Friday, November 30, 2007

Homemade Lime Cordial

As a companion to my article on The Spirit World (should be up shortly), I wanted to put a more detailed piece about homemade lime cordial on my blog.

Awhile back, I wrote about the Gimlet and whether it must be made with Rose's Lime Juice. At that time, I stumbled on a recipe for homemade lime cordial on Wikipedia. For the last few weeks, I've been playing around with the recipe, and think I've (finally) got something. The original recipe was too sweet, and did not have enough lime. So I tinkered (and tinkered and tinkered).

First, the ingredients. The recipe started with weights, but I have converted them to volume equi
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Fresh Lime Juice
  • Fresh Lime Rind (this is a bit of a pain, unless you have one of these, but you can do it with a knife and some patience)
  • Citric Acid (granular, derived from fruit, and called "Sour Salt" and available at big grocery stores)
  • Tartaric Acid (also granular, also derived from fruit, tougher to find, although you can get it at homebrewing stores and winemaking supply shops). Just FYI, cream of tartar is a derivative of tartaric acid, so originally I tried to make the cordial with cream of tartar instead. Never quite got it to be acidic enough, it was always too sweet. So I broke down and hunted down the tartaric acid.
The below recipe will make about 3 cups of lime cordial:
  • 1 1/2 cups Water (380 ml)
  • 3/4 cup Sugar (.35 lb)
  • 3/4 tsp Citric Acid (3.75 g)
  • 3/8 tsp Tartaric Acid (1.875 g)
  • Juice of 4 limes (~3/4 cup)
  • Rind of 2 limes, cut into pieces

sugar, citric acid and tartaric acid together with a whisk. Bring water to a boil, then add sugar mixture. Stir thoroughly to dissolve sugar mixture into water. Add lime juice and rind, and stir. Heat mixture for 1-2 minutes on high heat, then cover and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight in a sealed container, then strain out lime rind. Refrigerate for another day before using (the flavor continues to change a bit). Stored in the refrigerator, it should keep better than simple syrup.

Other Variations If you want it to be more tart, you can up the acids and/or reduce the sugar. Its also delicious made with lemon rather than lime. I particularly like a gimlet made with lemon cordial, with a gin that has lemon peel in its flavor profile.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Academy of Spirits, Part III

The Academy of Spirits is winding down, after ten exciting weeks of learning, tasting and mixing drinks. The last few classes have included cognac & brandy, vodka & gin (taught by Simon Ford of Absolut/Plymouth Gin), beer and aperitifs & cordials. Most of the classes have been great, and we've been able to taste a range of products.

Yesterday, we pulled it all together and mixed cocktails for a couple of hours. We made a Blood & Sand, modified Moscow Mule, Negroni, spiced flip, and a Bloody Mary from scratch (using cherry tomatoes). A pretty great way to spend a Monday afternoon, if you ask me, and I didn't even wear any of my drinks home (I tend to be a bit messy, especially outside of my own kitchen).

We also had to turn in an original recipe, which is part of the final exam. It must be a tall drink, served on ice, in a 6½ ounce glass. Of course we have to use spirits that we covered in class (which means they have to come from the Southern Wine & Spirits portfolio), but since they are probably the largest distributor in the U.S., there were lots of choices.

Here is my recipe:

Harvest Moon
1½ oz Knob Creek Bourbon

1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
½ oz Fresh-squeezed Orange Juice
Dash of Peach Bitters
Club Soda

Shake bourbon, liqueur, juice and bitters together, strain into ice-filled tall glass. Top up with club soda. Garnish with an orange wheel and pansy flower (I think, I'm still working on the garnish).

I'll post an update next week with photos from the competition. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Is the Gin Market Flat?

I read a lot on the Internet, including many blogs. I am often inspired by others, and I enjoy learning from my online adventures. Occasionally I read something that sticks with me and gets me thinking. A couple of weeks ago, this article by Jordan Mackay appeared on In the article, Mr. Mackay writes that the “gin market is flatlining” and that “[t]he proliferation of new gins is not a response to a market demand, but instead seems angled to create one, fueled by bartenders, distillers and booze enthusiasts rather than the general public.”

To be candid, the only reason I knew about it was because our website received a few hits from the article. In the interest of full disclosure, I am the co-founder of a small distillery (North Shore Distillery), and our flagship product is a thing called Distiller’s Gin No. 6. Mr. Mackay mentions our gins (neither positively nor negatively) in the article, so we got a few hits.

This article got me thinking. Is Mr. Mackay right? Is the gin market really flat? Is the proliferation of new gins really not a response to market demand? I am sure the statistics Mr. Mackay cites are accurate, but I don’t think they tell the whole story of what is happening with gin.

Proliferation of Gins
Indeed, as Mr. Mackay writes, there are a number of new gins coming to the market. He singles out some of the smaller brands in his critique, but the new gins are coming from a variety of sources. Some are from big houses (e.g., South Gin from Bacardi, Martin Miller from Skyy), others from small craft distilleries (e.g., Aviation, Distiller’s Gin No. 6) and still others from small marketing companies that seem to have lots of capital and big aspirations to launch national/international brands (e.g., Bulldog, D.H. Krahn). This isn’t so different from what you see in other segments of the alcoholic beverage industry. You could point to a similar variety of sources (and volume of new products) in beer, rum/cachaça, and tequila, and there are far more new entries coming in the vodka market.

As with any category of spirits, there are a variety of flavors and styles represented in these news offerings. Some are closer to a flavored vodka, with very little juniper flavor (and some with very little flavor at all), while others are an entirely new take on gin. The federal government’s definition of “gin” is very broad, so the distiller has a lot of latitude. And indeed, as Mr. Mackay writes, some of these gins are being made by people who don’t have a lot of experience. Based on what I’ve seen in the industry, any poor quality product will surely be dismissed as such by the consumers and critics.

Consumer Interest in Gin
Just as background, I spend several hours nearly every Friday and every Saturday in a liquor store or wine shop. I’m there to pour samples and tell people about our company and products, but I also have an opportunity to observe consumer behavior. I also spend nearly every Thursday and quite a few other nights a week in the restaurants, bars and clubs in the Chicago area. So I consider myself well-exposed to what’s happening in the alcoholic drinks world, at least in Chicago.

What do I see? I see a lot of younger people asking about gin, and interested in gin. They like the variety and options available in gin, and that it’s something different. Many folks have been turned off by all the hype and marketing around vodkas, and are looking for something else to drink. At least some of them are turning to gin as an alternative. The marketing approach used by Hendricks Gin is at least partly responsible – it aims to appeal to the person who doesn’t like to follow the herd. And there are a lot of them out there.

Now are these people the “general public”? No, but they are the trendsetters. In my experience, this is how new trends start. The general public doesn’t set new trends, it tends to follow rather than lead. Now, at least some of the leaders are going toward gin. This is all part of the resurgence of the cocktail culture, and interest in old-time cocktails (and properly made cocktails) rather than artificially flavored schlock.

A couple of other observations:

  • There is a dramatic difference between what people who live or hang out in the city are drinking from those who live in the suburbs (and beyond), and the city usually leads the trends.
  • More and more people in Chicago (and elsewhere) are beginning to appreciate high quality cocktails, as evidenced by the tremendous success of the cocktail programs at Nacional 27, the Spring Restaurant Group, The Violet Hour, and the newest entry, The Drawing Room at Le Passage.
  • Gin is an essential ingredient in a classic cocktail program, along with rye whiskey, bourbon and other spirits that are also experiencing a bit of a revival.

Craft Distilling
Another trend that Mr. Mackay noted is the growth in craft distilling, and that some of the new gins are coming from small craft distilleries. When we started our distillery three years ago, there were about 65 small distilleries in the U.S. Now there are 90 or so, so craft distilling is definitely a new trend. It’s a relatively uncharted frontier – the spirits industry has long been dominated by very large players (
Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, etc.), and distribution is tightly controlled by very large distributors in most markets. Nonetheless, intrepid adventurers are making spirits and trying to bring them to market.

Like the craft breweries before us (and small wineries before them), true craft distillers are often trying to challenge the status quo and showcase their capabilities as craftspeople. We use real ingredients rather than flavorings from flavoring labs, and sometimes step outside the traditional bounds and categories. As a result, we will sometimes make things that not everyone will like (especially those purists or traditionalists among us). But this is how real innovation occurs. We don’t use big focus groups and test marketing strategies like a Pernod-Ricard would (e.g., Indigo Gin, which seems to be disappearing from the Chicago market (can't even find a website for it)).

Are some craft distillers going to put out bad products? Undoubtedly. But some will also put out amazing things, the likes of which have not been seen before. While the former can be said for the big houses and the spirits marketing companies, the latter is less likely to come from those two groups.

The Bottom Line
The bottom line for me (us) is we love gin. We’re really excited to see people exploring gin again, and we see it all across the market, not just among the bartenders & booze enthusiasts.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Beaujolais Nouveau 2007

As of yesterday, Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

Is David Tamarkin, the wine guru from Time Out Chicago, right that the annual launch of Beaujolais Nouveau is
"the wine world’s biggest marketing scam"?

Well, yes, he is right. If its not the biggest, its one of the biggest. Nonetheless, being intrepid drink
s fans and curious folk, we ventured out to our neighborhood wine store to see how many folks were out and what the general response to the Beaujolais Nouveau was this year.

My first experience with Beaujolais Nouveau was in London six years ago. I didn't know anything about it, but was in a French restaurant on the right Thursday, and they offered it to me. At first, I thought it was a great idea, and I had a couple of glasses. I even got sucked into the marketing that year and the next. Then, later, I learned more about it... and now I mostly stay away. This year, for some reason, I got curious again. Was it any different than I remembered?

This Year's Beaujolais Nouveau
We went to Wine Knows in Grayslake, Illinois, a great wine shop run but two very nice gentlemen who really know their wine. Here's a photo of Larry, one of the owners, along with two of the samplers at the tasting:

Wine Knows was pouring three different bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, the ubiquitous Georges de Boeuf, Primeur by Joseph Drouhin, and one from Domaine Depeuble. Here are the labels (I'm still practicing how to take good shots for this blog):

So how were they? The de Boeuf and Primeur tasted very similar to each other. As David Tamarkin (correctly) put it, "its ... soft, simple stuff with little to no complexity." In other words, boring, rather blah.

In contrast, the Domaine Depeuble was drier, with a bit more body. We're still talking Beaujolais Nouveau, so it was very light, but it was definitely the best of the three. We took a bottle home and had it with dinner.

Anyone else gotten sucked into the Beaujolais Nouveau craze? If so, which ones did you try, and did you like them?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

R& W Creme de Violette Redux, and a Note on Storage

In my earlier post, I wrote that I think the Miclo Liqueur de Violette is superior to the Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette. I now wish to update my views on the R&W (pic taken from the Haus Alpenz website).

The R&W liqueurs (along with the other Haus Alpenz spirits) are now invading Chicago, so I've started seeing them. In fact, I bought a bottle of the Apricot Liqueur, which is fantastic. I got a bottle of the Batavia Arrack in SF, although I've not yet experimented with it.

Tasting Redux
I had another taste of the Violette at The Violet Hour last week, and it was very good. Complex, not too sweet, with a nice lingering violet flavor. I also had a cocktail with it on Saturday night with some friends, and it was delightful then as well. It really shined in the cocktails. The key seems to be that both of these bottles were brand new, just opened. The bottle we tried in San Francisco (both in a cocktail and straight) had been there for awhile, and the bartender we talked with wasn't a big fan, so I don't think it was used very often.

To be fair, we've also noticed changes over time with the Miclo. I went back and revisited a bottle I opened on Labor Day here (early Sept. for those not in the US), and it has already changed color some and the violet flavor has declined some. What's left is on its way to a sweet, nondescript liqueur. We keep it now only to see what else might happen to it. I have another new bottle on hand for when I'm ready to embark on a Violette fest.

What to Do, What to Do
The key may be this: like any liqueur (or vermouth, etc.) that is not above a certain proof, it should be used quickly or else refrigerated. If it is not, the flavor will decline, and the spirit could potentially go bad.

I think this happens fairly often, and its a mystery to me why it doesn't get talked about more. Many a bartender/bar owner I've met uses only economy-sized bottles of vermouth, even though they rarely pour it, and they don't refrigerate it. It seems like manufacturers don't do enough to tell people how to handle these products either. Some products say something on the label, but many don't.

Anyone else have any stories with spoiled spirits? I'm thinking of a bad experience with a cream liqueur many years ago that enlightened me to the need for refrigeration...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mixology Monday!

I am excited to participate in my first Mixology Monday. For anyone who isn't aware, Paul Clarke at the Cocktail Chronicles started a great program for bloggers & mixologists. Once a month, interested folks post about that month's topic, and one of the bloggers hosts the conversation and writes up a summary. This month's theme is gin, and its being hosted by Jay Hepburn over at Oh Gosh! (the guidelines are posted here).

I love gin, so once I saw this topic I knew I was in. Here's just a sampling of our gin collection. Believe it or not, we have many more gins, they're just not all at home where I had the camera. Since we're in the gin business, we like to try other gins and we often end up buying a bot
tle unless we can try them at a bar. Plus, we like to have options for our guests (we're sort of known for that nowadays).

When is Gin not Gin?
Gins vary widely on level of flavor, the flavor components and arrangement, smoothness and texture (that's why gin is so fun). I've tried a few that you could substitute for vodka and not know the difference, and some that overpower nearly everything you mix with it. Some of the newer ones don't really meet my definition of gin - they have juniper in them, but you don't really taste it, or it isn't a dominant flavor in the spirit. It seems the government only checks the formula submittal to look for juniper, not the actual taste (that's a whole other topic).

Then there's the whole subject of how gins are made, and the differences in types of gin (Genever, London Dry, Old Tom, etc). Oh I could go on and on about gin! I think I'll have to expand on it in future posts.

Drinking Gin
To be honest, I primarily drink gin in martinis or on the rocks with a twist. However, we often make cocktails for friends and family (and on that rare occasion when I have a craving). One of my favorites cocktails with gin right now is the Bebbo Cocktail. I learned about it from Ted Haigh's excellent book, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails.

The Bebbo Cocktail
1½ oz Gin
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
½ oz Honey
2 tsp Fresh Orange Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Glass: cocktail

Stir all the ingredients in a shaker (without ice) until the honey has dissolved. Add ice, shake & strain into glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

And for fun, I thought I'd throw in an original recipe. I've been playing around with pears a lot lately - so many great varieties available right now.

Pearadise Found
2 oz Gin
2.5 oz Pear Puree or Nectar
1 oz Lillet Blanc
Dash of Orange Bitters
Glass: champagne flute or cocktail glass

Shake all the ingredients with ice, strain into glass. Garnish with a thin strip of red pear (or a skewer of small pear chunks).

Of course, depending on what gin you use, you may have to tweak these recipes slightly.

Cheers to Gin!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bitter Lemon Taste Tests

I don't know about you, but I love bitter lemon. Ever since I bought my first 6-pack of Schweppes Bitter Lemon, I've been hooked. For a long time, it was really hard to find, but in the last couple of years, we've seen it quite often. Sometimes I drink it alone, and sometimes I substitute it for tonic water in a G&T. I often describe it as a blend of tonic water and lemonade, and its refreshing.

This summer, a new bitter lemon came to Chicago (Fever Tree), so I had to try it. And then this fall, I found another one (Stirrings) when I was visiting downstate Illinois. So it seemed to be high time for a review & tasting of bitter lemon (I can't tell you how excited I am to have mor
e than one to try!).

With our 4-person tasting panel (my father-in-law is still here), we tasted these today. We tried them on their own, over ice, with vodka and with gin. As with our tonic tasting, we had a variety of opinions. Here's a general summary:

Fever Tree - three of us liked this one best on its own, with ice and with vodka. Its a bit lighter on quinine and overall flavor than the other two. It has a very fresh, genuine lemon flavor along with some nice herbal notes and a touch of quinine. With gin, only one of us liked it best (that was me). Others felt it was too light for gin.

Schweppes - one of us liked this one best on its own, with ice, and with vodka. It has a nice balance of lemon flavor and quinine, and like the tonic water, the quinine is actually accentuated by ice. The lemon is less fresh and natural compared to the other two. It worked well with the gin too, but only one us picked it as the favorite.

Stirrings - As with the tonic, this seemed to be a love it or hate it for our little tasting group. Two of us picked this as best with the gin, while the other two of us picked it as worst. On its own, with ice and with vodka, it was never chosen first, and sometimes chosen last. It has more flavor than the others, perhaps more quinine than Schweppes, and stronger herbal notes. To me, it tasted a bit like Sprite with some ginger & anise thrown in. Others tasted the ginger and earthy spices.

Anyone seen any other bitter lemon sodas out there? I just got my hands on some of the Dry Sodas, so I'm looking forward to trying those.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cocktail & Food Pairings

On Tuesday night, we had the pleasure of attending one of John Kinder's Spirited Dinners at MK The Restaurant. For the past few weeks, John has been running this program under the radar, just telling his friends & associates about it. We were excited to have an opportunity to join in this week.

John ha
s been working with MK's Executive Chef, Erick Simmons (click on "About Us" for bio & picture) and Pastry Chef Amy Sampson to develop a menu of cocktails and food pairings.Here's a brief rundown of the eating and drinking delights we enjoyed:

Aperitif & Amuse Bouche
d: fresh peeky toe crab, with small grapefruit pieces
Drink: House-made forelle pear spirit, clove grapefruit sour

1st Course & Cocktail
Food: Hamachi with yellow tail tuna, hearts of palm puree and pineapple relish
Drink: Gin No. 6 (a nice surprise!), jasmine-lemon sour, champagne, with a flamed tangerine peel garnish, which was a nice complement to the relish

Entree (and the most interesting pairing of the night)
Food: Crispy skin moulard duck breast, with cabbage, apples and calvados emulsion
Drink: Calvados, vermouth, orange juice and duck jus (yes, you read that right, duck jus)

This one was a great pairing, and the flavor from the duck jus was unmistakable in the cocktail. The cocktail was very savory already, and may have been a great pairing without the addition of duck jus, but it was also very interesting with it.

Food: buttermilk chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate mousse, bittersweet pave and meringue buttercream
Drink: John called it a Coffee Cocktail, made with cognac, port, sugar & a whole egg - it tasted a bit like coffee, but contained no coffee. John said it was an old-time cocktail, which I'll now have to research further!

This was a fantastic experience, and we were so excited to see John doing this. We've often played around with food & cocktail pairings, but most of the folks we talk to don't seem ready for it yet.

For John, its been a passion of his since he quit his day job to bartend a couple of years ago, so it was great to see him actually doing it (and having people come and enjoy it). If you're in Chicago, and you want to attend, get in touch with me and I'll put you in touch with John. So far, he's not seeking out publicity for this, but at some point its going to catch on and be very hard to get in on!