Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Getting into the Holiday Spirits

The holiday season is again upon us. The endless commercials, the incessant jingle of Christmas carols, the relatives piling in with gifts large and small, the dwindling bank account and hopeful doe eyes of expectant children. Let's not forget the house preparations and the tree – that awful bit of shedding or reassembled symbolism demanding rearranged furnishings and lights – that terrible tangle of lights!

All of this brings to mind the rich amber warming spirit of well made whiskey. Winter is whiskey season. This is not true for all of us. Having worked for years in substance abuse, helping alcoholics stop drinking, I know the serious damage alcohol and drug abuse can wreak. However, for those of us fortunate enough to not have that genetic tendency, whiskey can provide comfort, joy and a peaceful if brief respite in hard or seemingly overwhelming times. I've never had much taste for the sweetness of bourbon. I can savor a good Scotch though it is beyond my budget. I prefer a good Rye whiskey.

Prior to prohibition, Rye was the popular whiskey of choice. Rye has a long history in our country going back to German immigrants in the 18th century. They settled mostly in Pennsylvania and began farming rye. Most settlers, being of British background didn't eat rye bread, so these farmers began making whiskey. Up until recently, Rye whiskey was fading into obscurity but there is a revival taking place and connoisseurs are rediscovering this wonderful variety of whiskey.

My regular and old fallback remains Old Overholt Rye. Its history is the history of our country, from German immigrant farmers to industrial production, later bought out by the robber baron James Fisk, through prohibition and beyond. This storied whiskey, the favorite of Presidents from Lincoln and Grant to John F. Kennedy is now, like most American liquor, made in Kentucky. This is a straight ahead, smooth and clean Rye but it is lacking in the woody tannins of barreling that often puts a whiskey over the top for me. I've found though careful research, strictly for reasons of scientific inquiry and at serious risk of incurring the calumny of liquor aficionados, that a drop of “Liquid Smoke” can enhance the depth of a glass of Old Overholt.

There are efforts afoot to revive the Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland style of Rye. Rye, originally produced in this region has a reputation of being spicier, rounder, more flavorful and chewier than the Rye made now. Evidence has emerged that distillers in the east used different methods than Kentucky Bourbon makers. Notably, they employed a sweet mash rather than supplementing with the leftover wash known as sour mash which yields a sharper-tasting product. Leopold Distillers in Denver, Colorado have had a Pennsylvania style still re-created and are promising the release of a Maryland Style Rye Whiskey made in the traditional Monongahela region style.

Bulleit Rye is available at about $30.00 a bottle. It is rich in the woody notes of a well barreled whiskey -- maybe too rich. Michter's Barrel Strength Straight Rye, like many Rye whiskeys, is part of a revival and claims to be the recreation of a recipe dating back to 1753 -- though produced in Kentucky. This whiskey has a particularly rich upfront oakiness but, bottled at 103 proof, it is initially hot on the pallet and benefits by a generous dash of water. Michters is rich and woody with a toasty complexity and notes of baking spice, vanilla and fruit.

High West, out of Colorado, is another fine brand which has found its way onto our local ABC shelves. Their Campfire Rye is a rich and smooth blend, as smokey as a good Scotch but with hickory rather than peat. This may be the finest Rye I've had. Other Ryes by High West include Rendezvous Rye and Double Rye, both excellent and spicy with toasty wood notes.

A new Rye actually produced in Pennsylvania by Laurel Spirits is Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Rye. It is another hopeful sign of the resurgence of this regional tradition. It is said to be milder tasting than the traditionally richer historic brands. I've yet to get my hands on this brand but look forward to sampling it. Other whiskeys using a blend including at least 51% Rye include Rittenhouse Rye and Russel's Reserve, both decent whiskeys made in the Kentucky style. There are high priced Ryes I've yet to try like Whistle Pig and Catoctin Creek Round House Rye distilled in Purcellville, Virginia.

Though I prefer to sip my Rye neat while sitting before a blazing hearth on a chilly evening, I also enjoy a rare Manhattan. This fine old cocktail is made with ½ shot of sweet Vermouth – any brand will do. I use Gallo. One and a half ounces Rye, and bitters. Now the bitters are important here. You can use three or four generous dashes of Angostura and maybe a drop of Orange bitters. I prefer DeGroff's Pimento Aromatic Bitters. And don't forget the Maraschino Cherry or at least a drop or two of the juice. I discovered just recently how well this cocktail goes with stuffing and gravy – a marriage made in heaven. This is especially true with stuffing containing smoked oysters and mildly toasted pecans. The sweet Vermouth, bitters and cherry pick up the cranberries with the Rye embracing those nuts and oysters and the divine dance begins.

Whatever you are sipping on to ease the stress of the holiday season, remember to pace yourself and not overdo it. Savor the moment as well as the qualities of the drink. The coming year, with its divisiveness and political travesties is guaranteed to provide us with more than enough reason to imbibe. So, Skoal! Salud! Le Chiam! Na Zdrovia! Jiánkang! Cheers, and whatever else! May you have a happy and memorable holiday season.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What's for Breakfast?

I've seen many versions of Juevos Rancheros but my favorite is a version taught to me by an old friend from New Mexico. You will need:
a corn tortilla
Mexican Chorizo or bacon
A can of Refried Beans
Cheese -- American, Cheddar or Pepper Jack
2 eggs
Enchilada Sauce

Start with a nice warmed corn tortilla. Place slice of cheese and a dash of salsa on it. One may add some broken up bacon though I prefer crumbed Mexican chorizo. Begin warming refried beans. Fry 2 eggs over easy and lay them on top. Now cover the whole thing with hot refried beans and top this with enchilada sauce. If you want to get fancy, you can garnish with guacamole.

And what drink goes well with this? How about a Mexican Howler?
2 ounces Tequila
2 ounces Orange Juice
a dash of Grenadine
a splash of Absinthe

After this hearty breakfast, you'll be ready to face whatever the day has to offer.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ringing in the New Year Southern Style

Happy new year to all of you. New Year's Eve is my favorite holiday, filled with gratitude for surviving and hopes for a better year, not to mention the wonderful combination of good friends and lots of booze. The Tippler likes to ring in the new year with the southern tradition of Blackeye Peas. Here's how I make 'em.

1 sack of dry Black eye peas
1 large onion, diced
3 or 4 slices of smoked Hog Jowl
1 Ham Hock
1 clove of Garlic
Black Pepper
a dash of Cayenne
a dash of Smoked Paprika

Soak the peas overnight. In the morning, fry the Jowl until translucent. Toss in the diced onion and saute until translucent. Add pepper, spices and garlic. Add beans and water. Bring this to a boil, skimming off any foam. When it begins to boil, add the ham hock and turn the heat down low. Let this simmer slowly throughout the day and until guests arrive filling our hoe with the rich smell of smokey, black eye peas. It is also traditional to cook a pot of rice to mix in with the beans making "Hopping John."

This dish is said to bring luck in the coming year though this has never been my experience. It does bring warmth and enjoyment to your get together and is best served with good Bourbon or Rye. A late solid bit of food helps soak up some of that booze which by later in the evening you've probably had plenty of. Happy new year to all, may the coming year bring you new and wonderful culinary discoveries and delights!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Brokers Gin

In my search for affordable but delightful Gins, I have discovered Brokers on the shelf of my local package store,

and a fine package it is!

This gin is made in old copper stills. It has a nice round, full flavor with juniper up front; peppery with citrus notes. This is an old fashioned Gin, not as sweet as Bombay Saffire and without noticeable angelica. At $25.00 a fifth is it more than a bargain. Great for G&T's and will hold its own neat or in a Martini.

Summer Delights

Your Tippler has been pretty busy with other things this summer. One of my favorite regional delights is our simple but delicious Hatteras Clam Chowder

12 chowder clams chopped of 1 pint of shucked clams
1 Onion, diced
1 slice of smoked jowl or 2 slices dry cured hickory smoked bacon
6 potatoes, chopped
5 cups of water
a pinch of Thyme
salt & pepper to taste

Fry up that smoked pork, add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the pinch of Thyme, salt and pepper and stir. Add in the clams (juice and all), potatoes, and water. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for an hour.

This is best served with saltine crackers and maybe some corn bread. A good hoppy beer is an appropriate accompaniment as well.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Boodles Gin

In looking at the top shelf Gins available in my area's state stores, I came across this Gin.

One thing that attracted me to it was that it states it has been distilled four times. This includes a triple distilled base of English Wheat. A clean liquor is a good liquor and those hearts are close to mine.

The other thing that attracted me was the price, which was almost $10.00 below Bombay Saffire and the Tippler, while a picky, picky eater and drinker, is a painfully penurious penny pincher. That said, I found this to be a very nice, high quality Gin; invitingly herbal and woodsy with an initial aroma of sage, nutmeg and cassia bark. Nice nuanced but present juniper behind the assertive spice and herb flavorings. This Gin is much like the Saffire but lacking in the Angelica root.

It works well with that Ramos Gin Fizz as well as with Q Tonic. Quite nice in the torpid heat of a Southern summer.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Avocado Soup

I've been too distracted lately to post and too hot to cook. I've been preparing cold meals of different kinds and remembered a wonderful Avocado crab soup I used to enjoy at a neighborhood Mexican style restaurant long gone.

Needing to play in the kitchen in spite of the heat I came up with this delicious version.

Avocado Crab Soup

2 Ripe Avocados
2/3 cup Yogurt
2/3 cup Milk or Almond Milk
1 1/2 tbsp Fresh Lime Juice
2 Artichoke Hearts (bottled)
1 tbsp minced Onion
2 tbsp chopped Cilantro
1 tsp ground Roasted Cumin
a pinch of Cayenne
a pinch of ground Chipotle
a dash of Tequila
1/2 cup of chicken stock
Lump Crab Meat
Pico de Gallo
Salt to taste

Blend all of these ingredients except the Crab in the blender. Garnish with crab meat, about a tablespoon or 2 per bowl, and top with Pico.

I served these with fish tacos and Tequila Espolón on the rocks with a lime wedge. I delightful summer combination.