A Good Drink that is Also Laughable

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I often chuckle while witnessing bar-tenders today mimicking advances in drink-making that were revolutionary in 1855 – and thinking them to be new.

One example is as using sugar syrup (instead of dry sugar) in true cocktails and stirring them cold through plenty of ice.

Today, bar-tenders imagine that applying the above methods to the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail improves it. They are right – but the improvement was already done within a few years of 1855. It was then that method for making the Whiskey Cocktail were changed to take advantage of pure water and ice suddenly becoming cheap and plentiful, allowing for simple syrup to be cheap and plenty of ice to be available for stirring with and straining from.

Modern bar-tenders, you’re almost there. All you have to do now to catch up with 1855 is to strain your Whiskey Cocktail just as you would a Manhattan Cocktail – and, for the same reasons.

Of course, if you don’t know the traditional meaning of the word cocktail, you probably are a little lost here. Come take my classes.

Suffice it to say that once the Whiskey Cocktail was made with sugar syrup and stirred with ice and strained into a goblet for a perfectly cold drink that would never get further diluted, the older, inferior way of making the Whiskey Cocktail produced the drink that after 1855 was called the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.

Yes, I am saying the the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (probably just “Old Fashioned” to some benighted readers) is inferior to the Whiskey Cocktail. Between 1860 and 1900, the Whiskey Cocktail, made the modern way and strained and served without any ice, was one of the most commonly-served drink in American bars. It was served more commonly during those forty years than the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. What a shame that the inferior of the two is the only one that is easy to obtain in our own time.

Now modern bar-tenders are making the Whiskey Cocktail almost as good as it was in 1855 (if only they would stop serving it on ice) and imagining that this is something new and the product of sensitive consideration. It is laughable.

Likewise devoid of any traditional knowledge is the imagining that there is something new – down to giving it a new typological name – to the so-called Lift.

Truth be told, this type of drink goes at least as far back as 1883. An American bar-tender from then would look at the so-called Bourbon Lift and recognize it to be an especially-fancy reworking of the Bourbon Puff. If had I been the bar-tender that created it, I would have made clear through naming it that I understood American mixological tradition and history enough to call if a Puff – instead of making up a new name that suggests ignorance of tradition. I also would have understood it to be far too fancy to just call it the Bourbon Puff. I might have called it the Special Bourbon Puff or maybe the Bohemian Cowboy Puff. But a plain name for a fancy drink, combined with an obvious ignorance of American drink types (a consequence of the grasping overuse of ‘cocktail’), shrouds the publication of a very good drink in the mists of ignorance.

The News – Upcoming Posts, 2013 Book Edition, Added Course Availability

Greetings Everyone,

It is a busy time for me, but I wanted to give the news, briefly.

I am refining some recipes for some up-coming posts.  You probably know about whiskey ‘neat’ and whiskey ‘straight,’ but how about Slightly-crooked Whiskey, inspired by news of current Brazilian drinks from a Brazilian acquaintance?  Some of you might remember having a hand in the De-constructed Margarita, but how about a Self-constructing Cognac Cocktail?

The 2013 edition of the Elemental Mixology book will be shipping in November and is available for pre-order now at: http://elementalmixology.bigcartel.com/product/book-set-elemental-mixology-elemental-mixology-liquor-companion

It has finally happened.  Call it karma, mingi, or just plain bad luck.  Someone apparently purchased a number of places in my courses using a credit card that they were not authorized to use.  This means that I suddenly have had quite a sum of money subtracted from my account and that the fraudulently purchased spaces are now available again.  There are now open spaces in courses that had been full, or nearly full.

Until later…

The Barnabus Collins

A student last weekend suggested that a new Collins ought to named after Barnabus Collins within the week.  If you are someone who has seen the old vampire soap opera, Dark Shadows, you will know that Barnabus Collins is a member of the Collins family of vampires – and that the Dark Shadows film is about to be released.

Of course the drink must be a Collins – or a charged punch made by the individual serving.  John Collins legendarily scaled the recipe for the Limmer Hotel Punch to single portions to satisfy continued customer demand after the bowl would run dry.

Since the Dark Shadows story is that Barnabus Collins was born in the 1700’s, I wanted most of the ingredients in the drink to have history stretching back at least that far.  I also wanted the color of the finished drink to be like a little reminiscent of blood.  It is based on three spirits: brandy, traditional rum and Batavia arrack.  It is modified by ruby (or reserve) Port wine and accented by ginger ratafia liqueur (such as Daomaine de Canton or The King’s Ginger).  Here it is:  (Click on the recipe image below to enlarge it.)

Long Hot Summer Collins

I know it’s not Summer yet – but here goes…  This is a fancy, spicy Collins based on full-flavored traditional rum, modified by Bénédictine liqueur, and spiced with some serrano chile.  Click either the photo or the recipe image below to enlarge.  Try a Long Hot Summer, but don’t forget to tell them where you got it!

Real About Rum (with a new drink recipe at the end)

Just about any serious bartender can espouse upon the differences on the palate between malt whisky, rye whiskey and Bourbon whiskey.  Each type has its own nature – before any time spent in wood.  Aging in wood can add woody flavor, but it cannot change the flavor from rye to maize or barley.  Likewise, a very old Scotch blended whisky will not take up the flavor of a pure malt whisky, no matter how long it sits in the barrel.  Malt whisky is pot-distilled from 100% barley.  Scotch blended whisky is a small amount of malt whisky used to flavor a much greater amount of highly-distilled maize spirit.  If both malt and blended whiskies from Scotland were available in their younger, colorless states, whisky lovers would be sure to correct anyone who made the mistake of saying that the two types of whisky from Scotland were white and brown.

Then we come to rum.  Unfortunately, most laypersons (and many in the liquor industry) persist in classifying rum in three types: light (or white – either way in the sense of lack of color), gold and dark.  It’s clear that the problem lies with the disparate meanings of ‘light’ – luminous or un-heavy.  Given rum’s current caché, this understandable but culinarily-criminal error cries out to be corrected.  It’s time we got real about rum.

Traditional Rum

In the beginning, all rum (including that from the Spanish-speaking and French-speaking Caribbean) was made by fermenting molasses (a by-product of refining sugar from sugar cane) for two or three days and then distilling a spirit from it using a low-efficiency pot still.  Any rum that is still made using these techniques should be called traditional rum.  Traditional rum has the full flavor that all rum once had.  That is because the longer fermentable material is fermented and the lower proof it is distilled at, the more flavor the resulting spirit will have.  I include blended rums where the majority of the blend is made up of pure pot-still rum as traditional rum.  I did not coin the phrase, ‘traditional rum.’  A few distillers still use it.  Savanna distillery on the French island of Réunion is the only distillery in the world that I know of that produces traditional rum and light rum and agricole rum.  They refer to their pot-distilled molasses rum as, “rhum traditionnel.”  Though most Spanish-speaking rums are light, the people at Diplomatico in Venezuela tell me that all of their rums are molasses rums and that their Reserva Exclusiva bottling is about 80% pot-distilled.  I would consider that on the traditional side of rum.  Their soon-to-be-released Ambassador is 100% pot-distilled.  If I had to drink only one type of rum, it would be traditional rum.

Light Rum

Originally, the phrase “light rum” referred to rum that was made using fermentation and distillation methods that resulted in a rum that was lighter in flavor than traditional rum.  For light rum, the molasses is fermented for only about one day and then the spirit is distilled from it at high efficiency in a continuous still.  This method was developed in the late nineteenth century in Cuba.  In the Cuban rum episode of the Thirsty Traveler, Havana Club master distiller Juan Carlos Gonzalez tells Kevin Brauch, “All Cuban rums are light.”  Havana Club offers a 15 year old bottling, which is quite brown, but it is light rum because it was fermented and distilled in a way that produces a rum that is lighter in flavor, even after long aging.  Old light rums will invariably taste much more of the wood (or added vanilla in some products from Trinidad) than the molasses.  The majority of rums available on the market are light rums – including the brown ones.  Because it can be operated non-stop and produces more salable bottles from the same amount of raw material, the continuous still has replaced the pot-still in most rum-producing countries – even English-speaking ones.    Most rums from Trinidad and the Virgin Islands are light rums, even though English is spoken there.  Almost all Spanish-speaking rums are light.  There are exceptions, however.

Blended Rum

Just as Scotch blended whisky is mostly highly-distilled maize spirit (a.k.a. grain whisky) with a little malt whisky in it for flavor, blended rum is mostly light rum with a little traditional rum in it.  Most rums from Barbados and Bermuda are blended rums.  Jamaican law requires that no rum be sold as Jamaican rum without pot-distilled rum in it.  This means that to create a cheaper product that is also lighter in flavor, Jamaican distillers sell a large amount of blended rum.  A good example of this is the J. Wray & Nephew distillery.  While their White Overproof rum is traditional rum (and the one rum bottle you are most likely to find in any Jamaican household), their export-focused Appleton line is blended rum.  I tend to shy away from blended rums, preferring to blend them myself if I so choose.  But, there are several very good blended rums that feature wood and unique aging as an important part of their flavor.  Dos Maderas and Santa Teresa are such products.

Heavy Rum

So-called ‘heavy’ rums like Myers’s are usually light or blended rums that have been compounded with actual molasses.

Agricole Rum

Over time, events like the Haitian slave rebellion and wars with Britain and their more powerful navy caused France to seek a domestic source for sugar.  Perfectly acceptable sucrose (sugar) can be refined from other sources, such as the sugar beet.  Once France began producing domestic sugar, plantations in the French-speaking Caribbean had less cause to refine sugar from their cane.  There is some evidence that spirits had been distilled in the French Caribbean from cane nectar before, but the above events ensured that it would become the norm.  Thus was born agricole rum.  Agricole rum must be lowly distilled in pot stills and therefore has plenty of flavor – just not that of molasses.  Other cane nectar rums exist that do not quite fit the French legal requirements for agricole rum.  Barbancourt from Haiti is one example.  In many ways, agricole rum is more akin to Brazilian cachaça than it is to traditional rum, light rum or blended rum.  The island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean is legally a part of metropolitan France, and the refining of sugar from sugar cane continues there to this day.  That is why Réunion’s Savanna distillery produces fine examples of both traditional rum and agricole rum, both types available either colorless or aged and brown.  Having both pot and continuous stills, Savanna also produces light rum.  Most agricole rum available in the U.S.A. comes from Martinique and is very good, but agricole rum from Guadeloupe is said by some to be just as good, or even better.

Inlander Rum (a.k.a. Rum-Verschnitt)

Back when all rum was still traditional, German-speaking bakers and confectioners found that they loved getting rum’s traditional flavor into their products.  The problem was that by the time a barrel of rum was shipped to a European port, and then all the way inland to Vienna, for example, it was just too expensive to use.  So, the rum would be cut with a relatively neutral grain spirit and then spiced and aged in used rum barrels to spread the traditional flavor of rum to the cut spirit.  Austrians call the resulting spirit inlander rum – which means the same thing in German and English.  Germans call it rum-verschnitt – which means ‘cut rum.’  If I had only read about this process, the purist in me would probably lead me to decline the use of inlander rum.  But it is an effective product.  I can only guess that it was a learning process and that it is as good as it is out of the past couple of centuries experience.  Even though inlander rum is cut and flavored, technically, the end result is to enhance and heighten rum’s traditional flavor – instead of simply compounding or changing it.  Rather than drink it neat or base a drink on it, I tend to use inlander rum as an accent in mixed drinks.  The one drink that I love based solely on inlander rum is the Hot Buttered Inlander Rum.

Other rum-like spirits can be found that deserve brief mention.  Batavia arrack is a spirit of cane nectar that is fermented with a little rice.  It must be said that arrack is just the Arabic word for ‘spirit’ in the alcoholic sense and is not restricted to any specific type of spirit.  Thai arrack is a spirit of molasses that is fermented with a little rice.  Mekhong is a common brand of Thai arrack.  As noted above, agricole rum’s closest relative is cachaça.  Cachaça is also lowly distilled from cane nectar, but not necessarily in copper pot stills the way agricole rum must be.  Cachaça is also rarely aged for as long as agricole rum often is, but there are exceptions.

Ceylon arrack, charayam (India arrack) and lambanog (Philippine arrack) are not distilled from cane or molasses at all.  They are distilled from the nectar of the coconut palm blossom and can’t be considered close relatives of rum.  But, by early accounts it is clear that punch was based on India arrack before it was ever made of rum.

Tasting the Types

To instruct the palate on the different types of rum, I suggest the following taste testing.  Obtain some Wray & Nephew White Overproof (traditional) rum, Matusalem Platino (light) rum and La Favorite Couer de Canne Rhum Agricole Blanc.  Notice that all three products are colorless.  Start with the light rum, of course, to prevent the aftertaste of a more flavorful rum confuting a less flavorful one.

Smell the Matusalem Platino.  Sip it.  This is the un-wooded nature of light rum.

Drink some water.

Smell the Wray & Nephew White Overproof.  Don’t sip it yet.  Just notice the molasses on the nose that was absent in the light rum.

Smell the La Favorite Rhum Agricole Blanc.  Don’t sip it yet.  Notice that it has a full, pot-still aroma also – but of sugarcane rather than molasses.

Now sip the Wray & Nephew.  Just a little will do – it is overproof and rather strong in ethanol.  Be sure to notice the flavor as distinct from the sensation of the alcohol, which actually has no flavor.

Now sip the La Favorite – beware, it is proof (100° or 50%).

Finally, consider what a culinary crime it would be to call all of these rums light, just because they have no color.

And Now For a Drink…

As William Boothby said in his 1908 book:

“The idea of making any liquor into a cocktail was conceived only for the purpose of removing the sharp, raw taste peculiar to all plain liquors.  Therefore it is not necessary to use a combination of cordials, essences or lemon juice as some ‘bar creatures’ do, but by adhering strictly to the herein contained directions you will be enabled to serve these famous American decoctions in as fine style as the highest salaried mixologist in the land.”

This gets at what a sadness it is that the word cocktail was bastardized in meaning from referring to one of many, clearly identifiable, types of drinks to a meaningless word pretentiously attached to the name of any mixed drink served ‘up’ (starting about 1910 – we can’t blame prohibition for this one).  I know that people want to feel sophisticated when they are spending hard-earned money at the bar, but calling all drinks cocktails or martinis really does work against appreciating (or even knowing about) the unique glory of the original items.   Imagine a time in the future when all Japanese food might be called sushi, just because the perceived sophistication of the word had become irresistible, and restaurants found they could make a lot of money selling so-called sushi to people who don’t really like raw fish.  I suppose the recent bastardization of old terms such as smash and fix and cooler is the result of a well-meant but often dimly-lit desire to avoid calling everything a cocktail…

But, back to what Boothby said: a true cocktail is a great way to appreciate any spirit without fouling it up too much.  In a true cocktail (or any other type of true sling besides the bittered sling) the sweetness should only be enough to ‘round’ the flavor of the spirit.  The dilution should only be enough to open the flavor of the spirit.  Finally the bitters are there, not least to reduce the sensation of the alcohol on the palate.  This all combines to let the drinker enjoy the essential nature of the spirit without being distracted by its harsher edges – and without occluding it with sour juices or fancy sodas, or by muddling it with the exotic fruit or herb of the hour.  If I must use both a jigger of good spirit and a jigger of not-so-good spirit, I might make a cocktail with the good and a sour (or any other type of punch) with the not-so-good.

Why do I digress thus?  It is because I love rum (without being part of the fad), but don’t always drink my spirits thoroughbred.  I wanted a mixed drink that would remain faithful to what good rums can be.  That is why I created for myself the World of Rum Cocktail.  I believe it presents the various types of rum, harmoniously-mixed, but with each type discernible to the searching palate.  It is accented with inlander rum for its genius in heightening rum.  It is bittered with the quintessential Caribbean bitters to sooth out the rough edges of ethanol, which was important for this drink as it contains three spirits at-or-over proof!  It is diluted with the fluid-ounce, or so, of water that will be added while stirring the drink through ice.

I made this drink for my students at the end of class yesterday evening.  It should have gone into the traditional glass cocktail goblet instead of the modern one I put it into last night (the modern, conical cocktail goblet should ideally be reserved for those true cocktails that are sweetened by aromatized wines, such as vermouth, for the advantageous release of the extra aroma – even though the huge surface area allows the drink to warm too quickly).  After taking the photo (above left), the drink was consumed in short order to unanimous approval and did not suffer the warming it might otherwise have endured.  If the over-use of the cocktail goblet has made it not hip enough for you, you may put this drink into a coupe, but its shallowness will let the drink warm at least as quickly as would the modern cocktail goblet…  The drink really should be served in the traditional cocktail goblet shown in the recipe given below (click the image to enlarge it for easier reading).  Please do enjoy!

The Gin Pepper Blossom

The Gin Pepper Blossom

by Andrew “the Alchemist”

Here is another blossom that I first made three summers ago.  I think that I was the first to make it, but I won’t say I ‘invented’ it, since using that word to describe making drinks has always seemed a bit pretentious to me.  I don’t believe anyone else is making this drink.  It is surprisingly good, and I used to call it the Savory Gin Surprise.  But, it is basically a blossom based on gin and ‘blossomed’ by fresh bell pepper juice and accented with a little Serrano pepper.  The name Gin Pepper Blossom, or just Pepper Blossom, seems more appropriate to me now.

Depending on the size and succulency of the peppers available, it should take two or three whole peppers to make this drink.  This means that it is a little more expensive to make than most drinks, but I believe it is worth it.

Obtain two or three whole red or yellow bell peppers.  Rinse them.  Cut roughly one-inch squares of seed-and-membrane-free pepper flesh.  Cut one strip of pepper that a notch can be cut in and reserve it for garniture.  If you would like to see photos of how best to cut peppers, the following page has them – just cut squares instead of the julienne shown:

http://www.finecooking.com/articles/how-to-cut-bell-pepper.aspx

Once you have your peppers appropriately cut, place them into a metal mixing tumbler.  At this point, I like to add one or two ⅛ inch slices of Serrano pepper.  Use a muddler to smash as much juice as you can from the peppers.  An electric juicer could probably be used, also.  Strain the juice out of the metal mixing tumbler into another vessel and reserve for making the drink with.

Chill a 5 ½ fl-oz. glass goblet.  Into a clean glass or metal mixing tumbler, pour a jigger (2 fl-oz. by pre-prohibition standards) of gin.  Old tom gin is nice for this drink.  If you prefer to use a dry gin, an especially floral one should be considered – along with an optional teaspoon of superfine sugar, or ¼ fl-oz. of 1:1 sugar syrup.  I sometimes add a pinch of sea salt, too.  Now add a pony (1 fl-oz. by pre-prohibition standards) of the previously prepared pepper juice.  If you have used ice to chill the goblet, empty it now and shake off the excess moisture.  Now add plenty of method ice to the other ingredients in the mixing tumbler.  Cover it and shake vigorously.  After about fifteen seconds of shaking, the drink will be as cold as it will get, but shaking even longer is encouraged to further aerate the drink, which opens up the flavors even more.  Using both a Hawthorne strainer and a fine strainer, strain the drink into the goblet.  Garnish the drink with the strip of pepper reserved from above.  Enjoy your Gin Pepper Blossom!

P.S.  If you’re worried your guests will shy away from gin-based drinks, just call it the Pepper Blossom.  But, please don’t make it with vodka!  A variation that springs to my mind that might be worth trying would be to base the drink on ocean-aged aquavit.  I guess that would be the Scandinavian Pepper Blossom.  The Tequila Pepper Blossom could be worth tasting, too…