Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Vida Sleep Cocktail

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

Vida, Vida, I love you.  From the moment that I touched you to my lips I knew that Del Maguey "Vida" San Luis Del Rio Mezcal would be a favorite in my home.  If it’s citrus that you like along with that ever-present aroma of the earth, then you’ve come to the right bottle.  This liquid dream potion is woven along with the smoke and the fire of the many day method of cooking the agave to make a most approachable version of what we call Mezcal.  And Mezcal this is- brimming with wet stones, smoked wood and bursts of lime coated chunks of raw salt. 

The first sip of the Vida should be poured into a hand crafted ceramic pot about the size of a half-dollar piece.  Then, according to Ron Cooper who imports this incandescent swig, the liquid potion should be poured onto the floor, yes you heard me correctly, poured onto the floor.  Not to waste it- but to awaken the spirits held within each sip.  You see to fully understand Mezcal, you must attempt to embrace the relevance of understanding the unknowable.  The art of Mezcal dates back several hundred years and it contains secrets not yet known by the casual drinker.  You have to open your mind to what you don’t know when you drink Mezcal.  There are many so-called experts of Mezcal and there are also some who really understand this nip of liquid driven mysticism.  I am not an expert, nor am I a layman.  But what I am is driven to is the dark side of the Mezcal equation.  The place where everything is possible and your dreams are only as far away as a night’s rest in Mezcal’s embrace. 

It’s getting to be that time when the seasons change.  The light seems different the way it catches my glass and then somehow and the things that I enjoy drinking take on a darker hue.  The sun hangs in the sky for a shorter period too, as if to say to the drinker, “ This is something mysterious in your hand.  It is quite bold so please, I beg you, drink me!”

There is something mysterious and bold about drinking the Vida from Del Maguey.  First of all there is the history of the process.  Then there is the purity of the ingredients, the hand crafted nature of the product itself.  Most importantly there is the sense of adventure that you get when you drink Vida.  It is unlike drinking Tequila and I know that some people who would vehemently disagree with me on this topic. But they are going to have to work with me on this topic.

Mezcal and Vida in particular give the flavor adventurer something to plan for their next tasty vacation! Go on a liquid driven vacation in your glass every time you swallow Mezcal. 

To fully appreciate the experience of adventure you need the correct container to imbibe the distillate.  I recommend the unglazed terra cotta cup.  They are small.  Perhaps a .25 of an ounce, if that fits inside each cup.  This little cup can be shaped like a little pot as well.  They are popular in Mexico and shouldn’t be a problem to find here in the USA. 

Fill the little cup with the Vida Mezcal.
Throw the first portion on the floor.
Sip the second one to all things good. 
Sip the third one to all things good.
Sip the fourth one to all things good. 
And so on.

I like to mix Mezcal like the Vida with gorgeous lager beer from Baja named Cabotella.  This little cocktail is just stunning with the crisp lager beer as the base and the Vida Mezcal dripped over the top.  A piece of a sea salt crusted lemon pinwheel sits on top then a hit or two of Agave Syrup will bring this very potent cocktail into your memory as quickly as it goes down.  The Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters give this drink some grounding to finally know that the cocktail has balance and class. 

On a hot night it will go down ever so easily!

The Vida Sleep Cocktail

1 oz. Vida Mezcal or your choice
3 oz. Cabotella Lager Beer (from Baja, Mexico)
1 oz. Agave Syrup
4-5 drops Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters

In a cocktail stirring glass fill ¾ with ice
Add the Vida Mezcal
Add the Cabotella Lager Beer
Add the Agave Syrup

Stir to combine but not foam over

Strain into coupe glasses with a few drops of the Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters over the top and garnish with a sea salt crusted lemon pinwheel. 

Why is it a sleep cocktail?  Have four and see. 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Nahmias et Fils Brings Back a Sephardic Moroccan Tradition

By Amanda Schuster

I have to say I was a little skeptical when I received the bottle at my door.

Fig brandy? What am I supposed to do with this? Eye roll. More booze writer problems…

But then I tasted it. And the answer is, drink it. Drink it a lot.

Nahmias et Fils was founded by a husband/wife team, Dorit and David Nahmias - she, a former foreign-exchange trader and he, an ex-computer software engineer. When the financial crisis hit, the Yonkers, NY-based couple, like many people at the time, found themselves at a career crossroads and they decided to make Mahia, this yummy fig brandy.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Dorit Nahmias over skype recently. She told me that her husband had grown up with the Mahia, a traditional fig (or sometimes date or grape) brandy popular with Moroccan Jews, that his mother and grandmother famously made in the mountain village of Taznakht, where it was the family business and continued to be so when they later moved to Casablanca. Multiple bottles of the spirit were consumed with every celebration and traditional family meal, such as Russians might do with vodka.

When the family moved to New York in the 1980s, his mother still made Mahia in their kitchen in Brooklyn from time to time in small batches with a “rudimentary still” for private consumption and for gifts to local friends. The sad passing of his mother coincided with the crash and Dorit losing her job in finance. They decided to raise money and “go for it” - bring this delicious family recipe to the public.

Dorit explained that as the majority of the Jewish population began to migrate out of Morocco in the 1960s and 70s, “... the art of making Mahia kind of got lost for a generation. What we’re doing is revitalizing it here.”

Dried figs, a blend of gold and mission varieties, are brought in from California (Dorit explained that fresh ones aren’t suitable for the brandy due to their delicacy, as was standard practice in Morocco.) They are then crushed with filtered water, then fermented for 2 weeks only with yeast (no other added enzymes or sugars.) Once fermentation is complete, it’s distilled with fresh anise seed, taking care only to use the heart of the make in production. The proof is brought down to 40% with filtered water, the distillate is cooled and filtered, then bottled.

Though Mahia is traditionally consumed neat, I felt compelled to ask Dorit about it cocktail potential. She has found that it matches very well with anything citrusy. “It mixes really well with just a simple lemonade. Or pink grapefruit juice with a little bit of agave sweetener. It mixes really well with mint, so it actually works great  in a mojito [in place of white rum.]”

I noticed that the Mahia does have very rum-like qualities, with a clean, light, sugary finish like a good rum should. But it also tastes very much like what it is. The fig flavor is unmistakable and quite delicious. In a blind taste test I would have identified that flavor right away. Dorit was pleased when I told her this. “That’s the whole point!” she said. “And the reason we don’t use enzymes. Because figs are so delicate. If you put enzymes in the fermentation to help production, what it does is break everything down… you lose the fig flavor.”

Excellent choice. Definitely give this delectable brandy a whirl. I personally think the Mahia-at-every-table tradition is one we should all work on bringing back.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Amanda Schuster is a native New Yorker, but without much of the accent. The mobile landscape of the city has taken her on a whirlwind journey from Medieval historian, photo archivist, jewelry designer and invitation specialist to earning her sommelier certification in late 2005. After working as a retail wine and spirits buyer and freelance brand promoter, she turned to the one thing that has stayed a constant all these years – her love of writing. She has published dozens of articles on cocktails, spirits, wine and other culinary interests, and is currently working on her first novel. Her favorite cocktail is a Manhattan.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tonic and Gin? Gin and Tonic?

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

I make my gin and tonic commencing with an age-old recipe.  Or is it a tonic and gin?  Whatever you intend to call it, my gin and tonic is made according to the recipe that I learned while traveling in the Ivory Coast of Africa.  The unrest of today was still simmering on a low boil when I visited back in 1976.  My parents took my sister and me to the Ivory Coast to see the hidden side of the country.  This far-away place was still ruled as a French Protectorate and the cocktails that were enjoyed were befitting a Colonial presence in this French speaking country.  As cocktails rule palates and certain drinks offer more than just a passing metaphor for getting drunk, the French certainly know a thing or two about the art of getting pleasantly drunk.  The heat might have something to do with it, often exceeding 100 degrees for weeks on end.

You want to stay as hydrated as possible, but you must not drink the water!  It’s poisonous!

Ice must be made the old fashioned way with twice boiled water, or if you are really wealthy it would be made using Evian.  Talk about carbon footprints!  But the day you drink a cocktail with ice made from the tap?  All bad things would happen to your stomach.  That’s why the gin and tonic cocktail contains so much gin, to kill the microorganisms in the ice and making any malaria carrying mosquitoes fall off, quite drunk!

My gin and tonic is made with twice boiled water and the ice cubes come from a silicone tray in one-inch cubes.  They fit perfectly into a hand-blown glass vessel and cool this venerable drink with alacrity.  In a tip of the hat to the original inventors of this cocktail, I have included the syrup of tonic from my friend Tom Richter.  His product known simply as Tomr’s, (his childhood nickname) is a concentrated, cane sugar based syrup containing the essential ingredient in a gin and tonic cocktail.

The cinchona bark is in a concentrated form so you can control the amount of tonic flavor in your glass.   I like about .25 oz. of the syrup to a ratio of 1.5 oz. of gin. The Cinchona bark when combined with quinine water and gin makes for a lovely cocktail.  But I don’t stop there.  My gin and tonic has a pinch of curry powder in it and a slug of Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral water in the mix.  I also take the lovely and concentrated Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters and give them a couple shakes over the top of the fizzy, healing water, Tomr’s Tonic Syrup and gin.

  In this case, the gin that I prefer is the No. 3 Gin.  The No. 3 Gin is magnificent stuff with citrus notes including pink grapefruit zest and candied and caramelized orange peel flavors.  In a recent blind tasting of 17 amazing bottles of gin at my home, the No. 3 Gin came in the top 3 of all the gin that I own.  It was up against some pretty formidable world brands. To have the ability to taste it against the world leaders and have it come out on top is truly exciting!

I LOVE the No. 3 Gin as much as the other winner, Barr Hill Gin from Vermont, pretty high praise in my tasting. Curry in a Gin and Tonic Cocktail is a most unexpected flavor.  In a tip of the hat to those people who enjoy curry, this cocktail is deeply seasoned and powerfully aromatic.  It really is a surprise when people try this cocktail.  First of all they don’t expect curry in their mixed drinks.  Secondly, the Tomr’s syrup is not at all as cloying as a bottle of Schweppes or some generic tonic water from the supermarket.  Tonic syrup as a cocktail ingredient is red-hot as a trend.  If you cannot find the Tomr’s Tonic syrup, may I suggest finding the brilliant Q-Tonic water from Brooklyn?  It’s also a gorgeous product, and it is worthy of your hard earned money.

I’m a firm believer that cocktail bitters are the way to go in a gin and tonic.  They offer depth and character to a tall glass of tonic and gin, or is it a gin and tonic?  Of course the lime is also important so I suggest instead of using the classic, thinly sliced pinwheel of lime, that you cut a nice fat chunk of lime and serve it on the side of the glass so that your guest doesn’t have to stick their fingers into the glass to fish out the garnish.  In this case the garnish is as important as the hand cut ice, the artisanal hand-made gin, Bitter Truth Bitters and the Tomr’s Tonic syrup finished with Perrier Mineral Water in Lime essence.

And on a day like today when the temperature is sizzling hot, the last thing that I want to do is perpetuate the heat.  I want to quench it with a tall glass of Tonic and Gin!

The Gendarme Cocktail

1.5 oz. No. 3 Gin
.25 oz. Tomr’s Tonic syrup
Pinch of yellow curry powder
1 oz. Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral water in Lime Essence
2-3 dashes Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters
A nice chunk of lime sprinkled with sea salt for balance

Add about a ¼ teaspoon of curry powder to a Collins glass (just a pinch really)
Add several hand cut cubes or silicone formed cubes of ice to the glass
Add the Tomr’s Tonic syrup over the top of the cubes
Add the Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral water to the Tomr’s syrup and stir to combine
Add the No. 3 Gin over the top
Stir again to cool thoroughly
Add 2-3 dashes of the Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters over the top, stir again once or twice to combine
Add a straw and serve quickly to preserve the cool liquid in your belly!
Garnish a cocktail napkin on the side with the chunk of lime sprinkled with sea salt for squeezing over the top

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Ramos Gin Fizz

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

The Ramos Gin Fizz is one of those fantastic long drinks that goes so far as to act as a powerful medicine. Medicine you say? Yes, drinking a Ramos Gin Fizz is the same as going to your pharmacy and buying an antacid for your stomach. But how does this work? How is this possible?

There are powerful medicinal properties in the Ramos Gin Fizz. Forget what you know about the history of this drink. Henry Ramos invented this fizz in his cocktail bar to bring a bit of New Orleans to the rest of the country.

Sure it's a complicated drink to make correctly and yes, there are some ingredients that you might not be able to find too easily. But sit easy in your chair and rest awhile. When you are good and relaxed, find the time to make this lovely and effervescent trip to steamy New Orleans in your tall glass.

My evening started with a Ramos Gin Fizz in Brooklyn. And by a stroke of good luck they used a London Dry style gin to make it. What a nice surprise! This venerable drink was off to a good start! The friendly bartender was more than willing to try her hand at making one. You cannot imagine my delight!

This Ramos Gin Fizz reminded me of the one that I enjoyed in New Orleans, prepared by Marvin Allen at the Carousel Bar! That one enjoyed during Tales of the Cocktail went down like a liquid version of icy cold, cotton candy!

Here is my recipe for the perfect Ramos Gin Fizz:

2 oz. The 86 Co. Fords Gin
2 dashes Orange Flower Water
½ oz. Lemon Juice (freshly squeezed and strained)
½ oz. Lime Juice (also freshly squeezed and strained)
½ oz. Simple Syrup (2:1 ratio)
½ oz. Heavy Cream
¼ oz. Ice Cold Milk
1 Egg White
Hand Cut Ice
Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water

1. Dry shake the egg white with the other ingredients save for the ice and the mineral water. Do this for about 20-30 seconds to stretch the egg whites into a sort of meringue.
2. Fill the shaker ½ with ice and shake, shake, shake for at least 3-5 minutes! It may seem like a long time but the results will be incredibly creamy and fluffy.
3. Pour into a glass with one spear of hand cut ice. I like ice in my Gin Fizz as it keeps this drink cold.
4. Top with a good splash of the Perrier Mineral Water.

Fords Gin mixed into a Ramos Gin Fizz is the perfect antidote to a sour stomach. Perhaps it's the ingredients themselves that makes this handcrafted spirit so beguiling.

From DrinkUpNY: "Fords Gin is a blend of nine botanicals: juniper from Italy, coriander from Romania, lemon peel from Spain, bitter orange peel from Haiti and Morocco, grapefruit peel from Turkey, angelica from Poland, cassia from Indonesia, jasmine from China and finally, orris from Italy and Morocco."

All of these ingredients in Fords Gin are used in forms of herbal medicine. Gin itself has a tempestuous history, but research has shown that gin was used all the way back, during the time of the plague to cure the virus.

There is powerful medicine at work in every sip of Fords Gin. Simon Ford is one of the owners of this new brand of spirits along with Jason Kosmos, Dushan Zaric, Malte Barnekow and Kris Roth. All of these formidable people are talented beyond belief. They exemplify what I like to call a "Class Act" and this shrine of everything cocktail is more than worthy of my praise.

On my way back home from Brooklyn, I found myself at Employees Only, the restaurant and handcrafted cocktail boîte located on Hudson Street in New York City. Employees Only uses a plethora of different spirits, all of them the best, but something I noticed immediately was the number of 86 Co. bottles on the shelf. And right up there next to the Caña Brava Rum and Cabeza Tequila was a bottle (in this case, many bottles) of Fords Gin.

But words to the wise, to order something off the set cocktail menu at Employees Only when they are crowded is a very BAD IDEA, especially when that drink is something as complicated and time-consuming as a Ramos Gin Fizz. So I kept it easy and ordered a Hemingway Daiquiri. And that was made with the magnificent, 86 Co. Caña Brava Rum, so all was not lost. It was a superlative drink that was sparked to heights yet higher with the brightly flavored, fresh squeezed lime juice that didn't come from a bottle.

They get it at Employees Only!

And then there was the drink itself with little crystal rainbows of chipped ice hanging in suspension inside the frosty "Martini" glass, immediately elegant and elongated in my hand. I wanted another, but like all good things in life, one of their potent cocktails was certainly enough liquor to be enjoyed at the time.

Maybe next time I'll sit at the bar with my Employees Only tattoo showing on my arm?

Whether it's Fords Gin in your Ramos Gin Fizz or Caña Brava Rum in your Daiquiri, all 86 Co. spirits are delicious in whatever cocktail you desire. You can thank The 86 Co. for that as well as Employees Only for making cocktail memories!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Historical (Cocktail Whisperer) Milk Punch

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

I wish I had the chance to use Johnny Drum "Private Stock" 101 Proof Bourbon in the Milk Punch I made this year at Tales of the Cocktail. If you are not familiar with Johnny Drum or the historic Milk Punch, let's just start with a short history of this venerable Kentucky Bourbon. Johnny Drum "Private Stock" is a Kentucky "Sour Mash" Bourbon Whiskey and quite robust in the glass, weighing in at 50.5% alcohol by volume or 101 Proof. It has more than enough stuffing for Bourbon cocktails that involve milk, heavy cream, simple syrup, bitters and real vanilla extract. It is said that the milk punch can revitalize the waking dead or relax the inebriated fool the night prior.

The historic milk punch is a restorative and a relaxant. At the recent Tales of the Cocktail held yearly in New Orleans, the home of the American Cocktail, my Milk Punch showed very favorably against the molecular influenced "peanut butter" milk punch crafted by my friend Christopher James and the flavor transformer of a milk punch from my friend Suzanne Long.

Serving my Milk Punch at Tales!

I stuck to the tried and true (at least by myself) Historic Milk Punch. Crafted a la minute, my Milk Punch contains more than enough Bourbon to light up a small city. But you'd never know it by the amount of heavy cream, whole milk, vanilla and bitters in this drink.

The real reason for making a Milk Punch is New Orleans herself. She is a lazy city that is enrobed in a veil of humidity. Time moves slowly and thirst is always a going concern. You must pour into your throat more than just water. You need to pour in vast quantities of dreams. This town is full of dreams. From the moment that you step off the plane and smell that aroma off the Mississippi, the smell of decay, you know that this town is all about dreams. The Milk Punch is a dreamy little drink for people who embrace New Orleans.

Louis Armstrong, although living in New York, loved the Milk Punch and may have lamented that no one really embraced the Milk Punch in New York City as they did in New Orleans. The Milk Punch is a slippery reminder that cooling liquid drinks can pack enough punch to keep you interested. Certainly mine kept everyone who tasted it very interested.

The ingredients for a New Orleans-style Milk Punch vary. They are historical in nature, but as far as pinning down a specific recipe, it's up for grabs which one is the most authentic. There are thick ones and thin ones and all sorts of punches for different times of the day.

My Milk Punch is a thing of rare beauty on a hot morning. I love nothing more than wandering down the streets in New Orleans with a go-cup filled with a most intriguing concoction. The thing of my dreams and of my memories is this hand-held bit of paradise. It's hard to explain what it is like roaming the streets of New Orleans with a Milk Punch in hand. It is akin, I suppose, to an ice cold beer at a sporting event - not that I at all like sports - but it's what I think would be refreshing and satisfying while being poured down your throat. Stranger things have happened with Milk Punch. Going back to sleep when on Island Time is one of the side effects of a potent Milk Punch. 

Mine falls into the latter category of mind-erasers that taste delicious. Which brings me back to that elegant bottle of Bourbon made with all-natural ingredients by people who care about the craft of Bourbon. I think it's essential to make this venerable spirit with all-natural ingredients! It might not taste any better to you, but for my money I want something that is purely delicious! 

I chose Johnny Drum "Private Stock" 101 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey because it speaks very clearly of the passion that goes into making a quality product.

The Johnny Drum is gorgeous in the glass. With notes of roasted nuts, coconut oils, citrus zest and rock candy simple syrup, this is certainly no Saturday night mixer. It is robust and brusque if you drink too much in a swallow. Remember, it is 101 Proof and it will seriously kick your butt. When Johnny Drum is combined in a Milk Punch, there is little time for you to consider drinking less once you've poured a few glasses of these down your gullet.

The vanilla is equally important. You'll rue the day that you use imitation vanilla in your Milk Punch. You must use the best vanilla that you can buy. Go to a the web and Google "Real Vanilla". Choose the one that resonates with you. I find Mexican Vanilla quite beguiling and there are varieties from the South Seas that will scream the tropics. I'm convinced that a bit of Absinthe is also necessary to add flavor and a touch of mystery to the punch. Don't skimp and use an artificially dyed Absinthe. It's just not done!

The Historical (Cocktail Whisperer) Milk Punch is a lovely way to start the day - whatever time of day you have the chance to enjoy her wiles. Just make sure it's over 80 degrees outside with at least 80% humidity. Liquid air, liquid drink, liquid refreshment... Liquid sensuality in your glass pouring past your teeth into the nether regions of your memory...

The Historical (Cocktail Whisperer) Milk Punch

Ingredients for about 25 persons: 
(It's a punch - have a party!)

• 1 ½ Gallons Whole Milk or Regular Milk 
• 2 Qts. Heavy Whipping Cream
• 1 Bottle Johnny Drum "Private Stock" Bourbon
• 2-3 Tablespoons Tenneyson Absinthe
• ½ Qt. Fee Brothers Rock Candy Simple Syrup
• 4 Tablespoons (or to taste) REAL Vanilla (No imitations allowed!)
• 1 Tablespoon The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters scattered over the top
• Scrapings of both nutmeg and cinnamon (fresh is essential)
• 2 dashes of Orange Flower Water (No more, you don't want this to taste like a sachet!)
• 1 Bottle (750ml size) Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water (Plain)

1. Add all the liquid ingredients except the bitters to a punch bowl.
2. Mix well to combine and scatter bitters over the top.
3. Chill in the fridge for an hour or so before serving. Don't add ice. Keep your ice in a separate bowl; you certainly don’t want to dilute this punch!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys.