Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bucentaure

Odd things happen as you pursue the cocktail behind a given name. For instance, the recipe you were so certain would be the best representation of the concept, ends up needing to be flipped on its head only after it's finalized.

Case in point: the idea of Taurus. The Bull is arguably the most sensual of the Zodiac, gathering to itself an assortment of all that is richest and most pleasing. Unlike Aries, which has sunshine but is still bound by cold wild winds as spring begins to break, surging rainshowers imbuing the world with life anew, Taurus is the promise of Aries realized: May flowers, spring greens deepened to lush jungle, azaleas and rhododendrons bursting as bold color is no longer limited to solitary tulip cups but whole landscapes decked out for weeks in the kirtle of the Spring Queen. Even the sunlight becomes a richer gold as the chill fades in late April. Whereas Aries held the first signs, the individual spurts of new life here and there, in Taurus the entire Earth rises up in its full potency, stamps its hooves, snorts a humid and fecund breath and lets you know just how little you are.

[*feels a tap on her shoulder* Yes, I know it's Gemini. You don't wake up from a coma without first asking what day it is, just in case. *the giant alligator-man shrugs and walks away*]

The trouble with naming this cocktail "Taurus" is that it doesn't fully encapsulate all the Bull's various aspects, namely, the symbolism and then the rich deep spring weather. I think this cocktail well-encapsulates the earthy "bull" half, but it's too heavy for the "white bull"/spring cocktail half: just on the specs, it drinks like something for the winter months. Using the word "bull" is also tricky, because most such existing cocktails involve tequila, so the assumed lineage would mislead. But there's a downright earthy quality to the drink, with the idea of time and slowness deriving from its aged spirits, that makes me not want to stray far from the concept.

So what to do? Due diligence.

When hitting upon a flavor combination that really works, you need to be humble and think "Golly, surely someone's come up with something along these lines already." [yes, use the word Golly, go on, use it! I'll wait.]-- particularly if they're spirits or wines in existence prior to the 20th century, or you're effectively making minor tweaks to a classic cocktail like the Vieux Carré. And then there's the googling. Rum and brandy, rum and port...to my surprise, I've only found a couple of rum-armagnac-port combinations, both on the same page. If I'm following in the footsteps of David Wondrich, I must be doing something right.

Trafalgar Punch as a name itself is pretty brilliant, what with the convergence of British, French and Spanish influences. The Battle of Trafalgar, itself, seems plenty ripe for concepts and names too. And "Lo!" thanks be to Wikipedia: Bucentaure. A French flagship in the battle, from the Greek bou-centaur: roughly ox-man as centaur is a horse-man; that is, a mythical being with the body of an ox and the torso-on-up of a man. The flagship even had such a creature as a figurehead.

I'm happy with that. And it even retains the taur of Taurus to boot.

So, while you're lounging around in the bowers of emergent spring and summer, have something to go with. Imagine you're an ox luxuriating in a meadow: your hooves have stirred up the earth and you breathe deep of intoxicating violet patches tended by dancing bees.




Bucentaure
1 tsp Crème Yvette
4 1-oz Fernet Branca ice cubes
1 dash Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters
3 drops Fee Bros. plum bitters
1 oz tawny port
1 oz armagnac
1 oz Smith & Cross naval rum (or other powerful/dark/aged Jamaican rum)
1 lime twist

Start by making your Fernet Branca ice cubes: the earth and loam vibrant with minty life.

Rinse a chilled rocks glass with the Crème Yvette, but don't discard: the smell of flowers heavy in the humid air.

Add the Fernet Branca ice cubes and build the remaining ingredients: spicy heat of the earth, dancing flowers, fruit of the vine, the vine kissed by the burning sun, and the lush island forests where the bull roams.

Stir for 10-15 seconds at the end and garnish with a lime twist, loosely knotted to make a Taurus sigil (♉).



Fernet Branca ice cubes



Depending on your tolerance for bitterness/sweetness, use 1/2 tsp-3/4 tsp Fernet Branca per 1 oz water/cube.

I like the Tovolo 1" cube molds because they hold just over 1 oz water and you get some nice showy rocks as a result.


These ice cubes work brilliantly, particularly in a rich cocktail such as this: as the ice melts the bitterness and other notes develop within the drink, preventing a diluted flavor and permitting one's digestion to keep up with the cocktail.




Afterthoughts:

It took me awhile to work this one out, over a year in fact. I had started with bourbon and Dubonnet Rouge instead of the rum and port (I had little fortified wine knowledge a year ago), but the drink blurred together. The Dubonnet overlapped with the Yvette and no matter the burly proof, the bourbon liked to hide. But soon enough I discovered what a good hogo would bring to the concept, and then the raisin notes of tawny port. The armagnac I had from the start: the wilder cousin of cognac seemed just the thing. But really, 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. Sometimes taste descriptions on the internet really do paint the perfect picture on the tongue.


The White Bull arrives next year.