"...sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whiskey."

Apologies in advance – if you're looking for drink recipes, you might find a few things you like, but there are probably better resources out there.

If you found your way here in search of entertainment in the form of watching some ignorant git cluelessly stomp through the world of mixology, you've come to the right place.

Now for some backstory... 

This all began with Manhattans.  This is my grandma's drink of choice, and since she's among my favorite people, I wanted to make it among my favorite drinks.  Hers is a V.O. Manhattan, light on the sweet vermouth, no bitters, and add a little cherry juice.

I could never tell if it was the sweet vermouth, the bitters, the well bourbon, or some combo thereof, but something about a "real" Manhattan wasn't working for me, either.  I decided Grandma was onto something with less bitter, more sweet, and definitely call your whiskey.

Enter Kyle, the bartender at Lady Gregory's in Chicago's Andersonville.  He and I were on a quest to make my own personal Manhattan spin-off, and we (okay, mostly he) came up with a pretty rad cocktail of top-shelf bourbon sweetened up with liqueur and amaro – without taking a complete pass on the bitters.

image: chicagobarshop.com

Here's what I recall of the drink.  This is probably way too sweet for most folks (my fault, not Kyle's), so you may choose to keep the sweet vermouth instead of the amaro, or even garnish with lemon wedge or orange peel to cut the sweet with some sour or bitter.

1 1/2 oz. Knob Creek
1 oz. Disaronno or Drambuie
1/2 oz. amaro (like Averna or Cynar)
Orange twist
2 Luxardo or bourbon cherries, reserve about .25 oz syrup
dash of bitters (optional)

Fill a double rocks glass with ice*.  Pour liquid ingredients (including cherry syrup) in a cocktail mixer over ice, stir, and strain into the glass.  Express the orange peel, add the cherries, dash in the bitters if you like, and serve. 

*if you like your Manhattans straight up, go for it – I prefer them on the rocks.

Trust me, I'm a bartender

Poor Kyle.  I remarked that I wasn't a huge fan of Knob Creek because I find it harsh, so I suggested we use something smoother like Woodford or Maker's Mark.  Kyle humored me, but I quickly learned that without Knob Creek's bite, the sweetness of the ingredients totally took over.  Now that my palate has matured, I wonder if something even more peppery – like a rye whiskey – would not go amiss here.

I also wondered aloud how port or a sweeter sherry would work in place of the sweet vermouth. In yet another demonstration that Kyle knows his business better than I do, we tried it out – too sweet, and since we already decided we liked the Disaronno or Drambuie, it was also way too syrupy.

The art of flavor

In their excellent book, The Flavor Bible, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg discuss the building blocks that famous chefs use to create amazing culinary masterpieces:

Flavor = Taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami) + Mouthfeel (temperature, texture, piquancy, astringency) + Aroma + "The X Factor" (visual, emotional, mental, spiritual experience)

When it comes to balancing these factors, everything from flavor affinities and regional considerations to how heavy, light, smooth, rough, soft, loud, etc., the various layers are ultimately makes a big difference.

Maker's Mark is smoother and sweeter than Knob Creek, which has a peppery edge that makes it "louder."  Port and sherry are much sweeter and more viscous than sweet vermouth or amaro, which add bitterness and perhaps even a little sourness.  These things matter.

Page and Dornenburg also interview several chefs who take what they (and their customers) know, assess the various ingredients for the roles they play in terms of flavor.  They then get creative by swapping these things out and balancing accordingly.

I didn't realize it at the time, but the process Kyle went through to create this new cocktail is one that chefs (and many mixologists) everywhere employ – take what you know, tweak it, rebalance, et voilà, you have a new and interesting creation.

So what's up with this blog, then?

Cooking and mixing are creative outlets for me, and when I nail the flavor balancing act, it's hella fun.  I am finding that while drink recipes abound across the interwebs, the secrets behind the art of creation do not.  While this blog is largely an attempt to keep written record of my exploits, I'd like to share interesting finds with others as I come across them.


Bitters and I are still working on our relationship, for anyone who is curious.