Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What are you doing New Years...

...New Years...Eve? What indeed? Feel free to pass along your pre or post party specs in the comments section.

For my own year-end festivities, I'll be spending it (and the four days what follow) 'down the shore as we so stereotypically say here in 'Jersey. Specifically Ocean City, NJ. In a lovely guest house, behind a well-stocked bar, with a semi-rotating cast of forty-odd good friends of the SCA persuasion...

I've been laying down all manner of syrups for the past three days - everything from fresh batches of my usual standbys (Simple syrup(s), Hibiscus Grenadine, Cardamom 'Ale, Jamaica, Orgeat &c.) to new experiments in variation (Pistachio Orgeat; 3:1 Jaggery, Bird's Eye Chili-Tamarind, Gomme syrups, etc.). I've bottled up a batch of Ginger Ale soda syrup, a Tangerine-spiked twist on Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Tonic syrup, a wintertime variation on Kaiserpenguin's latest Falernum and a few other goodies. Liquor's all procured & packed, gear and glassware is cleaned and packed. Produce gets bought in the morning and...I'm off. I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch of stuff...

Anyway, I'll be sure to post some highlights of the event here as I'm able - hopefully a video or three.

Cheers & Happy New Years!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Los Afrodisíacos...

...I've sampled in my time, or at least those what claim to be, have been...numerous. Needless to say, when the marketing pitch for a particular spirit cites its' primary flavor component as one such substance, I'm at once intensely skeptical & mildly interested...

The aphrodisiac in question here is Damiana, a small shrub indigenous to Mexico, Central & South America, with tiny yellow flowers and dark green, somewhat bitter, leaves which slightly resemble Holly in appearance. This herb has been noted since Mayan times as a mild stimulant - particularly in the bedroom, as it were - as well as a cure-all for all manner of mild health issues. Modern science has suggested that certain concentrations of the substance are useful in the pursuit of pleasure, as well as some other uses of nominally-less interest; herbalists are fairly quick to tout its' benefits. I have sampled teas made from the dried leaves of this peculiar plant in the past and, quite frankly, remain skeptical of its purported effects. It is however, possessed of an interesting, if bitter, herbal flavor - not entirely dissimilar to a vegetal Chamomile - which is greatly enhanced & improved by the addition of a little sugar or honey.

The spirit in question here is called Agavero, a licor (i.e. liqueur) which hails from the Los Camichines Distillery in Jalisco, Mexico. It is produced by combining limousin oak-aged Reposado and Añejo Tequilas; into which an extract of the flowers (not the leaves) from the aforementioned botanical Damiana is then blended. The resulting infusion (which is sweetened) is a variation on one which has been traditionally-made for a long time in Mexico and which remains popular there - particularly in the states which make up the Baja California peninsula.

Agavero is a slightly thick, extremely-sweet liqueur that weighs in at 32% ABV; similar in proof to a triple-sec or curaçao, but is not a Tequila. In tasting I found it far too sweet to be enjoyed neat, as many have recommended. While it does taste of (unusually-sweet) Tequila, the bitter botanical taste of Damiana I had expected just weren't there; instead something else - a light flavor vaguely suggestive of Chamomile - presented itself.

Agavero has seen some success in cookery though, with a number of recipes for meals developed by cookbook author Diane Brown. The bulk of these recipes appear to involve caramelizing the sugars in said spirit, which may very well add a measure of complexity to it's flavor profile - likely letting it blend well with certain foods. That said, the spirit is interesting, but I feel that its' use in cocktails should be relegated to that of a modifier; particularly one which adds sweetness to a given drink. Replacing the triple-sec in a Margarita, for example, sounds like an interesting start...

To modify the liqueur's overall flavor I came up with the following variation on the classic Calvados Cocktail; made with Agavero, fresh Tangerine & Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy. The strength of the Laird's, combined with a heavy jolt of citrus bitters, rounds off the intense sweetness of the Agavero, allowing its slight herbal quality to interact in a far more-balanced way with the other ingredients. The resulting cocktail was pleasantly approachable - bittersweet with some interesting spicey notes - and overall, quite a nice way to enjoy this liqueur (©):

Florecer de Desierto
1½ oz. Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
1½ oz. fresh Tangerine juice
1 oz. Agavero Licor de Tequila
2¾ Teaspoons: Honey Tangerine or Regan's Orange bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice & shake well. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass & garnish with a (knotted) twist of Lemon.

Cheers & Enjoy!

In the interest of full disclosure, samples of Agavero were provided for use in writing this article.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Here's How! - Sourcing Ingredients

It’s no secret that I (and many of my fellow cocktail bloggers) am wont to toss syrups, bitters, infusions and all manner of other feats of mixoloical cleverness with almost reckless abandon into our recipes. The most frequent comments we seem to get on posts including such things are questions about ingredients: “Sounds great, but where do I find X, Y & Z?” And while the Tiki Cult™ is guiltier than most, I’m right there with them…

To be honest we’ve all been in that boat at one point or another – it’s not like we grow Gentian, Sugarcane or Allspice in our backyards after all (well, most of us), and to boot, many of the components of these ingredients can be expensive to purchase. So, what follows is a handy little guide to sourcing some of the more esoteric ingredients you may encounter here, at the Mixoloseum, or any of our member’s (or other) pages:

The Interweb
A phenomenal resource, accessible from the comfort of one’s own home no less! It bears mentioning that some of the sites you’ll find listed here fall within categories listed further down, except they also offer their products online. Here are a number of websites from which you might source all manner of interesting or rare ingredients without getting out of your bathrobe, or breaking the bank:
  • Mountain Rose Herbs - Based out of Eugene, OR, this company carries almost every herb, root or spice a cocktailian could ever need, in a number of quantities & most are organic/wild-harvested. An invaluable resource for rare or hard-to-find bitters, tincture, infusion or syrup ingredients, they also offer a variety of house tea blends. If some prices seem a touch high, it’s due to quantity – even their smaller sizes tend to be far more than the average hobbyist could use at once.
  • Spices Etc. - Based out of Savannah, GA, a good resource for standard (and some more exotic) spices and herbs, with a great selection of interesting items like dried fruits, citric acid & flavored sugars. Their best value lies in a variety of dried citrus peels - available in large strips rather than ground – which makes them a good source for bitters-making.
  • Tenzing Momo - An apothecary shop based out of the Pike Place market in Seattle, WA, this simple webpage conceals a great resource for some especially rare ingredients – one of the only vendors I know to carry Cinchona (for Tonic) or Camphor, for example. Prices will appear especially low – be warned that this is due to quantities - as near as I can tell, each herbal item is sold in 1-ounce increments.
  • Auntie Arwen’s - An apothecary & herbalist (as well a regular merchant at the Pennsic Wars), Arwen’s carries a large selection of herbs, roots, flora, spices & extracts equal to any listed above. Check out their flavored sugars while you're at it; they are incredible. Their true specialty, however, lies in crafting specialized blends of these – often on a custom/to-order basis; need a ‘mango-white pepper-grains of paradise’ blend? Arwen’s got you covered…
  • Sweet Vanilla Products USA - The wonderfully-resourceful Tiare of A Mountain of Crushed Ice discovered this little gem – an eBay store devoted almost exclusively to the sale of Vanilla beans and their byproducts. Ordinarily commanding a king’s ransom for miniscule quantities, sourcing this delicious orchid byproduct is now both easy & incredibly inexpensive.
  • Fee Brother’s - If the homemade route isn’t your thing, Fee’s, based out of Rochester, NY is a wonderful resource for commercial syrups, bitters & flavorings. The company has been operating since the early-1800’s & orders are on 60-day net, so bulk purchases are the way to go - though their products are also sold elsewhere at a slight markup.
  • Kegworks.com - A great resource for just about everything & anything cocktail-related, both for equipment as well as commercial mixers, bitters, syrups and other interesting products. Especially useful for those of you who’d rather not take the homemade route, though some of the crazier ingredients many mixologists use just aren’t produced commercially.
  • Forgotten Flavors - A German company (with a German webpage) who commercially produces a pair of hard-to-find cocktail ingredients – Falernum syrup and Swedish Punsch. Quality seems to be their main concern, and if you’d rather not make either ingredient yourself, give theirs a go.
Cultural/Ethnic Groceries
These are among my favorite places to shop - and not just for cocktail supplies! Various world cultures often utilize flavors, whether through spices or other ingredients which are often unknown or unpopular in the more mainstream culinary culture; these stores cater to these flavors and the individuals who enjoy them. I highly recommend investigating your area for ethnic stores of all sorts – anywhere there is a significant community of immigrants or individuals with strong cultural backgrounds one can find businesses like these.

Forming ‘working’ relationships with the employees or proprietors (many times one & the same) of such establishments is also recommended – you’ll often get deals of the sort generally only offered to members of the communities they serve, not to mention it often helps to have someone who can read the foreign languages used on the packages. Even without such arrangements, one will often find ingredients at fairly unheard-of prices when compared to those at your average grocery store. Here are just a few examples of stores like this:
  • Middle Eastern - Spices, often expensive ones like Green Cardamom, Ras al Hanout or Saffron are atypically-cheap staples of places like these. Likewise, teas, coffees and interestingly-flavored beverages of all kinds are often easy to find. As many Middle Eastern cultures utilize complex & unusual sweeteners or flavorings in aspects of their cuisine – especially beverages - one can find commercially-bottled syrups (Almond with Orange-flower water (i.e. Orgeat), Tamarind, Date, Rose & Honey to name a few). High-quality Rose or Orange-flower waters, as well as flavored or artisanal Vinegars are also on offer.
  • Hispanic & Caribbean - That tiny corner bodega often conceals a treasure trove of flavorful ingredients. Chiles, dried or fresh, fruit Nectars & Juices, Sodas (often sweetened with sugar; like Mexican Coke, Malta, Barritt’s, Jarritos or Ting), dried Hibiscus (called Sorrel or Jamaica). Whole spices like Allspice, Anise or Achiote seeds and produce like Passionfruit, Sugarsop, Mango, Coconut, whole Sugarcane & Ginger are available quite inexpensively.
  • Asian - Rare & often strange (from a Western standpoint) ingredients are the watchwords in these establishments. Hard-to-find ingredients like Yuzu juice, Lemongrass, (high-quality) Coconut milk, unusual waters, tinctures and extracts like Jasmine, Rose, or Ginger are common. Teas of just about every stripe – particularly high-grade green & white varieties like Macha or Gunpowder will also be fairly common. Finally, many establishments like these will either have an in-house herbalist or will be able to recommend one in your area – another helpful resource.
  • Indian - Here it’s all about the spices: items like Cardamom, Clove, Coriander, Mace, Allspice & Cinnamon are often available at unthinkably-low prices & in large quantities. Likewise, dried fruits such as Dates, Figs and Oranges, as well as dozens of varieties of nuts & seeds (whole, blanched, chopped &c.) are often offered. Similar to Middle Eastern shops, unusual flavorings and sweeteners like Gur or Jaggery (date palm sugar), commercial beverage syrups like Thandai (a spicy Orgeat variant) and hard-to-find fruit Nectars (Passionfruit or Pomegranate) abound.
Fresh/Farmer’s Markets
As anyone from California will attest, this is the best way to get fresh fruit, vegetables and often herbs too – often for fantastic prices. Once you’ve found a good farmer’ market you’ll never want to go back to the supermarket again - so be warned. Offerings at this sort of establishment vary wildly with season, location and suppliers. Look for a market which (ideally) knows exactly where & from what farm(s) their produce is harvested – even better a market run by the individuals who grow the produce themselves - and stocks particularly-seasonal items only within the appropriate period. As with the ethnic/cultural spots listed above, forming a ‘working relationship’ with the folks in charge can be extremely beneficial.

Health & Nutrition/”Alternate Lifestyle”
If you can stomach the overwhelming scent of patchouli for a bit, checking out the local ‘hippy shop’ or health-nut haven can result in some impressive finds, both equipment & ingredients-wise. Handy tools like juicers, mortar & pestles, blender balls and pollen presses can be found in locations like these. Also, extracts, whole herbs and spice/tea blends, interesting Honeys, Agave nectar and other items are often for sale; especially in “New Age”-type shops. Just be careful with extracts – be certain what you’re buying is both pure & of ‘food-grade’. Many shops like this maintain listings of their offerings & will sometimes ship via mail even if they’re not represented online, so requesting a catalog or ordering one through phone or mail can be helpful.

Have a favorite source or way of procuring for hard-to-find or unusual ingredients? Be sure to let me know about it in the Comments section.

Cheers & Enjoy!

I have no affiliation, stake or ties to any sources specifically mentioned by name or link (save as a satisfied customer). This article has been cross-posted over at the Mixoloseum - whomever authorized this has undoubtedly been sacked...

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Comfortable Conflagration

As I drove up to see some old friends this weekend past, the lightly-falling snow - the first of any consequence around here - got me thinking. I'm not big on being cold myself, so the change of the seasons from chilly and windy to windy, cold and wet has brought about the need for something that will send the chill packing & bring thoughts of warmer days to the forefront.

Peaches are among my favorite summertime produces; their flavor, in fact, exerts a very strong memory-association with warm summer afternoons for me. But for a December drink, why Peaches - haven't they been out of season for months, you ask? Indeed, but bear with me a moment. What really got me onto this whole notion was a bottle of the often-maligned 100° Southern Comfort which I knew my friends to possess; a higher-proof variation on the usual fruit & spice liqueur of the south. Said spirit, likely due to the increased alcohol content, asserts an even stronger suggestion of Peach flavor than it's lower-proofed cousin, making it an ideal base for the next step:

The Blue Blazer
is a classic concoction of impressive presentation, excellent flavor and marvelous warming properties. Consisting of a healthy measure of cask-strength spirit, boiling water, lemon peel and sugar which is then set alight & flung between two mugs, it's mere creation will warm the room by a few degrees. But the usual 'Blazer is prepared with Scotch - which while an excellent addition to a winter warmer - might be difficult to blend into my peachy idea. Watery peaches didn't sound so appealing either, so the hot water would have to go...sort of:

is a delicious Japanese green tea which contains a bit of toasted brown rice. This feature takes the soft, grassy flavors of the tea in a whole new direction - adding a smoky, bittersweet aromatic element which is quite unique. Indeed, after playing with it here I have a number of plans for utilizing it in a Rhum or Cognac Punch in the future, but more on that some other time. Sampling the Genmaicha with SoCo yielded some favorable, if one-sided results - not quite the peach emphasis I desired.

Into the mix then came the next ingredient, an organic Peach nectar, gently warmed & added to the prepared tea. As said nectar is already sweetened, I tipped a heavy dash of Angostura bitters into the mixture to add a little complexity & reign-in the sugar. The final ingredients went into the glasses arrayed before me - a long twist of Orange peel paired with a heavy dash of Fernet Branca - a very tasty Italian amaro of great complexity. Now that the ingredients are all sorted out, what came next, you ask? Just this savory, if poorly-photographed, drink - redolent of warm peaches, caramel, spice & a discernable absence of the cold (©):

Comfortable Conflagration
6 oz. 100° Southern Comfort
2½ oz. Genmaicha tea
2½ oz. Peach nectar
2 dashes: Angostura bitters
In each Glass (makes 4):
1 long twist: fresh Orange peel
1 Teaspoon: Fernet Branca
1 Teaspoon: Nectar-Tea mixture, hot
Preparation: Brew Tea, pour into a small saucepan & combine with Nectar and bitters. Warm to a gentle simmer over gentle heat, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, warm four toddy glasses, mugs or whatever you've got on hand by rinsing them with boiling water. Add Orange peel, Fernet & hot Nectar-Tea mixture to prepared glasses. Warm a pair of well-insulated mugs with a rinse of boiling water & get ready for the show (I typically invoke the late J. Thomas for luck).
Execution: Add the hot five-ounce mixture of Tea, Nectar & bitters to one warmed mug. Pour the Southern Comfort on top of this, dim the lights & set aflame with a long match. Taking up your empty mug, carefully pour the flaming liquid from cup to cup approximately six times before extinguishing. Pour hot liquid into prepared glasses and stir briefly. Look cool, enjoy the applause (and the drink).

Cheers & Enjoy!

If you o' gentle reader would like to attempt a Blue Blazer of any ilk, I must stress that both a pair of good insulated mugs and, most importantly, practice are essential. Practice the pour first with cold water, then move up to hot water - being extremely careful when you finally move to the flaming stuff. Setting up a metal tray with a little water, or at least a layer of wet towels, underneath the area you intend to make the drink is a fantastic idea. By-the-by, I take no responsibility for any injuries or property damage sustained attempting this feat...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Libations to Love...Live and in Color!

On November 20th, Thursday Drink Night at the Mixoloseum took on an air of near-respectability with the generous sponsorship of Leblon Cachaça. Company founder & President Steve Luttmann, alongside founding Partner and COO Gerry Schweitzer joined in the discssions, answering all manner of questions about the spirit they produce.

Naturally, the theme of the night was this lovely artisanal example of Brazil's native spirit; and a record-setting thirty-one cocktails were originated throughout the evening utilizing it - some of them on-location by our team at Trader Vic's in Las Vegas.

Cachaça is a great spirit - the third most-produced liquor in the world - and is similar in production to Rum, while containing a number of the grassy, vegetal flavor characteristics that many people associate with Tequila. Leblon is the end product of a ferment of pressed sugarcane juice, which is then distilled in copper alembique stills, rather than the column stills utilized by other 'industrial' cachaças. The head and tail of the distillate is discarded, and the young spirit is rested for several months in used XO Cognac casks to soften & enrich its flavors before being blended by master distiller Gilles Merlet & filtered for bottling.

The resulting artisanal spirit weighs in at 40% ABV and has a wonderful, almost floral, aroma of grassy sugarcane coupled with a fairly soft mouthfeel & a mild, if flavorful, taste. These characteristics make it an excellent introductory spirit into the world of Cachaças and makes for a fantastic Caipirinha - the national drink of Brazil. Give it whirl in one of the many drinks originated at TDN, or in one of these delightful libations (©):

Missionary's Demise
1¼ oz. Leblon Cachaça
¾ oz. Blackstrap Rum (Cruzan)
½ oz. Orange Curaçao (Marie Brizard)
¾ oz. fresh Orange juice
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
½ oz. Orgeat syrup
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass & shake well with plenty of cracked ice. Strain into a double Old-Fashioned glass half-filled with cracked ice & garnish with a sprig of fresh Spearmint.

Clementine Caipirinha
2 oz. Leblon Cachaça
1 whole fresh Clementine
1 wedge (): fresh Lime
1½ Teaspoons: Demerara sugar
Remove the ends from the Clementine & slice into quarters, being sure to remove any of the white pith in the center of the segments. In a mixing glass, muddle the Lime & Clementine wedges with the sugar. Add Cachaça with plenty of cracked ice & shake well. Pour unstrained into a double Old-Fashioned glass, top with fresh cracked ice & serve with a wide straw.

Cheers & Enjoy!
*In the interest of full disclosure, samples of Leblon were provided for this TDN event*

Sunday, November 16, 2008

MxMo XXXIII: Made From Scratch, pt. I

This month's Mixology Monday, which I've missed the deadline for by about two weeks now, was being generously hosted by Doug over at the Pegu Blog - sorry Doug! Much like all past & future MxMo's this one followed a most interesting format. His (awesome!) chosen theme, as passed down to we mere mortals from on high?
"Bring forth unto us a beverage! Thy beverage shall depend upon one
or more ingredients that thou makest yourself. Beyond that decree, you may
voyage to the edge of the Earth or beyond."
Well, as anyone who has ever even glanced sideways at this blog will attest, I've never made anything from scratch to use in a cocktail. Nope - no bitters, infusions, syrups or oddball/hard-to-find ingredients here...

That I said that with a straight face is suprising to me & should sound dubious to you 'o gentle reader, as homemade ingredients are something of an obvious passion of mine. But what to highlight, something garnered from the edge of the Earth or beyond, as Doug said? A topic which I've been experimenting with for some time (but have inexplicably yet to post on, on-time or otherwise) which, once made, can bring flavors from the ends of the world right to your glass: Tinctures.

are quite simple concoctions really, consisting of nothing more than an ingredient - generally an herb, root or spice - whose flavor has been extracted by means of a solvent - ethanol in this instance. Chances are, no matter how humble your spice cabinet may (or may not) be, you've got a tincture or three in there right now; got pure Vanilla extract?

The reason for an ethanol base is simple: high-proof alcohol extracts the essential oils - the aromatic compounds which provide scent & through this medium, flavor - quite efficiently. Most tinctures fall into the 35-80% ABV range for this very reason, though even the weakest of them (that Vanilla extract of yours likely comes in at 35% for example) typically start in a neutral base which is around 80-95% ABV before being diluted somewhat. It is in this matter, incidentally, that I've never been more pleased about college students fulfilling their odd requirements for drinking. Simply put, due to the demand such persons have for high-proof Neutral Grain Spirits (read: Everclear), such items continue to be produced & sold in most parts of the country. But it was not always this way - once upon a time NGS's filled an important role, not by being drunk with Kool-aide, but rather in the production of colorants, bitters, infusions & tinctures.

In Jerry Thomas' How to Mix Drinks, as well as Christian Schltz's accompanying Manual For the Manufacture of Cordials, Liquors, Fancy Syrups &c., &c. a sizeable number recipes for producing colorants oils, extracts and tinctures are included as well as referenced. Take this one for example:

Tincture of Cinnamon
Place 2 pounds of ground Cinnamon into a jar with 1 gallon 95 per cent alcohol, closely covered. At the end of 8 days strain the liquor clear; wash the sediment with 1 quart proof spirits [read: 80°]; strain it; mix the two liquors together, and filter through blotting paper.

All well & good if you have use for a 1¼ Gallons of tincture! Generally speaking, tinctures last a long time, since a little goes such a long way (much like bitters) scaling recipes such as this one down tend to be a good plan, like so:

Tincture of Cinnamon
2 oz. whole Cinnamon sticks
8 oz. Neutral Grain Spirit (Everclear)
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for about three weeks, agitating every day. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give this a whirl in Jeff Morgenthaler's Autumn Leaves.

Now, as most of us don't manufacture imitation spirits & colorants as our friend Mr. Schultz did, we get to the subject of using tinctures today. Certainly, tinctures are optimal for adding tiny dashes of flavor to given recipes - particularly when adding such a flavor in the form of its originating spice would be impractical. Furthermore, while spices are far more available in modern days than they were in antiquity, the problem of their (sometimes rapid) degredation is still a valid one. Those same oils & aromatic compounds which give spices their characteristic favors, tend to be greatly reduced with time - especially once whole spices been dried & ground. In this way, tinctures act as a preservative - allowing one to capture the flavor & aroma of a fresh spice while concentrating it for use much farther down the line than a quantity of that spice would ordinarily allow. Likewise, since it will grow no stronger or weaker with age, tinctures are quite stable in their intensity - a feature which some, like Jamie Boudreau of Spirits & Cocktails, advocate using to prepare bitters with consistency.

Another fantastic use, which many 'seat of the pants' sessions of TDN have taught me, is constructing flavored syrups on-the-fly. Despite my penchant for making all sorts of flavored syrups, this peculiar affliction also graces my colleagues in the Mixoloseum, so on any given evening there will be recipes calling for syrups infused with Coffee, Cinnamon, Allspice, Nutmeg, black Pepper or any number of other items. Yet by taking a small quantity of ordinary simple syrup, one can add a given tincture to produce the flavor(s) required in mere seconds, like so:

Cinnamon Syrup
4 oz. Simple syrup (2:1)
2-3 drops Cinnamon Tincture
Combine ingredients & shake well to mix. Use as a normal Cinnamon syrup, like in Rick of Kaiser Penguin's Jet Pilot.

Now that you've got some uses lined up for these versatile extracts, how do you go about crafting your own? Tinctures are fairly forgiving in their construction, but here are a few hard & fast rules for making them on your own:
  1. Barring a few of the stronger spices, tinctures are generally prepared in a 5 or 4:1 ratio of Spirit:Spice.
  2. Tinctures take a while to make, generally-speaking about two weeks of maceration, though certain spices & herbs require more time, even in high-test spirit. Color is a good indicator - when the color of the liquid has deepened to match that of the herbs & grows no darker in hue, you're likely good to go.
  3. Scent is also a good indicator - when you can detect no alcohol fumes overpowering the aroma of whatever you've infused, the tincture is more or less ready. Taste can be used here too, but be sure to only sample the tiniest of tiny amounts to avoid blowing a fuse in your taste buds. Bitter or spicy tinctures are recommended against sampling undiluted.
  4. If you'd like your tinctures at a milder final proof, feel free to dilute them with water. However, to avoid diluting the flavor, you'll want to allow said water to infuse in the washed spices for about a week before you strain & add it to your original alcohol base.

To get started, here are handful of tinctures which are much-valued in my kitchen & bar (for a full list of the tinctures I've currently got on hand, check out the "Behind the Bar: Tinctures & Bitters" sidebar on the right):

Tincture of Iranian Saffron
4 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
1 Teaspoon: Iranian Saffron threads
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for eighteen days, agitating gently each day. Should be a delicate, clear reddish-pink in color. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give 1 drop of this a try in a Pisco Sour, or two drops in a Silver Fizz.

Tincture of Black Cardamom
2 oz. Black Cardamom, seeds only
8 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for three weeks, agitating gently each day. Should be a slightly opaque, smoke-hued color. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give 2 drops of this a try in a Sidecar or Tom Collins.

Tincture of Wormwood
2 oz. Wormwood
8 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
Combine ingredients in an airtight container for three weeks, agitating gently each day. Should be an opaque, deep dark green in color. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give this a try in Darcy O'Neil's researched reproduction of the infamous Green Swizzle or the handful of other antique recipes what call for "Wormwood bitters".

Tincture of Scotch Bonnet
7 oz. Neutral Grain Spirits
2 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers, seeds only
1 Tablespoon: Scotch Bonnet pepper, julienned
Please be extremely cautious when working with these peppers, wearing gloves & being careful to avoid contact with your eyes or mouth. Combine ingredients in an airtight container for sixteen days, agitating gently each day. Should be clear with a very slight, almost ominous, oily orange tint. When ready, fine-strain to remove all solids & bottle. Give this a (careful) try as the spicy element in a wicked Bloody Mary - sub 2 drops in for your favorite hot sauce.

Cheers, enjoy & sorry again Doug!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stop Me if You've Heard this One

So, a cocktail geek & some lovely ladies walk into a bar...

Which bar, you ask? Why Death & Co. in New York city of course. And what's so special about that? Well, tonight is a juniper-scented TDN over at the Mixoloseum and what better venue for tossing up new & interesting libations than there? Ok fine, one's own kitchen is cool too (& ordinarily where I'd be for a TDN) but hell, why not go live with it though some curious combination of mobile technologies. Besides it's not like they have any Gin at Death & Co...no surely not, no...

So be sure to join us tonight, with as much live cocktail crafting as my wallet (& the bartenders' patience) will afford from D&C, in the Mixoloseum Bar at 7pm EST. The only requirements for all you home participants are a bottle of Gin that you've never bought before & the extra-spiffy prize for the best original cocktail of the evening is a bottle of the new (& oh-so-tasty) Angostura Orange bitters! Tune in here later for updates & a recap of my TDN coverage...


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Going Out All Dolled Up...

Before I get into this weeks' cocktailian post, I want to take a moment to get all sentimental on you. As I briefly mentioned in my most recent article, I've noticed something of a (massive) spike in visitor traffic to the humble little blog you now find yourself reading. That so many of you from such wide and varied locales consider my ramblings worth your time is really inspiring, so thank you kindly for stopping by. Similar thanks to the wonderful online communities of cocktailian writers, bloggers and foodies for their generous advice, encouragement, linkage & overall good-will...

Among these wonderful groups is the shiny-new foodie community Foodbuzz.com, which has just recently gone live & whose lovely badge you may have noticed gracing my site. Simply put, it is a veritable hub of inspirational activity - with featured publishers and contributing members churning out brilliant articles and recipes in just about every conceivable area of food & drink. For the official press release & explanation of what Foodbuzz is about, check here. Alternately you can just get a (visually-stunning) glance at some of their finest contributors with their inaugural 24, 24, 24 video. Barring those, just leap right into the fray with a visit to the main site...

Similarly, a huge thanks to our friends at Liqurious.com (formerly the well-missed Tastespotting.com) for showcasing photos of not only my, but dozens of my favorite bloggers' drinks! Especial thanks to the mysterious individual ( ? ) who keeps adding me to the queue there!

A final thanks to Gabriel from Cocktailnerd.com and Rick of Kaiserpenguin.com for their tireless work in establishing the Mixoloseum - a fantastic chat forum where cocktailians from all over might gather to discuss our favorite mixological projects & plans in authentic "nineties-style". This friendly forum (home of the fantastically-entertaining weekly TDN) also plays host to themed panel discussions, often visited by venerable names in the mixological multiverse, where it is a truly-inspirational venue. This was certainly the case during the most recent panel on garnishing cocktails:

Led by Tiare of A Mountain of Crushed Ice & Rick, with a gracious (& insightful) appearance by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry of Exotic/Tiki-drink fame, this discussion was a showcase of some of the most beautiful (& functional) examples of garnish I've ever seen, paired with historical information on the topic by the 'Bum and lots of banter on how to accomplish such artistry at home. As a fitting conclusion to this panel, Tiare has proposed a Garnish Contest open to all. So, as a conclusion to my (not-so-brief) lapse into thankful sentimentality, here are my entries - delicious cocktails both - which showcase the effects a particular garnish can have on a libation's enjoyment (©):

Blood & Brandy
1½ oz. VSOP Brandy (Raynal)
½ oz. Rhum Agricole Blanc (La Favorite)
1 Teaspoon: Campari
1 oz. fresh Blood Orange juice
1 oz. Simple syrup
1x fresh Egg white
2 dashes: Peychaud's bitters
Combine ingredients, except bitters, in a mixing glass and dry shake to incorporate & emulsify. Add ice and shake well before straining into a chilled cocktail glass. Dash bitters on top of foam & swirl into a pattern with a toothpick before adding a flamed twist of Blood Orange.

Sudanese Rose
1½ oz. Rhum Agricole Blanc (La Favorite)
½ oz. Lillet Blonde
2 oz. Karkade (Hibiscus tisane, Jaimaica also works fine)
3-4 dashes: Hibiscus Grenadine
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass & stir well with plenty of ice. Strain into a double-rocks glass, half-filled with ice. Garnish with a twist of Lime, sprig of fresh Peppermint & an organic Rose petal.

Both cocktails make visually-appealing (IMHO) use of aromatic garnishes - ones which contribute primarily to the olfactory aspects of the libations in question. The Peychaud's used in the Blood & Brandy sits delicately atop the foam created by the egg white, while the flamed Blood Orange peel adds both flavor & aroma to said foam (and through it, the liquid slumbering beneath). As the Sudanese Rose is a composition in subtle floral & botanical flavors, the addition of the acidic citrus oil provides a nice contrasting element to these tastes - helping to keep them in line, as it were. The aromas of the peppermint and rose provide a refreshing olfactory experience to match & enhance the tart flavors of the Hibiscus tisane in the cocktail. Neither beverage, like so many other (equally dolled-up) libations would be even remotely the same, were they to go out sans garnish...
Cheers & Thanks again!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Seasonal Produce: Pumpkin

As the autumn season continues & more of my favorite examples of seasonal produce become prevalent, I was reminded of an experiment I had been contemplating for some months. Now before you start frantically searching for the back button (it's on the left), a few brief words. If you've been reading here for a while (or are one of the many new readers who have been trickling in from all corners of the earth - thanks by the way!), you've doubtlessly noted three things in or about my rambling articles:

1. I tend to wax poetic at times...alright all the time.
2. I'm more often than not rambling about (crazy) recipes which are, admittedly, a pain to actually make - no matter how delicious they might be.
3. Coming under the auspices of items 1 & 2, a fairly-lengthy article discussing regional variations on Orgeat syrup.

Well, at least for this little experiment - a continuation of the topics mentioned in #3 - I'll try to avoid the pitfalls of 1 and 2. As it is mid-October, I'm sure many of you are preparing for some manner of Halloween festivities, which will undoubtedly result in hacking up an otherwise-serviceable pumpkin. But what to do with all the insides? Make some pumpkin pie from the flesh of this seasonal delight? Sure (and a bloody fine idea that is), but what about the veritable pile of seeds you'll end up with?

One of the problems I failed to mention when discussing Orgeat variants like Horchata de Melón is that, while absolutely delicious, they tend to be inefficient to make. After all, how many seeds can one expect to extract from a watermelon or worse, a cucumber? In the following recipe, this problem is non-existent - even the smallest of pumpkins is nearly overflowing with seeds. Even better, if you mean to make a jack o'lantern in the next few weeks you'll have more of them on hand than you could shake a stick at. Simple, efficient & absolutely delicious - give this one a try (©):

Pumpkin Horchata
2¼ Cups: fresh Pumpkin seeds
¼ Cup: slivered Almonds
2½ Cups: Water
2¼ Cups: white Sugar
4 Tablespoons: Muscovado/brown Sugar
½ Teaspoon: ground Cinnamon
¼ Teaspoon: ground Nutmeg
¼ Teaspoon: ground Ginger
5x whole Cloves
1 pinch: Cayenne pepper
Pre-heat oven to 375°F. Wash the pumpkin seeds thoroughly in a colander or strainer, then pat dry. Spread seeds and Almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet & toast until fragrant. Process the (still-warm) toasted mixture in a food processor, shells & all until coarsely-ground. Combine this mixture with the spices and Water (reserve the Sugars for later) and refrigerate for approximately 4 hours. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible. Re-combine the solids and liquid and steep again for another 4 hours; strain again. (For the strongest flavor; repeat the process once more.) Combine strained liquid with Sugars in a saucepan & bring to a very gentle simmer over medium-low heat (do not boil) until Sugars are dissolved. Cool, bottle and enjoy in the following libation:

Clever Jack Cocktail
1½ oz. Laird's 100° Bonded Apple Brandy
½ oz. Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt)
¾ oz. Pumpkin Horchata
½ oz. fresh Orange juice
1 Teaspoon fresh Lemon juice
Combine ingredients in a shaker with plenty of ice & shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass & garnish with a flamed twist of Orange.

If you do give this syrup a go, be sure to pass along whatever cocktail recipe(s) you clever folks might come up with. Incidentally, if you mean to substitute this into an existing cocktail what calls for Orgeat, go a little heavier on the pour - its' slightly more delicate in flavor and sweetness that the aforementioned French stuff...

For my part, I'll be carting a bottle over to Jonathan Pogash's Elements of Mixology class tomorrow at the Astor Center in NYC to try & formulate some more uses for this delicious seasonal syrup. Then perhaps a quick jaunt over to Pegu to see what those clever lads can make of it...

Cheers & Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

MxMo XXXII: Guilty Pleasures

This (only nominally) guilt-ridden installment of Mixology Monday is being hosted by Stevi over at Two at the Most. Her chosen theme? Guilty pleasures of course, or those 'cocktails' which are well-loved or enjoyed even though we know, or are just constantly told, are no good for us. This theme, undoubtedly chosen for just such a purpose, will almost assuredly result in no small amount of mockery across any number of cocktailian blogs, to say nothing of the already snarky dialogue peculiar to the Mixoloseum. Bring it on I say & we'll exchange remarks over a round (or five) of Irish Carbombs...

I don't quite know how guilty I am about enjoying this particular beverage, however politically-incorrect or tactless its' name & method of consumption may be. I love a good pint of heavy, as they say, and Guinness is a fine example. Likewise, I enjoy a drop of Whiskey, particularly the Irish varieties. As for the cream liqueur (Bailey's in this case), well maybe I'm a little guilty about that, but nobody's perfect.

The recipe, merely a variation on the venerable boilermaker, is outrageously simple. This, above all else, makes this beverage an especially easy choice when out on the town in an establishment of...questionable virtue. Incidentally, despite its universally Irish components, due to its' name this drink might not be the best thing to order in a "real" Irish bar (much like a "Black & Tan") - a bloody shame since the Guinness is always better in that sort of place:

The Irish Carbomb
½ oz. Jameson's Irish Whiskey
½ oz. Bailey's Irish Cream
12 oz. Guinness Stout
1x (sturdy) Pint Glass
1x (sturdy) Pony shotglass
Pour the Guinness into a chilled pint glass. In the pony, layer the spirits in the order presented. As quickly as you are able, carefully drop the shot into the pint glass - no spilling now! When the pony hits bottom, it's bottoms up - much like a (far more classy) Fizz, a Carbomb does not improve with time.

Best enjoyed with friends - preferably a whole dive bar's worth - with loud punk music (I prefer Rudie Can't Fail or Anarchy in the UK myself) blaring from the jukebox...

Cheers, enjoy & don't be too serious!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Seasonal Produce: Pears

With the looming descent of autumnal weather, a great many of my favorite fresh produces are hitting their peak seasons. Pumpkins, apples, cranberries and pomegranates are all prevalent from September on, but chief among these, in my humble opinion, are Pears. Literally dozens of varieties of this delicious fruit become readily available around this time of year, with new types appearing in your local market (even supermarket) from late September all the way through to February.

Pears have been a relative staple of the human diet the world over (particularly in cooler climates) since the days of antiquity, being known of and cultivated by the ancient Greeks & Romans. The fruit is mentioned several times in Pliny the Elder's 1st century text, Natural History, where he particularly noted their use in producing a variety of wine called Castomoniale. The 4th-century writer Palladius further mentions this beverage, citing in his Opus Agriculturae that Romans preferred it to wine made from apples.

What's more, one of the earliest known cookbooks - the 4th century work Apicus - lists several recipes for preparing the fruit as per the apparent Roman belief that pears were best enjoyed cooked & heavily-spiced (stewed in honey or cooked in a soufflé-like patina) rather than raw. Records similarly indicate that at the time of the Roman conquests of Gaul, the peoples there were already utilizing pears to produce both wine and a variation on hard (apple) cider. This tradition carried through the medieval period, spreading to England during the reign of Henry VIII, where the beverage acquired the name "Perry". Similarly, the spread of distillation around the same period brought about the delicious Eau de Vie de Poire.

However, for use in modern cocktails those crazy Romans may have been onto something with their notion of preparing pears - particularly with the use of spices. Depending on the variety, pears, while perfectly delicious raw, often have the kind of subtle flavor which can be enhanced by (or act as the perfect foil for) all manner of stronger spice flavors. Ginger, Cinnamon, Tarragon, Cardamom, Vanilla, Clove, Nutmeg, Anise, even Juniper and Saffron have all been combined with pears by chefs, both pastry & culinary, for many centuries clear through to the modern day. In keeping with that notion, might I suggest this delicious libation which carefully balances the silky texture and flavors of pear, the spice of ginger, and the botanicals of both Pimm's & Gin rather delightfully (©):

P & G Cocktail
1½ oz. Pimm's No. 1
½ oz. Plymouth Gin
2 oz. organic Pear nectar
¼ fresh d'Anjou Pear
2 dashes: Angostura bitters
Ginger beer
In a mixing glass muddle the fresh Pear with the Gin & bitters. Combine remaining ingredients (except Ginger beer) & shake with plenty of ice. Fine strain into a chimney glass and top with Ginger beer. Stir briefly and garnish with a slice of fresh Pear and a sliver of crystallized Ginger (optional).

Returning to our Roman friends' practice of stewing pears in honey & spices once more, one finds another great use for the fruit in libations. Poached pears, long a potent item in the pastry chef's arsenal, can be used to add sweetness, spice and flavor to any number of drinks which may be well-enhanced by any of those elements. At its most basic, poaching pears (or most any firm fruit) merely requires you to skin & remove the cores from the fruit before simmering for about twenty-five minutes in a 3:1 mixture of water & either sugar or honey. From there the sky is the limit: adding spices, citrus zest, wine, or most any other savory ingredient to the mix can result in some truly marvelous creations.

The great recipe for pears poached in Saffron-Vanilla syrup posted at Figs with Bri, for example, makes a fantastic addition (though a plain honey-poached one works fine too) to the following libation - itself a riff on the classic autumnal Stone Fence. Much like that venerable cocktail, one can use a commercially-available Perry (such as Woodchuck) or the adventurous can ferment their own by leaving a non-pasteurized Pear cider/nectar out in a cool, dark place for 5-6 days (uncovering occasionally to release the accumulated gasses). Either method will endow you with a dry, lightly-alcoholic and very tasty 'cider' which can be used to great effect in (©):

Perry's Mason
1¼ oz. Eau de Vie de Poire (Pear William)
¾ oz. Irish Whiskey (Redbreast or another full-flavored variety)
Perry cider (see above)
2-3 slices: Poached Pear
Combine spirits & poached Pear slices in a Highball glass half-filled with ice. Fill up with Perry, stir briefly and enjoy un-garnished & un-varnished.

Embracing Seasonal Flavors
With the growing popularity of fine-dining establishments, one doesn't need to delve into ancient history or even the kitchen to enjoy the taste of fresh pears in libations or cuisine. Great restaurants & bars all over the world have been embracing a seasonal outlook on fresh produce for quite some time - a concept which really brings some delicious, high-quality drinks and dishes to both bar & table. One such establishment is my favorite 'local: the highly-rated Catherine Lombardi's in downtown New Brunswick, New Jersey. The outspoken principles on fresh, local ingredients of co-owners Francis Schott and Mark Pascal (of Restaurant Guys Radio fame), together with a top-notch bar & kitchen-staff, regularly produce truly fantastic culinary creations, such as Mr. Schott's own (delicious) autumnal cocktail:

The Irish Twin
1½ oz. Jameson's Irish Whiskey
2 oz. organic Pear nectar
½ oz. Honey syrup (1:1 - Honey:Water)
1 dash: ground Cinnamon
1 slice: fresh Pear
Combine liquid ingredients and dash of Cinnamon in a mixing glass with lots of ice & shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass & garnish with the slice of fresh Pear (dusted on one side with a little cinnamon).

If you find yourself in the New Jersey area sometime this Fall, a stop into New Brunswick and the beautiful bar at Lombardi's would not be amiss. Ask for an Irish Twin, perhaps an antipasta or two, and escape autumn's chill with some of the great produce of the season...


PS - For those of you gentle readers with some homebrewing experience who want to have a go at brewing a real Perry, the UK-based Real Cider and Perry Pages contain some excellent reading material on the topic...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Only Funkin'

It sometimes seems that those of us who write cocktail blogs are especially prone to following similar lines of booze-soaked thinking. I sometimes think it must be some sort of collective-subconscious inspired in part by our prodigious drinking habits...

Case in point - I embarked upon this post with the aim of writing about a certain pair of Tiki cocktails of which I am rather fond when, hey presto, I check my blog reader to see that Tiare - the fabulously-talented mixologist from A Mountain of Crushed Ice - has beat me to the punchbowl as it were. Her research & descriptions of those classic cocktails, the Dr. Funk and Funk's Son specifically, are both spot-on and well-done (as always). That she prepared the drinks in a pair of beautifully-executed ice towers (!), makes her post an incredibly hard act to follow. Nevertheless, I'll make an attempt to contribute something to the topic of the inestimable Doctor Funk...

In my recent and fairly long-winded vacation recap, I mentioned a number of spirits I had acquired in my travels. One of these was a French Pastis flavored with Violets - an interesting spirit of 45% ABV which reminds me considerably of a combination of the best elements of both Herbsaint and Crème de Violette. After getting a feel for its strength & (very) pleasant flavor, I began searching for a use for the stuff in cocktails. Despite a few marginal successes with some recipes from the Savoy cocktail book, the savory use of Absinthe/Pastis as an addition to many of Tiki barman Donn Beach's libations continued to spring to mind...

One of the finest examples of this modifier is the good Samoan doctor's cocktail, which Trader Vic speculated was originally invented to cure the cathard (the loss of ones' mind from the heat). After a bit of experimentation with the various recipes for the original, alongside a variety of substitutions for different ingredients, I settled with a riff on the (slightly-simplified) Dr. Funk recipe which Jeff "Beachbum" Berry prepared for an episode of The Cocktail Spirit filmed at the close of this year's Tales of the Cocktail. Maybe there is something to this boozy collective-subconscious thing after all? In any case, here she is, a very funky libation named after an old song by another hard act to follow - Bad Manners (©):

Only Funkin'
1½ oz. flavorful white Rum (Rhum Barbancourt white)
¾ Tsp. Pastis au Violette
¾ Tsp. Hibiscus Grenadine
¾ oz. fresh Lemon juice
¾ oz. Violet "Tea" Syrup (see below)
1 oz. Seltzer
2 Tsp. heavy dark Rum (Cruzan Blackstrap)
Combine all ingredients except Seltzer & dark Rum in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake well & strain into a chimney glass ¾-filled with crushed ice. Top with Seltzer, give a brief stir and float the dark Rum on top, adding more crushed ice if necessary. Garnish with a long twist of Lemon & an edible Violet.

Violet "Tea" Syrup
1 Cup: white Sugar
¾ Cup: Water
2½ Tablespoons: Blue Violet Herb Mix
1 Tsp. dried Hibiscus flowers, coarsely ground
Combine ingredients in a saucepan & bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for five minutes & remove from heat. Allow Violet Mixture to steep until liquid cools to room temperature before fine-straining out solids & bottling (a small tea ball/infuser will minimize this step considerably).

Can't find a Violet-flavored Pastis or get ahold of the required herbal blend? The following substitutions work fairly well & produce almost the same beverage with only marginally more work. For the Violet Pastis, a mixture of approximately 2/3 Herbsaint & 1/3 Crème de Violette is fine. For the Violet "Tea" Syrup, a 3:1 blend of Monin Violet Syrup (or an equivalent commercial syrup) with strong Green tea will more or less replicate the flavor you're seeking...

Cheers & Enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ramblin' On...

...and on, after a brief stopover on the topic of this month's Mixology Monday as well as a ferocious bar-room brawl against an inexplicable episode of writer's block, here she is (finally, you say) - part deux of my long-delayed vacation recap from the often-curious perspective of food & drink...

Istanbul, Turkey
Naturally, when planning this vacation, I had elected to take an excursion (arranged by the cruise) entitled "Cuisine & Bazaars of Istanbul". The tour began perilously (for me anyway) early in the morning, arriving in the Old City (where Istanbul was Constantinople) and walking through the marvel that is Galatasaray Square. Off this pedestrian-only street a multitude of confectionary shops, markets and other stores abound and the tour visited many of them, including a walk through the old Cicek Pasaji (once the Flower Market, the space is now filled with restaurants, coffeehouses & taverns) to reach Istanbul's outdoor Balik Pazari - the Fish & Produce market:

This long, narrow street is literally wall-to-wall with outdoor vendors, selling some of the best-looking produce & seafood I've yet seen. To give you a rough idea - those peaches pictured on the end were roughly the size of a grapefruit (and were almost outrageously juicy & delicious)! After a prolonged wander through the market (& a great deal of inner annoyance at the realization that customs would never let me bring anything sold here back home), the group proceeded back up through Galatasaray Square, stopping at a number of the confectionary shops for snacks and sweets, such as fresh Baklava & candied Almonds before boarding a bus for the short trip to:

The Spice Bazaar
Let me say this first - the Spice Bazaar is worth a trip to Turkey alone. A massive indoor & outdoor market frequented (unlike the infamous Grand Bazaar) by Turks & tourists alike, if it's used in cooking you can find it here. Inside the market I spent more than an hour wandering from vendor to vendor - shopping, haggling and enjoying a peculiar sales technique employed throughout Turkey - a cup of coffee or tea. Turkish Coffee or heavily-sweetened Black tea (both strongly-caffeinated beverages), are one of the first things a merchant here will offer should you even glance casually at his wares. One will be invited into the shop, shown a seat & a small tea glass or demitasse cup of either will summarily be brought to slowly savor while the vendor inquires as to what you should like to purchase (and fiercely haggles over the price).

While receiving this treatment I purchased many spices - Iranian Saffron (a gram of which costs scarcely $8 US!!), Black Cardamom, Coriander, Jasmine, Sahlep (ground Orchid root), Lime-linden, Galangal, Fennel, worldly blends like Ras al Hanout & Turkish Curry, dozens of dried Chiles and much more. The famed Turkish Mehmet Effendi Coffee is bagged here (I got a half-kilo) and in the outdoor market, where housewares are sold, one can find beautiful examples of Cezve (copper coffee pots). Likewise, perfumes, copper kitchenware, hand-woven carpets & blown-glass tea sets are available everywhere, as are the dozens of tea-blends enjoyed throughout the East. Needless to say, the place was a slice of heaven for me & there's a better-than-average chance that I might not have ever left if I only knew a bit of Turkish...

Kiraathane & Rakish Behavior
Following the tour & subsequent jaunts through the various Bazaars, being left with the option of several hours on my own in the city prior to boarding the ship, I thought to get a look at the quieter, less tourist-clogged areas. After wandering for short time towards the Old City, I stumbled upon a small back street which terminated at the coffeehouse, or kiraathane pictured at left. Though thirsty from walking, I thought of moving on - not wanting to push my caffeine-rush any further with yet another glass of coffee or tea (delicious though they may have been) - yet something, perhaps the atmosphere, kept my feet firmly planted. As I took a carpet-draped seat and the proprietor approached, I recalled there was libation particular to Turkey which I had not yet sampled - the native spirit called Raki.

Raki is one of the many anise-flavored spirits which brave souls enjoy throughout the world's varied cultures. Traditionally produced on a grape base (though newer examples are made with sugar beets or grain alcohols), Raki is a passing-strong libation most often enjoyed as a digestive in a method not dissimilar to Absinthe: mixed with ice water. Also similar to an Absinthe, when enjoyed in this manner Raki manifests the peculiar characteristic of a louche - meaning when added to water, the anise oils within form a hazy (pale white, in this case) cloud within the glass.

Having had Raki only once before (a sugar beet-based variety) back home, I naturally had to try the native grape variety. I ordered the drink with ice water, as well as a sampling of the traditional food accompaniment - a soft, white (deliciously-unpasteurized) sheep's cheese called Beyaz Peynir - not dissimilar to a mild Feta (just don't tell the Turks or Greeks I said that). Both were excellent and my leisurely enjoyment of the pair was increased by the presence of a group of street musicians - a flute, drum & fiddle trio - who had taken up not ten feet away. After savoring the combination and realizing I had more than enough time to linger, I ordered another - this time straight with a glass of Karkhade on the side (I was not bold enough to sample the traditional chaser to Raki ).

To my surprise the tart hibiscus tisane came unsweetened, but with a small dish of candied orange peel on the side, which the proprietor explained was for this purpose. On taking his advice, and with subsequent sips, I had a moment of epiphany (a rare occurrence, let me say) and taking up my small glass, combined a portion of the remaining Raki and Karkhade with an extra slice of the peel. It was sublime - tart floral flavors, complex bitter notes, with an almost Americano-like sweetness on the finish. Needless to say I enjoyed a fair number more of these, which, upon my departure made the return to the ship (on time no less!) more than a bit tricky. If you can find a Raki (preferably one made on a grape-base, i.e. not the ubiquitous Yeni brand), give one of these a try (©):

Kiraathane Cooler
2 oz. Raki
4½ oz. Karkhade, unsweetend (Jamaica works fine)
4-5 pieces: candied Orange peel
1 piece: Orange peel, pith removed (for garnish)
Briefly muddle the candied orange peel in the bottom of a Highball glass. Fill glass half-way with cracked ice, add remaining ingredients and stir briefly to chill. Flame Orange peel over the top & enjoy.
If you have one, cut this recipe down to a quarter & prepare in a tea glass as I originally did. To make the candied Orange peel, follow a recipe like this one.

Rome, Italy
Cocktail Bloggers Unite!
Years ago I had visited Rome, and consequently had seen a great many of the numerous historically & culturally-significant spots in the great city before. This made my (admittedly hastily) planned visit with Massimo "Maxologist" La Rocca of Listen to the Ice the ideal stop for me on my return visit. My (unfortunately brief) meeting with Max was a real pleasure - he came in on his day off to meet up with me! His gig at the beautiful, ultra-modern St. George Hotel is quite a swank one, as I saw on my impromptu tour of the place. I got to take a look at the terrace bar which is his province - complete with its' incredible rooftop view of some of Rome's most famous buildings - discussing infusions & tasting his (delicious) homemade ginger syrup while I was up there. Back downstairs in the hotel's garden lounge Max was quick to proffer one of his incredible signature libations: the Celeriac Cocktail, prepared as a long drink with a touch of egg white added.

As I had brought out a few homemade Bitters & Pimento Dram along, we discussed some uses for them (both potential & proven). As it turns out Max had something for me as well - a really tasty Italian Rhubarb Amaro called Zucca which I'd never seen before. He recommended it be mixed with a gentle application of a complex vanilla liqueur, mentioning Galliano specifically. Now I don't generally make much use of Galliano at home, but upon my return I recalled that I had made a Vanilla & Star Anise-infused syrup before departing - essentially a flavor profile similar to Galliano's, if a touch sweeter. So I played around with the proportions and came up with this pleasantly-bittersweet libation (©):

Rhome in a Day
¾ oz. Plymouth Gin
¾ oz. Zucca Rhubarb Amaro
½ oz. Vanilla & Star Anise Syrup (see below)
2 Tsp. fresh Lemon juice
1 Tsp. fresh Orange juice
Combine ingredients and stir well with plenty of ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass & enjoy.

Vanilla & Star Anise Syrup
1 Cup: white Sugar
1 Cup: Water
1x Madagascar Vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1x Star Anise pod, whole
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a light simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and allow to cool before transferring to a clean airtight container & adding ¼ oz. Vodka as a preservative. Allow to rest, agitating occasionally, for twelve hours before removing the Anise pod. Allow to rest for six days, agitating occasionally, before removing the Vanilla bean & bottling.

Many thanks again for the fabulous hospitality and phenomenal drink Max! For those of you gentle readers who have not checked out his bilingual cocktail blog or tried any of the inspired recipes he regularly posts there - get to it posthaste!

Marseilles, France
Arles - Perfectly Provençal
Much as with Rome, I had been to France once before - Paris specifically - yet let the record show that the culture of southern France is worlds removed from that of the north. The cuisine for example, while undeniably French, tends towards more Mediterranean leanings with a serious emphasis on fresh seafood and flavorful herbs like the omnipresent Lavender & Herbs de Provençe blend(s). The wines produced in this area and its' surrounding regions were already among my favorites, particularly vintages hailing from the Côtes du Provençe and nearby Côtes du Rhone appellations. This appreciation did nothing to prepare me for the incredible wines I would enjoy at the cozy Pour le Vin (whose list of specials for the day is pictured at left) in beautiful Arles, a small city dating to Roman times, deep in the heart of Provençe...

Let me preface this with an apology: my knowledge of wines & resulting ability to describe them remains extremely lacking (I often say I know just enough of wine to know precisely how little I know), yet I will try to convey some sense of the (excellent) ones I sampled. Beginning on comfortable ground, a paired flight of phenomenal, full-bodied Côtes du Provençe picked from the days' specials went down quite comfortably. Noticing that the number of previously-unknown (to me) appellations & vintages accounted for a majority of the menu, I quickly set about sampling several of these:

First came a tasting of hard-to-acquire (I was told the appellation is limited to a single vineyard) Bellet, produced largely from the region's Braquet grapes not far away, in the nearby city of Nice. Though heavy in body, the rich flavors I got of vanilla & blackberries were almost ethereal in nature - strong through to the finish before vanishing completely. The resulting experience so enthralled me that I ordered a full glass of the delicious red before even completing my tasting portion. After savoring the Le Braquet Bellet, I moved onto a tasting (& subsequent glass) of Domaine du Paternel Cassis Blanc, produced a short distance down the coast from where I sat. A wine I'd only ever heard about back in the 'States, Cassis Blanc is often described as a refreshing, flavorful - sometimes almost herbal - and full-bodied white wine. This description hardly does what my glass contained any justice...

Refreshingly sharp without being too dry, with nicely-rounded citrus (not dissimilar to grapefruit) tones throughout, this ranked among the best white wines I've ever tasted - a small & fairly exceptional list as I don't generally enjoy whites much. At or around this point I realized I had been indulging in a strictly 'liquid lunch', a fast which I broke with a light but thoroughly-delicious meal of Croûtes & Oysters served with the house Rouille. A thick, rusty-colored sauce, Rouille (which I mean to post on in the future) is not altogether different from a spicy Aioli, which made it a fantastic accompaniment to the Oysters and toast. My final glass of Cassis Blanc provided an incredibly refreshing and delicate foil for the spicy, flavorful food...

Le Cafe...?
Following the glorious wine and food, I journeyed around the tiny streets of Arles for a while until later in the day when I came across the following famous cafe. [The first person to correctly name this places' significance in the comments section will receive a bottle of my own homemade Honey Tangerine bitters.] Regardless of the quiet establishment's history, the strong coffee they served up was superb - particularly when sweetened by a splash of Orgeat syrup in a handily-named Cafe au Orgeat. My only regret about this particular stop was that I wasn't in Arles (or even Marseilles) at nightfall and so could not have gotten a much more apropos look at the cafe...

Les Baux de Provençe
Before my return to the ship, the final stop of the "Provençe on your Own" tour (read: glorified bus transport) I had undertaken was at the medieval village of Les Baux de Provençe. Built on a truly incredible location, this one-street tourist-town, complete with the ruins of a medieval castle, is precariously perched atop a limestone cliff, overlooking the scenic valley pictured at left. The shops here largely carry an interesting variety of art, homegoods and spices alongside artisanal spirits & liqueurs. Absinthe and Pastis were everywhere, with literally dozens of both lining the shelves of most every shop, as well as the numerous types of specialty glasses, spoons, fountains and drippers which facilitate their enjoyment. Though I contemplated purchasing one of the many beautiful blown-glass absinthe fountains I saw, I limited my purchases to several more interesting (& easier to transport home) items of local origin:

A pair of dry fruit liqueurs - Crème de Framboise (raspberry) & Crème de Mure (blackberry); an herbal liqueur - Crème de Lavandre (lavender); the rare aperitif RinQuinQuin (a peach quinquina); as well as a pair of flavored Pastis - Pastis de Violette (violet) & Pastis du Peche (peach). Upon tasting them back at home, all of these possess some very interesting flavors and characteristics - the Pastis in particular - which I will be certain to experiment with (& post about) in the future...

Barcelona, Spain
Though I was in Barcelona for only one full day after the ship disembarked, it certainly was a culinary dream of sorts, one whose brevity required me to enjoy it in a mad dash about the city. Barcelona is a wonderous city, particularly from an architectural and aesthetic standpoint, with a plethora of things to see and do - made simpler by the (genius) tourist bus lines which run preset routes through the city. A sort of combination multilingual tour-guide & taxi service, these brightly-colored buses take one nearly anywhere you would care to go, highlighting stops one may not have known of along the way & allowing one to see as much of the massive city as possible.

After a number of sightseeing stops, I disembarked near the famed beaches of the coastal city. The streets in this area are literally lined with small restaurants, cóctel bars and cafes. After glancing at various menus, I stopped in at an establishment called El Mundo Cafe ("the World Cafe") whose cóctel del día ("cocktail of the day" - the primary reason I stopped in) was listed as a sort of Añejo Highball, made with aged Havana Club rum & Marie Brizard Curaçao. Obviously, I started my lunch with one of these, enjoying an amuse bouche of local olives, gherkins and gibson onions in malt vinegar while I pondered the menu. I opted for a dish named Conejo y Allioli - rabbit braised with a side of the spiced Catalan Aioli - which I was amused to learn is referred to as "Allioli" in the region. It was delicious - tender and slightly gamey and the spicy sauce made a delightfully-flavored addition - the combination paired perfectly with the well-aged rum in my cocktail.

Dry Martini
After lunch I worked my way towards the central portion of the city with a purpose - a stop at the famed bar Dry Martini. Dimly-lit and quiet at the time of my late afternoon visit, this gorgeous, classy spot is lined from floor to ceiling in antique bar equipment, books and cocktail-artwork - making it a kind of museum of the bartender's craft. The specialty drinks served across its' long hardwood bar were excellent, a blend of classic recipes - Martinis, Frappes, Highballs - with modern interpretations on the above.
My first cóctel was naturally the namesake Dry Martini - prepared "fifty-fifty" in accordance with the sign (pictured at left) that crowns the antique cash register, detailing the recipe for all to see. Noticing an impressive number of variations on the classic Fizz or Tonic-based drinks, I opted for one of these next - imbibing a "Rumba Numba" - a tasty riff on the Gin Fizz, flavored Vanilla bean & a splash of Tonic. For my final drink, I enjoyed another of their modern signatures: the "Jalapeño Frappe", a delightfully-spicy beverage whose component ingredients sadly escaped my notice completely. After a final lingering look at the place - already starting to fill with well-dressed patrons - I headed back to my hotel to get ready for dinner...

El Cangrejo Loco
Unable to get a reservation on such short-notice at Dry Martini's highly-rated restaurant Speakeasy, I inquired with the hotel concierge for an alternative dinner spot. Though, to me, an unlikely name for a restaurant, "The Crazy Crab" would prove to far outstrip even the most glowing recommendations I received for it. I returned to the harbor area not far from where I had lunch to the last building along the Port Olímpic piers. What followed ranked among the top five meals of my entire life, no fooling:

As I gave the expansive menu a once-over, I asked the sommelier what cóctel, if any, he might recommend from the bar. By way of answer, he returned with a house specialty: a "Cava Cóctel" - a classic Champagne Cocktail with a twist - made as it was with a local Brut Cava. My meal began with an "Ibérico Sampler" - a plate containing portions of three Jamóns Ibérico de Bellota - cured from the thigh, shoulder & loin of a (free-ranging, acorn-fed) blackfooted pig and accompanied by a sharp unpasteurized cheese of Ewe's Milk. Next came another tapas plate - this one composed of alternating layers of thickly-sliced Foie Gras & paper-thin slivers of Veal, pan-seared together with a hint of Paprika, Cinnamon & Sea salt. Where the Foie left off and the Veal began I'm not quite certain, but I very nearly canceled my entree in favor of another plate of this. Thankfully I did not, for the main course - a Sucking (milk-fed) Leg of Lamb, braised with fresh Rosemary & Pistachios and served alongside Potatoes whipped with Allioli - soon arrived, much to my delight. Prior to dessert I enjoyed a glass of Havana Club 7 Años rum over ice, savoring it greatly until a dish of house-made ice cream - white & dark Chocolate in flavor - arrived with strong black coffee alongside...

With the close of that epic and truly incredible meal I shook the hand of the owner and the chef, thanked them profusely in halting Spanish and returned to my accomodations. Five o'clock, the next day brought an adventure of a far less pleasant variety - the long trip home (one which my luggage nearly didn't make). It was overall an absolutely incredible journey, one which I should like to make again in my life if at all possible, and I only hope that my rambling narrative has enabled some of you readers to have made it with me...

Cheers & Thanks!