By Jenner Cormier
There is something comforting and heartwarming about the smell of caramel. Whether it immediately brings back memories of your grandmother’s kitchen or, if you are like me, provides an instant flashback of a cooperage in the Southern United States, where the aroma of freshly toasted white oak toys with your senses.
Who knew that the heating of various sugars or scorching wooden barrels could produce such incredible flavours? Wooden barrels were originally used for their durability and convenience to transport a variety of dry goods. Then someone realized that the wooden casks may be more durable than the ceramic containers traditionally used to store spirits. In order to remove the residual flavours left behind in the surface wood of the barrel, distillers began charring their insides. This process creates a surface that allows for a natural charcoal filtration along the inside of the barrels. The liquid passes through it as the barrels expand and contract due to temperature fluctuation which is directly influenced by their environment. Toasting or charring the inside of wooden barrels also caramelizes certain natural sugars that exist in the surface of the wood.
These natural sugars, flavour molecules and aromatics subtly infuse a beautiful caramel flavour along with light hints of vanilla and baking spice into spirits being held in these charred wooden casks. These days, aging spirits in wooden receptacles has become an absolute art form, blended to perfection by teams of distillers equipped with tasting abilities far beyond the sophistication of any computer. We are lucky enough to be left with endless possibilities for naturally introducing flavour to our favourite spirits such as fine aged brandies (French or South American), rums from all corners of the earth, whiskies, tequilas and other liqueurs.
Of course, you can add notes of caramel to cocktails with the use of non-alcoholic ingredients, as well. Try using different types of sugars in simple syrup recipes to sweeten your shrubs. Agave, turbinado, cane, maple or raw are just a few of the sugars available at most grocery stores these days.
You Know It’s True
- 1 fl oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 fl oz simple syrup*
- 1/2 fl oz egg white
- 1/4 fl oz Cîroc Apple
- 1 1/4 oz Crown Royal Vanilla
- Fresh mint, for garnish
Directions: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and dry shake without ice for 8-10 seconds. Open and add ice. Shake hard for 10-12 seconds. Strain cocktail into an old-fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
- 2 dashes of Angostura Orange bitters
- 3/4 fl oz Bulleit Bourbon
- 1/ 2 fl oz Dolin Rouge Vermouth
- or other red Chambéry Vermouth
- 1/4 fl oz Chartreuse Green
- Zest of orange or lemon
Directions: Fill a mixing glass with ice and stir for 18-20 seconds or until it has reached your desired dilution, temperature. Strain cocktail into a chilled stemmed glass. Garnish with a zest of orange or lemon expressed over the surface of the drink.
Rollin & Tumblin
- 1 fl oz espresso
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1/2 fl oz Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur
- 1/2 fl oz Orgeat syrup*
- 1/2 fl oz Nolet Ketel One Vodka
- Grated chocolate, for garnish
- Berries, for garnish
- Orange zest or wheel, for garnish
Directions: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake hard for 8-12 seconds. Dump all ingredients from shaker tin directly into a tall glass, without straining. Garnish with a straw then add freshly grated chocolate, berries or an orange zest/wheel.
* Orgeat syrup, under brand name Torani and Monin, is available at many grocery stores and Walmart supercentres.
- 1 fl oz heavy cream
- 1 1/4 fl oz Ironworks Bluenose Rum
- 1/4 fl oz cane syrup*
- 1/4 fl oz Italian bitter
- 3 heavy dashes Angostura bitters
- Freshly grated nutmeg, chocolate or cinnamon
Directions: Add all wet ingredients to a shaker tin. Fill with ice and shake for 8-10 seconds. Strain into a stemmed glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg, chocolate or cinnamon.
* To make cane syrup, combine equal parts (ideally by weight, but by volume also works) of turbinado sugar and water in a pot set over high heat. Bring mixture to a boil and then remove from heat. Let cool, bottle and refrigerate. The syrup will keep for 1-2 weeks refrigerated.
Whisky Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/4 cup whisky
- Pinch salt
Directions: Place sugar in a large pot set over medium heat. Heat without stirring until sugar melts and caramel forms. Remove from heat and add butter; stir. Add whisky and salt. Place over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, stir constantly. Pour into heat proof jar or bottle. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Cîroc Apple, 750 ml, $49.98
- Bulleit Bourbon, 750 ml, $38.99
- Crown Royal Vanilla, 750 ml, $30.99
- Ironworks Bluenose Rum, 750 ml, $43.01
- Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur, 750 ml, $29.99