The Pear Culture

pear cultureProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

After tasting the La Marque a few weeks ago, I was more than somewhat intimidated at the idea of inventing a drink of my own. Followers of this blog will know my history of proposing drinks is a little spotty, so creating one seemed even more risky. Nonetheless, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and this week, I feel compelled to try.

My inspiration comes from two sources—the desire to use pears, my favorite fruit this time of year, and a pear tart I’ve tasted combining Bartlett (or Williams) pears with spicy ginger and rich vanilla. By itself, a pear can be merely sweet, and maybe that’s why the world doesn’t seem to demand much in the way of pear liqueur or pear-infused spirits, but their mellowness and subtle astringency can be drawn out by other flavors.

For the ginger, I chose The King’s Ginger I love the taste of this liqueur—it’s great on its own—but, for the spice, I’ve also included Powell and Mahoney Old Ballycastle Ginger, a mixer that might match Jonathan’s Bleinheim. As I experimented, I started out with the vanilla vodka we used in the La Marque. After re-trying the vodka, however, I decided instead for Bourbon because it evokes vanilla overgenerously and seems to give the drink more depth. As for the prosecco, I thought it might effervescently echo the pear flavors while also cutting some of the density of pear juice or puree. Plus, I got the idea of combining champagne and bourbon from The Seelbach, a cocktail invented at the Louisville hotel. The Angostura is to give the cocktail a bitter edge and save it from cloying sweetness.

I know, you’re saying, “Listen to you, getting all Food Network-y!” Well, these cocktailian forays are serious business! We’ve learned the names of so many famous drink inventors. I wouldn’t want to be known as the originator of something vile like (I’ll restrain myself, Mr. Campari).

The name of this cocktail, by the way, is pure caprice. I like the idea of a secret pear culture, which I picture as a nerdy group of devotees worshiping one of the less vaunted fruits. I would be one of said devotees.

pearculturealso2Here’s the recipe:

1.5 parts pear juice or puree

1 part bourbon

1 part ginger liqueur (or syrup)

.5 parts spicy ginger ale (Old Ballycastle for me)

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Prosecco

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Add some to a fluted glass and top with prosecco. Garnish with a slice of pear or lemon.

pearculture3Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

It already seems that the best of our proposed drinks rely more on the additional ingredients than the spirits. The peanut orgeat, fresh squeezed juices, a variety of simple syrups and homemade grenadine are just a few of the examples. So when David proposed a new drink with a base of pear puree or nectar, the first thing that came to mind is how we could doctor that ingredient to accentuate it.

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This drink as proposed also used a spiced simple syrup. As an alternative, I took the pear nectar and mulled it with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, and added a bottle of spicy Blenheim ginger ale. The ginger ale was a last minute change because I couldn’t find a piece of ginger root that I thought we had (I actually thought the dog had eaten it, but fortunately was wrong). The resulting pear juice was thicker and spicier than it had started out and provided a nice cross between puree and nectar.

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The final recipe I used was two parts mulled pear juice, one part bourbon, angostura bitters and something close to two parts Prosecco. I mixed the first three ingredients and shook them with ice, strained and added the Prosecco. The cocktail that resulted was a great hit with a large group. The pear gave it a really unique taste, and the Prosecco (I had neglected to use it an earlier cocktail) lightened the thickness of the mulled and chilled liquid. It was also another example of how the simple addition of bitters cut some of the fruit sweetness.

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There is new whisky popular with folks much younger than me called Fireball Cinnamon Whisky that mimics the old fireball candy. The Blenheim ginger ale had already made my mulled pear juice spicy, but I made a second version of the drink using the Fireball. I have to admit that I did not taste that version, but those who did liked it even better. That is saying a lot considering how much they liked the first version.

Jonathan’s take: The last time we talked, David had not decided on a name for this drink. You could call it Bobski and I would be ready to make some more.

David’s Take: Being the inventor, it’s untoward to say I really liked this cocktail… so I won’t say it… but you get the idea, right?

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

It is Thanksgiving week and since we will have a large group at our house I am proposing a Fall sangria. There are scads of recipes for sangrias, but I have reputation for cranberry concoctions at Thanksgiving to uphold and the recipe will have feature them prominently.

The Hemingway Daiquiri

Proposed by: JonathanDaiquiri

Reviewed by: David

The Daiquiri would probably make most lists of the classic cocktails. In its most simple form it is comprised of rum, a sour such as lime juice, and a sweet component. The variations on that basic recipe are seemingly endless, and in fact the Gimlet that we enjoyed some time ago is the same concept with gin instead of rum.

The proposal for this week is a Hemingway Daiquiri which uses two fruit juices for the sour and a liqueur for the sweet. Although there are various recipes for this drink, the specific one I used came from an e-book by Robert Willey called Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists (Joseph Schwartz and Jim Meehan).

20131116_184304Here’s the Recipe

1.5 ounce light rum
¾ ounce Maraschino liqueur
1 ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe

The daiquiri like many drinks has a number of claimants for its invention. It has been around since the late 1800’s and the many versions altering the simple three part ingredients make it likely that there were a number of inventors. The word “daiquiri” probably comes from a beach near Santiago, Cuba as noted in a Wikipedia history which makes sense based on the rum base.

One historical fact that is clear, however, is that it was another favorite of Ernest Hemingway who enjoyed his at Havana’s El Floridita bar (different sources note his version was called the Papa Doble). I had suggested in the proposal last week that someone should consider writing a book about Hemingway, his many favorite drinks and the locations in which he drank them. That book has been written by Philip Greene and is called To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. I have not read it, but based on reviews think that I will (as part of cocktail scholarship of course).

A couple of weeks ago with the Bourbon Cider, I noted trying to use local ingredients. One of the things that I have found is that similar to local wineries and breweries, there are an increasing number of local distillers. The rum I used for this recipe comes from a small town in North Carolina just outside of Charlotte. Muddy River Distillery is located in Belmont only offers the single product – Carolina Rum. I am no aficionado, but was very impressed with this Catawba River product and thought it worked really well in this drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’ve earned the “not-so-savvy” of “not-so-savvy cocktailian” by being singularly ignorant of drinks others know well. That includes daiquiris, which I not only don’t drink but can’t spell (without the help of spell check).

That said, the ingredients of this drink were familiar, and, on the imaginary scorecard for this brotherly experiment, a few of my proposed cocktails have been unsuccessful because of their unfamiliarity. Some tastes, I’ve learned, play nicely together, and others do not. Jonathan seems to have a knack to choosing complementary elements and a particular gift for recognizing recipes that combine fruit flavors with the appropriate spirits.

Though the grapefruit juice and lime gave this drink strong acidity, the maraschino liqueur  mellowed that taste considerably. The recipe I used called for simple syrup as well, and that also balanced what could have been a very tart drink. Even with my use of the more herbal taste of cachaça, which I chose over traditional rum or a rhum agricole, I found this daiquiri easy to drink. Friends joined us in testing this cocktail, and the decision for a second round came without question. It was, in every way, drinkable.

My only quibble comes from comparison. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a number of sweet drinks, and I wonder if Hemingway’s daiquiri might benefit from a little less sugar. The Papa Doble Jonathan mentions appeared in my research as a variation to this drink that doubles the rum, and, had I not already had two daiquiris, I might have tried that. Or I could have followed Jonathan’s recipe and skipped the simple syrup. The maraschino liqueur isn’t super sweet, but perhaps it’s sweet enough—with fresh lime and grapefruit—to make less (or no) simple syrup welcome.

Now that I’ve had a daiquiri, I may return to not thinking of myself as a daiquiri drinker, at least not in Chicago in November.  More sun and less wind and rain seem required. As much as I enjoyed this cocktail, I’m still looking for a libation that teeters riskily just at the edge of dissonance. So far, most of my proposals have teetered and fallen, but I have a feeling that, somewhere out there in cocktailia, exists an unlikely drink that makes music from less likely notes. For now, however, Hemingway’s Daiquiri is a joyful Caribbean tune worth celebrating.

David’s Take: This cocktail was easy to drink and pleasant in every way. Some summer afternoon, I may return to it, but my mind is on fall.

Jonathan’s take: I like the continuity of ingredients from one week to the other, in this case Maraschino liqueur. That slight cherry sweetness along with the grapefruit brought a nice variation to a cocktail that I thought I knew well.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the pears abundant this time of year, and my mind has been on doctoring some of the pear cocktail recipes I’ve seen and combining some of those seasonal flavors in a new cocktail. Specifically I’m going to try to reproduce the flavor profile of a wonderful pear tart I encountered a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have a name yet, but, in addition to pears, this cocktail will bring in ginger, vanilla, and sparkling wine.

The Aviation

Proposed by: Davidaviation

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The Aviation cocktail might be described as “Heirloom” in the same way tomatoes are—passed down within families and a little funky. Heirloom tomatoes are recognizably tomatoes but variously colored and bulbously strange—this cocktail is pre-prohibition, mixed in an ordinary, familiar way but strange in its combination of ingredients and flavors.

Apparently (because, once again, I’m relying on someone else’s research) the first manifestation of the Aviation comes from Hugo Ensslin, who offered a recipe for the Aviation in a 1916 work, Recipes for Mixed Drinks. He includes a dash of Crème de Violette as well as Maraschino liquor and one part lemon juice to two parts gin as the complete elements. But Crème de Violette largely disappeared from bartenders’ larders and so the true Aviation vanished as well, replaced by violetteless versions. The heirloom Aviation did not return until Rothman and Winter Crème de Violette reappeared in the US in 2007.

Crème de Violette is certainly funky. The color leads you to expect grape, and, while there’s an understated fruitiness to the liqueur, the taste is really floral. Like lavender and orange blossom, its aroma and taste seem more suited to perfume than food, and it may be an acquired rather than intuitively delicious flavor. Gin adds an herbal or botanical element intended to balance what might otherwise be more flowery than flavorful, and, while taking the violette out of the drink would make it something else, you can understand the impulse to veer toward the mainstream. This drink is strange.

Part of the cocktail’s original appeal must have been visual, as it steers the other parts of the drink toward a lovely opalescent blue-purple, the color of a litmus sky at dusk or dawn. Of course, you can’t drink art, but this cocktail seems aimed to test that assumption. With a cherry sunk in the vortex of martini glass, it’s a lovely concoction however it tastes.

Here’s a recipe:

2 oz. Gin

½  to ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

¼ oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur

¼ oz. Crème de Violette

Place a brandied cherry (or Luxardo maraschino cherry) into a well-chilled martini glass. Combine all the ingredients over ice, shake, and strain into the glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

The inspiration for the proposed drink really intrigued me. I am always behind on pop culture and have not seen the show The Blacklist. The idea that we were trying a drink that was created a long time ago and brought back to the fore through an obscure reference in the show was great though.

The other thing that piqued my interest was the use of the two liqueurs, one of which is particularly odd. The maraschino liqueur shows up in a few cocktails, and I had hoped we would find a way to use it if for no other reason than I would be able to have it on hand for some other drinks I had considered. The Creme de Violette is the one I would label odd.

I’m still not sure if it is actually made from flowers of the Alps or is a creation that resembles them, but either way it looks, smells, and tastes like nothing I have ever had.

I have learned from David that it is worthwhile to taste the ingredients separately, especially when they are something new. In this case I didn’t do that until after I made the drink and then I went back to see what each component was like. Both the maraschino and Creme de Violette are interesting (and sweet) on their own with each having a unique assertiveness.

The Aviation invoked a quick thought that derived from its inspiration. That thought was that after Spader’s character ordered the drink and his colleague tasted it she must have quickly exclaimed “Ce n’est pas formidable!” Simply put, I hated it. The color was off-putting even for the color blind, the smell was reminiscent of underwear drawer sachet, and the ingredients clashed with each other. The cliché is that it tasted like cough medicine so I won’t say that, but I will say the best part was that it was soothing to the throat.

Another thing I have noticed as we have considered and tried drinks is that particular brands of liquor are recommended for certain drinks. The Gin of choice in our house is Bombay Sapphire which is very botanical. That may have been a bad choice for this cocktail since it made the clash of flavors even more pronounced.

Jonathan’s take: It’s too easy to say this drink didn’t fly. My fellow tasters, however, challenged me to create a new drink called the Dirigible that would crash and burn worse than this.

David’s take: Hmm… I’m not really sure what I think. This cocktail seemed in every way peculiar to me, a novel taste perhaps, but one I’m unlikely to acquire.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

If there is not already a book about the drinks of Hemingway there should be. It could be part travel book, part literary history, and part cocktail guide. The maraschino liqueur will come in handy as we try the Hemingway Daiquiri.

Bourbon Cider

photo-48Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

This week’s drink was a Bourbon Cider intended to showcase fall flavors. Going back to brown liquors, Bourbon to be precise, the drink pairs the spirit with apple cider and spices associated with Fall. The recipe comes from Saveur magazine and starts with a simple syrup made in the standard manner with the addition of cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, and cloves. That syrup is used in the following recipe:

1.5 ounce bourbon

3 ounces apple cider

.75 ounce ginger syrup

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Shake these ingredients with ice, pour into a coupe or martini glass and garnish with dried apple (I used fresh apple slices since that is what I had).

The proposal last week introduced the drink with a nod to North Carolina’s apple production. In that vein I thought it was important to find a local source of cider and used one produced in the NC mountains. There has been a great deal of emphasis nationally on using local ingredients, and we have tried to do more of that with everything we consume.

That said, the Bourbon was anything but local. A spirit that is called Bourbon must be at least 51% corn mash, made in the US, and aged in charred oak barrels. The amount of time in those barrels determines whether it is a straight whiskey. The traditional Bourbon is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, but I followed a recommendation and used an American Straight Bourbon whiskey produced in Hillsboro, Oregon and aged in Indiana – Big Bottom. The recommendation came from the staff of store just south of us in South Carolina. One of things I have learned through our cocktail adventures is that a good liquor store includes having someone who can offer guidance to the novice. Since the NC stores are run by the state and limited in their advice and guidance, that means making the short trip across the state line.

This would be good time to beg forgiveness. On both my side of the family and my wife’s, we have relatives from Kentucky who would consider a Bourbon from somewhere other than the bluegrass state to be a sacrilege. There are Bourbon producers throughout the US though and, as I found this week, exceptional versions made in those distilleries. Maybe the next time one of them visits, I can curry their favor by offering a taste of Big Bottom or another American Bourbon.

This cocktail will vary with every version of cider used and, with so many varieties of apples, the possibilities are endless. The syrup offers subtle background notes and changing the spices would make it easy to personalize. The final way to change it up is to use different Bourbons.

Here’s David’s review:drink

Well, Illinois has no apple production to speak of, but we found plenty of ciders available to us.

On tasting this cocktail, my wife said, “This is the adult version of the post-hayride drink.” I don’t have much more to say beyond that. We tried it just after returning home from visiting our daughter at college—so perhaps that added to the homebody comfort embodied in this cocktail—but we were happy to come back to something so simultaneously welcoming and unfamiliar. Only the temperature of the drink seemed different. The apple cider, cloves, and other spices in this drink fit the fall and seem particularly appropriate to today’s added hour. Our version of the syrup could have used more ginger, I think, as I’ve learned to appreciate the combination of bourbon and ginger before, but that hardly diminished the effect of the spices, especially the cloves. Though it seemed a little odd to be drinking something so fall-spicy from martini glasses, otherwise my wife and I enjoyed this drink immensely.

If you try this cocktail yourself, here’s one piece of advice—be careful to strain the syrup carefully. The drink is dense enough without the granularity of the syrup. Alternately, you might try drinking this cocktail hot instead of cold. The mulled feel of the drink might lend itself well to mugs instead of glasses. I can see it as a ski-drink, sipped beside a fire after a day on the slopes. Of course, you should take that advice for what it’s worth. Having grown up in Texas and having never spent any time in a chalet of any sort, I may be fantasizing some other person’s life. Perhaps apre-snow shoveling would work here in Chicago.

Jonathan’s take: I have to credit my wife and neighbors for this: if there is a drink for every season, this is the one for Fall. Apples, bourbon and fall spices – perfect.

David’s take: A perfect drink for fall, all the flavors evocative of the season in combination, a homecoming appropriate to this time of year.

Next week (proposed by David):

My brother may hate me for this, but my proposal for next week is an Aviation, a drink that appeared in an episode of Blacklist (a television series I enjoy) and in a number of other places I’m interpreting as signs. It uses an odd liqueur called Creme de Violette and gin. It’s one of the classics, I’m told, and, looking at the pictures online, it seems particularly beautiful. I know it means another bottle in the cabinet—and one that may be challenging to use again—but I’m hoping it will be worth it. We’ll see. We’re experimenting, right?