Category Archives: Cocktails

The World’s Best Cocktail Shaker

We don’t do a lot of showing off here at the Baltimore Chop. We like to err on the side of humility, and conspicuous consumption just isn’t our style. Last weekend though, we came across so fine a thing that it absolutely must be shared with the internet at large. Hey, if other bloggers can show off pictures of their crummy cats and dogs and children, then you can indulge us, for once, in showing off what’s truly important to us.

We made a trip out to Home Anthology last weekend. We tend to think of mid-century modern furniture the same way we think of tattoos: very nice for some other people, but not quite for us. We won’t be bringing home any Scandia chairs or clear lucite tables any time soon, but we did find this little gem which is absolutely perfect for our home bar.

We’ve been looking for an ideal shaker for almost two years now. Nothing we’ve seen in that time has been quite right. Where everything else on the bar is new and stainless, it was crucial that the most important piece of hardware be glass and preferably vintage, to avoid being too well-matched and add a little cachet.

So far every brand new shaker we’ve found has been too expensive, and each vintage one we’ve seen has been just too tacky, with drink recipes or corny little jokes on the side. This beauty, with its understated etching and stainless rim strikes just the right tone for a drink to unwind, a nightcap, or a full on cocktail party.

With a tight-fitting two piece lid, a 32-ounce capacity, and a heavy bottom this baby is perfect for mixing up a Spring round of Lemon Sticks for company, or stowing in the fridge and draining off its contents ourselves.

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How to Build a Home Wine Collection

A couple of months ago, we did a post on How to Stock a Home Bar in Two Parts. We laid out an easy blueprint of follow for stocking an impressive bar on any budget, and steered clear of the shortcomings in most bar-stocking advice. One thing we mentioned then, that most writers on the subject neglect, is that wine does not belong on the bar. It belongs on the wine rack, separate from the bar.

Looking at an empty wine rack waiting to be filled can be an intimidating thing. We’ve found that when stocking the bar, the basic process is to stock one of each staple and then add and upgrade over time. A wine collection requires a bit of a different strategy though. For one thing, there’s just too much wine out there. A bar can be fairly comprehensive, but without a sizable cellar you can’t even begin to sample all of the wine in the world at once. Another key difference is that wine disappears much, much faster than liquor once it’s opened. That bottle of Cognac might last you a few years with nip here and a taste there… but a bottle of wine is gone the same day it’s opened.

A visual approximation of the wine cellar at the Chophouse.

In stocking the bar, we recommended that you first decide how many bottles your bar will encompass and pursue your buying strategy accordingly. The same holds true with wine. Our own rack is a Sloane model from Crate and Barrel, which is designed with storage for 15 bottles. We usually keep about 3 bottles on top as well, so we’re going to use 18 bottles in this example. 18 Bottles gives a little more variety, and represents 1 1/2 cases of wine.

Of 18 storage slots, we keep three of them filled with specialty wines. We like to keep on hand a bottle of Sake, a bottle of tawny port, and a bottle of Champagne. You never know when a dinner guest might drop by with sushi… and stay for mimosas in the morning. It’s best to be prepared.

Of the remaining 15 slots, we recommend dividing those up into threes. If you’re sharing wine with guests, you’ll need more than one bottle to ensure that there’s enough for everyone to be drinking the same thing. If you’re drinking alone and find a bottle you like, it’s better to have two more on hold than to have to go back to the store and find it again. With our decided preference for red wines over white, we elect to dedicate 9 of those slots to reds, and only 6 to whites. You may be the opposite, or may drink one or the other exclusively, in which case you’d adjust your ratio accordingly.

There are 12 bottles in a case of wine. We recommend buying wine by the half case or splitting a case in half. Most wine shops will give you a discount of 10-20% for buying 12 or more bottles, and some will give a smaller discount for buying six. Buying six of a variety at a time may not be ideal for your weekly paycheck, but it has the distinct advantage of allowing you to have your cake and eat it too. By drinking 3 bottles and keeping the other three, you’ll slowly be able to fill your rack with a selection of wines that’s big enough to provide variety, but small enough that you can be intimately familiar with each label. For the novice, continuing to buy and drink in this manner will allow you think and talk intelligently about a few wines right away, and over the course of time will enable you to actually learn quite a bit about grape varieties and growing regions, in a way that drinking one bottle or glass at a time never could.

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The Chop’s Père Noël Cocktail Recipe

We would have liked to get this up before Christmas, when we were talking last week about ’tis the season for amaretto, but Christmas will sneak up on you quickly… like the Krampus. Anyway, this is the time of year when you seem to see bottles of amaretto floating around everywhere. Since taking that stuff straight is about as enjoyable as drinking maple syrup, you’ve got to know how to mix it if you don’t want that bottle to collect dust and become something of an annual holiday joke.

An obvious choice in dealing with amaretto is cranberry juice, which is very seasonal this time of year and which has the tartness to offset the overly sweet taste of amaretto. Although the folks at DiSaronno and their vaguely ethnic, very homosexual spokesman would have you think differently, cranberry alone is not a suitable mixer for amaretto. Mixing two things that are gross will never make something that is good. It’s going to take a little more mixing to come up with something drinkable. We did a little more mixing, and the result was the Père Noël cocktail.

If it comes out red, it's got too much cranberry in it.

The Chop’s Père Noël Recipe

  • 3 parts bourbon
  • 2 parts amaretto
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4 parts cranberry juice

Pour ingredients in that order into a double old-fashioned or highball glass full of ice. Stir once or twice and sip.

It’s important not to use too much juice in this. It’s a cocktail and not a highball or juice mixer. When you get it right, it should taste surprisingly similar to the inside part of a chocolate-covered cherry. (Cherry cordials are one of the Chop’s favorite things about Christmas, by the way.) That said, this drink goes really, really well with dark chocolate, so if you’ve got some lying around after the holidays, mixing up one of these is a great way to complement it after dinner, or if you’re in a diet, instead of dinner.

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Photo and more on amaretto at Liquor Snob.

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The Chop’s Sweet Russian Cocktail Recipe

The holiday season is that time of year when the Amaretto rears its ugly head in homes and hearths from Highlandtown to Upper Park Heights. In cookies, candies, hot chocolate mix, or liqueurs, the stuff is bound up with Christmas just as much as eggnog and greeting cards.

Whether you’re forced to keep a bottle on hand for Aunt Marie, find yourself at a party with off-brand booze, or have the great good fortune to be entertaining a snowbunny with questionable cocktail tastes, it’s helpful to know how to use amaretto.

'Tis the season for amaretto.

This is a cocktail we’ve been calling for occasionally for a few years now. It’s good as an after-dinner drink, nightcap, that sort of thing. It’s as simple as it gets, tastes sweet and smooth, and being all liquor, it’ll knock you down if you’re not careful.

The Sweet Russian

  • 2 parts vodka
  • 1 part coffee liqueur
  • a splash of amaretto

Stir in a shaker and serve up or over ice.

Yep. A Black Russian with a splash of amaretto. You’ve got to love a cocktail that you can call for in any bar in America, and make at home with no effort at all. You can even get one at the Chinese restaurant on Christmas night.

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The Chop’s Holiday Egg Nog Cocktail Recipe

We like egg nog. We’ll make no apologies for that. If you’re one of these people who does not like egg nog, look at this, because that’s all we can do for you today.

For the rest of you, we’ve come up with a damn near perfect way to mix up an egg nog cocktail that’s actually thinner than pea soup, and tastes so good you might even drink more than one of them.

This recipe is guaranteed to have you feeling extra *jolly.*

As a bonus, this mix is a great way to use leftover coffee. We have leftover coffee in out home pot nearly every day (which doesn’t end up burnt and tarry because we bought a very good coffee maker) and we hate to see it go to waste, which it usually does.

The Chop’s Egg Nog Recipe

  1. 1 part liquor
  2. 1 part egg nog
  3. 1 part cold coffee
  4. a dash of simple syrup

Pour it all over ice and shake the hell out of it. Strain it over new ice. Swear at relatives, ruin Santa myths and topple Christmas trees accordingly.

Step 1 calls for “liquor” because you have a few choices here. We’ve tried this recipe with bourbon, brandy, and dark rum to good effect. Each base liquor is dramatically different, and although the Chop prefers bourbon the year round, our favorite take on this recipe was when it was mixed with the Kraken dark spiced rum.

Do not, we repeat, for the sake of the little baby Jebus at Christmastime do not use light rum, vodka, blended whiskey, or anything else that’s not a very sweet, very brown liquor. Bourbon, brandy, and dark rum… it’s all you want for Christmas.

Shake yourself up a few of these and the only worries you’ll have this holiday are remembering which wills you’re named in, and whether she’s you second cousin or your third cousin twice removed by marriage.

Happy Holidays.

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Best Bets: Compass Box Scotch Whiskies

Words like “craft” and “artisan” are thrown around much too freely these days. Everything we buy now has to have some grand, romantic story attached to it. From furniture to farmers’ markets, from apparel to accessories, stories sell. If you don’t know the name of the guy who made it and you can’t drop by his charming little Gepetto-style workshop on a whim, well, it’s just not worth having, is it? Of course, nowhere is this more true than at your local liquor store.

Let’s face it, wax seals and hand-written barrel numbers are the exact same thing as putting your vodka into a glass skull. It’s selling the bottle, not the spirit. (Although to be fair, there’s a lot of really good whiskies in some of those bottles, whereas all premium vodka is a joke.) In an era when every ultra-premium vodka has a celebrity pitchman, and every distiller in Kentucky is offering single barrel this and small batch that and putting the cute little hand-written batch numbers on the bottle, It can sometimes be hard to tell what’s inside, and whether it warrants its price tag. These days, everyone’s an artisan.

Spice Tree. The best way to warm up this winter.

John Glaser is an artisan. Take that statement for what it’s worth. Compass Box Whisky has a story. We’re not going to bother telling you the story. You can look it up on their site. It’s a lot of technical stuff about wood and blending and aging, which really is interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. What we are going to bother to do is to tell you that this stuff is really, really good.

Of the two lines that Compass Box produces, Signature and Limited Release, we’ve so far had a chance to try three different examples of their whisky. Each one was markedly different, but all were equally excellent. Bottles in the less expensive Signature line are generally available in the $35-$40 range, and compare favorably with bottles costing twice as much. To our palate, a Peat Monster is every bit as good as a Laphroaig, and We’d reach for an Oak Cross over a Glen-Whateveryoulike any day of the week. Seriously.

With Winter now firmly digging in, we’re in all-brown-liquor-all-the-time mode here at the Chophouse. We’re declaring Compass Box to be our house Scotch going forward, and by the time the Winter’s out we expect we’ll have three or four different bottles on hand. We suggest that when you head to the liquor store this weekend you go ahead and buy two or more bottles. They make a great holiday gift, but make sure to keep one for yourself.

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The Perfect Wine for Thanksgiving: Tawny Port

You’ve all probably figured out by now that the Chop really likes our liquor. We’ll always embrace the chance to try something new or compare two whiskies side by side. What you may not have realized though is that we also like wine quite a bit.

The difference between lies in the fact that while we harbor some nerdy, snobbish tendencies about liquor, we’re not at all picky about wine. We fall squarely into the 15% of consumers who are ‘Savvy Shoppers’ on Constellation Brands’ six types of wine drinkers list. If it costs $10 and doesn’t smell like vinegar, odds are we’ve gone home with it at some point. (But enough about our sex life…)

A visual approximation of the Chop's Thanksgiving dinner.

So when a wine magazine editor writing for the Huffington Post recently called Thanksgiving “the clusterfuck of wine holidays” we were inclined to agree.

The Chop has a very large extended family. For thanksgiving we traditionally pay a visit to our singularly Republican aunt and uncle who are enthusiastic wine cellar-ers and have been for many years. In typical selfish, undemocratic GOP fashion though, they keep most of the cellar locked up, and buy a bunch of crappy Vendange or Turning Leaf for the family, thinking we don’t know the difference. No matter. Picking and pairing wines for thanksgiving dinner really can be more trouble than it’s worth.

So when you’re standing around the wine shop this week, wondering what bottle to bring as a gift or which will make the best digestif, we’d like to plant this thought in your head: Thanksgiving is the best day of the year for drinking Port.

All of the best drinkers throughout history have embraced Portos. From kings and noblemen to oenophilic tastemakers to the fathers of Maryland to hobos and winos, and of course, the Chop, anyone who knows wine knows it’s better when it’s fortified. With the perfect mix of lightness and body, fruit and oak, and caramel and spice, a good tawny Port is the perfect choice for a tipple after a feast of yams and turkey. It even pairs sublimely with pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

The bottle in our rack right now is the Sandeman 10 year old. We picked this out from among the large and varied selection of Portos at the Wine Source for about $25. To our mind Sandeman is roughly the Johnnie Walker of Portugal, from their wide range of Portos and a consistent quality near the bottom of their line, right down to their exporting machine and the shadowy figure in the logo. That’s not a knock. We’ve got nothing but love for Johnnie Black, and we’d recommend keeping both the Walker and the Sandeman on hand for the holidays, and all the year round.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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