Category Archives: Vodka

Fall 2009 column is now online

Hey, folks. My fall 2009 column for Edible Rhody magazine is now online. As a reminder …

The focus of the column is on using seasonal, local ingredients in cocktails. Each column will have two recipes–one that I mix and one from a local bartender. Trust me, my focus will always be on classical techniques and interesting spirits.

So, now you can see whether I made good on that promise. First, though, the stunning cover:

Edible Rhody Fall 09 Cover

Who knew there were cranberry bogs in Rhode Island? I didn’t! Now, the column (if you want to read the text without squinting, click here):

Mix Master, Edible Rhody Fall 09

Photo for the article is by local photographer Chip Riegel, and boy did I have fun mixing drinks for a photoshoot at 9am.

Apple Sage Old-Fashioned

For this drink, I was inspired by traditional Thanksgiving flavors, particularly apple and sage stuffing.

  • 2 ounces Calvados apple brandy
  • 1/2 ounce sage simple syrup (recipe follows)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters (when I made this at home, I used Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Bitters, which were superb in this, but aren’t for sale in Rhody as far as I know)
  • Apple slice, for garnish

Build in an old-fashioned glass over ice. Add garnish.

Sage Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage leaves

Add sugar and water to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. When sugar dissolves, remove from heat. Add sage leaves and stir. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain into a jar (discard sage leaves) and refrigerate. Will keep for one month.

Apple Sage Old-Fashioned

photograph by the ever-loyal Jennifer Hess

Pippin’s Pear of Aces

This drink is by Providence bartender Bonnie Siharath. At the time of writing, she was at Chinese Laundry, but that restaurant closed just a week before this issue was released. I have not yet followed up to see where she’s landed. The food at Chinese Laundry was inspired by the tastes of East Asia, and this drink follows that theme.

  • 1/2 fresh pear
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 ounce Wokka Sake vodka
  • 1 ounce Gray Goose pear vodka
  • 1 ounce Asian pear nectar
  • 1/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • pear slice, for garnish

Gently muddle pear and cinnamon in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, vodkas, nectar, and lime juice. Shake well and strain through a tea strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

MxMo: Local Flavor

The challenge this month, thanks to Kevin at Save the Drinkers, is local challenge. Let’s see how Kevin defines that:

Option 1: Gather ingredients that are representative of the culture/geography/tackiness of your respective cities and make a drink with a truly place-based style. For example, huckleberries are native to the geographical area where I live, as are elderflowers, potatoes, and extremely conservative, closet-case politicians. (I’m just saying!)

Option 2: Dig up an old drink that came from your city and revive it! If you can find the original bar, that would be even more interesting.

I don’t know about you, but when I think “local flavor” and “New England,” the first thing I think of is seafood. The official vegetable of Rhode Island, after all, is the squid.*

But alas, there are few cocktail recipes that require seafood, unless you count the oyster shooter, which I don’t, frankly. And I haven’t settled in to Providence long enough just yet to know what’s representative of my city. Forbes tells me that Providence is fourth among the nation’s hardest drinking cities, but that doesn’t really tell me what Providence drinks. The 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and distribution of beverage alcohol, was ratified by all but two states–Rhode Island and Connecticut. But that still doesn’t tell me what Rhode Island drinks.

I don’t know what edible flora are native to Rhode Island. I don’t know what Roger Williams ate for dinner the day he founded Providence. So, aside from seafood, I don’t know much about the food culture of Rhode Island or Providence.

What I do know is what’s available to us from local farmers at the city’s farmers markets. I know what spirits are distilled in Rhode Island and its neighboring states. And I know how much Jen and I enjoy shopping our local farmers markets, especially in August, at the height of the season.

I’ve talked before about the benefits of making your own tomato juice for a Bloody Mary, but today, we’re going a little farther. Today, I can tell you that everything we could source locally, we sourced locally. Jen was tentatively calling our weekend’s concoction the Bloody Rhody, but that’s not quite accurate, as you’ll see. I’m dubbing it the Bloody Nor’easter.

For the Bloody Nor’easter, I started with local heirloom tomatoes, grown in RI and prepared as discussed in the previous link. I took two ounces of Triple Eight Vodka, distilled on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, and muddled two small hot peppers and a small handful of basil (both from the farmers market) into the vodka. I strained the solids out and returned the vodka to the mixing glass.This worked well because I got the flavors of the peppers and basil in the vodka without the solids mucking up the works. I could have achieved the same effect by steeping the peppers and basil in the vodka for some time, but I didn’t plan ahead.

I added four ounces of tomato juice (for two drinks), lime juice (not local, since citrus doesn’t grow in the Northeastern United States), Worcestershire (also not local), salt (also not local), some local Rhode Island Red hot sauce, and a secret ingredient.

What? Okay, I’ll tell you the secret. Remember how I said that few cocktails require seafood? Well, as any reputable Canadian might tell you, a tomato-based drink does well with a bit of seafood. The night before I assembled the Bloody Nor’easter, Jen had simmered up some Rhody clams with a bit of Trinity IPA (from a Providence brewpub) and some shallot. She reserved a bit of the clam-beer liquid for me before doctoring it up with spices and butter for our dinner, so I added a bit of that to the mix.

We served ’em up with a beer chaser. Jen chose the Trinity IPA from Providence, and because I don’t really dig on the IPA style, I selected the Hurricane Amber Ale from Coastal Extreme in Newport, RI.

I actually have another drink with local flavor, but I’m whizzing close enough to deadline and bedtime as it is. The second one will have to wait until later in the week.

*I kid, of course. I’m a squid kidder. RI has no state veg, and its state fruit is the Greening Apple, which won’t ripen for at least another month.

360 Vodka

A couple of months ago, the marketing team for 360 Vodka offered me a sample bottle for review. And although I took them up on the offer, I’m only now finding the time to write anything up. (I can’t tell you how happy I’ll be to put this overtime period behind me, but I still have three weeks to go.)

It must be difficult to market an unflavored vodka. The taste is so subtle that it’s hard to sell it on that front. Additionally, many vodka drinkers are steadfastly brand loyal (although I’m puzzled as to why), so you’re not going to convert them. McCormick Distilling, the creators of 360 have chosen to carve out a “green” niche for themselves, as I’m sure many of you already know from reading earlier reviews.

And it’s apparently not just hype; McCormick uses locally grown grains to cut back on fuel emissions, it bottles and packages the vodka in recycled materials, and it offers a program through which it will donate a buck to environmental organizations for every returned swingtop bottle closure. Thanks to the swingtop, though, I’m probably going to reuse the bottle, so although I think the return program is cool, I won’t be taking advantage of it.

But really now, how does it taste? To judge that, I mixed it up into a martini, with a healthy splash of vermouth. Nice. It won’t knock the gin martini off our Friday-night slate, but it’s worth adding to the mix every now and again. The flavors are clean with a hint of grain; nothing metallic or “off” in the taste or the finish. It makes me enjoy vodka martinis, and that’s saying something.

Mo Bloody

Perhaps it’s the holiday weekend, but Bloody Marys are in the air. I have to say, I don’t drink Bloodies very often. I don’t like the flavor or texture of most commercial tomato juices, as they tend to be heavy on the palate and the tummy. Often, I feel like half my meal becomes the Bloody, since it’s so filling.

However, Jen loves them, and so I’ve learned to make them at home, and when I start with good ingredients, I’ve learned to like them myself. I’ve written up my Bloody Mary recipe before, but I’m going to revisit it today, but with a twist. Back then, Anita from Married With Dinner urged me to try a homemade tomato juice. It’s taken quite a while to get around to it, but I finally did.

Well, sort of. Jen made the juice; I made the Bloodies. After the break, her technique, but first, a pretty picture.

Bloody Mary

photograph by Jennifer Hess; the 360 vodka was sent to me for review

She started by blanching and peeling a dozen fresh plum tomatoes. She chunked them up and puréed them in a food mill before pressing them through a fine metal sieve to remove the seeds. Because we were planning to use it for Bloodies, she left it unseasoned. A food processor will work for the purée, if you don’t have a food mill.

My friend Ed Mathews makes a kickass habanero hot sauce called Evil Hot, and I added a teaspoon of this to the tomato juice, plus Worcestershire, Fee’s Old Fashioned Bitters, lime juice, horseradish, and the Colonel’s secret blend of 11 herbs and spices.

Yummy, and perfect with the bread pudding Jen made for brunch.

Charbay v. Mother Nature!

Charbay wins!

If you’ve turned on the teevee at all this month, you know that Cali got hit hard by a deep freeze that wiped out its citrus crops. To the tune of $800-million bucks, it seems.

Bad news for those of us who like some fresh juices in our cocktails. But not everyone’s so unlucky.

Just days before the cold snap, Charbay‘s master distiller, Marko Karakasevic, picked up four tons of Meyer lemons from the grower. Charbay distills its fruited vodkas using real fruits instead of chemical compounds that mimic fruit flavor, so it’s important to get good produce. Without this shipment, Charbay wouldn’t have been able to produce its Meyer Lemon vodka this year.

Party drinking

My good friend Todd had a birthday brunch party today and to help him celebrate, I took along a couple of premixed drinks that seemed to go over well. I brought a Bloody Mary premix, and also a Ward 8 premix. I left the Bloody Mary stuff out for folks to pour into a glass and add their own vodka, but for the Ward 8, I mixed the whiskey into the premix myself.

Some of the party guests asked for my recipes, and before I could really explain them, Todd blurted out, “!” So, to anyone following Todd’s advice, welcome.

I’ll start with the Bloody Mary and save the Ward 8 for a later post.
Continue reading Party drinking

Being and nothingness

Eric Asimov returns today to the spirits, with a good entry about vodka. From time to time, I find a good non-flavored vodka that actually tastes like something (and, moreover, something good). I’ve praised Charbay on this point in the past, and they deserve it. But in most cases, I find that Asimov’s right. Vodka is boring, unless you’re drinking it straight and freezing cold, or unless it’s in a bloody mary.

As an aside, I like it when Asimov talks spirits on The Pour. I love wine, and I enjoy his writings on wine, but I also wish he’d mix it up a bit and bring the likker more often.

MxMo: Limon

MxMo LimonHey! It’s time for MxMo V: The One With the Whales, this month hosted by hosted by Jonathan at Jiggle the Handle. So grab a bowl of lemons, tart yourself up, and strap in: Look at the lemons/See how they juice for you/And everything you do/Yeah they were all yellow…

Twelve, on FlickrHaving become an avid reader of the Fine Spirits and Cocktails forum on eGullet, I came across a thread recently about limoncello. Forum reg. Katie Loeb posted to the thread, describing the techniques involved, and I started jonesin’ to make my own. But when I first saw the thread, Jen and I were in the midst of planning our cocktail party, coming up with the menu, and gathering the various spirits and other ingredients.

Finally, I came home with a dozen lemons and a bottle of high-proof Stoli. Coincidentally, the same day I brought home the stuff, I got the latest issue of Imbibe magazine, which had a photo essay (with text by Paul Clarke), showing how to make limoncello.

With two good sources in front of me, I broke out the Microplane, zested the hell outta a dozen lemons (and one lime), and soaked the gratings in the rocket-fuel voddy.

Twelve, on Flickr

And, hooboy, did it ever smell like rocket fuel in those first few days! I steeped it for about 20 days before straining it, adding more vodka, and pouring in some simple syrup. I let that sit for another week–some of it in a nice bottle and some back in the original jar.

Sunday, I finally uncorked the bottle and had a taste. Strong vodka in the nose as I sniffed a snifter of warm limoncello, but not so much vodka on the tongue. When we had it chilled later that evening, we neither smelled nor tasted vodka.

I mixed two cocktails with the limoncello. The first was a Sidecar/sour variation, which I’m calling a Lemon Cart.

Lemon Cart

  • 1½ oz. cognac
  • 1 oz. limoncello
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Technique: Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Add garnish.

I think Jen liked this more than I did. I thought it was perhaps a bit sweet. I thought about adding a dash of Regan’s orange bitters to spice it up a bit. Next time…

Twelve, on Flickr
Despite the hot weather, I was also grilling Sunday, so we were outside and needed refreshment. So for my next trick, I tried a Lemon Cooler.

Lemon Cooler

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 2 oz. limoncello
  • juice of half a lime
  • Lime wedge, for garnish

Technique: Build in a tall glass. Stir, top off with tonic water, and add garnish.

Our final limoncello test was old-school: straight and chilled. Well, not quite straight. Our freezer is packed full of food and ice trays, so there’s no real room, alas, to store a bottle of limoncello–not even a small bottle. I served it on the rocks, using the nice chunky ice cubes you can get with those silicone trays. I’d still love to try it straight from the freezer.

Charbay Vodka

Who cares about vodka? If it’s not the most boring spirit on earth, it’s damn close anyway. Since most of them are designed to be clean and flavorless, I’ve never honestly seen much point to drinking it, except maybe in a bloody mary, or straight from the freezer, in a shot glass and downed quickly.

My wife, Jen, used to be primarily a vodka girl, especially on the rocks with tonic water, which I think is probably the dullest drink around. After we hooked up, I started coaxing her in gin’s direction, and she’s pretty much thrown over vodka for good.

But the wife and I are hosting a cocktail party next month, and we know we’ll have vodka drinkers, so we need to stock up. During our regular trip to LeNell’s, we asked LeNell for vodka recommendations, explaining that although we weren’t vodkaholics ourselves, we knew there were more flavorful versions available now, and could she recommend some?

I mentioned in my MixMo post that we tried the pastis from Domaine Charbay, in California. Susan Karakasevic, a cofounder of Charbay, posted a kind and thoughtful comment, thanking us for sampling her family’s pastis.

With her warm words in mind, Jen and I were inclined to pick up a bottle of Charbay’s clear vodka, thinking it might be a good introduction to the brand. LeNell agreed, telling us it’s a tasty vodka–viscous and not overly refined, so that it retains sweetness, character, and flavor.

We took a bottle home and sampled it in a vodka martini. Now, I usually hate vodka martinis–I might as well drink icewater for all the flavor I taste–so I was a little hesitant. But I wanted to do right by the Charbay, so I mixed up two martinis with a splash of dry vermouth, stirred over ice. I wanted to get the pure flavor of the drink without the dilution that shaking brings. Jen wanted a lemon twist, and I wanted an olive, so I garnished accordingly and took the drinks out back.

I have to say, these were delicious drinks. LeNell’s description was right on target–a hint of sweetness and viscosity, a slight burn, and a clean finish. Although Jen preferred her twist and I, my olive, we both sampled the other’s drink and agreed that either one works well. And as we learned this morning, it’s good in a bloody mary, too.

We’ve definitely found our vodka for the party.