Thursday, September 29, 2016

Strange Brew

Strange Brew

September may be rapidly drawing to a close, but I still have a few more summery cocktail recipes to get out of my system! And most are from the Death & Co cocktail book, since I've been basically obsessed with it for the last few weeks. If you've already got a copy, bear with me while I share some of these delicious concoctions with the rest of the world.

If you're not familiar with Death & Co, it's a small bar that opened in Manhattan's East Village almost ten years ago, focusing on impeccably made craft cocktails in a welcoming, speakeasy-style environment. It was something of a revolutionary philosophy at the time, and the bar quickly soared in popularity. When I was in New York back in January, I managed to get in and get a seat at the bar right away because I was by myself. The cocktails were indeed superb, and the menu was so long and interesting that I could have spent the whole night reading it. (Unfortunately they were pretty strict about taking it back after I'd ordered, because apparently they have a big problem with people stealing them.)

Like the Flor de Jerez, the Strange Brew is one of the first recipes featured at the beginning of the book, which is how it caught my eye early-on. This beer cocktail is indeed a strange brew. The gin blends surprisingly with the pineapple and IPA, resulting in a flavor that was wholly unexpected for me - herbal, tangy, and a tiny bit bitter. It's very refreshing and summery, but quite unique.

Strange Brew

History: This cocktail was invented by Thomas Waugh when he was at Death & Co. in 2008. He's currently behind the bar at ZZ's Clam Bar, which looks like a truly unique establishment. The tiny, 12-seat restaurant serves gorgeous tiki cocktails with impeccable presentation, enhanced by the fact that the bartenders wear white tuxedo jackets, gold bowties, and no pants. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be headed there any time soon, since GQ called it "the most expensive 58 minutes in New York dining."

Anyway, Waugh says in the Death & Co. cocktail book that he and his friends used to drink beer mixed with fresh fruit from the farmer's market in San Francisco, and that pineapple with IPA was always his favorite combination. He named this cocktail after a song by EMF, the B side to their extremely popular "Unbelievable."

Strange Brew

2 oz. gin (Tanqueray No. 10 recommended)
3/4 oz. Velvet Falernum
1 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 oz. lemon juice
Splash of IPA (Green Flash recommended)

Combine all ingredients except IPA in a shaker with three ice cubes (oddly specific, but then this is Death & Co) and give them a short shake. Strain into a Pilsner glass filled with crushed ice. Top with IPA and garnish with a mint sprig (as they recommend) or a slice of pineapple and a couple of pineapple leaves (as I did).

Recipe from Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Flor de Jerez

Flor de Jerez

A month or two ago, I finally bought the Death & Co cocktail book, a veritable bible of cocktail recipes and mixology tips from the famous New York bar. I'm still slowly working my way through the first half of the book, which is filled with information on spirits and techniques. I just finished the section on stirring cocktails, and it's so specific and complex that I'm a little afraid to move on to shaking!

In the section on cocktail ingredients, the book goes through all the major spirits and explains what bottles they use behind the bar and why. I was pleased to see that their choices are usually accessible and affordable, and I’m definitely going to try out some of their recommendations. When I got to the section on sherry, an ingredient I’ve never worked with before, I was shocked to read that a decent bottle of sherry could cost as little as $12. For $12, I could absolutely try some sherry. Especially after coming across the recipe for the Flor de Jerez, which sounded quite delicious.

Flor de Jerez

In case you're a sherry novice like me, I’ll give you a quick primer to bring you up to speed, summarized from the Death & Co book. Sherry is a fortified wine made in Spain. There are a number of different varieties that are primarily characterized based on the way they are aged, which determines how sweet the final product will be. The driest sherries are fino and manzanilla, which are made using biological aging, a process during which a layer of yeast prevents the sherry from contacting the air after a certain point. The sweeter varieties of sherry, like oloroso, use an oxidative aging process like other wines and spirits, during which they are in constant contact with the air. And amontillado, the variety I ultimately chose, goes through a combination of these processes - first it undergoes biological aging, then oxidative. That makes it rich and sweet in aroma but actually fairly dry to taste.

I chose amontillado because I feel like I see it used in cocktails most often. My bottle of Lustau, the brand Death & Co recommends, was only $14. Like vermouth, sherry does go bad eventually, so it should be kept in the fridge and used within a few months (connoisseurs will say weeks, but I personally don't notice that much of a difference).

Flor de Jerez

As soon as I got home with my bottle of Amontillado, I mixed up the Flor de Jerez, and I was incredibly impressed. It's bright and aromatic, blending the deeper raisin flavors of the sherry with tart lemon and apricot. The sherry has a really distinct flavor that blends beautifully with the other ingredients. I'm excited to try it in some other cocktails.

The Flor de Jerez calls for an apricot liqueur, and Death & Co recommends Rothman & Winter. This is definitely on my wish list, but since I currently don't have a bottle, I used a bit of apricot preserves to try and achieve the same flavor. I'm quite happy with the result, and I've used this substitution in a few other cocktails since then.

History: This cocktail was invented by Joaquín Simó at Death & Co in 2009. He writes in the Death & Co book: "I was after a light-bodied cocktail that shone forth with fruit and nuts yet remained dry and refreshing." Mission accomplished.

Flor de Jerez

Flor de Jerez

1/2 oz Jamaican-style rum (Appleton Estate Reserve recommended)
1 1/2 oz. Amontillado sherry (Lustau recommended)
1 tsp. apricot preserves (substituted for 1/2 oz. apricot liqueur)
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. cane sugar syrup*
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. No garnish recommended; I used a couple of nasurtium flowers.

*Death & Co's recipe for cane sugar syrup is a 2:1 mixture of cane sugar (sometimes called "evaporated cane juice") and water. If you can't get your hands on some cane sugar, Demerara or regular sugar make fine substitutes. But maybe don't tell the folks at Death & Co that I said so.

Recipe from Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mixology Monday: European Vagrant

European Vagrant

Is it already time for Mixology Monday again? I feel like August and September have flown by. That's not really a bad thing - I'm so excited for the start of fall. Cooler weather, fall colors, hair that doesn't frizz within moments of walking outside... it's possibly my favorite season.

Mixology Monday
This month's MxMo is hosted by Rebecca of The Shrubbery, and the theme is Drink Nerdy. Acknowledging that all of us who participate in MxMo are probably nerdy about cocktails, Rebecca has challenged us to create a cocktail inspired by something else we're nerdy about. This is such a fun challenge, and I'm excited to see what everyone else likes to geek out over.

As both a devoted fantasy reader and a scientist, I can get pretty nerdy about a lot of things. But the most unique thing I'm nerdy about is probably birds.

I have no idea why I started liking birds, but I've been interested in them for the longest time. Around seventh grade, I decided I was going to be an ornithologist, and that's what I've pursued ever since. I defended my PhD thesis last year, so I guess I've officially fulfilled my childhood dream! While my enthusiasm for the world of academia has waned a bit, I've never lost interest in birds. They are just hands-down the coolest animals out there, and I feel so lucky that I get to spend my time studying them. And while I’ve never gotten into the crazy competitive side of birdwatching (oh yes, this exists), I do keep a life list and get pretty darn excited when I see a new species.

When I started thinking about what it means to be a bird nerd, I thought the concept was well encapsulated by a brief exchange I witnessed a couple of weeks ago. My lab went out to Plum Island to watch shorebirds, and there were tons of other birders there. We were all lined up by the road with binoculars and spotting scopes, gazing out at the birds on the mudflats. Two girls pulled up in a car behind us, peering out at the sea. I don’t like to jump to conclusions based on appearances, but I’m going to guess that these ladies were not the type to do much birding.

“What are you all looking at?” one asked.

One of the other birders turned around and said excitedly, “A Ruff! It’s a European vagrant!”

I have no idea why she didn’t share our enthusiasm.

“Vagrant” is the word we use to describe a bird that turns up somewhere it shouldn’t be. Most bird species have well-defined ranges where they occur, but every now and then an individual will end up somewhere odd due to a storm or some confusion during migration. Birders get really excited when this happens. The Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a shorebird that generally only occurs in the Old World, so getting the chance to see one in Massachusetts was pretty cool.

But still quite nerdy.

The Ruff, Philomachus pugnax. This is what we saw, except much further away, somewhat blurry, and surrounded by native Massachusetts shorebirds that looked basically identical. I don't know why no one thinks birding is exciting.

For my European Vagrant cocktail, I wanted to work with local ingredients and throw in one very European one. While thinking about thoroughly American ingredients, I was reminded of the American Trilogy, a riff on the Old Fashioned with rye and apple brandy. I decided to replace the orange bitters with an Italian amaro. After some experimentation, the winner was Amaro Nonino. I thought the nutty flavors of Nonino blended really nicely with the apple, and it provides just the right amount of sweetness and bitterness. Unfortunately I haven't introduced Nonino yet with a Bottle Buy, but stay tuned! It's coming soon.

One more note - as with my original American Trilogy, I made this recipe with Laird's Applejack, which is a poor man's apple brandy (about 35% apple brandy, I believe). I need to hunt down a bottle of Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy and make these cocktails properly. That said, I still really enjoy them with the Applejack, and I think you will too if that's what you have on hand.

European Vagrant

European Vagrant

1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Laird's Applejack or Bonded Apple Brandy
1/2 oz. Amaro Nonino
1/2 tsp. simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into an old fashioned glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with an apple fan and an orange twist (and preferably a bird-themed cocktail pick).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Silver Monk

Silver Monk

When I bought my bottle of Yellow Chartreuse, the Yellow Monk was one of the first cocktails I wanted to make with it. I thought the Chartreuse would be perfect with tequila and cucumber, and it really is. The flavor combination works so well. If you don't have Yellow Chartreuse, you could definitely try the recipe without it. It won't be the same cocktail, but I don't think you could go wrong with this combination of flavors.

One interesting aspect of this recipe is the pinch of salt added to the shaker while you muddle the mint and cucumber. This adds a really nice depth of flavor to the cocktail. To get an idea of what it's doing, try eating a slice of cucumber by itself and then another one with a pinch of salt on top - it really brings out the taste. And it works with tequila and lime just like it does on the rim of a margarita glass. But be careful not to overdo it!

Silver Monk

I'm proud to say that I grew both the cucumber and mint in this cocktail myself! I made it a few weeks ago after my garden produced its first cucumber. I was quite proud of my green thumb. The plant made several more gigantic fruits, and then promptly withered and died. And my mint is now struggling to stay alive after battling an aphid infestation. So it looks like this might be my last Silver Monk for a while unless I want to run to the grocery store. Maybe I have a green pinkie?

History: The Silver Monk is another tequila creation by Phil Ward at Death & Co in 2007. He's now the brains behind Mayahuel in New York City. Other great cocktails he's created include the Joy DivisonCinnsation, Oaxaca Old Fashioned, and Division Bell.

Silver Monk

2 oz. blanco tequila
3/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
1 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 slices cucumber
7 mint leaves
Pinch of salt

In the bottom of a shaker, muddle the mint and cucumber with the simple syrup and salt. Add the tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, and lime juice. Fill the shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Fine-strain into a cocktail glass or coupe and garnish with a cucumber spear and a sprig of mint.

Recipe from Food & Wine.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Bar School: Amari

Bar School: Amari

Amari have always been one of the most intimidating groups of spirits for me. When I first got into cocktails, I knew absolutely nothing about them. Cynar, Amaro Montenegro, Ramazzotti, Fernet Branca… at bars, these were the ingredients I’d have to quickly Google under the table or just take a chance on because everything else in the drink sounded good. Eventually I became familiar enough with them to at least know that they were all Italian bitters. But my knowledge pretty much ended there.

However, the more you learn about spirits and cocktails, the more frequently you are bound to encounter amari, and they are definitely worth learning a bit about. Primarily because they are delicious. They are fantastic additions to cocktail recipes, but they’re also quite good on their own. A lovely meal at Gramercy Tavern in New York City taught me that amari make fantastic digestifs and convinced me to buy my first bottle, Amaro Averna. I’m starting to think that if you take the plunge and buy one bottle of amaro, it’s just a matter of time before you have five or six different kinds in your bar. I now have four – six if you count Campari and Aperol, which people sometimes don’t.

Amari (the singular is amaro) are bitter herbal liquors traditionally made in Italy. The word amaro means “bitter” in Italian. They’re made by macerating a base liquor like grappa or brandy with herbs, bark, citrus peel, flowers, and spices. Like many older spirits, they were initially sold as health tonics. They’re traditionally consumed at room temperature as digestifs, as their bitterness is supposed to aid in digestion. However, most are also sweet enough that they make a really delicious end to a meal.

If you’re interested in amari for cocktails, it can seem like a daunting task to pick one or two to invest in. They’re not interchangeable, and they all have very unique tastes. But it’s fun to swap one for another in a recipe and see how it works. I recommend trying several kinds at bars to see what you like. Besides Campari, which is a must for any home bar, I think Cynar and Amaro Averna or Amaro Montenegro are great bottles to start with.

To help you learn a little more about the different amari out there, here’s a guide to some of the popular kinds. Be forewarned: there seems to be some disagreement over what is really considered an amaro. Some people restrict the label to Italian brands, while others consider Amer Picon (French), Jägermeister (German), Becherovka (Czeck), and other foreign brands to be amari as well. As I said above, Campari and Aperol are often omitted from the list. It all depends on how you define an amaro. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick to the eight most common Italian amari. For some nice info and tasting notes on just about all of them, check out this guide from Kindred Cocktails.

Campari and Aperol

Campari and Aperol ($30, $22) - I haven’t yet found a good argument for why Campari and Aperol should or should not be considered amari. I’m going to go ahead and include them, because I think it makes the whole group seem much more approachable if you realize you’ve already been drinking amaro for years. These two bright red liqueurs are bitter and citrusy, with strong orange notes. They’re more commonly served as aperitifs (before a meal) than as digestifs, and are found in lots of cocktails like the Negroni and Aperol Spritz.

Amaro Averna

Amaro Averna ($30) - The first “real” amaro I ever bought, Averna is a dark brown, almost syrupy liqueur with strong flavors of spice and raisins with hints of citrus, menthol, and bitter cinchona bark (the same stuff used to make kina and tonic water). The bitterness is not too intense, making it a good introductory amaro.

Amaro Montenegro ($25) - I don't have a bottle of Montenegro yet, though it's probably only a matter of time. I was introduced to this one by a friend who recently started bartending. The same night, one of his colleagues served us a coke float with Amaro Montenegro, and it was awesome. Montenegro is very dark and very sweet, but with citrusy and piney notes. It's on the lower end of the bitterness spectrum, similar to Averna.

Ramazzotti ($25) - I don't think I've ever tried Ramazzotti. It's another dark amaro, quite thick and sweet. I've seen its flavor described with words such as root beer, anise, blood orange, cinchona bark, cinnamon, rhubarb, and pie spice. It's similar to Averna and Montenegro in terms of color and bitterness.

Amaro Nonino

Amaro Nonino ($50) - I just bought a bottle of Amaro Nonino, and I've got a Bottle Buy post lined up for you in a couple of weeks. I love Nonino. It's lighter in color than Averna, a rich brown, and its flavor is light and sweet. I find it to have a strong nutty taste, with flavors of vanilla, caramel, spices, and a hint of anise. Like Averna, it's not terribly bitter. I'd say it's a definite crowd-pleaser, and the price tag is the only thing stopping me from telling you to go out and buy it right now.


Cynar ($20) - This is another one I now have in my bar and will introduce soon. It's another great starter amaro because it's very cheap and it works in a lot of different drinks. It's also quite different from Averna and Nonino in that it's less sweet and more bitter. Its primary flavoring is artichoke, but don't let that turn you off. It's surprisingly similar to Campari, though definitely more vegetal in flavor, and also more bitter. Using it instead of Campari in cocktail recipes almost always yields an interesting and delicious product.

Fernet Branca ($30) - This one is quite popular these days, and is getting a reputation as a hipster favorite. It's also much-loved by industry folks, and shots of Fernet are often shared by and among bartenders. Fernet is not an amaro for the faint of heart. It's very bitter, not sweet, and has a strong minty flavor. I've seen the term "mouth numbing" used not infrequently. It's definitely an acquired taste, but people who like it really like it.

This little list barely scratches the surface of all the amari out there. Some other Italian varieties you might encounter are Amaro Braulio, Branta Menta, Rhabarbara Zucca, Cardamaro, Amaro al Tartufo, Amaro Ciociaro, Luxardo, Amaro Lucano, Amaro Nardini, and Meletti. American distilleries are also getting to the amaro game; two you might start seeing are Tempus Fugit's Gran Classico and St. George's new Bruto Americano.

So what should you make with your amari? There are lots of cocktails out there that use these as ingredients. If you're ad-libbing, a great way to drink them is with club soda or tonic water. Try a classic Negroni, and then replace the Campari with some other amari. Another great combination is rye and sweet vermouth with an amaro. You might need to play with the proportions depending on the amaro you're using.

Already a fan of amari? What's your favorite?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

20th Century

20th Century

I've already gone on at length about how much I love Tempus Fugit's Crème de Cacao. After buying it, I started encountering their other spirits at a lot of bars, in particular the Gran Classico and the Kina L'Aero D'Or (great name, right?). The Gran Classico is an amaro, and the Kina L'Aero is a kind of aperitif wine called a kina or a quinaquina. These wines are infused with citrus and spices, most importantly cinchona bark, which contains quinine (see my Gin and Tonic post for more on this). The most well-known spirit in this category is Lillet Blanc, which used to be called Kina Lillet. It was reformulated in the 80's and is no longer as bitter as it once was. Kina L'Aero D'Or would make a good substitute in something like a Vesper, which was created when Lillet was more bitter.

Anyway, I eventually decided to buy both the Gran Classico and the Kina L'Aero D'Or, and I've been thoroughly enjoying both of them. The Kina L'Aero came with a couple of classic cocktail recipes on the side of the bottle, including this one: the 20th Century. It also makes use of the crème de cacao, so I definitely wanted to give it a try.

It may sound odd to add crème de cacao to bitter wine, gin, and lemon, but it blends surprisingly well with the other bright flavors, giving them a lovely richness. I think the Kina L'Aero D'Or probably has a lot to do with how nicely the recipe works; Lillet might not hold up as well against the sweetness of the crème de cacao.

History: Though you may not have heard of the 20th Century before, it's actually quite an old cocktail, invented in 1937 by a Brit named C.A. Tuck. The recipe was published in the 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book by William J. Tarling. It was recently resurrected by Ted Haigh's book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

Tuck named this cocktail for the Twentieth Century Limited train that ran between Chicago and New York City from 1902 until 1967. It was advertised as "the most famous train in the world," and it was quite a fancy way to travel - a red carpet was literally rolled out for passengers as they got on and off. Naming the 20th Century after the train was a nod to its elegance and sophistication, and I think the cocktail fits the bill.

20th Century

1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. kina (Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano, or Kina L'Aero D'Or)
3/4 oz. crème de cacao
3/4 oz. lemon juice

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

Recipe from Tempus Fugit.