed that the idea that whiskey is good for you to be an uncontrovertible truth. But it’s nice to have it confirmed by the Major Media. I’m not so sure about some of the claims they make, (sounds like wishful thinking to me) but plenty of good reading here to challenge those aggressive teetotalers in your life.
AND A FOLLOW-UP
You may remember from my last post that one of the concerns facing every involved with fine and craft whiskey is the lack of respect for regulations about the provenance, aging and proper labeling of whiskies. Whiskey expert and author Chuck Cowdery ran a follow up last month (Jan. 19th), noting that the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco TTB has, in effect, said they’re finally going to enforce the rules regarding labeling as they’re written. This will have the most effect on younger whiskies (anything younger than 4 years must have an age statement) and bottlers like Templton, who like to pretend that their whiskey is straight outta Al Capone’s bathub in Cicero, and not from MGP in beautiful Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Though I sometimes wonder if all the provenance hoopla is important (if it tastes good, who cares how it’s made), as I said before, truth in labeling begets truth in production. If you wanna hide something about the way your whiskey is made, then why should I trust it?
That’s all for now. Don’t quote me…but I’ll buy the next round!