Saturday, November 1, 2014

American Whiskey Basics

Bullet Points:

  • The principles found in American whiskeys are corn, rye, wheat and sometimes malted barley.
  • Bourbon does not just mean the whiskey is made in Kentucky but can be anywhere in the United States.
  • In order for a whiskey to qualify as "bourbon", it's mash-bill (the ingredients used during fermentation and distillation) must contain a minimum of 51% corn. It must also be aged in new, charred white-oak barrels. There is technically no age requirement except for "straight bourbon", which must be a minimum of 2 years. 
  • Bourbon labeled "straight" contains no additives including sugar (except natural sugars within the charred oak), coloring agents or other neutral grain spirits. Whiskeys labeled "blended" may contain these additives but must be at least 51% "straight bourbon".
  • The age statement of a bourbon must be that of the youngest whiskey contained in the bottle (not counting any neutral grain spirits added).
  • Rye whiskey follows similar regulations, the major exception is that the mash-bill must contain at least 51% rye instead of corn.
  • Rye whiskey was prominent around and before the Prohibition but since has lost popularity. It has recently begun to make a come back amongst cocktail lounges as many bartenders are referring to classic cocktail's original recipes which called for rye whiskey rather than bourbon or blended whiskey.
  • Tennessee whiskey refers to whiskey made within the state-limits of Tennessee. Two principle distilleries are Jack Daniels and George Dickel. Production is similar to that of bourbon but includes what is known as "The Lincoln County Process" which included filtering the spirit through charcoal chips before being aged.
  • Linden B. Johnson signed an act of Congress that designated bourbon as "The Official Spirit of America" in 1964.
Principle Cocktails:
  • Manhattan
  • Old-Fashioned
  • Sazerac (originally called for Cognac but has since become a popular rye whiskey cocktail)
  • Ward 8
  • Whiskey Sour
  • Mint Julep
  • Brooklyn
Popular Brands:
  • Jim Beam: Produced in Clemont, Kentucky. Established in 1795. A seven-generation family distillery. One of the best selling bourbon whiskeys.
  • Four Roses: Established in 1888. Distilled in Lawrenceberg, Kentucky. The brand has had many changes in ownership over the years and produces several expressions of delicious straight bourbon.
  • Jack Daniels: Produced in Lynchburg, Tennessee, it is the best selling American whiskey in the world. Established in 1875. The distillery produces several expressions of whiskey including liqueurs and special release whiskeys. 
  • Woodford Reserve: Its current distillery is the oldest of the nine currently operating within Kentucky, built in 1838 and is a National Historic Landmark.
  • Buffalo Trace: The company has operated under several other names through out the years. It claims to be the oldest continuously operated distillery in American, acting a producer of medicinal bourbon during the Prohibition.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Brandy, Cognac & Armagnac Basics

Bullet Points:

  • "Brandy" is derived from the Dutch word brandiwijn (brandy-wine), "burnt wine", because brandy is essentially distilled wine.
  • Brandy can be found made out of a variety of fruits. Brandy itself is distilled from grapes, but there is also apple brandy, apricot brandy, cherry brandy and more. These typically unaged, fruit brandies are also known as Eaux de vie (pronounced "OH-de-VEE"), which is French for "water of life."
  • Cognac, refers to a supreme variety of brandy derived from the Cognac region of France. In order for a brandy to be Cognac, it must be distilled only twice in pot stills (alembic), using Ugni Blanc grapes, and aged in French Limousine oak barrels.
  • The categories of Cognac are VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), XO (Extra Old), Napoleon, Extra and Hors d'Age. VS is aged at least 2 years in French Oak, VSOP: at least 4 years, XO, Napoleon, Extra and Hors d'Age: at least 6 years. Many premium Cognacs are aged far more than the minimum amount.
  • Armangnac is another historic type of brandy from Southern France. It, like Cognac, is regulated strictly by regional classification, overseen by the Appellation d'origine contrôlée, or AOC, a French agency that grants certificates proving a spirit/wine is of specified origin.
  • Armangnac, unlike Cognac, is triple-distilled, and is not always distilled using a pot still. It is the oldest brandy distilled in France.
Principle Cocktails:
  • Sidecar (Cognac)
  • Brandy Alexander
  • Jack Rose (Apple Brandy)
  • French Connection (Cognac)
  • Corpse Reviver (Cognac & Apple Brandy)
  • Stinger (Cognac)
  • Sangria

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rum and Cachaça Basics

Bullet Points:
  • Rum is distilled from sugarcane and sugarcane by-products. A majority of rums are made from molasses. Rhum Agricole and Cachaça are made from pressing sugarcane and distilling the juice.
  • Styles of rum vary greatly between different countries. Jamaican rums are typically dark and pungent while Cuban and Puerto Rican rums tend to be softer and lighter. When trying rum, the country it was produced in can be a big clue as to what it will likely taste like. This isn't always the case 100% of the time, but it applies to a large percentage of rums.
  •  Cachaça is a clear spirit produced only in Brazil from sugarcane juice (Brazil is the World's largest sugarcane producer). It varies in ages and expressions but tends to be more floral and hotter than other clear rums.
  • The French Islands also use sugarcane juice. Historically, France was getting it's raw sugar from beets so molasses was not an available by-product on the French Islands. Sugarcane juice was distilled into Rhum Agricole or "Agricultural Rum", meaning rum distilled from juice instead of molasses which is known as "Industrial Rum".
Principle Cocktails:
  • Cuba Libre
  • Mai Tai
  • Piña Colada
  • Daiquiri
  • Mojito
  • Caipriniha
  • Dark 'N' Stormy
  • Mary Pickford
Popular Brands:
  • Bacardi: Largest, privately-held spirits company in the World. Founded 1862, it's portfolio has over 200 brands and distributes to more than 150 countries.
  • Captain Morgan: Founded in 1944 by the Seagram Company, Captain Morgan is the second largest spirit in the U.S. by volume. The Original Spiced Rum was introduced to the U.S. in 1984.
  • Cruzan: Produced in Saint Croix, Virgin Islands by Beam Suntory. Founded in 1760 and is part of the American Whiskey Trail along with Bacardi rum.
  • 10 Cane: Produced by Moet Hennessy in Trinidad and introduced in 2005. Made by distilling sugarcane juice and blending with molasses based rums.
  • Gosling's: Founded in 1806 in St. George's, Bermuda by James Gosling. Gosling's originally sealed their bottles with black wax, which people referred to as "The Black Seal Rum", hence their core line of rum. Gosling's also holds the trademark for the Dark 'N' Stormy cocktail and produces a ginger beer for pairing with their rum.
  • Mount Gay: The oldest surviving rum distillery in the world (the earliest deed is dated 1703). A brand that is closely associated with sailors due to the British tradition of rationing drams of rum to Naval personnel. The rum is produced out of Barbados, the Eastern most island of the West Indies.
  • Brugal: A popular rum from the Dominican Republic, founded in 1888. It has three distilleries on the island and is the third largest rum producer. They produce several expressions from mid-tier to ultra-premium.
  • Pyrat: Taking it's name from the English 'pirate', Pyrat rum produces ultra-premium rums from blending of several pot-distilled, barrel-aged, Caribbean rums and then further aging them. It's sister brands are Patron Tequila and Ultimat Vodka. The blending facility is based on the island of Anguilla.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tequila & Mezcal Basics

Bullet Points:
  • Both distilled from the agave plant. There are hundreds of species of agave plants, for Tequila specifically, the spirit must derive from the Blue Weber Agave species in order for it to be defined as Tequila. Think of Tequila as a smaller, sub-genre of Mezcal.
  • The Mexican government regulates the production of Tequila and Mezcal rather strictly. Unfortunately, the U.S. often disregards these regulations, even as the World's number 1 importer of Mexican spirits.
  • There are six types of Tequila/Mezcal:
    • "Joven" meaning "Gold". Contains additives like sweeteners are caramel coloring, and is not 100% Agave.
    • "Mixtos". Tequila that is not made from 100% Agave. According to regulations, it must contain at least 51% Agave and the rest is a mix up other additives. However, as noted before, the U.S. does not always recognize these regulations and often times you will not find these identifiers on the bottle's label.
    • "Blanco" or Silver. 100% Agave Tequila or a "Mixtos" that has been aged no more than 2 months.
    • "Reposado" meaning "rested" is Tequila aged from 2 to 12 months in oak barrels.
    • "Añejo" meaning "aged" is Tequila aged in oak barrels from 1 year to 3 years.
    • "Extra Añejo" is aged more than 3 years.
  •  Tequila was once only produced in the state of Jalisco. Now it is produced in 5 states including Jalisco, along with Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mezcal is mostly produced in south Mexica in the state of Oaxaca (pronouced Wah-HA-kah).
  • The Agave plant, although it resembles a cactus, is actually a succulent. On average, it takes 8-10 years before the Agave plant is ready for harvest. The plant is hacked at until you have what is none as the piña which is then cooked or roasted until it is ready to ferment. With Mezcal, the traditional method is to dig a deep fire pit, throw the piñas in let roast for days to weeks before uncovering.
  • Robust Tequilas and Mezcals are distilled in pot stills and sometimes even ancient clay stills, although column distillation is common as well.
  • The misconception of the worm at the bottom of the bottle of mezcal is more of a marketing scheme rather than a sign of authenticity. To read more of the urban myth that is the Mezcal Worm, go to

Principle Cocktails:  
  • Margarita
  • Paloma
  • Tequila Sunrise
  • Bloody Maria
  • Tequini
  • Matador
Popular Brands:
  • Jose Cuervo: The best selling tequila in the world. Founded in 1795. They have several expressions including mixtos and 100% agave tequilas along with flavored tequilas.
  • Patron: A pop-culture icon spirit, sold as a premium 100% agave tequila. The original Patron was first created by the Siete Leguas distillery, one of the oldest distillery in Mexico. It was sold to Saint Maarten Spirits in the U.S. where it was then sold as Patron.
  • Don Julio: Founded in 1942, 8th largest spirit brand in the U.S. by volume.
  • Sauza: Founded in 1873, Sauza makes two mixtos and several 100% de agave tequilas including tequila brands Hornitos, Commemortivo, and Tres Generaciones.
  • 7 Leguas: One of the oldest distilleries in Mexico and maker of the original "Patron".

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gin Basics

Bullet Points:

  • Gin is typically distilled twice through a column still and then a final time in a pot still with a myriad of botanicals including juniper, coriander, citrus, anise, cassia, angelica roots and many others. The recipe distillers use are closely guarded secrets.
  • The four styles of gin (with very few exceptions) are London Dry Gin, New Style Gin, Plymouth Gin, and Genever.
  • London Dry is not necessarily made in London but the style was certainly popularized and centralized around Great Britian. Juniper and citrus notes dominate this style. It is the benchmark gin in mixing.
  • New Style Gin or New American Gin is a very diverse and modern style of distilling gin.
  • Plymouth, England is home to a single distillery and distinctive style, called Plymouth Gin. It is lower alcohol content than London Dry but has a rich, earthy style that is unique.
  • Genever or Hollands gin is rarely produced outside of Holland. It has some yellowish color, may be distinctively sweet, in opposition to London Dry and can be powerful and oily. Made mostly from barley wine, it is more herbal and malty/grainy than fruity/spicy.

Principle Cocktails:

  • Dry Gin Martini
  • Aviation
  • Gin & Tonic
  • Martinez
  • Clover Club
  • Tom Collins
  • Gimlet

Popular brands:

  • Hendricks: Founded in 1999 in Ayrshire, Scotland. Uses a 19th century Carter-Head Still to infuse atypical gin ingredients like cucumber and rose petals.
  • Plymouth: A unique style of gin founded in 1793 in Plymouth, England is owned by Black Friars Distillery. The distillery dates back to 1431 when it was built as a monastery. All the of Plymouths gins are distilled using a single pot still.
  • Bols Genever: Founded 1575, Bols has been making genever in Holland since 1664, Genever fell out of style but was reintroduced to America in 2008 and continued to regain popularity amongst bartenders.
  • Martin Miller: An extravagant London Dry gin. Distilled in England and then “married” with Icelandic water for a clean and purely refreshing gin. The Westboro Strength expression yields a higher proof, giving bartenders more dexterity with mixing amazing Gin cocktails.
  • Tanqueray: Founded in 1830 by Charles Tanqueray, distilled in Scotland. According to legend it was Frank Sinatra’s favorite gin. In 2000, the brand released the first super-premium gin: Tanqueray No. 10.
  • Bombay Sapphire: A popular brand of gin, the name's suffix 'sapphire' is credited due to the spirit's popularity in India. A dryer expression called Bombay Dry Gin uses less botanicals (8 rather than 10) and is less seen than the Sapphire expression.
  • Aviation American Gin: A new gin first produced in 2006 out of Portland, Oregon. The brand is unique in that it is the first recognized distiller/bartender partnership in the U.S.
  • Beefeater: A popular London style of dry gin, with history reaching as far back as 1862. Made from "100% grain spirit" and flavored with 9 botanicals. A super-premium expression called Beefeater 24 was introduced in 2009 which contains several more exotic botanicals.

Drink Terminology

“Neat” – The drink is pour and served at room temperature with no ice and no dilution from water (i.e. not shaken, not stirred, not chilled), in a short glass. If it is a delicate sort of spirit like Cognac or a very well aged rum it should be served in a special glass such as a brandy snifter.

“On the rocks” – Simply served over ice in a short glass.

“Up” or “Straight Up” – Almost always refers to a Martini or Manhattan but “up” simply means the drink is either shaken or stirred and served cold WITHOUT ice. For example a “Ketel Up” is a standard Ketel One Vodka Martini, served in a cocktail glass with no ice and an olive (all Martinis will be garnished with an olive unless specified otherwise, i.e “Ketel up with a twist”).

“Over” – As with the order “up”, “over” means the drink is either shaken or stirred but served OVER ice in a short glass. Example is a “Gin Martini, over.”

“_____ Back” – Means they want an additional glass on the side of either water or coke or sprite or pineapple juice or anything else. It’s a chaser for their drink. If a guest asks for a “Whiskey and Water”, that is not the same as a “Whiskey and Water Back”. If you are not sure what your guest is asking, ask for clarification.

“Press” – A drink that is mixed with equal parts Soda water and Sprite/7-Up (i.e. a “Grey Goose Press”).

“Bruised” – To shake a drink rather than stir.

“With a Twist” – Garnished with a twist of citrus peel (usually lemon, some guests prefer lime though).

“Chilled” – Usually refers to a shot that is kept chilled or has been shaken with ice in order to chill it down before the person consumes it.

“Toddy” – A hot drink. The guest may just say “a hot toddy” which most bartenders will default to whisky. The guest could also say “a rum toddy” or “a smoky scotch toddy.”

“Dry” – Refers to the amount of vermouth used in a Martini or sometimes Manhattan. When a guest requests a Martini to be dry, they are asking for LESS vermouth, not more.

“Wet” – The opposite of “Dry”, use more dry vermouth.

"Burnt" - The guest would like a small dash of smoky scotch added to their martini.

"Gibson" - Garnish the martini with a pickled/cocktail onion rather than an olive.

“Dirty” – Add olive juice to a Martini to make it “dirty”

“Filthy” – Add A LOT of olive juice!

“Perfect” – Again refers to Martinis and Manhattans. “Perfect” means to use equal amounts of Dry and Sweet vermouth in the cocktail.

For more info on styles of cocktails see Styles of Classic Cocktails.

Vodka Basics

Bullet Points:
  • Vodka is a neutral spirit, distilled to such a high proof that very few congeners, aromas and flavors remain and bottled at around 80 proof.
  • Vodka can be made virtually anywhere and from virtually anything. It is usually clear and colorless although few exceptions exist.
  • The raw materials that can be used to create vodka is almost limitless. Most are made using common grains such as wheat, corn, rye and barely. Others use vegetables like potatoes and sugar beets or fruits like grapes.
  • Vodka became popular amongst Americans in the mid-1950’s due to successful marketing campaigns. By 1976, Vodka had become the number one consumed spirit in America.

Principle Cocktails:
  • Moscow Mule
  • Bloody Mary
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Screwdriver
  • Vodka Martini
  • Vodka and Tonic
  • Vesper Martini
  • Bay Breeze/Sea Breeze/Madras

Popular brands:
  • Grey Goose: French, created in 1997, premium French wheat, filtered through Champagne limestone, distilled in Cognac, France.
  • Ketel One: Netherlands, founded 1983, Dutch for “Pot Still One”, 100% Wheat, filtered over loose charcoal, aged in a tile lined tank.
  • Tito’s: Austin, Texas, created 1995 by Tito Beveridge, the brand was awarded Texas’ first distilling license, distilled six times using yellow corn in pot stills making it a very labor intensive product.
  • Square One: Founded 2006, distilled in Rigby, Idaho using 100% organic rye from the Teton Range in Wyoming, the label is even made from paper-free blend of bamboo, sugarcane and cotton and 25% of the distillery’s power is provided by local wind farms.
  • Purity: A well awarded premium vodka with great depth and character. It is from Ellinge Castle in South Sweden. It is distilled a whopping 34 times! It is made from an all organic blend of Winter Wheat and Malted Barley and is certified organic. Extremely labor intensive!
  • Boyd & Blair: Distilled in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania using mostly local potatoes, created in 2005 and reaching large market shares around 2009, in June 2011, Spirit Journal ranked Boyd & Blair the 22nd-ranked liquor on the planet and the highest-ranked vodka on the list.
  • Smirnoff: Founded in the 1860's by Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov in Moscow. It is said to be the world's most distributed vodka, with distilleries in India, Ireland, Italy, the U.S. and the U.K. distributing to 130 countries.
  • Absolut: Another Swedish vodka. It is the third most consumed spirit in the world next to Bacardi and Smirnoff. Founded in 1879, it did not become a global spirit until 1979 and is now sold in 126 countries. It is made from 100% winter wheat.
  • Stolichnaya: A Russian spirit but bottled and distributed internationally from Latvia. It was introduced in 1901 and is made from wheat and rye grains.