Episode 019 - Misfit Spirits
In this episode, Eric sits down with distiller and renaissance man Peter Ahlf of Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in Middleburg, Virginia. Peter is a really fascinating guy with an eclectic professional background and a passion for making great spirits.
Some of the things we discuss with Peter include:
- How a NASA engineer-turned-carpenter applies his skills to distilling
- How to transform a gas station office into a steampunk tasting room
- The history and regulatory intricacies of misfit spirits like absinthe and cassis
- The process of developing flavor profiles in liqueurs and vermouths
- What to drink during the “Green Hour” in Paris
- And much, much more
Featured Cocktail: The Sazerac
Whenever absinthe is on the docket, we start thinking about the Sazerac--a simple New Orleans spin on the classic Old Fashioned that features absinthe and creole-style aromatic bitters. It’s a bit more fragrant than a typical Old Fashioned, and it’s got a mysteriously perfumed character courtesy of the absinthe and its customary lemon peel garnish.
How do you make one? Well, you generally start with about ¼-½ an ounce of absinthe and you roll that around inside your rocks glass (sans ice) to coat the entire inside of the glass. Then you either discard or discretely shoot the extra.
The rest is just like an Old Fashioned. You take a sugar cube and soak that in bitters and a tiny splash of water at the bottom of your mixing pint. Traditionally, Peychaud’s bitters is the brand used here, but I use Embitterment Aromatic Bitters because we actually blended this product as a nod to the creole style, so they’re perfect in the Sazerac. Then you muddle that sugar cube up, add your 2 oz of whiskey and ice, and give it a good, healthy stir.
As Carlie Steiner mentioned last episode, you want to dilute this somewhere around 20-25%, and then you strain it into your absinthe-rinsed rocks glass with a single large rock and you garnish with a lemon twist.
Here’s my personal flair. Because I don’t like how much work it takes to absinthe rinse a glass, I take my little cocktail atomizer (essentially a perfume sprayer), which I have pre-loaded with absinthe for just such occasions, and I hit the surface of the drink with several healthy spritzes of that right before I garnish with my lemon peel. That way, the aromatic components really have a chance to enchant you when you take your first few sips.
Here is a photo of Peter with his Alembic Still, which he uses to distill Mt. Defiance Absinthe (photo courtesy of Chilled Magazine).
Notice how the artwork on the Mt. Defiance Vermouth label is in the Art Nouveau style of Alphonse Mucha.
Check out Mt. Defiance's new cider barn that will be open as of early October, 2017. (Image courtesy of middleburglife.com)
The Parisian, which is a mixure of Cassis, Vermouth, and Gin.
Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present
Paris, late 1800s at a sidewalk cafe during the early evening (also known as the "Green Hour") drinking absinthe with art nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha.
Influential Cocktail Books
Advice to New Home Bartenders
Your cocktail is only going to be as good as its weakest ingredient. So, know what you're buying. Know how to spot quality and learn how to read a spirit label.