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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Hot Cider Nog

ACNogJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

One could posit that the proposed drink is more a posset than an eggnog. That assumes, of course, that one knows the difference between a posset and a nog or even what a posset is.

The history of eggnog can be traced back to England and a hot drink that sometimes doubled as a dessert. Possets date back to at least the 15th century based on their appearance in historic documents. Samuel Pepys wrote of eating a sack posset in his diary and was referring to a warm milk drink that was curdled with sack (like a sherry), sweetened and spiced. The classic version included milk or cream, sugar, spices, an ale or wine for curdling, and some kind of thickening agent. Special pots, much like a fat separator for gravy only much fancier, were used to pour out the lighter liquid to drink while leaving the thicker part to eat like a custard (a syllabub if you want to be technical). Later versions added eggs although both eggs and dairy were available mostly to the upper class.

Shakespeare referenced possets in a number of plays. David is the Shakespeare scholar in our family so I am sure he immediately thought of Lady Macbeth in reading that word. She used a drugged posset to render Duncan’s guards immobile so that Macbeth could steal in and assassinate the king. It appears she even enjoyed a spirited version of the drink to fortify herself:

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold
What hath quenched them hath given me fire

This beverage tradition of possets traveled to the colonies. Milk, cream and eggs were of much wider availability which could have led to greater popularity. The sack or sherry was replaced with the more common spirit, rum, in the colonial version. Speculation on the name relates to both the addition of rum and the type of cup in which the drink was traditionally served. Rum, or grog in common parlance, led to a drink called egg and grog. It was served in a small rounded wooden cup called a noggin (yes that is where the slang reference to the head probably started) and became egg and grog in a noggin. Finally, nog is slang for ale, which was of course one of the original ingredients in the posset.

Whatever the origin, what we call eggnog makes its regular appearance as the holidays approach and the weather, in theory, turns colder. The version that I proposed came from Southern Living and included an unusual addition unless you consider the evolution of the drink. This Hot Cider Nog adds apple cider which harkens back to the cider, ale or wine used in a posset:

2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
1 cup apple cider
2 large eggs
½ cup cider
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream and cinnamon sticks for garnish

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large saucepan and gradually warm while stirring occasionally. The recipe recommends cooking until the thickened liquid coats the back of a spoon. I whisked the liquid almost constantly until it reached a temperature of 160 degrees to ensure those pesky eggs were safe but the milk and cream not overly scalded. The bourbon goes in last and I did bump the amount up to ¾’s cup.

There are recipes that suggest the final product should be cooled and even aged in the refrigerator for periods up to or even beyond six months. Our eggnog did get cooled but it had little time to age in a house full of family and guests. The odd addition, cider, was really not distinctive in the drink and fortunately did not curdle the milk. It did make for a lighter eggnog that was much better than the usual store-bought versions.

Here’s David’s Review:

NogDMIt occurred to me (ever so briefly) that I might save myself all sorts of time and trouble by just buying eggnog at the grocery. Making eggnog yourself is a delicate process—too hot and you have bits of scrambled egg in your drink and too cool and you might as well be Rocky before a morning run. Plus, the commercial stuff is readily available, and as a child, I loved it. I always looked forward to the holiday season when that carton hung around in the back of the refrigerator. I wouldn’t think of adulterating it with alcohol.

But now I know how caloric commercial eggnog is. Its preternatural viscosity probably derives from the sap of a South American tree, and the only eggs that go near it must start as powder. I’m a grown-up now. Making my own eggnog can’t be that daunting.

Well, okay, it was. Jonathan suggested a thermometer to assure the mixture didn’t reach 180°, and I’m glad he did. It seemed to keep the curdling down to a minimum and the cocktail from being too viscous. The apple cider also made the nog a little thinner than usual, which fooled me into thinking it might not be thickening as it should be. I worried more than I should (not surprising news for anyone in my family) but the whole concoction came together suddenly… accompanied by a sigh of relief.

And the result was well worth it because the cider undercut the usual sweetness of eggnog with a pleasant acidity. The whip cream added too, as it melted almost immediately and made the drink creamier and richer. While the holidays offer no shortage of celebratory libations, this one seemed a particularly suitable nightcap.

Jonathan is more of a historian than I am—as he mentioned, I’ve taught Shakespeare for years, yet have always wondered what the heck a “posset” is—but I’m the sentimentalist. Tradition impresses me most. Eggnog hardly seems a 21st century drink, and I have a hard time believing millennials, with all their post-modern fixations, will keep it going. However, that groceries still stock eggnog, that Starbucks still makes it a prominent ingredient, that people still drink it (at least in all of those cheesy holiday movies), all that suggests some elements of the past are hard to erase. In this case, I’m glad.

Jonathan’s take: Homemade eggnogs really are better.

David’s take: My favorite version of eggnog yet… eradicates my Tom and Jerry nightmares, almost.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

My collection of cocktail books isn’t as extensive as my brother’s, but I have a few. I thought I’d pick one from a gift I received last Christmas called Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails. The authors, Eric Prum and Josh William, are from Brooklyn, where my son lives (in Bushwick), and I’ve been particularly intrigued by one of their winter cocktails called The Bushwick Spice Trade. It uses Gin, sugar cubes, lemon juice, and—for spice—basil, pink peppercorns, and fresh ginger. The authors say, “We like to pair this intriguing cocktail with spicy Asian take-out when frigid temperatures call for a night in.” After so much celebration, that sounds good to me.

Hot Toddy

hottie tottieProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The proposal last week included a link to the Our State magazine article about this drink that I hope blog readers took the chance to read. It had caught my attention for a few different reasons: I’ve been intrigued with the term “toddy”; our weather had been cold, icy and miserable; and the story provided with the recipe struck a note of nostalgia with me.

The meaning of toddy is not at all what I thought it would be. A hot toddy is basically hot water, sugar, spices and a spirit that is most often whiskey. Based on that my assumption was that “toddy” was an English term related to tea. It is, however, derived from a drink produced by fermenting the sap of palm trees in Southeast Asia. The Hindi term tadi referred to the type of wine palm that was tapped for its sap or the drink that was fermented from that sap.

No matter where the term came from, it is so associated with a hot drink to the point that “hot” seems redundant. We have experienced a period of weather in Charlotte that has been awful by our standards (even if David and his fellow Chicagoans would call it “Spring”). It has been wet and cold with every four days spiked by some form of wintry precipitation including ice, sleet, snow and that odd mix referred to as sneet. The idea of a hot soothing drink seemed appropriate especially after I had failed to collect enough snow to make snow cream with my leftover ginger liqueur. Of course, by the time we tried the cocktail (loosely used with this drink) it was sunny with highs in the 70’s.

The final point of interest was the reference to the toddy as a traditional cure for winter ailments. Our father was a physician, but that never stopped him from proposing home remedies. One of those was his cure for a cold, cough, sore throat, or any variety of upper respiratory ailment. I do not recall an exact recipe but do remember that it involved bourbon, lemon, honey and even the odd piece of onion on occasion. That prescription could be served straight up or mixed with hot water depending on Dad’s determination of the severity of our condition. I suspect that what he really knew, as most doctors do, was that the sick welcome a cure and are open to its benefits even if there is no true curative value. It was either that or he figured the bourbon would make us quiet and sleepy.

This particular toddy calls for all the classic ingredients with the spice supplied by tea. What follows is my adaptation of the published recipe:

One cup of herbal tea
1-2 ounce of whiskey (I used a Carolina apple brandy instead)
Lemon juice to taste
1 ounce of honey, or more if that is your taste
A garnish of lemon slice studded with cloves, and a segment of cinnamon stick

It seemed easiest to brew cups of tea and set the rest of the ingredients out for each person to fix to their liking which in turn proved to match the description of the early toddies experienced by British travelers in India. And our Dad’s mix and match cures too.

Here’s David’s Review:

hottyDespite our father’s home remedies, I’ve always believed drinking to cure a cold or flu is wishful thinking, and now when I think about a hot toddy I picture some grandma and grandpa taking snoots in some dim hope medical science will someday justify their vices. Before you cry “foul” on behalf of your elders, I know that’s unfair, but there are plenty of good reasons to have a hot toddy that don’t involve a cure.

With the right tea and/or the right apple juice, this warm cocktail could do much to relieve a winter night. For the tea, I chose Tazo Passion. The label promises, “Tart rose hips and citrusy lemongrass woo the voluptuous blooms of hibiscus flowers,” to produce “an infusion that’s bursting with life and tinged with the color of true love to make sure you never have to live a day without passion.”

Okay. I’m not sure I could attest to all that, but the concatenation of flavors did give this cocktail a decidedly botanical taste. With the honey, lemon juice, and (on the second iteration) apple juice, this “cure” wasn’t hard to enjoy. Hell, having something hot is enough to make a Chicagoan weep with joy this time of year.

My only complaint was that it wasn’t strong enough. One ounce of bourbon gives the hot toddy a tiny kick, hardly enough to knock out anything or anyone. I’d think that, to have any sort of chance against a nasty cold, this drink needs to promise a wallop worthy of Nyquil.

But I guess I’m putting myself in the category of grandma and grandpa in saying so. My advice is to enjoy the hot toddy for what it is, an invitation to hibernation, a sweet and endearing cocktail worth coming home to after braving a polar vortex or a winter storm so major it needs a name.

David’s Take: Pleasant… though likely no medical miracle.

Jonathan’s Take: Before you make this drink, go ahead and put your jammies on.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Jonathan and I are returning to a sojourn from cocktails that we tried last year, namely beer. Tomorrow I will be sending Jonathan four local beers, and, the week following, he’ll send me something. I won’t say too much now about the choices I’ve made, but there’s a couple of odd selections coming Jonathan’s way that are supremely local… and a little strange. Just so it’s fun.

Cherry Pisco Hot Chocolate

IMG_0528Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Like any family, ours gathers familiar and funny memories and, while we don’t recall them exactly the same way, the disputes hardly matter. Each represents the joy we found in growing up together.

One of my favorite stories involves my father’s scheme for creating a Christmas more glorious than grand. He would drive all five children to a local five-and-dime store and then give each child six dollars with which to buy six presents. The store was small—it only had one toy aisle—and our shopping spree required stealth, speed, misdirection, and guile.

My strategy was to buy the same things for each person each year. One of my sisters would receive bath beads with dissolving skins, and, once the Christmas spirit passed, these became projectiles. My older brother received another plastic lizard… though he was already too old to play with them.

Jonathan was toughest, but I had faith anything related to sports would make him happy. Only… this store had nothing more sporty than super-balls… and what can you buy for a dollar? One year, I discovered a baseball with a stick in it—it was purely decorative, filled with cork, intended to be stuck into a flower arrangement—but I cut the stick off and claimed it was an regulation baseball. The first time Jonathan walloped it, the ball hooked a few feet into the infield and came to rest a new shape, flattened like a moon of Mars. “Wow,” I said, “you can really hit!”

The six-dollar experience hasn’t worn off altogether. Some few Christmases later, I learned Jonathan loved chocolate covered cherries and, on more than one holiday, bought him a box. This week’s cocktail is an adaptation designed to mimic those cherries… while also using some ingredients gathering on my liquor shelf. I worried Jonathan might be tired of chocolate cherries, but he assured me he wasn’t. I hope he wasn’t being nice, as he was after the destruction of the one-hit-wonder baseball.

The cherry flavor in this cocktail comes from Cherry Heering, and the original recipe suggests you can use rum as the primary spirit. Rum’s cane sugar profile makes sense with chocolate, I think. But, as the name of this cocktail suggests, it calls for Pisco, a Chilean (or Peruvian) brandy, which is not something I ever imagined being pared with chocolate. I’m sure I never had a Pisco-flavored chocolate covered cherry, which is at least some deviation from the usual.

Here’s the recipe… adapted:

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

pinch kosher salt

3 cups whole milk

4 ounces milk chocolate chips

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

3 ounces Cherry Heering

4 ounces pisco or rum

4 (2-inch) segments orange zest

Whipped cream and candied orange peel garnish
In medium saucepan, stir cocoa with sugar and salt. Stir in milk, milk chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate. Heat over medium heat until, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and mixture is hot. Gently whisk to completely homogenize mixture.

Add Cherry Heering and Pisco or rum. Divide into four serving cups. Rub rim of each cup with orange zest. Top with whipped cream, candied orange peel, and orange zest. Serve immediately.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JBMMy sister-in-law’s memory is excellent. I did, and do, enjoy chocolate covered cherries. Those can range from the cheapest—I hope everyone knows that is defined by how many have broken and are stuck to the inner plastic—to the exotic. I am proud to say the higher end versions are where I lean, but not so proud to admit that I will eat any type. I am also not beyond the rationalization that the fruit, and dark chocolate in some cases, offers some measure of health food status to the confection. Do not attempt to dissuade on that either because it would ruin the whole fruit pie for breakfast deception too.

There is no way to review this cocktail without stating that it is chocolate. Cocoa powder, milk chocolate chips and bittersweet chocolate chips ensure that. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of each type of chip and whether that is volume or weight (my assumption), it exceeded the ability of the milk to completely dissolve. One of the tasters, we’ll call him Josh, described it as liquid candy bar and that is most apt. We tried more whipped cream to cut it, but it remained only slightly below chocolate fountain consistency.

The best part of the drink was the Cherry Heering, not surprisingly given my bias. I’m not sure where the Pisco went but am glad that it was there to help keep all of that chocolate from reconstituting as a solid. Since we decided to alter the recipe and use Heering instead of Cointreau, I skipped the orange zest and candied orange garnish but it would have been a nice touch. I wonder if they make chocolate covered cherries with candied orange? Might need to go look for that.

Jonathan’s take: I have to try this one again with much less chocolate for research purposes.

David’s take: I like chocolate, but I’d like less chocolate here.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

By now you should have made your list, checked it twice, and be completely confident you have determined the naughty/nice categories. There should be wrapped presents for all close family, trifles or better for the neighbors and a stock of end of year goodies to consume before the resolutions kick in. Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree, decked halls, and rum soaked fruit cake should complete the list. So what is left? Wassailing of course. Next week, we’ll be preparing a wassail with whatever recipe the maker chooses. The only requirement is that it contain enough spirit to stir the imbiber to share a few Christmas carols with friends and family.