La Belle Quebec

LaBelleProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The choice this week is more about the liquor than it is the cocktail. My somewhat overfull shelves in the liquor cabinet include rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, American whiskey and some sweetened versions of a few of those. It was time to try Canadian and the vehicle was somewhat of an afterthought. As it turns out, at least in my opinion, that is a shame.

Canadian whisky or Canadian rye is not nearly as regulated as its counterpart to the south. In the U.S. rye (whiskey not whisky) must contain at least 51% rye grain in the mash with the remainder likely corn and barley. It is aged in charred oak barrels that have not previously been used. Canadian whisky is referred to as rye whisky more out of tradition than actual makeup. The mash mix may contain some rye but there are no restrictions on how much if any. Aging is accomplished in wood barrels, but once again the methods do not mandate the type of wood, charring or if they have been used previously. It follows a stereotype, but when it comes to Canadian whisky, those Canucks don’t let a bunch of rules bog them down.

The whisky I chose more resembled a scotch than the rye whiskey we have used in previous drinks. I bought Canadian Club small batch classic. Bottled at 80 proof, it does not identify the exact mix in the mash, and, with 12 years of aging in charred oak barrels, it is as smooth as a single malt to me. I tried a very small amount straight to compare it to the rye, and, though I am not one to taste all the subtleties, my first thought was that I need to offer it to friends who are scotch drinkers to see what their reaction will be.

This is a cocktail blog and I don’t want to forget the drink itself. La Belle Quebec is an obscure drink I found in an older Gary Regan book The Bartender’s Bible. The recipe is

1.5 ounce Canadian whisky

.5 ounce cherry brandy

.5 ounce brandy

.5 ounce lemon juice

half teaspoon fine sugar

Shaken with ice and strained into a coupe.

I used Cherry Heering instead of cherry brandy because I had it and would suggest that in doing so the sugar could be omitted to create a cocktail with a little less sweetness. The end result was a very nice drink, hardly deserving obscurity. It has a nice color, smooth taste and finish and just enough complexity to make it interesting.

photo 4-31Here’s David’s Review:

My wife and I have visited Quebec—we honeymooned there and made a return visit for our 25th wedding anniversary. She does much better with the French than I do, but it doesn’t matter much. Everyone seems equally friendly whether you say “Bonjour” or “Hello.” I’m a little surprised, in fact, that in our visits to Quebec City, no one has offered me one La Belle Quebec.

The flavors are certainly appropriate—Canadian Whisky, Brandy, and the one non-brown (but still dark) spirit I substituted for cherry brandy, Cherry Heering. Though the lemon juice lightens the combination a little, this cocktail is as potent and dense as it sounds. And, with sugar added, it’s quite sweet. About half-way through her glass—full or empty, you decide—my wife wondered if it would be a sin to fill the balance with seltzer. I joined her, and the drink seemed more refreshing, more suited to the heat that has finally descended on Chicago now that it’s late August and really ought to start cooling off.

Which is a natural segue to my review. I liked this drink. The warmth and depth and gravity of the cocktail would make it wonderful after dinner, but—if you need loosening up—maybe before dinner is good too. We have a deck of cards from the Chateau Frontenac that depicts the old hotel covered in snow, and I couldn’t help picturing us sitting in the hotel bar, happy we didn’t have to go out and happy for calm and friendly company. For me, it fits the same category as the great dark drinks—Sazerac, Manhattan, Vieux Carré, De La Louisianne, etc.—and we will never try enough of those as far as I’m concerned.

Is it the best summer drink? No. If you like the taste and want to have couple, the addition of seltzer isn’t a bad idea, particularly if you include lemon seltzer. Is it too sweet? Maybe, and I’ll certainly skip the sugar in the recipe when I make it again. Here’s “however”: I sometimes hear people say something has “Good bones” when they mean it has solid components, whatever objection you might have to their assembly or appearance. That.

On a related note, having never tried Canadian Whisky I was curious to try some on its own. A regular reader of this blog undoubtedly knows I favor the darker spirits (and the darker versions of the lighter spirits), and I’m grateful to Jonathan for introducing me to this one—it has the spiciness of rye and mellowness of bourbon and a clean, direct flavor all its own. Those Canadians are onto something.

And Cherry Heering, it’s delicious. Jonathan sent me an email earlier this week saying I should have Heering from an earlier recipe (I didn’t—I substituted something else). Then he added, “Unless you’ve been tippling like an old lady.” I don’t know. Maybe I will tipple that Heering away… or find another cocktail where it takes a central role.

David’s Take: Worth adding to the repertoire, and I’ll definitely return to it this winter.

Jonathan’s Take: I like the idea of less rules, and I like La Belle Quebec. A good combination.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, I’ve been looking for a definitive Chicago cocktail and have finally found one, The Cohasset Punch. I know it’s wrong that it should be named after a small town in Massachusetts, but (as always) there’s a story behind that. A popular drink from the turn of the 20th century until after World War II, it even appears in native son Saul Bellow’s debut novel, Dangling Man. The specific version I’m choosing is the update, The Cohasset Punch #2, which will require cinnamon simple syrup. I may also sneak in the original as well, which will require a canned peach… really.

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Singapore Sling

better?Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There is a great deal of consensus about the creator, location and basics of the Singapore Sling. The popular history of the drink is that the bartender Ngiam Tong Boon of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore made the first one in the early part of the 20th century. There is also agreement about gin as the main ingredient along with Benedictine, cherry heering or brandy, lime juice, and club soda.  Since the original recipe no longer exists, or at least it is probable it does not, proportions and extra ingredients vary from that point. That should not be surprising to anyone who has ever researched the origins of classic cocktails.

One of the first things you learn when exploring cocktails is that there does not seem to be a definitive history for any drink. Almost every classic cocktail we have tried includes multiple versions of the history, ingredients and proportions. For instance, even with all the consensus, there are those who suggest the Singapore Sling came about before the cocktail by that name was served at the Raffles Long Bar. Different versions include pineapple juice, orange liqueurs, sugars, wine, floats of liquor and a variety of garnishes just to name a few. In fact, there are almost as many recipes as cocktail guides and write-ups.

As an aside, I have enjoyed reading the many blogs about cocktails, although their existence explains part of my problem with this blog. When we started I had visions of great popularity, worldwide acclaim, visits to late night talk shows and branching into alternative endeavors. Who knows, I thought, maybe I would finally achieve the life long career goal for which both David and I have practiced since we were young television addicts—cartoon voiceover artist.

Unfortunately, we are just one blog of thousands exploring the realm of alcohol, and I will need to keep my day job.

The proposal last week suggested that David find a recipe to his liking since there are so many variations. I ended up doing the same after reading multiple suggestions and then changed that up as I made more drinks. The base recipe I used was equal parts (1 ounce) of gin, cherry heering, Benedictine and fresh lime juice. Those were all shaken with ice, 2 ounces of club soda and few dashes angostura bitters were added before serving over ice in a highball glass. The second drink added an equal part of pineapple juice to tone down the sweetness of the heering and I changed the bitters to orange.

It was surprising how the gin got lost in the drink and the Benedictine stood out. My sister-in-law suggested the drink made her feel like she should be on a cruise ship and that really summed it up. It is bright, cheerful and tropical. So much so it seems to cry out for an umbrella. Maybe that is why there are so many versions; it is satisfying, but everyone is looking for that magic combination that takes it to another level.

photo-80Here’s David’s Review:

It appears it’s been a tough winter everywhere and, of course, here in Chicago we like to believe we’ve had it worst with our fourth greatest inches of snowfall ever, our polar vortexes, and our temperatures lower than Antarctica lowered ridiculously again by wind chills. True or not, since winter hit in late October, I’ve been thinking, “Boy, I could use a Singapore Sling!”

Not really, but it was a welcome drink for early March, a reminder of tropical climes and a harbinger of spring. It has to be spring soon, doesn’t it, because how can they dye the Chicago River green if it’s covered with ice?

I like all the ingredients in this drink, every one, so their combination was wonderful to me. I used the classic Raffles Hotel proportions, and it’s complicated measuring out all its parts—harder if you’ve had one. Yet all the varieties of spirits seemed perfectly balanced against the freshness of the pineapple juice… also one of my favorite things. The pineapple garnish gave me a good excuse to eat the entire fruit. I know, I should be ashamed of myself.

After an abortive trip to the market—yes, Jonathan, it happens even here—I went with ingredients we already possessed, Luxardo Maraschino and Mandarine Napoleon in place of Cherry Heering and Cointreau, but the result was pleasing, fruity and fresh with a complementary hint of botanicals from the Benedictine and Gin. Naturally, I’m curious what this cocktail might be like with first-string components and intend to try it again sometime with its archival “necessities.” That said, I was quite satisfied. It’s a classic for good reason. Cocktails involving fruit juice always seem smoothest. Maybe I think somehow I’m being healthy… though the next morning usually disavows that notion.

Jonathan’s take: This is a drink for one of my favorite cartoon characters, the fellow who offered everyone a Hawaiian punch. I need to work on that voice.

David’s Take: Wonderful and welcome.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Erin go Braugh! St. Patrick’s Day is a big celebration around here, with roving bands of stumbling drunks swinging from trolleys and hailing taxis all over the city. I’m using the occasion to suggest something other than green beer. I’ve chosen a cocktail that’s suitably green, uses Irish whiskey, but is perhaps—and how could it not be?—more subtle: Irish Eyes. It’s compared to a White Russian, which I think Jonathan’s wife enjoys, so I’m hoping for the luck of the Irish. And isn’t everyone Irish on March  17th… or thereabouts on the calendar somewhere in there?