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Friday Musings: Illuminate Me

Friday Musings: Illuminate Me

Back in October I wrote a Friday Musings post about a drink from Death & Co. called Terrible Love. I questioned what the phrase really meant and asked you all to think about who your terrible love might be. I speculated that it might be a love that was bad for us, or one that could simply never be because of circumstances, or one that left us heartbroken. In the worst case scenario, it could be all three. I called that one the Trifecta of Terrible Love. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the idea again, particularly about the process we go through in trying to

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The Greenpoint: A modern day variation of the Brooklyn

The Greenpoint: A modern day variation of the Brooklyn

Yesterday we talked about the Brooklyn cocktail which is a variation of the Manhatten that has been experiencing a rise in popularity since 2000. The fun thing about the Brooklyn is that it has spawned a number of riffs named after neighborhoods in the borough, all created by modern bartenders with mad skills. One such drink that just so happens to be my favorite riff is the Greenpoint, named after the northernmost area of Brooklyn, and center of all things hipster. The

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Yellow Chartreuse: Sunshine and Warmth in a glass

Yellow Chartreuse: Sunshine and Warmth in a glass

One of the biggest revelations I’ve had about the world of cocktails is just how many monks were involved in making the secondary spirits that are such a vital part of so many drinks. Who knew that there was a veritable task force of them who worked so diligently to create these awesome recipes? And that doesn’t even include the number of them that continued to guard the recipes, keeping them a secret and ensuring that they always be followed according to traditions handed down for centuries. It’s an amazing thing when you think about it. The history of Chartreuse dates all the way back to 1605 when the monks of the Chartreuse monastery in Vauvert, a suburb of Paris, came to possess an ancient manuscript that contained a recipe for an “elixir of life.” The recipe had been developed by an extremely knowledgeable apothecary and was so complicated that only parts of it were used in Vauvert. At the beginning of the 18th century, the manuscript was sent to the Mother House of the Chartreuse Order where it was studied, broken down, and finally understood. It contained over 130 different herbs! And to think I sometimes pass up recipes for making dinner that have more than 6 ingredients in them. In 1737 the first version of the elixir was produced, but with a very high alcohol content. It was still in great demand, however, which prompted the monks to create a more drinkable version in 1764, and that is Green Chartreuse as we know it today. A sweeter version, Yellow Chartreuse, was developed in 1838 with an even lower alcohol content. Both versions of the liqueur are aged in huge oak casks, which contributes to their incredible smoothness. To this day, the responsibility of producing Chartreuse falls on the shoulders of two Carthusian monks and they are the only ones who know the secret recipe. This accounts for why Chartreuse is one of the pricier liqueurs! The good news is that it is available in half bottles.

We’ll focus on Yellow Chartreuse for today. Naturally colored by saffron, it has a complex flavor with lots going on, but the 2 main things that I taste are honey and anise. Kindred Spirits describes its flavor on their website as “sunny and warm,” which is a perfect way to think of it. If you’re sipping it alone as an after dinner drink, it should be very cold, so I usually pour it over 1 cube in a small glass. It tastes completely different than its green sibling; never substitute one for the other in a recipe. Although it seems to be a general rule that Yellow Chartreuse has a greater affinity for darker spirits, and Green Chartreuse for lighter, I absolutely love the Yellow with mezcal. There’s something about the way its smooth anise taste combines with the smokiness of the mezcal that is just a match made in heaven for me. I came across this recipe for a cocktail from Food & Wine called East of Eden a while back, and thought that it would be a perfect way to showcase the contribution Yellow Chartreuse makes to a drink. The original calls for tequila reposado; I substituted the mezcal, as well as Black Cloud’s charred cedar bitters to give the drink one last smoky hit on the finish. If you make this cocktail, try it first without the Chartreuse, and then add it in and try it again. You’ll taste its impact right away! As a bonus, we get an extra day of muddling practice. I muddled the ginger first because it needs a good bit of force, and then I added the basil on top and gave it one press and a turn.

East of Eden (my adaptation of a Food & Wine cocktail)

2 oz Del Maquey Chichicapa mezcal (or substitute your favorite)
1 oz Yellow Chartreuse
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar, dissolved in boiling water until clear)
1 dash Black Cloud charred cedar bitters
1 thin slice of ginger and 3 fresh basil leaves for muddling
1 candied ginger cube and thin lemon strip for garnishing

Muddle the ginger and basil leaves with the simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the garnishes) and fill with ice. Shake for 30 seconds until very cold. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with the candied ginger cube and lemon strip. Enjoy!

Vintage glass a recent eBay find.

Tomorrow we’ll move on to Green Chartreuse!

Peychaud’s Bitters: A taste of New Orleans that’s essential to your home bar.

Peychaud’s Bitters: A taste of New Orleans that’s essential to your home bar.

In terms of building your home bar, there are 3 different bitters that are definitely must-haves. Yesterday we talked about orange bitters, which fall into both the lifting and the binding categories (as defined by Death & Co in NYC). This means that they can elevate and brighten the flavors in a cocktail, as well as bring together disparate ingredients into a more harmonious whole. The second of the 3 essentials is Peychaud’s, which were binding bitters created in the early 19th century by Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a New Orleans Apothecary owner who claimed that his bitters could cure any digestive ailment. Eventually he began mixing them into drinks that he made for his friends containing brandy, bitters, sugar, and water. This is a guy after my own heart! His drink became the basis for the Sazerac which is one of the most famous classic cocktails of all time, and the one which is most often associated with Peychaud’s bitters. Like many other aspects of the craft cocktail world, Peychaud’s is gaining popularity once again as modern bartenders discover innovative ways to use its complex and aromatic flavor in their drinks.

The taste profile of Peychaud’s is described as containing elements of licorice, saffron, citrus peel, vanilla, nuts, anise, cherry, nutmeg, clove, and caramel, among others. Does that seem like a lot going on to you? It does to me too. My personal impression is that the anise/licorice flavor is definitely front and center, followed by a bit of fruit and finishing up with some cloves and nutmeg. The drink that I chose to make to help us gain an understanding of Peychaud’s was not the Sazerac, but a modern cocktail from Death & Co. called Light and Day. When I looked at the recipe for this drink I found the combination of ingredients to be a bit unusual. Gin and maraschino liqueur work well together in many cocktails, but Yellow Chartreuse is more typically paired with darker spirits, and lemon and lime are normally gin’s go-to dance partners, not orange. I was very intrigued and I assumed that the Peychaud’s was going to play a major role in bringing these different elements together. I made the drink without the bitters first, just as I did yesterday. When I tasted it I was hit by the Chartreuse first, and then the gin. There was a bit of harshness and I felt like the Maraschino liqueur and the orange juice were almost completely lost. All of the elements were there but they tasted broken apart and out of proportion to one another. I added the 4 dashes of Peychaud’s (which is a decent amount) and the same miracle that happened with yesterday’s Elder Fashion occurred again today. Suddenly I had a cocktail in front of me. Chartreuse is not a shy spirit, but it was now reined in so that it could play nicely with the gin. The Maraschino liqueur came through with a subtle sweetness and the orange juice suddenly made perfect sense. In addition to binding the ingredients together in this drink, and smoothing it out, the Peychaud’s also contributed its own spicy anise and citrus flavor, which elevated the drink even further.

Once again, I can’t stress enough that the best way to begin to understand what a particular ingredient brings to the table is to taste the drink without it first. This seems to work exceptionally well with bitters because they play such a specific role in bringing cocktails into balance. When a recipe calls for them and they are absent, it becomes very clear that the drink is missing something. You can certainly take my word for it but if you can experience it firsthand it’s even better!

Light and Day from Alex Day, Death & Co. New York

2 oz Plymouth Gin
½ oz Yellow Chartreuse
¼ oz Maraschino liqueur (I used Luxardo)
¼ oz orange juice
4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters*

Place all the ingredients into a mixing glass and fill ⅔ full with ice. Stir using a long-handled bar spoon for 30-45 seconds or until vey cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish. Enjoy!

*Death & Co. makes their house Peychaud’s bitters from 2 parts Peychaud’s and 1 part Bitter Truth Creole bitters. Again, another intriguing combination to try.