Timeless elegance is the theme of this month’s Mixology Monday Challenge and Special 100th Edition. With the resurgence of cocktail culture in the last 15 years, it’s interesting to note that we seem to have gone though a cycle. The old classics were rediscovered, elevated, tweaked, riffed on. Eventually we got a bit side-tracked with exotic ingredients, molecular mixology, or 20-component cocktails. Now the trend seems to be for simple yet memorable cocktails.
One person though always stayed the course, and his vision of perfectly crafted cocktails inspired countless bartenders all over the world. That person, of course, is Sasha Petraske, who passed away a few days ago. It’s quite incredible how much of a deep impact he had on the cocktail world as a whole. So many bartenders I admire have worked in his bars, or have been trained by people who worked in his bars. Many of them have opened or managed successful and influential bars. Continue reading
Fernet is an acquired taste. Like with Campari and other amari, the bitter Italian herbal liqueurs, you tend to remember your first time vividly. Fernet is quite polarizing to say the least. Most people are revulsed at the mere thought of what they perceive as some kind of diabolical medicine. It’s a punch in the face and for most, not an experience they wish to repeat any time soon.
One unexpected use for Fernet – it helps against vampires! (photo reproduced by H2O74)
Finding something original for this month’s Mixology Monday Challenge, “almost, but not quite, a Martini“, was somewhat of a difficult task. The Martini is such a popular cocktail that it already inspired hundreds of variations (and I am not talking about the abominations that don’t bear much resemblance to the gin and dry vermouth classic, other than the glass they are served in). For example, The Savoy Cocktail Book contains endless variations on this theme that only differ by dashes of various ingredients, from bitters to curaçao, grenadine, or absinthe… Continue reading
Like a lot of my cocktailian friends, the Aviation is one of the drinks that really got me into cocktails a while back. Lured by the appeal of a cocktail with a beautiful pale blue hue, for months (years?) I looked for that elusive bottle of violet liqueur. When I finally put my hands on one, the Aviation became my go-to cocktail for a while and was what I would serve to my friends at cocktail parties. I loved how refreshing and interesting it was, despite having only a few ingredients.
Dinah Sanders who authored the Art of the Shim, a nice little book about low-alcohol cocktails, is hosting Mixology Monday this month and has chosen shims as her theme. She defines them as drinks that contain less than half an ounce of strong spirits.
One of my favorite discoveries in the book is the Rhum Dandy Shim by Craig Lane of Bar Agricole in San Francisco. It’s red vermouth-based and cleverly uses rhum agricole and absinthe as modifiers. It manages to create a huge amount of flavor with only half an ounce of hard liquor. A very inspiring drink that shows that you don’t have to compromise on taste with these low-octane libations.
This month’s Mixology Monday challenge, Perfect Symmetry, explores a way to create cocktails which consists of taking one element in an existing recipe and splitting it into two related elements, in equal parts. The most famous example is probably the Perfect Manhattan, where the vermouth is divided into sweet and dry. This concept is nothing new, and as I was sipping on a rye and armagnac Sazerac earlier this week, I realized that it already met the requirements of the challenge.
This month’s MxMo theme, The Unknown, immediately prompted me to dig up ingredients I had collected but not used much in cocktails – Acids! A recent experiment with acid phosphate had showed me that a few drops could liven up a drink. Citric, malic, and tartaric acids were still uncharted territory for me. Since a visit to White Lyan in London a couple of weeks ago, I knew this was something I wanted to tackle. The bar is famous for not using any ice or citrus, although they are still able to offer a Daiquiri and other classic sours on their menu. How do they do it? Acids of course! By carefully blending different types of acids at carefully established concentrations levels, they are able to replicate the taste of lime or lemon and produce well-balanced cocktails.
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.
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.
This month, the Mixology Monday Challenge is hosted by Thiago of the Bartending Notes blog, and the theme is Pineapple. Of course one option is to go with pineapple juice as the pineapple component, and we will explore that option with the second cocktail. But unless making fresh juice from scratch, I often feel that the quality of pineapple juice is a bit left to be desired. Infusing the base spirit with pineapple seems like an excellent solution to get a fresh pineapple flavor. Typically pineapple is paired with rum which seems to emphasize its sweetness. But why not highlight the herbaceous nature of pineapple instead, and pair it with gin. So I decided to make a pineapple infusion with Beefeater London dry gin.
After 48 hours, I tasted the gin and it was intensely flavored. It is the main component of Toby Maloney’s creation, the Riviera cocktail. The other elements are Campari for a touch of bitter orange, maraschino liqueur for sweetness and funk, and orange bitters to round everything off. An egg white creates texture.