Posts filed under MxMo

MxMo: Spice

It's Monday, and that means it's about time for the international drinkblogging community to showcase all the cool things we've been playing with. This month's Mixology Monday is being graciously hosted by Craig at Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments (thanks!) and - topically, for Christmas - the theme is spice. Spices belong to that category of things you won't miss until they're not there. It's literally inconceivable to eat without salt and pepper on the table. Vanilla has become so prevalent as a flavour that the word can be used to describe things that are boring, unremarkable, and yet the general connotation of spices is of exoticism, of a faraway culture.

The problem I've always found when using spices in cocktails is that I tend to focus on one in particular, with the result that the drink ends up pretty one-dimensional. This time, I made a conscious decision to use a range of spices but I also realised that combining a number of ground spices, roots, barks and the like in a shaker would prove troublesome. In order to get around the problem, I made a bottle of Krupnik, a traditional Eastern European vodka liqueur, using some honey, cloves, cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods and nutmeg. Being honest, if I'd used red wine as a base and replaced the honey with a couple of orange wedges, I'd have ended up with mulled wine - the stuff tastes like Christmas in a bottle.

There was another problem, and this time there wasn't a lot I could about it. Christmas is crazy time in the bar industry, meaning 300 covers over the course of the day in the brasserie and 12 hour shifts representing an easy day. Saturday, for example, started at 10am and finished at 2am, with just about enough time to grab a Chinese takeaway and a coffee around 5pm. All of this made it tough to find the time to prototype drinks.

This isn't something I'd call a hardship. After all, I've always been a fan of making drinks that are a simple twist on an established cocktail. From what I know of David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, he concludes that all cocktails can be traced back to six 'essential' cocktails, so I can claim I'm on decent theoretical ground. I played with a couple of ideas - a Krupnikito could have legs, I reckon - before deciding on a simple twist on a Cosmopolitan. Substituting the Cointreau for my Krupnik, I also opted to use some Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka with the aim on contrasting the mellow floral notes with the stronger spice flavours in the liqueur.

Stargazer

Stargazer

25ml Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka
25ml Homemade Krupnik honey vodka liqueur
25ml Cranberry Juice
15ml Lemon Juice
1 dash Egg white
Shake all ingredients with ice and fine-strain into chilled martini glass. Garnish with an apple fan.
This recipe will work with commercially produced Krupnik, which has less of a spice hit than my homemade variety. If you're using it, garnish with some ground cinnamon and nutmeg; flame them over the drink for effect. I'd probably recommend using less lemon juice, too. The homemade Krupnik is almost syrupy sweet.

*** 

The name comes from the Polish tradition of keeping a vigil for the first star on Christmas Eve, the moment which marks the start of the traditional Christmas feast. It seemed appropriate, given I'd chosen to use two Eastern European products in the cocktail.

Thanks to Craig for hosting this month's MxMo; the fun continues over at TDIF!

Posted on December 15, 2008 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.

MxMo: Made from scratch

Mixology Monday is a monthly catalogue of interesting things people have been doing with alcohol, based around a theme set by that month's host. November sees Doug at the Pegu Blog calling out all our homemade treasures - every drink has to contain one ingredient that's made from scratch. It's often said that every major ingredient and technique in cocktail-making was on the table from about 1920 onwards. This is largely true, if you discount the recent emergence of molecular mixology which is going to be one of those terms that sticks if only because there isn't a better-sounding one, and also one of those things where its influence will probably be obvious decades down the line. So, when you want your drinks to stand out from the crowd, it's usually easier to go old-school, and make your own ingredients.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the majority of spirits began life as a backyard venture, just to see what happens if... There's still a strong tradition of home-distilling in France and Eastern Europe, and the kudos that comes with being a small-batch, artisanal spirit or liqueur is as high as its ever been. There's a wealth of bartenders using their knowledge to make their own bitters and recreate lost ingredients.

And then there's me. I've written about my attempts at making my own grapefruit liqueur (verdict: not bad) before - recipes here! - but what I didn't mention was that, at the same time, I diverted some resources into another simple project.

The story goes a little something like this: after prepping up the grapefruit liqueur, it turns out I had about a third of a bottle of vodka leftover. Couple this with a jar of cinnamon sticks that weren't doing anything, add a couple of days in a mason jar and 70-odd ml of overproof rum in a misguided attempt to make it inflammable and you get a serviceable cinnamon tincture.

One of the first things I tried was throwing it into something resembling a Rob Roy, mainly because I wanted a pretext to buy a bottle of Monkey Shoulder. This served to prove the hypothesis that a serviceable cinnamon tincture isn't necessarily a great replacement for purpose-made aromatic bitters. The major problem is the clarity: the tincture is pretty cloudy, and combined with the Punt Y Mes I used, the drink came out really dark and opaque. The overall effect didn't compare well to a standard Rob Roy.

I used my second attempt to use the tincture as an accent rather than a main ingredient, spraying it over the top of a twist on an Old-fashioned. As a package, it was a lot more successful but again, nothing to recommend it over a regular Old-fashioned. There is a drink out there for a serviceable cinnamon tincture, but until I find it, I guess it's back to the drawing board.

Ednbrg's Serviceable Cinnamon Tincture

250ml Finlandia Vodka
200g Cinnamon sticks

Soak cinnamon sticks in vodka for up to three days. Strain through a cheesecloth and add 70ml of Overproof rum. Or don't; it may work out better.

Posted on November 10, 2008 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.

MxMo: Guilty Pleasures

Mixology Monday is monthly celebration of all things cocktailian, hosted by a different member of the global drink-blogging community. This month, Stevi at Two at the Most (thanks for hosting!) invited us to share our Guilty Pleasures. The thing is, I'd already shared one of my shameful favourites in public... I remember the first cocktail competition I ever entered. It was a round of the late, great Spiritual Scotland series that ran for a couple of summers in Edinburgh a few years back. Each round would have a brand sponsor who would bring a number of products with them to provide the basis for a mystery bag comp. Competitors would face off in pair, with each pair drawing a card that told them their base ingredient (from the sponsor's selection, of course) and each bartender drawing a second card that contained a list of ingredients, two of which had to be used in the drink. You'd then be given five minutes or so to come up with your drink, and then you'd present it to the judges and the massed ranks of the Capital's bar staff head-to-head against the other guy in your pairing.

My base ingredient was to be Louis Royer Cognac. I think it was the XO, but honestly I forget. All things considered, the grade of Cognac I used turned out to be almost entirely irrelevant. Why? Because of the secondary ingredients I drew, I picked Cointreau (fair enough) and Mango Sorbet.

A bit of background may be necessary. I used to work in a cinema, and spent a decent amount of time on the Haagen-Dazs stand. One of the things we offered were milkshakes but if someone selected a sorbet, we'd suggest making it with lemonade instead of milk.

I assume my thought-process went a little something like this: sorbet/lemonade shakes are awesome. Cognac, too, is awesome. What, therefore, could be more awesome than a sorbet/lemonade shake with Cognc in it?

The answer was, as it turns out, every other drink in the competition. My drink was one of the more popular drinks made that afternoon, it just scored horrendously poorly on every criteria a competition drink is marked on. There was no driving idea behind the drink. It tasted good, but the base ingredient was lost, and my justification for choosing ingredients was based on how well they'd go with mango sorbet, not the sponsor's Cognac.

As another Mixology Monday rolls around, I'd love to recreate the King Louis Spider, but I'm all out of mango sorbet. Instead, I'm going to raise a rum-and-coke float to that summer's day back in 2006 when Edinburgh's cocktail scene learned that a brandy and mango sorbet shake wasn't ever going to win a comp, but damn if it didn't taste good.

King Louis Spyder

37.5ml Louis Royer VS (really, no need for the good stuff)
25ml Cointreau
1 scoop mango sorbet
75ml dash lemonade

Shake Cognac, Cointreau and sorbet vigorously without ice. Add lemonade to the shaker and stir until all lumps have dissolved - a stick-style milkshake blender works really well here. Serve in a goblet with the biggest orange zest twist you can find.

Rum & Coke Float

In a large glass (a pint glass is ideal) add:
A large measure of rum (I'm enjoying Havana Club Especial tonight)
A large scoop of Vanilla ice cream; and top up with Coke. Add spoon and enjoy.

Posted on October 14, 2008 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.

Mixology Monday: 19th Century Cocktails

Mixology Monday

Mixology Monday is a monthly celebration of mixological stuff, with each themed installment hosted somewhere within the drinkblogging community. This month's edition is on 19th Century Cocktails, and is being hosted at Bibulo.us. This is the ednbrg MxMo debut - here's hoping I don't screw this up...

The 19th Century marks the period when people started to define what a cocktail is and, having set those rules, starting to push those boundaries. Look at Jerry Thomas' guides for bartenders - there's a literal ton of recipes in there, all pushing, all striving for recognition. Some of them made it into the 20th Century, into popularity. Hell, some of them even made it into fame. Some of them didn't. This is the story of one of them.

Think of the 19th century as the mixed drink equivalent of the Big Brother house - packed full of competitors, each with an eye on the prize or whatever they can get their hands on. It's a dirty business, but some genuine stars made it out - the Manhattan, the Old-fashioned, the Sour, the Collins spring to mind. A couple almost made it, but not quite - the Martinez had to lose a bit of vermouth to get to the top table, for example. And then, there's everything else.

One of the drinks that didn't make it was the Daisy. Being honest, it wasn't going to. As David Wondrich points out, the recipe set out in the 1876 edition of Thomas' guide is basically the same as a Fizz with the addition of "3 or 4 dashes [of] orange cordial" and there's always the sticky little topic of what actually differentiates a Fizz from a Collins. Searching for its own niche in the cocktail world, the Daisy eventually settled into a fairly set recipe of spirit, lemon juice and grenadine, sometimes even eschewing the fizzy hat that had characterized its earliest incarnations.

Turning back the clock to that first instance of the Daisy isn't as challenging as I'd hoped or feared. For one, Wondrich has done all the hard work in Imbibe. But by this point, I've committed to the Daisy - I want to see if it's been done a great disservice by history. I wonder if we've let a gem slip into obscurity.

In order to make my Daisy authentic, I decided to look at the ingredients available to the 19th century bartender. Vodka is entirely absent from early cocktail guides, rye seems to be the popular choice for whiskey and there is, of course, the question of gin.

Gin as we know it is largely different to the gins used in the early years of the cocktail. London Dry Gin - the dominant style in today’s marketplace - was new, and largely unheard of outside of the UK. Instead, the majority of gin drinks call for either Old Tom gin (similar to London Dry, but sweetened) or Holland’s Gin: genever.

All of this led me to the opportunity to buy an obscure spirit, which isn’t something I’m ever going to pass on. A couple of days of searching Edinburgh’s various specialty off-licences finished with me taking possession of a bottle of Amsterdamsche Oude Genever. Genever is the forerunner of modern gin. It’s made by flavouring a base spirit with juniper and other herbs, like a London Dry Gin, but the difference lies in that spirit base - genever is based on maltwine, distilled from malted barley. This brings its own flavour to the table, as opposed of the neutral base of an Old Tom or London Dry. An Oude (old) genever must contain at least 15% maltwine, and no more than 20g of sugar per litre, whereas a Jonge (young) spirit can’t have more than 15% maltwine and 10g sugar per litre. The Amsterdamsche Oude has a slight colour to it, a very pale bronze, and surprisingly doesn’t taste a million miles away from a London Dry. There’s a nice current of maltiness under the juniper but, given Wondrich’s suggested substitute (8 parts Irish whiskey to 10 parts Plymouth Gin, with a touch of sugar), I was expecting the flavour to be more out there.

3 or 4 dashes Gum syrup 2 or 3 dashes orange cordial The juice of half a lemon 1 small wineglass of spirits

Fill glass half-full of shaved ice. Shake well and strain into a glass, and fill up with Seltzer water from a syphon.

Served long over ice, the Daisy is pretty disappointing. The orange cordial (I used Grand Marnier) barely comes through, but the malty base of the genever stands out. Juniper and citrus appear on the finish. For me, the most disappointing aspect was the mouthfeel - the texture was quite thin and watery, with very little fizz. I can't shake the feeling that the formula is missing something.

Second time around, I went even more old-fashioned, serving the same recipe straight up in a coupette. The texture's better, less watery but still lacking something. There's a greater degree of effervesence from the seltzer but it's still not what I'd call bubbly. In terms of flavour, there's no great difference from the long serve.

Sitting here in the 21st century, it's refreshing to look back at drinks that have passed out of the zeitgeist. A Gin Daisy is a cracking little drink, but it's missing something that a Collins or a Fizz have; that elusive mystery ingredient that elevates one recipe from the pack to the lead. In the case of the Daisy, it may be the inclusion of an ingredient that blew its chances - if the only difference between a Fizz and a Daisy is the orange component, and the orange component doesn't add anything meaningful to the drink, then it's simply easier to go with the formula that doesn't have it.

All of this is speculation. After all, who knows why some drinks make it and others don't? There's more to it than flavour alone, but part of me is glad that the lowly Daisy hasn't been totally forgotten. It's not a headliner but it's part of the history, another link in the DNA of cocktails.

Posted on September 14, 2008 and filed under Mixology, MxMo, Recipes.