Mixology Monday: Smoke on the Vine Cocktail

For this month’s Mixology Monday, I found myself with an already half-concocted recipe I could leap off with for January’s theme of “Fortified Wines”. Which was great, because I’ve already given up on resolutions and have been spending my time waiting for the temps to rise nursing Hot Toddies to my heart’s content not posting on here and needed an already running start. Hosted this time around by Jordan Devereaux of Chemistry of the Cocktail, he’s asked us to try our hands at mixing fortified wines (sherry, port, etc…) into a cocktail.

I usually enjoy a glass of Port by itself, but have yet to delve very far into trying much else with them. After reading through the PDT Cocktail Book lately, I noticed a few drinks calling for Port and Sherry as an ingredient. This piqued my interest and spawned an earlier version of this cocktail. Needing some guidance for proportions, the end result, Smoke on the Vine, is a variation on the La Perla cocktail (a tequila and sherry base that I subbed out Mezcal and a Tawny Port for).

This particular cocktail project also helped make Twitter useful for me. Last month, I got so busy with Holiday crap that I forgot all about checking websites and missed the last assignment. This month I changed my settings to get an alert whenever the MxMo account tweets, which thankfully is not every 30 minutes. Now I can just let my phone remind me about such things.

And here we go…

1-1/2 oz Vida Organic Mezcal
1-1/2 oz Yalumba Antique Tawny Port
3/4 oz Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur
2 dashes of Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters
Lemon peel for garnish

Fill a mixing glass 2/3 with ice, add all ingredients except for garnish. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Twist the lemon peel over the drink, expelling the oil into it and drop the peel in.

Mezcal sometimes needs a strong companion in a drink, otherwise it will dominate the palate, your nose, and anything else it comes into contact with. Dividing the main stars of the drink up 50/50, the Port provides a syrupy sweetness that balances well with the savory nature of the Vida. It also gives the drink a nice, rich mouthfeel. Adding a touch of acidity and your first hit on the nose, the lemon oil and lemon peel are more than just a garnish. Opting for a wide open glass, your nose will sink into that lingering lemon oil mixed with the strong hit of mezcal, punching everything up until you sip into the sweet layer of Port. And that Apricot liqueur! I’m putting it in all kinds of drinks lately. Notes of cumin and wood, as well as a necessary dryness provides that last balancing act for this cocktail to work. The bitters, while just barely there, I found cut the sweetness back by just the right amount (earlier takes of this drink, while pleasant, tipped a bit too much to the sweet side making the drink sit flat).

Now I can pat myself on the back for getting this done and get back to business on here thanks to the MxMo gang.

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Here’s the round up post of everyone’s drinks from this month’s MxMo!

Cocktail Quickie: Aquavit & Dill Bloody Mary

My house is a house that loves a well made Bloody Mary. From home-made tomato water to every bottled version of tomato base under the sun, we’ve tried and tested a great deal of these. Some day I will get around to posting a listing of my top mixes, and those I beg you to stay away from. But it’s far from complete at the moment.

What am I drinking right now? My top favorite Bloody Mary mixes currently are McClure’s Spicy Mix, Lefty O’Doul’s San Francisco Original Mix, and Zing Zang’s Mix. One important factor is trying to find a mix where high fructose corn syrup is not the second ingredient or even exists at all. It’s added sweetener where sweetener need not be. All of these are around this ballpark. McClure’s has a taste all its own. Known for their pickles, this mix is kinda like drinking a spicy tomato pickle brine. I love it, however, it’s definitely not for everyone. It really has a nice bite too, because honestly, when a Bloody Mary mix says spicy, I mostly disagree with that statement. The other two mixes here are good to have around if you have a crowd that varies in levels of ‘heat’ they want in their drink. One can drink them as is, or doctor them up. I prefer these for cocktail making for that reason. They make a great base where the flavor can be taken in sudden and unexpected directions (for a Bloody Mary).

This post is mainly just that. A quick way to ‘doctor up’ if you will a pretty solid base into a more complex drink with just a few touches. Also, why I’m including it into the ‘quickie’ section here.

Your standard Bloody Mary will call for vodka, but if I have a bottle of Aquavit around, I will always substitute that liquor instead. Why? For me, it gives the drink more body, more meat. And there is a subtle caraway flavor that it also imparts on the drink that is a nice match for the briny, tomato base. And hand in hand with this Scandinavian liquor goes dill. I will also stick that in if I’m making the Aquavit version.

Players

One detail that you will see in restaurants and bars that many people will skip at home is rimming the glass with some house devised salt and/or pepper mix. For a satisfying Bloody Mary at home I don’t see the point in missing this. You can get a whole other layer of flavor just by quickly combining some spices and adding that to the glass.

If you think this is the part where I have you add a giant stick of celery to the drink, you’re wrong. Personal preference has me sit that ingredient out. I find the smell of fresh celery simply too overpowering and it ruins the flavors of the drink. However, a stick of cucumber? Oh yeah, throw one in. That flavor is a match with the dill.

I do a lot of eye-balling when I make this for myself, but for consistency I will give measurements here. As always, adjust for your taste, you gotta drink it.

2 oz. Aquavit
4 oz. Bloody Mary Mix
1/2 medium lime
1 sprig of dill
2-3 dashes of hot sauce (Tapatío is my preferred hot sauce)

For Garnishes:
1 tbsp of smoked sea salt flakes
1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
cucumber slice
olive
small sprig of dill

Let’s make some garnishes first. For the skewer, peel alternate patches of skin from a cucumber lengthwise for a zebra stripe effect. Cut a round from the cucumber and slice in half for a half round. Cut a spear of cucumber and set aside. Add the half round, a small sprig of dill and an olive to a skewer. Set aside.

For the salt rim: Add smoked sea salt, fennel seeds, black pepper and some of the dill fronds into a mortar (bowl) and using a pestle (or end of a wooden spoon), crush all of the ingredients until they are all roughly around the same size, not quite a powder with some crunchy bits left behind. Pour out the salt mixture onto a saucer and set aside.

Cut the lime in half and use one half to rim a highball glass with the juice. Immediately dip the glass into the salt mixture, turning to coat the entire outside rim of the glass. Many debate whether to actually stick the whole rim into your mixture, or just turn the outside around in the mixture so nothing gets inside the glass. I’ll leave this step up to your discretion. Squeeze both halves into the glass, add dill sprig and muddle both just to combine and break up the dill a bit. Add ice cubes and build the rest of your drink by adding Aquavit, Bloody Mary mix, hot sauce, spear of cucumber and your skewer.

As I mentioned earlier, that salt mixture just adds another level to your drink. It has a nice smoky and sweet smell and tastes the same too. Fennel works well with both caraway and dill, and I find it a better addition than say, celery salt. If you’re going to make yourself a quick drink at home, why not spend a few extra minutes to give it an extra shot of flavor? This may seem like a lot, but it really just takes a couple minutes to put together.

The Golden Hour Cocktail

I’m really trying to give rum a fighting chance outside of Tiki drinks in my house. For this cocktail, I wanted to try something more ‘stiff shirted’ if you will. I guess I only moved a hair over from something tropical, but it’s a start.

What this is though is delicious. I’ve gotten hooked on this Apricot liqueur, as I am finding it quite versatile in all manner of cocktails lately.

Named for the time of day lately when these start getting passed around in the house, they bring a lovely glow and just a little hint of warmth.

1-1/2 oz. Mount Gay Eclipse Barbados Rum
3/4 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz. cinnamon syrup
2 dashes Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters

Combine all ingredients into a shaker 2/3 filled with ice. Shake well to combine and strain into a chilled coupe.

This drink is quite dry. Sweet and tart are well balanced with the cinnamon and bitters lingering in the back adding a hint of spice.

The Bar Keeper Margarita

I’m not usually a big tequila drinker unless there is a plate of tacos and refried beans in front of me. It also helps if a Mariachi Band is playing 10 feet in front of me. This weekend the stars aligned. I had a craving for nachos earlier in the week but didn’t want to go out. So my husband picked up some fixings and chose the most expensive bottle of tequila he could find… at a Ralph’s supermarket. Which, actually, was kind of pricey at . So I made us margaritas based on Regan’s recipe and he made giant mounds of nachos.

Fast forward to a Saturday soon after and my bi-weekly visit to Bar Keeper in Silver Lake (if I lived walking distance to this place I’d go broke in a month). With a running list of ‘extras’ for our bar, I try and make one special purchase every time I’m at the shop while stocking up on the usually necessities. This time it was a bottle of Dry Orange Curaçao. I ended up in a conversation with the owner, Joe Keeper, and he begged me to try it just by itself, on ice, and I’d be blown away (which frankly was just fantastically delicious). And then proceeded to give me a rough recipe for a margarita using this Curaçao. The kicker? Atomizing some Vida Mezcal over the finished product. Nice touch, I just happened to have a bottle of that at home.

Immediately upon arriving home I was so smitten with this recipe that I broke out everything and then realized, well, an atomizer I did not have. Not even a spray bottle. The question then was just how much of the Mezcal should make its way into the drink? If one is just spritzing it over the top, then you don’t need that much to go into the drink. My first attempt was a 1/4 ounce, completely killing the drink. All smoke and no other flavors.

So on the next take I tried just rinsing the glass with the Mezcal. Perfection.

Just as described by Mr. Keeper, you first get hit with a smoky aroma from the Mezcal and then that wonderful sweet Curaçao, the tequila and a tangy citrus bite from the lime juice. It was really better than any margarita I’d had out with a Mariachi band and plate of tacos.

This drink I give all the credit to the folks over at Bar Keeper who constantly help fill up my liquor bucket list, and who are always as enthusiastic about cocktails as I am.

1-1/2 oz. Avión Silver Tequila
1 oz. Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
pinch of smoked sea salt
Vida Mezcal for rinse
lime wedge

Rinse a chilled cocktail coupe with about 1/2 tsp of the Mezcal. Toss remaining liquid. Combine tequila, curaçao, lime juice and salt into a shaker half filled with ice. Shake well to combine and strain into coupe. Garnish with lime wedge.

Why is there no salt rim on this margarita? I find that a small pinch of the smoked sea salt shaken into the drink fulfills my need for salt without feeling like you are crunching on a salt lick, and it keeps the glass nice and clean. Granted, if you like crunching on a salt lick, by all means, rim away!

Bake It: Angostura Bitters & Luxardo Cherry Brownies

Sometimes we do this thing at my house where we’ve decided we want to be healthier and get rid of all the ‘unhealthy’ snacks in the house. So suddenly there is no more processed goodies about. We’re left with a container of unsweetened cocoa powder and a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips shoved in the back of the fridge. All you bakers out there are rolling your eyes and saying ‘yeah, and?‘ right about now. What I’m left with is two main ingredients to make a whole bunch of desserts and unhealthy foods. The challenge though, is to actually make something from scratch.

I love to bake, but I don’t get to do it as much as I used to. Now I’m mainly focused on cocktails. Then I decided to marry the two.

When I realized there was nothing to snack on at the house I went in search for a quick and easy recipe I could throw together with not much effort but be satisfied with the end result. I remembered I’d seen on Shutterbean a pretty straightforward brownie recipe that would accomplish both goals. But I wanted to put my own spin on it. Also, I wanted something my husband would want to eat and that meant throwing some kind of fruit into it and getting the walnuts out (otherwise I’d be staring the pan down with no regrets). Lately he’d been on a cherry kick and as an afterthought, I figured I would stick a couple cherries on top. Then I spotted the bottle of Angostura bitters and I had an idea. My first batch had a 1/2 ounce, but I found I wanted the bitters to be stronger throughout the brownies. Then I threw in a whole ounce and it was magic.

(recipe adapted from Shutterbean.com)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1-¼ cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 oz. Angostura bitters
1 cup luxardo cherries (syrup drained off as much as possible)

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 8″ square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom and sides of the pan with parchment.

Mix flour, salt, cocoa powder & baking powder together in a bowl. Set aside.

Place butter and chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water; stir frequently, until almost melted. Remove from heat; stir until completely melted.

Whisk in sugar until smooth. Add bitters and stir to combine. Whisk in eggs. Fold in cherries. Gently whisk in flour mixture until smooth (do not overmix).

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached (they should form a ball when rolled between your fingers), 50 – 55 minutes. Cool completely in pan.

Use parchment paper to lift from pan; peel off and discard. Cut into squares (this is much easier to do with these brownies if you stick them in the freezer after they have cooled slightly for about 20 minutes).

I found that adding the bitters and the cherries made the batter a bit thicker and took more time to bake thoroughly. I would start checking on them at about the 50 minute mark and test every 5 minutes after. The end result is a fudgy brownie that has some super spicy notes from the bitters, and with the cherries, are reminiscent of chocolate covered cherry cordials. I decided to split the chocolate between semisweet and bittersweet to cut a bit back on the richness and try to highlight more of the spice. They really make a great holiday brownie too (I’ve now made this enough times over the past two weeks that I have the recipe memorized and could make them in my sleep).

Low Rent Cocktail of the Month: Texas Tea

Beer doesn’t find its way into my cabinet very often. I enjoy the occasional Michelada at a brunch, and even rarer I’ll go for a nice sour beer over at the Verdugo bar in my neighborhood. But I’ll never ask for it out anymore. There was a time when I’d get a Stone, or an oatmeal stout. Now I’d rather make a beer float, or seriously, beer mousse with that Young’s Chocolate stout. Oh man, so good.

However, there are times where you’re just going to have beer to deal with. This recipe actually stems from a house warming party about 5 years ago where my husband wanted ONE drink to be had at the party. I’d never heard of it before, but he insisted on something called Texas Tea. This was just around the time that PBR was making its way into every hipster joint in Los Angeles. Or at least it felt that way.

If you want cases of something at your party, PBR is the way to go. It’s cheap. You know what else is cheap, limes. Your #2 ingredient in this cocktail. In fact, it’s only two ingredients.

Even stranger, it’s really quite refreshing.

I tried actually doing some research here and seeing if I could find something along the recipe that we used that day, but mainly Texas Tea brings up a drink akin to a Long Island Iced Tea. And some rather crude non-drink related articles. This cocktail though really does not require that much thought. It can be tweaked according to your own tastes so the recipe is rather a set of guidelines for you to follow. It’s also now being dubbed Hipster Soda.

1-1/2 cans of PBR, or most of one tall boy (just how much can you fit in that stein of yours?)
2-3 limes
ice

Grab yourself a rather large beer stein. You know you have one. It’s in a box marked “college” somewhere. Squeeze the juice from two or three limes and add the spent shells to your stein. Add ice about 2/3 of the way up the glass and pour the PBR over the whole thing. Throw one back.

Why so many limes? For me it makes it more palatable. For your drunken college kid, you’re making a real cocktail here. Enjoy.

The Eagle Rock

Read through any cocktail book and there are more recipes that start with ‘this is a variation on…’ then one realizes. Mad scientists behind the bar, a mixologist/bartender/whathaveyou finds themselves looking at a base recipe and seeing where it can take off.

This cocktail recipe is a riff, on a take, on a variation with its beginnings at the turn of the 20th century.

To explain further, the PDT Cocktail Book does a great job of briefly setting up some ingredients and ideas for seasonal cocktails, and in the ‘Fall’ category use the Newark as an example of a cocktail that lends itself well to multiple variations. The drink itself is based on the Brooklyn cocktail. So I went with my own variation, and named it after my neighborhood. Well, sort of my neighborhood. My actual neighborhood is so small that even people living in it don’t necessarily know it’s technically separate from Eagle Rock, or Glendale. So I’m naming it the Eagle Rock. (Apologies to everyone not in Los Angeles, for which this makes no sense. Now would be a fun time to go look at Google maps, or just continue reading).

The Players

2 oz. Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon
1 oz. Punt e Mes
1/2 oz. Maraska
1/2 oz. Fernet Branca

Pour ingredients into a mixing glass 2/3 filled with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled coupe.

The combination of Punt e Mes and Fernet Branca made me think of a more herbal variation on a Manhattan. The drink is dry, sharp and bitter with some sweetness from the Maraska and Punt e Mes, and a strong herbal undertone. And why the Wild Turkey Bourbon? It’s what I had on hand, and it added a nice layer of spice too.

What to do with Amaretto: Part One, make a sour

For a couple years I’ve been slowly adding to my liquor cabinet, and then recently I’ve just gone nutso and been buying carts full of stuff to try. Unfortunately this means that the tidy little nook that was housing all the liquor is now being turned back into the wine rack it really is. The sideboard is now starting to groan under the weight until we get around to finishing the bar (and with a now tentative plan of late January for this year’s Tiki Party, that really needs to happen ASAP).

While cleaning out the wine nook, I came across a couple bottles that have not seen the light of day for quite some time. One being an ‘ok’ bottle of Amaretto. I believe this was bought around the time of the first Tiki Party four years ago, and hasn’t been cracked open since this post. Needless to say it was quite dusty.

I figured it was time to give it a second chance when it occurred to me… what to do with a bottle of Amaretto? An Amaretto Sour? I don’t think I’d even tried one before. And while I wasn’t about to compete with Mr. Morgenthaler on how to make one (who can while he is making that face?… I kid, I’m sure it’s delicious.) I wanted to just make it as basic as possible and to just try it on for size. Just two ingredients.

And in the end, head-scratchingly good.

I guess I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the taste of almonds. That is, after all, the defining characteristic of Amaretto. Mixing it with lemon made it one of the most delicious, almond-spiked (albeit maybe the only almond-spiked) lemon-aides I’ve ever had. I was very surprised with how much I enjoyed the drink. The sharp lemon was cut perfectly with the overly sweet amaretto, omitting the need for sweetener entirely and blending just two ingredients into a well-balanced cocktail.

I could see this working at brunch.

2 oz. Amaretto
1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
sugar crystals for garnish
optional: nutmeg

Add liquids to a shaker 1/2 filled with ice. Shake and strain into a sour glass garnished with a sugar rim.

Note on the sugar rim: while pretty to look at, completely covering the entire rim resulted in WAY too much sugar. I’d suggest half the rim dipped in sugar, or just leave it off completely if you’re by yourself and don’t feel the need to garnish.

I also did one take with a slight dusting of nutmeg. It gave the whole drink a lovely woodsy aroma and I found it enhanced the almond flavor; add if you want to get fancy like that.

Sugar, Spice and Citrus Play Nice Cocktail

Occasionally while I’m looking through cocktail books, I’ll make a list of liquors and ingredients I want to purchase to use in the future. Then I buy them. And they sit on my liquor shelf. For ever.

I picked up a bottle of Canton awhile back, but I wasn’t really head over heels in love with it when I tried it. I figured it was best mixed in to something, however I had some serious failures the first couple times until I hit upon this drink.

Remember those roasted oranges from last time? I put some brown sugar on a couple when I roasted them and decided to muddle them here.

1-1/2 oz. Broker’s Gin
3/4 oz. Domaine de Canton
3/4 oz. Aperol
3 slices of roasted brown sugar orange rounds (reserve the nicest for garnish)
3 dashes of Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters

Muddle the orange slices with the Canton in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add ice to about half way up the glass, then add in the rest of the ingredients. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a twisted, brown sugar coated orange wheel.

The very syrupy Canton evens out here and the drink is quite light and refreshing. There is a nice bite from the ginger and aromatic bitters with subtle orange notes. The garnish also repeats the citrus nose with a wonderful sweetness and in the back somewhere a sharpness from the browned sugar.

Side note: I recently went nuts at Bar Keeper here in Los Angeles and picked up a bunch of bitters to play around with. It’s my goal to feature all of the bottles here in a recipe in the coming months. This bottle of Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters I got in a sampler pack is quickly becoming an occasional substitute in Manhattans. It has a nice level of spice that works well if you are using Carpano Antica for sweet vermouth.

De Kers en De Oranje Cocktail

I’m a bit behind posting some drinks what with the holidays this week and me too busy trying to get my Christmas shopping done online. Are the sales really better in the stores? Who can resist sitting at a computer and making stupid purchases while drinking, heavily, post family dinner? Not I. And now here’s a post.

Oranges are just coming into season here at the farmer’s market so I picked up a couple with an idea to roast them for garnishes. I had some orange based drinks in mind and thought I’d try doing something other than an orange slice on the rim.

Roasting oranges is easy. Pre-heat your oven to 400 F, slice the oranges at about 1/4″ or thinner if you can, stick them on a sheet pan with some parchment, and let them roast for about 25 minutes. I forgot about turning mine over, so only one side got nice and caramelized (flip them about half-way through). Want to make them even more caramelized and delicious? Sprinkle some brown sugar on some.

The 3 orange slices on the right have some sugar on them, in another drink I’m going to muddle those sugared slices. Stay tuned.

The drink I decided to garnish is one that came about because I bought a bottle of Bols Genever and had no idea what to do with it. I’ve had it in drinks around town, but noticed that most of the drink books I keep at home don’t make use of this spirit. I wasn’t that familiar with the flavor on its own, and found, upon drinking it, to be quite unique. So unique that I was still stumped and had to do some research online about what people tend to pair it with. Orange was a big one. After some failed first attempts, I hit upon this drink. I found the Genever here to be still a bit more pronounced for my palate, but the nice thing about having someone around with a very different palate than my own is that they will enjoy something I might not of. This is one of those times. My husband was a big fan of this.

1-1/2 oz. Bols Genever
3/4 oz. Noilly Prat French Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice
2 dashes of Miracle Mile Sour Cherry Bitters
2 dashes of Miracle Mile Orange Bitters

1 roasted orange slice for garnish

In a shaker 2/3 filled with ice, add all ingredients and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with roasted orange slice.

The malty Bols Genever mixed with the warm orange nose hit first. The drink is clean with pronounced citrus flavors, while not being too heavy or sweet. And the bitters provide a subtle sweet and sharp bite in the finish.