Sangria in the Summer

A big party with lots of friends from the neighborhood is the perfect time to break out some sangria. Not too stuffy or serious. Enough fruit to keep the white zin crowd (and the vegans) happy. And visual appeal out the wazzoo. Don’t believe me? Check it:

This is a batch of white sangria jazzed up with vanilla seeds, some white cranberry/peach juice from the fine folks at Ocean Spray, and a secret ingredient – Dolin Blanc vermouth – which adds some really nice depth under the fruity sweetness. This was a bit improvised, but the idea for the the vanilla and white cranberry/peach combo came from an old Bon Apetit recipe. Here’s the Thirsty South version, perfect for peach season in the South:

White Sangria with Vanilla and Peach

1 bottle Riesling, preferably on the dry side
1 1/2 cups Ocean Spray white cranberry and peach
1/2 cup Dolin Blanc vermouth
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 fresh Georgia peaches, cut into wedges
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
1 orange, cut in half and sliced into rounds
a bunch of raspberries

Mix first 4 ingredients in a large pitcher. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean and stir to blend. Add in peach and citrus. Cover and chill overnight. Add raspberries before serving, pour over ice.

Now, this batch of sangria went way too quickly, but there was plenty of sangria-infused fruit left in the pitcher. We happened to have a few bottles of Savida Sangria sitting around, and poured them into the pitcher to keep the party going. Savida is actually based in Atlanta, and they are among the best options out there if you’re looking for a ready-made sangria. They use good quality California wine and real fruit juice, and work well when you’re in a pinch for something quick. Salud!

A White Elephant at The Gin Joint, Charleston

There was one primary cocktail destination (OK, and a few secondary destinations as well) on our recent visit to Charleston – The Gin Joint – and the experience did not disappoint. Their cocktail menu is creative, diverse and expansive. The feel is that of a comfortable, modern take on the speakeasy. The service is knowledgable and friendly. And the drinks are perfectly executed.

A local friend had recommended one particular cocktail that The Gin Joint is known for – their “White Elephant.” There’s no relation here to the White Elephant that features vodka and creme de cacao; owner/bartender Joe Raya informed us that this one is a twist on the classic Hemingway daiquiri which had its origins in 1930’s era Havana at one of Hemingway’s haunts, the El Floridita Bar. The twist in The Gin Joint’s drink is that it replaces white rum with a tequila blanco, and the name comes from Hemingway’s book titled “Hills Like White Elephants.” That book is set in Spain, but it’s the Mexican tequila that sets this drink apart – our version included Espolon Tequila Blanco, which lends an earthiness to the drink that balances the sweet citrus incredibly well. The other key ingredient is Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur – accept no substitutes!

Here you go, The Gin Joint’s recipe for a White Elephant, followed by some photos to give you a feel for this great little bar in Charleston, South Carolina.

The White Elephant
1.5 oz tequila blanco, such as Espolon
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Shake all ingredients well over crushed ice, strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry if desired.

Cocktail Ingredients: Homemade Orgeat Syrup

Among cocktail ingredients, orgeat syrup is somewhat esoteric. There is one colossally classic drink that requires it – the Mai Tai – and several other unusual and not-often-seen cocktails that call it into service as well, including the Momisette, “the Japanese cocktail” and the Trinidad Sour. The main thing that orgeat brings to the table is a milky, nutty sweetness, often used to balance out strong bitter flavors. I was eager to make a Trinidad Sour at home, a drink known for its overwhelmingly heavy use of Angostura bitters as a primary ingredient, and sought out some orgeat. Commercial versions are available, most commonly one from Fee Brothers, but the ingredient list will turn off anyone opposed to the use of corn syrup and artificial flavors in their cocktails. Making orgeat at home is not that difficult, but does require a bit of time and procuring some orange blossom water, a minor but vital ingredient.

I followed the recipe found on Imbibe’s website. It will take a total of 6 hours or so, most of it spent soaking chopped-up almonds in water. And, other than the orange blossom water, the ingredients are simple – raw sliced almonds, water, a bit of vodka, and sugar. Once made, the orgeat syrup will last for several weeks, but I highly recommend making use of it in a variety of cocktails to get a feel for what orgeat can do. One thing to note is that the milky color and density of the syrup has a tendency to make cocktails look like absolute crap (see photo of Trinidad Sour below, one of the ugliest cocktails I’ve ever seen).

So, on with the cocktails. The Trinidad Sour is for the bold among you (seriously, this is heavy duty stuff), the Japanese Cocktail is for the distinguished (brandy is the predominant note), the Momisette is for those eager for refreshing invigoration (a sweet take on pastis), and the Mai Tai, well, for those who want to Tiki (party!). Here are the recipes:

The Trinidad Sour
1 oz Angostura bitters
1 oz orgeat syrup (I personally prefer to up this to 1 1/2 oz, but start with 1 oz)
Âľ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz rye, such as Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond

Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Japanese Cocktail
2 oz brandy
½ oz orgeat syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish with lemon peel.

1½ oz Pernod or other pastis
½ oz orgeat syrup
Sparkling mineral water

Add pastis and orgeat to a tall glass, add ice, top off to taste with sparkling water.

Mai Tai
2 oz rum (the original called for 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum)
½ oz orange curacao
½ oz orgeat syrup
3/4 oz fresh lime juice

Shake vigorously with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Playing with the Pappy Old Fashioned

I’ve always been hesitant to use long aged (AKA $50+) whiskey in cocktails, thinking that a 6 year old rye or 10 year old bourbon offer a better balance of approachability and complexity from time in the barrel. A bottle such as Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old bourbon has always been reserved for neat drinking in my house, due to its amazing character and its cost, quite frankly, but also because it just seems a bit sacrilegious to mix anything beyond a few drops of good water into something so fine. Now, I’ve heard of Pappy cocktails being served at pairing dinners with Julian Van Winkle III himself at the table, but it wasn’t until I read John Kessler’s brief chat with Charleston chef Sean Brock that I had a strong desire to explore Pappy in a cocktail. Chef Brock shared an approach for making a Pappy Old Fashioned that Mr. Van Winkle himself had recently offered up – a slightly unorthodox approach that, I’m sure, plenty of thought and experimentation went into. So with the Van Winkle-endorsed recipe in hand, I joined a few Pappy-appreciating friends to tinker with the recipe and contrast it with the standalone bourbon. The fact that we were playing with the Old Fashioned eased my apprehensions as well, given that it’s one of the simplest of classic cocktails, one that focuses on the primary ingredient (here, bourbon), layered with the interplay of aromatic bitters and the sweetness of a bit of sugar.

The test was this:
Glass A – Pappy 15
Glass B – a conservative take on the Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, adding a cube of brown sugar doused in Angostura and orange bitters
Glass C – following Mr. Van Winkle’s lead, taking the above and adding a small wedge of orange to the mix
Glass D – blending the Glass C approach with another common Old Fashioned technique, the addition of a touch of club soda

So, we started with the bourbon itself and progressed step by step to cocktails that layered on extra dimensions. The results were fascinating to say the least…

Glass A – Pappy 15 – a genuinely great bourbon worthy of slow contemplation on its own. The first thing that hits you is the depth of the nose that the time in the barrel has provided, caramel, leather, cedar, on and on. There is the evident heat, it is 107 proof, but it’s kept in check amidst the layers of spice and toasty caramel. Close to perfection in a bourbon. How can you mess with this?!

Glass B – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, with brown sugar and bitters – wow, the nose now is completely changed, gone are the deep aged notes, in are the bright aromatics of the bitters, which really take over. Bitter orange peel, cloves, sharp floral whiffs. Where’s the Pappy? But then you take a sip, and the Pappy emerges, now a bit sweeter indeed, a bit more rounded, present but definitively altered – a cocktail rather than a bourbon in the glass. Is it better? No, not really. Is it good? Yes, definitely. And as the drink sits in the glass, the cube of ice melts a bit, the bitters take more of a back seat and integrate into the bourbon more effectively.

Glass C – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, with a wedge of orange in the mix – OK, now this is interesting. The orange muddled into the bourbon increases the orange notes (duh) that hit your nose up front, but the sweet acidity of the orange also somehow manages to make the drink “fuller,” smoother, rounder. Dare I say more interesting? This is an excellent cocktail, no doubt, with a LOT going on between the citrus, the bitters, the bourbon itself. It respects the bourbon, but adds a playful element of surprise to the Pappy experience.

Glass D – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, now with a touch of club soda – a little bit of water can go a long way. Here, alas, the way it’s going is a dead end, a distraction, a verge off into too sweet and too mellow that basically diminishes the glory of the main ingredient. Fail. Well, maybe not a FAIL, but does not compare well to the other versions tested.

Conclusion: Pappy 15 is a glorious thing on its own. It’s hard to justify making a cocktail out of it, BUT… if you are hankering for a cocktail that respects a fine bourbon, there is an Old Fashioned that works delightfully well, that is interesting and engaging, that is OK to put Pappy 15 in! Julian Van Winkle III clearly knows his stuff, and the combination of the brown sugar, bitters and orange is a fine partner for Pappy.

So, here it is, a slightly modified take on Van Winkle’s Pappy Old Fashioned:

1.5 oz Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon
1 brown sugar cube (roughly 1 tsp brown sugar pressed into a cube)
Angostura Bitters
Orange bitters
Orange wedge, peeled, fruit only (Satsuma or similar is a good choice)

Place sugar cube over a paper towel on top of an Old Fashioned (AKA rocks) glass. Add 6 drops of Angostura bitters and 6 drops of orange bitters to the sugar cube, then let it settle through the sugar – a good portion of the bitters will absorb into the paper towel. Drop the sugar cube into the glass, and add 1/4 oz Pappy and a small wedge of orange. Muddle well. Add one large ice cube and 1 oz Pappy, then stir well. Once stirred, add a final 1/4 oz Pappy. And enjoy!

Chef Brock uses a touch of sorghum over a regular white sugar cube instead of brown sugar. Mr. Van Winkle commented below to be sure to peel the orange and use the fruit only, so that the bitterness of the pith is taken out of play.