Like most people, I find inspiration in random places. But my current cocktail passions have taken a very unique path, as these things go.
It won't surprise you to hear that Alembic and NOPA laid the groundwork for this little "problem" -- it was their cocktails, after all, that started me looking at what goes into a drink as an "ingredient" in the gastronomical sense of the word. Soon after, I met Cam and Anita of Married With Dinner, two "civilians" who are as passionate about cocktails as Obama is about Change. They, along with Jen and a few other folks, organized a "Summer of Cocktails", wherein a group of us tasted our way through the Bay Area represented drinks in Food & Wine's Cocktails 2008. It was this experience that really introduced me to the nuances in cocktail culture: the differences between gins, when to use rye over bourbon, why gommes behave differently than simple syrups.
Finally, I got serious enough about the cocktails I was making at home that I invested (heavily) in a really well-stocked bar -- how many people do you know who have four types of bitters? -- and some small-batch ingredients. One of my (oft visited) stops is Cask, where I've procured goodies from Small Hand Foods (Orgeat, Grenadine and Pineapple Gomme), along with hard-to-find spirits, liqueurs and hardware.
From there, as with cooking, it became a question of experimentation, and understanding. Learning, for example, that I prefer keeping two kinds of ice in the freezer -- standard cubes and smaller chunks -- because I like to shake Manhattans with smaller ice to break down and incorporate the rye (and yes, I do prefer a Manhattan made with rye) with the other aromatics, while I prefer my martinis watered down as little as possible.
I'm lucky, I suppose, in that cooking by nose and eye comes naturally to me; using those skills for cocktail creation is incredibly satisfying. And there's no doubt that having a champion (and critic) in C is important -- his palate helps to temper my preference for overtly tart beverages. So, over the several weeks, I've added a couple recipes to my notebook that I thought some of you might enjoy. Without further ado...
- Half a Fuji apple (most crisp-tart apples will do), peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
- .5 oz Orgeat
- .5 oz + 1 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 dash bitters
- 1 tsp dark maple syrup
- Muddle the apple in a shaker, then add remaining ingredients.
- Shake vigorously, and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with a lemon twist, or orange blossom
- 1.5 oz vodka
- .5 oz Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau de Vie
- 1 tsp Absinthe (I prefer St. George Spirits)
- 1 oz fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
- 1 tsp agave nectar
- Club soda
- Stir first five ingredients in a mixing glass with ice cubes until well-chilled
- Strain into a DOF glass containing three ice cubes
- Top with soda and garnish with a basil leaf or grapefruit twist