Spiked Pear Cider

img_1799Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Thanks to this cocktail blog, our history with good and bad holiday drinks is well-chronicled. I won’t return to Tom and Jerrys—ever—and the French 75—though it remains my favorite champagne drink. The time has come to move on, say goodbye to 2016, thankfully, and try something new.

As I mentioned last time, a Google search for “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails” turns up choices like Peppermint Martini, Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate, and other drinks rejected for being too sweet, too thick, too complicated, too unnatural, and/or too Seussian. Mostly they were too frou-frou. Though I’m not Fezziwig or the most uproarious holiday party guest, I’m no Scrooge. I try to keep my bah-humbugs to a minimum and keep the season well, but, sometimes, when I look at a Yummly page quilted with coupes of technicolor libations on elaborate tablescapes created for this time of year, I cry a little inside. Does it have to be such a big deal, really?

Plus, while I’m showing off my decision tree, let me confess that I try to consider friendly fire in choosing cocktails—the people around my brother and me, mostly our wives, who will have to share these drinks with us. During this season or any other, I’ve learned to reject the purely alcoholic combinations and know that the most welcome ingredients may be juice and some prominent liqueur we already have. That’s why I thought of Spiked Pear Cider. Its central ingredient is juice, not alcohol—it’s not at all boozy—and it’s both warm and a little fizzy.

  •  4 c. sparkling pear or apple cider
  • 3 c. pear juice
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 5 whole cloves
  • ½ c. brandy
  • 3 tbsp. orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
  • 1 Seckel pear

The preparation may seem a little complicated, but it isn’t. Just bring 3 cups of the sparkling cider, the spices, vanilla bean (I used a few drops of extract), and the 3 cups of pear juice (I recommend Jumex in a can. Bring that to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer it for 7 minutes. Stir in the brandy and orange liqueur after that. The recipe says to strain the liquid into a pitcher, but we skipped that part. We also halved the recipe. Top it with more sparkling pear cider and garnish.

Though we’re currently suffering a polar vortex here in Chicago, this winter has otherwise been warm, and I don’t think the hot part of this cocktail is all that essential. In fact, I could see returning to this recipe in June, maybe with a little iced tea added. My inner Thoreau wants to urge simplicity, simplicity, simplicity and doing what seems easiest and most comfortable during this harried time. Just enjoy yourself and each other, no extra assembly required.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

daisyOh those hazy, crazy, lazy days of late Autumn. First, we had the drink as a punch on Thanksgiving Day and now it will soon be Christmas and I am just writing the review. Hazy memory. I wish I could blame that on important things going on but it is really just a jumble of work, events, then some utility construction that has destroyed swaths of our yard and sent me to customer service purgatory on numerous occasions. The next time I call Time Warner will be the official edge of crazy. Finally, the picture that is included is my best illustration of lazy. As in, hey-dummy-you-forgot-to-take-a-picture-of-the-drink lazy.

This is the type of proposal that I love. David came up with a cocktail that could be made in advance (mostly), added a wonderful fragrance to the kitchen and served a group. It was the perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving so that is how it was served.

There were a few small changes that I made to the recipe. The most important was that I served it cold. That allowed us to make the base, with another slight change by using bourbon soaked vanilla bean pods, in advance and then top with chilled sparkling cider with each serving. The final change was that I used an apple/pear brandy that I had left from a Calvados drink we made earlier.

This punch is a mix of subtleties. The base has a background taste that just hints at the vanilla and cloves. In the same way, the pear and apple meld with neither being dominant. And unlike the many cocktails we have enjoyed with bubbly, the effervescence of the sparkling cider is muted by adding most of it during the mulling process. It could be my predilection for champagne drinks but I think it would be worth trying this with all the sparkling cider added to the base and then substituting sparkling wine for the topper. Especially if you drink this cold.

Jonathan’s Take: This is a Fall drink – subtle, quiet and simple like a day of drifting leaves.

David’s Take: If we do ever have a holiday party, I’ll serve this.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

We’ve gone so long between entries that another holiday is upon us. It is that time when we enjoy more confections, and food in general, than we do throughout the rest of the year. It is also the time for odd foods such as fruitcake which is rendered edible only through a thorough soaking in booze. We’re going to take a slight break from cocktails and try some foods that are enhanced or dominated by spirits. That can include candies, sides and main dishes as long as there is a liquor component.

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Rock and Rye

Rock and Rye.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This is an inauspicious beginning. I wasn’t there but take it on good authority that early rye whiskeys were not good. They had off flavors that needed to be disguised and that mask was typically a sweetener. If you wanted to drink a bad whiskey it is doubtful that you wanted to water it down with any other liquid so bartenders provided lumps of rock candy for that purpose.

The evolution of the sweetened rye continued from that simple combination. Rye was livened up with sugar and a flavoring of fruit and herbs. The concoction became a popular curative, there’s that theme again, with the addition of herbs that helped, or purported to help, with chest and head congestion. One of these, horehound, is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries for congestion and respiratory issues. Modern researchers have determined that aspects of the herb may also be beneficial for other ailments and even for anti-cancer benefits. Try that excuse next time you want a drink.

Rock and rye lasted into and through prohibition due to these claims as a medicinal aid. Once prohibition ended, though, its popularity faded. If I were to guess, the attention on creating quality spirits once they became legal again probably chased away the need to mask bad liquors with herbs, fruit and sweeteners.

Part of the increased popularity of cocktails has been a resurgence of unique rock and ryes made both in bars and at home. The basic recipe is to start the infusion with fresh fruit, fruit peels, dried fruit or some combination of those. Herbs are added and then the crafted liquor is finished with the rock candy that provided half of its name. The recipe that I used is from Gun and Garden magazine and is credited to John Maher of Rogue Gentlemen bar in Richmond:

1 750 milliliter bottle of rye (they recommend Reservoir but there’s no way I am spending that much on whiskey and then doing some home flavoring)
Peel of half an orange
Peel of one lemon
10 dried cherries (I went tart here for a hoped for contrast)
½ cinnamon stick
1 clove
1 star anise
1 tsp horehound (had to use horehound candies since I couldn’t find the straight herb)
1 six inch piece string of rock candy soaked in Cheerwine (a regional black cherry soda) syrup (12 ounces of soda simmered until it is reduced to at least half that volume).

Combine the first 5 items in a glass container and set aside for 3 days. Add the rest of the items on the list and infuse for another day. Strain the mix and put back into the original rye bottle. That last part is not on their recipe but it made sense to me. Plus I had to try a little since the Cheerwine syrup added a little extra liquid. I added a few more dried cherries into the bottle because I had read somewhere that they do that in bars to identify their different mixes.

My proposal included the suggestion that we try this on the rocks and in a cocktail. The base rock and rye was very good served with ice and some Angostura bitters. I was extra careful not to add too much Cheerwine syrup when I did the infusion since I had used horehound candies and didn’t want it to be too sweet. The bitters also helped with that. Between the soda and the dried cherries it had a nice fruit flavor that went well with the rye. The cocktail was a simple mix of ginger ale and rock and rye. Oddly, the more basic ginger ale was better than the spicier versions as a mixer.

Here’s David’s Review:

DBMTo start, two confessions:

First, my Rock and Rye didn’t steep the proper number of days. Even though Jonathan and I have had this concoction in mind for a while and I’d gone to some trouble to obtain Cheerwine, I didn’t consult the recipe until Friday morning, which meant my wife quickly combining of the ingredients, my shaking it all weekend to compensate for brevity (every time I passed the jar), and delaying consumption until the last possible moment Sunday evening.

Second, I couldn’t find the horehound the recipe called for, even at my super-fancy spice store. They were sure the recipe meant horehound candy, but that didn’t make sense to me because the ingredient is measured in teaspoons. No matter, I couldn’t find the candy either. Asking about it did elicit some interesting and amusing expressions, however.

So here’s what I think of my admittedly imperfect version: it’s strong. I guess I missed the part where Jonathan suggested using it with a mixer. You need to know, when you drink this stuff, you’re essentially drinking some citrusy and spicy rye. Some of you may say, “Great!” but my rock candy hardly sweetened it. If you’re as unused as I am to drinking spirits straight, you will need to tell yourself to slow down.

And, to me, it tastes mostly like rye. Certainly the lemon and orange are there, but they come across mostly as a bitter finish, intruding on the rye only in the last taste. If I were steeping this mixture again, I might put the anise and other spices in earlier, as, in my version at least, they were so subtle as to be barely recognizable. The cherry didn’t stand a chance at all.

I read in one account online that the Rock and Rye available in bars was particularly appealing to an overindulgent customer who chose it because “It has fruit in it.” His rationalization makes perfect sense to me, which is perhaps why I’ll look for ways to mix this stuff into other cocktails rather than drinking it straight.

On a side note, some weeks ago, during a visit to my friendly neighborhood not-so-upscale liquor store, I spotted a bottle of liqueur labeled Rock N’ Rye, so I bought some, for comparison’s sake. It’s far sweeter—you’d have to pour all of the Cheerwine syrup into this iteration to get even close—and there must be some other stuff in the commercial version too. The store-bought isn’t as citrusy or spicy. As Jonathan always says, there’s no substitute for fresh (and actual) ingredients, and, in comparison, the liqueur just tastes like sweetened rye.

That said, I may pour some Cheerwine syrup into my bottle (hey, what else am I going to do with Cheerwine syrup?) and try my Rock and Rye in combination with ginger ale or soda. The idea (if not-so-much the reality) of both versions appeals to me, and I haven’t given up on my homemade libation.

David’s Take: Do you like rye and the peels of lemons and oranges? Ask that question before you invest your time and energy.

Jonathan’s take: May have to make a Thanksgiving version this week with orange peel, dried cranberries, nutmeg and allspice.

Next Time (Proposed By: David):

I sometimes think of my ingredients as athletes sitting on the bench waiting for the chance to get into the game. Next time, I’m calling in Dark Rum, Kahlua, and (my sister-in-law will likely hate me) eggs. It just seems the time to return to an egg cocktail, so I’m suggesting the Almeria Cocktail.