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.

Carlyle’s Smoky Margarita

smoky_marg 011

By request, here’s the one recipe that was missing from my closing cocktail menu at Carlyle. (Yes, someone actually wrote in to request the recipe. I was surprised too!)

I came up with this drink for a tequila dinner hosted by Herradura a few weeks ago. They enjoyed a seven course tasting menu from our chef and along with it they requested cocktails made with each of the tequilas in their primary line: blanco, reposado, and anejo. A shot of each was paired with the cocktails, so as you can imagine it was a fun time for all. This was the reposado drink for the evening:

1.75 oz Herradura reposado tequila
.5 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz lapsang souchong syrup

Shake over ice and serve on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass.

Lapsang souchong is a delicious Chinese black tea dried over burning pine wood. This distinctive process gives it a strong smoky aroma that lends itself well to use in cocktails. To make the syrup, simply brew hot lapsang souchong and mix with an equal volume of sugar. This is the same syrup I use to make extra smoky Swedish punsch; here it stands by itself to lend an extra flavor element to the traditional Margarita.

In the few days this has been on our menu it’s been competing with our token vodka drink to be our best-seller, a useful reminder that simple twists on popular cocktails can be a great way to generate interest in a bar program.

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

Secrets of the Patty Mills

patty_mills 007

My friend David’s method for creating a new cocktail:

1. Come into Carlyle and pick a drink on the menu that includes lemon juice.

2. Order that drink without lemon juice.

3. If the drink is served up, order it on the rocks.

4. Name the new drink after a Blazer.

5. Enjoy.

This method isn’t foolproof. Sometimes the results are, as one fellow drinker put it, “horribly unbalanced.” But sometimes it works. And one of those times is perfect for this week’s Mixology Monday, which is all about tea and hosted by Cocktail Slut:

Tea has played a historical role in cocktails for centuries. Perhaps the best documented early example was its inclusion in punches as part of the spice role to round out the spirit, sugar, water, and citrus line up. Later, teas appear in many recipes such as Boston Grog, English Cobbler, and a variety of Hot Toddies. And present day mixologists are utilizing tea flavors with great success including Audrey Saunder’s Earl Grey MarTEAni and LUPEC Boston’s Flapper Jane. Now it’s our turn to honor this glorious cocktail ingredient!

For a while our menu at Carlyle included an updated version of one of the first cocktails I came up with, a Pegu Club variation made with Earl Grey tea-infused gin. Putting this through David’s drink algorithm produces the Patty Mills:

2 oz Earl Grey-infused Bombay gin
.75 oz Cointreau
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

Serve on the rocks with an orange zest. It’s a secret off-the-menu drink at Carlyle. But would Patty Mills himself approve? Only time will tell.

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.]

Surprised by a triple sec

The most recent liquor sample to arrive at my door wasn’t one for which I had high expectations. The package contained two 750 ml bottles of Hiram Walker Triple Sec and, for comparison, one tiny bottle of Cointreau. To be honest, I was more excited about the Cointreau than the triple sec. Hiram Walker expected this and forthrightly acknowledged that Cointreau is an excellent product. Yet they also suggested that if recipients experimented with both orange liqueurs we’d be impressed by how well the triple sec stands up, especially at its much lower price point. In my case they were right.

Tasted neat, the Hiram Walker is noticeably sweeter; its oranginess is much more straightforward than the bitter orange peel flavor of Cointreau. At 60 proof it’s also smoother, whereas the 80 proof Cointreau has some heat to it. Unless you happen to drink a lot of straight orange liqueur, this probably isn’t all that interesting. What matters is how well it mixes in a cocktail. To test that I made samples of the three drinks for which I most frequently turn to Cointreau: the Pegu, the Margarita, and the Horatio (a concoction of Krogstad aquavit, Cointreau, Fernet-Branca, and orange bitters currently on my menu at Carlyle).

In two of the three the Hiram Walker compared surprisingly well. The drinks were a little bit sweeter, but this can be a good thing. Fernet-Branca provides bitterness in the Horatio so the cocktail isn’t lacking in complexity when made with the triple sec. It makes a respectable Margarita too. Only in the Pegu did I feel it made a really poor substitute. In that drink Cointreau, gin, and lime combine to make a superbly crisp cocktail and it tastes much less lively when the sweeter triple sec is used instead.

Hiram-Walker’s biggest advantage is price. A bottle of Cointreau costs about $40 a bottle, give or take a few bucks. Hiram-Walker costs less than a third of that. Most cocktails call for less than an ounce of orange liqueur so the cost of a bottle is spread out over many drinks, which makes price less of an issue than it would be in a base spirit. Even so, that’s a sizable difference — enough of a difference that I’m using it fairly often at home and questioning whether Cointreau really needs to be so expensive. I am pleased with it and in the right cocktails I think it can work very well.

(If you do buy it, make sure you get the 60 proof bottling. There are also 30 and 48 proof versions. I haven’t tried the 48, but the 30 is excessively sweet.)

MxMo for cocktail virgins

Pegu cocktail

March’s Mixology Monday is hosted by Pink Lady at LUPEC-Boston, who writes:

This event was inspired by a chance encounter I had with an almost-famous Christian rock musician who, at age 32, had never had a cocktail. “I’d like to try one sometime,” he said, “What do you think I should have?”

It’s an excellent question, and one I though best vetted by wide audience of experts: What drink do you suggest for the delicate palate of the cocktail neophyte? Something boozy and balanced, sure – but one wrong suggestion could relegate the newbie to a beer-drinker’s life. To which go-to cocktails do you turn to when faced with the challenge?

I’ve been tending bar for a couple of years now and, aside from people who abstain from alcohol on principle, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone of legal drinking age who has never had a cocktail. If I did meet such a person, however, I’d want to make them a good one. My own first taste of spirits was probably one of my grandfather’s strong gin Martinis; it was enough to turn my young palate off of liquor for years. It wasn’t until my friend Court introduced me the Long Island Iced Tea that I started exploring again.

Given that experience, I’d probably choose something similar for someone’s first cocktail. Not a Long Island, but something on ice, bubbly, and with some flavors they’re accustomed to. If I knew nothing else about the person I would probably choose a Dark and Stormy. Or maybe a Mojito, but then you’re potentially sending that person down the path of annoying every bartender she meets for the rest of her life. Ideally, before choosing a drink I’d start by asking the person what other drinks she likes. Black coffee? Then maybe she enjoys bitterness. Hoppy IPAs? Maybe she’s receptive to gin. Sprite? OK, back to the Mojito. It doesn’t really matter what that first drink is, as long as it tastes good and piques her interest.

The situation I’m more frequently faced with is a customer who’s curious about cocktails but has only tried some very basic drinks, likely variations of vodka mixed with soda or fruit juice. My job then is to expand their horizons. For people who are used to white liquors and citrus, this is when I often mix up a Pegu cocktail. (The cockles of Doug’s heart are so warm I can feel them from here!)

I first came across this one at Jeff Morgenthaler’s site and it quickly became one of my favorites at my first bar job, mainly because it was an esoteric cocktail that we actually had the ingredients for (minus the orange bitters). It originally appeared in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the recipe I’m using now:

1.5 oz gin
.75 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnishing with a lime is optional, but I tend to avoid it because a customer squeezing it into the drink is going to make the drink too tart.

People who are accustomed to basic sours like a Cosmo or Margarita will find some familiar tastes here, while the gin and bitters will introduce them to new flavors. I’ve had numerous people try it at my suggestion and say that they don’t normally like gin, but they like this. Would I serve it to someone who’s never had a cocktail before? Only if they really like citrus and have an adventurous palate. But as a gateway to better cocktails, I think this makes a great choice. It also happens to be one of my favorites to make for myself at home.

Previous Pegu action: Earl Grey tea lends a bergamot note to the Earl of Pegu.

MxMo, special stimulus edition

Horatio cocktail

Back in the fall, cocktail blogger Matthew Rowley suggested that a good Mixology Monday theme would be “hard drinks for hard times.” Paul Clarke says he had doubts about the idea. The next available MxMo slot wasn’t available until February and by then the economic hard times might be over, right? Hahahahahahaha. But that’s all right, Paul was just worried about planning a blog event. It’s not like he quit his job and decided to move to the West Coast with no particular plan in mind and has been massively underemployed for six months. *Ahem*

Yes, well, moving on. Matthew, unfortunately, has been laid off, and we’re all feeling the pinch from the recession. Well, not all of us. If you’re connected to the federal government, there’s $787 billion up for grabs. Why shouldn’t bartenders get a slice of the pie? Last week I sent my representatives in Congress, Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer, a letter making the case for allocating some of that stimulus package to my proposal for a lame vodka bar:

Dear [Congressman],

It is my understanding that Congress has set aside $800 billion to help stimulate the economy and is looking for ways to spend it. There are many “shovel-ready” projects like bridges and hospitals competing to receive these funds. These are all great ideas — you can never have enough bridges and hospitals — but they take a long time to get going. I have my own project in mind and I’d like to propose spending some of the stimulus money on it.

I am a bartender and moved to Portland about four months ago, before the economy tanked completely. I’m only working one night a week. I have a lot of experience and creativity though and I’m confident that I could start up a really awesome bar. I have some great locations picked out and am ready to start anytime. The only obstacle is obtaining funding. Since banks are more interested in getting a return on investment than making sacrifices to stimulate the economy, I figure we should work together on this. There are several reasons why opening a bar would be excellent stimulus for the economy.

Bartenders have a big multiplier effect: For stimulus to be effective, we have to be sure that the money is re-injected into the economy and not socked away in savings. Nobody spends money like bartenders. If we work together to open a bar, you can be sure that my employees will spend 100% (or more) of their earnings. Most of that money will be given directly to other bartenders, or maybe strippers, who will also spend it right away, continuing the cycle. I’m confident that my staff would multiply spending far more than people in more responsible professions.

Production is fast: Spirits like whiskey can take years, even decades, to age. My bar will focus entirely on vodka and flavored vodka, which is ready to sell almost immediately after distillation. Our vodka purchases will encourage producers to increase production, buying grains from our nation’s farmers and equipment from our manufacturers. And we’ll be sure to only serve American vodkas, not those from Russia or, even worse, France. (I’m willing to make this a condition of receiving stimulus funds.)

We spill a lot: My bartenders will specialize in flair, juggling bottles in an amazing display of alcoholic dexterity. This requires hours of training and we’re sure to spill a lot vodka and shatter a lot of bottles while we’re practicing, forcing us to buy much more liquor than other bars. This will stimulate the economy even further.

We create positive externalities: Keynes argued that “animal spirits” are an important factor in macroeconomic behavior. By inebriating and entertaining our customers, we will excite their animal spirits and dull their judgment so that they are once again eager to invest. (Obviously my bar alone won’t save the economy, but similar bars could be opened throughout the country. Maybe we could franchise?)

We’ll name a drink after you: Everyone remembers great leaders like General Manhattan, Captain James Daiquiri, and Colonel Sazerac thanks to the cocktails that bear their names. In honor of your leadership during this economic crisis, I would gladly name a drink on our menu after you.

I realize this is an unorthodox proposal, but extreme times call for novel thinking. My bar is shovel-ready. As a sign of my commitment, I’ll even buy the shovel. I look forward to working with you to save the American economy.

Sincerely,

Jacob Grier

Sadly, not one of the congressmen has responded yet. I was ready to stimulate the shit out of this economy, but instead I have to mix drinks at home. You fail, legislators.

This is a cocktail I’ve been playing with a lot recently, and it uses only ingredients I had on hand — nothing new purchased for this MxMo. I call it the Horatio:

2 oz Krogstad aquavit
.75 oz Cointreau
1 barspoon Fernet Branca*
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a round of orange peel expressed over the drink. I don’t always include brand names in a recipe, but in this case each bottling is distinctive. That’s not to say you can’t make substitutions, just know what you’re dealing with.

The name references aquavit’s Scandinavian heritage. Aquavit is the primary ingredient, but with the powerful Fernet Branca hailing from Italy, you might say this cocktail is more an antique Roman than a Dane.

If you don’t have aquavit and Fernet on hand, fear not. A bottle of Jack and a couple of ice cubes will serve you just fine.

*Update 3/9/09: I’ve tinkered with this recipe a bit since originally posting it, cutting down slightly on the Fernet Branca. This gives it a less syrupy mouthfeel.