Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the people who brought you St. Andrew's and St. Patrick's Days

November 30 is, of course, St. Andrew's Day, when all right-thinking people drink Scotland's health, or at least Scotland's liquor. And even people who can't find Ireland on a map of Ireland know the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day on March 17.

On the other hand, there's very little organized drinking on the United States' patronal day -- in part, I suppose, because no one knows the United States has a patronal day. But it does: December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

If anyone was looking for a reason to drink bourbon ("America's Native Spirit") this Thursday, you're welcome.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bunratty Potcheen

I went into the liquor store the other day, wondering what I’d find that was missing from my cabinet at home. I wound up buying the one brand of unaged whiskey the store sold: Bunratty Potcheen.

"White dog," "moonshine," "liquid bachelor party" – call it what you will*, unaged whiskey is something of a fad these days, and there are a lot of craft distillers making it. Since it's not aged in wooden barrels (or anywhere else) before bottling, it's a clear liquor rather than caramel colored, and it lacks the complexity of flavor and aroma maturing in wood gives most whiskies.

Potcheen, or poteen, is the Irish version of moonshine, traditionally made from barley, though other grains (and even potatoes) can be used. The word comes from poitin, Irish for "little pot," and refers to the small pot stills used to make it.

Back in 1661, the Crown levied a tax on distilled spirits, and in 1770 all unlicensed distilling was outlawed in Ireland. You won’t, I expect, be shocked to learn that these laws didn't prevent the Irish from making potcheen without bothering the Crown about it, nor that they found the time to write songs about their moonshine.
Now learned men as use the pen
Have writ' the praises high
Of the sweet poteen from Ireland green
That's made from wheat and rye.

Away with your pills, it'll cure all ills,
Be ye pagan, Christian, or Jew.
So take off your coat and grease your throat
With a bucket of the mountain dew.
Old habits die hard, and it was only in 1989 that the Republic of Ireland first granted a license to make potcheen for export. Eight years later they gave in and let it be sold within Ireland. Still, the label of my bottle proudly (and, dare I suggest, shrewdly) states, "EXPORT ONLY… It is illegal to sell or consume this product in Ireland."

Bunratty, which also sells an Irish-style mead, plays up the outlaw romance angle in its marketing, but this is not your grandfather's poitin. For one thing, it's only 90 proof, where the old mountain dew would be closer to pure grain alcohol. (Knockeen Hills, the other company that sells poteen in the U.S., bottles it at 110, 160, and 180 proof.) For another, it's not distilled over a bog fire, and so lacks any hint of peat. And would your grandfather have added the "natural flavors" that make Bunratty more than a straight grain distillate? (Maybe he would, come to think of it; I wasn’t there.)

This potcheen's nose (look at me, nosing moonshine; like I said, it's something of a fad) gives me mineral oil and berries –- and if you have to ask why you would drink something that smells like mineral oil, then raw whiskey may not be for you. The taste has a fruity note, and though you know you're drinking grain spirit, overall it's surprisingly smooth going down when sipped. (Of course, if you want the sensation of 45% abv splashing against the back of your throat, go ahead and splash.) It has a dry, clean finish, with maybe a hint of artificial cherry flavor. A thimble of water didn't seem to do anything other than cloud the drink and water down the flavor.

I'm not sure how I'll wind up drinking the rest of the bottle. It's a pleasant and unusual drink sipped neat, and though I've seen claims that it can be used in any cocktail calling for whiskey or vodka, I'm not sure how well the fruity notes of the potcheen will actually mix. Though, now that I think of it, maybe a planter's poteen punch?

* You can call it what you will as far as I'm concerned, but there are those (including various governments) who are very particular with terms. Some people get their dander up if you use "moonshine" to mean anything other than illegally distilled liquor; others get upset if you call something "whiskey" that hasn't aged in oak barrels. Where chemistry, marketing, and culture meet, there's bound to be a lot of friction.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas Cheers!

The mason jar with raspberries, sugar, and Catoctin Creek's Mosby's Spirit was supposed to remain sealed until closer to Christmas, but I had to pour off a little sample last night to see how things were progressing.

They are progressing very well. What was two months ago a clear spirit is now a gorgeous dark-red cordial. I wish I'd had a lighter hand with the sugar -- the rye and berries by themselves would make a lovely drink, and you can always add sweetness -- but it works as it is for evening sipping and serves as the base for a refreshing highball. Though, given the time of year, I expect more of it will wind up poured into coffee than over crushed ice.

Now the question is, will there be any left by Christmas Eve?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Bourbon

Thanksgiving is coming up, and I thought I'd try celebrating with some spice-infused bourbon.

In a 375 ml bottle, I put:
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 nutmeg seed, cracked (wrap it in a paper towel and whack it with a tenderizer or hammer)
  • 1 tbs or so of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into strips
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 10 oz or so bourbon

I used Wild Turkey 101, which seems a fitting choice for this holiday. I'll give it an occasional shake (don't think it needs it, it's just fun to tinker), and taste it in three or four days to see how things are coming along and if the seasonings need to be adjusted.

I'm not sure what I'll do with it come Thanksgiving. I expect it would improve store-bought egg nog, and it might get worked into whipped cream. If I'm really lucky, it will even taste good neat.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dewar's Special Reserve 12 y.o. (43% abv)

I don't remember when I bought the Dewar's Special Reserve 12 y.o. in my liquor cabinet.* I probably bought it because it was on sale and I was out of blended Scotch that day.

More to the point, I don't remember reaching for the bottle often enough to nearly empty it. I guess I had more hot Scotches and lemons last winter than I thought.

I do remember ordering a Dewar's White Label neat a few weeks ago, and not caring for it at all. If that's what people think of when they think of Scotch, I can't blame them for drinking something else.

The Special Reserve is a much nicer whisky, and would give newcomers to Scotch a better chance of sticking with it. The nose, while a little flat, has a fruity sweetness, and water opens up the honey that Dewar's considers to be one of its distinctive notes. The honey carries through on the palate, along with some oak, though the overall flavor is not particularly complex. The finish is peppery and ends with tobacco ash.

This is a decent, relatively simple blend I prefer using in mixed drinks, and the occasional no-frills Scotch on the rocks.

* As far as I can tell, Dewar's first released Dewar's Special Reserve at 43% abv, then changed the name to "Dewar's 12 Year-Old Special Reserve," then dropped the abv to 40%, then dropped the "Special Reserve." Now it's simply Dewar's 12 Year Old (though note the link). Somewhere along the way they also changed the copy from talking about "marrying" blended malts in oak casks to talking about "double-ageing" them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Whiskey Hot Scotch and Lemon

If you aren't already familiar with P. G. Wodehouse's Mr. Mulliner stories, do yourself a favor and look them up. You can start with Meet Mr. Mulliner, or go ahead and get the whole set in The World of Mr. Mulliner.

Mr. Mulliner is a regular at the countryside pub, The Angler's Rest, where he always orders a hot Scotch and lemon and always has a story about one of his relatives suited (to his own satisfaction, at least) to whatever the topic of conversation might be. Wodehouse made him a fisherman to allow for the possibility that, just maybe, not every word that falls from his lips is strictly factual.

As a fan of Wodehouse in general and the Mulliner stories in particular, I've added Mr. Mulliner's drink of choice to my cold weather repertoire, and in the last couple of years I've been promoting Hot Scotch and Lemon Day because why not.

By sheer chance, I went to my club last night, and saw them making a slew of hot toddies using lemon wheels impaled by whole cloves. And there, I knew, was the little touch that would mark the Weekend Whiskey Hot Scotch and Lemon.
1/4 inch wide round lemon slice
4-5 whole cloves
2 oz blended scotch whisky
boiling water

Stick cloves into lemon pulp. Place lemon in bottom of handled mug. Add whiskey. Fill mug with boiling water.
Which, when you look at it, is just a hot Scotch and lemon with a few cloves thrown in. And that's fine by me.