a cocktail and a note on seville orange juice

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I’m very excited that I just tracked down some sour oranges and could play with them at home. I was hoping to figure out how tart they really are so I can do my best to fake it year round in drinks because oranges are a beautiful potential cocktail acid. All you need to do is add a calculated dose of citric acid.

The six large sour oranges I bought yielded 1.75 cups of juice and had a PH of 3.01 which is the same as orange juice listed in Harold McGee’s tables in On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Lemon juice is listed as 2.1 and black coffee as 5.01. Well, I thought that entry in the table was for a conventional orange so I tested some regular stuff in the fridge which weighed in as a PH of 4.08 and had nearly the same brix as the sour orange of about 12. Now when I fake the juice it will be easy to get to the right acidity as citric but it will still take some concessions for the wildness of flavor. Oh well. I’m bored with lemon juice and this, besides being fun, has some over the top incredible economics. A gallon of fresh squeezed lemon juice costs a lot of money for the lemons and even more for the labor to squeeze them. A gallons of tart orange juice costs five dollars for something very fresh and pulpy, can be adulterated perfectly in mere minutes and is super fun to explore. And I know people hate powdered citric acid sour mix but because this is heavily subsidized by real fresh fruit it never becomes lame like that.

Now for a cocktail with the real stuff. I’ve called this by many names but now I’m leaning on Lioness


2 oz. amber rum (flor de cana)

1 oz. pimento dram (my own with recipe coming soon)

1 oz. sour orange juice

dash of peychaud’s bitters, shake with adequate ice… blah blah blah.

This is quite satisfying and for some reason brings out the vanilla bean that I put into my pimento dram. The cocktail has elegant dryness within the average of people’s tastes and lemon juice might be far less successful because the increased acidity might accentuate the heat of the dram too much. The piney and pepperiness of my particular allspice berry lingers on the palate like a fine Gewurztraminer. I added the bitters after I made the drink so I could see how they altered the cocktail. The choice of bitters subliminally does something to make the drink taste fuller and less skeletal.

Next time I need to fake it I will give a gram measurement of citric acid required to get standard orange juice to tart Seville territory.so stay tuned.

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Newman’s Own Creole Shrubb

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Quite a few months ago I was invited to present a cocktail at a charity event in the posh space atop the state house. The restaurant gave me the okay to spend a little money so of course I spent every dime they gave me solely on Seville oranges (aka sour oranges). These magical orbs are rarely imported and I’ve only seen them available during citrus season in the winter. They are not like the bland domesticated varieties we know. Sevilles are tart and pungent with a wild heirloom quality. They are hard to work with and have lots of learning curves but I still highly regard them. I bought them intending to use the juice for the event and save the peels for myself to make orange liqueur for the bar, but little did I know there was a fraction of the juice I anticipated. From 33 Seville oranges I only got 750 ml of juice and at that point in the day I had to leave soon for the event. Each drink was supposed to use an ounce and I was supposed to serve 150 drinks so I was in real trouble. This led to the Seville cheater when I added citric acid to normal orange juice with a healthy dose of reagan’s orange bitters to synthesize that wild heirloom character. Luckily the results were quite satisfying and the drink was a phenomenal success.

bronx cocktail (named after the bronz zoo and using my theory that it was designed for tart wild oranges and therefore a sour drink)

2 oz. gin

1 oz. sweet vermouth

1 oz. seville orange juice (fake or real)

stir, and decreasing the gin is not wrong and means it is easier to justify a second round.\


For the event I actually only used the cheater juice and I saved the real stuff for the pastry chef to make sorbet with. Unfortunately I have no recipe but the sorbet was stunning. It totally captured all the wild flavors and used the natural inherent acidity of the juice. A little bit of my previous batch of creole shrub was also added so the alcohol could enhance the texture.

It was ten minutes before I had to leave for the event and I had a large pile of zest sitting on the counter top which probably added up to a couple pounds. My goal was to eventually, in small periods of free time, turn this pile into ten liters of creole shrub using whatever rum of character I could come across. So on the run, I put all the peel into a three liter mason jar and covered it with rum (appleton’s VX). I figured I could add more rum, get a bigger container and eventually add my sugar.

The plan seemed reasonable but I was over looking the fact that my rum was only 80 proof and would be diluted by sugar so I’d end up with less alcohol than the real stuff. Though ideal proof would have to be sacrificed to make the handmade shrub economically viable. But to add insult to injury, I didn’t dehydrate my peels because I had no time. In Martinique they dry the peels out in the sun. If you think of dehydrating our normal sunkist oranges it doesn’t make that much sense, but for Sevilles, their peel is spongy and full of moisture which would further dilute the proof of the final product. Another hole in my rushed strategy was that I only estimated the volume of liqueur I could produce from 33 oranges. When you make liqueurs you need to be concerned with alcohol, sugar, and other total dissolved solids. The total dissolved solids in this case is the weight of orange peel added to flavor the shrub per liter. Too intensely orange is frightening and not enough is bland. I am merely hoping to figure my intensity to taste which seems reasonable but isn’t exactly scientific. If you really wanted to figure it out for clement’s creole shrub you would have to cook out the alcohol of a significant volume, refill what was lost with distilled water and see if you can measure the total solids (sugar and orange oil) and subtract just the sugar [this actually turns out to be incorrect but these were just my very first experiments]. This is not practical for my small production so I apparently have to rely on a tasting panel and hope to get scientific next time around.

Hopefully next time is this week because I just bought six more Sevilles yesterday at tropico in roxbury (I thought you couldn’t get them anymore but apparently not) and hope to make a small completely measured batch so I have something realistic to go with next year and I will definitely dehydrate the peels. see you next week for the update!


From my 33 oranges, I yielded about 8.5 liters of exceptional Creole Shrubb. I used quite a lot of mixed up rums that I had laying around and the product was still stunning. To my surprise everyone (my kitchen crew) preferred my version to clement’s iconic product. I am still kind of skeptical. My intensity is at a comparable level if not a little more intense than clement, but what I noticed is that these oranges have serious organoleptic qualities and what I got from Specialty Produce tastes really different than clement’s Martinique oranges. Putting the difference into words is very difficult but there is more to these bitter oranges than meets the eye. I think my solution is to try and figure out where my product comes from and celebrate it. I keep seeing a growing interest in botanicals, but a lack in curiosity or information on where exactly what you use comes from. Wine isn’t the only thing susceptible to terrior. Consistency is overrated and I simply recommend celebrating the differences.

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Charles River Punch cocktails

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I’m continuing with the punch because I sat down with my brother on an afternoon off and we sipped some Charles River Punch three ways. 2:1 always but with martini rossi sweet vermouth, sweet vermouth from a half bottle of stock brand with the old school label (might indicate it’s age) and with martini rossi dry vermouth. each time we added 2 dashes of hermes japanese orange bitters.

I can really amuse myself for the rest of my life with these spirit plus vermouth & dash of aromatic bitters drinks. Unfortunately the spirits get the most focus because they usually cost the most but luckily I’ve learned to disregard that. For some reason the bitters get the second most attention because popular media has turned them into a redundant article gimmick but the real truth in the pleasure of this whole thing lies in the near negligibly expensive and never written about vermouth.

Anyhow with my simple lunch time cocktail I found the martini rossi vermouth as usual to have been the worst companion. I don’t know if its the vermouth’s sweetness or flavors within the stuff but this simplistic, dominating caramel flavor comes into focus in your mouth and dominates the drink. The stock vermouth (who knows how close to what you typically find it is because of the label series) created the most adult and complex flavor. With the old wine character of the spirit you also got these shades of roasted coffee from the addition of the vermouth that reminded me of some of the finest wines I’ve drank. Complete flavor sophistication without any out of proportion notes to interfere. I initially feared the punch plus dry vermouth with orange bitters. I find that a little sugar can be tolerated to really enhance flavors in a cocktail of high proof. Luckily the punch had enough sugar on its own from the pineapple to lift the drink to brilliance. I only tried it with the martini rossi dry vermouth but its complexity really attached itself to the tail end of the spirits creating something beautiful and aperitify.

Now I need to shelf what is left of the punch for the rest of the summer and make a double batch at least next year. cheers!

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Charles River Punch

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Quite a few months ago I got three free liters of wray and nephews over proof rum which is quite exciting for me (I may be the largest non jamaican consumer of the product in the country). I wanted to recreate and enhance a rum punch I made with lemonheart 151 two punch seasons ago that was quite successful. The old cocktail books contain many recipes for punch, some of which were reported to live quite a long time in the cellar. The old punches contained a lot of sugar and on paper look more like bottled tropical cocktails. The aim of my recipe is to create something quite flavorful and complex with minimal sugar that weighs in at 70 or so proof. Punches of the style I want to make are essentially high proof fruit juice preserves with a botanical here and there.

rum punch

3 liters of wray and nephews 126

2 oz. by weight of black tea with ginseng infused in the rum for 1.5 hours

6 oz. by volume of fresh squeezed lime juice (juice of six limes)

3 large satsuma orange leaves (left over from new years eve tasting menu)

2 oz. bergamot tincture (thin peel of two bergamots canned in a cup of pierre ferrand amber)

2 liters of pineapple pulp (well strained from beautiful january pineapples)

The recipe was assembled sometime at the end of january and the whole batch saw a simple straining through cloth at the beginning of april when most of the fine pineapple pulp had clumped and came out easily. Clay bentonite was then added to try and make the really fine sediment easy to rack off. It is now the middle of may and I’m bottling it in champagne bottles and I’m not so impressed with the bentonite. The bentonite did not exactly glue itself to the bottom of the carboy but rather floated up as soon as I started to rack so I strained the liquid through cloth again which seemed to do an excellent job.

The punch tastes very complex and has characteristics like an old wine. The funky higher alcohol character of the rum expresses itself well through the oxidized and mature tasting pineapple. It is very hard to believed the punch is 35% plus in alcohol because of the smoothness. Black tea is a very traditional punch ingredient and is really hard to pick out within the dram which may be a good thing. I think the tea flavor probably integrates into the mature pineapple creating that old white wine character. Since bergamot may be the only contrast (and subtly expressed) to the fruit of the punch another contrast may be nice in next years batch. Maybe some mace and nutmeg.

This stuff being a really sophisticated spirit (and in limited quantities) I’m only drinking mine straight or with sweet or dry vermouth. One of my favorite regulars who is a great patron of the drinking arts really enjoyed the punch with stock sweet vermouth and reagan’s orange bitters.

2 oz. charles river punch

1 oz. stock sweet vermouth

2 dashes reagan’s orange bitters

stir with adequate ice. add a citrus peel for top notes.

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La Perique

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I just recently started smoking a pipe. I couldn’t find any corn cob pipes around here like we used to sell when i was a kid in PA so I bought a simple briar and took a recommendation on a tobacco. Drinking while smoking is quite the sporting thing to do. Double up your sensory overloads and double up your connoisseurship.  If everyone knows that life is short and the art is long you must multitask. Well in my multitasking I got addicted to a certain flavor profile that the law has taken away from me. Indoors anyhow. But maybe we can capture that rare pipe tobacco character in a glass.

My attempt was with an obscure to some African flower whose seeds can only be gathered by ants. The flavor of the flower is Africa and it tastes like Sahara dust. Africa apparently also tastes a lot like the tobacco flavor I crave.

So I put the rooibos which is decorated with vanilla bean in affordable rye whiskey and let it infuse for a couple days. The vanilla bean synthesizes some half-assed oak aging on the young, cheap whiskey and provides a body and mid palate to tie in all the red bush flavors. The beauty of rooibos is its lack of bitter principles. You can let it infuse forever without getting a bitter mess like you may with black tea. Many plants are better with partial infusions which are high maintenance and hard to get consistent. Rooibos is pretty simple. When you use a common decorated blend you mainly focus on getting enough vanilla character.

1 liter of old overholt rye whiskey

57 grams of MEMs decorated rooibos tea

48 hour infusion time with simple cloth filtration

I have made many cocktails with this “African rye whiskey” like the coer d’obscurite (heart of darkness) which is with a pimento dram sour but at the moment I’m really interested in the savoy cocktail books gilroy cocktail as a system for a drink.

La Perique (a type of new orleans tobacco)

1 oz. “african rye whiskey”

1 oz. cherry heering

1/2 oz. lemon juice

1/2 oz. dry vermouth (martini rossi)

1 dash of orange bitters (hermes)


The first sip is interesting and reminds me of rusty fruit water (in a good way) then I start to taste all the familiar flavors. The infused whiskey’s flavor integrate so well into the fruit components. This might be even better in a stiffer style cocktail. Another splash of whiskey could fix that. The sour component reminds me of pomegranate synthesized by the extra acid on top of the heering. The dry vermouth is really hard to identify but hopefully its holding it down. Over all, the contrast remind me of Nieto Senetiner’s bonarda from Mendoza. The wine has incredible contrasts of cherry fruit with leather and spice. This is all enhanced by the chewy mouth filling, tannic mouth feel. The dissolved solids in the infusion bring some kind of pleasurable mouth feel to the cocktail.  They are not exactly silky but rather remind you of wine.

It is like smoking indoors while eating fruit. The smoking ban doesn’t hurt so much anymore.

Maccheroncelli Primivera with Falanghina

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At the end of the night I sat down with a new dish from the Menu. I actually made the dish myself with the very close supervision of the sous chef because I barely cook beyond scrambled eggs… I know way too much about food but have been debilitatingly spoiled by chefs for years. The dish has a very dense rigatoni like pasta from Gragnano in southern Italy. The sauce is a porcini crema with a little lemon juice for acidity. Spring vegetables like peas, morels, and pickled fiddle heads are added to the dish. Over all it is green tasting, mushroomy in that porcini kind of way. The pickled fiddle heads lend more acidity to the lemon juice’s subliminal acidity.

In my opinion as delicious as the dish is, this is simple stuff and can’t really justify itself headlining a supposedly alto cucina restaurant’s menu without a pairing worked out to elevate it. My simple strategy was to grab every open bottle of white wine available plus the lightest red (because I feel red barely goes with food), try and call my shots like in shooting pool and see what happens. (I was not very good at calling my shots so I gave up)

With whitehaven’s new zealand sauvignon blanc the flavors of dill were obnoxiously revealed in the wine which i guess paired but was far from fun and elegant


bridlewood’s viognier was too low acid for the dish and tasted thinner


a strange rather full bodied pinot grigio brought into focus intense nut flavors so I guess it might have paired because there was an interesting reaction but it was again not really elegant or worth a second sip. I think this is the style of wine that most books would recommend with this wine in theory but that is why we need new books…


terra di paolo’s falanghina is this very dry white wine with pear like fruit, and very subtle herbaceous notes like pinenut and rosemary… it is so amalfi probably like the dish… but when you drink the wine following a bite of the dish the stunning unembellished flavor of the porcini is reflected back into focus in your mouth contrasted with the beautiful pear flavor in the wine and you have the most ideal pairing… exploring the pickled fiddlehead element of the dish also proved no negatives… though there wasn’t enough of them to explore it with every wine…


the red was barely worth mentioning. edmeades mendacino zinfandel is in my portfolio of advanced food wines but even in its lightness and rare for a zinfandel acidity it was too full bodied for the dish…

Unfortunately restaurants hate investing in pairing R&D but when you can really link food and wine with a successful pairing it is very profitable. People guzzle things that work. They are either trying to figure out how and why the magic happens or enjoying it all simply subliminally. When trying to make money it sucks to see a guy put down his glass of red wine while he enjoys his fish and then doesn’t return to it until he is done.

Would it be weird if restaurants developed perfect wine pairings for every dish with the sole goal of the making money and the art was cast aside solely to move more wine? Amusement and pleasure are only byproducts. Shouldn’t the market system really drive the art and science of food and wine interaction yet it appears to have barely gotten anywhere?