What I’ve been drinking

A few of the samples that have been sent my way recently…

Remy Martin Louis XVIII — Despite what you may have heard about the glamorous and lucrative world of writing about cocktails, it’s not every night that I settle in with a snifter of Louis XIII. However thanks to the nice folks at Remy Martin, I was able to try this Cognac recently in celebration of Remy’s new Jeroboam bottle, which weighs in at three liters for €16.000.

Of course they didn’t send me the Jeroboam. I received their 50 ml bottle, which appears to retail for about $400. This is the most impressive mini bottle I have seen, arriving in a hard shell and modeled after the standard bottle, right down to the stopper to place in the neck after opening.

You’re probably not buying this for the bottle though, unless you’re trying to project the image of a very wealthy man with extraordinarily large hands. So how does it taste? Pretty amazing actually. Very light and taking on just enough vanilla from the oak. I could sip it all night. Obviously this is something you’d only buy if you have a fair amount of disposable income and you could buy much higher quantities of other very enjoyable booze with the same money. Whether it’s worth spending that much on any spirit is up to you, but it is very good.

Bulleit Rye — It’s a rye! From Bulleit! Bulleit is already known for its bourbon with a high rye content, so this is a natural extension for them. It’s 90 proof and 95% rye. It actually has a less assertive rye flavor than I expected, which will probably help it appeal to a larger market. I prefer it to their bourbon for sipping neat and it makes a nice Manhattan. Prices are all over the place on this one, but if you find it in the low $20s it’s worth picking up.

Blandy’s 10 Year Old Malmsey — Madeira is not a product I have much familiarity with, but the more I drink it the more I like it. This one is no exception. Being a Malmsey it’s on the sweeter side but nicely balanced by acidity and rich, raisiny flavors. It’s delicious. And one other plus: Unlike some other fortified wines, Madeira has been through enough oxidation, aging, and heating during its production to last for a long time after opening, so it’s an ideal wine to keep around and drink at leisure.

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In search of the Rouge Gorge

erithacusrubeculaTwo of the most recent spirits to arrive here for sampling are the Floraison and Nouaison gins from G’Vine. These are distilled in France from Ugni Blanc grapes, the same grape commonly in use for distilling Cognac. The spirit is infused with grape flowers and other traditional gin botanicals before undergoing a final distillation. My preference is for the Nouaison, which is flavored with lime. However this post isn’t so much about the gins as it is about an unusual cocktail I came across while experimenting with them.

Credit for pointing me toward this drink goes to my friend Paul Willenberg. While tasting the G’Vine gins with me he remembered a drink he enjoyed in France called a Rouge Gorge, possibly named after the little bird pictured up top. Paul says he had it as an aperitif at Levernois. One of the only mentions of it I can find online is this:

Rouge Gorge: You Know You Want One

The place to drink this in Paris is the wonderful Alsatian restaurant “Aux Deux Canards” – try it with the pan fried fois gras.

Rouge Gorge – The recipe:

8 parts Cotes du Rhone, 5 parts good quality gin – Tanqueray or Hendricks, 3 parts Crème de Mure. Mix well, and serve slightly chilled in a brandy glass.

The combination sounds strange, but the perfume of the gin combines with the violet aromas of the Rhone wine and the fruitiness of the Crème de Mure to create an absolutely bewitching – and lethal – cocktail.

OK, this does sound strange. And it is strange. But it’s not totally off the wall. The original Martinez featured a 2:1 ratio of sweet vermouth and gin, further sweetened with a little maraschino liqueur. Though contemporary palates tend toward a flipped ratio, this isn’t that far removed from drinks served in the Golden Age of cocktails.

Still, the recipe above is a little sweet. Cutting down the blackberry liqueur brings out more of the gin. Here are the proportions I’ve settled into:

2 oz chilled Côtes du Rhône (Domaine “La Garrique” at Paul’s suggestion)
1 oz gin (G’Vine Nouaison)
.5 oz blackberry liqueur (Clear Creek)

I think the best word to describe this drink is “beguiling.” You take a sip, and you’re not quite sure what to make of it, and so you sip again. It’s better than you think it would be, and difficult to wrap your head around the flavors.

It’s a weird drink; I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Should it be enjoyed before dinner as an aperitif? After with cheese and bread? Where did it come from, and can I order one at a French bar with any reasonable expectation of the bartender knowing what I’m talking about? Googling has yet to reveal the answers, but if anyone else has experience with this unusual drink I would love to hear about it.

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I’ve been borscht’ed!

Today I’m helping kick off guest blogger month at one of Portland’s best and most esoteric blogs, the one and only Iced Borscht. When I was first invited to contribute I said I’d only do it for my usual honorarium of $700, a case of Fernet, and a Scotch egg, but then he named me “one of the top political minds in town” and I lowered my fee to just the egg.

Click over to Iced Borscht for my post about one of Carlyle’s favorite seasonal cocktails, the Erica’s Impulse, a tasty fall drink featuring brandy and allspice dram.

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Fernet night at Carlyle: All the drinks

Last night’s Fernet-Branca event filled the Carlyle bar with curious cocktailians and long-time Fernet drinkers. While only a few industry types went for straight shots, the drinks using Fernet as an ingredient were a big hit.

The first two cocktails on our special menu have been covered here before. The Shift Drink was created in honor of bartenders’ favorite after work shot and combines rye, ginger liqueur, lemon, and Fernet. Next up was the Horatio, using Portland’s own Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet, and orange bitters. This drink isn’t for everyone but it was a consistent favorite among last night’s crowd.

The third drink on the menu reads like it could have been created a century ago, but it’s actually a recent invention from Jim Meehan at PDT in New York. Here’s the recipe for the Newark as given by Chuck Taggart at Looka!:

2 ounces Laird’s bonded apple brandy.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
2 barspoons Fernet-Branca.

Combine with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

This is a brilliant classic-style cocktail, with the Fernet adding just a touch of bitterness to balance the other ingredients. Since I live under the regime of an archaic state liquor control board I had to settle for Laird’s lower proof applejack. This came out a little sweet in the recipe above so I adjusted the Carpano down to 3/4 ounces.

Our fourth drink took a break from Fernet to feature its minty cousin, Branca Menta. This is a cocktail my good friend Neil Kopplin and I came up with on the fly a few months ago, though most of the credit should really go to Neil. (Neil’s got a blog now, check it out here.) This Portland Stinger will definitely appear on our menu come the winter months:

1 oz Branca Menta
1 oz lemon juice
.75 oz grenadine
.5 oz bourbon
.5 oz cognac

Shake over ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.

The last cocktail on the menu stirred up a lot of interest on Twitter: A Fernet ice cream float. Yes, really. One of the great things about working with an expert chef is that I can approach him with crazy ideas and he can make them happen. In this case, when I asked him if we could make a Fernet ice cream he already knew of a recipe. Fergus Henderson, inspired by his favorite curative cocktail, includes a “miracle in the form of ice cream” made with Fernet-Branca and crème de menthe in Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omniverous Recipes for the Curious Cook. (This sounds much better than the Fernet and garlic ice cream described in this book, don’t you think?)

Our first batch came out with very strong flavors. I loved it, as did many of the customers who tried it, though others found it a little overwhelming. Our batch for last night’s event was much milder. I have no idea why the two varied so much and I preferred the first, but the second still performed well in our Fernet Float:

1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz Fernet-Branca
3/4 bottle of Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola (chilled)
scoop of Fernet-Branca and crème de menthe ice cream

Combine the first three ingredients in a tall glass and stir. Add the ice cream and serve with a straw and spoon.

We finished the night with another dessert item, this one a straight up sorbet. Fernet-Branca’s high alcohol content makes it a tough ingredient to work with when freezing. Our first batch tasted fantastic but was too alcoholic to solidify. This recipe works much better, but it will eventually separate so it doesn’t have a long shelf-life. What it lacks in convenience it makes up for in deliciousness:

30 oz orange juice
4 oz lemon juice
5 oz Fernet-Branca
1.5 oz ginger juice
14 oz superfine sugar

Whisk or blend everything together, spin in an ice cream maker, and freeze over night. (To make the ginger juice, chop ginger, add a little water, blend, and strain.) The sorbet is tasty and complex, with the Fernet and ginger spicing it up nicely. By cutting the alcohol a bit more I think one could possibly freeze this into popsicles too, which would surely be a hit at any bartenders’ picnic.

Thanks to everyone who came out last night for this event. I had a great time putting it together, and it will hopefully be the first of many evenings putting a favorite spirit in the spotlight.

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