Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Casa Noble Tequila Delivers The Organic Goods in All of Its Expressions

Choose your favorite Casa Noble tequila expression: Crystal, Reposado, Añejo, Single Barrel Reposado, or Single Barrel Añejo.

July 24 marked National Tequila Day. No stranger to a celebration, Laura Baddish of the Baddish Group invited a selection of online media guests to sample the mighty fine Casa Noble Tequila in four of its expressions at the aptly named Agave in Greenwich Village. The staff delighted us with countless small bites — succulent albóndigas (meatballs); cheesy, savory quesadillas; piquant and rich guacamole. Honestly, there was too much good food being passed around the intimate back-room dining table, but who are we to turn down a fiesta, especially when accompanied by some of the smoothest and mixable tequilas on the market? Jay Silverman, Agave’s beverage director, after a few introductory words about the production of Casa Noble tequila, offered us a classic margarita made with the youngest expression, Casa Noble Crystal. The agave plants, from which tequila is distilled, are not harvested until they are at least twelve years old, so the plants have had more time to to grow and develop fuller flavors. Jay asked us to sip the Crystal by itself, so when we did, we discovered full-roasted agave flavor. It went down easy and was utterly delightful. The margarita allowed this agave flavor to shine through, and it paired perfectly with the guacamole and chips, only whetting our appetites for more cocktails. But until then, we sipped the other two standard expressions: reposado and añejo. We were shocked — in a good way — by the reposado’s natural candylike sweetness. This expression will be finding its way on our shelves so we can craft some original cocktails with it during the rest of the summer. What surprised us even more, though, were the sweet and smooth sips from the añejo tequila. This aged beauty makes for a wonderful after-dinner digestivo, and was a favorite among the reporters and writers present.

Casa Noble Organic Margarita
For those of you unfamiliar with Casa Noble, Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo Brooks, a co-owner and master distiller, had a mission. He wanted his tequila to, in Laura Baddish’s words, “speak of luxury, of refined pottery and architecture.” Many of us came to tequila downing shot glass after shot glass of the not-so-pure stuff. Casa Noble aims much higher. It is relatable to those in search of refinement, and flavor that’s not compromised by unthoughtful distillation and aging. The bottles, in their array of noble colors such as silver, purple, deep blue, black, and sky blue, glow with the promise of something very special. One limited-edition expression, an aged single-barrel extra añejo mind-blower, is sponsored by the one and only Carlos Santana, a board member who approached Casa Noble with the idea of selling this special tequila with profits going to Milagro, his charitable children’s foundation. Five hundred bottles were sold at $500 each. That’s a lot of dinero. Very special indeed.

By the way, our second cocktail proved to be a winner. Made with joven tequila (aged for six weeks in French white oak barrels), this collins-sized drink buzzed our taste buds with tangerine juice, chipotle, lime, and sage. We all wished we could have another, but by the end of the tasting, we could barely text and tweet.

Casa Noble Organic Margarita
(courtesy of Casa Noble)

Ingredients
2 ounces Casa Noble Crystal Tequila
1 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce La Sierra Agave Nectar
lime wheel, as garnish
salt rim (optional)

Method
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake, strain and serve up or on the rocks, Garnish with a lime wheel. To salt rim, moisten rim of glass with lime, gently roll in a plate of kosher salt.


Casa Noble joven tequila, with tangerine,
lime, chipotle, and sage


Casa Noble Paloma
(courtesy of Casa Noble)

Ingredients
2 ounces Casa Noble Reposado Tequila
fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
splash of fizz (soda, seltzer)

Method
Pour the the Casa Noble Reposado Tequila into a glass and squeeze in the fresh lime juice. Add ice and fill with the fresh grapefruit juice and fizz. Stir and enjoy.


Casa Noble Añejo Casa Royal
(courtesy of Casa Noble)

Ingredients
2 ounces Casa Noble Añejo Tequila
1/2 ounce triple sec
2 ounces fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce champagne or prosecco

Method
Shake first three ingredients in ice and strain into a margarita or rocks glass filled with ice with an optional salt rim. Float champagne on top.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Meet Troy & Sons, Three New Expressions of Moonshine and Aged American Whiskey

We welcome you to the bar.

Recently, we attended the New York launch of Troy & Sons small batch moonshine at the neo-speakeasy Flatiron Room. Laura Baddish, PR spirits queen, hosted the event in the dining aerie that overlooks the main room and bar, where patrons flock to get their boozes on amid the din of other postwork-I-need-to-de-stress martini swillers. After some yummy small bites of mini pizza and meatballs, with middle eastern flavors, and sips of Manhattans, Laura presented Troy to us. Now, that image that pops into your head when you think of “Troy” the moonshiner — just throw it out the window. This Troy was blonde, beautiful, and much much younger than that grizzled man that just disappeared from your mind.

A former Texan, Troy Ball moved with her family to Asheville, North Carolina, to distill moonshine, namely the smooth stuff that the old-timer mountain men dub the “sweet spot,” the best-tasting, smoothest part from the distillation process. She distills three expressions at her Asheville Distilling Co., and all offer unique aromas, undertones, and mixing possibilities.

Blonde, Oak Reserve, and Platinum, three expressions of American whiskey.

You can smell the hushed sweet scent of heirloom white corn in the Platinum Whiskey. This smooth white ’shine, distilled from corn rescued from the brink of extinction, makes a mean Margarita-style cocktail [see Sons-Shine Margarita recipe below]. You can also make one with Troy & Sons’ Oak Reserve Whiskey. Deep whiffs of this expression will remind you of toffee and a small taste will bring you deep into the aging barrel with flavors of oak and caramel. Her Blonde Whiskey, although slightly darker than the Oak Reserve, reveals the meaning behind its name in its gentle caramel taste and velvety mouthfeel. This blonde is a softer “kinder spirit,” made from heirloom turkey red wheat and white corn. Even its aroma demurs, whispering to your palate that any drink made with The Blonde will guarantee a smooth ride.

Troy dubs herself the "First woman to found a distillery in modern times.” The spirits’ name comes from the closeness she shares with her three sons. [Check out her story.] As they got older, Troy felt the time was right to start a new venture. Enter “keeper moonshine,” the sweet-spot distillate that the moonshiners all kept for themselves. Now, Troy knew what her calling was: sharing this ’shine with the rest of the world.

We’re excited to visit her at her distillery some day. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to taste some batches of her 4-year and 8-year reserve whiskey. Normally, it’s aged for two years in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, but you never know what time will bring. If the taste of all three of Troy & Sons expressions is any indication, we’re predicting winners.

Sons-Shine Margarita
(courtesy of Troy Ball and Asheville Distilling Co.)

Ingredients
2 ounces Troy & Sons Platinum Whiskey
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
6 drops agave nectar or 1 ounce simple syrup
1 orange slice



photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cocktail Buzz Spicy Ginger Syrup Is Your Best Friend This Summer

Homemade ginger syrup is easy to make and will brighten up your cocktail hour. Try this Ginger Pear Highball, made with Berentzen’s light and fresh-tasting pear liqueur.

Crisp ginger ale and its spicier cousin ginger beer are tried and true mixers at your home bar, and for good reason. They combine so well with so much. We love ginger beer in our Zul Mule or in a simple fizzy Presbyterian. These are the perfect drinks for sunny, breezy days. But if we’ve run out of ginger beer, or have some fresh ginger lying around, we love to make ginger syrup to mix with soda. Our homemade spicy ginger syrup is versatile for both cocktails and nonalcoholic “mocktails.” The best part is it’s simple to make.




Cocktail Buzz Spicy Ginger Syrup

Ingredients
6 ounces fresh, unpeeled ginger, washed and diced (or sliced with a mandoline or pulsed in a food processor)
3 cups of water
1 1/2 cups of sugar
pinch of salt

Method
Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool completely. Strain mixture into a jar and store in refrigerator for about a week.


❤ ❤ ❤

Now you can start mixing. Combine the syrup with soda water, to taste, for your own homemade version of ginger beer. It’s really good with some fresh lime juice as well. Or add a little grenadine and the kids have a zestier version of a Shirley Temple we call the Shirley Temple Black.

Ginger Soda

Ingredients
1/2–1 ounce Cocktail Buzz Spicy Ginger Syrup (depending on how sweet you like your drink)
soda, chilled

Method
Fill rocks glass or highball glass with ice. Add ginger syrup, then soda. Stir. You can always add a lemon twist, or perhaps a spring of mint, if it pleases.

Shirley Temple Black
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Ingredients
1/4–1/2 ounce Cocktail Buzz Spicy Ginger Syrup (depending on how sweet you like your soda)
1/4–1/2 ounce grenadine
club soda, chilled

Method
Fill rocks glass or highball glass with ice. Add ginger syrup, grenadine, then soda. Stir. You can always add a lemon twist, if it pleases.

❤ ❤ ❤

Now it’s time to make a cocktail. How about a Dark and Stormy: dark rum mixed with ginger beer and perhaps a little fresh lime juice in a tall glass of ice.

Cocktail Buzz Dark and Stormy

Ingredients
2 ounces dark rum (traditionalists use Gosling’s Black Seal)
1 ounce Cocktail Buzz Spicy Ginger Syrup (recipe above)
1/2 ounce lime juice (optional)
4 ounces soda water (to taste)

Method
Shake first three ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with club soda. Stir.

❤ ❤ ❤

If you desire something less alcoholic, use you’re favorite liqueur, like the light apple or pear versions that Berentzen sent us recently. Their flavors are crisp, not at all cloying. Add a little of our ginger syrup and soda water and you’re ready for some backyard barbecue festivities. Their low alcohol content makes them the perfect choice for when you want more than one cocktail; we’ll be reaching for these liqueurs again and again this summer.

Apple or Pear Ginger Highball

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces Berentzen Pear or Apple Liqueur
1 ounce Cocktail Buzz Spicy Ginger Syrup (recipe above)
4 ounces soda
ice

Method
Stir first two ingredients in ice for 15 seconds ice and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with soda water.




❤ ❤ ❤

We’ve also been adding ginger syrup, in lieu of plain simple syrup, to a lot of classic cocktails. One of our favorite iterations is the Ginger Whiskey Sour. Just add a warm summer night. We think it’s a winner.

Cocktail Buzz Ginger Whiskey Sour

Ingredients
2 ounces bourbon or rye
3/4 ounces Cocktail Buzz Spicy Ginger Syrup (recipe above)
3/4 ounces lemon juice

Method
Shake with ice for 15 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

❤ ❤ ❤

Pairing Suggestions
Halloumi with Fig Jam
Braunschweiger Spread
Smoked Eel
Sweet Potato Crisps
The Chick’s Peas
Smoked cheeses, such as gouda

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Friday, June 6, 2014

Negroni Week Beckons You Until June 8

Enter Bar Now (or make one of these at home)

 This Whitish Negroni — on the rocks — sparkles with white vermouth and, of course, Campari and gin.

The following Negroni variations originated from other fellow travelers’ books and bars. Each is distinct but embraces the arresting flavors of the original and is perfect for these final days of Negroni Week, the seven-day celebration of the famous cocktail and all its variations. Remember, participating bars across America and other parts of the globe promise to raise money for their favorite charities for every Negroni-style cocktail ordered. If you cannot make it to a bar by Sunday, then by all means have a Negroni-style cocktail at home.

White Negroni
(from Dutch Kills, Queens, NY)

Suze, pronounced like siz, but with a French rounded vowel sound (think Inspector Clouseau), is an aperitif flavored with the bitter roots of the gentian plant. If you try it on its own, it is sweet, as well. It is not for everyone, but is definitely worth a try if you see some behind the bar. Ask your bartender to pour you a sip. In the White Negroni, white vermouth, red vermouth’s milder cousin, rounds out the flavors of gin mixed with Suze in this boozy concoction. Its layered flavors end with a nice bitter finish.

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces gin (we used Beefeater)
3/4 ounce Suze (a bittersweet gentian aperitif)
3/4 ounce Dolin white vermouth (aka bianco, blanc, blanco)
lemon twist, as garnish

Method
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish.

Recipe reprinted from Imbibe Magazine.

Whitish Negroni
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Since we’re big fans of Campari, we decided to do a riff on the White Negroni. But there’s nothing white about this cocktail. It’s actually a gorgeous pink–orange. Its smooth, slightly sweet, and layered flavors (think Aperol) pair perfectly with bacon-wrapped unsulfured dried apricots and a little sage leaf.

Ingredients
1 ounce Beefeater gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Dolin white vermouth (aka bianco, blanc, blanco)
lemon twist, as garnish

Method
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add garnish.

❤ ❤ ❤

These next two cocktails are from two books from which we have made drinks over the years and are perfect for the warming months ahead:

Mistaken Negroni
(from The New Old Bar by Steve McDonough and Dan Smith)

Ingredients
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce orange juice
sparkling wine or Prosecco
orange peel, as garnish

Method
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a champagne flute and top with sparkling wine. Serve garnished with a flamed orange peel. [Express orange peel through a match flame by holding the match over the drink and, with your other hand, in one quick, sharp squeeze, pinch the peel (outside of peel facing the match) so the oils spurt through the flame, causing a gentle flare-up.]

Grapefruit Negroni
(from Sips & Apps by Kathy Casey)

Ingredients
1/4 large red grapefruit
1 1/2 ounces gin (we used Death’s Door)
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce Campari
small grapefruit wedge, as garnish
ice, if on the rocks

Method
Squeeze the grapefruit into a cocktail shaker and discard the squeezed fruit. Fill the shaker with ice. Measure in the gin, vermouth, and Campari. Cap and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass or an old-fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with small grapefruit wedge.

❤ ❤ ❤

So, when all is said and done, you don’t like gin. This is okay. One person’s taste buds differ from the next. here’s something that may stir your whiskey-loving loins:

Red Hook
(created by Enzo Errico, Milk & Honey, New York City)

Ingredients
2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes vermouth
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur

Method
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Recipe reprinted from Imbibe Magazine.

To find out how to make a Punt e Mes Negroni, click here.

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Celebrate Negroni Week, June 2–8, at Your Favorite Bar, or with One of These Glowing Variations

The Dimmi Negroni — made with Campari, gin, and the light and floral
Dimmi Liquore di Milano — glows in late-afternoon light. 

Created by Imbibe Magazine and Campari, Negroni Week, a seven-day celebration of the famous cocktail and all its variations, promises to raise money for every Negroni-style cocktail ordered in participating bars across America and other parts of the globe. This money will, in turn, go to the bars’ charity of choice. Drink for a cause and patronize your favorite drinking establishments this week that are participating in Negroni Week. Relish in the bracing, bittersweet botanicals in Campari and your favorite gin. You can choose your vermouth as well, from Carpano Antica Formula to Punt e Mes, and to other herbal aperitifs such as Cynar and Suze.

Seven nights out in a row might be too many for you, so perhaps you’d rather stay home one night and share a cocktail in front of the big screen. Here is where we offer you some charity. Recipes, culled from favorites over the years, and some we’ve come up with ourselves. A Negroni is meant to be shared among charming and attractive adults, like you. Its redolence, a heady bouquet, fills the room and makes you a little bold, yet playful. Get carried away. You’re owning it. Start a new flirtation, or rekindle a fizzling one. Or just embrace friendship. Your week begins on Monday, June 2. Start planning your visits to your favorite liquor stores now, you sexy thing, or have it delivered! It’s time to discover how you like your perfect Negroni. Then take that knowledge and taste memories with you, go to one of the participating bars, and let them blow your mind with variations that are sure to please you and the gods of insobriety.

If you’re looking for something to nibble alongside a Negroni, just remember that, in general, Negroni-style cocktails pair wonderfully with blue cheese, dates, and seasoned sweet potato crisps. Other suggestions follow.

Punt e Mes Negroni
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

We love the bold flavors and Italian ingenuity for creating the most exquisite bitter amari, Campari. Who hasn’t beheld that red carmine glow and been bewitched by its bitter orange yet sweetly balanced flavors. You feel as though you must immediately fly to Rome for dinner. It’s perfect with gin — very continental and traditional at the same time. And these opposites attract with the help from one of our favorite vermouths, the bittersweet orange zestiness of Punt e Mes, a truly lovely and bracing fortified wine. Wonderful and exhilarating.

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces gin (we like Dorothy Parker from New York Distilling)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Punt e Mes
orange peel (use a peeler to get one about 1–2 inches long; try not getting too much white pith)

Method
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Express orange peel over drink by giving it a quick pinch with the rind facing out. Wipe the rim of the glass with the rind and drop it into the glass.

Broker’s Negroni
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Brokers gin, the one with the black bowler hat, is an affordable and tasty London dry gin that mixes well with lots of other spirits. It’s quadruply distilled and boasts that it “does not follow the modern trend of using weird and wonderful spirits and botanicals” but focuses on perfecting the usual herbs and roots (such as juniper berries, cinnamon, and angelica root) used to flavor a perfect London dry gin. It’s quite lovely. In this Negroni, we use the traditional Campari, but specify Carpano Antico Formula, the smoothest sweet vermouth we’ve ever come across, along with the Broker’s. It’s delightful up or on the rocks, with or without a twist of lemon or orange, and pairs surprisingly well with guacamole.

Ingredients
1 ounce Broker’s gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth

Method
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe, or into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add garnish, if using.

Dimmi Negroni
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Sometimes you crave a Negroni but have sadly run out of vermouth. Necessity is the art of invention, so grab a bottle of something that looks promising and start mixing. One such alternative to vermouth is the spirited liquor from Milan called Dimmi. (It used to be called Veloce, but had to change its name for legal reasons. We like Dimmi, which translates to a friendly “Tell me.”) It’s made from organic winter wheat and grappa di Nebbiolo, then infused with a pleasing array of herbs and fruits, followed by a second infusion of peach and apricot blossoms, which adds a sweet flowery aroma. We like mixing Dimmi with bold gins, like Bombay Sapphire—their botanicals mingle well—and, of course, the traditional Campari. So perfect on the rocks for warmer evenings.

Ingredients
1 ounce Dimmi Liquore di Milano
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce Bombay Sapphire Gin
lemon twist, as garnish

Method
Stir in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add garnish.

Negroni Primavera
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

We dubbed this Negroni Primavera because of the spring ingredients: artichoke in Cynar, plums in the Greenhook Ginsmith Beach Plum liqueur, flowers from three different grapes in the June liqueur. As the ice melts, the drinks changes from a bittersweet, bracing, lightly bubbly aperitif, to a southern sweet tea, mellower and rounder. Sweet potato crisps might be a great pairing with these.

Ingredients
1 ounce Plymouth gin
2/3 to 3/4 ounce Greenhook Ginsmith Beach Plum Liqueur
1/4 to 1/3 ounce L’esprit de June liqueur
1 ounce Cynar
2–3 ounces soda
lemon twist

Method
Stir the first four ingredients in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled double rocks or highball glass. Add soda, then the lemon twist.

Follow us next week as we present more Negroni variations for your delectation.

photo © Paul Zablocki, Cocktail Buzz

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Crème de Violette Cocktails for Your Springtime Party

The Blue Moon Cocktail will brighten up your cocktail party with its sweet and sour combination of lemon and violets. 

Finally, spring is here. Warm caresses from the sun. The dewy luminescence from springtime light. Rainbow beauty from early-riser flowers such as crocuses, hyacinths, and daffodils. Just walking to the subway brings exquisite joy. This is the time of year when our taste buds turn to floral favors. One such flavor we revere comes from violets in the form of a deep, almost impenetrable purple liqueur called crème de violette. The term crème refers to sugar, and there is plenty of that in pretty much the only crème de violette you can get stateside, Rothman & Winter, which is also made with Alpine violets and Weinbrand (German or Austrian brandy). It became available to us here soon after we started Cocktail Buzz, back in 2007, and we have been smitten with it ever since. Initially, we bought some to fulfill the old recipe for an Aviation cocktail. It’s hard to fathom how this cocktail got its name without the addition of a little crème de violette, which adds a subtle but magical pale purple–blue tint to the drink. It’s a stunner—sourness from the lemon juice, bitterness from the maraschino liqueur, and sweetness from the crème de violette. We created a variation of the Aviation we call the Kitty Hawk, named after the Wright Brothers’ site of their famous flight. The addition of a little Catdaddy moonshine adds a southern sweet-tea charm to the cocktail. On its own, one sip of crème de violette will remind you instantly of violet candies you can find at any candy counter in New York City.

A Violet Sparkler, simple and beautiful
For all of you who like to get the party started with a little bubbly, you’ll be happy to know that crème de violette mixes exceedingly well with champagne or any sparkling wine. Just a little splash (1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoon per 3 ounces of champagne) in a flute or coupe is all you need to experience the floral aromas and tastes of a Violet Sparkler. Top with some reposado tequila and you’ve just made yourself La Violeta. Something elegant for a Cinco de Mayo cocktail party.

Cousin Barbara turned us on to the Blue Moon, a gin and lemon juice Jazz Era cocktail laced with a healthy dose of the violet liqueur. The Blue Moon glows anywhere between heliotrope and lavender depending on the gin you use (try several to see which one you like best), and is perfect for any time of year, but spring seems just about right. Perfect if you want to serve something a little boozier to your guests. Just provide a few nibbles to keep the partiers satisfied and sober.

Blue Moon
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

Ingredients
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce crème de violette
1/2 ounce lemon juice
lemon twist, as garnish

Method
Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add garnish.

Another cocktail resplendent with a smoky gray hue was created a few years back, when Phil Ward was behind the stick at Death & Co. Paul and his friend Shelley were lucky enough to have Phil make one up on the spot while we were talking about a cocktail Paul had made for his mom that featured scotch and crème de violette. Phil grabbed a bottle of this Compass Box blended whisky called Asyla, gave it a deep sniff, then immediately grabbed a bottle of crème de violette, gave that a quick sniff, then put both bottles near his nose and gave both a deep inhale. The first thing he grabbed was Lillet blanc. The clincher was absinthe, but just a little. The verdict, well, neither Shelley or Paul can recall the exact details, but rest assured, they liked the results. Each ingredient working to enhance the others. Try it up, as Phil intended, but feel free to have it on the rocks, or with a splash of soda.


Smoke and Violets
(created by Phil Ward)

Ingredients
2 ounces Asyla Compass Box scotch whisky
1 ounce Lillet blanc
1/2 ounce crème de violette
2–3 dashes absinthe
lemon twist, as garnish

Method
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Add garnish.

For after dinner, you may want a Marianne at Midnight, the drink referred to above that Paul created for his mother. We’ve altered our recipe a little, adding a half ounce less crème de violette, to this scotch and Tuaca sipper.

If you’d like to harvest the essence of crème de violette and create a bitters, all you need to do is find some gentian (a bitter root), cinnamon bark, and grapefruit peel. Letting these age a few days in an ounce and a half ounces crème de violette is all you need to do. Then get creative and come up with your very own cocktail.

Violet Bitters
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces crème de violette
1/4 teaspoon gentian
piece of cinnamon bark
piece of grapefruit peel

Method
Mix together ingredients and let sit for a few days. Strain into a small bottle or dropper.

We don’t know which is prettier: the heliotrope glow of a Blue Moon (left) or the bubbly lavender of a Violet Sparkler? We think you should make both and decide for yourself.

Well, there you have it all. A crème de violette cocktail for any time of the day or evening. Start with a Violet Sparkler and end with one of the many drinks we love and have shared with you. Or create your own using your new homemade violet bitters. Happy spring. Embrace renewal.

photo © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

Monday, March 31, 2014

Halloumi, Meet Your Best Friend, Commandaria

Our Cookbook Challenge Continues with a Provocative Pairing . . .

by Paul Zablocki

Halloumi, a semihard Cypriot cheese, with dollops of white truffle honey and fig jam, pairs so well with a St. John Sour.

We can’t believe almost an entire year has gone by since we started our Cookbook Challenge, for which we take a collection of cookbooks and use one or more recipes for inspiration to develop our own dishes or small bites. For our last challenge, we were to use two Nigella Lawson cookbooks, Feast and Nigella Bites, as our sources. Perusing her easy, homespun recipes, we noticed that Ms. Lawson seems to love the semihard, brined cheese from Cyprus called halloumi: Grilled Halloumi with Oozing Egg and Mint (what a title!); Halloumi with Chilli (the picture is enough to send you to the store searching for this Mediterranean hard cheese). A decision was made; Steve and I decided halloumi would be the focus, but we agreed to go one step further: come up with a cocktail–party food pairing and make sure the cocktail is low in alcohol. (Who doesn’t want to have a second drink at a cocktail party without getting loopy?)

But first, some words on Mediterranean cuisine.

If asked to name their favorite Mediterranean cuisine, most Americans would answer Italian. With good reason, too. How many of us have begun our evenings with some antipasti, paired with an Americano or a less bitter Aperol and soda? Italian restaurants—or Italian-American, rather—inhabit every city in this nation. You’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t. Even Makawao on the island of Maui boasts a bistro that serves cioppino made with fresh local fish.

But putting Italian aside, let us look into less-explored Mediterranean cuisine, that of Cyprus in particular, and its treasured cheese, halloumi.

But first some words about Cyprus.

I was fascinated by Cyprus as a child. To me, this island nation looked like a fish, with a stingray-like tail. If you gaze at a map, you’ll notice that this “fish” has just broken free from the maw of Turkey’s Gulf of İskenderun and is now swimming freely in the clear blue waters of the eastern Mediterranean. While the average Cypriot eats about forty-eight pounds of fish annually, this staple does not make an appearance in this post’s appetizer. It’s mostly just halloumi. But what we do to it . . . .

For our purpose, we will talk about halloumi that is available prepackaged from the grocery store. Briny and sometimes flavored with a hint of mint, halloumi originated on the island of Cyprus, probably over a 1,000 to 1,500 years ago. It’s rubbery and behaves like cheese curds, so that when you bite into a slice, you can hear a little squeak emanating from your maw. Because it doesn’t melt when broiled, fried, or grilled, this block of semihard succulence delivers supreme satisfaction on both taste and texture counts. How? The Maillard reaction, the one created when heat hits proteins and their ilk, and whammo, countless new flavors are born, making your mouth and brain very happy.

If you slice the halloumi into 1/4-inch-thin rectangles (on the short side of the block), you can fry them over medium-high heat in a nonstick pan, à la Nigella, about 2–3 minutes per side. They should ooze their liquid and then brown a little. Check that they don’t get too brown and flip, browning the other side as well. Remove from heat and spread with a mixture of fig name and white-truffle honey. This pairs beautifully with the St. John Sour. If you don’t have white-truffle butter (and we don’t blame you if you don’t), you can use the fig jam alone, but it would benefit the pairing if you sprinkled on some chopped chives or a few thin slices of scallion greens. You can also make your own white truffle honey by mixing some white truffle oil into some thick honey, preferably natural, and combine thoroughly.

Halloumi with Fig Jam and White Truffle Honey
(adapted from recipes culled from Nigella Bites and Feast)

Ingredients
1 8-ounce package halloumi
2 tablespoons fig jam
1 tablespoon white truffle honey

Method
In a small bowl, mix the fig jam and white truffle honey thoroughly and set aside.

Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Remove halloumi from package and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rectangular slices (your rectangles should be about 1 x 2 inches, so make sure you slice along the shorter end). Add slices to frying pan, making sure not to crowd them (you may have to work in two or three batches depending on the size of your frying pan). Check your slices after 2–3 minutes. When they are golden brown in patches, flip and cook for another 2–3 minutes. remove from heat and arrange on a platter. With a spoon, add dollops of the jam mixture to the halloumi, or arrange the bowl next to the halloumi platter and allow your guests to take as much as they want. Serve with a St. John Sour or a St. John Paddy Sour, two cocktails we created using a very special Cypriot wine, commandaria.

❤ ❤ ❤

Commandaria is a nutty port-like dessert wine that originated on the island of Cyprus and is the oldest-named wine still in production. It’s made from two types of grapes, Mavro and Xynestri, which are picked when they have overripened on the vines so that the sugar levels are high. After fermentation and the addition of neutral spirits, commandaria’s alcohol content lies somewhere between 15–20%. That’s especially good for when you want a second drink. And it mixes beautifully with citrus and other bold flavors like ginger. The commandaria shines in these two drinks.


St. John Sour
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces St. John Commandaria (Cypriot wine)
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce ginger syrup*
soda

Method
Shake first three ingredients in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Top with soda. Stir. Add a lemon twist, if you’d like.

*Ginger Syrup
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Ingredients
1 piece of fresh ginger, about 8 inches
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of water

Method
Wash then mandolin or thinly slice the ginger (no need to peel). In a medium saucepan combine sugar, water, and ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Be careful not to bring to a roiling boil at this point as this will cause the syrup to harden. Allow to cool with ginger in syrup. Strain into jar. Press down on ginger to get all the syrup out. This keeps for about 1–2 weeks, and longer if you add a tablespoon of vodka or other spirit.

❤ ❤ ❤

You might not think that Irish whiskey and Cypriot wine would go hand in hand, but when mixed with some lemon juice, this drink makes for a smooth ride.

St. John Paddy Sour
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces St. John Commandaria
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce Irish whiskey (Jameson)
soda

Method
Shake first three ingredients in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Top with soda. Stir. Add a lemon twist, if you’d like.

❤ ❤ ❤

For our next cookbook challenge, we will explore Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (we love this one) and Robert Carrier’s Entertaining, from 1978 (this one should be fun).

photos ©Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz