WhiskyFest’s a Comin’

Posted in Bourbon and Rye, Spirits News with tags , on September 9, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Just a reminder to all of you who live in the bay area that San Francisco WhiskyFest™ is coming upon us. Once again it will be held in the capacious San Francisco Marriott from 6:30 to 9:30 PM (VIP admission gets you in an hour earlier.) While it’s not until the 8th of October, there’s some expectation that tickets will sell out. [UPDATE: There are fewer than 50 of the VIP tickets left as of this afternoon.] If you’re serious about brown goods, this is a not to be missed event. I went last year and I can tell you it’s a great opportunity to taste dozens of the best barrel aged spirits on the planet and meet with (fawn over?) many of the distillers and ask your burning hot questions. Don’t like scotch whisky, you say? Well, fret not! Our home-grown products are well represented here as well by the likes of Anchor Distillery, Buffalo Trace, Michter’s, Stranahan’s, Four Roses, Pappy Van Winkle, and Heaven Hill (to name but a few). There will also be chances to sip some microbrews and maybe even the odd rum or cognac. And just to round things out, there could be cocktails! Last year Rickhouse offered samples of their signature cocktails throughout the evening.[*]

Seminars…

If you can drag yourself away from the tasting tables, there are also seminars to attend, each about 45 minutes in length. (Admission included in the price of your ticket, but space is limited.) Richard Patterson (Master Blender, Whyte and Mackay) will be giving his (in)famous, expletive-laden lecture on The Dalmore, complete with tasting and ice throwing. Fritz Maytag (Anchor Distilling Company), Neyah White (Brand Ambassador for Yamazaki) and Parker Beam (Master Distiller for Heaven Hill) will also be giving talks, though unfortunately their seminars run in parallel with one another so you’ll have to make a tough choice. A complete list of seminars can be found by clicking here.

Anything else?

It’s not very well advertised but there’s an incredible buffet of hot and cold food available before and then during the event. (And yes, that’s included in the price of your ticket too!) So there’s no reason to eat dinner before arriving. They even switch over to deserts toward the end of the evening, just to round things out. A perfect time to sample the Compass Box Orangerie or Germain-Robin XO.

Oh, and you also get use and take home a lovely little Glencairn tasting glass. That’s actually the “official” whisky tasting glass, sometimes known as a nosing glass. I’ve found it works equally well with whiskey too!

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More about the seminars, guests, and who’s going to be pouring what can be found on the Malt Advocate’s web site:

http://www.maltadvocate.com/whiskyfest_san_francisco.asp

Tickets to WhiskeyFest San Francisco 2010 (Regular admission $110; VIP admission $150) can be purchased on-line by clicking here.

[*] – Unfortunately, I have learned that the Rickhouse crew will not have a booth at this year’s event—though they will be participating in WhiskyWeek, a broader set of activities throughout the city, that run from October 4th through the 9th. Details on those activities can be found as they become available here.

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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.

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.

Unexpectedly…Agricole

Posted in Bartenders, Musings with tags , on August 11, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Sometimes being in the cocktail/spirits community is like getting to ride a magic carpet. The trick is recognizing when the carpet has arrived (it’s always unexpected) and being able to step aboard (one can’t always get away). Last night I got on the carpet and was whisked to the front door of Bar Agricole for what appears to have been it’s first soft opening. As you’ll see from the photos below, it’s a luminous space inhabited by incredible bartenders making inviting drinks. I look forward to making myself well known there (carpet ride optional).

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.

A Shot of Jacob Briars and Sebastian Reaburn

Posted in Amari, Bartenders, Bitters, Tales of the Cocktail with tags , , , on July 28, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

A Tales of the Cocktail Follow-up

Last week at Tales of the Cocktail 2010 (already last week?) I was able to attend quite a number of excellent seminars and tastings. However the one I was most excited about in the run up was A Shot of the Black Stuff on amari and bitters. I love amari and have been really keen to improve my knowledge of their history and provenance. Some of you might remember that this was one of the seminars which I previewed before TOTC. Since the primary presenter, Jacob Briars, failed to respond to any of my email inquiries, I had to get creative which really means I just made up most of what I wrote. I was however right about one thing: this was an excellent and informative seminar and for people wanting to learn more about drinking bitters, a great and tasty introduction.

The Origin of Bitters

According to Messrs. Briars and Reaburn most all bitters as we know them today (and by extension, many aperitivi, but that’s another seminar about which I will write later) started as medicines.1 The formulation of these medicines was based on the work of the polymath Paracelsus during the 16th century, based in turn on theories of health and disease originating with Hippocrates in the 5th century BCE. The idea, which was probably not new at the time, was that ‘evil’ could be used to expel ‘evil’ and restore balance in the body. A bitter medicine, therefore, would be taken to help someone suffering from an excess of bile (AKA choleric humor), which has a bitter taste. Yum!

Briars and Reaburn were quick to point out the following:

1- Most of these medicines were totally useless.

2- Even if these medicines contained herbs today known to contain beneficial compounds, they were either not prepared in an effective manner and/or used in sufficient quantities to matter.

3- Some of these medicines contained herbs which we know are NOT very good for you.

In fact, a 19th century slang term for someone useless and apathetic was “a Stoughton bottle,” a reference to Stoughton’s bitters, generally considered good for nothing.

Despite all of this, the practice of consuming bitters as medicine continued through the 19th century right up to 1906 when the United States passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, effectively bringing it to an end.

[1] – If I understood Briars and Reaburn correctly, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, which was invented in 1786, represents a departure from this narrative. It was created in Italy as a means by which wine could be made more stable for transport (or to mask the taste of poorer wines; you choose). While not particularly bitter in itself, Carpano contains some of the same herbs that would have been found in contemporary medicines, including wormwood, known in Germany as Wermuth, from which the name vermouth was derived.

What happens next?

Briars and Reaburn now make two assertions about the development of bitters as we know them today from their roots as medicine.

First, and some what astounding to me, what the idea that in the United Stated during the 19th century it becomes common for people consuming bitters to mask the awful flavor of these medicines with whiskey and sugar. Sounds familiar? We know that cocktails began life as ‘morning after’ tonics so this hardly seems that far fetched.2 Over time these medicinal (or drinking) bitters would have changed to become the accent flavorings we use by the dash in modern cocktails. (Sodas, originally compounded by a pharmacist, are the other means by which the flavors of medicines could be made more palatable, ultimately without the alcohol or even the medicine, i.e. soft drinks.)

Second, in Europe, bitters get taken in another direction. First, by becoming better formulated it becomes possible to consume them (more or less) directly. Second, so-called drinking bitters become associated with food as a class of beverage to complement a meal. Those formulated to stimulate an appetite become aperitivi, such as vermouth and the quinas, to be enjoyed before a meal. Those designed to aid digestion, become digestivi and amari, to be drunk after eating.

[2] – Two things puzzle me about this assertion: first, most of these bitters contained a godawful lot of alcohol already, their most effective ingredient, so mixing them with even more alcohol to mask their flavor seems odd. Second, we would expect to find drink recipes from the time which called for significant amounts of bitters. I am not aware of these.

Enough history already! What did you get to taste?

Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
Averna amaro
Luxardo Albano amaro (distinctly more bitter than the Averna)
The Bitter Truth Elixier (not yet available in the US)
Fernet Branca
Braulio amaro (an alpino style amaro)

There was also a horrible homemade bitters of some sort from Mr. Reaburn, which I seem to recall contained mouthwash, followed by a sample of a horrible Reishi mushroom slurry, possibly by Mr. Briars.

What my words can’t convey…

To say that this seminar was “presented” by Jacob Briars and Sebastian Reaburn is to undersell what was in no small measure a great bit of entertainment. I would have needed a video camera to properly capture it. If I am ever asked to give a seminar, and one day I hope I am, I know how high the bar has been set and by whom. (I better start working on my Kiwi accent now!)

(Sorry the picture isn’t better!)