Aviation Cocktail

Aviation 2The storied history of the rise, fall, and restoration of the Aviation cocktail is one of mystery and misfortune. Legend says that it was first made in 1908, the same year that the Wright Brothers took their first passenger up in the air. Its invention is attributed to Hugo Ensslin, a bartender at New York’s Hotel Wallick, who published the recipe in 1916. The drink was reportedly named in honor of the increasingly popular activity in the skies, represented by the drink’s pale blue color.

However, by the end of the 1920s, the ingredient that gave it that sky blue hue, crème de violette, was not being produced commercially anymore. The Aviation cocktail, being one of its only uses, was apparently not quite popular enough to keep the violet liqueur in demand. In 1930, the wildly popular Savoy Cocktail Book printed a recipe for the Aviation that simply omitted the crème de violette. From there, things got weird. During the many decades when crème de violette was absent from the market, some tried to use other blue liqueurs such as creme Yvette, parfait d’amour, and even (blech) blue curacao as a substitute. Although the color was close, the flavor profile was not there.

Fortunately, in 2007, the Rothman & Winter company began importing crème de violette into the U.S. and the original Aviation once again became available, and a few years later, any bartender worth his bitters has it in his repertoire.

Aviation 1Classic Aviation

  • 2 ounces dry gin
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce crème de violette

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe.

As long as you are investing in that crème de violette, here are a few other things you can do with it. One popular variation on the Aviation is the Blue Moon cocktail, which simply omits the maraschino. Another is the Moonlight cocktail, which uses lime juice instead of lemon and Cointreau instead of maraschino. The Jupiter adds a little fresh-squeezed orange juice to the classic Aviation recipe.

You can also sip the liqueur by itself over ice, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Georgia by Jack Wyrick

Photo by Cameron Carnes

Photo by Cameron Carnes

Jack Wyrick, formerly of Octane and Collins Bar, is the inventor of the Georgia, which won Birmingham’s local final in the GQ/Bombay Sapphire “Most Imaginative Bartender” competition. As a result, Jack will be headed to Las Vegas in September to compete nationally. She has generously shared her recipe with us here.

Unfortunately for us, Jack is no longer working in Birmingham. If you want to try her other cocktails, you”ll have to track her down in Nashville where she is will reportedly be working at the Patterson House and other fine establishments.

The Georgia is a refreshing take on a classic Martini or Vesper, adding in Salers bitter apertif to give the drink more body and bite.

Photo by Cameron Carnes

Photo by Cameron Carnes

 

Georgia

  • 1 1/4 oz Bombay Sapphire
  • 3/4 oz Grey Goose Vodka
  • 1/2 oz Martini Bianco vermouth
  • 1/2 oz Salers apertif

Stir with strip of lemon peel, being careful to avoid pith when peeling. Strain into coupe. Atomize Leyland-Cypress-infused orange bitters on to surface of cocktail. Garnish with a blackberry and spruce tip.

The Bengal Tiger

BengalTiger_3This week saw the local final in Birmingham for GQ/Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition for 2014. The winner, Jack Wyrick, will go to Las Vegas in September to compete nationally. We took part in the competition ourselves, and though we didn’t win, we thought we made a pretty good showing. In the coming days, we hope to share recipes from some of the other participants, but today, we’ll give you our own concoction invented for the contest: The Bengal Tiger.

We began our brainstorming with a classic called the Aviation. One thing we have always liked about an Aviation is the velvety texture that the maraschino provides, balanced with the floral notes of the gin and violet. We wanted to create something that had a similar mouth feel and floral qualities but with more complexity, so we started by substituting Yellow Chartreuse for the Crème de Violette.

For additional herbal punch, we added a few drops of a fennel seed tincture. We’ve been getting fennel from our local CSA this summer, and we’ve really enjoyed experimenting with this versatile and flavorful herb.

The star of this drink is black pepper. Although regular Bombay Sapphire doesn’t include peppercorns among its botanicals, its sister product Sapphire East does include them. So we knew pepper would play well with the essential Sapphire flavor profile. We made a peppercorn syrup because the extra spice required a little extra sweetness for balance. Bombay Sapphire has a higher proof than other gins in the Bombay family, which helps it stand up to all these bold flavors.

We added the orange slice and additional fresh ground pepper as a garnish mainly for the colors. We named this drink the Bengal Tiger because of the yellow and black colors or the drink and because it has a serious bite. In addition, South India, including the region of Bengal, is one of the areas where black pepper is native.

To make this drink, there are a couple of things you have to make first, but we think it’s worth the work. Both the peppercorn syrup and the fennel tincture make good additions to a Bloody Mary, and we think there are plenty of other uses, which we’ll be exploring here in future posts.

Black Peppercorn Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon of whole black peppercorns

Add all ingredients to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and you have a soft boil. Turn heat to low and let simmer an additional 5-10 minutes, then remove from the heat. After the mixture cools, strain out the peppercorns using cheesecloth and funnel into a bottle for storage.

Fennel Seed Tincture

  • 1 cup 100-proof vodka
  • 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds

Add fennel seeds to vodka in a glass jar and keep in a cool, dry place. After 3-4 days, strain out the seeds. Funnel the mixture into a dropper bottle.

BengalTiger_2The Bengal Tiger

  • 2 ounces Bombay Sapphire gin
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce black peppercorn syrup
  • ¼ ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • ¼ ounce Yellow Chartreuse
  • 6 drops fennel seed tincture

Add all ingredients to a shaker 2/3 full of ice. Shake and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with half an orange slice and fresh cracked pepper.

If you want to be cute, cut the orange slice in quarters to make tiger ears.

Switch Hitters

We were reminded at a recent seminar that switching one base liquor for another is one of the oldest bartender tricks in existence. There is often some other tweaking involved besides just making a substitution.

For example, let’s start with a basic Daiquiri: rum + lime + sugar.

Take that recipe and switch brandy for the rum and lemon for the lime. Optionally, add triple sec for extra citrus and sweetness. Also optionally, add sugar to the rim of the glass. Now you have a Sidecar.

Switch out tequila for the brandy and switch the sugar rim for a salt rim. You can use lemon or lime or a combination. Now you have your basic Margarita.

You may not know that several drinks we associate with whiskey today, notably the Sazerac and the Mint Julep, were originally made with brandy or cognac. The switch was made during a period of grape blight when cognac became much harder to get (and subsequently more expensive). Over the past week, we have been enjoying both of those cocktails with brandy as the base liquor, and the result is delicious. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that brandy/cognac is sweeter than bourbon or rye, so you can get away with using a little less sugar.

We like to use Christian Brothers XO brandy or Hennessy VSOP cognac. You might try substituting other fine brandies or eaux de vie in yours and see what you come up with.

julepBrandy Mint Julep

  • Muddle a few leaves of mint with 1/2 ounce of simple syrup in a rocks glass (or make a batch of mint syrup, if you prefer)
  • Add two ounces of brandy/cognac
  • Fill glass with crushed ice.
  • Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

In the Wikipedia article on the Manhattan cocktail, there are numerous variations that do little more than switch out the base liquor. Some also switch to a different type of vermouth. For example, if you make a Cuban Manhattan, which subs light rum for the whiskey, you might want to use a dry vermouth instead of sweet. The dry vermouth will help counter the sweetness of the rum, and if you are using a white rum, you will still have a crystal clear cocktail (as long as you stir it; don’t shake!)

Or you could try our variation, which uses Punt e Mes, a sweet vermouth with a kind of bitter edge to it. We also prefer an aged rum like Flor de Cana 4-year. If you are feeling really fancy, use the 12-year.

Cuban Manhattan

  • 2 ounces aged rum
  • 1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • stir in a mixing glass full of ice to desired level of dilution
  • strain into a coupe glass
  • garnish with lemon peel

The ancestor of the Sidecar and the Margarita–the granddaddy of all “fancy” cocktails–is the Crusta. Though it was originally made with brandy, there was a time around the Civil War era when it was popular with gin. The style of gin you would most likely have found at that time was Old Tom. We recommend buying Ransom’s brand of Old Tom if you can find it. Otherwise, make your own.

CrustaOld Tom Crusta

  • Carve a long spiral of lemon peel, about an inch wide.
  • Cut the lemon in half and rub the rim of a coupe glass with the lemon
  • Rim the glass with sugar (rub the lemon on the glass first, so the sugar will stick)
  • Place the lemon spiral in the middle of the glass.
  • Add the following to a shaker full of ice:
    • 2 ounces of Old Tom gin
    • 1/2 ounce lemon juice (protip: use the same lemon you peeled earlier)
    • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
    • 1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • Shake and strain mixture into the glass.

 

 

 

 

 

The Negroni and Its Cousins

IMG_20140130_175123The Negroni is a classic cocktail that has its origins in Italy after World War I, and it features two classic Italian ingredients: amaro and sweet vermouth. It has come to be one of the all-stars of the classic cocktail revival movement.

Amaro is the Italian word for bitter, and amari are bitter liqueurs produced in Italy (or sometimes in France, though the French have different names for them). The Italians were also the earliest purveyors of fine sweet (red) vermouth, while the French were better known early on for dry (white) vermouth. Nowadays, you can find good brands from all over making both sweet and dry vermouth, but the most interesting sweet vermouth still comes from Italy.

The classic Negroni has equal parts gin, Campari amaro, and sweet vermouth–one ounce of each. Campari is distinguished by its bright red color, which originally came from the use of crushed insects. You will no doubt be pleased to learn that Campari stopped using the insect dye (aka carmine dye) in 2006. It has a strong bitter herbal flavor with notes of citrus.

Classic Negroni

  • 1 oz dry gin
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth

Stir and strain into a coupe or small rocks glass. Garnish with flaming orange peel (we’ll talk about that trick another day. If you can’t pull it off, just use a regular orange peel).

The Negroni can have endless variations, depending on the type of gin (or other base liquor), type of amaro, and type of vermouth you use.

A word on vermouth:

The two most common brands of vermouth you will see in stores are Gallo and Martini Rossi. I NEVER EVER USE EITHER OF THESE BRANDS for any drink. In Birmingham, you can get a decent selection of vermouth at Whole Foods, the Western in Mountain Brook, V. Richards, or Highland Package store. Keep your vermouth in the fridge after opening, and it will last a good while.

The first Negronis I ever had used Carpano Antica Formula for the vermouth, but a lot of mixologists say that Carpano is too sweet, and the vanilla notes overwhelm the drink. Similarly, Punt e Mes can be used to add an almost chocolaty herbal flavor to the Negroni, but it may be overpowering for many palates. The failsafe is to use a decent but mild sweet vermouth like Cochi Torino.

As for the gin, I would go with any call-brand London dry gin–Beefeater, Tanqueray, or Bombay are all fine options. I’ve heard of people using Genever in Negronis, which sounds interesting, but I have yet to try it out. I’ve also made some really interesting Negronis using Hendricks.

The Cousins

If you start switching out the base liquor or the amaro, the drink will go by another name. As I said earlier, the possibilities are nearly infinite once you start experimenting.

A close cousin of the classic Negroni is a drink called the Raultini, which substitutes the milder Aperol for Campari. A second cousin once-removed is the Boulevardier, which starts with a Raultini and substitutes rye for the gin. Jack Wyrick, a bartender at Octane and all-around cool person, told me about a nifty variation called the Negroni Bianco, which uses Salers amaro and dry vermouth, along with gin.

All of these variations use equal parts base liquor, amaro, and vermouth. Some mixologists also play around with doing these drinks Manhattan style with 2 oz of base liquor and a half ounce each of the bitter and vermouth. This is a very successful method if you want to get drunk faster, but it loses the essential character that makes it a Negroni, in our humble opinion.

Rosemary Cocktails

We made some rosemary syrup for some experiment that we neglected to document. The syrup itself is simple enough to make. Add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary to the pot while making regular simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water) and then strain the rosemary out before jarring. Any sort of herbal syrup, like mint syrup for juleps, would be made the same way and can add a spring to the step of an otherwise ordinary cocktail.

Anyway, it’s been in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and since we don’t know how long it will last, we decided to try and use some of it tonight on a few new experiments. For the first one, we tried a sweet spin on the classic Complement Cocktail, which normally uses akvavit, a Scandinavian liquor that is similar to gin but uses fennel for flavoring instead of juniper. Since you can’t get akvavit in Alabama, we made a a fennel tincture by letting some fennel sit in a jar of vodka for a couple of weeks. We keep the tincture in a dropper  bottle because a little goes a long way.

Rosemary ClooneyThe Rosemary Clooney

  • 2 oz London dry gin
  • 1/2 oz rosemary syrup
  • 1/2 oz St. Germain
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 6 drops of fennel tincture

For our second drink of the night, we chose to use tequila and Armagnac, two ingredients that don’t usually get a lot of love in cocktails. We added a splash of Campari to brighten things up.

The Song of the Forest People

  • 2 oz reposado tequila
  • 1/2 oz rosemary syrup
  • 1/2 oz vsop Armagnac
  • splash of Campari
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Finally, we decided to try the rosemary syrup with a bourbon cocktail. We happened to have a jar of bourbon infused with mustard seed, which we were inspired to make after having a cocktail with mustard seed apple brandy at Food Bar one night. It seemed like it would go well with the rosemary. The dry sherry and Luxardo helped to round it out.

The Spring Chicken

  • 2 0z mustard seed-infused bourbon
  • 1/2 oz rosemary syrup
  • 1/2 oz dry sherry
  • 1/2 oz Luxardo marischino liqueur

Dog’s Nose

We had read once that a Dog’s Nose is two ounces of gin mixed with beer. Sounds awful, and it is–if that’s all you do. We assumed any American lager style beer would do, and that it was served cold. Wrong! A proper Dog’s Nose should be served warm with a little sugar and a little nutmeg, and it needs a heavier beer like a porter or stout.

Somewhere in our travels across the internets, we came across a book called called Drinking with Dickens, which is quite fascinating for many reasons, one of which is that it is written by the grandson of Charles Dickens. It also goes into detail about all the various types of alcohol being consumed in all of Dickens’ novels. And finally, its recipe for the Dog’s Nose is not just drinkable; it’s delicious and a perfect addition to a chilly November evening in front of the fireplace.

For historical accuracy, I used Hayman’s Old Tom gin, and I’ve also had good results using Bols Genever. Any gin you happen to have around will probably work fine though.

Dogs Nose

16 oz Guinness
2 oz of gin
1 tablespoon of brown sugar

Warm ingredients in a saucepan (medium heat) until hot but not boiling. Pour into two large coffee mugs and sprinkle with nutmeg and/or cinnamon.

The Gin Experiments

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a recipe for making your own gin at home, safely and legally. No bathtubs are involved. You see, at heart, gin is really just a neutral grain alcohol that has been infused with juniper berries and other botanical ingredients. It’s been said that gin is the original flavored vodka, although it was once something more like flavored moonshine.

A little history:
IMG_20131106_195152_294
In the 18th century, whiskey and gin started off in generally the same way, by distilling whatever grains happened to be around. In those days, distilling methods were pretty low tech — think your typical backwoods moonshine still, not terribly clean, perhaps infested with bugs. To improve the flavor of their product, whiskey makers started aging it in wine casks or oak barrels. In Holland, they used some commonly found botanicals to add flavor–most notably, the juniper berry. The Dutch word for “juniper” is “genever,” so Dutch liquor became known by that name, later shortened to just “gin.”

Genever, still made today by the Dutch company Bols, is maltier, sweeter, and earthier than the dry gins most of us are more familiar with today. English distilleries in the nineteenth century created a more filtered gin, still slightly sweet, called Old Tom.  In the twentieth century, a drier and even more heavily filtered version of gin gained popularity, London Dry, which was the only gin most Americans knew about for decades. More recently, older styles of gin have become popular again, and some companies are making a wide variety of gins. The only common factor is the trusty old juniper berry.

If you think you don’t like gin, you probably just haven’t had the right one yet.

GinMost commercial gins include the juniper and other botanicals before distilling, which is why the result is a clear liquor. However, without access to a still, you can simply infuse the botanicals directly into already distilled liquor. Because the berries and other stuff goes straight into the liquid, it will end up with some color to it, but don’t let that scare you.

There are a lot of recipes online for homemade gin. I started with something similar to the one I found here and gradually experimented with some other recipes. For all of these recipes, I leave the botanicals in the alcohol for 3 days and then filter out the solids using cheese cloth.

The first gin we made here at the Whiskey Thief is something we now simply call Gin #1. It uses a lot of spices that you might associate with Indian food–cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, etc. It tastes like Christmas morning.

Gin #1

  • 750 ml of 100 proof vodka
  • 2 tablespoons of dried juniper berries
  • 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of allspice berries
  • peel of half an orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick

I have also used whiskey as a base for Gin #1, instead of vodka. It makes for an interesting spiced whiskey, but I don’t think it’s really gin unless you start with something more neutral.

Jen likes Gin #1, but I find the coriander overly intense. When I revised the recipe, I cut way back on the coriander and added some clove. I also switched from vodka to a white (unaged) whiskey, aka moonshine, hoping to achieve a sweeter Old Tom-like gin. Having compared the result to some Old Tom gins purchased in another state, I think ours is a contender.

Old Tom #1

  • 750 ml of white whiskey (I like to use Prichard’s)
  • 2 tablespoons of dried juniper berries
  • 1 teaspoon of clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of allspice berries
  • peel of half an orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick

After that, I decided to see what it would be like to concentrate just on juniper without any other flavor components. Juniper actually has a really complex and interesting flavor on its own, with subtle notes of cinnamon and vanilla that can easily get covered up by citrus peel and other spices.

Super Juniper

  • 750 ml of 100-proof vodka
  • 4 tablespoons of dried juniper berries

That’s it!

The most recent and possibly most ambitious experiment has been to try and make a cucumber gin. Commercially, the only thing on the market like this is Hendrick’s, and it’s rather expensive. For my first attempt, I used too much cucumber, and I neglected to peel them first. The peel of the cucumber left the gin tasting bitter. With some trial and error, I came up with a recipe that we think has a similar flavor profile to Hendrick’s, but it’s much stronger. We had to cut it with more vodka to achieve the desired result.

As a bonus, we had gin-flavored pickles at the end. They still needed to be sweetened, but putting them in a mason jar with some sugar for a couple of days did the trick.

Cuke Juke Gin

  • 750 ml of 100-proof vodka
  • 2 tablespoons of dried juniper berries
  • half a small cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • peel of one lemon