THE COCKTAIL MINIMALIST

EVOLUTION OF THE COCKTAIL RENAISSANCE AND A RETURN TO COCKTAIL MINIMALISM

Or

THE SUBTLE COMPLEXITIES OF BEAUTIFUL SIMPLE THINGS

Over the last decade behind the bar designing cocktails… and in front of the bar drinking cocktails….My philosophy has followed a path to a kind of minimalism in cocktails and food.

By saying minimalism, I do not in any way mean simple or minimal in taste or aesthetics. Playing with the taste profiles, textures and aromas of 3 different ingredients can create a masterfully complex and delicious cocktail. A cocktail that celebrates the base spirit, rather than overwhelm it or cover it up with competing flavors or gimmicks. By embracing this philosophy, the focus is on the base spirit and the details surrounding your drink rather than on the one upping use of extravagant garnishes, competing spirits and other ingredients. It might not be as flashy as using 5 ingredients and barrel aging it or carbonating it, but the beauty is in the harmony, the simplicity and the taste and in respect for the ingredients that are being used. Another part of this philosophy is the attention to intangible details as an important part of each cocktail. Glassware, ice, balance and ratios, types of mixers, etc… Every part plays a role. It’s in the glass.

This philosophy is not exclusive or black and white. It does not mean there is not a place for different styles or types of cocktails that may not technically follow this philosophy…Tiki drinks, for example…and the term “balance” is a matter of ones own taste….and that overrides everything. But a philosophy is more about how you think in general terms about the craft or art that you pursue, rather than enforcing a rigid set of rules.

RESPECT FOR THE BASE SPIRIT

A Manhattan cocktail is a beautiful example of this philosophy. Base spirit, say Rye, secondary spirit, say Italian vermouth, a 3rd bittering agent, being bitters and a simple useful garnish, say a cherry or lemon peel.

These simple ingredients can be made into a wonderful cocktail or destroyed depending simply on technique, balance, spirits, glassware, or ice. They can also be the starting point for improvisation on a theme. The type of whiskey or cognac or other dark spirit you use…the secondary spirit that you use…the kind of vermouth you use…or what you replace the vermouth with…Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes, Dubonnet…the balance and ratio you use…2-1, 3-1 etc..The bittering agent you use….the ice you use….the technique for chilling…the glassware you use…up or rocks…..All of these issues can make the simple Manhattan into a whole genre of cocktails based on a that one simple theme.

With the “more is better” philosophy, the base spirit is often hard to even recognize in drinks. If the base spirit is, say 2 oz, and you have 4 other ingredients, at a mere .5 oz each, you now have overwhelmed that base spirit. It becomes a smaller part of the overall drink. Very often the base spirit is base only in name. 1.5 oz gin can be overwhelmed quickly.

Another issue with overwhelming the base spirit is imbalance. A gimlet, I believe, should be all about the gin in a style like a Martini, but made with lime juice and simple syrup (especially 1-1 syrup) it often ends up being the minor player, rather than the star. How many times is your Gimlet made with a mere 1.5 oz of gin and then a combination of 1.5-2 oz of lime and syrup? Mixing it, instead, with 2 oz of gin and 1/2 oz of a preserved lime cordial or lime sour makes a beautiful and balanced cocktail and a much different one than the lime and sugar combo with some gin in it. This overwhelming of the base spirit happens all the time with sours, daisies and other drinks with citrus and sugar or simple syrup.

Long drinks like the Gin and Tonic, the Tom Collins, and the Moscow Mule are all base spirit and mixer. The beauty here is that with the few simple ingredients, more attention can be made to balancing and to details. Details like style of simple syrup, ice, styles of mixer and serving temperature of sodas or tonics, citrus, balance of mixer to spirit, size of glassware and many other non-ingredient specific focus can play a huge role in how the drinks taste or come off.

The difference between a long gin and tonic or soda made with room temperature mixers and spirits and those that are chilled and before hitting the ice in the glass is monumental, but rarely noticed.

So why should we talk a about things like the philosophy of cocktail making? I believe the evolution of the cocktail movement, and it’s renaissance, cries out for such discussions, debates and criticisms.

THE TIDE ROLLS IN – THE TIDE ROLLS OUT

The fast growth in the cocktail and spirit world has created an alarming amount of bad drinks, group think and smarmy bartenders.

There has been such an influx of, and demand for, new bartenders and mixologists/bar chefs with the resurgence of the new cocktail movement in the last decade that it has experienced the typical pains of growing too fast and haphazardly for the creators and the consumers to keep up with. There is also a learning curve to deal with for all of those new cocktail creators. In this frenzy it’s easy to lose our way or forget the point….the renaissance of a well crafted cocktail…and the reasons behind it.

The culinary world has experienced the same thing and is still going through many of these pains as it continues to evolve. Movements that grow so fast and furiously like these experience peaks and pullbacks much like the tides do. It is the beauty of the evolution of a system or movement. And when any movement gets so disharmonious that it creates a backlash by the public and industry players, it will generally force a weeding out of the pieces, fads and players that do not have staying power and find some more balance.

How does this happen and why?

The media/industry’s search for, and creation of, bar stars added a lot of fuel to the fire and, like a gold rush, attracted anyone and everyone who thought they could pick up a shaker and be a master of cocktails and bartending. Many can do it…but many more cannot…or should not. The desire for fame and fortune is not a replacement for the dedication and love of your craft.

Egos and competition for attention in any movement can create a kind of one-upsmanship. The cocktail world is no different and we have experienced a kind of arms race of spirits, ingredients and gimmicks much to the detriment of thoughtful cocktail creation and service.It also created a nebulous world of “Cocktail Quackery”….self proclaimed “masters of mixology”..With so many calling themselves mixologists, it makes it difficult for the consumer, the journalist or the bar/restaurant owner and even other bartenders to know who is real and who is a pretender. But in the long run of this evolution, most of the good ones get better and stay, and many of the bad ones dont, and leave. The whole movement refines itself and evolves and will continue to go through phases like this.

 TASTE, SERVICE AND BALANCE

The Emperor’s New Clothes

After creating or making a drink or cocktail, the first questions I ask myself are “would I drink this cocktail I just made?” and “is this drink balanced and is it what I had envisioned it to be?”. I often wonder if many drinks are critically tasted before being included on a menu or offered up for competition. I can’t tell you how often I have tasted a horrible drink in many aspects and asked myself the question “Mr Mixologist..Have you tasted your own drink and do YOU like this drink?” and “what was the purpose of all these ingredients in this glass?”, or is it more about you than the cocktail?

And this begs the question on forcing multiple ingredients to join in harmony in one glass. Not that it can’t be done, but real care has to be used in thinking how, say, Rhum Agricole, Yuzu, Root Beer-Chocolate-Chipotle-Mole Bitters, spanked Sage and a float of Mezcal really work together. Or is it just a flavor wheel gone berserk?

While someone might like this, and I respect that…I think these are fair questions to ask about the thought process that went into making these drinks, besides these ingredients being cool and trendy and “I’m a Mixologist”.

But we all have unique palates and palates that are in different stages of maturity. If someone likes something and a reason for liking it, I find it hard to argue with them. The only thing we can do is offer to share our knowledge and experience…That is how we all grow and mature and we are all capable of it. A more mature or different palate might be used as a source of superiority, but it is a sign of personal immaturity to do so. It is actually the opportunity to share your knowledge in a positive fashion rather than as an outlet for your own insecurities.  And we all live in glass houses. The pretentious “mixologist” who rants against flavored vodka or Comsos is often the bartender who asks for a Miller High Life when off the clock.

THE SUBTLE COMPLEXITIES OF SIMPLE THINGS

Personal minimalism can have roots in just purely enjoying a base spirit neat. Add a lemon peel and ice and you now have 3 ingredients in a simple cocktail. It all starts with the base spirit and grows from there. It can be as simple as a true cocktail: spirit, sugar and bitters in tasteful (your own taste) proportions. But that idea can be taken to other drinks and built into them.

An expanded view of this might be something like this. You have a taste for gin. You add some ice to your gin. You may stir it which adds another dimension via technique. You want just a little more to enhance your gin. You might add a tasteful amount of vermouth or other aperitif and a lemon peel. Many details can affect your cocktail. Do you throw away the lemon peel or use it in the drink as a garnish? Is the drink going to be up or on the rocks? What kind of glass will you use, and will it be chilled? How much of each ingredient are you going to use and in what ratio? What kind of gin do you want to use and does that affect what supporting ingredients you use? You still simply have your gin, but enhanced it immensely by two tangible ingredients, and many more intangible ingredients. Attention to details rather than just more tangible ingredients.

Balance is really about ratios. It also is affected by things like glass size, ice and technique. In another article on simple syrup, I wrote about sugar to water ratios. A Rationale of Sugar Syrup in Cocktails The original rationale of making a simple syrup was to simply make the sugar soluble for mixing. With that in mind, what you really want is liquid sugar…The more water you put in, the less sugar you have to balance your cocktail and the more water you have to imbalance your cocktail. It doesn’t mean you make sugary drinks, it just means you use less water. When 1-1 syrup is used along with lime juice, you end up with more liquid than you want to balance each other. Think about the difference that a real lime sour, made by mixing sugar and lime juice and skipping the water all together, can make in your cocktail. You now have a concentrated flavor that is balanced and can expand beautifully in the shaken cocktail. I always suggest pre-making fresh lime and lemon sours for use behind the bar. Perfectly balanced, ready to use, fresh, and faster to use.

You can make a beautiful Margarita with an emphasis on the tequila balanced with triple sec and a splash of lime all working together to be a refreshing cocktail or an out of balance acid bomb. A Margarita made with 2 oz of Tequila and a full ounce of lime juice is a mess in the making. The Tequila should be the dominant spirit and built smaller from there in ingredients. Think about the triple sec and lime together as a kind of sour mix. Once that is balanced, you can then mix in perfect balance with the tequila. A typical mistake, by my taste, is adding too much lime juice and then overwhelming the dry sweetness of the triple sec. or even worse, using agave nectar. Agave nectar coats your palate and needs to be cut for it to be mixable. It also weighs down your tequila with that heaviness. But in any case, once the acid and sugar part are out of balance, you cannot make a good cocktail with them in any shape or form.

Example

The Cointreau Margarita calls for .75 oz lime juice and 1 oz of Cointreau and 2 oz of Tequila. This is balanced  2 /1/.75, and I would even go further and make it .5 oz Lime and 1 oz Cointreau. Cointreau is a little dry and not syrupy sweet. But with 1 oz of lime juice….and the .25 extra make a big difference…your triple sec sour is imbalanced and is equal parts with the Tequila. The Tequila actually dilutes the triple sec as well by stretching it out so it isn’t overly sweet and that is why .5-.75 oz of lime is all that is needed…in my opinion.

A Sidecar follows the same principle. A good Sidecar, in my opinion, should be all about the Cognac that is then heightened by the addition of a balanced triple sec and lemon juice combination and the melt from the ice in the shaker. Instead of the acid bomb, you should have a delightfully refreshing and easy to drink cocktail with the background of sweetness and acid and orange. The complexities of this simple cocktail are deep. The flavors and aromas are balanced and in harmony, yet distinctive. It is easy to make this cocktail balanced and delicious, but even easier to make a mess.

This principle can be used in most drinks.

It starts with the base spirit. It includes balance, ratios and proportions; technique, glassware and ice. One might even take it to another level and consider the occasion, the environment, the theme or food being served, time of year or climate. By focusing on these details without simply relying on the forced melding of several pop tangible ingredients, you are giving the ingredients that you do use the attention they deserve and attainment of harmony in your glass.

Simplicity in this fashion does not mean simple. It just means the cleaning up of cocktail clutter and expanding attention to details surrounding your cocktail with an eye to balance. It also needs an understanding of what you want your drink to be and taste like and how you are going to get there.

APPEL’S CITRUS CORDIAL RECIPES

                                      

GIMLET COCKTAIL 4 Ways
3oz Quality London Dry Or Plymouth Gin, Vodka, Light Rum or Plata Tequila
.5 oz APPEL’S LIME CORDIAL
 ———————————————–
Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with regular ice. Shake very hard.
Strain into fresh iced rocks glass or into a chilled cocktail glass or stemless wine glass.
ROCKS
UP
Garnish with a lime wheel or half wheel or with nothing.
I believe this is the perfect ratio for this cocktail. But it is always up to ones taste.
Plymouth works well with this since the Lime is not there in an overpowering  presence.

SOLLEONE COCKTAIL
2.5 oz Quality London Dry Style Gin
.5 oz CAMPARI or LUXARDO BITTER
.75 oz APPEL’S GRAPEFRUIT CORDIAL
 ——————————————————–
Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with regular ice. Hard shake. Strain into rocks glass or chilled cocktail glass
UP
ROCKS
This cocktail gets an extra .25 oz of cordial because of the sweetness and bitterness of the Campari. As always it is up to ones taste.

 GIN HIGHBALL
2 oz QUALITY GIN
.75 oz APPEL’S GRAPEFRUIT, LEMON, BITTER LEMON or LIME CORDIAL
CLUB SODA
LARGE CUBED ICE (Kold Draft or hand cut or similar)
CITRUS PEEL GARNISH
 ———————————————————————————
This drink is so versatile and can utilize many other spirits. A PALOMA is one example.Gin, vodka, Tequila, Mescal, even whiskey (with lemon cordial I venture) work with this style.
In a Highball or Tall Collins glass (I prefer a wide 16oz Highball, but not a beer pint glass)
In a pinch use a large type of any glass. Just follow the basic focus to get desired results.
In a mixing glass filled with ice, chill the gin and cordial and strain over the ice in the Highball. Top with ice cold club soda. With a bar spoon pull the gin and cordial to the top slowly once or twice to mix but not lose the effervescence of the soda.
It is extremely important to chill the spirits and cordial first and to have very cold club soda to top with. Warm spirits melt your Highball ice fast. Warm soda does the same to a larger degree and also warm soda losses its effervescence immediately when hitting ice. The large ice doesn’t take up as much room in the glass, so it is important to give it a fighting chance. It is there to keep this drink chilled and not for any extra dilution. That all comes from the soda and from chilling the spirits beforehand
Gin Grapefruit Soda
Gin Bitter Lemon Soda
The difference between a watery, watered down drink with ice floating to the top and a flavorful, chilled drink with ice where it should be and sparkling the way you want it to be.
The same exact thing can be done to this with just club soda for a non-alcoholic drink as well as this drink taking on another ounce of spirits as well.
PALOMA

The way this is done is just a tequila variation of the Highball above. It works perfectly because you get the grapefruit and acid and sugar you want and you are in control of that versus using Squirt.

This is built and made the same way as above.

2 oz QUALITY PLATA OR REPOSADO TEQUILA
.75 oz APPEL’S GRAPEFRUIT CORDIAL
CLUB SODA
GRAPEFRUIT PEEL GARNISH
————————————————

As above, chill the spirits and cordial, strain into large iced Highball, top with cold soda, gently pull stir with bar spoon. Garnish and add a long straw.

Making APPEL’S GRAPEFRUIT CORDIAL

SKINNY ALTERNATIVES

Grilled Pineapple in Jasmine Tea

As the Skinny drink craze kicks into high gear, I thought I would add a few thoughts on the whole concept and some alternatives to the pre-bottled mess that is being offered to take advantage of people’s desires for lower calorie and less aggressive flavored drinks.

The problem is not with having lower calorie drinks or cocktails, but how you do them versus buying a pre-made drink or spirit. Just saying Skinny doesnt mean anything…If you drink a ton of them it adds up. And some of the Skinny offerings aren’t even very skinny to begin with if you read the fine print.

I’d like to offer a few easy alternatives that anyone can do at home or in any bar, anywhere.

There is the DIET/CLUB SODA OPTION, but that is obvious. The not so obvious ones that have been around forever are the use of club soda instead of sugared sodas or juices…or the use of club soda to cut your sugar soda in half. The later is what is generally called a “Presbyterian” or “press” when one has a spirit, and half club soda and half ginger ale or 7UP. This was originally done to cut the sweetness and syrupy taste of these drinks, especially if you are drinking many of them.

But this has the added benefit of cutting the calories of your mixer in half. Voila! Skinny and not even tryin!

The next alternative to make even greater savings on calories is to have a spirit and club soda and add a splash of something for a hint of flavor. Simply a “vodka soda and splash of cran” is a fairly well known cocktail already, but is a great way to skinnify your drink.

The LESS MIXER OPTION  If you enjoy drinks like Cosmos and Lemon Drops you can do the same thing to those style drinks by just using a splash of mixer, instead of the standard recipes. Like a vodka chilled and served up, with a splash of lime, cran and cointreau…or even just a splash of cran for taste and color.

Not only do these drinks have less calories and are easy to make…they tend to be much easier on the stomach and palate, are much more refreshing, and give you better value by upping the spirits a bit and diminishing the mixers. But upping the spirits ratio might beg for one to also use a smaller glass. Smaller glasses is such an obvious way to make your drink skinnier, it gets overlooked the most. It forces you to ration your drink naturally.

The last alternative is the homemade take on the “Vitamin Water” style of drink.

A month ago I recreated a drink I made for Vosges Haute Chocolate and St Germain for the Southern Wine and Spirits quarterly Late Night Event. This one featured Vodka.

Vodka is either very easy to mix with or very hard to mix with,  depending on your point of view. I take the view that it is difficult to mix with and maintain any semblance of the vodka in the drink.

Grilled Pineapple made into Heart Shaped Garnish

My take on mixing would be to use very subtle flavors and taste sensations. I decided to do a “Vitamin Water” style drink with vodka.

The base for this was a high quality Hand Rolled Jasmine Tea, (tea is a great base for the “water” style of drink since you can control the sugar etc yourself and brew it to be as subtle or strong as you want)

The tea itself is wonderful, but vodka and iced jasmine tea is 1 dimensional. To add some subtle flavors and a little bit of acid and sugar for the palate, I grilled fresh pineapple and infused the tea for 1 or two days in the fridge. I do not crush or puree the pineapple. I only want the juices and flavors of the sliced and grilled pineapple to enter the tea and be in that subtle equilibrium. If I mashed the pineapple, I would have far too much juice, sugar and acid going on for what I want…But that would be a good drink or base for another option, just not this one here.

This process now gives this tea a new dimension that has hints of tropical pineapple, the caramelization gives off subtle notes that work with the tea and the hints of clear pineapple juice that naturally move into the tea by osmosis, and the tea flows into the pineapple pieces (garnish or cool appetizer coming up!)

Heart Shaped Pineapple Skewers

Remove the pineapple and then strain any other particles or pieces that have fallen off into the tea.

Taste it for acidity and sweetness. You can add a touch of lemon juice or cane sugar( no lemon peel though..it will overpower the tea and pineapple) if it is too subtle for your taste (I have done this)

This is really just a form of iced tea, but it lends itself nicely to a vodka drink.

Now to make this a refreshing, tall drink just chill some vodka strain into a tall glass full of ice, and top with the the chilled, grilled pineapple Jasmine tea. Add a piece of grilled pineapple for garnish…the pieces are delicious!

This will keep in the fridge, sealed, for a week or more. And you dont have to put any vodka in it!

This is both delicious and for the palate for the occasion. But it is also very low in calories. Skinny can be a beautiful bi-product and when things work in harmony, things are happy and real. This drink was made with taste and palate in mind, but that also naturally made it low in calories and wasn’t forced.. it isnt trying to be something it isnt…I think that is beautiful…

GRILLED PINEAPPLE AND JASMINE TEA WATER
 
1 Whole Ripe Pineapple
Aprox 1/2 Gallon of Fresh brewed Hand rolled Jasmine Tea ( I use Emperor’s Jasmine Tea from Rare Tea Cellars in Chicago)
 
sugar and lemon to taste…but dont over do it!…optional
trim the pineapple and cut it into discs. Use a grill pan or clean gas grill. (We dont want the smoke, so this is one time I prefer the grill pan)
Grill pieces until grill marks appear and rotate. Do this again and then flip. Same process for both sides. This will give you crisscross grill marks and the proper caramelization.
When they are all done just add the pieces to the Jasmine Tea and keep in the fridge for at least 24 hours…48 ideally.
You can leave the pineapple in if you wish, no straining or anything for a more natural looking drink….Or remove and strain for a beautifully clear tea/water. That is mostly an esthetic issue.

En Plen Air was a cocktail I made for Valentines Day at Vosges Haute Chocolate Shop in Chicago in 2011.

In the original I used coconut water and a little fresh made pineapple juice, but I liked the Jasmine tea infused with pineapple so much I decided to use it as a mixer.

At Vosges with En Plen Air
EN PLEN AIR (variation)
1 Part St Germain
2 Part Bacardi Superior
3 Parts Jasmine Tea/Grilled Pineapple Water
Grilled Heart Shaped Pineapple Garnish
 
Chill and serve in a tulip glass, coupe or flute
 
Enjoy!
 
SKINNY DRINK OPTIONS
1) DIET/CLUB SODA OPTION 
All diet soda or club soda for mixer
2) PRESS/PRESBYTERIAN OPTION
Half club soda and half mixer of your choice (7up, ginger ale, Cranberry etc)
3) LESS MIXER OPTION
Use less mixer and in your mixed drinks…for example…lemon drop use less lemon sour mix and more vodka.
4) SMALLER GLASS OPTION
Use a smaller glass, especially with a higher spirit ratio like above. Also drink your cocktails on the rocks more often. They will last longer and stay cold longer and also dilute the higher spirit ratio drinks naturally as well.
5) “VITAMIN WATER” OPTION
You can actually use the super low cal and less aggressive commercial versions offered, or make your own natural versions at home.
The example I made above with grilled pineapple and Jasmine Tea, or just fresh lemonade made with double the water, or fresh orange juice that is mixed with water. Really delicious!!

AVERNA ICE

I have long loved the Brandy Alexander and Grasshopper as ice cream dessert drinks. While these dessert drinks aren’t something you would have often or in quantity, they are an amazing taste experience for the correct moment and offer the opportunity for many creative riffs on a theme.

I did this Averna Ice for dessert at an English Gin sponsored cocktail dinner at SEPIA in Chicago two years ago with Lynn House. It was a hit!!

Drinks like these are usually made in a blender and more than one at a time. I will give the recipe for 1, so do the math for multiple drinks.

You want them to be smooth and frosty like a shake. Not runny and drippy…it is a trick to not over dilute the ice cream and to keep things frozen..and the trick is to keep things cold..

Averna is an amaro, but it is sweet like a liqueur so it works well in this drink. The gin adds some botanicals and a little more punch that work perfectly with the Averna and the ice cream.

1 oz Plymouth Gin
2 oz AVERNA
8 oz Quality Vanilla Ice Cream

Mix the spirits together and put in the freezer until chilled. With this drink you don’t want to chill your spirits with ice because you don’t want any water dilution.

In a blender add the ice cream and then the chilled spirits. Blend and serve in the appropriate chilled glassware. You can shave some chocolate or grate some cinnamon or nutmeg on top. Serve with a long spoon and or wide straw.

Other riffs…

STINGER ICE

1.5 oz Pierre Ferrand Ambre
1.5 oz Marie Brizard White Creme de Menthe or Giffard Menthe Pastille
8 oz Vanilla Ice Cream

Chill Spirits in Freezer


SNOW SHOE

1.5 oz Bourbon Whiskey
1.5 oz Marie Brizard White Creme de Menthe or Giffard Menthe Pastille
8 oz Ice Cream

Chill Spirits in freezer

Add a good chocolate liqueur (Mozart) to either of these…Chocolate goes with mint and whiskey and cognac…hmm hmm


FERNET MINT ICE

1 oz White Creme de Cacao
1 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz White Creme de Menthe (Marie Brizard or Menthe Pastille)
8 oz Vanilla Ice Cream

APPEL’S CITRUS CORDIALS

 

My line of citrus cordials began 2 years ago with a need to replace Rose’s Lime Juice in my Gimlet Cocktails with a quality Lime Cordial. After searching for recipes to no avail and experimenting by the seat of my pants, I have a Lime Cordial…and Lemon and Grapefruit that are what I want in my drinks. They are all hand crafted and natural. No preservatives or chemicals. Non alcoholic. No added water. No coloring. Just pressed citrus, cane sugar and citrus zest in my proprietary method.



 
THE CLASSIC GIN GIMLET
 
2 oz Beefeater Gin
.5 oz Appel’s Lime Cordial
 
Hard shake or stir. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or on the rocks. 
 
Lime wheel garnish optional
 
 
 
GRAPEFRUIT HIGHBALL
 
2 oz Beefeater 24 Gin
1 oz Appel’s Grapefruit Cordial
Club Soda
Large Cubed Ice if possible
16 oz Glass
 
In a shaker tin chill the Grapefruit Cordial and Gin. Strain into highball glass filled with ice. Top with soda. Mix gently with an iced tea spoon pulling from bottom to top . Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
Splash of Campari optional




THE BACKHAND

2 oz Tanqueray Gin
.5 oz LEMON CORDIAL
.75 oz PIMM’S
 Brunoise cut of hot house cucumber (2 slices about 1/8 inch thick, then brunoised)


Hard shake. Strain over fresh iced rocks glass.
 
 




APPLE CIDER and STEEL CUT OAT CREAM

Steel Cut Oats

Previously I wrote about exploring Orgeat and Horchata. (Steel Cut Oat Orgeat)

This is a whole branch and style of drink or beverage based on grains or nuts. Horchata being made with rice in the Western Hemisphere or chufa in Spain (earth almonds, tigernuts) and Orgeat generally being made with Almonds in France.

Usually it is purchased pre-made in a syrup form, at your local latin grocer. Just add water and chill. It is a refreshingly sweet summer beverage with maybe a hint of cinnamon or orange flower water. But it is easily made at home from scratch. The almond orgeat is most frequently used in Tiki drinks in North America. The Mai Tai being the most identifiable cocktail using Almond Orgeat.

I experimented with some different grains and nuts last year and was very happy with most of the results. My favorites were the ones I made with Cashews or with Steel Cut Oats.

Oats have been used for years in Ireland, Scotland and England in beverages that led to it being the basis for many ales and whiskys.

Cider

This year I tried making the oatmeal orgeat (henceforth Oat Cream) with apple cider instead of water as the base. This adds some acid (tartness) to the cream, along with the great apple taste that just goes so well with oatmeal.

Here is the recipe along with recipes for using it in a cold drink and a hot drink. This can always be used by adding water and ice for a delicious non-alcoholic drink too!

 
 


INGREDIENTS

 

1 3/4 Cups Irish Style Steel Cut Oats
1 Gallon Apple Cider
2 qts Sugar
4 Cinnamon Sticks or mixed pieces of Cassia Cinnamon bark ((Vietnamese Cinnamon)
TOOLS
Large deep sauce pan
Hand Held Immersion Blender
Fine Strainer
The idea here is to just soften the steel cut oats to allow them to be hand blended. Cooking too hot and simmering or boiling will create a gooey and unpleasant texture. We will cook this on the lowest temperature your stove top has. 4 hours is the average time. Stir often. I use a jelly bag now to fill with cassia cinnamon pieces and add this to the oats and cider. Usually you can just hang the bag from the handle of the pot and let it soak in the cider and oats while it heats. This makes it easier to remove the cinnamon so yiou can blend it later.
STEP 1
Cider and Oats
Add oats to water. Hang jelly bag with cinnamon in the water. Set heat to lowest on your stovetop burner.

After about 3-4 hours remove from heat and allow to cool to room temp. Then cool, covered, in fridge.

After it has cooled it is time to hand blend this mixture. Remove the jelly bag and set aside in a bowl. Blend the oats and cider for about 3 minutes. We are making the oat milk now. let it rest for 5 minutes and blend again for 2 minutes.

Now you can fine strain this. Make sure you stir it well before straining to capture all the cider oat milk. Now add the 2 qts of sugar to this mixture and stir until dissolved. Add the cinnamon from the jelly bag to this. Stir and strain again once all the sugar is dissolved.

Done. Keep refrigerated in air tight containers. Will last several months this way.

 

HOT BUTTERED RUM
Serves 4
8 oz Quality Aged Rum
16 oz Apple Cider Oatmeal Cream
4 Tblsp Unsalted Butter
Pinch of Salt
In saucepan, heat Oatmeal cream to a simmer. If too thick (it happens) add a few ounces of water or more cider is even better. In coffee mug or hot drink mug add 1 tblsp of butter, 2 oz of rum and top with the oatmeal cream. Grate cinnamon on top or use cinnamon stick stirrer or just a spoon for stirring.
This drink is sweet, it’s supposed to be, but still has acidity from the apples and a hint of salinity from a small pinch of salt. It is supposed to be. You can also add a splash of lemon juice for more acidity if desired.
This is velvety smooth and satisfying.
RUM BREAKFAST COCKTAIL
1.5 oz Aged Rum
3 oz Apple-Oatmeal Cream
.5 oz Fresh Strained Lemon Juice
Add all ingredients to shaker tin filled with ice. Hard shake and strain over fresh iced rocks glass.

Try a dash Angostura Bitters on top.

Apple-Oat Cream is great mixed with Rum, Anejo Tequila, Calvados, Bourbon, Rye, Cognac in various ways hot or cold.

 

JIGGER VS FREE POUR: TAKING THE TRAINING WHEELS OFF

Recently I assisted at a class given by Tobin Ellis at Bridget Albert’s Advanced Academy here in Chicago. The class was not about “mixology” or spirits…it was about efficiency and service behind the bar.

I don’t think there really is any debate on giving good service to ones customers, just a growing emphasis on the lack of it in the bar industry in general and especially the pretentious and shallow nature of many of the “craft” cocktail bars that have grown along with the cocktail renaissance.

The subject of free pouring and using jiggers to measure pours behind the bar came up and this caused a ruckus. I have wanted to write on this subject for quite a while now, and this class gave me the perfect opportunity to weigh in on this subject, and agree with and support many of the the assertions made by Tobin, that jiggering is not as accurate as one would think, that jiggering at any speed is not as accurate as a trained free pour, and that it doesn’t offer any special service, in fact it offers slower and even poorer (no pun intended) service in busier bars. This also has the effect of lower bar rings, lower bar tabs, and less money being made by everyone.

I have instigated many debates with and even caused severe mental anguish and anger in a few colleagues and others over the use of jiggers at bars, especially at busy bars. After having worked in this industry in many varied venues for over 10 years here in Chicago, I can’t think of any reason most bars…busy or not…would employ the use of jiggers to make the bulk of their cocktails and other drinks.

The standard argument for the use of jiggers comes in two forms: They are more accurate and consistent, and they offer a better show or service to the guest.

Let’s look at the idea that they are more accurate and more consistent a little deeper.

On face value it seems to be obvious that a jigger would always be more accurate than free pouring, and it would be more accurate if it was up against a person that wasn’t trained in free pouring. But let’s look at the problems we will encounter in the real world of bartending. Cocktails that use all kinds of measures from 1/4 oz to 3 oz. Standard jiggers have 2 sides that can vary from 2oz/1oz, 1.5 oz/.75 oz, and many other combinations. Small graduated measuring cups are also often employed that allow a little more freedom than non graduated sides.

The accuracy problem with this is threefold. The first is that under stressed/busy conditions, mistakes are prone to happen searching for the correct jigger measure to use. The other is the temptation to start guessing, e.g when you only have a 1.5 oz side, only need an ounce, and just pour to where you think an ounce is. The other is when you do need 1.5 ounces and fill it to the top, making some spillage almost a certainty, or not filling it to the top, to avoid spillage, thus making the pour low. And, finally, the issue of grabbing the wrong jigger in the first place and not catching your mistake. If you have 5 jiggers, and they are only different by .25 or .5 oz, the closer ones start to look pretty much the same, and under stressed conditions, mistakes again become unavoidable. And, once one starts guessing at all, it makes the entire accuracy and consistency argument moot. In this case the pour is either under or over. losing money for the house if it is over, and cheating the customer if it is under, making the drink inconsistent, and, again, in all cases inaccurate.

To address the issue of these inevitable mistakes, the jiggering process must have a speed limit that can quickly be overwhelmed in busy bar situations or will not be able to keep up with the orders.  That issue will be addressed shortly.

The show and service part of jiggering a drink also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A bartender can still take his/her time to stir a cocktail and free pour it. In fact, they have more time to attend to the customer and add the truly important steps to building a beautiful cocktail. It still is also a bit of an insult in many circles to jigger a drink for a customer as it looks like you are demonstrating the inhospitable step of measured pouring, ala the Berg System (Berg System Auto Pourer). The level of this indignation is debatable in many places, I grant you, but not the fact that it doesn’t exist to a degree that should be taken in to consideration by any bar owner or bar staff member. Jiggering in a service well, when the bartender is not serving guests, does not make sense from a service stand point again, when the only thing that counts in the well is speed and accuracy of the cocktail.

From the free pour point of view, the first non-truth that jiggering is more accurate is clearly that, not true. Again, at first glance to the layman or untrained free pourer, it looks like a measured pour using a jigger would be laughably more accurate than the “non measured” and unregulated free pour. With a closer look, though, measuring 1.5 oz in a 1.5 oz side of a jigger does not always give you 1.5 oz. Why would that be? In part it is because the measure has to go to the top. This, as I stated earlier, is very difficult to carry to the mixing glass, and if done over the glass, has the effect of nearly forcing the bartender to over pour and spill pour into the glass (by flipping the jigger while still pouring), or under pour if they become aware of this. To get your pour to the top exactly, and on a non flat surface, is not easy at a slow pace, let alone a fast one. But, at any level of speed, free pouring by a trained bartender (it must be a trained professional bartender) is at worst on par with a jigger, but in most real life situations, far more accurate than the jigger. Not only is it more accurate, but it is multiple times faster in busy and chaotic situations, allowing for the bartender to tend to customers and transactions much faster while maintaining that accuracy, and have a more natural flow of service that can easily be accelerated when necessary. It is just so much more natural.

The speed of free pouring is very important to maintaining the bartender’s natural level of concentration and not be a bottleneck that jiggering so often is.

Another question is trust in the free pouring bartender. That again is made moot by the fact that jiggering bartenders can be just as shady or incompetent as any free pouring bartender on giving away the house.

Of course the free pouring bartender must be trained, and tested from time to time. But isn’t this what should be expected of a professional bartender in the first place?  Especially in bars where they are looked at as craftsmen. But, unfortunately, the opposite is more often true.

One question keeps popping up to me about this whole issue. Where did this jiggering thing come from, anyway, when most bars were free pour trained 10 years ago? I believe it came from the influx of truly untrained bartenders from the back of the house i.e. cooks, chefs etc.. laymen owners of the new bars who have the same lack of training and knowledge, and the pre-prohibition/craft/mixology cocktail trend and new cocktails with laundry lists of ingredients. It is also an obvious control issue to those who do not understand free pouring or the business of running a busy bar. This is pure speculation, but it comes from a lot of experience in this business.

At the very least, as a fail safe, bartenders should be trained to free pour, even if they work at a jigger only bar. This will allow them to know the accuracy of their pour, even if they are pouring into a jigger…and then they do not ever have to guess what an ounce is in a 1.5 oz jigger.

Free pouring doesn’t have to conjure visions of spring break bartenders, 4 deep bars making buttery nipples and jager bombs, it is for nearly any bar and any clientele. There are always exceptions and places where things may work or not. Every location is unique in taste, image, and environment and clientele. That goes for the Berg measured pour system as well. High volume and high bartender turnover would be one place I could think of immediately for that system. But the Berg is even not as fast as true free pouring. Blindly inflicting a jiggering system on your staff and clientele without weighing these details is not good business.

As for me, after free pouring for 10 years, I absolutely could not work in a bar that was jigger only. It would be like putting training wheels back on your 10 Speed, and would be complete frustration.

This really has been a subject in need of deeper investigation and debate, and I welcome all comments and rebuttals.

DOOR COUNTY SOUR CHERRIES 2011 : CHERRY BOUNCE

RYE WHISKEY CHERRY BOUNCE
8 Gallon Cherry Harvest

 

Here we are going to talk about making cherry bounce.  There are many cherry bounce recipes that you can find online by googling. You can find cherry bounce recipes that call for cheap whiskey or brandy or vodka. But then you have to ask yourself what it is you are trying to do.
Macerating Cherries
Cherry Bounce is something that one makes in August and is aged and ready for the holidays. It is great as a gift and as a special drink for guests. So it is worth using a quality spirit. It doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive, nor should it be. But it shouldn’t be rotgut, either.
The next step is to ask what spirit you want to use and why. Vodka would be great for a neutral, all cherry flavored infusion. Use a higher proof Vodka, since it will have the addition of cherry juice and sugar. This really ends up being a nice, high proof sour cherry liqueur.
I consider American Whiskey (Bourbon or Rye) the best for infusions like these. Bourbon and fruit are made for each other. Cognac and aged brandies are also phenomenal with fruit and cherries  You could also use a high proof vodka or a cherry eau de vie for a more neutral and all cherry experience as well.
Cherries brought to simmer
I used Templeton Rye Whiskey and Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac this year for 2 different versions, but Bourbon is wonderful.
Rye Whiskey generally has a drier, spicier flavor and aroma than bourbon. The brandy is a Wisconsin favorite, and the fruity vanillas and almonds is a natural for cherries, but I am upping the game with a high quality cognac.
The flavors and tastes we will be deriving here are the Rye whiskey or Cognac and the barrel aged notes of stone fruits, almonds, vanillas, the tart nature of the cherries, the bold cherry aromas and flavors, balanced by the neutral sweetness of some cane sugar.
4 cups of fresh unpitted sour cherries
2 cups of cane sugar
In a non reactive bowl add cherries and sugar and allow to macerate for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
After 30 minutes add this to a sauce pan and heat until just a simmer, always gently stirring or turning the cherries and the sugar has completely dissolved. Allow to cool.
In the jars!
Add this to 750 ml Templeton Rye or Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, in a large non reactive jar of about 3 quarts or into 3 quart glass jars. Mason/Ball jars work great.
Put the jars in a cool, place, with no direct sunlight…A cellar or pantry would be ideal. Once a week do a turn of the jars to mix up the contents. This will be ready on Thanksgiving Day. Really it can be ready earlier, but that is a great way to remember and to have a goal for the holidays.

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IL POSTINO

I recently created this simple cocktail for the Cynar competition June 2011

Didnt win, but I really liked this drink. Great aperitivo for the summer. Refreshing, bitter, some acid, great finish.

1 part CYNAR
1 part BEEFEATER GIN
1 part Bitter Lemon Cordial

Stir chill Cynar, gin and cordial and strain into tall glass with 1 inch cubes.

garnish with lemon peel an cherry. Top with club soda. Long straw.

PRESERVED LIME JUICE CORDIAL AND THE GIMLET

FINISHED LIME CORDIAL

FINISHED LIME CORDIAL

Zested limes ready to be juiced
PRESERVED LIME CORDIAL AND THE GIN GIMLET

I had a conversation/debate around 2005 about how to make a classic Gin Gimlet. We focused on Rose’s Sweetened Preserved Lime Juice/ Cordial vs. Fresh Lime Juice. While this seems like an inane debate, it has some important historical, as well as tasteful, implications.

I was in a bit of a dilemma with my feeling that, historically, lime cordial was more likely the preferred or available ingredient, but fresh was in. Also, Rose’s style cordial was made with high fructose corn syrup, food coloring and other less than palatable ingredients which made that choice even more difficult. My interest was now piqued as to the origins of the gimlet and lime cordial, how a classic Gimlet should or, normally, would be be made, what lime cordial was and its origins and if there even was a definitive answer to any of this.

While I love fresh lime, it just doesn’t make a Gimlet for me. Familiarity is generally what we base our convictions on, and most people are familiar with Rose’s. But it seems to go against our new convictions of using high quality, crafted or fresh ingredients in our food and cocktails. And in the U.S. there aren’t really any quality alternatives to Rose’s brand lime juice.

There are huge differences between fresh lime juice and lime juice cordial. The taste of preserved lime juice cordial is distinctly different than fresh lime juice and has a similar taste to that of lime curd or lime marmalade (Rose’s has made lime marmalade since 1865).

But how to get that lime curd flavor we want (or many of us want), without the high fructose corn syrup and the brown colored juice?   The only alternative was to try to make it myself.

LIME CORDIAL AND GIMLET BACKGROUND

There is ample historical evidence for the case that Rose’s style cordial was the ingredient of choice in Gimlets around the world, but there isn’t really a definitive answer or “smoking gun” for the invention of the Gimlet or the first ingredients and ratios.

The origins of the Gimlet lie, rather, in the general time line of history from the use of lime juice in the Royal Navy as a preventative and cure for scurvy, the attempts to preserve lime juice for future use, the attempts to make it both palatable to the sailors (who were required to drink it) and to the general public and their growing tastes for non-alcoholic beverages and mixers in England in the later 19th century, and, finally, that gin was the spirit of choice among the officer class whether on land or aboard ship.

Citrus cordials and sodas ( lemon squash, bitter lemon soda, tonic water, etc..) became quite popular and were natural mixers with spirits during the 19th century.

Plymouth Navy Strength (114 proof) gin was the gin of the Royal Navy from the early 19th century onward, (Black Friars Distillery, Plymouth, 1793). It was produced at that strength for the Navy, not in small part, because if it was spilled on gun powder during battle, the powder would still flame, and the cannon could still be fired..(A real example of Dutch Courage at work!)… Gin would also be the choice at officers clubs and bases around the world.

But it really isn’t cut and dried that a Gimlet would never be ordered with fresh lime. Gin yes, but what kind of lime? There is ample evidence to show that it was made with fresh lime as well as lime cordial, but that lime cordial was something that was always around and could be counted on when fresh limes weren’t available.

For example, at an officers club in Bombay or Hong Kong the bartender might use gin, fresh lime and sugar, or preserved lime cordial, depending on availability, but both might be called a Gimlet. This would be a common occurrence in Royal Navy, Army, and government outposts around the world. In lieu of fresh mixers, a bottle of lime cordial could always be counted on and would be a common denominator in bars around the British Empire.

 Royal Navy Lime Juice Bottle early 19th Century (British Military Bottles)
THE LIMEYS

Up until the late 18th century there was no real scientific data on anti-scorubics (anti scurvy). The scientific method of studies were not really used until we reach the early 19th century, so the use of citrus (lemons or limes) was sometimes used on just anecdotal evidence. Use of citrus, or other remedies, depended on the captain of the ship. There was no mandate or general consensus that citrus would ward off scurvy, and getting sailors to drink the usually noxious oxidized lime juice was also a difficult task.

But in 1747, British Dr. James Lind experimented with lemon juice on some of his men suffering from scurvy that pointed strongly to the use of citrus as a “medicine”. It still took until 1795 for the British Navy to mandate the use of lemon juice on board naval ships and not until 1867 with the general Merchant Shipping Act was the use of citrus on all British commercial shipping mandated.

Lime or lemon juice was rarely, if ever, fresh aboard ship. Lime juice was preserved in several ways, most common being the addition of spirits and sugar as a preservative and to make it somewhat more palatable. It was usually stored in large bottles, not wooden casks.

Other methods were making a lime concentrate or syrup, called a rob, by cooking the juice at low heat in a double boiler and evaporating the excess water until it was oily at room temperature and thick when chilled. Lemons or limes were used.

By the 1840’s, though, limes essentially replaced lemons (there was not much of a distinction back then) because of the influence of British lime growers in the Caribbean and the sporadic sources of lemons from the Mediterranean due to war or instability. Unknown, though, was that lemons were a far more effective anti-scorubic than limes.

PRESERVED LIME JUICE CORDIAL

This brings us up to commercially produced preserved lime juice cordial and Lachlan Rose and the likely origins of the modern dry gin gimlet. Rose worked on a method of preserving lime juice, without the use of spirits, for use in the military and merchant marine with an eye on the home market in England its the growing in taste for lemon and lime soft drinks, sodas, and mixers.  It was also a product that could be used by the Royal Army or other government and commercial posts around the British Empire.

One of Rose’s ideas was making his lime juice actually palatable and tasty, as well as preserved. For example, he discovered that juice, more often than not, was made from limes that had fallen onto the ground and begun to decompose, rather than ripe, freshly picked limes. (Birmingham Daily Post, 1870)

It was almost always the case that “regular” lime juice was musty and foul to begin with. Rose was one of the first to ensure that the limes his company juiced would be picked from the trees. Something we think would be obvious today, but had to be directed at that time.

The method of preservation that he patented used a version of sulfites. He patented the use of sulfurous gas and acid to treat the lime juice. Rose’s still contains metabisulfate and sulfites are used today as a preservative in much of the worlds wine.

Rose also looked to the large potential commercial market for selling his lime juice on an even larger scale and was very successful marketing his flagship product, using distinctive bottling to capture the consumers eye and business. Slews of competitors popped up, copying even Rose’s distinctive bottle shape and style.

Rose’s Lime bottle found in Boer War dump (Antique Bottles)
THE GIMLET

The popularity of this style of lime cordial around the British Empire was certain. But can we say that this the classic ingredient in a gin gimlet?

I think we can surely say it was, but we have to be careful to not be dogmatic about things such as cocktail recipes, or we take the fun and truth out of them. Exceptions always exist and people mold recipes to their own tastes over time.

The first recorded recipe for the gimlet, according to Dave Wondrich, was in Harry MacElhone’s  Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails from the early 1920’s. Gary Regan throws his hat in the ring voting for Rose’s as “the ingredient that defines the drink..” The Savoy Cocktail Book lists Rose’s in it’s Gimlet, but not in its Gimblet.  However, Embury writes in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that a Gimlet has fresh lime juice and often it was made in the US with fresh lime. Rose’s began exporting to the US in 1901

There are also many other issues at hand when discussing cocktail history. Ratios, ice, technique, tools, glassware, and other issues can make two completely different cocktails with the same ingredients. Again these are things that almost always make definitive answers to what a cocktail is or was nearly impossible and is why I generally leave that dogma at the door and make room for legitimate variations on the same theme.

In the end, drinks should be made to your own personal tastes. In the case of the Gimlet, I prefer much more gin to lime. I enjoy the taste of good gin, and want the gin to stand out and the lime to simply enhance it.

The gin is like the nucleus of an atom and the cordial like it’s electron…..

Now my rationale and recipe for Preserved Lime Cordial.

Lime zest, limes, zested limes

I experimented, but wanted to stay as simple as I could. I wanted it to be real and impart the lime curd flavor I was looking for and be as natural as possible. I studied a few old 19th century recipes for cordials and syrups in England. I looked at making a “rob” (the cooked citrus juice used on board some Royal Navy ships).

I settled on the simple combination of fresh, strained lime juice and white cane sugar and lime zest to add the lime taste and aromas. I also tried different methods of heating this syrup and infusing the lime oils.

Heating the cordial helps in its preserving, concentrating, and water evaporation. Heating it too high will caramelize it and bring flavors that mar the lime taste.

Zested Limes
Lime Zest steeping
This lime cordial is not meant to replace fresh lime in any cocktail that requires it, i.e.  Margarita or Daiquiri (but it works great with tequila and rum in the style of a Gimlet)..I consider a cocktail made with gin, fresh lime and rich simple syrup more like gin daiquiri than a gin gimlet. Delicious, I love them, but not a Gimlet
APPEL’S LIME CORDIAL
 
1 Part Fresh Strained Lime Juice
1 Parts White Cane Sugar
Zest from Limes
I have updated the following recipe a few times over the years to reflect growing experience and countless trials making this cordial.
THE PROCESS
Wash, dry and zest limes. Store zest in airtight container in refrigerator.

Bring juice and dissolved sugar slowly to 180 degrees. Stir this often.

Use a candy thermometer to gauge your temperatures.

Allow it to rest and come to room temperature, add the zest. Keep covered. Allow to steep for several hours or up to one day and then strain.

Store in non-reactive containers (glass bottles are best)

This will last for months and even a year or longer stored in your fridge and never discolors like Rose’s does. I have never had it go bad. If you like it more tart, add less sugar or vice versa.

DRY GIN GIMLET
2 oz Plymouth Navy Strength Gin
.5 oz Homemade Lime Cordial
All ingredients to shaker filled with ice.
Hard shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass
Lime Wheel garnish
Garnish is not necessary. I also enjoy this cocktail stirred.
I also more often drink this cocktail on the rocks stirred or shaken.
Stirred in the winter and shaken in the summer is a good rule of thumb.