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.
When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

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.