Gin Number Two

You will recall that I made gin a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn’t horrible, as the label proudly proclaims, but I wanted to see if I could make a more nuanced version.

To that end, I took one of my new, handy-dandy Field Notes Brand “Dime Novel” editions and began taking meticulous notes—as opposed to just dumping stuff into vodka like I did last time.

With that strategy, I think I was more successful.  I now have a recipe that I can reuse if I decide this is a good one.

Mostly, it is a good one.  Whereas the first one was almost overpowered by the lovage and had a huge bitter finish, this one is more herbal and has an interesting wood note as a finish.

That would be because as I finished up steeping the botanicals (gentian, angelica, lemon zest, lovage, coriander, burdock, and star anise), I rediscovered a jar of what I think is tincture of cedar chips.  I boldly added 30 ml of that to the mix, and lo! it makes a lovely difference.

So here’s Dale’s Gin No. 2.  Not objectionable at all.

A new cocktail, maybe

I made vanilla vodka a while back and promptly stuck it in the hall closet and forgot about it.  I rediscovered it over the weekend and it’s been sitting out on the counter bugging me.

Consider this an abortive attempt.

Vanilla-Suze Something

  • 1.5 oz vanilla vodka
  • .5 oz Suze (gentian liqueur)
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • barspoon grenadine

Shake everything except the grenadine with ice.  Pour, then pour the grenadine in; let it sink.

It’s not bad, but it’s not very distinctive.  Or it may be that I’m not into citrus juice cocktails these days.  More work is required.

Also, I’ve made a second gin.  I need to blog about it.

UPDATE: The cocktail is growing on me.

New Cocktail: The Afterlife

The other night I was privileged to drop in to Barnes & Noble to a book signing by a former student, Blue Cole.

Blue, who is actually the son of a high school classmate, was one of those charming, good-looking teenagers who you feared might amount to nothing.  Dimples and blue eyes will only get you so far, after all.

However, Blue has grown up to be a fine upstanding citizen who is only a little worrisome when his wife takes him to big box stores and leaves him unattended.  This novel, Evil Upriver, is Blue’s third, unless I’ve lost count.

But Dale, I hear you musing, supernatural horror is not your thing.  You even write about it in the chapter on AUDIENCE in your own upcoming book, Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.  Indeed it is not, but 1) I go to book signings for all former students; and 2) Blue personally invited me to come and asked me to wear my pearl earring, since that’s what the bartender named Lyles in the book wears.

How could I not invent a cocktail and take him a small box with said cocktail and other mini-bar accoutrements?

Actually, I was going to bring him the Smoky Topaz, which should be good enough for any normal purpose, but then my Lovely First Wife suggested that I invent a cocktail called The Afterlife because reasons.

It was a rush job, but I did it:

The Afterlife

  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • .75 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes Liqueur
  • dash 18•21 Havana & Hide Bitters

The idea was that it would be at first taste an interesting take on the Manhattan with a somewhat toasty finish (GET IT, KENNETH?), but however, and also too, I felt it was lacking.

So tonight, I futzed with it and now it’s pretty solid:

The Afterlife, redux

  • 1.5 oz bourbon
  • .75 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes Liqueur
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • .25 oz 18•21 Blackberry Peppercorn Shrub
  • dash 18•21 Havana & Hide Bitters

Stir with ice, strain, serve on the rocks with an orange peel.

Rather more ingredients than I normally prefer, but it’s tasty. Quite tasty.

(Sorry, Blue, about the recipe I gave you last night.  Feel free to use it, but this is the recipe that will appear in my second book.)

Gin, Part II

You will recall that on Monday I began making gin.

Yesterday I finished making gin.  This is a true thing.

On Monday, I put some juniper berries in some vodka to soak for 24 hours.  On Tuesday, I added what we in the gin industry refer to as “botanicals”:

There’s angelica root, gentian root, star anise, lemongrass, lemon peel, black pepper, and lovage (which had survived in the garden enough to give me what I needed).  Based on cursory reading on the intertubes, I measured out two grams of everything and dumped it all in.  It steeped overnight.

Yesterday I began taste-testing it, and by lunchtime it was clear that the botanicals—the lovage in particular—were threatening to overwhelm the gin qua gin.  I strained everything out, doubled the amount of vodka to dilute it, put more juniper in, added some coriander, and let it ride until cocktail hour.  Then I strained it all out, bottled it, and began testing it.

Okay, so… it’s not a sippable gin.  This will never compete with Ayrer’s Single Malt Gin from Nuremberg, for example.  More work is required before I get to that point.

However:

Gin & tonic: quite delectable.

Negroni on the left; Bijou on the right.  Both were good; although I was apparently not in the mood for a Negroni, I finished the Bijou with relish.

And then…

The Smoky Topaz. Oh my.  My recipe calls for barrel-aged gin, but this gin added several other dimensions to this most fabulous of cocktails.  That which is a too-strong presence of lovage when you sip the gin straight becomes a fantastic lingering undertone in the Smoky Topaz.

And so…

The trick will be seeing if I can repeat it.

Gin.

Oh, just making gin, as one does.

That’s the concoction on the right.  The stuff on the left is just your average lemongrass-infused vodka for a new cocktail I’ll work on for the beach this weekend.

The gin is in its first stage: juniper berries soaking in vodka.  What, you thought gin was something other than vodka with plants in it?  Pfft.

Of course there’s no one recipe for gin.  You can find tons on the intertubes—everyone has a different combination of botanicals they like to use—but they all start with soaking the juniper berries for 24 hours, then adding your other stuff for 36 hours.  That’s right, boys and girls, you can craft your own gin in two and a half days.  What’s not to like?

My original plan was to use lovage from the garden, but the lovage has been stupidly whiny this summer.  Maybe there’s enough to use anyway.  I’ll keep you posted.

Otherwise, here are the most likely additions:

Mine’s going to be more spicy/peppery than citrus.

I wonder if it’s going to be drinkable?

Cocktails: A new chapter

After the bittersweet nostalgia of my cocktail reminiscence, you will be heartened to hear that when one chapter ends, another begins.

Behold:

This, class, is a smoker. A couple of months ago I went up to Ponce City Market to take a cocktail class at 18•21 Bitters, the topic of which was smoked cocktails, you guys!  It was fascinating, and as you can imagine added a whole new layer to the cocktails.  I came home and immediately added the smoker and the chips to my Amazon wish list, figuring I’d get it for either my upcoming birthday or Father’s Day.[1]

It was also super easy: you put like a teaspoon of wood chips in the little cavity in the top, light it with a regular lighter, flip the switch, and smoke emerges from the hose (not pictured) into whatever receptacle you’ve chosen.

Here are some photos from 18•21:

This one used a bell jar.  There was also a plain cedar board with shavings over which you placed your glass; a teapot; and a good old cocktail shaker.

You let the cocktail sit and smoke for about three minutes.

And then you serve it.

So remember, the next time you’re over for cocktails and I ask you what you would like, you really need to say I want something light and citrusy if that’s what you want, because otherwise you’re going to get a smoked cocktail.

—————

[1] Alas, the model I had tagged was no longer available; I had to buy my own because no one wanted to risk getting the wrong thing.  This model is actually cooler than the one 18•21 used. The chips however were a present from the Charming Child.

Cocktails: a memoir

Late on Father’s Day, my lovely first wife remembered she had forgotten to give me one of my presents:

These are called “Nick & Nora” glasses, after the main characters in the Thin Man movie series from the 1930s.  Nick and Nora were wealthy socialites who solved crimes while they drank and quipped their way through Manhattan.  I had expressed a wish for a set of these glasses to round out my extensive glassware collection.

Of course, I’m out of room to store my glassware, and in trying to figure out a way to make room for my new acquisitions, I had some thoughts.

Most of my cocktail ware is stored in the bar in the living room.

As you can see, a lot of it is from the early days of the Great Cocktail Revival: big old 10 oz things meant for swilling Cosmopolitans and French Martinis.  I would be loath to part with most of those glasses because I collected them deliberately.  However, very few are anything but mass produced.  The one or two handblown or handcrafted ones I could keep on display while boxing up the rest of them to be discovered by my heirs and assigns at some point in the future.

Assessing my stemware was not the only stroll down memory lane, however.

Yesterday was National Martini Day, and by martini they mean an honest-to-Cthulhu mixture of gin and dry vermouth, not any of the abominations that were listed in menus under the heading MARTINIS back in the day.  Whenever I ordered a martini and the server asked, “With gin?” I would simply raise my eyebrows and say, “Yes.  A martini.”

(I will allow a vodka martini, but you have to call it that.)

The only real argument you can have over a martini is the ratio of gin to vermouth.  Garnishment—olive or lemon twist—is simply up to you.  You might hold forth for one gin over another (dry, Old Tom, Plymouth, etc.), but the serious question is how much vermouth are you going to sully the gin with?

Older recipes may call for a 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, and I have seen “original” recipes call for 1:1.  My personal preference is similar to Winston Churchill’s, which was to hold up the bottle of vermouth and allow the sun to pass through it before it kisses the gin; the drier the better.  I have a little atomizer with which I can either mist the inside of the glass or the surface of the gin once poured, and that is more than sufficient vermouth for me.

However, in the spirit of the holiday, I mixed a 3:1 martini.

I drank about half of it before deciding that I would go back to Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails and revisit some of my favorites from that book in the spirit of the Nick and Nora glass.

Here is a sad truth: many of the cocktails I’d marked Delicious! are simply no longer delicious to me.  I made a Doctor Cocktail (rum, Swedish Punsch, lime juice) and drank only half.

I made a Pegu Club, though using the original proportions instead of the one in VS&FG.

And it was not bad.  However, my taste these days is for darker, boozier drinks: the Smoky Topaz or Smoky Quartz, for example. Or bitter drinks like the Negroni or Best Friend.

Just remember that if you come for cocktails and I ask what you would like, and you say, “Oh whatever you’re mixing these days.”  If you want a citrusy/sweet/lower ABV cocktail, you should probably express that preference.  Otherwise, you’re going to be drinking pure booze from the dark side.  With bitters.

One last thing:

Nick Charles: The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.

Nick, of course, is wrong.  A Manhattan, a Bronx, and a martini, having no fruit juice, are always stirred, not shaken.

About that new cocktail…

You will recall that at AnonymouS Bar in Prague I asked the bartender to make me a drink that would delight me, based on my recipe for a Smoky Topaz.

For reference, here’s what’s in a Smoky Topaz:

Barrel-aged gin, Averna Amaro, yellow Chartreuse, and green Chartreuse—and AnonymouS had only the green Chartreuse.

What the bartender brought me was an amazing drink that captured the woodiness of the Smoky Topaz yet had its own distinct character.  He told me that it contained genever (an older version of gin), Grand Marnier, green Chartreuse, and amaro.  This delighted me because I had every single one of those:

…except… which amaro?  There are scores of these herbal liqueurs, as cataloged in Brad Thomas Parsons’ Amaro.

Experimentation was called for.

Here are the actual amaros that I currently have.  I eliminated the Nonino without even trying it: it’s too light, and the drink was rather dark.

The original, for reference

I also eliminated the Angostura, because that flavor profile didn’t match the drink.

That left the Montenegro, which I don’t yet have a handle on.  I made the drink, and it was not the cocktail served to me in Prague.  (It also was not one I want to come back to later.)

Next, even though I knew the missing amaro was not Averna, it was all I had left so I tried it.  It was of course not correct.

All this time I was futzing with the proportions, figuring the genever was at 1.5 oz and the other ingredients were probably in a 3:2:1 kind of stack.

I looked in Amaro to see what my other options might be.  There were two likely suspects: Becherovka and R. Jelínek Amaro Liqueur, both from the Czech Republic.  I figured it couldn’t be Becherovka because that’s kind of the Czech national liqueur and the bartender would have named it.  I figured I was doomed to begin my search for the R. Jelínek.

Or…

I could email the bar and see if they’d be willing to give me at least the name of the amaro if not the recipe.  (Bars are generally very jealous of their signature cocktail recipes.)

So I emailed AnonymouS and got a reply rather quickly.  Did I know the bartender’s name?  (I had called him a waiter, but all the waiters at AnonymouS are bartenders.) Or could I describe him?

Naturally I did not know his name, and as for description: “young, slender, dark-haired” was not very helpful.  But perhaps he would remember the quartet of older Americans who rather enjoyed themselves that evening?

Indeed Jaroslav Modlik did remember us, and he remembered the drink.  And since it was not one of their signature cocktails—”I make just especially for you,” he said—he was happy to share the recipe with me.

The amaro was the Angostura.  I felt like an idiot: that was the basic woody flavor (along with the chartreuse).

It is Jaroslav’s privilege to name this drink, but for the moment it’s going into my cocktail book as the Smoky Quartz (with full credit and back story of course).

The Smoky Quartz

(original recipe)

  • 4o ml Bols Genever
  • 20 ml green Chartreuse
  • 15 ml Amaro Angostura
  • 10 ml Grand Marnier

(Americanized)

  • 1.5 oz Bols Genever
  • .75 oz green Chartreuse
  • .5 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .33 oz Grand Marnier

Stir with ice, serve with orange peel.

This was the drink from Prague, and it is every bit as luscious here at home as abroad.  I find that I need another bottle of Bols Genever, which frankly I didn’t think I would ever need to replenish.

It is a point of extreme pride for me that Jaroslav Modlik is head bartender at AnonymouS,  and he invented a cocktail for me.  Is that cool or what?

New Cocktail: Mitchum’s Scam

I’ve been reliably informed that Robert Mitchum apparently has a credible fifties rockabilly hipster outlaw vibe in the real world.  Who knew?  I live, I’ve been informed, a sheltered life.

Anyway, Mitchum’s son has capitalized on his cult classic Thunder Road by opening a moonshine distillery of the same name in Tennessee.  Coming home from Virginia last month, we stopped and got free tastings; I ended up buying a basic moonshine and their rye, which is completely raw, i.e., this stuff has not spent a second in a barrel of any kind.

As such, it has presented a challenge, a challenge that I decided to tackle yesterday.

Given the raw, even nasty, nature of the stuff, I decided to fight fire with fire.  I pulled out the Montenegro Amaro, which I’ve never quite developed a taste for, and went to the herb garden.  Next year perhaps I’ll have a better grip on angelica or vervain or valerian and how they might work, but for this drink I chose lovage, one of my favorite herbs, for its strong peppery flavor.

I thought about whether lemon or lime juice would help take the edge off, but my mental taste buds couldn’t see it doing much good.  Maybe grapefruit might be worth a shot in the future, though.

Finally, I thought, this thing is going to need a strong undergirding of bitters to make it through the aftertaste.  I used 18•21 Bitters’ Tonic and then, at first, their Havana & Hide Bitters before settling on their Saffron & Tart Cherry Bitters.

And here we are.  I figure it may be an abortive attempt; if upon a second one I find that it’s still not quite delicious, I may adjust the proportions, or toss it altogether, but for the time being:

Mitchum’s Scam

  • 2–3 leaves of lovage
  • 1.5 oz Thunder Road Runner’s Rye
  • .5 oz Montenegro Amaro
  • .25 oz 18•21 Bitters Tonic
  • 10 drops 18•21 Bitters Saffron & Tart Cherry Bitters
  • lemon peel for garnish

Muddle the lovage with all the ingredients.  Stir with ice, strain into a coupe.  Garnish with the lemon.

As I said on Facebook, this drink is not my best, but it’s not my worst either.  It has the potential to become a cult favorite on its own.  My first assessement — “The herbal nastiness of the Montenegro is rounded out by the unbarrelled nastiness of the rye, with nice floral notes from the bitters and a lovely overall pall created by the lovage” — may need to be adjusted.

More work is required.

New cocktail: Brad’s Bebida

So, the other day my badly-behaved friend Jobie sent me this image:

Dear reader, I was scandalized.[1]

Anyway, Jobie said that there should be a cocktail created especially to employ these tawny, vaguely Latino youth.  (Why Jobie is interested in full employment for tawny Latino youth, I am not prepared to speculate.[2])

My first reaction was to laugh gently at my friend’s humor and go about my business, but then I noticed a curious detail:

These tawny Latino youth have the whitest white boy names emblazoned on their asses.

Well, who could resist that?[3]

This one came together rather immediately, flashing into my imagination as a gift from the gods.[4]

Brad’s Bebida

  • 1.5 oz gentle tequila (I used Casamigos Reposado; their silver might be even better)
  • .75 oz vanilla vodka (VANILLA VODKA, BRAD!)
  • 1.5 oz pineapple juice
  • 2-3 dashes 18•21 Japanese Chile & Lime Bitters
  • honey sea salt, dosed with sriracha salt
  • lime wedge

Rim the glass with the salt.  Shake the other stuff with ice, pour.  Garnish with lime wedge.

It’s pretty tasty, although I think I’m going to try it again with an actual vanilla liqueur instead of vanilla vodka (VANILLA VODKA, BRAD!), either Navan or Tuaca.  In which case maybe I’ll rename it the Classy Brad.

Stay tuned for updates.

—————

[1] I was not scandalized.  Especially since the day before I had sent him an escalating series of double-entendre photos of children’s toys while on a jaunt through Five Below, which I seem to have deleted from my phone, quel dommage.

[2] Speculations welcome in comments.

[3] Comment from Jobie in 3… 2… 1…

[4] Apollo probably, although his penchant was for more lissome boys.