A Taste of Richland Rum

•May 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

A while ago, I was opining about the state of locally-produced liquor in Georgia — how it would be nice to see more of it, that the Atlanta bar scene would begin demanding it, etc., etc. Apparently we were on the verge of a microdistillery boom here in the Peach State…who knew? Georgia can now boast five active distilleries: 13th Colony, Dawsonville Moonshine, Georgia Distilling Co., Ivy Mountain, and Richland Distilling Co. The last of those, Richland, is producing the unique, land-locked Richland Rum.

I know, right? Rum? In Georgia? Yes, and it’s one of the tastiest rums out there…

RichlandRum (2 of 3)

Richland Rum

Tasting Notes –

  • Color: Ranges from honeyed gold to a slightly coppery topaz.
  • Nose: Vanilla, Oak, Butterscotch Candy, Raw Sugar, Yeast, and Butter
  • Taste: Vegetal raw sugar, with grassy vanilla notes in the mid-palate. A good dose of hogo. Very smooth when swallowing, with a lingering finish and a long-lasting sensation of warmth in the back of the throat. Vegetal honey aftertaste.
  • Overall: A wonderful rum, aromatic, with a good balance between mellowness and grassiness. It’s very much like rhum agricole with a dose of musty hogo (the official term for “funkiness” in rum). Much more refined than, say, Cockspur or Pusser’s — it’s not nearly as sweet, rough, or vaporous. Also, it has much more body and viscosity than similar microdistilled rums — like Cane & Abe from the Old Sugar Distillery in Madision, WI — that tend to be woody and thin. Think Scarlet Ibis meets Barbancourt 8.

Yes, I like it. I’ll say Four out of Five stars.

The distillery was started up by Erik Vonk, a lifelong lover of rum and former head of Randstad North America. After moving to south Georgia, Vonk teamed up with Jay McCain, a farmer from Columbus, and the two began fermenting Georgia-grown sugarcane and apprenticing with master distillers to learn the craft of spirit production. The end result of all their efforts is the 14-month-old Richland Rum, which differs from other rums in its use of fermented sugar cane syrup  as a base for distillation. Most rums are made from molasses, a byproduct of the production of refined sugar.

The exception, however, is rhum agricole, which — like its cousin cachaça — is made from pressed sugar cane juice. As a result of this process, most rhums — such as Barbancourt, Neisson, and Clément – have a “vegetal” or grassy, plant-like accent in their flavor profiles. Being made from cane syrup, Richland Rum shares that characteristic, and has a decent dose of earthy, musty funkiness that, for rums, is called “hogo.”

RichlandRum (1 of 3)

Erik Vonk’s rum basically popped out of nowhere and on to the market, taking us Georgians by surprise. Judging by its availability around Atlanta, however, the rum seems like it’s being enjoyed in the city’s booming cocktail culture. Though it carries a semi-hefty price tag ($50), it’s worth seeking out if you happen to be in Georgia — I think it’s the finest of our homegrown spirits yet produced (13th Colony’s Southern Rye is a close second). For some more info, be sure to take a look at Bob Townsend’s piece in the AJC, and to watch the accompanying video in which Vonk explains the process behind the rum. And if you’re ambitious, journey down to Richland and take a tour of the distillery.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to mixing Richland in a few cocktails — it makes a killer Daiquiri, it’s quite good in the refreshingly simple Terminus cocktail (from Graft Restaurant in Grayson), and I bet it’d work wonders in a Mai Tai.

Cheers!

RichlandRum (3 of 3)

Photos by IJL.

MxMo LXXII: Drink Your Vegetables — Ciao, Provence!

•April 19, 2013 • 2 Comments

mxmologo

Vegetables? It’s too early for vegetables! At least, it’s too early for veggies from our garden — we’ll be waiting two months, at least, for fresh, homegrown tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Rowen, of the Fogged In Lounge, however, has asked us drink bloggers to mix up vegetable-inclusive cocktails for the latest Mixology Monday.

[Update, 24 April 2013: Be sure to check out the round-up post to see everybody's vegetable drinks!]

Seeing as we rarely garden in the Spring, the local farmers markets haven’t really started up yet, and store-bought veggies always seem lackluster, I cracked open a jar of preserves. Our chopped tomatoes from last summer made for a lovely batch of tomato syrup, which I first used in the Tombasi cocktail (it, too, fits the vegetable theme). I never like having a single-use ingredient, and the syrup hasn’t gotten much attention since then, so I figured it was time to expand the tomato cocktail repertoire. Here’s the result…

CiaoProvence

Ciao, Provence!

  • 1-1/2 ounces Catoctin Creek Gin
  • 3/4 ounce Tomato Syrup*
  • 3/4 ounce Vermouth de Provence*
  • 1/3 ounce Cynar
  • 1/2 ounce Soda Water, reserved

Shake the gin, syrup, vermouth, and Cynar with ice. Add the soda to a chilled coupe or cocktail glass, then strain the shaken mixture into the soda water.

Alternatively, serve in a rocks glass over a large ice cube, with a sprig of basil, oregano, thyme, or rosemary as a garnish.

* See recipes, below.

The C.P. was designed to mimic the flavors of one of our favorite summertime dishes — the Eggplant & Zucchini Gratin from Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home. The dish is essentially ratatouille in gratin form: a flavorful blend of meaty, acidic vegetables topped with a toasty crust that includes herbes de provence and fresh Parmesan-Reggiano. When made with tomatoes, eggplant, and squash picked from our garden, the gratin is phenomenally good.

While there is no cheese, zucchini, or eggplant in the drink, it manages to recall the gratin’s flavor profile remarkably well. The tomato syrup itself, being made with preserved tomatoes, rather than fresh ones, is more savory than usual, emphasizing the vinegar and taking on a tomato-soup-like quality. The Cynar stands in for the eggplants of the gratin, contributing a caramelized, herbal meatiness and a slight bitterness to the drink. And since the Cynar contains artichokes (though you can’t really taste them), it counts as a vegetable component for our MxMo roundup. The grain-heavy flavor of the Catoctin Creek Gin that works so well in the Tombasi is equally effective as a binder or middle-man in the Ciao, Provence.

TomatoSyrup

A significant amount of the drink’s flavor — and the signature accent of the gratin — comes from herbes de provence, a blend of dried herbs that includes savory, fennel, basil, thyme, oregano, and lavender. Though the blend itself, and its use of lavender, are modern, somewhat Americanized developments, the component herbs have been used in the south of France for years, and its flavors work remarkably well in French cooking. We often use it to jazz up our tomatoes, chicken, and green beans.

A week or two ago, I made up a bottle of Vermouth de Provence, basically Noilly Prat dry vermouth that has been infused with its namesake mix of herbs. The recipe comes from Speakeasy, by Employees Only in New York, and is a critical component in their a Frenchified gin Martini, the Provençal, which is  rather dry, heavy on lavender, and accented by orange — a nice apéritif. Not wanting the vermouth to go to waste — no single-use ingredients, remember? — I included it in the Ciao, Provence, where its dryness and powerful flavor help round out the drink.

[Side note: has anyone else tried out the Provençal? My lavender-infused is Plymouth is decidedly not lavender in color -- perhaps my dried lavender was lacking oomph.]

If the Ciao, Provence comes out a bit too concentrated for your taste — it’s a little on the sweet side when it warms up — simply serve it on ice, perhaps adding a bit more soda to balance out the sugar. The C.P. is certainly a savory drink: think of it as a French-Italian Bloody Mary in miniature. Finally, a lemon twist or fresh sprig of a component  herb would not be out of place as a garnish, especially in the lengthened version.

Cheers, and happy mixing!

Tomato Syrup

  • 5 ripe Medium Tomatoes
  • 1 cup of Cane Sugar [white sugar, turbinado, or demerara will work perfectly fine]
  • 2 tablespoons of Water
  • 1/2 cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 ounce fresh-squeezed and strained Lemon Juice

Liquefy the tomatoes in a blender, then strain through a chinoise or fine mesh strainer and set aside. You’ll have 1 to 1-1/2 cups of fine puree.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, water, and vinegar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Let it sit until it begins to brown and caramelize, bubbling vigorously. Allow the mixture to reduce by a third to a half, then turn off the heat. What you’ve got now is basically a “gastrique.”
Once the vinegar-sugar mixture is somewhat cool, add the lemon juice and tomato puree. Stir to combine. If the mixture separates a little, reheat on low while stirring.
Bottle and refrigerate; best used within one week.

Makes approximately 2 cups.

Adapted from Paul Calvert of Pura Vida via the AJC, July 19, 2012, “It’s Killer Tomato time again.”

Vermouth de Provence

  • 1 (750 mL) bottle of Noilly Prat Traditional Dry Vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons herbes de Provence

Toast the herbes de provence in a small sauce pan over medium heat until fragrant, about two minutes. Add 2 cups of the vermouth, bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Let stand until cool. Add the remaining vermouth and strain through a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Bottle and store at room temp; will keep indefinitely.

[I don't buy this for a second! Vermouth at room temp? Indefinitely? No way, not even when it's concentrated. I'm refrigerating it, and keeping it for no more than a month.]

Adapted from Speakeasy, by Employees Only in New York

VermouthdeProvence

Photos by IJL.

Spring on the Southside

•April 5, 2013 • 2 Comments

When I think Spring, I think gin cocktails. Gin sours, to be exact, though I never seem to drink a plain ol’ gin sour — it’s always a variation, like the Aviation, the Fitzgerald, or the Tom Collins…or that praise-worthy classic, the Southside.

Southside (1 of 4)

Southside Cocktail

  • 2 ounces Gin [Plymouth]
  • 3/4 ounce Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 ounce Simple Syrup [1.3 to 1]
  • 8-10 mint leaves [Spearmint]
  • 1/2 ounce soda water, reserved

Lightly muddle the mint leaves with the syrup, then add the gin and lemon juice. Shake with ice, add the soda water to the shaker, then fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Adapted from The PDT Cocktail Book and EO’s Speakeasy, among others.

Cool, concentrated, and herbaceous, the South Side is perfect on a Spring day, particularly when the weather has a hard time deciding whether it wants to be warm and sunny or rainy and chilly. The Plymouth makes for a velvety drink, meshing perfectly with the coolness of the spearmint, while the soda and lemon add acidity and liveliness that keep the syrup in check. The drink reminds me of a sweetened pinot grigio, at least in terms of body and acidity.

Modifying the Southside

Like any simple Sour, a lot of modifications are possible with the Southside. You could switch the brand of gin for a more subtle variation (a junipery London Dry or crisp Death’s Door? the funky Catoctin Creek? Peppery Junipero? Floral Aviation?), use flavored syrups, or maybe swap the lemon for lime (very common in this drink). The proportions are easily adjustable, as well. You can even get some champagne involved and make a Southside Royale.

Speaking of bubbles, you’ll often see the Southside referred to as the Southside Fizz. If that’s the case, the drink has simply been “lengthened” after shaking by pouring it into a tall glass filled with ice — or a Fizz glass with no ice — and topping it with a couple ounces of club soda. If you use champagne instead of soda, it’s an Imperial Southside Fizz.* While I like the Southside Fizz on hot summer days, I’ll take the more concentrated cocktail/up version in Spring. I borrowed the soda trick in the above recipe, by the way, from Employees Only in NYC: it evenly incorporates the soda into the drink without the violence of shaking and prevents the lackluster separation inherent in topping off.

Southside (4 of 4)

Then, of course, there’s the mint: there are lots of varieties out there, but I stick with spearmint. I think peppermint is too vegetal, more savory and grass-like, whereas spearmint is smooth and cool, blending well with sugar, citrus, and alcohol, and there’s enough herbal sharpness in the gin already. Plus, the mint is growing like crazy in our herb garden right now, so why not use it?

Southside (3 of 4)

Employees Only suggests using a julep strainer after shaking, so as not to “reduce the body and the ornamental presence of the shaken mint.” I disagree — I don’t feel like drinking shredded herbs, so I double-strain my Southside, which still leaves you with some ornamental flecks, but nothing that impairs sipping. Should you extend the drink into a Fizz, however, I would suggest garnishing with whole mint leaves, since some of the mint flavor will be lost when more soda is added.

Where did the Southside come from?

As for the Southside’s history, it looks to be a mess, though there are three commonly-given origins: 1) during Prohibition at Jack & Charlie’s (now the 21 Club), a speakeasy in New York City; 2) the Southside Sportsmen’s Club on Long Island, some time near the turn of the 20th Century; 3) a long-forgotten speakeasy somewhere on the South Side of Chicago, where it was created to mask the foul flavors of bathtub gin supplied by gun-toting gangsters. The gangster story is colorful, yet vague and untraceable, and the addition of mint to a gin sour seems too delicate a touch for the rough-and-tumble world of Prohibition-era Chicago. According to EO’s Speakeasy, the 21 Club has made the Southside its signature drink and has mixed them up for decades, so it may as well be theirs.

When checking the library, we can see that the first mention of a South Side Cocktail comes from McElhone’s 1927 Barflies and Cocktails, quickly followed by Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. Both books’ instructions suggest that the drink has origins as a Fizz, however, since both say to serve the drink in a tumbler and top it with soda. Checking the “Fizzes” section of the Savoy, we find the South Side Fizz. On a hunch, I checked Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks, and sure enough, there’s the South Side Fizz, so both Craddock and McElhone borrowed the drink from Ensslin, as they did with many others.

The key fact, however, is that Ensslin’s book was first published in 1916, predating both the 21 Club and the Chicago gangsters — so neither one of them is responsible for the South Side Fizz. Plus, the Fizz, as a class of drink, had its heyday in the Classic Age of the Cocktail (1885-1920), when the Southside Sportsmen’s Club was at its height. The leisurely Long Island crowd seems more likely to sip on a light, minty concoction after a trying tennis match or fishing trip, anyway, so I’m willing to credit the Southside Club with the Southside Fizz’s invention. When Fizzes declined in popularity and Prohibition set in, folks probably left out the soda and started calling it a Southside Cocktail, which I’m sure you could easily find at the 21 Club or any snazzy speakeasy in Chicago.

Regardless of all this, it’s a wonderful, refreshing drink, and relatively easy to make when you have a good supply of mint on hand. Cheers!

Southside (2 of 4)

Photos by IJL.

*Note: Most folks use “Imperial” to describe a Fizz made with champagne and “Royale” for a drink served “up” and topped with champagne. Why the difference? Well, when you add a whole egg to a Fizz, it becomes a “Royal” Fizz — you can see how confusion would result. Did you order a Royal Fizz or a Fizz Royale? Are you looking for an egg or champagne? Heck if the bartender knows.

Also, keep in mind that the Imperial Fizz is a drink in its own right, containing whiskey, rum, and lemon. A lot of bars — like PDT — use Moët & Chandon Imperial champagne and simply adopt the “Imperial” moniker to up the ante when naming their fizzes.  And finally, if you make a Gin Fizz with Champagne, it’s a Diamond Fizz — or would it be a French 75?

Cherry Blossoms!

•April 3, 2013 • 1 Comment

Spring has arrived in Georgia, bringing with it the usual crop of weather conditions: wild fluctuations in temperature — both morning-to-night and day-to-day — tornadoes, rain, and exclamations from coastal Georgians and Floridians that run along the lines of, “Snow? In March? What!? Help me!!” (This is the Piedmont — it happens every year. It could be worse.) Through it all, however, the cherry trees still bloom. Ours burst into flower this week (on the heels of those smelly, good-for-nothing Bradford Pears) and inspired a search that roused up the following little gem of a cocktail…

Cherry Blossom Mk 2 (1 of 3)

Cherry Blossom

  • 1-1/4 ounce Rye Whiskey [Sazerac]
  • 3/4 ounce Kirschwasser [Clear Creek]
  • 1/4 ounce Créme de Cacao [Marie Brizard White]
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with two griottine  [or Luxardo maraschino] cherries on a pick.

By Jamie Boudreau, Food + Wine Magazine, 2008.

The Cherry Blossom is an exquisite little drink: it smells of cherry brandy, tastes of maple-y whiskey, cherries, and wood,  and has a perfectly-balanced sweetness that is just kept in check by the alcohol and bitters. The cherry eau de vie is present on the nose and holds the middle ground, mingling very well with the spice of the rye, while the cacao emphasizes the chocolate notes of the whiskey on the finish. Plus, the Cherry Blossom is rather dainty in terms of volume — you’ll be able to use those antique cocktail glasses you’ve been stockpiling, and having two as an apéritif won’t put you under the patio table.

Structure-wise, the C.B. basically follows Jamie Boudreau’s classic “Golden Ratio” formula, though it swaps out a fortified wine for eau de vie. I thought the rye would overpower the remainder of the ingredients, but no — it’s perfect! Rye provides just the right amount of “cut,” as I call it: an alcoholic edge backed up by a beefy flavor profile. I also tried the Cherry Blossom with cognac [Camus V.S.O.P.] and ended up a tad disappointed — the two brandies dominate the drink, completely covering up the cacao and bitters and resulting in an overly sweet, one-dimensional cocktail. A mellower rye, like Sazerac or Russell’s Reserve, is what you’re after — Rittenhouse and High West would likely prove too powerful.

Cherry Blossom Mk 2 (3 of 3)

Kirschwasser, for those not in the know, is a clear brandy made from cherries. Kirsch does not “taste like cherries” in the way some cherry liqueurs do: instead, it hints of them…strongly, via a funky wallop of dry, spicy, aromatic flavor. Most eaux de vie and unaged brandies (like Pisco) contain this kind of taste — fruit intensified by fermentation and distillation — and it’s evident if you try a pisco or grappa next to a cognac or armagnac: same fruit, same flavor, but different ages and modifications. On its own, kirsch makes a nice apéritif or digestif. If you look for it, try Clear Creek, from Oregon, or Aqua Perfecta from California.

Anyway, if you’re going to mix up Boudreau’s Cherry Blossom, act fast: the peak bloom date will be here and gone before you know it, and Georgia will be well on its way toward summer.

Cherry Blossom Mk 2 (2 of 3)

Photos by IJL.

In Charleston? Need cocktails? Find The Gin Joint.

•March 6, 2013 • 1 Comment

Recently, I paid a visit to Charleston, which has established itself as a culinary Mecca in the South – James Beard Award-winning chefs, fresh seafood, classic southern dishes, and more than a few microbreweries dot the city’s foodscape. While the city frequently boasts more churches than bars — earning its “Holy City” moniker – it nonetheless has an excellent, if small, selection of bar and cocktail programs. The Bar at Husk, now housed in its own renovated space adjacent to the restaurant, is reportedly excellent — and I didn’t make it there. (Side note: I did lunch at Husk, and sampled their excellent Queen Street Punch — the full drink menu is always available at the restaurant. Also, peeking in the window, I noticed that they had a few bottles of Pappy Van Winkle on the back bar). McCrady’s, the two hundred year-old tavern in an alley in the old part of town, cannot be matched in terms of class, service, and quality — and I didn’t make it there, either.

So — no Husk, no McCrady’s — where did I end up? Well, the third of the trio of Charleston’s cocktail bars is The Gin Joint, and that’s where I spent my introductory night in the Holy City.

CharlestonFeb2013 (6 of 43)

Tucked away on a lower floor down a small walk off of East Bay Street, the bartenders at the Gin Joint are busily mixing up some of the best craft cocktails around. You can get everything you’d expect from a place with a speakeasy-esque name, from (Pre-) Prohibition classics (not on the menu, as usual, but they know ‘em all) to inspired new variations. The selection stacked along the back bar reaches to the ceiling — the bartenders frequently have to hop on top of the counters to pull down the top shelf stuff, which is some of the best booze around. An absinthe fountain lies stealthily in the corner of the big, round, corner bar, and bowls of punch sit cooling under the bartop, a refreshing glass ready to be served out at a moment’s notice. The atmosphere is casual, comfortable, and moodily lit by neo-Edison lights. Business was brisk and bustling on a Friday evening just after the 5 o’clock opening, but it’s not a noisy (or noisome) kind of place, except when twin shakers are being worked.

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Untitled_Panorama1

Playing host to our cocktailian whims that night was bartender James — he was the one leaping on countertops to get to the high-dollar bourbon and scotch. Speaking of scotch, a bottle of Laphroaig 10-year — used for rinsing glasses, mostly — was sitting out on the bartop the whole time, peatily perfuming the atmosphere surrounding the bar.

CharlestonFeb2013 James

Anyway – to the drinks!

I needed something refreshing and light after hiking around South of Broad that afternoon, and the Hunter’s Punch fit the bill: it’s a blend of scotch, arrack, lemon, oleo-saccharum, green chartreuse, and green tea that has a nice, crisp, acidic edge to it and some funky herbal tastes playing around in the background. Oh, and it’s fizzy — there must be some champagne or soda lurking in there. As I mentioned before, the Gin Joint has three or four punches mixed up any given day, lovingly ladled out for $6-8 a glass (not a bad deal, as far as cocktails go).

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For his first round, my friend Neil asked James for something similar to a Manhattan, but not — he was rewarded with a drink that was making the rounds a couple of years ago, the Black Manhattan, a variation that replaces the sweet vermouth with Averna, a bittersweet Italian amaro. Dark, savory, and always delicious.

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On their menu, the gin joint has a -roll-your-own sort of section, wherein you can pick any of two categories — spicy, vegetal, herbal, strong, refreshing, etc. — and leave the rest to the bartenders. I love to see this on a cocktail menu: it’s a great way for people to experiment or wind up with exactly what they want if nothing on the regular list catches their eye. Plus, it gets bartenders to show off their skills, starts some fun conversations, and get to know their customers better.

Making use of this system at my suggestion, Neil went with Spicy and Refreshing, with a hint of vegetal. End result? Another modern classic — the Mezcal Mule, Audrey Saunders’s take on the Moscow Mule. Made with mezcal, lime, housemade ginger beer, and a hint of habanero sauce, the Mule is citrusy and refreshing, but has a hot, gingery kick that catches you as you swallow.

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Following along with the Choose Your Category system myself, I asked James for something tart, along the lines of a punch, that involved Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy. Out of the shaker came a Jack Rose — always a classic — with a couple extra dashes of Angostura bitters. The drink came out much the same way I make them at home — maybe a little easier on the brandy, which is nice, as the stuff can get rough — but the addition of bitters was nice touch, bumping up the depth and spice a wee bit.

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We were well on our way through Happy Hour at this point, and the place was filling up. A second bartender had come on duty — much to James’s relief, I imagine — and we had just polished off our appetizer of stuffed fingerling potatoes. The two pairs of travelers on either side of us — also, by coincidence, from Atlanta, and quite familiar with Holeman & Finch — were busy peppering James with drink questions and remarking on what another coincidence it was that he was from Marietta. Not quite wanting to leave and seek out dinner, however, Neil and I each had a final drink.

Curious about the peaty smell wafting around the bar — that tempting bottle of Laphroaig — Neil asked for a small taste. “Yeah, I can see why you’d drink this with a bit of water — I know that I’d have to.” I tried a sip — good, but it doesn’t match the Cask-Strength 10 year, which has a much deeper, more interesting flavor. As for me, I had spotted a bottle of Laird’s 12-year Apple Brandy sitting midway up the shelves. Never having seen it before (nor, of course, tasted it), I chose a flight-sized pour of it to cap off the night (you can order flights, to sample, or full pours — a nice touch).

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Wow. As good as an XO armagnac, and better than a lot of cognacs. Laird’s 12-year has a nice, polished sensed of age to it, and tastes predominantly of fruit — as a French brandy would — but with a lot of the soft caramel and oak notes you find in wheated bourbons. The Laird’s 12 is not nearly as sweet as the 7-1/2 can be, and it certainly isn’t gruff and tough liked it Bonded sibling. I call it a “calvados-equivalent”…time to track some down.

Full of good booze and prepped for food, Neil and I made our farewells, shook hands with James, and wound our way through the tables and out the door into the nighttime chill. Strolling down the cobblestone sidewalks and joking about the price-less (and therefore unaffordable) menu posted on the side of McCrady’s, Neil and I began the hunt for dinner, deciding to revisit the Gin Joint on my next time up. Not a bad start to a tour of the Holy City — not bad, at all.

Photos by IJL.

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MxMo LXIX: Fortified Wines — Got Sherry?

•January 20, 2013 • 5 Comments

mxmologo

January’s Mixology Monday is focused upon a trend that is steadily gaining steam in bars across the country: the use of port, sherry, and Madeira wines in cocktails. Sure, you can reach for the old standbys like vermouth and quinquina if you want to add some sweetness and complexity, but bitter aftertastes and quinine aren’t for everyone. That’s why this month’s host, Jordan Devereaux at Chemistry of the Cocktail, has asked us bloggers to mix with those wines that were tailor-made for shipboard and wintertime storage. [UPDATE: check out the round-up post!]

While I love a good glass of port, sherry and Madeira are taking some getting used to. Port is wonderfully fruity, full-bodied and sweet, but I still have a hard time thinking about something other than a mouthful of raisins when sipping sherry. Plus, sherry seems like something that grandmothers, Napoleonic-era naval officers, and Sherlock Holmes’s wealthier clients would sip in drawing rooms.

Nonetheless, over the past few months I’ve managed to dig up some sherry-inclusive cocktails that I find very enjoyable. While they have proven instrumental to acclimating myself to the wine, these drinks also employ some interesting flavor combos that I never would have thought to try. Lesson 1: Tequila + Sherry = Deliciousness!

Sherry Cocktails (3 of 4)

La Perla #2

  • 1-1/2 ounces Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila
  • 1-1/2 ounces Lustau Amontillado Sherry
  • 3/4 ounce Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot

Stir with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with an orange twist.

Adapted from the La Perla, created by Jacques Bezuidenhout, San Francisco, 2005. Found in The PDT Cocktail Book.

I’ve yet to try the La Perla in its original form (Partida Reposado, Lustau Manzanilla, Mathilde Pear, lemon twist), but my gerry-rigged modification worked out rather well. What I love about apricot liqueur is that it acts as a kind of binder, weaving the vegetal agave and sweet, raisin-like sherry together. This drink made me realize the potential of agave spirits in cocktails, kinda like the Frostbite’s tequila-cacao combo, which is an eye-opener (as is Clyde Common’s Eggnog, a better-known combination of sherry and tequila). Adding a lemon twist to the Perla brings out an odd, metallic flavor and overwhelms the finer points of the ingredients, so I opted for the sweeter, gentler oils of the orange peel. If you’d like the sherry to stand out a bit more, go with a slightly milder reposado along the lines of Cazadores.

Sherry Cocktails (2 of 4)

Spanish Bay

  • 1 ounce Dry Sack Sherry
  • 1 ounce Green Chartreuse
  • 1 ounce Orange Juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. No garnish.

Created by Chris Hannah for Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans. Found in Robert Hess’s Essential Bartender’s Guide.

Very good!  The Spanish Bay is full of fruit, herbs, and sweetness, tempered by mild acidity. Though it looks a bit murky, the drink is a winner. Floating around the edges is a taste that brings a Five Spice blend to mind (of all things).

If you’re wondering what “Dry sack” sherry is, it’s simply a dry sherry, “sack” being an antiquated English term for fortified Spanish wines. While there is, in fact, and company named Dry Sack that produces a medium sherry, try out different sherries for different effects, and don’t be afraid of blending them. For instance, I blended an amontillado and a cream sherry(which is a blend itself) just to gain a bit more sweetness and the drink turned out perfectly. Using only amontillado, the Chartreuse dominates.

Confused by all these names and types yet? So was I. Sorting through sherry’s incarnations and categories is one of the wine’s more intimidating aspects, but such classifications exist for nearly all distilled spirits — Scotch, tequila, brandy, you name it, it’s been categorized, and oftentimes the differences are slight. For a basic guide, check out Wikipedia (surprising, yes, but helpful). Amontillado, oloroso, cream, and Pedro Ximénez seem to used the most in cocktails. The drier sherries — fino and manzanilla — are better as apéritifs, while the sweeter varieties – Pedro Ximénez and cream — are best left for dessert, should you end up sipping the stuff neat.

Finally, we have a relatively straightforward drink from the Left Coast…

Sherry Cocktails (1 of 4)

Montresor and Fortunato

  • 1-1/2 ounce Emilio Lustau amontillado sherry
  • 3/4 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 ounce Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
  • Lemon and orange peels, for garnish
  • Three olives — Spanish, queen-size, pitted but not stuffed — on a pick, for garnish

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Express the oils of the lemon and orange peels over the drink, then discard the peels. Garnish with the speared olives.

Created by Damian Windsor. Found in Left Coast Libations.

Named for the vengeful murderer and his victim in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the drink is smooth, slightly sweet, and subtle, changing significantly as it warms. The flavors seem to emerge sequentially — first comes the grape and oak of the sherry, followed by the vanilla-laced fruit and bitterness of the Carpano, topped off with the mellow orange of the Grand Marnier. The citrus remains surprisingly subdued. While I’m not really an olive fan, they do make for a nice little accompaniment to the drink — the Monstresor and Fortunato seems lonely without them and their saltiness, in fact.

So, find a bottle or two of sherry, do some research, and mix up some cocktails. You may not want to drink the stuff straight — yet — but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If worse comes to worse, you can always make a lovely sauce with what remains. Cheers!

Sherry Cocktails (4 of 4)

“For the love of God, Montresor!”

“No, for the love of Sherry.”

Photos by IJL.

Speakeasy, the Nerina, and Employees Only

•January 15, 2013 • 2 Comments

What I love about books authored by bartenders is that they are written with a sense of calm, practical authority. No stand-offs or divisive arguments between mixology geeks, no lecturing on how to mix a proper Martini, just, “Here’s how we make a [insert drink], a hundred times a day, and if you would like something else, that’s fine. No matter what, it’ll be made right.” Such accommodating mastery is exemplified in a modern cocktail book called Speakeasy, written by Jason Kosmas, Dushan Zaric, and the gang of bartenders behind Employee’s Only, a speakeasy-style bar in New York.

Speakeasy

Speakeasy can be divided, roughly, into two sections, the first of which introduces us to the history of Employees Only, its methodology, and its technique. Kosmas and Zaric weave the story of EO’s founding into a New York cultural scene that was just recovering from 9/11 — where restaurants were closing early, business was down, and shifts were shortened, leaving employees with few after-hours hangouts and less pay. Having worked at vodka bars, where they upped the ante in the “martini” craze with fresh fruits and house-made ingredients, the founders shifted their focus to classic cocktails, just then coming into vogue. EO’s drinks were not strictly limited to the classics, nor were the classics considered unchangeable, and the bar adopted the mantra of “Passion, Knowledge, and Wisdom,” their cocktails being backed by 150 years of American drinking and finished with a dash of contemporary flair.

After establishing their reputation as a “New York institution,” Kosmas and Zaric move on to the real meat of the book: the recipes. Both classic and original drinks are covered, as one would expect from any cocktail book, but the difference here lies in the detail and specificity of each recipe. EO presents the reader with a brief story behind each cocktail, details of its evolution, and why and how it’s mixed at their bar, then provides a concise (but very descriptive) flavor profile, wrapping up each drink in a neat little bundle for future reference.

Regarding the classics, EO sticks pretty true to the average, with a few notable exceptions (the serve both a Manhattan Cocktail and a Contemporary Manhattan, for instance, and an emerald-green rendition of the Martinez). Odd dashes of simple syrup and bitters find their way into the standards here and there, but never to the detriment of the cocktail — you just have to trust the bartenders. Also, EO divides their recipes into apéritifs and “long and fancy cocktails,” which gives the reader an idea of when to drink each cocktail during a coursed meal or long evening — something that I wish more cocktail books did.

The inventiveness comes with the bar’s original recipes, which are evolved variations on classics. My favorite of these (thus far) is the Nerina, an utterly delightful gem of an apéritif that uses slightly uncommon ingredients…

Nerina (2 of 3)

Nerina

  • 1-1/4 ounce Plymouth Gin
  • 1-1/4 ounce Amaro Meletti
  • 1-1/4 ounce Punt e Mes

Stir with large, very cold ice cubes for 40 revolutions. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

From Employees Only in New York, via Speakeasy.

Delicious. I’ll let Speakeasy do the talking:

  • Dominant Flavors: juniper, cinnamon, caramel, and orange on the nose
  • Body: velvety
  • Dryness: medium
  • Complexity: high
  • Accentuating or Contrasting Flavors: blend of herbs and spices
  • Finish: short, spicy with caramel overtones

I will also add that the Nerina was a surprise hit at a recent holiday party, its companions being the Jack Rose and the Applejack Old-Fashioned.

While some may find the book’s tone to be pretentious (see: Amazon reader reviews), I do not. Yes, the folks at EO are sticklers for technique, precision, and premium-quality ingredients, but that description applies to any craft cocktail bar in the country, let alone New York City, the Cocktail Mecca of the East Coast. True, this is not a book for the novice cocktailian, as many of its recipes use semi-obscure ingredients that are not universally available. Just look at the Nerina recipe, above, containing Plymouth gin, an amaro, and a bitter vermouth — your average drinker will not know or care what those ingredients are, will feel that they are too high-priced ($30, $20, and $23, respectively), and will not get much use out of them. To a cocktail enthusiast, however, they are worth having, and if you’re knowledgeable and can source the required components, knocking together EO’s drinks will be a cinch.

For many of their original drinks, however, EO relies on house-made specialties whose recipes can handily be found in the back of the book (the provençal vermouth looks particularly nice). Also included is a small selection of punches and pitcher drinks for larger parties.

A worthy addition to the library of any serious cocktailian — I recommend it, and I wonder why I didn’t take a look at it sooner than I did. Speakeasy almost fees like a precursor to The PDT Cocktail Book, each being a distillation (if you will) of the author/bartender’s knowledge and experience, served up to the home enthusiast.

Cheers, and happy mixing!

Nerina (3 of 3)

Photos by IJL.

 
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