As is the case for each event, the hosting site gets to choose the theme, and we’ve picked the ever-so-vague-yet-commanding “Come to Your Senses!”
We all know that cocktails are supposed to taste good, and for this event, we’re going to take that as a given. What we’re looking for, instead, are drinks that truly excite one or more of the other senses: touch, smell, sight, or even hearing. Of course, it you want to get scientific about it – and why wouldn’t you – there are even more sensations which can be played with (echolocation, anyone?).
My drink for this month involves fire. Why? Because fire sells drinks. How else to explain the otherwise inexplicably and cursedly popular Spanish Coffee? Light a drink on fire and customers are going to ask about it. In my bar, where the cocktails compete with 70+ wines available by the taste or glass, that’s no small thing. However I’m not interested in setting drinks on fire without reason or hiding inferior ingredients under pyrotechnic theatricality. The fire should improve the drink in some way.
In this case, fire comes in the form of a flamed mist of rum and orange bitters. The burnt bitters leave a strong aromatic presence that lingers over the surface of the drink. The cocktail appeals to three senses: The sight of the flame, the scent of the bitters, and (hopefully!) the taste of the combined ingredients.
The name for this cocktail came long before the recipe. There’s an apocryphal story about Winston Churchill remarking of tradition in the British Navy that “It’s nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash.” This appears to be a false attribution, although according to the Churchill Centre and Museum he wished he had said it. Regardless, a friend of mine once suggested that Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash would make a great name for a cocktail, and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.
The opportunity to use it came a few months ago at the bon voyage party for Portland bartender Tommy Klus before he left to spend a few months in Scotland. I was taking a turn behind the bar and was asked to improvise a cocktail with the limited range of ingredients available to us . Aged rum, black strap rum, peaty Scotch, turbinado syrup, bitters, and a canister of orange oil for flaming turned out to be a winning combination. Here’s a slightly revised version of that deep, dark drink:
1 3/4 oz aged rum
1/2 oz black strap rum
1/2 oz turbinado syrup
1/4 oz Islay Scotch
2 dashes spiced bitters
flamed orange bitters
Stir the first five ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and flame the bitters over the drink to finish. I use Cruzan for the rums and Ardbeg for the Scotch. The turbinado syrup is in a 1:1 ratio. The spiced bitters are an equal parts mix of Angostura bitters and allspice dram (also used in the Lazy Bear). For the flamed orange bitters, mix equal parts Regan’s orange bitters and 151-proof rum in a mister bottle and spray through a flame above the glass. (Note: The photo above is from a different cocktail that uses the bitters torch. I’m on the road right now with none of the ingredients needed to make the one in this post.)
This would have been the perfect cocktail to name as my friend suggested. There’s rum, obviously. The burst of flame is a lash. And I guess that leaves Scotch for the other thing. Sorry, Scotch. However I don’t work at the kind of place where I can put “sodomy” on the menu (in a manner of speaking!), so the actual name for this drink is an allusion to the falsely attributed Churchill quote, an in-joke for my friends at the bar. It’s listed as Naval Traditions.
Update 8/17/11: Below the break, my friend Tom sends in an animated GIF of the bitters torch in action!