DC Drinks

Reviews, rantlets and ribald on all things alcoholic.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Cocktail Trends in 2006

Food & Wine's December issue hailed 2005 as the "Year of the Cocktail." From fusion drinks to bar raids on the pantry closest, 2005 has been the culmination of a very productive year for would-be bar chefs. Here's a list of cocktail trends to look out for in 2006. Obviously these are nothing new new for the cocktail sophisticate, but it's a matter of emphasis. (Check out this thread on the foody website Egullet for further opinions.)

Bar Pastry Chef? Try flour. Try condensed milk. Eggs. Food coloring. Powdered sugar. I know these will turn out heavier, less food-friendly cocktails, but cocktails have long been an event on their own. Expect more frappes and gooey, sippable desserts. Blame Starbucks.

Hello Rye! The Bourbon of 2006 will be Rye Whiskey. Look for Rye Manhattans. Rye Old Fashions. And Rye Sazeracs. Subtle, less sweet and all American. Drinking Rye is the closest most of us will get to true patriotism. See Lonnie's post on Rye below.

Temperature, Consistency and Presentation. This is the new mantra of the barman borrowed from the Ferran Adria school of cookery. Playing with temperatures, such as a Hot Cosmo, consistencies (aspics, foams, etc.) and updating the presentation through exciting garnishes (lollipops, stained salt, spun sugar) are the next big thing. You used to get excited when bartenders would add a cherry. Expect a lot more. Local bar guru Todd Thrasher from Restaurant Eve has been way ahead of the curb.

In a Word, Luxury. It's more and more acceptable to get your vodka tonic with Grey Goose or Hendricks Gin. Can you really taste the difference with the mixer? Maybe, probably, but expect luxury ingredients to be the norm. "I'll have a Louis XIII Grande Champagne Cognac Sidecar." "We'll need to run a credit check first, sir." Here's a recent New York Times article Hey, Bartender, Can you Break $1,000? on the subject.

To the Bitter End. It's relatively cheap and easy to make your own bitters, and hunting down peach or mint bitters is a pain in the can. So why not make them yourself? Well, that's exactly what to expect in '06. Roll up to the bar and ask your bartender, what are the bitters of the night? It could happen!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pickled Onions Are Like Girlfriends

When I discovered how to make a Gibson, I fell in love, and swore I'd never drink an olive or lemon twist Martini again. Later I realized this was utter blasphemy, but I still believe that adding pickled onions to a Martini makes a bleary eye clear, and the downtrodden soul stand up straight.

But enough hyperbole. Let's get down to business. For the gin connoisseur, a Martini garnish varies by his or her mood. Need a little get-up-and-go?---lemon twist. Wednesday night and had a half-tough day at the office?---olive. Found out you're gonna have group sex with Gwen Stefani and Scarlett Johansson at midnight?---pour yourself a pickled onion Gibson Martini at 8:00, sharp.

No serious home bar should be without these white globes. Let me lay down three types of onions for your choosing.

1) Sour cocktail onions. The small ones are easy to find anywhere. You may have to do some searching for the larger ones but the flavor is the same: tangy and crunchy. They're usually in vinegar brine but don't let that throw you off---the gin and vermouth will get a tongue-twisting kick in the pants that'll make your taste buds pleasantly cross-eyed.

2) Sweet cocktail onions. You can find sweet cocktail onions from the very nice people at www.mcsweet.com. When I was first obsessed with hard-to-find cocktail onions, McSweet was nurturing and kind. It's a family business that's proud to give drunks like me simple pleasures. (Honestly, I prefer sour onions, but the McSweets are such good folks that I had to put them on this list).

3) Homemade cocktail onions. After my obsession with cocktail onions and Gibsons this summer, I decided to do my own onion pickling in my kitchen. I had mixed results which are a little embarassing to recount here. By trial and error, I've found that the best way to make them is with pearl onions, white vinegar and not much else. Recipes are readily available online.

Most bars know what a Gibson is, but be careful: so few people order them that you'll often get onions that taste like Gherkins and you may have to write an email like this.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Take No Prisoners: Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon

Dave Broom from Whiskey Magazine had this to say about Eagle Rare's 10 Year Old, "Quite a mouthful which takes no prisoners." I agree wholeheartedly.

I was fortunate enough to get Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon for Christmas with my brother getting the 10 Year. The 10 Year explodes with flavor--orange peel, grain and caramel--and has the body to back it up. Although it's not quite as nuianced as the 17 Year, I prefer the 10 Year for its punch*. Add a splash of spring water to release the flavors. A new favorite.

* I'm told that the Eagle Rare 10 Year Old is now made at 90 proof versus the one I had, which is 101 proof. For shame, the recent trend toward lower proof in American whiskeys is tragic; great Bourbons are potent Bourbons.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Glogg, Glogg, Glogg

Denmark is really cold this time of year. The only acceptable way I found to walk the streets of Copenhagen is from bar to bar. Fortunately, the Danish people, and Scandanavians in general, know only too well that temperature is best regulated by what you drink. That's why they created Glogg (pronounced like you're swallowing).

Glogg is a mulled wine made with Aqvavit (spiced vodka), red wine, spices, almonds and raisins. You may know the German counterpart Gluewhein. Glogg is simlar, but adds almonds and raisins. Also, Glogg has a little more kick.

The Glogg mixture is stewed so that the raisins become plump and burst in your mouth, juicy and warm. The almonds add texture and the spices animate the flavors of the wine. But the best part of Glogg is that it's strong and hot--perfect for a dreary December eve. You scarecly notice the cold, or hunger for that matter, once you're about three cups in.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Chinese Wine Industry Firsthand

We spoke with Douglas Lodge who took a recent business trip to China and had the privilege of touring their wineries. In his own words:

Back in 1994, I visited a winery near Beijing. After lunch, the chef wished to drink a toast to his distinguished guests so he and I saluted each other with some crystal clear Chinese wine. I’d made the incorrect assumption that Chinese wine was much like all other wines, but when I took a sip, my god did I get a shock. The stuff burned all the way to the bottom of my feet. It was like the moonshine whiskey I drank as a teenager in Texas. Although they referred to it as “wine”, it was more like brandy, and was 56% alcohol.

But my recent trip in 2005 revealed many changes in Beijing. China now has five or six State-Private financed wineries ginning out French-style wines left and right. I was in China to sell a product (a mineral) obtained from central Utah and certified for organic usage, that has potential for the Chinese wine industry. According to experts, China’s wines suffer from too much acid and too few flavor molecules, all things that must be corrected in order to induce people to buy it. Consultants have suggested that the Chinese try all kinds of measures, including boosting the mineral content of the vineyard soils to improve their wines. I am happy to oblige because my product has proven itself in other venues requiring similar soil treatments. We’ll see how they fare with it in months to come.

Regardless of its drawbacks, Chinese wine is now leagues better than 10 years ago. China has real potential to be a major player in world wine markets once they’ve cultivated the right kind of soil to produce varietals as flavorful as its competitors. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chinese wines alongside your favorite Merlot at the neighborhood liquor store within the next decade, but for now it's only available in New York and San Francisco as far as I know.

- Douglas Lodge

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What to Leave Out Instead of Cookies: Some Spirits to Raise the Yuletide Cheer

The new Southern Comfort commercial featuring thirty something's going wild over the gift of SoCo gets me all riled up. It's not that SoCo is so terrible, and if I got it as a gift I'm sure I'd start squeezing the limes, but there are far better choices for the season and far better reasons to start a frenzy at a holiday party. Below are just a few gift ideas arranged according to how much you care (read: cabbage).

Expensive ($100+)
Berta Bric Del Gaian Grappa Brandy ’94
Nothing like the cheap Windex-y solution most people call Grappa, Berta ages their Grappa in oak for eleven years reminding you that Grappa is Brandy. Super floral nose, smooth as silk, this shit's my jam.

Not Cheap ($50+)
Bookers Bourbon
Bookers is uncut, spicy and kicks like a mule. Yet it is surprisingly accessible with just a little spring water (perfect with 50% spring water). This is what the very first "Bourbon" whiskey tasters must have sampled when they poured whiskey straight from the barrel. The pinnacle of Bourbon for Bourbon drinkers.

Cheap($20 or less)
Vya Sweet Vermouth
No vermouth, huh? Try no gin or vodka. Vya is chock full of spice and body. This small batch vermouth is highly mixable, but makes a great aperitif all by itself. Ice, twist, done.

Dirt cheap ($10 or less)
Infused Vodka
I still remember the old Hechinger's t-shirt with Harry Homeowner and the words "Do-it-Yourself" emblazoned on the front. If you want it cheap, here's what you have to do. Buy some Nikoff, or a similarly low end Vodka, pour it in to a sealable glass container and drop some fruit or spice in it and let it macerate for 48 hours in a dark room. Go easy on the spices. Pour it back in to the bottle. Don't forget to remove the label. Give cheap gift.

Peanuts ($5 or less)
Regan's Orange Bitters
Yes, there are more varieties of bitters than the medicinal looking bottle with a crusty top sitting behind your local bar. Regan's will add tons of flavor to an otherwise 'blah' drink, but go easy because a drop will do. Perfect in a gin martini.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

So You Want to be a Martini Drinker? Top Five Rookie Mistakes

The Martini drinker is an enduring image. Poised over the wide rim of a Martini glass, wearing a black tie, women at his side, stirring gently the olives, puffing on a cigar. Maybe even playing roulette. It's romantic. It's sophisticated. It's manly. It's inspired an entire industry.

There are martini bars, "Martini menus", Martini parties and Martini accessories. But Martinis are a kind of accessory. And knowing how to order them is essential if you want to avoid looking like a rookie. I've skipped the gin vs. vodka, shaken vs. stirred, dry vs. wet debate. Order it however you want, just don't look like a tool when ordering it.

Here's the top five rookie mistakes I've seen from behind the bar:

"So, uh, what kind of martinis do you have?" If you're ordering a Martini, it's a Martini, not one of many Martinis. Order it with style and distinction: "I'll have a Bombay Sapphire martini wet, up with a twist."

Martini is a drink served in multiple kinds of glassware depending on your preference. Simple, I know. But the assumption is that a Martini will always be served up and anything in a "Martini glass" is a Martini. I won't touch the latter statement but the former is wrong. You can get a Martini up (chilled and strained in a wide rim glass with a stem) or on the rocks (over ice in a short glass). Hell, you can even get it in a water glass and it's still a Martini.

"Can I get my Martini shaken not stirred?" Are you serious? Even if you truly like your Martinis shaken, you should avoid the whole, uh hem, cliche. Ask for your Martini shaken (stop). If you want to be a priss about it, denote the rhythm, pace and outcome: I'd like it shaken to a Bossa Nova beat, slowly, until it's below 40 degrees farenheit. At least it's original.

You are not the first person to roll your r's on "Dirrrty Martini" or the only person who knows the true story of the Martini. Avoid acting like a jackass and just order what you want without a production. It's fun to swap stories or discuss the particulars of a drink. But sounding like a Martini know-it-all or, worse, being the 50th guy to tell the bartender they like their Martini filthy, pornographic or triple X is trifling.

"I'll take a Belvedere Martini, no vermouth." I'm not a Martini purist per se (or at least I don't get violently angry when people call a cosmopolitan a "Martini") but this shit has got to stop. What you mean to ask for is a "Belvedere up." Save yourself and your bartender time by being a little more precise.

Bernheim Original: My Favorite American Wheat Whiskey... The Only American Wheat Whiskey

I recently had my first sip of the highly anticipated (at least I was anticipating) Bernheim's Original Wheat Whiskey from Heaven Hill Distillery. It's not time to give up Bourbon yet, but I wasn't exactly let down either.

Bernheim makes the point that wheat--the filler of the whiskey world---makes good whiskey almost all by itself. Almost, because a wheat whiskey, of which this is the first one, is made from 51% or more wheat. Following the same idea as Bourbon, which is made from 51% or more corn.

Traditionally, corn, rye and barley are the grains of whiskey with wheat acting as a kind of buffer. A "wheated" bourbon is one that uses more wheat than rye in the remaining 49% or less grain in Bourbon. (Maker’s Mark is an example of a wheated Bourbon.)

Bernheim has a very feminine character. It’s smooth, sweet with honey, caramel and vanilla, has a touch of licorice and a very nice round feel in the mouth. The Malt Advocate has more detailed tasting notes here.

On the shelves soon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How to Drink Single Malt Scotch

New York Magazine has a decent article on how to drink single malt scotch along with some very pricey reviews of various brands.

I went through about a year when I was obsessed with single malt scotch before it almost broke the bank. Then I discovered that blended Famous Grouse was much cheaper, had the same effect and was just as enjoyable as its more expensive cousin.

Even though they're a little OCD, I agree with most of New York Magazine's tips on how to drink scotch. I disagree with number 4:
"(4) Add roughly the same amount of water as whisky. Sampling whisky neat is likely to hurt the nose and numb the tongue, rendering both senses less acute than they should be. Use bottled water. Tap is chlorinated, and its smell could affect what you taste."
First off, if scotch hurts your nose, you have no business drinking it, you pussy. And what the hell is he talking about, "the same amount of water as whisky"?! It's freaking single malt scotch---the king of all distilled spirits; the nectar of the alcoholic gods; Scotland's water of life. My friend, please, please do not add as much water as scotch unless it's a blended scotch. That advice is enough to make me never want to read New York Magazine again.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Famous New Orleans Cocktails Seminar in DC in February

The Museum of the American Cocktail is sponsoring another New Orleans cocktail presentation on February 28th from 5:30 - 7:00 at Ruth's Chris Steak House at 1801 Connecticut Avenue. (Link).

From the Museum's website:

"Join cocktail historian Phil Greene for this fun and educational drink presentation focusing on the Sazerac and other famous classic New Orleans drinks, their history and how to prepare them. Among Phil's ancestors was Antoine Amedee Peychaud, the nineteenth-century New Orleans pharmacist who concocted Peychaud's Bitters and is credited by many with coining the term cocktail."

At least one blogger went to the presentation in June. From "Lagniappe in DC":

"Went to a seminar at Ruth's Chris last night..."How To Make Famous New Orleans Cocktails"... super fun and i was not a little tipsy before it was all over.... they greet you at the door with a French 75, which is a Mimosa-esque drink containing Gin and Champagne with fresh lemon and possibly orange juice and bitters..... yummy!!! Follow that with an authentic Hurricane, a Ramos Gin Fizz and an authentic NOLA Mint Julep and this girl was a little dizzy! The "appetizer sampler" they provided was little more than a glorified cheese and cracker platter, which i was scarfing down with wild abandon.. fun fun!"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Sazerac: Here's to the Second Greatest Cocktail on Earth

There are two types of cocktail drinkers: 1) those who prefer to have the cocktail disguise the taste of liquor or; 2) those who prefer the mixture to enhance and improve the liquor. If you're in this first category, stop reading right now.

There are a few key points that make a great cocktail. It should be a mixture of elements that don't parallel each other, yet don't cancel each other out. The drinker should be able to detect a bit of each ingredient, but not be overwhelmed by too much of one. But what makes a good cocktail a great one is longevity---a cocktail that's been around for over 100 years.

Just like The Greatest Cocktail on Earth, the Martini, the Sazerac meets all the above requirements. And just like the Martini, the Sazerac's recipe has been long debated. An internet search will yield enough incorrect ingredients to start a bar fight in New Orleans. But Ted Haigh's cocktaildb.com does a good job. (Sazerac recipe link).

And as with all classic cocktails, the ritual is key: Take two rocks glasses. Fill the first with ice. In the second, combine one teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of water and two to three dashes of Peychaud bitters (No substitute. A Sazerac cannot be made without Peychaud). Muddle this mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Then, fill the mixture with ice. Pour in 2.5 ounces of rye whiskey. Stir vigorously. With the other glass, dump out the ice and coat the inside of the glass with pastis, then pour it out. Strain the contents of the second glass into the first, and garnish with a twist of lemon. (Some say leave the lemon in the drink, others say throw it away).

And there you have the Second Greatest Cocktail on Earth. But good luck ordering one at a bar outside of New Orleans. You may as well just use your kitchen. That's where I always find the best cocktails anyway.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sortilege: When Aunt Jemina Just Isn't Doing the Trick

I'm always charmed by stories of the Quebecqois. My favorite was recounted by a friend and involves an unkempt, flannel-shirt wearing, scruffy-bearded Canadian truck driver standing in front of a urinal after a long drive shouting out a list of curses, presumably derived from Catholic terminology:




(You have to imagine these shouted in character for the full effect.)

I hope he passed the stone. If not he has quite a few interesting Canadian libations to console him: Canadian Whiskey, Ice Wine, and Sortilege. Sortilege is among my new favorites, although you'll be more likely to spike your pancakes with it than pull up to the very same truck stop and order a Sortilege neat.

Sortilege is a mixture of blended rye whiskey and maple syrup. The only producer I know is Maison des Futailles. Sadly, I haven't been able to find it in the area.

Meanwhile, try mixing Canadian whiskey and maple syrup for your own version. Stir well.

The Maximal Dryness Effect

At DC Drinks, we love the rituals surrounding the consumption of alcohol. But none is more absurd or funny as the fetishes that surround adding as little vermouth as possible when mixing a dry Martini. Lowell Edmunds' excellent book, "Martini, Striaght Up", has some great accounts of what the author calls the "Martini-rite" which developed in the early 1950s:

"The proportion of vermouth to gin could be further reduced if one placed the vermouth bottle next to the gin and turned the bottle slowly so that the label, with the word 'vermouth,' was exposed to the gin for perhaps a second."

"In the 1960s Hammacher Schlemmer introduced the vermouth dropper, a long, calibrated eyedropper designed to fit into a vermouth bottle."

"The fetishist might keep his vermouth in storage and merely whisper 'vermouth' over the gin or salute in the direction of France."

"Lyman Metal Products invented the Martini scale, a device with a jigger for vermouth and a larger one for gin suspended at either end of a crossbeam that could be adjusted to secure proportions up to 25:1."

"Between 1967 and 1970, Mr. Fred Pool invented the Martini stones. These were marble stones to be soaked in vermouth and then placed in the gin. Mr. Pool told me that these stones were not mere gimmickry. They made the vermouth taste better by neutralizing its acid."

This foolishness sticks with us today. It's gotten to the point that all Martinis are assumed to be dry. But people forget that vermouth is actually a decent beverage and should be added liberally to the gin.

But more on the Martini later ...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Ca Sent La Merd: Faults, Flaws and TCA in Wine

Wine is an agricultural product and, as such, is far from uniform despite the best efforts of man and technology. It is grown in dirt, mud, sand and clay; shocked by wind, sun, rain and frost; harvested by the thick calloused hands of farmers; and capped with a piece of tree that happens to be a great piece of 17th century technology. But you receieve it in a neat package with a nifty label. The server pours a taste awaiting your approval. You swirl, sniff and your nostrils are filled with the noxious smell of moldy cardboard, sweaty horse or worse--ca sent la merd (the smell of shit). What then?

Although wine critics have debated the virtues of barnyard (a more polite term for shit), sweaty saddle or bandaids, they are flaws. Yet they are often lauded and grow to encompass the wine's terroir (character of a region resulting from micro-climate, topography and viticultural methods). However, there is one unmistakable odor that should lead you to politely decline a bottle: "eau du homeless man's chateau"--a cardboard box drenched in urine and street wash.

That's TCA (Tricloroanisole), a bacteria that infects the cork. Its what happens when a wine is corked. Not to be confused with a piece of cork floating in the wine, which is harmless. TCA will not cause an adverese reaction in the drinker but will lend an unpleasant taste and smell to the wine. Yuck.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Mirthless Risk-free Disneyland: The Case Against Banning Smoking In DC Bars

"This was the atmosphere — rich in tobacco and other fumes — of the taverns and coffee-houses where the American revolution matured. Instead, we are to have a mirthless, risk-free Disneyland." --- Christopher Hitchens

I am not a regular smoker. I'm what you call a "pleasure smoker", ie, I only smoke when it's complementing some food or beverage. On a recent vacation, I purchased some dried sausage, a bottle of Famous Grouse scotch and a 95-cent pack of Lucky Strikes. I sliced the sausage, poured the scotch and lit the cigarette, then lined them up on a table. For the next 30 minutes I enjoyed one of the best savory combinations of my life as I dragged, chewed and sipped. When combined with certain foods or beverages, in a cozy bar or pub, a cigarette can be a very fine experience worth cherishing. With smoking, there's a certain romantic appeal that feels like you're in Paris in the 1920s or in some speakeasy in New York, doing the forbidden.

It's not possible to get the same pleasure huddled outside in the rain, cold or blistering heat. If Washington DC's smoking ban goes into effect, it will be a mark against the enjoyment of life. But, you say, what about all the people whose health is affected by this "enjoyment of life"? I would submit that the secondhand smoke "problem" is a non-issue. The amount of smoke inhaled through diluted air is negligible and not cause for concern. It's maybe the equivalent of smoking one cigarette a day. Even NIH says that "more research is needed in order to confirm a link" between secondhand smoke and cancer.

But let's skip all the slippery-slope arguments, health issues and platitudes about personal choice for a minute. At stake is whether or not we are we going to have a city that's a "mirthless, risk-free Disneyland", as Hitchens puts it. Is that the type of culture you want to live in? Sterile, risk-free and handed to you on a hospital tray? I think not.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Absinthe Available in DC?

I stopped by ABC Liquors and was surprised by a bottle of Absente in a tall box decorated with pictures of Van Gogh. The box claims that, "Absente, Absinthe Refined, is a modern version of the original Absinthe recipe. It's still the same aromatic, dazzling emerald green liqueur made from a combination of exotic botanicals. The only difference is we replaced Wormwood, the botanical that caused the initial ban, with a less bitter cousin called Southern-Wormwood, also known as 'Petite Absinthe,' which allows us to offer Absente in the United States." The box even includes an absinthe sieved spoon and diagrams explaining how to pour the water over a sugarcube like they did in days of yore. I asked the shopkeep, "Is that real absinthe?" He looked bewildered, took an unfamiliar glance at the box and wordlessly handed it to me. It looked real enough from the outside until I spotted its 110 proof.

First off, don't get excited. US Customs codes state, "The importation of Absinthe and any other liquors or liqueurs that contain an excess of artemisia absinthium is prohibited." It doesn't contain any thujone (the chemical in wormwood that is in all real absinthe). What's more, true absinthe is usually about 150 proof (75% alcohol). What the fuck is the purpose of drinking absinthe without the possibility of going insane like Van Gogh and all the rest of the 19th century hipsters?

Likely because of its illegality, absinthe has taken on a mysterious allure and is often touted as having medicinal or druglike properties. The fact is that you can buy other anise-flavored liqueurs that taste hundreds of times better. I've only had absinthe from Amsterdam and I haven't tasted the stuff they're selling as absinthe in the US, but be assured that it's going to taste like vodka and mouthwash. You're better off saving $36 and buying the cool spoon and adding some green food coloring to a bottle of Pastis.

Here's a link to an excellent article from Wired Magazine on the chemistry of absinthe that dispells some of the myths.

France, I feel your ‘pagne. Champagne.

How many millions of people have raised a toast with bubbles in hand, slugged back the contents of the flute and cheered with a resounding: “Excellent Champagne,” when it was, in fact, Villa Spinelli from Asti Spumante or Domaine Carneros from California? Both are made no where near the north of France where the precious soil of Champagne has been cultivated since 79 A.D.

Oh the insult!

Villa Spinilli and Domaine Carneros are at no fault. They don’t call their sparkling wines (the preferred term) Champagne. However, some interlopers have seized the famous brand/region and created an industry based on Champagne’s reputation.

Fortunately, after twenty years of quibbling the U.S. and France have reached an interim agreement on GI’s (geographical indicators). The interim agreement is a holder until the permanent agreement negotiated in September of this year is implemented.

So drink better knowing your Champagne is Champagne.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why Rye?: A Brief Guide To One of America's First Spirits

When I first tried rye, I was amazed that there weren't more companies producing it. For a short time after my first sip, I almost felt guilty for thinking it might be better than the mighty bourbon. And I've been hooked since.

Straight Rye Whiskey must be at least 51% distilled from rye whereas bourbon must be at least 51% corn. But there's a world of difference between the two. And I'm not just referring to feeling like you're a cynical cop in a Raymond Chandler novel when sipping rye. Rye has a distinct spicier, drier flavor than bourbon---with a faint leathery nose to it. It's an excellent choice for a cold winter's night when you're not feeling up for scotch on the rocks for the umpteenth time.

Since rye isn't widely available, there are only a few brands in a decent price range. Wild Turkey and Jim Beam make bottles at around $20 (750ML). The late, great Sid Drazin swore by Old Overholt rye, but I'm not crazy about it (even though apparently it's the best choice for the classic Sazerac cocktail). I would recommend staying the hell away from Pikesville Rye, which is bland to the point of being an insult to the spirit.

And don't pack the old fashioned glass with ice, my friend. You'll get the best flavor from a two finger pour and one to three cubes.