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
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.
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.