Thursday, March 24, 2016

North Shore Pirate

I've got a notable one-off for you tonight. While stopping for beer at my favorite local bottle shop, I came across a bottle of Vikre Distillery's Voyageur Aquavit, a product that I'd heard about but never tried. It's a cognac-finished variant of their standard aquavit, which I tried at Vikre's tasting room a little over one year ago and enjoyed greatly. I knew I had to try this finished variant.

Turns out, the finish just rounds the edges off the base product and blunts the overly herbal notes, which makes this a good choice both for sipping and for mixing. I'll try a stirred cocktail later, but a sour seemed like a pretty easy way to start.

On its own, the aquavit was tasty but a little thin; this drink really came together when I combined it with a robust rum and a couple dashes of bitters.

1 1/2 oz Voyageur Aquavit (another aquavit would be a credible substitution)
1/2 oz Scarlet Ibis rum (yum; again, another assertive amber rum would work)
3/4 oz Velvet Falernum
3/4 oz lime juice
2 dashes cinnamon-orange bitters (a dash each of orange and Angostura would do)

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish? Huh?

I didn't take a picture of this one because (obviously) I couldn't be bothered with garnish, and thus it wasn't especially pretty. Perhaps I'll add one in next time I make this, because there will be a next time.

Friday, March 18, 2016

MxMo CVII: Bahia Cocktail

A full year after my first participation in Mixology Monday, I finally managed to catch another round with a few days to go before the deadline! The fact that this took a year should tell you everything you need to know about my knack for timing.

Fortunately, this one is a doozy. Dagreb of the Nihil Utopia blog explains his choice for this month's theme as follows:
My theme this time is overproof. Or rather how you utilize overproofs.  Do you sub them into your standards? Save them for accents in particular recipes? Pour them into ceramic volcanoes and set them on fire? Reserve them only for making liqueres? Whatever it be I'm looking for your recipes that use overproofs as base or as modifier in a noticeable-
"What's an overproof," you ask? "Well, uh, yeah..."
First let's decide what is proof. It's my party so I say 50% abv is proof. Above that is overproof. You disagree? Host your own party! (No really host a MxMo it'll be fun.) So BIB liquors are exempt this month but lots of bottles are fair game! Whether it boldly proclaims its strength on the label or nonchalantly lets you discover its strength for yourself use that bottle that packs a punch in a drink this month. 
Astute readers may recall a rather ludicrous number of navy-strength gins rattling around my growing, eclectic collection of gin samplings. So while I could have selected a high-test rum or whiskey, gin is nearest and dearest to my heart, and was the only logical choice when organizing my thoughts on "overproof".

Frequent MxMo participants (MxMites? MxMolians?) will most likely know this already, but whence the term "navy strength"? Well: like rum before it, gin was popularized by the sailors who drank it. In the days before refrigeration, pasteurization, or filtration, spirits were some of the few beverages that would remain potable on long ocean crossings. Combined with citrus to make grog, they also helped to combat scurvy. Naval ships had one additional requirement: in the event of a burst barrel or clumsy sailor, the spirits had to contain enough alcohol that soaked gunpowder would still ignite. That takes at least 114 proof (57% ABV) which then became the benchmark for spirits suited for naval use. (The picture shown here is obviously more recent, but demonstrates how this tradition carried on even into the Second World War.) Such navy strength gins fell out of favor for a while, but they've come roaring back in recent years; nowadays it seems that just about every gin producer makes an overproof product, though they're often harder to find than the standard editions.

My usual inclination with these is probably a dangerous one, though I'm sure sailors would approve: I just sub them in for a typical London Dry in whatever I'm making. Some people like to increase the amount of gin in their Negroni, but I'll stick to the equal-parts ratio and just use a stronger gin. If it's been a long day, I've been known to make a Martinez or other gin-base cocktail with navy-strength product. This is usually an experience that's equal parts rough, bracing, and deeply satisfying.

Which leads us into my submission. While considering recipes for overproof substitution, I hit on the Bijou Cocktail, which is perfect because it also utilizes green Chartreuse, another overproof product by Dagreb's standards at 110 proof (55% ABV) and one of my perennial favorites.

Now, a traditional equal-parts Bijou is a reasonably burly cocktail to start with, so replacing the gin with a navy-strength version is gilding the lily a bit. But hey, I finally caught a MxMo; we'll call that a special occasion, worthy of a strong drink. It's probably a good thing that no appropriate overproof substitution for the sweet vermouth comes immediately to mind, or this post would never make its way out of draft status in a readable form.

For the gin, I defaulted to a product I've been obsessed with lately: Far North Spirits' Gustaf Navy Strength Gin. It's produced from rye, which gives a faintly sweet-spicy character, and it's then infused with botanicals that edge into vegetal territory reminiscent of Scandinavian aquavit. The focus is less on sharp juniper, more on a very rounded profile that blends spice, herb, and sweet citrus. Pairing it with Chartreuse seemed like an obvious slam dunk. I really wanted to try this with Punt e Mes, thinking that some additional bitterness would balance the sweeter notes of the gin, but it was out of stock at the couple liquor stores I visited. I tried a couple of vermouth alternates (including Dolin Blanc, which was tasty but a little too light, and Cynar which was too herbal and rooty) but settled back on good old Cocchi Torino, which was the closest match in my mind to the absent Punt e Mes. (I'd still really like to attempt that version, but we've got a deadline to hit.)

The normal construction for a Bijou is an ounce of each ingredient, which is already pretty sweet and assertive; using the Gustaf, it simply became overwhelming. The recipe I linked above also provides a more "modern" version with three parts gin to one part Chartreuse and vermouth. With that ratio the Gustaf just took over. I landed on a middle ground of 2:1:1, which curiously enough is how I usually recall the Bijou recipe. Perhaps there's a reason for that, because it worked brilliantly here. I started with orange bitters as called for in the original recipe, but the drink really hit its stride when I subbed a large dose of a homemade cinnamon-orange bitters instead.

Here, the result:

1 1/2 oz Gustaf Navy Strength gin
3/4 oz green Chartreuse
3/4 oz Cocchi Torino (or Punt e Mes...)
1 eyedropper homemade cinnamon-orange bitters (call it 4 dashes of orange bitters, supplemented by 2 dashes of a spice-laden aromatic bitters like Fee Brothers)

Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon twist, or if you feel like showing off, score a lime peel into a jewel-like shape and drop into the drink.

Since the original French name "bijou" translates to "jewel" I decided to name this one after the much-disputed world's largest emerald, known as the Bahia Emerald. Its contested history seems a good fit for a drink that took a couple iterations to get right, and which still stuns with its weight.

I had a lot of fun putting this together, so I'd like to thank Dagreb for coming up with this month's theme, the geniuses behind MxMo for keeping this event alive and well, and my wife for tolerating my cocktail mixing even with a new baby boy at home. Cheers!

Here's the accompanying roundup post from Dagreb, which features quite a few tasty-looking drinks. I can't wait to try some of these, and their photography game puts my own to shame. Nicely done, everybody!