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The East India Trading Co: Polished, smooth, and potent.

The East India Trading Co: Polished, smooth, and potent.

westindies1It’s hard to believe that the Mojito from Monday’s post contains the same base spirit as the East India Trading Co. (a cocktail from Death & Co in NYC), pictured above. I specifically chose this drink for today because I wanted to illustrate just how versatile rum can be. And let’s be honest, I was dying to try it! The combination of ingredients intrigued me: Appleton Estate Reserve Rum, Lustau East India Solera Sherry, Ramazzotti (an Italian Amaro), and Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters. The Appleton is a Jamaican rum that has a gorgeous aroma of sweet molasses, orange, cocoa, and vanilla. When you taste it, you’ll also find all those flavors, but it’s powerful so you have to be careful to take small sips. Its beautiful color comes from the fact that it’s been aged at least 12 years in oak barrels. I had to substitute Osborne Oloroso Cream Sherry for the Lustau because it just wasn’t available anywhere. To me it’s all raisins and vanilla, sweet and easy to drink. The Ramazzotti is something I’ve had before and happen to like very much. It smells and tastes like bitter oranges and sweet spices, and it has that elusive element that all the Amari have. Who knows what’s in them? The Italians aren’t saying! I also had to substitute Bittered Sling Malagasy Chocolate Bitters for the Bittermens Xocolatl simply because that’s what I had here at home.

So let’s look at how this drink is composed. There are 2 ounces of the Appleton in this cocktail, so it clearly provides the main flavor profile, as well as the backbone and the punch. The Sherry draws out the sweetness in the rum, and the Ramazzotti echoes the oranges. The Chocolate Bitters act as a bridge, pulling out the cocoa from the Appleton and the spices from the Ramazzotti, while keeping the sweetness of the drink under control. It’s perfect harmony! This stirred cocktail is meant to be served in a chilled cocktail glass with no garnish. My husband loved it that way but, for me, it was just a little bit too strong. I preferred it in an Old-fashioned glass with one large ice cube. westindies2

East India Trading Co. from Death & Co. in NYC

2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Rum
3/4 oz Lustau East India Solera Sherry
1/2 oz Ramazzotti
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters

Add all the ingredients to a mixing class and add ice. Stir with a long handled bar spoon for 15-20 seconds or longer until the drink is well chilled. Strain (using a julep strainer) into a chilled cocktail glass. Enjoy!

Check back tomorrow when I’ll be featuring the Art in the Age store in the Old City area of Philadelphia on the Thursday Barlogue!

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Rum: We should all be this confident, well-rounded, and secure.

Rum: We should all be this confident, well-rounded, and secure.

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So if Gin is your friend at the party who is dancing on the tables, and Vodka just wants to go home to read her book, Rum is the friend you can bring anywhere and know she’ll be totally comfortable. She’s fun, yet incredibly versatile, with surprising depth. She’s able to talk about Dancing With the Stars in one moment and Don DeLillo’s latest novel in the next. Rum is a spirit that at its simplest will mix with lime juice, club soda, and mint to produce something like the light and refreshing Mojito, and at its deepest can combine with classic ingredients to produce a seriously smooth Rum Old-fashioned, or be sipped alone like a complex brandy. Before we get into classifying rums from lightest to heaviest, and looking at the differences between those categories, let’s talk for a minute about how rum is made.

All rum comes with the juice that is extracted from crushing and milling the sugarcane plant. Most of the rums that we are familiar with are made from molasses, which is a by-product of sugarcane juice being filtered, purified, and heated. This process crystallizes the sugar and leaves behind molasses. The two exceptions here are rhum agricole (made in the French-speaking islands of Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique), and cachaça (pronounced “”ka-SHAH-suh”) which comes from Brazil. Both rhum agricole and cachaça smell more like tequila than rum and have a grassier, funkier kind of flavor. I’ve seen Old-fashioned recipes that call for aged rhum agricole, chocolate bitters, and a flamed orange peel that sound outrageous, and cachaça is the main spirit in the Caipirinha (“kai-pur-EEN-ya”), the main cocktail of Brazil. Both are worth seeking out if you want to try something different, either at the liquor store or on a cocktail menu.

The various rums that are made from molasses are difficult to categorize because production is not regulated according to any type of universal standards like we had for gin. The easiest way for us to think about classifying rum then is according to grade (a combination of color and aging):

White or silver rums have spent less than 1 year aging in stainless steel barrels. They are filtered before bottling, have a very subtle, almost sweet taste, and are used mostly in cocktails like the mojito. Think along the lines of Bacardi Light here.

Gold or amber rums have spent some time in oak barrels, giving them more richness and smoothness in both flavor and fragrance. Producers that are readily available are Mount Gay Black Barrel, Appleton, and Bacardi 8. I used Mount Gay in the 7 Island Iced Tea that I made for my son in my Friday Musings post from September 30th.

Dark rums are well-aged in oak barrels that generally have a heavy char on them (meaning that they have literally been flamed on the inside). This imparts hints of spice, and strong molasses or caramel overtones. They have a heavier body to them and can be sipped or used in cocktails such as the Dark and Stormy. Some names to look for here are Myers, Goslings, and Bacardi Black.

Brandy style sipping rums are in a category all their own and are usually made by smaller, boutique style producers such as Angostura 1824 or Barbancourt 15. They have significant age and are meant to be sipped in much the same way as a cognac or whiskey.

Flavored rums have had flavors added in like coconut, pineapple, mango, and lime, and are used in tropical drinks that have the same flavor profile. Spiced rums have been infused with additional spices such as cinnamon, pepper, rosemary, or anise. Sometimes additional caramel is added back in.

Finally, overproof rums like Goslings 151 can have an alcohol content of 75% which can be very dangerous in a mixed drink. Proceed with caution!

Our first recipe that we’ll look at this week is is for a Mojito which uses light rum and conjures up images of relaxing on a porch somewhere beautiful and warm. It originally hails from Havana, Cuba where they often add Angostura or aromatic bitters to the drink, and is said to be Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drink.

The Mojito (from The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart)

1 1/2 oz white rum*
1 oz simple syrup**
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz of a good club soda like Fever Tree or Q
3 sprigs of fresh mint

In the bottom half of a cocktail shaker, muddle the 2 mint sprigs, the simple syrup, and the lime juice. Use very little pressure; just turn gently. Add the rum and your 1 large cube and 2 small. If you don’t have the large format cubes on hand, fill the shaker 2/3 full with ice and shake 15 seconds or until very cold. Strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Top with the club soda and garnish with the third mint sprig. Enjoy!

*I used Petty’s Island Rum made locally in Camden NJ.

**Simple syrup is made with 1 part water and 1 part sugar boiled until the liquid turns clear. You can then store it in the fridge for about a month.

Stop back tomorrow for a Dark and Stormy, one of my favorites!

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Mercury Goes Direct: Celebrating things turning right again.

Mercury Goes Direct: Celebrating things turning right again.

mercurygoesdirectThose of you who have any interest in astrology already know the direction I’m going in with this drink. Thankfully it’s a positive one! Four times a year the planet Mercury speeds past Earth as part of its orbit. During that time it “appears” to be moving backwards in the sky. This wreaks havoc on all of us, but it particularly affects Virgo (that’s me) and Gemini (I know too many to count) because it’s our ruling planet. The last retrograde we went through started on August 30th and ended on September 22nd, which means that it occurred in the sign of Virgo, making it even more powerful. When Mercury is in retrograde the world seems to turn a bit upside down and things go wrong for no explainable reason. There is good that comes from it too, but this was an especially difficult one and I’m so happy it’s over!

I created this cocktail to celebrate September 22nd (hence the name), but I held onto it because I knew I had a week of vodka posts coming up on the blog. The main spirit of this cocktail is, of course, vodka and I chose to use Stateside Urbancraft again since I’ll be featuring their bar tomorrow on the Thursday Barlogue, and because it’s quickly becoming one of my favorites. I added an equal measure of Lillet Rouge to the drink for its deep color and fruity red-wine flavors, and its touch of bitterness and tiny bit of citrus. I wanted to keep going with the bitterness idea so I chose to use a small amount of Amaro Montenegro and 2 dashes of Hella’s Aromatic Bitters. The Montenegro is one of the mildest of the Italian Amari and I think it smells and tastes like figs and violets. It’s an excellent digestivo, or after dinner drink, on it’s own too. To contrast the bitterness, I brought in equal amounts of simple syrup and Velvet Falernum, for its distinct spice drop flavor. Finally, I needed some citrus to brighten things up and balance out the heavier ingredients, so I added in some lemon juice and lemon wheels as a garnish. I served it over one large cube in a bucket glass, but I would be just as happy with it being served up in a cocktail glass. Just be careful, they go down easy!

It was very clear to me that without the vodka, this drink would be nothing more than a boozy sangria. You can certainly try eliminating the vodka at home and you’ll see just what I mean. I could have gone with another spirit, but there would definitely have been a conflict with the other ingredients I’d chosen. The vodka gave the drink a backbone, elevated it to the level of a cocktail, and permitted me to go in the direction that I wanted to take the drink. This was an excellent reminder for me that vodka remains an indispensable spirit, and often allows a level of creativity that is not always possible with many of the others.

Mercury Goes Direct

1 1/2 oz of your favorite vodka (I used Stateside Urbancraft)
1 1/2 oz Lillet Rouge*
3/4 oz Amaro Montenegro*
1/4 oz Velvet Falernum*
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup**
2 dashes of aromatic or angostura bitters (I used Hella Co. Aromatic Bitters)
Lemon wheels for garnishing

Place all the ingredients, except for the lemon wheels, into the smaller half of a shaker tin. Add your 1 large cube and 2 small cubes to the shaker. If you don’t have the large format cubes, fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Shake for 15 seconds or until very cold. Strain using a Hawthorne strainer into a bucket glass with 1 large cube, or serve without ice in a chilled cocktail glass. Drop the lemon wheels into the drink as a garnish. Enjoy!

*The Lillet Rouge, Velvet Falernum, and Amaro Montenegro are fairly easy to get. They can all be found locally at Canal’s Liquor Store on Rte 38 in Pennsauken.

**Simple syrup is 1 part sugar added to 1 part water and heated gently in a saucepan until the liquid turns clear. You can store the extra in a Mason jar in the fridge for about a month.

Tomorrow I’m featuring the Federal Distilling Room at Stateside Urbancraft Vodka. Be sure to stop back to learn more!

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The Caravaggio: This pretty face gets me every time.

The Caravaggio: This pretty face gets me every time.

caravaggio2It is said that Caravaggio, the painter, made use of light in much the same way as a modern photographer does. I’m not sure if this is what Redd Wood in Napa was thinking when they created this cocktail, but every time I make one I marvel at the color and the sheer prettiness of this drink. This is another one of those ideas for drinks that I received via text message. As a matter of fact, it was from the same person who sent me the Twisted Gimlet. Her taste in cocktails was always the best so I jumped on finding the ingredients immediately. This was my first introduction to Charbay Blood Orange vodka, which is not easy to find, but not terribly difficult either. It also called for Gancia Prosecco, which I also ordered, but I think it’s fairly easy to find a suitable replacement here. (Just look for a Prosecco that’s fruit forward and not terribly dry). I headed right to Benash Liquors website and had them both within a few days. I added some Aperol, which is an orange flavored apertivo that is sightly bitter, but not quite as much as Campari. I wanted to boost the orange flavor a bit, tone down any sweetness, and play off the bite of the ginger ale. The aroma and taste of the Charbay is all blood orange, without any heavy alcohol overtones or the unmistakeable fake sweetness you get when something is flavored, rather than real. The addition of the Prosecco adds some effervescence and makes the drink more fun. The end result of all these elements coming together is nothing short of glorious, just like Caravaggio and his paintings! If I sound like I’m going overboard, bear with me; you know how excited I get. It’s also a perfect example of how the vodka provides the foundation for the drink, and the other ingredients create layers on top of it without ever having to compete with the main spirit. I love to serve this cocktail with one large cube in the goblet you see pictured above. I recently found a set of them for a shamefully low price at a thrift store which makes it even better! I have also poured this drink into a Collins glass with medium sized cubes and it’s just as beautiful. If you don’t want to go through the trouble of finding the Charbay, then look for another high quality vodka that infuses fruit and not just flavor.caravaggio3The Caravaggio from Redd Wood in Yountville, Ca.

2 oz Charbay Blood Orange vodka
1/4 oz Aperol
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup*
1 oz Fever Tree or Q ginger ale
1 oz Gancia Prosecco
4 thin cucumber slices for muddling
1 lemon strip and 1 cucumber slice for garnishing

Place the 4 cucumber slices in the smaller half of a shaker tin along with the simple syrup and muddle gently. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the ginger ale and the Prosecco. Add your 1 large cube and 2 small cubes to the shaker. If you don’t have the large format cubes, fill the shaker 2/3 full with regular ice. Shake for 15 seconds or until very cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer into a goblet with 1 large cube, or a Collins glass with medium cubes. Top with the ginger ale and the Prosecco. Garnish with the lemon strip and the cucumber slice. Raise your glass to Caravaggio and enjoy!

*Simple syrup is 1 part sugar added to 1 part water and heated gently in a saucepan until the liquid turns clear. You can store the extra in a Mason jar in the fridge for about a month.

Stop back tomorrow for another vodka based cocktail recipe!

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Vodka: She’d really rather be home reading…

Vodka: She’d really rather be home reading…

vodka4If gin is the extrovert at the party, then vodka is the quiet one that hangs back a bit, preferring one on one conversations, and requiring just a bit of coaxing to get her to come out of her shell. Go ahead and call her an introvert; she won’t mind, because she knows that making others shine is her greatest strength. She’s the ultimate administrative assistant or chief of staff, providing the backbone, but remaining behind the scenes. I’m happy to say that vodka was my first love; I never took her for granted, I never underestimated her importance, and never overlooked her contribution to the cocktail world.

Vodka has been around since the 15th century, its origin being the subject of great debate between Russia and Poland. It is first mentioned in a Polish text in 1405, but the Russians follow right behind with their own written references as early as 1429. Over the years it has been made from many different ingredients, including grains, corn, sugar beets, grapes, and potatoes. For a long time vodka consumption was mainly limited to Eastern Europe and Russia, but when the 20th century arrived both global trade and interest began to rise. In the 1950s and 60s, vodka became a very appealing addition to so-called boardroom backbars because it was a spirit which was virtually odorless. If you watched the show Mad Men that makes perfect sense to you! By the 80s, vodka had become the darling child of many mixologists, working well with a multitude of other ingredients, and allowing their flavor to remain true. In other words, vodka had the ability to boost the alcoholic content of drinks, without the worry of the spirit changing the taste. Ironically, the characteristics that made vodka so appealing at the close of the 20th century, became the very things that led to its fall from grace in the beginning of the 21st. Suddenly vodka was labeled as bland, drab, and characterless, and it even disappeared from many cocktail lists, or made only a minimal appearance at best.

At present, I’m pleased to report that vodka is experiencing something of a resurgence. Production methods have improved drastically and there are many high-end vodkas available on the market today that have achieved an almost cult-like status (think of Belvedere and Grey Goose). There are also quite a number of micro-distilleries that have emerged that are producing small batch hand-crafted vodkas of artisanal quality. Many vodkas are being infused with flavors, or paired with infused simple syrups containing multiple ingredients. Vodka still works well with other spirits such as St. Germain or Cointreau, and will easily blend with most fresh juices (where something like whiskey will not). These factors have helped to elevate the way in which vodka is currently perceived by the mixology community. Vodka is once again being appreciated for its versatility and universal appeal, and being seen as a blank canvas upon which some truly inventive cocktails can be created.

So what should you look for in a vodka? When you open the bottle it should smell clean with no off odors or overwhelming alcohol aroma. The taste should be the same. If you are sensitive to gluten you can choose a vodka made from potatoes (like Chopin or Luksusowa), corn (like Tito’s), or grapes (like Ciroc). If you are concerned about genetically modified ingredients, there are also some good organic choices available. One of my favorites in this category is CROP. If you are going for a flavored vodka, be sure that it is infused with real fruit rather than just natural fruit flavor. One of the best choices comes from a small artisanal distillery in Napa Valley called Charbay. They use only ripe, locally grown fruit and no additional additives. CROP also makes some very good flavored vodkas. The drink pictured above is a Pomegranate Elderflower Martini (check back on Friday for the recipe when I talk about batching drinks). The vodka that I used to make it is from an excellent new micro distillery right here in Philadelphia called Stateside Urbancraft Vodka. I’m featuring them and their adjacent bar, Federal Distilling Room, on this Thursday’s Barlogue.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my version of a drink called the Caravaggio from a restaurant in Napa Valley that uses Charbay blood orange vodka!

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