Measure & Stir

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Guide to Amaro

 

 

I have been working on making my own bitters, but that project is far from ready. In the mean time, I decided to write a post discussing various amari (singular: amaro. Incidentally, the title of this post ought to be “Guide to Amari”, but we all know no one is going to search for that. It’s all about dat traffic), their characteristics, and their uses. When I first became interested in craft mixology, I noticed that a lot of the recipes I found on the internet called for liqueurs with Italian names, and I had never heard of any of them, and I didn’t know anything about their flavors. Lately, as I browse around various cocktail blogs, the big shots know how to handle them, but most people mixing drinks at home are really uninformed, so I broke out all the amari in my home bar, and tasted them all again, just for you.

Most of these spirits fit a similar flavor profile. The flavors words that I am using to describe them capture a degree of variation roughly on the same level as wine. First and foremost, all of these taste like amaro, except for Campari and Fernet, which are more distinctive. and I’m not even sure if Campari counts. All Amari are liqueurs, meaning that they have a substantial quantity of sugar, but they also have a strong bitter note on the finish. Bitter flavors provide the bass line for your drink, and a slug of amaro is often a great way to achieve that. Especially when making aromatic cocktails, they are great for layering complexity on top of a base spirit, or for lending a touch of the exotic. Once in a while, you can even find one in a tiki drink.

On the whole, they have strong herbal flavors, and are generally drunk in Italy as a digestivo, though Campari and Cynar are more popular as an aperitivo. And indeed, after eating a steak or a burger, there is nothing better to calm the stomach and aid the digestion than a glass of Ramazotti or Fernet Branca, on the rocks. In fact, I’m going to have one right now. Just a moment…

Ah, nothing makes a finer night cap. I find that most of these spirits are great on their own. You do not have to mix them into cocktails to enjoy them, but at the same time they are another dimension to play with when making your drinks, and quite an enjoyable one.

First up is Campari, which is a scintillant red color, and that selfsame color is perfectly artificial, I assure you. In the past, someone told me that it is flavored with rhubarb, but I am unable to detect any Since I’ve been making my own bitters, I have had occasion to smell and taste the flavors of a number of common bittering agents, and I can now observe that almost all of the flavor in this liqueur come from Cinchona bark, though it does have a hint of orange flavor. I don’t think it technically counts as an amaro, but it’s still a bitter Italian liqueur, and if you don’t like it on this list, you can write your own blog post about it. I consider Campari to be an essential element of any home bar, as it is a critical ingredient in the Negroni, one of the pillars of classic cocktailia.

Bitterness – 7/10. Proof: 34 Pictured: Rojo Bianco See also: The Italian 50

Next up is Averna, which is dark brown, almost black. According to the internet, it has a citrus flavor, but when I drink it, I primarily taste the flavor of burned caramel. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Averna — it’s not quite as bitter as I would like, and it lacks the complexity that I really look for in an Amaro. It’s quite drinkable, and CVS has some fun ideas for what to do with it, but it’s definitely on my B list. I don’t suggest it unless you already have a decent collection, and you’re trying to round it out.

Bitterness: 5/10. Proof: 58.  Pictured: Caramel Apple Charged Punch (Probably the worst photo on my blog)

Amaro Ciociaro is perfectly black. I’m sorry to say, I don’t have any drinks with this one yet, but I will soon. In contrast to Averna, I think this one is great, and one of the first that I would purchase when stocking a bar, right after Campari, Fernet, and Ramazotti. It has an excellent bitterness and a spicy complexity reminiscent of raisins, plums, and winter spices. That said, you could probably substitute Ramazotti for it in most drinks, so it might be a little bit redundant.

Bitterness: 6/10. Proof: 60.  Since I don’t have a drink for this one, it’s probably a good time to mention my generic recipe for an Amaro Sour, based on Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour. The great part is, it will look pretty much exactly like the Amaretto sour, so here’s that picture, to jog your memory.

Amaro Sour
1.5 oz Amaro
.75 oz Cask-strength Bourbon
1 oz lemon juice
(optional) 1 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup
.5 oz egg white, beaten

It’s important to note that some amari are much sweeter than others, and some are much bitterer, so it’s important to taste the drink before you add any simple syrup, and then adjust it accordingly. Fernet, for example, will probably call for a quarter ounce, perhaps even a half ounce of syrup, whereas Amaro Nonino is so sweet that you probably won’t want any.

Moving right along, Amaro Montenegro, much like Ciociaro, is midnight black. It’s probably the sweetest of the bunch, with a citrus flavor that’s almost bubblegummy. I’m pretty sure it’s bittered with wormwood, primarily, and it has a nice sprucey, piney sort of flavor, similar to an IPA. If you are in the mood for an IPA-based cocktail, I think this would probably be the one to try first. When I last visited the Zig Zag Cafe, they served me a Pimm’s cup with Montenegro, and the combination elevated both spirits significantly. My Italian friend Gualtiero said that in Italy, they play advertisements for this spirit on primetime television, and he said he viewed it in much the same way that I probably view a spirit like Jack Daniel’s. Fortunately, as an American, I can enjoy it free of this perception.

Bitterness: 4/10. Proof: 46.

And speaking my friend Gualtiero, he was kind enough to bring me a bottle of Amaro al Tartufo, which is made in Umbria, where he is from. It is thoroughly black, and tastes very different from the other amari in my collection. It has a clean citrus taste on the sip, and then a lingering, earthy truffle finish. I’ve never had anything like it, but then, I’ve never taken an amaro tour of Italy. I think I feel a vacation plan coming on. Generally speaking, I have no desire to mix this into a cocktail, as the truffle flavor is delicate and easily squashed. Then again, it was wonderful when I mixed it with fresh, sweet tomato juice.

Bitterness: 4/10. Proof: 60. Pictured: Mary, Truffle Hunter

Amaro Nonino is malty brown, for a change, and very light and sweet. When I tasted it for this post, I was surprised to find that it was bitterer than I remembered, but still nothing to write home about. Friedrich Nietzche wrote, “When one has properly trained ones conscience, it kisses you as it bites you.” In an amaro, I prefer and inversion of this; I want it to bite me as it kisses. Unfortunately, Nonino lacks bite, making it much better as a mixer than on its own. It has a hint of vanilla in it, and it’s it’s as close to rum as an amaro gets, which isn’t terribly close, but hopefully it gives you some idea of the flavor. As I discovered when I made the above drink, it pairs swimmingly with Mezcal. My only complaint is that it contains a noticeable amount of caramel coloring, and I feel that it leaves a film in your mouth, much like Coca Cola. On that note, it would probably be great with Coke.

Bitterness: 4/10. Bittering agent: Wormwood. Pictured: Des Esseintes

Ramazotti is black, and probably my favorite amaro that isn’t Fernet. It has a blood orange flavor, and tastes almost like a not-sweet version of Gran Marnier. I am pretty sure it’s bittered with gentian root, the same agent used to make Angostura bitters. When I first tried it, I thought, “this is sweet and tastes like oranges. I wonder how it would be in a margarita?” The answer, my friends, is: terrible. Ramazotti is not nearly as sweet as triple sec, and the herbal flavors in the the liqueur really muddied the flavor of the fresh lime juice. Don’t do it. Do try adding a quarter ounce of it to your Manhattan; it’s simply divine. This is a must-have for your home bar.

Bitterness: 5/10.  Proof: 60.  Pictured: Chocolate Cochon. Not a great cocktail to showcase Ramazotti, but it will have to do.

Cynar is black, and substantially different from most of the Amari described herein. Of all the spirits I have described in this post, I would compare it most to Campari, though it is perhaps a bit milder, and has a definite vegetal funk. The aroma is not distinctly artichokey, but on the sip it comes through loud and clear. As with Campari, the bittering agent is definitely Cinchona bark. I highly suggest substituting Cynar for Campari in a Negroni or a Spritz. This is not a must-have, but it is a highly recommended.

Bitterness: 6/10. Proof: 34. Pictured: Arts District. See also: Dirt ‘n’ DieselLibretto

Cardamaro is light brown, and technically a fortified wine, whereas all of the other spirits here are aged infusions and/or distillates. It’s less bitter even than Carpano Antica, which is a sweet vermouth, to give you some idea. It is assertively herbal, however, and can be used just like vermouth or sherry in a mixed drink. It’s a great way to add some variety to your fortified wine game, and I love it, but it certainly doesn’t bring much bitterness to the table.  Before I tried it, I was hoping it was flavored with cardamom, but it turns out it is flavored with cardoon, which is similar to an artichoke. Since this is a wine, you’ll want to store it in the fridge after you open it.

Bitterness: 1/10. Proof: 34. Pictured: Memories of Fall

Rhabarbaro Zucca is black. I think it is bittered with both Wormwood and Cinchona bark, but it’s hard to tell with this one. Ostensibly it is a rhubarb-flavored amaro, and I don’t doubt that there is rhubarb in it, but the flavor of it is minimal. There is some sweetness on the sip that reminds me of rhubarb jam, but it’s faint enough that it could just be the power of suggestion. Sadly, this one goes on the B list along with Averna. You could substitute Ciociaro, Ramazotti, or even Cynar for it, and you would probably like the resulting drink more, in most cases. I will not buy it again.

Bitterness: 6/10. Proof: 32.

Rounding off the list is Fernet Branca, and if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you already know how much I like this. Buy it twice. It is minty, bitter, and not sweet at all. I can tell you that it is almost certainly bittered with Angelica root, but I do not know if that is the only bittering agent. I suggest putting it in everything. Mix it with whiskey. Mix it with gin. Mix it with pineapple juice. On the weekend, mix it with the milk in your breakfast cereal. Mmmm, the breakfast of champions.

Bitterness: 7/10. Proof: 80. Pictured: Bartender on Acid

 


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Mango Rum Punch

“Wait!” I hear you saying. What happened to the week of highball drinks? I confess, a punch is not exactly a high ball, but we just so happened to serve it in the style of a highball, so I must ask you to indulge me. My friend James and I had scheduled a beach party, or what passes for one in Washington, and we wanted to make sure the party popped, and the only way to do that was with a seasonally appropriate punch. I knew I wanted to use an oleo saccharum as the base, and I knew that I wanted to incorporate rum and wine, but I did not have an exact recipe. I googled around, and I considered this Philadelphia Fish House Punch from Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and this Chatham Artillery Punch from Doug, but I ended up just doing my own thing.

I did take some advice from Putney Farm regarding the ratio of spirits to wine, however, and chose to use three bottles of rum and three bottles of wine, but with a small twist. I wanted to infuse mangoes into the punch, so I did not want to use a sparkling wine, as the carbonation would all seep out over night. On the other hand, I wanted a touch of carbonation in the final product. James and I decided to compromise, using two bottles of Pinot Grigio for the infusion, and reserving a bottle of Prosecco to be used for topping off the punch at serving time. This worked very well, except we ran out of Prosecco about half way through the punch.

I conclude that we should have had two bottles of Prosecco. Alas.

Mango Rum Punch
1.5 Liters of Aged Rum (Mount Gay)
750 ml White Rum (Bacardi)
1.5 Liters Pinot Grigio
5 Large Mangoes, peeled cut into chunks
Peel from 10 Oranges
1.5 Cups Super-Fine Sugar

When Serving:
2 Cups Fresh Lime Juice
1.5 Liters Chilled Prosecco

Make oleo saccharum by saturating and muddling the orange peels with the sugar. Allow it to sit for two hours, stirring and muddling occasionally. Add the rum and the Pinot Grigio to the oleo saccharum, along with the mango chunks. Cover and allow to sit overnight.
At serving time, juice the limes into the punch. Fill cups with ice and add 1-2 oz of Prosecco, then fill with punch.

The best thing about punch is that it allows you to fill the cups of all your guests without sacrificing your ability to interact with them socially. Normally I am very adamant about avoiding ambiguity when “topping” a drink with something sparkling, but it was a beach day, and it wasn’t worth stressing over. Ideally, you want just enough to add a bit of effervescence. The punch weighs more than the Prosecco, so you should pour it into the cup before the punch, in order to facilitate good mixing.

The oleo saccharum lends a fragrant, unctuous richness to the entire drink, similar to the oils in a cup of well-made French pressed coffee. Usually the fruit that is used for infusing completely gives up the ghost, and there is no reason to eat it, but in this case, due to the short infusing time, and possibly the density of the mango, we all found the pieces of punch-soaked fruit to be delicious. When you serve the punch, consider ladling one or two pieces of the fruit into each cup. Even the orange peels didn’t taste bad, but they weren’t great, either.


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The Sexton in Ballard

After an arduous night of bar-crawling in places where they shake Manhattans, I stumbled into The Sexton, in search of a night cap more in line with my own tastes. Or maybe I wanted to talk to a girl sitting by the window. Either way, they had what I was looking for. They have their menu on their home page, but just in case you want to see it as I saw it, here it is:

This was only the first page, of which there were two or three of mixed drinks. Such an expansive menu might be intimidating for an inexperienced cocktail drinker, but I enjoyed the variety, and I thought the menu was well put-together. The Banyan is a great way to class up the much more ubiquitous strawberry margarita, and the pig rider presses the chocolate/tequila/chili pepper buttons that we all know and love. Alas, I did not opt for a tequila drink, though as I am writing this post, it would surely hit the spot. I would also like to call your attention to the tasteful inclusion of a variation of The Bitter End, a drink which appears in many different forms, but which always includes a float of amaro or aromatic bitters, so that the last few sips of the drink pack a substantial bitter wallop.

On this particular night, I ordered the Double Bind, a mixture of bourbon, lemon-sage shrub, ginger beer, and bitters, and I was compelled to do so by a recent fascination with vinegar in cocktails. It was a highball, as you could guess from the inclusion of the ginger beer, and the served it in a mason jar, which I found to be pleasantly rustic. To make this drink at home, you will, of course, need to make a lemon-sage shrub. I suggest the following process for making shrub syrup:

Lemon-Sage Shrub
4 large lemons
1.5 oz sage
1 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
Slice the lemons thinly, peel and all, and place them in a sealed container. Bruise the sage, and add it to the lemons. Cover the mixture in the sugar, and allow it to sit in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days. Strain off the solids, being sure to scrape any undissolved sugar from the inside of the container, and add it to the vinegar. Bottle it, and allow it to mellow in the fridge for 2-3 more days.

As the shrub sits, its flavors will harmonize and change chemically. Essentially, the vinegar pickles the syrup. If you added a few lemon peels to the bottled syrup, I wouldn’t blame you, but be careful, as they may overpower the relatively delicate sage flavor.

The Double Bind?
2 oz Bourbon
.75 oz Lemon-Sage Shrub
2 Dashes of Bitters

Shake over ice and then strain into a tumbler full of fresh ice. Top with 1.5 oz ginger beer and garnish with a lemon wedge.

Apologies to the Sexton if I got it wrong, but that’s how I would start. Before shaking, taste the mixture, and make sure that the flavors of the bourbon and the shrub are in harmony together. If the flavor of the shrub is not pronounced enough, add another quarter ounce. Many props go to the Sexton for using the appropriate amount of ice, and for crafting an interesting drink. I’m not sure how much of the sage I tasted in the instance of the drink that they served me, but the concept is very solid, and the flavor of the sage comes down to individual execution.

They garnished the drink with a lemon wedge, but my inclination would be to use a toothpick to spear a sage leaf to that self-same lemon wedge, the more to convey the flavor of the fresh herb.


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Dusty Bottoms

Continuing with our week of highball drinks, this is a drink that some of my friends had at a bar in San Diego called Prohibition. It’s a popular name for a craft cocktail bar, it seems. In any case, they visited the bar, and then came to visit me and told me of this drink. I then tried to recreate it, based upon their description of the ingredients and the flavor. But before we go any further, this is the perfect time to mention some errata from my earlier post, How To Make Better Drinks I wouldn’t ordinarily bother, but the post in question is in my side bar, so I feel it’s important to keep the information in good repair. In the list of problems with the drink, I somehow neglected to mention:

11. The herbs are over-muddled. We’re not making pesto, and a muddler is not a mortar and pestle. All of the menthol in mint lives in little hair-like structures on the surface of the leaf. If you bruise the leaf of the mint, you are going to release bitter chlorophyll flavors into your drink, and it will taste grassy. I suppose that could be deliberate, but a discerning palate will perceive it as an error. The better way to handle mint is to place it on the palm of your hand and give it a few good, hard, smacks. In general, when muddling herbs or citrus peels, apply firm pressure but do not tear the flesh of the plant. Fruit, on the other hand, ought to be pulverized.

The drink that my friends described to me contained reposado tequila, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, muddled sage, and ginger beer. I do not know the exact proportions of the drink as it was served at Prohibition, but by knowing a little bit about the construction of a highball, we can come pretty close. In most cases, we want to have a total of two ounces of hard liquor in the drink, and the very natural way to do this, in this case, is with one and a half ounces of the base spirit, tequila, and one half ounce of the modifier, yellow chartreuse.

I want the flavor of the yellow chartreuse to be balanced against the acidity and flavor of the lime juice, so in this case I also used a half ounce of lime juice. Depending who you listen to, you might end up with three quarters of an ounce of liqueur, for a sweeter drink, but I like them dryer, and I plan to add more sugar in the form of ginger beer. When topping a drink with soda, many people make the mistake of filling the glass. This makes it look pretty, but you will end up putting a highly variable amount of soda into the drink, depending on the glass you use. If you want to preserve the flavor of the other elements, it is best to measure. You can always add a little more, so I limited myself to one ounce of soda water.

We made this drink after my friend Julian had just finished moving into a new apartment, so the name was appropriate. Moreover, it was a hot summer day, so whereas I usually would have used ice cubes, I wanted this drink to be a bit lighter and more refreshing, so I used crushed ice instead of ice cubes. In either case, as we discussed yesterday, it is important to fill the glass completely full with ice, to slow the melting process as much as possible. The ice does not look especially crushed in this picture, but I assure you, it was. Julian’s cat, Mimosa, wanted in on the action.

Dusty Bottoms (via Prohibition, in San Diego, CA)
1.5 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse (Strega)
4-5 Sage Leaves (Basil)
1 oz Ginger Beer (Bundaberg)

Lightly muddle the sage leaves in the yellow Chartreuse, and then combine all except the ginger beer in a shaker. Shake over ice, and then strain over fresh ice. Add the ginger beer and Garnish with a sage leaf.

I did not have any sage at this particular juncture, but I did have basil, fresh off the plant, and it was close enough on this occasion. I also substituted Strega for yellow Chartreuse, and you can see the bottle poking it’s head up in the background. I like to bring my own ice when I’m mixing at a remote location, because the quality of the ice is critical to the quality of the drink.


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Kingston Club

Via Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the Kingston Club is one of the best drinks I have tried in a long time. Seattle finally decided to get warm, so I’ve been drinking lots of highballs in an attempt to beat the heat. I’ve also been ordering highballs around the city, and I’m disappointed to tell you that even many craft bars will manage to screw up this format. The most common mistake I see is the failure to use enough ice. When you make a rocks drink, it is essential that you fill the glass completely with ice. If you don’t, it will melt too quickly, and you will be left with a watery highball, its flavor a mere specter of your intention.

For this reason, I don’t recommend ordering a highball when you are eating at a restaurant; even if the bartender was diligent, it may take your server a while to bring you the drink, and the ice will melt. I can’t remember where I heard this line, but I like to tell my guests to “drink it before the ice gets scared”.

I’d never owned a bottle of Drambuie before last week, and this was the drink that convinced me to make the purchase. I love its peppery, scotchy flavor, and I was intrigued by Morgenthaler’s use of this spirit as the base of a Tiki drink.

Kingston Club

1.5 oz Drambuie
1.5 oz Pineapple Juice
.75 oz Lime juice
1 tsp Fernet Branca
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill a Collins glass with ice and one ounce of soda water. Shake over ice and strain. Garnish with an orange peel.

If you followed the link above, you saw that his was a lot prettier than mine, but that’s OK, because mine was just as delicious. You would think that equal parts of liqueur and fresh pineapple juice would be too sweet, but the level of citrus in this drink was perfect, making it much dryer than I had anticipated. When I was planning to make this drink, I remembered it as having rather more Fernet than it actually does, but when I went to make it, I discovered it had only a teaspoon, which is exactly equivalent to 1/8 of one ounce.

Those who have been reading for a while will recall my love of Fernet and Pineapple, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to make this. As such, I apologize for the low amount of Fernet in this drink, and I will try to find one for you that has substantially more in the near future.


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Lavender-Infused Gin

I found a bundle of fresh Lavender at Trader Joe’s last week, and I was struck by inspiration! Lavender is one of my favorite flavors, and when I first was getting into mixology, I tried twice to create a lavender-centric drink by making lavender syrup from fresh lavender. Oh, how foolish I was! I have since learned the rules about how to capture various flavors for use in drinks.

  • If a reagent’s primary experience is as an aroma, the best way to extract it is in alcohol, i.e., by making an infusion.
  • If a reagent is small on aroma but big on flavor, the best way to extract it is by simmering it in sugar and water, and making a syrup.
  • If a reagent is has both a strong flavor and a strong smell, it is best to make a liqueur by performing both extractions, and blending them together.

I can’t remember where I learned this, but it was in a discussion of Buddha’s Hand, a citrus fruit with a very light flavor, but a powerful fragrance. When I saw the lavender, I realized it was my chance to redeem myself, and I took it straight home and infused it into some Beefeater gin. Most infusions take a week or more, but there are some ingredients, such as black tea, which take only a few hours, or even less.

Lavender proved to be on the quicker end of the extraction curve, becoming noticeable in the gin after only five hours, and becoming truly salient after about ten. I left it for closer to sixteen, and that was perhaps too long. Let this be a lesson to you, to always check your infusions. Fortunately, when you make the mistake of over-infusing, it’s easy to recover; just blend some of the un-infused spirit with the infused one, until the flavor is right. I added some plain Beefeater in small increments until the flavor of the lavender was in proper balance with the botanicals in the gin.

My friend James was present for the debut of this infusion, and he had the brilliant suggestion to make a Gin fix using honey syrup. The lavender flavor I had sought two years prior was perfectly expressed in this drink, and I can say this, because I have not had very many lavender drinks, that this was the best lavender mixed drink I have ever had.

Lavender Gin Fix
1.5 oz Lavender-Infused Gin (Beefeater)
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Honey Syrup

Shake over ice, double-strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a sprig of lavender.

This is the standard formula for a fix or a sour, with lavender gin and honey syrup plugged in the appropriate slots. Honey on it’s own is quite floral, which is why it works so well with lavender.

Moving on, I was in a more experimental mood, and I wanted to see what would happen if I combined a variety of floral ingredients. I do not recommend making the next one, but I think it was instructive, and we can all learn something from it, hopefully.

Drink All The Flowers (version 0)
1.5 oz Lavender-Infused Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Violet Syrup
.25 oz Rose Syrup
.
25 oz Elderflower Liqueur (Pur Likor)
.25 oz Acid Phosphate
Stir over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lavender sprig.
The dye in the rose and violet syrups made this drink a deep garnet color, as you can see. Even with the acid phosphate, which is a dry, flavorless chemical sold by Art of Drink, this was much sweeter than I usually prefer. That was to be expected, on account of all the syrups, but it caused me to drink it very slowly, and I got to see what happened after it warmed up a bit.
When the drink was cold, it had a nice balance between the lavender, the rose, and the violet. As it got a bit warmer, the elderflower became more manifest, and the syrups really started to overtake the base spirit. The violet syrup was much too powerful for the other ingredients, and the elderflower did not belong. I did not feel compelled to mix a second one, but if I did, I would do it like this:
Drink All The Flowers (version 0.5)
1.5 oz Lavender-Infused Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Rose Syrup
.25 oz Acid Phosphate
1 dash of Violet Syrup
Stir over ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lavender sprig.
Cheers.


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Flor de Jerez

In my early forays into mixing drinks, I purchased a bottle of Real Tesoro Amontillado sherry and made a few drinks with it. Much like Noilly Prat or Martini and Rossi, it was terrible on its own, but kind of acceptable in a cocktail. If you skimp on the quality of your fortified wine you will make sub-par drinks. Now tell me, if something does not taste good on its own, then what would possess you to pour it into a high quality bourbon, rum, or gin? The mind boggles.

Even great Amontillado sherry may be the exception to this rule, however. On its own, it is drinkable, but it has such a savory flavor, like grapes without any sugar and dried mushrooms, or perhaps mushroom stock. It’s an intriguing flavor, certainly, and it fits beautifully in a savory drink, but it’s also versatile enough to work as a base spirit from time to time. The Flor De Jerez popped up in my RSS feed just as I was in the mood to rediscover sherry, so I went down to the market and picked up a bottle of Lustau Dry Amontillado.

Emilio Lustau seems to be, to the world of Sherry, what Giulio Cocchi was to the world of vermouth, though in my very quick googling, it seems that Cocchi made a lot of things besides just vermouth, and his name has since been appropriated by another Italian family and branded on a whole line of fortified and sparkling wines. In any case, Lustau sherries are great, and I highly recommend them.

Flor de Jerez
1.5 oz Amontillado Sherry (Lustau Dry)
.5 oz Jamaican Rum (Cruzan Aged Rum, not Jamaican, I know)
.25 oz Apricot Liqueur (Rothman & Winter)
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.5 oz Cane Syrup or Rich Simple Syrup (2:1 Syrup)
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake over ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a very long orange twist.

There is a lot going on in this drink, perhaps a bit too much. The sweet and sour elements are well-balanced, and the sherry is well-presented, but it was not terribly memorable. I mixed this one over two weeks ago, and I have not felt a craving to mix another. It’s great to experience novelty, and I think the savory qualities of the sherry are surely something to experience, but this is not the drink I will use to introduce people to Sherry, nor the one I will make when I want to enjoy it, myself.

A sherry cobbler is definitely in my future.


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Angostura 1919 Rum and Clement Creole Shrub Review

I had the good fortune to pick up a bottle of Angostura 1919 rum and a bottle of Clement Creole Shrub from the new Total Wine that opened up in Bellevue. The 20% + 3.77/liter surcharge on hard liquor in WA state is probably worth it considering that we now have Total Wine and soon, Bevmo. It does raise the price on the bottle of Angostura rum from thirty-six dollars to forty-eight, and that burns, but it’s better than not being able to buy Angostura rum at all. There’s still nowhere to buy Smith and Cross, except maybe the obscenely overpriced Wine and Spirits World in Wallingford.

No one outside of Seattle really cares about that, though. On to the reviews!

Angostura 1919 Rum

According to the manufacturer, this rum is blended from rums that are aged a minimum of eight years in bourbon casks. I definitely could notice a bourbon quality in the nose, which is full of vanilla, and as I take a sip, I am greeted immediately by honey, which then gives way to tobacco. The strongest flavor in this rum, by far, is the flavor of fresh tobacco, which permeates the swallow and lingers on the finish. It’s very smooth, and distinctively flavored. It might be a bit simple for some palates, but I greatly enjoy when an aged spirit captures one or two flavors very well, as I think you would agree this rum does with the flavor of tobacco.

I do not smoke cigars, but if I did, I think this rum would be a perfect accompaniment. If you can get it for thirty-six dollars, it’s a pretty fair price, but fifty is a little much. Angostura 1919 is not the first rum I’d buy for my bar, and it’s not the second, but it very well might be the third. (After Smith and Cross or Wray and Nephew, and Zacapa 23) It’s great on ice or in an old fashioned cocktail, but as with most high-end rums, mixing it into a more complicated drink is probably a waste. If you want to go the aromatic route, I suggest mixing it with dry Amontillado sherry and a dash of Angostura bitters, of course.

Clement Creole Shrubb

 This orange liqueur received extremely good reviews, and I was very eager to try it. Clement Creole Shrubb is the only curaçao liqueur I know that uses Rhum Agricole as the base, as opposed to brandy or a neutral spirit. It’s very similar to Gran Marnier, and it’s probably not worth keeping both in your bar unless you are a very serious curaçao enthusiast, but it’s certainly worth keeping one or the other. I think this liqueur is extremely suited to tiki drinks or any rum-based concoction, because it already has a lot of rum notes from its base spirit. If you sip it neat, it greets you with a very bright orange oil flavor with a sugarcane backend and a little bit of pepper. I like it perhaps a bit more than Gran Marnier for mixing, but not quite as much for sipping neat. It makes a killer Sidecar,  Mai Tai, or Daisy, that’s for sure. High quality Curaçao is a must have for your home bar, and this is light years ahead of Gran Gala, which is only fit for removing grease stains from my driveway.

Fancy Old-Fashioned Rum Cocktail
1.5 oz Aged Rum (Angostura 1919)
.25 oz Curaçao
1 Dash Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)

Stir over gently over ice and pour over one large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel.

I wanted to experience both of these spirits simultaneously, and of course, they were highly complementary to each other, so I made a fancy Old Fashioned. When using a liqueur such as Maraschino or Curaçao in place of simple syrup it becomes “fancy”, and it should be called as such. When making this substitution in drinks with a large volume of syrup (more than .5 oz), it is generally better to use .5 oz of the liqueur, and simple syrup for the rest, lest you overpower the other flavors in the drink.


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Indochine: Green Chartreuse and Basil

Basil season is upon us, so what better time to enjoy the Indochine? I am not referring to this atrocious glass of candy from Sandra Lee, but rather to this elegant concoction from Mayahuel in Manhattan, courtesy of CVS. I don’t have a lot to say about this one, except you should make it. It’s a little lower-volume than I am used to, but the combination of Zacapa 23, Green Chartreuse, and fresh basil is just too good to miss. Green Charteuse is spicy and herbal on its own, but it contains the extracted flavors of its herbs. When a flavor is extracted into alcohol it becomes abstracted — it retains its aroma but not the fullness of its flavor. By adding fresh herbs, we build a flavor which tastes much more complete, like a song that ends on the right note.

All of the flavors in this drink have a certain earthy quality — oak wood, leaves, sugar cane, spices. It would be perfect to sip on your patio, or even out in a forest. Zacapa 23 is a little bit expensive to be using it as the base spirit in a lot of mixed drinks, but every time I have made a drink with it I have been very impressed. When I use it in a rum drink, I almost feel like I’m cheating. It’s that great.

Indochine
.75 oz Zacapa 23 Rum
.25 oz Green Chartreuse
.375 (3/8) oz Lime Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
5 Thai Basil Leaves

Muddle the basil leaves in the simple syrup, then shake all ingredients over ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with candied ginger, or, if you don’t have any of that, a fresh basil leaf.

This drink was a little small, so if you doubled the proportions, I would certainly empathize. It looks insubstantial in my double old-fashioned glass, but I don’t have a smaller rocks glass, something I shall have to rectify soon. The original recipe called for candied ginger, which would have been a nice aroma to accompany the drink, but I really enjoyed the additional scent of basil as I took a drink. Basil has a delicate flavor, so the extra aroma from the garnish really helps it shine.

You should make this, it is excellent.


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The Italian 50

I have a long-standing aversion to champagne cocktails, mostly on the basis that I think it looks unmanly to hold one at a bar. The only glass more feminine than a champagne flute is a hurricane, but both are OK in the proper context. If you are sitting on the beach at a resort, a hurricane glass full of coconut cream and rum, or even a bit of blue curaçao is probably ok, but if you order something like that in a bar on a Saturday night, I will probably make fun of you.

Anyway, In Northern Italy, the most popular aperitif is a drink called Spritz, and when my friend Gualtiero came by with a bottle of Prosecco, I knew it was time to make a drink in that vein. The classic Spritz recipe is delicious, but it’s a little too light for my tastes, and it goes a little something like this:

Spritz
1 oz Campari, Aperol, or Cynar
1 oz Prosecco
1 oz Sparkling Mineral Water

Combine in a glass and garnish with an orange wheel.

It goes without saying that your prosecco, mineral water, and ideally, your bitter liqueur will all be chilled before-hand. I like this recipe, but I’m usually in the mood for something a little stronger, so I crossed a Spritz with a French 75, and came up with The Italian 50:

The Italian 50
1 oz Dry Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Campari
3 oz Prosecco

Briefly stir gin and Campari together, and strain into a champagne flute. Top with 3 oz Prosecco and garnish with an orange wedge.

This was shockingly delicious, but I think it would have been just as good, and more appropriate to its name, if it had been made with Grappa instead of Gin. Alas, I do not have any Grappa, and I did not want to use Pisco, even though it’s a close approximation than gin. So the 50 in this comes from the fact that it is a 2/3 Italian 75, which multiplies out to be the Italian 50. Next time I’ll get some Grappa, and we’ll get all the way to 75.

The French 75 is essentially a Tom Collins with Champagne instead of sparkling water, meaning it makes use of lemon juice for its bracing quality. In the Italian 50, I am using Campari for this purpose instead, changing the drink from a sour drink to an aromatic one. In any case, the biggest win here is inherited from the spritz, which highlights the orange notes in Campari with a wedge of fresh orange. The aroma of orange when drinking this drink creates a decadent synergy with the Campari.

You could use Cynar instead of Campari, and if you do that, then I suggest a wedge of lemon, which is much more suited to Cynar than orange.