Maraschino Cherries?

Luxardo Marasche Jar

Do you remember this label on a jar of cherries?  Some of you must.  I remember it very well.  There was a time when I used to tell my students how nice it was that Luxardo didn’t try to sell their lovely marasca cherries with any lie that they were somehow maraschino cherries.  The label simply, and correctly, identified the product as marasche — plural in Italian for marasca.  The label also stated that the product consisted of marasca cherries in a pure, marasca cherry syrup.  I recall how I would praise Luxardo’s integrity versus the shameful lie on the label of any so-called “maraschino cherries” found in an American supermarket.

Then some handful of years ago, Luxardo went and did this:

Luxardo Marasche New Jars

Imagine my disappointment.

They didn’t bother to remake the product’s name on the can — so if you procure that item, you will still get the truth:

Luxardo Marasche Can

So it goes.

There was a time before the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S.A. killed off the huge north American demand for the true, alcoholic, maraschino cherry.  Here is what the U.S. Board of Food and Drug Inspection decided in their decision number 141 of 1912:

BFDI Decision 141

Note the decision by the board that:

BFDI Decision 141 Opinion

That simple, obvious standard would mean that there is no such thing as maraschino cherries in the world today — at least not commercially-available ones.  Dear reader, you have never had a true maraschino cherry.

That is why, in my book, I instruct the reader to garnish those drinks calling for a cherry with a “marasca cherry” instead of a “maraschino cherry.”

Over the years, I have toyed with the idea of taking some of Luxardo’s marasche, rinsing the syrup off of them and placing them in a jar and then covering them with Luxardo’s maraschino liqueur.  But, for the liqueur to really permeate the cherries, I expect they would have to be fresh — not already saturated with heavier-than-liqueur syrup.  I have never been willing to spend so much money to try something that common sense tells me would not yield anything like the correct result.

The good, old standard (and the governmental body that set it) is long gone.  Now we have so-called “maraschino cherries” that are not marasca cherries — nor cherries of any type preserved in maraschino liqueur.  Luxardo’s cherries really are marasca cherries, so it was understandable that they would want to cash in by joining those that had been stretching the ‘maraschino cherry’ truth for so long.  Though I understand the financial motivation behind it, I find Luxardo’s labeling change to be vulgar and distasteful.

I wish, instead, that Luxardo had brought to market some true maraschino cherries.  They would have been expensive — their marasca cherries in syrup already are so without the inclusion of maraschino liqueur.  I imagine that the cherries preserved in Luxardo’s good maraschino liqueur might have cost a lot more money.  But, I would have bought at least a couple of jars.  Plenty of our nation’s more pretentious drinking establishments would’ve have made an ostentatious display of using them.  Luxardo could have sold both marasca cherries (marasche) and true maraschino cherries.

But why bother when a little lie is so much easier?  Luxardo’s marasche are very good — even when called something that they are not.  Who would ever know the difference, anyway?  Well, you do — now.

Stoughton’s Bitters and Stoughtonesque Bitters

Stoughton’s bitters were famous and in-demand before Angostura aromatic bitters were even created.  Even long after other famous bitters entered history, Stoughton’s bitters were still preferred by some as the bitters of choice for the Whiskey Cocktail, and others, into the early twentieth century.

Stoughtonesque Bitters 01

The above instructions were given in the text as being from a U.S. Navy captain.  If you want to make and taste what he considered to be the perfect Whiskey Cocktail, you will need some Stoughton’s bitters.  Unfortunately, anything being sold today as “Stoughton” bitters is so inferior in quality that they cannot possibly be anything like the product of such former repute.  But, there is always hope of coming up with something better on your own.  For that an understanding of what Stoughton’s bitters were is necessary.

Firstly, like in the case of Boonekamp bitters, Stoughton’s bitters seem to have been named for a physician that legendarily prescribed the formula without ever himself marketing the bitters as a trademarked item.

A British book, The Compleat Housewife from 1758 indicates to make Stoughton’s elixir only with brandy, gentian, Seville (bitter) orange peel and, for red color, cochineal.

Here are some formulae for Stoughon’s bitters as suggested by various sources throughout the nineteenth century:

Stoughton's Bitters Formula Survey

There are many other formulae from the same time period that can be found.  They also range from simple to complex.  I have included three that are simpler and one that is complex.  The complex one can be seen as a bit of an outlier for Stoughton’s bitters, but I wanted to show that there was considerable variety.

Virtually all pre-prohibition formulae for Stoughton’s bitters have the bitter principal made up of both gentian and bitter orange peel.  Some have other bitter ingredients and some do not.  All of them are colored by a reddening ingredient such as red sanders (a.k.a. red sandalwood or red saunders), cochineal, saffron, or camwood (a.k.a. African sandalwood).  This is consistent with the navy captain suggesting that his Whiskey Cocktail with Stoughton’s bitters should be “tinted slightly with red.”

Considering all of this, I think that the minimal reliable description of Stoughton’s bitters would be bitters based on gentian and bitter orange peel that should yield a hint of reddish color to mixed drinks.

In fact, that is pretty much what famous English physician, William Cullen, stated in his 1789 book, Materia Medica.  In 1819, the Cyclopaedia published by Abraham Rees agreed with Cullen:

Stoughton's Bitters Cyclopaedia Mention

This establishes that from very early on, Stoughton’s bitters were thought of as gentian and orange peel bitters.

Not Stoughton's Bitters

Since any product that though one can purchase today labeled as “Stoughton Bitters” is surely nothing like the historic bitters in either flavor or color, what is one to do?

Note the following ingredient list from a U.S. bottle of Angostura aromatic bitters:

Angostura Aromatic Ingredients

Since gentian is listed prior to “natural flavorings,” it is clear that there is more gentian used in making Angostura aromatic bitters than all of the the other botanical ingredients combined.

Angostura aromatic bitters can therefore be described as primarily a gentian bitters — one that is also famous for its ability to tint drinks red or pink.

So, with the slightest effort can be mixed:

Stoughtonesque Bitters Formula

I call this mixture of bitters Stoughton-esque because there are probably some minority ingredients in the above products that would not have been in a classic Stoughton’s bitters.  Yet, I am convinced that making these Stoughton-esque bitters will probably yield something very close to the historic bitters with a minimum of work.

Norpro Funnel Set

I settled on the parts shown above because I like the product that way.  I also liked the result of using three parts Angostura aromatic and two parts Angostura orange bitters.  You could mix the two in different proportions.  But I think that the early medicinal instruction that Stoughton’s bitters were gentian bitters improved by the addition of orange peel, taken with the survey of historic formulae for Stoughton’s bitters, clearly indicates that the primary ingredient should be gentian.  Therefore I would recommend always using more gentian-rich Angostura aromatic bitters in your Stoughton-esque bitters than Angostura orange bitters.  Remember that there are other ingredients in Angostura aromatic bitters and so using equal amounts of the two bitters would put the gentian behind the orange.  It should also be noted that I can not recommend the use of any other brand of orange bitters at this time.

This project is easy to to do, and the result is nice.  Then you can make a Whiskey Cocktail the way our good captain liked it.

Rare Citrus in Drinks at Elemental Mixology

Dampier Cocktail

Above: The Dampier Cocktail garnished with half a finger lime on the rim.

During the Experimental Mixing Symposium this past Saturday, a good number of drinks were made by the students using some relatively-unusual citrus that I had on hand.  The two species that made the biggest impression were Citrus junos (or, more accurately Citrus ichangensis x. Citrus reticulata), the yuzu (or Japanese citron); and Citrus australasica, the finger lime.Unusual Citrus

Everyone loved yuzu juice in drinks.  It is about as sour as Eureka lemon juice, but with a very different flavor — a little delightfully funky and with hints of vanilla.  I think that every drink made on Saturday using yuzu juice as the sour element was enjoyed by all.  The season for ripe Yuzu fruit is from late November until about the middle of December.  The Mud Creek Ranch people usually have some for sale at that time.  During the rest of the year, bottled yuzu juice must be used.  As long as you are willing to pay for first-pressing juice imported from Japan, the quality should be fine.  For mixing in drinks, avoid any yuzu juice that is second pressing or features English words on the manufacturer’s label!  Also avoid the little bottles that contain salt as a preservative!  You want 100% pure, first-pressing, yuzu juice.  Here is one to look for:

Yuzu Juice

Bottled yuzu juice also lasts at good quality for much longer than lemon juice.  The bottle we used on Saturday was opened eight months ago and was still absolutely delicious.

When I think of yuzu drinks, I first think of the great drink made last December in session six of the Standard Drinks Course by chef Tony DiSalvo, then a student.  Thank you, Tony!  For lack of a better name, I call it the Salvation Sour.  The name Sushi Sour has also been suggested and this drink would surely go better with sushi than any sake served in any way!  One student exclaimed, “Now I want sushi!”  In addition to yuzu juice, you will want Hendrick’s gin and arraks punsch extrakt (with which you can compound your own superior Swedish punch liqueur by mixing it with an equal part of vodka):

Salvation Sour Ingredients

Here is the recipe.  Click on the image to enlarge it.  If you get together the ingredients, I guarantee that you will love this drink — and that it will blow away anything made by some professional ‘bar creature’ with his infused arugula syrup and oily walnut bitters.

Salvation Sour

Now, from all of the rare citrus drinks made this last Saturday, two really stood out for me.  The first one I call the Dampier Cocktail.  I imagined it and, tasting it with my mind’s tongue, suggested it to the students.  It is nothing more than a Gin Cocktail accented with the tart finger lime.  We tried it with twice as much finger lime and it was good, but somehow the flavor of finger lime went from an interesting and unusual accent to a less interesting lime hammer.  Imagine a vaguely finger lime version of the sour known as the Gimlet, and that’s about what it was.  I preferred the true cocktail version.  Here it is.  Click on the image to read the naming logic in the note below the drink.

Dampier Cocktail

Another good drink was made by student Rachel Blum.  It was the Yuzurinha — a Caipirinha with yuzu instead of lime.  I expected that to be good, and it was.  But, the drink that surprised me by being so delicious was the result of student Chris Hain’s inspiration to make the Oxford Milk Punch with yuzu instead of lemon.  I suggested that Chris use honey mandarine (in season now and on hand on Saturday) instead of the orange juice in the Oxford Milk Punch.  This drink was truly good.  I call it the Cavendish Milk Punch for reasons legible in the notes below the recipe if the image is clicked on.

Cavendish Milk Punch

I have kept the Salvation Sour to my courses since December and really thought about not sharing any of these newer drinks with a wider audience.  I don’t like it when hard-to-find ingredients become even harder to find!  But, these drinks are just so damned good that I could not justify keeping them from anyone.

Those of you who bother to get the ingredients and make these drinks will discover why they must be shared.

Genuine, Traditional Rock Candy Syrup

Rock Candy

So, you want to make an authentic Rock and Rye, or a Rock and Rum, or a Rock and Rack?  Maybe you want to make some Tiki drink with a more traditional version of a certain syrup than was available when the drink was first created in the middle of the 20th century.  Either way, you will need genuine rock candy syrup.

AJoP 67 1895

The above is from the American Journal of Pharmacy, volume 67, in 1895.  It indicates that rock candy syrup is the left-over syrup from the production of rock candy.  As such, no sugar should be left to crystallize out of the syrup.  In New York State, in 1873, a case was brought to court over an alleged deficiency found in barrels of rock candy syrup.  The plaintiffs made clear that they had desired high quality rock candy syrup “that would not crystallize, or the sugar fall down.”

Around the same time, admonitions can be found advising to obtain “rock candy syrup from a rock candy manufacturer.”

Below is from the Western Druggist, Volume 17 in 1895:

WD17 1895 97

Volume eleven of the Bulletin of Pharmacy in 1897, specifies that when cooking the syrup from which rock candy will be produced, no temperature higher than 112º Fahrenheit should be allowed.

BoP 11 1897

The 112º Fahrenheit limit is kept to prevent the conversion of sucrose into invert glucose.  Some amount of conversion from sucrose into glucose may be considered acceptable by some people making simple syrup, but it isn’t okay for the production of rock candy.  If you want to produce rock candy, you’d best stick to low temperatures and pure sucrose and pure water — in super-saturation so that rock candy will form.  Once all of the excess sugar has crystallized out, you will have rock candy syrup.

So, rock candy syrup and buttermilk have this in common: they were both traditionally the stuff left-over after the making of the named thing (rock candy or butter), but are now routinely divorced from those processes and are simply compounded independently.

Amoretti RCS

The above ingredients for Amoretti brand so-called ‘rock candy syrup’ show that, though it may be a heavy syrup, it is definitely not traditional rock candy syrup.  Traditional rock candy syrup would not contain dextrose or fructose.  Genuine rock candy syrup carefully contains only sucrose and water.  Why it would need dextrose, fructose and “natural flavor” is a mystery to me!

So, what if you want to have traditional rock candy syrup?  Some old sources state that one of the reasons for the production of so much imitation rock candy syrup is that making the real thing via rock candy production takes time.  Unfortunately, that is true.  But, if you don’t care how much rock candy you make, the time needed can be drastically shortened.

Bring one part (by volume) distilled water to a temperature as close as possible to, but not higher than, 112º Fahrenheit.  An induction cook-top (like this one) that can be set at exactly 110º Fahrenheit could be really useful.  Add three parts (by volume) pure, refined sugar (sucrose).  Stir over the same heat (never exceeding it!) until the sugar is dissolved.  It may take some time.  Pour the syrup into mason jars.  If you want to harvest the rock candy instead of discarding it (stuck to the inside of the jar), suspend a string in the mason jar to which the rock candy will form.  Once no more rock candy forms inside the syrup, pour it from the mason jar into a syrup bottle.  This syrup will contain the highest possible amount of sugar in a stable solution.  It will be the closest thing to genuine and traditional rock candy syrup that you will have ever had.

Expensive Limes Merely a Prelude of Worse To Come?

Bad Tangerines 001

I took the above photo in a supermarket today.

There has been some amount of complaint and adaptation in bars as a result of the high cost of limes as of late.  Lime trouble may just be the beginning of a larger citrus trouble — and the effects may reach so far that no one will be especially concerned with the impact on mixed drinks.

The problem is citrus greening disease, also known as huanglongbing disease.  It is a fatal disease to citrus trees and is caused by a bacterium that the Asian citrus psyllid and the African citrus psyllid have spread to all citrus-producing regions, from China to India to Florida, Mexico and even California.  This disease is already costing the Florida citrus industry more than two billion dollars per year.  The disease has been found in California, but has of yet not been so destructive here.  It is, however, ravaging the citrus industry of Mexico.

The disease is visible in the leaves of the tree.


Also, the fruits of infected trees do not ripen properly and are unpleasantly bitter.  Both of the above images are from industry-related websites that deal with citrus greening disease.

I have noticed that the juice of many of the bartender’s limes (a.k.a. Key limes) that I have purchased over the past year is unusually and unpleasantly bitter.  I have suspected that at least some citrus growers are still selling limes from infected trees, since limes are used unripe and the disease is not easily visible in the fruit while still green.

But, I was completely shocked to see a bin of mal-ripened tangerines for sale today.  To me, these fruits in this photo I took today are clearly from infected trees.

Bad Tangerines 002

If the disease has progressed to the point that infected fruit is being boldly sold in supermarkets, there is real reason to fear the potential that citrus of the quality that we have learned to expect may become a rare and expensive thing.

This disease could become a much bigger problem than just how to make Margaritas without good, cheap limes.  Imagine a near future in which every bar has to choose between only vinegaric shrubb or artificial sour mix for the sour element in all drinks, including the Whiskey Sour, Last Word, Sidecar, Pegu Club, Mojito, Tom Collins, and every other drink that uses citrus — obviously a huge percentage of mixed drinks.

Imagine no more orange juice, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, orange chicken or orange bitters…  Imagine no more twists of lemon.

Let’s hope someone figures out how to beat huanglongbing sooner rather than later.

Bonded (or just 100-proof) Brandywine, Anyone?

I am about to send an e-mail message to Paul Masson (the best mass-produced domestic brandy, in my opinion) suggesting that they produce a 100-proof expression.  I would prefer it be bonded, but that is probably too much to ask for.

I think that a fair number of bar-tenders and others would be interested in a tasty-enough (their v.s.o.p. rates 93 from Wine Enthusiast) 100-proof brandy that could still be a lot less expensive than 90-proof Ferrand 1840 — especially for mixing with.  Who agrees with me?  If you do, go to their site ( and let them know.