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Month: November 2016

You Want It Darker with Amaro Averna and Leonard Cohen

You Want It Darker with Amaro Averna and Leonard Cohen

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The Averna was my very first Amaro. We were at a restaurant in South Philadelphia called Le Virtu, sitting at their beautiful bar with friends after dinner one Saturday last December. I didn’t know very much about the Amari then except that I’d read that the Italians liked to say that they were “Italy’s gift to the world.” This made me smile because that sounds just like something an Italian would think and say. With a last name like Camerieri, I should know! I remember loving the Averna, and thinking that this was another one of those transformational cocktail moments for me. You all know how I have them from time to time.

As it turns out, the Averna seems to appeal to most people. And with good reason. Although it’s very dark in color, and the characteristic bitterness is certainly evident, it has a sweet caramel, almost coffee-like flavor and a smooth finish that makes it very easy to drink. Serve it over ice after a meal and it’s hard not to keep refilling your glass. The Averna was first produced in Sicily in 1868 by a textile merchant named Salvatore Averna, who’d been given the recipe some 10 years earlier by the monks of St. Spirito’s Abbey to thank him for having generously donated money to them. Once again, it was a secret recipe that was said to have been created first at the Benedictine abbeys in Normandy. Its approachable flavor and claims as a tonic with “great health benefits” made it very popular, and Salvatore Averna became rich and successful as a result. It remains popular today and widely available. It’s often the Amari recommended by bartenders to customers who are new to drinking them.

I’m shifting gears here in a major way, but stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this. Two weeks ago, the world mourned the loss of Leonard Cohen, a musician and poet who bared his soul in a such a plainspoken, matter-of-fact way that he was able to reach a multitude of people. Although he covered a wide range of topics, where he really seemed to excel was when he touched on the subject of loss. Who among us can’t relate to that? My youngest son is a huge Leonard Cohen fan and he asked me to create a cocktail in his honor so we could have a toast to him. The only thing he required it to have was bourbon; the rest was up to me.

I chose Rebel Yell bourbon because it has depth and it’s very smooth, but with just a bit of a raw edge. It reminded me of Leonard’s voice. He was a ladies man, so an Amaro was definitely in order here. I went with the Averna since it appeals so universally to people, in much the same way as Leonard’s music does. I wanted a sweet vermouth next and so I decided on the Punt E Mes, my favorite, as you all know. It’s usually the bottle that I reach for, but in this case the choice was a bit more deliberate. It’s rich and dark, tasting of raisins, figs, and licorice with all kinds of complexity and layers, much like the long life that Leonard Cohen lived. My final piece to this puzzle was DRAM Apothecary black bitters, whose flavors of black pepper, black berries, black cardamom, and black tea added even more depth to the drink, as well as an almost haunting quality. This brought me back again to Leonard’s voice, and the darkness all musicians and poets have within that pushes them to hone their craft and share their beautiful vision with us. I called the cocktail You Want It Darker as a tribute to his final album, released just this past October. My son gave me the thumbs up. I hope Leonard Cohen would too.

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You Want It Darker

1½ oz Rebel Yell Bourbon
½ oz Punt E Mes sweet vermouth
½ oz Amaro Averna
2 dashes DRAM black bitters

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass filled ⅔ full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon until cold (about 30-45 seconds). Using a Julep strainer, strain into an old-fashioned glass over ice, preferably one large cube if you have it. Express an orange peel over the drink and drop it in. Put on some Leonard Cohen music… sit back and enjoy!

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I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for reading; I’m truly grateful to all of you. I will still be posting tomorrow about gift ideas for the cocktail lover in your life that you can buy right here in downtown Haddonfield!

Leonard Cohen photo from popmatters.com. 

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Amaro Nonino Quintessentia: A beauty with a bite.

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia: A beauty with a bite.

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With a name like Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, you’d better be a rock star or a princess played by Anne Hathaway; otherwise there are a few eye rolls coming your way. Fortunately, this Amaro does not disappoint. It was first bottled in 1992 after a long creative process that Antonio Nonino began in 1933. Despite the fact that it tends to be lighter in color than many of the other Amari, the Nonino still packs a mighty punch. It’s created by infusing a grape distillate with a proprietary blend of fragrant herbs (yes, Antonio liked his secrets too), and then aging that infusion in small barriques until it is ready to be bottled. Grape distillate is made from wine skins, pulp, and juice and is very much like grappa, which can definitely be an acquired taste because of its harshness. The aging and the herbal infusion help to temper that harshness, so the Nonino starts out with bittersweet orange, licorice, and something definitely floral (not violets though), but there’s no denying the bite in its long, warm finish.

Because the Nonino is such an aggressive spirit on its own, I wanted to be sure to choose a cocktail that featured it well. A while back my friend (of the Twisted Gimlet from Azul in Miami fame) had sent me a recipe for a drink called The Paper Plane. It was created in 2008 by Sam Ross who also came up with the Penicillin cocktail I talked about a few weeks ago. At first glance the ingredients surprised me a bit. This was a drink that had a double dose of Amari, as well as lemon juice, making it both bitter and sour. Needless to say, I was intrigued to try it and then amazed at how well it all worked together. The smoothness of the whiskey brought out the sweetness in the Aperol and the Nonino, which helped to tone down their bitterness without compromising any of their flavor. Rather than tasting sour, the lemon juice brightened everything up and made the cocktail feel fun, rather than too serious. The warm flavors are perfect for cooler weather and the color is festive, so this is another perfect drink for Thanksgiving into Christmas.

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The Paper Plane from Sam Ross, Attaboy, NYC

¾ oz Bluebird Distilling Four Grain Bourbon*
¾ oz Amaro Nonino
¾ oz Aperol
¾ oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon strip for garnishing

Add the ingredients to the bottom half of a cocktail shaker. Add your ice (1 large, 2 small if you have them) and shake for 20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Thread the lemon strip onto a cocktail pick and rest on the edge of the glass. Enjoy!

*Made locally in Phoenixville, Pa.

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Amaro Montenegro: Please tell me you taste violets…

Amaro Montenegro: Please tell me you taste violets…

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We all know that feeling when we’ve eaten way too much; it’s the worst thing in the world. We sit there, stuffed and uncomfortable, slipping into a food coma, vowing that we’ll never do it again… but inevitably it happens. No need to despair. This is when we find relief in the wonderful world of the digestivo amari. The idea of after dinner digestive aids has its earliest roots in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, when they would steep stomach settling herbs and seeds in a liquid base. In Italy these evolved into the amari, initially crafted by monks centuries ago. There are actually over 300 to choose from and although the recipes vary and the ingredients are kept a secret, they all basically contain the same types of things: herbs, spices, and vegetables infused into alcohol. Some are very sweet, and some extremely bitter, and there are more than a few that hit you right in the throat and the chest like Vicks Vapor Rub. They generally contain a bit more alcohol that their apertivo counterparts, and they are often served neat or with just a bit of ice. Since the cocktail revolution hit the U.S, in the 90’s, both home and professional bartenders have been coming up with innovative ways to feature the amari in drink recipes.

Of the Amari that I’ve tried, the Montenegro that I’m sharing with you today is the one that I like the best. At least that’s true so far. 300 is a very big number! I’m not the only one who likes it; it’s Italy’s #1 best seller. The story here goes back over 130 years when a man named Stanislao Cobianchi from Bologna first developed the recipe, and named his Amaro after Princess Elena of Montenegro. Cobianchi’s original recipe contained 40 herbs and spices, as well as one secret ingredient that was not to be revealed. This is still true today. The result is a very versatile liqueur that works extremely with other spirits. Many of the amari are more commonly combined with Bourbon and Rye; this is not the case with the Montenegro. When you sip it, there’s a sweetness that you taste first that gives way to smoothness in the middle, until it finally ends on a bitter note. Its flavor profile is described on the website as having “a wide range of bittersweet flavors including orange peel, coriander and tea.” I suppose I can find those things if I look for them, but the thing that I taste the most, especially on the finish, is violets. I have to tell you that no other tasting notes that I’ve read list violets anywhere, but I still taste them! I’m thinking they are the secret ingredient that Cobianchi didn’t want us to know about. I’m on to him.

The recipe that I’ve chosen for today is something I’d seen a while back on Instagram. It interested me because of the tequila/lime/strawberry combo which made me think of a margarita, yet here it was with an Italian amari in it. The strawberry and lime blend very nicely with the flavors in the Montenegro (must be those violets), and the bittersweet edge of the Amari really helps to tone down that funky taste that tequila can have that many people don’t like. That makes this a nice cocktail for the non-tequila drinker. Think of it as an Italian Margarita. This recipe was adapted by @homebartendr after having this drink at Husk Restaurant in Charleston, SC.

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Witchy Woman (from @homebartendr and Husk Restaurant, Charleston, SC)

1½ oz Espolon Blanco Tequila
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
Juice of ½ lime
1 strawberry
Pinch of salt
Lime strip for garnishing

Muddle the strawberry and the lime juice in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the tequila, the Amaro Montenegro,and the pinch of salt. Add your ice (1 large cube, 2 small) and shake for 20 seconds until very cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime strip. Enjoy!

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Friday Musings: It’s a matter of taste.

Friday Musings: It’s a matter of taste.

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So let’s say you’ve taken Thirsty Camel’s advice and you’ve headed out on a Friday or Saturday night to one of the bars that she recommends. You’re excited to be there! You can’t wait to try the cocktails! It’s going to be a great night! But then the bartender hands you the drink menu and something goes wrong. Panic sets in. Your palms begin to sweat as you make your choice. Oh no, please don’t say it… “I’ll have a vodka club.” How does this happen?? Listen, I’m not judging – we’ve all been there. I remember the days when the most exciting thing I did in a bar was change up the citrus in my vodka and tonic water. The fact of the matter is that it takes time to learn exactly what we like and what we’ll be comfortable ordering. Think of it this way: if you walked into a bookstore and you had no idea what you liked to read, it would all seem overwhelming to you and you’d probably leave with a magazine. If you walked into that same bookstore and you knew you liked to read classic literature, you’d at least know what direction to head in. And if you knew you loved William Faulkner and you wanted to read As I Lay Dying, you’d know just where to look with no hesitation at all. It works the same way with cocktails. It’s all about figuring out what taste profiles appeal to you. You may like gin, but do you like it to taste more like citrus or juniper? You may love single malt Scotch but do you prefer it smoky like Laphroaig or smooth like Balvenie? How about just a general question: do you like your drinks sweet, or sour, or bitter? Once you begin to have these answers you build a taste directory in your head that you can refer back to again and again. If you’re in doubt you should never be reluctant to ask your bartender for a recommendation. They’re usually more than willing to help. Try as many different spirits as you can, and whenever possible, taste them side by side. I’m not advocating that you drink the entire bottle, but it only takes a sip to taste the difference between Hendrick’s and Beefeater, or between bourbon and rye. There’s no better way to learn!

The spirit you see pictured above is called Cappelletti, and it’s an apertivo just like Aperol, Campari, and Cynar. I knew nothing about it until my son bought it for me as a gift. The first thing I had to do was taste it on its own, and the second thing was to taste it along with the others to see how it was the same or different. By itself I thought the Cappelletti tasted a lot like a cherry cough drop that started out sweet and then ended on a mildly bitter note. To me it was very different in taste from the other apertivos we’ve covered this week. In terms of body, or mouthfeel, I would put it between the Aperol and the Campari. I was curious to taste it in a cocktail so I began searching for one that I could make for you today. I found a recipe from epicurious called The Ruby Diamond that intrigued me because it also contained gin and mezcal, two of my favorite things. The ingredients are simple, yet it tastes very complex, and it’s beautiful to look at.

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The Ruby Diamond (epicurious.com)

1½ ounces Bluecoat gin
1½ ounces Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal
¾ ounce Cappelletti
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¼ ounce fresh orange juice
Orange and lemon stars for garnishing*

Add the ingredients to the bottom half of a cocktail shaker. Add your ice (1 large, 2 small if you have them) and shake for 20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe or a goblet. Float the stars on top. Enjoy!

*To make the stars I cut off some of the peel from a lemon and an orange and used a small pastry cutter to cut out the shapes I wanted.

On to the darker Amari next week. Have a great weekend everyone!

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A roundup of Thanksgiving cocktails!

A roundup of Thanksgiving cocktails!

Thanksgiving is just one week away – who has their before and after dinner drinks planned out?? As your personal cocktail consultant, I thought I should do a recap of a few of the Autumn cocktails I posted during Philly Craft Spirits Week, as well as give you one new one to consider for Turkey Day. I’ll rank them from easiest to most difficult, but honestly none of them are hard to make; it’s more about searching for some ingredients. Let’s start with our before dinner drinks. Just click on the cocktail’s name to be taken to the post that contains the actual recipe.

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Despite the fact that it has bourbon as its base spirit, the Bourbon Cider Smash is light enough to be a before dinner drink. It’s also a great way to introduce someone to bourbon who has either never had it or thinks they don’t like it. The ingredients are pretty straightforward and easy to get. I used Bluebird Distilling’s Four Grains Bourbon which is available at the PLCB Wine and Spirits stores if you want to give it a try, but you can certainly substitute another that is your favorite.

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The Chai Apple Whiskey Sour is also a bourbon drink that’s on the lighter side. If you’re a fan of whiskey sours then this is the drink for you for sure! I used Manatawney Still Works Whiskey which you can also find at the PA. state stores, but once again feel free to substitute. I ranked this cocktail as medium in difficulty only because of the extra step involved in making the Chai tea simple syrup, but it’s definitely nothing to shy away from. Don’t forget to dry shake here to get the egg white frothy, and if you’d prefer not to use eggs you always have the option of using 1 ounce of liquid from a can of chick peas.

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Early Autumn is really a very easy cocktail to make but it has a few ingredients that you might not have on hand. The base spirit here is Liberty Gin from Palmer Distilling in Manayunk, which is also available for purchase in the PA. state stores. If you want to substitute, I’d go with something that’s not too botanical like Tanqueray or Beefeater or even Bluecoat if you wanted to stick with a local spirit. St. Germain is easy to find, but it can be pricy, so look for a smaller bottle if you think it’s not something you’ll use very much in the future. The Suze is trickier to locate, but if you’re local to South Jersey, I know for sure that both Canal’s in Pennsauken and Benash in Cherry Hill have it. I found the sage bitters at The Art in the Age store in Old City, but they are on their website too. You can also substitute aromatic bitters here if you wanted to. I loved this cocktail because I used a spiced pear cider instead of apple!

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Moving on to after dinner drinks, my Autumn in Manhatten cocktail is as easy as it gets. It’s simply a traditional Manhatten using Punt e Mes as the sweet vermouth, and adding Velvet Falernum in for its spice drop aroma and flavor. Both can be found at Canal’s in Pennsauken along with the Dad’s Hat Rye that I used as the basis of this drink. If you’d rather not go with the Dad’s Hat, feel free to substitute a rye whiskey that you like instead.

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The drink you see pictured above is actually our new cocktail for today, blending Scotch whisky and Cynar, two spirits that we’ve been talking about only recently. It’s called Presbyterian’s Revenge and it’s from foodandwine.com. I made 2 small changes to the original recipe: I used 1 1/2 oz of Dewar’s, which is a blended scotch and 1/2 oz of Laphroaig because I love the smokiness that it brings to the drink. This isn’t a necessary change, just my spin for Fall; you can stick with 2 oz of the Dewar’s instead, if you prefer. I also swapped out a regular simple syrup for a Chai tea simple because I loved the spice note it brings to the drink, but again it’s ok to stick with the regular simple if that’s what you have on hand.

Presbyterian’s Revenge

1 ½ oz Dewar’s White Label Scotch
½ oz 10-year-old Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch
¾ oz Cynar
¼ ounce of lemon juice
¼ ounce of Chai tea simple syrup*
Dash of orange bitters
2 oz Q club soda
Grapefruit peel for garnishing

Add all the ingredients except the club soda and the grapefruit peel to the bottom half of a shaker tin. Add your ice (1 large, 2 small if you have them) and shake for 15-20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into an old-fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Top with ½ ounce of club soda and garnish with a big twist of grapefruit, squeezing it over the top of the drink to spritz its oils over the surface.

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And finally, It’s the Great Rye Pumpkin! rounds out our list of after dinner drinks. Once again this is an easy cocktail to make, but its ingredients may have you running a bit to get them all. Let’s start with the rye whiskey. I used Cooper River Rye in my recipe, which can be located at Benash in Cherry Hill or directly from the distillery in Camden. It’s perfectly fine to substitute your favorite rye here. The Amaro Montenegro is available at Canal’s in Pennsauken, and the Tippleman’s Burnt Sugar syrup is from the Art in the Age store. The Tippleman’s is a really fun ingredient to have on hand, but you can definitely swap it out for a regular simple syrup here. Finally, pumpkin beer should still be available, but if it’s not you can always go with a brown ale.

I hope this helps to give you a jump start on your Thanksgiving cocktail planning. Remember to batch your cocktails if you want to make enough for a crowd. See you all on Friday!

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