Gift Pack Season, Give ’em the Bird and an Aging Kit

Happy Christmas, ya bastards.  I may as well be honest; I have a reputation as a bit of a scrooge.  That’s an under exaggeration, I’m an atheistic anti-capitalist with a tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder and a cynical heart. There is, however, one thing I embrace about this season:  gift packs.  Tis the season where buying a bottle of booze means getting a little bit more than a solid buzz and an excuse to hate mornings. Glasses and shakers, muddlers and nips—this is the glory of the season.  This year I feel I have found an extraordinary gift pack, and a gift that keeps on giving—the Wild Turkey cocktail aging set.  This year’s Wild Turkey gift pack, 101 mind you, includes a Wild Turkey embossed mason jar and a piece of charred spiral oak.  At the same price as a bottle of Wild Turkey.  Which also happened to be on sale for $20.  Ho, ho, ho-ly hell yes.

The oak aging concept is something that has been pretty hip for a while now—with mini-barrels on sale for aging white whiskey and bars serving barrel aged cocktail off the barrel, the movement has more legs than a Czech supermodel or a good scotch.  Though there is a chunk of hype involved, yes, but there is also a lot of benefit to aging a cocktail all wrapped in one lovely package, to mix and meld and smooth over the edges with a consistent dusting of smoky oaky goodness.  With this in mind, Wild Turkey have done isn’t anything new.  There are plenty of brands out there selling you decanters or plain old bottles with a spiral or honeycombed stick of charred oak.  The primary word there?  Sellinggggg.  You can buy a bottle with a charred oak stick as a “cocktail aging kit,” that’s $35.  You can buy a bottle of Wild Turkey for $20 and they give you that shit.  Merry Christma-hanna-let’s-get-ripped-akah.

Given my complete absence of holiday spirit it should come as no surprise that my interest in gift sets is purely selfish, and therefore it should be clear by now that I bought this set for myself.  I may be more for myself, because I’m not giving anybody gifts.  Ba-humbug. Anyways, in the world of infinite opportunities, known as mixology, I decided to use this lovely little perk of mine to make a twist on an old favorite—based on the materials I already had at hand.  I went with a twist on one of the oldest, some argue oldest, American cocktails: Le Sazerac.  The twist here is that instead of Rye I used the materials God and the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission gave me, Wild Turkey.  Now it is worth noting that this lil’ kit hold 500ml of fluid fire, which means scaling up your standard Sazerac Recipe significantly.  To make mine I briefly looked over a few interpretations of the standard recipe, thought about doing some math, then rapidly ignored it all and drank some of the other 250ml of Turkey.  I then put something together that may or may not resemble the following recipe.

Ye Big ol’ Sazerac

  • 2 oz Absinthe (La Muse Verte is what I had on hand)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 10 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters (the traditional)
  • 10-15 dashes Embitterment Aromatic Bitters (the one upper)
  • 10-15 dashes Embitterment Orange Bitter (at this point, what the hell)
  • 1 Lemon’s rind, careful to avoid the pith
  • 1 oak spiral
  • About 400+ ml Wild Turkey to the top

Let settle 2 weeks or so.

Sazer-that!

Sazer-that!

There probably should have been more science to it, but I like to go by feel and I’m definitely feeling what I made there…I decided to serve this little monster over a single ice cube. The result? Hail Santa (Satan?)!  There is indeed a wonderful alchemy that occurs when all of these ingredients merge into one, spending weeks together in the bar top equivalent of Stalag Luft III with a little bit of oak to mellow it all together.  Perhaps I went a bit above and beyond the call of absinthe wash, as exemplified by the louche this concoction takes on when chilled, but the ingredients played off oh so well together, with the star of the show being the garnish.  That’s right, the garnish—the tinsel on the tree—the lovely lemon shined after 2 weeks giving off the beauty of her essential oils and soaking in the wonder of the Wild Turkey.  The bitters come through wonderfully as well, warm, sweet and mellow.  A damned good cocktail…though perhaps not perfect—but therein lies the beauty.

The genius that is the 2014 Wild Turkey gift pack is that it is the gift pack that keeps on giving.  Yes, perhaps you could make a cocktail to share—give, if you will—but that’s not where the pleasure stops.  This kit is reusable.  This time around I made a Sazerac.  Next time I could make a Manhattan, age it a bit longer, and maybe even impart a bit of that Sazerac.  I could then make an Old Fashioned that winds up with a hint of sweet vermouth note.  Even when that charred oak has exhausted all it has to give, you have a free mason jar emblazoned with the Wild Turkey emblem—the latest in whiskey chic.  So, though I have not gone on an all-out gift pack spree (yet,) I do declare the coolest (thus far) gift pack of the year is Wild Turkey 101’s do it yourself, drink it yourself, gift that keeps on giving, aging kit.

Embitterment: Phase one in which Doris gets her oats.

So, tonight is the beginning of something special, the first part of a multi-part review.  Bonus points if you get the reference.  Let me begin by introducing the subject of tonight’s profile:  Embitterment.  This company, if you lack basic reasoning skills, is a fresh new brand from the District of Columbia which sells—ding, ding, ding, that’s right—bitters.  Embitterment is a very new company, and a very small company.  So small and new I would have no idea they existed if it weren’t for the fact that one of the founders of the company is a fella I used to drunkenly jabber about the Clash and revolution with in college. Good guy.  Anyways, Ethan approached me when his company was getting ready to release their first commercially viable batches of bitters, undoubtedly familiar with the fact that I am now the #1 google search result for “E&J XO Brandy Reviews” and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: either he sends me some delicious bitters, I make a lot of drinks, get jolly and write about them; or he murders my prize steed.  Not one to be intimidated, I woke up with a horse’s head in my bed and bitters in my mailbox.  Over the course of this sloshy mini-series I will go more into the profile of the company, their values, their goals, and their personal financial information.  Now, however, I feel it is appropriate to begin the series with a kind of control testing.

Embittered

For my first experiment I have Embitterment’s Aromatic Bitters and Orange Bitters serving up alongside two big boys of the industry, Angostura and Peychaud’s.  Ethan had recommended I conduct a baseline test before throwing these puppies in some cocktails, as a way of really getting to understand the profile of the product.  He had suggested I do this by putting a few dashes in some seltzer water to really let the flavors open up, and I agreed—it seemed logical, scientific and all that jazz.  Then I realized I rather loathe seltzer water.  I thought about doing it with a bit of tonic, or even some sprite or something—Angostura does actually make a lemon lime soda.  Then I thought, screw it, this blog is all about blues and booze—I’ll put it in a clear liquor.  Since vodka is icky I decided I will do variations on a theme: pink gin.  Traditionally pink gin is Plymouth gin and a dash of Angostura.  I went with Beefeater’s 24 and tonight’s challengers.  So, welp, here it goes.  First off, the established brands:

Angostura Bitters: Classic Aromatic

First off let me mention two things.  Yes, I screwed up, I wasn’t supposed to use London Dry Gin.  But Plymouth was more expensive.  Second, this isn’t pink at all; it’s kind of brackish looking.  Okay three, I didn’t chill it enough. The good news is that this is actually a pretty good medium for testing, as long as I put a ton of bitters in.  Anyways, if you’ve had any experience with bitters, it likely it was with the Caribbean classic Angostura.  The recipe from Angostura bitters, like most of the genre, came about first as some kind of digestive cure-all in Venezuela in 1824.  Basically, a lot of people assumed that mashing up a bunch of herbs and roots and shit with some hooch might make you feel better.  Remember, these were people who thought your health was controlled by humours.  Anyways, said Venezolano amigo’s recipe has been a long guarded secret, it’s oversized label a trademark, and the little drops themselves a classic cocktail additive.  Angostura’s flavor profile is dominated by a variety of root flavors, foremost among them in my mind is gentian root.  Can’t place that flavor?  New Englandah’s will recognize that flavor as the principle ingredient in Moxie soda.  On it’s on (yes, I just splashed bitters on my tongue) angostura is, as you’d expect, is bitter, spicy—think cinnamon and nutmeg, and a bit  vegetal, with a finishing note that seems to leave that part of my tongue numb.  Added to drinks, such as my brown gin, it really opens up with caramel and tons of that moxie flavor, with a bit of something I can’t place…juniper?  Oh, that’s right, gin.

Second up, Peychaud’s.  Peychaud’s bitters are just about as old (about 1830) as Angostura, and came about in much the same way—the crock of shit school of medicine.  Peychaud’s were my first entrée to the world of bitters, as at one point I tried to master the Sazerac, and Peychaud’s were a crucial part.  Rather quickly I resorted to putting endless dashes into my bourbon on a nightly basis, and even one night slugging them down on some kind of bet.  I may have bet myself I’d do it.  It wasn’t particularly pleasant.  When mixed with the proper accompaniment, however, Peychaud’s are quite pleasant.  Though similarly packing with gentian root, to my taste Peychaud’s are far more floral, are quite sweet in a very cane sugar type of way, and have a bit of licorice / anise—which make it clear why they’re the classic Sazerac, jiving perfectly with the Absinthe or Herb Saint.  The Peychaud’s also go perfectly for my whole pink gin thing—first because they actually make the gin pink, looks like a goddamn Cosmo pink, and second because the clean sweetness of it makes a perfect foil to the dry gin, and the licorice note seems to perfectly meet the juniper and grapefruit so prevalent in Beefeater’s 24.  I can see drinking this again, though not in public.  It’s pink and in a martini glass.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s star time! Tonight, the stars of our show: Embitterment!

First off, it’s automatic, diplomatic, enigmatic, and aromatic. Aromatic bitters, that is.  First thing of note, these bitters are stealthy!  They have very little color compared to the older contenders, which I imagine means these are a bit more au natural.  Now, it’s hard to say if I just put more bitters in, or if these just pack more of a punch, but wowww.  Anise is huge here, with a lovely bit of root spice, a tad of citrus and a very light, soft sweet note that kind of remind me of elderflower liqueur.  In the world of bitters varieties are opportunities, and these offer a distinct interpretation that undoubtedly will offer some delicious new twists to some of the classic cocktails I will tackle later.  Also, note to self, a little goes a long way—isn’t that the point of bitters in any cocktail?

The closer for tonight’s performance, another original, is Le Orange.  They don’t call it that; they just go with Orange Bitters.  I’m going to be honest here—I have very limited experience with orange bitters. I’ve had Regan’s once or twice, but these are a lively new experience for me.  They’re warm and round with maybe some brown sugar on the entry and then rich oily orange peel expressed vibrantly.  Little sweet vermouth and I’d have a perfect martini here.  I taste a world of opportunities, a new world to me…and I can’t wait to see what this does to an old fashioned.

Let me remind you folks, this is just an introduction, a teaser, a taster…if you will.  I haven’t really thought it through, but there’s going to be at least one more (possibly many more) installment(s) in the Embitterment review series, with more to come on the company, the mission, and the bitterness.

PS: Special perks to tonight’s medium, Beefeater’s 24, a lovely, floral and balanced gin.