Archive for the Home Made Ingredients Category

Crème de Noyaux: A Short, Moderately Accurate, Incomplete History

Posted in Cocktails, Creme de Noyaux, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , on November 19, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

By now most of us know the stories of “lost” cocktail ingredients like orgeat, grenadine, and pineapple gum syrup. These are well known to us today, in part, because their fortunes are linked to many famous (and delicious) cocktails: orgeat to the Mai Tai, grenadine to the Ward 8 (among others) and pineapple gum to Pisco Punch. (The lesson here is that it pays to be well connected if you’re an obscure cocktail ingredient.) Today however I am going to talk about an ingredient far less storied and far less referenced in “The Canon” of famous cocktails. In fact, this ingredient is most famously associated with a cocktail many (if not all) of us would likely eschew if one were offered to us today. This is a story about crème de noyaux—along with a little history of its poster-child cocktail, the Pink Squirrel.

“So, what the heck is this pink stuff in my glass, anyway?”

According to the source of all truth (wikipedia), crème de noyaux (or noyau as it is may also be spelled) is “an almond-flavored pink crème liqueur made from apricot kernels.” Actually, that’s most of the article quoted for you right there. Short and, unfortunately, misleading. Why?

First off, it is inaccurate to say crème de noyaux is “almond-flavored.” Crème de noyaux may taste of almonds, but no almonds, as such, are used to make it. (Aside: Amaretto, another “almond-flavored” liqueur, is similarly almond-free.) Second it doesn’t tell you that in addition to apricot kernels, noyaux may also be made from peach and cherry stone kernels, possibly a combination of all three. Third, it doesn’t tell you that, being made from the kernels of fruit in the Prunus genus, it contains traces of amygdalin, which is converted into cyanide as a side effect of digestion. (OK, by the enzyme beta-glucosidase, if you must know). Finally, it doesn’t tell you what the heck makes it pink. Today, of course, that pink is likely to be good old artificial food coloring. I’d hazard a guess that once upon a time it was colored with cocineal, though my research on this was quite inconclusive.

[N.B. If you didn't already know, the term "crème" does not refer to the use of cream (or a non-dairy equivalent) as in "Bailey's Irish Cream," but rather to any highly sugared liqueur. See, this article is full of information!]

The State of Crème de Noyaux Today

Here in the United States crème de noyaux has pretty much vanished. In the San Francisco bay area where I live, the only brand of crème de noyaux I see with any regularity on the liquor store shelves is the Hiram Walker, the provenance of which I can only speculate. Mostly or entirely artificial in flavor and color would be my guess. (If someone can prove me wrong, please do.) Elsewhere you may find Bols, DeKuyper and Marie Brizard, but these may be called crème de almond instead of noyaux—a name which I believe crept into usage in the 1950′s. (Someone with a set of Old Mr. Boston Guides could probably help settle this.) One of these offerings, the Marie Brizard, is also completely clear.

The French are a bit luckier, naturellement. Best as I can tell from the Internet, they have two choices, de Poissy and de Vernon, both of which are naturally flavored. However Erik Ellestad has tried obtain these (according to his blog entry on the Eye Opener Cocktail) but without any success. (Either that or he’s not sharing with the rest of us. ;->) Also unknown to me is whether these offerings are tinted the traditional pink or not.

Getting High on Your Own Supply

Let me now rewind things by a few months and explain how I became interested in this particular ingredient in the first place…

In May 2009, Erik Ellestad wrote up his experiences making the Old Etonian cocktail (part of his on going project to make all the cocktails in The Savoy Cocktail book). The Old Etonian calls for the elusive crème de noyaux. Erik had received a bottle of homemade noyaux from another famous blogger, Matthew Rowley at Rowley’s Whiskey Forge. I already knew the execrable state of domestic noyaux, Rowley had published the recipe he used on his blog and since I love making exotic ingredients, I knew right away that I had found my next project!

Matthew’s recipe comes from the 1910 edition of the “Picayune’s Creole Cook Book,” which he has generously allowed me to reproduce from his blog. Here it is:

Peach Kernel Ratafia
(Ratafia aux Noyau de Peches ou d’Abricots)

¼ pound each of peach or apricot kernels
4 pints of brandy
2½ pounds of sugar
2 pints of water

Pound the peach or apricot kernels – some also pound peach stones – steep them for one whole month in four pints of brandy in an earthen jar, and at the end of that time add a syrup made of two and a half pounds of sugar and 2 pints of water. Mix all well together, and then filter, and bottle and seal, and keep in a cool, shady place.

[Here's a link to Matthew's original blog post.]

As you can see, it’s a straightforward and relatively uncomplicated process. The only real challenges are collecting the peach stones (you need quite a few) and then cracking them open to extract the kernels inside.

To get my peach stones I took a tip from Rowley and went to a local bakery well known for their fruit pies: Bake Sale Betty in Oakland, CA. As it turned out, the owners were familiar with making liqueurs from apricot pits, so my request wasn’t completely strange to them. All I had to do was wait for peaches to reach their seasonal peak, a which point the bakery would start making their pies, saving the stones for me. A few weeks later, I stopped by to see how things were going at which point they handed me a stack of “to go” boxes filled with peach stones, about 20 pounds worth. As they say, I had scored. Incredibly grateful, I promised to come back in a couple of months with a bottle of crème de noyaux, in payment.

Cracking peach stones open is the really hard work, any way you do it. Rowley used a hammer and cracked them open on the concrete sidewalk outside his house. I decided to try using a pair of giganto-sized Vicegrips to split them open. It took me the better part of two hours and my hands were hella sore for a day afterwards. But, for my trouble, I obtained 8 ounces worth of the precious kernels, enough to make two batches of Rowley’s recipe.

The rest of the recipe involves pounding the kernels in a mortar and pestle, macerating them in the cognac, waiting, sweetening and then filtering the results. Let me add a couple of notes about sweetening and filtering.

Sweetening: While waiting for Bake Sale Betty to collect peach stones for me, I was given a small pile of nectarine stones which I used to make a test batch of the noyaux. Nectarine stone kernels turn out to be much less fragrant than those from peaches and the resulting liqueur was pretty lackluster. However, by making it I determined that the amount of sweetening specified in Rowley’s recipe was way way too much for my palate. I find the Cajun palate is generally inclined to make things much sweeter than I prefer, so this wasn’t too surprising. When it came time to sweeten the batch I made with peach kernels, I used half the amount of sugar called for.

Filtering: Even after filtering through several layers of fine muslin, the noyaux retained a suspension of very fine particles. Over the course of about a month, these settled out, allowing me to rack off almost perfectly clear liquid. I tried to reclaim what was left behind (several ounces) by using regular Melita coffee filters, but most of the particles simple passed right through the paper. I suspect that if you really want to get things perfectly clear, you’ll either need to use a Buchner filter and 3-micron filter paper discs or try following the procedures provided on Rowley’s blog from the same book as the noyaux recipe. These involve using felt and or isinglass.

“So, what the heck does it taste like?”

The homemade noyaux definitely has a unique aroma and taste. The nose is very effusive, practically volatile. There’s a lot of marzipan backed by the grapey scent of the cognac in which the kernels were macerated. The marzipan continues onto the tongue where it’s joined by a little tea and the sugar. It finishes with a distinct bittersweet edge, which at first I found a little challenging. I was worried that the bitterness would dominate the experience of drinking the noyaux, much the way tannins can build up on the tongue and dominate the fruit in a young cabernet. That did not happen. Instead I found that after a few sips, the sweet and bitter components achieved a pleasant equilibrium. I was reminded of the experience of tasting a Del Maguey mezcal for the first time: you sense you’re drinking a very “pure” product, something from the earth which has been processed just enough to express itself fully and no more.

A Mostly Obscure Bestiary of Cocktails

Appropriately enough for a ‘lost’ pre-Prohibition ingredient, the majority of cocktails which call for crème de noyaux are to be found in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the complete list:

Eye Opener Cocktail
Fairbanks Cocktail (No. 2)
Jockey Club Cocktail
Lily Cocktail
Mikado Cocktail
Old Etonian Cocktail

Of these, the Mikado, a variation on the Japanese, is my personal favorite though, ironically, it also contains orgeat which is of course made from…almonds. I find this somewhat diminishes the impact of the crème de noyaux. The Lily is the only one of these in which crème de noyaux plays a significant role, equal in proportion to gin and Kina Lillet. However I can’t say I really love how that one tastes. Too angular a combination of tastes, me thinks.

More to my taste was another cocktail I found on CocktailDB called the Crawl Cocktail. Here’s the recipe:

Crawl Cocktail

1 oz. Cognac
1/2 oz. light rum (Flor de Cana Aged white)
1/2 oz. Crème de noyaux
1/4 oz. Curacao
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice. Serve in coupe with a lemon twist for garnish.

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to find any attribution for this cocktail. If you know anything about it, please drop me a line and let me know.

The Trail of The Pink Squirrel

The most famous crème de noyaux cocktail is, of course, the Pink Squirrel. I decided to learn what I could about it for this blog post. The trail led me to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where, legend has it, the cocktail was invented. Byrant’s, as it turns out, is still around and still makes Pink Squirrels (and Grasshoppers) as part of what looks like a serious bar program. I contacted the folks at Bryant’s to answer some of my questions.

According to John M. Dye (manager) and Shirley Lowery (former manager and first licensed female bartender in Milwaukee), Bryant Sharp invented the Pink Squirrel in 1941. (Prior to 1941, Bryant’s had been a beer hall, tied to Miller Brewery.) The original recipe called for ice cream and not the heavy cream called for by modern recipes. In the 1960′s, Bryant’s second owner, Pat Malmberg, decided to cut the crème de cacao from Bryant’s original recipe since felt it was unnecessary. Bryant’s still makes their Pink Squirrels according to this recipe today.

Less clear is whether the Pink Squirrel started life as an alcoholic beverage or as milkshake to which spirits were then added. (After reading Dye’s account, I have myself wondered whether Bryant was in fact serving ‘spiked’ milkshakes prior to Repeal, but have not been able to obtain corroboration of this theory one way or the other.)

I also quizzed Dye regarding the brand of crème de noyaux that Bryant might have been using in his original cocktails. Dye says he’s believes it might have been Bols but really he’s not sure. He says that Bryant’s has a long history with Bols and they use their crème de noyaux today.

Unanswered Questions

Like the title says, this history is short, only moderately accurate and definitely incomplete. There’s more research that could be done and I am hoping over time I’ll be able to answer some or all of the following questions:

1- Was pre-Prohibition crème de noyaux colored pink?

2- What was originally used to color crème de noyaux pink?

3- Are the French offerings pink colored?

4- At what point did crème de almond become a “synonym” for crème de noyaux?

5- When did the Pink Squirrel first appear in the Old Mr. Boston guide (and with or without the ice cream)?

One For the Road

I’ll end this with an original recipe of my own. It’s pretty simple and to the point. Along with rye, I’m mixing the noyaux with maraschino, which is made from the kernels of yet another Prunus genus fruit, the cherry.

Kernel of Truth

2 oz. Wild Turkey rye
1/2 oz. Homemade crème de noyaux
1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Stir over ice. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass.

Cheers!

Cherries Jubilee: A Five Day Followup

Posted in Cherries, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , on August 25, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

So last night I sampled my two batches of cherries. Here are my notes:

Cherries in Rye: These seemed a bit tart to me and not very well integrated with the rye spirit. I decided to doctor things a bit. I strained the cherries out of the spirit (now a lovely red) and removed the orange peel. I ran the spirit through a coffee filter to get all the cloudiness out (took a while) and then added an additional 1/2 cup of sugar. (I had about 1 cup of spirit after filtering.) I put the sweetened spirit/syrup back in the jar with the cherries so they can spend some more time together. (N.B. I used caster sugar so it dissolved quickly and easily.)

Cherries in Cognac and Kirschwasser: This seems like the winning combination. Simply delicious. The kirsch married with the fresh cherry flavor so naturally – which I guess shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. As with the cherries in rye, I strained the cherries out of the spirit, removed the orange peel and ran the spirit through a coffee filter to remove any cloudiness. I thought “maybe a little bit sweeter” so added in a some sugar, just a 1/4 cup, and then put everything back together again. Did it really need more sugar? Maybe not. I’ll see what happens and let you know.

Cherries in Brandy and Kirsch

[P.S. I also filtered the Thomas Handy rye in which I'd been soakling all the cherry pits. Man that smells great! I haven't decided what I'm going to do with this next. There's only about 4 oz. Any suggestions, besides just drinking it (as if you're reading this ;->)?]

Cherries Jubilee

Posted in Cherries, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , on August 19, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

A few days back I walked into Berkeley Bowl (my absolute favorite place to buy produce) and much to my delight saw they had Balaton cherries for sale. Balaton’s are a coveted and relatively new sour variety, perfect for pies and tarts, more hardy than the heirloom Montmorency (which I have never seen except canned or frozen). I had read about about these a while back in Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Now, here before me (in the flesh, so to speak) were pounds of the very small, red, soft and juicy fruit, many still with stems and leaves. These had been grown in Idaho, not Michigan where, according to the Balaton Cherry Home Page, the cultivar had been developed in the mid 1980s. It would seem that cultivation has been spreading and now these are going to be more generally available – I do hope. (N.B: apparently the name Balaton is trademarked and should be followed by an ®. Who knew?)

My first two pounds were stoned and converted into filling for some tarts. After gorging myself these, I decided I had to try my hand at cocktail cherries (the de rigueur garnish for my favorite cocktail, The Manhattan). I had already collected the stones from the ones I pitted for the tart filling and put them into a jar with some Thomas Handy rye. I was vaguely thinking this would form the basis for some bitters this fall. I had brandied some Bing cherries last year using a recipe from The New York Times but wasn’t so impressed with the results. I was looking for something different. After a bit of quick research on the web, I decided just to wing it and put up two batches: one in a 50/50 mixture of kirsch and cognac (ala griottines) and one in rye (Rittenhouse 100). Keep it simple, let the cherries sing.

In both cases I started by macerating the pitted fruit with sugar in the ratio of one cup cherries to 1/4 cup superfine sugar. I let this mixture sit for about 30 minutes, turning it gently (these cherries are pretty soft) with a spoon until most all of the sugar was dissolved and a light syrup had formed. I then poured the mixture into a small Mason-style jar and covered with the spirits. I also added a couple of long strips of orange zest to each batch. Here’s a photo, including the jar with the stones I put up in the Handy rye:

Balaton Cherries and Stones in Spirit

Pretty good looking, eh? I’m not 100% sure at what point to declare these things “done” so I’m going to sample ‘em every five days or so and keep some notes. I’ll report back later and let you know what I find out.

[P.S. The fake cherries on the rightmost jar came from the bottle of Kammer Black Forest kirsch I used. Not the most expensive but I'm partial to what's made in Europe, probably because of the cherry varieties they have available to them.]

An LCL Update

Posted in Home Made Ingredients, Left Coast Libations with tags , on August 19, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

So Ted is finally done writing the biographies for all 50 51 bartenders (and for those of you keeping score, yes, we added one more bartender to the LCL fold since Tales of the Cocktail: David Shenaut in Portland OR, currently satisfying customers at Teardrop Lounge) and I have completed organizing the recipes for 100 102 cocktails and the associated homemade ingredients. Everything has now been handed over to editorial staff (OK, we don’t have any real staff but we do have real editors to help us out). Book production should to being soon.

I must say it was lots of fun going over all of the recipes again. I think I had forgotten how many great cocktails were made last winter and spring in the run up to the photo shoot. I’m also quite pleased with the level of detail I was able to provide regarding the more arcane and complex homemade ingredients. For example, below are the instructions for making “Smoked Cider Air,” an ingredient in Daniel Hyatt’s Still Life with Apples, After Cezanne. Because this turned into such a total disaster during the photo shoot it was super-important to me to figure out where I had gone wrong and how to avoid doing so in the future. That’s all rolled up into the recipe notes.

Smoked Cider Air

Still Life with Apples, After Cezanne, Daniel Hyatt

1/4 tsp. liquid smoke concentrate
1 liter pasteurized (clear) apple cider
1 1/2 gm. soy lecithin granules
1/2 gm. xanthan gum
An 8-quart food-grade plastic container
An immersion blender

1. Pour cider into the plastic container.
2. Add liquid smoke, soy lecithin and xanthan.
3. Mix and froth the mixture using the immersion blender, keeping it just below the surface to form a thick layer of foam (“air”).
4. Skim the very top (driest part) of the “air” and add to the cocktail.
5. Re-froth as necessary to make more foam.

Notes:

Let me begin by saying that while making “Smoke Cider Air” requires some odd ingredients, special equipment and new techniques, anyone who undertakes it will be rewarded by being able to savor a most excellent cocktail, one of my favorites in the book. And baring that, you can always visit Daniel Hyatt at Alembic in San Francisco and have him make one for you.

After some spectacular failed experiments in scaling (down) I have concluded that this is one recipe that must be made using the quantities specified by the bartender if it is to come out right. It seems wasteful to make this much unless one is making a lot of drinks (since you can get an almost infinite amount of the “air” from a liter of cider by replenishing the lecithin and gum when it stops foaming) however the various problems I encountered trying to quarter the recipe (measuring such small amounts, inadequate foaming and catastrophic precipitation of the lecithin when put atop the cocktail) led me to this conclusion.

It is also very important to do the blending in sufficiently deep and wide enough container. The recommended the 8-quart food grade white plastic container is very affordable and can be purchased at most any restaurant supply store. I’d also get a lid to go with it as well.

Xanthan gum can be found a some specialty spice stores, Indian groceries, cake baking supply stores and of course on the web. If you can’t find xanthan gum, you may try tragacanth gum, which may be easier to find. You’ll probably have to tinker with the amount to use but keep in mind it’s the lecithin which creates the “air” – the gum simply helps to stabilize it.

You will need a precision electronic scale accurate to less than a gram in order to measure the xanthan and the lecithin. These are much more affordable than they used to be but are still not totally cheap. You might ask around and see if you can borrow one.

Finally, unless (or even) when it is very dry, the “air” will have a tendency to precipitate some amount of lecithin into the cocktail once it has been spooned on top. (My conjecture is that this is a reaction with the acid in the Maple Syrup Gastrique, another homemade ingredient used in this cocktail.) In extreme cases, you will have a literal rain of lecithin pouring into the otherwise translucent cocktail. Not much to do but sink it and start again.

Apricot Shrub: Light and Dark

Posted in Cocktails, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

OK. I know it’s a kind of craziness, I couldn’t resist making one more shrub this season, despite the fact that I am still working through the results of my last two efforts. Apricots have been much on my mind though. I was just been waiting until I found some really exceptional fruit. I started looking around at our local farmer’s markets and last week I found what I was looking for: some large, very ripe fruit (raised conventionally but more or less pesticide free) and at a good price. My thoughts this time were make two variations, both with cider vinegar but one with organic unrefined sugar (which is basically white) and one with Muscovado (which is basically granular molasses). Here’s a photo of what they looked like when I started maceration:

Light and Dark Apricot Shrub

How did they turn out?

These shrubs make one thing very clear to my palate: apricots and vinegar when blended together are highly complementary. In both light and dark versions it’s actually hard to tell where the taste of one ingredient stops and the taste of the other begins. The light version sampled by itself comes across almost simple tasting: neither apricot nor vinegar stands out. Mixing and diluting in a cocktail brings out more details. In the the dark version the molasses character of the Muscovado, which I was worried would be too assertive, adds welcome contrast and resulting complexity, though there is also something a bit harsh going on in there I’ve not yet figured out.

Mixing ‘em up…

Shrub continues to amaze me as cocktail ingredient. I find it’s almost always sufficient to pick a base spirit, add some shrub (more for brown goods, much less for white goods, even less for gin), chill and you’re done. Other flavors can be added but they are certainly not essential. Also, in the case of these apricot-based shrubs, mixing (essentially, diluting) with other ingredients helps to reveal more of the underlying fruit flavor.

On the other hand, when making shrub cocktails you are going to find some people who simply cannot get past the presence of vinegar in their libation, which they identify as “savory.” That’s OK: leaves more shrub for those of us who like an assertive cocktail.

One thing I haven’t noted in previous postings is that shrubs have a lot of very fine fruit particles suspended in them. This means if a cocktail is left to sit for a while will “break.” There’s nothing wrong with the drink after that point – it just needs to be swirled to mix everything back up. Still, I can see how that might not fit with everyone’s cocktail aesthetics.

Finally: the jury remains out for me whether to shake or stir these cocktails. Conventional wisdom says to shake. I’m just not so sure they need that much agitation so I’ve been stirring. What do you all think?

Apricot Almond Sour

2 oz. Osocalis brandy
1 oz. Light Apricot Shrub
1/4 oz. home made orgeat syrup
1 easy dash of Angostura bitters

Shake or stir over ice. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Apricot Almond Sour

Notes: Apricot and almond are just such a natural combination I had to make a drink based on them both. The batch of orgeat I’m currently using is particularly sweet (but also very intensely almondy). Adjust the proportion of orgeat you use accordingly. You don’t want this drink to be too sweet.

Aprikosenspiel

2 1/4 oz. Blume Marillen Apricot Eau de Vie
1/3 oz. Light Apricot Shrub
1/8 oz. Domain Canton ginger liqueur
1 dash Fee Bros. Peach Bitters

Shake or strir over ice. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Float three toasted almond slices on the top of the drink for a garnish.

Notes: I wouldn’t normally think of making a cocktail that uses an eau de vie as a base spirit but with the shrub it really works. The two play together fantastically. I added the tiniest bit of ginger liqueur and a dash of peach bitters for added complexity.

Little Shrub Punch

2 oz. Mt. Gay Eclipse rum
1 oz. Dark Apricot Shrub
1/4 oz. Navan vanilla cognac liqueur

Build in an old fashioned glass, stir, add large ice and serve. Garnish with a slice of fresh apricot.

Notes: This is modeled after a traditional Barbadian Ti (Petite) Punch. Almost any shrub flavor would do for this drink. Originally I tried this with several white agricole rums but found the vinegar did not play well against the funk. You can also skip the ice if that’s your inclination.

Experiencing the Joys of Shrub

Posted in Cherries, Cocktails, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

In which the author shares his recipe for black cherry balsamic shrub and a couple of cocktails which use it.

[NOTE: I've been erroneously adding a second 'b' to 'shrub' during these past posts. I think that crept in because I started out using the made-up gerund "shrubbing" ("shrubbin'") in the title of the first post. It sounded right - doubling the consonant before adding the 'ing' - but then it appears to have stuck, maybe because it sounded more rustic and old-tyme-like. At any rate, the extra 'b' has been expunged. The results are just as delicious.]

The two shrubs (raspberry/blackberry and black cherry) which I wrote about on the 16th of May are now bottled. A number of very yummy cocktails have been created, made and savored. Shrub turns out to be a very intense ingredient which concentrates the flavor of the underlying fruit with sweet and acid notes. It obviates the need to add any citrus to a cocktail and adds no additional alcohol (a good or a bad thing depending on your taste). It seems most natural to make sweet/sour type drinks with this though one could experiment with dialing the amount of shrub back to see what happens (e.g. a gin-based drink using no more than 1/4 oz. of shrub).

Below is my recipe for the black cherry balsamic shrub, which I feel is the more complex and unusual of the two I made, followed by a couple of original cocktail recipes which use it.

I also should mention that I did make Jamie Boudreau’s “Clarke’s Conundum” using my berry shrub. It was in fact the first thing I tried. It was delicious and I’d make it again. Of course I am also thinking of ways I’d tinker with it. Perhaps using an Oloroso in place of the PX to make it less sweet and a bit more nutty? Hmmm.

Bottled Raspberry/Blackberry and Black Cherry Balsamic Shrub

Black Cherry Balsamic Shrub

Ingredients:

500 grams fresh black cherries
500 grams organic sugar [1]
250 grams organic balsamic vinegar [2]
250 grams organic apple cider vinegar
2 large quills ceylonese cinnamon
8 – 12 black peppercorns, cracked by hand [3]

[1] – I was out of white sugar when I made my shrub so used turbinado (AKA demerara) sugar instead. You may use either though I think the less-refined sugar will result a deeper more complex flavor.

[3] – I recommend buying a better grade of balsamic – i.e. not the cheapest you can find – but certainly not the most expensive.

[3] – You don’t want to use coarse ground pepper for this, which will give too much surface area and possibly become too dominant a flavor. I started with whole peppercorns which I then gently cracked in a small mortar and pestle.

Equipment:

A scale for measuring ingredients in grams.
A 1-liter wide-mouthed glass jar with a well-fitting resealable lid.
A muddler or similar implement for smashing and pressing fruit.
A fine-mesh sieve or even a chinois.
A large mixing bowl made of glass or stainless-steel (i.e. non-reactive).
A medium funnel.
Cheesecloth.
Bottles for storing finished product.

Procedure:

1- Wash and remove the stems from the cherries.

2- Put the cherries into the wide mouthed glass jar (“jar”).

3- Put the sugar into the jar.

4- Use muddler to crush up the cherries, releasing juice, mixing things up with the sugar. Be sure that every cherry has been broken open.

5- Stir the cherry-sugar mixture together until all of the sugar has been moistened by the cherry juice.

6- Seal the jar and let sit in a cool place to macerate for at least 24 and up to 48 hours. I recommend you visually monitor the mixture during this time for signs of fermentation. If it looks like it’s starting to ferment you may add up to 125 grams (one half) of the cider vinegar to arrest this process.

NOTE: some slight froth is normal and does not indicate fermentation. That would be indicated by observing the formation and rise of small bubbles and the build up of CO2 gas in the jar. Also a little fermentation isn’t a bad thing but you don’t want it to get out of control as you are not making wine.

7- After maceration is complete, add the cider vinegar (or what remains of it), the balsamic vinegar, the cinnamon quills and the cracked black peppercorns to the jar, seal and shake well. Store in a cool place for at least 7 and as long as 10 days.

NOTE: over the next day or so you should aim to get all the remaining sugar crystals dissolved by shaking a few times a day. This also helps you to form a bond with your new shrub.

8- When you are ready, strain the contents of the jar into a sufficiently large non-reactive bowl. Use your muddler or the back of a large spoon to press as much liquid as possible from what remains of he cherries. Get as much a possible out before you give up on ‘em.

Pressing Cherry Goodness

9- Set up your funnel with a couple of layers of cheesecloth and pour (or ladle) the shrubb into your bottle (or bottles) for storage.

NOTE: the cheesecloth will still let a lot of very fine fruit particles pass. I think there’s a lot of flavor in them particles so this doesn’t bother me. As the shrub stands, these particles will settle out so I give my shrub a good shake before using it for a cocktail. I suppose it could be decanted – and maybe I’ll try that at some point to see how it affects the flavor. I’ll let you know.

10- You are done. Clean up and get ready to make some cocktails.

Shrub Cocktails:

Arbusto Oaxaca

1 1/2 oz. Del Maguey Minero mezcal
3/4 oz. black cherry balsamic shrub
1/4 – 1/2 oz. Tia Maria
1 dash orange bitters (*)

Stir ingredients over ice. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a long lemon twist.

I was thinking about this one the whole time I was waiting for the shrub to be ready. It seems like a natural fit between the smokiness of the mezcal, the tartness of the vinegar and the sweetness of the cherries, complemented by a little chocolate from the Tia Maria.

Arbusto Oaxaca

(*) - I actually tried my nascent chocolate orange bitters. If you are lucky enough to have access to Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters bitters (soon to be available to the rest of us) you could give those a whirl.

Black Shrubhattan

2 oz. bourbon (I used Grand Dad Bottled in Bond)
1/2 oz. black cherry balsamic shrub
1/2 oz. Amaro Nonino
1 dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters

Stir ingredients over ice. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish required.

Bitter Lessons

Posted in Bitters, Home Made Ingredients with tags , on May 31, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

Evaluating Bittering Agents

Before I actually finish the crazy orange chocolate bitters I wrote about a while back I decided it would be worthwhile to familiarize myself with the flavor profiles of the three most commonly used bittering agents: cinchona bark, gentian root and quassia wood. Recipes for making aromatic bitters generally specify using one, two or even all three of these but they don’t talk about what qualities each brings to the mixture. I figured the easiest way to figure that out was to do a little taste testing of my own.

Three Bittering Agents

Making Preparations

The first thing I did was to create a simple tincture of three agents by themselves. Each was made the same way: 5 gm was weighed and put into 50 ml of 150 proof Everclear and left for approximately 15 days. I left the agent in whatever “natural” form it came in when I purchased it from my local herb store – e.g. the cinchona was in large chunks, the quassia in chips and the gentian in short sections of root.

Taste Testing

Once the tinctures were done, I evaluated them for color, nose and taste. Tasting was done two ways. First undiluted by putting a single drop of the tincture on the back of my hand and then licking it. Second by putting 5 drops into an ounce of filtered water at room temperature. Here are the notes:

Cinchona

- Color: deep copper brown-red
- Nose: earthy/sweet notes; faint cola/vanilla scent
- Taste (pure): earthy and surprisingly sweet (enough to mask the heat of the alcohol). A little drying on the palate but w/o a particularly bitter finish.
- Taste (diluted): very similar to the straight tincture with the sweetness showing up as a very mild almost nutty aftertaste.

Cinchona: bark and tincture

Quassia

- Color: pale yellow
- Nose: slight woody notes, a little smoky-sweet. vaguely like licorice. Also a little bit of turpentine.
- Taste (pure): bitter but not intensely so with a hint of the sweet notes one finds in licorice.
- Taste (diluted): bitterness comes a little forward tasted this way and the sweetness is almost gone.

Quassia: wood and tincture

Gentian

- Color: dark amber
- Nose: earthy/clay notes; slightly vegetal.
- Taste (pure): Intensely bitter with a very long bitter finish. The flavor of single drop persists for several minutes.
- Taste (diluted): The bitterness was even more expressed when I diluted it in water. Rather amazing.

Gentian: roots and tincture

Conclusions

Of the the three agents I tasted, I found the cinchona and the quassia the most appealing and complex. I am sure to try using both of these when I finish my bitters. I was particularly surprised by the cinchona, which I expected to express some of the tartness I experience when I drink tonic water. Instead I found that it showed an unexpected sweetness which stood up nicely to the heat of the Everclear. And as far at the gentian goes, I’d say the only reason to add it would be to “pump” the overall sensation of bitterness without introducing a new flavoring element.

What next?

A few days ago I filtered my chocolate orange bitters, removing the cacao nibs and the fresh orange peel I had added a few weeks back. I decided what they needed next was a dose of cinnamon, so I added a few quills and am now monitoring the flavor every day to gauge the effect. (I must say, by the way, they are really tasting pretty good at this point.) Once the cinnamon level is where I want it to be, I’ll pull that out and make a few test mixtures using my cinchona and quassia tinctures. Almost done….maybe.

[CODA: I would very much like to acknowledge Jamie Boudreau's blog post on how to make bitters from April of last year. Reading it convinced me that my bitter components testing would be a worthwhile exercise.]

Whence “shrub”?

Posted in Home Made Ingredients, Left Coast Libations with tags , , on May 18, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

Over this past weekend I’ve had several occasions to tell people about the two shrubs which I put up (and blogged about) on Friday. Everyone asks the same thing after hearing about them: where heck does that word come from and what does it mean? I had no good answer till this morning when I finally got around to doing some serious web research. Here’s what I learned.

Our word “shrub” most likely comes from the Arabic “sharbah” (or “sharabb”) which is a syrup made from fruits and/or extracts of flowers and herbs, generally mixed with lime juice which serves as a preservative of flavor and color. This syrup is then diluted with water or evaporated milk before serving. In India this is called sharbat. Interestingly I was already familiar with sharbat as I had to research these flavorings as part of proofing Anu Apte’s recipe for the “Saffron Sandalwood Sour” just a couple of months ago. Having made sharbat and now shrubb, the case for a connection seems pretty strong to me.

Our syrup shrub would seem to be a variation on the sharbah/sharbat where the lime juice has been replaced by vinegar as a matter of practicality, I imagine, at time and place when limes would have been rare or non-existent. Exactly when sharbah/sharbat were introduced to the West is unfortunately lost in the misty “day after” of history.

Here’s a link to more information on sharbat (and sharbat recipes):

http://www.indiacurry.com/faqterms/whatsharbat.htm

Do I Dare to Drink a Peach?

Posted in Cocktails, Home Made Ingredients, Manhattans, Stone Fruit with tags , , , , on May 18, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

A few weeks ago I attended the American Distilling Institute’s public tasting event at Hangar One in Alameda, CA. One of the more interesting things I tried was a peach whiskey made by Peach Street Distillers, located in Colorado. This was not a “for sale” product but rather something the distillers had made for themselves, a bottle of which they’d brought along as something of an “under the table” treat. It piqued my interest sufficiently to do a little research and ultimately to discover that Leopold Bros. makes a Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey which was actually available for sale. Impressed with their other products, I decided to purchase a bottle and give it a try.

The Taste

Before talking about the taste of this whiskey, I should first mention that it is apparently produced in rather small batches and bottled several times a year. I stumbled upon this fact when I noticed that the bottle I purchased held a much darker colored spirit than the bottles I had seen on the shelf of another liquor store. Curious about these variations, I contacted Leopold Bros. by email and got a reply from Todd Leopold on this matter. Here’s what he had to say:

“The color in our fruit whiskies does not primarily come from the barrel. It comes from, as you guessed, oxidation of the fruit sugars. The longer it sits in a gas permeable barrel, the darker it becomes. So what you are noticing is the variation in oxidation levels.

“Normally, an oxidized peach is a bad thing. But when it is blended with whiskey, the oxidation of the peaches isn’t as aggressive, and leads to more interesting flavors and aromas like raisins and plums. This oxidation doesn’t occur on the shelves so much as it does in the oak barrel.”

Todd also told me that they are combining their own “new make” whiskey with the peaches and then aging this blend in used bourbon barrels purchased from Heaven Hill in Kentucky. This of course lends a lot of character to the result.

After learning all of this I decided it would be interesting to pick up a second bottle from a different batch so I could compare the two side by side. Below are my tasting notes.

Batch 08 05

The first bottle I purchased is marked “08 05″ (for 5th bottling of 2008, if I understood Todd’s encoding properly). This batch (which may now be sold out) has a distinct mahogany color – much darker than the other bottling as you can see in the photo. The nose is very raisiny with earthy-peppery notes and a hint of toffee. The raisin character carried directly through into the taste, which coated my tongue and lingered for a very long time. I almost felt as if I was drinking a very old TBA riesling or fortified desert-style wine rather than a whiskey. However despite the suggestion of oxidation, there was nothing dried out or “hot” about this spirit. It’s a bit like drinking liquid fruit. Delicious!
Batch 05_05 Georgia Peach Flavored Whiskey

Batch 08 09

The second bottle I purchased is marked “08 09″ (for the 9th bottling of 2008). This batch is lighter in color than the 08 05, closer to an orange-amber. The nose is also quite different as well and led with much more bourbon character, complemented by citrus peel and vanilla notes. The palate, again quite different from the 08 05, was brighter and crisper, less rich and unctuous. As sweet and fruity as it was, I knew I was drinking a whiskey.
Batch 08_09 Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey

(Aside: I should mention that according to the Leopold Bros. website they are now also making a Rocky Mountain Peach-flavored Whiskey. I have not yet gotten a chance to try this nor have I even seen it for sale here in the bay area. I did however spy an 2009 bottling of the Georgia peach on the shelves at BevMo today.)

The Cocktails

I actually found this something of tricky ingredient to use in a cocktail. I believe that’s because its got such a broad flavor profile: sweet, sour and earthy all at once. If you use too much, it tends to dominate the drink; use too little and it tends to get lost. I concentrated on spirituous formulations and perhaps it would prove more versatile in cocktail that include juices and/or syrups.

Note that all these drinks were formulated with the 08 05 batch.

The J. Alfred Prufrock (AKA Peach Old Fashioned)

1 1/2 oz. Rye (Rittenhouse 100 proof suggested)
3/4 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1 Sugar cube
2″ Lemon peel
Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters

Muddle the sugar cube with 1 – 2 dashes of the bitters.
Add the lemon peel and muddle a bit more to express the oils.
Add spirits and ice (a single chunk if you have it)
Stir to chill.

Note: You need to be careful not to over bitter this drink.

J Alfred Prufrock (AKA Peach OF)
Highland Peach

2 oz. Macallan 12 y/o Single Malt
1/2 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1/4 oz. Benedictine (to add a little spice)

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, add ice, stir to chill.
Strain and serve over a large block of ice in an OF glass.
Garnish with a lime peel.

A Peachy Manhattan

2 oz. Wild Turkey Rye
1 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1/4 oz. Navan Vanilla Cognac Liqueur

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, add ice, stir to chill.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with brandied cherry.

Note: I tried making the manhattan several different ways: with red vermouth, Aperol and then with two different amari (Ramazotti and Nonino). To my palate none of these drinks were quite right. In particular, a bitter component really seems to play poorly against the dried fruit intensity of the whiskey. Even the Aperol, which generally plays well with others, seemed a bit out of place in this context.


Bajan Peach

2 oz. Mount Gay Special Reserve Rum
1 oz. Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach-flavored Whiskey
1/4 oz. Cinnamon Syrup
1/4 oz. Lime Juice

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass, add ice, shake to chill.
Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with brandied cherry.

Note: you may need to tinker with this one depending on how strongly flavored your cinnamon syrup is, as well as how sweet.

Tis’ the Season to be Shrubbin’

Posted in Cherries, Cocktails, Home Made Ingredients, Left Coast Libations, Stone Fruit with tags , , , , on May 16, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

OK…it’s still a little early in the season for local berries to be stacked in low-cost abundance on the shelves at Berkeley Bowl, but raspberries and blackberries from the good old USA are now once again available. That, plus a good dose of the inspiration I received during last night’s seminar on home made ingredients given by Neyah White of Nopa and Jeff Hollinger of Absinthe (part of 2009 SF Cocktail Week) and there was nothing more to stop me shrubbin’ today than finding the right jars.

I’d been wanting to make a shrub for a while now. It was one of very the first special ingredients that caught my eye in the original version of LCL, called for in one of Jamie Boudreau’s contributions to that book. Here’s the recipe:

Clarke’s Conundrum
Jamie Boudreau

2 1/4 oz. Rye
1/2 oz. Pedro Ximinez Sherry
1/2 oz. Raspberry/Blackberry Shrub
3 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice.
Strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

[Here's is a link to Jamie Boudreau's own write up on this cocktail and a generally good introduction to the topic of shrub.]

I of course wanted to learn more about shrubs after reading this but by the time I was done with my research (and making bacon bourbon – remember that?), berries were long out of season. Living in northern CA where juicy ripe berries can be had cheaply and in abundance in season, I could not bring myself to buy Mexican or Chilean imports (to say nothing of paying the obscene prices these fetch). I would have to bide my time – which as it turned out was fully consumed making all the things I needed for the 100 new LCL cocktails, sadly none of which called for shrbb.

Anyway, today I started two shrubs, which I am choosing to make without cooking as suggested by Neyah White. One will be blackberry and raspberry (so I can make Clarke’s Conundrum) and one will be black cherry – to which I will also add some cinnamon and use balsamic vinegar when the time comes. Right now I am macerating the fruit with sugar and a little vinegar to control fermentation. (Oh, and I also muddled the cherries before adding the sugar. I just hope I used the right end of the muddler.) I also chose to use Turbinado (AKA Demerara) sugar for the cherries, mostly because I ran out of refined white cane and had a supply of it on hand. (I also seem to recall the Neyah said he favored “really dirty sugar” in his concoctions, so I think I am on solid ground having made this choice). Here’s a photo taken on my back deck of the beautiful macerating fruit:

Shrubs Macerating

I’ll probably let them stand for a couple of days down in my cool basement (it’s getting warm in the house) and then add the vinegar before I leave town for a few days. I’ll filter and try ‘em when I return and let you know how they turned out in a follow up post.

Postscript:

One other thing I was inspired to do after last night’s seminar was to add a whole bunch of fresh orange peel to this bastard chocolate-orange-chili bitters I’ve been tinkering with for the last couple of months. It started life as something of a disaster (the story of which cannot yet be told) exhibiting almost no chocolate character when it was supposedly “ready.” I however could not bring myself to sink it. So I put it away and ignored it until about three weeks ago when I filtered it (dumping what was left of the original ingredients) and added back about 4 oz. of cacao nibs. About two weeks later (and after shaking it almost daily) I noticed it was finally developing a reasonable chocolate nose. I now have hope. I added the orange peel to push that component even further. Oh, and I also snagged what was probably one of the last Seville oranges of the season and threw the peel of that in there as well. I’ll also keep you posted on this. (Here’s a photo. Kind of pretty actually.)

Bastard Chocolate-Orange-Chili Bitters

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