Cilantro Syrup Experiment: An Arrack Sour

I am a big fan of do-it-yourself cocktail projects. I find it incredibly relaxing to roll up my sleeves, throw on an apron, and break down fruits and vegetables. Maybe it's the physicality of actually working with my hands, maybe it's that I can escape into a totally different state of mind--I'm not sure it really matters. Regardless of why,  I savor those moments surrounded by sieves and sugars, funnels and high-proof spirits. I don't even mind the time investment of larger projects, the daily shaking and tasting. There's something about this type of creative process that is both soothing and stimulating

When it comes to the process though, I often find that no recipes exist for what I want to make. Occasionally I can find an adequate guide where only simple substitutions are necessary. Mostly I just figure it out on the fly, and try not to focus on the results. What else it there to do when you want to make a hops liqueur, cook up some apricot shrub, or even try your hand at a celery root infusion? The crazier the project seems, the more likely I am to try it. Without a detailed recipe, at the very least Ill gain some valuable experiential knowledge. The end result isn't always important, sometimes it is the journey that makes all the difference. '

Besides storage, which is a huge problem on its own, the largest issue I have with making nontraditional cocktail ingredients is what to do with them once they're finished. Something like apricot shrub, or any other shrub for that matter, is pretty easy, but other things can be more difficult.  I'm still not really sure what I was thinking with that celery root infusion. Usually miscellaneous syrups end up sitting in the refrigerator door, and countless infusion experiments have already overrun one closet and overflowed directly into boxes housed under my desk. Jars and bottles labeled with masking tape litter our house, half-forgotten and gathering dust.

Inspiration came most recently in the form of cilantro syrup. I had this great idea for a cocktail, or at least I had this great idea. In practice, not so much; the flavors just wouldn't come together. Eventually I figured out that it was a monumental fail, but I still had almost six ounces of syrup left. What now? I started easy--herbal cilantro with herbal gin in a refreshing silver fizz. Perfect, but that only used 3/4 ounce. I could always whip up a batch of cilantro lemonade, cilantro limeade, or even cilantro Italian soda. I wasn't finding too much inspiration there. But then I was talking about cilantro with Anna from twosheetsinthewind and she told me about her success pairing cilantro with Batavia Arrack. As luck would have it, I not only happen to love Batavia Arrack but I also own a bottle. What a glorious suggestion it turned out to be.

Arrack Sour

1 1/2 ounce Batavia Arrack
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce cilantro syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/2 egg white

Dry shake ingredients. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled sour glass or double old-fashioned. Garnish with a few drops of Angostura on the foam.

As I leaned in close to the Angostura-tinged foam, the aroma of the arrack and the cloves met me. I could also detect the scent of something vegetal, which I assumed was the cilantro. I was immediately impressed by how smooth the texture was. While this was in no way surprising--it does have an egg white in it after all--it was very pleasant. The peppery funky taste dominated the entire drink from the beginning to the end, though the lemon was just as strong. The egg white did soften it and smooth out the flavors in general, but the arrack was still a very strong presence. All the better for my palate--I love arrack. Initially, I was having trouble detecting the cilantro beyond the smell. The lemon and arrack were just too powerful. But as I drank more, and the drink warmed up, it became more pronounced. So much for thinking the cilantro syrup was too delicate. By the end, each sip started with more vegetal notes and then segued into the peppery spiciness of the arrack. The aftertaste was of course dominated by the arrack, but the sourness of the lemon lingered as well. This drink was extremely very refreshing and crisp, with the arrack providing a solid base for the other flavors. Anna was right--cilantro and the arrack do go very well together.


Port and Raw Eggs: The Broken Spur

Raw egg yolks. Once upon a time that idea stopped me cold. It didn't matter if it was breakfast or dinner, I was not going anywhere near that thick gelatinous yellow goo. Just watching anyone sop up yolk with their toast was enough to turn me from my own breakfast. Once again cocktails came to my rescue. How was I supposed to experience the classics if I was squeamish about raw eggs? My first breakthrough came with a Pink Lady, where I discovered the wonder of egg whites. It was delicious: smooth, creamy, tart, and boozy all at once. Since then I have consumed a number of cocktails with egg whites. I have even ventured into the world of flips, which helped me learn to appreciate the entire egg. But until the Broken Spur, cocktails that used only the yolks were still undiscovered territory. Once again, it seems that Mr. Baker was going to provide me with a way to escape my comfort zone.

Not many cocktails include only the yolks. Far more use the whites, which makes sense as they add a foamy buoyancy not unlike meringue to a drink. But what do the egg yolks do? They do froth, or at least something in there creates a foamy top. They do add a certain velvety texture. I would imagine it is the same as when raw egg is added to a carbonara to make it all creamy and rich. Most egg yolk drinks seem to fall into the categories of pousse-cafe, some type of golden fizz, or a dessert drink. I am assuming that the Broken Spur would fall into the latter category, especially considering many of those drinks include brandy, Madeira or port as well the egg yolk. The inclusion of gin is perhaps the only thing that separates the Broken Spur.

But it isn't just the egg yolk that makes the Broken Spur so interesting. The Broken Spur seems to have originated in the 1930s, or thereabouts, as I could only find it in cocktail books from that time: Barflies and Cocktails (1927), the Savoy (1930), and Boothby's 1934 reprint. The proportions match up, which is kind of amazing, considering that any cocktail in the Gentleman's Companion seems to be enormous and suspiciously filled with anise. But where Baker details "port wine" as the base, a very general designation, every other recipe calls for white port instead. I used a tawny port because that is what I have, but if I had used a white port the Broken Spur would have been incredibly different. White port and tawny port are about as opposite as can be.

Tawny ports are made from red grapes that are fermented into wine and then fortified with grape spirits to halt that fermentation process. The they are aged in barrels and then blended in a fractional method that is like the solera method used to make sherry. Tawny ports are usually older than white and ruby ports when they get to market, and they are known for their raisin and nutty flavors. White ports are made from white grapes and may or may not have any contact with a barrel, though they are all aged to some extent.  They can vary in flavor from dry to sweet and are known for having delicate nutty flavors that are more like a dry sherry than the darker ports, though white ports do tend to be fruitier and richer than most dry sherries. As you can imagine, this would make quite a difference as the base of a cocktail. As I did even more research into this discrepancy, it seems that Baker's version is the only one that does not call specifically for white port.

Broken Spur

3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 1/2 ounces port
1 tsp anisette
1 egg yolk

Dry shake ingredients. Shake again with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a pinch of ground ginger.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Plymouth gin, punt e mes and a tawny port. I also substituted Sambuca for the anisette.

This was a very surprising cocktail. The aroma was full of the berry, raisiny notes of the port mingling with the ginger. On the first sip, the port was also dominant. Though the drink was very dry, it also had an almost chocolaty flavor, which was both pleasant and intriguing. The egg yolk created a smooth, rich consistency and a thick foam. The punt e mes added a slight bitterness throughout ,and as my mouth became more accustomed to the flavors, the botanics of the gin were more prominent. The raisin flavors of the port were back on the after taste. The anisette contributed its licorice flavors near the end of each sip, but they were not overly pronounced. This drink was exceptionally good and very refreshing and I would highly recommend making this drink when you find yourself with some extra egg yolks. I can almost imagine myself sitting next to Mr. Baker as he contemplates fiancees and Jenghis Khan in a cave behind a statesman's house in 1932 Peking.


Of Cravings and a Fizz

 I have been craving citrus. It's a sure sign of spring. Almost every year without fail, once the sun starts to stick around more, for about a month or so everything I make or order has citrus juice in it. After a long dark winter, it seems natural to rebel, to distance myself from all those earthy, rich brown spirits. Mind you, I never really stop drinking barrel-aged spirits, I just drink them differently. For example, in the heart of January I wanted a Toronto, but now I am making Blinkers and Volsteads. The transition may seem extreme, but crazy things happen when the sun finally decides to come out. And who are we to doubt our cravings.

Cravings are weird things to consider. Completely intuitive, instinctual even, they link us to our animal selves. Most people probably don't even think twice about it--what they really want deep down. They just order without thought. But we all know that amazing feeling of wholeness when we truly satisfy a certain craving maybe that we didn't even know we had, or that feeling of utter disappointment when nothing on a menu seems exciting or even remotely interesting. For the past two years, I have been tracking my cocktail cravings. It changes how you think about yourself on more than one level. I have learned that I am almost completely predictable. But I've also learned that no matter how much time I've spent keeping track of  the patterns, and not just the easy seasonal ones, I still couldn't tell you what I would want to drink at any particular time. Each time I sit on a stool, or browse the Internet looking for a recipe, the entire process is just as unconscious as before.

We have these ideas about ourselves and our tastes, but if we look closely how much do we really understand? How well do we really know ourselves? It's such a subjective question that it almost seems silly to even posit. If someone asked me what I usually drink in the winter, I would have said without hesitation  mostly rye and bourbon. Then I really sat down and checked. While it was true that I did drink primarily rye and bourbon, that's not all I found out. This year I also had a momentary fling with scotch-based cocktails. And very frequently I found myself sipping on a cocktail that starred a barrel-aged rum or tequila. And I did quaff quite a number of Old Tom Martinez cocktails. So, what does it all mean? Maybe it means that what I crave in those dark winter months has nothing to do with whiskey, and everything to do with vermouth, or maybe just all things brown, bitter and stirred. It is hard to know for sure.

One thing's for certain, a craving can turn just as fast as the weather. Just as once my mind was full of whiskey, now I find myself pulled toward limes and lemons, grapefruits and oranges. And the flip side of all that citrus is the sweetener. I, at least, can't have one without at least a little bit of the other, whether that means a liqueur or syrup. Just because I found myself biting into my lime wedge garnish the other week, doesn't mean that it was completely satisfying. Balance is best, and syrups provide so many options. For instance, I have this cilantro syrup that goes marvelously well with citrus. It's very tasty, but also very subtle, and therefore needs a well-chosen drink to properly showcase its flavors without overpowering them. I chose the Silver Fizz and was tremendously pleased with the results: delightfully smooth, crisp and herbal. It was exactly what I wanted, and that kind of surprised me as well.

Silver Fizz

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce cilantro syrup
1 egg white
1 ounce club soda

Dry shake ingredients. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled Collins glass. Top with club soda.

Notes on Ingredients: I used No. 209 gin because of its herbal complexity.

Cilantro Syrup

1/4 cup loosely chopped cilantro
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan, stirring initially to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer for about a minute. Remove from heat, add cilantro, and cover. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a heat-safe container and let cool to room temperature. Optional: Add one ounce vodka as a preserving agent. Store in the refrigerator.


A Tale of Molasses and Honey: Two Rum Drinks

Many absolutely confounding drinks are included in the Gentleman's Companion, but just as many of them are quite simple, like the Jamaican Black Stripe and the Jamaican Black Strap. What's more simple than variations on the old-fashioned and the toddy? But then again, as Charles Baker has inadvertently proven time and again, easy to make doesn't always mean tasty. Even after only 15 recipes, I have learned to never prejudge a Baker cocktail or even my own tastes. Regardless of how I wince, groan, or even smirk at one of his recipes, each drink will contain a bit of mystery in one way or another. The most important lesson is that to truly experience something a certain amount of letting go is required, and sometimes that isn't easy or comfortable. But by relinquishing control, I have been able to stretch my sense of taste in ways I never could have foreseen. We all have ideas about what we think we like. Sometimes opening the window to something new lets in more than what we  bargained for, and it can change everything.

The Jamaican Black Strap is not a scary drink. You may or may not believe me depending on your view of the two primary ingredients: molasses and Jamaican rum. I happen to love Jamaican rum. This fact alone would have floored Mr. Baker, who many times asserts that most ladies have a strong dislike for the stronger, more pungent Jamaican rums. I do not particularly disagree with his assertion--indeed, some women probably would find the funkier rums a bit too, um, well, funky for their liking. I would add, however, that, as with most things, this fact does not apply to women alone. Leaving bold statements about gender stereotyping aside, why is Jamaican rum so challenging? The easy answer: it comes down to production.

For every place where rum is manufactured, there exists a different, usually very traditional distillation procedure that characterizes the product. That is why so many styles of rum exist--why Haitian rum tastes different than Martinique rum. Traditionally, in Jamaica, a portion of the material left over in the still after a distillation run, called dunder or setback (for all of you sour mash whiskey lovers), is collected and added to the next batch of mash that is fermenting. This process introduces the slow-acting wild yeasts used during the fermentation process, wards off other unwanted yeasts, and maintains consistency across a product line. But this also creates a lot of the funkier flavors that Jamaican rums are known for. Limings, the scum that forms on the surface of the molasses during the sugar extraction process, can also be added for additional pungency, as well as other things like cane juice, or molasses. Additionally, many Jamaican rum distillers blend spirits produced from a pot still, which typically produces more congeners and thus fuller flavors, with spirits from a column still to create a bolder rum. All of these factors work together to create bolder, more pungent flavors that are more challenging and eye-opening. But my goodness Jamaican rum is delicious.

But we haven't forgotten about molasses. If Jamaican rum is a challenging rum, molasses is a challenging sweetening agent, if you can even call it that. Dark, thick, and slightly bitter, molasses is the byproduct of the sugar making process and serves as the raw material in most rums. Molasses used to be the sweetener of choice in colonial times, or at least until refined sugar became readily available. Molasses does have its devout fans who drizzle it on such things as cornbread or pancakes. Not me though. Though I have added it in small doses to simple syrups to create a funkier, bolder flavor, the only way I like to eat molasses is in a cookie, where its earthy, rich flavors shine but its bitterness is thankfully suppressed. So with only a bit of hesitancy, I progressed to Mr. Baker's version of a very old drink, the Black Strap, which was exceedingly popular both as a warm and cold beverage in the United States at least as late as the eighteenth century.

Jamaican Black Strap (for two)

3 ounces Jamaican Rum
2 tbsp water
2 tsp molasses
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake ingredients with lots of cracked ice. Strain into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a pineapple spear.

Notes on Ingredients: I used the mighty Smith and Cross for the rum, and after an initial taste or three upped the amount of bitters to 3 dashes for two drinks.

The aroma was filled with the recognizable smell of Smith and Cross: strong, funky and full of promise. Of course the molasses was there as well, though I am still not sure if I was smelling the actual molasses or the Smith and Cross. Also, the pineapple spear, which was an utter garnish failure, awkward protuberance that it was, added a bit of undefinable fruitiness to the nose. The first sip was very molasses-y, though the hogo of the rum carried through at the end. You would think that there would be some sweetness in this drink, but it was dry and earthy, with a vague powdery texture that made each sip seem almost chewy. After I increased the bitters, the spices became more detectable on the swallow. The flavors of the molasses were also enhanced by the increase in bitters--the drink seemed sweeter, in that pleasing molasses cookie way, and the flavors in general seemed more balanced. Overall, not bad but not great.

If the Jamaican Black Strap is the darker side of a Jamaican rum drink, there is always a lighter side. The Jamaican Black Stripe is similar to the Jamaican Black Strap, except honey replaces the molasses. This drink is even less scary. Just looking at the recipe, I could imagine the bountiful aromatics of the funky rum mingling with the floral honey and fresh ground nutmeg. My only sense of hesitation was linked to the amount of honey. Considering how easily honey can overwhelm a drink, I think this was a valid hesitation. But, if anything can stand up to it, I would bet on that Smith and Cross, pot-stilled, funky and 100 proof. Not much pushes that rum around.

Jamaican Black Stripe (as interpreted)

1 1/2 ounces Jamaican rum
3/4 ounce honey syrup

Combine honey and rum with ice and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh ground nutmeg.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Smith and Cross rum and a 1:1 honey syrup, which is sweeter and more fragrant than the proportions in Baker's syrup.

Unsurprisingly, the aroma was dominated by the nutmeg. No complaints so far. The light smell of molasses was detectable as well from the Smith and Cross. When I first tasted this drink was, I noticed that it was a bit sweet. On the second go, I could detect the other flavors better. The Smith and Cross contributed its customary swagger, though it seemed less funky and more earthy. The floral notes of the honey were most apparent at end of each sip, but the rum was back with its molasses and funk just in time for the aftertaste. It was surprising just how well the flavors matched up. The drink on the whole was exceedingly smooth and creamy, and the sweetness dissipated as I made my way through it. I do think that in general the Jamaican Black Stripe was a bit sweet and I still wonder what a dash of bitters would do. Maybe orange bitters? All in all, it was a very pleasant sipper that would work well, ice cold in the summer heat.


White Dog vs. Vodka Part Two: The Bumpass Hound Showdown

In order to have a successful showdown, the cocktail choice was crucial. It needed to really accept white whiskey and highlights its unique flavors. The Albino Old-Fashioned was one option, but it seemed too easy. I also considered the White Manhattan, but it didn't really suit my mood at the time. The more I think about it, though, I am sure it would provide interesting results. Instead, I chose the Bumpass Hound.  To date, the Bumpass Hound is my favorite way to get white dog into a cocktail. This lighter version of the Toronto, one of my absolute favorites, really showcases one of the way that white whiskey can really excel in a cocktail. Even as the unaged whiskey plays a supporting role, it accents the aged rye well, lightens up the bolder elements, and still manages to bring its unique flavor to the mix.

Jim Romdall's recipe, which I found on Paul Clarke's blog cocktailchronicles.com, calls for an unaged primarily rye-based whiskey, specifically Wasmund's rye spirit. I, unfortunately, don't have any unaged primarily rye-based whiskey. Instead, I will be forging ahead with an unaged primarily wheat-based whiskey, Death's Door from Wisconsin. The different grain base compounded with the Death's Door's lower proof (Wasmund's is cask strength) will result in a very different Bumpass Hound that will lack heat and spice. But since I don't have a rye-based full-flavored vodka, I didn't think it would matter that much. This exercise is really just for the sake of my curiosity, not to prove some sort of scientific hypothesis. Besides sometimes you just have to make due with what you have.

Bumpass Hound (Jim Romdall, via cocktailchronicles.com)

2 ounces rye
1/2 ounce unaged whiskey
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Fernet Magnoberta, Pikesville rye and Death's Door white whiskey. Because I ran out of simple syrup (for shame!) I used Chinese five spice syrup, which added an interesting dimension.

On the nose, the orange oils completely dominated the aroma. The first sip was characterized by the spicy flavor of the rye, though the orange oils were present as well. The dry herbal/menthol notes of the Fernet in combination with the flavors of anise and Sichuan peppercorns from the syrup then usurped control. The bitters came through at the end of each sip and resonated through the aftertaste mingling with the menthol of the Fernet. As with the Toronto cocktail, a pleasant sweetness helped to keep the rough and tumble elements in order. The Bumpass Hound was not quite as deep and flavorful as a Toronto, though, and thus was a nice change of pace. 

Death's Door white whiskey is notoriously light and subtle, at least in comparison to the other white whiskeys I have tasted. Part of this is due to its heavy wheat grain bill, part of this comes from the distiller's vision . Unfortunately, this means that it becomes a bit lost in the Bumpass Hound. It is not initially detectable but stands out primarily because of the way it softens the other elements. It almost seems to dilute them without sacrificing any proof. As Paul Clarke noted in his post on the Bumpass Hound, a milder white whiskey doesn't make the same drink that the overproof rye spirit does. The milder white whiskey he references is a corn-based one, but it seems that a wheat-based white dog provides similar results. In retrospect, I wonder if I should have bumped up the amount of white whiskey to account for its non cask strength status. Another time perhaps. Its funny how this sort of exercise tends to raise more questions than it answers.

Vodka Bumpass Hound (a blasphemous adaptation!)

2 ounces rye
1/2 ounce vodka
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Notes on Ingredients: For comparison's sake I used all of the same ingredients, except for the very full-flavored vodka, Ebb & Flow.

Not surprisingly, this drink retained the same powerful aroma of orange oils. However, the scent of the malted barley spirit also made its presence known. It was apparent early on that the vodka had totally changed the makeup of this cocktail; both in terms of aroma and taste. It would not be covered up. The barley came through strongly on the first sip and provided a formidable match to the spicy notes of the rye. Perhaps this struck me because I tasted the vodka version second, and the white whiskey version was still very present in my taste memory.  Like the previous Bumpass Hound, this drink was exceptionally smooth but seemed a touch sweeter flavor as the vodka's vanilla notes carried through. The Fernet and various spices were strongest throughout, but like the white whiskey version, dominated the aftertaste. Even with the pronounced vodka flavors, this drink was quite pleasant and still balanced.

Ebb & Flow vodka is a 100 percent malted barley spirit that has a ton of flavor--especially when you compare it to other vodkas on the market. In a drink like the Bumpass Hound, even the other overwhelmingly bold flavors can't push it around. This is commendable for a vodka. Usually it is used as a supporting ingredient, even when it is the base. But then again this is no ordinary vodka. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it stood up to the other flavors, like a force to be reckoned with.

Perhaps it wasn't really fair to use the Bumpass Hound for this showdown. I should have at least guessed at my own bias. Unsurprisingly, I found both versions compelling and interesting, but in different ways. I am sure that the Fernet and rye had more to do with this than either the vodka or the white dog. The logical next step would include making more Bumpass Hounds using the same recipe but with a less assertive grain-based vodka and a bold-flavored white whiskey to really offer some other points of comparison. But we'll save that for another day.

Only the hard question remains: which version did I enjoy more. If I have to pick, I liked the Bumpass Hound aberration with vodka better. It surprised me at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The vodka version was balanced and had bigger flavor If the white whiskey version had wowed me with flavor, I am sure my conclusions would be different. Considering the fact that most white whiskeys are funkier in general, a bold vodka with very clean flavors wouldn't stand a chance. Well at least not with my palate. But as of today, vodka has won the Bumpass Hound Showdown.


White Dog vs. Vodka Part One: Introduction

For many years the only ways to taste unaged whiskey were either on a distillery tour or when passed an unlabeled mason jar that you were quickly supposed to forget ever existed. With more and more unaged whiskeys hitting Washington State liquor stores, which are infamous for having severely limited offerings, it is easy to see how things have changed, and how quickly. Over the past five years, the craft distillery movement has created a place for white whiskey as a viable option for new distillers desperate to get out of the red. No longer considered a stepping stone in the whiskey production process, unaged whiskey can now be used as a barometer to gauge skills of a whiskey maker that had been previously been overlooked. In fact, the popularity of small-batch distilling has sparked widespread interest in the entire whiskey-making process from grist mill to bottled product. Perhaps it is the continued strength of the craft beer movement across the country that is responsible for this attention, or the slow food/local food movements, or even the craft cocktail movement. No one can be sure. What is certain is that from the explosion of new products that showcase the talent, creativity and regionality of micro distillers, white dog has emerged and surely has been having its moment in the sun.

As with any new product, the inevitable question becomes: What can you do with it? After reading countless articles, my curiosity was piqued, and I sought out this new unaged spirit. Tastings ensued, limited as they were at the time. Shortly thereafter, every time I looked at my liquor cabinet, something seemed missing, underrepresented. Of course, I had to buy a bottle. After wading in and tasting it both neat and on the rocks, I realized I still had nearly a full bottle. I am sorry to admit that here was no eureka! moment. There is no doubt that white whiskey offers insights on the distillation process. But I, like many others, would still rather drink barrel-aged whiskey. Drinking white dog allows me to really see a distiller's vision from the grain choice to the skilled cuts, to the careful manipulation of the fermentation. But should I really call it "drinking" when I don't drink it. "Tasting" white dog makes me a better taster. I always learn something, about it or me. But I will never crave it like I do a dram of rye.

So moving back on topic, there I am with my nearly full bottle. After covering the easiest of bases, I want to know what else it can do? Lucky for me, bartenders have risen to the occasion. With a bevy of new flavors to work with, how could they not? The Internet is flush with recipes calling for white whiskey, and creativity abounds. But alas, as many have discovered, white dog is not the easiest spirit to mix with. Sure, it has been used like a more flavorful vodka in many lighter, sour-based drinks. But sometimes white whiskey's stronger grain-heavy flavor profile can clash with the other elements, or at least push the combination into imbalance. And of course unaged whiskey can be used in place of aged whiskey in cocktails. However, in most cases, the delicate flavors of the white whiskey are completely overwhelmed, and again balance is sacrificed. In the most successful recipes, the cocktail highlights and accents the complex, delicate flavors of the whiskey. But it seems that often white whiskey is called on to do vodka's traditional job just not as well: either half-taming/half-accenting bold, strong flavors or acting as a semi-blank high-proof canvas.

But as I was thinking about all that, I started thinking. (Scary thing, for sure.) Certain vodkas are a lot closer to unaged whiskey than most people would guess. Sure, vodka can be made of anything that can be fermented: sugarcane, beets, potatoes, rye, wheat, barley, apples, etc. But a rye vodka could be produced in almost the exact same way as an unaged rye whiskey. Almost. In such cases, the production method is what characterizes the distinction between the two spirits. Most whiskey is distilled to under 160 proof by law in America, regardless of whether it will be subsequently aged. Vodka, by law, is distilled to over 190 proof. That difference means everything and what it boils down to is flavor.

Distillation is a process of purification and separation. The higher the alcohol level, the more pure the ethanol. What that really means is less flavor. In distilling, lower proof equates to more impurities, and those impurities create flavors--those lovely wonderful flavors. Of course, this is a very general overview of the process. There are others ways of retaining flavor. In vodka production achieving 190 proof on the first run isn't important. Subsequent runs will continually strip out more flavors, which suits many vodka distillers and vodka drinkers just fine. When a distiller can achieve 190 proof in the first run, more flavor will be preserved. As crazy as it may sound, some vodka distillers actually want to retain the flavor of the raw materials. Those are the vodkas I actually enjoy drinking. But that is beside the point.

To sum up, proof matters a lot in distillation and it is intricately tied to flavor. Regardless of actual flavor, both vodka and white whiskey are both more delicately flavored--meaning on the whole they both tend to be overwhelmed by bigger flavors. Some vodkas have a lot of flavor (I know you don't believe it). Some white whiskeys have more delicate nuanced flavors than others. It is not easy to compare white whiskey and vodka. I am not really going to try. I am just curious by nature. So, I thought it would be interesting to see what happens when you take a cocktail recipe that successfully uses white dog and you substitute a full-flavored grain-based vodka (for relativity). Who knows what will happen.