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Category Archives: scotch

Lincoln, NE – August 8, 2012

Another trip to the heartland (it’s pretty easy to see why Springsteen went to Nebraska to record “Nebraska”) and another opportunity to sample what Lincoln offers – which is a lot!

I had the evening by myself.  I’d walked by Dish on my earlier visits and decided to try it out this time.  I was there on a Wednesday night, and it was fairly quiet, which suited me as I pulled up a seat at the bar.

I was greeted by Teresa behind the bar and quickly learned that she had the cocktail mixing chops to go with the excellent selection of liquor and liqueurs behind the bar.  She made me a two speciality cocktails, with a Scapa single malt whiskey sandwiched in between, and all were excellent.

The first cocktail was their riff on a Manhattan that featured orange and allspice infused Maker’s Mark, just a splash of sweet vermouth and Agnostura bitters.  I had it on the rocks and enjoyed it.  Normally, I would consider infusing Maker’s with anything to be heresay, but this worked well.  Frankly, as I shared with Teresa, it was very similar in taste to a Twilight Lounge favorite, which is just to add a dash of orange bitters to rye whiskey on the rocks.

My second drink of the evening was the very straight forward Scapa with just a single ice cube.   I could almost taste the salt spray on my lips as I sipped this for the first time.  It wasn’t as smokey as I usually like in a single malt, but it was delightfully smooth with a hint of vanilla (which would have made the perfect after dinner scotch for me this night).  

 The last cocktail effort of the night was a blend of Hendrick gin and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur with a bit of lemon.  I nice way to finish the evening.

The off menu dinner and dessert specials that she suggested were also spot on.  The shrimp and scallps were perfectly grilled and served with jasmine rice, spinach and a pepper pesto type creation.  The portion size was just right.  Dessert was an amazing homemade vanilla ice cream on top of a pecan chocolate brownie with rasberries, black cherries and an incredible Bailey’s Irish Cream sauce.  It was awesome!

I”m looking forward to my next trip to Lincoln — Thanks Teresa!

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Madison, WI – July 12, 2012

I found myself in Madison, WI for an evening recently – and for the first time in my various travels around the midwest.  Being just 90 miles from home was different, but I still managed to hunt down a good cocktail lounge to while away my evening.  The Opus Lounge was my target for the evening.

After reading a few of the Yelp reviews and seeing the menu when I first arrived I was concerned that this would be a menu driven cocktail lounge lacking any real creativity.  Boy, was I wrong, and am I ever glad I was!

The decor is urban chic with a soundtrack to match that ranged from hip hop to acid jazz and many alternative formats in between.  As I scanned the booze behind the bar I saw what I thought were too many flavored vodkas, but then, who doesn’t have too many flavored vodkas these days?  The menu was also full of what sound like fruity, girly drinks and, my pet peeve, is called a martini menu (a martini is a cocktail, and this was a cocktail menu!).  

Fortunately, Marilyn, the bartender on duty, came to the rescue and patiently demonstrated that she and Opus have real cocktail chops.  I ended up sampling three of the menu items, the Dill Collins, an interesting riff on the classic Tom Collins which was very refreshing on a warm summer evening.  This cocktail featured Death’s Door gin over muddled cucumber, dill, lemon and a sugar cube.  Club soda and ice finish off this drink.  It was delicious – the dill was just barely there and added a nice dimension to the drink.

 
Next was the Royal Highness featuring Plantation rum, cassis, bolivar bitters, lime, Domaine de Canton and egg white among its ingredients.  Yes, I said egg white, and when a bar is mixing cocktails with egg white they get my full attention!  This drink evoked visions of tiki torches and tropical beaches for me.  There was a slight coconut flavor, which I could not figure out for the life of me since this drink had none in it.  It did have a smooth, creamy texture courtesy of the egg white and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
 
The third menu item was the Pimm’d Up Bondurant.  Only the second cocktail I’ve seen anywhere using the venerable Pimm’s No. 1 and it was delicious.  This is basically a Pimm’s sour with Domaine de Canton in it.  The ginger of the Canton played off the Pimm’s perfectly.  This sipper was served up in a cocktail glass, but would have worked equally as well in a collins glass on the rocks.
I finished the night with an off menu drink from Marilyn that featured Laphroiag scotch, ginger and lemon flavors.  Again, a homerun that has me wishing I had written down the recipe – but unfortunately, didn’t.  

Bottom line is that if you’re looking for good cocktails in Madison, look no further than Opus Lounge.

Lincoln, NE – March 14, 2012

During my last trip to Lincoln I found several nice places that made up for my disappointment with Marz.  However, hands down, the best of the bunch is the Bourbon Theater.  I can assure you the next time and every time I’m in Lincoln I’ll be stopping by to see Luke Edson!

The Bourbon Theater is an interesting venue – a music club (the night I was there featured a DJ playing house, very loudly) along with an amazingingly well stocked bar and the very talented Luke Edson behind the bar.

For openers, I enjoyed that fact that Luke spent a few minutes chatting with me to find out what I like in a drink.  After our conversation he made me his twist on a Rob Roy.   Featuring Skye scotch along with Dubonnet, orange bitters and an orange twist, this was an amazing cocktail – and better than the original Rob Roy.  This wonderful smokey scotch with the orange flavors was very cohesive and well done. 

The next drink Luke made for me was the Mont Blanc, an original of his.  Here it is.

  Mont Blanc

  • 1-1/2 oz St. Remy brandy (or better)
  • 3/4 oz Bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 – 1/3 oz Averna

In my notes at the time I wrote “OMG amazing!”  It’s like a boozy dessert.  Vanilla notes, a hint of cherry and an almost creamy texture.  This is, without a doubt, one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. 

By the way, if you want to make this at home (and I will be!) you will need the use Bianco vermouth, not dry vermouth.  Bianco is a sweetened white vermouth and using dry will not yeild the same result at all!

Cheers!

June 30, 2011 – Fargo, ND

One of the benefits of my job is getting to find neat cocktail lounges in places I’d never otherwise visit.  The HoDo Lounge in downtown Fargo is just one of those places.

It is located in the historic Hotel Donaldson and draws a crowd as eclectic as the drink menu.  The band added to the fun, playing a mix of original music and covers that kept the crowd moving all night long. 

The first drink that I had was the Firetruck.  It was an amazing cocktail that consisted of St. Germain, seltzer water, and (drum roll please) 10 year old Laphroaig.  Even though there was just a 1/4 oz of the Laphroaig in this drink it comes through loud and clear.  The St. Germain sweetens this up just a bit and softens the peaty flavor of the Laphroig, while the seltzer makes this a tall glass sipper that is refreshing.  An inventive and very interesting cocktail.

The second cocktail of the night was the unusually named Cucular Caley (pictured).  A melange of pomegranate vodka, Hendricks gin, Sailor Jerry rum and cucumbers, all topped with a bit of seltzer, this was an amazing drink.  It was slightly sweet, slightly spicy and slightly fruity, yet still boozy enough to remind me that it packs a punch.  Kudos to the staff for this fantastic cocktail!

With that it was time for me to head back to my hotel and get a good nights sleep before my drive back to Milwaukee.  You can be sure, though, that I’m looking forward to my next visit to Fargo!

June 21, 2011 – La Crosse, WI

I’d been hearing about the Starlite Lounge for years from my buddy Greg.  His daughter Katie had gone to college at UW La Crosse and as a result, Greg and Patti had numerous opportunities to enjoy the retro and swinging atmosphere of the Starlite.  So, when I had the opportunity to spend a night in La Crosse on a recent business trip I knew exactly where I was headed.  As luck would have it, I even managed to select a hotel right next to the Starlite…it was fate!

Beca was behind the bar for the evening and proved to be an incredibley good bartender and host.  She took care of all her guests deftly and during the peak rush was banging out martinis and various assorted cocktails with no muss and no fuss.  Great job Beca!

The decor of the Starlite is exactly what you’d expect.  Plenty of 50’s style light fixtures and vinyl covered bachelor pad chairs down in classic Howard Johnson aqua and orange.  A mix of Rat Pack and other lounge music was in the background, loud enough to add to the atmosphere, but soft enough not to be intrusive. 

As I perused the cocktail menu, my eye immediately was drawn to the drink I knew I’d have to have first.  The Daddy-O martini just called to me, and I could not resist its singsong melody.  Made with four parts vodka and one part dry vermouth, and garnished with an olive, it was the perfect way to unwind from the days meetings and travels. 

As I contemplated what to have from the appetizer menu I next had a Rusty Nail (yeah, by now Beca was beginning to think I was old…).  Made with Macgregor and Drambuie, this was a nice follow up to the martini, was well made, and went with the seafood stuffed mushrooms perfectly.

For a night cap, I finally cajoled Beca into making me her favorite drink.  Given that it is Wisconsin, she popped out an excellent and authentic Brandy Old Fashioned, complete with muddled orange and cherries at the bottom of the glass and an extra dose of bitters.  I have to admit that the bitters through me for a bit and I originally guessed that it was whiskey, but Beca was delighted to correct me on that score.  It was perfect way to end my visit to this terrific throwback lounge!

Day 343, Cocktails 348, 349 & 350

Monday evening found me at Ivee’s On Main to watch the NCAA basketball final.  While the game may have been lackluster, the cocktails were not!  Recently Colleen Graham had posted the Fancy Whiskey in her cocktail blog.  I thought it looked like a pretty good drink.  Plus, it easily lent itself to doing a multiple versions and some serious tasting comparisons based on the type of whiskey used.  So, in the name of science and to be able to give you a complete report I embarked on a fancy whiskey journey.

First, the Fancy Whiskey recipe is:

  Fancy Whiskey

  • 2 oz whiskey(of your choice)
  • 1 oz bar syrup
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • dash Agnostura bitters

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake, shake, shake to combine and blend.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

So, the recipe is pretty straightforward.  Let’s see how things worked out as I tried different whiskies.  The first was made with Maker’s Mark bourbon.  It was good, with the flavor reminiscent of a Manhattan, except orange flavored.  While 1 oz of bar syrup sounds like a lot, it did not overly sweeten the drink.  The use of triple sec helped with this cause since it is not as sweet as Cointreau is.  The bitters also help to keep the sweetness in line.  All in all, a good drink.

For the second variant I moved to Scotch and had Davey make it with Dewar’s.  It was very similar in taste to the Maker’s Mark version with a smokey peat element from the Scotch.  Depending on your specific taste you could amp up the smokey component of this drink by using a stronger single malt such as Laphroaig.  Again, a very good cocktail that I wouldn’t hesitate to order or make in the future.

Finally, for version three I switched to Canadian whiskey, Canadian Club to be specific.  This version was the least memorable of the bunch, probably owing to Canadian whiskey’s mellow character, particularly when compared to bourbon and Scotch.  It was a good cocktail, but didn’t have the heft that the first two versions had.  Think of this as the Fancy Whiskey lite!

All in all, three good cocktails.  Maybe those boys from Butler should have tried one of these, it couldn’t have hurt there shooting!

Cheers!

Day 335, Cocktail 340

Every good movie (and, unfortunately, some not so good movies) deserves a sequel.  In the case of the Godfather, there were two sequels.  And hey, maybe if were lucky, there will be a fourth! 

So, Saturday’s cocktail is a sequel of a previous drink.  Our friend Patti was home alone this weekend with Greg out of town on family business.  So Gwen made plans for the three of us to go out to dinner and then karaoke.  Our dinner stop was Amici’s in Richfield.  We all had wonderful Italian meals, and of course, cocktails.  While Gwen and Patti had martinis (Bombay and Grey Goose respectively) I chose the Godfather Martini.  I know, it should not be called a martini, but I bit my tongue and ordered it anyway.  Essentially, this is the close cousin to the previously posted Godfather cocktail.  The Amici’s version is made with Dewar’s scotch while my Godfather uses Maker’s Mark bourbon.  Both, of course, have amaretto in them. 

So how was it?  Pretty good.  The proportions of scotch and amaretto (which I did not get) were just right, providing a nice balance between the smokey flavor of the Dewar’s and the nutty, almond flavor of the amaretto.  This is a slightly sweet cocktail, so be prepared for that if you are a boozy cocktail fan.  It won’t knock you over with sugar like some fruity ice cream drink, but it’s not like having a scotch on the rocks or Manhattan either.

As for the karaoke, well that went just fabulous as well.  Of course, after a cocktail or two, my singing always gets better!

Cheers!

Day 309, Cocktail 311

Monday, Monday, Monday…it was just a blah kind of day this past Monday.  Very little to make it remarkable or even notable.  So how to cheer up Monday?

I pulled the Ultimate Bar Book down off the shelf in the Twilight Lounge and started flipping through it.  I headed right to the very beginning of the cocktails by spirit section, which is brandy.  I’m fairly well stocked in brandy between the cognac, brandy and Calvados that I have, so it seemed like a good place to start.  And then, there it was…the angels started singing and a single spotlight illuminated the entry.  The Barton Special Cocktail.  If this cocktail can’t make Monday special, what can?

I attempted to do some research on the history of this drink.  It does appear in the Savoy cocktail guide, but I really couldn’t find anything definitive regarding its history or just how Barton is.  However, I didn’t let that stop me from mixing one up.

  Barton Special

  • 1-1/2 oz Calvados
  • 3/4 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz scotch

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake, shake, shake to mix and chill.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Ok, so I’m sure the selection of gin and scotch would make a difference in this drink.  I went with the Beefeater for the gin, figuring this would need all the oomph that a quality London dry would provide.  I used the Johnny Walker Red because, well, its what I had.  However, it’s big, smokey flavor figured to stand up to the Calvados.  Which is does, almost.  The clear flavor of this drink is the Calvados, backed by the smoky scotch.  The gin gets totally lost in this.  It really is just a huge shot…not much going on here with flavor to make this a distinctive cocktail.  I suspect some lemon and bitters would help pull this three headed beast together and tame it.  That experiment, however, will have to wait for another day.  So, alas, my Monday remained uninspired.

Cheers!

Day 308, Cocktail 310

Well, with that big shindig in LA last night (and for the record, I didn’t watch a minute of it, and, actually, still don’t know who won what…seriously.  I have better things to do, like drink all these cocktails and tell you about them!) what would be a better cocktail for Sunday (at least by name) than the Hulla Balloo.  Like several of my recent efforts, this comes from Dr. Tiki at the TikiBar TV podcast.  And like all of my posts to date, it has nothing to do with the Oscars…hehe.  So, without further adieu (drum roll and dramatic announcer voiceover), I bring you the Hulla Balloo!

  Hulla Balloo

  • 2 oz brandy
  • 2 oz scotch
  • 5 oz lemonade

Combine the brandy, scotch and lemonade in a mixing glass and stir.  Pour into a tall tiki or collins glass filled with cracked ice.  Add your favorite umbrella or plastic monkey and serve.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by this drink.  I really thought that this particular combination of ingredients wouldn’t be quite so tasty, but it was.  You get a nice depth from the brandy (I had used St. Remy) and a pleasant, smokey taste from the Johnny Walker Red scotch that I used.  With the sweetness of the lemonade, this turns out to be just right.  Even Gwen liked it, and that really came as a surpise given the brandy and scotch in it.

So the next time your event hits Hulla Balloo territory, break one of these out for your guests!

Cheers!

Day 291, Cocktail 288

The stream of consciousness continued on Thursday as I moved forward with more Lillet Blanc.  I had been thumbing through Mittie Hellmich’s “Ultimate Bar Book” looking for more recipes that used the Lillet.  I didn’t really see anything in the fortified wine section so I started looking through the whiskeys when I came upon the Prince Edward.  The history on this cocktail is a little murky – hell, who am I kidding – I couldn’t find anything on the history of this cocktail.  Frankly, that suprises me a bit, but on with the show anyway.

  Prince Edward

  • 1-1/2 oz scotch
  • 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 1/4 oz Drambuie

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake, shake, shake to chill and combine.  Strain into a rocks glass with ice, or in my case, an ice ball.  Garnish with an orange slice.

This is a tasty cocktail.  The Drambuie really sweetens it up and helps the floral and orange flavors of the Lillet shine and not be overshadowed by the scotch.  I used Johnny Walker Red, which gave a nice, smokey backdrop to the cocktail.  This was a very nice sipper, indeed.

Cheers!