Brazil 66

IMG_0496Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

I have an ever expanding print and digital library of cocktail books at my disposal. The first few were quick resources I picked up when we first started the blog. Soon enough, the gift books began to trickle in and then, as my obsession factor increased, I was delving into some of the minutiae of ingredients and methods.

The first group of books could be classified as history. Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe is the true history of cocktails. There are times reading it when you wonder if you really need to know that much just to mix a drink and the rest of the time you are sure you don’t. But if you want to be savvy you have to have a little background. The other book in this class is Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh. It’s a great book with recipes that, for the most part, are easy to follow and the ingredients available. The history is a bonus.

The minutiae I mentioned is typified by two other books both of which I bought in digital versions and still go back to search. The Drunken Botanist covers the world of distilled spirits and additives on the basis of the plants from which they are produced. Amy Stewart presents all of this in a concise way that makes it easier to understand, at least for me, why things go together. Brad Thomas’ Parson’s Bitters is an extensive and intensive exploration of the cocktails’ smallest portions. I haven’t made my own bitters, but it did inspire us to try a number of infusions.

The final grouping led to this week’s cocktail proposal. Bar owners like to write books and I am a sucker to read them. The best of the group, in my opinion, is The Art of the Bar from the owners of Absinthe Brasserie and Bar Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. It is well organized, beautifully illustrated and the recipes are useful and within reach of a home bartender. The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan is similar. It includes great advice on building a home bar from spirits to glassware plus recipes that are well within the reach of an amateur and others that offer obtainable challenges.

My latest purchase was Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails. This entry is from a renowned bar in New York written by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald and Alex Day. Their cocktails must be wonderful and unique, but I would recommend going to their bar to try them. Almost every one includes an ingredient that is either hard to find or has limited use beyond a few cocktails. They use a lot of infused liquors that the average home bartender may never use up. Fortunately, the other parts of the book include ideas that are more useful. One of those is splitting the base liquor such that the standard 1.5 ounce of spirit might be 1 ounce of one spirit and .5 of another. They also delve into batching cocktails which seems intuitive (just multiply and make a lot) but is more complicated when you consider factors like how ice/water dilution affects a drink. A final idea I took from this book is tweaking a cocktail by making seemingly minor variations such as swapping Demerara syrup for simple syrup.

That was a lot of introduction for a cocktail that is pretty simple at its roots and was really intended to compare two sugar cane rums – Cachaça and Rhum Agricole. We made the Brazil 66 and this the recipe I ultimately used (and batched). That was after comparing versions of the basic drink with the only variation being Cachaça versus Rhum Agricole the week before. Just for research purposes of course.

Brazil 66
1 ounce Leblon Cachaça
.5 ounce Barbancourt Rhum Agricole
.5 ounce Patron Citronge (an orange liqueur)
.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
.3 ounce cane sugar simple syrup
Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain over ice in an old fashioned glass and garnish with orange or lime slice.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1843Chicago is, despite these strange times, a sinful city… for which, this week, I’m thankful. Jonathan texted me mid-week to ask if I was having trouble finding rhum agricole and for just a minute I worried. Then I checked online and discovered my favorite liquor store only had 15 varieties. Finding them on the shelves was a bit more challenging, but I settled on the only variety from Guadeloupe, not the traditional versions, most of which hail from St. Martinique.

Not that I could tell the difference… I just like to go a different way. My perverse streak may be familial, as Jonathan—at least when we were growing up—also stubbornly resisted what everyone else thought was so great. No going to the must-see movies (no ET for him) and listening to the bands everyone else touted (forget The Eagles). Maybe that impulse contributes to this cocktail as well. Every recipe of the Brazil 66 I could find asked for cachaça. Only Jonathan’s book dictated this more specialized rhum. Essentially a caipirinha that substitutes rhum agricole, this Brazil 66 seems doubly perverse in that it eschews cachaça and adds orange in addition to lime.

My research online turned up some interesting descriptions of why one spirit is different from the other. Both rums come from fresh pressed sugar cane juice (unlike rum, which ferments molasses), so both are fruitier and less spicy. But, according to Wonderich,  Cachaça is “gentler” than rhum agricole and “cleaner in flavor than most molasses rums.” I get that, though my personal research suggests that cachaça is, not to put to fine a point on it, “funkier.” It’s a funky I appreciate, but I agree with Jason Elliott, general manager at Philadelphia’s The Franklin, who tastes a more “delicate vegetal flavor” in rhum agricole. For that reason, he says, “It works best in cocktails with more complex flavor profiles.”

Me, I like rum of all varieties and from most locales (a rum made in Finland, maybe not), and all types seem to love citrus. We’ve been having hot weather in Chicago like the rest of the nation. Something bright and sweet arises seems necessary now. I did not mix rhum with cachaça as Jonathan’s recipe suggests, and I think rhum agricole plays nice in a way that cachaça might not.. Traditional rum can sometimes taste “cooked,” the more immediate taste of rhum agricole promises a more novel experience. The introduction of orange juice adds. Which is to say, I liked this cocktail and, as always, I’m appreciative of Jonathan’s finding another way.  

Jonathan’s take: I followed one of those lessons I cited as useful. The last tweak was to add a couple of ounces of seltzer to the drink once it was strained into the glass. The original was good but the bubbly version even better.

David’s take: This cocktail will go on my top ten list… as long as I can obtain rhum agricole.

Next: We will revisit the classic French 75. It’s another opportunity to try other versions which have become very popular lately.

Amazonia

Amazonia.dbmPublished 6/15 and Re-published 6/20

Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

One of my favorite moments in Saturday Night Live history is the “More Cowbell” bit featuring Will Ferrell and, most notably, Christopher Walken. Renowned record producer Bruce Dickinson (Walken) orchestrates Blue Öyster Cult’s recording of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” At each new take of the song, Dickinson instructs the percussionist Gene Frenkle (Ferrell) to contribute more and more cowbell. Dickinson shouts, “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.”

Don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this… for me the spotlit spirit this week, cachaça, is a sort of cowbell. One of the basic spirits in South America, it’s nonetheless exotic for most cocktailians and, yes, like cowbells, a little goes a long way.

One difference: As much as I enjoy a good cowbell, I like cachaça much more. Cachaça hails from Brazil and was first distilled by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century. It starts with fermented sugarcane juice rather than the cooked sap. Rums start from molasses and other forms of processed sugar, but cachaça offers a much fresher, more natural, almost woody flavor. Where rum might remind you of pralines, cachaça evokes chewing on those sugarcane logs you can still find in the grocery produce section.

This post began when, visiting my sister, I checked out her liquor cabinet (a bad habit I’ve developed) and discovered three-quarters of a bottle of cachaça left over from a previous visit and previous cocktail. Loving cachaça as I do, I marveled at how she managed to hang onto it, and she said, “I have no idea what to do with it.”

Of course. Cachaça—and cowbell—isn’t for everyone, but, for me, once you have some, it begs to be used. My personal mission became finding another use for the spirit. So I searched the web and found, among the top five cachaça cocktails, the Amazonia, one devised by Naren Young at the Bobo Restaurant in New York in 2008. It doesn’t actually feature that much of the Brazilian spirit, but, along with sparkling wine, it adds a prominent note. A bonus is that it includes mint, which is busy taking over gardens everywhere.

Here’s the recipe (makes one cocktail):

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cachaça
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 8 to 10 ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) Champagne or any sparkling wine
  • 1 apple slice

In cocktail shaker, stir together cachaça and mint. Using wooden muddler or spoon, pound and press just until mint is bruised. Add ice, apple juice, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Strain into Champagne glass. Top with Champagne. Place apple slice in drink and serve immediately.

Who knows what Jonathan thinks about cachaça (or cowbell), but I’m always up for finding alternative uses for some of the bottles proliferating in our liquor cabinet.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

amazonia.jbmI have some pretty standard fears and a few that may be less normal. Thirteen is my lucky number so no problem with triskaidekaphobia, but I cannot say the same about heights (acrophobia), which must be genetic since I share that trait with our mother. One of my somewhat more peculiar fears, actually less a fear than the fact that they creep me out, is coulrophobia or the fear of clowns. Have you heard the annoying way they all laugh? Now, thanks to David, I have a fear of commas. There is no official phobia for that since the Greek and Latin for comma is essentially comma.

David told me last week that he does need to do some occasional editing, especially when it comes to my violation of the Oxford comma rule. That he edits my contributions, for clarity and grammar not content, is no surprise and is welcome. He is a professional after all. I do take some pride in my use of our native language, though, and now I plan to write with nary a pause unless absolutely necessary.

By now this should make one wonder if I even tried the drink this week or if I tried too many. I did try it and loved it. We could probably create a list of our favorite drinks that are topped with sparkling wine, and it would be a matter of splitting hairs between the best of the best. There is something about that additive that elevates and enhances a drink. The only drawback, as I have mentioned before, is that once you open that bottle of bubbly you need to use it.

There are not too many variations of the Amazonia, but one that I did find suggested white cranberry juice instead to the apple juice. Looking for a more clear drink I chose that route although I could only find peach/white cranberry. It is such a small amount that there is probably not much difference other than there is an interesting sweetness. The garnishes were an apple slice, blueberry and raspberry. The last two were just because I have both those plants in my yard, and the total harvest is so small that I wanted to showcase them. Might have wiped out the total raspberry haul in one round of drinks depending on what the deer miss over the next week.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I should invest in champagne splits and try topping all of my drinks with it.

Re-take (6/28/20): It’s this simple – Cachaça is one of my favorite spirits. Rum in general is great for cocktails but the vegetal extra of Cachaça is even better. The Amazonia showcases that. There is some disagreement in my household about whether the mint is necessary and I will leave that up to the drinker.

David’s Take: I gotta have more cachaça. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cachaça… and (personal taste) maybe a little less sparkling wine.

Re-take (6/28/20): This drink is more complicated than I remember—all of the different flavors are hard to separate (which is a good thing). It would be worth experimenting with the quantities to discover how I like this drink best.

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Next time (Proposed By: Jonathan):

I have been reading a cocktail book from Death & Co. (a renowned cocktail bar in New York) called Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails. A lot of their rum cocktails use Rhum Agricole and one in particular cites, in no uncertain terms, a dislike for Cachaça. I’d like to test that hypothesis and make the Brazil 66 cocktail with both spirits. All for scientific purposes of course.