Monday, December 31, 2012

Ombudsman's Report 2

We're back with another Ombudsman's Report, this one to look back on the year prior and tie up a loose end or two.

Ombudsman: Well?

MoD: That's it? You're not going to nitpick?

Ombudsman: The recipes and writing have been more consistently strong after we last talked, ahem.

MoD: Passive-aggressive much, are we?

Ombudsman: When we deign. Still, that you're doing work that gets mentioned by brands speaks to their quality and is quite an achievement. Solerno has done special Facebook posts for Hebe and Sun King's Crown, and Urban Moonshine sent out a newsletter featuring Karya. (no telling how much time was needed to test those recipes, what with the more intricate ingredients involved in each)

MoD: Each one of which I'm very proud. It's not something I would've imagined happening, or at least not nearly so quickly, when I started Feu de Vie. The learning curve's been a bit rough, but I think I've gained a better sense of what balance means and how important it is. Also, not stopping and settling when you know a recipe isn't quite right.

Ombudsman: Balance in all things, of course.

MoD: Woo boy, yeah. Testing Tiki drinks on a tight schedule is not something I'm going to do again - big kudos to those who Tiki regularly. It's good to have learned some limits, learned how and when to ease off and give it a rest, and then learned how to re-approach more judiciously. Planning a cocktail with a good sense of the ingredients and how they work together in a structure or formula is a way to save time and liquor cabinet resources (and your liver). I'm also more ok with pouring a drink down the drain if it isn't there - no sense in drinking something if it isn't good, and it better enables me to continue this blog over the longterm.

To throw a slight wrench into the above, formulas can be crutches. They can be great when you're looking to dash a recipe out and nail it first time, like say, for a holiday party during a period when you're trying to abstain. But I'm also already noticing a touch of dependence on the Sidecar structure that I want to move away from (even though it served as the foundation for possibly my first got-it-all-together recipe El Clavel Rojo hey, for whatever reason it's been getting a lot of love recently - thanks to whoever's been spreading the word, of all my recipes to me that one is an especial jewel). When I started Feu de Vie, I was pretty much a know-nothing from the hinterlands feeling my way through to complete recipes - maybe I miss the Use-the-Force-like intuition of the early days, but starting with a template can be problematic from an artistic perspective in first seeing the structure, but not the cocktail itself with all its flavor intricacies. I feel seeing things anew each time and being able to innocently ask "Why not?" (and only bringing in structure at the end to firm up the proportions) helps to keep things interesting, at the very least. Again, balance.

Ombudsman: But you'll still be making the wild and crazy garnishes, right?

MoD: Goodness gracious, yes. Mixology Monday has been nothing short of spectacular on so many levels: the sense of vibrant community, getting to see what special things everyone comes up with every month. And it thrilled me tremendously that the Fall Carnival helped inspire November's Garnish Grandiloquence theme. Now to improve the timing of my posts..

Ombudsman: So then, the loose ends?

MoD: I'd like to first give a big shout-out to Dagreb, the Garnish God. Back in October I may have done a little muse-ly poking and prodding to see what he could do with Jack-o-Lantern garnishes, which, wow (and doesn't that first one have a cheeky l'il grin?). I was working on a Cinderella's Coach recipe - now finished - and wanted to throw in a shout-out to his pumpkin work since I wound up doing something similar, but got bogged down in writing a side-story to go with it for the post. My dear departed Boomer (my Twitter avatar) would feature, and me and my little Sidecar buddy would banter cutely as we chased after the Coach. The Great Clobbering of October got the better of me, but I figured I'd still have time the week after Halloween what with All Saints/All Souls/First Day of Winter on the 8th, etc.. Then the family dog Peanut died after a long illness, and well... I should (I hope) have it in me to finish that post in time for next Halloween - shout-out intact.

Secondly, I've been intimating some drink ideas on Twitter. The Anti-Cider needs to be taken back to the drawing board, Fortune Teller needs more ingredient exploration, Candy Corn Shooters need to be redone with the right ingredients - all for next autumn, naturally - I do like to keep seasonal, and it's one way to manage the overflowing number of idea drafts. Vanilla Lace Bitters posts tomorrow, after a delay due to recipe modification. You should then see follow-up recipes exploring its usage later this week in La Dame de Chantilly and The Lady's Piercing Eyes.

So stay tuned, and thanks for visiting! Feu de Vie just passed the 4,000th hit mark today. I'm grateful for your interest and hope to keep bringing the joy and wacky ideas for 2013! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sugar Plum Dances

Sugar Plum Dances
1 1/2 oz ginger-infused añejo tequila
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz sugar plum liqueur
1/4 oz orgeat
nutmeg sugar rim

Sidecar style: shake the first four ingredients on ice, double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass whose outer edge has been rubbed with lemon juice and rimmed with nutmeg sugar. Nutmeg sugar should be 5:1 sugar:fresh grated nutmeg or thereabouts: a little fresh nutmeg goes a long way.

Not to be mistaken for the Sugar Plum Dreams cocktail.

So during the summer I was on a cordial-making spree: blackberry, blueberry, and these nifty tart mini-plums I found at the farmers' market. Given the amount of time cordials generally need to rest, I looked ahead down the calendar and realized something sugar-plummy for the holidays would fit. Naturally, a cocktail to showcase the liqueur was in order.

Now, when doing a little research to get into the Sugar Plum Fairy character, I came across something absolutely fascinating in reading up on the Nutcracker ballet/score/libretto: there's the well-known Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but also a Pas de Deux with the fairy (La Fée Dragée) and her cavalier, Prince Orgeat. [cue mixologists' heads exploding] It didn't take too much more work for the recipe to come together. Since the sugar plum liqueur and orgeat are both sweeteners, that required some balance. Bitter wouldn't be an appropriate direction so Sour stepped in and offered the courtly Sidecar structure: like a lady in her ballgown, the spirit is the woman herself, with the right of her voluminous skirt decorated in Sweet balanced by the left of her skirt decorated in Sour.

Sugar Plums not only feature in The Nutcracker but in the classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Moore: The children were nestled all snug in their beds/While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads. The remaining ingredients in the cocktail needed to invoke dreams and flights of fancy. Ginger-infused anejo tequila (yes, I know the infusion on a good well-aged tequila is a sacrilege) would bring tequila's, shall we say, mind-altering qualities to the mix with an accordant spice note to further liven things up; the more vanillin wood notes introduced via barrel-aging, the dreamier the drink. I wanted to use Meyer lemon here for the added ethereal quality of the zest, but it made the cocktail limp: regular lemon juice brought much-needed backbone and strength, much as you would find with the lime in a Margarita. The (soporific) nutmeg-sugar rim itself is a delicate tutu invoking the prima ballerina's role.

Overall, the plum is forward on the nose and sip, washing past leaving a swirling coterie of exotic almond, vanilla, agave and spice dancing in her wake.

I put the recipe for Sugar Plum Liqueur in this post* instead of its own because there are problems with its reproducibility. I can't determine the exact variety of plums I bought, and I'm not sure if they were identified correctly at the farmer's market -- they were either labelled Mirabelle or Santa Rosa, but didn't quite match the characteristics of either. They were small, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter, deep claret skin, blood red flesh and juice, and juicy-tart to eat (perhaps immature?). Given that they were all so tart and poor eating in that way I figured I'd make a liqueur out of them, where the acidity could be more interesting.

The resulting liqueur retains that acidity well and is very much comparable to Plymouth sloe gin, with a flavor not quite as bold as sloe, but less soft than damson plum. A mixture of sloe gin and damson plum gin would give you a good approximation, or you could substitute just one or the other in the drink (if just sloe gin, perhaps diminish the lemon juice slightly). Also, potentially, the other night I noticed Aphonik on Tumblr mixing with Etter Christmas Plum liqueur - this may work very well indeed if it's available near you.

*[ed.: or, I will, once I get back home to my notebook on the 26th (the things one forgets when rushing around at the last minute to drive up to family for Xmas). Suffice it: fresh miniature plums in Remy V for less than a week, strained and infused with nutmeg, clove, vanilla, and sweetened with vanilla sugar]

Sugar Plum Liqueur
11 miniature tart red plums, halved and stoned
5 oz Remy Martin V

Infuse for 3 days [dark cool cabinet, shake twice daily], strain.

Add 1 inch halved vanilla bean, 1/2 uncrushed nutmeg, 3 crushed allspice berries, 2-3 granules crushed cardamom, 2 crushed cloves. Infuse 2 days. Coffee filter strain. Add 1/3 cup vanilla sugar and shake to dissolve. Bottle and let rest til Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mixology Monday, December 2012: Humbug

Is this the last Mixology Monday....ever?



Probably not.

In which case, HUMBUG! I really was looking forward to the end of the world. *pouts* (What?! Whaddya expect from a Muse of Doom?)

But to better elaborate, here's what JFL from Rated R Cocktails has to say:
Lets face it the holidays suck, yeah I said it. You put yourself in debt buying crap people will have forgotten about in a month. You drive around like a jackass to see people you don’t even like, or worse they freeload in your house. Your subjected to annoying music, and utterly fake, forced kindness and joy. Plus if you work retail your pretty much in hell, so don’t we all deserve a good stiff drink? So for this Mixology Monday unleash your inner Grinch. Mix drinks in the spirit of Anti-Christmas. They can be really bitter and amaro filled. They filled with enough booze to make you pass out in a tinsel covered Scrooge heap. They could be a traditional holiday drink turned on it’s ear. Or they could be a tribute to your favorite holiday villain. If you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa then you still suffer through the holidays, so feel free to join in with your Anti-Holiday drink as well. Whatever it is add a hearty “Humbug!” and make your drink personify everything annoying or fake about the holidays.
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La Vielle Fée Dragée

2 oz reposado tequila
1/2 oz cassis vinegar
1/4 oz walnut liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
barspoon absinthe for glass rinse

Shake first four ingredients on ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass that has been rinsed but not emptied of absinthe.

Now...why this particular hodgepodge of ingredients, and what's a Fée Dragée, let alone an old one? Well, if you pop back in next week the day sugar plums dance in your head, you may have a better idea of what I'm riffing off of (some posts are just ideally published on given days). But essentially, what if the Sugar Plum Fairy broke up with her prince, got old and sour, went to pot, and bunked down with her friend the Green Fairy? (I had a dialogue in my head about this, but it's being very slow about it. I may update later on, but you're not missing too much)

But while everyone else seems impelled towards the bitter for their drinks, I'm surprised how overlooked Sour is. I saw the cassis vinegar at Sur la Table this summer and knew it would make an interesting shrub-like ingredient. And it is interesting - almost tomato-ey even. But its big berry notes naturally pair well reposado tequila (think El Diablo). On the other side of the cocktail's equation, the absinthe just tastes really darn good with the repo - the repo isn't so oaked that it loses its vegetal qualities found in blanco, so that the absinthe's fennel, tequila's grass and agave, and nocino's alpine herbs marry well. Moreover the port-like qualities of the nocino undergird and deepen the cassis. The orange bitters' citrus complement the El Diablo pieces and reinforce the herbacious/bitter side of the drink.

And for the record, if you're doing an absinthe rinse for a drink, you're really "bunking down at the Green Fairy's".

[Hat tip to Joel DiPippa of Southern Ash for the linkage. And if you really want to know the name origin of the Perfect Wee Bastard, ye best look in the mirror, lads and lasses.]

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rudolph Steps Out & Maccabee Sling

It's company holiday party time, and as resident Cocktail Girl I've been asked to whip up a few recipes with some bare requirements: a Christmas cocktail with red and green colors, and a Hanukkah cocktail with blue and white colors. In addition, we were pairing drinks with the beginning of a lovely multi-course Italian meal at a local culinary school, so I wanted to include Italian spirits and elements where possible. Here's what I wound up doing.

Rudolph Steps Out
1 oz bourbon (Elijah Craig 12 year)
1 oz sweet vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
7/8 oz Ramazzotti
1/8 oz (barspoon) Solerno
bourbon cherry skewered on rosemary sprig*

Stir ingredients on ice and strain into a(n ideally chilled) cocktail glass. Garnish with a bourbon cherry skewered on a rosemary sprig. Bonus points if garnish is twisted reindeerly and Rudolphly.

*bourbon cherry a modified take on Dr. Adam Elmegirab's cocktail cherries, using Buffalo Trace and subbing half an orange's zest for vanilla bean

I originally wanted to use Cynar instead of Ramazzotti in the drink because in coordinating with dinner there were several earthy rustic-style options, including some artichokes in the appetizer course. Trying to think to my audience, however, Cynar has a particular long bitter finish, which, while good as an aperitif function, might not agree with the audience (also, that drink veers very close to a Colonel Carpano). I've had Ramazzotti on my to-get list for awhile now, so testing was a great excuse to bring it into the fold. Ramazzotti's bitter/sweet ratio is on par with Averna and the gentian similarly stands out among its bittering agents, but I like how its famed cola flavor comes through. Some would say it's more root beer/citrus, but while I do get root-i-ness, it's, well, less dour than Averna. That cola note (and, if we're getting highly aesthetic, the red and white label coloring -- and the word "cola" with its rounded shapes evoking images of red glass ball Christmas tree ornaments) just has a friendly let's-get-down-and-boogie feel to it that finishes a sip on par with the bourbon and vermouth, perfect for a holiday party.

So overall, this is a Boulevardier variation, along the lines of my Doe's Path. Solerno is the orange liqueur here - opulent, regal, ornament-invoking. Along with the green rosemary, red cherry and general red tint of the cocktail, this fit the Christmas criteria

Maccabee Sling
1 oz Magellan gin
1/2 oz honey-ginger-lemon sour mix
top with prosecco (about 3 oz)
Fuji apple garnish

Shake gin and sour mix with ice, strain into a champagne flute and top with prosecco. Garnish with Fuji apple cutout or sliver.

While not a "sling" cocktail per se (more of a champagne cocktail), the Maccabee Sling riffs on the French 75 using classic Jewish flavors apple and honey. With this drink I wanted a lighter and drier cocktail to provide variety up against ol' Rudolph up above. Magellan gin is a French-style gin that utilizes orris root and blue iris flowers during its final distillation, rendering the gin a pale sky blue (if unavailable, substitute Citadelle gin and a smidge blue food coloring). To add white to the equation: delicate-flavored Fuji apple. The apple along with the ginger-honey add hints of flavor around the edges but not as to dampen the gin's multitudinous aromatics.

Honey-Ginger-Lemon sour mix
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey (a lighter honey helps the cocktail remain gin-forward)
1/2 tsp powdered ginger (McCormick has a new interesting roasted ginger powder out at the moment)
1 cup lemon juice

Blend water, honey, ginger in a pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Immediately strain through a coffee filter into a container to cool. Refrigerate until ready to use. Blend syrup half-and-half with fresh-squeezed lemon juice just before cocktailing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mixology Monday, November 2012: Garnish Grandiloquence

Wait for meeeeeeee!!!!! *runs after the bus*

How could I possibly miss out on a truly awesome MxMo theme this month? Garnishes! Before I keel over from blushing pride and delight*, I'll let the prompt, from host Joseph Tkach of Measure & Stir, do the talking:
I’m always shocked by the way that an orange peel or a lemon peel can transform the experience of drinking a mixed drink from something mundane to something magical. In a similar vein, eating the olive in a martini will totally transform the imbiber’s perception of the drink. So this Mixology Monday, let’s really make a study of art of the garnish, by mixing up drinks where the garnish plays a central role in the experience of the drink. Of course, you don’t have to make a latticework out of orange peels, a pirate ship out of citrus, or a ferris wheel out of pineapple and squash, but it sure would warm my heart. This type of garnish is traditionally in the realm of tiki, but you could mix anything, so long as the garnish is the star of the show.

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Uncanny that you mention the more out-there garnishes tend to fall with the realm of tiki. When I was researching tiki for the ferris wheel cocktail mentioned above, I came across this post from A Mountain of Crushed Ice discussing ice cones (note the suggested use of pilsner glass molds) among other crushed ice creations. What a stellar visual ripe with possibilities. A few ideas hit me at once (ow..), including one for Thanksgiving! The below is what I finally got to work after a few tries.

Art Deco Cranberry Ice Corn
Fresh cranberries
marble-sized crushed ice or mini ice cubes
dried Indian corn hulls

Shake ice and cranberries in a shaker briefly to jumble. Pour into a V-shaped glass (pilsner or perhaps smaller - anything where the rim won't hinder the ice from leaving the glass). Use a chopstick or similar to drill a center hole in the ice mixture and poke corn hulls down in to secure. Surround with more ice/cranberries if needed. Nearly cover the mixture with seltzer and place glass in the freezer to bind everything together. Once frozen and ready to use, remove from the freezer to thaw just enough to pry the ice corn free.

Initially I wanted to use cranberry juice and apple cider mini ice to make a true Indian corn ice cone, but it seems that juices, probably because of their sugar content, don't freeze as firmly as water-based ice, making it difficult to extract neat cubes from their molds. Perhaps next Thanksgiving I'll get closer to that mark.

Regular ice freezes much nicer, however, and you can see in the close-up above how that random arrangement creates a nice kernel-y texture, particularly once the cone starts to melt. The seltzer only aids that, dissolving faster and with a less solid color that prevents the mini cubes from being lost in the mix. The white-on-white look for some reason reminds me of Art Deco style.

As for the cocktail? Well, it was getting down to the wire and I'm noodling the many many many ways this drink could go, and, honestly, I didn't have it in me to do much testing. With that in mind I figured "if this MxMo challenge really is all about the garnish, then why not let the drink BE the garnish?"

There really are a lot of ways you can cocktail around the ice corn (thinking in Cobbler, Julep, or French 75 modes here).

If Julep-ing or Cobbler-ing, take a base spirit and 1/4-1/2 oz simple syrup, pre-mix, then pour over the garnish - possibly with accoutrements like muddled herbs or citrus. In keeping with the general New England Thanksgiving theme implied, I could see rum (America's first spirit) for the rum trade run through region, Plymouth gin, Yankee favorite rye whiskey, very Thanksgiving-friendly bourbon, or a classy cognac pairing well. My thoughts trend towards white or medium-aged spirits for this drink -- why mess with a well-aged spirit with this much ice? If you want to improve on that, sub an orange or cranberry liqueur for the simple syrup, possibly with a dash of allspicy Angostura or other bitters.

Also in the Cobbler mode, a maple-y or nutty sherry wine would make a nice visual pairing with the tart cranberries. Really, you could extend the wine selection to anything white you'd use as a Turkey Day aperitif (Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Vouvray..). Something ginger-y like Gewürztraminer or even Stone's Green Ginger Wine would be delightful. Or go the extra mile and break out the bubbly! You may or may not want to exclude the sweet element, it depends on the wine's sweetness itself.

And trailing off from the champagne or prosecco idea, if you really want to go the French 75 route (spirit, sour, sweet, bubbles), well, I leave that to your better judgement.

Or if you'd rather: make a mocktail with apple spritzer or ginger ale.

The little ditty you see pictured pairs brut sparkling wine with 1/2 oz homemade blueberry liqueur (cranberries and blueberries being 2 of the 3 fruits native to North America) and one dash each Angostura and lemon bitters. It's my way of bringing a personal sense of harvest, enjoying the fruits/labors of summer with the liqueur. Light, crisp, the blueberry trends the flavor from a gold bubbly to more of a dry rosé - a perfect aperitif.

The main point when doing the ice corn: don't let a li'l recipe idea like this drive you bonkers in addition to all your other Thanksgiving prep. Whip up a few batches of ice, fill your glasses, add tailfeathers, freeze -- and it should work well with most anything else you've already got planned. Cheers!

*and on a personal note, if any of these wacky cocktail ideas on Feu de Vie actually have any merit and inspire (!) drinks of your own, I'd love love love to hear about and have you show off your shiny drink! MoD's a sad panda hamster when she doesn't know she's being muse-ly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mixology Monday, October 2012: Bein' Green

It's that time again: Mixology Monday! Thoroughly back into the swing of things, this month's shindig is hosted by Ed of Wordsmithing Pantagruel with the theme Bein' Green:
With the warm days of summer now fading off into the distance in our rear view mirrors, let's pay one last tribute to the greens of summer before the frosts come and our outdoor herb gardens give up the ghost for the winter. For our theme for this month, I have chosen: (it's not easy) "Bein' Green." (Perchance due in no small part to my predilection for Green Chartreuse.) I'm giving you a wide berth on this one, anything using a green ingredient is fair play. There's not only the aforementioned Chartreuse; how about Absinthe Verte, aka the green fairy. Or Midori, that stuff is pretty damn green. Crème de menthe? Why not? Douglas Fir eau de vie? Bring it! Apple schnapps? is green. I suppose if you want to try to convince me it makes something good you can have at it. But it doesn't have to be the liquor. Limes are green. So is green tea. Don't forget the herb garden: mint, basil, cilantro, you name it - all fair game. There's also the veritable cornucopia from the farmers market: green apples, grapes, peppers, olives, celery, get the idea. Like I said, wide berth. Base, mixer, and or garnish; if it's green it's good. Surprise me. Use at least one, but the more the merrier.
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Oh goodnesses, truly, when the nights are getting down into the 30s and 40s, I'm all about the maize and apples and pumpkins and all I want to do is hibernate (a good thing in my book - we had a lousy fall 'round these parts last year). There's still plenty of greenery around, though, so all is not lost on that front. Autumn may be in full swing and the flavors may be abundant, but there's no reason why we can't invoke a summer form: the tiki cocktail.

And to up the ante: raise your hand, anyone else think "pumpkin spice" has gotten officially overblown this year? I think it's about time we give some other squashes some love. In this case, the Carnival Squash. You heard me right: harvest tiki with squash!

I need to give some big shout-outs. If it weren't for the years of hard work of these fine cocktail bloggers and others, it would be impossible for a complete Tiki novice like myself to do a crash course in the scope of about a week. I still have a ton to learn and try, but I feel like I have a decent grounding now. So, many thanks to Doug at the Pegu Blog, Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail, Tiare at A Mountain of Crushed Ice, Matt at RumDood, Mike at Cocktail Democracy for pointing me to PKNY's recipe menu, and particularly this one tiki-breakdown post by Joseph at Measure & Stir that started me down the path.

Fall Carnival
1 oz gold rum (I used Mount Gay Eclipse)
3/4 oz aged rum (I used Appleton Reserve)
3/4 oz pear eau-de-vie (I used Schladerer Williams Birne)
3/4 oz carnival squash syrup (recipe below)
1/2 oz hazelnut orgeat (sub orange blossom water for rose water)
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/4 oz orange juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Urban Moonshine maple bitters

Blend all ingredients with 8 oz ice. Pour into a large glass and garnish with a pineapple-squash Ferris wheel and straw for sipping.

I am very green when it comes to Tiki, so please feel free to experiment with rum choices. Overall, though a less-elegant recipe than, say, a Mai Tai, when fine-blended with ice it comes off creamy and delicate. I think balance has been achieved here as far as each flavor getting its due, though it trends sweet. I toyed around a lot with the ratios, trying to pull out ingredients to simplify or pull them back to let the others shine, but the mix wasn't stomaching much alteration from the above. That said, I'd welcome any thoughts from the Tiki aficionados out there.

On the spirits: I wanted a good low/medium note rum combo to go with the pear's light notes. A dark/blackstrap seemed like too much for some of the more delicate flavors going on, so I opted for something aged - you could go even further aged than the Reserve with better results, my own spirits cabinet is just underdeveloped on rums. The gold rum's medium note holds it all together, Eclipse's dryness is good for balancing the sweet. The pear? Another way to bring in some autumn flavors.

On the syrups: Autumnal tweaks to tiki staples. We swap hazelnut for almond orgeat, and as odd as it sounds the lemon and creamy vanilla notes in the carnival squash syrup aren't too far off from passion fruit.

On the citrus: Lime is the natural match for rum and makes a better sour foundation than lemon. I added the bit of orange to help round the citrus flavors. And pineapple? Pineapple, pineapple, pineapple... This is one ingredient I thought could be cut back, but it turns out that it boosts the carnival squash flavor and gives a nice overall body to the cocktail, despite it being show-offy.

On the bitters: Autumnal flavors to help break up and point out all the other flavors going on. You don't get much of them, but they fit in and add a good finish.

I think that's about i... [backstage assistant hands her a card] Oh yeah! The theme! Well, I did use lime.. ...shakin' your head on that one, aren't you? Well, ok. How about..while I was at the farmers market a few weeks ago, poking around to see what interesting things there were, I came across these:

How do you not use these little critters for garnishes?

So...trying to figure out a name and garnish idea, the "carnival" theme seemed appropriate. And with Tiki, you've got to have extravagant garnishes..

...right? I mighta mentioned something about a pineapple-squash Ferris wheel up above.. (consider the squashes as gondolas)

Here, let me get you some other views, I know you're curious:

On the left, you can see, top-down, the pineapple core peg into which the wheels are double-skewered from both directions. The peg nestles securely in the neck of the squash-shaped glass, its woodiness sturdy enough to support the entire structure.

On the right, you can see how the gondolas on single skewers are secured: screw a (hazel)nut on the end!

Needless to say, I have a fair amount of extra pineapple juice on my hands.

So, happy harvest tiki: autumn greens, but still very much reminiscent of summer.

Carnival Squash Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cooked/packed carnival squash*
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger

*¹ To cook squash: halve it from top to bottom. Remove seeds and pith. Lightly coat cut sides with butter, oil or maple syrup. Prick the hull to release steam if desired (not wholly necessary). Place cut sides down on a foil-covered cookie sheet and bake at 350 F for 30-45 minutes or until the hull has softened and squash has caramelized a little at the bottom.
Click to enlarge

² Quick note on Carnival squash: they're rather similar in appearance to Sweet Dumpling squash, but a bit bigger, so make sure to check the label. Carnival is yellow-fleshed with a lemon-vanilla character whereas Sweet Dumpling is orange-fleshed and nutty like Butternut (but less smooth).

Combine squash and water in a blender until smooth (it beats trying to purée just the squash). Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes together. Pull from the stove and fine strain the syrup to remove the fibrous bits you don't want to cook further. Return the syrup to the stove, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, whisking frequently. You'll know the syrup's ready when the thickened sugar begins to collect on the sides of the pan and it's taken on the opaque/glossy appearance of vanilla pudding (but should still be pourable, like a liquid caramel sauce). Remove from heat, let cool. Pour into an air-tight container to refrigerate until ready to use. Feel free to add half an ounce of neutral spirit to fortify if you feel like (emphasis on the neutral - add something like Sailor Jerry and you really will have vanilla pudding on your hands).

In addition to this cocktail, try adding carnival squash syrup to some chai tea!

But MoD? What about all this leftover squash I have, including the purée strained out of the syrup? It's not the standard acorn, butternut or pumpkin, so what should I do with it?

Funny you should ask! Have a nummy (and festive) recipe:

Carnival Squash Mash
Pre-soak 1/2 cup craisins in pomegranate juice (or pomegranate craisins in cranberry juice, or...). Sauté a minced shallot in olive oil until translucent. Add your squash, a bit of fine lemon zest, 1/2 tsp powdered ginger, maybe a little butter if you like. Mix and mash to lumpy potato consistency. Mix in pre-soaked (and drained) craisins and serve topped with basil chiffonade. Goes well with Italian-seasoned chicken/pork and couscous.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Pottery Barn, in case you were wondering.
1 1/2 oz Dad's Hat rye whiskey
1 oz Lillet Rose
1/2 oz walnut liqueur (Nux Alpina or other nocino)
1 barspoon hazelnut orgeat with rose water 
1 dash Urban Moonshine original bitters
3 hazelnuts - garnish

Stir all ingredients on ice.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and float three roasted hazelnuts.

(in an ideal time- and budget-friendly world, this glass would be the best serving vessel, albeit perhaps wood instead of pewter)

Greeted with roast hazelnut on the nose, the rye first meets your tongue, which fades to Lillet's satin ribbons drawing you down into the combined dark depth of walnut liqueur and subtle rich and warming sweetness of the orgeat, the faintest hint of herbal bitter from liqueur and bitters dusting your tongue at the end. At other times, the rye and amaro-like nocino take up on an adventure, leaving the rose-hinted ladies lounging on pillows back at the ranch.

A girl with an innocent, reedy sweetness and a rough and tumble divinity.

Such is the fortuity of circumstance, I bought Dad's Hat around the time I also stocked Lillet Rose, and after an unsuccessful Manhattan I was searching for a better pairing than sweet vermouth. A drifting What If? flavor association passed through my mind: the rye's tangy wood note was very similar in quality to Lillet Rose. And when put together: what a match! Lillet extends that note and folds it into her bosom, velvetly masking what otherwise might have jutted out, while the rye's overall wood/orchard quality remains.

Now, this was a good start: a partial cocktail somewhere along the lines of a Manhattan with whiskey and aromatized wine. Extensions to that model typically add bitters or splashes of amari or liqueur. I played around with some bitters and some Tia Maria: both the rye and Lillet floated a bit and needed something to bring depth. The Tia Maria wasn't bad, if a bit sweet, maybe a touch too dark, which blunted some of the drink's nuance. Galliano Ristretto (the espresso liqueur) might be a better option if going in a coffee direction - I don't know for sure, PA doesn't carry it, but everything I've read suggests it's drier/bitterer. But something in a general coffee/nut direction made sense.

At this point I pulled back to see if the ingredients could tell me where exactly to go. The woodiness of Dad's Hat and the essential femininity of Lillet Rose were what dominated my mind, and that pulled me to my catch-all source of inspiration: Greek mythology. Specifically, dryads or hamadryads, nymphs that were the spirits of trees. Even more specifically, Karya, hamadryad of walnut/hazelnut trees (the only noted dryad of nut trees at all), sharing the same root as Karyatid.

Worked for me. I had wanted to get a bottle of nocino in for some time: walnut liqueur - how offbeat and undercelebrated an ingredient that could be! Even better: upon further researching its character, reviews indicated a rich, dark, port-like or coffee-like flavor with herbals. Perfect. I was already in that neighborhood and the complexity would be the right addition. (I had also considered Pisa at this juncture, but rejected it because it included pistachio, which, considering the time frame of the mythology, was squarely a Persian and not Greek nut - blasphemy!)

After a wee bit of drama and catching the PLCB on a good day when I could special-order a single bottle (not 5 or 6), the Nux Alpina came in and proved a good choice. The drink was still on the thin side, however, and perhaps needed a touch of sweetness. Frangelico proved too one-note and over-sweet - again with the flavor-blunting. I must've seen a mention of it on Twitter, but hazelnut orgeat (with a touch of rose water that would befriend Lillet Rose) ended up being the last major building block. The hazelnut and walnut merged into one great uber-nut accent while not overwhelming the base flavors - I'd like to think it gets at the point of Karya herself, as the Greeks didn't distinguish between walnuts and hazelnuts.

With the addition of the orgeat, the cocktail took on a rich, robust body, which, with its new sweetness, was a touch much. ...there's a relevant undercurrent to my thought-process here, but it's a little difficult to thoroughly elaborate without turning this post into (more of) an e-book. I had initially wanted to finish this recipe for the month of Virgo: there's an early-autumnal quality to the Dad's Hat with its orchard notes and I associate nuts, particularly the beige hazelnut, with Virgo - beige in general is Virgoan and appropriate to earliest fall when the nuts fall but things have not yet begun darkening. Lillet's mildness also fits well here (you could argue the recipe is best for the cusp between Virgo and Venus-ruled Libra, even). In order to manage the orgeat's richness, I followed that undercurrent and opted for bitters best suited to health-minded Virgo, namely Urban Moonshine. The bitters' no-nonsense astringency dialed back the richness just right, and their flavor fits the Dad's Hat well. Where I've seen Urban Moonshine bitters pop up in cocktail recipes thus far, it's been their maple bitters (a great unique - and autumnal - flavor); I opted for the original because I didn't want to muddle the wood notes already present.

Have I mentioned yet that Virgo is an especially cerebral and exacting zodiac sign? (not my sun sign, although..)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Frau Totenkinder

Well, Oktoberfest 2012 ended this prior weekend, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a fitting tipple as autumn continues to develop (particularly if there are spooky Black Forest overtones - have something different for Halloween!). As you might notice, this is another of my fairy tale-inspired recipes using SNAP (seriously, is it just me that automatically associates gingerbread with Grimm's Fairy Tales?). And nope, no wild and crazy stories today -- Sleeping Beauty's'll last all year and then some.

Fables created/words by Bill Willingham, Pencils by Mark Buckingham,
Inks by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy.
Page 43 of Fables vol 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) trade paperback,
originally published in Fables #43
Instead, for the "art" portion of this post, I'd like to give a shout-out to one of the enduring pleasures in my life. Who's this Frau Totenkinder, you ask? Ah, grasshopper, we must indoctrinate you in the way of Fables, one of the long-running gems and great works in the world of comics. Fables is very much in the mythic fiction, fairy-tales-updated-to-the-modern-age vein of ABC's Once Upon a Time, but predating that show by about a decade. Its story is a smart tapestry which weaves and dances among a large cast of beloved characters (human, animal, utensil) who change and grow, wending through various genres (whodunit, thriller, epic quest, spy drama, WWII flashback, and many more) and always leaving you hungry for more. You'd do well to pick up the first trade paperback or two and dive in, is what I'm saying. (I should caution here: sex, joy-gaping violence, beautiful use of the English language in a primarily non-vulgar manner. i.e. Fairy tales for grown-ups)

As for the star of this recipe, Frau Totenkinder isn't only the Black Forest witch in the story of Hansel and Gretel as that gingerbread house icon in the picture might imply, she is the Evil Witch. And....well, I don't want to say any more: spoilers, twists, crowning moments of awesome and all. But know: all Fables characters extend well beyond their fairy tale origins, especially so for Totenkinder. Simply put: you don't want to mess with her. Now on with the cocktail!

Hansel, Frau Totenkinder, Gretel

Frau Totenkinder
1 1/2 oz kirschwasser
1 oz SNAP
3/4 oz Schwartzhog
1 barspoon white crème de cacao

Stir all ingredients on ice to dilute and strain into a brandy snifter.
Garnish with skewered brandied cherries and other confections you might find on Frau Totenkinder's gingerbread house. (I also used cut squares of candied ginger, as pictured).

The kirsch serves as the base here - as a spirit it's a bit understated so it needs a larger proportion in order to come through. The more chances I have to taste new spirits, the more I find there's a certain way types of alcohol express themselves, regardless of flavor notes. In the case of kirsch, other fruit eau-de-vies including grape, and cognacs and brandies in addition, when allowed to open up these spirits have a sweet taste that rises in a U-form from the middle of the tongue -- not just a taste but an interaction with space. In essence, the flavor is a bowl for the other ingredients.

German/Pennsylvania Dutch Lebkuchen flavored SNAP makes good use of this bowl: its vanilla, molasses, and spice, especially nutmeg, rollick in a kirsch bath, bringing definition. Undergirding the SNAP's high notes, Schwartzhog of the Black Forest (and yes, clearly I was going for a little Black Forest Cake with this recipe) extends the spice into herbs and a tinge of bitter gentian, with cola and citrus notes that reach out to kirsch's cherry. A German herbal liqueur similar to Jägermeister and Italian amari, and an oddly delicate spirit to mix with, Schwartzhog's herbs hover in the cocktail like vermouth, deepening the experience. As for the cacao, more than anything it imparts a smoothness that ties everything together - it could be my particular brand but there's a cocoa butter creaminess to it, helping the drier ingredients play nice.

Overall, there were so many interesting things happening aromatically that the cocktail cried out to be served in a snifter (and ol' Frau just wouldn't feel right in a dainty princess-like coupe). So, sit back in a darkened room, swirl your witch's cauldron in your hand, let it warm up, and breathe deep of the complex vapors.

And then, as I was mulling whether or not to add a splash of cream to the Frau Totenkinder the other morning, it hit me that I could have my Black Forest Cake and eat it too: break the drink down into shots for Hansel and Gretel, riffing on the Godfather family structure of cocktails: the parent cocktail is what it is, the children cocktails add cream (in a 2:1:1 structure). Since Frau is a little more complex than the Godfather, I took a separate element for each shot while retaining fairytale gingerbread SNAP as the base:

Hansel: 2 parts SNAP, 1 part cherry brandy, 1 part cream. Shake with ice and pour into a shot glass.
Since eau-de-vie kirsch is such a dry spirit, I swapped it out for sweeter cherry brandy, Cherry Heering in this case. Heering's brio does tend to dominate, but it draws out the nutmeg/vanilla aspects of SNAP for a happy marriage with the cream.

Gretel: 2 parts SNAP, 1 part white crème de cacao, 1 part cream. Shake with ice and pour into a shot glass.
The cacao's sweet softens SNAP's spice into something gentle, but with just enough pep left on the tongue to push an old biddy into the oven.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mixology Monday, September 2012: Equal Parts

Did you know? It's Mixology Monday! A venerable institution among cocktail bloggers, MxMo has been the web's premiere rotating monthly cocktail party, now on its 65th iteration. The event, on a hiatus since February but long-helmed by Paul Clarke, has been passed to the great Frederic "Fear the" Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut to take up the charge.

Feu de Vie didn't even exist the last time MxMo took place, so it's a thrill to be a part of it this time.

To start things off again, this month's theme is Equal Parts. The challenge, as described on the Mixology Monday site:
For this month, I have chosen the theme of equal part cocktails — those simple drinks where only one jigger is needed despite how many ingredients are added. These recipes have gained a lot of popularity as classics like the Negroni and Last Word have resurfaced, and variations of these equal part wonders have become abundant.
Find or concoct a drink recipe that has an equal parts recipe. Garnishes do not count, and if you want to be a non-purist and include a dash of bitters, that is fine too. 
When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

This is going to be an odd post, both for the multiple recipes and because the inspiration as linearly-read happens backwards. The Hello Katie and Oh Good, My Dog Found the Chainsaw are a response to the Hell Kitten not being as spirit-centered as this MxMo's "Equal Parts" theme might expect, and a number of their elements derive from the Hell Kitten and not vice versa.

Hello Katie

So I wanted to keep thematic with the Hell Kitten, but with more structure. As far as major Equal Parts formulas go, you have the how'd-they-come-up-with-that? Last Word, the classic class-of-its-own Negroni, the split-spirit-with-vermouth Saratoga, and the split-spirit-Sour Between the Sheets. I decided on a Between the Sheets variation, mainly because it's just so darn comfortable. It's one of the first serious cocktails I ever ordered - mainly as a conversation piece, but without flavored spirits or otherwise over-sweet. Also: I haven't yet gotten to the original Last Word cocktail (and my herbal liqueur collection is lacking); I am Negroni-formula'ed-out at the moment; and if I want to pull elements from the Hell Kitten, I've already done a tequila-vermouth combo. A fruit juice carryover would suggest a Sour at that.

So, I grabbed the tequila, strawberry, and citrus (when it had grapefruit..) from the Hell Kitten, but in doing so wanted to veer to a slightly different set of flavors from El Clavel Rojo. The white Rémy V and red tequila por mi amante, plus Galliano's vanilla and the original cocktail's name, "Hell Kitten", all added up to wanting to name this one "Hello Kitty" - but apparently that name's been grabbed a few times already.

But then I looked at the ingredients again and realized they're a good introduction to my major spiritous loves that I've blogged about thus far, if the relevant tags are anything to go by. If not Hello Kitty, then how about, *waves*, Hello Katie? I do generally do the anonymous act on here and Twitter, but you can call me Katie or Kate. And though I'm sure Feu de Vie has been a bit under the radar so far, I'm glad you stopped by for a visit and do hope you return!

Hello Katie (top),
Oh Good, My Dog Found the Chainsaw (bottom)
Hello! -Katie
3/4 oz tequila por mi amante
3/4 oz Rémy Martin V (eau-de-vie)
3/4 oz Galliano l'autentico liqueur
3/4 oz Meyer lemon juice

Shake, strain, chilled coupe, Meyer lemon twist.
Small crack of Himalayan pink sea salt if desired.

The tequila por mi amante is mellow and laidback in its strawberry flavor, Rémy V harmonizes and balances, Galliano's low anise note best emerges here, followed by a creamy sweetness, and the Meyer lemon's aromatics are a lace shawl over the strawberry and spice while not being overly tart and palate-burning like regular lemon in a Between the Sheets.

The Hello Katie's variant, the Oh Good, My Dog Found the Chainsaw, uses cachaça in place of the Rémy V (and a Meyer lemon twist in the shape of Stitch ears perhaps?). A more "street" cachaça like 51 Pirassununga tends to dominate while a higher grade like Leblon is much gentler like the eau-de-vie and whose grassy notes frolic with Galliano and the Meyer lemon nose - and perhaps bring out the strawberry even more.

Hell Kitten

Think of this as the love-child of Hello Kitty and The Most Interesting Man in the World. That or it's the cocktail version of pink Victoria's Secret sweatpants with "P I N K" arced across the rear.

It all started with the thought that I could showcase some spare hibiscus tea ice cubes as an ingredient. I had made them in my Tovolo 1-inch cube trays, which, interestingly enough, hold a little over 1 oz of liquid per cube if filled to the brim. (a ha! Units for Equal Parts!) Exact 1 oz cubes wouldn't be out of the question. But what then? How about a fast, furious and cute riff on the El Diablo?

Hell Kitten
2 oz habanero-infused blanco tequila
2 oz ginger ale
2 1-oz strawberry juice ice cubes
2 1-oz hibiscus tea ice cubes
Strawberry or strawberry-habanero blossom garnish

To a rocks glass add tequila, then ice, then top with ginger ale. Give a quick stir to get the drink pink. Really PINK.

Garnish with a strawberry, or, if you're really craving heat, a small strawberry inserted inside a seeded/veined habanero, cut with petals to look like a flower, as pictured (drink fast because it will infuse).

  • I used this recipe for habanero tequila. Mind the infusion carefully and taste-test after each hour. Even with a seeded and veined habanero being infused, it picks up plenty of heat by the 2-hour mark (a tiny taste test at that mark gave me a serious capsaicin high). 3 hours was just about right.
  • Please please please please PLEASE practice scrupulous safety techniques when handling these little buggers (the habaneros). Use rubber gloves, protect your eyes, clean anything they touch before anything else touches it. I thankfully avoided it and don't want to know what a stray swipe of 350,000 Scoville units in the eye feels like.
  • As for the structure, usually a highball is a 1:2 ratio mixer:spirit or vice versa. It's a bit overloaded on the mixer side with the ice, if only to manage the heat and to account for the time it takes for the ice to melt (and, 2 ice cubes doesn't make much sense amount-wise - 4 works a lot better).
  • In addition to hibiscus ice, since the Equal Parts part of the theme would make it difficult to double-up on the same mixer, I also made strawberry juice ice cubes. If lacking a juicer: puree fresh berries, double-strain through a fine sieve and cheesecloth. The juice will remain thick, regardless of pulp removed, but that thickness is good for adding body to the drink, which moderates the tequila's harshness. (also, the leftover pulp is gangbusters if added to pancake batter)
  • Ginger ale instead of ginger beer: the sweetness to balance the heat, and why cause confusion where the heat's coming from? The name does include Kitten after all.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Doe's Path

This is her day of peace.  Late afternoon, the sun sending the colors of autumn into her room by way of fluttering brown-speckled butter-colored leaves.  Off into the neighbor's backyard, amidst the heavy shade of the woods is her soul: two streaks of gold kneeling upon a bed of mottled leaves - truth - leading to her paradise.

The Doe's Path
1 oz Dad's Hat rye whiskey
1 oz Vya extra dry vermouth
3/4 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Benedictine
rosemary sprig

Stir with ice. 
Strain into a chilled coupe. 
Roll a sprig of rosemary between your fingers to wake it up and float it or balance it on the coupe's rim.

This is an extraordinarily oddball recipe for me. And by that I mean it fits in with any of the other relatively new renaissance cocktails you've seen buzzing around on the web for the last few years. Honestly, I've tried to stay away from those kinds of recipes because the simple (almost incestuous) combinatorics of a proscribed list of spirits do not favor n00bs coming up with something that hasn't been done before. [Hair-splitting cases in point for this recipe: Teenage Riot, Bensonhurst, A Dry Symphony, Philabuster, Little Italy, Arts District.] It's a lot easier to not step on anyone's else's toes and hard work if you're pulling in little-used ingredients like seville oranges, pear eau-de-vie, Meyer lemons, and Umeshu, or making your own homemade stuff, or toying with techniques like shots with multiple ingredients per layer or flavored & filled ice balls.

Still, despite that complaint, it feels like I am pulling in a unique new ingredient with this one, 'cause I kinda am: Dad's Hat rye whiskey. My initial impression, which we'll swing back around to naturally: "gives me a mental taste-image of a doe in the wild amongst birch trees." It's unlike any other rye I've had thus far (Bulleit, Old Overholt - or even rye-heavy bourbons) for the dominant medium-wood notes of maple and birch. I honestly get more rye grain flavor before I get rye spice (and I worry slightly that my bottle might be a one-off because it's so far off model for what I understand to be rye at this point), though I do detect orchard fruit - more pear than apple - as suggested by this review. All the same, I like different and off model.

The idea for this recipe came when I was trying the rye out in a Manhattan....and, well, it disappointed me there. The Manhattan is my favorite cocktail - there's something magical about it where the whiskey (be it rye or bourbon), vermouth and bitters combine into a new, independent flavor that consistently emerges regardless of spirits. Sure, you get the taste of the individual ingredients around the edges, but something immortal happens in that glass. In the case of the Dad's Hat, those maple and birch notes just weren't playing nice with the Carpano Antica Formula, with the whole idea of red fruit it seems. Well, ok, I thought - bet those woody qualities would dance much more nicely with dry vermouth.

Vya's orris root bitterness successfully reins in the rye's woody tangy sweetness, and its petrichor atmosphere creates a structured road for the doe to run. But the doe must have something on which to run, something earthy, with a canopy of vegetal herbs: Cynar. Altogether this would make for a fine, softer, Cynar-variant Old Pal, but shouldn't the doe have a direction in which to run?

The one word that keeps popping up for me at this juncture is Grace[, a place of]. And no spirit offers that eternal light of grace in taste and meaning better than Benedictine. You never need much of it, but that simple barspoon in a Vieux Carre for instance, it's like a priest made the sign of the cross over your glass. Here, it elevates The Doe's Path with a solemn-yet-joyful glow - perfect for a calm contemplative autumn Sunday.

Finally, the rosemary accentuates the herbaceous qualities in the spirits, gives them a proper sylvan setting, and contrasts with Benedictine's orange and light.

Overall I'm very happy with how this recipe turned out. Dad's Hat clearly has a different rye song to sing and I'm curious to play around with where this doe wants to travel next.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Old Summer

The air fills with gold and the evening is a never-ending twilight.
T-shirts get covered with long sleeves.

The garden's about done for the year:
A few greens left on scraggly vines.

Summer's winding down, falling into rest.
Hints of smoke in the air, the gains soon to be spent.

Everything gets busy again,
Except for these moments.


YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED - the management]

Old Summer
1 oz bourbon (I used Wild Turkey 101)
1 oz Applejack
1/2 tsp demerara sugar
3 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Dandelion and Burdock bitters
1-2 wedges fresh grilled or pan-fried green tomato

Muddle green tomato wedge(s) with demerara sugar, bitters.
Add bourbon and applejack, stir with ice. Double-strain into a serving glass over large cube.
Garnish with an extra tomato wedge, skewered and lightly drizzled with molasses.

  • The tomato I used was slightly larger than a golfball, so I used a couple quarters. Obviously, your mileage may vary, size-wise. As always with green tomatoes, don't mistake green heirlooms for immature tomatoes: immature greens will be firm and not soft to the touch.
  • Since I don't have a grill or hibachi, I did a simple pan-fry à la this recipe. A bit of sugar/salt should help the flavor better emerge either way you cook them.
  • Beyond that? This is just a simple, down-home recipe. Grab whatever bourbon you like, doesn't have to be fancy. I used D&B bitters because I felt that fit, but any kind of spicy/aromatic/citrus bitters would work here as well.
  • The green tomato's interesting for the "green apple" flavor it imparts. There's a fair amount of tanginess among the ingredients, but they all flow together.
Just a little something for winding down on the stoop, the deck, the fire escape and enjoying the last of the good weather, maybe something to warm you as a bit of chill wends its way into the air.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sun King's Crown

The K'inich cuts where blood is sweetest and catches it in the offering cup:
Sacred sacral sanguine saccharum sangraal.

Dank halls call for a vital quaff -- spiced burnt wine for the song-haunted liege:
Bejeweled brow troubled by the riddle of steel.

In the shadow of the Omphale, Pythia upon her tripod chews laurel amid the foul vapors:
 Voyez-vous le crève des rêves révélatrices!

Richness layers in words and drink alike.
If you think you can improve, then by all means create!
To both king and god make fit.

 Sun King's Crown
1 1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Ambre cognac
3/4 oz Lustau Palo Cortado Solera Reserva Peninsula sherry
1/2 oz The King's Ginger
1/4 oz Solerno blood orange liqueur
Usquebaugh-filled Lemon-Herb Iceball with lemon twist circlet (see recipes below)

*looks up* Do I sense a theme here?

Stir the first four ingredients without ice in your serving goblet. Carefully add the iceball, lemon-crown up.

You may sip when the outside of the glass has become frosty (not very long, but enough to let some dilution occur).

The drink itself is a study in liquid gold. It begins a noble quaff, each of the base spirits presenting in turn: hearty with an unmoving cognac anchor, rich and maple-nutty with sherry, the spice of ginger and faint smoke around the edges an accent bell's rattle, opulent with blood orange and just the right bright lemon note. It grows honeyed as the ice melts, until it gives way to a meditative pilgrimage through the mystic desert of bitter herbs and tea, paling in clarion call of faint lemon. And then, on last sip, you taste the lion's growl in your throat: spicy Usquebaugh.

And just when you thought I was going weak on my art pieces.

Would you believe the idea for this drink originated with this recipe? Yes it did, yes I did (or at least managed for 5 of 7 days). Vegan with a quaff of salad dressing every morning. The fresh ingredients made up for a lot and it worked, inflammation-wise. But that's not the point.

That entire ingredient list for the cleanse drink? Sun Medicine, as pertains to the astrological sign Leo. And the Sun King's Crown ingredient list? You see the regal, Sun (Sol), citrus and ginger refs? How the ice sphere is a glowing yellow orb (perhaps with a noticeable orange core if the ice is clear enough)? The Greek word for king: Basil? The allusion to the myth of Apollo and Daphne (the bay laurel tree)?

Have I mentioned that it's ok for you to call me completely farschtunken nuts? I'm fine with it and I think you'll feel better for airing the truth.

And if you have rotten tomatoes I'll take those as well. I know, I kvetch on Twitter about PLCB stock limitations at the same time I include bitters only obtainable through mail-order and other oddball ingredients. Well, I'm sure NONE of you have homemade Usquebaugh* in your cabinet, or at least won't for several months. (although if you do, I would like to meet you and buy you a drink) Other thematic, spicy, brightly-colored 80 proof spirits would work fine as substitutes here.

*which you can improve upon by adding culinary gold flake to make...wait for it....Royal Usquebaugh. (would it be gilding the lily to suggest a dash of King Cocktail's new aromatic bitters wouldn't be out of place in the cocktail either?)

For lemon-herb water:

4 cups near-boiling water
zest of 2 lemons, heavy with pith, chopped into 1" pieces (may be post-juicing spent rinds)
2 cups lightly-packed fresh basil leaves and stems
4 fresh bay leaves
  • In a heat-safe non-reactive container, add the latter 3 ingredients followed by the hot water.
  • Cover and let steep an hour.
  • Once an hour has elapsed, remove the basil and bay leaf and cover to continue steeping.
  • Once cool, transfer liquid and lemon to the fridge, the point being to let the pith bitter the water.
  • I found about 10 hours after removing the herbs produced the right bitterness. At this point I strained out the lemon, then returned the liquid to the fridge until I was ready to use it.
Some influences.

Notice the lemon twist circlet in the ice.

For the Ice Ball:

  • Make lemon-herb water.
  • Cut a lemon twist that, circled with ends crossed, makes a circlet to go about the circumference of the ice ball.
  • Add the twist upside down and then the lemon-herb water to a Tovolo ice ball mold. Freeze until it's a sphere with a small core of water and a thick sturdy outer shell.
  • Drain the water core, freezing the sphere again to firm up if needed, then fill with Usquebaugh and plug up the hole. Keep in freezer until needed.
You want to experiment here with regular water first to observe how fast your freezer will do this, and then with some sort of cheap alcohol to practice filling the sphere without the alcohol wearing a hole through the bottom. I've found, with my old-old freezer at maximum, the process will take about 3.5 hours (and not a minute more) to freeze to the right thickness.

It's something to keep an eye on until you get a sense of how it works for you. For me, sometimes the ice will freeze unevenly (top heavy). Not to mention it's more difficult to drill a hole when the sphere is at the correct thickness instead of starting it before. You may want to simply add a fill-hole placeholder at the beginning, or, as I did, at 2.5 hours I flipped the sphere upside-down in the mold so the new bottom had the better supportive thickness and started the fill-hole through the thinner top with a very miniature funnel (also good as a placeholder through the hole at the top of the mold).

As for adding alcohol, regardless of what you use, Usquebaugh or a substitute: 1) Add water to dilute the proof and help the refreezing take. Doing this at home without a special blast freezer (as opposed to something like this) means you'll need to compromise the filling, but if you choose a filling with potent flavor and color, dilution won't take away much from it. 2) Chill the filling beforehand. 3) Add the filling on a bias to your drilled hole with an eyedropper - there isn't going to be much room in there with the correct ice thickness anyway - and rotate the sphere as you fill to minimize erosion in any one place.

The plus side to all this practice and work? You've just been given techniques you can use to your creativity's unlimits.

Et pour les pédants, je sais que mon français est impropre. Je vous dis: Considérez-vous Apollo, Apollinaire, les deux sexes de Pythie (pace Camille Paglia), et le proverbe célèbre de Delphi. Je le déforme et abuse avec intention.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Homemade Usquebaugh

One late night last winter, I thought to myself: there need to be more cocktail recipes featuring plain-jane brandy: not cognac, not armagnac, not pisco: humble, common, brandy. The kind that features in old-time medicine with draughty houses and much more exposure to the elements. Just a wee nip before bed and the endless strivings of the day melt away to bring peace.

Now granted, I've learned since that it's difficult to mix with the spirit unless you want dessert drinks - its sweetness makes it difficult to achieve balance otherwise. Still, I played around in the key of orange for a few months, trying to figure a new way to take it, researching researching researching.

When I read this. Then this. And this. Then, hello, this.

Usquebaugh. Depending on who you ask, "yellow water" (for the often-added saffron) or the Gaelic uisce beatha - water of life - the same root from which we get whisk(e)y.

Now, scratch someone into mixology and you're liable to find an alchemist's outlook underneath. The power of simple things in themselves, becoming so much more in combination. The secret scientific art of knowing how to combine. Old Medicine from before the Great Dissolution. So Usquebaugh? Nope, nothing there my four elements-meditating, Dioscorides-browsing self would find utterly fascinating. Nuh-uh.

This is less of a formal recipe rather than a recording of what I did for this one batch and a hub for other resources for your own experiments. If the above-linked recipes offer any insight, it's that Usquebaugh is an entirely to-taste matter, though it's possible for you to strive for historical accuracy if you like. The general principles for Usquebaugh appear to be: brandy, dried fruit, citrus zest, baking spices, saffron (for the "yellow water" definition). Really, much like European variations on fruit cakes, anything delivered from medieval spice trading routes appears to be fair game.

Cocktailian friends: I'm kinda curious to see if anyone out there would beat me to the punch and do a barrel-aged variation - some of those old recipes do say to mix in a barrel, after all.

MoD's Usquebaugh, take 1

33g raisins
1 date, sliced, pitted
1 peel, seville orange (approx. 6g)
2 peels, kumquat
2g stick cinnamon (approx. 1/2 stick)
3 petals star anise
1/4 tsp coriander, cracked
3 whole cloves
1 allspice berry
1 pinch saffron or dried safflower

Infuse all but the saffron in a mason jar for 10 days. Keep out of the sunlight in a dark cool cupboard and shake a few times a day. After 10 days, strain out the solids and add saffron. Infuse for 2 more days and then fine strain through a coffee filter and bottle. Stick back in the dark cool cupboard and forget about it for a few months, if not longer.

  • Albeit the spirit is young on the scene and I've only been working with it for a few months, Rémy V may be something worth swearing by - at least until it has direct competitors in the "white dog" brandy category. Brandy is the typical base spirit in Usquebaugh, and I wanted something unaged to let all the ingredients hold forth without oak influence. For that same reason the spirit is also a wonderful base for berry cordials.
  • As you might notice in the recipe, I didn't include any sugar. The dried fruit contributed a fair amount of sweetness by itself, so I let it go. One downside: pectin clumping. Nothing a quick re-strain can't fix, though.
  • What I'd do differently next time? I made this during my "star anise is NEAT!" phase. Not so much anymore. For this small amount of Usquebaugh, I'd limit the star anise to 1 petal, tops, and replace the remainder with cracked sweet anise seed. A little more even-keel, with classic anise notes.
  • Overall, the taste reminded me a lot of Sailor Jerry. Nice.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Upon Olympus, deathless white pillars support a sky as blue as the wine-dark sea, and the gods gather to feast. Phoebus strums. The Muses sing. The Charities grace.

At the backbar, krater-mixing Hebe combines water of life, wine, and sweet nectar to create ambrosia. 

Then fills the cups, one by one.

Will YOU taste of her immortality-bestowing cup?

1 oz white rum
1/2 oz Solerno blood orange liqueur
1 dash lemon bitters
3 oz Martini & Rossi Sparkling Rosé
grapefruit zest

Shake the first four ingredients in a shaker half-filled with ice. 

Strain into a chilled tulip glass over a few decorative larger ice cubes. 

Top with the rosé and garnish with a thick swath of grapefruit zest.

This one's another remake from my BIGSWiM period (original recipe: Bacardi Limon, triple sec, X-Rated Fusion Liqueur, apricot nectar). I think of it as a testament to the power of the individual wanting to learn and grow and acting in order to do so.

Notes: Feminine, summery, sweet yet crisp: refreshing as befits Ganymeda, the cup-bearing goddess of youth. In a word: nubile.

Golden Goddess of Cups

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Apricot-Meyer Lemon Shrub

You know I'm in trouble when I'm whipping up special ingredients for drinks.

This is my first go at a shrub - an old-time method of preserving fresh fruit as a liquid using sugar and acid (mainly vinegar and/or citrus juice) and au courant type of cocktail ingredient. As opposed to liquor infusions, flavored simple syrups, or homemade liqueurs, shrubs offer up ways to incorporate acidity in a cocktail beyond the flavors of your basic citrus juices. In addition to the actual fruit involved, choices of vinegar from red wine to balsamic to cider can also impact that final sour note.

Now, as if it weren't enough that I was doing my first shrub, period**, my choice of flavors wasn't something that had any kind of exact how-to already in existence. There are some great shrub references out there (more than I can list), even some apricot-specific recipes and citrus ones, too. But thus far I haven't seen a dual-fruit or fruit-and-citrus shrub recipe. In which case, *rubs hands together* time to make it up as I go!

** so please don't take this recipe as a work of shrub expertise as much as a journal post for reference as I get a few more shrubs under my belt. I did get pretty good results, though, so it's not like you can't make this yourself (and I hope you will if some of my upcoming cocktails interest you).

I tried to stick to a basic cold process 1 - 1 - 1 /fruit - sugar - vinegar ratio which most everyone attributes to bartender Neyah White (no blog of which I'm aware). Or, at least, I tried to stick to the ratio to start. Let me walk you through what I did and how I ended up with rather tasty results (short version at bottom).

Oleo saccharum after 2 hrs. Oh for a smell-o-gram filter..
Stage 1: Oleo saccharum

I started off with 4 Meyer lemons. In reading up on citrus shrubs, the first step is to make what the pros call oleo saccharum (if that's an unfamiliar term, google "David Wondrich Punch!" You're welcome 8^). Effectively, citrus zest strips with minimal white pith (a vegetable peeler is a great tool for this) tossed with sugar. Covered and left to sit at room temperature overnight, the sugar draws out the zest's oils and makes a syrup. (hold onto the zested lemons for stage 3!)

At this point in the experiment I figured I would use at least 1 cup acid ingredients (juice + vinegar), so I added that much sugar by weight (228g, a little over 1 cup) to the zest. With a little bit of swirling most of the sugar dissolved within about 14 hours of resting. I figured for this first stage, working with the Meyer lemon alone would be the best way to obtain all the butterfly-meadow floral goodness of the zest, without it having to vie with the apricot for the sugar's extracting abilities.

It might be a struggle, but keep the lid closed on the oleo saccharum: keep all that heavenly floating-through-the-flowerbeds scent inside for the final shrub. And boy is it heavenly.

Fresh apricots an hour after adding.
Stage 2: Add apricots

This was the trickiest part, with a lot of factors to consider: Should the weight of the zest be factored in? Should the apricots be cooked in order to intensify their flavor (a thing with apricots, though less so with other stone fruit)? Even without the weight of the zest, would an equal weight of apricots bring enough flavor? At times like these it's best to go with your senses.

Now, a shrub at base is a method for preserving fruit, and therefore you should be using peak fruit. I picked up a couple of pounds of apricots from the farmers' market and you could smell the blooming scent on their blush - these weren't lifeless supermarket apricots. Still, I left them on the countertop in their brown paper bag, top rolled over, to further ripen and soften a few days since I had decided to do a complete cold-process, no cooking.

In adding the apricots, cleaned and pitted and sliced, I started by measuring out a weight equivalent to what sugar was already in the bowl. That seemed inadequate given how potent the Meyer lemon smell was, so I upped the total amount of apricots and sugar in the bowl to 400g each. Covered, walked away for a day while further syrup developed. Tasted a day later, the sugar was very dominant in comparison to the delicate apricot flavor, so I added more apricots to put it at roughly a 3 - 2/apricot - sugar ratio (and at this point gave everything a good muddling just to further bring out flavor). A day's resting later the flavor was just right.

Stage 3: Add acid ingredients

This part's quick and simple: take the juice from the Meyer lemons you zested in Stage 1 (try to avoid juicing ahead of time so the juice is as fresh as possible when you use it), then add champagne vinegar to it until you have the amount by weight equal to the total amount of sugar you used. Add to the syrup, mix, let rest a little to combine if you like, then strain and bottle. Storing in the fridge is probably recommended for this shrub because while it's a mix of vinegar and citrus juice, and not just citrus juice, the juice is less shelf-stable than the vinegar and could use the preservation-support. (this came up in the comments for the 3rd apricot shrub recipe and the 2nd citrus shrub recipe listed above).

-Champagne vinegar, though light in taste, has just as much acidity as other vinegars. It's a good match for light flavors in general and works well with Meyer lemon in particular. (for the heck of it, here: have a recipe illustrating such which I tried when using up leftover ingredients for La Primavera nella Campagna)

-I did let the pre-strained shrub rest a few days in the fridge after adding the vinegar, but that was more due to schedule difficulties than anything else. It doesn't seem to have negatively affected quality.

-As for straining, cheesecloth will get clogged rather quickly and will keep out fruity particles which add flavor, so I did a first strain through a salad strainer/colander to get the large bits out, then through a fine mesh sieve to get the little strands of pulp or zest which snuck through.

Overall, the final flavor, well, it has a passing resemblance to duck sauce for obvious reasons, but while the shrub, neat, is heavier, there's this floral uplift quality to it along with a dainty tartness.

So, to sum up in a streamlined version, incorporating all my trial and error above:

Apricot-Meyer lemon shrub

Stage 1: Zest 4 Meyer lemons in strips using a vegetable peeler, avoiding bitter white pith. Reserve zested lemons for later juicing. Add zest to a bowl with 200g white sugar. Cover, shake and let rest at room temperature overnight.

Stage 2: Add 600g cleaned, pitted, sliced apricots to the bowl along with 200g white sugar. Muddle everything well. Cover, let rest at room temperature 2 days. Swirl occasionally to help combine.

Stage 3: Juice the reserved Meyer lemons and add champagne vinegar to total 400g liquid. Add to syrup and let rest a duration of your choosing (could be none, avoid going longer than a day) to combine/let the vinegar extract more flavor from the fruit. Strain out the fruit bits with a fine-mesh sieve, and bottle. Store in the refrigerator. Makes roughly 1 quart.

Stay tuned for more - I have multiple cocktail recipes planned for this shrub. And even if those don't appeal? It really does make a great sauce for pork or fowl. Throw in a little cornstarch, some fresh apricots and thyme or ginger, and you're golden. Or, well, the sauce will be, unless you're prepping a Bond girl costume for Halloween or something.

Also, I'd love to know your thoughts on all things shrubbery! What have you made before? Is there anything you think I could do to improve the above recipe?