Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spirit Review: Rebecca Creek Fine Texas Spirit Whiskey

I love drinking stuff made in Texas. No, I'm not a native Texan, but I'm a Texan now, and I love everything about Texas, including the amazing vodkas and whiskeys being produced here. Yes, I drink stuff that isn't from Texas, but if I have a choice, I'm buying local. Just like I buy from the local co-op farm. It's the logical choice.

Rebecca Creek Fine Texas Spirit Whiskey
Enter Rebecca Creek Fine Texas Spirit Whiskey, made in San Antonio, Texas at the Rebecca Creek Distillery. Their main product is Enchanted Rock Vodka, which is a good mixing vodka, and one of the main vodkas I buy. But I had not tried their whiskey before, so I picked up a bottle when I went to Specs last time.

This whiskey is hard to classify. It's made with barley, and you can tell immediately that it isn't a bourbon, for it doesn't have the sweetness or the caramel. And it isn't a rye, for it does not have rye's spiciness. Its difference is both its biggest flaw and its saving grace.

It is meant to be a sipping whiskey, but the flavor just doesn't seem big enough for sipping. Nothing much stands out. There's a clear alcohol taste, but it isn't overwhelming. Other than that, there are some wood notes and a dryness reminiscent of  meat. No, it doesn't taste like meat, but there is a savory note in there that reminds me of it. Maybe it's leather.

So as a sipping whiskey, it's easy to drink. The flavors don't jump out, but there isn't a lot to hold the attention once the novelty of the "what is this?" question wears off.

But as a mixing whiskey, this stuff is great. I find that most bourbon flavors get lost in drinks anyway, and this one is able to let mixers stand out. It lets the sweet vermouth shine. It lets whatever you put into it have center stage. And I like it for that.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Stay at Home Original, The Beirut Cocktail: Scotch, Arak, Tea, Sugar, Lemon

When I think of drinks and the Middle East, I think of tea and arak, the anise-flavored liquor that tastes and louches like absinthe. Today, I was sick, so I wanted a hot toddy, but it was too hot out, so I wanted a cold toddy. Well, that got complicated, so I just made some tea and then made a cocktail.

And the Beirut Cocktail was born. You see, my friend from Beirut brought me a couple of bottles of arak back from Lebanon when he came to visit. He wanted to get some for me, so he went to his local liquor store in Beirut and asked for the best arak the guy had. "Well, the best arak comes from my hometown!" the guy told him. So he went in the back of the store and brought out two unmarked bottles. And now I have them.

To make the Beirut Cocktail, you need to make some tea. I used the Zen green tea from Tazo. It's a mixture of green tea with lemongrass and spearmint. Once you get that made, cool it.

For the Beirut Cocktail, build in a large glass: 
  • 1 1/2 ounces Johnny Walker Double Black scotch
  • 3/4 oz arak
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 4 1/2 oz Zen green tea
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
 Pour in a bunch of ice and stir.

It's like a cold toddy. Citrus and sweet, and it cures that head cold that has been doing a number on you. Or at least it seems to with me.

By the way, if you don't have any arak, you may be able to substitute Herbsaint or an absinthe. It's just a little anise flavor in a rather large drink, so the way you get the anise may be up to you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Kick off Bourbon Heritage Month with a Classic: the Manhattan--Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters

When people tell me they want to start a home bar to make quality cocktails, they often want advice on what to buy. I always tell everyone that the first thing they need is a good mixing whiskey, either a bourbon or rye, and a decent vermouth. And a bottle of Angostura bitters, of course. From there, you can branch out into Benedictine, Campari, or whatever. But those three things first.

And with those three, you can make my all-time favorite drink, the Manhattan.

Just stir with ice:
  • 2 oz bourbon or rye
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 10 dashes Angostura bitters
and strain into a chilled coupe.

This is the quintessential classic cocktail. Right up there with the dry Martini. It's all booze, and there's no ice, so don't try to make a huge one. As Lowell Edmunds says in Martini Straight Up, a small martini is better than a warm one. So use the proportions above and it will fit into a small coupe. Just make sure the glass is already chilled.

As for the proportions, adjust as you wish. I like quite a bit of vermouth. Sometimes I lower the whiskey and up the vermouth. I also like a lot of bitters. Some people put three dashes. I like ten. 

As for the type of whiskey and vermouth, the rule is always that better ingredients make better drinks. And I'm all about good drinks. But there's a limit. If I make a Manhattan a day and I use a really expensive vermouth and whiskey, I will be broke going through three bottles of each a month. That ain't cheap.

So I try to be wise. If I'm serving friends, I bring out the good stuff. But if it's just me, any decent mixing bottle will do. A great whiskey will make a great Manhattan, but a decent whiskey will make a good one, too. For this one, I used Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon. It's cheap, and it's good. Normally, I use Old Overholt rye. If I'm making one for friends, I will use a special rye or bourbon like Basil Hayden's or Yellow Rose. But I think you can go cheap for yourself, as long as it still tastes good. If it doesn't taste good, it isn't worth drinking, so find your own happy place, the median between cost and taste.

The same goes for the vermouth. Carpano Antica or any of the other great vermouths make a good Manhattan even better. But Martini and Rossi Vermouth still makes a good one, too.

So if you're just starting out with a home bar, grab a decent bottle of whiskey, a good vermouth, and a bottle of bitters. And make Manhattans for all of your friends.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Modified Curacao Punch: Brandy, Rum, Curacao, St. Elizabeth's Allspice

Modified Curacao Punch: Rum, Brandy, Curacao, St. Elizabeth's
After enjoying the Curacao Punch from Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, I decided I wanted to try a different version of the drink by bringing down the curacao and adding more spice. This one follows similar directions to the Curacao Punch.

First, combine
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then add a bunch of ice and the rest of the ingredients:
  • 1 oz Martell cognac
  • 1 oz Bacardi rum
  • 1 oz curacao
  • 1/2 oz St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram
I like it better. All I did was add the Allspice Dram and lower the curacao to 1 oz (down from 2 ounces in the original Curacao Punch). The Allspice Dram comes through, which I love. And the other ingredients just complement it by adding caramel and orange notes. Tasty. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Drinking Galveston: Beerfoot Brewery Bar Review

When on a beach in Mexico, what I really want is a Corona. When I'm hanging at an all-inclusive resort in Cozumel, I hope I'm drinking some crazy sweet, tropical thing like a Bahama Mama. Coronas and tropicals--the two drinks I associate with the beach.

But Galveston, TX is not that beach. It's not a Mexican beach. It's not a Caribbean beach. It's Galveston. Hell, they have signs on the beach explaining the joys of seaweed. Seriously. Seaweed may indeed be the eight wonder of the world, but it doesn't make me want to hang out on the beach and drink a Corona or even a Bahama Mama.

No, Galveston needs something different.

Enter Beerfoot Brewery, a great spot right on the seawall.

Charlie, the brewmaster of Beerfoot.
Beerfoot is a brewery, yes, but it's mostly a bar. The place where they brew their one-of-a-kind beer is more like a laundry room. Charlie, the brewmaster, is able to make some nifty beers in that little space, but he can only make two kegs at a time. So they have two different Beerfoot brews on tap every week. Yes, Charlie stays busy making each new draught.

When I went, they had two Beerfoot brews: Texas Breakfast, and Chai Wit. Both were really good. The Texas Breakfast was their attempt to make a beer that tastes like Captain Crunch. No, really. And they succeeded, too. You see, Beerfoot's brewery is so small that they invite in other brewers from around Texas, even sometimes homebrewers, to come in and try something that they couldn't do on a larger scale. That's how Texas Breakfast came about. A bit nutty, a bit sweet, a bit, well, crunchy.

The Chai Wit was even better. Most spiced beers just taste like a regular beer with a little spicy oil in it. Not this one. Charlie steeped a bottle of vodka with lots of chai tea, and, bam!, poured it in the wit beer. It is in-your-face spice. Cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg almost jump out of the glass.

The beer selection at Beerfoot Brewery.
Beerfoot Brewery also has a great tap selection. The first beer I had to try was the Hot Sculpin. As I have mentioned before, I love San Diego's Sculpin. It is a serious IPA, and its metallic finish tingles me. For the Hot Sculpin, they put peppers in it and let it steep. It's hot. It's burn-your-mouth weird. And it's not for me. I drank the whole pint, but I didn't really want to.

So stay away from the Hot Sculpin, but definitely drink whatever Charlie has cooked up that week.

If you're not a beer guy, you can still get a Jagerbomb at Beerfoot, too. Even though, they're a brewery, they have a full bar. But why go to a brewery and not drink the interesting beer???

Monday, August 25, 2014

Texas Beer and Cocktail News: August 2014

The Funnel Cake Ale from Community Brewing. Funnel cakes: is there anything they can't do? http://beerblog.dallasnews.com/2014/08/only-in-texas-a-funnel-cake-flavored-beer-to-be-served-at-state-fair.html/
  • There's a new Texas cocktail/food blog in town! Welcome Whiskey and Wry!
  • Alba Huerta of Anvil fame has now opened her long-awaited bar called Julep on the eastern side of the Washington corridor. The place has gotten tons of press in the Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Eater, even Zagat. Set to become one of Houston's (and the country's!) premiere bars, I'm sure.
  • Rudyard's and O'Dell Brewing Company are bringing you their 82nd monthly beer dinner this Thursday. Check it out!
  • There's a new bar on the Westheimer curve from the people who brought us Royal Oak and Boondocks. I must admit: I love Boondocks. Their $1 happy hour well drinks special is one of the best deals in town, even if you do have to brave those bathrooms. Stone's Throw, right next door to Boondocks, on the other hand, looks gorgeous, and the cocktail menu is inviting, too! Very different from Boondocks, that's for sure.
  • If you're in Austin battling the heat, Food Republic has you list of bars to go to for seven inviting frozen drinks. Frozen Chartreuse Swizzle, anyone?
  • Austin now has a craft cidery. Sounds like a Texas Keeper to me.
  • Dallas's Alamo Drafthouse is premiering Deep Ellum's new Belgian IPA called Boomstick while showing the movie that inspired it, Army of Darkness. "Oh, that's just what we call pillowtalk, baby." "Hail to the king, baby." August 26.
  • New Braunfels is going to get a growler place. Can you take a growler on your raft as you float on the river? Man, I hope so.
  • Prohibition Supperclub is set to open sometime later this summer in downtown Houston. Burlesque, anyone?
  • If you're looking for a beer and/or wine festival around Houston, the Houston Chronicle has you covered. Lots of good stuff happening. 
  • And if you're in Dallas, the Dallas News has your beer festivals there, too. 
  • Austin's Independence Brewing Company launches its new lower-ABV pale ale called Power and Light. I like the trend of the more drinkable pale ales, I must admit.
  • I don't know what a beer is doing as a finalist for the State of Texas Fried Food competition, but Community Brewing actually has a Funnel-Cake beer. I should write an entire post about this stuff, even though I haven't even tried it. But I LOVE funnel cakes. Memories of going to the jockey lot in Anderson, SC as a kid. Oh, man.
Remember to send all of your Texas beer and cocktail news. Openings, happenings, whatever. I will include them in the monthly list.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Celebrate National Rum Day with a Curacao Punch: Brandy, Curacao, Rum

As a caveat, I tried to schedule this one to publish on Friday, August 15. It didn't. For some reason. But here it is a day after National Rum Day. Hell, drink rum anyway.

This one comes from Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, a fantastic tome of everything good from the original bartender manuals. You know, the ones from the nineteenth century.

While I don't generally get into the "national X spirit day" festivities, any excuse to drink a particular spirit is fine by me. Honestly, rum isn't a spirit I play with very much, so looking up drinks featuring rum was a good exercise. This cocktail uses both rum and brandy, but curacao is actually the main ingredient. Weird, I know. Maybe it doesn't celebrate rum quite as much as a National Rum Day drink should, but it's still a fine drink, and I like the mixture of brandy and rum.
Curacao Punch: Brandy, Curacao, Rum

To make a Curacao Punch, combine in a large glass:
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  •  2 or three dashes lemon juice (I used 1/4 ounce)
  • 1 ounce soda water
and stir until the sugar is all dissolved. Then fill the glass with crushed ice and add
  • 1 oz Martell cognac
  • 2 oz orange curacao
  • 1 oz Bacardi rum
and garnish with whatever fruit you want.

It's a sweet drink, don't get me wrong. I tried it without the sugar, and it's good that way, too. What you taste the most here is the curacao. It's like an orange Kool-Aid drink. I have never had a drink that actually featured curacao, so this one is good to have on hand when someone says they don't know what to do with curacao.

By the way, I just read an anthology of short stories called Zombies Vs. Unicorns, where each story highlights either zombies or unicorns. One of the best stories of the bunch was by Carrie Ryan, and it took place on the island of Curacao. Every time they mentioned it, I thought of orange-y cocktails. Ah, zombies. I mean, ah, cocktails.