The Mixology Monday Challenge this month is about coconuts, right in the footsteps of a recent pineapple challenge. There is something delicious about a proper Piña Colada made with fresh ingredients that I could not resist. For the coconut element, using fresh coconut water instead of cream preserves the coconut flavor but cut downs considerably on the sweetness, which is a good thing. There is no need to compensate by adding sugar – pineapple is plenty sweet on its own. My pineapple had the right balance of sweetness and acidity and was fine as is, but if it’s very sweet, adding a squeeze of lime juice can help make flavors pop.
Cocktails with orange juice are evil, I’ve always been convinced. No matter how hard I try, I cannot find too many good things to say about The Bronx or the Blood and Sand. Even PDT could not get the Monkey Gland right. All these cocktails seem to compensate for their inadequacy with catchy names. Continue reading
Tiki Oasis, the annual festival of all things tiki, begins tonight in San Diego. It is the 14th edition of the largest tiki gathering, and an occasion to meet fellow tiki lovers from all over the world, in an environment that includes live music, exotic cocktails, seminars, and art shows.
After a great dinner at the Corner Room in Bethnal Green, I decided to check out nearby bar Satan’s Whiskers which had just opened a few months back. The bar, indicated by a red neon sign, had the expected decor of hipster cocktail lounges with a tasteful mix of brick, reclaimed items, light bulbs with visible filaments, a selection of taxidermied and accessorized animals, a unicorn skeleton, and an ironic old school hip hop soundtrack.
Lately I’ve been mixing with armagnac, cognac’s lesser known cousin. Armagnac and cognac are both distilled from grapes, but unlike cognac which is twice distilled in pot stills, armagnac is typically distilled only once in column stills, which results in a different flavor profile. Whereas cognac is smooth and refined, armagnac has a lot more character and roughness which makes it very interesting in cocktails.
So for this month’s Mixology Monday Smash Challenge, I decided to use armagnac as the base spirit. It’s also fitting that, historically, smashes used to be made with brandy before whiskey smashes became more popular. My inspiration for the drink was a traditional French pairing, plum and armagnac. In France you often see a simple dessert of Agen pruneaux (dried plums) with armagnac. Armagnac and the best prunes come from Gascony in southwestern France, so it’s only natural to serve them together.
Plums are in season and I had on hand a variety of pluot (Flavor King, a plum-apricot hybrid) from Frog Hollow Farm that I decided to incorporate in the cocktail. They are very sweet and have a slight acidic bite. To reinforce the plum flavor, I also used some plum eau-de-vie. Combining armagnac with the eau-de-vie gave depth to the cocktail. I added a touch of lemon juice for acidity. The plums were quite sweet so I did not have to add sugar or simple syrup. I garnished the drink with a slice of fresh plum and a couple of brandied cherries, plus fresh mint from my patio.
The Corner Room is a restaurant at the Town Hall, a boutique hotel in Bethnal Green in East London. At the time of my visit, the restaurant was in transition, with its star chef Nuno Mendes having recently moved on to Chiltern Firehouse, and his Michelin-starred restaurant Viajante, also at Town Hall, closed for an update (it has since been reopened as The Typing Room with chef Lee Westcott at the helm).
The Corner Room has a calm and casual vibe, with attentive service and extreme attention to detail. There is a lot of emphasis on the ingredients, with preparations that highlight them in unique ways with the use of other elements for little pops of flavors or texture. The dishes are delicate and refined. The small plate format gives an occasion to try a larger variety of dishes. The restaurant reminded me a bit of Relae in Coppenhaggen (this is very high praise, as Relae was one of my most memorable meals in recent years).
Beavertown 8 Ball rye IPA
I started off the meal with some bread and a bottle of Beavertown 8 Ball rye IPA, an American-style IPA brewed in London. It was caramel-colored and had a nice mix of spicy rye and resinous hops. Very impressed, I will make sure to look for more of Beavertown’s offerings during future London trips.
Polite Provisions won the Spirited Award for Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar last week at Tales of the Cocktail, the New Orleans cocktail festival. It’s great to see San Diego recognized, although there are other establishments of similar caliber that certainly merit a nod (maybe next year?). Craft & Commerce had been nominated in the same category in 2012. The full list of TOTC winners available on Difford’s also prominently includes London’s Artesian, which was crowned the World’s Best Bar (see here for my impressions).
The other exciting news from this weekend is that Stone has announced that they will be opening their first European brewery in Berlin in 2015-2016. This has been years in the works. Similar to the San Diego set-up, the facility will include a production brewery, a restaurant, and gardens. See here for the official press release.