Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Neil Gaiman cameo! Also, The Ferrett drinks something weird.

Last year, we mailed a bunch of samples of infused vodkae to our friend, the reknowned blogger and webcomic author The Ferrett, who shared it with some friends and wrote a review for our site. (You can read his original three-part review here, here and here.) Recently, we sent another batch of samples to him in San Diego, where he's attending the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's Workshop.

The other day, he sent us a few photos as a sneak preview to his review. The pictures resulted from a ten-dollar bet, in which someone challenged the Ferrett to drink a cup of our garlic, habanero, and black tea & lemon vodka infusions, mixed together. Never one to turn down an easy ten bucks, or even an excruciatingly horrifying ten bucks, Ferrett accepted the challenge.

Here, the Ferrett steels himself for the task. His eyes boggle at this turn of events, but the rest of his face says nothing but determination. (Eagle-eyed viewers may spot Neil Gaiman, who is one of Ferrett's Clarion instructors, in center background.)

Ferrett sniffs at the cocktail of doom. What could be running through his mind at this moment?

Without further ado, he knocks it back.

At first, he reels at the sensation as the mixture rolls down his esophagus...

...Then shock sets in as the sensation spreads through his body to his extremities. The shakiness of this photograph reflects the turbulence of his very soul at this moment.

Shortly enough, however, Ferrett recovers his faculties enough to claim the spoils of triumph. Huzzah!

Ferrett also included a photograph which is unrelated to all of this; in fact, we're not sure if he included it intentionally at all. But it's damn cool, so here it is: a chart drawn up by Scott McCloud, classifying artists on a four-directional spectrum. You can read a more detailed description at Ferrett's post about the run-in.

Monday, August 11, 2008

North Cackalacky Sangria

It's Mixology Monday time again (yes, already!) and today's topic is Local Flavor. After deciding that revisiting our Cherry Bounce MxMo would be a cop-out, we wracked our brains trying to decide what we could write about that would qualify. Living in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, the folks around us seem to mostly drink cheap beer and chain-restaurant margaritas. Eventually, however, it occurred to us that the North Carolina wine scene has been expanding a great deal in recent years. Of course, a wine tasting isn't really what MxMo is all about, and we don't have the know-how for such a thing anyway. So we decided to take it in a direction that's a better fit and even kinda resembles our core competency (ha!), infusions. We resolved to pick up some North Carolina wine and make a batch of sangria.

That wasn't enough, though. We also swung by the local Farmer's Market to get some fresh, local (and even in season) fruits to throw in. We perused the offerings and settled on some peaches and blackberries. We also picked up some more traditional ingredients, a couple oranges and a lemon, at a grocery store; sadly, NC isn't a big citrus-producing state.

Now, the two of us are knowledgeable about many things. However, wine is not one of those things. So when we went looking for a North Carolina wine, we made our decision not based on anything we knew about the style, quality or producer of the wine (for we knew none of these things). Rather, we chose Duplin Winery's Black River Red because it was one of the first North Carolina wines we saw, and was labeled with a picture of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of our state's most famous landmarks.

When we got home, we tasted the wine in its original state and found it to be a bit sweet. Scratch that. It was the sweetest wine either of us had ever tasted. I don't think I have tasted something so intensely sweet since high school, when I endured the dreaded Pixy Stix Torture at the hands of a girl I had a crush on. Don't get me wrong, on the occasion that I drink wine, I like something a little bit sweet, but this stuff is crossing a line.

A few days after the experiment (this afternoon, to be precise), I noticed that Raleigh's Independent Weekly was coincidentally running an article on the growing NC wine industry, spotlighting a number of talented and industrious winemakers but soundly panning Duplin Winery, along with other winemakers that use locally abundant muscadine grapes. I can see why the stuff would catch on here in the south, where we like our tea the same way (if it's too sweet, just add some lemon). Perhaps we could have found a finer example to represent our state, but time constraints limited our research. (In full honesty, we planned this entire experiment in about ten minutes this past Saturday, while also keeping an eye on Wayland's kids at a playground and poking at the internet on his iPhone for quick references.) However, we still had high hopes for the end result; sangria is meant to be fairly sweet, after all.

We made the sangria by combining the following ingredients in a punch bowl:

2.5 bottles Duplin Black River Red wine (about 1.875 L)
375 mL Grand Marnier orange liqueur
3 peaches, sliced into wedges
2 oranges, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 basket of blackberries, muddled (exact amount unknown)

The blackberries presented a problem. We knew from our blueberry infused vodka that whole berries would not impart much, if any, flavor into the liquid. However, we were wary of squishing the berries, since we would be serving the drink from the punchbowl without straining it. We decided to break up the berries with a few carefree knife strokes, and later deal with whatever consequences we induced. As usual.

Since sangria is a drink to be shared with friends, we invited our buddy Jason over to once again participate in the tasting. (Little did he know what else we had in store for him, but that's a later post.) The ingredients were allowed to soak and mingle for three hours before serving over ice cubes.

The concoction was still quite sweet, but it wasn't the shocking sweetness of the wine itself. Though Grand Marnier is fairly sweet stuff also, the underlying flavors combined well and took the forefront. The flavors of the fruit pieces were difficult to single out, and we're not entirely sure if they combined just as seamlessly as the liquids or if they simply didn't have enough time to add much. I'd like to try this again with enough time to let it sit overnight. Inevitably, some bits of blackberry got into the glasses, but it was easy enough to work around them with straws.

We declared this experiment a success. It's not something we can afford to make regularly, but we bottled up the leftovers for future consumption, and will undoubtedly come up with an occasion to make it again and play with the recipe.

As a special bonus for our readers, we present an audio recording of this experiment's tasting. We recently acquired a nifty voice recorder to supplement our notes, and this was our first use of it. We probably won't post most of our logs this way, but we figured we'd try it a couple of times and see what people think.

Listen to the recording now (260 KB, .wav)


Wayland: Well, it goes down really smooth. ...I wonder how sensitive this thing is, if I can just talk and it catches it.

Brendan: I think it can.

Wayland: All right. It goes down really smooth; it tastes a lot like the original wine though.

Brendan: It's not quite as sweet as the original wine was. It's definitely got - you can taste that there's more alcohol in it.

Jason: What else is in here, other than wine?

Brendan: Grand Marnier, and fruit. Is there anything else?

Wayland: No.

Brendan: That's it, yeah.

Wayland: Yeah, a full bottle, well, a full 375 of Grand Marnier.

Brendan: For two -

Wayland: Two bottles of wine, yeah.

Banno (Brendan's cat): Meow.

Brendan: Meow.

Banno: Meow.

Wayland: I keep getting little chunks of blackberry.

Brendan: Yeah, it keeps getting - it's like drinking a Cook Out milkshake, you keep getting the straw clogged.

Wayland: Allrighty. There's our notes.

Jason: A bit fruity. Kind of like the people who make it.

Wayland: We're not fruity, we're nutty.