7/06/2008

07-06-08 - 3

The perfect cocktail is just not quite sweet; you mainly want the liquor to show through, with just a bit of extra sweetness and some fruit or other complimentary flavor. In general I prefer whisky drinks because of the smoke and spice and all the interesting flavor notes in whisky. For fun you can make bourbon and rye and scotch variants of any whisky drink.

My Old Fashioned :

2 Oz whisky (1 Oz = a small shot glass full)
5 square inches of orange peel, bruised with muddler
1 full circle slice of orange, mashed
3/4 tsp of simple syrup
3 drops of bitters
optional : tiny tiny splash of soda (1/2 Oz, 1 tbsp)

My Manhattan (no cherry) :

2 Oz whisky
1/2 tbsp sweet vermouth (= 1/4 Oz)
2 drops bitters
1/4 tsp simple syrup or maraschino cherry liquid (but no cherry)
2 square inches of orange peel
Combine and shake with great vigor to produce ice chips

The unifying character of all variants of whisky is the aging in charred oak. You really are not tasting the fermented grain; the beautiful golden color and the rich flavor come from the charred oak barrels that whisky is aged in. American whisky is a mix of wheat and barley and corn. Bourbon is mostly corn, which makes it sweeter. Rye is mostly rye (except Canadian Rye which is just a name for whisky in Canada and not necessarily made of rye); rye is another type of grain similar to wheat and barley, it produces a slightly dryer more bitter whisky. Rye is actually the classic whisky for use in these cocktails; if using real rye, reduce the amount of bitters.

Rye and barley pretty much look exactly like wheat. If I saw a field of any of them, I wouldn't be able to tell them apart. So they pretty much all produce your basic grain alcohol. The difference between your basic hillbilly moonshine and whisky is just the aging in oak. In fact Scotch originally comes from the rural peasants; in every country the peasants have their own tradition of taking some of their product and sticking it in a corner of their barn to ferment and make alcohol.

I encourage you not to be overly seduced by the mythology of scotch which has sprung up due to massive marketing in the last 30 years. The truth is it's plain grain alcohol, aged in barrels, and then they add water and artificial caramel color (some of them do, anyway). The big difference is the large proportion of smoked malted barley which provides the smokey flavor; also they use grains and no corn which reduces the sweetness as compared to american whiskeys.

There are blended scotches which the average drinker would rate higher in a blind taste test than the coveted single malts. The average drinker prizes things like balance and smoothness which are really not related to quality at all. The same thing is true of wine of course, but wine snobbery has so pervaded society that it's hard to fight. The true appeal of a single malt (or a non blended wine) is the ability to taste the distinctive character and unique flavor notes that come from the region of the product. Also, just like wine, longer ages are not necessarily better. With scotch, anything over 20 years is highly questionable. Somewhere around 15 years is generally optimal, though the peak age depends on the exact character of the original spirit.

With delicate, simple delicious products, we must remember that the details are incredibly important. The finest scotch is produced in almost exactly the same way as an average/cheap american whiskey, but the difference on the tongue is quite profound. Something I've been noticing watching "Made in Spain" - he tours a lot of cheese makers, since cheese is quite important in Spain, and the funny thing is - every cheese maker looks exactly the same to me. They add rennet, seperate out the curds, press it into rounds, salt it and age it. Every single cheese in the world basically goes through that exact same process, and yet there are so many unique and beautiful flavors that come from the minute differences in production. Certain things, like cheese and whisky, are much like creatures and their DNA - the instructions for making a man and the instructions for making an E.Coli are 99% identical, and yet the product seems very different.

When I was in college I decided I should learn about all the things a "man" should know. I wanted to be educated in the ways of the world, capable, never at a loss. I taught myself to cook and fight; I read about drugs and sex; I tried different types of cigarettes and cigars, and booze. When it came to booze, mainly I taught myself about whiskys, partly because they are delicious and I enjoyed them, but also because I thought it was particularly manly and sophisticated and impressive and it would make me a real qualified grown up.

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