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.
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…)
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.
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.
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 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.
A 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.
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.