• Weekly Cocktail #46: Sunny In The Garden

    sungarden1

    Sunny in the Garden cocktail.

    We know spring just sprung, and hasn’t reached many of you at all, but we are already thinking about “long drinks” for summer. For those who are unfamiliar, long drinks are simply large volume cocktails, often six to eight ounces, with more mixer than spirits, usually served on the rocks and often associated with warm summer afternoons, garden parties and preludes to long naps. (We also like to drink them while gardening, but that is just us). The Tom Collins is probably the classic long drink, highballs like the Gin and Tonic also qualify, and there are other well-known classics like the Cuba Libre, Paloma, Pimm’s Cup and the Dark ‘n Stormy. All worth a try, and you may see some more here on the blog over the next few weeks.

    sungarden4sungarden5Part of the fun of long drinks is that you can take almost any mixer, add some spirits, and perhaps a few modifiers, and you have a new drink. The variations are almost endless and it is pretty hard to screw up. In most cases the mixer is non-alcoholic like juice, soda water or ginger ale, but we decided to make a long drink from an apéritif and just a splash of spirits. And if we mix with an apéritif, it will often be Lillet Blanc, one of our favorite ingredients. (See the Rose Pearl for another long drink, this time using Lillet Rose.)

    sungarden6Lillet Blanc is a fortified wine that combines white wine with citrus (mostly orange) infused spirits. It is sweet with citrus notes and a slight bitter quinine edge (if you like things a bit more bitter use Cocchi Americano) and is very easy to sip on the rocks. But we wanted to amp the orange flavor, tame some of the sweetness and add some “heat” from alcohol, but not mess with the core flavors of the Lillet. So we figured this might be the kind of cocktail that makes good use of the vodka gathering dust on our bar (gin tends to win out here at the farm). And while vodka is not always a respected mixology ingredient, it does have its uses, and this was one of those times.

    sungarden7The Sunny in the Garden combines Lillet Blanc, vodka, lemon juice, orange bitters and a large orange twist, served on the rocks. The aroma is wine, floral and citrus, perfect for summer. As for the taste, you get a big, sweet wine and orange sip up front, but balanced by the lemon juice and just a bit of kick from the booze at the finish. Is this the world’s most complex cocktail? Hardly. But is a very enjoyable sipper you can linger over, think “like white Sangria, but way better”. In fact, we may serve the Sunny in the Garden along with summer meals as a substitute for wine or Sangria. But summer is still a ways away, so for now we will just have to sip this while gardening. We can live with that. Now about that nap….

    Sunny in the Garden cocktail.

    Sunny in the Garden cocktail.

    Ingredients:

    • 4 1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
    • 1 oz. vodka
    • 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • 2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
    • Long orange peel, for garnish

    Assemble:

    1. Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and then strain into a highball or Collins glass filled with ice.
    2. Twist the orange peel over the drink and rub along the edge of the glass. Add the orange peel to the cocktail. Serve.
  • Weekly Cocktail #26: The Polynesian Cocktail

    The Polynesian Cocktail. This is for you Viveka!

    This post marks a half-year of weekly cocktails at Putney Farm. And while it seems like a lot, there are so many more places to go with cocktails. We are certainly enjoying ourselves and hopefully our readers like the drinks, or at least the conversation (we know not everyone loves every drink). And with the “conversation” in mind, one of our blogging friends Viveka from My Guilty Pleasures mentioned she likes Vodka and Cherry Heering, so we decided to look for a cocktail with both ingredients. And as it turns out, a little research led us to the Polynesian Cocktail.

    The Polynesian combines vodka, Cherry Heering and lime juice. And some recipes include a little powdered or superfine sugar. It is easy to make and you can serve this cocktail “up” in a cocktail glass or on the rocks, it works either way. The flavor of the Polynesian comes across as cherry-limeade with a kick, and we are fans of cherry-limeade. This is a very easy drink to like.

    If you are unfamiliar with Cherry Heering, it is a Danish cherry liqueur, and in the opinion of many booze aficionados, one of the best fruit-based liqueurs in the world. Made from crushed cherries combined with neutral spirits and spices, and then aged in wood barrels, Cherry Heering has deep, developed flavors that work wonders in cocktails (and desserts). It’s been around with basically the same recipe since 1818, so you know it’s pretty good. And after Orange Liqueur, if you have one fruit liqueur in your bar, we suggest Cherry Heering. It works in all sorts of combinations, most famously the Singapore Sling and the Blood and Sand. But if you want to experiment, Cherry Heering is a very fun ingredient that blends well with both light and dark spirits.

    Polynesian Cocktail and ingredients.

    And this gets us to the vodka. Some cocktail enthusiasts and mixologists/bartenders have issues with vodka. It has no (or very little) flavor by design and is sometimes a bit heavily marketed and abused (see: Whipped Cream Vodka). But we like vodka in drinks when we want the kick and slight heat of the booze but don’t want to outshine fruit flavors. Carolyn is a true fan of Lemondrops, and I like the vodka/gin mix in a Vesper. And regardless of any cultural over-exposure, a good Cosmo is a fine drink and a crowd-pleaser. And the cold, hard blast of a vodka martini is still a good thing every once in a while. Sometimes we think of the anti-vodka crowd as the cocktail equivalent of the ABC (anything but chardonnay) “movement” in wine. Yes its popular, yes there are other fine spirits, but it has its merits. We will relax and enjoy vodka for what it is. And in a drink like the Polynesian, where you want the lime and Cherry Heering to lead the drink, vodka is the perfect spirit.

    As for why this drink is called the Polynesian, we have no idea, and some internet and cocktail book research didn’t help. There is nothing Polynesian about it…other than maybe the color and that it’s a good warm-weather sip. But who cares? A good cocktail is a good cocktail. Especially when shared with friends. Viveka, we hope you like it!

    The Polynesian Cocktail:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 and 1/2 oz. vodka
    • 3/4 oz. Cherry Heering (or cherry brandy, in a pinch)
    • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
    • 1 teaspoon superfine or powdered sugar (optional, we omit)

    Assemble:

    1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, flute or coupe’. Serve.

    -or-

    1. Combine all the ingredients in a highball glass with ice. Stir and serve.
  • Simple Garden Recipes: Apricot Shrub (And a Bonus Cocktail)

    Apricot shrub and apricot shrub soda.

    Last Apricot On Earth Cocktail using apricot shrub.

    Let’s get right to it, a fruit shrub is basically an equal mixture of fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar. Yes vinegar. But shrubs are better than you might think (actually quite tasty) and were a very popular way to preserve fruit in the days before refrigeration. And rather than tasting of vinegar, shrubs are sweet and very tangy. The vinegar acts as a flavor enhancer, somewhat like salt on savory foods- you don’t  know it’s there, but everything tastes better. A cool trick, and one that works with most summer fruits. And if you like cocktails or home-made soda, you should know about shrubs. But first a little “back story”…

    Blenheim apricots. Yum.

    Last week Carolyn and I traveled to wine country and then, ironically, started drinking cocktails. Happily both Napa and Sonoma have a number of restaurants and bars that feature world-class drinks, as well as excellent wine lists. One of the best places we visited was Bar Terra, an extension of the very well-regarded Terra in St. Helena. Bar Terra features a less formal and more “bar-driven” menu of smaller plates, wine and hand-crafted cocktails in a very welcoming atmosphere. The food and service were very good, but we did go for the drinks, and Bar Terra did not disappoint.

    The best cocktail we had at Bar Terra (and our entire trip) was a creation that is a riff on the Last Word, that just happens to have apricot shrub. If you are unfamiliar with the Last Word it is a roughly equal combination of gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse. It sounds like a train wreck, but the Last Word is real alchemy, all the flavors blend into a well-balanced, refreshing cocktail. And the recipe invites mixologist to play around. We often ask good bartenders to make a Last Word variant, and the team at Bar Terra struck gold. Their version of the Last Word included dry gin, apricot shrub, maraschino liqueur and yellow Chartreuse (and maybe a touch of lemon juice). The drink was an absolute winner with the apricot shrub supplying both sweetness and tang, the gin and Chartreuse herbal notes and the maraschino liqueur some nutty flavors. And if you didn’t know a shrub has vinegar, you would never place the flavor, you would just notice a lovely, palate-pleasing “zing”. You can’t wait for another sip. We didn’t get a name for the cocktail, but we have an adapted recipe below, and in honor of Bar Terra we will call it the Last Apricot On Earth.

    Rinse your apricots.

    Pit and quarter the apricots.

    We’ve known about fruit shrubs for some time, as they are popular in cocktail circles, but the cocktail at Bar Terra finally motivated us to make shrubs at home. And as we are near the end of apricot season, and there are Blenheim apricots available, we chose to make a “cold shrub” of the apricots before they were gone. Making the shrub is very easy. Simply mash and then macerate equal parts fruit and sugar, let a syrup form for a few days in the fridge and then strain and add an equal part of cider vinegar and mix. You can try the shrub immediately and it will be tasty, but it will “mature” and the flavors develop more with a few days / weeks. And it is not a vinegar, more like a preserved syrup. If you want a full breakdown on fruit shrubs Michael Dietsch of Serious Eats has a good article here.

    Macerate fruit with sugar in fridge for 12-48 hours. 48 hours is better.

    Strain fruit syrup and add the vinegar.

    Continue reading

  • Bonus Cocktail: El Diablo

    El Diablo cocktail.

    Some good summer cocktail karma here at the farm. First we get cherries to play with, and then we stumble on a classic recipe and just happen to have all the ingredients and the drink turns out to be very, very good. And the cocktail, of course, is the El Diablo. The El Diablo is a combination of tequila, lime, crème de cassis and ginger beer served on the rocks.  The El Diablo packs a lot of flavor with the sour lime, sweet Cassis and the spice of the ginger beer, but it has a light body and is quite refreshing. And the color speaks for itself (and for the name of the drink).

    Surprisingly, the El Diablo is a creation of “Trader Vic” Bergeron, who is mostly known for tiki drinks. But Vic published this recipe in 1946, so it predates the Moscow Mule, a similar ginger beer-based cocktail. It is also something of a surprise to us that the El Diablo is not more popular, but not everyone has crème de cassis or ginger beer hanging around the house. But both ingredients are worthy additions to your bar.

    If you are unfamiliar with creme de cassis, it is a sweet blackcurrant liqueur that is most commonly used in the Kir (white wine and a dash of Cassis) and the Kir Royale (Champagne and a dash of Cassis). Kirs are very tasty drinks, and are still popular in France as a pre-dinner apéritif. We drink Kir Royales occasionally, particularly when we want to spruce up average champagne or sparkling wine. And that red color will show through in almost any drink, as will the deep, sweet fruit of the Cassis. Good stuff, and a little goes a long way, one bottle can last for years.

    El Diablo and ingredients.

    As for ginger beer, it is basically the original ginger ale. It tends to be spicier and less sweet than mass-market ginger ale. A few years ago, ginger beer was hard to find. But as the Dark ‘n Stormy and Moscow Mule have reemerged with the cocktail renaissance, so has ginger beer. Ginger beer is available in most supermarkets and liquors stores and is a good substitute for ginger ale in most recipes.

    Trader Vic wasn’t just about rum.

    We became aware of the El Diablo in a Serious Eats slideshow about the drinks at KASK, a bar in Portland. Here is their cocktail menu. (I think a trip to Portland is in order.) After some more research, we found that mixologists have played with the original recipe for years- so while the base flavors of ginger, lime and Cassis are in all recipes, the ratios can vary widely. We like a little more lime and ginger, but other recipes go heavier with the Cassis. The one constant is using 1.5- 2 oz. of blanco tequila. But feel free to play around, these are fun experiments for summer and the flavors play very well together.

    The El Diablo:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 and 1/2 oz. blanco tequila
    • 3/4 oz. lime juice
    • 1/2 oz. crème de cassis
    • 3-4 oz. ginger beer (or ginger ale)
    • Lime wedge or wheel, for garnish.

    Assemble:

    1. Place tequila, lime juice and Cassis in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Add ginger beer, stir lightly. Garnish with lime wedge and serve.
  • Weekly Cocktail #14: The May Daisy

    May Daisy Cocktail.

    One of the promises we made when we started blogging was to keep ourselves challenged and use the opportunity to try new things. For Carolyn this means new baking techniques, for me it means new tools and ingredients for cooking and cocktails. As for cooking, we always enjoy trying new recipes and the garden is a constant source of inspiration and challenges. But for cocktails, we sometimes find it easy to get “comfortable”. We generally prefer gin, rum and tequila over whiskeys and darker spirits (although we do like our Applejack). And since there are so many cocktail recipes,  it is easy to stay in our comfort zone.

    But Carolyn’s recent success with a new baking technique in her Mocha Cake reminded us to try new things and we went right for a big challenge, Cognac-based (or really brandy-based) cocktails. Even more so, a summer cocktail with brandy. For those of you less familiar with brandy, it is simply liquor made with distilled wine rather than sugar or grain. The wine used as the base for brandy can be from any fruit, but is most famously from grapes. Good brandies are made all over the world, pretty much wherever grapes or fruit are grown. But the most famous grape brandies are Cognac and Armagnac from France, and the best bottles are considered some of the greatest spirits in the world.

    May Daisy and ingredients.

    Most of the best Cognacs and Armagnacs should be enjoyed on their own, but there are many varieties that are good for cocktails. In fact, Cognac was the spirit of choice for many early American cocktails, including the Mint Julep. But outbreaks of Phylloxera in France during the 1800′s limited Cognac supplies and Americans turned more to their native whiskey. But quality Cognac / brandy has good fruit, floral and spice flavors that make it a worthy addition to many drinks.

    Cognacs and Armagnacs are both distilled grape wine that’s aged in oak barrels. The main difference in production is their region / appelation and that Cognac is distilled twice, while Armagnac just once. The other difference is price, with Cognac usually 2x the price of Armagnac. While many will argue the relative merits of Cognac vs. Armagnac, the real variables in brandy are aging and blending. To keep it brief (and trust us the French can get into great, laborious detail on these matters) VS is the youngest designation with 2 years of aging, VSOP with 4 years and XO with at least 6 years, but often many more. “Napoleon” is another common designation usually meaning somewhere between VSOP and XO. Simple, huh?

    In any event, we can generalize a lot bit and say that most VS Cognac can be harsh, hot and not all that tasty. VSOP bottles are often very good on their own or in cocktails. And XO is usually best on its own.  When buying Cognac or Armagnac, or any brandy, the best path is to ask someone you trust at your Liquor store for a good bottle, give them the likely use and your price range. This is how we were steered to Armagnac, particularly for cocktails. At roughly 1/2 the price of Cognac, you can get a high quality bottle for less money. We got a great Napoleon Armagnac for about $30 and it is very tasty and smooth with good spice and herbal notes.

    Armagnac, good stuff and better price.

    Continue reading