Pétillant Child

Author: Kirsten K., Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Spirits, Wine

kirsten-in-3rd-gradekirsti-in-3rd-gradeToday is a special day at The Swoon Society, because it marks the anniversary of the day Kirsti and I first met. I won’t say how many years ago that was…but it’s a lot! Although it took us four years from that first meeting to become close friends, this is a milestone anniversary, so we wanted to toast it properly. We got together this past weekend and decided to celebrate early by popping open the bottle of pétillant naturel that I gave Kirsti for her birthday.

A French classification meaning “naturally sparkling,” pétillant naturel wines (pét-nats, for short) originated in the Loire Valley from a fermentation technique that pre-dates the méthode champenoise. The process involves bottling and capping unfinished wine so that it can complete fermentation in the bottle and develop a mild effervescence. It is actually illegal to add sugar or yeast during production of a pétillant naturel, resulting in a wine that is completely natural, unrefined, and occasionally cloudy. For this reason, pét-nats have become trendy in recent years among hipsters and those seeking a more handcrafted, authentic wine.

les-pions-petillant-naturel-1Kirsti and I read about pét-nat wine for the first time last year, but didn’t take the plunge until I decided to purchase a bottle for her as a gift. Her house is built into the side of a hill and has a secret storage area that looks like a wine cave, both because you can see the exposed hillside and because it’s filled with bottles of wine. But despite having an enviable collection, she did not have a bottle of pétillant naturel, so it was “naturel” that I should remedy the situation. There was only one selection at our local wine shop, so the choice was easy: Ludovic Chanson Montlouis-sur-Loire Pétillant Naturel Les Pions 2011. (Let’s just call it Les Pions, shall we?)

The tasting notes* included with my purchase cited a bouquet “wafting from the glass in a mix of apple, quince, bee pollen, bread dough, chalky soil tones and a bit of citrus peel in the upper register” and referred to the wine twice as “snappy.” I’m no connoisseur and am generally of the opinion that, to quote writer Nick Tosches, the tasting of wine falls into one of three categories: “‘good,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘just shut up and drink.’” However, I felt immediately that this wine was different, with its earthy flavor and lively bubbles. A Monet-like image sprung to mind of French peasants resting against haystacks to enjoy a simple lunch of crusty bread, cheese, fruit, and a bottle of rustic wine.

les-pions-petillant-naturel-2I was somewhat disappointed that this pét-nat wasn’t cloudy, but rather than sulk like a petulant child, I’ve decided to embrace my pétillant child and seek out other varieties. While Les Pions is 100% Chenin Blanc, pét-nat wines can be made from both white and red grapes. The unpredictable nature of the fermentation process means you’re never sure what you’re going to get, but the low price point (generally under $30) means that it’s a risk worth taking.

As with Kirsti and me, it’s best to make the acquaintance of a pét-nat when it’s young, so don’t wait for a special anniversary to enjoy it. Get to know your new “pét” immediately, and who knows? It might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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Ludovic Chanson Montlouis-sur-Loire Pétillant Naturel Les Pions 2011

 

*By John Gillman in View from the Cellar.

 

Kiddie Pools and Cucumber Cocktails

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Spirits

Cucumber Cocktai 1I live in Woodland Hills, California—a suburb in the west San Fernando Valley that is known for being the hottest neighborhood in Los Angeles. I like it here, but in the summer it’s hot as Hades with a side of flame-broiled misery. When Santa Monica is a cool 89 degrees, we are 104. Last summer I remember having lunch with a friend, and the temperature in my car said 118 degrees. I laughed because it was funny/not funny. I’m honestly surprised I haven’t melted. All the candles on my deck did!

This year, my husband Aaron had enough and declared we were getting a kiddie pool. I was dubious, but—lo and behold!—a week later Amazon delivered a crazy-looking, 8-foot-wide, inflatable pool with a pump and a cover. And a skimmer! When one has a kiddie pool, one must not forget the skimmer! I giggled at Aaron’s fervor, but was secretly wondering how soon he could get this thing set up. When we finally tried it out, I’ll be damned if our little pool wasn’t the perfect antidote to this hell-spawned heat. We even got a doggie raft for our pug, Owen. This IS L.A., after all.

The only question was, what does one drink in a kiddie pool in the middle of a blistering Saturday afternoon?

Cucumber Cocktail 2The answer, friends, is a Cucumber Vodka Tonic.

When I read that Prairie made organic cucumber vodka, I immediately went out and procured this spirit. I’m normally a gin drinker, but I love cucumber water, cucumber seltzer—even cucumber perfume—so I was in.

I couldn’t love this cocktail more. It’s refreshing and delicious and the perfect drink for an afternoon in the kiddie pool. It’s also handy when you trick your friends into coming over for dinner and they don’t realize how ungodly hot it is here. I just put one of these cooling little babies in their hands and they are like, “I freaking LOVE Woodland Hills!” The Cucumber Cocktail Diversion, as I call it, works every time. We only hope that next time they remember to bring their swimsuits.

“Marco.”

“Polo.”

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Cucumber Cocktail 3CUCUMBER VODKA TONIC
Serves 4

1 cup Prairie Cucumber Vodka*
I cup tonic water
¼ cup lime juice
2 Tbsp. agave syrup or superfine sugar
mint leaves
cucumber ribbons
Put all ingredients except mint leaves and cucumber ribbons in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until cold. Strain into glasses filled with ice. Garnish with mint leaves and cucumber ribbons.

Turn on music. Get in kiddie pool. Ahhhhhh…

 

*Use the Prairie Finder to locate a Prairie Organic Spirits retailer near you.

 

“Peach It, Sister!”

Author: Kirsten K., Entertaining, Food & Drink, Spirits, Wine

Moscato and PeachBefore she moved to France, my friend Mika and I would routinely put away a bottle of Villa Alena Moscato d’Asti with a baguette and a wedge of triple-crème brie. The light, sweet flavor and delicate effervescence of this Italian sparkling wine were the perfect accompaniment to a late afternoon snack. Now that summer is here, I’ve become a peach bum. Their Moscato & Peach sums up the season with heavenly hints of the succulent stone fruit.

Since I’ve seen men turn up their noses at what they perceive to be a girly drink (although, if real men eat quiche, they can also drink peach), round up your girl squad and serve a chilled bottle of this fruity frizzante at your next garden party, afternoon tea, or girl’s night in. When the sisters discover how it complements your freshly-baked gallette, they’ll have a religious experience.

If coming up with summertime entertaining ideas has you throwing your hands in the air, “Peach it, sister!” Offer your guests Villa Alena Moscato & Peach and you’ll be sure to amass a following.

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Villa Alena Moscato & Peach

 

Villa Alena Moscato d’Asti is sold at Trader Joe’s. Moscato & Peach is available for a limited time.

Shrub the Right Way

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Drinks, Food & Drink, History, Holidays, Recipes, Spirits

Shrub 1Here in Southern California, we’re in the midst of an early summer heat wave, but instead of searching for the cool shade of a tree, I’ve been reaching for the cool treat of a shrub. Shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars, are refreshing beverages made from sweetened fruit and vinegar mixed with still or sparkling water. Used since the 15th century and popular in colonial America as a way to preserve summer fruits, the shrub is currently enjoying a revival.

I first learned about shrubs on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg several years ago and bought a bottle of pre-made shrub syrup from the Williamsburg Marketplace to try at home. I instantly fell for this sweet/tart thirst quencher, but why buy the syrup when you can easily make your own? Shrub 2The recipe is simple, requiring only three ingredients and a bit of pre-planning. Some people recommend cooking the mixture to speed up the process, but I prefer the cold method. It can take a few days, but involves only minutes of hands-on time, and the resulting syrup has greater depth and nuance.

While fresh summer fruits are now becoming available, frozen fruit works just as well when making shrub syrup. In fact, unless you grow your own fruit, pick it yourself, or obtain it from a farmer’s market, I suggest using frozen fruit (preferably organic) to make the syrup, since it is flash frozen a short time after it’s been picked and is actually fresher and more flavorful than most “fresh” fruit. Plus, it’s convenient, having been pre-washed and prepared.Shrub 3

In anticipation of the upcoming 4th of July holiday, I’ve made patriotic red raspberry and wild blueberry shrub syrups. After bottling, it’s best to leave the syrup in the fridge for at least a week or more to cure, so if you get started now, your shrub(s) will be just right to serve at that Independence Day picnic or barbecue. The fruit flavors intensify the longer the mixture sits, and the acid from the vinegar will dissolve any residual sugar over the course of a few days.

Once your syrup has matured a bit, it will be ripe to drink. You can mix it with water to taste, but a good ratio is 2 Tbsp. of syrup for every 8 oz. of water. As mentioned above, you can use still or sparkling water, but get inventive. Use the syrup in place of sugar to sweeten iced tea or lemonade, or follow the lead of trend-setting mixologists who have embraced shrub syrups as a way to add a tart kick to cocktails. The designated drivers and teetotalers at your gathering will appreciate a sophisticated shrub in place of the standard club soda and lime.

As we get ready to revel on America’s birthday, prepare to party like it’s 1776 and celebrate colonial-style with a bottle of aged shrub. It’s the perfect “cure” for the summertime red, white, and blues.

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COLONIAL SHRUB SYRUP

1 cup berries or fruit cut in small chunks
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar*

Put fruit in a glass bowl and stir in sugar, mixing until the fruit is coated. Cover bowl (I try to avoid using plastic wrap, so I just rest a plate on top) and put it in the refrigerator for one to several days. The longer the mixture sits, the more flavor will be drawn out by the sugar, but I find that two days is usually sufficient.Shrub 5

When you remove the bowl from the fridge, the fruit should be floating in a watery syrup. There are a couple ways to separate out the fruit. If you want to save the sweetened fruit to use later, you can either remove it with a slotted spoon, or pour the mixture through a strainer, pressing down on the fruit with a spoon or spatula to extract all the liquid, but it will still be coated with some undissolved sugar and you will need to scoop out any remaining sugar in the bowl to add back in to the liquid.

Since I like the least amount of fuss, I simply add the vinegar to the fruit mixture first and stir until most of the sugar is dissolved. Then I pour it through a strainer and press down on the fruit. Shrub 6What remains is a small pile of sweet, vinegar-infused fruit that you can toss in a smoothie or spoon over ice cream (if that sounds unappetizing, you’ve obviously never drizzled balsamic vinegar over vanilla ice cream).

Whether you add the vinegar before or after you strain the fruit, stir well and pour the mixture into clean bottles or jars. Place in the fridge or a cool pantry (shrub syrup does not strictly need to be refrigerated) for one or more weeks before serving. Makes about two cups of syrup.

Variations
If you want to get creative, experiment with different combinations of fruit, vinegar, and herbs. For a list of herbs that pair well with summer fruits, click here. You can also make shrub syrups with different types of vinegar, including balsamic, champagne, red wine, rice, sherry, white balsamic, and white wine varieties. Balsamic vinegars should be mixed 50/50 with lighter versions, such as dark balsamic with red wine vinegar (great with strawberries) or white balsamic with champagne vinegar (try it with peaches). Use rice vinegar with plums and Japanese basil for an Asian twist. You can even play around with other kinds of sugar, like turbinado, demerara, or muscovado. The possibilities are endless, so have fun!

*I recommend Bragg’s organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

 

To serve your drinking vinegars in authentic colonial style, purchase tavern shrub glasses from the Williamsburg Marketplace.

 

Sofie – The Real Champagne of Beers

Author: Kirsti Kay, Beer, Food & Drink, Spirits

I’ve noticed an ad in some of the magazines I’ve been reading lately showing a lovely bottle of what I thought to be wine. When I took a closer look, I realized it was not wine at all, but beer. Beer! In a wine bottle! This, of course, required further investigation.

Sofie 1

Sofie Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale is the creation of Goose Island Beer Co., a craft brew house from Chicago that markets this beer as if it were wine. Sofie is part of their Vintage Ales collection, which also includes Matilda, a Belgian Style Pale Ale; Lolita, a raspberry-scented Framboise Style Wild Ale; Halia, a Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale aged with whole peaches; Gillian, a Farmhouse Ale with white pepper, strawberry and honey; Juliet, a Wild Ale aged with blueberries (compared to a Pinot Noir); and, finally, Madame Rose, a Belgian Brown Style Ale aged with cherries. I have never been so excited about beer in my life!

Sofie 2

Brewer’s Notes for Sofie: “Our sparkling Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale is wine-barrel aged with an abundance of hand-zested orange peel. Spicy white pepper notes contrast the citrus tartness. The light, refreshing, creamy vanilla finish will excite those fond of Champagne.” Champagne, you say? Yes, I am quite fond of champagne. Quite fond indeed!

Goose Island provides serving suggestions for Sofie on its website, which made me even more curious:

Sofie 3

Not many bottles of beer (or wine) come with instructions on the label.

Preferred Glass: Wide Mouth Glass
Food Pairings: Sofie pairs with a wide variety of foods, its light and refreshing qualities complement lighter flavors like fresh oysters and contrast rich shellfish like lobster.
Cheese Pairings: Brie
Cellaring Notes: Develops in the bottle for up to 5 years

The Goose Island folks are really treating this beer with the seriousness of a wine. They are also, not very subtly, appealing to women like me who might enjoy a beer on occasion, but don’t want to wade through all the clever names to find one that is delicious AND goes well with food.

I immediately set out to find a bottle of this mysterious minx of a beer and found one at my local supermarket for $10. Hmmm…cheaper than most wines I drink…hand-zested orange peel…a winsome font used on the label… I was truly swooning.

I have never been a beer girl. My beer experience consists of childhood memories of my relatives drinking Olympia out of a can, and, more recently, so many craft beers with overwrought “bro” names like “Moose Knuckle,” “Belligerent Ass” and “Hoppy Ending” that I don’t think I have enough body hair to join the club. In bars where you are expected to order beer, I usually just say, “Surprise me,” because I am too overwhelmed and unknowledgeable.

Sofie 4Cut to: a lovely evening after work. Pre-spring, but warm the way it sometimes gets in the Valley on an early March night. Aaron was home, Billie Holiday was playing, and our pug Owen was relaxing on the deck with us. The sky was a bright blue-pink, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t happy hour. The stakes were high. This was a potential perfect moment. I could have gone for the safe bet—a New Zealand Sav Blanc—but I was feeling lucky. I brought out the Sofie, with a slice of orange…‘cause, you know, the hand-zested orange peel thing…and wide mouthed glasses, as recommended. We both took a sip and smiled at each other. We contentedly watched the blue-pink sky turn inky as Billie sang “My Baby Just Cares For Me” while Owen snored happily, as pugs do. The only thing missing from making it a perfect-moment-kind-of-night was the lack of suggested brie, but there will be as many nights to make this correct as Billie Holiday has songs.

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Sofie Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale

 

Sofie is available at select grocery stores, including Ralphs, Vons and Whole Foods, and at wine shops like Total Wine. Use the search feature on the Goose Island Website to find specific locations in your area where you can purchase Sofie and the rest of the company’s Vintage Ales collection.

Wonder of Wonder Drinks

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Cold Drinks, Food & Drink, Spirits, Wellness
Wonder of Wonder Drinks 1

I have been in a funk ever since these drinks became defunct.

I have tried my share of “wonder” drinks over the years. Like many people, I got caught up in the craze of energy drinks, enhanced waters, and herbal elixirs that began in the 1990s, but I never experienced any of their purported benefits. I simply enjoyed them for their taste, particularly some of the dry, elegant beverages that made a refreshing alternative to wine. (Two of my favorites, Aqua Libra and Golden Star White Jasmine Sparkling Tea, were discontinued and I’m still in mourning.)

One of these trendy tonics that did produce a pleasant physical effect was kombucha, which gave me a nice little buzz until a literal buzzkill discovered that this fermented tea contains a small amount of alcohol, leading to virtually all kombucha brands being pulled from store shelves for months. However, before this tempest in a tea bottle, I made a wonder-ful discovery: Wonder Drink Asian Pear & Ginger Kombucha.

Wonder of Wonder Drinks 2There are a couple of things that set Wonder Drink apart from the kombucha crowd. First, it is pasteurized.* Most kombucha drinks are raw and can have a slimy mass called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) floating around in the liquid like a jellyfish in a murky sea. Blessedly, I’ve never encountered one in a bottle of Wonder Drink. Second, it’s sweeter and more palatable than many other brands. While I actually enjoy the tart, acidic flavor of most kombucha, I always find it amusing when someone who’s never had it before takes a sip and makes “that” face.

But the main thing that, in my opinion, separates Wonder Drink from the pack is their Asian Pear & Ginger flavor. The company produces 11 varieties of kombucha, and I’ve tried most of them, but Asian Pear & Ginger is my favorite (I’m not alone, as it’s their most popular flavor). There’s something about those two magical ingredients that creates an alchemy with the kombucha, turning an ordinary element into liquid gold. I like to drink it with meals as a digestif, but it’s also delicious in cocktails, making restorative spirits to restore your spirits.

Wonder of Wonder Drinks 3

As for health claims, some might argue that pasteurization destroys the beneficial bacteria for which kombucha is known, or that more of the sugar should be consumed by the yeast than by you, but I always feel an immediate sense of well-being by merely having a bottle of Wonder Drink in my fridge. So, if you want to enjoy some fashionable fermentation, but you’ve been put off by the bite of other brews, try Asian Pear & Ginger from Wonder Drink. This potent potion will do wonders for your disposition.

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Wonder Drink Asian Pear & Ginger Kombucha

 

There is only one store in my area that carries Wonder Drink, so I often purchase it online (if you can’t locate a brand of kombucha in health-conscious L.A., you might have trouble finding it elsewhere). Use Wonder Drink’s store locator to find out where to buy.

 

*Wonder Drink has now added three raw versions of kombucha tea to its line of products.

 

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Coffee, Food & Drink, Holidays, Hot Drinks, Spirits

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, and while I may not be Irish, I like to celebrate a holiday on which people are encouraged to dress in my favorite color. Always having some article of green clothing on hand, I haven’t been pinched yet!

Sweet Dreams 1This year, in addition to the wearin’ o’ the green, I’ll be drinkin’ o’ the Dream. In our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide, I chose Dream Catcher Legendary Toasted Irish Liqueur as one of my picks, and I’ve discovered that it makes a swoon-worthy Irish coffee. Simply replace the traditional whiskey with an equal amount of Dream Catcher and top with whipped cream. It’s magically delicious!

Serve up a mug with breakfast and you’ll feel on top o’ the mornin’. In the afternoon, you can enjoy a wee nip while you avoid a wee pinch. As a nightcap, the comforting warmth of the coffee and liqueur will help you catch some Zzzzz…and net some sweet dreams.

With luck, there’s still time to lurk in the liquor aisle and trap this treat from the Emerald Isle to enjoy on St. Patrick’s Day. One sip of this toasted chestnut liqueur and you’ll know you’ve found the gold at the end of the rainbow.

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Sweet Dreams 2DREAM CATCHER IRISH COFFEE (adapted from the Food Network)

1 cup freshly-brewed hot coffee
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 ½ oz. (3 Tbsp.) Dream Catcher Irish liqueur
heavy whipping cream and sugar, to taste*

Whip the cream with a beater or whisk until stiff peaks form, adding sugar, to taste (if desired). Set aside.

Fill a footed mug with hot water to preheat it, then empty. Pour piping hot coffee into warmed glass until it is about 3/4 full. Add the brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Blend in Dream Catcher Irish liqueur. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

*To veganize this recipe, substitute whipped coconut cream for dairy whipping cream.

 

For a store locator and recipes featuring Dream Catcher Irish liqueur, visit the company’s website.

 

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happy New Year

Author: Kirsten K., Entertaining, Food & Drink, Holidays, Spirits, Wine

The Pursuit of Happy New Year 1A close friend of mine who makes her living as an “intuitive” told me several years ago that she believes I am the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson. While I’m dubious about this, I’ve had some fun with it over the years, celebrating the special anniversaries in “my” life and reminding a number of my fellow Americans on July 4th of the debt they owe me: “You’re welcome.”

I have become highly attuned to all things Jeffersonian, so it wasn’t surprising that a bottle of sparkling wine with Thomas Jefferson’s signature and likeness on the label caught my eye when I was perusing the shelves of my local liquor store. What was surprising is that it’s produced by Gérard Bertrand, maker of the fine rosé in the lovely rose-shaped bottle that Kirsti gushed over in her very first post for The Swoon Society.

The Pursuit of Happy New Year 2I bought a bottle of their Cuvée Thomas Jefferson, which Kirsti and I enjoyed with friends during the holidays. Everyone agreed that it was an exceptional crémant—elegant, fruity, and superbly balanced. I made a declaration that this was the perfect sparkling wine to ring in the New Year and resolved to get another bottle to toast the arrival of 2016.

The label states that this cuvée is a tribute to Thomas Jefferson, “the most French of American presidents,” who had a love of wine from the Limoux region of France, believed to be the birthplace of sparkling wine. Like Jefferson, Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux Brut is both charming and a true ambassador of its homeland.

As we prepare to bid adieu to 2015, celebrate your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of Happy New Year by electing to purchase a bottle of this revolutionary wine (trust me, I know how to make a good purchase). Then, on New Year’s Eve, raise a glass to old friends, new beginnings, and independent spirits. You’re welcome.

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Gérard Bertrand Cuvée Thomas Jefferson Crémant de Limoux Brut

 

Cuvée Thomas Jefferson can be obtained online from The Wine Club and Wine.com. To learn more about Gérard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux, visit the company’s website.

 

The Pursuit of Happy Birthday
Update 4/13/16:

Thomas Jefferson was born 273 years ago today. Since we at The Swoon Society like any excuse to uncork a fine bottle of bubbly, we’ll be celebrating Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happy Birthday by toasting our third President with a glass of his namesake sparkling wine. Join us, won’t you?

 

 

New Hickory

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Cocktails, Food, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Recipes, Spirits, Sweets

New HickoryIt may have been Andrew Jackson who had the nickname Old Hickory, but it was at the home of Thomas Jefferson that I found this new hickory syrup. I’d never heard of hickory syrup before I spotted it in the Monticello shop, but it’s quickly gaining a following. Made by Falling Bark Farm from Virginia shagbark hickory, the flavor is slightly smoky (similar to hickory smoke), but has more of a woodsy overtone. I described the syrup to my mother by saying, “It tastes like a forest,” to which she responded, “And that’s a good thing?” Believe it or not, yes!

According to the label, hickory syrup can be used to make grilling glazes, marinades, and sauces, but I like to use it straight up in place of maple syrup. Why not pour it over cheddar cornmeal waffles for a multilayered taste sensation? It also makes a delicious sweetener for hot chocolate and a beguiling mixer in cocktails.

The applications are endless, so if you’re looking to try something new in the kitchen, get a bottle of hickory syrup and you’ll be barking up the right tree.

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Hickory Syrup

 

Learn more about hickory syrup and purchase additional flavors at Falling Bark Farm.

God Save the Cocktail

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Drinks, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits

It seems like every time I turn around there is a new artisan product: artisan cheese, artisan beer, artisan chocolate, even artisan water (really, Whole Foods, with your asparagus water?). One of the most intriguing artisanal products I’ve come across in the past several years has been craft bitters.

God Save the Cocktail 1Back in the days of our parents’ cocktail parties, there was only good old Angostura, but now there are thousands of different craft bitters being made around the world. Bitters started out as medicinal—usually a mixture of spices, roots, bark, seeds, flowers, and fruit peels infused into alcohol. They were used as a digestive aid or as medicine, but eventually were added, by the dash, as a flavoring for cocktails. According to Brad Thomas Parsons, author of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas, bitters gained popularity in Colonial America, although there is evidence they were being used in cocktails in England in the early 1700s. The complexity bitters add to a drink is what separates an average cocktail from an inspired work of sipable art—the one where you keep taking little slurps trying to discern all the different layers of flavor that are making your mouth sing, and you feel absolutely justified spending $16 on the dang thing.

God Save the Cocktail 2When I first started noticing this onslaught of bitters, I wanted to try them all…lavender, tangerine, cardamom, celery…but soon there were so many, even my fetishy delight at all the little apothecary bottles was replaced with an overwhelming sense of panic: How will I track down all the other special ingredients in these recipes? Do I know enough people who will come over and try these varied and complicated drinks? Do I really need a muddler? Will I need to start dressing in only pre-prohibition clothing and seek out friends with handlebar mustaches? Dizzy with all these quandaries, I gave up and stuck to my go-to bitter-infused cocktail—the dependably delicious Manhattan—put on some Cab Calloway and called it a day.

Recently, I read a blurb in a magazine about bitters from a company called Cocktail Punk, whose goal is to “create compelling accents for the modern cocktail…simple yet devious. They are perfect in classic cocktails but were really designed for the cocktails that haven’t been invented yet.” I liked their renegade spirit and their chubby dropper bottles with their simple labels—elegant, but with a Vivienne Westwood snark. I promptly ordered*:

God Save the Cocktail 3CHERRY BITTERS – A cherry bomb, targeted directly at (your) Manhattan. Vibrant cherry, a hint of vanilla, and subtle spice complements the oak flavors in dark spirits, but the flavor profile is simple enough to use wherever a touch of cherry is needed. You’ll never need a barspoon of syrup from the Luxardo jar again.

SMOKED ORANGE BITTERS – Smoked Orange is the new black. Orange zest is cold-smoked with alderwood, and the result is smoky but not overly intense; a finishing touch of mint adds interest. Built for and absolutely killer in tequila and mezcal drinks, but there are also unexpected and wonderful effects in combination with darker spirits.

MORNING GRAPEFRUIT BITTERS – Zesty grapefruit flavors, but with a pronounced aromatic backbone and a touch of juniper. Inspired by an eccentric uncle who enjoyed the old Southern habit of a breakfast grapefruit half with sugar and bitters added. A seasonal bitters made only in peak grapefruit season.

God Save the Cocktail 4I received the Cocktail Punk bitters in the mail, happily opening the box to reveal my prize. I quickly got to work on making a Manhattan with the Cherry bitters. They were right, I didn’t need any Luxardo syrup to achieve a perfectly balanced cherry kick. I did, however, enjoy a few Luxardo cherries thrown in along with a twist of orange. Heaven. I tried the Smoked Orange bitters in an Aperol Sour and received a satisfying amount of praise from Kirsten and Aaron (Aperol is an Italian bitter orange aperitivo similar to Campari). I will be making these on the regular. Finally, I tried the Morning Grapefruit bitters in a simple Greyhound. I quote the first Sharknado when I say, “’Nuff said!”

I’m looking forward to inventing some of my own cocktails using Cocktail Punk’s bitters. And I might trade in the Cab Calloway for some Clash or Fear. I still don’t have any friends with handlebar mustaches, but I have plenty of friends who like punk, so I’m not bitter.

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God Save the Cocktail 5CLASSIC MANHATTAN

¾ oz sweet vermouth
2 ½ oz bourbon
few dashes of Cocktail Punk Cherry bitters
Several Luxardo cherries
1 twist of orange peel

Place cherries in a chilled cocktail glass. Stir together vermouth, bourbon and bitters with ice in a mixing glass until cold, trying not to bruise the spirits. Strain into cocktail glass. Rub edge of the orange peel over rim and twist over the drink to release the oils, discard. Makes 1 drink.

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God Save the Cocktail 6APEROL SOUR

1 ¾ oz Aperol
¾ oz lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup (recipe below)
few dashes Cocktail Punk Smoked Orange bitters

SIMPLE SYRUP

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar

Simmer sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Makes about 1 cup.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all ingredients and shake until cold. Strain into a cocktail glass. Makes 1 drink.

God Save the Cocktail 7.
GREYHOUND

1 ½ oz gin (or vodka)
5 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
few dashes Cocktail Punk Morning Grapefruit bitters
1 twist of grapefruit peel

Pour ingredients into a highball glass filled with ice and stir to combine ingredients. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit peel. Makes 1 drink.

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The book Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Aperol can be found at BevMo and most liquor stores. You can purchase Luxardo cherries from Williams-Sonoma and Amazon.

*Descriptions of bitters from the Cocktail Punk website.