November 1, 2008

Wet, soggy and everything I was told London would be today….brrrr! Time to warm up with a couple new cocktails.

The Grandaddy

  • 25mls Apple Jack
  • 30 mls Woodford Reserve Bourbon
  • Baked Apple Puree**
  • 10 mls Cointreau
  • pinch of fresh nutmeg
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • dash of Angostura bitters

**Baked Apple Puree
Core and cut 4 apples into thin wheels and cover with brown sugar and Mesquite meal on either side. Hand crush whole cloves and star anise and sprinkle on as well. Back at 350 Degrees for 20 mins or until golden brown and the sugar caramelizes. Set aside and cool. Remove large spice chunks and blend in a vitamix blender with 50 mls Cognac and blend until smooth. Will last 4 days.


Keeping Myself Honest

October 31, 2008

To all the good folks who so kindly have sent me emails and are reading this new attempt at reaching the google-sphere THANKS! And especially thanks for your patience. As many of you know if you’re in the industry, this time of year is absolutely crazy and it seems the credit crisis has only had a positive effect on those of us who provide the much needed booze to drown sorrows in.

It’s due to this rush that I’ve been so lacking in my updates. But that’s not all–I think I get a little carried away with all the writing. Anyone who’s met me in person knows that I can talk…and talk…and talk….and talk…and oh, talk! It seems this same loquaciousness comes out in my blog entries but as some good friends recently put it to me: “Blog’s aren’t exactly novels…keep it simple, keep it informative, and most of all keep it short and to the point!”

Well put. So to keep myself honest I’m going to try an experiment. 1 cocktail recipe a day. That’s it. 1 a day that I’ve NEVER before created. Some may be rubbish (although hopefully not) and some may be a bit lame…but I’ve never challenged myself to invent every single day. Usually I work in bouts of creativity…such as yesterday’s meeting with the folks at Buffalo Trace where I inadvertenly created about 8 new recipes. I’m a big believer in being prolific with the hypothesis that 1 out of every few things you write, invent or dream up will be brilliant. So let’s have it a go. Today’s cocktail:

A Date to Remember

Garnish with a 3 brandied cherries on a rosemary skewer.

There you have it…easy and simple. And a great autumn creation to boot. We’re serving it tonight at Saf and Chef Chad Sarno’s already getting loopy on them…well not quite, but soon.

Please tell me your thoughts on these cocktails and any ingredients I use. Also if you make at home, let me know how it turns out.

Cheers to all!

Egg (less) Nog?

October 11, 2008

“How the hell do you make eggnog without the eggs?!” my incredulous bar manager asked me in our discussion for revamping our Saf London bar list to include some good ol’ standby Christmas cocktails.
I don’t blame him at all. One of the biggest challenges I face in our Vegan/Vegetarian spot here in the heart of London’s ethically (and alcoholically)- minded Shoreditch is recapturing the taste and even more so the texture of eggs which bring so much to the classic cocktails.
Imagine a Ramos Gin Fizz without the frothiness from the egg whites? How about a Brandy Flip without the flip!?
Originally introduced to take the edge of some of the questionable spirits floating around the early 1900s, eggs were used to smooth out and brighten up cocktails. Fizzes quickly caught on and became a bit of a global phenomena– even referenced in songs, books and movies of the time.
But no where was an egg used best than in the winter-warming Christmas cocktail category–which is crowned by one of the most delicious mixes of the bunch: the Tom & Jerry. The blend of eggs, sugar, brandy, rum and boiling hot water pretty much equates to happiness and holiday cheer in a glass–or mug rather. The T&J isn’t called too much at bars these days and, with but a few exceptions, if it was called most bar men would stare blankly or not have the necessary components to make it–mine included. But Egg Nog is a seasonal mix that comes out every year right around November and for all intents and purposes is pretty similar depending on who makes it. The packaged stuff is rubbish, but with some a little searching there are hundreds of great takes on a ‘Nog’ recipe that is as rich and rounded as can be. There’s even an entire website dedicated to the subject.

Sadly the few ‘Vegan Egg Nog’ recipes that pop up on the google-sphere I find to be a bit lacking to say the least. That is until now with my ‘Eggless Nog’ recipe below. Why is mine better than the rest?

The first thing to know is that a good nog must be thick enough to balance the brandy, bourbon, or whatever hooch you want to throw in (Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey has been a surprising favourite of mine lately–especially since it comes in a mason jar!). To get the richness I use a Brazil Nut Milk. Easy to make–the nut milk actually adds another element of flavour that regular cream misses out on. A touch of Soy Lecithin acts as the froth-forming ‘egg’ and using a rich Demerara Sugar rounds out the batter in an amazingly lovely way. So, for all those who don’t think that utilizing yokes is an appropriate yuletide use–give the Vegan Nog a go!

Eggless Nog

4 parts Batter**
2 parts Heaven Hill Bourbon
1/2 part Skipper Demerara Rum

**The night before soak 2 cups of Organic Brazil Nuts in water with 1 vanilla pod cut open to release the black seeds. The next day strain out the water and remove the vanilla pod but keep as many of the seeds as possible. Next, blend the soaked nuts with a about 1 1/2 cups of water very finely. Strain through a cheesecloth and reserve.
In a pan over med. heat caramelize 1 cup of Demerara sugar with a little water. Add in the Brazil Nut milk softly so that it doesn’t curdle. Sprinkle in some fresh nutmeg and cinnamon and slowly add the Bourbon and Rum. Heat a little further and serve garnished with a cinnamon stick and some more fresh nutmeg ground directly on top. Serve in a mug or if you’re a fan of Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation serve in holiday Reindeer-head glasses whose handles are the antlers! Enjoy!

A Sunday Roast

October 5, 2008

Sabbath. Rest. Recuperation.
It’s called many things in many cultures–but all the same concept: you can’t go on forever, and maybe, just maybe taking a break will make the rest of your week all the better. Apparently Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat or “to cease” and hence we get the words like “sabbatical” or even the Greek “hottub“. Our wise ancestors even made it part of the religious tradition to assure that people upheld the importance of rest, family, discussion, etc.

Today I’m enjoying my Sabbath at a local restaurant watching all the rain-soaked (yes, the London weather we all know and love has come back) Brits fill themselves with their Sunday Roast–a meat-roast-brunch-type meal that’s the traditional family gathering on a Sunday in the UK. As I sit in the corner of a buzzing establishment, shamefully eating my ‘Veggie Roast’ (an albeit thoughtful but unsuccessful attempt of the restaurant to cater to vegetarians by supplementing the beef roast for some type of soy-and-cardboard-based meat ‘nuggets’ helplessly drowning in HP Sauce like tennis balls in a waterfall) i watch as the smells and sights of a Sunday rest surround me.

But, sitting alone as I’m unexpectedly drawn into the conversations of Denny, who Margie yells at to get attention, on his cell about some football match– I can’t help but think that this concept of Sabbath or ‘stopping’ is slowly getting more and more lost.

I was lucky enough to grow up with parents that demanded the family to sit every night together–TVs and cell phones off–to discuss what was taking place in the world– or on the plate. It was here that I first really was drawn into food–learning about the ever richer list of authentic sauces, ingredients, processes and combinations that gastronomy had to offer. Moles, Rouxs, Pestos, etc. would be combined with various pasta shapes/names, fish, meats or veggies to create an ever-enticing array of dishes that either my Mom or Dad would prepare.

Finally, the discussion would wrap around the beverages that they-and sadly only they–were allowed to drink. I would sit like a sponge absorbing descriptors like ‘tannic’, ‘dry,’ ‘creamy’, ‘lees-y’ and ‘hot’ before I had any clue what sensations those words were actually in relationship to. In fact, it was probably for this reason that on finally sipping my first sip of red wine I commented not ‘interesting’ or ‘yuck’ but ‘wow..that’s a well structured though slightly tight expression of Pinot Noir, not unlike the earthy but fruit-forward wines of Marsannay. Can you tell me the vintage?’. And here my cousin thought he was being ‘cool’ by letting me have a taste.

Apart from learning how to be annoyingly pretentious with my wine descriptors, this demand of my parents (and many nights it had to be demanded) that we all rest, if only for a moment and discuss/share made me realize how important a meal really is–and how often it can be taken for granted. Food and wine are catalysts for conversation, but a certain amount of awareness has to be involved in order to realize that. That awareness best occurs in the moments we put aside for a little relaxation, rest, and time with those around us. So whilst poor Marg sits peering into her potatoes waiting for Denny’s overly loud conversation to finish, I can’t help wondering if discussing the finer points of a well done roast might not only make Denny a little more well received by his fellow diners, but ultimately might save a fledgling relationship.

Hell, I’m alone right now and I’m even having a conversation about my meal!

Cheers and Happy Sabbath.

Fragile and Lacey….

October 1, 2008

I’m feeling a bit dark tonight due to the departure of my very good friend Lacey Langston from good ol’ London town. Miss Langston is not only one of the inspirations for a drink of mine (which you’ll be happy to find towards the end of this blog) but also is the sole reason for my neglecting this posting board for the last few days. Having flown in with her beau from Sunny San Diego, I felt it my duty to give Miss Langston the imbiber tour of London–one that is oh so easy to give. We’ve hit all my favourites by now including the Hawksmoor, Lonsdale, Babylon, Casita, Sosho, and Montgomery Place. Best of all we hit some of my favourite food spots as well and even had an enlightening if all-too-pretentious meal at a certain Mr. Blumenthal’s establishment.
I would say more but I’m currently working on an article about the whole experience for a small newspaper….
Anyways, back to Miss Langston…she definitely was pivotal in helping me witness London in a new light–from a novice perspective as it were but what a perspective. It’s so easy some times to be caught up in the day to day–but look at all the Capital has to offer: a scene, sophistication, access to products good ol’ NYC bartenders would be dying to get their hands on (Jensen Old Tom Gin, perhps..). Such is London, and no wonder I feel so inspired every time I’m here…I mean here is a bar culture that outstretched the pettiness one is normally usd to and just focused on great drinks, made timely and consistantly. Indeed, that’s what Jerry Thomas was about…not going crazy with exotic gastro-pub flavours or deconstructions, but just making great food that catches as much the imagination as the pallate. I think this has most definitely been accomplished.

Here’s Miss Langston in all of her glory:

20 ml Fresh Pear Juice
40 ml Fresh Green Apple Juice
Albet I Noya Organic Cava
Splash of Organic Framboise

Make sure juices are very cold. In a mixing glass, stir with the Cava until slightly frothy. Empty into a champagne flute and drizzle the framboise in the center of the drink to add a splash of color. Garnish with 3 fresh raspberries floating in the center.


Reviving Corpses

September 28, 2008

I love this time of year in London. It’s on the cusp of slipping into fall but still warm and sunny enough to remind us of the summer we’re slowly saying goodbye to. It’s an odd time for making drinks and leaves us always a little bit bewildered….do I go with a bright, citrusy, summer cocktail or a more savoury ‘welcome to fall’ cocktail–is it white rum or golden Calvados? Lime juice or blood orange? etc. etc. in the world of the bar. I’m happy to say that tonight our packed joint was plumb full of cocktail revelers all wondering the same questions and luckily we were able to supply them as needed with what I think were some good on the cusp options. We launched a seasonal menu change (1 of 3 to get us into Autumn full blown) and people seemed happy, if not a little legless as they left.
The best of the new list? Well I’ll be slowly divulging but my vote goes for two slurps: the Classic Corpse Reviver (#2) with it’s slightly savoury but oh so balanced and strangely autumnal blend of Cointreau, Lemon, Lillet, Junipero Gin, and a slightest dash of Absinthe (le Clandestine)….as well as the El Pecadoro which is a little number I came up with featuring Ocho Blanco Tequila, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Tarragon-Thyme-Chili, Agave, and Grapefruit Bitters. I must say we had a lot of people wondering if it was really gonna work but I think they seemed quite turned around by the end of the evening. The trick is the sour (based off the traditional use of Tequila and Grapefruit Soda we go with Grapefruit) and the savoury….the savoury notes of Tarragon and Thyme. The notes match right up with the earthy and floral scents of the Ocho in a way you might not expect.
I think the main thing is, if you supply the highlights of the season but mix them with the tastes of summer (using the citrus perhaps, the aromas of lime with something like Rhubarb or Persimmon) you get the best of both worlds. That is, at least until we’re full on into Fall. Or falling over.

The Scent of a Barman

September 24, 2008

This morning I attended a very interesting workshop with Mixologist extraordinaire Tony Conigliaro at the Boutique Bar Show near London Bridge. Thought billed as a Molecular Mixology workshop the event actually focused much more on the infinitely interesting subject of aroma. As many barmen, sommeliers and rubbish collectors know their is nothing more essential to the human condition as aroma–especially when it comes to taste. Indeed so much of what we actually think is taste ends up being a perception of what we are smelling (and if you doubt that just try tasting anything the next time you have a cold–onions and apples couldn’t be closer in texture without the pungent smell that the latter puts off.) Indeed, my absolute favourite place in the world when I’m in NYC is to go to my friend Christopher’s CB I Hate Perfume–a veritable PLAYGROUND of scents with colognes created to smell like everything from Wet Pavement, to Porcelain to Rubber Cement.

What struck me the most about the workshop was Tony’s concepts that a cocktail (and indeed I feel ALL gastronomic endevours) should really send a message to the brain of a ‘scene’. Case in point is some of the work Audrey Saunders is doing to create a stage for classic tropical cocktails by enhancing the aromas of a drink with beach smells or perfumed fresh indigenous Thai flowers and Ginger Blossoms, or my attempts at using fresh Jasmine flower and Soy scents with Eastern cocktails based on sake, lotus root and the essence of a Tokyo subway.
In discussing his by-now-famous Tobacco and Leather Old Fashioned, Congiliaro made the point that the hydrosols of tobacco and leather he used to give the essence of a large old chair didn’t in fact control the cocktail but rather enhanced the flavours of the bitters, bourbon (he didn’t specify which was used), sugar and orange zest. In some ways I may agree that there are so many opportunities to help customers come across smells within their cocktails in a new way, yet in some ways (as I brought up today) I feel that it is downplaying the essence of a perfectly crated (and for my purposes NATURAL) spirit. My favourite bourbons don’t need to be perfumed with tobacco, leather, vanilla, or musty cedar box scents because it’s all there and for the seeking drinker can be explored in every sip so long as the spirit is presented in such a way to assure the mixers don’t get in the way. I’m excited to play more with molecules of scent and will no doubt be a convert in the next 6 months but as I discussed with my Dynamic Wines rep today following the conference, “it’s like spraying ‘fresh cut grass’ perfume into a less-than-perfect Sancerre–why??”.
I hope my cocktails create the ‘scene’ on their own. I hope one can close their eyes and just by virtue of the mix alone have enough happy or nostalgic memories to order 1-2-3-7 more! That’s the point in my eyes.

A bar to call home

September 23, 2008

One of the most exciting parts about bartending across the globe is running into a bar you wish you worked at. That definitely happened tonight at the Hawksmoore in London. Following a boring trade convention (however one which I found an amazing Organic Cachaca and some divine Finnish Cloudberry liqueuer!) my associate and I headed to a much touted bar right around the corner from mine. Not only did I taste some fantastically made cocktails but–low and behold–I actually LOVED the bartender. A french chap who SWEARS he’s Polish–he did what every right-minded barkeep will do: asked what I wanted, asked my likes/dislikes, and made me a cocktail based off of that. Granted when asked to make a Ward Eight he stared at me like a deer in headlights–and he made his Martinez with Luxardo Maraschino (a personal vendetta I have on that product) but he was extremely knowledgeable, passionate, and above all had a je ne sais quoi quality that makes every bartender approachable if not a candidate for your new best friend. Oh–and did I forget to mention running into an old friend/barkeep from Green and Red and discussing the finer points of his Toredor–one of my favorite cocktails of the last 6 months molded with El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, Apricot Brandy and Lime Juice….divine!!!

Bronx Battered

September 22, 2008

Winston Churchill whilst debating with Lady Rudolph drunkenly one night was once called out.
“You sir, are drunk!” Ms. Rudolph commented.
“Yes my dear, and you are ugly…tomorrow I will be sober”

One of the hardest things about being a bartender (and in some respects especially a sommelier) is dealing with the varied tastes that customers may have. Indeed it’s the hardest but also the most exciting because it you get someone who understands their likes/dislikes the dance begins–you can chat on and on about the balance of a particular drink or the tannin (or lack there of) of a glass of wine. But every now and then (and not to give too much away but it just happened NOW at my bar Saf) you run into someone who won’t be happy. I actually understand completely the mindset and think it’s a natural response to how exacting us bartenders have become–we forget that sometimes it’s very off-putting for the average ‘joe’ as it were to discuss the finer points of the Bitter Truth Orange Bitters and Regan’s. That being said I always welcome the chance to turn a guest onto a classic recipe because (until tonight) I’ve found that 9 times out of 10 the recipes of yesteryear are so well balanced, and so delightfully simple while yielding a complex taste that it can cause a moment of revelation for said guest. Tonight’s guest however was on a mission. My bartender Aaron made one of the most superb cocktails I’ve tried in a while–a delicious and surprising mix of Pisco, Hayman’s Gin Liqueur, Freshly muddled grapes, Cointreau and a secret ingredient that was a divinely balanced cocktail! But with a look as sour as the secret ingredient, the patron declined saying she tasted a ‘compote’ in the glass.
Enter super-mixologist who thought he’d save the day by making a Bronx with the Beefeater Crown Jewel, Carpano Antica Formula, Dolin Dry and fresh OJ. Wrong. Even though she said she wanted something ‘stronger–no no no it’s all wrong.
The thing is it’s my fault–but I don’t know, every now and then you encounter tastes that just can’t be decyphered. Ultimately as a bartender we need to read the minds of our patrons and deliver them the best cocktail they never thought of…but every now and then someone just wants to cause a fuss.
Anywho…moral of the story is…well, I’m drinking the most delicious Bronx I’ve had in a while.
And she’s sober. Tomorrow I will be sipping a Bronx~!

Shrub it off 2

September 20, 2008

Okay…so now the moment we’ve been waiting for. The cocktail that got me through my long journey back into the craziness of London was none other than a delicious Raspberry Shrub! I was reading the incredibly delightful Eric Felten book “How’s Your Drink?” and learned a lot more about this colonial cocktail which I’ve been a fan of for years and it just struck me…why don’t you make yourself a Shrub? Though there are great versions for sale such as the Old English Shrub from Fareham Wine Cellar, it’s an easy thing to make yourself and not too different from a simple syrup. It’s easy and oh so refreshing–and for any of you cocktailians out there it’s a nice change to swap out the usually-from-citrus tartness in a cocktail with the bright and lively vinegar that is called for in the Shrub! Also, anything that Alexander Hamilton or better yet Harry Croswell could have been caught drinking is good enough for me. Check out my recipe adapted from the Felten published version:

Dandelion Shrub by. Joe McCanta

50 mls Dark or Golden Rum
25 mls Raspberry Shrub*
10 mls Cointreau
100 mls Fentimans (venerable) Dandelion & Burdock

* 2 pints Raspberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 ½-2 cups Sherry vinegar

Make with any seasonal berry and/or vinegar.

In a saucepan whisk together sugar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the raspberries and wait about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Add in the vinegar and bring to a boil for 2 min. Strain into a glass bottle and store.

“There never was any liquor so good as rum shrub” William Makepeace Thackeray of the amazing shrub and it’s easy to see why–especially at a time before ice made it’s way into our drinks, the shrub has a certain balance that can stand on it’s own.

I used the Trios Rivieres 1998 Single Missouri Cask and it was an amazing match to the rich raspberry flavours! Also Fentimans’ great Dandelion & Burdock which is usually too medicially sweet by itself rounded off the drink wonderfully! It’s a great new addition to the list!