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Month: December 2016

Friday Musings: What’s the last thing you remember?

Friday Musings: What’s the last thing you remember?

Last January I had dinner with friends at a restaurant here in NJ that serves super-sized martinis. I’m not a fan of the big gulp martini because it leaves you with 2 options and neither of them are good. The first is that you sip your cocktail at the normal rate and end up drinking something that becomes very warm. YUCK is the most elegant prose I have regarding that choice. Your second option involves you downing the drink as quickly as you can in order to enjoy it at the right temperature. That can be extremely dangerous. On that night last January, I made the unfortunate decision to go with choice #2 and my recollection of that part of the evening ends shortly after I finished my martini. The last thing I remember is the appetizers being brought to the table. I’m off the grid, so to speak, for the entire dinner during which I eat my entrée, drink some wine (from a bottle that I apparently ordered), get up and have a conversation with a friend that stops by to say hello, and remove one of my shoes. When my memory returns I’m sitting at the bar with an after dinner drink in front of me (as if could possibly have needed more), and I’m in the middle of a very animated discussion about lipstick, of all things. At least I have both my shoes back on at this point.

I woke up the next morning in a full panic. What had I said? What had I done? How had I acted? We’ve all had instances back in college when there were blackout moments, but this felt crazy and impossible to me after just one martini, albeit a super-sized one. I began thinking that what happened to me had to be an early symptom of something awful. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. A brain tumor. Determined to find answers, I began to do research. It turns out that there is a very scientific reason why a blackout occurs, and it involves a specific region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for converting short term memories into long term memories. The hippocampus is one of the first areas to be compromised by alcohol consumption, long before the speech and motor centers become impaired. That’s why an individual can appear to be acting normally, yet have no recollection of anything the next day. As for recovering any of the memories that occurred during the blackout, it will never happen because they simply no longer exist. There are several factors that contribute to the likelihood that a blackout will occur. The first is how quickly alcohol is consumed, so it’s really important to pace yourself, especially with high proof drinks like martinis. The second is how little or how much food and water a person has had that day, so be sure to eat before and while you’re drinking and try to stay hydrated. That’s super important. Finally, women are more predisposed to blackouts than men, so all of these precautions are especially important if you happen to be a girl.

It seems a bit ironic to craft a cocktail that’s named after a memory loss episode caused by drinking too much alcohol, but I can never pass up the opportunity to make a new drink! In coming up with the ingredients for The Blackout, I wanted to start with things that are obviously deep and dark in both flavor and color. That led me right to rye whiskey and aged rum as my combination of base spirits, and blackberries, black tea syrup, and black bitters as the additional elements that complement them. I wanted an herbal component in this cocktail too, and I wanted it to be something interesting and different. I recently picked up a bottle of Génépy des Alpes, whose delicate floral flavor falls somewhere in between Green and Yellow Chartreuse. It’s made from an herb that is a direct cousin to wormwood, the trouble-causing element in Absinthe. I decided to use both liqueurs in this drink because blackouts certainly cause their fair share of trouble! The last ingredient I added was rosemary, muddled directly into the drink, infused into the black tea syrup, and as a garnish. Why? Because rosemary is for remembrance. I couldn’t wait to write that!

I wish you all a festive and blackout-free New Year’s Eve. Have fun but be safe. See you in 2017!

The Blackout

1½ oz Old Overholt rye whiskey
1 oz Appleton Estate 12-year-old rum
½ oz Génépy des Alpes
¼ oz Pernod Absinthe to rinse the glass
1/2 oz black tea and rosemary honey syrup*
2 dashes DRAM Apothecary black bitters
6 blackberries for muddling
2 rosemary sprigs, 1 for muddling, 1 for garnishing

Pour the absinthe into an old-fashioned glass, swirl to coat the sides, and then discard the absinthe. Muddle the blackberries and 1 rosemary sprig in the bottom half of a shaker tin with the honey syrup. Strain into a mixing glass using a fine strainer. Press on the solids. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the garnishes, into the mixing glass. Fill the glass ⅔ full with ice. Stir with a long-handled bar spoon for 30-45 seconds or until very cold. Strain with a julep strainer and pour into the absinthe-rinsed glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with the other rosemary sprig. Enjoy!

*For the honey syrup, steep 2 tea bags in hot water in a measuring cup for 5 minutes with a sprig of rosemary. Remove the tea bags and add an equal amount of honey (or agave if you’re vegan). Store in a Mason jar in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

December New Moon: Getting ready to close out 2017

December New Moon: Getting ready to close out 2017

I think you all know by now that I occasionally like to interject a little bit of astrology into my cocktail posts. Today is going to be one of those days. Earlier this morning, just before 2 am, the last new moon of 2016 occurred. A new moon always marks the end of one lunar cycle and the beginning of another; it’s a constant or a given, something that has been happening since forever. Each month we’re given a new opportunity to make a to-do list and tackle it with fresh energy. This is especially significant right now because in a few days we’ll be turning that to-do list into our New Year’s resolutions. The December new moon encourages us to turn our thoughts inward and reflect on what goals we’d like to set for ourselves, not just for this month, but for the entire year ahead. It also suggests that these goals can actually be soothing and healing for us, because they impose order and provide some structure to our lives, thus helping us to make sense out of the day-to-day chaos that happens to all of us. They also give us clarity and insight into what we really want, but it’s up to us to figure out the steps we need to take to actually achieve them.

In creating this December New Moon cocktail, I decided that mezcal was going to be my base spirit since it’s such an agent of clarity for so many people. After all, at some point in our lives haven’t we all claimed to see more clearly after a shot of tequila?? For my next spirit I went with Yellow Chartreuse for its color and its subtle herbal profile, and because I love the way it pairs together with mezcal. Chartreuse has been made in the same way by the Carthusian monks since 1737, based on careful instructions contained in a manuscript from 1605, that they are not sharing with anyone. Apparently French and Italian monks are equally secretive! I felt like this ancient recipe brought the idea of order and structure to the drink. Ginger and lemon also work well with mezcal, and since both are very soothing they fit in with the theme of the cocktail too. The chamomile syrup added just the right amount of sweetness to offset the lemon’s acidity, and the sage bitters echoed the herbal notes in the Chartreuse. In terms of symbolism, chamomile encourages us to have patience and sage brings us healing. I was happy with how all the components came together in this drink, and I felt like they each had a deeper meaning as well. It reminded me of a Penicillin Cocktail, with its smoky, gingery, lemony profile, but mezcal is very different from Scotch in that it has that elusive element to it that can only be described as funk. The Chartreuse, chamomile, and sage enhance that funkiness, bringing it even more to the forefront. Sip this cocktail slowly and patiently and let the new moon guide you as you write your New Year’s resolutions. Don’t forget to make drinking new cocktails one of them!

December New Moon

1½ oz Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal (or your favorite mezcal)*
½ oz Yellow Chartreuse
½ oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
½ oz lemon juice
½ chamomile agave syrup**
2 dashes DRAM Apothecary Wild Mountain Sage bitters
Candied ginger cube for garnishing

Place all the ingredients in the bottom half of a shaker tin and add your ice. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds or until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a ginger cube on a skewer. Enjoy!

*You can swap tequila for the mezcal, but just remember that it won’t have the same smoky flavor profile that mezcal does. Smokiness in a drink does not appeal to everyone, so the tequila makes a good substitute in that case.

**Steep 2 chamomile teabags in hot water for 3 minutes or so. Combine equal parts of the tea and the agave and store in a Mason jar in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

A Champagne Cocktail for whiskey lovers. Is that possible?

A Champagne Cocktail for whiskey lovers. Is that possible?

While the rest of the world sips Champagne this coming Saturday the whiskey lover stands his or her ground and says, “nope, not me, not gonna drink it,” and goes on sipping an Old-fashioned. I completely understand. When you are a dark spirit drinker it’s hard to make the switch to anything else, even if it is New Year’s Eve and there’s nothing more festive than a Champagne Cocktail. So what’s the solution for the whiskey lovers in your life as the countdown to midnight begins? To find the answer I consulted the experts at Woodford Reserve, one of Kentucky’s oldest and distilleries in the heart of Bourbon Country, via their Woodford Reserve Culinary Cocktail Tour: A Journey With Bourbon. This beautiful book just happens to be the official cookbook of the Kentucky Derby. As it turns out there is a version of the Champagne Cocktail that replaces the brandy with bourbon and the sugar cube with a vanilla simple syrup. There are no bitters in this drink and the garnish is a half of a vanilla bean. The vanilla has the effect of accentuating the smoothness of the bourbon, as well as adding a bit of sweetness. The Champagne, of course, adds the bubbles and the elegance. The end result has enough of a bourbon flavor to satisfy the whiskey lovers, while still maintaining enough of a festive feel to remind them that it’s New Year’s Eve. Definitely serve this cocktail to your whiskey fans or, if you’re doing the Champagne Cocktail party idea from my last post, include a bottle of bourbon and some vanilla simple syrup on the buffet!

The Bourbon and Champagne Cocktail

1 oz Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon (or a similar smooth bourbon like Buffalo Trace)
½ oz vanilla simple syrup*
4 oz Champagne
½ vanilla bean for garnishing

Mix the bourbon and syrup in a Champagne flute and then top with chilled Champagne. Garnish with the half vanilla bean. Enjoy!

*Vanilla Simple Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 vanilla beans
Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise into halves and place in a Mason jar. Pour the hot syrup over the vanilla beans and let stand for 8 to 10 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

The Champagne Cocktail: A perfect way to ring in the New Year

The Champagne Cocktail: A perfect way to ring in the New Year

I can’t think of anything more festive than a Champagne Cocktail, the perfect drink for your New Year’s Eve celebration in just a few days. Although it follows a very traditional recipe whose origins go back as far as 1862, there are many modern variations of this drink and a number of ways in which you can put your own unique twist on it. At it’s most basic, the Champagne Cocktail contains a sugar cube (either white or demerara), aromatic bitters, brandy, the Champagne itself, and some type of citrus or cherry garmish. Since it makes up such a large part of the drink, it’s important to use as good a quality Champagne as you can, or at the very least one whose taste you really enjoy. Champagne is fizzy in and of itself, but when it hits the sugar cube at the bottom of the glass, it sends up a tower of bubbles that makes a super fun presentation for your guests. You’ll want your ingredients to be as cold as possible, including the Champagne flutes themselves. You can either chill your brandy in the fridge, or place it in a pitcher over ice, stir it long enough to get it really cold, and then discard the ice. Alternatively, there are also variations of this recipe that include adding an ice cube directly to the drink to keep it well chilled, so that’s definitely another option.

As I was doing some research for this post I came across an idea on that I wanted to share with you. It involves setting up a kind of buffet of ingredients for party guests to make their own Champagne cocktails. For example, you could offer both white and brown sugar cubes, a selection of bitters, various spirits like brandy, Benedictine, Suze, St. Germain, Chartreuse (the possibilities are endless), a white and rosé Champagne, and various garnishes. You’ll want to instruct your guests to limit the amount of the spirits they use to anywhere from a teaspoon on up to an ounce, and the bitters to about 3 dashes, or enough to saturate the sugar cube. You might want to ask each guest to bring a spirit, along with a description of its flavor profile (easy to find online) to help people decide which combinations to put together. Encourage everyone to be creative and have fun!

Champagne Cocktail

1 sugar cube
3 dashes aromatic bitters
Champagne (use the best quality that you can)
1 oz brandy
Long orange peel for garnishing

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of a Champagne flute. Saturate the cube with the bitters. Add the brandy. Fill the rest of the way with chilled Champagne. The sugar cube will begin to dissolve, creating bubbles. Garnish with the orange strip. Enjoy!

Boxing Day 2016: Plum Pudding in a glass

Boxing Day 2016: Plum Pudding in a glass

For as far back as I can remember the day after Christmas has been one of my favorite days. The holiday itself was always so incredibly hectic, with its flurry of wrapping paper and piles of boxes and toys, places to go and people to visit. There just was never enough time to really appreciate everything. It was such fun to wake up on the 26th and come downstairs to go through all my presents again. The only thing better than that was spending the rest of the day enjoying them. Later when I had kids, it made me smile to watch them do the same thing. Somewhere along the way I learned that the official name for December 26th was Boxing Day, a holiday celebrated throughout the U.K. I remember immediately picturing proper British gentleman donning boxing gloves and stepping into the ring to resolve their differences, which of course was not the case. The exact meaning of the name seems to be up for some debate, but there are 2 widely popular theories. The first is that the 26th was traditionally a day off for British servants and the day when they received presents from their masters. A Christmas Present in Britain is called a Christmas Box; hence the term Boxing Day. The second theory is that December 26th was the day when collection boxes for the poor would be opened that had been placed in the churches on Christmas day. In either case Boxing Day is the day when British people visit those people they may have missed seeing on Christmas itself for food, drink, and merriment.

To create a cocktail to commemorate this holiday, I decided to turn to some traditional British recipes for inspiration. I came across one for Plum Pudding that had spices, honey, citron, plums, and dried fruits like raisins and currants in it. This was definitely something I could work with! I chose Plymouth gin as my base spirit because of its milder flavor and slightly lower alcohol content, and because it is so unequivocally British. My next thought was to add in some fruitiness so I went with Pimm’s No. 1, which is also very British, and always makes me think of a fruit cup in a glass. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram was calling my name for the spiciness and the deeper flavors of the dried fruits. Although it’s Jamaican, it’s not so much of a stretch since Jamaica was under British rule until they gained their independence in 1962. For the citrus element I went with fresh lemon juice, and to add some sweetness I used a 1: 1 honey syrup and some vanilla paste. I received a bottle of Fee Brothers Plum bitters in my Christmas stocking so they were a perfect fit for the bitter component of the drink. An egg white for some frothiness and Turbinado sugar and grated allspice as a garnish finished this cocktail up perfectly. I wish you a Happy Boxing Day! I hope you spend it exactly as you’d like to, whether that entails relaxing with family and friends, swimming the English channel, or doing just a bit of fox hunting!

Boxing Day 2016

1½ oz Plymouth gin*
¾ oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
½ oz Pimm’s No. 1
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
3 dashes Fee Brothers plum bitters
¼ oz honey syrup (1 part honey dissolved in 1 part hot water)
1 egg white (or 1 oz vegan equivalent like chick pea liquid)
Turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) and grated allspice for garnishing

Add all the ingredients (except for the garnish) and shake vigorously without ice. Add the ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail coupe or a goblet and garnish with sugar and grated allspice. Enjoy!

*I was deliberately looking for a milder gin here because I wanted the St. Elizabeth’s to really be the star. If you’d like more of a gin presence, feel free to substitute Beefeater or Tanqueray, both equally British!