Category Archives: Spirits

Medley Brothers Bourbon Relaunch

Medley Brothers Bourbon was a classic bourbon that has been off the market for about fifty years, ever since the rights to the brand were sold by the family in 1958. Now thanks to Charles Medley and his son Sam, the family is bringing it back.

medley brothers relaunch

Having already resurrected two of the other family brands, Wathen’s Kentucky Bourbon – Single Barrel and Old Medley 12 Yr Bourbon, the Medley family now brining back their Medley Brother’s Bourbon with almost exactly the same label and, according to them, a very similar recipe. I was lucky enough to be at the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar for the launch party last Thursday, tasting it in the first week it was available in Kentucky and got to talk with Sam and Charles Medley as well. It really was exciting to be able to talk a little bit about bourbon with a family that has been making it for eight generations. Charles and Sam were both gracious as well as passionate about their family business.

Charles and Sam Medley

Charles and Sam Medley

Unlike the Wathren’s Single Barrel and the Old Medley, this bourbon is meant less for sipping alone and more for use in craft cocktails. At 102 proof this bourbon is meant to stand up to other ingredients in a classic cocktail. While I didn’t get to try it in a mixed drink I imagine that the stronger flavor of this bourbon, especially in the cocoa and oak flavor, would lend itself well to both mixing and sipping. Medley Brother’s Bourbon retails for about $25 a bottle and is currently only available in Kentucky but should soon be available in Georgia,  South Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. As for Ohio, well it will probably be a bit longer before you can get a bottle without driving across the river.

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Hank Birdwell’s Vodka

Hank Birdwell's Vodka

In my unending quest to be both a booze snob and a cheapskate I can never resist trying a new, reasonably priced vodka. With craft distilleries popping up every week it is hard to resist the fantasy of discovering a new product that is half the price and twice the quality of the big names. Of course this is usually a fool’s errand. It is true that with names like Grey Goose or Crystal Head you are paying a considerable amount for advertising and the perceived value but with alcohol as with so many things, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

But when I was at The Party Source debating which vodka to purchase, my prior experience didn’t stop me from being hopeful when I spotted a new and distinctive label sitting on the shelf. It was brightly colored, folksy, and claimed to be the product of seven generations of family distilling. At just about $11 a bottle the price was right for me to take it home and give it a try.

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First the back ground. There is no real information about Hank Birdwell’s Vodka on the web. No flashy websites bragging about their column stills or organic ingredients. No corporate website listing the vodka as one of dozens of holdings either. The label says the vodka is distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana so I am going to have to assume that this is a new product out of Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana LLC. You may not have heard of LDI but you may have heard of Bulleit, Smooth Ambler, or High West. These are just a few of the craft distilleries that source their bourbon and other whiskies from LDI and bottle them under their own name. There is nothing wrong with sourcing your whiskey, especially while you are getting your distillery started. I point this out to illustrate that just because something says it is ‘crafted’ or has ‘seven generations’ of history behind doesn’t mean that is the whole story. The LDI distillery has indeed been around since 1847 but during that time it has been sold many times over, most recently to Kansas-based MGP Ingredients Inc in 2011. So I am not sure if Hank Birdwell’s is being bottled by someone else who is purchasing it from LDI or if they are selling it directly, but I do feel confident in saying that this is not a product that has been in anyone’s family for one generation, let alone seven.

vodka gimlet

All sounds pretty harsh and cynical but the real question is, how does the vodka taste? Charlie and I tried it for our podcast this week and I will say that while it wasn’t exactly good, it was not bad either. I can’t say for sure but my money is on this being a 100% corn vodka. The nose was strongly astringent; you can smell the alcohol and not much else. We tried it ice cold, neat and on first sip it had a surprisingly sweet taste with a strong vanilla flavor. But before you can even appreciate what you are tasting the alcohol comes in and burns away any flavor notes that might have been coming into focus. It wasn’t a hot burn but the ethyl flavor did take over the tongue and then lingered awhile after you swallowed. So not a sipping vodka for sure. Or course I can’t see why anyone would want to sip vodka in the first place, so I always follow up the tasting by making a cocktail with it. Vodka’s beauty comes from it’s ability to add alcohol to other flavors so to really test it you have to mix with it. In this case I made a vodka gimlet and here the Hank Birdwell’s performed much better. Mixed with fresh lime juice and simple syrup the ethyl flavor faded to the background but surprisingly the vanilla flavor came forward. It ended up being a much more enjoyable cocktail than I expected and lead me to upgrade my opinion of the vodka just a bit.

So should you give Hank Birdwell’s a shot? Like I said at the beginning, this is an $11 bottle of vodka and compared to other vodkas at that same price point it is perhaps slightly ahead of the curve. But if you have the money to spend, go ahead and spend a few dollars more to get some Tito’s.

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El Arco Tequila

 

El Arco bottles

 

“I love my unpaid job” was my facebook status last Thursday afternoon. The reason for this love? I had just come from a lunch time tequila tasting that was provided to me because El Arco Tequila reached out to Queen City Drinks to ask if one of their writers would be interested in sampling their tequila and writing a review. Never one to shirk my duty, I bravely stepped forward.

 

el arco blanco and anejo

El Arco is a newcomer to the craft tequila market. Arco Ventures LLC, a Cincinnati-based tequila distribution company bought Arco del Cabo Tequila, renamed it El Arco and began selling bottles in 2011 I believe. The change in marketing, branding, and investment seems to have them taking off quickly. When you think Cincinnati you don’t normally think tequila. So when we sat down with the owners, former NFL lineman and St. Xavier graduate, Rocky Boiman and Greg Meyer who is vice chairman of the Commercial Real Estate Council of Greater Cincinnati, we were curious as to how this brand would compare to other tequilas. Despite the owner’s connections to Cincinnati, it is clear that El Arco is a true tequila in every sense of the word. El Arco is produced by the Tres Mujeres Distillery in Jalisco, Mexico. It is made from 100% organic blue agave that grows for at least eight years before it is harvested to be made into the tequila. But how does the final product compare to other tequilas? El Arco advertises its taste rating on tequila.net right on the label, an excellent marketing strategy since both the blanco and the añejo are currently rated higher than other well known craft brands like Patron and Cabo Wabo.

I learned about all of this while sitting at a table with the two pours of tequila sitting in front of me waiting to be tasted so my expectations were pretty high by the time I got to actually try the tequila. I have to admit I was not disappointed. The blanco was smooth and really enjoyable to sip. It had a sweet, grassy flavor on the initial tasting with a spicy, spearmint-like finish. Hints of citrus can also be tasted in the flavor. The añejo is aged for a full two years in an oak barrel before being bottled but other than that it is the same product as the blanco and tasting them side by side was fascinating. If you have ever compared white-dog whiskey to bourbon you will know that the aging process radically changes the flavor of the initial product. With this tequila, you can taste a lot of the same flavors between the two different products. The grass is still there, as well as some lighter citrus but the oak transform the spearmint into more of a cinnamon with a hint of dark chocolate.

el arco margarita

 

Rocky and Greg were also kind enough to make us a margarita using El Arco Blanco. Fresh squeezed lime juice, top shelf ingredients, organic agave nectar; it had to be good right? Unfortunately the one thing they didn’t have was a jigger and the result was not optimal. While I am sure that the blanco makes a delicious margarita the one I got was too heavy on the lime for me to evaluate how well the tequila worked in the cocktail. However, if you want to try one yourself I recommend going to Bakersfield where the blanco is the tequila in the premium margarita, or if you are at the Western and Southern Open this week you will see that El Arco is the chief sponsor of the bar were you can order a pitcher of the El Arco ‘Ace’ Margarita. Either way I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

If you want more detail on El Arco you can listen to the whole tasting and hear Greg and Rocky explain their company philosophy on Episode 26 of Bottoms Up With Ginny and Charlie.

 

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Tito’s Handmade Vodka

titos

With so many micro-distilleries popping up around the country I thought it would be nice to review a vodka from one of the early success stories from the micro-distilling movement. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is celebrating its 16th year in business. Tito’s was stared by a guy named Tito Beveridge (with a name like that how do you know go into the alcohol business) who started out making vodka infusions as gifts and somehow ended up founding the first legal distillery in Texas. Since winning a double gold medal in the World Spirits Competition they have come to be known as one of the go-to brands of vodka for people who are serious about cocktails but also aware of price. I have even heard of some up-scale bars and restaurants who are using Tito’s as their well vodka so that the taste of their carefully crafted cocktails don’t get ruined by sub-par vodka. This really is the path that every micro-distiller around the country is hoping to follow, although few of them look ready to compete at this point.

Despite having been aware of the brand for many years I had not actually gotten around to buying a bottle until now. Tito’s is a 100% corn vodka and it does have the characteristic sweet and creamy taste that most of the corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have. But the other corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have a lot more of a flavor to them. And when it comes to vodka that is not necessarily a good thing. Tito’s is incredibly smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel and just a hint of sweetness before you do taste the alcohol at the end. But it is not a burning alcohol and you can drink it without making cheap vodka face and coughing. One reason for the difference is that Tito’s microdistilled in an old-fashioned pot stills and so they have more control over the process than with column stills. I would say it is very similar in character and quality to Buckeye Vodka but is a few dollars cheaper per bottle and, in my opinion,  slightly better. Don’t be put off by the cheap looking bottle and plastic cap. Part of Tito’s mission statement is keeping their product as affordable as possible and they are clearly not investing too much in bottle. Instead they use quality ingredients, a careful distillation process, and then distill it just enough (six times) to get out the impurities and strong corn flavors but not so much that all that is left is the ethanol flavor. So there you have it. If you want to support local vodka at an affordable price go with Buckeye but if you want a bottom line better vodka for an even better price, go with Tito’s.

If you want to listen to a tasting and review of Tito’s you can hear it on this week’s episode of Bottom Up.

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Celebrate National Bourbon Day

Happy Bourbon Day Queen City Drinkers! What’s this you say? You’ve never heard of Bourbon Day before? I suppose this means you didn’t get me anything either? That’s OK, I’m disgusted at how commercial the holiday has become anyway. Remember, Elijah Craig is the reason for the season. Yes legend, or perhaps just a good marketing department, has it that in 1789 on this date, June 14, Baptist minister Elijah Craig first invented bourbon by aging his whiskey in a charred oak barrel before sending it down to New Orleans where it became a hit.

Although this story is likely apocryphal, that isn’t going to stop me from celebrating. For today’s cocktail I recommend a classic bourbon cocktail, the horse’s neck.

I first made this drink for Episode 41 of The Charlie Tonic Hour. Charlie and I talked about our trip to the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar where, in addition to sampling a nice selection of rye and bourbon whiskey, I also tried a classic bourbon cocktail. The Horse’s Neck cocktail dates back to at least the 1890’s when it was more typically made with brandy. Today it is most associated with bourbon and has a history within the Navy as a typical officer’s drink. It gets its name from the garnish, a long peel of lemon that hangs over the glass. I love ginger and bourbon so this was a great drink for me. Make it with the bourbon we featured in the show, Ancient Age 10 Year, and you won’t be disappointed.

Horse’s Neck

1 Lemon
2 ounces of Bourbon or Rye
Ginger Ale
dash of bitters

Carefully peel a long sliver of lemon zest and arrange it in a highball glass and add ice.
Add the bourbon and bitters, top with ginger ale and stir.

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Summer Bourbon

blackberry bourbon fizz

For some reason, as the temperatures rise it seems only natural to switch from darker drinks to lighter. Maybe it is the color or the flavor but this rule applies to beer, wine, and especially to spirits. People associate whiskey with warming you up on a winter evening while white rum and vodka drinks dominate our summer cocktails. But just because the days are getting longer and the pools are opening doesn’t mean you should put your bourbon back on the shelf till fall. Just take a look at this recipe I found on Facebook:

blackberrybourbon

Ok the language may be a little course but it is clear that bourbon can hang with the fruity summer drinks just as well as it’s un-aged cousins. But since the picture is a little vague let me help you out.  Here is a recipe that worked well for me.

Blackberry Bourbon Fizz

4-5 fresh blackberries
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
3/4 ounce ginger liqueur
club soda
fresh basil
Muddle the blackberries at the bottom of a glass.
Fill the glass with ice and add the spirits.
Top with club soda and stir well.
Garnish with a fresh piece of basil.

You can also use plain old ginger ale in place of the club soda if you don’t have any ginger liqueur. You can hear me make this drink and get a review of Elmer T. Lee single barrel bourbon on Episode 15 of Bottoms Up. And if listening isn’t enough for you, this is one of the cocktails that I will be demonstrating at the Summer Cocktails class I am teaching June 20th at Cork n Bottle.  Hope to see you there.

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St Germain Liqueur

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This week for the Bottoms Up podcast I decided to combine the domestic and the foreign to make a summer cocktail that actually perfect for Mother’s Day. First we taste and discuss St. Germain, a French elderflower liqueur that also happens to be one of the most beautiful and romantic bottles I’ve ever seen. St. Germain has a delicate floral taste that is really unlike any other flavor but lychee crossed with a grapefruit comes close. It is light and less sweet than most liqueurs so it mixes well with just about everything. The price is expensive, about $40 a bottle, but you only use an ounce or less for most recipes and the flavor is so unique that I do recommend having a bottle in your liquor cabinet. And if you don’t think it is worth the price, just read their website:

FOR A FEW fleeting spring weeks, we gather exclusively fresh, wild blossoms for your cocktail. The blossoms in question are elderflowers, and the cocktail a stylishly simple creation made with St-Germain, the first liqueur in the world created in the artisanal French manner from freshly handpicked elderflower blossoms. Our story, however, does not end there.

AFTER gently ushering the wild blossoms into sacks, and descending the hillside, a few of the men who gather blossoms for your cocktail, will then mount a bicycle a carefully ride the umbrells of starry white flower to a collection depot. Vraiment. In a matter of weeks, we will have gathered what will become St-Germain for that year.

TO PUT THIS IN CONTEXT, we can safely say that no men will be wandering the hillsides of Poland this spring gathering wild potatoes for your vodka. Likewise, we know of no Bavarians planning to scour the German countryside in search of exotic native hops and barley for your beer. Yes, in this day and age St-Germain is exceedingly special and rare. Consequently, we are able to hand make only very limited quantities.

AND WHAT OF THE TASTE of St-Germain? It has been said that Paris is a mélange curieux, a curious mixture of flavors, styles and influences. So it is with St-Germain. Neither passionfruit nor pear, grapefruit nor lemon, the sublime taste of  St-Germain hints at each of these and yet none of them exactly. It is a flavor as subtle and delicate as it is captivating. A little like asking a hummingbird to describe the flavor of its favorite nectar. Très curieux indeed, n’est-ce pas?

And on top of all that, it tastes great. The cocktail I made for the show using St. Germain, dubbed the “Elder Whimsy” by Charlie, is made with a strawberry infused vodka that I made a few weeks ago but you could make it with a strawberry flavored vodka off the shelf just as easily. The result was a lovely summertime drink that would be perfect for Mother’s Day.  Give it a try and tell me what you think.

The Elder Whimsy 

2 oz Strawberry Infused Vodka
1 oz St. Germain

Shake over ice and pour into a cocktail glass.
Top with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

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Patron Margaritas Available at Chipotle

margaritas chipotle

While lining up for lunch at your local Chipotle you may have noticed that they offer margaritas as one of your beverage choices but if you are like me, you’ve probably never really thought much about them or even considered ordering them. Chipotle is looking to change that. The fast casual mexican restaurant has established its brand as the fresh, caring, Michael Pollan-approved fast food restaurant and they are trying to bring some of that mystique to their margaritas. I was invited to head to the Chipotle on Fountain Square to try one with their marketing director and see what I thought.

patron margarita chipotle

So the first thing I have to admit right away is that I am a huge fan girl of Chipotle. If I have one of those too-busy-to-cook-no-food-in-the-fridge kind of nights and I just need something fast kind of nights it is my number one choice. There is really no other restaurants offering food that tastes that good, at that price point and convenience level. Plus I don’t feel guilty for eating their carnitas because it comes from happy little piggies who were probably so grateful for their loving farmer that they were only too glad to lay down their life to support him financially. So yeah, this is probably not going to be an unbiased review

making margaritas chiptole

So what is different about these margaritas? First of all they are ditching the pre-made sour mix and are using fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice instead. This is really what makes a big difference. Just using fresh juice takes the taste out of the bar standard hum ho cocktail and creates something that catches your attention. The next thing they have changed is allowing guests to choose to have their drink made with Patron for a few dollars extra. Patron may not be the absolute best tequila out there but it is probably the most well known brand and  it is incredibly smooth. They use an ounce and half in their margaritas and the one I tried had minimal alcohol flavor. It was nice, heavy on the citrus, and very tasty. I would very much enjoy sipping on one of those while eating chips and guacamole after work.

mixing margaritas chipotle

Which gets to the problem that I think Chipotle will continue to have with their margaritas. Nobody I know goes to Chipotle for happy hour. We go there for a quick, delicious, and reasonably priced lunch or dinner. On the piece I recorded for Bottoms Up, Laura from Cincinnati Nomerati and I both agreed that $7 for a Patron margarita made with fresh squeezed juice was a good deal. But it is also the same price as a burrito and ordering one with my dinner will mean doubling my bill. When I head out for a nice dinner or to have drinks with friends I am prepared for that but on my Chipotle nights not so much. So as much as I love Chipotle, (I will be eating there tomorrow night for their Teacher Appreciation, buy one get one free special) I don’t think I will be ordering their Patron margaritas nearly as often as I might like.

Chipotle on Urbanspoon

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DIY Syrups for Cocktails

violet syrup

Vanilla Violet Syrup

One of the great things about making cocktails is the almost endless number of ways you can combine spirits and mixers to create new taste profiles. With the rainbow of flavored vodkas and liqueurs on the market this is more true now than ever. But I am here today to let you know that there is an easier and cheaper way to get new and interesting flavors in your cocktails. You could create your own infused spirits, liqueurs, and even bitters from ingredients you have at home but the easiest way to start to really customize your cocktails is with homemade syrups.

The simplest recipe is of course for simple syrup. A huge number of cocktails call for additional sugar and simple syrup is the easiest way to get a smooth mix. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until they are dissolved and there you have it. It will keep in the fridge for up to six months but to extend the shelf life even longer add a little vodka; I usually use about 1/2 a teaspoon per cup of syrup. To this basic recipe you can add just about any flavor you want during the boiling phase: herbs, fruit, and tea all work well. Or you can replace the water with juice and go from there. The possibilities are endless. Also these syrups can be mixed with club soda to make your own sodas and virgin cocktails for non-drinkers.

To get you started here is one I have come up with recently that I really liked but I encourage you to experiment freely because there is not a lot you can do to mess this up.

Vanilla Violet Syrup

vanilla flyer

Vanilla Flyer Cocktail

1 cup fresh violets
1 cup boiling water
1 cut vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
Fresh lemon juice

First pick the violets growing profusely this time of year in your front yard or better yet, have a small child pick them for you. Put the violets in a mason jar and cover with one cup of boiling water. Let the mixture sit over night or up to 24 hours to steep.

Strain the mixture and press out all of the liquid. It will be kind of blue grey at this point. That is ok. Put the violet water in a pan, add the sugar and the vanilla bean and bring to a low boil for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup through a nice thick cheesecloth because the vanilla will leave specks. Next add the lemon juice to adjust the color. It doesn’t take much so add just about 1/4 teaspoon to start and add more until you get the color you want. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. This syrup makes a delicious cocktail that is a variation on the aviator cocktail so I called it:

Vanilla Flyer

1 1/2 ounces Hendricks Gin
3/4 ounces Vanilla Violet Syrup
1/4 ounce lemon juice

Shake well over ice and serve in a cocktail glass.

I realize that violets are a little fiddly and obscure as an ingredient but since I’ve really been getting into the idea of local drinks I couldn’t resist using something that was literally growing right outside my front door. Check out Episode 10 of Bottoms Up for recipes for Mandarin Orange Syrup and Rosemary Mint Syrup if you want recipes that don’t involve foraging.

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Review: Angel’s Envy Rye whiskey finished in rum casks

AE RYE BOTTLE SHOT

 I’ll be frank: one of the most fun things about running a blog about drinking is that I get a chance to try some great things that I wouldn’t normally get. The new Angel’s Envy falls squarely in that category. This newly released take from the Louisville Distilling Company on the original (bourbon finished in port barrels) heads in a new direction by moving to a 95% rye bill and then finishing the whiskey in Caribbean rum casks for up to 18 months. It’s bottled at 100 proof (higher than the original AE’s 86.6 proof) and a bottle will set you back roughly $70 (about a $30 premium on the original AE). I’m a huge fan of the original Angel’s Envy, which I feel is a great, unique change of pace from most offerings and is executed very well. Because of that, I jumped at the chance to review the new offering.

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