brandy

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…)

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.

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 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…