I happened to be passing through Charleston, last month. If I hadn’t been stuck at the airport between flights, I would have definitely tracked down Joe & MariElena Raya of Bittermilk. They are a couple pursuing their dreams, and it shows.
Joe got his start at the CIA, no not the government organization, the Culinary Institute of America. He also earned a Wine and Spirits diploma from the WSET. His training served him well at a variety of traditional eating establishments, until four years ago he and his wife opened a speakeasy named The Gin Joint on East Bay St. in Charleston. The elegantly themed bar has been successful enough to garner mentions in Imbibe and Garden & Gun magazines.
Their latest endeavor focuses on an ever-growing series of cocktail mixers that have a definite Southern attitude. GSN received the first four of them for review. The fifth and newest one is a charred grapefruit tonic with sea salt.
No. 1 Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned: This immediately reminded me of a Christmas cookie. Quite sweet, spicy and laden with a carmelized flavor. The bittering agents (Gentian root, Cinchona bark) are not overwhelming, but keep things from being overly sugary. Even though orange oleo saccharum is listed as an ingredient, it’s certainly buried deeply. This will work well with bourbon or rye in an Old-Fashioned, but you will have to cut back on the recommended ratio of syrup to whiskey in order to keep it in check. A nice addition to the cocktailian library. GSN Rating: B+
No. 2 Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops: Nice and tart with an interesting edge of mild bitter finish. Interesting additions to the recipe are Elderflower, Elderberry and Centennial hops. The hops adds a floral note without adding too much of the typical pineapple flavor often found in India Pale Ales. Quite clever and perfect for a shandy as well as a Collins. GSN Rating: A-
No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour: Now here’s a phrase you don’t see every day “Bourbon barrel smoked organic honey”. Yet, there it is on the label. The honey flavor comes out after the initial citrus bite and is a nice change from the usual monochromatic cane sugar. I don’t get too much of the smokey nose or flavor, but the balance of all the flavors is so well done, perhaps it is just there and I don’t taste it. On another note though, the recipe on the label calls for a 1-1 ratio of syrup and whiskey. This I feel will lean too heavily on the sour side of things. Try a 2-1 instead and see what you think. GSN Rating: B+
No. 4 New Orleans Style Old Fashioned Rouge: Here’s something that all vegetarians should take note of. This syrup contains Cochineal (beetle) dye. Before you think twice about imbibing this in your next cocktail, let me just say that until recently, Campari and Peychaud’s bitters also contained cochineal and most red colored cosmetics still do. Regardless of that train of thought, this syrup has a definite anise quality. Surprisingly again, this comes from another questionable source, Wormwood. When used in Absinthe, it was blamed for insanity and addiction. No worries here though. The syrup is rested in ex-Willett Family Reserve Rye whiskey barrels, and has a slight woody edge. Probably the most complex of the four syrups this gets a GSN Rating: A
For more information go to: Bittermilk