Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

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Review: Shots of Knowledge The Science of Whiskey

Rob Arnold and Eric Simanek, Shots of Knowledge: The Science of Whiskey, (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2016), 160 pages, $35.00. ISBN: 9780875656540

Rob Arnold and Eric Simanek are the authors of Shots of Knowledge: The Science of Whiskey. Arnold was born in Louisville and is the third generation of his family to be in the whiskey business. He is the head distiller at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company and a Ph.D. candidate in plant breeding at Texas A&M University. Simanek is the Robert E. Welch Professor of Chemistry, Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas Christian University and the director of the TCU IdeaFactory. Arnold and Simanek divided 58 essays on the science of whiskey into three parts: “From Sunshine to Sugar” describes how water, light and CO2 combine to form the essential structures of various cereal grains. Part 2, “From Wee Beasties to White Dogs,” covers the science of yeast, mashing, fermentation and distillation. And lastly, “From Barrel to Brain” follows the whiskey through maturation to ingestion.

Shots of Knowledge is an excellent coffee-table book for your home or a distillery tasting room. Each of the 58 essays is one page with an accompanying photograph or illustration. In the margins, Arnold and Simanek also include short snippets of information that build on the central theme of each essay. Both authors have significant scientific training to write authoritatively about the chemical and biological processes that convert grain, yeast and water into whiskey. While the essays are very specific about the science involved, they are short enough to not overwhelm. Shots of Knowledge makes a great coffee-table book since each essay stands alone and the illustrations are engaging. Arnold and Simanek have produced a book that will interest both consumers and distillers who want to better understand the science of whiskey.

First appeared in Distiller. (Summer 2017): 167

Review: Gin Tonica

David T. Smith is an internationally recognized gin expert, he is the author of four books on gin, and writes the gin blog Summer Fruit Cup. Smith also serves as a lead judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition, and as the lead steward for the ADI Judging of Craft Spirits. Most recently Smith has helped create the world's first independent gin bottler, That Boutique-y Gin Company, which works with gin distillers around the world to offer unique and creative expressions of gin not seen before. His latest book, Gin Tonica: 40 Recipes for Spanish-style Gin and Tonic Cocktails is a brief and informative guide to the incredible creativity and wide ranges of flavors possible in Spanish-style gin and tonics.

While the gin and tonic is most closely associated with England and the former British Empire in India, the G&T has be warmly embraced in Spain and transformed into a unique and tantalizing drinking experience. From Spain, it the Gin Tonica returned to the UK and more recently has started to pop up around the United States. As in introduction to this novel way of preparing and serving a gin and tonic, Smith breaks the book down into four basic sections. Sections one and two are separated based on the style of gin being used, either classic or contemporary gin. And, sections tree and four are differentiated by types of garnish that can be use, which Smith describes as experimental and seasonal.

While it is common for a distiller to promote his or her gin by serving it in a gin and tonic, the Gin Tonica provides an interesting alternative. Take for example Smith's Late Breakfast Gin Tonica. This cocktail features FEW Spirits' Breakfast Gin which includes bergamot and Earl Grey tea in the botanical mix. Smith includes a teaspoon of marmalade and a dried orange slice to garnish the drink which adds sweetness and plays well with the signature botanicals. Rather than offering a regular G&T, gin distillers can expand their creativity beyond their botanical mix and think about ways to highlight any unique or signature botanicals used in their gin by offering Gin Tonicas that use complementary and colorful garnishes. Gins that standout can sometimes make it harder for your average consumer to know how to use the spirit. Gin Tonicas, like those demonstrated in Smith's book offer a new way to present gins to the drinking public that are enticing and designed to complement the base spirit.

David T. Smith, Gin Tonica: 40 Recipes for Spanish-style Gin and Tonic Cocktails, (London: Ryland Peters & Small, 2017), 95 pages, $12.95. ISBN: 9781849758536

Christmas & Egg Nog

From an old Bacardi Rum advertisement.

Christmas time is here. I know this because around this time of year I develop two strong cravings. The first is to listen to my Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas station on Pandora. The second craving is to make some homemade eggnog. I'm not sure where these come from. It might have something to do with a change in the gravitational field as the Earth orbits the Sun, or maybe not. Whatever the reason, I am looking forward to the eggnog.

I first started making my own eggnog in 2004. I spent Christmas 2003 in Thailand with some friends and while enjoying the local food we talked about how we were missing Christmas dinner. We decided that when we got back we would make our own Christmas dinner and began planing the menu. In the spirit of the meal I decided to find a recipe to make my own eggnog. Looking around the interwebs I found a recipe from Cigar Aficionado' Jack Bettridge. I liked his recipe because it attempted to recreate an 18th century style nog that our Founding Fathers might have drunk.

Here's his recipe:

6 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup spirits (whiskey and brandy work, but rum is traditional), 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 pint half and half cream, 1 pint milk, and Nutmeg.

In a large bowl, beat eggs to a froth. Add sugar and salt, continue beating. Stir in spirits, cream, vanilla and milk. Chill at least three hours (some recipes call for Egg Nog on the rocks, but our forefathers didn't have refrigerators.) Serve with a sprinkle of nutmeg.

I like to use pasture raised eggs because their yokes are richer than regular or even “free range/cage free” eggs. For the spirit I tend towards a good Jamaican rum like Appleton V/X or Reserve because its full flavor stands out amid all the sugar and cream. I also like to use my own vanilla extract, which I make from vanilla pods steeped in a 4-5 oz bottle of vodka. I know some have expressed concern about the raw eggs, but I have been making this recipe for almost 10 years and neither I or any of my friends and family have ever gotten sick from this. I just make sure to buy everything fresh the day of or the day before it is serve.

The most striking thing about this eggnog when you first drink it is how light it is compared to most store bought nog. I'm not sure why all the eggnogs I buy are so thick but this recipe is a nice change. It doesn't leave you feeling overly full which makes it great for holiday parties. I keep coming back to this recipe because it is has been a perfect a night cap after Christmas dinner spent in the warm embrace of family and friends.


Women's Initiative Wine & Whiskey Event

On Wednesday November 13, a couple hundred of people filled the historic Banking Hall at 400 California street in support of the Women's Initiative for Self Employment. People happily mixed and mingled as they sampled wine and whiskey from a number of sponsors. Four Roses, Mitcher's and Compasbox all poured from their extensive whiskey lines. St. George poured their Breaking & Entering Bourbon, Dry Rye Gin and Absinthe. Bender's Whiskey Company, based on Treasure Island was pouring samples of their Bender's Rye whiskey. The event bar was expertly staffed by Romina, the General Manager of Nihon Whisky Lounge, and featured a number of classic whiskey cocktail. I tried their version of a Sazerac, made with Bender's Rye Whiskey and St. George's Absinthe, which mixed together very nicely.

The main program for the evening was emceed by San Francisco's District Attorney George Gascón, and his wife Fabiola Kramsky. The highlight of the evening was a talk by Atrid Lopez, a Women's Initiative graduate and owner of Elite Sports. She shared how the training she received from the Women's Initiative helped her and her family start and successfully run their business since 1989. After Astrid spoke, her son, Ivan Lopez shared about how through his family's success he now owns and operates Artillery Apparel Gallery, a hybrid art gallery/retail space that features art and clothing from local designers and artists. The Lopez family is a great example of how empowering women to become small business owners not only helps them and their family but also ripples outward to the surrounding community.

The event was able to raise over $40,000 which will go towards funding the next cohort of women who sign up to take their training on how to successfully run a small business. I for one was happy to participate in the event and was glad to see local wine and spirit produces supporting the next wave of small business owner. 

Whiskey vs Whisky: Newspapers & Style Guides

Throughout this series I have been looking for answers for two questions: Why does whisk(e)y have two spellings? and Why does the US favor using whiskey while most of the world spells whisky without an e?  The answer for the first question, as it turned out, is fairly simple and straightforward.  Whisk(e)y entered the English language at a time when spelling was not standardized (i.e. before dictionaries) and it was common to have multiple spellings of one word.  However, the answer for the second question is more complicated.

Throughout the history of the word, neither the US nor the UK have ever exclusively used one spelling of whisk(e)y.  But, since the 1850's the UK has favored spelling whisky without an e.  In the US, whiskey, with an e, has only been used slightly more often that its alternate. Mid-nineteenth century dictionaries and literature from the United States demonstrates that both spellings were used interchangeably without any geographic connotation.  However, after 1960 whiskey became the preferred spelling in the US. 

While I had looked at books, etymology and dictionaries I was missing one other influential written source: Newspapers.  Using the California Digital Newspaper Collection, which includes papers statewide from the 1840's to the present, I found that there was no differentiation between the use of whiskey or whisky in papers from the mid-eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. For some unknown reason, the use of whisky skyrocketed from 1880-1890 though almost none of it referred to aged grain spirits made in Scotland.

I began to wonder what might have changed around the 1960's that could explain why the US started to prefer the spelling of whiskey over whisky and when the spelling's became embedded with geographic meaning.  As I continued to look at newspapers I discovered something interesting.  In 1950's the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, all published style guides that, among other things, gave instructions on how to spell whisk(e)y.  These style guides are important not only because these institutions have large readerships but also because other papers, magazines and writers use them as a reference when publishing their own works.  The AP Stylebook spells whiskey with an e but allows an exception for whisky when referring to Scotch.  Similarly, the LA Times Stylebook followed the AP guideline for whiskey but they expanded their exception to cover both Scotch and Canadian whisky.  These style guides seem to be the first published sources in the US to link the spelling of whisk(e)y with a geographic location.  The appearance of these style guides in the second half of the twentieth century mirrors the changing preference in the US for spelling whiskey with an e and the idea that whisky (for the most part) refers to non-US spirits.  While it is certain that the AP and LA Times did not create these distinctions, the evidence suggests that they were the first to codify them.

The interesting outlier among these style guides was the New York Times.  From 1950 to 1976 The New York Times Manual of Style required its writers to spell whisky without an e in all circumstances.  However, in 1999, for some unknown reason, the Times made a 180 degree change and decided to spell whiskey with an e no matter where it was made. Everything seemed fine until late 2008 when an internet controversy erupted about the Times' insistence that Scotch whiskey be spelled with an e.  In February 2009, after a flood of negative feed back from readers about their one size fits all policy, the Times changed their style guide again.  They adopted the rule followed by the LA Times which spells all whiskey with an e except when referring to Scotch and Canadian whisky.

Since newspapers are one of the most prolific sources of written language in the country, it makes sense that the change in how whiskey and whisky were used would be reflected here first.  But, just like dictionaries, style guides are reflecting and permeating language as it already exits, not creating new words or rules.  That being said, these style guides provide the best answer for why the US began to favor the spelling of whiskey when in the 60's and why whisky referred to aged grain spirits made outside the country.

Sources Cited.