Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Those Crazy Old Romans...

With the starting guns of this year’s Tales of the Cocktail sounding even now, I find myself somewhat at a loss for a posting topic. For those of you who aren't familiar with the event, ‘Tales is a convention for mixology, mixologists, authors & spirits-industry professionals from around the globe, all gleefully imbibing their way through educational seminars, panel discussions, exhibits, cocktail-cuisine pairings, receptions and unexpected (though often planned for months) trips to the Carousel Bar (or any of the New Orleans’s other fantastic bars).

Check out the shiny new Tales Blog for updates & articles from some of the numerous bloggers who are (nearly my entire links list is) in attendance, as well as Twitter updates from many of the same. Likewise, tune in to SSN's The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess for webcasts directly from the convention. As yours truly was unable to attend, I had thought to spread some of the educational spirit of ‘Tales with a short discussion on a wonderful, if little-known, cocktail (while I make convoluted plans for my attendance of next years’ convention):

Of the many drinks which the estimable
Jerry Thomas wrote about, a fair number of them come to the foreground as libations which should never have been allowed to vanish from the modern mixologist's repertoire. Thankfully, with works like IMBIBE! by David Wondrich, Darcy O'Neil's painstaking transcription of Thomas' revised 1878 bar-guide, or the soon-to-be released reprint of the original 1862 How to Mix Drinks, many such unjustly 'forgotten' cocktails may once again become known & loved (hey, one can dream).

One such beverage is the Roman Punch, which in my humble estimation is a variation on the concept of a flavored, Sour-styled drink. Interestingly (read: strangely), this cocktail made it through the fires of Prohibition almost completely unscathed in certain sources, as seen in Trader Vic’s 1946 Book of Food & Drink. Yet in nearly every source between its first & last (to the best of my knowledge) appearance are oddly altered or adulterated in some fashion. So what happened? From the differences in recipes (almost all of which include Lemon, Cognac, Rum & some manner of Wine) one can form some ideas about why such a variety of recipes emerged; but more on that as we go:

Here we see the original version; as crafted, I’d wager, to accommodate the sweet-tooth tastes of its eras’ imbibers, while presenting a drink to the same under the cloak of what would have been a very familiar concept at the time – a Punch:

Roman Punch (J. Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, 1862 & 1878*)
1 table-spoonful of sugar *[dissolved in a little water].
1 table-spoonful raspberry syrup.
1 tea-spoonful of Curaçao
1 wine-glass of Jamaica rum
½ wine-glass brandy.
The juice of half a lemon.
Fill [large bar-glass] with shaved ice, shake well, dash with port wine, and ornament with fresh fruits in season. Imbibe through a straw.

The Temperance Movement (active even in J. Thomas’ time) & its’ sinister designs of Prohibition in the ‘States had just gotten the ball rolling at the time of this recipe’s publication. As presented at the Savoy - a very high-end establishment - it took on the look of a formal Punch, with the inexplicable addition of Orange bitters (for the Curaçao perhaps?), Champagne, Orange & Egg whites. This seems like a reinforcement of the flavored-Sour theory, as this recipe essentially makes a California (or Stone) Rum Sour with bubbly added, yet somehow excludes the Raspberry syrup as its flavoring (& namesake coloring) element:

Roman Punch (Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930)
1 Qt. Champagne
1 Qt. Rum
½ Liqueur Glass Orange bitters
The Juice of 10 Lemons
The Juice of 3 Oranges
2 lbs. Sugar
The Whites of 10 Eggs
Use punch bowl. Dissolve Sugar in lemon and orange juice, add the rind of one orange, add the well-beaten whites of eggs. Surround the bowl with cracked ice and stir the ingredients well together.

Duffy seems to take the odd stance of “a Punch is complicated” in his adaptation of the recipe. He reintroduces Cognac to the mixture, yet attempts to make a dryer Punch out of our Sour by removing the Oranges, (still) omitting the Raspberry and substituting in some Swedish Punsch, Curaçao (likely as complex sweeteners) & Tea! On the other hand, he at least returns to the idea of adding fresh seasonal fruit to the final concoction as an edible garnish:

Roman Punch (P.G. Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual, 1934)
1 Whiskey Glass Cognac
1 Whiskey Glass Swedish Punch
½ Whiskey Glass Curaçao
1 Pint Jamaica Rum
Juice of 6 Lemons
1-1/2 Quarts Champagne
1 Teaspoonful Aromatic Bitters
2 Tablespoonfuls Good Tea
Put Tea in a small cheesecloth bag and leave it in the above mixture for about ten minutes, surround punch bowl with cracked ice, pour in the punch and add cut up Fruit.

Here W.C. Whitfield also advocates the 'bubbly California Sour-style', shying back from the somewhat complicated Punch idea, yet still excludes the Cognac & more importantly, the Raspberry syrup:

Roman Punch (W.C. Whitfield’s Here’s How, 1941)
10 Lemons (juice only)
3 Oranges (juice only)
2 Pounds Sugar
10 whites of Eggs
Dissolve sugar in the fruit juices, add rind of one orange and whites of eggs, well beaten. Stir these thoroughly, place in a punch bowl with large piece of ice, then pour in
1 Quart Fine Rum
½ Liqueur Glass Orange bitters
1 Quart Champagne

Here we see the drink (somehow) being served largely unchanged from its original recipe in the mid-1940’s. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Bergeron had a slight aversion to all but the best of the classic methods of making a champagne-fizzed Punch, and saw this drink for what it should be – a sort-of flavored Rum Sour:

Roman Punch (Trader Vic’s Book of Food & Drink, 1946)
½ Lemon
1 ounce raspberry syrup
1 ounce Jamaican rum (Red Heart or Meyer’s)
1 ounce Brandy
Port wine float
Squeeze Lemon in a 12-ounce glass; add syrup and liquor; fill glass with shaved ice and swizzle. Add berries in season and a float of port wine. Serve with spoon and straws.

I really enjoyed this when I first tried it – by both Thomas’ & Vic’s methods and as with anything I like so much, I had to mess with it. Once you’ve tried the others, give this blackberry-flavored variation on the classic recipe (named for Julius Ceasar's principle unit) a spin. I'd like to think it is a tasty preservation of the original recipe with some small concessions to the various interim drinks which were called "Roman" (©):

Thirteenth Legion
¾ oz. fresh Lemon juice

1 oz. Blackberry syrup
1 oz. Jamaican Rum (Appleton’s V/X)
¾ oz. Quebranta Pisco (BarSol)
1 dash Regan’s Orange bitters
¼ oz. semi-sweet Port Wine (Sandeman Reserva)
Combine all ingredients (except Port) in a chimney or Collins glass with crushed ice & swizzle to incorporate & chill. Top with more crushed ice, float Port & garnish with several fresh Blackberries.

In closing - your homework is to try (almost) any of the many versions (though do try the ‘non-punch’ ones first) of this classic – I’ll be sure to order a Roman Punch down at next year’s ‘Tales and I promise, just as Trader Vic did - you’ll really drop your toga on this one...

For those of you currently attending this year’s convention – have one (or three) of something for me & have a great time in the Big Easy. Cheers & enjoy everyone!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Playing with Pisco, part I

Ah, Pisco... ¡Materia encantadora!

Now I've always been fairly partial towards all kinds of Brandy, and a quick glance at the recipes of nearly any older cocktail book will show that the mixologists of eras past seemed to think pretty highly of it as well. Yet despite this cocktaillian affection for distillates of the vine, I've often had a hard time convincing people to try cocktails based upon an aged example of the spirit. All that goes out the window when the various & sundry other kinds of Brandy come up, however.

There are many of these - as one drives the limousin away from the relatively-known, if oak-tinted, worlds of Brandy & Cognac, a whole world of spirits (made from fruits other than grapes too!) becomes apparent when regionally-produced variations come to the table: Grappa from Italy (California as well), Eau de Vie or Marc from France, Pálinka from Hungary, Brandy de Jerez from Spain, Aguardente Velha from Portugal, Coconut Arrack from Sri Lanka, certain (real) Schnaps from Germany and even Apple Brandy from the wilds of New Jersey. Now, much as I like these examples of Brandy, none of them can hold a candle to the soft, fragrant flavors of a good Pisco from Peru and/or Chile.

Wait, Peru and/or Chile!?! Without digging too deeply into the issue, it seems the origins of this wonderful spirit are (and have been) rather hotly debated by these two countries for quite some time. Suffice to say, I am firmly in the camp of the Peruvians on this one (with no disparagement intended to the Chileans mind you). Why pick a side you ask? Two reasons - taste & a measure of petty vengeance:

Now, I've sampled a handful of Piscos, three of these being Chilean - and for a time the ABA brand was among my favorites (the other two were unspeakably awful). Then the producers decided to stop exporting it to these shores, without a phone call or even a memo reading something like, "Hey, you'd better stock up quick Chris" (enter the petty vengeance). Of the Peruvian Piscos I had tried (in bars mostly), I had no bad experiences in the matter of taste - quite the opposite really. But where was I to find Pisco in my part of the country (where the liquor store operators only recognize words like 'E&J' or 'Bacardi')? Luckily, in the course of speaking with a certain master mixologist, I was very promptly put into contact with Mr. Diego Loret de Mola, a mighty-fine gentleman whose BevMax company handles the marketing &c. for BarSol - a fantastic Peruvian Pisco whose equal I have yet to find. As the word was spread to me, so shall I pass it to you - go out and pick up a bottle (or ten) of this fantastic Pisco - I promise you'll love it...

Well, that's great and all, but what do I do with it, you ask? Try a Pisco Sour to start, then move along to a few other great libations like David Wondrich's Piscodora. You could try substituting Pisco (or another of the lesser-known Brandies I'd mentioned earlier) into cocktails that call for a 'plain' Brandy (try a Roman Punch or Scorpion Bowl this way). Failing all those (or if you've already tried them) you could start really playing with your Pisco. Prior to the untimely death of my computer, I had promised a certain 'tender of the Tiki persuasion that I would share some particular infusion recipes, and I shall not disappoint (©):

Límon Piscello
2 Cups: Quebranta Pisco (BarSol)
1 large Lemon
3 Tblspns: fresh Lemongrass, minced
3 Tblspns: Demerara sugar
2 Tblspns: fresh Meyer Lemon juice
1 Tblspn: Coriander, toasted
1½ Tsp: dried Lavender

1. Carefully clean & peel the Lemons, being sure to remove & discard all of the bitter white pith. Press the Meyer Lemon & reserve 1 oz. of the juice (if the Meyer Lemon is shy on juice topping it off with the regular Lemon is fine).
2. Dry the Lemon peels on a baking sheet in a low-temperature oven (200°) for approximately thirty minutes & set aside to cool. While you're waiting, toast the Coriander in a small, non-reactive saucepan over low heat (1-2 minutes).
3. Combine all ingredients in a large container & agitate to dissolve the sugar.
4. Place in a cool, dark place for ten days, swirling contents vigorously several times.
5. Fine-strain out the solids, being sure to press them to extract all liquid & return the infusion to a clean container. Allow to rest for another 4-6 days, being careful not to agitate.
6. Carefully rack, decant or filter liquid off of sediment and fine-strain again by preferred method (coffee filter, cheesecloth, &c) until liquid is clear.
7. Bottle & Enjoy in any number of Pisco-based cocktails, such as this variation on the delicious Pisco Sour (©):

Fragrant Límon Sour
2 oz. Límon Piscello
¼ oz. fresh Grapefruit juice
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
¼ oz. fresh Lemon juice
1 oz. Raw Simple syrup
1 fresh Egg white
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Regan's Orange bitters #6 (or my Spiced Lemon bitters if you've got 'em)
Combine ingredients (except bitters) in a shaker & dry shake to emulsify. Add ice and shake again, straining into a cockatil saucer or sour glass. Dash bitters on top & swirl into some kind of "artistic" pattern as an aromatic garnish.

Cheers & Enjoy!