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*