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Cocktail of the Day: The Perfect Pear

(Catching up yet again with stragglers that never made it into the big Cocktail Index …)

I first tried this cocktail in September of 1999 on our first visit to Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco. I liked it a lot, and came across the original recipe somewhere (now apparently lost in the depths of the web).

It was fairly typical of the type of cocktail I was drinking at the time (vodka-based, oy) but a pretty good use of vodka. As much as we may deride vodka in cocktails, it has its place and uses, one of which is to smooth out and extend the flavor of a sweet liqueur while cutting the sweetness (such as in the Gypsy cocktail), or in this case taking a strong fruit brandy and maintaining that flavor while lightening and extending it somewhat. A bit of lime juice for tartness, a touch of orange juice for smoothness and a bit of sugar to sweeten it up. Nice cocktail. In fact, at a cocktail party Wes and I threw the following year, this was one of the most popular drinks we made all night, and even then I was tweaking the recipe. “More pear brandy!” cried my friend René.

I put this cocktail aside for years, and as I was going through my old Gumbo Pages cocktail and beverages page looking for stray recipes that hadn’t gotten integrated into the Looka! cocktail index I came across this one. I do love pear brandy (or eau-de-vie; these are the clear, dry fruit brandies, not super-sweet liqueurs that are called “brandy” as a misnomer), and I love the crisp flavor of pears in the fall. I also wondered what I could do to bring this drink up a bit, more in line with my current tastes.

Well, first thing — replace the vodka with gin. Guh. That always works.

Except … it doesn’t. Not always.

It’s true, there are myriad vodka cocktails that can be vastly improved by replacing the vodka with gin, and I do it all the time. It’s bitten me in the ass on a couple of occasions, though. I recall a dinner at MiLa in New Orleans a few years ago in which I read the ingredients of a particular drink on their cocktail menu and instantly knew that it would be much better with gin than vodka, and I ordered it with that substitution.

Guess what. It wasn’t that good.

I finished it and asked for another, this time made by the original recipe. It was a lot better.

Given that experience I approached a vodka-to-gin tweak of the Perfect Pear with an arched eyebrow. So the other night I substituted Plymouth gin, a wonderful English gin with a lighter profile than a London Dry, and sipped the result.

Holy hell. That was really, really good.

This cocktail has been on the menu at Absinthe for many years, but a check of the current cocktail menu on their website shows that it’s dropped off. I suspect that this is because they have a new bar manager, now that longtime Absinthe bartenders Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin have moved over to the restaurant’s new venue, the Comstock Saloon. (I’ll bet they’ll still make it for you if you as, though.) If you want to make this cocktail at home the way it was originally done at the restaurant, use vodka … and lemon juice instead of lime.

(Note on the vodka: Don’t spend a fortune on something like Grey Goose or any of those so-called “premium vodkas” if you’re just going to mix it in a cocktail. If you’re a vodka connoisseur and you drink it chilled and neat, that’s one thing. If you’re going to mix it, I guarantee that you won’t be able to tell the difference between a fifty dollar premium vodka and a good quality vodka almost a fifth its price. For the money and the quality I highly recommend Sobieski vodka from Poland.)

The Perfect Pear
adapted from Marco Dionysos, original created for Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, San Francisco, c. 2000

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
3/4 ounce pear eau-de-vie (I used Purkhart).
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice.
2 teaspoons orange juice.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.


Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”

Yes, three posts in 24 hours. Try not to have a hawt attack ‘r somethin’.

Hallowe’en weekend is upon us! I love Hallowe’en! What’re we doing for Hallowe’en?


Wes is gone all weekend for work, I’m exceedingly lazy and don’t feel like coming up with a costume and have grown weary of all the hassle of going out to Santa Monica Boulevard. I’ll probably get stuff done around the house, and in the later evening we’ll have some seasonally appropriate cocktails, such as the Corpse Reviver No. 2, Satan’s Whiskers and the Zombie. (Hm. It occurs to me that I’ve never written up those last two. *make note for later*)

To make matters worse, for years we haven’t bothered decorating the house for Hallowe’en because for the first three years in a row at our house there were no trick-or-treaters. Either the few kids in our neighborhood don’t go out, or they’ve already finished by the time we get home. Now we don’t even bother with decorations or even buying any candy. (Last thing we need is big bowls of candy around the house with no one to eat them from us.) It’s a bummer — it’s fun to have trick-or-treaters come over. In Silver Lake near our friend Steve’s house there’s a block that gets hundreds, if not over a thousand kids trick or treating! What do we get?

Standing on our water meter, not a single trick-or-treater
Knocking now to put an end to my loud, horrendous snore
Nary even just one nipper dressing up as Jack the Ripper
Underneath the great Big Dipper, seeking candy at my door
“Zero visitors,” I muttered; the no-ones at my green front door
Will find candy … nevermore!

Oh wait, that reminds me … in a special treat from the shiny, shiny folks at Quantum Mechanix, we present you with a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem “The Raven” — produced, directed and performed by John De Lancie:

We’ll also undoubtedly watch some scary movies this weekend (we have many), plus Sunday is the premiere of the new AMC series adaptation of the graphic novel The Walking Dead, which I’ve been looking forward to for months! I’ve been reading Robert Kirkman’s ongoing series for six years now, and the show has a lot going for it — director Frank Darabont, plus the great track record for dramatic series on AMC (“Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men”). Tune in on Sunday at 10pm (Eastern & Pacific), 9pm Central, and check out the above link for a ton of behind-the-scenes documentaries.


Yellow With Envy

My friend Zane Harris bartends at the outstanding neighborhood bar Rob Roy in Seattle Dutch Kills in Queens, New York these days, among other places. Besides being a great guy, he’s a constant source of inspiration on cocktails, spirits and hospitality. (Incidentally, of all the Seattle bars I love, and that’s a lot of ’em, Rob Roy is probably the one I wish were in my neighborhood, within walking distance of my house.)

Zane is always challenging my expectations, and did so again with a recent visit to Los Angeles and a guest turn behind the stick at The Varnish, one of the L.A. bars I love. (I still enjoy quoting my friend Chris from Denver, after I brought him to that bar for the first time: “I wish that I had a wardrobe in my bedroom which, Narnia-like, would transport me to The Varnish on demand.”) Unfortunately the only recipe I remember from that night (when you’re drinking, write recipes down à la minute, you idiot, or you’ll forget them!) is this one, which Zane was kind enough to share with me.

Using Chartreuse as a base spirit isn’t something you come across all that often. It’s certainly powerful enough — 40% alcohol for the yellow variety, and a whopping 55% for the green — although most of the time it’s used in smaller quantities as an accent, given its even more powerful, even pungent herbal flavor.

One of my favorite cocktails is the Chartreuse Swizzle, a magnificent creation by Marco Dionysos with a whopping two ounces of green Chartreuse as its base. Zane’s drink uses the same concept — a tall, Chartreuse-based swizzle — but it’s the first time in my life I’d ever had a drink with yellow Chartreuse as its base. An additional boost to the spice is from a spicy peppercorn syrup, which would be pretty versatile once you’ve got it on hand.

Yellow With Envy

Yellow With Envy
(by Zane Harris, Rob Roy, Seattle)

1-1/2 ounces (45 ml) yellow Chartreuse.
1 ounce (30 ml) fresh lime juice.
1 ounce (30 ml) fresh grapefruit juice.
1/2 ounce (15 ml) black peppercorn syrup (see below).

Shake vigorously with cracked ice until the shaker is too cold to hold (12 seconds or so). Strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint.


Black peppercorn syrup

2 cups (400 g) sugar.
1 cup (250 ml) water.
1/4 cup (use a 60 ml measure) cracked black peppercorns.

In a saucepan, heat the peppercorns until they become fragrant. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 20 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer to remove all of the peppercorn particles. Add a splash of vodka as a preservative, bottle and store in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 1-1/2 cups syrup

NOTE: Zane may end up correcting me on the amount of pepper in the syrup, but this is what my pickled brain recalled from the evening.


Brandy & Herbsaint Milk Punch

(Catching up yet again with stragglers that never made it into the big Cocktail Index …)

This anise-scented variation on our local beloved milk punch comes from Chef Susan Spicer of Bayona and Herbsaint restaurants) and features Herbsaint, New Orleans’ original absinthe substitute. While you may substitute Pernod, Ricard, or any pastis or anise liqueur for the Herbsaint, if you want this to be truly New Orleanian you’ll use la vraie chose.

Herbsaint Original, the 1934 recipe

Herbsaint Original, the 1934 recipe

You’ll especially want to use Herbsaint Original, with the above label. Over the years Herbsaint’s formula changed, but in late 2009/early 2010 the Sazerac Company reproduced Marion Legendre’s original 1934 recipe — deeper, richer and with a broader, more complex herbal base.

You are, of course, welcome to use actual absinthe as well, but then if you used absinthe or pastis it wouldn’t be Brandy & Herbsaint Milk Punch, would it? (Well, all you’d have to do is change the name, but still.)

This punch is terrific when the weather starts to turn crisp in autumn and for the holiday season as well, but New Orleanians are fond of milk punches year-round. This would be great at breakfast or brunch, for a pre-dessert nog, or just for a party. Here’s the version to serve in The Flowing Bowl:

Brandy & Herbsaint Milk Punch

2 quarts cold milk
3 cups brandy
1/2 cup Herbsaint
1/2 cup superfine sugar

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients and stir to combine. Add more sugar or brandy to taste. Chill. Pour into a large punch bowl with a large block of ice and serve cold, topped with freshly grated nutmeg.

Serves 16-20.

… and if you’re only making one or two, the single-serving version:

1-1/2 ounces brandy or bourbon
1/4 ounce Herbsaint (especially Herbsaint Original)
1/4 ounce simple syrup
4 ounces whole milk or half-and-half

Shake with ice and strain into a punch cup, and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.


Cocktail of the Day: The Blinker

I was perusing my old cocktail index on The Gumbo Pages’ beverage page and realized that in the Great Cocktail Article Migration of 2009 I missed a few, including this one. Eek! What was I thinking?! Rectification of oversight commences!

This one may be familiar to many of you, but if you’re scratching your head thinking, “Nope, never seen this one before, and grapefruit juice? Ew!” it’s another “forgotten” cocktail that comes to us courtesy of Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, who first served it to us years ago. The Blinker is the creation of a bartender whose name has escaped into the mists of history, but it was first mentioned in print in 1934 by bartender Patrick Gavin Duffy. (There’s a bit more about it in Doc’s most excellent book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.)

Doc tinkered with the recipe; originally the drink was made with grenadine (and a horrifying amount of it, equal to the grapefruit juice). Raspberry syrup gives it a lovely complexity, especially when considering most commercially-made grenadines. I think it’s a terrific variation.

The thing that made the drink Doc made for us so much better than the first one we made at home was his use of Smucker’s brand raspberry syrup, right from the grocery store, instead of the Torani raspberry syrup we used. Nowadays for prepared syrups I’d generally go with Monin, which would also be good. But man … that Smucker’s stuff had an fabulously fruity, aromatic and intensely jammy quality (unsurprisingly) that really put this drink over the top. Even better was a raspberry syrup from Harry and David, the Fruit of the Month Club folks, which was hands-down the best raspberry syrup I’d ever tasted (and didn’t have the tendency to sink to the bottom of the drink that Smucker’s has). Sadly, the product’s been discontinued.

If you have a really good, homemade pomegranate grenadine or an excellent commercial product like Trader Tiki’s Hibiscus Grenadine, by all means use that if you like. Otherwise, try the Smucker’s, or better still, a homemade raspberry syrup from fresh (or even frozen) raspberries.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should not use bottled grapefruit juice. Freshly-squeezed white grapefruit juice, please. It takes half a minute to cut and squeeze a grapefruit, and it’s eleventy million times better. Also, if you’re one of those folks that doesn’t like grapefruit juice, this may be your conversion moment; you’ll like it here, even if you only ever have it in this cocktail (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Enjoy the Blinker — it’s a simple yet really lovely drink, and don’t worry about the silly name (drives Doc crazy).

Oh, the image below is temporary, shamelessly purloined briefly borrowed from the fine folks at Modern Drunkard magazine, who in turn lifted it from Ted’s book (naturally, since the article was an interview with Ted about his book). I’ll have one of my own up by the weekend, especially since I haven’t had a Blinker in a while, and I want one.

The Blinker Cocktail
Shamelessly purloin-- er, borrowed image from Modern Drunkard, to be replaced real soon now

2 ounces rye whiskey.
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice.
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup.

Combine with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for no less than 10 seconds, until very cold; strain into a cocktail glass.

Doc didn’t garnish this, and I don’t know if the original recipe called for a garnish, but we like a pretty grapefruit peel curl cut with a channel knife (Doc opts for lemon). Don’t squeeze any grapefruit oil over the drink, though; we don’t want this one to be too bitter.

To quote Wes, “What the world needs is more rye cocktails.” Amen.