FUNDAMENTALS OF TASTING

First, stop expecting your taste to be the same as everyone else's. Taste is as personal when it comes to spirits and cocktails as it is with food. Nobody complains that you like Brussels sprouts about as much as a body-covering rash. We take it for granted that we will have differences of opinion about food. But admit to liking "blush" wines and you're immediately labeled a bumpkin. Taste is nothing more than, well, a matter of personal taste.

Yes, there do exist objective - more or less - observations that make it possible for people to compare and contrast various beverages, styles and even brands. But in order to do that we have to collectively decide what words we're going to use to describe beverages. And then we'll have to decide which words are most appropriate to specific beverages; that will require that people taste everything they can because in the end it's broad firsthand experience that allows that comparison.

We at BAR believe strongly that blind tasting is the only way to taste honestly. Blind tasting concentrates your senses. When you have a lot of experience and when you know what a product is, you immediately know how it's supposed to taste. The problem then is that most of us are human and we tend to use words we have traditionally used to describe that beverage or brand because to do otherwise would be to admit that we are being inconsistent tasters.

If you taste with the label facing you, you'll know the identity of the beverage but then you won't learn anywhere near as much as if you weren't aware of the identity. Nuances, differences, even large-scale changes in production methods will mostly go unnoticed because your senses won't be as keenly focused. Even the best taster is subject to prejudice. The only way to be sure is to taste under blind conditions.

Once you have tasted three or four top gin brands, when any new brand is offered, your best course is to taste it alongside one or two of the brands you already know. In that way, you'll have a quick frame of reference to tell a customer that Plymouth gin is, perhaps, more citrusy than Hendricks, or less juniper-intense than Tanqueray. Perhaps even more importantly, you can guide yourself and your colleagues when it comes time to create a cocktail from the gin. After all, bartenders are supposed to be the creative kind of people who know how to adjust a recipe to suit a customer or to suit the brand.

 

THE NOSE KNOWS BEST

Smell is our most primal sense. It's the only one of our senses, for instance, that instigates the strangely compelling feeling of déjà vu. Two moist membranes located on either side of the nose beneath our cheeks collect data from aromatic molecules that land on them when we inhale the aromas of beverage alcohol or anything, for that matter. These sticky membranes/organs have about 350 sensors that send data directly to our brain.

Not surprisingly, here's the biggest secret of tasting: it's not really tasting as much as it is smelling. Over two thirds of the characteristic aromas and flavors of any brand are all in the nose. In wine tasting, we could probably state that almost all of it is in the nose, but one of the strong differences between differing spirits is the alcohol level. You can smell that difference, but you can't really discover if the spirit is poorly cut and hot, or well cut and rich and textured, and you won't know if the spirit is in balance, without putting some in your mouth and rolling it around.

We know that some of you are saying, "I can't taste. I don't have a good enough palate." Really? You didn't know after that steak was served to you last night if it was good or not? You don't really care which beer you have at the end of shift because they all taste the same? You'll gladly accept a bruised old apple in place of a crisp, snappy one because you can't tell the difference? Of course not. You are a good taster. You, like all of us with any discipline, just need a bit of guidance in expressing your skill. Most people simply haven't had to apply words to the task yet. So start by putting two spirits next to each other. Start slowly by trying a gin next to a white rum. Take a whiff and by going back and forth you can look for the following attributes:

  • Vanilla

  • Citrus (which citrus?)

  • Lemon

  • Lime

  • Orange

  • Herbs

  • Coconut

  • Molasses

  • Nuts

  • Flowers

  • Pepper (they both have that)

  • Pine

Depending upon how sensitive you are to various flavors and aromas, you might find that both are very peppery and both have some herbal aromas. In all likelihood, the rum will have the more dominant notes of vanilla, coconut, molasses, and perhaps even nuttiness. The gin should express aromas of pine or evergreen, citrus, floral notes, herbs and perhaps many others things: most gins have at least a dozen botanicals (such as flowers, spices, fruits, bark, that sort of thing) added to them.

But each person's experience will be slightly different because, in addition to having different preferences and different histories, we actually have different sensitivities to many flavors and aromas. So, we're supposed to taste things differently and like different things. The trick is, as professionals, we ought to be able to tell our customers and colleagues how a brand is likely to compare to other brands. In order to do that, you've got to have experience across a broad spectrum and we suggest that you liberally collect other people's ideas as you go, so that you can learn to convey to other people what you are tasting in understandable terminology. Let's get started.

 

DILUTED OR STRAIGHT?

Most professionals prefer to taste spirits just as they come from the bottle, full strength; others like to cut the bottle strength in half with water.

Our early experience with most of these spirits was behind a bar and if we were going to know how they smelled and tasted, mixing them with water would at a minimum take too much time. So, taste first at bottle proof. Once you've determined how they smell and taste when poured straight from the bottle, then you can sort out what mixing does to them.

The words you choose can be your own, of course, but if they're too personal, then others aren't going to know what you mean, are they? And the whole point of having words to use when describing flavors and aromas is so that you can communicate to others how a given drink will smell and taste. That way, they'll know if they want to order some.

In each of the spirit categories, we will provide you with some ideas for general descriptors that you should look for when you taste different brands in those categories.

The Five fundamental flavors

  • Sweet

  • Salt

  • Sour

  • Bitter (most of us are the most sensitive to this fundamental taste)

  • Umami (the fifth basic taste that is defined as a savory sensation that's best demonstrated by things such as parmesan cheese, soy sauce, shitake mushrooms)

 

Basic textures

  • Astringent

  • Hot

  • Cold

  • Spicy

  • Soft

  • Bland

  • Light

  • Delicate

  • Rich

  • Full-bodied

  • Velvety

  • Powerful

 

The intangibles

  • Complexity

  • Balance

  • Length

PRE- HISTORY

In 700 B.C., when guests at the funeral of King Midas of Phrygia (in what is modern Turkey) were served a mixture of wine, mead - fermented honey-water - and barley beer, the mixed drink was already ancient. Since the dawn of history, people have been taking one liquid and another liquid and asking themselves "what happens if I mix this with this?"

Some of their early experiments sound odd to the modern ear. In Homer's Iliad, for instance, we find his epic heroes at one point drinking Pramnian wine mixed with grated goat cheese and barley meal. Hardly our idea of a cocktail, although stranger things have been labeled as such (the Cement Mixer, anyone?). In general, though, it's safe to say that the bulk of ancient drinking was far more conservative: strong wine and water, beer or mead straight - salt-of-the-earth stuff like that. The spread of distilling in the late Middle Ages added new drive to the art of mixology. Distilled spirits were strong and fiery, and (since long aging in oak was a thing of the future) pretty raw. Various ways of cooling their heat were tried - flavoring them with pungent herbs and heavily sweetening them, mixing them with wine, with beer, with water, or even filtering them.

The first true triumph of the art of taming them didn't occur until the early seventeenth century, in India. "Punch," which is supposedly derived from "panch," the Farsi and Hindi words for "five," is traditionally made with five elements [liquor, sugar of some sort, citrus juice, tea (or other spice) and water]. We don't know if it was a native Indian drink or, as the evidence suggests is far more likely, one that sailors and merchants associated with the English East India Company put together themselves from Indian ingredients (as early as the 1570s, the Elizabethan writer George Gascoyne had observed his countrymen drinking their wine mixed with sugar, spices and lemon juice; the substitution of local firewater cut with H2O in place of the unavailable wine would've been a natural one).

In any case, by the end of the seventeenth century a Bowl of Punch was one of the most popular tipples in England and its colonies. Usually, this was served hot, the English climate being the English climate. But punch is versatile; when necessary, boiling water was replaced with ice (when that then-precious commodity was available) or at least cool water. Now, the alert student of mixology will note that aside from being made by the bowl instead of by the glass, this punch stuff resembles a modern cocktail, like the Daiquiri, the Margarita or the Cosmopolitan. Indeed, in the hands of James Ashley, who kept a famous Punch-house on Ludgate Hill in London from 1731 until his death in 1776, it was even closer to those drinks than you might imagine, since he sold it in quantities as small as a single cup. Ashley, by the way, was the world's first celebrity mixologist.

By the first decades of the nineteenth century, the best punchmakers - not just Englishmen at this point, but English women as well, and men and women from Scotland, Ireland, Paris (a particular hotbed of Punch innovation), Germany and, of course, the former British colonies across the Atlantic - had picked up a host of tricks with which to improve (or "improve") the simple beverage of the East India Company: supplementing the sugar with flavored syrups or liqueurs, smoothing things out by adding emulsifiers such as gum Arabic, maidenhair fern, egg whites or milk (which was generally allowed to curdle, with the solids being strained out), replacing the water with tea or wine or even champagne, deploying carefully-calibrated combinations of base spirits, so on and so forth. Indeed, it would be no large exaggeration to say that all the building blocks of mixology as we understand it now were basically in place by 1800.

 

PUNCH TODAY

David Wondrich quotes a popular 18th century song in his recent book, Punch:

You may talk of brisk Claret, sing praises of Sherry
Speak well of old Hock, Mum, Cider, and Perry
But you must drink Punch if you want to be Merry

Now I don't personally know what a "hock" or "mum" tastes like but I can tell you from experience that a bowl of punch is delicious and leads to general merriment. The popularity of punch is on the upswing everywhere. The reasons for this are myriad. One: once you have all your ingredients together it's pretty easy to assemble. Two: It's an adaptable template that curious bartenders can experiment on. Three: it tastes really, really good. But there is another compelling reason for a bartender to think of including a punch, (or several), at their bar.

Picture this scenario: It's Friday night, 11pm, it's wall-to-wall people and you're slammed. In through the door comes a party of eight. They make their way to the bar, look at the drink list, and order two Manhattans, (one up, one on the rocks), a dirty Martini, a Gin Martini with a twist, a Margarita, A Sidecar, and a couple vodka sodas. But one of them doesn't like their Martini as dirty as you made it, so by the time you're done with the other drinks you're making that one over. And then another person drank their vodka soda really quickly and wants another by the time you finished remaking that Martini. And the tickets are piling up in the service well and people are starting to wave their hands around in the air and you don't have any more clean highballs and you want to sink through the floor and end up somewhere far, far away.

Or: It's Friday night, 11pm, it's wall-to-wall people and you're slammed. In through the door comes a party of eight. They make their way to the bar, look at the drink list, and order a bowl of Spread Eagle Punch. Out comes the punch bowl, in goes the ice and the punch you've prepared pre- shift, and away go eight happy people that will take quite a bit of time to make their way through the bowl, saving you time, eort, and glassware woes. Punch is a fantastically social beverage that through its communal nature brings the company drinking it into closer bonds of conviviality over the course of its draining. It can be made at the beginning of the shift and doled out in portions for a small as a party of two to a party as large as the punch bowl will allow. Below are two classic recipes from David Wondrich's fascinating and useful book, Punch. Try one out at your bar and see if you might not get a few people singing the Punch song.

Hot Whiskey Punch, (Irish and Scottish)

Peel a lemon, trying to get as little as possible of the white pith. In a heatproof bowl, pot or jug, muddle the peel of the lemon in 2 ounces of sugar. Set a quart and a half of water to boil. Add about 8 ounces of the boiling water to the sugar and stir well. This should warm up the bowl and dissolve the sugar. Add a 750 ml bottle of whiskey, either Jameson for Irish Punch or Glenlivet for Scottish Punch, then add the rest of the water, tasting as you go to make sure that it does not become too diluted. The Punch should be kept warm for service; a Crockpot or a heatproof bowl on a hot plate should do the trick. Yield: 9 cups

Brandy Punch

Peel 4 lemons, trying to get as little as possible of the white pith. Muddle the peels in one cup of fine grained raw sugar, such as Florida Crystals. After the lemon oil has been extracted by the sugar, (this process generally takes half an hour to an hour) muddle again and remove the skins. Add 8 ounces of lemon juice and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add one quart Martell VS and two quarts cool water. Grate some fresh nutmeg on top. Yield: 9 cups

 

THE RISE OF THE COCKTAIL 1800-1885

In the four decades or so after the Revolutionary War, Americans went on a national bender of spectacular proportions. By one estimate, per capita consumption was three times what it is today. Free from the continual coming and going between England and the other colonies, they also began drinking differently. Sure, plenty of punch was still consumed, particularly in the cities where the ingredients were easier to get. But suddenly it was rubbing elbows in the barrooms with a profusion of oddly named compounds that few Englishmen would recognize: Anti- Fogmatics, Gum-Ticklers, Phlegm-Cutters, Egg Noggs, Flips, Juleps, Toddies, Slings and, destined to become mightiest of them all, Cocktails.

The written record of the American cocktail begins with a humorous item in the April 28, 1803 issue of the Farmer's Cabinet, a newspaper published in Amherst, New Hampshire, which includes the line "Drank a glass of cocktail - excellent for the head." Three years later, a wellworn quotation from the Hudson, New York, Balance, and Columbian Repository gives us the first definition of what this compound actually is: "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters - it is vulgarly called bittered sling" ("Sling" was a popular American drink calling for nothing more than liquor and water, sometimes with a little sugar). In other words, take an Old-Fashioned, leave out the garnish and the fruit, let the ice melt and there you go (why do you think they call it an Old-Fashioned, anyway?).

We're not sure precisely where this useful beverage was invented, but it's highly significant that in the early eighteenth century something very much like it was in common use in Britain as a hangover-cure (it was being so advertised in London newspapers in 1710), and even more significant that a passing mention of a drink called "cocktail" appears in a 1798 London newspaper, although with no description of what precisely it might be. But in its perfected form, the Cocktail was most assuredly American, and most likely a product of the triangular area between New York City, Albany and Boston. That, at least, is where all the earliest references turn up.

As for the name cocktail, there are at least half a dozen theories out there attempting to explain it, some patently ridiculous and not one with any firm documentary evidence to back it up. The ones that do the least damage to common sense are that it's either something to "cock your tail up" in the morning or that it comes from the world of horse racing (if you liked racing, you probably liked mixed drinks as well). At the time, a mixed-breed horse was known as a "cock-tail" horse; if you took a Gin Sling - one kind of drink - and splashed some bitters into it - another kind of drink (bitters were often drunk straight at the time) - what are you going to call it? Exactly.

At any rate, the cocktail's first role appears to have been medicinal. It was a morning dram, taken to settle the stomach and soothe the nerves after a night of hearty tippling. Slowly, its therapeutic functions began to yield to more purely recreational ones and, at the same time, it gained its most important ingredient: ice. The ice industry was perfected in America (large blocks of the stuff were cut from ponds in the winter and stored in insulated bunkers through the summer), and ice was cheaper there than anywhere else in the world. In London, Paris and Rome, it was a luxury; in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, a staple. By the 1850s, in America it was universally used in mixed drinks.

Of course, the Cocktail was only one of the new "American Sensations" that revolutionized the mixologist's art in the first half of the nineteenth century. There was also the Mint Julep or - to give it its true mixological name - the Mint Sling ("julep" was a medical term for a medicine administered in syrup; Americans humorously applied it to a Sling spiced with mint and taken recreationally). The star drink of the 1810s and 1820s, in the 1830s it was supplanted by the Sherry Cobbler (a light and refreshing drink that relied on the use of lots of ice for its effect) and in the 1840s by the Smash, which was nothing more than a short Julep heavily iced.

Throughout the period, punch maintained its popularity, but in an abbreviated form: rather than by the bowl, American barkeepers learned to make it by the glass. In the winter, hot Sling or Toddy (the two were essentially indistinguishable) ruled the bar, particularly in the form of Apple Toddy, which was made by whisking roasted apple into a plain Toddy.

At the same time, American bartenders such as New Yorkers Orsamus Willard of the City Hotel, Shed Sterling of the Astor House and Cato Alexander - along with William Pitcher of the Tremont House in Boston, George Vennigerholtz of the Mansion House in Natchez and a vast number of others whose names were not even recorded by history - were laying the groundwork for the way bartenders have approached their job ever since: developing barware, figuring out techniques, learning how to handle ice, and doing it all faster, better and more dramatically than ever before.

This new way of doing something very old did not escape the world's attention: in the first part of the nineteenth century, the United States played host to scores of European travelers seeking to take the measure of the new nation. Many of them wrote books about their experiences, and one of the obligatory topics touched on was the American way of drinking. Before long, the curiosity these drinks inspired prompted the first experiments with American bars in Europe. London had one or two as early as the 1840s, although they did not last. The ones in Paris took longer to open, but were more stable when they did: the Cosmopolitan bar on Rue Scribe, for example, opened in 1865 and lasted for a good decade or more.

Up until this point, the only source we have to tell us what American mixologists (a term that was invented as a joke in 1856 and rapidly caught on, in the absence of a better term, as a way of describing a bartender who was superior at mixing drinks) were up to are newspaper articles, novels and the accounts of travelers. In 1862, however, the New York trade publisher Dick & Fitzgerald issued the first book entirely devoted to practical instruction in mixing drinks. The Bon Vivant's Companion, by Jeremiah P. "Jerry" Thomas (1830- 1885), marked the maturity of the American way of mixing drinks. (Although the first American bartender's guide, it was not the first book devoted entirely to the art of mixing drinks; that honor belongs to the 1827 Oxford Night Caps, published by one Richard Cook in Oxford, England, supposedly for the use of the students of the university there.)

The 236 recipes Thomas included in The Bon Vivant's Companion are divided into numerous classes, including Punches, Sours, Fixes (a fancy Sour), Juleps, Toddies, Slings and a number of others. This was a real innovation, the first attempt to construct a genealogy for the mixed drink. More innovation was to be found in the 13-drink section devoted to "Cocktails & Crustas" (a Crusta is simply "an improvement on the 'Cocktail,'" as the Professor says).

Compared to the 79 different Punches, this is a mere handful of recipes, but they're enough to show that the simple cocktail was well along in that process of mutation which all culinary traditions undergo on these shores. It wasn't just the integration of ice into the drink's very essence. It wasn't just the replacement of plain old sugar with fancy new gum syrup (a thick simple syrup with gum Arabic added to it for smoothness), or the addition of a little (fancy, imported) liqueur or the flourish of squeezing a strip of lemon peel over the top. The ice excepted, those don't really change the nature of the drink that much: it's still a drink where the base liquor dominates the taste, with the other things - bitters, liqueur, lemon oil - working as accents and blending/smoothing agents. But other, stranger ingredients were finding their way into the drink.

Consider Thomas' "Japanese Cocktail" (it was most likely so named to commemorate the first Japanese mission to the United States, which reached American shores in 1860). Instead of sugar to sweeten its brandy and bitters, it calls for "orgeat," a French syrup made with almonds and orange-flower water. Suddenly, the drink doesn't taste like brandy anymore - all the ingredients blend together creating something entirely new. It's not just the ingredients that are changing, either.

Rather than calling for his drink to be poured back and forth from glass to glass to mix the liquids (as was customary) and then served in one of them, Thomas calls for some of his Cocktails to be mixed in one glass and strained into another, so that the ice will still cool it, but without diluting it more than what's required to round off the liquor's edge. And progress doesn't stop there. To be really fancy, you can always moisten the "edge of the glass...with lemon." Still not fancy enough? Simply take that lemon-moistened edge and dip it in powdered sugar - and, while you're at it, throw in the spiral-cut peel of a half lemon and a splash of the juice. You've just made a Crusta. "Then smile," as the Professor says.

The second edition of the Professor's book, in 1876, included an Appendix with "all the latest inventions in beverages, obtained through the courtesy of some of the most celebrated caterers to the tastes of an appreciative public in our first-class bars and wine-rooms." Among these inventions are the so-called Daisies - brandy, whiskey, gin or rum - which blur the difference between cocktail and punch, seeing as they consist of liquor, lemon juice, gum syrup and "orange cordial" (i.e., liqueur), like a punch, and yet they're shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass like a cocktail, with a splash of seltzer to top them off and bring them back into the punch camp. Odd, but delicious.

There are also formulae for "improved" cocktails in brandy, whiskey and gin, featuring the novel addition of a dash of absinthe to the usual liquor, sweetener, bitters and dash of liqueur. Thomas' second edition also marks the debut of the Fizz, a concoction not unlike the Daisy (with more gum and no cordial) but served in a taller glass with a lot more seltzer. The Fizz, particularly when made with gin, would become America's morning-after drink of choice until the Bloody Mary stepped in to assume that role some 80 years later.

By the time the third edition of Thomas' book appeared, in 1887, the Professor himself had been dead for two years and the Cocktail had undergone even more change, amounting to a creative revolution. Instead of simple, generic names - "Brandy Cocktail," "Gin Cocktail," Whiskey Cocktail," etc. - it was taking strange forms whose names told the consumer nothing about what was in them.

There was already the Japanese Cocktail in the 1862 edition of Thomas' book; now, to join it, one finds the "Martinez Cocktail," the "Manhattan Cocktail," the "Morning Glory Cocktail," the "Saratoga Cocktail" - you get the picture. Among these, you'll no doubt recognize the Manhattan. The Morning Glory and the Saratoga have fallen out of the picture. Which leaves the Martinez, or - as it soon became known - the Martini.

A recurring theme in the history of mixology is the difficulty of nailing down exact origins for cocktails, and these two - the most famous drinks in the Cocktail Pantheon - are no exception. It's clear that they both rose to popularity right around 1880, but beyond that one cannot go without walking on some precarious ground indeed.

Whatever the precise details of their origin, the Manhattan and the Martini both seem to have bubbled under for a few years before breaking out into popularity and common knowledge in the mid-1880s, when one finds, for instance, the "solitary, discontented and rocky specimen" of the New York bachelor walking into a swank Broadway restaurant at breakfast time and addressing the waiter with considerable irritation: "Stand still, can't you? You make a man's head swim bobbing around so. What I want is a Manhattan cocktail with absinthe, frozen [i.e., with shaved ice in the glass]."The cocktail might've come a long way since 1803 - or 1710, for that matter - but it was still, to some folks anyway, a hangover cure. 

 

 

BOOM, PROHIBITION, AND BUST 1885-1934

Ironically, when Jerry Thomas died at the end of 1885, the cocktail was on the brink of its first golden age. Sure, there were still only twenty-odd varieties of the thing in general circulation, and most of those were easily recognizable as variations on that same old early-nineteenth century spirits-sugar-bitters-ice formula. But those cocktails, along with the rest of his gospel, were spreading world-wide. In 1878, Leo Engel, a Brooklyn bartender who was managing the Criterion bar in London, put a book of American drinks - only the second to be published in Britain - together that was for the most part swiped directly from the Professor's, although there was a section of his own drinks as well. Editions of Thomas's book and of the one written by Harry Johnson, a German-born New York bartender of great skill, began appearing in various European countries and as far away as Australia. American-style cocktail bars were beginning to appear all around the world, from Dublin (where the Jury's Hotel was advertising its "large American bar" in 1900) to Berlin to Brussels, Santiago de Cuba to Yokohama - there was even an American bar in Patagonia. Most of the bartenders at these places were either Americans or had worked in the U.S., but by no means all. The famous Henry, of Henry's Bar, Paris, had been to the States but once, spending only a few hours in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Back in the States, the cocktail was changing, and fast. Consider Jacques Straub's Drinks, a pocket recipe guide published in 1914. It has 26 pages of recipes for Cocktails. Cocktails with vermouth; cocktails with lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice (in Jerry Thomas's day, such a thing would have been called a Punch or a Sour); cocktails sweetened with all kinds of fancy liqueurs and flavored syrups, even cocktails made without what had been the drink's defining ingredient, bitters. Bartenders at the top bars in the country - places like the Palace Hotel bar in San Francisco, or the one at the Hoffman House Hotel in New York - were in the habit of inventing new drinks at the drop of a hat and naming them after whoever ordered them.

At the same time, the other categories of American drinks were in decline. Punches, Toddies, Slings and Juleps were for old fogeys; short, cold blasts of concentrated flavor such as the Aviation, the Daiquiri, the Bronx and the Dry Martini were the order of the day, and they were flying over the bar as never before.

Then came Prohibition. This isn't the place for a history of the American Temperance Movement, but the subject really can't be avoided entirely due to the impact it ended up having on global cocktail culture. The issue was, along with the abolition of slavery, one of the most hotly debated ones in nineteenth century America. Some favored encouraging men to drink temperately, others encouraging them not to drink at all. When these approaches failed to yield total success, many advocates of temperance redefined the word, changing it from meaning "exerting selfcontrol to master a sometimes-dangerous and socially disruptive habit" to "using the law to prevent people from even having the opportunity to exert their self-control."

From this distance, banning the sale, manufacture and importation of a commodity without which a very large part of the world had, since time immemorial, concluded human life could not flourish, seems like a rash and vindictive act. Nonetheless, by 1915 almost half of the states were dry. America's entry into the Great War, then raging in Europe, gave the "Drys" more ammunition, as it were, to fight for the suppression of so unproductive a use of the nation's resources as turning them into beverage alcohol.

Finally, folks capitulated. The Eighteenth Amendment, banning the manufacture, sale or importation of all alcoholic beverages, was ratified on January 16, 1919. A year later, the Volstead Act, which created an enforcement structure for the amendment, took effect. 507 distilleries, 1,217 breweries and some 180,000 saloons closed their doors. Unfortunately, once the Volstead Act went into force on January 16, 1920, things didn't work out like everybody had hoped.

To make something that a majority perceives as harmless and fun illegal is not the same thing as to make it go away. If anything, quite the opposite: the nation went on a massive binge of illegal tippling. In fact, even women started getting into the act. Saloons had kept them out, but speakeasies couldn't afford to be that choosy. All in all, it was a fine mess. By the end of the '20s, Henry Ford, a notorious Dry, was supporting repeal - so that people would cut down on their drinking.

The stuff that was fuelling this binge wasn't very good. In the cheaper joints, it was rotgut distilled in a basement somewhere by folks who had no care for such fine points as taste, quality or even elementary sanitation. In a few of the most expensive places, such as New York's 21 Club, you could, for a price, get some of the whiskey, rum and champagne that was being smuggled in from abroad in staggering quantities, and if you were very, very lucky, it would be uncut. If you were a little less lucky, it would be cut responsibly with filtered water and grain alcohol. If you weren't lucky, you'd get rooked completely.

In fact, although there is a persistent popular myth that all cocktails originated during Prohibition, few indeed drinks with a lasting reputation were invented then, and in fact it was not a good time for the discriminating drinker, or for the mixologist. The bartender's art was directed towards covering the taste of bad liquor, not enhancing the taste of good. If you wanted a proper cocktail, the best place to get it was abroad - in Havana, say, or London or Paris.

Up to this point, the international school of mixology was a mere sapling in the shadow of the mighty American oak. As we've seen, "American bars" had been operating all around the world since the middle of the nineteenth century. Sure, the drinks were often unrecognizable to actual Americans, but at least people were trying. Authentic ingredients and equipment weren't always easy to find (one 1917 Swedish bar book - Stockholm had had an American bar at least since 1902 - has all the short drinks served in port wine glasses, for lack of cocktail ones). Even ice, the basic building block of the American bar, was hard to get, although Norway developed an effective export industry in this essential commodity that went some way toward filling the gap, at least in Northern Europe.

Another problem was that genuine, skilled American bartenders could command top dollar - or whatever the local currency was - once they took themselves abroad, and thus had little incentive to teach the locals the tricks of their trade. Then again, they could command top dollar at home, too, so outside of the States there were never enough of them to go around.

That would change once Prohibition came and many of these artistes chose to exercise their art in exile rather than abandon it or practice it surreptitiously and with adulterated materials. As one American traveler observed in 1922, "From Madrid and from Naples north to Amsterdam, I have not seen a single town in continental Europe which has not its American bar, with the eagle and Stars and Stripes conspicuously displayed and the bartender swearing by all that is holy that he worked in the USA before the great drought overtook it."

Among these exiles was Harry Craddock, a veteran of the Hoffman House bar and the bar at the swank Holland House Hotel on Fifth Avenue. In 1920, he got a job in London at the Savoy Hotel's American Bar, then under the direction of Ada "Coley" Coleman, one of the very few women to make a name as a mixologist until recent years. When she retired four years later, the bar became Harry's.

In 1926, Craddock circulated a letter among his former clientele in New York, touting the moist delights that he had waiting for them across the pond. According to the New York Times, it included "a list of 172 items classified as cocktails, coolers, daisies, fizzes, flips, highballs, punches, rickeys, smashes, sours, liqueurs, cordials and frappés" - all the standard classes of pre-Prohibition American tipple.

The Times took the list down to Wall Street in New York and showed it to a passerby "swinging a malacca stick and wearing a blue flannel suit, a sailor straw with a blue and white band, a blue necktie and tan shoes.... He scanned it rapidly, handed it back and said: 'The prices are just about the same as in New York.'" But Craddock's letter also said that, "he had improved his absence by perfecting cocktails and that he was now able to give his patrons a choice of 280 mixtures."

It's these other cocktails, the ones that weren't on his list, that tell the real story.

We know that because, four years later, he put out a bar book of his own, and it was jammed with drinks that had never slid across an American bar. Drinks based on strange, foreign aperitifs such as the French Kina Lillet and Quinquina or the South African Caperitif; exotic liquors - calvados, vodka (practically unknown in the States) and even Canadian whisky, in place of the unavailable rye and bourbon (Canadian whiskies had certainly been marketed in the States before Prohibition, but we know of only one cocktail recipe from the period that called for it); exotically-named liqueurs and unusual syrups (it's safe to say not even the Homan House would have carried sirop de groseille; it's made of red currants and you still can't get it in the U.S. or almost anywhere but France).

The formulae were simple, streamlined, without the rococo refinements of composition and technique characteristic of the vanished American school - indeed, in European hands, the complex system of categories by which Americans classified their drinks was reduced to two: "long drinks" and "short drinks" (to this was eventually added a third, specifically reserved for things served in a stemmed Cocktail glass). But they were elegant, too, and often imaginative.

What's more, the Savoy Cocktail Book, as it was called, was one of the first drinks books to pay any attention to design. The Savoy Hotel was in the midst of an Art Deco makeover, and the book fit right in. Striking green and gold cover, multicolor printing, copious and witty drawings by Gilbert Rumbold, snide comments on the drinks scattered here and there in red ink - it was and still is a thoroughly desirable object; a book to display, not one to keep under the bar. But what really makes it indispensible is Craddock's larcenous turn of mind.

Compilers of drinks books have always taken the lenient approach to the eighth commandment, and Harry Craddock was no different: he pinched recipes by the dozens from all the popular books of the day and a few pre-Prohibition American ones as well. As a result, the Savoy Cocktail Book was more than just a list of the drinks you could get at an expensive London hotel. It was an encyclopedia of the flourishing European school of mixology. It was also an ark for what was left of the American school, written at a time when Americans were marveling at European bars like the European travelers of old had at American ones.

Besides writing books, Craddock and his peers did something equally important. They trained bartenders. French bartenders, German bartenders, English, Italian, Dutch, Cuban bartenders, you name it. A whole generation of them, not one of whom had ever mixed a drink at a pre- Prohibition American bar. That very fact was liberating— these pioneers were free to re-imagine the art in their own ways. Before long, they began banding together, forming national bartending guilds and associations, something that had been only fitfully successful in the U.S. Organizations such as the United Kingdom Bartenders' Guild, founded in 1933, or the Associazione Italiana Barmen e Sostenitori, "Italian Association of Barmen and their Sustainers," founded in 1949, worked to set standards for the profession and to solidify the European school of mixology. In 1951, delegates from the national guilds of Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom met to form the IBA, the International Bartenders Association. Today it has chapters in 55 countries. In 1961, even the United States joined, as if to acknowledge the new, international nature of this formerly American craft.

Of course, American bars had already been acknowledging that phenomenon every time one served a Sidecar, invented in France around the end of World War I, or sat a patron on a barstool - a feature of European bars that had not been present in pre-Prohibition American ones. The ironic fact was, after Repeal, in reconstructing their profession, American barmen had to look to European models.

THE LONG ROAD BACK 1934-PRESENT

The United States still wielded a good deal of influence on world drinking habits, though, particularly after December 5, 1933, when the Utah Legislature joined those of 35 other states who had already voted to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment and it was done. Millions cheered. Unfortunately, though, it wasn't so easy getting the motherland of the cocktail back to pre-Prohibition "normal." For one thing, a whole generation had come of age who had never experienced the wonders of the pre-Prohibition hotel bar; whose taste buds had been spoiled by constant exposure to cream and ginger ale (both commonly used to mask bad hooch) - those taste buds, that is, that hadn't been ground down to raw nubs by the rivers of Orange Blossoms (bathtub gin - bootleg alcohol cut with water and flavored with extract of juniper - mixed with orange juice) that had been flowing over them. It would take some time for people to get used to civilized drinks again.

Even if folks managed to educate their taste buds, where were the expert bartenders going to come from? The standard speakeasy bar-dog wasn't much good at anything more complicated than an Old-Fashioned. Many of the old- time mixologists who had gone abroad stayed there. Others had died or found other lines of work. The publishing industry stepped into the breach with reprints of just about every old-time pre- Prohibition bartender's guide worth knowing, from Jerry Thomas to Cocktail Bill Boothby, but many of the drinks in them were simply too complicated, and besides, the public had lost its taste for such confections.

The order of the day was simple and strong - and artificial: this is when pre-sweetened, artificially-flavored sour mix made its debut (no training needed there - just dump it in the glass and add booze). The Sidecar, a simple European tipple of unclear parentage combining brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice, was in and the Brandy Crusta was out.

The Martini was in, although it used much less vermouth than it once had. The Manhattan was slightly less in, but still going strong (this might have had something to do with the lighter Canadian whisky or blended American whiskey that largely replaced the big-flavored rye with which it had been made in the old days). But if there was one drink that profited from Prohibition, it was the Scotch Highball.

Scotch whisky was a relative latecomer in the business of slaking the Great American Thirst. Sure, it was around - Jerry Thomas calls for it in a few drinks in his 1862 Bar- Tender's Guide - but the vast majority of American drinkers preferred the native goods. It began its rise to popularity in the 1890s, with the introduction of another Scottish product, golf. Like the game, at first it was a rich man's pleasure, even if the Scotch that the rich folks were drinking wasn't the fancy single-malt that such folks drink now. Rather, it was the lighter blended Scotch, and it was generally consumed with soda.

Prohibition saw this Scotch version of the Whiskey Highball, as whiskey and soda was known, move to center stage (the name "highball" has caused a good deal of confusion; the most sensible explanation we know as to its origin is that, in Ireland, where many of America's bartenders grew up, a glass of whiskey was popularly called a "ball of malt;" a tall glass, therefore, is a "high ball").

Even if folks would've preferred their customary rye or bourbon, there was precious little good rye and bourbon to be had, while the smugglers of "Rum Row" - the row of booze-laden ships that always hovered outside American territorial waters - saw to it that there was lots and lots of Scotch. People got used to it, especially with the soda sparking it up a bit and cutting the unfamiliar smokiness. It didn't hurt that anyone can make a Highball - no need for a bartender long-apprenticed in his craft.

In the days after repeal, this was a good thing. Despite all the new books and the bartending academies popping up all over the place and all the modern labor-saving devices (electric cocktail shaker, anyone?), only in the best bars - places like Don the Beachcomber's in Los Angeles, Trader Vic's in Oakland or New York's Stork Club - could you expect to find someone who knew the art the way it had been practiced before Prohibition.

The so-called "Tiki" phenomenon of the 1940s and 1950s, pioneered by Donn Beach and Victor Bergeron and others too numerous to name here, was, mixologically speaking, synonymous with rum. Beach's Zombie (at least, we think he invented it - unlike Bergeron, he was very, very secretive) and Bergeron's Mai Tai were merely the most popular of a wave of Missionary's Downfalls and Dr. Funk of Tahitis, Scorpion Bowls, Vicious Virgins and anything else you could cram 3 or 4 ounces of mixed rums into.

The post-war years saw the Tiki phenomenon blossom into a true craze, at least in the U.S. - Europe, lacking the millions of young men who had spent their war years in the South Pacific, was less enamored of the idea, although some Tiki or tropical-style bars did manage to thrive there. But Tiki joints, all decked out with totems and palm- leaves, dotted the American landscape (even in the most un-tropical Midwest) like temples of some new and wildly pagan religion. This isn't the place to get into the whys and wherefores of broad social phenomena, but it's worth noting the irony that many men who had experienced the South Pacific firsthand as a place of terror, death and disease experienced it a second time in virtual reality, as it were, as a place of exotic beauty, mediocre food and overlarge rum drinks.

In any case, delicious as the drinks were, the Tiki bartenders were highly secretive about their formulae and techniques, and once the fad dried up, they did little to pass their devotion to fresh juices and innovative recipes on to the general run of bartender.

Even when Tiki was in full cry, not everybody liked rum. Take Bernard DeVoto, intellectual, historian and opinionated drinker. Right at the time folks began seriously genuflecting to the Tiki gods, he wrote a series of articles (collected in 1951 in The Hour) on the culture of drinking in America.

He did not care for the stuff: "it is drunk as all sweet liquors are, in a regressive fantasy, a sad hope of regaining childhood's joy at the soda fountain," and he did not care for the Daiquiri, rum's standard-bearer: "No one should drink [rum] with a corrosive added, which is the formula of the Daiquiri." In fact, DeVoto didn't care for much at all: no Manhattans ("an offense against piety...with dry vermouth, it is disreputable, with sweet vermouth disgusting"), no Bronxes ("ominous...a cocktail does not contain fruit juice"), nor anything else (the formulae in bartenders' guides and so forth "are fit to be drunk only in the barbarian marches and mostly are drunk there, by barbarians").

No, there are only two true cocktails worthy of civilized consumption: "a slug of whiskey" with ice and a Dry Martini. No matter that the first is in no way a cocktail or mixed drink of any kind; when DeVoto took a stand, he took a stand, and would brook no opposition.

Nor did he stand alone, especially as the 1940s turned into the 1950s. The (ultra-) dry Martini was the cult of the age, at least with those who refused to yield to the seductive pleasures of Tiki. DeVoto calls for his Martinis to be made at 3.7 to 4 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth. In this, he was behind the times. At New York's Stork Club, a former speakeasy that had become the most famous nightclub in America (and hence the world), they had been making them 5 to 1 since at least the late 1930s. They had plenty of other drinks in their bar book, but it's a safe bet that they sold as many dry Martinis as they did all their other offerings put together. The post-war years were as much the dry Martini age as they were the Tiki Age - as efficient, repressed and cold as they were dreamy, comfortable and kitschy.

The Stork Club way with the Martini would have been unthinkable to the Martini drinkers of the 1910s (they liked theirs with equal parts gin and vermouth and a dash of orange bitters) but it too would soon be left by the wayside. By the mid 1950s, there were almost as many silly ways to leave the vermouth out of Martinis as there were Martini drinkers.

Leave a capful of vermouth on the radiator to evaporate and infuse the air. Pour the vermouth into one mixing glass full of ice and the gin into another one, stir the gin and pour it into a cocktail glass, ignoring the vermouth. Place the vermouth bottle in the window and let the sun shine through it onto the gin. Forget about the physical vermouth entirely and simply salute in the direction of France. So what if this silliness makes for an inferior drink; so what if a decent amount of vermouth - say, somewhere between half and an eighth of the drink - has certain beneficial and poorly-understood alchemical effects upon the system of the Martini drinker, or at least his or her taste buds. It wasn't about the taste buds anyway. For some drinkers, even gin itself was too elaborate. For them, there was vodka. At the beginning of World War II, vodka was a little-known novelty. By the end of the 1950s, it was everywhere.

 

VODKA CHANGES THE PLAYING FIELD

Although vodka was available in the Saloon Age if you knew where to look, it wasn't appreciated. The annals of American mixology contain but a single drink from that time made with it, and that drink mixed vodka with gin, brandy and half a dozen other ingredients. What vodka there was to be found was imported.

Prohibition put an end to such marginal trades, and the Russian Revolution didn't help matters. After repeal, the Soviets tried exporting it and the Smirnoff Company tried making it in the U.S. Both attempts were widely ignored. That doesn't mean interested parties didn't sniff at it here and there. As the ancient bartender's saw goes, "everything is good for something," and a few vodka drinks started turning up. In the mid-'30s there was a bit of a craze for Russian restaurants in New York, with joints such as the Caucasian Eagle on East 55th Street packing them in nightly. A few cocktail books start including simple vodka concoctions, usually variants on the Martini or simple mixtures of vodka and liqueur.

Then came Pearl Harbor and, suddenly, Russia and the U.S. now being allies, vodka was chic and available. After the war, the Moscow Mule and the Bloody Mary and the Screwdriver took off and pushed it into the national consciousness. Then the Vodka Martini took up the standard, not without a little help from James Bond. Ian Fleming, who knew his drinks, made Bond a vodka drinker - and a gin drinker, whiskey drinker, champagne drinker, rum drinker, and so forth. But vodka was the one that made it into the movies (it didn't hurt that sales were doubling every year).

By the end of the 1950s, the Tiki craze was leveling off in America, with nothing to take its place, and all around the world the dry gin Martini was yielding to vodka; the old favorites were getting pushed aside in favor of lighter and often radically simpler drinks - not to mention other intoxicants. The stage was set for an age of mixological confusion and decline. It's not that people didn't drink in the 1960s and 1970s, and it's not that they didn't drink cocktails. But standards had definitely slipped.

Strong and forthright were out, light and mellow were in. Vodka, the lightest of the light, was in. Gin (in the U.S., first outsold by vodka in 1967) and whiskey (outsold by vodka in 1976) were out. Perhaps the more adventurous souls had turned their backs on the venerable old cocktail and were exploring, let's say, other avenues of relaxation. Or maybe it was just that the times were demanding and the folks were tired. Perhaps it was that the drinks of the day reflected the food of the time, the TV cuisine that has led BAR partner Doug Frost to label it "the era of Fear of Flavor."

Even the mighty Martini suffered. By the late 1960s, a significant portion of its clientele had taken to drinking theirs on the rocks. One shudders to think what, say, Jack Townsend, head of the New York Bartender's Union in the 1950s and a bartender's bartender if there ever was one, would've said if someone tried to pull such a stunt in his joint.

But it wasn't just the old favorites (the cocktail-shaker classics) that were in trouble. The '60s and '70s saw a lot of drinks on the rocks - in fact, the whole art of mixology was on the rocks. When the hot new drink of the age is nothing more than vodka and orange juice (that is, a Screwdriver) with a float of liqueur, there's trouble. That concoction was known as a "Harvey Wallbanger," and it set a trend in more ways than one. It wasn't a "real" drink, you see - that is, one that a real bartender invented one night in a real bar and served to real customers until it caught on. The Harvey Wallbanger was something (probably) cooked up by the liqueur company and spread by their advertising and promotion (certainly). When the hype stopped, so did the drink.

If the Wallbanger was too complicated, you could have a Sombrero - that's simply Kahlùa and milk - or a Rusty Nail - Drambuie and Scotch - both served on the rocks, of course. The list of simple, relatively bland drinks that achieved popularity at the time goes on through the Tequila Sunrise (a bastardized version of a 1930s Mexican drink), the Salty Dog (vodka and grapefruit juice in a salt-rimmed glass) and the Cape Codder to the Freddie Fudpucker (a Wallbanger with tequila) and a host of others equally forgotten.

It wasn't only an American phenomenon; all around the world, fullflavored traditional spirits were retreating in the face of mass-marketed, light, mixable spirits; the kind you could pour into a soft drink, stick a garnish on and voilá, Disco Drinks. Even in Brazil, the fashionable way to serve the traditional Caipirinha, a drink that needed no improvement of any kind, was with vodka or white rum instead of the rich and funky cachaça with which it was created - thus yielding a "Caipiroska" or a "Caipirissima," each a perfectly pleasant drink, but no Caipirinha.

Practically the only exception to the "nice and easy does it" rule was the Bloody Mary, a drink from the 1920s that had been building popularity for decades and finally hit it big. Of course, it didn't get its flavor from the vodka in it, which was there simply to add kick.

Thank God for the Margarita, a drink that had been hovering at the edges of popularity for a couple of decades and had finally broken through. At least it had a couple of good years there before somebody thought it could be improved by bunging everything into a frozen-drink machine. Once that happened, there was no need for good tequila in it, or tequila at all. In the mid-1980s, one popular chain of Manhattan Mexican restaurants was caught basing their famous frozen Margaritas on pure grain neutral spirits, with no tequila of any sort. Mixological habits this venal and slovenly were bound to provoke some kind of reaction, and in the fullness of time they did.

The multitude of shots masquerading as cocktails in the '80s and '90s have been dubbed the "Punk Cocktails" by writer and bartender Gary Regan, who notes that these simple concoctions were as ugly, loud and confrontational as any self-respecting mosh pit. Punk's rejection of technical proficiency may have had plenty of justification in the incestuous and moneyed music industry. But it's more diffcult to justify when it extends to things you're meant to put inside your body; to those high-octane, tooth-achingly sweet shots laden with Jello or named after body parts and sex acts. Perhaps it was all merely a coincidence. Things may have been pretty bleak for the lover of the well-crafted cocktail during the long spell of the '60s, '70s and '80s, but there was still the occasional Brigadoon, where bartenders squeezed their juices fresh rather than using commercial sour mix, where jiggers were a full 2 ounces - 60 ml - rather than the cheese-paring 1-ounce - 30ml - one that was increasingly coming into use, where Martinis had vermouth in them (but not too much) and Manhattans rye, but not too much, and a call for a Freddie Fudpucker or a Slow Comfortable Screw would be met with, if not a punch in the mouth, at least a disapproving shake of the head.

Most of these bars were old-line joints where the customers, the owners, or both knew what they wanted and wouldn't tolerate any deviation. Many of the great hotel bars in Europe held the line, keeping everything to strict I.B.A. standard and tolerating no shortcuts.

As the '80s rolled into the '90s, though, more and more of these oases were new places, places that tried to do things right because that's the only way to do them.

There are two generally accepted explanations why the cocktail came back from the brink of, if not death, then at least very serious illness. One is generational: just as the generation of the'60s and'70s looked back on the Tiki drinks and Ultra-Dry Martinis of their parents and said "ugh," the generation of the '80s looked at the joints and bota-bags of Sangria favored by their parents and said "ugh."

For them, there was no better symbol of their un-hipness than a stemmed, conical glass full of clear liquid with an olive impaled on a toothpick in it. It was so square it was cool. The other reason has to do with the revolution in the kitchen pioneered in the '70s and '80s and '90s by a handful of talented, determined chefs such as Alice Waters and Larry Forgione in the U.S. and Fergus Henderson in the U.K. Their approach to food - fresh, local ingredients, imaginative but respectful use of traditional techniques and recipes, an attention to detail and presentation - eventually began rubbing off on the folks behind the bar.

By the early 1990s, places like the Rainbow Room in New York, Bix in San Francisco, Dick's Bar in London and a handful of others were not only turning out the classics in proper style, but inventing new drinks that could stand alongside them. One of these is the Cosmopolitan, a drink that has done more than anything else to get people drinking cocktails again, and in numbers not seen for almost half a century. Some of these new creations are excellent; others are execrable. But if they fail, it's usually a failure of ambition, not of laziness and apathy. In many cities, a cocktail list is an essential for any new restaurant.

Indeed, the worldwide cocktail movement has become so successful that it has even begun to divide into schools. Now, there are what you might call the "cultural mixologists," those who model themselves on the greats of yore and spend their days excavating long-forgotten drinks and ingredients from crumbling old books and shocking them back to life. They glory in bar lore and bitters; rye whiskey and romance.

Then there are the "scientific mixologists," the children of the Cosmopolitan. They can usually be found slinking around restaurant kitchens and chemistry labs, observing, testing, thinking. They're always gunning for fresh tastes and unusual textures, usually with vodka and whatever's fresh and fruity as their ammunition. The very best mixologists will combine elements of both schools, using a full palette of spirits, light and dark, with an appreciation for new approaches and ingredients. 

 

SERVICE BASICS

A true education in service - which is by far the most important part of a bartender's job - can only be gained through firsthand experience. That said, here are some tried-and-true basic principles.

 

YOUR JOB

If the owner sets the establishment's tone, the bartender projects it to the clientele. If the bar is the engine of the establishment, and it is (both economically and in terms of energy), then the bartender is the engineer. But the bartender is lots of things to lots of different people, and the person who does that job has to be at peace with that role and secure in his (by which we mean his or her, as throughout this manual) own identity.

The bartender opens and closes the place, handles the money, tips out the staff and a whole lot of other little things, to be sure. He's the one who makes you stay too long and draws you back every day. That's the job in a nutshell. It is the why that's the secret. His drinks are good and he is fast, sure, but that all happens while he's part of conversations up and down the bar, about everything under the sun from sports scores, to a restaurant location, to a pep-talk for an out of work pal. The bartender has to be a basic source of information on the day's events in sports and in the general news; he's a glossary of where to dine, drink, see and be seen.

That's one part of the job, and in many ways the most important - no matter how good a drink he can make or how fast, a cross-grained, ornery type who deep down just doesn't like people will never make a great bartender. That said, the skill a bartender has in handling the tools and the small theatrical elements involved in making drinks can return huge dividends. Not that a bartender needs to put on a circus act, but he should display a sense of confidence that is apparent to a guest at the bar. A bartender is most definitely on stage. (That scrutiny demands that the bartender be carefully groomed down to the fingernails!)

 

YOUR CUSTOMER

The relationship or contract between a server and a guest in the dining room is clear. The guest in effect rents the table for the duration of the meal. Close attention to the needs at the table is paramount, but the privacy of the space must not be violated by the service. The server in the dining room is always an interloper at the table and must get the job done quickly and unobtrusively. Not so for the bartender.

The guest at the bar is in a shared space and the tone of that space is set by the bartender. This means that the bartender needs sharp powers of observation and a highly developed ability to listen. In the first encounter with a guest he will determine not only what the guest wants, but also his mood, if conversation is welcome or not, why he has come to the bar and how to make his visit a success.

If a guest is short or less than cordial, the bartender, according to the contract, cannot respond in kind. Once a bartender becomes unpleasant, rude or morose in reaction to a guest, a gratuity or whatever other perceived slight, the shared space is compromised and people are no longer comfortable. It is a one-sided contract weighted in favor of the guest, but in practice it is an opportunity for the bartender to do what he was hired to do, turn difficult guests into friends, make great drinks, and even on occasion teach people how to have a good time.

He has the ability to keep peace in a light handed way, to gently separate a gentleman from a lady who may not find his company as compelling as he finds hers. Rudeness to a bar guest is never acceptable; there are many alternate ways of reacting to a difficult guest. Of course, if a guest is unruly to the extent that the other guests suffer or are endangered then immediate action by the bartender and management is necessary, but the most difficult of guests can and must still be handled with a professional demeanor, even if it requires enlisting the help of a manager or bouncer. Just because the guest is out of control that doesn't mean the staff can be.

 

THE PRACTICE

Every bartender should be a 'patrolling' bartender. It's of course fine to talk to customers - indeed it's an essential part of the job. But at the same time, you must always have a wary eye and some part of your attention alert to whatever else is happening in your domain. Everybody likes a bartender who has a nice word or two to say to them, but everyone loves a bartender who is on the spot, and even suggesting a refill before they have to track him or her down. It's impressive how much more can be served in a bar when a sure-footed, fast-moving bartender is making his or her rounds - and thereby increasing the customers' rounds.

Don't be embarrassed to admit that you don't know a recipe or a spirit. Listen to the customers. Ask lots of questions and hunt down the information you need - recipes, techniques, whatever. And don't worry, you're not going to get it all in six months and nobody's expecting you to (maybe in six years). Finally, don't waste your time with second-rate bartending. Find a place that believes in honest drinks made with fresh ingredients and quality spirits!

 

BARTENDERS TIPS OF SERVICE

1.     Greet all guests as they arrive at the Bar. If you are busy with a guest at least make eye contact with new arrivals.

2.     Make drinks in front of the guest whenever possible.

3.     Make a check immediately after serving a drink or a round of drinks.

4.     Be a roving bartender and keep a wary eye. If you can't take care of a guest immediately, acknowledge them and indicate you will take care of them shortly.

5.     Avoid long, involved conversations with guests.

6.     Keep bar top clean and neat; remove soda and beer bottles quickly.

 

LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE

Making world-class drinks ain't easy. Unless you're fortunate enough to work in an establishment that has already caught the fever, you're going to be working harder than your fellow bartenders. In a perfect world, they would all pitch in and step up their own games. In this world, however, you may be the only one at your bar who's obsessing about the right way to make a Ramos Fizz, which bitters to use in an Improved Whiskey Cocktail or how to extract the oil from mint leaves without making that Mojito taste bitter.

The thing about real bartending, though, is that it's contagious: all around the world, bartenders are catching the fever. In other words, odds are, you won't be alone long. In fact, if you play your cards right and don't turn off your co-workers by pushing something on them they're not ready for and concentrate on leading by example, you may just find them joining you.

In the meanwhile, concentrate on working hard and doing the research and getting it right - and when you finally do get it right, stand by it! There are lots of "experienced" bartenders out there who don't know what they're doing or talking about and will try to put you down because your way isn't the easy way or the way they know. Ignore them. Having said that, don't show off your knowledge; just perform and enjoy the results because your passion will be evident to most and will be enough to sustain you.

Taste everything: spirits, wines, beers, sake, shochu, cocktail recipes - if you come across five recipes for the same cocktail, try them all. This is a profession that deals in potable beverages - all of them. You can't afford to ignore something just because it's not popular now. There was a time when nobody drank vodka or tequila. You can bet your boots that when those things started catching on the bartenders who already knew something about them could write their own tickets.

 

CASH HANDLING

Cash handling begins in the office with orderly procedures for issuing banks and reconciling the day's sales. Maintaining these two procedures with meticulous attention to detail will go a long way towards protecting against theft and mismanagement of the day-to-day receipts.

The banks issued to the bar staff should be consistent in amount and denominations. The bartender should count the bank in the office upon receiving if possible to report mistakes at the moment of issue. Bartenders should make a check after each transaction. The check should be settled after each round or if the guest chooses to leave the account open held for the next addition.

A bartender must never go to another guest without settling or recoding the previous transaction, it is too easy to be swept away by a busy bar and so miss drink entries and cash or credit settlements. A bartender who is consistent in check handling is the best friend an establishment can have.

 

CLOSING PROCEDURES

At the close of a shift the bartender should count his total cash drawer and make a blind drop with all the day's sales receipts. Bartenders should never be given the job of settling their cash drawer. That procedure must be done in the office. 

WHAT

Earlier we wrote that the word "whiskey" is derived from the Gaelic term "uisce beatha", which means "water of life." But the term "whiskey", as it's spelled both in Ireland and the U.S. ("whisky', if you're in Scotland, Canada or Japan - although it's worth noting that this convention is recent and completely arbitrary) connotes that a grain spirit has been aged in oak long enough to take on new aromas and flavors, most of which come from the barrel itself. These smoky, spicy notes define the taste of whiskey (the generic spelling we'll use for convenience) for most people.

As so often with rules, the time required in barrel for a grain spirit to earn the title of "whiskey" varies from country to country. While differences other than barrel aging requirements exist among the world's many whiskeys, it is a whiskey's time in barrel that does the most to define it. Most whiskey distillers postulate that up to 70 percent of the flavor of their whiskey comes from the barrel in which it is matured.

We'll also address the issue of where the barrel has been aged, but for the moment, it's enough to state upfront that every whiskey in the world is made from only three easily obtained ingredients: grain, water and yeast.

Whiskey is a grain spirit that has been distilled in continuous and/or pot stills and that is aged in barrels for some specified period of time. In its essence, whiskey is a beer that has been distilled to high proof and then has been aged in oak. A recent trend in the U.S. involves small, artisanal (as they identify themselves, often accurately) distilleries marketing white or unaged whiskey. To date, there has been no breakthrough product of this description, but it bears observing.

 

WHERE

Whiskey is made all over the world. One way to think of whiskey production holds that anywhere that beer is made, whiskey can be made.

In the U.S., North American blended whiskey (see below) is the number one category of whisky in sales volume; Canadian whisky is close behind. However, in the U.S., the fastest growing spirit category of all since 2000 has been Irish whiskey. In 2009, Irish whiskey again enjoyed double-digit growth, from San Francisco to Boston. In Scotch whisky, single malt whisky sales remain strong while blended whisky sales (see below for definitions) are stable. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey sales are robust, though bourbon is only now gaining the dominance and reputation it so surely deserves.

In Great Britain, Scotch whisky dominates the market, as it does in much of the world. In Ireland, though, it is of course Irish whiskey that rules as this dynamic industry expands. The addition of a fourth whiskey distillery, Kilbeggan, brings new hope and inspiration to Irish whiskey's international audience.

Other, non-English speaking countries also produce whiskey; none are more deserving of our attention than Japan, though Japanese whisky (as they spell it) will remain little known for the foreseeable future. There are also quality whiskeys from Brittany in France (a Celtic area), Germany, Sweden, Austria, Australia and India.

Of the major whiskey-making countries, only Scotland makes a big noise about the particular district or area where a distillery sits. Why? Because with all but a handful of other spirits (cognac, armagnac, tequila and mezcal), where a spirit is distilled doesn't have a profound impact upon the flavors in that spirit. Indeed, with Tequila and mezcal the region where the agaves are grown is far more important than the particular location of the distillery.

In Scotland, though, the distillery's address has something to do with the flavors in the whisky. We can argue as to why. Is it the water they use? Is it the temperature of the water they use? Is it the proximity to the ocean and the preponderance of the salty, briny sea air on some islands? These are no small details because they impact the character of many blended and single malt Scotch whiskies. In other words, the whiskies from The Glenlivet Distillery in Speyside are unique and emblematic of that particular place in the Scottish Highlands.

Some outdated books divide Scotland's distillery regions into groups such as Speyside (a classic area around the Spey River in east-central Scotland), the Lowlands (where all those grain whiskies are made), the Western Highlands (some of them are fairly fruity, but isn't that from the old wine barrels they use?), the Islands (with their briny, salty, sea air derived intensity), and Campbeltown (with a touch of everything to it).
 

SCOTCH AND IRISH WHISK(€)Y WHEN

If Scotch whisky is viewed as a benchmark of whiskey making, it's worth noting that a century ago, Irish whiskey was king. That's not to say that whiskey in Ireland necessarily preceded whisky in Scotland since the actual history of each is sketchy. There are lots of hints at spirit production in Ireland possibly as early as the twelfth century A.D. and in Scotland by the thirteenth century, but the first irrefutable proof is a Scottish tax record from 1494 A.D.: "To Friar John Cor, by the order of the King, to make aqua vitae, eight bolls of malt". The good friar wasn't cooking up a little medicine for scrapes and cuts; eight bolls is the equivalent of over 1,100 pounds of malted barley. Somebody was thirsty.

Consequently, bits of circumstantial evidence point to the leap of faith that there must have been substantial distillation happening prior to that record, albeit smaller, less commercial endeavors. Some historians believe that Irish Celtic monks visited the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) some years before Friar John was filling his still and brought back with them the secrets of boiling fermented liquids. The Muslim rulers of Spain and Portugal were well versed in the distilling arts, and their alchemists made medicines and perfumes in their stills.

It stands to reason with current knowledge that Irish travelers, perhaps clergy, brought the concept back to Eire where monasteries were the sites of large-scale beer brewing (as well as cheese making and other necessities of life). At some point, monks began distilling their beers. Many historians, believe that the Irish brought the concept of distillation to the Scots, possibly in either the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

In any case, by the middle of the 1500s, when it was still something of a rarity in Scotland, whiskey was so well established as the drink of the Irish people that the English occupying authorities felt the need to pass regulations against its excessive use. Eventually, the English wised up to the revenue potential of this new industry. That fact goes a long way toward explaining how until recently distillation was a cottage industry in both Ireland and Scotland. The health and vigor of both countries' spirits industries were purposefully hampered by British tax laws. As little more than colonies of England, the two were not supposed to offer any competition to England's wares. Taxes and tariffs saw to that.

One notable Scottish exception is Ferintosh, a distillery along the Scotland's eastern coast. During one of Scotland's many brief and bloody rebellions, the owners of Ferintosh threw their lot in with the English Crown. From 1690 to 1784, when the excise law was changed, Ferintosh was alone in being allowed to export its Scotch whisky to England. The rest were forbidden to export. They were welcome to consume their whisky and to trade it with their neighbors, so long as they paid an onerous tax upon every drop they distilled. But they were never to sell it the outside world, unless they first paid taxes and then sold it to an English middleman who would earn all the profits.

In the years before the laws were changed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, thousands of Scots were imprisoned for producing and/or smuggling spirit to England and Europe by land or sea. By 1824, much of the illegal activity was quelled by changes in Parliamentary legislation that made it easier and cheaper to become fully licensed. Unsurprisingly, smuggling convictions plummeted by the 1840s.

Not everyone was happy with the new rules. In order to produce whisky, a distillery had to purchase a license and the license came with some strings. For one, you had to house and feed an exciseman (tax collector) on your premises so that the Crown could be assured that you weren't playing any games with those rules. That was bad enough. But housing a government man on your property meant that all your neighbors had to either go legal and buy a permit (and house a revenue man of their very own) or give up distilling illegally, as some had been doing for centuries.

George Smith, proprietor of The Glenlivet Distillery, so angered his fellow Speyside distillers that he traveled (and even slept) with a pair of pistols at his side. It wasn't bluster; some of his neighbors swore bloody revenge for bringing the government into their midst along the river Livet. The pistols came in handy; there are two well-known episodes during which they saved his life.

But Parliament had finally ended most illegal distillation in Scotland, and planted the seeds of a mighty, global industry. Still, Scotch whisky was more or less a small cottage industry until the development of continuous stills. Those stills were fired up and cranking out neutral grain spirit in the Lowlands and it only took a few enterprising individuals to utilize the cheaper, neutral spirit in the pursuit of a cheaper, easier to sell spirit.

Their names are still common today: Andrew Usher, Chivas, Johnnie Walker, Ballantine, Dewar, Buchanan and a number of other grocer/ merchants who simply wanted to blend their purchased single malt whisky barrels into something very consistent, affordable, large scale and, well, brand-able. In other words, they could create a whisky, put their names on it, and never have to do anything other than go shopping.

Clearly, it worked. In 1901 a British court decided that any whisky created in Scotland could theoretically be called Scotch whisky, regardless of whether it was made in a pot still (like single malt) or a continuous still (like grain whisky). Since then blended Scotch whisky sales have crushed the sales of single malts, and today dwarf the whisky sales of any other country's output.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, things developed rather differently, to the point that, thirty years ago, the industry was dying. After a wildly prosperous nineteenth century, when the distilleries of Dublin, Belfast and Cork turned out vast quantities of high-quality pure pot still whiskey, both to supply a massive domestic market for export to America and all corners of the British Empire, the twentieth century hit the Irish distillers like a sock full of shillings - the Irish rebellion of 1916, Prohibition in America, two World Wars, a worldwide Depression, the Troubles in the North, heavy emigration from the Republic, and a domestic shift away from whiskey to the cheaper beer. The list of commercial disasters and misfortunes is a long one.

By 1980, the 30 working distilleries that the island had supported in 1900 had been culled to just two, both of them owned by the same company: Bushmills in Northern Ireland, which made Old Bushmills, and the Midleton distillery in County Cork in the Irish Republic, which made everything else, from Jameson's to Power's to Paddy to Redbreast. Long- established distilleries such as Locke in Kilbeggan, which had been in operation since the mid-eighteenth century, were closed and silent.

Neither of the working distilleries was much interested in the kinds of well-aged top-shelf bottlings that appeal to whiskey connoisseurs. They focused instead on lighter, younger blended whiskeys that were priced to compete with Johnnie Walker Red Label, White Horse, Dewars and all the other Scotch blends that had dominated the world market for Celtic whiskey since the turn of the century. Now, there's nothing wrong with blended whiskeys, per se. But there is an irony here: the whole reason the Scots turned to making them in the first place, back in the mid-nineteenth century, was to have something more like what their cousins across the Irish Sea were selling.

Traditional Scotch whisky, as we've seen, was the sort of thing that those who loved it loved well, but it definitely wasn't for everybody. The solution Scotland's whisky-merchants hit upon was blending. The Irish, on the other hand, had no need to monkey around with blending and column stills (while column stills were in operation, particularly in Ulster, their product was marked for export and didn't find its way into Irish whiskey until the mid-twentieth century).

Irish distilling boasted a number of differences in they way they did things from the Scots, such as much larger pot stills, which yield a lighter spirit; triple distillation (likewise) and the use of hot air rather than peat smoke to dry their malt made for a whiskey that was smoother and cleaner-tasting (and cheaper to make) than Scottish pot-still whisky. Yet, Irish whiskeys had far more body and flavor than the insipid grain whiskey - particularly since Irish distillers generally mixed their malted barley with raw barley, oats and rye, which gave it a pleasing, spicy graininess. On the strength of this, Irish distillers were able to resist the economic advantages of blending until the late 1930s, when they were finally forced to install continuous stills.

 

WHISK(€)Y HOW

Rules and traditions vary from country to country so it's best to take whiskey data one country at a time in this order: Scotland, Ireland, United States, and Canada.

 

SCOTLAND HOW

Scotland is justly viewed as the epicenter of whisky making in the world. Walk into a bar anywhere (outside of the U.S. and Ireland) and if you ask for a whisky, the bartender will point at a wall of Scotch bottles. What precisely are they showing you?


Scotch is a distilled and aged in wood grain spirit: distilled either from relatively inexpensive grains (such as corn or wheat) or from malted barley. If you've double- (or occasionally triple-) distilled the barley beer in pot stills at a single distillery, the whisky you make from that malted barley beer is called a single malt whisky.

If you're using corn or wheat, you're probably using continuous stills and distilling to neutral grain spirit levels (say 190-proof or so). In other words, you're starting to close in on vodka territory. But regardless, if you aged that spirit into a whisky, you would call that whisky a grain whisky because you made it from a grain, and not from malted barley or "malt".

Back in the production module we discussed how beer was made: grains were allowed to become warm and wet and they would sprout, believing spring to be at hand. As they prepared to sprout, latent starches would be converted into sugars. The brewmaster would roast those grains at that very moment, in order to halt the sprouting process and capture those sugars. The grains would then be ground up, boiling water added, and the sugary cereal/soup would be ready for yeasts to convert those sugars into alcohol.

In beer production, the amount of time the grains are roasted helps determine the style of beer. Dark beers such as Guinness have been roasted until they are dark and chocolaty. In Scotch production, the roasting can be equally as influential. Here's why: for much of Scotland's history, the only fuel they had available was peat; coal was too expensive and forests were cleared for farming by the time the Romans invaded Britain in the first century B.C. Peat is compressed vegetation that's halfway to becoming coal. Damp, it's cut from the ground and allowed to dry. When you burn it, it's intensely smoky.

So malted barley used for Scotch has traditionally been roasted over smoky fires and the resultant whisky smells smoky. There's no other word for it, though we spirits writers like to talk about the brine and the salt and the earth and the leather and the smell of the sea. But we're mostly just talking about the smokiness imparted to the grain during the roasting. It's important to bear in mind, however, that not all Scotch whisky is made from peat-smoked barley.

Scotch production regulations are particular about the grains you use. When the semi-sprouted and roasted grain is barley, it's referred to as malted barley; in Scotland, a "malt whisky" can be made only from malted barley. If any other grains are used, it must be called "grain whisky". If the malt whisky comes from a single distillery (as opposed to blends from several distilleries), it's called a "single malt whisky".

The vast majority of Scotch whiskies (95 percent) sold in the U.S. and the rest of the world are not single malt whiskies. They are "blended Scotch whiskies". A blended Scotch whisky is comprised of at least one single malt whisky and a large dose of grain whisky.

This may seem confusing, so hang on. You already know what a single malt whisky is. Great blended Scotch whiskies have many single malt whiskies blended into them; the idea is to capture as much complexity as possible by adding a bit from some of the best distilleries around Scotland, from legendary places such as Speyside, Campbeltown and the islands. But almost all of the blended Scotch whiskies have far more grain whisky than single malt whisky in them. So a very serious blended whisky may be comprised of 40 percent single malts (from a bunch of places, to gain complexity) and 60 percent grain whisky. A blended Scotch whisky intended for the well in someone's bar probably has only ten or twenty percent single malt whisky in it.

So the grain whisky is a huge factor in blended Scotch whisky. And most grain whiskies are distilled to the sort of proof that we associate with vodka. In other words, most grain whiskies don't have a lot of flavors and aromas, at least not compared to single malt whiskies. That said, without the filtration and multiple distillations that vodka undergoes, they still manage to retain some grain flavor.

But here's the kicker, single malt whiskies have too much flavor for a lot of people. One hundred and fifty years ago, there were few blended Scotch whiskies and few people outside of Great Britain drank Scotch. Once distillers began dumping grain whisky into those powerful and flavorful single malt whiskies, well, then sales started to really take o. Blended Scotch, it can be stated, turned Scotch whisky into a national industry with global implications.

And if single malt whiskies are much sought after for their often intense personalities, it's worth remembering that a great blended whisky contains a lot of those personalities, softened with a dose of grain whisky. Sure, the single malt might be more singular, but the community of personalities contained in a great blended whisky is likely to be far more complex than a single malt. Don't be a whisky snob!

So the categories of Scotch whisky are:

 

  • Single Malt Whisky: a whisky made of malted barley, double distilled in pot stills (only one malt distillery, Auchentoshan in the Scottish Lowlands, triple distills) at one distillery, distilled no higher than 70 % abv, and aged in oak barrels for a legal minimum of three years. At present there are about 100 malt distilleries operating around Scotland.

  • Blended Scotch Whisky: a whisky made of malt whisky (double distilled in pot stills) and grain whisky (probably distilled in continuous stills to a very high proof) and aged in oak barrels for a legal minimum of three years.

  • Blended Malt Whisky (formerly known as Vatted Malt Whisky): a blend comprised only of at least two single malt whiskies, instead of products of only one (single) distillery, and aged in oak barrels for a legal minimum of three years.

  • Grain Whisky: a whisky distilled from any grain (typically either wheat or corn), usually distilled in continuous stills, and aged in oak barrels for a legal minimum of three years. There are around eight grain distilleries in Scotland.

 

Barrel usage and selection are crucial. You will most frequently see used bourbon barrels, but there are many producers who love to add the dried fruit characteristics that can be leached out of used sherry barrels. In truth, sherry barrels were adopted a century ago because all sherry was once shipped to England in barrels (not in bottles as is legally required today) and the empty barrels were cheap and plentiful. While used bourbon barrels are still relatively cheap, used sherry barrels are not. Sherry producers no longer ship their product in barrels, and typically don't want new barrel aromas and flavors; they're perfectly content to keep using the old barrels until they break.

By law, all whiskies made in Scotland must be aged in wood barrels for a minimum of three years, though most are aged for much longer. So Scotch producers have to buy the barrels new and loan them to the sherry makers, who will hand them over after a decade or two of use. Just for the record, they make the Scotch producers pay for shipping too. Not a bad deal.

Also, two other salient points regarding Scotch whisky. One, the age statement on the bottle (18 Years Old, 21Years Old, for example) is the age of the youngest whisky used in that particular bottling, no matter the type of Scotch whisky. Two, in addition to the normal bottling of single malts issued directly by distilleries, there is, of late, another type of single malt offering, called merchant bottling. These are whiskies that have been purchased by the barrel from brokers or malt distilleries and then aged and bottled by independent merchants/agents, such as Gordon & MacPhail, Duncan Taylor, Scott's Selections, Cadenhead's, Compass Box, Murray McDavid and many others. What makes these offerings intriguing is whether or not they mirror the established style of the distillery. Anyway, be aware of them for your customers' education.

IRELAND

Whiskey has been produced in Ireland perhaps since the twelfth century A.D., and certainly since the fifteenth. Speculation espouses the concept of Christian monks trained either in Salerno, Italy or in Spain as the prime movers of distillation in Ireland. English invading forces are said to have reported back to King Henry II in the 1170s about how the Scots- Gaels produced a potent liquid made from "boiling", which carries the clear implication of distillation. Whether or not it was beer or wine that they were boiling will never be known. That said, it appears likely that in twelfth century A.D. Ireland the distillation of liquids occurred. After great success and then a great crash, detailed above, the Irish whiskey industry is showing great signs of resurgence.

Before World War One there were hundreds of whiskey distilleries dotted across Ireland. Two world wars, the Irish Civil War, the Great Depression and the U.S. Prohibition drastically changed forever the landscape of Irish distilling. Right now, there are only four distilleries running in Ireland, Jameson-Midleton in County Cork (Republic of Ireland), Old Bushmills in County Antrim (Northern Ireland), Kilbeggan Distillery in County Westmeath (Republic of Ireland), and Cooley Distillery in County Louth (Republic of Ireland).

But that's double the number there were twenty years ago, and Irish whiskey is the fastest growing spirits category in U.S. and several other global markets, more than doubling in the past five years. Irish whiskey's natural mixability accounts for much of this dramatic growth. What's more, many new bottling of fine, well-aged whiskey are available, and whiskey connoisseurs are rapidly coming to understand and acknowledge that some of the finest whiskeys made in the British Isles and indeed the world hail from the Emerald Isle.

Some whiskey books foolishly claim that all Irish whiskey is triple distilled with unmalted and malted barley in pot stills. That's false. Midleton, Bushmills and Cooley—the three main distilleries operating in Ireland, the newly-reopened Kilbeggan being the fourth—all make whiskeys that are triple distilled from 100 percent malted barley while Jameson, the leading Irish whiskey in the world and unquestionably a more representative Irish whiskey than any other, is based not only upon pot still barley whiskey, but also upon corn or wheat "grain whiskeys" that have been distilled to a higher proof in continuous stills. Again, as with blended Scotch whisky, adding some grain whiskey to the blend makes for a milder, easier-to-drink spirit. Less aggressive flavor and easy drinkability aren't negatives, especially when you're trying to compete with the vodka monster.

If the Scots, to some cynical observers, have been annoyingly specific about which grain you can use and which kind of still is to be used, the Irish have been less vocal about their industry's standards. They allow both pot stills and continuous stills into their production methods and they allow malted barley and unmalted barley, as well as any other grain you like (they used to use a lot of oats and rye but now they use wheat and corn almost exclusively), and you can use any sort of barrel you like. Occasionally, the malt used is peated as with many Scotch whiskies, but in general it is not.

Like whiskey producers the world over, used bourbon barrels are the most common aging vessels in Ireland. Bourbon producers are required by law to use brand new white oak barrels for all new spirits, so there are a lot of used barrels hanging around the yard. And much as their Scottish neighbors across the Irish sea are, the Irish are now playing with not only used sherry barrels, but also used port and Madeira barrels, used wine barrels, and anything else that sounds interesting and can be bought reasonably. The Scots too have expanded their barrel palate to these and other kinds of oaks. Like Scotch, Irish whiskeys must be matured in barrels for a three-year minimum.

Also, small pot stills in Ireland are usually larger than the biggest pot still in Scotland. Why is that important? Because big pot stills, like those at Midleton Distillery that produces Redbreast, allow for the distillation process to happen many times inside the large pot; it's a little like a continuous still, in which a series of chambers allows a succession of individual pot distillations to happen. Instead, the massive Irish pot stills allow the vaporized spirit to knock about inside the pot, often re-condensing on the still's sides and sliding back down to be vaporized yet again.

That means the spirit that comes out of a big still tends to be cleaner, lighter and less heavily aromatic than the spirit that comes out of a small still. Between the lack of smoke and the bigger stills, Irish whiskey justifiably has a reputation for being softer and milder than most single malt Scotch whiskies.

There are four fundamental kinds of Irish whiskey:

 

  • Single malt whiskey: made from 100 percent malted barley in a pot still in a single distillery. Bushmills leads the way in this category, but Midleton and Cooley also make some.

  • Grain whiskey: continuous stills make this light whiskey of wheat or corn.

  • Pure Pot Still whiskey: made from malted and unmalted barley in a pot still. Redbreast is the classic.

  • Blended Whiskey: a marriage of single malt and/or single pot-still and grain whiskeys. Jameson and John Powers are examples of single pot-still and grain whiskey blends, while Bushmills' blends are single malt and grain whiskey. Paddy and Tullamore Dew are blends of single pot still, single malt and grain whiskeys.

 

Makers of Irish whiskey, unlike Scotch whisky, typically do not use peat to roast their grains. As a result, the smoky/ ash-like note so evident in Scotch is rarely present in Irish whiskeys, though there are a couple of exceptions from Cooley Distillery.

 

BOURBON AND TENNESSEE

Some people might complain that we've lumped these two great whiskeys together, but only a few details separate one from the other and it makes complete sense to address both varieties simultaneously. Both bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys, the greatest whiskeys made in America, require that the producer use only brand new charred oak barrels for aging (customarily, these are made from American white oak). Both utilize corn as the dominant grain in the mashbill (the recipe that contains the grain ratios), along with a little bit of barley and either wheat or rye in similarly small amounts. Both whiskey types carry the sweet character of corn, along with the burnt and smoky wood-like notes of charred barrels. Both demand a legal minimum of two years in those barrels, but anything less than four years in barrel must be spelled out on the label. And, both are distilled to no higher than 160-proof (80 percent alcohol) and bottled at no less than 80-proof (40 percent alcohol).

While Kentucky is the state most identified with bourbon, bourbon can legally come from any state in America. Virginia has long been a whiskey distilling stronghold. Ironically, Bourbon County, Kentucky, the birthplace of bourbon two centuries ago, has no working distilleries at this time. The majority of bourbons are products of continuous distillation first and then a second distillation in a kettle-like still called a "doubler" or "thumper".

Tennessee sour mash whiskey is made only in Tennessee. And Tennessee whiskey production has one more little wrinkle. In the mid- 1800s, the founder of Jack Daniel distillery, Alfred Eaton, introduced a filtration step, utilizing little cubes of charcoal from the local sugar maple trees. The "Lincoln County Process" requires only that the spirit be filtered through sugar maple charcoal prior to aging, though the two Tennessee distilleries ( Jack Daniel's and George Dickel) each employ huge round vats through which the unaged spirit is gently dripped, or in which the spirit soaks. The idea is to remove a few more congeners and render the spirit smoother, but some people think the Lincoln County Process adds a charcoal note to Tennessee whiskey as well.

Otherwise, bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys have much the same flavors and aromas. Another small detail: bourbon requires at least 51 percent corn in the mashbill, though there may be as much as 80 percent; Tennessee has the same minimum of corn but demands that corn fill no more than 79 percent, perhaps in hopes that the small grains (as they call wheat and rye) will produce a slightly lighter, gentler whiskey.

Last, both of these varieties of American whiskey are considered "sour mash" whiskeys, or whiskeys in which a small portion of each fermentation (the "backset") is held back and then added to the next mash. This innovation was created and promoted by Dr. James Crow in the 1830s and remains a staple production step to this day. The sour mash concept ensures a large measure of character, continuity and consistency from batch to batch.

RYE WHISKEY

Rye whiskey was the favored spirit of colonial America since rye was the grain of choice in the eighteenth century. Just a few years ago, mainstream rye brands were hard to find, but cheap if you found them. Rye whiskey is the hottest thing flowing across American whiskey bars right now, fueled by cocktail geeks who have noted that the classic Manhattan recipe (among others) calls for rye whiskey, not bourbon. Today, rye is hard to find because of demand and thus is ever more expensive. Whiskey producers aren't stupid, but the process of making whiskey is slow, so until there are more rye whiskeys on the market, the prices for those that are available will keep going up.

The rules for rye whiskey are exactly the same as for bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys, except that the mashbill now requires a minimum of 51 percent rye (though it's usually more), while corn and barley make up the remainder.

Bartenders are learning that rye offers another desirable weapon behind bars; instead of the sweet ponderousness of corn, there is a lighter, spicier character to rye. Cocktails made with rye can seem crisper and more peppery than those made with corn. Rye whiskey sales are growing at nearly 50 percent annually over the last two years, making it one of the hottest spirits categories in North America.

 

BONDED

The old-timers still buy these, but Bonded Whiskeys are fewer in number and farther between sightings. Not long ago, producers created whiskeys bottled in bond; the tax on the whiskey wouldn't be paid until the whiskey was sold and "released from bond". It would (and still must) come from a single distillery and needs at least four years barrel aging. But all that is less important than the tradition of selling that bonded whiskey at 100-proof. So when you see a whiskey bottle that says "Bottled in Bond" or "Bonded Whiskey", you're looking at a 100-proof (50 percent alcohol) whiskey, which is a couple more gears on the crankshaft than the usual 80-proof that fills most whiskey bottles. Use with respect, but expect a gutsier, more intense whiskey.

 

STRAIGHT

Not to confuse the issue, but the term "Straight Whiskey" applies to any whiskey that has been distilled to no higher than 160-proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof and contains at least 51 percent of one type of grain in the mashbill. So straight whiskeys include bourbon, Tennessee, corn and rye. It's similar to what we will cover in the Brandy module: Brandy is a kind of distillate made from wine and a spirit category. Cognac and armagnac are types of brandies.

 

CORN

You don't see much of this category anymore. A corn whiskey follows all the same production rules as Tennessee, bourbon and rye except that, if aged in wood at all, it must be placed in previously used charred oak barrels or uncharred new ones, and a mashbill with a minimum of 80 percent corn is necessary.

 

CANADA

Grain distilling in Canada is almost as old as grain distilling in the United States, dating to the late 1700s. At first, the whiskey being made in England's Canadian colonies was indistinguishable from what was being made in Pennsylvania or Maryland or any of the other colonies that would become the United States. Pot stilled, rye-heavy, rough and unaged. In the early and mid nineteenth century, however, under the impetus of pioneers such as Thomas Molson, William Gooderham, James Worts, Henry Corby and Joseph Seagram, Canadian whisky (note the preferred spelling) began taking on an identity of its own. It's worth noting that all of those men were all Englishmen, as opposed to the Germans, Scotsmen and Irishmen who dominated the industry south of the border, and they set up their distilleries in an English way - they tended to be large, technically advanced and with a preference for clean, pure spirits to rough, funky ones (the majority of England's distillers were actually rectifiers, who took raw spirits from elsewhere and redistilled them into things like gin and "British brandy," a rectified grain spirit flavored to resemble brandy).

In any case, in the early nineteenth century Canadian distillers such as Molson and Gooderham & Worts were making two main types of whiskey, a pure barley-malt whiskey for export to Britain and American-style rye and corn (and also wheat) whiskeys for local consumption. As yet, there was little market for either of these products in the United States. That changed with the American Civil War, when Canadian whiskies flooded in to make up for the shortfalls the war caused in domestic production. By the end of the century, the firms led by Harry Corby and Hiram Walker (an American, ironically, who for most of his life commuted every day to his Canadian distillery and offices by taking a boat across the Detroit River from his home on the American side) were exporting considerable amounts of a new kind of Canadian blended whisky to the United States and indeed to markets around the world. This new whisky, a Canadian version of the blended whiskies that were turning Scotch into a global spirit, was basically what we think of when we think of Canadian whisky today: a fairly light, mellow and well-aged product made by blending a base whisky - essentially a Canadian version of the grain whisky used in Scotland - and one or more "flavoring" whiskies. Where in Scotland the flavoring whiskies were single malts, though, in Canada they were American straight whiskeys, much like they were made south of the Canadian border. Brands such as Hiram Walker's Canadian Club, Seagram's and Gooderham & Worts' G&W Special were making inroads into the American market and widely available, at least in the northern states.

Prohibition shuttered many an American winery, brewery and distillery and created a criminal class that still bedevils American life today. But its effects upon Canada were demonstrably kinder. The second year of Prohibition saw a 400 percent increase in Canadian whisky sales, most of that delivered via the Great Lakes or a (recently discovered) pipeline across the Detroit River. In worldwide export markets, the suddenly unavailable whiskeys from the United States were soon replaced by brands such as Canadian Club, Corby's Royal Reserve and Wiser's Old Rye.

After Repeal, Canadian whisky had gained such a strong position in the United States market that to this day it remains one of the highest-selling categories of spirits in the country: in 2013, 16.5 million cases of Canadian whisky were sold, versus 18 million of bourbon, rye and Tennessee whiskey.

Canadian Whisky Today

The twentieth century subjected the Canadian whisky industry to the same pressures that affected American distillers. Consolidation and standardization shrank the number of distilleries, greatly expanded them in size, and limited the number and variety of products they were making. At the same time, heavy capital investment and a lack of regulations limiting distillers to traditional methods allowed the Canadians to build the most technologically advanced whisky industry in the world. Today, there are eight main distilleries making Canadian "rye" as the whisky is known in Canada (the name is traditional rather than descriptive: it's entirely possible, and indeed common, for a Canadian whisky made from 100% corn to be labeled "rye"); all are owned by large multinational corporations.

The Hiram Walker & Sons distillery in Windsor, Ontario (across the river from Detroit) is owned by Pernod-Ricard Ltd and makes Wiser's and Corby whiskies, among others, for Pernod-Ricard and contract-distills Canadian Club for Beam-Suntory. It is the largest distillery in North America. Also in Ontario is Brown-Forman's Collingwood distillery, home of Canadian Mist and Collingwood and Campari's Kittling Ridge distillery, where Forty Creek is made. Diageo makes Crown Royal and several other brands at distilleries at Gimli, Winnipeg and Valleyfield, Quebec. There are three distilleries in Alberta, Beam-Suntory's Alberta Distillers in Calgary, home of Alberta Prime and a few other brands, Constellation Brands' Palliser distillery in Lethbridge, home of Black Velvet, and the small Highwood plant in High River, which makes a variety of niche brands. Beyond these, there are a number of microdistilleries making malt and other international styles of whisk(e)y.

While there are detail differences between the processes used in these eight distilleries, they agree on general principles. Most of the whiskies they make are blended from a base whisky and one or more flavoring whiskies, although occasionally they will release one of the flavoring whiskies or, rarely, the base whisky by itself. Let's look at these two styles of whisky in a little more detail.

The base whisky. This is generally made from 100% corn, with enzymes derived from the aspergillum mold used to start fermentation (instead of the small proportion of barley malt used in other countries). It is distilled in large column stills to 94.5% alcohol (the same proof used in Scotland for grain whisky). It then goes into used American oak barrels to age for a minimum of three years. The result is a light and very clean but by no means flavorless spirit. Depending on the amount of aging and the number of previous times the barrel has been refilled, this can be a surprisingly rich spirit (a fine example is Wiser's Red Letter, pure base whisky aged in a first-fill bourbon barrel for ten years).

The flavoring whiskies. If the base whisky recalls Scotland, the Flavoring whiskies are pure America. There is a great deal of variation here between distilleries, but the basic products fall into three or four general categories. There's rye whiskey, which is either made from 100% rye (some or all of which may be malted), 90% rye and 10% (roughly) barley malt (as many Pennsylvania and Maryland ryes were formerly made) or a mashbill like contemporary American ryes, with 5-15 % barley, a portion of corn and a larger portion of rye. These are distilled to around 65% alcohol, often by running them once through a column still and another time through a large pot still (that, for instance, is how the flavoring whiskies for Wiser's and Corby are made). Then there's corn whiskey, made from a similar mashbill to an American bourbon by the same process as the rye. Finally there are wheat and barley whiskies, often single-grain, also made like the rye.

These flavoring whiskies tend to be lighter and dryer than their American counterparts, where they have one. Lately, American entrepreneurs have been buying older barrels of Canadian blending rye and bottling it as rye whiskey, to mixed reviews.

Blending. Canadian distilling companies don't share blending stock. Each blends with its own products. For the cheaper blends, a large proportion of base whisky will be combined with one or more flavoring whiskies. It will be rare for anything in the blend to be older than the minimum. For the more expensive blends such as the Wiser's 18, the process can be much more complex, with multiple, well-aged flavoring whiskies blended together and then mixed with a much smaller portion of base whiskey, also well aged. While the most common blending profile is to use a large proportion of base whisky with a small amount of rye whisky for flavoring, there are many other proprietary combinations on the market, often with a high percentage of flavoring whisky (the law does not regulate base whisky-flavoring whisky ratios in any way and there is no requirement to use flavoring whisky at all).

Adjustments for the American market. Some bottom-shelf Canadian blends made for the American market have in the past been blended with up to 9.09% neutral spirits made from American oranges or wines. This gave the brands substantial tax relief in the US, enabling them to better compete against American blended whiskeys, which are made of straight whiskeys blended with (cheap) neutral spirits and not (relatively expensive) base whisky. Only a few distillers took advantage of this provision and only for their cheapest blends. It's unclear if they still do. Under the Canadian Food and Drug Act of 1993, which for the first time defined the parameters of Canadian whisky, it may unlike American bourbon or rye, may contain caramel and flavoring, although that flavoring has to be either a wine or a distilled spirit aged at least two years in small wood. This means that things such as prune juice, formerly added, are now forbidden. The regulation does allow blenders to add things like sherry and brandy to their blends, although they are rarely used and never in large quantity.

The state of the industry. After years of basically ignoring it, Canadian distillers are beginning to pay attention to the premiumization trend that has brought forth so many great bottlings in Scotland, Ireland, the United States and Japan. Canadian distilleries, however, are vast and industrial and difficult to visit and Canadian distillers can be reticent about their products and secretive about their processes. All of that hinders the flow of information that drives premiumization. Fortunately, with figures such as Don Livermore, master blender at the Hiram Walker distillery for Wiser's and Corby's and Crown Royal's master blender Andy Mackay, who are willing to speak out with pride about their products and reach out to educate journalists, consumers and spirits industry people, we can expect more light cast on this fascinating, little-known corner of the whisk(e)y world.

 

BLENDED N. AMERICA

You might wonder why we left this category for the end. For this reason: while there are good American Blended whiskeys, most are intended to imitate Canadian whisky's blended smoothness, and most are far less successful at it than Canada. While North American blended whiskey (Seagram's V.O. and Seagram's 7 Crown) remains the largest single category of whiskey sales in the U.S., those numbers have been falling for years, in favor of whiskeys with more individual character.

The rules are pretty loose: additives are allowed (see Canadian whisky above), and there must be at least 50 percent neutral grain spirit in the blend. There is always more than that. Trust us.

 

TASTING WHISKEY

As usual, the best way to find flavor and identify differences is to put several whiskeys next to each other. If you taste a Scotch next to a bourbon, or a bourbon next to a Canadian, or an Irish next to a Scotch, it's a heck of a lot easier to figure out how they differ than if you just drink one at a time and wonder.

So we'll try it in our instructive flight. And once you've settled on those differences, put a few island whiskies next to some inland whiskies. Or place a higher-proof single barrel bourbon up against a more common whiskey and see what makes each one tick. Again, it's a lot easier to spot flavors when there are identifiable differences between each whisky or whiskey in front of you.

All the while you'll test them to see if they are:

 

  • Clean, dirty or hot

  • Dry, salty, tangy or slightly sweet

  • Smooth, spicy or aggressive

  • Gentle, powerful, briny or earthy

  • Fruity, floral, vegetal and/or herbal

  • Rich or thin

  • Soft, sharp or burning

 

It should be clean and dry and not bitter and not sweet.

PRINCIPLE WHISKEY COCKTAILS

  • Rob Roy (Scotch)

  • Blood & Sand (Scotch)

  • Hot Toddy/Whiskey (any whisky/whiskey)

  • Scotch Highball (Scotch)

  • Irish Coffee (Irish)

  • Blackthorn (Irish)

  • Manhattan (Bourbon/Rye)

  • Old-Fashioned (Bourbon)

  • Whiskey Sour (Bourbon)

  • Sazerac (Rye)

  • Highball (Bourbon/Rye)

The term "brandy" is derived from the Dutch word for "burnt wine," brandiwijn. Simply put, brandy is wine that has been distilled into a spirit and then aged in barrels. But, with centuries of human toil beside the still, brandy is a many- splendored thing. Brandy might be a very special old spirit, aged for decades in a place called Cognac, in western, coastal France. It might be a clear spirit often made from Muscat grapes in Peru near a seaside town called Pisco. It might be a clear distillate, called "eau de vie" (that's "water of life", if you've been paying attention, or even if you haven't), made from raspberries, pears or cherries produced in Central and Western Europe.

Additionally, in the U.S. and some other countries, the word brandy can be used to describe a low proof, sweetened and flavored spirit, often based upon neutral grain spirit and artificial flavoring - for example, "cherry brandy" or "apricot brandy" (historically, these would have had a brandy base).

But for this module, we'll focus on the good stuff. Moreover, we'll break them all into two rough groups: unaged grape spirits and aged grape spirits. Unaged grape spirits include eaux de vie, grappa and marc (more about those below).

Aged grape spirits include the basic category we call brandy, referring to a distilled wine that has been aged in oak for a specified time, usually at least six months or longer. These matured kinds include cognac (an area in central western France), armagnac (Gascony is another area in southwestern France) and calvados. Calvados is yet another area in France (Normandy in the northwest), but this one doesn't use grapes to make its wine; it uses apples with a few pears thrown in for good measure.

 

HOW

If you can ferment wine and boil it, you can make brandy, and perhaps some old school grappas may remind some people of a drink that is that basic. But a smart distiller knows that the grapes or the juice from which a brandy is made have to be in great shape

 

GRAPPA

Grappa used to be hot, fiery stuff; we will admit that. But a few decades ago, a handful of smart distillers began producing high quality, delicious grappa, because they were careful with the grapes they used. In the past, grappa was something you distilled from "pomace," which is the leftovers of winemaking. Most grappa distillers took grapes that had been dumped out of a fermenter after their juice had been made into wine, sprayed some water on them and threw the gooey mess - often with stems, seeds and all - into a still, usually after a couple of months of other sundry winery work. It's not surprising that old-style grappa was coarse and weird.

But a dynamic group of innovative distillers - Jacopo Poli, Antonella Bocchino, and Benito and Giannola Nonino come to mind - studied every aspect of grappa production in the 1970s to see if they could improve grappa production. The most important innovation they introduced was to rush the grape skins into the still soon after they were removed from the fermenter. This change of tactic makes all the difference in the world by making the grappas taste remarkable fresh. And like skilful distillers the world over, they also carefully cut heads and tails, reserving the heart for bottling. The top grappas are expensive, it is true, but they are difficult and expensive to make correctly. This new generation of grappa producers has turned this once ridiculed spirit into a world- class distillate category.

 

PISCO

As mentioned above, pisco is a distillate made from grapes and made in Chile or Peru. Each country has its own set of grapes from which they ferment wine and then distil pisco, but Peru definitely has the historical lead and a heck of a lot more material (different kinds of grapes) from which to distil. Peruvians also prefer pot still while the Chileans lean towards continuous still distillation. Pisco is far smoother than most grappas, because it is almost always made from distilled wine, and not from distilled grape-pomace.

 

MARK

Marc is a French spirit, a kind of grappa or pomace-brandy made from leftover grapes and grape skins, only this time it's made in France, much of it in the Burgundy region. There are other names the French use; ratafia is a common grappa- like spirit made in the Champagne region.

 

CONGAC

Cognac is a wine based brandy, distilled from Ugni Blanc grapes (there are very few other grape types grown in Cognac), twice distilled only in pot stills (a.k.a., alembic Charentais) and aged in Limousin (French) oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Even more importantly, Cognac is a place, where all these grapes must be grown and where this brandy must be aged. Cognac's six demarcated growing districts are, in order of importance, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois à Terroirs. The two Champagnes are renowned for their chalky/limestone soil and account for what are the two longestlived types of cognac, brandies that are especially deep and flavorful.

The Ugni Blanc grape might be unfamiliar to you, but it's Italy's most widely grown grape, Trebbiano. It doesn't have much flavor (try a Trebbiano from Italy and you'll see what we mean) but it hangs on to its acidity and even after distillation can hang on to its fruit flavors. Indeed the chalky, limestone soils of the Cognac region are such that the brandies made from Cognac's grapes continue to show fruitiness even after decades in bottle. Though there are lots or reasons why cognac can be truly great, the limestone soils are the chief reason that cognac ages so remarkably well.

Cognac, like many things having to do with the vine, can get really complicated when it comes to legal classifications. But remember that the main reason French wine (and cognac) has so many rules, regulations and titles is to make a consistent, trustworthy product and then to convince someone that it's worth paying a lot of money for that. So a category of cognac such as XO, which stands for Extra Old, is controlled to the extent that customers around the world like to believe that any XO cognac they see is old and venerable. Sometimes it's even true.

The categories of cognac are VS (Very Special) or Three Star (aged at least two years in French oak barrels); VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) or Five Star (aged at least four years in French oak barrels); and XO (Extra Old), Napoleon, Extra and Hors d'Age. This latter group has been aged in French oak barrels for at least six years.

Isn't it funny that they use English words (Very Special and the like) to name these very French brandies? Yeah, well, they know exactly to whom they are selling.

 

ARGMANAC

The balmy, rural and hilly Armagnac district (a.k.a., Gascogne) is southeast of Bordeaux. The Armagnaçais make their brandies differently than their peers in Cognac do, preferring to employ unique, hybrid twocolumn stills, some of which are attached to flatbeds and driven around the countryside by so-called "roving distillers". Distillation range is from 52-72 percent alcohol by volume. Some smaller producers use pot stills only, while others use a combination of both styles of stills.

They mostly use the prolific-growing, thick-canopied Ugni Blanc grape variety along with far lesser amounts of Folle Blanche, Colombard and Baco. And they have minimum aging requirements in French oak barrels (black oak from the Monlezun forest), just like they do in Cognac. However, there are both continuous and pot stills in use in Armagnac and many armagnac bottlings can seem a bit more rustic (and some would say interesting) than run-of- the-mill cognac.

Some commercial armagnacs are made in similar fashion to cognac. Most are not, and these tend to be the more expensive versions. They can be a more herbal, a little citrusy and a lot less smooth than great cognac. But some people think smooth is boring.

As with cognac, Armagnac has minimum aging requirements: for them, VS (Very Special) or Three Star is aged at least two years in French oak barrels; VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) or Five Star is aged at least five years in French oak barrels); and XO (Extra Old), Napoleon, or Extra is aged at least six years in French oak. Hors d'Age Armagnac is a special category in Armagnac: it has slumbered in French oak barrels for at least ten years. As with cognac, the best producers exceed these minimum aging requirements by many years.

One last note: don't be fooled by people who tell you that the oldest armagnac (or cognac, for that matter) is the best. It depends upon your taste, and frankly, it depends upon the brandy. Some brandies taste wonderful when they've slept for twelve or fifteen years in a barrel. Some need twenty years to come to the loveliest balance of the fruit in the spirit and the spice and confection that comes from the barrel and the aging. Others break down chemically with excessive barrel aging. Just because it's expensive and old doesn't automatically mean that it's legendary.

 

CALVADOS

Calvados, from northwest France, shares much of the same aging nomenclature: Fine, Three Star or Original Calvados must be aged in French oak casks for at least two years. Vieux or Réserve Calvados are aged in French oak casks for at least three years. Vieux Réserve, VO or VSOP Calvados are aged in French oak casks for at least four years. And the special categories of Hors d'Age, Extra, XO or Age Inconnu are aged in French oak casks for a minimum of six years.

 

WHERE

While most brandies could come from anywhere that grapes are grown and wine is made, the top brandies such as cognac, armagnac and calvados don't seem to be vulnerable to imitation. There seems to be something unique that each region brings to the brandy they make, and each region prizes certain sub-zones far above others, though each is a part of the protected names embodied in the words cognac, armagnac and calvados.

Cognac is divided into six sub-zones, called Bois à Terroirs, Bons Bois, Fins Bois, Borderies, Petite Champagne and Grand Champagne. Other than a small strip of land in the Fins Bois, the best cognacs are produced in the latter three regions, where the limestone is the oldest and the chalk content is the highest.

Most cognac labels won't list any particular region, but some do and perhaps it indicates that someone is rather proud of that cognac and where the grapes used to make it were grown. Many believe that Borderies provides a fat and even nutty character to cognac, while the longest-lived cognacs are grown in Grande Champagne, where in the soil the greatest content of chalk is found. If a district is cited on the label, the brandy must be 100 percent from that district.

But most cognacs are blends, skilful combinations of both greater and lesser regions. There is also a category called Fine Champagne or Grande Fine Champagne, and it represent a blend of Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne cognacs, with a minimum of 51 percent of the spirit coming from Grande Champagne.

Armagnac has three demarcated production zones: Bas- Armagnac, which has clay and alluvial soils; Ténarèze, where the soil is a mix of clay and limestone; and Haut-Armagnac, which has more sand and limestone. Most people think the best armagnacs are grown in Bas Armagnac because of their freshness and vivacity but a lot of people love Ténarèze just as much because of their ability to mature for long periods.

Calvados hails from the northwestern portion of France in beautiful Normandy and Brittany. Grapes don't grow well in this cooler, even colder, seaside landscape but apples and pears do. Indeed there are dozens of species of each, and many distillers believe that it's the myriad of species that make it possible to create a great apple-based brandy in this place.

Again, they have broken the area into sub-zones, with Pays d'Auge considered the best area of Normandy and of Calvados' demarcated areas. Pays d'Auge is an area that requires that the calvados there be distilled twice only in pot stills. The other two districts are Calvados AOC, the largest, all encompassing region and the one with the least exciting brandies, and Calvados Domfrontais, where both apple and pear ciders (minimum of 30 percent pears) are distilled.

 

WHEN

The Armagnaçais have gotten a raw deal. They preceded Cognac's practice of distilling by a couple of centuries (probably the 1300s A.D.) and yet their sales represent a fraction of the sales of cognac worldwide. Sometimes being first isn't good enough.

Armagnac is a rural, heavily agricultural, and isolated place while Cognac was the part of France that was owned by England for five hundred years. During that time, the British took feverishly to cognac, the brandy. Their turn as a world- dominant, nineteenth century power (it wasn't so long ago that the phrase "the sun never set upon the British Empire" was rampant because that empire encompassed the globe) meant that they shared their enthusiasm for the spirit with everybody else.

Armagnac is the product of a part of France that has been, at times, Basque country. The Basque people are a fascinating breed. Indeed, some historians postulate that they are, in fact, a separate strain of human species. Regardless, the Basque regions of France and Spain have customarily been isolationist, if not actively hostile to outsiders for millennia.

Cognac, on the other hand, didn't practice distilling until the late sixteenth century, but within forty or fifty years was widely acclaimed for its great brandies and, ever since, for its great brandy marketing. The Cognaçais were quick to protect the name (lots of countries created imitation products called "conyac" and the like) and even quicker to understand that they needed to create a worldwide image of exclusivity and excellence in order to build a long-term market. It would be hard to fault their work since many linguists consider "cognac" to be the most recognized French word around the world.

Things went along swimmingly until the arrival of the vine-eating phylloxera louse into Europe's vineyards in the 1860s. The North American bug destroyed nearly all of Europe's grape vines by 1880 and the remedy (grafting American vine stock onto established European vines) was difficult, time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive, taking years to achieve. Meanwhile, whisky and gin took hold. As Winston Churchill once said, "My father drank brandy and soda. I drink whisky and soda." The impact upon the brandy regions of France was huge. They grafted over to American stock as soon as they could but many vineyard owners never recovered.

They eventually recovered, even in the midst of world wars. While whisky sales remain the largest category of aged spirit sales, and vodka and soju (see glossary) remain the world's largest spirit categories, nobody is starving in Cognac, at least not among the growers and distillers. Indeed, the running joke is that the rich folks and owners in Cognac all drive Mercedes and Jaguars. Everybody else has to make do with lowly BMW's or Peugeots.

 

TASTING

Once you reach the pinnacle of brandies (great XO cognacs, armagnacs or calvados or even some Spanish and American brandies), everything becomes a bit more difficult to distinguish. But that's a good thing. If spirits are so delicious and complex that you aren't sure which one to love more, then you are a lucky taster indeed.

But let's start with the basics: what makes armagnac, cognac and calvados taste different from each other? Cognac is usually smooth and refined while armagnac is robust and assertive and calvados is, well, apple-like and should be the easiest to identify. And what makes an XO cognac so expensive, and a VS cognac so (relatively) cheap? The answer is the time spent in oak barrels, which costs the distiller more in tax and labor. Sensory evaluation-wise, it's a lot easier to spot flavors when there are identifiable differences between each of the brandies in front of you.

All the while you'll test them to see if they are:

 

  • Clean, dirty or hot

  • Dry, salty, tangy or slightly sweet

  • Smooth, spicy or aggressive

  • Gentle, powerful, briny or earthy

  • Fruity, floral, vegetal and/or herbal

  • Rich or thin

  • Soft, sharp or burning

It should be clean and dry and not bitter and not sweet.

PRINCIPLE BRANDY COCKTAILS

  • Sidecar

  • Stinger

  • Alexander

  • Brandy Sour

  • Pisco Sour

Both Tequila and Mezcal are distilled spirits made from the agave plant. Both terms are tightly defined and controlled by the Mexican government. Most major countries honor and protect these regulations and definitions, with the sole exception of the United States - which is unfortunately tequila and mezcal's largest foreign market.


Tequila is sold in six styles, mostly based upon the aging of the spirit. Gold, or joven abacado, is a sweetened and caramel-tinged spirit; it's the cheap stuff. It is usually made from a blend of sugars from agave and molasses from sugar cane, so it's called mixto. By law, a mixto must derive no more than 49% of its sugars from anything other than agave, though as we have noted above, the U.S. Government is unconcerned with enforcing these laws.

If a Tequila is not a mixto, then it will be made from 100-percent agave. Some Tequila producers will label their product "100% Agave" and some will state "100% Blue Agave" or "100% Puro de Agave". Blue Agave is one of the hundreds of types of agave growing around the world, and it thrives in tequila country. But if you're seeking quality, "100% agave" ought to be good enough. Most, but not all, mixtos are forgettable, at best; many 100% agave tequilas are unforgettable.

Tequila (100% agave or mixto) that has aged no more than two months is called blanco or silver. Tequila that has aged for two to twelve months in any sized oak container is called reposado, or "rested." Añejo means that the tequila has aged in small (600 liter) oak barrel for one to three years. Extra Añejo connotes that the tequila has stayed inside small (600 liter) oak barrels for more than three years.

 

WHERE

Tequila is produced in the five Mexican states of Jalisco (where the town of Tequila lies), Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan and Tamaulipas. By law, a distillate made elsewhere in Mexico the same way and from the exact same materials cannot be called Tequila. Mezcal is primarily made in Oaxaca, but seven other states have also earned a Denomination of Origin: Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas and Michoacan. Other agave spirits with official Mexican DOs include Bacanora from Sonora; Raicilla from the area around Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco; Tuxca from Tuxcacuesco, Jalisco; Comiteco from Comitan, Chiapas; and Sotol from Chihuahua.

One hundred percent agave tequila is usually made from the blue agave, otherwise known as "tequilana weber, subvariety azul." Mezcal can be made from espadin, cirial, cupreata, arroqueño, tobala, salmiana, tepestate, tobaziche and other agave varieties. But that's not the only thing that separates mezcal from tequila. Another key difference between tequila and mezcal is how the agave hearts are cooked.

In Tequila, the halved agave hearts (called piñas) are steamed in autoclaves (these are stainless steel pressure cookers used for the cheap stuff) or baked in ovens or hornos. Baked is better. Piñas, so-called because they resemble large pineapples, can weigh 25 to 50 kilos.

With mezcal, the past is still present. The traditional way to cook agave hearts is to dig a pit, and fill it with hot rocks as well as the fronds (pencas) of the agave plants and the agave hearts. These will roast (and smoke) for days, if not weeks. The resulting spirit is very smoky and earthy, compared to the tidier baked notes of tequila.

HOW

Despite common misunderstanding, the agave is not a cactus. Rather, it is but one of a family of succulents from the lily family, with more than 400 species. Agave's botanical name is agavacea, the Greek word for royalty, and at maturity (minimum of 5 to 6 years) develops a sap called aguamiel within its piña.

Some books erroneously state that aguamiel is fermented into a kind of milky beer called pulque and then is distilled. WRONNNNNGGG. Pulque cannot be distilled since it turns into something like gum in the pot still.

To make tequila or mezcal, the agave hearts are cooked and shredded (or sometimes shredded then cooked) but they must be cooked before fermentation. The juice of the agave hearts is pressed out and then fermented; now the fermented juice can be distilled.

Tequila and mezcal may be distilled either in continuous stills or pot stills. Most of the best are only in pot stills or small hybrid stills. They come out of those stills at fairly low proof, compared to spirits such as vodka and even whiskey. As a result, tequila has a lot of flavors and aromas and can seem very intense to most people. Nonetheless, wellmade tequila can finish with a gentler, tart, and almost mild character, despite its assertive aromas.

Some mezcals are distilled in ancient, even primitive clay pot stills. These medieval contraptions probably enhance the smoky flavor, but mezcals can be no less seductive in their finish, even if the first flavors are wild and crazy.

 

WHEN

Although Tequila is a truly Mexican spirit, it is accurate to describe its creation as a Spanish invention. But there is a heritage and history associated with this elixir dating back over a thousand years. Before the Spaniards brought the art of distillation to Mexico in the early 1500s, the Aztecs consumed a wine-like liquid called pulque, made from the fermented syrup extracted from the heart of agaves plants. Spaniards called it Vino de Mezcal. Though consumption of pulque was reserved almost exclusively for religious rites, the agave plant (aka, maguey) was utilized by Mexico's native peoples for everything from food and drink to shoes, soap, building supplies, rope and even medicine.

Tequila's fame rose north of the border more slowly. While a handful of border U.S. states - Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, California - joined in, the rest of the U.S. was ignorant of tequila's charms until Prohibition. During that time, any spirit was good spirit, and tequila gained some notoriety, at least in gossip and print.

It's erroneous to assume that only the Margarita put tequila on the world consumer's map, but it did a lot to popularize the strange Mexican spirit. Lots of people have claimed credit for the drink's creation. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Daisy was a standard bar drink, with citrus juice, a syrup or liqueur sweetener (such as orange curaçao) and a spirit base. In the 1920s and 1930s, a drink called the Tequila Daisy was popular in the bars of Tijuana and elsewhere in Mexico.

Before we let Margarite Sames take all the credit for inventing the drink (that's just one of many stories), we should note that the Spanish word for "daisy" is margarita. In any case, the Hollywood set of the 1930s partied heartily with Tequila Daisies or, if you prefer, Margaritas. Even today, the Margarita is the single most popular cocktail in the United States. It's done a lot for tequila, even if some Margaritas seem to have very little tequila in them.

Despite U.S. intransigence in protecting the name, more than three quarters of tequila and mezcal exports are sold in the U.S. And tequila and mezcal dollar sales growth in the U.S. outstrips any other category over the last decade, at least by percentage.

It took a little longer for tequila to conquer the rest of the world, although it's worth noting that the 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book, from London, contains ten recipes for tequila drinks. But it really wasn't until the 1970s that tequila began making inroads in European markets, where its growth was driven in no small part by the association that it had acquired with the counterculture and the rock and roll lifestyle.

 

TASTING TEQUILA & MEZCAL

As usual, the best way to find flavor and identify differences is to put several tequilas and mezcals next to each other. Mezcal should be readily identifiable by its characteristic smoky smells. Blanco, reposado, añejo and extra añejo will often be easy to spot by color alone, with añejo and extra añejo being deeper in color. So turn the lights down a bit and see if you can smell the differences.

One of the most interesting distinctions to agave spirits is that the site where the agave is grown seems to be expressed in many Tequilas and Mezcals,. It's especially noticeable in blancos and reposados, before the barrel has a chance to cover up more subtle differences. High elevation tequilas are often more citrusy in the mouth and nose (lemon, lime, and grapefruit) and can have a smell that some people call "wet sidewalk" or "wet cement".

Check to see if they are:

 

  • Clean or dirty

  • Dry, salty, tart or slightly sweet

  • Smooth, spicy or aggressive

  • Gentle or powerful

  • Fruity, floral, vegetal, earthy and/or herbal

  • Rich or thin

  • Soft, sharp or burning

 

If they are aged in oak, they can have all of the above flavors as well as spices, coconut, vanilla, chocolate, ash and other barrel/woody smells. Tequila can be very complex and powerful but it should be clean and dry and not bitter and not sweet.

 

PRINCIPLE TEQUILA AND MEZCAL COCKTAILS

  • Margarita

  • Tequila Sunrise

  • Paloma

Rum is any distilled spirit created from sugarcane. The vast majority of rums are produced from molasses, the by-product of refining sugarcane into raw sugar. The minority, principally Brazilian cachaça and French rhum agricole, are produced from the juice of sugarcane after it's pressed. Molasses can be used to make light, soft rums (as Cuba and Puerto Rico are known for), or dark, pungent rums ( Jamaica's reputation was made due to this style), as well as everything in between.

The variables that can differentiate one style from another include such obvious matters as the time in oak and the type of oak (or other woods, in the case of Brazilian cachaça), whether pot stills or continuous stills are employed, whether flavors or spices are added, and perhaps less obviously, whether molasses, cane syrup or the freshly extracted juice of the cane is used to create a fermentation.

Techniques and styles vary not only from country to country, but often within countries. Jamaica is known for dark and heavy rums. But in fact, the most popular rum in Jamaica is a white rum with a high proof, 124 degrees, called Wray & Nephew.

In the rundown that follows, you'll note that the decision to use molasses, cane juice or syrup might be the most important factor in the style of the rum. 

 

WHERE

Rum is made anywhere sugarcane is grown and in many other countries besides. You don't need to grow cane to make rum. Two hundred and fifty years ago, rum was widely produced in both England and New England, all from molasses imported from the Caribbean. Even today, much of the molasses that Caribbean and other countries utilize for rum production is supplied by Brazil.

Most consumers believe that rum is solely a product of the Caribbean, and indeed most of the famous names in rum are island based. But quality rums are produced on every continent (well, okay, not Antarctica) and in a myriad of styles. Moreover, the sugarcane plant doesn't originate in the Caribbean, as most believe, but hails from somewhere in the Far East, perhaps Indonesia. A distilled spirit from sugar cane may have been the basis for what is the earliest known large scale distilling; it took place in what is now modern- day Pakistan over 2,500 years ago.

Cachaça is made from sugarcane juice and comes only from Brazil, the world's largest sugarcane producer. It is bottled from between 38 percent to 51 percent alcohol and is produced by as many as 30,000 small distillers. An incredible 98 percent of all cachaça is consumed in Brazil. Cachaça comes in a trio of classifications: unaged (1 year in wood), aged (2 to 12 years in wood), and yellow (immature spirits that have caramel or wood extracts added so they can appear older).

 

WHEN

The rum we know today probably has its origins in desperation. Early Spanish and Portuguese settlers in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, had no wine and needed alcohol. We don't exactly know how and when but they were creating a rudimentary distillate from molasses within a few decades of their arrival in the New World. Once again, there is no "ah-hah!" moment to declare New World rum's time of birth. But the pangs are evident in the names chosen to depict the fiery spirit: "kill-devil", "demon rum", "rumbullion" and "rumbustion", the latter two terms used to connote mayhem.

The popular image of pirate juice is closer to the truth than any other popular image. Rums were distilled from molasses that might have been left to spoil for weeks, and then fermented. Straight from the still, these rums were either consumed on the spot or went into barrels and on to ships. The barrels were probably empty before a few weeks had passed.

From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, lots of rum was being distilled in New England and particularly in or near Boston and coastal Connecticut. Ships laden with sugarcane, only recently arrived from the Caribbean or America's Southeast, wouldn't transport sugarcane back to England. Instead they would drop their loads in New England and take back a far more concentrated form of sugarcane: raw sugar.

With all the leftover molasses, the early American colonials made their own kind of rum, but it too must have tasted like the same hot liquid that the pirates were drinking. Meanwhile, back in the mother country, connoisseurs of Punch were developing a taste for rum and initiating the process that led to the taming of this fiery spirit. To soften rum's heat, you either need a careful fermentation (that wasn't happening centuries ago), a selective distillation (nobody's throwing out perfectly good pirate juice), filtration (that's a late nineteenth century innovation) or long barrel aging.

Originally, no one was willing to wait for it to age in barrel long enough for the spirit to soften. That would change: as one English epicure noted in 1737, "in order to make Rum palatable to any Person of nice Taste, it must be carefully kept in a good Cellar for several years."

That aged rum was becoming increasingly available. In Barbados in the seventeenth century, so much rum was being produced that plenty of it was available for sale elsewhere. Some of those barrels took enough time to transport that the rum they contained took on the elements of well-aged rum: honey, caramel, and vanilla, as well as a gentler nature. Barbados rum was famous enough that George Washington insisted on a barrel for his inauguration, and it was highly prized on the London docks.

Other islands saw similar growth in reputation. Jamaican distillers started their fermentations with molasses from a previous fermentation, to more rapidly initiate the fermentation in a batch of fresh molasses. Those rums were far funkier in aroma, and the Jamaicans, too, learned to age them in barrel as long as possible to soften the weirdness. In some cases they added spices and flavorings, and most islands did the same for at least some of their rums.

The Demerara river region of British Guyana was noted for its Jamaican-style rums as well. It didn't hurt that the Royal Navy was issuing its sailors a daily dram of old rum, blended from Jamaican and Demerara sources, a practice that didn't end until 1970.

The French Islands used only cane juice since Napoleon owned sugar beet factories in France capable of producing raw sugar. With no home market for refined sugar, the French Islands were free to use the juice itself. As a result the rum produced on the French Islands (Martinique, Guadalupe, Marie Galante) as well as on former French possessions such as Haiti is something different from other rums. Cane juice rums can be more herbal and vegetal, but also more tropical in fruit character. Today, not all rhums (that's how the French spell it) are made from cane juice, but the best are. They're referred to as rhum agricole, or "agricultural rum" (as opposed to rhum industriel, or "industrial rum," which is made from molasses).

By the late nineteenth century, Cuba had emerged as a sugar producing dynamo (as usual, made possible either by slave labor or slavery like conditions) and all that leftover molasses had to be used. Don Facundo de Bacardi began filtering his rums through charcoal, as vodka producers were famously doing, and thereby created a gentler rum. Later, he and his competitors employed continuous stills to make something closer to vodka.

After the Cuban Revolution, the Bacardi family escaped to Puerto Rico. Today, the rules of Puerto Rican rum production demand that no rum can be distilled below 160-proof. For some, that means the rums are more boring and have less of the character of traditional rum. To many, lighter, gentler rum is exactly what they want. As with all things about flavor, preference is personal.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, rum production continued with the flagship export brand (to everywhere but the U.S.) assuming the old pre- Revolutionary brand of Havana Club and retaining the richer, more fullflavored character of pre- Revolutionary Cuban rums.

But rum's resurgence may be tied to its distinctive flavors rather than to its ability to seem like vodka. The cocktails that have epitomized rum drinks: Rum and Coke, Piña Colada, Daiquiri and such might be ideal for the neutral-style of rum. But the two drinks that have brought rum back to the cool side of the pool are the Caipirinha and the Mojito. Both demand that bartenders re-learn the old-fashioned practice of muddling.

Certainly, one of the largest selling and most important segments of rum is the flavored rum category. Rums such as Malibu (created in Barbados in 1980), Cruzan and Captain Morgan have revolutionized and revitalized the industry. Most popular flavors include coconut, mango, passion fruit, spiced, vanilla, citrus and others.

And a Caipirinha requires cachaça, a Brazilian rum made only from cane juice and often aged in unusual indigenous woods, like freijo, cedar, imburana, cherry, and jequitiba. Those barrels smell as unusual as they sound, but the exotic, tropical, herbal aromas of cachaça add funk and excitement to the smell of a great Caipirinha.

 

TASTING

As usual, the best way to find flavor and identify differences is to put several rums next to each other. But the amazing variety of rums means that three aren't enough. Instead, place one rum from each of the dominant styles next to each other: spiced, flavored, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, cachaça, Barbados, and Martinique (to name only a few). Smell, taste and compare them. Now add in some of the others that are out there and see if they seem similar to one of the dominant styles. Try several brands all in the same style - differences can be strong here too.

All the while you'll taste them to see if they are:

 

  • Clean or dirty

  • Dry or slightly sweet

  • Smooth or aggressive

  • Gentle or powerful

  • Oily, grainy or soapy

  • Rich or thin

  • Soft, sharp or burning

 

It should be clean and dry and not bitter and not sweet, unless it is sweetened and flavored rum.

 

PRINCIPLE COCKTAILS

  • Daiquiri

  • Mai Tai

  • Rum Punch

  • Cuba Libre

  • Piña Colada

  • Caipirinha

  • Mojito

Gin is a spirit that is typically triple distilled, based upon neutral grain spirits, and cut with distilled water. In most cases, the grain spirits have been created through a double or triple column still distillation. Then the grain spirit is distilled a final time in a pot still with botanicals including juniper, oil of juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, anise, cassia, bitter almonds, caraway, cocoa, angelica root, orris root, and many other ingredients. For proprietary reasons, producers zealously guard their botanical recipes.

Nonetheless, it is possible to learn a great deal about any gin and its recipe from the flavors and aromas. Juniper is distinctly peppery and herbal. If it smells like a Christmas tree, it's because juniper berries grow on evergreen bushes. Some of the most highly prized juniper berries are grown and aged for several years in Tuscany.

Citrus peel adds lemon, orange and lime elements; that seems obvious. Coriander, the seed of the cilantro plant, adds an herbal aroma, but also brings a tart, even grapefruit like flavor to the gin. Cassia brings a somewhat bitter note, something like tonic water. Other ingredients may offer floral notes, vegetal notes, even tea flavors; flowers, vegetables and tea might also be a part of the recipe.

 

WHERE

Gin can be made anywhere that distillation occurs. Still, there are four approximate types of gins and those gin types tend to come from certain places.

 

  • For more than a century, gin producers around the world have looked to London Dry Gin as the benchmark gin style. While it can be made anywhere - it needn't come from London - the style is nonetheless still strongly associated with Great Britain. Juniper and/or citrus tend to dominate the botanical profile. Alcohol range is from 37.5 to 55 percent by volume; the traditional strength is 47 percent.

  • Genever or Hollands gin is produced in the Netherlands, Belgium and small parts of France and Germany. It has some yellowish color, may be distinctly sweet, in opposition to London Dry, and can be powerful and oily. Made mostly from the pot-stilled barley/rye distillate known as "malt wine," usually with grain neutral spirits blended in, it's always more malty/grainy/cereally than herbal or fruity/spicy. Alcohol range is from 35 to 50 percent by volume.

  • Plymouth, England is home to a single gin distillery, Blackfriars, and a distinctive style, called Plymouth. Plymouth Gin is lower in alcohol than London Dry varieties but owns an earthy richness that is unique. Alcohol is 41.2 percent.

  • So-called "New" or "International Style" gins are as diverse as the many places from which they derive. Alcohol range is from 40 to 55 percent by volume. Typically, other botanicals than juniper tend to dominate.

 

WHEN

If gin is a juniper flavored grain based spirit (and it is), then there would be nothing wrong with proclaiming Arnaud de Villanova as gin's inventor. He is credited with developing the European practice of distillation in the thirteenth century A.D., perhaps acquiring the skills developed centuries earlier by Muslim scholars, Geber and Avicenna. Importantly, his first products were grain spirits, distilled with juniper berries. Why? Juniper has long been known to possess healthful properties (that's why we drink gin now, right?). Masks made of juniper were believed by some to offer protection from the plague. Juniper is likewise believed to aid when ailments of the kidneys strike.

But Villanova's gin was more or less a one-off. In the end, it was the Dutch who invented the spirit we know as gin. The word is theirs, as well. They call juniper genever in Dutch; the British turned that word into "geneva" and then abbreviated it to "gin". For the Dutch, alcohol's preservative abilities were ideally suited to retain the character of the spices and fruits they were trading.

Throughout much of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, the Dutch were masters of the high seas and, as such, pioneered and dominated international trade and commerce. All the major European powers, namely, the British, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch, vied to create the fastest and most direct route to the spice regions of eastern Asia. The stories of their competitions and subsequent ruthless methods once they arrived in places like the Moluccas (where cloves grow) have filled bookshelves. The Dutch East India Company was particularly successful.

While Dutch ships entered the port of Rotterdam, much of their cargo was loaded to an upriver suburb called Schiedam. Consequently, Schiedam's warehouses were bulging with fruits, spices and other raw goods and materials. By the seventeenth century, four hundred pot stills were in use to convert those goods into something with a bit more longevity. Juniper was a prime ingredient for their genever, but many other ingredients found their way into the increasingly complex brew.

Genever was reportedly healthful and, man, it was potent. The British called the drink "Dutch Courage" because they frequently hired Dutch mercenaries to do some of their military dirty work. The Dutch mercenaries were known to drink copious amounts of genever and were notoriously effective in their ferocity.

But the British and many of Continental Europe's monarchs did not get along in the late 1600s. So, the English Crown decreed that any British subject could distil this so-called "Dutch Courage", in the hope that the increasingly thirsty British people would stop buying French brandy and that perhaps Holland's genever might be supplanted, as well. As history depicts, the plan worked all too well.

By the early 1700s, Dutch Courage had become "Mother's Ruin." The ravages and dislocations of the Industrial Revolution were at least partially blamed on gin, which had swept through England's burgeoning cities like liquid crack. Gin was accused of being evil. With distilleries working in seemingly half the back rooms of London churning out inexpensive, semi-poisonous spirit from the cheapest materials available, that description wasn't far-fetched.

After the "Gin Craze" burnt itself out in England, gin became celebrated as something essentially British. England shut down home distilling through Parliamentary laws and built beautiful gin palaces to lure the populace into a more controlled - and taxable - setting. Gin Punch became one of the sporting drinks of the upper class at home while for the protectors of the Empire in the far-flung tropical regions of India and Africa gin and quinine-water became the tonic drink (as in, medicinal) of choice.

By the early 1800s, English gin's style had distinguished itself from the malty, rich Dutch style. Where the Dutch worked to make the best, most flavorful (pot still) base spirit they could and then flavored it simply with juniper and small amounts of other spices, the English relied on a base spirit that was rectified - that is, redistilled and filtered to remove as many traces of the base material as possible - which was then flavored with a complex mix of botanicals and then, usually, sweetened. This style was known as "Old Tom" gin.

In the 1830s, Charles Tanqueray created the distinct style of London Dry Gin, altogether crisper and lighter than the genevers and even the hitherto-dominant Old Tom gins. With the introduction of continuous stills, the distilleries in the Lowlands of Scotland were fired up. Ironically, much of the grain whisky they made (and still make) wasn't intended for Scotch whisky but instead for the gin distilleries of England. With the help of the neutral spirit they provided, London Dry Gin had become by the end of the nineteenth century the preeminent, defining style, produced by dozens of distilleries, each with its own proprietary blend of botanicals.

This explosion wasn't occurring just in Britain. In the U.S., distillers began making the new London Dry style, which was much cheaper to produce than the malt-rich Dutch style. In Ireland, Cork's Watercourse Distillery had a tradition of gin-making dating back to 1798, with its own special botanical formula, but didn't launch its Cork Dry Gin, or "C.D.C. Gin" (so called after its maker, the Cork Distilleries Company), until 1941, when the distillery installed a column still that enabled it to make a true dry gin.

In the U.S. and worldwide, after a century of widespread popularity, gin has struggled since the explosion of vodka in the 1970s. In the last decade though, gin, perhaps sensing imminent doom, has begun to revisit its roots. Now, after three decades of decline, there are suddenly dozens of new brands. Some of the gins in the market are rootier, more idiosyncratic, and Plymouth Gin, an icon among English gins that almost disappeared, is reborn. Genever is coming back to the world stage after a century of eclipse (naval embargos during the First World War and German occupation during the Second effectively destroyed its foreign markets). While finding a bottle sometimes requires an exhaustive search, there is good news from Bols, which has recently reintroduced their classic genever back to the global market. There are even contemporary versions of Old Tom Gin available again, if with limited distribution. Bottom line is: gin is back!

 

GIN RULES

With the recent explosion of Gin as a category, there seems to be a certain amount of misinformation about the regulations regarding Gin, so let's set the record straight. First, since Gin is originally a European product, these are the EU rules, and as such, American Gins do not necessarily need to follow these rules. That said, most American distillers seem to have embraced these regulations as their own also, perhaps out of respect for their forebears, or perhaps because they hope to sell some spirit in the European Community.

Today, we classify Gin by both geographic origin and style. It should be pointed out that although London Gins began as products of that city, today, the name London Gin, or London Dry Gin, is a style that can be made anywhere, as long as the producer adheres to some very strict rules. This is contrary to the regulations for Plymouth Gin, which must be made in the town of Plymouth, England, or Genever/Genievre/Jenever, which must be made in The Netherlands or Belgium, and as such are considered PDO's, or Geographic Indications of Origin, and have their own sets of rules and regulations. There are currently nine other PDO's for Gin in the EU: two of which are German, one each from Spain and Lithuania, and the remaining five from Slovakia.

There are also classifications for the use of the word Gin, which are, in ascending order of specificity, from just calling it Gin, to Distilled Gin, to London Distilled Gin (insert the word Dry as preferred), which is a type of Distilled Gin, that must be distilled to a minimum of 70%, then redistilled in a traditional (pot) still with botanicals that are all natural plant materials, of which the Juniper must be predominant.

New Western Dry Gins are basically defined, according to Ryan Magarian's thesis on the subject of Gin and its style sub-categories, as Gins that, while embracing Juniper, focus as much or more on their complement of other botanicals, although no specific rules or legislation has yet been universally approved for this designation.

 

APPLICATIONS

While we can argue about the origins of the martini, there is no argument that it was originally a gin drink. In the nineteenth century, the gin most Americans imbibed was Hollands, not Old Tom or London Dry. But in the last quarter of the 1800s, the trend was toward lighter, dryer drinks. Old Tom gin began to edge out genever. Mix Old Tom with vermouth and you have a martini. Make that vermouth dry and switch the Old Tom for Plymouth or London dry gin, and you have a dry martini, which was introduced in the 1890s. We're still drinking it now.

In America, during the manmade drought of Prohibition (1919- 1933), aged spirits were prohibitively expensive, if not downright unavailable. But homemade bathtub gin was as popular as the Charleston. It's not hard to explain why that dance was all the rage, but gin was only a quick step away from moonshine. Gin demanded no long barrel aging and no exotic ingredients - just bootleg moonshine and some juniper extract purchased from Sears Roebuck's, J.C. Penney's or Montgomery Ward's mail-order catalogues (all ranked such juniper products amongst their top ten sellers). Dozens of gin-based cocktails date from these years. The classic cocktails utilize gin, not vodka. But gin's spicy, ever-changing aromas and flavors are still too much for some drinkers, and may provide too much of a challenge for lazy bartenders who find it easier to throw some juice together with vodka and call it a new classic. A shame and a wasted opportunity.

 

TASTING GIN

Unlike vodka, gin is all about the aromas and flavors that are derived from botanicals. Compared to tasting vodka, gin is easy and straightforward. You smell it and you look for spices, fruits, vegetables and anything else you can think of, and if it's an interesting gin, you'll find a lot of each present.

But as with vodka, a good taster looks to the base spirit. Is it rich, smooth, textured, or oily (in a good way)? Or is it hot, spiky and bitter? Some distillers, as if they were still making bathtub gin, figure that the botanicals will cover up lazy distillation. They won't. The best way to find flavor and identify differences is to put three gins next to each other. Smell, taste and compare them. While putting words to the differences still requires some artistic license, you will definitely find differences.

You'll test them to see if they are:

  • Clean or dirty

  • Dry or slightly sweet

  • Smooth or aggressive

  • Gentle or powerful

  • Fruity, floral, vegetal, earthy and/or herbal

  • Rich or thin

  • Soft, sharp or burning

 

Gin should be clean and dry and not bitter and not sweet, unless it is a genever or genever styled gin. A good genever seems sweet from its powerfully malty character, and can indeed be gently sweet.

 

PRINCIPLE COCKTAILS (LONDON DRY GIN, PLYMOUTH GIN)

  • Dry Martini

  • Tom Collins

  • Gin Rickey

  • Gimlet

  • Gin & Tonic

 

PRINCIPLE COCKTAILS (HOLLAND GIN)

  • John Collins

  • Gin Punch

  • Old-Fashioned Gin Cocktail

WHERE

Vodka is a type of distillate (as mentioned in Module I) that's most synonymous with neutral spirit since it has been distilled to such a high proof that very few congeners, fusel oils, aromas and flavors remain. You can find vodka made anywhere and made from virtually anything. Russia and Poland were the most renowned and historically important early producers of vodka in large volumes. The focus of the Russians and Polish upon filtration in the late 1800s and early 1900s influences to this day many of the world's other vodka producers, even if it's not taken as seriously or practiced as rigorously in most other countries.

 

WHAT

Vodka is a spirit that has generally been distilled to higher than 95 percent alcohol by volume and then filtered. According to some ill-informed people, including the U.S. Government, this renders vodka aromaless and flavorless distilled spirit, which it is not. It is usually clear and colorless, although a few exceptions exist.

This rough definition does not necessarily contradict the category of flavored vodka, which has been gaining market share for a decade or more. Flavored vodkas are neutral spirits that have been flavored, usually through the addition of flavor extracts purchased from a synthetic flavor and aroma manufacturer. Few producers actually use the real ingredients pictured on the label to gain their flavors and aromas because it is more challenging to produce a quality flavored vodka from natural ingredients than by procuring a vial of concentrated flavor. Natural ingredients are more expensive.

There are no limits on the raw materials that can be utilized to make vodka. Most people use common grains, like corn, rye and wheat, as well as vegetables and fruits, including potatoes, grapes and sugar beets, to distil to a very high proof (often 195-proof) and then cut the distillate with distilled water to 80-proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume. Lately, higher proof vodkas are emerging in some markets. Their greater weight and intensity offers a talented bartender a chance to make very textured cocktails while retaining the sleek, congener-light character that was vodka's original reason to exist.

Filtration is part of the lore of vodka distillation. Some of it is real, some of it is sleight-of-hand. Gunnysacks, diamonds, silver, quartz, sand, paper, tightly woven cloth and, of course, charcoal (maple, birch) filters are often utilized to filter the distillate in an attempt to mellow it, or in an attempt to offer the marketing group more talking points in a sales meeting. Bear this in mind: the more distillations and filtrations, the more the characteristics of the base materials are stripped away.

 

WHEN

Trying to figure out precisely when most spirits were created is more like a game of cards than it is a serious historical pursuit. Vodka is particularly elusive since the moment of origin (and its place of origin as well) depends upon how one defines it. Vodka, the word, is a Russian diminutive of a Polish phrase, zhiznennia voda, which means "water of life".

The term "water of life" appears over and over again in the history of spirits: Eau de Vie (in French), Akvavit (in Danish), aqua vitae (in Latin) and even in the word "whiskey," which derives from a Celtic term, uisce beatha. That "uisce" word was eventually slurred by English-speakers into the word "whiskey," but remains an echo of the earlier "water of life".

The idea was that spirit or "water of life" was a purified form of water and, as we saw in Module I, it was safer to drink than most of the communal water. The Poles may have created vodka before the Russians, since the Russian word for it is a derivative of a Polish word, but you could probably be sent to Siberia for saying that. Indeed, Scandinavian producers may have participated in vodka 's earliest stages, as well, though fissionable materials will be dropped in your vodka tonic for repeating this story. Best to change the subject.

The short of it is that a kind of vodka was being produced in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries A.D. in Poland as well as Russia and Scandinavia. Surprisingly, the records show that the nobility (who made the stuff for which some records were kept) initially distilled their vodka out of grapes or wine. That was a foolishly expensive way to make vodka when grains were widely available for the sustenance of their peoples and lands.

In Russia, vodka remains a vital force and countless Russian leaders have utilized that power for political purposes. Ivan the Terrible nationalized all distilleries; Ivan the Great went further still and nationalized the bars where vodka was served. Why again is he considered great? Private distilleries persisted, but only amongst the wealthy and powerful. After the Russian Revolution, these distilleries were nationalized. Once Communism fell, President Boris Yeltsin was known to nip a glass or two but, most importantly, private enterprise returned to the business. Now, there is a profusion of new brands coming from the former Soviet Union, mostly owned by wealthy and powerful entrepreneurs.

Suffice it to say that for centuries vodka has represented Russian and Scandinavian culture, whether among the moneyed and powerful, or within the impoverished working classes. As an export product, vodka is relatively new. While some European bars, particularly in Paris, stocked it in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American bars barely knew what it was. Charles Baker's Gentleman's Companion, one of the most popular drink books of the 1930s, opined that "vodka is not necessary to a small or medium sized bar."

Vodka began seeping into the global mainstream first through Bohemian circles in Paris, London and New York, among which it had been growing in popularity since the turn of the twentieth century. In the 1940s, however, the exotic eastern European firewater captured the imagination of the Hollywood set and the rest is history. The stars had vodka parties, the Jet Set attended, and vodka became chic.

In the mid-1950s, John Martin of Heublein, a major beverage supplier/distiller based in Connecticut, pushed vodka forward in the U. S. with Smirnoff Vodka, which was originally Russian. One of the most successful campaigns for their brand was, "Smirnoff...it will leave you breathless." In the era of the three-martini lunch, this was a good thing if you planned to go back to work that afternoon.

By the late 1950s, the Bloody Mary was a standard eye- opener (back when eye-openers were standard fare), the Screwdriver was a typical afternoon refresher, and those James Bond martinis were becoming cool to drink. By 1967, vodka surpassed gin to become the number one white spirit in the U.S. In 1976, vodka became the number one spirit, white or brown. By the 1980s, what had happened in America was happening globally: vodka was edging out many of the traditional, local spirits.

Why? Not because it leaves you breathless, but because it's not supposed to have the kick and character of most other spirits, so you can have a drink without being bothered by flavor. While we're not sure where the advantage in that is, that's because we've learned to acquire the taste for those traditional spirits. For young drinkers who haven't, vodka was and is tremendously alluring. No muss, no fuss, put it in a soft drink and boom, you've got booze! Manufacturers have been happy to encourage this trend, since vodka is far cheaper to produce than cognac, malt whiskey, rye, rhum agricole, oude genever, gin or any other traditional spirit.

TASTING

Though vodka is a neutral spirit, one of the more remarkable aspects about tasting vodka is that, though as much flavor has been removed as possible, we tasters still find flavors. Having removed everything else, what should be left is yeast, water, and the grain or other material from which the vodka is made.

Vodka presents one of the greatest challenges you'll have as a taster. But before you despair of finding flavor, put three vodkas next to each other. Smell, taste and compare them. While putting words to the differences requires some artistic license, you will definitely find those differences.

You'll taste them to see if they are:

 

  • Clean or dirty

  • Dry or slightly sweet

  • Smooth or aggressive

  • Gentle or powerful

  • Oily, grainy or soapy

  • Rich or thin

  • Soft, sharp or burning

 

It should taste like its ingredients, and that means it may smell and taste of bread dough (yeast, grain, nuttiness). It may taste even of minerals or of earthiness.

 

PRINCIPLE COCKTAILS

  • Vodka Martini

  • Cosmopolitan

  • Bloody Mary

  • Screwdriver

  • Vodka & Tonic 

Study Material

Practice makes perfect! This is where you can find your flashcards and detailed notes taken by Alumni, Emily W. 
Our flash card app makes it easier for you to remember all the little details as you learn. Emily was nice enough to share her extremely helpful study guide. It has already proven to work for our campers. You will succeed if you get passionate and study. 

You can: Print them, color code them, look at them on your smartphone, desktop, tablet... whatever works.