Alton Brown’s Egg Nog

One of my favorite episodes of Alton Brown’s unique cooking show Good Eats is season 9 episode 13, in which he explores egg nog and the bourbon that he puts in it. [You can find it on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2] Now, there are a lot of egg nog recipes out there, and we’ll cover a few of them leading up to the holiday, but for my money, this is one of the best.

Granted, this recipe is a lot of work compared to most everything else we post here on IPTB, but egg nog’s a party drink and this will yield enough boozed-up nog for around 6 generous servings. That’s a whole pitcher of this holiday treat that’ll make you think twice about serving store-bought nog ever again. Continue reading

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Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival Recap

It’s now a couple days after the 2011 Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival and I’m still doing my best to collect and organize my thoughts from that evening, so let’s start with the obvious: it was awesome. “Kid in a candy store” doesn’t cover it.

Organized by the good folks who bring us the Pittsburgh Wine Festival in partnership with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, this was the fifth Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival. Proceeds benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In all, close to 175 spirits brands crowded the East Club Lounge at Heinz Field and any remaining floor space was flooded by hundreds of attendees. The atmosphere in that expansive yet cramped space was, in my experience, unique. It was hectic (We have to try the good stuff before they run out!), it was exciting (Angel’s Envy, Philadelphia Distilling, and our good friends from Wigle were all in attendance!), it was drunk (We tried all the good stuff before they ran out!).

It seemed to me that vendors and attendees were divided into factions, which is representative of attitudes towards drinking these days. There were the attendees who were there to get drunk and the booze brands that cater to them. You could generally identify these brands by the presence of “booth babes,” a phenomenon usually reserved for Comic Cons and trade shows.

Fred Noe, the great-grandson of Jim Beam, accompanied by partygoers.

On the other side of the coin, however, there were a tremendous number of people who were genuinely interested in tasting the liquors on offer (ending up a bit wobbly was a side effect). Luckily for us, there was a fantastic lineup of distilleries represented that offered some amazing liquors to sample.

We made a point to limit our intake to labels we really wanted to try. This included large established brands that might otherwise be outside of our price range (such as Laphroaig 18 Year Old scotch), smaller brands that might be harder to find (like Death’s Door White Whiskey, or Isle of Jura Scotch), and stuff we just hadn’t gotten around to yet (looking at you Vieux Carré, Buffalo Trace, and Doctor McGillicuddy’s Root Beer Schnapps). Plus we visited some old friends like Hendrick’s, Kraken, and Tub Gin.

Isle of Jura Scotch

We also noticed that larger distilleries tended to be more liberal pourers, as opposed to the smaller operations that cared more about – first – a proper tasting, and – second – making sure they had enough stock to last the night.

As excellent as the evening was, we were mightily disappointed by one thing. We, and many other attendees, were looking forward to the Whiskey Fest as our first opportunity to sample Wigle Whiskey’s first batch. And though Eric Meyer and company were present, they were unable to distribute the long-awaited samples. Why? Because the PLCB hadn’t approved their label. Their label. Instead Eric was distributing high-fives and rice-krispie treats that had been sneakily laced with whiskey. We are however, looking forward to Wigle’s Grand Opening on December 2nd (be sure to check back here for coverage).

A personal-sized cask so you can age your own Wigle. Seen also: an illicit Wigle label.

In all, there was very little about this year’s Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival that wasn’t excellent. There was tasty food (though more variety and more locations would have been nice), fantastic booze, and friendly people. In fact, we were pleased to find so many friends and acquaintances there who work in the industry. It almost makes me think we’re beginning to make a name for ourselves.

But more importantly, we made a handful of new friends and connections. In particular we think you should check out YourGrail.com

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The Pousse-Café

The Pousse-Café is one of the most popular layered drinks for the simple fact that there are so many variations on the recipe. Innumerable combinations of layered spirits go by the name Pousse-Café, but this is a simple, classic recipe.

1 1/2  Tbls grenadine

1 1/2  Tbls green crème de menthe

1 1/2  Tbls light rum

Pour the ingredients, in the order listed, into a Pousse-Café or other similar glass. See the article on layered drinks for technique.

Reclaiming the Daiquiri

Put away that blender my friend and put down the tiny umbrella. The time has come to leave behind sugary pre-bottled drink mixes and sorority girls at cheap college bars. Come with me and we shall reclaim the Daiquiri from spring break and “woo girls,” and restore it to its proper place of respect.

Before all this foolishness about blenders and strawberry banana mixers, the Daiquiri was perhaps one of the drinks that best exemplified what it means to be a boozehound. It’s strong, it’s simple, it’s classic, and it’s delicious. Made with light rum, lime juice, and simple syrup (or just sugar), the Daiquiri was reportedly one of the favored drinks of Ernest Hemingway, macho-man extraordinaire and demigod of boozehound lore. As the story goes, when Hemingway was living in Cuba he would visit La Floridita bar in Havana each day and order double Daiquiris so consistently that he came to be known as “Papa Dobles.”

The recipe for a traditional Daiquiri (for Hemingway’s version simply double the rum) is as follows:

2 oz light rum

2 Tbs lime juice

1 Tbs simple syrup

Pour all three ingredients into a shaker half-filled with ice and shake well. Strain into a glass (usually a double rocks glass, though any short glass will do) filled with crushed ice and garnish with a wedge of lime.  Can also be served “up” in a cocktail glass.

The practice of serving the Daiquiri over crushed ice rather than cubes is likely where the slushy-like Diaquiri came from. It’s easier to just put ice in a blender with the other ingredients than to make actual crushed ice. However, using a blender is going to water down your drink resulting in a Daiquiri with less punch and less flavor. Basically you’re downgrading your Daiquiri from Ernest Hemingway (legendary novelist and boozehound extraordinaire) to that chick in a tube-top (yells “woo” every time she takes a shot).

As I mentioned in a comment a few articles back (The Kangaroo), the great classic mixologist David Embury (author of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks) is wont to remind us that a cocktail is only as good as its lowest quality ingredient. That goes double for the rum in a Daiquiri because it’s such a large percentage of the drink.

Simple syrup (just water and sugar) is prepared ahead of time and used to sweeten drinks because getting sugar to dissolve in a cold cocktail can be difficult. Homemade simple syrup will last about two months if refrigerated, so even though it’s as simple as the name would suggest, it may be worth your while to get a premade bottle from Stirrings. As a boozehound and a purist though, I cannot condone purchasing any of their other premade mixers, especially their non-alcoholic bitters.

And finally, you will see me repeat ad-nauseam that it is always better to used fresh squeezed citrus juice rather than bottled juice. A Daiquiri can be a delicious, potent, and refined drink, but regardless of the quality of the rum or the skill of the bartender, using bottled lime juice will reduce your Daiquiri to a mere shadow of its potential.

Check back for easy instructions on how to make your own simple syrup.

Peg o’ My Heart

Named for an early 20th century play, not only is this drink deliciously tart and crisp, but depending on the brand of dark rum you use (we use Kraken, of course), the color should come out to a beautiful rusty brown-red.

2 oz Dark Rum

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tbsp Grenadine

Pour all of the ingredients into a shaker two-thirds filled with ice, shake well, and strain into a cocktail glass.

While grenadine may seem like a costly and unnecessary addition to your home bar, Jacquin’s makes a perfectly passable grenadine that can be had for around $10 a bottle and comes in handy for a wide variety of classic cocktails.

The Highball

Many of the drinks that we feature on this blog (or plan to feature as our recipe index becomes a bit more extensive) are cocktails. But those certainly aren’t the only mixed drinks out there and one of the most common types of mixed drink is the highball.

A highball is any tall drink that mixes a base spirit with a carbonated beverage, which includes the Vodka Tonic, Gin Rickey, Rum and Cola, etc. Highballs are some of the most versatile drinks out there because the proportions can always be altered to your specific taste. Unlike a cocktail, which so often depends on a balance of competing flavors, a highball can always be customized depending on how dainty or robust the drinker is.

Another advantage of a highball is that you don’t need a shaker or mixing glass. Simply fill your serving glass (traditionally a highball glass) with ice, add your ingredients, stir, and then serve. The ease and simplicity (and lack of extra glasses or shakers to wash) make highballs a great option for parties. Plus, less liquor in a bigger drink makes it easier for guests to pace themselves.

Unfortunately, the highball is often the product of an, “I don’t want to taste my liquor so I’ll mix it with Mountain Dew” mentality. On the contrary, a good highball will allow you to enjoy the flavor of your favorite brand of gin, whiskey, or other spirit, while taking the edge off the alcohol.

To get you started, here’s a few of our favorite highball recipes:

Gin (or Vodka) and Tonic: This classic drink is very nearly the pinnacle of simplicity. Style never goes out of style, and neither will the Gin and Tonic. Garnish with a twist of lemon or lime.

Dark and Stormy: One of the lesser-known highballs, simply blend Dark Rum with Ginger Beer (not Ginger Ale, the distinction is important). Or, you could swap out the Rum for Vodka, add a splash of lime juice, and you’ve got a Moscow Mule.

Gin Rickey: A Rickey is any highball wherein a base spirit is mixed with soda water and a splash of lime juice. The most common variety is the Gin Rickey, but any liquor will do and the Applejack Rickey is also rather tasty.

Because the highball is so flexible and there are so many different sodas out there, there’s no reason to stick to the same old Jack and Coke every weekend. Go ahead and try your own combinations and let us know if you come up with anything particularly tasty.

-Matt

Autumnal Drinks

Seasonal brews tend to be something you don’t want to drink every day, but every year during the magical months of fall we boozehounds are granted the opportunity to sample the harvest in liquid form.

Pumpkin Ales
Microbrewers love to experiment, and we usually love it when they do as well.  Since 1994 Dogfish Head has been brewing up their brown Punkin Ale. Punkin is sweet like brown sugar and follows with some spice, and would likely go well with a slice of pie or turkey and stuffing. Pumpkin flavors are hard to keep pumpkiny in brews, but honestly you’re drinking beer, not soup, so we’re okay with that. They recommend you go out and grab some extra, because their limited supply tends to run out by Thanksgiving.
There are many more pumpkin ales out there this season, and we’re looking forward to getting our hands on Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale.

Apple Cider
When the air starts to get colder you can usually find me rambling on about apple season. This week apple cider finally appeared at the grocery store, which signals the start of the great baking season at our house. What delicious libation do the boozehounds recommend to drink with your fresh apple crisp? Apple cider, ice cold or warmed up over the stove, paired with a dark spiced rum (we use Kraken Rum – of course) is like drinking an apple dessert itself. Make sure your rum has sweet and spicy notes (KRAKEN.) for optimal results. Applejack also fits the flavor profile, but be warned – it’s not called cider oil for nothing.

Of course there’s more than just apples and pumpkins growing in the fall months, but do you really want a squash-flavored slammer or a mulled corn drink? You are welcome to leave comments about your favorite fall boozey traditions.

It’s pumpkin butter apple-jelly time,
Shanna