Breakfast in a Glass

IMG_20150709_094305Eggs in a cocktail? Raw? Preposterous! Well, no. It would be preposterous if the eggs were cooked perhaps, but there is a long history of eggs in cocktails. Lots of drinks, like whiskey sours, combine egg white with citrus to provide a frothy, creamy texture. When you use the whole egg, it’s called a “flip,” variations of which go back to the 16th century. Flips are mentioned in some of the works of Dickens. Jerry Thomas, in 1887, said that a flip “gives strength to delicate people.” Well, I was feeling a little delicate earlier this morning, and now I’m feeling as strong as a race horse. Of course, there is always some risk in consuming raw eggs. That’s our disclaimer. However, if you know where your eggs come from, that’s half the battle. We get farm fresh, free-range, hormone-free eggs every week from our CSA, and I try to pull out the smallest ones for cocktails.

One variety of flip that is still popular around the holidays is eggnog. A lot of people dont’ realize you can make eggnog by the glass with milk, an egg, sugar, and (optionally) the spirit of your choice (we like ours with brandy). But a flip can be enjoyed any time of year, particularly when you are hung over. Fortified wines are great in flips. These include sherry, port, madeira, marsala, and vermouth. Our favorite flip, is made with a combination of gin and sherry, and we make it thusly:

IMG_20150709_095020Solera Gin Flip

  • 1 oz London dry gin
  • 1 oz solera sherry
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1 small farm-fresh egg

Put all the ingredients in a shaker and shake for 30 seconds with NO ICE. This will make it fluffy. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh-grated nutmeg.

A note on sherry: There are many varieties of sherry and also great disparity in quality. We picked solera sherry for this drink because it has a sweet, but not too sweet, nutty flavor that we enjoy.

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Meditations on the Martini

IMG_20150609_172925The Classic Martini is the godfather of cocktails. Although other drinks, including its cousin the Manhattan, predate it, the Martini is a yardstick by which we measure virtually all other drinks. It is likely that no other cocktail has been so misunderstood by history and bastardized by misguided trends. And yet no other cocktail shines with such simple elegance. I will first tell you how to make a proper martini, and then I will discuss the merits and demerits of its many variations.

First, a recipe:

  • 2 ounces of Plymouth gin
  • ½ ounce of Dolin Blanc vermouth
  • 1 dash of Regan’s orange bitters

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Fill with ice and stir about fifty times, until at least 1/3 of the ice has melted. Strain into a coupe glass or small martini glass.

Cut a generous slice of peel (careful to avoid pith) from a fresh lemon, and rub the outside of it over the edge of the glass. Then squeeze the lemon over the glass so that a few drops of lemon oil float on top of the drink. Discard the peel, or twist it into a spiral to use as a garnish.

This is a proper Classic Martini. Note that it uses gin, not vodka. Note that it uses lemon peel, not an olive or an onion. Note that it uses a brand of vermouth that costs more than six dollars. Note that it uses bitters. These are all necessary to provide the crisp, clean, complex, refreshing beacon of light that the Classic Martini represents. When we want to enjoy a classic cocktail, it is like stepping into a time machine. The ingredients above are the best modern representations of the ingredients that would have been used when the martini was at the pinnacle of its fame, in the years just before Prohibition.

If you prefer a martini on the rocks rather than straight up, that’s your business. It isn’t our preference, but it’s acceptable in polite society.

Perhaps the most common variation is the “dirty” martini, which uses olives as a garnish and a splash of olive juice to give the drink a briny flavor. Unlike the erstwhile fictional detective Stone Coldwater in our serialized novel, this is not an abomination to us. It has its time and place. We are tempted to say that the time and place is in the 1970s at a golf resort or yacht club. Though not entirely offensive, it is rare that we are in the mood for a dirty martini these days, especially at a bar, where the state of the olives and olive brine may be questionable. Even at home, we have strayed away from this variation of late, although we used to enjoy them from time to time in the early days of our cocktail explorations. That being said, done well, a dirty martini can be reminiscent of a beautiful day at the beach, the salty scent and soothing roar of the waves, the clean air, the sand between your toes. Gaze through the haze of olive brine at the refracting light of your bar-side lamp, and you can imagine the sun setting gently behind the ocean.

Another variant is the Gibson, which uses a small pickled onion instead of an olive. We have never had any use whatsoever for this drink.

A variation that took hold in the late 20th century is the vodka martini. Vodka lacks the depth that gin gives the drink. The herbal and floral notes of gin play well with the herbal and floral notes of the vermouth, and the bitters tie it all together in a nice, clean package. The key word here is clean. We don’t mean to denigrate vodka, generally, but we respectfully don’t think it belongs in a martini. We especially don’t agree with the idea of an “extra extra dry vodka martini” which is really just chilled vodka in a glass. If there is no vermouth and no bitters, it isn’t a cocktail, and if it isn’t a cocktail, it isn’t a martini.

We will not speak of “fun”-tinis. Those really are an abomination, and we have already said too much about them by even mentioning them by name.

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.

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.

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

Basil Cocktails

Hi folks, and welcome to the Whiskey Thief blog. Here, Jen and I will document our cocktailing adventures.

I thought we’d start with a recent home experiment. The basil plant out back was looking particularly fluffy last week, so we decided to play around with some basil cocktails.

The first is a variation on a traditional gin smash. The picture is a bit out of focus because I’m a terrible photographer. Just don’t click to make it larger, and it won’t give you seizures.

Yes, we are such liquor nerds that we make our own cucumber gin, but you can just use Hendrick’s. We’ll post something soon about all our various homemade gin experiments.

smashCucumber Basil Smash

2 oz homemade cucumber gin (or Hendrick’s)
1/2 oz St. Germain
1/2 oz lemon juice
4 muddled basil leaves

Shaken and served up in a coupe glass with a basil garnish.

For the next one, Jen wanted something with a bit of spice. We dug up a jar of strawberry and jalapeno jam from the back of the pantry, and then we melted it down with some water to make a syrup. I don’t know about you, but when I think of jalapenos, I think about Mexico, and when I think about Mexico, I think about tequila. So here’s what we came up with.

This picture didn’t come out quite as blurry as the other one. I think after the first round, my hands got a bit steadier.

CholulaThe Basilisk

2 oz reposado tequila
3/4 oz strawberry pepper syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
4 muddled basil leaves
3-4 drops of Cholula hot sauce

 Shaken and served up in a coupe glass with a basil garnish.