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Month: January 2017

Overdraft Protection: A Riff on a White Negroni

Overdraft Protection: A Riff on a White Negroni

By now I’m sure you’ve all realized that if gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and rum are the main actors on the stage, there are also loads of supporting players without whom cocktails would just never happen. Two weeks ago we talked a lot about vermouth, a fortified wine that’s been infused with lots of botanicals. Vermouth’s role in a cocktail is to bring down the alcohol content, to contribute herbal elements, and to echo flavors in the main spirit. Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rouge are similar to Vermouth in that they are also fortified wines, but rather than being infused with botanicals, they have fruit liqueurs (mostly citrus) added in. This gives them a completely different taste profile with very little bitterness to speak of. They are readily available in most liquor stores, are reasonably priced, and they work well with virtually all the spirits. They are also excellent on their own as apertifs, served well-chilled over ice with a twist of citrus.

Today we’ll focus on Lillet Blanc, whose great claim to fame is that it’s one of the ingredients in the Vesper, a cocktail loved by James Bond. Blended from white Bordeaux grapes, Lillet Blanc is incredibly well-balanced, light in alcohol, and very refreshing. Being the huge Negroni fan that I am, I wanted to do a white version using Liberty Gin from Palmer Distilling in nearby Manyunk, Lillet Blanc, and Suze d’Autrefois. The Lillet Blanc replaces the sweet red vermouth in the traditional recipe for a Negroni, and the Suze replaces the Campari, bringing a good amount of floral flavor, sweetness, and bitterness all at once. All 3 spirits in this drink work extremely well together, playing off the others’ flavors, and creating a very harmonious whole. Although I thought it was fine just the way it was, I wanted to put my own spin on it and I did so by introducing some bitters. I tried a number of combinations and landed on 1 dash of Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters to liven things up, and 1 dash of DRAM lavender lemon balm bitters to smooth things out. I could definitely taste every element in this drink, starting with the clean juniper of the gin, right into the bitter sweetness of the Suze, and finishing up with the citrus and white wine notes of the Lillet Blanc.

One final thought: because Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rouge are wines, they need to be kept refrigerated, as does any spirit with an ABV less that 20%.

Overdraft Protection

1 oz Palmer Distilling Liberty Gin
1 oz Suze d’Autrefois
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 dash Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters
1 dash DRAM lavender lemon balm bitters

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass. Fill ⅔ full with ice and stir 30 seconds or until well chilled. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with a grapefruit twist. Enjoy!

Monday Classics: A Pair of Sidecars

Monday Classics: A Pair of Sidecars

Everyone should have a go-to drink in mind when they walk into a bar. It helps to take away that nervous feeling when you first look at the drink menu, and you might be unsure as to what to order. This is the critical moment for a lot of people, where you can be led astray by your uncertainly and end up with a vodka club in your hand. You all know how I feel about that! Even if you don’t see your cocktail on the list, and even if it’s not the one you end up drinking, it helps to tell the bartender what you normally like because he or she can take it from there. I’m going to start featuring classic cocktails on the blog on Mondays to help you build a kind of a taste library that you can reference when you’re in any bar or restaurant. Most bartenders will know how to make the classics, or they’ll be able to offer you a variation that their bar makes, maybe with a slight twist or an additional ingredient thrown in. Most of the classic cocktails are also fairly straightforward, and a great place to get started making drinks at home.

Our first of the Monday classics is the Sidecar, whose history takes us back to London and Paris in the 1920s, with a number of people actually claiming to have invented the recipe, including the owner of the Ritz Hotel. There are 2 variation of the original recipe; one is French and one is English. The French version is fairly sweet and is made with equal parts Cognac, Cointreau (an orange-flavored liqueur called a triple sec), and lemon juice. The English version, on the other hand, bumps up the Cognac to twice the amount of the other 2 ingredients. I tried both variations and preferred the second, but I also wanted to consult my Death & Co book to see which version they’d landed on. Their recipe keeps the Cognac at 2 ounces, but lowers the other 2 ingredients and adds a bit of simple syrup. I found their variation to be my favorite because it puts more emphasis on the Cognac, giving the cocktail a bit more backbone, and allowing the other ingredients to be subtle rather than too obvious. As with everything else though, let your tastebuds be your guide; that’s always the best the way to really know what you like. The Chelsea Sidecar replaces the Cognac with gin, offering one more variation for you to taste. These recipes are very simple and it becomes easy to see how both professional and home bartenders can come up with their own versions after just a few tweaks or additions. Give it a try!

Sidecar (from the Death & Co. Classic Cocktails book)

2 oz Cognac
½ oz Cointreau
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part boiling water until clear)

Add all the ingredients to the bottom half of a shaker tin and fill ⅔ full with ice. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. Enjoy!

Chelsea Sidecar (my measurements following the recipe above)

2 oz Gin
½ oz Cointreau
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup

Add all the ingredients to the bottom half of a shaker tin and fill ⅔ full with ice. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Enjoy!

Friday Musings: The Buttons on Your Blouse

Friday Musings: The Buttons on Your Blouse

One of the saddest, most beautiful songs I know was written by Warren Zevon just before he died in September of 2003. It’s the last track on his final album, The Wind, and it’s clear that Zevon intended it to be a goodbye song. He knew he was dying. In fact, he was so ill at the time he recorded it, that he had to have a temporary studio created at his home in order to do so. The song is called Keep Me in Your Heart and I have it on a playlist that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. The lyrics for this song are all beautiful, but there are 2 lines that move me beyond the poignancy of the circumstances, and make me consider bigger things about life. The first is “There’s a train leavin’ nightly called When All is Said and Done.” I love this expression and I know that I use it often when I speak, and when I write. To me it lends weight to what I’m about to say, as if what’s coming next is the most important part, so you’d better listen up. Idiom and phrase dictionaries offer another definition that involves considering the whole of the situation, not just one aspect of it. The idea that there’s a train leaving nightly makes me think that we’re given a chance to look back on each day and think about what it meant to us, to examine the gravity of it, and to fit it into the whole, like a piece in a puzzle. If we do this, then it forces us to live a little bit more in the present, because no day should be lost; they are all important, they all have meaning, they all carry weight. We just need to have our eyes open enough to be able to see why.

The second line that I think is so meaningful is “You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse.” We’re all individuals alone inside our heads, but what would life be like without the connections we form with other people? Isn’t it these bonds that make us truly human in the way they nurture us, enrich us, or even in the way they challenge us?  Buttons are fragile things, much like our connections, and they can become loose if you pull on them too much, or fall off altogether, needing to be tightened or reattached. Sometimes when they are reattached the thread might not match perfectly, or they may be a bit out of line, but at least you’ll still have them. The worst is losing a button altogether; you might try to replace it, but in some cases that’s just not possible and you’re left with that gaping spot to remind you of where it used to be.

For today’s cocktail, I used the most eye-opening of all the spirits, tequila, as my base. From there I went with a triple ginger threat because it symbolizes healing, energy, and vitality, using it first as a muddling ingredient, and then adding it to the drink in the form of a ginger liqueur and a ginger shrub. The blueberry rosemary shrub balances the bite of the ginger, and the rosemary simple syrup brings sweetness to counter the sour ingredients. I love the symbolism here too because rosemary is so closely linked to remembrance, especially of people that we’ve lost. Finally, the bitters bind all the other ingredients together with flavors that echo the spice of the ginger, the sweetness of the blueberry, and the earthiness of the tequila. Each day brings all those things and we are constantly striving for balance. I floated the mezcal on top, because sometimes we have to push through something deep and smokey before we can really see what’s right in front of us.

Today is Inauguration Day, and it’s a tough one for many of us. It’s more important than ever that we remember how bound together we all are, and how essential it is to continue to form and strengthen those attachments that make us human. So it’s the combination of the 2 lines in this song that I think really hits home. Who are you tied to like the buttons on a blouse and, when all is said and done, do they know how much they mean to you? Would you risk losing them without them knowing?

The Buttons on Your Blouse

2 oz Gran Centenario tequila blanco
½ oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1 oz Tait Farm’s ginger shrub
1 oz Element blueberry rosemary shrub
¼ oz rosemary simple syrup*
2 dashs DRAM Apothecary black bitters
¼ oz Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal
3 thin slices of ginger for muddling
5 blueberries threaded onto a cocktail pick for garnishing

Muddle the ginger with the simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the mezcal and the garnish) and then fill 2/3 full with ice. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Pour the mezcal on top but don’t stir! Garnish with the blueberries. Think back on your day. Appreciate those you love. Hold them close.

*Dissolve equal parts sugar in boiling water and stir until clear. Add 1 rosemary sprig per cup of syrup and pour into a Mason jar. Seal and then remove the rosemary sprig after the syrup cools. Store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. See you all on Monday!

The Juicer: The all-important cocktail tool that no home bar should be without!

The Juicer: The all-important cocktail tool that no home bar should be without!

I had a friend who absolutely loved lemon drops. The shots, not the martinis. I’d be at her house for a casual get-together or a full-blown party playing bartender, and the inevitable request would come my way. “Can you make some lemon drops?” Of course I can. One of the first times she asked me I began searching the kitchen for a juicer, only to learn that she didn’t have one. Wait, what?? So there I was squeezing a huge bag of lemons by hand so that I could make lemon drops for 20 people. And, of course, 1 lemon drop shot is never enough… The next day I promptly went on Amazon and ordered juicers to be delivered to her house. No good home beverage program should be without them!

When it comes to juicers, there are many different choices. Pictured above are a few examples of the one we’re probably all most familiar with: just your average tabletop juicer. There are a seemingly infinite number of varieties of this type in different sizes and materials, from ceramic, to plastic, to stainless steel. These will do an adequate job of extracting juice, but there is one drawback to take into consideration. When a cocktail recipe calls for citrus juice there are really two components to it: the first is the juice itself, and the second is the oils that come from the skin of the fruit. With this type of juicer none of those oils make it into the drink, and that’s unfortunate because they really are necessary.

The type of juicer that you see above is affectionately known as a Mexican Elbow. No one seems to really know why. It’s the one I use most often at home, and the one I sent to my lemon-drop-loving friend. It comes in different sizes to accommodate different fruits, and is also made in pretty much the same materials as the tabletop juicers above. The lime and lemon juicers are solid plastic and the orange is ceramic coated metal. There are also stainless steel options available; Cocktail Kingdom‘s are among the best you can buy in this material. When using the Mexican Elbow you place the cut side of the citrus fruit against the slots or holes, and then the other side of the juicer presses against the rind side as you squeeze, essentially turning the fruit inside out. Because there’s contact with the skin, the citrus oils do find their way into the juice, and that’s a very good thing.

Mexican Elbows do a great job of juicing fruit fairly quickly, but if you’re making lots of cocktails all that squeezing can become tiring and time-consuming. A motorized citrus press is the way to go if you find that you’re making cocktails in batch, or if you want to juice a lot of citrus for making individual drinks for a party. It works in much the same way as the tabletop version, except that there’s no twisting, and it’s much faster and easier, of course. Because you’re pressing against the rind as you push the handle down, you are once again extracting the oils into the juice. There is also a manual citrus press that is not quite as quick as the electric one, but it is certainly less expensive than the motorized option, and definitely less tiring than the Mexican Elbow style. There are many motorized presses to choose from in a wide range of prices. Some comparative shopping on Amazon will give you a good idea of what’s available. Mine is made by Breville and I’m very happy with it.

To illustrate the importance of juicing, I decided to go with a smash cocktail today since they typically feature some type of citrus juice as a main component. This particular drink is a Bourbon Smash from a blog called Just A Little Bit of Bacon that I modified slightly. I made this cocktail last spring for the first time and since then it’s become quite the favorite at my house. It’s very easy to make in batch, but remember to cut the amount of citrus by 1/4 or it will end up overwhelming the drink. It’s outstanding with blood oranges or Cara Cara, but if they’re not available then regular oranges will work too. We’re muddling again here and it’s basil, so be very gentle. The club soda is optional. You’ll find it to be smoother without it, and lighter and bubbly with it. Your call!

Bourbon Smash (adapted from Just A Little Bit of Bacon)

2 basil leaves
1½ oz bourbon (I used Rebel Yell)*
1½ oz blood orange juice (or Cara Cara, or regular)
½ oz real maple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lime and orange wheels for garnishing, 1 lime wedge to squeeze into the drink
2 oz club soda, optional

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the basil leaves very gently with the maple syrup. Add the bourbon, blood orange juice, and bitters. Add your ice and shake well. Double strain and pour over ice. Squeeze a lime wedge into the glass and then add the orange and lime wheels as a garnish. Top with soda water if desired. Enjoy!

*Rebel Yell also makes a Whiskey Ginger bourbon that I would love to try in this recipe!

Green Chartreuse: Into the Deep, Dark woods…

Green Chartreuse: Into the Deep, Dark woods…

While Yellow Chartreuse is sunshine and warmth, Green Chartreuse takes you somewhere deep into the woods and inundates you with green botanicals. It almost tastes mentholated, but smooth, with its more bracing herbs toned down a bit by the barrel aging. It has a natural affinity for gin and tequila, it is one of the famous ingredients in the classic cocktail The Last Word, and it’s a favorite of Queen Elizabeth in a Champagne and Chartreuse cocktail she loves to drink. It’s higher in alcohol that its yellow counterpart, so keep in mind that it’ll pack more of a punch. It can be enjoyed as an after dinner drink on its own; just remember to serve it very cold.

For today’s drink I wanted to feature a classic cocktail that I’d never tried before called the Bijou made with Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and orange bitters in addition to Green Chartreuse. When I looked into the history of the cocktail, I learned that it dates back to the late 1800s and that the original recipe called for equal parts of the 3 spirits. It was once as popular as the Martini and the Manhatten, but then it fell into obscurity after Prohibition. The legendary bartender and author, Dale DeGroff, loved to put a modern spin on classic cocktails. He breathed life back into the Bijou by changing the drink’s proportions and putting it on the menu of his Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center in NYC. I was all set to make the Bijou for today’s post, but then a funny thing happened. Instead of grabbing the bottle of Carpano Antica ( a sweet red vermouth), I accidentally reached for the Dolin Blanc (a sweet white vermouth) instead. I went ahead and made the drink without thinking and then realized that its color was off. I tasted it anyway and fell completely in love! The herbs and flowers in the Dolin worked perfectly with the botanicals in the Chartreuse, while the gin provided the backbone for the drink, keeping it from becoming too cloyingly sweet. It was unintentional, but fantastic, and so I named it Bijou Blanc.

Bijou Blanc 

1½ oz gin (preferably Plymouth)
½ oz Dolin Blanc
½ oz Green Chartreuse
1 dash, orange bitters (I used Fee Brothers)
Lemon peel
Cherry or olive for garnish

Add all the ingredients, except the lemon peel and garnish, to a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Twist the lemon peel over the glass to express the oils and discard. Garnish with the cherry or olive.