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October 2014

All Treat, No Trick -- Pumpkin Infused Bourbon

This is an all American way to celebrate Halloween or, if you like pumpkin any time of year, celebrate your ability to infuse bourbon with pumpkin.  I made this last year and it was quite popular.  Here's how you do it:

1 750 milliliter bottle of bourbon
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (I used Trader Joe's organic pumpkin)
1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger powder, and nutmeg

Combine everything into a sealed glass container, wait for 3-7 days, then filter.  I used basic coffee filters that you can get in the grocery store.

Enjoy your liquid Halloween treat!

Bonjour Y'all -- The Bourbon Renaissance

A colorful version of the classically French fleur-de-lis
A colorful version of the classically French fleur-de-lis

Even though bourbon is a classic American spirit, the origin of its name is French.  In Colonial times Bourbon County, Kentucky, which was much larger than it is now, became known for the liquor its people distilled. The county's name derived from the French royal House of Bourbon.  If you want to study bourbon (or Bourbon) consult blogs, books, and articles from people who are much smarter than me.

I adapted this cocktail from the Bourbon Renewal featured in Imbibe magazine. As the French word "renaissance" means rebirth, and as there has been a dramatic resurgence of bourbon's popularity, I consider this cocktail as an example of the rebirth of the American love affair with bourbon. 

2 ounces bourbon
.75 ounces crème de cassis
Juice from 1/4 lemon
.25 ounces super simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine in shaker with ice, shake like you have beaucoup de joie de vivre, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

So what's crème de cassis?  It is a blackcurrant liqueur from ...... you guessed it, France (another reason why I use a French word in the name of this cocktail).  You may be familiar with it because it is an indispensable part of the Kir or Kir Royale. Crème de cassis is not much stronger than wine.

The U.S. and France have a lot of shared history. Enjoy this liquid homage to that shared history.   

Mediterranean Citrus -- The Italian Sunrise

Varenna on Lake Como
Varenna on Lake Como

Like cocktails, travel is one of my other passions.  I've had the good fortune to be able to travel around the United States and around the world.  I also have the good fortune to be a married to a lady who occasionally travels for business.  This means I can play the role of freeloading husband.  If there was an Oscar for such a role, I would have won the award many times.

A few years ago she had a business trip to Milan.  We explored the city and nearby Lake Como.  Milan is Italy's commercial capital and is not as tourist friendly as other places in Italy (I actually respect that).  The Lake Como area is simply stunning. After I went to one part of Lake Como with my wife and her co-workers, I liked it so much I went back to a different part while she was stuck in a meeting that was straight out of Dante's Inferno.

The Duomo in Milan (taken from the roof of the Duomo) at sunset
The Duomo in Milan (taken from the roof of the Duomo) at sunset

I did not see an Italian sunrise in Lake Como or Milan (I did in Venice on a different trip), but the namesake cocktail is perfect for warm weather, or if you're just dreaming of warm weather.

1.5 ounces vodka (I recommend Zyr)
.75 ounces Lupo limoncello
.5 ounces Campari
Juice from 1/8 lemon or orange

Combine into a shaker with ice, shake like you're on a boat in choppy water outside of Bellagio (the lovely picturesque town, not the casino in Las Vegas), and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

If the cocktail is too sweet, I suggest adding a dash or two of orange bitters.  Conversely, if the cocktail is too tart, I suggest adding half an ounce of super simple syrup.

An Alcoholic String Section -- The Cellos

My cellos -- calce (lime), aran (orange), and limon (lemon)
My cellos -- calce (lime), aran (orange), and limon (lemon)

I’m not referring to the musical instrument (although a group of drunken Yo-Yo Ma protégés could make some very interesting music), but types of Italian fruit liqueurs.  After my successful  experiment in making Lupo limoncello (click here to see how), I decided to branch out and combine Everclear with other citrus.  So far I’ve used mandarin oranges (arancello) and limes (calcecello) in the same process.

You can drink any of the cellos on their own (I recommend serving them chilled) and they’re quite good in cocktails.  Here’s an easy and tasty recipe:

1.5 ounces vodka (I’m a big fan of Zyr)
.75 ounces limon, aran, or calce cello

Combine in shaker with ice, stir like you’re the maestro at La Scala, then strain into chilled cocktail glass.

If the end result is too tart for you, just add simple syrup.  If you use mandarin oranges for arancello, you probably won’t need simple syrup because mandarin oranges are sweeter than navel oranges. That may be why Lupo arancello is extremely popular.

Who's Your Bourbon Daddy? -- Pappy Van Winkle

Pappy Van Winkle is a rare bird in the world of bourbon.  An article in today's Washington Post discusses its popularity among bourbon aficionados (click here to read the article).  Even if you're not a bourbon fan, the article does show how the law of supply and demand is everywhere.

Have I been fortunate enough to sample one of the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons?  Yes.  I recently had a small amount of the 20 year old at a bourbon tasting.  It took some low intensity jostling to get to the bourbon, which ran out in minutes.  Is it good?  Yes. Is it worth the hype?  No. (I realize that this declaration may mark me as a heretic in the eyes of many bourbon lovers).  If I'm going to spend $40-50 on good bourbon, I will get more value from a bottle of Willett Pot Still Reserve than a shot of Pappy Van Winkle.  If you have the opportunity to try Pappy Van Winkle (it will be better if you get someone else to pay for it) you should.  Just don't expect bourbon nirvana.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lupo Limoncello

Over the years my friends Stephanie and Ilan have sampled (and occasionally endured) my cocktail creations.  A couple of years ago they gave me a gag birthday gift – a bottle of Everclear grain alcohol.  Yes, the stuff that leads to many collegiate hangovers.  After conducting some research, I found a more sophisticated use for the Everclear.  And that’s how I decided to make limoncello.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur. Traditionally one uses grain alcohol as the base.  There are a tremendous number of recipes out there.  I sifted through them and found one that is generally idiot proof, which means it is perfect for me.  There are two stages to the process.

Molto bene!
Molto bene!

Stage One:

1 liter of 190 proof grain alcohol
3 pounds of organic lemons

Zest (remove the peels with as little of the white pith as possible) the lemons, combine the peels with the grain alcohol in a sealed container, and wait for four weeks.

Stage Two:

Make super simple syrup (click here to see the post) with 4 cups water and 3 cups sugar
Strain the lemon peels from the Stage One mixture
Combine the super simple syrup with the Stage One mixture

Wait another three of four weeks (the payoff is worth the wait), filter the product (I use basic coffee filters), bottle and enjoy.

This recipe makes about two liters of what I call Lupo limoncello (lupo is the Italian word for wolf).   If you’re using 190 proof Everclear, the Lupo limoncello should be around 95 proof.  This is stronger than the limoncello than you’ll find on the shelves in liquor stores.

Keep in mind there are two types of Everclear – 190 proof and 151 proof.  Obviously the former is more potent than the latter.  More states are banning the 190 proof version, but you can find it online.  Regardless of which type you use, your limoncello will evoke thoughts such as walking along the Grand Canal in Venice, gazing at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel ….. you get the idea.

The KISS principle of cocktails

Pete Wells of the New York Times recently wrote a very good article about restaurants serving overly ambitious and underperforming cocktails.  For anyone who has looked at a cocktail menu and (1) never heard of a lot of the ingredients, (2) thought WTF?, or (3) both, you probably will like this article.  Click here to read it.

Wells raises a number of good points.  I particularly like his description of the binary theory of cocktail criticism.  That phrase sounds like a title of a Big Bang Theory episode, doesn't it?

The article reinforces my belief that the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) definitely applies to cocktails.  This is why I generally prefer to make cocktails with only a few ingredients that are relatively easy to obtain.  That being said, I recognize that a well made cocktail with many and/or exotic ingredients can be nothing short of amazing.  Bottom line -- order what you want.

How Do You Like Them Apples -- An Applejack Sidecar

Although you can find apple flavored liqueur in places outside of the U.S. of A, e.g. Calvados is French, applejack is from the United States. You ever heard of Jersey Lightning?  Neither had I until I looked into applejack's background and found that it is from the same state that brought us musical legends such as Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, and Jon Bon Jovi.  (Some of you are probably foaming at the mouth because I included those three artists in the same sentence). Although applejack was popular in Colonial days, it isn’t very popular now.  That being said, it isn’t too hard to find, especially if you are willing to pray to Saint Google.

Many thanks to Black Dirt Distillery and Jillian Vose at Death & Co. for creating this cocktail. I discovered it at the Tales Of The Cocktail conference.

Would Tony Soprano put this drink on the cocktail menu at Bada Bing?
Would Tony Soprano put this drink on the cocktail menu at Bada Bing?

1.5 ounces Black Dirt Applejack (or whichever applejack you prefer)
.5 ounces Cointreau
.5 ounces simple syrup
Juice from 1/4 lemon
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine in shaker with ice, shake like you’re trying to get the best apples out of the tree (or dancing to any of the classic tunes from Sinatra, Springsteen, or Bon Jovi) , then strain into chilled cocktail glass.

This cocktail is essentially a Sidecar (click here for the original recipe) that switches applejack for brandy. The original recipe calls for cane sugar syrup instead of what I call super simple syrup (click here).  Call me lazy or accuse me of having an unsophisticated palate, but I doubt there is a tremendous difference regardless of whether you use cane syrup or some other version of simple syrup.  Similarly, while I recognize that the applejack you use may have a significant impact on the cocktail, I took the easy way and used the applejack in my liquor cabinet (Laird’s).  And you know what?  It makes a fine and dangerously delectable cocktail.