Thursday, September 28, 2006


The posting of our 23rd episode marks five months of weekly production for Art of the Drink -- and we're a bit tired! Dave, the DrinkArt Girls, and I will be taking a short hiatus to relax, attend some trade shows, and plan the Holiday season. But don't worry, we'll be back before Halloween!

Soda Water et al.

Soda water. Tonic water. Club soda. Seltzer. Sparkling water. What the hell? There's a lot confusion out there about the differences between the carbonated water mixers, so let's clear things up a bit.

The most basic of the above is simply water containing dissolved carbon dioxide. This is known as sparkling water, soda water, or seltzer water, and was originally produced naturally deep underground where geologic pressure forced CO2 into solution in subterranean water deposits. Today, naturally carbonated water is usually referred to as sparkling water, while soda water and seltzer commonly refer to water that has been carbonated by other means.

Club soda is simply soda water that has a small amount of salts added to it for additional flavoring. Because of this extra flavor, it is my carbonated water of choice for mixed drinks though it's rarely available at modern bars -- the carbonated water found on bar guns is simply tap water that has gone through a mechanical carbonator with nothing else added. Naturally sparkling water with a high mineral content can be used in place of club soda, though it may be more lightly carbonated.

Tonic water has quinine added to it, and a much more interesting story behind it. Quinine is a tropical drug that is highly toxic in large doses, and like many natural toxins has a bitter flavor. In the small quantities found in tonic it is harmless, but still lends a bitter hint to the drink. On the theory that the drug could also kill certain diseases, when the British navy encountered malaria they issued a "health tonic" comprised of quinine and seltzer to combat the illness. To make the bitter concoction more palatable, they would add a measure of their national spirit, gin, to the mix and often squeeze in a piece of the local tropical citrus fruit as well. And the gin and tonic was born, complete with its ubiquitous wedge of lime.

So what are you drinking in most bars? Soda water and tonic. And no, drinking G&T's won't cure malaria.

Art of the Drink 23: Presbyterian

Anthony and Whitney wrap up September with the second installment of the AOTD Classic Cocktails Series: a Presbyterian.

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Ice Primer

A great question from one of our YouTube viewers:

Q: Why do you use so much ice in your drinks? Is there a significant purpose? I always ask for light ice.

A: Absolutely -- several reasons. First and most importantly, filling the glass with ice ensures the drink will be served at the right temperature: cold! Secondly, bar recipes assume a full glass of ice, so using less ice means there will be more mixer than intended (and no, the bartender won't add more liquor to "balance things out"). Third, light ice actually results in a more watered-down drink. The same thing happens in your cooler when you're camping: put in lots of ice and it all stays nice and cold and frozen; don't use enough and the ice you have put in can't hold temperature and melts.

Finally, and this is more of a consumer alert tip, when you ask for light ice most bartenders assume you're trying to get a stronger drink (which, again, will never happen) and might actually pour short just to mess with you. Almost every bartender I've ever worked with does this and will never admit it to you. I don't agree with it because you should be able to get your drink any way you want it, but in reality most people don't have any real aversion to ice and are just trying to outsmart the bartender which they understandably react to badly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

AOTD at the World Beer Festival

Art of the Drink will be at the World Beer Festival in Durham, NC, on Saturday, October 7th! Come by Booth 92 to meet Anthony and the DrinkArt Girls and watch a live taping of the video podcast!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Alcohol Content

Q: What mixed drink can one order that has the most alcoholic content? (This very common question was originally posted on our forum -- thanks Iduenas!)

A: If you're talking percent alcohol by volume (ABV), the most alcohol will be found in straight drinks like shots and extra-dry martinis which will usually be 80 proof or 40% ABV. Higher proof liquors will obviously have more alcohol (Wild Turkey 101, Bacardi 151, etc.) -- but keep in mind you should NEVER drink anything straight that's higher than about 120 proof.

Some small batch Bourbons and other higher-end liquors are bottled at cask-strength (usually about 120 proof) instead of being cut back to the more common 80 proof, and these are intended to be sipped slowly so you can appreciate the complex taste of the spirit. Drinking straight liquor at more than 120 proof can cause some serious ill-effects, including blindness and alcohol poisoning. Plus, if you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm not a fan of shots or drinking just to get hammered -- I try to teach people to craft and enjoy alcoholic drinks the same way they would a gourmet meal.

Now, if you want to know the drink with the highest alcohol content (i.e., 1 ounce versus 2 ounces regardless of what percentage of the total drink that comprises), there really is no good answer. Most drinks contain about 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol (like a 12-ounce beer, a glass of wine, a standard mixed drink, or an 80 proof shot), but obviously a 22-ounce beer or a double mixed drink will have more alcohol in them. As a general rule of thumb, I tell people that an extra-dry martini will usually have the most alcohol in it, since you're pretty much dealing with between 2 and 4 ounces of straight 80-proof liquor, which equates to 0.8 to 1.6 ounces of pure alcohol.

Some states limit the total amount of liquor you can serve in one drink to 2 ounces which allows for Boilermakers (or a shot served with a beer), Long Island Teas, etc., but keep in mind that is the total amount of liquor, not alcohol -- 2 ounces of Wild Turkey 101 has more alcohol than 2 ounces of Stoli. Doesn't make a lot of sense, but there you have it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Art of the Drink 22: Applejack Rabbit

The essence of apples and maple syrup herald the coming of Autumn in this unique cocktail.

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Applejack vs. Apple Brandy

Though applejack and apple brandy are both made from apple cider, the method used to concentrate the alcohol differs in each. Applejack is made through fractional crystallization, while apple brandy is made through the more familiar process of distillation.

Fermentation initially produces the alcohol in hard cider, but after all the sugars have been converted to ethanol the drink will not get any stronger. Normally, spirit makers rely on distillation to further increase the alcohol concentration. This process takes advantage of the difference in boiling points between water (212°F) and alcohol (173°F) by heating the fermented beverage to somewhere around 175°F, thereby causing the alcohol to evaporate while the water remains liquid. The alcohol vapor is captured and cooled, returning it to a liquid state and producing raw, white liquor.

Fractional crystallization originated in colder climates where the temperature drops well below freezing for extended periods of time. Since alcohol and water have different freezing points as well, this provides another method of separating the two. Traditionally, cider was left outside in large barrels and when the temperature dropped below 0°F the water would freeze while the alcohol would remain liquid. A hole was then punched in the ice and the alcohol was siphoned off. This process was repeated until the remaining liquid would not freeze, and the result is the drink we know as applejack.

The main difference in the products of distillation and fractional crystallization is that the former forces the alcohol into a phase change which isolates it and leaves most of the impurities behind in the water. The latter forces the water into a phase change which leaves most of the impurities behind in the alcohol, giving applejack a nasty reputation for causing legendary hangovers. However, commercial applejack is further refined and doesn't suffer from this problem.

Art of the Drink 21: First Down

Anthony and Whitney toast the opening of football season with a First Down!

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Grenadine Guide

Grenadine syrup most likely gets its name from "grenada," the Spanish word for pomegranates. The original preparation was made from sweetened pomegranate juice, or the juice of pomegranate seeds, which would ferment and result in a mildly alcoholic syrup. Modern grenadine is a non-alcoholic combination of sugar, water, fruit flavorings, and food coloring - nary a pomegranate to be found. Although it is commonly believed that grenadine syrup comes from the Grenadine Islands or perhaps Grenada, neither country grows pomegranates. Interesting.

Ok, so enough technical information. Now that we know what grenadine is, let's get down to the more important question: how can we use it? Like most things behind the bar, grenadine can be used for both flavoring and coloring. Typically, it is the easiest way to turn a drink red and when used for this purpose becomes little more than glorified food dye. It can also add sweetness and in this capacity is used just like simple syrup or even bar sugar. Finally, it adds flavoring, and this is where you'll want to put your bar chef hat on.

Since most people (especially in the U.S.) have no clue what pomegranate juice tastes like, most of us think of it as a cherry-like flavoring and this is how I teach people to use it. It works well in almost any fruit drink, especially strong rum drinks that need an extra bit of sugar to counter the alcohol bite. It is a classic addition to non-alcoholic sodas, being the main ingredient in Shirley Temples (grenadine and ginger ale), Roy Rogers (grenadine and cola), and cherry sodas (grenadine and soda water). And thinking in terms of cherry syrup, we see that it can add a "cherry on top" finish to dessert drinks like chocolate or cream-based cocktails. On that note, it's traditional to add a cherry garnish to most drinks that use this versatile syrup.

Episode 20: Hurricane

Anthony and Whitney mark the onset of storm season and pay tribute to New Orleans with a Hurricane that even FEMA can get right.

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Cask-Aged Rums

Both gold and dark (or black) rums gain their color from aging in wooden casks, and this separates them from light rum which may be aged in stainless steel. Gold rum is usually aged in an oak cask and may have caramel color and/or spices added to it. Dark rum is usually aged longer than gold rum, and in charred barrels. In many bars, any rum that is not clear is referred to as "dark rum" even though it actually may be gold rum.

Dark rum has a stronger taste than gold rum, and may have a bitter note to some people. Because of this, I tend to use gold rum more frequently and often substitute it for dark rum in recipes like the Hurricane where the bitterness may be perceived as unpleasant in contrast to the overall sweetness of the drink. Although I personally like the taste of dark rum (and it certainly is traditionally called for in a Hurricane), I've found that guests are more likely to enjoy a drink made with gold rum.

Cask-aged rums, both gold and dark, are experiencing a surge in popularity similar to that recently enjoyed by high-end Tequila. It is becoming more common to offer quality rum straight on the rocks, or even neat. When you find a bar that serves well-crafted, cask-aged rums, take the time to sample a few and find out what you enjoy. Then have fun customizing your favorite rum cocktail recipes to match your taste.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

AOTD Select Bourbon: Maker's Mark

Some interesting facts that illustrate why we chose Maker's Mark as the Art of the Drink Select Bourbon:

Maker's Mark is the only bourbon distillery to use pure, iron-free limestone spring water exclusively -- not city, well or river water. Their source is a 10-acre limestone spring-fed lake at the distillery.

Maker's Mark is very choosy about selecting the grains that go into their whisky. First, they use yellow corn and red winter wheat from specially selected small farm cooperatives, all of which are located within the limestone geology near the distillery. This wheat gives the whisky its soft, mellow taste. And they only use naturally malted barley that has no enzyme-enhancing gibberellic acid. When the grain is delivered, they check it from top to bottom. If it does not meet their rigid standards the shipment is not accepted (and this really does happen from time to time).

Maker's Mark uses an old-fashioned rollermill to prepare the grain for cooking. While some distillers think this method is too slow and produces a lower yield, it'’s just fine for them. The slow process does not scorch the grain like a hammermill can. Scorching may result in a slightly bitter taste.

Unlike some other distillers, Maker's Mark never pressure cooks their grain. Any good distiller, or baker, can tell you that pressure cookers and high-quality soft winter wheat do not mix. By using an open cooker and a slower process that involves a lot of hands-on attention, they extend the subtle grain flavors into their whisky.

Maker's Mark is among the few remaining bourbon distillers that propagates its own yeast for fermentation with cultures that can be traced back to the pre-prohibition era. They also use the traditional sour mash method, similar to making sourdough bread, where the distiller always leaves over some culture from one batch to start another.

The distillery's rare cypress fermentation tanks are historically irreplaceable. Some of the planks are more than 100 years old.

Cypress was chosen for fermentation before modern stainless steel was available because it didn'’t contribute iron or taste to the final product. While it's not believed that cypress affects the process in any way, they continue to use some of these fermenters to give their visitors a sense of how the process used to look.

Maker'’s Mark is currently the only operating bourbon distillery to make whisky in batches of less than 19 barrels -- the traditional standard for small-batch whisky.

Maker'’s Mark double distills its whisky -- once in an all copper column still to produce what is called low wine, and again in a copper pot still to produce high wine. This added step removes impurities and produces a more refined sipping whisky. Their low wine is distilled off at 120 proof, while the high wine is 130 proof.

This is the lowest distillation proof in the industry. They continue this more expensive practice because it preserves the mellow grain characteristics.

Next time you're in Loretto, KY, stop by the Maker's Mark distillery for a tour -- they love visitors, and will even let you hand-dip a bottle of Maker's Mark into their trademark red sealing wax. And don't forget to tell them Anthony sent you!

Episode 19: Whisky Flip

Anthony and Kat kick off the AOTD Classic Cocktails series with a Whisky Flip!

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