Naval Traditions

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This month’s Mixology Monday is hosted by David Solmonson at the wonderful 12 Bottle Bar:

As is the case for each event, the hosting site gets to choose the theme, and we’ve picked the ever-so-vague-yet-commanding “Come to Your Senses!”

We all know that cocktails are supposed to taste good, and for this event, we’re going to take that as a given. What we’re looking for, instead, are drinks that truly excite one or more of the other senses: touch, smell, sight, or even hearing. Of course, it you want to get scientific about it – and why wouldn’t you – there are even more sensations which can be played with (echolocation, anyone?).

My drink for this month involves fire. Why? Because fire sells drinks. How else to explain the otherwise inexplicably and cursedly popular Spanish Coffee? Light a drink on fire and customers are going to ask about it. In my bar, where the cocktails compete with 70+ wines available by the taste or glass, that’s no small thing. However I’m not interested in setting drinks on fire without reason or hiding inferior ingredients under pyrotechnic theatricality. The fire should improve the drink in some way.

In this case, fire comes in the form of a flamed mist of rum and orange bitters. The burnt bitters leave a strong aromatic presence that lingers over the surface of the drink. The cocktail appeals to three senses: The sight of the flame, the scent of the bitters, and (hopefully!) the taste of the combined ingredients.

The name for this cocktail came long before the recipe. There’s an apocryphal story about Winston Churchill remarking of tradition in the British Navy that “It’s nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash.” This appears to be a false attribution, although according to the Churchill Centre and Museum he wished he had said it. Regardless, a friend of mine once suggested that Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash would make a great name for a cocktail, and it’s been at the back of my mind ever since.

The opportunity to use it came a few months ago at the bon voyage party for Portland bartender Tommy Klus before he left to spend a few months in Scotland. I was taking a turn behind the bar and was asked to improvise a cocktail with the limited range of ingredients available to us . Aged rum, black strap rum, peaty Scotch, turbinado syrup, bitters, and a canister of orange oil for flaming turned out to be a winning combination. Here’s a slightly revised version of that deep, dark drink:

1 3/4 oz aged rum
1/2 oz black strap rum
1/2 oz turbinado syrup
1/4 oz Islay Scotch
2 dashes spiced bitters
flamed orange bitters

Stir the first five ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and flame the bitters over the drink to finish. I use Cruzan for the rums and Ardbeg for the Scotch. The turbinado syrup is in a 1:1 ratio. The spiced bitters are an equal parts mix of Angostura bitters and allspice dram (also used in the Lazy Bear). For the flamed orange bitters, mix equal parts Regan’s orange bitters and 151-proof rum in a mister bottle and spray through a flame above the glass. (Note: The photo above is from a different cocktail that uses the bitters torch. I’m on the road right now with none of the ingredients needed to make the one in this post.)

This would have been the perfect cocktail to name as my friend suggested. There’s rum, obviously. The burst of flame is a lash. And I guess that leaves Scotch for the other thing. Sorry, Scotch. However I don’t work at the kind of place where I can put “sodomy” on the menu (in a manner of speaking!), so the actual name for this drink is an allusion to the falsely attributed Churchill quote, an in-joke for my friends at the bar. It’s listed as Naval Traditions.

Update 8/17/11: Below the break, my friend Tom sends in an animated GIF of the bitters torch in action!
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Sally Port Punk

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Last week I promised one more cocktail made with Dimmi, the Milanese liqueur flavored with grappa and fruit blossoms. Coincidentally this month’s Mixology Monday hosted by The Barman Cometh is about cocktails made with floral ingredients:

The challenge is to feature a cocktail that highlights a floral flavor profile or includes a floral derived ingredient, whether home-made or off the shelf. With the ever expanding catalogue of spirits (and the kitchen labs of home enthusiasts), there’s a whole host of directions for you to choose from – elderflower liqueur, creme de violette, chamomile infused gin, hibiscus grenadine, rosewater, lavender syrup – or to create. With some luck, one of the garnish gurus will figure out a way to turn an orchid into a swizzle stick.

The Sally Port Punk, a slightly bitter aperitif-style cocktail, is the newest addition to the menu at Metrovino:

1 oz blanco tequila
1 oz white port
1/2 oz Dimmi
1/2 oz Campari

Stir, serve up, garnish with an orange twist.

This drink is a straightforward variation on one of my favorite contemporary cocktails, Stephen Shellenberger’s Alto Cucina. Like the Negroni or Last Word, his is a drink that lends itself to infinite variation by substituting one or more of its components for similar spirits:

1 oz Scotch
1 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz St. Germain
1/2 oz Cynar

Stir, serve up, garnish with an orange twist.

We have one other cocktail on the current menu based on this template, which I’ll post sometime soon.

Brewing Up Cocktails returns!

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This Saturday night Ezra Johnson-Greenough of the New School, Yetta Vorobik of the Hop and Vine, and I are hosting the sequel to our event dedicated to mixing with beer, Brewing Up Cocktails. We have six drinks on tap this time, ranging from a cheeky deconstruction of the Irish Car Bomb to a traditional wassail made with Deschutes Jubelale. Ezra’s presenting a cocktail per day over at his blog, so head over there for all the details.

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My favorite drink on the menu is the Hot Scotchy, a treat enjoyed by homebrewers combining whiskey and hot, unfermented wort (the sweet, malty mash that is eventually fermented into beer). For our event the wort is provided by Upright Brewing and the whisky is the peat-heavy Ardbeg 10. Jeff Alworth of Beervana sampled a version of the Hot Scotchy with Talisker last week and pronounced it “the greatest beverage in the world.” How can you say no to an endorsement like that?

The event runs from 6-10 this Saturday at the Hop and Vine. All drinks are individually priced. A few of the ingredients are in limited quantities, so I’d suggest arriving early if there’s a particular drink you’re eager to try.

Previously: See MIX Magazine’s coverage of our first Brewing Up Cocktails event.

[Photos by "SNOB" Ritch.]

Green Mountain Nail

I hadn’t planned on posting this drink (how’s that for a ringing endorsement?) but it took second place in last night’s cocktail competition sponsored by Drambuie, so it’s worth putting up. It was a tight race with Adam Robinson of Park Kitchen taking third and Tommy Klus of Teardrop Lounge edging me out by a point to take first.

Tommy and I went for very similar flavor profiles, marrying Drambuie with peaty Scotch and fall spices. My drink was a Stone Fence variation (hence the Green Mountain reference) using Ardbeg, Drambuie (a.k.a. “the ‘Bu”), apple cider gastrique, and the Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters, which add big notes of cinnamon and clove. It’s a tasty fall cocktail and even people who were scared of Scotch seemed to like it.

2 oz apple cider
1.5 oz Ardbeg 10
.75 oz Drambuie
.75 oz apple cider gastrique
1 dash Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Stir over ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add a cinnamon stick if you feel compelled to garnish, but there’s no need for it.

I don’t have a strict recipe for the gastrique. It’s something I made for a completely different Stone Fence variation last year and I realized a few hours before last night’s competition that I’d never recorded the ingredients or process. It’s fairly simple though: Caramelize about a cup of sugar in a small amount of water, slowly add about 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar, and finally add about a cup of good apple juice or cider. I added a splash of lemon juice too though I suspect it’s unnecessary.

For a simpler cocktail pairing Ardbeg and Drambuie, see also my drink from last year, the Curse of Scotland.

Finally, for no good reason:

What I’ve been drinking

Several people have mentioned that I’ve been neglecting the blog lately, which I suppose is better than no one noticing that I haven’t been updating. I’ve been far too busy testing drink recipes for my forthcoming cocktail guide to have time for writing. It’s a terrible burden, but someone has to carry it! Recipe selection wraps up today and then I am off to Houston for my ten year high school reunion, so things should return somewhat back to normal next week. In the meantime here are a few spirit reviews…

Glenlivet 1973 Cellar Collection– How does one review a whisky that sells for more than $1,000 a bottle? At that price it no longer makes sense to ask if it is worth the money in an ordinary sense. I can say that it’s an excellent whisky. It’s rich, warming at 98 proof, and has a slight fruit note that I assume comes from finishing in sherry cask. It’s not every day I get to taste a whisky older than I am and sometimes very old whiskies are just too woody. That’s not the case here. I only have a couple ounces of this but I would happily drink much more. This is a fantastic Scotch and if I’d gone into banking instead of blogging I might be tempted to buy a bottle.

Oxley gin — What sets this gin apart is its unique distillation process. As you might remember from physics class, when you lower the pressure on a liquid its boiling point drops as well. Oxley is distilled in a near-vacuum at a few degrees below freezing. That’s interesting for science nerds but it wouldn’t matter if it didn’t taste good. Luckily it does, with the fresh citrus peel used to flavor it standing out against lighter juniper notes. Its grapefruit taste makes it perfect for a Pegu Club. Definitely recommended.

Sagatiba cachaca — A few weeks ago the Oregon Bartenders Guild hosted Sagatiba brand ambassador John Gakuru for a cachaca event. Sagatiba isn’t in the state yet, but hopefully it will be soon. The Pura is a light, clean, and smooth unaged cachaca. It’s good but I am more excited about the Velha, a pot still cachaca aged between two and three years in bourbon barrels; this is nice neat and I could see it being great in cocktails. Finally we were also treated to their Preciosa, a very limited bottling of cachaca left to age 23 years in Cognac barrels. The finish is long and woody; it’s an unusual spirit worth sipping if one comes across it. Oregon is short on quality cachaca so the Pura and Velha will be very welcome additions here (I don’t know if the Preciosa is coming in).

Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

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I don’t plan on writing about every Bols cocktail around town but when a drink is named Jacob’s Ladder of course I’m going to post it. My friend Andrew at Branch Whiskey Bar came up with this one combining three of my favorite things: genever, Fernet-Branca, and single malt Scotch:

2 oz Bols genever
.25 oz Fernet-Branca
.25 oz simple syrup
A few drops of Talisker
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice, strain, and serve up with an orange twist.

It’s an imposing list of ingredients but they come together nicely and the cocktail is very smooth. If you’re in Portland stop into Branch and give it a try.

What I’ve been drinking

Upright Four Play — When I first moved to Portland from DC I missed the latter city’s recent love affair with Belgian beers. Luckily Upright started brewing soon after I got here, producing superb farmhouse-style ales just a few blocks from my apartment. Their first anniversary beer is a sour cherry wheat ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It’s one of the best fruit beers I’ve ever tasted, dry and with no hint of the artificial notes you find in some cherry beers and spirits. There are only 80 cases of 750 ml bottles available so this will go fast at the April 9 release party. If you only want to buy it for the label, that’s OK too.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Finish — A customer brought this in for me right before Carlyle closed. Finished in Chardonnay barrels, it’s possibly the most unique bourbon I’ve tried. It has a distinct, funky note, and I mean that in a good way. The finish is very smooth. Not for everyone, but definitely worth trying if you can find it. It’s going to be painful when I pour the last of this bottle.

Ledaig 10 YearLance Mayhew turned me on to this Scotch recently. It’s an island whisky from Mull, distilled by Tobermory. It’s fairly light in body and has a very well-balanced dose of peatiness. I like this Scotch a lot and could see it becoming a staple in my home bar, a great option for when you’re not in the mood for a big, assertive Islay. One of my favorite whiskies of the moment.

Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA — At 95 IBUs and with the word “hop” right there in the title I was expecting this to be the sort of bitter hop monster I don’t really go for. However Jeff at Beervana gave it an intriguingly good review so I decided to give it a try. The verdict? This is a seriously good beer. Yes, it’s hoppy, but it somehow manages to extract all the citrusy goodness from the hops without getting too bitter.

Hangar One Vodkas — What, me say nice things about vodka? It doesn’t happen often but these are impressive. Hangar One sent samples of three of their flavors: Kaffir Lime, Buddha’s Hand, and Mandarin Blossom. They all avoid the one-note simplicity of many flavored vodkas. I’m not currently creating any cocktail menus, but if I were I’d consider working one of these onto them.

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

Iron Bartending and whiskey drinks in PDX

Gore Vidal once said that he never passes up a chance to have sex or appear on television. Precisely one of these things I’m willing to do with my friend Neil Kopplin and we’re going to be doing it — appearing on TV, that is! — on KOIN’s “Keep it Local” show later today. We’ll be promoting tonight’s Iron Bartender competition at the Jupiter Hotel and having an Old School Carlyle vs New School Carlyle cocktail throwdown. The show airs between 4-5 on Channel 6 and will hopefully be online soon after. (The last time I was on local television the mysterious “David Grier,” who looks suspiciously just like me, got all the credit. This time I’m determined to keep him off the set!)

Also in local press, today’s Portland Mercury is all about my favorite spirit, whiskey. Included in their whiskey feature is a round-up of local whiskey cocktails, including this blog’s Curse of Scotland and drinks from some of the best bartenders in town. Check it out here.

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

MxMo Sleeping Scotsman

Scotsman

Back when I worked at Grape and Bean in Alexandria, VA, one of the items we specialized in was a variety pack of gourmet salts. One of these was a smoked sea salt that I absolutely loved. It was incredibly fragrant and, as I do with most tasty things, I immediately started thinking about how I could work it into a cocktail.

This month’s Mixology Monday provided the perfect opportunity to revisit that idea. Fellow Portlander Craig at Tiki Drinks and Indigo Firmaments chose the theme of spice:

Spice should give you plenty of room to play – from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg — what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn’t an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I’d love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.

For this drink I picked up a pouch of Pacific Northwest Smoked Sea Salt distributed by a local company called Salt Central. It’s every bit as fragrant as what I had in Virginia. The package says it’s made from sea salt smoked over red alder wood and the aroma really is amazing. It makes me want to open the package every once in a while and shove my nose inside. A talented chef could probably make some delicious meat dishes with it. I’m not a talented chef by any means, so I stick to drinks.

The obvious use of salt in a cocktail is a Margarita with a salted rim. The alder aroma opens up new possibilities, Scotch offering itself as a fitting complement to sea salt and smoke. Wanting to retain the citrus component of the Margarita, I came up with this Sleeping Scotsman:

2 oz Scotch
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz orange juice
.25 oz lemon juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters

Shake and strain into a glass half-rimmed with smoked sea salt.

The salt is used here for the way its aroma complements the Scotch, so salting half the rim lets the drinker take in the fragrance without having to add it to the drink. The salt is delicious though, so enjoying some on a few sips isn’t a bad idea.

This drink’s closest relative is the Blood and Sand, which combines Scotch, sweet vermouth, orange juice, and cherry brandy, traditionally in equal parts. Here the Scotch takes center stage and the cherry brandy is omitted entirely. Adding Peychaud’s may seem like a strange choice, but its medicinal quality marries well with the Scotch, whereas the spiciness of aromatic bitters would seem out of place. Peychaud’s actually has a long history with the spirit, dating back at least to a footnote in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in which he recommends it over Angostura. A page before he also writes, “Just why anyone would want to make a cocktail with Scotch I wouldn’t know, any more than I can understand why anyone should want to kill the exquisite bouquet of a good champagne by blending it with sugar, Angostura, and lemon and calling it a champagne cocktail.” He’s right that Scotch really is harder to mix with than other whiskeys, but I think here I’ve come up with a drink that makes it worth diluting. I imagine it working well as a brunch drink for guys who want something a little more manly than the usual Mimosa.

Incidentally, this post marks my one year anniversary participating in Mixology Monday. My first contribution also involved Scotch and smoke, so this post is a fitting bookend. I’ve come a long way as a bartender since then. For much of that time I haven’t been working behind any bar aside from my own home setup, so MxMo has been an excellent spur to creativity.

As for the name of the drink… when you’re combining Scotch and salty aromas, there’s only one song that comes to mind.

The Gingerbread Man’s Godson

Last month Hiram-Walker launched a couple of seasonal gingerbread and pumpkin spice liqueurs and they’re hosting a bloggers’ cocktail contest with the former. I agree with Lance’s take on the products, so visit his site for a longer review. In brief, they capture the right aromas, but they’re a little too thin for drinking on their own. In a fall or winter mixed drink, though, they can play a solid role.

Knowing I was up against a bevy of creative cocktail bloggers, my first attempt at trying a recipe far off the beaten path brought me back to our old friend the Dog’s Nose:

12 ounces warm porter or stout
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 ounces gin
freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Would it be possible to replace the gin with whiskey and Hiram-Walker’s gingerbread liqueur to make a warming winter drink? Maybe, but there’s a limit to how many bottles of good stout I’m willing to waste in the microwave to find out! And that limit is one, so after one horribly wrong attempt I dropped this line of inquiry and went in a more sensible direction.

I didn’t have much stocked in my new apartment’s bar yet, but I did have Scotch. This suggested a play on the Godson with the gingerbread liqueur filling in for amaretto. So here’s a drink we’ll call the Gingerbread Man’s Godson:

2 oz Scotch
.75 oz Hiram-Walker gingerbread liqueur
.5 oz whipping cream

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. The substitution works and the peatiness of the Scotch stands up to the sweetness of the cream and liqueur. It fits the bill for a simple winter dessert drink.

Samantha Harrigan is writing up all the cocktail entries on her weblog, Cocktail Culture. Head over there to check out the other drinks.

Overcoming blend bias

What, no election day post? Yeah, sorry. I was in the middle of writing something when I got an invitation from my friend Lance to join him at a Scotch tasting. Drinking Scotch at 2:30 in the afternoon pretty much killed my productivity, but sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices. Maybe I’ll get it up tomorrow or maybe this blog will just go straight into some food and drink posts. We’re due for some after all the politics of the past few weeks. Don’t like it? Blame Lance.

The tasting was hosted by Dewar’s. I’m your stereotypical elitist single malt guy, so I was a little wary of the blends. Dewar’s wanted to fight that prejudice and educate us about how blending works and why we should appreciate a good blended whisky. So after warming us up with glasses of their 12-year-old offering, they lined up samples of six different components that go into a blend: single malts from the 4 recognized regions, an Island malt, and the simple grain Scotch that forms the base. We sampled their aromas and went over a quick course about what sets them apart from each other. Our challenge? To create our own individual blend, with each team choosing their favorite for the final judging.

My McDivot blend (named after the cute terrier you sometimes see at the top of the page) took home first place. This was due to luck more than skill, but the Scotch did turn out the way I hoped it would, with a healthy dose of peat and smoke. I’m sipping the remnants now, and it really is the kind of Scotch I like to drink. It’s striking how large an effect a tiny bit of Islay and Island has on the blend; just a few milliliters from a pipette into a 100 mL sample are all it takes to radically change the flavor profile.

The prize was a bottle of the Dewar’s 12. It packs a little bit of heat and is well-balanced with just the right amount of smoky depth. It’s something I probably never would have picked up on my own, but it’s actually a nice Scotch and much easier on the wallet than a high-end single malt. I’d love to enjoy it with a strong maduro cigar. Now that I’ve given it a fair shake I could easily see keeping a bottle on hand.

The finale to the tasting was a glass of the Dewar’s Signature blend. Twenty-seven-year-old whisky from the company’s Aberfeldy distillery makes up the heart of this one and the extra aging does seem to come through in a stronger vanilla flavor. It’s definitely a good drink, but at $160-200 a bottle it’s well past the point where I’d consider the expense worthwhile. For that kind of money I’d rather get two excellent single malts.

Today’s tasting didn’t convert me away from my love of big, peaty single malts, but it did leave me with a deeper education about Scotch and a much greater appreciation for blends. If you’re looking for an affordable whisky with depth and character, the Dewar’s 12 is certainly worth checking out.