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.