As mentioned, our home bar started off with some naive choices. As our explorations into mixology have matured, so have our selections at our local (and out of town) liquor stores. As the collection grew, it expanded past the boundaries of the furniture it was kept in. Eventually, we had to make some choices as to what was kept out and what went into hiding.
Before you call liquor snob on us (and fairly so), these decisions were not made solely on how cool or hip each spirit was. As our recipes and tastes progressed, we realized that some bottles were gathering more dust than others. Housekeeping practices aside, things that lost their prime real estate spot were simply not called on or used often enough.
Not much of a difficult decision on this one.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to discard the value and potential of these spirits. No doubt there are some tasty recipes out there for these lonely tipples, but we’ve had our eyes on other prizes. That said, Elyn and I are considering the idea of making these bottles a challenge; perhaps concocting some easy uses, cocktail and otherwise, to finish these off. Suggestions welcome below in the comments!
Full disclosure, esteemed reader, we have some very silly things hanging out in the laundry room. Some of those in the photo up top there are just the 1.75 L bottle that we refill the 750 mL on the bar with. I’ll list them in the Cabinet (take a look! Input welcome!) under the blush-faced title, the Bar of Eagerness. There’s black vodka, there’s Amarula, there’s a root beer liqueur…. but around the house, we just call it the laundry room.
For our second submission to Mixology Monday’s smoke theme, I chose to follow Elyn’s lead (as I, being no fool, so often do) with a Turkish hookah experience and decided to make apple brandy my base spirit. This drink was also created to pair nicely with a leisurely smoke of some apple shisha in a hookah, perhaps on a chilly night of the sort we are hoping to get more of here in SC.
I called upon some specific spirits for this recipe to make sure the result didn’t stray too far from the intent. With some lucky input from our close friend, Robert, I give you Newton’s Fog:
Combine the first four ingredients in an iced mixing glass and stir calmly. Pour into a rocks glass over a large ice cube and add the dashes of bitters and Laphroaig.
Measure carefully; this drink is a balancing act!
Of the Laird’s apple brandy options that we have here (which we’ll talk more about at a later date *wink!*), the Bottled in Bond is the most bold and full-flavored, yet lighter-bodied than bourbon. It is for that reason I used it here; we’ll need something solid to built this complex cocktail on. The Batavia Arrack brings in some needed spice and smokiness to help later with the bitters.
At after some early experiments, instead of amaretto, I had planned to use John D. Taylor’s Velvet falernum to tie up the last of the spice notes and bring the sweet counter to the lemon juice. It worked well and I was ready to roll with it, but on a lark our friend Robert made the exact same drink with the Luxardo Amaretto instead. To our surprise, it worked brilliantly. One sip of the amaretto by itself explained why; whereas most amarettos are just sweet and a little nutty, the Luxardo actually has a sharpness and spice to its profile that took this recipe right where I wanted to go.
As you may have noticed, the smokiest ingredient here is hardly used. If you’ve tried Laphroaig, you know that you don’t need much of it to turn any recipe into something akin to drinking a campfire. I love the stuff, and the cask strength is not fooling around. If you have Laphroaig 10 or 12 year, go ahead and be generous with that dash. With the cask strength, as I learned at The Gin Joint and their Penicillin cocktail, you don’t need much of it before it takes over completely. The Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters is another delicious and smoky addition.
This drink actually keeps developing as the ice melts; make sure it’s a big one!
Stirring this drink keeps it smooth and silky, while the apply brandy and Arrack keep it from getting syrupy. With that large ice chunk slowly opening up the flavors, this is a great one to sip and puff to while watching the cool nights roll in.
EDIT: Bust out that trusty channel knife and take a spiral of a sweet, cold apple and let that float on top of the drink as well. The juice really lightens up the finish, and makes a tasty snack at the end of the drink. Thanks for the reminder, Robert!
They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire– it isn’t necessarily true if we’re down to the smoldering embers, but, well, they say it anyway. In our case, where there was fire, now there’s smoke, and it’s time to stoke your enthusiasm for the next challenge.
Elana gave us the lovely challenge of a cocktail with smoke and we have two to share with you. The first is one I’m calling Istiklal Caddesi after the street that forms the cultural hub of Istanbul.
What does Istanbul have to do with smoke? Well, I was lucky to spend several weeks traveling in Turkey during the cold winter of 2005. On a backpacker budget, I stayed in lots of cheap hotels that were drafty and had inconsistent warm water. The place my travel companion and I would often go to warm up was one of the many tea shops scattered around any urban area in Turkey. Inside you could escape the cold, have a cup of strong and sweet tea, play backgammon, and rent a hookah to pass the time.
This drink is an homage to those memories and also designed to be sipped as an accompaniment to enjoying a hookah. The recipe is functionally an apple brandy sour with some Turkish flavors tossed in to make it a little more special. My favorite shisha flavor has always been apple or cardamom so both of those flavors go into the drink via the apple brandy and cardamom syrup. Sumac is a tart berry that is a common cooking ingredient in Turkish food so the sumac tincture is there to blend the lemon and brandy harmoniously. Finally, the lapsang souchong syrup stands in for that strong, sweet, hot tea that I drank so many glasses of. Plus, it brings in the smoke flavor for the drink. This drink, like a hookah, is only subtly smokey but the flavor is definitely there. Enjoy!
Apple brandy, cardamom, lapsang souchong, and sumac evoke the hookah smoke-filled tea shops of Istanbul.
Author: Root and Glass
Recipe type: Cocktail
2 oz. Laird's 7-Year Apple Brandy
1 oz. lemon juice
1 barspoon sumac tincture*
¼ oz. cardamom syrup**
½ oz. lapsang souchong syrup***
3 dashes Fee Brother's Barrel-Aged bitters
Combine all ingredients. Stir with ice. Strain into a glass with a single large ice cube.
* Sumac tincture: Combine 3 tablespoons dried sumac with a ¼ cup vodka. Allow to steep covered for 24 hours. Strain through cheesecloth until sediment is removed.
** Cardamom syrup: Bring 1 cup of water and ¼ cup cardamom pods to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup sugar. Allow cardamom to steep in syrup for 3 days. Strain to remove cardamom pods. Store in an old salsa jar.
*** Lapsang Souchong syrup: Prepare lapsang souchong tea at normal strength. Stir in equal amount of sugar. Half-heartedly attempt to remove label from IKEA lingonberry syrup bottle. Give up. Store in the bottle anyway.
In case you’d checked earlier than last week, I’ve filled our Cabinet (pun totally intended) here on the site, so you curious cats can see what lurks therein. I haven’t gotten to the Bar of Eagerness yet… since I am less proud of what’s in it… but soon!
UPDATE: Make that ‘now.’ The Cabinet is fully up to speed, warts and all.
Need a reason, or yet another reason, to read David Wondrich’s awesome book, Imbibe? Here’s an excerpt from early in the opening chapter that really highlights the approachable, yet professorial, writing style and the clarity of the message:
[On mixed drinks] They are easily abused; they can degrade lives and even destroy them. Even if appreciated in moderation, they are appreciated in surrounding that rarely lead to detached meditation on truth and beauty (if those are not the same thing) or constructive engagement with the great moral and social questions of the age.
And yet neither are they contemptible. A proper drink at the right time – one mixed with care and skill and served in a true spirit of hospitality – is better than any other made thing at giving us the illusion, at least, that we’re getting what we want from life. A cat can gaze upon a king, as the proverb goes, and after a Dry Martini or a Sazerac Cocktail or two, we’re all cats.
Well said, good sir. That second half really speaks to me, and sets a bar for the kind of drinking that I would eagerly wish upon anyone and everyone.
I feel that the name of this fancy thing bears some explanation. It also seems like a good place to start filling up all this empty space! First, some history:
My lovely wife, Elyn, and I began our amateur explorations into cocktails when we were just dating. It was about 4 years ago, and we were eager to explore this boozy world together. We would wander into liquor stores and get things that looked pretty or interesting or both. I’d been thinking of cocktails in terms of what I’d had thus far (simple highballs, White Russians, and a few unnaturally colored mixtures at local bars), and shopped accordingly.
I considered surrounding this set with mini-bottles, but a shot glass required less dusting.
We armed ourselves with a few mass-market cocktail recipe books and tried to make due with what we could find. We learned our way with a few decent liqueurs, a few affordable base spirits, but not a lot of citrus or bitters and even less sense of where to go next. Then the holidays rolled around and Elyn picked up a book for me that changed everything: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh.
I pored over every recipe and each story on our winter vacation, swept along by the sudden avalanche of perspective. I’d been thinking of liquor, as well as cocktails, in very shallow terms. Here, there was history! There were stories behind every drink! There was humor and levity right alongside a very tangible sense of… what? Importance? Substance? The word I came to realize was written into each page and explanation was significance. Reading that book made me feel the significance of these drinks.
From there, we read Imbibe by the excellent David Wondrich, and our understanding grew and deepened. I can’t speak for Elyn, but personally I felt like I’d found a period of history that resonated with my tastes; namely, from the days of punch through Prohibition is where I think my palate belongs.
A formidable trio of resources.
Don’t get me wrong, I still completely enjoy creations more recent than 1933. But there is a simplicity and elegance to those old recipes. Just as I like learning the roots of words and watching How It’s Made, I really think you can taste the origins of modern drinks in those old recipes. In this fellow’s opinion, that is the right kind of significant drinkin’.
This afternoon I stopped by my favorite liquor store to wander aimlessly. The gentlemen at Morganelli’s are lovely and always offer to help. I’m always, “Just looking.” Yet, I somehow never manage to leave the store without a purchase. Today I stopped in to buy a surprise for my husband but couldn’t resist getting another gin. What can I say, I’m a gin fiend. And while I certainly have some favorites (I’m looking at you Nolet’s silver) it is hard to resist the temptation of adding something new to the collection. Hence, while we’re likely to have 6-7 gins on the bar at any given time, the only stand-by that is always there is Beefeater.
So, my browsing today led me to procure a gin I’ve always admired in cocktails but never had a bottle of for home, Aviation. You see, it is sweltering in “famously hot” Columbia, SC today and I was browsing the liquor store thirsty. Gin and tonic, being the most refreshing drink known to humankind, of course crossed my mind. So, I snatched up that bottle of Aviation and rushed home to turn it into a sweaty glass of pure refreshment.
By the time I got home, I realized we had no limes but I persevered and sipped my lime-free drink on the balcony while cracking into a book (about gin, naturally.) I’ll be honest, the balcony bit only lasted a few minutes. Not even a gin and tonic can chill down this day that much. Skipping the lime allowed me to catch the subtle citrus that Aviation carries as well as the floral notes. I also am picking up a very pleasant “green” flavor and something subtly peppery. But who am I kidding? This isn’t a tasting session, it is pure refreshment and relaxation. . . just as a gin and tonic was intended to be.