Hi friends;

2018 finds us with almost all recipes fully-written and in various states of finalization. The past couple of months have been filled with a flurry of writing, which has in turn slowed photography. As the writing side of things slows, however, I’m shifting attention back to matters in the studio itself.

There’s one issue we’ve run into numerous times while transcribing recipes that’s particularly interesting for me to wrap my head around. The Aviary often engages in collaborations with various distilleries, breweries, etc. The results of these collaborations  – products that have been custom-designed specifically for (or by) the Aviary – are pretty fascinating to learn about, but offer some notable complexity when it comes to writing recipes.

Consider, for example, Cloche Encounters:

When handed the recipe for this drink, Sarah and I noticed one of the base ingredients was “Maker’s Mark Private Select Aviary Barrel Bourbon”.  At first glance, I assumed this was simply a single barrel containing either classic Maker’s Mark bourbon or Maker’s 46.  I say “simply” because – while I recognize buying and using an entire single barrel of bourbon is nontrivial if you’re not a bar – substituting for this is relatively straightforward: our recipe would likely have called for a bottle of Maker’s or Maker’s 46 instead. 

But Chef Micah explained that, actually, it was neither of these.

Maker’s Mark, if you’re not intimately-familiar with the distillery, has produced a single eponymous bourbon for over 65 years.  A good deal of their infrastructure and production process is dedicated to ensuring consistency in their product. This necessitates some sophisticated blending processes (both temporally and spatially within their rickhouses). While this is good for creating a predictable flavor profile, it creates difficulties for the distillery if they wish to introduce some variation in their product line (much of their operation is built around reducing variation).

This doesn’t mean they have no desire to experiment, however. And so, years ago, they developed a rather clever process by which they could introduce some variation without needing to refactor their production pipeline. The way they do this: after creating a batch of the blended, “classic” Maker’s Mark bourbon, a portion of this is re-barreled with a handful of charred barrel staves. These staves are different than those used in the construction of the barrels themselves, and are specifically designed to impart various flavors into the bourbon. You can think of it like making a tea of sorts: the staves infuse different flavors into the base bourbon.

These “infusion staves” are all different: they have different toast levels and surface characteristics, designed to impart different flavors into the bourbon. Maker’s explored many variations of stave combinations before landing on a stave recipe that ultimately yields Maker’s 46. In so doing, they found the process of exploring this so compelling that they decided to offer this experience to others.

And so, intrigued by this, Chef Micah and some other bartenders here took a trip to Kentucky to work with the distillers to develop a stave recipe of their own. The staves and aging schedule chosen by the chefs yields a bourbon featuring prominent cinnamon, chocolate, and vanilla flavors which is – by design – unlike Maker’s Classic or Maker’s 46. The Cloche Encounters pairs these flavor notes with similar aroma notes (mocha and smoked cinnamon) in a design that’s based entirely on this unique bourbon.

I find this story completely fascinating!

It also, incidentally, creates a uniquely difficult situation in regards to recipe writing. Simply swapping the Aviary-designed bourbon for another seems to me like a huge disservice to the creativity involved in designing this cocktail. I mean, as a reader, I’d want to know this story! On the flipside, as someone sympathetic to those who may wish to try this at home, I’m sensitive to the problems that an ingredient like this poses.

After consideration and discussion, our current plan for Cloche Encounters is to suggest a substitute…and also to provide the Aviary stave recipe itself.

This book is rife with cases like this, and we’re trying to be thoughtful about each one. When it’s reasonable to suggest substitutes for Aviary-specific collaborative ingredients, we do so, but we’re also reticent to completely obfuscate what is actually a very big part of the creative process here (namely: forging relationships with potential collaborators, and creating drinks that are the direct result of these collaborations). The general hope is that doing this helps inspire creative thinking about products beyond simply choosing one from the shelf.