Marleigh Riggins Miller is writer, photographer and publisher of SLOSHED! Begun in early 2005, the focus of SLOSHED! is on cocktails—good, bad and indifferent—with a definite bias toward the classics, homemade ingredients and entertaining. Marleigh is BarSmarts Certified and is a member of the Cocktails & Spirits Online Writers Group. When not writing or shooting photos for SLOSHED!, she works as a graphic designer and design instructor, gardens and favors cold Belgian-style ales.
Vodka is no longer king. Nothing against neutral grain spirits, but a lack of discernible flavor is not necessarily the only tool in the modern bartender’s speed rack, and thanks to resurgence of interest in classic cocktails, more consumers are seeking alternatives—and adjectives other than “smooth” to describe their favorite spirits.
Equal to this renewed demand is whiskey, which is less a specific kind of spirit than a grouping of many spirits whose depth, complexity and versatility make them indispensable to both professional bartenders and amateur enthusiasts. The problem is that walking into the whiskey section of even a small liquor store can be a daunting experience without a basic working knowledge of the differences between whiskies and their application in cocktails. So to get you started, here’s a rundown of the four basic types of whiskeys. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to (most) every rule, and that whiskey is a broad and detailed subject with more than its share of academic minutia; however, this primer should be more than enough to help you navigate the pitfalls of the whiskey aisle.
The compounds known as bitters are one of the components necessary to the mixed drinks we call “cocktails.” They appear many other places too, such as sours or highballs, but bitters are more than merely a single ingredient. So what are these things we call “bitters”? What makes them, well, bitter? And why are they so important to cocktails and mixed drinks?
When I think about the origin of bitters, I invariably think of “Pete’s Dragon.” Disney films about invisible dragons don’t usually spring to mind when discussing cocktails, but Doc Terminus is indelibly printed on my mind as the consummate snake oil salesman, trying to pass off his “cures” as medical miracles when they are really just herbal elixirs of questionable (if any) use. Tinctures of this sort are where modern bitters come from, embraced both for their curative powers and their high alcohol content. (more…)
The world after Prohibition ended was a different place. America had undergone many changes in the wake of World War I and the Roaring Twenties, some of them because of the underground drinking culture that nurtured many paradigm shifts of American society at large—among them a change in when and where women were allowed to drink. Following the excesses of the Jazz Age came the crushing blow of the Great Depression—a time when many Americans could ill afford bread, let alone liquor—and the looming specter of the second World War. It was a tumultuous period, but despite (or perhaps because of) these hardships, Americans continued their love affair with the cocktail. (more…)
Inevitably, as the holidays descend, even the most social butterflies begin to think of the time-honored tradition of holiday entertaining at home. For some of us, it can be as simple as a potluck shared with friends, while for others the holidays are time to host an eight-course meal. I am a big fan of the cocktail party—it’s simple, elegant, easy to prepare, and can be as casual or formal as you choose to make it.
We have seen how spirits are made and what constitutes a cocktail, but perhaps you are now wondering how all this happened. When was the cocktail invented and how did mixed drinks become the primary method of imbibing liquor? How did America go from inventing the cocktail to Prohibition in just over 100 years? Thanks to the hard work of cocktail historians like Dave Wondrich, Ted Haigh, Robert Hess and Jeff Berry, we now have a full picture of the 200-plus year history of cocktail culture in America and abroad, the first half of which is recounted—very briefly—in the paragraphs that follow. (more…)
We have established what spirits are and how the major spirits are made, but now what should you do with them? There are many, many spirits which are excellent experienced on their own (straight, neat or on the rocks) or in a mixed drink, and also many which benefit greatly from being mixed with something else. The earliest mixed drinks were created to disguise the occasionally terrible results of less-than-expert distillers and pre-bottling sanitation issues, but today we are fortunate to have high quality spirits for mixing. (more…)
The last Cocktails 101 post gave a brief introduction to distilling and the process of making spirits, but what makes each type of liquor unique? How is whiskey different from brandy or rum? What are they made from and what processes do they go through? Read on for the specifics of the major spirit families. (more…)
When broken down into constituent pieces, a cocktail can only be as good as the sum of its parts. Most of the time, the majority of those parts will be alcoholic spirits—which means that the liquor you use will have a serious effect on the quality of the final product. But what makes a spirit what it is, and what makes one spirit different from another?
As part of our new Experts Blog, we’d like to introduce Marleigh Miller of Sloshed! If you’ve ever seen our videos or met us in person, you know we enjoy our cocktails – so we’re especially excited to have Marleigh on board to help everyone better appreciate their liquor. Here’s a short Q&A to help you all get acquainted with Marleigh. – John & Justin, Menuism Founders