Cocktail Hacker

    Hack What You Drink

Archive for July, 2008

Ingredient – Maraschino Cherries

Posted by Reese On July - 23 - 2008

The garnish of choice for a Manhattan is a Maraschino cherry.  That word probably brings images of bright red, extremely sweet fruits floating up in your consciousness.  But, like many things in the cocktail world, it hasn’t always been that way.  Maraschino (pronounced Mara-skee-no) cherries were originally produced by macerating Marasca in Maraschino liqueur.  Introduced to the US in the late 1800’s these cherries were lightly sour and bright red in color.  They were a favorite among diners in fine restaurants.  Once good old prohibition rolled around though, things had to change.  Clearly you can’t have cherries macerated in liqueur when liqueur is now illegal.  Enter the Maraschino (pronounced Mara-shee-no) cherry as we know it today.

First developed by Ernest H. Wiegand, Maraschino cherries now days are cherries that have been dyed red (or any other color), flavored with almond oil and packed in a sugar syrup.  Needless to say the flavor of these cherries differs from the original quite substantially.  Alas, the classic Maraschino cherry isn’t widely available in the US.  There is however a substitute that is supposed to be very good, Amarena Fabbri Wild Cherries [Referer Link].  These are Italian Amarena cherries that are pitted and macerated in a sweet syrup.  So the good news is, they’re not nearly as processed as the Maraschino cherries you find on store shelves here, but they still aren’t really the real deal.

Another option, which is my preferred method, is to make your own macerated cherries.  In my case I took dried bing cherries and soaked them in cognac.  The resulting cherries are wonderfully chewy (a good thing) and very deeply cherry flavored.  They’re a great garnish for a Manhattan or to just nibble on.  If you’re looking for some more reading there is a nice discussion on eGullet on how to make your own Maraschino-like cherries.  There is also a nice thread on Chowhound about Brandied Cherries that is an interesting read.

Ingredient – Bitters

Posted by Reese On July - 22 - 2008

One of the best explanations I’ve heard is that bitters are like spices for cocktails.  You would never cook certain dishes without spices and the same is true of some cocktails and their bitters.  Old timers only considered drinks with bitters to be true cocktails.  The quote on our Mission page sums it up nicely.  A cocktail is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”  This week’s cocktail is an excellent example of how bitters can elevate a cocktail from mediocre to wonderful.  If you don’t believe me, try a Manhattan without bitters some time.  But, what exactly are bitters?

The page on Wikipedia gives a great definition.  “A bitters is an alcoholic beverage prepared with herbs and citrus dissolved in alcohol or glycerine and having a bitter or bittersweet flavor. There are numerous brands of bitters, which were formerly marketed as patent medicines but are now drunk as digestifs.”  That page also gives a list of current and past bitters, although it’s not complete.  Another good reference with a lot of bitters history is Robert “Drinkboy” Hess’ page on the subject.  Finally a great discussion of all things bitters is the 12 page forum thread on eGullet.  There are also some great pictures of older bitters.  At this point I should mention that bitters basically last indefinitely so if you encounter an old bottle don’t immediately toss it.  Give it a taste, you might be pleasantly surprised.

As for what you should have in your cocktail bar I think three types are essential: Angostura, Peychaud’s and some form of Orange Bitters (Fee Brothers and Regan’s are both great).  Angostura bitters have a nice cinnamony sort of flavor and Peychaud’s have a stronger licorice note.  A good way to introduce yourself to the flavors is to add a few dashes of bitters to a small amount of water (sparkling or still) and sample.  This will mellow the bitterness and allow the other flavors to come through.

Bitters are becoming very widely available in liquors stores all over.  But, if you can’t find a specific brand you’d like to try turn to the internet, for it solves all problems.  Kegworks carries a huge selection of bitters and other cocktail tools.  Some bitters brands to try if you’re interested in branching out are Fee Brothers and The Bitter Truth.  A final option is to make your own bitters.  We’ll be covering this in depth in a later post as I’m very excited about making my own ingredients.

The Manhattan

Posted by Reese On July - 19 - 2008

The Manhattan is like the Martini’s deeper more complex brother.  Said to have been created in the 1860’s by a bartender named Black at a bar on Broadway, the drink is a simple combination of Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth and Bitters.  This drink is also known by some as a drinking man’s cocktail and the king of cocktails.  So, naturally, I’m quite excited to start mixing one up.

Manhattan

However, I had the most trouble of any of the cocktails we’ve covered finding Embury’s actual recipe.  And since the reprints aren’t out yet I was forced to go with the recipe listed on Wlkipedia.  I do this with some trepidation because, as we’ve seen in past weeks, the recipes listed on Wikipedia are not always what Embury actually listed in his book.  But, seeing as I couldn’t find any other references, we’ll use this as our starting point.

Embury's Manhattan (as per Wikipedia):
[Ingredients]
2 1/2 oz American Whiskey
1/2 oz  Italian (sweet) Vermouth
Dash of Angostura Bitters
[Directions]
1) Combine ingredients over ice
2) Stir to combine and chill thoroughly
3) Strain in to a chilled cocktail glass
4) Garnish with a maraschino cherry

It’s interesting to note, and I’ll discuss it more later in the week, that what we know as maraschino cherries are, in fact, nothing like real maraschino cherries as they would have been served when this cocktail originated.

The ingredients we’ll be using this week are pretty standard.

Ingredients:
  • Whiskey (I'd recommend a Rye Whiskey)
  • Sweet (Italian) Vermouth
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Maraschino Cherries
    

The tools you’ll need are nearly an exact copy from last week, minus the zester.

Tools:
  • Cocktail Shaker (Just the bottom half)
  • Strainer
  • Cocktail (Martini) Glass
  • Measuring Device (Jigger)
  • Bar Spoon (Or other stirring stick)

Until next time enjoy your cocktails.

[NOTE] I’ve been asked by a couple people if I’m taking the pictures that go along with the intro posts.  I have to admit that I’m not.  Since we haven’t mixed up the cocktail we’re covering as yet I don’t have pictures to use.  So I turn to Stock.Xchng, a great place for free stock photos.  The pictures in the others posts are all ours though.

The Martini – An Elegant Drink To Be Sure

Posted by Reese On July - 18 - 2008

Whether you’re drinking it with classic Gin, or the favored Vodka, dirty, extra dirty, with olives, with a twist, with orange bitters or completely unadulterated one thing is for sure, you feel more sophisticated while drinking this elegant drink.  The Martini is a dirnk that has spawned an entire generation of cocktail drinkers.  Whether its worth it might be questionable, though.

Embury Martini

I really enjoy both olives and vermouth, which was quite a surprise to me.  My favorite recipe of the week would probably not be called a Martini by purists (but I like it) is The Wunderlich Clan Martini that I discussed earlier in the week.  I would suggest trying a bit of alteration and add some Orange Bitters (both Regan’s and Fee Brother’s are excellent, although quite different).  Orange bitters would work especially well with a citrus forward Gin (such as Indigo or Burnett’s).  As for the olives, I suggest that you go nuts.  Try all kinds of flavors, jalapeno, citrus, nut stuffed, anything you like.

Aaron’s take on this drink is quite different.  Being neither a fan of olives or Vermouth the Martini is really not his cocktail, so to speak.  He prefers the ice wash method when adding Vermouth.  Which is simply adding a touch of Vermouth, swirling with ice to coat and cool the glass and dumping out before adding your chilled cocktail.  This will give you an extremely light hint of Vermouth but will still add a bit of flavor.  As for garnish he opts for a lemon twist rather than olives.

As for Embury’s recipe I wasn’t impressed.  It was a decent expression of whatever Gin you chose, in my case I used Plymouth Gin as my control, but I didn’t think it was that “De Luxe” of a cocktail.  In this case Plymouth Gin is quite strongly flavored and overcomes the small amount of Vermouth that you added.  The citrus twist over the prepared cocktail adds some nice flavors, but doesn’t rescue it for sure.  Personally I’d recommend both twisting over the drink and rubbing the rim of your glass with the zest.  This will increase the flavor even further as you enjoy the cocktail.

As for Vermouth, I tried both Noilly Pratt and Martini & Rossi.  I found both to be good, but I’m not enough of a connoisseur to tell you which I think is the best.  Aaron’s choice for Dry Vermouth is Vya, one I didn’t get the chance to sample this time around.  Thankfully Vermouth is rather cheap in comparison to the other ingredients so you can try a few different brands and decide what you like best.  One thing to keep in mind.  Vermouth, unlike most spirits, is somewhat perishable, so keep it in your fridge once you’ve opened it to maintain the best flavor.

Well, I can’t say that the Martini is my favorite cocktail thus far, but it’s a tasty change of pace.  My best suggestion to anyone wanting to try Martini’s is try a bunch of recipes.  Find what you like.  And most of all, enjoy it.

Cocktail Tools – Oxo Zester

Posted by Reese On July - 16 - 2008

Oxo ZesterAs you may have gathered from my previous posts I’m a fan of Oxo kitchen tools.  So, when I needed a citrus zester/channel knife I naturally turned to Oxo.  I picked up the zester you see at the left and I’d very much like to give it a glowing review.  But…I can’t.

When I first brought the tool home the channel knife portion, which is what I was most interested in, was painfully dull.  It was so dull that the lemon twists it made were ragged and it was very hard to manage.  So, being a hacker, I busted out my dremmel tool and modded it.  I sharpened the channel knife and now it works like a champion.  However, the primary problem is that most people aren’t as geeky as I am and wouldn’t like a tool they have have to modify to make work correctly.  So, that being the case, I sent an email to Oxo informing them of my problems.  Their customer service was very responsive and they sent me a replacement right away.  Well, to be exact, they sent me two replacements for some reason.

Both of the replacement tools have been much sharper and therefore more usable.  So, in summary, if you’re looking for a channel knife/zester take a look at the all the options out there.  Make sure you get a tool with a nice sharp cutting blade, it will make nicer looking cuts and will be much easier to use.  I’m not going to give a referrer link this time due to my problems with the Oxo tool.  There are tons of options on Amazon though, so take a peek and find something you like.