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!]

Wit-ty Flip

drambuie

Here’s one more preview of the cocktails Ezra Johnson-Greenough and I will be serving at our Brewing Up Cocktails Spirited Dinner at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Because we’re gluttons for punishment, we’re serving not one but two flips during our dinner. That means that if all 70 seats sell out, we’ll be shaking up 140 flips in the course of an evening in addition to 140 other drinks. Our arms will be feeling it the next day.

New Orleans in summer doesn’t exactly scream flips, but this one bucks the reputation flips have as heavy, wintertime indulgences. The four ounces of Belgian-style witbier used in this drink lightens and carbonates the cocktail, making it suitable for hotter weather. The orange peel and coriander often used in witbier also make a nice complement to the spice and herbal notes in Drambuie:

1 1/2 oz Drambuie
3/4 oz lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes allspice dram
1 whole egg
4 oz witbier
nutmeg, for garnish

Pour the beer into a pilsner or wine glass. Shake all the other ingredients hard with ice. Fine strain back into the mixing glass and then pour into the beer. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. (Pouring the heavier flip mixture into the beer rather than the other way around ensures that it mixes thoroughly.)

If this drinks sound weird, you don’t have to take my word for its tastiness: A version of it took third place in the Drambuie Nail or Fail cocktail competition earlier this year.

Tickets for our Spirited Dinner, happening this Thursday, are on sale here. It’s at Emeril’s Delmonic Steakhouse and is sponsored by Drambuie and El Dorado rum.

[Photo via the Drambuie Facebook page.]

New Amsterdam Sour

New Amsterdam Sour

Last night Metrovino hosted the afterparty for Taste Washington, an event featuring wines from our neighbor to the north. After a full day of wine tasting most people were ready for cocktails and beer, so I wanted to come up with something appropriate for the occasion. A drink from the late 1800s called a New York Sour — a rye whiskey sour topped with a float of red wine — would have been a natural fit. It’s a tasty cocktail that’s becoming popular once again, likely thanks to David Wondrich’s mention of it in his book Imbibe!.

However I didn’t have any rye for the party. I did have genever and that turned out to make an excellent substitute. Naming it was easy too, New Amsterdam Sour alluding to both the earlier name for New York and the Dutch origin of the spirit.

1 1/2 oz Bols Genever
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
red wine

Shake the genever, lemon juice, and simple syrup with ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Insert straw and float approximately half an ounce of red wine on top. Using crushed ice to fill the glass is a nice touch but not strictly necessary. We used a Washington cabernet for the event but any good red would do.

I’m obviously biased but I really like this version of the drink, genever offering some nice botanicals and a more striking visual contrast than rye does. Unfortunately pounding on a Lewis bag to crush ice doesn’t fit the ambiance at Metrovino so I won’t be adding it to the menu, but I urge readers to give it a try.

Stockholm 75

hol_grier

A few weeks ago David Solmonson of 12 Bottle Bar, one of my favorite cocktail blogs, asked me if I’d like to be a guest contributor for a series of holiday drinks posts. He was lifting their usual twelve bottle restriction for the series, so contributors were free to call for whatever they pleased. For me this seemed the perfect opportunity to post a new sparkling cocktail, the Stockholm 75, made with aquavit, lemon, sugar, sparkling wine, and sriracha bitters for a touch of spice. Click over to 12 Bottle Bar for the recipe, or if you’re in Portland stop into Metrovino to try one for yourself.

Be sure to browse the other recent posts for more guest contributions. It’s a great line-up, with guests including David Wondrich, Camper English, Gary Regan, and more. My thanks to David for inviting me to take part!

[Photo from 12 Bottle Bar.]

Fernet and ginger sorbet (a.k.a. Awesome Sorbet)

fernet_sorbet

This is a refined version of a recipe we made at Carlyle back in 2009 for a night of drinks featuring Fernet Branca. That version was delicious but it didn’t freeze well as I’d have liked. A few months ago I acquired an ice cream maker, so I’ve been enjoying lots of fernet sorbet this summer tweaking the recipe to reduce the amount of sugar and alcohol, both of which impede freezing.

The texture on this one still isn’t perfect for a stylized restaurant presentation, but it’s much more stable. Perhaps it would be perfect with a better ice cream maker or a fernet with a lower proof than the ubiquitous Fernet Branca that I’ve been using. The important thing is that it tastes fantastic. “Awesome Sorbet” was the label I found on the container at Carlyle when we made the first batch, and it still lives up to the name.

The inspiration for this is the fernet and ginger ale pairing beloved by so many West Coast bartenders. Neither ingredient dominates the sorbet, but they add spice and flavor.

30 oz orange juice
4 oz lemon juice
3 oz fernet
1 1/2 oz ginger juice*
6 oz superfine sugar

Whisk ingredients in a bowl, spin in an ice cream maker, and put in freezer until frozen.

* I don’t actually juice ginger for this. I just blend chopped ginger with a little water and push it through a strainer.

[Recipe edited 8/20/14 to reflect newest version.]

Smokejumper cocktail

smokejumper2

For Wendy, who includes a smokejumper clause in all her relationships.

2 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz lapsang souchong syrup*

Shake with ice, strain into ice-filled rocks glass.

* Equal parts brewed lapsang souchong tea and sugar. Or if you’re feeling spendy, substitute Qi black tea liqueur and a bit of sugar.

Mane to tail drinking with pimento dram

bitter_truth

When Haus Alpenz brought St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram into the US market a few years ago, it immediately became one of my favorite staples behind the bar. Allspice dram is one of those forgotten liqueurs that shows up in some vintage cocktail recipes and then largely disappeared. The spirit is made by infusing allspice (or “pimiento”) berries into Jamaican rum and then sweetening the mixture. It’s delicious and powerfully aromatic stuff, packed with winter spice notes like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Haus Alpenz wisely chose the more descriptive and appetizing “allspice dram” over the traditional “pimento dram,” the latter of which calls to mind those red things stuffed into bar cheap olives.

Now there’s a second allspice liqueur on the market. The Bitter Truth from Germany is using the classic name Pimento Dram for their offering. I received a sample a few weeks ago and I love it. It’s very rich and complex, with everything you’d want from an allspice liqueur. In price and proof it’s closely matched to the St. Elizabeth. I don’t have a strong preference between the two and am happy to recommend both of them.

This isn’t a spirit you’re likely to drink straight. It’s made for cocktails, so here are two to try. The first is the Lion’s Tail, brought back to prominence by cocktail historian Ted Haigh. It originally appeared in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, but I like Ted’s contemporary version from Imbibe magazine. This is a fantastic winter drink:

2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz allspice (or pimento!) dram
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Looking for a summery version of this drink, I came up with a variation called the Lion’s Mane using Novo Fogo’s Gold Cachaca, which is aged in oak for two years:

2 oz Novo Fogo Gold Cachaca
1/2 oz lapsang souchong syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz pimento dram
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Shake, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist. To make the syrup, brew lapsang souchong tea and combine it with an equal volume of sugar.

I also use pimento dram to make “spiced bitters,” an equal parts mix of the liqueur and Angostura bitters, that I keep in a dasher bottle at the bar. At Metrovino we pour through a lot of it making Lazy Bear cocktails. I haven’t tried Bitter Truth’s product this way, but I’m sure it would do well.

Scandinavian Spring

scandinavian

This month’s Mixology Monday is about niche spirits. From Filip at Adventures in Cocktails:

June’s theme will be “favorite niche spirit”, so any cocktail where the base ingredient is not bourbon, gin, rum, rye, tequila, vodka etc would qualify. So whether you choose Mezcal or Armagnac get creative and showcase your favorite niche spirit.

You know what bottle I empty the most at my house? I mean aside from Bols Genever. It’s Krogstad Aquavit, made here in Portland by House Spirits. It’s a very anise-forward spirit flavored with star anise and caraway, and I absolutely love making cocktails with it.

This one, Scandinavian Spring, I’m adding to the menu at Metrovino this week:

1 1/2 oz Krogstad Aquavit
1/2 oz Maurin Quina
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz honey-lavender syrup

Shake, strain, and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Maurin Quina is a product I’ve been eager to get on the Oregon market and it finally arrived in stores this month. It’s a fortified white wine flavored with quinine, cherries, lemon, and cherry brandy. It’s delicious stuff, either chilled as an aperitif or as an ingredient in mixed drinks.

There’s a lot going on in this cocktail, but the flavors come together really nicely. To make the honey-lavender syrup, combine 1 cup hot water, 1/2 cup honey, and 1/4 cup lavender, let cool, and strain.

Previously:
Take your medicine: A guide to quinine in cocktails
Iron Bartender Krogstad Aquavit cocktails

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.

A summer mezcal cocktail

Last night I was tending bar with my friend Dave Shenaut and we had the pleasure of mixing drinks for the folks behind Ilegal Mezcal. It’s not every night one is asked to come up with a variety of mezcal cocktails on the spot, but it was a fun challenge. This was one of the crowd-pleasers and an ideal drink for summer:

1.25 oz Ilegal Joven Mezcal
.75 oz honey-lavender syrup*
.75 oz Cocchi Americano
.5 oz lemon

Shake and serve up in a cocktail glass.

*Recipe here.

Summer Imbibing

tiberius

I have a new cocktail up at Imbibe this weekend featuring the limited edition Beefeater Summer Gin, hibiscus syrup, lemon, and cucumber. If you’re looking for a refreshing summer drink, give the Tiberius Fizz a try.

Why Tiberius? The emperor was reportedly extremely fond of cucumbers:

According to The Natural History of Pliny, by Pliny the Elder (Book XIX, Chapter 23), the Roman Emperor Tiberius had the cucumber on his table daily during summer and winter. The Romans reportedly used artificial methods (similar to the greenhouse system) of growing to have it available for his table every day of the year. To quote Pliny; “Indeed, he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone. Reportedly, they were also cultivated in cucumber houses glazed with oiled cloth known as “specularia”.

He was also a dark, somber, and sometimes tyrannical ruler, described by Pliny as “the gloomiest of men.” Perhaps a few cucumber fizzes would have cheered him up.

Genever comes to Portland

razorblade

If you follow my Twitter feed you saw that I posted cryptically last week about having a job interview on April Fool’s Day. It was a real interview and I’m pleased to announce that I’m now working with Lucas Bols as the Portland brand ambassador for Bols Genever, Damrak Gin, Galliano, and the Bols line of liqueurs. I’ve been a fan of their products ever since helping out with the Oregon launch event for their genever at Carlyle a few months ago, so I’m excited to be on board introducing people to this classic spirit that’s been unavailable in the US for a long time.

There’s no better way to kick things off than with a cocktail, so here’s one from Charles Baker that my friend Evan Zimmerman has on the menu at Laurelhurst Market, the Holland Razor Blade:

2 oz Bols Genever
.75 oz simple syrup
.75 oz lemon juice
pinch of cayenne pepper

Shake the first three ingredients with ice, strain into a coupe, and finish with the pinch of pepper. This is a really cool drink and I love the way the spice, sweetness, and citrus balance one another. Stop in soon to try it out.

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.

The Curse of Scotland

Drambuie is one of those bottles of liquor that’s a staple in many bars, including my own, that most bartenders don’t know what to do with. Recently my friend Lance Mayhew has been promoting it around Portland by hosting Drambuie Dens, encouraging bartenders and patrons to experiment with the spirit. They’ve been a lot of fun and while hosting one at Carlyle I was able to try it out in a few new cocktails. One of these is now on my menu as The Curse of Scotland:

.75 oz Ardbeg 10 Scotch
.75 oz Drambuie
.75 oz maraschino liqueur
.75 oz lemon juice

Shake and strain over ice into a chilled Martini glass. Ardbeg is my preferred Scotch here, but feel free to substitute another smoky Islay.

Obviously this is just a Scotch version of a Last Word. It substitutes Scotch for gin, Drambuie (an herbal liqueur) for Chartreuse (another herbal liqueur), and lemon for lime. It all came together on the first try; I wish all cocktails were this easy to make.

I’ll be serving this cocktail tonight at the 2009 Drambuie Den Bartender Showcase in Portland. Get the details and RSVP here if you’d like to attend. There’s a prize for best cocktail, too. With my drink using all off-the-shelf ingredients and having no fancy garnish it will be tough to win, but it is damn delicious.

Playing card enthusiasts will recognize the Curse of Scotland as a reference to the Nine of Diamonds, a card that has unique importance to many magicians as well.

Previously:
A simple summer Scotch cocktail
Thyme in a Bottle

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.]

Thyme in a Bottle

Thyme in a Bottle

Farigoule is a delicious liqueur from Provence that I recently came across here in Portland. Its primary flavor comes from the region’s abundant thyme, with a few other herbs added for good measure. It’s a unique, wonderful product: Not too sweet, intriguing flavors, great aroma, and well-balanced at 80 proof. I enjoy it neat, but since that’s a tough sell at the bar I also wanted to highlight it in a mixed drink.

At the same time I was working on a cocktail to enter into Bombay Sapphire’s Inspired Barender contest. Luckily gin is a natural pairing with Farigoule. And Farigoule, with its floral and herbal qualities, fills in well for better known French liqueurs like Chartreuse and St. Germain. Here’s the recipe I’ve submitted for the contest and placed on the Carlyle menu as Thyme in a Bottle, getting great reviews from customers so far:

1 oz Bombay Sapphire
.75 oz Farigoule
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz maraschino liqueur

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme. A really nice touch is to lightly toast the thyme to release its aroma before serving. My bar at Carlyle has tea lights on it so it’s easy for me to rest a sprig above a candle while I mix the drink. This fills the area with the scent of thyme and gives the cocktail an extra sensory dimension as the customer sips from it.

A tip of the hat for this drink also goes to Charles Munat, who suggested using Farigoule in a Last Word variation. Though the proportions are different here, that’s essentially what this drink is, with Farigoule standing in for Chartreuse and lemon for lime.