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.

Zelda cocktail

IMG_20120901_170923 (1)

Continuing our practice of always having at least one beer cocktail on the Metrovino cocktail menu, the Zelda is replacing the popular Mai Ta-IPA. Fans of pink drinks, rejoice!

2 oz Small’s gin
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz framboise lambic reduction
1 egg white
pickled peach, for garnish

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake without ice to aerate the egg white. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the peach.

The gin used in this cocktail is unique: Small’s from Ransom Spirits, distilled with raspberries and cardamom. It has a distinctive flavor that doesn’t work in every gin cocktail, but in the right drink there’s no substitute for it. If you can find it, pick up a bottle of Small’s.

There are exceptionally good, exceptionally expensive lambic beers flavored with fruit. They are not what you want for this cocktail. Get the inexpensive, fruity, sweet kind that’s widely available. You won’t feel bad about boiling it down into a syrup. I got the idea of reducing these beers with spices from Teardrop Lounge here in Portland and have tried a few variations on it. Here’s the latest:

1 750 ml bottle Lindemans Framboise
1 small stick cinnamon
1 star anise
2 inches ginger, sliced
sugar

Combine the beer and spices in a pan and simmer until flavorful and reduced by about a third in volume. Strain out the spices and measure the liquid. Mix with an equal volume of sugar. Bottle the syrup and keep refrigerated.

Finally, there’s the pickled peach. These come from our chef and are tart with a touch of winter spices. I don’t have an exact recipe, but here is one that you might try. Or simply garnish with fresh raspberries and call it good.

[Informal cocktail naming contest won by Megan McArdle, who is back to blogging this week. Thanks, Megan!]

Mixing with the Mad Dog

dalbo

This drink violates at least two of my general rules for making good cocktails: 1) It’s blue and 2) It’s made with MD “Mad Dog” 20/20, the convenience store favorite for brown bagging it in the park. The blame for this abomination goes to Thrillist Portland, which is profiling a few of the city’s best restaurants with outdoor patios and asked each one to create a special off-menu item exclusively for Thrillist readers. The challenge they issued to me at Metrovino was to make a drink using Mad Dog as an ingredient. So if any of my recent house guests were worried about the bottle of MD 20/20 in my refrigerator, rest assured that it had a legitimate purpose. (The bottle of Ardbeg in the shower, however, is definitely cause for concern.)

There are multiple flavors of Mad Dog to choose from, but I couldn’t resist the allure of the “bling bling” on the label of Blue Raspberry. This liquid is a totally unnatural shade of blue and its flavor is sickly sweet. It’s not going to replace the Carpano Antica in my Manhattans anytime soon. But mix it with a strongly flavored spirit like aquavit, add some acidity with lime juice, soften everything up with some pillowy egg white, and you’ve got yourself a drink that’s pretty damn tasty and priced for the recession. You’ve got yourself a Dalbo Dog:

2 oz Krogstad aquavit
3/4 oz Blue Raspberry MD “Mad Dog” 20/20
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz agave nectar
3 drops Novo Fogo Cherribiscus bitters for garnish

Dry shake all but the bitters, shake again with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and finish by etching the bitters on the foam into adorable little heart shapes.

The Dalbo Dog is just for Thrillist readers, but now you’re in the know too. Stop into Metrovino this month and this summery blue little number will only set you back eight bucks. Also be sure to check out Thrillist for some of the other off-menu items in Portland, including a ramped up burger at Yakuza that sounds amazing.

(The Dalbo Dog is an extinct Swedish breed used for herding sheep. Here’s a photo; awww.)

[Photo by Thrillist.]

Galliano Suissesse

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Last night in Portland, I was guest-bartending for Bols at an event at Vault where we were challenged to come up cocktails inspired by the classic drinks of New Orleans. When I think of New Orleans drinks, three types come to mind. First are the spirit-driven classics like the Sazerac and Vieux Carré. Then there are the giant, sweet, fruity drinks for the tourists on Bourbon Street. And finally there are the creamy, frothy brunch drinks like Ramos Gin Fizz or the Brandy Milk Punch.

It was those drinks I turned to for inspiration last night. The Absinthe Suissesse is a delicious New Orleans drink combining absinthe, cream, egg white, and a few other ingredients. It wasn’t too hard to adapt into a Galliano Suissesse, since both spirits share a strong anise flavor. I dropped orgeat from the original recipe since Galliano is sweet enough as is and added a little soda to lengthen and lighten it:

1 1/2 oz Galliano
1 1/2 oz whipping cream
1 egg white
2 dashes orange flower water
soda

Give the first four ingredients a long, hard shake with ice, then strain into a wine glass. Add a splash of soda and grate some fresh nutmeg on top.

With an ounce and a half each of Galliano and cream there’s no getting around that this is a sweet drink, but it could be just the thing for a hair of the dog brunch after tonight’s Mardi Gras festivities. Unless you’re giving up drinking for Lent, but let’s be honest: No one reading this blog is likely to do something drastic like that.

Previously:
Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré

Pisco con Platanos

pisco

My drink for this year’s Great American Distiller’s Festival cocktail competition this year was a Pisco Sour with spiced plantain foam. Though the drink was tasty, it didn’t win. Lesson for next year: Serve a cocktail with multiple foams. The judges will never see that coming.

Seriously though, this was a fun cocktail to work on. The Encanto Pisco is a wonderful spirit. It’s good neat and I imagine one could make some very good spirit-driven cocktails pairing it with vermouth, liqueurs, and bitters. I went in an entirely different direction with this twist on a Pisco Sour:

1.75 oz Encanto Pisco
.75 lime juice
.5 oz Dimmi
.5 oz spiced plantain syrup
2 dashes Amargo Chuncho bitters
spiced plantain foam

Shake the liquid ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, top with the spiced plantain foam, and serve.

One of the nice thing about the Encanto Pisco is that it actually tastes like a spirit distilled from fruit, which is more than I can say for some lower-quality piscos on the market. I wanted to play up that aspect, pairing it with the partially grappa-based Dimmi liqueur and one of my favorite foods, ripe plantains. The syrup is easy to make:

8 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water)
1 ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise

Simmer to extract flavor, about 10 minutes. Let cool and strain.

I used this syrup in both the drink and the foam. The foam is made with juice from sweet limes, which are much less tart than the usual lime and has a mild flavor that complements the Pisco Sour. If these are unavailable two ounces of lime juice diluted with six ounces of water is an acceptable substitute, but the sweet limes are the way to go if one can find them.

8 oz sweet lime juice
6 oz spiced plantain syrup
4 egg whites
4 dashes Amargo Chuncho bitters

Combine in a whipped cream canister, charge with an NO2 charger, and shake. (Method loosely based on Morgenthaler’s proportions.) This should make enough for a solid 10 drinks and will keep for a few days if one can resist eating it with a spoon.

Foams have become a bit cliché and I was a reluctant to use one, but in this case it works. A Pisco Sour is supposed to have foam. Rather than shaking an egg white into it, this version has the egg white foam layered on separately. This gives it an incredibly smooth texture and allows one to incorporate more flavors into it. It’s a lot of work to prep but it tastes great and the plantain syrup has potential in lots of other cocktails, one of which I’ll post tomorrow.

Previously: My GADF cocktail from last year