Home Infused Compound Botanical Gin

Cheap gin–unlike, say, cheap bourbon–is a waste of time.  But good gin is wonderful.  Who wouldn’t want to savor liquid Christmas tree?

I recently tried to infuse my own.  Now, creating an extract of juniper berries (with other botanicals) in a neutral spirit produces what is called a “compound gin.”  Compound gins are widely regarded as inferior to those which undergo additional distillation after the extraction.  But, not being a moonshiner, I did what I could.

Here are the botanicals I used:

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  • 2 Tbsp juniper berries
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 fir needles (from my Christmas tree)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. dried lavender
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1/2 slice of cucumber
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 Tbsp. fresh orange zest 
  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon zest 
I simply put all these into a bottle of Smirnoff Red:
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I flipped the bottle around, stirring the contents, every 12 hours.After about 60 hours, I poured the now-infused spirit through a strainer / coffee filter / funnel, into another bottle, like this:

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The finished bottle looked like this
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I prepared to drink liquid Christmas tree (complemented by subtle floral, cucumber, citrus, and spice notes).  I was excited.  I nosed.  Uh-oh…very dominant citrus nose, with spice complexity.  But no juniper.  Maybe it will show up on the palate?  I sipped.  Drat.  I was drinking orange pith.  I was careful not to get any pith in the zest, but this was basically a drying, slightly bitter, off-quasi-orange liquor.  No Christmas tree.  So here is what I plan to change, next time:

  • I will increase the juniper berries to 3 Tbsp.
  • I will crush those juniper berries a bit, before putting them in the bottle.
  • I will infuse with those juniper berries for 24 hours before any other ingredients go in.
  • I will give those other ingredients just 24 hours, for a total of 48 hours.
  • I will remove the bay leaf.  I’m wondering if it’s a bittering agent, and this did not need that.
  • I will use 3 cardamom pods (crushed), instead of the ground cardamom.
  • I will increase the lavender to 2 tsp.
  • I will use the whole cucumber slice (in 4 strips).  And a thicker slice (more like 1/2″).
  • I will remove the orange zest (but keep the Tbsp. of lemon zest).
  • I will add 1 tsp. of honey.

If those changes, next time, do not produce a gin that I am happy with, I will give up trying to get a bottle of Hendrick’s for the price of Smirnoff Red!

Birthday Enjoyments

On Monday, my family celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday. I was blessed with a wonderful time with my wife and kids, as well as dinner with my parents at our place the day before. I was given a grill, which I used to grill steaks (which turned out wonderfully, if I don’t say so myself.) To top it off, my beautiful made me a delicious cheesecake, as she does every year for my birthday.

There were other birthday enjoyments that I particularly wanted to share with you, my friends of barley and briar, as they are particularly pertinent to the subject matter of this here web-log of ours.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

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I picked up a bottle of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA a while back with the intention of enjoying it on my birthday. I did pretty well- it turned out to be a birthday- eve beer.

Wow, what a great beer! This is one of Dogfish Head’s Imperial (or Double) IPAs. It’s continuously hopped for 90 minutes, ranks in at 90 IBUs, and the ABV is 9%. Yeah, that’s where the name comes from. 90 Minute is a wonderfully complex beer. There’s a strong hop presence on the nose. The flavor delivers a stronger malt backbone than expected, though, making this a very well balanced DIPA.

Oh yeah, the Bell's Snifter was a birthday present, too.

Oh yeah, the Bell’s Snifter was a birthday present, too.

Perla Del Mar

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A cigar aficionado I am not. Nonetheless, I picked one up from an area cigar shop on Saturday, and a birthday with nice weather seemed the perfect time to enjoy a stogie. Perla Del Mar, or Pearl of the Sea, is a Nicaraguan cigar, creamy and smooth, and rather pleasant. I am normally a pipe smoker, so I am not accustomed to cigar smoking. As you can see, I had an unfortunately uneven light. Very enjoyable, though.

Chimay

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Finally, the Chimay Tripel. Chimay is an authentic Trappist ale, meaning it is brewed by or under the direction of Trappist monks, on their monastery. This particular Trappist monastery is the Notre Dame de Scourmont Abbey in Belgium. Chimay Tripel is beautiful. I mean, it’s just incredible. I won’t say much here, though, as I hope to offer further reflections on this one later on.

Any way, cheers to you all! More posts forthcoming, I hope.

Two Men, Five Bourbons: A Joint Post

My good friend and fellow ministerial student, Jon Herr, just returned from Kentucky, having accomplished part of the bourbon pilgrimage.  He came over to my place on Monday night, bearing five bourbons: Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams White Label, Eagle Rare 10-Year-Old, Blanton’s, and Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2003 :

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(Listed and pictured in the order tasted.)

Jon’s gaze is piercing–almost eagle-esque–as is commonplace among those who’ve just tasted Eagle Rare.  My gaze is rather more wistful–stupid even–as I give myself to the seduction of Evan Williams Single Barrel.

Anyway, this post will be a conversation between Jon (whom we welcome to the blog) and myself, as we taste our way through Kentucky.

Scott:  Jon, give us a summary reflection on your trek down the bourbon trail.

Jon:  Thanks, Scott.  Being in the veritable backyard of the whole Beam family, as well as all the other iconic distillers of the past two centuries and even Daniel Boone himself was quite the experience.  I was struck by the unified love of the Kentucky populace for their native beverage.  Whereas in the northeast the average person might have incidentally ingested whiskey via Coca-Cola at a bar or party, Kentuckians male and female alike understand and embrace bourbon on its own merits as a drink, not a fuel for drunkenness.  Enjoying a dram at the world’s oldest bourbon bar, the Talbott Tavern in Bardstown which opened in 1779 and where Jesse James is said to have frequented, the rich heritage of America’s own spirit was thick in the air.  And as I stood beside warehouse C at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, knowing that some of my favorite bourbons (such as, of course, Booker’s) lay sleeping in the darkness inside, I couldn’t help but muse that I was probably standing on the navel of the Earth.

Scott:  Thanks, Jon.  Now let’s taste.

Buffalo Trace

Scott:  This strikes me as a good but standard bourbon nose.  Some vanilla, some toffee, some (balanced) alcohol, and so forth.  Nothing stands out uniquely.

Jon:  Sure, nothing spectacular.  It does promise some depth, however.

Scott:  This is really pleasant on the palate.  Better than I expected.  This is average, but in an above average way.  In other words, it’s more solid than many other unexciting bourbons.  No peculiar features stand out, making it a nice reminder of essential bourbonness.

Jon: That’s a delightfully vapid way of putting it, which really defines this bourbon for me.  The nose, as I said, promises good things, and at first you’re hit with a sizzling cinnamon note.  But beyond that, there is virtually no finish.  Nothing lingers in your mouth saying, “Hey, remember me?”

Scott:  Yes, I agree.  After a few seconds, everything has just dissipated.

Evan Williams White Label
Jon:  The first thing I smell is more alcohol.

Scott:  I was just going to say that.  Wow.  At least compared to the Buffalo Trace we just tasted, this really puts the alcohol sting forward.

Jon: Interestingly, though this whiskey touts its status as “bottled in bond”–meaning it meets a longer string of regulations–I don’t notice anything more exciting than the standard black label version.  It pretty much just tastes like bourbon.

Scott:  I’d actually take the Buffalo Trace over this.

Jon:  True, but at $15 or so a bottle, it is pretty good bang for your buck.

Scott:  Sure, I don’t disagree.  And the finish lingers very nicely, unlike the Buffalo Trace.

Eagle Rare
 
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[a pic from Jon's visit to the Eagle Rare bottling line]

Scott:  I last had this before I knew whiskey.  At the time I wasn’t blown away.  I’m curious to see what I think now.

Jon:  Remember, as a Single Barrel bourbon, this bottle was filled from just one barrel, and no doubt a different barrel than the bottle you tasted before.  It could have just been subpar barrel?

Scott:  Wow, there’s a ton going on, on the nose!  Lots of spice.  Many layers of complexity.  It almost reminds me of Booker’s, as far as the complexity goes, although this emphasizes spice whereas Booker’s emphasized burnt sugars.

Jon:  The ten years this whiskey spent in the barrel add a mature smell to it.  You can smell the oak.

Scott:  The palate definitely delivers on what the nose promised!  Lots of spice, lots of complexity.  Maybe not quite as sweet as I thought it might be, but still fairly sweet.  This is incredible.  At $20-something, this is easily one of the greatest values in bourbon–it tastes like it’s priced in the upper 40s.

Jon:  For sure.  Nothing else in this price range comes close in my view.  The oaky nose delivers a lot of subdued wood notes on the tongue.  Part of the fun, too, is knowing that the next bottle of this I buy could be slightly different!

Blanton’s
Jon:  When I first cracked this bottle a week and a half ago, I was struck by just how sweet it is.  Despite being a moderately high proof (93) it is really the sweetest bourbon I have ever tasted.  Also, this is a beautiful bottle.
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Scott:  I had only a small taste, once, and yes it was very sweet.  I thought it was my second favorite, next to Booker’s.

Jon: The nose doesn’t hit you hard.  As this whiskey uses more wheat as its secondary ingredient (after corn), the nose is very soft.

Scott:  Yes, definitely pick up on the soft wheatedness.  It’s almost boring after the Eagle Rare nose.

Jon: There’s the sweetness!  It’s extremely smooth, without much of any spice.  There’s really no attitude here, and there’s almost a “nectar” quality to its delivery.

Scott:  I just realized what I’ve been tasting on the finish: butter.

Evan Williams Single Barrel
Scott:  I’m in love with this nose.  I know this will sound crazy, but I think I catch banana on the nose.

Jon:  I don’t think that’s crazy.  I totally pick that up.  There’s something else, too, that I can’t put my finger on.

Scott:  Well it’s got the typical bourbon vanilla, too.

Jon:  Yeah a little bit.  Still a bit a-typical.

Scott:  Like banana pudding with Nilla wafers.  One of my favorite desserts!  Seriously, that’s what it smells like to me!

Jon:  I sure hope with all the hype of the nose that it’s not a let-down.

Scott:  No the palate is great.  It’s consistent with the nose.  And wow, how smooth!  It’s practically non-alcoholic!  There is no burn whatsoever!

Jon:  No kidding.  Goes right down.  But there’s something else on the palate instead of the generic vanilla/cinnamon/caramel.  It’s like summer fruits; apples maybe.  Not green apples, though.

Scott:  You’re right.  I think I’m getting that.  It’s like berries, maybe?  Red berries.

Jon:  Yeah, red fruits of some sort.  Though this is bourbon through and through, it’s a really interesting contrast to what I normally expect.

Scott:  I know that this is completely different than Booker’s, but I think that I like it just as much, in a different way.

Jon:  I can accept that.  It’s really all about what you are into.  Generally I look for a more aggressive palate that doesn’t back down, but if I remember that there are different categories of greatness, this unequivocally fits that label.

Reflections
Scott:  I think Evan Williams Single Barrel wins tonight, with Eagle Rare taking second.

Jon:  I have to agree.  That Evan Williams even earns extra points for convincing me that my usual preferences don’t need to always hold sway.

Scott:  I also find it interesting that Mr. Williams’  White Label was my least favorite of the five (which is not to say that it’s not a worthwhile bourbon on its own), and had the most alcohol presence, whereas Mr. William’s Single Barral was my favorite of the five and had the least alcohol presence.

Review: Soft Parade

My Sunday evening ale yesterday was Short’s Brewing Co.’s Soft Parade. Soft Parade is a high gravity rye ale fermented with blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Short’s calls it a “fruit infused rye ale.” Soft Parade weighs in at 9% ABV.

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Soft Parade from Short’s Brewing Co.

Appearance: Soft Parade pours a mildly translucent raspberry-red with a half inch of white foam. The foam diminishes soon, leaving a white lace. I was surprised by the color initially. The color seems to be making the statement that yes, indeed, Soft Parade is what it claims to be.

Smell: There’s a slightly sharp (probably from the alcohol content) fruity tartness up front on the nose. The rye malt also stands out quite in bit in the smell. The mixed berries, though, only seem to be in the background.

Taste: The berry content that stayed in the background on the nose is definitely up front in the taste. Raspberry and blueberry seemed the most prominent, but strawberry and blackberry are there. The rye malt presence provides a good balance and backbone for the ale, while the berries come out again in the aftertaste.

Moutfeel: The mouthfeel here is light, crisp, refreshing, and smooth. It reminds me almost of a pink champagne, only with lighter carbonation. Very drinkable.

Overall: Soft parade is a very pleasant, refreshing, drinkable fruit ale. It’s one I would come back to on a hot summer day. The fruit presence is strong enough while still retaining a good balance with the rye malt. Though it has a high ABV, the alcohol content is not overwhelming. While not being a beer I would consider exceptional, it is a very nice beer, especially suitable on a hot day when your looking for something with which to cool off and relax.

Soft Parade is mixed berry jam on rye toast in a bottle. And that’s a good thing.

The Macallan 12

I covered preliminaries in my last post, so I’ll cut to the chase and review The Macallan 12, here:

 

Nose:  Sherry.  Vanilla-caramel.  Honeysuckle?  Sweet cherries.  
Wow, this is gorgeous.  Bourbon-esque, but with a depth and complexity that could only be a sherried scotch. 

Palate:  The sweetness sticks around, but is shouldered to the periphery by an immediate and definite woodiness.  The wood is not dry, though: it is moistened with cherry cough syrup.  Really, it’s like a plank of oak has had some cherry cough syrup rubbed into it. 
A drop of water noticeably sweetens this scotch and cuts its alcohol burn.  

Finish:  Now the wood dries out.  It’s as though you experience that plank of oak drying out a bit from that cherry cough syrup.  
Again, a drop of water makes this even sweeter; it also opens up a lovely tingle on the finish.  
The finish of the finish–what is left much later, if I stop to think about it–is almost medicinal. 

Conclusion:  An unpeated scotch will never be my very favorite; and, the sweet medicinal characteristics, here, are a bit much for this to be an every day drink, for me.  Still, it is obvious why this is so popular.  It is outstanding. 

Glenlivet 12

For Father’s Day, my kids got me several 50 ml. bottlettes — one blended scotch (Dewars white label), two single malt scotches (Glenlivet 12 and The Macallan 12), and one single barrel bourbon (Blanton’s).

Dewars white label is an unexceptional liquor on the bottom shelf of most bars.  Still, it isn’t terribly flawed, and we all need something cheap on the shelf for those evenings when we want a wee dram but can’t justify a sip of something better.  Now, for my money, Ballantines Finest is the best of the really cheap, no-age-statement blended scotches.  But I can derive pleasure from any not-conspicuously-flawed whisk(e)y, and I don’t mind saying so.

Glenlivet 12 and The Macallan 12 are both entry level standards in the world of single malt scotches.  The former just because it’s as cheap as a single malt gets ($25ish in many places)–it’s often considered a bit better than the similar but costlier Glenfiddich 12.  The latter because it’s hugely popular as 12 YO highland style scotches go, regardless of price (I’m told that those who try The Macallan 18, though, can never go back to the 12).
In any case, believe it or not, I’d had neither of these before.  I’ve been blessed with friends of good taste, and therefore had jumped right into pricier drams, in the past, bypassing these normal stepping stones on the scotch pilgrimage.

Blanton’s I’ve had before, and to date it’s my second favorite bourbon, next to Booker’s.

I was shocked that my family found 50 mls. of Glenlivet, The Macallan, and Blanton’s.  These are real treasures, if you can find them.  You get the same amount you would in a bar, for half the price.  Not only do you avoid the gamble of the 750 ml, but you avoid even the gamble of the drink at the bar.  You can divide them into two half-drinks, over a couple days, to give yourself opportunity for second thoughts.  For a few bucks, these are great finds.  I hadn’t found single malt scotches or top shelf bourbons in this form, before.  Bravo, family, bravo.

I will probably offer reviews of The Macallan 12 (which I’ve yet to crack!) and Blanton’s in the near future; but, today, I offer a review of Glenlivet 12:

Nose:  Green apple.  I asked Elisabeth if she noticed that, and she said, “More like green apple Jolly Rancher.”  I nosed again.  Blast, she’s right.  Green apple Jolly Rancher, exactly.  Beneath that are some herbaceous notes…like a recently mowed field of random weeds on a dank day (but that is definitely beneath the dominant green apple).

Palate:  The green apple disappears–it is nowhere to be found on the palate.  Immediately there is dry oak, and within a few seconds that woodiness is accompanied by both vegetal notes and Chardonnay.  Yes, dry, woody oak meets vegetation and a dry Chard.  Huh.

Finish:  Longish.  The vegetal notes step forward a bit (the oak is still there, but the vegetation steps in front).  And then, the longer it lingers, the more “sour” the vegetation turns.  Not sour like sour candy…sour like sauerkraut.  Which is the final note I’m left with, a minute later, when all else has moved on.  (That may not sound appealing to you–I myself am not the world’s biggest fan of sauerkraut–but this is actually sort of good in its own way.)

Conclusion:  I tend toward the sweeter drams, myself.  I love big peat, but even among the Islays, I prefer some sweetness with my peat, as in a Bowmore.  Nevertheless, I like this…dry, oaky, vegetal whisky though it be.  For $25ish, I wouldn’t mind keeping it around, to mix things up now and then.  My tastes are frequently driven by season and weather, and I think I’d be drawn to this if one late-summer day wound up overcast, cool, and dank.

Review: Bell’s Oberon Ale

Oberon is king of the fairies. Oberon is also Michigan’s iconic summer beer. I enjoyed Oberon in the latter mode this afternoon.

Oberon and McClelland's Three Oak's.

Oberon and McClelland’s Three Oak’s.

Oberon Ale, Bell’s summer seasonal and perhaps their most popular beer, makes a wonderful companion on a summer afternoon. I sat on my patio, sent up my burnt offering, played with my (oldest) son, and admired the beauty of the day: blue sky, gentle breeze, warming sun. But thanks to Oberon, I also got to taste summer. That’s right. Oberon is summer in a bottle. Or on tap, or in a keg. You get it.

Appearance: Oberon pours a cloudy orange- amber, with big white head foaming at two fingers, then settling to a thin lingering lace. I said cloudy, but that cloudiness is not there until you pour the last bit from the bottle.

Smell: There’s a lot of wheat on the nose up front, with some orange peel and spice.

Taste: Orange rind and lemon zest jump out at first and invite you in. There’s a light and crisp hop presence. All throughout, the wheat malt and yeast flavor stands out and holds it all together.

Mouthfeel: Smooth and crisp are how I’d describe mouthfeel here. Carbonation is good.

Overall: The good folks at Bell’s have done the world a great service here. Oberon is a great, light, refreshing summer beer, perfect for a hot day under the sun, or a rainy day wishing the sun would show it’s face. The balance of zesty citrus with the sweet and mellow wheat malt backbone combine to make a beautiful ale.

Oberon receives my high recommendation. If you’re looking for a good summer ale, look no further.

It’s funny, I didn’t like it at all the first time I tried it, but by the second time I sang a different tune. Same thing happened with possibly my favorite beer, Two Hearted Ale (both from Bell’s; hey, look at that!) Once I understood the style and acquired the taste, I realized how great these beers were.

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