Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Atholl Brose

No road trip for this column. I am hard pressed to think of a bar, no matter how well-stocked, that could make me an Atholl Brose. If you know of one, fair reader, please alert me. Perhaps St. Andrews in New York City?

The Atholl Brose, a Scottish oatmeal broth named after the first Earl of Atholl, is a perfect recourse for when it is 34 degrees in Orlando, as it is while I write this. It's colder here in New York, of course, but 34 in Florida just sounds and feels colder than 34 in New York. At two degrees above freezing, icy margaritas aren't an option. Drinks in January need to be warming, but egg nog season is over, even if the neighbor's Christmas decorations are still lit. Atholl Brose is a lethal oatmeal/whiskey combination that has served Scottish warriors since the sixteenth century, making it very vintage indeed.

Not technically a cocktail because it predates such a concept, the Atholl Brose has a glorious history of highland warfare and warm hearths. According to legend, the Earl of Atholl in Scotland used it to win a tribal war in 1475. Supposedly he filled a well with the stuff. The rebelling army drank it and became too inebriated to continue with the raping and pillaging. I believe the inebriation part. It is a strong drink. I don't quite hold with the idea of filling up a water well with oatmeal and no one noticing. The water in the Atholl wells must have been very dense indeed, except… wait! The Gaelic word for water is uisce, which is mispronounced in English as "whiskey." I now can picture the enemy army saying, "Whiskey! Whiskey! Whiskey!" and clutching their throats, and the Scottish host, nodding his head and offering more... water, water, water. But it's not. Wink, wink, Scottish wink.

The earliest recorded history has Queen Victoria drinking Atholl Brose on her visits to Perthshire, Scotland, where the Atholl Earls serve their alcoholic oatmeal broth. Here is a traditional recipe for Atholl Brose, attributed to the Royal Scots Fusiliers from André Simon's 1948 A Concise Encyclopædia of Gastronomy: Section VII, Wines and Spirits. It must be started the night before.

Steep 1/2 cup of oatmeal (preferably Scottish, but use anything but instant!) in 1 1/2 cups of cold water overnight.

The next day, strain the liquid from the oatmeal. The recipe calls for muslin. You can use ordinary cheesecloth found in a well-stocked supermarket. You'll have 1/2 cup of oatmeal water — the broth.

Pour 3 1/2 oz. of this liquid into a large rocks glass.
Add 3 1/2 oz. of whiskey. The recipe calls for Scotch, but you might want to use a blended and save the Scotch for sipping.

2 1/2 oz of cream
1/2 oz of honey

Mixing with a silver spoon is recommended.

I found an alternate, non-alcoholic recipe on the Hamlyns Oats site that, with a little tweak, lends itself to a variation on the Atholl Brose. Hamlyns claims that it is a "warming and relaxing drink, but at the same time stimulating." Anything that is relaxing and stimulating at the same time, without alcohol, is well worth a try. But imagine how much better it could be with a little whiskey thrown in.

3/4 cup water
2 tsp. Hamlyns Scottish Oatmeal
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground ginger

Put the oatmeal, sugar, and ginger into a mug or small jug. Mix with a tablespoon of cold water taken from the 3/4 cup. Add the lemon juice. Boil the water and add to the mixture, stirring well until all is blended. The amounts of ginger and sugar may be varied according to taste.

To make this into a true Atholl Brose, add 2 oz. of whiskey. Use blended whiskey — save the malt for sipping.

Grain drinks are also very popular in Latin America, discrediting my cold climate/warm drinks insta-theory. Here is a variation on the Mexican Oatmeal Drink, originally posted by Chicana Peach. With some comparison testing, I found that a gold rum works better than bourbon with this sweet drink, and it smells divine in the preparation, something that occurs rarely in mixology. Again, this is best begun the night before.

1 cup Quaker old-fashioned oats soaked overnight in a cup
1 cinnamon stick broken in two or 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
3 cups water
2 cups skim milk
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. sugar
2 oz. Barbancourt Rhum

Soak the oatmeal overnight, or for at least six hours or so. Once that is done, place it in a medium pot and add the water and broken cinnamon stick. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Next, add the milk and honey and cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Finally, add the sugar and cook for 5 more minutes. You will know it's done as the consistency will thicken some and it will be a little creamy. Use more water or milk for a thinner consistency.

This was the sweetest of the three oatmeal concoctions. The original Atholl Brose was the creamiest and quite delicious, a perfect alternative to egg nog for the holidays. I will remind you in eleven months' time.

If you get discouraged with any of these worthy experiments — as I did with the Hamlyn Oats attempt below; notice the oatmeal collected at the bottom! — you can always try a new-fangled Oatmeal Cookie Drink. Layer 1 oz. Grand Marnier, 1 oz. butterscotch schnapps, and 1 oz. Irish Cream. However, you are probably better off just eating the cookie.

Mar sin leibh an dràsda — Ta ta for now!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Red Snapper: Facing the Music

Chances are, if you had a drink on New Year's Day, that is if you didn't give up drinking as a New Year's resolution, you had a Red Snapper. "But I had a Bloody Mary," you may respond. "Free! With my brunch!"

Same drink, classier name.

The Bloody Mary could be named for the Queen of England, Elizabeth I's older sister, who had a brief and violent reign. It could be named for the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago -a tavern on the west side of town. Apparently a bucket of blood would be mopped up at the end of an active night. Yum.

The name of the drink, the origins of the drink, the proper ingredients of the drink, all these are as hazy as things might have been at midnight on December 31st, but one thing is crystal clear. These spicy tomato/vodka combos are a most useful tool for the morning after.

Notice the ratio of vodka to tomato juice. It is one to one rather than the one to three ratio of vodka to mix that you might find in a typical restaurant brunch drink today. I tried Petiot's Bloody Mary Martini with some degree of success with the brunch crowd who do not like tomato juice. Shaken, strained, and poured.

From Harry's in Paris, Fernand Petiot went on to bartend at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, in the celebrated Old King Cole Room, where they still call vodka and spiced tomato juice a Red Snapper.

In one of the first stops in my international tour of Red Snappers, I stopped at the Mill Street Brew Pub, part of Toronto's historic Distillery District - a highly recommended trip for the year 2010. The Distillery District, a Canadian National Historical Site, is the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America, according to its website. Buildings that once housed the largest distillery in the British Empire now host the making of Hollywood movies. In the 1850s, there was rye and rum in the neighborhood. Now there is the filming of blockbusters, Hairspray and X-Men among other A-list movies having been filmed there.

The brewpub restaurant offered some excellent beers made on location but also had a Caesar on the brunch menu that needed to be sampled. The Caesar is a variation on the Bloody Mary which uses Clamato juice. This is a much more popular drink in Canada than in the U.S. I don't know what the connection between Julius Caesar and clams are, but the clam broth and tomato juice in Clamato is not as noxious a combination as you, you American you, might think. Note the heavy celery salt on the rim and the olive as a garnish. If there was a clam harmed in the making of this drink, it went unnoticed in the stockade of celery salt.

In traveling from Toronto to Buffalo, mixologically crossing over the border, I tried to emulate theTrattoria Aroma's Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary. In doing so, I also crossed over the border into Bloody Mary craziness - oh how Francios Petiot would have hated this.

Tomato juice has loads of vitamins that your body craves after a lively night and also has the fructose that helps your body metabolize the alcohol from the night before more quickly. Plus that little bit of alcohol in the Bloody Ma...umm....Red Snapper helps with a reintroduction of ethanol alcohol into your blood stream, diverting your enzymes from their work of torturing you to death with headaches, nausea, and general feelings of worthlessness. Or at least, this is what science says.

Sometime in the 1930s, New Yorker George Jessel combined vodka with tomato juice at a time when vodka was a novelty, and no one else knew quite what to do with it. Thank heavens, George did. Then, Fernand Petiot, bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, took the tomato juice and vodka and went a step further:

“I initiated the Bloody Mary of today,” Petiot claimed in the July 1964 New Yorker. “Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. "

Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary

2 parts vodka

6 parts V8 juice

4 dashes of worchestershire

4 dashes of Frank's Hot Sauce

Blue Cheese crumbles to taste

celery salt to taste

Red snapper purists couldn't stand the thought of chewy hunks of horseradish in a Bloody Mary. I don't know what they would have thought of crumbles of blue cheese, but it probably wouldn't be kindly thoughts.

Finally, I stopped at that Arts and Crafts wonder - the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, New York. The Roycroft is an American National Landmark, a 1905 campus for the arts based upon the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustav Stickley. It is a beautiful building and atmosphere - perfect for a vintage cocktail.

There I had a Bloody Mary built as well as its surroundings. At first glance, all the drink looks to contain is tomato juice. It was even suspiciously free of Worcestershire. But the drink had good proportion, modest in profile, but tangy to taste - no excess of horseradish or celery salt floating senselessly through the cocktail. Fernand Petiot would have been pleased.

The Bloody Mary is a common cocktail. There is even a tinge of the blue collar to it. Avowed beer drinkers will admit to a cocktail if it is a morning Bloody Mary. Does it even deserve a discussion? After all, champagne mimosas or bellinis are much more fashionable for endless Sunday brunches. But admit it. After a long night of over-imbibing on "brown liquor" cocktails, a mimosa is just not going to make a dent in that bourbon fog. If cocktail time is somewhere between noon and 3 p.m., seasoned tomato juice with a good vodka is peerless.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Encore du Champagne!

Margo: Encore du champagne, Waiter: More champagne, Miss Channing? Margo: That’s what I said, bub!

In 1944's Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland famously encouraged us to "have a merry little Christmas." The original draft of the song also told us to "pop that champagne cork" because this time next year, heaven forbid, "we might all be living in New York." And seeing as recent news headlines designated New Yorkers to be the unhappiest people in all fifty states, that is indeed a reason to drink.

The lovely old sentiment in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has a perfect wistfulness for the holiday season, with anticipation for the fun to come and nostalgia for times past, but at the time, it was too sad for some. In final versions of the song, in an attempt to cheer things up a bit, songwriter Hugh Martin reluctantly changed some of the lyrics. The lines "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight" attempted to jolly things up. The amended song grew to be one of the most popular in the Christmas canon. And perhaps it can be said that "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It could be your last" is a line only a New Yorker could love.

So do pop that champagne cork to jolly things up — for Christmas and for New Year's! If you are having a New Year's party, champagne is expected, of course, but try some champagne cocktails to gladden and invigorate your party. Turn to those "happy golden days of yore" for ideas on how to enliven familiar champagne concepts!

New Year's. It can be amateur night, but oh, the champagne. A good champagne makes all that counting down, kissing strangers, up way past my bedtime, all worth it. Champagne, a perfect drink to celebrate what's past, what's present, what's future.

The Champagne Cocktail

The first champagne cocktail we'll discuss is the Champagne Cocktail. This drink couldn't be easier, but your New Year's guests don't need to know this. In a champagne flute, place one sugar cube and four dashes of Angostura bitters. Fill with champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I took the Champagne Cocktail for a test drive at one of my favorite theatre hangouts, Angus McIndoe's in New York City. Across the street from The Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic and next door to the St. James Theatre, there are plenty of theatre types there for celebrity sightings, at least for a theatre geek like myself. Best sighting? Matthew Broderick with his small son in tow. No one approached him for an autograph. Angus McIndoe's is a home away from home.

The Champagne Cocktail has a beautiful rosy hue and has a built-in hangover remedy. I've always been a proponent of bitters for the morning after. The morning after — I'll think about that tomorrow.

Another easy champagne cocktail to try for a different take on a New Year's party is the French 75. A more sophisticated take on the theme, the French 75 is named for a World War I gun. The innovator supposedly didn't get enough kick out of champagne. Sometimes, the recipe calls for cognac instead of gin, but I find that the lighter flavor of the gin sits well with the champagne.

The French 75

2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. superfine sugar

Shake the first three ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker until frost develops on the outside of the shaker.

Strain into a champagne flute and top with champagne. Stir gently and garnish with a lemon spiral and a cherry. Like the gun it was named for, the drink kicks with remarkable accuracy.

If you have time after Christmas, visit your local Williams Sonoma store. On the 27th and 28th of December, they are offering demonstrations in mixing cocktails. Call your local store for more information. Any good ideas, please share with the rest of us! And remember, "from now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow. Have yourself a merry little Christmas" — and a merry, grand New Year's.

No good times like the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more.
But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows
From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.