Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I knew it was going to be a great experience when I walked up to the bar and found myself standing next to Dale DeGroff, King Cocktail himself. And he was handing me a drink, after he had just confirmed with the bartenders that the recipe was as he intended (he had developed it for the event). It was great, of course - rum, fresh kiwi, coconut syrup and a splash of coconut milk.
The Main Event
Twelve finalists battled it out and created an amazing array of cocktails, but only one could be crowned Chicago's first Iron Bartender. We have some amazing bartenders in the Chicago area, and this was a great opportunity to see them all in action, all in one place. With Dale and Tony Abou-Ganim on hand to emcee, I knew I was in a room full of some of the best mixologists in the U.S.
Each competitor had a few minutes to scout out the available ingredients before the event began. The bar was stocked with a variety of fruits, juices, spices and other potential ingredients. However, none of the competitors was able to make the recipe submitted to the contest initially - everyone was missing at least one critical ingredient. Instead, they were forced to modify their recipe or make an entirely new drink on the fly.
Here are some photos of each of the three heats:
In Round One, the competition was fierce, with our good friend Tim of Spring Restaurant Group challenging John from MK, Angie of Ultimate Elixirs, and Wilber of Bice.
The competitors in Round Two included Peter from Sepia, Radostin from the Doubletree Oak Brook, Debbi from The Drawing Room at Le Passage, and Tony from Jilly's Naperville.
Round Three featured Charles from Three Headed Productions, James from Otom Restaurant, Adam of Nacional 27 and Enrique from Martini Park.
Each successive round was more tense than the prior one, and all twelve drinks were very impressive. They covered the entire range of the cocktail spectrum, from the very light to the very rich, from the aperitif to dessert in a glass.
So who won?
It was tough night for the judging panel, which included Bridget Albert, Francesco Lafranconi and Simon Ford from Absolut/Plymouth Gin. In fact, we even had one tie during the rounds. After the initial rounds, Charles, Peter and John advanced to the final round.
One more round of drinks later (where all three chose to make another new drink rather than repeating their earlier creation), Peter V. of Sepia was crowned Chicago's Iron Bartender. Congratulations to Peter, and to all of the competitors - it was a fantastic event, and a whole lot of fun to watch.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
First, a brief History
This is an old drink, popular since at least the 1930's. It seems that two people are often credited with creating this drink, both of them named Harry. The first published instance of the recipe seems to be the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock (1930), who was in London at the American Bar at the time. However, Harry MacElhone is also often credited with the drink, reputedly making the drink as early as 1919, albeit with créme de menthe rather than gin. He later perfected it at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in the late 1920's or early 1930's (although their website claims 1919 as the creation date).
Unfortunately we'll probably never know which story is right, perhaps they both are - its certainly not unheard of for people to separately develop very similar cocktails.
The Recipe & Variations
In the Savoy, the recipe is:
2 parts Gin
1 part Cointreau
1 part Fresh Lemon Juice
No egg white (and certainly no créme de menthe).
Some potential variations I've seen or read about, after researching it:
- Using equal parts of the three ingredients rather than 2:1:1
- Adding anywhere from 1 tsp to one whole egg white
- Reducing the lemon juice to 1/2 a part (with or without egg white)
The egg white is an interesting variation, it adds a creaminess and totally changes the texture of the drink (as it does with any cocktail it visits). With equal parts of the ingredients, or with the original Savoy recipe, I liked the egg white variation - it cut the bite of the lemon a bit, but still left the rest of the flavors intact. Half an egg white was enough for me, though - more than that and I started to taste the egg white and get that teeth coating thing happening.
So what's best?
In the end, I think I like the original Savoy recipe best, although I found the variations interesting. I imagine this is yet another case where personal preference decides the best recipe.
And an afternote...
Just for fun, when I was back at the Violet Hour tonight, I asked the bartender, Michael (photo at left), how he makes his White Lady. He laughed for a second, and said he hasn't made that drink since about 1974 (bear in mind he's only about 30, 35 tops), and that the last person who ordered it was a 60-year old Englishman. However, he said he definitely didn't use any egg white when he made it. He found it very entertaining that a discussion about it (which inspired my blog post) took place at his bar, though!
Monday, October 29, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
We have a special guest with us today, my father-in-law, so we had 4 people on our tasting panel this time. As before, we tried the tonics on their own, with our vodka and with our Distiller's Gin No. 6 (of course).
What did we think?
Our reviews of Q were mixed. We all liked it with the vodka, but most of us (3 out of 4) did not like it with the gin - it seemed to bury the gin too much and created some off notes on the palate. On its own, it is fresh tasting and light, with a moderate amount of quinine (Schweppes has more).
All of us still really liked the Fever Tree, and we found that when we adjusted the proportions, we could get a bit more of the gin to shine through. It was very fresh tasting, complex and not too sweet. It seems to have a bit more quinine than Q. Everyone ranked it 1st or 2nd with both the vodka and the gin.
With the Stirrings, one of us felt it was too sweet and therefore did not like it. However, two of us liked it best of all the tonics with the gin, loving its fresh citrus notes and its pairing with the gin. The Stirrings was the sweetest of the bunch, and was light on the quinine.
None of us picked the Schweppes as the best. We did like it better than other major market brands when we tried it before, but we like these new brands better.
- Tonic water is a matter of personal taste - they vary on quinine, sweetness and other flavors
- Tonics really do vary, they are not interchangeable
- Tonics perform differently with different spirits, so you have to try them out with what you want to mix with - we picked different tonics as best for different spirits
So how did I do?
Well, I didn't win the contest (Cara B. from Weber Grill Restaurant was the winner - congrats Cara!). Cara's infusion was fruit-focused, with mango, berries and pineapple. I had tried for a savory infusion, with cucumber, rosemary, cardamom and a bit of red pear. If I could have removed the cardamom and rosemary earlier, it might've been OK - since I couldn't, it was mostly a cardamom infusion with a bit of rosemary. It was interesting to see what others put into the jar, and what came out on the other side - it was a great supplement to the experimentation I've already been doing. Its much easier when you can adjust the process and ingredients throughout the infusion!
Interesting Random Tidbits
We were originally to have our midterm today (class was just cancelled this am), so I have been studying the last day or so. Here are a few fun factoids from the topics on our midterm:
- Alcohol has been regulated by governments since at least 1770 BC (under King Hammurabi's code then)
- Agave is a member of the amaryllis family (and is most definitely not a cactus)
- An agave piña weighs 25-30 kilos and takes 8-10 years to ripen, once picked they are cut, steamed and crushed to extract sweet juice for fermentation
- In tequila, the age statement refers to an average age of the tequilas blended to make that batch. In scotch and rum, it refers to the youngest spirit in the blend.
- The term "single malt" can be used on a scotch made at a single distillery. It doesn't have to be from a single malting or even a single year, just all from one distillery.
Hopefully I'll retain what I've learned for the midterm next week!
In the meantime, here is the recipe we made for a classic mojito. As you may know, the mojito is an old drink (ca. 1900), not a new one. It was invented in Cuba and popularized at a bar there in the 1930's. Supposedly Ernest Hemingway is credited with introducing it to the U.S. mainland. This is the original recipe (or so they claim):
1-1/2 oz White rum
1-1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1/2 of a Lime, Pressed
10-15 Mint Leaves
Muddle mint in an old fashioned glass with lime and syrup. Just a few presses with the muddler, don't grind it into submission. Add crushed ice, rum and top with soda. Garnish with mint sprig.
Friday, October 19, 2007
We arrived around 12:30 pm at The Alembic, and were greeted by Josey Packard, the bartender/mixologist on duty. Josey swiftly gave us menus and told us a bit about the place, and we set about deciding what to have. The vast array of truly unique spirits behind the bar was awe inspiring, so we tried to focus on the drink list.
Here are the cocktails we tried, along with some amazing eats:
Ramos Gin Fizz (never had a proper one of these in a bar before)
Red Snapper (housemade mary mix with gin rather than vodka)
Pearly Gates (gin, mint, lime, and a secret ingredient)
Bloody Bloody Bull (with beef broth added, and we asked for Aquavit rather than tequila)
All the cocktails were great, but my fave was the Pearly Gates (which we later learned was one of Josey's creations, hence the photo of her and the drink above!). As I get older, I am developing more of a taste for anise, so the hint of it from the mystery ingredient was great in this drink. I'll have to see if I can get Josey to give me that recipe!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
While we weren't able to locate a bottle of the Rothman & Winter in SF (and we've not seen any here in Chicago), we did manage to get a taste of it at Absinthe (yet another great cocktail bar we visited in SF). It was nice, but I must say it is not as good as the one we've regularly been buying in Chicago.
Of course, we can only find it at one store in Chicago (Sam's Wine & Spirits in Lincoln Park), and they are sometimes out of it, because those of us in the know buy it up and the company that imports it doesn't come to town very often, but it is exceptional.
It's made by G. Miclo in France, and is imported by a very small import company. It has a delicate yet complex violet flavor that lingers, and is not overwhelmingly sweet.
Anyone else tried this violet liqueur or the Hermes version (or another one)? What did you think? How did it compare to the Rothman & Winter?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Great Cocktails and New (to us) Spirits
We tried a couple of cocktails at Nopa, including The Last Word (Green Chartreuse, gin, maraschino and lime), as well as a classic Sazerac (with Wild Turkey) - both were very good. We then moved on to searching the bar for bottles of things we had not seen before (one of our favorite pastimes, especially when traveling). I tried a bourbon called Hancock's Reserve that was very nice, and made by the fine folks at Buffalo Trace. Derek ordered a classic Manhattan, and Neyah introduced us to a new vermouth - Carpano Antica. It was fantastic.
We tried some homemade bitters (loved the Sunshine bitters with saffron & cardamom) and talked about other classic cocktails with Neyah and Paul, the very nice gentleman sitting next to us. With our dessert (an intriguing warm apple & cheddar crisp with reggiano gelato), Neyah poured a Angostura 1919 rum, which we had also never seen before (why don't we have those in Chicago?).
And Future Adventures...
At the end of the night, Neyah graciously let us leave with bottles of two things we'd not seen in the flesh before - Q Tonic and Cock 'n Bull ginger beer. Look for future posts on this elusive tonic that had been missing from our earlier review, and of this original brand of ginger beer! I feel a Moscow Mule coming on....
One thing I realized is that we really do need to travel more and see what's happening in the cocktail culture outside of Chicago. There are amazing flavors, products and cocktails that haven't made their way here yet!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
- Amazing cocktails and great conversations in San Francisco
- A review of Q Tonic to add to our tonic discussion (I managed to get my hands on a bottle!)
- Creme de violette liqueurs (we saw & tasted the new one in SF)
- And of course notes on some of the spirits we got to taste at the Fest
Unfortunately our journey home was a bit rough, but we made it... we're tired! More coming soon!
Friday, October 12, 2007
We've been serving a lot of gimlets the last few weeks, I think its perhaps due to the unseasonably hot weather we've been having in Chicago recently. We often tinker with the recipe, but we almost never use lime cordial. Of course a few bartender friends have told me that its not really a Gimlet if you don't use Rose's lime, but I've not bought into that. Given all this sipping and discussing, I wondered about the history of the gimlet. Thankfully, a quick perusal of a few of my trusty cocktail books gave me the lowdown.
According to Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology (p. 261), It seems the Gimlet was originally called the Gimlette, and was named after the naval surgeon who created the drink as a means to give lime juice to sailors for the prevention of scurvy. According to the Field Guide to Cocktails by Rob Chirico (p. 119), Dr. Gimette thought that gin alone might cloud the sailors' minds, and adding lime juice to it would prevent that (hmm...).
iAccording to Wikipedia, Lauchlin Rose (hence the name Rose's) invented lime cordial in the 1860's. Mr. Rose patented a method to preserve citrus juice that did not require alcohol, and the British Royal Navy was at that time required to provide a daily lime ration to sailors (hence the term "limey"). A lime cordial ration + gin = happy sailors who don't get scurvy (or so they thought then).
If you go into most bars today and order a gimlet, you'll probably get vodka not gin, and you'll definitely get Rose's lime (or an impersonator). The actual recipe varies widely depending on your preferred source - some say equal parts gin & Rose's, some say 3:1 gin to Rose's, etc.
So how do we make ours? Here are the parameters of our Gimlet mixing (the basis of which I learned from Tim Lacey at Spring Restaurant Group in Chicago), with no Rose's:
2 1/2 oz Gin (I'm sure you can guess which one we use)
1/2 - 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 - 1 oz Simple Syrup
We vary the ingredients based on the lime juice, how sweet we want it to be, and mood. Our current favorite variation is to use ginger-infused simple and call it a Ginger Gimlet.
To Rose or Not to Rose
Apparently there is a scene in the movie The Long Goodbye where a statement is made about a Gimlet only being made with Rose's, and since then this is a widely held belief. In fact, at least one of my cocktail books says that if you don't use Rose's and instead use fresh lime juice, you're making a Gin Rickey instead. But a Gin Rickey isn't sweetened if you're making it right, so that doesn't make sense to me. Rose's is, after all, sweetened lime juice (very sweetened) with some other stuff. So if I just use another form of sweetener and lime juice, isn't that just a recipe variation?
Clearly, that's my vote! However I have been looking up recipes for homemade lime cordial, so I think I'll give that a try too. Look for a future post on that, and please post a comment if you've made one!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Anyone going to the Fest?
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
So what were the results?
All 3 of us thought that the Fever Tree and the White Rock were better than Schweppes and Canada Dry. White Rock had more citrus notes, Fever Tree had more complexity and spices. The Stirrings tonic was love-it or leave-it. One of us loved it, one thought it was too sweet, and one thought it was good on its own but not good with our Distiller's Gin No. 6 (too overpowering). Here are a summary of our findings:
Brand: White Rock
Nose: Very light, almost non-existent
On its own: Light flavor, less quinine, with tart & sweetness in mid-palate
With North Shore Vodka (you knew we'd use our own!): Light flavor, perhaps too light, but refreshing
With Distiller's Gin No. 6: Best of the Bunch - balanced and light, the gin shines through
Brand: Fever Tree
Nose: Light, citrus, fresh
On its own: Fresh, with light quinine, citrus and herbs
With North Shore Vodka: Best of the Bunch - Fresh and refreshing, with complex flavors
With Distiller's Gin No. 6: More complex flavors, with fresh citrus notes and a variety of spices
Nose: Citrus, sweet
On its own: Fresh, sweet, with light quinine
With North Shore Vodka: Sweet and fresh tasting, citrusy
With Distiller's Gin No. 6: Fresh and sweet, No. 6 is less present in the taste
Nose: Citrus, a bit sweet
On its own: Light citrus with a touch of quinine
With North Shore Vodka: Quinine more pronounced when mixed, balanced tart & sweetness
With Distiller's Gin No. 6: Quinine more pronounced, nice tartness with a mid-palate sweet note
Brand: Canada Dry
Nose: Citrus, a bit sweet
On its own: Sweet and salty, with a touch of quinine
With North Shore Vodka: Quinine more pronounced when mixed, seems a bit salty but balanced
Each of us had our favorites, but the White Rock and Fever Tree scored well with all of us. We’d definitely recommend conducting your own tonic experiments – you might be surprised by the results! Do you have a favorite tonic that I've not mentioned, or have you tried Fever Tree, White Rock or Q Tonic? If so, what did you think? It took me two months to get any info from the White Rock people, so I'm thinking it isn't very available out there.
If you're a fan of interesting tonic waters, one of our favorite restaurants (and beverage gurus) has started serving their own house-made tonic water. If you haven't been there already, you should go to Custom House and try Tim Lacey's tonic water (and the other amazing cocktails you'll find).
And for some other blogger comments on tonic waters from this summer, check these out
Saturday, October 6, 2007
For $25 each, we received a 1/4 lb bag of La Esmeralda Geisha coffee (not from the auction lot though), and we got to try the auction lot coffee, brewed through Intelligentsia's Clover coffee machine. We also got to hear about coffee from Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia and Daniel Peterson from Hacienda La Esmeralda - two men who are obviously passionate about what they do.
So how was it?At first, we weren't sure about it... we tasted citrus notes, and it smelled very floral in the bag (I snuck a sniff of the bag of beans)... But we were tasting it in isolation, and weren't sure what to make of it. A little disclaimer: while we are adventurous coffee drinkers, always seeking out something new and exploring the different regions, we're still learning about fine coffees.
The fine folks at Intelligentsia then put out some other coffees, and that really helped us in experiencing the Geisha coffee. Geoff and Daniel talked about the coffee and about why its so special. Geoff also suggested that the best way to taste coffees is next to each other, so you can compare and contrast the flavors. He was so right! When we tried the La Esmeralda Geisha next to their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (the coffee style it is most similar to, Geoff said), we could really see the differences. The Geisha was delicate, complex, citrusy and floral in comparison. The Yirgacheffe was nice too, but not nearly as complex or nuanced.
So when will we use our Geisha beans? We're not sure yet, but we'll probably use some soon. We don't have a Clover, but we're looking forward to trying it out in our French press...
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
I must admit it feels slightly weird/subversive for me to be in this class, since it is held at Southern Wine & Spirits headquarters and led by an employee of Southern. For those who may not be aware, Southern is the largest wine & spirits distributor in the U.S., and they work primarily with very large brands & companies (Absolut, Patron, etc.). At our distillery, we were our own distributor initially, and now work with a small distributor, so in comparison these are the behemoths of our industry. They have been gracious about it, and it certainly helps that the Southern employee happens to be one of the best mixologists in the country (Bridget Albert).
So how did I find this course & why am I taking it? Its a prerequisite to joining the Illinois chapter of the U.S. Bartending Guild. The guild's mission is to promote and further the profession of bartending, and they provide a range of opportunities for members to challenge themselves and their skills. Everyone I've met from the guild has been phenomenal and very passionate about their craft - so of course I want to be a part of it!
This week, we started an infusion contest - we took a ball jar and filled it whatever ingredients we wanted to select from an array of things (I picked red pear, cucumber, cardamom and rosemary). We'll see how I do - we have a formal judging and comparison in 2 weeks. Stay tuned for more updates from class. In the meantime, here are a couple of recipes we've covered:
1 ½ oz Vodka
½ oz Fresh Lime Juice
Splash of Cranberry Juice
Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wedge.
Why is this interesting? Its the precursor to the Cosmopolitan. This drink is from 1956, and was promoted by the Ocean Spray company (actually printed on a bottle of juice, believe it or not - just try to do that in today's world)!
2 oz Rye Whiskey (we used Wild Turkey)
¼ oz Pernod
1 raw white sugar cube
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Muddle sugar cube & bitters; add whiskey and shake with ice. Rinse rocks glass with Pernod, pour off excess. Add ice, then strain shaken mixture into glass. Garnish with a long lemon twist.
Why is this interesting? It may have been America's first cocktail - it was created in New Orleans around 1859.
Although I'm coming at this from a particular viewpoint, my goal is to be objective, informative and fun. I hope you'll enjoy exploring the world of drinks with me!
In my first official post (coming very soon), I'll talk a bit about the bartending course I'm currently taking, and about the US Bartenders Guild (which I am planning to join - the course is a prerequisite). Of course there will be at least one recipe for you to try... See you again soon!