Underused Ingredients: Aquavit

My first introduction to aquavit came a couple of years ago at House Spirits Distillery in Portland. And while it was their Aviation gin that inspired the visit, it was their caraway-flavored spirit with the heavy notes of anise that really caught my attention. Of course, I went home with a bottle. At the time, I didn't have a lot of experience with aquavit, and it sat in my liquor cabinet for quite some time untouched. But thankfully all that has changed, and aquavit, with its complicated flavors, is one of my favorite things.

Aquavit, like gin, gives distillers the freedom to express their creativity and thus formulate a signature flavor. Fortunately, the boundaries are only limited by each distiller's imagination. Caraway is usually the dominant flavor, but other flavors like fennel, coriander, citrus peels and anise commonly round out the blend. Strangely, many of these ingredients are also used in gin recipes. But the presence of the caraway, as well as other more savory ingredients like cumin, dill or even amber (tree resin is used in the production of Aalborg), give aquavit a flavor profile all its own.

The only unfortunate thing about aquavit is its availability. Considering that more and more bartenders are becoming interested in experimenting with its notoriously savory flavors, historically only three brands have been imported: Aalborg (Denmark), Linie (Norway), and O.P. Andersson (Sweden). This is just a tiny fraction of the aquavit produced worldwide. The arrival of a new aquavit on the scene, Aquavit New York (Sweden, only imported to New York), may represent a much needed shift.

On the flip side, a few American craft distillers have recently become infatuated with the challenges and intricacies of aquavit. Who can blame them? These American aquavits have helped bolster the popularity of the spirit, making it a more common sight on back bars. Like many craft-distilled gins, American craft aquavits can often be characterized by their big, bold flavors. Krogstad Aquavit, from House Spirits, is unlike Scandinavian aquavits in that it has a whopping dose of anise in addition to the caraway. These bold flavors make a dram of this spirit a wonderfully intense experience. These powerful flavors make Krogstad especially well-suited for cocktails, because it can stand up to other bold flavors.

While aquavit's presence on cocktail menus has certainly grown, there is still plenty of room for improvement. But the caraway flavor can provide quite a challenge. Use too little, and you don't know it's there, too much and the results can be overly medicinal, at best. And like gin, even picking the best aquavit for a cocktail can prove problematic. American aquavits can easily overpower other delicate ingredients, and the Scandinavian aquavits can play the wallflower. All of these issues together have kept aquavit from receiving its moment in the sun. Hopefully this is about to change. Here are some of my more recent aquavit cocktail discoveries.  

Nordic Reviver (created by Evan Martin, Ba Bar)

3/4 ounce aquavit
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce Swedish punsch

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rinsed with absinthe.

Notes on Ingredients: I halved the aquavit between Krogstad and Linie and used homemade Swedish punsch.

Because of its herbal characteristics, aquavit can often often be substituted for gin, especially when the cocktail also includes fresh juices. In fact, like gin, aquavit can be easily be inserted in most vodka drinks to embolden the flavors.

This is one of my favorite Ccrpse revivers variations, though to be perfectly correct it is a variation of the Corpse Reviver 2a. In the original cocktail, Evan used Aalborg. I decided to blend a Norwegian aquavit, Linie, with an American one Krogstad, to bump up the flavors just a bit. The Linie differs from most of the other available aquavits as it has been mellowed for four and a half months in used Oloroso sherry casks. In the Nordic Reviver, the anise notes of the absinthe work exceptionally well with the caraway of the Linie, and the Swedish punsch adds a nice tannic, spice layer. I would think that the Krogstad would work equally well in this cocktail, though the absinthe rinse may not be needed.

[Unnamed Work in Progress] (created by Ben Philip Perri, Zig Zag Cafe)

1 1/2 ounces aquavit
1/2 ounce rye
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 dash mescal

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Linie aquavit, Rittenhouse bonded rye, and Maraska maraschino. I chose the del Maguey Minero for the mescal.

Aquavit also pairs exceptionally well with rye. The Old Bay Ridge, David Wondrich's aquavit-rye old fashioned, showcases just how well this works in the simplest terms; it is a traditional old fashioned but with the spirit allotment split in half between the rye and aquavit. In cocktails with herbal vermouths, aquavit's affinity for rye becomes incredibly important--just a bit of rye mellows out the aquavit's herbaceousness and makes blending two very different herbal ingredients that much easier. While this cocktail is a loose variation on the Red Hook, it highlights what can happen when caraway intersects with rye. I find that the dash of mescal provides that extra level of oomph that really pushes this drink for good to great. Substituting a peaty scotch for the mescal would probably work as well, though it would still be quite different.

From Norway to Sicily

1 ounce aquavit
3/4 ounce Averna
1/2 ounce rye
1/8 ounce (bar spoon) Benedictine
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Linie aquavit, Sazerac rye, and Angostura bitters.

Lately I have been kind of obsessed with adding amari to almost everything. So when I started thinking about aquavit, I thought, why not? Initially I was inspired to use Averna with its mild bitterness to match up with the mild Linie. Sweet vermouth was an option that I passed on. I really wanted to explore the intersection of the aquavit and the amaro. Using vermouth would have added a different feel, though it would have made the entire endeavour easier. Suffice it to say, the early attempts were ugly. Marley Tomic Beard of Sexton gave me some advice that led me to a perfect solution. Like in the above cocktail, the addition of rye really fixed this drink. Then the rest just fell into place. I am sure that further experimentation with aquavit and different amari would also yield really some really memorable drinks.


Some Thoughts on the Bittersweet: Berlioni

Lately, my thoughts have been lingering on the idea of bittersweet. Essentially composed of two opposing adjectives mashed together, its origins are not surprisingly connected to food. In the fourteenth century, this word gained recognition in association with a specific type of apples that still carry the same moniker today. Bittersweet apples are commonly used in English style ciders on account of their complex flavors. But it wasn't only medieval tastes that appreciated the bittersweet. Modern tastes have fully embraced the joys as well--just think about the popularity of bittersweet chocolate. Could it be that we secretly yearn for the inherent complexity, and will gladly risk bitter aftertaste. But taste is so easy, so present tense, so experiential.

Over time, of course, language shifted the adjective away from the concrete and into the abstract. By the sixteenth century, bittersweet was used differently, associated more with simultaneous feelings of pleasure and suffering or even pain. Here too its usage has become widespread. Perhaps we have even cut to the quick of the contemporary human condition. After we bundled together to form cities and flirted with the fleeting idea of civilization, only then did we learn to savor the double-edged sword that is the bittersweet. Though some of us may have just fallen under the spell of the falling snow.

In the context of cocktails, the word "bittersweet" generally reverts to its less abstract meaning, where there are entire categories of drinks dedicated to it. Negronis and all of its endless variations epitomize the boozy bittersweet. There, bitter and sweet are so intricately laced together, differentiating where one sensation begins and the other ends is futile. But as I waded through my nostalgic pangs, it was the Berlioni, a Negroni variation first created by Gonçalo De Sousa Monteiro in Berlin, that suited my mood. Though I had initially discovered it on the cocktail blog, Oh Gosh, my experience with the Berlioni began on a cold late November evening over a year ago. A mild snow was in the air, but that didn't stop me from wandering down to the Zig Zag. The bar was mostly empty except for the few willing to foolishly find warmth in the bottom of a glass and wait for the traffic to die down. With the sky full of flakes, there was a sense of thinly veiled mystery in the air--some sort of intangible feeling that something is different, that the world could be turned upside down in a matter of moments.

Bittersweet moments are ephemeral--it is almost how we can recognize them. Certain circumstances align, and we are given a glimpse of something sensational, otherworldly, and then before you can even blink, it's gone. How could you not feel a lingering malaise, which is so like a bitter aftertaste? And if you try to re-create the experience, you just end up rediscovering what you've lost. For me this drink is intertwined with the bittersweet. Perhaps it is unfair that such a delightful beverage has become mired in the melancholy. Undoubtedly, I ordered it on a whim, but the association has become too strong. But sometimes I sit down with a Berlioni, and remember a time when what is possible wasn't so limited and relive the bittersweet in my mind, just because I can.


1 ounce gin
2/3 ounce Cynar
1/2 ounce dry vermouth

Stir with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled whiskey glass or other smallish glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Plymouth gin and Dolin dry vermouth.

When I think of the word "bittersweet," examples easily come to mind that convey more than just regret or suffering in the face of happiness, more than unexpected complexity. But no one is safe from its call, so intertwined it is with the drama of living. Perhaps, though we don't like to admit it, the bittersweet is prized like nutmeg in the early days of the American colonies. Draped around one's neck, whether exposed like a status symbol, or hidden beneath layers of cloth and held, it is something we need to keep close. Perhaps not so much a sign of cosmopolitanism, but of the pitfalls of living life fully--a mantel of pride nonetheless.


Bittering Up the Classics: The Palmetto

Lately I have been all but obsessed with bittering up classic cocktail recipes. Though this may just be a consequence of having recently acquired a bunch of amari and quinquinas, almost all of my cocktail experiments have included something bitter. Recently, the Palmetto Cocktail in general has garnered a lot of attention in this respect. Simply a rum Manhattan, its recipe is relatively easy to manipulate in a variety of directions. Besides, the intersection of rum and either an amaro or fortified wine almost always yields interesting, tasty results.  

Recently, I found myself craving a brown, bitter stirred cocktail. My thoughts instantly went to the Palmetto. Mind you, I wasn't looking for some extensive experiment, just a simple tasty three-ingredient cocktail. But when I opened the refrigerator, I discovered that I had run out of sweet vermouth. I was even out of Punt e Mes. This was unsettling on many levels. As I cautiously eyed the dry vermouth, I noticed inspiration hiding behind the sherry: half a bottle of Bonal. Eureka!

Though it is relatively new to the United States, Bonal has been around since 1885. Quinquinas like Bonal are very similar to vermouth in that they are aromatized, fortified wines, usually based on white wine or mistelle--non-fermented or partially fermented grape juice with alcohol added. What makes them different is what is then added. A variety of herbs are used in both to create the unique flavor, but generally quinquinas have a significant amount of cinchona bark. Vermouths don't usually include this ingredient, and if they do, in much smaller quantities. Vermouths, on the other hand, were known for their inclusion of wormwood--"wermut" is the German word for wormwood. This distinction has become less important over the years, though some vermouths do still utilize scant amounts of wormwood in their recipes.

Because vermouth and quinquinas are relatively similar in many ways, they can be substituted for each other in many recipes. However, the increased bitterness of a quina may require slight changes in the proportions in order to achieve the proper balance. Bonal in particular has a wonderful earthy, slightly bitter flavor. Because of this, I tend to pair it with rum, though not exclusively. I find that its earth depth plays especially well  with rum's light, slightly sweet taste.

Bitter Orange

1 1/2 ounces rum
1 1/2 ounces Bonal
1/4 Cocchi Americano
1 dash aromatic bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist, or not, as desired.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Bacardi 8, Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters, and Angostura Orange bitters.


Enhancing the Flavor of Homemade Syrups: Lime Cordial, Gimlets and Batavia Arrack

Usually in the dead of winter, my cocktail cravings all have one thing in common: sweet vermouth. Whether it's a Martinez, a Palmetto, or even a simple Manhattan, chances are some variation will find its way into my glass. But this year, I have been dreaming of Gimlets. Gin gimlets, of course. If one spirit will make up 75 percent of my cocktail, please make it not vodka. But considering my love for all things brown, bitter and stirred, as well as my seasonal flirtation with sweet vermouth, I can easily admit that I was astounded. But then again, I do love gin. And Gimlets certainly are spirit-forward, strong and lacking in fruit juice--just like all of my other favorites.

The problem with Gimlets is that pesky Rose's Lime Juice, which is the main reason I had never tasted one until recently. When a friend of mine gave me a batch of homemade lime cordial last year, the first thing I made was a Gimlet. It seemed like a no-brainer. Freshly made with real limes, this syrup allowed me to discover just how wonderful a Gimlet really can be. (By the way, I'll have you know that I used every single drop of that lime cordial in Gimlets. And they were delicious.) So this year, when the cold temperatures came, and all of the rich food of December had been consumed, all I could think of was Gimlets. And since citrus is in season, the time was ripe for some lime cordial.

Making a lime cordial is not hard, and many recipes can be found on the Internet. I tend to use a more complicated method, and I'm sure that a similar result could be achieved faster. But then again, I do enjoy a nice weekend project. First of all, when I make citrus syrup, I don't use any water. Because limes, lemons, and oranges all contain this fabulous juice, why dulls its edge with water. Also, I like to use the oils from the peels to add that wonderful, almost floral fragrance. In order to do this, I make an oleo saccharum--a mixture of sugar and in this case, lime zest. Oleo Saccharum, translated roughly as oil-sugar, entered the drinking lexicon sometime in the seventeenth century and has been used to give punches an extra bit of depth. Though David Wondrich advises against using a lime oleo saccharum for a punch--lime oils are too sour--I find it works exceptionally well in a syrup.

Lime Syrup

5 large limes
2 cups sugar
1-2 ounces fortifying agent

Notes on Ingredients: I always use fair trade natural sugar in all of my syrups. Because it hasn't been bleached it still has a bit of the sugar cane flavor. This results in a lime cordial that is not green--it will be brownish green. If you want a solely green lime cordial, use white sugar. I also use organically grown limes. 

Step 1: Zest the limes into a small bowl. I used a microplane zester. The limes were huge so I got quite a bit.

Step 2: Prepare the oleo saccharum by adding 1 cup of sugar to the zest and muddle. Cover with Saran wrap and let it sit for at least 6 hours on the counter. (I intentionally left it out overnight.)

Step 3: Juice the zest-less limes--note you'll want about 1 cup for this recipe. I also strained out the pulp using a tea strainer.

Even though I was actually preparing the syrup the following day, I was afraid that the limes would  become hard overnight without their skins. I used the Vacu Vin wine preservation system to "vacuum seal" the lime juice in a bottle. Hey, it works with wine, why not short-term storage for lime juice. Tupperware might also work. The most important factor is when you are actually making the syrup. The longer you wait, the dryer those limes are going to get. If they are too dry you may not yield a sufficient amount of juice.

Step 4: When you are ready to make the syrup, combine the oleo sacchrum and the juice in a medium sauce pan and heat on low, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Add remaining sugar until you reach your desired sourness level. I used added 1 additional cup, and the lime cordial still has a nice tartness.

Step 5: Let the syrup cool for a short while and then strain it through a fine tea strainer. If the syrup is still warm, it will be easier because the liquid will be less thick. Optionally, the syrup can then be strained through cheese cloth to collect any smaller particles. Regardless of how finely you strain your syrup, allow it to cool completely before you bottle it.

Step 6 (optional): You do not need to fortify your lime cordial. The syrup will keep as is for about a month in the refrigerator. Fortifying will increase this time. If your syrup is destined for mocktails, Italian sodas, or anyone who shouldn't have alcohol, you are officially done. If you choose to fortify, measure the volume of the syrup to figure out how much fortifying agent to use. A general rule is 1 ounce of fortifying agent to 8 ounces of syrup. This recipe made 16 ounces of syrup.


Usually at this stage, and especially when a recipe yields a substantial volume, I add a fortifying agent to extend the "shelf life." Without it, the syrup may show signs of bacteria in about a month. Though I cannot predict how long a syrup will last once it has been fortified, it is usually much longer. Vodka is what I usually use  chiefly because it won't affect the flavor. After all, if my goal is to have a lime-flavored syrup, why would I want other flavors getting in the way? But if the goal is simply to make something interesting and tasty that is primarily lime-flavored, why wouldn't I want to add a subtle layer of flavor for increased depth?

I have considered this before, but in this case it seemed exceptionally relevant. Though Gimlets are yummy, they can still be pretty one note. The idea seemed to get more interesting the more I thought about what I might want to add. Absinthe? Banks 5 rum? Scotch? When all was said and done, the answer seemed obvious--batavia arrack. Smoky and funky in all the right places, its  flavor was just made for being used subtly. Whether this experiment would be a success was up in the air--considering the small amount, would the flavors even be recognizable? At least on the nose, the arrack makes itself known. When mixed into a cocktail, though, both the aroma and the taste are only laced with the smoky, funky notes. I was quite happy with the results and am now trying to think of other ways to use secondary, spirit-based flavors in my homemade syrups.


2 1/2 ounces gin
1/2  ounce lime cordial

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin and my batavia arrack-laced lime cordial.


Drinks Abroad: Harry's New York Bar, Pink Gin and Some History

In October, while Tracy and I were spending a wonderful two weeks in Paris, I was hell bent on visiting  Harry's New York Bar. With such guests as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, and George Gershwin, who wouldn't yearn to pass through its saloon style swinging doors. But for me, the draw was always Harry. Author of at least two cocktail recipe books, and self-proclaimed creator of the Monkey Gland, French 75 and the Sidecar, Harry MacElhone is one of the most famous bartenders to ever work behind the stick. According to bar legend, Harry's is also the birthplace of the Bloody Mary. And that is exactly what Tracy wanted when we visited on our very first full day in Paris. Who could blame her?  I wanted something easy, classic. My thoughts first ran toward an Old Fashioned, my in-a-pinch go-to drink. But then I remembered how quickly an Old Fashioned can be transformed from a boozy sipper to a bourbon-laced fruit punch, complete with mangled fruit and club soda. It was then that I noticed a framed cartoon just off to the side. Its subject was the Pink Gin.

Like many drinks of the distant past, there is no creation story for the Pink Gin. Like the Old Fashioned, these drinks were not "created," per se, they just sort of evolved. It really is the most straightforward conclusion. The first cocktails were probably not thought of as innovative at the time, simply an efficient way of dealing with a life of hard drinking. A little hair of the dog for the head, and a bit of bitters for the stomach. I like to think that these primarily spirit-and-bitters combinations came into the world like Athena, who sprang fully formed from Zeus's head. The Pink Gin, like Ancient Greece's grey-eyed goddess, had an almost immediate and widespread following--though in the case of Pinkers, as Pink gin was often called, this was because of its status as the drink of choice among British naval officers during the days of empire building. From the mid-nineteenth century until the Pink Gin lost its place to the Horse's Neck in the 1960s, if you were in an officers' wardroom, the Pink Gin was the ultimate booze delivery mechanism for all that ailed you--or at least perhaps seasickness or an upset stomach.

Over the years, Gin and Bitters followed closely behind the Royal Navy, and thus we see the rise of the Gin Pahit, yet another alias, on the Subcontinent. As the English population grew in this area of the world so too did the dominance of Pink Gin. Unfortunately, its fate was inextricably wound with that of the British Empire. As its colonies threw off the shackles of Imperialism, the Pink Gin's popularity waned. By the 1970s, the Pink Gin came to symbolize the tiresome nostalgia for the lost days of the Empire. But even considering the ups and downs of public opinion, the Pink Gin never truly succumbed to obscurity. It can be found lingering in Charles Baker's Gentleman's Companion (1946), David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), Ted Saucier's Bottom's Up (1951),  as well as even more recently in Stan Jones's Complete Bar Guide (1977).

So as I sat on a bar stool at Harry's and watched the bartender clad in his white coat meticulously rinsing a cocktail glass with the dark red of Angostura bitters, I knew that I was in for an old school Pink Gin. After all Harry's is an old fashioned kind of place. But I must admit that I was a bit surprised when he reached into the well and filled the glass with gin and brought it over. At least, he also gave me a glass of water and a warning: "This is a very strong drink." The water was handy, but the warning was hilarious. Now, had I done a bit of research this action wouldn't have struck me as odd--it is after all the traditional method of making Pink Gin. I wasn't completely prepared for a warm, undiluted Gin and Bitters in the early afternoon. Thankfully I was up for the task, even considering the unexpected temperature. Result: it was delicious.

To chill or not to chill is the dilemma that the Pink Gin poses. And temperature isn't the only thing at stake--dilution plays an important though indirect role as well. But which way is correct? The earliest recipe I can find in my limited library is in William Boothby's American Bar-Tender (1891). Considering that Gin and Bitters had already been around for many year by this time, it may seem curious that it wasn't included in earlier tomes. Because Pink Gin's earliest adherents were British, and the first cocktail books were written by Americans, perhaps it was simply a question of audience. Perhaps Gin and Bitters were not as popular among Americans, simply because their choices weren't limited to what an ocean-going vessel could carry. Regardless, Boothby's instructions on the preparation of Gin and Bitters are as follows:

Rinse the interior of a small bar glass with a dash of the desired brand of bitters (Boonekamp is generally used with gin), hand the customer a bottle of Holland gin, allow him to help himself and serve ice water on the side.

Moving past the fact that in 1891 San Francisco Holland gin and Boonekamp bitters defined a Gin and Bitters, the drink itself was served at room temperature. By 1930, as described in the Savoy Cocktail Book, a Pink Gin was shaken with ice. Both William Tarling (Cafe Royal Cocktail (1937)), Crosby Gaige (Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion (1941)), and Ted Saucier (Bottom's Up (1951)) call for adding ice as well. Charles Baker, though, in the Gentleman's Companion (1946) takes his Pink Gin warm. Stan Jones (1977) gives the bartender the option to serve it with ice water or on the rocks. As far as current authors go,  Robert Hess (2008) and Dale DeGroff (2002) proscribe ice. But David Wondrich over at Esquire describes the original Pink Gin as being a warm drink, though he adds that "Americans and other utterly wet types may add an ice cube or two." Even with all of this information, it seems that nothing has been resolved. Who is right? Only the taste buds of the individual can determine the outcome.

Pink Gin

1 dash of bitters
1 1/2 ounces gin

Procedure 1: Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve with ice water on the side.

Procedure 2: Rinse a rocks glass with bitters. Add gin and a cube of ice.

Procedure 3: Rinse a rocks glass or cocktail glass with bitters. Add gin.

Notes on Ingredients: In this case, I used procedure 1 with Beefeater gin and Jerry Thomas's Decanter Bitters though Plymouth gin and Angostura are the historical standards. But it seems that every type of gin has found its way into a Pink Gin over time, so if you're in the mood for Genever or Old Tom, who am I to stop you. Also, the choice of bitters is also up in the air, which just means more versions are available. So get cracking!

Before my experience at Harry's, I would have stated that not only did Pink Gin taste better chilled, but also that serving it cold was the proper way to make it. The issue of "proper" here, as in many other scenarios, is highly suspect. Over the years, times change and tastes follow suit. What was "correct" in 1900 may well have seemed exceedingly outlandish by 1930 and then come back into vogue by 1950.  Yes, relativism rears its ugly head.

For what it's worth, here are my two cents. During a summer heat wave, a chilled Pink Gin would hit the spot--at least I certainly wouldn't turn one away. Even adding some tonic or soda to lengthen the drink wouldn't be a bad idea. But, and I am surprised to say this, a warm Pink Gin (made with Plymouth and Angostura) is pretty unbeatable--regardless of the weather.


A Fernet Sparkler to Ring in the New Year

Every year on New Year's Eve, Tracy and I celebrate the coming year with champagne cocktails and a movie marathon. The wisdom of this decision has become clear over the years when we consider what it means to spend the last night of the year on the town--the trouble of finding a cab, the obnoxious crowds, the challenge of even obtaining a drink, and the almost predictably foul weather. And when weighed against Seelbachs and French 75s, or Airmails and Old Cubans, or even simple Champagne Cocktails, opting to stay in seems almost genius. The only difficult part is choosing what to have. This year while constructing the cocktail menu, the memory of a particularly tasty champagne cocktail popped into my head, the Recoleta. We first encountered this drink over a year ago at Sambar and notoriously, it contained Fernet Branca. The pairing of champagne and Fernet piqued my curiosity and I soon became obsessed with finding it or a similar drink. But to my disappointment, my Internet searches were primarily fruitless. Even uncovering champagne cocktails with any amari turned up few options.

Though I could not find the recipe for the Recoleta, my time was not spent in vain. I did unearth one cocktail that included both champagne and Fernet--the I.B.F. Pick-Me-Up. Created in the 1920s by Bob Card, a bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, this cocktail was first published in Barflies and Cocktails (1927). However, I discovered it tangled up in all of the hangover cures that so dominate the subject of cocktail blogs during the last weeks of the year. Like in the Fernet Cocktail (Robert Vermeire's Cocktails How to Mix Them (1922)) that later became known as the Toronto, a small amount of Fernet is added to the combination of a "more neutral" base spirit and a bit of sweetener, here provided by the orange liqueur. It is the addition of champagne that provides the interest, however--the acidity of the sparkler could have easily undone the balance.

I.B.F. Pick-Me-Up (adapted Bob Card's original creation)

2 ounces brandy
3 dashes Fernet Branca
3 dashes Cointreau

Combine all ingredients except for champagne in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top with chilled champagne.

The I.B.F. stands for the International Bar Flies, a group of, well, we'll just say bar flies that was created by Harry MacElhone and O.O. McIntyre in 1924. Its mission was (and supposedly is) devoted to "the uplift and downfall of serious drinkers." This eye-opener has everything you could possibly wish for in a hangover "cure"--hair of the dog (cognac), effervescence, potable bitters for the stomach, and a bit of sweetness. It would have been easy to just thrown this together and call it a night, but the lack of Fernet sparkler spurred me on to create my own. The I.B.F. was simply a perfect place to start.

Fernet Branca is a tremendously complex amari that is incredibly bitter. Because of its strong herbal flavor, it is incredibly polarizing and has inspired many strong opinions. When first introduced to it, many people greet its taste with a grimace and some sort of guttural, instinctive sound, like GAH! Usually they only persevere because Fernet is a  powerful digestive aid. It is an acquired taste for sure.

Pairing other flavors with Fernet can also create problems, however. One of the most popular ways to drink it is, actually, neat, with a ginger beer back, though many of its adherents will opt for a lager. Ginger and Fernet go wonderfully well together. Because of this, I thought that a nice spicy ginger flavor would add an interesting element to the I.B.F.

Fernet Champagne Cocktail

1 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton
1/2 ounce orange curacao
4 ounces sparkling wine

Chill mixing glass thoroughly. Add all ingredients except sparkling wine and stir to mix. Pour liquid into a chilled champagne flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with and orange twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Paul Masson VSOP brandy and Chateau Ste. Michelle sparkling wine.

Of all the drinks I made this New Year's, this drink was by far the favorite. Complex and refreshing, with layers of flavor, each sip was bold and interesting. Though the recipe may seem a bit large,  we have large champagne flutes. Fortunately, it can easily be halved. Though I used the Domaine de Canton, the ginger flavor was not as strong as I had  originally intended. Using a liqueur with a more intense ginger flavor, like the King's Ginger, might rectify this though the balance may also suffer. However, this product is not yet available in Washington yet (grumble grumble). Another option for a more gingery, less Fernet-y drink, might be to make the I.B.F. Pick-me-up substituting the ginger liqueur for the Cointreau. Regardless, it was though a wonderful way to ring in the new year.


Ice Cube Tower and Pineapple Sticks--It Must Be a Charles Baker Drink

Sometimes I wonder how much Charles Baker really knew about cocktails. Sure, he drank big and a lot. But quantity does not magically equate to quality. A lifetime of poor drinking choices does not necessarily point toward someone becoming a sophisticated drinker. In my most romantic moments, I like to imagine Mr. Baker a discerning drinker, a sort of proto cocktail enthusiast, who tried everything in spite of, well, what trying everything entails. Perhaps he even understood that sometimes the value of a cocktail experiment is not always expressed in the final expression of flavors but instead in the eye-opening experience of moving away from what is mainstream or even expected. Sometimes a cocktail is a journey and the destination is just one of the unknowns, like the weather.

Treading in Mr. Baker's footsteps is not without its failures or surprises. This tends to create suspense, or at least hesitation. More often than not a simple glance at the list of ingredients stirs an involuntary shudder. The champagne cocktails have been more of a safe haven, though none of them have been a walk in the park, either. The flavors in this last one are not particularly challenging, but the Champagne Cocktail No. III does not come without obstacles:
"Choose a large tapering champagne glass; inside of this build a tower of 4 ice cubes, crown it with a lump of sugar saturated with 4 dashes of orange bitters. Against the sides of the glass lean 2 sticks of ripe fresh pineapple, encircle the tower with a spiral of green lime peel, and fill with well chilled champagne, medium dry, and not too acid in type. Now as the crowning gesture carefully float on 1 tbsp of cointreau"
Even written on the page, the Jockey Club Cocktail blows right past difficult straight to impossible--at least in terms of my skill set. The idea of making a tower of ice cubes in a glass topped with a bitters-soaked sugar cube seems challenging enough without considering the pineapple spears. Don't even get me started on the lime twist.

The first problem I discovered rather quickly--I do not have tapering champagne glasses, only flutes and coupes. At first, this seemed unimportant--glassware is usually the least painful substitution. However, my decision to proceed instantly proved fatal. While a coupe wouldn't work because of its demure height, a champagne flute is equally flawed because of its narrow opening. While it was technically possible to stack four small ice cubes with the help of a bar spoon, as soon as I inserted one stick of pineapple, the entire structure immediately collapsed. Trying to get the lime twist to wrap around the flimsy "structure" required more patience than I could muster, and perhaps tweezers.

The folly of attempting to balance a slowly disintegrating sugar cube atop my column was instantly clear, so I opted for simple syrup and bitters instead. But as soon as I poured in the syrup, the ice structure collapsed. I understood then that this was inevitable. Ice floats. Only then did  I understand how unimportant that tower really was--the ice was simply a vehicle for creating the pineapple and lime garnish. Though it was a eureka moment, I was less than amused. Had I grasped this fact earlier, I would have spent less time on the ice and more time positioning the lime twist. Alas, with my ice melting, I added the bitters, champagne and float. I only hoped that the flavors would be blind to my poor craftsmanship.

"Jockey Club Champagne Cocktail" (as adapted)

4 small square ice cubes
2 pineapple spears
1 lime twist
1 teaspoon simple syrup
4 dashes orange bitters
6 oz champage (demi-sec)
1/2 oz Cointreau

Build an ice-cube column flanked by pineapple spears.* Curl a long lime twist around the structure.** Add syrup, bitters, and then champagne. Carefully float Cointreau.

Notes on Ingredients:  I used a 1:1 simple syrup, Regan's orange bitters, Graham Beck demi-sec sparkling wine. Also I substituted Clement Creole Shrub for the Cointreau on a lark, thinking the rum base would be a nice addition in the fruity environment.

* Good luck. Just remember that creating the garnish is the point, not where the ice ends up.
**Using a champagne glass with a larger opening will be key here unless you really want to use tweezers. Also, length may come in handy--I would recommend a crusta-style treatment.

Despite the procedural missteps, this champagne cocktail did turn out quite nicely. The demi-sec champagne wasn't as sweet as I'd feared and in general seemed to contribute a pleasant fruitiness. The pineapple's flavor became more significant over time, as expected. I can't help but wonder if substituting pineapple syrup for the sugar cube-pineapple spear business would yield similar results. Perhaps then the pineapple flavor would prove too intense, but boy would it be easier. Well, something to consider for future masochism.