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The Creole Julep: The Official Cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail ’09

The competition for this year’s official cocktail at Tales was to create an original julep, and the winner has just been announced. This year the honor goes to New Orleans bartender Maksym Pazuniak, formerly of Rambla Restaurant and now at Cure, the Crescent City’s newest (and perhaps finest) cocktailian bar.

For his entry Maks went for a flavor profile based on the city’s position as “the northernmost port of the Caribbean.” Max is a great guy and an excellent bartender, so if you’re going to Tales be sure to stop in at Rambla (a Spanish-Basque tapas restaurant that’s one of the hottest new restaurants in town), which is within walking distance of the Quarter, or at Cure, which is Uptown at Freret and Upperline.

Maksym PazuniakThe Creole Julep

The Creole Julep
(Created by Maksym Pazuniak, Cure, New Orleans)

2-1/4 ounces Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum.
1/2 ounce Clément Creole Shrubb.
1/4 ounce Captain Morgan 100.
2 dashes Fee Bros. Peach bitters.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
8-10 mint leaves.
1 Demerara sugar cube.

Muddle sugar, Creole Shrubb and bitters until sugar is dissolved in a tall 10 ounce glass. Add mint and press to express oils. Add cracked ice. Add Cruzan and Captain Morgan 100 and stir until frost appears on outside of glass. Garnish with mint sprig.


Mixology Monday XXXVIII: Superior Twists

Another month, another MxMo! I actually managed to get one together this weekend (and posted it while wheezing and hacking, home sick today, bleh), and it’s a subject dear to my heart. No, not who cuts prettier citrus garnishes, but twists on classic or otherwise established cocktails. Tristan Stephenson of the United Kingdom is our gracious host this month, and details his current cocktail desires as ones “that for one reason or another do an even better job than the drinks upon which they are based.”

This is a basic concept of any serious cocktail nerd’s explorations (not to mention those of a professional bartender), because once you start substituting ingredients for others you learn how drinks work, how proportions work, how balance works, and it all begins to make sense. You see it laid out for you in the wonderful charts Gary Regan put in The Joy of Mixology, you see it when you realize that a Margarita is a variation on a Sidecar, that you can take a Manhattan and turn it into a Rob Roy or an Emerald just by changing the whiskey. You see the principle in how good bartenders train their barbacks.

When my interest obsession with cocktails began about 10 years ago, one of the first things I started playing with was substituting ingredients in found classic recipes. In what was probably my first drinkable original, I found a recipe in a vintage barware book that had a punny name; it looked wrong-but-interesting, and some digging revealed the true recipe, which at the time scared me because it had vermouth in it (and now, of course, I have a fridge full of different kinds). As it was already Lillet-based, I thought vermouth was superfluous, substituted Cognac, substituted a tangerine liqueur on hand for one that wasn’t available locally and ended up with the Lillet Tomlin — even punnier, and to this day still not-bad. (I used this one in MxMo XXIV: Variations a little over a year ago.)

The classic twist came up in email recently with my friend Michael, who had gone to one of New Orleans’ newest cocktailian bars, Bar Tonique up on North Rampart. They’ve been open for eight months or so, and I didn’t get an opportunity to go while I was home for Christmas, but I’ve heard good things. (“It straddles the line between a neighborhood hangout and a serious cocktail bar, and it leans more one way or the other depending on who is bartending,” he said.) Another place to get not only a decent cocktail but a great one in the city is a milestone, of which I hope there will be many more. (Bar Tonique, now Cure, who’ll be next?!) They were served a drink there called the St. Claude (great name for a drink, wish I had gotten there first), which he described as an Aviation with white rum swapped for the gin. That sounded pretty good. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what it was, but I tried making an Aviation with rum and … it was okay. I was a bit underwhelmed, so I suspect there was something else going on. I’ll either try to find out what it really is, or start playing with that one myself.

One of my favorite examples of a twist on a classic comes from a drink that’s … not a classic classic, but certainly a modern classic to some. Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh has created many fabulous original cocktails, pretty much all of which I’ve loved. One of his originals is called the Delmarva Cocktail, which is a great name. While it might sound like it was named after a glamourous Hollywood ingénue of the 1930s, it is in fact named after the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, where Doc first tasted three of the cocktail’s ingredients. (I’m still on the lookout for Vera Delmarva, though.) The original recipe called for a base of rye whiskey (which always gets a cheer from me), then dry vermouth, lemon juice, and … crème de menthe.

Now, this cocktail has its fans, people with refined palates, and Doc certainly knows how to make a great (and balanced) drink, and this is certainly that, but … for the most part, with very rare exceptions, I can’t stand crème de menthe in cocktails. Fresh spearmint, juleps and mojitos, sure. Crème de menthe, not so much. I don’t like pepperminty flavor in drinks; it reminds me of being sick to my stomach as a kid, as my mom always gave me peppermint oil to soothe my stomach. It’s entirely a personal thing. (“It’s not you … it’s me!) I can occasionally maybe possibly have a Stinger, if it’s made with Rumpleminze instead of crème de menthe (drier and higher proof), but other than that, get it away from me.

Gary Regan liked the drink, and thought the basic proportion would hold up to lots of entertaining play with various liquors. He came up with this variation, which I have to say is right up my alley.

The Delmarva Cocktail No. 2
(Adapted by Gary Regan from Ted Haigh’s original)

2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce dry vermouth.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce créme de cacao.

Combine with ice in a shaker; shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh mint leaf.

I love this. Just one little substitution, and it’s completely different from the original. The spicier the rye the better for me; I like to make this with Rittenhouse 100. The chocolate flavor plays beautifully with the rye, reminding me of one of my favorite desserts — a glass of whiskey and something very chocolatey (even just a square of Valrhona 71%). The bit of tartness from the lemon provides balance, and the vermouth helps integrate them all. The recipe calls for white crème de cacao, but I’d go ahead and use dark — you get a heftier color along with the whiskey, and more of a chocolate profile that stands up to a big rye (use the white if you’re using a less spicy base spirit). Try to find the Marie Brizard product if you can get it, as it’s far superior to most liqueur makers’ overly-sweet brands. I have to confess I like the No. 2 better than the original. (Sorry, Ted!)

Gary also does a No. 3 in which the liqueur becomes amaretto, with the lemon bumped up to 3/4 to provide better balance. This is pretty good, but the No. 2 is still my favorite.


I’ve got yer bitter right here, pal.

My recent spate of laziness has gotten me behind on lots of linky goodness (including the above which I couldn’t actually link to), which fortunately us always there if I’m too lame to generate original content. Let’s start with what we plan on drinking tonight, but first a little background.

Jeppson MalörtAmong the many wonderful things I’ve learned about from my friend Ted Haigh, there was at least one horrible one, or so I thought at first. Malört is a Swedish-style bitter liqueur (although I’d hesitate to call it an amaro, as it’s very different from Italian liqueurs described as such) based on wormwood; “malört is actually Swedish for wormwood. Unlike absinthe it has no anise flavoring components, or any other spread of botanicals as far as I can tell — this stuff’s pure, whap-you-in-the-face-with-a-large-tree-branch wormwood with all its concomitant bitterness. It is, quite probably, the most bitter thing you will ever pour out of a bottle and into your mouth that’s considered potable and non-poisonous.

It’s Chicago’s native spirit in a way, first distilled by Swedish immigrant Carl Jeppson and still popular there, especially in the Polish and masochist communities. There are those who keep it in their collections as a test of mettle for their spirit-tippling visitors, or as a source of entertainment. In fact, there’s a whole pool of photos on Flickr entitled Malört face. The faces accurately express most people’s reaction to the liqueur, unsurprising based on the description that was actually printed on the back label (although no longer, apparently):

Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malort. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, ‘My Malort is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.’

It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts – seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSERVERE [sic]. Make it past two ‘shock-glasses’ and with the third you could be ours … forever.

Perhaps they thought that last line sounded a bit too … sinister. They’re not kidding about the lingering, though — the bitterness doesn’t hit you right away, and just as you’re thinking, “Oh hey, this isn’t as bad as you s– oh, JESUS!” Then it hits you and lasts a long, long time, a true everlasting gobstopper.

Dr. Cocktail also noted in the spirit’s CocktailDB entry that “it has been adopted enthusiastically by bikers and is a mainstay at biker bars.” I have no doubt of this, as I can see these guys using it to prove their manliness. Doc also notes an underlying flavor behind the unrelenting bitterness that he calls “eau de dill pickle.”

All that said … I kinda like the stuff.

It’s really not that bad — after the first time I never made the face, and although I don’t drink it often I will agree that it is bracingly, even violently bitter. I’ve never thought so far to try it in a serious cocktail, though, but a few inventive Chicago bartenders are way ahead of me.

Today’s issue of the Chicago Reader has a feature on Malört, and how it’s evolved past a practical joke, test of mettle or ingredient in intentionally foul cocktails into a serious cocktail ingredient. If you can balance the bitterness with other ingredients, you might just be on to something, as these guys are.

Brad Bolt, bartender at Bar DeVille in Chicago (a very cool guy whom I met when he visited L.A. last year) came up with the drink that’ll be our tipple this evening, which even comes along with a video showing him in Malört-slinging action. The proportions and makeup of this make me think of a Last Word (or a Final Ward, given that it’s lemon); this could be a signature drink for one of my favorite cities.

The Hard Sell
(Created by Brad Bolt, Bar DeVille, Chicago)

3/4 ounce Beefeater Gin.
3/4 ounce Jeppson Malört.
3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
Large grapefruit peel.
Combine in a shaker with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express as much oil as you can out of the grapefruit peel onto the surface of the drink, but do not garnish with the peel.

Here are a couple other Malört creations from Chicago bartenders that we’ll try within the next few days:

The Ukrainian Negroni
(Created by Toby Maloney, The Violet Hour)

2 ounces Tanqueray Gin.
1-1/2 ounces Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Campari.
1/4 ounce Jeppson Malört.

Combine in a mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a coupe, and flame an orange peel over the drink.


The Bukowski
(Created by Charles Joly, The Drawing Room)

1-1/2 ounces Jeppson Malört.
1/2 ounce Drambuie.
3/4 ounce fresh orange juice.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
3/4 ounce honey syrup (made 1:1 with water).
3-5 basil leaves.

Combine in a shaker with ice, shake for 10-12 seconds and strain over rocks into an Old Fashioned glass.(Rather aptly named, I think, even if Bukowski never drank the stuff himself. The Reader adds, “The working name for this drink was the Dirty Old Man, after the column Charles Bukowski once wrote for an underground newspaper in Los Angeles. Joly says there.s no garnish because the writer would have just thrown it back at the bartender.”)


The Golden Eel
(Created by Paul McGee, The Whistler)

1-1/2 ounces Beefeater Gin.
3/4 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Jeppson Malört.
Orange peel.

Build over ice in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with the orange peel.


Michigan Cutter
(Created by Stephen Cole, The Violet Hour)

1 ounce Jeppson Malört.
1 ounce Amaro Montenegro.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
Dash orange bitters.
1 egg white.

Combine all ingredients except 7Up in a shaker. Dry-shake (without ice) to emulsify egg white. Add ice. Shake. Strain into a short nine-ounce water glass. Top with 7UP.

You can mail-order Jeppson Malört from Sam’s Wine in Chicago (which since seeing their URL for the first time I cannot stop calling “Sam Swine”). It’s only $15 — such a bargain for such a … ahem, sensual experience!


The Basic Cocktail Formula

Those of you who’ve done some reading on the rudiments and mechanics of mixology know about the classic proportions, those ratios of spirit to modifier to citrus, etc., that a great deal of the time seem to work very well. David Embury, in his classic tome The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks espoused the 8:2:1 proportion, which these days is more often seen with the base spirit brought down a bit to 4:2:1 (usually expressed in the amounts of 2 ounces spirit to 1 ounce liqueur to 1/2 ounce citrus, for instance).

Other classic proportions you see are 3:2:1 (works great for Margaritas and Sidecars) or 2:1:1. If you look at the excellent charts in Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology, you’ll see his excellent charts that make ratios and the other drinks you can make by swapping out a base spirit that’ll make your head go “DING!” if you hadn’t noticed or thought of it before (e.g., swap out the brandy in a Sidecar for blanco tequila and the lemon for lime, and you have a Margarita).

In his latest article in the April issue of Esquire, David Wondrich proposes another set of basic proportions that in his opinion almost always seem to work in terms of balance, and one that I can’t wait to start playing with:

The Basic Cocktail
(Created by David Wondrich and your imagination)

2 ounces base spirit.
1 ounce aromatized or fortified wine.
1 teaspoon of liqueur.
A dash or two of bitters.

Combine in a mixing glass with ice. Stir, strain and garnish.

For your aromatized wine try any kind of vermouth, quinquina, sherry, port, Madeira or Marsala, whatever you’ve got. (I’m itching to try this with Pineau des Charentes.) With a zillion liqueurs and more kinds of bitters coming out all the time, the sky’s the limit. I’ll be posting some happy results in a few days, I think. In the meantime, crack open your bar and have some fun.


Rosangel Cocktail Competition

Wow, what a fun event. Christine D’Abrosca England, beverage manager at Malo did a great job putting the event together, and everyone had a blast. We also got to sample a great many very tasty cocktails.

Alas, my pictures were wretched, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I was more preoccupied with cocktail judging than I was with photography, plus my camera performs very poorly in low-light situations. (That’s on the agenda for this year — a Nikon D90 with a professional-quality flash.) For better photography of the event, check out the shots from Stephen Cheng, the event’s official photographer.

The coolest aspect of the event was the half that featured female mixologists (look out, gentlemen!), all of whom made delectable concoctions that also featured the common base spirit to the event, Gran Centenario’s port-barrel-rested, hibiscus-infused reposado tequila Rosangel. The non-competing featured mixologists were Natalie Bovis, “The Liquid Muse”, Kylee Van Dillen of The Westside Tavern, Tina Brandelli (who used to work at Alembic in San Francisco, but somehow I managed to not find out where she’s working here) and “Liquid Chef” Kim Haasarud (whom I’ve known by reputation for years and whose husband I worked with for years, but whom I only managed to meet for the first time at the event!) who among many other places is arranging the cocktail program for Downtown’s forthcomign Bottega Louie. My good friend Marleigh Riggins was scheduled but wasn’t able to make it due to a bad back (d’oh!), but here’s the cocktail she would have served, with two posts on its creation:

The Mojave Fix
(Created by Marleigh Riggins)

2 ounces Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila.
1/2 ounce Oloroso sherry.
1 ounce piloncillo-hibiscus-chipotle syrup (recipe below).
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce soda water.
Orange flower water.

Shake tequila, sherry, syrup and lemon juice over ice. Strain into a double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice and top with soda. Sprinkle a few drops of orange flower water over the top and garnish with a lemon blossom.

Piloncillo-Hibiscus-Chipotle Syrup

1 cone piloncillo.
3/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers.
5 small-medium dried chipotle chiles (not in adobo).
2 cups water.

Bring water and piloncillo to a boil in a medium saucepan. Simmer until piloncillo is fully dissolved, remove from heat and add hibiscus and chiles. Let syrup steep for at least two hours, up to overnight. Strain through cheesecloth into a jar and refrigerate.

I was thinking about a piloncillo syrup when I first got ahold of this, but not an infused one! Yummers — I expect to have one of these made for me soon, Marleigh!

(I did actually make a plain piloncillo syrup, and I found that the best way to get it to dissolve easily is to place the piloncillo cone into a heavy freezer-type ziploc bag, then place that bag into another bag, then pound the crap out of it with a hammer until it’s powder. Otherwise prepare to wait an hour and a half for that big hard cone of sugar to dissolve.)

I managed to snag a couple of the other recipes, although I was seriously bummed not to have gotten any of this one — Natalie’s shift behind the stick was when I was tasting the competitors’ creations, and I missed it completely, d’oh. Here’s hoping Natalie saved me a little of her homemade ingredient too, ’cause this drink looked lovely.

Flor de Maria
(Created by Natalie Bovis)

1-1/2 ounces Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila.
1/2 ounce homemade hibiscus cabernet syrup (hibiscus tea syrup with a cabernet reduction).
1/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
Spritz of orange flower water (load into mister).
1 – 2″ piece of orange peel.
Lemon peel for garnish.

Muddle orange peel in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add maraschino liqueur, syrup, lemon juice and tequila. Shake with ice for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Spritz with orange flower water. Garnish with a sliver of lemon zest.

I did get to try Kylee’s, and it was delicious; besides the base spirit she uses one of my favorite ingredients these days. Go see her at the Westside Tavern if you’re local.

Per Gazardiel
(Created by Kylee Van Dillen, Westside Tavern, Los Angeles)

2 ounces Gran Centenario Rosangel tequila.
3/4 ounce Aperol.
3/4 ounce grapefruit juice.
3/4 ounce simple syrup.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
2-3 basil leaves, torn.

Muddle the basil with the spirit ingredients, add juices and syrup and shake with ice for 10-12 seconds. Double-strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a whole basil leaf.

Now, onto the competition! The competitors were Juan Alvarez, bartender at J. King Neptune’s in Sunset Beach and current president of the Los Angeles chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild; Mark Blackhart, not a professional bartender but an enthusiast who writes about his cocktail nerdiness at Drink Well; Jason Bran of The Roger Room; Matty Eggleston [formerly] of The Varnish and The Hungry Cat; and finally Silamith Weir, who doesn’t currently work behind the stick but [until recently was] the local brand represntative for the fabulous Martin Miller’s Gin.

Besides myself the judges were ace bartender Marcos Tello (or, to be specific, his alter-ego Marcela) of The Varnish and The Edison The Tar Pit, and pastry chef Cat Schimenti, [formerly] of Craft Los Angeles (and ’09 James Beard Award nominee!). This was my second competition as a judge, and another wonderful learning experience. Working on this with Cat was a particular pleasure, to get the perspective of someone who’s highly trained and has great expertise in flavor but isn’t a bartender. Her approach as a pastry chef was fascinating during our deliberations.

Without further ado, the winner of the judges’ choice award … *drum roll* … Matty Eggleston for his creation called The Lullaby. Before tasting I took one look at the recipe card on Matty’s table and said, “Oh man … tequila and Nutella?! Huevos of steel!” Seriously, Matty is one of the most creative and inventive bartenders I know, and really thinks outside the box when it comes to flavors, both sweet and savory (and even meaty!). As skeptical as one might have been when presented with these ingredients, they combined beautifully in a three-ingredient cocktail in which the preparation belied the simplicity of the ingredients. The tequila flavor was prominent, with the fruitiness of the Rosangel complementing the nutella which, when smoothed out by the steamed milk and accented by the cinnamon garnish made you think of Mexican chocolate. Creative and daring and delicious.

The Lullaby

Mixing a winner

The Lullaby
(Created by Matty Eggleston)

4 ounces Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila.
3 tablespoons Nutella.
1/2 cup whole milk.

In a frothing tin, steam 1/2 cup whole milk and Nutella. Steam until warm and agitate with bar spoon. Add the tequila and steam a moment more. Pour into four tea cups or larger espresso cups. Garnish with a light dusting of freshly grated cinnamon and orange zest.

I need to double-check the milk amount with Matty — the recipe card was a bit confusing with the way it was printed. It’s either 1/2 or 1 cup.

Now for the people’s choice winner … the creamy, tangy entry from Silamith Weir.

Casa Blanco

Casa Blanco
(Created by Silamith Weir)

2 ounces Gran Centenario Rosangel.
1/2 ounce Matusalem Gran Reserva.
3 chunks of pineapple.
4-5 basil leaves (shredded).
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce sweetened condensed milk.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.

Muddle pineapple and basil together. Add all other ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into cocktail glass.

If you have a Latino market near you, Nestle’s La Lechera brand of sweetened condensed milk now comes in handy resealable squeeze bottles, making it perfect for mixing this drink … as well as drizzling on fruit, sno-balls or, um, directly into your mouth. (Okay, into a spoon and then into your mouth.)

Congratulations to the winners and to all the mixologists who participated!