Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beefeater 24 Unveiled

Desmond Payne, master distiller of Beefeater 24, before and during a sip.

Sometimes in New York City, despite the hustle and bustle of rush-hour commuters and torrential downpours, beautiful things happen. Consider the other night for instance. The rain was heavy, and we feared that the clogged drains on our terrace would once again be the abettors in the standoff between us and Mother Nature. Mother Nature won the battle: As we opened the door to our apartment, our super was standing in our den, placing wastebaskets below the streams of roily water bursting though our ceiling. Our living room ceiling fell victim too. April is indeed the cruelest month.

But now for the beautiful portion of our tale. Hosts David Kaplan, an owner of the wondrous Death and Co. in the East Village, and Simon Ford, a spirits ambassador who knows a thing or two about gin, invited some fellow travelers to EN Brasserie, a Japanese Restaurant on the Village–TriBeCa border, to hear three beverage-industry notables wax poetic about tea; tea cocktails; and our raison d’etre, the launching of a new Beefeater gin, bestowed with the moniker “24” by its inventor and master distiller, Desmond Payne. Why tea? Well, it finds itself in the creation of this beguiling new gin. So first up, we would learn a little about the little leaves that have been cherished by the world.

Sebastian Beckwith from In Pursuit of Tea spoke at length about the different types of tea, stressing that herbal teas are not tea. Tea all comes from one main plant type, and the different types of tea we drink—white, green, oolong, black (or red, to the Chinese), and Pu-er (aged)—stem from the time at which the leaves are picked and the length of time they are dried. Add to this list terroir (where the plants grow), and for how long and at what temperature the leaves steep, and each tea boasts its singular character. All in all, you were wrong if you thought making a cup of tea was not a science experiment, designed to create the perfect cuppa.

Next up was Joaquin Simo of Death & Co., our bar master of the evening, who spoke about punches, and how many of these early recipes included tea. Tea in all its forms is a great addition to cocktails because it adds more character to the spirits’ flavor profiles. One by one, the drinks were served in between courses of sashimi, tofu, sushi, black cod, and sundry Japanese appetizers—a feast fit for hungry and thirsty souls.

Kew Gardens Cooler
Kew Gardens Cooler
(created by Joaquin Simo)
2 oz. Beefeater 24
1/2 oz. Scarlet Glow syrup (1 part Scarlet Glow tea to 1 part sugar, reduced)
3/4 oz. grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. Aperol
cucumber slice, muddled
cucumber ribbon, as garnish
Shake all except garnish with 3 ice cubes. Strain into highball glass with crushed ice. Garnish with cucumber ribbon.

Black Market Sling
(created by Brian Miller)
2 oz. Beefeater 24 gin
1/2 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. market spice tea-infused Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth*
1 dash angostura bitters
club soda
cherry, as garnish

Shake all except soda in ice and strain into a highball glass. Top with soda. Garnish with cherry.

* Take a one-liter or 750ml bottle of vermouth and infuse it with 3 or 4 heaping tablespoons (depends on the size of the bottle) of market spice tea (can buy the loose leaf on amazon.com) and let it sit for 1 1/2 hours. Strin and keep refrigerated.

Joaquin then gave the floor to the delightful Desmond Payne, who shared his tale of creating Beefeater 24. At the start, he stated, “Being consistent is what I’ve been tasked to do all these years.” So finding a new recipe for Beefeater that would not only appeal to his tastes, but the tastes of a brave, new public versed in spirits and cocktailiana, would be his task. This recipe would have to be made consistently each and every distillation process. Desmond had been fascinated by the flavors of mixing gin and tea, and having attempted at first to use tannic black teas (assam and darjeeling), alas their strengths proved too dry for the palette. So why not green teas? And so, green teas (Japanese Sencha and Chinese), with their slightly sweet grassy notes, became companions to the grains and other botanicals used in the distillation. The other botanicals added to the pot are Seville orange and lemon peels, angelica and orris roots, coriander, bitter almond, angelica seed (which has a tea-like flavor), juniper (naturally . . . it isn’t gin without it), licorice, and the redolent sweet-and-sourness of grapefruit peel.

You’ve probably wondered by now why “24”? Well, if you’ve counted up the ingredients that go into the mix before distillation, you only reached 12. This new Beefeater actually stews for 24 hours before the distillation process is begun, ergo its moniker. The macerated redolent mash is what gives Beefeater 24 its slightly-sweet and perfectly balanced flavor profile. A cousin to Old Tom gin, but with more layers enticing us with its subtly spiced slightly malted essence. (Only its distillation heart, the central part of the distillation, is used.)

During the evening, we sat with Dan Warner, a charming Beefeater brand ambassador from Britain, and Desmond’s right-hand man at the event. He offered us a tip over dinner on how to mix a martini using Beefeater 24.

Beefeater 24 Martini
(created by Dan Warner)
2 1/2 oz. Beefeater 24 gin
1/2 oz. Lillet blanc
dash Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
Grapefruit twist, as garnish

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

Beefeater 24 makes its presence known via a gorgeous Arts-and-Crafts-Movement-inspired etched bottle.

(Special thanks also to Allen Katz who helped organize this event.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mixology Monday XXXVIII: Superior Twists
“The Manhattan Gets a Makeover”

The Black Manhattan, a dark and rich cousin of the classic cocktail.

After years of stirring and shaking, infusing and mixing, we’ve come to the conclusion that the Manhattan is our favorite cocktail. We’re not saying we want one all the time—only when the need for a high-octane jolt of whiskey and vermouth dashed with a little bitters begs to be imbibed. But sometimes, when switching out rye for a bourbon or using Carpano Antica instead of sweet vermouth isn’t enough of a flavor-profile change, we like to open up the Averna and make a Black Manhattan. For those of you who have never had Averna, do. Averna is a Sicilian amaro, a bitter lower-alcohol liqueur distilled from and mixed with natural ingredients. It’s very Italian and is a part of many natives’ daily ritual, drunk with soda, to stimulate the appetite (think Campari). Some drink it after dinner, to aid the digestion. Averna in particular is on the sweeter side, very dark, with hints of caramel, cocoa, coffee, and menthol. Once considered solely a digestivo, Averna is now found in cocktail bars and restaurant bars throughout the U.S.

Making a Black Manhattan is simple: just use Averna instead of sweet vermouth. For our recipe, we like to use Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters instead of Angostura.

Black Manhattan
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces rye (or bourbon)
1 ounce Averna
2 dashes whiskey bitters
brandied cherry, as garnish

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add cherry.

The first thing you notice about the Black Manhattan is its color: shimmery almost-ebony. The second thing you notice is its aroma: complex, sweet, herbal. The third thing you notice, the taste. It’s a potent drink, stronger than a Manhattan, so be careful because you may not be able to stop at just one.

Once you’ve had a Black Manhattan, it’s difficult to get Averna out of your head (or tastebuds, rather). We started experimenting with Averna mixed with other spirits, and Steve came up with a recipe that puts Averna in the fore. He calls it Il Bravo, and its another dark cousin to the Manhattan, only he uses cognac.

Il Bravo
(created by Steve Schul)

1 1/2 ounces Averna
1 1/4 ounces cognac
3/4 ounce. Grand Marnier
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
lemon peel, as garnish

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add peel.

You can always lighten up Il Bravo by adding some ice and a splash of soda.

(hosted by Tristan, The Wild Drink Blog)

photo © Cocktail Buzz