11.22.2010

Maximilian Affair

During the Fall brown spirits dominate. Bar menus, blogs and magazine don't lie. Those bright citrus-laden drinks are relegated to warmer climates and distant seasons. The barren trees mean heartier fare and that usually means whiskey. I am no stranger to this trend. When it gets cold, you can usually find me curled up in a whiskey barrel (with a blanket, of course) and asking not to be woken until Spring. But something about this year seems different. Maybe its me, maybe my tastes are changing, and I', turning over a new boozy leaf. Maybe it's just that there are so many more barrel-aged options. And perhaps, just maybe I was wrong when cold weather had to mean whiskey or brown spirits (and maybe this sounds familiar, dear reader). And yet another option might be that I have been listening to the call of the smooth herbal complexity of sweet vermouth and those assorted amari. So, recently when I wanted mezcal, I knew I was having a nervous breakdown. The mezcal I have is not brown, because it is not aged in a barrel. Hesitantly, I checked outsidestill ohmigod cold and damp, hell it was winter of all things. Thank goodness I can blame sweet vermouth and amari to bail me out of this.

Agave spirits play particularly well with sweet vermouth. Both the earthy, floral notes of tequila and the similarly earthy, yet uniquely smoky flavors of mezcal perfectly complement sweet vermouth's assorted botanics. In general, I was drawn to this cocktail because of that pairing. But more specifically, my interest was sparked by the idea of mezcal with Punt e Mes, a variety of sweet vermouth that is somewhere between sweet vermouth and Campari. It is more bitter and flavorful than most sweet vermouths I have tasted, and because of this, it is my go-to sweet vermouth. I just love how it dries out a bourbon in a Manhattan, or how it riffs off gin in a Fin de Siecle or Hoskins. Any recipe that calls for it by name will rank high with me. This cocktail has been on my to-drink list for a while. Misty Kalkofen of Boston's notorious Drink is the creator of this lovely libation and every Kalkofen original that I have been lucky enough to taste has been an absolute stunner.

Maximilian Affair

1 1/4 ounces mezcal
3/4 ounce St. Germain
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce lemon juice

Shake all of the ingredients and strain in to a chilled cocktail glass.

Note on Ingredients: I used the del Maguey Minero mezcal for this drink.

This is one seriously awesome cocktail. The mezcal dominated the aroma with its smokiness and the first sip was heavy with its vegetal, grassy flavors. The St. Germain contributed its mellow fruitiness to the mix, and later even seemed to provide herbal notes as the drink warmed up.  This, in turn, allowed the herbal notes of the Punt E Mes to shine. You might think that this cocktail would be sweet, with the St. Germain at three-quarters of an ounce, but the lemon juice and vermouth balanced it out perfectly. The mezcal was the star of this drink though, and it was unmistakable in every taste. Its lingering smokiness even followed each sip. What a tasty way to end the night.

11.17.2010

Alamagoozlum

Halloween is my favorite time of year. Every October Tracy and I indulge in as much spooky fun as we can, and that usually means a full month of horror movies, an annual pumpkin-carving party with friends, and some sort of masquerade event. The month then culminates in an all-night horror movie marathon on Halloween night. This year we also celebrated the bounty of Fall vegetables with butternut squash & pear soup, homemade rolls, and pumpkin bread for dessert. But enough about food. For drinks, I always pick out a topical cocktail that matches our Halloween state of mind. In the past we have had Corpse Reviver No. 2s or Zombies, but this year I couldn't pass up the Alamagoozlum. Even the name evokes Halloweenperhaps it could even be some magician's curse word.

I read about the Alamagoozlum on Sloshed! last year around Halloween. It also can be found among the many gems in Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. As far as I can tell, the original transcriber of this fabulous libation is the one and only Charles Baker. This drink is downright zany, calling for many obscure, powerful ingredients and allowing them to cohabitate in one confined area, but the composition is truly delightful, like pie in a glass. And check out those bitters. If I had remembered this drink this summer it could have fit into my series of posts on bitters! But, no regrets—this drink fits well with my Halloween theme and the flavors also highlight the warm spice flavors of Autumn.

Alamagoozlum

2 ounces genever
2 ounces water
1 1/2 ounces Jamaican rum
1 1/2 ounces yellow or green chartreuse
1 1/2 ounces simple syrup
1/2 ounce orange curacao
1/2 ounce Angostura bitters
1/2 egg white 

Dry shake all ingredients. Add ice and shake long and hard. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Note: this makes 2 large or 3 small cocktails.

Note on Ingredients: I used the Boomsma Junge genever though the Bols genever has a stronger flavor and works really well in this drink. Also, I chose green chartreuse over the mellow yellow, and Appleton served as my Jamaican rum. I also substituted triple sec for the curacao.

First of all I can't help but remarking on the color—that deep brownish red really lets you know there are a ton of bitters hanging out in your glass. Also, considering that the recipe only called for half an egg white for two drinks, there was still quite a bit of foam. The bitters are partially responsible; both the Trinidad Sour and the Alabazam have quite a bit of foam and neither one includes eggs.  The herbal chartreuse and the cloves and cinnamon of the Angostura were easily detectable in the aroma. And yes, that is exactly when you realize just how thirsty you are. As I descended through the froth, I first tasted the maltiness of the genever mingling with the spiciness of the bitters. This drink had a very rich mouth feel and was a bit sweet, though nowhere near cloying. As the drink warmed up, the chartreuse dominated each sip and lingered long after, and the juniper notes seemed to spring to life. And, though a Zombie might seem more topical, it was the perfect drink to accompany Dawn of the Dead.

11.16.2010

Charles Baker and Absinthe

Charles Baker is my hero. Like many other cocktail enthusiasts, I have fallen for his languid prose and bon vivant lifestyle set against the backdrop of exotic locales from the distant past. Ah, what it must have been like, traveling the world in search of the redolent and quaint, throwing back drinks with Ernest Hemingway and other exciting personalities, stumbling through foreign towns discovering and rediscovering the fabulous and the sublime all in the name of experience and adventure. Baker escaped America, and its ever-present Puritanical leanings, at the exactly the right time, Prohibition, to tramp the world in search of excitement, or at least great food and drink. One part cocktail guide, one part travelogue, and one part memoir, The Gentleman's Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask is perhaps the original blueprint for a cocktail blog: you won't love all the drinks, you might not even try all the drinks, but what will bring you back again and again is his wit and the excellent prose.

This book, like many other cocktail guides of yore, begins with absinthe. Warning: any cocktail with absinthe in the title is going to be full of black licorice-y goodness. Your mouth will be coated in refreshing anise and you will be lucky if you can taste anything else for a while. It is the nature of the beast that is absinthe. So, when undertaking the absinthe-based cocktail challenge, it is crucial to choose an absinthe that you like on its own, say in an absinthe drip. And if absinthe isn't your cup of tea, these drinks may not be for you. Sorry. The truth is that you can use absinthe as a accent, but when it is the base you can only bump up other flavors against it; at the end of the day, nothing will make it budge. For Baker's absinthe cocktail, I chose the Herbsaint Legendre. Granted, this is not an absinthe per se, but I enjoyed its complexity in a Sazerac so much that I thought, why not? Its proof is a little lower and it won't turn pearlescent in the presence of water, but I figured, close enough.

Absinthe Cocktail (as adapted)

1 1/2 jiggers absinthe (2 1/4 ounces!)
1 dash anis, anisette
1/2 jigger water (3/4 ounce)
1 tsp or less simple syrup (1 tsp)
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
1 tsp egg white (1/4 ounce for two)

Dry shake ingredients. Add cracked ice and shake very hard. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass . Twist a piece of lemon or lime peel over the surface, but do not drop in.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Herbsaint Legendre for the absinthe, Sambuca in the place of anisette, and a richer demerara and turbinado simple syrup of 1.5:1. The orange bitters were Angostura orange.

I can't say that this was the most successful absinthe cocktail I have ever had. Let's start there. It was bright green, as expected, like the Wicked Witch of the West's face. The inclusion of the egg white produced a smidgen of white foam on top. The measly teaspoon of egg white that Baker calls for greatly limits the foaminess. The drink smelled of anise and tasted of anise. The lemon oils, though, were noticeable in the aroma and, to a lesser extent, the first sip. But barring that first sip, I could not detect the presence of anything else, save the slight sweetness that the sugar added. The egg white, though paltry, did contribute its characteristic smooth texture to the drink. Alas, though I tried to push through, and have in fact enjoyed an absinthe cocktail in the past, I couldn't finish this one. I wonder if using a real absinthe would help, but instead of going down that patch, I geared myself up for the absinthe frappe.

Absinthe Frappe (as adapted)

2 ounces absinthe
1/2 tsp anis del mono or French anisette
1 glass of cracked ice (1 cup cracked ice)
(4 mint leaves)

(Muddle mint briefly in anisette in a chilled mixing glass. Remove mint.) Add ingredients and shake hard but briefly. Pour into chilled rocks glass. Garnish with green straw. 

Notes on ingredients: I used Absinthe Verte de Fougerolles and Sambuca in the place of anisette.

This drink was much more successful. I chose to add the muddled mint mostly because of the previous drink's failure. And in the past, I had consumed a wonderful absinthe julep with muddled mint, simple syrup, and absinthe, so why not? The fact is that in spite of my intentions, I couldn't taste the mint. Oh well. But in general I found this tipple extremely tasty and refreshing. I don't know if it was because of the relative simplicity of this drink , or because I used a real absinthe. The cracked ice made sure that the absinthe could evolve through the various stages of dilution, and I could really taste the different notes in the absinthe itself. Regardless, this drink made me almost forget the previous absinthe cocktail and was a nice end to the evening. All's well that ends well, in cocktails at least.

11.08.2010

Apple Brandy: Newark Cocktail

When Fall arrives and blankets become a staple of my at-home fashion, my tastes turn toward barrel-aged  spirits, though this is by no means a hard and fast rule. This year we here in Seattle were treated to a strange crispness that served as a delightful interruption from our regularly scheduled Autumn full of all things waterlogged. The dry chill and the orange- and yellow-hued leaves (we even got some red ones this year!) reminded me of the many years I spent growing up and living in the Northeast. Perhaps because of this nostalgic impulse, I have been leaning toward dry crisp drinks of late, instead of hearty, bold libations that revolve around whiskey and the rich flavors of cherry and anise or the soothing warmth of spice. In my search for drinks that would attend to my craving, I found myself leaning toward the much overlooked apple brandy, most notably our domestic apple brandy, applejack.

Applejack is a spirit native to the United States and almost as old. In colonial times, apple-based spirits were made in the frozen Northeast from fermented apple cider that had gone through the process of freeze distillation, which was called "jacking." The process entails freezing a solution, such as hard cider or beer, in order to separate the alcohol from the water by taking advantage of their different freezing points. Early settlers would bury their fermented apple cider in the ground for the winter. About the time of the last freeze, they would dig it up and remove the ice, leaving a liquid that was much richer in alcohol. The idea to further distill this "low wine" version of hard cider into apple brandy was just the natural progression of a good idea.

Laird's is the oldest producer of applejack in the county. They have been producing apple brandy in America since 1698. They make several different apple-based spirits, though here in Washington, only the 80-proof applejack is readily available. I have seen their bonded apple brandy in some local bars and some of the better liquor stores. If you can find it, I would highly recommend it. The non-bonded apple brandy contains 35 percent apple distillate that has been blended with neutral grain spirits. The bonded variety is 100 percent apple brandy and, by law, 100 proof. Therefore, the apple flavor is that much more intense, and the higher proof means that the brandy can stand up to stronger ingredients in a cocktail. The non-bonded applejack is completely acceptable, though, and for years it was the only applejack I used. In many cases, it makes only a slight difference, and I have made very tasty Jack Roses, Jersey Sours, or even variations on the Stone Fence with the non-bonded applejack.  Drinks like the Applejack Old-Fashioned and the Marconi Wireless, which place a greater emphasis on the flavor of the spirit, really do shine brighter with the inclusion of the bonded Laird's. Both of Laird's products are relatively inexpensive, around $20, though the bonded will set you back a couple of dollars more.

To satisfy my applejack craving, I chose the Newark Cocktail, another fabulous cocktail that I found on Chuck Taggert's blog. The drink was created by Jim Meehan, bar manager at PDT in NYC, and an all-around heavy hitter in the bartending world. The Newark cocktail, as you may have already guessed, is another in the long line of Manhattan variations named after real estate in and around NYC that have become ubiquitous on cocktail menus.  I am not complaining--many of them are completely delicious and among my favorite style of drink, spirit-forward.

Newark Cocktail

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
2 barspoons Fernet Branca

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain in a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Laird's Bonded Applejack, Vya sweet vermouth, and Maraska maraschino liqueur.

The aroma was full of apples though the menthol notes of the Fernet shone through. And as expected, the apple brandy was completely recognizable and even acted as a wonderful foundation for all of the strong flavors in the glass. Initially, I noted a pleasant, mild sweetness, presumably from the maraschino and perhaps the vermouth, before the Fernet struck and my mouth was full of herbal complexity. On subsequent tastes, I noted the dry cider-like flavors becoming more prevalent throughout each sip.  This drink had a wonderful rich mouth feel that contrasted the almost astringent menthol taste concluding each sipa side effect of the Fernet. As the drink warmed the interplay between the maraschino and Fernet dominated the flavors, but in a really interesting way.  The finish was dry and kind of nutty with hints of cherry. But long after each sip it was the apple flavors that lingered, calling me back for more.

11.03.2010

Ramos Gin Fizz

Several weeks ago Tracy and I had a friend over to indulge in brunch. We love brunch in our house, that celebration of those glorious hours of limbo between morning and afternoon on any given weekenda time for the savory and the sweet, the caffeinated and the alcoholic. A good brunch will almost always lead to a lethargic day filled with absolutely nothing and the need to heartily engage in said nothing, which usually translates to an impromptu nap on the couch. And though our excuse for this occasionthough one never needs an excuse for brunchwas to plan a friend's bachelorette party, the entire event really sprang into being because of a truly magical thing: the Ramos gin fizz.

Say those three little words to a room full of people and watch the effects. Those who have delved into the bubbly creamy froth, you know at once who they are. Their eyes sparkle and this ever-so-small smile forms on their faces. I have seen it happen more than once. Invariably, they will move their chairs closer, lean in and with a conspiratorial tone, take you into memories spotted with minuscule details: the first time they sipped a Ramos gin fizz, the best, the worst, even the heft of the shaker, the ache in the arms, and still even more rare, the imagined ache in the arms. But this excitement is not reserved solely for initiates. Something about the name, familiar and yet unfamiliar, translates that there is something innately special to discover. The Ramos fizz rookies too lower their voices to that familiar hushed whisper reserved for taboos and secret societies, inch their bodies closer, and say, "What is that?" They are hooked even before they have faced down the frothy, frosty glass. It is just one of those drinks.

Fizzes are not new creations. They trace back to the olden times of yore, or at any rate to at least the 1880s, if not before. David Wondrich has traced the print origins to a recipe published in 1883. The New Orleans gin fizz, a special iteration of the silver fizz, was created in the 1880s at Meyer's Restaurant in New Orleans by a certain Henry Charles Ramos. It has been a New Orleans institution ever since. It differs from the classic fizz recipe in its use of cream and orange flower water. But it is those little differences that make this drink such a big deal. Supposedly the combination of the egg white and the cream is what makes the Ramos fizz such a challenging drink to make correctly. Though both elements will foam easily one their own, when they occupy the same shaker they become stubborn. The secret to making a this drink is all about technique, because there is shaking any old drink, and then there is shaking a drink with egg whites and cream. These drinks take staminaespecially if you are making three of them, one at a time, all while waiting for the first pot of coffee to percolate. At one point, Henry Ramos employed 15 lads to shake those fizzes, and they shook those fizzes for up to 15 minutes, each. They formed a line and passed those frosty shakers one to the next. This is as much of a testament to properly mixing a drink as it is to the Ramos gin fizz's popularity.

Ramos Gin Fizz

2 ounces gin
1 ounce heavy cream
1 egg white
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 tbsp simple syrup
3 drops orange flower water
1 ounce club soda

Dry shake all ingredients except club soda. Add ice and shake again, at least until your arms are really tired and your hands are frozen. Strain into a highball glass and very slowly drizzle in the club soda.

Note on Ingredients: I have made a Ramos gin fizz with Bombay Dry, Ransom Old Tom, and a 50-50 split between Aviation and Bellringer. They were all wonderful, though my favorite is the Ransom with all of that spice.


When a Ramos gin fizz is placed before you, with those foamy bubbles blossoming over the rim and that sheen of ice forming on the outside, you can't help but feel pretty special. Even if you made the drink yourself, and can already feel the ache building in your muscles from all that shaking. As you descend past that citrus-laden foam, into the effervescent liquid below, you will be downright besotted. Smooth and creamy, herbal and tart in equal measure, with just the right amount of sweetness, how can you go wrong? But don't dally in awe; drinks with egg whites weren't meant to be lingered over like a julep. I give you permission to swig at will. Once a fizz gets warm, it loses a certain amount of its luster. So don't be offended if your guests are sitting before empty glasses before you even sit downit is a compliment, just go with it. If you drink it at the right pace, not too slow not too fast, and if all of the other forces in the universe are aligned, you can almost feel yourself transported to another time. Even if that time is nap time.