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.

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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!

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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!

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 Oregon Single Malt Whiskey

003There is a new trend in the way whiskey is aged, it’s called ocean aging. Ocean aging is when the whiskey is placed in oak barrels and those oak barrels are placed on large ships where they will age for a period of just a few months up to a few years. The idea behind ocean aging is that the salt air, oceanic pressure, extreme heat, and rolling movement of the waves will age the whiskey much faster than it would if it were aged on land.

I recently picked up a bottle of Rogue Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, which happens to have been ocean aged for three months. This was my first experience with an ocean aged whiskey. This whiskey has a surprisingly dark color for being aged for only 3 months. It has kind of a hazy appearance to it. The nose has a strong aroma of cinnamon with a salty ocean smell to it also. The salty ocean smell kind of scared me to be honest. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tasted it. The flavor is similar to the aroma, with a hint of sweet cinnamon combined with a salty ocean taste. This whiskey also has the flavor of a scotch whiskey with a mild smoky taste, which comes from twelve percent of the malt used in this whiskey being hand-smoked using Alder and Maple chips.

Overall, Rogue Oregon Single Malt Whiskey was an interesting drink but the salty ocean aroma and flavor are not what I’m looking for in my whiskey. The ocean aging concept is an interesting idea, but the end result is not very appealing, to me anyways. I’ve read some reviews on another brand of whiskey that was ocean aged for three and a half years and the reviews were all positive and didn’t mention the salty brine tasted that I noticed in the Rogue Oregon Single Malt Whiskey. It seems that aging it longer, even on the ocean, reduces the salty taste and imparts plenty of the flavors from the oak. I probably won’t buy this one again, especially considering it was $45. If you have ever tried Rogue Oregon Single Malt Whiskey or any other ocean aged whiskey, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought.

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