Holiday Spirits: Barrel-Finished Cocktails

I had the genius idea of my ski-buff boyfriend and I staying at a hotel in Park City, Utah, just walking distance from the slopes. While he was playing in the snow, I’d be downtown feeding my wanderlust.

Being a flatlander, I have never been higher than 700 feet above sea level, unless I was on an airplane. Found out the hard way that high altitude sickness was an actual thing. Plus, it was a real b—-!

In a couple of days, the vomiting stopped and headaches were mercifully less frequent. Eventually, the dizziness and shortness of breath eased up, too.

My boyfriend told me that when his parents were in Peru, they were given “cocaine tea” to help with their high altitude sickness. The proper term is “coca tea”, which is coca leaves boiled in water. Note: Chewing the leaves or drinking the tea could get you a positive drug test for cocaine. And yet I would have KILLED to drown my misery in gallons of that stuff from day one!

While exploring downtown Main Street, I wandered over to a side street and found the High West Saloon. Their distillery is a few miles away but, sadly, tours are on hold during these Covid times. At the saloon, they served up their award-winning spirits in a shot glass, in a cocktail, and in their food.

The saloon was a mellow, chill place to grab an appetizer and a very tasty Boulevardier, made with their own American Prairie Bourbon. I liked my cocktail so much, I had to come back the next day. Both times, I forgot to take a pic of the exterior, probably coz I couldn’t wait to get inside. So the screengrab below is from their site.

One of the things I noticed on my way to my table was a “shrine” to their barrel-finished Manhattan.

On their menu, I saw that they featured two cocktails finished in their whiskey barrels – the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. I’ve only ever seen barrel-aged hard spirits, such as gin or tequila. Plus, one of my favorite whiskeys, Angels Envy, is barrel-finished in port wine casks.

But barrel-finished COCKTAILS? Didn’t know they existed, so I needed to explore this further and deeper!

The next day, I went back to the saloon, scored outdoor seating, and texted my boyfriend to meet me there. While waiting for him to show up, I enjoyed this view from across the street.

There were two barrel-finished cocktails on their menu, so we had to try both. First the Old-Fashioned, then the Manhattan. I preferred the Old-Fashioned. Props for the torched orange peel as a finishing touch! As for my boyfriend, the barrel-finished Manhattan, also very delicious, rocked his world. He bought a bottle at the gift shop to take home.

I gotta say, I am loving the process of aging and finishing hard spirits in barrels recently used for some other liquor! The whiskey barrel finish gave both cocktails added dimensions in their flavor depth, sweetness and aroma. There was an indefinable something; the first word that leaped to my mind was ‘savory’. The next was “extraordinary”.

To anyone visiting Main Street and Park City, Utah, the whiskeys and cocktails at High West Saloon are highly recommended!

Cheers!

Additional sources:
http://www.newperuvian.com/drinking-coca-tea-drug-test-results/
https://www.highwest.com/saloon.php

Dark Matter and Irish Times

irish times

 

One of my biggest regrets about my visit to Victoria BC was not doing a pub crawl between the British, Scottish and Irish pubs downtown. However, being determined to die with little or no regrets in life, I endeavor to go forth with this worthy cause one way or another. It’s important to have goals, after all. Therefore, even with all the whirlwind of activity involving family gatherings, sightseeing and visits to local hot spots, I was able to fit in a few stops at various watering holes.

During a wander downtown, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. An Irish pub sat just to the right of the Scottish pub, which sat next to a British pub. Seeing them all lined up in a row like that, all just a stagger away from each other…well, that just put a smile on my face and made my eyes go all sparkly! Lovers of good beer, you know what I’m talking about! Unfortunately, I had dinner reservations soon, plus some freshening up to do beforehand (I am a girl, after all), so I could only pick one pub this time. My boyfriend, being Irish, recommended we try the Irish Times pub first, of course.

Irish Times

Unlike many Irish pubs I’ve been to in the U.S., the Irish Times pub doesn’t have the charmingly rustic feel of old neighborhood pubs in Dublin. High cream-colored ceilings, dark wood arches, crimson walls, gold etching and immense windows made this possibly the most stylish Irish pub I’ve ever tarried in. Still, they tried to make it feel less “uppity” with prominent displays of random, antique pub accessories, growlers and small kegs.

 

But enough about the ambience – let’s get to the beers! The Irish Times boasts an impressive array of domestic and imported beers (the picture only shows one section of the bar). As a bonus (and my boyfriend certainly thought it was), they get served to you by ladies with small kilts and big smiles. Looking around at the happy crowd around me, I’d say many would agree that this is a fine way to spend a gray, cold wintery afternoon.

 

I ordered a delicious pint of “Dark Matter”, a fills-your-mouth, sigh-inducing, dark-colored beauty of a beer that is part stout, part lager. Made with mild hops and roasted malt, the richness of this lovely brunette is balanced and smooth, with no trace of bitterness. I decided I must have this splendid craft beer.

 

irishtimes_darkmatter2

 

Sadly, “Dark Matter” is made by Hoyne Brewing Company, which only distributes in Canada. Their “sin tax” would likely make it cost a small fortune to purchase a case online, assuming it was even possible. And so I’m back home reminiscing about that wondrous beer and the cozy Irish Times pub, and telling friends about it. Victoria BC has given me a few more reasons to visit again soon. In the meantime, I’m off to my comparative study of Irish/Scottish/British pubs.

 


All photos taken by JE Alexandria Julaton

Bengal Lounge: Pussycat with Big Attitude

 bengallounge3

The beauty of downtown Victoria BC’s shopping scene is that all the fun, eclectic shops are right next to, or walking distance from, each other. Within one or two blocks, I could pop into several different shops for fine crystal, Irish wool jackets, Mediterranean tapas, carved chocolates, soaps that look good enough to eat, and a number of pubs.

It was a few hours before I had to meet up with family for dinner, so perhaps I could treat myself to a Victorian martini experience. The very distinguished-looking Empress Hotel sat across from the Parliament building in downtown Victoria’s inner harbor. I headed over, wondering if it was every bit as hoity on the inside.  It was. Which meant a fancy martini bar was waiting just for me.

The Bengal Lounge

The immense doorway to the lounge was guarded by uniformed hosts. From the entrance, I took note of the expansive room’s large potted palms and sectional seating areas of plush leather sofas, with wide pillars of dark wood that rose and connected in a trellis-like design on its high ceiling. As I was escorted to my table, I observed the lounge had the genteel ambiance of a drinking establishment built for British gentlemen after a long, hard day of colonizing provinces throughout India. The fireplace was fronted by sofas and animal-print throw pillows, no doubt to complement the full-sized Bengal tiger skin hanging above the mantel. The tiger’s head was still attached, with a fight-to-the-death, “You’re taking my fur?! Oh, I don’t THINK so!” snarl forever frozen on its face.

Some ladies were playing a loud, exciting dice game at a table nearby. I was more interested in the idea of sipping cocktails in front of a roaring fireplace. I ordered the Empress 1908 Martini. Since it was the hotel’s signature cocktail, it had to be delicious and strong, right? Right? I posed the question to my server, an older gentleman from India (an ironic coincidence). He smiled politely and said nothing.

The Empress 1908 Martini was both confusing and disappointing. Made with Empress Blend tea-infused vodka, lightly sweetened fresh lime juice and frothy egg whites, its flavor was too subtle (okay, bland), its texture nog-like. As I drank it, I couldn’t make up my mind if I liked what I was tasting, or not. And I felt no holiday cheer whatsoever up until the last sip. I think the bartender left out the vodka and gave me straight tea.

There is a special place in Hell just for incompetent bartenders. There has to be! I spoke with my cousin, a cocktail connoisseur, later that evening, and he confirmed my suspicions – the Bengal Lounge’s martinis were all pussycat and no tiger. With mixology standards and martinis this weak, I highly recommend you seek your holiday spirits elsewhere!

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Empress 1908 Martini

1 1/2  ounce(s)  Empress Tea-infused vodka
3/4   ounce(s)  fresh lemon juice
3/4   ounce(s)  Simple Syrup
3/4   ounce(s)  egg white (1/2 of one egg white)

Combine all ingredients and shake vigorously with ice. Strain into martini glass with a half sugar rim.

(Recipe provided by Fairmont Empress in Victoria BC, Canada)