Japan - 3/18/14

Another torrent of new experiences was had yesterday. Some highlights: observing patrons at multi-story Pachinko palaces amid tobacco smoke, bright lights and blaring arcade sounds, finding the most beautiful old fashioned and highball glassware I’ve ever seen in my life at Shibuya’s Takashimaya department store, having one of the best dining experiences of my life at a Omoide Yokocho izakaya, and sipping on classic cocktails by bartenders at Minoru who have been working in the business for over 50 years.

Although I have only been here two days I think I am starting to understand Japanese hospitality. Simply put, being hospitable is ingrained into their culture. Every person I have interacted with has been polite and thoughtful of my feelings. Little things have clued me into this: when you step into an elevator strangers hold open the door for you, when you buy items, no matter how cheap, they package and fold the item nicely for you and bow with a smile to thank you, on the subway everyone speaks in hushed tones to not affect others around them, when you ask where something is the people actually walk you to the place rather than just giving you vague directions, at bars the bartenders don’t chat with eachother as if they were in fear that if they were to get into a conversation they would miss a beat with serving you… by themselves these seem like simple acts of random kindness. Indeed in the US, where I come from, these are just that. But to the Japanese these are normal actions, you don’t necessarily have to do them but the ubiquity of being polite is quite normal - which to me is absolutely beautiful.

Suntory White Label Mizuwari - 7%

N: green apple, pear, hay, toasted malt, sweet cumin, hints of sarsaparilla

P: ultra soft, light toasted honeyed apple and pear, water-like, light walnut, bread dough

F: ultra light, softer echo of the palate, dryness arrives later

O: Interestingly different from the canned highball I had made with the same whisky - more apple and pear on this one rather than lemon and lime - the wonders of carbonation.

Kirin Lager Beer - 5%

N: sweet and wour malt, light shitake mushroom, tropical marmalade notes

P: lemon peel, toasted malt, light

F: clean, ultra light toasted malt

O: Crisp with an intriguing shitake mushroom note - I think I prefer the original to this.

Japan - 3/17/14

My first day in Japan. Flying over I read “Drinking Japan” by Chris Bunting who boldy states that Japan is the best place to drink in the world. Reading about the dizzying array of sake, shochu, awamori, beer, whisky, wine and cocktail bars I grew excited as I gradually woke up from my red-eye. Upon arriving I felt a tidal wave of emotion as it really sunk in that I had landed in the Land of the Rising Sun. I was immediately struck by the politeness of the people, the overall cleanliness and the modernity of the city. Traveling from Haneda airport to Yokohama I picked up a few drinks.

Suntory Highball - 7%

N: lemon and lime soda (Sprite), light buttered toast, apple, orange juice, light honey, light cinnamon

P: toast, lemon, lime, orange peel

F: toast, orange juice, lemon, lime, light smoke, slight medicinal off note

O: My first drink at Haneda airport had to be a highball, and with no doubt in my mind I grabbed a SuntoryLight, crisp, simple and refreshing, I can see how these can be a great alternative to beer when the heat turns up. I got a huge lemon & lime thing going on with this one. $2.

Premium Yebisu All Malt Beer - 5%

N: sweet toasted malt, light nutmet, faint grapefruit, orange juice, hay, assorted tropical fruit juice, grape bubblegum, light blackberry, light blueberry

P: toast, hay, light bubblegum, lemon juice, light body & carbonation

F: light toasted malt, dry, light and clean

O: After getting through the culture shock of running on a couple Japanese Rail (JR) lines I needed a beer before going to my host’s house. Yebisu to the rescue! An overall toasty and fruity beer - just what I needed to lift my spirits. $2.

Yoichi NAS - 43%

N: sweet malt, roasted pear, orange marmalade, smoky galangal, cinnamon, ginger, light salt, light jalepeno, caramel, glue, honey suckle

P: sweet malt, root beer, light ginger, toast, salt, light smoke

F: toast, lime, butter, light, orange marmalade, beef broth

O: I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up this bottle after exploring Yokohama a little bit. Commonly sold in 500 ml bottles at convenience stores for $17 it was a perfect night cap. Tons of sweet malt with orange marmalade and roasted pear, it has subtle complexity if you reach deeper. $17.

daydreems asked:

Would like to know how to make chrystal clear ice at home if it is posible at all! Checked few videos on youtube and tryed as it tells but failed:((( maybe You can help;) thanx;))) a lot;))) and grat blog by the way!!!

Thank you! Contrary to popular belief, freezing clear ice at home is not that difficult. In a nut shell you need to freeze it in one direction and at a slow pace (turn your freezer up). By freezing it in one direction you push the air bubbles down (or out) of your ice - clinebell machines do this on an industrial level. By freezing your ice slow with a higher temperature you give the ice crystals proper time to form resulting in crystal clear ice. You can simply do this buy buying a ice cooler and popping it in your freezer with water. Camper English pioneered this technique, you can read about it on his blog here: http://www.alcademics.com/2009/12/clear-ice-blocks-at-home-in-an-igloo-cooler.html. There’s more to it than that but that’s the basics - you can learn more on Camper English’s blog and in Kevin Liu’s “Craft Cocktails at Home” book. Cheers!

Greg Boehm and Leo Robitschek on Japanese Barware
"Boehm explained that in the 1890s the Japanese embraced the golden age of the mixed drink: “They captured the cocktail as it was then,” Boehm said. So, while Prohibition severely stunted the cocktail’s growth in this country, it flourished in Japan, where the art of mixing drinks was studied and, some might say, mastered. The Japanese have created the tools and techniques to make the perfect cocktail — including ice picks for carving the proper cube, tightly twisted bar spoons with a muddler or trident tip, and a jigger that’s taller than it is wide to prevent spillage. (You can witness the art of Japanese cocktail making at B Flat, which outfits its bar with Yarai gear.) The company also makes a glass bitters bottle that pours a true dash every time, solving the problem of inconsistent bottle spout sizes.

So, what’s so great about those Yarai mixing glasses? Leo Robitschek, the head bartender at Eleven Madison Park, says the Yarai glasses don’t break; they’re sturdy enough to let him mix two drinks at once without them tipping over; they’re gorgeous; and they stay colder longer. “We’ve had them for six months now and not one has broken,” he says. “Before, we would chip two pint glasses a week.” He believes that barware is something America really lacks, and he’s not surprised that Japan is leading the way; the Japanese may not have created cocktail culture, but they are definitely trying to perfect it.”
Source: NY Times Blog
Sipping: Kirin

Greg Boehm and Leo Robitschek on Japanese Barware

"Boehm explained that in the 1890s the Japanese embraced the golden age of the mixed drink: “They captured the cocktail as it was then,” Boehm said. So, while Prohibition severely stunted the cocktail’s growth in this country, it flourished in Japan, where the art of mixing drinks was studied and, some might say, mastered. The Japanese have created the tools and techniques to make the perfect cocktail — including ice picks for carving the proper cube, tightly twisted bar spoons with a muddler or trident tip, and a jigger that’s taller than it is wide to prevent spillage. (You can witness the art of Japanese cocktail making at B Flat, which outfits its bar with Yarai gear.) The company also makes a glass bitters bottle that pours a true dash every time, solving the problem of inconsistent bottle spout sizes.

So, what’s so great about those Yarai mixing glasses? Leo Robitschek, the head bartender at Eleven Madison Park, says the Yarai glasses don’t break; they’re sturdy enough to let him mix two drinks at once without them tipping over; they’re gorgeous; and they stay colder longer. “We’ve had them for six months now and not one has broken,” he says. “Before, we would chip two pint glasses a week.” He believes that barware is something America really lacks, and he’s not surprised that Japan is leading the way; the Japanese may not have created cocktail culture, but they are definitely trying to perfect it.”

Source: NY Times Blog

Sipping: Kirin

Buffalo Trace’s New Experimental Release

Their new release that focuses on barrel entry proof. Interesting, but I’m still not interested enough to pay $46 for a 375 ml bottle.

Barrel entry proof continues to be a topic of debate amongst whiskey makers and avid whiskey fans, with some believing different proofs lead to different results.

Buffalo Trace Distillery was curious as well, and began an experiment on four different entry proofs with its rye recipe bourbon more than 12 years ago. Now these bourbons have come of age and are being released along with Buffalo Trace’s findings.

All of the experiments came off the still at a consistent 140 proof, but were put into the barrel for aging using four different entry proofs.  All of the barrels were then aged together for 11 years, 9 months and bottled at 90 proof.  Here are the details:

Rye 125 – At 125 proof, this was the highest entry proof used, which is also Buffalo Trace’s standard entry proof for its rye recipe bourbons. The result was typical of Buffalo Trace’s mash #1 findings, a well-balanced bourbon with spicy cloves mingled with sweet vanilla, caramel and toffee to create a well-rounded and complex flavor.

Rye 115 – This rye recipe bourbon was put into the barrel at 115 proof and has light oaky flavors mingled with leather and palm sugar.

Rye 105 – At an entry proof of 105, the angels were particularity generous with their share, taking the highest amount of their share in all four experiments with an evaporation rate of 26%.  The 105 entry proof produced a bourbon which had a good overall flavor with some earthy tones, followed by a buttery, light finish.

Rye 90 – At an entry point of 90, this bourbon had a 25% evaporation rate as it aged alongside the other four experimental rye barrels in Warehouse K. The result was a bourbon with a light fruity flavor followed by some hints of dried nuts and spice, with a drier finish.

This rye entry proof experiment follows on the heels of Buffalo Trace’s wheat entry proof experiment.  Both the wheat and the rye experimental groups of barrels were distilled around the same time, aged in the same warehouse, on the same floor, rick, and row and bottled around the same time. 

A key learning for both experiments was that entry proof does affect bourbon flavor, and it does affect evaporation rates.  Also, different barrel entry proofs will produce varying flavor elements.

"Although it should not be a surprise to us, we found in blind tastings the rye recipe with the 125 entry proof, which is our standard barrel entry proof for our rye recipe bourbons, tasted the best to us," said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller.  "The flavor profile was the most balanced, while still offering the most pleasant mixture of tastes. It’s gratifying to know that even in blind taste tests, we still favored our ‘standard’ method as the best of the four in the experiment."

These rye recipe barrels are part of the more than 2,000 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Each of these barrels has unique characteristics that differentiate it from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, type of wood and barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks, and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The Experimental Collection is packaged in 375ml bottles and packed 12 to a case, with three bottles of each entry proof in a case. Each label includes all the pertinent information unique to that barrel of whiskey. These whiskeys retail for approximately $46.35 each. These particular rare experimental bottles should be available in late February.  For more information on the Experimental Collection or the other products of Buffalo Trace Distillery, please contact Elizabeth Hurst atehurst@buffalotrace.com.”

Source: Buffalo Trace

Sipping: Orion Draft

Fortified and Aromatised Wines

A great primer on these styles by Jane Ryan of Class. In a nutshell:

  • Fortified wine = spirits added during or after fermentation, nowadays usually use mistelle
  • Aromatised wine = infused with botanicals, fortification not necessary, include vermouth, americano and quinquina
  • Quinquina = (ken-key-nah) uses cinchonas bark - quinine
  • Americano = gentian root - flavoring and bitterness, white wine mistelle usually
  • Vermouth = minimum 75% wine, artemisia

A conversation that has been doing the rounds on social media is that of when and how to use these aromatised and fortified wines. Given a prod by Adam Elmegirab we decided to investigate. 

First off and most importantly we have to understand some simple truths. 

Fortified wine means a wine which has had spirits added to it at some point during or after the fermentation, depending on how sweet you want the finished product to be. That said nowadays a lot of fortified wines use a mistelle base which is alcohol added to the juice of crushed grapes instead of fermentation to produce alcohol. This yields a sweeter base again because all the sugar remains. Examples include port, sherry, maderia, pineau des charentes and some marsalas. 

Aromatised wine means a wine that has been infused with botanicals that add flavour and colour. These are usually fortified but not necessarily. Examples include vermouth, americano, barolo chinato, quinquina and vino amari. Most fortified wines are between 13 - 24 alc./vol. 

Wines that are both aromatised and fortified can be divided into three main subcategories. Vermouth, americano and quinquina. If a bartender is sticking to the original recipe of a classic cocktail they should not replace one for the other. A quinquina, like Dubonnet shouldn’t be used in place of a vermouth, like Martini Rosso, in a Martinez, for example, because they are different products, not just different brands. 

There is a very fine and somewhat misty line between vermouths and aromatised wines but the main difference, according to European law, is that vermouths must contain wormwood - although the species and quantity is not specified.

Quinquinas & Americanos

Quinquinas (ken-key-nah) traditionally contained cinchona bark, which provides quinine. Americanos are sometimes considered a subcategory of this but usually thought of as a separate variety of apéritif. The name doesn’t refer to the country rather amer - which means bitter. These wines use the gentian root for flavoring and bitterness. The majority of quinquinas and americanos are based on white wine mistelle but the brand Byrrh (pronounced beer) uniquely uses a red wine mistelle. 

Brands include Lillet Blanc; Kina Lillet; Cocchi Americano; Antica Ricetta Barolo Chinato; Byrrh; Martini Fiero; Dubonnet; China Martini; Ambassadeur; Rosso Antico; St. Raphaël; MAiDENii; Contratto Americano Rosso; and Bonal Gentiane Quina.

Vermouth

The word ‘vermouth’ comes from the German word ‘vermud’, meaning ‘wormwood’, the name of a family of bitter plants of the genus Artemisia. European law dictates that vermouth must contain a minimum of 75 per cent wine, infused with herbs and spices which must include Artemisia, although the species and quantity is not specified. 

Vermouth can be further divided into categories depending on the different herbs and spices added. 

Brands include Atsby; MAiDENii; Boissiere; Yzaguirre; Carpano; Cocchi; Dolin; Martini & Rossi; Noilly Prat; Riserva Carlo Alberto; Cinzano; and Vya.

Twists

Knowledge on this category is growing and thanks to that bartenders are creating stunning drinks by substituting styles and working with fortified and aromatised wines as base ingredients. 

"It depends what you want to play around with, I like swapping full-bodied vermouth around such as Punt e Mes for Antica Formula. It’s about knowing the different types though. If the traditional recipe calls for white port look at other things which fit the aged flavour profile, something like Noilly Prat which will go that distance," says Stuart Hudson from Forgotten Hospitality. 

A bar to draw inspiration from is the Kelvingrove Cafe in Glasgow where Mal Spence uses a lot of fortified and aromatised wines as the base for his cocktails. Instead of getting bogged down in the technical details, however, Mal likes to reply on his palate to identify what spirits and wines work well together. 

"It started mainly from boredom, most cocktails follow the recipe of spirit base, vermouth, liqueur and modifier. There’s only so much you can do creatively with those methods. There is so much going on within the category you can really pull drinks in many different directions," says Mal.""

Source: Class

Sipping: Ardbeg 10

Buffalo Trace’s Twelfth Round of Single Oak Project Bourbon
A press release on Buffalo Trace’s next installment of their Single Oak Project. It’s interesting to learn about how the different parts of the tree contributes to the aging process but I’m not interested enough to dish out $45 for a 375 ml bottle to try.
“Buffalo Trace Distillery releases the twelfth round of the Single Oak Project Bourbon
 which focuses on tree cut, with difference in using oak from the top and bottom of the tree to age bourbon.  Wood grain size and recipe also vary. All other variables in this experiment remain constant – char level, warehouse type, stave seasoning, and entry proof.
The focus on tree cut for this release has been a hot topic of debate amongst those involved in the Project, as the tracking of the origin of the wood for the barrel – top or bottom of the tree – has been virtually untracked by any other distillery, until now.
Many bourbon fans have asked why, or if, tree cut matters. Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley has this to say on the topic, “From top to bottom, the tree chemistry is quite different.  The chemicals most affected by the tree structure are oak lignins and tannins.  Oak lignins are composed of two building blocks, vanillin and syringaldehyde.  Generally there is a higher composition of oak lignins in the bottom part of the tree which in turn delivers more vanilla.  Tannins are generally higher in concentration in the top section of the tree versus the bottom; however, they also vary from inside out.  The outer heartwood is generally higher in tannin concentration.”
Wheatley continues, “As far as taste, most people know how the vanilla contributes to the flavor, but tannins are important for the development of esters, which sometimes deliver fruitiness or complexity to the overall composition.”
Throughout the Project, reviewers have been evenly divided on their preferences between the top half and the bottom half of the tree, based on the barrels that have been in the lead through the online review process.  Currently the leader is barrel #82, which is, incidentally, from the bottom half of the tree. 
However, it’s not too late to get in on the act and start reviewing, as four more releases will take place before this project ends in the summer of 2015.  More than 4,000 reviews have been given so far on www.singleoakproject.com
The Single Oak Project is part of an intensive research project Buffalo Trace Distillery started conducting in 1999 by hand picking 96 trees with different wood grains and then dividing them into a top and bottom piece, yielding 192 unique sections. From there, staves were created from each section and were air dried for either 6 months or 12 months. After all the staves were air dried, a single barrel was created from each tree section, resulting in 192 total barrels. These barrels were given either a number three or a number four char and then filled with either wheat or rye recipe bourbon.
To further the variety of experiments, the barrels were filled at two different proofs, 105 and 125 proof.  And if this wasn’t enough, two completely different warehouses were used, one with wooden floors and one with concrete floors.  In total, seven different variables were employed in Buffalo Trace’s ultimate experiment.
For eight years the Distillery continued with its tracking process, creating intricate databases and coming up with a potential of 1,396 tasting combinations from these 192 barrels!
The Single Oak Project Bourbon is being released in a series every three months from 2011 through 2015 until all of the 192 barrels have been released. The first release hit select stores in 2011.  This twelfth release will reach stores towards the end of February. Like all the other releases, the quantities are very limited. Every case will contain 12 bottles, each from a different barrel. The twelfth release is made up of barrel numbers 15, 16, 47, 48, 79, 80, 111, 112, 143, 144, 175, and 176. All releases will be packaged in a 375ml bottle. Suggested retail pricing per bottle is $46.35.   
At the conclusion of the Single Oak Project, the Distillery plans to take the top rated Single Oak Project Bourbon and make more just like it, under the Single Oak name.”
Source: Buffalo Trace
Sipping: Rob Roy

Buffalo Trace’s Twelfth Round of Single Oak Project Bourbon

A press release on Buffalo Trace’s next installment of their Single Oak Project. It’s interesting to learn about how the different parts of the tree contributes to the aging process but I’m not interested enough to dish out $45 for a 375 ml bottle to try.

Buffalo Trace Distillery releases the twelfth round of the Single Oak Project Bourbon

 which focuses on tree cut, with difference in using oak from the top and bottom of the tree to age bourbon.  Wood grain size and recipe also vary. All other variables in this experiment remain constant – char level, warehouse type, stave seasoning, and entry proof.

The focus on tree cut for this release has been a hot topic of debate amongst those involved in the Project, as the tracking of the origin of the wood for the barrel – top or bottom of the tree – has been virtually untracked by any other distillery, until now.

Many bourbon fans have asked why, or if, tree cut matters. Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley has this to say on the topic, “From top to bottom, the tree chemistry is quite different.  The chemicals most affected by the tree structure are oak lignins and tannins.  Oak lignins are composed of two building blocks, vanillin and syringaldehyde.  Generally there is a higher composition of oak lignins in the bottom part of the tree which in turn delivers more vanilla.  Tannins are generally higher in concentration in the top section of the tree versus the bottom; however, they also vary from inside out.  The outer heartwood is generally higher in tannin concentration.”

Wheatley continues, “As far as taste, most people know how the vanilla contributes to the flavor, but tannins are important for the development of esters, which sometimes deliver fruitiness or complexity to the overall composition.”

Throughout the Project, reviewers have been evenly divided on their preferences between the top half and the bottom half of the tree, based on the barrels that have been in the lead through the online review process.  Currently the leader is barrel #82, which is, incidentally, from the bottom half of the tree. 

However, it’s not too late to get in on the act and start reviewing, as four more releases will take place before this project ends in the summer of 2015.  More than 4,000 reviews have been given so far on www.singleoakproject.com

The Single Oak Project is part of an intensive research project Buffalo Trace Distillery started conducting in 1999 by hand picking 96 trees with different wood grains and then dividing them into a top and bottom piece, yielding 192 unique sections. From there, staves were created from each section and were air dried for either 6 months or 12 months. After all the staves were air dried, a single barrel was created from each tree section, resulting in 192 total barrels. These barrels were given either a number three or a number four char and then filled with either wheat or rye recipe bourbon.

To further the variety of experiments, the barrels were filled at two different proofs, 105 and 125 proof.  And if this wasn’t enough, two completely different warehouses were used, one with wooden floors and one with concrete floors.  In total, seven different variables were employed in Buffalo Trace’s ultimate experiment.

For eight years the Distillery continued with its tracking process, creating intricate databases and coming up with a potential of 1,396 tasting combinations from these 192 barrels!

The Single Oak Project Bourbon is being released in a series every three months from 2011 through 2015 until all of the 192 barrels have been released. The first release hit select stores in 2011.  This twelfth release will reach stores towards the end of February. Like all the other releases, the quantities are very limited. Every case will contain 12 bottles, each from a different barrel. The twelfth release is made up of barrel numbers 15, 16, 47, 48, 79, 80, 111, 112, 143, 144, 175, and 176. All releases will be packaged in a 375ml bottle. Suggested retail pricing per bottle is $46.35.   

At the conclusion of the Single Oak Project, the Distillery plans to take the top rated Single Oak Project Bourbon and make more just like it, under the Single Oak name.”

Source: Buffalo Trace

Sipping: Rob Roy