Monday, February 20, 2012

Mixology Monday: Mai Tai Jellies

Sam Bompas and Harry Parr form the firm of, well, Bompas & Parr. Over in the UK, the two are a bit of media darlings. Even if you’ve never heard of the British duo, you perhaps have dabbled in their medium yourself. Sam and Harry, you see, work in gelatin. They have joined the ranks of those who traffic in whores, wars, fishes, and cheese. In their own words, they are jellymongers.

In a house free of children — and in possession of a full set of teeth — the preparation of quivering desserts and congealed salads made of brand-name gelatin does not occupy an appreciable amount of my time. But on rare occasions, I do use unflavored gelatin to stabilize some desserts and to make old-fashioned tea, wine, fruit, or cream jellies.

As pedestrian as the stuff seems today, there was a time when jellies were terribly fancy, palpable evidence that eaters were in the presence of wealth. To start, they were a pain to create; calf’s feet were most often called for in old recipes — hours and hours of boiling, simmering, draining, straining, and purifying (read: servants). Because jellies need to be chilled to set, one had to have either ice or refrigeration. Sure, fridges are ubiquitous now, but in 1790, 1869, or 1901, that was simply not true; great ingenuity and expense were required to get a jelly to gel in warm settings. Elaborate copper molds came into play, and shapes ranged from fanciful to downright architectural.

I’ve been pawing through the American edition of Bompas & Parr’s first book, Jellymongers, with an eye toward making a few jellies that are a step above the usual wobbly suspects. There are fresh citrus jellies, ribband (i.e., striped) and marbled jellies, gold-flecked, booze-spiked, and glow-in-the-dark jellies*.

My opportunity came when drinks writer Doug Winship offered to host this month’s Mixology Monday, the more-or-less monthly roundup of drinks on a changing theme. This month, it’s Tiki, a subset of drinks lashed with rum and laced with fresh fruit juices — and that regular readers may know is dear to my heart.

Tiki’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years since the 1930’s, but one of its iconic drinks, the Mai Tai, remains an immensely popular drink. Bompas and Parr know this and they’ve turned their limpid jelly eyes on that classic mid-century cocktail for inspiration. I’ve seen over the years many recipes for Mai Tai-flavored ice creams and sorbets, icebox bars, face masks (yeah, I wasn’t tempted), and more. Most of these recipes are for sweets and many of them omit an essential ingredient: orgeat.

Not these two. Their recipe includes the almond syrup called for in echt Mai Tais. For Winship’s Tiki Mixology Monday, I offer not a drink, but quivering, quavering, wobbly shapes: Mai Tai Jellies.

Mai Tai Jellies

Bompas & Parr use 5 sheets of leaf gelatin in their recipe, but I’ve converted their recipe to one deploying Knox powdered gelatin because that's what I had on hand when Winship emailed me. The London-based duo regard the powdered stuff in a dim light and prefer the leaf version. I've also rounded off their “scant ¼ cups” to 2 ounces. Note that a thin layer of almond oil or neutral vegetable oil applied with a pastry brush to the interior of the mold makes removing the Mai Tai jelly, once set, much easier. I used drinking glasses as molds to create about 5.5-ounce jellies. One could, in a collegiate state of mind, simply make these into several one- or two-ounce jelly shots.

8 oz medium Jamaican rum [I disregarded "medium" and used a mix of 5 oz Appleton Estate 12-year with 3 oz Smith & Cross]
5 Tbl orange curacao [Cointreau]
5 Tbl orgeat (see below)
2 oz 1:1 simple syrup
2 oz lime juice
2 packets (14g total) powdered gelatin [Knox; for a softer set, use 10-11g]
Mint leaves

Combine the rum, curacao, orgeat syrup, sugar syrup, and lime juice in a saucepan.

Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface of the liquid. Leave the gelatin to soften for 10 minutes. Gently, gently heat the liquid (do not bring it to a boil), stirring constantly, until the gelatin is melted.

Once the gelatin has totally melted, pour the whole lot through a strainer and into a pitcher.

Pour this mixture into a prepared mold or glasses (see above) and set it in the refrigerator at least four hours, but 12 will give it a stronger set.

When you are ready to serve, unmold and garnish with the sprig of mint.
Next Thanksgiving, why not ditch the ribbed cranberry jelly and serve slices of these? Edit later that night: I don't usually just fire off a post here, especially one with a recipe, but time was tight and I broke with tradition in the interest of meeting the Mixology Monday deadline. Consequently, I didn't play with this recipe as much as I might normally do. Although we liked the softer set version of the recipe above, keep in mind that this is a lot of alcohol for what seems like a simple Jello-O type dessert. These would be absolutely fine as jelly shots, the purpose of which is to convey a bunch of booze at one go. Despite the inclusion of orgeat, though, one of the crucial ingredients missing here is ice. When drinking a Mai Tai, the dilution of slowly melting ice makes all the difference between a strong, boozy drink and once that soothes and relaxes. So, on a whim, one of the boys popped his Mai Tai jelly in the microwave for 25 seconds, just melting it without getting it too warm, then mixed in a handful of crushed ice. The result: a regular Mai Tai with an unexpected round mouthfeel. Next thing you know, two more glasses went in the machine. Stayed wholly liquid until the very last few sips.

Goes well with:
  • Fortunately, orgeat is much easier to find now than a few years ago, thanks to syrup purveyor monger BG Reynolds. If you don’t see any locally, the company ships.
  • *Glow-in-the-dark jellies? You bet. Ever been in a nightclub and notice that your gin & tonic glowed like a purplish blue beacon? The effect is caused when ultraviolet black lights hit quinine, an ingredient in the tonic water. Quinine fluoresces under UV. Bompas & Parr leverage this quirk of chemistry in the book to create glowing jellies with gin, tonic, rose water, and gelatin. Images of their SFMOMA glowing funeral jellies are here.
  • Converting leaf to powdered gelatin recipes is tricky. Different grades and producers mean that there's no standard conversion for "x number of leaf gelatin = y teaspoons of powdered gelatin." But the good news is that converting to weights makes things easier and there's a detailed discussion over at eGullet that outlines how one goes about doing that. 
  • Leaf gelatin's not at all hard to find; it's just that I had none on hand, am getting ready to head to Bourbon Country for work, and didn't have the time to fuss with having some shipped. If you want to try some, King Arthur sells good quality stuff here.

Harry Parr and Sam Bompas (2011)
Jellymongers: Glow-in-the-Dark Jelly, Titanic Jelly, Flaming Jelly
160 pages (hardback)
Sterling Epicure
ISBN: 1402784805

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Judging Artisan Spirits, 2012

I'm off to Kentucky next week for the annual judging of American craft spirits. I'll be joined in Louisville by some cocktail types, including San Francisco barman H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir, Audrey Saunders of  Pegu Club fame, and Flavien Desoblin of New York's Brandy Library. There will be distillers on board as well, rum specialists, and booze hounds (and I mean that in the most respectful manner) aplenty. Thirteen judges in all.

Under the imprimatur of the American Distilling Institute, three panels of judges will evaluate 244 spirits from nearly 100 distilleries over the course of two days. That breaks out as:
  • 45 rums
  • 60 brandies
  • 139 whiskeys
Gins, absinthes, and other spirits rotate through during other years (I'll do my best to advocate for a bitter/amari category now that so many American examples are coming onto the market). I won't know until I arrive, but I suspect I'll be on the whiskey panel which will tackle not just craft bourbons, but malt, wheat, rye, corn, and clear whiskeys as well as a catch-all "other" category. The rum judges will nose, swirl, and spit in six categories while the brandies are broken into five groups; grappa, brandy from grapes, non-grape aged brandies, non-grape unaged brandies, and fruit infusions.

No, no, no. It will be nothing like this.

Even if I am with the whiskey group, I'll be getting into the brandies as, ahem, "research" for my upcoming Tales of the Cocktail session on American non-grape brandies with Paul Clark and Bobby Heugel.

Results of the ADI judging will be announced at the annual ADI conference this coming April 1-4 in Louisville. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bookshelf: Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon (and a Bacon Glossary)

Ari Weinzweig’s book on the topic holds few revelations for those well-versed in the literature of bacon — but, really now, I keep shelves of treatises on pork and have dabbled in home curing for decades, and even I admit that the very concept of a literature of bacon teeters on the cusp of a hipster enthusiasm matched only by the zeal of neophyte cocktologists. A literature of bacon? A porcine canon?

Well, yes.

Set aside for the moment the modern mania for bacon and the question of when our taste for the stuff may begin to flag (though Weinzweig hasn’t: Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon also comes in a limited-release cloth printing and a leather-bound version for insatiable bacon completists). The book explains, in plain and sometimes effusive language, why we ought to gush so much over well-made bacon. Not just any bacon: truly good stuff, truly made well.

Readers accustomed to mass-market bacon may wonder what all the modern fuss about pork bellies is about. I mean, it’s good, but is it that good? In short, yes. With all due deference to Socrates’ aphorism about the unexamined life, I put it to you that neither is the unexamined BLT worth eating.

For those who aren’t quite convinced of that, Zingerman’s Guide is perhaps the best introduction to bacon and the men and women who make some of what Weinzweig considers the best around. I have tasted many of these bacons, and can affirm: the people who make them know their stuff. Their firm and flavorful cured bellies put to shame grocery store claimants to the name “bacon.”

What modern bacon zealot doesn’t know of Allan Benton, for instance? He’s here, in typical humility, along with his secret for making world-glass bacon (“Well, Ari, the secret is that there is no secret. This is just the way bacon was made years ago.”). So are profiles of many of today’s working artisans; Bill Robertson from Kentucky, Virginia’s Sam Edwards, Tanya Nueske from Wisconsin, and Felix Schlosser of Arkansas who makes a wet-cured bacon flavored with long pepper, a spice once favored by Roman cooks who paid as much as three times the price of black pepper for the exotic spice.

Weinzweig goes into some detail not just on American bacons, exploring the wet- and dry-cure divide, but looks at other traditions as well, including British, Irish, and Italian species of the stuff. The book wraps up with over 40 recipes using bacon (rather than, say, making your own). Dishes include bacon fat mayonnaise (so arresting an idea it’s featured in the book’s subtitle), cheddar bacon scones, pimento cheese, grits & bits waffles, oyster and bacon pilau, and chocolate and bacon fat gravy.

And what guide doesn’t include a degree of hand-holding? This one includes a handy gloss to deciphering bacon terms you’re likely to come across if, like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing the literature of bacon. From Ari Weinzweig’s Zingermans Guide to Better Bacon, here’s a


Bacon: Over here in the U.S., cured and usually, though not always
smoked pork belly.

British Bacon: Today, this generally refers to the back and not the
belly, cured in a brine solution but not smoked.

Canadian Peameal Bacon: Pork loin cured in a wet brine solution
and then rolled in cornmeal. The real thing is sold raw and
never smoked.

Dry Cure (a.k.a. Country Cure): Raw pork rubbed and then set into
a dry solution of salt, sugar and spices (instead of a brine) to
cure the pork before it's smoked.

Fatback: The strip of fat from the top of the hog's back, above the
loin. Used extensively in old-style American cooking, it really has
no meat on it whatsoever. In the South you'll still see places selling fried fatback. Typically used to make lard and cracklins.

Flitch: The old English word for a side of bacon.

Green: The British term for cured but unsmoked bacon.

Guanciale: Italian-style pork jowl, dry-cured and unsmoked.

Irish Bacon: Same as British bacon, but often used for boiling.

Lardo: Italian-style pork back fat, dry-cured in slabs for months.
Sliced and eaten raw.

Long Back or Long Middle: Used in England to describe bacon sold
as loin with belly still attached.

Pancetta: Dry-cured but unsmoked Italian-style bacon made from
pork belly.

Rashers: Slices of bacon, to a Brit.

Streak o' Lean: Like fatback, but with (at most) a small strip of meat
in it. Michael Stern, writing in Roadfood, says, "streak o' lean pro-
vides maximum piggy flavor. If you never can get enough bacon,
it's the breakfast meat for you." Sometimes smoked, sometimes
 not. Also like fatback, streak o' lean can be floured and deep-fried to make a crisp little bacony snack.

Streaky Bacon: What British people ask for when they want American-style belly bacon.

Wet Cure: Bacon that spends a good bit of time in a saltwater brine,
most often, though not always, with sugar and spices.

Wide: The wide side of the pork loin as it's used for bacon—it's
from further up the top loin, toward the shoulder.

Ari Weinzweig (2009)
Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon: Stories of Pork Bellies, Hush Puppies, Rock n Roll Music and Bacon Fat Mayonnaise.
240 pages (hardback)
Zingerman’s Press
ISBN: 0-964-89564-1

Goes well with:
  • That leather-bound printing can be found here.
  • Hit the sauce a little too hard last night? Try some bacon dumplings for a wicked hangover
  • Weinzweig gushes about this guy and so have I: Maynard Davies has three — count 'em, three — bacon books in print. I covered his autobiographical Secrets of a Bacon Curer and Adventures of a Bacon Curer here, but if you're looking to actually cure your own bacon, be certain to check out his Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bar and Cocktail Library up for Sale

A secondhand story came to me from a friend of Louis Szathmary, the great cookbook and culinary ephemera collector. Szathmary, owner of over 10,000 food and drinks books in addition to some 17 semi-trailers of culinary postcards, kitchen tools, dining sets, drinking vessels, and more explained his desire to hand over his collections as he grew older. “Every collector,” he said “has two great joys. The first is the hunt. The second comes later; it is giving away the prize.”

If you collect historical cocktail and drinks material and have not yet reached the point where you wish to divest yourself of your collections, there’s good news: the hunt is on.

Cocktologists would kill you in your sleep for just one
Brian Rea, onetime bartender at New York’s 21 Club and the Little Club, was tending bar back in the Mad Men days and later developed bar management programs for UCLA and Cal Poly University. He came to be known, by those in the know, as having one of the most extensive collections of bartending books in the world. Most of that collection is now in Germany, but Brian emailed earlier this week with word that he’s ready to sell off the remainder.

He writes:
About five years ago I sold the bulk of my Barchives Library and Collection, and I am offering for sale, the balance of the collection, which consists of:
  • 300 plus Cocktail books, many of them quite scarce
  • “21 Club” collection
Plus artwork, old labels, discontinued liquor brands, bar utensils, ephemera and other good stuff. If there is additional information about any of these items desired, just contact me at my email address,

This unique collection could be an excellent reference library for book collectors, distillers, importers, U.S. Bartender Guild Chapters, liquor distributors, Hotel Restaurant Administration colleges, etc.

I prefer to sell the collection in its entirety, as that enhances the value of the entire library, but if that is not possible, will sell same by category, or possibly by individual books online, and in chronological sequence.

If you are interested in obtaining a list of the collections contents, please send an email to to obtain a copy. I will be posting the date of the sale on February 21, 2012, as well as the method of bidding.
As you may know, I'm a food and drink book collector myself. I’ve just bought a house, though, and dipped into the book budget to do it, so I won’t be buying Brian’s collection. Before Germany claims the rest, you may want to email him.

Please note: I’ve got nothing to do with the sale, can’t answer questions about titles, conditions, prices, methods of payment, or any of that. I’m just passing on word. Follow Brian’s directions above for getting in touch with him and check out his website, (where, I imagine, more details will be forthcoming).

Happy hunting.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rowley & Clarke on American Brandy at Tales of the Cocktail 2012

Last July, Dan Farber objected — politely, gentlemanly, pointedly — to the tight focus of Paul Clarke's session on applejack at Tales of the Cocktail. Clarke, an avuncular editor of Imbibe magazine and a frequent speaker at Tales, stayed on topic. Where are the European-style eaux de vie in this conversation? the California distiller wanted to know. Where are the other orchard spirits that American distillers have been making?

Farber's challenges sounded an awful like like an invitation. Even at the time, I recall, Clarke beamed and responded with something like "You're absolutely right. That's a great idea for a session next year." I had already wrapped up my own standing room only session with Max Watman on new American distilleries and could only smile as Clarke and I exchanged glances. You see, I dote on bourbon, I drink an awful lot of rum, but brandy? Good brandy makes me go weak at the knees.

In the intervening seven months, the two of us kicked around the possibilities for a session on American brandies. Not the whole time, mind you, but enough to agree on a pitch. Word came from New Orleans yesterday: we're on.

Plenty of details to be ironed out in the next few months, but here's the session in broad strokes:
For much of the nation’s history, applejack, peach brandy and other fruit spirits were key characters in the realm of American drinks. Today, bartenders and craft distillers are rediscovering the appeal of fruit spirits, and this is the most dynamic era in generations for the production and use of these brandies.

This session will cover some of the background of spirits made from apples, peaches, pears and other fruits, and the ways these spirits were historically made and consumed. The session will also explore today’s realm of American-distilled fruit spirits, from the rich character of aged apple and peach brandies to ethereal eau de vie, with an emphasis on the ways these spirits are produced and a look at some of today’s most distinctive distillers of fruit spirits. Panelists will also discuss the use of fruit spirits in cocktails, from classic drinks made with aged apple and peach brandies to special considerations that should be taken when mixing with eau de vie.
Location, date, time, etc. to come in early March. All I know for now is that I'll be back in New Orleans' French Quarter this July 25th-29th.

[edit: The brandy session is still on, but there's been a change in the lineup. See here to see who's on deck.]

Goes well with:
  • Tales of the Cocktail is a nonprofit based in New Orleans dedicated — in its own words — to the advancement of the craft of the cocktail through education, networking and promotion. Check out its website and Twitter feed. Its name is also dropped occasionally as Shit Bartenders Say.
  • Dan Farber makes brandy in California, including a lovely French-style brandy made from California apples that's been sleeping in barrels since Roseanne last aired. Check out his distillery at
  • As @cocktailchron, Paul Clarke is also on Twitter. Paul's not only a friend of mine, but one of the first journalists who actually got the story right of what modern the American moonshine scene looks like in a 2009 issue of Imbibe. For that alone, a gold star always appears next to his name in my book.