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Thursday, October 11, 2018

London Calling

London Calling

Earlier this year, my sister and I went on an epic weekend trip to London. When the immigration the officer asked us what we were planning on doing in the UK, she replied, "A lot of drinking, to be honest with you." And it was true. We did our best to hit all of my bucket-list London bars, including Nightjar and the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. We also went to Milk & Honey, a Soho branch of the famous New York speakeasy that essentially started the modern craft cocktail movement. It was here that we tried the London Calling.

It was an appropriate cocktail choice for a number of reasons. First, the name, obviously. Second, we had been picking sherry cocktails off of every menu we saw (the Jerezana at Happiness Forgets was another favorite). And third, it was actually invented at the very bar in which we were sitting in 2002, and is the only drink to have stayed on their menu ever since. It's a perfect choice for right now as well, because it's International Sherry Week. Social media has been full of awesome sherry cocktail recipes, and I'm happy to add this new classic to the mix. If you're a sherry newbie, it's a great place to start. There's only a half ounce of Fino (a very dry sherry) in the recipe - just enough to give the drink some complexity and introduce that light, nutty flavor. If you like a Bee's Knees, you'll love a London Calling.

London Calling

History: The London Calling was invented at Milk & Honey in London in 2002 by Chris Jepson.

London Calling

1.5 oz. gin
1/2 oz. fino sherry
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Cucumber Basil Smash

Cucumber Basil Smash

I can't believe it's October already. I thought I would be ready for some cool fall weather after the sweltering summer we had here in Boston, but I'm a little reluctant to give up the long days and warm evenings on our balcony. I'm sure I'll be embracing autumn with apple picking and spiced cocktails before long. But for now I'm still trying to squeeze a few more summery drinks in.

I don't know what it was about this year, but my backyard garden and the potted plants on my balcony did not thrive. I've only gotten three tomatoes, whereas last year I was freezing huge leftover dishes full of sauce. I tried planting broccoli for the first time, but I clearly didn't know what I was doing and it bolted before producing anything. I trimmed it back and it looks like I might be getting some stalks - we'll see. My zucchini plant put all its effort into one monster zucchini while we were away on vacation and then died. Etc. My basil is one thing that really thrived, and as it flowered I thought I definitely needed to use some in a cocktail.

Basil Flowers

Cucumber and basil is a really winning combination. I've used it before in my Cucumber Basil Gimlet. Since I'd already done the combo with gin, I reached for vodka instead for this drink. On the one hand, I'm not a huge fan of vodka because I don't think it adds much to a cocktail besides alcohol. But on the other hand, sometimes this is exactly what you want. There's enough great flavor in here that vodka felt like a good choice. Not to mention that Thursday, October 4th is National Vodka Day.

A "smash" is a category of cocktails somewhat similar to a julep. In fact, at one time a Whiskey Smash and a Whiskey Julep were basically the same thing - whiskey, sugar, and mint. But a Smash has come to include lemon juice or other citrus as well. Think of it as boozy flavored lemonade. The "smash" part comes in when you muddle your herbs and/or fruit. It's a fun drink template to play around with. Try it with your favorite spirit and some different flavors and see what you can come up with!

Cucumber Basil Smash

Cucumber Basil Smash

2 oz. vodka
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
3 slices cucumber
6 basil leaves

Combine cucumber, basil, and simple syrup at the bottom of a shaker and muddle gently to bruise the basil and release juice from the cucumber. Add vodka and lemon juice and fill shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cucumber slice and a basil flower.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Queen Victoria with Empress Gin

Queen Victoria with Empress 1908 Gin

Last week I had the opportunity to go on my first industry trip to Victoria, British Columbia, sponsored by Empress 1908 Gin. We stayed at the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel, which was the inspiration for the gin's creation. They really spoiled us. We had beautiful rooms at the Empress, a whale watching trip, a morning at the spa, a champagne tea, and two lovely dinners. And of course we visited Victoria Distillers, where Empress 1908 is made. It's a gorgeous distillery, with large windows looking out over the Salish Sea. They make a number of spirits there, including two other gins that are locally quite popular. But Empress 1908 has been their most popular product by far, and it's easy to see why.

Fairmont Empress Hotel

I think it's safe to say that Empress is one of the most unique gins out there. You may have already noticed it on a liquor store shelf or in Instagram photos. Among an array of clear gins, its deep indigo color is hard to miss. But Victoria Distillers didn't set out to make a purple gin. They wanted to make a limited-edition gin to celebrate the renovation of the Empress Hotel (named for Queen Victoria, Empress of India). The Empress is famous for their tea, so the distillers turned to the tea menu for inspiration. They chose the Empress Blend black tea to infuse the gin, but they were also inspired by a tea blend called "Blue Suede Shoes" that contained butterfly pea flowers and was, as the name suggests, blue. So they added the flowers to the gin as well, giving it a gorgeous purple hue.

Empress 1908 Gin Botanicals

When Victoria Distillers started experimenting with Empress 1908 in cocktails, they discovered what drinkers of butterfly pea tea had already known for some time - that with the infusion of the flowers, the gin actually changes color when an acid like lemon juice is added, from bluish to pinkish. It's magical and fun, and definitely the thing that attracts most people to Empress. But it's also an excellent gin, with a style between a typical London Dry and an American gin with notes of juniper, tea, and grapefruit. If you think you're not a gin person, this lovely bottle might change your mind.

Empress 1908 Gin

I had several great cocktails made with Empress 1908 while in Victoria. It's fantastic in a Bee's Knees or a French 75. When you make a Negroni Bianco with it, it keeps its bluish purple color, while a traditional Negroni comes out a deep garnet red even prettier than its usual bright crimson. One favorite was a Gin Smash made with mint and lavender from the Fairmont Empress' rooftop gardens. And of course we had lots of gin and tonics. Empress recommends Fever Tree tonic and a slice of grapefruit for garnish.

Empress 1908 Gin and Tonic

For my first cocktail made at home with the Empress, I knew I wanted to use eggwhites because the purple color looks so good with that layer of foam. I decided to double down on all things purple by adding a lavender simple syrup and bit of Creme de Violette to a traditional gin sour. The result is a colorful, floral drink pretty enough to do justice to this wonderful gin. Thank you again to Empress 1908 for having me in Victoria!

Empress 1908 Gin

Queen Victoria

2 oz. Empress 1908 Gin
1/4 oz. Creme de Violette
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. lavender simple syrup*
1/2 oz. eggwhite

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled and combined, about 20 seconds. Strain out ice and dry shake for another 30 seconds or so. Fine-strain into a coupe glass and garnish with lavender buds and flowers.

*For lavender syrup, make a typical 1:1 simple syrup and pour it into a jar with several sprigs of fresh lavender. Let sit overnight to infuse.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Clover Club

Clover Club

Sometimes knowing a lot of cocktails can work against you. If you have a small bar and a few tried-and-true drink recipes, it's easy to figure out what to make when you want a cocktail or when friends come over. But when you have a massive arsenal of bottles and books at your disposal, sometimes it's difficult to pick a recipe, especially if someone asks you to just "make them something" and doesn't know enough about cocktails to specify much beyond that. A good bartender (or home bartender) knows what questions to ask to find the perfect drink for a guest. But sometimes the occasion isn't right for twenty questions and it's nice to be able to just hand someone a good drink. So I'd argue that a really good home bartender should know a few crowd-pleasers that anybody will like. And the Clover Club is going on my list.

Clover Club

I knew the Clover Club would be good - it's basically a raspberry gin sour - but I didn't expect just how much I loved it. I'm not usually a raspberry fiend, but the syrup imparts just enough raspberry flavor for my taste (and also gives the drink its gorgeous color). We planted a little raspberry bush in our backyard a couple of years ago, and it has flourished with very little encouragement, so I was able to pick the raspberries for the syrup and garnish the morning before I used them. The syrup is a bit unique in that it's not made on the stove - Julie Reiner, founder of the Brooklyn bar named after this classic cocktail, says that this will cook the raspberries and change their flavor. Instead, they are muddled, mixed with sugar, and allowed to macerate for 20-30 minutes. Then you add some water and strain the mixture. It's a very easy drink to make considering how absolutely beautiful it looks.

Clover Club

History: The Clover Club is a very old cocktail. It is named for a men's club that met in the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. It was exactly what you are probably picturing - a bunch of old, rich white dudes (including William Butler Yeats) sipping drinks in a sumptuous lounge paneled in dark wood. It seems quite incongruous that a lot of them were probably drinking this pink, frothy cocktail. The Clover Club of Philadelphia, a book published in 1897, mentions the drink and that it originated the previous year, in 1896. It enjoyed a lot of popularity in the pre-Prohibition years but, like many other great cocktails, faded into obscurity afterwards, probably because of the egg whites and its girly appearance. By 1934, Esquire was referring to it as a drink for "pansies." The modern cocktail renaissance renewed interest in this delicious cocktail, and Julie Reiner's Clover Club bar ensured that the recipe got some extra attention.

Clover Club

Clover Club

1 1/2 oz. gin (Plymouth recommended)
1/2 oz. dry vermouth (Dolin recommended)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. raspberry syrup*
1/4 oz. egg white**

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well, for at least 20 seconds. Strain the drink, dump the ice, and return the cocktail to the shaker to shake again for at least 30 more seconds (this is called a reverse dry shake). Strain into a coupe and garnish with three raspberries on a pick.

*For raspberry syrup, muddle 1/4 cup raspberries in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup sugar and stir or muddle to mix it in well. The mixture should become bright red and juicy. Let it macerate for 20-30 minutes. Then add 1/4 cup water, stir well, and fine strain.

**It can be hard to pour small quantities of egg white - it all tends to goop out at once. I like to separate my egg white into a bowl and lightly whisk it so that it's easier to measure out 1/4 ounce.

Recipe from Julie Reiner via Imbibe. Historical info from Wikipedia, Punch, Gin Foundry, and The Cocktail Chronicles.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Penicillin

Penicillin Cocktail

One of the things I love about cocktails is how they tie you to the past. Thanks to the recipes that have been preserved and the consistency with which many spirits and liqueurs are made, we can literally make drinks that someone would have sipped one hundred years ago.

The true test of a great cocktail is its ability to withstand the test of time. What allowed classics like the Manhattan and the Negroni to persist while other drinks were destined for obscurity in the pages of old recipe books? Obviously a classic cocktail needs to taste great. It also needs to be relatively simple. It's unlikely that a recipe involving orange foam or a fat wash is going to become ubiquitous. It needs to be something that any bartender at any bar can make.

Penicillin Cocktail

By these metrics, what cocktails invented recently do you think people will still be drinking in 100 years? If you were to pose this question to a group of bartenders or cocktail enthusiasts, I can just about guarantee that someone would mention the Penicillin. It's a modern drink that has found universal fame and appeal. And it's easy to see why. A Scotch sour is made infinitely more interesting and delicious with a honey-ginger syrup and a bit of peaty single-malt to give it a hint of smoke. Admittedly, the honey-ginger syrup does break the rules a bit - not every bar will have one ready to go. But any bartender worth her salt will be familiar with the recipe. It's undeniably a new classic.

History: The Penicillin was invented in 2005 by Sam Ross (now at Attaboy) at Milk & Honey in New York. He created it as a riff on the Gold Rush while playing around with some bottles of Scotch from Compass Box - their Asyla for the base, and the Peat Monster for the float.

Penicillin Cocktail

Penicillin

2 oz. blended Scotch (Famous Grouse)
3/4 oz. ginger-honey syrup*
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. peaty single-malt Scotch (Laphroiag 10-year)

Combine blended Scotch, ginger-honey syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube. Top with the single-malt and garnish with candied ginger.

*For ginger-honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and water in a saucepan and simmer gently, stirring until honey is dissolved. Add a small piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced. Let simmer for a couple of minutes, then remove from the heat and let sit for at least 15 minutes before straining. Let cool before using.

Recipe adapted from Punch.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Bottle Buy: Apricot Liqueur

Tradewinds Cocktail

I've always wanted this blog to be a resource for people who don't know a lot about making cocktails at home, and part of that has been introducing new ingredients as I add them to my bar and start making cocktails with them. So I was alarmed when I realized I had posted the Periodista without saying a thing about its star ingredient, apricot liqueur. Specifically Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot.

Apricot liqueur may seem a bit specific or obscure if you've only got limited space in your bar, but it's an ingredient that comes up surprisingly often. It appears in a number of recipes from the early 1900's, and in a lot of rum cocktails and Tiki drinks. Like many ingredients we've discussed, the quality and availability of apricot liqueur declined along with the popularity of the craft cocktail during the mid to late 20th century. But now it's back, and there are tons of classic and new recipes to make with it.

I knew apricot liqueur would be a good buy because I've already made - and loved - several recipes that called for a small amount of it. Not having a bottle, I subbed in a bit of apricot preserves, which really did work pretty well.  But for more apricot-centric drinks like the Periodista and the Tradewinds (below), you need the real thing. And now I can go back and make those other drinks right.

Apricot Liqueur

Apricot liqueur is often referred to as apricot brandy. The two terms are frequently used interchangeably, but I think certain aspects of how the liqueurs are made may prevent the word "brandy" from appearing on the label - likely the addition of fruit and sugars after distillation, although I'm not sure. The quality apricot liqueurs are essentially fruit brandies or eaux-de-vie - spirits distilled from fruit other than grapes, in this case apricots.

One of the easiest bottles of apricot liqueur to find, and the one that seems to be recommended the most often in my cocktail recipe books, is Rothman & Winter, which is imported from Austria by Haus Alpenz. It's made from Klosterneuberger apricots grown in the Danube Valley. Two of the other most popular varieties, Giffard and Marie Brizard, are made in France.

Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur

Price: $25
Alcohol Content: 24%
Popular Cocktails: Tradewinds, Periodista, Golden Gun, Flor de Jerez, Charles Lindbergh, Hotel Nacional

Tradewinds Cocktail

It's been a while since I made a genuine Tiki drink, but after a couple of recent trips to Tiki Rock in Boston, I was itching to make one at home. I love drinks with coconut creme - Tiki Rock had a Painkiller that was really amazing - and the Tradewinds had been on my list of drinks to make once I finally got my hands on some apricot liqueur. It's an undeniably tasty cocktail, creamy and tart. The traditional garnish is a lemon wedge speared on an inside-out cocktail umbrella (as if the wind has blown it that way), but I thought a mini pinwheel was appropriate.

History: According to Martin Cate in Smuggler's Cove, the Tradewinds originated in the Caribbean in the 1970's. The recipe appeared in Beachbum Berry Remixed.

Tradewinds Cocktail

Tradewinds

1 oz. black blended rum (Cruzan)
1 oz. blended lightly aged rum (Appleton Estate Signature Blend)
1 oz. apricot liqueur (Rothman & Winter)
1 1/2 oz. coconut cream
1 oz. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with 12 oz. crushed ice and a 4 large "agitator" cubes. Shake or flash blend and then open pour into a zombie or pilsner glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge speared on an inside-out umbrella, or a little pinwheel. I added some mint as well.

Recipe adapted from Smuggler's Cove.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Periodista

Periodista

I can trace my love affair with cocktails back to a single evening. I had just found out that I had gotten a competitive NSF fellowship to support me during graduate school, and my husband and I were going to celebrate. Earlier that week I had picked up a copy of one of those free magazines that used to be all over - I think it was Stuff at Night - and they had a feature on the best cocktail bars in Boston. In my mind there wasn't really anything fancier than sitting at a marble-topped bar and sipping a beautiful drink, so we went to one of the places on the list, Eastern Standard. I don't remember what the magazine said that made us pick Eastern Standard, but I do remember the cocktail they featured: the Periodista, a rum drink made with lime juice and apricot and orange liqueurs.

I don't know why the Periodista in that article stuck in my head. I didn't even order it that night - I ended up getting an Aviation, my first one ever, and realizing that there was so much more to cocktails than I had ever known. But I distinctly remember the orangey cocktail pictured in that magazine. I later tried one elsewhere in Boston and found it to be quite as tasty as Stuff at Night made it out to be. Little did I know that the Periodista is a drink with a story behind it.

The Periodista (Spanish for "journalist") is a happy, crowd-pleasing cocktail. Its flavor is bright and citrusy, with tart lime and sweet apricot playing against each other on your tongue. It's like a Daiquiri with a few extra tricks up its sleeve. It's somehow simultaneously perfect for drinking on a tropical beach or in a Boston dive bar in the dead of winter. It's not hard to see why it became so popular here. It's the how that is a bit more convoluted. If you're curious, read on.

Periodista

History: I could just tell you what is known about the history of the Periodista, but I would be doing you a disservice. Because if you're at all interested in craft cocktails, the people who make them, and the stories behind them, you should read Devin Hahn's Periodista Tales.

Briefly, Devin Hahn is a writer and filmmaker who lives in Boston. He also enjoys a good craft cocktail. In particular, he became a fan of the Periodista after having one at Chez Henri, a now-shuttered French-Cuban restaurant in Cambridge, in 2007. The menu there indicated that the cocktail originated in Cuba, and was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. An instant fan, Hahn began ordering Periodistas at bars all over Boston, and bartenders were happy to make him one. This was, in fact, right around the same time that I made my pilgrimage to Eastern Standard and learned about the drink myself. It was not a hard cocktail to find.

Unless, apparently, you left Boston. When Hahn traveled out of the city, no one seemed to have even heard of Periodista. Bartenders at places like PDT in New York and The Varnish in Los Angeles had no idea what he was talking about. And Hahn couldn't find the recipe online or in any cocktail books.

So in 2010, Hahn set out on an epic quest to uncover the origins of the Periodista that he chronicled online in the Periodista Tales. It takes him to some of Boston's most beloved watering holes and introduces a cast of characters that I've come to know well as a cocktail lover in the city - people like Jackson Cannon, John Gersten, and Misty Kalkofen. And then Hahn's search expands, and he meets with luminaries like David Wondrich and Ted Haigh, who share their own stories and insights into the craft cocktail renaissance. It becomes a rumination on the craft of bartending itself, as well as a perfect example of how difficult it can be to find out the real story behind a cocktail.

The only thing wrong with it is that it seems to end prematurely. The last installment from 2011 reads like a cliffhanger. I don't know if Hahn has continued his research since, but I hope he updates us at some point.

Periodista

If you're short on time and really just itching to get to the punchline (the Periodista Tales is a lengthy read), I will spoil the results of Hahn's research here. The real origin of the Periodista remains unknown, but it does seem to hail from Cuba. The earliest mention of the recipe in print that Hahn could find is from 1948, buried at the back of El Arte de Cantinera, a bartenders' manual from the Club de Cantineros de la Republica de Cuba in Havana.

The Periodista came to Boston when Paul O'Connell and Joe McGuirk were building Chez Henri's cocktail list. They found the recipe in a "little tropical cocktail book," one of those pamphlets that spirits brands used to print. Like El Arte de Cantinera, it called for white rum, but they found it far better with Myer's dark rum. It ended up on the menu. From there, McGuirk took the recipe to the B-Side Lounge, one of Boston's most (in)famous cocktail bars, where many of the greats got their start. As they left to begin their own ventures, they took the Periodista with them. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Periodista

In his account, Hahn includes the Periodista recipes from many of the bars and bartenders that he interviews - a dozen in all, from the B-Side Lounge's version (which specifically calls for "generic bottom shelf" apricot liqueur and triple sec) to Drink's recipe with house-made lime peel syrup. The one that appealed to me most was Brother Cleve's recipe, which uses Appleton Estate Jamaican rum and included a bit of simple syrup to make the drink less tart. The result, in my opinion, is perfection. But if it doesn't suit your fancy, try adjusting the ratios or checking out some of the other recipes.

Periodista

1 1/2 oz. Appleton Estate aged rum (12- or 21-year recommended, I used Signature Blend)
3/4 oz. apricot liqueur (Rothman & Winter)
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. lime juice
1 barspoon (1/8 tsp) simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a lime wheel.

Recipe from Brother Cleve via Devin Hahn.