Happy Day of the Dude, A&T dudes and dudettes! As you know by now, David, John and Pablo are big fans of The Big Lebowski. We may have written about it a time or two on/about March 6, the anniversary of its release date. This year is a big one, though: The Ballad of the Dude is turning 21. It's legally allowed to drink!
In celebration of this momentous occasion, the guys at A&T put together their own preferred reading lists to help The Dude graduate into proper cocktail-hood. The ground rules are basic: list up to four "traditional media" sources (books, magazines, pamphlets, bottle labels, etc.) and/or "new media" sources (websites, facebook pages, instagram pages, twitter handles, etc.) that have proven instrumental in our immersion into the cocktail-verse.
Not that we actually expect him to pick up a book or shift away from vodka, Kahlúa, and milk. That would be very un-Dude. But maybe you, dear reader, will feel inspired. There's some good stuff here... a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot what-have-yous. Enjoy!
DAVID: This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps.
I've been in the Alps, and... things happen? Usually it's just a shared beer, but I guess...
Right, so... up to four, huh? That, as my colleague John says, is easier said than done. The cool part is, this is pretty much the golden age of cocktails and beverages of all sorts, so the field's wide, wide, WIDE open. Seriously. Regardless whether you're into straight up booze, cocktails, wine, beer, saké, you name it, there's pretty much never been a better time to tipple. The field seems endless, and the outlets for learning about it are just about as wide.
BUT... here, in the house of Alchemy and a Twist - unlike 'Nam - there are rules, of a sort. Even if those are pretty much limited to "we'll talk about cocktails, not beer, wine and saké," and the like. I will, of course, violate those rules in part with my first pick.
First: For the broadest possible range of all things potable, I love Imbibe magazine (www.imbibemagazine.com). I particularly like this one specifically because it covers a wide spectrum - it's about anything you can drink, really, whether that's cocktails, particularities of Jamaican rum, interesting coffee, wine, the specifics of an old-school and increasingly rare Chinese tea... it's just interesting. It's accessible to anyone, rather than trying to cater to a single audience, and no matter what you're into you'll find things in one issue or another that either speak to your interest or get you curious about something you didn't know was a thing.
And at the end of the day, curiosity's really what it's all about, isn't it? Cocktails are delicious (so's tea, coffee, wine, etc...), and lots of things that Imbibe might have articles on aren't necessarily cocktails, but might find their way into one, and wouldn't that be lovely?
Second: Two books wrapped into one, because I'm going to cheat JUST a little more. The first is Liquid Intelligence, by Dave Arnold; the second is the Aviary book, by the team that brought us Alinea (www.theaviarybook.com). Here's the deal with both of these: they are written by people who occupy the Temples of the Most High. They are written by people who have a whole lot more time and money and resources than you do, and who refer to their bar's ice program without even the slightest hint of irony. They are filled with recipes that require special kinds of filtration, spherification, reduction, infusion, and other arcane esoterica. They are filled with recipes that involve specialized tools, apparently designed by NASA, and processes that require a lot more time and attention than anyone not deriving their salary from it has time for.
At first glance, many of these seem amazing, but unattainable. But if you read on in each book, there's almost always some sort of note a few paragraphs farther into each section to the effect that "you can also just use a coffee filter."
In other words, there is magic in these books. And if you pay attention and let them spur your curiosity to try new things and experiment, you'll likely discover you don't need nearly the budget (nor the NASA-designed equipment) to make it happen that you might think. Let them spur you to try things that seemed out of your reach. It's not that you'll be able to do everything in them... but you can do a lot more than you'd think at first glance. Mostly what lies behind this recommendation is a sense that nobody ever stretches their capabilities by aiming for things they already know they can do. Sure, spherification isn't easy, per se... but it's also not rocket science, and once you figure it out (with a few bucks' worth of tools and chemicals), it's a seriously cool tool to have at hand.
Third: we're going old-school here, the total polar opposite of the Aviary: Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide (www.mrbostondrinks.com).
Seriously. Stop laughing... yes, I know about 10,000 books have come out since Mr. Boston's cocktail guide was published, and it seems hard to take a book seriously when it still has a recipe for a Screwdriver in it.
Back in the day when I first worked behind a bar (longer ago than I care to admit), it was pretty much the only book around; but then you barely needed it, because 95% of everyone ordering a cocktail was getting a Mudslide, a Rum and Coke, an Appletini, a Vodka Tonic... talk about "not exactly rocket science." At that point the words "beverage program" would have gotten confused looks, and craft cocktails weren't yet a gleam in a young bartender's eye. The most complicated thing you were likely to get an order for was a Martini - not because it's a complicated drink on paper, but because people who order Martinis are hyper-particular (read: finicky as hell) and have no qualms about sending six attempts back at you if you don't get it the way they like it.
I get that. I'm one of those people. But I digress...
You had Mr. Boston's stashed somewhere behind the bar mainly because every once in a while some assho... some inestimably valued and honored guest walked in determined to Stump the Bartender. Obviously, this was the highlight of his week - and it was almost always a "he," don't ask me why. He would ask for a Road Runner (Vodka, Amaretto and Coconut Cream) just to see that confused flicker in your eye, and to smugly watch you go flipping through this little red book looking for help after admitting you weren't quite familiar with that one.
BUT... and here's the thing... just like Rock 'n Roll emerged from the Blues, and Blues from older rhythms beyond that, Mr. Boston's was and remains a touchstone. All of those craft beverage programs, all of those pre-prohibition revivals, all of those hipster, Tiki-upgrade house-made craft experiences... the people who created those, or the people who taught them, all had Mr. Boston stashed somewhere behind the bar, and learned how to make an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan and a Grasshopper from it.
It might not be the most glamorous, or exotic. It might be a bit stuffy and staid. NASA has never heard of it. But it's solid, and you can find everything you need to make everything in it at any bog-standard liquor store and supermarket. It'll teach you everything you need to know about the basics, about how to set up a speed rail, about when to shake and when to stir and how to chill a glass, and to this day every time I flip through it I find something I hadn't noticed that sounds interesting (A Japanese: brandy, orgeat, lime juice and bitters. Huh...).
It'll give you all of the tools and combinations you need to build a foundation from and learn to riff on, or to make as wide as possible a range of stuff for people who might be intimidated by fancier, more complicated drinks. And if you really take a look at the modern-revival-pre-prohibition-house-made-craft-creation cocktail lists, somewhere stashed behind the bar you'll find an old dog-eared copy of Mr. Boston.
JOHN: Hot damn this was... not easy. I was sorely tempted to break the "up to four" limit. But I could hear David chastising me with a simple "John, this is not 'Nam, this is A&T. There are rules", and so I reluctantly decided to abide. Sorta.
I decided to focus on a "beginner's level" selection. These are the books, websites, and videos that I turned to during my early forays into mixing; they helped refine my sensibilities, tastes, and techniques. That's not to say that these are only for beginners; to the contrary, going back through some of these resources for this post made me realize that in some cases I barely scratched the surface of what they had to offer. So with that, here we go!
#1 - Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails(book)
This was the first cocktail book I ever got, along with a reprint of The Savoy. While The Savoy is a piece of history in itself, Ted Haigh's book is more like a guided walking tour. It includes a brief history of the cocktail, an annex on standard classics, a rundown on the major contributors to the beginning of the recent cocktail revival, and a resource guide on unusual and hard to find ingredients.
At the heart of the book are 80 plus recipes and the backstories Mr. Haigh provides for each. From long-lost cocktails that have experienced a rebirth - like the Corpse Reviver #2 and the Pegu Club - to drinks that you likely won't find anywhere else, like the Chatham Hotel Special and the Filmograph Cocktail, Vintage Spirits has you covered.
So why does this deserve a spot on your bar shelf? The history! By now, the best drinks in here have been picked up by other, more recent books. But Vintage Spiritsgoes above and beyond in detailing the origins and evolution of the drinks, as well as describing how Mr. Haigh adjusted certain recipes to account for modern tastes or sadly unavailable ingredients.
#2 - The Joy of Mixology (book)
Yup, same Regan.
Like Ted Haigh, Gary Regan is a legend from the early days of the modern cocktail revival. And if the name "Regan" sounds familiar (it's pronounced "Reeegan", not "senile bastard who all of a sudden doesn't seem so bad") but you can't quite place it, it's because Joy's author is also the inventor of Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6. What a guy!
Joy follows in the footsteps of classics like Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and Johnson's Bartender's Manual. There are of course the recipes, a history of cocktails, the obligatory overview of glassware, tools, spirits, mixers, modifiers and garnishes, business and management tips for professional bartenders, and a general theory of mixology. It is, in many ways, a gussied up Mr. Boston's. Everyone should have at least one of those in their collection.
So why should you add Joy to your collection? Tucked into a concise 29 pages is a categorization of all the cocktails in Joy that will blow your mind. Ever wonder why the Margarita, the Sidecar, and the Kamikaze all feel so remarkably similar to make? Because they're all basically the same drink, and if you have a peak at Joy's "New Orleans Sours: Chart 3" table, that obvious fact hits you smack in the face. Trust me, you'll never be as excited again to flip through 29 beautiful pages of charts. This is the cocktail literature version of the red pill, my friends.
#3 - Small Screen Network (YouTube channel) This is me cheating. When I was first getting started, I stumbled across this channel and damn near never pulled myself out. There are about 11 years worth of videos here to peruse, with most of them falling between 3 and 5 minutes. There are dozens of hosts and "shows" available here, mostly all of excellent quality. My personal favorites are "Raising the Bar with Jamie Boudreau", "The Morgenthaler Method", and "The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess".
Boudreau brings a lot of style and an excellent understanding of blending and complementing flavors. He also has a ton of great advice on technique. Morgenthaler comes across as a bit of an assh... the kinda guy that might have walked into David's bar and ordered a Road Runner. But he's ruthlessly funny and, much like myself, a bit lazy; his blog is full of great tips and advice on how to cut corners without sacrificing quality. He also completely changed my understanding and appreciation for French 75s.
Oh, and there's this:
How to Make a Cocktail Video - The Morgenthaler Method - YouTube
Let's face it people, we're living in a YouTube world. There's no shame in tapping into that resource, reducing your learning curve, and making yourself a quality drink as quickly as possible. Go do it!
PABLO: OVER THE LINE!
Oh, sorry. Right. This initially sounded like a simple ask because it's easy, but it's too easy, to name books you grab for inspiration. It's almost like the paradox of choice, not knowing what to pick when there are so many things from which to pick.
My first pick is also one of my first cocktail books, and one that seems most fitting for El Duderino: 3-Ingredient Cocktails by Robert Simonson. Not only does this keep true and consistent with the Dude's own three ingredient preferred drink of choice, this provides an array of, you guessed it, other three ingredient cocktails. Aside from the obvious, what's great about this book is that is provides options for both classic and modern cocktails. Each recipe has either the history of the cocktail (for the classics) or the "author" of the modern options. For the most part the cocktails are easily recreated with few requiring your non-standard ingredients (but there are a couple in there...). There are 75 recipes in there and pretty pictures, too!
My second pick is The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. While this isn't perhaps your typical cocktail book it's a really interesting and educational read. While it's 400 pages, this isn't exactly teeming with recipes--there are about 50 cocktail recipes plus recipes for syrups, infusions, and garnishes. That being said, there are several goodies in there. The best part of this book is getting that understanding of what natural ingredients go into what. How do they impart and affect flavor? How do all these things come together? It's a dense book but if you're into that sort of thing, and I'd guess you are if you've read this far, then it's worth picking up.
The Imbible: A Cocktail Guide for Beginning and Home Bartenders by Micah LeMon is my third pick. In part I chose this book because the author is a fellow Virginian. However, the great thing about this book for, let's be honest, people like me, who are still learning the ins and outs of mixing things together in the comfort of their own home is really understanding the foundation of the most common cocktails and how these drinks evolve by substituting one ingredient for another, learning more about ratios and proportions. LeMon starts with the most basic building blocks and slowly extrapolates a classic cocktail to a modern iteration. For those people who are already pretty swish behind a bar there are still some great tidbits in there but those who want to learn more would benefit the most.
My final pick doesn't really fit in with the previous choices but it tends to be my go-to for inspiration, recipes, feedback, and directly connecting with other cocktail aficionados: Instagram. I love seeing the range of people from home bartenders to professional mixologists all over the world create and share recipes. There are people all over willing to share their thoughts, ideas, and riffs. It really does have a sense of community and collaboration and more and more I'm reverting to my saved posts to recreate what others have.
The great thing about all of our picks is that there are no wrong answers, these are just like, our opinions, man.
On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution repealing Prohibition was passed. Eighty some-odd years later, the anniversary of this momentous occasion inspired the three gents behind A&T to actually post some thoughts. On this particular occasion, it's not about making the perfect drink but rather making do with what you've got at hand.
Hello beloved readers. Yes, it's been a while since we posted here. That doesn't mean we haven't been putting things out in the world. Don't forget to follow our Instagram and Facebook pages for more regular updates. That said, in honor of this most hallowed of days, we thought we'd grace the interwebs with some of our long form thoughts on what we've been drinking, specifically how to make do when the great thirst grips you but supplies at hand might be lacking. And here.we.go.
Behind the bar.
John: Somehow, despite our best efforts, December 5 snuck up on us again this year. As I write this, I'm sitting in a mosquito-netted bed in a homely hotel in Iringa, Tanzania. I befriended the resident bartender, Albert, but his expertise is mostly limited to opening up bottles of Safari and Kilimanjaro beers. With a little cajoling, I got him to let me behind the bar.
Albert testing a first trial of the Iringa 75.
The pickings were slim. Very slim. Speaking frankly, it was mostly bottles of forgettable South African wine, generic whisk(e)ys and gin, a few "malt" beverages, and Konyagi, a Tanzanian cane sugar liquor. Albert was enthusiastic, however, and was willing to help pull together the fixings for some fresh lime juice, brown sugar simple syrup, and Savanna Cider (also from South Africa). He even donated some fresh mint - apparently a former guest was known to enjoy mojitos. With Albert's help I got to work, much to the amusement of a group of Peace Corps Volunteers who had just arrived at the hotel.
Ultimately, I came up with what I'm calling the Iringa 75, a play on the city of origin (Iringa) and the beverage of inspiration (French 75). It is very Charles H. Baker-esque. Albert seemed to like it. This was very much a beverage of the moment and one that might be tough to re-create (if you wanted to), but it will get you where you need to go. The Recipe:
A rose in a fisted glove, Eagles flying with doves, etc.
Fill a Collins Glass (or equivalent) with ice and add: Konyagi: 2-3 second pour Lime Juice: 1-2 second pour Brown Sugar Simple Syrup: 1 second pour Savanna Cider: Fill to the top of the glass (3-4 second pour)
Slap a few mint leaves, drop into the glass, and stir with abandon. Take a sprig of mint, give that another slap, and set it gently at the top of the drink. Consume quickly.
David: "Snuck up on us again" as in "John reminded us in October and then we all forgot until two days ago."
I've been focused more on wine than cocktails recently, with the result that my wine selection rocks, but my bar is a little low. Some things I can't go without - good gin, for instance - but everything else has atrophied somewhat. Yes, for the record, I AM ashamed of that.
With that in mind, I went looking through what I HAVE got - which, like any of you, is more than you might think if you're willing to get a bit creative - and came up with this, which I'm calling An Apple A Day.
I had some Laird's applejack left, which is good solid stuff. Because it's apple-derived, I made an apple simple syrup. I have some fennel bitters that I put together recently, and apple pairs beautifully with the green, vegetal, slightly anise flavor of that. One of the few things those bitters WILL pair really well with, which of course means I need to go pick up more applejack.
John, in his present location, will confirm my understanding of the phrase "first world problems."
Making flavored simple syrup is way easier than you might think... simple syrup itself is only 1 part sugar, 1 part water, mix them together in a pot on the stove, then heat it and stir it until the sugar dissolves. That's it. Seriously. I had an apple on hand, so I peeled it, chucked the peels in as it heated, and let them cool in the syrup. Presto, apple simple syrup. Duplicate that with anything you happen to have around... lemon? Add lemon peel. Ginger? Black pepper? Knock yourself out, simple syrup's a totally blank canvas.
Lemon lifts the drink, the acid meshing with and helping to integrate the rest of the flavors - really ties the drink together, you might say. I was trying to think of something to add a bit more interest, then remembered I had a smoker and - weirdly enough - some applewood chips to put in it, which is the kind of synchronicity that rarely happens. SO, understanding that the Gods were obviously behind me in my time of tribulation...
The Recipe: 2.5 oz Laird's applejack. I'd say "or whatever apple brandy you have on hand," except that it's probably Laird's, so there you go. .5 oz lemon juice .5 oz apple simple syrup about half of a quarter oz of fennel bitters.
I am sadly out of Oola gin, which I'd picked up in Seattle last year
If you don't have a smoker, no worries - the drink turned out great without it, but it's a nice touch. If you DO have a smoker, what I did is wet the inside of the glass with a touch of the applejack to hold the smoke, then upended the glass and stuck the smoker nozzle under it. If you don't have fennel bitters, no worries, be creative. Basic aromatic will work fine, but orange? Pairs great with apple and as a bonus, you can groove on the irony while you sip. Black walnut? Ditto, reinforces a nice earthy touch - minus the irony, of course.
Since the drink's got fruit juice and syrup, I shook it rather than stirring it. An extra apple peel made a nice garnish, but I did it again (quality control, don't y'know) with some fennel pollen along the rim of the glass, and that was awesome. I also made it (quality - hic - control, don'y'know) with a brandy that I picked up in Kosovo recently, and it was great with that too.
Pablo: For the record, I'm also ashamed of David.
That's only because I suffer from the opposite problem. Whereas John finds himself in locales that may not have what we'd consider a well-stocked bar and David has a healthy wine collection but limited spirits, I don't travel as often these days and I have a well-stocked liquor cabinet; it's not necessary to divulge actual figures since my wife will read this but there is an overflow problem...depending on who you ask. It's not about quantity but storage. Though I am under strict orders not to buy any more bottles until we go through some of what we've got. There was nothing said about others buying me bottles. 'Tis the season, after all.
In order to free up space I pulled every bottle out to reorganize and set aside those which were down to a few ounces and in the spirit of making do with what I had set aside I stirred together a little something. My options included: Vitae Modern Gin, Vitae Golden Rum, Laird's Applejack, Dalmore 12, and Punt e Mes. The only trouble with this approach is that I only had one shot, almost literally, to make something work and lo and behold I came up with something tasty and fitting for these fall days: Tempting Eve, an easy equal parts cocktail.
Tempting Eve and Christmas cheer
The Recipe: 1 oz Vitae Golden Rum 1 oz Laird's Applejack 1 oz Punt e Mes flamed orange zest for garnish
This came together better than I hoped and works perfectly for this chilly fall weather we're in.
Part of why we do this, aside from the obvious, is the creativity creating cocktails affords us, whether you're in a far flung place with only a half dozen "ingredients" behind the bar or at home with too many bottles for your own good and imposing your own limitations. Or at David's house.
On June 7, 2018 the Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup. Hot damn.
They did it!
Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals (not the last time you'll see this phrase here). Yowzers. For those of us who care about such things, it was a release 43 years in the making. It was a cathartic experience that inexplicably made hundreds of thousands of people in streets, bars, and homes across the DC-Maryland-Virginia area suddenly cry out in joy, "is it just me or is it dusty in here?" For others, it was a great introduction to the game of hockey.
Ovechkin & Backstrom Lift Stanley Cup Together - YouTube
The A&T gang watched on over the following weeks, albeit some more closely than others. We rejoiced in seeing the Caps continue the time honored tradition of consuming any number of goodies, liquid and otherwise, out of the Cup. When Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals Video Coach Brett Leonhardt turned the Cup into a giant Margarita machine, well, we felt inspired.
So without further ado, here's what the A&T guys would drink out of the Stanley Cup!
Pablo: At over two gallons and nearly 300 ounces, there's enough space in the top bowl for, conservatively, 50-60 cocktails. The real question, though, is how best to honor the players for this achievement, finally, but also DC fans who have waited this long to see the Washington Capitals as the Stanley Cup Champions? John: Oh, oh, I'll start! Without question, I would fill Lord Stanley with Sydney Crosby's tears. That's right, two gallons of Sniveling Sid's sweet, sweet tears. He'll have to legally change his name to Scott Tenorman once we're done. To balance out the sweetness and give it a little added kick I suppose you could throw in some gin and lemon juice. That would be totally optional, though. Pablo: Hmm, I suppose that's better than the blood of my enemies... I was thinking something more classic. John: Oh. That would be more dignified, I guess.
David: Wait...did Sydney Crosby hit more home runs than anyone else?
David: Regardless whether it's that and not touchdowns I'm thinking of, I'd go for something red. Yeah, red. That rings a bell, something to do with... something. To do with this. A Negroni, for example. Not to mention that it's part bitter, to commemorate the 43 years of pain and hardship; part sweet, to commemorate the victorious scoring of more baskets than the other team; and part gin, because... gin.
For me, the Campari is integral just for the color, although if you don't care so much about that point, Cynar - which is also bitter, but has a really earthy and artichoke tone - can replace it and make it a bit more layered. For the sweet vermouth, I like Dolin, because I have standards. This, however, is one of the few drinks where I'm less picky about the gin, because the strength of the other two ingredients tends to overpower. Go for bog-standard Bombay, which is awesome and underrated in this day of the craft-distilled, the new-world and the small batch, and call it a day.
John: Not only did Crosby not hit any home runs this season, he also threw out exactly two fewer opening pitches than Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Winner Alexander "Oh Captain, My Captain" Ovechkin did this past June. While your knowledge of hockey is abysmal, David, your choice of drink is an excellent one.
Pablo: I was initially impressed that David even knew who Crosby is until I realized John just mentioned him immediately before. In one of the infinite universes where I am on the Stanley Cup Champions Washington Capitals team, I'd personally go the route of a Perfect Manhattan or Vieux Carré. Hmm... or something with gin. Yes, definitely gin. In this world, though, I think a Vesper would best get the job done.
Originally James Bond ordered the Vesper a la, "Three measures of Gordon's; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel." I wanted to go with something gin heavy to really pay homage to the team and their huge accomplishment since gin is such a diverse spirit found nearly everywhere, and is particularly popular across Europe. I opted to replace Gordon's with DC's own Green Hat gin, of course, in particular their Fall/Winter Ginavit--with strong notes of not only juniper but of caraway. The aquavit notes are also a nice nod to Lars Eller, who is not only the first Dane to win the Cup, but also the man who knocked in the game-winning/Cup-winning shot. The vodka works well here paying tribute to not only Captain Alex Ovechkin but also the other Russian players on the squad and the KHL. To shake things up, figuratively and literally in this case, I used a fennel tincture to add a bit of depth and complement the gin. On top of that I added a few dashes of lavender bitters and garnished with an apple to bring all the pieces together.
John: Pablo, your garnish game is on point, as always.
Like David, I really wanted to emphasize the color red in honor of the Rock the Red era that Ovie helped usher in. In a nod to the types of beverages more traditionally consumed out of the Cup, I also wanted to add a little effervescence to the party. I figured cutting the alcohol level with something like sparkling wine would also help reduce the number of fatalities that might ensue from drinking 2 gallons of a standard cocktail. Last but not least, I was keen to limit the drink to three ingredient, an homage of sorts to the three stars on the Caps' current jerseys, which are themselves a reference to the District, Maryland and Virginia areas that have supported the Caps all these years.
What could possibly fit this bill? Well, roughly a century ago, the Americano gave way to the Negroni. More recently, at the Milanese Bar Basso, the Negroni begat the Negroni Sbagliato. Translated roughly as "mistaken" or "amiss", the Sbagliato was allegedly created when a bartender mistakenly grabbed a bottle of Prosecco instead of gin, thus returning the Negroni to it's lighter, bubblier origins. Not only is the drink delicious, it seems uniquely fitting that one created by mistake be raised in honor of the 2018 edition (and Stanley Cup Champions) of the Washington Capitals, who were more an afterthought than favorite at the start of the year after failing to take advantage of their "two year window" to win the Cup in past seasons.
So, in recognition of a Caps team that unexpectedly but oh so joyfully brought the Cup home, I give you Sbagliato Babes:
What's up, Sbagliato Babes?
Combine 1oz Campari and 1oz Capitoline Rosé in an old fashioned glass (a thematically-appropriate coffee mug is also an acceptable vessel) over a large block of ice and give it a good stir. Then add 3oz sparking wine and give it a quick, gentle stir; I used a South African MCC Brut because the wait for the Cup felt like it took roughly 1,200 years. If you feel inclined to add some grapefruit bitters, it certainly won't hurt. Enjoy while reminiscing about Ovie and the gang exorcising their demons and beating John Tortorella, Sidney Crosby and the Deadguins, Chris Kunitz and the Tampa Bay Rangers, and Marc-André Fleury and his Vegas Vaudevillians on their way to finally hoisting the Cup. Or, if you actually have access to said Cup, multiply the recipe by about 50 and find a few friends to do Cup stands with you.
Bring it home, boys.
Washington Capitals sing "We Are the Champions" after winning the Stanley Cup - YouTube
In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, Pablo delves into a topic befitting his physique: fat-washing.
A couple of years back John wrote about one of my favorite drinks: the Boulevardier. A lesser known but fantastic cousin to the Negroni, where bourbon or rye substitutes for the gin in approximately equal parts, depending on your taste, with Campari and sweet vermouth.
But this isn't about the Boulevardier, per se. This is about Campari. Nay, this is about fat. Specifically, this is about fat-washing.
Fat-washing isn't new and while I've tried it previously I never really gave it much thought. I mean, if there's bacon sizzling in the pan, I'm focused on shoving that into my mouth. However, last night I threw on some bacon to just have on hand and when it was done and the fat was still in its beautiful, golden, liquid form, I thought I should try to fat-wash... something.
Bacon fat on top, Campari on the bottom.
Essentially fat-washing is an infusion, capturing the fat's flavor traits in the spirit itself, without really affecting the mouth feel (or calorie count, if you're worried about such things--if you see me, clearly I'm not). There's a great piece behind the science of fat-washing on Serious Eats. Some common fats I've read about are bacon (with bourbon, perhaps the most popular combo), brown butter (and rum), sesame oil, and then there are variations or luxury versions using duck fat or foie gras, both of which really get my mouth watering, but rarely have at my immediate disposal.
Anyway, before the fat started to solidify I rummaged through my bar to find a spirit to test out. I had done bacon and bourbon last time and wanted something new; rather than settling on a bourbon, rye, or gin, the Campari caught my eye. It wasn't an obvious match but thinking it through after the fact I was hoping that the bitter, herbal, fruity, and orange would meld with the salty, smokey bacon notes. After 24 hours the fat was completely solid on top. I punched a couple of holes into the fat and poured out the Campari into a coffee filter and set it aside but immediately you could smell the bacon aroma on top of the Campari.
As foreshadowed above, I started with a Boulevardier (Boule-lard-ier?) using closer to the original/classical proportions:
2 oz Old Overholt Rye
1.5 oz fat-washed Campari
1.5 oz Punt e Mes
I love Old Overholt and have come to rely on it as a steady regular in my bar--it's smooth, flavorful, without being overbearing. The Punt e Mes was the lightest sweet vermouth I had--I know, there are worse problems to have. And then the Campari... it of course retained all its usual notes but it also added the bacon flavor in a nice, subtle way; there was a hint of smokiness and saltiness but less than I thought based on how noticeable the bacon scent was.
For the sake of science and our tens of readers I also made a Negroni with the fat-washed Campari--the Negroni of course being the best known vehicle for the Campari. I loved the fat-washed Campari here. Also I'm very much over writing "fat-washed." I love a Negroni anyway, in particular in the spring and summer, but once the temps drop I usually shelve it for more seasonally "appropriate" cocktails but the slight variation in this version from the bacon makes it perfect for those fall days around a fire pit or in this case, the end of winter days in front of a fire. The herbal, the bitter, the sweet, already play perfectly together but to have that bacon note at the end of each sip really gives it that comfort food feel.
In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, Pablo delves into a topic befitting his personality: bitters.
A few years ago Gabriella Mlynarczyk said (not to me, in an interview) that “technically, in the classic cocktail world, a cocktail is not a cocktail unless it contains bitters. If you don’t add bitters, you can taste something missing. They add this final kind of balance that brings everything together–like the glue.”
Like so many others, for a long time the only bitters I had in my kitchen were Angostura Bitters--they went in a Manhattans, the Old Fashioned, the Martinez... they added that extra depth of flavor. Little by little I started paying more attention to other, non-Angostura bitters being used by friends and bars in not only other cocktails but also a Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Martinez. It wasn't long after where, according to my wife, I went off the deep end with bitters--apparently I don't need dozens of varieties. I respectfully disagree(d). Hence...
I picked up Brad Parsons' Bitters book and began reading about the history of bitters, the must haves, their near extinction, their resurgence, the best cocktails to showcase them, and most importantly, how to make your own.
But first a quick note about bitters' cousin: tinctures. Bitters are not tinctures; tinctures are more of a one-trick pony but certainly have a place in cocktails--tinctures are an extract of a specific ingredient to highlight that flavor and/or aroma. A rosemary tincture for example is just a matter of infusing fresh rosemary into a few ounces of high proof alcohol for a few days. Once you strain out the rosemary you're left with a green, rosemary flavored and scented extract, which I tend to use with citrus-forward gin martinis or shrub cocktails. But I haven't ventured too far down the tincture path really.
So, shrubs... no wait, back to bitters. Bitters are non-potable, meaning you won't drink them on their own. On paper bitters are very basic:
The flavoring agent
The bittering agent
The base liquor
Once you look at the range of possible ingredients in any of those categories the complexity and possibilities begin to really shine through. The flavoring agent is pretty straightforward and doesn't have to be singular. They can be combinations of fruits, spices, herbs, and nuts. You can find fruit forward bitters like orange, lemon, cherry, apple, grapefruit. There are also herbal and botanical options: celery, hibiscus, rosehip, and lavender. And then there are bitters that make you think that they "were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." Some of the more common spices I use are cardamom (green and black), all spice berries, star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass, and whole peppercorns (and not just black). A bitters recipe will usually include a combination of fruit flavors combined with spices.
And then there are the bittering agents, which also have specific flavor or aromatic qualities, and which will, that's right, provide bitterness and bring all the ingredients together. Part of my going off the deep end I mentioned earlier meant investing in various bitters in part by leafing through Parsons' book to see what his recipes called for as well as others I found online. Part of my collection now includes: angelica root, barberry root, black walnut leaf, burdock root, cinchona bark, citrus peel (notably orange and lemon), dandelion root, devil's club root, gentian root, licorice root, orris root, quassia bark, sarsaparilla, wild cherry bark, wormwood, and more. The flavor profiles between some bitter ingredients can be very subtle and others more obvious. In general what I tend to do when I get a new ingredient is what I assume a chef would do, take a piece and pop it into my mouth and figure out how it tastes to me and how best to capture and complement that flavor in recipes. Alternatively you could steep some in a tea or make a tincture to extract the flavor. The most common agents I use are quassia, angelica root, gentian root, and wormwood. In some cases I arbitrarily swap some out for others. However, in some cases it'd be difficult to find a substitute; for example, cinchona bark contains quinine, which is what's used to make tonic water, and is pretty unique in that aspect. Otherwise trying these ingredients is a matter of trial and error.
Most mixologists agree that whatever base you use, which has to do with the flavor profile you're building, should be at least 100 proof; I tend to use Smirnoff Vodka 100 proof, but also have Everclear, Cruzan 151 Rum, and Wild Turkey 101 on hand. More often than not I'm using vodka or Everclear since it's a neutral base and the bitters flavor itself is highlighted.
So once you have all the ingredients, then what? A lot of recipes in Parsons' book call for a quart-sized jar and two cups of high proof alcohol. When I'm trying my own recipes I start way smaller usually using one to one and half cups of high proof alcohol. I write down every recipe so I know what to adjust in the future. Keep in mind that every recipe takes about three weeks from start to finish.
After getting all your ingredients into a jar it's mostly hands off from there. Store in a dark, cool place and shake daily for two weeks. After two weeks, strain the solids from the liquid using cheesecloth. Save the liquid and strain again (and again and again) until you've gotten as much sediment out as possible. Then take the solids and put them into a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and then drop it down to a simmer for 10 minutes, and then let cool completely. Put the pot contents back into a jar, store, and again shake daily. After another week, strain the solids and toss them and, little by little add some to the original extracted liquid. What you're doing here is cutting down the proof and keeping the flavor without diluting it. In some cases, if it's too strong, too bitter, you can add simple syrup to the mix.
When sampling bitters the proper etiquette is to first, as I've been taught, have a few drops put into the palm or on top of your hand, rub your hands together together, almost like you're testing cologne or perfume, and smell. To taste it, I'm not sure what proper protocol is but I typically either put a few drops directly into my mouth because I was raised by wolves, or put some into a spoon and taste directly. The real taste test is how does it work in a drink.
I tend to test every bitter either in a martini or an Old Fashioned since both cocktails really allow for the bitters to be highlighted. However, every once in a while I'll make a bitter without having a cocktail in mind for it and some trial and error goes into mixing variations, spirits, ratios, to see what works together the best. For example, when I received some beautiful saffron from Afghanistan, enough to make me worry about it going bad, I thought I should try to preserve it in my own unique way hence my attempt at saffron bitters. The first batch were fine, too much saffron, not a lot of depth, not enough bitterness. But with my second batch I added more depth, flavors, and bitterness while still maintaining the saffron's essence. And while nice in a martini in particular, it was David who really highlighted the color and flavor of the saffron bitters in the Graveyard of Empires.
If you happen to have extra saffron laying about try out my (current recipe):
1 tsp saffron
1 lemongrass stalk
2 crushed green cardamom pods
2 crushed black cardamom pods
1 tbsp dried lemon peel
1 tbsp quassia
1.5 cups of high proof vodka (I use Smirnoff 100)
Combine all ingredients into a jar, shake daily for two weeks, strain solids (over and over) and dilute. I know, I know, I'm going against the "standard" process I stated earlier but for this batch I dilute it with filtered water instead of stewing it because there aren't a ton of ingredients to stew really, but also to preserve that beautiful golden orange color.
And all this to say nothing of potable bitters like amaros (e.g. Averna, Rammazzotti) and bitter liqueurs (e.g. Campari, Cynar, Fernet). That'll be for another day.
In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, John discusses batched drinks and a new A&T original: The Margarita O' Love. Background Over the past couple of years I've been experimenting more and more with pre-made drinks batched at varying scales. This has included traditional punches - as documented on this very blog back in 2014 - batched cocktails served from dispensers (a quasi-punch), and pre-bottled cocktails. Having a few tried and true recipes in your repertoire can be super useful when you don't want to spend your entire evening behind the bar, or if you're working a large event and want guests to have easy access to a drink without having to wait in line for one that is made to order. There is a lot of great info already out there on punches. For a detailed read, check out David Wonderich's immensely entertaining book, Punch, which provides a deep dive into the history of beverages in bowls as well as several classic and modern punch recipes.
In this post, however, I'm going to focus on batched drinks: pre-made cocktails in large quantities, served from either dispensers or bottles. To illustrate the concept, I'll take a look at the Margarita O' Love, a drink I created and batched for my brother's wedding weekend earlier this year.
Basics of Batching
Why make one margarita, when you can make ten?
If you've decided you want to try your hand at batching, you have a few decisions to make before you should even decide what to batch. First, how many people do you need to serve and how much do you anticipate they will drink? This is critical in determining how much you need to make, clearly, but it's also useful in determining what to make. If you're not sure how voracious of an appetite your guests will have for your concoction, a good estimate for a three to four hour period is about 2.5 drinks per person for a crowd of 10 or more people. This should take into account those that will come back for thirds and fourths, and those that won't drink at all.
Second, how far in advance do you want to make the drink and/or how long do you want the drink to be available to serve? If it's more than 12 hours beyond production, I would advise against batching anything with fruit/citrus juice. The juice starts to degrade very quickly and is going to significantly change the quality and flavors of your drink. So if you want to make something and let it chill overnight or be available for a couple of days, stick with alcohol-only beverages: Manhattans, Negronis, Vieux Carré, etc. If you plan to make, chill, and consume the drink within 12 hours or so, juices are back on the table. Or in the glass, if you will.
Third, should you dilute the batched drink or not? Keep in mind that any time you make a cocktail and shake or stir it with ice, you are diluting it - that's how the thing gets cold. In fact, depending on whether you are shaking or stirring, water will end up comprising 25% or more of your drink (try not to think about that the next time you shell out $15 for a rail Daiquiri). In addition to chilling the drink, the dilution helps take the edge off the alcohol. Frankly, whether you choose to dilute or not depends on what you plan to serve, and how. If the drink has juice in it, will be served or stored on the rocks, or will be topped off with a sparkling beverage (soda water, champagne, etc.), then you can probably forgo water in the batch. If the drink will only consist of booze but you want to be able to stir and strain in front of guests, once again you can skip the water. But if you're making something with nothing but booze that will be well chilled in advance and served straight, you'll want to add some water. How much should you add? Make a single serving of the drink as you normally would, measure to see what the volume is after mixing and straining, and then subtract the volume of the booze initially added prior to shaking/stirring. As noted above, it should come in somewhere around 20-30% of the total drink volume.
Dispensers eliminate the need for punch ladles and reduces concerns that Uncle Pablo will (further) spike the punch.
Fourth, how will the drink be stored and served? This is interrelated to the questions of dilution and guest size. If you're serving something punch-like, it can be done from a punch bowl or a beverage dispenser with a large ice block or two to keep things cold (but will increase dilution over time). If you're serving a more traditional cocktail or want to maintain a tight control on dilution, your best bet is serve it from a bottle (an old liquor or wine bottle is a nice touch and cost efficient) that you keep on ice.
Once you've addressed those basic questions, you can make a decision on what you actually want to serve. One last tip: if the beverage will be available on a self-serve basis and you don't want to stand by the serving station telling people what to do, print out some instructions or visual aides. Shake the bottle, pour over ice, add soda water, add a lemon wedge, etc. Regardless of how amazing the beverage is, if people aren't quite sure what to do with it then they won't end up drinking it.
Margarita O' Love
This past August my big brother and his fantastic fiancée - we'll call them K&S - tied the knot in San Clemente, CA and celebrated the affair with a spectacular Weekend O' Love (hence Margarita O' Love). Their rehearsal dinner was held at the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center - a pretty amazing place for a rehearsal dinner - and since the center doesn't have a house bartender K&S asked if I'd be willing to help out. Specifically, they wanted to come up with an easy, hassle-free way to keep their throng of beautiful guests plied with signature margaritas crafted just for that evening. I happily obliged.
Research was a bear.
We sorted out the logistical questions - number of guests, serving time, method of service, etc. - and the stylistic ones over a couple of emails and Skype calls. K&S waxed poetic about a Margarita/Paloma mashup of tequila, Luxardo cherries/syrup, and grapefruit and lime juices that had become a favorite of theirs over the course of the summer. Using that info as inspiration, I jumped into experimentation.
I began by playing around with single serving combinations of tequila (reposado and blanco), grapefruit juice, lime juice, and Cointreau, as well as the Luxardo cherries/syrup. Ultimately I wasn't blown away with how the Luxardo syrup fit in; the flavor didn't quite mesh with the other ingredients, and it significantly darkened the color of the drink. I moved onto other ingredients, including honey, Suze, and Campari, before finally settling on agave nectar and Aperol. The agave nectar added a touch of sweetness and increased viscosity while also complementing the tequila in a way that honey, for obvious reasons, could not. The Aperol also contributed a bit of sweetness while adding just a touch of bitterness that helped to sharpen the drink. I also experimented with grapefruit bitters (both homemade and Bittermens), and while the results were promising for an individual drink, I opted not to use bitters in the final batched version mostly because it was not practical at that scale.
Since I was coming up with the recipe and testing it in South Africa, my tequila options were far more limited than if I had been working on it in California. I ultimately went with Corallejo Reposado Tequila because it is a fairly easy going tequila that doesn't overpower you with the earthy, agave flavors normally associated with tequila, but packed a little more punch than Corallejo's Blanco version. A more mild mannered tequila also seemed appropriate for a larger group, especially since it was the only cocktail being served. Along those lines, I ultimately opted to go with a slight reduction in the amount of tequila per serving as a modest counter measure against over consumption. The jury is still out one whether that was successful or not. Oh, there are stories.
The boozier side of the Marg O' Love, awaiting its citrusy companions.
With the recipe for a single serving finalized, the last question to be sorted out was whether to dilute or not. Since a Paloma incorporates soda water (or grapefruit soda, depending on your approach), I figured there was no need to include water in the batched cocktail. Furthermore, I anticipated that most people would want to have their drink over ice, so individual drinks would gradually dilute while being consumed.
Logistics The day of the event, we got to work. I say "we" because my incredible wife and several other family members chipped in to help out with what turned out to be a herculean task: 26 cups of grapefruit juice and 13 cups of lime juice, freshly squeezed from about 60 grapefruits and 125 limes, respectively. Mix that up with about 40 cups of tequila and 7 cups each of Cointreau, Aperol, and agave nectar, and you (in theory) have enough Margaritas O' Love to keep 80 or so adults occupied for a couple of hours.
Given the sheer volume of happy juice that was created, we set up a self serve station with several 1.2 liter bottles O' Love presented on ice, with all the necessary accoutrements within easy reach. Reserves were stored in several 3 liter jugs kept on ice in a back room, and from which the serving bottles were topped up periodically as they ran low.
All told, we made enough for about 214 individual servings, which I anticipated would be enough to last us the duration of the evening, about four hours. The margs were a big hit and the party an especially thirsty lot, however, and we ended up draining the last bottle about two and a half hours into the evening. Never underestimate the drawing power of a good margarita, I guess.
Add all ingredients over ice, shake, double strain into an old fashioned glass over a large ice cube, and top with soda water to taste. You can rim the glass with salt, if it suits you.
How you scale this up will depend on what type of serving instrument you want to use. Below are precise recipes for 750mL bottles (i.e. used wine bottles - but make sure you clean those suckers) and 3L jugs, emphasizing ease of measurement rather than maximum usage of the vessel's volume... volumage? Let's go with volume.
Once all ingredients are added, shake/agitate the bottle to mix everything together. Immediately chill the bottle and keep cold until it is ready to serve (your best bet for a quick chill is a cooler/tub with ice and a bit of water). Periodically agitate the bottle, as the ingredients will begin to separate over time. To serve, pour 2-3oz of mix into a glass over ice, then top with soda water to taste.
March 6 is a special day of the year for the guys here at A&T. For it was on this day (or thereabouts), twenty years and a few acid flashbacks ago, that the world first met The Dude. Or El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing. As with most great works of art, the film in question was not appreciated immediately upon release (perhaps a source of subconscious inspiration for the drinks that follow). Over time, however, it has evolved from a late-night, dorm room classic to a national treasure. No, seriously - in 2014 the Library of Congress selected it to be added to the National Film Registry for its cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance. While that's just, like, their opinion, man, we get it. So today, on the Day of the Dude, we honor The Big Lebowski.
In the past we've honored the day by re-posting David's original write up on the Dude's beverage of choice, the White Russian. While that post and the drink deserve a look on this hallowed day, in honor of The Big Lebowski's big 2-0, the guys decided to take a crack at crafting original cocktails inspired by the Dude and his compadres. And no, none of these fine drinks are made with cannabis tinctures or bitters. Sorry guys.
With that out of the way, we invite you to pull up a seat at the bar (careful, it might bite), mix a White Russian or crack open your favorite sarsaparilla, and drop on in to see what condition our condition is in. If you abide, we're sure you'll enjoy yourself. ______________________________________________________ PABLO: Coming up with cocktail names is the easy part, what it encompasses and how it represents the cast is a little more challenging, but I knew right away I wanted to give a nod to Jesus. I mean the Jesus. For someone who has as little screen time as Quintana, he certainly makes an impact--you can't mention The Dude, Walter, or Donny without having to throw in a "Nobody fucks with the Jesus!" Sure, he has a checkered past, having spent time in Chino for being a pederast and all, but on those lanes, that creep can roll. So in homage to Quintana, I created "That Creep Can Roll".
With the Jesus in mind, I knew at least two elements had to be there: first, with a name like Jesus Quintana I knew I wanted the base to be Havana Club; and, second, the color had to really honor his bowling jumpsuit--I immediately thought Creme de Violette (in lieu of beet simple syrup and Falernum), but maybe next time.
"That Creep Can Roll"
2 oz - Havana Club Rum .5 oz - Nemiroff honey pepper vodka .5 oz - beet simple syrup .5 oz lemon juice .25 oz - Velvet Falernum 1 egg white 1 Luxardo cherry (to represent the bowling ball)
Immediately this drink is more complicated and with way too many ingredients than certainly The Dude would prefer, but we're talking about Quintana and I think he'd approve. That being said, you can actually taste all the distinct flavors. It comes out a pink-purplish color with the rum coming through first and then getting the other flavors on the back end--the heat from the vodka, the earthiness from the beet, the tartness from the lemon, and the sweetness of the Falernum. The egg white isn't necessary but it really brings the drink together and would suit the Jesus.
I wanted to play around with more drink ideas, but, you know, Shabbos and all. ______________________________________________________ JOHN: I'll be honest, I was at a bit of a loss when we first broached the subject of this post. Aside from White Russians, lane-side Miller Genuine Drafts, or a toke from a bowling pin pipe, there doesn't seem to be much variance in the Dude's choice of poison. So I opted to draw inspiration from some of the peripheral players found in the film and ended up, circuitiously, with the "Yes, Yes."
Around the time we first started talking about posting an homage to the film, I also happened across an exceptionally tasty chilli gin from Ginifer, of the Johannesburg-based Angel Heart Distillery. I immediately made the connection with Flea, Peter Stormare/Karl Hungus' celluloid partner in nihilism and extortion, and the world famous bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (get it? chilli gin... chili peppers? Yes? Yes.).
The leather clad, German nihilists in turn led me to a bottle of Sau-Schwanzl-Beiber, a German-made "Liqueur from noble herbs" (thanks Google Translate!) that I picked up at a Secret Santa party a year ago. It reminded me ever so slightly of Green Chartreuse, upon which I immediately realized I was halfway to a Lebowski-inspired Last Word. So why "Yes, Yes"? Consider this drink a paler, slightly sweeter, and more naive imitation of the Last Word, just as Philip Seymour Hoffman's Brandt is to Mr. Lebowski himself.
Switch out lime juice and Maraschino for lemon juice and Frangelico (a quasi-nod to our Kahlua-soaked hero), and you've got yourself a beverage... I won't say a cocktail, cause what's a cocktail? But a beverage, and I'm talking about the "Yes, Yes" here, a beverage that, well, it's the beverage for this time and post. It fits right in there. And that's the "Yes, Yes", on the A&T blog.
1 oz - Ginifer Chilli Gin .75 oz - Lemon Juice .75 oz - Sau-Schwanzl-Beiber .33 oz - Frangelico
Combine the ingredients with ice and shake/stir with a finger, then strain into an old fashioned glass and garnish with a lemon wheel. Or use whatever glass you have on hand and skip the garnish. And, you know, take it easy.
______________________________________________________ DAVID: Right. So in fine Dude-ish fashion, it took a while for this to tie together. I blame the World Bank, the Court of Master Sommeliers and a particularly raucous game of Cards Against Humanity on Saturday night. In no particular order. Basically, there were a lot of ins and outs, a lot of what-have-yous, and then for a while I was stuck on trying to design a "3000 Years of Beautiful History" cocktail, but Manishevitz does not make for a good ingredient. Trust me on this. I'll try again later, maybe involving something local from the hometowns of Moses and Sandy Koufax.
"Donny, You're Out of Your Element!"
In the meantime, however, I definitely didn't want to do just another White Russian--all due respect to His Dudeness, there's only so much you can do with that drink--but I did want to tip a hat to it again. So in that spirit (see what I did there?), I give you Donny, You're Out of Your Element!
This is sort of a three-way hat-tipping. First, it is a White Russian, shotified instead of in its natural lowball-on-the-rocks element. Second, layered drinks--especially shots--had a bit of a heyday back in the Nineties, when our favorite movie debuted, so rather than mix this per normal, I've layered the Kahlua, milk and vodka.
Parenthetically, although some of you out there may send nasty-grams over this, it really doesn't matter which vodka you use. We now know this definitively because science, although if you do enough soul-searching I think you'll find we all knew it already anyway. Not to lay too much smackdown if you do have a favorite vodka... say what you want, at least it's an ethos!
Third, in honor of Donny, who loved bowling, the glass is rimmed with ash. Before anyone freaks out, it's just charred toast, nothing macabre--and actually it adds a nice touch to the drink. The crux of my problem with White Russians is that they're overly sweet, not much to the taste of a guy who goes first and foremost for every bitter thing in sight. The charred toast, however, provides a slight earthy bite that offsets the otherwise sweet ingredients.
Specifically, the irony of a cocktail with the nickname of a place where you can't buy alcohol. The irony of a cocktail--image of refinement and the subtle interplay of flavors--named after a country at war.
Specifically, the Graveyard of Empires.
Before anyone starts heating up the righteous indignation, I should point out that this isn't an Afghanistan joke, it's a colonialism joke.
The actual origin of "graveyard of empires" as a nickname for Afghanistan is obscure, but it's not something the Afghans themselves invented--rather it was applied by one colonial power or another in bitter recognition that they had joined the roster of centuries' worth of invaders who had tried and failed to hold on to the country. Most recently the roster has included the British, Soviets and--dare we say it--Americans, but the succession of attempts goes back at least as far as Alexander the Great, long before there was a nation on the map with the name "Afghanistan." Regardless, the political accuracy of the term isn't at issue;
Specifically, Afghan saffron that my wife, who recently returned safely from a year deployed in Kabul, brought back. Beautiful saffron, grown in-country, of a lovely high quality. And in quantities that beggar description, especially if you know what a bitty little container of the stuff goes for here in the US. Enough that I've actually been struggling to figure out what to do with it all before it goes stale.
I know--we should all have such problems, right? Thankfully, we gave some of it to Pablo, our most recent Alchemist, who made the bitters out of it you'll read about presently. Wonderful stuff, those bitters--a balanced aromatic base with an appropriately strong but not overpowering saffron scent and this beautiful fiery color that begged for some specific use that would really showcase it. So began... the Graveyard of Empires.
I've done this drink with a few different base alcohols and while I've settled on gin--partly because I like the flavor and partly because it's an appropriately colonial quaff--it does work with rum as well. Especially if you prefer a slightly sweeter and less edgy drink. If you're following along at home, you may want to do that experimentation because the amount of bitters in here is also far higher than the normal "dash or two." That's on purpose--don't panic. This isn't a knock-one-back sort of drink, it's got a lot more of an edge than that.
2.5 ounces of gin--I like a straight up London Dry for this, which will be cleaner, more straightforward and stronger on the juniper, less floral or herbaceous than some of the New World-style gins. It also calls to mind pith helmets and red-coated troops and monocled Viceroys and the gallant (if ultimately futile) attempt to impose permanence onto the essential ephemerality of politics. Also because the combination of flavors here is powerful enough that it'll tend to overwhelm some of the subtler flavors in higher-end gins, something like a straightforward Bombay wouldn't go amiss--if you want to step it up, I've been using Bluecoat from Pennsylvania recently, which is a) really good and b) adds an extra smirk-to-yourself-at-the-inside-joke value that just never gets old.
.5 oz of Campari
.5 oz of the saffron bitters
1 oz cinnamon-infused simple syrup.
The combination of the first two builds a strong bitter base, which is balanced out by the simple syrup--but it also combines into a baleful orange color that brings to mind suns setting on empires, and the ruins of armies. Cinnamon is a good flavor match for saffron, and although it's not exactly "terroir appropriate," infused into the simple syrup it adds a nice depth of flavor and dimensionality to the finished product.
I finish this with a quick squeeze of lemon juice--not a lot, just enough to liven it up a bit.
Because you have simple syrup and a bit of citrus in there, I shake this one rather than stir it. For garnish I used a thin slice of persimmon, which IS terroir-appropriate, and which matches the color beautifully.
Now. This, like most craft cocktails, is not for everybody. It's strong, and deliberately slightly harsh, although the simple syrup and lemon keep that to a reasonable level. If you'd like to try it but think you might prefer something with a bit less of an edge on it, replace the gin with lightly aged rum. My favorite in this was 3-year old Havana Club, which has just a touch of color--not enough to disrupt that fiery orange you're aiming for, but it's had enough time in wood to smooth it out just slightly.
Rum is an inherently sweet alcohol, so it will play well with the simple syrup. Interestingly you get a good balance out of this... if not for the bitters, you'd need something else to balance out an otherwise over-sweet combination (which is why Daquiris are so heavy on the citrus, for example); with the bitters and the Campari, you get an interplay that's complex and nuanced enough to sit back and dwell on a bit.
If you aren't going through duty-free anytime soon, there are plenty of other options on the market to substitute for the Havana Club. Rum, needless to say, is also an appropriately colonial liquor. Just to reiterate, this isn't so much a drink to kick around at the pool with--it's a little more introspective than that. It has layers that reveal themselves over the course of a long finish, and since using saffron to make bitters out of is an expensive proposition, it's worth breaking out as a once-in-a-while thing.
In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, David presents the Sazerac. Every city has a personality. Like people, some are stronger than others, more complex, more forthright or mysterious, urbane or rustic. Infinite variations given history, and climate, and population... but some cities have a more powerful energy to them. A soul, something beyond and encompassing the combinations of people, buildings and sights that we usually think to describe.
New York, for example, has a frenetic youth about it; a constantly unsatisfied questing energy and a jagged sense of old things transplanted together into a new place and fitting well not because the edges are gone and the shapes meshed, but only because of the commonality of that itch.
Case in point: Bourbon St., on a... Monday.
New Orleans, on the other hand, is a modern American city with something ancient and feral underneath it. A powerful place--strong enough to hold off the homogenization that's befallen so many big cities. A place that still holds to the most genteel and gracious Southern traditions, as well as failing to shed the weedy violence of race and segregation. It's a city where the oldest restaurants in the United States still ask diners to wear a jacket for dinner, while half a block away a screaming mob of tourists and college kids gets blindly obliterated on a nightly basis.
It's a place of culture, music and one of the world's unique and great cuisines--that latter owing a great deal to the fact that it is also built on a history of colonial violence and a major hub of the Atlantic slave trade. Modern indeed in many ways--and yet all but the most obtuse observer is going to get the strong sense, no matter which of the varied neighborhoods they walk, that age and ghosts and half-remembered gods are a constant presence, felt but unseen. It's a city that can't be described now without being described then.
All of which sounds like an over-the-top introduction to a cocktail, but in addition to its other gifts--Creole and Cajun cuisine, jazz and other such minor contributions to world culture--this city gave us the Sazerac. Especially in recent times, the drink's become a bit of a touchstone. New Orleans takes its traditions seriously, and puts a very high value on continuity as well as resilience and renewal, and the Sazerac has been there through it all.
Seriously--this drink has seen the Civil War and the Great Depression, made it unscathed through Prohibition, and survived Hurricane Katrina (which ten years ago this month, had most of the city underwater--now's a particularly fitting time to celebrate survival and continuity!)... and that's just a short list of the stuff that happened on our own soil during its tenure.
All drinks are imbued with some sort of psychological gestalt--which one is best for which sort of mood, which intended effect, etc. Through deep and involved study, which I hope all of you duly appreciate, I've come to the conclusion that the Sazerac is the drink of choice when remaining unflappable and steadfast despite the arrival of barbarians at the gate.
This is one of the first American cocktails, up there with the Old Fashioned (appropriately enough) for age and endurance, and still one of our greats; like the city, a combination of flavors with both a sweetness and a bitter burn in the background. It has its roots in 1838, in Antoine Peychaud's New Orleans-based apothecary--which actually makes perfect sense, since the infusions and bitter mixtures that invariably went into the first generations of cocktails were made by apothecaries, not bartenders. It's now become a staple sipping cocktail, taking its rightful place in the pre-Prohibition pantheon. Its constant youth as a symbol and staple of New Orleans, turned and returned to over the years whenever people were in need of a reminder that things survive, has kept it from getting stale.
Also like that wonderful cocktail, the Old Fashioned, you can call it a "grandpa drink" all you want--but you'd better be tough if you're going more than one round with it.
The basic recipe is thus:
1.5 oz rye or bourbon whiskey
a touch of either absinthe or Herbsaint--more on this in a minute
simple syrup, to taste
Peychaud's bitters. 2-3 dashes would be standard. If you're me, it's more like 8 or 9.
This should be stirred vigorously with ice to chill it, and then served in a lowball glass with a twist of lemon. Easy.
So, a few quick notes on the ingredients...
Sharing New Orleans origins, a "real" Sazerac should only use Peychaud's bitters--the brand is one of the extremely few to have survived the ravages of Prohibition and come out again the other side. I have to say, although I may incur a voodoo doll or two for saying it, I actually prefer my own bitters to Peychaud's... but the deep red color of Peychaud's does add a bit of visual interest to an otherwise "basic brown" drink.
The original recipe called for French brandy--which I admit I haven't tried, but sounds interesting. The usual modern version uses rye, which I prefer slightly to bourbon for its drier and more botanical notes as opposed to the slightly sweeter corn-based bourbon. Here's a fun fact: A&T's other half, John, points out that the Sazerac's shift away from Brandy correlates suspiciously with the mid-19th century Great French Wine Blight, which laid waste to their vineyards and disrupted supply of grape-based spirits worldwide.
Two other fun facts, while we're on the subject: One, the blight was possibly caused by an infestation of phylloxera aphids from (oops) America, although the truth of the matter remains debated. Two, in order to rebuild the destroyed vineyards, most of the French winemakers were forced to graft their surviving vines with (gasp) phylloxera-resistant American rootstock, which by one line of reasoning means there hasn't really been such a thing as "purely French wine" since the mid 1800s. Mentioning either of these points to someone from France is a very efficient way to start a fight.
Back to the subject at hand: you can balance the sweetness/roughness factor by adding more or less simple syrup--less for bourbon to let its other dimensions shine through, and perhaps more for rye, which can often use the balance. In either case, I don't use much: a teaspoonful or less, just a dash. This is a whiskey-based drink and accordingly strong, but the addition of the simple syrup shouldn't be enough to "candy" the drink, just to take the edge off the roughness and put it into sipping territory.
The absinthe-or-herbsaint question is an interesting one, and the simplest answer is of course "go with your taste," and then stand fast and prepare to repel boarders rabid counter-arguments. There's a huge variation in types and brands of absinthe, so it's a bit of a non-starter to approach this question as thought it were as simple as an either/or debate. Herbsaint, on the other hand, is a singular thing--essentially an absinthe-like anise liqueur, almost unheard of outside of Louisiana unless you've got a bar that really knows its stuff, but without the wormwood. It has a thicker mouthfeel than absinthe--not quite syrupy, but certainly a bit more viscous than the norm--a clear emerald green color and a dense, humid, herbaceous quality to it.
The Sazerac in its native environment, at Galatoire's in New Orleans' French Quarter. A relative puppy to some of the old-guard restaurants, founded only in 1905.
Herbsaint made its way into the world largely as a replacement for the now happily re-legalized absinthe. Either one will work for this drink--I strongly recommend making one each way, and drinking them with a friend while having a happy argument over which one worked better. In either case, very little of it goes into the drink itself. Ideally, a small amount is poured into the lowball, swirled to coat the glass (or, if you're particularly coordinated, the glass is tossed into the air and spun hard) and then the excess dumped out. Just a trace remains.
The bitters, rye and simple syrup are then poured into the coated glass. A twist of lemon finishes it up, and there we have it. The sweetness and the bitter should balance just as the smoothness of the whole should balance with the whiskey burn.
Altogether, a civilized drink with something feral behind it.
In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. For his first go around on the blog, A&T's newest contributor Pablo delves into an ingredient as incorrigible as he is: Fernet Branca.
Introductions In case you haven't noticed, David and John have been a touch delinquent with their posting around here of late. Just because they aren't writing about it doesn't mean they aren't still mixing drinks and talking about it behind the scenes on a regular basis. In fact, there's been an addition to those ongoing discussions (we have the What's App group to prove it), and he's ready to jump into the fray and shake this blog out of its doldrums. So without further ado, we welcome the shiny new addition to A&T: Pablo.
Let's Get it On Hi. I'm new here. My addition will probably be viewed in the same way Fernet Branca is viewed behind the bar... with disdain for its bitterness, misunderstanding, and ambivalence. So fittingly why not kick things off here with Fernet?
Growing up I visited family in Argentina regularly. On one of my last visits I went out with my cousin who was slightly older than me--he invited me out to dinner with his friends where instead of the typical asado which would be paired with endless wine and soda, we had salt baked fish paired with Fernet and Coke.
At 19 and in college my drinking experience was limited to wine (good wine when I was at home with my parents and more Boone's Farm when I was away at college), cheap beer, and cheaper liquor. So when I tried the de facto national drink of Fernet and Coke I was expecting something as cloyingly sweet as Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum and Coke. Fernet and Coke is not that--it's almost rum and Coke's antithesis. All I could do to choke down the Fernet was to keep adding more Coke with every sip.
If you're unfamiliar, Fernet is an Italian bitter. For ages I assumed it was an Argentine product with how popular it is there and historically speaking there is a strong link between Argentina and Italy but we're not here to discuss history... I don't think. Fernet is unlike other, better known bitters like Campari or Ramazzotti, which while still bitter also have a sweetness to them. Fernet is bitter with a strong herbal aroma and taste and if you've had it, almost reminiscent of "mate" or "yerba" also popular in Argentina and the region. From that initial taste at 19, I had avoided it until fairly recently, going so far as to giving away what I did keep with me from move to move.
A few years ago I was in El Salvador sitting at the hotel bar and ordered, originally, a Manhattan. As I watched the bartender prepare it I was caught off guard and confused when he reached for the Fernet, which he used in lieu of the traditional Angostura or any bitters for that matter. I didn't say anything because, well, I'm not a professional... I should barely even be here writing. But what the Fernet added was the needed bitterness but also a new depth of flavor that highlighted the sweetness of the rye. Instead of a Manhattan, what I apparently had was a Fanciulli.
When my aunt and uncle recently came from Argentina they brought with them a bottle of Fernet Branca... hello, darkness, my old friend. Aside from the Manhattan... now what?
The most popular cocktail with Fernet seems to be the Hanky Panky, which I tried tonight. There are of course variations of the Hanky Panky, which range from a couple of dashes of Fernet to a couple of ounces. Since the focus here is really on Fernet, I went towards the latter.
1.5 oz gin
1.5 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
1 spring of mint for garnish
Serve on the rocks... or don't.
All these parts work together, which is the point of any cocktail. The bitterness from the Fernet is offset by the sweetness from the, obviously, sweet vermouth combined with the aromatics and botanicals from the gin. The recommendation is for a gin with a strong juniper flavor but in this instance I used Jersey Spirits DSP.7 which has a smooth, anise-forward flavor and topped it with a sprig of mint. The gin, vermouth, bitters, and mint work together to highlight the best parts of the Fernet and subdue but don't overshadow the bitterness either.
For the sake of science, I also tried out a Toronto, which is a play on an Old Fashioned.
2 oz rye
1 oz Fernet Branca
1/4 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
I used Four Roses bourbon, which is generally mild not only compared to rye but other bourbons in general. It still managed to hold up against the Fernet and was helped by the simple syrup and orange peel. Between the bourbon and the bitters, they again highlight the herbal notes of the Fernet while cutting into the bitterness.
If you're interested in trying Fernet, starting with Coke is a safe bet... in the right proportions, anyway (1 oz Fernet, 4 oz Coke on the rocks).