Sunday, February 26, 2017

Another Political Interlude

Even the most stalwart have to take a break from bartending and cocktail experiments and pop our heads up into the real world now and then. Depending on your political orientation, your socio-economic situation, and your general level of human empathy, sticking your head out of the foxhole can cause all kinds of reactions. My general level of anxiety since inauguration day has increased and each week seems to bring a new revelation which ratchets up the level of unease.

Since many friends are in the same boat, I have shared one of my coping strategies with a few of them. I offer it up generally in case you're having those 3:30AM internal wake-up calls that end in listening to those voices inside your head asking, "What's Bannon going to pull next?" If you're tempted to look at Twitter at that point, your night is basically over. So, my solution has been this:

Keep a journal.

Yeah, I know. It's a writer telling people to write. But the simple fact is, getting it out of your head and onto paper can help. Like flushing the toilet, it puts the shit where it belongs. I've got a lovely goat-skin hand-bound volume that was gifted to me that now sports a title page I emblazoned "The Trump Dump." I record the daily idiocies, and potential supposed treasons that are clustering my mind to the point of calamity. I can sleep at night. Some nights. Journaling may not work for everyone, and honestly, I have no intention of ever going back and reading through it, but it might help.

The other thing I've started doing is reading some history. I'm searching for a larger context in which to place this moment in time, as a check and balance for the constantly churning news cycles in which we are immersed. It's both calming and humbling to read the writings of people grappling with the sweep of events and trying to shape a better world. I came across this quote from Thomas Jefferson about President Washington:

For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.

Jefferson was, of course, writing with some years of hindsight, but I honestly cannot imagine anyone, much less a fellow former President, writing something even passingly similar about Donald Trump.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Way Off In The Weeds

To end the week of smoking - and what a way to bring in the New Year! - I went a tad more complicated in hopes of a subtler smoke flavor. Basically, I took the leftover citrus peel from the previous experiment and used it to make:

Smoked-Citrus Simple Syrup
Cherry-Smoked Blood Orange and Lemon Peels
1 C Water
1 C Caster Sugar

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.

After cooling, I used the simple syrup in a bourbon old fashioned.

2 oz Maker's 46 Bourbon
2 t Smoked-citrus Simple Syrup
2 dashes Number 11 Holiday Bitters
Blood Orange Slice
Splash Seltzer

In a lowball glass over a single large ice cube, add the bitters, the simple syrup, the seltzer, then the bourbon, pouring each gently over the ice. Jam the orange down the side of the glass, then stir it all gently.

This drink turned out to be one of my favorites. It had a pine-cone smell, along with the citrus, and a delicate woody finish.

In the end, I arrived back where I started, at the Old Fashioned, but with a better variation where the smoke actually figures in, but doesn't over-power the drink. All in all, a great week for science!

Many thanks to my friend Chris Brook for the loan of the smoker. I paid the debt with a flask of smoked white vermouth and a bottle of Number 11 Holiday Bitters, so he can replicate some of these recipes with the proper ingredients.

If you try any of these at home, let me know how yours turn out. Or, better yet, let's get together and share the experiment.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Piece by Piece

So, after the red vermouth tragedy, I thought I'd deflect my exploratory smoking away from one of the main components, so as not to ruin another batch of anything. Although this doesn't qualify as "molecular" exploration, even in the culinary world, I shifted my focus onto the garnish end of things. Think "component" rather than "molecule", and you'll see where I'm headed.

I cherry-wood smoked a small batch of citrus peel. Hoping to avoid the over-smoking of the red vermouth, I just did a single burn, filling the measuring cup, then sealing it with plastic wrap and allowing the smoke to settle/dissipate/whatever naturally over the course of a few hours. By the time 5:00 rolled around, I was ready for the taste test.

Keeping my variables constant, I mixed my two base drinks -- a dry Martini and a Manhattan, ingredients as follows:

2 parts Aviation Gin
1 part Martini Extra-Dry Vermouth
Cherry-Smoked lemon peel

2 parts Dickel Rye
1 part Carpano Vermouth
Cherry-Smoked Blood Orange Peel

The effect of the smoked citrus was subtle and delightful in the drinks. It added a bit of dark-scented heft to the Martini, just a tad more body than an ultra-dry drink. A perfect addition to the winter months. In the Manhattan, it enhanced the spiciness of the orange peel, giving another dimension to my go to drink.

Next: even further off the smoked path.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

One Step Forward...

After yesterday's success with the bianco vermouth, I assumed red vermouth would be a no-brainer. And yet... it didn't work that way. I put 3 oz. Punt e Mes red vermouth into a quart jar and hickory-smoked it two times, as with the white vermouth.

The result was very fragrant of woodsmoke, so my hopes were high. Tasting the vermouth on its own, it had a raw stale smoke finish to it. Thinking perhaps it would mellow when combined in a drink, I mixed a standard Manhattan.

2 parts Dad's Hat Rye (Vermouth-Barrel Finish)
1 part hickory-smoked vermouth
Dash Number 11 Cherry Bitters

While the smell of hickory was pleasant, the finish on the drink was somewhere between expressed coffee grounds and dirty ashtray. I mean, I finished the drink, but I won't make another one. Perhaps the vermouth was over-smoked, perhaps the hickory was just too much, perhaps a different red vermouth base? Lots of variables to mess around with, all for science.

Tomorrow, going off-script.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


No, this has nothing to do with Archimedes. On only the second smoking experiment, I got a successful cocktail.

Chris Brook, the chemist who loaned me the smoker, suggested smoking some vermouth by placing it in a sealed bottle filled with smoke and shaking until the smoke had disappeared. Following his advice, I put 3oz of Martini Bianco Vermouth in a 500ml flask, filled it with applewood smoke, sealed it and shook it until the smoke had disappeared.

For good measure, I repeated the process. It took a little longer for the smoke to be absorbed the second time.

The resulting vermouth took on a faint cloudy aspect, but the color was unchanged. It smelled redolently like the remains of a campfire the morning after.  The taste was spicy, woody, and suggestive of salt, with a smoky finish. As the Martini is sweeter to begin with, the smoking actually balanced well.

I used the vermouth in a cocktail combination that I'm partial to:

2 parts Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 part applewood-smoked white Vermouth
Lemon peel

Stir the liquids over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist the peel to release the oils and drop it into the glass. The result is a lemony, earthy aroma, a crisp taste, and a smoky finish. A great drink.

Next up: smoked red vermouth.