Saturday, April 4, 2009

Over the Border to Find a Fix...

...and through a bramble patch along the way.

First off, no, not that kind of fix, but rather a curious classic libation closely intertwined with the venerable Sour family of drinks. Second, with regards to the border - ¿qué pasa con eso? Well, it's springtime folks, and this transitional season always brings me around to the various styles of Tequila at one point or another. As for the bramble patch...ráipido wey, and we'll get to that too.

The Fix
or "Fix-Up" (I'm really not doing anything for the name here, am I?) appeared first on a cocktail list for Mart Ackermann's Saloon in Toronto, Canada. According to Dave Wondrich in Imbibe!, this was in 1856 (you didn't really think my bar "library" included a cocktail list from then, did you?) and there were eight of them on the hand-dated document.

Certainly an old drink then and, according to sources I do possess, quite the enduring one, considering its' formula (or a derivative thereof) was considered vital knowledge well past the turn of the century. The reasoning for this is simple - a Fix, as prepared with a number of spirits, was nothing more than a Sour dressed-up fancy with "fruits in season" - Berries, Pineapple, Orange and Lemon are often recommended. It appears thusly in the 1862 edition of Jerry Thomas's How to Mix Drinks and is seen in service under the same formula in Leo Engel's American and Other Drinks as late as 1878. Yet, sometime around the early 1880's the recipes begin to change - first individually, then as a unified category.

The Gin Fix is the first of these - first getting a dose of Pineapple syrup added to it in Harry Johnson's 1882 Bartender's Manual, where it is the only one recorded. But come 1884 we observe O.H. Byron has instituted a more categorical change in the drink - utilizing Pineapple syrup for all five of the Fixes listed in his Modern Bartender's Guide. By the time we reach 1887, and with it Jerry Thomas' posthumously-edited edition, we find several variations - each dependant on the spirit used in the four given Fixes. One called for Raspberry syrup, two included a little Curaçao and the Whiskey variety remained untouched. These alterations look to have been cemented by the turn of the century - we still see them in 1895 & 1900 (as well as later on) in editions of George Kappeler's Modern American Drinks. But why the sudden additions, changes & revisions to the recipe? Do we detect a touch of the same crazy variance that dogged the (equally old) formula for Roman Punch?

Not quite, I think. As previously-mentioned, the Fix is just a Sour built on crushed ice with a suitably-fancy garnish; quite tasty, but a little plain - particularly when the standard Sour category was also available for order. But tweak the formula by adding a flavored syrup, particularly ones flavored with the very ingredients often used to garnish the beverage, and you have a delightful drink. That the popularization of such syrups (which solved the problems of obtaining fairly-exotic fruits like Pineapple rather-handily) coincidentally (or not) occured around the same time as the changes to the recipe began appearing is an equally-strong argument for the changes made to the old formula. With the history of the Fix (& its' derivatives) established, what's up with this border..? Well, I happen to feel that one of the esencial liquores para la primavera is a bit of...

in this case a Plata variety called Inocente. Produced on the other side of the much-mentioned border from a kiln-roasted aguamiel, or the fermentable juices from 100% Blue Agave. This ferment, or pulque, is distilled three times before being subjected to a wine-making method called micro-oxygenation, which is meant to soften the final products' character in a similar way to the chemical processes which take place during barrel-aging.

The producers may have a good idea there (at least for a spirit which is meant to be unaged, as opposed to a Reposado or Añejo), for while Inocente - like many Plata Tequilas, is a thin white spirit with some heat to it (meant more for mixing than drinking straight), the aggressive character of the distilled agave is subdued to a very pleasant spice & pepper flavor, with soft floral or vegetal notes lingering in the background.

Now, while the Fix-Up was typically compounded with any of the available spirits of the day, one would be hard-pressed to order one made with a little-known (at the time) spirit like Tequila. However, the combination of Pineapple and Tequila is an excellent one & was among the first of such flavor pairings to spring to mind when I first tasted Inocente. Reasoning that the peppery notes of the spirit would balance very nicely against the rich sweeteness of la piña, I gave it a try in conjunction with Gomme (or Gum) syrup, which added a very pleasant texture to the drink:

Tequila Fix
2 oz. Tequila (Inocente)
¾ oz. fresh Lime juice
½ oz. Pineapple Gomme syrup
1 Tsp. Raw sugar
½ oz. Seltzer
Combine Sugar & Seltzer in an Old-Fashioned glass and stir to dissolve. Fill the glass with crushed ice & build remaining ingredients. Stir gently to mix, top with a little more crushed ice & garnish with fresh fruit in-season (whole Berries & slices of Lime or Pineapple are muy deseable).

Pineapple Gomme syrup
1 Cup: white Sugar
½ Cup: Water
Gomme Solution
1 Cup: fresh Pineapple, cubed
Prepare the Gomme solution by dissolving 2 oz. Gum Arabic crystals in 2 oz. of boiling Water - be prepared to stir for a long while. In a small saucepan prepare Simple syrup by dissolving the Sugar in the Water over medium heat. Once the mixture reaches a gentle boil, add the viscous Gomme Solution, stirring well to incorporate it. Allow to boil for a few minutes, skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the surface & remove from heat. When cool, pour over Pineapple in an airtight container & allow to steep in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Strain by preferred method & bottle.

But what has become of the Fix in modern times? We still have the Sour of course (though that too has been subjected to all manner of undesirable change), so what of its' well-dressed cousin? The Fix, sadly, never really made it through the years leading up to Prohibition - it appears here and there, particularly in books printed overseas - but try ordering any of the varieties now. However, it would seem that the notion of a flavored Sour (i.e. what the Fix became) lives on in the form of:

The Bramble
is a more modern reworking of certain incarnations of the (long defunct) Gin Fix - the 1887+ ones what call for a touch of Raspberry syrup. It was adapted in the mid-1980's by UK barman Dick Bradsell, who, in such dimly-lit (for the cocktail) times undoubtedly had no easy access to a Raspberry syrup behind his bar. His solution? A float of Crème de Mûre (hence the "bramble" - a nickname for Rasp/Blackberry bushes) atop a lightly-sweetened Gin Sour. In the years following its' creation, in true Fix tradition, other bartenders swapped out the Gin and/or liqueur & substituted in all kinds of other spirits. While the Gin version is quite lovely, especially in the coming months, today we're on Tequila; so it's to the following drink that we call our attention:

Tequila Bramble
1½ oz. Tequila (Inocente)
¾ oz. fresh Lime juice
½ oz. Simple syrup
¾ oz. Crème de Cassis
Build the first three ingredients in an Old-Fashioned glass mostly-filled with crushed ice. Stir, top with fresh crushed ice & float the Crème de Cassis on the top. Garnish with a slice of Lime & several fresh Blackberries.

The combination of Cassis and Tequila is yet another strong (& historically-sound) pairing - the heavy, complex sweetness of the liqueur plays nicely in this instance against the thin, spicy heat of the Tequila and the Lime's bitter/sourness rounds the whole thing out. However, as with many other examples of Tequila, Inocente has a subtle floral or vegetal character, which in this instance the liqueur seems to drown out completely. To better highlight those notes while keeping the balance of the drink intact, I turned to another beverage that's common across the border (& in my refrigerator) - the aguas fresca called Jamaica (©):

Flowering Bramble
1½ oz. Tequila (Inocente)
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
½ oz. Simple syrup
½ oz. Jamaica
¼ oz. Crème de Cassis
Build the first three ingredients in an Old-Fashioned glass mostly-filled with crushed ice and stir briefly. In a seperate measuring glass, combine the Jamaica & Crème de Cassis. Top the built drink with fresh crushed ice & float the Jamaica-Cassis mixture on top. Garnish with a slice of Lime & several fresh Blackberries.

Cheers & Enjoy!

*In the interest of full disclosure, samples of Inocente were generously provided for use. Great quantities of said sample have been consumed since...


Tiare said...

Nice and well written post Chris.
These are drinks right up my palate! i have made gomme syrup alreaady so then it should be enough to just warm it up a little and add fresh pineapple chunks and steep overnight. I like creme de cassis too, especially for the nice color and if you use grenadine, the extra deepening of the red it gives, plus its a nice flavor.These drniks will make my next weekend full of joy!

Chris "Rookie" Stanley said...

Thanks T!

I figured you'd like these - let me know how yours come out (I'm sure they'll look better than mine).

As for the Gomme - that should work fine - depending how much syrup you've got just cover the Pineapple with it.

Let me know if you try either of the Brambles with (Hibiscus?) Grenadine - I meant to try that over Jamaica but I didn't have a fresh batch on hand. The silver Tequila + Hibiscus works great, so I'm sure it'll be fine - let me know what your proportions work out to...


Tiare said...

Cris i`m thinking of using my hibiscus grenadine instead of Jamaica in the Flowering Bramble,and in the Tequila Bramble i will use my Creme de Cassis.

I`ll let you know how they turn out, i won`t be able NOT to make these this weekend.

I`m also very temted to try Ting in the Tequila fix and we din`t have the seltzer here unless that is the same as sprite?

Actually as for Grenadine, i only have Hibiscus Grenadine and refuse to make any other and that`s thanks to you!


William Leigh said...

hey - might be a stupid question but what is seltzer? That tequila cocktail sounds awesome.

Whereabouts your based by the way? Drop me an email direct if you like - wleighatgmaildotcom

Chris "Rookie" Stanley said...

William - Glad you like the look of it!

Not a stupid question at all! Seltzer is just plain carbonated water, difering from Club Soda in that the later has mineral salts in it.

Truth be told, in a pinch you could use anything neutral for that splash of Seltzer - the original Fix formula it's based on specifies either Seltzer or ordinary Water, so either of those, sparkling or mineral waters are all fine.

William Leigh said...

Could you throw alka-seltzer into water instead? That way you could start fixing your hangover before you'd even got one...genius