Month: July 2014

The Bitter Truth

Bitter Truth

I was thinking of having a Sazerac tonight, but sadly am lacking a bottle of rye currently.  While a little saddened by this fact, it did make me think of Dale de Groff’s wonderful personal take on the Sazerac from his book The Essential Cocktail (a fantastic book that you should probably have in your library, or nestled between bottles on your bar).  In his twist on this classic cocktail, he mixes equal parts rye and cognac, which is actually a half step between the original recipe that called for cognac only, and the modern rye based drink.  That got me to thinking about fixing an original brandy-based Sazerac, as I had a bottle of cognac at hand.  Certainly, it’ll be a sweeter drink than the rye based version, and while I’m not opposed to that, I started thinking about how I could balance that sweetness out, as well as how it work if I decided to forgo the absinthe.

My first thought on the latter was not very well, honestly.  So, what to do?  Well, if we take the absinthe out of the equation, do we still have something solid to go with?  So we’re now looking at brandy, a combination of bitters and sugar, with some citrus as a garnish.  Okay, that’s certainly workable, but we still have a drink that’s going to trend towards the sweet, without a balancing flavor, and I wasn’t in the mood for something too sweet.

And then I saw the bottle of Cynar, sitting behind the brandy.  Cynar is an Italian bitter liqueur made from various herbs and plants, chief amongst them being the artichoke.  I know what you’re thinking; an artichoke liqueur, that sounds ghastly.  Believe me, I was of the same opinion when I first heard of it.  But Cynar is a wonderfully bitter, and boy do I mean bitter, apéritif, and is an excellent way of imparting bitterness to a drink without adding a lot of complicated flavors that will overpower things.  That said, it would certainly do well to counteract the sweetness of cognac, and serve to give a focal point to this cocktail: bitterness.  With the extra bitterness from the Cynar, replacing the lemon twist called for in the Sazerac with a bit of orange peel seemed a decent thought, as I know from one of my favorite cocktails coined by a good friend makes good use of pairing orange and Cynar.

So, in the end I wound up with the following in my glass, and I have to say I’m well pleased with the delightfully bitter drink.

  • 2 parts cognac
  • 0.5 parts Cynar
  • 3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
  • 3 dashes of Fee Brother’s Old Fashioned bitters
  • 1 bar spoon sugar
  • a large orange peel

To start off, I combined the bitters and sugar in an old-fashioned glass and started to mix them into a thin paste.  I then added the Cynar and continued to stir until I had a nice homogenous solution of bitters, liqueur and sugar.  I then added the cognac and a single large piece of orange peel and stirred for a few seconds more before adding a single large piece of ice.

For those that haven’t played with Peychaud’s bitters, this wonderful gentian based bitters created by the estimable New Orleans by way of Haiti apothecary, Antoine Amédée Peychaud carries with it hints of cherry and anise, and is sweeter than many typical bitters.  Combining this with the rich, spicy, cinnamon tinged Old Fashioned bitters from the good people of Fee Brothers, brings some nice, complex flavors to this drink.  The predominant note is bitter, a result of the aforementioned bitters, but primarily from the Cynar.  The sugar and cognac give a sweet finish  in the mouth that outlasts the bitterness that hits the front of your tongue.  The orange gives a brightness to the drink, and plays very well with the warm spicy notes from the Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters.

A note on the ice: I have four different types of ice trays / molds that I use, from tiny cubes all the way up to large spheres that nearly fill an old-fashioned glass.  For this drink I chose to use the largest option, the massive sphere, for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, the larger piece of ice and its increased surface area means it’s slower to melt, which is critical for this drink.  This is a sipping cocktail, and if I used smaller pieces of ice, before I was halfway through it, my drink would be tragically watered down.  Secondly, using a larger hunk of ice also means a more moderately cooled drink.  Again, smaller ice would have chilled the drink more over time, and the bitterness and subtle flavors of the bitters would have been lost in the cold.

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The Essentials: spirits and ingredients part 1 – Liquors

A while back I asked you, my dear readers, what segments you’d like to see next here at Experiments From The Bar.  The topic that got the most votes was a new entry in the Building Your Home Bar category, where I gave my thoughts on the essential liquors and liqueurs that every home bar needs.  Well, here we are a month later, and I’m proud to share with you the first of a series of posts on what it takes to get yourself provisioned for creating and enjoying some fine libations.

When it comes to making cocktails, there are four overall groups of ingredients, as I see it: liquors, liqueurs, mixers, and garnishes.  We’ll be looking at all four over the coming weeks but today we’ll get started with foundation of cocktails: liquors.  Without further ado, let’s dive into it! (more…)

Eastern Empire martini

Eastern Empire

After a rough day, I decided to stop into the store and pick up some more of Fever-Tree’s bitter lemon, and while there happened upon a bottle of Tomr’s Tonic, a concentrated tonic syrup of sorts.  You simply mix it with soda water (1 part tonic to 3 parts soda water), and you suddenly have a delicious, artisanal tonic water!

I used to be quite the gin or vodka tonic drinker once upon a time, though I enjoy those simple drinks on rare occasions now.  This isn’t because I don’t enjoy them (well, truth be told I can’t see the point in vodka tonics anymore, unless you have tragically run out of gin), but rather because I just can’t be bothered to keep tonic water on hand.  What inevitably happens is I buy a bottle because I’m craving a G&T, have one or two, then the bottle promptly takes up space in the fridge, not so slowly going flat until the next time I decide I’d like a G&T, and find the decidedly not effervescent tonic taunting me.  So, a concentrated tonic syrup that I can mix into the ubiquitous soda water (of which I keep a few bottles stocked at any given time, and very rarely let go flat) seemed like a great idea.  Add to that a more “rich, earthy, and exotic” flavor as their website promises, and there you go; sale made.  So, bottle of Tomr’s in hand, I already had decided to forgo the simple gin and bitter lemon I had planned for this hot summer’s evening, in favor of a G&T.  But then I started looking at the cloudy, sediment laden elixir, and thought, well, there’s nothing saying I have to mix this with soda water…

On the long drive through traffic home, I started thinking more and more about this, and tonic water in general.  Images of colonial India, transplanted Brits in stifling Victorian ceremonial uniforms, spices, and increasingly as the drive went on, hot, humid days.  From those thoughts came the idea of this cocktail, whose name came along just as easily as the proportions, which are unaltered from my first thoughts.  Ladies and gents, I present the Eastern Empire martini:

  • 2 parts Plymouth Gin
  • 0.5 parts Lillet Blanc
  • 1+ bar spoon of Tomr’s Tonic
  • 1 bar spoon of Stirrings ginger liqueur

I combined all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and a generous lemon peel, and stirred until well chilled.  I opted to stir this rather than shake it, because I didn’t want the drink to be so cold that you lost some of the more subtle flavors of all ingredients involved.  Plymouth Gin is without a doubt my favorite all around gin.  While not as dry as the ubiquitous London Dry style gins, it’s dryer than many of the botanical heavy gins that I love and often keep on hand.  The juniper note isn’t incredibly pronounced, but I find it more present in Plymouth than New Amsterdam, which I always keep on hand as an inexpensive, inoffensive mixing gin.

Lillet, aside from being a key ingredient in James Bond’s Vesper martini, is a French apéritif wine.  While the Kina Lillet called for in the Vesper is no longer produced, Lillet Blanc is its modern, less bitter incarnation.  It’s made of a blend of wines, fortified with macerated liqueurs, largely citrus in nature, as well as Cinchona bark, which contains quinine, the key ingredient in tonic water.  It’s for this reason, as well as a general preference for its taste, that I chose it for the Eastern Empire.

The ginger is very faint in this, and largely serves to sweeten the drink.  I’m not certain the drink could do without it, though I think you’d be hard pressed to identify it as an ingredient without being told.  I used Stirrings for the spice and bite, though if I had a bottle of The King’s Ginger, I think I would have used it, as it has a similar bite, but also has a wonderful citrus note.  If I had, I probably would have foregone stirring the drink with the lemon peel in the mix, and may have even dropped the citrus as a garnish.

The Tomr’s Tonic holds up well in this, and is really what makes it more than a simple martini.  The bitter quinine taste lingers on the tongue and lips, and there is definitely a distinctly earthy taste that warms the drink.  Additionally, it gives the drink a lovely golden color, though if you don’t drink it fast enough, you’ll find a bit of the sediment from the concentrated tonic separating out.

All said and done, I’m quite a fan of this one, and can see it becoming a regular drink for me.  If you’re a fan of G&T’s, but haven’t made the leap to gulping down martinis like Dino, this might be just the drink to bridge the gap into the world of the martini.  While it is refreshing on a hot day, I think it’d be equally enjoyable any time of year.

Appleseed

Appleseed

It’s the 4th of July, and here’s a cocktail to enjoy on the holiday.  They say there’s nothing more American than apple pie, but what about a cocktail made with one of the spirits enjoyed by the founding fathers, applejack?  This spirit was used to pay road workers during the colonial period in New Jersey, and was a particular favorite of George Washington’s, but is oft neglected these days.  Applejack is nearly identical in taste of apple brandy, or Calvados, an apple brandy made in specific region of France.  Applejack is traditionally different from other brandies made from apple cider, because it is concentrated through freeze distillation rather than evaporation distillation common to most other spirits.  At its most basic, apple cider would be left out in the winter and the water would separate and freeze at the top of the pan or barrel, a process called “jacking” which gives this spirit its name.  This would be scooped out, and the remaining liquid left to go through a number of additional freezes, each one increasing the alcohol content in the remaining cider until you ended up with a distilled spirit.  Not all modern applejacks are distilled through the freezing method, but the results are the same: a sweet, smooth, brandy-like drink.

This noble spirit serves as the base for the Appleseed, whose recipe is as follows:

  • 2 parts applejack
  • 1 part amaretto
  • 1/4 part Stirrings brand ginger liqueur (quite a different ginger liqueur than the subtle Domaine de Canton featured in some other drinks here. Nothing subtle here, just a lot of biting, spicy ginger flavor)
  • 1/2 part unfiltered apple juice or cider

All ingredients are combined in a mixing glass and stirred without ice, and then poured over ice into an old-fashioned glass and lightly stirred again to chill.

The Appleseed is all about the applejack, the fruit from which it comes.  The amaretto and ginger spice it up, and add a bit of further complexity to the drink, not to mention a bit of extra sweetness.  Fair warning, for those of you that don’t like sweet drinks, this one may not be for you.  If you’d like to have a go at this one, but cut the sweetness a bit, I’d suggest dropping the amaretto portion down to 1/2 part, and potentially upping the applejack to 2.5 or even 3 parts.  Those adjustments will result in a less sweet drink, though you’ll lose some of the background flavors in return for a more pronounced taste of applejack.

La Cascade de l’Anis

la cascade de l'anis

After far too long since our last visit, my sister stopped by today for a cocktail and to head to dinner.  We did a round of drinks to sample, including The Isis, a cocktail that is pretending to be a cider (you’ll see it posted later this week; stay tuned!), and this random experiment.  While a truly random experiment, this one was a huge hit with my sister, and we decided right then and there that this needed to get added to the blog.

This started out with me sitting at the bar, picking a bottle and then just running with it.  What that resulted in is a cool, refreshing, excellent drink for this hot and humid Georgia day.  At the core of it, this is really just a dressed up gin and bitter lemon, but the additional ingredients transform this into a completely different drink, that is distinctly original.  What ended up in the glass is:

  • 2 parts gin (I used New Amsterdam here, for its clean, mild flavor.  It’s my go to gin for long drinks, as it mixes very well and is cheap as chips)
  • 2 bar spoons crème de violette
  • 2 bar spoons absinthe
  • 1.5 bar spoons of crème de menthe blanc

All of these ingredients were combined in a Collins glass heaped with ice, and then filled with bitter lemon and stirred gently.  The result is a very light, very refreshing cooler, with the anise flavor shining through, and playing with the bitterness and quinine flavor of the bitter lemon.  That right there is why my sister decided this needed to be named what it did.  This is sure to be a summer staple here, and hopefully at your home too.