Mad River Distillers Corn Whisky

After only a year of production Mad River Distillers’ spirits are starting to spread beyond its home of Warren, Vermont and is now available in Massachusetts and beyond. Unfortunately the PLCB isn’t stocking the state stores in PA yet, but we were lucky enough to sample their vanilla-y rum (get your hands on it if you can) and their smooth corn whisky.

Mad River Corn Whiskey

Mad River uses locally grown organic corn to produce their unique whisky mash. With most un-aged corn whiskeys (ahem SHINE) you often detect an underlying grassy, agricultural taste, but with Mad River’s “Vermont moonshine” you only taste the light sweetness of the corn, and the heat of the whiskey.

We liked the corn whiskey in a sour (bright and sweet), a hot toddy, a Ward 8, and just 100% pineapple juice, but nothing beats drinking it straight or with a little soda water and lemon juice. It’s a great spirit for more desserty (not sugary) drinks, but perhaps not a Manhattan, which you should be making with a woody bourbon or spicy rye.

If you find a bottle of Mad River spirits in your local liquor store we absolutely recommend taking it home. Hopefully we’ll be seeing much more of Mad River’s spirits as they continue to expand their product line. We’re really looking forward to their apple brandy, a Vermont take on Calvados.

Full disclosure: we were gifted the review bottle from Mad River Distillers.

Make Your Own Tonic Water

When I (Shanna – the one who’s drunk for fun on YouTube) tell people about my latest culinary projects, I get the most questions about 1.) my pickled strawberries (not good for cocktails, unless it’s like a shrub) and 2.) homemade tonic water (only good for cocktails).

My quest for good tonic water started with an Advance Readers Copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s forthcoming book The Signature of All Things. I like to describe it as the Philadelphian Gone With the Wind, but with botany instead of “the gentry,” moss instead male suitors. It’s great. The father gets rich on early botanical pharmaceuticals, including powdered cinchona bark, which contains quinine, the key ingredient in tonic water. The stuff you get at the grocery store also has preservatives and corn syrup. If, like me, you’re not a fan then making your own traditional tonic water may be the way to go.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be in the Mission District of San Francisco where I could get some cinchona bark, because the Strip District of Pittsburgh unfortunately isn’t that kind of niche. The Duc Loi Supermarket has everything you could possibly want, including whiskey and Bahn Mi sandwiches… and salvia. Don’t get the salvia. Get cinchona bark. Otherwise known as the fever tree, Jesuit’s bark or Peruvian bark, the quinine in cinchona is known for curing malaria and muscle cramps. It’s also what gives your G+T that nice bitter flavor.

To start, steep the bark in hot water for 30 or more minutes (depending on potency – just keep tasting it), almost like making cinchona tea. Use fillable tea bags or tie up some coffee filters so you don’t get any wood-bits in your tonic. It’ll turn a nice red color and start to take on some bitterness. You can then make a syrup by adding a cup (or more, or less) to every 2 cups of water. Any more is too sweet in my opinion, but it’s up to you. Try adding botanicals while steeping, like lavender or citrus.

Now you have a Tonic Syrup, to which you can add your own soda water. One part syrup for 4 parts soda seems to work well. Bottle, refrigerate, and throw a tonic party.

Strangely, it goes well with bourbon. Try it out!

Oddka Vodka – Electricity Flavor

In these times of flavored vodkas, it takes little to shock us anymore. Swedish Fish? Sure, Hemingway’s in Pittsburgh was doing a pitcher of shots of that flavor long before Pinnacle picked it up. Wedding Cake? I guess there’s a market for that. S’mores? Whatever, you get the point. People love to buy, but don’t necessarily love to drink, flavored vodka. The main appeal, and probably driving force, is likely the question that comes to mind of all adventurous tasters (ever since Orbitz debuted in the late 90’s): “What does it taste like?”

Most of the time Matt and I can ignore this nagging question, but when we saw Oddka’s Electricity flavored vodka, we had to know. And what does it taste like? It tastes like… blue. It tastes like blue raspberry cough syrup and vodka. Which is why it really, really bothers me that in a sea of cocktail suggestions for their other flavors (like Wasabi, Fresh Cut Grass, Salty Caramel Popcorn, and Apple Pie) that they only offer this: shoot it.

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That’s it. Just shoot it. I refuse to accept this. We found that drinking it on the rocks with club soda actually made it much more drinkable, kind of like a melted blue raspberry slushie. But then we found the combination it was made for. The combination that those people who were kids in the late 90’s buying bottles of Orbitz at the 7-11 after school didn’t know they were missing. Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola and Electric Oddka (1:3 vodka ratio over ice). It tastes like a blue raspberry slushie and a coke slushie mixed together. It tastes just like nostalgia.

Same goes for an Electric Screwdriver (just what you expect, orange juice and Electric Oddka), it tastes like some kind of juice with a flashy name dreamed up by marketers and hated by parents. We’d recommend it to you, for sure, but it’s more of a special occasion vodka. Experiment on your own!

We’ll admit, the product design really did catch our eye too, being nerds and fans of turn of the century scientists. Might have been why we gave it a chance in the first place.

Double Booze Review: Oak Aged Beer

In honor of American Craft Beer Week, we went in search of some truly unique American beers and found these two: the 18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA from Great Divide Brewing Co. and Funky Jewbelation by Schmaltz Brewing Company.

Two oak aged beers from Great Divide Brewing Co. and Schmaltz Brewing

Aging beer in wood barrels isn’t a new practice.  Before cheap production of glass bottles became possible as a result of the Industrial Revolution, nearly all beer was stored in wood barrels right up until it was served. If it took a few months for a brewer to sell a barrel of beer to a bar owner, then another month to transport the barrel from an eastern brewery to, say, a bar in a distant frontier town, and then another month or two for the bar’s patrons to drain the barrel, a beer could easily end up taking on an aged flavor simply as a matter of circumstance, if not by design.

Despite historical precedent and the widespread use of barrel aging in wine and liquor, finding a barrel aged beer in a modern grocery store or beer distributor can be tough. Though I can’t say I’m surprised. My initial reaction from both of these beers is that they’re more challenging than your average porter, or even IPA. These aren’t beers that you can sip absentmindedly while doing or discussing other things. These beers demand attention.

18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA

The Great Divide Brewing Company is based out of Denver, Colorado and has, apparently, been around for about 18 years now. Great Divide produces 21 different brews, though they don’t seem to have one that you could call their flagship label (like how Rogue has Dead Guy Ale, or Magic Hat has #9).

The 18th Anniversary brew is aged in American and French oak, which gives it an earthy undertone beneath the hoppy high notes. The result is complex, almost to the point of being overwhelming. This is an interesting beer, and I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not sure I’d order a full pint of it.

Funky Jewbelation

This funky brew is a blend of six different Schmaltz ales aged in whiskey barrels (73%) and bourbon barrels (27%). The result is a nearly 10% ABV dark beer that has an almost wine-like sweetness and a great head.  Individual notes and flavors  are tough to sort out and identify probably due to the six different beers mixed together. The result is muddled, but overall pretty drinkable for a dedicated dark beer lover. Truly, it is a novelty beer that you’ll probably drink once and enjoy. Schmaltz has some way better seasonal offerings that I would go for instead.

Though neither of these brews are great, it’s good to see that American craft brewers are taking risks. Even within the craft beer niche, it’d be easy to settle into a pattern of bold but repetitive IPAs and chocolate stouts. So as this year’s American Craft Beer Week wraps up, go out and find a beer you’ve never tried before. Try something odd or different sounding. Someone was bold enough to craft this fine beer, you can at least be bold enough to sip it.

Mint Julep

We booze nerds sometimes get carried away by the details of a drink’s flavor, debating the merits of finishing casks, whether vodka can or even should have terrior, and other such minutia that so quickly seem vastly important. But one thing that is often overlooked, and quite unfairly so, is aroma. A drink should stimulate at lease four of your five senses with flavor, mouthfeel, appearance, and aroma. I even enjoy the rhythm of a skillfully shaken cocktail.

Since we are only days away from that auspicious American tradition, the Kentucky Derby, we thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to highlight one of the great aromatic cocktails, the Mint Julep. The julep is a profoundly simple drink to make and yields a wonderfully delicious refreshment.

Seen above is a traditional julep glass. While not necessary to enjoy a Mint Julep, it does help inflate your feeling of American bourgeois sophistication.

While Mint Juleps have been made with a variety of spirits in the past, Kentucky bourbon has been the standard for nearly a century. Additionally, some recipes will tell you to muddle your mint in the bottom of the glass, however this destroys the drink’s aromatic qualities and yields a sub-par cocktail. Instead, let your mint leaves float on the top of your Mint Julep and as you sip, breathe in with your nose. This way, the scent of the mint intermingles with the flavor of the bourbon as you drink.

1 oz simple syrup

3 oz Kentucky bourbon

2-3 mint leaves

Fill your glass (or silver julep cup) to the top with crushed ice. Pour over this your simple syrup, then bourbon. Stir until your ingredients are well mixed and a fog begins to accumulate on the outside of your glass (or ice on your julep cup). Garnish with mint and serve.

Traditional julep cups are made of silver so that as you mix, a thin film of ice should accumulate on the outside of your cup. This keeps your drink colder longer on a hot Kentucky afternoon. But for those not born with a silver cup in your mouth, a julep glass like the one shown above is also a great way to serve this drink.

Also, I hear Mint Juleps taste better when enjoyed beneath a giant floppy hat.

Why I do declare.