Why You Hate Vermouth

Bartenders everywhere know that people hate vermouth. Guests are constantly requesting their martini not be sullied with that same swill collecting dust in their home liquor cabinet. They employ an ever-expanding array of vocal burbles and diminutive hand motions to demonstrate how minuscule a measure of vermouth might be permitted.  But there’s no chance the … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Which expensive bottles live up to their price tag?

Liquor prices can seem arbitrary. The factors affecting the price of a spirit are seemingly unending and often well hidden. What we pay at the liquor store has to do with the spirit’s cost of production and distribution, sure, but also the brand’s marketing budget, celebrity endorsements, custom bottle design, and high-def B-roll footage of … [ Read more]

Clear Ice: The American Way

Clear ice isn’t just for looks. Clarity means quality, and clear ice makes your drink colder, more delicious, more consistent, more historically accurate, and more truly American. (What?! Yes. Don’t worry, I’ll feed you, baby birds.) Clear ice is a staple at Twin Cities cocktail spots, an integral part of global cocktail culture, and easier … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Bitters, The Liquid Spice Rack

The long fence of tiny bottles between you and the bartender at your favorite cocktail spot can be intimidating. Most imbibers know the basics of bitters—the potent infusions of herbal elements and flavor extracts—but for those who aren’t regularly making cocktails for themselves, there’s still a lot of confusion about them. Thankfully, using bitters doesn’t … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Drinking Vinegar

If you’ve been to a bar or grocery store in the last five years, you’ve seen terms like “shrub,” “drinking vinegar,” and “switchel.” What sound like landscaping, a punishment for swearing, and a Southern-style spanking are actually all pieces of a prominent category of vinegar-based concoctions roaring back into popular drinking culture.  Imbibers are wary … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Barrel Gin

The walls are crumbling. The boundless creativity of the craft movement has ensured that spirits are becoming less and less boxed into the stylistic traditions that once defined them. On our shelves now, we’re treated to products like “aged vodka,” and beer-barrel-aged whiskey, and gins with every botanical under the sun. Spirits are being blended … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Fruit Brandy

I can’t claim this as objective fact, but my prejudice is this: a great deal of the unaged brandy in the world is disgusting. From Italian grappa, to French marc, and eau de vie of all stripes—so many are little more than a nerve-shattering mouthful of fiery ethanol. That’s why I’ve become fixated on four fruit … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: The Summer Spritz

The wine spritzer went through some dark years during the time coolers and alcopops had their heyday and Bartles & Jaymes was a picnic staple. But now, with the wealth of liqueurs the craft cocktail movement has brought to our shelves, making delicious and unique wine spritzers has never been easier. Here’s the general idea: … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Egg Whites

If a cocktail has citrus, try adding an egg white,” says bartender Sean Cooke, separating an egg behind the bar at Fitzgerald’s on Selby Avenue in St. Paul. “Sours, daiquiris, gimlets, amaretto sour with egg white is amazing, and it makes a luxurious margarita.” (He made us one. It sure does.) So we asked bartenders … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-up: Blended Whiskey

The world of spirits is full of outdated terms. But perhaps no phrase should be relegated to the recycle bin of booze history quite like “blended whiskey.” As a contrast to “straight bourbon whiskey,” “blended whiskey” was a catch-all term created to describe the strategy of stretching the leftovers—a little of the good stuff, mixed … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Lesser-Known Liquor

The craft cocktail movement, aided by exciting boutique importers, is bringing so many interesting new bottles of booze to our local shelves. But which ones are worth a bother? Which are versatile enough to play around with, and easy to mix into your favorite drinks? We asked MSP bartenders to endorse three of the stranger … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Absinthe

Absinthe is loaded with misinformation. So let’s get a few things straight: Absinthe in America is as “real” as the absinthe in Europe. Since before Prohibition, we had mistakenly attributed mind-altering properties to a compound called thujone that’s found in wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), the main flavoring agent of absinthe. Thujone is not hallucinogenic and, despite … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: White Aperitifs

When you’re making cocktails, there’s easy, and there’s interesting, and rarely the twain shall meet. On the one hand, you can buy pre-bottled cocktails and take your rail booze with a side of preservatives and corn syrup. On the other, you can spend the better part of an afternoon infusing spirits, simmering gomme syrup, and … [ Read more]

Spirits Close Up: Sherry

There’s no doubt that sherry can be an acquired taste. Sipped neat, one might find it tangy and robust, or acetic and brash. But paired with the right spirit or sugar, it can be transformed to show more like toffee, hazelnuts, and salted caramel. Here’s how to mix it. Bit player: Sherry is an oxidized, … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Sloe Gin

Sloe gin is one of those liqueurs, like crème de menthe and peach schnapps, that strongly recall the dark days of American cocktails. You’d no sooner order a sloe gin fizz than you would a banana daiquiri or a brandy Alexander. But if you get Trish Gavin at the Hewing (see Craft Cocktails, I’m Trying … [ Read more]