Articles in Spirits
I first tasted St-Germain in 2010, while attending a wine and spirits trade show in London. There, amid hundreds of booths offering samples of every conceivable alcoholic elixir, a statuesque Belle Epoque bottle caught my attention. Once I tasted the delicate elderflower liqueur inside, I knew I’d stumbled onto something truly different.
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St-Germain is made in France, but the idea for the liqueur was born in England. While visiting London on business in 2001, a young American named Robert Cooper tasted a cocktail made with elderflower syrup, and became intrigued by its unique flavor. As it happened, Cooper was in charge of marketing for Chambord, the French raspberry liqueur, which was developed for the U.S. market by his father.
Cooper returned to the States with the idea of creating an elderflower liqueur, but soon found that the process was more challenging than he’d imagined.
“I began vigorously working on the project in 2003, and it was not in marketing until early 2007,” Cooper said. By then he’d left the family spirits business to launch his own operation, Cooper Spirits International. “It was quite difficult to make the macerations from something as volatile as a fresh flower.”
St-Germain is made from the blossoms of wild elderflowers that bloom on the hillsides of the French Alps for just four to six weeks in early spring. Once the flowers have been hand-harvested, the race is on to process the fresh blossoms before they lose their delicate aroma and flavor.
They’re immediately macerated to preserve their freshness, and each day’s macerations are successively combined until the blooming period is over.
“We make the maceration once a year, much like a wine, surrounding the elderflower harvest,” Cooper explained. That means there’s only one chance each year to get it right.
The ‘bartenders’ bacon’
Cooper’s dedication has resulted not only in a wonderfully delicious liqueur, but something of a cocktail revolution.
In the six short years since its release, St-Germain has become a key player in U.S. artisan cocktail movement.
“St-Germain came on the market when the whole mixology and cocktail scene was really starting to catch fire,” said mixologist Mike Henderson of Root Down, an upscale Denver restaurant known for its creative cocktails.
“I think one of the reasons it’s been so successful is that it’s got a unique ability to go with just about everything,” he said. “It works equally well with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, scotch and Champagne. It’s joked about in the cocktail community as being ‘bartenders’ bacon’ – it just makes everything a little bit better.”
Henderson includes St-Germain in three of Root Down’s signature drinks, including the Hummingbird (with Prosecco and sparkling water), the Spanish Estate (with rum, sherry vinegar and bitters) and the Pepper Blossom (with vodka, jalapeño syrup and citrus juices).
The complexity of St-Germain’s flavor, he said, is the secret to its versatility. “When you taste it, you get a lot of notes of lychee, pear and tropical fruit, and there’s some citrus in there,” Henderson said. “Because it’s got that depth and variety of flavors it has the ability to bring out whatever flavors it’s mixed with. For example, if you make a cocktail that’s got pear in it, St-Germain has this ability to bring out more pear. If you make a cocktail with kiwi in it, it has this weird ability to bring out more of that kiwi flavor.”
Global domination on the horizon
The wild popularity of St-Germain among cocktail devotees on both sides of the bar led liquor giant Bacardi to buy the brand from Cooper Spirits earlier this year, with the intention of turning it into an international brand “icon” à la Grey Goose vodka, purchased by Bacardi in 2004.
Although Cooper continues to work with Bacardi as St-Germain’s “brand guardian,” I can’t help wondering if global domination will mean a compromise in the liqueur’s artisan production process.
“I have been working diligently for the past three or four years on growing our capacity,” Cooper told me. “So long as we can procure the flowers in sufficient quantities, we can make more St-Germain.”
This spicy-sweet cocktail was created by Mike Henderson of Root Down, in Denver.
1¼ ounces vodka
1¼ ounces St-Germain
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce jalapeño-infused simple syrup*
2 basil leaves
Combine all ingredients except basil in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
Strain liquid into a lowball glass and garnish with basil leaves.
*To make jalapeño-infused simple syrup, add 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and a fresh jalapeño (cut in half with seeds removed) to a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool and remove pepper before using. Will keep in the refrigerator up to four weeks.
Top photo: Elderflowers bloom in the French Alps for only four to six weeks each spring. Credit: Cooper Spirits International
At the end of the 19th century, Irish whiskey was the gold standard around the world, but World War I changed that as shipping across the war-torn seas became a fool’s errand, both dangerous and expensive.
At the time, the influx of Irish immigrants into the United States had helped make North America the No. 1 export market for Irish whiskey. Indeed, a 1886 book, “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom,” listed 28 distilleries in Ireland. Only two of those stand today.
After the war put the first nail in the Irish whiskey industry’s coffin, Prohibition hammered in the rest. Between 1915 and 1933, many Irish distilleries shut down.
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In the meantime, Scotland’s distilleries, financed in part by the English, ramped up. By the time American soldiers returned from England after World War II, Scotch had replaced Irish whiskey in American hearts, bars and liquor store shelves.
Today, it seems that all types of whiskey, from Scotch and Canadian (which both drop the “e” in whisky) to Irish and of course, American bourbon, have a wide fan base.
Irish whiskey is typically made from malted or unmalted barley, corn, rye, wheat or oats and then triple-distilled and aged for a minimum of four years in casks previously used to age stuff like sherry, rum or bourbon.
Scotch whisky is typically made from only malted barley, dried over peat fires to give it a smoky flavor. Canadian whisky is often a blend of rye, corn, wheat and barley that is wood-aged for three years, while bourbon is usually made from corn and aged in new oak for at least two years.
The oldest licensed whiskey distillery remains in Ireland: Bushmills of Ulster, opened in 1608. In the early days it wasn’t unusual for a bit of bread to be added to a glass of whiskey for flavoring, helping to take the edge off the less refined aspects of ancient brewing and distilling practices.
The bread eventually led to the ritual of verbal toasting before a drink, the etiquette of which traditionally involved raising your glass with the right hand, a symbol that you had come in friendship and were not concealing a sword. It was then equally important to maintain eye contact before taking a sip.
As steeped in history as the rite of toasting is the oft-whispered rumor that Bushmills is the preferred whiskey of Protestants, and Jamesons the brand favored by Catholics.
Portland, Oregon-based bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler puts those rumors to rest.
“The widely accepted Irish-American version is that Jameson is Catholic whiskey and Bushmills is Protestant whiskey,” he says. “But that’s based merely on geography.”
Bushmills is made in Northern Ireland; Jameson is from Cork, a predominantly Catholic enclave.
“According to everyone I’ve spoken with on the subject, you only really find this debate in the States, where Irish-American support of the Republic can sometimes be blind and often fueled by the very product we’re speaking of,” Morgenthaler says.
I say don’t let religion or politics get in the way of a good drink. Regardless of your leanings, try Bushmills 16-year-old, which is matured in separate bourbon and sherry barrels for 16 years, then blended together into a port-infused cask for another six to nine months. It’s a whole lot of wow in one glass. Up another notch is the 21-Year-Old Bushmills Malt, a hedonistic swirl of pure honey.
Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey is reclaiming some history of its own by making its whiskey at the Cooley Distillery, named for one of the oldest continuously licensed distilleries in the world, rescued and restored in 2007 by the Teeling family. Kilbeggan makes an 18-year-old and a reserve malt whiskey, but its standard bottling is preferred for cocktails like the Irish Insider, below.
Kilbeggan Irish Insider
Created by Martin Meade, head bartender of the Clyde Court Hotel in Dublin.
1 cube brown sugar
2 dashes bitters
1 ounce Irish whiskey, such as Kilbeggan
1 lemon zest knot
Brut Champagne, chilled
1. Place the brown sugar cube into the bottom of a Champagne flute.
2. Add the bitters.
3. Add Irish whiskey.
4. Muddle to break down the sugar and combine the ingredients.
5. Drop the lemon zest knot into the glass.
6. Quarter-fill the glass with Champagne and stir the ingredients together to infuse the flavors.
7. Top with Champagne.
Top photo: Irish Insider whiskey cocktail. Credit: Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey
Every now and then I come across a new culinary trend that leaves me wondering, “Why mess with something that’s already a success?” Such was the scenario with aging cocktails. Then I tried a barrel-aged Manhattan at the Driftwood Room in Portland, Ore. After sipping that smooth, velvety libation, I stopped asking why and started considering whether I, too, could produce such richly complex drinks.
I’d been in the right town to talk aged cocktails. Portland was where it all began, in 2010, when Clyde Common bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler introduced his Madeira wine cask-aged Manhattan to the public.
Morgenthaler’s inspiration for this drink came in the fall of 2009 in London. There he tried Manhattans that had been aged in glass bottles. Created by 69 Colebrooke Rowe bartender Tony Conigliaro, these subtly matured drinks prompted Morgenthaler to wonder how pre-mixed, single-spirit cocktails would fare in a different vessel, such as a small, used oak keg.
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The thought behind aging a cocktail is that, left inside a wooden cask for six to eight weeks, the drink would absorb some of the flavors and color of whatever was previously housed there. The resulting libation would be more developed and multifaceted than the original. The question, though, is how would it taste.
The answer is quite good. In Morgenthaler’s case, his Manhattan took on the flavors of both the oak cask and the liquid — in this case, Madeira wine — that it had previously contained. Mellow and sweet, his beverage flew off the shelf.
Today, along with aged Manhattans, Clyde Common does a brisk trade in bourbon barrel-aged Negronis and Tridents matured in single-malt whiskey kegs.
Morgenthaler’s offerings have motivated others to age their own drinks.
Without leaving Portland, I sampled an array of aged cocktails, including Negronis, Tridents and Glass Feathers. In some bars, such as Liberty, which ages spirits and bitters along with cocktails, I could even make requests.
Aged cocktails as a DIY project
Inspired by these innovators, I decided to try aging at home. For $23, plus shipping, I purchased a new, pre-charred, 1-liter oak barrel. As a byproduct of the caramelized sugars in the wood, a charred keg gives off a mild caramel flavor. Liquids placed there will pick up this pleasant taste. Thus why I chose charred.
After unpacking my little cask, I filled it with warm water, placed it on my kitchen counter and let it rest for a day. During this time the wood expanded, decreasing the likelihood that the barrel would leak and unleash my cocktail everywhere.
With my cask primed and set to go, I mixed together my first drink. Although an avid home mixologist, I’m completely green when it comes to aging spirits. With this in mind, I opted for the tried-and-true classic, a rye-based Manhattan.
When mixing my batch of Manhattans, I withheld the ice so it wouldn’t dilute my concoction. I also left out the cherry garnish. Leaving out the cherries was a wise move. Fruit and fruit juices will spoil in the cask. The same applies to dairy. I’d also avoid adding club soda and any other effervescent, for they will lose their carbonation in the barrel.
Once I had filled and sealed the cask, I stored it at room temperature in my pantry. That’s where my liter of Manhattans remains, waiting until it hits the right state for me to enjoy.
Professionals advise aging cocktails anywhere from five weeks to three months. Drinks stored in smaller barrels, such as mine, will mature more quickly than those in larger ones. The key is to sample the batch each week to see how it’s progressing. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Once I find a flavor profile I like, I’ll just strain the cocktail through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove any sediment that’s collected. Then I will transfer the Manhattans to glass bottles, where they’ll stay until I’m ready to serve them.
Needless to say, I no longer scoff at cask aging cocktails. One small but luxurious drink made not only a believer but also a practitioner out of me.
Photo: A barrel at the Driftwood Room in Portland, Ore. Credit: Kathy Hunt
Does the arrival of hop vodka mean we are becoming obsessed with hops?
First there was Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, a whiskey maker’s infusion of Racer 5 IPA beer into an alambic-pot-distilled whiskey aged in French oak barrels. It was the partnership between two Northern California craft artisans, the distiller Charbay and the brewery Bear Republic.
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Continuing the trend is San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling, the spirits extension of world-famous Anchor Brewing, whose staffs have quite naturally figured out a way to use the goodness of the hops they could smell wafting around their shared building space to make the world’s first hop vodka, Hophead.
These fun new drinks capture our increasingly fervid love affair with hops, exemplified best by the six- to eight-hour waiting times endured the first Friday of February along the sidewalks circling Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, Calif.. This is when and where brewer Vinnie Cilurzo releases his once-yearly Pliny the Younger, a triple-hopped version of his already maniacally sought after double IPA Pliny the Elder.
This year the lines grew longer than ever before, signaling a seriously intense devotion to the pursuit of good hops by hops lovers the world over. Many are hoping this will bode well for the burgeoning return of hops to Hopland, a small town in Mendocino about a half-hour north of Healdsburg along Highway 101.
Hop vodka revitalizes Hopland
The Hopland Brewery is thought to have been the first post-Prohibition brewpub in California. Opened in 1933, its operation created a renewed chance to use all the hops that were being grown about the place around then. But over time fruit orchards and wine grapes took over and the demand for hops went into decline.
Locals are trying to reignite the currency for hops, at least on a small scale, with Oakland-based brewer Adam Lamoreaux of Linden Street Brewery leading the way. Lamoreaux has partnered with Gary Breen, who bought the old Haas Hops Ranch, (also the former site of the Fetzer Valley Oaks Ranch), outside of Hopland a few years ago and has recently opened Piazza de Campovida in town, a place to find a fair few small-batch Linden Brewery brews.
Adding to that town’s momentum is the new Hopland Ale House a few doors down, where the Mendocino Brewing Company once stood, with 8 beers on tap and the hope to further interest in locally grown hops.
Until that day, this spring enjoy a double helping of hop flavor with this blend of hop vodka and single-hopped beer into one hyper-hopped Shandy and contemplate the possibilities.
San Fran Shandy
Created by Russell Davis, 2012 National Bartender of the Year, for the launch of Hophead.
2 ounces Hophead vodka
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce ginger liqueur
½ ounce honey syrup
½ ounce egg white
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 ounces Anchor Brewing Brekle’s Brown Ale
Half on orange wheel
1. Combine Hophead, lemon juice, ginger liqueur, honey syrup, egg whites and bitters in a shaker and dry shake to emulsify egg whites.
2. Add ice and shake vigorously until proper dilution.
3. Strain into a chilled fizz glass.
4. Empty ice out from the shaker and fill it with ale to create a froth
5. Pour this froth over the drink in the chilled fizz glass and garnish with half an orange wheel.
San Fran Shandy. Credit: Courtesy of Anchor Distilling Company
Vodka has become, in many circles, the distilled spirit world’s answer to Chardonnay. It’s pooh-poohed and treated with a measurable level of disrespect, but when you look at consumption figures, it’s clear: Everybody’s drinking it.
Longtime barman Tony Abou-Ganim, now a beverage consultant and national ambassador for the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild, has come to the spirit’s defense in a new book, “Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist On Vodka and Vodka Cocktails.”
“The fact that vodka suffers from a misplaced lack of respect was highly motivating for me,” he says. “It is at times unjustly given a bad rap within the bartending community.”
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To him, vodka’s nuances are subtle, influenced by geography, climate and nutrient conditions, like wine. To make the point further, Abou-Ganim highlights 58 vodkas from around the world, divided by what they’re made from (rye, wheat, potato, corn, etc.), and breaking down each one’s individual characteristics and awarding character scores.
Ketel One, for example, a wheat-distilled vodka from the Netherlands, is given a character score of 6 (from a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the top), described as “rich with toasty grains, highlighted by touches of vanilla, marzipan, baked apple pie and cream soda,” the accompanying expert notes imploring, “Drink neat from the freezer paired with gravlax,” as well as, “Good for mixology cocktails as well as a great foundation for classic vodka drinks.”
But aside from a satisfying look at the history and culture that built vodka into the powerhouse it now is, the heart of Abou-Ganim’s book is about the cocktails, from the all-time vodka classic martini to the kamikaze, gimlet, Harvey Wallbanger, Moscow Mule, variations on Bloody Mary and more.
Though the master mixologist is happy to offer variations, he shuns the flavored vodkas that have flooded the world with their sappy, sugary falseness (marshmallow vodka shouldn’t be celebrated by anyone) and points to their overabundance as among the reasons spirits aficionados are turning their backs on vodka.
That may change — Abou-Ganim is seeing a return to simple, handcrafted cocktails that showcase a drink’s base spirit.
“I fell back in love with sipping ice-cold vodka, straight from the freezer in a frozen crystal shot glass,” he says.
His biggest surprise in writing the book and delving deep into vodka has been its ability to pair so beautifully with certain foods, from caviar to smoked fish and cured meats.
The following recipe is for a drink created at the Russian Tea Room and first mentioned in a 1938 publication on Russian dishes, considered a vintage drink. For it, Abou-Ganim recommends a bold, assertive vodka, ideally made from mixed grains somewhere in the Old World, preferably Russia, with baking-spice features, like Stolichnaya.
Reprinted with permission from “Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails” by Tony Abou-Ganim with Mary Elizabeth Faulkner
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce D.O.M. Bénédictine (an herbal liqueur)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Thin slice of lemon peel
1. In an ice-filled mixing glass, combine vodka, Bénédictine and Angostura bitters.
2. Stir until very cold.
3. Strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass.
4. Garnish with the lemon peel.
Photo: Gypsy Queen cocktail. Reprinted with permission from “Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails,” by Tony Abou-Ganim with Mary Elizabeth Faulkner, Agate Surrey, February 2013
There are plenty of reasons to make cocktails at home: You can impress your friends and neighbors, save money on upscale bars and custom-blend the flavors you like.
Anyone can experiment with mixers and add-ons, but distilling alcohol is a tricky and dangerous undertaking. Luckily, one wet-bar mainstay can be created by an amateur.
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A variety of other spices and botanicals round out the flavor, sometimes including cardamom, bergamot (a type of orange whose essence is used to flavor Earl Grey tea) and/or cinnamon.
So the budding mixologist can easily make gin at home. One easy way to try it is with the HomeMade Gin Kit, which has everything you’d need to custom-craft your own gin.
“To me, it’s about caring what you’re drinking,” says Joe Maiellano, who came up with the business idea last year with friend Jack Hubbard, both 20-something Washington, D.C.-based entrepreneurs.
“When you use our kit, you’re not only involved in making what you’re about to drink, you’re also gaining a better understanding of what the finished product is, what to look for in commercial gins and what you can do better next time.”
Gin can be done 36 hours later
Released just before the holidays, the kit comes with a proprietary blend of spices, botanicals and flowers; a tin of juniper berries; two Italian glass bottles (one 500 ml, the other 250 ml); a fine double-mesh strainer; a funnel; and instructions. The first round of 300 kits, $40 each, sold out in two days.
Just add a bottle of vodka (not included) and 36 hours later homemade gin is ready to pour. It can be sipped with tonic water and lime or mixed into such classic cocktails as the Negroni, Martini, Aviation or Gimlet.
“I see the kit as a bridge between folks who already have discerning tastes when it comes to commercial gins and folks who are real cocktail snobs and are already making their own bitters and tonics at home, myself included,” adds Maiellano. “We’re sort of that steppingstone that teaches our customers about the process and gives them the tools to start exploring more on their own.”
Courtesy of Distillery No. 209
3 ounces gin, such as No. 209
⅛ ounce dry vermouth, preferably Vya
1. Shake ingredients over ice for 10 seconds.
2. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon peel.
Top photo: Straining a batch of homemade gin. Credit: Zach Stamey of Focus Media
Zester Daily readers have shown an appreciation for a stunning variety of stories over the past year. A quick scan of the 2012 reader favorites reveals a yen for Ruth Bourdain’s dishes, cuisine from every corner of the world, food preservation, photography, films, wine insider news and a treasured recipe for flavored marshmallows — as well as a critique of American taste.
Snippets of the 12 most popular Zester Daily contributors’ stories, plus the five most popular Soapboxes, are below. Follow the story links to read the complete text. Follow the contributor links to read more by each author.
The stories are listed in reverse order.
Top contributors’ stories of 2012
12. THE ORIGINS OF CURRY by Raghavan Iyer: Before I try to define the word “curry,” let me create an image for you from my college laboratory days in India where I pursued a degree in chemistry over 20 years ago. As I busied myself measuring crystals of …
11. OLD-SCHOOL SOY SAUCE by Manuela Zoninsein: There’s no one right ritual or rule to guide your eating extravaganza on Jan. 23. The Chinese New Year involves a number of great food traditions. Dumplings are reminiscent of coins in ancient China and will thus bring …
10. TEN BEST FOODIE FLICKS by David Latt: If cold weather traps you indoors for months each winter, you might run through your queue of streaming movies pretty quick. Why not entertain yourself with a library of the best …
9. HOW KERMIT LYNCH TAUGHT AMERICANS HOW TO DRINK WINE by Patrick Comiskey: Forty years ago, Kermit Lynch abandoned the handmade purse industry and opened a wine shop in Berkeley, Calif., and in doing so, became one of the great innovators of …
8. WINE’S ACCUSED GRIFTER, RUDY KURNIAWAN by Corie Brown: By the summer of 2006, when I first noticed Rudy Kurniawan at Christie’s in Beverly Hills, he had transformed the market for old wine from a sleepy backwater into a high-stakes free-for-all. Only the richest wine collectors knew him. Or thought they did …
6. EATING TO BEAT CANCER: DIET MAY PROVE TO BE A CURE by Harriet Sugar Miller: Last night, it was cauliflower curry on a bed of leeks while my husband grilled his own slab of meat. The night before I ate solo — and downed an enormous bag of kale chips (please don’t tell him) flavored with cashew dust and too much …
4. IN DEFENSE OF TRUFFLE OIL by Lynne Curry: Midwinter is high season for fresh truffles in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. With the help of an experienced truffle hunter (or a trained dog), I could spend …
2. CANNING JARS FROM FAUX TO BEST PRESERVING CHOICES by Susan Lutz: About six months ago, I salvaged a beautiful marinara sauce jar that I intended to refill with home-canned sweet pickles made using my mother’s recipe. And if I hadn’t taken a 12-week course to become a certified Master Food Preserver, I might have …
1. FLAVORED MARSHMALLOWS MADE FROM SCRATCH by Charles Perry: When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions. If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is …
Top Soapboxes of 2012
5. DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS IS FOR AMERICANOS, TOO by Veronica Gonzalez-Smith: In the small town of El Paso, Texas, my siblings and I grew up at a unique intersection of Mexican and American culture. As kids, we traveled in and out of …
4. THE INFANTALIZATION OF AMERICAN TASTE by Michael Krondl: Though the plague of cupcake shops has not spared any city in this great union, it would be hard to find one that illustrates my point better than …
3. CALIFORNIA’S EXCITING NEW WINES BUCK THE MAINSTREAM by Eric Asimov: We live in the most wonderful era in history to love wine. Right now, Americans have access to a greater diversity of wines than ever before, wines made in more styles from more …
2. THE FORGOTTEN QUINCE by Jane McMorland Hunter: Nowadays most people hardly know what a quince looks like. Until the 19th century, it was a commonplace orchard fruit throughout North America and Europe; now it has become …
1. RUTH BOURDAIN DISSES AND DISHES WITH ZESTER by Ruth Bourdain: It’s been more than two years since the debut of Ruth Bourdain, the sensational and often raunchy Twitter persona whose name and sensibilities are a mashup/spoof of former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and outspoken celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The true identity of Ms. Bourdain is still under wraps, but her tweets show her to be ….
* * *
And that’s our list for 2012 … Here’s to discovering Ms. Bourdain’s identity in 2013!
Photo illustration, clockwise from top left:
Ruth Bourdain. Credit: Ruth Bourdain
Indian spices (originally published in 660 Curries). Credit: Ben Fink
Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood
Photo illustration credit: Karen Chaderjian
We tend to overindulge during the holidays. “The more the merrier” is the prevailing theme, after all. So wouldn’t it be great if a cocktail could cure what ails the holiday partygoer?
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Alex Ott thinks so. An organic chemist and master mixologist who has created cocktail menus for restaurants and bars around the world, Ott’s new book, “Dr. Cocktail: 50 Spirited Infusions to Stimulate the Mind & Body,” offers entire sections devoted to hangover cures, healing juices, anti-stress cocktails and health elixirs.
He learned a lot about natural flavors and scents native to India, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and the South Pacific as a child, traveling the world with his parents (she a nutritionist, he a musician), soaking up obscure ingredients.
After earning a degree in organic chemistry, he launched the cocktail menu at Buddha Bar in Paris and has since served as the brand ambassador for Svedka Vodka, New Amsterdam Gin and Moët Hennessy. He later made a name for himself in New York City, his current home, at Sushi Samba (even appearing in the TV show “Sex and the City”).
His goal in the book is to focus less on the alcohol and more on the natural spices, herbs and flavor compounds used in the cocktails. He considers his chapter on anti-stress drinks to be the most important one of all.
After surviving a plane crash in Thailand in 1998, he says, “I was left with extreme post-traumatic stress. For the next three years, I tried everything physicians told me to take to relieve my anxiety of flying, heights and the recurring nightmares I began having.”
He spent the next 10 years experimenting with alternatives to strong medication. The result is a dozen anti-anxiety elixirs included in his book, including Tranquili-Tea, a drink that blends chamomile and Armagnac, a brandy from the region of the same name in southwest France.
“Chamomile relaxes the muscles in the body, particularly muscle spasms caused by stress,” Ott explains. “A main compound in chamomile is apigenin. In the central nervous system, apigenin reacts the same way a pharmaceutical tranquilizer such as Valium would, thus relaxing the mind and body without the side effects or risk of addiction. It also works as an excellent sleep aid.”
Chamomile flowers also contain an important compound called azulene, a blue crystalline substance used since early Roman times as a calming aid. Ott adds that chamomile also stimulates digestion.
“My grandmother suffered from severe migraines and stress — raising a ton of children, dealing with the war, and generally looking after everybody,” Ott explains. “My mother took after my grandmother and also suffered from migraines and stress from running her own business. Whenever they needed to calm down, they drank chamomile tea. I can still smell the scent and it calms me down today just thinking about it. This drink is dedicated to the strong women of my family.”
Courtesy of Alex Ott
8 ounces water
1 bag chamomile tea
3 teaspoons sugar
2 ounces Armagnac or Cognac
2 ounces apple cider (or apple juice)
Splash of fresh lemon juice
Slice of apple
- Boil the water in a small saucepan.
- Once the water boils, add the chamomile tea bag and sugar.
- Reduce heat and stir. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Combine 3½ ounces of the cooled tea and remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Shake vigorously and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.
- Garnish with an apple slice.
Note: This cocktail can also be served hot. Instead of shaking, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan with a lid and heat slowly. Serve in a tea glass.
Photo: Tranquili-tea. Credit: Reprinted with permission from Dr. Cocktail ©2012 by Alex Ott, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.