Get sweet on liqueurs

Pigou

My latest article at Culinate takes a look at a few liqueurs that have recently arrived on the market, highlighting three to try and cocktails in which to mix them. Read it here for details on some very good fruit liqueurs and the redemption of crème de cacao and crème de menthe.

The article also includes the recipe for the newest cocktail at Metrovino, a variation on the Pegu Club. The ingredients in a traditional Pegu — gin, lime, orange liqueur, and bitters — combine to create a grapefruit-like flavor, so substituting the excellent Combier Pamplemousse Rose grapefruit liqueur for the orange was one of the first things I tried with the spirit. Such a minor variation in recipe deserves at best a minor variation in name, hence the listing as Pigou Club on our menu. The number of our customers who know about both Pegu and Pigou is sure to be vanishingly small, but the allusion makes me happy.

1 3/4 oz. London dry gin
3/4 oz. Combier Pamplemousse Rose
1/2 oz. lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a twist of lime peel.

Jelly shots go upscale

jelloshots

First Mad Dog 20/20 cocktails, now jelly shots? It’s true. Local writer Jen Stevenson (author of the excellent restaurant guide Portland’s 100 Best Places to Stuff Your Faces) reviews Jelly Shot Test Kitchen in the latest issue of MIX, and as part of her write-up she challenged me and Tommy Klus to come up with a few fancy gelatinized cocktails of our own. Click through to see my recipe for Pisco Sour jelly shots made with Encanto Pisco and Amargo Chuncho bitters whipped cream.

I had a chance to flip through a copy of the book and it takes the jelly shot to new heights. Order it on Amazon or browse the recipes on the Jelly Shot Test Kitchen weblog.

[Photo by Ross William Hamilton.]

Naval Traditions

absinthe3

This month’s Mixology Monday is hosted by David Solmonson at the wonderful 12 Bottle Bar:

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!
[Read more...]

MxMo Lazy Bear

Lazy Bear 008

Hey, wait, it’s Mixology Monday time again? Lucky for me, this month’s theme hosted by Spirited Remix requires no new work:

The theme is quite simple: your best. Give me the best drink recipe you’ve ever created.

No, I’m not really talking about that awesome drink that you made under pressure and on the fly for your friends one evening. I’m not talking about that kickass nightcap that you whipped up using the last bits from those few bottles that you needed to throw away.

I’m talking about that one drink that you’ve worked on for quite a while. The one that you’ve carefully tweaked over time until you found that perfect recipe. The one you’ve made tons of times: sometimes alone in contemplation, sometimes for a guest so that you could get their opinion.

It’s hard to choose just one. I find that my drinks are like children: Delightful when I first make them, but once they’re a couple years old I’m embarrassed to be seen with them. I mean, uh, I love them all equally and they’re all precious in their own way.

But if a measure of a good drink is that other people start making it too, then the one that stands out from this blog is the Lazy Bear. Created for my friends David and Jeanette’s wedding and named after David’s underground San Francisco restaurant, it was a hit at the reception. But more importantly, David and Jeanette have continued to make the cocktail, as have other friends, and it’s on the menu at Metrovino. It’s a simple, refreshing drink combining some of my favorite spirits:

3/4 oz Jamaican rum (preferably Smith and Cross)
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey and water)
3/4 oz lime juice
2 dashes Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Shake and serve on the rocks. It’s really easy and the funkiness of the rum balances with spicy whiskey, sweet honey, and tart lime.

This is also a good time to mention one update to the recipe. The Fee’s bitters are great, but I can’t always find them. A substitute we use at Metrovino is a 1:1 mix of Angostura bitters and St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram. Three dashes of this mixture work nicely here, and I’ve been using these “spiced bitters” in some other drinks too.

Green Mountain Nail

I hadn’t planned on posting this drink (how’s that for a ringing endorsement?) but it took second place in last night’s cocktail competition sponsored by Drambuie, so it’s worth putting up. It was a tight race with Adam Robinson of Park Kitchen taking third and Tommy Klus of Teardrop Lounge edging me out by a point to take first.

Tommy and I went for very similar flavor profiles, marrying Drambuie with peaty Scotch and fall spices. My drink was a Stone Fence variation (hence the Green Mountain reference) using Ardbeg, Drambuie (a.k.a. “the ‘Bu”), apple cider gastrique, and the Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters, which add big notes of cinnamon and clove. It’s a tasty fall cocktail and even people who were scared of Scotch seemed to like it.

2 oz apple cider
1.5 oz Ardbeg 10
.75 oz Drambuie
.75 oz apple cider gastrique
1 dash Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add a cinnamon stick if you feel compelled to garnish, but there’s no need for it.

I don’t have a strict recipe for the gastrique. It’s something I made for a completely different Stone Fence variation last year and I realized a few hours before last night’s competition that I’d never recorded the ingredients or process. It’s fairly simple though: Caramelize about a cup of sugar in a small amount of water, slowly add about 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar, and finally add about a cup of good apple juice or cider. I added a splash of lemon juice too though I suspect it’s unnecessary.

For a simpler cocktail pairing Ardbeg and Drambuie, see also my drink from last year, the Curse of Scotland.

Finally, for no good reason:

Seigle Sour

Encanto 012

I promised one more cocktail with the spiced plantain syrup, and here it is. This is one Kyle and I served as a special at Metrovino a few nights ago, the Seigle Sour:

2 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz spiced plantain syrup
1 egg white
Cherribiscus Spiced Bitters

Combine all but the bitters in a mixing tin, dry shake, then shake again with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the bitters.

Wild Turkey 101 works great as the rye in this drink. The bitters were made by Evan Martin with Novo Fogo cachaca as a base; feel free to substitute a different aromatic bitter.

The Lazy Bear Cocktail

Lazy Bear 008

Last weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to San Francisco for the wedding of my friends David and Jeanette. David’s behind the underground meals of Lazy Bear in SF, where he serves some amazing dishes. (Seriously, amazing. Go check out his blog if you haven’t before.) Rather than go with a traditional caterer, David and Jeanette wisely hired a high-quality taco truck to park outside the reception and provide us with all the tacos we pleased, a privilege I abused with gusto. I would love to see more weddings do this, especially if I can pose as a guest and score free tacos.

In this case I was earning my tacos with some drink making. David had asked if, as my wedding gift, I’d be willing to come up with a few cocktails and serve them for a while at the reception. I figured this would be a great way to meet women while doing something I’m good at (bartending) rather than something I’m terrible at (dancing), so of course I said yes. David also requested that one of the drinks be called a Lazy Bear. This suggested to me using honey syrup, and after some fun experimentation I came up with this for the wedding:

3/4 oz Jamaican rum (preferably Smith and Cross)
3/4 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey and water)
3/4 oz lime juice
2 dashes Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Shake and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Optionally garnish with an edible flower, but it’s aromatic enough as is and lazy bears don’t have time for flower picking.

Lastly, congratulations to David and Jeanette! The “ceremony-ish thing” was beautiful, touching, and at times hilarious, and I’m happy for you both.

Bitters 101

bitters

My October column for Culinate is an introduction to bitters, with notes on the Old-Fashioned, the Mexican Train cocktail, and a drink from Neil Kopplin that uses an entire ounce of Peychaud’s. Check it out here.

[Photo from Culinate.]

The Pegu, clarified

ClearPegu 089

It’s been just a bit longer than a year since Dave Arnold posted his method for clarifying lime juice with agar. This month’s Mixology Monday theme also happens to be lime. Further, my local grocery has good, juicy limes selling for a mere $.39 right now. Coincidence or synchronicity? Either way, it was clear what I must do for this month’s post.

Using agar clarification on juice is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. My first experiments with agar clarification of coffee didn’t work nearly as well as using the more time-intensive gel-freeze-thaw method, but I’ve been overdue to try it with citrus. Click here for detailed directions. The basic idea is to hydrate agar in boiling water, whisk a larger amount of fresh lime juice into this solution, let set, and then filter through cloth. Sounds easy, right?

Well, it is easy. Today was my first time using this method on citrus and I was able to get a yield of 170 grams clarified juice from 200 grams of fresh juice, 50 grams water, and .5 grams agar. The only complication is that I was out of muslin through which to strain it, so an ill-fitting, never-worn linen shirt found constructive use as a filter. I probably could have extracted even more juice using Dave’s “massaging the sack” technique, but I was raised conservative. The resulting juice (right) is substantially clearer than juice that’s only been fine strained (left).

ClearPegu 100

OK, neat, but who cares? That’s exactly what I thought as I was doing this today. But as soon as the first drops of clarified lime juice started dripping through the linen, I realized this was actually pretty cool. I could use this stuff in a traditional citrus cocktail, but I could probably stir it instead of shake it. The drink would look better and have better mouthfeel than it would with the air incorporated from shaking. As Dave says, “Clear drinks look more pleasing than cloudy ones, and have a better texture.” (The winning bartenders at this year’s 42 Below cocktail competition appears to have done something similar, as have a few others.)

This being a Mixology Monday hosted by none other than Doug from the Pegu Blog, the choice of cocktail was obvious: The Duck Fart. No, even better, the Pegu!

2 oz gin
1 oz Cointreau
.75 oz clarified lime juice
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

This is a slightly different recipe than I use for a traditional Pegu, but it tastes great. The cocktail (above) is much clearer than the shaken version:

Pegu cocktail

The most interesting thing about this cocktail is that the flavor is so unexpected. You see a clean, transparent drink and think it’s all spirits, maybe vermouth, maybe some bitters. Then you taste it and surprise! There’s citrus all up in your face.

I also tried the clarified lime juice tonight in a Pendennis Club (meh) and a Last Word (nice, though I had to add a little extra lime). The technique isn’t practical enough that I’d use it all the time, but it’s definitely an idea that can be used to good effect in cocktails.

MxMo Brown, bitter, and stirred

After a brief hiatus, Mixology Monday is back! This month my friend Lindsey Johnson takes charge and orders something brown, bitter, and stirred. From MxMo founder Paul Clarke:

While punches, sours and flips are essential parts of every cocktail fiend’s drinking diet, perhaps no other style of drink is as dear to our booze-loving hearts as those potent mixtures of aged spirits, amari, aromatized wines and liqueurs, sometimes (sometimes? Almost always!) doctored with a dash or four from the bitters shelf.

This seems like a good occasion to post another cocktail from my session with David Shenaut and the producers of Ilegal Mezcal. Here’s the Mexican Train:

2 oz Ilegal reposado mezcal
3/4 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1/4 oz green Chartreuse
5 drops mole bitters

Stir, strain, and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. This is a mezcal-driven variation on a Tipperary, tied together by one of my favorite pairings, Chartreuse and chocolate. The bitters are the housemade mole bitters from Beaker and Flask. Bittermen’s Xocolatl bitters would probably work nicely too, though without any mezcal on hand I can’t try out an exact recipe (hence the lack of photograph this month). Regardless, it’s an interesting drink to try out when a discerning brown, bitter, and stirred order comes across the bar.

Coffee cocktails get serious

Camper English has an interesting article in this weekend’s San Francisco Chronicle about the new wave of coffee cocktails and high-end coffee liqueurs finding their way onto bar menus:

The craze for organic, shade-grown, micro-roasted slow-drip coffee has percolated into the cocktail world. Bartenders are improving classic coffee drinks, finding ways to harness the beans’ bitter, aromatic qualities rather than just the caffeine kick. [...]

Coffee liqueur got a good bit more serious with the April release of Firelit Spirits Coffee Liqueur, made with coffee from Oakland’s Blue Bottle coffee roasters and brandy from distiller Dave Smith of St. George Spirits in Alameda. Jeff Kessinger, the brand’s founder, says Firelit was inspired by a desire to create a better version of his wife’s family’s homemade coffee liqueur recipe. The original called for instant coffee.

The first batch of 1,800 bottles required several hundred pounds of coffee from Yemen and a multi-stage brewing, distilling and flavoring process, with about one-half to one-third the sugar in other liqueurs. “The goal was just to make a coffee liqueur that was about the coffee, not about the sugar,” Kessinger says.

The coffee bitters from me and Lance Mayhew get a mention as well. They’re simple to make and our recipe for them is here; for a cocktail to use them in, try the Antigua Old-Fashioned.

Other coffee cocktails on this blog include the Lebowski-inspired El Dude and the Dimmitude made with clarified coffee.

How to make coffee bitters

Yesterday’s Cocktail Camp event at Portland’s New Deal Distillery was a lot of fun. My presentation was about the use of coffee and tea and cocktails, so I’ve been trying out some interesting experiments that I’ll be posting here later this week. My talk ended up coming in two parts. In the first I gave a quick Coffee 101 lecture, discussed the basics of brewing, and explained why coffee can be a difficult ingredient to work with in a bar setting. Many of us craft bartenders treat it horribly. We’d never serve citrus juice that we’d squeezed a week ago but we essentially do that with coffee by using stale beans, pre-grinding, or just not brewing properly. Many standard coffee cocktails could be improved simply by getting the fundamentals right.

However some bartenders may not have access to good coffee and we may not want to limit coffee cocktails to hot drinks, so in part two we got to the fun part: Actually making cocktails using coffee as an ingredient in other ways. One of these is by making coffee bitters. Lance Mayhew and I started working on our first batch of these in December and are really happy with the recipe we’ve developed since then. It’s fairly simple so we hope others will try them out as well. The ingredients are:

750 ml Lemonhart 151-proof rum
peel from two medium-sized oranges
24 g coffee, coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle
approximately 2.5 g orris root*
1 star anise

Combine all ingredients in a jar and let steep, tasting daily to check their progress; 4 days to a week will probably be enough time. Decant through a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a bitters bottle.

For the coffee we used Stumptown’s Costa Rica Herbazu in each batch for the sake of consistency. I’m curious to see how other coffees might affect the bitters, but I think any Central American coffee that hasn’t been too darkly roasted should be fine.

The above recipe makes a lot of bitters and uses an entire bottle of rum, so feel free to halve or quarter it for a smaller yield. And for a cocktail to use them in, try the Antigua Old-Fashioned featuring English Harbour rum.

* Update 4/18/10: Quick clarification: This is dried, chopped orris root, not powder.

Carlyle’s closing cocktail menu

I may have to make some changes as we run low on ingredients, but here’s the intended cocktail menu for our final two weeks, including three new additions. This will go into effect tomorrow:

Aquavit Hot Toddy – Krogstad aquavit, Swedish punsch, lemon, star anise $8

Antigua Old-Fashioned – English Harbour rum, coffee-orange bitters, sugar $8

Smoky Margarita – Herradura reposado tequila, Cointreau, lime, lapsang souchong syrup $8

Portland Stinger – Branca Menta, bourbon, brandy, lemon, grenadine $9

Thyme in a Bottle — Bombay Sapphire, Farigoule thyme liqueur, lemon, maraschino $9

Erica’s Impulse –Brandy, allspice liqueur, lemon, simple syrup, orange bitters $8

H’ronmeer’s Flame – Rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Ramazzotti, flamed orange zest $9

Witty Flip – Brandy, J. Witty chamomile liqueur, lemon, orange bitters, egg, nutmeg $10

Horatio – Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet-Branca, orange bitters $9

Curse of Scotland — Ardbeg 10 year single malt Scotch, Drambuie, maraschino, lemon $10

Queen Bee – Vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, honey syrup, sparkling wine. $9

On a Whim – Trust your bartender to make you something good

A new use for orange bitters

For the past six months I’ve been putting in a lot more practice time on sleight of hand with cards, trying to get back to the level of skill I possessed back in high school and early college. One thing I’ve noticed is that my hands have become drier since then, often making it harder to handle playing cards. My palm and fingertips don’t get the traction they need for some essential moves. This goes away to some extent with practice, but it’s still problematic.

Many years ago I bought a bottle of Chamberlain Golden Touch, a glycerin solution that works wonders for dry hands. Unlike oily lotions, it moisturizes without leaving a slick residue, imparting a slight tackiness to skin that makes card manipulation much easier. I’d barely used it until this year, but lately I’ve been wondering in the back of my mind where I will find more when it runs out.

Coincidentally, I recently picked up a few bottles of Fee Brothers bitters. Looking at the bottles, I noticed that glycerin is one of the primary ingredients (this may be why their orange bitters are sweeter than others). Bitters are great in cocktails, but would they also be good for skin? This afternoon I tested the idea with a couple drops of West Indies Orange.

Oh man, the cards handled like a dream. There’s one sleight in particular that I’ve struggled to get back. Even with an old deck I was suddenly performing it flawlessly. It’s amazing how much of a difference the bitters make. Even now, a couple hours later, I can still feel the difference. They work just as well as the Golden Touch, perhaps better. And while the Golden Touch smells somewhat medicinal, the bitters have a nice orange aroma. Plus they’re good in cocktails and available in well-stocked bars and liquor stores. Unless it turns out that the Golden Touch goes great in a Martini, I don’t think I’ll be buying any more of it.

(I realize this post is probably useless to everybody who reads this blog, but someday a magician with dry hands will find it on Google and thank me.)

I has a lolcat

Bitters cat is bitter