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Make New New Make Drinks

October 4, 2012

Blow off work on Friday. Call in sick. Or maybe just take an early lunch. Because at 11am Albany Distilling Company will be officially opening its doors.

This is big news. Everyone is excited about it. And you can read stories about the proprietors and their enterprise on All Over Albany, Table Hopping and Keep Albany Boring. I’m not going to repeat what they said. But I did spent a couple hours last night with Matthew and John, learning about their operation, tasting their product, and mixing drinks that highlighted their Coal Yard “new make” whiskey.

It’s unclear if they will be mixing any cocktails at the distillery on opening day. But if they do, there is a good chance that one of these creations be in rotation.

But first let me tell you why you shouldn’t be skeptical of new make whiskey.

Some people think whiskey should be aged to mellow out the spirit and give it more character from the wood barrels. This argument also gets applied to rum and tequila as well. While a good white rum and a good blanco tequila may be harder to find than their well aged counterparts, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And just because some unaged spirits are rough and fiery doesn’t mean that the trait is inherent in the form.

If you don’t believe me, find your way to some 10 Cane rum or Corzo silver tequila as two easy-to-find examples of well made spirits that haven’t been compromised by wood.

That’s right, I said compromised.

Now part of this might be a little bit of the spirit geek in me coming out, but I get a lot of pleasure from tasting the ingredients that go into a spirit. For rum I want to taste the sugar cane. In tequila I want that vegetal hit of agave. And in whiskey, I want grain. Lots and lots of grain.

Having tried Albany Distilling Company’s Coal Yard “new make” whiskey (batch #4) I’m thrilled to tell you that they’ve done a great job.

Sure, aged versions of spirits can be magnificent even life-changing experiences. And wood does indeed take some of the edge off a younger spirit. Barrel aging also adds complexity. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this Albany whiskey evolves in charred new oak barrels.

But you do know there is another way to temper and season a base spirit: cocktails.

So John and Matthew asked if I would be interested in trying to work up some cocktails with them for their new whiskey. After going back and forth over email, we honed in on some important parameters. The cocktails would need to be simple to execute and they should serve to elevate the whiskey and not obscure it.

Simple and well balanced drinks are my favorite, so I put on my thinking cap and showed up at the distillery with a bunch of ideas and some choice bottles. I was thrilled that they all worked out.

The Sweet One (code name Rusty Dusty)

White whiskey in some recipes can be substituted for aged whiskey. So with that in mind, we tried this simple combination of Coal Yard and Drambuie. The thought was that the aged whiskey character of the liqueur would play well with the fresh whiskey of the base spirit.

2 oz of Coal Yard
½ oz of Drambuie
Stirred over ice and strained into a glass

The fresh grainy nose of the “new make” totally came through in the glass. On the palate, even at a 4:1 ratio, this was the sweetest of the cocktails. While it was an enjoyable variation on the classic rusty nail, some of the more delicate notes of the Coal Yard were drained out.

The Spicy One (code name Central Ave)

I had heard that in prior tastings the distillers found that ginger beer made a good mixer for their unaged whiskey. So I thought we’d try taking those flavors and making them into a short drink.

2 oz of Coal Yard
½ oz of Canton ginger liqueur
dash of Angostura orange bitters
Stirred over ice and strained into a glass

This was delicious. It was light and refreshing. The sweetness of the liqueur was a bit more subtle. Some fresh lemon would complement this well, but in an effort to keep it simple, the bright orange flavor from Angostura served in a pinch.

The Classic One (code name Old Coal)

There is no better drink for letting the base spirit shine through than an old fashioned. It’s simply sweetened, seasoned booze in a glass with ice.

2 oz of Coal Yard
1 Angostura soaked sugar cube
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
Muddle the sugar, pour the booze, and add ice

This was great. It’s simple and elegant. The drink gets a rose colored hue from the bitters. And it tastes like a sip out of history. No fruit. No fuss. Just a man, his muddler, his whiskey and his bitters.

The Aromatic One (code name DelSo)

The red herring of the group was perhaps the favorite of the night. You may recall that I just picked up a bottle of Maraschino and Ramazzotti. The two of those ingredients play nicely in whiskey drinks like the classic Brooklyn. But I was concerned that adding dry vermouth, taking the drink up to five bottles (if you count the bitters) might be a bit too much for the task at hand. So this is a variation on that idea.

2 oz of Coal Yard
2 tsp of Maraschino liqueur
2 tsp of Ramazzotti amaro
1 dash Angostura orange
Stirred over ice and strained into glass

My new Italian bottles were spot on. When used together, they make whiskey drinks just taste special. It was a well balanced drink that was aromatic without being overpowering. The amaro gave the cocktail a lovely golden color that is more redolent of aged whiskey. And the sweet grain notes of the whiskey played well with the haunting nutty sweetness of the Maraschino.

Despite all of this cocktail crafting success, I suspect the bottle I buy on Friday will be primarily used for sipping straight. That is because John and Matthew have some extraordinary grain in batch 4. It’s mostly made from corn. But this is no ordinary corn. In batch #4 it came from Central NY and it’s organic open-pollinated heirloom corn. Just in case you weren’t sure, that’s awesome. And it’s better stuff than they are using downstate at Tuthilltown.

Score one for the new guys.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rachael permalink
    October 4, 2012 10:57 am

    I am really, really happy to hear preliminary positive reviews about the whiskey from Albany Distilling Company. I hope they are wildly successful.

    Do you know where, specifically, in CNY the corn for batch #4 came from? Just curious.

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