Monday, May 20, 2013

Mixology Monday, May 2013: Witches' Garden

*opens one eye from her coma* It's MxMo-time, again?!

Gee, I'd better do something about that..

The theme for the 73rd edition of the Greatest Cocktail Jamboree on the Planet, comes via our host Mark Holmes of Cardiff Cocktails -- home of delectable tipples, always-intriguing ingredient combinations and sepia-ambianced photography that aches comfort: Witches' Garden.
As far back as we can look, the use of fresh herbs have been prevalent in the world of mixed drinks. From the early days of the julep, through Williams Terrington’s 19th century Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, to Don the Beachcomber’s ahead of their time Tiki drinks, fresh herbs have always been at the forefront of mixology. So lets take influence from the bartenders that once ruled the world of mixology, raid your herb garden that too often gets neglected, and start mixing. I don’t want to put too many limits on this theme so get as creative as you please, want to use roots, spices or beans as well? Sure thing. Want to make your own herbal infusions or tinctures? Sounds wonderful.
When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

Let's get straight to the recipe:

Acrasia's Bower
2 oz grappa
1-2 strawberries
2-3 sprigs of mint
1/2 oz Tuaca
1 dash Boker's bitters
3 oz carbonated chai green tea
sprigs of mint for garnish

In a highball glass, muddle the strawberry with the Tuaca and bitters (more than a dash, depending on your palate).

Spank the mint and add, gently pressing in/stirring with the muddler.

Add the grappa and stir.

Add ice to fill the glass and top with carbonated chai green tea, giving all a stir.

Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.

Carbonated Chai Green Tea
Steep 1 tea bag of chai green tea in 2 cups near-boiling water until cool. Carbonate per your device's instructions, perhaps under-do it slightly as the tea particles encourage foaming. Stash is my tea brand of choice, spicy and invigorating, and delicious even without the regular milk-and-sugar chai fixings.

Mint isn't the most original ingredient for a challenge such as this, but I was at the farmer's market a couple weekends ago and the chives just weren't sparking a desire to create as much as a lush bundle of mint was. I was still in the North African flavor state of mind from last MxMo, so when approaching the mint I automatically thought "Moroccan mint tea."

After a meh attempt at something more Penicillin-like with weak-flavored carbonated green tea [forgive me: I just got a SodaStream machine and am now going through a "let's carbonate EVERYTHING!" phase], I had an "I wonder.." moment with a more flavorful chai green tea on hand. Carbonating this tea was much more interesting (with a great backbone), but it needed a different pairing than scotch. More through a process of intuition and "what would I like to drink, right this moment?" than anything else, I happened on my bottle of grappa di cabernet, and then soft vanilla/chocolate-y Tuaca, and then, needing some kind of warmth or red-ness to balance, strawberries. Cardamom-rich Boker's served as a final add-on to match the chai spice and help some of the other flavors come through.

This is probably a little more understated a recipe than my usual M.O., but the finished sip came across especially refined, something which doesn't happen with every drink I do. Plus, I like how the strawberry's tartness and the astringency of the carbonated tea also help balance the sweetness, without resorting to citrus and making this a full-on Smash.

I also tried this with Strega (the witch liqueur, more successfully used in Putney Farm's Strawberry Witch this MxMo), but that ended up far too sweet here: Tuaca has a great advantage with slighter (and less sour/dry) ingredients like green tea and unaged grappa, being less syrupy-sweet than most liqueurs and therefore dampening flavors less.

The strawberry in Acrasia's Bower comes through luscious and fresh-tart, with an indefinable exotically-spiced sweetness. The grappa is a lurking, rolling fist encased in satin, but you don't pay attention to that so much as the soft green edge of the mint, both delicate accent and a visual jungle. The imagery reminded me of the descriptions of the Bower of Bliss in Spenser's Faerie Queen (as I read of it in Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae -- F.Q.'s still in my book basket waiting to be read). And me, grasping for a name this morning, did some googling for some kind of reference: the name "Acrasia" itself just seems to fit the cocktail's image above (in F.Q.'s book on Temperance, no less!). Only after I decided on the name [mind you, I'm still quasi-comatose] did I realize, hey, Acrasia's an enchantress. This drink really is a Witch's Garden!

Many thanks and props to Mr. Holmes for hosting and Mr. Yarm for wrangling. Cheers!

And stay tuned shortly for a non-MxMo post, a little something for the month of Taurus, now that we're in Gemini!