Goodnight St. Nick

Recapping my ’08 trip home to New Orleans for Christmas

After The Swizzle Stick was a visit to a new place — not only new to me, but brand new to the city too, having opened at the beginning of October. Rambla is a Basque-influenced Spanish tapas restaurant at the International House hotel in the 200 block of Camp Street. It’s owned by the same folks who own Cuvée on St. Charles and Dakota on the Northshore, so it’s already off to a good start. Mary had been in Rambla a few weeks ago, checking them out for inclusion in Frommer’s I imagine, and put me in touch with their bartender Maksym Pazuniak, who’s a really nice guy, a graduate of B.A.R. and really cares about quality cocktails.

Maks and his colleagues are doing a great job with the cocktail menu there, with several really tasty-looking offerings: Spanish 75, a variation on the local penchant for making French 75s with brandy instead of gin, with Maks’ version done with LePanto brandy de Jerez, fresh lemon juice and Cava. The Sardinia combines Tanqueray gin, fresh lemon, housemade rosemary syrup and a splash of Campari, and a Pecan Hot Toddy warms dark rum and sweetens it with a housemade spiced pecan syrup.

Maks offered to make this one for me, a holiday-themed variation on an Old Fashioned and one of his own creations. I’m approximating the proportions from having watched him make it.

Goodnight St. Nick
(adapted from Maks Pazuniak, Rambla, New Orleans)

2 ounces Sazerac rye whiskey, 6 years.
1/2 ounce allspice dram.
1/4 ounce grade B maple syrup.
2-3 dashes Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters.
4 or 5 fresh cranberries.
Orange slice.

In a mixing glass muddle the cranberries and orange slice. Add the remaining ingredients and shake vigorously until very cold, then double-strain into an Old Fashioned glass with ice.

I don’t think St. Nick would mind being left one of these. (We always just left milk, cookies and whiskey.)

[UPDATE: Maks is currently doing wonderful things behind the stick at Cure in Uptown New Orleans, and writing about them at beta cocktails.]

The Accoutrement

Recapping my ’08 trip home to New Orleans for Christmas

The evening’s rounds began with a visit to the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide to see our bartender friends Lu and Michael, and to sample the latest delights from their cocktail menu, one of the best in town. Louise began with an original by Chris Hannah of Arnaud’s French 75 Bar. He’s one of the best in town, and he’s been cranking out some amazing creations lately. The Swizzle redid their menu and now has a back page featuring drinks by friends of theirs, which is very cool. This is one of ‘em — get it here or go see Chris himself at Arnaud’s.

The Accoutrement
(by Chris Hannah, Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, New Orleans)

2 ounces Calvados.
3/4 ounce Strega.
1/2 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters.

Shake with ice for 10-12 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with brandied cherries in the glass or on a pick.


Seelbach Cocktail

“Gonna buy five copies for my mother” … Well, I’m not actually on the cover (thank Gawd), but I wrote an article on cocktails for New Year’s Eve that appears on pages 52-54 of the current (Winter ’08/’09) issue of Edible Los Angeles magazine, just out on newsstands. (Yay, a paid writing gig! I should have it stuffed and mounted.)

It shouldn’t be terribly new to cocktail geeks and/or longtime readers of this site, but I review the classic Champagne Cocktail, because I’m astonished as to how few people seem to have heard of this drink anymore. It’s a part of our drinking heritage going back over 150 years, and most people have no idea. It’s an indication of how badly our cocktail culture has gotten away from us, and how the public needs to be educated about drinks the same way they became educated about food from the ’80s until now.

We also do a punch, the superb 1893 Columbian Punch that I learned about from Dr. Cocktail, my original Réveillon Cocktail and to cap off the evening, the beautiful Widow’s Kiss. Oddly enough, they included the picture of the Seelbach Cocktail we did even though I had to cut the paragraphs and recipe for that drink due to lack of space. (Grr, print publications and their stoopid word limits! To which my editor would reply, “You internet people who think you can just write and write and write … learn to edit!”)

I initially included it because I wanted to offer a more sophisticated Champagne-based cocktail, and although I suspect you may well be familiar with the recipe, here it is, with the excised copy, just in case you aren’t:

For a more highly seasoned variation on the Champagne Cocktail, let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and jump back to the luxurious Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s 1917, and you’re sipping this beautiful hotel’s signature cocktail, which soon would be lost for decades thanks to the failed experiment of Prohibition, only to be unearthed in the mid-1990s when a bar manager at the Seelbach found the secret recipe. The elegance of the hotel is reflected in this lovely cocktail, with the kick of the Bourbon and the spicy bite of the bitters tempered and balanced with the sweet orange of the liqueur and the dry fruitiness of the wine. If you make this one for a turn-of-the-year celebration, don’t be surprised if you end up making it year-round.


1 ounce Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur.
7 dashes Angostura Bitters.
7 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters.
5 ounces chilled dry Champagne.
Curly orange twist for garnish.

Add the first four ingredients, in the order given, to a Champagne flute.
Stir gently, then add the chilled Champagne. Garnish with the orange twist, and enjoy.

This is a great drink. We have Gaz Regan to thank too, as he’s the one who convinced the Seelbach’s manager to give up the secret recipe, and it was published for the first time in his book New Classic Cocktails.

I hope you enjoy Edible Los Angeles — it’s one of many locally-focused Edible publications that are launching all around the country. My good friend Carol edited this issue, and will be editing the next one too.


Mixology Monday XXXIV: Spice

Well! I actually managed to do some experimentation and alchemy this weekend, and a post as well. This month’s Mixology Monday is being hosted by Craig Hermann at Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments, and the theme is described thusly:

Spice should give you plenty of room to play – from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg — what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn’t an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I’d love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.

Perfect timing. I turned to the row of tinctures I’ve been working on.

For those readers who might not be cocktail geeks (or chemists), a tincture is defined as an alcoholic extract or solution of a non-volatile substance. In medicine it’s generally an herb or other organic substance (even a drug) used for medicinal purposes. Audrey Saunders of The Pegu Club in New York has been on the forefront of using tinctures as liquid spice to flavor cocktails, and many other folks have been using them to create customized batches of bitters. I’ve been experimenting with both of late.

I want to build up a base supply of tinctures not only for experimentation but also to make bitters, rather than infusing herbs and spices directly into the base spirit (quicker results this way). I’ve got qutie a few so far, and I’ve still got a few batches brewing with more on the way. Unless noted, each tincture is made with 80 proof vodka, in four-ounce quantities. I fill the jar between 1/3 and 1/2 full with the herb or spice, and spices are generally toasted briefly in a skillet to bring out the volatile oils and flavors. I add four ounces of vodka (or whatever other spirit I may wish to use), and give it about 3 weeks of steeping with occasional (daily) agitating. My spices are almost all obtained from Penzey’s, who offer high quality and low cost, plus a few others (like bittering agents) from herbalists like Tenzing Momo.

Here’s what I’ve got so far: Cinnamon (in 126-proof Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum), Cardamom, Clove, Nutmeg, Lavender, Ginger, Star Anise, and Szechuan Peppercorn.

My bitters blending experiment is still a ways off, and I wanted to do something more than just seasoning a cocktail today. (That said, the cinnamon tincture, which is marvelously flavorful on its own and has a wonderful bitterness from the tannins in the bark, is great in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Autumn Leaves cocktail, and the lavender tincture lovely in a Martini, and more suggestions to come the more I play with them.) I wanted to showcase one of them, and I wanted to do something original.

The one I wanted to work wtih the most, and to the best of my knowledge one that has yet to be explored in cocktails (and please correct me if I’m wrong), is Szechuan peppercorn.

Szechuan peppercorns

Szechuan peppercorns (public domain image via Wikipedia)

It’s an amazing spice. You’re probably more familiar with it than you think, as it’s one of the ingredients in Chinese Five-Spice Powder. (You may recall I’ve been having fun playing with Scott Beattie’s five-spice syrup over the last few weeks.) It’s not related to the black peppercorn with which we’re all famliar (Piper nigrum) but from an entirely different genus (Zanthoxylum piperitum), and is called 花椒 or huājiāo in Mandarin (“flower pepper”).

Now, for the flavor. If you’ve ever crunched up a few Szechuan peppercorns in your mouth, the first thing you get is a very aromatic quality, with a lemony, earthy, slightly smoky, spicy-hot but not overwhelmingly so, not burning yoru mouth at all, but with more of the aromatic quality you might think of in black pepper without the same kind of flavor or bite, but with its own bite — so very much going on! And then … you start to get the tingle.

The Chinese call it 麻辣, málà, or “numbing spicy.” You get a very pronounced tingling on your lips and tongue, followed by a bit of numbness but one that does not remove the flavor sensation. It lingers for about five minutes. It’s wild.

When you taste a drop of tincture of Szechaun peppercorn, you get all this and then some.

Now, what the frak do I do with it?

I began thinking of flavor affinities with the spice that I already knew about, and consulted my handy-dandy copy of The Flavor Bible for more ideas. I was kind of pining for some kind of Asian spirit for a base — a really good, flavorful sake, or maybe soju? Then I started thinking outside the box and decided on Good Ol’ Bourbon.

I knew I wanted ginger in there — ginger is one of the five spices in some versions of Chinese five-spice — and thought of accenting with star anise, another of those flavors, but decided spice-wise to stick with just the one. So, Bourbon, ginger, tincture … and then thought lime juice for balance. I chose Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur as the ginger flavor moderator.

The first iteration contained those four ingredients. Okay. Not bad. Something wasn’t right, though. Wes and I started thinking of other base spirits to try in lieu of sake or soju. Vodka was out. Rum? Hm, dunno, maybe. Gin? Hmm. Gin. It’s got its own base of botanicals that play well with others. Why not?

Iterations with gin … didn’t work. There was something harsh, glassy about it that neither of us liked. Back to Bourbon, and back to The Flavor Bible.

I think a bit of the harshness, and a tropicality that I didn’t really want, was coming from the lime juice. I wanted acid for balance, but maybe not so much acid. Orange was listed as one of the flavors with an affinity for Szechuan peppercorn, so I tried that.


The base spirit smoothed out such that you almost forgot it was Bourbon, but gave it a good, warm base for accepting and embracing the spice. The ginger was sharp yet mellow yet bright, the orange provided the perfect acid balance as well as a lovely flavor, and that spice, hoo-boy … so exotic! Someone drinking this might well be hard-pressed to identify what it was, and I love it when that happens. And the tingle? Maybe. Just a little bit. Way in the background, not enough to be distracting, maybe even not enough such that you’re really sure it’s there. You’re probably not sure.

Wes and I decided this one was a keeper, and I decided to name it for The God of Szechuan Cuisine — at least to those of us who are “Iron Chef” fans. (That’s the real “Iron Chef,” I mean.)

The Chen-san Cocktail

The Chen-san Cocktail

2 ounces Bourbon whiskey (I used Four Roses).
1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur.
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice.
2-4 dashes tincture of Szechuan peppercorn, to taste (I used four dashes, or 40 drops).

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake like hell for 12-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin slice of fresh ginger and a curly orange twist.

This stuff’s going to be fun to play with. I’ve got a batch of bitters in mind next.


Today is the 75th anniversary of the return of our constitutional right to have a drink. (Well, except for those forsaken places known as “dry counties,” which translates as “places I don’t want to go.”) There are those of us who’d like to see this as a national holiday, but until then, we’ll just keep celebrating it every year.

Ah, those lovely words in the 21st Amendment …

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

The 18th Amendment, of course, being the one that instituted prohibition of alcohol. And as much as we love the 21st Amendment, there’s that pesky Section 2 that leaves the regulation of liquor up to the states, which is why to this day we still have trouble shipping wine and spirits to certain places, and state liquor stores in others, and where you can’t get certain products because it’s not in the state liquor store’s inventory, etc. Maybe we’ll get over some of that one day too.

Mitch Frank has a great article on the history of Prohibition and its effects on the wine industry in particular in the Wine Spectator, and while we think about the bad things about Prohibition, Camper reminds us of the upsides of Prohibition:

- It also popularized tequila in the United States. Mmm, tequila.

- It set the stage for the tiki movement. Rum fell out of popularity in America long before Prohibition. But during those long years, tourists flocked to rum-producing countries like Cuba to enjoy Daiquiris and other rum drinks. After Repeal, a lot of rum sat around in barrels with nobody drinking it. After WWII, Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic used this cheap supply of inexpensive aged rum to create some of the best cocktails the world has ever known.

- It pushed American cocktails and American bartenders abroad to find employment. Yes, this sucked for America, but was great for the rest of the world as bartenders relocated in Europe and South America vastly improved the quality of drinking throughout the world.

- It ended the great sausage party. Speakeasies were integrated with both men and women, allowing the female gender to join the party for the first time. Bars without women are depressing and scary in one way or another.

- It created cocktail hour and cocktail parties and the demand for barware and all the other terms and practices and amenities for drinking at home and entertaining at home with cocktails. As people had to keep drinking on the DL during Prohibition, they turned to entertaining behind closed doors. I, for one, love a good house party, and enjoy the occasional happy hour cocktail.

By the way, if you’re not reading Camper’s most excellent blog of all things boozy, Alcademics, you should me.

Now … let’s drink!

I got this drink via Jay, who adapted it from Jamie, who got it from an 1878 tome called American and Other Drinks. Use whatever aromatic bitters you have on hand — Angostura, no doubt, but also try Fee’s (especially the Whiskey Barrel-Aged one), or Hermes or the wonderful stuff from The Bitter Truth. I got a big box of stuff from them last week, and I’ve been enjoying all of it (expect a feature next week). They don’t have distribution in the States yet, so shipping from Germany is a tad expensive, but I think it’s all worth it. For the recipe below, I followed Jay’s suggestion to use the most excellent (and very limited edition) Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters, in honor of the holiday.

(adapted from Leo Engel, Criterion’s American Bar, London, 1870s)

1-1/2 ounces VSOP Cognac.
2 barspoons Cointreau.
1-1/2 barspoons fresh lemon juice.
1 barspoon simple syrup.
1 barspoon aromatic bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into your most elegant cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

This is in Sidecar/New Orleans sour territory, but you get a great spice flavor from the bitters, which are also quite bracing on the tongue. This is a cocktail for grownups. It’s also got more subtlety and complexity than a simple Sidecar (which I do love, don’t get me wrong). I enjoy using smaller amounts of ingredients as accents in cocktails, which is why I’ve taken to 19th Century-style “improved cocktails” so much, and wny I now keep a few ingredients like maraschino and absinthe in dasher bottles for convenience. (I’m still trying to develop a taste for the original Casino cocktail recipe, thanks to Erik’s encouragement, but at the moment I’m still drinking them with the heavyhanded amounts of 1.5 teaspoons of maraschino, I’m afraid. But I’m workin’ on it!)


I'll keep drinking,  thanks.


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