On Introduction to Mixology Part 1, we looked at some important spirits to have on the shelf. Understanding the content and history of these beverages will help you plan out your cocktails better and even come up with your own creations. On part 2 we will look at one exotic beverage and of course some of the more well known, but at the same unconventional beverages in mixology.
Although many people call sake “rice wine,” it’s not. Sake is actually a brewed beverage with rice as its main ingredient; therefore, it’s much more akin to beer than to wine. However, its clear, sometimes earthy, sometimes bright taste is indeed reminiscent of wine. It can be consumed warmed or chilled, in small, earthenware sake cups, in cedar masu sake boxes, or even in a cocktail glass, as is common in stylish cocktail lounges across the world.
Sake comes in several different types, but they all have two things in common. The first is how much fat and protein is milled (i.e., polished) off the rice grain. The more you mill, the higher quality the sake. Most sake is simple table sake (futuu-shu), which is about 20 to 25 percent
milled. Premium sakes, which are the best of the best, fall into three categories based on their milling: Honjozo and junmai, Ginjo and junmai ginjo, Daiginjo, and junmai daiginjo.
The second important factor in sake production is the water. Each city in Japan known for its stellar sake production also has a stellar water source. Here are some nice sake brands to try: Fukunishiki ($18), Sato No Homare ($50), and Otokoyama ($125).
Liqueurs and Cordials
Liqueurs and cordials are generally served as after-dinner drinks and range from 20 to 30 percent alcohol. What’s the difference between them? Nowadays, nothing—at least in conversation. But technically, there is a distinction: liqueurs are herb-based, and cordials are fruit-based. Cordials and liqueurs are made from one type of major spirit as the base and then punched up in flavor with fruit, nuts, flowers, herbs, seeds—you name it. These flavors become part of the final product through one of four methods: distillation, infusion, percolation, and maceration.
Cordials come in an incredible array of flavors and, depending on your personal taste, you can do a whole lot of sampling. Here are some main liqueurs that are readily available and their general price range. Midori Melon Liqueur ($18), Kahlúa ($22), and Grand Marnier ($39).
Ah, the fruit of the vine. So many people find this alluring alcohol intimidating when really there’s no reason for it. This is salt-o-the-earth stuff (or more accurately, the rootstock of the earth stuff). Fear not. Once you get a handle on a few terms of the trade and start experimenting with varying grapes, you’ll get to know what you like and what you don’t.
Red wine and white wine are exactly the same … that is until the fermentation process begins and then the big difference becomes clear.
Grapes for white wine are stripped of their skin, stems, and seeds. With the latter discarded, they are then mashed and fermented so the clear juice from the fruit is what you end up seeing in the glass. Red wine, however, is fermented with its skins, et al., which is where it gets its color and tannic nature.
It’s not just all about reds and whites, of course. There’s champagne, too. Champagne—or sparkling wine when not produced in the Champagne region of France—has that wonderful effervescence we all know and adore for celebratory occasions. But here’s something that may surprise you: champagne is made up of three grapes—and two of them are red. Yup, that’s right: one white (chardonnay), two red (pinot noir and pinot meunier). The process of making bubbly is long, extraordinarily complicated, and filled with mathematical equations to make your head spin more than the bubbles will. Simply put, though, the bubbles come from a part of the process that occurs when carbon dioxide gas is trapped inside each bottle during a second fermentation process.
And then there’s also fortified wine, better known to you as sherry, port, and Madeira. These, too, go through quite a complicated process before becoming the richly textured wines they are, but the most important thing to know is that these wines are fortified with another spirit, hence their name.
Although it would be impossible to name every wine from every country and even in giving suggestions I know, I’m leaving out so very much. I offer the following suggestions to guide you at your local wine shop, but I highly encourage you to ask for help and guidance at your favorite wine merchant and to try lots of things. Morro Bay Chardonnay ($10), Cable Bay Chardonnay ($22) and Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($54)
Although it’s not usually the first thing that comes to a mixologist’s mind, beer is always important to have on hand when you’re expecting guests. But what is beer, exactly? Beer is made from barley that’s soaked, sprouted, dried in a kiln (similar to the process for whisky), and crushed (not ground, like whisky). This is added to purified, heated water to break down the starch into sugar and then other starch from corn, wheat, or rice might be added, depending on what the desired final product is. It then goes through several other processes of straining, boiling, fermenting (with yeast), aging, and filtering. All that just so you can have a cold one!
Depending on your preferences (dark? light? amber?), you have so many beers from which to choose from many, many countries, each with its own style. Check out these three great beers from all over the world. Tecate Six Pack ($6), Boddington’s ($7), and Franziskaner Hefewiesse Six Pack ($9).
This is it for the first introductory article on mixology. If you made it this far, you should now have a basic understanding of what drinks are all about and what you should be looking into when shopping for your bar. Again, I must give credit where credit is due and if you really want to get a deeper understanding of alcoholic beverages, I really recommend you get your hands on the book used as a basis for this article.
At this point, I would really like to thank you for reading along and look forward to your comments below. Happy mixing!