Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Substitutions

I am sure that you have noticed that I have not been anything resembling punctual with my post about this week's cocktail tasting. A lot of things got shaken up this week, and not just in a cocktail shaker. None of our friends could make it to our house on Wednesday, and one of the main reasons was they guys' desire to watch the Red Wings' Stanley Cup playoff game, and our lack of television reception. So, we ended up heading over to a friend's house. He was game to provide a new drink to try, so the venue was the first substitution.

The Penal Colony

The only issue was that he didn't actually have the ingredients for the drinks that he had the recipes for. First, he wanted to try the Colony Cocktail, which I posted about earlier. Unlike us at the time we tried it, though, he did have Maraschino. Unfortunately, he didn't have grapefruit juice. What he did have was pineapple juice. Instead of finding a recipe which he had the ingredients for, he decided to make the switch. After the first sip, we started calling it "The Penal Colony." While I'm sure it was in truth better than prison wine, it was not a successful mix. It tasted like herbal pineapple. The herbal taste was not pleasant as in The Last Word, it was grating, and somewhat pine-y.

Sweet Irish Blackthorn

The next attempt was the Blackthorn, the idea of which we found rather appealing. Blackthorn is the bush or small tree on which sloes grow in the hedgerows of England and Ireland. Obviously, sloes are used to make sloe gin, which I have been wanting to try since hearing Brenda Dayne talk about it on Cast On, and seeing Ruth Goodman make sloe gin on The Edwardian Farm. The recipe he had did not involve sloe gin, but rather was a combination of Irish whiskey, dry vermouth, absinthe, and perhaps bitters. This recipe appears to be sometimes called The Irish Blackthorn, to differentiate it from those recipes that do contain sloe gin. The plant is also traditionally used to make shillelaghs, so it is definitely native to Ireland, and culturally significant. Now, it turned out that the bottle of dry vermouth at our house is actually our friend's bottle, which he brought over for a party, and so he did not have a bottle there. Oops. Our friend substituted sweet vermouth, and we called it "The Sweet Blackthorn". I find now that 12 Bottle Bar's recipe for The Blackthorne Cocktail actually includes sweet vermouth, but I do not know what proportions our friend used (hence my lack of clarity over the inclusion of bitters). I do know that he decreased the ratio of vermouth to whiskey. Given what 12 Bottle Bar says about Gary Regan's Blackthorne and the Savoy Cocktail Book's Blackthorn, I imagine that our friend's original recipe was the one in the Savoy book, or similar. Interestingly, he made a choice out of necessity and personal preference that made it more like the version that the guys at 12 Bottle Bar prefer! Flavor wise, the largest components of the drink we tried were the vermouth and the absinthe. Personally, I could imagine -- not having tasted sloes or sloe gin, but knowing that the blackthorn is in the prune family -- that the drink may resemble sloes in flavor. The combination of the licorice taste of the absinthe and the infused grapes of the sweet vermouth made for a flavor that could well be related to a prune, even if we did still have a bit too much vermouth. We lost the flavor of the whiskey entirely, though, which was surprising. I am curious about trying the Gary Regan recipe, as well as some sloe gin, to see if a little tweaking would bring it into the realm of a good drink, rather than a not-entirely-objectionable one.

Oh, for those of you who are not aware, I should mention that absinthe became legal again in the U.S. in 2007. Studies have been done about the safe limits of thujone, the compound blamed for the green fairy's original demise. Ironically, the concentration of thujone is twice as high in sage as in average pre-ban absinthe, and today's absinthe is capped at much lower levels. Perhaps more importantly, so is its alcohol content, which was once as high as 74% ABV.

Finally, not on Wednesday, but today, I had to try 12 Bottle Bar's April 15th offering, the Income Tax Cocktail. I even squeezed some fresh juice from the orange that's been drying out waiting for just such an occasion. That's their image above.

The Income Tax Cocktail:

1.5 oz Leopold’s Gin
0.75 oz Dry Vermouth
0.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
0.50 oz Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass.
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe.
Garnish with an orange twist.

I didn't garnish it with a twist, given that my orange was really too dried up to do so, and I wasn't paying attention and accidentally shook it rather than stirring. The verdict: I thought it was an entirely enjoyable drink. The orange juice and the bitters balanced out and blended the gin and the vermouth. Not being much of a fan of either gin or vermouth, I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps a little more attentiveness on my part and a little more frequent use of oranges will take this one up a notch in the future.

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