18 October 2011

KOTBR #135 - And Now For Something Completely Different

Five years ago we set out to learn all we could about beer. Sure, we'd had beer, but really not beer as we'd come to know it. Along the way, mistakes were made. We were just a bunch of dumb kids making our way through the world. For some reason, people read what we had to say anyway.

Here we are again. This time, it's not beer, it's the world of cocktails and hard liquor.

To tell the truth, we got started on cocktails about the time our old friend (and Hoosier Beer Geek New Year's Party #1 DJ) Brian Jones took over the bar work at the Fountain Square building's Imbibe. We didn't know what we were doing - we still don't - but a friendly face behind the bar was all it took to make the leap into the stronger stuff.

If you've never drank cocktails, perhaps your first concern was the same as mine; mainly the question of "Am I drinking a girl drink?" It's hard enough to convey a masculine presence at the bar without a thin-stemmed glass in your hand, and the world of cocktails felt like one of well dressed fancy-pants sophisticates, or at least clueless people in shiny shirts. On the other hand, there was my illusion of the whiskey drinker/Hemingway-type, a grizzled man's man who drinks himself stupid quietly. I suspect a true cocktail connoisseur might actually lie somewhere in the middle.

Do I want what I drink to tell people who I am? Well, to be honest, yes, a little bit. But do I care if they get it wrong? No, fuck them and what they think.

With all that in mind, I've taken to regularly drinking the Sazerac. It comes in a lowball (short) glass. It has a water chaser. It requires sipping, and a little bit of concentration. It reminds me that I should be growing a beard.

Brian told me all about it:
"The sazerac is one of the original American cocktails. They came up with it in New Orleans. We use Rye whiskey - actually double rye, dashes of bitters, a tablespoon of simple syrup, and a chilled glass. We run a drip of absinth around the glass, add a twist of lemon, and serve it neat with water back."
Early in, I just took sips at the drink, as they set my stomach on fire, but as of late I've taken to swirling it around my mouth, letting my tongue soak up the flavor. Sits on back and middle of the tongue, crawls up a nasal passages, lingers sharp on the tongue.. Liiiiinnnnggggeeeerrrrssss. Without the chaser its not going anywhere. You might still be tasting it tomorrow. If you let it, it'll bite you, and give you that cough you got when you stole sips of whiskey out of mom and dad's liquor cabinet.

As we've delved deeper into cocktail drinking, a funny thing has happened. I myself began working my way towards an attempt at well-dressed fancy pants sophistication. But with boots. It's what Hemingway might have worn. If I knew anything about him.

Virginia. Shelby. Prospect. This may be my favorite intersection in all of Indianapolis. The skyline view from the southeast is as good as it gets. The iconic buildings of downtown provide the proper backdrop for the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

The buildings surrounding Fountain Square are iconic. The people are diverse and down to earth. The restaurants and bars will satisfy whatever craving you may have. And tucked inside one of the city’s most unique and iconic structures is the gem known as Imbibe.

Imbibe is a hotel cocktail bar (yes, there are hotel rooms in the Fountain Square Theater Building) from a bygone era. Its character is from the jazz age. The cocktail menu is pre-prohibition. The beers are craft. And behind the bar, our favorite deejay-turned-bartender: Brian Jones.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5pm to 7pm, Imbibe has “Appy Hour”. I recommend taking advantage of the 50 cent smoked wings from Smokehouse on Shelby (the mesquite with blue cheese is my favorite). Pulled pork and brisket sliders, potato skins, and jalapeno poppers round out the apps.

My personal go to drink at any cocktail bar is the Manhattan. I have a love for the sweet Kentucky elixir known as bourbon. And the Manhattan classes up the bluegrass brew with sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a cherry. I prefer mine straight up. The ice waters down the sweet bite of the beverage. And the stemmed glass just looks cool. Sexy, even.

On Wednesdays, the Sidecar is on special for five bucks. Brandy (traditionally cognac), Grand Marnier (or another orange liqueur), and lemon juice served in a sugared rim glass. It is a fruity sweet treat with depth.

We finished our evening by going off menu: a beer cocktail. This particular cocktail involved 6 ounces of Left Hand Milk Stout, 1 ounce of Makers Mark bourbon, and ½ ounce of cherry brandy. The result was a chocolate covered cherry. I would have liked a bit more cherry in the cocktail.

In case you aren’t into cocktails, the craft menu is really good with taps and a diverse bottle selection.

Trying to decide what to order, I took to the internet. I was originally looking for a drink that offered a beer back, like the water back that came with the Sazerac. Instead, I came across a beer cocktail creation from billybrew.com called a Cherry Bourbon Milk Stout. As luck would have it, the special of the day was the Left Hand Milk Stout, so with a quick check to our bartender friend, he agreed to take on the recipe with slight modifications.

The original recipe:
    6 oz. Left Hand Milk Stout
    1 oz Corner Creek Kentucky Bourbon
    1/2 oz Leopold Brothers Tart Michigan Cherry Liqueur
Our slightly modified recipe substituted Woodford Reserve for Corner Creek and a cherry brandy/maraschino cherry for the tart Michigan Cherry Liqueur. What we were left with was sweet, and slightly boozy. The cherry flavor wasn’t as present as I expected it to be at first. The beer came through just enough that I wanted to gulp it down, but the bourbon made it so that I didn’t. Working my way through, the brandy that settled to the bottom became more prominent, and mixed with the maraschino cherry flavor. While I drank, we discussed how adding a splash of grenadine may be beneficial if you are wanting the cherry flavor throughout the drink.

Thanks to Brian for playing along!

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