Scotch Whiskey Review: Ardbeg Ten Years Old
A lot of people who enjoy single malt whiskies from Scotland unfortunately usually stick to a few of the well-known, popular brands that can be found in liquor stores everywhere. While these famous whiskies are superb and are well-loved for good reason, there are some whiskies that come from the country’s smaller distilleries that are simply phenomenal and so full of character that they make the famous brands seem almost bland in comparison. One single malt whisky that has been a favorite of connoisseurs for a few years now is Ardbeg Ten Years Old, a terrific liquor produced by the Ardbeg distillery on Islay, a small island off Scotland’s west coast. While very uncommon in shops around the world just a few short years ago, Ardbeg is rightfully gaining a large, incredibly loyal fan base.
A little history
The Ardbeg distillery was founded in 1815, and in 1887 output was over 1.1 million litres of whiskey per year. In 1911 the name Ardbeg was registered as a trademark, however, in the 1980’s production came to a standstill and the distillery was closed more or less permanently until 1997, when Glenmorangie purchased it. In 1998, Ardbeg 1975 was launched, and a year after re-opening, Ardbeg was voted Distillery of the Year. In 2000, Ardbeg Ten Years Old was launched, and ever since then, Ardbeg’s various fine single malt whiskies have been winning awards such as the World Whisky of the Year. Fortunately, because of their fine products and loyal growing customer base, the Ardbeg distillery is highly unlikely to ever close again.
Taste and character
Ardbeg Ten Year is known in whisky connoisseur circles as the best whisky in the world, in fact, for three years in a row it has actually been voted as “Best Whisky in the World”. What makes Ardbeg so incredibly good is that it is peatiest and smokiest of all the Islay whiskies, which are known for being smoky and peaty. However, what separates Ardbeg from competitors is that it strikes a balance; it has a fruity floral aspect to it which prevents the smokiness and peatiness from taking over. The result is a sublime experience. Distillers at Ardbeg say that because the whisky is non-chill filtered, its ABV is 46% rather than the industry standard 40%. This means that all the flavor is retained, but at the same time more depth and body get added.
The complex aroma is what tasters first notice; peat, citrus, dark chocolate, smoky fruit and ocean minerals, along with black pepper, graphite, bell peppers and pear juice. When a drop of water is added to the whisky, even more aromas are released; briny sea spray, pine forests, vanilla and hazelnut scents make a person’s mouth water in anticipation.
The taste can only be described as an explosion; peat, citrus, garam masala, toffee, brine, bananas and currants are only some of the sensations a person can experience. The finish is like a very dry espresso, with hints of liquorice and smoke, and it doesn’t end there; because the finish is so long a person will also experience ephemeral notes of aniseed, toasted almonds, and fresh, ripe pears.
How to drink Ardbeg Ten Years Old
Ardbeg is absolutely a single malt that you want to drink by itself with just a drop or two of water to open up the flavors and aromas to their maximum potential. Ardbeg can be consumed without ice or water; however, only about half of its characteristics can be experienced when no water is added. For those who like their whisky to be cold, ice can be used, but rather than use ice cubes one large lump of ice should be placed in the glass. This is to ensure the ice doesn’t melt too soon and water down the whiskey too much. While plain tap water is recommended, carbonated mineral water can be used as long as it is the Highland Spring brand that is found in Scotland. Other brands tend to adulterate the flavor.
Cocktails and mixers
All experts agree that Ardbeg should not be used in a cocktail; it is meant to be enjoyed with only water. However, if you are convinced that Ardbeg will make a lovely mixed drink, keep in mind that it will not mix well with sweet flavors. Therefore, if you simply must make a cocktail, try the classic Bannockburn where Ardbeg’s smoke and peat character will blend well with the other ingredients.
1 Old Fashioned glass
1.5 ounces Ardbeg Ten Years Old
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1.5 ounces Tomato juice
1 Slice of lemon
1 “lump” of ice
In a cocktail shaker packed with ice, stir the Ardbeg, Worcestershire sauce and tomato juice for about thirty seconds. Strain and pour in an Old Fashioned glass, and add one lump of ice. Garnish with a lemon slice.
For more information about Ardbeg Distillery products, visit www.ardbeg.com.
Vodka Review: Tito’s Handmade Vodka
Vodka brings certain images to mind like cold weather and Red Square in Moscow. However, one man’s dream is slowly but surely revolutionizing the way we think of the clear liquor; Tito Beveridge of Austin, Texas is showing that one of the world’s best vodkas is actually from the U.S.A.
Austin, Texas isn’t exactly the first place you think of when you’re looking for an excellent smooth vodka. Former geologist Beveridge wants to remedy that by making small, hand-crafted batches of vodka in Texas’ first and oldest distillery. Unlike vodka producers who make their product on an industrial scale which usually sacrifices quality, Tito’s Handmade Vodka is distilled six times to ensure a pure, wonderful-tasting drink. To compare, Grey Goose, the French vodka which is considered to be the first true premium vodka on the market, is distilled five times. If you think Grey Goose is a good vodka (which it is by all means), then even without tasting it you can imagine how sublime Tito’s Handmade Vodka will be.
What makes it unique
According to Beveridge, there are two things that make Tito’s vodka unique in the vodka industry. First of all, the vodka is not distilled in modern column stills; everything is micro-distilled in the same type of old-fashioned pot stills that high-end Cognac and single-malt whisky makers use. Pot stills are more labor-intensive to operate, but assure a higher quality product at the end of the day, much to the delight of vodka fans in the United States. The second thing that makes Tito’s unique is yellow corn, which gives the vodka an ever-so-light sweet aftertaste. Almost all other vodkas that are on liquor store shelves are made from wheat or potatoes and are purposely made to have very little character or distinguishing characteristics.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka has been winning awards for more than a decade now. Commercial production started in 1997, and by 2001, it had unanimously won the San Francisco World Spirit Competition Double Gold Medal for vodka, a category with over 70 competitors. Spirit Journal has also given Tito’s Handmade Vodka four-star ranking twice; once in 2001 and again in 2007. This outstanding product will surely continue making a name for itself on the international scene.
If you’re used to wheat-based vodkas, then Tito’s is going to be quite different. First of all, the texture of the vodka is a bit thicker when it touches the tongue, but it is still smooth. There is very little burn, and very little nose. As mentioned earlier, unlike other vodkas which don’t have much in the flavor department and also have an unpleasant bite (especially vodkas made from potatoes), Tito’s has a surprising aftertaste that is mildly sweet. Many reviewers claim this characteristic makes it a beautiful sipping vodka (“perfect for marinating ice cubes” according to one expert) that shouldn’t be mixed; however, other reviewers state that this slightly sweet aftertaste makes for an incredibly deep dry martini.
An interesting note that some reviewers made is that after drinking Tito’s Handmade Vodka, hangovers were minimal or even non-existent. Even though too much of any type of alcohol will usually result in feeling rotten the next day, the distillation process for Tito’s which produces the incredibly smooth character of the vodka, filters out impurities that can make a hangover worse. Tito’s is distilled six times; products of lesser quality are only distilled three times, and this is why cheap vodka or spirits can cause hangovers of almost epic proportions.
How to drink Tito’s Handmade Vodka
What’s nice about this product is that it’s great for connoisseurs and it’s also great for people who simply want a tasty cocktail. If you are a lover of vodka, then the best way is to simply drink it neat, undiluted, and slightly chilled with no ice. If you can’t chill your vodka first, then it is all right to add a few ice cubes to your drink. If you don’t like the thicker consistency of Tito’s, then adding an ice cube or two will also adjust the consistency to something you’re more familiar with.
Mixers, infusions, and cocktails
Tito’s is also great as a mixer; it’s a neutral spirit with a slight hint of sweetness that will add depth to any cocktail. It will also infuse well to make a flavored vodka; just go visit titosvodka.com for a few ideas. If you’re a mixed-drinks fan, here are two recipes featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka that you’ll surely enjoy:
Tito’s Handmade Vodka Martini
1 martini glass, chilled
2 ounces Tito’s Handmade Vodka
¼ ounce or a spritz white vermouth
1 cocktail olive on a toothpick or one twist of lemon
Pour the vodka and vermouth in a cocktail shaker that’s full of ice and stir with a long spoon for at least thirty seconds. Pour into the martini glass, add olive or the lemon twist and serve.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka Lemon Drop
1 martini glass, chilled and rimmed with fine sugar
1.5 ounces Tito’s Handmade Vodka
½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce sugar syrup
1 lemon twist
Pour the vodka, lemon juice, and sugar syrup into a cocktail shaker that’s full of ice. Shake for at least thirty seconds, and pour into the chilled martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
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The Best Margarita Mixes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
We all want to be star bartenders when we give a party at home; however, because of the number of guests it may very well be impossible to make fancy frozen drinks from scratch with fresh ingredients. Time becomes of the essence and instead of making the perfect cocktail, guests simply want a cocktail that tastes good. One of the ways you can cut down on your drink-making time at your party is to use packaged mixes; this way your guests can have a tasty drink and you’ll be able to enjoy your get-together and chat with your friends instead of slaving away behind your home bar.
The most popular cocktail in North America to serve to men and women at parties is the famous Margarita. It can be a sweet “girly” drink by simply adding fruit and substituting a salted rim for a sugared one; the original version with its combination of tequila, sweet, sour and salty pleases even the most macho of guests. Here is our selection of the best Margarita mixes to use at your next house party.
This sugary-sweet mix, while it isn’t nearly as good as a freshly-made drink, is still good enough to use when you’re pressed for time. Although it doesn’t contain any juice, reviewers state that it’s tart enough to go well with salt. It does have a slight chemical aftertaste, and people who’ve tried say that cocktails made with it taste like hard lemonade.
Ingredients include water, corn syrup, citric acid, sodium citrate, cellulose gum for texture, gum acacia, natural flavors, preservatives, and food coloring.
Williams-Sonoma Key Lime
This offering has a few more organic ingredients and items that are a bit more recognizable as edible; although it tastes strongly of orange rather than limes, it’s good enough to serve at a party. One of the more unexpected flavors from this mix is the faint taste of honey, and reviewers say that “it hits the spot”.
Ingredients include filtered water, organic agave syrup (to highlight the taste of the tequila), sugar, tangerine juice, key lime juice, citric acid, natural flavors, key lime extract and ascorbic acid which serves as a preservative.
Jose Cuervo Original Margarita Mix
From the makers of Jose Cuervo tequila, this pre-made mix does the job and is recommended for people who prefer their margaritas on the sweeter side. Described as “yummy juice”, it is also a bit salty to bring some balance to the cocktail and also keeps the drink from tasting more like a sweet daiquiri.
Key ingredients include water, high fructose corn syrup, wine, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, cellulose gum, natural flavors, food coloring and preservatives.
Master of Mixes
Although this mix makes a cocktail that tastes more like a sweet lemonade and definitely needs more lime flavor, it still works for party situations. It has key lime notes, but some reviewers claim it tastes of chemicals.
The list of ingredients for this pre-packaged mix include water and high fructose corn syrup, lime juice and lemon juice from concentrate, citric acid, sugar, natural flavors, agave nectar, corn starch, and an entire host of chemicals that act as preservatives and colorants.
Mr. & Mrs. T Margarita Mix
This mix has been generously described as strangely floral and soapy. Some tasters claim the sweet to sour ratio is good, but most think the mix is simply far too sweet. Unless you like sugary and soapy margaritas, you’re better off giving this one a pass. The only natural ingredient in this mix appears to be agave nectar.
Daily’s Margarita Mix
Overpoweringly sweet with absolutely no lime taste, Daily’s actually makes the world’s most refreshing cocktail cloying, heavy, and no fun to drink. The only reason why a person should serve this at a party is absolutely nothing else is available.
Bacardi Margarita Mix
Sold as concentrate to which water and tequila are added, Bacardi’s mix looks beautiful and makes a handsome cocktail. However, that is as far as it goes; where taste is concerned, it’s a sugar bomb while being overwhelmingly sour. It tastes too much like the sour candies we used to eat as children.
TGI Friday’s Margarita Blenders
This one leaves a waxy residue in your mouth and tastes of chemicals like those found in bug spray. Enough said!
Skinny Girl Margarita
Skinny Girl Margarita isn’t technically a mix; it’s a pre-made bottled cocktail, ready to pour. It’s on our list because it should never be served, no matter how much of a rush you’re in at your party. Although it’s heavily hyped in the media because it’s the brainchild of “Real Housewives of NYC” star Bethenny Frankel, the truth is the beverage is awful. Generous reviewers call the drink “watery”, while others complained the cocktail tasted of onions. The citrus flavor is too heavy, the chemical aftertaste strong, and Skinny Girl Margarita also has the delightful taste of soap.
Both of the “ugly” margarita mixes do come in handy, though; if you want to shut the party down and go to bed, these two mixes will certainly encourage guests to leave!
Remember that Fresh is Always Best
Margarita mixes, no matter how good they are, will never be as good as freshly made cocktails. If you’ve got the time, then make them from scratch. However, if you don’t, then don’t panic; our selections in the “good” category will do. If you can’t find these mixes in your local shops, just remember this rule of thumb: margarita mixes that contain alcohol will usually not taste good. Go for the ones where you need to add alcohol yourself.
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The Five Best Cocktails You Can Make at Home
There’s nothing worse than going out to a fancy bar or restaurant with your friends for a fun evening, ordering some cocktails, tasting them, and finding that they are absolute rubbish. From lazy, inexperienced bartenders to harried waitresses who are looking after ten tables as well as mixing their own drinks, the high prices demanded from drinking establishments often are simply not worth it.
There are also a lot of establishments where, as a cost-cutting measure, will pour less alcohol into each drink. Furthermore, while most bartending manuals recommend 1 ½ ounces of alcohol for each cocktail to bring out all the best flavors, the majority of restaurants, bars, and pubs will only use one ounce. Some places will use even less; this is why the drinks taste flat, lifeless, watered-down or overly sweet. Even worse is the fact that some places will use pre-packaged mixes or will use products that have expired. You deserve better.
Your best option if you want to have some great cocktails is to make them at home. This way, you get to select the best and freshest ingredients, and you’ll also be able to follow the classic recipes to the letter in order to get the perfect balance that’s missing from so many outside establishment offerings. You’ll save money, and with the money you save, you’ll be able to afford those the recommended brands of liquor to make your drinks. Bars are notorious for using no-name, obscure, cheap brands and charging far too much.
To make the five best cocktails at home, you’ll need a few things. You’ll need a supply of ice, an ice scoop or tongs, some cocktail glasses or tulip-shaped glasses, tall glasses, and short “old fashioned” glasses. As the saying goes, cocktails just won’t taste as nice if they’re served in the wrong kind of glass.
You’ll also need a blender if you want to make the frozen, slushy type of cocktail.
The Top Five
The perfect drink for those who want something savory, not sweet. This Canadian concoction is wildly popular in its nation of origin, and is quickly becoming a favorite in other countries as well. Most Americans who try the drink for the first time describe it as a Bloody Mary that’s taken to heavenly heights. If you’re outside of Canada, it’s best to make this drink at home because the bartender will most likely get the recipe wrong.
1 tulip or tall glass, rimmed with celery salt (do this by dragging a slice of lime along the rim and dipping the rim into a dish of celery salt)
1 ½ ounces vodka
6 ounces Clamato juice (a proprietary blend of clam broth and tomato juice)
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 celery stalk
1 lime wedge
If you cannot find Clamato juice in your area, you can improvise by mixing tomato juice with the liquid from tinned clams.
Fill a tulip or tall glass that’s been rimmed with celery salt with ice. Add the vodka, Clamato juice, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces; stir. Add a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and place a stalk of celery (leaves included for visual effect) in the drink. Garnish the glass with a wedge of lime; squeeze some into the drink for an added kick.
A margarita is quite possibly one of the most sublime cocktails ever invented, but you’d never know it judging by the sickly-sweet, slushy messes that many establishments serve. After making this one at home, you’ll simply be amazed at the layers of intrigue this drink offers in the flavor department. You can make the original version, or you can make the more modern frozen version by placing the ingredients in a blender.
One cocktail or tulip glass, with a lightly salted rim (done by dragging a wedge of lime around the rim and dipping into a dish of sea salt)
1 ounce Cointreau (Triple Sec also works if budget is a concern)
2 ounces of white/silver (unaged) Tequila
1 ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with a generous amount of ice. Shake for at least thirty seconds, and pour into glass. Garnish with a slice of lime or a slice of orange.
To make fruit versions of this cocktail, replace the salt rim with a sugar rim, and simply add fruit to the recipe and put all the ingredients in a blender with plenty of ice.
Long Island Ice Tea
This is a classic American drink; strong, flavorful, and perfect on hot summer nights.
One tall glass, full of ice
½ ounce Tequila
½ ounce Gin
½ ounce Rum
½ ounce Cointreau or Triple Sec
½ ounce lemon or lime syrup (sugar dissolved in lime or lemon juice)
Pour all ingredients over ice, top with Coca Cola. Garnish with a slice of lime. If you want to try the original recipe, increase all ingredients to one full ounce. However, do keep in mind your drink will contain 4 ounces of hard liquor!
This is a cocktail that has made a huge comeback; while it was hardly ordered 10 years ago, it’s been rediscovered by the under-30 set.
One tall glass, full of ice
1 ounce Kahlua
1 ounce Vodka
Pour the vodka and Kahlua over ice; top the glass with milk or Half&Half, which is a cream/milk mixture. You can add more Kahlua if you want a sweeter drink, but remember that the more Kahlua you add, your drink will become darker in color.
The Classic Martini
This is a drink that so many places get wrong but will still charge you an arm and a leg. Make it at your own place, and you’ll see why this drink has always been fashionable since its introduction decades and decades ago.
One martini glass, chilled
One cocktail shaker, full of ice
2 ounces of Gin or Vodka
½ ounce of dry Vermouth
1 drop of whisky or spritz of whisky*
Twist of lemon or 3 olives on a tooth pick as garnish
Pour all ingredients into the cocktail shaker, but DO NOT SHAKE, stir gently for at least thirty seconds. Strain into the chilled martini glass, and either add the olives or gently twist a bit of lemon rind above the beverage but do not place it in the drink.
To make an extra dry martini, reduce the amount of vermouth. Some professional bartenders will use a spritz bottle to spray the inside of a martini glass with a bit of whiskey; however this will detract from the classic “crispness” of classic martini.
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“Alcopop” is a term that is used by the general public in many countries but is not, in fact, used in the beverages industry. When people use the word, they usually mean single-serving pre-mixed drinks containing between 4%-12% alcohol by volume and juices, sodas such as Coca-cola, or other flavorings, colorants and additives.
Controversy with alcopop
Alcopops are usually very sweet and are produced in a way that a person can’t taste the alcohol; the alcohol becomes disguised and at times they can really taste like non-alcoholic beverages. Due to their bright colours, many critics of the alcohol industry in various countries feel that these beverages are being directly marketed to underage drinkers. In many cases, up until recently, “alcopops” were relatively inexpensive as well because they did not fall into the traditional categories of alcoholic beverage taxation laws. Because of problems in the 1990’s and 2000’s with underage drinkers consuming vast amounts of cheap alcopops, many national governments decided to dramatically increase taxes, making the cost of an alcopop somewhat more out of the reach of an underage consumer.
Types of alcopop
Despite the controversy over alcopops being marketed towards young adolescents, they have grown more acceptance among the older crowd and many actually prefer the pre-fab mixed drinks to beer, wine, or cocktails. There are several varieties of beverages that fall into the category of “alcopops”:
1. Wine coolers Introduced to the market in the 1980’s, wine coolers are a blend of white or red wine and fruit juices or carbonated soft drinks with other flavours. Some of the top brands of wine coolers were Bartles and James, Bacardi Breezer, and Canada Cooler.
2. Malt-liquor based beverages: In the 1990’s due to taxation laws in places like the United States which caused the price of wine coolers to go up, manufacturers found a way around this by producing sweet alcoholic mixed drinks with a malt beverage base. Technically, because of their malt base they were sold as beer products and enjoyed lower taxation rates. The malt base of these drinks was not hopped and were processed in a way to be almost flavourless, meaning the drink would taste the same as commercial soft drinks. Popular malt-based alcopops are Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Zima, and Smirnoff Ice. Producers of these beverages advertised heavily to young people and portrayed situations that young people would find themselves in.
3. Sprit based alcopops: These drinks are not disguised beer or wine; they are basically the same thing that a person could get at a bar, only served in a 330 ml can or bottle. While industry watchdogs claim that these spirit and soft-drink concoctions will appeal to younger drinkers, others quite rightly claim that the drinks contain far less alcohol than the drinks that would be prepared at home with a bottle of spirits and mixers.
Most spirit brands have their own range of ready-to-drink alcopops; some include Southern Comfort and Lemonade, Midori Melon & Lemonade, and Coruba & Cola. Other specific brands of spirit-based alcopops are Jack Daniel’s Hard Cola, Skyy Blue, and Six Degrees, which is based on absinthe.
Who drinks alcopop?
Because most of the alcopops that are available in the United States are flavored beer and are advertised to young women, alcopop is also called “cheerleader beer” or “chick beer”. The overwhelming majority of consumers are females who are under 21 years of age, which happens to be the legal drinking age in the country. People who are over 21 tend to view alcopops as “kids drinks” and there is a very strong stigma attached to drinking them. Women who are over the age of 21 usually do not like alcopops and claim they are far too sweet. Studies have shown that even the most dedicated of alcopop fans in the United States can only drink about 3 servings of alcopop in an evening; the amounts of sugar in the drinks can easily make a person feel nauseated. For this reason, some say that the media fuss over alcopops contributing to underage drinking is overblown.
However, in countries like Australia, alcopops are growing in popularity with the older crowd who want something different from a beer or a glass of wine. Alcopops are generally served with a glass full of ice and are considered to be refreshing. Making things interesting is the fact that men are also drinking alcopops. Again, due to the sugar content, people rarely have more than two.
In the United Kingdom, alcopops do seem to have contributed significantly to underage drinking and people who are of the legal age to drink do tend to shun them. Recent changes to taxation laws were enabled in order to combat underage alcohol consumption; while alcopops used to be very inexpensive, they are now out of the financial reach of most teenagers.
A northern alternative: the long drink
Europe has seen the same problem but higher taxes seem to have worked for now to prevent younger people from being able to purchase cheap alcohol. It must be noted that in countries such as Estonia and Finland, alcopops are not as popular as the traditional “long drinks” which are carbonated gin-based beverages with fruit flavoring that are also served in single-serve cans or bottles. Many bars and restaurants also have “long drink” on tap. Long drinks are popular with both genders and all ages; interestingly enough, underage drinkers will not drink alcopops at all but will acquire hard liquor, which can cause just as many or even more health and societal problems.
If you like sweet drinks, then alcopops may be right for you. When taken in moderation, they can be quite delightful, but if too many are consumed, the sugar may cause nausea. Due to too many youngsters abusing the inexpensive alcoholic beverage, they are now no longer cost-effective, and for a sweet drink, you’re probably better off getting a properly prepared cocktail.
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What is an Apéritif?
Some of the lingo that’s used in the alcoholic beverage industry can be a bit confusing to a newcomer or even a person who’s familiar with things such as beer, wine, and cocktails. An apéritif is one of those words that get used quite often but funnily enough, not very many people know what it actually means. Most people with a solid knowledge of fine alcoholic drinks claim that the aperitif is simply a drink that is consumed before a meal. However, there is actually much more to it than that; therefore, here we will explain what an aperitif is and when it should be taken and we will conclude the mini-lesson with our top five choices of aperitifs.
How to Say It
First of all however, a pronunciation lesson is needed. Apéritif comes from the French language and is pronounced “a-pair-ee-TEEF”, not “AA-peratif” or “a-PER-ative”. Practice saying the word out loud a few times. You don’t need to pronounce it like you’re from Paris; just remember to stress the word on the last syllable and you’ll be fine in any tony restaurant or bar.
What it Is
An aperitif is indeed an alcoholic beverage that is served before a meal; however, it isn’t any old drink. It must be an alcoholic drink that is specifically consumed to stimulate the appetite. In other words, it’s a drink that will make you feel hungry or will prepare you for a meal. In some cases, the word apéritif may refer to a small snack that is served before a main meal; however, in most English-speaking situations, apéritif refers to the drink, and “appetizer” refers to the small snack.
The word comes from the Latin verb aperire which means “to open”. By consuming a light alcoholic beverage before a meal, you are in fact, “opening” your appetite.
Apéritifs are usually light-bodied and do not contain heavy ingredients such as cream, eggs, or excessive amounts of sugar which would kill an appetite and make a person feel “stuffed.” Still, dry, and light white wines can be used as a before-dinner drink and are a popular choice.
A Brief History
Apéritifs were introduced to the world as a specific drink in 1846, when French chemist Joseph Dubonnet, as a way to deliver the incredibly bitter malaria-fighting chemical quinine in the most pleasant manner possible, developed a wine-based drink flavored with spices and herbs to mask the bitterness. The resulting beverage was so pleasant, that Dubonnet is still a very popular drink to this day and has ardent aficionados all around the globe.
However, before 1846, aperitifs were being consumed in Italy since the 1700’s. Vermouth was developed in Turin by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in 1786, and present day vermouth brands that are still popular are Martini, Cinzano, Dolin, and Noilly Prat. By the 1900’s, apéritifs were common everywhere; the trend had even crossed over to North America.
It must be said that apéritifs in Spain and some parts of Latin America have been around for centuries; or in the case of Spain, possibly for over a millennia. In the Iberian Peninsula, it has been a tradition for eons to have a light drink before a meal, and the drink is almost always accompanied by a snack. This drink-and-snack tradition is known by its Spanish-language name of tapas.
The types of apéritif are incredibly varied. The most popular are fortified wines such as Madeira, Sherry, or white Port wine; some liqueurs are also used as apéritifs, and many people, especially in the United States, like to have white wine or champagne before a “fancy” meal.
In France, some of the common apéritifs are pastis, which is taken before meals in the southern part of the country, Calvados brandy is a favorite in Normandy, and Crémant D’Alsace, a type of sparkling white wine, is taken in the eastern regions. Champagne and Cognac are also frequently served in homes as dinner apéritifs. Kir cocktails, the recipe for which is below, are famous in France and are becoming more well-known in North America. Young, fresh red wines like Beaujolais Nouveaux can also be used as pre-dinner drinks.
In Italy, bitters (alcoholic beverages that are herbal in nature with a bitter taste) such as Cinzano, Campari, Byrrh, Salers and Suze are often used as before-dinner drinks. Vermouth and amaro are also popular items in bars and in homes alike.
In Greece, a popular and almost iconic drink to have before eating a meal is ouzo, an anise-flavored beverage, while in the Eastern Mediterranean nations of Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, arak is the apéritif of choice.
Our Top Five Picks
If you’ve never had an apéritif before, we recommend these top five to try:
1. Dubonnet Pronounced “doo- bon-NAY”, this beverage has been a favorite for over a hundred and fifty years now with people on both sides of the Atlantic. Sweet, herbal flavored and with a rather delightful hint of bitterness, a glass of Dubonnet on the rocks is the ideal way to start a dinner party with friends.
2. Kir cocktail This refreshing pre-dinner beverage is flavorful without being overpowering and has the power to make you enjoy your food even more. It’s easy to make: Simply pour an ounce or two of blackcurrant liqueur in a champagne flute, and fill the glass with a light white wine. To make a Kir Royale, use sparkling white.
3. Pastis This apéritif is clear and anis flavored; however, it is usually taken with water added to it, which will change the color to a milky white. If ice is desired, it should be added after the water has been poured into the glass or else the consistency will change; the cold will crystallize the anethole present in the liquor.
4. Campari and Soda Campari is one of Italy’s most famous bitters, and while it may be too bitter to drink on its own and has been described as “an acquired taste”, when it is mixed with soda water or even sparkling water it develops into something quite sublime.
5. Sherry A beautiful fortified wine from the Jerez region of Andalusia in southern Spain, a Sherry is like an amplified version of a great white wine. A must-have if you’ve never tried it before.
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What is a Digestif?
Technically speaking, a digestif is an alcoholic beverage that is taken after a meal to help with digestion. When a digestif is taken after a coffee course, it is called a pousse-café. Digestifs are more of a European tradition; however, in the past few years, European restaurateurs in the United States have been introducing the digestif concept to North America, where more and more people are enjoying the idea of more leisurely meals.
Digestifs have been around in Europe for a long time. Originally thought of as an aid to digestion after eating a heavy, rich meal, a digestif is a bit different than wine in that the flavors can be a bit bitter due to herbs that are used in the digestif concoctions to settle the stomach. While some digestifs can be sweet, they can also be a bit more neutral as far as sweetness is concerned; because a digestif is served after a dessert, many people don’t want to get a sugar overload but do want to enjoy a drink that won’t clash with the food that has just been ingested. For example, having a glass of Malbec wine after a eating a pudding probably won’t be so nice. However, a couple of ounces of something with a faint bitter, herbal taste and a touch of sugar will most likely be delightful. Basically, what it comes down to is personal preference. While an apéritif should not be sweet in order to whet the appetite, a digestif can be as sweet or as dry as a person likes.
Digestifs are usually very high in alcohol content, and drinks that are 35-50 % alcohol by volume are the norm. The reason why these are served at the end of the meal is two-fold: first, as mentioned above, it’s to help a diner’s digestion; second, if a highly alcoholic beverage is served before a person eats, on an empty stomach, a person can become highly inebriated. Only small amounts of a digestif are served; the hypothesis is that a small amount will aid the digestion, but too much will hinder it.
While in North America there is the habit of rushing through a meal and restaurants don’t like patrons who linger over after-dinner drinks, some finer establishments are re-introducing the idea of the coffee course and digestif for their clientele who like to make an evening of dining out. Other people are starting to serve the digestif in their homes during dinner parties in order to keep a good after-dinner conversation going. Serving a digestif adds another layer of sophistication and fun when entertaining in-house.
So where does one start when it comes to serving a digestif? Well, a very basic rule of thumb is that clear liquors work best as apéritifs, and dark liquors such as dark rum, scotch, and brandy work best as digestifs. But one must keep in mind that these are not the only things that are served as after-dinner drinks. Here is a look at some typical digestifs from European countries.
In France, after a meal, a variety of liqueurs may be served, and along with the liqueurs, an eau-de-vie may be offered. Eau-de-vie (or eaux-de-vie if there is more than one) is a clear, colorless fruit brandy that is made by the process of fermentation and double-distillation. The flavor of the fruit is very light, and the alcohol content can be up to 60%. Pronounced “oh-da-VEE” (the plural form is pronounced the same way), this brandy can be home-made, but many good brands are available. The French also will drink Armagnac, Calvados and Cognac, which are all well-known, highest quality brandies. French people will also say that the longer these brandies have aged, the tastier and subtler they will be.
People in the UK and in Europe will also have Sherry, Madeira and Port wines as a digestif; in fact, this is where the idea of “a Port and a cigar” after dinner comes from. However, some “purists” will consider these three fortified wines to be more “dessert wines” than technical digestifs.
In Italy, a common digestif is Amaro, which is Italian for “bitter.” The alcohol content can range from 16% to 35%, and the bittersweet liquid is usually served neat, or without ice, after a meal. Grappa is also an iconic digestif: the crystal-clear digestif is produced from the remains of grapes after they are pressed for making wine. Limoncello, a spirit that is flavored with lemon peels, is also a wonderful digestif.
But what are the best digestifs?
If cognac, brandy and whisky aren’t how you would like to end a meal, don’t worry; when it comes to digestifs, personal preference rules the day. Your digestif can be as sweet or as dry as you like. Here are a few suggestions to end your dinner party on a high note.
Sweet: Try Amaretto, an Italian almond liqueur, or Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur with herbal notes. Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlúa are also popular liqueurs that are nice after eating.
Bitter and herbal but still sweet: Benedictine or Chartreuse. These two digestifs are sweet and herbal flavored, with Chartreuse being more pungent and spicy.
Sweet but not syrupy: Sweeter versions of Sherry, Port wine or Madeira.
Strong and flavorful: Eaux de vie, añejo (aged) tequila, dark rum, spiced rum.
Cocktails: The Old Fashioned. Put a teaspoon of granulated sugar in a glass, and add a teaspoon of water, and a few drops of Angostura Bitters. Muddle everything together, then add two ounces of bourbon whiskey and some ice. Add an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.
A leisurely meal at the end of the day is a beautiful thing. Take a bit of time, have some friends over, and enjoy great after-dinner conversation while trying something new. You’ll find that adding a digestif takes everything to the next level.
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Pernod and Pastis: How to Drink Them Properly
Pernod and Pastis are both anise-flavored alcoholic beverages from France that took the place of absinthe when it was banned in 1915. Although the licorice-flavored drinks are similar in taste to absinthe, Pernod and Pastis do not contain the herb wormwood that was absinthe’s “active ingredient”.
The drink is especially popular in southern France, where it is taken as both a long drink and as an aperitif. Both beverages are also commonly found among the European ex-pat community in North Africa.
People who try Pastis or Pernod for the first time make the mistake of drinking it neat; this is not the right way to enjoy the liqueur for all of its more subtle flavors cannot be released when taken straight. Here is a little bit more information about the drink and how it should be prepared in order to enjoy all of its amazingly refreshing qualities.
Pastis and Pernod are very similar to other anise-flavored liqueurs that are consumed in the Mediterranean. It is very much like arak, raki, and Sambuca. Unlike its predecessor absinthe, Pastis and Pernod are always bottled with sugar and contain 45-50% alcohol by volume. The French liqueurs are also made with star anise, which comes from Asia; they are not made with the European green anise herb.
Serving Pastis and Pernod
As mentioned earlier, people who don’t have much experience serving and drinking Pastis can sometimes make the mistake of either drinking the liqueur neat or serving it over ice. Neat Pastis is far too strong to be enjoyed on its own, and when it is poured directly over ice, the anethole contained in the liquid will crystallize, making the drink chalky and kind of bumpy.
Pastis must be diluted with water. The standard measures for a proper drink of pastis are one part pastis to five parts of water. The pastis is poured into the glass first, followed by the water. Oftentimes, in restaurant situations, pastis will be served neat in a tall glass, but a jug of water will be given to the customer in order to add the amount of water he or she likes.
Pastis is meant to be a refreshing drink on hot days or served as an apéritif to whet the appetite before a big meal. While purists claim that ice cubes should never be added, they can be, but must be added after the water has been poured in so that the anethole doesn’t crystallize. Many people say that pastis tastes best if only cool spring water is used to dilute it.
One thing that happens once water is added; the beverage will change color from a transparent yellow or amber color to milky white. This is because when the water is added, some of the ingredients in Pastis become insoluble.
Pastis and Pernod are the most popular beverages in France; more than 130 million liters of Pastis are sold each year in the country, which is roughly equal to two liters per resident.
Drinks containing Pernod or Pastis
Pastis and Pernod are also used to make a variety of cocktails. While the above method of serving and drinking the liqueurs is the most popular, these are also drinks that have quite a few fans in France and around the world.
1 tall glass
1 ounce Pastis or Pernod
1 ounce orgeat syrup (sweet syrup made of almonds, rose water or orange blossom water, and sugar)
Chilled mineral water
Pour the Pastis and orgeat syrup in the glass. If serving to another person, serve the water separately. Fill the glass with water; if desired, top up the glass with ice cubes.
The Perroquet (The Parrot)
1 tall glass
1 ounce Pastis or Pernod
1 ounce mint syrup
Chilled mineral water
Pour the Pastis and mint syrup in the glass, fill to the top with chilled mineral water, and add ice cubes if so desired. The correct pronunciation for this drink is “pair-oh-KAY”, not “PurroKWET.”
1 tall glass
1 ounce Pastis or Pernod
1 ounce grenadine
Chilled mineral water
Called “the tomato” because of its vivid red color, the Tomate is made by pouring the Pastis and grenadine in a tall glass and filling it with chilled mineral water. Ice cubes may be added if so wished.
The Mazout is made in the same way as the other drinks above, but instead of water, cola is used to fill the glass. Again, ice may be added after the cola has been poured in.
The Cornichon (The Pickle)
The Cornichon is made by mixing Pastis with banana syrup and filling the glass with mineral water. There are no pickles or cucumbers involved in this cocktail at all. Why it is called a Pickle is something of a mystery!
The Rou Rou
Made exactly the same way as the above drinks, but with strawberry syrup. Again, ice may be added if so desired.
Pastis and Pernod, while they may not be popular in North America just yet, they most certainly will become more and more well known as Americans and Canadians search for a little something different to drink before or during their meals. Whether you try Pastis and Pernod with either plain water or the different syrups mentioned in our drinks list, you’re sure to find a tasty, subtle drink with a delightfully different flavor you’ll want to try over and over again.
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Something you don’t see too much of nowadays in restaurants due to strict safety and fire codes are alcoholic beverages that are set alight to dazzle customers and wow the clientele. However, in some parts of the world, when one goes to the finer dining establishments where waiters are expected to have a certain amount of flair, professionalism and showmanship, flaming drinks that are prepared by your server at your table can still be had and are a tremendous joy to watch. The drinks are also incredibly tasty and none of the flavor gets sacrificed in the name of putting on a good show.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a region where flaming drinks are allowed and where serving staff are professionally qualified to be making spectacular drinks that are set on fire, then here is a list of drinks along with their ingredients so that you’ll know what to order. We do NOT recommend that you make these drinks at home: it’s far too risky and the art of flaming cocktails is best left to the professionals so that nobody gets burned or starts an accidental fire!
A side note which must be mentioned is that flaming cocktails should be filled to the top of the glass: exposed glass can break easily when exposed to sudden, intense heat. The flames can escape from the drink and set other flammables alight as well. Also make sure you don’t let the flames burn too long; the hot glass can hurt your lip when you go to take a sip.
The Bailey’s Comet
1 cocktail glass
1 ½ oz Bailey’s Irish Cream
1 ½ oz Butterscotch Schnapps
¾ oz Goldschlager
1 tbsp 151-proof Rum
1 dash Cinnamon
Put the Bailey’s, Schnapps and Goldschlager in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice; shake and strain into the glass. Pour the 151-proof rum on top, light on fire, and sprinkle the cinnamon on top. The spice will flame and sparkle, so be careful. Don’t let the drink burn for too long or else it will get lumpy and curdled; blow out the flame before drinking.
The Flaming Sambuca
1 shot glass
3 coffee beans
Fill a shot glass with Sambuca, and place three coffee beans on top. Light the Sambuca, and let the flame burn for a minimum of 10 seconds. Extinguish the flame before drinking.
The Blue Blazer
This drink has a bit of a history behind it; invented by San Francisco bartender Jerry Thomas in the late 1800’s, it was a cocktail that he would only prepare if the outside temperature was below 500 F or if the person ordering it had a cold or the flu. The drink itself is only a basic whiskey punch, but it’s the mixing of the drink that is simply spectacular; this is a drink that only professionals should attempt to make.
2 silver cups
2 ½ ounces of rye whiskey, bourbon or brandy
2 ½ ounces boiling water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 lemon peel
Heat the water, sugar and lemon peel until boiling, discard the lemon peel. In a separate pot, heat up the whiskey. Pour the water into one of the silver cups, and pour the whiskey into the other cup. Light the whiskey on fire and pour the whiskey and water between the two cups without extinguishing the flame. Jerry Thomas would hold the cups one meter apart, and this created a long blue flame. Absolutely not to be tried at home by amateurs!
The Flaming Dr. Pepper
This drink is a favorite among university students and any other people who want to try a flashy drink that tastes great.
1 pint glass, half full of beer
1 shot glass
¾ oz Amaretto
¼ oz 151-proof rum
Pour the Amaretto into a shot glass, and top with 151-proof rum. Drop the entire shot glass into the beer; the beer will extinguish the flame and the entire concoction should be downed at once. The burnt amaretto will mix with the beer, produced a drink that tastes like the iconic Dr Pepper soft drink.
The Flaming Dragon
1 short glass
1 ½ oz. Chartreuse liqueur
1 oz 151-proof rum
Mix the two ingredients together in a short glass, and set on fire. Let the flames burn about 20 seconds, then extinguish. Drink with care to avoid burning your lip on the hot glass.
The Flaming B52
1 shot glass
1/3 oz Kahlua
1/3 oz Bailey’s
1/3 oz Grand Marnier
Before pouring any of the ingredients, make sure that the Grand Marnier is at least at room temperature; it will be difficult to ignite chilled. Pour the Kahlua in the glass first, then layer the Bailey’s over top by pouring it over the back of a spoon. Do the same thing with the Grand Marnier, then set alight. Extinguish before drinking.
The Flaming Leapin’ Lizard
1 short glass
1 oz Chartreuse
1 oz Ouzo
Splash 151-proof rum
Put the Chartreuse and Ouzo in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice, shake and strain into a short glass. Top with a splash of the 151-proof rum, but do not mix it into the drink. Set the drink alight, and let burn for a few seconds. Extinguish before drinking.
Always keep in mind that when you’re drinking a flaming drink, there are some safety precautions that must be taken so that everyone can have a good time yet remain safe. If you’re a bartender, never serve a flaming drink to a person that is intoxicated. Never add more alcohol onto a drink that has already been set on fire; this will only result in a flame climbing up the liquid that is being poured and setting the entire bottle’s contents alight. Finally, always make sure that when you order a flaming drink that it is done in a fairly thick-walled glass; don’t accept a flaming drink in a thin glass because it may very well crack open. Remember, that it’s all about having fun and staying out of harm’s way as well.
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The Top 5 Liqueurs to Drink Neat
Liqueurs are sweet alcoholic beverages that can be taken in lieu of dessert. High quality liqueurs can be taken neat, meaning that they don’t need to be mixed with anything, don’t need ice, and can be served at room temperature and will taste absolutely magnificent. Some liqueurs are just far too sweet and far too syrupy to be taken on their own and absolutely must be consumed along with other ingredients in a cocktail. However, good, superior quality liqueurs simply must be sipped straight out of a fancy liqueur glass. Here is our Top Five list of liqueurs to drink neat.
5. Kahlúa This fine Mexican liqueur which is produced from Arabica coffee beans grown in Veracruz and other parts of the Latin American country can be considered King of the after-dinner drinks; not only does it form an integral part of about 50% of all bar cocktails, it is also absolutely magnificent in a cup of coffee and it is perfectly sublime on its own after dinner. There are plenty of coffee liqueurs on the market, but all pale in comparison to Kahlúa. If you’re hankering for a sweet coffee treat after a heavy meal but don’t want an espresso or something that is sickly-sweet, then a 2 ounce glass of Kahlúa, slowly sipped, will be the perfect tipple.
4. Advocaat and Rompope Tying for fourth place on our list of the top liqueurs are the two eggnog type drinks that are famous the world over; Advocaat comes from Holland and Rompope comes from Latin America. Both drinks are very similar in that they are both based on eggs, sugar, and milk, and both beverages are like a liquid version of incredibly good custard. While in most cases eggnog is something that people will only have in the winter time in the Christmas season, Advocaat and Rompope are delicious year-round.
Advocaat is usually produced in Holland and Belgium, and is made of eggs, sugar, and brandy. Creamy smooth and custard like, it has an alcohol content between 14% to 20%. Thick Advocaat, which is only sold on the domestic market, can be eaten with a spoon and is sometimes sold as a topping for waffles. The more liquid version that is for export can be used for cocktails such as a snowball, but connoisseurs and fans alike prefer Advocaat just by itself. It can absolutely be described as a rich dessert in liquid form. Advocaat is available in most countries.
The most famous version of Rompope comes from Puebla, Mexico. Also made of eggs, cream, and sugar, it almost always contains the strong vanilla Mexico is famous for and it also contains rum instead of brandy. Although commercial versions from Puebla are of excellent quality and can turn any event into a special occasion, in Mexico many people still prefer to make home-made rompope in the winter. Availability may be an issue; outside of Mexico, commercial rompope is hard to find. However, in the southern United States, certain liquor shops may sell it to the delight of locals.
3. Vana Tallinn At number three on our list is a liqueur that has only recently come to our attention; this powerful liqueur is simply terrific after a heavy meal but it’s also so nice that it will work well as a genteel drink to accompany an afternoon tea-snack. Hailing from the Estonian capital of Tallinn, this liqueur can also be potentially dangerous; the sweetness and flavors disguise its incredibly high alcohol content, which can range from 35% to 50% alcohol by volume. A famous cocktail made with the liqueur is called “The hammer and sickle” – mixed with Russian sparkling wine, the Vana Tallinn is the hammer that hits you on the head and the champagne is the sickle that will cut off your legs. Up until 2007, Vana Tallinn and its cream version were only available in Europe. It is now available in the United States, where it has won awards in tasting competitions. Vana Tallinn is a beautiful liqueur, but one must remember to drink it in moderation due to the high alcohol content.
2. Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge Many argue that when it comes to orange liqueurs, the French liqueur Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge is simply the best on the market and has been the best since it was first manufactured in 1880. Made from a mixture of Cognac brandy, sugar, and distilled essence of bitter orange, Grand Marnier is 40% alcohol by volume and can be taken as a cordial or digestif. What makes Grand Marnier such a favorite with old-timers and the new generation alike is its featherweight texture and intense orange flavor that does not seem at any time synthetic. While Grand Marnier is like Kahlúa in that it is used as a basic ingredient in hundreds of cocktails, it is also used in cooking. However, the true delight of Grand Marnier can only be experienced when sipped neat with leisure.
And the number 1 spot goes to…Bailey’s Irish Cream. While some connoisseurs of fine liqueur may disagree, there is a reason why Bailey’s Irish Cream is usually everybody’s favorite liqueur and in some cases favorite alcoholic beverage; it’s just phenomenally good! Based on Irish whiskey and cream, this sweet and rich beverage is satisfying and flavorful without being over-the-top sugary. The Irish whiskey flavour is there, but is not overpowering, and the texture of the drink is velvety without being too thick or too much like melted ice cream. Some aficionados like to have two or three ice cubes added in their glass, but the best way to enjoy this drink is the simple way; straight up, no ice, and nothing fancy added. Bailey’s has been popular for decades now, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
At your next dinner party, if you don’t have the time to make a dessert, or you want to serve something other than a dessert wine to go along with an end-of-the-night sweet, try any one of the above five liqueurs and you and your guests will be stunned by how good they are.
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