Monday, 25 July 2011

International Mezcal Festival Round-Up

One week ago today Clive's Classic Lounge In Victoria B.C. held a small Mezcal tasting night to commemorate the International Mezcal Festival.  Held Yearly in The State of Oaxaca (pronouced wa-hah-ka), Mexico, the International Mezcal Festival brings in over 50 000 people and 4 Million Pesos to the states Capital.

Although some similarities exist between mezcal and tequila, mezcal differs drastically in tastes and production.  While true tequila may only be made from the weber blue agave(also commonly referred to as Maguey in the Mezcal world), mezcal may be made from several different agave varieties.  Once the maguey has been harvested and the heart or "pina" is left, it is cut into smaller proportions and pit roasted over a pill of scorching hot stones before being buried with agave leaves and soil.  The cooking of the maguey takes between 3 to 5 days to successfully convert the once present carbohydrates into fermentable sugars.  Like tradition methods of making tequila the maguey is then placed in the mill ring to be mashed by a giant stone wheel pulled only by a horse.  The mashed maguey is then left to ferment naturally by air born microorganisms in rustic wooden fermentation vats.  Because of the absence of added yeast, fermentation time may take up to 7 days to achieve completion.  The distillation process is also far from state of the art.  Asides from the modern cooper pot still, clay is a widely used material in the distillation process.  After being twice distilled the mezcal is then married without the addition of any water with previous distillations to achieve a desired flavor profile unique to the particular brand or village producing this elixir of gods.

At Clive's Classic lounges an array of Del Maguey Mezcal was featured in flights, cocktails and paired with sublime Mexican cuisine.
Mezcal Monday's Menu.  *Property of "Clive's Classic Lounge"*
Opting for an aerial tour I began my journey of the single village mezcals with Minero, Santa Domingo and Chichicapa.  In the village of Santa Catarina Minas, Minero is distilled in a clay pot still constructed with bamboo tubing.  Floral, earthy, fruity with a long mild smoky finish define this mezcal.  Santa Domingo comes from a small village located south of Oaxaca in the region of Mixe (pronounced Mee-Hay).  Santa Domingo is a very fruit and floral forward mezcal with a reminiscent taste of dragon fruit.  All transportation of raw materials to make this mezcal are done by either horse or donkey, making it a very limited product.  Last in my first round of flights was Chichicapa.  Located 4 hours outside of Oaxaca the mezcal of Chicicapa is a true balancing act of sweet and smoke.  While three half ounce pours may not seem like much, the intense flavor and the enduring finish of these fine artisan spirits ensured that they may be savored for long after your jarrito is empty.
Traditional clay Jarritos used for drinking mezcal.
To conclude my round trip of Oaxaca I finished with Mezcal from the Village of San Luis Del Rio as well as two of Del Maguey's rarest offerings, Tobala and Perchuga.  The mezcal of San Luis Del Rio is intensely smoking with a definitive citrus oil note. Second was the extremely rare Tobala. What makes this mezcal so rare is the particular species of maguey used in the production.  Harvested from small Tobala agave grown in elevated canyons of 8 200 feet, Tobala is extremely difficult and expensive to produce.  Everything tasted previously in the evening was contained in this bottle of mezcal.  Floral, sweet, fruity, earthy and slightly smokey all of which stand on equal ground to one another.  Although a though act to follow, from the village of Santa Catarina Minas comes the last stop in this journey, Pechuga.  Not only the most unique mezcal of the night but of any spirit I have ever encountered.  Both the ritual of production and the final flavor characteristics are unlike any spirit I am aware of.  The process of Pechuga starts where Minero left off.  Minero is prepared for a triple distillation.  To 75 litres of mezcal 25 pounds of wild plums, apples, red plantains, pineapple, almond and a few pounds of uncooked white rice is added to the clay still.  Finally a skinned and deboned chicken breast is suspended in the still for a 24 hour distillation.  The resulting product demonstrates a nose of smoked tomatoes, orange and jerked meat all of which can also be found in the taste along side various herbal notes, pepper and an earthy smoke.

The marvelous selection of Del Maguey mezcal at Clive's Classic Lounge 

While the Pechuga was the most memorable mezcal of the night due to it's peculiar nature.  It was the Tobala that for me stood above all other mezcals in terms of balance and quality.  I would consider the quality of the mezcal offered by Del Maguey to rival any single malt scotch or Cognac I have ever tasted.  If I am fortunate enough to come across one I will not hesitate to buy a bottle, especially if it happens to be the Tobala, San Luis Del Rio or Chichichapa of which where my favorites of the night.

A big thanks to Del Maguey Mezcal and all the hard working individuals that put there sweat and blood into this product.  As well, thanks to the hardest working bartender in the industry, Shawn Soole of Clive's Classic lounge for taking the time to organize the event and for providing the opportunity to taste such amazing mezcal.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Classic Cocktail of The Month: Painkiller

It is officially tiki season for cocktail geeks everywhere.  A topic of mixology which I am now becoming more immersed in, despite this string of terrible weather here in Victoria.  Because of a recent legal battle over a trademark between Pusser's Rum and PKNY, (formally know as Painkiller) one drink that has been getting a considerable amount of attention of as of late is the Painkiller (If you want to read more about the Legal battle check out TikiGeeki.).

The creation of the Painkiller isn't an in-depth historical journey when compared to cocktails such as the Old Fashioned or Martini but there is some debate over who created it.  According to Pusser's the drink was created by Daphane Henderson of the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke Island in the British Virgin Islands.  So the story goes, Daphane's painkiller was a local favorite but she would never disclose the information regarding the exact recipe of the drink.  So Charles Tobias, Pusser's founder and owner attempted to recreate what he thought was the Painkiller.  The whole story can be read here, although it sounds more like a script then an actual historical recollection.  Beachbum Berry claims it was George and Marie Myrick of the Soggy Dollar Bar in 1971 who created the Painkiller.  Regardless of how this drink came to be, it has become a neo-classic among tiki culture and deserves to be remembered.

A fairly close comparison to the Pina Colada, the Painkiller is a simple concoction of Rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, cream of coconut and nutmeg.  One thing that does seem to vary in each recipe is the amount of rum.  You'll find anywhere from 1 oz to 4oz.  I've found that the ratio of 2:2:1:1 works best.  Also this ratio makes it easiest to adjust the proportions to accommodate for just the amount of pain you are in.  Also, don't feel constricted by strictly using only one brand of rum.  Be your own master blender and experiment with two or more different rums when making this tiki-tipple.  Sticking to Beachbum Berry's Remixed, I'll be using Mt. Gay and Cruzan, specifically Mt. Gay Extra Old and Cruzan 12 Year Old Single Barrel.  It wouldn't do justice to mix these premium rums with pineapple juice and coconut cream from a can.  So I have taken the time to prepare home made coconut cream and fresh pineapple juice.  Below you'll find instructions on how to execute these ingredients.

- 1 oz Mt. Gay Extra Old
- 1 oz Cruzan 12 Year Old Single Barrel
- 2 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice *
- 0.5 oz Fresh Orange Juice
- 0.5 oz Home-Made Coconut Cream **
- Nutmeg

- Add all ingredients except nutmeg to a cocktail shaker
- Add ice and shake for a quick 5 seconds ***
- Strain into a Tiki Mug or Collins glass filled with crushed ice
- Garnish with nutmeg, Pineapple, orangle, coconut or anything thing you want.  This is a tiki drink after all!

* Fresh Pineapple juice isn't too difficult.  Skin and core a pineapple.  Cube the pieces into 1 inch chunks. Put into food processor or blender and blend until a smoothie like consistency has been achieved.  Strain through a cheese cloth and bottle in the fridge.  Shake before every use as separation will occur.

** Coconut cream is a bit of a pain in the ass(Pre-made stuff from the store is an adequate substitute).  First Puncture two holes in the coconut's week spots (small circles at the bottom of the coconut).  Drain the coconut of all water, make sure you keep this water.  Put coconut into oven at 350 degrees  fahrenheit for about 30 minutes or until the coconut cracks.  Remove coconut from oven with oven mitts.  Wrap coconut in towel and break open with hammer.  Peel away all meat from coconut shell (one coconut will make for about 1 liter of coconut cream so use as much as you need).  Puree or finely chop coconut and place in pot with 2 cups of table cream (Half and Half) per coconut.  On medium heat bring mixture to a simmer for about 20 minutes, being carful not to over boil.  After 20 minutes remove from heat and let cool.  Once cooled strain mixture through a fine strainer removing as much liquid as possible.  Add 1 cup of coconut water (this is optional but I fell it makes a big difference in the flavor)  and equal parts of sugar to liquid.  Over low heat let all sugar dissolve.  Cool and bottle in fridge.  Shake before every use as separation will occur.

I just made these ingredients just this past weekend so I am not sure how long they will last in your fridge but best to use them up as quick as possible.  Although the coconut cream does freeze very well with no negative side effects after thawing.

*** The reason for such a short shake is because you will be serving this drink on crushed ice so you don't want it to get over diluted over time.  You also don't want to just dry shake (or dry blend like some recipes call for) because the lack of initial dilution/chilling will result in your first few sips being room temperature.  The cocktail will take time to chill on the crushed ice.  This is because chilling with ice comes from dilution.  YOU CAN NOT CHILL A COCKTAIL WITH ICE WITHOUT DILUTION, I DON'T CARE HOW BIG AND FANCY YOUR ICE IS.  Before you get pissed off about that last sentence, please read this article by Dave Arnold of The French Culinary Institute titled Cocktail Science (read part 1 & 2).

For my variation on the Painkiller I wanted to keep a lot of the basic elements the same but give it a fairly unrecognizable twist.  The rum, pineapple, citrus, coconut and spice will all be present but along with a couple other elements that you wouldn't expect to find in a traditional tiki drink.

Broad Bay
- 1.5 oz Cruzan Single Barrel
- 0.5 oz Laphraoigh Quarter Cask
- 2 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
- 0.5 oz Coconut Cream
- 0.5 oz Grapefruit Juice
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cinnamon

- Add all ingredients except cinnamon to a cocktail shaker
- Add ice and shake for a quick 5 seconds 
- Strain into a Tiki Mug or Collins glass filled with crushed ice
- Garnish with grated cinnamon, cinnamon stick and grapefruit peel

I hope you enjoyed this months edition of Classic Cocktail of The Month.  If you haven't had a Painkiller before defiantly give it a try.  It's also a great drink to introduce to non-cocktail drinkers to because of it's heavy amount of juice.  And Remember makes it with what ever rum you have around the house or feel would best suit this cocktail.  Don't let some Rum Company tell you that it must be made with their rum and their rum alone.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Mixology Monday: Beer Cocktails

It seems like I just uploaded my last MxMo post and now it's that time again.  This month's Mixology Monday post is hosted by Fred at Cocktail Virgin Sut and Fred has chosen beer cocktails as the theme.  

"Beer has played a historical role in mixed drinks for centuries.  [...] Bartenders are drawn to beer for a variety of reasons including the glorious malt and roast notes from the grain, the bitter and sometimes floral elements from the hops, the interesting sour or fruity notes from the yeast, and the crispness and bubbles from the carbonation. Beer is not just for pint glasses, so let us honor beer of all styles as a drink ingredient."

I tend to go threw phases with my mixology and right now beer cocktails is one of those current phases.  So it wouldn't due justice to just post one of my all ready concocted recipes, not at all.  I think two new cocktails will due.  But as I've mentioned before in a previous blog post, beer isn't my drink of choice.  When I do decide to drink beer it's usually for "research purposes".  But in my last few months of "research" I have found some beers that I really do adore.  They all have one thing in common, they're all abnormal in someway.  Not you're typical ale or lager.  Whether It be flavored or aged for 77 days in oak casks, I tend to like beers with some very unique characteristics.

Weizen Ungeheuer (German for "Wheat Monster")
- 2 oz Maker's Mark
- 1 oz Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
- 0.75 oz Lapsang Souchong Syrup *
- 3 Dashes Lemon Bitters
- 1 Egg White
- Granville Island Hefeweizen

- Add egg white to shaker tin
- Add all other ingredients excluding beer to mixing glass
- Dry shake
- Add ice and shake
- Strain in to 20 oz pint glass
- Top with Hefeweizen

Blood of The Jimador
- 2 oz Reposado  Tequila
- 1 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
- 0.75 oz Ginger Syrup **
- 2 Dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
- Fruli Strawberry Beer

- Add all ingredients excluding beer to shaker
- Add ice and shake
- Double strain into chilled champagne flute
- Top with Fruli
- Garnish with a fresh strawberry

* To make Lapsang Souchong syrup brew 1 cup of lapsang souchong tea extra strong.  Add tea to a sauce pan with 1 cup of sugar.  Heat until all sugar has dissolved.  Let cool and bottle in fridge.

** To make Ginger syrup peel and puree 2 inches of ginger root. Add to 1 cup of water over medium heat in sauce pan.  Let simmer for 5 minutes and add 1 cup of sugar.  Heat until all sugar has dissolved.  Let cool and strain through fine mesh strainer.  Bottle and keep in fridge.

Another very fun MxMo this month has now pasted.  Thanks to Fred at Cocktail Virgin Slut for an awesome theme!  Loving beer cocktails right now and I look forward to next months theme.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Visiting Victoria Spirits

On this beautiful past Canada day I decided to take a tour of Victoria Spirits.  Located 15 minutes outside of Victoria off Old West Saanich road, Victoria Spirits is an artisan family owned and operated distillery.  With their flagship spirit Victoria Gin, the company has managed to get distribution in seven canadian provinces.  Although this may seem like a small feat for many distilleries, Victoria Spirits produces only approximately 12 000L of Alcohol a year and all within a space as small as the size of most peoples garage.  The first thing that you notice when you enter the distillery is the intoxicating smell of the wood burning underneath the hand-fired copper still.  After turning the first corner past a batch of bitters, bottle labels and barrels you'll notice the beautifully hand crafted copper pot still. When the process of making gin is ready to take place the still is filled with 217L of 35% ABV alcohol. The botanicals are then steeped for 18 hours in the base alcohol before a 6 hour distillation takes place.  Of the 217L of alcohol that are initially placed in the still only 61L are condensed back into a spirit of 83% ABV.  Of which only 50L is keep for bottling. The other 11L is either redistilled or used as a fuel-alternative for delivery trucks.  The gin is then placed in one of two stainless steal blending tank holding either 2000L or 3000L of gin.  The gin will sit in hibernation for 30 days before it is finally ready for bottling.  Before being bottled the gin is water down to 45% ABV using water from a natural spring on the property.  Victoria Gin is a wonderfully citric forward gin with a tradition juniper accent as well as, angelica, rose petal, star anise, coriander, orris, cinnamon and one further "secret ingredient".
Hand Made Still From Germany
Not all gin produced at Victoria Spirits is so traditional.  Victoria spirits also produces a aged gin.  Aged in new charred american oak barrels, Oaken Gin is a whisky lovers gin.  With beautiful sweet carmel and vanilla notes usually found in a fine whisky, Oaken Gin pushes the boundaries of conventional gin adding an entirely new dimension to an already exceptional product.  Victoria Spirits production of alcohol doesn't just stop at gin.  Other products in their lineup include a variety of wine based eau de vies exclusive to the tasting room.  A hemp seed vodka (Vodka lovers bewared this one has flavor!), orange bitters and currently in the works a single malt whisky.  With Philips Brewery providing the wash, Victoria Spirits is now aging their single malt whisky dubbed "Craigdarroch Whisky" which will be available sometime in 2013.
Victoria Gin, aging away to become Oaken Gin
 My tour of the distillery ended in the tasting room where I had the opportunity to taste all products currently available from Victoria Spirits.  Starting first with their Left Coast Hemp Vodka.  A welcome change of pace to the vodka word, Left Coast is a full flavored vodka with an incredible smooth finish.   Next was Victoria Spirits' currently available eau de vies.  The merlot eau de vie is beautifully rich with a strong dark chocolate note.  While the sauvignon blanc reminded me alot of a korenwijn jenever.  Next were the gins and finally the orange bitters all of which I regularly keep in stock at home.

The ten botanicals of Victoria Gin
I left this distillery with a bottle of their Merlot eau de vie.  Only available for purchase in the tasting room, just one more reason to visit more often!  

Old Saanich Cocktail
- 1.5 oz Merlot Eau De Vie
- 0.5 oz Lillet Blanc
- 1 Bar Spoon Fernet Branca
- 1 Bar Spoon Rich Simple Syrup
- 1 Dashes of Victoria Orange Bitters
- 1 Dash Angostura Orange Bitters
- 1 Dash of House Made Chocolate Bitters

- Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into chilled coupe glass
- Garnish with orange zest
- Enjoy with some quality dark chocolate

Old Saanich Cocktail
Just to note on a couple things about the above cocktail.  If you don't have the exact brand of orange bitters listed above just try using any two different brands.  The idea is to give a more complex orange taste.  The house made bitters are pretty key.  Don't use Fee Brothers chocolate bitters (I do love fee brothers don't get me wrong!) for this one, they're a bit to sweet for the desired taste of this cocktail.  Try bitter truth or Bittermen's chocolate bitters if you absolutely can not get House Made.

Whether you live in the Victoria area or are visiting here, make sure you get out and visit the folks at Victoria Spirits for a tour and tasting.  As well, check out their website at for directions, tour times and product details.
The beautiful grapevine field of Victoria Spirits

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Foolproof Cocktails

I don't often go out to drink for two simple reasons, one I have a massive home bar and two, it costs too much.  On the rare occasion I am out and about, I find it hard to get a quality drink without going to one of Victoria's high end cocktail lounges.  Although I love going to these lounges to sit at the bar and talk cocktails with someone who shares my same passion, not all my friends have the same idea of fun.  Most of the time It will be a pub or if I find my self in an unlucky enough situation, a night club.  Most Pubs here have great beer selections due to Victoria's superb array of craft breweries but I just now find my self becoming accustom to the taste of beer.  This of course makes my choice of drinks very limiting, especially considering how spoiled I am at home.  Can't order a Martini or Manhattan because none of these establishments know how to care for their vermouth.  Last time I ordered an Old Fashioned at a high volume bar it was shaken with mint as well as god knows what.  At this point my choices are few and usually end up in me ordering a Gin and Tonic.  Which typically ends in disappointment due to overly sweet tonic water.

Fortunately, there seems to be this list of cocktails that all bartenders know but wish they could forget.  Such as sex on the beach, godfather, grass hopper, harvey wallbanger etc.  This should be taken advantage of.  Add one additional ingredient or swapping vodka for gin could turn one of these subpar cocktails to splendid.  A favorite example of mine is the Rusty Nail.  A simple combination of blended scotch, Drambuie and usually garnished with a fluorescent maraschino cherry.  In this state it's a pretty boring drink but with a simple modification it can really be an enjoyable tipple.  Also try this stupid simple variation on a Harvey Wallbanger.

Rusty Nail (Modified)
- 1.75 oz Blended Scotch
- 0.25 oz Drambuie
- 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
- Garnish With an Orange Wedge

A flask of a quality spirit can always come in hand.
Harvey Wallbanger (Modified)
- 1.5 oz White Rum
- 0.5 oz Galliano
- Top with Orange juice

You shouldn't have a problem getting your Rusty Nail or Wallbanger exactly like above.  Almost all bar will have a bottle of Angostura even if they never stir up a Manhattan.  You may be wondering, "why the orange wedge?"  To make your own orange twist of course.  Peel the skin and pith away from the rest of the orange.  Express the oils of your makeshift twist over top your drink and drop it in, discarding the rest of the orange.

The one ingredient that I most dearly miss when I go out to imbibe is fresh squeezed juice.  Unless it is coming out of a plastic constrainer or a bar gun you'd think you're pretty much out of luck.  But one thing that every bar does have is lemon and lime wedges sitting in a garnish tray waiting to be jammed down the neck of a crappy beer.  Although not perfect, it is your best substitute for fresh pressed juice.  Simply ask your (hopefully) friendly bartender to muddle your fruit of choice at the bottom on a shaker tin.  Followed by liquor, mixes and ice.  Ask him kindly to give it a good hard shake and strain into a glass with fresh ice.  Try one of the following:

Pegu Club
- 1.5 oz Gin
- 0.5 oz Cointreau (or Triple Sec)
- 0.75 oz Lime Juice (Roughly 1/2 - 3/4 whole lime)
- 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

A Pub Pegu Club.  Not perfect but still delicious, 

- 1.5 oz French Brandy
- 0.5 oz Cointreau (or Triple Sec)
- 0.75 - 1 oz Lemon Juice (Roughly 1/2 - 3/4 of a lemon)

Don't bother asking for the either of the two cocktails above by name.  Both are older then any bartender working behind the wood today and unless ordered at a establishment with a reputable cocktail program you'll probably just get a confused look from the bartender in return.  You'll have to order it as so, "Could I get three parts brandy, one part triple sec and a handful of muddled lemon wedges, shaken and strained in a rocks glass please?".

Ordering any kind of special request drink (especially one that involves muddling) in a high volume bar that doesn't specialize in cocktails will not make you a bartender's best friend.  So do the right thing and tip well!  Especially the first time you order, it will ensure that bartender will be a lot more avid in making your next libation.

Now, obviously it would be an absolute nightmare to try to order anything more complicated then a Jager Bomb at a nightclub where you have to yell into the bartender's ear to get a drink.  My solution, just order a quality spirit on ice.  For you scotch enthusiasts such as myself it shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg because of the low demand for scotch at an establishment that is playing Lady Gaga at 100 decibels.  I happened to order a double Glenlivet 12 year old on the rocks just this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised to pay only $11, not exceedingly cheap but not expensive either.

Wherever you happened to be enjoying your self, make sure you get exactly what you pay for.  With sure high mark ups on alcohol, any reputable establishment -whether they specialize in beer, wine, food or cocktails- should be able to provide you with your tipple of choice without any difficulty.  Now with that being said, do not be surprised when your Ramos Gin Fizz isn't as delicious as you excepted it to be when ordered at your local Applebee's.