Friday, March 5, 2021

Madeira Review: Rare Wine Co New York Malmsey

Finally we reach the end of this series that was rudely interrupted by last summer's raging forest fires.

My introduction to madeira was a malmsey, though the bar may have been set a little too high since it was a very nice 90s colheita. I've always enjoyed the style because it has the sweetness of a port while the higher acidity keeps it from becoming unidimensional.

This wine is fermented to just over 100 g of residual sugar per liter, fortified, and aged in oak in a traditional canteiro system. The blend is put together from 85% malvasia grapes aged for 15-20 years with 15% tinta negra mole grapes aged for 40-60 years, then bottled at 19.5% ABV.  

Rare Wine Co New York Malmsey

: juicy, concentrated grapes, caramel, lightly floral vanilla, tropical fruit, gentle mustiness and yeasty savoriness, a touch of oak and orange peel

Taste: big raisin and caramel sweetness up front, quickly tempered by gentle acidity, citrus peel and a little pink bubblegum in the middle, trending towards tart apples and gentle tannins going into the back

Finish: pleasantly tart and gently drying (malic acid), raisin/grape/caramel sweetness, soft oak tannins

While I find this to be the least complex of the four, I can't deny that this is a very pleasant madeira to sip. The acidity is more restrained than in the others without disappearing, so the wine never becomes insipid. The somewhat drying finish also keeps it in check, making each new sip pleasant instead of overwhelmingly sweet. I think the bual will be my happy medium, but I would still recommend this wine if you want to kick the sweetness up a notch.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

New Cocktails: the Apricot Sour

I've had this one bouncing around in my head for a few years ever since I picked up a bottle of Luxardo's apricot liqueur. Compared to something like Rothman & Winter, it leans more towards apricot pits than it does the fresh fruit. It immediately made me think of amaretto, which can be made from stone fruit pits.

That in turn made me think of Jeffery Morgenthaler's much-lauded Amaretto Sour recipe. I've taken a crack at the form once before with success, so I wondered if I could make it work again.

Apricot Sour

1.5 oz apricot liqueur
0.75 oz Laird's bonded applejack
1 oz lemon juice
1 tsp rich simple syrup

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then strain into a rocks glass over ice.

The aromas are dominated by nutty notes from the apricot liqueur, accented by spices from the apple brandy. The sip opens with apricot and apple sweetness, tempered by the heat of the Lairds, dives through some gentle oak in the middle, then fading out through sweet lemon. The finish is bittersweet lemon and apricot with gentle spices.

Dang, that is a good drink. I had a feeling that it was going to work out if I stuck with Morgenthaler's ratios, but I wasn't entirely sure what high proof spirit to use to keep things in check. Laird's is on the woody side for an apple brandy, so the oak helps to keep this from becoming cloying. In addition the apple notes blend naturally with the apricot, which I'm not sure grain based spirits would have worked as well. While it would be interesting to try this drink with other apricot liqueurs, I think Luxardo works well here since it is a little more multifaceted than more straightforward varieties.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

New Cocktails: Don's Daiquiri

Looking over Don the Beachcomber's ouvre, one of his most common touches was the combination of a dash of Angostura bitters with half a dozen drops of absinthe or pastis. While rarely assertive, they always make for a pleasant accent. Last summer I wondered if it had ever been applied to the basic daiquiri formula. While I've searched long and hard for another name for this drink, I've never been able to find anything with the same specs. The closest is the Rum Club Daiquiri, though that takes it in a different direction.

Don's Daiquiri

1.5 oz white rum (I used Hamilton White Stache)
0.5 oz blanc rhum agricole
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
6 drops of absinthe/pastis

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The aromas have a good fruity/grassy balance between the rums, plus a touch of Angostura bitters. The sip is very fruity up front, moving into grassy notes in the middle, then faint licorice with a sweet lime fade out. The finish has sweet lime, a touch of bitters and grass, and lingering anise.

This is just lovely. As hoped, it's a nice twist on the basic formula. The rums played well with each other, providing a solid foundation for the gentle accents. While it doesn't have the flourishes of a full-on tiki drink, I appreciate the way it nods at the broader realm while staying firmly in the realm of the classics.

Friday, February 5, 2021

New Cocktails: the Improved Amargo Cocktail

I realized a while ago that it has been a long time since I last had a tequila cocktail. I also recently purchased a bottle of Sfumato and had been looking for something to do with it. Making a guess that I could slot it into a drink that called for Campari, I went poking around until I found the Amargo Cocktail, which comes from the Wisconsin restaurant Harvest. While I was a little skeptical of something so citrus-heavy without any sweeteners beyond the Campari, I was willing to give it a shot.

Improved Amargo Cocktail

0.75 oz tequila (preferably blanco)
0.25 oz mezcal
1 oz Sfumato
0.5 oz lime juice2 oz grapefruit juice
0.25 oz apricot liqueur

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose is driven by the smoky/fruity notes of the Sfumato, with a little mezcal poking out. The sip begins fairly tart with some balancing sweetness, flashes through some berries/fruit, dives into the Sfumato and mezcal smoke in the middle, then shifts into bittersweet near the back. The finish is tart and gently bitter, with a little herbal complexity.

I tried this without the apricot liqueur first and found it far too tart. The apricot liqueur rounds off the sharper edges without making itself particularly present in the overall profile, which is what I was looking for. With that said, I really like the way this drink evolves. I takes a lot of pretty strong flavors and manages to showcase them in turn rather than throwing them at your taste buds all at once. Overall, very enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Classic Cocktails: Reverse Perfect El Presidente

I've enjoyed the classic El Presidente before and was inspired to give it the reverse perfect treatment when I saw it come up on a list of blanc vermouth cocktails from Imbibe. While my original version was all dry vermouth and called for a larger slug of orange liqueur, this version was able to reduce it by adding in some sweeter blanc vermouth instead of just dry.
Reverse Perfect El Presidente
1 oz blanc vermouth
1 oz dry vermouth
0.5 rum (I split it between blanc agricole and a rounder molasses based rum)
1 tsp orange liqueur
1 tstp raspberry syrup
Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The aromas are heady with vermouth inflected with raspberry, orange, and rum. The flavors open with vermouth and rum sweetness, shifts to big berry notes in the middle, then slides into pleasant orange bitterness at the back. The finish is bittersweet, fruity, and has a touch of grassy cane.

Dang, this is really, really good. There's a lot of complexity and no one ingredient overwhelms any other. Using flavorful rums (in this case Rhum J.M. 110 and Hamilton White Stache) does help to keep them from getting lost, so it's still clearly a rum-based drink. If you're not a fan of dry vermouth (looking at you, RumDood) I think you could use all blanc and keep it in balance by adding a dash of orange bitters. But whatever direction you choose to take it in, this continues to solidify my faith in the reverse perfect formula. This just keeps producing great drinks.

Friday, January 29, 2021

New Cocktails: Hello Stranger

While I've been getting a lot of my drinks from the Art of the Shim lately, I've had my eye out for other vermouth-based cocktails. This one, care of Imbibe, caught my eye in its simplicity and relatively low ABV profile.
Hello Stranger
2 oz sweet vermouth
0.25 oz brandy
0.25 oz passion fruit syrup
Combine all ingredients in a glass with crushed ice, swizzle, then optionally garnish with lemon wheels and sprigs of fresh thyme.
The nose has big grape notes from the vermouth and brandy with some passion fruit peeking around the edges. The sip begins sweetly with passion fruit and brandy plus some nice floral notes, then flows into grapes and quinine bitterness at the back. The finish is relatively dry and woody, driven by the vermouth.

Much like the Rhum Dandy Shim, this feels like a drink best suited for summer. It's nice and refreshing without being at all tepid. I do wish I had gone with the optional garnish since I think a touch of lemon would have helped brighten it up, but it doesn't feel out of balance without. 
Using Punt e Mes instead of Miró Rojo gave the drink something of a darker cast. But I happen to like bitter drinks so this still hits the spot. The recommendation of a Spanish sweet vermouth makes sense as I tend to find them a little bit simpler, so something like my go-to Cocchi di Torino might have had a bit too much going on and muscled out the other ingredients. A more workable twist might be Lustau Rojo, which has a similar profile to the Miró, but adds in some savory notes that could play well against the brandy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

New Cocktails: Rum Dandy Shim

After a bunch of stirred drinks lately, I eventually went looking for a good sour. This one also comes from The Art of the Shim and was originally produced by Craig Lane of the late Bar Agricole. While calling for sweet vermouth, I decided to take it in a different direction by using blanc instead.
Rum Dandy Shim
1 oz sweet vermouth (I used blanc)
0.5 oz rhum agricole blanc
0.5 oz lime juice
1 tsp cane syrup
2 dashes absinthe
Combine all ingredients in a glass half filled with crushed ice, stir briefly to combine, then top with more crushed ice and garnish with lime zest.
The aromas are a little muted by all the crushed ice, but I still get lovely notes of rhum and lime. The sip begins sweetly with cane juice and lime, grassy blanc rhum notes rise in the middle, then it becomes bittersweet with cane and vermouth. The finish is driven by the lime and grape notes from the rhum and vermouth.

The weather isn't exactly appropriate for this kind of drink, but I can imagine it will hit the spot even better in the summer. I really like how this takes the basic daiquiri mold and flips it around to produce a drink with almost the same intensity of flavors but much less alcohol. A lot has to be handed to the rhum agricole, which is pretty much the star wherever it goes. I did tip the balance a bit by using the rather potent Rhum J.M. 110, but I think this would still be great with something lighter. If you want to ease back even more, an aged agricole would probably mesh more with a true sweet vermouth instead of brashly pushing the blanc I used aside.