Spirits Close-Up: Quit Smoking

You order a drink and a slate tablet appears in front of you. On the tablet, the bartender ignites a small pile of woodchips and covers it with a rocks glass that fills with white fog. The glass is then quickly upturned and the bartender adds a stirred cocktail. The smoke slowly drifts away as … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Cobblers Had a Bumpy Road

Sherry, sugar, ice, fruit. The sherry cobbler is simple and delicious but any hopes of knowing its origins remain as crushed as the ice on which the cocktail is built. Mentioned by notables from Charles Dickens to Queen Victoria, the sherry cobbler became the most famous libation in the 19th-century Western world because of three … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: The Next, Next Cool Spirit

People are always trying to find what’s “next” in spirits. Whiskey is locked into its heyday. Tequila has overcome the fake amber stuff we shot in college. Minnesotans have decided to be “nice” about the smoke of mezcal. Sherry may never fully bloom here. My money says the next big spirits boom will come when … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: The Minnesconsin Old Fashioned – A “compromise” cocktail

Ask born-and-raised Minnesotans and they’ll give you an extensive list of differences between them and Wisconsinites or North and South Dakotans. Ask bartenders in the Twin Cities and they’ll tell you numerous confused-out-of-stater stories. Living in different states can feel like living in cultures as different as night and day, but for bartenders on the borders, … [ Read more]

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]