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Entries in Whiskey (5)


Homemade Whiskey (Raising My Spirits Part 2)

On New Years day I filled a 1 liter oak barrel with cheap vodka .  Now that is has had a chance to age for about four months I figured it was time to check in on the results.  Because the surface to volume ratio is so much higher in this small of a barrel, I figure the four months of aging approximates two years for a full barrel.  The results are amazing, but I wish I had started with a better quality of vodka.  It still needs to mellow a bit (it still has a hot alcohol taste and nose).  I could also charcoal filter it to smooth it out.  The color is spectacular and it smells like a typical bottle of whiskey that would have cost much more than the vodka I started with.  This would be great for mixers as-is, but I am going to try and mellow it out a bit further for sippin.

This batch filled up a 750ml bottle nicely.  The remainder of the initial liter evaporated off.  This is what distillers refer to as "the angel's share".  The bottle is a Glenlivet water bottle that I brought back from my UK trip.  I just sanitized it and poured the whiskey straight from the barrel.  The best part is that I now have a bourbon barrel I can use to experiment with aging beer in!




"Top Shelf Whiskey"

On the last night of my recent trip to England, some friends took my out for a pub crawl in London.   We took the train to Waterloo station and just planned to stop in whichever pubs caught our eye.  We walked across a bridge over the Thames River and ultimately found ourselves at Trafalgar Square.  At 66 Trafalgar Square we found the Scottish bar named Albannach.   Albannach was an upscale bar/restaurant with a trendy club feel (complete with vinyl spinning D.J.) and the wait staff were decked out in kilts.   While the name of the bar literally means "Scottish" or "Scottish person" I think the only person there of Scottish descent walked in the door with me.  However, the joint was jammed full of fine Scottish Whiskey.  This is was by far the best selection of Scotch I have ever seen.  The bar offered a menu with detailed descriptions of each of their 140+ whiskeys.  Each was served in 50ml measures and ranged from £7.00 (<$10) for a glass of Bunnahabhain 12 y.o., Aberlour 10, or Auchenentoshan 10 to a lofty £760.00 (>$1,000) for a glass of The Balvenie 50 year old, Cask 191 from front and center of the top shelf!

Here's a description of Cask 191 from the menu:

The Balvenie 50 year old, Cask 191 45.1% abv

Great presence with creamy fruit and nut chocolate, raisins, prunes, fruit poached with cloves, and a hint of foaming cappuccino.  Rich but retains dryness, balance and intensity.

Sounded like a lot more flavors than my pallet could ascertain at the end of a pub crawl, so I settled for a pint of Deuchars IPA from Edinburgh which was fabulous!  Maybe next time...



PS:  The DJ was drinking Budweiser....guess that proves everyone likes an import now and then!


Recipe for the Ultimate Cake?

How can you go wrong with Guinness AND Irish Whiskey?  I stumbled on this Irish gem of a dessert.   If I wasn't going to be in England next week (for business) I would have requested it as my birthday cake.  

The smokey carmel sauce sounds intriging (from the book Cheater BBQ), I wonder if you could smoke brown sugar in a smoker prior to making the sauce rather than using liquid smoke?

Here's a link to the original article from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle from the book:  Elegant Irish Cooking.  I'll report back if I get a chance to try it first hand.

Biddy Mulligan's Dublin Cake:

Biddy Mulligan's Dublin Cake

We tested this recipe with Guinness Stout and Jameson's Irish whiskey. Be sure to use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. Cake flour's lower protein content yields a baked good that is more tender and crumbly. Adapted from Noel C. Cullen's Elegant Irish Cooking (Lebhar-Friedman, $35).

  • 2 cups cake flour ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ pound butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup Guinness stout
  • 2 cups golden raisins
  • 1 cup dried currants
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • ¼ cup Irish whiskey, plus more to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and lightly grease the parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda and allspice. Set aside.

Using a standing mixer fitted with paddle, cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. (You can also use a hand-held electric mixer.) Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition.

Fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Stir in Guinness, raisins, currants and walnuts. Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 1 hour. Then turn the oven temperature down to 300 and bake for another 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (or with just a crumb or two sticking).

Remove cake pan from oven and allow cake to cool in the pan completely. Pierce the surface of the cake with fork or skewer. Run a knife around the edge of the cake where it meets the pan and remove the cake from the pan. Brush the Irish whiskey over the top of the cake where the perforations were made and wrap in wax or parchment paper and store in a cool, dry area for a couple days before serving. If you like more whiskey flavor, brush the cake with an additional two tablespoons of whiskey once or twice during the waiting period. Serve with whipped cream or smoky caramel sauce (recipe follows).

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Smoky Caramel Sauce

Caramelizing sugar requires careful attention and constant stirring to make sure you don't overcook the sugar. This recipe, from Mindy Merrell and R.B. Quinn's Cheater BBQ (Broadway, $17.95), is surprisingly quick, easy and foolproof. The secret is liquid smoke.

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and creamy.

Makes about 2 cups


Raising my Spirits...

As mentioned in an earlier post, I treated myself to a small oak barrel for aging experiments.  My real target was simulating beers aged in oak bourbon barrels.  Most distilleries around the world use these casks as well, placing their newly distilled, neutral spirits into the casks for years to extract their color, flavor and aroma from the wood.  My virgin barrel from eBay was simply lacking experience.

My wheels began to turn...How could I give my new barrel that old bourbon barrel character without aging whiskey in it?   Why not  just age whiskey in it?  Why not experiment with the aging process for spirits, then use it for beer later?

Distilling spirits is illegal in the US, so building a still and extracting ethanol from homebrew just doesn't seem wise.  However,  I may have discovered a way to experiment with the key processes of aging whiskey while staying within the letter (and spirit) of the law.  Why not just start with an off the shelf neutral spirit like vodka?

To keep the experiment manageable I purchased a second, smaller 1L oak barrel on eBay.  I found a 1.75L bottle of Svedka Swedish vodka at Costco for $17. 

Svedka is rated nearly as high as Grey Goose and probably better than anything I could produce as an amateur distiller anyway.

To prep the barrel I soaked it in water to allow the wood to swell and seal itself properly.  Then I rinsed it out, refilled it and let it sit for two days with a couple of Camden tablets to sanitize it.  After that rinsed it out three times and filled it with Vodka to begin the experiment.  Aging, by definition, takes time : )  so my patience will be tested here for sure.  The good news is that the larger surface to volume ratio of small barrels will allow spirits to age the equivalent of a month in a full size cask for every week in my miniature barrel.

I am not the most patient guy and want more insight into what might be happening in the barrel without opening it for at least a few months.  To provide more instant gratification, I placed the remaining vodka in an empty whiskey bottle with toasted oak chips (the kind used for throwing into your beer or wine fermentor to simulate oak aging).  This will give me a handy visual clue to what may be taking place in the cask.  I can also easily open the bottle and sneak a whiff or even a nip from time to time.

The progress to date is amazing.  After only 5 days, the bottle already looks and smells like decent whiskey!  I'll be sure to keep you posted on its progress from time to time.




Review: Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey


•    Appearance:  A    •    Aroma:  B     •    Taste:  B+    •


Overall:  B+

I have a particular fondness for Speyside Single Malts.   However, in order to live within my means I am always on the lookout for more economical alternatives.   Recently, this bottle of Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey caught my eye in a commemorative 400th anniversary tin.  The dark amber color convinced me I had to give it a try.  Wow!  I sure am glad I did.  At about $30 a bottle I am considering this my own personal stimulus package to make it through a long economic winter.

This whiskey is exceptionally smooth with surprising complexity.   I highly recommend drinking it neat.  The taste is warm and spicy with a nice rounded sweetness (aged in sherry casks).  It is full bodied and clings to the side of your glass even on the rocks.  The nose highlights the spice and malty goodness.  Did I mention it was really smooth?

Not only is it a great buy, its been an absolute delight to sip while solving the worlds problems : )  I can't recommend this enough and plan to make it a staple on my bar from now on.  I got to get back to the candy store soon since I just polished this one off.