Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Incredible Hulk and Black Hawk Cocktail

The Incredible Hulk Cocktail

Yesterday, The Avengers movie was released on DVD, and several friends came over to watch it at our house. One requested an Avengers themed drink, so we tried The Incredible Hulk, though we halved the recipe, since we didn't have much Mountain Dew on hand.

The Incredible Hulk

2 oz Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum
1 Tbsp Sugar
Mountain Dew to top

Add the Captain Morgan to a glass with sugar, then add Mountain Dew until the mix turns green.

The drink wasn't going to be able to turn green with the amount of Mountain Dew we had, so Scott added a drop of green food coloring.

The verdict: Mountain Dew is already pretty sweet, so adding sugar made it even sweeter. Still, Scott and our friend liked it. Scott said, "it was weak and delicious." It was very sweet and had a totally different taste from its components. He couldn't really taste the Mountain Dew, though he could identify the flavor of the rum, weakly.

Black Hawk Cocktail

Personally, I am allergic to caffeine, so I didn't try that one. Instead, I had another cocktail, the Black Hawk Cocktail.

Black Hawk Cocktail

1 1⁄4 oz Bourbon
1 1⁄4 oz Sloe gin
1⁄2 oz Lemon juice

Shake over ice, strain into a coupe.

The verdict: The dominant flavors were the sloe gin and the citrus. I actually used half lemon and half lime, but it was still too acidic for Scott. The drink is very tart. Our friend felt it was too sour for him. I would definitely say that it is primarily sour with a back note of the plum-like sloe berry and some of the astringency of the gin. I do get some of the bourbon flavor, but it is fleeting. I think it's more identifiable in the aroma. Personally, I think this drink would be better with less lemon juice, less sloe gin, and more bourbon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cocktail Wednesdays: (English) Blackthorn

English Blackthorn

When we were in Atlanta at Green's buying alcohol for Dragon*Con, we picked up a bottle of sloe gin to try, since it's an old variety that we've heard about, but neither of us have tried. In England, blackthorn bushes are a common componant of hedgerows, bushes that are trained and used as living fences around fields. The berry that grows on this spiny bush is called a sloe berry. Traditionally, these berries are macerated and steeped in gin, creating a garnet colored liqueur with a flavor of its own.

The sloe gin itself is astringent and has strong flavors of plum, a relative of the blackthorn, and a general rich concentrated fruitiness that reminds me of port. It reminded some people of certain medicine flavorings, but I found that the more I drank it, the less astringent it seemed, and the more it felt like a plum port. I would love to try it with some blue cheese -- or perhaps Stilton.

The drink I chose for today is the Blackthorn. Since there are several drinks with this name. I did not choose the drink from the Savoy Cocktail Book, which is also known as the Irish Blackthorn. I believe this one is known as the English Blackthorn. I have definitely seen the same drink with different proportions called Blackthorn English.  I believe this is because the Savoy recipe uses irish whiskey, while this recipe uses gin, wich is widely known for its popularity in England (at least at a certain era).

(English) Blackthorn:

2 oz Sloe Gin
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 Dash Orange Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The verdict: I like this one , but I do like the sloe gin anyway. I find the vermouth tones it down a bit and makes it less astringent. In general, I find this has a flavor of rich red fruits. All of the ingredients blend nicely together. Scott found it difficult to identify the components, but he did only take a small sip of the sloe gin before.

Cocktail Wednesdays: French Manhattan

French Manhattan

We picked us some recipe cards at the Woodford Reserve gift shop, and decided to try one today, the French Manhattan.

French Manhattan:

2 oz Bourbon, Woodford Reserve
1 oz Raspberry Liqueur, Chambourd
1 Dash Bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The verdict: We all thought it was tasty. A fruitier twist on the Manhattan, with the Chambourd serving as the replacement sweetener in lieu of sweet vermouth.

Bourbon Distillery Tour: Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve
A friend took advantage of the custom engraving in the gift shop.

Every year for the last three years, we've gone on a tour of a bourbon distillery in Kentucky every year for the last three years.  This year, our trip took up to the Woodford Reserve Distillery.

Woodford Reserve
Outside the distillery building

 At Woodford, they use the original limestone buildings erected by Scotch-Irish immigrants who originally owned the farm.  Inside this building is the distillery.

Woodford Reserve
Barrel run with newly filled barrels

Barrels are transported between buildings on a barrel run, which is a sloped set of iron rails that runs between buildings, allowing them to roll easily along the track.  These barrels have just been filled at the distillery and are being stacked up, ready to go into the storage warehouses when enough have been filled.

Woodford Reserve
Grain sample on display

During the tour, they told us about the exact proportions in the grain mix they use, which is high in corn and unusually high in rye, with only a small amount of malted barley.  The grain arrives as whole kernels, and they hammer mill it to the course grind shown in the smaller sample.  A hammer mill provides a result more similar to stone grinding than a roller mill used in most modern bread production, because it preserves the germ and therefor the majority of the nutrients and a lot of the flavor in the grain.

Woodford Reserve
Mash-tun interior

They use cypress tanks (made from Georgia cypress!) with chilled water cooling coils for their mash-tuns.  You can see the exterior of this mash-tun in the background of the photo above this one.  Cypress is used because of its resistance to water and its dimensional stability when wet.  They should get decades of use out of these tanks.

Woodford Reserve
Bubbling mash/wort/distiller's beer

Woodford uses a sour mash, which means that, like a sourdough, they reserve some of the previous mash to help start the next batch.  This helps consistency between batches, and I imagine that it is similar to sourdough, where good bacteria produce stronger flavors if you let them munch away for longer. If I remember correctly, they also pitch yeast into the mash in addition to the starter.

Woodford Reserve
Mash cooker
In the mash cooker, the grains are combined with hot water .

Woodford Reserve
Copper Pot Stills
The bourbon is tripple distilled in three copper pot stills. The three stages are called beer, low wine, and high wine.  Most bourbon distilleries use column stills because they are easier to use for high-quantity production, but pot stills are known for the high quality of the liquor they produce.

Woodford Reserve
Original copper pot still from the property
Even so, today's huge pot stills are a lot more efficient for production than this tiny old one used by the farm settlers.

Woodford Reserve
Spirit safe used to test the alcohol content of the distillate.
The master distiller will open this spirit safe to check the proof of the product at the different stages of production.  You can see the distillate pouring from the pipes as you stand next to the safe.  During prohibition, the distiller would have had a key and the government officer would have had the other, and they would have both needed to be there in order to open this safe.

Woodford Reserve
Modern copper pot still in use as the beer still
This still provides the first level of distillation.

Woodford Reserve
Tank used to dilute the spirit to the proper strength for barreling.
The proof of the spirit going into the barrel is regulated by law, and this tank is used to adjust the spirit coming out to the final distillation to the proper strength.

Woodford Reserve
Barrels with various levels of use and char

Here you can see how the oak barrels are transformed for and by the bourbon aging process. From left to right, we have new oak, toasted oak, charred oak, used barrel.  Bourbon barrels must, by law, be made from white oak, and never have been used before.

Woodford Reserve
Extra barrels ready to be filled.

Woodford Reserve
Barrels are filled individually
The horizontal cask is set up for filling, resting on a scale attached to the barrel run.  The distiller mans the spout as spirit pours into the barrel, until it reaches the proper weight.  Then he plugs the hole with a bung made of poplar, because this soft wood will not contract as fast as oak, ensuring a good seal. Then he rolls it down the barrel run toward the warehouse for aging.

Woodford Reserve
Old scale and office.

Old scales like this one were originally used to gauge the value of a barrel of whiskey.  Older barrels actually weigh less, because water is lost during the aging process.

Woodford Reserve
Aging warehouse

Like the distillery, the aging warehouse is made of limestone in the Scotch-Irish vernacular style.

Woodford Reserve
Aging warehouse

Woodford Reserve
Stored barrels aging

Woodford Reserve
Barrels of aged whiskey being emptied
As the whiskey is poured out into this trough, small lumps of charcoal from the interior of the bottle loosened during the aging process also pours into the trough and is caught by a sieve.  Whiskey is then diluted to the proper proof before heading to the bottling line across the room.

Woodford Reserve
Bottling line

On this small bottling line, some things are still done by hand.

Cocktail Wednesdays: Soulless Ginger and Tempest

Souless Ginger

I have two more recipes to share from my friend Bones's inventions at Dragon*Con.  This year, his new bottle to try was a ginger liqueur.  Therefor, he created two new gingery drinks.

Soulless Ginger:

4 oz Strawberry Parrot Bay Rum
2 oz Ginger Liqueur

Mix and enjoy.


3 oz Dark Spiced Rum
1 oz Ginger Liqueur
Juice of 1/4 Lime

Mix and enjoy.

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Gravy


Our friend Bones bought a bottle of Kracken rum a few years ago at Dragon*Con, and he used it to invent a mix drink with pineapple and orange juice.  It looked rather like gravy, so that's the name it has had ever since.  Now, he usually carries a flask of it all weekend long.  It has become a Dragon*Con staple for our group.  In the case of the image above, he put it in a bottle and claimed it was his "miracle elixer" in conjunction with his steampunk alchemist costume.

The Gravy

1 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
2 oz Spiced Rum, Kracken

Mix & enjoy.

The verdict: Bones always says this tastes like a creamsicle, which I don't think is true.  Still, it's surprisingly tasty given its appearance.  Sweet and orangey fruity rum drink with a spicy twist.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Piping in spandex

Installing Piping

For my Black Widow costume, where I was basically replicating Scarlett Johansson's costume from Iron Man II, I needed to add piping at all of the princess seam lines. At first, I tried to make the piping before inserting it into the suit, and I found that did not work very well. This is probably partly because I didn't own a piping foot at the time, but I also found much more success when I did it a little differently, following a tutorial on how to pipe stretch fabrics.

Installing Piping

First, I cut strips of the fabric I wanted for the piping. I sewed these strips to the main fabric, exposing a width of fabric equal to the circumference of the elastic cording was using as the center of the piping.

Installing Piping

I laid the cording inside this gap and folded the seam allowances of the main fabric together.

Installing Piping

Finally, I got a glorious piping foot and sewed along the seam line at the regular seam allowance width.

Installing Piping

All of this resulted in a beautiful piped seam.

Catching up post Dragon*Con

Sorry it has been so long since I have posted.  I have no real excuse, only pseudo-excuses like "I was out of town"  and "then I was sick", but I have some things I want to share with you from my trip, and I really wasn't that sick.

As with last year, we scrambled to finish our costumes before heading off to Dragon*Con.  This year was particularly bad, as we didn't finish up until 2 am, after pulling an all-nighter preceded by days of intense work, not to mention the previous time spent sculpting.

Sculpting the form for the mask

After much trial and error, Scott found that the best way to make a the kinds of forms he wanted for vacuum forming a plastic helmet was to carve them out of insulation foam, then coat them in a few layers of resin.

Agents of SHIELD

Meanwhile, I sewed a full suit out of spandex for my Black Widow costume, and I made the pants and added panels to the shirt of Scott's Irredeemable Ant-Man costume.

Installing a zippered fly

Above, you can see me sewing the fly into the pants - an undertaking which I personally always find confusing. Below is a photo of me sewing the thumb into a glove in the car on the drive down.

Stitching in the Car


After a coat of paint and a hair dye job in the hotel room, our costumes were done.

Nick Fury with Ant-Man and Wasp

We managed to get some really cool forced-perspective shots with Scott in the Ant-Man costume. A few other shrinking superheroes got in on the action as well.

Hercules Crushing Ant-Man and Wasps

They'd be a bit better with a little editing of the backgrounds, but they're pretty fun just the same.

We had a good time overall, wearing our costumes, going to panels, dancing at concerts, and hanging out with the six friends who came with us, and the friends and family we saw once we got there.