lemon

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 #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.

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.

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…

The Sidecar

The Sidecar

One of my very favorite cocktails, the Sidecar is an undeniable classic. Attributed to being created at Harry’s Bar in Paris sometime around 1930. Supposedly, it was named for a regular customer who loved the drink and drove a motorcycle with sidecar, though some are dubious of this claim.  Whatever the origin story, the Sidecar is a well balanced, incredibly drinkable number, and is a great example of the rule of 3; one spirit, one sweet, one sour.  You end up with a drink that is refreshing on hot summer days, warming in the cold of winter, and always hits the spot, balanced nicely between sweet and sour.  It is, at its heart, a very simple drink, but the flavors play together so well, it’s as if this drink is what these three ingredients were made for.

The recipe is simplicity itself:

  • 1 part cognac
  • 0.5 parts Cointreau
  • 0.5 parts fresh lemon juice

Combine the ingredients with ice and shake vigorously.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon peel.

Traditionally, as is pictured here, the glass should be given a sugared rim.  This is actually a rather important step in balancing this drink, as the sugar rim lends extra sweetness to the drink to help balance the tartness from the significant amount of lemon juice.  To make a sugar rim, simply cover a small plate in a thin layer of sugar, wet the rim of your cocktail glass (either with water or lemon juice in this case), and then set the glass, rim down on the plate.  You can move the glass around to help collect sugar.  Let the sugar dry into a crust, and chill the glass.

I will occasionally forgo the sugar rim, either because I’m feeling particularly lazy, or because I don’t have Cointreau on hand, and must make do with triple sec.  In the former situation, I’ll typically back off the lemon content a hair, or add a couple of dashes of simple syrup.  In the latter, I’ll leave the proportions alone, as triple sec is sweeter than Cointreau (though less flavorful), and makes up for the absent sugar rim.

Brandy can be substituted for cognac, which I frequently do, because in the past I hadn’t found an affordable cognac that I cared for, and brandy will do the trick nicely in this cocktail and often at a much more reasonable price for similar quality.  Lately, I’ve discovered Decourtet cognac, and their VS is extremely affordable at around $20.00 for a 750 mL bottle, and is excellent for mixing, and is my go to for Sidecars these days.