Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Height Charge

I have been experimenting over the past several months with concentrating beer and wine through fractional freezing. Sometimes I let the whole batch freeze solid, then collect the first half (by volume) that melts as the concentrate. Other times I let it freeze to a slush, then strain out the ice. And sometimes slush is as frozen as it ever gets in my kitchen freezer (since there's plenty of stuff in there other than water and alcohol, not freezing solid doesn't necessarily mean a particularly high proof).

I blogged a few months ago about the concentrated sangria I made. Just the other day, I strained out the last bit of ice from some concentrated Flying Dog Double Dog double pale ale.

Starting with 24 ounces.

The result is a beer concentrate of sorts, almost syrupy and with a bitterness that isn't pleasant to drink as is. But if you were to add a drop to a dram of whiskey, you'd have a sort of inverse depth charge -- a height charge, if you will, that might be enjoyed in front of a nice fire.

Playing crackle.wav on loop.

To be honest, the extra jolt of hoppy maltiness didn't do much for the Wild Turkey. But a half teaspoon in a dram of Powers Gold Label (for an Irish Car Dud?) gives it a touch more richness in flavor and body. Kind of like shifting the balance between malt and grain whiskies in the blend, if it were your first day in the blending room.

R: Beerjack on top, beerjacked Powers on bottom.

I count a result of "not bad" as a success in such experiments. (As a bonus, a splash of this stuff even gives ginger ale something of a kick, as a sort of inverted gaffshandy.)

I'm not sure what I'll do with the remaining 3 or so ounces of beerjack; at half a tsp per drink, I won't run out any time soon.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lemon juice is deleterious and should be eschewed

I'm finally reading a book I bought years ago: The Four Adventures of Richard Hannay by John Buchan, who's generally considered the father of the spy thriller. The second chapter of the second novel, Greenmantle, contains this sentence:
The kettle was simmering by the fire, the night was raw, and it seemed the hour for whisky punch.
This got me wondering what sort of whiskey punch Richard Hannay, a Scot who moved to South Africa when he was six, would have made in 1915 London.

Poking about a bit on the net brought me to a footnote by R. Shelton Mackenzie in his edition of the Noctes Ambrosianae. Commenting on a mention of "het whisky toddy," he writes:
The mystery of making whisky-punch comes with practice. The sugar should be first dissolved in a small quantity of water, which must be what the Irish call "screeching hot." Next throw in the whisky. Then add a thin shaving of fresh lemon peel. Then add the rest of the water, so that the spirits will be a third of the mixture. Lastly, -- Drink! Lemon juice is deleterious and should be eschewed.

What is called "Father Maguire's receipt for making Punch," is more simple than the above. It runs thus, -- First put in your sugar, then add the whisky – and every drop of water after that spoils the punch!

Glasgow Punch is cold. To make a quart jug of it, melt the sugar in a little water. Squeeze a couple of lemons through a small hair-strainer, and mix. This is Sherbet, and half the battle consists in its being well-made. Then add old Jamaica rum, in the proportion of one to six. Finally, cut two limes in two, and run each section rapidly round the edge of the jug gently squeezing in some of this more delicate acid to complete the flavor. This mixture is very insinuating and leaves those who freely take it, the legacy of splitting headaches, into the day - use of which they can enter the next morning!

Of hot punch, however, though containing double the quantity of alcoholic spirit, it is boastingly said, "There is not a headache in a hogshead of it." In the rural parts of Scotland, at the harvest-home, I have seen the punch made in small wooden tubs which, as made to contain the fourth part of a bolt of corn, is called a firlot. The quantity of this punch those men can and do drink in Scotland, is wonderfully large. At the "Noctes," it will be noticed the punch is always hot.
I would not have thought that Glasgow punch would have rum instead of whiskey, but Gavin D. Smith explains it in the entry for "whisky punch" in his A-Z of Whisky:
As [David] Daiches explains [in A Wee Dram], "When Lowlanders drank whisky in the eighteenth century they usually made it into toddy (whisky, hot water, and sugar) or punch (whisky, hot water, sugar, and lemon)."

The earliest reference to punch made with whisky occurs in Captain Edward Burl’s Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland to his Friend in London (1754), "When they chuse to qualify it for Punch they sometimes mix it with Water and Honey, or with Milk and Honey." The first attestation of the term "whisky punch" is in Burns' poem "Scotch Drink" (1785).

In Glasgow rum punch was popular as a result of the city's trade with the West Indies, but in Edinburgh whisky was always the spirit used.
I had not come across the "whisky toddy + lemon = whisky punch" formula before. Smith's article on "toddy" is well worth reading; I will spoil it by quoting this recipe by a non-toddy-drinker:
First, you put in whisky to make it strong; then you add water to make it weak; next you put in lemon to make it sour, then you add sugar to make it sweet. You put in more whisky to kill the water. Then you say, "Here's to you" -- and you drink it yourself.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Short Flight to Islay

Yesterday, my wife and I were the first customers of the day at The Judge's Bench Pub in Ellicott City, Maryland. (It opens at 2 p.m. on Saturdays; we weren't exactly re-enacting Barfly). We had a rare free afternoon hour, and I was very interested in spending that time amongst "the 3rd largest selection of single malts in the state." (The story I heard is that the bar started out specializing in craft beer -- they rotate about a hundred beers among 17 taps -- and the 95 single malts on the menu are a subsequent indulgence of the owner's personal passion.)

A typical 2:03 p.m. crowd at The Judge's Bench.

Once my wife was settled with a beer (after a few tastes, she went with a Palm), I took a closer look at the whiskey menus. Stet: there's a 4-page menu for the single malts, and a 2-pager for the bourbons and Irish whiskies (plus a few cognacs). The bartender asked, "Were you thinking of trying a flight?" I said, "I am now."

I went with four Islay whiskies I hadn't tried before:

L to R: Caol Ila 12, Lavagulin 16, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Bunnahabhain 12.

1/2 ounce shot glasses aren't ideal for tastings, but I did what I could. In the order tasted:

Caol Ila 12 y.o.: By far the palest of the four. The nose was medicinal and peaty, the mouthfeel oily, and it finished with nice peat & seaside notes. A very nice Islay... but I think I prefer the Laphroaig 10 y.o.

Bunnahabhain 12: The nose was all toffee and vanilla candy; the palate was smooth and sweet, with butterscotch and the sea; the finish smooth and short. My non-whiskey-drinking wife said she'd drink it. It's a pleasant drink, with a sweetness and balance that's somehow not particularly whiskey-y.

Lagavulin 16 y.o.: A chemical nose; very dry on the mouth; some lingering seaweed in the finish. People joke about drinking whiskey for medicinal purposes; this tastes like it was made for medicinal purposes. Very sophisticated, but I can't say I particularly liked it. Given the glowing reviews I've seen, I'd like to try it again some time -- though probably not right after a Bunnahabhain 12. Of course, maybe I just don't like iodine.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan: By this time, I didn't have much of a palate left. But this was certainly an Ardbeg, with lots of peat and a touch of cigarette ash. My wife surprised me by taking a sip; she described the finish as "peppery, peaty, and gross." Then she added, "I don't think I can get this taste out of my mouth" -- which is great, if you happen to like this taste. (I tweeted my wife's comments, and SMWS Ambassador John McCheyne (@smwsambassador) suggested Ardbeg could use "Peaty, Peppery, and Gross" as ad copy.)

Thirty hours later, the Caol Ila seems like the one I'd be most likely to reach for on any given day. The Bunnahabhain would come out when a B&B might otherwise be called for. I'll save the Lagavulin until I've got a tasting glass, a water dropper, and a quiet half hour to figure out. And the Corryvreckan seems to demand two or three peat enthusiasts with whom to enjoy its excess.

And I'm already figuring that, 1/2 ounce shot glasses or not, I'll have to drop by the Judge's Bench once a month or so until I've flown through their whole list. And after nosing the Lagavulin and tasting the Ardbeg, my wife's earned herself a short flight to Ireland.