I am a big fan of do-it-yourself cocktail projects. I find it incredibly relaxing to roll up my sleeves, throw on an apron, and break down fruits and vegetables. Maybe it's the physicality of actually working with my hands, maybe it's that I can escape into a totally different state of mind--I'm not sure it really matters. Regardless of why, I savor those moments surrounded by sieves and sugars, funnels and high-proof spirits. I don't even mind the time investment of larger projects, the daily shaking and tasting. There's something about this type of creative process that is both soothing and stimulating
When it comes to the process though, I often find that no recipes exist for what I want to make. Occasionally I can find an adequate guide where only simple substitutions are necessary. Mostly I just figure it out on the fly, and try not to focus on the results. What else it there to do when you want to make a hops liqueur, cook up some apricot shrub, or even try your hand at a celery root infusion? The crazier the project seems, the more likely I am to try it. Without a detailed recipe, at the very least Ill gain some valuable experiential knowledge. The end result isn't always important, sometimes it is the journey that makes all the difference. '
Besides storage, which is a huge problem on its own, the largest issue I have with making nontraditional cocktail ingredients is what to do with them once they're finished. Something like apricot shrub, or any other shrub for that matter, is pretty easy, but other things can be more difficult. I'm still not really sure what I was thinking with that celery root infusion. Usually miscellaneous syrups end up sitting in the refrigerator door, and countless infusion experiments have already overrun one closet and overflowed directly into boxes housed under my desk. Jars and bottles labeled with masking tape litter our house, half-forgotten and gathering dust.
Inspiration came most recently in the form of cilantro syrup. I had this great idea for a cocktail, or at least I had this great idea. In practice, not so much; the flavors just wouldn't come together. Eventually I figured out that it was a monumental fail, but I still had almost six ounces of syrup left. What now? I started easy--herbal cilantro with herbal gin in a refreshing silver fizz. Perfect, but that only used 3/4 ounce. I could always whip up a batch of cilantro lemonade, cilantro limeade, or even cilantro Italian soda. I wasn't finding too much inspiration there. But then I was talking about cilantro with Anna from twosheetsinthewind and she told me about her success pairing cilantro with Batavia Arrack. As luck would have it, I not only happen to love Batavia Arrack but I also own a bottle. What a glorious suggestion it turned out to be.
Dry shake ingredients. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled sour glass or double old-fashioned. Garnish with a few drops of Angostura on the foam.
As I leaned in close to the Angostura-tinged foam, the aroma of the arrack and the cloves met me. I could also detect the scent of something vegetal, which I assumed was the cilantro. I was immediately impressed by how smooth the texture was. While this was in no way surprising--it does have an egg white in it after all--it was very pleasant. The peppery funky taste dominated the entire drink from the beginning to the end, though the lemon was just as strong. The egg white did soften it and smooth out the flavors in general, but the arrack was still a very strong presence. All the better for my palate--I love arrack. Initially, I was having trouble detecting the cilantro beyond the smell. The lemon and arrack were just too powerful. But as I drank more, and the drink warmed up, it became more pronounced. So much for thinking the cilantro syrup was too delicate. By the end, each sip started with more vegetal notes and then segued into the peppery spiciness of the arrack. The aftertaste was of course dominated by the arrack, but the sourness of the lemon lingered as well. This drink was extremely very refreshing and crisp, with the arrack providing a solid base for the other flavors. Anna was right--cilantro and the arrack do go very well together.