Monday, February 16, 2009

MxMo XXXVI: Hard Drinks for Hard Times—The Round Up

RULE #1:
Skip anything packaged in plastic.
These aren’t the desperate times of college.

~ Hanky Panky

The proposal before us for MxMo XXXVI:
If your 401(k) has taken a beating, or if you or a spouse or friend have been laid off, or if you’re simply hanging on to your wallet for dear life, you’ve probably given some thought to how the economy is affecting your basic expenditures—such as those you make for booze. Here’s a chance to share how you’re drinking during the downturn; whether it’s affordable booze, ways you’re cutting corners, or things you’ve figured out how to mix or make on the cheap, we need to hear it.

The results are in. Mixology Monday has drawn to another successful close. No pruno (barely). No Canned Heat Cocktails, no toilet merlot. Lots of wisdom and insight on saving, scrimping, and otherwise adjusting one's drinking habits as we come to grips with this unfolding recession (and a few jackass remarks because, after all, we're liquor writers and we enjoy heckling each other).

If I've missed your post, if it's somehow slipped between the cracks, please shoot me an email with a link and a photo and we'll get your post up.

With no further preamble, here's the rundown of all the contributions submitted to date for MxMo XXXVI: Hard Drinks for Hard Times:

Out of alphabetical order because he was first out of the gate, I give you Ben Carter who—23.7 seconds after I announced the rules to Mixology Monday XXXVI—threw down Benito's Original Meyer Lansky Cocktail over at Benito's Wine Reviews. I don't mean to glorify criminal activity, Carter writes, but then goes on to suggest the ideal garnish would be a poker chip with a slot sawed into it so you can stick it on the rim of the glass. I bet it is. I just bet it is.

Now, on to the Round Up:

Nat Harry (that's the Alpha Cook to you) rustles up The Bailout. Like a lot of savvy shoppers, Nat's been hitting the Trader Joe's. "A lot of savvy shoppers" = "rowley." The 80/20 rule seems to apply to TJ's product quality: 80% of it is decent-to-great while 20% is just gawd awful. I've seen the same Rear Admiral Joseph’s London Dry Gin recently and have been tempted. Really? $7.99 for 750ml? At that price, I could almost wash my car with it...Once I start buying liquor again, that is.

Kevin at Beers in the Shower (and, come on, who among us hasn't enjoyed a refreshing barley pop in the shower after a harrowing day/night?) gives us the Cheap Bastard with glassware from the Old Spaghetti Factory. Snicker all you like, but Kevin makes serious points in offering tips for drinking on less and concludes with a heartfelt plea not to abandon the bartenders who are so good to us: please continue to go out and support your bars. Tip well and enjoy the bar experience for what it is. Hear, hear.

I've been seeing more mentions of the SodaStream in the last few months. pings it again and gets clever with Soft Drinks for Hard Times. When you live in a town with great tap water, carbonating your own is smart savings (sorry Philly and Boston, just keep buying the bottled stuff). Adding fancy homemade syrups? Very tempting...

Steve Schul and Paul Zablocki over at Cocktail Buzz share tips for getting through hard times (hint: it involves paper towel squeezin’s, highballs, and arriving at their pad with a bottle of booze). Boys, next time I’m back in Brooklyn, I’ll be happy to bring the booze. Is whiskey ok? I’ll even bring the engarnishments.

Irish diplomacy has been defined as the ability to tell a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to the trip. Paul Clarke may well have studied statesmanship of an Irish tenor when coming up with this month's Cheapskate Cocktail ($4.70 per serving) for himself while plying visitors with an Unwelcome Houseguest (a paltry $1.76) at the Cocktail Chronicles. Kingsley Amis would have been delighted at the subterfuge. Take Amis' notions for stiffing guests in the Swiftian Modest Proposal sense they were meant and there's some damn good ideas for entertaining, regardless of one's financial situation.

Reese Lloyd breaks out the dollar menu G&T at Cocktail Hacker. A dollar, you ask, for a gin & tonic? Not value enough for you? How'd you like 17¢ back? That's right, Reese reckons he can crank out 83¢ Recession G&Ts. He asks: So how hard is this cocktail going to hit your wallet?...It’s going to be like a kitten falling on a pile of pillows.

Frederic reports that the gang over at Cocktail Virgin Slut broke out the Tanqueray and Heinies for beer-inspired takes on not one, but four champagne cocktails: the Dutch (fomerly French) 75, the Air Mail, the Sea Captain's Special, and the Black Cherry Champagne Cocktail. I’m not 100% sold on the Heineken Light (didn’t Dennis Hopper murmur something about that in Blue Velvet?), but for a willingness to experiment and good humor, I award 350 points to the sluts. Ya’ll’ve been very bad. Now go straight to my bar.

Cocktailwelten: Ein Blog uber Neuigkeiten in der Welt der Cocktails, Barkultur, und Spirituosen: Chris, a longtime MxMo contributor, laughs off the current international economic slump from the comfort of Germany with sloe gin, rum, and apricot brandy in a deliciously contrarian Millionaire Cocktail. Darauf erhebe ich mein Glas: Prost!

Colonel Tiki's Drinks & Indigo Firmaments. Babies...ain’t cheap, Craig admits. With the arrival of Sebastian Milton Felix, we have all the more reason to celebrate, recession be damned. Seems like Colonel Tiki is laying in a supply of homemade Southern, uh, Home Comfort Liqueur...for when Sebastian reaches his majority. Oh, who are we kidding? It'll be gone long before that. But the recipe will be around for all of posterity. Well, done, sir. Now go make your lovely wife a cocktail.

Michael Dietsch is about to start his fourth year publishing the blog A Dash of Bitters. Good on you, man. I've had a soft spot for Dietsch since he interviewed me as part of the leadup to Tales of the Cocktail last year and I realized what kindred spirits we are. And now our work situations are looking eerily similar since his freelance gigs dried up. Ever resourceful, he's cobbled together his Recession Sling (using whatever the fuck I had on hand already). Turns out we mix the same, too, even down to the Bulleit. And the potty mouth.

UPDATE 2/20: Drink of the Week. Jonas! I'm so sorry to have missed your post the first time around. Mea culpa—It seems the more blogs I tried to capture, the most just slipped through my fingers. I blame lack of sleep and a penchant for lame Star Wars references. Your sensible comments on frugal shopping are well-taken. Shopping at Costco, BevMo, and the supermarket are all fantastic notions. I'd add drugstores to that. Few rare bottles show up, but midrange spirits can sometimes go on sale at startlingly low prices. And this: Staying home doesn’t need to mean drinking alone, invite friends over...a perfect sentiment. It's easy to forget that our friends are some of our dearest assets. Cheers.

ednbrg: Jon has me thinking of blended Scotch before breakfast Monday morning. Those of you who know me know that’s about as likely as my idly musing over Margaret Thatcher’s Sunday knickers. Since I haven't got a single bottle of Scotch whisky around the house, I’m taking notes on his Highland Bramble with me when I head out next to the local spot most likely to have crème de mure. And, Jon? Points for combining egg whites and Monkey Shoulder…

Felicia’s Speakeasy. A post that stopped me in my tracks with a single quote: when we are forced to return to a simpler, self-sufficient life, who is going to make our booze? You, baby, you. And Leah. Must be something about upstate New York that incites my friends there to work on homemade hooch and hard cider. The homemade airlocks, the gallon jugs—the mother!—all look so strangely familiar. John Chapman would be proud.

Jacob Grier's vodka bar is shovel-ready and, as he boldly claims, he is ready to stimulate the shit out of this economy. Go, go, go! And hats off for posting the Horatio, the first contribution calling for aquavit, and made entirely from on-hand ingredients.

Hey, mistah! Throw me a cocktail! Chuck Taggart gives us the $1.19 Mardi Gras Sour over at the Gumbo Pages, a whiskey sour using Old Grand-Dad and—gasp—falernum. Here it is Tuesday morning, the sun's not even up and I'm letting the tastes play in my mind already. It's distractingly tempting. I just happen to have some OGD and falernum (values both), but I bet that if I wait just a few more days I can order one at the Swizzle Stick. Just in time for Mardi Gras in situ.

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour proprietor Jimmy Patrick emailed me a note: Hi Matt, I've got a $1.25 cocktail. Well I'll be damned and so he does. Jimmy's become a fan of ultra-affordable Pikesville Rye Whiskey and uses it to create The "$1.25" Old Fashioned ($1.26 really, but who's counting?). Think of it, he writes, as a small stimulus package. And so we shall.

Liquor is Quicker (but channeling Edward G. Robinson is more funner) gets all academic with a discussion of rye whiskey, then breaks out the Rittenhouse Bonded 100 proof for a Tombstone #2 (with Apologies to Dave Wondrich). No apologies necessary in my book. I’m sure the fictional instance of Wondrich would agree...and might even be your huckleberry.

God bless those ladies at LUPEC-Boston. With a simplicity that makes me beam, Pink Lady emailed me to throw down the tastiest gauntlet I can spy directly from the temporary office of my Heywood Wakefield coffee table: Hanky Panky's suggestion of 12-year Old Fitzgerald bourbon. [I]n honor of hard times and salty broads, they suggest we grab a bottle, pour a shot, and raise our glasses to Helen "Dirty Helen" Cromwell. Look it up. She deserves it.

Now, I'm not married (hey, thanks, Salt Lake!), but I am a big fan of dinner. And so, when Anita over at Married...with Dinner cranks out a batch of Ward 8 cocktails in her post Recession Proof, I pay heed. Her tips for drinking smart in these times—switch your allegiance, share the love, think small and several more—tap a vein of common sense that seems to run through the hard-times theme. Making your own grenadine and home-preserved cherries helps, too.

Michael (My Aching Head) reminds me what what it was like being a student with a limited budget in the first place: drinking cheap is something I’ve become pretty accustomed to. There were undergraduate days (mostly Wednesdays) when my entire caloric intake was a pound of fettucine alfredo and a bottle of chardonnay. Couldn't have been more than $4 total. Must be why I favor red wines now. Michael turns to Europe and proposes both rough-knuckled calimocho (red wine and cola) and that Dijonaise hometown favorite, the kir. Wicked hangovers are a'brewing, but not bad choices on a student's budget.

Morsels & Musings: From Sydney, Australia (where summer is in high gear), Anna kicks in Peach & Ginger Punch, all redolent with ginger beer, ginger syrup, peach nectar, and rum. Watch out, Anna ~ those innocuous peach slices brimming with health-giving properties should pack a sneaky wallop after sufficient rest.

A Mountain of Crushed Ice: As there are some tunes you can hear while reading music, there are some tastes you can savor by reading a recipe. Just so with Tiare’s Jamaican-inspired Life Saver that breaks out the Ting and J. Wray & Nephew (its cheap, its gooood and tasty! she taunts). I know this tune. Meet me at Tales this summer and I’ll hum in a few bars for you…

I was waiting—just waiting—for someone to bring up that champagne of beers, Miller High Life. Lance Mayhew, the only free market capitalist left, is in need of a drink and does not disappoint. In Philly, the $3 special was a PBR and shot of Jack. Mayhew sweetens it up and mellows it out a bit, inspired by nostalgia for Sacramento's Torch Club by calling for a shot of vanilla-infused Jack Daniel's with a MHL back while contemplating the turndown over at My Life on the Rocks. It might not solve my problems, he writes, but for a few minutes at least, a beer and a shot is exactly what I need during hard times.

RumDood breaks out the Sailor Jerry spiced rum for his Shortfall Punch. [W]hen times are tough, the Dood tells us, if can get a full handle of superior rum for only a dollar more than the market leader, then you have to do that. Though he didn't use the entire handle in one drink, it sounds like a bunch of it went into developing this one. I don't trust everyone's cocktails (not even my own), but I like the Dood's style and if I had any Sailor Jerry's around, the Shortfall Punch would soar to the top of my must-try column.

Scofflaw's Den, Marshall and SeanMike's paean to the drink, is always a good read. It's got cigars, cocktails, and musings on food that keep me coming back. Did I mention cigars? For MxMo XXXVI, Marshall posted two cocktails: The Gloom Chaser and the CEO Cocktail. I've often opined that if one cannot obtain good things (cream, butter, bacon, fine spirits, and Cohibas), one ought to just do without their wan doppelgängers (skim milk, margarine, turkey bacon, bottom-shelf spirits, and "It's a Boy!" stogies). The CEO sounds lovely. Does it come with a golden parachute?

Holy dueling bangos! Two authors, two posts, and two cute cats (Master Shake? Seriously? Love it). Unable to leave well enough alone, SeanMike at Scofflaw's Den throws his hat in the ring with Orangin and Tonic. Home-carbonated diet tonic water, Jacquin’s Orange Flavored Gin (his review: It’s orange-y, it’s about 66 proof, and you know what, it was like $3 for a pint of it) and Angostura orange bitters.

Oh, Sloshed! Can we ever have enough of your boozy ways? Come sit next to me on the hooch wagon. As an unrepentant kitchen DIYer myself, Marleigh's four homemade syrups (Cold-Process Grenadine, Lillikoi, Ginger, and Vanilla) struck an immediate chord. The only one I don't have is the Lillikoi, but once back from New Orleans, I'm on it. Plus, bulk cheapo vanilla pods is a nice touch to the overall money-saving scheme.

Our favorite Tipsy Texan discovered a way to refuel one tired-ass krewe by retooling his Matagalpa Cocktail (at $3.90 per serving) into a Manchaca Cocktail for a mere $1.08. With all due respect to my friends in Louisiana and Pennsylvania, Texans know a thing or two about drinking. And if one is so kind as to recommend Flor de Caña, Paula's Texas Orange, and lime, then, partner, I'm in.

Trader Tiki cuts to the chase with his Chauncey Cocktail: This is an all-boozer; time is money and I haven’t the time to waste on mixers when spirits are in need of lifting. Muchos Mahalos, Blair! Rye, Gin, Brandy, Vermouth—sounds like WC Fields' shopping list. On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia...with one of these in my hand.

Triddlywinks, a home distiller I’m pleased to know and whose malt whiskey is just a fine addition to any liquor cabinet, nonetheless horrified me with his Absinthe Spork from the Wormwood Society thread “If Rednecks Drank Absinthe.” I’d never really wondered what absinthe in a go-cup would look like until Trid peeled the louche from my eyes. T, one assume the absinthe is homemade as well?

Stevi Deter at Two at the Most rolls out the big guns. Well, the 75mm canon anyway. Check that, the gin-and-champagne drink named for the French 75mm (or is that ml?) canon which she deems infinitely drinkable. Squeezing 10-12 cocktails per bottle of bubbly lands this one smack dab in the affordable category, despite its chi-chi reputation. Like its ballastic namesake, this champagne cocktail could leave devastation in the aftermath of its application, but with only two—at most—what's the harm?

The Wild Drink Blog has gotten into the spirit of evolution, inspired undoubtedly by the recent 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday. It seems Tristan got gotten bitten by the homebrew bug. While his novice batch of home-brewed beer is not cocktail mixology, it's in the right spirit and gives me hope. Beer, as many a home distiller knows, is the gateway beverage to stouter beverages. Once one has down the hang of grains and yeast and sparging, whiskey is not far behind. When that day comes, Tristan, you come track me down. Meanwhile, relax, don't worry ~ and have a homebrew.

And, finally...there's me. Yeah, so I got laid off. As a former museum curator and unrepentant collector, I'd accumulated a liquor cabinet that was gettin' too big anyway. Commingling frugality and a little (probably misunderstood) zen, I came up with a scheme to drink only liquor we already had in the house and to know that liquor very well. Turns out this is a fantastic way to manage the liquor cabinet and the fridge. This week's pantry raid yields The North Park Cocktail.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

MxMo XXVI Hard Drinks for Hard Times, A Savings in Two Parts

Hard Drinks for Hard Times: Part I

Bad news, everyone: I’ve been laid off.

Damn. Advertising exec was one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever held. Smart coworkers, great clients, challenging and rewarding work, right on the coast—almost a dream job. Until clients’ advertising budgets started circling the drain, that is.

The layoff isn’t the morale-crushing, bank-busting defeat it might seem. I’ve been boning up on Spanish; refamiliarizing myself with French, Dutch, and German; traveling; giving talks; learning basic HTML; reading voraciously; and working on a new book (three, actually—two have legs and one is a back-burner vanity). Freelance gigs the pay the bills. I’m concerned, but not panicked.

The effect is, however, increasingly evident in our cocktail hours. And so, as an experiment for the 36th Mixology Monday and its hard-times theme, I’ve stopped buying liquor.

That’s right: In the last two months, I haven’t bought a single bottle of liquor other than a liter of Bombay Sapphire at the Tijuana duty-free shop. Instead, I’ve tapped our sizable collection of rums, whiskeys, brandies, and miscellaneous spirits, finishing some bottles and cracking open others I’d been hording. For war, apparently, or perhaps another Prohibition. In more ways than one, the layoff has forced me to take stock of what I’ve got and to use it.

I haven’t drunk so consistently well in years.

If getting laid off sparked this experiment in liquor frugality, a Buddhist cook inadvertently shaped it. See, there’s nothing particularly hard-times about the ingredients themselves for this month’s contribution, the North Park Cocktail. It’s how they came together once I was laid off that resonates with the theme.

This Buddhist cook once explained that he began each day by emptying all his kitchen cabinets and cleaning every single bottle, jar, and bag. This daily tedium served two purposes. Obviously, the regular wipe-down kept his larder organized and clean. The underlying benefit was that, by handling every container every day, he maintained a precise mental inventory of quantities, conditions, and patterns of use.

Turns out that this is a rewarding way to approach liquor cabinets.

Pulling everything out every day would be a little OCD, but once a week, I pick up each bottle of rye or absinthe or gin or apricot brandy or whatever and give it a dusting. Of our hundreds of bottles, those dwindling past half-capacity get earmarked for accelerated consumption. I can tell you exactly what we have, where it is, and how much there is. Cocktails suggest themselves much more readily when I know without looking what’s available.

Last month, I turned that gimlet eye to the refrigerator. Although the fridge was jammed with bottles of homemade syrups, jams, marmalades, and other creations intended for the cocktail shaker, I’d forgotten making more than a few. Once forgotten, they languished. Those that had lost their scents, their taste, their oomph I pitched. I consolidated others, cleaned the shelves, and can now see the back of the box. Every bottle and jar is getting used now, if not in cocktails, then as ingredients and condiments for meals.

Without spending an additional dime, I’ve made smarter use of existing resources by knowing exactly how much of what I’ve got. Vermouth, in particular, gathers no moss around here. The cocktails have been fantastic: bijoux, Hoskins cocktails, dozens of tiki drinks, Martinez cocktails, cocktails that incorporate generous doses of herbal concoctions such as Benedictine, Chartreuse, and Averna. Absinthe cocktails. Sours and highballs and squirrels.

I wouldn’t say thank you for laying me off, but better understanding the riches we do have makes me perversely happy.

Hard Drinks for Hard Times: Part II

Now, despite my general affection for cocktails, it’s not for nothing that this blog is called my Whiskey Forge. I’m a fan of whiskey and of those who make it openly or in secret, but the world would be a darker place without bourbon. Booker’s, Old Fitzgerald, Evan Walker, Four Roses—all fine or even sublime in their own right and all are getting tapped as we systematically work through the shelves.

One of the most consistent Kentucky values out there, though, is Bulleit Bourbon. At 90 proof, it’s what I drank to assuage the pain of lopping off chunks of my fingers, it goes into my mom’s Manhattans when she visits, and if I had a dollar for every bottle I’ve bought…we’ll, I’d score a few more bottles once I start buying booze again. F. Paul Pacult over at the Spirit Journal gave it a “superb” rating and I’m right behind him. The grain bill’s high rye proportion is part of the appeal to me, but the sound of the cork popping out of its bottle always brings just the barest little smile of anticipation.

It also doesn’t hurt that while other California stores sell Bulleit for $23-26 per 750ml, good ol’ Trader Joe’s sells it every day for $19.99. That’s a deal whether you’re fully employed or—like me—willfully misapplying a little zen to the world of liquor.

A bittersweet cocktail, swimming with heady notes of orange, corn, rye, and spice. Get you some.
The North Park Cocktail

1 oz Bulleit bourbon
1 oz Aperol
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz dry vermouth
¾ oz Don’s mix

Shake with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass with 2-3 fresh cubes. Garnish, if desired, with a single whiskeyed cherry.

Notes—The name comes from my neighborhood in San Diego where I've only recently discovered little gems that had been here all along. The Bulleit was free (thank you, Tom, Mike, and Gillian); the Aperol had been hidden in the fridge; both vermouths were open and would fade if left unused; for the Don’s Mix, the grapefruit was a gift and the fragrant cinnamon sticks were bought way cheap in bulk from a nearby Middle Eastern grocer last Autumn; and the garnish is from a batch of cherry bounce I put up more than a year ago with about two gallons of, yes, Bulleit.

Total 2009 cost? $0.00.

Suck it, Wall Street.


Friday, February 13, 2009

For Valentine's Day, The Bijou Cocktail

Over the past two months, I've consumed a hefty dose of green Chartreuse, a half-ounce at a time, making Bijoux. That I am in thrall of a well-made Bijou Cocktail is not overstatement, but I'm beginning to wonder what the LD50 of that green herbal liqueur may be...

This baroque little jewel of a cocktail is one of the more underrated I've come across in the past few months.

Since both Erik Ellestad and Paul Clarke have written about it, I'll refrain from my usual essays. It's a potent little bugger, though, full of big tastes, and perhaps not for those who prefer vokda martinis, but if you're feeling the least bit adventuresome, grab a small bottle (even a trial size) and get mixing.

This version, lightly tweaked from Dale DeGroff's The Essential Cocktail, is what's got my motor revvin' this Valentine's Day.
Bijou Cocktail

1 ½ oz Plymouth gin
½ oz green Chartreuse
½ oz Italian sweet vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
Dash of orange bitters (Angostura Orange or Regan's No. 6)
Lemon peel

Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker (including lemon peel). Strain into a small footed glass and drink it while it's still smiling at you.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don’s Mix and the Wood Eye Cocktail

“Would I? Would I?”

~ punchline to a 2nd grade joke

The thing about making mixtures, tinctures, decoctions, and infusions for particular drinks at home is that doing so encumbers one with, frankly, an overabundance of mixtures, tinctures, decoctions, and infusions. In a bar, such things could well be consumed over the course of a single shift. Not so much at home—even my home.

This is not frustrating per se, but when the siren call of beverages calling for yet more homemade ingredients becomes irresistible, it seems a bit…excessive. Other than butter, ginger, a tin of Rougie foie gras, and tubes of Hungarian paprika paste, my refrigerator door is filled to capacity with such bottles. Simple syrup, palm syrup, mint syrup, syrups of ginger, black pepper, mango, and demerara.

But the one labeled Don’s Mix I keep refilling.

Don’s Mix, as revealed by tiki master Jeff Berry, is a 2:1 mix of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice to cinnamon syrup used by Donn “Don the Beachcomber” Beach in his seminal 1934 Zombie Punch. It is a disarmingly simple, but fantastic cocktail ingredient for mixing in a variety of rum drinks, but it’s best used within a day or so ~ a week at the very outside. My solution? I make a big batch and give some to folks I know will make quick use of it, then several little batches using additions of fresh grapefruit juice to the more stable cinnamon syrup.

After my friend Carlo hooked me up with a glut of grapefruit, I made a batch of cinnamon syrup, then started mixing. So far, we’ve made 1934 zombies, Donga Punch, and—among other trials—a potent little experiment I dubbed the Wood Eye Cocktail that brings together three different rums, a dose of lemon, and a few of those bottle contents. Careful, though: despite its diminutive size, too many of these will leave you feeling a little wood-eyed.

Eye Wood. Wooden Ewe?
Wood Eye Cocktail

1 ½ oz Jamaican rum (Appleton V/X)
¾ oz lemon juice, freshly squeezed
½ oz orgeat
½ oz Don’s Mix (see below)
½ oz Pusser’s rum
a float of Lemon Hart 151 rum

Shake all but the Lemon Hart over ice and strain into your favorite tiki mug or an old fashioned glass with fresh cubes. Carefully float enough Lemon Hart 151 on top to give it a discernable layer about as thick as two American quarters or, for our British friends, a one-pound coin. Sip the drink through the top layer and repeat as necessary.

Don’s Mix

2 parts grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1 part cinnamon syrup (below)

I like Dale DeGroff’s take on Don’s Mix in part because his recipe for the cinnamon syrup that goes into it yields an even liter (despite his note that the recipe yields 2 cups) that actually holds its own for several weeks under refrigeration.

Cinnamon Syrup

5 cinnamon sticks, each about 2 inches long
20 ounces bottle or filtered water
1 quart sugar

Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces to create more surface area. But the cinnamon, water, and sugar in a large saucepan over low heat. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved, and then returns the heat to very low simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool completely, then fossil; keep covered in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Oh, and, uh, bad ol' Cashmere.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

MxMo XXXVI: Hard Drinks for Hard Times

Ladies and gentlemen, count your pennies: MxMo XXXVI is on.
On Mixology Monday, bloggers the world over break out spirits, syrups, mixers, bitters, and some downright fancy garnishes, all crowdslurping their way through the rotating host’s monthly theme. Previous themes include Spice, Guilty Pleasures, and Bourbon. This month, I am honored to host MxMo, although the theme—Hard Drinks for Hard Times—could well leave a sour taste.
There’s no denying that times are tight. Consumers are foregoing vacations, expressing new interest in “variety meats,” and otherwise curtailing spending. For some, that means changing how, what, and how often they drink cocktails.

If your 401(k) has taken a beating, or if you or a spouse or friend have been laid off, or if you’re simply hanging on to your wallet for dear life, you’ve probably given some thought to how the economy is affecting your basic expenditures—such as those you make for booze. Here’s a chance to share how you’re drinking during the downturn; whether it’s affordable booze, ways you’re cutting corners, or things you’ve figured out how to mix or make on the cheap, we need to hear it.

The Rules
Mixology Monday—Hard Drinks for Hard Times
  • By Monday, February 16th, mix, consume, and write about an alcoholic drink you’ve made that resonates with the current economic turndown and explain how it addresses the theme. Maybe you’re drinking less, switching brands, thinking about distilling your own, or finally using up those dusty, orphaned bottles of bizarre cordials and regrettably “charming” housewarming gifts.
  • When you post your piece, please email me [see below] or leave a comment here with your link. Please include a photo of your drink with the email. I will include it in a round-up on Tuesday February 17th…Wednesday at the latest if my budget allows for trying as many of your drinks as I can.
  • In your post, please include links to Rowley’s Whiskey Forge as well as Mixology Monday so those who haven’t heard of MxMo can join in. Please also include the MxMo logo on your post (just snag it above).
  • No blog? No problem! Thanks to our good friends at eGullet’s Spirits & Cocktails Forum, every month non-bloggers are invited to chip in their post in a designated thread on the forum. You’ll need to be signed up with eGullet; head on over there for details.
  • Emailing Rowley: You may email me directly: moonshinearchives (at) gmail (dot) com. You know the drill: substitute “@” and “.” as I try to avoid the spammers.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Quitten Time: Quince-Infused Brandy

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

~ The Owl and the Pussycat
Edward Lear

Fill a bowl with quince—hard, knobby little buggers—and their heady aroma will perfume an entire room. The smell is distinct, but tricky to nail down precisely; it’s something like guava mixed with ripe pear or occasionally pineapple. It’s that exotic, old-timey smell tempts me every year to do a quince-and-liquor mashup. Vodka, moonshine, brandy, cognac, and whiskey all yield tasty results, though neutral spirits seem to want more spices added to the mix. I’ve yet to try mixing them up with rum.

In German, quince are called Quitten and, when fermented and distilled, known generically as quitten brand. They are, frankly, a pain in the ass to distill for they must be de-fuzzed of their grey downy mantels and even then yield little juice. But the samples I’ve had are sublime. I strongly encourage each and every still owner to make homegrown quince brandy.

No still? No problem. You can still wrest some of those elusive aromas and taste from these fruits by cold infusions. Here’s what I’m working on now.

Here in California, quince start cropping up at local farmers’ markets in early Autumn—Champion, Orange, Pineapple (the most prominent at market and one of the more heavily scented examples), Smyrna, and Van Deman. We’re near the tail-end of the season now. They all look a bit like malformed yellow pears, and about the same size, though some can grow to into grapefruit-sized monsters. When I stumbled across a bin of them for $0.69, I snagged a load.

Raw, the hard and puckery quince are practically inedible. But cooked, most turn a dark crimson and may become the basis for toothsome little sweetmeats such as membrillo (Spanish quince paste, a nice foil to sheep milk cheeses) and pâte à coing (dark red and sugar-encrusted squares and cubes of French quince).

Me? Come on, now, you already know this: I put ‘em in liquor.

For the past week or so, I’ve given a daily shake to a two-liter jar of shredded quince and Jepson Rare alembic brandy. Two sticks of cinnamon are jammed down in there, too. The goal is that within six weeks I’ll strain off part of the liquid and have a quince-infused brandy for adding specifically to my sidecar cocktails. Maybe with an unorthodox hit of noyau. At some point after that, I’ll strain the remainder, add some palm sugar syrup and have a nice little quince cordial in time for the autumn. This is one cordial that bears a long maturation.

For the base infusion, I washed and thoroughly de-fuzzed four quince, then shredded them with a grater, pitching the hard woody little center with the seeds. This yielded about 700g of flesh. Into a 2-liter jar with two cinnamon sticks and 750ml of brandy. Keep it in a cool, dark place and shake-shake-shake now and again. Age at least six weeks before straining off for quince brandy. For a cordial, strain off the shredded quince and add a sugar syrup to taste, then age at least six months to let it mellow and go all velvet at the edges.