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Punch of the day: Cape Fear Punch

I’ve mostly given up on the Food Network, because about 90% of their programming is crap (then again, as Sturgeon’s Law is often cited, albeit slightly incorrecty, 90% of everything is crap). I do still watch “Good Eats” occasionally, because Alton Brown is one of the few remaining good things about FN. A recent edition of his show that’s been sitting on our TiVo finally got watched last night, and it was about punch, a subject near and dear to our hearts ’round our house.

As usual, Alton has done his homework (which I suspect included reading David Wondrich’s Imbibe!), and right off the bat taught the Teeming Masses the long-cherished basic formula for punch … while dressed as a 17th Century buccaneer:

ONE of sour
TWO of sweet
THREE of strong
FOUR of weak, plus

(Alton, of course, being a fellow geek, had has deckhand recite, as he got to the fifth part, “He who controls the spice controls the Universe … the spice must flow!” Heh.)

He started off with a very simple punch recipe, using pints as the measurement and making a rather huge batch. One of lime juice (with the spent hulls), two of Demerara sugar, three of Batavia Arrack (to my surprise and delight) and four of tea (warm, so as to help dissolve the sugar), with grated nutmeg. The arrack will likely be difficult for some folks to find, but a title card said that it’s available “on the world wide web” (the source for all things).

The main punch recipe he dealt out, though, looked mighty good, and I’m looking forward to trying it:


For the base:
750ml rye whiskey.
750ml water.
1/2 cup Demerara sugar.
3 bags green tea (although I’d be tempted to substitute oolong).
375ml rum.
375ml Cognac.
4 whole lemons.

For the punch:
2 small oranges, thinly sliced.
4 small lemons, thinly sliced.
2 750ml bottles of sparkling wine.
1 liter sparkling water.
Large ice block.

For the base: Pour the rye whiskey into a 4-quart container. Fill the now empty rye whiskey bottle with water, pour into an electric kettle or saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until the temperature drops to 190 degrees F. Place the tea bags in the kettle and steep for 3 minutes.

Add the tea, rum, and Cognac to the whiskey. Peel the zest from the lemons, being careful to get only the yellow zest and not the white pith. (A vegetable peeler works best.) Wrap the peeled lemons in plastic wrap and reserve in the refrigerator. Add the lemon zest to the mixture, and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the punch: Strain the base into a large punch bowl. Juice the reserved lemons and add to the punch bowl. When ready to serve, add the sliced oranges, lemons, sparkling wine, and seltzer water; stir to combine. Add the ice block and serve with freshly grated nutmeg per serving to taste.

You can do this in two batches, to keep the bubbles fresh. Add half of the base with one bottle of the sparkling wine and half the seltzer, and repeat when your guests have drained the bowl.


Cocktail of the Day: Rittenhouse Daisy

Our friend John served these at Seven Grand the other night. I didn’t get the exact description from him before leaving the bar, but decided to give it my interpretation. As John noted later in the comments, I didn’t get it quite right — unsurprisingly, after starting with two cocktails, then having tasted four whiskies at the first gathering of the Seven Grand Whiskey Society and then trying to rely on my unreliable memory as to what flavors I noted in the drink. I was pretty happy with my version, though, so I’ll leave it up — first though, here’s the one John made for us:

Rittenhouse Daisy
(by John Coltharp, Seven Grand, Los Angeles)

1-3/4 ounces Rittenhouse 100 bonded rye whiskey.
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
2 small splashes soda.

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake for at least 10 seconds. Strain into a Delmonico glass or an Old Fashioned glass.

That was mighty good. Now, my rather liberally-interpreted, memory-marinated-in-whiskey version that I came up with the next day, which isn’t too bad if’n I do say so myself.

Rittenhouse Daisy No. 2

2 ounces Rittenhouse bonded rye whiskey.
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake for at least 10 seconds. Strain into a Delmonico glass or an Old Fashioned glass.

Back in the old days, a Daisy cocktail was spirit (brandy, rum, whiskey, gin, etc.) with lemon juice and sugar (differing from a sour in that there was usually only 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar) plus a few barspoons of grenadine. To a lesser extent then, and far more often now, I see herbal liqueurs like Bénédictine, Grand Marnier or yellow Chartreuse being used instead of grenadine. This is A Good Thing.

Why? Speaking of grenadine … as you know, it’s easy peasy to make at home with real pomegranate juice. This grenadine works beautifully in countless classic cocktails that callf or that ingredient. Sadly, what you see in bars these days is more often than not red-dyed sugar syrup with artificial flavoring of some kind, which hasn’t been within five miles of an actual pomegranate. This does not work well in cocktails. At all.

Last night I was served the most execrable Mai Tai ever (in a place which shall remain nameless, from a bartender who was later described to me as being at the bottom of the talent scale at this particular establishment). It was described on their menu quite nicely, with the proper classic recipe: two rums, orange Curaçao, fresh lime juice, orgeat and simple syrup. That sounded good enough for me. A tall glass was filled with ice (okay, tall rather than short, that’s OK too), some premix was added (uh oh … well, maybe it was a housemade Mai Tai mix with the lime and syrups). Rums were added (Myers’s Dark and … Bacardi, sigh. Then just as I was about to think I’d be satisfied the bartender added what looked like a full jigger of grenadine, turning the entire drink beet red. One sip revealed that it also rendered the drink undrinkable. Sigh.

I returned it, politely and apologetically, saying “I’m so sorry, but this is so sweet I can’t drink it. I wasn’t expecting all that grenadine, as the menu didn’t specify it,” and politely asked if I could exchange it for something else. It was exchanged, but the waves of attitude signifed that that bartender now hated me. Oh well. What’s a guy to do? I’m not paying $10 for an undrinkable cocktail, especially when it’s not made the way that the establishment’s menu (which even described the history of the drink and touted that this was the original, proper recipe) specifically says it’s made.

Just say no to fake grenadine, and to grenadine abuse!


A digestivo to cure what ails you

Here’s one of many fantastic drinks I had during my first evening at Cure back home in New Orleans, finally getting there about four months after they opened.

I had had a little trouble remembering the details about the Mezcal Old Fashioned I had, which thanks to the magic of post-editing due to Maks reminding me in email the morning after I posted this I was able to remember. (“Of course! How could I forget that one!” Um, maybe because you had about seven drinks that night?) Fortunately, it was not lost to history.

However, my last drink of the night I remembered very well. Maks and I had been talking about my experience at Anvil in Houston, and how Bobby Heugel made me that wonderful room temperature cocktail from their menu called The Brave (smoky single-village mezcal, blanco sotol, amaro, Curaçao and bitters, merely swirled together in a wine glass with a flamed orange peel), plus the knockoff of that drink that I came up with for one of the Drink.Write sessions (more on that one later). He pondered, and came up with another room temperature digestivo cocktail that I enjoyed very much, and which I don’t think had a name. I decided it to name it after the bar, in Italian, but if Maks has kept making it and has another name for it by now, I’ll most certainly change it.


(A most excellent digestivo whipped up on the spot
by Maks Pazuniak, Cure, New Orleans)

1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce Aperol.
1 ounce Amaro Ramazotti.
3 barspoons Cointreau.
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters.
1 dash Regans’ orange bitters.

Combine in an Old Fashioned glass and swirl to mix.

That hit the spot.

Growing Old and Dying Happy is a Hope, Not an Inevitability

Here’s one of many fantastic drinks I had during my first evening at Cure back home in New Orleans, finally getting there about four months after they opened.

Next came the drink that wins the award for the longest cocktail name I’ve ever encountered, which we had difficulty remembering even while sober. Maks apologized for the length of the name but very pointedly did not offer to change it.



(by Maks Pazuniak, Cure, New Orleans)

2 ounces Cynar.
1 ounce Rittenhouse 100 proof rye whiskey.
Pinch of salt.
2 pieces of lemon peel.

Combine the Cynar, rye and salt in a mixing glass and stir briefly to dissolve the salt. Express the oil from the lemon peels and drop into the mixing glass. Add ice and stir, then strain into an Herbsaint-rinsed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

That said, he did admit that they tend to refer to it as “Growing Old” for short. This is sort of an inverse-Manhattan in which Cynar (“chee-NAHR,” an Italian bitters based on artichokes, in case you’re not familiar with it) is substituted for both the sweet vermouth and the bitters, with a really nice savory element added by the salt, which enhances the flavor of the amaro and gives it more balance. If you try this one at home, make sure you only use the barest pinch — you don’t want to make it taste salty, you want to make it taste seasoned. Both the salt and the lemon oil, as Maks reminded me later, help bring out the “artichokiness” of the flavors in the drink.

Mixology Monday XXXIX: Amaro (The Eagle Rock Cocktail)

Greetings, felicitations and welcome to MxMo 39! Entries are beginning to trickle in, and I expect a veritable flood of them as the day goes on. Besides posting your entry on your own blog, please post a comment to this topic (and as a backup, email me at mr.sazerac at gmail dot com), and please try to do so by midnight tonight — well, at least in your time zone. I won’t start doing the roundup until tomorrow, and I hope to have it up by Wednesday.

In case you missed the announcement post here or MixologyMonday.com, the theme for this month is amaro — bitter liqueurs generally intended to consume after a meal as a digestive, typical of but certainly not limited to Italy, and the use of those bitters in cocktails. Why did I choose this topic? Because over the last several years I have become an amaro freak.

It’s been a long journey since 2000, when I took my first sip of Fernet Branca — such a baptism of fire for my first experience with amaro! Sadly, no camera was present to capture the look on my face after taking my first sip, nor was a recorder running to note what was certainly some choice language. In the ensuing years, after samplng more gentle amari and working my way up, I finally had my amaro epiphany, which was the day when I started drinking Fernet Branca not strictly for medicinal purposes after overindulging my tummy, but for pleasure and enjoyment. Now my amaro collection is pretty decent, if I do say so myself (and ripe for expansion): Amaro Abano, Amaro Cora, Amaro Meletti, Amaro Mio Lorenzo Inga, Amaro Montenegro, Amaro Nonino, Amaro Ramazzotti, Amaro di Santa Maria al Monte di Nicola Uignale, Amer Boudreau, Amer Picon Club, Aperol, Averna, Campari, Cynar, Fernet Branca, Gammel Dansk, Jeppson’s Malört, Maraska Pelinkovac, Suze, Torani Amer, Underberg and Zwack Unicum … plus one more which is my most recent acquisition.

Borsci Elisir San MarzanoBorsci Elisir San Marzano was one I’d seen passing references to but had never tried until a few bottles showed up at The Wine House, one of my two major spirits emporia and where a significant chunk of my paycheck is deposited every other week. I took it home, poured some into our nice little amaro sipping glasses, and lit up. It’s on the milder end of the amaro spectrum, more hefty than Montenegro, which is my mildest, but one that I thought might be appealing to amaro newbies. The bitter herbs and sweetness are in perfect balance, but there’s a lot more going on in this liqueur — dried fruits, especially figs and plums, touches of chocolate and coffee as well. The liqueur’s been around since 1840, developed in Puglia, Italy by Giuseppe Borsci in the tradition of herbal liqueurs developed by European monks.

I looked it up and found interesting recipes on Borsci’s website, although none for cocktails, oddly enough. The first recipe (which I also found in its listing on LeNell’s website was to soak fresh cherries in it, which sounds fantastic. Grapes were recommended for soaking in a simliar fashion, and there was a fascinating procedure for layering almond-stuffed dried figs with chocolate flakes in a jar, then filling with Borsci amaro. There was Borsci tiramisù, Borsci birthday cake, Borsci over strawberries and even over ice cream. All looked good, yet still no cocktails. I seem to have stumbled across my first dessert amaro.

However, it’s recommended chilled or in long drinks as an aperitivo, plus at room temperature as an excellent digestivo, which after several such after-dinner tipplages I can assure you it is, although not as powerfully medicinal as some other amari. After my first sips, though, I started thinking about how I’d use this in a cocktail.

The first thing that came to me was a Manhattan variation. There are several such variations out there that feature various amari (The Red Hook and Little Italy, both favorites, to name two), but it seemed to me that this amaro would work particularly well with a powerful rye base. The hints of chocolate in the this amaro’s flavor base led me to want to pair it with something similar, but by no means did I want this drink to be too sweet, or gods forbid, something desserty. Flavors that would lend itself to an after-meal cocktail, sure, or a lead-in to dessert, but not a “dessert cocktail” per se. Crème de cacao, even the less cloyingly sweet version from Marie Brizard, would be right out, and the only ingredient that seemed right was, oddly enough, something I had never tasted.

Those of us who are bitters fanatics have been waiting with bated breath for the eventual release of the products being developed and produced by the one of the newer cocktail bitters companies, Bittermens. They’d been working on a tantalizing and exciting range of products ranging from “tiki” bitters to hop/grapefruit to pecan bitters, but the one that got my scalp tingling in anticipation was their “Xocolatl Mole” chocolate spice bitters. As they described them: “Inspired by the classic Mexican chocolate mole sauce, this bitters recipe highlights tequila, aged rum and whiskey cocktails. Try substituting these bitters in a Manhattan, or adding to a Margarita.” Holy crapola. I was tremendously excited to hear about this, and disappointed to hear of delay after delay due, oddly enough, not to difficulties vetting them with the TTB, but with local and state health and production permits. And after tasting the Borsci, even though I had never tasted Bittermens Mole Bitters, I knew this was just what my tentative Borsci cocktail needed. (Unless I was completely wrong.)

To add to my frustration, Bittermens sent out a number of samples to bartenders (naturally) and to a few cocktail writers, none of which included me. (Well, other folks to get higher readership, so it made perfect sense.) That didn’t help my writhing jealousy as I read my friend Paul Clarke’s glowing review of his sample of these bitters a year ago January. I was Chartreuse with envy, but knew I just had to wait. Once my taste of Borsci came along, I must confess I grew more impatient — this stuff would go great with Borsci in a cocktail, I just knew it. Bittermens posted periodic updates, and it looked as if we’d finally be able to get our hands on a fully released product a bit later this year … but not in time for my idea for a drink that would be perfect for the MxMo topic I suggested for my turn to host.

Well, all ended well with Wes’ and my long-overdue visit to see all our friends in Seattle in April, and Paul very graciously and generously offered me a small sample from his sample bottle of bitters so I could see if my idea would work. Y’know what? It worked. I’m just a lucky so-and-so … thanks a million, Paul!

I was pretty happy with the drink as I had conceived it, but thought it needed one more little boost, just a tad of Cherry Heering to offer that compementary cherry flavor, I hope without making it too sweet — we get more than enough of that from the amaro itself, and the vermouth. I first tried it with Carpano and while the flavor was good the sweetness was a bit past the line for me. I was much happier with Punt E Mes and its more bitter edge. I also took some advice from bartender Don Lee, who offered this bit of advice regarding another amaro-based drink I was working on — add a tiny pinch of salt. Bingo.

I’m pretty happy with this, and as the Manhattan got to be named after a borough in New York, and as I was lucky enough to get to create a drink named for part of Los Angeles a while back, I wanted to have one named after my own neighborhood.

Use a big rye for this. We’re deeply, madly in love with the bonded 100 proof Rittenhouse rye, which is a fantastic product, priced between $16-18 $21-23 and without a doubt the best rye value on the market. After that try Wild Turkey 101 rye, and we’re even tempted to give this one a go with Thomas Handy.

Since I first came up with this, I’ve become fond of a cherry liqueur that I like better than Cherry Heering in many applications, including this one — Luxardo Morlacco cherry liqueur. It has a purer cherry flavor that for me worked a bit better with the Borsci. Heering will still work as a substitute, though.

The Eagle Rock Cocktail

The Eagle Rock Cocktail

2 ounces Rittenhouse 100 proof bonded rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce Punt E Mes.
1/2 ounce Amaro Borsci San Marzano.
1 scant barspoon Cherry Heering.
2-3 goodly dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters.
Tiny pinch of salt.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo cherry.

I love one of these after work, and I also liked it after dinner, leading into a big chocolate dessert — I thought it was a lovely transition. Then again, as I write, I’m enjoying one before dinner too. I hope you enjoy it too. If you have a hard time finding Bittermens bitters locally you can mail-order them from a variety of sources; the Google is your friend.

To all the participants in MxMo Amaro, thanks for all your entries so far! We tried a couple last nigiht and got luxuriously toasted. Everyone else, please get your entries posted on your own sites with a comment here by midnight tonight, and I’ll get to work on the roundup.

[N.B. - This post has been revised since its original publication. When this post was first written, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters hadn't been released yet, and I was working from a sample. It is now, to the joy of cocktailians everywhere, widely available.]


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