Monthly Archives: May 2009

A mellow Martini

Friday night Martini

photograph by Jennifer Hess

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkable pleasant;
A yellow*, a mellow Martini;
I wish that I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth–
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

–From “A Drink with Something in It,” by Ogden Nash

*Consider this: Take a chilled mixing glass. Add cracked ice, 4-1/2 ounces gin, 1-1/2 ounces dry vermouth, and 2-4 dashes orange bitters. Stir it, and stir it, and stir it. Strain it into two chilled cocktail glasses, and you have martinis for two. You also have, if you squint, a slight yellow tint from the orange bitters.

MxMo: Amaro

mxmologoIt’s that time of the month again, dear readers–Mixology Monday! Our host this month is Charming Chuck Taggart, and he’s chosen the theme amaro. Now, as you might recall, I’ve covered the topic of amari before. To sum up, though, amari are bitter, herbal liqueurs, consumed primarily over ice, either before or after dinner. Jen and I first encounted this class of spirit with Campari, probably, when we first tried the classic drink, the Negroni. We’ve since branched out and tried many other amari–Cynar, Aperol, Fernet Branca, Ramazzotti, I could go on. You can say we enjoy these drinks, both alone and mixed into cocktails.

Since we like amari so well, we try to seek out new ones when we can afford them. (Some weeks, we can barely afford wine or gin, let alone esoteric liqueurs.) We happened to be in the Italian section of Providence, Federal Hill, on Saturday, and stopped in at Gasbarro’s Wines and Spirits. The boys at Gasbarro’s had several amari we haven’t yet tried, including Fernet Branca’s minty sibling, Fernet Branca Menta.

I selected a slender and elegant bottle of Inga Amaro Mio. I haven’t found a lot of information about this product, so I’ll just share with you my impression. I’d say this is a pretty good gateway amaro. First, the price is right–Gasbarro’s wanted $12.99 for a 375-ml bottle. Trust me, a little of this stuff lasts a long time, so a smaller bottle is a great place to start. Second, it’s tasty. It’s not as bitter as many amari, so it’s not as challenging at first sip. It’s still not freaking Mtn. Dew, but it’s no Campari, either. Third, the bottle is gently curvy; it would make a sexy addition to your bar, and let’s face it–we all want our home bars to look sophisticated.

One more thing before I get to the recipe. Now that we’re entering into peak produce season, I’m challenging myself to really use our farmers’ markets as a resource for making cocktails. And I want to go beyond the basics of berries, stone fruit, and tomatoes that you might automatically think of when you consider fresh produce in drinks. So this weekend, we stopped by the table of Farmacy Herbs. Mary, the herbalist, always has a collection of dried herbs and tinctures (which I want to eventually tinker with for bitters), but on this particular morning, she also had two fresh herbs–lemon balm and anise hyssop. For this drink, I wanted the delicate flavors of the lemon balm.

Bitter Wood Cocktail

This cocktail is adapted from one version of the Blackthorn cocktail–in this case, gin, sloe gin, and vermouth. (There are at least two other drinks with this name, both of which are somewhat different formulations, but that’s a topic for another post.) I kept the gin and the sloe, but ditched the vermouth. I dub this drink the Bitter Wood, to play off the Blackthorn name and to celebrate the pungency of the amaro.

Bitter Wood Cocktail

  • 1 oz. Bluecoat gin
  • 1 oz. Plymouth sloe gin
  • 1/2 oz. Amaro Mio
  • 1 sprig lemon balm, for muddling
  • 1 leaf lemon balm, for garnish if desired

Technique: Measure liquid ingredients into mixing glass. Add lemon balm sprig. Muddle gently. (Lemon balm is in the mint family, and as with mint, if you over-muddle it, you’ll release unpleasant compounds into your cocktail.) Add ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass and add garnish, if using.

Jen on the radio

Two Jens, in fact! A couple of Wednesdays ago, Jen Huntley-Corbin and Jen Hess got to talking on the radio about food, blogging, and Jen’s inspirations in starting Last Night’s Dinner. Check it out here.

Since I was in the studio, Jen H-C prevailed on me to make a couple of comments too, but I tried to keep from stealing the focus from the Jen Party. She asked first about my use of vodka in making pie crusts, and then later, we talked briefly about pairing cocktails with food.

Oh, and I babbled pretty incoherently when Jen H-C asked me about the tip about the vodka in the pie crust. Jen (Hess, that is) had pointed me to a post on Smitten Kitchen about it way back when, and that’s where the idea originated. Deb explains it much, much better than I did on the radio, so if the idea intrigues you, go read Deb’s post for a better explanation.

Notes from the underground

First up, those of you who listened to my radio debut might want to know that my wife, Jen, will be appearing on tomorrow’s edition of Jen’s Dish, on WNRI radio. Listen live at wnri.com

Second, having just returned from Indiana (for family) and NYC (for the Beefeater 24 TDN), I’m off again, this time with Jen, to see her family.

Finally, and this is directed at you who are going to Tales of the Cocktail this year. (We’re still working on getting me there, but it’s looking gloomy.) The Hotel Monteleone, which hosts Tales, is sponsoring a cocktail contest. Here’s what the Monteleone has to say about it:

The Hotel Monteleone is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Carousel Bar on May 21, 2009. From 1949 until about the late 60’s or 70’s there was a drink on the specialty drink menu called the Monteleone Cocktail. Unfortunately, we have no idea what the exact recipe or ingredients were. The Hotel Monteleone is hosting an online contest to accept drink recipe nominations for a new official Monteleone Cocktail. The recipes will be judged by VIPs who will be at the Carousel anniversary celebration on May 21. There are no requirements on types of liquor or style of drink, but all drink entries must be received by May 18, so that the ingredients may be acquired and drinks prepared at the May 21 event. Participating bloggers should post their entries online, and all participants should e-mail their drink recipes, along with their name, address and phone number, to athornton@hotelmonteleone.com. The winning entry will become the new official Monteleone Cocktail, and the winner will receive four free nights at the Hotel Monteleone during Tales of the Cocktail 2009.

Best of luck to any of you who choose to participate. I might try to create the killer drink myself, since it’s probably the only chance I have of making it down this year.

Adventures in Catsitting: The Aviatrix

As some of you know, I spent much of the last week traveling to Southern Indiana to visit my family. My mother was recently hospitalized with an illness, and after her release I made plans to see her. Jen was unable to get away from work, so she was home alone with the cats. Without me around to fix our daily quaffs, she was on her own. So one evening, she got creative. She started with the basic Wondrich formula that I’ve described here, of 2 oz. spirit, 1 oz. fortified wine, 1 tsp. liqueur, and 2 dashes of bitters.

In thinking this through, she decided to play with one of our favorite drinks, the Aviation. This pre-Prohibition classic calls for gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and crème de violette. Jen decided to keep the gin and crème de violette. She provided the lemon notes with Fee’s Lemon Bitters and skipped the maraschino. For the fortified wine, she chose Lillet Blanc, which always pairs up nicely with gin.

Her initial attempt was unsuccessful. Why? She misread the recipe and used a tablespoon of crème de violette. Hey, we’ve all done it. But she tried again and met with success. For her first iteration, she used Right Gin, a relatively new product from Sweden. Right is a little sweeter than a traditional London Dry variety and less juniper-forward, and it includes black pepper among its blend of botanicals. The pepper, though noticeable, is subtle, and the gin is smooth and citrusy. Although I never tried the Aviatrix iteration she made with Right, I’m sure it was a good choice.

Her next version, however, was better, she later told me. For in iteration 2, she used the gin-of-the-moment, Beefeater 24. (Admit it, you knew where this was going.) Right and B24 are similar in that they both downplay juniper in favor of other botanicals, but their flavor profiles are actually pretty far apart. Right is softer and highlights the citrus and pepper, with little else shining through, whereas B24 is more complex and brings its entire botanical range to the fore. Nothing really dominates the flavor of the B24; the flavors are very well balanced, making B24 a more versatile gin, in my opinion.

As for the cocktail… well, think about it. Gin, Lillet, a splash of crème de violette, and lemon bitters. If you’re saying to yourself, “Sounds delicate,” well, you’d be right. It’s a subtle drink, especially with a restrained gin such as the B24. I actually suspect it might be a little better with the original Beefeater, and that’s certainly worth trying. Regardless, if you mix it with a modern gin like B24, Right, or Aviation, you’ll find a nice, delicate drink in which the flavors complement each other.

Aviatrix

photo by Jennifer (Mrs. Bitters) Hess

The Aviatrix

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Lillet Blanc
  • 1 tsp. crème de violette
  • 2 dashes lemon bitters
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

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

Jen did submit this recipe into the Mixoloseum chat room on Thursday, during the Beefeater-sponsored Thursday Drink Night. It doesn’t appear to have made much of a splash, and I’m not sure why. I was, of course, live at TDN this time, at Quarter Bar in Brooklyn, but I was having trouble keeping a constant WiFi connection, so I missed much of the early part of the chat. I didn’t get to see much of the discussion of Jen’s drink, if there was any. Also, her drink never made its way to me that night for a taste. There was something that might have been her drink, but I couldn’t taste any violette in it, so I wasn’t sure. So I’m really not sure how anyone reacted to it. I, however, love it, so nyeah.