Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flirting with Flora: Bubbles, pt. I

If past articles here are any indication to you, good reader, I've got something of a fond place in my palette for exotic or unusual taste profiles. Not the least of these are floral or botanically-derived flavors; examples of which I am constantly seeking to incorporate into (or play off of already-existing elements in) my drinks. For inspiration (in all things, not just this particular flirtation), I often turn towards ideas hailing from culinary cultures outside of my own or from days long-forgotten. I reason that I couldn't possibly be the first half-clever (and that's a generous evaluation) git to realize that A plus B with a dash of C tastes great, and then acts upon this notion to mix it up...

Take my favorite floral ingredient – Hibiscus - for example. As I've discussed here in past articles, this lovely tropical flower (which apparently grows quite well in New Jersey, go figure) is often compounded into a tisane. The same beverage is made just about wherever Hibiscus grows - in the Middle East its called Karkade, North & West Africans refer to it as Bissap or Tsobo, while natives of Hawaii & the Caribbean islands know it as Red Sorrel. Sometimes the resulting infusions are spiced to add an additional character, sometimes not.

But note what our clever friends in Mexico have done with the traditional agua fresca: carbonate the already-refreshing brew into a soda. To be frank, all they've really done is integrate a floral ingredient into the ranks of the modern (sugar & soda-saturated) palette; to re-introduce to younger generations ingredients & flavors which their parents, grandparents (and earlier relations still) were wont to compound into something delicious with fair regularity.

In much the same vein, observe a centuries-old European floral ingredient which has only recently become widely-celebrated (again) for its considerable virtues: the Elderflower. Similarly, an uncommon (and uncommonly tasty) blossom hailing from the same regions: Meadowsweet - while still (occasionally) a botanical constituent in Gin, it was once also a component in tisane recipes of all stripes. And what of Honeysuckle - the delicately-sweet perfume of spring & summertime evenings? Finally, the bane of suburban gardeners and amateur winemakers alike: Dandelions, whose slight bitterness is often offset by coupling with yet another all-too common meadow weed: Burdock.

In some way, all of these edible flowers (and many others too) were well-regarded in the kitchens of days gone by. A primary reason for this is that, in certain proportions, all five of them play off of or highlight the other ingredients with which they are mixed in a multitude of fascinating ways. Such blending, to say nothing for these ingredients' already marvelous flavors on their own, allows for the creation of wholly-unique flavor profiles.
Such is certainly the case with the following three homemade sodas (& the delicious libations made with them), so dust off your soda siphons and meet me in the middle...

Strawberry Fields soda
2¾ Cups: Water
1¾ Cups: fresh Strawberries, hulled
½ Cup: superfine white Sugar
¼ Cup: dried Meadowsweet flowers
¼ Cup: dried Honeysuckle flowers
2 oz. Elderflower cordial
Scant ⅛ Tsp. Pectic Enzyme (optional)
Clean, hull & halve the Strawberries. Place in an airtight container & toss with Pectic Enzyme, if using. Freeze for several hours.
Bring Water, Meadowsweet & Sugar to a light simmer over low-medium heat in a non-reactive saucepan. Simmer very gently (the volatile oils in these flowers are a bit delicate) for approximately two minutes until sugar is dissolved; add frozen Strawberries. Simmer very gently (again,
do not boil) for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature & add Elderflower cordial. Fine-strain several times by preferred method (cheesecloth, chinois, &c.) to remove any particulate; pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Pour into a soda siphon (should fill a standard iSi exactly). Carbonate, shake & chill according to your model's instructions
, then give the following libation a try (©):

Morango Campo
1½ oz. Boca Loca Cachaça
½ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
½ oz. fresh Lemon juice
5-6 oz. Strawberry Fields soda
Build ingredients in an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir gently; garnish with a slice of fresh Strawberry & an edible flower.

If you happen to be out camping (as in the picture at left; by Ken Cleary) a pair of brandied Cherries will probably do just fine for garnish.

When creating new recipes, or even fiddling with established ones, there is a concept which chefs & sommeliers often espouse. Having seen it spawn more than a few delightful combinations, I also tend to agree with said notion, wherein "things that grow together, are often best served together". Examining this thought a bit more broadly, flavors (or combinations thereof) which are popular in a given locale often blend beautifully with other ones enjoyed in the same general area.

Again, take the delightful agua fresca known as Jamaica; a refreshingly-tart, floral beverage well-suited to the climate of Mexico. Even better for our purposes (and in line with the aforementioned theory), it blends wonderfully with Tequila. Particularly a smooth, grassy - almost sweet - example of the category like Tequila Ocho's 2008 Plata. Better still, certain of this artisanal spirits' component spice notes - a pleasant blend of Cinnamon & Citrus-y flavors - are themselves a common addition to a glass of Jamaica; like so:

Jamaica soda
3½ Cups: Water
¾ Cup: dried Hibiscus flowers
¼ Cup: raw Sugar
2 oz. light Agave nectar
1½ oz. Cinnamon syrup
¾ Tsp. Citric Acid
¾ Tsp. fresh Lime zest
Bring the Water & dried Hibiscus to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan before stirring in the Sugar & Citric Acid. Reduce heat & simmer for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in Syrups & Zest, cover & cool to room temperature (~3 hours). Fine-strain by preferred method (cheesecloth, chinois, &c), pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Pour into a soda siphon (should fill a standard iSi exactly). Carbonate, shake & chill according to your model's instructions
, then give the following libation a try (©):

Paloma de Flor
1¾ oz. Tequila Ocho Plata (2008)
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
5-6 oz. Jamaica soda
Build ingredients in an ice-filled Collins glass. Stir gently; garnish with a twist of fresh Lime & an edible flower.

As an optional touch, two sprays via an atomizer of good-quality Mescal into the glass prior to building lends a further agave complexity.

For our final homemade soda we turn to the aforementioned bane of many an amateur winemaker (I’ve never seen an old home vintning guide that didn’t include one such recipe): Dandelions.

The moderate vegetal bitterness (think Mesclun) that the green portions (which won't be used below) of this ubiquitous weed impart is offset considerably by its roots and flowers, which provide a vaguely-honeyed sweetness. Furthermore, the addition of another common aromatic wildflower, the dull purple Burdock, rounds out the bitterness with a complex (almost like a fruity take on star Anise) herbal flavor. This combination has been a popular flavor in British sodas for many years, and quite rightfully so. When blended with a bit of rich sugar and offset by a touch of citric acidity, the resulting ‘fizz is delightful - particularly with a measure of flavorful Gin tossed in. But don’t just take my word for it:

Dandified soda
3¼ Cups: Water
1 packed Cup: dried Dandelion (½ root, ½ flowers), cleaned
½ Cup: dried Burdock (½ root, ½ flowers), cleaned
½ Cup: light brown Sugar
2 Tblspns. white Sugar
2 Tblspns. golden Raisins
1½ Tblspns. fresh Ginger, minced
2 Tsp. Cream of Tartar
¾ oz. fresh Lemon juice, finely-strained
Peel of 1 Lemon, pith removed & julienned
Bring the flowers, roots, Raisins, Ginger & Lemon peel to a boil over medium-high heat in a non-reactive saucepan. Slowly stir in the Sugars & continue to simmer for about fifteen minutes. Remove from heat & cool slightly (10 minutes or so). Strain once by preferred method (cheesecloth, chinois, &c.), pressing gently on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in the Lemon juice and Tartar, then set aside & cool to room temperature. Strain again if necessary.
Pour into a soda siphon (should fill a standard iSi exactly). Carbonate, shake & chill according to your model's instructions,
then give the following libation a try (©):

Posh Dandy Cooler
1½ oz. Hendrick’s Gin
¼ oz. blended Scotch (Yamazaki 12yr)
¼ oz. Honey syrup
1d Fee’s Cherry bitters
1d Peychaud's bitters
5-6 oz. Dandified soda
Build ingredients in an ice-filled Collins glass. Roll once to mix; garnish with a Lemon twist & brandied Cherry.

Something Completely Different
As I indicated in my last post, the past month or so has been full of experiments and the fine-tuning of a great many new recipes, ideas, etc. One group of these, inspired by conversations at ‘Tales and carried out primarily at my portable bar, has involved the use of a soda siphon. Good thing you dusted it off, no?

The conversations in question pertained to carbonation, both in long drinks as well as some speculation about a new gadget which is appearing in certain circles – the Perlage/PERLINI system. Seems some clever folks cobbled together a device which (in addition to preserving Champagne) is capable of efficiently-carbonating spirits; causing, as Robert Hess put it, “[Tequila] to drink just like Champagne.”

An interesting if very scary proposition, I think. As for the long drinks, certain aspects of the (hazy – this was ‘Tales after all) discussions in question centered around the problem of incorporating a carbonated mixer into the remaining non-carbonated ingredients, say a Tom Collins, without losing an undue amount of the ‘bubbly…

Stirring gently, rolling, allowing the roiling carbonation to blend everything (as in a French 75). Even the old Fizz-maker’s trick of adding a spoonful of sugar at the last moment; all of these work reasonably well. But I couldn’t help but feel that sometimes a given drink would benefit from having its ingredient combined and well-incorporated, then carbonated together; especially when a homemade soda (in particular those made with heavier syrups) gets involved. The presence of an additional siphon (lent by a friend; in which I could keep Seltzer while carrying out my trials) at the bar only helped to facilitate these experiments.

In short – it works brilliantly. Every single sip positively pops with the fat, roiling bubbles a good siphon creates. The components blend seamlessly with no separation of flavor and the introduction of carbonation into ordinarily-still ingredients such as juices and spirits makes for a delightfully-smooth, fascinating textural component that I daresay even improves upon old standbys.

After compounding five beverages - Singapore Sling, (Morgenthaler's) Dark & Stormy and the three already listed above in this fashion, the results were positively fantastic. The Singapore Sling in particular – a drink which I make with more than passing regularity – was one of the best I think I’ve ever had.

As for how this is done – in short, very simply – merely total up the volume of your recipe, determine how many ounces your siphon will hold and do the math. The only point on which one should be cautious is in fine-straining your mixture, particularly if citrus or other juices are included, as you wouldn’t want to clog your siphon up with particulate. For instance, the drinks I’ve already discussed thus far are prepared in my siphon (which comfortably holds about 32 oz.) like so:

Morango Campo (via Siphon)
6 oz. Boca Loca Cachaça
2 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
2 oz. fresh Lemon juice, fine-strained
22 oz. Strawberry Fields soda
Combine ingredients in a pitcher and stir well to incorporate (or just combine in the siphon & shake well). Pour into siphon, carbonate according to manufacturer’s instructions & chill. Serve & garnish as above.

Paloma de Flor (via Siphon)
7 oz. Tequila Ocho Plata (2008)
1 oz. fresh Lime juice, fine-strained
23 oz. Jamaica soda
Combine ingredients in a pitcher and stir well to incorporate (or just combine in the siphon & shake well). Pour into siphon, carbonate according to manufacturer’s instructions & chill. Serve & garnish as above.

Posh Dandy Cooler (via Siphon)
6 oz. Hendrick’s Gin
1 oz. blended Scotch (Yamazaki 12yr)
1 oz. Honey syrup
4d Fee’s Cherry bitters
4d Peychaud's bitters
23 oz. Dandified soda
Combine ingredients in a pitcher and stir well to incorporate (or just combine in the siphon & shake it well). Pour into siphon, carbonate according to manufacturer’s instructions & chill. Serve & garnish as above.

Cheers & Enjoy!

In the spirit of full disclosure, samples of both Boca Loca Cachaça and Tequila Ocho Plata (2008 bottling) were generously provided for my use. And bloody fine acquisitions both of them were...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Long Journeys & an Unexpected Absence...

...but not without cause, or rather a variety of them. By my feeble calculations, in the not-insignificant period of time since my last posting, I've traveled some 3500 miles! Between work, all this 'legging about the country and the requisite prep/cleanup prior to or following such travels, my (deplorable) absence from writing here might be understandable, however unfortunate it may be.

Yet, by way of apology, rather than wax poetic on every tiny detail accross a handful of posts, I reasoned a collection of highlights might serve best to catch you, my good reader, up on my spirits-doused activities of th
e past month or so.

'Tales 2009
First up in early July, my trip down to (all-too sunny) NOLA for this year's Tales of the Cocktail - an incredible and educational exerience to be sure. While at this spirited event of the year I attended seminars on all manner of fascinating cocktailian topics, sampled spirits from all over the world, wiled away the evenings in the friendly company of my fellow bloggers over at the Mixoloseum house and, in the end, nearly gave myself a hernia hauling home the mountain of 'schwag that was foisted upon the attendees at every turn.

I also took part in a cocktail competition of fairly epic proportions - a joint effort between the various chapter cities of the
USBG and the wonderful folks at Leblon Cachaça. The theme of said competition was to craft a riff on the venerable Caipirinha, and the collection of immensely-talented individuals (two for each USBG chapter city) chosen to compete certainly brought some of their best tricks to bear, much to the delight of the ~400 person guest list!

Such was assuredly the case with my teammate (& fellow New Jerseyian), Tad Carducci of
Tippling Bros. & USBGNY fame, who took the People's Choice Award for the event. Likewise with Tobin Ellis and Andrew Pollard of the Las Vegas chapter, who took the Judge's Choice Award. For a glimpse at the incredible show that Leblon, the USBG & all eighteen of us put on (as well as the various recipes concocted for the evening) check out the video stream below (the idiot in red with Pelé socks on his arms would be yours truly):


Pennsic 38
Of Portable Bars...
For those of you who have been tuning in here for a while (and who haven't been terribly put off by my recent absence), you may recall that this is the time of year when the Pennsic War takes place in the wilds of upstate Pennsylvania. Although this year's trip out was considerably shorter than previous years' (in span, the journey was just as mind-numbingly long), I could hardly miss it, as this was our local group's 30th Anniversary - which corresponded exactly with the date of our annual party. But more on that in a moment...

Along for the ride, as always, was my very own portable bar (which some of you may recall I promised pictures of last year). Finally having gotten around to actually getting photos taken of the thing, I reasoned that this is the perfect opportunity to present my hand-built creation in all it's devious detail, including its spirited contents. This handy tool & workspace is a direct solution to the many frustrations I often encountered at my first bartending gig; a catering outfit.

The overall design is fairly straightforward - three moulded countertops of treated mahogany, poplar & oak which bolt together discretely to form a back-bar with plenty of work & storage space. Straight and rear-facing angled legs of spun oak screw onto plates on the bottom. A number of "speed rail" boxes which fit into several positions on the bar surfaces (dependant on my needs at a given event) via fitted wooden pegs. Space for additional spirits runs along these boxes (which are watertight, so that ice may be placed inside of them in especially hot conditions) with a large drawer & watertight hinged box providing additional storage space for tools or miscellaneous items.

Other features include folding hooks on the bottom of each segment from which small baskets can be hung, a wall-mounted bottle-opener on one of the legs, an angled marble cutting board (complete with a removable trough for catching juice & seeds) and a pair of inset stainless steel foodservice bins for holding my bar tools. Bottles of Simple and Demerara syrups are mounted on a speed pouring rack (which dispenses 1 oz. pours), a butane-powered burner provides heat for warm drinks or making syrups when necessary. A combination of magnetic lights and lanterns provide me with light in the evenings and a sterile space is alotted for drying & storing my glassware. And yes, good reader, I bring glassware out camping...

A pair of double-walled coolers accomadates my mixers (Vermouths, Champagne, soda, juices, additional fruit &c.) and Ice, respectively. As ice can be a devilish thing to maintain without refrigeration in hot weather, I do the best I can by procuring several 10lb. blocks of ice, then pack cubed ice around these. For stirred drinks (or others requiring careful control of dilution) I utilize a brass hammer and ice pick to secure suitable chunks from the blocks, while shaken drinks get a combination of cubed & block ice (with careful attention paid to shaking times & temperatures). And as for what I actually stocked for all this mixing; my selections are listed from left to right more or less as they appear on the bar itself (pictures courtesy of the incomparable Ken Cleary):

Plymouth, Bols Oude Genever, Bols Genever, Boodles, Bluecoat, Tanqueray, Right, Beefeater, Beefeater 24, Martin Miller's, Distillery 209, Citadelle Reserve, Magellan.

Gomme, Pineapple Gomme, Ginger, Falernum, Cinnamon, Orgeat,
Horchata de Melon, Raspberry, Passionfruit, Elderflower, Berry-Apple Shrub, Hibiscus Grenadine.

Salignac Cognac, Lautrec VS Cognac, Cardinal Mendoza Solera Gran Reserva, Fundador Solera Reserva, BarSol Quebranta Pisco, Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy, Metaxa 5-star.

Sazerac 3yr & Old Overholt Rye(s), Hudson, Bulleit, Old Graddad & Evan Williams 7yr Bourbon(s), Yamazaki 12yr, Pig's Nose Scotch.

Rum & Cachaça
Brugal white, ONO white, Cavalier Antigua white, Ron Zacapa 23, Mount Gay XO, Appleton's V/X, Rhum Barbancourt 3-star, El Dorado 5yr Demerara, Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc, Sailor Jerry spiced, Lemon Hart 151° Demerara; Boca Loca, Leblon & Inacca 5yr Cachaças.

Bitters & Tinctures
Angostura, Peychaud's, Regan's Orange, Angostura Orange, Fee's Peach & WBA, Spiced Lemon #1, Honey-Tangerine, Boker's, Improved Bitters mix; Orange Flower Water, Rosewater, Jasmine, Tahitian & Bourbon Vanilla(s), Candied Ginger; Atomizers of Del Maguey SV Mescal &
Bitters Mist.

Tequila & Mescal
Inocente Plata, Tequila Ocho Plata 2008 & 2009, El Jimador Reposado, Del Maguey SV Mescal.

Amaro, Pastis & Absinthe
Pimm's No. 1 Cup, Torani Amer (Picon), Zucca Rabarbaro Amaro, Amaro Nonino, Fernet Branca, Campari, Aperol; Pastis au Violette, Herbsaint, Pernod; Vieux Carre, Obsello, Kübler Absinthes.

Speed Spirits
Benedictine, Grand Marnier, Luxardo Maraschino, Amaro Abano & Amaretto, Yellow Chartreuse, Carpano Punt e Mes, Morello Cherry-infused Carpano Antica Formula, house dry Vermouth, house sweet Vermouth.

Wines & Liqueurs
Dry Sack & Lustau PX Sherry(s), Cockburn's Ruby Port; Cointreau, Tuaca, Marie Brizard Apry, Tia Maria, Hiram Walker Crème de Cassis & Crème de Cacao, Chateau Trimbach Pear, Domaine de Canton Ginger.

Oval, Van Gogh Espresso, Zubrowska.


...And (Quite) Successful Parties
As I mentioned previously, our local group reached its thirtieth year of existence this year, fortuitously on the precise date of our annual Pennsic party. And despite the intense chill of the evening (heralded by a poor, if ultimately inaccurate, weather forecast) after our best estimates, somewhere in the vicinity of one thousand people passed through our camp over the course of the evening!!

I daresay our reputation for hospitality and entertainment won us this more than steady influx of guests, and in that regard we surely did not disappoint. As we were perhaps the only camp group at this years' event to procure the proper licensing (admittedly something never before needed at Pennsic) for fire-spinners (i.e. Poi), we were visited by large a number of this art's master practioners (as pictured at left & below).

Similarly, and much like last year's festivities, we provided kegs and cases of beer & hard cider (Guinness, Smithwicks & Woodchuck); all were tapped before the night's end. As my own contribution to the event, I prepared and served up a large volume (15 Gallons in-total) of batched libations for our guests' pleasure. One of these was a slight variation on a warm beverage (at ~55°F it was quite chilly after all) compunded in moderate batches all evening long to help our guests (and me) fend off the evening's chill. These libations (including an unplanned, yet thoroughly delicious addition prepared a la minute) went something like this:

Swamp Sunshine

200 oz. Peach-infused Vodka, house-made 60 oz. Saffron-infused Bianco Vermouth, house-made
20 oz. Canton Ginger Liqueur
200 oz. Peach Nectar
60 oz. Ginger syrup
20 oz. fresh Lemon juice
1½ oz. Fee’s Peach bitters
½ oz. Sunshine bitters (modified to include Quassia bark)

4x fresh Peaches, julienned
Combine ingredients in a 5-Gal cooler & stir very well to incorporate. Prior to serving, add a 7lb. block of ice and stir well to chill. Serve over ice & top with 1 oz. of Seltzer (fresh from an iSi siphon).

East's Interdiction
300 oz. Sandeman's Ruby Port & Lustau PX Sherry (house-aged blend, 3:1)
4 oz. Lemon Hart 151° Demerara Rum
80 oz. → 64 oz. distilled Water, mulled & reduced in advance with:
* 15x Allspice berries, bruised
* 15x blades Mace
* 10x Canela Cinnamon sticks, bruised
* 10x Green Cardamom pods, bruised
36 oz. superfine white Sugar
24 oz. candied Ginger
30x fresh Oranges
10x fresh Lemons
80x whole Cloves
Bitters mist, for brûlée
Nutmeg, for garnish
Quarter the Oranges & Lemons and stick each segment with 2 whole Cloves. Reserve over ice. Prepare mulled Water by bringing specified spices & 80 oz. of distilled Water to a boil. Simmer until reduced to 64 oz. then fine-strain solids from water & reserve.

To compound each batch
(prepared here in 8 batches to ensure warmth):
Combine the following in a large pan:
15x Orange segments
5x Lemon segments
8 oz. mulled Water
Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat & add:
4½ oz. superfine Sugar
3 oz. candied Ginger
Carefully brûlée the pan's contents with the Bitters Mist (for approximately ten to fifteen seconds), then add 37½ oz. Port-Sherry blend and continue to warm over medium-high heat until steaming. Add ½ oz. 151° Demerara Rum and carefully ignite. Flame for approximately thirty to forty seconds before extinguishing with the pan's lid. Remove from heat and pour the entire mixture in a heatproof 5-Gal cooler. Serve in 3-4 oz. portions with a grate of fresh Nutmeg over the top.

The next beverage had great sentimental value for many of the older members of our group, though I'll admit, I varied the ingredients towards the fresher side. Nevertheless (or perhaps because of my alterations) it vanished alarmingly quickly:

Lynchburg Lemonade
20 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
20 oz. Old Granddad Bourbon
20 oz. Old Overholt Rye
30 oz. Cointreau
40 oz. fresh Lemon juice
10 oz. fresh Orange juice
20 oz. Simple syrup
10 oz. candied Citron syrup
64 oz. Seltzer
Combine all ingredients except Seltzer in a 2½-Gal Cooler & stir well to incorporate. Prior to serving, add a 3lb. block of ice & gently stir in Seltzer (2x full iSi siphons).

As the 'Lynchburg (& its accompanying libations) was relatively short-lived, as the crowd waned (briefly) I made my way to the portable bar at the rear of camp, to quickly prepare a new batch of beverages. I struck upon the bottle of Pineapple Gomme syrup (originally intended for Pisco Punch) & immediately recalled a drink of a different variety:

Developed by the inestimable Eryn Reece of NYC's Louis 649, the recipe (which I tripled; substituting in a bottle of ordinary Beefeater and 2 oz. of green Tea) for Desmond Punch was apparently crafted to honor Beefeater's master distiller (and creator of Beefeater 24) Demond Payne. Quite a tribute, I must say!

Despite the presence of Gin (sadly, a touchy subject for many), this wonderful punch lasted for even less time than its' predecessors and recieved many compliments from our guests. Check out the step-by-step recipe in the video stream at below (with Ms. Reece herself; courtesy of Embury Cocktails) - I promise you'll be delighted with the results...


And so, after returning (dead tired) from Pennsic, the last of my travels is complete. Consequently, my long absence from authoring long-winded articles here is now over and regularly-scheduled (!?) posts will begin apearing soon.

Throughout my time away I have been far from idle, learning of and experimenting with all manner of new (or at least new to me) ingredients, tricks, ideas & recipes. Many of these & more will be appearing here over the next few weeks - as a teaser, next up is a bit of fun to have with your pet soda siphon - so be sure to tune back in soon...


An enormous thanks to everyone from both 'Tales & Pennsic (and anyone in between) who has made these last few weeks an absolute pleasure; especially to those of you who were kind enough to share your excellent photography (Ken, Anna, Dani, Susan - you guys rock)!