Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mixology Monday, May 2015: I'll Take Manhattan!

I've got to stop being fashionably late. It's a character flaw. Eh well, better than last month (aka, yesterday). Welcome back to the awesomest cocktail jamboree on the planet, bar none, Mixology Monday! May's host is beloved ringleader Fred of cocktail virgin slut, continuing the year's classic cocktail riff theme with "I'll Take Manhattan!" Take it away, sir!
While there have been a variety of Manhattan variations through the years such as the Preakness and the Brooklyn, most of the twentieth century saw this drink unchanged, in theory that is. I know that I have gotten a cocktail glass full of frothy Bourbon and ice shards at a place that I should have stuck to beer; indeed, both the vermouth and the bitters have fallen out of fashion to some degree at average bars. Other Manhattan experiences used only a splash of vermouth; when I complained, one bartender declared that he did not put too much in. I countered that it was not enough and repeated that I wanted a 2:1 Manhattan. That bartender would not let himself add more and handed me the vermouth bottle so he could be relieved of responsibility in the matter. However, the last decade or so has seen a renewal in the drink begin made correctly. Moreover, I would point to New York City cerca 2005 as the re-birth of the Manhattan variation with drinks like the Red Hook being born.

For this theme, actuate it any way you'd like as long as the drink resembles a Manhattan. Want to take 19th century Manhattan recipes or variations to the test? Want to figure out what the best whiskey to vermouth pairings and ratios are? Or perhaps subbing out the whiskey or vermouth for another ingredient or adding in a liqueur or other modifier or so to the mix? Awesome, you're right on track! There are plenty of Manhattan and Manhattan variations out there in the literature, and there's plenty of room to explore and tinker if that's your thing, too.
Go see what the fuss is about and how everyone else chose to gussy up this perfect cocktail.

Oh, the Manhattan. My Ur-cocktail. How do I love thee? Let me count the myriad ways (including my first-ever recipe posted - how did I luck out with that given my skill-level at the time?). Though, oddly enough, I haven't done a riff since late 2013, the most direct riff of all: Falling Sun Manhattan. A friend once asked me if I'd ever tried bourbon; within weeks I had leapfrogged over the Old Fashioned straight to what, to me, seemed the pinnacle of sophisticated substantial cocktail class. The Manhattan is the sort of cocktail I fancied being enjoyed in shaded sumptuous wood-paneled offices or velvet-draped restaurant alcoves by decidedly old school movers, shakers and tough dealmakers, all plying their trade on the island betwixt the two rivers. The Martini's glamour by contrast was spoiled for me by the hundreds of plasma-colored knockoffs of the 90s and early 2000s. I never watched Mad Men, but the mystique of just what was in Don Draper's glass probably piqued a lot of other folk in the exact same way. Some things are just better left hidden.

Flash-forward to 2 Sundays ago: Unca Jim's (no relation) doing one of his Sunday night TNT sessions on Twitter, mentions armagnac, and with Avengers still fresh in mind I was off to the races! Suddenly I'm googling, getting visions of eyepatches, Aston-Martins, Contessas and Whisky à Go-Go dancers - and one great glorious pun.

The armagnac was ultimately edited out due to a bugaboo of mine about Manhattans, though: grape spirit on grape wine is too soft. The cocktail's magic lies in the clash, intrigue and spice of fundamentally different ingredients. Masculine, rough whiskey, mediated by bitters and a good twist of orange, leads the dance with feminine sweet wine made intricate with herbs. The Manhattan is the perfect melding of northern and southern European drinking cultures - the essence of Americana at the time of its birth. This in turn inspires another magic: an emergent flavor greater than the sum of its parts that is distinctly "Manhattan," regardless of brands used. It seems a rare few cocktail obtain that level of greatness.

So here's a little something Maxwell Smart might drink.

Secret Agent Manhattan
2 oz Rye whiskey
3/4 oz Lillet Rouge
1/4 oz Benedictine
1 tsp Campari
2 dashes Angostura bitters
lime twist

Stir. Strain. Garnish.

The lime hits you first - no someone isn't trying mask the smell of a rotting corpse, but lime zest tends to be so aggressive it's used, erm, "judiciously." [Boomer: Or maybe extra-judicially?] Here, it fills the mouth upon breath with fresh citrus, like you're going to dive into a daiquiri - not apropos for the mileau, but it gets more...sanguine, from here, as suggested by the undertinge of grape that follows.

Rye spice slinks down your tongue as a holy grapetty aura enters your mouth. It's got the Manhattan emergence, if but a tad bit softer due to the wine, but also with a Campari bitter edge lurking underneath and that lantern-like Benedictine glow that's like a soft cinnamon puffball as the drink warms, the citrus undercurrents with notes of gingerbread also rising to the fore. The Benedictine itself references the Monte Carlo - another Manhattan riff - synonymous with spycraft, while Campari is its glam worldly self. The lime zest adds a sharp edge that reminds of the danger in this otherwise luxurious world (and helps tame some of the sweeter elements).

Now, granted, I've never ever tasted Lillet Rouge before, but I know exactly what it tastes like. [Boomer: *facepaw*] And, if you're subbing Dubonnet Rouge in like I've done here, may I suggest a small bit of grapefruit zest in your mixing glass to help mutate those strawberry notes into less delicate/cloying red fruit? (hey, if lemon and Campari fuse to form grapefruit, why not an extension of that?) Lillet Rouge is known for notes of raspberry and cherry, suggesting a slightly "harder"/more robust second billing, even if, potentially like its sister expressions, it's a bit sweeter than many other aromatized/fortified wine substitutes. I found out too late for the deadline that Lillet Rouge can be ordered in PA (3 bottle min special order), but it seems like a worthwhile investment (especially since I still have handy one of a 3-bottle allotment of Lillet Rose from 2012). So, I'll end up annotating the post with any modifications at some point, but otherwise consider the above recipe subbing Dubonnet Rouge as "The Queen's Secret Agent Manhattan", given her majesty's affinity for the Zaza/Dubonnet Cocktail. As for the Lillet fixation to begin with? Need I spell everything out?

And furthermore, I know this is Manhattan heresy, but avoid Rittenhouse and perhaps overproof rye altogether unless it's extremely dry. Mixing this with Rittenhouse last night turned the recipe into a mess of dark caramelly syrup with the accent flavors buried (adjustments may be needed if you go overproof?). Tonight I mixed with new PA-local revival brand Kinsey (the red label, 86 pf) and the ingredients were much happier together. Kinsey's a bit paler than the Rittenhouse, and a blend as the crew behind Bluecoat gin and Vieux Carré absinthe get the brand established, but very sippable neat and not a complete showboat when mixing.

Many thanks to Mr. Yarm, our outstanding host and president and CEO of Frédéric's Chateau d'Herbe-au-Chats aux Pyrénées - I hope this recipe was worth the extension!

Until next time, folks! Cheers!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Not Quite Mixology Monday, April 2015: Drink of Shame

Hi everybody! The grand catch-up continues with my entry for last month's Mixology Monday event (gotta get it out before today's deadline for May's event, natch!).

For the month of April, our host was Whitney of Tipicular Fixins, a lass with a creative bent and sensibility for far-ranging ingredients after my own heart - go check her out (especially the Ikea lingonberry post)! She brings us a theme that's a recipe for searching out the deep dark parts of our cocktail psyche (bring Q-tips!): Drink of Shame!
So, you’re a certified, mixologist, craft-tender, bar chef or fine spirit

But, there was a time when you only ordered Long Island Iced Tea. Or, maybe you always made the Jello shots for your frat? Perhaps you’re the reason that your local had an Island Oasis machine for so long? Rye & Ginger? Vodka Seven? Someone was ordering these things. Your street cred would be ruined if you ordered or (gasp) served one now, but don’t you miss it, just a little?

Wouldn't you love to have one more Jolly Rancher? A chance to drink a mudslide without shame? We all made questionable drink choices in our past, the popular drinks from 1970 to the year 2000 were a cheap, sugary mess. Now is the time to resurrect your favourite drink from the time before modern Mixology. Give a new life to the drink you had to put down after you had your first real cocktail.

This is the remix.

Maybe you need to use fresh ingredients, or you can try elevating the spirits. Make everything from scratch or remove an offending ingredient. Do whatever you can to bring back and legitimize a drink you used to love.
Check out last month's round-up post here, along with the transformative magic at work from all the participants!

Y'know? For the life of me, I struggled to even remember a trashy recipe I had more than once (and that's not just because of the blackouts they induced). No, I remember the Cerebral Hemorrhage and the What She's Having and (ha!) the Angel's Tit (the crusty old bartender at the brewpub went wild, swinging his towel around when he heard that order - that was actually in a recipe book they had, natch). But my motto back then was (and largely still is except for certain classics) "never have the same drink twice." And with all the recipes I was finding on (don't click, avoid the potential viruses) and writing down on business cards I'd never otherwise use so I could have them at the ready for bartenders, I had too big a world to explore not to.

Our drink, nearly finished, with my old
Incredible Hulk/Chuck Norris recipe card.

But there is one recipe I do remember quite well and maybe even had a couple of times, both at home and out when I could find a place that kept Hpnotiq in-house (yes, we're going there, today): the Incredible Hulk. Real simple: drizzle an equal part bright sky-blue Hpnotiq over cognac on ice, letting the drink morph into a radioactive green mess - bing! There's your Hulk. (although if you add a shot of Johnnie Walker Red from there, the Incredible Hulk gets angry and morphs into Chuck Norris! I never had a Chuck Norris.)

The Hpnotiq was good while it lasted, both for the Hulk and other brand-proprietary recipes (and my own bright violet Fairy Princess made with pink Kinky liqueur and vanilla vodka - see what my early editorial discretion saved you folks?). But I finished that bottle off in my early days of getting serious and haven't looked back. Until now.

Looking at the recipe, the cognac was never the issue, just the crayon-colored industrial sugar and acid bomb that was Hpnotiq. How much actual cognac they used and what their definition of "premium" is, we'll never know. Nor do we know the exact flavor profile other than "vaguely tropical with a heaping helping of passionfruit esters" according to its brand competition with blue Alize (don't get me started on the Alizes..). Ahhh...but tropical, that's something we can work with, especially if it involves approximating a flavor with a stack of ingredients.

Bruce Banner's ditched his plane somewhere in Fiji and taken up with a hula maid down in a little tiki hut by the sea. I give you the Tiki-fied...

The Beachcomber Hulk
1 1/2 oz cognac
3/4 oz Batavia arrack
3/8 oz passionfruit syrup
1/4 oz blue curaçao
1/4 oz lemon juice
1 dash orgeat
1 dash vanilla bitters
1 slice starfruit
Mint and cherry for garnish

Fill a rocks glass with pellet or slightly-larger-than-pellet ice.

Muddle the starfruit in a shaker along with everything but the cognac and garnish. Shake with 1 small ice cube to agitate with minimal dilution.

Add the cognac to the rocks glass and then drizzle the blue mixture over top, letting it sink down to turn the drink green.

Give a little stir and garnish.

Secret of the Ooze
Passionfruit and blue flavors, anchored by the wondrous funk of arrack, a light lemon acid edge not generated by a dumptruck of sugar, based on able illuminous cognac. Avec un certain je ne sais quoi.

So I gave the blue mix a good initial eyeball for ingredients -- how was I supposed to know it'd smell exactly like Hpnotiq? Incroyable! Who says you have to stick to the model of a cognac/vodka base? Batavia arrack is infinitely more interesting, and at 100 proof a lot more Hulk-like. The starfruit extends the tropical flavors and brings some good mild freshness as well, though you might want to play around with other tropical fruits too.

I know the pics show one large rock instead of small ice - that was a misstep for the initial version, however much the flavor was spot-on. You want something that will bring a good dilution and balance without also over-diluting. Otherwise, go to town!

Thanks to Whitney for hosting a fun theme and to Fred for wrangling as ever.

Stay tuned, dear reader - this very eve is another Mixology Monday - and this time I've got the time, the recipe and the name already in place.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bull with a Barette

Welcome back dear reader! Now, in the next step of getting caught-up on posting, here's a recipe whose initial testing dates back to 2012 or 2013 (and whose quality merits a weekday post while we're still in the month of Taurus). Those with sparkling memories might remember a promise about a White Bull recipe made in 2013 from the Bucentaure recipe - take a few moments and catch up, we're working the thematicness here. The White Bull itself is closer than you think, but this recipe is an offshoot from Bucentaure development (back when I didn't know a thing about structure and was just throwing things in a glass hoping it would taste good) that was just too darn good to let slip away.

As I mention at the end of the Bucentaure post, "I started with a taste-image combo of Fernet Branca and violet liqueur to match the season, though I had tried neither, and it all grew from there." Literally, one day the idea hit me and that night I had picked up my first bottles of Fernet Branca and Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette, entranced at the idea of loamy/minty earth* --or perhaps by its symbolic counterpart, the zodiac's Earth-sign bull-- covered over by tiny violets and enjoying the sun-heated ground, crisp breeze, and very fresh grass of this time of year.

*many thanks to all the internet Fernet reviewers out there - I actually wasn't very surprised/shocked by the time I finally tried Fernet!

You might be wrinkling your nose right about now - Fernet and violette are not natural partners as I quickly came to realize. (hence frantic searching for a newfangled revival of Crème Yvette just getting rolled out in state stores at the time) However, HOWEVER... When moderated by the lightness of lemon (and a gradient of aged spirits, wine and bitters)? Hmm...

I forget the exact circumstance of the limonata here: either I tried veering Bucentaure in a less-heavy/Sour direction (so I could work in an egg white) or I mixed in some leftover soda when exasperated by the heaviness of the recipe. Either way, the sour and added dilution lift the drink just-so. And the addition of very-recent find, black mission fig bitters, is a perfect bridge, making up for lost dark dried fruit notes from Bucentaure's armagnac when switching to a more standard brandy (and losing some of the wild tang that might interfere with violette's integration). You might try the fig bitters in place of the plum bitters in Bucentaure as well, to fab results.

So anyway, as if I haven't already given you enough, here's a whole lotta Bull.

Bull with a Barrette
2 tsp Fernet Branca
10 drops Brooklyn Hemispherical black mission fig bitters
10 drops Xocolotl Molé bitters
2 oz San Pellegrino limonata
1 oz Smith & Cross naval rum
1 oz tawny port (Sandeman)
1 oz brandy (Masson VSOP)
1/4 oz crème de violette, divided
Mint & fresh violets for garnish

Build in a rocks or highball glass on ice, giving small stirs after the limonata and first half (1 bsp) of the violette. Drizzle the remaining violette (1 bsp) over top for aromatics and garnish with mint & violets.

Let the drink rest a few minutes, let it dilute properly: the melody arises in the dilution.

Heavy for a long drink but it melds luxuriously. Mint and faint citrus lift the nose, followed by earthy aged grape and bitter herbs. Violet mellows and balances. You could almost say this is a very boozy version of Miss May.

The violette enunciates the port first (undergirded by brandy) and underneath that is a subtle rum funk. And finally underneath all that you get Fernet's chocolatey herbs. All this is evidenced by limonata's pectiny savory oh-so-sippable edge. Despite the name and my grander cocktail plans, this taste fits the perfect flavor idea of a bull in my mouth.

This isn't a fierce bull that's going to become infuriated at the drop of a red waiving cloth. This is a bull that's perfectly happy to lie in a flowery meadow and be kissed on the ear by butterflies. Bucentaure was the Id, and here we have the Ego. Stay tuned for Super Ego!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Impromptu: Remember the Aries Dream

Getting back on track here - let's retake the blog from the Russian referrer spam. This year has been brutal for having not just one thing after another, but loads of things on top of things after the other. The universe might be offering a respite now that Iris v2.0 is back up, though.

First up here is a little one-off born of seasonal noodling. I wanted to find a white tea with big red fruit notes for the month of Aries, my birth month (colors include diamond and red - bear with me, it's all one big sensorium here). Lo and behold, Teavana provides with their Snow Geisha blend: a light taste that's heavy on the aromatics, which include cherry, rose and cranberry among others.

Mixing partner? Sake, naturally. And of all names: Snow Maiden, a fruity nigori (unfiltered) named after a very long-lived koi.

How to mix? A cobbler sangaree (? it's been awhile..) with fancy ice seemed the best bet.

Accents? A little of this, a little of that. What I lucked out on having in the fridge: blood orange and fresh mint. As chance would have it, I whipped this up a month ago for my birthday, so to hark back to an earlier birthday recipe, I threw in a bit of cachaça, then rounded/sweetened it all off with some Aperol.

Yes, that's a rosebud from the tea on top there.

Remember the Aries Dream
2 1/2 oz Snow Maiden nigori sake
1 oz 51 cachaça
1 tsp Aperol
2 thin blood orange wheels
6-7 smallish mint leaves
1 cup Teavana Snow Geisha pellet ice (include tea leaves for decoration)

Quick shake all including ice and pour into goblet or other appropriate cobbler glass.

Snow geisha and rose on the nose with rice cream.
On the palate: creamy, tea-dried sake body, mint brightness around the edge, blood orange zest in sip, with a bittered cachaça-inflected finish.

Snow Geisha ice: the recommended brewing time is only about 2 minutes, but blow past that until the tea is cool to promote the most forward flavor. Freeze in pellet ice tray along with tea leaves/aromatics for prettiness in the glass.

Cheers, self.

May the shoe always fit and your waiters always look like Jason Momoa.