After Midnight Kind of Flavors

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I still have a bottle of Pisco infused with some dried apricots. Like in the Bolivar cocktail, a good use for the simple infusion was for diluting over the top single malt scotches like Lagavulin 16 to create a nice fruit and smoke contrast. Last night a guest wanted a bitter challenging drink so I served one up as so:

1 oz. lagavulin 16
1 oz. apricot infused pisco. (handful of dried apricots in a bottle)
1 oz. “cerasuolo” americano* (substitute vergano’s “americano”)spoonful of chestnut flower honey liqueur (2 parts cognac, 1 part chestnut flower honey in a bottle)
stirred with a flamed orange twist.

The drink really delivers on the fruit and peaty smoke contrast. And the different fruit elements overlap to create a very sexy shade of something like a plum or cherry, but definitely stone fruit summery goodness. The bitter is evidently wormwoody and helps to lengthen the finish of the drink. This is like S&M in a glass so only serve it after midnight.

*this drink uses some proprietary ingredients but besides the cerasuolo americano I made myself, the ingredients are pretty easy to construct. The main technique is to put stuff in a bottle and then strain after a week or so. The chestnut flower honey liqueur is so worth making. The alcohol works as a great solvent and a crystallized honeys with lots of comb solids can easily be made clear and easy to work with. Vergano’s Aperativo Americano is slowly popping up in major cities.

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Sloe Gin Two Ways

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I just got a bottle of Plymouth’s sloe gin and find it quite satisfying. I did describe it on egullet as so:

“I just picked up a bottle of Plymouth sloe gin ($40) at Charles Street Liquors on Beacon Hill. Its pretty cool. The nose has a charming cough syrup kind of character. Its is elegantly sweet but finishes almost dry like there is much more acidity than a liqueur like Cointreau. The botanicals seem to add only subtle nuance and there is no piny juniper leaping out at you.”

My first attempt of playing with the stuff was as follows:

1.5 oz. st. james ambre (my favorite martinique rum)
.5 oz. plymouth sloe gin
.5 oz. yellow chartreuse
1 oz. lemon juice
dash of angostura

This was fantastic and integrated, and even the small amount of sloe gin gave this sour style drink unique identity. I could drink many of these without getting bored from the repetition. But I remembered it so vividly that I didn’t feel the need to drink it again. Instead I re-animated it with my beloved Seagram’s Distiller’s reserve gin.

1.5 oz. seagrams distiller’s reserve
.5 oz. plymouth sloe gin
.5 oz. yellow chartreuse
1 oz. lemon juice
dash angostura

The next day (today) this variation relative to the first was beautiful. The accompaniments are the same but with the change in base, the first thing that came to mind was the aroma of chamomile with a salinity on the palate that didn’t really exist, but might have been brought on by the drier perception of the spirit. This reminded me of a manzanilla sherry lurking under the fruit of the sloes (but certainly not something heavy relative to the manzanilla style like “la cigarrera”). This drink’s synthesis of flavors lurking in my own mind’s personal flavor reference library was really fun but probably lost on less kinky drinkers, oh well.


So some friends came to visit for the afternoon and I took the opportunity to make another cocktail. This theme was fresh in my head with plenty of flavor references ingrained in my subconscious self so I opted to use my distilled version of Hitachino’s white ale from Japan. This is basically a gin like system derived from a highly regarded beer that I’ve drank on many occasions. The botanical system differs from gin by using hops instead of juniper accompanied by orange peel and coriander. The results of Hitachino’s efforts are amazing and completely validates the nearly $2/oz. price. My strategy for working with something Charlie Trotter decadent like this is to use a drink that I’m really familiar with and enjoy so I get a better chance at understanding the new spirits contribution. In this drink the hops create the most beautiful floral quality. In beer you usually encounter it with little fruit flavor contrast but in a cocktail anything is fair game. Here there is the contrast of diluted sloes and Chartreuse. Nothing is redundant and everything gets a chance to speak. wow!

1.5 oz. hitachino’s “kiuchi no shizuku” distilled white ale
.5 oz. plymouth sloe gin
.5 oz. yellow chartreuse
1 oz. lemon juice
dash angostura

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“Bolivar soy yo!” (if you drink enough of these…)

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Every now and then when its scorchingly hot and I crave a respite in cool marbled halls, I slip into the old wing of the Boston Public Library and make sure everything is still there where I left it last summer. The lions still guard the staircase and my favorite busts are still lurking in the cool shadows. An interesting one to incite some day dreams is at the top of the main staircase and to the left by the window that over looks the most underused and stunning courtyard garden in the city. “El Libertador”, Simon Bolivar, this guy liberated all of my favorite booze producing countries from the colonial grip of Spain so that they could start their own paths to culinary greatness. And so, if a drink is named after Bolivar, it doesn’t exactly have to contain any of the fruits of the revolution, it simply must be Bolivar-esque a.k.a. heroic in the spirit.

“the Bolivar”
1.5 oz. lagavulin 16
.5 oz. dried apricot infused pisco (a handful per 750ml of barsol)
1 oz. chamberyzette
1 oz. lime juice
spoonful of simple syrup
dash of angostura bitters

This smells like nothing but intimidation, but its all scotchy smoke and mirrored reflections off mixing glasses. Those brave enough to imbibe “the Bolivar” will find a refuge more reposeful than the BPL.

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Alma’s Whisper…

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Alma’s Whisper
1 oz. blanco tequila (herradura)
1 oz. reposado tequila (herradura)
1 oz. chamberyzette (replica)
1 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes of peychaud’s bitters

I had made this drink quite a few ways and every time it was good, but last night I made it as listed for Roman who is the greatest patron of my cocktails. Roman and I discussed how to name the drink and determined that when consuming something that contained the bottled, but not exactly caged spirits of plant beings, you should be possessed by them and let them whisper to you…

This drink is dominated by loud and impressive agave voices conversing amongst each other amidst a crowd of adolescent, alpine, eavesdroppers… The lime is wise enough to stay silent, but rests itself against the other spirits changing the pitch of what comes out… Last night, according to Roman, the only dialogue that could be deciphered is “the desert is large”…

If you try it out let us know what you hear.

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Putting the “extra” back in extra dry vermouth

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Acidity is my favorite part of a drink. I, like so many people enjoy a dry wine. I, like so many people also enjoy a tart cocktail. The golden ratios are beautiful, such as one ounce of lemon juice to one ounce of Cointreau or the stunning in a mojito, one ounce of 1:1 simple syrup to one ounce of lime juice. Classically, there is barely anything to work with besides lemons and limes. Not enough people take dry vermouth seriously as an acid or very dry sparkling wines., dry sherries., etc. Well one thing I’ve always enjoyed is making some of my favorite slightly dry things drier (dry vermouth, orange juice) and then just plain inventing things (tart pineapple-irish moss syrup).

On the long list of things that needs a drier option is dry vermouth. It is good the way it is, but I also want the lemon strength option. Luckily this can be done in mere seconds.

A couple days ago I bought a bottle of Gallo dry vermouth which really turned out to suck (grapey bland swill). Well I thought it might be more adult if it were drier so I decided to add some acidity. There are lots of options and I could go into them, but I keep lots of malic acid (think apples) around and decided to go with it. Malic is more natural to most fruits and has never steered me wrong. The pH of the Gallo dry vermouth was 3.23 and lemons have a range of 2.1 (Harold McGee) – 2.3 (a random forgotten source)

My test volume was 250 mL and to get to a pH of 2.33 (where I stopped) I had to add 6 grams of malic acid powder. I don’t know why I stopped and I think I should have continued. It may have taken 8 grams to get to 2.1. The powder easily dissolved while stirring at room temperature.

The test cocktail was:

2 oz. batavia arrack van oosten (my favorite spirit)

1 oz. adulterated dry vermouth

1 oz. simple syrup (400 g/L)


The cocktail is pretty cool. This is like a lemon sour but sort of different. Same tartness and sweetness but with a different flavor contrast for the spirit. The grapiness of the vermouth is a delicate foil for the expressiveness and pungent character of the arrack. Of course bitters would make it better.

I think I’m going to try this again with Noilly Prat or stock and take the pH all the way down to 2.1. Maybe I’ll even ceviche some shrimp savoy style while I’m at it.

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More Fun (or not) With Seville Orange Juice

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I still have a little bit of the Seville sour orange juice left so I thought I would sit down and try it in a drink. Having liked the Gilroy cocktail from the savoy cocktail book and having parodied it many times I thought that would be another good place to begin.

1 oz. gin (seagram’s cask aged distiller’s reserve)

1 oz. cherry heering

.5 oz. dry vermouth (M&R)

.5 oz. sour orange juice (the real stuff)

2 dashes peychauds bitters. (orange bitters seemed redundent)

This isn’t working for me and I think I need to add more acid. The Gilroy is already a low acid cocktail but using the lower acid orange juice over lemon juice puts it just over the tipping point of cloying. Adding another half ounce of the orange juice saves the drink and really seems to bring into balance some of the flavor contrasts.

For my second cocktail I thought I’d explore the elusive Amer Picon with the equally elusive sour orange juice.

2 oz. st. james ambre

1 oz. sour orange juice

.5 oz. amer picon (21 proof version)

scant half teaspoon of turbinado sugar

dash of peychaud’s bitters

I liked this drink a lot but probably not because of the special ingredients. More or less because St. James is good for the human condition and it is lately my favorite spirit. I get beautiful flavor contrast from the orange peel of the Picon and the orange juice of the acid versus the dirt and earth spicy character of the rum. The acid to sugar structure is perfect and the bitter elements are subliminal. You don’t exactly know if they are there but you’d miss them if they were gone. All in all I think the rum makes the drink. If you used something other than Amer Picon paired with an over the top cocktail bitter you’d get a stunning drink from the St. James sour orange combo.

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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 stay tuned.

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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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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.