Tag Archives: Whiskey

The Ten Best Unpopular Highballs

It’s officially Spring in Baltimore. The good news is that Flowermart and Preakness are right around the corner. The bad news is that Spring also means household chores and Spring cleaning. There is a silver lining though, and it is that Spring cleaning also means cleaning out your home bar.

If you’re like us, you’ve been hoarding bottles the way squirrels hoard nuts during your winter hibernation. There’s no time like the present for streamlining your bar, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by mixing highballs.

Drinks in the back yard are often different from drinks at the bar.

First a clarification: Wikipedia tells us that the term highball originally referred to scotch and soda, but has grown to encompass almost any combination of liquor and soft drinks, mostly but not exclusively of the carbonated variety. A highball is usually what people refer to with the term “mixed drinks” as opposed to “cocktails” which are typically comprised mostly of liquor.

In bars and taverns, some particular highball combinations enjoy a longstanding popularity; Jack and Coke, Gin and tonic, Bourbon and ginger ale, Seven and Seven, etc. Those are all solid choices, but at home having too much, or not enough of one ingredient can lead to some unexpected choices. After all, the best part of home bartending is experimentation…

  • 10: Vodka and Flavored Seltzer. Take a trip up the soda/water aisle in the grocery store and you’ll find plenty of lightly flavored seltzers which aren’t stocked in bars and which are much cheaper than regular sodas. these are a perfect choice for Spring and Summer drinking.
  • 9: Jameson and Lemonade. This doesn’t sound so good on paper, but something about it just works. The combo of malt and citrus makes for a slightly organic taste, and of course, there’s a ton of sugar in there too. We once brought home a bottle Wasmund’s malt whisky, and the only way we could power through it was by adding lemonade.
  • 8: Vodka and Sweet Tea. Sometimes known as an Icepick, this is a drink that is best drunk at home, because no bar or restaurant we know of locally makes tea the right way: Sweet.
  • 7: Gin and Sprite. Most gin drinkers will reach for tonic every time, but we’ve got a sweet tooth. Sprite is the only thing we’ve found so far that makes us like gin enough to drink it throughout the evening.
  • 6: Vodka and Cran-Raspberry. This is actually our father’s drink of choice. Any bar can pour you a Cape Cod, but you’ve got to be at home to make it with cran-raspberry. And trust us, it’s much better that way.
  • 5: Dark Rum and Lemon Water. It’s hard to say what we mean by lemon water. It’s much more tart and lightly flavored than lemonade, and only slightly carbonated. Not quite water, not quite soda, you’ll know it when you see it. Whatever it is, the lightness and crispness of it is a perfect complement to the syrupy quality of a rum like Myers’s or our own favorite, the Kraken.
  • 4: Light Rum and Fruit Punch. Check your fridge, you might have a bottle of fruit punch hanging around back there. You know the kind we mean, mostly grape juice, some pear juice, a small fraction of other juices, and a palm tree on the label. make sure to use rum and not vodka to avoid unpleasant memories of “jungle juice.”
  • 3: Tequila and Snowballs. Most people who are from here don’t realize that snowballs are native regional fare for Baltimore. They also often don’t realize that they’re best enjoyed with liquor dumped all over them. There are a ton of winning flavor and liquor combinations, but you can’t go wrong with tequila and a key lime pie flavored snowball. Just be sure to skip the marshmallow topping.
  • 2: Bourbon and Apple Cider. Granted, this is more of a seasonal drink for the Fall, but it is good enough to drink year round. Plain old apple cider is such a great mixer, it’s surprising that more hoity-toity bartenders haven’t caught on to its use as a cocktail ingredient.
  • 1: Anything and Limeade. Limeade is pretty gross on its own, but it’s one of the most versatile mixers you can buy. Most of the types you find at the store are of pretty good quality too, since they’re not all artificial sweeteners and citric acid like most lemonades. Works with rums, tequila, gin, and just about every one of the 10,000 flavored vodkas out there. Best bet: Cherry vodka limeade.
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The Five Best Bottles of Liquor to Give as a Gift

Last Fall when we wrote about How to Stock a Home Bar we mentioned that you should save space for a couple of ‘special occasion bottles.’ You need a couple of bottles of the good stuff; a private stock, if you will. This is the stuff that you’ll break out for special occasions, and that is good enough that it will make any occasion special if you do break it out.

We suggested that these bottles might even be given to you to mark some special occasion. It works both ways though… eventually a friend of yours is going to have a birthday, a housewarming, a Christmas party, or some other milestone worth marking with a bottle. It’s times like these when the usual good stuff isn’t quite good enough. Any drinker can treat himself to a bottle of Makers’ 46 or Tanqueray 10 on payday, but the idea behind a gifted bottle is that it should not only be a liquor of superior quality, but should be something a friend might not think to try on his own.

In any decent spirits shop there’s going to be no shortage of bottles worth giving as a gift. Especially now, in the age of artisanal booze made in small batch copper pot stills there is plenty of variety for a special occasion. These five though are tried and true, and represent the very best spirit of generosity.

The Dalmore 15

The Dalmore 15 year old. Representing the third tier in the Dalmore Range (which includes whiskys up to 50 years old), the 15 is about the best there is in the world before you start spending into the triple digits. The Dalmore’s 12 point stag stands guard on the bottle, ensuring it’s not opened lightly. Aged entirely in sherry casks, this is the stuff that your Grandfather would drink. At his mistress’ funeral. (around $80.)

Barbancourt Estate Reserve

Barbancourt Estate Reserve. Unlike some other liquors, there are plenty of good rums available in the $20 range. Spend twice that and you’re into the realm of world-class rums. What makes Barbancourt’s Estate Reserve so special isn’t just the fact that it’s still being produced in post-quake Haiti from pure sugar cane or the 15 years it spends in oak, it’s the fact that not only do you not need Coke to drink it… you don’t even need ice. (around $45.)

Noah's Mill

Noah’s Mill. We had the good fortune to receive a bottle of Noah’s Mill as a gift once, and can speak directly to its quality. The Chop is first and foremost a bourbon drinker, and Noah’s Mill has supplanted Russell’s Reserve as our top pick. You know this isn’t for everyday drinking, as it’s bottled at a ridiculous 114.3 proof. You wouldn’t ever know it though, because it smooths out nicely after 15 years of aging in charred oak. This is as good as it gets. (around $45.)

Delamain pale and dry XO

Delamain pale and dry XO.Without getting into a whole big lesson on Cognac, let us just say this is the good shit. In this year’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge it placed second with a score of 95, a tie with Delamain’s much pricier “Extra” expression. Whereas an XO represents the top of some brands’ lines, at Delamain this 25 year old Cognac is actually the bottom of the line. Compare it to Courvoisier’s XO, which is the fifth step up their ladder, retails about $50 more, and is not 100% Grand Champagne derived. It is a bit expensive, but it’s also a special occasion. (around $100.)

Chartreuse

Chartreuse. Why are we including Chartreuse in this short list? Is it because we love it? Because we would like to receive a bottle as a gift? Because we wanted to include a liqueur for variety’s sake? These are all good reasons, but we include Chartreuse here because it’s the perfect gift for the vodka or gin drinker in your life. Premium vodka is more or less a scam, and any serious gin drinker has probably already reached the top of the gin pyramid on his own (It’s not nearly as high as the Cognac pyramid or the Scotch pyramid). Chartreuse is best served neat, but if that certain someone still insists of drinking vodka, feel free to pass along our Chartreuse gimlet recipe.

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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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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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Chop on the Spot: Bluegrass

You don’t need us to tell you about the food at Bluegrass. There are already plenty of reviews out there in the Sun, The Citypaper, Baltimore Magazine and elsewhere. Baltimore is very much a city in which restaurants are their reputations, and when a place like Bluegrass opens up, everyone seemingly wants to be the first one in, and the first one to make that reputation. We’re not just talking about newspapers and magazines, but also about sites like Yelp and Chowhoud, which tend to fill up with very strong opinions from self-appointed experts soon after any decent restaurant opens its doors.

We like to eat as much as the next guy, and even more than that we like to cook, and manage to stay busy enough in the kitchen here at the Chophouse. One thing we don’t like to do though is to write about food. This is not a food blog, and never will be. We’ve already gone on a rant about foodies, and it wasn’t until we checked out Bluegrass’ website and found this little gem that we realized we weren’t alone in our opinions. (Click that link. It’s very much worth your time to read.)

We’re here to tell you that Bluegrass has a bar.

My Old Kentucky Home.

We’re here to tell you that Bluegrass has an excellent bar. With its modest portion sizes Bluegrass has become the kind of place that is becoming increasingly popular in Baltimore; the sort where people go to eat a little and drink a lot. To our mind, if the cocktails are the main attraction, then why even bother with the menu?

Thanks to a bit of architectural foresight, the space’s two dining rooms (upstairs and in the rear) as well as the kitchen (in the basement) are well secluded from the bar. It may technically be a restaurant bar, but it feels very much like an updated version of the South Baltimore corner bar that it is. Being on its own, the intimate bar space is left entirely to take on the mood and feeling of whatever patrons happen to inhabit it at any given moment, which should be the way with all great bars.

But the patrons themselves can only do so much. It’s up to the bartender to do the rest, and with their formidable selection of Bourbons Bluegrass does a fine job of holding up their end of the bargain. Throw in 6 regularly rotating taps, a good selection of bottles, occasional firkin nights, and some purely professional bartenders who pour ’em strong, and you’ve got a recipe for a truly great bar.

It’s one that we’ll be back to whenever we’re down that way, and perhaps even when we’re not. Some say Bluegrass is a destination restaurant, but for us it’s a destination bar.

The best part? They’re open Sundays.

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Bluegrass is at 1500 S. Hanover St. in South Baltimore. 410-244-5101. Closed Mondays.

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