Archive for the ‘Whiskey & Bourbon’ Category

Bending the calendar with fruit shrubs

Friday, October 5th, 2012

It is October, right? Or am I being punked by my calendar, fooled into thinking it’s October when the weather seems more like the end of August? If so, then the joke is also on the blackberries, plums and other late summer fruit still heavy on trees and bushes. But I will have the last laugh when I am enjoying these fruits into 2013.

I won’t freeze them or make jam. Instead, I’ll do as American colonialists did and make shrubs – a combination of fruit, vinegar and sugar.  Shrubs can be used in cocktails or enjoyed splashed into plain club soda or even Diet Coke (try with cherry shrub!). The vinegar lends a tangy taste to produce and serves as a great preservative.

In my cranberry Thanksgiving shrub post, I described how to cook a shrub. For late summer’s softer, juicier fruits, I love the cold-process approach because it is so easy and the ingredients do all the work. But don’t be limited by season: I have found that frozen berries make excellent shrubs with this same technique.

Blackberry shrub

2 c. washed blackberries
1 c. sugar
1 c. champagne vinegar

Combine the blackberries and sugar in a covered jar or bowl and refrigerate for a day or two, until the berries break down and a syrup forms. Fine strain the berry solids out, then add vinegar to the syrup, bottle and refrigerate. For best taste, wait another day or two for the flavors to meld and then enjoy!

I use the recipe above as my template for most shrubs: 2 cups fruit to 1 cup sugar and 1 cup vinegar (usually white wine, champagne or apple cider vinegars). Then I experiment with flavors, using my shrubs as substitutes for citrus juice and muddled fruit in cocktails.

Sometimes an existing cocktail recipe provides the perfect foundation for a shrub tweak. Such was the case with the Bufala Negra, which calls for balsamic vinegar. I can’t compare it to the original recipe, but my version makes a flavorful and refreshing drink to enjoy all year round.  

Bufala Negra Shrubbed

1½ oz bourbon
4 fresh basil leaves (+1 for optional garnish)
3/4 oz shrub
2 oz ginger beer (I used Fentimans)
Brown sugar (optional)

Muddle the shrub and basil. Add bourbon and ice and shake hard. Strain over fresh ice cubes into a glass and top with ginger beer. Garnish with basil leaf. Note: Since shrub sweetness can vary by fruit and time of season, you can add a teaspoon or more of brown sugar when muddling the basil if you like.

Combined, blackberries, bourbon and basil are a tongue twister — and a tongue tingler. Enjoy!

  

Cheers, ICE

*Bufala Negra is from Imbibe Magazine online

 

A is for Absinthe

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Note: I wrote the following recap for May’s Seattle LUPEC meeting and it is also posted on that site.

If the adage that “practice makes perfect” is true, then Seattle LUPEC (Ladies United for Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) members certainly need no lessons in drinking – we are already very, very good at it. But we love to learn (to get perfect-er?) and were eager students at the special Sorrento Drinking Lessons held just for our May 1st meeting. Not even May Day protesters (or at least the traffic of those fleeing them) could keep us from learning all about absinthe from Andrew Bohrer, bartender, cocktail history buff and Spirits Portfolio Manager for Vinum distributers.

Absinthe has a rich and varied history, from toast of the town in the 1800’s to modern-day bootleg production in dorm bathrooms. Andrew took us through the developments – such as the use of wormwood and herbs as additives — in spirit production that eventually led to the creation of absinthe in 1797. By 1840 it was the most popular non-wine spirit around, and vintage cocktail books reflect its use in many, many cocktails. An entire drinking ritual was created for it, and while drinks like the Moscow Mule may have their own special serving glass, absinthe boasts a range of apparatus (take that, vodka!) like the fountain and slotted spoon.  

A victim of misunderstanding about its ingredients, blamed for psychotic incidents and later slandered by threatened wineries, “the Green Fairy” was banned in the United States and elsewhere for up to 90 years. Fortunately for us, the bans have ended and an explosion of absinthe producers gives us many choices for enjoying the spirit and using it in cocktails. With the help of Alex mixing and Jen and Molly serving, Andrew treated LUPEC members to three samples of absinthe and three absinthe-laced cocktails.  

A Test for Our Tastebuds

Our glasses of Lucid, Trillium and Pacifique absinthes were served in the customary manner, with a bit of sugar and a ratio of 1 part absinthe to 3-5 parts water. Andrew explained that the cloudiness in the liquid is called the louche and results from the water separating the essential oils locked in during the two-step distillation and maceration process that defines absinthe production. Its green – vert – shade comes from the chlorophyll of its ingredients. While most absinthes use the herbs absinthium (wormwood), anise and fennel during distillation, more variation is used among brands in flavoring the secondary maceration and that results in a range of distinctive tastes.

Could we taste the differences among the three absinthes? Indeed we could. The LUPEC consensus was that the Trillium (not unexpectedly discontinued) was too cloying, especially compared to the softer, more complex Pacifique (which Wendy compared to beloved Good & Plenty candies). The Lucid, with a beet base, showed that the spirit can evolve and still remain true to its roots.

Comparing their bottles, Andrew also explained some practicalities about absinthe: because it is a very high proof spirit, it is susceptible (i.e. explosive) to heat. Therefore, Trillium’s narrow necked bottle was a detriment as it trapped heat; for us home bartenders, that means we must not store any absinthe near the stove!

While absorbed in the nuances of each absinthe, we were also excited to sample them in cocktails. In keeping with the theme of absinthe history, Andrew served us up three classic cocktails (recipes below) with absinthe as a key player: the Corpse Reviver #2, the Chrysanthemum, and the Sazerac. Andrew’s parting advice on the last is that to make a Sazerac New-Orleans-style, you must add the absinthe to an empty glass and then toss it in the air to provide the proper rinse. This is better advice for the first drink of the night than the last, if you value your glassware.

Corpse Reviver #2

1 oz gin
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz lemon juice
3 dashes absinthe 

Shake all ingredients well with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Chrysanthemum

2 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz Benedictine
2 dashes absinthe

Stir with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass. 

Sazerac

2 oz rye whiskey
1 sugar cube
4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes absinthe
 steady hands for tossing glass

Stir with ice; strain into a chilled lowball glass.

 Class is Dismissed 

Having gained knowledge, excellent drinks and a delicious meal provided by our hosts at the Sorrento, we LUPEC members mingled in the plush Fireside Room. There were no diplomas touting our expertise in the Field of Absinthe, but – even better! – we were treated to parting favors:  a tasty “to-go cocktail” of the Clipper Ship (Voyager gin, Pur Blossom liqueur, lime juice and Pacifique Absinthe), plus an atomizer of absinthe for our home bars.  We thank Andrew Bohrer, the Sorrento Hotel, Alex, Molly and Jen for their great help in presenting another informative, tasty LUPEC meeting. 

Cheers, ICE 

(A Necessary Diversion)

While steeped in absinthe (almost literally), the opportunity to ask a distributor about the state of liquor availability was too irresistible. Where and when will cherished brands return to shelves? What should we stock up on before June 1?  Andrew said that Voyager gin and Pacifique Absinthe will be stocked next month at Fred Meyer and likely at Metropolitan Market, QFC and independent stores as well.  Andrew will post availability on the LUPEC Facebook page to keep us updated. Those not wanting to run dry on smaller Italian liqueurs should stock up; many of their producers are not prepared for the changes in distribution. 

 

 

Off to the races…or a fiesta

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

A dilemma! Two fab cocktail-ready events on Saturday, May 5, but which to choose? Cinco de Mayo, with tequila and citrus, or Derby Day (not roller derby, darn it), featuring the always-welcome Mint Julep? I may have to decide officially by rochambeau.

Granada de Amor

If you are hosting a Cinco de Mayo party, having a pitcher drink will free you from bartender duties. And if you want to stay in theme but have tequila-phobic guests (there are many of those), try the Granada de Amor. It uses citrus vodka as its base, but gets Mexican street cred from the use of Damaina liqueur.

Damaina liqueur is made from the damaina herb, thought to have many health benefits and aphrodisiac qualities. The bottle, in the shape of a buxom fertility goddess, touts Damaina liqueur as a traditional bridal gift from the groom’s mother (I’m thinking those mothers lack faith in their son’s virility). If the legends hold, those serving the Granada de Amore this weekend should watch for a baby boom around New Years.

Granada de Amor*

12 oz citrus vodka
3 oz Damiana liqueur
4 ½ oz fresh lime juice
4 ½ oz fresh orange juice (I opted for a bit less)
1 ½ oz cinnamon syrup
6 orange twists to garnish 

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a pitcher and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Stir and strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with orange twists. Serves 6.

Cinnamon syrup
see previous post 
 
Online descriptions say that damaina is an aphrodesiac…and cures bedwetting. Just so you know.

Mint Julep

The Mint Julep is the class Derby Day drink. There are many ways to make it and most of the variations involve how to handle the mint, while some swap the bourbon for rum or rye whiskey. The consistent elements are crushed ice, mint, sugar and a brown spirit swizzled into icy goodness.  The following Mint Julep introduced me to bourbon and I love it still.

 Run for the Roses*

Crushed ice
1 ½ oz bourbon
1 oz mint syrup (I reduce to ¾ oz)
1 sprig of mint for garnish

Fill a silver mint julep cup (no, I don’t have one, either) or lowball rocks glass with crushed ice. Add the mint syrup and bourbon. Stir briskly to chill thoroughly. Garnish with mint sprig and straw.

Mint syrup

¾ oz turbinado sugar
¾ oz water
1 c. chopped mint

Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add fresh mint. Cover and stand at room temperature for 3-5 hours. Strain, bottle and refrigerate until needed. Makes about 1 cup.

El luchador mexicano le gusta, por lo que debe ser bueno. (translation: The Mexican wrestler likes it, so it must be good.)

El Luchador was featured here for Cinco de Mayo 2011, but reappears for another laugh.

Cheers, ICE

 *the Granada de Amor is featured in Food & Wine Cocktails 2008 and hails from Andina, an incredible Portland restaurant

 *Run for the Roses is featured in MixShakeStir

As always, check out my Glossary of Spirits page for alcohol and mixer definitions and details.

 

From cocktails to dessert, this chocolate goes with everything

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Chocolate eggs, bunnies, and Girl Scout cookies are hard to escape this season. I have never claimed the chocoholic label, but that may change now that I’ve discovered a new variety: chocolate stout reduction.  I’m like a fairy sprinkling chocolate stout reduction around instead of magic dust; it may be brown and sticky but it is enchanting all the same. It rocks in cocktails, milk, ice cream…hell, I’m ready to make it a fondue for fruit and cheese, too.  Or, wait, what about on pancakes?!

My first taste of such a reduction was at Lot No. 3 in Bellevue. They offer a selection of “classics with a twist,” and made me a Rocketeer (based on the Twentieth Century Cocktail) that subbed chocolate stout reduction for the crème de cacao liqueur. Their version was so much better than the classic because the reduction is less sweet and has a more complex chocolate flavor. I was hooked and intent on recreating it at home.

The stout doesn't reduce this much, I just wanted to create a thicker topping for ice cream.

It took using some baking recipes for direction and a lot of simmering, but I finally settled on the following delicious recipe:

Chocolate Stout Reduction

1 bottle (24 oz) of chocolate stout (so far Southern Tier’s Imperial Choklat is my favorite)
7 oz turbinado sugar
1/8 t of salt

Combine all in a large sauce pan. Bring to boil until the sugar is dissolved, and then simmer on medium while stirring occasionally and watching carefully – it can quickly bubble up and over if left unwatched. As it reduces, the bubbles become thicker and glossy, like bubbling syrup. Simmer 15-20 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half (for drinks, but reduce more for a thicker topping) and remove from heat. Cool, bottle and refrigerate.  Hint: if you discover upon cooling that you have over-reduced, simply add a bit of water and gently heat until mixed to your desired consistency.

The end result is rich and chocolate-y, with a slight bitterness.  It is scrumptious on caramel ice cream (note to self to stock up at Molly Moon’s) with a bit of sea salt; it makes the perfect adult chocolate milk (4:1 ratio); and, of course, it is fabulous in cocktails! Try these to start:

Chocolate Julep

Crushed ice
1 ½ oz bourbon
½ oz chocolate stout reduction
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Pour bourbon, reduction and bitters over crushed ice in a low glass and stir vigorously to chill. Or, try spiced rum instead of bourbon for a tasty variation that strangely tastes of Kahlua liqueur.

This “julep” is so easy and tasty that I haven’t ventured away much. But, the tiki Scootini Sling from Portland and classic Twentieth Century Cocktail are also good vehicles for the chocolate stout reduction in place of crème de cacao*.

Scootiki Sling, revised

2 oz spiced rum
½ oz orgeat (B.G. Reynolds brand preferably)
½ oz chocolate stout reduction
¼ oz cherry heering
½ oz lemon juice

Shake with ice and serve over crushed ice.

 

Twentieth Century Cocktail, revised

1 ½ oz gin
½ oz chocolate stout reduction
¾ oz Lillet Blanc
¼ oz lemon juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Note: I scaled back on the lemon juice from the original recipe to create a better balance; and confirmed at home that this really is improved by subbing out the crème de cacao.

Cheers, ICE 

*A caveat:  if a recipe calls for white crème de cacao and drink color is important, do not use the reduction as it darkens the drink dramatically.

As always, check out my Glossary of Spirits page for alcohol and mixer definitions and details.