We stopped by the new Trader Vic’s in Chicago last week for a Mai Tai. Mai Tai is Tahitian for “very best,” and the cocktail was created in 1944 by Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron at his first Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, CA. He later opened restaurants in 23 other locales around the world including London and Chicago. After 48 years, the original Trader Vic’s Chicago closed it’s doors in December 2005. Fortunately for the Chicagoans, Trader Vic’s re-opened last fall in an updated space located in the Gold Coast. The décor is spectacular, but more importantly Trader Vic’s boasts the original cocktail recipe, including the Scorpion Bowl, the Suffering Bastard and of course, the Mai Tai. The Mai Tai is the quintessential Tiki drink, and the Tiki era is considered the third golden age of cocktails.
The Trader Vic’s Mai Tai is enjoyable, but a little too commercial. Instead of house made Orgeat, they use “Trader Vic’s Orgeat Syrup,” which is a bummer. The lack of taste and texture is noticeable. Also, it’s too sweet and too weak. Oh well. Worth stopping by if you’re in the area.
Vic’s Mai Tai
2 oz. Trader Vic’s 17-year-old Jamaican rum
1/2 oz. Orgeat Syrup
1/2 oz. Curacao
1/2 oz. Lime Juice
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with lime and mint.
The highly anticipated and widely discussed (by me) shipment of Torani Amer arrived from California this afternoon. Torani Amer is based on the recipe of Amer Picon, and rather than explain what Amer Picon is, I’ll just quote Cocktail DB:
“[Amer Picon is a] Proprietary French bitter-sweet spirit-based aperitif beverage bitters with slight orange character. Notable in the Basque drink, Picon Punch, which is considered one of the finest examples of a highball beverage. Unfortunately, from the 1970s to present, the House of Picon has lowered the proof of their product repeatedly, creating a situation where traditional recipes calling for it (such as the Picon Punch which was created with the original 78 proof product in mind) did not taste the same. Picon’s current iteration has an alcohol content of less than half of the original product.”
Torani Amer has a nose of citrus, molasses and a hint of mint. The first taste is bitter and herbaceous, along the lines of Fernet Branca, but tamed down quite a bit. It follows with a citrus fragrance and a slightly sweet finish with a bit of burn from the high proof (78*). TA would go great with mint, citrus and herbal flavors, which would all enhance it’s characteristics. I think a variation on a Pimm’s Cup would be great with this stuff. However, my favorite cocktail that let’s TA really show off is the Liberal.
The Liberal Cocktail
3 oz. Overholt Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Torani Amer
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
A few dashes orange bitters
Build in an old fashioned glass over a block of ice. Garnish with a boss-sized orange peel.
I’ve gone 3:1:1 on this, to let the supporting players show off a bit. I figure if get a bottle of booze mailed to you, you should at least make sure you can taste it. Also, I am throwing in an orange peel, as it enhances the flavor of the TA. Fuck yes it is.
A few years back, my buddy LA Dubbs told me about a little place called Milk & Honey in New York. He spoke of masterfully crafted cocktails served up in an egalitarian speakeasy environment. The first drink I had there was a Queens Park Swizzle. It is safe to say that drink actually changed my life.
The QPS is Trinidad’s answer to the Mojito. Named for the lush Queen’s Park located in the in Port of Spain, Trinidad, this drink was popularized in the States by Trader Vic who, in 1947, described it as “the most delightful form of anesthesia given out today.” Recipes vary according to sources, but as far as I can tell, if you were to order a QPS at the Queens Park Hotel in the 1940s it would have been made with a dark demerara style Guyanan rum. Some recipes I’ve come across call for light rum and the addition of demerara syrup. Almost all call for Angostura bitters. The one I had at M&H included Peychaud’s, which is the first and last time I’ve seen that move. As I prefer a darker rum over a lighter, the recipe below is somewhere in between all of them…
Queens Park Swizzle
3 oz. Gold Rum
.75 oz. Raw Cane sugar syrup
Juice of 1 lime, plus 1/2 rind quartered
A few dashes Peychaud’s
A few dashes Angostura
In the bottom of a high ball glass, combine the bottom six or eight mint leaves from the sprig, lime juice and rind pieces, rum and sugar syrup and muddle thoroughly. Fill the glass with crushed ice, insert a swizzle stick, and swizzle until the glass is well frosted. If you don’t have a swizzle stick, just stir it a bit. Top off with soda, pack in a bit more crushed ice, add the bitters, a straw and the top of the sprig for a garnish.
Oh hells yeah. Today is looking pretty, pretty sweet indeed. I stopped by Cermak, the Mexican market down the street, and they had some beautiful Spearmint in stock. I grabbed a few bunches, as it goes it so many fantastic drinks. At that point I was essentially forced to go buy a nice bottle of rum – as to not waste the mint, obviously. I checked out Foremost Liquors on Milwaukee, and was please to find they carried Ron Del Barrilito. If you’ve never had RdB, it’s a fantastic Puerto Rican rum I had a few years ago when I visited the island. The 3 year has a mellow, sweet flavor with a caramel nose and a peppercorn finish. It’s also 86*, so it’s ideal for drinking straight. Frankly I would fucking bathe in this stuff if it was financially and socially feasible.
3 oz. Gold Rum
1 oz. Lime Juice
1 sprig mint
1 tsp. sugar
In the bottom of your bar glass, combine the sugar, lime juice, and a few of the mint leaves from the bottom of the sprig. Using a spoon, stir until the sugar melts. At that point, add the rum, some ice, and shake furiously. Strain into a glass (don’t double strain, as you want the tasty little bits of mint), and garnish with the top of the sprig.
Before gin becomes gin, it’s basically vodka. Well, it’s just distilled grain alcohol. I guess if you distill it a few more times and put it in a stainless steel cask it becomes vodka. Or something. I dunno – I’m getting a little drunk and you’re getting a little too demanding. The point is, with vodka, the goal is as little flavor as possible (that’s why most self respecting cocktail bars won’t serve vodka, except to the occasional sorority girl). Gin, on the other hand, requires skill… nay… art, to achieve an interesting and complex flavor profile. By infusing the grain alcohol with juniper, citrus, and other lovely botanicals, the liquor becomes gin. Sweet, sweet ass gin. Fuck yes it is.
If you’re new to gin (or not so much), you may want to look into New Amsterdam gin. First of all, it’s only $12. Secondly of all, it’s got a nice bottle. And, perhaps most importantliest, that shit on the inside is delicious. It’s like Kirk Cameron in the late 80’s… great to look on, better also real, real f’in good inside too. It’s very citrusy up front, and the juniper is subtle – which makes it a bit more accessible. It’s also a little sweet, but that works for most gin drinks. A strong recommend for the novice “ginny.” I’m gonna give it a 22.9 points out of a possible 85, but that rating is based on a bell curve distribution with a median of 20 and a standard deviation of 2.2. So, all in all, pretty nice. Pretty fucking nice there, brojangles.
3 oz. Dry Gin
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
Dash orange bitters
Combine all ingredients in a bar glass and stir over a few cubes of ice. Serve straight and up. Or, straight up, as in, straight up now, tell me do you really want to love me forever. Oh oh oh. Or am I caught in a hit and run?
Sorry, that got all Paula at the end there. Just make sure and use a nice fragrant gin, some kick ass sweet vermouth, and some good orange bitters. And the Ango. Don’t forget that shit, it’s the mutt’s butts. As the kids say.
Well, not really, but a good article on the Sazerac, anyways:
Finally made toasted walnut bitters that are both bitter and walnutty… seems easy, it’s not. Used in a Rye Old Fashioned they were excellent (see photo). Reminds me of an old story I just wrote:
“… and there, surrounded by eviscerated corpses, his metal skin shimmering with the iridescent blood and entrails of his one-horned oppressors, Jeffy the robot began to understand the transitory nature of biological life.”
- excerpt from Unicorns vs. Robots, a novella by Cpt. Gary Tucker-Sinclair McBoozy
Walnut Old Fash
3 oz. Old Overholt Rye
1 tsp. Syrup
A few dashes Walnut bitters
Burnt Orange Peel
Incidentally, the glass is a Bodum doubled walled thermal glass. They keep the drink cold (or hot) for much longer than a normal glass. This is especially helpful with a drink served straight. I got them over the weekend at Sur La Table. They were $15 for a pair, but it’s money well spent.
Okay, I’ve been fucking around with this post for two months, and I keep changing it, so I’m just gonna put this part up to begin with. The reality is, bitters are like Unicorns, obviously they exist, but they’re really difficult to stab in the chest. And, what’s more, irregardlessly, since I pretty much exist on the plane of “making bitters” as the Buddhists say, this post can never really be “done” in the done sense. And, while I’m not actually sure if Buddhists say that, I am getting pretty drunk. So fucks it.
Jamie Boudreau has an excellent post I’ve used to develop the following outline for a bottomless bottle of bitters. The general idea is to make a few different infusions and mix them together for the desired flavor.
Bitter Mixture. The bitter mixture is going to give the final product it’s bitter taste (duh). It should consist of a high proof liquor (I’ve used 100* rye and 151* rum) along with the bittering agent. I have found ½ tbsp each of gentian, calmus and wormwood is sufficient to achieve an extremely bitter mixture (There also doesn’t seem to be too much difference between the bittering agents in terms of flavor – if you’ve only got wormwood, don’t sweat it – but only use 1 tbsp. per 750 ml bottle, as wormwood is the most bitter). Also, if you use too much bittering agent or let it sit for too long, it starts to get a dirty taste that becomes tough to mask. (This happened to my first batch, and I was able to make my Bird’s Eye bitters with it, but not much else). A week of macerating should do the trick – after that strain out the bitters and keep the mixture in a sealed bottle.
Flavoring Mixture. This mixture is going to be where the main flavor of the final product comes from. I’ve found it best to get as overwhelmingly powerful of a flavor as possible in this mixture so the bitters don’t get lost in the drink. My lemongrass bitters consisted of ¼ lb. of ground lemongrass and black pepper which was macerated in 350 ml of 151* rum for about ten days, while the butter bitters achieved it’s flavor by fat washing two sticks in 350 ml of 107* bourbon for a day and a half. (It seems that just about any ingredient with fats or oils can be used in a fat wash which his nice and quick, but if you’re using something drier it’s gonna take some patience. For me the hardest part is NOT drinking the infused liquor before it’s ready.)
Secondary Flavoring Mixture (optional). This mixture will be the supporting player in the end product. (If you’re going for a two flavored bitter such as pistachio-vanilla, you’ll want this to be just as powerful as the primary flavoring mixture and mix them in equal ratios.) My secondary is a “spice mixture” which contains a vanilla bean, a few cracked cinnamon sticks, a whole nutmeg, a few whole cloves and a half a dozen whole star anise, all of which is macerated in a bottle of 100* bourbon. This mixture adds an extra bit of spice and excitement to most of the bitters I make. Since the final product only uses a bit of this (usually 10% – 20%), I just fill the original jar with bourbon as I use it and throw in a bit more spice if it’s needed. It’s pretty good on it’s own too.
Citric Flavoring Mixture (optional). This mixture will brighten up the end product quite a bit, but it’s not for every mixture. Much like the spice mixture, I keep about ¼ lb. of Seville orange peel macerating in Everclear 151* and add a bit to my bitters when they’re needed. This flavor works especially well in some of the lighter more fragrant bitters.
Make sure to shake each jar once or twice a day while you are infusing. This is important to expedite the flavor infusion into the liquor. The ratio of mixture depends on the final tastes of each mixture. I find it’s usually at least 50% primary flavoring and no more than 25% bitters, but your palette is going to be the final judge. Once the mixture is ready, I usually add a bit of simple syrup to sweeten the deal. Some recipes call for water, but I’ve never needed to add any. As I said, I like my bitters strong.
The moral of the story is if you make a 750 ml bottle of bitter mix and a 750 ml bottle of the secondary mix, you’ll essentially have an unlimited source of bitters, and all you’ll need to do is make the primary flavoring compound. Your primary flavoring can be made by the cup if you want, and you’ll still have more than enough for personal use.
Go forth and spread the bitters.
I’ve gotten a few notes from loyal readers who have said, “Captain, your posts are brilliantly written and your recipes are incredibly intriguing, but as a novice tippler I need something more basic to make at home.” Okay… to be honest, no one has called my posts “brilliantly written.” And my recipes aren’t exactly “incredibly intriguing” per se. And I don’t really have any “loyal readers.” But after a brief glance at my web page a sympathetic friend pointed out that most of these drinks seem overly complicated and “a little faggy.” So here’s the basics. The Old Fashioned cocktail. The most un-faggy drink you can get.
To start out you’re going to need a few things:
Whiskey (American), Bourbon or Rye
This could be a nice Bulleit Bourbon or Rittenhouse Rye, or you could use Jack if that’s what you’re into. It can be an 80*, a 100* (bonded) or a +100* (overproof). You’ll be able to tame the drink down with the ice if you need to.
Yes, that shit they sell at the grocery store. The same crap your mom has had in her pantry for the last twenty years. Turns out it tastes great and is great for you. Well, maybe not great for you, but… shut up, that’s how come.
White superfine table sugar, sugar in the raw, Mexican pilloncillo, I don’t care. Just make sure it will dissolve in a bit of hot water.
Lemon or Orange
Either will work. I like lemons in my bourbon and oranges in my rye. Whatevs.
Bottom of a shaker, handy pint glass, great grandfather’s emptied out urn (trust me – he’ll be cool with it), just something that will hold a few ounces of booze and a some ice.
Old Fashioned Glass
Heavy bottomed small glass. Or a cocktail glass. Or a brandy snifter. Or a fucking sippy cup.
A chopstick will also work.
Large pieces. Not cracked or crushed. As big as you can get.
Or pairing knife.
Once you’ve got all that wrangled up, come back.
Ready? So soon? Did you remember the vegetable peeler? You did. Okay, what about the mixing glass? Sure, sure, that will work. Ummm… I guess you really are ready. You do nice work, my friend. I’m expecting great things from you.
4 oz. Bourbon or Rye
1 tsp. White Sugar
A few Dashes Angostura Bitters
Lemon or Orange Peel
In the bottom of your mixing glass, combine sugar, bitters, and a splash of hot water to dissolve the sugar. When it’s fully dissolved, add the whiskey, a few pieces of ice, and stir thoroughly until cold. Strain into an old fashioned (low) glass. If using a higher proof whiskey you’ll probably want to add a few cubes. If so, don’t use the ice you mixed with – it’ll water the drink down too quickly as it’s already begun to melt.
With haste, use your vegetable peeler or paring knife, and cut yourself a nice wide strip of peel from your piece of citrus (mine are usually ½” wide by a few inches long). However, take care to avoid as much of the white pith as possible (it’s bitter). With the outside of the peel pointed towards the surface of the booze, give it a good twist. You should see a fine mist of oil hit the surface of the drink. That’s some fragrant shit right there, let me tell you. Then, take the peel and rub it around the rim of the glass, and discard it.
No fruit salads are needed for this drink (the addition of lots of fruits occurred during prohibition when they needed to make bathtub whiskey taste better). And people who add club soda to an Old Fashioned should have their arms broken while their children watch.
Wow, that got pretty harsh at the end, didn’t it? Good thing you’ve got a boss drink to help you deal.
P.S., I’m gonna start throwing the word “boss” around quite a bit.
Carpano Antica. If it was a woman I’d fuck it. Hell, if it was a man I’d fuck it. It’s just that good. While I’m not ususally in the habit of paying $35 for a bottle of sweet vermouth, in this case it’s justified. Carpano will go toe to toe with the quality of the spirit with which it is mixed. And if your primary spirit sucks, Carpano will enhance the drink. This is made by the same company that makes Punt E Mes, which is a bit lighter and sweeter than CA. The flavor is hard to explain. Think sweet vermouth, but less sweet… actually a little sour and more herbaceous. When mixed with the Whisk, it’s something amazing. Trust a brotha.