The Ward Eight is a famous cocktail created in Boston that is considered a classic. But despite its reputation, it never completely convinced me. I see two problems with the Ward Eight. First orange juice is a difficult ingredient in cocktails. Orange does not have the acidity of lemon or lime, and often fails to balance the sweetness of the other ingredients. Then the drink also includes grenadine which is another problematic ingredient. I am not even talking about fake commercial grenadine which does not contain an ounce of pomegranate juice. Even good quality grenadine can easily take over a drink if you are not careful. And when combined with orange juice… Well let’s just say that even though the Ward Eight is a decent cocktail, I feel sad to use a good bottle of rye in this drink because most of its qualities are shadowed by the other ingredients.
I tried a few versions of the Ward Eight including this one from PDT that uses pomegranate molasses for the grenadine and was left feeling underwhelmed.
I just received my copy of Tony Conigliaro’s Cocktail Lab, the American edition of Drinks that just came out a few days ago. Tony Conigliaro’s bars, 69 Colebrooke Row in London and le Coq in Paris, are known for their avant-garde approach to cocktails, many of them developed in a laboratory setting. The book contains a wide array of drinks, from twists on classics to more complex recipes, some involving homemade distillates requiring laboratory equipment. Just flipping through the book, it was interesting to see that his sources of inspiration for new drinks even included perfumes. It is the kind of book that is not just a collection of recipes but also a stepping stone for new creations. It is great that he is sharing his creative process with us.
Trying to find an idea for last night’s cocktail was like solving a riddle. I wanted something tiki – I’ve been blogging for a few days already but there has not been a single tiki or tartine in sight! Clearly, this sad situation could not last any longer. I had just received my CSA with a generous amount of fresh fruit and vegetable including plenty of citrus: grapefruit, oranges, and lemons. It looked like I was all set for a nice tiki cocktail when I realized that I only had half a lime left. Of course all my favorite tiki recipes include generous amounts of fresh lime juice, so I was stumped for a few minutes.
Looking through the various books by Jeff Berry and his very handy Tiki+ app, I soon realized that there are only very few tiki recipes that don’t require lime juice. The Halekulani cocktail caught my eye because it uses okolehao as the base spirit. Okolehao is a traditional Hawaiian spirit that is made from the root of the ti plant. It is more or less the local moonshine. After being almost impossible to find for a very long time, it was re-created by Jim Sargent at Haleakala Distillers. The taste is funky, earthy and vegetal. You can detect tropical notes but it’s not for the faint of heart – it is quite powerful.
From an article in Honolulu Magazine (June 2010):
To make the Maui Okolehao, Haleakala Distillers takes the starch of East Maui-grown ti root, converts it into sugar, ferments it with evaporated cane juice and then distills it. What results tastes like a cross between rum and tequila, with hints of honey and a coconut finish, which, Sargent says, “is a distinctly Hawaiian flavor [that] doesn’t taste like any other spirit.”
The recipe for the Halekulani cocktail does not have a lot of sweetener (just a little bit of grenadine). But that was fine because the okolehao liqueur is a little sweet on its own. The final cocktail ended up being daiquiri-like, slightly tart with a complex exotic flavor.