Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries

Last weekend I took a long weekend away to spend with my niece and nephew in Door County, WI. If you haven’t been there, it is the peninsula that just out of the side of Wisconsin into Lake Michigan. One of the things that Door County is very proud of is their cherries. If you make a fruit product in Door County, you better have at least one expression that contains cherries. Cherry jam, jelly, wine, vodka, soap, cider, ice cream, candy, you name it. And while I’m not any sort of judge of cherries, I don’t even particularly like them, when you are there, and they are in season, it’s hard not to come home with at least a quart of them.

Luckily even though I don’t eat cherries, every time I get some, I decide to try to make my own cocktail cherries. Because even though I may not like cherries by themselves, they do play really nicely with bourbon and rye whiskey.

The last time I made some it was chocolate bourbon cherries because those were the ingredients I had on hand that year. Thanks to my recent exploration of Michael Dietsch’s Whiskey cocktail book, I find I have a lot more items to play with this time. I really like Manhattans so this year I tried to really think about what flavors I wanted to include in my Manhattan so I would end up with the perfect garnish. I used cherry puree because some of my favorite bourbons have a ripe cherry note to them. I used dry curaçao because I prefer orange bitters to aromatic in my Manhattan. I used New Riff new make rye and Old Grand-dad 114 to give it a flavor that would play nice with the bourbon or rye. I used the spices from the Brandied Cherry Recipe in Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book because I thought they would play nice in my drink. 

Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries

Pit one quart of fresh tart cherries. You will need one pound for the recipe and the remainder for the cherry juice. (if you are looking for a cherry pitter, I recommend the OXO Cherry Pitter it works great and isn’t expensive.)

Syrup Ingredients

1 cup cherry “juice" (Puree the remaining pitted tart cherries (about 2/3 pounds) in a blender, run it through a fine mesh screen and add water to the result until it makes 1 cup)

1 cup sugar

Syrup Spices

1 tbsp cinnamon chunks (crushed cinnamon sticks)

1 tbsp Juniper berries

1 tbsp whole Allspice 

1 whole Star Anise (broken up slightly)

Syrup Sprits

2.5 fluid ounce Dry Curaçao 

1.5 fluid ounce New Riff new make rye

4 fluid ounce Bourbon

In a medium sauce pan, combine the cherry juice, the sugar and the spices and bring to a simmer (not a boil). If you want to avoid straining it later, tie the spices up in a piece of cheese cloth so you can fish them out). Once the mixture is at a simmer, let it simmer for 5 minutes to infuse the spices. Then add in your pound of pitted tart cherries. You’re just looking to warm up the cherries not cook them so stir them a few times and pull it from the heat.

At this point the cherries should be well below boiling, but measure it to be sure. Once it is below 160 degrees (don’t want that alcohol boiling off) add your spirits and stir. 

You have a couple choices at this point. If you make a lot of cocktails you can just pack them in a mason jar and pop it into the fridge. If you think you might need it to last longer, you can put them into smaller jars and run it through a hot water bath for five minutes to can it. This is what I did. I ended up with 3 half pint jars to use later and about half a jar of the same size that I can use right away. 


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My new favorite “Small Batch” bourbon

Last week I decided to try something. I’d read an article describing a recipe for peach infused bourbon. Having had a few peach and bourbon cocktails, I was excited to try it myself. I love making infusions, though as I have stated on more than one occasion, I like making them more than drinking them. I almost always end up dumping them out after about a year in the cupboard.

Being the geeky obsessive type, I decided that I really needed the right bourbon to infuse. It had to really capture the caramel and vanilla flavors as well as present a nice spiciness that could stand up to the peach.

I did a little looking through my notes and decided that Maker’s 46 would be darn near perfect…except I didn’t have any. So after thinking about it for a bit I decided to actually look at what I did have in the house. I’d decided that a nice soft wheater would probably be perfect. Looking at my selection of wheated bourbons I landed first on Larceny, but I wanted the proof to be somewhere in the 100 proof plus range (as higher proof alcohols will absorb the other flavors faster) and Larceny was only 92. Then I looked at Old Weller Antique. It had the proof, but was also a bit too hot for what I was thinking. 

I eventually decided that I was going to blend the two. This way, maybe I could have the best of both worlds. As I was standing there though, I had another thought. This year’s Evan Williams Single Barrel was pretty caramel and spice forward as well. And then I looked over at the Booker’s on the shelf. That batch, though strong, also presented those flavors well.

I was recently asked how I go about deciding what to put into a blend. This is a perfect example of how I go through the blending process. First I start with a goal. In this case I had a flavor profile in mind. Caramel forward with a nice spice. Then I go about finding those ingredients that will give me that flavor. Of course there is often some trial and error. I normally start with equal parts and move from there should the need arise. But in this case, everything just clicked right from the start at equal proportions. 

I really think this is the best blend I’ve made. And that includes the experiments I did with all the Four Roses Single barrels. But here is the best part: all of these bourbons are readily available in most parts of the country. 

Arok’s Small Batch - Mix of distilleries edition

Details: Equal parts of Larceny (Heaven Hill), Evan Williams Single Barrel 2006 vintage (Heaven Hill), Old Weller Antique (Buffalo Trace) and Booker’s Batch# 2013-6 (Beam). Approximate final ABV is 51.44%.

Nose: Initially the nose on this is very closed. It really benefits from some time in the glass. After sitting for a bit, there is a very strong caramel and vanilla presence. Subtle hints of fruit follow along with a nice almond scent. Overall this is the type of very sweet nose that I could sit and smell all day.

Mouth: Some nice heat. Strong caramel and vanilla presence again along with black pepper, almond, hints of cherry and some nice oak tannins.

Finish: Long, spicy finish with lingering black pepper and oak tannins. 

I’ve already stated my thoughts above. I think this is the best blend I’ve created to date and it is one that I will probably be coming back to on more than one occasion. But I’m guessing you are asking how it worked with the peaches…and to be fair, I really don’t know. It was too good to use in that way. So if you have the ingredients on hand I really recommend trying this. And if it isn’t quite right for you think about what will make it better and adjust it. See if you can’t dial in your new favorite small batch bourbon.


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The cookie made me do it: Chocolate and Chai infused Rye Whiskey Liqueur

I have a new way of drinking my tea. 

“Your tea?” You may ask. 

Well, yes. But I wouldn’t bring it up if it weren’t pertinent. 

Every Christmas one of my coworkers makes a chocolate chai cookie. It is delightful and honestly one of the highlights of the holiday season. The first time I tried it, I thought to myself that it would feel even more decadent if it were also alcoholic. So I set out to figure out how to create it. 

Being me, I have a lot of whiskey on hand. Some of it amazingly high proof (high proof being better for infusing than low proof, think the difference between making tea using hot water and cold water). So having a lot of suitable whiskey on hand, I decided that it would need a whiskey base. But bourbon or rye? I ended up choosing rye for two reasons. One, I had a high proof rye that was a bit young that I wasn’t enjoying neat. And two, I thought rye flavors would play nicely with the chocolate I was planning on using. 

So I started with 1.5 cups of Rye whiskey, I used Willett distilled 2 year old rye because it was really high proof and relatively replaceable. You never know what is going to come of infusing so using something that you can't buy again isn't recommended. I added 4.5 tablespoons of loose chai tea blend to an infusing bag and let that steep for two hours. Buy a good loose tea (not powder) that you'd like to drink on it's own. I bought Reena's Chai from local tea vendor TeaSource. 

The chai infused rye was really spicy and very bitter at this point. It might have worked nice in a cocktail as a substitute for bitters...I might need to remember that idea. After removing the tea, I added the cacao nibs. About half a cup. I then let that sit for three days.

After three days, strain out the cacao nibs. Let it drain really well. Between the tea, the nibs and the tastings, I lost about half a cup of liquid by this point even though I thought I was squeezing everything really well. If you taste again at this point you will be convinced that what we have made is a bitter mess. A high proof bitter mess that's also really spicy. Think of it, tea and unsweetened chocolate. Yeah. Come to think of it, maybe this would make a better bitters...

So what counteracts bitterness? SUGAR!!! (though a little salt wouldn't have hurt either, but I just thought of that...) I dissolved half a cup of organic sugar into 3/8 of a cup of water. By my back-of-a-napkin calculations, this should bring it down below 80 proof, a nice gentle spot for a liqueur. Add that to the infused whiskey, give it a shake and you get a nice frothy liquid in your jar.

But one thing was missing. The taste is right, the smell is right, but the mouth feel is off. This is a chai tea inspired drink, even if it did travel down the inspiration road through cookie town. One of the best ways to enjoy chai is with milk. And so I tried that. I went 2 ounces of the liqueur and 1 ounce of the milk. 

It was very good. Creamy, chocolaty, spicy. Not too sweet but sweet enough to bring out the flavors of all the ingredients. I think this one is a winner.

Chocolate and Chai Rye whiskey liqueur

  • 1.5 cups rye whiskey (the high the proof the better)
  • 4.5 tbsp loose chai blend tea
  • 0.5 cup Cacao nibs
  • 0.5 cup sugar
  • .375 cup water

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Chocolate-Bourbon Cocktail Cherries

Door County Wisconsin is famous for it’s cherries. And when my wife and mother-in-law went on a short trip there, I asked them to bring me some back. You see, I had the idea that I wanted to make a yummy garnish for my manhattans and I couldn’t pass this opportunity up.

Chocolate-Bourbon Cocktail Cherries

Chocolate cherry juice

  • 1 cup 100% cherry juice
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of salt

Bring these ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan. Allow to cool enough to fish out the cinnamon stick (or leave it in if you want more cinnamon influence). 

Cherries

  • 1 pint Cherries (I used tart cherries because I like tart cherries, if you don't you might want to try sweet)

Pit the cherries while the Chocolate Cherry Juice cools. Pack them into a wide-mouth one pint mason jar. 

Alcohol

  • 1 cup Bourbon or Rye (I used a 50-50 mixture of Buffalo Trace and Sazerac Rye)
  • 1 splash of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

Once the Chocolate Cherry Juice has cooled to below 160° or so add the spirits. Mix well and pour over the cherries. You will have too much, reserve the rest for topping up the jar after the Cherries start to absorb it. Store in the refrigerator, shaking occasionally.

These get better with time. I found that after a month the tartness had mellowed and the chocolate and cinnamon had a more subtle influence that integrated better with the other flavors.

Now, I need a manhattan...

Bourbon Banana Bread

I'm a real jerk sometimes. I look at my dwindling stocks of something and decide that I just can't share with everyone. Sometimes, I go ahead and do it anyway, like this weekend when I saw thatI only had maybe enough of my chamomile infusion to make maybe one more cocktail and almost refused to make one for a guest. 

My wife got to me before I could do that though. 

Or the time when I decided that I could only share my bourbon banana bread with just a few of the people at work instead of the entire team. And sadly that didn't even include my really good friend (who I couldn't figure out a way to call over without alerting everyone else as well). 

So since she is leaving this week for a job that promises both more stress and more fun I feel it is only right that I make up for that earlier slight by bringing in two whole loaves of the tasty treat. And since I'm trying to be a nice guy for a change, I figure that I should also share with you, my fellow bourbon lovers. My guess is that you already have the most important ingredient on hand.

Bourbon Banana Bread

Dry ingredients

2.25 cups flour
1.67 cups turbinado sugar
1 tsp salt
2.5 tsp baking powder
1.25 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp SaCo cultured buttermilk blend

Wet ingredients 

3 bananas (2 mashed, 1 diced)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp high-proof bourbon (I used Knob Creek single barrel because 120 proof means more flavor and less water)
1.5 tsp vegetable oil
.5 cup (4 oz) plain non-fat yogurt
.67 cup skim milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, spray 2 loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray 
  2. Melt butter in a frying pan and add diced banana. Cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until the bananas start to caramelize. Sprinkle a little turbinado sugar over them and pull off of heat. 
  3. fold together mashed and caramelized bananas
  4. Mix together dry ingredients
  5. Mix together wet ingredients. 
  6. When the oven is preheated mix together wet and dry ingredients
  7. immediately pour into 2 loaf pans
  8. bake 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean

Once you mix the wet and dry ingredients together, speed is essential as there will be a chemical reaction going on between the baking powder, baking soda, the buttermilk powder and the wetness that will cause the mixture to be very light and foam-like. This is what provides lift to the bread and if you wait too long, you will have flat loaves. Still yummy, but harder to show off.