Marmalade skies

The theme for this month’s Mixology Monday, Preserves, could not have arrived at a better time. A few weeks ago, armed with a good knife, a very large pot, and a lot of patience, I made a traditional British marmalade.

It’s been a few years now that I’ve been trying to track down the elusive Seville oranges. They are not commonly found in stores and have a short season. So I was quite excited when I saw them appear at Specialty Produce, my local source for produce. Bumpy, thick-skinned and full of seeds, with an intensely bitter juice, they are not the friendliest of fruit. But under the right conditions, they can become sublime.
Seville oranges

To make the marmalade, I used the juice of six bitter oranges together with one navel orange. I saved the seeds and placed them in a muslin bag (the seeds are a good source of pectin for the jam). I cleaned the rind and cut it into thin slices, before cooking them in a large pot with the orange juice, 2.5 liters of water, the orange seed bag, and a pinch of salt. The orange rind became translucent after about 30 minutes, at which point I added 1.7 kg of sugar and continued cooking at a gentle boil. I had some apple pectin (~ 120 g) from another jam project so I added that to the pot as well. I cooked the marmalade until it reached close to 220F (the gelling point), which took about 2 to 3 hours (note to self – it’s not a good idea to start a batch of marmalade on a weekday evening…). At that point I filled the marmalade into jars, which I closed and turned upside down to cool.

Homemade bitter orange marmalade for breakfast

The next morning, I was able to enjoy my marmalade at breakfast on buttered English muffins. And then when the theme of MxMo was announced, I started using the marmalade into cocktails. A very simple one is the Omar Bradley, an Old Fashioned variation. The main difficulty is to blend the marmalade well enough so it mixes well with the other ingredients. Some recipes call for lemon juice and shaking the whole thing, but I thought that it defeated the purpose of an easy-to make cocktail requiring no fresh ingredients. So I added a spoonful of marmalade (avoiding the peel) into an old-fashioned glass, muddled, added a few dashes of Angostura bitters, and gradually poured the bourbon while mixing with a spoon. Then I added a large ice cube and stirred some more. The bitterness of the orange was a great match for the spice and citrus in the Elijah Craig bourbon. An easy-to-like cocktail.

Omar Bradley: Elijah Craig bourbon, bitter orange marmalade, Angostura bitters
Old-fashioned glass | barspoon marmalade | Angostura bitters | 2 oz bourbon | muddle | add ice | stir | orange peel garnish

For my next cocktail, I revisited the Paddington from the PDT Cocktail Book, a creation by David Slape. Named after the famous bear and his love of marmalade sandwiches, the Paddington reminds me of the Corpse Reviver No.2. It’s a sour with three different types of citrus: lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and orange marmalade. Lillet blanc and the marmalade provide the sweetness, while an absinthe rinse creates an intoxicating sillage. For the rum, I selected J.M rhum agricole , which has enough flavor to stand up to the other ingredients. The result was a cocktail that was crisp and light, and therefore very accessible, while being complex and interesting. The marmalade added a bitterness that gave depth to the drink.
Paddington (David Slape): rhum agricole, Lillet, grapefruit & lemon, Seville orange marmalade, St. George absinthe
Paddington | 1.5  oz rum | 1/2 oz Lillet | 1/2 oz grapefruit juice | 1/2 oz lemon juice | barspoon marmalade | shake | strain into absinthe-rinse coupe | grapefruit garnish

Thank you to Fred for moderating MxMo and Craig at A World of Drinks for selecting an inspiring theme this month!




The Alaska

We are getting to the official end of winter, so it’s my last opportunity for a while to talk about the Alaska, an icy cold and crisp Martini alternative.

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2 1/4 oz London dry gin | 3/4 oz yellow Chartreuse | dash each Fee Brothers  and Regan’s orange bitters | stir on ice | strain into chilled cocktail glass | lemon twist garnish

I had my first Alaska a few months ago at Bankers’ Hill where Christian Siglin (formerly of Craft & Commerce) has been heading the bar since last year. I was aware of the drink after reading about it in the Savoy Cocktail book, but did not have a bottle of yellow chartreuse at home to play with at the time. The waitress cautioned me strongly when I placed my order (“it’s a GIN martini that you should only order if you really like GIN. Really it’s just GIN with just a touch of chartreuse and bitters “- like it was a bad thing!). I lied a little and said that I was a (home) bartender so she would let me order it.

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Alaska cocktail (right) at Bankers’ Hill

Anyway, I really like this cocktail. It is excellent alternative to a Martini when you want to taste the subtleties of a very nice gin. Green chartreuse would probably not work very well in this cocktail because it would overpower everything. The yellow chartreuse which is milder in flavor and lower proof is a much better fit.

The gin I used is a London dry distilled in the middle of London by Sipsmith. It has the typical profile of a London dry with strong juniper and citrus notes. It also has some coriander in the finish with a hint of sweetness. Even though this gin has a strong juniper flavor, it remains retrained and harmonious. It’s also great in a Gin Fix.

I am not sure of the origin of the Alaska cocktail, and the Savoy Cocktail book is not especially helpful:

So far as can be ascertained this delectable potion is NOT the staple diet of the Esquimaux. It was probably first thought of in South Carolina – hence its name.

The cocktail itself highlights the gin while the chartreuse adds an herbal element. It’s spirit-forward and elegant. Like a Martini and in keeping with its name, it is best served icy cold.

Vinegar Girl

The theme for this month’s Mixology Monday was Sours, which may be the largest cocktail category. MxMo challenges are a good opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone, so I decided not to use citrus as my source of acidity. Instead, I experimented by making my first shrub.

A shrub is a drinking vinegar made by mixing fruit with vinegar and sugar. I find this especially appealing because I am a vinegar fiend – after eating a salad, I like to drink every last bit of vinaigrette from my plate (no, I don’t do this in fine dining establishments, only in the comfort of my own home). I like vinegar so much I even own a vinegar (and beer) shampoo (which I don’t drink, although it is very tempting).

I’ve been making a lot of calvados + scotch drinks these past few months and wanted to use this as my base. Calvados is distilled from apples sometimes mixed with pears, so I went with a pear shrub. To make the shrub, I mixed equal parts mashed Bosc pear, sugar, and apple cider vinegar. I let the mixture steep in the fridge for a week before filtering out the pear. I used egg white in the cocktail to temper the shrub somewhat.

My first version of the cocktail was too vinegar-forward and the acidity masked the scotch almost completely. I corrected the course by adding simple syrup, and a couple of dashes of Peychaud’s to round up the flavors. The resulting version was much more harmonious and had a brightness evocative of pear eau de vie in the finish.

Vinegar Girl for MxMo Sours
1.5 oz calvados | 1/2 oz scotch | 1/2 oz pear shrub | simple syrup to taste (I used 1/2 oz) | 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters | egg white | mix with stick blender | shake with ice | strain into coupe | grated tonka bean garnish

Next I wanted to play with a drink that already contained pear eau de vie. In Toby Maloney’s Williams Fizz, lemon juice is the acidic component. I made my version by replacing it with the pear shrub. The vivaciousness of the pear brandy was a good match for the shrub. This was a bit like an apple and pear Ramos Gin Fizz. In using the shrub, I found out that a little goes a long way (I used half the amount specified for lemon juice). Also the sugar content may need to be adjusted if the shrub is too intense, which is easily achieved by adding a bar spoon or two of simple to the cocktail. The acidity of the shrub will vary based on the fruit used, so tasting is important.

Williams Fizz variation for MxMo Sours

1 oz calvados | 1 oz pear eau de vie | 3/8 oz pear shrub | 1 barspoon simple syrup | egg white | mix with stick blender | shake with ice | strain into Collins glass | top with soda water | grated tonka bean garnish

Thanks to the Andrea of the Ginhound blog for hosting this Month’s MxMo Challenge. I can’t wait to read what the other participants came up with.


Further reading about shrubs:

Falernum: recipe review

Before embarking on a falernum-making adventure, I did a bit of reading and ended up compiling a list of falernum recipes. Falernum is an ingredient that pop ups every now and then in tiki cocktails, with one of the most famous examples being the Zombie.

1934 Zombie Punch
Don the Beachcomber’s 1934 Zombie Punch

Falernum is a syrup that is pretty common in the Caribbean. During a trip in Saint Lucia a few years ago, I bought a bottle. Over there, even the most basic grocery store in Soufrière has it in stock, together with a selection of rums (however finding butter or eggs can be a different story, but I digress). This is the basis for the Corn N’ Oil, a mix of dark rum and falernum.

Falernum typically gets its flavor from cloves, ginger, almonds, and lime. The taste of the commercial product was quite subtle, akin to a slightly flavored simple syrup. So this was my baseline, and I thought I would try to improve on it by making my own. I looked at various recipes that I am summarizing below (listed by publication date).

  • The recipe by Dale DeGroff and its scaled-down version (2003): white rum, lime zest, cloves, almond extract + simple syrup.
  • Falernum #8 by Paul Clarke (2006) where he adds ginger and lime juice to Dale DeGroff’s recipe and uses Wray & Nephew overproof rum.
  • Jeffrey Morgenthalers’ variation on Paul Clarke’s falernum #8 (2007) where he recommends soaking the cloves in rum for a few days prior to adding the lime zest and ginger.
  • Paul Clarke’s falernum #9 (2007) – similar to the #8 formula with the addition of toasted almonds.  This was the version published in Imbibe magazine and Beachbum Berry Remixed.
  • Paul Clarke’s falernum #10 (2008): similar to #9 but no lime juice and the cloves are toasted.
  • Chris Hannah’s recipe (2008) is also based on Paul Clarke’s falernum #8 and was posted by Jeff Berry on his site: amber rum (Old New Orleans 3-year) with lime zest, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, coffee beans, toasted pecans + lime juice, simple syrup, almond extract.
  • Rumdood’s falernum #2 (2009) which is another variation on Paul Clarke’s falernum #8 with W&N + 151 overproof rums, lime zest, cloves, ginger, star anise + simple syrup, lime juice, lemon juice and almond extract.
  • The recipe by Kaiser Penguin (2009) uses lime zest, cloves, ginger, allspice, nutmeg + simple syrup and almond extract.  No lime juice because it “just [keeps] on fermenting and getting nasty”.
  • Kaiser Penguin’s 5-minute falernum recipe (2010) – same as above without the almond extract and made in an iSi whipper.
  • Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s falernum (2010) is a mixture of overproof and aged rums, lime zest, cloves, ginger, star anise, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, black peppercorns, toasted almonds, vanilla bean + simple syrup and orgeat.
  • Marcia Simmons’ recipe on Serious Eats (2012): white rum, lime zest, cloves, toasted almonds, lime juice and simple syrup (no ginger).

In the end, I decided to go with the Elmegirab recipe as my starting point. It had the most interesting mix of spices so I thought it would yield a flavorful product.

Down the rabbit hole

I’ve been interested in cocktails for a long while now, but started documenting my efforts only about four years ago. Which may very well be for the best; one of my first attempts at a tiki cocktail was a now legendary Mai Tai Bowl that was incredibly strong – I had no idea that batched cocktails had to be pre-diluted – and the most unfortunate shade of emerald green, thanks to the lovely blue curaçao I had included in the recipe. I have since seen the light and am now a devoted Jeff Berry disciple, but for sure it’s fun to look back and remember these early efforts.

It looks like this was not my first catastrophe with blue curaçao either. The first cocktail I remember making was a cloyingly sweet Blue Hawaiian. Enough to lose my interest in making mixed drinks for a while.

Curiously, it’s not a cocktail book that led to my first cocktail success, it’s actually a cookbook – Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef. At the end of the book is a little cocktail section which includes a recipe for the Sidecar. Making my first Sidecar with a good VSOP cognac and fresh lemon juice was a revelation. There was a simple 3-ingredient cocktail that was more than the sum of its parts, bright and complex at the same time, and felt very elegant.

I proceeded to look for more cocktail recipes in my cookbook library and stumbled upon my next big discovery in Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook. In restrospect, the drink could not have been more different from the Sidecar. I am talking about what is probably my favorite cocktail ever, the Negroni. I was instantly seduced by its moreish bitter orange flavor. The recipe in Babbo also introduced me to the amazingly juniper-forward Junipero gin from Anchor Distilling in San Francisco. Things progressed naturally from that point on, and my home bar rapidly expanded.

Babbo negroniNegroni | 1 oz Campari | 1 oz sweet vermouth | 1 oz gin | build on ice | stir | orange zest garnish

One of my first Negronis.  I am not sure what I was thinking with the giant straw. Also, for those of you who may wondering, this is not a giant jigger on the left-hand side, it’s actually a tiki-appropriate lava lamp

How did you get into cocktails? Is there one cocktail in particular that made you go down the rabbit hole?

MxMo Highballs: the Japanese Whisky Highball

I just spent a couple of weeks in Japan where I took a crash course in Japanese whisky. Japanese whisky is closely related to Scotch whisky. It’s quite a fascinating story. The Japanese whisky industry was founded in the 1920s by a gentleman named Masataka Taketsuru. He was a chemist who went to Glasgow to study organic chemistry, worked at various Scotch distilleries, and met a Scottish girl that he married. When they moved to Japan, he was hired by Shinjiro Torii to open the first Japanese whisky distillery, Yamazaki. This whisky was launched under the name Suntory in 1929. Taketsuru later left Suntory to open his own distillery, Nikka, in 1934.

Back to our MxMo inspiration. In Japan, people typically enjoy their whisky on the rocks. Mixed drinks with Japanese whisky are not common, with one exception: the Highball. This is a relatively new trend and it’s a very simple drink. As with a lot of things in Japan though, it’s all about the technique. The process is as – if not more – important than the end result.

You want to use crystal-clear ice cubes (even the most basic joints I visited during my trip had impeccable ice). Ideally, the ice should be carved by hand from a large block. Pour 1 ounces of whisky. Pour 2 ounces of soda water onto the side of the glass to preserve carbonation, and gently stir. No garnish necessary.

Whisky Highball
Whisky Highball at the Narita Airport

I tried various iterations of this drink during my trip, and there were all good and distinctive, as there is quite a variety of Japanese whiskies available, from the very subtle and smooth (Taketsuru Pure Malt is a great example) to bolder ones such as Yoichi. The highball allows you to appreciate the flavor of the whisky without getting overwhelmed, especially if you are not already a Scotch drinker. You would not want to use your most expensive whisky in a highball, but it’s a great introduction to Japanese whisky.

Hibiki Highball at Maisen Tokyo
Hibiki Highball at Maisen, a tonkatsu restaurant in Tokyo

Thank you to Joel at Southern Ash for hosting MxMo this month.

References and further reading:


MxMo Anise: The Peg Leg Punch

It’s Mixology Monday today and the theme selected by Nick of the blog The Straight Up blog is anise.

For the holidays, I was invited to a Norwegian-themed party and was challenged to come up with an aquavit-based drink. I decided to bring a bottle of Jeff Berry’s Peg Leg punch. Punches are always a good idea for parties. You can pre-batch them, so you have something you can serve quickly to your guests while you enjoy the party.

For the aquavit, I went with Krogstad which is distilled in Portland by House Spirits Distillery (they also make the Aviation gin). The process is similar to gin-making but with different botanicals. Aquavit has a very distinctive flavor but can work in a lot of cocktails originally designed for gin. Caraway is traditionally the main flavoring in aquavit. The Krogstad combines caraway with a strong star anise flavor that is immediately noticeable when you open the bottle. It’s extremely aromatic and more intense than some of the other aquavits we had a chance to try that evening.

The Peg Leg punch combines aquavit with vodka, grapefruit, lemon juice, and orgeat. The vodka and orgeat mellow the flavors of the aquavit. With its citrus and orgeat combination, this drink reminded me of the gin-based classic, the Army & Navy. Although not included in Jeff Berry’s recipe, like the Army & Navy, the Peg Leg Punch can benefit from a few dashes of Angostura bitters to add a different element and balance the aquavit. The cinnamon notes in the Angostura combine especially well with aquavit.


Peg Leg Punch (adapted from Jeff Berry) | 6 oz vodka | 3 oz aquavit | 6 oz grapefruit juice | 2 oz lemon juice | 1.5 oz orgeat |  20 dashes of Angostura bitters | shake with ice & serve on ice (or serve in a punch bowl with a block of ice) | mint garnish | yield 18 oz, or about 8 servings

Thank you to Nick for hosting this month’s challenge.

Happy Holidays everyone, and I am very much looking forward to another year of Mixology Challenges, together with more food & cocktail adventures.