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.