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Thursday Drink Night: Square One Botanical Spirit

[Well, I had hoped to hold off on posting until the blog redesign was done, but it's been over two weeks since I posted, and I really ought to make sure you know I'm not dead, and that I'm still writing.  We will, I hope, have a Grand Unveiling soon!  Now, on to the matters at hand ...]

Last Thursday night was another edition of Thursday Drink Night, taking place as usual in the Mixoloseum Chat Room. Bartenders, mixologists, cocktail writers, enthusiasts and more join into an affable rabble as we mix drinks and stay up too late.   TDN always has a theme, and sometimes an official sponsor, and last night it was a new product called Square One Botanical Spirit.  “Botanical Spirit”?  What the hell’s that?  Good question.

sq_one_1

DRAMATIQUE™ bottle photo by CocktailNerd

Square One is most well known as a company that makes organic vodka. I understand it’s quite good as vodkas go, but as I’m not a vodka man I never paid it much attention.  Then came their second release, a cucumber flavored vodka that I got to try at The Sporting Life, a monthly gathering of local L.A. bartenders and cocktail nerds, with drinks made with the product by H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir in San Francisco.  H. made us some mighy fine drinks with it, and I found it to be quite a bit more interesting than most flavored vodkas I’d come across.

Recently Square One released Botanical, which is quite pointedly not labelled as a vodka.  It’s far, far more than a flavored vodka, and almost resembles a gin in its botanical complexity.  In fact, if it contained juniper (which it does not), it’d be a pretty tasty New Western-style gin.  As it is, it’s a pretty tasty … um, something.  We don’t exactly know what to call it.  It’s not flavored vodka, but more.  It’s not gin because there’s no juniper, not aquavit because there’s no caraway.  So far, it’s pretty unique, and perhaps “specialty spirit” comes closest, clunky as that is.

Square One Botanical’s botanicals include pear (which is the most forward), lavender, rose, chamomile, lemon verbena (a flavor and aroma that I adore; I wash with lemon verbena-scented soap every day), rosemary, coriander and citrus peel, in a base of neutral rye grain spirit that’s given as clean a fermentation as possible, just one pass through the column still and one simple filtration.  Another difference between this and a gin (besides the lack of juniper, of course) is that the botanicals go in afterward, and aren’t in the still during distillation.

The pear comes up in front, not like a pear-infused vodka (most of which I don’t really like) and not nearly as strong as a pear eau-de-vie, but still impossible to miss.  The lavender and rose gently envelop it, and any other lavender element you’d care to add to a cocktail based on this spirit (syrup, tincture or bitters) would go quite nicely.  The other spices are subtle, but provide a cushion upon which the flavor structure rests.  I really have to hand it to Square One for thinking outside the box on this one.  They wanted to produce something different, and they did — not only that, it’s good.

In coming up with an original cocktail for TDN my first thought was to treat it like a gin and make something Martini-like with it, just Square One Botanical with perhaps some Dolin Blanc sweet white vermouth to accent its fruity notes, but I decided to skip over that and head for something a bit more complex.  (I still might try that, though.)  I wanted some citrus to go along with that pear, some ginger too (I love that combination), and I wanted to boost the pear and lavender notes inherent in the spirit.  Here’s what I came up with.

THE AQUARIA COCKTAIL

2 ounces Square One Botanical spirit
1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce fresh orange juice
2 barspoons pear eau-de-vie (I used Purkhart)
1 dash Fee’s Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters
1 dash Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters (or lavender tincture)

Combine in a mixing glass, add ice, pop the shaker tin on and shake for a slow count to ten. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with an orange peel.

The lavender bitters are optional, since they’re not easy to get.  Scrappy’s Bitters are a small-batch bitters maker out of (I think) Seattle, and while their lavender bitters are pretty one-note (lavender, with a bitter base) it works beautifully with this drink.  I think it’d work even better with Bobby Heugel’s house-made lavender-vanilla bitters from Anvil, but as I didn’t have any this did the trick.  In fact, I’m considering adding some vanilla extract to Scrappy’s to see how that works.

See the Mixoloseum weblog for more original recipes using Square One Botanical that flew into the ether that night — there were some mighty fine ones.

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.

 

Cocktail of the Day: The Animalito

Last night I finally participated in TDN, Thursday Drink Night. Sheesh, it’s about time.

TDN is a weekly gathering at The Mixoloseum Bar, a chat room where cocktail webbloggers, readers, enthusiasts, authors and even spirits industry folk gather on Thursday nights from 4pm-midnight Pacific time to make original cocktails, talk about them, make fun of each other and stay up too late. There’s a theme each week, whether it’s a specific product or a general base spirit or something like last night’s theme, “Equal Proportions.”

Can you make a good drink using equal proportions of the ingredients? Well sure, it’s been done all the time in cocktail history. My favorite example of this is the Negroni, equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. The Sidecar began as an equally proportioned cocktail, of brandy, lemon juice and Cointreau. Thing is … that particular Sidecar doesn’t really taste balanced to me. I prefer it as 3:2:1, others at 2:1:1 (and some like the wacky Embury proportion of 8:2:1). Cocktails are all about balance, and when you’re constrained by a rule like this it can get tough to make a cocktail that’s properly balanced, and therein lay the challenge. The rules were to make an original cocktail using only equal proportions of your ingredients, with the exception being dashes of bitters or an egg white.

I was pretty happy with my entry, I must say. I started thinking about it on the way home, wanting to do something tequila-based and remembering something Misty Kalkofen of the bar Drink in Boston said recently, about how grapefruit bitters work well with yellow Chartreuse. DING! This one sprang fully-formed from my head, not unlike Athena. While I reserve the right to tweak the proportions later (e.g., the soda element won’t be constrained to the 3/4 ounce anymore, although I measured that amount in the original drink), I think it was pretty darn good as it was.

The grapefruit soda should be a high-quality one with a signifacant juice content. I thought that Ting, the Orangina-like grapefruit soda from Jamaica, would be ideal, but it’s not always easy to find. I couldn’t get to Galco’s before closing (and I knew they had some), so I ended up using IZZE Sparkling Grapefruit, which is 70% juices (grapefruit, apple, orange and white grape) with no added sugar. It had a terrific, fresh flavor and I think I’ll stick with this one, although I do want to try it with Ting. I wouldn’t use Fresca, but some of my bartender friends speak highly of Squirt, which I must confess I’ve never tried.

The name came from a rather infamous trip I took to Mexico back in college with some close friends. There were many adventures and inside jokes that survive until this day, and when I was trying to think of a name for a new tequila-based drink this one popped right out.

THE ANIMALITO

3/4 ounce añejo tequila (I used Partida).
3/4 ounce Laird’s bonded apple brandy.
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
2 dashes Bittermens Grapefruit Bitters (substitute Fee’s).
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters (substitute any other orange bitters).
IZZE Sparkling Grapefruit or Ting Grapefruit soda.
Grapefruit peel.

Combine the firsts four ingredients with the bitters in an Old Fashioned glass. Add ice and stir for 15 seconds or so. Top with grapefruit soda and stir briefly. Garnish with grapefruit peel.

Tart and refreshing, with a nice little bitter edge! I liked this very much, and so did the folks in the Mixo Bar (thanks, y’all!). I may try making it shaken and up with half the bitters and no soda, just for kicks.

This drink is dedicated to Mr. John Norbutas. (“I want those goddamned Animalitos.” Long story.)

 

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