Citrus and bourbon are very good friends. Even better is when the citrus is not something pedestrian like lemon or lime. Grapefruit is the star of the show in this cocktail that we decided to make after seeing it on the lovely site Back Down South, both because it looks delicious and because we can see Mount Saint Helens on a daily basis, so we were intrigued by a drink with a similar name.
Mount Saint Helen 2 oz. Bourbon ½ oz. Grapefruit juice ½ oz. Simple Syrup 2 dashes Angostura bitters 3 Mint leaves
Gently muddle simple syrup, bitters, and two mint leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the grapefruit juice, bourbon, and ice and shake briefly to combine. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the third mint leaf.
You’ll notice this drink is similar to the brown derby that we featured before, but this version is more complex. The bitters add a nice contrast to the sweetness. We used a stronger bourbon to offset the other bold flavors in the recipe, and it worked really well.
The folks at Chopin Vodka make three varieties of vodka—potato, wheat, and rye. We love that Chopin vodka contains no additives and its ingredients are sourced locally in Poland, where it is produced.
We were intrigued by the idea of tasting a neutral spirit that uses two ingredients (wheat and rye) that are commonly found in bourbon to see how each vodka would compare with bourbons featuring different mash bills. We know that vodka and bourbon sounds like an unusual pairing, but with careful matching, it actually works. We found an inspiration recipe and adapted it for our use.
Holiday Spirit 1½ oz. Bourbon 1½ oz. Chopin wheat or rye vodka ¼ oz. Cointreau 1 bar spoon Luxardo cherry juice
Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously to combine. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.
For this cocktail we chose to pair Woodinville bourbon with Chopin wheat vodka. The drink is exceptionally smooth. One of the vodka’s main contributions to the drink is its smooth, velvety texture. This is a strong drink, so it’s a sipper for sure, but we were really impressed by how well the two spirits complemented each other.
We’re looking forward to playing with Chopin rye vodka, too. We think it would go nicely with Four Roses Yellow Label.
Even though this nightcap was on Chopin’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
We recently spent an evening sampling cocktails and nibbles at Double Dragon in Portland. We were served two versions of their whiskey toddy, one hot and one cold. The bartender, Dan, was kind enough to share the recipe with us.
Double Dragon Toddy 2 oz. Rye 1 oz. Honey five spice syrup 1 oz. Lemon juice Whiskey barrel-aged bitters
The cold version is the same but with the addition of an absinthe rinse. While we preferred the hot version on a chilly evening, the cold cocktail was quite tasty and we always appreciate how an absinthe rinse can amplify whiskey.
We were also delighted to witness some cocktail demonstrations. Dan walked us through how to make two drinks. We’re going to share with you our favorite and the drink that had all our companions reaching for second sips, too.
No Name No. 5 2 oz. Dickel rye 1 oz. Sweet vermouth 1 oz. Italian amaro Chocolate bitters
You might notice the similarity to the Little Italy cocktail, but the chocolate bitters that Dan at Double Dragon used take this to the next level. It is off-menu, but if you ask for it (and we recommend you do), he will make you one.
We are smitten with ice cream of any variety, but the other day when I decided to make a lemon ice cream to use up some extra lemons we had lying around, the idea hit me to add some bourbon and make a whiskey sour-inspired ice cream. It was a magical moment.
Whiskey Sour Ice Cream 2 cups Heavy cream 1 cup Milk 1 cup Sugar ½ cup Lemon juice 3 Tbsp. Bourbon ½ tsp. Vanilla extract
Whisk milk and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. Gently whisk in the other ingredients and pour into your ice cream maker. Freeze for about half an hour, then transfer to a container and place in the freezer for four hours or overnight to harden further. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if desired.
This ice cream is so delicious and it actually does taste like a whiskey sour. It is light and refreshing, but with a tiny bite from the bourbon. We chose to use a sweeter bourbon to help balance out the tartness of the lemon. If you really wanted to boost the cocktail factor of this recipe, you could add in some bitters, but we opted for a more refreshing citrusy ice cream.
A Second Review of Woodinville Whiskey Co. Bourbon
Last year, we reviewed the Woodinville Whiskey Co. Bourbon. The general opinion back then was that the wood from the barrels overpowered all the other flavors. We wrote that the whiskey didn’t taste bad, it was just a one-note experience. Well, we recently received an email from Woodinville Whiskey Co. saying they read our review, they’ve been working on their process, and would we be interested in tasting the new product.
We agreed for a couple of reasons. It’s not very often anyone gets an opportunity to taste the progression of a product. Also, it shows that Woodinville Whiskey Co. is seeking out feedback and attempting to improve their product. Trying to get better is always respectable.
We noticed a difference as soon as we unwrapped the bottle. The color of the whiskey was noticeably darker than before. The biggest takeaway from this tasting is that this bourbon is much more balanced than the bourbon we tasted a year ago. While we could still smell and taste the vanilla and oak from the barrels, this time we noted some floral, cherry, and raisin notes both in the smell and taste. It’s also much smoother than before, though we wish the finish would linger for a bit longer than it does. At one point, we discussed how it was very interesting to taste a product where we could taste that it was the same product we had before, only a better version of it.
*Even though this nightcap was on Woodinville Whiskey’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
Until recently, we’d never tasted Drambuie. Since we’re always down to try new flavors, we jumped at the opportunity to add it to our bar. Drambuie is a blend of scotch, honey, spices, and herbs. It’s extremely sweet, almost cloying, but it mixes well with just about any whisk(e)y without overpowering.
We mixed equal parts Maker’s Mark and Drambuie over ice. Anthony Caporale of Drambuie is calling the Maker’s mixture “Little Bit Rusty” because it’s basically a variation of the classic Rusty Nail (which mixes Drambuie with scotch). Honestly, we were a bit skeptical of Drambuie before we tasted it. We’re generally not very big on infusions or herbal blends with whiskey, but this liqueur does make a good accompaniment to any type of whiskey when you’re in the mood for something sweet.
Just in case you needed step-by-step instructions, here’s how to make a Little Bit Rusty:
1 part Drambuie 1 part bourbon
Stir in a mixing glass with ice, then pour into an old fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if desired.
*Even though this nightcap was on Drambuie’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
Michelle Ruocco has been shaking up cocktails at The Bent Brick since February and already the bar has seen a revitalization of its cocktail menu. The Bent Brick uses only domestic spirits in the bar, so Ruocco has supplemented the inventory with her own house-made liqueurs, cordials, and syrups. She changes the menu seasonally, pulling ingredients in from the kitchen’s stock of local farm produce, as well as harvesting herbs from The Bent Brick’s own patio garden.
For fall, Ruocco made an infused bourbon with butternut squash and mixed it with Root, herbal liqueur, and spices to come up with The Fall Back cocktail. To be honest, we were skeptical of a butternut squash bourbon, but after tasting the drink, we are converts. It is well balanced, with the squash taste hitting the palate first, then mellowing into the Root and spices. The bourbon flavor doesn’t get lost, and it’s the oaky vanilla notes that pull this cocktail together.
Being limited to domestic spirits hasn’t posed much of a problem for Ruocco, who noted that America is great at bourbon and other whiskies and Portland produces a number of delicious gins. At the time of our visit, half the drinks on the cocktail menu contained bourbon, which is just what we like to see. The Bent Brick’s well whiskey is Henry McKenna, a Heaven Hill Distilleries bourbon known for its high quality and low profile.
One of the greatest things about The Bent Brick is that they have an old fashioned on tap. Yes. You read that correctly. Old fashioned on tap. And it’s delicious! We asked for just a sample (pictured above), so it wasn’t served over the usual large ice cube, but since Ruocco pre-dilutes the drink, it didn’t really need the ice. She mixes up a big batch of bourbon with carefully measured sugar and bitters, then stirs it all with ice and strains it.
The Damson in Distress is one of Ruocco’s most recent inventions and she’s proud of its low alcohol content. Ruocco said “People aren’t looking to go out and get smashed anymore. They just want to enjoy themselves and enjoy the beverage.” This drink is really tasty and would be nice as an aperitif because it is bitter, tart, and juicy. It is made with whiskey, damson gin liqueur, blueberry syrup, lemon, egg white, and Angostura bitters.
We only tried one item off the food menu and it was one of the best charcuterie plates we’ve ever had. We’ve honestly never enjoyed paté and rillettes more than at The Bent Brick, possibly because they were lightly dusted with flakey salt and pickled shallots. The plate also included two lovely ham slices, pickled cucumbers, and surprisingly tasty pickled celery.
I'll Take Manhattans: The Story of Bitters with Dale DeGroff
We’re always looking for an opportunity to expand our knowledge, especially when it comes to cocktails, so we jumped at the opportunity to attend Portland Cocktail Week's The Story of Bitters class with Dale DeGroff. If you ever get the chance to learn about mixed drinks from a guy whose alias is King Cocktail and makes bitters with his face on the bottle, you should open your mindgrapes to some booklearnin’.
The class began with a brief history of bitters, including the creation of Angostura bitters in the 1830s as a stomach tonic and how the inclusion of bitters defined a cocktail. He then led us through a bitters tasting, which was essentially the same familiar process as tasting wine or whiskey (if you’d like to try this on your own).
The sequence of bitters we tasted were (from left to right) Angostura bitters, Boker’s, The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters, DeGroff’s Pimento, and Fee Brothers Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters. After tasting the bitters on their own, he then had us sip each one mixed with rye whiskey. Then we were served a couple different manhattans (made with rye or bourbon and one of the sampled bitters) to taste how the different bitters interacted with the other ingredients to create variations of the classic Manhattan. While it might be tedious to get into the minute details of each cocktail and bitters, we did notice a wide variation in flavor. (For the record, our two favorite Manhattans were mixed with the Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters and The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters.) Since we’re sure you’re curious, the Manhattan recipe used by DeGroff was as follows:
1½ oz. George Dickel rye ¾ oz. Sweet Dolin vermouth ½ oz. Dry Dolin vermouth (bitters)
The general takeaway was that knowing your bitters will make you a better bartender. The Angostura bitters made a much sweeter Manhattan, while the Fee Brothers and DeGroff bitters made much for a much smoother overall texture. Every drinker will have a different preference. Our class of about 30 people was pretty evenly split on which of the five Manhattans was our favorite.
The event took place at Portland’s newest whiskey bar, the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library. As wordnerds and whiskey lovers, we feel this place was created almost specifically for us. Not only does it have an extensive catalog of whisk(e)ys, but they accounted for every detail from library ladders on the back bar to dimly lit accountant lamps to create a very classic library atmosphere. Any library where drinking is encouraged is our kind of place.
Apéritif 101: Elegant Fundamentals with Lady Lillet
There’s really no better way to start a Sunday morning than with a light cocktail and French pastry. Lillet, St. Jack, and Imbibe made that lovely experience possible with their Apéritif Cocktails 101 class for Portland Cocktail Week.
We were fairly new to Lillet, but thankfully Lady Lillet (AKA Amanda Victoria) taught a great class, which was full of students just as excited as we were.
Apéritifs are low in alcohol and intended to stimulate the appetite before a meal. Lillet, founded in 1872, is a fortified wine composed of 85% Bordeaux grapes and 15% macerated liqueur containing 10-12 different stone fruits, barks, and quinine.
Lillet Blanc is the original and the most popular Lillet product. It was created in 1872 (though it has been reformulated since that time) and made famous by the Vesper cocktail in Casino Royale. Lillet Rouge was released in 1962. It is sweeter and tastes rather like sangria. Lillet Rosé was released in 2002. It is blended in the Champagne style and is more delicate than its sister products.
The best way to drink any type of Lillet is “on ice with a slice” of orange, lime, or grapefruit. They are also terrific in cocktails, recipes for which are readily available online (and one appears below). One of us preferred Lillet Blanc, while the other was partial to Lillet Rosé for sipping on their own, but we are both intrigued by the possibilities of Lillet Rouge for whiskey cocktails. It could be used in place of sweet vermouth in classics like the manhattan or the boulevardier.
We then created our own apéritif cocktail as a class.
2 oz. Lillet of your choice 1 oz. Raspberry tea ½ oz. Honey syrup Grapefruit tonic
Combine first three ingredients in a highball glass. Add a generous amount of ice and top with grapefruit tonic. Garnish with a lemon wedge and mint sprig.
Portland Cocktail Week is in full swing, and we’ll be covering as many events as possible. First up was a blind Scotch whisky tasting at the Richmond Bar with Martin Daraz of Highland Park.
To start, Daraz reminded us how to properly taste whisk(e)y: smell it first with your lips parted for several seconds, then take a sip and “chew” it for a few seconds, swallow, then “chew” again with an empty mouth to fully experience the finish. No scent or tasting note you detect is wrong. Daraz emphasized that there is no correct answer for smell and taste, only a correct process of nosing and tasting.
Daraz’s focus is on whisky as a liquid (what does it smell and taste like?), rather than on any particular brand, region, or style of whisky. To that end, we tasted 16(!) different Scotch whiskies so that each guest could make up his or her own mind about what Scotch he or she preferred.
(Yes, those are giant platters of Pok Pok wings. Bonus points granted to Daraz.)
An interesting point for us came when Daraz remarked that Scotch producers are indebted to the American bourbon industry because most Scotch whiskies are aged in used bourbon barrels. (Remember that barrels can only be used once, when they’re new, for aging bourbon.) This is the "recycle, reduce, reuse" mantra from our childhood at its best, don’t you think?
The Oregon Distillers Guild is an organization working in behalf of 28 distilleries in the state. Equal parts brotherhood and ipseity, the Guild promotes its growing industry in the beautiful state of Oregon, as well as the individual characteristics that make each distillery unique.
We’ve been dreaming of affogato since our vacation in Italy a couple years ago. Suddenly it hit us: what could be better than adding a splash of bourbon for the ultimate dessert nightcap?
Bourbon Affogato 1 scoop Vanilla bean ice cream 1½ oz. Cold brew coffee 1 oz. Bourbon
Gently pour coffee and bourbon over ice cream. Serve.
This is a modern take on affogato using cold brew coffee in place of espresso. We love espresso, but why not use a strongly brewed coffee that won’t immediately melt the ice cream? We’re all about savoring this glorified bourbon float as long as possible.
We used Stumptown Cold Brew and Four Roses Small Batch for this dessert—a perfect pairing of bitter, sweet, and creamy.
It has been a rainy, blustery week in Portland. We chose to make this drink as a perfectly cozy accompaniment to our first wood stove fire of the season. Also, the recipe is from a bar in Boston that we enjoyed when we lived nearby.
Presbyterian Toddy 1½ oz. Bourbon ½-¾ oz. Honey ginger syrup* (depending on your taste) 2 dashes Orange bitters Hot water
Add first three ingredients to a heat-safe glass. Top with hot water and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a clove-studded lemon wedge.
This drink is super tasty. We used a stronger bourbon since it was going to be diluted a bit with the water. It is important to use a smallish glass so that the drink doesn’t become too watery. Although we are tea lovers and were skeptical about making a toddy without it, this is actually a very well balanced hot drink that lets the bourbon shine better than if it were competing with black tea.
Honey Ginger Syrup ½ cup Honey ½ cup Water ½ inch Finely grated ginger root
In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and heat, while stirring, over medium heat for 7-10 minutes. Don’t let mixture reach a boil. Let cool to room temperature before using. Don’t strain, and be sure to shake before each use to redistribute the grated ginger bits.
We’re fans of fresh herbs in our bourbon cocktails. This simple drink from the Tasting Table test kitchen is right up our alley.
Juloro 3 sprigs Thyme 2 bar spoons Sugar 1 oz. Club soda 2½ oz. Bourbon Lemon wedge
Combine first three ingredients in the bottom of a highball glass and muddle gently until some of the sugar has dissolved. Add the bourbon and some crushed ice and stir until chilled and well combined. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
This drink really lets the bourbon be the star, and we love that. We used a good mixing bourbon, Four Roses Small Batch, which has a sweet flavor and spicy finish. Our only complaint about this drink is with the directions. The muddling removed some thyme leaves from the stem and a few of them floated into our mouths when sipping. In the future, we might make the thyme syrup in a separate mixing glass, strain into the highball serving glass, and then add in a fresh thyme leaf as garnish.
Any guesses regarding the origins of this cocktail’s unusual name?
Another great perk of moving back to Portland is the availability of Stumptown's cold brew iced coffee. We've been looking forward to incorporating it into some bourbon treats because coffee and bourbon complement each other so well. We decided to start with a really simple ice cream.
Coffee Bourbon Ice Cream 2 cups heavy whipping cream 1 cup milk 3 oz. cold brew iced coffee 2 oz. bourbon ¾ cup sugar
Mix milk and sugar in a bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add cream, coffee, and bourbon and mix. Pour into ice cream maker, let it churn for about 30 minutes.
We love this simple ice cream recipe base of milk, cream, and sugar. It’s easy to make and adapt to any flavor you choose. This combination of coffee and bourbon is perfect. You could probably just make coffee and let it cool to room temperature, but we chose to use cold brew because it tends to have a stronger and smoother coffee flavor. The coffee is the main flavor while the bourbon adds a the perfect hint of sweetness.
Widmer Brothers Gentlemen's Club Old Fashioned Style Ale Aged in Bourbon Barrels
When we first arrived in Portland, a good friend gave us this beer as a welcome gift. We were very excited to try it, especially because we’re generally pleased with Widmer Brothers beers, and we loved the Widmer Brothers Barrel-Aged Brrrbon when we tried it.
Brewed in partnership with Cigar City Brewing, this Widmer Brothers offering is described on the bottle as “90% ale brewed with cherries, lemons, and oranges and aged in bourbon barrels and 10% ale.” We were amazed at how strongly all of those flavors mingled with and complemented each other. After noticing its cloudy amber color, we were immediately hit by its strong aroma of citrus and yeast. These flavors are all apparent upon tasting as well, but they were joined by the sweet, oaky flavor of the bourbon barrel and the underlying layer of cherry. The cherry provides a tartness that stands out just before a pleasantly bitter finish. This was easily one of our favorite barrel-aged beers. In fact, the only thing we weren’t too keen on was the “Gentlemen’s Club” branding. Our beer appears to have been bottled on May 30 of this year, and we’re not sure about current availability. We highly recommend picking up a bottle if you’re able to find it.
We spotted Thai basil while wandering the aisles of a giant Asian market recently and remembered that we had seen a bourbon cocktail recipe that called for it. And since we thought the ginger and black pepper agave syrup would work well with herbs, we decided to modify the drink recipe to include it instead of just plain simple syrup.
Summer on Sligo (Modified) 2 oz. Bourbon ¾ oz. Ginger and black pepper agave syrup ½ oz. Lime juice 3 Thai basil leaves, plus one more for garnish
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a lowball glass with ice and garnish with a fresh Thai basil leaf.
This drink has a lot going on, but it is actually really smooth and fairly mellow. Thai basil is more citrusy than the sweet basil common in Western cooking and it smells of anise, making it a nice complement to the other flavors in this cocktail. We chose to use a sweeter bourbon to balance the spice and citrus.
An unexpected bonus of Thai basil is that their terminal leaves sort of resemble the mockingjay designs from The Hunger Games.
We reviewed both Four Roses Small Batch and Four Roses (Yellow) back when we first started this blog. Despite liking both of those variations, we never got around to picking up other Four Roses products, mainly because there are so many different bourbons to try, with new products being released all the time. Luckily, we recently received a bottle to review.
One of the first things we noticed was the small leather belt around the bottle’s neck. It’s attention to those small details that signifies a high level of quality that we’d expect to carry through to the actual whiskey in the bottle. Four Roses Single Barrel doesn’t disappoint, either. It has a dark gold color and a light fruity scent that carried pretty much through our entire house. The fruit comes through on first taste, followed by a long spicy finish. Maple and pear flavors complement each other well and provide a nice sweetness before the spice comes in, creating a very nice balance. At 100 proof, it falls right into our proof wheelhouse for bourbon. We also tasted it with ice because 95 degrees is too many degrees to drink anything without ice. Ice smooths out Four Roses Single Barrel a lot, making it incredibly mellow without losing any of the flavor. This bourbon will definitely find a consistent place on our home bar.
Even though this nightcap was on Four Rose’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
We were thrilled to receive a copy of Greg Henry’s Savory Cocktails. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know we are not huge fans of overly sweet drinks, so this recipe book has quickly become our go-to for creative inspiration. (Confession: I read Savory Cocktails straight through, as if it were a novel. It’s really interesting!)
The book is organized by flavor categories: sour, spicy, herbal, umami, bitter, smoky, rich, and strong. It also includes recipes for bitters, syrups, and shrubs. Other than a few quibbles with the indexing, we found this recipe book to be exceedingly well researched and accessible, with interesting introductions and notes on nearly every page. The recipes are straightforward and the instructions are thorough.
We made the ginger and black pepper agave syrup, which is an infusion of fresh ginger and black peppercorns into warm water and agave syrup. We’ve made ginger syrup before, but the addition of black peppercorns grounds the ginger zing with some mild spice. We mixed the syrup into the cocktail below, and we could also imagine it pairing well with herbs.
2 oz. Bourbon ½ oz. Lemon juice ¼ oz. Ginger and black pepper agave syrup 2 dashes Whiskey barrel-aged bitters
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a lowball glass with ice and garnish with a lemon peel.
Even though this post was sponsored by Ulysses Press, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free products don’t automatically taste better.
We have such awesome readers. You guys have tremendous talents, not to mention generosity, and the days when we get emails and comments offering to share your talents with us are some of the most uplifting as bloggers. One recent such experience came from Lar (AKA @loudtalknliquor), who sent us three of his spectacular homemade bitters. The one we were most intrigued by was the bottle of charred cedar bitters, which we tried in a cocktail recommended by Lar. Stay tuned for further experiments with Lar’s bitters.
Gold ‘N’ Brown 2 oz. Maker’s Mark bourbon 3 dashes Charred cedar bitters 2 oz. Ginger ale
Stir all ingredients in a lowball glass with ice.
This drink packs in an extraordinary amount of complexity for such a simple recipe. The charred cedar bitters match well with bourbon (not surprising if you think about the aging process). Next time, we might try substituting ginger beer for a little more bite.
Big House Tupelo Honey is the second of two new whiskeys by Big House, a division of Underdog Spirits. Tupelo Honey begins with Big House Bourbon (which we recently tried and enjoyed) then is blended with honey liqueur.
The most polite way to say this is simply that Tupelo Honey is not made for us. We like whiskey and bourbon (obviously), and we feel that flavored whiskeys are an attempt to expand the market and make whiskey more appealing to non-whiskey drinkers. That being said, we found Tupelo Honey far too sweet and syrupy to enjoy. Oddly, its scent was overpoweringly alcoholic, which is unexpected considering its very low 70 proof. We’d recommend spending your $20 on Big House Bourbon over Tupelo Honey.
Even though this nightcap was on Big House’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
You know you have to try a recipe that caused someone to use up all her spoons tasting it. The procedure here is more complicated than a standard ice cream recipe, but it’s worth it. We’re copying the recipe verbatim below because the directions are spot on.
Burnt Caramel Bourbon Ice Cream with Toffee
1½ cups whole milk 1½ Tbsp. cornstarch ½ cup of your favorite bourbon 1¼ cups heavy cream 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup 4 Tbsp. mascarpone cheese, softened ¼ tsp. salt ⅔ cup granulated sugar ¾ cup milk chocolate toffee pieces (like Heath chips or chopped Heath bar)
Measure out the milk. Take 2 tablespoons of the milk and combine it with the cornstarch to create a slurry, whisking constantly. Set aside. Add the bourbon to the milk.
Measure out the heavy cream and add the corn syrup to it. Add the mascarpone to a large bowl and whisk in the salt. Set aside.
To make the burnt caramel, I used Jeni’s dry burning technique. You have to keep an eye on the caramel the ENTIRE time! Heat a large (Jeni calls for 4-qt.) saucepan over medium heat and add sugar; make sure it is in one layer cover the whole bottom of the pot. Literally watch the sugar until it begins to melt and the outsides turn caramely and melty. Once there is just a small amount of white sugar remaining in the center, use a heat proof spatula and scrape the melted sugar from the sides into the center. Continue to do so until all of the sugar is melted, and stir well. Watch sugar as it begins to bubble and once the edges are bubbly and releasing smoke and the sugar turns a dark amber color, remove from heat. The only way to truly judge it right before it BURN burns is to carefully stand over top and smell/watch. The minute you remove it from the heat, add a few tablespoons of the cream/corn syrup mixture (be careful—it will spit!) and whisk constantly to combine. Slowly add the remaining cream very slowly, whisking constantly.
Place the saucepan back over medium heat and add the milk/bourbon mix. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil (for me, this is over medium heat, and it takes a few minutes to achieve. Do NOT remove your eyes from the milk as it can easily bubble up and over, so have a spatula on hand and turn the heat down if necessary, increasing again slowly) and once boiling, boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the cornstarch slurry, whisking to combine. Place back over heat and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring with a spatula until slightly thickened. Gently pour mixture into the large bowl with the mascarpone and whisk to combine.
Fill a large bowl with ice and ice water, placing an open gallon-sized ziplock bag in the water, bottom down. Pour the mixture carefully into the bag, then press the air out and seal. Chill for 30-45 minutes. Once chilled, set up your ice cream maker according to its directions and pour the ice cream in. Churn according to directions. For my Kitchenaid, I churned for 20 minutes. Five minutes before finishing, add in toffee pieces. Once churned, spread in a freezer-safe container and place a piece of plastic wrap on top, pressing against the ice cream. Freeze for 4-6 hours before serving. Note: this ice cream is soft!
We didn’t use up all our spoons tasting it, but we did have a scoop for lunch. This ice cream is that good. The texture achieved by the heat, cornstarch, and cheese is so smooth and decadent. The Heath bar pieces add a lovely textural contrast. Most important, the bourbon really shines and is complemented by the caramel.
We made a few substitutions and the ice cream turned out fine. First, we used 2% instead of whole milk. Second, we used agave nectar instead of corn syrup. (This is the most questionable substitution because the corn syrup is intended to bind the water molecules so the ice cream freezes better, and agave nectar doesn’t have the same glucose level. We only made this substitution because we had already had a long day filled with work and a pet medical emergency and we weren’t about to make another errand for ourselves by running out to buy corn syrup.) The third change was using a metal mixing bowl instead of a Ziploc bag to hold the ice cream mixture in the ice bath.
We weren’t sure how this cocktail would turn out when we saw the recipe in Imbibe, but we knew we had to give it a try. Balsamic vinegar is an unexpected addition to a bourbon cocktail, but we’ve had success pairing other types of vinegar with bourbon, and we trusted the recipe’s source.
Bufala Negra 1½ oz. Bourbon 4 Basil leaves 1 Brown sugar cube ½ oz. Balsamic syrup* 2 oz. Ginger beer
Gently muddle the balsamic syrup, basil leaves, and sugar in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add bourbon and ice and shake vigorously to combine. Strain into a lowball glass with ice and top with ginger beer and a fresh basil leaf.
This cocktail is super complex and surprisingly light. Its dark color from the balsamic was a little off-putting, but the delicate basil scent is pleasant when you lift the glass to your lips. The ginger beer is crucial to the balance of this cocktail, and we wouldn’t be shy about adding more than two ounces if you prefer lighter drinks.
*Balsamic Syrup 1 oz. Balsamic vinegar 1 oz. Simple syrup
Combine ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for one minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Last week we received an exciting invitation from Alma Chocolate in Portland to taste their boozy bon bons. Obviously, we wasted no time heading over to their shop, where we learned all about Alma’s history and its decadent products. Not only do they sell chocolate but also hot chocolate, ice cream, caramel sauce, and toffee. Plus, they host a regular dinner series featuring local chefs. This is our kind of place, but we were there specifically for the bon bons, and we got right down to business by sampling the bourbon bon bon made with Maker’s Mark. This is a bitter, complex dark chocolate shell covering a soft, smooth center flavored generously with bourbon. It is a home run and the perfect lead-in to Alma’s cocktail-inspired bon bons.
In what they call “the best game of ping pong ever,” Alma’s founder, Sarah Hart, worked with mixologist Kyle Linden Webster (opening bartender at St. Jack, and now behind the newly opened Expatriate with wife Naomi Pomeroy of Beast) to trade chocolate tasting notes and cocktail recipes back and forth until they developed a line of bon bons that actually taste like some of our favorite drinks.
In our carefully wrapped to-go packages, we found bon bons containing prunes soaked in Madeira and House Spirits rum, filled with lime anise ganache, and dipped in dark chocolate. This candy was really intense. As one might expect, the prunes soak up the alcohol like sponges, but it was nicely balanced by the citrus spiciness of the ganache. Our favorite bon bon was the Pegu Club, which is a dry gin ganache with a honey-lime caramel, dipped in dark chocolate, and finished with Angostura-soaked coconut. The flavors in this bon bon are so layered and complex. Each nibble brought a new experience, and we can’t wait for our next trip to Alma Chocolate.
Even though this post was sponsored by Alma Chocolate, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free products don’t automatically taste better.
Big House Bourbon is a new bourbon from Underdog Spirits. Though Underdog is based in California, their whiskey is actually distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Underdog is responsible for a number of wines and other spirits, including Cupcake Vodka and Big House wines. Like the wine, Big House Bourbon comes with a heavy prison schtick that seems a bit over the top. But we can appreciate that their website also includes a thorough fact sheet about how their bourbon is made from beginning to end.
Big House is made with a mash of 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley and is aged for six years. It has a golden-reddish color. Its nose is very smooth and light, with caramel, peach, and apricot notes. The caramel continues into its taste, where there is also light fruity flavors like apples, honey, and even lemon. At 90 proof, there isn’t much of a burn and not much spice to the finish. Though it can be a little one-note and on the lighter side, Big House makes for a nice bourbon to sip on a warm summer day. It has a few rough edges that could be smoothed out, as it felt like each sip wasn’t totally consistent. Overall though, it’s a decent bourbon and well worth trying at about $20 a bottle.
Even though this nightcap was on Big House’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
Some people would scoff at drinking liquor from Costco’s in-house brand Kirkland Signature, but we are not those people. In fact, we’ve been known to swoop on bottles of Kirkland Signature vodka on the rare occasion we’ve been able to find it. (Liquor laws in different states sometimes dictates if Costco can sell alcohol at all.) Plus, we knew where Costco’s bourbon was coming from, but more on that later.
We first saw Costco’s bourbon a few years ago, but we didn’t buy it at the time. Though we remained intrigued by it, we never ended up buying it because the only Costco that sold liquor in Massachusetts was an hour’s drive away. Luckily, a person close to us recently bought us a bottle to welcome us back to the Pacific Northwest.
Before we get into our review, we should tell you that when we first found Kirkland Signature Bourbon, we immediately did some research to find out where it was coming from. After some Interneting and a call to a friend who works at Costco, we confirmed that Costco’s bourbon is made by Jim Beam. We’re guessing this is some variation of Knob Creek, though it’s aged only seven years compared to Knob Creek’s nine years. Its proof is also slightly higher than Knob Creek (103 to 100). It’s been a long time since we’ve had a standard bottle of Knob Creek (we’ve been meaning to try it again), but we did find some similarities between the two.
Kirkland Signature Bourbon has an amber-red color with a hint of gold in it. I thought its nose was mostly the expected vanilla and caramel sweetness of bourbon, and Rachel also picked up some caramelized banana. I thought the sweetness also overpowered this bourbon’s flavor, which was a little unexpected considering the high proof. The high alcohol content does tame the vanilla, oaky sweetness a bit, but not enough in my opinion. Rachel noted some cardamom hints as well. Overall, it’s not a bad option at a slightly lower price than Knob Creek, especially if you really like Knob Creek.
We had some leftover lemongrass and ginger from an Asian stir fry, so we thought we’d try to incorporate those great flavors into a cocktail. We decided to make a syrup, which is always a simple and powerful way to combine flavors.
Lemongrass-Ginger Fizz 2 oz. Bourbon 1 oz. Lemon juice ¾ oz. Lemongrass-ginger simple syrup* Club Soda
Combine top three ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to combine and chill, then strain into a lowball glass with ice. Top with a splash of club soda and garnish with a lemon twist.
*Lemongrass-Ginger Simple Syrup 3 stalks Lemongrass 1 inch Ginger root 1 cup Sugar 1 cup Water
Trim the lemongrass so that just the stiff, whitish base is left. Slice them down the center, but stop your blade a few layers from the bottom so that the stalk splays open, but doesn’t separate entirely. Take the flat side of a blade and smash the ginger a little bit so that it opens up to release the oils. Place all ingredients into a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer while stirring until the sugar has melted. Turn off the heat and let sit for about thirty minutes until it is fragrant. Strain into a glass container and store in the refrigerator.
This cocktail is so light and refreshing on a hot day. The earthiness of the syrup pairs really well with the bourbon, and the touch of acidity from the citrus balances it. I love carbonation in the summer, so the club soda is a great finishing touch.
Hello, everyone! We’re back! We’re getting settled into our West Coast home, which means we’re finally able to start writing about bourbon again. Words can’t really express how excited we are to get back to bourbon blogging. We decided to announce our return with an old fashioned. It’s a simple cocktail, but it’s always delicious once you’ve figured out exactly how you like your old fashioned. You know the drill: sugar, water, (or simple syrup), bourbon, orange, and a cherry (if that’s what you like).
Thank you to our readers who waited for us, and welcome to all of you new followers who jumped on board while we were on hiatus. It might take some time before we get back into a regular posting schedule, but we promise we’ll bring you bourbon reviews and cocktail recipes whenever possible.
We’re also pleased to announce our partnership with Bourbon Built, a company that makes wonderful prints, clothing, and accessories for bourbon lovers.