The Basics of the New Empire Rye Whiskey

About a month ago there was a party celebrating the birth of a brand new classification of whiskey– Empire Rye.


Here’s the specs of this new booze:

First of all, Empire Rye must be produced in the state of New York, just like Scotch must be produced in Scotland and Champagne must be produced in the Champagne region of France. At minimum, 75% of the rye that the whiskey is made of should be grown in New York. The rest can be whatever grain the distillery chooses.

Second, like most American whiskies, it should not be distilled to more than 160 proof, (or 80% alcohol). But, unlike most American whiskies, it must be barreled at 115 proof or less– ten points lower than usual.

Next, Empire Rye must be aged for at least 2 years in charred, new, American oak barrels. No used barrels, no French oak. Capeesh?


Fourth, it must be mashed, fermented, distilled, barreled– basically everything– in a single season at a single distillery. There are two 6-month seasons; January 1 through June 30 is spring, and fall is July 1 through December 31. Screw summer and winter, I guess?

Finally, if two (or more) New York distilleries mix their whiskies, all whiskies in the blend must adhere to the standards to be called blended Empire Rye. Otherwise, it’s a no go.

Okay, now that we got all that (really interesting) technical nerd stuff out of the way, now we can get to the actual taste of the whiskey which is what matters to those of us who don’t actually own their own craft distilleries. A girl can dream though, right?

So, just like any other classification of whiskey, there is variation within the type. I’ll go over a couple different Empire Ryes with you to help you make your drinking decisions.

My personal favorite out of the bunch is made by Coppersea Distilling, straight out of New Paltz, New York. It’s a very bold and spicy rye. It has a little bit of the bitter raw cacao flavor and — hear me out — a note of shiitake mushrooms.


While this complicated whiskey is really good for people who already like and have tried a variety of whiskies, if you’re a whiskey n00b, you might want to try something still high-quality but a little more classic. Take Hudson Whiskey’s Manhattan Rye, for example. It still has some of the characteristic rye spiciness you can really find in Coppersea, but it’s much more toned down. The most prominent flavor is the vanilla coming from the barrel.


If you’re a bourbon drinker, you might prefer Van Brunt Stillhouse Empire Rye. It’s a little sweeter, with some of the corn-y taste that you typically get from a bourbon. The rye spice is certainly there, but it’s secondary. There’s also a touch sourness, but not off-putting.


If you want to try Empire Rye, but aren’t sure if you want to get a whole bottle yet, there are a couple places that you can go around the NYC area.

New York Distilling has tours of their distillery, and a free tasting with your tour. Alternatively, you can sip Empire Rye in their fantastic house bar, The Shanty.


Kings County Distillery also has tours and tastings. They, too, have a house bar where you can try Empire Rye and all the other whiskies (and moonshine) they make.


To find a distillery in New York making Empire Rye, click here.

Hopefully you find Empire Rye as delicious and interesting as I do (I have four different bottles of it already. Coming soon– a post on Kings County Distillery!




Pesto and Gin Pasta

We all know what to do with liquors we like. It’s not very difficult to figure out what to do with something good. Well, if you do need help figuring out what to do with good liquors, I’m always available with a million ideas. But what do you do when you have a whole bottle of liquor that isn’t good, isn’t bad, but is just mediocre?

I came into this situation with a bottle of dry gin we bought recently. It was good in the first drink. It was alright in the second drink. But after the 3rd or 4th try, it was just like any other gin. There was no way I was going to throw it away.


Fast forward through my brainstorming session to my bright idea to make pesto pasta with gin. I’m going to walk you through the steps of making this surprisingly good recipe. This serves 2 people, but can be doubled or tripled or quadrupled or… I think you get the picture. Also, the way I made it was completely vegan, but you can add meat or cheese as desired. As always with pasta dishes, get your pot of water heating up while you prepare other things.

First, I prepared the pesto. Not including shopping time, this portion of the recipe takes literally 2 minutes.

What you need:

1 cup of fresh washed basil leaves– when you’re filling your measuring cup, pack the leaves tightly to get the most flavorful pesto.

1/4 cup pine nuts– did y’all know how expensive pine nuts were?? It’s insane. Substitute with walnuts if you don’t feel like spending $8 on one handful of nuts.

1/4 cup olive oil– olive oil works best, but can be substituted for other oils.

1.5 oz. gin– If you’re making extra pesto to save for later, skip the gin.

1 pinch of salt– this is especially helpful in bringing out all the flavors in the basil, but if you’re going to use parmesan, you can skip this because parmesan is pretty salty.


Take all these ingredients and pour them into the blender. Puree until it’s all in little bits. Don’t worry about it being perfectly and evenly blended; that will give a little texture to the food. Save this pesto mixture for a little later on in the recipe.

At this point, I diced some onions to add a little extra flavor to the dish. I like onions, so I did 3 ring-slices worth.

This is also probably the point you should drop your pasta in the boiling water. I used De Cecco Farfalline because the only thing better than bowtie shaped pasta is tiny bowtie shaped pasta.  Set a timer for half the recommended cooking time.


Pro tip: if you cook your pasta at a rolling boil at all times, it’s less likely to get stuck together.

In a frying pan, put just a dime sized drop of oil (there will plenty in the pesto, remember?) and turn the temp to medium low. When the pan is warm and the oil is a little less viscous and rolls around in the pan like water, drop in the onions and 1.5 oz of gin. You can season with a little garlic, salt and pepper if you like. The goal here is to brown the onions slightly– not so much that they get mushy… unless that’s how you like them, whatever. Turn the pan down to the lowest setting.


Now’s a good time to put your pesto in the pan, but don’t worry about stirring it yet.

When the timer for your pasta is up, taste it. I know, it’s not done yet, that’s the point! When the pasta is still slightly too chewy for your liking, drain it. Pour the pasta into the frying pan with the onions and the pesto. Pour another 1.5 oz of gin in with everything and stir thoroughly.


Aaaaaaand you’re done. Dish it up or eat it straight out of the pan! You’re the chef, you can do what you want!


Now you’ve successfully made a delicious pasta and managed to improve a significant amount of gin. Happy eating!



Cheap Whiskey Taste Test

When I turned 21 at the end of last year, I dived right in to the world of craft liquor. And because I went to college at a “dry” university, I totally missed the phase that most people go through at that time in their lives– shots of whatever’s cheapest.

Before this taste test I had never tried Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Dewar’s White Label, Jameson, or Johnnie Walker Red Label. At this point, I can sense heavy judgement coming my way. I know– shame on me for being late to the cheap whiskey party.

But, this disgrace actually turned into a shining opportunity, as these things do… opportunity for a taste test! I could nearly-objectively compare all these mainstream liquors!

So, with tiny liquor bottles in hand, my ever-patient boyfriend helped me set up a taste test. With little numbers on each tasting glass, he assigned a random number to each liquor and poured them accordingly. He hid the bottles so I couldn’t guess by color, set the glasses up in order by number, then I went to tasting.


First, I went through and wrote tasting notes only.

Second, I went through and rated each out of five stars. Disclaimer: they’re all judged against each other only– in no way am I comparing these to Glenfiddich or Suntory. The basic meanings of each star are as follows:

1 star = never again

2 stars = wouldn’t drink, unless by drinking it, it somehow it cured world hunger

3 stars =  would drink if I was at a house party with no other liquor options

4 stars = would order it with Coke at a dive bar

5 stars = would buy a bottle for my home bar

Last, I guessed which one was which, but that didn’t go super great. I didn’t get any right. Methinks I should practice my whiskey tasting skills more often. Practice makes perfect, right?

Mystery Whiskey #1

2.5 stars 

This one had the lightest color of them all; it was more straw-colored than amber. It smelled of caramel or toffee and grass. The taste is very light– its earthy and sweet at first. The finish verges on the edge of sour. It really hits the front of the palate and is moderately dry.

Mystery Whiskey #2

3 stars

I thought this one smelled of vegetables and dirt after a rain. The taste was vaguely sweet, solidly smoky, and dry. Primarily though, there’s a distinctive plain alcohol flavor.   The ethanol fumes made my eyes burn and tear up– it’s not a good look for me.

Mystery Whiskey #3

4 stars

This whiskey had a little bit of a leafy scent to it. Mildly peat-y. The mouthfeel was surprisingly thick. The flavor was quite ambiguous, and the aftertaste was “weird af” as I wrote on my notecard. Poignant writing, I know.

Mystery Whiskey #4

3.5 stars

Whiskey #4 had a sweetish hint in the nose. It had a drying quality, and tasted like toffee and smoke. Like, seriously, I felt like I was in a smokehouse barbecue restaurant that lets customers smoke cigars with their meal.

Mystery Whiskey #5

4.5 stars

The darkest out of the line-up, this one was hard to put into specific words. It has an identifiable caramel smell. The other scent that came to mind was “outside.” That’s very vague, but really the only word that describes it. The closest descriptor I can tell you is “field,” but that’s not quite accurate. Anyway, the taste was probably the richest of the bunch, hence the darker color. It was also sweet, and tasted kind of yellow. *shrug* Sometimes you have to accept ambiguity.

Now for the big reveal.

Which whiskey is which?

Drum roll please…..

Mystery Whiskey #1


Dewar’s White Label— I expected to like this one best, and I was surprised it turned out to be the lowest rated.

Mystery Whiskey #2


Jim Beam— perfect if you want a whiskey that tastes like it’s mixed with vodka.

Mystery Whiskey #3


Jameson— satisfactory.

Mystery Whiskey #4


Johnnie Walker Red Label— ~smoke on the water, fire in the sky~

Mystery Whiskey #5


Jack Daniels— color me impressed! I mistakenly assumed this would be the worst, but now I can wear my Jack Daniel’s shirt with a moderate amount of dignity.

As always my opinions are just that– opinions. Whatever your favorite whiskey is, go crazy. Not too crazy, because hangovers are terrible, but you know what I mean.


Review: Portland’s New Deal Distillery

Portland, Oregon is world famous for the sheer numbers of breweries in the city—more than any other city in the world. But there are also an insane amount of distilleries too. Part of the city is even called “Distillery Row.” I managed to visit 6 venues in the 2 days I was there, which is impressive because that’s a lot of hard liquor for one person to drink. Should I put that on my resume?

Anyway, out of the 6 I visited, one stood out above the rest: New Deal Distillery. That’s not to say that the others weren’t good; each has its own niche. However, New Deal Distillery excels in multiple niches.

They started out in 2004, as a vodka distillery, and have expanded into making gin, whiskey, rum and a variety of flavored vodkas and liqueurs. They were the first distillery in what is now “Distillery Row” and the second in Portland as a whole.

I never thought that the water used in making liquor had an effect because it’s all purified before it’s used, right? Why should one water with the chemical formula H20 taste any different from other water with the same chemical formula? When I was tasting all these different liquors, there was a common unidentifiable note between all of them not present in other boozes. I asked where their water comes from, figuring this was the source of the mysterious taste (or non-taste? it’s really hard to describe); apparently the water comes from Bull Run Watershed. This is the purest water source in the entire United States— unlike the Hudson river which is one of the most polluted. Without a scientific study, I guess I won’t know for sure if the water actually makes a difference. But at least I have a hypothesis.


The Vodkas

New Deal Distillery makes 2 kinds of vodka.

Portland 88 Vodka is made for mixing. It has a clean flavor that makes it versatile for a wide range of cocktails. If you want a vodka to hide in your Cosmo and get you drunk, this should do the trick.

If you’re the kind of person who wants a vodka for sipping, they make one for you too: New Deal Vodka. It is unbelievably smooth and well-rounded, with a minimal amount of the harsh ethanol flavor. Mainly it’s on the sweeter side, and slightly mineral. It’s only been distilled two times, so it still has plenty of flavor, but the good kind. It’s hard to find a vodka that doesn’t make you wince; the only thing New Deal Vodka makes you do is crave a martini.

The Rums

Both rums are agricole style, meaning they’re made with sugar cane juice rather than molasses. In fact, they’re both the same rum but one is aged for two years.


The unaged rum is mineral and dry. It has a green, slightly grassy flavor. There is a hint of ginger in both the scent and the taste. It’s fresh and would be great in a mojito or any tropical rum-based cocktail.

The aged rum has an intriguing duality. The scent is more fresh, with a faint bit of smokiness from the barrel. The taste is primarily barrel notes– some of the same you get from bourbon. It has a little bit of the minerality, like the unaged rum, but it’s mostly hidden. In spite of all the barrel brings to the table, it’s still remarkably fresh. If I were making a cocktail with this one, I would try a dark and stormy or maybe Planter’s punch.

The Gins

Luckily for me, even though I was just expecting to taste while I was there, I got a special chance to see the where the distilling happens, and the gin being hand labeled.


How cool is that?

I didn’t try the Portland Dry Gin 33 straight, the one that you can see being labeled above. But, I tried it in a Negroni Blanc, another fantastic way to drink gin. (As if there’s a wrong way?) You may know this cocktail as “Negroni Bianco” or “White Negroni”. Whatever you call it, it’s frickin’ amazing, and the best one I’ve ever had it was in New Deal. It’s definitely sweeter than your classic bitter Negroni, and this one was citrusy for sure.


The citrus isn’t just from the lemon peel garnish. The only botanicals in both Portland Dry Gin 33 and New Deal Gin No. 1 are juniper berries and citrus peel. This is endearingly minimalist, because I think there are plenty of gins out there that are just terribly bogged down by an endless list of botanicals.

New Deal Gin No. 1 is lightly colored. This is not due to barrel aging as I first assumed (get it together, Kim, geez!) but rather because some of the juniper and citrus oils are allowed to remain in the gin, giving it that yellow-y, green tint. It’s almost sweet but mostly fresh, and the flavor covers the tongue for a long finish.

The Whiskies


The most recently released whiskey at New Deal is Distiller’s Reserve Oregon Straight Wheat Whiskey. It is quite dry and medium-bodied because it was aged on char #1 barrels. It has oak and honey on the nose, but minimal sweetness on the palate.

From the Distiller’s Workshop series, the Smoked Bourbon really lives up to its name; it’s smoky all around. It’s a little reminiscent of mezcal. Surprisingly, I was told that the barrel is only a #3 char and it was aged for 2.5 years. I can only imagine how smoky it would get if it aged for 10 years. Overall, despite the prominent char flavor, it’s fresh with slight hints of citrus and minerals and maybe a little honey in the nose. Alex used the word peaty to describe it, but I’m on the fence about that.

From the same series is the New Deal Rye which is made with rye (obviously) and malted barley. Although this whiskey was aged for 2.5 years in a #4 char, it is very light-bodied and dry. The nose presents tobacco and oak. The oak is also pretty noticeable in the aftertaste as well. New Deal Rye is probably one best sipped straight.

New Deal is also coming out with another whiskey in October, which I got to taste before it’s released– very neat! This one is Straight Rye, and only 4 barrels were made. It is lightly sweet which is balanced with flavor from the barrel. A #4 char barrel was used, but it doesn’t have much smoke to it. In fact, there is a faint cherry flavor. If I had a bottle of this rye, I’d probably make an old fashioned.


Overall, I was extremely impressed with New Deal Distillery. I think it’s one to keep an eye on. They’ve already shown they’re capable of making unique liquor in a versatile range of types. This kind of promising craft has nowhere to go but up. Cheers!

Making Your Own Flavored Vodka

When I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Poland, one of the things that struck me was the prevalence of home-flavored liquors. Some were made with herbs, some with fruits, some with a mysterious mix of the two. But, something all these flavored liquors had in common was that they were much more interesting than chemically flavored vodkas that are so popular in the U.S.

Don’t get me wrong, regular flavored vodka has its uses. But think of it this way, if you want to drink a juice that tastes of grapes, do you pour yourself some Welches Grape Juice or Kool-Aid? Exactly.

So here’s how you make your own flavored vodka.

Continue reading “Making Your Own Flavored Vodka”

Review: Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

When you think of brunch you probably don’t think of beer.

And when you think of coffee, you definitely don’t think of weasel poop. What?!

I got ahead of myself, let’s rewind for a minute.

Continue reading “Review: Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel”

Review: Pasta Dal Cuore & Salcheto Chianti

An Italian dinner calls for Italian wine, right? Obviously.

Our visit to Pasta Dal Cuore began as any trip to a B.Y.O.B. restaurant does– with a stop at Cool Vines, our favorite local liquor store.

Continue reading “Review: Pasta Dal Cuore & Salcheto Chianti”