So we’ve covered gin, gin cocktails, how great gin is, and how much I like gin. Then we moved on to some simple liqueurs and digestives that you should have in your home bar at all times. If you need to play catch up, simply scroll down a few pages and find parts 1 and 2. Otherwise, it’s now time to look at darker spirits, namely brandy and whiskey. Note, the name of this article is not, “Building The Perfect Single Malt Trophy Shelf,” so for today we are going to avoid Scotch altogether. Plus, I’m going to feature products that can be mixed to form some terrific cocktails and personally I’m not about to add anything to my Ardbeg or Bruichladdich. Let’s begin!
With American-made whiskey I find the most enjoyable and widely appreciated beverage is the Manhattan. Mixing bourbon with a little sweet vermouth, some ice, and a dash of bitters is a quick and easy way to unwind after work. While bourbon, or even Tennessee Whiskey for that matter, has enjoyed its time in the limelight as the base of choice for the Manhattan, I’m hard-pressed to make my version with anything besides a rich and spicy rye whiskey. However, the great thing about making your own drinks is that you’re the boss and you can make them however the heck you want. Whatever your preference here is my recipe for a Manhattan and the two whiskies I most commonly use at home:
2 ¼ oz of bourbon/rye
¾ oz of sweet vermouth (preferably Dolin or Vya)
2 dashes of Regan’s or Angosturra bitters
1/8 tsp. of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (instead of a cherry)
Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof ($19.99) I have yet to find a great bar that doesn’t use this as the base for their whiskey cocktails. It is everything I need flavor-wise with a 24 hour mini-mart price tag. It is spicy, rich, delicious and it mixes terrifically. It wins every award that spirits can receive and it is the standard for the home bar. I don’t even consider a “back-up” rye when mixing a drink.
Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon ($21.99) This is the smoothest and most mellow bourbon around and its price-to-quality ratio is ridiculous. This is a serious whiskey that needs you to pay attention. It is so gentle that you could down a quick shot without blinking an eye, but in doing so you would no doubt overlook the grace and elegance it offers. Smooth stuff made by a master craftsman named Jim Rutledge.
Once again I would like to reiterate that I’m not going to mention our best “sipping” Cognacs, Armagnacs or brandies. It would be a monumental waste of money to use the 1979 Darroze that you were planning on buying me for my 30th birthday to make a refreshing drink that would only dilute its greatness. Better to find a quality spirit at a more affordable price. I have two fabulous choices for you and the best part about them is, due to their outstanding quality, you can still sip them after dinner with dessert. To start off, here is a terrific recipe that I borrowed from the Savoy Cocktail Book if you need a great idea.
Nick’s Own Cocktail
1 ½ oz of brandy
1 ½ oz. of sweet vermouth (again Dolin or Vya)
dash of bitters
dash of Absinthe (Kubler)
Shake with ice and strain
Osocalis Alambic Brandy ($44.99) I’m going to start with the best quality at the best price, and I like to shop locally, so let me introduce you to a beautiful brandy made outside Santa Cruz. The Osocalis is made on a small antique still imported from Alsace by the guys behind Santa Cruz Mountain Winery. I’ve always been a big fan of their wines, and now I’m gushing about their booze. It is slightly fruity underneath the rich barrel flavors and that’s what helps it mix. No matter how you prepare the Osocalis—in a cocktail, over ice, or straight— it should taste delicious.
Deret 5 Year VS Cognac ($34.99) If you’ve wandered into our Redwood City store recently, you may have wondered why the Cognac shelf has so many empty spots. Is it because we are sold out of all our products? No. Is it because Cognac sales are down? No. It is because of Deret’s Cognacs that we have so many holes. Once we introduced our customer base to these delightful brandies, we couldn’t convince them to try anything else. No matter what else I bring in to the store, everyone still wants the trustworthy Deret. We’ve created a monster here, but until I find something better at that price, what can you do? The five year is an established favorite with its round rich palate that hints towards apple and stone fruit. Everyone loves it, including me.
I was really out of the loop regarding the potential for great Calvados cocktails until recently. A few bars in the city offer such amazing cocktails using an applejack base that I have been returning over and over again to enjoy them. The apple flavors really contribute to the flavors of these drinks in a way that Cognac or brandy couldn’t, so if you’ve got a bottle of Calvados that you have been ignoring lately, I’ve got a classic recipe here for you.
Jack Rose Cocktail
2 oz of Calvados
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz simple syrup
¾ oz grenadine (I will hopefully be getting Small Hands Foods very soon!!)
Clear Creek Eau de Vie Pomme 8-year-old (375ml $24.99) If you ask my opinion (or if you scroll down and read about my trip to Clear Creek), great Eau de Vie begins and ends with Steve McCarthy’s distillates. This apple brandy is the best American produced version that exists and probably will ever exist. It smells like fresh apples and tastes like rich, oak-aged brandy. Beautiful!
Germain Robin Apple Brandy ($61.99) Now you ask, why would you even consider this after you just gushed all over the place about Clear Creek? Because this is amazing apple brandy and it is a more accessible product by a terrific distillery. Germain Robin brandies are the benchmark for American brandy. I declined to include them above because they are too good for mixing. Their apple brandy (which really is only $12 more if you were to buy 750 ml of Clear Creek) leans more to the smooth vanilla side of the barrel-aged flavor, which will appeal to more drinkers, I believe. It is unmistakably amazing and deserves to be mentioned alongside Mr. McCarthy’s bottle.