The Original Tiki Cocktail: Mai Tai

Summer is just about here and while not all of us will be going on a tropical vacation this summer, we can bring part of the paradise experience home by making our own tiki cocktails. The most popular tiki drink undoubtedly is the Mai Tai. There are many variations for this cocktail but I’m going to tell you how to make the original recipe.

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The invention of the Mai Tai is debated because both Ernest Beaumont-Gantt (a.k.a. “Donn Beach,” the father of tiki culture) and Trader Vic founder Victor Bergeron claim to be responsible for its creation. The Mai Tai recipes that both men created are similar but slightly different, with the recipe created by Donn Beach including Pernod and Angostura bitters. This is the traditional recipe made by Victor Bergeron:

  • 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 ounce white rum
  • 1/2 ounce orange Curacao
  • 1/4 ounce Orgeat syrup
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • Juice from one fresh lime (about 3/4 ounce)

Fill a shaker with ice cubes and all of the ingredients except the dark rum and shake well. Strain into a glass filled with ice and float the dark rum on top. Garnish with a pineapple wedge, cherry, and mint sprig.

So even if you aren’t going on a trip to Hawaii or Polynesia, you can make a Mai Tai and have your own little tropical get away at home. Although there are many variations of the Mai Tai, this is the customary recipe. Try one and let me know what you think. Cheers!

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Summer Cocktails: Mint Julep and Mojito

With the weather warming up and summer right behind the corner, cold cocktails with fresh mint leaves are the perfect choice for hot summer days or warm evenings. Two of the most popular cocktails that use fresh mint leaves are the mint julep and mojito. Both drinks use mint leaves to provide a unique and refreshing flavor. Mint juleps are typically a cocktail associated with southern states, specifically Kentucky. The mojito on the other hand is a traditional Cuban cocktail.

Mint juleps have a long history with the southern states dating back to the eighteenth century. More recently, the mint julep has become associated with horse racing and is the official drink of the Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby. And with the Kentucky Oaks & Derby coming up (May 3 and 4), here’s the traditional mint julep recipe so you can make your own and watch the races:

  • 3 ounces Bourbon whiskey
  • 1 ounce simple syrup (or granulated sugar, to taste)
  • 4-6 sprigs mint leaves

Put the mint leaves, simple syrup or sugar, and a small amount of bourbon into a glass and muddle the mint leaves to release the mint’s essential oil and flavor. Add crushed ice and the rest of the bourbon. Mix everything together and garnish with a mint sprig. It is traditionally served in a silver julep cup or more commonly a tall glass.

Mint Julep

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The mojito has a rich history Cuba and was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drinks. The mojito, or at least a similar drink, is believed to have been first concocted by members of Francis Drake’s crew as a remedy for scurvy. While most of us don’t have to worry about staving off scurvy nowadays, the mojito is a great drink to help cool off on hot summer days. The traditional mojito recipe is:

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • ¾ ounce fresh lime juice OR ½ lime cut into 4 wedges
  • 1 ounce simple syrup OR 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ ounce chilled club soda
  • 8 mint leaves

Muddle mint leaves, sugar or simple syrup, and lime juice or 3 of the lime wedges. Add ice, rum, and club soda, and then stir. Garnish with mint sprig and/or a lime wedge.

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Both of these drinks are a great choice to cool off on a hot summer day, the mint julep with more of a classic American taste and the mojito with a nice tropical flavor. Try both of these refreshing drinks and decide which one you like better. Leave me a comment and let me know which drink you prefer to cool off with. Cheers!

Whiskey: Bourbon versus Scotch

008The spelling of the word itself is debated, whiskey or whisky, with whiskey with an “e”, usually referring to Irish or American whiskies, while whisky, without the “e”, is used by pretty much every other country, especially Canada and Scotland. Whiskey comes in a multitude of varieties, each with their own particular flavor. Two of the most popular types of whiskey are bourbon and Scotch. Whiskey can also be categorized as single malt whiskey, blended whiskey, or single-barrel whiskey. All types of whiskey are made from a fermented grain mash. Different types of whiskey use different types of grains, like barley, malted barley, rye, wheat, and corn. After being distilled, whiskey is usually aged in wooden barrels, which are often made from charred white oak.

Bourbon is an American whiskey that is made from a mash that consists of at least 51% corn. Other American whiskies include corn whiskey, rye whiskey, and wheat whiskey, all of which get their name from being made from at least 51% of a particular grain. There are many regulations that American whiskies must comply with, such as they cannot be distilled more than 80% alcohol by volume and barreled at no more than 125 proof. If it is aged for two years or more, it is also labeled as straight, such as a straight bourbon whiskey.

Scotch whisky, like bourbon, has many regulations that it has to obey in order to be defined as Scotch whisky. It has to be produced at a distillery in Scotland and be made from water and malted barley, along with being matured in Scotland in oak casks for at least three years. Scotch must also have a minimum strength of 40% alcohol by volume. Within the Scotch whisky family, there are five different types, such as single malt and single grain Scotch whisky. These two basic types of Scotch whisky can then be blended to make: blended malt Scotch whisky (two or more single malt Scotch whiskies), blended grain Scotch whisky (two or more single grain Scotch whiskies), or a blended Scotch whisky (blend of one or more single malts with one or more single grains).

Scotch whiskies have a smoky taste that comes from drying the malted barley with peat smoke. This peat smoke gives Scotch its distinctive flavor. Bourbon on the other hand usually has a sweeter and smoother taste that comes from the corn used in its mash. Both of these types of whiskies make for a great drink. Next time you go out for a drink, try both and decide which one you like better. Leave me comment and let me know which kind of whiskey you prefer. Cheers!

The Wonderful World of Wine

005Wine is one of those drinks that is elegant and simple at the same time. Wine is a beverage that has a long rich history behind it. Wine was first believed to have been made around 6000 B.C. in an area that is now the country of Georgia, and had appeared around the Middle East and the Balkans by around 4500 B.C. Wine was a favorite drink of ancient Greece and Rome, where both civilizations actually had gods that represented wine. Wine is an important element in both Christian and Jewish traditional ceremonies.

Europe is the homeland of wine, with France, Italy, and Spain leading the world in wine production, but the United States is right behind them. Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley in California are world renowned for producing excellent wines. European wines are often classified by the region it is made in, such as Bordeaux and Chianti, while other countries normally classify wines by the type of grape that went into making it, like Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

Wine is often classified into one of six categories, red, white, rose, sparkling, fortified wine, and dessert wines, with red and white wines being the most common types. The difference between red and white wines comes from the types of grapes used, the fermentation process, and the aging process. The biggest factor in making a red or white wine is the types of grapes that were used to make it, with white grapes producing white wine and red and black grapes normally being used to make red wine. Most red wines are made by first destemming and then crushing the grapes while leaving the grape skins in contact with the juice during the fermentation. White wines are usually made without destemming or crushing and are instead just pressed to extract the juice from the grapes. Red wines are also usually aged in oak barrels, while only a few varieties of white wine are aged.

When consumed in moderation, wine has been shown to have positive health effects, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and having cardioprotective properties. Wine, red wine in particular, contains many beneficial chemicals such as antioxidants, flavonoids, and polyphenols. Now that you have some more information about wine and what makes red and white wines different, go out and pick up some different types of wine to try and see which kind you like the best. Cheers!

Classic Cocktails: Martini and Manhattan

Classic cocktails are simple, stiff, and elegant, and two classic cocktails that epitomize that description are the martini and the Manhattan. These two cocktails are very similar but also very different. Martinis and Manhattans are both served in cocktail glasses, also known as martini glasses, and both are made with a similar ingredient, vermouth. Vermouth is an aromatic fortified wine that is flavored with a variety of botanicals such as herbs, roots, barks, flowers, seeds, and spices. These two drinks differ in their main ingredient, the type of spirit that goes into either one.

The martini is one of the most iconic classic cocktails and it is quite possibly the most famous cocktail, thanks in part to James Bond, who preferred his, “shaken, not stirred.” There are many variations of the martini but the original recipe is nice and simple with just has two ingredients and a garnish. Variations call for using a few drops of Angostura bitters or vodka instead of gin but the traditional martini recipe is:

2 ½ oz gin

½ oz vermouth

1 green olive or lemon twist as a garnish

Pour the ingredients into either a mixing glass or shaker with ice cubes and stir or shake until well chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with either an olive or a lemon twist.

The Manhattan is another classic that is similar to a martini, but it is made with whiskey instead of gin. There is a debate about what kind of whiskey to use, bourbon, rye, or Canadian whiskey. The choice of which whiskey to use is ultimately up to you, the drinker. Other variations on the Manhattan include replacing whiskey with brandy or using Scotch. The original recipe is:

2 oz rye whiskey

½ oz sweet vermouth

2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

1 Maraschino cherry for garnish

The preparation is pretty much the same as the martini; pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice cubes and stir until well chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cherry.

These are two of the oldest and most classic of cocktails. Next time you’re out at a bar, try either one or try them both and compare, if you do try both just plan on not driving. Cheers!

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Old Fashioned

The first recorded definition of the word “cocktail” was back in 1806, where it was described as a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. The popular spirit of the times was whiskey, particularly rye whiskey or bourbon coming in a close second. The combination of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar has stayed the same over the years and is essentially the recipe for the old fashioned cocktail.

Whiskey cocktails have become increasingly popular over the past few years, probably from people’s growing appreciation of flavorful drinks like whiskey, as opposed to vodka, and quite possibly from the huge popularity of the TV series Mad Men, where whiskey is the drink of choice. Among the variety of whiskey cocktails out there, the most popular ones are also the original ones, such as the whiskey sour, Manhattan, and of course the old fashioned.

The old fashioned is one of my favorite cocktails because it’s simple to make and it tastes just like a cocktail should taste with the sweetness of the sugar balanced by the bitters all combined with the rich flavor of a rye or bourbon whiskey. The traditional recipe for an old fashioned is:

2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey
2 dashes aromatic bitters (Angostura bitters)
1 splash water
1 tsp sugar/1 sugar cube
1 maraschino cherry (optional)
1 orange wedge (optional)

Place the sugar in an old fashioned glass and saturate with bitters and add a dash of plain water. Then muddle until the sugar is dissolved. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add whiskey. Garnish with orange slice and a cocktail cherry. Instead of an orange slice, it is common to use an orange or lemon peel with a twist in the drink. Whether you use bourbon or rye whiskey, or an orange slice or a lemon peel, this is a great drink. This is the original cocktail and a delicious one at that so make sure to order one the next time you’re out at a bar. Cheers!

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Rogue Hazelnut Spice Rum

002If you have read my blog before, you might have noticed that I am a fan of Rogue ales and I’ve written a couple posts about Rogue, one post on Rogue Morimoto Soba Ale and another on Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar. One day I was looking on the Rogue website and noticed that they also make spirits, so after I saw that, I was on a mission to get a bottle. Rogue makes a couple different varieties of whiskey, gin, and rum.

I read the descriptions of all the spirits they make and thought the Hazelnut Spice Rum and Oregon Single Malt Whiskey sounded the most interesting so I went to a store that is basically a Costco dedicated to alcohol, Total Wine & More. This store has any and every type and brand of alcohol that you could want. I decided to save the whiskey for a later date and opened up the Hazelnut Spice Rum.

According to their website, Rogue Hazelnut Spice Rum is made with 10 ingredients: 100% pure Hawaiian cane sugar, toasted Oregon hazelnuts, orange peel, vanilla bean, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, Champagne yeast, and free range coastal water. When making their handcrafted rum, Rogue double distills each batch in order to extract and remove lower grade alcohols. They then use a charcoal filtering process similar to Jack Daniel’s. The rum is then mellowed in Oak barrels.

The nose of this rum has a unique toasted hazelnut aroma. The flavor starts off with sweet notes of brown sugar and opens up to a strong toasted hazelnut taste that is accompanied by hints of cinnamon and clove. It has a finish that almost resembles bourbon with notes of oak and vanilla. Overall, this is a good, complex, and unique bottle of rum. It’s not like Captain Morgan or your average spiced rum. If you’re looking to try something different, you should definitely pick up a bottle of Rogue Hazelnut Spice Rum, if you can find it.