Blend it like Walker

At 3pm Eastern today, I’ll be in sitting in the kitchen, surrounded by bottles of scotch. How is this any different than a normal 3pm in Chez Dietsch? Today, I have an excuse. Johnnie Walker’s black-label blend turns 100 years old this year, and to celebrate, Johnnie’s jetting his master blender, Andrew Ford, over to New York City, to lead a webcast focusing on the blending process.

I received an invitation to the webcast a couple of weeks ago, and shortly after I accepted, the FedEx man brought me a large box of kit.

Inside the box, I found seven sample bottles of single malt and grain whiskies, a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, a nosing glass, a measuring beaker, a funnel, and an empty bottle.


Seven brothers


Andrew Ford will be walking us through the process of blending scotch whiskies. He’ll also be taking questions, so if there’s anything you want to know, leave a comment here, and I’ll try to pass it along.

One question I have is why the grain whiskey appears to have been barrel-aged. I’m also curious about the number of whiskies they sent–one grain whiskey plus six bottles from various regions of Scotland (or in the case of the sherry-cask whiskey, a type of finishing method). Black Label is blended from at least 40 different whiskies. I know that Walker couldn’t possibly have sent 40 bottles without breaking their bank. Even this shipment wasn’t cheap, I’d wager. Now, what I don’t know is whether each of those bottles is actually a single malt, or if each bottle has a blend of several malts–say, several malts from the Islay region–to approximate the 40 whiskies that comprise Black.


MxMo 9: Bitters

MxMo BittersFor MxMo 9, I wanted to go a little crazy and make my own batch of bitters. My limoncello experiment worked well enough that bitters seemed a logical next step. Now, Darcy O’Neil reviewed the new book The Art of the Bar, back in September, and with his review, he included a bitters recipe from the book, Dr. Schwartz’s Cherry Vanilla Bitters.

You’re probably already thinking, oh man, cherry-vanilla bitters. Those would rock an Old Fashioned, especially if you leave out the cherry garnish altogether and let the bitters do the work. And you’re right. I tried them with both Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek, and they play well with both bottlings.

I also quite liked these bitters with a Rob Roy and a rye Manhattan. But I was surprised by the drink in which they really shine.
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MxMo: Limon

MxMo LimonHey! It’s time for MxMo V: The One With the Whales, this month hosted by hosted by Jonathan at Jiggle the Handle. So grab a bowl of lemons, tart yourself up, and strap in: Look at the lemons/See how they juice for you/And everything you do/Yeah they were all yellow…

Twelve, on FlickrHaving become an avid reader of the Fine Spirits and Cocktails forum on eGullet, I came across a thread recently about limoncello. Forum reg. Katie Loeb posted to the thread, describing the techniques involved, and I started jonesin’ to make my own. But when I first saw the thread, Jen and I were in the midst of planning our cocktail party, coming up with the menu, and gathering the various spirits and other ingredients.

Finally, I came home with a dozen lemons and a bottle of high-proof Stoli. Coincidentally, the same day I brought home the stuff, I got the latest issue of Imbibe magazine, which had a photo essay (with text by Paul Clarke), showing how to make limoncello.

With two good sources in front of me, I broke out the Microplane, zested the hell outta a dozen lemons (and one lime), and soaked the gratings in the rocket-fuel voddy.

Twelve, on Flickr

And, hooboy, did it ever smell like rocket fuel in those first few days! I steeped it for about 20 days before straining it, adding more vodka, and pouring in some simple syrup. I let that sit for another week–some of it in a nice bottle and some back in the original jar.

Sunday, I finally uncorked the bottle and had a taste. Strong vodka in the nose as I sniffed a snifter of warm limoncello, but not so much vodka on the tongue. When we had it chilled later that evening, we neither smelled nor tasted vodka.

I mixed two cocktails with the limoncello. The first was a Sidecar/sour variation, which I’m calling a Lemon Cart.

Lemon Cart

  • 1½ oz. cognac
  • 1 oz. limoncello
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Technique: Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Add garnish.

I think Jen liked this more than I did. I thought it was perhaps a bit sweet. I thought about adding a dash of Regan’s orange bitters to spice it up a bit. Next time…

Twelve, on Flickr
Despite the hot weather, I was also grilling Sunday, so we were outside and needed refreshment. So for my next trick, I tried a Lemon Cooler.

Lemon Cooler

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 2 oz. limoncello
  • juice of half a lime
  • Lime wedge, for garnish

Technique: Build in a tall glass. Stir, top off with tonic water, and add garnish.

Our final limoncello test was old-school: straight and chilled. Well, not quite straight. Our freezer is packed full of food and ice trays, so there’s no real room, alas, to store a bottle of limoncello–not even a small bottle. I served it on the rocks, using the nice chunky ice cubes you can get with those silicone trays. I’d still love to try it straight from the freezer.