Thursday, September 18, 2014

HAL 9000 Goes South for the Winter in a Pink Tutu

Hello Dave.

*waits for the collective 72-car pile-up of whiplash to subside*

Yes, here I am with a new recipe and it's not Mixology Monday. I gots me energy back! Woohoo! (Remember kids, get your zinc. Cheeseburgers are good for you and rev your metabolism!)

There's no accounting for cravings. Late last winter/early spring (TwitPic of a later tester version) I had a rough day at work and all I knew was I wanted to throw an impromptu cocktail together that would function as a targeted aerial strike while not thinking too much and maybe getting to throw in a few leftover ingredients to help use them up.

I knew I wanted the rare bite of anise and caraway (and that's how you know something deeper was talking) of Krogstad, the only aquavit I've yet tried. Gin and juniper in this case would be far too mild.

To that -- and this is clearly the craving again -- well, remember the Hell Kitten way back when, with its strawberry and hibiscus ice cubes (each flavor in separate cubes)? A fridge defrost happened between then and previous then, leaving me with refrozen strawberry-hibiscus cubes: all the density and tart-sweetness of homemade strawberry juice with the astringent flavor-rich balancing quality of hibiscus tea.

I suppose (and please pardon the mixed metaphors, my mild synethesia makes me see flavors as colors), as the other ingredients reveal themselves here, you could say that I'm not a fan of easy straight-down-the-line pale-flavored ingredient cocktail recipes. By that I mean those recipes that don't take any chances: white spirits, paired with green tea, a little lemon, cucumber, light herbs, and so on and so forth. Those sorts of recipes just seem sedate, if not downright dour, and leave me cold - the exact opposite remedy for rough days. Ok, so I have a BIG white spirit ingredient and I end up layering that on golden ginger beer: let's make a painting. Potent brown-black down deep, a trickle of green between, all resting on an orange sun. And these soft red ice cubes, fluttering on high off to the right, that round the drink to which they're added? Warms me right up.

But but but...caraway and strawberry? I know, I know. And those do end up being predominant flavors. The rest of the cocktail ends up being a study in bridging elements, starting with the fact that there wasn't nearly enough savory spice in it yet. That led to the clove-heavy bottle of falernum in the fridge and much tinkering into an acceptable degree of drinkability and interest that night, but gee let's just get to the recipe already.

HAL 9000 Goes South for the Winter in a Pink Tutu
1 1/2 oz Krogstad aquavit
3/4 oz Plantation 5 Star rum
3/4 oz falernum*
1/2 oz Benedictine
2 dashes orange bitters (Angostura and Fee's are a good combo)
2 ounce-sized strawberry-hibiscus ice cubes** (plus 2 ounce-sized water ice cubes)
2 oz ginger beer

Ahead of time, add specified ice cubes to your serving glass and set in freezer to chill.

Shake first 5 ingredients on light ice.

Add ginger beer to your serving glass.

Strain shaken drink into your serving glass and stir to get the ingredients combined, the ice beginning to melt and color the cocktail.

Garnish ingrediently and Tiki-ly. For the above garnish: cut the nose off a strawberry and down-skewer it, attaching a thin curlicue of lime zest for arms beneath, then an upside-down hibiscus tutu. Stud strawberry robotically with cloves.

* if like me, you do a Kaiser Penguin-style juiceless falernum, remember to add 1 part fresh lime juice to every 2 parts falernum syrup (so, 1/4 oz lime juice to 1/2 oz falernum syrup for this recipe). Plus, when whipping up the falernum, make sure that your simple syrup is fully cooled before adding to your infusion, lest you nuke the clove notes. Demerara sugar syrup also makes for a great richness if you don't have access to Lemon Hart or similar.

**Strawberry-hibiscus ice cubes: juice a pint of strawberries (give an adequate chance to rest to let air content subside) and combine with an equal amount (liquid-wise) of strong hibiscus tea. Freeze in 1-ounce ice cube molds (Tovolo 1" cube molds work great here).

Give ol' Hal a swirlie to mix the ice. Whee!
(just use a more regular-shaped glass for evenness)
The star anise in the Krogstad facilitates a bridge to the baking spices of the falernum and the cinnamon in the Benedictine, while the caraway finds an unlikely ally in the particular bitter orange note of the Fee bitters (whose barrel-promoted fruity note makes fast friends with the strawberry) and hibiscus' astringency. Plantation 5 Star rum happens to be from Barbados, so it was a natural support element for the Bajan falernum while its big orange note linked up with Benedictine (the latter introduced some subtler spice to help round the profile); the two remain mostly in the background, but they add a smooth body that stops the seesawing between more intense elements and you can still pick up on the liqueur's bright holy note (have a Vieux Carre, see what I mean). The bitters further amplified these orange notes.

I'm not sure the cocktail is about "flavor" or "flavors" per se. It's bracing, biting, bitter, deeply fruity, fizzy-spicy, and refreshing to the bone. Could be that strawberry and ginger/spice is one of my favorite flavor pairings, a theme previously explored in Acrasia's Bower. (and similar recipes here, here, and here, for instance) You could probably break it down to nutritional details and geographical affinities to explain why your body is getting a 1-2-3 punch in a supremely envivening way. But when you have another rough day at work 5 months later and you're craving the exact same crazy recipe, you know there's something to it. (warning: you may get a buzz from this cocktail, but it might actually keep you up at night too. Mayhaps this calls for the right occasion and a lack of caffeine consumption prior to imbibing.)