Friday, July 29, 2016

Fancy Free

Fancy Free

I think most people would agree that the Old Fashioned is just a really good cocktail. It's simple, classic, and delicious. And because it's so simple and so good, there are a lot of variations out there. Some stay pretty close to the source material, like I did with my Autumn Cranberry Old Fashioned. Others go a bit farther afield with additional ingredients, like my Blood and Smoke or the Ward Eight, or new base spirits as in the Oaxaca Old Fashioned (tequila and mezcal) and the Gin-Campari Old Fashioned (gin and... you guessed it). Spirits, bitters, and sugar... it's a fun and easy combination to play around with.

In my favorite Old Fashioned recipe, I like to add a little liqueur from the jar of Luxardo cherries. So the Fancy Free seemed like a brilliant idea - it replaces simple syrup and/or cherry juice with Luxardo maraschino liqueur. Orange and Angostura bitters round it out. The recipe calls for bourbon, but I think it might be better suited for rye. It depends how you prefer your Old Fashioneds.

This cocktail is sweet and rich, with a lingering spice and bitterness. It doesn't stray too far from its inspiration - a wonderful, complex riff on a classic cocktail.

History: When I posted this, I incorrectly stated that this cocktail was a recent invention, but it turns out it's quite old! Which isn't too surprising, given its ingredients and simplicity. The recipe appears in Crosby Gaige's Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion from 1941. I found one blog that claims this is its first time in print.

I'd never heard of Crosby Gaige before, so I looked him up. Turns out he was a pretty interesting guy. Born in 1883, he was the son of a postmaster from Nelson, NY. He worked his way up to become a wealthy Broadway producer and publisher. His small publishing company attracted the likes of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. He lost all his money and then earned it all back again. He he was quite the foodie and a huge fan of cocktails. "In the world of potables the cocktail represents adventure and experiment," he wrote. I entirely agree.

But where did Gaige get the recipe for the Fancy Free? Apparently he had a huge collection of recipe books, so it might have come from somewhere else. If any of you cocktail history buffs have additional information, I'd love to hear it.

Most of my info on Crosby Gaige came from this article and a Wall Street Journal article by Eric Felten called "Easier Does It: Starter Cocktails."

Fancy Free

2 oz. bourbon
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in an Old Fashioned glass with a large ice cube. Stir to combine. Garnish with a large orange twist and a brandied cherry.

Recipe from Serious Eats.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recipe Round-Up: Summer Cocktails

Guys, it's hot. Like cook-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk, my-face-is-melting hot. And that means it is just too hot for certain cocktails. I am not usually one to turn down a martini or a bourbon on the rocks, but this temperature positively begs for something cold and fizzy. I went back through my past recipes for some warm-weather recommendations to keep you cool all summer long.

1. Pimm's Cup - This sophisticated summer sipper is all about the garnish. Have fun with different fruits and herbs!

1. Campari + Soda / Aperol Spritz - These are just classic, and because they're a little bitter, they're before dinner. Think summer in Venice or Milan.

3. Cucumber Fizz - There's nothing more refreshing than cucumber, gin, and lime with a splash of St. Germain and club soda. You can't go wrong with this one.

4. Clerico - This white Sangria from Uruguay is the perfect summer drink for a crowd. Make it with whatever fruit you have on hand - I recommend strawberries, bananas, oranges, and apples.

5. Coy Mistress - My mom and I came up with this vodka cocktail together last summer around this time, when the weather was equally miserable. St. Germain, lemon, and muddled basil make for a delicious combination.

6. Mojito - Is there a more perfect summer cocktail than the Mojito? Minty, citrusy, and refreshing, this rum cocktail is basically unbeatable in the heat.

7. Boston Tea Party - I love this cocktail made with tea-infused vodka in the summer. It tastes like southern sweet tea.

8. Satsuma Mojito - It's hard to improve on perfection, but muddling satsumas into a Mojito, peel and all, give it the most amazing punch of flavor.

9. Cape Cod Swizzle - If you don't have cranberry liqueur, try cranberry juice or cranberry syrup to finish this tart, refreshing riff on a Queens Park Swizzle.

10. Pina Colada - I don't care how many craft cocktails I drink, I will always love a frozen Pina Colada, especially in the heat of summer!

What's your favorite summer cocktail?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Paris Between the Wars

Paris Between the Wars

I'm not much of a hard cider drinker these days. When I was in college, I found it to be a nice alternative to beer, which I really didn't have much of a taste for. But eventually I saw the error of my ways and ditched the cider in favor of a good IPA. I do think the idea of hard cider as a cocktail ingredient is a pretty intriguing one. It's got the fizz and sparkle of champagne with a decidedly different flavor. And the Paris Between the Wars uses it perfectly.

This lovely cocktail combines bitter Campari, rich Scotch, and sparkling hard cider with lemon and simple syrup. It's sweet, bitter, and tart all at once. Together the flavors are wonderfully rich. It's an elegant, unexpected cocktail that I'd happily make again and again.

The flavor of this drink will definitely be influenced by the hard cider you use. I had a couple of bottles of Angry Orchard left over from a party, and while I still really enjoyed the cocktail, it's definitely optimized for a drier cider. If you're using something sweeter like I did, I recommend reducing the simple syrup a little. Or not - try it and see what you like!

History: Isn't Paris Between the Wars such a wonderfully evocative name? This cocktail was invented by Abigail Gullo at Sobou in New Orleans, and I wish I knew how she chose the name. Whatever the reason, it's oddly fitting for this elegant, bittersweet libation.

It turns out there are a few different versions of this recipe out there. This one from the Daily Meal uses more Scotch, honey simple syrup, and pear cider. And Sobou's menu replaces the Campari with Luxardo bitter. There's definitely some room to play around with these ingredients, but I like Imbibe's version below just fine.

Paris Between the Wars

3/4 oz. Scotch
3/4 oz. Campari
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3 oz. dry hard cider (Crispin recommended)

Combine all ingredients except cider in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a champagne glass. Top with cider and garnish with a lemon twist.

Recipe from Imbibe.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Last of the Oaxacans

Last of the Oaxacans

I love a good mezcal twist on a popular cocktail. The smoky agave spirit can bring out a whole new dimension in existing recipes. So when I saw this Last Word variation with mezcal and serrano pepper, I knew I had to try it. The Last Word is one of my all-time favorite cocktails. The recipe is incredibly easy to remember, too: equal parts gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and lime juice. Swap out the gin and shake in a small slice of pepper, and you get the same delicious sour-sweet-herbal flavor of a Last Word with some extra smoke and spice. Ditch the margaritas next time you have Mexican and make one of these. It's an excellent cocktail.

History: This is another great one from Nick Caruana, who writes The Straight Up. You may remember him from the Basil Cranberry Julep and the Dillionaire. The name is a play on the Last Word; Oaxaca is the Mexican province where most mezcal is made.

Last of the Oaxacans

3/4 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 half-centimeter slice serrano pepper

Combine all ingredients, including the pepper slice, in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of serrano pepper.

Recipe from Serious Eats.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bottle Buy: Crème de Cacao

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao

I don't make a lot of desserty cocktails, so a bottle of crème de cacao was never that high on my list of things to buy. Don't get me wrong - I love chocolate. Love it. And I wouldn't say no to a chocolate martini if you handed me one. But it's not really something I'd like to make on a regular basis. So of all the spirits I'd like to buy, I didn't think crème de cacao had much of a place in my bar.

There was a particular cocktail that changed my mind. My husband and I were checking out the tiki bar at Tiger Mama, a funky southeast-Asian inspired restaurant in the Fenway area that opened up a few months ago. While I opted for something appropriately Tiki-themed and served in a coconut, the hubby went straight for a drink called the Flushing - Main Street. The ingredients were so bizarre it seemed they might work: Akashi White Oak Japanese whiskey, dry vermouth, Green Chartreuse, and crème de cacao. We loved it. I'll post the recipe soon so you can try it yourself and see if you agree.

I asked the bartender about the unusual inclusion of crème de cacao in the recipe, and he told me they use the one from Tempus Fugit. This was the first time I'd heard of Tempus Fugit, but it wasn't the last - their Gran Classico and Kina L'Aero d'Or seem to be making their way into drinks at every bar in Boston. All of their labels are gorgeously vintage-styled, and their spirits are excellent. The bartender at Tiger Mama assured me that no other crème de cacao would do. "It's the best," he said. I went on the hunt for it and found it at Liquor Land on Mass Ave. When I asked one of the employees if they had it, he pointed it out to me and added, "It's the best." Okay, then.

If you're like me, when you hear "crème de cacao" you think of a sugary, cheap, Dekuyper-esque liqueur. And that's probably not far off for a lot of brands on the market. John Troia, co-founder of Tempus Fugit Spirits, says the decline of crème de cacao from an elegant liqueur to a sickly sweet bottom-shelf mixer had to do with the rise of the cocktail. When the liqueur was no longer being consumed by itself, it was easier to skimp on quality and make more sugary products with artificial flavoring. But like many classic ingredients, crème de cacao is making a comeback.

Cacao tree

Crème de cacao was invented by monks in France in the 16th century. Chocolate was still a pretty new import to Europe at the time, but it never seems to take long for people to figure out how to make booze out of something. It's is not a cream liqueur; it gets its name from its thick, creamy texture. It's made by distilling cacao, otherwise known as cocoa beans. If you're not familiar with where your Hershey's chocolate bar comes from, let me briefly enlighten you: chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, which is native to Central and South America. Its fruits are oval-shaped pods that turn yellow or red when ripe. Inside, there's a sweet white flesh (that actually tastes pretty good on its own, though nothing like chocolate) surrounding the real treasure: the cacao beans. These are fermented, dried, roasted, and cracked open to remove their shells. What's left are what we call cocoa nibs, which are ground up into a paste and mixed with sugar and milk to make chocolate.

If you're making booze instead, you don't have to go through quite that much trouble. Though I'm having a little difficulty finding out the details of the process, it appears that real crème de cacao is made by distilling the raw cocoa beans. The distillate is then macerated with more crushed cacao and vanilla beans. I'm sure sugar is added as well. You may notice that there are "white" and "brown" varieties out there. In the cheaper brands, the brown usually comes from artificial coloring. I guess the goal is to make it look more like the real thing: the brown color of Tempus Fugit's crème de cacao is natural.

Cacao fruit
The inside of a cacao pod, with the white flesh surrounding the beans.

Tempus Fugit's crème de cacao smells intensely chocolatey, like cocoa powder or a chocolate bar. When you sip it, the first thing you notice is the texture. You understand the "crème" in the name immediately - this stuff is thick and velvety in a completely unexpected way. The flavor is beautiful and rich. Obviously the main taste is chocolate, but there are also strong notes of vanilla and caramel.

I don't normally endorse a single brand, but as far as I know, Tempus Fugit makes the only real quality crème de cacao out there at the moment. You could reach for something cheaper if you want to try it out before you take the plunge, but you'd already be more than halfway to a bottle of really great stuff. If you're not ready to shell out $30 on chocolate liqueur, you could do what a lot of craft cocktail bars are doing and make your own from vodka, cacao nibs, sugar, and vanilla.

Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao

Price: $30
Alcohol Content: 24%
Popular Cocktails: Brandy Alexander, Grasshopper, Chocolate Martini, 20th Century

Brandy Alexander

Though I've already made a number of other, less sweet cocktails with my bottle of crème de cacao (the Flushing - Main Street was the first one), I thought I should use the classic Brandy Alexander to showcase this spirit. Rich, sweet, slightly chocolatey, and extremely elegant, the Brandy Alexander is an adult's version of the sickly-sweet drinks crème de cacao usually makes its way into. It's the kind of dessert drink I actually could have every night.

There are a few different recipes out there, but I decided I liked using equal parts brandy, crème de cacao, and cream the best. If you don't have cream or half and half (or you want to make a slightly less caloric drink), you can substitute milk. It will be a much lighter, more watery cocktail, but I still like it just fine.

History: The Brandy Alexander is a version of the Alexander, which was originally made with gin, crème de cacao, and cream. It was (probably) invented by Troy Alexander at Rector’s in New York in honor of (somewhat bizarrely) a cartoon woman named Phoebe Snow who was used to advertise clean-burning coal for railroads. Phoebe wore all white, emphasizing just how clean the coal was. For the dinner in her honor, Alexander wanted to make a white cocktail to match. Somewhat incongruously, he named it after himself. This gin Alexander appears in Hugo Ensslin’s 1915 Recipes for Mixed Drinks.

An advertisement featuring Phoebe Snow in her white dress.

As for when the gin became popularly replaced by brandy, no one was is really sure. It may have something to do with the royal wedding of Princess Mary. Mary was the daughter of George V and the sister of two kings, Edward VIII, who abdicated, and George VI, who is famously portrayed by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. In 1922, she married Viscount Henry Lascelles, and the Brandy Alexander was supposedly created in their honor.

Brandy Alexander

1 oz. brandy or Cognac
1 oz. crème de cacao
1 oz. cream, half and half, or milk

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled and frothy. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with grated nutmeg.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Joy Division

Joy Division

I've been leaning more and more towards stirred gin drinks lately. Remember, you shake cocktails that contain ingredients with different densities from your spirits, like fruit juice, so stirred cocktails tend to be more spirit-forward. Things like the Means of Preservation, #42, Gin-Campari Old Fashioned, Lucien Gaudin, and of course the Martini and its close cousin the Vesper. I've got some new favorite recipes in this category that I'm excited to share. Today it's the Joy Divison.

The Joy Division is definitely a spirit-forward cocktail. It starts with your typical martini ingredients - gin and dry vermouth - and makes the addition of Cointreau and a bit of absinthe. It's strong and herbal with a hint of sweet citrus. It's a great alternative to a martini if you're in the mood for something with a little more flavor.

History: The Joy Division comes from Phil Ward of Death & Co in New York. He created it in 2008. As far as I can tell, the name is an homage to an English rock band.

Joy Division

Joy Division

2 oz. gin
1 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. Cointreau
3 dashes* absinthe (I used Herbsaint)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a lemon twist. I discarded the twist and threw in some edible flowers.

*Remember, a dash is between 1/8 and 1/4 tsp. For the absinthe, I recommend measuring it out since the flavor can be overpowering if you put too much.

Recipe from Liquor.com.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Miel et Lavande

Miel et Lavande

I love the smell of lavender, and I was surprised to see how well it grows in yards around my neighborhood. Even after being buried under winter snow, it bounces right up every spring bigger than ever and blooming with fragrant flowers. So this year I added lavender to the list of herbs I wanted to grow on my balcony. Sure enough, it's been thriving, and providing us with beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers. So of course I knew I had to make a cocktail with them.

Scrappy's Lavender Bitters

I thought gin, lemon, and a honey simple syrup would pair best with fresh lavender, topped off with sparkling wine to make a fizzy drink for sipping on summer evenings. I went with lavender bitters and a garnish of fresh lavender to give a subtle flavor. If you don't have the bitters but still want to incorporate lavender into a cocktail, two other ways are infusing your spirits or making a lavender simple syrup. But I've been itching to use my little bottle of Scrappy's, and I like the depth the bitters add to the drink. This is definitely one of my favorite recipes I've developed, and I hope you like it too!

Miel et Lavande

Miel et Lavande

1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. honey simple syrup*
2 dashes lavender bitters
3 oz. sparkling wine

Combine gin, lemon juice, honey simple syrup, and lavender bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with sparkling wine and stir gently. Garnish with a sprig of fresh lavender.

*To make honey simple syrup, combine equal parts honey and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until the honey is dissolved. Let cool completely before using.