Jalapeño Shrub Cocktail

ShrubDMProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I revived this project, we decided on two types of entries—re-posts and new posts. I did not count on my dim memory. In my mind, this cocktail recipe employing a shrub was supposed to be a new post. All week, however, I’ve been fighting a sense of deja écrit, and it turns out I was right.

Sigh. I’m not going to go through the amusing and interesting facts about shrubs that my earlier self mastered and forgot mastering. The highlights are as follows:

  1. A shrub is a mixture of fruit juice, spices, and vinegar.
  2. Shrub is from the Arabic sharāb, which means “to drink,” and also gives us “sherbet” and “syrup” as metathetic variants, though I no longer can recall what metathetic variants are.
  3. Around since at least the 15th century, shrubs include vinegar as a way of preserving fruit juices, and people once saw them as medicinal.
  4. Some people just add shrubs to club soda, no alcohol.
  5. Shrubs are hip.

I think I might have saved 350 words there.

Jonathan and I had a text exchange earlier this week, though, that did make me see shrubs in a new light. He reminded me that some nutritionists describe vinegar as “jogging in a jug” because it apparently activates an enzyme called AMPK that encourages the body to burn fat, particularly the sort of fat that surrounds organs as you grow older. Before you go out to buy a gallon of apple cider vinegar, I should also say that Jonathan thinks the sugar in a shrub might nullify any benefit the vinegar might offer… and then there’s the gin.

Anyway, the best reason for making a shrub—or drinking vinegar, for that matter—is because you like the taste. Not everyone will. The sweet and sour is a little strange, and, as the particular recipe we tried included jalapeño and basil, it may seem even stranger. It’s not my job to write the review this week, so I’ll keep my position on shrubs to myself for now. I will say that adding shrubs creates cocktails just as identifiable and distinctive as ones that feature eggs… though very different… if that makes any sense.

Jalapeño Shrub Cocktail:

For the shrub…

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • .25 cup basil leaves
  • .25 teaspoon coriander powder

For the cocktail

  • 1 ounce shrub
  • 1.5 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces soda
  • Lime for garnish (though you could use jalapeño, of course)

Making this shrub is a little complicated, so read to the end to get a sense of the whole process. FIRST you create a mash with the fruit, the jalapeños and sugar and leave that for 48 hours. At the same time, SEPARATELY, combine the other ingredients. THEN, after the 48 hours, strain both the fruit mixture and the vinegar mixture and combine them.

The cocktail recipe itself says to combine the ingredients in a glass with ice, but you might notice from my photo above that instead I put everything (except the soda!) in a shaker and added the soda last.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

ShrubJM

The first time we tried a cocktail using a shrub in 2015, I disparaged “Jogging in a Jug.” That drinking vinegar (same as a shrub) was popular years ago but then disappeared after the makers were accused of making false health claims. Now research shows there are benefits from ingesting vinegar that may include increased metabolism, blood sugar improvements, heart health, and maybe even skin health.

I recently read How Not to Diet by Dr. Michael Greger. That book is a thorough review of nutritional studies and vinegar is among the items for which he finds evidence of tangible benefits. I need to be quick to add that sugar and alcohol are not on his beneficial list although capsaicin the chemical compound found in hot peppers is. Capsaicin is noted for activating brown fat. Since this is a drink blog, I will simply say that is a good thing.

My version of this cocktail included a strawberry shrub, lime juice, and an American Dry gin, Conniption, which is made in Durham, North Carolina. The shrub itself was made from the instructions in David’s recommended recipe with local strawberries instead of blueberries. The coriander and basil did not come through, but the jalapeño was very present. In fact, that background mild spice and the subtly infused gin were the highlights of the drink. I thought going in that tequila or mezcal would be a better choice of spirit, but I can’t see how either would complement the shrub better than the Conniption.

Jonathan’s take: Who knew that a vinegar based cocktail could be so good – and good for you too!

David’s take: I generally like shrub cocktails and frequently order then when I’m out… I just wonder about this one, which with the shrub… and basil… and jalapeño… and gin isn’t just a little TOO busy.

Our Re-take Next Time (proposed by David): In my proposals, I hesitate to insist Jonathan go out and buy a spirit long gone, but, nonetheless, I’d like to revisit the Amazonia, which features cachaça AND sparkling wine. A spirit that has become one of my favorites, cachaça lends every cocktail a tropical feel for me, and when is sparkling wine ever a bad idea?

Gold Rush

IMG_1520Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

How is it possible? The history of cocktails tells us the first that met that definition and name was created in the early 1800’s. Yet here we are in 2020 and the history of this week’s Gold Rush cocktail, a 3 ingredient mix by the way, is less than 20 years old.

The Bee’s Knees cocktail is more widely known. The lore is that the Bee’s was the result of prohibition era gin being softened with the sweet of honey and the distraction of lemon. The true story it seems is that this gin cocktail traces back to Paris in the late 1920’s. It is attributed to the widow, and adventurer, Margaret Brown. She and her bartender were the first to mix gin (an ample 2 ounces) with honey syrup and lemon (3/4 ounce in most versions). Margaret Brown, by the way, is better known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown – a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic.

The bourbon version of this cocktail, the Gold Rush, did not arrive until the early 2000’s. An investor and bartender, T.J. Siegal, at New York’s Milk & Honey bar created this drink as an alternative to a Whiskey Sour. The honey syrup provides the sweetness and the lemon the acid with bourbon as the perfect foil. As I asked to begin this background – how did it take so long?

The Gold Rush

2 ounces bourbon (don’t skimp and use something you like by itself)
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce honey syrup (I mixed at a 2:1 honey water ratio)
Shake with ice, strain onto ice in a highball glass and garnish as you like. I used some pineapple sage leaves because I had them.

I made a Gold Rush and a Bee’s Knees since I had the ingredients for both. Just sub gin for the bourbon in the latter and serve in coupe with a twist.

Here’s David’s Review:IMG_1510

Make enough cocktails (and drink enough) and you’re bound to consider the fundamental qualities of a cocktail, like how many ingredients it should have, what proportions, which flavors to complement and/or contrast others, or which seemingly peripheral elements like temperature or drinking vessel suit the drink best. No such basic laws actually exist, of course. No Neoplatonic cocktail sits in another plane of reality serving as the ideal for every iteration. However, for me, one cocktailian truth seems fundamental—cocktails should only be a complicated as they need to be.

Back in the old days when I visited restaurants instead of having them visit me with greasy bags and styrofoam, some involuntary skepticism rose up in me as I read the cocktail menu and found drinks with seven or eight ingredients. Many proved wonderful. The ones that wove multiple flavors without hiding any of them showed amazing skill and tested the limits of my preference for only necessary complexity. Other cocktails, however, just seemed muddied by too many and too varied components.

All of which is a long preamble to saying I liked the Gold Rush. When Jonathan proposed it, I immediately thought about the sore throat cure my father-in-law used to give my wife as a child—it was the sixties—but I really appreciated the clarity and sincerity of this drink. Though I might cut down on the honey simple syrup a little bit, this cocktail fulfills my cocktailian Occam’s Razor especially well.

As if often the case when you reduce the number of ingredients, you need to assure the quality of the Gold Rush’s few parts. But, even with so simple a formula, you have a lot of room for experimentation. I can imagine a different bourbon, honey, or Meyers’ lemon (instead of regular lemons) would make a big difference.

Jonathan’s take: I know this will surprise you – but how did it take so long!

David’s take: Could be a classic (and I’m not sure why it’s not)

Jonathan’s proposal for the next drink: We will return to one of the basics the Mule (Moscow and otherwise). I have a feeling that Mezcal will make an appearance in my version.

Local Micro-Distilleries

img_0292Proposed By: Jonathan

Pursued By: David

Bigger is better, right? In the world of spirits one could think that must be the case. Name a well-known liquor or liqueur and it is probably owned by one of the ten largest conglomerates of all things alcoholic. The biggest of the big is Diageo. Their collection includes scotches like Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff in the vodka category and Baileys for a smooth liqueur touch. Throw in Guinness and a very long list of others and they are a one stop company.

There are plenty of others like them. Pernod Ricard is number two, Beam Suntory three and the most well-known name in rum, Bacardi, four. Bacardi doesn’t just limit themselves to rum though. Their varied stable includes Grey Goose, Dewars, Bombay and even the liqueur with one of the best marketing stories  – St. Germain.

The point is not that bigger is worse. These are well established brands that are using the recipes that made them popular, and they have to stick to industry requirements. Scotch, bourbon, and tequila as categories all include deep ownership from these large companies, but they still have to meet the laws that define that spirit.

The idea with the current proposal was to try something local in a classic or inventive cocktail. David was to use spirits found in and around Chicago and I have used some found in the Charlotte region.

It is actually an easy challenge that is getting easier. Two years ago North Carolina had around 30 micro distilleries. Today, the trail includes over 40 stops. Those spirits are heavy on moonshine but include a number of other liquors. The moonshine is understandable to anyone who has ever heard the history of stock car racing in the Carolinas. Early racers honed their craft of making race cars from publicly available vehicles (stock) in order to out run authorities when hauling illegal hooch. Of course, moonshine is really just raw unaged liquor and if you are going to start a distillery that is a good way to get started. The growing maturity of the industry is beginning to show with those white liquors being flavored (gin), aged (all sorts of whiskeys), and crafted (aged gin, brandy, sweet potato vodka and the like).

I made two cocktails but only tasted one of them. The first was a classic of sorts using single malt whiskey called The Modern Cocktail:

1.5 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon bar sugar
1.5 ounce Rua (Great Wagon Distilling) single malt
1.5 ounce Sloe Gin
Dash Absinthe
Dash orange bitters

Mix lemon juice and sugar in shaker, add ice and all other ingredients, shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with cherry.

The second was a suggestion included on the web site of the distillery called the Maple Cooler. Oddly, Muddy River Distillery is one of the few I found that offered unique ideas for their spirits.

3 dashes bitters
1.5 ounce Queen Charlotte’s Carolina Rum
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.5 ounce maple syrup
1 ounce club soda

Mix everything but soda in a shaker with ice, shake, strain into an old fashioned glass with ice and top with soda. Garnish with orange peel.

The Scotch drinkers that tried the Modern seemed to like it. Maybe even enough to have another before going back to Scotch on the rocks. I forgot to taste it myself but I did try the Maple Cooler. It was a nice crossover drink that people who like a little sweet, interestingly maple syrup sweet in this case, and those that like a non-sweet drink cocktail could agree on. It is a very nice use of the more complex spirit that Muddy River offers.

A few more things: I wanted to use Southern Artisan Spirits Cardinal Barrel Rested Gin in a drink. I did that back when we made gin and tonic variations, however, and decided not to repeat in a part as punishment  for them for not keeping their web site up to date. Al Gore invented the web to advertise craft spirits didn’t he? Carolina Distillery makes an apple brandy perfect for the Fall season. At our last tailgate a number of guests enjoyed a drink that was equal parts of that brandy, Barritt’s ginger beer and fresh apple cider. Made a bunch but never tasted those either.

David’s Entry:

img_1777Some believe cocktails are a waste of good spirits. If the bourbon, scotch, gin, or even vodka is good enough, they say, why adulterate it? That perspective certainly seems crucial to micro-distilleries hoping to attract connoisseurs willing to pay for the extra costs of small-scale production. Like many boutique-styled markets catering to those in the know, the process sometimes matters as much as the product.

Like Charlotte, Chicago seems to have a new micro-distillery popping up each week. For this post, however, I chose Koval, one of the first and the first distillery founded in Chicago since the mid-nineteenth century… if you don’t count prohibition bootleggers. Their website describes a “grain-to bottle mentality” that includes locally-sourced organic ingredients, milling and mashing on-site, and signature packaging and bottling. You’re as likely to encounter Koval at a Lincoln Park farmers’ market as at your neighborhood liquor store. They mean to establish themselves as a Chicago thing, and their marketing, though quiet, has been quite effective. Their product is also much respected. Since its founding eight years ago, Koval has won many gold, silver, and bronze medals at international whisky competitions.

The website points out that, in many Eastern European languages, “Koval” means “blacksmith,” but they prefer the Yiddish word for “black sheep, or someone who forges ahead or does something new or out of the ordinary.” I’ve tried a number of Koval products (they also make imaginative liqueurs), but for this post I’ll talk about their Rye Whiskey. Their rye is unusual because it’s made from 100% rye, but that’s not why I chose it. Rye is a spirit I may possibly maybe might know somewhat well enough to judge. Truth is, all those unadulterators have me at a distinct disadvantage—my palate has never been so advanced that I can speak confidently about what anything tastes like.

And I always sound ridiculous when I pretend I understand how to describe spirits. But here goes: people who know rye might expect spiciness and little of the mellow or corn-y warmth of bourbon, and this rye doesn’t have that sort of body either. But Koval’s approach isn’t to make a spicy rye. Theirs is clean and crisp—more white than brown sugar—and has a bright, light, and unusual quality. If you’re thinking about rye bread when you have a sip, you’re going to be surprised… this isn’t that.

Not that this isn’t good for sipping. Wine Enthusiast gives it a 91 and says, “This rye has aromas of vanilla and coconut. A faint sweetness shows on the palate, with initial notes of coconut and almond, while the finish is gently spiced and drying.”

And to that, I say, “Yeah, what they said.”

As this proposal asked, I also tried this rye in a classic cocktail, the De La Louisiane, which you loyal readers may remember is equal parts rye, red vermouth, and maraschino liqueur (with Peychaud Bitters in an absinthe-washed coupe). I figured that would give me the plainest picture of how Koval might stand up to other ingredients, and I was right. To be honest, however, the Koval nearly disappeared, which made me wonder whether it’s too refined for mixing.

Or maybe it’s just too refined for me. The expense of most micro-distillery offerings means they aren’t likely to supply my usual bourbon, rye, scotch, gin, or vodka. It’d be nice if local micro-distilleries could compete with multi-nationals on price, but alas and of course not. They’re a nice treat, yet remind me that, when it comes to boutique spirits, I’m just not worthy.

Jonathan’s take: I understand global companies but it sure is nice to support creative people making local product.

David’s Take: Like Jonathan, I support local commerce and spirituous ambition… though Old Overholt is probably too good for me.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

So, it’s that time of year again, and I googled “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails.” Disappointingly, many of the old stand-bys turned up (Mulled Wine, Eggnog, Hot Buttered Rum) as did many wretchedly sweet drinks (Peppermint “Martinis” and Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate). Finally, I discovered something that might be warm enough and light enough to enhance rather than drown the good cheer, Spiked Pear Cider.