Homemade Amaro #1

Background

I decided to base my first amaro recipe after a couple others that I found online: Popular Mechanics and  Tickled Palate. I liked the double-infusion method to have more control over the ingredients. I also did some substitutions to use ingredients (such as dried cherries) that appealed more to me.

Recipe

I used a double-infusion method with the aim of yielding about 375ml of amaro. I used a pint canning jar for the infusions.

First Infusion

0512180908a

First infusion ingredients (before crushing).

The first infusion uses the following ingredients:

  • 375-ml bottle 100 proof vodka (I used Smirnoff)
  • 3 grams whole cloves
  • 1.5 grams cinnamon bark
  • 3 grams juniper berries
  • 3 grams gentian root
  • 3 grams cinchona bark

Lightly crush the cloves, cinnamon, and juniper berries with a mortar and pestle and then add to a pint jar with the vodka, gentian root, and cinchona bark.

Shake and taste every day until flavor seems pungent enough. When I did this recipe I left them in for a full 5 days, which ended up being too much for my tastes (see tasting notes below).

0512180916a

A day or so into the first infusion, where the color is still light.

0513181741

Near the end of the first infusion with much darker color.

Once this first infusion was complete I strained into a new pint jar and began the…

Second Infusion

This infusion includes the following ingredients:

  • 7.5 grams orange zest
  • 3 grams allspice
  • 3.2 grams cardamom
  • 5 grams orris root
  • 1/4 cu dried cherries (41.6g)
  • 3 grams fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 3 grams rhubarb root
  • 5 grams rosebuds
  • 2 grams calendula buds
  • 2.2 grams yarrow
0516181847.jpg

Ingredients for second infusion

Again, these were lightly ground with a mortar and pestle before adding to the pint jar.

0516181944.jpg

Second infusion ready to go

I let the second infusion proceed for 6 days total, shaking and tasting every day. The orange flavor came on strongly for the first 4 days, but by day 5 it had mellowed. None of the other ingredients really stood out, so that makes me think I should dial back the orange zest and let the second infusion go a little longer next time.

0518181936a

Second infusion underway

Once this infusion was complete I strained and filtered (with a Chemex coffee filter) the amaro.

0524182145

Straining the (unsweetened) amaro after the second infusion; look at that rich dark color!

I then sweetened it with a simple syrup made from boiling together:

  • 1/3 cu granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cu water

I bottled it in a leftover bourbon bottle and then began the tasting.

Tasting

What was first impressive about this beverage is that it actually smells like an amaro–something about that combination of herbs and bittering roots give it the right scent. Outside of that I can smell some cherry and cinnamon.

Upon first tasting I get a strong flavor of cinnamon and cloves, followed by bright orange but well-balanced sweetness. The bitterness hits me early, and lasts into a dry finish.

At 40% alcohol, the amaro is a bit hot and drinking it over ice helps cool it down.

0528182135a

The final product in a tasting glass with square ice cube.

Suggested Recipe Changes

Overall I’m incredibly happy with how my first amaro turned out. The overall strength and amount of sweetness is great. The flavor is great but there are aspects out of balance that I will change for my next batch:

  • The first infusion was too long as the bitterness, cinnamon, and cloves are too strong. I’d reduce this from five days to three and bump up the juniper to get more flavor from that.
  • From the second infusion all I can really taste is the orange. I shouldn’t have used zest for this; maybe just the peel instead. Or, I should have used maybe 20-30% of what I did (i.e. 2-3 grams). If I made that change, I may have left it longer in the second infusion to bring out more of the other flavors.

 

Posted in Homebrewing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Delaware Highpoint – Ebright Azimuth

The Delaware state highpoint, Ebright Azimuth, may not see impressive on the surface. It’s just a simple sign and park bench at an otherwise nondescript intersection near the Pennsylvania border; a “drive-up.” And it’s the second-lowest state highpoint at just 448 feet above sea level.

 

IMG_0574

But Ebright Azimuth is important to me because it was my first intentional highpoint. I wove it into a July, 2015, trip that included a visit to one of my favorite breweries, Dogfish Head. It is fascinating to me that this first state of the union, in such a central part of the Eastern coast, can feel so out of the way. Fun trivia fact: Delaware is the only U.S. state without a commercial airport.

So, you might say that on this warm summer day, traveling between Dover and Victory Brewing (Downingtown, PA), my quest for state highpoints truly began in earnest. It was an easy next step at an out-of-the way place; I literally just parked the car and walked across the street. But it felt special to be visiting an otherwise uninteresting spot in a residential neighborhood knowing that so many more were to follow.

IMG_3056

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Highpointing | Leave a comment

California Highpoint – Mount Whitney

Where the Journey Started

highpointing, n., the sport of ascending to the point with the highest elevation within some area (the “highpoint”), for example the highest points in each state.

I started highpointing in 2011, but I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. I was simply interested in summitting the highest peak in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney. Little did I know that it would evolve into a much longer journey across all 50 states.

The seeds of inspiration to climb Whitney were first planted within me when I was a teenager. My family was passing through Lone Pine, CA, on a trip from Death Valley. As this town is the gateway to Mt. Whitney, we went on a short family hike from that same trailhead. And even though we turned around far before getting anywhere close to the mountain, my interest was piqued in the trail beyond when my dad told me his Whitney story.

He his first summit attempt in the late 1950’s actually landed him in the hospital. He had failed to wear any sunscreen and received such severe sunburn that he needed medical attention. But the following year he tried again with his stepfather and made it. He gushed about the magnificent views from the top: how on a clear day you can see all the way to the lowest point in the U.S., Death Valley.

And, like so many times before, I was inspired to follow in my father’s footsteps. Except for the sunburn, of course.

Preparing for My Climb

At the start of 2011 I knew it would be a great year to attempt the climb. Mount Whitney is a popular one, and requires applying for permits months in advance. I decided to do it as a monster day hike (22 miles with 6,200 ft of elevation gain) rather than an overnight trip, as the backpacking permits are much more difficult to get. I applied by the February cut-off and by the late spring I had my permit confirmation in hand for an early August mid-week climb.

I knew the biggest challenge for me about Whitney would be the elevation, as I’d previously experienced altitude sickness above 10,000 ft. So over the early summer months I trained on tall mountains I could find near my home in San Diego: Mount San Jacinto (10,834 ft) and San Gorgonio (11,499 ft) in particular. I did each of these as long day hikes to simulate what I’d face on Whitney.

Lone Pine Logistics

I arrived in Lone Pine a few days in advance to get acclimatized as much as possible prior to climbing day. I stayed at the Lone Pine Campground (6,000 ft) rather than town so I could sleep under some oxygen deprivation. Two days prior to the climb I also did a short hike up to Lone Pine Lake (10,050′) to get my lungs ready.

One neat aspect of climbing Mount Whitney is that you can easily see it from the town of Lone Pine. But, to be honest, as a mountain profile it’s not that impressive. It’s merely the Northernmost and slightly tallest of a series of rocky spires towering above the town.

That being said, it’s still the tallest peak in the contiguous United States and it needed to be conquered.

IMG_6723.JPG

Mt. Whitney at sunset as seen from Lone Pine Campground

Climbing Day

The day hike climbing permit was good for the full 24 hours of my assigned climbing day. Given the afternoon heat in the summer, I wanted to get an early start on that day. I woke up at 2:00am, drove up to Whitney Portal, and was on the trail by 3:00am.

The first memorable part of the hike was how it was dark for so long. This was the first time I had hiked that far by headlamp, and I was above 11,000 ft elevation by the time the sun rose. It was such an incredible sight to see nearby rocky peaks colored rose by the rising sun.

IMG_6770.JPG

Sunrise among the rocky spires

A second memory was watching furry marmots frolic on rocks when I stopped for a break at Trail Camp, 12,000 ft. This was my first time seeing them in the wild.

IMG_6786.JPG

Marmot playing in a meadow near High Camp

IMG_6789.JPG

Lake at High Camp

The ridge walk between Trail Crest (13,777′) and the summit was stunning. To the West I looked down into crystalline High Sierra lakes, and to the East I saw glimpses of Lone Pine as I traveled amongst those granite spires. The precipitous drops on both sides triggered my fear of heights.

IMG_6804.JPG

View of lakes to the West from Trail Crest

IMG_6859.JPG

Precipitous trail section near Trail Crest

IMG_6826.JPG

The back side of rocky spires near the summit; the only snow field I had to cross

I reached the summit at 10:30am and was impressed by how massive it was. From the distant town below it seemed like a spindly peak, but there is actually a lot of space. Enough to build a cabin and have a summit party.

IMG_6834.JPG

Summit placard

IMG_6841.JPG

Me on the summit with Lone Pine in the distance

IMG_6849.JPG

View of lakes and peaks from the Mt. Whitney summit

The trip back down was a slog as I was suffering from sugar crash (too many energy gels) and lack of real food. As I descended below Trail Crest I counted every single one of the famed 99 switchbacks to track my progress and maintain focus.

IMG_6799.JPG

Looking up at Trail Crest from the 99 switchbacks section

I passed beautiful Mirror Lake with barely a nod, even though it had been dark when I ascended past it hours earlier. I was monomaniacal in my quest to return to the trailhead, which I completed at 3:45pm (total hiking time of 12.75 hours).

After driving back to town, checking into an actual motel, and taking a quick shower, I rewarded myself with dinner at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant. Walking in town after dinner, I watched the sun set on Whitney and felt simultaneously proud and amazed that just a few hours prior I had stood atop that nondescript rocky spike.

Epilogue

As I look back on my Mt. Whitney trip, I see how it introduced me to a couple realizations that have continued to resonate over the intervening six years.

For one, it showed me how rewarding an endeavor can be if it requires extreme mental fortitude. There was a moment on the way down at High Camp where I just wanted to curl up and sleep, but I pushed on. This has been vital as I’ve moved into other endurance and mountaineering adventures.

The second is my capability for epic adventure. Mt. Whitney continues to inspire in me the desire to travel somewhere for the sole purpose of doing an extreme physical adventure outdoors. Since that day in 2011 I’ve done multiple marathons, an ultra-marathon, and 12+hour mountaineering summit attempts. For each of those I can trace the thread back to an August day in Lone Pine, CA, where I learned that I have the strength within to do what I set my mind to.

Posted in Highpointing | Leave a comment