Archive for Stone Fruit

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.

Stoned (Fruit) Infusions

Posted in Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , on September 6, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Emboldened by my recent success with apricots (previously), I decided to undertake some further exploration of stone fruit, again, before they completely disappear. But this time I set myself a slightly different challenge. I wanted to capture stone fruit flavors in a spirit so they could be used for mixing after the season was over. Motivations were two: first, I wanted to learn more about how best to do that and then play with the resulting flavors. Second, because I’ve been thinking about the possibility of a signature cocktail for the bar at Plum. Seems obvious you’d want something made with plums, only the bar won’t be opening until well after the end of season. Perhaps a well made infusion could capture the embers of the summer fruit season, keeping them safe and sound until needed?

Of Apriums and Pluots…

Once again, faced with piles of stone fruit at Berkeley Bowl, I felt bewildered by the choices even this late into the summer. Choosing an apricot variety for “When the Fat Lady Sings” was kind of a no-brainer because, frankly, there were no choices. But there are still plenty of plums, peaches, and nectarines to be had. There are also plenty of the crosses or hybrids: plum-apricots (or pluots) and apricot-plums (apriums), named according to the percentage of which fruit they most resemble—pluots being more plummy and apriums being, well, more apricot-y. Both crosses appear to be the brainchild of Mr. Floyd Zaiger, about whom wikipedia oddly enough, has very little to say. However, I did learn that man has trademarks on both “Pluot®” and “Aprium®.” (I wonder how much that’s worth?)

At any rate, you can see it was to the crosses was attracted. That’s in no small part because of the apricot component. It gave me a kind of psychic bridge from my previous success that I hoped would leave to more of the same. I poked and sniffed and even sampled a few pieces of fruit and finally settled on two: Rose apriums, cause they seemed like they had a lot of apricot nature, and Flavor Supreme pluots, for similar reason but they were intensely purple inside. I was also motivated by the texture of the fruit. I was concerned that very plummy fruit, with soft wet flesh would disintegrate when steeped in spirits. This seemed like it would make it hard to filter the infusion when it was ready and for some reason having a translucent (not cloudy) final product seemed important to me. Both of these varieties possessed a firmer, finer grained flesh.

I also had one further idea while in the store. Perhaps I could use dried plums (but not prunes) to make an tasty infusion? I had done this with dried apricots and pisco when making Ryan Fitzgerald’s “Il Terzo” cocktail for Left Coast Libations. Perhaps I could find and use dried plums to the same effect? And the advantage of that would be, honestly, the availability of dried fruit, into fall and winter. The Bowl did not disappoint: I found some rather moist (and tasty) dried plums in the bulk food section.

Method

I cut up three of each of the fresh fruit into pieces about 1/2″ on a size or smaller. (I discarded the stones.) I put the cut fruit into to one pint canning jars, added 8 oz. of Plymouth gin, sealed them up. I treated the dried fruit a little bit differently, cutting them into smaller pieces, about 1/4″ wide, to increase the surface area during infusion. I put these in a pint jar too and added 8 oz. of Plymouth. The jars are now sitting in my relatively cool (and frequently dark) basement/garage/warehouse.

Why Plymouth?

There are two reasons I chose to use Plymouth gin for this experiment. First, there’s a nice citrus/corriander component in the Plymouth which I always find very attactive. Its neither too juniper-ry not floral (like, say Hendrick’s). Second, Plymouth makes the best sloe gin, and sloe berries (as they are referred to) are close relatives of plums (both members of the genus prunus). So I already kind of know the two flavors can play well together.

Waiting…

So I am going to give my infusions about two weeks, sampling them along the way. They are already taking on quite a bit of color and scent. It’s also obvious that the fresh fruit is giving up a lot of liquid into the gin while the dried fruit is absorbing it. (I may even need to add some additional gin to this one.) I will let you know how all of them turn out and what sort of cocktails I come up with to showcase them in a future post. (Thinking ginger, thinking shiso.) And keep your fingers crossed I didn’t just waste most of a bottle of fine gin!

[A big shout out to Joel Baker for inspiring me to do this with his pear-infused rye. That's used in the "Claremont Affair" cocktail, a big seller at Bourbon & Branch, where Joel works as the Bar Manager.]

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.

Cherries 2010

Posted in Cherries, Creme de Noyaux, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , on August 4, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

It’s been a good cherry season here in northern California with plenty of nice looking fruit still for sale. Commensurately, I’ve been busy. Here’s an update on my projects.

Candied Sweet Cherries—Two ways

Back in May I made two separate batches of candied cherries using Bing and some Van, both of which are bigarreau-type cultivars of Prunus avium, the sweet cherry species. These are really fleshy fruit and I wanted to see if I could approximate the texture and taste of candied Italian amarenata cherries (often incorrectly referred to as amarena). Those cherries are very dark and dense inside, almost like a fruit paste. Some folks don’t like ‘em, but I myself am quite fond of them, especially when they’ve had the chance to ‘make friends’ with some rye in a mason jar and loose all of that heavy syrup in which they come packed.

For the first batch I started out by partially cooking 2 lb. of fruit that had been stoned and then macerated for one hour with 1 lb. of organic cane sugar. I added a vanilla bean (split lengthwise), the peel of two Seville oranges, their juice and about half a cup of water. I stirred everything until all the sugar was dissolved and simmered the mixture for about 15 – 20 minutes, as if I was going to make preserves. I then switched over to a ‘classic’ candying protocol, leaving the cherries to sit in the syrup over night, draining them in the morning, re-heating the syrup to which more sugar is then added, and then pouring the enriched syrup over the cherries again. I did this for about five days; fully candied fruit may be processed for two weeks in this manner. I then gave them a final draining (reserving the vanilla-rich syrup, which is totally killer over ice cream) and put the cherries on a baking sheet to allow them to dry. After a few days I deemed them done.

For the second batch I decided to follow the candying protocol more closely, which meant the stoned fruit was barely cooked on the first day and with much less sugar. Once again I added a vanilla bean, orange peel (Sevilles were now gone however) and the juice of a lemon. I enriched the syrup with daily additions of sugar for another full seven days after which I decided they were candied enough. One thing I didn’t want was to wind up with an entirely glaced cherry. As it turned out, this second batch was far closer to that point that I realized. After being stored in a sealed container for 10 days they were in fact showing signs of becoming crystalized.

Of the two batches, the first is clearly the more successful. The flesh of the fruit is very moist and a lot of fresh cherry flavor remains. There’s also no sign of crystallizing, even after a month in the container. The second batch, while tasty, is definitely more sugary and the fruit has begun to show signs of crystallization. I’ve put a bunch of them into my ‘washing jar’ with some rye where I think they will fare better.

I should say that neither batch approximates the jamminess of the Italian amarenata cherries. I am not sure that I will ever be able to do that.

Brandied Balatons

I have waxed poetic before on the Balaton, a cultivar of sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) originally developed in Hungary, established in states like Michigan, Idaho and Utah, and now showing up in commercial quantities here in California. These seem to be easier far to find than the tart standard bearer, the Montmorency. In fact, I’ve never seen these for sale anywhere around here.

I lucked upon Balatons last year as they were more or less fading and just barely managed to get some home before the market scuttled the box as unsalable. (I’d have taken ‘em!) This year I kept my eyes open for them every time I visited Berkeley Bowl. Two days ago they made their appearance, this time pre-packaged in 2 lb. clamshells. This was actually an improvement over the loose boxes in which I found them last year. All the fruit was firm, bright and in good condition. (Note: two days later all the Balatons were gone—sold out. Guess I wasn’t the only one waiting for these.)

Last year I put my Balatons up two ways: one rye (with orange peel and vanilla bean) and one in mixture of cognac and kirsch. I eventually added some sugar to both batches. Of the two, I liked the cognac and kirsch best, so this year that’s all I did. I also bumped the sugar a bit and allowed the fruit to macerate for a couple of hours before adding the spirits. In about a week I will sample and and adjust the sweetness if necessary.

Cherry Noyaux Experiments

My noyaux investigations continue. An abundance of cherries have been stoned in my kitchen over the past two months and I have not been letting the kernels go to waste. Unlike peach bunkers, cherry stones are easily cracked, though you get much less out of each one. For example, two pounds of Balaton cherries yielded just 19 grams of kernels. That’s “kernels,” the bit inside of each stone, not the shells which account for most of the mass.

I have made two distinct experiments using cherry stones at this point.

Experiment #1: Boosting the Peach Noyaux

The first thing I wanted to try was to add cherry kernels to the peach kernel noyaux I made last year. That first product has always felt a bit delicate and subtle to me. My thought was to boost the flavor by macerating some cherry kernels in it. One batch, using Bing/Van kernels, has been macerating for two months and has now been coarsely filtered. The aroma of this noyaux is definitely more intense but it’s the flavor which has really changed: much more marzipan and bitter almond. My current thoughts are to mix in more of the peach kernel noyaux to reduce the bitterness and/or add more sugar.

I also have a second similar batch based on the Balaton kernels in process. It will be interesting to see if it tastes any different than the batch based on Bing/Van kernels.

Experiment #2: Straight Cherry Noyaux

Another idea was to make a new batch of noyaux based entirely on cherries. Since cherry stones contain such small kernels I decided to just crush the stones and add everything—kernels, shells, and any flesh still attached—to a bottle of VS cognac. That batch is about one month old right now and has turned a coppery-red. You can smell the cherry in it and when tasted, it exhibits a light cherry flavor. It will be interesting to see how much more flavor develops in a month and how it tastes after it’s been sweetened. I may also augment this with some of the cherry-boosted peach noyaux.

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.]

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.

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.

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