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Will you Nail or Will you Fail?

Posted by Reese On April - 9 - 2012

I’ve gotten to do some cool stuff over the years being a cocktail hacker.  I’ve been to Tales of the Cocktail (hopefully not the only time), I’ve been to exclusive tastings, I’ve been invited to distilleries, but last week I had a first, I was invited to be a judge for the Drambuie Nail or Fail Bartender Showdown.  Very many thanks to Cynthia, Anthony and Christina.  It was great getting to be a cocktail geek with you all.

The party itself was epic.  Eight local bartenders mixed up original, Drambuie inspired cocktails for the crowd and Drambuie also served up some of their classics.  I think Drambuie is one of those ingredients that gets passed over more than it should.  Sure, you know where to go when you’re looking for a rusty nail, but there are so many other applications.  Drambuie can truly be a blank slate for a whole range of flavor profiles and the bartenders showed that with ease.  We had a couple sours, a riff on the Old Fashioned, an incredible play on a grog and the winner, a cocktail that was reminiscent of a Manhattan with notes of bitter, sweetness and deep complexity.

I don’t have those recipes just yet, but with summer fast approaching, I will share a refreshing recipe from Drambuie’s team, the Drambuie Fizz.  This drink is deceptively simple but really delicious.

Drambuie Fizz
1 1/2 oz Drambuie
6-8 Lime Wedges
Club Soda
1) Muddle the lime wedges in a rocks glass
2) Fill with crushed ice and add Drambuie
3) Top with soda and a lime wedge

What I really want to share this time isn’t recipes though, it’s tips for entrants in cocktail competitions.  Sure, I don’t have hundreds under my belt, but I think I’ve got some pointers that’ll be valuable.

1) It doesn’t matter what brought you to the competition, remember that you’re representing both yourself and your establishment.  Always put your best out there.

2) Presentation in the drink matters as much as, if not more than, your presentation in making the drink.

3) Make the contest ingredient the star.  Sure your housemade bitters are great as are the unique ingredients but the contest ingredient has to shine, that’s the whole reason you’re there.

4) Vet your recipe to anyone who will taste it for you.  Friends, long time regulars, family.  Then, once you’ve got it nailed, stick to the recipe.

5) Make your recipe appeal to a wide audience.  I love crazy flavors as much as the next cocktail geek, but does that guy that just walked into your bar for the first time?

6) Garnish! For the love of god, it finishes your drink.

7) Complexity doesn’t equate to superiority.  Sometimes the simplest cocktail is the best.

8) Have fun.  At the end of the day, you’re getting to mix great cocktails for people who are really going to appreciate them.  Enjoy it.

What I’m Drinking Now: Kiwi Caipirinha

Posted by Reese On March - 13 - 2012

This is another great recipe that Elisabeth found.  This time from Sunset magazine.  It’s just as simple as the classic Caipirinha with the addition of some kiwi chunks during the muddling stage.  The flavor is crisp and delicious with the kiwi flavor solid and harmonious with the lime and cachaça.  Well done, Sunset.  This is fantastic drink.

Kiwi Caipirinha

Kiwi Caipirinha
1/2 Lime, Quartered
1 Kiwi, Chopped and Peeled
2 oz Cachaca
2 tsp Sugar
1) Muddle kiwi, lime and sugar until sugar is dissolved
2) Add cachaça and cracked ice
3) Stir until well combined

What I’m Drinking Now: Blood Orange Whiskey Sour

Posted by Reese On February - 25 - 2012

This is the first in what I see becoming a series of posts where I can post up what I’m drinking right now.  They won’t have the depth of analysis, but will give you some ideas of drinks you might want to try.

Tonight, we’re drinking Blood Orange Whiskey Sours.  We’re in Grand Lake for the weekend and Elisabeth brought along blood oranges that she got in her produce box this week.  Faced with a limited liquor cabinet but some solid basics I decided a riff on the classic Whiskey Sour would be great.  Here’s the result.

Blood Orange Whiskey Sour

Blood Orange Whiskey Sour
1 1/2 oz Blood Orange Juice
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
2 oz Bourbon
1/4 - 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Fee's Old Fashioned Bitters
1) Combine ingredients in shaker with ice
2) Shake until well chilled
3) Strain into a glass with ice

The simple syrup is variable because you really need to tweak it with this cocktail based on the sourness of your blood orange and lemon.  Just give it a quick sample before you shake and adjust as needed.

Review – Hiram Walker Gingerbread Liqueur

Posted by Reese On December - 8 - 2011

Despite my whining from last week, sometimes inspiration just strikes me.  I had pulled Hiram Walker Gingerbread Liqueur out of my collection to try when the Caramel Apple arrived.  It was one I received a year or more back and just never got around to actually trying.  And now, some good and bad news.  The good news is that this stuff is just that, good.  The bad news is that they’re not making it anymore.  But, on the bright side, you can still find it at a lot of liquor stores (my local ones have it) and online.  So, dear friends, don’t despair too much.

Okay, enough chatter, let’s talk liquor.  The color is what you’d expect, dark brown and reminiscent of gingerbread.  Big surprise, no?  The aroma is comprised mostly of molasses, spice and sweetness.  And the flavor is where Hiram Walker Gingerbread really shines.  You get the molasses notes of good gingerbread, the spices play nicely throughout and the sweetness is there but not cloying.  Well, done HW, well done.

So what do you do with it?  Well, there are lots of obvious holiday options.  Coffee.  Hot Chocolate.  Giant glass, one ice cube (for the hard days…we all have them).  The obvious aside, Elisabeth came up with a great option to both warm you up and calm you down, warm milk with gingerbread liqueur.  I’d suggest a mix of 2 oz Gingerbread Liqueur to 6 oz warm milk.  Definitely non-sucky.  For me, inspiration struck in the form of Gingerbread Eggnog.

Gingerbread Eggnog

Gingerbread Eggnog
1 1/2 oz Bourbon
1 1/2 oz Hiram Walker Gingerbread Liqueur
1 oz Whipping Cream
1 Egg
1 Dash Aromatic Bitters
Nutmeg
1) Combine everything but the nutmeg in a shaker with ice
2) Shake until your arm nearly falls off (a good minute)
3) Strain into a glass and top with grated nutmeg

The flavor is definitely eggnog, but with a subtle gingery, spicy, molasses-y twist.  Molasses has a very distinct flavor and that comes through in the backbone of this drink.  I drank this down in about 10 minutes and wanted another one nearly immediately.  Per my preference, the sweetness is subdued, but present.  You could always add a splash (small) of simple syrup if you wanted something more akin to carton eggnog.  Oh, and like all good holiday drinks, this one packs a punch, but you’d never guess that tasting it.  If you’re looking for something new and interesting to serve at your holiday gathering this year, you definitely won’t go wrong with this one.  And, if you can’t find a bottle, swing by my house.  We’ll mix one up.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Hiram Walker Caramel Apple Liqueur

Posted by Reese On December - 1 - 2011

Liqueurs are an odd ingredients for me.  I’m never quite sure what exactly people do with them.  Sure, they’re cocktail ingredients, but people have to be using them for other things too, right?  Do folks drink them straight?  In coffee?  Hot chocolate?  I’m sure the list actually goes on and on.  But, that leads me to a tough question, how can I best review liqueurs to give the best idea of how you’ll all use them?  Well, tough questions aside, I’m going to do what I usually do.  Give you a run down on the flavor alone and in a cocktail.  If you’d like some other thoughts, shoot me a line.

Okay, on to Hiram Walker’s newest liqueur, Caramel Apple.  Caramel Apple is definitely descriptive of the aroma.  You get sweet apple (think gala or honey crisp) with a touch of tartness and a strong hit of the caramel.  The flavor starts with a quick hit of bright apple followed by caramel that lingers for quite some time.  The sweetness is powerful, it is a liqueur afterall, but it’s not overwhelming.  Finally, since HW uses only natural flavors you don’t get the nasty aftertaste that’s common to other liqueurs.

So, what to do with it?  I first tried one of the suggestions listed on the bottle.  Equal parts Jameson and HW Caramel Apple yields a drink with a much tamer level of sweetness while maintaining the crisp apple and rich caramel flavors.  Definitely a good start, but I wanted something more complex.  Enter the Spiced Cider Old Fashioned.

Spiced Cider Old Fashioned

Spiced Cider Old Fashioned (Cocktail Hacker)
2 oz Applejack
1 oz Hiram Walker Caramel Apple
1/2 oz Apple Juice
2 Dashes Fee's Barrel Aged Bitters
Orange Twist
1) Combine Applejack, liqueur and juice in a glass with ice
2) Stir to combine
3) Garnish with a twist of orange

The flavor truly is reminiscent of mulled cider.  With all those apple based ingredients saying that this drink has a solid apple flavor is a bit unnecessary though adding the touch of juice gives the apple flavor a boost of freshness.  The bitters give the spice flavors good mulled cider is known for and harmonize with the apple.  That said, you can (and should) substitute any bitters you like.  The spicier the better.  The sweetness is on par with that of a standard Old Fashioned, though if you’d like it dialed up or down play with the juice and liqueur levels.  As my step-dad would say “It tastes like more.”


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.