Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mixology Monday, May 2015: I'll Take Manhattan!

I've got to stop being fashionably late. It's a character flaw. Eh well, better than last month (aka, yesterday). Welcome back to the awesomest cocktail jamboree on the planet, bar none, Mixology Monday! May's host is beloved ringleader Fred of cocktail virgin slut, continuing the year's classic cocktail riff theme with "I'll Take Manhattan!" Take it away, sir!
While there have been a variety of Manhattan variations through the years such as the Preakness and the Brooklyn, most of the twentieth century saw this drink unchanged, in theory that is. I know that I have gotten a cocktail glass full of frothy Bourbon and ice shards at a place that I should have stuck to beer; indeed, both the vermouth and the bitters have fallen out of fashion to some degree at average bars. Other Manhattan experiences used only a splash of vermouth; when I complained, one bartender declared that he did not put too much in. I countered that it was not enough and repeated that I wanted a 2:1 Manhattan. That bartender would not let himself add more and handed me the vermouth bottle so he could be relieved of responsibility in the matter. However, the last decade or so has seen a renewal in the drink begin made correctly. Moreover, I would point to New York City cerca 2005 as the re-birth of the Manhattan variation with drinks like the Red Hook being born.

For this theme, actuate it any way you'd like as long as the drink resembles a Manhattan. Want to take 19th century Manhattan recipes or variations to the test? Want to figure out what the best whiskey to vermouth pairings and ratios are? Or perhaps subbing out the whiskey or vermouth for another ingredient or adding in a liqueur or other modifier or so to the mix? Awesome, you're right on track! There are plenty of Manhattan and Manhattan variations out there in the literature, and there's plenty of room to explore and tinker if that's your thing, too.
Go see what the fuss is about and how everyone else chose to gussy up this perfect cocktail.

Oh, the Manhattan. My Ur-cocktail. How do I love thee? Let me count the myriad ways (including my first-ever recipe posted - how did I luck out with that given my skill-level at the time?). Though, oddly enough, I haven't done a riff since late 2013, the most direct riff of all: Falling Sun Manhattan. A friend once asked me if I'd ever tried bourbon; within weeks I had leapfrogged over the Old Fashioned straight to what, to me, seemed the pinnacle of sophisticated substantial cocktail class. The Manhattan is the sort of cocktail I fancied being enjoyed in shaded sumptuous wood-paneled offices or velvet-draped restaurant alcoves by decidedly old school movers, shakers and tough dealmakers, all plying their trade on the island betwixt the two rivers. The Martini's glamour by contrast was spoiled for me by the hundreds of plasma-colored knockoffs of the 90s and early 2000s. I never watched Mad Men, but the mystique of just what was in Don Draper's glass probably piqued a lot of other folk in the exact same way. Some things are just better left hidden.

Flash-forward to 2 Sundays ago: Unca Jim's (no relation) doing one of his Sunday night TNT sessions on Twitter, mentions armagnac, and with Avengers still fresh in mind I was off to the races! Suddenly I'm googling, getting visions of eyepatches, Aston-Martins, Contessas and Whisky à Go-Go dancers - and one great glorious pun.

The armagnac was ultimately edited out due to a bugaboo of mine about Manhattans, though: grape spirit on grape wine is too soft. The cocktail's magic lies in the clash, intrigue and spice of fundamentally different ingredients. Masculine, rough whiskey, mediated by bitters and a good twist of orange, leads the dance with feminine sweet wine made intricate with herbs. The Manhattan is the perfect melding of northern and southern European drinking cultures - the essence of Americana at the time of its birth. This in turn inspires another magic: an emergent flavor greater than the sum of its parts that is distinctly "Manhattan," regardless of brands used. It seems a rare few cocktail obtain that level of greatness.

So here's a little something Maxwell Smart might drink.

Secret Agent Manhattan
2 oz Rye whiskey
3/4 oz Lillet Rouge
1/4 oz Benedictine
1 tsp Campari
2 dashes Angostura bitters
lime twist

Stir. Strain. Garnish.

The lime hits you first - no someone isn't trying mask the smell of a rotting corpse, but lime zest tends to be so aggressive it's used, erm, "judiciously." [Boomer: Or maybe extra-judicially?] Here, it fills the mouth upon breath with fresh citrus, like you're going to dive into a daiquiri - not apropos for the mileau, but it gets more...sanguine, from here, as suggested by the undertinge of grape that follows.

Rye spice slinks down your tongue as a holy grapetty aura enters your mouth. It's got the Manhattan emergence, if but a tad bit softer due to the wine, but also with a Campari bitter edge lurking underneath and that lantern-like Benedictine glow that's like a soft cinnamon puffball as the drink warms, the citrus undercurrents with notes of gingerbread also rising to the fore. The Benedictine itself references the Monte Carlo - another Manhattan riff - synonymous with spycraft, while Campari is its glam worldly self. The lime zest adds a sharp edge that reminds of the danger in this otherwise luxurious world (and helps tame some of the sweeter elements).

Now, granted, I've never ever tasted Lillet Rouge before, but I know exactly what it tastes like. [Boomer: *facepaw*] And, if you're subbing Dubonnet Rouge in like I've done here, may I suggest a small bit of grapefruit zest in your mixing glass to help mutate those strawberry notes into less delicate/cloying red fruit? (hey, if lemon and Campari fuse to form grapefruit, why not an extension of that?) Lillet Rouge is known for notes of raspberry and cherry, suggesting a slightly "harder"/more robust second billing, even if, potentially like its sister expressions, it's a bit sweeter than many other aromatized/fortified wine substitutes. I found out too late for the deadline that Lillet Rouge can be ordered in PA (3 bottle min special order), but it seems like a worthwhile investment (especially since I still have handy one of a 3-bottle allotment of Lillet Rose from 2012). So, I'll end up annotating the post with any modifications at some point, but otherwise consider the above recipe subbing Dubonnet Rouge as "The Queen's Secret Agent Manhattan", given her majesty's affinity for the Zaza/Dubonnet Cocktail. As for the Lillet fixation to begin with? Need I spell everything out?

And furthermore, I know this is Manhattan heresy, but avoid Rittenhouse and perhaps overproof rye altogether unless it's extremely dry. Mixing this with Rittenhouse last night turned the recipe into a mess of dark caramelly syrup with the accent flavors buried (adjustments may be needed if you go overproof?). Tonight I mixed with new PA-local revival brand Kinsey (the red label, 86 pf) and the ingredients were much happier together. Kinsey's a bit paler than the Rittenhouse, and a blend as the crew behind Bluecoat gin and Vieux Carré absinthe get the brand established, but very sippable neat and not a complete showboat when mixing.

Many thanks to Mr. Yarm, our outstanding host and president and CEO of Frédéric's Chateau d'Herbe-au-Chats aux Pyrénées - I hope this recipe was worth the extension!

Until next time, folks! Cheers!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Not Quite Mixology Monday, April 2015: Drink of Shame

Hi everybody! The grand catch-up continues with my entry for last month's Mixology Monday event (gotta get it out before today's deadline for May's event, natch!).

For the month of April, our host was Whitney of Tipicular Fixins, a lass with a creative bent and sensibility for far-ranging ingredients after my own heart - go check her out (especially the Ikea lingonberry post)! She brings us a theme that's a recipe for searching out the deep dark parts of our cocktail psyche (bring Q-tips!): Drink of Shame!
So, you’re a certified, mixologist, craft-tender, bar chef or fine spirit

But, there was a time when you only ordered Long Island Iced Tea. Or, maybe you always made the Jello shots for your frat? Perhaps you’re the reason that your local had an Island Oasis machine for so long? Rye & Ginger? Vodka Seven? Someone was ordering these things. Your street cred would be ruined if you ordered or (gasp) served one now, but don’t you miss it, just a little?

Wouldn't you love to have one more Jolly Rancher? A chance to drink a mudslide without shame? We all made questionable drink choices in our past, the popular drinks from 1970 to the year 2000 were a cheap, sugary mess. Now is the time to resurrect your favourite drink from the time before modern Mixology. Give a new life to the drink you had to put down after you had your first real cocktail.

This is the remix.

Maybe you need to use fresh ingredients, or you can try elevating the spirits. Make everything from scratch or remove an offending ingredient. Do whatever you can to bring back and legitimize a drink you used to love.
Check out last month's round-up post here, along with the transformative magic at work from all the participants!

Our drink, nearly finished, with my old
Incredible Hulk/Chuck Norris recipe card.
Y'know? For the life of me, I struggled to even remember a trashy recipe I had more than once (and that's not just because of the blackouts they induced). No, I remember the Cerebral Hemorrhage and the What She's Having and (ha!) the Angel's Tit (the crusty old bartender at the brewpub went wild, swinging his towel around when he heard that order - that was actually in a recipe book they had, natch). But my motto back then was (and largely still is except for certain classics) "never have the same drink twice." And with all the recipes I was finding on (don't click, avoid the potential viruses) and writing down on business cards I'd never otherwise use so I could have them at the ready for bartenders, I had too big a world to explore not to.

But there is one recipe I do remember quite well and maybe even had a couple of times, both at home and out when I could find a place that kept Hpnotiq in-house (yes, we're going there, today): the Incredible Hulk. Real simple: drizzle an equal part bright sky-blue Hpnotiq over cognac on ice, letting the drink morph into a radioactive green mess - bing! There's your Hulk. (although if you add a shot of Johnnie Walker Red from there, the Incredible Hulk gets angry and morphs into Chuck Norris! I never had a Chuck Norris.)

The Hpnotiq was good while it lasted, both for the Hulk and other brand-proprietary recipes (and my own bright violet Fairy Princess made with pink Kinky liqueur and vanilla vodka - see what my early editorial discretion saved you folks?). But I finished that bottle off in my early days of getting serious and haven't looked back. Until now.

Looking at the recipe, the cognac was never the issue, just the crayon-colored industrial sugar and acid bomb that was Hpnotiq. How much actual cognac they used and what their definition of "premium" is, we'll never know. Nor do we know the exact flavor profile other than "vaguely tropical with a heaping helping of passionfruit esters" according to its brand competition with blue Alize (don't get me started on the Alizes..). Ahhh...but tropical, that's something we can work with, especially if it involves approximating a flavor with a stack of ingredients.

Bruce Banner's ditched his plane somewhere in Fiji and taken up with a hula maid down in a little tiki hut by the sea. I give you the Tiki-fied...

The Beachcomber Hulk
1 1/2 oz cognac
3/4 oz Batavia arrack
3/8 oz passionfruit syrup
1/4 oz blue curaçao
1/4 oz lemon juice
1 dash orgeat
1 dash vanilla bitters
1 slice starfruit
Mint and cherry for garnish

Fill a rocks glass with pellet or slightly-larger-than-pellet ice.

Muddle the starfruit in a shaker along with everything but the cognac and garnish. Shake with 1 small ice cube to agitate with minimal dilution.

Add the cognac to the rocks glass and then drizzle the blue mixture over top, letting it sink down to turn the drink green.

Give a little stir and garnish.

Secret of the Ooze
Passionfruit and blue flavors, anchored by the wondrous funk of arrack, a light lemon acid edge not generated by a dumptruck of sugar, based on able illuminous cognac. Avec un certain je ne sais quoi.

So I gave the blue mix a good initial eyeball for ingredients -- how was I supposed to know it'd smell exactly like Hpnotiq? Incroyable! Who says you have to stick to the model of a cognac/vodka base? Batavia arrack is infinitely more interesting, and at 100 proof a lot more Hulk-like. The starfruit extends the tropical flavors and brings some good mild freshness as well, though you might want to play around with other tropical fruits too.

I know the pics show one large rock instead of small ice - that was a misstep for the initial version, however much the flavor was spot-on. You want something that will bring a good dilution and balance without also over-diluting. Otherwise, go to town!

Thanks to Whitney for hosting a fun theme and to Fred for wrangling as ever.

Stay tuned, dear reader - this very eve is another Mixology Monday - and this time I've got the time, the recipe and the name already in place.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bull with a Barette

Welcome back dear reader! Now, in the next step of getting caught-up on posting, here's a recipe whose initial testing dates back to 2012 or 2013 (and whose quality merits a weekday post while we're still in the month of Taurus). Those with sparkling memories might remember a promise about a White Bull recipe made in 2013 from the Bucentaure recipe - take a few moments and catch up, we're working the thematicness here. The White Bull itself is closer than you think, but this recipe is an offshoot from Bucentaure development (back when I didn't know a thing about structure and was just throwing things in a glass hoping it would taste good) that was just too darn good to let slip away.

As I mention at the end of the Bucentaure post, "I started with a taste-image combo of Fernet Branca and violet liqueur to match the season, though I had tried neither, and it all grew from there." Literally, one day the idea hit me and that night I had picked up my first bottles of Fernet Branca and Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette, entranced at the idea of loamy/minty earth* --or perhaps by its symbolic counterpart, the zodiac's Earth-sign bull-- covered over by tiny violets and enjoying the sun-heated ground, crisp breeze, and very fresh grass of this time of year.

*many thanks to all the internet Fernet reviewers out there - I actually wasn't very surprised/shocked by the time I finally tried Fernet!

You might be wrinkling your nose right about now - Fernet and violette are not natural partners as I quickly came to realize. (hence frantic searching for a newfangled revival of Crème Yvette just getting rolled out in state stores at the time) However, HOWEVER... When moderated by the lightness of lemon (and a gradient of aged spirits, wine and bitters)? Hmm...

I forget the exact circumstance of the limonata here: either I tried veering Bucentaure in a less-heavy/Sour direction (so I could work in an egg white) or I mixed in some leftover soda when exasperated by the heaviness of the recipe. Either way, the sour and added dilution lift the drink just-so. And the addition of very-recent find, black mission fig bitters, is a perfect bridge, making up for lost dark dried fruit notes from Bucentaure's armagnac when switching to a more standard brandy (and losing some of the wild tang that might interfere with violette's integration). You might try the fig bitters in place of the plum bitters in Bucentaure as well, to fab results.

So anyway, as if I haven't already given you enough, here's a whole lotta Bull.

Bull with a Barrette
2 tsp Fernet Branca
10 drops Brooklyn Hemispherical black mission fig bitters
10 drops Xocolotl Molé bitters
2 oz San Pellegrino limonata
1 oz Smith & Cross naval rum
1 oz tawny port (Sandeman)
1 oz brandy (Masson VSOP)
1/4 oz crème de violette, divided
Mint & fresh violets for garnish

Build in a rocks or highball glass on ice, giving small stirs after the limonata and first half (1 bsp) of the violette. Drizzle the remaining violette (1 bsp) over top for aromatics and garnish with mint & violets.

Let the drink rest a few minutes, let it dilute properly: the melody arises in the dilution.

Heavy for a long drink but it melds luxuriously. Mint and faint citrus lift the nose, followed by earthy aged grape and bitter herbs. Violet mellows and balances. You could almost say this is a very boozy version of Miss May.

The violette enunciates the port first (undergirded by brandy) and underneath that is a subtle rum funk. And finally underneath all that you get Fernet's chocolatey herbs. All this is evidenced by limonata's pectiny savory oh-so-sippable edge. Despite the name and my grander cocktail plans, this taste fits the perfect flavor idea of a bull in my mouth.

This isn't a fierce bull that's going to become infuriated at the drop of a red waiving cloth. This is a bull that's perfectly happy to lie in a flowery meadow and be kissed on the ear by butterflies. Bucentaure was the Id, and here we have the Ego. Stay tuned for Super Ego!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Impromptu: Remember the Aries Dream

Getting back on track here - let's retake the blog from the Russian referrer spam. This year has been brutal for having not just one thing after another, but loads of things on top of things after the other. The universe might be offering a respite now that Iris v2.0 is back up, though.

First up here is a little one-off born of seasonal noodling. I wanted to find a white tea with big red fruit notes for the month of Aries, my birth month (colors include diamond and red - bear with me, it's all one big sensorium here). Lo and behold, Teavana provides with their Snow Geisha blend: a light taste that's heavy on the aromatics, which include cherry, rose and cranberry among others.

Mixing partner? Sake, naturally. And of all names: Snow Maiden, a fruity nigori (unfiltered) named after a very long-lived koi.

How to mix? A cobbler sangaree (? it's been awhile..) with fancy ice seemed the best bet.

Accents? A little of this, a little of that. What I lucked out on having in the fridge: blood orange and fresh mint. As chance would have it, I whipped this up a month ago for my birthday, so to hark back to an earlier birthday recipe, I threw in a bit of cachaça, then rounded/sweetened it all off with some Aperol.

Yes, that's a rosebud from the tea on top there.

Remember the Aries Dream
2 1/2 oz Snow Maiden nigori sake
1 oz 51 cachaça
1 tsp Aperol
2 thin blood orange wheels
6-7 smallish mint leaves
1 cup Teavana Snow Geisha pellet ice (include tea leaves for decoration)

Quick shake all including ice and pour into goblet or other appropriate cobbler glass.

Snow geisha and rose on the nose with rice cream.
On the palate: creamy, tea-dried sake body, mint brightness around the edge, blood orange zest in sip, with a bittered cachaça-inflected finish.

Snow Geisha ice: the recommended brewing time is only about 2 minutes, but blow past that until the tea is cool to promote the most forward flavor. Freeze in pellet ice tray along with tea leaves/aromatics for prettiness in the glass.

Cheers, self.

May the shoe always fit and your waiters always look like Jason Momoa.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Mystic Rain

Never let words get in the way of a lyrical image.

Mystic Rain
1 oz reposado mezcal (Los Amantes)
3/4 oz green Chartreuse
1/2 oz Meyer lemon juice
4 oz San Pellegrino
Meyer lemon twist & tarragon for garnish

Shake the first three ingredients with light ice. 
Strain over fresh ice and San Pellegrino in a Collins or Highball glass. 

The Los Amantes is elegant meaty mystic-smoky oddness, and it combines with the anise spice of tarragon and Chartreuse, and butterfly perfume and not-over-sharpness of Meyer lemon to create a rain-spritzed zen bower. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've ever walked out of a spa covered in varied unguents smelling exactly like Chartreuse. This is just a cocktail to go along with the experience.

Mystic Rain hails from about this time last year, but the season changed before I could gather tasting notes and publish. In addition to my above-mentioned (lone) spa visit, I was also directly inspired by Scott Diaz's Spa Day from last April's MxMo. As I learned after said visit, apparently there's such a thing as Spa Week* every April - which I missed out on, meh. The deeper goal with Mystic Rain was to evoke the sprightliness and mist of green March transitioning into yellow April (ducklings and rain slickers and buttercups to go with the showers - just look at the end of that one Richard Scary book if you doubt my authenticity), but hey if you're looking for an occasion to sip, there you go; if you notice from my repertoire, I tend have no clue how to fit most of these cocktails into time-appropriate milieus so take this advice and run with it.

Go out of your way to track down this reposado mezcal if you can - the NYT recommends it as the only aged mezcal worth tracking down, and there's such a unique emergent quality to it that you might forget you're sipping an agave spirit. The aging mellows it nicely, without bringing much sweetness. [*I don't make any money from FdV, receive free samples or am paid to promote anything, mind you. Blog-love to those with different policies, but I much prefer the ethical and creative freedom to speak my mind (and shoot off my mouth), good or bad.]

Granted, there aren't a lot of recipes keyed to the spirit beyond tequila-substitutions yet, but here's another one, the sherry and Cynar-laden Tobacco Road by Nick Caruana of The Straight Up, if you're looking.

Not to be remiss, when double-checking for similar recipes out there I found the unattributed gin-based 75 & Sunny. While more elaborate, the spring-evocative combination of Chartreuse and tarragon soothes so well in a highball.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mixology Monday, March 2015: Call Me Old Fashioned!

Welcome back to another round of the greatest cocktail party on the planet, Mixology Monday!!! *KtF Flail-Yaaaayyyyy* Life never ceases in its frustrations, but that's ok - nights like this are made for getting one's drink-fu on.

The no-nonsense and très skillful Laura of Sass & Gin (the more sass the better, is my feeling) hits us with as true a cocktail theme as they come: Call Me Old Fashioned!
The Old Fashioned is the original "cock tail," dating to the early 1800's. In this humble bartender's opinion, it is the pater familias of all other drinks, and it has taken its place as such in the recent cocktail revival. We have seen many variations of the Old Fashioned (i.e. Mayahuel's Oaxaca Old Fashioned, PDT's Benton's Old Fashioned) and the resurgence of similar cocktails (i.e. the Sazerac). The bitter's market has exploded over the last decade, with more flavor profiles than ever before, and with a more health-conscious public, your local grocery store is likely to carry a selection of sugars to play with (agave, coconut sugar, turbinado, etc).

So, here's the challenge: We will be sticking to the traditional ratios of spirit, bitters and sugar, but I'm challenging you to step outside the box with your selections. In addition, how will it be chilled or garnished? Do you want to add a secondary spirit or rinse? Go to town!

When active, click this link to see a bunch of old folks nursing rocks glasses out on the porch. (myself included)

This month's theme shocked me in a way: apparently I haven't done an official Old Fashioned recipe in ages (though I've done sub-impromptu OFs with whatever is on hand from time to time). I learned towards them in some of my earliest recipes, then had a quick spate of them about this time of year, 2013 -- all of which hold up during an otherwise mostly-miss period. Then nothing. Time to rectify that.

I had a fancy to maybe riff on Brian Miller's (of Death & Co.) 4-spirited The Conference, perhaps with white spirits, but I think that needs more time for refinement. There's also the spark of a Cinnamon Toast Old Fashioned with some tasty butter-washing - but that also takes time.

Nope. There's something about the Old Fashioned that is deeply hospitable while being distinctly à la minute: grab a spirit or two, pick one of the umpteen mini-bottles of syrup in the fridge and then a bitters or two from ye olde shoeboxe. Stir stir stir stir. Sploosh goes a hunk o' ice and garnish. So apt for interpreting the mood of a micro-moment.

And, what's capturing my attention tonight is the imminent failure of my laptop's hard drive - yes, I'm typing on said computer, at least until forced to switch to my phone (thank goodness for blog software that continuously saves). But, I started Feu de Vie on Iris and have spent countless hours into the wee morning blogging and reading away, so it only seems fair to end her with an appropriate blog post and toast, on St. Paddy's Day no less.

Iris, named after the Flash's Iris West and for her iridescent white Vaio casing. Sparkling and classy successor to the 6-month-mourned Compaq laptop Pookie. (What? You don't name your computers? Next thing you'll be telling me you don't name your knives, or bookcases..) Here's to you, milady, a parting glass. Thanks for the seven years of writerly freedom and daring, and for the grace to let me capture all my data in the end.

Iris' Requiem
1 oz Irish whiskey (Writer's Tears if you have if, otherwise good ol' Paddy)
1 oz gin (St. George Botanivore)
1/2 tsp sugar
2 dashes Bittercube cherry bark vanilla bitters
rinse Bénédictine
dried sakura blossoms for garnish

Rinse your glass with B.
Set in the freezer to chill.
Sugar. Bitters. Stir.

Spirits join the base mix.
One last coming together.
Ice to chill and weak.

Rock rest in the glass.
Strain over, see clarity.
Sakura perfumes.

Sweet ease from whiskey and sugar, delighting in rich blossoms and vanilla, undertoned in faint earthy herbal spice.

Looking for sakura blossoms? Check your favorite tea shop or dry goods store. Mine are from a sakura black tea blend.

Thanks to Laura for hosting a fine theme -- there's something quite fitting about such a seminal drink theme at the start of spring. Thanks also to Fred for keeping us all going month after month, with some knockout one-two punch themes lately! I can't wait to see what's next!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Jane's Girdle

Hold onto your hats, ladies & gents, you're about to dive deep into a recipe a good year and a half in the making, minimum. Granted, the darned non-cocktail schedule tends to get obnoxious at times, hence the delayed write-up for this year's Tiki month. As you'll see, some of that obnoxiousness flows over into the recipe, but if you're looking for nice and easy cocktail recipes *points to the What's Bubbling Up section to your left* honey, you're in the wrong place. This is wild-and-crazy-experimentation-because-I-can land. 'Cause someone has to do it, darnit!

With that in mind, I give you an uncanny piece of Tiki triangulation that's a hodgepodge of ingredients painstakingly researched, fought for, preserved for the right day, melted and refrozen, and wrung within the very inch of its life (many times over).

But first, some thanks are in order. To JFL at Rated R Cocktails, for his explorations on Planters Punches, a deeply helpful guide to getting the structure down. To Rumdood for his advice on Brugal rums. To Doug at The Pegu Blog for the right-place-right-time idea of blending then (maybe) straining your Tiki drink. To Elana at Stir & Strain, I basically converted your Bourbon Vanilla Caramel Sauce into an orgeat; as someone who was flailing about how to get started with a caramel, moreover, I'm grateful that I didn't have to look far to find a delicious, easy-to-follow recipe which turns out well; I strongly recommend everyone click through, memorize her technique for making caramel, and follow it to the letter, it's a wonder of kitchen science to behold as the sauce develops. Finally to Doug Ford for a (somewhat) recent post on Planter's Punches, which gave a needed kick in the boot and added perspective to get back on this horse.

This is perhaps the initial cocktail I had in mind when dreaming of a more sophisticated and moody, less economic and office-friendly version of the Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Punch. Yellow polka dot bikinis themselves are reminiscent of leopard or cheetah-skin one pieces you see on jungle ladies and that got my wheels spinnin', not just on ideas expressed through cocktails, but the use of kicked-up orgeats to take those flavors to new levels. Push it to one extreme and you get the bombastic coffee-macadamia nut orgeat Giganta of DC Comics fame. Pull it much closer to life-size and you have the delicate tisane-almond orgeat mixed with proto-tiki elements of Jane Porter. And in between? The sultry Jane of the Jungle*, taking flavor elements of Jane Porter and exploding them outward while simultaneously sinking them into the earth: the dark depths of vanilla-caramel, rainforest nuts, orange, and gold/aged rums.

*Wait, WHAT?! After over a year of build-up and we're still not getting Jane of the Jungle? Y'know, dear readers, I'm kinda impatient with it too. But after finishing this cocktail recipe last summer, I took a step back to observe it and it doesn't quite fit the moniker. Surely, there's Jungle to be had in spades here, but it's not the missing link I would want to bridge Jane Porter and Giganta. This recipe is somewhat of a tangent in-between a true Jane of the Jungle --as extended into Tiki from Jane Porter-- and Giganta, and, yes, one could split hairs ad infinitum. But, I think it works out. Jane of the Jungle, forthcoming 2032 at the rate I'm going, is meant to be more compact and strong - a fully realized tropical goddess. Whereas this cocktail is still something of a breezy punch, a more exotic companion to Itsy Bitsy. Therefore, I give you...

Flower of Temptation garnish featured above
Jane's Girdle
5 sour cherries
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz passionfruit syrup
2 tsp Rainforest orgeat
1 bsp orange oleo saccharum
1 oz Brugal XV rum
3/4 oz Plantation 5 Barbados rum
3/4 oz armagnac
2 dashes pimento bitters
6 oz weak Earl Grey pellet ice

Combine all in a blender, adding ice last.
Blend for five seconds (count 'em; it's ok to have unpulverized ice).
Pour all into a chimney glass and fill with crushed (plain water) ice.
Garnish with a passionfruit "orchid" or "flower of temptation" (passionfruit end + fresh sour cherry) and lime "vines."

So balancing this particular undergarment had taken a lot of trial and error. There had been an extra 1/4 oz of sweet (passionfruit syrup + Rainforest orgeat), the intention being that the Earl Grey ice would balance -- though in early versions the inconsistency in the melting ice made it at times too sweet and other times too astringent. I excused the extra bit of sweet on the grounds that, in prior Tiki research by others in the mid-to-late 'naughts, when you have a blended-ice cocktail you generally want that extra sweet because it balances the melting ice (counter-intuitive to the craft cocktail mindset up to that point). Sometimes though, as with writing or any other craft, you need some time away from the original formulation in order to see the creation as it is, without any of your earlier prerogatives (in my case the emphasis on Rainforest orgeat) getting in the way of getting it right.

Pulling down the bright-sweet elements into a near-equal parity with the sour elements kept the cocktail consistent throughout its (very drinkable) duration. You have the overall emergent flavor that's a combination of the spirits and oleo saccharum complementing the orgeat, with brightness from the lime and passionfruit (a call-back to Itsy Bitsy), and earthy/spice notes of the cherry, orgeat coffee-nutty butteriness and bitters sneaking through as the drink goes on. (plus, an added bonus as the drink gets down to dregs: blending the cherries and keeping the pulp in keeps even the dregs flavorful)

A breakdown of the ingredients

Take the end off a passionfruit,
remove pulp, cut slits, curl and...
The spirits: the vanillas, caramels, toffees, etc you often find in rum weren't what I was going for here. I wanted the rums to scream "earthy!"
Brugal XV: coffee dark and dry - the foundation.
Plantation 5: robust and bright with a big orange note.
Armagnac: the more rustic, wild cousin to cognac - a good match for the cherries.

Sour cherries: aka, pie cherries (think Morello, Montmorency, etc..). My farmers market only had these for one week two summers ago, and then nothing, but I caught a good quart or more of them and pitted/froze them for precisely this sort of purpose (knowing all the while that very few others would probably do the same). I wouldn't recommend canned pie cherries, in water at least, as a substitute - processing takes the gusto out of them and they need that freshness to provide part of the Sour element. If limited to sweetened options, try using a bit of tart cherry preserves and substituting some strips of orange zest in the brewing tea in place of the oleo saccharum.

Voila! Passionfruit orchid garnish!
Earl Grey tea ice (1/2 cup reg.-brewed tea + 1 1/2 c. water, frozen pellet-size): since this is a punch, there needs to be some kind of Weak element. JFL at Rated R Cocktails has mentioned in his Planters Punch series how "Donn Beach was a smart man, he knew he could add dimension. [...] But the real genius was letting the ice act as his weak, particularly crushed ice for some added dilution." Ok, well, in spite of some of the more moody spirit choices plus the bitters, the early version of this cocktail mainly revolved on a Sweet-Sour axis. Something like tea, particularly Earl Grey with its bergamot to match the other orange-y elements, would add much-needed dimension and a drying astringency that would allow all the ingredients to strut their stuff. So, why not combine the tea Weak element, which was often used in regular punches, with the diluting crushed ice format of Planters Punches?

I opted for pellet ice combined with a good blending here because the integration of the tea was my greatest concern. If not well-incorporated, a sip could could vary wildly between dry tea and over-sweetness. Early tests which involved the cocktail simply being shaken with large tea ice also diluted into something too dry in the end, even if the early sips were just-right. With flavored ice, sometimes you don't want the drink to evolve much over the course of time. Why do tea ice at all then? Economy, mainly. Adding liquid tea, then regular ice to chill and dilute isn't as controllable either, and the subtle cold astringency of the tea ice particles contrasts well with the vivacious punch - enunciating each ingredient more.

Orange oleo saccharum (approx 2-2.5 oz): Using a vegetable peeler, take half the zest (with minimal white pith) of a medium orange. Add the zest and 1/4 cup demerara sugar to a sealable baggie, seal, toss, and gently rub the sugar into the zest, then let rest at room temperature (preferably overnight) until wet and developing a syrup purely with the orange oils. When ready, add 1 oz (2 T) water, reseal and agitate to help dissolve the sugar. Further resting may be needed to help the dissolution. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use, but no longer than 2 days.

The oleo saccharum should be used to moderate the Earl Grey tea ice to your taste and help account for potential variations, somewhere in between a barspoon (3/4 t) and 1/4 oz (1/2 T). A little hint of orange also helps highlight the tea's bergamot and the Plantation.

Rainforest Orgeat (approx. 3 oz):
Long story short: I really liked this Rainforest Nut flavor that Green Mountain Coffee used to do. Initial thought: using a flavored coffee as a water base for orgeat could be intriguing. Consequential thought: aw [fiddlesticks], not even I could make this after my last bag ran out. Ok, well, what about incorporating fresh elements into a rough flavor profile based on what's described on the bag (vanilla, caramel, cashew, Brazil nut)? [caveat: the bag leaves out a major flavor note - amaretto!]

So: a cashew/Brazil nut orgeat with a coffee base....and caramel as the sugar??? ...and the coffee nut milk could function as the dairy in the recipe? Mwahahaha!

1 oz each cashews and Brazil nuts
1/3 cup strong-brewed coffee (rich medium roast desirable here), cooled

Make the nut milk, at least 2 processes/wringings. I've trended towards a Frog Princesse-style orgeat process of late - the cold-processing avoids any gumminess and helps enunciate the flavors. Either pre-chop the nuts or combine with coffee in a blender and blend until loose-but-not-terribly-fine-chopped - it's ok to have some large chunks. Let rest 1-2 hours, then wring liquid through cheesecloth. Re-combine liquid and nuts and repeat for 1-2 processes more. Reserve final nut milk.

1/3 cup vanilla sugar (or regular white sugar + 1 inch of seeds scraped from a vanilla bean pod)
1/2 oz/1 T water or same coffee from the nut milk
5 drops lemon juice
3 drops orange blossom water

Make the caramel (note Elana's recipe above. I'm paraphrasing here, but for more details on process, please refer there). Combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a small pot on the stove and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil without stirring (seriously, you'll cause crystallization). Observe it as it progressively darkens/goldens, 10-20 minutes. If you're using coffee, you're going to have to utilize your sense of smell to tell you when you hit your desired caramel "darkness" - it's not too crazy, I've done this, you just need some patience and a non-stuffy nose. Once the desired darkness is reached, add half the nut milk to the caramel, stir to incorporate, then the remainder. Stir another 3-5 minutes (no more) while it thickens - thick enough so that it leaves a coating on a utensil, even if it appears thin. Let cool. Fortify with neutral spirit and add orange blossom water. yeah, there might've been a reason it took awhile to get this recipe out. But bookmark it for this summer when sour cherries are fresh, if you like. It's worth it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Impromptu: Martine à la Louisiane

Oh, the woes of the impromptu MxMo cocktailer, when hit by an idea from the gods late Monday afternoon only to realize that not only did one not have a key ingredient, but that it wasn't in local stores, there were only 2 bottles total in stores in-state (PA, go fig)...

[*hears a tiny scratching whine sound coming from nearby* 
Boomer, playing the violin: Keep going!]

...on the other side of the state, and it was Presidents Day and the stores were all closed anyway! Argh!

[Boomer: Excellent flourish!]

Eh well, but at least in PA there are such things as online orders from the in-state system (and they actually had the bottle I was looking for - plus a $7 delivery fee and tax).

[Boomer, beret and black Lennon-shades aplace at his red-check-draped bistro table, waves his goblet: More wine please!
MoD: Is that your best 3 Blind Mice impersonation?
Boomer: Zut alors! Ze help at zis bar.. No tip for you!
MoD: You're in France. It comes included, prix-fixe.
Boomer: grumble grumble..]

So anyway, bottle was had Thursday night, and, having tasted it for the first time after seeing years of fine reviews on the Twitters, it made me grin and go "yeah, that'll do just fine." (not always the case with blind buys, even if a bottle seems on-paper perfect for a recipe) Now, back to MxMo (or rather, an entry too late for MxMo).

Our host Dagreb's theme for this past month was That's not a Martini! (recapitulation here) and, with Mardi Gras looming the day after, a cocktailian's mind naturally falls to New Orleans with its triumvirate of Peychaud's-inflected tipples: the Sazerac, Vieux Carré and Cocktail à la Louisiane. At which point the recipe kinda writes itself, though one should always be wary when doing straight-out-the-bottle recipes - there's a very good chance it already exists as a classic pre-Prohibition recipe. Case-in-point, search "gin, vermouth, benedictine" for ingredients on Yeah. Very close to a Vancouver and a Merry Widow(er). In my defense, I plead special gins.

[Boomer, lounging in a cloth folding chair, sun-mirror in place, fur slightly singing: SIMPSONS. DID. IT!
MoD: Malacca! Tiki-spirit-blend Malacca! Begone!
Boomer: *cackles*]

(also a reason this recipe is a mere Impromptu)

Despite the "à" in the name, this drink is more about NOLA flavors in general - that and both the "à" and "de" versions of the Louisiane have a whopping 3/4 oz of Bénédictine, which completely throws off the Martini structure. The Vieux Carré, however...that has the makings of a hatty 2-1 Martini.

Martine à la Louisiane
1 oz St. George dry rye gin
1 oz Tanqueray Malacca gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Bénédictine
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
2 dashes orange bitters (Angostura)
absinthe rinse
lemon twist for garnish

Rinse and chill. Stir. Strain. Garnish.

Orange, lemon, malt and a hint of anise rise to the nostrils. The caraway and juniper malt have a tendency to dominate, but once you slip under those, it's like a gently-heated pool. A faint pineapple note from the Malacca merges with the dry rye's malt into something richly tropical trending through Peychaud's soft cherry to a slow bitter finish. You forget you're drinking gin. Between all the other herb notes, the absinthe is actually subtle here, a mere frisson.

This could be an exquisite candidate for a barrel-aged cocktail, or, as an extension, aged gins.

The dry rye gin explains itself, whereas, to substitute for cognac, a more melodious gin was needed. My bottle of Hayman's Old Tom itself wasn't quite right for this, the creaminess was nice but the juniper was too sharp. Instead I turned to a quasi-Old Tom/sweeter style, Malacca, whose rolling tropical mellowness sets a lovely rhythm. The absinthe? Granted, the Vieux Carré doesn't have it, but its brethren bevandes Sazerac and Louisiane do -- and it is à la Louisiane.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mixology Monday, February 2015: That's not a Martini!

Urrrr... *snow MoD lurches back onto the blog* Does it count if I Tiki this month by doing my best Zombie impersonation?

Welcome back dear readers! Back to cocktailing after another mini-hiatus and deeply thrilled to be posting for this month's edition of the Greatest Cocktail Party on the Web, Mixology Monday! This month is hosted by my dear Twitter bestie, cocktail/Tiki/split vermouth/coffee/twangy guitar connoisseur Dagreb of Nihil Utopia, with a theme sure to bring a smile: That's not a Martini!
A Telecaster's not an Esquire. A Melody Maker's not a Les Paul Jr. A Marauder ain't a Crown Vic. A Blue Moon is no Martini… well, almost.

Take away the dash to a quarter ounce of Creme Yvette and we're left with gin (a must!), dry vermouth, and orange bitters. That's a Martini! It's at least one canonical Martini anyway.

This month's Mixology Monday theme is that which is almost, but not quite, a Martini. Perhaps there are dashes (or more) of a liqueur (or two) added to the basic structure. Perhaps a Fino Sherry (or other fortified/aromatized wine) is standing in for vermouth. Maybe there's Oxygene instead of bitters? Gin, certainly!

Use your imagination! Use your library! Make a Martini, that's wearing a hat!
When active, check out the hat parade here.

The tricky part is, you see, I'm not a big gin drinker. It either has to be in the peak of summer or, oddly, the peak of winter - to either beat the heat with a good G&T or become one with the cold with a good junipery G&T. And I'll only cocktail with the stuff if a particular recipe absolutely cries out for gin. To me, gins are the cats of the spirit world - cold, with a self-sufficiency that lets you know you're the add-on in the equation - whereas aged spirits, bourbon especially so, are the dogs - warm, emotionally-available, tried and true after long years of aging.

Then, to go and compound things, it's Tiki Month! And a little cocktail-clatch of us on Twitter got the notion we needed to Tiki the Martini. So here's my stab at the notion.

Kyprian Pirate*
1 1/2 oz French gin (blue Magellan!)
1 oz Plymouth gin
3/4 oz Batavia arrack
3/4 oz bianco vermouth
3 dashes pastis (Pernod)
2 dashes Bittercube Jamaican #2 bitters
1 dash orange bitters (Angostura)
1-2 drops rose water
wedge of pineapple for garnish

Stir. Strain. Garnish.

Your proboscis will discover much herbacity, notes of vanilla-mint with rose, anise and pineapple. And then it hits your tastebuds with a swirling shimmering miasma that jumps up and sucker-kicks your nose again. This cocktail has an herbaceous tongue burn that rivals Chartreuse, and like the best Tiki, leaves you pondering just what's in it that gives it a certain je ne sais quoi, all the while tasting distinctly Martini-esque.

Yes, yes, I know. It's a 4 oz cocktail. That's ok - you get to figure out how to small-size it! Besides, Tiki is known for taller drinks. And rose water-accented orgeat. And Zombies with a teeny-tiny bit of Pernod. And precise mixes of base spirits to create whole new flavors (see: the Winchester). And blue cocktails! (sweartagawed the gin was bright blue in the bottle! I dunno what happened!) And arrack, oh arrack...

And big honkin' pineapple garnishes.

But seriously, [adding this graf a few hours after posting] one thing missed over in the thought process whilst being zany: you wouldn't think Tiki and 'tinis would mix. One focuses on a sweet/sour axis while the other a dry/spiritous/bitter axis. Adding Tiki sweeteners to a Martini without the addendant sour destroys the drink pretty quickly. This take aimed to transfer the flavors and attitude into the structure, without the flavor-neutralizing sugar.

*an epithet of Paris, from Euripides of all things. Google Kypris and avoid the beauty products.

Big thanks to Dagreb for letting me squeak zombie-like well-around the deadline - it's an honor to participate in this one, my friend. Kudos on a stylishly insouciant theme and a fine job hosting! Thanks also to Fred "7th-level Zen Master/cat wrangler" Yarm for pulling together yet another great month! Cheers, all!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Punchatawny Phil

Pellet, who much resembles one of Boomer's fore-hamsters, Philo.
On to #101 and the weekend! And all I have to say is, really David Wondrich - I can grok pun-avoidage but this one is square in your wheelhouse and virtually writes itself!

Folks, I give you a little ditty over a year in the making [Boomer: G'night! (again)]. With all your prep for the Super Bowl this weekend, don't forget about Groundhog's Day Monday morning. You may need an eye-opener. Or, y'know, given the line-up this year you may skip the festivities entirely and go straight toasting the rodent [Boomer: yay!] the night before.

Punchatawny Phil
1/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz hickory syrup
1/2 oz cinnamon-infused Pennsylvania rye whiskey
1 1/2 oz tawny port (Sandeman)
1 1/2 oz hard cider (Woodchuck "Amber")
1 oz boiling water
nutmeg or orange slices for garnish

Ideally, fill a thermos with boiling water ahead of time, mix all your ingredients (save the boiling water) in a pot on the stove for a quick heating, then empty the thermos and add your punch mix plus the boiling water called for in the recipe. Twist on the lid and head off to Gobbler's Knob with the family to enjoy the festivities, sipping from little thermos cups.

If for some reason you're planning a viewing party spread at home, set out orange slices and nutmegs to grate for garnish - your guests can make their own prognostications! Orange slices for bright sunny spring around the corner, sleepy punch-y nutmeg for 6 more weeks of winter. Let the punch rest in a crock-pot set to Low for an hour or two before serving.

You get warm hickory and cinnamon on the nose with a dance of citrus. For such a small amount, the hickory grabs your tastebuds from the get-go and provides a lovely body to the sip. Afterwards you pick up the cider-y tang undergirded by the lemon juice, and then a rolling creaminess from the port - the apple and grape dance well together. A hint of menthol and spice from the rye comes through last, but is not so overt that it throws all the other ingredients off - in fact it pairs nicely with the hickory. Wonderful dry finish from the cider. It's not Chatham Artillery by any means, but it works.

On the ingredients: despite the name, I would avoid Rittenhouse rye here: too potent and not rough-spicy enough. Local PA distillers Dad's Hat and super-new reboot Kinsey, or even Old Overholt fit the punch. If without hickory syrup, maple will do in a pinch, though it has a wonderful quality all its own; you don't have to make it either do a quick search for local providers such as Razz's. The port? I like Sandeman for its black pepper note - it makes me think of the Pittsburgh area for some reason.