Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Bit of Bitter, From...Jersey?

Well, not exactly - bear with me a moment. Though the drinks listed in this article were originated some time ago during a sponsored Thursday Drink Night at the Mixoloseum, the ingredient in question doesn't really have anything to do with New Jersey, but more (or less) on that in a few breaths...

Said TDN was graciously sponsored by a cocktailian favorite; an ingredient which can be a bit intimidating to those unfamiliar (hell, even to those initiated) with its particular charms: the mavelously-complex amaro called Fernet Branca. At once medicinal, sharply herbal, tangy and bittersweet, Fernet can be a difficult ingredient to work with - only a handful of cocktails utilize it in any sizeable quantity and it is most often taken straight, typically applied (quite successfully) as a digestivo.

Yet the complexity and breadth of flavors present in this Italian spirit can be quite appealing, in a bewitching sort of way, despite its propensity to bull through more delicate flavors. As with similarly-rambunctious ingredients, the challenge to working with Fernet successfully lies in finding equally strong flavors, or combinations of flavors which play along with, hightlight, or merely ones which refuse to be pushed aside, to combine it with. Ginger, for example, has long been an accompaniment to Fernet, such as in the San Francisco tradition of chasing a shot of the spirit with strong Ginger Ale. Therefore, in my (winning!) TDN entry I thought to give such a well-proven combination - with a few small twists - a shot.

Give this libation (or any of the equally-excellent concoctions my colleagues produced that evening) a try & experience Fernet Branca's intriguing flavor profile for yourself. And if a full half-ounce of Fernet has you a little suspicious, feel free to read on for a more subtle (& Jersey-related; or not) application of the spirit - and hopefully you'll come around eventually (©):

Bully Boy
1 oz. Bourbon (Bulleit)
½ oz. Fernet Branca
½ oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur
½ oz. fresh Lemon juice
2 Tsp. Raw Simple syrup
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass & garnish with a twist of fresh Lemon.

One of the most noted (and frankly, the simplest) applications of Fernet is its use as a substitution for an aromatic (or other non-potable) bitters such as Angostura, rather than as a primary ingredient - as above - of a cocktail. For example, when used thusly a few liberal dashes of Fernet in a Bourbon Manhattan makes for a lovely drink called a Franciulli Cocktail. With such a role well-established, I reasoned to try out Fernet in a simple, yet classic, libation of which I am inordinately fond - the Jersey Cocktail. Told you I'd get there, if eventually...

In it's original form, this little-known beverage hails from the earliest days of the cocktail - when producers and purveyors of alcohol (& just about everything else) conducted their business unhindered by such trifles as safe food & drug laws, or even ingredient or labeling legislation. Champagne was, naturally, imported from France and the demand for it was quite prolific throughout the United States. The American thirst for the stuff was so strong, that quantities of the sparkling wine imbibed outstripped the quantities which were imported to these shores by a great deal...

So what ingenious forgeries were foisted upon the tippling populace when a Champagne Cocktail was called for? To quote David Wondrich's Imbibe!, the unlucky were served, "processed beet juice" and the 'lucky' would generally receive, "Garden State hard cider, pressurized with CO₂ (preferably without too much residual carbonic acid) [...] in a Frenchy-looking bottle." As such counterfeiting was not necessarily advertised to the clientele, this libation seldom appears in any source other than bartender's guides. Yet it is in the first of these - Jerry Thomas' 1862 How to Mix Drinks - that the drink is addressed with a measure of honesty towards its components. To further quote Mr. Wondrich, "let that be its recommendation" and it is indeed, a very good one.

Ironically, the hard Cider I tend to use most in this application actually hails from France (Normandy) and possesses a very Champagne-like dryness which is quite agreeable here - but if your only option is a sweeter style, merely reduce the sugar by a touch. When prepared (almost exactly as a Champagne Cocktail) with Angostura bitters, it is quite nice; with homemade Boker's, even better; but with Fernet in place of these, it shines brighter than a counterfeiter's smile:

(New) Jersey Cocktail
1x Sugar cube (or 1 generous Tsp. of Sugar)
3-4 dashes: Fernet Branca
Brut hard Apple Cider
Douse the sugar cube with the Fernet Branca. Fill a champagne flute with well-chilled hard Cider & gently drop the sugar cube into the glass. Gently stir, garnish with a twist of fresh Orange & enjoy.

Cheers & Enjoy!

**In the interest of full disclosure, samples of Fernet Branca were provided for this event. They were, in fact, provided so far in advance of said event, that I blew through my sample & had to purchase a new bottle in order to participate...


Kaiser Penguin said...

God Chris, the Jersey Cocktail sounds good. I haven't spent any time looking for good hard cider in the area and my only exposure to it has been Woodchuck. I assume there is much better fare out there.

Tiare said...

What do you think i could use to sub the ginger liqueur Chris? i`m thinking of simply muddling some fresh ginger. Canton isn`t sold here so i haven`t tasted it yet, is it very sugary?


Chris "Rookie" Stanley said...

Nothing wrong with a spot of Woodchuck, though for a purpose like this many of their varieties may be a little too sweet. I've only recently started to explore the more artisinal cider houses, but have had some small success.

The cider I used here (& for similar cocktailian ends) for example is:

Chris "Rookie" Stanley said...

As for the Canton sub, I'm not entirely sure T...

As I undestand it, Canton is built on a Cognac base and is sweetened with both Orange Blossom Honey and cane Sugar. I think they've got some Tahitian Vanilla in there too in addition to the Ginger - just enough to round out the heat.

Overall, it is fairly sweet, but pleasantly so - not cloying at all. If you were so inclined you could probably manage a glass of it over ice.

For subs, particularly for a syrups & infusions gal like you, maybe a Ginger syrup (1/2 Honey + 1/2 Sugar?) with a measure of Cognac? A ginger-based falernum kind of idea perhaps?