Cocktails

More Reasons To Drink In Colombia

1 March 2014

In case you weren’t convinced by my Colombian postcards #1, #2 or #3, here are a few more memorable drinks I had during my two-week journey. Especially after waking up to yet more snow in Chicago today, it didn’t take looking at many of these to make me want to hop on a plane and head right back.

Tcherassi Martini

The Tcherassi hotel’s Aquabar made this deliciously balanced martini from gin, aguardiente (a local anise-flavored spirit) and “lemon foam.”

Macul Gris

This refreshingly dry Cabernet Sauvignon rosé with creamy strawberry fruit and a chalky finish comes from Chilean winery Cousiño Macul, owned by the same family since its founding in 1856. It was heaven with lunch on the breezy patio of Cuzco restaurant in Cartagena.

Mojito

Aside from its unforgettable Islas de Rosarios setting, this mojito may not look especially unusual. But it tasted lusciously balanced and just a little naughty, since it was made with Havana Club rum from Cuba.

Chakana Malbec Rose

Rosé is just irresistable in Cartagena’s courtyard restaurants, like Bohemia pictured above. This ripely fruit rosé of Malbec was made by Chakana, a 12-year-old winery in Mendoza, Argentina. It had a bracingly chalky quality and sharp, orangey acids. Delicious.

Mojito on Providencia

There are two unusual things about this mojito, sipped at Deep Blue on the gloriously unspoiled Caribbean island of Providencia. First, what appears to be an orange wheel garnishing the glass is actually a lime, and second, no lime juice actually made it into the cocktail. Whoops!

Sauvignon Blanc in Cartagena

There was nothing unusual about this well-crafted New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, enjoyed on the rooftop of the Movich Hotel in Cartagena. But with that view, it was hard to care.

Postcard From Colombia #3

21 February 2014

Lulo MartiniColombia is not best known for its corozo-based cocktails, but its aguardiente. This clear spirit distilled from sugarcane has a delightful anise flavor, and it resembles a less cloying and less alcoholic ouzo, with a smooth spiciness. I quite like it neat. Look for aguardiente without added sugar.

Aguardiente makes a fine cocktail base, especially in the sure hands of the bartenders at El Coro in the Sofitel Santa Clara. Although the cocktail menu there is extensive, I wanted to try something specifically Colombian. The energetic bartender Jhon had just the thing: a Lulo Martini.

He mixed fresh lulo juice, which tastes rather like lemon and orange juice mixed together, with aguardiente and a touch of simple syrup. He shook up the concoction, used a straw to taste for balance (the bartenders checked just about every cocktail for balance), and presented the cocktail to me in a chilled martini glass.

It did indeed exhibit excellent balance, with a smooth, juicy texture. The anise overtones from the aguardiente were kept well in check by the creamy citrus of the lulo and sugar.

Hmm… I wonder how much trouble I would get in if I tried to smuggle a suitcase full of fresh lulos home with me?

Postcard From Colombia #2

18 February 2014

Corozo 75 at Carmen in CartagenaAh ha! I knew it could be done — a truly delectable drink made from the Colombian corozo fruit. As I described in this post, corozo has a tart flavor somewhere in between a blackberry and a cranberry, which would seem to make it ideal for cocktails.

I tried a Corozo 75 in Cartagena at the estimable Carmen Restaurant in the Hotel Anandá, and what a revelation. This cocktail, composed of corozo-infused gin, corozo syrup and Chandon Rosé sparkling wine, tasted remarkably round and rich, in marked contrast to my previous experience with a corozo-based cocktail. The berry fruit felt deep, and yet the cocktail maintained an excellent balance, with lightness of texture from the Chandon and a floral note on top.

If you can get your hands on some corozo, this is the cocktail to make.

Or better yet (and perhaps easier), come to Cartagena’s Carmen Restaurant. The cocktail and the meal alone are almost worth the trip.

Postcard From Colombia #1

15 February 2014

Corozo cocktail at Leo Cocina y CavaSo far I have yet to encounter any Colombian wine, but I haven’t felt especially deprived. The Colombian cocktail scene, at least in Bogotá and Cartagena, turns out to be quite sophisticated. Mixologists have a bit of an advantage here, with an array of delicious Colombian fruits at their disposal that we in the U.S. can only dream about.

One of my favorites so far is corozo, a red berry which on its own tastes somewhere between a blackberry and a cranberry. It’s delicious, and I was excited to see it appear in a drink on the cocktail menu of Leo Cocina y Cava, a world-class Bogotá restaurant. Its Corozo cocktail contains Absolut Kurant, Cointreau, lemon juice and corozo juice, making it akin to a Cosmopolitan (also on Leo Cocina y Cava’s menu, made with Absolut Citron).

I felt a little skeptical about the Kurant, which I suspected would either overpower or be overpowered by the corozo, since both have pronounced berry flavors. My concerns weren’t assuaged when the drink arrived with the consistency of a loose slushie. The texture of the drink felt unbalanced, with not enough citrus to round out the vodka. The Kurant really did take over, it seemed. But once the ice melted, the sharp edges of the cocktail wore away and it became something I actually enjoyed consuming. The tart corozo came more to the fore, and the Absolut Kurant lost some of its punch.

Although this cocktail proved to be something of a mixed bag, I felt sure corozo could make a drink sing. Now, off to find a bartender who can perform a better balancing act.

Top Spirits & Cocktails Of 2013

21 December 2013

Slyrs WhiskeyAt this time of the year, it seems to be the thing to make “Top ____ of 2013″ lists. I don’t know if these lists are really all that useful, arbitrary as they are, but compiling them gives me a good excuse to reflect on the past year.

Posts about spirits and cocktails are some of my most popular, and with good reason. The world of spirits has never been more exciting in this country, with fine craft distilleries popping up all over the place. Cocktails too have experienced a major renaissance, as bartenders resurrect beautiful classic drinks and mix new concoctions with a creative energy not seen in half a century.

Here are my favorites from 2013, in alphabetical order. And if this list doesn’t convince you that the world of spirits and cocktails has never been better, check out my list from 2012 here.

 

AMBER DREAM AT NOBLE EXPERIMENT:

This speakeasy in downtown San Diego was my favorite bar of the trip. It’s a little complicated to get in — you need to make a reservation in advance (ideally, a week in advance), and you can only make that reservation by sending a text message to 619-888-4713. Once your reservation is confirmed, go to a restaurant called The Neighborhood at 777 G Street. Go to the back by the bathrooms, and you’ll see some beer kegs stacked up against the wall. Push on those, and you’re in!

Bartender Anthony hand-cracked the ice for my Amber Dream, a classic cocktail that I must admit I’d never tried before. It contained Beefeater 24 (in which Beefeater steeps the botanicals for 24 hours, amping up the flavor), Carpano Antica (the sweet vermouth craft bars are going crazy for these days), Yellow Chartreuse (a French herbal liqueur), orange bitters and a strip of lemon zest.

This cocktail took a few minutes to make, and it was worth the wait. It started on a sweet note, but the flavor became more and more bitter. I love the smooth, round texture (achieved with lots of stirring) and the citrusy aroma from the zest. Delicious, complex, and positively delightful.

 

BLOOD & SAND AT TAVERNA 750:

Taverna 750

Taverna 750

At this bar and restaurant in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, they’ve devised a simple and elegant solution for keeping that last half of your martini ice-cold: storing it on ice in a little glass pitcher until you’re ready to drink it. Each cocktail comes with this sidecar, whether you order off the menu or not. I started with a Blood & Sand, a concoction which dates at least as far back as Bill Boothby’s 1934 cocktail guide, World Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, which calls for scotch, Cherry Heering and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Taverna 750 gooses up that simple recipe by mixing together Glenmorangie Single-Malt Scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, housemade orangecello, lemon juice and simple syrup.

My dining companion had a taste of it, rolled his eyes with pleasure and ordered one of his own. It had a creamy bitter-orange aroma, a profile carried through on the palate: rich, sweet and bitter, undergirded by orangey acids. The sidecar kept the second half of my drink ice-cold, with no loss of integrity as I finished the first.

 

BYRRH:

ByrrhAt first glance Byrrh appears to resemble many other sweet vermouths, or even port, it differs in one important respect: It’s spiked with quinine, the anti-malarial compound found in cinchona bark that gives traditional tonic its unique flavor.

I tried it first at room temperature, though it’s traditionally consumed chilled. It had a porty, richly fruity aroma with something herbal in there as well — a bit of parsley perhaps. I loved the round, luscious mouthfeel which slowly developed into orangey acids and the barest hint of menthol on the finish.

After that taste, there was no question — I needed to see what it would do for a Manhattan. I shook two parts Rowan’s Creek Bourbon, one part Byrrh and a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters with ice, and strained it into a martini glass. It proved to be a balanced but very bright and lively Manhattan. It seemed to end with a deep note from the bitters, but it jumped up again at the last second with a little cedar and mint.

 

CHÂTEAU DE BEAULON 7-YEAR COGNAC:

Chateau Beaulon 7-Year CognacThis cognac doesn’t look especially unusual at first glance, nor is it even especially old. But two words on the label make it immediately clear that this is not your everyday cognac: Folle Blanche. Cognac, like all brandies, is distilled from grapes. In cognac’s earliest incarnation, these grapes tended to be Folle Blanche as much as anything. More recently, particularly after phylloxera ravaged the Cognac’s vineyards in the late 19th century, Folle Blanche was replaced with Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano). Finding a cognac distilled from Folle Blanche these days is rare indeed.

The light caramel-colored Château Beaulon had a bright aroma with strong vanilla cake notes and a hint of ripe banana. When I took a sip, I felt a top plane with dark vanilla and wood flavors overlaying a lower plane bright with green peppercorn spice. It seemed a little lighter and fruitier than many cognacs I’ve tried, and very well-balanced, cheerful and smooth.

Cognac may have long since moved on from its Folle Blanche roots, but Château de Beaulon resolutely clings to tradition with exceedingly pleasurable results. If the cognacs of centuries past tasted like Château de Beaulon’s, it’s not hard to see why it has remained such a highly regarded spirit today.

 

CYNAR

CynarI would never have guessed this artichoke-based liqueur from Italy would make the list. About 10 years ago, a friend and I were in some small-town café in Umbria, and I spotted the bottle behind the bar. Even then I was interested in trying unusual spirits, and the idea of an artichoke liqueur proved irresistible. With no clue what this thing could possibly taste like, I ordered a glass. It was not to my liking. Aghast at Cynar’s bitterness, I discreetly carried the small snifter to the men’s room and poured the remainder down the drain. 

What a difference a decade makes. There was no sneaking off to the bathroom this time. Tasted neat and well-chilled in the refrigerator, the Cynar had a pleasantly bittersweet aroma and a very bitter, intense flavor profile leavened with a strong dose of caramelly sweetness. It doesn’t taste at all like artichokes — it’s made with 12 other herbs and plants, according to its website — and I certainly didn’t want to pour it down the drain this time. Despite Cynar’s relatively low 16.5% alcohol content, it tasted powerful, bracing and surprisingly balanced.

Check out some Cynar-based cocktails I mixed up here.

 

DARK PASSENGER AT THE BAR AT HUSK:

Dark PassengerHusk restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, is no secret, but it’s easy to pass by the bar right next door. I went in on a whim, and discovered one of my very favorite bars of the year. I ordered a barrel-aged Manhattan from bartender Roderick Hale Weaver, who apologetically explained that this was the first time they had run out of the cocktail. He offered to make me an alternative Manhattan-like drink “with depth,” and presented me with a gorgeous Dark Passenger.

Made with Carpano Antica, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, sorghum molasses and a rinse of Branca Menta, this cocktail tasted supremely satisfying: rich, bitter and complex, with a note of mint on the finish. It was absolutely delicious. If you go, have Weaver or one of his colleagues customize a cocktail for you, and whatever you do, don’t miss the glorious cheeseburger.

 

SANTA FE SPIRITS:

Colin Keegan in his downtown Santa Fe tasting room

Santa Fe Spirits owner Colin Keegan in his downtown Santa Fe tasting room

This distillery in the capital of New Mexico makes a number of delightful spirits, two of which I found especially memorable.

Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey: With this whiskey, Santa Fe Spirits emulates the production process used by makers of scotch, employing smoked barley and used bourbon barrels for aging. But this whiskey has an undeniably local character imparted by the use of mesquite to smoke the malt, rather than peat. I could sense it in the aroma, which had notes of smoke and vanilla, as well as a bit of something red, like good Hungarian paprika. Its flavor definitely reminded me of a smooth and dusky scotch, but again, there was a unique red note underneath, no doubt due to that smart decision to use mesquite.

Wheeler’s Gin: With the profusion of juniper growing around Santa Fe, Santa Fe Spirits would be crazy not to make a gin. This elegant spirit uses four additional local botanicals: cholla cactus blossoms, cascade hops, white desert sage and osha root, all sourced from within a 30-mile radius. This is a gin with serious terroir, and I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t bring home a bottle. After a smooth start, the botanicals kick in, most notably the juniper and the desert sage. There was a savory note underneath as well, perhaps from the cascade hops. Smooth, complex and lively, this gin would make one mean martini.

 

WHITE LION VSOA:

White Lion ArrackVSOA stands for “Very Special Old Arrack,” a wonderful spirit from Sri Lanka which is distilled from the nectar of unopened coconut flowers. At room temperature, the VSOA had appealingly fragrant aromas of bright vanilla cake and caramel. If I hadn’t known what I was smelling, I might have guessed it was some kind of 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. Fascinating and delicious.

This spirit proved to be quite a versatile base for cocktails — check out some recipes here.

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.

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.

Bitter Is Better

27 November 2013

CynarI distinctly remember the first time I tried Cynar, an artichoke-based liqueur from Italy. About 10 years ago, a friend and I were in some small-town café in Umbria, and I spotted the bottle behind the bar. Even then I was interested in trying unusual spirits, and the idea of an artichoke liqueur proved irresistible. With no idea what this thing could possibly taste like, I ordered a glass. It was not to my liking. Aghast at Cynar’s bitterness, I discreetly carried the small snifter to the men’s room and poured the remainder down the drain.

I therefore felt a little apprehensive, as you might imagine, when I recently received a free sample of Cynar to review on this blog. But what a difference a decade makes. This time, my palate was prepared.

Tasted straight and well-chilled in the refrigerator, the Cynar had a pleasantly bittersweet aroma and a very bitter, intense flavor profile leavened with a strong dose of caramelly sweetness. It doesn’t taste at all like artichokes — it’s made with 12 other herbs and plants, according to its website — and I certainly didn’t want to pour it down the drain this time. Despite Cynar’s relatively low 16.5% alcohol content, it tasted powerful, bracing and surprisingly balanced.

Although it makes a fine digestif on the rocks, Cynar can add some wonderful depth to cocktails as well. My mixology buddy and I first tried it with some rye, but that proved to be too one-note and Robitussiny. We actually liked it better with gin, the aromatic and spicy notes of which worked wonderfully with Cynar’s bitter and sweet characteristics. Add a little lemon, and you have a cocktail that’s well-balanced and aromatic, with a fascinating underlying savory note. The citrus gives the drink the proper texture and keeps it from becoming too medicinal:

CARCIOFO (that’s “artichoke” in Italian)

–2 parts gin (we used Death’s Door)

–1 part Cynar

–1/2 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Combine the above in a shaker with a few large ice cubes, and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass, and garnish with a lemon or orange twist if you’re feeling fancy. If you’re making a bigger batch, use a pitcher instead, and stir for a minute or two instead of shaking to achieve an even smoother texture. I don’t usually reach for the gin at this time of year, but this complex cocktail felt perfect for a cold autumn evening.

You could also use Cynar to make a wonderfully refreshing aperitif, an ideal way to get your Thanksgiving or Christmas party started:

CYNAR SPRITZ

–1 part Cynar (chilled)

–4 parts club soda (chilled)

–1/4 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Pour the soda over a large ice cube or two in a lowball glass. Top with the lemon juice and the Cynar, and garnish with a lemon or orange twist if you like. This well-balanced cocktail is relatively low-alcohol, yet it packs a serious flavor punch. And though I associate spritzes with the summer, this version has enough depth to make it appropriate for the colder days now upon us.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and Cheers!

Cool Cocktails At Taverna 750

9 November 2013
Taverna 750

Taverna 750

One problem with my closest neighborhood cocktail bar, Marty’s, is that their fishbowl-size martinis warm up well before I finish them. I don’t go to Marty’s because I never enjoy the second half of my drink (and because I once caught a bartender substituting Razzmatazz in my cocktail for the Chambord listed on the menu). Oversize cocktails just aren’t for me.

Or so I thought until my visit to Taverna 750 in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Here they’ve devised a simple and elegant solution for keeping that last half of your martini ice-cold: storing it on ice in a little glass pitcher until you’re ready to drink it. Each cocktail comes with this sidecar, whether you order off the menu or not.

But I do recommend ordering off the cocktail menu — we tried three different cocktails over the course of our shared small-plate dinner, and each was thoroughly delicious. I started with a Blood & Sand, a concoction which dates at least as far back as Bill Boothby’s 1934 cocktail guide, World Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, which calls for scotch, Cherry Heering and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Taverna 750 gooses up that simple recipe by mixing together Glenmorangie Single-Malt Scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, housemade orangecello, lemon juice and simple syrup.

Blood & Sand

Blood & Sand

A waiter placed the drink in front of me, sidecar and all, and asked, “One Colonel Gaddafi?” I must have had a pained look on my face as I chuckled. “Too soon?” Well, at least it wasn’t a Syria joke. In any case, I loved the Blood & Sand. My dining companion had a taste of it, rolled his eyes with pleasure and ordered one of his own. It had a creamy bitter-orange aroma, a profile carried through on the palate: rich, sweet and bitter, undergirded by orangey acids. The sidecar kept the second half of my drink ice-cold, with no loss of integrity as I finished the first.

My dining companion’s second drink — a classic Aviation made with Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin, Crème Yvette (a violet-infused liqueur), Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup — was just as good, if not as deeply complex. It looked pink and tasted purple, with an appealing floral/citrusy character.

I kept things on the bitter side of the spectrum with my Toronto, another classic (if unfamous) cocktail mixing whiskey, Fernet Branca (a very bitter amaro) and simple syrup. As with the Blood & Sand, Taverna 750 took this recipe up a notch by combining Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, Fernet Branca, maple syrup and orange bitters. It smelled pleasantly green and bitter, and it presented a startling flavor profile of bitterness, then mint, and finally rich caramel. This Toronto packed a seriously boozey punch, but it felt remarkably smooth on the tongue. An excellent digestif.

We should have been finished at that point, but our personable waiter Chris asked if we would be interested in a complimentary shot of one of Taverna 750′s housemade ‘cellos. The most common of the ‘cellos is limoncello, made by steeping lemon zest in vodka and mixing in some sugar. I’ve also had ‘cellos made with the zest of other citrus fruits and even fennel, but never pistachio or espresso. Taverna 750′s unorthodox pistachiocello had a wonderful nutty thickness balanced out by some pointy citrusy notes, and the espressocello combined rich coffee flavor with the dense, sweet texture of a ‘cello. Both were delightful.

Marty’s and Taverna 750 both offer a stylish atmosphere, and they would ostensibly appeal to the same type of patron. But make no mistake: Taverna 750 is much better suited to cocktail connoisseurs. Marty’s, with its oversize and oversweet martinis, is for amateurs.

Taverna 750 on Urbanspoon

Toast Independence Day With A Bang

29 June 2013

Note: This is a repost from last year, with some modifications. I can’t think of a better drink for the 4th than this.

If I were to be perfectly honest, I would recommend cracking open a refreshing bottle of dry rosé with your July 4th barbeque. This is very likely what I’ll be drinking, but frankly, dry rosé seems too effete, too continental, for celebrating America’s Independence Day. We didn’t gain our independence by playing nice with the Brits, negotiating at endless length, relying on the hope of their essential good nature.

No longer able to bear, among other indignities, taxation without representation, our ancestors risked their lives and the well-being of their families so that we could live as a free people. They took up arms and kicked those colonial bastards out of the country by force, because force is the only language tyrants comprehend.

No, as delightful as dry rosé may be, it does not rise to the task of commemorating the wisdom, bravery and strength of our foremothers and forefathers. Independence Day calls for something unabashedly powerful and unashamedly American. Something with a bang. Something like Artillery Punch.

The first time I had Artillery Punch was at a friend’s holiday party. I remember consuming only about two glasses of the punch (along with, admittedly, a fistful of rum balls), before we all decided it would be a great idea to strip off our Christmas sweaters and take some topless group photos. It’s that kind of punch.

A number of recipes published in books and on the Internet purport to be Artillery Punch. Some, like this one, incorporate tea and cherries into the mix. This one goes further by adding pineapple as well, which to my mind dilutes the 18th-century revolutionary je ne sais quoi. Both recipes also make use of gin, an altogether too British spirit for this occasion.

I prefer to relate the simplest (and strongest) recipe I found, the dangerously delicious concoction described in David Wondrich’s Punch. Mr. Wondrich found this recipe in an 1885 copy of the Augusta Chronicle, which describes how Artillery Punch was created by a certain A.H. Luce in honor of Savannah’s Republican Blues visiting Macon’s Chatham Artillery sometime in the 1850s. It makes use of that very French spirit Cognac, but since the French were our allies, a bit of Cognac seems appropriate.

The original recipe calls for a horse bucket “of ordinary size” to be filled with crushed ice, whiskey, rum, bourbon, sugar and lemon, and then topped off with Champagne. Should you have a horse bucket of ordinary size at your disposal, I have no doubt it would be the hit of your barbeque, but failing that, an ordinary large punch bowl will do:

David Wondrich’s Artillery Punch (as adapted by Odd Bacchus):

12 lemons

2 cups raw sugar (the larger crystals of raw sugar are useful, but white sugar will also work)

1 bottle Cognac (Mr. Wondrich recommends VSOP, but the budget-conscious should opt for VS)

1 bottle Jamaican-style rum

1 bottle bourbon

3 bottles brut Champagne (or sparkling wine, for heaven’s sake)

1 bag of ice

Using a vegetable peeler, zest the twelve lemons, making the peels broad and long and as free of the white pith as possible. In a mixing bowl, muddle firmly with the sugar to extract the peels’ essential oils. Let the mixture stand in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, juice the 12 lemons. You’ll need about a pint of juice, so it’s wise to have a few extra lemons on hand. (Note that store-bought lemon juice will not be a good substitute.)

Add the lemon juice to the sugar/peel mixture and dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, pour the mixture through a strainer into another bowl in order to remove the peels. Using a funnel, empty the contents of the bowl into a clean wine bottle (or other 750-milliliter bottle) and top up with water. Cork, and refrigerate.

The above steps can all be done in advance of the party, and the sugar/lemon mixture will keep in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

Just before you want to serve the punch, fill a large punch bowl halfway with crushed ice (bash the bag of ice on the floor a few times to get smaller pieces, or hit it with a mallet). Add the bottle of sugar/lemon mixture and the bottles of Cognac, rum and bourbon. Top off with the three bottles of Champagne. As noted above, it need not be real French Champagne, but it should be a quality dry sparkling wine of some sort — don’t skimp too much here. A fine Cava could work, for example.

This thoroughly delicious punch goes down with surprising ease, so be sure to warn your guests of its strength. It’s enough to knock the socks off even the most self-confident of tyrants.

Next Page »