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.

Pear Bourbon Cider

Proposed by: JonathanPearCiderJM

Reviewed by: David

First order of business the drink. It is described more than named as Pear Bourbon Cider. The recipe is straightforward, simple and in proportions suitable for a holiday punch:

2 – 3 cups bourbon
3 cups pear cinnamon cider
1 liter bottle of sparkling apple cider
1 cup of club soda
Pear slices for mix and garnish

Mix all ingredients, pour into double old fashioned glasses with ice and garnish with pear.

I never realized it before trying to find some background for this drink, but the definition of cider specifies apples. That’s a pretty boring fact, even if I can now annoy someone by pointing out that “apple cider” is redundant. The truth is that the cinnamon pear cider, whether named correctly or not, is the star of this drink. It is so dominant in flavor that the bourbon gets lost. As a public service I want to make sure and emphasize that in case anyone takes my suggestion to use this as holiday punch. The recipe suggests 2 – 3 cups of bourbon but if grandma wants to try it, double the sparkling cider. You could use just 2 cups of bourbon, of course, but this isn’t a cider blog.

Last week David pulled back the curtain to explain how he arrives at his drink suggestions and that it is not his favorite part of the process. To some extent, I am the opposite. I like to do the review more than I do the write up and as part of that I obsess about what to suggest next. We often correspond by e-mail making sure each of us are aware who has which week, possible issues with drink ingredients (who let David use up his Chartreuse!), and the timing of events and holidays that should be accompanied by an appropriate beverage.

Pay no attention to that bartender with the bulbous nose behind the curtain, ideas are all over. It should be no surprise, though, that the most common factor in what I suggest is the latest idea from my growing list of spirit literature. I also find ideas from other sources such as stealing them from cocktail menus and helpful suggestions from regular readers. It’s almost scary how often I get text messages accompanied by pictures of some wonderful looking cocktail. Now that we’re almost a year and half into this, David and I may need to sync up our Christmas lists to expand the ingredients, but there’s lots of places left to go.

Here’s David’s Review:

PearCiderDMThe only cocktail I invented for this blog was one I called The Pear Culture, and I couldn’t help thinking about it as I consumed Pear Bourbon Cider. The ingredients—the pear and bourbon combination—and the look of the two drinks—a golden and warm autumnal shade—were similar. The difference, however, was the Trader Joe’s connection. Where my cocktail called for puree, this recipe took a much lighter course with TJ’s Pear Cinnamon Cider (trademark). And where I included ginger (in the form of liqueur), this drink called for TJ’s Sparkling Apple Cider (trademark).

I admit, as I was making the drink, something said to me, “Where’s the ginger?” because I think ginger and pears go well together. For reasons I don’t understand—Former life? Propaganda by the ginger industry? Brain tumor?—having one ingredient makes me think of the other. I’m glad I resisted the temptation, though. The cinnamon in the cider provides some necessary spice, and the gravity of this drink, which was much lighter than my cocktail, made it more refreshing and quaffable.

All of which is to say, maybe this cocktail is the one I should have created.

I couldn’t resist a little experimentation though. The recipe I found online required adjusting the amounts because they were punch quantities, cups instead of ounces. For simplicity, I decided to convert cups to ounces, with the sparkling apple coming in around three cups, hence three ounces. However the instructions also contained varying proportions, offering “two to three cups bourbon (depending on your affinity for bourbon).” What a silly thing to say! It should be three, and, if it isn’t three, then look for another recipe.

And here’s another thing to try. If you look back at earlier posts, I think it’s safe to say Jonathan has an affinity for fruity cocktails—he’s certainly made me appreciate them more and seek them out at restaurants and bars—but, even with the effervescence of the club soda and cider and the touch of cinnamon, this drink could use a more prominent bitter element… not Campari or Malört or any amaro but maybe… well, bitters.

I’m under strict orders never to use the word “cloying” ever again so I won’t, but my recommendation would be to balance this drink’s sweet components with some exotic and mysterious counterpoint, something that will make your guest say, “Hmm. What’s that botanical I’m tasting?” As a great collector of bitters, I happen to have Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla and also Black Strap bitters (flavored with Molasses, Sarsaparilla, and Ceylon Cinnamon). I didn’t make two more drinks to try them out. “An affinity for bourbon” is one thing, but three drinks another. However, I did add a drop or two of The Black Strap before finishing the drink. It added a little something that’s missing, I think.

I may try the cocktail with Scrappy Chocolate Bitters next, which I also have on hand, naturally. Then there’s an idea I have for substituting Crabbie’s Ginger Beer for the sparkling apple cider and soda, and… well, you get the idea.

David’s Take: Perfectly pleasant and flavorful, but, with a little doctoring, it could be a more distinctive and memorable cocktail.

Jonathan’s Take: This punch needs a name and I think it should be Sneaky Cider. Where did that bourbon go?

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Picture a Venn Diagram. In the past, the set of beer drinkers and the set of cocktail drinkers rarely intersected. That is, their intersection was the empty set or the damn-near empty set. However, next week, Jonathan and I will follow one of the hip and trendy practices of bars all over the place and concoct (and of course imbibe) cocktails that incorporate beer. It’s a two-for-one week. I won’t dictate his choice nor he mine, but we will explore how beer might add or subtract from the mixed drink experience… and offer our usual largely uninformed but well-meaning commentary.

The Pear Culture

pear cultureProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

After tasting the La Marque a few weeks ago, I was more than somewhat intimidated at the idea of inventing a drink of my own. Followers of this blog will know my history of proposing drinks is a little spotty, so creating one seemed even more risky. Nonetheless, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and this week, I feel compelled to try.

My inspiration comes from two sources—the desire to use pears, my favorite fruit this time of year, and a pear tart I’ve tasted combining Bartlett (or Williams) pears with spicy ginger and rich vanilla. By itself, a pear can be merely sweet, and maybe that’s why the world doesn’t seem to demand much in the way of pear liqueur or pear-infused spirits, but their mellowness and subtle astringency can be drawn out by other flavors.

For the ginger, I chose The King’s Ginger I love the taste of this liqueur—it’s great on its own—but, for the spice, I’ve also included Powell and Mahoney Old Ballycastle Ginger, a mixer that might match Jonathan’s Bleinheim. As I experimented, I started out with the vanilla vodka we used in the La Marque. After re-trying the vodka, however, I decided instead for Bourbon because it evokes vanilla overgenerously and seems to give the drink more depth. As for the prosecco, I thought it might effervescently echo the pear flavors while also cutting some of the density of pear juice or puree. Plus, I got the idea of combining champagne and bourbon from The Seelbach, a cocktail invented at the Louisville hotel. The Angostura is to give the cocktail a bitter edge and save it from cloying sweetness.

I know, you’re saying, “Listen to you, getting all Food Network-y!” Well, these cocktailian forays are serious business! We’ve learned the names of so many famous drink inventors. I wouldn’t want to be known as the originator of something vile like (I’ll restrain myself, Mr. Campari).

The name of this cocktail, by the way, is pure caprice. I like the idea of a secret pear culture, which I picture as a nerdy group of devotees worshiping one of the less vaunted fruits. I would be one of said devotees.

pearculturealso2Here’s the recipe:

1.5 parts pear juice or puree

1 part bourbon

1 part ginger liqueur (or syrup)

.5 parts spicy ginger ale (Old Ballycastle for me)

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Prosecco

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Add some to a fluted glass and top with prosecco. Garnish with a slice of pear or lemon.

pearculture3Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

It already seems that the best of our proposed drinks rely more on the additional ingredients than the spirits. The peanut orgeat, fresh squeezed juices, a variety of simple syrups and homemade grenadine are just a few of the examples. So when David proposed a new drink with a base of pear puree or nectar, the first thing that came to mind is how we could doctor that ingredient to accentuate it.

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This drink as proposed also used a spiced simple syrup. As an alternative, I took the pear nectar and mulled it with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, and added a bottle of spicy Blenheim ginger ale. The ginger ale was a last minute change because I couldn’t find a piece of ginger root that I thought we had (I actually thought the dog had eaten it, but fortunately was wrong). The resulting pear juice was thicker and spicier than it had started out and provided a nice cross between puree and nectar.

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The final recipe I used was two parts mulled pear juice, one part bourbon, angostura bitters and something close to two parts Prosecco. I mixed the first three ingredients and shook them with ice, strained and added the Prosecco. The cocktail that resulted was a great hit with a large group. The pear gave it a really unique taste, and the Prosecco (I had neglected to use it an earlier cocktail) lightened the thickness of the mulled and chilled liquid. It was also another example of how the simple addition of bitters cut some of the fruit sweetness.

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There is new whisky popular with folks much younger than me called Fireball Cinnamon Whisky that mimics the old fireball candy. The Blenheim ginger ale had already made my mulled pear juice spicy, but I made a second version of the drink using the Fireball. I have to admit that I did not taste that version, but those who did liked it even better. That is saying a lot considering how much they liked the first version.

Jonathan’s take: The last time we talked, David had not decided on a name for this drink. You could call it Bobski and I would be ready to make some more.

David’s Take: Being the inventor, it’s untoward to say I really liked this cocktail… so I won’t say it… but you get the idea, right?

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

It is Thanksgiving week and since we will have a large group at our house I am proposing a Fall sangria. There are scads of recipes for sangrias, but I have reputation for cranberry concoctions at Thanksgiving to uphold and the recipe will have feature them prominently.