My Friday evening cocktail last week was this lovely Empress martini. Empress 1908 gin is a lovely, lightly botanical gin with a distinctive purple color from butterfly pea blossoms. It’s my favorite gin for a martini.
I prefer a really basic, traditional martini – 2 parts gin to 1 prt vermouth. I like vermouth. I like the combnation of gin and vermouth. If you’re mixing 5:1, you might as well just have a glass of gin and be done with it. In addition to the Empress 1908 gin, this martini is made with Dolin dry white vermouth. I also like a couple of olives in my martini, but went with the strip of lemon because it makes a pretty color contrast.
We spent a wonderful weekend in Portland, Main back in June 2021. We lived in Portland for several years in the early 1990s, and we still like to go up and visit once in a while. My wife had some travel points on a credit card to score us a cheap hotel room (because, let me tell you, there is no such thing as a cheap hotel room in Maine in the summer), and we hit up some old haunts. We also met up for dinner and drinks with our friends Tony and Sharon, who live nearby and ended up at The Independent Ice Company, a whiskey bar in the Old Port. Our original plan was to go somewhere else for dinner, but it was hard to get a reservation anywhere, so we parked our butts in the bar, ordered off their small food menu, and made an evening of it.
This is one of their signature cocktails, a smoke-infused Manhattan. I love a good Manhattan, and the smoke infusion sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try. As you can see from the photo, they literally bring a bottle of wood smoke to your table and “pour” it into the drink. Looking at their online menu just now, I see that they say the wood is “Knob Creek American oak chips”, so oak chips that have been soaked in the same Knob Creek rye that the drink is made from.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the novelty, but I don’t know if it really added that much to the experience of having a Manhattan. What I like about Manhattans is the interplay between the spicy rye and the sweet red vermouth, and smoke is kind of an easily overwhelming flavor/aroma component. We had a secound round of drinks, and I did not order a second one, I just had a whiskey on the rocks.
Most Fridy evenings, I like to have a drink to end the week. What I have will vary quite a bit – a beer, a glass of wine, a glass of whiskey, or a mixed drink. I don’t get too ambitious with cocktails, I mostly stick to a few standards that can be made without having to have a lot of speciality items on hand. So, Manhattans, martinis, G&Ts, the occasional Negroni, and so on.
I typically use rye whiskey for a Manhattan, though I will sometimes make one with bourbon. My rye whiskey of choice is WhistlePig, which is distilled in Vermont. I normally buy the 10-year, which is not hard to find in the liquor stores around here, but this particular evening’s drink was made with the 12-year bottle that my wife gave me for my birthday.
Over Halloween weekend, we took a little mini-vacation to Vermont. We stopped in Queechee, just over the New Hampshire border near White River Junction to visit the Simon Pearce glass factory. The glassware is gorgeous, and is made right on location – you can walk downstairs from the shop into the glassworks and watch the glassblowers at work.
As we were pulling into the parking lot, we noticed a sign on the house next door that said “WhistlePig Tasting Room”. So, after we finished shopping in the glassware shop, we crossed over and found ourselves in a quiet set of rooms, sipping sample flights of various WhistlePig ryes. Rye is not quite as sweet as bourbon, and usually has a little spicyness from the higher proportion of rye grain in the mash bill. I’ve come to enjoy it just as much as bourbon as a straight pour on its own. With my wife’s blessing, of course, I splurged on a bottle of the 15-year. But I won’t be using that to make Manhattans.
In addition to the 12-year WhistlePig, this particular Manhattan has black Vermouth (though usually I use Dolin red), orange bitters, and a Luxardo cherry