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.