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You guys spend way too much on vodka. Eric Felton once had a spirits column in WSJ where he posed the proposition that the difference between bottom and top shelf is filtering. Therefore, Britta could make crap taste like $30. I put it to the test when my store got a liquor license. It works. Running Mohawk (the best super cheap vodka I've tried this on in Detroit) 4 times presents a nice result. 10 times? I call it "Kennidov". Impresses the hell out of anyone who's tried it. I've done the same with Luksisskova (sp?), a low priced potato vodka. Same result. My first attempt was with Heaven Hill and it worked with that too, but Mohawk here is better. Kamchattka, Five O'clock, whatever. It'll work. Heh, I store the stuff in an Old Grandad 114 bottle.

Ruins your Brita, though.

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Mythbusters took on this vodka challenge a few seasons ago. These were the results.

Top shelf filtration

Myth: You can turn low-end vodka into top-shelf vodka with six filtrations of a domestic charcoal water filter (i.e. Brita filters)

They set up the experiment so that the vodka testers would each get 8 shots of vodka: 6 from the filtration stations (single filtered, twice filtered, etc...), 1 top-shelf vodka, and 1 unfiltered low-end shot. The tasters were asked to rank the shots.

The tasters were:

  • Anthony Dias Blue, vodka expert, executive director San Francisco World Spirits Competion
  • Jamie, degree in Russian literature
  • Kari, former undercover martini tester

Kari: "I'm wondering if you might have contaminated your experiment by mixing on the mustache"

Jamie: "either that or they're actually very sensitive and able to pick up on subtle variations in the chemistry in the vodka"

Kari was a terrible judge, giving a much higher score to the unfiltered cheap vodka than the top-shelf vodka:

  • Kari's worst: 3rd filtration
  • Kari's second worst: top shelf
  • Kari's third best: the cheap, unfiltered vodka

Jamie was a better judge:

  • Jamie's second worst: the cheap, unfiltered vodka
  • Jamie's second best: fifth filtration
  • Jamie's best: top shelf

Anthony showed off his tasting skills: his ranking corresponded exactly to the number of filtrations, with the top-shelf vodka picked as the best.

Anthony: "Passing a low-end vodka through a filter will make it better, but it won't make it a top shelf vodka"

They analyzed the vodka samples and found that there was no difference in chemical composition between the filtered vodka and the unfiltered vodka. You're better off buying the top-shelf stuff than wasting a bunch of water filters.

BUSTED

In other news, I could no longer find eggnog as of Jan. 1st. Last night was my final brandied eggnog for the season. :(

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I have had very limited experience with Scotch, perhaps only having a airplane bottle of Johnny Walker red label several years ago. But under the influence of Tony Woodlief's short story, "Elective", in a recent Image Journal, I purchased a bottle of 13 year Glenburgie single malt. It was delicious. Is it typical to finish an entire bottle at one sitting?

Not typical, unless you're Scottish or Irish with an ironclad constitution and a very high alcohol tolerance ... and with infinite financial resources.

Glad to hear you gave Scotch a try, though. It is one of the great pleasures of life.

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Sorry, J.D. I don't consider that busted. Of course, I have a dim view of "neutral grain spirits". I prefer potato vodka to begin with. As a whisky man. And gin. I don't consider it busted because I'm also a more dash than cash kind of guy and filtered coming so close to top shelf in THAT experiment, plus the impressed responses I've gotten from discerning pallettes tell me that top shelf and second shelf is not worth the money. Um. I confess to drinking more vodka these days. I have a friend who once was a chef (makes more money per hour doing landscaping, he's a real father now) who filters Sky five or six times while I still do cheap stuff 10 times. He feels that starting on a higher rung works best. He and his wife are vodka folks. I'm just trying to keep a respectable bar on minimal investment.

My fave whiskies:

BOURBON: Elijah Craig 12 year small batch. best value

Traverse City Bourbon ( Michigan's own. Excellent. From Michigan wine country where distilleries are cropping up everywhere).

Kirkland (Costco house brand) 8 -10 year Bourbon

Old Weller 107 good, solid wheated bourbon

Old Grand Dad 114

Ezra Brooks 90 proof. Good bottom shelf.

SCOTCH: MacAllan 10 year. aged in sherry casks, tastes almost like scotch

MacAllan 12 year. Tastes almost like cognac. same casks.

tie Johnnie Walker Black

Ballantine 12 year old. much cheaper and almost as good

Teacher's

I'm a sort of son of the Caribbean. I've been dabbling in aged rums. I like Venezualan rum which when aged is like a dry, sharp coffee liquer. Also, Appleton XO 12 year from Jamaica, though it is hard to ruin well aged rum.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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Sorry, J.D. I don't consider that busted. Of course, I have a dim view of "neutral grain spirits". I prefer potato vodka to begin with. As a whisky man. And gin. I don't consider it busted because I'm also a more dash than cash kind of guy and filtered coming so close to top shelf in THAT experiment, plus the impressed responses I've gotten from discerning pallettes tell me that top shelf and second shelf is not worth the money. Um. I confess to drinking more vodka these days. I have a friend who once was a chef (makes more money per hour doing landscaping, he's a real father now) who filters Sky five or six times while I still do cheap stuff 10 times. He feels that starting on a higher rung works best. He and his wife are vodka folks. I'm just trying to keep a respectable bar on minimal investment.

I like top-shelf vodka just fine, but I honestly, I think I prefer some of the cheaper stuff. I started buying Crown Russe to use as a base for the various liqueurs I make at home, and before too long I started enjoy it purely as drinking vodka. it's made by Sazerac, a company I've come to really respect — one of their other vodkas, Platinum 7X, is a decent lower-mid vodka, and they own Buffalo Trace distillery. Buffalo Trace make some killer bourbons (my wife got me a bottle of Eagle Rare for Christmas, and it's incredible), and their Rain vodka is also lovely.

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I like top-shelf vodka just fine, but I honestly, I think I prefer some of the cheaper stuff. I started buying Crown Russe to use as a base for the various liqueurs I make at home, and before too long I started enjoy it purely as drinking vodka. it's made by Sazerac, a company I've come to really respect — one of their other vodkas, Platinum 7X, is a decent lower-mid vodka, and they own Buffalo Trace distillery. Buffalo Trace make some killer bourbons (my wife got me a bottle of Eagle Rare for Christmas, and it's incredible), and their Rain vodka is also lovely.

OK, I even prefer gin in a Bloody Mary. I don't do vodka much except to sometimes sip the two Kennidovs (potato base and Mohawk) in the freezer. What lqueurs do you make? I have attempted and failed so far at aquavite. This summer my batch was aversion therapy for cilantro (too much cilantro flower too long).

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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OK, I even prefer gin in a Bloody Mary. I don't do vodka much except to sometimes sip the two Kennidovs (potato base and Mohawk) in the freezer. What lqueurs do you make? I have attempted and failed so far at aquavite. This summer my batch was aversion therapy for cilantro (too much cilantro flower too long).

I make coffee liqueur regularly. It's easy to make and costs significantly less than name-brand (and honestly, I prefer my coffee liqueur for pure taste, since I can tweak it to my specifications). I've also made peach liqueur (a bust), Irish cream (fantastic), and I'm working on a coconut liqueur this weekend.

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I've made cream liqueur too. Commercial ones are way too sweet. I've used rum, brandy, or whisky as a base. Have you tasted Tia Maria? I've always preferred it to Kahlua. How does your coffee liqueur differ? I LOVE all things coffee.

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My wife is something of a whisky expert, and at her suggestion I tried the Suntory Hibiki 12-year, which has since become my go-to whisky (along with Macallan 12-year).

I've made cream liqueur too. Commercial ones are way too sweet. I've used rum, brandy, or whisky as a base. Have you tasted Tia Maria? I've always preferred it to Kahlua. How does your coffee liqueur differ? I LOVE all things coffee.

For coffee liqueur, my wife and I go with Patron XO Cafe Dark. It's delicious. Edited by Ryan H.

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Anders   

My wife is something of an armchair whisky expert, and at her suggestion I tried the Suntory Hibiki 12-year, which has since become my go-to whisky (along with Macallan 12-year). 

 

 

 

Glad to hear you're enjoying the Japanese whisky, Ryan. I've been nursing a bottle of the slightly lower tier, Suntory Yamasaki 10-year, and I love the subtly and cleanness compared to a lot of comparable Scotches. I used to be a big peat-head (Laphroiag, Lagavullin when I could afford it), but lately I've moved toward lighter coloured, more subtle Scotches.

 

Coming back on my trip to the U.S.A. for Thanksgiving, I picked up duty free size bottles of Glenmorangie Original 10-year, and a bottle of Woodford Reserve select to last the Christmas season.

Edited by Anders

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Glad to hear you're enjoying the Japanese whisky, Ryan. I've been nursing a bottle of the slightly lower tier, Suntory Yamasaki 10-year, and I love the subtly and cleanness compared to a lot of comparable Scotches. I used to be a big peat-head (Laphroiag, Lagavullin when I could afford it), but lately I've moved toward lighter coloured, more subtle Scotches.

The Yamasaki is very nice. I had that for the first time this past week.

Coming back on my trip to the U.S.A. for Thanksgiving, I picked up duty free size bottles of Glenmorangie Original 10-year, and a bottle of Woodford Reserve select to last the Christmas season.

Very good choices! Woodford is a favorite of mine (that and Makers 46 are my two go-to bourbons).

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I tried my first glass of port over Christmas with my father-in-law. Not sure I'm ready to commit to being a regular "port bibber," but I liked what I tasted: a Barnard Griffin Syrah Port, I forget the year. The wonderful rich dark fruity flavor complimented the dark chocolate we were enjoying. I didn't ask but I think it was reasonably priced, so it might be worth a try. Barnard Griffin is based in Washington. 

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I, too, am only just getting into port, but the Paarl Cape Ruby I've been working on for the last couple of months has proven to be a lovely entry point.

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NBooth   

Tomorrow night, in celebration of the fact that I'm going to be two years removed from 30, I'm having a few friends over to sample some baijiu. Since it's the national spirit of China, it's also the most-consumed spirit in the world. And apparently it's...a bit of a challenge for Westerners. So I'm interested in how this will turn out.

 

A couple of links:

Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits [kindle ebook]

Sinica podcast featuring the author of that book, Derek Sandhaus

And here is Sandhaus's blog

Chicago Tribune: When served this country's stiffest drink, it's OK to sip

 

I've read a couple of Sandhaus's book, which has an interesting couple of chapters on the history and distillation methods surrounding baijiu, as well as a guide to the most popular brands. The one I'm drinking, which I think is Hong Xin (红心), isn't featured.

 

Does anyone on-board have any experience with baijiu? Any warnings before tomorrow night?

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth   

Baijiu update:

 

Had a largish group of people over to drink it. Apparently, it's traditionally consumed with meals (though not as the main beverage--it's used for toasts, served out of small glasses). The stuff we had was "strong aroma" (nong xiang, 浓香) which is made of simple grain and sorghum, mixed. This type is associated with the Sichuan province, so presumably it's best consumed with something spicy, though for last night I made a simple chicken in soy sauce recipe from not-quite-the-right-region. The fermentation uses big qu, which is a moldy brick of wheat. The fermentation takes place in earthen vats and then the liquor is aged at least six months (since the brand we had looks like an off-brand of Red Star, I'm guessing it was aged the bare minimum). 

 

Impressions from the group:

 

1. It smells "like Fanta gone bad"

2. "It's like liquid Laffy Taffy"

3. "Oh, gosh, I don't think I can do this."

 

On the tongue it's sweet, but not very sweet--it's described as "fruity," and that's about right. It's also been described as "rotten," but I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. The Laffy Taffy comment wasn't far off. Around the edges, there's a slight burning, but that doesn't kick in until you've swallowed. When it does kick in, what you have is a lingering burn--something between a regular alcohol and a spicy burn--and that can last for several seconds after swallowing. Again--reaching for terms here, since this isn't my bag--baijiu has been described as tasting "industrial," and I think that has to do with this lingering, somewhat antiseptic taste (baijiu is typically between 40 and 60 percent abv--ours was 50). Eventually the burning goes away, but the taste--fruity, slightly floral--lingers for quite a bit.

 

Heck, I liked it. But--even though at least one of our party (the only one who's been to China and had baijiu at business functions) sipped instead of draining his glass at a go--this isn't really anything along the lines of a "sipping whiskey"--or even anything like Western wine. Or anything like sake. It's not, in short, the kind of thing you keep in your liquor cabinet and dip into occasionally. It's the kind of thing you pull out when you have enough people or enough determination to finish the bottle in a night.

 

[it's also not the wine written about by Li Bai, according to the book I linked in my previous post. That would be huangjiu, which is yellowish in color and milder in taste--and, historically, associated with the members of the Imperial Court rather than common people.] 

Edited by NBooth

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