Archive for August, 2009

The Criollo: Mixing with Mozart Black Chocolate Liqueur

Posted in Cocktails, Manhattans with tags , , , on August 27, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

The Criollo and Mozart Black

A few months ago Paul Clarke went on an insane blogging spree, writing about thirty different cocktails in as many days. On day 17, Paul wrote about an adult chocolate cocktail called Theobroma made with tequila and creme de cacao. The Camerone (another cocktail from the original LCL) was also mentioned, which of course caught my attention. I had been intrigued by that one for a while and the exotic ingredients required to make it (see The Digression, below). Then in a comment on Theobroma by Jay Hepburn (of Oh Gosh!) I spied the recipe for making this:

Smoker’s Delight
Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro

1½ oz. Laphroaig scotch whisky
¾ oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Aromatic bitters

Wow, didn’t that sound grand and so very very adult! The problem, as I immediately discovered, was that no one in the SF Bay area carried this Mozart Black chocolate liqueur, just the milk and the white (ick!). Ultimately I mentioned my interest in Mozart Black to Ed at Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley and, lo, a month or so later it appeared amongst the other bottles in the liqueur section at the back of the store. (And let me put a BIG HEALTHY plug in here for Ledger’s. Honestly, I don’t think you’ll ever find a bigger and more exotic selection of liqueurs, amari, eau de vie, aperitifs, etc, anywhere in northern California. And in an entirely unpretentious setting. One could easily spend an hour exploring the shelves, as many different bottles are stacked in front of one another. One could also spend a lot of money. Go see Ed!)

So the Mozart Black, in it’s squat round dark glass bottle, touts that it’s made from 87% cacao mass right on the front label. It also instructs you to shake well before use. Does all that cacao settle out? Unfortunately, it doesn’t say what percentage of that mass is present in the bottle nor what else might have been compounded into it. Nothing artificial, I presume, since that would have to be listed on the label. All I can say is that it’s got a heady chocolate nose and a really nice chocolate flavor. Not horribly cloying. Most importantly, it garnered the approval of my “I’m not a big drinker, but I loves my chocolate” partner, Brandee.

The Smoker’s Delight once I made one was all that I had hoped for. The smokiness of the Laphroaig was a perfect foil for all that chocolate. It even stood up to the Quarter Cask. But, ya know, really I’ve got this thing for another cocktail: one made with rye. Yes, I immediately started to wonder how I could incorporate the Mozart Black into a Manhattan variant that didn’t immediately make one think of T.G.I.F. It didn’t take much tinkering to come up with this rather delicious formulation:

The Criollo (No. 1)

2 oz. rye (Wild Turkey is my “go to” these days)
3/4 oz. Vya sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1 barspoon Patron Citronge
1 dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Long thin orange peel, for garnish

Stir well with with ice to chill and dilute.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with the orange peel, cutting it over the cocktail to catch the oils.

[NOTE: Criollo, pronounced “cree-oy-yo,” is a variety of cacao – ostensibly the most noble of all cacao varieties.]

The Vya (from Quady, makers of Essencia) has a significant dollop of orange muscat in it, which complements the chocolate in the Mozart nicely. The Fee Bros. bitters bring a nice rounding cinnamon note into the mix. And, because I wanted even more orange I added a dash of orange bitters in this case Regan’s but you could also try Angostura.

Overall, the No. 1 is more or less just a chocolate Manhattan. The rye spice and cacao dryness play out nicely in the nose. A pleasant enough if rather simple (!) cocktail. Still, I wanted more layers and complexity. Which led me to the No. 2:

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

2 oz. rye
3/4 oz. Amer Boudreau (or Ramazotti)
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

Now we’re talking! The amaro is great in combination with the chocolate, especially if you are using Amer Boudreau with its “jacked” orange component. And interestingly enough the bitterness of the amaro blends and brings out the bitterness of the cacao. I love this cocktail! [Note: it seems easy to over-bitter this cocktail as it’s made with an amaro. I recommend that you keep the amount of bitters you add under control.]

Finally, emboldened by my experiences with the No. 1 and No. 2 versions, I decided to try one more variation and push firmly into “dessert-style” cocktail territory:

The Criollo (No. 3)

2 oz. rye
1/2 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1/2 oz. Lustau East India (Oloroso) sherry
1 barspoon Grand Marnier
1 dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
Long thin orange peel, for garnish

Here the chocolate in the Mozart combines with the nuttiness of the sherry to create a distinct toasted coconut flavor. In fact I liked that dimension of this cocktails so much that I decide to re-make it, modifying the template by leaving out the orange-flavored liqueur and cutting the bitters way down. I also replaced the orange peel garnish with a cherry:

The Criollo (No. 3, revised)

2 oz. rye
1/2 oz. Mozart Black chocolate liqueur
1/2 oz. Lustau East India (Oloroso) sherry
Scant dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
Scant dash Angostura orange bitters
3 brandied or amarena cherries, for garnish

OK, there you have it: three variations on the Manhattan, each using the Mozart Black to a different effect. I’d deem this liqueur a worthwhile addition to any bar.

Criollo No 4 Redux

[P.S. There also a Mozart Dry which is clear and not sweet at all. I look forward to playing with that one day – when a bottle shows up at Ledger’s.]

The Digression…

The moment I came across a reference to chocolate bitters in Paul Clarke’s cocktail the Camerone something in me was hooked. It think it was the idea of a chocolate flavoring which didn’t turn your drink into something that “the girls” order at T.G.I.Friday’s. Spiritous chocolate in cocktails for adults. Right on!

The bitters in question were of course Avery Glaser’s infamous Xocolatl Mole bitters. Right away I was like: “Who made these? Can I get some? Can I get the recipe?” I had no idea that I was starting to pull on a long thread that had been winding itself through the cocktail geek scene a good while before I arrived. Avery Glaser had been seeding bottles of these bitters (along with the Grapefruit) on the west coast for a while already. But most of these were empty (or locked away) by the time I became interested in them. Then I found the Bittermen’s web site where I learned about Avery Glaser’s struggle to obtain the permits and licenses necessary to make and sell the bitters legally in the US. (*). I got on Bittermen’s email list and joined Bittermens’s group at Google.

Then late last spring when visiting NYC, I saw bottles, rather large one’s in fact, of the Xocolatl Mole bitters sitting on the shelves of most all of the watering spots I visited. At Mayahuel I even got to sample them for the first time (impression: cacao, musky cinnamon). The buzz was that something was going to happen – and very soon. And then it did. Avery Glaser brought Bittermen’s to Germany where it would be made by Stephan Berg at The Bitter Truth. Bottles have started to flow into the US, though I have yet to see one. Oddly, after all the wait and build-up, I found the price something of an issue: a single bottle is 21,16 € delivered or a bit over $30 USD (depending on the exchange rate). Ouch! I’ve decided to hold off trying them until some place local, like Cask in SF, starts carrying them and defrays some of the shipping costs through a bulk purchase.

(*) – Bitters you may haven noticed are rather alcoholic, generally about 45 proof and fall into an odd category: neither a food nor a spirit (i.e. not a thing you can eat nor a beverage you can guzzle) but with enough alcohol for the government to want to keep a rein on ’em just the same. I am guessing the easiest, though hardly the cheapest route if you want to produce bitters, is to make ’em under a distillery license. But, unlike a bottle of spirits, all those additives (read: flavorings) in the bottle also puts them under the scrutiny of the FDA. So every different bitters flavor you make requires it own approval process. Can you say time and money consuming? No wonder Fee Bros. make their “bitters” the way they do. No wonder Bittermen’s moved to Germany. ;-(

[P.S. If someone out there knows more about the process of getting bitters produced legally for retail sale in the US, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or drop me a line.]


Cherries Jubilee: A Five Day Followup

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

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

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

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

Cherries in Brandy and Kirsch

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

Cherries Jubilee

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

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

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

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

Balaton Cherries and Stones in Spirit

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

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

An LCL Update

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

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

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

Smoked Cider Air

Still Life with Apples, After Cezanne, Daniel Hyatt

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of an Outsider

Posted in Left Coast Libations, Musings with tags , on August 5, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

So Tales of the Cocktail 2009 has come and gone. I guess I should spend a little time blogging on though it’s hardly news at this point.

Tales. Hmm… New Orleans was hot and humid and I got out of the Vieux Carre far less than I should have (read: never got out). I also never really got in to Tales either. Most of the time it felt like it was happening all around me (esp. when sitting in the lobby of The Monteleone) but I was not invited in to play. Among other contributing factors was finding most all of the seminars were sold out before I could buy tickets and the lack of name tags. There were literally dozens of people to whom I would have introduced myself: LCL bartenders from Portland and LA whom I hadn’t yet met and writers who’s blogs and columns I had been reading avidly over the past year. Not knowing what they looked like and without name tags, it was a lost cause. If I could pass one note onto the organizers it would be this: have general registration (even if it’s free or close to it) and get people to wear name tags.

Meantime, I did manage to have something like a good time in New Orleans anyway. Here are the highlights:

  • Getting to taste all of the Del Maguey mezcals including the Pechuga.
  • Meeting Tom Bulleit and toasting him with a glass of his fine bourbon.
  • Trying the Bols Genever (mmm, malt) and learning more about how its made.
  • Sampling all the tantalizing goodies from Haus Alpenz and meeting Eric Seed.
  • Meeting Peter Schaf, one of the masterminds behind Tempus Fugit.
  • Trying any number of amazing absinthes on Sunday.
  • Chatting with Scott Beattie (“Artisanal Cocktails”) amongst a throng of drunken bartenders milling about on Boubon Street outside The Old Absinthe House.
  • Meeting the infamous Ted Breaux of Jade Absinthe.
  • Meeting Matt Rowley and yacking with him about creme de noyau.
  • Cocktails at Arnaud’s French 75 by Chris Hannah followed by a round of Cafe Brulot (and accompanying light show) courtesy of “The Fat Man” in honor of Martin Miller.

Cafe Brulot at Arnaud's French 75 Bar

  • Having Chris McMillian of The Museum of the American Cocktail recite Josha Soule Smith’s Mint Julep ode after dinner at Antoine’s (though no Mint Juleps were prepared or served at this event).
  • Hosting a highly successful LCL cocktail party; cleaning up after the same.
  • Trying Mozart Dry chocolate spirit, a bottle of which just appeared (and then disappeared) at the LCL cocktail party.
  • The unofficial underground swag-off (one of several I assume).
  • Meeting Paul Clarke of The Cocktail Chronicles fame.
  • Scoring copies of Charles Baker’s “A Gentleman’s Companion” from 1934 (both volumes) and “Burke’s Complete Cocktail and Tastybite Recipes” from 1936, thanks to Greg Bohem of Mud Puddle Books.
  • Oh, and having Jackie Patterson make me her award winning “Star-crossed Lovers” cocktail.

Jacking Patterson at Tales of the Cocktail 2009