Cocktails

Dolin Vermouth, Because a Dry Cocktail is Hard to Drink.

Dolin1 Most casual drinkers shun vermouth as the bastard stepchild of the cocktail world, barely tolerating it in some scenarios, and sometimes ignoring it altogether. We all know those old jokes about how to make a dry martini (glance at a bottle of vermouth across the room, wave a bottle over over your glass, etc), now the most common and well regarded iteration of the beverage, and which, in my mind, hardly qualifies as ancocktail.

But I won't belabor the point. Jason Wilson of the Washington Post wrote a great feature last Wednesday on this very subject. Towards the end of the article, Jason interviews kindred spirit Derek Brown of The Gibson — a swank new cocktail lounge on U Street NW — who mentions in passing a new brand of vermouth called Dolin.

Just as Prohibition-era drinkers forewent vermouth for lack of availability, contemporary drinkers have their reasons. As far as mixers go, most brands of vermouth are a bit dull, and the sweet ones are almost sickly so. Why spice up a perfectly good, expensive gin or whiskey with a cheap-ass, lower-alcohol liqueur that tastes like bad wine and Mrs. Dash? Dolin makes a welcome addition to a field dominated by bland, industrialized incarnations of the classic spirit.

I call Dolin new, but it is actually quite old, having been produced in the Chambery region of France since the early 19th century. One of the most important distinctions between Dolin and other vermouth is that it has AOC certification, holding it up to the same rules and standards as the other fine wines of France. This limits Dolin to certain time-honored processes such as herbal infusion, natural caramel coloring and sweetening with sugar (I know, crazy, right?). As such, the wines are a bit less sweet than the factory stuff, and also a less intense in color, allowing the most important facet of the beverage, the spices, to shine through.

Dolin makes all three of the classic vermouth styles — Blanc, Rouge and Dry — each crafted with its own collection of secret herbs and spices. Both the Blanc and the Dry pour completely clear, lacking that slightly yellow haze you get from Martini & Rossi and the like. The Dry (17.5% abv, 30 g/l sugar) has a subtle, slightly grassy nose, mingled with aromas of lime, thyme, and white wine. On the palate it is noticeably lighter in body that most, and totally lacks that acrid sting on the finish that is typical of the drink. The Blanc (a sweet incarnation of white vermouth, 16.0% abv, 130 g/l sugar) has a beautiful nose of white cake, orange peel, flowers and cloves, with these flavors persisting on the palate, followed by a long, surprisingly fresh and acidic finish. The Rouge (16% abv, 130 g/l sugar) pours a golden-brown color like off-dry sherry. The nose gives one the immediate impression of oxidized pasta sauce, coming on strong with oregano and roasted tomatoes, along with sherry, sage, and red apple skins. Like the others, this one is far less viscous on the palate than we have come to expect, and though quite sweet it finishes dry and herbaceous.

Dolin's price is surprisingly reasonable for the quality, running about $15 per bottle retail, which is only a bit more than the established competition — expect to see it in a number of shops in the near future. I asked my distributor what bars have picked it up, and was handed a laundry list including Bourbon, Gibson, Rasika, Bar Pilar, Central, Poste, and Urbana. Go see what the quality mixologist at these fine establishments have come up with, or order a classic cocktail and see if you can taste the difference. And though it might get you thrown out of the will if Grandpa finds out, go for a 50-50 mix in your Martini or Manhattan.


Infusing Gin for Fun and Profit

I am an unapologetic fan of gin; consider me outed. Fortunately, there are more and more like me everyday, reveling in a world of colorful spices, eschewing the dull and colorless life of the vodka drinker. The tables are turning, and "mother's ruin" is quickly gaining ground on vodka, which has dominated the American cocktail scene for decades. As gin once again takes its rightful place as King of the White Spirits, we should expect any number of crazy infusions to make their way to the market; just as James Bond's martini gave way over time to the Appletini, I've no doubt that ambitious gin producers will be chomping at the bit release their own freaks of mixology.

Fevertree With an eye towards influencing the future of the drinking sciences, I decided to conduct a little experiment. Everyone knows any fruit-infused gin is a doomed and foolish endeavor (remember "Beefeater Wet," endorsed by Ms. Britney Spears? Neither does anyone else). Any idiot can tell you that herb-infused gin is the wave of the future, and I am gonna ride that wave all the way to the bank, "Point Break" style. Using about two tablespoons of fresh, chopped herbs, I infused four three-ounce samples of Aviation Gin for 36 hours, then prepped a test Gin and Tonic for each using Fever-Tree Tonic Water, in proportions of two to one. Below are my results; consider the patent pending.

Aviation_4 Control Sample: Aviation Gin

Aviation is a great gin in its own right, produced from 100% rye in the Pacific Northwest. Graced with just the right blend of juniper, cardamom, coriander, lavender, anise, sarsaparilla, and orange peel, the gin is spicy and dry, not fruity like Tanqueray. The licorice flavor of anise is definitely the main note in my control G&T, and the finish is refreshingly dry and biting, with an interesting earthy note that blend's well with the Fever Tree's ample quinine. Can I possibly improve on this brilliant classic cocktail?

Sample One: Rosemary-Infused Gin

The lightest of all my samples, the rosemary gin poured a pale yellow-gold, turning, well, urine colored when combined with the tonic. The savory musk of the herb completely overshadowed the once dominate Anise on the nose, and the beverage smelled quite nearly salty. The rosemary definitely brought out the earthy elements present in the base beverage, as it will in a fine Pinot Noir or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The flavors become remarkably citrusy upon swallowing, after which a striking puckering sensation gripped my palate. All in all, an interesting experiment, and were it not for scientific method, I'd have mixed this in a dirty martini and happily sipped the results.

Sample Two: Mint-Infused Gin

The mint-infused sample was the darkest of the lot, a rich brownish yellow, which, combined with tonic, bore a striking resemblance to ginger ale. While the gin on its own smelled quite distinctly of mint, the odor of my cocktail was surprisingly mute -- just a faint whiff of menthol along with a bit of moist earth (wet Newports, anyone?). On the palate, this stuff was straight up Wrigley's Spearmint Gum, if just a tad less sweet. The finish was far sweeter, and the bitter Quinine combined with the mint flavor to leave my palate with an odd chalky sensation-- again, not unlike a dry stick of gum. This one is a must have for you pack-a-day Wrigley's chewers (you know who you are).

Bottles2 Sample Three: Basil-Infused Gin

The only sample to turn remotely green, the basil sample was chartreuse in color, and became iridescent yellow in the cocktail. I was taken aback when, upon first sniffing the glass, my initial impression was that it smelled like seafood. Further examination proved to me that my beverage smelled very much like Old Bay. Through some amazing confluence of flavors, I wound up with a crab bake in a glass! On the palate the flavors prove uncannily similar, if much more sweet than salty, and not at all spicy in the cayenne sense. The finish proved markedly dryer than I'd imagined, and the aftertaste was all celery and  bell pepper. A fascinating sample, and the only one I drank to the bottom of the glass.

Sample Four: Wormwood-Infused Gin

(Note: I got this herb from our CSA farm share. When I asked as to the herb's uses, our supplier replied "Use it to keep moths out of your closet. It is not a food." Just wanted to put that out there.)

This sample was also golden brown in the bottle, but took on an eerie green glow when mixed with the tonic. The nose was an amalgam of anise, wet bark, and a decidedly astringent chemical agent. The flavors are hard to separate for lack of desire to keep the drink in your mouth; through sheer force of will I was able to pick up nuances of dandelion leaves, lemon, and dirty sugar cane. Immediately upon swallowing, my back palate was assaulted by a combination of mouldering mushrooms and medicinal bitterness, causing uncontrollable grimacing. Shortly thereafter, the color mauve set firmly in my eardrums, which would have been intolerable but for the dancing gnomes and a lovely foot rub from Richard Nixon (Tricky Dick has some magic fingers!).

No, but seriously, I have tasted absinthe, and while it was by no means appealing, this was worse. If you do happen upon this herb, best use it to protect your cardigans, as those gnomes had absolutely no rhythm, anyway, and Mr. Nixon's advances quickly turned uncouth.

Conclusions:

While not as obviously appealing as, say, Green Apple Smirnoff or Stoli Razz, herb-infused gin has a certain intellectual appeal, offering up unexpected flavors for the adventurous drinker. Try some experiments yourselves, but remember whom to credit if Bombay comes a'callin. Now go away, Daddy has a headache and needs a nap.


America the Boozetiful

There are a lot of things we Americans do well, and we know it. From luxury trucks to action flicks to ostentatious Celebutantes, we're number one, baby! Though it may be confidently said that we will never be outpaced in the department of debaucherous, spoiled rich girls, in terms of quality spirits, imports still dominate the market. But with Independence Day hoving into view, our patriotic souls demand that we shun the spirits of our enemies (the enemies of Democracy!) and embrace our fine — nay, superior! — homegrown alternatives!

Vodka:

Hangar_2 While traditionally vodka has been associated with Russia, there is no evidence to suggest that we can't make the stuff as well as Emperor Putin and his Neo-Bolshevik Pinko-Commie Comrades. Though they may have beat us to the punch on hyperinflation, we have kept pace with the Ruskies in the production of high end vodkas. For fans of that purest of spirits, Hangar One, from outside Oakland, CA (America's Most Scenic City) is a fantastic buy. Made from a combination of neutral grain spirits and vodka obtained from Viognier wine, Hangar One Straight Vodka (About $30) is extraordinarily smooth and crisp, with a slightly fruity nose and less bite than even the much touted Grey Goose. For fans of fruit flavored vodka, their Kaffir Lime is exquisite, and being infused rather than tainted with flavoring agents like some cheaper vodkas, Hangar's is a full 40% alcohol, completely dry, and subtlety aromatic. In addition, Hangar One offers a Mandarin Orange and several other flavored bottlings, all of which will impress even the most stubborn vodka purist. Whatever your flavor, feel free to mix yourself a Hangar and Ice next Friday, queue up that VHS of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Finals, and revel in the fact that we won the hell out of the Cold War.

Rum:

Donq_2 In the arena of international politics, no one nation has proven a more frequent nit in our democratic fur than Communist Cuba. They may have prevailed in that whole Bay of Pigs debacle (that's what we get for electing a President in the employ of the Pope), but I'll be damned if any enemy of America may claim the title of Best Rums in the World uncontested! In fact, America and it's protectorates are capable of producing some fine distillates of the cane, all the sweeter for their breeding in a land of freedom and liberty.

While most will agree that native rum conglomerate Bacardi is known less for quality than for global saturation, Puerto Rico does produce some great rums — its only that up until recently, they just didn't see fit to send them our way. Ask any Puerto Rican the best base for Rum and Coke or a Mojito, and he will likely say "Don Q." This product of Serralles distillery has been a mainstay in Puerto Rico for over one hundred years, though it is only within the last couple that we have seen it on domestic shelves. Utilizing neutral white oak barrels during its maturation, Don Q is uncharacteristically mellow and round, lacking the sharp bite and cloyingly sweet aroma of its contemporaries, and at about $12 a bottle, it is just as affordable as its more well known cousin. If and when Barak Obama places our economy squarely in Cuban hands, as his opponents attest he will, I am confident that Don Q will win out over its Marxist counterparts in the free and open market.

Gin:

Bluecoat_2 Of all the enemies of America's vision of Democracy, we are most readily negligent of our first and most insidious — Britain. Oh sure, we had a friend in Tony Blair (I don't like the sound of this Brown fellow at ALL), but are we so soon to forget from whom we declared our anointed and glorious independence? Drinking a Tanqueray & Tonic so close to the day of our nation's birth is tantamount to treason, in my book! Fortunately, just as we took Cricket and created the vastly superior sport of Baseball, so too have we improved upon England's native tipple.

For pure indulgently ironic enjoyment, their is no better beverage with which to toast our independence than Bluecoat Gin: Named after our nation's first freedom fighters and made in Philadelphia, our first capital, Bluecoat American Dry Gin is the ultimate "two finger salute" to our erstwhile colonial oppressors. That aside, it also rocks. Made in hand-hammered copper stills in small batches and infused with organic juniper and citrus peels, this gin has an elegantly fruity/peppery nose, backed up by a surprising amalgam of spices on the palate and a full, but not syrupy mouthfeel. This is one of those rare gins which is appropriate for Martinis, G and T's, or just sipping on the rocks, and at about $25 a bottle, is proof that buying American still has value beyond blind patriotism.