Tag archives for: cocktails

Not Invented by Monks

Continuing in my attempt to document the mixers and liqueurs I've been sampling recently, I will now focus on Benedictine, a French, brandy-based, herbal liqueur.

The name conjures up images of secluded monks guarding secret recipes handed down for generations (see my article about Chartreuse, another monastically themed libation, for a similar background) but according to Wikipedia the real story is a bit more prosaic: it was apparently invented by wine merchant and industrialist Alexandre Le Grand who later tried to link his concoction with the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy to boost sales.

So...not invented by monks, then. Oh well. I still think it's pretty good, even without the cute backstory. Like most liqueurs, it's extremely sweet, and it has a fairly subdued, herbal flavour that is not, for once, dominated by anise. In this way it contrasts sharply with Chartreuse, which is assertive and very dominated by anise.

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It's Not Easy Being Green

About a year ago, I bought a bottle of green Chartreuse. I bought it because I stumbled upon something called a Bijou cocktail and decided that I wanted to try it.

Chartreuse is a liqueur made by French monks from a secret recipe purported to be hundreds of years old. It's usually described as tasting "herbal", but I find that's about as useful as saying that something tastes like "chicken"; it's the word you use when you can't think of anything else to say. For my money, I find that it's very sweet and tastes strongly of anise (which I don't mind; I like Drambuie, which also has a strong anise flavour) but also has a kind of "vegetable" aftertaste that I find a bit off putting,

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Life is Bitter

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury's classic, is notable for being somewhat rigid in its definition of a cocktail. He basically divides all of cocktail-dom into two camps: the aromatic ones (Manhattans, Martinis, Old-Fashioneds), and the sour ones (basically anything with lemon or lime juice in it, though never enough to overpower the main liquor).

For Embury, a cocktail is consumed before dinner, stimulates the appetite, and isn't very sweet - or it isn't a cocktail. As such, though mixed drinks like the Brandy Alexander and its cousins do show up on the pages of his book, they are (justifiably, though somewhat condescendingly) classified as desserts when made the traditional way (equal parts brandy, cream and creme de cacao) or grudgingly allowed to stand alongside the real cocktails when made according to his modifications (basically upping the brandy by four times the usual amount relative to the other ingredients) - though with a loud admonition that the result is vastly inferior to his tried and true favourites.

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It Started with the Vesper

Lately I've been experimenting with "mixers". By "mixer" I mean aperitifs, liqueurs, and digestifs that almost always appear as secondary ingredients in a cocktail, but that one almost never thinks of drinking on their own. The intention here is to write a series of articles about each one.

It started with the Vesper, a mixed drink well known in cocktail circles. The recipe comes from an iconic scene in Ian Flemings's Casino Royale, where Bond instructs the bartender as follows:

Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?

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Meditations on the Aromatic Cocktail

David Embury classifies cocktails into two distinct groups: sour cocktails and aromatic cocktails. I've written in the past about sour cocktails but have been mostly silent about aromatic ones.

Until NOW, that is! It was an omission that just had to be rectified. Right? RIGHT?!

Aromatic cocktails are flavoured by some kind of aromatic wine, spirit, or bitters. Based on my (limited) experiments, I broadly categorize these drinks into:

  • Old Fashioned Cocktails
  • Liqueur or wine based Cocktails

But really, there's no real rule here. You basically take a base spirit and you flavour it with some combination of flavouring agent(s). Pretty simple.

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More on Sour Cocktails

I've posted before about sour cocktails, but I felt that the subject deserved a bit more elabouration. The material here, as before, is quite heavily inspired by (some might say stolen from) David Embury's classic taxonomy from The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

Embury's basic approach was to define a sour cocktail template. In his mind, a sour cocktail consisted of:

  • a spirit
  • a sweetener
  • lemon and/or lime juice

Different combinations of spirits and sweeteners lead, of course, to different cocktails. The exact ratios obviously depend on your personal taste and the actual ingredients you decide to use. My preferred ratio matches Embury's:

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Another Batch of Tonic Water

I made a batch of tonic water syrup a couple of years ago and, though it was a success, there were a couple of things I found slightly off-putting in the result. Specifically:

  • I didn't really like the all-spice.
  • I didn't really like the lemongrass
  • I thought there was too much citric acid.

So I tried another batch of tonic water this year with no all-spice or lemongrass, and a bit less citric acid. I also simplified the recipe somewhat, using plain sugar instead of agave syrup and omitting the citrus juice (though keeping the zest).

Here's the one I ended up using (the bark is still from Herboristerie Desjardins):

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Sour Cocktails and the Embury Ratio

Over the last couple of years I've put together what I consider to be a fairly impressive home bar, and I've spent much of that time experimenting with various cocktails.

There are people in my social circle for whom mixing drinks is a bit taboo. When I say that I use Calvados) or Cognac in a cocktail, the first reaction I usually get is "What a waste!"

I disagree. My guiding principle with regard to cocktails is that you should use good quality liquor that you'd have no problem drinking on its own. Calvados falls into this category, and so does Cognac. It doesn't have to be the really expensive stuff, but it should at least be middle shelf. The idea of making a cocktail out of foul tasting gut-rot in at attempt to mask the taste is anathema to me. When a cocktail is well made, the extra ingredients enhance rather than mask the taste of the main liquor.

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Adventures With Tonic Water

Some people from work invited me to the Dominion Tavern a week or two ago. I was persuaded to try the gin and tonic, as I was told that the tonic water was homemade.

I ordered one. The drink that came was orange in colour and looked vaguely like tang. In other words, it did not look like a gin and tonic. It tasted, however, unmistakeably like a gin and tonic - a rather good gin and tonic at that, and this comes from a guy who's not particularly enthusiastic about gin and tonics.

I was inspired to try this out myself. The active ingredient in tonic water, giving it its characteristic bitter taste, is a substance called quinine. Back in the day, quinine was used as a painkiller and malarial treatment. In the (rather large) quantities required for medicinal purposes, it was known for its strong, unpleasant bitterness, so people started mixing it with gin to make it more palatable. As time wore on people started consuming quinine less and less as a medicine and more and more as a flavouring agent, especially in the quantities used for modern day tonic water, which is many times less than required to receive any therapeutic benefit (you'd have to drink something like 8L of modern day tonic water to approach even just one dose of malarial treatment).

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