Clear and present danger

Week 43 in The Year Of Drinking Adventurously. Vodka.

Here is a beverage I can endorse without reserve. If for no other reason than its extreme versatility. Everybody likes vodka. You know why? Because it doesn’t taste like anything. It’s the perfect addition to make anything you want alcoholic. By definition, vodka should be flavorless, colorless and odorless. Vodka can be made from potatoes, wheat, rye, corn or a variety of starchy bases. The multiple distillation process ensures that none of the source distillate’s character remains, therefore the original ingredients aren’t that crucial to the process. Or so says the guide. 

Except… That the premium vodka market is booming for the very reason that these higher end products boast even LESS flavor, color and odor than their more humble counterparts.

My current bottle is Ketel One. I don’t have a go-to cocktail per se, but that is the cool thing about good vodka, it goes with everything. In the summer, I sometimes add it to root beer for a little kick. I use it instead of gin in a martini when I just want to taste the olives. Vodka gimlet, vodka in lemonade, vodka and tonic, and so forth. The danger with vodka is the fact that being flavorless, etc. is that it can sneak up on you pretty fast. When you can’t taste it, you get wasted.

Vodka can be the basis for all sorts of interesting infusions, too. From fruits like mango, berries and pineapple, to pickled vegetables, horseradish or tomatoes, vodka infusions can be subtle, sweet or savory. These are not the flavored vodkas that are flooding the market. Seriously, marshmallow vodka? Salted caramel? Gross. Its the new pumpkin spice and you know how I feel about that! No, we are talking about fresh ingredients, steeped in vodka for at least six days (to do it at home) or with nitrous oxide pressurization (if you are a bartender) for about 30 minutes. I’ve never tried infusing my own vodka but I sense an experiment coming on…

I am imagining Lula, the mistress of mixology, had a good time with this week’s adventure.

Life, the Universe and Everything

Week 42 in the Year of Drinking Adventurously – supposed to be hopped cider and whiskey.

I have no real excuse for not following the adventure this week beyond sheer laziness. I could have found some of the recommended hopped ciders and I might have been able to scrounge up an artisan American whiskey. But this week was a bit of a killer. I realize that it probably seems like I’ve been on perpetual vacation for better parts of the last month. And it’s true that I haven’t been home for a good part of that time, so finally work and life and everything caught up to me. I feel like I’m finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel after this weekend. I actually got to read (for pleasure) for a good part of the day on Sunday – something I’ve been neglecting.

I do have a potent potable to talk about, and it is whiskey, just not an artisanal American one. It’s my favorite Irish whiskey: Yellow Spot Single Pot Still whiskey from Mitchell and Sons Distillery in Dublin. I have yet to find it here in the USA. Bostonians and New Yorkers, keep your eyes open for it.

Here’s the story with the Yellow Spot:

The Mitchell family began selling wines and fortified wines on Grafton Street in Dublin in 1805. When they got into the whiskey business, they marked the barrels with a ‘spot’ of colored paint to differentiate the ages of the whiskeys within. What makes a single pot still style? A pot still is like a huge kettle where the batch is boiled, the vapors rise, are collected and cooled to produce the whiskey. Since the pot has to be cleaned after each use, only one batch of whiskey is produced from the single pot. Most whiskeys are distilled in column stills which can be used over and over to create large batches of product.

So in the tradition of the original ‘yellow spot’ barrels, this whiskey has been matured for no less than 12 years in a combination of American bourbon, Spanish sherry and Spanish Malaga casks. And drawing on the Mitchell family history of purveying fortified wines, the final maturation takes place in the Spanish Malaga casks, giving the whiskey an exotic sweetness. Listen to the description of the tasting notes from the bottle:

Nose: Mown hay, cracked black pepper, red bell peppers, nutmeg, clove oil and green tea. Sweet honey and peaches from the Malaga casks.

Taste: Honey sweetness with pot still spices. Flavors of fresh coffee, creamy milk chocolate and creme brûlée. Notes of red apple and toasted oak.

Finish: Sophisticated and complex. Sweetness throughout, with a mix of red grape and dry barley upon exit.

That is quite a melange of flavors! Trust me, though, none of them are so pronounced so as to overpower. This is a truly marvelous whisky. And for nearly $100 a bottle it should be.

Hopefully, Lula can tell you about hopped cider this week. Don’t forget to go see her!

You all figured out the significance of the title of this post, right?

Along came a spider and sat down be-CIDER…

Week 41 in The Year of Drinking Adventurously. Ice Cider.  (*buzzer sound* Fail!)

Ok, not totally. I am going to talk about cider this week. And next week, thanks to a new friend of mine, I am going to revisit Spanish cider. Ice cider is mainly a Canadian product, with a few varieties available from producers close to the Canadian border – like Vermont and New Hampshire. Unfortunately, much like my experience last week, the Fascist liquor store and beer distributor didn’t carry any of these styles of cider, either. However, I picked up a sampler 12-pack of Angry Orchard ciders to try. Although, there are a plethora of other cider producers to choose from, I went with the AO because our guide 51fffcpqPZL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ recommended their Ice Cider as one of his picks. So in my mind, I am sort of sticking to the plan. I hope that made sense. I’m thinking it didn’t…

In my 12-pack, of which I am currently on bottle 2, are the following types: a dry cider, a light cider, a crisp cider and an apple cinnamon cider. I started with the dry cider. Right out of the gate, I am wishing I bought something else.

My first cider experience was with Bulmer’s Irish cider on my first trip to Ireland. The Bulmer’s brand is available here in the USA but it is marketed under the name Magner’s and I have no idea why. I am rather fond of the Magner’s/Bulmer’s cider, not only because it is delicious and apple-y, it conjures good memories of drinking in the afternoon, whilst sitting outside of The Huntsman Inn at the end of Lough Italia (part of Galway Bay), with the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean, and dreaming of fairy princes and giants tossing rocks into the sea to make The Aran Islands….

What was I saying? Right. The dry cider, which I think is supposed to be an English style cider was rather flavorless. The second one I tried was the crisp cider. This was better but still… On to the next. The light cider. (I am writing this in real time. Aren’t you the lucky ones? Ha!) The light cider is about as flavorless as the dry cider, but has a little more sweetness. I’m really not impressed. Ah, well, win some, lose some. I think we’re done here. The cinnamon cider can wait. (For my unsuspecting girlfriends upon whom I will foist it.)

I hope Lula found some ice cider in her neck of the woods. Next week, if the postal service doesn’t inspect the package too closely, I’m anticipating a Basque Cidre from my friend Javier.