Thursday, December 31, 2009

Liqueur du Grapillon

One of the most important things
that distinguish man from other animals
is that man can get pleasure from drinking
without being thirsty.

~ Fernand Point

Not long ago, I plucked a 1974 copy of Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie from the shelf. Point was the French chef/restaurateur of La Pyramide, a renowned temple of gastronomy south of Lyon. I was looking for his recipe for a sort of simple French milk punch. Though he died in 1955, his life and work continue to inspire chefs today. Marc Vetri, for instance, whose restaurant Vetri Mario Batali claimed was possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast, used to keep the same copy of Ma Gastronomie in his kitchen. Thomas Keller, no slouch in the kitchen, has written an introduction to a new edition of the cooking classic and it’s worth tracking down if, like me, you're into food as well as drinks.

The recipe I was hunting (from the oversized yellow-jacketed 1974 edition) is for a homemade liqueur that Point used to take with him as he went to survey the quality and maturity of the grapes of the Côte Rôtie. Reputedly, he would stop now and again on the steep slopes of the vineyards and take a swig of a tasty little pick-me-up he called Liqueur du Grapillon (or “Liqueur for the Grapes”).

The recipe calls for an entire lemon, cut into quarters, to be thrown in with brandy, milk, and vanilla. Citrus and dairy in the same drink can lead to some chewy disasters. They can be—and often are—combined without incident, but keep this formula in mind: [citrus + milk] = [curds + whey]. Fortunately, since the lemon is not squeezed into the mix and, as this mixture sits in the dark for almost two weeks, any curds formed are very small and easily strained out.

The result is a smooth, thick and mildly sweet liqueur, similar to egg nog but not as thick and without the eggy overtones, tasting of whole milk, vanilla, and cognac. After a few days of macerating, I tasted the drink and was leery: the lemon was overpowering, sharp, and biting. Resisting the temptation to yank it out of the jar (after all, presumably Point knew something about successfully combining tastes), I left it in and was rewarded after another week with a mellowed liqueur that no longer tasted like furniture polish.

On the last day of the decade, I poured myself a short glass, grabbed some dried sausage and a pocket knife, and moseyed out to the patio to read the paper and soak in the beautiful sun of Southern California. There are no grapes to survey, but the palm trees look mighty fine.

Liqueur du Grapillon
(“Liqueur for the Grapes”)

Combine sixteen ounces of milk, eight ounces of sugar, sixteen ounces of very good eau de vie or brandy and add a lemon cut in thirds and a vanilla bean. Let the mixture stand, stirring from time to time. After 12 days, strain and serve.
~ Fernand Point (1974) Ma Gastronomie. Lyceum Books, Wilton, CT.

Ingredient Notes: I’d used the vanilla pod in this recipe to make vanilla syrup as well as vanilla sugar, so a little bit of its moxie had been spent. To compensate, I used a pod and half, then, at bottling time, squeezed out all the remaining tiny black seeds as if from a tube of toothpaste into the strained liqueur.

For milk, use whole milk, preferably unpasteurized. It really does make a difference. Don't even bother with 1%, 2%, or soy abominations. The brandy I used was Claude Chatelier VS, about $20/750ml at Trader Joe's. If using a waxed lemon, give it a good short scrub in hot water to remove as much of the coating as possible. Pluck it from the backyward if, like me, you live in places where mixers grow on trees.

Secondhand editions of Point's book are still around, but if you want to score the new edition, here's the skinny:

Fernand Point with introduction by Thomas Keller (2008)
Ma Gastronomie
240 pages, hardback
Publisher: Overlook/Rookery


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tracking Old Family Cordial Recipes

Americans may have forgotten some of the finer points of making tonics, tinctures, and infusions at home but we are, bit by bit, figuring them out again.

Take cocktail bitters. Hats off to all the bartenders making their own (and, please, keep doing so) but housemade bitters no longer raise eyebrows. Not because they are dull or passé, but because, more and more, we are coming to expect a level of applied curiosity in our bartenders. Bitters are one of the more familiar expressions of that trend.

As part of unboxing our own curiosities about the nation’s drinking past, older homemade beverages such as dandelion wine, sloe gin, and cherry bounce are showing up here and there. It’s a trend worth encouraging.

Tracking down those old recipes takes some legwork. Oh, sure you can find reprints of plenty of old bartending manuals for the 19th-century recipes, but sometimes our own friends and families can be surprising sources of information. I can’t even count the number of friends—city dwellers and professionals—who talked to me about my research into moonshine, found it totally alien, then reported back sometime later surprised to find that their own uncle, grandfather, cousin, or mother had first-hand experience making or moving applejack, corn liquor, or other black-market hooch.

I assure you, it’s the same with cordials, ratafias, tonics, and other homemade alcoholic beverages in your own family. While the holidays are still under way, ask around your own families and office parties to see who’s been making what. And, if anyone demurs with “Oh, that old stuff,” press ahead. It’s how my mother’s rumtopf recipe ended up in my moonshine book under the title The Stuff squared off against a recipe for curtido y mistela, a recipe from Chiapas from my good friend Noe. Who gave him the recipe? His mother.

That his mother supplied a recipe for homemade cordial isn’t surprising. Keep in mind that, from Charlemagne’s France through Elizabethan England to today, women tend to be the keepers of these recipes. Of course, men make boozy concoctions, but odds are, if there’s a written recipe for homemade drinks, it’s in a woman’s hand, so talk to aunts, grandmothers, and the extended networks of cousins. Below are some thoughts for tracking down older cordial recipes. And, remember, it's not just the ounces of this and the pints of that—the meat of the stories lies in how and when they were used and by whom:

  • Ask about holiday parties from years past
  • Browse through old family Bibles or journals for spare recipes tucked in between the pages
  • Go through handwritten recipe books or cards with the woman who wrote or inherited them, asking about drinks recipes
  • Ask how your older relatives kept cool in the summer (Do they remember August before air conditioning? Did they have a cellar with home-canned goods? What else was down there?)
  • Ask how they kept warm in the winter (tactfully, now—you aren’t suggesting that they are coeval with dinosaurs)
  • Ask what they did with wine/liquor bottles once they’d been emptied
  • If they keep gardens or fruit bushes/trees, ask where it all goes at the end of the season
  • Ask about traditional drinks brought from ancestors who immigrated to your country (anything from French vin cuit to Puerto Rican coquito)
  • Was there a special bottle that kids weren’t supposed to get into? Ask about it.
  • Ask what would be a good drink to put up on a child’s birth for his 21st birthday
For the record, my recipe for cherry bounce is posted over at Tuthilltown spirits. Very nice when made with corn whiskey, but bourbon is just fine…

What does your family put up in bottles and jugs?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Senator Tydings and the Kentucky Breakfast

As a meal familiar to bartenders around the world, Maryland Senator Millard Tydings (1890-1961, pictured left) offered his recipe for a Kentucky breakfast in Frederick Philip Stieff 1932 recipe collection Eat, Drink and Be Merry in Maryland.

Under the heading “The Reminiscent Toddy,” Stieff relates the Senator’s instructions precisely calibrated to each individual diner’s tastes, a recipe within a recipe:

This potation, to be thoroughly enjoyed, should be prepared in the following manner:

Supply each guest with a glass containing about one-half inch of water and one-quarter teaspoonful of sugar, and a spoon.

All should sit comfortably and stir the sugar until it is thoroughly dissolved. The host should tell the following story in a low voice while the sugar is being stirred:

"Have you gentlemen ever participated at a Kentucky breakfast?"

The answer is likely to be in the negative.

Then some guest will probably ask:

"What is a Kentucky breakfast?"

At this point the sugar is completely dissolved. The host passes around a bottle of Bourbon and each person pours into his glass, containing the dissolved sugar, such amount as suits his inclination. This is stirred for a while, during which time the most replies:

"A Kentucky breakfast is a big beefsteak, a quart of Bourbon, and a houn' dawg."

One of the guests will then ask:
"What is the dog for?"

The host then replies:
"He eats the beefsteak."

Ice water is then passed around in a silver pitcher to dilute drink to meet the requirements of the discriminating taste of each. A part of the Kentucky breakfast is then consumed.

(In order to extract the nth power of enjoyment from this receipt, when stirring the sugar and water, each should sit on the very edge of his chair or sofa, rest his arms on his knees with a slightly forward posture. Unless this is done the train will taste just a little less good.)
It takes no great imagination to adjust the recipe to one's circumstances, leading, perhaps to a Kentucky brunch, teatime, coffee break, or luncheon.

Order up!


Monday, December 14, 2009

Three Boozy Egg Drinks: Eggnog, Eierlikör, and Eierpunsch

Egg-based liqueurs tend to crop up mostly in winter months when the cold makes us crave extra calories. For Americans, eggnog stands as the classic example. Old egg recipes and what they’ve become — not just eggnog — are on my mind the days as I tease apart the convoluted family tree of egg nogs, flips, advocaat, Eierlikör, and other rich, egg-based drinks. That project continues and will turn into something down the road, but in the meanwhile, I offer you three items.

The first is Jeffery Morgenthaler’s recipe for eggnog from the pages of Playboy (which I read, in all honesty, for the recipes).
Clyde Common Eggnog
Beat a dozen eggs in blender for one minute on medium speed. Slowly add 2 1/4 cups of sugar and blend for one additional minute. With the blender still running, add 3 teaspoons of freshly-grated nutmeg, 1 1/12 cups of Amontillado sherry, 1 1/2 cups of anejo tequila, 4 1/2 cups of whole milk and 3 cups of heavy cream until combined. Chill thoroughly to allow flavors to combine.
The rest of the article How Not to Spike Eggnog is here.

The second is a video about William Verpoorten, the Bonn-based liqueur-maker whom Deutsche Welle dubs “Der König des Eierlikörs” (the King of Egg Liqueurs). Verpoorten claims to use 1.3 million eggs per day for his firm’s Eierlikör, a German liqueur whose primary ingredients—as Verpoorten makes it—are egg yolks, alcohol, and water. Notice the lack of cream and milk, making this similar to, but not quite, what we think of as an eggnog.

The last is a recipe for Eierpunsch, a rum-and-wine egg “punch” from my battered copy of Elise Hannemann’s Kochbuch (Berlin, 1904). Keep in mind I learned German when I was very young, so it's sketchy these days, but I do still get by. My working translation [with corrections for directions omitted in the original] is below. Anyone want to correct my translation? Please do.


2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
3 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 liter white wine
1/4 liter water
1/16 liter rum
120g sugar

Whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs together with sugar, lemon juice and 1/8 liter of cold water until frothy; Pour in 3/8 liter of boiling water [and white wine combined] and cook the whole thing on a very hot hearth whisking until frothy. Then, pour the rum into the punch and serve immediately.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Sazerac Glasses

Not long ago, a properly made Sazerac cocktail was something you'd find almost exclusively in New Orleans. Oh, they make 'em in San Francisco and—here and there—you could find one in New York. But the drink itself is an icon of the Crescent City, a cocktail anachronism from an earlier age. It's so identified with the city that it's now the official cocktail of New Orleans.

Visitors will find them at the Sazerac Bar in the bottom floor of the refurbished Roosevelt Hotel. If you can't make it to the bar or the Roosevelt's gift shop, but want a set of the right glasses in which to serve the drink, go online to the Tales of the Cocktail gift shop and order a set of four glasses. If you've got whiskey fans on your gift list, they'll thank you for this one. Shoot, you might just get this one for yourself.

New Orleans booster and cocktail wrangler Chuck Taggart calls this "an absolutely exquisite cocktail" and I concur. His notes on it are here. And, please, do as he says: use rye whiskey, not Bourbon.

$30 for a set of four. Order here.

See the gift guide as it grows here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Homemade Vanilla Syrup

In twenty years of cooking my own meals, I have made some flat-out amazing dishes. So far, none has been as delicious as my own homemade vanilla syrup.

If you are inclined to make your Christmas presents, here’s one that drinkers on your gift list should get some miles out of. It’s an integral component to the tropical Nui Nui, lends an ethereal air to a Ramos gin fizz, and in small doses lends a velvet softness to whipped cream for topping Kahlua-spiked hot chocolate.

There are two primary ways of making the syrup at home. One uses high-quality vanilla extract. The other—the one that I feel gives superior results—uses actual vanilla pods. We will take a look at both. First, a quick-and-dirty version that starts with a sugar syrup that I tend to keep around in large quantities.

Quick & Dirty Vanilla Syrup

1 cup 2:1 simple syrup*
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir the vanilla extract into the syrup and bottle. And Bob’s your uncle: It is now ready for use.

Note: use a high-end vanilla extract or don’t bother making your own syrup. Reputable brands include Penzey’s and Nielsen-Massey Vanillas. I use the heady Mexican brand Orlando Gaya Hijos from Veracruz.

Now, here’s the recipe I use when I don’t need a bunch of syrup immediately. As in Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream, tiny black seeds are shot throughout.

Rich Vanilla Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup filtered water
5 vanilla pods

Pour the sugar and water into a small, heavy saucepan. Slice each vanilla pod along its length and open like a book. Scrape as many of the tiny black seeds as possible into the pot. Using kitchen shears, snip each pod into 1” lengths. Add these to the pot and bring all to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer, beat gently with a long-handled whisk to release even more seeds from the pods and allow the syrup to simmer about two minutes. Let the syrup cool in the pan. Strain the larger pieces of vanilla pods and set aside, but leave in all the small black seeds in the syrup. Bottle and refrigerate.

Air-dry the pods and toss them into a bin of sugar to infuse it with the aroma of vanilla. Next time you make Rich Vanilla Syrup, use this vanilla-scented sugar.

* Using the term “simple syrup” is enough to raise voices among some bartenders and cocktail aficionados. “Simple” in this instance does not refer to a perfect one-to-one ratio of sugar to water. It means simply that the syrup contains no ingredients other than sugar and water. Bartenders had no special claim on the term which has, in fact, been used by pastry chefs, soda jerks, confectioners, and home cooks for a very long time. Each of these has different ideas about the correct proportion of sugar to water in “simple” syrup. Increasingly, you may hear of “rich” syrup when proportion of sugar is higher than that of water. This 2:1 rich syrup is the one we use almost exclusively at home. It’s just so simple.

The easiest way to make rich syrup is to add two parts sugar to one part water in a saucepan, heat only until the sugar dissolves, then cool and bottle. Store under refrigeration.

See the gift guide as it grows here.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Pork Tenderloin in Mexican Peanut Sauce

Sauces thickened with seeds and nuts are an old part of Mexico’s culinary patrimony. Pre-Columbian, even. Americans might know some of these moles, such mole poblano—a chocolate-tinged sauce beefed up with ground seeds and nuts often served over chicken or turkey.

Mexico’s peanut-thickened sauces are less familiar. Sure, we know about beef or chicken sate/satay, but pork or chicken in fried chile-and-peanut sauce is drifting into uncharted waters—even for many Mexicans.

Pity. It’s easy to make and tasty as hell. The fried and simmered sauce is thick and deeply flavored with cinnamon, pepper, and chiles.

After tasting a dish of pollo en cacahuate at a San Diego restaurant called Ranas, I dug into my library to compare notes among my Spanish-language food books. The version here I adapted from Filete de Cerdo en Cacahuate in Larousse de la cocina Mexicana. Spanish isn’t my first language, but I'm conversant enough not to starve or go homeless when I'm in Mexico or Spain, so I’m including the original recipe below for anyone who wants to see where I veered from its directions. In Mulli: el gran libro de los moles, Mexican chef Patricia Quintana suggests covering a similar dish—encacahuatado—with a massive amount of ground chiles piquin dusting the top of chicken in peanut sauce. There's enough heat here to suit my taste (it's a chiled peanut sauce, after all, not a peanutted chile sauce), but if that grabs your fancy, go ahead.

No need to fry nuts when perfectly good roasted peanuts are available from the store. Planters or Trader Joe’s low salt versions are fine. If you don’t have access to hoja santa, use two bay leaves and bump up the black pepper just a bit. Not the same anisy kick, but a good flavor, anyway.

Pork Tenderloin in Mexican Peanut Sauce

1 kg trimmed pork tenderloin (two should do it)
1 cup peanuts
3 oz of French bread or roll, into 1” slices
2 tablespoons corn oil
5 g ground cinnamon
salt to taste
1 Tbl guajillo chile powder
2 Tbl ancho chile powder
3 tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 hoja santa (sub two bay leaves if not available)
½ onion (125 g)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp black peppercorns
5 small hot peppers
1 tablespoon sugar
2 chipotle chiles in vinegar
2 cups (250 ml) chicken broth
2 tablespoons cane vinegar
1 cup (125 ml) red wine

Season the tenderloins with cinnamon and salt. Set aside. Meanwhile, fry the bread in oil in a deep heavy pot or Dutch oven until lightly browned. Set aside and brown the tenderloins in the oil. Set aside.

In a blender, grind to a puree the guajillo and ancho powders with the tomatoes, hoja santa, onion, garlic, peppers, sugar, peanuts, fried bread, and chipotle with enough stock to make a pourable paste.

Reheat the oil in the same pot and pour the sauce into it. Fry, stirring, and cook this paste in the oil over low heat 40 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking and scorching. When the sauce thickens, remove the fat that rises to the surface.

Add the remaining broth, the vinegar and wine, stirring until fully mixed.

Add the browned pork and simmer whole 15-20 minutes or until cooked. If the sauce thickens a lot, dilute it a bit with additional chicken broth.

Remove the tenderloins and allow to rest about ten minutes. Slice them into oval medallions. Now, either return the slices to the sauce and serve hot or nap a plate with the sauce, arrange a few slices over the top of that, and serve.

Goes well with fried plantains (right). Leftover sauce can be used to make enchiladas. Be careful on reheating to use a gentle fire and stir often: this will scorch easily.

And the original from Larousse de la cocina Mexicana:

Filete de Cerdo en Cacahuate

1 kg de filete de cerdo limpio
1 taza de cacahuates tostados y pelados
1 pan bolillo en rabandas
2 cucharadas de aceite de maiz
5 g de canela en polvo
2 chiles guajillos, desvenados y remojodos
3 jitomates bola
3 chiles anchos, desvenados y remojodos
1 hoja santa
½ cebolla (125 g)
2 dientes de ajo pelados
5 pimientas negras
5 pimientas de Tabasco
1 cucharada de azúcar
2 chiles chipotles en vinagre
2 tazas (250 ml) de caldo de pollo
2 cucharadas de vinagre de caña
1 taza (125 ml) de vino tinto

Fria el cacahuate y el pan en la mitad de aceiete sin dorar demasiado.

Espolvoree el filete con canela y sal.

Dore el filete con el resto del aceite y reservelo.

Muela la chile guajillo, cuelelo y reservelo.

Muela jitomates, chile guajillo, chile ancho, hoja santa, cebella, ajo, pimientas, azúcar, cacahuate, pan frito y chipotle.

Cocine esta mezcla a fuego lento 40 minutos, mueva constantamente para que no se pegue. Cuando la salsa espese, elimine la grasa que suba la superficie.

Anada caldo, vinagre y vino sin dejar de mover hasta integrar totalmente.

Agregue el filete entero y concinelo 15 minutos o hasta que este cocido. SI la salsa espesa mucho, rebaje con caldo de pollo.

Repose el filete y rebanelo en frio.

Regreselo a la salsa y sirva caliente.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Parker’s Wine Bargains

The myth is that wines that cost $25 or less
are worth just what you pay for them
and are never terribly interesting.
This is totally untrue, and with work,
one can unearth these small treasures
that deliver seriously good wine
at remarkably fair prices.

~ Robert Parker

I’ll spend $80 on a nice whiskey, but once a bottle of wine creeps up to $30, I start to lose interest. This is not because I dislike wine: I like it quite a lot, but I’m deeply turned off by snobs of any stripe and the world of wine is lousy with them. There can be such pretense to the very vocabulary of wine, I’d just as soon not hang out with intense “wine people.” My loss: they could probably steer me to some great drinks.

And wine books? Feh. Except for those that give broad overviews, they grow out of date quickly. But Simon & Schuster just released an ephemeral buying guide I’m glad to have: Parker’s Wine Bargains: The World’s Best Wine Values Under $25.

Parker and his vinous staff list over 3,000 value wines by origin and winery, give succinct tasting notes, and include a “best of the best” index for each category.

For a wine piker like me, Parker’s guide is a handy little shopping tool. And it makes a fine gift for those those who—like me—enjoy great drinks but could use some advice of which bottle to pick up.

See the gift guide as it grows here.

See also MxMo XXVI: Hard Drinks for Hard Times.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails

Discretely check your drinker’s shelves before getting this one: it might already be there. Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails—now in its second edition—is the most useful introduction to classic cocktails on the market. While other scholars tackle classic drinks admirably, the breadth and depth of Haigh’s book are simply unparalleled.

Richly illustrated with graphics from Haigh’s personal collection of drinking ephemera, the book pulls together 100 recipes (“From Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond”) along with their backstories, origins, and liberal doses of unvarnished opinions about the proper way to make certain drinks or the spirits that elevate them from the merely lovely to the sublime.

The stand-out planter’s punch recipe below I first tasted at Tales of the Cocktail. Haigh reproduces it in this edition with notes on how New Orleans rum collector Steve Remsberg gathered the recipe (including the Secret Mix) from Jasper LaFranc at the Bay Roc Hotel in Montego Bay. It’s a keeper and we’re so glad it’s not forgotten.
Jasper’s Jamaican Planter’s Punch

1.5 oz dark Jamaican rum (Coruba)
1.5 oz Jasper’s Secret Mix (see below)

Add to a 10-ounce highball glass filled with cracked ice. Stir vigorously. Top off with more ice.

Jasper garnished his with a pineapple spear, an orange slice, and a cocktail cherry.

Steve garnishes his with fresh mint.

Jasper’s Secret Mix

Juice of 12 limes
1.5 cups sugar
1.25 oz Angostura bitters
½ whole nutmeg, grated

Stir the ingredients together in a mixing vessel until the sugar dissolves.

Let steep in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Store in a bottle in the refrigerator.
Vintage Spirits retails at $19.99. You can score a discounted copy at Amazon, but at $12.95 it’s slightly cheaper still through Mud Puddle.

See the gift guide as it grows here.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Pre-Prohibition Cocktail Books

If you’re buying holiday presents for modern “cocktailians,” chances are they’ve got strong opinions about the proper way to make old drinks such as an Aviation, an Old Fashioned, a Japanese Cocktail, a Monkey Gland, or a Hari-Kari.

Set yourself up for being served some tasty beverages down the road by buying your little drinker some of Greg Boehm’s reproduction bartender manuals that include these drinks and hundreds more.

Under the Mud Puddle imprint, Boehm publishes facsimile editions of-out-of print cocktail manuals with introductions by modern drinks authorities such as Robert Hess, David Wondrich, Ted Haigh, Audrey Saunders, and Brain Rea. While original copies of some titles can go for hundreds of dollars through antiquarian sources or eBay, the Mud Puddle versions—which are near clones of the originals—can generally be had for under $30 each.

In general, the books document not just cocktails from bygone eras, but also recipes for country wines, cordials, syrups, and bitters. Of my thousands of recipe books, these are some of the tomes I mot enjoy plucking from the shelves. They are a must for anyone intent on getting serious about their cocktails.

For the record, here’s O. H. Byron’s 125-year-old recipe for the Hari-Kari

Make a whiskey sour large enough to half fill a brandy glass or tumbler when strained, and fill with seltzer or Vichy to suit the party.
Dress with fruits in season.
From The Modern Bartenders’ Guide
O. H. Byron (original 1884)
Mud Puddle Books 2008

Order this and other reproductions here: Mud Puddle Books

See the gift guide as it grows here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2nd Annual Northwest Eggnog Competition

Tomorrow night, Uptown Billiards Club in in Portland, Oregon is hosting the 2nd Annual Northwest Eggnog Competition. I'll be down in San Diego, but it sounds like area alcoholists, including Craig Hermann and Jeffrey Morgenthaler, are already gearing up and will be attending the best eggnog throwdown.

If I were anywhere within 40 miles, I'd be there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
7:00pm - 9:00pm
Elephant's Deli on NW 22nd Ave., Portland

* * *

As a side to this event, I've got to share this email I got from my buddy Barry. Barry lives near Elephant's Deli, so I called him today to let him know about the event, but also that I didn't yet have all the details.

Now, Barry uses Google's voicemail which also sends him an email with the (supposed) text of the call. I left him a message this afternoon suggesting that he check out the eggnog competition. Didn't know the details other than Morgenthaler tweeted about it. The gist of the message was to look into it because I was going to be in San Diego, didn't have any more info than that, and I didn't want to send him on a snipe hunt.

I busted out laughing at the worst transcription job I've ever seen. This is the complete gibberish that Google sent him as the text of my message:

Hey. It's Phil Shay are you talking about and I just remembered something on the road earlier in the week in Portland atthe post club. Olson's Deli which, I think it's just like of spring away from you tomorrow night. We're having some kind ofPortland bartenders. 8. Not competition and Jeffrey, Morgan dollar will be there. He's a bartender. Clyde common andhave a good point, and several others at least 10 times. I'm not sure which, but it sounds like something that might bekinda fun to do this. It's indeed. That's where it is on another LSATs telling them somewhere and he's got some free time. Idon't know what it is. I don't know any details that would you expect all at home and it's 7 a goes on facebook on 7 mycomputer and tomorrow so I'll be offline mostly for a week or so. Yeah, so give us a while and really do talk to them, cosI'm guessing I was just like swamping doing to our last time when you called. So that's why I was referred, but he's did alot of the virtual church on it. So with the lose of the pros and cons and I haven't had any problems so far as I can, I'd. I'ddefinitely love it and let me point out, it's because I know I have to the pickup the canoe colossal at. If you could. That'spretty cool. So yeah. Catch you later. Bye.

Oh, well done, Google.
Your friend,
Phil Shay


Monday, November 16, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Saffron Swizzle Sticks

Swizzle sticks—those little wooden dowels heavily encrusted with big, beautiful rock candy crystals—are easy enough to find in shops catering to the tea and coffee crowd. Those you’re likely to find are either uncolored clear or caramel sugar. Root about in candy stores, Asian markets, and baking supply houses and you may come up with a riot of colors—blue, magenta, orange, green, or even just bags of cheap raw amber lump crystals.

But if there’s a market in your community that supplies Middle Eastern foods, drop in, poke around, and see if you can’t find a box of the Persian saffron swizzle sticks known as nabat. Nabat is not just flavored with Iranian saffron, but when it’s in swizzle stick form, it often sports whole threads. Used as stirring sticks, they imbue hot drinks with funky, earthy sweetness.

Me? I especially like them in Rock & Rye, a drink that lets the musky, floral, and slightly bitter saffron play its lingering, seductive background notes.

Indian Foods Company sells a 9-stick box of nabat for about $11. The same box at North Park Produce, one of my neighborhood stores in San Diego, runs $4.

See the gift guide as it grows here.

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Introduction

Got a cocktail enthusiast in your life but are at a loss for a holiday present? I’ve got some ideas.

Every year, my family asks what I’d like for Christmas. Truth be told, I already have nearly everything I want. My wish list is either so modest (lunch and a movie with friends) or extravagant (a vintage BMW R75 or a old school Moto Guzzi) that I don’t really expect them as gifts.

But I do have notions for others who, like me, enjoy a drop of spirits on occasion. For the next several weeks, I’ll throw out sporadic ideas for books, bottles, tools, and the small things that make drinks and drinking better.

Next up: Saffron swizzle sticks.

See the gift guide as it grows here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rowley’s House Pickles with Pimento Dram

Every few months, I put up a few jars of mixed pickles for my lunches and occasional dinner if we’re grilling burgers or brats. Recently, I’ve begun spiking those batches with the Jamaican allspice liqueur called pimento dram. The change is good.

Pimento, as allspice is known in Jamaica, is the berry of a Caribbean myrtle tree (Pimenta diocia). It’s one of the few spices native to the new world and—in the US, anyway—is often included in baked desserts. Those who know it in cocktails, however, or in the cooking outside the US understand its savory role well. In fact, it’s responsible for the characteristic taste of Jamaican jerked chicken and pork, and can be found in sauerkraut, ham brines, pickled fish, jugged hare, picadillo, and Indian curries. I’ve also used it in shrimp ceviche and bread & butter bar eggs.

Here, I used a dose of it to oompf up our house pickles. If you don’t have any pimento dram on hand, you can either order some from Haus Alpenz here, substitute lightly toasted and barely cracked whole berries…or see Paul Clarke’s directions for making your own here at the Cocktail Chronicles.

Rowley’s House Pickles with Pimento Dram
(based on a recipe from Quick Pickles by Dan George)

Vegetables & Prep
3 lbs Kirbys or other small, thin-skinned pickling cucumbers
3 Tbl kosher salt
4 Tbl olive oil
1 lb mixed heirloom carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
3 bell peppers (red, yellow, orange) chopped into 1” chunks
1 large onion, peeled and chopped into 1” chunks
10 fat cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

Spiced Pickling Syrup
5 cups cider vinegar
3 cups brown sugar
2 Tbl Creole or Dijon mustard
1 Tbl each brown and yellow mustard seed
1 Tbl pimento dram OR 1 tsp dry toasted and cracked whole allspice berries
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp green cardamom pods
1 tsp whole cloves
1 4” cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves

Trim ends of cucumber and slice each into thick coins (about ½” thick). In a stainless steel or glass bowl, toss sliced cucumbers and salt. Mix gently but thoroughly. Refrigerate cucumbers and salt for 1-2 hours.

Drain and rinse the salted cucumbers under cold running water.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large non-reactive saucepan, then sauté the carrots, onion, garlic, and bell pepper pieces at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to sweat and just begin to soften—about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small frying pan, dry roast the mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cardamom pods, and allspice berries (if using) over medium high heat just until you hear the seeds begin to pop. Transfer to a medium nonreactive pot. Break the cinnamon and lightly toast it. Add it with the remaining syrup ingredients to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Add the cucumbers to the vegetables in the large saucepan. Toss gently to combine. Bring the pickling syrup back to a boil. Pack three large preserving jars with the vegetables. Add pimento dram (if using) to the syrup, pour the hot liquid over the vegetables, and seal the jars. Set the jars aside to cool. Once cool, refrigerate.

Yield: slightly less than 1 US gallon/4 liters

Monday, November 9, 2009

Listen: Rowley Talks Homemade Liquor on WHYY

Now, you, too, can hear the mellifluous and dulcet tones of Matthew Rowley waxing geeky over liquor.

Though I sometimes doubt the wisdom of saying yes, I rarely turn down a radio interview. A few weeks back, I mentioned that I'd visited Chef Jim Coleman while I was in Philadelphia. Coleman is host of WHYY's weekly radio show, A Chef's Table. We talked about the history and legality of homemade liquor. During the interview, Coleman asked me about the most unusual spirit I'd come across in my travels. I wrote about that awkward moment here and here.

Now, the (edited) interview is up on WHYY's site without those awkward comments that make producers panic. I've snipped an mp3 of just my segment here.

If you want to listen to the whole show, though—including an interview with German chef and historian Walter Staib—click here, then scroll down to the bottom of the page.

The image above is the first page of Chapter 1 from my book Moonshine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lost Abbey Gingerbread Cake

Serpent’s Stout is out now. Drink some now, eat some later.

Last year, I spent the better part of a Friday night with brewer Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey just north of San Diego. Before that, cheesemonger Zeke Ferguson, photographer John Schulz, and I began with lunch under the hop vines at Stone Brewing’s beer garden. We ended up at Lost Abbey among racks of oak barrels, eating cheese, breaking out funky chocolates, and sampling a load of Tomme’s specials, including some vintage bottles he pulled out so we could taste the variations over years. All in all, it was a great night.

It also made me more appreciative of Lost Abbey beers, so I’ve been scoring more of them since then. This week, I grabbed a stout. At 11% abv, Serpent’s Stout is a seasonally available beer (early winter) in a 750ml corked bottle. It’s a very dark, malty beer, light on the carbonation, with an almost creamy texture. Given its notes of chocolate, molasses, and even coffee, I immediately realized how well it would work in baking.

After lightly chilling the bottle, I poured out 8 ounces, then savored the rest as Tomme intended. The portion I set aside went into a dense, dark, moist gingerbread cake that carried over the lingering taste of Serpent’s Stout with undertones of molasses and racy ginger. Photo to the left courtesy of

Adapted from Claudia Fleming’s Guinness Stout Ginger Cake in The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, this version contains slightly more ginger and double the cardamom of the original.

Lost Abbey Gingerbread Cake

1 cup Lost Abbey Serpent Stout
1 cup molasses
½ Tbl baking soda
3 large eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup canola oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ Tbl ground ginger
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
1 ½ Tbl peeled fresh gingerroot, grated or finely minced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with parchment, and grease the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan or ring mold.

(1) In a large and deep saucepan over high heat, combine the stout and molasses and bring just to a boil. Turn off the heat immediately, stir to mix thoroughly, and add the baking soda. The resulting foam will subside after a few beats.

(2) Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and both sugars in a bowl, then whisk in the oil.

(3) In a separate bowl, sift the flour, then whisk in ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom.

Combine the stout mixture (1) with the egg mixture (2), then whisk this liquid into the flour mixture (3), half at a time. Add the fresh ginger and stir to combine.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until the top springs back when gently pressed and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Do not open the oven until the gingerbread is almost done, or the center may fall slightly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Because of the canola oil, this cake keeps at room temperature for several days. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or just plain with a cup of coffee or tea.

Goes well with:

Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights at The Lost Abbey’s tasting room.

Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey
155 Mata Way, Suite 104
San Marcos, CA 92069
(800) 918-6816

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I'm not what you'd call a tiki carver by any stretch of the imagination. But with Halloween here and a load of pumpkins begging for the knife, I couldn't resist bringing a little South Seas fantasy to the traditional Jack-O-Lanterns.

Happy Halloween, ya'll.

With a tip of the hat to Trader Vic's Scorpion Bowl, here's a punch for just such a carving.

Skellington Bowl

6 oz fresh orange juice
5 ounces lemon juice
2 oz boiled cider
1 oz orgeat
.5 oz cinnamon syrup
6 ounces of light rum
1 oz brandy

Blend with two cups of crushed ice. Pour into the hollowed out pumpkin. Add ice cubes to fill, and insert 2 or 3 straws.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boiled Cider, an Old New England Syrup

There is nothing especially technical about serving cider
if you bought it at the right place

and kept it cold long enough
for it to harden a little.

~ Louise Andrews Kent
Mrs. Appleyard’s Kitchen (1942)

Once the temperature dips, my thoughts turn to hearty meals. For the last fifteen years or so, that also means cider: sweet, hard, mulled, or boiled. If it's apple squeezin’s, I'm in. I’m not talking about distilling hard cider (though that has its own appeal and I particularly like Mrs. Appleyard’s commonsense approach to such things), but simply pouring fresh apple cider in a broad pot, turning on the heat, and letting it boil down until it becomes a sweet syrup.

There. That’s more or less the recipe.

Although lately I’ve been livening up cocktails with the stuff, it’s versatile syrup that’s put to good use in both sweet and savory dishes such as pies, baked beans, fools, wild rice pilafs, and pork roasts—even gingerbread. Bacon, oranges, and mustard are especially nice complements (see below for a boiled cider pie recipe).

For cocktails, I find that boiled cider goes particularly well with applejack, Calvados, brandy, and rum. I’m not in any particular rush to try it with gin, but let me know what you think if you give it a shot.

In more detail, here’s how to do it. Make it enough times and you’ll get to understand when to take it off the fire just by its smell, dark color, and thick consistency. Until then, cheat: Once the cider is in the pot, but before it comes to a boil, insert a cake tester, wooden BBQ skewer, or wooden chopstick straight down into it. This is your dipstick.

Mark the depth of the cider on the wood. Then mark half of that. Then mark half again. Then mark half of the last mark—this should be 1/8th the original height. Cook until the level is almost down to the last mark. You’re looking for about a 7:1 reduction. A little more or a little less isn’t going to hurt.

Boiled Cider

1 gallon/4 liters of fresh sweet cider

Pour the cider into a broad and deep heavy-bottomed pan (I use a large enameled Le Creuset Dutch oven). Turn heat to high.

Boil the cider, uncovered, until volume is reduced to just under 400ml (about half a whiskey bottle’s worth).

Let cool and bottle. I tend neither to filter or to refrigerate the syrup, but do as you please. In any event, keep it in a cool, dark place.

Right. That pie I mentioned.

Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts is my go-to dessert book. If I could only keep one dessert book out the whole library, this would be it. This, in fact, was the book that introduced me to boiled cider. Here’s an adaptation of his recipe. If you don’t have his book but enjoy cooking desserts, go get a copy.
New England Boiled Cider Pie
Adapted from Richard Sax (1994) Classic Home Desserts

1 unbaked pie crust
2/3 cup boiled cider
2 Tbl sugar, or to taste
2 Tbl plus 1 tsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbl fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, well beaten
2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/8 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for serving

Roll out pie dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8” thick and place into a buttered pie pan. Trim all but ¾” around pie, then turn edge under and make a fluted border, then chill in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.

In a bowl, whisk together the boiled cider, sugar, melted butter, lemon juice, salt and eggs. Add the grated apples and stir to blend well. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust, sprinkle with brown sugar and nutmeg and bake until the center is just set, about 50 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack and serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Goes well with:

Willis and Tina Wood’s family has been making their boiled cider since 1882. If you don’t feel like making your own, give them a jingle.

Wood’s Cider Mill
1482 Weathersfield Center Road
Springfield, VT 05156
P: 802.263.5547
Fax: 802.263.9674



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bar Food: Spanish Fig Cake

With San Diego temperatures plummeting to the mid-60’s, I can’t help but recall our decade in Philadelphia where—to make it through the harsh winters—I guzzled hot tea by the liter. Occasionally bits of Spanish fig cake helped. But it isn’t just for tea. As a bar snack or part of an appetizer spread, fig cake complements Manchego cheese, a slice of membrillo, and a small bowl of olives. It doesn’t hate a glass of sherry or port if you roll that way.

Now fig cake isn’t your typical baked cake like red velvet or a pound cake; it’s a dense little drum of dried figs mixed with Marcona almonds or sometimes hazelnuts. Done properly, it’s not overly sweet since there’s little more than figs and nuts in it. Mitica makes a popular version and Zingerman’s sells chucks of the stuff.

But there’s also a way to make it at home with no cooking at all.

While researching sweetened whiskeys this morning, I came across a recipe for A Spanish Dessert Treat in a 1904 English candy-making manual. Yeah, I said candy-making manual. I like sugar work and collect old candy books. You wanna make something of it?

The little brown tome bearing Alan Davidson’s fishy bookplate I picked up for a measly $30 from Bonnie Slotnik*. The Treat inside it was a dead ringer for the fig cake I knew back East.

This recipe calls for fresh bay leaves to be inserted between layers of the cake. It’s not just a matter of taste. Old importer guides and grocer manuals report that bay leaves packed in bundles of imported figs helped prevent insect infestation. Layer some in if you have access to fresh bay and like the taste. Dried sounds…unappetizing. Ignore Mrs. Rattray’s suggestions of gilding this particular lily with sugar.

A Spanish Dessert Treat

Split some fresh-dried figs of the best quality, “pulled figs” [see below] by preference, and arrange in each three or four split blanched almonds; close the fruit and put it in layers in a screw tin, such as a small brawn tin, or into a jar in which increasingly heavy weights can be put; between each layer put a few fresh bay-leaves; when the whole mass is perfectly solid, the pressure having been daily increased, lift it out and cut into slices with a sharp knife. These may be formed into the basis of a sweet, dusted with icing sugar, and decorated with royal icing.
Mrs. M. E. Rattray (1904)
Sweetmeat-Making at Home.
C. Arthur Pearson, London.

Pulled figs note: Since this is (at least) a 105-year old recipe from a British source, I hit the shelves to see what the Brits would have meant by “pulled figs” just as the 20th century was getting its sea legs. According to The British Pharmaceutical Codex (1907),
“Natural" figs are those which are packed loose and retain to some extent their original shape. “Pulled" figs have been kneaded and pulled to make them supple; these are usually packed into small boxes for exportation, and are considered to be the best variety. "Pressed” figs have been closely packed in boxes so that they are compressed into discs.
Snip off any remaining stems regardless of which kind of dried figs used.

*I’ve scored a few of Andy Smith’s discards from Bonnie as well. Few trips to New York are complete without a stop in her little used cookbook store. At least not when you’re a book geek like me.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
163 West Tenth Street
New York, New York 10014-3116
phone: 212-989-8962
fax: 212-989-8102

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Annual Food Symposium and Literary Feast

This Saturday, October 24, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans is hosting its first annual food symposium. Museum director Liz Williams explains: “...The conference will focus on issues and trends in the culinary arts, memoir, food business, food history, farming and agriculture, restaurant business, and other aspects of food.” The inaugural theme is The World's Fairs in New Orleans and Inventing Creole and Cajun Cuisine.

Presentations cover:
  • The 1884 World’s Fair: Inventing Creole Cuisine;
  • Creole Food and the Works Progress Administration;
  • Creole and Cajun Food Demonstration, sponsored by the Intercontinental Hotel;
  • The 1984 World’s Fair: Reinventing Cajun and Creole Cuisine;
  • Food Writers and the Future of Cuisine.
Presenters include: Liz Williams, Gene Bourg, Susan Tucker, Rien Fertel, Paul Freedman, Sara Roahen, Judy Walker, Pableaux Johnson, and others.

Tale of the Cocktail attendees know that the Southern Food and Beverage Museum shares space with the our own little happy hour shrine, the Museum of the American Cocktail. Others might need a little help finding the place: Riverwalk is so big and the Poydras Street address is a little misleading. The museums are all the way over on the Julia Street entrance, next to the convention center on the upper floor.

Southern Food and Beverage Museum
1 Poydras Street #169
New Orleans, LA 70130
Phone: 504-569-0405
Fax: 504-587-7944

The cost is $85.00 per person ($75.00 for SoFAB members), with a student discount at $25 and $35. Directions for tickets are on SoFAB's website.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

William S. Burroughs’ Birthday Beer

It’s a stretch to say that William S. Burroughs was a friend. But back in the 90’s the writer and I were neighbors in Lawrence, Kansas. Matt Dillon, Allen Ginsberg, and Hunter S. Thompson showed up now and then and the novelist Scott Heim was kicking around town at the same time. No, Bill and I weren’t friends, but we knew each other and on rare occasions chatted over dinner.

As thanks for his hospitality, I made a special beer — Teufelkatzen — for his 80th birthday. Later, I found bottles and labels of Teufelkatzen in bars, in peoples’ homes, mementos of spending time with him. Bill never drank the beer I made for him, but he did pass it around. I even heard third-person stories of the private brewer who only made beer for Burroughs. A bottle of that stuff, I was told, was only for people he liked and trusted.

By the time I knew him, the crazy-ass junky was history. The mischievous old man with an avuncular smile whom I came to know had a fondness for guns and cats. His afternoon tipple was as questionable as a syringe of junk, though: vodka and flat Coke.

I found the recipe today, along with my sole remaining copy of a label, in an old file. Haven’t made it in years, but for the first time ever in print, here is the recipe for William S. Burroughs’ birthday beer. In the mid 1990’s, I was still making extract brews, so it’s an easy recipe.


8 lbs pale malt syrup
½ lb British crystal malt, crushed
1.5 oz Northern Brewers hops
½ Cascade hops
1 vial of lager yeast*

But the crushed crystal malt in a brew bag and add to 1.5 gallons of cold water in a boiler. Bring to a boil. Remove the grains and add the malt syrup and Northern Brewers hops. Boil for 45 minutes. At the 43 minute mark, add the Cascade hops.

While the beer is boiling, add 3 gallons of cool water to a fermentation vessel. When the wort finishes boiling, add it to the cool water in the fermentation vessel and top off with more cool water to make five gallons total volume. When the wort cools, pitch the yeast. Ferment to completion and bottle.

Makes about 2.5 cases.

* See White Labs page on yeasts for more info on pitching.

Goes well with:


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gather ‘Round, Ye Distillers

Two distillers’ events are coming up and I’m superbummed that I can’t make either of them. The first is nearly on us.

Up the coast in Portland, Oregon, the 2009 Great American Distillers Festival is gearing up. For a measly $16, attendees get two days of festivities and a fistful of tickets for samples. I always enjoy rubbing elbows with my friends who forge whiskey, brandy, and other less recognizable spirits, but throw in a cocktail mixing contest hosted by the Oregon Bartenders’ Guild and I shake my head in wonder for not packing a bag. A total of $1750 will be dispersed as prizes, so you know the bartenders will be flexing their shaker guns.

October 24-25th. Full details at The Great American Distillers’ Festival website.

The second shindig is the American Distilling Institute’s hands-on whiskey distilling workshop at Stillwater Spirits in Petaluma, CA December 7-11th. The price tag is little heftier ($3500), but Bill Owens promises tours of Anchor Distilling, St. George Spirits, and various “whiskey bars.”

Whiskey bars?

The five-day class includes:
  • Five night stay at the Metro Hotel (one block from Stillwater) and all meals (we have a good cook for the week)
  • Tuition, room & board
  • Tours of St. George Spirits Distillery, Anchor Distilling Co. and the finest San Francisco Whiskey bars
  • Distiller Jordan Via (Stillwater Spirits) on brewing, distilling and maturation
  • Brewer Bill Owens (ADI) on mashing and fermentation to create wash
  • Moylan's Brewery & Restaurant creation of wash in action
  • Legal session on how to obtain a DSP
  • Learn how to operate a Moonshine-style pot still and a five-plate Christian Carl Still
  • Whiskey, bourbon & moonshine tasting daily
  • Proofing session and hands-on bottling experience
Full details at the ADI website.


Monday, September 28, 2009

MxMo XLII: Dizzy Dairy and Rowley’s New Book

When I heard the theme for this month’s Mixology Monday—dairy cocktails—I gritted my teeth. In the last year I’ve had more milk and cream than at any time since my childhood. Why? Well, the rich history of, and modern innovation in, dairy cocktails is the topic of the book I’ve been working on.

Until I was ready to publish, I wasn’t eager to see public talk about them. No dice. MxMo host Chris Amirault over at eGullet has let the cow out of the barn with MxMo XLII: Dizzy Dairy. For one day, the majority of the world’s online cocktail writers will be blogging, tweeting, and posting Facebook updates on the very thing I’ve been keeping under wraps.

Ah, well. I know when to roll with new developments and, since this is hardly a secret topic anymore, let me tell you a little of what I’ve been up to and throw out a call for help.

As I’ve researched the book, I’ve sampled 1%, 2%, whole, raw, homogenized, and pasteurized milks from huge producers and small family farms. There’s been condensed, evaporated, caramelized, fermented, shelf-stable, and powdered samples decking the kitchen counters. I’ve looked into the dairy underground (where raw milk runners sometimes call their product “mooshine”), put archivists and librarians through their paces digging out manuscripts and old pamphlets, and ordered dairy cocktails in every city I visit. Some—like Ramos’ famous gin fizz—are classics. They can be as simple as Lebowski’s favorite White Russian or laced with fancy beurre noir and sage.

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I dropped in Rum Bar to say hello to owner Adam Kanter. The milkiest drink on the menu? An orange batida. Long popular in Brazil, batidas often incorporate fruit and sweetened condensed milk (leite condensado) as well as cachaça, a hugely popular cane spirit gaining ground in the US. Bar manager Vena Edmonds kindly supplied the recipe. If you can't find Moleca, a three-year old wood-aged cachaça, consider substituting Leblon or Boca Loca brands. Not the same taste, but a little more funky than a lot of rums.
Orange Batida

1 oz Bacardi O
1 oz Moleca cachaça
1 barspoon of refined sugar (about a teaspoon)
1 oz sweetened condensed milk
½ oz orange juice

Shake hard with ice to fully mix the condensed milk and strain into an old fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange slice. You could also substitute simple syrup to taste for the sugar.

Of course, I was in Philly to hit libraries and archives, too. I’ve dug into the ethnographic, historic, culinary, and literary records from around the world for cultural and scientific information on the lactation of cows, goats, horses, buffalos, camels, and more. Want naturally rose-flavored milk? Grab your passport. The fermented Mongolian mare’s milk drink koumiss that used to be in all the bartenders’ manuals? Hard to find, but there’s an easy work-around. Beyond issues of palatability, I can tell you why we don’t milk pigs, why water buffalo cream is so thick, and how to break down milk punch into distinct families.

But I could use help. I’m looking for recipes to include—with attribution—in the book.

I’ve got more than enough historic American cocktail recipes. What would help are original dairy cocktails made by modern bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts—cocktails using milk, buttermilk, cream, butter (don’t look at me like that: you never heard of hot buttered rum?), or other dairy products. Innovative takes on older recipes and examples from outside the US are also good: Got experience with aged eggnogs, sloe gin fizzes, or pisco-spiked caramelized goat’s milk? I’d love to hear from you.

I can’t promise everyone’s recipe will make the final cut—my editor invariably cuts even my own recipes—but I can promise to talk with you about your cocktail(s), see if there’s room to include them, and give you all kinds of lavish credit if one or more of your recipes makes the final draft.

Email me at moonshinearchives [at] gmail [dot] com and let’s see what we can do.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stick to the Cratur

It's no secret I'm fond of the cratur. The what? You might recognize it as the creature, short for one of the good creatures of the Lord. Still not ringing any bells? Oh, ok. Whiskey. Irish whiskey and specifically poitin, the homemade liquor still made in the west of Ireland, despite the common notion in both Dublin and Belfast that the stuff is no longer made.

Unless your ears are tuned to Irish dialects, cratur is an odd word. Here with just such a say-what? Irish accent is singer Tom Lenihan from 1967. The lyrics as posted on YouTube are not quite what he's singing, so I corrected them below. I think.

Let your quacks and newspapers be quotin’ their capers
About curing the vapors, the scratch, and the gout.
With their powders and potions, their serums and lotions
Upholding their notions, they're mighty put out.

We don’t know the true physic of all things prophetic
And pitch to the divil, cramp, colic, and spleen.
You'll find it I think if you take a big drink
With your mouth to the brink of a jug of poteen.

Then stick to the cratur the best thing in nature
For sinking your sorrows and raising your joys.
Oh what moderation or dose in the nation
Can give consolation like whiskey, me boys?

Come guess me this riddle, what beats pipe and fiddles
What's stronger than mustard and milder than cream?
What best wets your whistle, what's clearer than crystal,
Sweeter than honey and stronger than steam?

What will make the dumb talk, what will make the lame walk?
What’s the elixir of life and philosopher's stone?
And what helped Mr. Brunel to dig the Thames Tunnel
Sure, wasn't it whiskey from ould Inishowen?

Then stick to the cratur the best thing in nature
For sinking your sorrows and raising your joys.
Oh lord, I’d not wonder, if lightning and thunder
Weren't made from the plunder of whiskey, me boys.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moonshine in the News

Today’s idea: Not content with home microbrewing,
artisinal types are distilling their own illicit “craft” moonshine —
more in an epicurean style than in the spirit of Prohibition
outlaws in backwoods Appalachia. Oregon grappa, anyone?

~ New York Times’ Idea of the Day

Decent articles about homemade liquor and moonshine crop up with increasing frequency. Seems like word is out that not all the shine out there is the rotgut that our parents and grandparents knew.

The past few weeks have given us the New York Times blog piece quoted above. And then there’s this Salon article that inspired the posting. In it, Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute and consummate showman, makes a donut mash. Not something you’d really want to do, but he’s proving the point that sugar, regardless of the source, can yield liquor. The author, Catherine Price, quotes Alcademics writer Camper English and yours truly about who’s making moonshine these days and why.

"The distillers don't band together in public the way home brewers do," says Rowley. "And until they get organized, you won't see a change in legislation."

Though I’d love to see home distilling legalized as in New Zealand, I’m not holding my breath.

Want to know more? Snag a copy of Moonshine at My favorite customer review so far: The author is a bit opinionated in a few places but doesn't come off preachy. He simply states his opinion and gives the information anyway.

That's me: opinionated but not preachy. Well...mostly.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Potka, Part II

Straight wash is very, very strong, and very soporific.
The first time I tried some, I drank 2.5oz
and smoked a 0.3 of oil.
It took me 2 HOURS to get of my couch
and go to bed once my movie ended!!

~ genkisan

Think listening to stoners talk tries your patience? Try reading stoner recipes. They tend to wander off, lost in the intricacies of their own details.

As a follow up to Friday’s post in which I talked about moonshine and pot, I’ve learned more about the technical aspects of producing potka in the last three days than in the last decade. Leave it to Volodimir “Wal” Pavliuchuk to pick up the potka theme, though, and run with it in his typically scholarly way.

Pavliuchuk, whose book of cordial recipes I wrote about back in April, posted several links over on Yahoo Distillers concerning the blend of ethanol and marijuana. Even though legal marijuana is readily available where I live, it’s just not one of my vices. For those who are curious, however, Wal has aggregated links that give an overview on marijuana-infused liqour.

You’ve heard of limoncello, the lemon cordial from the Amalfi coast? What of marjiuancello? Zoomata reports that Manlio Chianchiano’s plans for marijuana macerated in alcohol in Naples were scrapped when police investigated reports of marijuana growing at his home.

Wal links to The Marijuana Foods Handbook and its guidelines for producing sinsemilla liqueurs and in using ascorbic acid as a clearing agent. There’s also the stonerforum recipe quoted above that goes into overly stoner detail.

From an actual distiller’s point of view, however, see Rev. David M. Cunningham’s notes.

As always, send me whiskey and bring me brandy. But potka? I’ll pass. I’m sleepy enough as it is.

Photo: ANSA.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Rowley Talks Potka, Moonshine & Old Recipes on NPR

This week I’m in Philadelphia. The time is flying by faster than I thought possible. Naturally, there’re beverages and research involved—a little rum, a little whiskey, some white dog, some beer. Philly may nickle-and-dime you to death, but its beverages do not suck.

Yesterday, I also dropped by NPR station WHYY for an interview with Jim Coleman, host of the Sunday talk show A Chef’s Table. Coleman and I talked about moonshine, home distilling, and interpreting old liquor recipes. He caught me off-guard, however, when he asked about the most unusual homemade liquor I’d ever encountered.

Forget for a moment that homemade whiskey is, in and of itself, pretty damn unusual for millions of people. I could have mentioned the apple brandy made from heirloom fruit I found in Missouri, Texas bierschnapps, or sorghum skimmin’s. Nope. I had to go with something doubly illicit in most of the US: potka, a combination of vodka and cannabis.

I couldn’t see the producer or the sound engineer from where I sat, but I’m fairly sure there was some frantic sign-making to remind Coleman just how illegal that could be. Mea culpa, Chef—it’s just that I live in California where medical marijuana is legal and obtaining a prescription (they tell me) is simplicity itself. For those with a scrip, the simple version doesn't seem illegal. No prescription, of course, and you're just inviting trouble.

In both San Francisco and Texas, I found potka among home distillers and cordial-makers. Otherwise, it’s not terribly well known. In its simplest form, cannabis is macerated in 40-50% abv vodka or neutral grain spirits. Makers report that THC in the marijuana is extracted into the liquor and they end up with a beverage that combines attributes of the two.

More recently, I’ve begun to see distillers who made the same maceration, then add water, and redistill to yield a high-proof cannabis-laced spirit. Now, for me, pot's a bit like Scotch whisky: I don't mind if my friends indulge, but it just doesn't hold much appeal. Potka? Holds even less personal appeal, but I understand why some like it and as a curiosity it’s worth documenting.

It occurs to me, though, that potka may be dangerous. Not just from a legal point of view, though there's truth enough in that, but because it’s potentially lethal as well. Here’s why: Medical marijuana is legal some places because, among other effects, it reduces nausea. This is important for, say, cancer patients undergoing chemo treatment. Helps them keep down food.

Liquor, on the other hand is a toxin—a delicious, mellifluous beverage and perfectly acceptable in small doses—but a toxin nonetheless. When you drink too much, your body naturally ejects it. We’re talking about the Technicolor yawn here. Laughing at the carpet. Hailing a Buick, calling up your buddy Ralph, and invoking the name of Wyatt Earp. Protein spill on Aisle Three. Un-eating, tossing your cookies, and falling on your knees to worship the welcoming and detested porcelain god. Yeah, drink too much and you puke. Vomiting is one way your body gets rid of excess toxins and ameliorates the poisoning you just gave it.

Combine typically high-proof (50%+abv) homemade distillates with a nausea-reducing cannabis in the same glass and it seems to me there’s a potential danger of overdrinking without our natural defense of hurling to boot the excess alcohol. It’s not a stretch to imagine that the result could be some serious alcohol poisoning.

Obviously, I’m no doctor—but common sense suggests that potka is just a mistake in a bottle that needs to be treated carefully.

Of course, that segment may just get edited out. I'll tune in Sunday or head to Coleman's website later in the week to see how it all falls out.

[Edit: see Potka, Part II for a followup from a few days later, days in which I got flooded with information and emails about mixing pot and moonshine]