Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
A few months ago, I traveled to Paris. Little did I know that the cocktail scene was booming over there: it has the all the skill and dedication to the craft that you’d find in New York or London, but a sense of community and collaboration that is more reminiscent of Southern culinary capitals like Atlanta. It also resulted in exposure to a few new ingredients — the most interesting among them being a French liqueur called Escubac.
It’s a bit of an oddball — made by Sweetdram (London) / Combier (France), clocking in at 34% ABV as opposed to the usual 20%, Escubac is herbal and sweet, with a sharp bitterness that pops in to say “hello” at the end. It’s dort of like Yellow Chartreuse, Bénédictine, and Suze all rolled into one. Caraway, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper, gentian, and lemon peel come to mind when sampling it.
My first taste was a result of spying it on the back bar at The Little Red Door and making the necessary inquiries of the bartender. My second came after a visit to Astor back here in NYC, and I’ve been fiddling with it ever since. Here is one of the results of this experimentation:
- 1-1/2 oz Spanish-style Amber Rum [Ron Barceló Imperial , Flor de Caña 7-yr, Havana Club 7-yr, etc.]
- 3/4 oz Oloroso Sherry [Faraon Oloroso from Bodegas Hidalgo]
- 1/2 oz Escubac Liqueur
- 1/4 oz Orgeat [Homemade or B.G. Reynolds]
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe. No garnish, though an orange or lemon peel would not be uncalled for.
Like a majority of my experiments involving new ingredients, this one is based on Jamie Boudreau’s “Golden Ratio” formula, with the proportions adjusted as required to up the flavor of the Escubac. I wanted to keep the base and binder of the drink fairly dry, and I figured that the spices of the Escubac (gentian, pepper, nutmeg, and citrus peel) would work well with a r(h)um base. After forgoing French rhum agricole (too vegetal and grassy), I pulled back to Spanish-style rums, which maintain a certain level of dryness but with a more direct sugar cane flavor. The sherry went in as a result of past rum-sherry-bitter combinations: it has a a dried-fruit-and-nut flavor that can be very successful with rums (think fruitcake or rum cake), and the medium body and acidity of most sherries makes for an excellent binder.
I initially tried this with just those three ingredients (rum, sherry, and Escubac), but the drink came out a little too dry — the balance of flavors was there, but it needed some body and sweetness. Rich simple syrup accomplished the required body, but also a distinct flavor of raw sugar, perhaps because of the rum…Cane syrup? No go: too funky. Orgeat, however, had a nice, subtle nutty-ness that slips into the mix perfectly while providing the requisite roundness, and besides, it’s a classic pairing with rum.
All-in-all, here’s what results: a solid, sugar-cane rum base paired with bitter-honeyed herbs and spices rounded out by a little nuttiness, acidity, and a touch of funk. Give me a cheese plate with this and I would be a happy camper.
On the ingredients: You want a good, subtle orgeat syrup here. No Fee Brothers, no Torani. They are much too heavy on the almond extract. And don’t even think about substituting amaretto. It has to be homemade or from B.G. Reynolds (subtle and nutty) or Small Hand Foods (brighter with a touch of fruit and orange flower). As for the sherry, you’ll want something medium-dry: oloroso or amontillado. I think a fino would come off awfully thin, and a PX or cream would be much too sweet (you could ditch the orgeat entirely if you were using either of those two).
[PPS: Yes, it’s been an age since the last post. And no, I’m not dead. I’ve been busy with life and work unrelated to cocktails, and have been leaving the cocktail creation to the skilled bartenders at my local Third Place…but I’ve finally started home experimentation again.]