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The Terroir Martinez Cocktail

The Terroir Martinez Cocktail

I’ve been enjoying St. George’s Terroir Gin for some time now. It was actually a year ago at a trade show that I first tasted it, walking away after a sip feeling like I had taken “a hike in Northern California” due to the local California botanicals used in making the gin. Just today, I was at this year’s edition of that same trade show, and came across the folks from St. George again. This time, they had some mysterious looking bottles with hangtags marked “Manhattan Project” and “Barrel Aged Martinez.” Of course, I had to try them.

The “Manhattan Project” was a nice barrel-aged cocktail in a bottle, rich and balanced, but really nothing too out of the ordinary. You dig Manhattans? You’ll dig their Manhattan. The Martinez, on the other hand, was like a hiking boot kick in the dusty pants. That Terroir Gin was put to marvelous use in this lightly aged (two weeks) cocktail, mixed with Carpano Antica plus Dolin rouge vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, and a bit of bitters. I tasted many things at the show, but this little sip of a new spin on a classic cocktail was what blew me away.

Now, I know you probably don’t have a barrel sitting around at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tackle this Terroir Martinez cocktail. The Martinez is a classic cocktail whose typical components are Old Tom gin, Maraschino liqueur, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Of course, there are many variations on this, in the ratio of gin to vermouth, and in the types of gin or vermouth or bitters employed. The key for this iteration is the Terroir Gin, no substitutions allowed. It lends an herbal evergreen entry that segues seamlessly into the sweet dark cherry and vermouth. While St. George uses two different vermouths in their house recipe, I’ll simplify it a bit and just use one vermouth for this home version. Without the barrel aging, this is a bit sharper than the intended version, less mellowed by time, but it still packs the invigorating buzz of a good, vigorous hike.

Terroir Martinez Cocktail Recipe

2 oz St. George Terroir Gin
3/4 oz Dolin rouge vermouth (or other sweet vermouth)
1/4 oz Luxardo Marachino liqueur
Dash Angostura bitters

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add ingredients and stir very well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add whatever garnish floats your boat.

* Thanks to Quality Wine and Spirits for hosting another great trade show.

Bartender’s Best Friend

Bartender’s Best Friend

With all the awesome new vodka flavors out there (CAKE! WHIPPED CREAM!!! CHOCOLAT RAZBERI!!!!! FLUFFED MARSHMALLOW!!!!!!!!), I’m amazed no one is talking about what surely must be the best friend to any aspiring bottle-juggling-mixologist-in-training. Bitters? No way. Too old school. I’m talking the ultimate flavor enhancer for your cocktail creations. Something that’s smooth and sweet and likely to cause women to swoon in anticipation. Ahh, yeah, break out the Coffee-Mate! What? You’ve never made a Coffee-Mate-ini? If not that, what about sneaking a little bit of vodka or whiskey into your morning Coffee-Mated coffee flavored beverage? No??? Who are you? C’mon, they’ve already got Amaretto and Irish Creme and Eggnog ready to go; you’re halfway there before you even start.

OK, I’ll be honest. I hate the stuff. You will never ever ever find a bottle of Coffee-Mate in my house. The ingredient list is enough to scare the bejeezus out of anyone opposed to consuming large quantities of chemically-modified foodstuffs (actual example: WATER, SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OIL, AND LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, SODIUM CASEINATE (A MILK DERIVATIVE)**, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, CELLULOSE GEL, CELLULOSE GUM, CARAGEENAN, DEXTROSE). Delicious, right? The whole idea of flavoring your coffee with chemically-enhanced “creamer” is antithetical to the whole notion of enjoying COFFEE. Enough ranting, though, let’s get to the cocktails! (There is an actual cocktail at the end of this rant.)

Milk and cream are not entirely foreign to the cocktail bar. There’s the White Russian, of course, and the Irish Coffee. Those are both acceptable uses of dairy behind the bar, if you ask me, but the slope gets very slippery after that, once you head into the land of the Screaming Orgasm (the drink, that is). I did, however, discover another acceptable usage of dairy, particularly the Coffee-Mate “almost dairy” type: when your friends whip up a batch of espresso-bean-infused bourbon during a spring break-induced fit of ingeniuty and invite you to figure out what to do with it. Sure, you can go elegant and play around the robust coffee with aromatic bitters and nut-based liqueurs and even certain dark beers boiled down to a syrup. Or, you can go crass and commercial. Espresso-infused bourbon… meet Fat Free French Vanilla Naturally and Artificially Flavored Coffee Creamer and a few cubes of ice. Magic. You can thank me later. And don’t be surprised next time you show up at your favorite bar and there’s a big shelf full of Coffee-Mate beside the Italian Amaro and Carpano Antica and all that jazz. Just hope they don’t start juggling the bottles, that stuff makes a mess.

Revisiting Jeremy Lin (the Cocktail)

Revisiting Jeremy Lin (the Cocktail)

Linsanity has plateaued somewhere far below its peak in New York City, but Jeremy Lin (the player) is still managing to play some excellent basketball. The news this morning captured the current state of the Knicks, “Fueled by a dose of Linsanity and a timely coaching change, the Knicks are making a furious charge toward a division title.” So, with Lin’s mini-resurgence, I decided to revisit the Jeremy Lin cocktail I created a month ago at the peak of Lin-diculousness. How Lin-diculous did things get? Well, the Thirsty South-devised cocktail made the Wall St. Journal. What!? (Scroll down in that link, apparently Rory McIlroy and Andrew Luck take precedent over a good cocktail!)

The day I created the cocktail, I didn’t even have the ingredients I wanted on hand. After all, not many folks have Kao Liang sitting around the house.  It was a “theoretical cocktail” (and I am now pursuing my PhD in Cocktail Theory, it takes about a lifetime to complete). Now, though, with Kao Liang in hand, I can present a slightly modified version of the recipe. As intended, this drink is strong, with bite and a nice zing to it, and an undercurrent of earthy mellow sweetness pinning it down. The combination of ginger and rhubarb and the slightly funky brown sugar-y notes of (sorghum-based) Kao Liang really works nicely. I’ve axed The King’s Ginger Liqueur in favor of Domaine de Canton, partly due to the fact that I CAN’T GET THE KING’S GINGER in Georgia, and partly because the Domaine de Canton is a bit more subtle and I think it allows the unusual flavors of the Kao Liang to come through. With that… enjoy!

The Jeremy Lin

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz Kao Liang
  • 0.75 oz Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
  • 0.25 oz fresh lemon juice
  • Dash Brooklyn Hemispherical Rhubarb Bitters

Shake ingredients over crushed ice like a madman. Strain into a chilled glass. Slam it home. 

Three Cherries – Maraschino, Michigan, and Moonshine

Three Cherries – Maraschino, Michigan, and Moonshine

While many folks obsess over which rye whiskey and which sweet vermouth make the most magical Manhattan, not enough attention is paid to the lowly cocktail cherry. I say “lowly” because, unfortunately, what passes for a cocktail cherry in the vast majority of bars around America is a pale imitation of its ancestral archetype. The modern American cocktail cherry is akin to an evil incarnation of all that is wrong with today’s overprocessed food world. Of course, in a truly great cocktail bar, you hopefully won’t find that neon-red, waxed-up and shiny Corvette-paint-job of a cherry that might belong on an ice cream sundae or even in a Shirley Temple, but definitely not in a Manhattan. What you will likely find is either a housemade version or a jar of Luxardo Maraschino cherries. These Luxardo cherries are the real deal, from Italy, since 1821, made with real Marasca cherries, real Marasca cherry juice, real Maraschino liqueur. They are a deep black cherry red. They speak to reality rather than saccarine fantasy.

I love cherries. I really do. Especially the ones you can buy on the side of the road in the heat of summer, in places where they actually grow cherry trees. There’s nothing quite like the joy of spitting out cherry seeds at sixty miles an hour as you cruise down a country highway – except maybe the joy of reaching the end of a good Manhattan and finding a perfectly delicious Maraschino cherry waiting for you at the bottom of the glass. In the name of cocktail science, I undertook a taste test of three different cherries – the classic Luxardo Maraschino, an American take on this classic by H&F Bottle Shop in Atlanta (but using Balaton cherries from Michigan), and a Southern-fried “moonshine” version from Ole Smoky Distillery in Tennessee.

Let’s start with the original, Luxardo. The ingredient list surprises with a few more entries than one might expect – Marasca cherries, Marasca cherry juice, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, sugar, but then also flavors, natural color, glucose, citric acid. Nothing wrong there, but interesting to see all that goes in to making the classic Maraschino cherry. In the jar, these cherries bear a dark black tint with just a hint of purplish red. The syrup is thick and, yes,  syrupy, with an equally deep dark cherry red color to it. When you bite into one, a base sour note kicks in first, followed by a rich dark cherry flavor surrounded by subtle nutty and earthy notes. There’s a slightly petrified crispness to the texture of the cherries, maybe slightly more than I care for, that lets you know they’ve been hanging out in sugar and liqueur for a while. In a Manhattan, they deliver a satisfying range of bitter to sweet fruit that comes on strong at the end. There is a reason this is the standard bearer, as the bitter and sweet fruit accents a cocktail incredibly well. 12.7oz for $16 or so

On to a modern rendition, from H&F Bottle Shop. (If it seems I have a penchant for this particular purveyor, it’s true – after all, who else is in the South is selling housemade cocktail cherries and Bloody Mary mix alongside a killer wine and spirits selection?) So, first, there are the Balaton cherries, which are “harvested once a year” in Michigan and “may be the best sour cherries grown in the States” (according to none other than H&F Bottle Shop!). Then, H&F uses a combination of cranberry juice, sugar, and Maraschino liqueur to pack the cherries and create a nice light syrup. The color here verges to a purple Kalamata olive territory, decidedly lighter than the Luxardos but still dark on the way to black. The syrup is relatively thin and tart, thanks to that cranberry juice. The taste is a little sour, a little sweet, and very natural, much closer to what you expect from a fresh cherry than something out of a factory. In a Manhattan, these deliver a balanced flavor that is tremendously complementary to the rye and vermouth. And the texture is not too soft, not too crisp, really just right. Big props to H&F for finding a way to better Luxardo, at least in my book. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? I think so, at least for a special treat every once in a while. 5oz for $16.

As for Ole Smoky, you can see right away that this jar of cherries is closer to that jar of cherries that is found in too many bars around America – bright red like cherry flavored candy. Visually appealing? Absolutely, like candy to a baby. Tasty? We’ll see… These cherries don’t sit in syrup, but rather in 100 proof grain neutral spirits with flavor added – AKA “moonshine” (?). The taste? Well, my notes said, “ouch, horrible, high alcohol, not much fruit.” I should probably stop there. In a Manhattan, my note simply read, “egad.” I’ll definitely stop there. 750 ml for $24 or so

What have we learned here? Well, first off, ditch that whole notion of cocktail cherries being “cherry red” and opt for something closer to midnight black. Grab some Luxardo if you can find them, call up H&F Bottle Shop if you’re eager for a more artisanal approach, or wait until summer and make up a batch of your own from fresh cherries. That is, if you can stop yourself from eating them first.

The Manhattan: Cocktail Classicism and Revisionism

The Manhattan: Cocktail Classicism and Revisionism

First off, I promise not to use the term “The Manhattan Project” or say “I’ll Take Manhattan” in the course of this post. I won’t even say “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” though I may burst out with a rendition of that “Man or Muppet” song from the recent Muppet movie.  It rocks. What I most certainly will do, however, is talk about this great cocktail and the many ways to find a variation of it that suits your tastes. The Manhattan may be the very epitome of the term “classic cocktail” (yes, even more so than the revered Martini), but it also serves as a foundation for endless exploration and customization. The base idea is 2 parts rye (no bourbon, please), 1 part sweet vermouth (try Dolin, try Cocchi, you will be amazed by the distinctions), a few dashes of bitters, and… that’s it. It’s simple. It’s strong. It’s balanced. It’s deep. It’s perfect, yet…

Once you’ve got the base concept down, the fun begins. The Wall St. Journal recently published a great overview of the different components and how you can mix and match them. Even just sticking with the notion of 2:1 whiskey to vermouth, you can get a lot of variation based on the particular whiskey or vermouth you use. And please don’t forget the bitters. Those precious dashes do wonders for the drink, and with all the interesting new bitters out there, you can put an interesting twist on the drink with that small component alone.(Side note: I personally prefer shaking over stirring, but you’ll find devotees on both sides of that fence.)

Bartenders have cooked up a nearly infinite number of drinks that depart from the basic Manhattan 2:1 ratio in interesting ways. My favorite variation is a relatively minor but highly impactful tweak. Cut the vermouth in half (and preferably use its close cousin, Punt e Mes), add 1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, and you have a Red Hook. The Luxardo adds a sprinkling of magical pixie dust that elevates the drink just a notch beyond perfection. (This one goes to 11) Some call for 1/2oz of the stuff, but I think that overwhelms the balance of the drink, basically coating your tongue in that pixie dust. Not good.

One twist I hadn’t seen before shows up in this nice little video from Liquor.com and Dushan Zaric of Employees Only in New York. His spin on the drink dramatically amps up the vermouth to rye ratio, and adds in some Grand Marnier for a deep orange detour. Sounds like a trip worth taking, but calling it a Manhattan is a bit of a stretch.

You like things dark, brooding and murky? Take out the Manhattan’s sweet vermouth, use 3/4oz Averna, and you’ve got a Black Manhattan. Crisper and drier? 1.5 oz bourbon, 1.5oz bianco vermouth, and a lemon peel twist makes a Bianco Manhattan. There’s the Brooklyn, the Little Italy, the Greenpoint. If it’s a New York neighborhood, there’s probably a Manhattan variation with that name. Now whether these are truly Manhattan variations, or simply clever drinks that bear a passing resemblance to the original in one or two discrete components… that’s a debate worth having over a cocktail.

Here’s the recipe and some thoughts on my personal favorite, The Red Hook:

2oz rye (I like Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond, a tremendous value at $15-$18)
1/2oz Punt e Mes (or your favorite sweet vermouth – Punt e Mes brings a nice bitterness)
1/4oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Stir or shake over ice (I like the body that shaking provides) and strain into a chilled glass. A Luxardo cherry makes a nice garnish but is not a necessity.

Oh, and here are a few videos from Liquor.com – the one for the Employees Only Manhattan, and one for a nice Rob Roy as well (a Scotch variation on the Manhattan):