MxMo LXXXVI: Pineapple

•June 23, 2014 • 1 Comment


Mixology Monday has rolled around once again! We’ve just passed the solstice, so summer is officially here. The heat has been building for quite some time, however, and it’s due to last for at least two more months. No doubt these factors led Thiago, of Bartending Notes, to select Pineapple for our monthly mixing theme. After all, what fruit evokes more memories of seaside summer refreshment than the pineapple?

Here are Thiago’s guidelines:

Let’s bring the king of fruits back! After being canned, mixed with all sorts of sugary liquids and blended into… some 80s dreadful cocktails, the pineapple needs more respect! Once a symbol of hospitality, the King of Fruits might be know misunderstood. One of the greatest non-citrus souring agents, used for crazy garnish ideas, infusions, old gum syrup flavoring, the pineapple is a fruit to be reckoned. Be in a tiki cocktails, an old school classic like the Algonquin, a crazy flavor pairing or just mixed in a delicious Verdita, get creative and make a cocktail using any part of this delicious, juicy fruit or share you favorite pineapple cocktail with us!


PineappleSyrup (1 of 8)

For the home bartender who’s not decimating these spiky fruit for a party crowd or a large family, dealing with fresh pineapples can be a bit of a chore. Juicing the things is time consuming and messy for those not in possession of a food processor or juice extractor (such as myself) , and pineapple juice spoils very quickly. I never manage to go through the big cartons of Dole pineapple juice (about the best alternative to fresh you can get), and the stuff in the cans picks up an awful metallic flavor that all but ruins any cocktail you use it in. What to do?

Enter Jeffrey Morgenthaler. An inspiration for us cocktail bloggers for quite some time, Morgenthaler has just released The Bar Book, a technique-focused tome that is organized along the process of mixing a drink. Leading off with tools and the procurement of ingredients, Morgenthaler eases into a section on the making of certain components of your drink-to-be. One such critical component is, of course, syrup, and among those syrups discussed by Morgenthaler are compound syrups, and among those compound syrups is exactly the thing what I’m after: pineapple syrup.

One frequently sees drinks calling for pineapple juice or pineapple syrup — most of them faux tropicals — but, being a bit lacking in fruit-whacking ambition, I often passed them by, leaving it to the Tiki bloggers and bartenders to deal with the spiky fruit. Morgenthaler’s methods and a determination to get back into the monthly MxMo swing of things convinced me to conduct an experiment involving the stubborn summer staple, however. So, in order to lengthen the lifespan of the juice as long as possible, I decided to mix up my first-ever batch of pineapple syrup. In actual fact, it’s quite a simple affair, though like all things made with care, it will take some time — about half a day, minimum.

First off, find yourself a pineapple. You don’t need a huge one, just a fresh one. As Morgenthaler notes, pineapples are picked when ripe, so you should use them right away — no need for them to sit around on a countertop. Ideally, the flesh of the fruit should be firm but have a slight give to it when squeezed. It should also be redolent of pineapple when smelled through the thick skin (a bit tricky if the fruit is stored chilled, as I’ve seen in a number of markets — the chill seems to deaden the smell).

PineappleSyrup (2 of 8)

Next up, make a batch of 1:1 simple syrup. You’ll need about 12 ounces or so to make use of a 1 pound pineapple. You’ll also need to procure a few simple tools: a couple mixing bowls and something to cover them, a large, fine mesh strainer (preferably a “double” strainer that consists of two interlocking mesh bowls), the obvious chef’s knife, and a sterilized bottle and funnel.

PineappleSyrup (5 of 8)

PineappleSyrup (6 of 8)

Ok, time for pineapple prep. First, twist off the leaves in a bunch, then chop off the “caps” on either end of the fruit. Slice the pineapple into sections a about 3/4 of an inch thick, then trim to thick skin off each section. Chop those section into wedges or chunks as wide as they are thick, discarding any especially tough bits of the core.

PineappleSyrup (7 of 8)

PineappleSyrup (8 of 8)

Now you’re ready to macerate. Toss the chunks into a glass bowl or large container, then pour the simple syrup over them ( they should be completely covered by the syrup). All you have to do now is cover the container and chuck it in the fridge for anywhere between 4 and 24 hours, letting the syrup soak up the pineapple juice. Any longer, and the fruit won’t be contributing much to the final syrup.

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PineapleSyrup (2 of 3)

Once the infusion is complete, pour the syrup and pineapple chunks into a fine mesh strainer and into another container or bowl. Using a muddler or wooden spoon, press and mash the pineapple chunks to extract as much juice as you can from them. If you’re using a double mesh strainer, the final result will be very clear and free of pulp. Bottle it and it will keep for a week or so. I added a shot of vodka to extend the shelf life by a few weeks.

PineapleSyrup (3 of 3)

One last point: early in his chapter on syrups, Morgenthaler mentions that when using fresh fruit he finds it best to simmer the fruit in water to extract its flavor, strain out the pulp, then add sugar to create a syrup. Makes sense, as none of the sugar will be collected by the macerating fruit, giving you greater control of the sweetness level of the finished syrup. If you use this method for pineapple syrup, Morgenthaler recommends lightly mashing the pineapple prior to simmering it — it’s a very fibrous fruit, and the more you break it up, the more juice — and the more flavor — you can extract. Why Mr. Morgenthaler varies his method in his primary pineapple syrup recipe is a bit of a mystery, but let me tell you, it still works very well.

Ok, so — you have your syrup, now what to do with it? Though it’s calling out to be used in batches of rum drinks during poolside soirées, or perhaps in punchy mezcal and tequila drinks, I opted to stick to a more classic route. First up is the drink that inspired Morgenthaler himself to mix up pineapple syrup, a Cuban concoction from the 1930s called the Hotel Nacional Special…

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Hotel Nacional Special

  • 1-1/2 ounce Aged Rum [1:1 Blend of Flor de Caña 4-yr and Mt. Gay Eclipse]
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce pineapple syrup
  • 1/2 ounce Apricot Brandy [Rothman & Winter]
  • 1 drop [!] Angostura Bitters
  • Lime wheel, to garnish

Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel placed on the rum of the glass.

From Eric Adkins of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, via The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

A complex sour-type drink, the Special added fresh pineapple juice to the basic Daiquiri formula of rum and lime while switching out the sugar for apricot brandy. The drink was the house special of the grand Hotel Nacional, the prime time destination for a pre-revolutionary Cuba flooded with wealthy Europeans and American tourists escaping from the grips of Prohibition.

The above recipe is a modified formula (the original is found in Charles H. Baker’s The Gentleman’s Cocktail Companion) given to Morgenthler by Eric Adkins of The Slanted Door in San Francisco. The recipe swaps out the pineapple juice for syrup while reducing the amount of apricot brandy, upping the lime juice, and adding a hint of bitters to compensate for the extra sweetness. The end result is a tart, mouth-coating drink that emphasizes the flavor of the rum and the pineapple (which contributes that velvety feel and a bit of froth); it is just on the border of being over-sweet. That being the case, make your rum a fairly dry one from the Spanish side of the tropics, like Flor de Caña from Nicaragua (which I always prefer to Bacardi). If you’re outside the U.S., use a Cuban rum like Havana Club and toast the eventual lifting of our embargo. While Morgenthaler and Adkins call for aged rum, most original recipes call for the younger, unaged stuff. Either will work — I actually like to take a page from the Tiki playbook and blend the two, marrying the fresh brightness of the young rum and with the caramel, oak and spice from the older one.

As a counterpart to the sweet, sour-style Nacional, I went with a much older, boozier concoction found in David Wondrich’s Imbibe: the East India Cocktail. The recipe varies depending on its source — the earliest is found in Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual, while the main variation is the use of raspberry syrup instead of pineapple — but this is one of the classic iterations:

EastIndia (1 of 2)

East India Cocktail

  • 2 ounces VSOP cognac [Camus VSOP]
  • 1 teaspoon Orange Curaçao [Pierre Ferrand Dry  Curaçao]
  • 1 teaspoon Pineapple Syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon Maraschino liqueur [Luxardo]
  • 2-3 dashes Boker’s Bitters
  • Lemon Twist, to garnish

Stir with ice and strain Into a chilled coupe. Garnish with the lemon twist.

From David Wondrich’s Imbibe!

Being a heavily modified “fancy” cocktail popular in the late 1800s, the East India swaps out simple or gomme syrup for a more complex blend of sweeteners, giving it a quirky, antiquated flavor profile — a dry blend of fruit-filled flavors accented by little acerbic tinges of baking spices and dried herbs. Though very little pineapple syrup is used here, its flavor is quite evident. One of the primary characteristics of pineapple is that its flavor can cut through those of other ingredients, often overpowering them, so it has to be used sparingly. In the East India, it is perfectly balanced with the curaçao and maraschino, all of which are used to amp up, thicken, and sweeten the brandy while being kept in check by the bitters and lemon peel. Speaking of bitters, Boker’s Bitters have been back on the market for some time, but if you find yourself without them, try Jerry Thomas’s Own Decanter Bitters from The Bitter Truth or, failing that, your household aromatic bitters, like Scrappy’s (go easy if using Angostura — they’re the gold standard, but here they can be overpowering and bit too bold).

So, there you have it: two classic uses of a slightly esoteric fruit syrup. Seeing as both of the above cocktails use a rather small quantity of the stuff, I’ll have ample syrup left over for experimentation. I’m thinking rum and mezcal…though we’ll see what my fellow bloggers manage to mix up for this coming Monday.


PineappleSyrup (3 of 8)

PineappleSyrup (4 of 8)

Photos and text by IJL.

High Times at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic

•June 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As some of you know, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic was held here in New York a few weeks back. And I nearly missed it. Serves me right for not paying more attention to the cocktailian side of life.

It had been a typically busy week in NYC. Somehow, I’d managed to squeeze in visits to a couple new bars and, as a result of those visits, a trip to Astor Wine & Spirits, my go-to spot for the good stuff. For those who’ve never been, Astor occupies a big chunk of a brick building at the corner of Lafayette and East 4th Street in Manhattan, and has one of the best inventories of spirits on the East coast. They also offer classes and tasting sessions for us drinkers at the Astor Center, located above the store. On my way out the door that day, I spotted the following:

Saturday, May 10th

AN ASTOR AFFAIR: Spirits Tasting for Cocktail Making

Barrel-Aged Cocktails with High West’s David Perkins

Discoveries from the Back Bar: Exclusive Spirits Tasting


“Wait, what? The Manhattan Cocktail Classic! This weekend!?”

Needless to say, a quick check showed that the main events were booked solid — and it was certainly too late for the opening gala, a massive cocktail party held at the New York Public Library — but a couple nice options remained, including the tasting seminars at Astor. You longtime readers may know that I’m a fan of High West, and have exchanged a few electronic words with David Perkins in the past, so I figured it was time to meet the man in person and sip some barrel-aged cocktails.

The evening started with access to the Astor Affair tasting event (really the main show for the evening, open to the public later on), featuring boozy samples, cocktails, punches, and chitchat with folks from Combier (a tasty range, especially the rose liqueur), Vermont-based, honey-centric Barr Hill (the Aged Tom gin is fantastic), Bittermens (unique and intriguing), High West and Mount Gay.

While us seminar-goers were ushered into Astor’s sleek classrooms, we were handed a Penicillin (made with HW Campfire in lieu of full-blooded Scotch, so a tad less smoky and in-your-face) — not a bad way to liven up the crowd, especially when combined with a few wisecracks about Mormons (all in good fun) and how much booze we were going to consume during the evening.

Mr. Perkins — who’s just about the most down-to-earth, affable, bio-chemist-turned-distiller you’d ever meet — launched right into our topic for the evening: barrel-aged cocktails, which High West has been bottling and selling for a few years now. The main idea was to compare two freshly-made cocktails, the Manhattan and the Boulevardier, against High West’s barrel-aged versions, and to taste each cocktail’s base components.

DP_HW_MCC_2014 (5 of 15)

Supplied with tasting samples of each drinks’ components, bar tools, ice, and a bit of instruction of mixing basics, we set to passing around the bottles and mixing up our drinks…

DP_HW_MCC_2014 (7 of 15)

First up, the Manhattan, a combo of High West Double Rye (their baseline rye, and a good whiskey for mixing, not as rich in flavor as some others, though), Vya sweet vermouth (which I’d never had on its own; very sweet, heavy on dates and cinnamon), and Angostura bitters. Made fresh, the drink has lighter, crisper feel and flavor, with an emphasis on the whiskey and its spices, especially cinnamon. The barrel-aged version is a bit sweeter and thicker, with an emphasis on orange peel (H.W. adds a bit of Angostura orange to its blend) and grape — the grape is closer in its nature to the sweet, concentrated flavor of sherry, or dried dates. It’s not as lively or spicy, but rounded out, mellow.

DP_HW_MCC_2014 (9 of 15)

As David explained, most of these differences are the result of the interaction between the booze and the barrel during the aging process, the oak contributing structure and body to the liquid mixture, not to mention flavors of caramel, additional glucose, vanillin, and tannins (which give a velvety mouthfeel). The charred barrel also removes off-flavors and smooths out any harsh, oddball contrasts. Basically, aging concentrates and further blends the components’ flavors while sweetening and restructuring the drink. Better? Worse? All depends on your mood and personal taste.

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That last bit about smoothing out clashing flavors is really where barrel-aging can help out a cocktail, especially one where you have a bunch of bold ingredients competing with one another for dominance. After spending a few months in a barrel together, they learn how to get along with one another. The mollifying effect provided by barrel-aging is a fantastic way to introduce the harsher flavors in the cocktail world, like Campari and its bitter cousins, to the novice drinker. Perhaps for this reason, Negronis are one of the most popular candidates for aging — I’ve spotted aged versions on bar menus for a number of years — and its understandable that High West would pick a Negroni variation, the Boulevardier, for bottling. Made with American Prairie Bourbon (a somewhat youngish-tasting bourbon, with a nice dose of oak, vanilla, and dark cherries), Vya, and Gran Classico, a Swiss cousin to Campari that emphasizes herbs and spice rather than bitterness and citrus.

DP_HW_MCC_2014 (8 of 15)

While our freshly-mixed Boulevardiers were good, they lacked the sweet, rich boldness of one made with, say, a deeper, rye-heavy bourbon, Carpano, and Campari — so, bit thin and edgy with spice. The barrel-aged version shone in comparison, its higher sugar content rounding out and thickening up the cocktail and allowing flavors of citrus peel and bass notes of spices to come through.

A lively (read: tipsy) Q&A session followed, and I did pick up a few other tips for all of us cocktailians:

  1. When “nosing” or smelling spirits before tasting them, inhale through your nose, but leave your mouth open while doing so. You’ll get less of a blast of alcohol in your sinuses and more of the flavor of the spirit.
  2. To preserve optimum flavor in your spirits, David recommends finishing the bottle within 1.5 years — a shorter time is even better, especially if the bottle is less than half full. The more oxygen is allowed in the bottle, the faster the spirit will lose its original flavor and develop funky off-flavors, the result of alcohol breaking down into aldehydes.
  3. The High West team hasn’t had much luck aging cocktails in those small, DIY aging kit barrels that have been popping up recently. Yes, it takes less time due to the decreased size, but the cocktail tends to pick up more thin, oaky flavors and less sugar and char. You’ll just have to make up a huge batch of that barrel-aged Negroni you’ve been wanting to try.

DP_HW_MCC_2014 (2 of 15)

All in all, a great tasting session, and a great chance to learn some of the chemistry that occurs when a cocktail is barrel-aged. Those of us who stuck around afterward got a chance to talk with David and (of course) sample a few things that High West has in the works. I won’t say much, except that one involves aging in syrah casks (for those of you who’ve had Scotch finished in sherry casks, it’s a similar effect) and the other involves some lively, “young” whiskey from the old Seagram’s distillery. Keep your eyes open!

Photos & text by IJL.

Byrrh Rides Again: The Chevalier

•March 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I love apéritif wines. Byrrh, Lillet, Dubonnet, Cocchi, you name ‘em, I’ll drink ‘em. These complex, Continental concoctions are wonderful on their own — or with a wedge of citrus and some soda, a universal truth of drinking — but sipping a tall, cold glass of quinine-tinged wine on a lazy afternoon sometimes feels just a little too…simple. And when evening rolls around and the pre-dinner snacks pop their heads in the door for a visit, well, by then you’re feeling the need for something more complex and bracing to liven things up before the final meal of the day. Plus, that bottle of apéritif you opened that afternoon has entered the next phase of its life cycle — refrigeration — and you’ve got about two weeks before it starts going funky. The solution is relatively simple: mix that aperitif in a cocktail.

Still, there remains a tendency to default to the old standards — the Corpse Reviver (a lot of work) or the Tip Top for Lillet, the Dubonnet Cocktail, the Phoebe Snow, Byrrh Cocktails, or maybe modified Martinis. All wonderful, but if you’re making that one drink for a week or two, trying to use up that apéritif wine, things can get a bit dull.

My solution? Start experimenting. All apéritif wines seem to have a limited number of established cocktails, and I see too few of them put to use behind the bar, so why not try and come up with something new? Here’s one that I first whipped up a couple weeks ago; the initial results were pleasing enough to warrant further testing and refinement…

Chevalier (1 of 5)


  • 1-1/2 ounces Rye Whiskey*
  • 3/4 ounce Byrrh
  • 1/4 ounce Crème Yvette
  • 1 dash Bittercube Bolivar Bitters**

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry, if you like.

*High West Double Rye, 13th Colony Southern Rye, Russell’s Reserve 6-year, or Bulleit suggested

**Difficult to find a substitute; Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters are probably closest, or perhaps Boker’s.

As with most cocktails, experimentation starts with substitution: swapping out one ingredient for a similar one that you’re bent on incorporating into a drink. In the case of aperitifs, I like to use Jamie Boudreau’s “Golden Ratio” — 1-1/2 ounces of spirit, 3/4 ounce of fortified wine, 1/4 ounce of sweetener or liqueur, and — perhaps — a dash or two of bitters. The formula results in something that’s more complex than your standard Manhattan/Martini formula (which usually omits a sweetener) and gives you a trio of ingredients whose flavors can play off one another.

Chevalier (4 of 5)

The Chevalier is a bit like a French Manhattan (my original name for it was the “Frenchman in New York”) — instead of hearty doses of wood, herbs, and spice, however, there is a round bouquet of fruit and smokey grain, with a bit of quinine and sharp spice to bring back a bit of the edge, followed by a subtle, floral finish. Let’s break it down by ingredient:

Rye Whiskey: This was the most difficult component to nail down — not the category itself, but the bottle. Some ryes I tested were too subtle or too mellow (Templeton, Sazerac), too strong (Rittenhouse), or too unique and uncooperative (Whistlepig, Catoctin Creek). In short, you want something with that distinctive rye spiciness, with a fair amount of wood and a middle-of-the-road approach to flavor that compliments the sometimes-subtle Byrrh and Yvette. High West Double Rye surprised me, in this respect — it’s not normally one of my favorites in spirit-forward drinks, but it’s somewhat brash, oaky, and young, and works very well here. It will certainly be easier to find across the country than 13th Colony Southern Rye, my other prime choice, whose distribution is largely limited to the South — it’s a lovely, deep hue with a deep, woodsy flavor, heavy on cinnamon.
Byrrh: I would like to see this in more cocktails. I suspect its disuse is due to its somewhat un-American flavor profile, which includes a sizable, but not overwhelming, dose of quinine and funky flavors of aged fruit. As I discussed in the intro, Byrrh was the primary motivation behind creating the Chevalier — I figured it would combine well with the fruity, grassy notes typical of rye whiskey. If Byrrh lacks one thing, it’s edge, or “cut,” as I call it — the whiskey and bitters restore some of that. Byrrh can be tricky to find — if you must, substitute the sweeter, less complex Dubonnet Rouge.
Crème Yvette: Another under-utilized ingredient with few established recipes, which is why I throw it into many of my experiments. The modern incarnation is anything but a substitute for Crème de Violette — it’s not nearly as floral (or “soapy”), it’s color is closer to fuchsia, and the flavor includes a fair dose of berries, citrus, and vanilla along with the violets. Sure, mix it into your Blue Moon or Aviation, but the result will be completely unlike the violette version. Again, in the Chevalier, it’s all about bringing the fruit to the forefront.
Bolivar Bitters: I tried out several aromatic bitters here, but they were all too potent, too heavy on angostura bark and spice, and they tended to take over the drink. Byrrh and Yvette are rather subtle, and I wasn’t going full-bore with a bottle of Rittenhouse Rye, so milder bitters were needed to give a bit of edge back to the cocktail and pull out some of the spice. Bolivar Bitters — by Bittercube, out of Milwaukee — fit the bill: the cassia fits with the rye, the dried fruit works wells with the rye and Byrrh, and the chamomile meshes nicely with the Yvette. Oh, I also tried out Lavender (too floral), New England Bitters (too tart), and cinnamon tincture (too simple).

Chevalier (3 of 5)

So, there you have it: a Frenchified Manhattan variation that helps you take care of that bottle of Byrrh and puts your prized, yet pricey, bottle of Crème Yvette to use. Now, what would happen if I subbed some brandy or a nice, viscous rum? I don’t know…hmm, let’s see…

Photos & Text by Ian J. Lauer

PS: There already exists a drink named the Chevalier, which is basically a Sidecar with bitters…perhaps mine would be a Chevalier No. 2, but the two are completely unrelated. It’s too good a name to pass up, and who orders the Chevalier nowadays, anyway?

Chevalier (5 of 5)

PPS: Chevalier is basically French for “knight,” similar to cavalier, though with a more chivalrous and less roguish English connotation. It is rather cheekily used in the opening chapter of Rex Stout’s Champagne for One, one of many Nero Wolfe murder mysteries, all of which are set in New York…

“…I suppose you know about the dinner party she gives every year on the birthday date of my Uncle Albert, now resting in peace perhaps?”

“Sure. Who doesn’t?”

“Well that’s it. Today. Seven o’clock. And I’m to be one of the chevaliers, and listen to me, and I’ve got some fever. I can’t go. She’ll be sore as the devil if she has to scout around for a fill-in, and when I phone her I want to tell her she won’t have to, that I’ve already got one. Mr. Archie Goodwin. You’re a better chevalier than me any day…”

MxMo LXXXII: Monsieur Lauer at the Lapin Agile

•February 17, 2014 • 2 Comments


As you might well guess, the blog isn’t the only repository for my cocktail knowledge and experiments. Since the summer of 2010, I’ve kept a cocktail journal, of sorts: it started as a collection of recipes scribbled haphazardly into a Moleskine notebook, but has since evolved into a chronological account of the boozy side of my life. Every drink I have, every liquor I sip, every experiment I conduct, and every bar I visit is entered under its respective date. At least, as far as is possible — one’s memory is apt to be a little hazy after a few cocktails, and crowded bars aren’t exactly conducive to note-taking — there have been quite a few entries made a day or more after the actual imbibing.

LapinAgile (1 of 2)

Still, what has emerged is a surprisingly thorough body of knowledge, one that I delve back into every now and then for inspiration — to revisit old flavors and their associated memories. So, when I was craving something bright and refreshing to take my mind off the snow falling on Queens and to use up the oranges and lemons languishing in the fridge, I reached for the ol’ notebook. I was also looking for something to fit our latest Mixology Monday theme, Sours, which is being hosted by Andrea over at Ginhound. Andrea has stated the theme as such:

“Some of the most iconic cocktails are Sours…A perfectly balanced sour is a work of art. What has happened to the Margarita shows exactly what is at stake when mixes replace bartender skill.

For this month’s MxMo I suggest that we test the sour to the limit: Are there citrus besides lemon, lime and grapefruit that works in a Sour? Is citrus the only possible souring ingredient? Could vinegar or other tart fruits or vegetables be used? Let’s also include the Daisies and the Fizzes – that widens the playing field with eggs and whatever makes you fizz to play with.”

The following drink evolved over the span of a week back in August of 2012, when I was mixing up entries for the St. Germain 5th Annual Can-Can Cocktail Classic, and nicely fits the bill…

LapinAgile (1 of 1)

Lapin Agile

  • 1-1/2 ounces Boulard Calvados (Pays d’Auge VSOP)
  • 3/4 – 1 ounce (to taste) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Juice
  • 1 dash Bittercube Lemon Tree Bitters
  • 1 dash Bittercube Orange Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.

The Lapin Agile is based directly on the Applejack Rabbit, a little-known classic from David Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that I first read about ages ago in the Cocktail Chronicles. While the Rabbit switches out simple syrup for maple syrup, and is excellent, I was searching for a use for St. Germain, and felt that its lovely floral flavor would work well with apples and citrus. Wouldn’t you know it, a simple swap in Embury’s drink didn’t turn out half bad. Still, the light flavor of the St. Germain and the acidity of the citrus dominated — it needed the zingy depth of citrus oils, or something similar, to act as a counterbalance, so in went the orange and lemon bitters (though an orange peel in the drink is a nice addition). The final task was settling on an apple brandy to use: I ultimately went with calvados (Boulard VSOP — nice and fruity), which contributed a uniqueness and complexity of its own that the stalwart-but-straightforward Laird’s was lacking. That’s not to say you can’t use Laird’s: their Bonded brandy works well here, but is very brusque, while the 7-1/2 year results in a sweeter, mellower version of the drink; I have a feeling the 12-year would work perfectly (though I’ve yet to acquire a bottle). The calvados is French, anyway — more in keeping with the St. G. contest (and their overly-French marketing identity), plus it reinforces the drink’s name.

Ah, the name! It translates to, “The Nimble Rabbit” — a perfect name for a bar, don’t you think? Steve Martin apparently thought as much — it’s the setting of his nifty little play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which details a fictional encounter between Picasso and Einstein in Paris, 1904 — a meeting of the artistic and scientific minds on the verge of breakthroughs that shaped the 20th Century. The two sidle up to the bar to schmooze and discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything, and the geniuses aren’t the only philosophical contributors: the bartender and his regulars weigh in, as does a mysterious time traveler with a pompadour haircut. I happened to see the play performed by DramaTech a number of years ago, and was hooked. I figured that adaptation of the name would be a nice little tribute to Mr. Martin’s play — and his fictional bar needed a house cocktail, anyway.

LapinAgile (2 of 2)

For further variations — some of which I’ve tested — I suggest swapping out the apple brandy for cognac, or switching to a batch of bitters that are similar to apple pie spices — think Jerry Thomas’s Own Decanter or Abbott’s, or a nice cinnamon tincture. Orgeat could make a nice sweetener, and Meyer lemons would be fun to play with…but that’s another post.


Photos by IJL.

PS: The Lapin Agile didn’t win any mention in the contest, though the Jacques-in-the-Green netted me a runner-up position and a St. Germain bicycle. Crazy, right?

PPS: While we’re on the topic of sours and citrus, I’ve been (not-very-methodically) searching for the Mythical White Grapefruit for the longest time — spotting them only once at a Whole Foods in Atlanta, sometime in early spring, I think. Any of you cocktailian bloggers know where and when to find them in NYC? The truly authentic Zombie awaits…

A Southerner Goes North

•January 25, 2014 • 2 Comments

As you may have noticed, dear reader, this blog has been idle since July of 2013. The reason for this, of course, is that I have relocated from the quiescent suburbs of Atlanta to bustling metropolis of New York City. As a result, my mixological endeavors have been placed on life’s back burner for six months. I’m sure that more than a few of you know what a task it is to relocate your place of existence, and how your priorities can change as a result.

All this is not to say that there haven’t been some remarkable developments in my cocktailian life — there were the first — and second, and third — visits to the Pegu Club, tastes of Amer Picon and authentic aged Peach Brandy, and the joys of Astor Wine & Spirits, to name a few — but there are still many stones left unturned. After all, this is New York — the Metropolis, the City That Never Sleeps, the Cocktail Capital of the United States, if not the World (sorry, London). It is the old haunt of Jerry Thomas, the probable birthplace of the Dry Martini, and the certain birthplace of the Manhattan. It is the headquarters of the “revolution” that has permanently transformed our understanding of the Cocktail as we know it — heady stuff for an amateur suburbanite bartender such as myself.

Along with the new experiences, however, comes a feeling that is familiar to every traveler, every expat, and every stranger in a strange land: the longing for a taste of home.

Enter “The Bitter Southerner.”

Based in Atlanta, The Bitter Southerner is a newsletter that, in the words of its writers, “seeks to explore…the duality of the Southern thing.” The musings and reports that issue forth from the site are, to me, a friendly reminder of home — it music, its politics, its history, its culture, its food…and its drinks.

You see, the folks at B.S. have asked their favorite Southern bartenders to mix up a series of simply named, simply numbered cocktails that are emblematic of our region’s attitude toward drinking — one of proud traditions infused with strong regional flavor and hospitality, augmented with a dash of innovation and collaboration. Its an attitude that stands in contrast to New York’s competitive, cosmopolitan bar scene, with its infinite supply of infinite variety. Sure, you can grab a good drink and decent conversation at any corner bar up here, and quality cocktail programs abound, but the corner bar and urban speakeasy are not Southern concepts — they’re all about urban drinking, which, by nature, is quick, potent, universally practiced and available, and often done standing up. It ain’t back-porch sippin’.

In response to these conditions, this Southerner, in search of some relief and respite, will occasionally turn to a new-but-comfortingly-familiar cocktail, such as the following…

BitterSouthernerNo1 (1 of 6)

Bitter Southerner No. 1

  • 2 ounces Booker’s Bourbon
  • 3/4 ounce Sorghum Mix*
  • 1/2 [or 1/4, to taste] ounce Fernet-Branca
  • 2 dashes Fee Bros. Barrel-Aged Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange twist.

Created by Jerry Slater, of H. Harper Station, Atlanta, for “The Bitter Southerner”

* Sorghum Mix: Equal parts sorghum syrup and water, heated and stirred until evenly dissolved.

The formula is strictly traditional: Spirit + Sugar + Bitters + Water. (The best cocktails, in my opinion, are the simplest.) The fact that bourbon forms the backbone of this Southern drink needs no explanation. Here, Booker’s packs sublime, barrel-proof wallop while remaining smoothly, paradoxically sippable –a wonderful example of the South’s defining spirit. The heady flavor hits with the power of an artillery barrage — it’s the Lemon Hart 151 of the bourbon world.

BitterSouthernerNo1 (6 of 6)

The heavy blow of the bourbon is softened by a sweet cushion of sorghum syrup. A crop originally imported from Africa, sorghum was once a major staple that has now been relegated to roadside country markets, farm-to-table eateries, and the memories of a diminishing population of native Southerners. In fact, I bet most Atlantans have never even tasted it — I certainly hadn’t until about half a year ago, and my first taste only came after a fairly substantial hunt around the Georgia Piedmont (internet and mail order be damned).

When we say sorghum, we typically mean sorghum syrup, a thick substance that is like molasses, cane syrup, and maple syrup all rolled into one — yet it is completely different from any of its cousins. Sorghum is earthy, grassy, and thick, redolent of the land from which its harvested. To use sorghum in cocktails, treat it as you would treat honey and create a sorghum mix — one part sorghum syrup and one part water, heated until evenly dissolved and blended (also very nice in a cup of coffee). You won’t find it on any Yankee back bars, I can guarantee that (your turn, New Yorkers — here’s where you prove me wrong).

BitterSouthernerNo1 (3 of 6)

Paired with the strong and sweet is, of course, the bitter. Here, Fernet-Branca contributes a heady dose of mint and saffron — flavors that are pulled to the forefront by the earthy qualities of the sorghum. The barrel-aged bitters — long a favorite of mine — bind all the ingredients together with an undertone of woody, blackened spice, while the orange twist provides just the right amount of citrusy zip to all that booze and sugar.

In short, the Bitter Southerner No. 1 is a compact wallop of a drink — like a mint julep (trust me) squeezed into bullet form, and a refreshing take on the basic cocktail formula. It’s a taste of home — a true Atlanta original that warms the bones chilled by New York City winters and one that leaves this Southerner feeling anything but Bitter.

Cheers, y’all.

NYC (29 of 43)

Photos by IJL.

MxMo LXXV: Flip Flop — The Sheik

•July 22, 2013 • 3 Comments


How are new cocktails created? Well, one fairly simple way is to take an existing drink and swap some or all of the ingredients for new ones. It’s best to exchange one ingredient for another of the same “type,” however — you can swap one base spirit for another, one liqueur for another, one citrus for another, etc. Following this method, a Negroni — itself a variation of the Americano — can become a Boulevardier, or a White Negroni, or an Agavoni. A Manhattan can become a Rob Roy, a Red Hook, or a Little Italy. It’s an extremely versatile formula of creation.

Given all that, Frederic — at Cocktail Virgin — has asked us to tap into this creative process and declared the next Mixology Monday theme to be Flip Flop, wherein we…

Find a recipe, either new or old, and switch around at least two of the ingredients to sister or cousin ingredients but holding the proportions and some of the ingredients the same. The new recipe should be recognizable as a morph of the old one when viewed side by side.

[Check out the Roundup Post to see everyone's MxMo entry]

Coincidentally, I had shaken up a new drink a month or so ago that was a variation on the Blood & Sand. I was unsure of what to name it at the time, and the recipe was shelved for further tasting. Since it fits our MxMo theme so nicely, I figured I’d give it another try, balance it out, and name it after another one of Rudolph Valentino’s movies. Presenting…

TheSheik (1 of 2)

The Sheik

  • 3/4 ounce Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch
  • 3/4 ounce Martini Bianco Vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Kronan Swedish Punsch
  • 3/4 ounce Orange Juice

Shake with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupe.

An original drink, adapted from the Blood & Sand.

For The Sheik, I’ve switched out the sweet vermouth for white / bianco — Martini’s is distinctly sweet and savory, with notes of oregano, vanilla, and citrus — and the Cherry Heering for another Scandinavian liqueur, Swedish Punsch. The resulting cocktail is highly complex and exceedingly easy to drink, with a decidedly old-school, Punch-like quality about it. I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of scotch and punsch, which is something I’ll have to play around with more often — the funky hogo of the arrack is perfect against the fruity malt of the whisky. The orange here is nice and laid back, its citrus qualities emphasized by the punsch and vermouth; lime could work well, but lemon would be a bit too sour and zippy, I think.

Amazing how a couple simple swaps can generate and entirely new blend of flavors. Can’t wait to see what the rest of the MxMo crew mixes up!


TheSheik (2 of 2)

Photos by IJL

A Short Flight to Paper Plane

•June 23, 2013 • 3 Comments

This past weekend, friend Jack and I made our way to downtown Decatur to seek out one of Atlanta’s newest cocktail-centric bars, Paper Plane. The cozy, retro-infused spot is the latest project by local bar wizard Paul Calvert (of Pura Vida and Sound Table fame).  As the AJC has said, it’s not a speakeasy — it just happens to have a couple discreet entrances tucked behind the newly-opened Decatur branch of Victory Sandwich Bar. And unlike faux-speakeasies, it’s clearly marked…

PaperPlane (8 of 8)

Making your way down the alley that ties into shop-lined Church Street, you’ll pass guests who line the path at tables of twos or fours and who fill in the spaces between the ferns and flowers of the rear patio. A constant stream of thirsty patrons spill through the large, open doorway and into the bar, finding their seats in the plush, black, leather-lined booths and stools of the Midcentury-modernesque interior (dig the globe lights, patterned veneer, and retro stereo receiver).

PaperPlane (10 of 8)

The drinks? Well, as a newly-made acquaintance from that night put it: “I walked in, saw that everyone at the bar was holding a cocktail and not a beer, and said, ‘Hey, this looks like a cool place.'”

PaperPlane (3 of 8)

Paper Plane’s back-bar is carefully stocked, and the drinks veer (slightly) away from the classic standards and into the Microdistilled Spirit + European Aperitif + Fruit + Bitters motif that is now commonplace in the city (I’m lookin’ at you, Holeman & Finch). Not that I’m complaining, mind you: the combinations are always unique ( I certainly wouldn’t have thought to try most of them), and they often make use of newer spirits that I’ve yet to taste or haven’t stocked at home. Kelly, our bartender, mentioned that while Calvert heads the bar, each bartender is encouraged to experiment and develop a drink or two for the ever-changing menu. The cocktails are regularly moved in and out of rotation, which keeps the choices fresh and maintains a certain level of creativity behind the stick. Here’s a sampling of what we had that night…

PaperPlane (5 of 8)

Foreign Affairs

  • Alma Reposado Tequila
  • Rare Wine Co. “New York” Madeira
  • Amaro Montenegro
  • Cherry Heering

Stirred, served up in a chilled rocks glass.

Very nice! Wine-like and fruity, with a strong agave backbone and a good dose of fig and jam flavors. There’s a bit of warm spice and wood floating around in here, too — probably the combination of amaro and reposado. The drink is not especially sweet, and reminds me of a chilled mulled wine, but without the sharper, wintry spices. A good after-dinner drink, maybe paired with roast meat.

PaperPlane (4 of 8)

Screen Door

  • St. George Terroir Gin
  • Aperol
  • Peach
  • Lemon
  • Fennel
  • Honey
  • Vino Verde

Shaken, poured over ice in a Collins glass, lemon wedge garnish.

Jack’s first drink for the evening wasn’t as fruity or as sweet as he expected — it, too, came out rather wine-like in body and texture (heck, wine’s an ingredient). The light fruit flavors are balanced with tonic-like bitterness and cut through with herbs and citrus. Rather nice.

The acquaintance quoted above, by the way, was James, a caterer-turned-farmer-and-poultry/hog-purveyor from Asheville, North Carolina. After swapping tales of travel, molecular gastronomy, farming, cocktails, and the crazy boom in the Atlanta food scene — from which he’d been away for some time — James requested the classically fantastic Hanky Panky. No, not on the menu, but bartender Kelly whipped one up, no problem: she went with Beefeater, Carpano Antica (or was it Cocchi?), and a good dose of Fernet. James was kind enough to let me sample the result — I would’ve upped the vermouth and lessened the Fernet, but you can never really go wrong with a Hanky Panky. Every bartender prepares a classic cocktail to their own taste, so while it may not be an new, innovative combination of spirits, the imbiber gets to sample a little bit of that bartender’s personality (along with their drink, of course).

Seeking a nightcap after a cheese platter (just a snack; dinner was earlier, at Yeah! Burger), I had a glass of Amaro Montenegro, while Jack sought further refreshment with the…

No Vacancy

  • Caña Brava Rum
  • Lime
  • Celery
  • Domain de Canton Ginger Liqueur
  • Sparkling White Wine

Shaken, served up in a cocktail glass, and topped with the bubbly.

Probably our favorite drink of the night: this was the zippy pick-me-up that Jack had been looking for. The No Vacancy sports a perfect amount of fizz and citrus combined with an herbal woodiness provided by the celery (I’m guessing it was muddled — or maybe a syrup?). A perfect drink for a warm summer evening in a comfy, retro cocktail bar.

After bidding adieu to James and Kelly, we headed back out on to the street, past the always-busy Leon’s and toward the town parking deck. With a reportedly-excellent small plates menu and a dozen drinks left to sample, I’ll certainly book a  return flight to Paper Plane. See you there!

PaperPlane (9 of 8)

Photos by IJL

(Apologies for the photo quality, by the way — the Nikon was at home, resting, and the iPhone had to step in.)


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