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.


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?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bull's Meadow

[Update 11-07-2012, see below]

This is one of my more modest efforts (same as the Smokemont I would contend since it's an Old Fashioned riff). And really, I'm not the only one thinking along these precise flavor combinations (for the inevitable de-linking/menu change: The Blue Goat, Richmond VA, Perfection Takes Thyme: Bulleit Bourbon, local honey, thyme, ginger beer).

What I would offer is a slight tweak to the above, grown out of my own tweak to the Basil Hayden's Last Stand. The combination of Bulleit bourbon and ginger beer is a natural. The Dandelion and Burdock bitters builds on that base to create an incredible synergy - this is a case where no substitutes will do.

Beyond that, pull the squeeze of lemon from the Last Stand to compliment and highlight the flavors. And then, to work the Meadow angle, a bit of pungent honey and thyme.

Seriously. Rare flavor magic. God's honest truth.

*gets out of the way*

Bull's Meadow
2 oz Bulleit bourbon
1 barspoon honey*
4 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Dandelion and Burdock bitters
ginger beer
lemon wedge
thyme sprigs

*preferably something bold that won't fade into the drink - I used a local wildflower variety

No, that isn't Reed's Ginger Beer back there.
In a chilled highball glass, add the Bulleit and honey and bitters. Stir to dissolve.

Fill with ice, top with ginger beer.

Squeeze in the juice from the lemon wedge, then give the glass a quick spritz and rim-wipe with the zest.

Roll some thyme sprigs between your palms to wake them up, then add as a garnish.

Give everything a quick stir to combine and enjoy!

One Note: know the flavors of the honey and ginger beer you're using in order to better control sweetness - you may want to play around with amounts for both. I would recommend a drier ginger beer (Reed's is a good brand for that). I'm not saying I've had all ginger beers out there, but a good rule of thumb would probably be to check the nutrition label for sugar grams: Reed's has 37.4g of sugar according to its label; compared with a few other brands I've had, anywhere in the < 40g sugar per 12oz ballpark and you'll most likely be in dryness-land.

[Update, 11-07-2012: For one reason or another I've been getting specific hits on this recipe out of proportion to when I published it, and in googling to see if it went viral I happened across the actual ancient usage of Bull's Meadow, of which I had formerly been unaware: Cluain-Tairbh in the Gaelic, or, modernly, Clontarf, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. Ye in the spirits-know might also recognize Clontarf as a brand of Irish whiskey. Why didn't I think of this in the first place?!?! Well, mainly because I was working that particular spirit-bitters synergy. I can confirm, however, that using Clontarf Black Label produces a similar yet divergent cocktail, that connects Clontarf's tropical fruit notes (pineapple, passionfruit, mango, possibly papaya) with the pineapple juice used in Reed's ginger beer for another stellar combination, with the ginger, thyme, lemon and bitters making blendiferous cameos. That Clontarf also possesses brown sugar Bourbon-wood notes perhaps ropes the cocktail in from deviating the recipe into unworkability.]