Thursday, November 21, 2013

Impromptu: Falling Sun Manhattan

I might as well face it: I'll always be trying to remake the Manhattan.

The Manhattan itself a dark seasons classic, I wanted to add some autumnal/festive-seasons richness with a brooding quality to the mix. The cassis and nocino had been calling out to me, so I chanced it:

Falling Sun Manhattan
2 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon
1/4 oz crème de cassis
1/4 oz nocino
1/4 oz sweet vermouth (Vya)
1 dash Bittercube Bolivar bitters
1 dash Regan's orange bitters
orange twist

Stir, strain, large ice cube, rocks.
Express and garnish.

It's a bit sweet, but it rises to blog-worthy status based on its well-illuminated complexity; the tart and bitter turns of each liqueur opens up the cocktail well beyond the standard Manhattan. (oddly enough, I tried subbing in Rittenhouse rye for half the bourbon for balance only to find the flavors collapsed) Buffalo Trace's structure and....I wanna say flavor clarity, it interweaves so well...does some heavy lifting, bringing not only its own wood notes as a foundation but enunciating the cassis and the bitter herbs underneath. Not every bourbon will be as successful, either; I know of several in my cabinet which would just be too blunt and inarticulate here. 

Also, keep the orange away from the cassis, lest you find them on honeymoon in your mouth! As if it weren't bad enough already with the bitters adding a degree of spice...

This would be perfect to drink while enjoying a Sagittarian sunset (which, come to think, start today). The dark hours grow earlier and the landscapes bleaker, but those sunsets... Royal blue and shaded gold melded into a full jewel-toned rainbow. The weariness in body and soul comes easier now, but the world and the year show us they are still pregnant as currant berries with unspent meaning. And that satisfies.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mixology Monday, November 2013: Resin, part 2

As I was working on my first recipe for for this Mixology Monday, it came to me that I had another resinous ingredient that had been sitting on my shelf a long while for just such an occasion: Skinos Mastiha liqueur, a not-too-sweet Greek spirit from the island of Chios centered around the flavor of mastic resin. To my palate, its most prominent notes are of sweet limes and celery, but it's not one to overwhelm in cocktails, offering a slight resinous edge and lift on the tongue.

While the resin is harvested in the summertime, as I went about finding a spirit match for the Mastiha with whisky, it got me to wondering how the bleak wintertime moors of Scotland would translate to the wintertime seas of the Mediterranean. There's a certain mood about November, the quiet austerity before the month of Holidays proper sets in, as the leaves finish falling and the cold begins to truly set in. This is what I aimed for with this cocktail.

Grey Seas, Grey Skies
1 1/2 oz blended Scotch whisky
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz Skinos Mastiha liqueur
1/4 oz white grapefruit juice
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
tiny pinch salt
thyme braid for garnish

Shake all, double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with thyme braid.

A quiet sipper, with predominant bitter notes though weakly sweet. Smoke notes hover like mist. A whiff of the thyme (slightly resinous in itself, or at least the type I buy with somewhat woody stems) pulls up grapefruit notes on the palate, and through that mastic subtlety.

There's still beauty left in the world. You simply must be still to pick up on it.

Notes: this recipe could be said to be a take-off on the Woodward or the Miami Beach. And if you have Bittermens' Hopped Grapefruit bitters, more power to you! That'll only add to the overall resin-ance.

Cheers to Shaun and Christa for hosting a delightfully pensive topic, and to Fred for continued fine wrangling (may your lasso never wear)!

The round-up post is here.

Mixology Monday, November 2013: Resin, part 1

Greetings once again, this late Mixology Monday night! I've been more fatigable than usual of late, so let's be pithy. Shaun and Christa, the Booze Nerds, have teased out a theme for us this month, the sort that makes you go "Ohhhhh! Now there's an idea with deeper resonance for the season." Or Resin-ance, as the case may be:
We thought hard about a theme that would work well for this time of year, and after contemplating the food, booze, and decor we like for the holidays, we settled on “Resin”. From savory rosemary in a stuffing, to a delicious juniper-y gin in a martini, to a fragrant fir ornament or garnish, our friends the evergreens have a lot to offer. The challenge: come up with an ingenious creation using the resin-y ingredient of your choice. Zirbenz, retsina, hoppy IPA, pine-nut puree, even? Sure! Spirit, garnish, aroma, all are fair game. Whatever resin means to you, we want to hear it.
When active, this link will send you to the summary post of this month's festivities.

Being an Aries, I've read that frankincense is an especially good spice for the sign, and the stress-relieving cinnamon-frankincense candles I've had over the years give that theory much credit. So the scent being close to my heart, how can I not want to cocktail with it? Its exoticism makes me think of a fortune teller, rings and jewels and layers of variegated-patterned frocks, a little of this and a little of that but never quite one thing -- perhaps the reason her senses are so attuned to the other side.

So sit back, breathe deep as the frankincense soothes you, and drink deep of the underlying interconnectedness. And beyond this recipe, stay tuned in a few seconds for another resinous cocktail, which would only clutter this post.

The Shew Stone
2 oz Gewürztraminer
1/2 oz Becherovka
1/4 oz grappa
1/4 oz blanco mezcal
absinthe ice sphere
frankincense-smoked glass

Smoke your rocks serving glass with frankincense, about 1-2 minutes.*
Stir liquid ingredients on light ice to combine.
Add absinthe ice sphere to serving glass and strain cocktail over top.
Sniff and savor.

*Frankincense requires indirect heat, either via a lit specialty charcoal briquet or an aluminum pie plate over a low-heat stove or hot plate. Rest serving glass over the smoke on minimally-conductive lifts made from wood or porcelain (I used a pie plate on the stove with a spare wooden chopstick broken in two to protect the glass from heat damage).

The delicacy of frankincense hits your nose first, all ginger and pine and smoke and white citrus. This leads into the hearth fire of the mezcal (El Buho, here) and then subtle sweetness and rose petals (reinforced by the grappa -- Alexander, di Cabernet in my case) on the tongue. Dryness follows as well as a subtle complexity - a mix of the frankincense and Becherovka. After some time when the ice sphere begins to melt, your fortune (or maybe just intoxication) begins to emerge in notes of anise and fennel - not sore thumbs in the least, but further complexity that play up the frankincense.

As you might notice, there's no base spirit to this cocktail. Sure, there's grappa and mezcal around the edges, but no anchor beyond the gewurtz. Very much intended. Whoever might be telling fortunes would likely be a nomad or gypsy, picking up a wide variety of spirits in her travels, as the recipe demonstrates. This one cocktail I admire, the Against All Odds from PDT, started my thoughts off down this direction.

  1. I'm not a wine expert, so selecting a precise Gewürztraminer is something I can't do, particularly with the limitations of the PLCB. Overall, the ideal gewurtz for this cocktail would emphasize ginger, rose and lychee notes, while being about midway between sweet and dry - sweet to integrate the other ingredients and dry/acidic to define them so they're not swimming beneath the surface. The two wines I used for testing proved to be on either end of the spectrum (Domaine Paul Buecher 2011 - sweet & Firestone 2009 - dry), so 1 oz of each ended up about right.
  2. Also important is selecting a food grade frankincense. Frankincense has multiple grades, some only fit for burning as incense. While you don't have to go all the way to "superior" (très très cher), the paler and more translucent the better. I found this frankincense online, which is marketed as a "tea" (always an excellent signifier for obscure herbs and spices, imo) - it proves quite ethereal when smoked and also functions well as a chewing gum.
  3. To make an absinthe ice sphere, fill your spherical ice mold (mine's a Tovolo) with water and let freeze for a few hours until a frozen outer shell has developed, somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2" thick. At that point, drill a small hole in the shell and drain the water out. Replace said water with a chilled mix of 1/2 oz absinthe to 3 oz or more of water. Dilution and chilling are key, because otherwise the absinthe's high proof will melt a hole straight through the sphere and wreck it upon addition. It is possible to just do an ice sphere of diluted absinthe, but the outer rough texture leaves something to be desired aesthetically. Plain water ice will give you a glossy clear exterior like that of a crystal ball, while the absinthe adds a cloudiness and mystique which suggests there's magic happening inside. More pointers on complex/filled ice spheres here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ti(n)sanity!: Jane Porter

As I mentioned way back in August, I'm working on more (and advanced) ideas for this Ti(n)sanity! series, my look at all the various ways you can use tea in a cocktail; for grins and flavor-tracking consistency, Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer herbal tea/tisane serves as my Macguffin. *points downwards to the Disclaimer*.

This particular iteration backtracks a little bit, back to the syrup-level found in the Lullaby Sangaree and Insufferable Creole Minx (linked below) and is the second part of a "fancy orgeat" exploration that started with Giganta. Tea syrups, be it Earl Grey or Chai or Lapsang Souchong, are quite common anymore amongst the cocktail set. But what prevents them from being more complex entities beyond tea + sweetener? In my experience cocktailing, something herbal like a tisane lends itself quite well as an accent note or flavor enhancer -- so why not enhance a single ingredient as well as its cocktail?

But why orgeat? At first glance, orgeat, a sweetened nut milk syrup with hydrosol accents, already seems to have a lot of complexity going for it. The nut oils lend a pearly opacity to a cocktail, as well as an evanescent rich sweetness enhanced by the traditional rose and/or orange blossom water hydrosols. Really, you could play around with the nuts, the sugars and the hydrosols (why not lavender or mint or any other herbal flavor you can dream up?) to your hearts' content and leave scads of combinations on the table. But if those three components are customizable, then how about the final, most innocuous ingredient, the water?

Enter the tisane, whose delicacy functions much as the hydrosols do, by not overpowering the nuts' subtlety*. Flavoring the water produces more of a shade or tone to the syrup, though, bringing notes which can make themselves felt even while using scant amounts of orgeat in a cocktail.

*conversely, if using a coffee, it's the nuts' richness which gets paired with the water flavoring, as countless international coffee cocktail recipes attest.

Now, to the featured cocktail itself. The initial dreaming was for a more Jane-of-the-Jungle variation on my Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Punch, which, with the intersection of this orgeat idea blossomed into 3 recipes. You'll have to wait to see JotJ until I can get my rums in order (which'll be soon enough), but for now let's take this other side street back onto Ti(n)sanity Ave. for a look at the lady before she met the jungle (and her Lord Greystroke): Jane Porter.

Jane Porter
1 1/2 oz Tanqueray Malacca
1/2 oz ruby port
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz Tension Tamer orgeat, recipe below
2 dashes Abbott's bitters
3/4 oz egg white
lime zest for garnish

Give all the ingredients a good dry shake (sans ice - I find adding the spring from a Hawthorne strainer to the shaker helps things froth well).

Add ice and shake to chill and dilute.

Double-strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.

Garnish with fine-grated lime zest if desired.

Gin-herbal and bright with almond-berry sweetness, but also dry on the tongue with port/lime acidity and egg white. Regular almond orgeat would stick out like a sore thumb with its brightness, but the herbal-vanilla quality of the Tension Tamer folds that flavor into the Malacca to produce something much more seamless. Abbott's bitters, native to Baltimore as Jane herself was, offer an understated taming note that meshes invisibly with the other ingredients. At first glance, it's a frilly pink drink for a proper young woman, replete with gin and tea and a youthful energetic fortified wine -- but there's Tiki around the edges and in its very soul, right to the tropical notes in the Malacca.

This recipe development was a trial. The ratios settled themselves out easily enough, and I found out that this recipe is quite similar to the Crimson cocktail (not sure if it's named for the color and/or the Harvard newspaper, though it seems classic-styled enough to fit) and the much more modern Anne Bonny (like-minded gal-badass-themed kudos, Rafa!).

[Edited to add, 01-24-2014: Just found on one of my favorite port cocktail recipe pages, natch, the ratios bear much similarity to the Saint Valentine]
[Edited to add, 01-29-2014: And another! The funky Dr. Phibes from Rated R Cocktails.]
[Edited to add, 02-23-2014: The Tiki-compliant Queen's Park Hotel Super Cocktail. Is this the foundational cocktail for the spirit/lime juice/red fortified wine/syrup-or-liqueur model?]
[Edited to add, 03-08-2014: Salvatore Daiquiri, with Cherry Heering and Averna]

But to the point: this cocktail needs the freshest lime and port possible. I'm sure you know how quickly both ingredients can fade and go "off", even when refrigerated, dear reader. Doubly so since they provide "sharp" notes, as they say in punch parlance.

Regular tea and almond-creamed tea.
Stay tuned! Many more ideas yet to come!

Tea/tisane-based orgeat
1 tea bag
1 cup boiling water
2 oz chopped almonds
1/3 cup sugar
3 drops rose water or other hydrosol

  1. Brew a strong cup of tea with the tea and water (until the tea is cooled). 
  2. Reheat the tea until quite hot, then pour 1/3 cup over the chopped almonds in a mug or other heat-safe container. Cover and let sit for 4 hours.
  3. Strain the almond milk-tea through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and use the cheesecloth to wring out every last drop from the nuts.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the same nuts and liquid to further extract the almond oils. 
  5. Add sugar to finished liquid and stir/shake to dissolve. Finish with rose water.
  6. Store in the refrigerator and let rest before using. Makes about 1/2 cup, upsize as desired.
I tend to avoid a third "process" (steps 2 & 3) because you start getting a cooked-almond flavor from the applied hot liquid. So long as you give the nuts an adequate soak, you'll get plenty of flavorful almond oil.

Previous Ti(n)sanity recipes:

Wind Whisperer (gin and ouzo)
Eire Light (irish whiskey)
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.