Vaccari Nero is the new black (or blue)

Vaccari Nero, finally available in Oregon. Make it blue!

Blue drinks are back, at least ironically. As Camper English wrote this summer:

Blue drinks have long been a mixologists’ in-joke. When bartenders were getting serious about pre-Prohibition cocktails about five years ago, jet-setting New Zealand bartender Jacob Briars invented the Corpse Reviver Number Blue, a piss-take on the sacrosanct classic Corpse Reviver #2 that was enjoying a major comeback.

Since then, he and other bartenders have been practicing “sabluetage”—spiking the drinks of unwitting victims with blue curaçao when no one is looking. The forbidden liqueur can now be found on the menus of a few of the world’s best cocktail bars, including Jasper’s Corner Tap in San Francisco, PDT in New York City (where it’s mixed with other unfashionable ingredients, such as Frangelico and cream), and London’s Artesian Bar (winner of the World’s Best Hotel Bar award this week), where a new blue drink—called Blue Lagoon—also features Sprite and bubble tea.

I’ve had my own run-ins with blue drinks, including a publisher who put a blue cocktail on the cover of my recipe guide despite my objections and an off-menu Mad Dog Blue Raspberry and aquavit cocktail we served for a while at Metrovino (it was actually pretty good!). Most blue cocktails get their coloration from blue curacao. But there’s another way to do it…

Vaccari Nero is a black sambuca that’s part of the Bols portfolio. I didn’t work with it for a long time because it wasn’t available in Oregon, but on road trips to other states I found that it had the potential to become an enthusiastically embraced spirit. This is in part because it’s a quality sambuca: It’s named after Arturo Vaccari, the creator of Galliano, and gets its extracts and distillates from the same source. It’s also in part due to its rich color, which despite its name is not black, but rather a very deep midnight blue. Mixed in cocktails, it adds a strong anise kick and striking hue.

I’m just beginning to explore the possibilities of this spirit in cocktails. My favorite so far comes from Erik Trickett, barman at the forthcoming Roe Restaurant and Fish Market in Long Beach, California. The drink he came up with is basically a Ramos Gin Fizz substituting Vaccari Nero for gin. Trading sambuca for gin is a counterintuitive stroke of genius that shouldn’t work yet somehow does, resulting in the lovely robin egg colored drink above. And since this drink needs a name, let’s go ahead and call it a Robin’s Egg (a.k.a. the Samblueca Fizz):

1 1/2 oz Vaccari Nero
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz cream
1 egg white
soda
coffee bean, for garnish

Add the sambuca, lemon, genever, simple syrup, cream, and egg white to a shaker. Dry shake to aerate, then add ice and shake again. Give it a good, long, hard shake. Strain into a glass, preferably a champagne flute if you have a tall one. Let the foam settle and top with soda. Finish by grating a bit of coffee bean on top, a nod to the traditional “con mosca” way of serving sambuca.

Vaccari Nero is finally available in Oregon, so I’m looking forward to seeing what local bartenders end up doing with it. To kick things off, I’ll be guest bartending at Portland’s new Italian spot Bar alla Bomba this Thursday, November 29, from 7-10 pm with a menu of cocktails featuring Vaccari Nero, Galliano L’Autentico, and Galliano Ristretto, including the drink above. Come on by to try it out.

While I was away…

I’m back from a week on the road (Chicago, New Orleans, Baltimore, and DC) and while I was gone some fun stuff happened, the most fun being this FOX 12 news segment about the Bone Luge. Stephanie Kralevich came into Metrovino to find out what this Bone Luge craze is all about. See also cameo appearances by Metrovino’s owner Todd Steele and local curmudgeon John the Bastard.

In other Bone Luge news, e*starLA gives it a try and declares it delicious, Ludivine continues to spread the love to the uninitiated in Oklahoma City, and JBird in New York will give you the tequila for free with your order of marrow.

In this month’s Los Angeles Times Magazine, Camper English writes about bars making smoky cocktails. The Smokejumper from Metrovino made the list. Fittingly, that’s a drink I came up with while at a friend’s place in LA.

Finally, the Washingtonian wrote up our Bols event in DC, where we hosted the launch of our Stillwater Ales collaboration at the amazing Jack Rose. The Kopstootje should continue to be available next week at one my favorite DC restaurants, Brasserie Beck, where they also made my day by putting the Harvey Weissbanger on the cocktail menu.

Stillwater Artisanal Kopstootje launch tour

NOLA Kopstootje

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that ordering a Kopstootje, Dutch for “little headbutt,” will get you a tulip glass of genever and a glass of beer. Typically the beer would be a simple lager, but here in Portland we took the idea further by collaborating with the local Upright Brewery to create a beer specifically designed to pair with Bols Genever, Upright Kopstootje Biere. This lightly spiced biere de garde has been a hit two years running, but if you haven’t been in Portland to catch one of the fewer than twenty kegs produced each batch then you’ve had no way to try it.

We enjoyed this collaboration between distillery and brewery so much that we decided to bring it to more cities. To do that we’ve partnered with another rock star brewer, Brian Strumke of Stillwater Ales. Brian set out to create his own perfect match to Bols Genever. His Stillwater Artisanal Kopstootje is a saison-style ale made with barley, rye, wheat, and corn, spiced with botanicals to complement the spirit. Brian is a gypsy brewer who travels the world making unique beers, so I can’t wait to taste what he’s come up with.

Beginning later this month, we’re kicking off a seven-city tour to launch the pairing. We’re starting in New Orleans, then working our way up the East Coast, and finally wrapping up in Chicago. All events are open to the public, so please stop by and order a Kopstootje. I’ll personally be at the events in New Orleans, DC, Chicago, and probably Boston. Lucas Bols Master Distiller Piet van Leijenhorst will visit in New York. Brian from Stillwater and Tal Nadari from Lucas Bols will be attending events as well.

Below is our current schedule of events, which I will update with dates and times as they become available. I hope to see you there!

New Orleans
Monday, 2/27 at Cure, 5-7 pm.
Monday, 2/27 at Bellocq, 11 pm – late.
Tuesday, 2/28 at Avenue Pub, 6 pm.

Baltimore
Wednesday, 2/29 at Alewife.
Wednesday, 2/29 at Ten Ten.

Washington, DC
Thursday, 3/1 at Jack Rose. (6-9 pm)

Philadelphia
Monday, 3/5 at Farmer’s Cabinet.

New York
Tuesday, 3/6 at Vandaag.
Wednesday, 3/7 at Alewife.

Boston
Dates and locations pending.

Chicago
Wednesday, 3/14 at Bangers and Lace.
Wednesday, 3/14 at Three Aces.

Bols in Houston

I’m headed back to my hometown today for the launch of Bols Genever in Houston. For industry and media, we’re hosting an event at Anvil Bar and Refuge from 1-3 tomorrow (Wednesday); contact me if you’d like to attend. Then for the rest of the night Anvil is offering a menu of cocktails featuring Bols and Galliano for anyone who’d like to stop in.

On Thursday I’m guest bartending with Mindy Kucan at Grand Prize Bar. This should be lots of fun, with Bols cocktails, kopstootjes, and even a frozen Harvey Wallbanger. That will run from 4:30 till 7ish. If you’re in Houston I hope to see you at one of these events!

Upright and Bols introduce Kopstootje Biere!

kopstootje_biere

It’s been almost a year since I started working for Lucas Bols and I’m not going to lie, I’ve gotten to do some fun things on this job. However none of them is more exciting than the project we’re releasing tomorrow, a collaboration between Bols and Upright Brewing to create the perfect pairing of beer and spirits, the Kopstootje Biere!

The Kopstootje, or “little headbutt,” is the Dutch version of beer and a shot. A tulip glass is filled to the brim with genever and served with a beer back. Since the glass would overflow if moved, the drinker takes the first sip by bending down to take the first sip off the top and then following that with a sip of beer. It’s a surprisingly good match, with the maltiness and botanicals of genever complementing the malt and hops in beer (Bols Genever actually includes hops as one of its botanicals).

A crisp lager would be the usual choice of beer for a Kopstootje, but Oregon is better known for its hoppy ales. So my boss, Tal Nadari, suggested approaching one of Portland’s many local breweries about coming up with a Portland twist on the traditional Dutch drink. I knew right away that Upright is who I wanted to team up with; their farmhouse ales are among my favorite beers and brewer Alex Ganum loves taking on experimental brews, from oyster stouts to sour ales aged in Pinot Noir barrels. Alex also loved the idea of creating a beer designed specifically to par with Bols Genever, so I was thrilled that he decided to collaborate with us.

A few weeks later Alex, fellow Upright brewer Gerritt Ill, and I say down to taste genever and plan the beer. Alex decided on a biere de garde. This a rustic French beer that uses lager yeasts fermented at warm temperatures, fitting into Upright’s farmhouse style. Yet Upright’s beer diverges from the traditional with the addition of many of the same botanicals that go into Bols Genever, including aniseed, ginger, angelica root, licorice, and juniper berries. The result is a dry beer with subtle notes of spice. The beer came out just like we hoped it would and perfectly lives up to its name, Upright Kopstootje Biere.

We’re holding a release party for the beer tomorrow, April 1, at Circa 33 in southeast Portland. Tal, Alex, and I will be on hand and we’ll have $6 Kopstootjes on offer from 5-8. If you can’t join us then, we have a small number of kegs going on tap at some of Portland’s best bars and restaurants: Beaker and Flask, Broder, Clyde Common, Cruz Room, Grain and Gristle, Hop and Vine, Irving Street Kitchen, Spirit of ‘77, Spints Alehouse, St. Jack, and Temple Bar. Get your Kopstootje Biere before it runs out!

For more information:
Ezra Johnson-Greenough on the brewing of Upright’s Kopstootje Biere
David Wondrich on Dutch drinking culture

[Photo by David Lanthan Reamer.]

Portland food and drink events

Apologies for the light posting last week, I’ve been hard at work with my new job and preparing for a few fun events coming up in Portland. First up is tonight’s Taste of the Nation event benefiting Share Our Strength. I’ll be there not as a mixologist but as a magician. This will be my first public performance since moving to Portland. Tickets are still available and there are lot of great restaurants involved, so there are plenty of reasons to come aside from watching me drop cards all over the floor trying to do tricks I haven’t done in years.

Then on Wednesday we’re celebrating Bols Genever’s Oregon launch with a punch party at Clyde Common with Jeffrey Morgenthaler. We’ll have two giant bowls of Bols punches out from 4-6 pm. Come join us for what’s sure to be a fun evening!

Bols genever and the Van Houten cocktail

Bols Genever

On Monday Carlyle hosted the Oregon launch event for Bols genever. Genever, the predecessor to the old tom, London dry, and Plymouth styles of gin that eventually took hold in the United States, has until recently been extremely hard to find here despite its continued popularity in parts of Europe. Mixologists seeking to replicate 19th century cocktail recipes have had to resort to desperate measures like blending Irish whiskey, Plymouth, and simple syrup to approximate its flavor in cocktails. Needless to say, having a real genever in wide distribution is a welcome development.

The juniper flavor in genever is much less aggressive than in London dry. Malt notes from the grain instead take center stage. It mixes differently than junipery gins, which can be a challenge if you try to treat it like one (though it does make a nice Collins). David Embury, for example, didn’t know what to do with it. “Holland gin does not blend well with other flavors and, while dozens of recipes have been written for Holland-gin cocktails, they are generally regarded (and properly so) as pretty much worthless,” he wrote in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

This is more a failure of imagination than of the spirit. Treating it more like a whiskey than a gin can lead to some great results. One of my favorite drinks we served was a simple genever Old-Fashioned, made with Bols, superfine sugar, Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters, and a slice of lemon peel. It’s delicious. Other bartenders at the event tried substituting it for rye in variations on the Vieux Carré and Remember the Maine, both of which showed promise. There’s a lot of unexplored territory here and I expect we’ll be seeing innovative genever cocktails showing up on many local cocktail menus soon.

As part of the event I was given the opportunity to feature one of my own creations. I realized early on that chocolate bitters could play well off the malt flavors of the genever, though bridging the two together with other ingredients required some experimentation. Ron at PDXplate and Tim at The Goodist tried out many variations and offered suggestions. I like what we eventually hit on with the Van Houten cocktail:

1.25 oz Bols genever
.75 oz Lillet
.75 oz Cointreau
.33 oz lemon juice
.5 tsp Chartreuse
2 dashes Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled coupe. The bitters tie this drink together, offering lots of flavor affinities: chocolate and malt, chocolate and orange, chocolate and Chartreuse. I’ll be adding it to the menu at Carlyle later this week.

The name, by the way, isn’t a reference to Milhouse Van Houten. Bonus points if you know who it is a reference too, especially if you can name him without Googling.

[Photo courtesy of PDXplate.]