By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer
Oh it's hot. That kind of heat that just takes your breath away. Your shirt sticks to your back and there is that burning sensation in your eyes as the sweat rolls down your brow.
This heat wave came on all of a sudden with a flourish, not a whimper.
Down in New Orleans they are long familiar with heat waves. They roll in over Lake Pontchartrain, soft winds that are brackish and stink of rotting vegetation. Down in Charleston they used to call this smell the pluff mud. It was unforgettable. In New Orleans this smell of heat, humidity and sweat sticks to the inside of your nose and envelops your entire body in a cocoon of utter wetness.
Unlike New Orleans or even Charleston for that matter, New York cocktails are not specifically designed by history, nor are they scientifically calibrated for their effectiveness against the ever-present heat and humidity. We plod along, sometimes creating drinks à la minute like they do at Milk & Honey in Manhattan - a veritable boîte of the moment. They are careful about asking you what you would like, rather than telling you what you should have. This may well be the most genteel lounge in town for this purpose.
But something is missing from the equation in this heat wave. It's not that I don't feel like drinking. I'm damned thirsty to say the least. I want something that has not been created yet, using ingredients that are vaguely from that grand Southern Lady, New Orleans, via the places known and unknown to the taste buds belonging to the casual drinker.
Bourbon fits into my equation because as an elixir against poor health, it seems to work really well with a sort of tea from Vietnam. This tea has tapioca pearls floating in it. Most people know that Vietnam is a sub-tropical country. I've never been there but I'm intrigued by the cuisine, especially the drink known as a bubble tea.
I've had bubble tea down in New Orleans, which is in many ways very similar in climate to the South of Vietnam. It is sultry, hot, hazy and very elegant as a framework to flavor that just seems to work in the heat wave.
St. George out in San Francisco nurtures an absinthe that has elements of basil woven into each sip. In many ways basil is an essential ingredient in Vietnamese cooking. St. George's expressive products, each made outside the rules of flavor and marketability consistently enthrall me. St. George doesn't make candy flavored vodka, nor do they make mass-market whiskies. Their absinthe is lush, corporeal and it speaks clearly of the hot weather slaking of your thirst.
Knob Creek Bourbon comes in. The Knob Creek takes to the bubble tea like a julep cup encircles a portion of crushed ice, mint and sugar. Knob Creek stands up to the bubble tea and makes an honest drink from a kid's slurp. First of all, I washed out the cup with the St. George Absinthe. Then I added some ice, not just any ice mind you. I use the ice made from the Mavea "Inspired Water" filtration pitcher. It comes out a crystal clear that is lovely set against the black colored tapioca pearls in this tall cocktail. I infused my ice with a large dose of the ultra-concentrated Bitter Truth Orange Bitters. You cannot see the bitters in the ice, but you know they are present because as the ice melts, the bitters infuse the cocktail making your drink more intense and… bitter!
These Vietnamese bubble-tea drinks are each specifically designed to make you feel cooler. This fascinates me. I utilized a lemon bubble tea along with the Knob Creek Bourbon and the St. George Absinthe wash. It's a seriously fun cocktail that can be enjoyed by most. As long as you're of legal drinking age that is!
Hei Zhenzhu Naichá is the literal translation of the type and size of black tapioca pearls that reside in this cocktail. It is a long drink, served in a tall cup. A go-cup, if you are familiar with New Orleans history, is perfect for this task. It is filled with a rinse of the St. George Absinthe, a portion of the crystal clear Mavea "Inspired Water" Bitter Truth Orange Bitters-infused ice, and then a portion of the brilliantly adaptable Knob Creek Bourbon. What follows is a large portion of the lemon bubble tea itself and plenty of the gorgeous tapioca "pearls" filling out your cup. A clear top with a large hole in it is on top along with an extra wide straw to suck these morsels into your mouth so you can chew on them for a while.
The art of chewing is very important. It teaches us to be relaxed and therefore cool when drinking this venerable cocktail.
Hēi Zhēnzhū Nǎichá is a gentle touch of the hat to my friend Forrest Cokley. He continues to inspire my drink prowess by teaching me to use a certain restraint and balance. Thank you.
Hēi Zhēnzhū Nǎichá
• ¼ oz. St. George Absinthe
• 2 oz. Knob Creek Bourbon Whiskey
• 8 oz. Vietnamese Lemon Bubble Tea infused with fresh lemon zests with the addition of the larger sized Tapioca Pearls
• Ice made from Mavea filtered water, infused with about 20 shakes of The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
• Long lemon zests for garnish
• Large straw for sucking up those chewy pearls
1. Rinse the tall glass or 12 oz. go-cup with the St. George Absinthe, then pour into your mouth… no waste!
2. To a mixing glass, combine the Knob Creek with the Bubble tea and some of your infused ice, stir in the tapioca pearls and then continue to gently stir this drink to cool, so not to bruise their fragile forms.
3. Add a couple of The Bitter Truth Orange-infused ice cubes to the go-cup.
4. Pour the lemon bubble tea mixed with the Knob Creek Bourbon over the cubes in your St. George Absinthe-washed go-cup.
5. Garnish with some lemon zests for their color against the black of the tapioca pearls.
Suddenly you're really cool! In more ways than one!
Cheers from DrinkUpNY!
Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.