Harvey CherrybangerIt’s Mixology Monday again, and this month those who like to blog about ‘craft cocktails’ are taking on the very ingredients that the new cocktail movement was a rebellion against.

mxmologoScott Diaz at Shake, Strain & Sip is the host this week, and he outlines the challenge thus:

“The evolution of the cocktail has been a wondrous, and sometimes, frightful journey.  From its humble beginning, to the “Dark Ages” of most of the later 20th century, to the now herald “Platinum Age” of the cocktail,  master mixologists and enthusiasts alike have elevated its grandeur using the best skills, freshest ingredients and craft spirits & liqueurs available.  But with all this focus on “craft” ingredients and classic tools & form, it seems we have become somewhat pretentious.  The focus on bitter Italian amari, revived and lost ingredients such as Batavia Arrack or Creme de Violette, the snickering at a guest ordering a Cosmopolitan or a Midori Sour; has propelled us into the dark realm of snobbery. Many scratch bars and Speakeasies have gone as far as to remove all vodka and most flavored liqueurs from their shelves.  Some even go as far as to post “rules” that may alienate most potential imbibers.  Remember, the bar was created with pleasing one particular group in mind: the guest.  As such, this month’s MxMo LXXI theme, From Crass to Craft,  will focus on concocting a craft cocktail worthy of not only MxMo but any trendy bar, using dubious and otherwise shunned ingredients to sprout forth a craft cocktail that no one could deny is anything less.  There are a plethora of spirits, liqueurs and non-alcoholic libations that are just waiting for someone to showcase that they too are worthy of being featured on our home and bar shelves.  So grab that bottle of flavored vodka, Jagermeister, cranberry juice, soda, neon colored liqueur, sour mix or anything else deemed unworthy of a craft cocktail, and get mixin’!

Well, I wasn’t feeling inspired to join in this month until the looming figure of my overly tall Galliano bottle caught my eye. “I actually quite like Galliano”, I thought. But it is terribly sweet. So I thought about what might be a good base spirit to mix it with and decided on a newish addition to my liquor collection, Kirsch (aka Kirschwasser), a brandy made from sour cherries. Kirsch (or at least the brand I have, Massanez) is delicious, but very dry, so I figured it would balance the sweetness of the Galliano and vice versa.

A little taste test bore this out, but it was thin – all high notes, needing some depth and body. To try and add this without sweetness, I turned to my favourite artichoke liqueur, Cynar, and a bit of Fees Brothers Rhubarb Bitters, a flavour that I am very fond of. The resulting cocktail was good, but then I remembered thinking that grapefruit would go nicely with dry eaux-de-vie such as Kirsch. The addition was an improvement, so after a quick suitably smutty 80’s name, this is the result. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a pretty good drink. Delicious even.

The Harvey Cherrybanger

2 oz Kirsch

1/2 oz Galliano

1/2 oz Cynar

1/2 oz grapefruit juice

Shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit. Stick on some Human League and consume.


Hot Toddy – A Template

December 8, 2012

The last week or so, I’ve been messing around with a template recipe for some hot toddy variations. It’s a little rough, but I got a few nice results.

Reading a few blogs, I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one drinking hot drinks these days, as the weather turns cold in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not freezing in Taiwan yet, but it has been cold, grey, wet and miserable. Perfect Hot Toddy weather.

DSC_0892Most modern recipes for Hot Toddies are whiskey (or other spirit), honey and lemon juice, with some cinnamon and cloves, but this not what the original hot toddy was. David Wondrich explains (and the old recipe books back him up) that the Toddy (hot or cold) was a descendent of the punch, with the fruit taken out. The recipe goes something like this:

Old School Hot Toddy

2 oz spirits

1 tsp sugar

3 oz hot water

That’s it. You should warm the glass with a soak in hot water first. You can grate a little fresh nutmeg on top, too (I haven’t got any, so haven’t tried it). Brown, raw or Demerara sugar is recommended, but white or simple syrup work fine.

Dark spirits tend to work best, with Scotch, Rum, Brandy and Bourbon being favourites. I’ve tried them all before and last week (the first day it got cold) had one with Woodford Reserve that was delicious.

After that experience I wondered about varying the recipe with liqueurs for sweetener. This is something which the writer’s don’t really suggest, but I thought worth a try. Then I got fancy (my first attempt lacked something) and tried adding some extra strong flavour in small quantities. That gave me this template:

Fancy Toddy Template

2 oz spirits

1/2 oz sweet liqueur

1 tsp strong modifying agent

It could probably do with improvement, and might not be to the taste of purists, but it’s certainly fun playing around with on cold winter nights.

The drink that led me to experiment with this template was made with (sadly the last of) my bottle of Bowmore 12-Year Islay Scotch. Toddies usually call for smooth single malts, but I’d decided they’d be much nicer with a bit of a kick, and I think a smokey Islay really works. I think I had a drink called ‘Under the Tartan Sun’ (from Boozehound) in mind when I thought of Tuaca as a sweetener. Tuaca is an Italian vanilla liqueur, so you could also use Licor 43, or maybe even Galliano. I thought it still wanted a little something and I felt that was Fernet Branca, the beautiful bitter minty ameri.

Scotch Toddy

2 oz Islay Scotch

1/2 oz Tuaca

1 tsp Fernet Branca

3 oz hot water

It was great. 5/5

DSC_0875Next day (or possibly the same night) I went for brandy, and did it B & B style.

Brandy Toddy

2 oz Cognac

1/2 oz Benedictine

1/2 tsp absinthe

Also very good. 4/5

Next I tried gin, and think I have to agree that aged spirits work better in Hot Toddies. The first attempt (with Botanist, Yellow Chartreuse and Maraschino – I don’t know why I thought it might work) was just awful. The second matched some floral flavours, was alright and could be worked on.

Hendrick’s Toddy

2 oz Hendrick’s Gin

1/2 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

2 drops rose water

It was alright. The flavours matched nicely, but it was rather thin. 3/5

Next was rum. I started with the high-proof Bundaberg OP and realised that you can’t use high-proof spirits (or too much spirits) in Hot Toddies. The evaporating fumes make it impossible to drink for a couple of minutes. I had to use my only other aged rum at the moment, Havana Club Especial. It was still a great drink, but I think a more full-bodied sweeter rum would have been better. Having never made Tiki drinks I was also not sure about the (Fees) Falernum. Really, I just threw it in for the hell of it. I was, perhaps, forcing things to fit the template. But it ended up really improving the drink, so why not?

Rum Toddy

2 oz dark rum

1/2 oz Chambord Raspberry Liqueur

1-2 tsp Falernum

Great. It only misses out on 5 stars because I think a more suited rum would have been better 4.5/5

Next I tried Calvados, which is true apple brandy (that is not a liqueur called brandy, but a distillate made from apples). I think I was reaching for things to match it with, but the Chartreuse more or less worked, and I think Angostura suits Calvados. I really wanted to try it with Peach Liqueur, but didn’t have any. The result was fairly nice, but nothing special.

Calvados Toddy

2 oz apple brandy

1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

O.K. 3/5

Finally I tried a toddy with Genever – the Dutch ancestor of gin, and a bit of a favourite of mine, although I never really know what to mix it with. The ingredients I ended up with – Cynar artichoke liqueur and rhubarb bitters – were a weird match, and though I really liked it, I’m not sure that many other people would.

Genever Toddy

2 oz Genever

1/2 oz Cynar

1 dash rhubarb bitters (Fees)

I liked it, but doubt it would have broad appeal, so 3.5/5.

And that’s it. I can’t really say that any of these are better than plain Woodford Reserve Bourbon with sugar, but it’s good to have a variety. Do you have any favourite toddy recipes?

Cynar for my Valentine!

February 14, 2012

It’s Valentine’s Day so I need to make something romantic, and nothing says Valentine’s Day like artichoke hearts.

Er, let’s that again. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like an obscure, bitter, mud-brown, digestive aid.

Um, Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a fine Italian liqueur. Oh, and hearts equals Valentine’s, right?

It’s Cynar! It’s pronounced ‘chee-NARR’. I tried some in the weekend with tonic (pictured above), and loved it. The author of my ‘Encyclopedia of Wine, Beer and Spirits’ describes it as a ‘drink for the brave’ and one of the low points of his visit to Venice. In Boozehound, even Jason Wilson, who loves this stuff, calls this bitter drink an acquired taste which takes a little getting used to. Well, with that kind of publicity, I just had to try it, and a friend was good enough to bring some back for me after a trip to LA.

Naturally I approached it with some trepidation. The first sip, from the bottle didn’t leave much of an impression, except that I was surprised by its lack of bitter awfulness. Later I mixed it up with some tonic (Schweppes), crushed ice and a lemon wedge. It was wonderful! Bitter, yes, and I like that, but also sweet. And then there’s the artichokes. I don’t know what artichokes taste like, but I bet it’s not this. Cynar is very round, and fruity tasting, with a not unpleasant bitter aftertaste. The taste is deep and flavourful.

Cynar is quite low-proof, at 16.5% ABV. It is made in Italy where it is drunk both as an aperitif, and a digestif, usually on the rocks, or with soda. I read that in some parts it is drunk with orange, so I tried that too. Also very nice, but I like the tonic better. For mixing, it has recently been used as a substitute for Campari or other Aperol (Italian bitter liqueurs) in drinks like the Negroni. I have yet to try that, but am very keen.

So tonight, for Valentine’s Day (well nominally so), I mixed it with some fancy Italian lemonade. I’d been looking for this bitter Italian soda called Chinotto, which is made by San Pellegrino who make the well-known mineral water. I didn’t find it, but picked up a couple of cans of their Limonata at Jason’s. It’s a dry, sour, very delicious lemonade, and it mixed very well with the Cynar. I thought it at least the equal of tonic as a mixer, and perhaps more refreshing (but just maybe the tonic brought out the flavour a little more). My wife, on the other hand, had an expression which changed rapidly from intrigue to revulsion. Oops. But on reflection (and after mixing it up a little more) she said it was fairly good, but the unexpected bitterness reminded her of Chinese medicine and a Chinese medicine drink you get in night markets.

I, however, am hooked on this stuff and recommend it very strongly. Their advertising from the 60s is pretty cool too:

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