Drinks With Amer Marshallon

AmerProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

A number of factors make this week’s post unusual. First, though I proposed the drink, it builds on a version of a spirit no longer available in the U.S.—Amer Picon—that David concocted from an internet recipe over the span of a month or so.

Second, the two of us are together… like, in one place… and at the same time… actual, not virtual.

We’re visiting our sister and mother in San Antonio, and, in the spirit of this too uncommon event, we thought it would be fun to construct this week’s post as a dialogue between our blog’s two cocktailian brothers.

Here goes:

JM: So, David, what is Amer Picon exactly?

DM: It’s an amaro. The word means “bitter” in Italian, but Amer Picon is a French variety no longer available in the states. A guy named Gaetin Picon developed it in the 1830s as an aperitif meant to aid digestion. The recipe changed in the 1970s—they altered the ingredients and lowered the proof a lot—so the current commercial version in Europe is very different from the original, Still, a lot of classic recipes call for it. You won’t find it at any liquor store, and, on the web, you’re more likely to encounter a discussion of what might substitute for it than a way to obtain it. That’s what I did. After a friend made me his version of Amer Picon, I returned the favor by making one of my own.

JM: How did you make it?

DM: I sent away from some dried orange peels—two ounces from bitter oranges and two from sweet orange—then put them in a big glass jug with some high proof vodka. They stayed together for a month. The recipe actually asked me to leave the jug two months, but I compensated by shaking the mixture up every time I passed by it. I think I was driving everyone mad with all the shaking. Then I added Amaro Ramazzotti, another amaro with gentian root and quinine and a little sweetness, some water to reduce the proof, and about half a bottle of orange bitters. I was supposed to use blood orange bitters, but I couldn’t find those. Instead I chose orange bitters aged in Old Tom Gin barrels.

JM: How do you know if it tastes anything like the original Amer Picon?

DM: I don’t, obviously. The internet recipe is a guess, and, changing the bitters and choosing the orange peels I did, I decided to call it Amer Marshallon. But I thought you might approve of the name.

So, anyway, it’s your turn. Why did you choose the Amer Picon cocktails you did?

seven drinks JMJM: Since Amer Picon (or Amer Marshallon) isn’t readily available, there are very few recipes that call for it. The classic cocktail is Amer Picon punch, which is the national drink of Basque, and we have Basque origins. Since we’re visiting our mother though, and she is the mother-in-the-law of our three spouses, I chose the Mother-in-Law cocktails. I also chose the Brooklyn cocktail because we were serving a lot of people and did a Bushwick version of the Brooklyn in honor of David’s son, who lives in that section of Brooklyn.

DM: And the recipes?

JM: The Mother-in-Law is the most complicated… and this version makes three drinks.

1 tsp. Peychaud bitters (but we couldn’t find any and chose Orange instead)

1 tsp. Angostura bitter

1 tsp. Amer Picon

½ oz. orange curacao

½ oz. simple syrup

½ oz. maraschino liqueur

9 oz. bourbon

DM: So what’d you think?

JM: I only tasted it, but the mild sweetness was more to my preference.

DM: For me, it was also the sweetest, and maybe the most subtle. There really isn’t a huge influence from any of the secondary ingredients, though. As it’s nearly all alcohol and the others complained it was too strong.

JM: The other drinks were a Brooklyn and a variation of the Brooklyn called the Bushwick… these both make one drink.

Brooklyn:

2 oz. rye

¾ dry vermouth

2 tsp. Amer Picon

2 tsp. maraschino liqueur

Bushwick:

2 oz. rye

¼ oz. Amer Picon

¼ oz. maraschino

DM: What was the difference, do you think?

JM: I only tasted the others, so it’s hard for me to say, but the dry vermouth made the Brooklyn less sweet, and it seemed even more potent.

DM: I thought so too, though I preferred it to Bushwick. I drank half of mine then switched with someone to try the Bushwick.

ad 1JM: I have a three-drink rule and succumbed to trying some Texas beers before we started.

DM: Me too, and maybe I should have had some rules, but… well… I didn’t. I had plenty of everything.

JM: So, what was the Bushwick like to you?

DM: It seems like we’ve used sweet vermouth a lot. Unless you choose a bitter form of it, sweet vermouth adds an almost punch taste.

JM: Punch taste?

DM: You know, like Tahitian Treat, or Hawaiian Punch.

JM: Ah, the drinks of our youth.

DM: Overall, I’d say I need to find some new uses for the Amer Marshallon. Your wife told me she doesn’t like these all-alchol drinks, and I’m beginning to understand her perspective. I may find some new ways to couple Amer with fruit… to balance its bitterness and echo its sweet elements.

JM: Or maybe just a splash with some lemon-lime seltzer. Or add it to something that calls for bitters.

DM: What would you think of it with tonic instead? You know how I love my tonic.

JM: If you love it, drink it. If you don’t love it, don’t drink it. There’s a rule for you.

DM: A good one. In any case, it was fun to actually make the drink together. Besides dividing the labor, I learned much more about how you operate as a cocktailian.

JM: Virtual has been great fun and accomplished our goal of communicating much more. Actual is a lot more fun.

DM: And those were our takes.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Visiting our sister, I recognized that she has a half a bottle of cachaca from my last visit, so I looked for something that might make effective use of it. I chose the Amazonia, in part because the description said it’d be perfect for Sunday barbeque. Having tried some good barbeque on this trip, the recipe appeals to me. Summer has more than begun in Texas, but back in Chicago, we are just starting to de-winterize our grills.

3GT

3GT2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Inventing a cocktail should be the easiest thing ever—just stumble over to the liquor cabinet, pull out a couple of bottles and maybe a mixer, combine them, and gussy up the glass with some garnish. It’s true that it’s simple to select ingredients and, unless you’re looking to match a flavor profile or attempt some exotic preparation, it’s simple to stir, shake, or swirl them together. Getting the drink right, however, means the loving trial and error of choosing complementary spirits, determining their proper proportions, and, of course, coming up with a name not already claimed.

A tough job, though I suppose someone must do it. This week I volunteered.

The G’s in “3GT” stand for three ingredients we encountered elsewhere: Ginger beer (which we used in the Kentucky Mule and the Dark n’ Stormy), Gin (which, Jonathan tells me, is his favorite spirit, one that comes in many distinctive varieties), and Goldschläger (which we used before with champagne, and which is apparently more commonly ingested by crazy people as shots). The T is tonic because, well, everything else in this drink is alcoholic, and you can’t do much experimenting when you’re under the table.

And, since I get to tell my own origin story for this week’s drink, I’ll take the unusual tack of telling the truth: I like all these ingredients and wondered if they might taste good together. Crabbies Ginger Beer has become a favorite libation for me, nicely spicy and sweetish. Ransom’s Old Tom Gin, the variety I chose for this drink, lends a mellow and botanical tang. Goldschläger is really strange stuff to be sure, but the cinnamon taste adds a different sort of heat (and I have a whole bottle to use up). Tonic is the bitter element to keep the whole thing from being too sweet.

Yet the origin story isn’t over. Though I’m revealing this drink today, alas, additional research may be necessary to perfect it. It still may be too sweet and still may need more bitterness. I’ve experimented with including another half-ounce of a friend’s homemade Amer Picon (before I—tearfully—used it up) or Punt e Mes, a particularly bitter red vermouth. Both, I think, enhanced the drink, but I didn’t want to burden Jonathan with another hard (or impossible) quest.

So here is the recipe I devised (with the other variation in parentheses):

3 oz. Ginger Beer

1 oz. Old Tom Gin

.5 oz. Goldschlager

(.5 oz. Punt e Mes)

Tonic to fill

Fill an 8-10 oz. glass half way with ice, add the first three (or four) ingredients and a cherry. Pour tonic to fill the glass. Stir gently and serve.

Naturally, I’m apprehensive about Jonathan’s reaction but have decided to accept his comments as part of the next stage of the creative process. Maybe, Dear Reader, you can help too.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbm3GT

The proposal for this drink had me wondering if I am too critical. My first thought was that I had been hard on David’s other original drink, The Pear Culture, but I loved that drink and wrote so. Then I thought there was some disparity between my reviews of drinks that I proposed and those for which David was the proposer. It wasn’t a complete reading of all blog entries, but it appears I have been fairly equal in my likes and dislikes. That leaves me with one last idea – David was setting me up for a drink he had invented, tried, and didn’t like. That can’t be it either as this drink could make the cocktail list at any bar.

Last week was a great example of the difference in my taste and David’s tastes. Our list of beer by preference wasn’t completely inverse, but it was close. And it goes further than that. David is mostly vegetarian, and I am full on carnivore. Where he might prefer fruit and vegetables, I am likely to go towards a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries, the latter my nod to some semblance of nutrition. I do not eat that poorly, but if it wasn’t for the heartburn that increases with age, I could find a way to eat some form of nachos almost any night. In sum, it seems we should have conversely different tastes in cocktails too, but for the most part have agreed on the good, bad and in between.

This cocktail’s best quality is that it is can change with variations in each base ingredient and still be excellent. Here are some of the examples: I used Jack Rudy’s mix to make my tonic but it was apparent that strong to weak tonics would work; David suggested an Old Tom gin, which I used, although a second version with a more juniper forward gin made a less sweet version; and, the ginger beer I chose was non-alcoholic (mostly because it looked more interesting than the alcoholic version available) and that ingredient alone could completely change the profile of the drink so there could be endless versions. I kept the Goldschlager the same in each drink because the cinnamon was a great counterpoint to the herbs and ginger. I wouldn’t change that, but won’t be surprised if David did to great success.

Jonathan’s take: Seriously, this could and should be on cocktail lists far and wide.

David’s take: What can I say? I’m biased.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Easter is not a holiday one would associate with cocktails. Although I learned long ago that an internet search will return results for almost any insane search, I was surprised how many results there were for “Easter cocktails”. Even the ever present Pinterest page (I ignored that). David should have St. Germain liqueur, and I should have bought some long ago. That hole in my cabinet will be filled and we will be trying the St. Germain cocktail a mix of liqueur, sparkling water and Prosecco.

Monte Carlo

monte carloJMProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The cocktail this week is a variation on the Manhattan called the Monte Carlo. There is little history to be found on this drink other than it is one of many, although very simple in this case, alterations of the basic classic. The recipe substitutes Benedictine for sweet vermouth and specifies rye whiskey. As stated in last week’s proposal, the recipe comes from The Art of the Bar:

2 ounces rye
¾ ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon twist for garnish

The recipe suggests that the ingredients be combined, stirred with ice to chill, strained into a glass and garnished with the lemon. There is a discussion included in the book about shaking versus stirring and my synopsis would be to follow a simple hint. If the drink is all spirit one should stir, but if it includes a non-spirit like fruit juice or an egg it needs to be vigorously shaken to combine. There’s more to it, but that is easier to remember.

There is a layer of taste to this drink that I think is missing in the classic Manhattan. It could be that sweet vermouth is simply too subtle for me, but there is little doubt that the herbal presence of Benedictine is more assertive. We tried it with rye one day and then with aged rum the next (why not vary a variation after all?) and in both the herbal sweetness dominated in a good way.

This cocktail also brings me back to the concept of the perception of taste and how it is affected by place or setting. There is the very real concept of terroir and its effect on taste, but I am talking more about psychology than geography.

Terroir is the effect of geology and geography on the qualities of something one consumes. Soil and climate may be the most common elements that affect the taste of such things as grapes (wine), milk (cheese), spirits (Kentucky bourbon) and many other consumable products. There are also differences in production methods, but anyone who has tasted something as subtle as a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand compared to one from California has experienced this.

Earlier this week I heard an example of what I consider the psychology of taste. A show on one of the food channels included a discussion how bagels are better in New York City, which they undoubtedly are. One of the people commenting in the story suggested that the water in the city provided the subtle, but distinctive, difference. I would argue (apparently about anything since I am arguing about bagels) that the difference in taste comes from years of experience and the repetition of making so many bagels. I also think that bagels are one of the classic foods associated with New York, and people simply expect them to better in that setting—so they are. Similarly, one can make beignets and café au lait, but will they be as tasty as they would be if you were sitting at Café du Monde in New Orleans? No, no they wouldn’t.

You don’t need to travel to Monte Carlo to heighten the taste of this cocktail, but the right place and time can accentuate its taste. To me, this is a drink for a dark bar or sitting in front of a nice fire. It is one to be enjoyed pre-meal, with quiet music, conversation and good company. Maybe even a smoking jacket and comfy slippers although the nice fire is a better setting for that than the dark bar. That’s up to you though.

Here’s David’s Review:

MonteCarloDMThe highest compliment my geometry teacher ever delivered was “Elegant.” She used the word only for some solutions to proofs. An answer with seven or eight steps might be just as correct as one with three, and a shorter but more pedestrian response was fine too. What made a proof elegant in her eyes was the combination of novelty and economy.

I would describe the Monte Carlo as similarly elegant. After last week’s overcrowded cocktails, it was nice to try a recipe with so few ingredients and so simple a preparation. However, what made the drink, in my estimation, was the dominance of a single spirit and the subtle—yet evident—contributions of the other parts. If you like rye (as I do) and Benedictine (as I do) and bitters (as I do), you will probably enjoy this cocktail.

The dominance of Rye—my recipe used 2.25 ounces, to only .5 for the Benedictine—also made the Monte Carlo a stiff drink. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Seawright, my geometry teacher, never used the words “stiff drink,” but potency may contribute to elegance as well. From the first sip (and you’d better sip), the purpose of this drink seemed plain, and, on another cold Chicago evening, it seemed particularly warming.

The recipe I used invited me to play with the proportion of Benedictine, warning that the drink might be sweeter than some imbibers like. I didn’t find that to be the case. I wouldn’t describe the Monte Carlo as an overly sweet cocktail. But, after one, I wasn’t tempted to try it again with different proportions. Some bitter element might add something—Carpano Antica or Amer Picon (if you can get some or have a generous friend who lets you have some of his homemade batch)—yet I wouldn’t want to play with the elegance of this concoction. Though it’s straightforward, it’s complex without any additions.

Jonathan’s take: sometimes the variation is better than the original.

David’s Take: I felt so sophisticated drinking the Monte Carlo. That must be good.

Next Week (proposed by David):

During my usual agony over what to propose next, I located something on Difford’s Guide to the Top 100 cocktails that has always piqued my curiosity, Blood and Sand. The name is the greatest appeal to me… though the origin of that name is interesting too, as I’ll tell you next week. Plus, it uses Scotch. I’m generally not a Scotch drinker, but I would love to rehabilitate the spirit. There must be something out there that makes good use of the bottles in my liquor cabinet. In any case, it’s time to find out.