ginger

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.

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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.

The Isis Cocktail

The Isis Cocktail

Named for the Isis River, as the stretch of the Thames that runs through Oxford is called, this drink just sort of happened, but after taking the first sip, the name came into my mind without any pause.  I made a stop into my usual package store to pick up a nice Belgian style strong ale, and a bottle of Fever-Tree ginger ale for some friends from out of state I’ll be seeing this weekend, and decided to pick up a pack of their very excellent Bitter Lemon as well.

I hadn’t been planning on making cocktails this evening, but was suddenly hit by a wave of nostalgia for the time I spent at Oxford, and the innumerable gin and bitter lemons I drank there.  I kept thinking about the Isis, and sitting by the banks with a drink in hand watching people out punting on the river, the flowers in bloom, and this is what came from those musings.

The results are a very clean, lightly floral drink, with the slight bitterness from the bitter lemon accented by the faintest hint of ginger.  The ingredients are as follows:

  • 2 parts Hendrick’s gin
  • 0.25 parts crème de viollete
  • 0.25 parts Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • 2 parts Fever-Tree bitter lemon
  • 5 dashes of rose water

The spirits are combined over ice in an old-fashioned glass, then topped with bitter lemon and stirred.  The rose water is then added without additional stirring.

For those that haven’t had bitter lemon, it is a tonic that goes back to the first half of the 19th century, and is essentially tonic water with lemon juice and pith added.  It carries the distinctive quinine taste of tonic water, but with a pronounced citrus note that is equal parts tart and bitter.  We don’t see it terribly often here in the States, which is a shame.

I opted for Hendrick’s gin, because I wanted to play up the floral qualities of the drink, and the subtle rose flavor found amidst the bevy of florals and botanicals of this flavorful gin seemed like the right choice.  I think doing this drink with a dryer gin, like the inestimable Plymouth Dry gin, would make for an altogether different, though equally likeable beverage.

While the bitter lemon is a major player in this cocktail, the crème de violette is the clear costar with equal billing on the marquee, despite the small portion used.  Crème de viollete has a very intense flavor, and it is all too easy to overpower a drink with the amazing violet blossom flavor (as I learned quickly in my first experiments with it).  It provides the floral backbone of the drink, whose natural sweetness counters and compliments the bitterness of the aptly named bitter lemon, supported by the final garnish of the rose water.

The ginger doesn’t really play on the pallet, but its inclusion highlights the quinine taste from the bitter lemon, and helps bring this drink to its balanced state.

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 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.