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Two friends with a shared love for Classic Cocktails, paying homage to the pre-prohibition era. We do parties!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jumping Ship

Greetings Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Services readers!

We have decided to jump over to wordpress (sorry blogspot). It is just an easier template to work with and allows us to organize our information much better.

Please join us over there at:http://thevolsteadactcraftcocktailservice.wordpress.com/

Sip well,

Jeremy and Andrew

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Life is Better with Bitters

These words were spoken to me by a kind stranger while standing in line at a New Seasons Market in Portland; unlike here at home, a broad selection of Fee's and Angostura Bitters are available in grocery stores. I was picking up a bottle of Fee's Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters when the gentleman looked at me and shared the kind phrase. I then went on to share with him that I was in the process of collecting the ingredients to make my own bitters.

The basic to building a batch of bitters is putting together three basic components - a bittering agent, a spice tincture, and a flavouring tincture. Generally, the components to these agents can be quite difficult to find, but I was stoked to come across a bevy of amazing dried herbs while working in Portland. On Hawthorne street, there is a quaint little joint called The Herbe Shoppe. With very helpful staff, I was able to procure wormwood, licorice root, quassia chips, gentian root, calamus, and cinnamon chip. I purchased about an ounce and a half of each, which appears to take me a long way. It all added up to about $15 for the lot, which made this surprising find even better.

To keep it simple, I wanted to follow the Boker's Bitter Recipe, but the ingredients are impossible to find (Catechu...no where). But it did call for the gentian root, calamus, quassia, and cardamom, so I figured I could go from there. I wanted to go with some orange flavouring, but figured, as it was my first go at it, to keep it to just the bitter blend.

I broke it down into 3 small batches that I would blend together after two weeks of maceration.

First, the bittering blend:

Wormwood is a herbaceous plant, and is famous for being a key ingredient in Absinthe, but has also been used as a bittering agent in vermouths and meads. For this recipe, I used 1 teaspoon.

gentian root

Gentian is the 4th ingredient you'll find in Angostura bitters, and is a commonly used digestive aid. For this recipe, I used 1/4 teaspoon


Calamus has been an item of trade in many cultures for thousands of years. Calamus has been used medicinally for a wide variety of ailments, and its smell makes calamus essential oil valued in the perfume industry. In Britain the plant was also cut for use as a sweet smelling floor covering for the packed earth floors of medieval dwellings and churches. In Egypt, it was thought to be an aphrodisiac. For this recipe, I used 1 teaspoon

quassia chips

Born in Brazil, quassia amara is the most bitter substance in nature, so, naturally, it belongs in a batch of bitters! For this recipe, I went with 1 teaspoon.

Secondly, the Spice Tincture
licorice root

 Licorice root, originating in Europe and Asia, is not related to anise, star anise, or fennel, but is a strong licorice component in its own right, and used broadly as a solid flavouring. For this recipe, I used 1/2 a teaspoon

coriander seed

Coriander is commonly used in cooking, and are is a key component in middle eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. You can find the seeds in Garam Masala and Indian curry. Here, I used 1 teaspoon.

fennel seeds

Fennel is a highly aromatic and flavourful herb. Containing anethole, it is a positive medicinal aid for eyes and the intestinal tract (something in common there?). I used 1/2 a teaspoon.

And finally, The Cinnamon Clove Tincture


Ah, cloves. This Indonesian spice is a very common flavour agent in many cuisines around the world. They are also used in Djarums (the clove cigarette of Indonesia) as well as an incense in India and China. For the bitters, I used 1 teaspoon.

Cinnamon Chips

Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BCE. Its history is long, and probably warranting its own story. It was regarded fit for a monarch and even a god. For me, 2 teaspoons of these chips were the perfect flavouring addition for my first batch of bitters.

Each of these combinations was put into a mason jar with overproof vodka. I opted for the vodka as I wanted the flavours to speak for themselves and not be impacted by, say, an overproof rum.

Of course, everyone needs a Bitter Making Helper Hobbit!

everyone needs a helper!

Finally, after two weeks, and shaking each jar once each day, the bitters were ready to be combined and strained. Thankfully, my Krups Moka Brew coffee maker fit the job.
straining through my Krups Moka Brew coffee pot
Then, they get bottled! I thought the bitters would be darker, but I am quite happy with how they turned out. They certainly are bitter and so far are a fine additive to an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan!

Bottled! A bit lighter in colour than I had imagined
So, that is my first batch. I am hoping to get another batch up and running. I hope to do an Orange bitter and a rhubarb bitter. Cheers!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Richmond Gimlet

photo: T.J McLachlan
 It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

"Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?" Macomber asked.

"I'll have a gimlet," Robert Wilson told him.
"I'll have a gimlet, too. I need something," Macomber's wife said.

"I suppose it's the thing to do," Macomber agreed. "Tell him to make three gimlets."

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Ernest Hemingway (1936)

This conversation occured shortly after the group in the story returned from an eventful lion-hunting safari. A great short story, and worth the read (and please, forgive this continued indulgence of mine when describing cocktails and linking them to Ernest Hemingway. You just cannot believe how linked these two fantastic entities are).

"I'll have a gimlet, too. I need something." For some reason, that sentiment is a wonderful way to approach this fine cocktail. The Gimlet - traditionally a Gin and Lime Juice cocktail, does not seem like a drink that packs a punch, or would be a fitting reprieve from a life-changing lion hunting experience, but do not kid yourself - it is. And its name may be an indicator to its strength. There are two main historical references for the name, Gimlet.

First, and seemingly the most obvious reference, is to the hand tool used to drill small holes, named the gimlet. This tool is used for drilling small holes in wood without splitting the wood. Any tool that works like this but is larger is usually referred to as an auger. The name gimlet, here, could be referring to the sharp, penetrating and piercing effect the Gimlet has on the person enjoying it.

The second reference is to Surgeon General Sir Thomas D. Gimlette, who served in the British Royal Navy from 1879 to 1913. It is said that he introducted this drink as a means for those around him to prevent scurvy by drinking lime juice (The history and relationship between Gin and remedial activity is long and entwined, and probably deserving of its own post).

Whatever the history, The Gimlet is a classic, and one that is open to interpretation. At The Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Service, we were happy to tackle Jeffrey Morgenthaler's variation of the Gimlet, which he developed in Eugene, Oregon - The Richmond Gimlet. You can read Jeffrey's posting on it at his website: Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

The recipe for the Richmond Gimlet goes as follows: 2 oz Tanqueray No. 10 gin, 1 oz fresh lime juice, 1 oz simple syrup, large sprig mint. We decided to mix things up just a touch more and did a cucumber-infused simple syrup, which elevated the refreshing nature of this cocktail.

At our first gig, this was the drink of the night. We were clapping mint like crazy. No doubt the folks at the party appreciated the balance of flavours (mint, cucumber, lime and Gin are a great combination) and no doubt a few felt the piercing effects of the Richmond Gimlet!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Remember the Maine

As you know, I was recently in Portland for 12 full-bloom days. And, as you also know, I was able to sample some exceptional cocktails, some made by exceptional bartenders. One in particular stood out above the rest, and quite easily so. In my notebook, I was keeping a quasi ranking of the drinks I was having. At first, it was the Old Granddad Fashioned at Gold Dust Meridien. Then, the Custer at Teardrop moved into 'first'. But that all changed when I entered Clyde Common, and ordered the barrel-aged classic, Remember the Maine.

Full disclosure: I accept that perhaps I was swooned by the atmosphere of being in this famous bar, and sitting across from this famous bartender, who on most weeknights is perhaps in the building, but not usually mixing drinks. I may have been under the influence of The Custer and Bonded Old Fashioned from the Teardrop. But, truth be told, this drink was incredible, and one of the best cocktail experiences I have ever had. Not only did it taste great, it did what all great and classic cocktails do: teach you a little something about history and leave you clamoring for a time long before your own.

Having not heard of the drink before (and certainly not letting the bartender know that!), I have come home to do a little research about this classic libation - where it came from, when it came from, who it came from...and the story is excellent, and one that I am happy to share with you.

"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims"

These are the words of Charles Henry Baker, Jr, penned in his 1939 classic, The Gentlemen's Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask.  Now, I had not heard of Charles H Baker, nor of this book (a rare find for cocktail aficionados), which is part of why I love cocktails - it is always more than just the drink you are about to have, it is usually a history lesson, too.

Born on Christmas Day in 1895, Charles H Baker, Jr grew up to become a world traveller and culinary and cocktail chronicler. His work was featured in Esquire, Town & Country, and Gourmet in the 1940s. His column, "Here's How" quickly grew in popularity, and also into two volumes of a book he called The Gentlemen's Companion. This two volume tome is filled with recipes and prose about his travels. While his recipes often left much to be desired, they were generally told with such eloquence that folks could look past the recipe and appreciate the story (and with a few tweaks here and there, make the drink they would appreciate).

And just when I got to thinking that Charles Baker was pretty awesome in his own right, I find this photograph of him and Ernest Hemingway after a session of deep sea fishing. Now that is cocktail credibility!

Charles Baker (left) and Ernest Hemingway
One of the better recipes to have emerged from Baker is the venerable (and new-to-me) classic - Remember the Maine, which apparently comes with a pretty good back story. From 1939:

"REMEMBER the MAINE, a Hazy Memory of a Night in Havana during the Unpleasantnesses of 1933, when Each Swallow Was Punctuated with Bombs Going off on the Prado, or the Sound of 3″ Shells Being Fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then Haven for Certain Anti-Revolutionary Officers".

Barrel Aged version on the left, made on the spot version on the right. (note the difference in depth of colour)
Photo: Jeremy Bouw

Now that definitely leaves me clamoring for more!  The drink itself is fantastic - 2 ounces of Rye Whiskey (not sure which one Morgenthaler used), 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, 2 teaspoons of Cherry Heering, and a 1/2 teaspoon of Absinthe turns this Rye Manhattan into a subtly sweet (cherry heering) and savage (absinthe) drink with a flavour that is truly from another time.  Sip on it, and it and you will feel like you are tasting history, which is what a great cocktail will do.

Age it for 2 months in an oak barrel - well, good night. That was just too perfect.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Trip to Portland

 Every once in a while you get to go on a trip that lasts longer than 3 nights and you get to have a feel for a city. That was something I recently got the pleasure of experiencing in Portland, Oregon. While on a work-related trip (taking a Village Building Design Course that encompasses the philosophy of 'Placemaking', I found myself with the opportunity to indulge myself in a few of my favourite things; and Portland seems to be the place to do that.

Whether it was cycling its most incredible bicycling infrastructure, roaming through Powell's Used Book Store (a must-do), sipping back craft IPAs (Portland being the undoubted leader in that vein), or seeing Owl culture everywhere (like I said, everything I like!), you are always able to do something you enjoy. And, of course, no trip to Portland would not be complete without a few stops in some of the best cocktail lounges in North America.

My cocktail experiences began in the Hawthorne District, which was near to where I was studying. The three lounges I sampled were McMenamin's, in the old Bagdad Hotel, Cha!Cha!Cha! Taqueira, and Gold Dust Meridian. McMenamin's and Gold Dust Meridien had an decently stocked bar and a good menu. At McMenamin's, I was able to enjoy a Poor Farm Negroni - a strong pairing of Edgefield's Penney's Gin, Campari, and Dolin Sweet Vermouth.

Cha!Cha!Cha! was certainly more about its food than its cocktails, but I was happy to sample both their Caipirinha (on the left) and their Tamarindo (on the right). Both drinks were quite refreshing. I had never had a Caipirinha before, and am certain I am going to need to try another one. The Cachaca was nice, but I think the ingredients were less than fresh. The Tamarindo was refreshing, but made with Jarritos Tamarind juice; while it is a good juice, it lacks the flavour strength of a Tamarind infused simple syrup. Just sayin'
the author with a tamarindo; photo: wendy meeres

At Gold Dust Meridien, I was treated to the craft cocktails of some very fine bartending. Below, are four of the five cocktails I was able to sample (the fifth was their Old Granddad Fashioned, with Old Granddad Bourbon. Delicious!)

Marionberry Margarita
Portland Prestroika
On the top left is the Marionberry Margarita -El Jimador Reposado Tequila, Harlequin, Marionberry Nectar, Orange

On the top right is the Portland Perestroika - a fine use of Lovejoy Vodka, Cucumber, Pear and Lime (Portland, 1999). Both of these cocktails were ordered by my colleague, Wendy.

Rosie Lee
The Secretariat
The drink to the left is the Rosie Lee - an amazing use of Hendrick's Gin, Rose Petal Syrup, Lychee Nectar, Lemon and Bitters (London, 2007). It was garnished with a locally made candied Hibiscus flower, 

To the right is the Secretariat - Buffalo Trace Bourbon, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, and lemon. A most wonderful cocktail and a creative use of St. Germain. (Seattle, 2007)

Teardrop Entrance

While the Hawthorne District definitely had its highlights, it only really whet my appetite for one of the most exciting reasons for being in Portland and having cocktails: The Pearl District. In the Pearl District are two incredible lounges that I recommend you all make your way to if you find yourself in Portland. The bartenders are exceptionally knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. They truly know their stuff. My first stop was the Teardrop Cocktail Lounge. Here I was treated to two excellent cocktails - the first being a Bonded Old Fashioned, made with Laird's Applejack, Twisted Truth Bitters, and orange. Also, it came with an amazing piece of ice - a large brick of drink-cooling perfection.

My colleague enjoyed the Shaddock Rose, mixed with El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, Small Hands Grapefruit Cordial, Peychaud's and Orange Bitters,

Shaddock Rose
Bonded Old Fashioned

The other cocktail I enjoyed at the Teardrop was the Custer - Rittenhouse Rye, Cynar, Galiano Originale, and Rhubarb and Celery Bitters. That drink was truly remarkable.

I was able chat up the bartender, Sean, about The Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Service, and what we were trying to do. He was supported, and excited that we were making our own ingredients. I told him about our intention to make tonic water, and he let me sample some of theirs. He was also kind enough to let me sample the three types of Dolin Vermouth (from France)
Dolin Sweet Vermouth, Dolin Blanco Vermouth, Dolin Dry Vermouth

The last place I got to was what I had been thinking about for so long - Clyde Common. Home to the renowned Jeffrey Morgenthaler, it lived up to all expectations. Morgenthaler has been working on barrel-aged cocktails, and I just had to have one. Sadly, I did not get a picture of it, but the cocktail I had he calls: Remember the Maine. This drink makes use of Rye Whiskey (not sure which one), Dolin Sweet Vermouth, Cherry Heering, and Absinthe. This cocktail was aged in a Truthilltown Charred whiskey barrel for two months and packs a lot of flavour. Served in a perfectly chilled Coupe glass, it brought a huge smile to my face. For my second drink, I decided to go with an unaged version of the same. He seemed to appreciate that I was going for the side-by-side tasting. He had to double check the recipe from his little notebook (which, no doubt, was filled with creative gems yet to be born), and this drink did not disappoint. While it tasted the same, it is quite certain that the barrel-aged cocktail carries a much fuller flavour.

When all was said and done, Portland's cocktail experience was on par with excellence. And, to top it off, Jeffrey Morgenthaler and his bartending partner were kind enough to pose with Sophia's stuffed dog!

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, his mixing partner for the evening, and Buddy, the stuffed dog

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Three cheers for chemistry!

Okay, I think with this post we officially enter the realm of cocktail geekdom, a land flowing with milk and honey, or at least fine bourbon and small batch gin.  A few days ago I read an article on cookingissues.com about a technique known as nitrogen cavitation, which uses pressurized nitrogen to instantly infuse flavours into spirits.  I'm no chemist, but here is my basic understanding of what occurs:  using a soda syphon, nitrogen is forced into the cavities of the solid matter.  Then, when the nitrogen is quickly vented from the canister, the cells erupt, releasing their flavour, which is absorbed by the liquid medium.

I imagine it to be something like this memorable scene from Total Recall, where Arnold's head almost explodes from his years of steroid abuse.
After reading this great article, I had to try the process for myself.  Fortunately, I was already planning a tiki night with some friends and was in need of some Falernum, a lime and clove infusion, which would serve as the perfect test for the cavitation method.

I infused a mixture of lime zest, fresh ginger, crushed nutmeg, allspice, and cloves into Flor de Cana Extra Dry White Rum.  The ingredients were added to my syphon, I charged a canister of nitrogen into the syphon, then swirled the mixture for one minute before quickly venting off the gas. 

Toasting the spices prior to infusion

Once the nitrogen was vented, I strained the lime, ginger, and spices through a fine mesh strainer and then a coffee filter to remove all of the sediment.  The infusion is an exotic blend of spice and citrus, perfect for some tiki creations!
Hario pour-over brewer doing double duty

The Golden Wave
1 part Flor de Cana Dry White Rum
1/2 part Cointreau
1/2 part homemade falernum
1 part fresh pineapple juice
3/4 part fresh lemon juice

Blend with plenty of crushed ice
Garnish with loads of mint,
pineapple, cherries, 
and for that extra touch of class...an orchid.

This tiki extravaganza was created in 1969 by Jose "Joe" Yateo, head bartender of California's China Trader restaurant.  The drink earned him first prize at that year's International Bartender's Guild competition.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Black Manhattan

Photo: T.J. McLachlan

Following Andrew's post on the Rittenhouse Rye (which is delicious), we are excited to bring you a stunning cocktail, both in colour and flavour - The Black Manhattan. The Manhattan (rye whisky, sweet vermouth, angostura bitters) is one of the all-time classic cocktails and listed as one of the 6 basic drinks in David A. Embury's definitive work, The FIne Art of Mixing Drinks, published in 1948.

As an aside - can you guess the 5 other basic drinks?

The Manhattan is steeped in cocktail folklore, with the usual musings of who made it first (a bartender named 'Black' in a bar on Houston St, near Broadway, NY?), who or what it is named after (Manhattan itself?), and how it should be made (Rye Whiskey. sweet vermouth, bitters?).  This drink also finds itself landing seamlessly throughout pop culture. Whether Better Midler is ordering one at the bar Tom Waits finds himself at, or Jack Kerouac (a favourite of this blogger) is supplementing his Port intake with a Manhattan, or Marilyn Monroe making Manhattan's in a hot water bottle in the film, Some LIke it Hot, The Manhattan has earned its well-deserved place in history, and on our menu.

One of the great features of the Manhattan is the flexibility with which you can approach it. Sure, it has a traditional recipe, but this is one cocktail you can play with and still honour the original ingredients. You can use Rye whiskey (as Andrew did with the Rittenhouse), Rye Whisky (from Canada), Scotch Whiskey (as in a Rob Roy), or with Bourbon whiskey, which does have some rye in it. We chose to go with the Bulleit Bourbon, partly because it was already on the menu, but mostly because of the spice it brings to this drink.

We also changed the use of sweet vermouth to introduce Amaro Averna - an Italian bitter dating back to 1868 Sicily. Averna is sweet and thick, with a nice herbal tone to it; it is also less bitter than Campari, but offers a better complexity than the fortified wine we find in sweet vermouth.

For our drink, we use 2 ounces of Bourbon, 1 ounce of the Amaro Averna, a dash of Angostura bitters, and garnished with a maraschino cherry. You can really play with this drink using different base spirits (tequila, port, brandy, scotch), and you can really dial in your particular taste. We are happy to serve this with Bourbon, and hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Made In America

I recently returned from a quick trip to Las Vegas and thought I'd show off a few choice items I picked up that, unfortunately, we can't get here in Alberta yet.  Up first is Rittenhouse Rye Whisky.  

As a patriotic Canadian, I do enjoy my Canadian whisky and have several bottles in my cabinet at the moment.  However, the priority for these whiskies seems to be in their smoothness and subtlety, which makes them great for sipping neat, but not so desirable for mixing in cocktails, where the spirit base must be able to hold its own with other bold flavours.  Consequently, I have been very excited to get my hands on some good ole' American Rye Whisky, which is known to be spicier and more flavorful than its Canadian counterpart.  

Rittenhouse Rye is no exception.  The bottle I found is the 100 Proof Bottled in Bond edition, which means that it conforms to the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897.  This legislation specifies that the spirit must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under government supervision for a minimum of four years and must be bottled at 100 proof, or 50% alcohol.  These rules were put in place as a means of guaranteeing the quality and authenticity of American spirits.  

The quality of Rittenhouse Rye is evident at the first taste.  It has a huge peppery spiciness that is perfect for mixing with, and what better to mix than the classic Manhattan, a drink that cocktail historian Dave Wondrich feels is "as close to divine perfection as a cocktail can be."

2 oz Rittenhouse Rye Whisky
1 oz Noilly Pratt Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes of Angostora bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a twist of lemon.

After tasting my first true rye Manhattan I have to agree with Wondrich.  The spice of the Rye balances perfectly with the sweet herbal notes of Noilly's delicious vermouth.  Perhaps it's good that I can't get this Rye at my local store.  Perfection should not be so easily attainable.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Menu

Folks have been asking what our menu was for the first gig we did last week. While we have been posting some of the drinks and their history so far, we thought it might be a good idea to post the menu as a whole. We will continue to profile the drinks until they have all been presented, then we hope to hear from you what you enjoy and what is in your liquor cabinet, or top shelf, or fire place.

So here is our menu

Photos: T.J. McLachlan

We are very pleased with this menu, and found that the guests at the party loved it, too. We made every drink on the menu, some way more than most, and one we made the most of quite easily.

Looking at the menu, what do you think were the top 3 drinks chosen? Which one do you think was chosen only one time?

Please post your comments/questions and we will let you know who is closest!

I wish we had a prize; perhaps the person who guesses correctly can enjoy a few drinks on us if and when you find yourself in Alberta.


The Volstead Act Craft Cocktail Service

Monday, May 9, 2011


Add caption
Photo: T.J. McLachlan

Chances are fairly good that you have had a martini; or heard of a martini; or heard about someone who heard about martinis. But did you know that there was a martini before the martini? Let us introduce you to the Martinez, precursor to the ubiquitous martini. Like most cocktails, the history is hazy. Perhaps it was named after a guy named Martinez. Or, perhaps it was named by one of the most famous American bartenders of all time, Jerry Thomas - inspired by a fellow who traveled to Martinez, California every day.

photo: The Museum of the American Cocktail

If the story is that Jerry Thomas named it after a guy who went to Martinez, then let us tell you a bit about the father of American mixology, and author of the seminal work: The Bar-Tender's Guide (or, The Bon-Vivant's Companion) in 1862. It was Thomas' creativity and showmanship that brought to life the image of the bartender as creative professional. His signature drink was the "Blue Blazer" - a dazzling display of whiskey lit aflame, dancing between two mixing glasses, creating a fiery arc.

Although the Martinez is not lit on fire and danced around the room, it was published by Jerry Thomas in a second edition of his book in 1887. While a precursor to the Martini, it should be noted that the two drinks do not share many flavour traits. Instead of gin and dry vermouth (or vodka and dry vermouth), the Martinez employs Sweet Vermouth and a dash of Angostura Bitters (a bartender's staple). We like to use 1 oz of the delicious Plymouth Gin and 2 oz of Sweet Vermouth to round out this cocktail. This drink packs a mild punch, but nothing compared to the bare knuckle fights our Jerry Thomas was a huge fan of! 

Stirred in a mixing glass and garnished with a lemon twist, this drink is sure to satisfy.