Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Welcome to the Future

I find inspiration everywhere, but one of my favorite places to look is the future. I seek out the opinions of people whose business it is to know what's next, and today's post is all about what's on deck for 2013.

(Disclaimer: in the American midwest, you will be unusually cutting-edge if you proceed. These predictions are made for the UK, which you know is a bit ahead of our location, though not necessarily ourselves.)

the aged picso punch from nightjar

Bacardi Brown Forman has a vested interest in being ahead of the curve, and their trendspotters see big, sexy garnish, like the one to the left. Garnish can account for 25% of a cocktail's cost, but generally operators do not include this cost in the price of the drink. Consequently, swanky hotel bars are leading the charge on this particular trend, but there are more cost-effective ways to make a big impact. The key is to invest in the proper tools, study technique and be creative. The video below shows what is possible for the creative professional.

Which brings us to another hot trend for 2013: Youtube. We are as likely to learn from a bartender in Japan as we are from our next-door neighbor.  Whether we are learning the history of the Old-Fashioned, how to make an ice ball or virtually any other cocktail-related knowledge - it's all there. If it isn't, make you own instructional video and join the revolution.  One world of caution, however - some sources are better than others, so use your judgment before employing the tactics you learn online.

There are two trends that apply specifically to the people behind the drinks, and each of them is a welcome change.  In recent years, bartenders have become more serious.  It is unavoidable that we should have gone through this phase, as we have all learned so much, so fast. Educating our guests in an endeavor we find so fascinating has been irresistible. However, in 2013, we're bringing the fun back. We are still cocktail professionals, and usually the most knowledgeable people in the bar, when it comes to our craft, but there is a time and place for education, and not every guest is a student.  So bring back your knowledge of sports, current events, jokes and whatever else entertains your guests because fun is back in season! 

The second trend for bar staff is the rise of the female bartender.  We are not new to the game - one of the oldest literary works known to humankind (Gilgamesh) features the Hero getting advice from one of us. For some inexplicable reason, however, for far too long the men have gotten the ink and the limelight, similar to the way the great chefs were expected to be male for decades.  The times, they are a-changin', and women are taking our spots, front and center. If you don't know who Julie Reiner and Audrey Saunders are, you're on notice: your education is incomplete.

Lost in Catering provides the most comprehensive list of trends I think we'll see in Wisconsin, especially as Summer 2013 approaches. Hallelujah for the skinny cocktail, and I don't mean vodka and Diet Coke. I mean interesting cocktails with less sugar but all the flavor.  At some point we choose between liquor and dessert, and by the time we get to that crossroads, we've had plenty of dessert. An easy way to "skinny" a cocktail and improve its flavor all at once is to use fresh-pressed fruit instead of premade mixes. I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners, preferring to use agave and honey syrups to sweeten drinks when necessary.  Also, I'm personally trending away from sweetness, and more likely to enjoy a tart or bitter profile.

Another of their trends is the use of tea in cocktails, as well as the texture of fizziness.  Here's a recipe that combines these elements, and can be served year-round as it does not rely on fresh mint:
Bourbon Mo-TEA-to
1 oz. Maker's Mark bourbon
1 oz strong Mint Tea syrup
Ginger Beer
To make mint tea syrup, steep 3 teabags in 10 oz. hot water
until strong.  Sweeten with 4 tbls honey.
Combine bourbon and syrup and shake gently, pour over fresh ice in a tub glass and top with Ginger Beer.

Wisconsin is not known for being cutting-edge, but our reputation as a leader in cocktail culture is well-earned and growing. The last trend I'll mention today is artisan spirit.  Made by aficionados, not multinational corporations, these relatively small-batch offerings provide an interesting alternative for cocktails and help support the local economy. In Wisconsin, we are lucky to have companies to Great Lakes Distillery, Travis Hasse's Pie Liqueurs, Death's Door Spirits and a host of others giving us options, and putting us at the forefront of a trend worth following.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Perfectly Seasonal Pomegranate Sazerac

I may never know when to give a cocktail a new name.  Seems like there are a hundreds of thousands of cocktail recipes, and that some of them are only minimally different from each other.  For example, the Martini and the Gibson are kissin' cousins, but you'd never know it from their names, which make them sound worlds apart. At what point is a cocktail sufficiently different from its inspiration as to merit a new name altogether?

Modern mixology, as a para-culinary discipline, is relatively new, but it is here to stay. A couple hundred years ago the first proper cocktails were developed and since then the evolution has taken us to a place where all ingredients are fair game, so long as they are digestible. Bartenders, Liquor Chefs, Mixologists, Mixtresses, Intoxicologists - whatever we call ourselves, we are linked together in a long chain of like-minded artisans working to entertain the palates of our grateful audience.  However, like our brothers and sisters in the back of the house, we know we don't really own our work. We make recipes; we don't own them. We expect that others will modify our work for their enjoyment, and we are generally flattered when our drink shows up in other bars.

So the service offered by CocktailRight seems a little counter-intuitive. For $25, they will register your cocktail and send you a certificate of ownership, suitable for framing.  Will it offer legal protection against another venue's serving your creation? This has not yet been tested, and it would be sort of depressing if it were.

At the same time, I never want to take credit for another person's work. Before announcing a cocktail as my original creation, I search for it online. This only guarantees that I don't find it online. It doesn't guarantee that some gorgeous little bar in Maine or Malibu isn't already serving what I think I created. A Cosmopolitan, a Metropolitan, a Neapolitan: same, but different... different, but the same.

In any case, I feel a twinge of guilt giving a new name to what is, in essence, a variation. Sometimes what is called for is a variation on a name, for a variation on a drink.  In this spirit, I give you the Pomegranate Sazerac.
Pomegranate Sazerac

1 oz. Kinnickinnic Whisky
1 oz. PAMA pomegranate liqueur
5 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark/Vanilla bitters
3 drops Bittercube Jamaican #2 bitters
.25 oz. Pernod
Rinse a cocktail glass with Pernod
Combine and shake all other ingredients
and strain into prepared glass

The thing of it is, it is sufficiently different from a Sazerac that using Sazerac in the name could be disputed, but similar enough that not to acknowledge its lineage feels dishonest. So I find myself at a crossroads again, with no guidepost but my own conscience. In any case, it is a pretty little thing, and quite delicious!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I Just Solved Christmas...

Sometimes, making new drinks is an arduous process that begins long before you ever get behind the bar, before you ever pick up a mixing tin.  Admittedly, very little of what we do is actually original, we borrow this technique from the past, that ingredient from the kitchen.  However, when I'm working on something fresh,  I spend time in liquor and grocery stores, in the pages of great mixology books by professionals likeTony Abou-Ganim and gaz regan.  I look online for inspiration in other people's work, their recipes and blogs. Sometimes, that's how it goes. Other times, it just hits me like a lightning bolt; the kind of obviously great idea that just clicks into place and I know it's going to be great before I even get started.

Why hasn't anyone made Peanut Butter Irish Cream?

I knew it before I even finished the thought: this is going to be delicious.

A couple of Decembers ago, I had a coworker who made fresh Irish cream and gave it to us as Christmas gifts. It was good. It was so good that when there was an extra one, I quickly volunteered to give it a good home, aaaand drank it all before the New Year. (I shared.) (Grudgingly). I loved her recipe, and for years I tried to get it out of her.  Every shift I picked up for her, I asked her for the recipe, to return my favor.  Every time Irish Cream came up in conversation. I don't doubt it was tiresome and sadly, I can assure you my efforts to make her want to tell me failed.  I eventually gave up, decided she was crazy, let the whole thing go.

And then this thing occurred to me, and I couldn't get to the interwebs fast enough.  I needed a basic recipe for Irish Cream.  I am basically lazy, so when I need this sort of thing, I find as many recipe variations as seems reasonable.  Then I make a chart of all possible ingredients and mark it up to show which ingredients they mostly have in common.  Then I have a skeleton to build onto, tweaking and updating.

I made the following masterpiece using that same springboard, and tried to dial back its fat content without sacrificing its deliciousness.

You will need...
3 14-oz cans of Eagle brand Lowfat Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 c. Better'n Eggs
4 tbls.Hershey's Dark Chocolate Syrup
4 tbls. Smucker's Naturals Creamy Peanut Butter
4 c. Jameson Irish Whiskey
2 tbls. Lavazza  Espresso Powder
2 tbls. Real Vanilla Extract

Blend and chill.

(The only problem? Having it around the house - it's very seductive....)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Autumn Cocktails from the Waukesha Chancery

It's that time of year again... a chill in the air, trees turning into fireworks displays of red, purple, orange and yellow, and the time when we generally switch from white liquor to brown. Whether it gets its color and flavor from spice or the barrel, heartier spirits come to the forefront in drinks both warm and cold.  This week I rolled out the Autumn Drinks menu, and they are overall a little simpler to prepare than the Summer Cocktails because in these parts, the harvest season is over. No trips to the garden for this menu, but a few surprises nonetheless.  We feature two infusions for this menu; one of them is simple, one of them is remarkably simple.

The first drink to feature an infusion is the Perfect Cherry Beam Manhattan, and it calls for Door County Cherry-infused Jim Beam.  This take on bourbon is so fruity and delicious it has become a staple around our bar.  You recall it was used in a Limeade this summer, which was published by Cheers Magazine.  This time around we temper it with vermouth and mellow it with Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters.

Perfect Cherry Beam Manhattan
2 oz. Door County Cherry-Infused Jim Beam
.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz. Dr Vermouth
7 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters
Build in a shaker, stir to combine. Serve on the rocks, in a tub. Garnish with three cherries from the original infusion.

Door County Cherry-infused Jim Beam
4 c. Door County Cherries
1 btl. Jim Beam
Combine and let rest up to one week. Begin tasting at three days as infusion times can vary according to temperature, humidity and light conditions.

The next drink is built around Korbel brandy. 1/3 of all Korbel sold in the world comes to Wisconsin, and its fruit flavors are further enhanced by the addition of another Wisconsin favorite, schnapps, in this season's Korbel and Peach.

Korbel and Peach
2 oz. Korbel brandy
1 oz, Bols Peach Schnapps
.5 oz. Turbinado Syrup
Juice of two lemon wedges
Shake and strain into a tub glass. Serve on the rocks with a lemon twist.

The next drink employs the easiest infusion I have ever made. I know that using real vanilla extract will seem heretical to the purists, but if you work behind the bar, you know that if you go to Good Harvest and the grocery and neither has vanilla beans, and you do not have time to go to Penzey's, well, you roll with what you've got. So I did. And it's so good I'm currently kicking it up a notch by aging it in the tiniest barrel I ever saw. Stop in and visit and I'll give you a sample - it's that good!

Apple Crisp
1 oz. Five Spice & Vanilla-infused Gosling's rum
1 oz. Three Olives brand Cake flavored vodka
.75 oz. Bols Butterscotch liqueur
2 oz. Apple juice
Shake all the spirit and strain into chilled Cocktail glass, top with Apple Juice

Five Spice &Vanilla-infused Gosling's Rum
2 tbls Chinese Five Spice Powder
1 sm. btl. Real Vanilla Extract
1 btl. Gosling's rum
Combine and let rest 24-72 hours, tasting after 24 hours.

Parents don't have favorites. having favorites among children can damage the self-esteem of the unfavored child(ren), and stunt the progress of the favored child. Cocktails are tougher than children and that's one of about a hundred reasons that cocktails are better than kids. This is my favorite:

Chivas Fling
1.5 oz. Chivas scotch whisky
.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
7 drops Bittercube Blood Orange bitters
Build in shaker and stir to combine. Serve in a tumbler, on the rocks. Orange twist garnish.

I dream about a dessert menu, composed entirely of dessert cocktails. Just five or so, chocolatey, fruity, savory, creamy and delicious. The last drink on the Autumn Cocktail menu could fit the bill.  I called it "Modern Love" because it features the flavors we seem to love the most: chocolate and coffee.
           Modern Love
1 oz. Three Olives brand Triple Espresso vodka
2 oz. Bols Dark Creme de Cacao
1 oz. Bols White Creme de Cacao
1 oz. Dairy Cream
Chill a cocktail glass and then drizzle it with chocolate.
Shake and strain. Float three coffee beans in the glass.