Shit we love: Ancho Reyes

You might have noticed Ancho Reyes just keeps on finding its way into our recipes (or tasted it for yourself at our August "Anni3stary" event). 

That's because it's shit we love. It's a crazy-versatile ancho chile liqueur inspired by a 1920's recipe found in the town of Puebla Zaragoza, Mexico. The ancho chiles used to flavor the liqueur are hand-selected, dried, scissor sliced, and then soaked in a neutral cane spirit for six months in iron vats. But it does not stop there. After straining, they blend it and age it to allow the flavors to combine even further. Their careful process results in a robust flavor that's both sweet and smokey while also carrying a warm heat thats not overpowering. 

This liqueur makes our favorites list not just because of its delicious taste, but also because of the complexity and depth of flavor it easily adds to so many cocktails. This shit plays great with others too. Whether it be tequila, mezcal, dark rum, and even whiskey and gin, you can add a little or a lot for entirely different results. If you don't already have a bottle yourself, go get one. You can bet it won't be an addition to your bar you regret. A bottle doesn't last very long on ours...

Here's a few of our favorite Ancho Reyes cocktails.

for the love of negroni

The Martini. The Margarita. The Old Fashioned. Every now and then a cocktail comes along that captures the attention of many. It's just a shame it took so damn long for the Negroni to do that. 

Traditionally made with equal portions of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari, the Negroni is a lesson in simplicity and balance. But start tweaking the ingredients in just the slightest way (even just use different types of gin), and the Negroni can be as diverse as the people that make them. Maybe that's why Imbibe Magazine and Campari have teamed up to celebrate Negroni Week.

Started in 2013, Negroni Week is a week-long celebration of one of the world’s great cocktails and an effort to raise money for charitable causes around the world. From 2013 to 2014, Negroni Week grew from more than 100 participating bars to more than 1,300 participating bars around the world and more than $120,000 raised for charities. 2015 promises to be another record-setting year with more than 2600 bars and restaurants already signed up. Perhaps even cooler, each bar can select the charity they want to support. 

Here in Nashville, there are several bars participating in Negroni Week (you can see and search all bars from around the world on the Negroni Week website). We don't know about you, but we're definitely planning on hitting up at least a few of those to support the cause. Yeah yeah, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

At the time of publishing, here are the local spots you can go to enjoy a Negroni for Negroni Week:

Of course, you're welcome to make your own. Lucky for you, we've got some recipes for you below. 

shit we love: luxardo maraschino

If you've spent much time clicking through our recipes, you know we love Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. It's that secret ingredient that can transform even the most simple of cocktails with just the smallest amount. It's a common ingredient found in many classics, but it's worth keeping on hand at your home bar for experimenting your own brand new cocktail creations. 

Before you go any further, let's take a second to clear the air. We know when you see the word "maraschino," you're thinking of those toxic red cherry-like things with stems on them. Well, stop it, damnit! We've talked all about cherries before, but let's just save some time and cut to the chase. Those bright red things have nothing to do with Maraschino liqueur. 

Luxardo Maraschino is made from sour Marasca cherries. In fact, it is actually distilled directly from the cherries and the crushed cherry pits, giving it almost an almond-like and subtle bitter flavor. After fermentation and distillation, it's sweetened with cane sugar, resulting in a clear, not-too-sweet, incredibly-flavorful liqueur. 

Look for it next time you're out browsin' through the liquor store. Keep it right on the top of your bar within arm's reach and start adding a little to your favorite cocktails. We have a feeling you'll love it just as much as we do.

Here's a few of our cocktails made with Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur:


shit we love: grappa

Grappa the Great | 3st of the Month

Our April 3st of the Month is "all about the grapes." Of course, most folks think that means wine...and while we'll have plenty of wine on hand, it's not all we'll be serving. We're thrilled to showcase of our favorite types of Grappa, Alexander Grappa

 It's pretty obvious where wine comes from. Grapes, of course. Depending on the variety, it can be made from the just the juice or sometimes with whole crushed grapes. All too often, there's heaps and heaps of leftover grape solids (aka "pomace") just sitting around after wine making. So what's a Italian left to do but make booze from it!?

That's where Grappa comes in. Grappa originated in Italy as a pomace brandy, made from the skin, seeds, pulp and stems left over after making wine. This starting pomace can be unfermented if coming from white wine production, partially-fermented when coming from rosé wine production, or damn near fully-fermented when removed from red wine production. Either way, it's left to sit and continue to ferment in large tanks before being distilled to create the spirit that becomes Grappa.

The Alexander Family of Grappa

The Alexander Family of Grappa

Let's be clear - pomace brandy can come from anywhere, but true Grappa comes from Italy. To be called Grappa, it can only be made with pomace - no water can be added. Funny enough, there's actually an Italian law that requires winemakers to sell their grape pomace to Grappa producers. Like with wine, Grappa can take on many different characteristics of the different grapes used in production as well as the distilling techniques. Unlike many other types of brandy, Grappa is rarely aged, so it's typically crystal-clear.

In Italy, it's most often consumed as a digestif, sipped after a meal to aid in digestion. But this ain't Italy. It's Nashville. A drinking town with a music problem. So we're planning on doing more than just sippin' the stuff! We're playing with fun cocktails, shots and more... to find out what we'll be serving next Friday, you'll just have to be there!

the essentials tools of every home bar

When stocking the home bar, most people seem to start with the booze. And rightfully so. But great cocktails not only need the right ingredients, they need the right tools. These tools, when used properly help you create consistent, quality drinks.

Before you start freaking out about having to buy a bunch of new shit for your bar, keep reading. While we certainly highlight best options, we'll also give you some home options as well - and tell you why they're just as important. 

Check out the six essentials below. See something we're missing? Tell us, we'd love to hear from you!


ice ice baby

If you read our ice ball post, you know we're kinda obsessed with ice. Without getting too obsessive, let us just say that ice cubes are called cubes for a reason. Perfectly-shaped cubes are great for shaking, stirring and obviously look nice, but there's more to it than that. Freezing your own ice lets you control the water that goes into your cocktails (we suggest filtered/bottled). You can find these silicone trays pretty much anywhere these days. Go get some. Good ice is the foundation of a great cocktail. 

Shop for silicone ice trays on Amazon.


measuring up

If you're going to make a good cocktail and make it time and time again, you need to know your proportions. Classic cocktail recipes were developed over many years and the proportions are critical. Maybe you have years tending bar professionally and know how to count a good pour, but we're guessing you don't. A set of jiggers gives you all the standard measurements, but you can find tons of alternatives out there these days. Hell, break out the measuring spoons if you have to - you'll just have to convert to ounces. There's an app for that.

You can find jigger sets on Amazon for under 10 bucks.


shake it off

No, this is not a reference to Taylor Swift. It's referring to cocktail shakers. Every bar should have a good one. Just like jiggers, there are plenty of sizes and styles out there. A Cobbler Shaker is the three-piece kind with a little lid and a pour spout. Don't spend your money on it - they tend to leak. Instead go with a Boston Shaker or a French Shaker. Both are comprised of two pieces - the Boston being a large metal cup and pint glass, the French being two metal cups. When using, always shake with the larger cup on the bottom. If you don't have a shaker on hand, you can honestly just use a jar and a lid, but shakers are cheap, so get one eventually. As a general rule, cocktails with fruit juices get a shake, those without get a stir.

We found a great (and cheap!) assortment of shaker tins for you here.


stir it up

Not every drink is shaken. In fact, many of the best cocktails are not. Shaking drinks with ice dilutes them - which can be a good thing, but when working with delicate boozy balances, you may want to just chill without as much dilution. That's where a cocktail mixing glass or pitcher comes into play. They're perfectly sized for cocktails and the pitchers have a convenient pouring spout. The other side of the stirring equation is the bar spoon. A bar spoon is not just for stirring, but is good for layering drinks and often referred to in many cocktail recipes as a unit of measure. It's about a teaspoon, just so you know. 

So, yes, you can spend about 30 bucks on a fancy mixing pitcher (here), but if someone really gives you shit for stirring drinks in a pint glass with an iced tea spoon, then stop giving them drinks. They don't deserve your kindness.


strained relationship

Like in many circumstances, no one piece is much good without the other. This is definitely the case for a good strainer - or three. Strainers are the other side of Boston or French Shakers and needed for cocktail mixing glasses and pitchers. But not all strainers are equal. A "cocktail strainer" or "Hawthorne strainer" typically refers to basic everyday bar strainer. It's got a spring around the outside and some pattern of holes to let the liquid go through with prongs around the perimeter to keep it on the top of your glass. These work well when straining from a shaker tin or glass. A "julep strainer" is made from a handled piece of domed metal with larger perforations and are great for straining from cocktail mixing pitchers. They were originally used before the prevalence of drinking straws (hard to imagine, right?!), when they would be held on the top of the glass while drinking to keep the ice and mint in the glass while you sipped from the rim. A "conical strainer" or a fine mesh strainer is used for keeping bits of mint out of a mojito or straining citrus pulp and/or ice shards from a more refined cocktail. 

We've found a ton of very affordable strainers here, but we also suggest you take a look around your kitchen - there's a good chance you've got something you can use in the meantime. Have a tea strainer? Use it. 


smash hit

The final, and perhaps least important, element of our list of six equipment essentials is a muddler. It's not called for as often as the other pieces and is easily the simplest one to find a replacement for in your home kitchen. Even the handle of a wooden spoon will do in a pinch. But a good muddler is made for muddling - unlike that old spoon. It has a flat bottom and a sturdy handle, great for pressing wedges of lime and releasing the aromatics from fresh herbs. 

We've found a bunch of good ones for you starting at just a couple bucks here.


Yes, there are some additional tools that come in handy beyond these primary ones above, but they're all essentially kitchen gadgets that get repurposed for cocktails. A few of our other favorites are a good citrus juicer, a microplane grater for nutmeg, etc. and a good, sharp peeler for getting strips of zest from citrus.

Let's not even get started with glassware...

shit we love: ice balls

Okay, we admit it. We're a little nutty about our ice. Check the freezer and you'll see a collection of silicone ice trays with everything from large cubes to even some random shit like shark fin shaped ice trays. But besides the novelty, there's actually some science to what ice you use in a cocktail.

Ice is water. Everyone knows that. But think about your cocktails recipes - how many of them actually call for water as an ingredient? Very few. When it comes to ice, it's all about surface area. A large cube of ice has six sides...break that same cube into pieces and good luck counting all those sides. The more surface area that comes into contact with your cocktail, the quicker the ice melts and the more water you add to your drink.

Sometimes that's not a bad thing, but other times - like when drinking damn good whiskey or bourbon - it's a deal breaker. That's where ice balls come into play. A perfect sphere is known to have the least amount of surface area of any surface on the planet. When wanting to cool your drink without watering it down, go have a ball - of ice, that is.

But if you're like us, your Facebook feed is filled with ads for ice ball molds. Have you ever used one? We have - several different types in fact. Every single one yields the same result. You get a somewhat round ball of ice to start with, but give it a minute or two in the glass and it starts to split, eventually cracking into pieces. That kinda defeats the whole purpose, right?

But why do they do that? It's simple science really. As water freezes it expands and when it's trapped inside a mold, that creates areas where gasses get trapped and fissures occur. If you really want to have a ball with your ice, you should skip the mold and splurge for the real think - an ice ball maker.

Unlike an ice ball mold that compresses the water into a ball shape, an ice ball maker takes a larger piece of ice that was free to freeze uncompressed and then quickly melts away the excess to create a perfect sphere. Made with precisely-machined aluminum, ice ball makers combine the conduction qualities and weight of the metal to 'heal' imperfections in the ice during the melting process. So not only will you be the stud at the party with a real ice ball, but that ball won't split and will slowly melt and give you a great glass of booze every time. Everyone will really love your balls...ice balls, that is.

When ice ball makers first came out on the market a few years ago, the price was practically laughable. Shell out around $2k and you could have one of your very own. But things change, people innovate and thankfully for the rest of us, you can now get one for about the price of a few (really) good bottles of booze. Speaking of which, if you're the kind of person that buys high-end booze, you should really invest in an ice ball maker.

The Whiskey Ice Co. out of Dallas is making them here in America from 100% reclaimed aluminum. Best of all, they're priced around 400 bucks. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Even better yet, the guys at The Whiskey Ice Co. have offered a special discount just for 3st of the Month. For a limited time, you can get $40 off with the promo code 3STOFMONTH in their online store!

Go ahead, be a baller.



shit we love: 18 year old kilbeggan

A guest blog from Henry Pile of Mountain

 

My friend Marchelle Bradanini asked me to film a video for “Easy Money,” a song she recently released. She performs under the moniker “Pony Boy” and her sound is a whirling blender of gothic southern soul and classic country ripped from an 8 track and tossed around a bit. To capture a visual representation of the gritty sound, she wanted a hazy video with as much lo-fi technology as possible. 

After a few hours of cigarette smoke, candles, bedroom scenes, and a lot of lipstick, we wrapped. I spent a few days on the edit and we celebrated a final cut of the video.

Because sheʼs a friend, I refused payment. Not to be deterred, she paid me with 18 year old Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey. I have no background with Irish Whiskey. As a former bartender, I spent my time with the popular spirits and left those odd green bottles on the shelf to collect dust. Still, Iʼm not one to say no to booze. I graciously accepted. 

After handing me the bottle, Marchelle told me, “Donʼt drink all of this without me.” The next day, she left for London and I was left with a sense that this was pretty damn good stuff.

A few nights later, after a particularly difficult day at work, I lifted the bottle off the bar cart, pulled the cork, poured a healthy shot over a cube of ice, and let the glass sit for a minute. The carmel colored booze heated the ice and mixed with the cold water. Ribbons of cold and warm wrapped around each other. Ready to untie this gift, I put the glass to my lips and let a bit into my mouth.

The woody, spiced cherry notes slipped up my nose as the whiskey side down my throat. Dry but full of flavor. Almonds maybe. Definitely woody. No smoke or peat like a Scotch. No burn like an American Whiskey. Perfect with the ice and easy to drink.

As you can expect, a higher priced product is usually higher quality. Kilbeggan 18 met that expectation. I donʼt pound this liquor for a quick drunk or pour sloppy shots at 2 AM. Iʼll let those more popular bottles play the party maker. This booze is perfect for an evening glass of the brown stuff. 

Oh, and I should mention that after a few months, Marchelle came back from London. We shared a glass of whiskey. If you happen to come into some nice booze, be sure to share it with a friend. I guarantee it will go down smoother with some ice and good conversation.

Want to see the video that earned me this bottle? Click here.

 

shit we love: la croix sparkling water

Not every cocktail needs bitters, syrup or fancy liqueurs. Sometimes a quick drink is nice and for that we love La Croix Sparkling Water. Yes, there are other companies out there making flavored sparkling waters, but none match the combo of quality and variety like La Croix. 

Over the years they've expanded their basic lineup flavors to include some damn-tasty options like grapefruit ("pamplemousse"), cran-raspberry and coconut. They also recently released a new combo of La Croix Cúrate with Cherry-Lime and Apple-Berry flavors...but this summer they launched a collection of three new flavors exclusively to Target; Passionfruit, Mango and Apricot.

Regardless of the flavor you pick (we suggest grabbing a collection of flavors to have on hand), they all make excellent mixers for simple and downright-delicious cocktails. 

Here are a few of our favorite combinations:

  • Pamplemousse and Tequila
  • Peach-Pear and Citrus Vodka
  • Lemon and Cucumber Vodka
  • Cherry-Lime and Tequila
  • Lime and Gin
  • Passionfruit and White Rum
  • Mango and Tequila
  • Coconut and Dark Rum

La Croix also did a little work on their own and have a great collection of cocktail recipes on their website

So, while we're not throwing away our entire collection of bitters any time soon, we are definitely ready to make a 5 second cocktail. In fact, we're off to drink one right now...

shit we love: ketle one on the rocks

SHIT WE LOVE: KETEL ON THE ROCKS

A guest blog from Jacob Jones of Mountain

 

I love bourbon. I used to like nothing better than going out and putting down about five or six old fashions with a good crew of friends preferably on a weeknight (weekend bar scenes can be….well, you know). On nights where I would pretend I’m about a decade younger than I am, I’d throw back Jameson shots backed by some kind of beer I could find room for twelve of. Usually Miller Lite. I love the taste of whiskey. I truly do. Here’s the deal….my body decided out of nowhere when I was around twenty five years old that whiskey is poison. The sweet nectar I had come to rely on so much for the blurry times of my twenties had turned on me.

Suddenly, a night on the brown sauce would set me back DAYS. You know the kind of hangovers I’m talking about. The I can’t think, can’t talk, can’t even open the damn blinds, can barely muster enough strength to order Papa John’s on the internet kind of vindictive hangover from hell. This presented a big problem for me because I’m one of those drinkers who can’t seem to find the “off switch” when I really get into it. What can I say, I do enjoy a good time. So what?

Enter Vodka. Clear spirits have less impurities, less sugar and thus less head destroying, regret wallowing hangovers the day after. Try a night on clear booze next time you tie one on, but you can’t just swill any plastic bottle Mr. Barton’s garbage. I recommend Ketle One. I’ve started enjoying Kettle One on the rocks with lemon when I know I don’t want the next morning to feel like I woke up dead and I gotta say…it works. It’s delicious. It’s strong, refreshing (especially after some ice melts) and it’ll take you where you need to go without all the achey, soul crushing baggage of some other spirits. You’d think gin might work the same, but you’d be wrong. Consider a good vodka go-to your adult self making grown up choices. Thanks adult self!

Nothing against the brown liquors, you’ll always be my favorite. But you do me so wrong. 

 

shit we love: eli mason gomme syrup

Open up any cocktail magazine and you'll see there's an old ingredient that's becoming new again: gomme syrup. Pronounced "gum" syrup, it's got a great history and even better results when mixed with booze. 

Local company Eli Mason makes what they like to call "spirit forward" mixers. They launched with a killer Old Fashioned and followed it up with Mint Julep, but it's their Gomme Syrup that we are obsessed about. 

Simple syrup is aptly named after the 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. "Rich" simple syrup amps up the sugar with a 2:1 ratio. When increasing the amount of sugar dissolved into a liquid, you always run the risk of the sugar crystalizing. Gomme syrup was created when gum arabic was added to a rich simple syrup to help emulsify the liquid and keep crystals from forming. The bonus of this addition is a syrup with a silky mouthfeel that helps cut the boozy edge from many classic cocktails. While most of these classic recipes have since been modernized to simply state "or use simple syrup," it's really not quite the same. Simple syrup simply will not provide the same rich mouthfeel you get from using a gomme syrup. It cuts the harsh edge of a spirit without compromising anything in the way of flavor.

Also known as acacia gum, gum arabic is a stabilizer that comes from the acacia tree. Hard to find and somewhat complicated to dissolve into liquid, we suggest forgoing tracking down your own gum arabic to make your own and letting the folks at Eli Mason do the work for you.

Now, off to make some cocktails! 


Here are some that we've made using gomme syrup:



shit we love: stiegl radler

The Maintainer. That's what we like to call the refreshing grapefruit soda-meets-beer Stiegl Radler. With only about 3% abv, it's not the drink you're going to use to get a buzz - but damn, it's pretty perfect for maintaing one on a hot summer day!

While it's been in the market here in the states for a few years, Stiegl launched their rebranded cans in 2013 and have been making huge inroads into the American market. One taste and you will see why. 

The name 'radler' actually translates to 'cyclist.' Stiegl originally developed this product for Austrian cyclists looking for a refreshing beer they could take on rides. It pours with a cloudy light yellow color, due in part to the real grapefruit juice that's added. With a blend of 60% soda and 40% beer, the beer flavor is subtle, finishing with a sweet bready flavor. The carbonation is light and the head dissipates quickly. But chill this can down nice and good and you'll be chugging them down. 

But don't just limit yourself to drinking this one by itself. We've successfully used it as a mixer over ice with tequila, gin and vodka - taking it from the Maintainer to the Asskicker.