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This past October 4-6, 2012, the Boston Cocktail Summit celebrated the outstanding cocktail scene here.  I’ve already posted about Manhattans with Brother Cleve but there were lots of other sessions, cocktails and tidbits that are worth sharing, almost too many.  Here’s a round-up of some highlights.

Led by Jackson Cannon, the folks at Eastern Standard, Hawthorne and Island Creek shared the secrets of their delicious Rosé vermouth and taught me how to do it myself.  The session started with comparative tasting: Martini & Rossi’s rosé vermouth versus ES’s version. There is no comparison—the Boston-made vermouth is rich, sweet, herbally and bitter all at the same time.  It tastes like a strawberry jam full of herbs, and I totally mean that in a good way.  Wow.  The seminar continued with Kevin Martin demonstrating how to make this delicious vermouth (I think I might be over my fear of making caramel), while we sipped cocktails and heard more about the process and ingredient variations.  I went home with their vermouth recipes and a spice packet of ES’s own blend, so I can now make my own rosé vermouth (I’ll report back on how things go when I try it out).

Of the six whiskeys I tasted at a Whiskey and the Bar seminar at Citizen, Parker’s Heritage 6th edition Bourbon was my favorite.  I might even go as far as to say that it was the most delicious thing I drank over the course of 3 days at the Cocktail Summit.  This is Heaven Hill Distilleries 6th edition in their Heritage Collection series.  This annual series of rare, aged American Whiskeys honors 6th generation Master Distiller Parker Beam.  My mouth was just giddy with the thick caramelly flavor that mingles so nicely with the bold spice of the rye.  And at just under 132 proof this bourbon packs a punch.

What we “taste” isn’t always just what we taste.  In Science of Taste seminar, neuroscientist Don Katz (Brandeis) explained that smell, perception, genetics and our brain greatly affect taste. The focus of the seminar was the competing tastes of sweet and bitter.  Sweet = good. Bitter = bad.  We have our caveman ancestors to thank for this unfair association of these two types of flavors.  Biologically-speaking, bitter is the taste of poison; it’s the sign of non-healthy food. Sweet, on the other hand, is a sign that a food is ripe, fresh and full of calories.  When life was all about survival, you definitely wanted the sweet foods more than the bitter ones.  One very interesting bit to add to this battle of tastes, is that if you add a little sweet to your bitter, the bitter becomes more desirable, we longer biologically perceive it as bad.  Our drink of choice to demonstrate this effect was the Problem-Solver which combined rye, Cheering Herring, Benedictine and a rinse of Fernet Branca.

Ada Coleman’s Hanky Panky by Boston’s own Hanky Panky (aka Misty Kalkofen)

Ladies Choice: Women Behind the Bar—The Boston and New York chapters of LUPEC united to take us on a journey through cocktail, and in turn American, history g with a focus on the female gender.  One of the many interesting women I learned about was Ada Coleman.  She was head bartender at the famous American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London, when American Harry Craddock arrived there in the 1920s (he was escaping Prohibition).  He apprenticed under Coleman, who invented many of the classic recipes Craddock would feature in his The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Amongst the many drinks Coleman created was the Hanky Panky.  We sipped one made by Boston’s own Hanky Panky, aka Misty Kalkofen; that’s equal parts gin and sweet vermouth with a dash of Fernet.

To Boston’s first Cocktail Summit. Cheers!

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After three days on the couch, I needed to shed my sick-self and get out of the house.  So, I mustered up the strength to get it together (and I managed to keep my coughing to a minimum—cocktails really do soothe a sore throat!) and met Karaugh at Green Street for DrinkBoston’s event that featured 4 rising stars of the Boston bar scene.  We got to sample  unique creations, nibble on some yum food, and chat with the bartenders and fellow cocktail enthusiasts.  What a fun Sunday night!

Here is what we drank and who made it:

Our first cocktail was created by Carrie Cole (Craigie on Main).  Her Loose Translation was made of Scorpion Mezcal, Aperol, Mathilde XO Orange Cognac, pineapple syrup, lime juice, Allspice Dram, Angostura orange bitters, and a splash of ginger ale served on the rocks.  What a wonderful start—smoky, bitter, with a little fruitiness.

Look at this tower of coupe glasses ready to receive the Peralta

Evan Harrison (Deep Ellum) made our second drink.  It was the Peralta: Old Overholt Rye, Cynar, green Chartreuse, grapefruit juice, orange and grapefruit bitters.  I really enjoyed the combo of herbally Chartruese and the bitter/tart grapefruit.

Bob McCoy's Saving Daylight

The 3rd drink was by Bob McCoy (Eastern Standard). His Saving Daylight was really spectacular.  The cocktail was Plymouth Gin, homemade “golden” vermouth, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Cointreau and homemade bitters.  From the first sip, I was struck by the unique flavor of this drink.  I expected something sweet with the St. Germain and Cointreau, but instead I tasted a delicious caramel flavor that came from Bob’s homemade vermouth and bitters.

Emily Stanley's William of Orange

Our final cocktail was Emily Stanley’s (Green Street) William of Orange.  With Bols Genever, Benedictine, Punt E Mes, Aperol, and orange bitters this was a perfect ending to the evening—heavy, herbally, bitter, yum!

Cheers!

[Thanks for the photos, Karaugh!]

In ancient Norse mythology the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, were reflections off the spectacular armor of the Valkyries, the warrior women who escorted the dead across the northern skies to the legendary Valhalla.  For the Romans, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn.  Each day to rejuvenate herself she flew across the northern sky to announce the coming of the sun.  And Finnish folklore tells of mythical foxes that spark fires in the sky with their tales.  You may be wondering what this mythology has to do with cocktails…

Comfortably seated at Craigie’s crowded bar (this is one popular place!), Holly and I enjoyed a Northern Lights while we waited for Maura to join us.  This drink is SO good!  With scotch, St. Germain, lemon and tiki bitters this cocktail has a wonderful range of flavors, like the beautiful spectrum of colors of the meteorological phenomenon of the same name.  The smoky, sweet, and tart flavors are enhanced with house-made tiki bitters which feature ginger, orange essence and baking spices.  One of the things that Holly and I liked best about this drink was the subtly of the St. Germain.  Now, I totally love the elderflower liqueur, but it often takes over a drink.  Here, however, the scotch holds it at bay and the St. Germain just adds a delicate bright sweetness.  A drink that stands up to the legends of ancient mythology– complex, magical, and pleasing.

Maura soon joined us and we moved onto the Cocktail Whim.  This was my 3rd adventure in this cocktail tasting and I love the concept more and more each time.  Once again, Carrie served up four great drinks– three of which featured Benedictine, one of my favorite liqueurs.  We started with a Belle du Jour—brandy, Benedictine, house-made grenadine topped with Champagne.

Maura, Holly and I enjoying our Belle du Jour-- Look at that gorgeous color!

Our second drink was a classic daiquiri— rum, lime juice, and simple syrup.  Deliciously simple. Simply delicious.  Next, we sipped on a Vieux Carre—rye, brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s.  The rich, complexity of this drink paired nicely with our delicious burgers.  Our final drink, a Colleen Bawn—a flip made with brandy, Benedictine and yellow Chartreuse (and an egg, of course)– was a nice herbally ending to our tasting.  Then as an extra treat, Carrie let us sample a drink she’s working on for next Sunday’s event at Green Street.  All I’ll say is that it’s heavy on the smoky mezcal and leave the rest for next Sunday.

Cheers!

Tonight I met Susan at Craigie on Main and we decided to do the Cocktail Whim—four half-sized cocktails that our bartender Carrie chose for us beginning with a French 75 version and ending with an Italian-inspired flip.  I have done this before and really love it for a number of reasons:

1. You really don’t have to make a decision;

2. You try drinks you might not normally chose for yourself (and if you’re not crazy about it, hey, it’s only a small drink);

3. You get to enjoy your drinks in super-cute mini-glasses.

Susan and I had lots of catching up to do and were talking a lot, so my thoughts on the drinks a bit more cursory than my usual reviews.  Admittedly, I was more focused on talking than on drinking.  So, I guess this post is like the cocktail whim itself, a little taste to pique your interest.

The Kingston 75

We started with a Kingston 75—a version of a French 75 with Appleton rum, triple sec, lemon juice, topped with Champagne.  Its a warmer version of one of my favorite cocktails.  A really nice light beginning.

Susan with our 2nd drink-- look at that beautiful pink color courtesy of the Aperol

The second drink, which both Susan and I really liked, is a creation of Carrie’s and it had yet to be named.  It was made with mezcal, Aperol, grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave syrup, Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel bitters, and a pinch of salt.  The mezcal made it smoky and the Aperol added that citrus bitterness that I love.

#3 The Mediterranean Union

Our third drink, the Mediterranean Union, was my favorite. This had Fighting Cock bourbon, house-made amer picon (a French bitter liqueur), and Cynar.  The bitterness of the amer picon plays very nicely with the bourbon and the buttery artichokey Cynar.  I love this kind of thing of a cold winter evening—it warms you from the inside.  Yum!

A Florentine Flip for the finale

We finished with the Florentine Flip which was Susan’s favorite (she loves flips!).  This herbalicious flip has lots going on—Punt de Mes, Amaro Nonino (a wonderful Italian herbal liqueur that was a new one for me), Benedictine, Angostura bitters, a dash of orange blossom, an egg (of course), finished with flamed essence of mint.  A delicious ending to our cocktail quartet!

Cheers!

After submitting final grades from my Tufts class, I thought I deserved a yum cocktail.  So I began perusing The Art of the Bar, a great book from my friend Emily.  So many recipes looked good but the Singapore Sling caught my attention.  And surprisingly, I had all the ingredients.  Even though I feel like this is may be more appropriate to be drinking this while sitting poolside instead of on a cold January evening, I thought what the hell, this drink sounds good right about now.

The Singapore Sling was developed at a hotel bar in Singapore in the early 1900s.  There is a lot going on in this drink.  It packs quite a punch with gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, and Benedictine.  Fruit juices, pineapple and lime, and grenadine add in some sweet and tart.  A few dashes of Angostura give a hint of bitters. Then the whole thing is topped off with a little soda water to add a subtle fizz.  This is a pretty drinkable combination, despite its intense booziness.

I love this vintage image!

There are lots of recipes out there with slight variations in measurements of the 8 ingredients.  Here’s the recipe I used:

Singapore Sling

2 oz gin

¾ oz Cherry Heering

2 tsp Benedictine

2 tsp Cointreau

2 oz pineapple juice

¾ oz lime juice

2 dashes grenadine

1 dash Angostura bitters

soda water

Shake all ingredients except soda water.  Pour into tall glass filled with ice. Top with soda water.  Garnish with brandied cherries and an orange slice.

Forget being poolside or needing one of those paper umbrellas, a Singapore Sling is good anytime.  Cheers!

This year Benedictine celebrates its 500th anniversary.  Like most liqueurs we drink today, Benedictine was first produced by a monk for medicinal purposes.  Seriously, if it weren’t for French monks we wouldn’t have as much deliciousness to add to our cocktails.  In 1510 at a Benedictine monastery in Normandy, France a monk named Dom Bernardo Vincelli distilled regional plants, herbs and spices (27 to be exact) into a medicinal elixir.  But when the monastery was destroyed during the French Revolution, Vincelli’s recipe was lost.  But only temporarily.  In the mid-19th century, a wine merchant and art collector Alexander LaGrande discovered the recipe in an old book and revived the lost spirit and put it on the market as Benedictine.  The same company he started in 1863 is still producing this yum liqueur in Fécamp where the monastery originally stood.

The other night, Julie and I were making Julia Childs’ beef bourguignon which is quite a long process, so I mixed up a couple Montpeliers for us to enjoy while we chopped, browned, sautéed and braised.  The Montpelier is a fabulous cocktail developed by Scott Marshall at Drink for a Benedictine competition (it was a finalist and I personally can’t believe it didn’t win).  It’s a new favorite that I have been mixing up for every occassion since Thanksgiving.  Each time I serve it, it is met with a smile.  This drink is apply, spicy, herbal, sweet, and tart all at the same time.  The flavors—the apple of the brandy, nutmeg, vanilla, and allspice of the Benedictine, the cinnamon of the simple syrup, and the fig and raisin of the bitters—are familiar and reminiscent of all the yummy things we eat this time of year.

The Montpelier at Thanksgiving

So here’s the recipe:

Montpelier (created by Scott Marshall)

½ oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy (if you can’t find that, I’ve substituted Apple Jack; it changes the flavor a bit, but it works)

¾ oz Benedictine

½ oz lemon juice

¼ oz cinnamon syrup*

2 dashes Jerry Thomas decanter bitters

Shake and serve.  I like it over crushed ice best, but you can do it straight up, too.

*Making simple syrup is, well, simple.  Crush about 2 oz (or 50 grams) cinnamon sticks into 2 cups water. Heat mixture.  Then cool and strain so that you have no bits of cinnamon.  Then add equal parts sugar to mixture (2 cups).  Shake, shake, shake and voila—cinnamon simple syrup.

Celebrate Benedictine’s birthday with a Montpelier.  Cheers!

Rye whiskey is not a spirit that I have much experience with, especially not mixing myself.  But it has crossed my path a number of times over the last week , so I thought I should take a hint and try out a couple whiskey recipes.  This also gave me an excuse to use some of the new cocktail “toys” (new juicers and strainers) that I got for Christmas.  The two drinks I made both came from the New York Times (I’ve included the article links below).

For the last few months, I have been slowly making my way through The History of the World in Six Glasses (Tom Standage, 2005) and I just finished the section on whiskey.  Here are the highlights of what I learned. As our nation expanded westward in the late 18th century, Scottish and Irish settlers started making spirits from cereal grains like rye, wheat, corn or barley.  Whiskey quickly overtook rum which had dominated as the most popular booze in the colonial period.  Whiskey became such an important part of American life that it even caused a military skirmish in 1794.  Problems started when Alexander Hamilton thought it would be a good idea to tax whiskey production, even for private consumption, to raise money to pay off the debt from the American Revolution.  A small band of farmers in Pennsylvania fought against the whiskey tax collectors sparking the Whiskey Rebellion.  President George Washington brought together federal troops to handle the situation, but not before deaths on both sides.  The rebels were weakened and eventually the excise was repealed.  Interesting this moment in American history also contributed to the development of another spirit—as rebels moved farther west into Kentucky, in particular Bourbon County, where they took advantage of corn, an indigenous group, making a drink we now call bourbon.

Now that we’ve had our history lesson, onto the drinks…

The Red Hook

My first cocktail, the Red Hook, was inspired by an article in today’s New York Times (Thanks for the article, Jeff!).  The drink features rye whiskey (2 oz), Punt de Mes, or sweet vermouth (½ oz) and maraschino liqueur (½ oz).  It’s pretty heavy on the whiskey, so if I make this again, I might amp up the maraschino a bit to try and mellow out the whiskey.  I guess I need a little something to cut my whiskey.

The Monte Cassino

For my second drink, I made a Monte Cassino, another drink recipe I found in the NY Times in an article about the 500th anniversary of Benedictine.  This cocktail is spectacular!  Developed by Damon Dyer of Louis 649 in NYC, it follows the formula of The Last Word (and I have yet to meet a variation of this drink that I did not like)—equal parts of 4 ingredients that combine bitter, herbal, sweet and sour.  The Monte Cassino is ¾ ounce each of rye (the recipe called for Rittenhouse 100-proof, but I used Old Overholt), yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and lemon juice.  The Chartreuse and Benedictine both add a fabulous herbaliness and spiciness (between these two liqueurs there are almost 160 herbs and spices in this cocktail!), while the rye brings in a slight bitterness and the tart lemon rounds the whole thing out.  I love the complexity of the disparate flavors, and the way they come surprising come together in perfect harmony.  Spectacular!

Salute!

With Christmas upon us, the nostalgia of holiday traditions has overtaken my sensibilities. I come from a family that thrives on traditions. And I am the first to admit that some are pretty cheesy, but I totally love it! There is comfort and reassurance in the familiar. I do not find it boring or monotonous as some may, but rather I am invigorated by keeping cherished traditions alive. We are who we are because we bring the past to the present. And as time marches on and loved ones are no longer with us we remember them in these family rituals. For example, this Christmas as I felt the sadness of losing my grandfather this past year, I couldn’t imagine not having toutaes (a homemade ravioli/tortellini).  He learned to make these pastas from his mother and he passed along this tradition to me.  As I rolled out pasta dough I thought about him—and in that way he will always be with me.

So, what does all this have to do with cocktails? The past couple nights my adventures in cocktails have been about traditions.  Monday night I continued a pre-holiday outing with my brother and sister.  Then Tuesday night I met friends for a traditional Christmastime drink.

Jess and Nick enjoying their first cocktails at Drink

Monday night, I introduced my brother Nick and sister Jess to Drink for our 2nd annual pre-holiday outing. We had lots of good drinks; I won’t describe all in detail, but instead I’ll share some highlights. Jess realized that maybe she does like cocktails after all while—if any place will convince you that cocktails are fabulous, its Drink. She especially enjoyed her Big Red (raspberry syrup, lemon, Aperol and vodka)—beautiful color for the holidays and it was a really nice mix of sweet and bitter. Nick wanted something a little stiffer so he enjoyed a Sazerac for the first time and then ended the evening with a Manhattan variation—equal parts Booker 127 proof bourbon and Punt de Mes—Aaron called it the Moto Guzzi (after the motorcycle). One sip of that and you realize why people drink booze to stay warm!

Jess with her Big Red and me with my Champs Elysees

I decided to check another drink of my 100 must-have cocktails, and opted for the Champs Elysees.

The Champs Elysees

As I took my first sip, I kind of fell in love—why have I never had this cocktail before? The drink features cognac, lemon, sugar, yellow Chartreuse, and bitters. Just look at that gorgeous golden color. The cognac offers a rich base and the yellow Chartreuse adds a subtle herbalness (its mellow than the green variety) and the lemon brightens the whole thing up. Its very drinkable and also complex in flavor. Really yum! This just may become a new favorite!

For my final drink of the evening, Aaron gave me his Battle of Hastings cocktail.

The Battle of Hastings

This was the perfect way to end the evening. The ingredients here were the inspiration for the name. And for those of you who don’t remember exactly what the Battle of Hastings was, don’t feel bad Jess, Nick and I didn’t either. But I learned it was the 1066 battle between the Saxons and the Normans. The Benedictine and Calvados are from Normandy, while the smoky Scotch is from the British Isle. But before all this yum booze gets added a demerara sugar cube is muddled with 7 dashes of Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Bitters (I previously thought I didn’t like these bitters, but this drink changed my mind). I absolutely loved the smokiness of the scotch and layers of flavors that the Benedictine and Calvados added. A perfect ending.

Tuesday night, I met Molly, Matt and Jeannie at No. 9 Park for a Tom and Jerry, a classic Christmastime cocktail developed in the early 19th century.

Of course this drink has nothing to do with the antics of the cat and mouse pair we remember from childhood. Instead it is a combination of a homemade batter of eggs, sugar and spices—cloves, nutmeg and all spice—served over rum and brandy that are mixed with hot milk. Imagine sweet frothy eggnog that kind of tastes like meringue that is followed by a very boozy warm liquid. Jeannie may have described it best, “Initially you are attacked by a marshmallow, and then you are hit in the face with spicy liquor.” It may take some getting used to for some—the boozy part is really boozy—but on a cold winter evening the warm booze with sweet batter that is filled with all the flavors of the holiday season really hits the spot. Taking a break from the hectic running around that we all do before the holidays to enjoy a traditional Christmastime beverage with friends seems to be a holiday tradition I could get used to.

Happy Cocktailing and Happy Holidays! Salute!

Wednesday night I went to Craigie on Main with Julie, Bridget, Chris and Phil for their Cocktail Whim—four half cocktails decided upon by the bartender.  Carrie took us on a fun cocktail adventure that began with a light appley sparkling cocktail and ended with a rich, dessert-like sherry flip. Along the way she shared lots of little tidbits about the yum ingredients in our cocktails.  This bartender’s whim is a great way to experiment and try some new stuff and maybe you’ll discover a new favorite—my new find was Becherovka.

Our first drink was the Tavern Sparkler.

Apple cider and honey syrup are matched up with Becherovka, and a little champagne tops it off.  This was my first experience with Becherovka, and it may soon become a favorite.  Like many of these traditional liqueurs, this bitter one from the Czech Republic, was traditionally used as a home remedy for stuff like toothaches and arthritis.  Cinnamon is the most prominent of the over thirty two herbs and spices in this secret recipe.  In this drink that cinnamon-herbal flavor perfectly compliments the apple cider and honey.  Then the champagne adds just enough sparkle to make the cocktail even more interesting—it’s bubbly, but not too bubbly.  Apple, cinnamon and honey are such familiar flavors and for me made drinking this cocktail a comforting experience.   Especially on a cold winter evening it warmed the soul.  This wonderful start was Julie’s favorite.

For drink #2, we had the Final Ward.  And this picture does not do this amazing drink justice.

This is a variation of the Last Word—one for my absolute favorite drinks—which is equal parts (3/4 ounces to be exact) gin, maraschino, green Chartreuse and lime juice.  Carrie explained that this version was developed by New York bartender Phil Ward.  Rye replaces gin and lemon replaces the lime.  And while I didn’t think you could improve on a drink as good as the Last Word this is pretty damn good.  The spiciness of the rye adds a depth to the already delicious mix of herbally Chartreuse and maraschino. And anything served with one of those Luxardo maraschino cherries is delicious!

Next came the 3-2-1.

This one has Fighting Cock bourbon, Aperol, sloe gin and whiskey barrel aged bitters.  The woody flavor of the savory bourbon and bitters are a solid foundation for this drink.  But the real punch comes from the Aperol.  Like Campari, Aperol is a bitter liqueur made from citrus (oranges to be exact), and it’s the most prominent part of this drink—which I really like.  The sloe gin adds not only sweet berriness which slightly mellows the bourbon and bitterness, but also makes the cocktails beautiful with that rich red color.   I loved the orange aroma and flavor that bookend this drink—I was drawn in by the robust orange fragrance and loved the way the orange bitter flavor lingers in your mouth long after the sip has been swallowed.  This may have been my favorite.

We finished with the Jerez Flip.


While I am getting over my fear of eggs in cocktails and am really becoming a flip convert, this was my least favorite of the night.  There was a lot going on—oloroso sherry, Pimm’s, Benedictine, demarara syrup, angostura and mole bitters.  I loved the Benedictine and really enjoy the richness thatan egg adds to a cocktail and who doesn’t love trying to get every last drop of foam from the glass.  Although I admit I am not as patient as Chris was in making that happen.  The reason for my hesitation with this particular flip was the inclusion of oloroso sherry—I am not a huge fan of sherry.  This was, however, one of Bridget’s favorite, which is the beauty of the Cocktail Whim, one person’s least favorite is another’s favorite.

Four yum cocktails, some good bar food (shoe string fries, thinner than any shoe string I have had,  were reminescent of those potato sticks in a can from childhood), and friends, of course, made for a good Wednesday.  And I can’t forget to mention how much I loved thetotally adorable mini-glasses.  Salute!

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