Monthly Archives: March 2009

Averna Amaro

One thing that’s common in Europe, but relatively uncommon in the United States, is the drinking of straight (or neat) liquors or liqueurs, either before dinner (apéritif/aperitivo) or after (digéstif/digestivo). Sure, there are people here who enjoy a scotch or brandy after a big meal, but it’s not really an everyday part of American drinking. I am here to advocate in favor of this refined and civilized practice. Here I sit, after taking in a rich meal of roasted chicken and bread salad, and I am sipping Averna amaro, gently chilled with a single large ice cube, to cleanse my palate and help me relax a bit before bed.

Amari, if you don’t know, are herbal liqueurs from Italy, typically enjoyed after the meal. The word amari literally means “bitter.” Italy has a host of amari, at varying degrees of bitterness, but today, I’m going to talk about Averna. A bittersweet amaro, Averna is made from a blend of flowers, herbs, dried fruits, and spices, resulting in a complex taste with a lingering finish. A pleasant, satisfying sipper, a little Averna goes a long way as you unwind in the evening. No need to sip it solely as an digestivo, either. Because it cleanses and opens up the palate, it’s equally good as an aperitivo.

Lately, however, bartenders have started mixing it into cocktails. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Gary Regan offers up a couple of recipes mixing Averna with another Italian quaff, Campari. Of the two recipes, we’ve tried La Dura Vita and found it quite yummy.

La Dura Vita

  • 1-1/2 oz. gin (Gary suggests Plymouth; I used Beefeater to good effect)
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1/2 oz. Averna amaro
  • lemon twist, for garnish

Technique: Build over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Stir. Add garnish. Smile.

The Dave Initiative

For a couple of years now, I’ve had a subscription to Esquire magazine. I don’t have much use for a lot of the stuff in there. The celebrity profiles are often silly (April’s is by a writer who “prepared” for his Ben Affleck interview by going on a four-day bender in Vegas, trying, I suppose, to out-man’s-man the man’s man he was interviewing). I don’t share Barry Sonnenfeld’s gadget fetish. And who can afford a $9,700 watch, anyway? Probably no one I want to know.

But the one can’t-miss feature every month is Dave Wondrich’s booze column. I usually read that as soon as my issue arrives each month. And the April column’s a beaut. Dave shares with us a formula for creating new cocktails. (It doesn’t seem to be on the Esquire site yet; when I see it, I’ll edit this post and link out to it.) I’ve now mixed up three different drinks with it, and I have to say, it’s a keeper. Here’s the idea: you start with your base spirit: gin, whiskey, rum, tequila, whatever you want. Add fortified wine (port, sherry, vermouth, you name it) and a splash of liqueur. Top with two dashes of the bitters of your choice. Here’s the basic recipe.

The Basic Cocktail

  • 2 oz. spirit
  • 1 oz. fortified wine
  • 1 tsp. liqueur
  • 2 dashes bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

DSC08492As I said, I’ve done three drinks with this already. The first drink I’m not sharing here, not yet anyway. It’s a gin drink, and I want to enter it into competition at the Mixoloseum‘s Beefeater edition of Thursday Drink Night, on March 26. I’ll post the recipe after that evening. The second attempt featured Kilo Kai rum as the base, and I used Wondrich’s exact proportions.

Bitter Regret

Stir and strain. Photo, at right, by Jennifer Hess.

This was a delicious drink. Enough body from the port to match the spice in the rum, and the cherry flavor was really subtle. Tasty, tasty stuff. The next drink, however. Enh.

Not Quite Right

  • 2 oz. Inocente tequila
  • 1 oz. Martini & Rossi bianco vermouth
  • 1 tsp. St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

This drink was too sweet as formulated. I think the bianco’s just too much for the tequila in these proportions. Worse, though, is that the St.-Germain just disappeared in it. I added a touch more tequila, and it balanced out well with the vermouth, but I think I need a drier vermouth for this and perhaps a little more St.-Germain. Still, though, this has potential. I’ll have to work on it further.

Overall, this was a fun experiment with a versatile basic recipe. I’m eager to try more combinations out and report back to you. I already have some ideas in mind for bourbon or rye, and I’d love to play with a smoky scotch in this.

Recipes for Jen’s Dish

For those who heard me on Jen’s Dish, and for those who did not, here are the recipes I talked about on her program.

Whiskey Rebellion

Drink #1 comes from Portland (OR) bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler.  Jeff volunteered this recipe when I asked for bourbon-based drinks involving maple syrup. I tried it at home and loved it. The best thing is, it perfectly bookends the Savoy drink that follows. Jeff demonstrates that you needn’t bury your ass in the past and you needn’t follow the modern trend of infused vodkas to make an excellent drink.

Whiskey Rebellion

  • 2 oz. pecan-infused bourbon (I used Wild Turkey 101)
  • 1/2 oz. maple syrup
  • 3/4 oz. fig jam
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 dashes of bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Apple Jack Rabbit

The second cocktail is adapted from the Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock. Craddock was an American disgusted by Prohibition; he grabbed the first boat out for England, and settled in to the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London.

These proportions are based on Erik Ellestad’s, at Underhill Lounge. Erik’s working his way through the Savoy book, and he’s having a great time with it. Erik found Harry’s proportions to be a little sweet, and I agree, so I’m going with Erik’s recipe.

The one thing to note is that Erik used the Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, which I can’t find in Rhode Island. I used Laird’s Applejack, which is a blend of apple brandy and neutral grain spirits. The Bonded Apple Brandy has nothing in it but the brandy. The blended, since it also has grain spirits, is less appley than the bonded. I’d rather have the bonded, but I’ll take the blended when I have to.

Apple Jack Rabbit

  • 1-1/2 oz. Laird’s Applejack
  • 1 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. maple syrup
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

MxMo: Cocktail Virgin

Hey! The awesome ladies of LUPEC Boston are hosting this month’s edition of Mixology Monday, and it’s a subject that I feel kinda warm-and-fuzzy about. Pink Lady posts about a random encounter she had with a Christian-rock musician who had never had a cocktail but wanted to try one, and she wasn’t sure what to recommend. Funny. I used to be a born-again Christian. I don’t remember any of my Christian friends drinking anything stronger than beer or Communion wine. If today’s Christians are looser, I’m cool.

I remember the day I decided to start trying mixed drinks. It was my last day on the job at Pearson Education in Indianapolis, where I copy-edited computer books. I was leaving for Bloomington, 50 miles south, for a master’s program in library and information science. To celebrate my last day, I met up with a bunch of friends for dinner and lots of drinks.

Up to this point, I drank mostly beer and some bourbon, on the rocks or neat. In a weird little emo stage after “breaking up” with a girl I had hardly dated, I chose to drink as much vodka as I could before passing out. I think I had a third of a bottle. Ironically, I had, by this point, turned my back to a moonlighting stint at a liquor store and had never really tucked into the offerings on hand. I was intimidated by all the choices. The big plastic bottles scared me, but the other options frightened me even more. I didn’t know where to begin.

So, my final day of work arrived. I pulled into Buffalo Wild Wings (classy, that’s me) early and awaited my friends. I decided to get brave, to venture into a new frontier of drinking–the mixed drink. The <gasp> cocktail. I wracked my brain trying to decide what to order. Beer with the wings, of course, but what to start with? I’ll ease the suspense. My answer? Gin and tonic.

That, my friends, was my gateway drug into this delightful hobby. (How I got from gin and tonic to Tales of the Cocktail is another post.) That’s the mixed drink that popped my cocktail cherry. What popped yours? (Comment below. Don’t be ashamed.)

In that spirit, I wanted to propose a gin-based fizzy drink. You might recall, from such classic episodes as Guilty Pleasures, that my first drunk drink drunk was at a cousin’s wedding, when I was 14 and drinking a gin-and-Sprite Tom Collins. So I have no qualms about holding gin up as a cherry popper. If I can do it, anyone can.

Shut up and give us a drink, you holler? Okay, dammit. Serve this to your cocktail virgins.

Hail Mary Fizz

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Grand Marnier (Cointreau, triple sec, whatever)
  • 1/2 oz. Meyer lemon juice

Shake over ice. Strain into a highball glass. Top with fizzy water–tonic, soda, whatever. I sprayed in some soda from my phancy phountain. Garnish with your best wishes and love.

All we hear is radio ga ga

Holy shit, I’m going to be on the radio!

This Wednesday, March 11, at 9 a.m., I’ll be the guest on the program Jen’s Dish, hosted by Jen Huntley-Corbin. Jen is the Buy Local Coordinator for Farm Fresh RI, which, among other things, organizes the local farmer’s markets. She approached me just over a week ago to be on the show and discuss seasonal ingredients in cocktails, among other topics. Maple syrup is fresh right now in our area, so that’s the impetus for this program. I have a couple of cocktail ideas in mind that use maple, so it should be fun.

The program airs on WNRI/1380 AM, out of Woonsocket, RI. (Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a Woonsocket. Woonsocket, Woonsocket.) The station does not appear to offer podcasts of past shows, but you can listen to a live stream at the station’s website. Since I doubt a single person’s gonna do that, I’ve asked Jen for permission to host an MP3 of the program on my own site.

Edited to add: Jen just sent me the numbers for the talk line. If any of you are awake and alert enough to call in with questions, here are the numbers:

Talk Line: 401-769-0600
Talk Line: 401-766-1380
Talk Line: 800-949-WNRI (9674)

Year Four

anniversary_graphics_a3As I noted in my previous post, last month marked the third anniversary of A Dash of Bitters. And although my wallet’s hurting a little right now, I still have every intention of keeping the blog going through the next year. I started this site as a way to simply record the new drinks I was mixing at home, and to talk a bit about what we drank when we’d go out. My goal was to use the fact that I had this blog to be an incentive to push myself to try new things, and to always stay fresh.

With that in mind, I have one big project in mind for this year, and I’m going to need your help. But first, an explanatory note. One question that cocktail novices often ask is, “Where do I begin with this hobby? There are so many brands to choose from in each category, and there are so many categories to explore!” A common bit of advice to these folks is to narrow your focus: choose a drink or a type of liquor and build from there.

Robert Hess expands on this in his Essential Bartender’s Guide:

Rather than starting with a shopping list of products to buy, why not select a cocktail you want to make. Look up the recipe for that cocktail, and pick up just the products you need for that one drink. Simple, straightforward and effective.

…[M]ake that drink over and over again. Reach a point where you really understand what each ingredient is doing to the drink, and how the way you prepare it comes into play. Play around with the recipe a little bit. Perhaps look up a few alternate recipes and see how the drink is changed.

So, that’s the plan. I want one new drink that I will play with and blog about over the course of the coming year. I might not need a whole year to do this, but we’ll see. What I want from you is, suggest the drink. I have a few ground rules, though:

  1. Rum. It must include rum. White, golden, dark, whatever. Rum’s a spirit I’m still largely ignorant of and it intimidates me a little. This project will allow me to cycle several brands of rum through the same drink so I can start to learn differences between brands. If I move on from this drink and do this a second time, that new drink will also be rum-based.
  2. The drink, obviously, should be versatile enough that it can work with more than one brand of rum. I doubt that’ll be a problem, but I suppose it could be.
  3. I’d prefer the drink to be relatively simple. I don’t mean daiquiri-simple, with rum, juice, and sugar (I’ve pretty much mastered the sour, which is what a daiquiri is), but I also don’t want a drink with something like 8 or 9 ingredients, 3 of which are various types of rum.
  4. I’m open to tiki drinks, but see point 3.

An excellent example of the type of recipe I’m looking for would be the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail, which Doug Winship wrote up last week. In fact, if the only comments on my post are the sound of chirping crickets, I might start with that drink. What I like about it is that it’s adaptable. You can try different rums in the base. You can swap out Grand Marnier for the Cointreau. If, like me, you’ve never made your own falernum, you can make some, and then judge the drink side-by-side against a version made with John Taylor’s Velvet, or another commercial product.

Please help. You know you want to.