Top 5 Halloween Cocktails

Halloween is fast approaching, and while for kids this means Trick-or-Treating and enough sugar to destroy all seven of Wilford Brimley’s horcruxes, for the over-21 crowd Halloween is one of the year’s best drinking holidays. Of course this time of year is great for serving pumpkin beers and hard apple cider, but a good host should also be prepared to mix up a few of these delicious Halloween-appropriate cocktails.

5) Blackthorn

A great, low-alcohol option for lightweights and designated drivers.

2 oz sloe gin

1 1/2 Tbs sweet red vermouth

lemon twist for garnish

Combine the sloe gin and sweet vermouth in a mixing glass and stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish.

4) Mind Eraser

A layered drink that may just leave you Brain Dead. Check out the recipe here.

3) Satan’s Whiskers

A classic from the Savoy Cocktail Book, this one is tasty and medium-strength.

2 parts gin

2 parts dry vermouth

2 parts red sweet vermouth

2 parts orange juice

1 part Grand Marnier

1 dash orange bitters

Shake all ingredients thoroughly and strain into a cocktail glass.

2) Corpse Reviver #1

Now we’re getting into the strong stuff. This antique tipple dates back to Victorian England. You can find the recipe at our previous post.

1) Zombie

Though the fruity ingredients and Tiki Bar origins may say summer, the Zombie is perhaps the apex of Halloween drinks. So strong and so complex, once you’ve had one yourself, you’ll be incapable of mixing one for your guests.

1 part white rum

1 part golden rum

1 part dark rum

1 part apricot brandy

1 part pineapple juice

1 part papaya juice

a dash of grenadine

1/2 part 151 proof rum

Combine all ingredients, except the 151 proof rum, in a shaker half full of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a highball or Collins glass and float the 151 on top. Some recipes say to garnish with a pineapple spear and a cherry (among other fruit), but this can be optional – it’s hard to make room with all the booze in there.

Pro Tip: Another great boozy treat to serve for Halloween is a bowl of vodka gummi worms. Any gummi candy will absorb liquid if given enough time. Just fill a bowl with gummi worms and cheap vodka and leave it in the fridge over night. The next day the gummi worms will be twice as big and filled with booze. Plus they’re gooey and sticky, which only adds to the fun.

Wigle Whiskey Distillery Photos

Recently we were lucky enough to take a look around the soon-opening Wigle Whiskey Distillery. Ending an over 80 year dry spell, Wigle (pronounced “wiggle”) will be the the first commercial distillery to operate within Pittsburgh city limits since Prohibition.

Master distiller Eric Meyer, his father Mark, and a host of supporters will be producing rye whiskey along with the less common wheat whiskey. And because aged whiskey needs at least 3 years in an oak barrel, Wigle will also be producing un-aged white rye and wheat whiskeys, which should be on shelves by the end of the year. White whiskey has been picking up steam lately amongst cocktail enthusiasts across the country and we personally can’t wait to try Wigle’s first offerings.

The entrance to Wigle's Strip District location

During our visit, our friend, production assistant, and guinea pig Hawkeye was kind enough to snap some excellent photos for us. Wigle’s combination pot/column still is itself a work of art and worthy of many more photos than we have space for here.

So check out the photos after the jump and let us know in the comments whether you’re daring enough to try an un-aged whiskey. Continue reading

Autumnal Experiments: Homemade Hard Apple Cider

A while back we posted instructions on making your own delicious limoncello. After several highly successful batches of that wonderful and potent concoction, we developed a rather high opinion of our own homegrown booze-making prowess and decided it was time to step up our game. This time, we thought, we would tackle fermentation. We would make yeast our tiny alcohol-producing slaves. It was time to make hard apple cider.

Our finished cider, minus a few samples. Bottles from the East End Brewery.

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What it’s all about

As we boozehounds delve deeper into this endeavor called IPTB, and specifically our recent (poorly kept) secret project, I’ve found myself trying to pinpoint exactly what we’re actually trying to accomplish here. I mean sure, the blog is a poorly disguised excuse to imbibe on weeknights – in the name of research – but we’ve never quite put our thumb on the big whys. Why blog? Why booze? Why is this at all worthwhile? I still haven’t reached any concrete answers, and that’s fine, but last weekend I came a bit closer.

It was a Saturday night on the deck behind my parents’ house. Six of us sat in a small ring of chairs: my parents, my two brothers, Shanna and myself. In the morning my older brother was getting married. Between the six of us we had four $5 cigars and a bottle of Jameson. By the end of the night the bottle was empty and four burnt-out stubs were floating in a few inches of water at the bottom of a coffee tin. In the intervening time we had dug up old memories of growing up together. We talked about the bride-to-be (who sadly wasn’t present) and how glad we were that she was joining our family. We discussed work, the future, and all the other usual topics.

I couldn’t say that it was the booze that brought on that moment of near total contentment. The congregation of loved ones, anticipation of my brother’s connubial bliss, these certainly had more to do with it. But we sat outside that night to smoke cigars and drink Jameson, and the rest followed of its own accord.

Regardless of anything else we write here, what you drink will never be half so important as who you drink it with.

Wedding Gift Booze Review: The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters

Before we delve into the final and long delayed installment in the Wedding Gift Booze Review series, let’s take a moment to talk about bitters. Though the recent cocktail revival has spurred a subsequent revival in use of bitters, it’s still an element of cocktail culture that is often overlooked. Produced through distillation and infusion of various flavors, bitters generally have a similar alcohol content by volume as most liquors. However, the intensity of flavor is such that most drink recipes call for no more than two or three dashes per cocktail.

The Bitter Truth, Angostura, Regan's, and Fee Brothers

The first bitters were invented in the early 1800s by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German who served as Surgeon General under Bolivar in the fight to free Venezuela from Spanish control. Siegert originally developed the potent distillation as a medicine and it was marketed as such when the Doctor established his distillery in the port town of Angostura in 1830. To this day, Angostura is still the dominant brand and de facto choice for any recipe that calls for bitters.

So when did medicine make its way into cocktails? Conventional wisdom tells us that it happened in the early 1900s. In the early days of the cocktail, the primary function of a mixed drink was to serve as “hair of the dog” the morning after heavy drinking. Mixing fruit juices, sugar, and other ingredients with your booze helped to make it more palatable first thing in the morning and while you’re at it, why not add some medicinal bitters to help your headache and nausea? A century later, the medicinal properties of bitters have long been dismissed, but we can still appreciate a well-crafted Old Fashioned.

The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters are very similar to Angostura (which are also aromatic bitters, as opposed to orange, mint or other flavored bitters) though the flavor is slightly different. Both brands, on their own, have an herby, woody flavor to them. The flavor is not unlike sucking on a tea bag – in a good way. Tasted side by side though the difference between the two is marked and will affect the taste of your cocktails. While Angostura is overtly citrusy, The Bitter Truth has a more floral, botanical flavor to it.

I’d be hard pressed to say that one is better than the other. They’re different animals and will throw a different cast on the cocktails you make with them. At the very least, exploring these differences is a wonderful excuse to drink twice as many Manhattans.

 

For more on bitters:

IPTB articles tagged with “bitters”

The Bitter Truth website

Angostura website

Hella Bitter website

Fee Brothers website

Ideology, Common Sense, & the Liquor Control Board: A Look at the PA Liquor Privatization Debate

Here in Pennsylvania, state run liquor stores and restrictions on beer sales are familiar gripes. While nearly anywhere else in the country consumers are able to pick up a six-pack or bottle of wine at any grocery or convenience store, Pennsylvanians can only buy wine and liquor from state-run stores and beer has to be purchased by the case at a distributor, or by the six-pack at a bar or restaurant. Recently though, privatization of the state’s booze monopoly (hint hint, Parker Brothers) has become a hot issue in the state legislature and the blogosphere. As a conscientious and patriotic inebriate, I took it upon myself to learn more about the debate and the potential advantages/consequences of privatization.

PA Wine & Spirits Store photo by Ian Turton (www.flickr.com/people/ianturton)

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Applejack

When we discuss classic cocktails (or classic anything, really), heritage is a notion that is usually at the fore. What makes something classic, after all, is its ability to endure and affect society. When it comes to spirits, the top spot for American heritage is often attributed to bourbon, though we’ve discussed in the past that this is a post-prohibition phenomenon. Before prohibition all but wiped out the American liquor industry, rye whiskey was king. But before farmers and frontiersmen were able to turn wilderness into arable fields for grain, early American colonists drank applejack. Continue reading

Craft Sodas: I Prefer the Term Soda Jerk

Understandably, we here at IPTB get pretty hung up about a good drink. Beer, liquor, wine, cocktails, it’s just the tops! But no matter where life takes you, you’ll never forget that first love. For me it was a summer romance, because there’s nothing that goes with a hot Maine afternoon like a really, really good soda.

These days big brand sodas have all but swallowed the market whole, to the point where many people aren’t even aware that craft sodas exist. But small-batch producers of craft root beers, ginger beers, colas, shandys, and any number of other flavors are turning out products for a more discerning palette than either Coke or Pepsi can provide.

Now there’s no doubt that Coca Cola is an iconic piece of Americana and holds a special place in our cultural history; besides which, we wouldn’t have drinks like the Cuba Libre without it. But the difference between small craft soda producers and their mega-corporate counterparts is essentially the same as that between a microbrewery and Budweiser. Coke, Pepsi, and Budweiser all have to appeal to the widest market possible and produce their products on the largest scale possible. A microbrewery, or in this case a small-scale soda producer, only has to appeal to a niche market. Therefore they can take more risks, put more care into the quality of their beverage, and produce something truly unique and delicious.

Now there are untold brands and varieties of micro-produced sodas, and by their very nature most are only available near where they are produced. But we’re going to cover the two most common types of craft sodas: root beers and ginger beers.

Root Beer

Originally produced from the roots of the Sassafras tree (Sarsparilla and Birch Beer are variations originally derived from different tree roots), all commercially available root beers are now made from artificial flavoring since it was discovered that Sassafras root might cause cancer. This doesn’t necessarily detract from root beer’s status as a craft beverage though. Though cheap brands like A&W and Mug dominate the market, small-scale producers are turning out products with surprising depth and complexity of flavor. For a nationally available root beer that sets the bar for quality, look to Virgil’s. Though even Virgil’s pales in comparison with some smaller producers like Capt’n Eli. When tasting a good root beer, you can often taste subtle flavors like vanilla, caramel, or even anise.

Ginger Beer (or Ginger Brew)

Not as popular as root beer, ginger beer takes a special palette to appreciate. While most sodas are over-sweetened, a good ginger beer should have a spicy bite to it. (This is generally what distinguishes ginger beer from ginger ale, though that’s not always a reliable distinction.) Originating as an alcoholic beverage popular in England and Ireland, which employed a simple fermentation technique, the drink travelled to the Caribbean where it took hold in local cultures. While the original alcoholic version is hard to find commercially anymore, it’s not difficult to home brew. As a soft drink, ginger beer is gaining in popularity. Similar to Virgil’s root beer, Reed’s Ginger Brew is a nationally distributed brand that makes a good benchmark of quality (they’re actually produced by the same company). Again, there are other, harder to find brands that I personally prefer (Maine Root Ginger Brew), but Reed’s is an excellent place to start.

The One that Got Away

Most of what I know about craft sodas I learned as a counselor at a family summer camp in Maine. Once a week the adults would sample local beer and cheeses, and being 18 at the time, I would help entertain the children with a local soda tasting. It was here that I began to appreciate quality made sodas, and especially ginger beer. On one of my days off I meandered down the road to a local T-shirt shop. There, in the shop’s old 1950s style refrigerator I found a single can of a ginger beer brand that I had never seen before (and can’t recall it now). It was a warm afternoon in one of the best summers of my life, and I don’t deny my nostalgia, but I still maintain that that was the best soda I’ve ever had. Later I looked into where I might find it elsewhere and found that the company had shut its doors about six months before that day. By sheer chance I had happened upon what may have been one of the last cans of a Caribbean-made soda in a small T-shirt shop in rural Maine.

You’ll forgive me a bit of sentiment, but this is precisely the sort of thing that led me to boozehoundery. Alcohol has been an integral part of human history literally since the dawn of civilization. Every good drink has a story that goes with it. Booze history and lore, though not always factual and often nostalgic, is part of the appeal of a well-made drink. When done correctly, and in moderation, a good drink can bring people together, spark new friendships, and create a community where before there were strangers.

Viva Tequila

Of all the commonly available spirits in the western world, and especially here in the States, none has been as thoroughly maligned as tequila.  Associated with (at best) fruity, overpriced tourist drinks, or (at worst) criminals, racial stereotypes, and the king of all hangovers.  But today, July 24th, is National Tequila Day in the US and the perfect opportunity to shed some light on this spirit that, admittedly even we here at IPTB, have neglected.

Espolón 100% Agave Blanco Tequila

So first off, what is tequila? Tequila is a variety of a spirit called mezcal. Essentially, tequila is to mezcal as cognac is to brandy. Developed by Spanish conquistadors who brought distilling techniques to the New World, mezcal is distilled from the core of the blue agave plant, which takes twelve years to mature before it can be harvested.

To legally be labeled “tequila,” the spirit has to be produced, from growing the agave through the distillation process, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Additionally, tequila is produced from a specific variety of blue agave called “Weber Tequilana Azul” whereas other mezcals can be produced from any variety of blue agave plants.

Tequila is also subdivided by a number of different traits. The first is purity. If the bottle doesn’t say 100% pure agave, you’ve probably got a “mixto” tequila (pronounced MEES-to). Mixto is only required by law to contain 51% agave spirits; the rest is distilled from sugar cane.

Another distinction between tequila varieties is age. Like wine, brandy, or whiskey, some tequilas are barrel aged to give them color, smooth some of the alcohol’s harshness, and give the tequila a more complex flavor. Certain terms are generally used to indicate age, though there are no hard-and-fast rules.

Blanco: (aka white or silver) This is un-aged tequila, straight from the still to the bottle.

Gold: (aka joven abocabo) This is bottled as a mixture of blanco and tequila that has been aged at least two months. There’s no guarantee of the ratio between the two though, and gold tequilas usually contain a small percentage of aged spirit.

Reposado: Literally translated to “rested,” reposado tequilas are aged at least two months. Though they may not be 100% agave, they’re at least not mixed with un-aged spirits.

Añejo: These tequilas are aged for at least one year. Those that have been aged longer than a year may be called “Extra Añejo” or something similar and the age will generally be advertised on the bottle. Generally speaking, the longer a spirit is aged, the smoother and more complex the flavor will be.

Because reposado and añejo tequilas are considered to be higher quality, and accordingly more expensive, these are the varieties that you’ll want to reserve for sipping and savoring neat. If you’re going to mix cocktails, you’re generally better off using either blanco or gold varieties.

Speaking of which, we’ll be posting recipes to some classic tequila cocktails throughout the day. Check back as we post recipes for a Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, Matador, and the whimsically named Tequila Mockingbird.

Boozehound Basics: Ice

In the past few years, a new renaissance of classic cocktail culture (say that after three or four Sidecars) has sprung up on the net and in homes and bars around the country.  And though mixologists, writers in style magazines, and, yes, bloggers are quick to harp on the importance of freshly squeezed fruit juices and top shelf liquors, another very basic ingredient is too often taken for granted: ice.

It’s an important part of mixing almost any drink, but it’s generally glossed over in drink recipes.  If you’ve ever hosted a party and run out of ice halfway through the night, you have an idea of how important ice can be, so we’re going to amend this deficit.

We’ll start with the very basics.  Those cubes that you get from the plastic tray in your freezer.  This is what you want to use in a cocktail shaker, to fill a highball glass, and as your general default. When hosting a party, a five-pound bag of that weird donut shaped ice works fine as well.  As a general note though, when making your own ice, better water makes better ice.  If you have a filter pitcher or even a filter right on your tap, that’s the water you want to use for your ice.  Also, be sure to wash your trays from time to time.

Tovolo King Cubes

Now, on to some more specialized territory.  Regular cubes are fine, and even appropriate for most shaken drinks.  They help to mix your ingredients thoroughly, especially where fruit juices, dairy, or even raw egg are involved, but they’re not best for every drink.  Some stirred drinks need to be treated with a gentler hand and may be overly diluted by smaller cubes.  This is where you want King Cubes.  A company called Tovolo manufactures these jumbo silicone trays and lately you can find them just about anywhere kitchen or barware is sold.  Because of their large size (two inches across), King Cubes don’t melt as quickly as smaller cubes.  Therefore, they get your drink colder without diluting it as much.  This can be critical in a delicate drink like, say, a Martini, or when drinking whiskey or other spirits straight on the rocks.

For those whiskey aficionados who won’t tolerate a drop of water in their favorite spirit, there’s another option.  Whiskey stones will cool your drink without a hint of dilution.  Exactly as you’d suspect, these are actual stones, usually carved into cubes.  Simply keep these in the freezer until needed, and best of all, they’re reusable.

On the other end of the spectrum, some drinks, generally originating in warmer climes, call for crushed ice.  Most notably, the Daiquiri is traditionally served over crushed ice.  Now if you happen to have a refrigerator that will dispense crushed ice at your every whim, feel free to sit back and sip your Daiquiri smugly for the next few lines.  For the rest of us, making our own crushed ice can be a necessity especially in the summer time.  There are two favored methods.  For speed and volume, tossing a few ice cubes into a blender will certainly do the trick.  A few short bursts should be all you need though.  Keep in mind you’re just breaking up the cubes.  You don’t want to end up with a slushie.  The other method is a bit more time-consuming, but a lot more fun.  Just place your ice cubes in a plastic zip-lock bag and smash the crap out of them with a big ‘ol mallet.

That about covers the practical and traditional options, but there’s nothing to say you can’t have a bit of fun while you keep your drinks cool.  Perpetual Kid, a refreshingly fun online retailer, offers a vast array of whimsical and nostalgic ice cube trays. With options ranging from snowflakes to sinking Titanics, there are options here to tickle any tippler’s fancy.  Shanna and I have our own wide-ranging collection including hearts, ninja stars, fish, Legos, Space Invaders, and skull & bones.

Legendary bartender David A. Embury famously wrote that a cocktail is only as good as its lowest-quality ingredient.  This adage is generally applied to quality of spirits, but there’s no doubt that dirty or overly melted ice can harm an otherwise superior drink. And I’m not saying that you should be freezing Perrier to shake a Whiskey Sour, but a little bit of consideration for the ice you’re going to use to mix and serve your booze can go a long way.