Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wishful Whiskeying: Part I, an experiment in infusions

It's bothered me on more than one occasion that I cannot drink whiskey. If I could have it my way I'd be the kind of girl that could sit down in a red dress at a bar, toss my hair carelessly and order, "Whiskey, neat." Sometimes I toss my hair, but now that I'm thinking about it, I don't even own a red dress. What happens when I try whiskey is that my face wrinkles into a prune, my mouth burns and I make a strange involuntary, "plecchh," sound while my tongue shoots out (all of this further reason for me to forgo whiskey, especially in public places). I hate to admit it, but with the exception of a good gin and tonic, I am in fact partial to pink drinks that fizz.

Maybe it's the change in the season approaching, or a little chilly weather restlessness, but I've recently rediscovered my want to be a whiskey girl. I look to my right hand man. I think what a happy coincidence he happens to make a living mixing up spirits at New York City's Gramercy Tavern. And even better, that he's recently plotted to bring his work home, gathering jars and fruit and spices to make original whiskey infusions. As bottles and shot glasses come out, our kitchen island transforms into a bar and I decide this experiment will be good for me (and hopefully you too).

So welcome to day one. The project is called Fall Harvest Bourbon; 750mL of Bourbon whiskey infused with pears, hazelnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

As we peel pears and toast nuts I feel a bit like a kid making a mud stew with sticks and berries. It's a carefree way of cooking; chop it all up, and throw it in a jar. Smelling the toasty hazelnuts and the refreshing bite of the ginger we add, improving the planned ingredients a touch, I think this may be the kind of whiskey I can really get into.

And then my spiced pear dreaming is interrupted. With all the ingredients in the jar (save the alcohol), Russ pours a shot of the Buffalo Trace Bourbon. He pushes it towards me. "Here," he says. A reality check. I am not ready for this. Has he never seen my straight whiskey face? I panic. I wonder. I sigh. Only in the name of understanding the transformation from pre-infused to spicy sweet Bourbon do I hesitantly take a sip. No picture will follow of the face that ensued.

But it is a good start. Pouring the bourbon into the jar, I still feel the caramel, slightly musky and hot flavor burned into my mouth. I will know the difference when I taste it. And when will that be, I hear you thirstily ask? A general range is about three to five days, perhaps longer, though you should taste it every day to decide when it's reached the perfect point. Remember: this is the start of a few entries so don't feel lost and confused, we'll drink and work it out together.

Closing up the jar, we turn it over once, gently, then back to an upright position. It is set on a shelf to start it's transformation. A culinary science project of sorts, I stare at the amber mixture as if waiting for some sort of flashy chemical reaction to take place.

While it's no baking soda volcano, something is happening. I think about all the flavors melding and mixing and expect this project to be a serious step in my pursuit of an affinity for whiskey. Below you will find the recipe for our first go around, but note that it’s a recipe in development; check back soon for changes and taste tests.

With the Bourbon on the shelf for now, I think I might go shop around for a red dress.

Fall Harvest Bourbon
(a starting point)

750mL Bourbon
1 C pears, peeled, thickly sliced
1/2 C hazelnuts, toasted
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp fresh nutmeg (1/2 tsp pre-ground nutmeg)
1 chunk ginger, about the size of a tablespoon

1. Put all ingredients in a large jar.
2. Pour alcohol over ingredients.
3. Seal jar. Gently turn over once.
4. Put the jar on a shelf...
5. Take a sip everyday and check back here while you wait and see!

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