Cuba Libre: More than just a Rum & Coke

At a wedding recently, Shanna engaged in an extended debate with the bartender on the topic which titles this post. It’s tempting to lump the Cuba Libre together with the “and” drinks (i.e. gin and tonic, rum and coke, etc). But details matter, especially in simple to construct drinks. The fewer ingredients, the more important each becomes.

Such is the case with the Cuba Libre. One of only three ingredients, the lime juice makes all the difference. Leave it out and you’ve just got a rum and coke, but that simple addition of lime juice makes the Cuba Libre a far more delicious drink for a warm summer evening.

2 parts light rum

1 part lime juice

top with cola

Fill your serving glass halfway with ice and add your rum and lime juice. Top with cola and stir. For greatest social and historical relevance use Cuban rum and Coca Cola.

Cuba Libre

Advertisements

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

Double Wedding Gift Booze Review: Leopold’s Gin and Dolin Dry Vermouth

May 21st, 2011 was a beautiful day. Friends and family came together in celebration of our love and commitment, yadda yadda yadda. May 21st was the day that two much loved guests placed in our care the components of what is easily the best Martini I have ever had.

Leopold's Gin and Dolin Vermouth

Leopold Brothers is a small batch distillery located in Denver Colorado, which produces several different spirits and liqueurs. Almost all of their products have won at least one award, and Leopold’s Gin is no slacker.

Many top-shelf gins shy away from the traditional juniper flavoring (see also: Hendrick’s, Bluecoat), particularly because low quality brands will use the juniper as a crutch. This is certainly not a bad trait; Hendrick’s and Bluecoat have their own unique flavor bouquets. In contrast to this strategy though, Leopold’s Gin has cultivated a fine balance of flavors that allows the juniper to take prominence, without overpowering the citrus and floral notes that fill out the palate.

Leopold Brothers doesn’t bother distinguishing itself as a unique or exotic gin. Instead it’s just a tremendously well-made gin, and that in itself is admirable.

Dolin Dry Vermouth

Often neglected, there’s a secret about vermouth that most people don’t know: it’s actually a fortified wine. Of course it’s not really a secret, but while a bartender might spend hundreds on the best gins, vermouth is very often overlooked. Though Martini & Rossi and Tribuno are the budget standards, these tend to have a flat, tinny flavor with a salty aftertaste. Dolin is the first vermouth I’ve had that actually tastes like wine. The flavor of Dolin Dry Vermouth is rich and floral with a tremendous depth and complexity, enough to make Dolin worth sipping on its own.

In fact, Shanna and I enjoyed Dolin so much that we jumped on an opportunity to pick up a bottle of their Blanc sweet vermouth while we were visiting family in Annapolis. (They also offer a red – or Rouge – sweet vermouth.) But there’s the problem: neither Leopold Brothers nor Dolin are offered in Pennsylvania liquor stores. And since the PA Liquor Control Board by law owns and operates all retail sales of liquor and wine in the state, it’s not just a matter of finding the right hole-in-the-wall shop. There is literally no legal way to purchase any Leopold Brothers spirits in the state of Pennsylvania, and Dolin vermouths have to be special ordered.

We’ll write more about the liquor and beer laws in Pennsylvania in the future, especially in the context of the newly-proposed legislation to change those laws. But for now suffice it to say that the last drops of our bottle of Leopold’s Gin, which went into two delicious Martinis, will be sorely missed until the next time our travels take us out of state.

Wedding Gift Booze Review: Root

Another one of the great gifts we got at our wedding was a bottle of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’s Root (thanks to Paul!) – a liqueur with all the things you love about root beer and more. Root is made in our home state of Pennsylvania, which is really beginning to pick up in the “unique alcohol” market as selling restrictions get looser (we hope) – other Philadelphian spirits include Blue Coat Gin, Vieux Carré Absinthe, Penn 1681 Vodka, and Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’s own Snap (ginger) and Rhuby (rhubarb) liqueurs.

This organic, syrupy concoction boasts a blend of 13 different ingredients that will strike the drinker as the alcoholic version of the true, original, birchy root tea. The history of root teas and sodas is as interesting as it is long, so we heartily recommend you look it up as you enjoy your Root cocktail of choice (there are many suggestions on their website, as well as a little booklet attached to each bottle). You might be wondering – what can I use this very specific liqueur with?

Although you can have it on the rocks to enjoy the complexity of its many notes, we suggest blending it with a high quality root beer, a whipped cream vodka, or even just club soda (and maybe even a cherry). But what we like the most is a good ROOT (beer) Float.

Root Float

Most of 1 bottle of a craft root beer (we used Virgil’s, but also recommend Trader Joe’s Vintage Root Beer)

3 oz of Root

A scoop of vanilla ice cream (we used soy and it worked out great, and let me tell you why – it’s not as hard as regular ice cream)

And top it off with splash of chocolate liqueur (we used Trader Vic’s) and a sprinkling of chocolate (we used Trader Joe’s new grinder of Sugar, Chocolate, and Coffee which you should run out and get)

Pour your frosty root beer of choice into a large glass (preferably also frosty), leaving enough room (about 1/4) for a scoop of ice cream and the 3 ounces of Root. Mix the soda and Root before plunking in your generous scoop of ice cream, which you should then give a SHORT drizzle of chocolate liqueur and put your confectionery sprinkles on top before it starts to melt. Grab a spoon and enjoy!

Wedding Gift Booze Review: (rī)1 Whiskey

Let’s begin this review with full disclosure. If I have learned anything from reading Kate Hopkins’ 99 Drams of Whiskey, it’s that there is still a whole world of whiskey appreciation that I haven’t yet begun to comprehend. More than any other beverage (with perhaps the exception of wine), whiskeys of all types are subjected to an immense scrutiny by a legion of devotees, professional tasters, and all-out snobs. I myself am new to whiskey and what I do know is largely academic, as opposed to experiential. However, sampling a spirit like (rī)1 (pronounced “rye one”), is an excellent step in anyone’s whiskey education.

(rī)1 Whiskey

These days, bourbon has almost exclusively claimed the market as “America’s whiskey,” though I know a fellow named Jack who’d like to argue that point. In reality though, this notion of bourbon as American heritage is a distinctly post-Prohibition concept. Before the 18th Amendment wiped out the (legal) whiskey business in 1917, rye was by far the most commonly produced and consumed whiskey in the United States, and had been since colonial times. It wasn’t until Prohibition ended in 1933 that bourbon distillers were able to pounce on a newly reopened market and establish a solid hold on American drinkers.

In recent years however, with the revitalization of the cocktail culture, rye whiskey has been finding its way back to store shelves and home bars. One of the most popular among these is (rī)1.  Priced at $45 for a standard 750mL bottle in PA Liquor stores, (rī)1 is the higher shelf alternative to brands like Jim Beam Rye or Wild Turkey Rye, before jumping off the deep end into $80 or even $100 territory.

Even watered for tasting, (rī)1 has a kick to it. It’s a blended whiskey, which itself is not unusual. Just about any whiskey you find that isn’t labeled as “straight” or “single malt” is almost certainly blended, though generally distillers will blend an un-aged or lightly aged grain alcohol into a well-aged whiskey. This saves a tremendous amount of money for the distiller as aging is expensive and lowers alcohol content. By contrast, however, (rī)1 is blended from several different ages of whiskeys, the youngest of which being four and a half years. The result of this process goes into the bottle at 92 proof.

But (rī)1′s kick doesn’t just come from its high proof. As far as whiskeys go, (rī)1 has a spicy, almost harsh flavor to it, which comes on very strong very fast. This then peters off into a long lingering finish that sits and tingles the tongue. Whiskey newcomers, and even seasoned bourbon drinkers, will have a lot to wrestle with when sampling (rī)1 for the first time. I know I did.

This spiciness, I’ve found, works tremendously well to balance an Old Fashioned. A sweeter bourbon can have a tendency to lose its flavor in the fruity mash that is the basis of this classic whiskey cocktail, but (rī)1’s bold flavor stands out and nicely punctuates each sip. In a similar vein, Shanna has taken to muddling peaches with honey and topping with (rī)1 and a few ice cubes.

Overall I was very impressed by (rī)1. It’s not for everyone, but that in itself can be a strength. Certainly on flavor it doesn’t compromise for wider appeal and that’s reflected in the price tag. For boozehounds of modest means, like Shanna and myself, this is not an everyday spirit. It does, however, make an excellent gift should you find yourself attending the wedding of a discerning drinker.

Read more Wedding Gift Booze Reviews.

Wedding Gift Booze Review: Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka

As we posted earlier in our article A Boozehound Wedding or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bar, Shanna and I recently tied the knot. The process of planning and executing all the details and expenses of a wedding is a wonderful experience that can bring you closer as a couple and make you glad you only have to go through this stressful, nerve-wracking trial once (hopefully).

Luckily for fabled bon vivants such as us (read: notoriously debaucherous), friends and family were kind enough to restock our home bar in the form of wedding gifts. As we delve into the Boozehounds’ rebirth, many of these bottles will be featured in our new six-part series: the Wedding Gift Booze Review.

Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka

First on our list, due to popular demand (read: one man’s persistent nagging), is Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. Now, my disdain for flavored vodkas is well documented (see also: The Method), but I have made an effort to go into this review with an open mind. Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka comes to us well recommended, and Shanna, at least, doesn’t share my admittedly snobby perspective.

Firefly Distillery has been operating on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina since 2008 and now offers six varieties of tea infused vodkas, and one sweet tea bourbon. According to their website, Firefly distills its vodkas four times and blends it with Louisiana sugar cane.

Most spirits are distilled only twice with the exception of Irish whiskey, which is triple distilled. Each time a spirit is distilled it becomes more concentrated and increases the alcohol content, with a double distilled product usually around 80-100 proof. I think that it is a testament to the volume of Louisiana sugar cane added to this spirit that after being distilled four times, the final product is still only 70 proof. And there lies the crux of my only criticism of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka.

This spirit, in its attempt to lasso the novelty cocktail market, has wedged itself into an odd rut. Firefly is too sweet to be a liquor, but too strong to be a liqueur. To drink the spirit straight is like drinking sweet tea syrup. It tastes more like sweet tea than actual sweet tea does and the effect almost makes one feel a bit ill.

But here comes the part where I redeem this sad, mean review. Despite the spirit’s faults on its own, it actually does mix rather well. Now generally when mixing drinks you want to hit a nice balance so that flavors complement each other without overwhelming. Here though the primary goal is to drown the sugar and therefore tall drinks will be your best bet.

Mixing Firefly, we thought that simplicity was probably wise. This vodka has enough flavor to it that adding too much else will end up tasting muddled. We figured that a highball of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, lemon juice, and club soda would work quite neatly. (Full recipe to follow) And we were right.

Surprisingly, and perhaps to my mild chagrin, the result was very pleasant and refreshing. At a proper level of dilution it’s possible to actually taste the tea in the sweet tea. The result is a very nice drink for a hot summer evening. Precisely what Firefly Distillery is shooting for.

Firefly’s website also boasts an impressive list of suggested mixes, largely contributed by fans. An alarming number of these recipes, though, encourage you to add even more sugar to your drink, perhaps in bold defiance towards the looming specter of diabetes. However, one of these recipes we can endorse is the Mo-Tea-To, and we’ll post that shortly.

My overall assessment of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka can be summed up as “better than expected.” Perhaps I am a bit of a reactionary against the Appletini crowd, and this has been something of a lesson to me. I maintain that flavored vodkas and overly sweet cocktails are a crutch for drinkers and bartenders alike, but I’ll at least make an effort to judge each drink on its own merits.