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Cocktails of the day: Aviation Gin

Ryan Magarian, Portland-based bartender extraordinaire and co-creator of Aviation Gin was in town and behind the stick at The Varnish last night, slinging his gin into a host of delectable cocktails.

Alas, no photos, because it was dim (like I like it) and my iPhone camera doesn’t do well in dim, and I didn’t have my regular camera with me, and y’know, sometimes I just want to drink and talk and socialize and have a good time and not have to worry about lugging cameras around and popping off flashes in dim bars for the frakkin’ weblog. (Sorry, I love you all but I’m sure you understand.) I’m happy to write about it, though!

First cocktail was an Aviation Gin take on a classic Dry Martini, which Ryan referred to as a 7th Street Dry. “For a true dry Martini, I really think you need a London Dry Gin, which Aviation is not,” Ryan said. But treating Aviation as if it were in a 4:1 Martini was still mighty tasty. Take two ounces Aviation Gin, a half ounce of Dolin Dry Vermouth (specifically) and two dashes of Angostura orange bitters, with a nice big spray of oil from a lemon twist. The other botanicals in the gin, the cardamom and lavender especially, play beautifully with the herbal bouquet of the Dolin vermouth. Yummers.

The second one I had … well, I have to confess, it was so beautiful I kinda wish I did have a good picture of it. Amongst the Florence flasks full of cocktail ingredients that were arrayed along the bar was one containing a slightly foamy, brilliantly deep-red fluid that almost looked like Tru Blood. It was, in fact, fresh extracted red bell pepper juice, key ingredient in another of Ryan’s originals:

PEPPER SMASH

2 ounces Aviation Gin.
1 ounce fresh extracted red bell pepper juice.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
3/4 ounce clover honey syrup.
2 mint sprigs.

In a mixing glass, lightly bruise one mint sprig (do not crush), then add the spirits, juices and cracked ice. Shake until cold, then strain into a cocktail couple. Spank the other mint sprig over the cocktail, and garnish.

This was really, really lovely. I love savory cocktails that have more vegetal flavors, and this one was perfectly balanced between sweet (with nice flavor from the honey) and sour, plus the bell pepper juice with its own sweetness and crispness … you can almost feel the texture of biting into a piece of pepper. Gorgeous color too. I wanted to go home and juice a bunch of red peppers! Ryan consulted on the cocktail menu at the Westside Tavern in West L.A. and this is on their menu, so head on over and have one or three.

Among the others we tasted were an Alaska Cocktail (2:1 gin to yellow Chartreuse, and 2 dashes orange bitters) and an Aviation (natch), plus we watched him make for someone else a Blackberry Honey Collins that looked and sounded delicious, but I needed to drive home, alas, so it was water by that point.

I didn’t ask how to make a Blackberry Honey Collins, but off the top of my head I’d say 2 ounces gin (Aviation, in this case), 1 ounce lemon juice, 3/4 ounce 1:1 honey syrup, four or five blackberries muddled in the gin first, shake and strain into Collins glass over ice, top with soda, stir, lemon wheel garnish.

Ryan was encouraging us to create new cocktails that play specifically to the flavor characteristics of Aviation, as a “New Western Dry” style gin, rather than simply drop it into coctkails thave been traditionally made with London Dry. Given that the liquor fairy just brought me a bottle, I think we’ll do just that. Let’s see if I can manage at least one or two by the end of the month. (Good luck with that!)

 

Thursday Drink Night: Kahlúa Coffee Cream

Today I am not only writer and mixologist, but also God Emperor of Procrastination. This event happened a week ago, alas, but I’ve been pretty slammed the last couple of weeks. Sorry ’bout that. Let’s make up for it with a drink.

A week ago last night Malo Taquería in Silver Lake hosted a live, in-house edition of Thursday Drink Night. In case you hadn’t seen a mention of it around these parts, TDN is a presentation of The Mixoloseum, hosted weekly in its online chat room from 4pm until around midnight Pacific Time (7pm until when the East Coasters get tired, Eastern Time) in which a topic or particular spirit is explored by the participants, many drinks are made far and wide and we sample, critique and discuss. It’s a lot of fun, and you should join in sometime (there’s usually always someone in the chat room, not just on Thursday nights).

On Thursday, September 10, the sponsored product was Kahlúa Coffee Cream, a not-yet-released product that should be out within the next month or so, in time for the holidays. It’s a cream version of the well-known coffee liqueur, and should prove to be very popular.

Of course, I being me, problem child that I am … I’m not a fan of cream liqueurs in general. Kahlúa Coffee Cream is a good product though, with a robust coffee flavor (100% Arabica beans used in its production, as with the main liqueurs) and the creaminess isn’t too cloying, with a relatively light mouthfeel. It’s excellent on its own over ice, or poured into coffee … but liqueurs like this are notoriously difficult to mix with. Despite my dislike for cream liqueurs, I wanted to come up with a drink that did justice to the sponsor’s product, but was tailored to my own taste.

My solution? Add a trainload of bitters to it. :-)

My first idea was for what I called the “Caffè Flip,” in which Kahlúa Coffee Cream was the base and which I augmented with Fernet Branca (Fernet and coffee is a well-known combination). I tried it at home and really liked it. Some tasters in the chat room preferred it with 1/2 ounce Fernet, but I like it at 3/4.

CAFFÈ FLIP

2 ounces Kahlúa Coffee Cream.
1/2 to 3/4 ounce Fernet Branca.
1 whole egg, separated.
3 dashes Fee’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters.
3 dashes Fee’s Old-Fashion Aromatic Bitters.
Nutmeg.

Separate the egg, reserving the yolk, and dry-shake the white without ice for 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and yolk with ice and shake for 15-20 seconds.

Strain into a wine or port goblet and top with grated nutmeg.

I packed my bartending kit and headed to Malo, armed with the necessary bitters just in case the bar didn’t have them. They did, in fact (well-stocked bar, y’all!), but to my surprise they had no Fernet Branca in the bar! Ah well, I should have known that a tequila bar might not necessarily carry strong Italian bitters. It is for this very kind of occasion (plus indigestion, overindulgence and sheer craving) that I keep a flask of Fernet with me most of the time. However, I neglected to refill it before heading over, sigh.

I was searching behind the small service bar for something I could substitute, when Marleigh suggested, “How ’bout Angostura? I think that’s all we’ve got.” Bingo!

Marleigh and me, mixing at Malo. Photo shamelessly stolen from Matt Robold

Marleigh and me, mixing at Malo. Photo shamelessly stolen from Matt Robold

This version, which I think I like even better, switched languages from Italian to Spanish, as Trinidad is closer to South America than it is to Italy. If it’s too bitter for you, use the smaller amount of Angostura, but I prefer it with the 3/4 ounce amount.

In case you were wondering, the reason for the separation of the egg is because when I tried to shake all of it together, I didn’t get a satisfying head of the kind I like when I make egg drinks. There must be some food chemistry at work here with the cream content of the liqueur, I suppose. When I tried separating the egg and dry-shaking the white first, then adding the remaning ingredients and yolk, I got the nice, thick, creamy head you see above you (which would be even nicer, thicker and creamier had my egg been and not two days after the sell-by date).

The Café Flip (for Thursday Drink Night: Kahlúa Coffee Cream)

CAFÉ FLIP

2 ounces Kahlúa Coffee Cream.
1/2 to 3/4 ounce Angostura bitters.
1 whole egg, separated.
3 dashes Fee’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters.
3 dashes Fee’s Old-Fashion Aromatic Bitters.
Nutmeg.

Separate the egg, reserving the yolk, and dry-shake the white without ice for 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and yolk with ice and shake for 15-20 seconds.

Strain into a wine or port goblet and top with grated nutmeg.

I thought about a No. 2 version of this with Kahlúa Especial and rum instead of the cream liqueur, and tried it. Y’know what? It works better with the cream liqueur. Lesson learned.