Capturing the Big Easy (or not)

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I’m on the edge of my first real vacation in quite a few years which I’m making out of the tales of the cocktails event down in NOLA. Part of getting ready is a little bit of practice drinking. To keep up with everyone else I need a strategy. I’m taking advice from Chris Charmichael of the Tour de France training fame and using a high cadence with smaller sips technique. Many great drinkers of the past have used the technique to hold their booze over arduously long evenings. I’m also trying to acclimate myself with cocktails that capture the spirit of New Orleans. Easier said than done without ever having been there. The first go at it looked something like this:

2 oz. baby sazerac rye
.75 oz. pimento dram (homemade, Alpenz would probably be better)
.25 oz. yellow chartreuse
1 oz. dry vermouth as tart as a lemon (9 grams of malic acid per 250 mL of gallo dry vermouth)
dash of peychaud’s bitters.

This drink was okay, but needs a better balance and maybe something other than yellow chartreuse or just more of it. I wanted gross excess and no compromises by way of lots of liqueurs and also the flavor of vermouth but also a dry, refreshing drink that you could only get with lemon or lime juice. I got what I was looking for to some degree, but the particular allspice in my dram may be too fiery to be elegant. As easy going as I hear New Orleans is, there still may be a dress code at times and that may hold true for good drinks.

My second try took a different direction. I almost thought of changing up the first drink then I put on some jazz. I wanted a style of drink that could give more length to my night (lower alcohol, fuller flavor).

1 oz. baby sazerac rye
1 oz. dry sherry (La Cigarrera manzanilla)
1 oz. sweet vermouth (noilly prat)
stir over ice then float:
.5 oz. peychaud’s bitters (7 dashes?)

Those that drink a lot of vermouth may recognize the Half Sinner, Half Saint in all of this, but with a couple different notes. Flavors like sherry always remind me of either a rich solo by Stephane Grappelli or sometimes an upright bass. sherry is the greatest expression of wood and oxidation that I can consume to my heart’s desire because of its low alcohol level. I’ve also found that Absinthe is the most overrated product in beverage (I’ve never encountered one that was more adult tasting than good & plenty candies). I’d take a large dose of peychaud’s bitters over absinthe any day of the week.

For breakfast I just revisited the riff on the Half Sinner, Half Saint:

1.5 oz. sweet vermouth (noilly prat)
1.5 oz. dry sherry (last of La Cigarrera manzanilla)
.5 oz. of floated peychaud’s bitters

This drink is most satisfying. I personally enjoy the taste of the bitters over an absinthe, but it just doesn’t float the way I’d like it to. The thin barrier of absinthe in a Half Sinner, Half Saint coats your lips in a briefly cloying way to enhance the refreshing experience of the vermouths underneath. Sinners and saint, pleasure and pain. One can’t exist without the other and the drink exemplifies it. I keep coming across sherries like Matusalem that use biblical marketing and they seem to fit in with the role of the saint without missing a beat.

On its own, by the way, this Noilly Prat sweet vermouth is kind of interesting. it seems to have a drier finish than other sweet vermouths. This vermouth also seemed darker in character. In a moment of clarity a couple days ago, I thought I perceived strong notes of wormwood relative to any other sweet vermouth. This might be in line with the Noilly’s reputation as being more bitter than the others. Whether they can actually use wormwood or not who knows. Recognizing it is from my experience of using it in my projects. This vermouth feels like its in danger of tasting too much like coffee or too much like chocolate. Coupled with a whiskey I suspect one might end up with a flavor dead end. I’m willing to invest in the drinking to figure out if that’s true or not.

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1 thought on “Capturing the Big Easy (or not)

  1. so in the half assed sinner and saint parody the peychaud’s sinks either because it has sugar or because its so high in extract. peychaud’s is not that bitter but if you concentrate and maybe have a reference to raw gentian you can pick it out. “bitters” are just a way of making making a drink grand cru. more nuance, more intensity. not necessarily bitter.

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