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Heather Kleinman

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+Heather Kleinman is the executive editor of Drink Spirits. Heather is an accomplished online magazine editor who has been featured nationally in publications like People Magazine and USA Today. Heather is extremely well known and regarded for her extensive work covering the fashion and cosmetic industry and was a dot com pioneer, launching one of the first sites on the internet geard towards women.

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Making The Manhattan

Making The Manhattan

This time on Mixing With, I’d like to share a classic cocktail that I really enjoy, and show step-by-step how to make it.

Up until recently, when I thought about vermouth, I always equated it with a Martini. I enjoy my Martini with Plymouth Gin, dry vermouth, stirred (naturally), and garnished with as many olives as can fit on a toothpick.  Vermouth doesn’t keep forever (after opening, three months in the fridge to be exact), and so I wanted to see what else I could make with it.

I really love rye whiskey, so it was an easy jump to go from the Martini to a Manhattan, a cousin of the Martini. Legend has it that the Manhattan cocktail was invented at New York’s Manhattan Club around 1873 possibly for a banquet in honor of Samuel J. Tilden’s election as governor. At that time is was half whiskey, half vermouth, with a dash of orange bitters. The recipe today has changed a bit but it’s delicious and easy to remember: “212” (the area code for Manhattan) – 2 ounces whiskey, 1 ounce vermouth, 2 dashes bitters.

Manhattan

2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
1 ounces Italian sweet vermouth (or for a dry Manhattan, use dry vermouth)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist.

The Necessary Tools

The Necessary Tools

A Manhattan is a stirred drink (as it is all spirit with no citrus). To make a Manhattan, you need the following gear: a pint glass, a jigger, a julep strainer (the silver thing with the holes), a bar spoon, and a cocktail glass.

Chill the Glass

Chill the Glass

It’s very important to always chill the glass you are serving in ahead of time. Cocktails are meant to be served nice and cold, and when you put a nice cold cocktail into a room temperature glass, you end up with a lukewarm cocktail. You can chill your cocktail glass by putting ice in it while you mix your drink or by storing it in the freezer. Glassware is an important part of cocktails because it dramatically impacts the presentation. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on glasses - I found these pretty cocktail glasses at the Goodwill. Thrift stores and consignment shops are great for vintage glassware.

Build the Drink

Build the Drink

Making great cocktails is all about measuring. Using a good jigger like the OXO Steel Double Jigger makes getting the right amount of spirits into your cocktails easy. Measure your ingredients with the jigger and pour each into the pint glass, then fill the glass with ice. It’s important to start with your ingredients before you add the ice, as building a cocktail over ice makes the ice melt too fast and you don’t get the right mixture and dilution. Also, don’t skimp on ice, or your cocktail may not dilute enough.

Stir

Stir

Stirring is pretty easy, but it may take a little practice. To get good at stirring I started out with a glass full of ice and some water and then moved on to mixing cocktails. To start, just slide the bar spoon in between the ice and the glass, and stir so that you are pushing the spoon around the inside of the glass while the ice stays in the center. It’s important to do this smoothly and rattle the ice as little as possible. Stirring incorporates the ingredients and dilutes the cocktail so it tastes balanced and has a nice, silky feel in your mouth. When you get it right, it’s just awesome.

Stirred and Diluted

Stirred and Diluted

When the drink is diluted properly, you can see the level of the ice has gone down. Some say stir between 30 or 40 times, but you really have to watch the ice melt and the glass chill as ice can really vary. The cocktail should be cold and nicely balanced.

The Finished Manhattan

The Finished Manhattan

Dump out the ice from the cocktail glass that you are chilling. Put the julep strainer over the mouth of the pint glass and pour the cocktail into the chilled glass. Again, you don’t want to rattle the ice around too much as you pour. Try to make it a nice smooth motion.

The Manhattan is traditionally garnished with either a twist of lemon or an orange peel. Some like a cherry as a garnish (especially if you make it with sweet vermouth), but if you do use a cherry, be sure to spring for the nice Luxardo Cherries. There’s nothing worse than a bad maraschino cherry to mess up a beautiful Manhattan. The Manhattan is a great drink you can make with only a few ingredients. It’s also one which can be easily changed up by switching between the dry and sweet vermouth or changing up your bitters (see our Woodford’s Cherry Bitter Review).

How do you like your Manhattan? What whiskey do you use? How do you mix it up? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky

Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky

One of our missions here at Drink Spirits is to help you learn more about spirits, but when you bring home that bottle of whisk(e)y, tequila, gin, amaro, or bitters from the store, what are you supposed to do with it? As much as I love spirits, it’s bringing everything together in a great cocktail that really fuels me. This new segment, “Mixing With,” brings you on my  journey into not only what to mix, but how to mix to ensure a great at-home cocktail experience.

Before we jump right in to mixing drinks, a little about me. I’m Heather Kleinman, the co-editor of Drink Spirits. I love bold flavors and balanced cocktails. My most favored spirits include scotch, bourbon, gin, tequila, mezcal, and amari. I don’t care for anise (so no absinthe rinses here), and I don’t like overly sweet cocktails. You’ll sooner find me sipping a dram of Ardbeg over a Cosmo any day. I am also not a bartender. I make cocktails for myself at home and I enjoy working on perfecting my home bar craft.

For this first Mixing With entry, I am experimenting with Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky (81 proof, $29.99), a light-bodied, flavored, blended whisky that is easy to sip neat but also fun to play with. It’s made with grade A Canadian light maple syrup from Quebec and a blend of 3, 5, and 7 year rye whiskies distilled in Canada. Our bottle came with some cocktail recipes, some of which have obscure ingredients not commonly found in a home bar (I don’t keep chocolate mole bitters or cinnamon syrup laying around), so I chose the simple three-ingredient Sidecar 357.

Sidecar 357

2 oz. Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky
1/2 oz. orange liqueur (common ones are Cointreau and Combier)
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a Boston Shaker (the black tin with the pint glass top), fill with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a cocktail glass.

Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky and Leopold Bros. Orange Liqueur Sidecar


Sidecar 357

I am a fan of the products from Leopold Brothers in Colorado, so I decided to pair their American Orange Liqueur with Tap 357. It is slightly bitter and not too thick or syrupy.

tap357sidecar2

Getting Ready to Shake

Before measuring all the ingredients into the shaker, fill the cocktail glass you plan to serve with ice so it can be chilling, and set aside. I also always use the hawthorne strainer (the one with the coil) plus a fine mesh strainer, so I’m sure to get all the icy bits out of the cocktail.

tap357sidecar3

The Finished Sidecar 357

The Sidecar 357 is both a refreshing cocktail and one that you can sip. I like how the subtle bitterness of the Leopold Bros. Orange Liqueur and the acidity of the lemon juice play with the maple sweetness of the 357 whisky. There is enough complexity of flavor in these three ingredients that I would definitely make this again.

For my next drink with Tap 357, I wanted to make a riff on both a Whisky Sour and an Old Fashioned. I like to make my Old Fashioneds with cherry bitters, but I wanted the light and easy lemon flavor of a sour. The outcome is what I call a Maple Cherry Sour.

Maple Cherry Sour

2 oz. Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3 dashes Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters
1/2 oz. agave syrup

Measure all ingredients into a Boston shaker, fill with ice, shake well, and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Maple Cherry Sour

Maple Cherry Sour

Again, the sweetness of the 357 whisky is balanced by the lemon juice and the bitter cherry bitters, which I think it needs in a cocktail. If you are going to sip 357 neat, it’s a sweet treat, but in a cocktail I like the flavors to balance out.

Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky is available in select states across the country.

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Sean Harrison Master Distiller of Plymouth Gin

Sean Harrison, Master Distiller of Plymouth Gin

Walking the cobblestone streets of Plymouth to the Black Friars Distillery, home of Plymouth Gin, feels like being transported back in time. Although downtown Plymouth was rebuilt after being bombed in WWII, further inland at the Barbican port, Black Friars Distillery is one of many original buildings still standing from the 17th century. This picturesque port town is home to the British Royal Navy and was the last stop before America for the historic sailing of the Mayflower in 1620.

Even before distiller Thomas Coates started making Plymouth Gin in 1793, Black Friars was home to gin distilling as far back as the late 1600′s (and prior to that served as a bar and housing to many of the men from the Mayflower).  Plymouth Gin’s relationship with the Royal Navy is deeper than just proximity – the gin has long been considered to be the official drink of the Royal Navy, with every new ship given a Commissioning Kit with bottles of Navy Strength Plymouth Gin. Plymouth Gin has also ceremoniously been given to victors in war (sink a ship or down a plane and you get Plymouth) and when the distillery was attacked in World War II, a system wide announcement went out to the Royal Navy to let sailors know that the distillery survived the attack.

Botanical Mix of Plymouth Gin

Botanical Mix of Plymouth Gin

Plymouth Gin today is very similar to the original Plymouth Gin served  in the late 1700′s, and the historic gin has often been cited as the gin of choice in many key classic gin cocktails (including many in the iconic Savoy Cocktail Book). Throughout the years, Plymouth has crafted this iconic gin using a unique blend of botanicals including juniper berries, sweet angelica root, lemon peel, cardamom pods, sweet orange peel, coriander seeds, and orris root.  The Plymouth Gin recipe is primarily focused on how each ingredient best combines with the others, which leads to a more balanced, soft and less juniper dominant gin. Master Distiller Sean Harrison cites the terroir, or the influence of soil, climate, and environment on the botanicals, as an element which helps give Plymouth Gin its distinctive character.

Pot Still at Plymouth Gin Distillery

Pot Still at Plymouth Gin Distillery

One of the reasons why Plymouth Gin is so affable is the selection of the base spirit. Plymouth’s signature botanicals are combined with a ‘buttery’ base spirit made from wheat. Although the spirit is considered to be neutral, the mouthfeel of the spirit is more buttery than many other neutral bases.  In addition to a very specific botanical mix and base spirit, Plymouth Gin gets its final characteristics from the local Dartmoor reservoir water, which is naturally filtered as it runs through peat over granite. Add to the mix a 155-year-old copper still and you’ve got Plymouth Gin.

Tasting Plymouth Gin

Tasting Plymouth Gin

Not all gins are created equal, nor do they all taste the same, and at a taste demonstration at the Plymouth Distillery, Master Distiller Sean Harrison walked us through five of the most popular gins on the market, including of course Plymouth and Beefeater Gins.  Diluted down to 40 proof (20% ABV), the role of alcohol present in the gins was diminished and their botanical flavor profiles were easier to discern.  At the lower proof the differences between the gins and styles of gins became much clearer.

One of the most fascinating things that emerged from that tasting was the difference between actually tasting something and smelling it.  To prove this notion, Harrison had our crew don nose plugs and taste a secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient tasted like sugar until Harrison instructed us to remove our nose plugs. Then magically we tasted cinnamon in that sugar.  This demonstration was one of the most clear examples of showing what flavors come from tasting something and what flavors come from smelling them.  “Cardamon has no real taste” explained Harrison, “your experience from it comes completely from its smell”.

Distilling My Own Gin at Plymouth

Distilling our own Gin at Plymouth

Understanding the role of what we experience via taste and what we experience via smell was a key tool as we were set up to actually distill our own gin.   Upon entering the “laboratory”, we received a beaker of base spirit and access to a wide range of botanicals to select from.  “Odds are you are about to make some truly awful gin, but it’ll be your gin”, joked Harrison, who then advised us about the importance of keeping certain botanicals and ingredients in proportion. “Remember, when you distill something, you are concentrating its flavor, so a little orange goes a long way”.

Going through the process of actually distilling your own gin is almost reason enough to make a trip up to Plymouth to the distillery (that and, of course, the legendary fish and chips down the street). Not only did distilling gin show how massively difficult it is to find a great botanical mix, but also how what comes off the still and what the gin tastes like several days later aren’t the same.  The task of a great distiller is to be able to taste a spirit and know what it will become in the bottle – not an easy task.

The Final Product

The Final Product

As Americans in Plymouth, we couldn’t help but give a nod to our forefathers and call what came off our still “Mayflower Gin”.  After resting in the bottle for a few days and making the trip back to the US, we sat and tasted our gin.  While it wouldn’t get a five star rating here at Drink Spirits, it did show that making a tasty gin is possible with the right ingredients and the right attention to how those flavors come together.

The Bar at the Plymouth Distillery

The Bar at the Plymouth Distillery

Upstairs at the Black Friar Distillery in Plymouth is an extremely well-stocked bar (with some goodies like Havana Club). They also have the much prized Navy Strength Plymouth Gin.  This gin is 114 proof  (57% ABV) compared to Plymouth’s standard 82 proof (41% ABV).  The Navy Strength Plymouth Gin is a revelation, with the soft, easy botanical mix backed up by a strong and bold spirit. The two aspects balance out in an expression of Plymouth that is simply divine.  Plymouth Navy Strength Gin isn’t available in the United States yet but we’re hoping that, like the Mayflower, it finds its ways to the American shores.

Plymouth Navy Strength Gin

Plymouth Navy Strength Gin

Plymouth Gin is one of these amazing confluences of history and modern relevancy.  It’s one of the key historical gins of the world and it’s having a true revival in craft cocktail bars around the globe. It’s an exceptional gin, still distilled in very much the same way it was, just after the folks from the Mayflower shacked up at the upstairs bar and rested for the grand voyage ahead.

Plymouth Gin’s Black Friars Distillery: 60 Southside Street, Plymouth PL1 2LQ, telephone +44 (0) 1752 665 292.

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Hennessy Cognac

Hennessy Cognac

Cognac is often depicted as something stodgy old men drink while smoking cigars and talking politics – not exactly something approachable and certainly not something youthful in any way. Honestly, up until this point we haven’t paid a lot of attention because of it’s slightly elitist reputation. Then, at a recent tasting session, a member of our panel and trusted friend shared something special from his “secret stash” – the Pierre Ferrand 1972 cognac. We approached the first sip slowly, expecting something sharp, hot and dusty. Instead,  we were blown away by its delicate and complex character, a marrying of the grape flavors of wine and the barrel flavors of a fine bourbon. It was one of those “Ah Ha!” moments and we realized that  it was important for us to both reconsider and really explore cognac.

Our newfound interest in cognac lead us to a presentation and tasting of Hennessy Cognac with House Ambassador Cyrille Gautier-Auriol. The house of Hennessy was founded in 1765 by Richard Hennessy and today is the largest volume producer of cognac. Each cognac is a blend of eau de vie from the Cognac region’s grapes, double distilled to preserve the flavor and freshness, and aged in French oak for at least two years.

Hennessy Black ($40) is Hennessy’s answer to an alternative to vodka and tequila, in terms of a lighter, more approachable cognac for people who tend to lean toward white spirits. Hennessy Black is a blend of 35-45 different eau de vie aged in French oak barrels previously used for cognac for at least five years. This relatively short time in the barrel lends a lighter color and faint oak notes on the nose. The nose is light with a hint of the white Ugni Blanc grapes used to make the eau de vie, which also comes through in the taste. This is clearly a grape-based spirit, with bright white wine notes coming through and just a hint of oak. The overall taste is soft, with no real heat to speak of. Hennessy Black finishes clean and is really enjoyed best mixed with cola, ginger ale, or a little sugar and lemon.

Hennessy VS ($30) is the entry level product in the classic Hennessy line of cognac. This blend of 40 different eau de vie spends up to 8 years in French oak, giving the nose subtle sweet, vanilla, oak notes with a hint of grape. VS (Very Special) has a smooth entry and nice mouthfeel, with strong spice and hints of vanilla and oak. With a younger cognac like VS, Hennessy recommends drinking it on the rocks, with a splash of soda, ginger ale or cola, or mixed in a cocktail.

Hennessy Privilege VSOP ($50) has a smooth but stronger flavor than VS, with heavier wood on nose. VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) is a blend of 60 different eau de vie with the oldest being 15 years, and the youngest 4-5 years. It is aged for up to 15 years in French oak, giving it a deeper, richer color and oak notes on the nose and palate, but also lending more complexity to the spice and grape notes. Because the flavors are more balanced and mature, VSOP can stand alone neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of soda.

Hennessy XO ($100) is where things start to get noticeably more refined and elegant. XO is a blend of 100 different eau de vie aged for up to 30 years, with the youngest being 10 years old and the oldest 30 years. It was originally created as the private blend for the Hennessy family. The nose has lovely toffee and spice notes. The first sip has a bit lighter mouthfeel than VSOP with distinct wood and spice on the palate.

Hennessy Paradis Extra ($500) is the Hennessy we (almost) wish we didn’t love so much – when are we going to spend $500 on a spirit? That said, if you have an opportunity to taste Paradis, you will not be disappointed. For a blend of 200 eau de vie (the youngest is 25 years old) aged up to 130 years, the fresh apricot, grape and vanilla notes on the nose and fruity, grape-forward taste with a hint of oak is surprisingly bright and easy to sip. Paradis is a delightful mix of bright, fresh fruit and lush, sophisticated oak.

Richard Hennessy ($3,000) is the masterpiece of the Hennessy collection of cognac. Even the bottle itself is a hand-crafted crystal decanter that takes 40 hours to create. Richard Hennessy is a blend of 100 eau de vie aged up to 200 years, with the youngest 45 years old and the oldest 200 years. This is a more savory cognac, with slightly floral and savory, mushroom notes on the nose. There is some heat on palate, with a more savory flavor with hints of mushroom, subtle vanilla, and some grape notes in the finish.

As we continue to explore cognac we’re finding that its unapproachable reputation is fairly unfounded. We plan to explore cognac and and are working on a complete in-depth report and exploration on how cognac got its reputation and what some of the cognac houses are doing to change this. In the meantime, we were impressed with Hennessy and what they had to offer.

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