Posts Tagged Eric Felten

Alcoholic Archaeology

19 May 2012

The first time I remember reading about Crème Yvette was in the now-defunct Wall Street Journal cocktail column, “How’s Your Drink?”, written by Eric Felten. In this 2006 article, he lamented that no one will ever have the opportunity to taste a proper Blue Moon cocktail, because Crème Yvette “long ago went the way of the Great Auk.” He mentioned it again in 2007, taking the Yale Club in New York to task for using food coloring-rich blue curaçao in its Yale Cocktail (Crème Yvette used to provide a naturally purple color).

Unfortunately, all bartenders had to muddle through with Crème Yvette substitutes, because the Charles Jacquin et Cie liqueur company stopped making the liqueur in 1969. And that was that, for fifty years. I assumed it was lost forever, until I found it listed on the cocktail menu of the newly renovated Four Seasons Chicago. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Crème Yvette was back?

According to a 2009 interview in Imbibe Magazine, Charles Jacquin et Cie’s Robert Cooper had long been fascinated by the discontinued products of his family’s company, including Crème Yvette. On the heels of his success introducing St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and encouraged by a number of bartenders, Cooper decided to reintroduce this spirit made from dried violet petals, blackberries, raspberries, wild strawberries, blackcurrants, honey, orange peel and vanilla.

This resurrected liqueur doesn’t come cheap, however. Binny’s sells it for $50. Before you invest in an entire bottle, give Crème Yvette a try in a bar. The Four Seasons makes a fine cocktail with it called the , a riff on the classic Aviation. Here, the mixologist replaces the Aviation’s gin with Journeyman W.R. Whiskey, mixing it with Crème Yvette, Yuzu (a small grapefruit-like fruit) and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (not to be confused with fluorescent red “maraschino” cherry juice).

I can’t deny that I felt I shiver of excitement as I tasted the A², my first ever chance to sample anything with Crème Yvette. The cocktail had an aroma of purple grapes, a strong, fruity flavor with some tangy citrus notes, and a dry, floral finish. A well-balanced and elegant drink, and well-priced at $14. Bars in many other five-star hotels wouldn’t hesitate to charge twice as much.

You won’t find an A² anywhere but the Four Seasons, but if a bar near you has Crème Yvette on the shelf, ask for a classic Blue Moon (2 parts gin, 1/2 part Crème Yvette, 1/2 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice; shaken with ice and strained).

It will be a taste of history.

The Pegu Club

23 September 2011

An old friend sent me a script to read, and I needed a little nipper to make sure my editing skills were at their peak. I went through the cocktail menu in my mind to come up with something appropriate for the occasion. But then I thought, eh, the heck with it. I had some extra limes on hand, so I shook up a lovely Pegu Club.

This cocktail, named after a colonial British club in Rangoon, Burma, has nothing whatsoever to do with my friend or the script he sent, but gosh, it’s delicious. It’s elegant, but it has a whiff of the exotic, composed of gin, orange curaçao, fresh lime juice, Angostura bitters and orange bitters.

Eric Felten introduced me to this cocktail in 2007, back when he was writing his excellent weekly “How’s Your Drink” column. Felten confirms that this cocktail did indeed originate at Rangoon’s Pegu Club, though if it exists, this genteel (and at the time, whites-only) watering hole no longer exists. It either burned down during a 1941 Japanese air raid, or was taken over by the Burmese army. It’s rather odd that Wikipedia can’t definitively say whether it still stands, but then Burma isn’t the most open of countries. You can view an old postcard of the club here.

New Yorkers (of any race) can visit a lounge called the Pegu Club in Soho any time they like, and imbibe what is doubtless a stellar version of this cocktail. But those of us stuck in the provinces can make a perfectly delightful version at home:

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The Second-Most Aristocratic Sangria

6 June 2011

Sangria my not be the oddest thing I’ve discussed on this blog, but it’s undeniably unusual to find really high-quality sangria. Indeed, “high-quality sangria” may seem like an oxymoron to those accustomed to flabby, sugared-up red wine swirled with some mealy apples and orange peel. But sangria can be a wonderful and even complex drink, worth making with care.

Vincent Astor made perhaps the most infamously high-quality sangria in history. According to Eric Felten, writing for the Wall Street Journal in 2007, “Astor was known to astonish waiters by asking for a bottle of Dom Perignon, a bottle of 1947 La Tâche (one of the great vintages of that fine Burgundy) and then instructing them to mix the wines together with cucumbers and plenty of fruit to make the most aristocratic of Sangrias.”

Fortunately for those of us without seven-figure salaries, it’s not necessary to purchase a bottle of La Tâche to make delicious sangria. What is necessary is a fruity, robust wine you would enjoy drinking on its own. If it’s not able to stand on its own in a glass, it won’t support the weight of a punch bowl.

I chose a 2010 Venta Morales Tempranillo from the D.O. of La Mancha in Spain. La Mancha, stretching from just south of Madrid to the foothills of the Sierra Morena north of Cordoba, is the world’s largest contiguous wine growing region. Relatively undistinguished white wines dominate La Mancha, with only about 1/5 of its area devoted to reds. The Venta Morales, according to the label, comes from vineyards near the village of Villanueva, “…handcrafted in small batches to insure the highest quality possible.”

On sale at Whole Foods for $6.29 a bottle — and that’s before a 20% case discount was factored in — the Venta Morales seemed worth a risk. With plums on the nose, this deep magenta Tempranillo offered surprising tannins, a medium body and flavors of raspberry jam with a touch of oak. Paired with a hearty Pappa al Pomodoro (Tuscan tomato/bread soup), the wine developed distinct notes of spicy white pepper. Dry, tannic and fruity, it seemed just right for making sangria.

A Google search yields a multitude of sangria recipes, and there are easily as many non-digitized versions in cocktail books of varying wisdom. My Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s and Party Guide, for example, recommends adding “Other fruits as desired (bananas, strawberries, etc.).” As much as I enjoy an unusual cocktail from time to time, I draw the line at mixing bananas and wine.

I prefer a modification of Eric Felten’s recipe, restrained to citrus fruits and peaches:

2 bottles robust red wine (chilled)

2 white peaches

1 red- or pink-skinned apple

1 green-skinned apple

3 oranges

3 lemons

1/2 cup triple sec or other orange liqueur

1/2 cup brandy

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (to taste)

A few drops of lychee liqueur or rose water (to taste)

Slice one orange and one lemon into rounds, and gently macerate with the sugar in a large bowl, keeping the flesh relatively intact. Squeeze in the juice of the remaining oranges and lemons. Dice the white peaches and the apples and add them to the bowl. Add the triple sec, brandy and a few drops of lychee liquor or rose water (adding a floral touch to the nose), stir, cover, and refrigerate for three or more hours.

Combine all the ingredients in a punch bowl, floating the orange and lemon rounds on top. To keep cool, drop in a single large chunk of ice, rather than many small cubes. One large ice chunk, about the size of a fist, dilutes the sangria more slowly than faster-melting cubes.

A tannic Tempranillo should keep things grounded, the citrus adds sweetness and texture, and the peaches and lychee/rose water provide some floral notes at the top. It’s a delightful drink, and I think Vincent Astor himself might have enjoyed it.

SUMMARY

2010 Venta Morales Tempranillo: Fruity, some tannins, a bit spicy and very inexpensive — perfect for sangria.

Grade: B

Find It: I purchased this wine at Whole Foods Market Evanston South for a little over $5 per bottle, but $7 seems to be a more representative price.