Thursday, December 20, 2012

Piny Cocktails for the Holidays

Bold and original, the Scots Pine will keep you festive this holiday season.

Both of us grew up celebrating Christmas. We still do. One year we visit one family in Connecticut, with hopes of freshly fallen snow blanketing the New England landscape; the next year, we escape the cold Brooklyn for the dry, saguaro-spiked desert called Arizona. Truth be told, we’ve never spent Yuletide in NYC, but we vow to spend Christmas in New York in the near future. That would make our job of making creative Holiday-themed cocktails a little easier, since we have over 150 bottles of booze on the shelves, and in the fridges (one regular-sized and two mini), with spillover in the sideboard.

With all those bottles, experimenting becomes a chore insofar as we have to decide among six ryes, eight gins, seven bourbons, four orange liqueurs—you get the idea. It’s a chore of which we never grow weary. What we imagine being a full-time taster for Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s might be like.

But being part-time cocktail tasters is just as fun. Indulgence has its limits (same as with ice cream), so you kind of have to know ahead of time what you want your cocktails to taste like; thus, what spirits, juices, and other ingredients you’re going to be working with. So, when your booze arsenal is vast and varied, you tend to use items you normally would keep hidden at the back of the shelf. It’s good to bring these spirits to the fore to challenge your creativity.

Over the years, we’ve been playing with the flavor of pine. Yes, pine, as in fir tree. The conifer you bring indoors and decorate year after year, just so you can get high on the piny smell of Christmastime. So we offer you two drinks that find their roots in pine and we bestow them names that befit their essence, O Tannenbaum and Scots Pine.

Paul came up with the Scots Pine a few years back, unbeknownst to Steve, who was away visiting family. Scotch whisky was primed to the be the main ingredient since Steve isn’t the biggest fan of the spirit. And Paul was itching to mix with a recently acquired bottle of Zirbenz stone pine liqueur. This liqueur smells like someone baking blondies in the middle of a coniferous forest. The taste is mildly sweet and resinous. It is definitely one of those things that make you go hmm, then mmm. Paul felt he was onto something when he mixed it with a blended scotch, but when he added some sweet vermouth (particularly Carpano Antica), he knew he was onto something. Here was a scotch cocktail that got some zing from the Zirbenz, but then a little taming and smoothing over the rough edges from the vermouth. Alas, a scotch cocktail that Steve would like. An orange peel expressed over and dropped into the glass was the one last touch needed to elevate this lovely drink to even lovelier.

The Scots Pine is the perfect cocktail to share with friends over an intimate Holiday gathering. A few sips will open the palate and pair nicely with an array of cheeses and little nibbles, like spiced nuts, preparing the way for dinner.

Scots Pine
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 1/2 ounces blended scotch
1/2 ounce Zirbenz stone pine liqueur
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
orange peel, as garnish

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass or coupe. With a vegetable peeler, peel a 3/4 × 2-inch swatch of orange, but careful not to get any pith. Express peel over drink and toss in.

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After dinner, you might want to gather round the dessert buffet with a simple drink we call O Tannenbaum. We came up with it one night when trying to come up with a cocktail for a NYC theatre company’s holiday party. It’s an odd bird really, using an old timey liqueur called crème de noyaux (pronounced nwah-YO), a primary ingredient in a pink squirrel (a great name that makes sense since crème de noyaux is almond-flavored and, in most instances, bright red). Mixing almond flavors with the juniper flavors in a London dry gin creates a piny explosion. The half and half unites these flavors with its mellowing caress of dairy, giving the drink a bright deep pink hue. Perfect for nibbling cookies by the fire while lovingly gazing at the tree.

O Tannenbaum
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce half and half
3/4 ounce crème de noyaux
nutmeg, as garnish (optional)

Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into chilled punch or small cocktail glasses. Garnish with nutmeg, if so desired, for an extra spicy kick.

Serves 2 (or 1, if you’re terribly thirsty).

Further Explorations in Pine
If you love the taste of pine, you must try Clear Creek Distillery’s Douglas Fir eau de vie. The aroma is slightly redolent of pears, with a hint of pine, but when drunk with a little water to soften its alcohol content (47.73%), the roles reverse. You taste the resinous pine, mellowed by a hint of pear. Exquisite.

cocktail photos © Steve Schul and Paul Zablocki, Cocktail Buzz
Zirbenz photo courtesy Haus Alpenz

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Revamping the Jack Rose Cocktail

The Jack Rose is a classic, and one of seminal cocktail writer David Embury’s “six basic drinks.”

One thing that is permanent is change. Our tastes change all the time. One day we’re loving the sleek simple lines of a Calvin Klein sheath, the next we’re extolling the rococo color explosion of a Hermès print. This holds true for cocktails. Right now we are really into up drinks, like Manhattans and all their variations. Perhaps it’s the weather—in the colder months, we’d rather not be holding a glass of ice-filled social lubricant that continually negates the alcohol’s warming properties. But, alas, these rocks-free libations can be a little more difficult to pair with food. Especially if the cocktail uses spirits high in proof. (Ever take a sip of one after eating a bread-heavy canapé? It’s like tasting a communion wafer dipped in cheap wine. Alcohol throat-burn is not something to strive for when creating a harmonious cocktailing experience for your party guests.) “Up” cocktails, though, can and should be good foils for the hors d’oeuvres and party snacks we put into our mouths. That’s why we come up with perfect pairings. But perfect parings are never actually set in stone. Our tastes not only change then, they evolve. So, it’s important for the development of any chef, artist, writer—any creative person really—to reach into the past and reinvestigate matters that now, in the light of day, have become a bit troublesome. So now we will look back at an old cocktail recipe we honed years ago, one about which we have since changed our opinion.

The Jack Rose is that cocktail. The recipe is simple: applejack, lemon juice, and grenadine. Applejack is a Colonial American invention that was first made in an unusual process known as freeze distillation, also known as “jacking.” Apple cider (so important to these early settlers since potable water was hard to come by) is left to freeze during the cold months. Chunks of ice are removed from the cider when the water separates from the alcohol, making the remaining alcohol much more concentrated. Standard distillation supersedes this quaint process, and the liquor is much cleaner now, allowing for easy mixing with other spirits, juices, and sugars. Grenadine is essentially pomegranate and sugar, boiled down to a slightly viscous syrup.

When we first starting shaking these rosy-hued beauties and pairing them with simple fair, such as spiced nuts, we had three goals in mind, so as to avoid the dreaded alcohol burn.
  1. Keep the alcohol content low.
  2. Keep the sugar content on the plus side (the sweeter drinks usually pair more easily with the natural sugars in food).
  3. Make sure the cocktail has a decent amount of acid (such as juice, dairy, or wine-based spirits), since these acids create new flavors when confronted with foods ’ sugars and starches).
In our first iteration of the Jack Rose, we dutifully applied all three of these objectives: Applejack (Laird’s) with an alcohol content of 40% (the lowest level of alcohol a spirit can have to be called a spirit), check; a generous amount of grenadine (real pomegranate grenadine) to bring out the sweetness for easier food-pairing, check; and an amount of lemon juice to balance the alcohol and sugars, check. It’s a little on the sweet side, which may be off-putting to some, but allows for easier food pairings, especially with spiced nuts that in simpler circumstances would go well with an ice-cold beer.

But getting back to our main topic. Over the years, we’ve grown a little tired of our recipe. You see, we now prefer a higher-proof applejack that is far superior to our 40% abv applejack. It’s Laird’s bonded (50% abv) apple brandy. Much more complex, a little sweeter, and a little more fruit-forward, this spirit needs less sugar and more acid when mixed as a Jack Rose.

Keep in mind, though, that not all grenadines are created equal. Stirring s makes a decent one that is sweet, but not too sweet, such as the one made by Williams Sonoma. Avoid any all–corn syrup grenadines that look like fake blood in a bottle. Better yet, make your own, so that you can control the level of sweetness. Follow the recipes below, and you can whip up a perfect pairing that requires very little measuring, once you’ve got your ingredients all in place. Spiced nuts would be an ideal accompaniment.

Jack Rose
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

2 ounces bonded apple brandy (50% abv, or 100 proof)
3/4–1 ounce real pomegranate grenadine (adjust according to taste)*
1/2–3/4 ounce lemon juice (adjust according to taste)

* Some brands are sweeter than others. Alternatively, you can make your own. See recipe below.

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

Spiced nuts are the perfect accompaniment to a well-crafted Jack Rose.

Another great drink to try that uses apple brandy is the Hurricane Sandy.

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{ You can always make a smaller batch by halving the amounts }

2 cups 100% pomegranate juice*
2 cups sugar
1 ounce vodka

* You can always make this from squeezing pomegranate pips by using a hand citrus squeezer. Two large and heavy pomegranates and a splash of water should do the trick. This is very messy, so wear an apron and squeeze into a deep, wide bowl. 

Bring pomegranate juice to a boil over medium–high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and add sugar. Stir gently until sugar is dissolved. Keep heat low and simmer for up to 15 minutes, until mixture is slightly reduced. Allow to cool. Add vodka and stir. May be kept for quite a while in the refrigerator in a clean 750ml bottle (or 325ml bottle for half recipes).

  • Orange flower water (also known as orange blossom water) adds another layer of flavor to the grenadine. Anywhere from 1–2 teaspoons stirred in once the heat is turned off.
  • Lemon juice may round out the sweet-tartness. A half teaspoon should do the trick.
  • Pomegranate molasses may add that super pomegranate flavor you might be looking for. Add about an ounce at the very end of simmering, stirring to incorporate.
Other libations that use grenadine are the Fjord, Global Punch, the Hurricane, the Monkey Gland, and the Scoff Law.

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Spiced Nuts
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread nuts onto a cookie sheet or ceramic baking dish. Put in oven on center rack for about 15–18 minutes.

Mix the salt, mace, cumin, sand brown sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter on stovetop. Set aside.

Once you smell the nuts, they are most likely done (do not burn). Remove from oven and add to a mixing bowl. Pour melted butter over nuts and mix thoroughly. Add spice mixture and mix thoroughly.

Pour nuts into a serving bowl and sprinkle any remaining spice mixture on top.

Serves 4–6.

More Cocktail Buzz on the Jack Rose
To watch our video pairing the our first iteration of the Jack Rose cocktail with spiced nuts, click here.

photo © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz