La Coquette, the $10K (hopefully) cocktail, part 2

Alrighty, so I laid out the details on how I made my lavodka as well as my lemon bitters, two crucial ingredients in my La Coquette cocktail.  Now I will write about the special sugar rim.

After some trial and error, I finalized the composition of the cocktail itself, but I wanted to work on the presentation.  I wanted to serve the drink up in a cocktail martini glass, but I wanted to make sure it looked sexy and sophisticated.  I also wanted to showcase the lavender somehow in the drink besides just in the flavor.  I made several attempts to have a frond of lavender shooting out of the glass, but I could never find a method to create a consistent presentation.

What I came up with was a way to add color to the rim by blending fresh blackberries with sugar.  I go to the Claremont farmers market every Sunday morning with Amy to pick up fresh local produce for the week.  One of the stands we love is Pudwill Berry Farms. They specialize in all sorts of seasonal berries: fresh blueberries, white and red raspberries, and my favorite, blackberries. I bought a 3-pack of blackberries to play with at the bar. I sliced each berry in half lengthwise and placed them slice-side up on a half baking sheet.

I didn’t want to spend extra money on a dehydrator, so I just let the half-sheet of berries sit out in my office at work for about a week until the berries shrunk to about half of their original size.  I then ground the berries up with sugar in a molcajete to mash the berries and turn the sugar into a beautiful purple mixture.

It definitely takes some time to grind all the berries up, but the consistency is key here.  I didn’t want a mixture that was part dark purple and part light.  It probably took me a good 15-20 minutes of solid grinding away to create a consistent mixture.

At this point, the sugar mix still has a bit of moisture, so I dried it out again on another half-sheet overnight.

Once the sugar mix was dry, I threw it back in the molcajete to grind it into a finer blend.  There were still some blackberry seeds left in the mix, so I fine-strained the sugar mix to remove them and have a smooth consistent blackberry sugar mix.

So now I’ve got my three homemade creations finished, it’s time to make my La Coquette!

What you’ll need:

2 ounces Domaine de Canton

1 ounce lavodka

1 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 sugar cube

1/8 ounce lemon bitters

2 slices fresh ginger

Blackberry sugar

1 regular lemon for garnish

1 Cocktail martini glass

1 pint glass with metal tin to create a boston shaker

1 hawthorne strainer (the one with the spring)

1 fine mesh strainer

Ice

Citrus peeler or knife

Muddler

Method:

Start off by muddling the sugar and bitters (YES!) along with the 2 slices of fresh ginger.  You want to beat the ginger into a pulp, so that when you mix it, the fresh ginger incorporates with everything else.

Next add the 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice, the 1 ounce of lavodka, and the 2 ounces of Domaine de Canton liqueur.  As I’ve stated before, using a jigger will help with precise measurements.

Now before you add ice and dilute the cocktail, let’s prep the glass with the sugar.

For the presentation of this cocktail, I didn’t want the sugar granules to float around in with the cocktail once it’s been poured in the glass.  I felt that keeping the sugar on the outside of the glass made for a cleaner, sexier looking cocktail.  Take a slice of lemon and wipe it onto the rim of the cocktail glass, make sure to apply ample juice to the outside of the glass. To make sure the blackberry sugar stays only on the outside of the glass, flip the glass over and sprinkle the sugar where you wiped the lemon.

Now that the glass is ready, its time to chill and dilute our cocktail mixture.  Add some ice to the mixing glass, slap on the metal tin to secure it, flip it into your hand and give it a healthy shake for about 8 seconds.  This will make sure the drink gets chilled properly while breaking up the ice and adding a little dilution to the solution.

Slap the tin to break the seal of the mixing glass and then give the drink a little sample.  Make sure you like what you taste, I always do.  Throw the hawthorne strainer over the top of the tin, and then strain the liquid through the fine strainer into the cocktail glass.

(The picture above shows one of the trials with the lavender flower stem poking through a lemon peel.  Like I said, I couldn’t get a consistent result, but it sure does look pretty!)

I like to add a last aromatic touch by peeling the rind of half a lemon, then twisting and squeezing the oils out over the glass.  I like to wipe the lemon rind along the underside of the glass and the stem, so the guest gets the citrus oils on their hands.  Almost everyone likes the smell of citrus, so when it gets on their hands, it creates a total experience by engaging them with the cocktail.

Place the cocktail on a napkin, give a wink and say “cheers!”

You just created my La Coquette.  I hope you find the name fitting, for she truly is a seductress!

I really like the balance and subtleties of this creation.  I enjoy the way the fresh ginger gives it a little bite in the beginning, but then the Domaine de Canton mellows it out for a nice finish.  (I failed to mention earlier that the Domaine de Canton is a blend of baby Vietnamese ginger and V.S.O.P. Cognac, I think the Cognac definitely gives it the smoothness you would expect from a well cared for French brandy.)  The lavodka adds great flavor and depth without being too overpowering.  The fresh lemon juice works well to add the acidity and brightness.  While the lemon bitters adds aromatics and complexity, the blackberry sugar adds the necessary color and sweetness to compliment the perfect sip.

Hopefully, the Domaine de Canton judges will like it enough to allow me to mix it live for them during a round of judging.  If I even make it to the second round, I will consider it a great honor.  I will definitely post any new developments and keep you updated.

Cheers!

-W

A “New Fashioned” Cocktail

I’ve been extremely lucky in my past few restaurant/bar positions in that I have had some liberty in experimenting with different ingredients and techniques.  As I stated before, after my initial encounter with the Old Fashioned, I then began tinkering with different elements.  My best creation to date is appropriately named “The New Fashioned”.

With my current position at Hotel Casa 425 as the bar manager, I am very fortunate to be able to continue my experimentations and bring new things to the area.  I am in the final stages of finishing our new menu as well as a “secret cocktail menu” for those who are looking for something different.  I am doing my best to bring some diverse concepts, flavors and ingredients to the Inland Empire.  I hope that my program is well-received, my goal is to help spread the cocktail culture and educate guests on what is beyond their comfort zones.

One of the items on the secret menu will be my New Fashioned.  The New Fashioned base consists of a muddled strawberry with agave nectar and angostura bitters.  For the whiskey, I used Booker’s bourbon, a delicious high-proof spirit with lots of character.  I like this drink because the strawberry adds a more subtle sweetness than that of an “atomic red” maraschino cherry found in most bars.  The strawberry also adds a bit of acidity to the drink which I think helps bring out the vanilla and caramel notes of the bourbon.

You need:

2 ounces Booker’s bourbon

1 ounce agave nectar

1/2 strawberry diced

4-5 dashes Angostura bitters

2 ounces club soda

1 Old Fashioned glass

Ice (actual cubes are best, the bigger, the better)

1 orange

Citrus peeler or knife

Muddler

Method:

Add the agave and the bitters to the glass.  Since the agave is already in a syrup state, there is no need at this moment to incorporate the two.

New Fashioned base ingredients

Slice and dice half of a strawberry. Note: When I first experimented with this formula, I tried muddling both a whole strawberry and then a half strawberry.  I found that the drink tasted fine, but that the consistency was not ideal due to the way the strawberry stayed connected in a long strand.  My solution was to chop up the fruit so that it could inter-mingle with the rest of the drink and create a uniform substance.

Half a strawberry diced

Add the strawberry to the glass and muddle to release the juices and oils of the strawberry.  You don’t want to mash down hard, as the firmness of the strawberry may shoot the agave/bitters up and out of the glass. just use gentle pressure to break up the strawberry pieces into a pulp.

Half a strawberry in the glass

Muddling the strawberry, agave and bitters

The muddled mix

Once you have mashed the elements into a pureé-like consistency, it is time to add the Booker’s.  I like to use a jigger to ensure I pour the precise amount.  If you add too much or too little, the drink will not be balanced and the result will not be ideal.  We’ve all had a bartender who tried to “hook us up” with a heavy pour, but this rarely makes the drink any better.  In many cases it makes it worse, because then the cocktail is not palatable or even pleasant for that matter.  I digress…

Booker's and jigger

Once the Booker’s has been added, give the drink a gentle stir to mix in all the ingredients.  Use a bar spoon or straw to work the strawberries in with the bourbon.  This shouldn’t take more than a few seconds.  You want to try and create as uniform consistency as possible.

Stirring the New Fashioned

Add a large ice cube/cubes and stir again to create a little dilution.  Note: For the hotel bar, we have smallish ice cubes that work really well to dilute cocktails, but are not the best for chilling a drink.  I tried using our mini-muffin pans to make ice cubes, but as they have a specific use for baking, I had to discontinue its ice-making duties.  I am now working on getting some ice cube molds so that I can create the proper balance between dilution and chill, but until then, I work with what I’ve got.

Ice in the New Fashioned

Once the ice is in the glass, add the 2 ounces of club soda on top and give it another stir.  You don’t necessarily have to be precise with the 2 ounces, just fill the rest of the glass with the bubbly water.  Any brand of club soda will do, when I make these at home, I like using the small bottles of Schweppes or Canada Dry.

Adding club soda to the New Fashioned

Now it’s time for the orange.  Grab that citrus orb of goodness and with a knife or peeler, scalp that sucker to get some of the rind.  Don’t dig too deep, all you want is the surface and the pith (the white part).

Slicing an orange peel

A perfect orange peel

Now take the peel and squeeze the oils out over the top of the glass, and then wipe it along the rim of the glass to create a nice aromatic layer.  Remember, a great cocktail should be something that activates many senses.  In this case, the orange oils will create a wonderful smell as someone approaches the glass.

Squeezing the orange peel

Wiping the peel on the rim

We’re almost done.  Next you want to drop the orange peel into the glass.  The drink will actually develop more and change over time as the peel secretes more oils into the cocktail.  For some extra flair, take another strawberry and slice it halfway down the middle from the tip and place it on the edge of the glass.  I don’t always find it necessary, but the ladies who enjoy cocktails sure do love those fruits.

A finished New Fashioned

Give the drink another small swirl to get the orange peel mixing with his new friends and say, “Cheers!”  You just created a New Old Fashioned.

As I have said before, take your time enjoying this drink.  Take in the smell of the fresh orange with the sweet tartness of the strawberry.  Savor the spiciness of the Booker’s on your tongue while it mellows out from the sweetness of the agave and fruit.  Let it sit for a few minutes, and then give it another stir to move the orange peel around and further its complexity.

You will find a different sort of sweetness with this cocktail than you will with other traditional cocktails.  You will hopefully find a nice balance between the sweetness of the agave and strawberry with the bitterness of the Angostura and the orange.  The Booker’s bourbon will have that nice heat flavor from the high alcohol proof.  Altogether, I think this is a fantastic well-balanced cocktail that can be enjoyed at home or away at a bar that has the proper ingredients. (And an apt barman who has extra time and doesn’t mind thinking outside the box).

Cheers!

An Old Fashioned Cocktail

I was first introduced to the Old Fashioned cocktail in my early twenties, and to be honest, it was not love at first sight. I have been enjoying bourbon whiskey almost since I have been of legal drinking age, but the Old Fashioned just did not seem appealing. I think it had to do with the fact that it sounded so…….OLD! I suppose I always thought of it as an “old-man-drink” and never really bothered to give it a decent chance.

That all changed about three years ago. I was working as a server at Red White+Bluezz and our GM/Sommelier Russ Meek exclaimed “You’ve never had an Old Fashioned?!??!!”. I had to sheepishly admit that I had never had a good experience with one. He then proceeded to whip one up for me, detailing what he was using and his methods. His recipe was the “popular” one of today; sugar and bitters (YES!), cherry, orange, bourbon, ice, soda water.

My god, was it delicious!

It was a perfect blend of flavors and beautifully balanced. That evening I enjoyed two more creations, the last one being made by myself. That one experience had catapulted my love for the Old Fashioned cocktail into one of near fanaticism. For the next few months I constantly ordered them, suggested them, made them, drank them.

It was a glorious period of time.

I knew I had entered into a era of enjoying cocktails. By that, I mean, not just using booze to “escape”, but the whole experience of drinking and what it did to all of my senses. The sight of the orange slice and the brown bourbon interlaced with the bright red cherry. The initial smell of the aromatics of the angostura bitters and the oils of the citrus. The cool touch and feel of the condensed water on the side of the glass. The sound the ice made clinking around as I swirled the spirit against the soda and orange. And of course the terrific taste of balanced beauty as I gingerly sipped from the rim.

Over the years, I had also tried many variations, rye whiskey, irish whiskey, canadian whiskey, brandy, rum, and tequila. I tried different garnishes as well, lemon instead of orange, luxardo cherries instead of maraschino, strawberries instead of cherries. The possibilities seemed to be endless. I have also enjoyed creating my own variations of this wonderful concoction. I am even putting a “New Fashioned” on my secret cocktail menu at Hotel Casa 425 in Claremont, CA.

This past week I went on a little field trip to explore some nearby cocktail culture. I’ll get into the whole trip some other time, but I wanted to bring up my last stop which was at Las Perlas in DTLA. Las Perlas is a well-known tequila and mezcal bar, so when I saw they had an old fashioned cocktail, needless to say I was quite intrigued. After I ordered, I watched (as well as other curious onlookers) as the bar man lovingly created a fantastic perfectly-balanced well-structured cocktail. It was so good I ordered two more throughout the night and suggested it to a good friend (he loved it too).  The flavor of the reposado tequila combined with the smokiness of the mezcal made for such a pleasurable gift for my palate.  The complexity of the mexican spirits mixed with the sugar, bitters and citrus was so enjoyable, I knew that I had to try my hand at replicating this libation.  The next day at work, affectionately dubbed “the lab”, I successfully(!) re-created what I saw the bar man do.

To make this cocktail, you only need a handful of ingredients that again can be found at any BevMo or quality liquor store.  You might have a little trouble finding good mezcal, and please note that it should NOT have a worm at the bottom.  That is/was a marketing ploy and does not make the spirit any better.  With many things in life, you get what you pay for. So if you want a finely crafted quality cocktail, you may have to pay a little extra for proper ingredients.

You need:

1.5 ounces reposado or añejo tequila (I used Partida reposado)

.5 ounces mezcal (I used Del Maguey, San Luis del Rio village)

1 sugar cube

4-5 dashes aromatic cocktail bitters (I used the most well-known brand, Angostura)

1 Old Fashioned glass

Ice (actual cubes are best, the bigger, the better)

1 orange

1 maraschino cherry (If you can find/afford luxardo cherries, you will never want to use the atomic red kind)

Citrus peeler or knife

Muddler

Method:

Place the sugar in the glass and add 5 dashes of angostura bitters to that sweet little sucker.
Muddle/mash for about 10 seconds to create a syrup-like consistency.
Add the tequila and the mezcal and stir gently.
Add a large ice cube/cubes and stir again to create a little dilution.
Peel a slice of orange and squeeze over the glass to release the oils and then wipe the rind along the rim.
Add the luxardo cherry and say “Cheers!”, you just created a delicious smoky tequila Old Fashioned.

Just as you should with any aromatic cocktail, take your time enjoying it.  Appreciate the aromas of citrus and smoke.  Let the cherry add its sweetness to the drink for a few minutes before biting into it.  Try it with a peel of lemon or grapefruit instead of the orange for a variation.

Cheers!

The cocktail

So, there’s this thing called a cocktail.  Many people have had them. Few know the history and background of them.  Almost everyone knows the results of drinking too many.  What I plan on sharing here is my knowledge of the cocktail and its many different forms and ingredients.

Where to begin?  How about I talk about what this blog is named, “Sugar and Bitters”.  Sugar and bitters are two of the most basic ingredients in classic and neo-classic cocktails.  I’ve come to learn that the basic cocktail consists of three main parts; the spirit, a sweetener, and a bitter agent.  The most delicious cocktails are made when these three elements come together in the right proportions.

Back in the early days of cocktails, barkeepers used what they had readily available to create libations.  Sugar, of course, had been around since ancient times from processed…..sugar cane, or more recently, the sugar beet.  Today, sugar in a cocktail can come from the traditional sugar cube, or a spoonful of superfine (powdered) sugar.  New creations have been made with a block of raw turbinado sugar, or even the sweetness of an agave syrup can be used.

Bitters on the other hand began being produced as a medicinal “cure-all” in the early 1800’s.  Bitters manufactured today fall into two categories; digestive bitters, and cocktail bitters.  While both of these bitters can be used in cocktails, the latter is used primarily as a base ingredient.

As I said, many classic cocktails consist of a spirit, a sweetener, and a bitters.  One of my favorite classic cocktails, the sazerac, was created with little more than these three ingredients.  It is so perfect in its simplicity, I wonder why it ever had a falling out with bar culture in the States.  To make one, you need specific ingredients which should be able to be found in any BevMo or quality liquor store.

You need:

2 ounces Rye whiskey

1 Sugar cube

4-5 Peychaud’s bitters dashes (YES, it MUST be this specific bitters for THIS cocktail)

1/2 ounce Absinthe

2 Old-fashioned glasses (aka “buckets”)

Ice

Lemon

Citrus peeler or knife

Muddler

Method:

Prep one of the glasses by pouring 1/2 ounce absinthe and filling with crushed ice.  This glass will be the final vessel for the cocktail, but you want to build the cocktail in the other glass.

Place the sugar in the bottom of the second glass and douse that sucker with the bitters.  Muddle the sugar and bitters together for about 10 seconds to create a syrup-like consistency.  Stir in the 2 ounces of rye whiskey.  (Purists might insist on using only “Sazerac brand rye whiskey”, but for the purpose of this creation, any rye will do.)

Give the other glass a twirl to coat the sides with the chilled absinthe, then throw out the ice+absinthe mix.  Stir the rye as you pour it into the chilled glass, this ensures all of the mix makes it to the chilled glass.

Use a peeler or a knife to cut a section of the lemon rind.  Squeeze the lemon over the glass to release the oils from the rind and wipe it around the edge the rim.  Place the rind into the glass and say “Cheers!”  You just created a classic cocktail.

Take your time enjoying this one, breathe in and smell the aromatics, let the cocktail develop as the lemon interacts with the mix.

Cheers!