In this drink, the name came first. That may be obvious. I encountered this phrase over two years ago, and it resonated with me, so I wrote it down, and saved it for later. I knew that I wanted to build the drink around dragonfruit, and to boldly announce the “beast” element of the title. In the end, I was able to invoke the theme in several ways.
The drink itself is composed of duck-fat infused bourbon, dry vermouth, lime juice, maple syrup, and pineapple and dragon fruit purée. I confess, if I saw this drink from a distance, I would be tempted to call it overcomplicated, but as it is my own brainchild, I have only fond feelings for it.
Let me explain. Trapped in a Cage… starts with dragonfruit, to give it the aspect of the beast. Pineapple juice expands the flavor along the already tiki-ish premise of a hollowed out fruit as serving vessel. To reinforce the beast motif, it is appropriate to use a spirit washed with animal fat, and I have found that bourbon is the spirit most amenable to such treatments.
From (relatively) bland dragonfruit, pineapple, and bourbon, we have nearly arrived at the flavor of an Algonquin, hence dry vermouth completes the classic cocktail at the core of this adventure. Bacon bourbon is a little passé, though as I think through dynamics of this drink, it would have been a fine choice. To keep things fresh, I opted for duck fat, instead.
Beef would have been too heavy, and uncured pork fat leaves a repellant funk. No, the musky oiliness of duck fat was the best option, and between bourbon and duck, I found myself craving a hint of maple syrup. In my loose adherence to a tiki theme, I turned to lime juice for the acidity to balance the sweetness, and garnished with cilantro, mostly for the look.
Trapped in a Cage of Their Own Making with a Beast They’ve Been Feeding For Years
2 oz duck fat-washed bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
.75 oz lime juice
.5 oz dry vermouth (Ransom)
.5 oz maple syrup
a tiny pinch of salt
Blend all with a hand blender, and then shake over ice. Strain only with a Hawthorne.
Serve in a hollowed out dragonfruit and garnish with fresh cilantro.
Perhaps this is no ordinary tiki drink. Indeed, one of my friends who was present at this session called it “Jurassic” Tiki, and for a brief moment I had visions of an entirely new subgenre of cocktail. Jurassic Tiki aims to trade faux orientalism for a prehistoric sensibility. It finds exotic flavors by combining animal ingredients with primordial imagery, and imagines a cocktail culture in a world untouched by human ingenuity, ruled by ancient monsters locked in an endless Hobbesian struggle.
Then I saw that damn paper umbrella and realized that my entire manifesto would collapse in the face of a tiny anachronism.
For the plating I used pineapple fronds, scrubbed animal bones, cilantro, dragonfruit, a lime husk, black lava salt, and smoke from oak chips.
The drink itself is surprisingly subtle, with each component making a distinct contribution. Notes on method:
- The Ransom dry vermouth has a strong flavor, and I might have used a bit more had I been using my more usual Dolin.
- The proportions of lime and maple syrup were ad hoc, as they must ever be in a drink so heavily loaded with fresh produce. Variability is inescapable, and your good taste must be your guide.
- Dragonfruit has very little flavor, and is best used as a textural element.
- Fat-washing a spirit takes about 24 hours:
- Pour 1/4 cup of softened fat into 1 cup of spirit.
- Shake it, and allow it to infuse for about a day.
- Place the infusion in the freezer, and leave the fat to separate and solidify.
- Strain through a coffee filter.
- A pinch of salt helps the pineapple shine.