[Edit: Surname and thus drink name fixed.]
Well, that was a great way to spend an afternoon.
[Edit: Surname and thus drink name fixed.]
Well, that was a great way to spend an afternoon.
Well, it seems we've hit a bit of a good stretch lately at Cocktailians. Some excellent reviews from Vidiot, a lovely (if occasionally wet) summer here in NYC, and now, we've been lucky enough to be asked to participate in a contest in which, honestly and without corniness in the slightest, everyone will be a winner.
Thursday, July 30, 2009, Bar Artisanal will throw what could easily be the social event of the Summer: A cocktail contest for amateur mixologists, with the winner getting their creation added to Artisanal's extremely well-regarded menu. From their notes to us:
Amateur mixologists and cheese lovers alike (who are at least 21 years) should send an original cocktail recipe that pairs well with cheese for a chance to have their cocktail featured on the Bar Artisanal cocktail menu and win $200 gift certificates for each of the Artisanal Group restaurants: Bar Bar Artisanal, Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar, and Picholine.
The judges' panel will include: Terrance Brennan, Chef-Proprietor of Artisanal and Bar Artisanal; Robert Haynes-Peterson, The NY Drinks Examiner; Jason Miller, Artisanal Group Beverage Director; Dave Arnold, Director of Culinary Technology at The French Culinary Institute; and, um, yours truly. (I can claim I'm an unbribeable judge, but please, feel free to try me.)
If you'd like to enter a cocktail in the contest, or if you'd just like more information, you can contact them through email or through their Facebook page. And of course, if you're more of a partaker than a maker of cocktails, there will be steep discounts for all the contested offerings the evening of the contest.
Regardless, it sounds like it's going to be a hell of a fun night. I hope some of you can come on out.
He's invented a "Red Hot Poker" that's electrically heated to over 1700°F, which he then plunges into drinks, caramelizing the sugars and adding a toasty note to their flavors. Arnold told me in a recent interview that he's simply updating "the oldest boiling technology", pointing out that people originally boiled liquids in hollowed-out wood or clay pots by dropping heated rocks into them. (You see vestiges of this method in the superheated stone or iron pots used for Korean dolsot bibimbap.)
Arnold said that in the late 17th- and early 18th-centuries, a popular drink in what would become the US was a "flip" (no relation to the slightly-more-common "flip" style of cocktail with eggs, a sort of a creamless eggnog.) A flip consisted of ale, rum or brandy and sugar or molasses. The bartender would heat a "loggerhead" -- a tool consisting of a long pole with a ball on one end and a handle on the other, originally used to melt pitch -- in the fire and use it to heat the drinks. These flips were popular roughly until the Civil War.
After reading John Hull Brown's "Early American Beverages", Arnold became interested in flips and loggerheads, and decided to experiment with them. He first picked up some soldering coppers -- solid copper rods used in welding and soldering -- and heated them on the stove. Those infused a slight copper taste and "left little black flecks of metal in the drink", so they were unacceptable. He then built a small insulated box with a bendable heating coil inside, to warm a loggerhead-like poker...but that box got too hot: "We put a chicken heart in there, and it basically exploded." Vaporized poultry hearts aside, the iron poker also left a noticeable taste in the drinks. Next, he tried a high-temperature stainless-steel alloy, but that wasn't a terribly good conductor of heat, and it didn't heat the drinks with quite enough oomph.
So finally, he settled on an internally heated rod made from an esoteric nickel-based alloy, and he hooked it up to bendable heating coils and all kinds of thermocouples and other gear to control and monitor the temperature. When he demonstrated it to me, though, the equipment was recalcitrant, and he fought with it: first having to find a way to run it without blowing a circuit breaker, then discovering a short circuit and re-soldering it in front of me. The fixed version didn't have a working thermocouple on it, so the digital temperature display wouldn't be reliable. The indefatigable Arnold would have to gauge the temperature by eye. And monitoring the temperature is important: the Red Hot Ale cocktail he created ignites at 1700°F, the Red Hot Manhattan he also serves ignites at 1750°F...and the heating element burns out at 1800°F. Delicacy and a keen eye were going to be absolutely necessary.
(Before he got around to fitting the poker with a temperature display, Arnold had to learn what, say, 1700°F looks like. "The one reference we had", he said, "was 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'")
So he set to measuring out Ommegang Abbey ale, Courvoisier Cognac, a bit of simple syrup (since the poker's caramelizing effect takes some of the sweetness out, he mixes the cocktails a bit sweeter than usual), lemon juice, and some Regans' Orange Bitters, stirred them, and set them alight with the poker. The beer foamed wildly as he agitated the poker, and when it was done he set the finished drink in front of me. It was yeasty, toasty, and slightly sweet -- and it was wonderful and like nothing I'd ever tasted before.
Next up was the Red Hot Manhattan, which he made with Sazerac rye, Dolin vermouth, and Angostura bitters. This time the flames shot even higher, and the resulting toddy-like drink was very good -- still recognizably a Manhattan, with noticeable sweet-vermouth notes, but with the feel of warm whiskey.
After wowing me with the Red Hot Poker, Arnold then showed me another toy -- his rotary evaporator, or "roto-vap." Arnold uses it as a vacuum distiller, and infuses neutral spirits (el-cheapo vodka, filtered multiple times through charcoal) or other liquors with whatever he can think up. (Unlike the Red Hot Poker drinks, he can't sell the results at the French Culinary Institute's restaurants.) The low-temperature distilling infuses the flavors into the spirit with a great deal of presence; I sampled a caraway aquavit with a very forward rye-bread flavor, a peanut-infused Scotch that was fantastically fascinating, and even vodka and Scotch infused with hops. ("Hops-Scotch", of course.) The roto-vap removed the hops' extreme bitterness but left their characteristic flavor. I wish this stuff were more readily available...hmmm...perhaps I'll have to start trolling eBay for a roto-vap of my own.
Arnold is working on opening a bar with pastry-chef pal Johnny Iuzinni of Jean-Georges, but until then, you can taste the Red Hot Ale and Red Hot Manhattan at L'Ecole, the French Culinary Institute's restaurant.
The occasion was a "Pre-Prohibition Cocktail Party" at Keens Steakhouse, as part of the Zagat Vintage Dinner Series, which showcases 19th-century menus at various restaurants around town. Keens was an obvious choice for a venue to make 19th-century cocktails, as it's essentially unchanged since then. As Wondrich, who of course literally wrote the book on 19th-century mixology, told me, "there are only three bars in the city with this level of interior detail": Keens, Bill's Gay Nineties, and McSorley's. Keens started out as the Lambs theatrical club before manager Albert Keen went independent in 1885, and the event was held in the Lambs Room and connecting Lincoln Room there. The Lincoln Room has all kinds of neat Lincoln ephemera, most notably the Ford's Theater program Lincoln was allegedly holding when he was shot.
The Beverage Alcohol Resource guys -- not just DeGroff and Wondrich, but also Andy Seymour, spirits review maven F. Paul Pacult (who has his own series of tasting events at Keens) and Steve Olson -- designed the cocktail menu, and Keens provided their signature mutton, as well as prime rib and house-smoked filet mignon. I also enjoyed the restaurant's recreation of a typical 19th-century saloon's "free lunch" -- black and white bread, with veal tongue, smoked salmon, and venison cold cuts, with plenty of gherkins and onions and mustards for one's sandwich.
The drinks served at stations around the room were varied, but all had pretty intense flavor profiles and were very forward -- I'm not sure if this is a hallmark of pre-Prohibition cocktails, but I kept wanting more and more water as I drank. I started out with a glass of USS Richmond Punch, named for (and served on) the warship that captured New Orleans in 1862. It was much more strongly-flavored than most punches I've had, making it a nicely emphatic start to the evening. I haven't found many recipes for this one, but the one I did find calls for Jamaican rum, brandy, tea, Port, and orange curacao, which certainly makes for an interesting and rich punch. My next taste, equally flavorful, was the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail: two ounces Bols genever, a dash of Lucid absinthe, a dash of Fee's Whisky Barrel Aged bitters, a teaspoon of Luxardo Maraschino, and a quarter-ounce of rich demerara syrup. I followed that up with the Morning Glory Fizz, a small breakfast drink with Scotch (Talisker 10 Year, which I like a lot, but am not sure I could handle first thing in the morning), lemon, lime, simple syrup, and soda. I really liked this one, and am always impressed with good Scotch cocktails, since I tend to find it very hard to mix with. I may try my hand with this one at home, too. I'll also be making the Italian Wine Lemonade, which I think I'll serve in the summertime: a nicely intense lemonade with lemon juice, simple syrup, and water, served with a Port float. (Apparently it was originally served with a sherry float, which sounds intriguing too.) Very refreshing.
And, of course, the evening was capped with Blue Blazers, which were quite eye-catching. After prepping glasses with lemon twists and a small squirt of simple syrup, the ace bartenders took up position and made Blazer after Blazer for the adoring crowd. (That cask-strength Macallan lights up nicely, doesn't it?) As Wondrich has noted, the Blue Blazer is a simple hot Scotch toddy, but it certainly is showy.
I recently had the very welcome opportunity to visit Virgin Atlantic's Clubhouse at JFK. I'd expected upscale hotel-ish food and drinks, but they did far better than that. The drinks menu featured a decent selection of wines, and I started my visit with a glass of Mumm NV Champagne. But when it was dinnertime, I decided to switch to a cocktail to accompany my (very good) steak with chevre mashed potatoes and haricots verts.
Here's where Virgin's promotional tie-in with the James Bond franchise has paid off: In 2006's Casino Royale, Bond orders his signature variation on the Martini, almost exactly word-for-word from the 1953 novel:
"A dry martini," he said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."
"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.
Bond laughed. "When I'm...er...concentrating," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."
Later, of course, Bond christens it "the Vesper", after Vesper Lynd. It's something of an anachronism in the movie, though of course not the book: Kina Lillet was reformulated in the 1980s and is now sold as Lillet Blanc, with decidedly less quinine. And, as David Wondrich has pointed out, Gordon's gin was originally sold at 94 proof, but is now sold at 80. (He offers an update, made with Tanqueray, Stoli 100, and a smidgen of quinine powder.)
In last year's Quantum of Solace, Bond and the Vesper both return, although the drink's name isn't spoken; Bond gives the recipe to a bartender on board a Virgin Atlantic flight.
And, the Vesper leads the cocktail list at Virgin's Clubhouse lounge, and went down quite nicely with my steak. They serve them in appropriately smallish cocktail glasses, and it was a very well-made, balanced drink. (Virgin makes theirs with six parts Bombay Sapphire, two parts Grey Goose, and one part Lillet Blanc, stirred and served with a twist.) Yes, I was a little surprised to see it stirred, but I think Virgin was going for clarity over accuracy with that decision.
The remainder of the cocktail list was all over the place, from a good-looking Margarita to gin or vodka Martinis, and a large selection of sweeter drinks such as the "Sex in the Lounge" (vodka, Midori, Chambord, peach schnapps, pineapple juice, and cranberry juice), a huckleberry Cosmopolitan (made with huckleberry-infused vodka and oddly lacking lime juice), an apple "martini", and the "Virgin's Suite Dream" (Bombay Sapphire, lemon juice, cassis, Chambord, raspberries, and simple syrup, all topped with Champagne.)
I stuck to the Vesper, and after three or so, I wanted to slay bad guys and jet off to exotic locales. (Alas, it was just the AirTrain and the subway for me. But Queens is plenty exotic.)
I must say I like Virgin Atlantic's cocktail tie-in better than this proposed cocktail for US Airways:
Shake hard, but set down gently. Serve up, garnished with an inflatable life vest.
Last week, Pipeline Brands invited Vidiot & I to one of their Cocktail Jams, where the distributors, promoters, and other somehow-accidentally-invited aficionados took over the bar downstairs at Pranna on Madison Avenue for a barkeep's version of an open mic night.
Apothéke looks interesting -- if more than a little pretentious -- and is supposedly opening today. Will have to get down there sometime soon and check the place out.
This interview with Albert Trummer, though, makes me wonder a bit -- absinthe is properly distilled, rather than just infusing botanicals and herbs into anisette. (Reminiscent of those dippy "make-your-own-absinthe" kits you used to see online, where they'd tell you to soak wormwood in Pernod (or worse, grain alcohol) and presto: faux absinthe that was unspeakably vile.) And I'm not quite sure what he means by "normally you pour the water tower into the absinthe." Guess I'll just have to find out when I get there.
As I mentioned below, a few of us visited Death & Co. recently for a couple rounds, and while the "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" fit nicely into the post on sloe gin, the other drinks we had deserve a little showcasing of their own. Damon, who coincidentally took care of us on our first visit, was behind the stick again, and proceeded to wow us yet again.
Exhaustive descriptions and more pictures after the jump:
I've got a review of hotel rooftop bar mad46 up on NewYorkology. (The above photo is of the "very fine Mai Tai" referenced in that story.)
And, to my great good fortune, Rhum Clément was sponsoring "Tiki Tuesday" there, as they will every Tuesday in August, and showcasing its very good agricole rums and the excellent Creole Shrubb orange liqueur. I also got to meet 4th-generation Clément scion (and Managing Director of Clément USA) Ben Jones. (He was easy to spot, as he was the only person there with an "I ♥ SHRUBB" button on his shirt.)
I only fairly recently picked up a bottle of the Creole Shrubb, and I enjoy it very much -- it's lusher than most triple secs, with a warm rich vanilla-spice note undergirding the orange. I like to sip it neat or on the rocks, but I've also been enjoying it in Sidecars and other cocktails where I'd normally use Cointreau. I think my next purchase is going to have to be a bottle of their aged VSOP rum; I don't know much about rum, but it'll be fun to learn.