Author: johnkazuo

Poison Apple

Poison AppleSo, I had planned to kick off the new year with a recent recipe for a coffee based drink inspired by a favorite drink of my favorite fictional assassin that I made for the first time recently to high praise from someone what is arguable a bigger fan of both coffee and Vlad Taltos than I, which is saying something.  While that post will be coming, you’ll have to wait until next month, as inspiration for another drink hit me today.

As I was driving in to work this morning, I was struck by an idea for this cocktail.  As to what it says about how things are currently going at the office that I was thinking of cocktails before my work day had started, well, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.  The point is, I was thinking of absinthe in particular, and how maybe a nice Corpse Reviver #2 would be a good way to celebrate the end of the day once it shambled around.  Now, I love the Corpse Reviver #2, but of course my mind started working through permutations of it, and what it was about that drink that I was craving.

When it came down to it, I was looking for that hint of absinthe, and the crispness of the citrus.  What I didn’t really want was the tartness, but something lighter.  I started thinking of flavors that I like to put with anise, and thought of doing a gin drink heavily laced with rose water, but that didn’t intrigue me.  I moved on to apples, and that’s where I dwelt for most of the rest of the drive.  The crispness and natural sweetness of apples works so very well with absinthe, and while I went through many ideas, I ended up settling on this really quite simple recipe:

  • 2 parts applejack or calvados
  • 1/2 part simple syrup
  • 1 barspoon of absinthe
  • 1/4-1/3 of an apple
  • lemon juice

Upon arriving home, I told my darling wife about this cocktail idea, and shared that I even had a name for it already, which is surprising as I usually struggle with naming my creations.  After telling her about the idea, she shared that thanks to a trip to the grocery store earlier today, we had some nice fresh apples in the fridge, which I took as a sign, and set off to cobbling this first experimental glass.  I must say, I am well pleased with the results, if I do say so, as was the wife.

I started by thinly slicing up some apple, in this case a Kiku apple, which is a variety we hadn’t tried before.  Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better apple for this cocktail; it’s quite juicy, very sweet, but with a nice light tartness.  After cutting the apple into suitably thin pieces, I muddled that in a Boston shaker with a bit of fresh lemon juice, about what you’d get from 1/8th of a medium lemon.  I kept muddling until I had worked as much juice out of the apple pieces without completely pulverizing them.  To this I added some crushed ice, the applejack, absinthe, and after sampling a bit more of the apple and deciding it was going to make for a decently sweet drink, the small amount of simple syrup.  I shook the drink briefly to chill it and let some of that crushed ice melt down, and then strained it into a coupe glass for service.

What I had in that glass was a lovely little drink; very light, with an almost floral sweetness from the apple, and the nice clean finish of absinthe passing fleetingly through the end.

A year later…

Well, it’s been just over a year since I made my last blog post, where I talked about my personal favorite recipes for eggnog.  I’m indulging in a cup of said holiday cheer as I type this, in honor of that, and because ‘tis the season, after all.

I have all sorts of excuses for why I haven’t written here in so long; craziness at work as we went through a reorg, house hunting and moving, more craziness at work as I took over a new team, and another reorg.  Really though, it just comes down to losing steam, and having a hard time building it back up.  No promises that this won’t just be a false restart, but I’ll be aiming to post at least monthly here.

 

Despite my silence here for the last year, I’ve kept whipping up new cocktails, and enjoying old favorites.  Last January I put together a collection of eight original cocktails based on various nations for an in-play party hosted by one of the LARPs I am involved in, and offered flights for those that wanted to sample all eight but still be able to walk.  They all seemed to be a hit, as I spent the entire event frantically working behind the bar, with no time to even pour myself something until half way through the event.  I failed to get any photos, so I’ll be making and shooting those as part of the planned content for the coming year.

 

At another LARP related event during the summer, I was asked to provide recipes for some of my greatest hits, so that they could be served at a catered event.  I have to say, it was a bit of surreal experience seeing the bar staff making my drinks, but it was incredibly satisfying.  Some of the drinks were from the new set of eight, but one was my old favorite, the Epi, which as expected was a big hit and the first drink we had to 86 when we ran out of the ingredients.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the year has had some pretty crazy moments, the biggest of which was when my wife and I purchased our first house together.  We moved in a little over a month ago, and I’ve just now gotten my bar unpacked beyond the couple random bottles I pulled out along the ways for much needed post moving cocktails.  Our house is wonderful, and just about perfect for us, though I will continue to lament that at some point in the past the previous owners tore out a wetbar original to the late 70’s home and replaced it with a giant walk in cedar closet off the living room.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, the extra storage is great, but I could have had a wet bar!

 
I hope that all of you out there have had a good year, and are enjoying the holidays, and that you’re doing so with a nice cup of cheer.  I hope that you’ll be joining me here for a new year of recipes, musings, and fun.  Now, I’m off to enjoy this drink and settle in by the fire.

Eggnog

Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the history of eggnog, as well as the ingredients and associated debates with how to make a quality eggnog.  Whether you’re a British brandy purist, a colonial rum lover, or a bourbon boasting American, eggnog is wonderful treat, especially this time of year.  So, time to gather up some ingredients and whip up some of this rich and creamy beverage, either in a punch bowl or a mug for yourself.

eggnog ingredients

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Holiday cheer: a bit of history about eggnog

Here we are, a few days from the winter solstice, getting near the close of the year, and in the midst of the holiday season.  I have always loved the winter, and having the excuse of the holidays to spend some quality time with my family and friends.  Recently, at a holiday party and in various conversations, the topic of what is probably the most iconic of holiday libations, eggnog, has come up a few times.  Questions of what spirit to use, homemade versus store-bought, and how to enjoy this creamy punch without making a punchbowl’s worth, all have come up, and with some decidedly varied opinions.  So, what better than to weigh in with my opinions here, for all to see.

I have a great fondness for a good cup of eggnog, though that’s often hard to come by in my experience.  While it may not be a drink for everyone, I think that more people would enjoy this drink that dates back to the mid 18th century if they were exposed to a good, homemade batch, and steered clear of the gloopy store-bought premade varieties.

If nothing else, I hope that this post gets more people to put down the carton or plastic jug of mass produced concoctions that start flooding the grocery store shelves this time of year.  Making a delicious, quality eggnog doesn’t have to be daunting.  Whether you’re making a big batch for a party, or want to enjoy a single cup at home by the fire on your own, let’s look at a bit of the history of this wonderful drink, and talk about the ingredients, and the debate surrounding some of them. (more…)

October In The Chair

October in the chair

This drink gets it’s name from one of the inestimable Mr. Gaiman’s stories.  You can find it in his collection of short fiction, Fragile Things, which you almost certainly should own, if you don’t already.  It’s a tale about the months, and what they do when they get together, and about loneliness and friendship, and all sorts of things besides.

Truth be told, I was struggling to name this drink, but it felt like Autumn, but just the start of it, when it’s still hot at times, and cold a few hours later.  There, in the midst of the thoughts of the start of Autumn that this drink brought out, I was reminded of this story, and it seemed fitting for the cocktail, though the story is, I think, much better.

It’s a simple drink, but built on a hard to come by ingredient for most of us.  I, fortunately have a couple of bottles of the core ingredient, thanks to some very generous and all around wonderful friends that brought me a cache from the Pacific Northwest; for which I am incredibly thankful.  The recipe is as follows:

  • 2 parts Stone Barn Brandyworks‘ unoaked oat whiskey
  • 3/4 parts Grand Marnier
  • 5 dashes of Fee Brothers’ Old Fashioned Bitters
  • a splash sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica in this case)

Stone Barn makes some great stuff, from the few spirits I’ve been fortunate enough to try.  I was given my first bottle of their very excellent unoaked oat whiskey by some friends that had recently relocated from Portland, where the distillery is located, to Redmond.  After raving about it, a couple of my favorite people brought me some bottles when they were in town this September visiting for Dragon Con from their new home in Portland.  It is an incredibly rich drink, with a strong oatmeal taste, and a very pleasant abrasive note, if that makes any sense.  It’s a particular spirit, when it comes to mixing, but plays very well with other warm tones, and loves being paired with sweet vermouth.

Accordingly, the Grand Marnier plays very well with the oat whiskey, and the rich, warmer notes of this cognac based orange liqueur are amplified by this pairing.  The raw bracing characteristic of the oat whiskey dampen the sweetness of the Grand Marnier, so it’s not too syrup-sweet.  The Fee Brothers’ Old Fashioned bitters, and their spicy, cinnamon heavy flavor adds to the mix very nicely.  I started sipping on this drink with just these ingredients, and was thoroughly enjoying it, but it felt like it was missing something, some further depth.  A single splash of Carpano Antica added everything that this was missing, in my opinion.

What you end up with is a drink that evokes the feeling of cool night air, damp fallen leaves, and the comforting smell of an old, worn leather jacket and a fire’s promise of warmth, and the tales told by friends around it.  Or, at least that’s what I get from it.

The Epimetheus

epi

The Epimetheus, or Epi for short, is one of my favorite creations to date.  I whipped the first one up nearly two years ago and it has been  one of my go-to drinks ever since.  Originally created because I wanted to try and put together a cold toddy recipe, the drink was designed to be warming, yet still refreshing.  It went for months without a name (I’m usually loathe to name my drinks, and aside from a few character based cocktails, I didn’t start naming any of my drinks until launching this blog, truth be told).  I simply called it “the bourbon, ginger, honey, lemon thing” or some similarly explanatory name.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big old geek, and an avid larper.  This cocktail found its name at an in-play social event for a game I play called Dust to Dust.  As a social event, there wasn’t any combat, but instead, we were able to drink, and I decided to bring a few things so I could put together a handful of cocktails.  One of my friends and teammate took to this drink with a passion, so much so that I thought it only fitting to name it for his character, Epimetheus, a simple seeming, but tough homunculus (think Frankenstein’s monster).  Much like his character, the drink doesn’t get called by its full name very often, instead usually just being called the Epi.  Also, much like my friend, it’s friendly, smooth, sweet, and will put you on your ass if you don’t look out.

To make an Epi of your own, combine the following into an old-fashioned glass with ice:

  • 2 parts bourbon
  • 1 part Stirrings ginger liqueur
  • 3/4 part honey simple syrup
  • 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • the juice of one wedge of lemon

Stir gently to blend and chill the drink, and then enjoy!

Tonight I used Buffalo Trace bourbon, which as you may recall is a staple on my bar and comes at a decent price.  I’ve made this drink with several different bourbons, but tend to like it best with relatively smooth, mild bourbons, like Buffalo Trace or Larceny.  I’ve talked about the qualities of Stirrings ginger liqueur before, and this is a drink that needs the bite it carries over the other ginger liqueurs I’ve tried.  Honey simple syrup, for those unfamiliar, is easily made by combining equal parts honey and water, and heating until they are fully integrated.  Another area that I’ve experimented with variations to this recipe, is with the bitters I’ve used.  I’m a great lover of Fee Brothers’ Old Fashioned bitters, and have used 4 or 5 other types of bitters in this drink.  In the end, this drink really is best with the old staple, Angostura.  It gives enough bitterness and a mild bit of spice without overpowering the other ingredients.  The lemon, while a very small part of the recipe, is pivotal.  Without it the drink is too sweet and comes across as heavy.  Too much, and you just have the acid and the bite of the ginger.  A single, modest wedge, perhaps an eighth of a medium lemon, gives this just the right amount of brightness and acid.

Corpse Reviver (#1)

corpse reviver #1

A few days ago, I shared a post about the delicious restorative, the Corpse Reviver #2 as I started my vacation.  That same night, after finishing off that cocktail and going to make another, I discovered I had used up my last lemon.  Now, what was I to do?  You can’t very well make a Corpse Reviver #2 without fresh lemon juice, as I covered in the last post.  And then I found my answer, right there in front of me, minus the #2.

The Corpse Reviver, or Corpse Reviver #1 to some, is another entry in the family of curative cocktails like its more popular secondary namesake.  While the #2 is a light, citrus-centric, and cleanly bracing drink, this is a completely different animal.  Brandy based, with a bit extra brandy, and the clean nearly astringent notes of Lilet Blanc and absinthe replaced with the warm and rich notes of sweet vermouth, the Corpse Reviver strikes me as more of an after dinner drink, or a tonic to be fed to someone pulled from icy water, than a morning pick me up.  Warm where the #2 is cool, rich and deep where the #2 is light and refreshing, the Corpse Reviver is still a subtle drink in its own way, and the three ingredients play together just as nicely.

Combine the following in a mixing glass with a modest portion of ice:

Unlike the #2 where we shake the ingredients to combine, thus chilling the drink more, stir the combined ingredients for a moment, just enough to drop the temperature and mix them fully.  Strain into a cocktail glass that you’ve chilled previously in the freezer or by filling with ice before prepping your drink, dumping the ice prior to pouring the drink.

In this instance, I used my go to cognac, Decourtet VS, which is a marvelous cognac and at a price that won’t make you cringe.  I used Laird’s applejack as it’s what I had on hand, though using calvados will impart slightly stronger apple notes with a twinge less of sweetness, in my opinion.  For the vermouth, any sweet Italian vermouth will suffice, though I used my personal favorite, Carpano Antica Formula, using the original recipe created by its namesake, the late 18th century distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the father of the now familiar vermouth.  Carpano Antica is an amazingly rich drink, and well worth picking up for using in cocktails or drinking on its own as an apéritif (the good people at Post Prohibition wrote a wonderful piece about this complex, bittersweet vermouth), and it’s the perfect choice for this recipe, if I may so.

While sharing a name with the Corpse Reviver #2, this is a completely different drink, but just as pleasing in its own way, and well worth a try if you’re a fan of brandy, Manhattans, or simply looking for something warming and comforting.

Corpse Reviver #2

corpse reviver #2

Tonight I officially start a much needed vacation.  In celebration, I decided I needed a tasty libation, and one that would serve as a bit of pick me up after a tiring week of trying to make sure everything would be covered while I’m out of the office for the next week and a half.  What better than a Corpse Reviver #2?

The Corpse Reviver #2 is perhaps the best known cocktail from the Corpse Reviver family of drinks.  Recorded in Craddock’s famous Savoy Cocktail Book, this drink is meant to be a hangover cure.  While I’ve tested having this drink after a particularly hard night of over imbibing, I don’t know if it’s particularly effective for the purpose, but it is a tremendously drinkable, and subtly complex cocktail nonetheless.

Made from equal parts of nearly all of the ingredients, I suppose one should expect a fairly balanced drink, but this is one of my favorite classic cocktails for how marvelously well balanced it is, and how well each ingredient plays off the others.  The sweetness of the Cointreau balanced by the dryness of the gin, played against the tartness of the lemon juice, the slight oily note of the Lilet cut by the other three primary ingredients, all capped by the cool bite of the absinthe which seems to heighten each other ingredient’s more subtle flavors somehow.

To make your own, either as a nice evening cocktail, or when in need of a bit of the hair of the dog that bit you in the morning, mix the following together in a shaker with ice:

  • 1 part gin
  • 1 part Cointreau
  • 1 part Lilet Blanc
  • 1 part fresh lemon juice
  • 1-2 dashes of absinthe

After a good shake, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, or coupe if you like, optionally add a maraschino cherry, and enjoy.

A note on the absinthe: some add it to the shaker, others rinse the glass with it.  I typically prefer the latter, as I find it makes the aroma of the absinthe a little more pronounced and present in the drink, but then I am a great drinker of absinthe.  By adding it to the shaker with the other ingredients, you may find it a little mellower, which is a perfectly acceptable option if you’re not a huge fan of absinthe.

For the gin, I chose the wonderfully dry Leopold Brothers offering for its clean, strident taste, but I’ve made this drink with probably close to a dozen different gins and been pleased each time, though I do prefer this with a drier gin typically.

While we’re talking about the specific ingredients let’s talk about substitutions.  If you can’t get your hands on Lilet Blanc, but can find Cocchi Americano, that’s a perfectly fine substitution that won’t tremendously alter the profile of the drink.  For the Cointreau, often times recipes will suggest using triple sec as a replacement for Cointreau, but I really can’t recommend it in this drink.  As I mentioned in my post about the Sidecar, triple sec is sweeter than Cointreau which this drink doesn’t want, and less flavorful, which will unsettle the wonderful balance of this drink.  For that reason, I do implore you, don’t substitute triple sec in for the Cointreau here; the difference is subtle but it is noticeable in my opinion and not in a good way.

While switching out the Cointreau for triple sec isn’t a huge sin, using bottled lemon juice in place of the fresh most definitely is.  You’ll lose the crisp citrus flavor, and instead find acid in its place.  A key to making great cocktails, just like great food, is using fresh, flavorful ingredients, and you should always be using fresh citrus if you can.  I used to occasionally pre-juice citrus for the next few days, but stopped because I found that I’d let a couple days turn into a week or more, and the longer you let it go, the more the flavor changes.  Nowadays, I only juice citrus in advance if I’m going to be making a large number of drinks that day or the following perhaps, and don’t want to be stuck juicing between every drink I’m serving.

It’s been awfully quiet here…

It’s been a few weeks since my last post here, and I apologize for the lack of new content.  I owe you all the next in the Essentials series, the entry on liqueurs, and I’ve actually slated some time this weekend to work on that post.  I think some of the delay can be chalked up to how much of a task getting the essential liquors post put together was, at least getting it to a point where I was happy with it.  That said, I won’t keep you waiting too much longer.

It’s also been quiet as I’ve been on a bit of beer kick lately, and while I’m nearly as passionate about beers as I am cocktails, that’s not what this blog is about.  I promise, I’ll get back to drinking hard liquor as soon as possible, but they tend to frown on doing so here at the office.

In the past weeks I have had a couple opportunities to share some of my creations with friends as various gatherings.  I told myself that I would make sure to take pictures, but between mixing drinks and trying to get some socializing in, I failed to do so.  I’m always excited and more than a little nervous when I make any of my original recipes for people for the first time.  I know that I like the drink, but everyone has a different palate and different preferences, and what may be a hit in my mind is too bitter, or too sweet, or too complicated for someone else.  Luckily, I have some very supportive friends who have been more than happy to indulge me and try some of my drinks, and so far they seemed to have been well received.  Recently, I made a few Jack Rackhams, The Isis, and Sioux City Coolers for some friends who were kind enough to have me and my darling wife over, as well as some of the other guests.  They all seemed to be well liked, with the Jack Rackham being the surprise favorite of the night.  I’m not much of a rum drinker these days, but I was happy to find that this one found favor both amongst avowed rum fans and those that don’t typically drink the spirit, which is great measure of success for me.

At another gathering, I shared around the Sioux City Cooler I had made for myself (as this has quickly become one of my favorite hot weather drinks), and got some good reactions there as well.  That night, the best was getting to make The Preacher for a friend whose character is the namesake and inspiration for that particular cocktail.  Big smile, followed quickly by a second belt from his glass was a hugely satisfying validation.

Finally, I’ve owed another friend a tastes of a couple drinks I wasn’t able to make her at the first gathering, and was able to make good on that promise a couple weeks ago with The Briarpatch, which seemed to be right up her alley.

That’s one of my favorite things about making drinks for people; trying to figure out, based on what I know about them, something that they will like, as well as something that I think speaks to them, or of them.  It’s a funny little esoteric thought, I suppose, being able to capture a personality in a drink, but it’s immensely fulfilling when it works out.  It’s also very nerve-wracking when I can’t work it out, but then, those experiences help me for the next try.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be at Dragon*Con, a yearly tradition for me for the last 19 years.  I’ve missed a couple years in that time, regrettably, but I always look forward to the Con, and spending several days geeking out, seeing good friends, from across the country, and the world, at this point.  Dragon*Con is also a time where the drinks run freely, and so I’m getting ready to make the choices of what I’ll be bringing for my personal bar.  Last year saw me bringing entirely too many bottles; a couple cases of various spirits in addition to a cooler full as well, as I was making a dozen or so new recipes for signature drinks for a group of friends.  This year, I’ll be reeling things in a bit, though I’ll still no doubt end up bringing more than I’m anticipating right now.  Perhaps, you’ll see some shots here of some Experiments from the Bar in the wild, but we shall see…

 

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.