Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Old City, New Game in Town

Shot glass inspiration by moi, aussi.

A study in mixed-ingredient layers in pousse-cafés and an origin story about how I got Serious with mixology.

I've gotten to be known as the go-to mixologist around my office. Some of my colleagues homebrew for company happy hours, some are wine aficionados. Me? My motto is "never have the same drink twice!" Still, it was somewhat of a surprise to be asked to concoct a cocktail or two (or three) for my company's 10th anniversary party last summer. (in addition to a special batch from our homebrewers and then a wine-tasting with dinner. Yeeahh..) (anyone want to come work for us?)

The 10th anniversary topic itself isn't that strong a muse: tin and daffodils, mainly. So going beyond that, one of the things I wanted to do with one of these drinks was hearken back to our earlier days when we were a scrappy little office in Old City Philly. As a specialized vendor in the pharmaceutical sector, one of our passions has been to utilize the latest technology in order to bring efficiency and quality to an industry that typically plods. This programmer will always carry a torch for controlling all aspects of a study with the press of a button controlled by my MIND! NyeeHAhahaHAhahaha! this.

As you may have deduced, this is how I came to the Old City, New Game in Town theme. Translated to flavors: coffee and blackberries.

Old City Coffee is a well-loved Philadelphia institution, located a stone's throw from historic Christ Church (and we were particularly fond of the beans while established just a couple blocks away). Blackberry? Well, if you're reading this blog post in 2016 or later, you might be scratching your head to the big deal, but back in 2004 Blackberry phones were still the height of tech.

The two flavors together? If blueberries and coffee are beautiful, these two should be mind-blowing. Bringing these two specific flavors together in a shot? Conundrum.

Shots, particularly of the layered variety, tend only to use liquors and liqueurs. Managing the specific gravities of individual ingredients is hard enough without introducing the inexact uncertainties of mixed-ingredient layers - all the more so with homemade ingredients and regional milkfat variations in dairy products. But how else to bring in Old City Coffee? Using Tia Maria, Kahlua, et al, just doesn't get at the meaning that can be conveyed by the coffee-itself. Not to mention, blackberry brandy and blackberry schnapps aren't the best well-rounded blackberry flavors either.

So how to marry thin, non-alcoholic coffee to a robust blackberry flavor (with alcohol in the mix)? It took some experimentation, but there was success. As it's somewhat rare to do mixed-ingredient layers for shots, here's my ingredient list and notes on each. Hopefully the notes may be of some use to any mixologists reading.

Coffee layer:

Old City Coffee, Old City Blend (a slightly dark mild roast - classic coffee ice cream flavor with the addition of cream) - brewed double strength: flavor potency, 'nuff said.

E&J Cask and Cream liqueur: to balance the shot, the coffee layer needs alcohol and body. Coffee liqueurs would only detract from the OCC flavor. A Cream liqueur easily provides both. Choosing between brandy-based Cask and Cream and rum-based Tres Leches, C&C's brandy pairs well with coffee and matches with blackberry. In practice, the rich flavor of C&C yields to the coffee, the milkfat and sugar makes the coffee flavor more accessible and the alcohol helps the layer hold its own, all preventing it from becoming lost in the burst of blackberry.

Blackberry layer:

Black Haus blackberry schnapps: the schnapps is needed to give the layer some alcohol and further enhances the blackberry flavor. Thanks to its high proof not much is needed and an overbearing alcohol flavor may be avoided.

Blackberry Sauce: you can't get a better flavor than making this quick sauce/syrup yourself with fresh blackberries. In a pinch, Monin Blackberry Syrup may work, though (haven't tried this, not sure where to find it locally [EDIT: (04-03-2012) I saw some in a trek to HomeGoods tonight. It looks like it has potent flavor, but much too thin for the purposes here. It would completely throw off the ratio.]). Don't be afraid about reducing this: a dense syrup will better enable layering.

Half-and-half: something creamy is needed to moderate the sharp blackberry flavors, mediate with the coffee layer, and to act as a base for the blackberry layer. The syrup provides enough density to ensure this will be the bottom layer, and without the base the blackberry flavor may well stick to the glass instead of flowing to an eagerly-waiting mouth. Using Cask and Cream again sounds like a good idea, but the result curdles (not to mention, using the same ingredient in multiple layers can lead to layer-blurring). As for other options, I tried heavy cream at first, but the cream coated the tongue, kept the layers from mixing well in the mouth and diminished an otherwise intense flavor. Second choice? Half-and-half. Call it the Gelato Principle.

When preparing this recipe, well, we're doing shots here. Presumably you're serving many or yourself many times. A rough estimate of how much of each layer needed will probably serve you better, and you can then extrapolate individual ingredient amounts by the ratios provided.

For the coffee layer mix together 1 part double-brewed coffee, 1 part Cask and Cream.

For the blackberry layer, mix together 2 parts Black Haus, 3 parts blackberry sauce, and 4 parts half-and-half.

Into a shot glass, first dispense 1/2 oz blackberry then 1/2 oz coffee.

Serve chilled.

Taste result? A liquid truffle.

With creamy layers, does this drink
become a Mousse-Café?
  • When making layered shots, particularly when said layers involve mixtures of ingredients, it's helpful to get some clear plastic condiment bottles for easy mixing and dispensing (Bed, Bath and Beyond: $2 each; dollar store: probably much less). These bottles are also space-saving when prepping/chilling ahead of time. With their pour spouts, you shouldn't even need a spoon to make your layers, provided the layers' specific gravities vary well enough. Excellent tools for mass production.
  • Suggestion for future experiments along these lines? Mixed ingredient layers seem to function best when utilizing ingredients that are suspensions (dairy, juices, etc..), the thinking being suspensions have a material construction which allows for the absorption of extra unrelated particles in the same way they already house free-floating unrelated particles - the Chocolate Milk principle.

[I'm really setting a pattern here, aren't I? Roses, cream, roses, cream. Completely unintentional play-by-ear. Next week, a proper light something for spring. And then? We take a trip downwards with the White Rabbit, just in time for Easter.]