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.