Use These Other Barrel-Aged Spirits To Take Your Summer Cocktails In A New Direction
By Richard Thomas
Summertime calls for cold drinks, and in my book that means its time to make more cocktails. When the circumstances call for something more involved (and perhaps a conversation piece as well) than a Mint Julep, Kentucky Mule or a classic whiskey cocktail, that is a good time to bring in a riff on the latter category, one made with an alternate spirit. Here I’ve got suggestions for how to riff on classic whiskey cocktails with gin, vodka, tequila and rum.
Sam Maverick Barrel Aged Texas Gin Old Fashioned
Sometimes you don’t really need to riff far from the classic cocktail to create a wholly different experience, and this barrel aged gin Old Fashioned is a prime example. I used Sam Maverick Barrel Aged Dry Gin, which is aged in their own used rye barrels and has a particularly Texas-oriented basket of botanicals. I then chose my Copper & Kings bitters, a bottle specifically tailored for “gin libations,” instead of the usual bitters. The cocktail cherry, syrup and slice of orange skin were the same. The result was something more herbaceous, and that really paired well with the orange zest.
Storywood Resposado Tequila Old Fashioned
This is a prime riff on a whiskey cocktail using an alternate spirit. The tequila is aged not in an old bourbon barrel, but an old Scotch cask, giving it a still-influenced-by-whiskey, but altogether different direction for the base spirit. To compensate for that, instead of using an orange peel, this cocktail uses a slice of nectarine. The earthiness of the tequila, Scotch whisky and stone fruit all come together in delicious way, making this a very worthy cocktail to serve before doing anything Mexican at home or for when you want something that is familiar, but also just plain different.
Hemingway Papa’s Pilar Rum Manhattan
I’m very much from the school that Manhattans should be made with rye whiskey, because they generally were before the Whiskey Bust of the 1970s put rye into almost terminal decline. Also, as a writer and a boxer, I get compared to Hemingway regularly (for my part, I prefer Norman Mailer when it comes to literary knuckledraggers). Papa’s Pilar Rye-Finished Rum is a smoked rum, solera-aged and finished in rye barrels, making it the perfect choice for a riff on a Manhattan, and that riff was pretty damn good too. It should be added to the menus of all those Hemingway themed joints in Key West.
I have sometimes found myself rolling my eyes at the very suggestion of tasting notes for vodka for about thirty years now, seeing as how the very point of vodka is to produce very nearly purified alcohol. That said, the spirit does sometimes have its uses, especially when you want other ingredients in a drink to do all the singing.
This riff on the Whiskey Sour does that, because it must to be worthy of the effort. A whiskey sour is just whiskey, syrup and lemon juice, garnished with a cherry and sometimes served with an egg white foam. I have seen them done before with maple syrup instead of simple syrup, and in this case I both went in that direction and took it up the necessary notch due to the use of essentially flavorless vodka: I used a mix of maple syrup and Wigle Maple Liqueur. That introduces a strong current of maple flavor to play off the sour citrus, compensating for the lack of whiskey while retaining the cocktail’s alcohol content.
Why go through all that if you could just use some bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey in the first place, you ask? It’s not altogether common to put a whiskey bottle in the freezer, not unless your name is Jimmy Russell, but folks do that with vodka all the time. So this is a good way to riff on a whiskey cocktail and keep things ultra-cold in the bargain.