Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Fast Retort: a Branca Menta Milkshake

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer

At the recent Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, trends were aflutter in many of the tasting rooms.  One of these cocktail trends caught my eye and my palate because it was so darned refreshing given the heat and humidity of New Orleans in the summer. 

Ice cream based drinks are my go/to for adult (read: alcohol based) refreshment.  And what tastes even better when it is frozen?  Mint of course.  And there is nothing that I find more adaptable to liquor than ice cream milkshakes.  Maybe this is because I’m a huge fan of the classic Milk Punch.  As it was, in 2013 I made my famous Milk Punch for an appreciative audience at Tales of the Cocktail.  But given the fact that my Milk Punch was made with Bourbon, it holds a very special place in my heart. 

The same holds true for the Fernet Branca-esque product named Branca Menta.   Branca Menta hails from the 1960’s when younger crowds would demand an extra dose of sweet peppermint syrup in their short glasses of the normally assertive Fernet Branca.  Fernet as many know has a prickly and herbaceous fragrance that gives way to the decidedly potent finish. 

Branca Menta with its refreshing hit of spearmint just screams to be unleashed into a few scoops of ice cream with freshly spun milk and cream…  I’m convinced that a couple ounces of Branca Menta when added to a milk shake made with richly flavored coffee ice cream is one of life’s simple pleasures.  

The first time I tasted Branca Menta I was a wee lad of about 12 years of age.  I had accompanied my family to Italy.  It was one of those one-month trips when my mom and dad pulled me out of prep school to travel around the countryside, absorbing the living culture that said Italy.  We would stay off the beaten path, renting a car and staying in historic hotels and castles around the countryside while visiting WWII battle sites and art museums. 

Of course as I’ve written in the past, wine was always on both our lunch and dinner table for these trips and Italy was no exception.  What I didn’t expect on this journey was the first taste of Branca Menta.  It seemed as if Branca Menta was aimed at a younger crowd, so it wasn’t too far out of place to find Branca Menta added to a tall glass of seltzer water or a glass of cola.  I also found, completely by accident that Branca Menta was delicious when poured into a milkshake.  It’s not that difficult to imagine tasting and smelling liqueurs that my peers would not be tasting for decades to come- because my parents never begrudged me a taste of anything alcoholic in nature.   This probably explains why I never drink to excess, since alcohol was never denied to me while growing up; it wasn’t such a big deal to have a few sips now and again as a boy. 

Branca Menta, woven with hand-gathered herbs and freshly cut mint is emblazoned into my memory of childhood.  The refreshing finish and stomach warming ability of the herbs and roots plays well with all kinds of desserts, both savory and sweet!  I remember clearly the first time I tasted Branca Menta and that was poured over a few scoops of coffee gelato.  The Branca Menta reaches out and grabbed my attention, never letting it go.  Even to present day, each taste that I take of Branca Menta is reminiscent of the past, a past that was memorable not only for the flavor, but for the aromatics of the mint.  Scent is one of those things that you remember and Branca Menta is memorable for its simplicity!

Tasting Notes:
Bruised, freshly cut mint gives way to hand gathered herbs and exotic roots/spices.  There is a certain sweetness that fools your tongue into drinking this elixir a bit too fast alone in a glass; it’s nearly 80 Proof, so be careful!   One of the ways that I like mine is directly out of the freezer in a snifter.  Then the snifter is filled with a scoop of freshly made coffee gelato.  You may like yours another way, woven into a milkshake with good strong espresso coffee making up the backbone of the blended and frozen cocktail. 

Whatever way you choose to drink Branca Menta, do so with a smile on your face.  This makes each sip memorable and locks the aromatics deeply into your brain where you will always remember the pleasure of Italy and the art of hand gathered ingredients, made by modern day alchemists. 

A Fast Retort: a Branca Menta Milkshake
3 oz. Branca Menta
2 oz. Espresso Coffee (cooled)
2 oz. Whole (regular) milk
1 oz.  Heavy Whipping Cream
2-3 scoops Chocolate or Coffee Gelato (or ice cream)
5 dashes of Bitter Truth Spiced Chocolate Bitters
Fresh mint for garnish

Blend all the ingredients together except for the Spiced Chocolate Bitters
When combined, add to a parfait glass
Shake the Spiced Chocolate Bitters over the top
Garnish with fresh mint 
Serve your friend one, and then make another for yourself! 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Article by Warren Bobrow, a nationally published food and spirits columnist who writes for Williams-Sonoma, Foodista and the Beekman Boys. His first book, Apothecary Cocktails has been nominated for a Spirited Award at the 2014 Tales of the Cocktail! 

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