Friday, April 2, 2010

Spirits of the West, Vol 10: Irish Whiskey (again)

It's no secret that times have been a little tight the last year or so for many folks, the restaurant game is certainly no exception, and in an over-saturated market like Yaletown, the battle for butts in seats rages on.

HSG is not in a position to employ a 'shock and awe' campaign in this war, we're more of a 'special forces' kind of joint, we've got to get a lot done with limited resources.

'Spirits of the West' has been a great campaign over the past year in holding on to the hearts and livers that we've already got and hopefully corralling in a few more lost souls that may have otherwise spent yet ANOTHER weeknight parting with their hard-earned dollars in some cookie-cutter chain restaurant.

Irish Whiskey was the second installment of the event about a year ago and I was tickled to hear a few requests that I repeat the event this year. At first I was hesitant to start do-overs when I hadn't yet finished all that I'd set out to, but the people had spoken, plus I had all of the info upstairs anyway so what the heck?

The trick, as with last year, was putting together some decent cocktails. One of my favorite, and most straight forward starting points for a cocktail recipe is the season, and the week of the 17th was a beauty (unlike now). So spring was definitely in the air, and if ever there was a quintessential spring cocktail, the Mint Julep would be it, off to the races!

In spite of the ocean separating them, the difference between Ireland's finest malt beverages and Kentucky's are not as great as one might think, so I figured I'd just take a little Tullamore Dew, muddle some mint and a little sugar and be all set for one of the three cocktails, that is until I remembered one of my other favorite sources of mixicological inspiration; dust. That's right, I like a challenge...occasionally... and finding the bottle with the finest pelt of dust on it and concocting a tasty beverage with it is a most satisfying endeavor.

As I gazed down the back bar looking for that tell-tale fleece on a bottle, it became clear that Saint Patrick was smiling down upon my little event, because the dustiest, least used bottle of them all, was the Irish Mist, HA! Anyway using the honey-sweet liqueur in lieu of plain old sugar seemed worth a shot and the result was good, call it a minty, Irish version of a Rusty Nail or a honeyed version of a Mint Julep, either way, it worked!

With one 'original' out of the way, I figured I stick to the classics for the other two cocktails I'd promised. First, a straight-edged whiskey sour, made with Bushmill's 10 Year Single Malt, yum. Finally, a proper Irish Coffee, made with Jameson's and cream, hand whipped with Irish mist and honey. The coffees got good reviews, but the whipped cream was the hit, one distinguished guest actually requested to lick the mixing bowl...I obliged. Cheers!

P.S. Hope you like the name I settled upon for the julep.

Rusty Ryan
2oz Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
0.5oz Irish Mist
3-4 mint leaves

In a mixing glass muddle the mint leaves in the Irish mist, add the Tullamore Dew, ice, and stir well.
Pour the whole lot into a rocks glass and enjoy

Whiskey Sour
2oz Bushmill's 10 Year
juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 3/4 oz)
1 oz simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
one egg white (really one egg white is enough for two or three drinks if you feel like setting it aside for the next round)

Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice then shake assertively
and strain into one of your nicer cocktail glasses, or a tumbler or and old shoe or whatever, it'll still be good.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Desperately Seeking the Sazerac Pt.2

My main reason for heading to New Orleans was to reload for another year; I am struggling to keep up in the mixology arms race that Vancouver has become. Attending Tales of the Cocktail is like downloading a decade’s worth of dedicated and discerning ‘study’ of cocktails and spirits onto you brain in just a few days. For me it was also a chance to discover what was so special about the Sazerac once and for all.

The first thing I discovered is that it’s pretty easy to get a crappy version of any cocktail in the Big Easy, including the Sazerac. I was going to have to do a little digging and we definitely had to get off of Bourbon street before the fiancé and I start sharing a 2 litre Margarita and end up throwing beads at mid-western soccer moms.

Just a few steps down from the debauchery is the door to the French 75 bar at Arnaud’s restaurant where a fine native New Orleanian saloon keeper by the name of Jake made me my first real Sazerac and my eyes were opened. It wasn’t perfect, made with Old Overholt Rye and Herbsaint instead of Absinthe, you could tell that he’d hedged on the side of excess in his use of sugar but he’d balanced it perfectly with a healthy dose of Peychaud’s and the result was a slutty little concoction that revealed what this drink could be. Jake was also good enough to give us a taste of Herbsaint which, in New Orleans, has been the standard Absinthe substitute in the Sazerac since prohibition was repealed on everything but the Green Fairy.

Jake turned out to be a valuable resource and guided us on to our next air conditioned oasis from the Louisiana heat, the freshly re-opened Sazerac Room at the Roosevelt Hotel.


Closed for nigh on four years as a result of Hurricane Katrina, The Roosevelt is run by the stately Waldorf-Astoria group and judging by the gilded lobby, it measures up to it’s peers in the Big Apple. The Sazerac Room itself sparkled brand new, so new in fact that according to the bartender there were more than one or two finishing touches yet to be completed, but it looked ready to me, so I bellied up. We’d just come from French 75 bar and had their titular cocktail along with the aforementioned Sazerac, so for the sake of balancing the universe, our first round at the Sazerac Room was the titular cocktail and a French 75, your welcome universe.


Now, judging by the amount of gold-leaf in the lobby, I shouldn’t have been surprised that these were not going to be cheap drinks, and I wasn’t when my new bartender subbed Sazerac Rye for the Old Overholt that Jake used, and Lucid Absinthe for Herbsaint, and I shouldn’t have been surprised that the result would be different, but I must say, I was taken aback at the contrast. The spendier version was far more austere, no slut factor what-so-ever; still balanced, but definitely less sugar and bitters so as to more prominently feature the whiskey and very, very good. It was the perfect drink for that stage in the evening when the libations are slipping down a little too easy, it says ‘easy trigger, don’t forget, you’re drinking whiskey, not beer.’

Armed with a shiny new bottle of Sazerac Rye and a fresh supply of Peychaud’s, my own experimentation began in earnest once we arrived back in Vancouver: recipes vary, but the magic happened for me at the following proportions:

The Sazerac

Pack a small rocks glass with ice

In a mixing glass or another rocks glass add one teaspoon (or 1 cube) of sugar

Soak the sugar with about 6 good dashes of Peychaud’s bitters and muddle and stir until all the sugar is dissolved (if this seems to be taking too long it is forgivable to add a small splash of room temperature water).

Add 1 ½ ounces of Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Now dump the ice out of the first glass and gently drop in about ¼ ounce of Taboo Absinthe and swirl around the entire inside of the glass then discard any excess absinthe (I drink it, waste not want not right?)

Add ice to mixing glass with the sugar/bitters/rye mix and still until arctic cold.

Strain into absinthe soaked glass

Twist a healthy sized lemon rind into the result then discard the rind

The result is a perfect marriage of minty clean herbal aroma provided by the absinthe and bitters, with a spicy, strong, but not boozy base from the rye.

To accomplish this at home will take some commitment, Sazerac Rye is not a realistic option but Alberta Premium Rye is made from 100% rye grain and makes a very nice Sazerac, Taboo Absinthe is available at most liquor stores and Pernod is in all liquor stores if you want to save a few dollars, though I recommend easing off on the sugar a little bit as Pernod is noticeably sweeter than Absinthe. Peychaud’s is a tough one, you’re probably going to have to go to Seattle to get it, DeLaurenti Market at Pike Place always has some in stock. I know this seems like ridiculous lengths to go to for a cocktail, and it is but the good news is, you use it in tiny, tiny increments so a 300ml bottle will last good long while, and as a bonus you can zip down the stairs behind the market to the ZigZag Café to get a last minute example of how your Sazzy ought to turn out.

Those two Sazeracs were but a drop in my cocktail bucket for the week in New Orleans, but they provided some perspective, I get why the drink is such a hot button topic on the interweb, why so many professional and amateur mixologists have been seduced by old Antoine Peychaud’s concoction. It’s always been a moving target, from Cognac to Rye, Absinthe to Herbsaint and back again, Peychaud’s to…well, don’t use anything other than Peychaud’s. There’s always been a new way out of necessity, so there’s always been a debate over which was better, it’s the debate that has kept it alive, and kept people passionate about it.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Desperately Seeking the Sazerac Pt.1

Ask ten of Vancouver’s better bartenders to name their favourite cocktail and you’ll likely get ten different answers, but ask them each to list their top five and I’d bet that only one will appear in all ten; the Sazerac.

I can’t remember where I first heard about this seemingly simple mixture of rye whiskey, sugar Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe, one of the oldest cocktails known. However, I do remember the dulcet quality of the name itself resonating with me. The Sazerac even SOUNDS good.

Over the years I’d ordered a few in bars around town only to be underwhelmed but not discouraged because no bartender seemed willing, or able as it turned out, to produce a version of the cocktail that actually adhered to the recipe. There always seemed to be one substitution or another; cognac or bourbon, or both for rye, Angostura bitters for Peychaud’s, Pernod for Absinthe. Even the presentation was a crapshoot, I’ve had ‘em from straight up in a martini glass with a lemon spiral, to on the rocks with no garnish at all. Yet, in spite of the obvious lack of consensus on the execution of this libation, it has still remained a darling of the mixology world both locally and in the ever metastasizing worldwide cocktail blogosphere. There was no doubt that all the cool kids were ordering Sazeracs, but I wondered if anyone locally could actually make one.

As it turned out, whipping up a Sazzy using local ingredients was no easy trick. First of all, the base spirit is ‘rye’ whiskey, which seemed easy enough, just grab some CC or Crown and away you go. The problem is; in New Orleans, where the Sazzy was born, rye whiskey doesn’t mean the same thing as it does north of the 49th. In the US of A, rye whiskey has legally defined specific characteristics; for one thing, it has to be distilled from a mash containing at least 51% rye grain, go figure. In Canada, ‘rye’ need not actually contain ANY rye grain; we call Canadian whisky rye because historically it did contain a good deal of rye because that was a plentiful crop kicking around the great lakes where a couple of behemoth distilleries happened to open up.

Still, nobody frets too much about which whiskey truly belongs in a Manhattan, we might have a preference, but whether it’s made with Jim Beam or Seagram’s, it’s still a Manhattan. The difference making ingredients in this, one of the greatest cocktails of all time are the ones that we use the least of to make one; absinthe and bitters. Absinthe has only been legal again in the USA for a short time so the venerable Sazerac spent much of its adult life being strained into a tumbler rinsed with a heavy handed and dull facsimile like Herbsaint (an anagram for absinthe) or Pernod, but people got by, and they drank a lot of Sazeracs.

The real problem in Vancouver was the bitters. For some reason Peychaud’s bitters seem to be prohibited in BC, and as far as I know all of Canada. Oh now and then there have been whispers of it appearing in this specialty food store or that, but I have yet to lay eyes on a bottle that has been for legal sale in the true north strong and free. Just how important were these particular


bitters to this cocktail? As it turns out, very.Now the Sazerac was invented by a 19th century pharmacist called Antoine Amedee Peychaud, sound familiar? Seem a bit odd that a pharmacist is responsible for one of the greatest cocktails of all time? It’s not a coincidence; back in the day pharmacists, then known as apothecaries, made their own medicine. Usually these medicines were derived from various botanicals and roots whose essences were extracted by maceration in alcohol. So, these ‘pharmacists’ always had a lot of hooch around which meant that they threw really, really good parties. Anyway, in the 1830’s one particular New Orleans pharmacist, Mr. Peychaud, took to serving his own ‘house’ bitters to his guests after the apothecary closed, mixed with sugar, absinthe and a popular Cognac of the era called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils that was plentiful at the time in the former French Colony. A nasty bout of Phylloxera in the late 19th century killed many a French grapevine which choked off the supply of Cognac eventually dictating a switch to home-grown rye whiskey as the base spirit for Antoine’s Sazerac.

So yes, the Peychaud’s bitters (produced by the Sazerac Company) are essential to a proper Sazerac, they are not totally dissimilar to Angostura for instance, both have a bitter, fresh, medicinal flavour, but Peychaud’s are milder, have a definite anise note which plays very well with the absinthe in the cocktail, and perhaps most importantly, they are bright, cherry red. Besides, if you use Angostura, to make a Sazerac you come perilously close to overlapping the recipe for an Old Fashioned, then messing it up by sloshing some Absinthe around in it. Unfortunately, Peychaud’s, unlike Angostura, can’t seem to slip passed customs without being subject to the 117 or so percent duty the province applies to ‘potable’ spirits, so nobody has bothered to import it, but don’t quote me on that being the reason.

So seeing as how you’d have leave the country to scrape together half the ingredients for this damn cocktail, you might think this strange little mixture would be more trouble that in was worth, and if you tried some of the half-baked attempts at improvisation with the recipe that I have, you’d be right, but I was still smitten with this little beverage, whether it was the pleasing cadence of its title, its brazen scarlet colour, or just that I couldn’t accept that generations of more accomplished drinkers than I could be wrong. There was only one way to get to the bottom of this; I had to go to the source, New Orleans.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spirits of the West Vol. 2--Irish Whiskey

Thanks to all who attended the second installment of my ongoing (hopefully) series of cocktail and spirit 'educational' events.  Especially to Lindsay Ferguson of Bluenote Wine and Spirits for providing us with all that excellent Irish Whiskey from Cooley Distillery.

I just want to take a second and post the recipes for the cocktails we had with each whiskey. All three were stirred over ice and strained into chilled cocktail glasses.

First off: 

Belfast Cocktail (Old Country Manhattan)
2oz Greenore 8 year old Single Grain Irish Whiskey
1oz Sweet Vermouth
1 dash Maraschino
1 dash Absinthe
1 dash Angostura
1 dash Peychaud's

Obviously inspired by the Manhattan, I hedged a bit toward the Sazerac with the use of Absinthe and Peychaud's

The Greenore Single Grain (the grain being corn) behaves much like a cross between a Bourbon and a Canadian whisky, with notes of sweetness and vanilla. It really bears little resemblance to its Irish malted brethren BUT it is actually a component in it's distillery mate, the blended Kilbeggan Finest, a more traditional Irish Whiskey.

Anyhow the result reminded me a little it of a Crown Royal Manhattan, smooth, balanced, maybe a little too sweet for some in which case you'd simple back off a little on the Vermouth.

Next, the Tipperary Cocktail, it was St Patty's day after all.

1oz Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey
1oz Green Chartreuse
1oz Sweet Vermouth

A shockingly tight little tipple, I must extend mad mixology props to Hugo R. Ensslin for being to first to put this little gem (an emerald perhaps) into print in his 1916 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks. If he's the gent who came up with it, I've no idea what common thread he thought would bring these three spirits together and in equal measure to create a harmonious concoction, but he did it. The herbaceous minty flavour of the Chartreuse sings on the finish in chorus with the Sweet Vermouth without masking the malty palate of the Tyrconnell, fascinating. Again, this could prove a slighty sweet recipe for the "wave the vermouth over the glass" set, so use your Cinzano judiciously. 

and lastly, for those of you who remember your third cocktail:

I must cite Vancouver expat Jamie Boudreau for this little number though his is made with Scotch.

1 oz Connemara Peated 12 year Single Malt Irish Whiskey
1 oz Gehringer Brothers Cabernet-Merlot
dash simple syrup
1/4 oz Creme de Cassis
dash Peychaud's
dash Angostura.

Now, some might say that it's criminal to mix a three figure Whiskey with a one figure wine in equal measure, but this cocktail is all about the whiskey so I didn't mind using a wine whose character I wasn't worried about ruining. Herr Boudreau's logic is flawless when he points out that red wine in the guise of vermouth has been paired with whiskey for many moons and a drier Cabernet offsets the sweetness added by the cassis ans sugar. The funny thing about this one is, it still tastes like whiskey, in kind of the same way that a Negroni tastes like gin. The nose is almost erased by the wine so the peaty finish provided by the Connemara sneaks up on you a little bit, but if you liked the whiskey, you'll like the cocktail, and if you thought the whiskey was just a bit too much for you, you'll really like the cocktail because the wine and liqueur take all of the sharp edges off of the whiskey, but leave behind it's flavour components. Very satisfying.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Birth of a Legend?

I LOVE cocktail competitions. 

They have about as much objective integrity as the NBA slam dunk competition,  but I love em still.

I've never even WON one, and still, I love.


Because it's an excuse to PLAY!!!!

AND...they somehow almost always birth a brand new cocktail, not not just a freestyle experiment that gets forgotten the next night, but a legitimately original cocktail with a precise recipe and even its own name. I dare say there must be at least a few modern classics that were born out of some lame contest or another.

The latest and greatest of these mixicological over indulgences was put on by the good folks at Grand Marnier via Diageo with the Grand Marnier and Navan Mixology Summitt.    Unfortunatelty yours truly will not be jetting off the Vail in April, thanks to Lauren Mote of Chow, who did a fantastic job of brand evangelism for Grand Marnier and will be a great contributor to the summit in April. 

I still must extend my appreciation to Grand Marnier for wining and dining me and the rest of Vancouver's bartending set, AND giving me a couple of sample bottles to play with, which is all they really needed to do to get me in their corner. 

Sometimes, playing with booze an be a battle, as it was with the Navan Vanilla Cognac
and some other times, things just fall into place perfectly, as they did with the Grand Marnier

Either way, the results never cease to amaze me, it's too bad that this wasn't actually a "mixology" contest, more of a brand loyalty one, because I think I've stumbled upon a couple of solid recipes.

As I mentioned, the Navan was a battle for me. The flavour is so distinctly raw vanilla bean that I found it was over powering any other ingredients I attempted to use. That all changed when a couple of the boys from George Ultra Lounge down the street came  by and asked for a Primo Jalisco made with Sagatiba Cachaca instead of Tequila, and a the dim Edison era bulb above my head became a Vancouver Police Service ghetto bird flood light. If anything had the moxie to stand up to the Navan, it was Cachaca.

The rest fell into place quite nicely, with the Primo Jalisco as the inspiration:

The Celladhor
1oz Sagatiba Cachaca
1/2 oz Navan
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
juice of 1/2 lime
3/4 oz ginger syrup
dash Peychaud's bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a cube of candied ginger.

The name of the drink comes from an essay written by JRR Tolkien where he surmises that the phrase "cellar door" is one of the most beautiful sounds in the English language. My spelling is an attempt to approximate how "cellar door" might sound in his English accent.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Fuzzy Valentine Cocktail

I'm not sure whether it was excess imbibery pent up by an ice jam of "recession" hysteria, or maybe just a fluke of ol' Pope Gregory's calendar, hell, maybe Cupid got laid off and Bacchus took his shifts, who knows? Whatever the reason, Valentines night was re-god-damn-diculous this year. 

People came out in droves and, for once, they all seemed to want cocktails. Pisco sours in particular were flowing freely across the wood, with my usual encouragement, but I was pleased as punch (I know I know, obvious boozy cliche, but hey, it's appropriate in this case) to see all of the new cocktail list represented on the stack of chits that came in.

 Eventually one pisco-fuelled gent requested a change of pace, his only guidance being his next drink be "sour and fuzzy". Sour I can do, but "fuzzy" required a minute of brow wrinkling,  until my trusty (and dusty) little bottle of orange flower water caught my eye and inspiration struck. If ever there was a "fuzzy" drink, it would have to be Ramos' Gin Fizz.

Now I was psyched! First of all I could delay my first botox session a little longer as my forehead uncreased, and, as you will soon see, I was about to get a SWEET bicep workout in.

Also known as the New Orleans fizz, this most famous progeny of the Silver Fizz was fathered by Henry Charles Ramos, sometime around 1887 in his saloon at the corner of Gravier and Carondelet Streets in New Orleans. It was so popular in the Crescent City that at it's peak Ramos assigned each of his bartenders a "shaker boy" to shake the living daylights out of his fizzes, so as not to wear out the talent mid shift.

It was in that grand old city at last years Tales of the Cocktail that I learned how to shortcut around some of the brute force required for the RGF by 'dry shaking' cocktails that require a frothy consistency. Basically you shake the mixers without ice to hasten the frothing of the emulsifiable ingredients. Still, it was quite a production, and not the most elegant one, to see me wincing as the lactic acid, which could arguably be included in the recipe built up in my inglorious biceps. Thankfully the GF sends me off to the barber more regularly now so at least there was no lame Whitesnake head banger effect going on, but still, it became a bit undignified. The things we do for good hooch.

Anyway, the result is a glass of frothy, silky nostalgia, that reminds me -- in no specific way -- of childhood. No, I did not drink a lot of gin cocktails as a toddler, just try one, you'll see.

Ramos' Gin Fizz

1.5 oz Gin (Plymouth)
1/2 lemon
1/2 lime
1oz simple syrup
1oz half and half cream
1 egg white
3-4 drops orange flower water (seriously, a little goes a long way) Shot of soda Fresh grated netmeg

Dry Shake lemon, lime, cream, egg and sugar HARD for as long as you or your guests thirst can tolerate, add gin and ice, shake again, assertively, for a long, long, long...long...time. Strain into acollins aor better yet milkshakey type glass, charge with soda and grate fresh nutmeg on top. Now take your big-boy milkshake out to the hot tub and take a soak, you've earned it. 

Drink delivered, I headed to the back room for some A535 on the ol' pythons and a shot of my inhaler -wheeze- and strutted over to the table to see how my efforts were going over, "Pretty good" the 19 year old (hopefully) who looked like he was psyched to be downtown without the parental units said, pretty good indeed, young man, pretty good indeed.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Brandy Crusta and "sweet" drinks

Every so often it occurs to (horrifies) me that most people don't fart around all day thinking about cocktails and mixology.

Last night for instance: I had just emerged from a three minute rage-blackout caused a customer returning a $12.00 cocktail that involved 6 different ingredients and flamed egg white in favour of a vodka with pineapple juice, because she had wanted "something sweet". 

I took a step back and reassured myself that this poor girl would look back on the error of her ways and laugh, but right now she just wanted a nice glass of juice that got her a little buzzed, her and her pals Cosmo Girl and Sour Appletini chick just not quite ready to step off the Malibu train and join the cool kids at mixology station, but that's okay.

Actually, it's more than okay, I'm beginning to see it as a huge opportunity, I need to identify those perfect "crossover" cocktails. The perfect breadcrumb trail of ingredients that can lead the novice imbiber from Apple Sourz to Campari in a few easy steps.

My first favorite is the Pisco Sour, which is an effective romancer of manys the tentative tippler, but some people just can't get over the whole egg white thing. So my next experiment will be with the 

Brandy Crusta (recipe plagarised almost directly from here)
1 ½ oz Brandy
¾ oz Grand Marnier
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
dash of maraschino liqueur
dash of Peychaud’s bitters
Shake and strain into a sugar-rimmed glass   
Garnish with spiral of lemon peel

I figure that the sugared rim alone is a huge size 13 foot in the door with most ladies, plus the garnish looks really sharp, and this recipe is a little sweeter than the old Jerry Thomas version, never mind the fact that the Peychaud's makes the drink PINK, so that's another sweet little crouton along the trail. 

I've been wrong before about what people want and the venerable ol' Hammy
isn't exactly a magnet for the more adventurous drinker...yet. Maybe high-fallutin pink drinks are the answer.