Cocktail of the Day: The Laureate

I’ve been a big fan of toddies, particularly of the brandy, whiskey and rum varieties, which have been especially good not only during this chilly season but during attempts by nasty little bugs to clog my head and chest with gunk and make me feel like crap. When this happens there’s not much that can do better than a hot toddy to make me feel better.

This recipe appears in the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, which I hadn’t gotten to yet — my friend Janice sent the page to me as soon as she saw it, though (thanks, Janice!). This one’s a first for me — a tequila toddy, a great idea from Dan Hyatt of Alembic in San Francisco. Agave nectar (which I use in my añejo Old Fashioneds) replaces the honey, and instead of black tea he uses jamaica, the tart red hibsicus flower tea. (That is, of course, pronounced “ha-MY-ka,” and not like the island nation in the Caribbean.) Very inspired, and I can’t wait to make one tonight.

Dan serves these in giant warmed snifters and garnishes with an entire orange wheel studded around its edge with 10 cloves, plus a fresh bay leaf. If you don’t have snifters handy, feel free to cut the orange wheel down to whatever size will fit into your glassware.

The Laureate
(by Dan Hyatt, Alembic Bar, San Francisco)

2 ounces añejo tequila.
2 ounces hot jamaica (red hibiscus flower tea – see below).
1/2 ounce agave nectar.
Orange slice.
Whole cloves.
Bay leaf.

To prepare garnish, stud each orange slice around the rind with 10 cloves. Cut down to size if necessary.

Run your large snifter or whichever glassware you’re using under hot water to warm it. Add garnishes, then tequila and jamaica, then stir in agave nectar and serve.

To make jamaica, simmer 1-1/2 cups water and add 1/3 cup dried red hibiscus flowers. Steep for 2 minutes, then strain and keep warm. Makes enough jamaica for 6 toddies.

Mmmmmmm, sabroso …

Cocktail of the Day: Alberti’s Night

I’ve been on a bit of a Strega kick lately, finally having added a bottle to my bar. Michael’s on a Strega kick too, and sent along this recipe from CocktailDB that we really enjoyed last night.

Alberti’s Night

1-3/4 ounces rye whiskey (Bourbon is okay too).
3/4 ounce Strega.
1 dash orange bitters.

Combine in mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

This one’s pretty powerful, as Strega, although a liqueur, is 80 proof. All the drink’s sweetness comes from this, but it’s not all that sweet. You do get plenty of alcohol, so keep that in mind — it packs a punch, albeit a lovely, spicy one. We like Rittenhouse bonded in this one, but you can use a lesser proof rye for nice results too, if you don’t want your ass kicked by a 100 proof base spirit.


Making Fernet easier to swallow

As Eric Felten writes in the WSJ, small amounts of Fernet Branca in cocktails are the way to go for a lot of folks, substituting it for aromatic bitters like Angostura.

He writes of the Fanciulli Cocktail, basically a 2:1 Bourbon Manhattan swapping 1/4 ounce Fernet Branca for the 2 dashes of bitters, up or on the rocks. (I’d garnish that sucker with a big oily twist of orange, me.)

If you need it spelled out:

Fanciulli Cocktail

2 ounces Bourbon.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca.

Stir and strain, up or on the rocks.

We’ve done this with rye, but didn’t know the Bourbon version had a name. I’ll give it a shot this way, but I’ve become an insane amaro lover. We drink Fernet on its own (and as the base spirit in Old Fashioneds), which apparently impresses Felten: “Though some of the herbs, roots and barks that go into it are common enough in bitter drafts — cinchona, orris, gentian — the flavors are so powerfully concentrated that the stuff is almost impossible to choke down straight, which is why it has been used as a morning-after shock to the system.”

Sheesh, I’ve never had any in the morning. I’m more of a Brandy Milk Punch kinda guy in the morning.

UPDATE, 7:34pm: Wes made Fanciulli Cocktails tonight using George T. Stagg Bourbon (at 144.8 proof, woof!), Punt E Mes and, of course, Fernet. It’s a hell of a thing.


The Toy District Cocktail

This is my entry for the Downtown Los Angeles Sub-District Cocktail Competition. (Wow, that’s a mouthful.) Cocktail competitions are fun — sometimes they’re only ways for the spirits company sponsoring them to get their brand out there, but a lot of the time it’s a great way for a bartender to get a little recognition and maybe even win a prize. Marcos Tello of The Edison is organizing a new one not for a spirits company, but for our own fair city. What we hope to get out of it in a month’s time is seventeen new signature drinks for Los Angeles. Let’s have him tell y’all about it:

New York has for some time had The Manhattan, The Brooklyn, and The Bronx — benchmark cocktails named after their native regions. A short while back a couple of bartenders from New York got together and decided to finish naming cocktails after their beloved neighborhoods. Cocktails such as The Bensonhurst, Greenpoint, and Little Italy. Beautifully stirred cocktails using a spirit base and vermouths, liqueurs, amaros, bitters, etc. Being a native Angeleno, I have always wanted a set of cocktails named after my own city or its neighborhoods.

Recently I bellied up to the bar at Seven Grand in downtown Los Angeles. (As you may or may not know, downtown is trying desperately to become a “full-fledged” city.) My buddy Leo Rivas served me a delicious concoction, stirred, and served up. And I thought to myself, as he was still searching for a name, why don’t we name it after a one of the sub-districts in downtown? And then I thought, why doesn’t L.A. have its own set of sub-district cocktails? This first one we decided to name it the Arts District Cocktail.

The point of all this is that we should have our own set of cocktails named after the city that needs our help in developing a true cocktail culture, in order for it to truly be called a “city”! So in February will have a cocktail competition in which name cocktails after the 17 Sub-districts in Downtown Los Angeles.

I know this is kind of closing the barn door after the bandersnatch has run away, but the deadline for entries was yesterday. (Glerp. Sorry.) Eligibility is bartenders who reside in the Los Angeles area, or who are L.A. natives but now tend bar elsewhere, and also serious non-professional enthsiasts and cocktail nerds. We might have picked up three or two more of yas from the readership here, but oh well.

The Rules: A stirred cocktail using a base spirit, modifying vermouth, liqueur (i.e. Bénédictine, Curaçao, etc.) or sweetening agent, and some type of bitter. No citrus. (Citrus is plentiful in L.A. and it’s too easy; we don’t want a whole bunch of sours either.) Also, ingredients have to be readily available, meaning no homemade ingredients or extremely, obscure hard to find ingredients. We want to be able to make these on a regular basis and promote making them around the city, so they should be somewhat approachable. Entrants are encouraged to do some research on the history of the district they’re aiming for, to help the drink reflect both the past and present in that district.

The competition will be on the first Sunday of February. If we can coax him into town for the weekend from his until-April out-of-town gig, we hope Dr. Cocktail himself will be judging. (I’m sure Marcos has a Plan B just in case.)

I decided to go for the Toy District, bordered by 3rd Street on the north and 5th Street on the south, Los Angeles Street on the west and San Pedro Street on the east. It’s filled with myriad shops for inexpensive toys, trinkets, and you-name-it. It’s also pretty bustling, at least during the day. For years one of my best friends lived in a loft in the Toy District, and there we did lots of eating, drinking and carrying on. (Good, good times.) Besides the personal inspiration, I did a bit of digging and found out some interesting things about the neighborhood.

Before the wave of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere in Asia arrived to make the Toy District into what we know it to be today, the neighborhood was “filled with the colorful sights and fragrant smells of old Greece”, according to the Los Angeles Times, and was known as Greek Town. The city’s first Greek restaurant was on 4th Street, with Kalamata olive oil importers a few doors down. There were 65 Greek businesses clustered in the area, although few remain today and all but two of the original buildings have been razed.

I chose one of my base spirits, Metaxa, to reflect the flavors of the community in old Greek Town, augmenting it with rye whiskey to give it balance, a sturdier backbone and to reflect my love of the downtown drinking scene (I like to drink whiskey in downtown bars). The bitter component is Amaro Ramazzotti, complementing the floral notes of the Metaxa with bitter orange and fragrant spice (plus, the Romans had pretty much all the same gods as the Greeks). Lillet is there to help bring the flavors together, and to reflect the presence of fabulous French dip sandwiches a few blocks away. A muddled slice of ginger, as well as the ginger garnish, reflects the current Asian population of the Toy District and gives the drink a bit of brightness and zing.

Okay, I’m being silly with some of the symbolism there, but I wanted a Greek spirit and thought it’d taste good with the Italian amaro (wonderful stuff, which I want to use more often), and the other ingredients were chosen solely for taste and balance. I worked on this for about three days, and Wes and I drank most of the not-quites. (Hence, we were fairly shitfaced on Friday and Saturday and stayed home.) I’m pretty happy with the result. If you’ve a mind to, give it a shot and tell me what you think.


1 ounce Metaxa 7 Star.
1 ounce rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce Amaro Ramazzotti.
1/2 ounce Lillet blanc.
2 slices of fresh ginger.
1 orange peel

Combine liquors and 1 slice of ginger in a mixing glass. Muddle the ginger slice to extract flavor. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Double-strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with additional ginger slice and orange peel.

Here’s hoping I win my district! [UPDATE: I did. Yay! Although I think I had one, maybe two competitors for this district, and good luck ordering this anywhere.]


Time for some punch

As disappointing as the Los Angeles Times has gotten over the past couple of years, they still do a pretty good job covering local food, wine and cocktails (I hope Zell doesn’t screw that up too). Yesterday’s Food Section featured a great bit on our friend Marcos Tello, resident mixologist and bartender extraordinaire at Seven Grand The Doheny The Edison The Tar Pit, who reminds us — in case we’ve forgotten over the last 150 years — the joys of the communal punch bowl.

Remember, punch is a real drink, the precursor to most if not all of the cocktails we drink today. It’s serious stuff to be treated seriously — it ain’t just dumping some fruit juice, 7UP and bottom shelf booze into a bowl. Take a little care and follow the guidelines (sweet, sour, strong, weak, spice) and you’ll get something mighty fine. The secret, as you’ll see demonstrated here, is to muddle the lemon peels with the sugar. Here’s Marcos’ offering:

Whiskey Barrel Punch
(by Marcos Tello, The Edison, Los Angeles)

Peels of 3 lemons, cut in a spiral with a potato peeler.
5 tablespoons superfine sugar.

1 cup fresh lemon juice.
1/2 cup real pomegranate grenadine.
4 dashes Angostura bitters or Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Bitters.
2 cups Bourbon (Marcos suggests Woodford Reserve).
1 (375ml) split of Champagne.
1 large block ice (see note).

In a large, sturdy bowl, vigorously muddle together the lemon peels and superfine sugar with a muddler until the peels release their oil and the sugar becomes moist and fragrant. Pour in the lemon juice and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the pomegranate syrup, bitters and bourbon. Add cubed ice to chill the mixture, and stir until the mixture is cold. Strain the mixture into a punch bowl over the ice and top with Champagne. Serve immediately.

YIELD: 15 servings. Double it for a bigger party.

NOTE: For a large block of ice, pour simmering water into a heat-proof container that fits into your punch bowl and freeze. With a vegetable peeler, peel the lemons in lengthwise strips, avoiding the white pith, and use the fruit for juice.

Don’t forget the other two recipes, for Mother’s Ruin Punch by Phil Ward of Death & Co. in New York, and Champagne Punch by Julie Reiner of The Clover Club, also in NYC.

Also, if you pick up the December 2008 issue of Saveur magazine while it’s still on the newsstands, Dave Wondrich has an excellent article on punches (a precursor to his much anticipated next book, Punches, or the Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, to be published in 2010) which includes three recipes. Each of these makes 3 quarts, or about 24 four-ounce servings.

Captain Radcliffe’s Punch

4 lemons.
1/2 cup superfine sugar.
1-1/2 cups sweet wine, preferably Sauternes.
1 750ml bottle brandy, preferably VSOP Cognac.
6 cups chilled water.
Freshly grated nutmeg.

Muddle the lemon peel with the sugar as shown above. Juice the lemons and add juice to the sugar and peel. Stir until completely dissolved. Strain the mixture into a punch bowl. Discard peels. Stir in the wine and brandy. Chill. To serve, stir in the water and add a large block of ice.


(Flaming Punch)

3 bottles light-bodied red wine, such as Beaujolais.
1 750ml bottle Batavia Arrack van Oosten.
1/2 cup superfine sugar.
1 Seville orange (i.e., bitter or sour orange), thinly sliced, seeds removed.
1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed.

In a 6 quart pot, bring the wine and arrack to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the sugar, along with the orange and lemon slices. Stir, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Transfer the punch to a heavy heatproof bowl. (Be careful; if it’s not heatproof the bowl may crack.)Dip a small metal ladle into the hot punch. Touch a lit match to the surface of the punch in the ladle to ignite it. Pour the flaming punch back into the bowl. (Have a fire extinguisher handy just in case you’re a klutz.) Serve immediately so that the punch remains aflame in the glass. (You’d think it goes without saying that you should blow out your punch before drinking, but I’m saying it anyway.)


Regent’s Punch

1 cup sugar.
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple.
2 lemons.
2 oranges.
1 Seville orange.
2 green tea bags (or 2 teaspoons green tea leaves).
1 cup brandy, preferably VSOP Cognac.
1/4 cup dark Jamaican rum.
1/4 cup Batavia Arrack van Oosten.
2 750ml bottles brut Champagne, chilled.
Freshly grated nutmeg.

In a saucepan combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Stir over high heat until dissolved. Transfer to a bowl along with the pineapple. Allow to macerate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours to make a pineapple syrup. Strain and reserve, discarding solids.

Peel lemons, oranges and Seville orange, taking care to remove as little white pith as possible. Reserve fruit. Muddle the peels in a heavy bowl with the rest of the sugar, as Marcos taught you above. In a medium bowl, steep the tea in 2 cups boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain tea over peel and sugar mixture and stir until sugar is dissolved. Juice the fruit into the tea mixture. Strain through a fine strainer into another bowl, discarding solids. Stir in pineapple syrup, brandy, rum and arrack. Chill. To serve, combine mixture with Champagne in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Garnish with nutmeg.

Good lord, that last one looks fantastic.