Tuesday, November 19, 2013

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.