In studying up my basic bartending (and seeking flavors that elevate my growing whiskey cabinet), one finds themselves contemplating the tiny, lonely shelves in the dimly lit corners of the local liquor store. Beyond the racks of poorly timed Chardonay and useless Sherry, nestled past the dusty, unused shelf of margarita mixes and pre-made buttershots, rests a delightful corner of vibrant curiosities and surprising pairings.
It was here I stumbled upon the endless enjoyment of the Wild Moon's offerings, and there, tucked quietly on stack of cardboard boxes, was a Whiskey Sour mix. Intrigued, and short on budget, I snagged it for experimentation.
This remains a SOLID purchase, with many more to follow.
Now, the purists out there would say to make your own mix, and leave the sour to your own mixology. I am learning, and while I do pretty well, there is something joyous about opening the fridge, and pouring out an ounce or two of something that I know will fit the palette.
It's basically juice, and sometimes that's exactly what we need.
So What IS A Whiskey Sour?
Part of a family of citrus-based cocktails, the Whiskey Sour is traditionally achieved by mixing a few ounces of harsh Bourbon with Lemon Juice and Simple Syrup. Layers of orange and cherry are sometimes added. If you're using the mix, like this dumb DM, just some Bourbon and a shot of the mix, and we're set.
One problem, though.
I don't like Bourbon.
So, in true Moonriver style, let's go DEEPER.
Variations On The Sour
Just like my study of the Moscow Mule, replacing and restructuring a Whiskey Sour ain't no thing, and the list can get pretty involved. And, just as when you make enough adjustments and replacements to achieve a distinct palette, so do you gradually destroy the spirit of the drink until is wholly something else entirely. So, instead, for one's clear edification, I'll give you the three common, and pretty simple, variations.
Still Bourbon, still Syrup, but add an Egg White froth to mitigate the bite of the whiskey. Who knew!
MAPLE RYE SOUR
Like I said, I don't enjoy Bourbon for more than a taste, and though the elevations in Rye and its full spectrum are growing on me, I am very curious how the Irish Mist will behave in this climate.
I propose the following for a taste test:
1 oz Irish Mist Honey Whiskey
1 oz Scotch Whiskey
1/2 oz Honey Liqueur
2 oz Whiskey Sour mix (because I'm awesome, get over it)
I know this looks like A LOT of honey, but hear me out. It's the Syrup and the commonality of the maple that draw me toward that end of wheel. I know from experience that the Irish Mist isn't a strong flavor on its own, but it explodes when paired with a honey liqueur. The brightness of the Scotch should heighten the drink's finish while providing a minimal bite. I only hope that the mix doesn't drown them all out...
+ Sour syrup and honey is a curious thing to enjoy
+ Just like in previous tests, that honey liqueur is a stealthy lady, sneaking in at the end
+ The Scotch is sharper than I thought
+ Beautiful color
+ Warmth, subtle and smooth
Maybe not something I'll put on my menu, or something I reach for when other options are always available, but it is a fine illustration of a flavor set working together beautifully. The experience actually makes me wonder about the merits of a Sweet and Sour approach, or the heightened subtlety in only a splash of Simple and Lemon.
A set for another day. This weary tavern keep has pushups to do.
See you at the table.
On the edges of the Autumncrest, flowing down from Astrazalian is the once ruined bastion of Harrowhome. A piecemeal, patchwork fortress of scorched stone and new construction, this half-sunken memorial is a testament to an ages old war and a memory not forgotten.
The Battle Of Autumn
Verenestra, the mad Summer Lady, had once coveted the far realms of the Fey as an extension of her mother's dominion. This action was not sanctioned, and vibrant, faction-less Eladrin rose against such tyranny. The war was devastating.
The final blow wrought upon the Eladrin was in the form of a godly blight suffered upon the grand beacon city of Cendriane, darkening its grasslands to a pitch black and forcing its populace to evacuate. After this grand insult upon the summer, King Oberyn himself banished Verenestra to the Farplane, where she may wait out her days in exile. But her armies were proud, and continued their march downriver, seeking to secure the Mithrendain province for the court that abandoned them. They believed that if they could take Harrowhome, a place of neutrality and refuge, that their position would be immutable.
And her armies marched on the ruined bastion with speed and volition...only to be met on the lush fields at its gates by the regiments of the Wild Hunt. Thousands of primal warrior spirits under the orders of the Erlking himself. Bound by purpose, the disavowed summer forces fought anyway, and were slaughtered, their bodies cut down by the vicious precision of the Wild Hunt. Those upon the city walls watched Elven soldiers fall with a breath, like leaves falling from trees.
The walls of Harrowhome remember the battle that carved the Autumn Court into being, and beyond its walls it welcomed every creature upended and scarred by war. And continue to do so to this day.
Any wanderer that walks under its arches and through its gates, no matter their make or manner, will be treated to a warm bed, a hearty meal, and a safe rest. You see, even before the Autumn, Harrowhome was a place of spirits. Not haunted, mind you, but inhabited and cared for by creatures long dead. Spirits of cooks, caretakers, healers, and one particularly crotchety jarl care for its visitors as if they were their own citizens.
Not going to lie, it is a bit off-putting at first. Seeing the smiling, humming halfling maid that floats through the wall carrying a platter of fine kippers and tea as she drifts over to your bedside and kisses your forehead goodnight.
And yet, Harrowhome is a place of comfort. Weary travelers find assured rest within its walls without trickery (though the child ghosts can be a little mischievous); visiting guilds catch their breath and count their coin; and even an occasional warlord takes up residence once in a while.
But any who pass through know the laws. I - No violence will be willfully committed within the city's walls, not by its keepers nor its visitors. II - Under no circumstances will these halls or their denizens be exorcised, for this place is under the watch of the Erlking, and thou will not rob him of his subjects, lest they wish to join the Wild Hunt themselves.
Though most of the citizens of Harrowhome hail from the ethereal wastes, a physical presence has found its way to the city. This tiny sect of protectors, survivalists, medics, and old adventurers have sworn an oath in service of the caretaker spirits of the ruin. Not only will they defend the neutral ground from invaders, but they will endeavor to follow the spiritual example of safety and protection for all those within its walls.
It is this sect that has learned from their spectral hosts the ancient discipline in constructing sacred grounds of warding; small sanctuaries of sculpted stone and balanced energy that carry with them the same unspoken accord of the city itself - a bond stronger than steel and respected by gods.
Entities that cultivate this brand of architecture and care earn the right and blessing from their spectral mentors to venture into the wilds of the Fey, erecting safe havens at key junctures throughout the realm. These "Wayfarers" are encouraged to scout and roam until they discover a "place of need." In this place, they use their best judgement to erect a Waystation and pour their arcane will into its stone and structure. Sanctified and solidified by ancient laws, a Waystation kept will ward any malevolence from entering, and all creatures making use of the space must adhere to the rules, clearly posted in immutable script in all languages. Committing intentional acts of violence or malevolence while on this sacred ground will spell more than doom for all participating, as they have broken a sacred vow respected by the greatest of the Archfey. Though she could rage at its borders, not even the Queen of Air and Darkness could enact violence upon such a space, lest she suffer the wrath of the Seelie, Unseelie, and Hunter Courts combined. Passing over the threshold of a Waystation makes a promise to all those that seek you harm or hell, and, in the Feywild, promises are kept.
The Totem Network
Passage through the Wildes can be treacherous and unpredictable for the uninitiated. Rampant quicklings, enchanted campfires, giant mimics, and roaming primal spirits are commonplace under this aurora sky.
Nicholas Falanel, an old tortle of kind face and dreadful past, used his blessings in the arcane and survival to construct minute, portable waystations. He would call these more accurately - totems. Tiny pockets of neutral energy, these carved wood and stone spires would rest on either side of a beaten path no more than ten feet wide, planted at 10 foot intervals. The resulting network of short-form, concentrated abjuration could hold at bay any number of malevolent Fey or Undead creatures.
But the totems are difficult to construct. Though Nick has attempted to pass on his techniques, Wayfarers are a rare branch of an extremely rare sect, so the old tortle appears to be on his own for this endeavor. That doesn't stop "Old Nick", though, and many a traveler has seen him tending to one of his seven Waystations across the Wildes - collecting more materials on his quest to connect the Feywild for any who may wander its beautiful and dangerous landscape.
Stop by for a tune or three, and a bowl of gumbo for thee. And remember the skies before the Harrowed be true; we will always open our doors to you.
While driving home during a recent blizzard, I found myself perusing my shelves mentally for a toxic cure to the melodrama I had recently suffered. A turgid tapestry of fine liqueurs etched in my mind with nerr' a home nor hearth, and have sat collecting dust.
Sure, there have been a few loves of the Wild Moon Birch - a splendid pairing for a cinnamon whiskey, or a good Scotch - but the others had not yet struck a chord with me. For now, the Lavender is far too powerful a consideration to cultivate; the Cucumber doesn't sit well enough at this venture; and so I ponder on the merits of the Rose liqueur.
The last time I considered this vibrant and verbose visage was in the Spriggan Sprite exploration (Moonriver #21), and it's due for a reclamation.
A Lucky Box
Back in July, I subscribed to Bespoke Post. I admit I was seduced by one of their better ad reels where someone spoke of the bartending kit they received custom-made for them, so I jumped on board...and proceeded to cancel every package they had procured for me until I got a decent bartending kit. After that I promptly unsubscribed to their BS.
But I had what I needed. A shaker of an appropriate size, a stainless steel jigger, a bar spoon, multiple strainers, and a gigantic ice tray. I was quite pleased, and as I set the box aside, something else rolled out.
A tiny bottle of deep blue and purple, its top a simple pipette dispenser. Along its side it reads, in tiny, beautiful script. Bittercube Slow Crafted Bitters, Blackstrap.
Comprised of a few simple ingredients, this mixture brings out notes of smoked cinnamon, kola nut, and nutmeg. It smells delightful, and I long to supplement it with something, perhaps as a sophisticated alternative to the standard Fireball. Plus, the incorporation of a dropper just made my life intrinsically easier. I've been splashing my bitters around from the bottle like an idiot for ages!
The Value Of A Simple Pairing
THE BLACKSTRAP Test
1/2 oz Amaretto
1/2 oz Drambuie
1 oz Stella Rosa Black
1/4 oz Fireball
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 draw Blackstrap Bitters
+ It isn't...bad, per se.
+ It's just confused.
+ Sweet notes from the Black
+ The Fireball and Blackstrap create a fruity burst that pushes the sweet over the mountain.
+ Saccarine, to the point of achieving only the flavor of sugar incarnate.
+ The Amaretto ruins it. Just...flattens it completely.
With that tasting scrapped, round 2 post-blizzard yielded two pleasant surprises, and I am forever humbled by the core truth of good ingredients.
There is no need to overcomplicate a mix with multiple additions where only two will do. Simple pairings consistently win over complicated monstrosities.
For our first venture, we don't need much. Dewer's Scotch Whiskey, Wild Moon Rose Liqueur, and that beautiful blue bottle of Blackstrap Bitters. We'll take 1 oz each of the Scotch and Rose, and one draw from the pipette in the Blackstrap. Add 2-3 cubes of ice and enjoy. I'll call it the Soothsayer for now.
+ Bite of the Scotch smoothed beautifully by the Rose
+ Rose notes feel hidden...
+ ...until a subtle entrance at the end.
+ The Blackstrap proves a great way to infuse a smokiness to the drink.
Verdict: I am developing a love of drinks that take their time. Not one to surge down his own drinks, I am growing to enjoy ones that I can sip gently through an evening's long rest. Feel the gentle warmth of the drink, and be pleasantly surprised to discover more flavors long after it disappears down my throat. This is a drink of patience and reward; presence and thought. The best personification I can think of for my father, a firm example of what I deem to be a good man of good heart and intelligence. Someday, I'd love to serve him this drink; I'd be very curious what he thought of it. :)
For another pass at this, I ventured a dash or two in the Rye.
I still struggle with Rye's strange effect on me. The flavorless numb that always seems to coat my tongue...people actually enjoy this? And yet, there's potential here. So I'll be careful as I approach what I've called the Witchdoctor.
1/2 oz Rye Whiskey
1 oz Wild Moon Birch liqueur
1/2 oz Orgeat
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 draw of Blackstrap Bitters
*Stir and pour over 3-4 ice cubes in any glass you want (I don't care, seriously, what does it EVER matter?)
+ The Birch is the star here, not the Rye
+ Rye creates the backburn
+ Orgeat was a great choice to smooth the burn
+ Might not need the Angostura Bitters...
+ ...that finish, though.
Verdict: I'll keep this one in my back pocket for my buddies who love their Rye, but I won't reach for it.
Roses, witches, and visions of the future. Huh. Usually we save that stuff for the Absinthe posts.
See you at the table.
Still in process, of course...
A quickie to kick off the New Year.
Some rough days last year. I came home, still deep in my love of Irish Cream, and plopped a freshly-purchased Creme de Cacao on the table. I'd been trying a lot of recipes around that time (ammunition for this blog and for my own education), and I just wanted to make something tasty. But I was exhausted, and I opted out that time.
And many times to come.
Why? Because it isn't healthy to drink when you're sad, and no one wants to become dependent on drinking to function. ...That's the definition of alcoholism. And that's not, or will ever be, what this personal pursuit is.
Fast-forward a few months and I'm finishing up my latest Lore Drop and I've got a hankering for some chocolate mint goodness. So, while taking eyeball measurements, I try some Amaretto with Cacao and Menthe. It's magic, so I try it with Irish Cream. Suddenly, this is fun again, and I jam out the following:
Random Recipe - The Knight Cap
1 oz Creme de Cacao
1/2 oz Amaretto
1/4 oz Creme de Menthe
3 oz Irish Cream
3 oz Vanilla Almond Milk
**Stir well and serve over ice for a splendid night cap.
Now, revisiting a number of successes from last year calls forward another favorite that I'll put here for your enjoyment, as otherwise it has no home.
Homeless Recipe - Irish Goblin
1/2 oz Vanilla Vodka
1/2 oz Creme de Menthe
2 oz Irish Cream
Stay warm, snowdrops.
Recently I had another opportunity to fulfill a trust exercise.
Sometimes my friends and allies ask me to make them a drink or two. By now I've earned a decent mixologist's reputation, and have succeeded in the creation of enough drinks that many friends ask for them by name. And yet, with all of this training, there will come times where I feel no inspiration. No flavors come to mind, and I don't feel a modicum of motivation to try things out; like there are so many possibilities that I enter a choice paralysis.
To combat this "writer's block" of mixology, I wrote up a little exercise to jumpstart my creative process.
An Act Of Trust And Rapport
To place your libation fate in the hands of a person can be scary.
People often covet their liquor, and personal imbibing, after a certain degree or within a certain mood, personal exploration and surprise are avoided. But if you've built a measure of trust, empathy, and satisfaction among one another, one becomes much more adventurous, on both sides of the bar.
In truth, a good bartender isn't trying to make a buck. The act of serving another a drink made FOR them is an act of service and trust. If they enjoy it, there is no feeling like that satisfaction. If they don't, it becomes a personal mission to find the flavors that they will. We're always learning from each other, and that effort adds huge value to a relationship.
Rolling For Aberrant
I split my thoughts into three categories.
Roll a D6 to decide the Core liquor. Doesn't have to be the one with the most volume, but it is going to be the star of the mix.
Roll a D4 to decide the finish of the mix - the Dagger that you may or may not see coming.
Roll a D8 to decide the binding theme or agent to wrap the mix in; maybe it's a feeling, maybe it's a flavor, we'll see what you roll. It's a mystery! Like a...Cloak.
Roll a D6 (CORE)
1 - Tequila
2 - Rum
3 - Gin
4 - Whiskey
5 - Vodka
6 - Brandy
Roll a D4 (DAGGER)
1 - Sweet
2 - Sour
3 - Fruity
4 - Decadent
Roll a D8 (CLOAK)
1 - Holiday
2 - Cream
3 - Gold
4 - Nostalgia
5 - Horizon
6 - Juice
7 - Syrup
8 - Wine
Then, from this mixture of ideas, it is now my job to craft you something delicious. I WILL NOT throw a bunch of liquor into a shaker and send something random your way, your taste buds be damned. If anything, these randomizers act as a challenge to a theme; I get to augment and cultivate my skills by adapting to this challenge.
So of course I forced one of my friends to roll some dice without telling him what I was doing. :)
Aberrant I - Rolls: 5-3-6
1/2 oz Blue Curacao
1/2 oz Midori
1/2 oz Triple Sec
1/2 oz Silver Rum
1.5 oz Vodka (Core)
1 oz Gin
3.5 oz Cranberry Juice (Cloak)
THE EFFECT: First and foremost, the Curacao/Midori/Triple Sec/Silver Rum (Dagger) bomb is THE bomb. Fruity, tasty, and sweet. We smooth it out with the Vodka and Gin, and the Cranberry Juice thins the mix in the best way, elevating every flavor and binding them together.
Aberrant II - Rolls: 1-2-3
3 oz Gold Tequila (Core)
1 oz Irish Honey Whiskey (Cloak)
1 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
4 dashes Orange Bitters
2 oz Sour Mix (Dagger)
THE EFFECT: As these are more than just a smattering of randomizers and are intended more as a writing prompt, once I had assembled the basic components, the remaining additions easily fell into place, like the words of a poem. Good golly this one was delicious. The tequila is easily complimented by the orange notes of the bitters and Grand Marnier, the sour mix wrapping it all into a lovely potion. The Honey Whiskey is just icing on the proverbial cake.
If the friend on the receiving end was any indication, it was delicious.
Enjoy your randomizers, your writer's block, and here's to a new year. May it suck just a bit less than this one. Please. Thank you.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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