Quarantine Cocktails, Chartreuse Edition

In these times of quarantine, we are passing the time with cocktails, board games, books, and baking. But we don’t want to drink up all of the whiskey right away, so we are turning to less-used bottles and getting creative.

This week? Chartreuse!

Yellow or Green? Whichever you have. Yellow is a little sweeter, lower proof, and less bitter than Green, but both are delicious.

The most well known Chartreuse cocktail is the Last Word. The bad thing is that I don’t have any citrus, and I bet few of you do, either. So I got to work digging through books and asking bartenders I respect on Twitter what their favorite Chartreuse drinks are. Here are three that don’t need citrus, plus notes on variations.

 

Widow’s Kiss

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I know, not a great name for the current time. But that is what it is called.

This is a classic cocktail from the 1895 Modern American Drinks by George J. Kappeler. It is considered a digestif, so drink it after dinner.

Substitutions

  • No Benedictine? Double the Yellow Chatreuse.
  • No Calvados? Apple Jack will work, too.

Here is one I made last night:

 

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Bijou

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The Bijou is another classic!

Substitutions

 

Oh My Word

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This is essentially a Last Word without lime juice. Introduced to me by Sother Teague.

Substitutions

  • I don’t have lime bitters, so I’m using rhubarb bitters
  • No Amaro Montenegro? Try Amaro Nonino
  • No Old Tom gin? Or any gin will work. (But if you want to make your own Old Tom, add some simple syrup to regular dry gin and age it in a barrel for a week.)

 


 

Have a bottle of liquor that you don’t know how to use? Email me at chuck@grimmett.co with what you have on-hand and I’ll brainstorm some ideas with you!

What’s Aging Next: Vieux Carré

I bottled my barrel aged Manhattans so that I can move on to aging the next thing: Vieux Carré. It is a classic New Orleans cocktail named after the French name for the Old Square (the French Quarter.)

At its core, the Vieux Carré is a Manhattan variation. The addition of cognac makes it slighly sweeter with a deeper caramel and oak flavor. Two different varieties of bitters and the herbal Benedictine cut the sweetness of the cognac and vermouth to give it dimension. If you use a high proof rye, this is a boozy cocktail that you’ll want to sip.

I had a three week aged Vieux Carre at Harper’s in Dobbs Ferry last winter and loved it. The individual components seem to take on aging well, so I think it will be a great follow-up to the Manhattans I did earlier in the year.

Here is the recipe for a single drink:

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Here is how I’m scaling it for my barrel and what I’m using:

  • 1 bottle (25.36 oz) of Rittenhouse Rye. This is my favorite rye. It is pretty strong at 100 proof.
  • 1 bottle (25.36 oz) of Carpano Antica sweet vermouth. None better!
  • 1 bottle (25.36 oz) of Darvelle Freres VSOP. This is a mid-range French brandy with lots of caramel and spice aromas. Great for mixing.
  • 3 oz of Benedictine

Just like with the Manhattan, I’m not adding the bitters directly to the barrel. I’ll put them in the mixing glass with the ice and then pour in the liquor from the tap.

I plan on aging this for two months. While I’m patiently waiting for it to age, I’ll probably make another batch of maraschino cherries, with a more syrupy liquid this time so that they are closer to Luxardo cherries. I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

Aged Negronis at Home

This weekend I had one of the best drinks I’ve made in months. It takes a little bit of patience, but it is totally worth it.

I bought some charred oak staves from Tuthilltown when we were up there two weeks ago and promptly put one to work aging a Negroni.

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I mixed up 8oz of Plymouth gin, 8oz of Campari, and 8oz of Carpano Antica, my favorite sweet vermouth, and poured it all into a bottle. I tossed one of the staves and put it in the cabinet.  I left my typical addition of orange bitters out because tincture bitters don’t scale as easily as other liquors. Instead, I add a few dashes directly to each glass before serving.

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Every 2-3 days I got the bottle out and inverted it a few times to mix it up. It got slightly darker of the course of two weeks, but not a ton. After about a week, the stave got saturated and sunk to the bottom.

I tested out the taste after two weeks with a friend who came to visit and I was very pleased. The bitterness of the Campari was rounded out a bit by the caramel/oak/vanilla flavors and the carbon took the edge off the alcohol.

As usual, I served it in a Mazama Negroni glass with clear ice from the Studio Neat Ice Kit, added 2 dashes of orange bitters, and garnished with an orange peel.

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I have two more of the small charred staves to use, but I’m thinking of buying a few toasted and raw staves from Add Oak to experiment with. I’ll cut them down to size here at home and add varying levels of char.

Update September 30, 2016 – Reporting back on 4 weeks of aging: The sharp points in the drink continued to mellow out and the drink picked up some slight caramel and smoke flavors. Pretty good, but not radically better than 2 weeks, so if the time tradeoff is a concern, drink it any time after 2 weeks. 

There’s More Than Just Whiskey at Tuthilltown

Amanda and I drove up to Tuthilltown Distillery this past weekend. I’d been there once before a few years ago with my friend Jason Kelly for their gin launch party, but they’ve really stepped up their game since then.

Tuthilltown is best known for their fantastic line of whiskey: bourbon, rye, and unaged corn. Any liquor store worth its salt carries at least one of their five varieties:

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When I say their line of whiskey is fantastic, I mean it. I’ve tried the whole line at least once and have had four out of the five on multiple occasions. I even keep a bottle of their unaged corn whiskey on my shelf to show people what whiskey is like before it goes into charred oak barrels.

Their whiskey has won many awards and accolades, but Tuthilltown isn’t resting on its haunches. Their distillers have been busy trying out some new things: Cassis, Cacao, Triple Sec, and bitters.

The Cassis is made from locally harvested blackcurrants and is less syrupy than the more common Creme de Cassis liqueurs you might have tried. It is aged in their whiskey barrels and has an incredible depth of flavor: tart, earthy, toasty, jammy, and packed full of berry flavors.

The chocolate notes in the Cacao Liqueur rival high-end dark chocolate. It is slightly syrupy but easy to pour and it is good enough to drink straight. This was my favorite sample of the day. I was blown away by its flavor. Every other chocolate liqueur I’ve tried seems to be grain alcohol with chocolate favoring added in at the end (i.e. chocolate-flavored rubbing alcohol), but not this. Tuthilltown distills their Cacao Liqueur directly from Peruvian and Dominican cacao beans. It is incredible.

We didn’t get to try the Triple Sec, but we were told that it has a wonderful citrus flavor, having been distilled from bitter orange, lime, and valencia orange zest. It is also a lot stronger than most triple secs I’ve seen. This clocks in at 80 proof, whereas the stuff you usually toss in your margarita is 40-50 proof.

I tried a few dashes of Bitter Frost, the first release in their soon-to-be-growing line of bitters. It is nowhere near as strong as your typical Angostura, but it does have a nice warming flavor. It can be added to many different cocktails without fear of overpowering lighter spirits. I tasted hints of sarsaparilla, maple, cardamom, and vanilla. Maybe a hint of clove, too.

Did you know that the state of New York considers bitters a food product instead of an alcohol? That means you can buy Tuthilltown’s bitters on their website.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention their Half Moon Orchard Gin. It is distilled from local apples and wheat with 8 other botanicals, including elderberry and almonds. It is still a dry-style gin, but the hints of apple, bergamot, and caradmom make it unlike any other gin you’ve tried. After tasting it Amanda said, “Let’s get a bottle of this. It makes me want to become a gin drinker!”

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We were fortunate enough to get to meet one of Tuthilltown’s cofounders, Ralph Erenzo. He came into the tasting room while we were there. He was incredibly nice and hospitable–taking the time to pour us tastes and chat with us about what he’s made–even while his family was visiting. When I asked him what his favorite thing to do with the Cacao Liqueur is, he paused, smiled, and said, “Pour it over ice cream with espresso.”

Amanda and I tried just that a few days later and Mr. Erenzo is right; it is delicious.

In addition to picking up three new bottles of liquor (gin, cacao, and cassis), I impulse purchased a set of charred oak staves that fit down inside a bottle. I’m currently using one to age 24oz of Negroni. I’ll report back in two weeks on the taste!

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If you get a chance to visit Tuthilltown, you can’t pass it up. The tastings are enlightening, the tour is informative, and the grounds are gorgeous. They converted a gristmill built in 1788 into a restaurant. The old sluice is a perfect place for a panoselfie:

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Tipple Tuesday: Starting a Home Bar

This post is for people who want to put the days of drinking handles of Kamchatka and Ten High behind them. You’ve probably had a few craft cocktails at cool bars and are hooked. You want to learn more and start making them at home, but don’t really know where to start.

This post isn’t for those who consider themselves knowledgable about liquor and mixing drinks. If you are one of those people, check out the other posts in the Tipple Tuesday archive.

If you are ready to step into the world of mixing drinks at home, I recommend you start small, learn the flavors, and learn how the flavors change and interact when mixed.

Start Small

Going into the liquor store and buying one of everything to impress your friends won’t get you anywhere. You’ll end up broke and staring at a shelf full of spirits you have no idea how to mix. No fun.

Instead, pick 1-2 spirits you want to start with. The best way to do this is to make a list of cocktails you like (or cocktails you’ve heard of and want to try) and look for recurring items in the ingredient lists. Then pick a drink that uses one of those ingredients. This drink can be from your list or you can do some searching to figure it out. I prefer starting with classic cocktails, but remember that the end goal is to find something you will enjoy and actually make.

Once you’ve picked your starting cocktail and have the necessary ingredients, own it. Make it a few times as-is, try swapping individual ingredients out and seeing how the flavor changes, try adding additional ingredients, and try making it for friends. Really get to know the cocktail and become comfortable with it.

What I Would Choose

The Ingredients

I need to start out by saying I’m a big fan of purchasing good ingredients. Your cocktails will be better and you will be happier. If the majority of your cocktail is made with paint thinner that came out of a plastic jug, your finished product won’t be much better. That isn’t to say you need to spend $50 a bottle—you can get good mixing spirits for $25-35 a bottle.

I’d start with these two spirits:

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  1. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey
  2. Plymouth Gin

I’d also purchase these ingredients to mix with:

  1. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth – Essential in a Manhattan and a Martinez, but this brand is good enough to sip on its own. This also sets you up nicely for expanding into other classic sweet (red) vermouth cocktails like the Negroni or the Bijou when you are ready to expand your liquor selection.
  2. Angostura Bitters – The classic, go-to bitters. Essential for lots of drinks (including some below) and very handy to have on the shelf. Trinidad and Tobago’s best export. Before you use it, try some on the end of your finger to get an understanding of what it tastes like. If you get hooked, read this to take a deep-dive into the world of bitters.
  3. Fresh limes – Please throw away the little green bottle in your fridge shaped like a lime holding some acidic liquid. When at all possible, use fresh lime juice that you just squeezed from real limes.
  4. Fresh lemons – See above. Use actual fresh lemons if at all possible. The taste is so much better.
  5. Superfine sugar – You can use regular sugar in cocktails, but superfine sugar dissolves better.
  6. Tonic water and club soda – Look for the small glass bottles with the yellow and blue labels respectively.

The Cocktails

Given the ingredients above, here is what I’d begin making, as well as good ways to experiment with each of them. Before you make a cocktail, try tasting each of the individual ingredients so you can get a better understanding of what they are and how they work in the drink.

  • Manhattan – Experiment by changing the ratios of the ingredients and take notes on the taste. Also try swapping regular bitters for orange bitters and noting the taste.
  • Rye Old Fashioned – Experiment with different amount of bitters, different amounts of sugar/simple syrup, and different garnishes.
  • Gin & Tonic – Try different ratios of gin to tonic, try different brands of tonic, and try adding a small amount of lime or lemon juice.
  • Gimlet – Try different ratios and try making your own lime cordial.
  • Martinez – Try changing the ratios of ingredients and using different garnishes.
  • Pink Gin – See how the flavors change as you add more and more bitters to this drink.
  • Gin Fizz – Try using lime juice, swap simple syrup for sugar, or try adding egg whites.

Note: The links below are affiliate links. If you buy from one of these, you help support this blog. Thanks!

Essential Tools

  • OXO Measuring Jigger – You’ll need something to measure your ingredients with. I like this jigger because it can be read from above.
  • Boston Shaker – You’ll need something to mix/shake your cocktails in. This is the classic.
  • OXO Cocktail Strainer – Once you mix your cocktail,
  • Lemon/Lime Juice Press – This isn’t entirely necessary, but it sure makes juicing lemons and limes faster, cleaner, and more effective than you can achieve by hand. Besides for making cocktails, I cook with lemons and limes a lot, so I use this multiple times a week.

You’ll see a lot of other cocktail tools like muddlers, mixing glasses, mixing spoons, and more, but they are just nice to have. They aren’t essential to starting out. I listed the essentials above. If you are on a tight budget or find yourself somewhere without any of these items, you can always get crafty and improvise.

Digital Resources

  • Martin’s Index of Cocktails – $9.99 iPhone app, but totally worth the price. It is the most complete database of classic cocktails I can find with excellent filtering and search options
  • CocktailDB – Based on the same dataset as Martin’s Index and available online for free, but without as many filtering options or a user-friendly interface.

Books

Please let me know what you think in the comments. If you have any questions about getting started, let me know!