Monthly Archives: December 2013

Cocktails For Your Christmas Party

11 December 2013
Eggnog topped with cinnamon

Santa’s Helper

Festive Christmas parties provide a delightful excuse to serve a special cocktail or two, and goodness knows I love a special cocktail or two (or three or four). Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve come up with a number of cocktails ideal for holiday parties, but I’ve never assembled them in one place.

Here are the recipes of some of my very favorite drinks for the holidays, an array of concoctions using everything from gin and bourbon to mirto and arrack. I developed each of these recipes myself, working hands-on with the ingredients in my mixology laboratory, laboriously testing and tasting. I hope you find the results of my efforts as delicious as I did.

 

SANTA’S HELPER

–4 parts Bourbon, pre-chilled

–1 part Triple Sec, pre-chilled (Stirrings makes an “all natural” version of this orange-flavored liqueur)

–1 part Ginger Liqueur, pre-chilled (a number are on the market, but Stirrings’ is less expensive than most others)

–9 parts Eggnog (1.5 times as much eggnog as alcohol. Use organic eggnog if possible, made from real eggs and cream.)

Pour all the ingredients, ending with the eggnog, in your glass or a pitcher. Stir to combine, and serve in a lowball or rocks glass. Do not use ice at any point in the process (if you’re making a pitcher and wish to keep it chilled, invest in non-melting ice cubes). The eggnog, orange, ginger and bourbon all have their moment on your palate, making for a delicious and surprisingly complex journey.

It’s traditional to top your eggnog with some freshly grated nutmeg, but that’s a pain, and there’s already plenty of nutmeg in most store-bought eggnogs. I prefer a little cinnamon powder on top of my nog. If you want to get fancy, top your eggnog with a touch of cinnamon and a sprinkle of ginger powder. Even fancier, top with a bit of ginger powder and garnish with a whole cinnamon stick.

 

Beton

Beton

BETON

Like a gin and tonic, the Czech Beton (Becherovka and tonic) features aromatic herbal and floral notes as well as a touch of bracing bitterness. But the Beton goes further, with strong flavors of clove, pine and even some cinnamon. A gin and tonic is unquestionably a summer cocktail, but a Beton is Christmas in a glass.

1 part Becherovka (a wonderful herbaceous and bitter spirit produced in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary)

1-1.5 parts Tonic

Gently mix the above in a highball glass with a large cube of ice or two. If you’re feeling fancy, garnish with a lime slice or a sprig of rosemary. If the ratio above proves too boozy for you, you can adjust it to your taste, of course.

I usually purchase my tonic at Whole Foods, which sells a corn syrup-free version in inexpensive six packs. But for this cocktail, I stopped at In Fine Spirits to pick up some “craft” tonics. After all, a cocktail this simple calls for quality ingredients.

Both Fever Tree and Fentimans are wildly expensive, but you can eke two cocktails out of the Fever Tree and three out of  the Fentimans. Mixed with the Becherovka, the Fever Tree version hit me with a lusty blast of clove,  juniper and cinnamon. It was a Christmas party in my mouth. The Fentimans Beton still felt very Christmasy, but it tasted somehow rounder and deeper — more like an intimate gift exchange by the fireplace.

Either tonic makes a beautiful Beton, but if you prefer Canada Dry or Schweppes, go for it. You’ll have a uniquely delicious cocktail in any case.

 

WHITE LION SIDECAR

–2 parts White Lion VSOA (A Sri Lankan arrack distilled from coconut flower nectar, White Lion has appealingly fragrant aromas of bright vanilla cake and caramel, like a sweet cognac. It starts sweet and smooth on the palate, before blossoming into white-peppercorn spice and an aromatic finish of something savory and herbaceous.)

–1 part Orange Liqueur (I used Stirrings Triple Sec, but Cointreau or Gran Marnier would also be lovely)

–1 part Freshly-Squeezed Lemon Juice (do not use bottled juice or, heaven forbid, sour mix)

Juice your lemon, and use the amount of juice you get as the measure of one part. A standard lemon will make one large Sidecar or two small ones. Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a martini glass. It’s traditional to rim the glass with sugar, but I can’t be bothered with that sort of thing. The cocktail had a luscious aroma of orange and caramel, and its darkly sweet flavors were balanced perfectly by the bright citrus. It’s a smashing drink.

 

Mirto

Mirto

MIRTINI

2 parts Gin (I used Death’s Door)

1 part Mirto (A Sardinian myrtle-berry liqueur. It tastes of ripe cherries and something herbal, like eucalyptus perhaps, with cinnamon on the finish. You can order it online here, or check with a well-stocked liquor store.)

1/2 part Fresh-Squeezed Lemon Juice

Combine the above in a shaker filled with ice, agitate, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon, if you’re feeling extra fancy. The drink starts with bright notes from the botanicals in the gin and moves into the more grounded, darker notes of the mirto before finishing with a flash of brandied cherries and cinnamon. The lemon holds it together, providing necessary texture and enhancing the flavors.

 

And because some people are wise enough not to booze it up every chance they get, I also recommend having at least one quality non-alcoholic cocktail on hand. Here are two of my favorites for this time of year:

 

APFELSCHORLE

(I didn’t make this one up — this is a classic German refreshment.)

–1 part Unfiltered Apple Cider

–2 parts Club Soda (or mineral water, if you want to be really authentic)

I prefer club soda in this cocktail because the larger bubbles stand up better to the apple cider, but Germans traditionally use mineral water, because they seem to be addicted to the stuff. Whichever way you go, fill up a tumbler about 2/3 full with club soda or mineral water, and top off with the apple cider. If you want to get really fancy, you can garnish with a long cinnamon stick.

 

Fancy Cherry Lemon Stuff

Fancy Cherry Lemon Stuff

FANCY CHERRY LEMON STUFF

(Suggestions for alternative names are welcome.)

–1 can of Club Soda

–Juice of one Lemon

–1 ounce Tart Cherry Juice (100% tart cherry juice tastes like rich cherry pie in a glass, which makes some sense, since the juice comes from the same cherries used for pies. But though the juice is sweet, it is by no means cloying or syrupy. If no sugar is added to the juice, it retains its tart punch and complexity.)

–1 Orange Slice

Juice the lemon. Pour the can of club soda over a little ice in a large tumbler. Add in the lemon juice, and a full shaker cap (about one ounce) of 100% tart cherry juice (available at Whole Foods). This cocktail tastes complex and sweet, but not too sweet. The orange garnish is important in this case. It adds another layer, the aroma mixing beautifully with the flavors of the drink.

 

And if you’re feeling courageous, and you have a fire extinguisher within easy reach, you might consider embarking on the adventure that is Feuerzangenbowle. This flaming German punch is too complex to explain in this post — you can see my full recipe and all my safety recommendations here — but it is thoroughly delicious, wonderfully festive, and I try to serve it at least once a year. It never fails to be a hit.

Old Vines In A New D.O.

7 December 2013

Vega Tolosa 11 Pinos BobalMy favorite neighborhood wine shop, In Fine Spirits, is a small but exciting place in which to simply browse, with nothing in mind other than finding something new and unusual to try. Wine megastores like Binny’s have a much wider selection, but I think every wine drinker needs a store like In Fine Spirits, which presents a curated offering of wines that the owners have tasted themselves and specifically chosen to put on their shelves. Because the palates of the owners align closely with my own, I never feel apprehensive about buying something I haven’t heard of.

Which is why I had no qualms about picking up a bottle of 2011 Vega Tolosa “11 Pinos” Bobal a few weeks ago, even though I’d never tried a wine made from the Bobal variety, nor could I remember sampling a wine from the Manchuela D.O. where the 11 Pinos originates.

Bobal, I read with some dismay in The Oxford Companion to Wine, “produces deep-colored red wines” in certain areas, but in others, it’s used “mainly but not exclusively for bulk wine production.” I didn’t feel any more reassured when I looked up the Manchuela D.O. in The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. This region between La Mancha and Valencia generally makes wines of “a quality that is seldom better than an acceptable quaff,” and indeed, “much is a lot worse,” it says, not mincing any words.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The Oxford Companion goes on to say that Bobal’s “reputation has been growing as producers such as Mustiguillo have managed to fashion velvety reds from high-altitude vineyards in Utiel-Requena,” an eastern sub-region of Manchuela. This high plateau, which was granted D.O. status in 2000, “shows great potential,” the Oxford Companion argues, “but has lacked the investment required to develop it.” It seemed there was hope for Manchuela Bobal after all.

I also felt encouraged by the fact that the Bobal vines in Vega Tolosa’s vineyards have an average age of 80 years, which theoretically means low yields, high concentration and deep flavors. I poured myself a glass as I cooked up some cavatappi with walnut-cilantro pesto, and I was immediately struck by the meaty, dark-fruit aroma. This was a lusty wine, with dark-red fruit, a dash of black pepper and a smoothly tannic finish. It felt rustic, strong and hearty, which was just what I needed on a cold winter’s night.

I’m not sure the 11 Pinos Bobal would win in a blind tasting with a fine Toro or a top Rioja, but then it didn’t have a top Rioja price tag, either. For $12.50, this wine packed a lot of flavor, and I would certainly buy it again. So if you see a Bobal on your wine shop’s shelf, I recommend giving it a try. It’s an ideal choice for a holiday party, where people will be in the mood for something hearty and fun.

Campari Reconsidered

4 December 2013
Campari & Soda

Campari & Soda

Along with the free sample of Cynar I recently received, the sales representative included a bottle of Campari, Cynar’s much more famous cousin. This bitter bright-red liqueur is famous as the key component of cocktails such as Campari and orange juice, and Campari and soda. These rather simple cocktails taste fine, but honestly they have never thrilled me.

Yet I knew Campari could be a fascinating ingredient. Alone, it has a bitter medicinal taste leavened with sweetness and a brightly herbaceous, parsley-like overtone. On the rocks, it’s an effective digestif, but I prefer it in cocktails. The Negroni, for example, combines gin, sweet vermouth and Campari to great effect. I decided a little experimentation was in order.

According to Iconic Spirits by Mark Spivak, Campari came about as a backlash against the sweet vermouths popular in northern Italy in the mid- to late 19th century. The formula remains the same today as it did at the time of its invention around 1860, when Gaspare Campari “decided to infuse sixty herbs, spices, barks, and fruit peels into a mixture of alcohol and distilled water.” That year, Campari created a sensation in Milan when he opened up Caffé Campari and began serving his concoction to customers. Spivak writes that as of 2012 (when Iconic Spirits was published), sales of Campari had grown to 27 million bottles each year.

Popular though Campari and orange juice may be, my favorite mixology buddy and I decided that it was time to come up with something a little more interesting to do with Campari. Inspired by the Negroni, we started with gin and Campari, and eventually settled on the additions of ginger liqueur and lemon. The result tasted very zippy, spicy and sweet, but with a grounding bitterness provided by the Campari. I loved the balance of this cocktail, as well as the pretty pink-orange color. I’ll call it the Milano, after the hometown of Caffé Campari:

MILANO

–2 parts gin (we used Death’s Door)

–1 part Campari

–1/2 part ginger liqueur (we used Koval)

–1/4 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice (do not use bottled)

Combine all the ingredients above in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon or orange, if you’re feeling fancy.

We also used the Campari and soda cocktail as an inspiration, goosing it up to give it a little extra pizzazz. This drink, which I’ll call the Gaspare, tasted wonderfully refreshing, a little sweet and a little bitter, making it a fine aperitif for both summer and winter afternoons:

GASPARE

–4 parts club soda

–1/2 part fresh-squeezed lime juice (do not use bottled)

–1/4 part simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water)

–1 part Campari

Pour the club soda over ice, add in the lime juice and simple syrup, and stir. Then pour in the Campari, and garnish with a twist of lime or orange. The lime juice adds tartness as well as textural interest, and the simple syrup enhances the flavors. Sugar in a cocktail often acts like salt in food, enlivening flavors and bringing the various elements together.

These drinks surely only scratch the surface of Campari’s possibilities. With bitter-tinged cocktails becoming ever more popular, and rightly so, a bottle of Campari (or other bitter like Cynar or Fernet-Branca) helps complete the well-stocked home bar.

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