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Keep up with the Mad Men

A whiskey primer to get you in the door
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 9, 2009

The ultra-smooth Ellis Island at David’s Creative Cuisine.

Don Draper and his ad men swig whiskey all day like it's no thing, but some of you daintier folk may think scotch and bourbon are too harsh. Lame! If you want to think like a mad man, you've got to drink like a mad man. We're here to help. What follows is a novice's guide to whiskey, so that you, too, can be smooth and sophisticated.

First, a primer: Whiskey is a dark grain alcohol aged in wooden casks. There are several types of whiskey, which you can identify based on what grains were used in the distillation process. Bourbon is a sweetish whiskey made using primarily corn (Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, and Wild Turkey are famous bourbons); Irish whiskey comes from barley (Bushmills and Jameson); as does Scotch whisky (all the Glen-expensives, plus Chivas, Dewar's, etc.). There are even further distinctions within those — rye is a spicy version made with rye grains (several distillers, like Jim Beam, also make rye); blended whiskey comes from a mix of several types of grain; Canadian whiskey (like Crown Royal or Seagram's Seven Crown) is typically a blend that contains large percentages of rye; single-malt is not blended, and is made from 100-percent barley malt in a single distillery.

Got all that? Great. Moving on. Classic whiskey drinks include the Manhattan (rye, vermouth, and bitters), the Old Fashioned (whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a splash of soda water), the Mint Julep (Kentucky bourbon, sugar, mint, and water), and the Whiskey Sour (whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup). You can find good versions of all of these around Portland (except for the whiskey sour — anyone found a good one of those yet?), including in certain kitchens (we hear one Kentucky transplant makes a mighty fine, and authentic, Mint Julep; a local writer claims that her Manhattans are the best in town).

But if you and whiskey are just getting to know each other (as well you should — whiskey is a crucial component to many a winter's night), you might need more than a spoonful of sugar to help that medicine go down. At local bars and restaurants, whiskey shows up in some unexpected places.

At DAVID'S CREATIVE CUISINE (22 Monument Square), try the ultra-smooth Ellis Island. Made with Michael Collins Irish whiskey, Frangelico, and orange bitters, the hazelnut removes the bite and offers an almost-chocolate flavor at the beginning, which slowly mellows to a not-too-sweet orange taste as the bitters (and garnish of candied orange peel) emerge. Named for its Irish and Italian ingredients, it's a pleasant drink you'll want to revisit time and again.

Another unique choice is the Perfect Pearing, at FIVE FIFTY-FIVE (555 Congress St.), which combines pear-infused whiskey with Maine Root's sarsaparilla soda for a sweet treat (sarsaparilla tastes much like root beer, mingling notes of clove and wintergreen) that looks sharp served over ice in a highball glass. It's a grown-up version of everyone's favorite entry-level whiskey drink — the 7 & 7, a mix of Seven Crown whiskey and 7-Up soda.

The Afterglow, at GRACE (15 Chestnut St.) is another sweetened-up whiskey beverage. Fig-, maple-, and orange-infused bourbon is smooth and balanced, served in a martini glass with a sugared rim and a spiral of orange peel. This spirited take on the Manhattan would impress the most weathered of whiskey drinkers.

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