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Issue 86 - Drinking Large in the Windy City

Whisky Magazine Issue 86
February 2010


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Drinking Large in the Windy City

Charles K.Cowdery finds craft cocktails in Chicago taking a whiskey spin.

Though its reputation was built on hard-drinking teamsters and slaughter house workers, Chicago has never been strictly a shot-and-a-beer town. Today, like in London, Paris, New York, and San Francisco, Chicago bartenders have become drink chefs, and just like celebrity chefs on TV, they have fans, followers, and lucrative consulting contracts.

At lounges such as Chicago's Violet Hour, and even neighbourhood joints such as The Whistler, you will be shown a menu of original cocktail creations, or given an on-the-spot cocktail consultation to find the perfect drink for you.

If you are open to it, there is a good chance whiskey will be the main ingredient.

Because a great drink requires perfect harmony of its ingredients, craft cocktail recipes are always based on specific products—not ‘rye whiskey' but ‘Rittenhouse Rye Bottled-In-Bond” rye whiskey. Spirits producers love that.

Portuguese sea salt will also have several house-made ingredients, such as bitters or syrups. They will have a stock of exotic commercial ingredients, such as Carpano Antica vermouth; and fresh produce such as cucumbers, or mint leaves imported by the kilo from Columbia.

Then comes the show. Technique is very important to this new breed of craft cocktail-makers. This isn't bottle juggling; it's the right tools, the right number of stirs or shakes, the right order of assembly, and the right ice.

“Ice is to a bartender what the stove is to a chef,” says Toby Maloney, 39, who launched Viole...

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