• Mixology Monday LXXXIX Cocktail: The Improved Stinger

    stinger4It seems like the equinox is a very good time for Mixology Monday. Why? Not really sure, but new seasons are a time of transition and always prod us to try new things. And, with ever-so-perfect-timing, our host Chris of the Bar Above blog chose this month’s theme, “The Unknown”. Here is the rundown:

    mxmologoBasically the idea is to try something new, an ingredient or technique that you’ve never had experience with before and create a cocktail around it… Use a spirit that you’ve never used before. It could be a base spirit, modifier or that Belgian Ale that rings in at 15% alcohol. Use an ingredient that has always captured your imagination in the supermarket. Maybe that weird looking fruit that you always walk by at Whole Foods, or that unusual looking vegetable that you can’t even pronounce. [or] Use a new technique that you’ve never tried, but have always wanted to. Have you been dying to make your own vermouth, amaro, or martini glass made completely out of flavored sugar.

    Ah, cool theme- and we had just the right ingredient to work with, Branca Menta. What is Branca Menta? It is an amaro / digestif, that as it’s name suggests, has a clear mint note (along with a bittersweet herbal base). The lesser-known cousin of Fernet Branca (a Bay Area favorite), the Menta has a big kick of sweet mint with a clean, bitter and pleasantly medicinal finish. Yes, that may not sound great, but like most amaro, the Menta is an acquired taste. But once you try it, you do seem to keep coming back.

    stingerSo what to make with the Menta? That was also easy. We have to admit that neither of us have ever had a Stinger, the classic combo of Cognac and Creme de Menthe. And there is a reason for that- it sounds totally nasty (and like a waste of good Cognac). But we figured the Menta would make for a better version of the Stinger. And after a little research, we found a good recipe for an “Improved” Stinger using the Menta from the blog Caskstrength. Excellent.

    stinger1The only other issue was the Cognac. No way were we using either Cognac, or even Armagnac, in this drink (you could, and it would be surprisingly good). But we did have a very smooth, tasty and affordable Spanish brandy to use, and it was a perfect fit with the Menta, letting its mint flavor lead the drink. The only other ingredient is a little rich simple syrup to add sweetness that Creme de Menthe would traditionally supply.

    stinger2So how does the Improved Stinger taste? You get a minty nose followed by pleasant kick of the brandy and then a long middle of herbs and mint with a surprisingly clean finish. Sweet, but not at all cloying. Would we drink this every day? No. But as a nice autumn or winter sipper, we can see ourselves enjoying the Improved Stinger. And now we have another way to enjoy the Branca Menta. Continue reading

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  • Monthly Cocktail #3: The Bramble

    bramble8Here in California our endless summer drought? continues. But elsewhere we assume that fall is coming. With that in mind, we tend to think of “last gasp of summer” types of cocktails, and that usually brings us to the Bramble, a delightful combo of gin, lemon, sugar and blackberry liqueur (Creme de Mure). While most people here in the States haven’t heard of the Bramble, it is one of the most popular cocktails in the UK. And just like the Arctic Monkeys, this is an import from Britain that more Americans should enjoy.

    bramble1bramble2The story of the Bramble is also a good one. The history says that UK bartender Dick Bradsell came up with the Bramble as an answer to the Cosmopolitan. And we can say that while the Bramble shares the attractive looks of the Cosmo, it is a much better cocktail (sorry, it is…). Basically a gin sour enhanced by blackberry liqueur and made into a slow sipper using crushed ice, the Bramble is a warm-weather delight.

    bramble3bramble4Now, you may say “I don’t want to buy that Creme de Mure stuff, how often will I use it?” Well, considering how tasty the Bramble is (and that you can make a bourbon variant called the Black Demure), we think it is worth buying. But, if not, just adjust the recipe and muddle 3 or 4 fresh blackberries and some extra simple syrup. You will still have a tasty sip, even if it doesn’t get the intense blackberry flavor from the liqueur.

    bramble5bramble6 Continue reading