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14 September 2006

What's in Your Vodka?

Vodkabottlecostume This just in: Vodka contains a lot of alcohol.

According to the Beeb, most folks can't tell what's in their vodka.  In a quasi-scientific study, the BBC discovered that only 3 in 20 sippers could correctly guess from what produce (rye, barley, wheat, something else) a vodka was made.  Read the BBC piece here.

In one popular Russian novel, vodka is made from a wooden stool - which is not quite so fantastic as it seems, as the drink was once made commercially from the by-products of wood-pulp processing.

Oh my dear little vodka.

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09 July 2006

How To Taste...Whisky

Mwteew If you've ever approached tasting distilled spirits the same way you taste wine, you've likely experienced one thing: pain.  Spirits, such as Whisky, don't lend themselves to being swirled, sniffed, sipped and slurped.  In the past, I have knocked Vodka lovers for critiquing something, which is supposed to be neutral.  However, when it comes to Whisky, there are all kinds of scents and flavors to be discovered.  Kevin, of The Scotch Blog, suggests this 'parlor trick' for those new to Whisky:

Here's a parlor trick you can use at your next tasting. This is particularly useful for novices who can't detect anything in the nose other than "whisky."

  1. Have your guests hold the tasting glass in one hand, while completely covering the mouth of the glass with their other hand.
  2. Then instruct them to vigorously swirl/shake the glass. The palm of their hand should get wet - this has the benefit of aerating the heck out of the whisky.
  3. Have them put down the glass and rub the palms of their hands together - this should be done quickly to generate a little heat and cause the whisky to evaporate.
  4. Have them immediately cup their hands and place them over their nose and mouth. They should then take a deep whiff.

They should now be able to detect some of the more distinct "non-whisky" aspects of the nose. Plus, it is quite entertaining to see a group of people do this.

Visit The Scotch Blog for recommendations, information and reviews.

26 April 2006

Steal This Article: Bitters

Editor's note: Steal this article!  Whether you publish a paper, magazine, blog or scribble on the bathroom wall; fresh (& free) content is always welcome, no?  Feel free to grab this article and use it to spice up your publication.  Do with it what you will - so long as you mention that the original comes from The Juice.  Now go forth, and copy & paste.

Nostrum Remedium: Bitters

Bonnore_ebath An Extraordinarily Brief history of Patent Medicine
The term “snake oil salesmen,” the modern advertising industry (which, some might consider to be synonymous) and dozens of liquors and spirits owe their existence in our lexicon, on our televisions and behind countless bars to something prosaically referred to as
patent medicines.  Patent medicines were the early industrial age expressions of nostrum remedium, or, “our remedy” – various concoctions of secret ingredients, sold as miraculous cures, with varying degrees efficacy.  Mid-19th century pushers of snake oil liniment claimed their product would cure everything from arthritis to dropsy.  It didn’t; and a pejorative was born.  Lest these liniment salesmen take all the blame, let it be known that outrageous claims weren't restricted to the snake oil marketing department.  Competition amongst patent medicine producers was fierce.  Thus, the task at hand for pioneers in advertising was to differentiate their products, or, in other words, to create a brand.  As a result of advertising’s big bang, products such as Mug-wump Specific were born.  Mug-wump was touted as a, “cure and preventative for all venereal diseases.” Not to be outdone, Bonnore’s “electro magnetic bathing fluid” was hailed as a cure for necrosis, epilepsy, cholera, scarlet fever and something called “mercurial eruptions.”  It’s nice to see that ad-men and ad-women aimed high right from the get-go.  Aside from cure-alls for V.D. and speedy eruptions, many products of the patent medicine age made more believable claims.  For example, Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper were introduced primarily as energy elixirs.  While the paleo soft drink manufacturers duked it out on the pep-in-step front, one maker of an herb-based, alcohol-containing tonic went for the gut.

Continue reading "Steal This Article: Bitters" »

20 April 2006

The Little Bitter

Some drinks trivia for you.
Q: What is the flavor of Amaretto liqueur ?

Disaronno A: It tastes like almonds, of course.

Now, the bonus question.

True or False: Italian Amaretto is made from almonds.

True.  Wait; it's a trick question.  OK, false.  No!  True.  I'm confused.  That true/false statement is one of those questions that makes mortal enemies of pupil and teacher.  The original Amaretto was made in Saronno, Italy by the infusion of brandy with apricot pits.  This was way back in 1525.  Amaretto di Saronno, is still made with apricot pits, along with a caramel-colored sweetener known as gomme syrup.  Oh yeah; now it seems that almond extract is added to the mix.  Amaretto literally means " a little bitter" in Italian.  The modern expression of this beverage is most definitely not a little bitter - rather it is a lot sweet.  However, one can imagine that brandy infused with apricot pits sans sugar and almond extract would indeed be a little bitter.

As with many liqueurs, the history of Amaretto di Saronno has likely been embellished.

"It is claimed that when painter Bernardino Luini was commissioned in 1525 to paint a fresco of the Madonna for the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Saronno, Italy, he had a romantic affair with the young innkeeper whom he had hired to pose for the painting, and she created the liqueur as a gift for her lover."

My guess is that somebody accidentally tossed a bunch of apricot pits into a cask of brandy....and voila! Amaretto was born.

The super sweet, high alcohol nature of this spirit necessitates that it be diluted on the rocks or used as a mixer.  The classic Amaretto cocktail is the Godfather:

2 cl Amaretto, 4 cl whisky, add ice and do your best Brando impression.

If you're interested in expanding your Amaretto cocktail horizons, visit Webtender.  There are 443 drinks made with  the 'little bitter' including the Keith Jackson, Lash, Amaretto Sunrise and my personal favorite - the Wookie (roar required).

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06 December 2005

Whisky, *cough*gasp*wheeze*, Smooth

WhiskyScotch Whisky (no –ey unless you're referring to Irish or American Whiskey) has always intrigued me.  Single malt, or single distillery, Scotch, such as Laphroaig's 10 year old is full of rich smoky peat scents.  But then, if I try and take a sip neat (i.e. straight, no water or ice), its power punishes my throat and sinuses (picture the classic M*A*S*H episode with Radar taking a shot, wheezing and then hoarsely proclaiming it to be, "smoooth.").

There are a number of Whisk(e)y styles:

  • Irish Whiskey
  • Canadian Whisky
  • Bourbon Whiskey
  • Tennessee Whiskey
  • Rye Whiskey

Continue reading "Whisky, *cough*gasp*wheeze*, Smooth" »

26 November 2005

Hendrick's Gin

JuniperberriesHendrick's would really, really like you to know that they are Iconoclasts.  Their gin is "iconoclastically produced."  And, by the way, they are 100% iconoclasts (a visit to the Hendrick's Web site makes the irony painfully clear)

Aside from it's ubiquitous iconoclasm, Hendrick's is an interesting gin.

But first, a question:  What is gin?
A:  The most common gin is "London Dry."  Now, gin of this type isn't all from the UK.  The moniker refers to style - a high octane (~80 proof), distilled spirit, which is re-distilled after botanicals are added.  These botanicals can include any number of citrus peels, roots, spices, or even bark.  And of course, no London Dry is complete without the addition of juniper berries.  So, unlike (unflavored) vodka, gin possesses a bevvy of diverse aromas.

Continue reading "Hendrick's Gin" »

23 November 2005

Absinthe: Reverse Engineered

Absinthe_robetteI've fed my Absinthe semi-obsession with this month's Wired Magazine (13.11)The Mystery of the Green Menace details young turk chemist, Ted Breaux's quest to identify all the components in the original Absinthe recipe.  Mr. Breaux originally located a French-language history book with "pre Absinthe ban protocols."  He followed the recipe and the result was, "Not very good."

The article continues with Breaux catching a break and scoring an old (pre-ban) bottle of Spanish Absinthe at an estate sale.  It's flavor was completely different from the new Absinthe bottles cropping up now across Europe (he describes these new spirits as, "mouthwash and vodka in a Antiabsinthebottle, with some aromatherapy oil.").  Breaux analyzed his ancient Absinthe and discovered that the concentration of Thujone (allegedly Absinthe's crazy behavior culprit) was an order of magnitude smaller than commonly believed.

Breaux has gone on to produce Nouvelle-Orléans in France (in the Loire valley village of Saumur).

The article is quite interesting - and the complete print version is available on-line at Wired's site.

21 November 2005

Mandarine Napoléon

Mandnapol2Let me give you two reasons why I love wine & spirits: history & geography.  The other day I saw a lonely tortoise shell bottle of Mandarine Napoléon sitting inconspicuously on the liquor store’s shelf.  I was intrigued.  Why is it called Mandarine Napoléon?  But it’s not from France, it’s made in Belgium…wha?

The history of this cognac-based liqueur (via Practically Edible)

“Mandarine Napoléon was developed by a French chemist, Antoine-Francois de Fourcroy (1755-1809), in the early 1800s. Fourcroy, though a chemist, was also a skilled social climber. Rumour had it that he used his connections during the Revolution to send his chief rival chemist, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, to the guillotine (that didn't stop Fourcroy, though, from delivering the eulogy at Lavoisier's funeral). Fourcroy became a friend of Napoleon; Napoleon even appointed him a Counsellor of State and a Count of the Empire. Fourcroy had almost discovered quinine (used in Tonic Water) but then gave up his research in that area…At the time that Fourcroy invented Mandarine Napoléon, mandarins were still a very exotic fruit in France. The liqueur was officially named Mandarine Napoléon in 1892.”

And the geography...

Continue reading "Mandarine Napoléon" »

18 October 2005

An Absinthe Question

Lately I've noticed this Blogad for Absinthe:


Historically, Absinthe was banned in Europe and continues to be banned in the U.S.  Apparently this is due to its magic mystical component, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).

Continue reading "An Absinthe Question" »

01 July 2005

recycledJuice: Dear Little Vodka

Vintage_vodka   U.S. consumers spent $9.5 billion on vodka in 2003. $950 million of this was spent on ultra-premium vodka, such as Grey Goose, Ciroc and Ketel One.  This begs the question:  What’s the big friggin deal with vodka?

Vodka originated in either Russia or Poland, depending on whom you ask, a Pole or a Russian.  Vodka is the diminutive form of the word voda, which means water.  So vodka can be roughly translated as, “dear little water.”  Dear little water indeed.  Vodka, by definition, is a neutral distilled spirit.  It’s basically colorless, odorless and tasteless.  Of course ‘tasteless’ doesn’t refer to the effect that vodka’s 40 or 50 percent alcohol content has on your tongue.  Contrary to what many of us have heard, vodka isn’t distilled from potatoes.  Most vodka is distilled from grain; including wheat, rye, barley and corn.  Again a question:  How does this relatively humble, yet powerful liquid generate $9.5 billion in sales?  My best guess: Marketing.Ciroc_label The next time you leaf through a magazine notice how many vodka advertisements there are.  Most vodka ads convey sophistication, sexiness, and style.  Stroll through the liquor store and take a look at the premium vodkas.  Some look as though they have been bottled in priceless crystal decanters.  Others look as though a Swedish minimalist designed ultra-chic aluminum bottles to hold the stuff.  With vodka, it’s all about appearance.

To prove (or disprove) my point, I purchased five different brands of vodka; two luxury vodkas, two mid-range vodkas and one bottle of ‘rotgut’ vodka.  My intent was to compare all of them in a blind tasting – a sort of Pepsi Challenge with vodka.


Continue reading "recycledJuice: Dear Little Vodka" »

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