Archive for April, 2012

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Gunpowder and Revelry: The Proof Test

April 12, 2012

The team over at Serious Drinks has been creating some fantastic 101 write-ups for all things booze related. These posts and the blog on the whole is one of my favorite go-tos on a daily basis. I won’t re-hash the whole article as I posted a little on the matter not too long ago but I had to share this little piece of history…

It turns out, the term “proof” comes from the historically boozey environment of the open ocean waters. The British navy offered a daily ration of Rum to the sailors on-board and naturally this meant a good estimation of a voyage was needed. Sailors had the tendency to be suspicious of the crewman divvying up the rations because diluted rum just doesn’t do the job. In order to prove that the booze was full strength, they devised a simple test. With a little gunpowder and probably a bit of revelry, the “proof” test was simple. In order to catch on fire, the rum had to be around 57% ABV or 114 proof. If it didn’t, I don’t think it was a good day to be the one in charge.

Maybe I’ll start diluting the booze for the Gatherings and see how quickly the Noblers start lighting stuff on fire…

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When Worlds Collide

April 11, 2012

Over at Canigetasample, I used to chat quite a bit about my disdain for “fusion” cuisine. Specifically, the crappy neon lit, house music pumping “asian fusion” spots opening up all over the east side of the city. They are the worst. Their business model seems to be anchored in delivering less than stellar versions of many different cuisines so that instead of doing one thing particularly well, they offer pad thai and miso soup. Thanks but no thanks. But these types of places are just one subset of what “fusion” cuisine can really be. Some of the smartest and most talented chefs around the world are developing eye-opening blends of regional techniques, flavors, and ingredients to produce food that is both unique and familiar. So shouldn’t we be able to do the same with booze?

As I mentioned before, I’ve been working on a few recipes to get ready for this year’s Kentucky Derby party and there’s no question my basil julep has made the cut. But we just recently realized something pretty exciting. This year’s derby happens to fall on May 5th, which for all you non-Spanish translators out there, also happens to be Cinco de Mayo. Finkel is Einhorn. Einhorn is Finkel! And this is when my brain went crazy!

But blending regional flavors into cocktails isn’t as easy as some bars would like you to think. I would argue that this type of cocktail creation is in some ways even less forgiving than cooking fusion cuisine. Too often ingredients are added simply for their name alone as their subtlety is lost during consumption. A good example of that was this Empellon Manhattan (seen above). Don’t get me wrong. This drink tasted damn good and paired perfectly with the amazing Empellon Tacos. But the mole bitters and shaved chocolate didn’t resonate so much for me. Background flavors at best, these “Mexican” additions to the classic American cocktail couldn’t stand up the bourbon and sweet vermouth.

The cool thing is, when it comes to cocktail making, so much can be tweaked with those same four ingredients. Maybe it’s a simple shift in quantities, or maybe its something more complex like extracting the chocolate flavor directly into the bourbon. Looks like I better get back to work with the Derby just a few weeks away!

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From Sugars to Booze, We Thank the Yeast

April 10, 2012

Our second batch of Cow Thieves is almost ready to pop and I’m really excited to get into these guys. Just a few more days in the bottle, and they should be fully carbonated and delicious! We sampled a bit of the “pre-bottled” batch and these pilsners came out really exciting. This time around we chose two distinct hop varietals to use for each batch of one common pilsner recipe. This is just one of the seemingly endless variables beer makers can play with to produce all sorts of good stuff. Thinking ahead to the next production, I’m thinking we might look towards the yeast selection as a means to get even deeper. Considering fermentation has been around for all of humanity, it’s pretty ridiculous that it’s been less than 200 years since we’ve been able to fully explain it…

Fermentation is the process in which microorganisms convert simple sugar molecules to carbon dioxide and alcohols. For thousands of years, humanity was experimenting with the production of alcohol without this fundamental knowledge. Because while I may head down to the hipster beer store in Brooklyn and have my choice of hundreds of commercially packaged yeast varieties, fermenting microorganisms also happen to live everywhere. Ancient cultures were most likely pleasantly surprised that their grape juice and honey waters started to bubble and rendered them a bit more tolerant of the day-to-day, but I can only imagine how quickly that curiosity turned into obsession.

With little more than good old trial and error, the proper conditions of temperature and oxygen availability were analyzed as batch after batch of alcoholic beverages were produced. I don’t imagine they were as picky in the early stages but as wine, beer, and booze production became common place, it’s absurdly impressive how far along the industry was at the time fermentation was finally fully defined in the 1850s by Louis Pasteur (seen above).

So why do we even need all those varieties at the hipster beer shop?

It turns out, all micro-organisms are not made alike. This shouldn’t surprise you so much considering we as humans are all so unique and special. But these little guys have all sorts of distinguishing characteristics (most of which sound familiar). From the food they prefer to their ability to create and then subsequently tolerate levels of alcohol, individual strains of fermenting yeast have the ability to really impact the final product. 

Sounds like I’ve got a lot of experimenting ahead of me…

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Happy New Beers Eve!

April 6, 2012

In December of 1933, the 21st amendment was ratified, officially repealing the ban on alcohol. But the beer lovers had a bit of a head start!

April 7th of the same year marked the re-legalization of the sale of beer producing lines at all the local taverns and pubs. I have a pretty strong deterrence to any bar that makes me wait in line these days, but that is a line I would have loved to experience. The energy must have been intoxicating! In fact probably much more than the beer itself.

Unfortunately, the alcohol content of the beer for sale had to remain under 4% alcohol by volume. For context, PBR is listed as 4.74 % ABV. And how many PBRs can you drink? But maybe it was for the best. Probably a good thing to ease back into it!

It’s been almost 80 years since that fateful day, so be sure to celebrate! And get started tonight. There may not be a giant ball dropping in times square, but I’ll be sure to cheers at midnight. Happy New Beers Eve!

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The Hangover

April 5, 2012

Cultures of all origins have consistently made the transition from childhood to adulthood a particular point of emphasis. Whether symbolic or ritualistic in nature, there are distinct moments in life when a young kid presumably makes the plunge into maturity and responsibility. At 13 I was Bar-mitzvahed in all of it’s awkward, attention-filled glory. My pale chubby cheeks, my hounds tooth print suit, and my insecurities were all captured for eternity in the photos, while the hundred or so guests, most of whom I knew little of, made a point to congratulate me over and over again on this distinctly important day. A man I was not. Before or after. Trust me, I can show you the pictures.

So why such introspection for a liquor blog post?

My past Saturday morning began in a bit of a daze. My eyes struggled to focus on the cable box display. It’s either 7:33 or 9:38. But the difference doesn’t make a difference. The final moments of the previous night’s Nobler Gathering start to play back like a rental VHS being rewound for return. It was another fantastic night filled with multiple bottles of bourbon and rye and by all accounts I should be feeling worse than I am. Sure, as I sip on my giant glass of water, my hands tremble slightly but there comes an almost tranquil clarity with this hangover. For breakfast, thick cut bacon, 3 cups of coffee, and the shakes only exacerbate this lucidity. Is there anything more connected to “growing up” than our relationship with alcohol?

All “vision quests” into adulthood, assume that at one moment in time, maturity and responsibility simply begin. But it is a humbleness that must occur for these two prominent components of “growing up” to really take shape; after all, age is just a number. Well, maybe more than any other cultural activity, alcohol consumption can humble you. Waking up with little memory of the night before, only to find out later the fool you made of yourself is in its essence, humbling. Being carried home by your friends as you mumble, vomit, and berate testing all senses of loyalty is humbling. But most of all, at some point, drinking for the sake of drinking becomes humbling. And all of these moments have their corresponding hangovers.

I started this blog claiming to be passionate about liquor, particularly in the historical context now almost 80 years post-prohibition. But in reality, the Nobler Experiment is about a love for life; the moments we create and share together. This was never clearer to me than this Saturday, the day I loved my hangover!

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The Noblers Know Cocktails

April 3, 2012

The art of the cocktail had for years lost its way. A cocktail list read more like a candy aisle with pomegranate this and chocolate espresso that. But even with the sudden resurgence of simple and elegant concoctions, it’s still possible to be overwhelmed and disappointed. So before you go off grabbing rare bitters, elderflower liqueur, and ice cubes from the arctic, I’d say start with my Basil Julep.

Which is exactly what the Noblers and I did this past Friday when we gathered…

We’ve all taken quite a liking to the Old Fashioned. Particularly with Rye as the base, it is hard to beat this guy. But part of the reason its close to unbeatable is it’s simplicity. Sugar, bitters, water, and Rye makes for a quick fix while most other interpretations of “cocktails” end up muddling your enthusiasm after you see all the steps involved. Which is why, when I’m working on new blends, the simpler the better. Take the Bertha Palmer for example. By making a big batch of this in advance (and this time adding some fresh mint to the steeping tea), all we needed was a steady pour (easier in the beginning of the night), and a solid splash of Woodford Reserve. Like I said when I originally posted the Bertha, I will most likely drink a million of these this summer.

But I was even more pumped about this Basil Julep. With the Kentucky Derby in our sights, I’ve been working on a menu for our soon to be annual party. The Mint Julep, while synonymous with the Derby, has never done it for me. In fact, I don’t think anyone likes the Mint Julep. I think no one wants to be the first to speak up so I’m doing it for you! Mint, while delicious, carries the sweetness of the drink a little too strong for me. Which is why I thought basil would be the perfect fix. Turns out, it is and once you’ve made this basil simple syrup (which is absurdly easy) the drink comes together even quicker than an Old Fashioned. Now you see why I’m so excited.

Even the newest member of the Nobler Experiment, Hoagie, was overwhelmed by how good this drink was!

Disclaimer: No pug puppies were actually drinking during the Nobler Experiment. What do think we are? Neanderthals!

The Basil Julep:

4 tsp basil syrup

1 lemon wedge

3 oz Bourbon (we used Buffalo Trace)

Mix all ingredients in a rocks glass with ice and garnish with a fresh basil leaf! Pair this sucker with some homemade pimento cheese!

Basil Syrup

2 cups water

1 1/2 cups of sugar

Juice of 1 Lemon

1 large bunch of basil

In a sauce pan, bring the water, sugar, and lemon juice to a simmer until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the basil. Let the syrup come to room temperature and store in the fridge. At this point you can remove the basil but the longer it stays in, the more intense the flavor. My recommendation is to remove the basil after 12 hours for better keeping.

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