Whiskey 101 with Matthew Biancaniello

The Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market is church for nearly every chef, established or aspiring, in Los Angeles. You’ll see bakers slalom past strollers with mile-high stacks crates of peaches and strawberries, restaurants chefs piling artichokes on top of potatoes and one cool, joyful mixologist with two sweet boys in tow, pulling a wagon of culinary curiosities. Matthew Biancaniello is an alcohol alchemist. He can turn salad ingredients into a cocktail and with the a twist of an orange, a cup of honey and splash of whiskey make a mean mixed drink.

We sat down with Matthew in the middle of the market, his canvas bags spilling with flowers, weeds and sprouting seeds, to discuss whiskey (it’s a tough job, but I’m willing to sacrifice on your behalf). You may want to explore what it takes to get whiskey from grain to glass before reading on…

What is the first thing you recall about experiencing Whiskey? Well, my first true appreciation, when I became an whiskey aficionado, came after tasting Laphroaig. You can really taste the salt air and the peat in this Irish whiskey. Terroir goes beyond soil.

What is your favorite sipping whiskey? Redbreast is my favorite sipping whiskey. It’s smooth with a great caramel finish. You can taste figs, spice from the wood and pepper. It’s aged for 12-18 years.

What pairs well with whiskey? Well, you want a powerful, strong flavor profile when mixing cocktails, which is why I like using whiskey. Honey is one, and ginger is a great partner for whiskey.

Why does honey show up so often in your whisky-based recipes? I use both agave and honey syrups with whiskey, but honey is really my favorite; it matches up with whiskey’s robust flavor and stands up with a similar viscosity. I make a syrup using three parts honey to one part water.

Any surprises? Blind tastings are great- I did a blind taste test and was surprised how much I liked Johnny Walker Green. Blends (made from a variety of grains and from various distilleries) are great and smooth.

Favorite Scotch?  I was lucky enough to have a bottle of 30 year old Laphroaig once; that is my all time favorite and very hard to live up to!

Do you have a favorite cocktail or drink you make with whiskey? Champagne cocktails are great- I make it with Laphroaig, the honey syrup and champagne. I also make one with Redbreast (see here).

How about punch? Punch is great for large groups. I get a big bowl and mix whiskey, aquavit, blood orange juice, some other ingredients and put a big chunk of ice cube in there for about an hour before serving. It gets it to just the right temperature and dilution.

Matthew Biancaniello’s Punch Bowl

Ingredients

Matthew Biancaniello's Punch Bowl

1-1/2 cups Honey
1/2 cup Water
4 cups Irish Whiskey
2 cups Batavia Arrack
2 cups Fresh lemon juice
8 cups Blood orange juice
2 cups Aquavit
4 ounces (1/2 cup) Freshly squeezed ginger juice (you can ask your smoothie shop to hook this up for you)

Directions

  1. Bring the honey and water to a simmer and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature (or make this days or weeks ahead and store in the fridge until you're ready to use it).
  2. Mix all of your ingredients together in a very large bowl. Add in one large ice cube one hour before serving to dilute and cool to the perfect punchbowl temp.