Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Le VVO (Violet, Vert et Or)

For as little a time as I've gotten serious about cocktails, it's easy to find historical aspects of cocktails that utterly fascinate, such as the triumvirate of classic New Orleans cocktails: the Sazerac, the Vieux Carré, and the Cocktail à la Louisiane. It's a case of a group of ingredients worked and reworked in different formulations which speak to the city's character. There are the basic Manhattan ingredients: rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and aromatic bitters. To these are added rich cognac, graceful Benedictine, exotic and brooding absinthe (or local variant Herbsaint), and soul-of-NOLA Peychaud's bitters.

This time last year, I had just bought my first bottle of Pernod pastis on an eventual quest to add a true absinthe to my cabinet. But I made my first Sazerac, and later a Vieux Carré, and my mind was dazzled at how immediate a sense of place was brought to bear. The Vieux Carré had me envisioning balconies with gilded wrought iron rails looking out over the antique square and fountain, everything draped in Spanish moss and decorated with morning glories, impatiens and other small flowers; the light imbuing the place in the color of pale parchment. The Sazerac rumbled of dripping, broody wood-bedecked back rooms lit through Venetian blinds, and diabolic voices so smoke-husked they could only buzz.

With all that and Mardi Gras dancing through my mind, I lit on an image of jewels of green, purple and gold twinkling in a glass. Was such a cocktail even possible? What could color it? And, if spirits could indeed color the ice, would the ice entirely freeze up with just enough alcohol content to imbue a proper coloring and flavoring?

It turns out that the vision made it to reality, and readily at that. And, with all my fascination for the above triumvirate of cocktails, I felt it only proper to pull in some golden NOLA elements (cognac, Benedictine, pastis) to best situate the drink at home.

Behold, Le Violet, Vert et Or!

Le VVO (Violet, Vert et Or)
2 oz cognac
1/4 oz Benedictine
2 mint bitters ice cubes
2 Crème Yvette ice cubes
rinse of Herbsaint or pastis
long spirally lemon twist

  • Rinse a chilled cocktail glass with the Herbsaint or pastis (discard some but not all of the excess).
  • Add the four ice cubes in a decorative pile.
  • In a mixing glass, stir cognac and Benedictine without ice to blend (better not to chill here, that'll slow down how fast the cubes will melt into the drink and flavor it) and pour over the ice cubes in the cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a festive ribbon of lemon zest.
  • Wait a few moments. Stir using the zest-rope, letting the green and purple (especially the purple) integrate. 
  • Enjoy.

Ice cubes: Using a 1 inch square ice cube tray (like Tovolo), add and mix the following per cube, and then freeze:
  • Mint bitters: 1 barspoon (3/4 tsp) Fee Bros. Mint bitters and 1 oz water.
  • Crème Yvette: 1/4 oz Crème Yvette and 1 oz water or to top. (use a 1/2 T so as not to overmeasure)

The Crème Yvette isn't as purple-tasting here as it might be, so long as it's integrated. In fact, it's this bit of sweet which saves the drink from being overly-bittered, and it's so busy being sweet it doesn't hit one over the head with violet. It's a careful balance to be sure: the important thing is to manage what melts when, because as soon as the cocktail becomes cold enough, the ice stops melting and you're left with whatever's gone to that point. (also, if you balance the ice so that the mint bitters ice cubes are both on top, melting last, you have a nice minty sipper to end on)

The cognac and the Benedictine and the pastis are largely for those first few sips when everything's still integrating: it's effectively a nice anise-tinged B&B to delight the palate before the big flavors take over (real absinthe might be a bit strong and overly complex here). Beyond that, once the mint bitters ice gets melting, elements of the Stinger emerge, and when the Crème Yvette comes in, the lemon zest helps counterpoint it into a more comfortable palatability - something of a verdant brooding savage garden.

In addition, in a moment of great-minds-think-alike, though I've been noodling the imagery of Le VVO for a year, I imagine taste-wise it's not that great a distance from a recently featured drink over on cocktail virgin slut, the Wells Cocktail.

In all, a pretty little throw-bauble of a cocktail.