Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hot Liquor

whiskey colorado

These unseasonably warm winter days remind me how much I love spring. I feel eminently better in freeing dresses & swishy skirts than betrothed to bulky sweaters & bound up in pants. I want the warmth of the sun always on my skin. & I prefer hot yoga, like Baptiste or Bikram, to 'regular' yoga. I've even been known to carry my own tiny bottle of Tabasco in the pocket of my purse. Too, the charred oak burn of a brown liquor almost always trumps vodka or gin—no matter the season.

If you visited my liquor cabinet, you would see at this moment one tequila, three sotols, two gins, an akavit, & no vodka at all. But you would first see seven whiskeys, ten bourbons, & three tongue-curlingly hot ryes. & eight, yes, eight bitters—bitters, after all, being the babouches & handbags of the whiskey-slanted wardrobe.

Ayurvedic doctors would surely name me a Pitta-type: light, warm, ambitious, & determined. Precise. Passionate. Principled. But above all, having a heat-seeking, fiery nature that manifests itself throughout the body & mind. & I'd have to say that that's true. & then I'd tip my spring bonnet & drink to it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Whiskey Chick's Ras el Hanout Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

2 oz rye
2 dashes Ras el Hanout bitters*
1 sugar cube
1 splash of water or club soda

In an Old Fashioned glass, gently dissolve the sugar cube in the bitters & soda. Swirl the glass with the mixture. Pour in the rye, preferably over a large cube of ice. Serve.

  Ras el Hanout bitters

1 bottle filtered vodka
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon grains of paradise
2 tablespoons dried rose petals
1 teaspoon diced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon grated cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon orris root
½ teaspoon gentian root
½ cup filtered water

In a large bottle or jar, combine the vodka & spices. Let sit in a cool, dark place for eight days, rotating the jar once a day. On the eighth day, strain, add the filtered water & bottle. Let stand two more weeks before using.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cured Spirits

whiskey Colorado

With locavore culture all the rage, we of the drinking classes inevitably want to take our hobby home with us. So where in Colorado does one track down the finest locally-produced spirits needed for a do-it-yourself Sazerac or Manhattan? Easy: at Cured Boulder.

It was the paucity of retail outlets devoted to local craft ales & spirits that led Will Frischkorn, a former professional cyclist living in Spain, to set up a bottle shop, Cured Wines, a glassed-in boutique within his larger market that is Cured Boulder. With its exposed brick walls & distressed plank flooring, Cured Boulder offers over 80 hand-selected cheeses, 22 different types of charcuterie, heirloom tomatoes, greens & fresh eggs from nearby farms, as well as luxurious grilled cheese sandwiches. 

In addition to a small, sharply edited vino selection, Cured Wines is also a passionate paean to the culture & history of the local hard stuff. Will carries an ever-growing line-up of Colorado-produced spirits; developing personal relationships with purveyors is the core of his work. So whether you're looking for a bottle of Leopold Bros. American Small Batch Whiskey as an elegant gift for out-of-state friends or are thirsting to stir up your Old Fashioned with Colorado Straight Bourbon, Cured has something local & liquor-ish to warm your belly after a long day.

Cured, 1825 Pearl St., Boulder; (720) 352-2331. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Drinking Bourbon in Colorado

Bourbon whiskey Stagg Kentucky
George T. Stagg 2011 Release
Drenched from a fast, cool mountain rain, I open the front door to the Frank-Lloyd-Wright-meets-Dwell-magazine condo in Stapleton―my temporary home at the base of the Rocky Mountains. I lean out the window; the late March light is a cool blue, streaked with pink. Across the street, I see two newish friends wave to me, & I run downstairs to open the door for them & for their bourbon―a 2011 George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight: 18-year, 142.6 proof.

We gather around the granite kitchen island & begin talking cask-strength bourbons―bourbons that are bottled at the proof at which they come out of the cask. Because cask-strength bourbons, such as George T. Stagg, aren't chill-filtered, their mouthfeel can be oilier, thicker, rawer. & cask-strength bourbons have 10%-15% more alcohol than regular bourbons, which shows up immediately in the nose. Sipping them can be like ingesting pure fire.

Three tiny cups are brought to our kitchen island 'bar'―with matching tiny water backs for those who like to unlock the subtleties of their bourbon with a splash. My own Stagg is neat, & the warm butterscotchness is followed by a bit of smoky wood. Fragrant notes of leather & tobacco & dried vanilla linger.

I put on some music―early Art Blakey with Clifford Brown blowing brass―& pour a second round. We sip it silently; Stagg is holy stuff. & since discovering it, I frequently crave this primitive elixir―not just the indulgence itself but the experience of consuming it, the slowing down, the savoring.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sazerac Cocktail Recipe

rye Sazerac cocktail
Sazerac at The Alembic Bar, SF

When I met the woman who became my girlfriend, she & a roommate shared a railroad apartment on Chicago’s South Side, the kitchen of which was dominated by an enormous island with a butcher block top. But that kitchen had only one regular counter & almost no other horizontal space--so everything that was too tall for a cupboard was stored on top of the island, including the liquor. Lara was a graduate student, & she didn't spend a lot on booze because she didn't have a lot to spend. But she mixed drinks often, usually nightcaps, & her cocktails were confident & delicious. Her secret, I learned, was right out in the open, in the center of that vast island. That's where she kept her bar: a carefully selected arsenal of organic vodka, always at least two different gins, two or three brown liquors, an orange liqueur, a fine Cognac, a rum, Peychaud's bitters, a tequila, a couple of shakers, & a small mountain of lemons & limes. With the contents of that makeshift bar, she told me, she could mix almost anything.

Exaggeration is not uncommon when one is courting a potential mate, but for the most part, Lara kept her word. Between the bar & her corner of the shared freezer, where she always stored a bag of impossibly flawless ice, she could produce an impressive number of different nightcaps any given night of the week. She shook classic Sidecars with Cognac & true liqueur d’orange, riffs on Old Fashioneds, perfect dry martinis, Mai Tai’s, a gorgeous margarita with fresh cucumber, & Lara’s signature drink, the Sazerac.

Many consider the Sazerac the very first cocktail, with its origin dating to nineteenth century New Orleans. Lara taught me how to prepare one not long after we moved in together, & though it's not neuroscience, she had clearly put a lot of thought into hers. When a cocktail is as classic as this one, it can only be as good as its weakest ingredient. Typically, a few drops of absinthe are carefully swirled around the sides of an iced rocks glass before some combination of sugar, bitters, & rye is added. All absinthes are not created equal however, Lara warned me: Some brands are too medicinal, while others are too floral. Over the years, she's tried many different absinthes, & Leopold's, St. George's, & Kubler are her just-right favorites. Until Lara & her Sazerac, it had never occurred to me to be choosy about something as esoteric as absinthe, especially an ingredient used in such minuscule amounts. It changed the way I think about cocktails, & I also like to think that I fell in love through the green prism of this legendary anise-flavored spirit.

Lara's butcher block island bar taught me that even with liquor, subtle variations in flavor & quality are noticeable & can mean the difference between ordinary & interesting. A well-curated home bar isn't a guarantee that you'll mix something romantic or even revelatory every night, but it improves the odds. & it also has the side effect of making you feel capable of anything, even if you're a graduate student cocktailing on a shoestring.

Lara’s Sazerac:


  • 3 oz rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • Peychaud bitters to taste
  • absinthe
  • lemon twist for garnish


  1. Chill an old fashioned glass by filling it with ice & letting it sit while preparing the rest of the drink.
  2. In a separate mixing glass, muddle the simple syrup & bitters together.
  3. Add the rye & ice to the bitters mixture. stir.
  4. Discard the ice in the chilled glass & rinse it generously with absinthe by pouring a small amount into the glass, swirling it around & discarding the liquid.
  5. Strain the rye mixture from the mixing glass into the old fashioned glass.
  6. Squeeze the lemon twist over the drink to release its essences, but do not drop it into the glass itself.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chamomile Cocktail Bitters

how to make bitters
Chamomile buds
Chamomile Bitters
Rosehips & chamomile buds balance the bitter aspect of whiskey nicely & also enhance its floral undertones.
  • 1 Tablespoon white peppercorns
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon rosehips
  • 6 Tablespoons chamomile flowers
  • vodka
Add all ingredients to a 8 oz jar & fill with vodka until herbs are saturated & fully covered. Store capped jar in a cool, dark spot & give the jar a shake each day. Strain carefully after two weeks.

Use these bitters in a Manhattan:
  • 2 1/2 oz rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • 3-4 drops Chamomile Bitters
  • maraschino cherry for garnish
  1. Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice cubes.
  2. Stir gently.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass to serve.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bryan Nolt: The Art of Bourbon

Bryan Nolt distiller
Bryan Nolt

Breckenridge Distillery sits at 9,600 feet above sea level, making it the world's highest distillery, & the trip from Denver takes just a little over an hour & a half by car. Founded in 1859, the town of Breckenridge served the miners in the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. All the gold mines here have been shut down since the early 1900's, however in 2010 Bryan Nolt founded a new sort of precious luster: hooch.

Nolt’s hooch truly is gold, his bourbon having already won a prestigious Gold Medal in the 2011 International Wine & Spirits Competition in the UK. & what makes Breckenridge's bourbon gorgeously outstanding is that it contains 36% rye, which provides a spicier note than wheat. Aged in new American White Oak barrels―required by law in order to be labeled 'bourbon'―Breckenridge Distillery sources theirs from Missouri. The insides of these barrels are charred three times to remove sulphur compounds from the new spirit & to give it its distinctive caramelized character.

Christine: Why bourbon?

Bryan: I love whisk(e)y, in particular Scotch followed closely by rye. I don't have the same love for sweet or wheated bourbon. My inspiration in founding Breckenridge Distillery was to create a unique specialty-malted barley whiskey (which we do). Our master distiller, Jordan Via, convinced me to make a bourbon in the rye style. It turned out to be so good that it's our flagship product.

Christine: When I underwent Sommelier training, we learned that the technical evaluation of a wine or spirit involves 70% smell, 20% sight, & 10% taste. Do you smell like bourbon? What do you smell like on any given day? 

Bryan: Like Chazz Michael Michaels.

Christine: What do you like to drink?

Bryan: I love wine, hoppy beers, Whiskey, botanical spirits, & great cocktails. I really appreciate the European tradition of fabulous apertifs & digestifs. That said, my go to drink is Breckenridge Bitters on the rocks topped with an IPA, & my favorite Whiskey for the money is Rittenhouse 100 rye.

Christine: Are any of the botanical essences that you use in your portfolio of products especially difficult to work with?

Bryan: We have an aversion toward essences & extracts & prefer to do straight infusions in our liqueurs. We carefully source our herbs, roots, & spices from all over the world. We have a few unique challenges with herbs at this moment. The first is dealing with the concentration of thujone in our Genepi liqueur, a spirit similar to absinthe that's made from the maceration & distillation of various mountain wildflowers. Genepi itself is an herb from the Alps that is difficult to cultivate. Making Genepi liqueur is a fantastic Swiss tradition, & we're fortunate to have a secret stash of the herb growing near Breckenridge. The second challenge lies in the hurdles we face with the government in understanding safety issues with herbs they perceive as hazardous, such as horny goat weed.

Christine: You're involved in every aspect of your business from sourcing to distilling to packaging. How you are able to stay so creative & productive & still be involved in all these aspects of a thriving business? 

Bryan: The best you can do in any endeavor is to surround yourself with trustworthy people who are smarter than you. Delegation & patience is key. Aside from that, I don't get nearly enough enough sleep. & I have The World's Greatest Wife.  

Christine: How does the outsized landscape of the Rockies inspire you? 

Bryan: I think Colorado is the absolute most kick-ass state in the Union. Access to all this natural beauty is unparalleled. It would be impossible to not take inspiration from this land, sky, sun, wildlife, & water. 

Christine: What are you reading right now, Bryan?

Bryan: I just finished the best American story of all time, Our Story: Ernest & Julio Gallo. The tragedy & hardships that family overcame is an inspiration. For fun I'm finishing out The Flashman Chronicles. I've been picking away at Polybius, The Rise of The Roman Empire. & I've recently reread Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (my favorite author).