Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mixology Monday, July 2013: Flip Flop!

Ok, I have no excuse. I've been on vacation to La La Land for awhile now. But there's nothing like the siren song of MxMo to get one's head back in the game.

Our own Fearless Leader, Fred Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut, grabs the reins for this month's edition -- Mixology Monday 75, natch! -- calling us all back from our private Tiki huts on beaches far and wide and presents us with a deceptive little challenge that doesn't take us too far from the beach or boardwalk: Flip Flop!
I thought of the theme for this month's Mixology Monday shortly after making the Black Rene, an obscure drink from Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933. The combination of brandy, amber rum, lemon, and Maraschino was tasty, but I felt that the recipe could be improved if I swapped in different ingredients. Taking a page from Max Toste of Deep Ellum who converted the Black Devil into the White Devil, I flipped around the ingredients to be pisco, white rum, lime, and Maraschino instead. With this combination that I called the White Rene, the drink really sang but it was still recognizable as being an alteration of the original recipe. Others have done similar swaps with grand effect including the Bluegrass Mai Tai that that changes the two rums to two whiskeys and swaps lime for lemon from the classic while holding everything else the same.

Find a recipe, either new or old, and switch around at least two of the ingredients to sister or cousin ingredients but holding the proportions and some of the ingredients the same. The new recipe should be recognizable as a morph of the old one when viewed side by side. Want to make an amaro version of a Vieux Carré or a new twist on a Negroni? Go for it!
When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

This month's theme was deceptive...ly difficult. In a world full of Manhattan, Sidecar and Corpse Reviver riffs -- heck, look at CVS for all that and more -- how do you pick something that hasn't already used those formulas with the ingredients you'd want to use? It took until late tonight to get the recipe down at that, and it was a matter of taking a step back, looking at my own style and going "heeeeey, I did that ketchup Blood and Sand: the more Out-There, the better! (and the less-likely it'll already have been done)". So, dear reader, you're getting a double dose of Strega tonight!

The Accoutrement, by Chris Hannah of Arnaud's French 75 in NOLA was one of the first (*scratches head* maybe only?) recipes I found that put a good use to my bottle of Strega, an Italian herbal liqueur that goes all over the map with juniper, saffron, mint, and anise among other flavors. As you might sense, it's a touch particular in its pairings, but Mr. Hannah seems to have made it his pet project to showcase this unique liqueur.

For MxMo, I tag along, using the same ratios and some of the ingredients of the Accoutrement, but switch the calvados to Irish whiskey and the orange liqueur to citrus-undertoned Crème Yvette.

Accoutrement and Penannular Brooch

Penannular Brooch
2 oz Irish whiskey (Tullamore Dew 12 Year)
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz Strega
1/2 oz Crème Yvette
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
lemon twist for garnish

Shake all on ice and double-strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lemon loopy-loop.

The Accoutrement makes an excellent display of the Strega while not hitting you over the head with its aromatics: it's a golden trumpet of saffron first, square upon a mid-level flavor foundation of apple-citrus. The brandied cherries, especially if spiced, help those notes in the Strega emerge all the more. The recipe sings class.

Meanwhile, the Penannular Brooch is reedy with wood-cereal-green apple and the brightness of berry and moody violet: there's a touch of saffron at the center of its taste, but the spices (cinnamon) and green herbs (mint, fennel/anise) come through more, especially on the nose as the cocktail lingers. Dare I say it, but there's a touch more flavor depth to this one tasted side-by-side.

I highly recommend the Tullamore Dew 12 Year for this recipe, as one of its most prominent notes is big green apple - a not-too-distant cousin of calvados. I originally thought gin would work well and would help enunciate all Strega had to offer, but it ended up too muddled and wasn't as strong a base as the original calvados (alas! I was all set to make a Strega - Blue Moon cocktail connection called the Cimaruta, but perhaps someone else can grab that and run with it).

Big thanks to Fred for both hosting and cat herding this month! This was a real doozy of a theme.

I can only imagine what's next on the horizon.. *ducks*

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Smoky Mountain Salamander

So once again, after the Smokemont and the So We're Havin' a BBQ, huh? I find myself returning to my Great Smoky Mountains muse, perhaps even to the initial cocktail idea that got me started on this theme to begin with. I'm not entirely sure what got me going -- it was probably the Courting Rachel recipe mentioned in that NYT article on smoke in cocktails two autumns ago.

Wandering in that misty mental space, it was a hop and a skip. There needed to be a smoke element and a native spirit...and perhaps a native fruit? I started reading up and looking for interesting angles...like, say, how the Smokies are the Salamander Capital of the World. And, huh, one of the native trees featured were these pin cherries circling the balds, the trees some of the quickest to rise up in the wake of forest fires...earning them the nickname fire cherries.


I'd call it the Hellbender, but someone decided to go and make a Scotch tiki drink with that name for a book launch.

Smoky Mountain Salamander
2 oz Salamander Moonshine
shot glass full of sour/pie cherries (8-9)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz allspice dram
3 dashes Swedish bitters
cherry wood smoke
cherry + cherry pepper garnish

Smoke a chilled cocktail glass with cherry wood and set aside. In a shaker, muddle the sour cherries. Add ice, Salamander Moonshine, vermouth, allspice dram and bitters. Shake to mix and chill. Double-strain into serving glass. Garnish with a moonshine or sour cherry on a pick, encircled by a cherry pepper twist.

This is a difficult cocktail to write about: it's on the borderline between passable and don't post, but at the same time I experienced some magic moments with it too. It all boils down to how much you like the flavor of peppers in your drink. But for however much pepper flesh is the dominant flavor, everything else rallies to round it into something savory, bright and scintillating. The odd herbals offered by the Swedish bitters might even get you to wondering if there was a secret ingredient to the Salamander Moonshine, or at least a bit of brimstone.

You may want to serve this on the rocks with the muddled cherries because their flavor better emerges over time and helps the balance. Whatever you do, don't skimp on the Swedish bitters: their aloe note makes the pepper flavor quite palatable. Though for all that's said about bitters being a crucial binding element in cocktails, it's the vermouth which knots the bow here, reaching out to bright cherry on one side while snaring the more savory elements with its herbs and aromatics on the other. The cherry wood smoke, beyond being a nice little touch, situates the cocktail in a barbecue context such that the heat make more sense on the palate. And the allspice dram? A nice brooding bit of dark-flavored sweet spice. Pimento spice matched with pimento/cherry pepper heat matched with cherry smoke matched with cherry sour.

Salamander Moonshine
4-5 (hot) cherry or red fresno peppers - stemmed, seeded, quartered
1 tsp allspice berries, crushed
1/2 tsp roasted chicory root
3"x1/2" orange zest
1 cup moonshine

Add all to a mason jar. Store in a cool dark location for two weeks (or less if your desired heat level is reached), shaking daily. Strain off the large particles with a sieve and use a coffee filter to get the minute bits remaining. Store in a bottle/jar and let rest in a cool cabinet a week before using to let the flavors mellow and meld.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Punch

So who's in the mood for a beach party?

Seeing as yesterday was National Bikini Day, the timing is just about perfect for Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Punch! (Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot One-Piece Punch, if you're doing a virgin punch)

This has been one of those on-my-radar recipes, but it never took shape beyond a yellow punch base with melon ball garnishes until recently when I seized an opportunity to have a happy hour cohort of willing victims tasters at the office. Because buying melons for punch-for-one doesn't quite work. From all accounts it turned out nicely.

The song never did say what color the polka dots were, right?
Single serving
1/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz lemon-lime oleo saccharum syrup
1/4 oz passionfruit syrup
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz (homemade) apricot brandy or plain brandy
1 oz dry rum (white or gold)
2 1/2 oz carbonated tropical green tea
3 drops orange bitters (Bittercube)
2 dashes orange blossom water
bite-size frozen melon balls as garnish

Shake all liquids (except tea) on ice, then strain into your serving cup. Top with carbonated tea and frozen melon balls as garnish.

Full-size punch version (serves 24)
6 oz lemon juice
6 oz lime juice
3 oz lemon-lime oleo saccharum syrup (2:1)
5 oz passionfruit syrup
12 oz pineapple juice
12 oz apricot brandy or brandy
24 oz dry rum
8 cups carbonated tropical green tea
2 dropperfuls orange bitters
1 1/4 oz orange blossom water
frozen melon balls from roughly 2 melon halves (watermelon, honeydew, canteloupe, etc..)

Combine all but the carbonated tropical green tea and ice in your punch bowl, giving it a good stir, then add the tea, then the ice.

In addition to single frozen melon balls as chilling agents, try making an ice block or ice ring filled with melon balls.

  • There are a few workable varieties of tropical green tea out there that I know of (Revolution, Republic of Tea, Mighty Leaf). Look for green tea with pineapple flavor plus ginger and/or other tropical fruit flavors. Brew 1 bag per 2 cups near-boiling water until water is cool, then carbonate per your device's instructions (I tend to under-carbonate with my SodaStream, if only because tea tends to foam up quickly).
  • Lemon-lime oleo saccharum syrup: in a bowl or ziploc bag, to 3/4 cup sugar (demerara or turbinado if you have it) add the pithless zests (in strips) of 2 lemons and 1 lime. Muddle gently, then seal, letting rest at room temperature overnight. Agitate your container as you like to help the sugar dissolve. When ready to use, add 3 to 6 oz of water depending on desired sweetness, then add to the punch sans zests.
  • Rum's simply the natural choice for a punch like this, but play around with the spirits as you like! Brandy's always wonderful for depth, and a nice dry gin plays up all the flavors. I know for a fact that 1792 bourbon is a great match, as is port wine (though then it wouldn't be a yellow polka dot bikini). If using rum, find one with great big vanilla notes, as I think that'll play up the spirit of the cocktail best. I used Mount Gay Eclipse (gold) when serving.
  • Though intending to have the melon balls solely function as a garnish, the melon flavors ended up infusing pleasingly into the punch, adding a welcome dimension aside from the citrus flavors. They also played well with the orange blossom water; it'd be worth experimenting more with this flavor pair.
  • The orange blossom water itself was a last minute add, but ended up being the right finesse to elevate the punch beyond mundane.
  • If going beyond the in-office audience and limited budget for the punch, I'd probably up the alcohol grade slightly (the amount is just right because it still packs a wallop), and get fresh non-gold pineapple to juice. The pineapple in this case was canned Dole's juice. Something more mellow, that would function as a more subtle extender, would take this recipe through the stratosphere.