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

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


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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.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Photo: T.J McLachlan

Spring has arrived, and it seems as though, finally, that is a safe bet to make. With spring comes the switch over in preferred cocktails. Cocktails typically have a seasonal relevance, especially when it comes to Winter (like The Stinger) and Summer (Mojitos, Daiquiris). But what about Spring?

Here at The Volstead Act Craft Cocktals, we are huge fans of Campari. This exceptionally appealing Italian Amaro (or Bitters) is a natural way to celebrate the arrival of Spring. While bitter in taste, it has a light delivery and beautiful colour. It also works in many classic cocktails, or as a stand-alone with soda water and a slice of orange (as an Americano).

You may know the Negroni (equal parts Gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth). Dating back to 1919, the Negroni was created in Florence, Italy at the Caffe Casoni, as away to strengthen the Americano, by swapping out the Soda Water and replacing it with Gin. We love the Negroni, but we are also very excited about presenting the Agavoni to our menu. It was also a popular choice for the hero, Steve Zissou in "The LIfe Aquatic" (a great film by the way). But this is not a film blog, nor a posting on the Negroni.

One of our favourite books is Boozehound, by Jason Wilson. In it, he introduces to us the Agavoni, attributing it to Bastian Heuser, editor at the German Bar magazine, Mixology. The Agavoni replaces the Negroni's gin with the bright spark of a silver tequila. Accenting the Campari's citrus notes with a couple of dashes of orange bitters, the Agavoni breathes new life into this venerable classic.

To us, this drink tastes like Spring - a season we gladly welcome.
As a side note, and some interesting trivia: during the prohibition era, Campari was considered as medicinal and could be consumed without penalty!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Photo by T.J. McLachlan

In honour of Cinco de Mayo, let us present another feature cocktail, the Tamarindo.  Essentially the tamarindo is a variation of the classic margarita, a cocktail which has been a constant on my list of favorites since I first experienced the drink with my brother Ben and great friend Aaron at Colorado's Rio Grande restaurant.  The Rio is well known in Colorado for its delicious steak burritos and margaritas.  The restaurant would close down every afternoon for a siesta, but without fail people would line up down the street waiting to do battle with the Rio's infamous three margarita limit, a battle in which there can be no true winner.

Although the recipe of the Rio marg is a closely guarded secret there was much speculation (often tequila fueled) as to its makeup, and we spent many summer nights trying to recreate the alchemists blend of strong, sweet, sour, and salt.  For awhile we added tree top applejuice to tequila, triple sec, and lime juice in an effort to balance the harshness of the low quality spirits we would often buy.  I even recall having the brilliant idea of freezing the applejuice in ice cube trays so that we could make blended drinks without having unwanted dilution.  

Alas, as time has passed, I've come to realize that the margarita is definitely a case of less is more.  First of all, good spirits are absolutely necessary: the better the base ingredients, the better the cocktail.  Start with 2 parts 100% agave tequila.  For our first event this weekend we'll be using the excellent Cazadores Reposado tequila, a 100% blue agave spirit that is rested for a minimum of two months in new American oak casks.  To that add 1 part Cointreau, the original Triple Sec for which there really is no substitute.  To balance the sweetness of the Cointreau, add 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice - from a lime, not that green bottle hidden somewhere behind your soya sauce and thousand island dressing.


So how do you improve perfection?  You add tamarind.

Our cocktail is named in honour of Jarritos Tamarindo soda, which also pairs exceptionally well with burritos.  To the above mixture of 1 1/2 ounces tequila, 3/4 ounce Cointreau, and 3/4 ounce lime juice, we add 3/4 ounce of our homemade tamarind simple syrup.  The syrup maintains the balance of sour and sweet which is crucial to the margarita, while adding the distinctive flavour profile of tamarind.  The final step to this drink is to add 1/2 egg white.  This produces an incredible velvety frothiness to the cocktail, almost a middle ground between the frozen and rocks versions of the margarita.

And you don't even have to freeze any apple juice...