MXMO: The Black Krampus

December 15, 2012

mxmologo-2The holiday season is upon us, so I’m going to bring you a nice hot drink, courtesy of that traditional Yule figure from the north. The one who keeps a list of which children have been naughty and nice, and visits them at Christmas time to give them what they deserve.

No, I’m not talking about the fat man, but this guy:

220px-Krampus-Postkarte_um_1900Meet Krampus.

Yeah. He looks like a cross between Beelzebub and the Pedo Bear, right?

KrampusCard3(2)According to some Germanic traditions Krampus accompanies St Nick (or sometimes works of his own accord) and punishes the naughty children at Christmas. If you’ve only been a little bit naughty, he’ll just swat you with his birch branches, but if you’ve been bad, he’ll carry you off to eat or to throw you into the fires of hell (at least that’s what he tells us – I wouldn’t trust my kids alone with him).

m157137641So why a Krampus cocktail?

Well it’s time again for Mixology Monday, the monthly gathering of cocktail bloggers.

Edit: You can now see all the great contributions to the theme here. Go on, check them out!

This time the theme is Humbug: Something that turns traditional Christmas drinks on their heads, or goes against the spirit of Christmas, or celebrates a Christmas villain, or … well let me quote this month’s host JFL from Rated R Cocktails:

Lets face it the holidays suck, yeah I said it. You put yourself in debt buying crap people will have forgotten about in a month. You drive around like a jackass to see people you don’t even like, or worse they freeload in your house. Your subjected to annoying music, and utterly fake, forced kindness and joy. Plus if you work retail your pretty much in hell, so don’t we all deserve a good stiff drink? So for this Mixology Monday unleash your inner Grinch. Mix drinks in the spirit of Anti-Christmas. They can be really bitter and amaro filled. They filled with enough booze to make you pass out in a tinsel covered Scrooge heap. They could be a traditional holiday drink turned on it’s ear. Or they could be a tribute to your favorite holiday villain. If you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa then you still suffer through the holidays, so feel free to join in with your Anti-Holiday drink as well. Whatever it is add a hearty “Humbug!” and make your drink personify everything annoying or fake about the holidays.

Bugger that!

I love Christmas, and those anti-holiday wankers who profess to hate it can sod right off.

Krampus5-1That said, the aforementioned Krampus, who I just found out about last year, fits the bill. He must be the original Christmas villain, right?

So this idea is a Krampus toddy. Taking the nice soothing hot toddy and turning it into something bitter and vicious that all but hardened boozers would turn their noses up at. A Toddy not for Santa, but for Krampus.

krampus_1So it’s black and mean. I took a Scotch Toddy I made a couple of weeks ago and amped up the nastiness.

The first little helper – Fernet Branca. This is a very bitter (and black) amaro (bitter liqueur) from Italy. Unfortunately it’s not available in Taiwan, and I only have my bottle thanks to my network of booze mules (well it’s really a triangle, rather than a network, and each of my three mules has only made an annual average of one trip over the last year, so I’m always looking for volunteers – apply within). If you are in Taiwan, you can get Luxardo Fernet from Sundy, which is apparently very similar.

krampus_lrgThe second little helper is Blackstrap Molasses, doing duty as the sweetening component of the toddy. I knew I was on the right track when someone online called it ‘nasty stuff’ when I put out a help call while trying to find it in Taiwan. Blackstrap is thick and strong. Its most common cocktail application is the Black Strap (aka Black Stripe) cocktail. You can read more about it here.

DSC_0923The Black Krampus

2 oz Islay Scotch

1/2 oz Fernet Branca

1/2 oz blackstrap molasses

Warm a glass with hot water for a few minutes before discarding. Dissolve molasses in 3 oz of near-boiling water. Add the booze and stir. Serve hot.

Optional additions: grated nutmeg or a twist of lemon might make nice garnishes, but I didn’t have any on hand to try. Fees Brothers Black Walnut Bitters are good, and help with the ‘black’ theme, but you need a good 4 or 5 dashes to stand up to the other strong ingredients. Edit: and I just discovered that a few dashes of orange bitters (Angostura) – instead or as well as the Black Walnut – cuts through the nastiness very well.

Verdict: It looks like motor oil in colour and consistency. It tastes like Chinese medicine. That said, the three powerhouse ingredients do balance each other out quite well, and if you like strong bitter flavours, you might like it. Also, I swear it’s doing wonders for my sore throat.

l_krampus_b_300x257(2)Certainly a toddy for Krampus, or perhaps one to leave out for Santa (if you don’t want him to come back next year).


Merry Christmas!!! (and don’t be too good)


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?

It’s Mixology Monday again and this week’s challenge – ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ – sees me joining up with another Taiwan-based beverage enthusiast, Tearroir, and making a Taiwanese tea-infused Scotch drink which I’ve named the Sucha Rob Roy.

MxMo is a monthly gathering of cocktail bloggers, and this month, hosted by Ed at Wordsmithing Pantagruel, sees us making something with one or more significant ingredients which must be green. (Edit: Summary now up here.)  I’d just bought my first bottle of good, smoky Islay Scotch and couldn’t help but think ‘Green tea would be good infused in this!’ Well I wasn’t the first to think of infusing Scotch with tea, of course, and further research also led me to see that MxMo had already used ‘tea’ as a theme. No matter. I was keen to try my local Taiwan tea with some Caledonian peat-juice.

Not only am I a beginner when it comes to Scotch, but I know nothing about tea, which is a crying shame, as, being in Taiwan, I live right in the middle of one of the very best tea-growing countries on the planet. Some of the best high-mountain oolongs and other teas are grown within easy driving distance of my home.

So that’s where I turned to local expat operation Tearroir for help. Not only do they sell some of Taiwan’s finest tea, but their mission is to try and let Western tea-drinkers have the same informed, appreciative experience of drinking tea that wine-lovers have drinking wine.

Last weekend I had a great lunch with one of Tearroir’s founders, Austin, to learn something about Taiwan tea. Austin first came to Taiwan to further his Chinese studies, but ended up spending more time in mountainside teahouses than in the classroom, and, incidentally, learning more Chinese from tea masters – happy to talk for hours about their passion – than he did from his professors. On his return to Taiwan, Austin knew he was going to do something involving tea, and after meeting oenophile, David, they had the idea of not just selling some of Taiwan’s teas, but also trying to help develop a tea-appreciation culture similar to that which exists for wine.

I love the way Tearroir’s passion for tea matches the passion for spirits and cocktails held by those of us involved in, or influenced by, the ‘craft cocktail movement’, so this week’s cooperation with Tearroir goes further than just picking up some tea from them.

But, I did pick up some tea. The first is called Tie Guanyin, which means something like ‘Iron Buddha’ in Chinese. It’s a tea which is very similar to (and often thought of as being) a dark, heavily roasted, high-mountain Oolong. My novice taste buds got an immediate impression of good deep earthiness (a taste I love in spirits), then some richness, and some pleasant, slightly bitter tannins.

The second tea I tried was Pu-er tea, (Pu-er Cha)which is made in China (Yunnan), but, in this case, undergoes extensive ‘post-fermentation’ and aging for 15 years in Taiwan, which gives it its distinctive characteristics. An aged tea with an aged spirit seemed like a good choice. On tasting this tea, I was even more impressed than with the Tie Guanyin. I loved it. It also had some clay-like earthiness, but seemed much deeper and richer, with more complexity and a heavenly aftertaste.

Next I started to infuse the tea in the Scotch – a bottle of Islay Bowmore 12-Year. My online research gave infusion times ranging from two minutes to two weeks, so I was really not sure if I was going to get a good result first try. With that in mind, I only infused a small 180 ml, (giving me a result of about 150 ml) of each tea, which didn’t leave much room for experimenting with different cocktails.

I started with the Tie Guanyin, adding a level tablespoon to the Scotch in a sealed jar (the leaves are very tight, almost like peppercorns, so this is quite a lot) and shaking a little now and then. After ten minutes the taste was already detectable, and I stopped it and strained it at twenty. It’s by far the easiest infusion I’ve ever done.

The Pu-erCha is much looser and leafier, so I added a 1/4  cup. After an hour there was little effect, so I left it for two. Unfortunately, it was a little long. An hour and a half would have been much better.

I left both infusions a few days to mellow. I’m not sure if that was necessary, but I was out of time anyway, and wanted to get into some cocktail-tasting fresh, later in the week.

The Tie Guanyin was the clear winner of the two. Sipping it neat, the first impression is all smoky Scotch, but then a strong clear earthy tea aftertaste comes through, rising delightfully and giving a warm flush to the sides of the mouth. I love it. It truly exceeded my expectations. It made me think pleasantly of fresh rain on deep grey granite.

The Pu-er Cha was less successfully. I’d let it become too bitter, and it was not a nice sipper. Also, the flavours just didn’t really match those of the Scotch as well.

I tried both of these in Old-Fashioneds (of which the Tie Guanyin was fine, but not spectacular),  and a couple of other drinks each, but I’ll jump to the one that I thought was the winner, and my MxMo submission:

Sucha Rob Roy

2 oz Tie Guanyin tea-infused Islay Scotch

1 oz sweet vermouth

1/2 – 1 tsp Green Chartreuse

1 dash Fees Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Bitters

tea leaf garnish (optional)

Stir all with ice. Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Optionally, garnish with a tea leaf.

The Bobby Burns is a Rob Roy variation with added Benedictine. I used Green Chartreuse instead, as I thought the herbal grassiness would go nicely (and to add to the ‘green’ MxMo theme), and used the Fees Whiskey-Barrel-Aged for my bitters for similar reasons (but Angostura or, certainly, orange would have suited nicely, too). The Rob Roy itself is a Manhattan variation of course, and this was honestly the best, most complex Manhattan-style drink I’ve had.

There were so many delicious layers of complementary flavour, each coming through clearly. The smoke of the Scotch, the pepper of the bitters, the herbal tones of the Chartreuse (slightly too dominant at 1 tsp – 1/2 would probably be better), and finally, and most satisfyingly, the deep earthiness of the Tie Guanyin tea for an impressively solid aftertaste.

The name ‘Sucha’ (soo-char) is a bit of Chinese abbreviation from the words for Scotland and tea.

My results with the Tie Guanyin infusion and the Sucha Rob Roy, leave me more than happy with my experiment.

The Pu-er Cha didn’t infuse quite as well (although it may have with a bit less infusion-time), but I still managed to make one very nice cocktail out of it.

Bonus cocktail:

Tea Lily

1 1/2 oz Pu-er Cha infused Islay Scotch

3/4 oz Lillet Blanc

1/2 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1 dash orange bitters

Stir all with ice. Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and, optionally, a tea leaf.

This was actually very good, having pulled out the big guns – Lillet and St Germain are both divine potions, the latter with a reputation of being able to tame some of the wildest flavours. It worked in this case. The tea lily is a delicious, floral drink. It’s sweet overall, but the smoke, and strong tea flavours are still clearly there.

Final Conclusions: Infusing Taiwanese tea into smoky Scotch can really pay off, and is quick and easy to do. Of course, if you want to try, don’t hesitate to contact Tearroir to get some fine quality Tawian teas.

And if you like this post, please check out some of the other contributors to Mixology Monday. Most of them know a lot more about cocktails than I do.

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