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Staff Favorites - Mahon McGrath
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The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Own Decanter Bitters 200ml
Review Date: 10-26-2010
I was intrigued to find that the folks at The Bitter Truth had undertaken a version of Jerry Thomas' Decanter Bitters. I say version, because the original recipe, as it was printed back in the nineteenth century, called for only five flavorings, one of which, snakeroot, has since been banned for human consumption by virtue of its toxicity. The guys at the Bitter Truth were also, by their own admission, presuming that the maestro would not have divulged all the ingredients for his famous bitters to the general public and therefore fleshed out or accentuated the basic formula, minus the snakeroot. Being a decanter bitter, this was intended to be drunk by the glass as a "tonic" back in the day. What we're looking at here, with the J.T.'s Own Decanter Bitters, is to my mind more of a dashing affair. The bottles dasher top is the first clue to that, naturally, but if you taste a wee bit of it on its own, as I did, you'll find it a shade too pungent to ever contemplate drinking by the glass. Feel free to prove me wrong. So, what does it taste like? This is fully bitter, smooth, mellow and dry, with a dominant allspice-clove flavor and subdued orange-tangerine peel accents. It smells much the same, with a undercurrent of vanilla. I want to say it reminds me of an apothecary's shop but I've never been to one. Damn. In an old fashioned it works nicely, but it probably won't edge out your other favorites in a Manhattan. It is distinctive, being both less sweet and less aggressive than many of the other bitters out there and definitely worthy experimenting with.
Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur 750ml
Review Date: 10-18-2010
For long years, Campari was the only game in town for a bitter of this sort. It has fans both loyal and ardent and is indeed wonderful. Campari tastes to my palate mainly about the contrast of bitter and sweet. The Gran Classico seems a touch gentler compared to it, easing back a wee bit on the bitter and then fleshing out that bitter-sweet polarity with a plusher range of dry woodsy spice, citrus and herbal accents, without ever obscuring the basic character. I wouldnít think of Gran Classico so much as a replacement for or an improvement on Campari but as a worthy addition to the genre. Some cocktails, like the Old Pal, really do come to life with the Gran Classico in a way they never did with Campari. On the whole it makes for a mellow, integrated cocktail. Whether this will be an improvement will depend on both the drink and your tastes. Gran Classico is pretty compelling just on itís own with soda over ice: a little variety never hurt anyone, eh? This is well worth trying!
CrŤme Yvette Delicieuse Liqueur 750ml (ships as 1.5 L)
Review Date: 7-26-2010
When I first read about violet liqueurs years back I knew that I had to get a hold of some. At that point, crème de violette was still an item only obtainable in foreign countries; an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one. Crème Yvette, however, was the real holy grail, according to reports from the truly obsessed who had managed to seek it out: a proprietary liqueur concocted in Victorian times and not seen for sale on any stores shelf since around the 1970s. It sounded wonderful. Being nearly unobtainable, enjoying same was nothing more than a reverie. Thankfully, thatís changed. Plucked from historyís dustbin, Crème Yvette is back! and to try it is to wonder at the cruel tide of fashion that swept it there in the first place. Crème Yvette is not interchangeable with crème de violette. Violet is only part of Crème Yvette, not the whole kit and caboodle. The berries in the liqueur are more prominent at first. When mixed in a drink, it isnít until youíve taken a sip and the sip has trickled down your throat that you really know the violet is there. Itís like the melody that you continue to hum to yourself long after the show has let out, or the scent of a flower pressed in a book from a past summer, an ephemeral phenomena where the experience of it already acknowledges its passing. Or, anyhow, it seemed that way after a couple cocktails made with it...
Lustau Dry Amontillado "Los Arcos" Solera Reserva
Review Date: 7-26-2010
If youíre looking for a good dry Amontillado, youíve found your bottle here; this is a lot of sherry for the money! The Los Arcos offers expansive and intense flavors on a well balanced frame. Toasted almond and dried fruit aromas are followed by flavors of salty, toasted nuts juxtaposed nicely against a mellow sweetness. The finish is crisp and dry. What it might lack in nuance when compared to some pricier bottlings it more than makes up for in overall harmony and depth of flavor. Lovely stuff. Incidentally, if youíre making atavistic cocktail recipes such as the Bamboo or the Tuxedo that call for dry sherry, the Los Arcos shows to good effect in them. It doesnít get lost in the mix the way pretty much any Manzanillas or Finos Iíve used to date seem to.
Highland Park 18 year old, Isle of Orkney Single Malt Whisky 750ml
Review Date: 3-30-2010
The nose gives up nutty, toffee, honeyed heather and baked bread aromas with a subdued smokiness. The smoke comes out more distinctly on the palate, balanced by full, sweet flavors of honey, caramel and spiced baked apple. This is a spirit that seems wild at first encounter, but is really surprisingly gentle at heart, with a sweet generous nature lurking behind the not entirely slick exterior. I should also note that the finish reverberates for a goodly span.
Dudognon Reserve Cognac 750ml
Review Date: 1-18-2010
Soft, silky smooth and voluptuous, refined and delicate, this Cognac is sheer pleasure. The flavors are a pleasing accord of pear, apple, warm spice and caramel. If you're thinking sidecars and such, you probably want to go for the Deret VSOP. The Dudognon's charms are pretty much obliterated in cocktails. This is hardly a defect. I'd wager you won't want to mix it with anything once you've tried it. The one exception I found to this was when one-quarter to one-half ounce was added to a Champagne cocktail. That makes for a sensational drink.
Hayman's Old Tom Gin 750ml
Review Date: 11-28-2009
Once upon a time, the cocktail that became THE cocktail, the Martini, was a lot less dry. And before that, even, its progenitors, the first gin & vermouth based drinks, the Turf Club-Martinez-Martini family, were made with Italian vermouth and a lightly sweetened style of gin called Old Tom. When the John Collins crossed over from England, it was eventually re-christened a Tom Collins, in part because it was generally made with Old Tom gin. The spirit got around. Of course, up until very recent times, there was no good substitute for this category of gin. Old Tom had long since sunk into oblivion - and for that matter, up until recently, no one had much missed it. With the current efflorescence of classic cocktails, however, all that changed and Hayman's is a welcome addition for those who want to drink in a bit of history. Resurrected from a family recipe from the time of the spirits heyday, Hayman's is a delightful and authentic version of an Old Tom gin. This is a less aggressive style of gin than a London Dry; while juniper is in the foreground it quickly yields to a more generally perfumed nose, with a softer, rounder, gentler taste and mouthfeel. The sweetness here is not on the order of a liqueur, more like off-dry. The fascinating thing is how many of the antique cocktail recipes that call for an Old Tom gin are good as drinks in their own right and not merely of interest as retrospective curiosities. If you haven't yet tried this, the recipe given above is not a bad place to start, though I'd say go with a twist of lemon peel, as opposed to a slice. And, if you've got this far and you don't already own books by Ted "Dr Cocktail" Haigh or David Wondrich, they are good resources for further recipes and elucidation.
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