The Gnomon Rulez – Homemade Orgeat and more

A discussion about Orgeat syrups was started over on the Tiki Central Forums, and soon it digressed as some threads are wont to do. Luckily, in this case, the thread digressed into a discussion of homemade Orgeat – including a 10-minute “emergency” version – and homemade Rock Candy Syrup, and then digressed further to discussed a homemade “Pickless Drink Pick Rock Candy Swizzle Stick” which sounds like a work of art.

This information is amazing and priceless in my opinion, and The Gnomon is to be commended for sharing this info.

Check these posts out:
Homemade Orgeat
Emergency Orgeat Syrup
Homemade Rock Candy Syrup
Pickless Drink Pick Rock Candy Swizzle Stick (It’s the second post in the Rock Candy Syrup thread)

I am *so* looking forward to a Mai Tai right now! And one with a fancy swizzle stick.


3 Vanilla Cognacs

Cognac is my second favorite spirit, and I love vanilla. A recent post on Liquor Snob reviewing Navan Cognac reminded me that I had collected some nips of vanilla cognacs. Well, two vanilla cogancs, Navan and Meukow VS Vanilla, and a vanilla-vodka-brandy called Kajmir that I have to throw in because I like to compare 3 similar things at once. I had picked these up while visiting liquor stores for rum, and such visits will almost always find me perusing the nips behind the counter. While I won’t buy a 750ml bottle on a whim, I will certainly drop a dollar or two on a nip.

Kajmir Vanilla Liqueur – $19, 40-proof
I have to admit that part of the reason I purchased this was because I love vanilla, and partly because I love the song Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. That a fairly silly reason, but it’s just the way the subconscious works sometimes. And I wasn’t about to argue with my subconscious mind over a dollar. I’d probably lose.

Kajmir is a blend of “premium brandy, fine vodka, and warm vanilla” according to the maker, Centerra Wine Company. (OK, so its not a vanilla cognac, but similar enough for a comparison.) The bottle label says that it’s made with “natural vanilla flavors” which sounds a bit better than “warm vanilla” in my opinion. This liqueur smells a bit sweet with a mild alcohol smell, and imitation vanilla. I can’t help but think of candy when smelling this vanilla, and that’s not a compliment. The taste is mildly like artificial vanilla, extremely smooth with no burn, and very drinkable. Again, it’s like candy, kinda like I’d expect vanilla cotton candy to taste like.

Overall, the taste is too artificial for me to recommend.

Meukow VS Vanilla Cognac – $28, 60-proof
This bottle caught my eye since it is simply a gorgeous piece of work, especially for a nip. It’s a frosted glass bottle in an unusual shape, with a panther in reverse relief, wrapped around the bottle. I was even more intrigued when I picked it up and saw it was a vanilla cognac liqueur.

This liqueur is a “subtle and unique blend of Meukow cognac and vanilla natural flavors.” It has a somewhat strong alcohol smell which dominates the vanilla and brandy which lie faintly behind. Strangely, it doesn’t smell very appetizing but that may be because of the previous candy smells from the Kajmir. A small sip shows a strong amount of alcohol taste, followed quickly by a decent vanilla and some cognac complexities. The vanilla is good, certainly natural, but not so bold as to overcome the cognac. A larger sip shows a long slow burn, not bad but you know it’s there. The vanilla fades back a bit as the cognac tastes come through some more. The mouthfeel is odd – this left a waxy coating covering my entire mouth, and it really isn’t too pleasant.

Overall, the taste of the Meukow Vanilla is good, with a nice balance of cognac and vanilla, but the mouthfeel truly detracted from the experience. It’s good if you can get past the mouthfeel.

Navan – $40, 80-proof
This is “fine French cognac with a touch of natural vanilla from Madagascar” according to its makers, Grand Marnier. I saw this on the shelves numerous times before I finally grabbed a nip shortly after getting the Meukow. I figured that a comparison of the two would be a good thing to do.

This liqueur has a very faint vanilla smell that is very fine and high quality, even though it’s not too strong among the cognac. There is almost no alcohol smell here, just complex cognac with vanilla overtones. The taste is very sweet, strong in vanilla yet with complex cognac tones underneath. The cognac here is more complex and nicer than the Meukow, but the vanilla is much stronger and thus the Navan doesn’t have the balance that the Meukow showed. The Navan is also much sweeter – sugary enough to make my lips sticky. There’s a burn in the Navan, but much milder and faster than the Meukow. There’s a thick mouthfeel to the Navan, but oily rather than the Meukow’s annoying waxiness.

The Navan is certainly very high quality, but misses the mark a bit due to a lack of balance. The vanilla taste is fantastic, but the cognac is far milder leaving one with a vanilla liqueur, rather than a vanilla-cognac liqueur. I’d recommend it, but only if you like sweet liqueurs. If you think you’d like a sweet vanilla cognac then rush out and buy a bottle, since I don’t think you’ll get much better than the Navan.

The Kajmir isn’t really worth considering unless you’re an alco-pop fan. Cheap, sweet, smooth – candy with a mild alcohol content.

The Meukow is good, but not great. It’s got a nice balance of vanilla and cognac, but neither were top scorers, so it misses the mark.

The Navan has great vanilla taste, but also misses the mark a bit due to its sweetness and lack of balance between the vanilla and cognac. This is probably the best bet for use in a cocktail because of its vanilla.

3 Caipirinhas

After recently comparing 3 cachaças I felt it would be good to also test the ultimate cachaça cocktail, the caipirinha. For the most part, I followed the excellent instructions from the website which can be downloaded in PDF here. While these instructions suggest Fazenda Mae De Ouro I think the instructions fit all caipirinhas and they’re the best instructions I’ve seen for anyone who has never made a caipirinha.

I have to admit that I did divert from these instructions in a couple ways. These instructions say to “Always use Superfine Cane Sugar (Domino Brand)” but I really don’t like such overly-processed sugar, so I used Trader Joe’s Organic Cane Sugar. I think this sugar adds a bit more depth to a rum cocktail without going over the top with a more flavorful sugar like turbinado. And since this is a very coarse sugar I made a 2:1 simple syrup from it, and used 1 tablespoon of this mixture per drink.

I feel these changes are slight, and I made each cocktail as identical as possible – I used limes that looked identical in size, lined up 3 glasses with the lime and simple syrup, muddled the same number of times, randomly grabbed a glass for each cachaça, measured the ice for each, and shook each equally in a Boston shaker. I just don’t feel that the comparison of the cachaças could be fair unless everything else were identical. Finally, my wife numbered each glass so that I could taste them blind. It was the best I could do to make things fair. This blind test, however, was a waste of time since I identified each cachaça immediately simply by smelling the caipirinha. But I tried.

Beleza Pura
The sniff test showed some strong notes coming through, very distinctive floral notes. This was a good cocktail, but the cachaça was a bit too overpowering and thus the cocktail lacked balance. That one distinct taste was strong enough to overpower all of the subtler flavors, and the only other noticeable flavor was lime. No balance, no depth. I have to say that I certainly would not complain if I was served one of these, and I might even prefer it if I was in the mood and desired a strong cachaça taste in the cocktail. But the lack of balance and depth dropped this down a couple notches.

Fazenda Mae De Ouro
This caipirinha had many more smells and flavors going on, though they took a bit of coaxing due to their subtleties. But none were distinct, and they all balanced very well with the lime, resulting in a nicely balanced cocktail with depth and some complexity. This was easily the best caipirinha of the bunch.

This caipirinha started out dull with the sniff test, and didn’t fair any better when sipped. The lime was the dominant taste in this cocktail due to the lack of flavor in the cachaça, and the result was simply boring. There was no balance because there was little taste beyond the lime. But I could see how a typical drinker, one who’s never had a good caipirinha, would like this cocktail. Even in its worst form this cocktail is very drinkable on a hot day, and quite refreshing. But the same people who would enjoy this would probably be the ones tired of Rum & Coke, or those who wanted to drink a “fancy cocktail” rather than a Budweiser. Sure, it’s tasty, but one can do so much better.

Once again the Fazenda Mae De Ouro comes out on top in this comparison, though the Beleza might be preferred by those who want a distinct cachaça taste in their caipirinha. But the depth and complexity of the Fazenda make the difference between a good caipirinha and an excellent one, and that’s what I’ll drink.