Archive for Cocktails

Vermouth in the Balance

Posted in Amari, Bourbon and Rye, Cocktails, Manhattans, Musings with tags , , , , on April 21, 2011 by Mr. Manhattan

Part one of an investigation into achieving balance in spirits-driven cocktails.

A few days ago I had the occasion to revisit an old original cocktail called The Criollo. I created it back in 2009 when I first fell in love with amari (singular amaro), the class of Italian digestive bitters that many bartenders were experimenting with at the time, most notoriously in the so-called “Black Manhattan.” In that cocktail some or most of the vermouth is replaced by an amaro. My particular goal was to bring chocolate flavors into a manhattan-style cocktail that would appeal to adult drinkers—i.e. not be creamy or too sweet. I had found that Mozart (the people who make the Austrian chocolates) had a liqueur (Mozart Black) that claims to contain 87% cacao mass. It wasn’t creamy but still pretty sweet with plenty of chocolate flavor. My thinking was to balance the sweetness of the Mozart Black against the bitterness of the amaro. Here’s what I came up with:

The Criollo (No. 2, AKA The Mozart Black Manhattan)

2 oz. rye
3/4 oz. Amer Boudreau (or Ramazzotti)
1/4 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1 barspoon Grand Marnier
1 short dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 short dash Angostura orange bitters (optional if you used Amer Boudreau)
Long thin orange peel, for garnish

I liked it well enough when I first formulated it but when I remade it I was struck right away by how sweet it was. Not sickly, but pretty out there. I don’t know why it didn’t strike me so at the time. However, the reason for its sweetness is certainly no mystery to me now: it was the amaro. While we experience them as bitter, most amari contain a lot of sugar. I am guessing anywhere 20 to 30% by volume, possibly higher. Add that to the sugar in the Mozart Black liqueur and then my barspoon of Grand Marnier, and well, my recipe starts to look pretty lopsided. Think of it in terms of major flavoring components:

rye: congeners+wood flavorings
amaro: sugar+bitters/herbs
liqueur: sugar+cacao
liqueur: sugar+orange
aromatic bitters: bitters/herbs

If this were a glass of wine I was tasting, I might apply the adjective “angular,” meaning to me that the flavor is dominated by a couple of notes (in this case sweet and bitter) that don’t particularly harmonize. Nothing much links them together (though the chocolate and orange do help). In my mind, when I picture the flavors of this cocktail, this is what I see:

What this cocktail needed was a major rethink!

Back to Basics

I started by considering my point of origin, the Manhattan and flavors lent to it by the ingredient I had chosen to replace, the sweet vermouth. To be honest, it’s not an ingredient I had given my deepest thoughts to before. I knew which brands I liked but had otherwise taken it more or less for granted. Now however l had reason to really engage with it. Why does sweet vermouth create a balanced cocktail while the combination of amaro and liqueur (a pretty complex set of flavors) fails to do so? For starters, the vermouth is far less sugary. But what else is going on in there? I decided that it would be worthwhile tasting though a number of different sweet vermouths* and cataloging aromas and flavors. Here’s my aggregated list:

vanilla, orange peel, white pepper, wine, licorice, sun dried tomato, cedar, mint, dust, brown sugar, nuts, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, menthol, baby powder (flowers), anise, cherry, plum, chalk, band-aid, bitter

If I then reduce this list to classes of aromas and flavors, I get this more canonical list:

Acid
Sugar
Herbal/Bitter
Oxidized Flavors
Fruit
Minerals
Savory

Looking at this list, two things occurred to me in quick succession:

First, this single ingredient is capable of providing a very wide spectrum of flavors. It has what I believe flavor chemists call high amplitude, where “amplitude” is defined as the total effect of flavor and aroma in a food. The higher the flavor amplitude, the more broadly it stimulates our taste buds. (Ketchup is the classic example of a food which has high amplitude.) So including vermouth in a cocktail provides a big flavor bang for the buck. Depending on the brand of vermouth used, it tickles pretty much every major flavor receptor in some degree.

Second, neither of the ingredients I used in place of the sweet vermouth provided any significant amount of acid. If you think about all the different sorts of ingredients one uses in spirits-driven cocktails, you can see that while it’s easy to get sugar into the drink, its much harder to get acid to balance things out—that’s the brilliance of citrus in a sour. Vermouth, being based on wine, brings acid along with all of its other flavors. In addition to balance, that acid also helps heighten our experience of all the other flavors as well.

It seems pretty obvious that when we replace vermouth in a spirits-driven cocktail, we’ve got a pretty tough act to follow. It’s kind of a super-ingredient: complex flavors and acid. In The Criollo cocktail, I had found a way to bring complex flavors together (there’s plenty going on in there) but I had lost any acid that might balance against the additional sugar in those ingredients. Obviously I could try adding back some vermouth to fix The Criollo and re-balance it. That seemed like going backward. What I really wanted to know is what other options I might have for bringing acid into a spirit-driven cocktail. It was time to do some serious science!

Next: Putting Ingredients to the Acid Test

[*] - Vermouths evaluated were: Carpano Antica, Dolin rouge, Noilly-Pratt rouge, Vya sweet, and Cocchi Barolo Chinatto. Technically the latter isn’t a vermouth but it can certainly be used as one and I happen to have an open bottle.

A Rose (Aprium) By Any Other Name

Posted in Cocktails, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , on October 9, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

A few weeks ago I documented my efforts to capture the embers of the stone fruit season by infusing gin with apriums, pluots, and dried plums. (Previously) I am pleased to say that my experiments were most successful—despite have been told not to expect much from folks who’s opinions I regularly value. I don’t know what I did that they did not, but I wound up with deeply colored, highly flavored gins. Drinkable in their own right, actually. And the flesh of the fruit did not disintegrate as I had feared it might. (I chalk this up to using less than fully ripe fruit.) I also think my choice of Plymouth, in which the juniper is fairly muted, was spot on.

Since then I’ve used the gins to make a number of lovely sours (one of which is destined for the menu at Plum). The only down side is that I am running out and, alas, there really are no more stone fruit (least not of the varieties I was using). Now I’ll have to sit on my hands and await the next season—only 11 months away!

Meantime, to whet your whistle, or to make you envious, you choose), here’s a recipe for one of the cocktails.

Rose Aprium Sour (AKA By Any Other Name)

1 1/2 oz. Rose Aprium-infused Plymouth gin [*]
3/4 oz. Honey syrup (2:1)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. Maraska maraschino liqueur
1 egg white

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and dry shake to froth the egg whites.
Add ice and shake about 20 times to chill.
Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

[*] Details on how I made the gin can be found in this post. The only missing details are as follows: let the fruit infuse for about 10 days. When ready, run the infused gin through a Melita-type coffee filter before using.

When the Fat Lady Sings…

Posted in Amari, Brandy, Cocktails, Stone Fruit with tags , , , on September 1, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Stone fruit season is definitely coming to a close. A recent trip Berkeley Bowl last week revealed the selection of apricots, plums, nectarines, and their various crosses starting to diminish. There were in fact only about two or three apricot varieties on display, way down from the dozen or so earlier in the month.

Of course, what’s important about this story is that this was supposed to be the summer I overcame my traditional resistance to stone fruit and figure out how to make some original cocktails with them. While I have been known to eat (OK, take a bite of) the occasional peach or apricot, I just seem to be missing the gene that makes one crave this class of fruit. (Excepting cherries. I love cherries.) At the same time, I completely get how outrageously fortunate we are in this part of the country when stone fruit come into season and how awesome it is to use them in cocktails. Hence my resolve, which was thwarted every time I went into the market. How easily my eyes leapt from the piles of pluots and apriums towards the baskets of easy to love marion blackberries and raspberries. How simple to think of something to make with those! How quickly I forgot my good intentions to learn something new!

Finally, a few days ago, I purchased some of the last apricots, Rival from Washington state. They were medium sized fruit, good looking, firm but starting to show signs of serious ripening. They even smelled like apricots, while so many reveal nothing when sniffed. This, I said to myself, was it: my last chance to make good on my promise. Thus, into a bag a few of the softer feeling fruit went.

That evening, I got to work. I have admit I didn’t tinker around very much before hitting upon the recipe I am about to share. That’s mostly because on the second iteration of this fresh apricot sour, when I swapped Calvados for Laird’s 100-proof straight apple brandy, I felt I had created something so delicious, I felt no inclination to do more than sit back, sip, and savor. No rush, I told myself, there’s always next season.

When the Fat Lady Sings
(Fresh Apricot Sour)

A half of a medium-sized very ripe apricot, cut into about six pieces.
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. home made orgeat
2 oz. Laird’s 100-proof straight apple brandy
1/4 oz. Amaro Montenegro
A small slice of apricot, for garnish

Put the cut apricot half, the lemon juice, and the orgeat into a mixing glass.
Firmly muddle this mixture until the apricot is well pureed.
Add the apple brandy and amaro.
Shake over ice.
Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with the small slice of apricot, if desired

Notes:

Made this cocktail using the season’s last apricots, hence the name.

Earlier iterations of this cocktail used Calvados and the regular Laird’s Applejack. Neither had the assertiveness necessary to balance against the fresh apricot.

You may need to use a barspoon to work the cocktail through the strainer as it gets pretty thick in there.

Calamondin Marmalade

Posted in Cocktails, Exotic Citrus, Home Made Ingredients with tags , , on August 28, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

My little calamondin tree (previously) has been doing quite well and produced a nice sized crop of fruit this summer. When I went to water it a few days ago I realized most all of the fruit was ready to harvest. The question was what to do with it? With the winter harvest, I focused on muddling the fruit and created both a bourbon and a rum cocktail which were pretty decent. This time, however I had a lot more fruit than I thought could be reasonably used before going bad. So, I decided to preserve them by making a marmalade. I based the recipe below on one for kumquats by Matty Eggleston from Left Coast Libations.

Calamondin Marmalade

30 Calamondin
1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
1/2 cup water

Makes approximately 1 pint of marmalade.

- Trim the very top off each calamondin and then slice in half across the “equator” of each fruit.
– Remove any seeds using the tip of the knife.
– Coarsely chop the cut and seeded calamondin in a food processor using “pulses” to prevent pureeing.
– Put the chopped calamondin into a medium sauce pan along with the sugar and the water.
– Bring the mixture to a simmer while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
– Continue stirring, removing any seeds which may have been missed.
– Heat the mixture for approximately 10 to 15 minutes or until it thickens, darkens, and most of the peel becomes translucent.
– Stir and adjust the heat as necessary to prevent boiling.
– Turn of the heat and remove the sauce pan from the burner.
– After the marmalade is cooled, put into an airtight container and store in the fridge.

I must say it came out fiendishly good! I mean like ‘eat it by the spoonful’ good. It’s also not too firm, a characteristic which would have made it difficult to mix with. I was also very happy with the couple of cocktails I made using it. Nothing ground breaking, just sturdy deliciousness. My favorite was the pisco sour and everyone who tried it thought so too. The smokiness of the pisco made a create completement to the rindy-tarness of the marmalade.

Calamondin Pisco Sour

1 1/2 oz. Don Cesar ‘Pisco Puro’
2 teaspoons calamondin marmalade
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. Senior Curacao of Curacao orange liqueur
1/2 oz. egg white
A few drops of Angostura bitters, for garnish

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass.
Shake hard, without ice, to froth the egg whites.
Add ice and shake 10 more times to chill.
Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Put a few drops of Angostura bitters in the froth and make a pretty design using a toothpick.

The Eggpire Strikes Back: A Tales of the Cocktail Seminar Preview

Posted in Cocktails, Tales of the Cocktail with tags , on July 5, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

The renaissance of pre-prohibition cocktails has, as we know, also meant a resurgence of interest in many “old-timey” ingredients and techniques. I’m thinking that it’s possible that no single reclaimed ingredient has been as mainstreamed as much as the egg, both in the form of whites, which contribute body and a lovely crown of lather, or when used whole, to make a creamy flip or nog. In the San Francisco bay area I would say most bars with a respectable bar program will offer at least one egg white-based cocktail.

The question may reasonably be asked, however, whether we’ve yet brought the egg completely into the modern mixological lexicon. Are there secrets yet for us to uncover? And what of the chemistry and physics involved: would knowing more about what’s inside the shell help use make better egg cocktails? Those inclined to delve more deeply into these and other ‘egg-centric’ questions would be well advised to a) get themselves to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail 2010, b) stay until Sunday July 25th and c) attend the seminar entitled “The Eggpire Strikes Back” moderated by Timo Janse with panelists Andrew Nicholls and Henrick Hammer. The seminar runs from 12:30 to 2:00 PM.

I exchanged a few emails with Timo to find out more about what he’s got planned for his seminar. I think one of the topics that will be of most particular interest to bartenders is the matter of storage. If you work in a bar that’s part of a restaurant then it’s very likely that the eggs to which you have access will always be fresh and handled properly by the kitchen staff. If, however, you are directly responsible for purchasing, storing and handling the eggs at your bar, then the practices which Timo and company intend to review will be most useful.

I also asked Timo about the inspiration for this seminar. He says that since he’s been working with eggs at door 74 (where he tends bar in Amsterdam) he’s found it to be an ingredient around which there much confusion and which, consequentially, many people fear. He felt it was his “duty to spread the word” and to defend this beautiful product of nature.

Timo was also kind enough to share a recipe for an egg-based cocktail about which he’s particularly excited right now. It’s an original creation, clearly intended for dessert!

Crème Brûlée

2 ounces Meukow vanilla cognac
1 whole egg
3/4 ounce Mulata Elisir de Ron (*)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce Homemade pineapple syrup (**)
2 dashes Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 barspoon super fine sugar

Shake all ingredients except the sugar over ice.
Strain into a ceramic cup.
Sprinkle the sugar over the top of the cocktail.
Caramelize the sugar using a kitchen torch.

* – Timo tells me this is a creamy rum-based caramel flavored liqueur. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the US. There are two possible substitutes: Dulseda dulce de leche liqueur from Argentina (imported by Diageo) and Bailey’s caramel. For a rather different effect you could also try Godiva caramel liqueur, though this contains chocolate.

** – Timo did not provide a recipe for pineapple syrup. If you are inclined to make this yourself, there are several recipes available on the web. The one from Imbibe (link) looks very easy—though I have not tested it myself. Otherwise you could try to find Small Hand Food’s pineapple gum (which I recommend) or the product made by Monin, which contains no corn syrup.

Negroni + Amaro = Negromaro

Posted in Amari, Bitters, Cocktails, Spirits News with tags , , , on July 1, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

The past few months have seen a plethora of new products on the market. Some have been long anticipated, like Crème Yvette from Ron Cooper or Cocchi Americano, the Kina Lillet surrogate which has now been re-introduced in the U.S. by Eric Seed and Haus Alpenz. There’s also Gran Classico bitter, from Tempus Fugit, which provides us with an alternative to Campari without the food coloring, and Amaro Montenegro, absent for several years from US shelves after its importer was bought by Frexinet. Still to come is Maker’s 46, just barely creeping into some markets (or so I hear), a new (clear!) violet liqueur from Tempus Fugit, plus whatever surprises might await us in New Orleans. (I know of at least one!) Frankly, I expect to be playing catch up for the rest of the summer.

Gran Classico vs. Campari

Last week I bought a bottle of Gran Classico which has started showing up on the shelves of liquors stores and bars all over town. I sampled it last year during SF Cocktail Week, first neat and then in the form of a Negroni, made with Voyager gin and Carpano Antica Formula vermouth. That cocktail was amazing and, well, it set a standard for what a Negroni could (and should) be. I’d been craving a chance to have another ever since.

There is going to be a tendency for people in the cocktail business who stress the importance of natural flavors and traditional (non-industrial) processes to simply embrace Gran Classico (which contains no added colorants) as a de-facto replacement for Campari (a product made on a much vaster scale). However, in the interest of fairness and for my own education, I thought a little A-B comparison would be in order.

I would normally do a comparison between spirits blind but the difference in color between the Gran Classico and Campari is so startling as to make such precautions pointless: the Gran Classico is medium-amber in color while the Campari is intensely red. (For some reason it made me think of red M&Ms, the color of which is definitely NOT natural.) The Gran Classico is also far more viscous and syrupy in appearance than Campari and the nose is less intensely bitter, more muted. Campari, I now realize, really smells bitter and dusty! I dunno: that could be a good thing when it comes to mixing with it.

The viscosity I detected in the glass follows straight through into the mouthfeel of the Gran Classico. There are several layers to the flavor including bright vanilla notes, marmalade and wormwood. Surprisingly, it finishes pretty sweet. The Campari also leaves you with a sugary finish, but its flavor is far less complex overall, dare I say unidimensional.

Which do I prefer? Oh, the Gran Classico is a far more attractive and nuanced product. It would seem to be a better starting place for any cocktail that calls for Campari and probably Aperol. My only lingering doubt is whether, by the time it’s mixed with other ingredients, its superior attributes will still stand out. That’s something that’s going to merit some more investigation.

A new amari standard

The same day I obtained the Gran Classico, I also purchased a bottle of the Bortolo Nardini amaro, inspired by an upcoming seminar on bitter spirits at Tales of the Cocktail (A Shot of the Black Stuff). I had tried a number of the Nardini products before: the lemony, if somewhat sweet, Acqua di Cedro and the almost indescribable Tagliatella. But not the amaro. I am so glad I did! Much as I LOVE the Amaro Montenegro (which is like drinking flowers), the Nardini set my new standard for what an amaro could be: layers of licorice, vanilla, orange peel, cola, and a hint of lavender.

(Damn. I have to stop writing and pour myself a glass right now. Wait. OK. Ah! Better!)

Together with these two new lovely purchases, I gathered my bottle of Carpano Antica Formula vermouth and my bottle of Beefeater 24 (generously gifted to me by the folks at Pernod-Ricard) and set myself to the task of making some cocktails.

And this is what I did…

Negroni (classic proportions)

1 oz. Beefeater 24
1 oz. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth [try 3/4 carpano instead]
1 oz. Gran Classico bitter

Stir over ice for 30 seconds.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a long thin lemon peel strip, tied into a knot.

As delicious as I remember it! Gran Classico bitter has won a permanent place in my home bar. You’ll note however, that I swapped Beefeater 24 for the Voyager gin. After some consideration, I felt that the Voyager, with its citrus peel/sweet tea nose and soft finish, would be lost under all the vermouth and bitter. B24, lemony and creamy in the nose as it is, is still a juniper-forward product that asserts itself more intensely on the palate. I felt it would balance better against the other ingredients.

Now, do you recall I mentioned that the Gran Classico was pretty syrupy and had a distinct sugary finish? Well, I definitely saw that play through into the Negroni as made using the traditional proportions above. I’ve seen the exact same thing with Negronis made with Campari. For this reason many bartenders cut back the proportions of the vermouth and bitters, to dry the cocktail out. I suppose this reflects as much on the modern cocktail palate as anything else. The Negroni recipe on the back of the Gran Classico bottle makes just such an adjustment. Recently I’ve even had a Negroni made with Dolin blanc in place of the sweet vermouth, an accident best as I can tell. That becomes a different cocktail all together, quite enjoyable in it’s own way, like most everything else made with Dolin blanc!

The last time I tinkered with this aspect of the Negroni, I replaced half of the Campari with Amaro Nonino. That was pretty damn tasty but it just didn’t seem to go far enough. Inspired by that lovely bottle of Nardini amaro, I decided to ‘go darker’ yet, resulting in the following formulation:

Negromaro (or Nardini Negroni)

1 oz. Beefeater 24
1 oz. Bartolo Nardini amaro
3/4 oz. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth

At this point, the Negroni has been pretty well transformed into something new. The amaro lends distinct dark notes to the mixture, in particular the flavor of sweet licorice (not to be ever confused with anise), but is itself now tamed by being paired with gin and vermouth. Damn satisfying.

OK, I better stop here or I’m never going to finish this ambling blog post. Salute!

A Toast to Brooke(lyn) Arthur

Posted in Cocktails, Left Coast Libations, Manhattans with tags , , on April 18, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Last Friday was Brooke Arthur’s last evening as Bar Manager at Range. Folks (OK, bartenders) were dropping by to say good-bye to her there and bid her good luck at Prospect, Nancy Oakes’s latest restaurant, where she’ll be managing as well. Those of us who stopped in were treated to a Brooklyn for which Brooke had so very kindly brought in her own bottle of Amer Picon from Spain (I think she said that’s where she got it). Only in writing this post did I realize how totally appropriate and fitting that selection was.

Now it’s Sunday. A beautiful day here in Oakland, California. I’ve got a few racks of baby back ribs smoking slowly in the Weber. A perfect time for a cocktail on the back deck. Remembering Brooke’s Brooklyn I decided to make one of my own, undoubtedly to slightly different effect using, among other things. Wild Turkey rye, Dolin blanc and my bottle of Amer Boudreau. Yummy never the less and more importantly, worth raising, in toast, to Brooke, where ever she may be today! Cheers!

Brooklyn

2 oz. Wild Turkey 101-proof rye
3/4 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
1/3 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/3 oz. Amer Boudreau
orange peel strip, for garnish

Stir over ice to chill.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with the orange peel.

[For more discussion on this cocktail, take a hop over to Jay Hepburn's write up at Oh Gosh!]

In Search of the Great White Manhattan

Posted in Cocktails, Manhattans with tags , on April 7, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Does the Manhattan have an evil twin and if so, what would it be like?

In his recent Savoy post on the Seventh Heaven Cocktail (No. 1) Erik Ellestad made passing reference to a “White Manhattan” – a cocktail which I had never heard of before but which I am sure must exist someplace already (*) and which I thought would be fun to try making. My thoughts on this were as follows:

  1. Keep to the Manhattan template as closely as possible, following the 2:1 ratio of spirit to vermouth and to include a bitters.
  2. Use a high-rye white dog as the spirit.
  3. Use a French-style vermouth such as Dolin blanc or Lillet blanc.
  4. Use a bitters which adds little or no color to the cocktail.

[*] Erik says they are making one at Nopa but are using Death’s Door White Whiskey which is bottled at a much lower proof than the Wasmund’s. Neyah is also using Benedictine for the sweet component, but more about that below.

The White Dog

There are several rye-heavy offerings available (and more coming it would seem). A trip to Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley turned me into the owner of bottle of Wasmund’s Rye Spirit from Copper Fox, made from a mash of 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley and bottled at 126-proof. According to the label it’s run off a pot still at 150- and 160-proof, which leaves plenty of grain character. Trying it neat, I could easily detect both the spice of the rye and the sweetness of the malt, which had been itself given a light fruitwood smoke when it was kilned. The whole production made me think of a rye genever except with a lot more kick.

Armed with my rye dog, I went home to start mixing…

White Manhattan #1 (“The Pure”)

1 1/2 oz. Wasmunds Rye Spirit (126-proof)
1/2 oz. water (to bring the rye spirit down to approximately 100-proof)
1 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
Long wide orange peel strip, for garnish

Stir over large ice 50 times to chill and dilute
Strain into a small cocktail glass
Twist orange peel strip over glass to expel some oil and then drop into the glass

So #1 is a simple-minded inversion of the Manhattan substituting white goods everywhere possible. If you are a Martini drinker (and I am not) you’d probably like the #1. It’s sure as heck pretty and not without merit. However, to state the obvious: one of the things which makes the Manhattan so delectable is that it’s something of a sweet cocktail, with the Italian vermouth balancing the spice of the rye. The #1 was just too dry for my taste. So, to my list of criteria for this cocktail, add:

  1. Use a liqueur (ideally colorless) to bring back some of the sweetness and complexity that an Italian-style vermouth would have contributed.

I also found that I really missed the complexity that a “dark” bitters like Angostura or TBT Old Time Aromatic adds to a cocktail. The Regan’s, much as I like it elsewhere, just didn’t seem to bring all that much to the mix.

White Manhattan #2 (“The Opal”)

1 3/4 oz. Wasmund’s
1 oz. Dolin blanc (or try Lillet blanc)
1/4 oz Cointreau (replacing the water from the #1)
3-4 drops Angostura
Long wide orange peel strip, for garnish

This was more like it. Still on the dry side, the Cointreau brings plenty of orange and sweet into the mix while the Angostura seemed to amplify the smoky/woodsy malt components of Wasmund’s. A winner!

The only downside of the #2 is that the few drops of Angostura (a welcome addition) slightly tinted the cocktail which had really wanted to be perfectly clear. It was lovely to look at however and I think this version easily merits the sobriquet: “The Opal.”

I’ll continue to tinker with the White Manhattan—I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeve—and report on any new variations which I feel merit a write up.

[NOTE: careful readers will notice that there was no orange peel in my photo of the #2. The situation was great afternoon light on the back deck or a trip to the store to buy some oranges. The light won out.]

B is for Bergamot, C is for Calabria

Posted in Cocktails, Exotic Citrus, Left Coast Libations with tags , , , on January 29, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Another in a series of posts about exotic citrus.

Those of you who follow my tweets (@manhattan_up) know I was recently blown away by a cocktail made for me by LCL contributor Brooke Arthur at Range. It was called the B-Line, a variant of their Third Rail cocktail, made with fresh squeezed Bergamot oranges. I left Range on a mission to find Bergamot oranges so I could re-create this amazing cocktail at home. Over the next few days I scoured the markets I know carry unusual citrus. When I inquired about them at my favorite Berkeley Bowl I was told only that they had come and gone. [See UPDATE at the end of this post.] However I persisted and finally located Bergamots at Monterey Market in north Berkeley. Joy!

What are Bergamots?

First, a bit of 411 for you straight from wikipedia:

The bergamot Citrus aurantium subsp. bergamia (Risso & Poit.) synonym (Citrus bergamia Risso) is a fruit the size of an orange, with a yellow color similar to a lemon, and has a pleasant fragrance. The juice tastes less sour than lemon, but more bitter than grapefruit.

The real magic in Bergamot however comes from the peel in the form of the oil it contains. This oil is not all all sweet or particularly citrusy (in contrast to orange or tangerine oils) and has a rather distinct rosiny character, which is not to everyone’s taste. It’s this oil which is used to give Earl Grey tea its unique aroma. (Actually, people are often surprised to learn this since orange is NOT what one thinks of when they smell Earl Grey.)

The best Bergamot fruit are grown in the province of Calabria in Italy, where the juice is used as a folk remedy for malaria. Reggio Calabria, the capital, is in fact sometime called “The city of Bergamot.” The fruit may also be made into marmalade, which after tasting the fruit, I could see being delicious.

NOTE: just after posting this I found a wealth of additional information about Bergamot oranges. Rather than simply re-state what someone else did so well already, I’ve elected to include a link for those interested in learning more to follow at their leisure. Here you go:

http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/bergamotoranges

My Creation: Calabria

While I loved the B-Line (see recipe below), I felt the intensity of the Bergamot would be further complemented by additional spice and complexity, specifically a higher-proof bourbon than the Bulleit and an amaro in place of the Lillet (which is pretty lightweight). After a bit of tinkering, I came up with this libation named for the region in Italy where the best Bergamot fruit are grown.

NOTE: I wanted to continue the tradition of giving train-related names to derivatives of The Third Rail. Unfortunately, the tram system in the capital of Calabria, Reggio Calabria, doesn’t have a distinctive name. Here is a beautiful old photo of the capital with a tram to go with this delicious cocktail anyway.

Calabria

1 1/2 oz. Old Grand Dad 114-proof bourbon
1 oz. Bergamot orange juice
3/4 oz. honey syrup (2:1)
1/2 oz. Amaro Averna
4 drops Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
2 small pieces of Bergamot orange shell (after juicing)
A very long thin strip of orange peel, tied with an overhand knot, for garnish

Shake everything, but the garnish, hard over ice.
Double strain into a chilled coupe.
Garnish with the knotted orange peel.

B-Line

1 1/2 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
1 oz. Bergamot orange juice
3/4 oz. Lillet blanc
1/2 oz. honey syrup (1:1)
1 – 2 dashes orange bitters
1 piece Bergamot orange peel or a small chunk of orange*
A thin strip of orange peel, for garnish

Shake everything, but the garnish, hard over ice.
Double strain into a chilled coupe.
Garnish with the orange peel.

NOTE: This cocktail just got a nice write up on sfist.com. Here’s the link.

(*) – The recipe outline on the Range blog “Cocktail of the Day” calls for the chunk orange but I am pretty sure Brooke made it for me with a piece of peel in the shaker.


UPDATE: A few days after first writing this, here’s what greeted me at Berkeley Bowl:

The moral of the story, I guess, is to take what the produce people there have to say with a large grain of salt.

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!

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