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    On The Menu

    The Original Maraschino Cherry

    Bringing cherries and maraschino back to Maraschino Cherries.

    Wow, the Farmers Market was suddenly bursting with cherries today, which is very exciting for me since we just ran out of cherries for cocktails.

    Traditionally, Maraschino Cherries were made by steeping marasca cherries, from the mountains of Croatia, in Maraschino liqueur, which was made from the very same marasca cherries, along with their leaves and pits. However, like many good things in the world of cocktails, the 20th century’s fusion of progress and bureaucracy conspired to make them into the sucky near plastic concoction that we all know today.

    Currently, Maraschino Cherries are officially defined by the Food and Drug Administration as “cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor”. Can’t say I am a fan of eating anything that has been “Impregnated” and “Packed”, but this definition came into usage in the 1940s when the FDA refined many of its rules. The process basically brines the cherries so that they become completely flavorless and colorless and then the flavor and color are added back in with dye, corn syrup and artificial flavoring.

    As the cherries became less related to their original ingredients they also lost the thing that made their name make sense, being made from marasca cherries. Most people now pronounce them like mara-SHEE-no, which I guess is kind of appropriate for their sheeny plasticy quality, but since they were made from marasca cherries they are actually pronounced mara-SKEE-no. However be prepared to come off as an insufferable cocktail geek if you correct anyone in mixed company for saying it wrong.

    So, back to the near infinite collection of cherries I just brought back from the farmers market, I decided to mix up a batch of traditional maraschino cherries. If you are lazy or can’t find cherries or maraschino liqueur you can actually just buy good cherries pre-made here, but in the department of easy to make cocktail ingredients, this is one of the easiest if you have the ingredients.

    You start by pitting a pint of cherries, sour cherries are most like marasca, but a sweeter cherry like a bing or a brooks will do just fine if you use the smaller cherries in the batch. Put the cherries in a bell jar or some sealable container, and then pour warmed maraschino liqueur over them until they are completely covered. You can warm the liqueur in a sauce pan on the stove over low heat for a minute or two so that it is just hot to the touch. Seal the jar up and put it in the refrigerator for a few days and then open and enjoy yourself a Manhattan or a properly made Old Fashioned.

    The Curried Favor

    Some exploration in the produce aisle leads to a new drink.

    I am pretty fortunate to live near one of the best produce markets in California – Berkeley Bowl. Basically if something is in season, they have it. One of the ingredients I have spent a lot of time experimenting with is curry leaves. They have a complex smoky nose and a very unusual flavor that is quite difficult to describe. The flavor is very powerful and sticks with the palate for a while. The curry leaf is used in a lot of southern Indian and Sri Lankan cooking, but the word “curry” here might create some false expectations of tastes. Curry powder was created to emulate the flavors of indian cooking but almost never has curry leaf in it, so don’t expect the leaves to taste anything like “curry powder”.

    Like most powerful flavors you often have to mix with other strong flavors to avoid one note overwhelming the drink. After a few attempts I decided on mixing the curry leaves with Meyer lemons, which for anyone who isn’t familiar with them are basically a cross between mandarin oranges and lemons and have a very orange-blossomy nose. The result was a drink I am calling the Curried Favor.

    The Curried Favor
    • 1.5 oz Dark Rum
    • 1 oz Canton Ginger Liqueur
    • 1 oz Meyer Lemon Juice
    • .25 oz Agave Nectar
    • 2 Curry Leaves

    Directions
    Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a curry leaf for an even more smoky aromatic effect of the curry leaves.

    Under normal circumstances I would say that is a lot of Canton, but there needs to be to keep the drink balanced. So far I have found this drink to be a hit with most people who are shocked at the effect of the curry leaves. So next time you happen past an asian market or a particularly well stocked produce department, grab a few leaves and start experimenting.

    So, It’s Your First Time?

    This month’s Mixology Monday explores how to properly welcome someone to the world of cocktails.

    Every month a group of adventurous spirits gathers for an event called Mixology Monday where each participant offers up a blog post featuring a cocktail recipe that fits within the monthly theme. This month’s theme is First Time and it is hosted by Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails – Boston. Their basic guidelines were as follows:

    What drink do you suggest for the delicate palate of the cocktail neophyte? Something boozy and balanced, sure – but one wrong suggestion could relegate the newbie to a beer-drinker’s life. To which go-to cocktails do you turn to when faced with the challenge?

     

    It could be argued that choosing the Margarita as someone’s introduction to cocktails is dangerous as it doesn’t really push people out of their comfort zone; the Margarita just doesn’t seem that sophisticated to most people. However, if done with the right ingredients and presentation it can transcend people’s perception, satisfying even the most jaded Coors drinker.

    The great thing about this drink is how simple and disarming it is to most people. There are no real acquired-taste ingredients like Campari, Fernet or Absinthe, and it’s simplicity means it is something most anyone can create at home, making it a great gateway to an exciting future in mixology!

    Like all classic drinks, the Margarita has a shady history. As David Wondrich has written, “History, written in a bar, is never straight-forward”. There are almost as many origin stories as there are versions of the drink, though interestingly many of them involve lovelorn Mexican bartenders naming the drink after a beautiful showgirl… including Rita Hayworth who was formerly known as Margarita Cansino. Another common story is that the Margarita is really just a Daisy; a class of mixed drink that is basically a sour with a little bit of soda in it, and of course margarita is a Spanish word for daisy. Whatever the story, the one thing that is for sure about the Margarita is that nothing about the Margarita is for sure.

    As a type of drink, The Margarita is second only to The Martini in terms of how often it is bastardized. Nearly every bar has a version that could be said to be dramatically different from one another. Frozen or rocks, salt or no salt, Cointreau or triple sec, mango, strawberry – the list goes on. For us however, there is only one Margarita recipe; 100% agave tequila, lime juice and agave nectar.

    The Margarita
    • 2 oz 100% Agave Reposado Tequila
    • 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
    • .75 oz Agave Nectar

    Directions
    Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into an ice filled old fashioned glass.

    As you probably notice, our Margarita is missing two of its most common ingredients; Orange liqueur and Salt. For our money the agave nectar better highlights the spirits natural base than Cointreau, and the salt seems to us just a vestigial throwback to a need to cover up bad tequila. In fact in this San Francisco Chronicle article Tres Agave’s Eric Rubin speculates that the salt was introduced due to the Spanish influenza epidemic in the early 1900s and that Mexican doctors had the citizenry inoculate themselves with lime and salt.

    So the next time you have a cocktail n00b at your bar, take it easy on them and show them that cocktails don’t have to be frou-frou or toxic. The only real danger is that they may never enjoy the bad Margaritas at Chevy’s or Bennigan’s again.

    My Favorite Shaker

    The all-metal shaker that keeps your drinks colder and has a better seal.

    One evening a year or so ago, while at Death & Company in New York, I noticed that our bartender, Alex Day, was using an all-metal Boston-style shaker. In place of the mixing glass was a smaller metal tin, and when I asked him about it he swore by the design of it. Shortly thereafter I picked one up and have come to agree that this is my favorite shaker.

    Firstly the all-metal system is a much better conductor so the cold of the ice infuses the shaker far more quickly whereas glass holds its heat a little longer and melts the ice while in the shaker. The fact that the metal holds less heat also means that the air in the shaker gets colder much faster creating a vacuum more quickly inside of the shaker. Secondly, the shape of the smaller tin of the shaker is very important. It has a beveled edge, which has a far greater surface area than the small amount of glass that makes contact in a normal shaker, creating a much better seal.

    This seal is super important when you are making cocktails with egg white, which for some reason has a tendency to find its way out of standard mixing glass shakers while shaking vigorously. The walls and lamps around my bar can attest to this leakiness.

    Perhaps the best news of all, my recession addled readers, is that this shaker is seriously cheap. It comes from the cheesy-as-can-be flair bartending supply store called barsupplies.com. If you can wade through the shooters, beer towers, and “bartending” DVDs, there are actually some great products here.

    The shaker is sold in two parts, the 28 ounce “Regular Shaker” which costs $3.95 and the 18 ounce “Weighted Shaker” which costs $3.45.

    Do yourself a favor and splurge on this thing.

    Readymade Cocktails

    Wherein we get profiled in the sadly, currently comatose, Readymade Magazine.

    A few months back Readymade Magazine contacted us and asked if we wanted to contribute to a feature they were doing on hosting parties. They were interested in how we host cocktail parties and particularly in the spirits tasting parties that we do every so often.

    Our spirits tasting parties consist of getting a group of people over where we pick a spirit and run through tasting a good variety of brands and variations. This usually involves a good bit of history about the spirit along the way and ends with a number of cocktails made with the chosen spirit. The best possible outcome for these events is helping someone with that bad experience with gin or tequila in college. When someone has a good product and tastes it in a well mixed cocktail they usually realize they were really just afraid of badly made spirits.

    Erin Kunkel was our photographer for the night and she did a lovely job. She has posted a few of the photos on her blog.

    It just so happened in this case though that Readymade’s deadlines coincided with repeal day, so this particular event ended up being a group of prohibition era cocktails (and some not prohibition cocktails), and some discussion of the effect of prohibition on mixology.

    Perhaps this sounds a little geeky, but people get so excited to finally learn what they have been drinking and realize that they can open up a whole new world of drinks that they were not so into before.

    Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!

    Any drink that commemorates an explosion is OK with me!

    On February 15th 1898, in the dark of night, a blast ripped through the air in Havana. It was a huge explosion on the USS Maine killing 272 men. The blast was blamed on a mine, supposedly planted by the Spanish, that ignited her forward magazines destroying a third of the ship and putting her at the bottom of the harbor. In an event that foreshadowed the Gulf of Tonkin and the Iraq WMD’s, the sinking was used as a Causus Belli to start the Spanish-American War. The actual event is still shrouded in mystery and confusion as to whether or not it was just a convenient accident or an deliberate act of aggression, but aside from the American acquisition of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, we also got a great cocktail out of the ordeal.

    Most popularly chronicled by the cocktail writer and gadabout Charles H. Baker Jr., the Remember the Maine is essentially a tuned up Manhattan with the sweetness of Cherry Heering and the herbal zing of Absinthe. I thought of it recently after a trip to Heaven’s Dog, where they feature this drink and many others immortalized by Baker. When I got home I dusted off my copy of Jigger, Beaker and Glass and tracked down the recipe for the Remember the Maine. But I most preferred the recipe from St. John Frizell featured in this months Imbibe Magazine:

    Remember the Maine
    • 2 oz Rye (Sazerac)
    • 3/4 oz Italian Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
    • 2 tsp Cherry Heering
    • .5 tsp Absinthe (St George Absinthe)

    Directions
    Stir all Ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry, and think of how grateful we are for having Guam.

    Heaven’s Dog

    San Francisco’s newest all star bar with a comedy name.

    Nothing particularly revelatory in this post since I suspect most of you guys have now been to Heaven’s Dog the new so-called all star bar in San Francisco. I made it out last week to check out the new menu and a few of the drinks. I had the Pan American Clipper; a mix of calvados, lemon juice, grenadine, and absinthe, the Bumble Bee; which was rum, lime, honey and egg white, and a Remember the Maine; a combination of rye, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy and absinthe. I particularly enjoyed the Pan American Clipper, though all the drinks I had were fantastic. All of the recipes are adapted from Charles H. Baker’s Book Jigger, Beaker and Glass, which they have many copies of behind the bar.

    I was impressed with the super attentive service, for example they even wiped the condensation off of my coaster between drinks. Ladies (and anyone else who carries a bag) will be pleased to know that they have another mark of distinction by having hooks under the bar. I also took note that they have a Kold-Draft ice maker, generally the mark of a bar that knows what it is doing, and that they were also one of the few bars in SF that are using large ice blocks in drinks, something that has been pretty common in New York bars for a while.

    If you have even a passing interest in good cocktails make sure you get out to this place, I haven’t had a drink there I didn’t love, and you can’t really go wrong with an off night since all the bartenders are so good.

    The Rosemary Five

    A delicious mix of pear lime and rosemary.

    I had a batch of rosemary syrup I made up over the holidays for some champagne cocktails which turned out to be a hit with the family. Last night I was looking around for some other uses for it and came across the recipe for the Rosemary Five over at Married… with Dinner. (a blog you should be reading by the way, as they consistently please me with their recipes)

    The drink is fantastic; the lime balances out the pear which can be quite overwhelming sometimes. The rosemary is fairly understated and mostly at the front of the palate… partly because of the aromatics from the garnish, but also because the drink is light on the syrup. If you crank up the syrup it starts to taste a little too savory.

    The Rosemary Five
    • 1 oz pear eau de vie
    • .5 oz lime juice
    • .5 oz rosemary syrup
    • 3 dashes angostura bitters
    • dry sparkling wine

    Directions
    Shake all ingredients except for champagne with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top off glass with sparkling wine and garnish with a rosemary sprig.

    Rosemary Simple Syrup
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

    Directions
    Bring sugar and water and rosemary to a boil in a medium sauce pan while stirring. remove from heat when sugar is completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool and strain out the rosemary and store in the refrigerator.

    Digestifs Revisited

    The exciting conclusion of last months post!

    I totally forgot to post how the digestifs turned out after Thanksgiving. Turns out they were delicious as well as effective. In fact after a full thanksgiving meal we were all stuffed and had a round of the meyer lemon, and most of us could happily eat again, our friend Robin was even able to go back for thirds I think.

    As you can see the Meyer Lemon was a hit, as was the Mandarin. The Mandarin was very good but it turned out to be a pretty familiar taste, as we have all had orange flavored liqueur before. The Meyer Lemon was fantastic, everything you want out of a “cello” like this, but I think it was especially popular because it was such a novelty of a flavor. The basil was more interesting than good, though that was because it was the first batch I made and it turned out the recipe called for a little too much sugar to my taste and it ended up being too sweet for everyone. I plan on trying it again using less sugar.

    Today is the last day you could likely start it if you wanted to get some done for Christmas as they are supposed to macerate for 6 days. The Meyer Lemon recipe calls for 12 days but frankly it works very well after 6 as well.

    As for the change in recipe, I just reduced the amount of simple syrup from 1.5 cups to 1 cup in the meyer lemon and mandarin and in the case of the basil, (since it doesn’t have such a citrusy tang to it) I would reduce it to .75 cups of simple syrup.

    We like it Spicy!

    Mixing up some Indian cocktails for Mixology Monday.

    Every month a group of adventurous spirits gathers for an event called Mixology Monday where each participant offers up a blog post featuring a cocktail recipe that fits within the monthly theme. This month’s theme is Spice and it is hosted by Craig at Tiki Drinks and Indigo Firmaments. His basic guidelines were as follows:

    Spice should give you plenty of room to play – from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg — what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn’t an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I’d love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.

    It turns out that this couldn’t really be better timed for me as I have been obsessed with spices in cocktails recently. About a month ago some friends and I planned to go see Slumdog Millionaire, the new Danny Boyle film about an Indian kid who ends up on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and spends the film reflecting on his past in the slums of Mumbai. We were all getting together before the film and I was asked to come up with some Indian themed cocktails. Well, after a bit of research, it turned out there weren’t really many non-lassi based drinks out there that were Indian themed. This surprised me considering how flavorful indian food is. Scott Beattie had a few recipes that were inspiring in their use of coconut milk and cilantro and pickled hearts of palm but they were all really more southeast asian than Indian, and I wanted something with cumin, and coriander and turmeric.

    We only had a short notice to prepare for the party so I took the quick and easy route and made some syrups that would allow me to Indian-up nearly anything with some strong flavors. I made a coriander syrup and a cumin syrup. The cumin syrup turned out amazing and outrageously flavorful and only a small amount was needed to give any drink a hint of the spice route. The coriander syrup was much more subtle but intriguing to mix with as it added a flavor that was at once familiar but mysterious.

    The following week though, it was like the Indian-cocktail rosetta stone was recovered. That was when Jonny Raglin introduced his Spice Route cocktail menu at the new southern indian restaurant Dosa in San Francisco. It was like a trip though a new world of cocktail flavors, darjeeling tea cordial, mango gastrique, curry nectar, hell-flower tincture, yogurt. It sounded amazing, and after a visit, I was not disappointed. The next day I took a trip to Berkley bowl, one of the greatest produce markets i have ever been to, and picked up some kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, celery root, cilantro, sweet limes and fresh tumeric and began experimenting.

    Out of that came two drinks that worked pretty well, the first was based loosely on a gimlet recipe using pisco and the coriander syrup. It is called the Dhaniya Nimbu. Dihaniya is Hindi for coriander and nimbu is Hindi for lime. The second drink was inspired very much by the drinks at Dosa, and is called the Cumin Get It, which is admittedly a pretty lame name but I couldn’t avoid such a golden opportunity for a pun.

    Dhaniya Nimbu
    • 1.5 oz Pisco
    • 1 oz lime juice
    • 1 oz coriander nectar
    • 1 sprig cilantro

    Directions
    shake all ingredients except cilantro and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cilantro sprig.

    Coriander Nectar
    • 1 tbsp Coriander seeds
    • 1 cup water
    • .5 cup sugar

    Directions
    Heat coriander seeds in a hot skillet for a minute or so to release the aromatics. Add the seeds to a sauce pan and crush them with a muddler. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. simmer for 5 minutes and add the sugar stirring until it is dissolved. Remove from heat, let cool and strain out the coriander seeds from the mixture, bottle and refrigerate. Mixture should keep for about a week.

    Cumin Get It
    • 1.5 oz Gin
    • .75 oz Light coconut milk
    • .75 oz Lime juice
    • .75 oz Cumin syrup
    • 2 kaffir lime leaves

    Directions
    Place all ingredients except for one of the kaffir lime leaves in a shaker and shake very well as you would a drink with egg white. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with remaining kaffir lime leaf.

    Cumin syrup
    • 1 tsp Cumin seeds
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup sugar

    Directions
    Heat cumin seeds in a hot skillet for a minute or so to release the aromatics. Add the seeds to a sauce pan and add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. simmer for 5 minutes and add the sugar stirring until it is dissolved. Remove from heat, let cool and strain out the cumin seeds from the mixture, bottle and refrigerate. Mixture should keep for about a week.

     

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