bitters

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

The Briarpatch

Briarpatch

This drink, or at least its bones, has been knocking around in my head since before I launched Experiments From The Bar.  I’ve jotted down or typed out a couple of variations, but never put any of them together, because they just didn’t feel right.  This evening, in an attempt to be a good husband, I gave the living room a good dusting.  I was in the midst of wiping all the bottles from the bar down with a wet rag when I picked up the bottle of crème de cassis and thought tonight’s as good as any to try out the Briarpatch.

The core ingredients have remained the same in all the iterations of the potential recipe: bourbon and crème de cassis.  The other ancillary ingredients, which in the end define the drink, have shifted around.  Bitters, certainly a must, but which?  Something herbal, as well, that seems right.  That last bit ran the range from an absinthe wash, to a dash of crème de menthe, to Amaro.  What about a mixer?  Soda water?  No, that’ll just dilute things down without adding anything.  With no mixer, the crème de cassis might come on too strong.

That gives you some idea of how I end up thinking through a drink recipe, but I’m sure you’re more interested in the final recipe.  In the end, I tackled the herbal and bitters question with a single ingredient, Peychaud’s bitters, which brings some anise and dark fruit notes to the drink without being overpowering.  I did decide a mixer was needed, and my recent infatuation with Fever-Tree saw the addition of their ginger ale.  In the end, the final recipe turned out to be:

  • 2 parts Buffalo Trace bourbon
  • 0.75 parts crème de cassis
  • 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes Fee Brothers’ old fashioned bitters
  • Topped with Fever-Tree ginger ale

All ingredients were combined over a single, large piece of ice and lightly stirred.  This prevents the drink from getting to chilly, which would alter the flavor, particularly of the crème de cassis, losing some of the faint sourness that cordial carries.

Jack Rackham

Jack Rackham

I don’t play with rum terribly often, aside from the occasional Dark and Stormy, or when my darling wife asks for a rum drink, though I suppose I should.  This number came about from wanting to do something with black pepper and orange flavors, and when I was scanning over the bar, my eyes fell on the bottle of Pyrat XO rum, and that was that.

After a bit of fiddling, the final proportions for the drink came out as:

  • 1.5 parts Pyrat XO rum
  • 0.5 parts Grand Marnier
  • 6 dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters
  • 5 grinds of fresh pepper
  • The juice of 1 small orange wedge

All ingredients were shaken hard with ice, then strained through a fine sieve (to catch the ground pepper), and served over a single large piece of ice, and garnished with a small piece of orange peel.


If you haven’t had Pyrat XO, it’s a rum offering from the good people at Patrón.  It’s a rich, deep amber color, and carries a decently palpable orange note, and some characteristics that remind of nothing so much as cognac.  It’s an aged rum, and while it is the youngest of the Pyrat family of spirits, this makes the XO a smooth, flavorful, and sweet (while not cloying) rum that is perfectly fine being sipped on straight or on the rocks.

As I said, I wanted to play with orange flavors, so the Pyrat seemed a solid choice.  To add to that, and play up the cognac-like characteristics, I went with Grand Marnier for the orange liqueur.  While I thought these flavors would work well together, I found I had a terribly sweet drink on my hands already.  Add to that even the small bit of fresh orange juice, and this drink was really at risk.  By upping the rum from 1 part to 1.5, and doubling the bitters from 3 to 6 dashes and giving a couple more grinds of pepper, I ended up with something I quite liked.  There is an undeniable taste of orange, but it focuses more on the bitter orange peel side than the sugary sweet.  The excellent Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters helps with this, as well as highlighting the black pepper, and make that bite a little more complex.

So, there you have it.  The Jack Rackham; a drink perhaps the old captain himself could have enjoyed sipping on while watching the rolling of the sea.

Sioux City Cooler

Sioux City Cooler

If you haven’t tried Art in the Age‘s amazing liquor Root, you are missing out, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to go out and track a bottle down.  It’s such a wonderfully complex spirit, and stands apart from other similar spirits, like Blackmaker.  Firstly, it’s a legitimate spirit instead of a liqueur, weighing in at 80 proof.  Secondly, it’s not trying to taste like root beer, though it does in part.  It also tastes of birch, sassafras, and sarsaparilla, with hints of mint and anise as well.  When I first discovered Root, I kept trying to make a drink with it that tasted like root beer, and kept failing, time and time again.  It wasn’t until I stopped and thought, while sipping on one such failed experiment, that I was going about it wrong.  Why keep trying to make the spirit taste like something else, when I could just play on all of the amazing flavors it contained?

This is my latest attempt at doing just that, and I’m terribly pleased.  Its strongest resemblance to one of the members of the root tea / beer family, is sarsaparilla, though just like the base spirit, it’s got a lot more going on.  It’s refreshing, with a bit of a bite, and I think I may have found a new warm weather staple.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

  • 2 parts Root
  • 1 part honey simple syrup
  • 3/4 parts Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur*
  • A splash of crème de menthe blanc (roughly 1/8 of a part)
  • 6 healthy dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters

All ingredients get combined in a collins glass filled completely with ice, and then topped with club soda.  Stir gently until you start to get a good sheen of condensation on the glass.  Garnish with a sprig of mint.

*Note: Canton is a very mild, sweet ginger liqueur, and is one of two ginger liqueurs that I typically keep on hand.  Often times, I used Stirring’s ginger, which is much more biting and spicy, and about a third of the price.  This drink needs the subtly of Canton, whereas Stirrings ginger, or something like the King’s Ginger (an excellent higher proof ginger liqueur that also carries a strong citrus note) would overpower and unbalance the flavors here.

The Brandy Orchard: (and why aren’t there more brandy drinks these days?)

The Brandy Orchard: a brandy drink (and why aren't there more of these?)

A while back, we had our good friend Grammar Monkey over for dinner and drinks. I came up with this little ditty, and it seemed to go over well.

  • 1.5 parts brandy
  • 0.75 parts pear liqueur
  • 0.5 parts amaretto
  • 5 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters
  • the juice of 1 lemon wedge

All ingredients were shaken lightly, and then served up in a coupé glass and finished with a nice big lemon twist.

I really enjoyed the color and surprisingly delicate flavors of this one. I’m a huge fan of brandy cocktails, and I’m always a little sad that I almost never see it used, aside from in the noble Sidecar. Perhaps you will see a series of brandy drinks here soon, and some musings on the spirit itself…

Larcenous cocktails

Last weekend, I spent Saturday night with the good people at Waning Gibbous Games for the launch party of their recently Kickstarted game Larceny.  Larceny is a fast paced card game that asks the players to plan the perfect (or at times the most hilarious) heist.  The designer is one of my oldest friends, and my darling wife did the card and box illustration, so I feel pretty tied into this game and I have been lucky enough to see it come into being; from the raw idea being talked about around the game table, to being part of play testing, and all the way up to seeing the final product being boxed up to be shipped to all the loyal backers.

So, amidst stacks of boxes, we gathered at the Waning Gibbous Games headquarters for some much deserved celebration and merry-making (as well as box stuffing so we could get the eagerly awaited games out to the backers).  For the night, I was asked to create a signature drink, and ended up with two recipes that the owner and I decided both met the cut.

 The Fix

The FixThe Fix is, at its core, a Manhattan riff.  I wanted to create a drink that captured the feel of the game, and using the Manhattan as a jumping off point just felt right.  I went in a sweeter direction with this cocktail to open it up to a wider audience, but still keep it feeling like a serious business cocktail.  Replacing the rye whiskey of a traditional Manhattan with bourbon started taking the drink in the sweeter direction, and adding amaretto to the mix took it the rest of the way, and made it stand out.  In the end, the recipe turned out as:

  • 1.5 parts bourbon (fittingly, we used Larceny bourbon, which is a solid mixing bourbon)
  • 0.5 parts sweet vermouth
  • 0.5 parts amaretto
  • 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters

The ingredients were shaken briefly with ice and served up, then garnished with a maraschino cherry and a small lemon peel.

Thieves’ Blood

thieves' bloodA phrase lifted from the 1940’s book, The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, the Thieves’ Blood came from the experiments that eventually resulted in The Fix.  I was playing around with the idea of replacing the vermouth with port, but abandoned that idea in the final recipe of The Fix.  In talking about potential names with the owner of Waning Gibbous Games, he mentioned the phrase “Thieves’ Blood” as how one defines larceny in the aforementioned text.  The name struck me, and I thought back to the port experiment, and played with it until I hit on this surprisingly light, sweet, deep red drink.

  • 1.5 parts port
  • 1 part amaretto
  • 0.5 parts bourbon
  • 2-3 dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters

All ingredients are combined over ice, topped up with soda water, and stirred.  Garnish with an orange peel to help bring forward some of the spicy flavors of the port and bitters.

 

The Preacher

The Preacher

New provisions for the bar acquired, one of which I needed to play a role in a couple planned character themed cocktails I’ve been ruminating on. Without further ado, I give you the Preacher.

  • 1 part Jefferson Reserve Very Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey (an excellently smoky and yet still nicely sweet bourbon given to me by my father in law as a wedding gift)
  • 1 part Root, by Art in the Age (a wonderful spirit that captures the flavors of a good root or birch beer)
  • 0.25 parts Domaine de Canton (a very light ginger liqueur)
  • 2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 dashes of Fee Brothers’ Old Fashioned bitters

As my darling wife said, “it’s smoky and rough, and a bit abrasive, but sweet on the back end.” Sounds like Preacher to me.