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


Nose
: 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.

Monday, January 25, 2021

New Cocktails: Apparent Sour

This variation on the Aperol Sour by created by Bobby Heugel of Anvil in 2010. I got it out The Art of the Shim while trying to find a use for some leftover lime juice. While I was a little skeptical of the recipe, I decided to go for it anyway.

Apparent Sour
 
2 oz Aperol
0.75 oz lime juice
0.75 oz elderflower liqueur
 
Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then strain into a chilled glass and optionally garnish with a spring of rosemary.
 
The aromas are driven by the St. Germain with a bit of extra fruit from the Aperol. The flavors begin with big, round sweetness balanced by lime up front, adult Tropical Fruit Punch in the middle, then surprisingly bitter going into the back. The finish has a pleasant lingering bitterness, some roundness from the St. Germain, and lime peel.
 
This is just so, so nice. As with the Reverse Perfect Man o' War it looked too sweet from the recipe, but never strayed too far in that direction. It was also surprisingly complex for being all of three ingredients with the two liqueurs showing off their best sides while being kept in check by the lime juice. While a solid aperitif as written, I can also imagine this being great built over ice, especially when it's warm.

Friday, January 22, 2021

New Cocktails: Reverse Invitation

In my continued exploration of lower proof cocktails, I stumbled upon Collin Nicholas's Invitation via Imbibe. I like that it began as a split base drink, softening the usually brisk Martini format. This made it very amenable to my now standard reverse perfect format.
 
Reverse Invitation

1 oz dry vermouth
1 oz blanc vermouth
1 oz gin
3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
6 drops absinthe

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The aromas are dominated by the licorice of the bitters and Herbsaint, backed up by the dry vermouth and a pleasant citrus note (maybe a good reason to add a lemon twist?). The sip begins balanced between sweet and sour from the vermouths, transitions through and herbal burst of licorice in the middle, which fades into complex bitterness led by the gin. The finish is fairly light and driven by the dry vermouth with a thread of Peychauds.

I have historically found Martini-style drinks to be too bracing, but this really hits the spot. Maybe once I'm back to having full strength drinks this will seem kind of tepid, but right now it does exactly what I want it to do. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the various licorice-driven ingredients fit into the drink since I often find them overbearing. All in all I would highly recommend this drink in either form.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

New Cocktails: Reverse Perfect Man o' War

After making pasta for dinner, I found myself with a mostly bare lemon that really needed to be used up. While I found a few good suggestions for pairing it with vermouth, none of them were speaking to me until I found the Man o' War cocktail. Named after a champion race horse, it takes the classic proportions of a Manhattan and accents them with balanced amounts of orange liqueur and lemon juice. Looked at another way, it's simply a Derby that uses lemon juice instead of lime. However, as written, it just looked like more alcohol than I want to be consuming right now, so I wondered if I could flip things around to make a less potent but still tasty drink.

Reverse Perfect Man o' War
 
1 oz  sweet vermouth
1 oz dry vermouth
1 oz orange liqueur
0.5 oz rye whiskey
0.5 oz lemon juice

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then strain into a double old fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with maraschino cherries if desired.

The aromas are driven by the sweet vermouth, accented with dry vermouth, lemon, and a touch of orange. The sip opens bittersweetly with vermouth, lemon and orange dancing around each other, shifting towards herbal notes in the middle. The finish opens with rye spice and grain, then shifts into tart dry vermouth and lemon.

Wow, this is a great drink. I've had really good luck with the reverse perfect formula for stirred drinks, but I wasn't sure if it would work for a shaken drink. This does exactly what I wanted it to do - provide a lot of engaging complexity without straying too far in any one direction. For all the sweet ingredients the dry vermouth and lemon keep them in balance. The one change I'd make next time is to serve it up rather than on the rocks. While I think it makes for a refreshing warm weather drink on ice, it does compromise the complexity a bit.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Classic Cocktails: Reverse Perfect Manhattan

The Manhattan is one of the Ur-classics of the cocktail world - its simple ingredients and proportions encapsulate the late-19th and early-20th century drinks zeigeist in the same way as the Martini. One of the earlier variations was the Perfect Manhattan, using a split of both sweet and dry vermouth to take some of the sweetness out of the drink for those with a drier palate. The Reverse Manhattan (or, perhaps, the Original Manhattan) performs another flip by inverting the proportions to more vermouth than whiskey.

Inspired by an article from Kara Newman and my current search for low(er)-alcohol cocktails, I wondered what would happen if the two variations were put together. Especially with big, flavorful vermouths like Cocchi di Torino, I could imagine the whiskey getting lost. But with a slug of lighter, less rich dry vermouth to keep things in check, maybe the results could be even better. The Diplomat had a similar split of dry and sweet vermouths, though in that case the sweet was acting more as a flavoring agent like the gin in a Reverse Martini. 
 
Perfect Reverse Manhattan
 
0.75 oz dry vermouth
0.75 oz sweet vermouth
0.5 oz American whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
 
Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for fifteen seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with several cocktail cherries and a smidge of syrup.
 
The aromas are driven by the dry vermouth and inflected with rye spice and grain plus a little roundness from the sweet vermouth and cherries. The sip begins with vermouth and cherry sweetness, sliding through dry vermouth tartness into pleasant bitterness and rye spice towards the back. The finish is Angostura and vermouth bitterness plus a bit of grape roundness in the background.

This turned out exactly the way I hoped it would, with the various components in pleasant balance. Looking at the structure there are a few ways to adjust it to your preferences - the ratios of the vermouths can be tweaked to make it sweeter or drier and differing amounts of syrup can be added with the cherries to provide a different kind of sweetness. However you choose to make it, this is a full-flavored drink with less of a punch to the liver.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Classic Cocktails: The Diplomat

In my attempts to ease back into cocktails and alcohol in general I went searching for low alcohol drinks that were made mostly with vermouth. Thankfully I was gifted a copy of The Art of the Shim a few years ago, which I had largely forgotten about when I was primarily drinking neat spirits.
 
While perhaps apocryphal, the suggestion is that this drink was meant to provide diplomats with something delicious to sip without getting them so deep in their cups that they let the wrong words slip out in front of the wrong people. Whether or not that's true, it absolutely gets the job done.

The Diplomat
 
1.5 oz dry vermouth
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
0.25 oz maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients, stir with ice for ten seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a strip of lemon peel.

The nose is a pleasant melange of richness from the sweet vermouth, spices from the bitters, and funk from the maraschino, plus some background sourness from the dry vermouth. The sip opens in a balanced fashion between sweet and tart, a pleasantly citrus and apple flavor in the middle, slowly fading into complex bitterness and increasing tartness towards the back. The finish leans into the dry vermouth, with some pleasant bitterness.

This is an incredibly pleasant drink. It makes me think of a reverse Manhattan/Martini style cocktail where a small amount of a more robust spirit is used to modify the base vermouth, but in this case the modifier is also vermouth. As recommended in Shim, you really want a big, robust sweet vermouth - I used Cocchi di Torino, but Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes could work just as well. In tandem with the maraschino they're enough to round out the more tart dry vermouth without completely overwhelming it. The result is refreshing while maintaining a very classic spirit-based profile. Overall I would highly recommend this if you want a full cocktail experience without taxing your liver.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Non-Alcoholic Review: Giffard Aperitif Sirop

Hey, so it's been a minute. Reviews stopped last fall because I have barely been drinking. Back in September, the Pacific Northwest experienced one of its worst fire seasons ever. Numerous wildfires, especially in Oregon, blanketed the region with a thick layer of smoke for several weeks. Air quality numbers reached levels almost never seen before, sometimes pegging out the instruments. While I got off fairly lightly in the scheme of things due to an already installed HEPA filter in our HVAC system, I don't think I was unscathed. I had a low-grade headache for weeks, even after the smoke had cleared. And it rapidly became apparent that alcohol was a major trigger.

After a few unpleasant experiences I just stopped trying to consume any alcohol and it slipped out of my regular rotation. No whisky samples quietly sipped on the weekend, no aperitifs while I cooked, or post-dinner drinks to settle my stomach. I would periodically give it a try, which would usually provoke another nasty headache. Eventually it just completely fell off.

So I was rather excited to see a tweet from Camper English about Giffard's Aperitif Sirop. As the name suggests, this is built to mimic classic aperitif spirits like Campari or Aperol, but without any alcohol. I poked around the internet for a while, but didn't really want to pay shipping for a single liter bottle from out of state. Lucky for me, I guessed that I had seen other Giffard syrups at one of my local liquor stores and found it while picking up a Christmas present.
 
As a basic Campari substitute, it does alright. With soda water and a bit of lemon peel the aromas are rather faint - berries, coffee, lemon. The sip begins sweetly with slightly artificial berry notes, switches to a syrupy vanilla thickness in the middle, then crashing into a wall of bitterness with citrus overtones at the back. While this recapitulates the basic form it's seeking to imitate, there are definitely limitations. It doesn't have the same aromas or nuance, likely limited by the solvent effects of being a zero proof syrup.

With that said, if you're really trying to stay away from alcohol this is a totally legit substitute. Some of its deficiencies can be remedied with bitters to add more complexity and offset the sweetness. Used to reduce the proof of a multi-ingredient drink can also cover up some of the defects. Overall I think this is a really good tool to have in your kit, especially for bars looking to cater to abstemious guests.