50 Shots of America–Iowa



One day shy of a year after the admission of Texas via treaty, Iowa becomes the 29th state on December 28, 1846.

Though considered mainly agricultural (it is in the midst of the Corn Belt, after all), manufacturing makes up the greater part of industry in the state with food production being the largest portion of that–General Mills, ConAgra, Heinz, Hostess, Quaker Oats and Blue Bunny (just to name a few) are all headquartered in the Hawkeye State.

But if agriculture isn’t their main focus, what do they do with all that corn? Iowa happens to be the national leader in ethanol production and a strong proponent of renewable energy sources, be it in sustainable fuels or wind energy. Which is where our drink-of-the-week inspirations comes from.


1 oz Whiskey (Jack Daniels or Jim Bean, we’re going for the corn-liquor, here)
1 oz Honey
Caffeinated Soda

Combine the whiskey and honey over ice and shake like your settling a border dispute. Strain into a chilled cordial or tall shot glass and top with the ice-cold caffeinated soda of your choice. Swig it down and get ready to forge ahead and accomplish things!

You may recall that Iowa was on the other side of that border dispute known as the Honey Wars with Missouri. If not, it’s okay, I forgive you, and Iowa probably would, too. Iowans tend to be front runners in a lot of things–civil rights, women’s lib, renewable resources… it’s not a bad trait, you know? And, if (like me) you can’t have caffeine, substitute as necessary and call it Unleaded 😉

One last thing: the state is also home to Electrolux/Frigidaire who, along with Kelly Ripa, are raising awareness and funds to support ovarian cancer research through their Ultimate Banana Split campaign. Head over to Kelly Confidential to create your ultimate banana split by September 7, 2010. $1 for every submitted split will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.


Cocktails for a Cure badge

Cocktails for a Cure

And speaking of good deeds! Just a reminder that I’m participating once again in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk and, like last year, offering a couple incentives to my supporters. There’s this years print of a cocktail created in support of the walk plus I’m donating 22% of all Character Cocktails ordered by October 15, 2010, to the cause (and you get the print, too). More information can be found on my Cocktails for a Cure page.

50 Shots of America–Illinois

Purple Popcorn Eater

Purple Popcorn Eater

Coming in at number 21 on the sip-by-state roster is Illinois, Land of Lincoln, which became a state on December 3, 1818.

Home to the third-largest city in the country, the state is a bit top-heavy with almost three-quarters of the state’s population concentrated in the northeast: in and around the city of Chicago. Home to the first nuclear power plant, a would-be Latter Day Saints Utopia and the first McDonald’s, the state has oil and coal in the south, corn and soybean fields in the center and industry galore in the north.

It was pretty tough to come up with a theme for this state’s drink, but with a state snack of popcorn and the state flower being the violet, I present to you…

the Purple Popcorn Eater

1 oz Raspberry Liqueur
1/2 oz Butterscotch Schnapps
1/4 oz Kentucky Bourbon

Combine over ice and shake like your stealing home plate. Strain into a chilled cordial glass over ice.

While there is a creme de violette liqueur, it can be difficult to find. I had the raspberry around so I went with that. This drink tastes a lot like having popcorn and a side of really sweet soda, if it’s too sweet and you’ve got room in the glass you can cut it with some chilled club soda. Even though all-alcohol drinks are traditionally stirred, the shaking adds a little of natural mixer via the water that gets added in this step; the ice in the glass is for all the state parks focused on rocks.

50 Shots of America–Kentucky


I spent a week in Louisville, Kentucky, when I was about 13. We were visiting my aunt (a professor at U of L at the time) over Thanksgiving. Many things stand out about that trip:

  • the 11 hours spent in the car (a Toyota Tercel hatchback)
  • the speedometer that lost it’s mind going through the foothills (it flip from 0 to 80 back and forth several times a second for a while)
  • the fact that it was 18 degrees when we arrived in Louisville but that it didn’t snow until the week after we left (I think I’m snow-repellent–this has happened way too often)
  • being too ill to fully enjoy Thanksgiving dinner (major bummer–but I did get better in time to enjoy the leftovers)
  • our trip to Mammoth Caves, the longest cave system in the world(and the hideous blue and yellow sweater dress thing I wore–it was the late 80s and, thankfully, no pictures survive of that thing)

Earlier this month the annual Kentucky Derby was run. Untold pounds of Kentucky Hot Browns were consumed and who knows how many gallons of Mint Juleps were made.

Even though the state beverage is milk (where have we heard that before?), Kentucky is well known for it’s local distillation of corn into Bourbon. Jim Beam Sour Mash Bourbon to be more exact. The bourbon that has a starring role in the Mint Julep as well as another classic cocktail invented in Kentucky: the Old Fashioned.

There’s a fair amount of controversy over a proper Old Fashioned. Some say with fruit (a twist garnish or sometimes muddled with the sugar and water), some without; some say with club soda, some with branch water, some say none at all. For this week’s small sipper I’m using the Old Fashioned as inspiration, adding Cointreau for the citrus note and using honey over sugar or simple syrup in honor of another local staple (the state honey festival is held in Clarkson, KY).

the Mini-Mammoth

3/4 oz Kentucky Bourbon
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz Honey
Club Soda

Combine Bourbon, Cointreau and honey in a mixing glass over ice and shake like a bat flying out of the caves. Strain into a cordial glass.

It might seem like a lot of honey but chances are most of it is going to end up stuck to the wall of your shaker, adding a bit of sweet to smooth out the sour mash bourbon, but not so much that it makes a truly sweet drink. If the first sip seems too strong, take another. In our experience, the 2nd sip is always the truest test of an alcohol’s flavor.


A Tale of Two Sours


Whisk(e)y Sours, that is–we’re up to ‘w’ in our travel through the Alphahol and that means delving into the oak barrels and coming up with what exactly?

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a big whisk(e)y fan. Until very recently I couldn’t stand the stuff and wouldn’t drink anything made with it thanks to an unfortunate encounter at a wine and spirits tasting. The bourbon I was served burned my throat, robbed me of breath and made my eyes water–it probably didn’t help that I’d been drinking a lot of sweet wines prior, but the port I tried afterwards smoothed things over between me and the wine guy. At any rate, I’ve come to respect well-made whisk(e)ys.

To ‘e’ or not to ‘e’, what’s in a spelling?

Ever wonder what the difference between whisky and whiskey is? At first I thought it was just an American versus European style thing but that’s not it because Irish varieties are spelled with the ‘e’ but Scotch without. True, most people who mean Scotch just say Scotch, but it’s still whisky so it counts. In North America, Tennessee, Kentucky and the other USA varieties add the ‘e’ while Canadian whisky does not. Other than who uses it and who doesn’t, there’s really not much more to it.

So What’s the Real Difference?

Whiskey is pretty much any grain spirit that’s aged in oak for as much time as needed to develop the flavors or scents necessary to be a pleasant drink. The type of grain makes a big difference in the finished product, also how it’s treated. Scotch is traditionally prized in the Single Malt category, made only with malted barley whereas Bourbon uses primarily corn and, in the case of Sour Mash, reserves a portion of the previous fermentation to add to the next batch in a method that reminds me, in turns, of sourdough starter and the Amish Friendship Bread that gets passed around from time to time.

(This, of course, is gross over-simplification. I’m just trying to distill it into a highlight reel for the sake of an overview.)

Mixing With It

So, probably the most common Whiskey drink most folks think of is the Whiskey Sour which, as I understand it, is generally made with Bourbon. Well, here’s the thing: you can make a Sour out of pretty much any base liquor so I decided to make a Scotch Sour and a Bourbon Sour and see how they compared.

Whiskey Sour

1.5 oz Whisk(e)y
1 oz Simple syrup
3/4 oz Lemon juice (as fresh as possible)

Combine over ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled old fashioned glass and garnish with an orange slice and a cherry (also known as a flag).

Both the Bourbon and Scotch sours were made in exactly the same way and here’s how, for me, they compared. Visually, the Bourbon Sour is darker than the Scotch Sour–no worries about labeling the glasses for this test. The Bourbon also has a stronger smell (I used Jim Bean Kentucky Sour Mash Bourbon) and, as one would expect, a stronger flavor. More insistent. The Scotch Sour (made with Glenfiddich Single Malt 12 Year) was lighter in color and smoother in flavor, it took both the sweet and the sour in stride and retained it’s crisp pear notes (seriously, before last month I would have NEVER thought to think pears when I thought Scotch).

Obviously I preferred the Glenfiddich Sour, it’s much more palatable. I think I’ll keep the Sour Mash for the Bourbon Chicken.