GSN Presents: How Well Do You Know Your Whiskey?

Whiskey is a universal spirit, enjoyed by everyone—from the Irish to the Japanese and back around to the United States. Even fictional characters love whiskey (think Don Draper and Ron Burgundy). But just how much do you know about this iconic spirit of the world? It’s quite common (even among connoisseurs) to misjudge a whiskey. So, just what is the difference between a whiskey and a scotch? Where is bourbon made? And is it spelled whiskey or whisky?

Whiskey & Geography

To call a whiskey a whiskey is not enough in itself to determine exactly what you’re drinking. Whiskey is simply a category that encompasses all the different types of whiskies. The biggest telltale sign is geography.

Let’s first examine Scotch whisky (or simply, scotch). Scotch is a type of whiskey that is only distilled in Scotland. Note the omission of the “e” when we refer to Scotch as Scotch whisky. This is not a typo but rather a cultural difference in the etymology of the word. Scots (along with Canadians and Japanese) spell whisky without the “e”.

Bourbon is the fastest growing spirit in the US—probably because it’s made right here in the states. Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is distilled only in the US, and more specifically, in Kentucky. However, there’s a common misconception about bourbon that we need to clear up.  Most people think that all bourbon is made in Kentucky. While a large percentage of bourbon (nearly 95%) is distilled in Kentucky, there are other states that distill bourbon (and the quality is on par with anything Kentucky-made).

There’s another type of American whiskey that we need to discuss—Tennessee whiskey. Tennessee whiskey, on the contrary, must be made and aged in the Volunteer State. Tennessee whiskey and bourbon are actually very similar whiskies: both have a composition of at least 51% corn and both are aged in new white oak barrels. The slight difference between the two is that Tennessee whiskey is maple charcoal filtered before being filled into casks for aging.

Rye is another type of whiskey. Its main ingredient can be guessed by its namesake. This style can be made either in the US or Canada.

Of course, Irish whiskey is whiskey that hails from Ireland.

Whiskey & Its Ingredients

Another defining attribute of a whiskey are the ingredients (or the mash bill). There are several laws (specifically here in the US) that govern what certain styles of whiskey must be made from. To simplify things, remember the rule of 51. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey must contain at least 51% corn. Rye whiskey must contain at least 51% rye.

A few Scottish whiskies (don’t forget to drop the “e” when it’s distilled in Scotland) also have restrictions on the ingredients they can be made with. A malt whisky is made only from malted barley while a blended whisky contains a mixture of different grains (barley, wheat).

Where To Get Started

It’s a lot of information to take in, as any whiskey connoisseur can attest to. However, trying each different type of whiskey and reflecting on each individual nuance can give you a greater appreciation for this popular spirit. And we have a few suggestions (courtesy of GSN) to get you started: try this single malt whiskey from Stranahan’s, a bourbon from Gentleman Jack, or a rye whiskey from Knob Creek. They are all excellent, and each has its own pleasures.  As Mark Twain said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

Article by Devin Mills – Distilling Craft

Basics of Mixology: The Indispensable Modifier

pama_bottleToday’s post is sponsored by PAMA liqueur.  Follow @PAMAPros on Twitter!

Cocktails really come down to one basic principle: a mixture of at least two flavors.  Once you decide what you want to use as the base spirit (think of this as your main course), then you can decide what kinds of additional flavors will accent and highlight the inherent qualities of the liquor.

I do most of the cooking around the house, as well as mix the cocktails.  More and more, I see the two as almost interchangeable.  Really, the only real difference is that cocktails are sipped and not chewed.  Think about it.  We have hot and cold cocktails, ones that use vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs, and they all utilize some kind of basic recipe which can be varied to everyone’s tastes.  Not sweet enough?  Add a bit of simple syrup.  Not sour enough?  Add an extra squeeze of citrus.  Too alcohol heavy?  Add a bit of water, juice or soda.

So, suppose you want to make a gin based cocktail, but you want to play around with it and make it a little softer, a little fruitier.  The addition of a modifier is what you’re looking for.  This can be anything from fruit juice to an amaro to a liqueur.  If you really want to taste the effect a modifier has upon the base spirit, try this experiment:

Taste the base spirit by itself.  Then, take one ounce of your base spirit and add a quarter ounce of your modifier.  Taste again.  Keep adding a quarter ounce and tasting, experiencing how the flavors interact with one another.  At some point, you will find the perfect ratio you prefer.  Make a note of this.  Then try adding a quarter ounce of a third ingredient to your perfect ratio and see what happens.  Generally, most classic cocktails (the ones that have been around for over 75 years) are two or three ingredient drinks.  Of course, bitters and garnishes come into play as well, but in general you can make a decent cocktail without either of these.

PAMA liqueur is an exemplary modifier.  It adds tartness, some sweetness, fruitiness, color and texture to cocktails.  It also works extremely well with just about any spirit you want to use.  In tiki style drinks, I always use a 50/50 blend of real grenadine and PAMA when it calls for grenadine syrup.  It also works in classic drinks like the Jack Rose and the Monkey Gland.

Here’s an original cocktail of mine you’re welcome to try.  With this, I decided to use PAMA as the base and then modify it with citrus, sugar and spice.  It is based on the classic Mexican Sangrita.


Shangra-Lita (Blair Frodelius)
1.5 oz Pama Liqueur
1 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
0.75 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tsp simple syrup
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
0.5 oz Club soda

Mix all ingredients except club soda in an ice filled shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top off with club soda.  Stir gently.

Basics of Mixology: Training

PAMA_bottleToday’s post is sponsored by PAMA liqueur.  Follow @PAMAPros on Twitter!

Go to most bars in any city, doesn’t matter if it’s New York, New Orleans or San Francisco. Chat up the bartender and ask them what kind of training they got when they were starting out.  Nine times out of ten, they will usually laugh and say, “none”.  It amazes me that a lot of bartenders who have been working for years, still get by with a minimal amount of knowledge and training  It doesn’t have to be that way.  There are several well-respected programs and organizations available to bartenders which will both increase their knowledge and understanding behind the flavor profiles of mixology; but also their skill behind the stick.  Better drinks mean better tips and returning customers.

I was lucky that my early efforts in bartending were helped by some of the luminaries in the cocktail world. Not only did I do a lot of reading, studying and practicing on my own, but over the years I’ve had the opportunity to learn from experts like Paul Pacult, Steve Olson, David Wondrich, Doug Frost and Andy Seymour from the B.A.R. (Beverage Alcohol Resource). Each brings years of practical experience, knowledge and insight into the world of spirits and mixology.  Without them, I would most likely not have started Good Spirits News or made my interest in the world of cocktails more than just a passing hobby.

Each year, PAMA recognizes the importance of learning in the field of spirits, liqueurs and mixology by sending three exceptional bartenders to the intensive five-day B.A.R. program in New York City which enables them to achieve the coveted B.A.R. diploma.  This year Chad Arnholt (Trick Dog, San Francisco), Joy Richard (Citizen Public House/Franklin Restaurant Group, Boston) and Pamela Wiznitzer (The Dead Rabbit, New York) all benefited from the 40 hour course.

In addition, PAMA holds an annual competition open to all professional bartenders which this year will be judged by B.A.R.’s Paul Pacult and Steve Olson, along with Clover Club and Pegu Club’s Julie Reiner, The Butterfly’s Eben Freeman and Heaven Hill Distillery’s Director of Marketing, Kate Shapira Latts.  You can enter your original PAMA cocktail here.

In the autumn of 2012 PAMA held the first Pamalympics in NYC where Josh Perez of Booker & Dax took home the gold medal. The recipe for his winning cocktail is below*.  As well, starting this month PAMA will debut a series of themed events entitled the Bar Star Media Series which will take place in major cities around the country. PAMA also regularly sponsors several cocktail events around the country including the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail, Kentucky’s Camp Runamok and regional USBG (United States Bartenders Guild) Monthly Mixers.

It’s clear that PAMA actively supports the bartending community.  Reason enough to raise a glass to their ongoing commitment to helping bartenders bring their “A” game to their customers.  Cheers!

1 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. Honey
1 oz. Chobani Greek Yogurt, whipped
Finely Ground Fennel, for garnish

Directions: Stir PAMA, bourbon and honey in a mixing glass with ice for approximately 15-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Float whipped Chobani Greek Yogurt on top and garnish with a dash of finely ground fennel.

Josh Perez in action

Josh Perez in action

Basics of Mixology: Grenadine

PAMA_bottleToday’s post is sponsored by PAMA liqueur.  Follow @PAMAPros on Twitter!

These days, customers expect that their cocktails will be made with fresh citrus, high quality spirits, and often hand-crafted syrups, bitters and mixers.  So, when it comes to choosing what you put in your cocktails, it makes sense to go the extra mile and use all-natural ingredients whenever possible.

Pomegranate is a flavor that has been used in cocktails for over a century, although many bartenders many not know it.  Pomegranate syrup is more commonly known as grenadine. The use of grenadine in cocktails dates back to the 1890’s, starting as a substitute for raspberry syrup, and by the 1920’s took over from its berry cousin entirely.  Classics such as the Jack Rose, the Bacardi Cocktail and often the Clover Club, utilize grenadine.  One particular favorite of mine, The Hurricane, calls for grenadine, but very few bars actually include it in their recipes.

Even NOLA’s Pat O’Brien’s which debuted the drink in the 1940’s no longer makes the Hurricane from scratch, but instead uses a powdered drink mix.  The most authentic you can find today in the French Quarter is served at the oldest bar, Lafitte’s.  They use real pomegranate syrup. The difference is discernible.

Traditionally, grenadine (from the word grenade, which looks a lot like a pomegranate) gives cocktails a red color, a slightly tart and fruity flavor, as well as adding some sweetness from the sugar.  However, most grenadine syrups on the market today don’t even use real pomegranate juice in their product. One look at the ingredients listed on a typical bottle found in your local grocery store will reveal that it is usually a conglomeration of corn syrup, artificial flavor and color with an unappetizingly named preservative.

Several years ago, I made the switch to making my own grenadine from fresh fruit and Demerara sugar.  When PAMA was introduced in 2006, I quickly became a convert to the liqueur when I discovered that mixing a 50/50 blend of homemade grenadine syrup and PAMA gave my drinks extra texture, depth of flavor and rich pomegranate character. PAMA is all natural, made with California pomegranate juice in addition to a blend of vodka and tequila to bring it up to 34 proof and keep it stable.

As autumn approaches, I feel that a fruit based cocktail is a perfect way to transition from one season to another.  Below is a recipe for Sangria that is all-natural and includes PAMA to give it some extra pizzazz.

PAMA Sangria5c5b752dc7d3e0cd992573daca4b711e
Glass: White Wine
Garnish: Apple Slice, Orange Wheel, Pomegranate Seeds

1 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 oz. Brandy (I recommend a VSOP cognac)
3 oz. White Wine (I prefer a Pinot Grigio)
1/2 oz. Triple Sec (Cointreau is recommended)
1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
club soda

Method: Combine all ingredients except club soda and wine in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into glass filled with ice and wine. Top with club soda and garnish.

GSN Update: The Barrel Aged Cocktail Project 1.2

one liter black barrelIt’s been almost seven weeks since I laid a batch of Negronis and Manhattans to rest in Deep South oak barrels.  The target of 58 days is soon approaching.  Tasting each one now, here are my thought on how they are progressing.

Manhattan: The wood has lent a smokiness to the flavor that is quite intriguing.  This is almost ready for use.  I think a few more weeks will smooth out the few remaining rough edges.  Next time, I think I’ll try using a higher end vermouth and see what happens. (see my previous post about what brands I used).

Negroni: I am amazed at how smooth it has become.  Really almost buttery in mouthfeel.  The flavor is excellent and the balance of sweet, dry and herbal has become a cohesive whole.  I might pull this from the barrel in the next week and use it as is.

Overall, it is clear that barrel aging affects the overall character of each cocktail in a positive way.  I’m already thinking of future cocktails that will benefit from this process.


GSN Update: The Barrel Aged Cocktail Project 1.1

phpThumb.phpOne month ago today, I began my first experiment in aging cocktails with two one-liter oak casks sent to me by Deep South Barrels.  I’ve not done much with them since, other than rotating them once a week, and admiring their look on my bar.  But, today, I pulled samples from each and gauged how they are coming along.

The first is a Negroni using Aviation Gin, Campari, and Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth. The other is a Manhattan using Rittenhouse Rye, Cinzano Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura bitters.

The Manhattan shows definite signs of wood aging, especially in conjunction with the rye.  It’s quite spicy, but balanced by an almost fruity sweetness in the vermouth.  It’s coming along, but not quite there yet.  I’ll check back in a few weeks.

The Negroni is quite smooth and amazingly balanced considering there’s no dilution.  The Campari has been tempered by the oak, and the gin has a lovely creaminess.  I could drink this now, but I know that it will just continue to get better.

Overall, I am happy with the results and will continue to keep you updated with my progress.


Basics of Mixology: Balance

One of my life mottos is “Balance in everything”.  For awhile I even contemplated getting the word tattooed in kanji on my arm.  That hasn’t happened, but I still look for balance.  Especially in cocktails.

As with food, balance in cocktails should be one of the benchmarks when creating something that a customer or yourself will enjoy experiencing.  There really isn’t much of an excuse for making a drink that is unbalanced.  All it takes is learning the individual flavor profiles of each ingredient that you’ll be using.  It’s a simple formula, that allows you to create something on the fly, that will taste good.  There are certain ratios that work most of the time.  A balance of sweet, sour, strong and weak along with the ubiquitous umami tends to be the golden mean of mixology.

Think of the classic cocktails that have been around for over a century.  The daiquiri, the Manhattan, the martini; all are triads of a balance of ingredients tempered by the addition of water.  Even creating homemade sour mix calls for balance.  The right ratio of citrus to sugar ensures a proper flavor.  When creating a cocktail from scratch, start with your base ingredient, and then add less of the secondary ingredient than you think will work.  If it needs more, you can always add it in; but like a food recipe, if you add too much salt or pepper at the beginning, it’s inedible.  This is a trick that I’ve learned over the years.  Taste your creation and see how the addition of just a quarter ounce affects the overall balance between flavors. Balance can be achieved through a few key points which if you remember them will serve your bar well.

1) The ingredients should form a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
2) No one ingredient should stand out as being different enough to grab your attention.
3) Avoid extremes.  i.e. – really sour, really sweet, really smokey, really salty, etc….
4) Simple is best, but best is not always simple.
5) Taste each ingredient on its own, and then taste how it works with the other ingredients.

As this article is sponsored by PAMA liqueur, I want to mention that PAMA works wonders in cocktails calling for grenadine.  Most commercial grenadines are good for throwing in the trash, to be honest.  Artificial flavor, color and the inevitable corn syrup are what most people are familiar with.  Plus, they’re incredibly sweet and don’t add the tartness that real pomegranate would.  PAMA has a natural flavor which is balanced between sweet and sour, along with a subtle alcohol kick.  Be aware that when using PAMA as a substitute for grenadine in a recipe, that you will use less than is called for, due to it’s slightly tart quality.  But, this in itself is a plus; giving the drink an edge that moves beyond the sickly sweet drinks that so many bars seem to dole out.

In the end, balance is the mark of a not merely a quaffable beverage, but one that is truly luscious and noteworthy.  Best of luck with your next original creation!  In the meantime, check out this cocktail courtesy of Eben Freeman.

103929369Marie Antoinette
Glass: Glass Flute
Garnish: Cherry

1 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup

Method: Combine all ingredients except Champagne in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glass and top with Champagne.