Category Archives: See Clair Mix

Whiskey Trail: Day Three

Charles with one of their fermenters

Charles with one of Woodford’s fermenters

Day three included visits to Woodford Reserve and Wild Turkey. Out of all the distilleries we visited, these were the two that were least familiar to me. My introduction to American whiskey was through Jack and Cokes or whiskey and ginger ale highballs. Woodford wasn’t as well known within my college circles, and if we were going to buy whiskey, it would probably be Beam or Jack.

One of the coolest parts of each tour was their master distiller. At Woodford, Chris Morris showed us around and answered my (many) questions about booze, history, classifications, and boozy science. Outside of the nerdery, the campus was gorgeous. Theirs is the oldest working bourbon distillery in the country. It’s beautiful, and holds the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark.

Jimmy Russell is awesome.

Jimmy Russell is awesome.

The coolest part of visiting Wild Turkey was getting to hear from Jimmy Russell. He’s been making whiskey there for 60 years (!!!) and knows or knew every important player in the bourbon game. In fact, he’s been making bourbon for ten years longer than bourbon was legally required to be made within the U.S.

He’s also friendly. When he found out I was from Alabama, he said, “Well, War Eagles!” We were able to get him into storytelling mode, and he told anecdotes about his friends, bourbon and changes in legislation. He’s a living part of bourbon history, and I want to collect his stories.

The third day was also where the journalists started hanging out and talking less cautiously. After dinner, we came back and spent time sipping Seelbach Cocktails in the Seelbach Hotel bar. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tour the Rathskeller speakeasy area due to time constraints.

I also realized on this day (Wednesday) that I wanted to come back. The science and history and picky details of whiskey production are amazingly interesting, and I want to learn as much as I can about them. There’s only so much you can glean from online sources, and I want more. I’ll for sure be back.

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#allthewhiskey

I found all the whiskey.

I found all the whiskey.

Two weeks ago, I was invited to go on a media trip around the American Whiskey Trail. After a few seconds of indecision, Adam convinced me that I would be crazy not to.

So far, he’s been right. Before I left, I successfully pitched six related articles. I feel more legitimate about calling myself a writer than ever before. Bonus points: three of them are in a new-to-me publication.

As a bartender, learning about whiskey making and everything that goes into it gives me personal knowledge of the subject. Touring distilleries gives will give me a sense of the place where it’s made. Talking with distillers gives me ideas for new ways to use spirits in cocktails. Traveling opens me up to new experiences and people and ideas.

During the trip, I’ve been using the travel time (other than the drive up, duh) to work. I’ve gotten a blog post and a fact-check assignment nailed down, and I’ll hopefully get to work on other things during our drive to Lexington.

If you want to follow the fun in real time, I’ll be using the tag #allthewhiskey to label my tweets and Instagram posts. Over the next few days, we’ll be visiting distilleries including Bulleit, George Dickel, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve. We’ll also be participating in a small producers dinner and touring Vendome Copper.

I’m a happy camper – I’ll be sippin’ and writin’ all week long. Bring on the whiskey, y’all.

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Expert Drinker

Photo credit to James Martin. Pic first appeared on his blog, The Sipologist.

Photo credit to James Martin. Pic first appeared on his blog, The Sipologist.

At this time two years ago, I was wasting away in an office job to make money. It was what I thought a career had to be — grunt work with a generous helping of boredom and convoluted power structures.

When I got the chance to bartend, I jumped on it. From the outside, it seemed both nerdy and glamorous, and I wanted to be part of that culture. To catch up, I studied drink and product flashcards every day. I asked bartenders I knew for book recommendations, and read them all the time.

After a little while, I started writing about what I’d learned. It was easy and challenging all at once: I’d become passionate about cocktails, so I wanted to do their stories justice. It was a topic I’d come to know well, so it was sometimes hard to translate my knowledge into an accessible story.

But explaining product and cocktails are both parts of bartending, so I used every shift to refine my narrative about a certain drink or a technique or an ingredient. Once I started practicing, it became easier and easier to explain it out loud and in writing.

As an adult, I’ve had trouble owning up to what I am and what I want to be. It took me a long time to call myself a writer, and a few months of bartending full-time before I would call myself a bartender without a qualifier. Even now, I’m not a drinks expert. What I am is an expert drinker. I’ve developed a palate, know how to balance and re-balance a cocktail, and consult the Flavor Bible enough to figure out what liquors play well with what flavors.

I’m still learning, and I’m still putting off reading the stack of cocktail books I keep by my bed. With writing, tutoring, and regular bartending shifts, I can make time to read an article or two every day, but I’ve had a lot of trouble keeping pace with my drinks library. To become a true drinks expert, I’ll have to dive back in, and soon. I’ll start on it tomorrow.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Aviation

Aviation line.

Flying in style.

To truly enjoy the Aviation and appreciate its name, you have to think back to when air travel was a luxury. Picture a elegant seating area inhabited by suave gentlemen and well-coifed ladies. Imagine full-service dinners on tables with real table cloths served by happy stewardesses (term used for historical effect).

In that context, the Aviation’s name and makeup makes more sense. It’s a bit of a mystery — I couldn’t find much background on this Prohibition-era cocktail other than it was inspired by the air travel available around that time. It’s a crisp cocktail with a tart bite and a dry finish. Per the recipes I found online, it’s also incredibly versatile.

Per Wondrich’s article on Esquireit’s made with maraschino liqueur, but no crème de violette. This recipe first appeared in Harry Craddock’s 1930 edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book, and makes the drink reminiscent of the icy cloudscape that passengers experience when they fly.

According to most other sources, the crème de violette is essential: it provides the drink’s recognizable hazy purple-blue color. Either way, it’s a gorgeous drink that can call up memories of a simpler — and more glamorous — time. To find your way back, experiment with the proportions until you find what takes you back.

Recipe:
1 tsp Crème de Violette (optional)
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
2 oz gin

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake vigorously until chilled, about 12-18 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry (optional).

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Starting Fresh

Photo credit to Jessica Jack Wyrick

Photo credit to Jessica Jack Wyrick

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Last weekend, I came across the Mary Oliver poem that included that line, and it’s stuck with me. Since then, I’ve been hustling my freelance game harder than ever before. As a result, I’m calling September The Month of Just Doing It. So far, I’ve pitched two national publications and one regional one. I’ve requested an update from a private client, and scheduled an interview.

Even though I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been writing more than ever before on many of the same topics. Here’s a handy list of life updates:

  • I still love cocktails. My dream of writing for mental_floss has been a reality for almost a year, and my editor’s help in finding my voice in science writing has been invaluable. Read those posts here.
  • I’m exercising regularly. Not all of the written entries have been posted yet, but having Chris Conn as my personal trainer at Omega Life Fitness has pushed me to a new level of fitness. On to the next goal.
  • Rejection is OK. I’ve already had a pitch rejected from one national publication, but immediately pitched another. If my motivation to keep moving, working, failing and learning ever stops, I’m finished as a freelancer. For The Month of Just Doing It, I will continue to research and pitch new stories, even if they fail. I also entered a cocktail competition earlier this year and made it to the finals. I didn’t win, but did learn a lot from the process itself.
  • I’m engaged. Even before I was engaged, I was writing for Love Inc., a wedding publication dedicated to all love — equally. I’ve written about buying a wedding dress, getting engaged (in that order), and various industry trends.
  • I don’t like new things. As a writer, being change-averse is both silly and counter-productive. Without experiencing new things, you can’t develop new material for any medium. This weekend, Adam and I went to a marksmanship clinic. It was a new and thoroughly frustrating experience, but I can now hit a target with a damn fine grouping at 100 yds, and am a passable shot up to 400 yds. This winter, I’ll go hunting with Adam for the first time.
  • Bartending is still awesome. Writing and bartending are two of my passions, and getting to pursue them both concurrently is amazing. But both take hustle, hard work and energy. Over the next few months, I’ll be ramping up my networking on both fronts to see how I can move them forward.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Ramos Gin Fizz

The Ramos Gin Fizz is one of the most time-intensive and physically challenging drinks for bartenders. In fact, its original instructions call for a 12-minute-long hard shake. Though most modern bars will shake it for two to five minutes, it still requires an intense physical effort. As a result, some bars will charge a lot more for this libation if it’s ordered during peak service hours.

Out of respect for my fellow bartenders, I’d been hesitant to post about it. With the advent of spring, this delicious, traditional New Orleans cocktail is something I’ve been craving on a regular basis. As well, its surprisingly straightforward place in history should be discussed and respected.

With all that said, please be considerate of your bartender when ordering this drink.

Historically, this drink has its origins  in the 1880s. Henry Ramos, a New Orleans bartender of the time, created this drink and ignited a craze. It became so popular that he had at least ten bartenders on the clock every night to keep up with demand. It’s not hard to see why — its creamy, fluffy texture is reminiscent of Lebanese ice cream and its taste is light, delicate, floral and entirely tasty.

As with most classics, variations on this drink have been made with different syrups, juices and garnishes. As spring approaches, experiment with different gins (I prefer either the Old Tom style) or different proportions to fit your taste.

Recipe:

1 dash orange flower water (orange blossom water is the same thing)
1 egg white
.5 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.5 0z simple syrup
.75 oz heavy whipping cream
2 oz gin

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake vigorously without ice for at least 45 seconds. Add ice and shake vigorously for several minutes until the tin is frosty. Strain into a chilled Collins glass and top with soda water to create the foam cap.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Sherry Flip

photo (5)After ten months of bartending, I’ve tasted through quite a few different sherries. Before that, I considered sherry to be a product only for cooks and older women. Needless to say, the range of styles and flavors quickly turned my apprehension into appreciation. In cocktails, this ingredient can add aspects such as dryness or a sweet, round nuttiness. High quality sherry also adds a lovely rich, velvety body.

Flips are the oldest defined class of cocktail. Modern variations usually involve an egg, sweetening agent and base liquor or liqueur, but the earliest flips were most likely variations of a spiced, sweetened and beer-based punch. This cold weather drink was probably also heated with a poker, causing sugars to caramelize and the whole brew to hiss and boil. The result was a complex mix of sweet and bitter from quickly heating the mix with the poker.

About 150 years ago, the first references to cold flips appear. As rum and other spirits became more available within Europe and elsewhere, they replaced beer as the base for the flip. Some bartenders (or home bartenders) added egg and sometimes cream to the mixture, and the cold flip was born. Though the inclusion of cream is now categorized separately, this class of drinks has a long and well-established history.

Since most bars no longer stock fire-heated pokers (can haz industrial heating rod?), cold flips have become the more prevalent cocktail option. These creamy, sweet, rich confections are the perfect nightcap or post-dinner dessert.

Recipe:
2 dashes Chocolate molé bitters
1 whole unpasteurized farm egg*
1 tsp Grade B maple syrup
2 oz sherry (NOT CREAM OR COOKING SHERRY)
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 20 seconds without ice. Add ice and shake for an additional 20 seconds or until combined and chilled through. Strain into a chilled rocks glass.

*If you’re apprehensive about using an uncooked egg in a cocktail, read my primer on the subject here.

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