Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chicks and Mother Hen

You never know what you might find on an Easter egg hunt..

Would you believe that I've been sitting on these recipe ideas for over a year? (and I won't repeat that often, but from here on out it's quite possible an idea got triaged from an earlier year, just for time, scheduling and resources) Frankly, it's about darn time these chicks hatched!

In this case, I had a very late special order of advocaat -- a brandy-based egg custard liqueur that's a traditional digestif in the Netherlands -- to contend with. Naturally, it's especially popular around Eastertime, though I'm somewhat surprised more hasn't been done with that angle. There's a Fluffy Duck recipe (more on that later in the week), but that's as close as advocaat gets to an Easter theme. So let's change that, and give you an option a little more naturally-flavored than Peeps.

Chick shots
1 part Advocaat
1 part apricot nectar*

Depending on how many shots you're making, add a cube or two of ice to the shaker along with the 2 ingredients, to help agitate. Shake and pour into shotglasses. Shoot these little low-alcohol sweet eggy bursts of yumminess to your heart's content!

*seriously, don't fret about using the canned stuff. You'll be lucky enough to find non-cardboard-tasting apricots in peak season in late summer, let alone at Easter time. Any store taking the chance of stocking apricot nectar will stock decent stuff for our purposes here. Besides, when mixing with advocaat, all we really want is sweetness and a bit of flavor.

But now then, now that we have the baby recipe down, what say we find what happens when baby loses its fresh-from-the-egg qualities and grows up?

Mother Hen
1 1/2 oz bourbon
1 oz dry-ish madeira (sercial or verdelho)
3/4 oz apricot brandy
2 dashes Dandelion & Burdock bitters
1 dash aromatic bitters

Stir all on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a brandied apricot.

On what I used: Bulleit bourbon; Blandy's 5yr Verdelho; homemade apricot brandy (from the recipe at bottom here) using Remy Martin VSOP, from which I obtained my garnish; and Fee Bros. Old-Fashioned Aromatic bitters (careful on this: it's easy to overdo with the angostura bark notes). If without homemade apricot brandy with the apricots still in to use as garnishes, try simmering some dried apricots in brandy until slightly darker and plump, about half an hour or so.

If you want to work the full Hen pun glory, use the Kickin' Chicken itself, Wild Turkey 81 bourbon (yes, 81 and not 101: females are smaller than males) plus use Hennessy for the apricot brandy. Madei- is already close to Madre, so the fortified wine's covered.

The bourbon sets the tone with the apricot brandy's fruit notes (passionfruit and apricot) prominent, with the acidity of the Madeira rounding the edge and the bitters' savory, warm spice and barnyard notes providing texture and depth (barnyard as in straw and hay, not that dressed-up tasting note for manure - I almost used this combo for the Bull's Meadow, there's something wonderfully pastoral about it). I can't comment on brands of apricot brandy, but I found my homemade apricot brandy (using Sun-Maid dried Mediterranean apricots) led with big notes of passionfruit -- a fitting connection to Easter, natch.

In all, you get some down-home on the farm with the bourbon, some Sunday aperitif with the Madeira, and a light sweet warmth from the apricot brandy, with some spice and mussed feathers thrown in for good measure.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mixology Monday, March 2013: From Crass to Craft

Once again it's Mixology Monday! (on a Sunday. Yeah, um.. it'll still be here on Monday.)

Our host this month is Scott Diaz of the quite snazzy Shake, Strain & Sip blog, who gives us the theme From Crass to Craft:

"The evolution of the cocktail has been a wondrous, and sometimes, frightful journey.  From its humble beginning, to the "Dark Ages" of most of the later 20th century, to the now herald "Platinum Age" of the cocktail,  master mixologists and enthusiasts alike have elevated its grandeur using the best skills, freshest ingredients and craft spirits & liqueurs available.  But with all this focus on "craft" ingredients and classic tools & form, it seems we have become somewhat pretentious.  The focus on bitter Italian amari, revived and lost ingredients such as Batavia Arrack or Creme de Violette, the snickering at a guest ordering a Cosmopolitan or a Midori Sour; has propelled us into the dark realm of snobbery. Many scratch bars and Speakeasies have gone as far as to remove all vodka and most flavored liqueurs from their shelves.  Some even go as far as to post "rules" that may alienate most potential imbibers.  Remember, the bar was created with pleasing one particular group in mind: the guest.  As such, this month's MxMo LXXI theme, From Crass to Craft,  will focus on concocting a craft cocktail worthy of not only MxMo but any trendy bar, using dubious and otherwise shunned ingredients to sprout forth a craft cocktail that no one could deny is anything less.  There are a plethora of spirits, liqueurs and non-alcoholic libations that are just waiting for someone to showcase that they too are worthy of being featured on our home and bar shelves.  So grab that bottle of flavored vodka, Jagermeister, cranberry juice, soda, neon colored liqueur, sour mix or anything else deemed unworthy of a craft cocktail, and get mixin'!
When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

Uh....fellas? (ladies?) I never got the memo on prohibited ingredients. Granted, I understand how high quality ingredients simply taste better and produce more interesting harmonies and contrasts between themselves, but if I need a precise certain ingredient for a recipe I've never seen why I shouldn't use it. It's why I've never considered myself "Craft" to begin with. Cocktailian, yes; Craft, no.

For instance, I've worked with Rumple Minze, and Black Haus and Cask & Cream liqueur before (and have a healthy love of Galliano). Given all that, I figure I ought to pull out one of the lesser schnapps in my girly-girl cabinet and go to work. Buttershots, you're up!

I first tried the Buttershots out in a Scotch sour, but that seemed a bit too on the nose as far as obviousness. However, fresh off of making the T. T. Punch in the past week with a new fascination for the form, plus staring at a cooling mug of Tension Tamer tea as I was making the sour, a punch seemed like a more interesting drink. At that, a punch would need less Sharp citrus and instead use its hefty Weak part to keep the Sweet Buttershots in check.

May David Wondrich have mercy on my soul.

Butterscotch Punch
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Buttershots schnapps
1/4 oz simple syrup
2 oz blended scotch (Famous Grouse)
1 oz Tension Tamer tea
1 oz ginger beer (Fever Tree)
fresh ground black pepper

Shake the first four ingredients then double strain into a chilled serving glass.

Top with ginger beer.

Garnish with a faint grind of black pepper.

Quite frankly, this works AMAZEBALLS. The schnapps has an over-eager puppy way of being out front wherever it's used (typically). But here you get the butterscotch flavor without a dominant sweetness, as all the other ingredients do an excellent job of drying the punch out and achieving a balance (the simple syrup was a late addition: it helps with the body and balance while managing the combined astringency of some of the other ingredients). The schnapps is still prominent, but there's a lot of interesting flavors happening around it. The Scotch holds its own and (of course) works with the schnapps. The Tension Tamer tea is a good flavor complement, and including it works better than an all-ginger beer Weak component, as 1 oz ginger beer is pretty spicy already. The black pepper seems a natural fit, better even than the darkest baking spices (clove, cardamom) or punch-traditional nutmeg.

The sour cocktail worked rather nicely as well, so here's the recipe for those interested:

Butters' Sour
1 1/2 oz blended scotch (Famous Grouse)
1/2 oz Buttershots schnapps
1/2 oz lemon juice
1 tsp Averna
orange twist

Shake on ice and double strain into Professor Chaos' chilled chalice of choice. Twist an orange zest over top and drop in. Mwa ha ha ha ha ha!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ti(n)sanity!: Eire Light

Welcome back to Ti(n)sanity's week of March Madness! And what a week it has been. Using our common denominator/Maguffin tisane, Celestial Seasonings' Tension Tamer, we've seen the last of the straight-water tisane infusions, the cooled brew an ingredient in a rhum agricole punch. Beyond that, we've grown the types of applications into a syrup, a straight spirit infusion, and then finally today, a combination syrup/spirit-infusion for when you want a sweet element to pair with the intensity of flavor that alcohol draws out. You might know this combination as simply a liqueur. Said liqueur is a little something special for St. Patrick's Day, the idea in development for nearly a year but made a finished reality just last night.

Imagine, if you will, a dark forest with black-boled trees. And then a small glade lit from above by straw-golden light, growing to engulf the lawn in pale spring green and extending out to the forest floor in sprightly, misty mint blue. You walk through this glade and the trees begin to thin into a grassy dale: the wind sings through the light-air, carrying motes of citrus orange and yellow bouncing like beachballs. Ireland may be an earthy country, verdant amid its browns and grey skies, but the idea of Eire always takes me to this sort of mystic imagery.

This final liqueur recipe came about with a lot more failed testing than you might imagine. Budding cocktailian that I was last year, when it came to St. Patrick's Day drink recipes I had a vision of an Irish flavor variation on a Sazerac, with Irish whiskey, lighter-than-Peychaud's bitters and an appropriate herbal liqueur as a rinse. Naturally, one does some research on this last point.

Irish Mist, Celtic Crossing, Celtic Honey, Drambuie: these are all classic British Isle herbal and honey liqueurs. A sticking point for me, however, is that they're all whisk(e)y-based. That's like making a cognac Sazerac with a Grand Marnier rinse: maybe just a little too close to the base spirit, which diminishes the herbal contrast. Something more strictly herbal would make more sense here. Based on that, many herbal liqueurs that one finds tend to be monastic in origin, and as luck would have it, Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick in the southwest of Ireland makes a lemon verbena liqueur (any imagery being prompted in your mind?). Alas, it's limited to usage in chocolates and local venues (perhaps not a bad thing, given the humble philosophy behind it). But, it's enough of an idea to get started.

Back in November I set myself up with a variety of dried and fresh herbs, including dried lemon verbena, and got to work infusing. Neither of my tester mixes turned out near to what I was looking for, though: dried herbs generally have a darker flavor to them at odds with the concept of a light sprightly green liqueur glowing with mystic dawn. Lemon verbena, at that, apparently loses most of its lemony perfume once dried.

So, the idea was backburnered, until Ti(n)sanity that is. It made a lot of sense to build on that old concept with an agreeable and appropriate herbal blend, plus some fresh ingredients to round out the flavor just-right (those with long memories might note the details I pulled from La Primavera nella Campagna). Given fresh lemon verbena can be difficult to find unless you grow your own, the below liqueur includes a variety of citrus zests to make up for that flavor; I imagine adding some fresh verbena leaves would only enhance the liqueur that much more, though.

Note: as with all infusions, they should be kept in a cool dark area as sunlight and heat will impact the final quality.

Sunlit only for the pics.

Eire Light Liqueur
Part 1:
1/2 cup pear eau-de-vie
strips of zest from lemon, lime, Meyer lemon and/or sweet lime*
1 inch fresh lemongrass, chopped
1 sprig tarragon leaves, and stem (use 17 leaves for St. Paddy's Day)
1/2 sprig fresh spearmint, stem but not leaves crushed

*1/2 inch wide, taken lengthwise from the fruit. Mix 'n match fruits based on availability and preference. Roughly 1-2 strips from each kind of fruit.

Add all to a glass mason jar and infuse for 3 hours. Remove tarragon and mint, then continue infusing to complete a full 24 hours, shaking occaisionally.

Part 2:
1/2 cup 100pf vodka
1 Tension Tamer teabag

Infuse in a separate mason jar for 45 minutes, shaking occasionally. Remove and wring out teabag. Let rest until Part 1 is complete.

Part 3:
Combine parts 1 and 2 once part 1 has infused for 24 hours. Keep the zests and lemongrass in the mix for another 6 hours to help combine flavors, then fine strain off the solid bits before giving the liquid a good coffee filter straining. Once that's done, add 1/4 cup mild honey and shake to dissolve. Skim off the foam once it's settled a few minutes. Let rest at least a few hours before using, and don't feel you have to use it up all at once. If you can, let it rest a good month or three before using (again): the maturation and bottle-aging will improve the flavor all that much more.

[Update, 03-14-2013, 11:00pm: It's come to my attention this evening that the liqueur has turned a bit cloudy with some sediment. If you encounter this, my recommendation is to let the liqueur rest as-is a few more days at room temperature. If there will be sediment, the worst of it should happen early: it may be wax from the honey or simply an infusion by-product, which is natural. Either way, it's best to let it clump, all the better for decanting and/or straining off through coffee filters (a time- and filter-consuming process, yes, but an effective clarifier). Normally with infusions I would recommend a good chill-in-the-fridge before straining, but with a honey sweetener this is liable to cause crystallization which could affect the quality.]

I highly recommend using linden flower (aka lime blossom, aka tilia flower, aka basswood) honey. Not only is it delicate with a flower scent somewhere between green honeysuckle and gardenia, but it matches with the tilia flowers in the Tension Tamer tea. Linden also has a pure, sacred quality in Germanic folklore as a tree of lovers and jurisprudence -- not far off at all from the original mental imagery. Given linden honey might be difficult to find, a minimally-pungent ambrosia or clover flower honey would do well in a pinch.

Designing this liqueur for this particular Sazerac take, knowing that it would substitute for a potent and higher-proof absinthe or pastis, I found it worth it to use straight honey instead of a honey syrup with added water. Lack of water means an increased viscosity and less dilution of flavor, perfect for rinsing a glass. With precisely 1/4 cup of honey moreover, there remains a bit of pungency and astringency from the herbal ingredients. Aging will mellow these aspects while retaining the intricacy of the flavor, whereas extra honey will only mask it, regardless of time.

But now to make that Irish Sazerac...

Eire Light
2 1/2 oz Irish whiskey
1 cube or 1 tsp white sugar
3 dashes Branca Menta (or impromptu Branca Menta)
rinse of Eire Light Liqueur
lime zest

Muddle the sugar and bitters until the sugar is dissolved, then add ice and your Irish whiskey of choice. Stir to dilute and chill. Strain over one large ice cube in a chilled rocks glass rinsed with Eire Light liqueur. Twist a piece of lime zest over the drink then drop into the glass.

Impromptu Branca Menta: 1 tsp Fernet Branca to 1/2 tsp crème de menthe to 1 dash Fee Bros Mint Bitters. (going roughly by Dr. Henderson's suggestion here, but with a touch more bitterness)

The cocktail does just what I was hoping it would. You're greeted on the nose by something soft, ineffably-herbed, honeyed, intermingled with rolling verdant lime hills and valleys. On the sip: earth and grain. But then you're transported beyond such rigid sensory categories: there's light-filled minty mist, juicy green pastures, and a sense of home ideal and elevated.

At some point I'd like to try the Branca Menta version, having used the substitute because Branca Menta's a bit difficult to obtain in PA. I wanted something a bit earthy, mintiness being a bonus. Fernet Branca on its own up against Irish whiskey seemed an unfair fight, but tempered with a bit of mint became more palatable in the context of the cocktail, if maybe a little too scotch-peaty. From the specs, Bittermens' Boston Bittahs could also be interesting here, though it seems like it wouldn't quite have the earthiness or command you would expect for a Sazerac variation.

Thank you for reading this week and have a happy (and alcoholically-responsible) St. Paddy's Day! Just a reminder: Ti(n)sanity slows down from here on out for at least four further, more complex applications. I'm planning on doing one a month from here through July, so please check back in from time to time if it interests you. Sláinte!

Previous Ti(n)sanity recipes:

Hit the Road to Dreamland (rum)
Lullaby Sangaree (madeira) and Insufferable Creole Minx (bourbon, gin, madeira)
T. T. Punch (rhum agricole)
Me-tea-orite (single malt scotch)
Introduction and eThéreal Toddy (grappa)

Disclaimer: this is a non-sponsored post. Also, I'm not looking to do sponsored posts. I just really like this tea, is all, and have a policy of happily and independently buying all my ingredients.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ti(n)sanity!: Hit the Road to Dreamland

Wasn't that a lovely musical interlude for halftime? We're into the second half of Ti(n)sanity's March Madness week, here on Feu de Vie. Our friendly neighborhood Maguffin, Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer tea, is about to take the big plunge into waters yet-unknown: namely because it's not water, it's rum!

That's right, after four dreary posts of build-up, we've finally hit our first alcohol-infusion. Let's go to the tape, and see just how this infusion came to be:
Tension Tamer Rum: In a mason jar or similar, add one Tension Tamer teabag to one cup of white rum (or more, keeping the same ratio). Infuse for 60 minutes. Remove the bag(s), wringing out the final richly-infused drops. Seal the jar and store in the fridge overnight or longer until ready to use. The flavors will clarify as the excess infusion oils sink to the bottom of the jar.
Wasn't that exciting? All that drama watching the clock so it doesn't overdo! But what'll happen now as we get to see how this infusion defines greatness. Let's go live to the court:

Hit the Road to Dreamland
2 oz Tension Tamer Rum
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz triple sec
1/4 oz simple syrup
3/4 oz egg white

Dry shake (i.e. without ice) the first four ingredients until foam is started, then add ice and shake to dilute and chill.

Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a faint hint of fresh-grated nutmeg.

Oh! MoD's run a classic Sidecar play, with an egg white option. There's very little that can bust that structure as it moves down the field. Though to be technical, this play is more Cable Car. No no no, that's not right, or wait, let's check that. All right, we can call it a Difford's Guide Cable Car play. There's definitely something British with the use of tea. But wait, what's this? Nutmeg! MoD unleashes the nutmeg! Ho-lee cow!

This may well be the strongest application of our Maguffin yet. Though dense and dry like gin when the infusion is tasted neat, when applied to a cocktail it's permitted room to breathe and the flavor comes through exactly as if you had just brewed a cup. Moreover, the cinnamon spice in the herb mix especially comes through: dry like gin, but spiced like rum. Whereas the nutmeg would have drowned out the Lullaby Sangaree, here it's a pleasant touch for the nose, mixed with hints of lemongrass from the Tension Tamer.

Stay tuned for your local news, and one final post tomorrow, with a special recipe for St. Paddy's Day.

(and don't be shy about playing around with base spirits! If the below-linked recipes indicate anything, it's that our Maguffin works well with a great number of base spirits. Vodka would be the least-interesting option, to be sure.)

Previous Ti(n)sanity recipes:

Lullaby Sangaree (madeira) and Insufferable Creole Minx (bourbon, gin, madeira)
T. T. Punch (rhum agricole)
Me-tea-orite (single malt scotch)
Introduction and eThéreal Toddy (grappa)

Disclaimer: this is a non-sponsored post. Also, I'm not looking to do sponsored posts. I just really like this tea, is all, and have a policy of happily and independently buying all my ingredients.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ti(n)sanity!: Lullaby Sangaree and Insufferable Creole Minx

Welcome back to the March Madness portion of Ti(n)sanity!, the series exploring all the unique ways you can use herbal tea in cocktails, featuring Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer tea (tisane, natch) as the Maguffin/common denominator. 

As you might expect when it comes to teas or tisanes in cocktails, they're primarily utilized in various forms of infusions. Our previous three entries explore straight water infusions (that is, how you'd normally brew tea or tisane). The first baby step beyond that is to brew the tisane as normal, but then add a sweetener: a tisane syrup.

Syrups in cocktails tend to be restrained in usage: a quarter to half an ounce is generally considered plenty of sweetening for one drink, unless the syrup is to be the star of the cocktail (overmuch sweetness has a tendency to mask flavors too - and what's the point of putting something in a drink if you're not going to get a sense that it's in there?). Syrups also have the inherent problem of diminishing the alcohol level of the cocktail, so too much will limit the kick of the drink.

Let's start by making the syrup, and then getting to its applications:

Tension Tamer syrup
1 cup (8 oz) strong-brewed Tension Tamer tea (2 teabags)
1/4 cup mild honey

Pour the boiling water over the teabags and let steep until cool. Remove and squeeze out the tea bags, then combine the tea and honey in a sauce pot on the stove, stirring and heating gently until reduced to 1/2 - 3/4 cup. Let cool, bottle, then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To shake things up a bit for this series, I'm going to offer two different recipes to highlight different syrup usages. Now, before I really got started mixing in earnest, the first thing I did was follow a hunch by pairing the syrup with some Rainwater Madeira I had on hand. Match. Made. In. Heaven. It's like the Madeira rejoiced at evolving into a slight vermouth.

But one of the flaws of Tension Tamer tea as an ingredient is its delicacy: cocktails need to be kept simple and on the light side in order to best highlight it. And the first cocktail I worked on here didn't do such a good job. So, I retreated back to that basic Madeira/syrup combination and pushed it just a little further into a Sangaree.

No! Not the Bronze Age Batman pirate rogue. A Sangaree, which isn't too far etymologically or ingredient-wise from Sangria, tends to use fortified wine (or ale, or porter, or regular wine) plus a small amount of fine sugar, crushed ice, and a couple of citrus wheels or zest all shaken together then poured into a serving glass. Some classic, but more modern recipes will use a liquor as the base, though generally a fortified wine will be included in the mix too.

For this Sangaree, I figured soft and simple was best, not to mention it would make a fitting toast to my newborn nephew, barely one day old today.

Lullaby Sangaree
3 oz rainwater madeira
1/2 oz Tension Tamer syrup
1 or 2 red grapefruit wheel halves
strawberry fan

Shake the first three ingredients with crushed ice and pour mix and ice into a chilled tumbler. Taking Mr. Ellestad's suggestion to include fresh berries, garnish with a strawberry fan.

Nutmeg is the traditional garnish for a Sangaree, but the Tension Tamer serves as the spice in this case -- nutmeg would only overpower anyhow. Madeira is the first set of flavors you taste, with the herbs sneaking in in bouts of sweetness, counterpointed by glancing sour and bitter grapefruit notes and tart strawberry on the nose.

For the first cocktail I developed, with the Tension Tamer syrup meshing so well with Madeira I wondered how a take on the Creole Lady would work. The Creole Lady was a recipe I saw while researching Madeira back in January, which happened to use a syrup, albeit grenadine. For some reason when researching, though, I swore I saw two different versions of the Creole Lady, one with bourbon and one with gin; it probably didn't help that I conflated the Creole Contentment --and the notion of unfixed base spirits-- into the same family, either. Turns out, both versions of the Creole Lady exist on the Internet but the gin variant appears to be an aberration of mysterious provenance while the bourbon (or whiskey, generally) variant has roots back to 1937 (at least).

The clarification on that point didn't happen until well after the recipe development, however, and when mixing, neither the gin nor the bourbon were just right. I also happened to have the Suffering Bastard, no doubt prompted by Dagreb's recent inversion, the Flourishing Heir, floating around in my head -- the bourbon and gin an intriguing combination I had never tried before, until now of course. 

Insufferable Creole Minx
1 oz bourbon (Elijah Craig 12)
1 oz gin (Citadelle)
1 oz rainwater madeira
1/2 oz Tension Tamer syrup
1 dash cherry bitters 
grapefruit zest

Stir all on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnishing with a grapefruit twist.

You'd think gin might not be a good match for other herbal notes (though that never stopped the Martini), but here the gin and syrup work on different levels, all while sharing a couple of botanicals so as not to be completely disjointed. The bracing dry gin is out at the fore, leaving the sweet herbal syrup to linger as an undertone revealed on the finish. Further, the bourbon, Madeira and syrup do blur into one another with shared cinnamon, wood, nut and sweet notes, but the dry gin helps to break that up, all the better to appreciate the mix.

The cherry bitters are a nod to the Creole Lady's dual-cherry garnish and single dash of bitters - one dash should be all that's necessary, before you start drowning out the other flavors. The grapefruit zest bridges many of the disparate ingredients, while punching them up to a new level, plus adds a little extra bitterness in case you need it (somewhat reminiscent of a Brown Derby).

In all: malty, rich, bitter, with a surprise around every turn.

Stay tuned dear readers! Tomorrow our Maguffin makes the big leap to alcohol infusions!

[Update: Hi, dear readers! I couldn't help but notice how popular this post has been. If you'd care to leave a comment, I'd be curious to know which of the recipes you like or what drew you to follow the link. Best, MoD]

Previous Ti(n)sanity recipes:

T. T. Punch (rhum agricole)
Me-tea-orite (single malt scotch)
Introduction and eThéreal Toddy (grappa)

Disclaimer: this is a non-sponsored post. Also, I'm not looking to do sponsored posts. I just really like this tea, is all, and have a policy of happily and independently buying all my ingredients.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ti(n)sanity!: T. T. Punch

Disclaimer: this is a non-sponsored post. Also, I'm not looking to do sponsored posts. I just really like this tea, is all, and have a policy of happily and independently buying all my ingredients.

To coin a phrase: ACK! Funny how life, a fridge in terrible need of total defrostment, and the need for a crash course in punch can get in the way of cocktailing. My intent was to get this punch recipe out at the end February (ideally while still in the month of Aquarius, the libation-bearer). But, we are still in the watery Neptune-ruled month of Pisces and that has to count for something.

Anywho, welcome back to Ti(n)sanity!, a series exploring all the unique potential applications for herbal tea (that is to say, tisanes), with our friendly Maguffin common denominator, Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer tea. This is the third post, of at least ten, and the first post for our mad month of March!

Now, I say "mad" because, aside from the basketball and the airhorns I hear outside from Villanova students, for this next week we're going to go a little more crazy than usual by exploring four different though related applications, leading up to a special do-it-yourself homemade liqueur for St. Patty's Day that only takes a day or two to put together. After all that, we're going to reduce the Ti(n)sanity scheduling to about once a month for slightly more complex applications.

As with our previous two entries, today's recipe works with strong-brewed tisane -- all the better to mix and permit the flavor to come through. This time, instead of boiling hot tisane for a Toddy or tisane ice for an Old Fashioned, we have room temperature or chilled tisane for use in that classic mixed drink form known as Punch.

Put simply, the essence of punch is strong and weak, sharp (sour) and sweet, and of course: spice. Tea will often feature as a combination weak/spice ingredient in punch, though it tends to be black or green tea: something astringent, unctuous and flavorful to be used in place of plain water (and potentially something that can hold its own against hogo-filled rum).

So, to start for this punch, I was somewhat limited in my choices for a base spirit. One of my aims for the entire series is to not reuse ingredients wherever possible, to avoid redundancy and boredom on your part and to showcase the range the herbal tea can have. Given my plans for other recipes, I was angling for either cachaça or new-to-me rhum agricole. The cachaças in my cabinet weren't throwing off vibes for this one recipe, so I soon found myself with a new bottle of Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc: light, delicate, astringent with soft savory funk. Everything I could have hoped for this recipe and beyond.

As to mixing? Sometimes the simplest concoctions are best. Here, I took rhum agricole's signature cocktail, Ti' Punch --which techinically isn't a punch-punch: wrong ratios, no weak, no spice-- and turned it into one.

T. T. Punch
1/2 oz lime juice
3/4 oz sweet lime syrup
1 1/2 oz rhum agricole blanc
2 oz Tension Tamer tea, brewed and cooled
fresh grated cinnamon

Give the four liquid ingredients a quick shake without ice to blend, then strain into your serving cup over a large cube or sphere of ice. Garnish with fresh grated cinnamon and a lemongrass straw.

If making a full-sized punch, multiply your ingredients as needed and serve in a punch bowl with an ice ring or block possibly filled with mint and slices of sweet lime, with lemon grass curls strewn and cinnamon grated over the whole punch.

If your taste runs drier than average, try reducing the syrup to 1/2 oz.

The Tension Tamer isn't as perceptible here as one might want, but when you consider how the punch would taste with water instead of tea, the herbal undercurrent it provides becomes that much more noticeable. In all, though, all the flavors harmonize especially well, making a light, sweet-ish, gently funky punch. It's not the perfection as is this Donn's Gin Punch I discovered while researching punch, but it's more than serviceable.**

The story on the sweet limes? (which are different from regular limes) I never had them before this recipe, but they seemed like a good flavor match for Tension Tamer. As it turns out, there's a lot of sweet and very little acidity to them, so their juice would function as a sweet and not a sour ingredient. However, their zest's scent was incredible and too good to pass up making oleo saccharum (a process where citrus zest oils are extracted by being immersed in sugar, the oily sugar then used to sweeten and flavor the punch).

On the cinnamon and lemongrass, nutmeg tends to be the most common spice grated over punch, but in this case I opted to play up ingredients in the Tension Tamer. You may find this tactic cropping up again and again the further we get into Ti(n)sanity!

Sweet Lime Syrup
2 sweet limes - pithless zests only
1/4 cup demerara sugar
1/4 cup white sugar

Combine zests with the sugars in a sealed plastic bag (as much air squeezed out as possible). Let it oleo saccharuminate anywhere from an hour on the counter to overnight for a day or two in the fridge (probably not good to let it go beyond two days, tops). Once you're satisfied with the amount of oil extracted from the zests, pour 1/2 cup warm water into the bag, seal up, and agitate until all the sugar is dissolved. Strain off the zests and store in a sealed container in the fridge until ready to use. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Given sweet limes tend to be pretty difficult to find, especially as we're moving out of citrus season, feel free to just do a simple syrup using the above-listed sugars and the 1/2 cup of water. Regular lime zest is too bitter to substitute here.

**On the MxMo with which Donn's Gin Punch is associated: you might notice that Hobson's Choice, the host blog, is viewable by invite-only. If interested in exploring punch further, though, here's a list of all the entries to MxMo XLVII that I was able to google up, from the finest cocktail blogging minds out there, natch: Spirited Remix, Fogged in Lounge, Wordsmithing Pantagruel, Cocktail Chronicles, A Mountain of Crushed Ice, Inspired Libations, Science of Drink, Cocktail Virgin Slut, Rum Dood, and Drink of the Week.

Previous Ti(n)sanity recipes:

Me-tea-orite (single malt scotch)
Introduction and eThéreal Toddy (grappa)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Selkie

Happy Birthday Week, Feu de Vie!

As you might've noticed, this past Monday -- the one-year anniversary of Feu de Vie to be precise -- I did some redecorating around here. I hope this design is a bit more pleasing to the eyes than the old model (please let me know what you think in the comments!).

But anyway, I think the start of a new year of posts calls for something challenging, on a number of levels.

Challenge the First:

I'd like to test that theory, Dr. Adam.

Blue. Smoky. Foamy.
To lay out the parameters, last-to-first:
  • Foamy - this would imply egg white, or possibly fresh pineapple juice - though pineapple would act against the blue coloration of the drink. Egg white it is.
  • Smokey - There are actually a number of ways to introduce a smoke flavor into a cocktail. Smoking a glass, using an Islay scotch rinse or utilizing mezcal or smokey bitters were ideas that didn't quite mesh with the idea of using egg white. This pushed me towards using a light to moderately-smokey scotch as a base spirit.
  • Blue - Actually, very very recently there's been an upsurge in interest for blue cocktails. But the structure of this one had been decided well in advance. To work against the challenge, however, I wanted something that wouldn't use blue curacao (or colored schnapps or vodka). Magellan gin might be a possibility. Also black sambuca in minute amounts. But somehow neither seemed to fit with the egg white and scotch. Hmmm...

So wait, what'd I do to make this cocktail blue?

I infused scotch with Clitoria ternatea.



I'll let you have a moment there to clean up your keyboard and monitor.

And possibly for someone to give you the Heimlich maneuver.

Clitoria ternatea, also known as butterfly pea flowers or dok anchan in Thailand, is derived from the dried blue morning glory-like flowers native to and culinarily-used in Southeast Asia, and is an example of spectacularly spot-on scientific nomenclature. Given its deep blue coloration, the flowers are rich in anthocyanins and the tisane brewed from fresh or dried blossoms confers health benefits related to the eyes and nervous system (and some would say reproductive system as well). It is also used to color various dishes, notably including blue rice. Even better for cocktails? It's very light in flavor, if it has any at all.

How on earth did I come across this? Google "blue tea". If ever you run into a wall with a cocktail, oftentimes something herbal will do. I should note, there are number of online sites where you can buy the tea direct from Thailand. I bought through Franz Market on Amazon, with good service, price, and delivery a week earlier than estimated (20 days, but still better than estimated).

Ok, so, the source of blue found, the easiest thing to do would be to infuse it, and into the base spirit instead of a supporting spirit for the best color "coverage." That's fine, but therein lies the second challenge.

Challenge the Second (and Third and Fourth): you notice down towards the end of the linked page - how a few drops of lime juice turn the tea from a gorgeous imperial blue to fuschia? Dilemma. Egg whites only foam with the introduction of acid to break their protein bonds. How to get both blue AND foamy using butterfly pea tea?

Upon the above realization, I dropped citrus juice and Lactart from consideration as ingredients. However, fresh off of MxMo LXIX: Fortified Wines, I had a heightened appreciation for the acidity in fortified and/or aromatized wines. Could a slightly higher pH than lemon or lime get the job done? (and would it taste good? I don't think I've ever seen a vermouth-egg white cocktail before. Have you? [UPDATE (03-07-2013): Yes I have! Just this week even (though, granted, not back in January). Chalk it up to cocktailsphere hivemind synchronicity perhaps? Apologies for my ditziness, Dagreb!]) And I say slightly higher because as this chart will evidence most vermouths and the like tend to have a pH between 3.0 and 3.9, rather than the 2.3-2.5 of lemons and limes.

Getting some decent lighting
As it turns out, vermouth works quite nicely to get a bit of foam going - and it adds a nice bit of body too. Not as intense as a lower pH would bring out, but delightfully frothy for our purposes here. (and bianco vermouth is a delicious match for scotch - why haven't I seen recipes with this combo before?)

There's another small issue inherent here: scotch itself can be rather acidic (as the above-linked chart also shows). I imagine some of it has to do with the type of cask it's aged in. I tested infusing in both Macallan 12 (sherry cask) and Glenlivet 12 (bourbon cask). As the image at the right shows, there could be a red undertone to the infusion, which was more pronounced with the Macallan (acidic sherry remnants in the oak, perhaps?). Still, the scotch poured out indigo.

But what about adding vermouth? Wouldn't that turn it fuschia? Probably, but there's one final factor to consider: egg white, as with dairy in general, is alkaline.


And thus, as the cocktail image above evidences, the pH balanced. We have a blue drink!

To wit:

The Selkie
2 oz butterfly pea tea-infused The Macallan 12 Year*
1/2 oz bianco vermouth
1/2 oz egg white
7 drops Teapot bitters
fleur de sel

* or other sherry cask-aged smoky single malt whisky. Or possibly Highland Park or Scapa, native to Orkney as Selkies are.

To infuse the Scotch, add roughly 8-9 individual flowers per 2 oz of spirit to be infused. Let sit for a few hours or forget about it a few days - any taste change is indiscernable. Strain out flowers before use.

For the cocktail, shake first three ingredients without ice, then with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with the bitters and lightest sprinkle of fleur de sel.

It tastes of violets and scotch and mists on the sea.

The thought of something blue and foamy gave rise to thoughts of the sea. Add in a Scottish influence, both in the use of whisky and the source of the first challenge, and one arrives at Selkies. To gild, the myths of Selkies in one way or another use a trope involving seven teardrops being cried into the sea. Teardrop er, Teapot bitters seemed natural at this point.