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.