Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Mardi Gras! Prends soin de toi!

It's Mardi Gras, a perfect time to take a look at some of New Orleans's contributions to the drinking life. The contributions have been many and mighty. For the sake of space and time — because we have some masquerading to do — let's look at three traditional drinks, all arising from iconic New Orleans establishments.

We'll begin with one of the most famous cocktails from New Orleans: the Hurricane, which now has unfortunate connotations to its name that run as deep as Lake Pontchartrain. The drink is basically a rum punch — a very strong rum punch. The legend goes something like this: whiskey was in scarce supply and rum was everywhere a New Orleanian could see. So drinks were created to take care of this terrible overabundance of rum. It must have been a pretty poor tasting rum. There is a lot of fruit juice involved with the Hurricane.

Pat O'Brien's, a touristy Bourbon Street bar, takes credit for creating the Hurricane but pushes its powdered mix to make it. Here is an alternative recipe from the Gumbo Pages.

The Hurricane

1.5 oz. light rum
1.5 oz. dark rum
1 oz. orange juice
1 oz. fresh lime juice (NOT Rose's or RealLime)
1/4 cup passion fruit juice, or 1 tablespoon passion fruit syrup
1 tsp. superfine sugar
1 tsp. grenadine
Cherries with stems and orange slices to garnish
Ice cubes

In a cocktail shaker, mix the rum, passion fruit juice or syrup, the other juices, and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the grenadine and stir to combine, then add ice and shake. Half-fill a hurricane glass with ice, then strain drink into glass; add ice to fill. Garnish with orange slice and cherries.

The Sazerac Cocktail is one of the oldest of all cocktails, sometimes mistakenly called the oldest. Developed by Antoine Peychaud, a Creole immigrant who ran a pharmacy on Royal Street in the French Quarter, the drink began as a brandy cocktail, named for a famous coffee house on Exchange Street in the 1850s. Eventually a star was born. Or at least a very good rye. Sazerac Company acquired Peychaud's Bitters and began marketing liquors. Rye became the base for the cocktail. Sazerac Rye became the go-to rye for the drink for which it's named.

The Sazerac has more rarefied ingredients than you find in the Hurricane. Some advance planning is needed. The following recipe is based upon Ted Haigh's excellent adventure: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

The Sazerac

1 tsp. absinthe or pastis (Herbesaint, Pernod, or Ricard)
1 tsp. simple syrup (or more to taste)
3 to 4 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
3 oz. of rye whiskey or bourbon

Chill an old-fashioned glass. Coat the inside of the glass with the absinthe or pastis, leaving a slight puddle in the glass bottom. Add the simple syrup and the bitters. In a separate mixing glass, combine the whiskey and the simple syrup with ice and stir. Strain the contents of the mixing glass into the old-fashioned glass. Twist a strip of lemon peel over the surface of the drink and place in drink.

A couple of notes here on preparing to make this drink: you may find Peychaud's Bitters hard to come by. If it's not available in your local liquor store, you'll have better luck ordering it online.

Commercial distillation of absinthe was illegal up until 2007 due to its high alcohol level. It is becoming easier and easier to find; this your local liquor store may stock.

Finally, simple syrup. Easy for me to say, you say. But don't be afraid to do a little home cooking to prepare for your cocktail hour. It is as simple as it promises: one part sugar to one part water, shaken in a bottle until the sugar dissolves. Sealed and refrigerated, simple syrup will keep for up to six months.

Finally, and because we here in New York are expecting yet another snowfall, let's try a Milk Punch, a drink that that warms the heart. It's a cold weather drink that Brennan's on Royal Streetlays claim to inventing. Perfect for a snowfall, and perfect for beginning a Mardi Gras with a truly Fat Tuesday flair.

Brandy Milk Punch

2 oz. brandy or bourbon
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. superfine sugar
3 ice cubes
Cracked ice

In a cocktail shaker, combine the brandy, milk, and sugar with three ice cubes and shake until frothy, about one minute. Strain into a double-old fashioned glass with cracked ice. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

It's a "clear the calendar, don't answer any email" kind of drink. But you weren't going to do anything anyway. It's Mardi Gras.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Happy Hour in Antarctica.

Breaking news in the liquor circle is usually confined to surprise taste test results. It is hardly considered big news, although the Taiwanese Scotch beating the Scots at their own game certainly garnered a few headlines. Today's announcement was better news for Scottish scotch lovers and big news for the whiskey world. Several crates of scotch whiskey and brandy, believed to be from the unfinished Antarctic expedition of Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton, were excavated mostly intact after one hundred plus years on ice, in ice.

As reported in the BBC and the RTE today, five crates of alcohol were raised today by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. The Trust had known about and expected to find two crates of whiskey but actually found three. They also dug up two unanticipated crates of brandy. Always a pleasant surprise.

The crates were buried under what had been Shackleton's Antarctic hut in 1908, during his two-year expedition to reach the South Pole. The expedition ran out of supplies and had to pull up one hundred miles short of their designation. The whiskey and brandy were left behind in an attempt to move the team more quickly. The expedition ultimately failed, but Shackleton didn't lose a single man in the harrowing experience, and it was the furthest south any explorer had reached at that point. It was an accomplishment even without the whiskey to toast with. Shackleton was knighted for his efforts upon his return.

The excitement now is over the contents of the bottle rather than the shiny medal on Shackleton's jacket. The original recipe for the Mackinlay's whiskey in the crates no longer exists, so here is a chance for analysis and possible reproduction. This is the joy of the "opening a door into history," as Richard Paterson, the master blender of whiskey company Whyte and Mackay, explains it. Think of it as a paleontologist uncovering a dinosaur fossil. It is a good day at the office.

The two brandy crates, "a real bonus" as designated by Al Fastier of the NZAT, were labeled respectively Chas Mackinlay & Co. and The Hunter Valley Distillery Limited, Allandale. But it's the scotch, the scotch, that is "gift from the heavens for scotch lovers," declares Mr. Paterson.

Shackleton once said that if it weren't for strength of will, he "would make a first class drunkard." Now there may be some first class whiskeys that require a mighty strength of will to pass by.

(Photos from the New Zealand Antarctic Trust)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Two for the Road and Don't Get Lost...

For this week's column, I'd like to incorporate the new season of Lost,because frankly, I can't think of anything else. Like all of geekdom (and a few cool people too), I am gathering my wits, turning away fromBattlestar Galactica reruns, and preparing for tonight's season premier of Lost. But it's not enough just to sit back and be pleasantly perplexed at the infinite jest of this series.

The question is: can I get a cocktail column out it? Isn't everyone writing a piece on Lost and the magical J.J. Abrams/Damon Lindeloff/Carlton Cuse trio? Won't everyone be happy with just a couple of Dharma beers tonight at the season kick-off?


I'd like to think not, but how can this work? It's not as if everyone is walking the island like they are in a Noel Coward play, tossing a cocktail shaker until the outside is nice and frosty! Except…we're forgetting about someone very important. Someone whose presence, or lack thereof, will hopefully be explained this coming season: Doctor Christian Shephard. It's in his large footsteps that his son, main character Jack Shephard, learned some of his hard-drinking ways.

So we'll time travel back to Season Two's "Two for the Road," the episode where poor Ana Lucia meets up with Papa Shephard back in Australia. As the fates would have it, they bump into each other chasing down a few in the airport bar. Ana orders a tequila and tonic. Not much to comment on there, except for the necessity of a fresh lime in such a choice. I do think that the fact that she drinks it without ice speaks volumes about Ana Lucia and her anti-social behavior. It will ultimately prove to be her undoing.

What was Doc Shep drinking? I hear from Lost World that it was bourbon.

Although he was probably downing a couple of quick Scotches, let me suggest… wait for it… it's perfect… The Blood and Sand! Though it was named for the 1922 Rudolf Valentino movie about bullfighting, I can't think of two more superb words to describe the feeling of Lost — blood and the sand of that infernal island.

In keeping with Doc Shephard's Scotch, the Blood and Sand is one of few Scotch cocktails. More well known are, of course, the Rusty Nail (Scotch and Drambuie) and the Rob Roy (a Manhattan made with Scotch rather than rye). The Blood and Sand is more tasty than either of those and perfect for a cocktail party. And is there any better reason to have a cocktail party than the beginning of the end for Lost?

The Blood and Sand:

1 oz. Scotch
1 oz. orange juice
3/4 oz. Cherry Heering
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Enjoy. To paraphrase a favorite character, Hurley: maybe if we get drunk enough, we'll remember where we know each other from.

p.s. as always, this blog encourages responsible drinking! Not Christian Shephard drinking.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Brooklyn Hills Are Alive with Alpine Liqueur

Recently I put on my new modified Dunhill Saturday Night Survival Belt and trekked through the DUMBO area of Brooklyn. Over treacherous cobblestones and old railroad tracks — treacherous

when you are wearing heels — we made our way through the picturesque neighborhoods that make up Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. We passed dangerous bands of emos and hordes of hipsters in search of the ubiquitous St. Germain elderflower liqueur.

Like many aspects of Brooklyn as Scenester Heaven, all the bars try to be different, and they are all different alike and together. Right now, the trendy liqueur is St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Three bars all within flask of each other offered the same variation on the St. Germain cocktail.

A product of France, St. Germain is made from handpicked wild elderflower blossoms. By the Von Trapp family themselves? It has a distinctive floral flavor and has proven wildly popular. Perhaps more for the stylish bottle than for anything truly remarkable it brings to the bar top. But that remains to be seen.

First stop: the wonderful Water Street and its St. Royale: Chandon Champagne and St. Germain, garnished with a cherry and a sugar rim. Bartender Joe was quite pleased with my drink order since it was he, himself, who concocted the cocktail. This news was impressive until the end of the evening when I realized that all the bartenders, Joes or otherwise, were throwing some St. Germain in a sparkling or white wine. Water Street's was made somewhat distinctive by the sugar rim, but it comes off as a sweet cocktail despite its low sugar content, and the sugar rim is redundant.

Water Street could be serving nothing but PBRs (wait, they are! Pabst Blue Ribbon being the beer du jour in the borough), and they would still be deserving of frequent visits. In a genius marketing move, Water Street is the first Brooklyn restaurant lounge to offer on site babysitting during dinner hours. Catering to the stroller set is brilliant. I'm sure you've heard by now that Brooklyn is full of young families not even counting Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard's.

On to reBar around the corner. A beautiful space with elegant ironwork throughout, reBar was lively and anticipating even more activity with some poor soul's surprise birthday party. The flannel shirts behind the bar - as elegant as the surroundings are, this is still Brooklyn - were friendly and efficient and served up their version of the St. Germain cocktail: white wine, St. Germain, club soda with a lemon twist.

Last stop was Superfine, an outstanding spot down Front Street with mix-matched decor, an orange felt pool table, and an 'organic to the neighborhood' warehouse feel to the space. The owners of Superfine are longtime residents of DUMBO - from before the developers came in and kicked out all the small industries in the area to make room for residential condos. Before Superfine, they were proprietors of Between the Bridges, a legendary burger joint. Superfine's St. Germain cocktail was a variation on Water Street's: Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine and St. Germain with a lemon twist.

There are many more bars to visit in the neighborhood but I had my fill of elderflowers. I hear the apple brandy sidecar is quite good. I will be back with flannel and flask.

Survival Belt Photo: Valerio Mazzanotti