Drink of the Week: The Cru-Zen

the Cru-Zen.People keep sending me free bottles of booze and recipes to go with them, and I keep noting that many of the cocktails developed to promote liquor brands are extremely good…all the better to market the product, after all. I just wish I could tell you the name of the genius who came up with this week’s drink, because I think it’s really superb.

Yes, it features egg white, which never hurts with me, but it’s also introduces some other new ingredients, including bianco (white) vermouth, a product I’ve often seen at my area’s big box liquor stores but which I’ve only just now tried. As the immortal Mr. Spock might have said if he could ever get beyond his Saurian brandy, it’s fascinating stuff and deserves to be featured in a lot more cocktails. Expecting me to be working on that in coming weeks.

Moving on, this week’s sponsor-booze is Cruzan Aged Light Rum, an extremely decent mixing rum with a very decent price point that’s very comparable to the somewhat less complex nationally known light rums. It’s a bit less dry than some of its competitors, with definite hints of vanilla and maybe some extra alcoholic burn. It therefore arguably makes an excellent base spirit foil for an otherwise gentle drink.

I honestly think this week’s week’s drink has the right stuff to become a new cocktail classic for sophisticated sippers seeking out a truly balanced beverage. It’s a thoughtful, more sweet than sour mixture that’s at least as worth contemplating as the sound of one hand clapping.

The Cru-Zen

1 1/2 ounces light rum
1/2 ounce bianco vermouth
1/2 ounce chamomile syrup (see the instructions below)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
1-2 dashes of bitters

Before we can started, a word about that chamomile syrup. I usually strictly avoid any drink that demands I make my own syrup. I like to keep things simple because I don’t want to scare readers away from making these drinks, and also because I’m lazy myself. Still, I broke my own rule because this drink sounded great (I was right) and the camomile syrup is ridiculously easy to make. I basically just submerged a single pure chamomile teabag in four ounces of boiling water for five minutes, as if I was making a double strength cup of tea. I then added four ounces (half a cup) of sugar, stirred a little bit, and voila, syrup…though you probably want to stick it in the fridge for a little bit before actually using it.

Okay, so to make our Cru-Zen, we combine our syrup, rum, and all the other liquid ingredients including egg white. (If you’re using pasteurized commercial egg white, like I generally do, use three tablespoons to approximate one large egg, sans yolk.) First, “dry” shake it without ice, as always being careful to prevent messy explosions powered — I think — by the albumin in egg white. Then, add your ice and shake again very vigorously for about ten seconds.

Next, double strain it into a well chilled cocktail coupe or regular style martini glass. By “double strain” I mean simply running the liquid through a regular fine mesh strainer as well as the standard cocktail strainer to strain out any stray lemon juice pulp. You should wind up with a very nice head foam on top. Finally, add one or two drops of aromatic bitters — Angostura works beautifully here — as a garnish, exactly as you would when making a Pisco Sour. You can toast your favorite zen master or public school teacher, you’ll be in a good mood regardless.

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Lest there be any confusion, I think this is a really amazing drink and a rather sturdy one as well. It was designed for the more flavor-heavy Cruzan rum, but I tried it with an extremely well known, plainer but smoother brand X white rum, and the result was almost equally delightful. I would, however, counsel anyone to stick to the instruction regarding the double straining. I was initially skeptical that it was necessary to strain out the near-microscopic bits of lemon pulp that might end up in single-strained version of the Cru-Zen, but then I tried eschewing the additional strainer, and it wasn’t nearly as good. Apparently, the pulp emphasized the lemon notes and drowned out a number of other flavors.

Also, it’s crucial not to get confused here about what bianco vermouth, sometimes called white vermouth, actually is. The dry vermouth you should use in your martini might also be white, but it’s not bianco. It is actually even sweeter than ordinary red sweet vermouth. Since this was my first bianco experience, I decided to go with the ultimate default brand of Martini and Rossi.

I tend to think of Martini as being a good but basic brand, but I nevertheless found it to be a full bodied product; it’s not surprising to find out that bianco vermouths are hugely popular in Europe, drunk on the rocks with maybe a lemon twist or with carbonated water as a spritzer. A good portion of the really subtle, you might even say zen, aspects of this drink have to do with the many floral flavor notes you’ll find in this product. It’s a beverage I plan to explore further, for sure.

 

  

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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery: A Russian River Valley Classic

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery is a longtime Russian River Valley producer best known for their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Their portfolio contains numerous examples of each and they focus on single vineyard wines, as well as multi-vineyard cuvee-style offerings. Over the years I have found that they have maintained a consistent level of quality and a really appealing house style. Really, it’s not a style so much as a decision to let the grapes and specific vineyards speak instead of hiding their charms with overwrought intervention. I recently tasted through a handful of their 2012 vintage wines. This particular vintage is noteworthy at Gary Farrell for two reasons: it marks their 30th vintage as a producer, and is also the first vintage for winemaker Theresa Heredia who joined them in the spring of 2012.

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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Russian River Selection Chardonnay ($35)

Fruit from ten Russian River Valley vineyards was selected for this offering. After pressing and fermentation with wild yeast, it was aged more than seven months in French oak; 35 percent of the barrels were new. Exactly 6,902 cases of this release were produced. Meyer lemon, toasted hazelnut, and hints of linseed oil present on the welcoming nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is jam-packed with a solid core of orchard fruit flavors, along with bits of pineapple and a bevy of spice notes. Graphite, wet limestone and hints of burnt sugar join continuing echoes of apple and pear on the lengthy finish. This is textbook Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It has just enough oak influence to add some complexity, but not nearly the amount that would overburden it, or distract from all that gorgeous fruit. Serving this Chardonnay a few degrees warmer than the average white allows it to really shine, so resist the temptation to over chill it.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Westside Farms Chardonnay ($45)

This single vineyard effort was produced from fruit sourced exclusively at the namesake vineyard. After fermentation it was aged for eight months in entirely French oak; 40 percent of the barrels were new. About 580 cases were produced. Baker’s spices, toasted almond and yellow delicious apple aromas dominate the nose. The palate is full-flavored and even-keeled. It’s stuffed with spice, orchard fruits, bits of lemon curd and vanilla bean. The long finish is crisp and refreshing with continued fruit and spice. Firm, racy acid adds to the mouth-watering appeal. I paired it with lemon-thyme roasted chicken for a killer match.

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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir ($45)

The fruit for this wine came from nine distinct Russian River Valley Vineyards. Fermentation and aging tool place in French oak; 35 percent of the barrels utilized were new. They produced 9,206 cases of this offering. Wild strawberry and light bay leaf aromas are present on the appealing nose of this Pinot Noir. The palate is loaded with red fruits, savory spices and bits of mushroom. Continued fruit, bits of cocoa and a touch of cola are all present on the long finish. This is a fine example of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery 2012 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55)

All of the fruit for this single-vineyard offering came from the Hallberg Vineyard, which sits in the Green Valley section of Russian River. Fermentation took place in French oak; 40 percent of the barrels were new. Aging took place over 14 month. They produced 1,198 cases. Thyme, bay leaf, strawberry and bits of black cherry are present on the effusive nose of this Pinot Noir, along with wisps of plum pudding spice. Spice box, red and black fruits and bits of earth dominate the chewy palate. Cinnamon, minerals, black tea and pepper spice are all part of the long and deeply layered finish. The Hallberg Pinot was a revelation paired alongside cream of porcini soup.

No surprise here, but this is a lovely quartet of wines from Gary Farrell. The Russian River selections offer classic flavors and qualities that broadly represent the hallmarks of that area. The single-vineyard wines speak of those specific plots of land, as well as the conditions of the 2012 vintage. In short that’s what I’m looking for from those designations. Across the board these wines offer more than sufficient quality for the prices in question. Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery has been a go-to producer for tasty Russian River Valley Wines for 30 years; the 2012 vintage simply reinforces that.

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Drink of the Week: The Big and Stout

the Big and Stout.I see my share of boozy pitches here at Drink of the Week Central and, believe it or not, I ignore a great many of them. Still, I couldn’t ignore the one that came from the melding of the great nations of Japan and Kentucky that we call Beam Suntory. Why is easy to explain.

I’ve been increasingly interested for some time in cocktails that include beer or ale. Also, regular readers will note that I’m mad for drinks that include raw egg whites or, better yet, whole raw eggs. So, no surprise that the Big and Stout immediately caught my attention as it contains both stout and whole raw eggs! It’s also created by Midwestern celebrity chef Michael Symon and I gather he’s a very big deal in Bullz-Eye’s home town of Cleveland. Based on this drink, I’m definitely willing to plunk down $75.00+tip and cocktails for one of this guy’s dinners.

The Big and Stout is, I should add, well named as I’m personally a bit bigger and stouter after drinking it for an entire week, but it’s just about worth it. It’s a full-fledged desert in a glass, a full bodied drink that’s the perfect 100% adult sophisticated milkshake without the milk, wonderfully simple and quite hard to mess up — it’s been pretty much a home run every time I’ve tried it, which is saying something. Let’s not waste any time.

The Big and Stout

1 ounce bourbon (true sophisticates will want Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve)
1 1/2 ounces milk stout/sweet stout
1 whole egg
3/4 ounce simple syrup (or 1 rounded tablespoon superfine sugar)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice first (the famed “dry shake”) to properly emulsify the egg. Be careful; between the egg and the slight carbonation of milk stout, there’s an excellent chance the top of your shaker will want to come off. Add ice and shake again, this time very vigorously. Strain into a well chilled old fashioned or cocktail glass. Toast your feet. Drink enough of these and you might never seem them again, though you probably won’t care.

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So, yes, this drink comes to us courtesy of the gods of promotion over at Jim Beam land and their small batch collection. It was, I gather, created for regular Knob Creek bourbon, but what I actually got was Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve and an old favorite, Basil Hayden’s. It’s a very interesting spread because both of these are thoroughly adult, sophisticated bourbons but at vastly differing strengths. Hayden’s is 80 proof, actually below average strength for an upscale bourbon but well above average in flavor and drinkability. The Knob Creek Single Barrel is a whopping 120 proof and has a full 10 percent more alcohol than regular 100 proof Knob Creek. It’s definitely the good stuff but not for the faint of heart or liver.

I’m delighted to say that both extremes held up brilliantly in a Big and Stout. Sure, the complexity and pure fire of the 120 proof brew gave all the sweet ingredients something they could fight against for a somewhat more complex beverage. Still, the 80 proof Hayden’s was a delight and anything but insipid. I also tried a pretty decent 94 proof brand X bourbon and it was great, too. Frankly, I have a hard time imagining any bourbon failing with this one, and I’m contemplating giving rye a chance.

As for the stout’s, the original recipe called for sweet stouts but that turned out to be nearly impossible to find here in L.A.’s NoHo/San Fernando Valley land. Milk stouts, which have a sweeter flavor thanks largely to some lactose, are much easier to come by and may or may not be synonymous with sweet stouts, I’m still trying to figure that one out. My choices were Moo Thunder Farmhouse Ale and Belching Beaver Brewery’s Beaver Milk. Gotta love the names and both worked really winningly.

Trying to figure out why I like this drink so much may go beyond a simple love of sweet, creamy, ice-cold refreshing booze flavors and have something to do with my love of coffee…which I actually prefer with a decent amount of milk and sweetener, despite my alleged gourmet tendencies and tolerance/love for bitter flavors. Even more than the similar yet very different Coffee Cocktail, this drink really looks and tastes a bit it like a frozen latte but with a very different impact. Maybe that’s it.

  

Drink of the Week: The Berried Treasure

The Berried Treasure.Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Yeah, I know. Just let me say this, whatever side of the various debates around this holiday you are, whether you are joyously in love, miserably alone, happily alone, miserably in love, or on the horns of an incipient bust-up, there’s a good chance tomorrow night will go better for you with the help of a delicious, yet not too excessively potent, alcoholic beverage.

The Berried Treasure is yet another example of my dictum that the recipes that come to me along with free bottles of booze tend to be good to excellent. This is because marketers have a vested interest in making these promotional drinks taste as good as possible and so they tend to involve mixologists who really know what they’re doing. That definitely seems to apply to award winning New York  bartender Christian Sanders, who created this week’s drink to promote Hornitos Reposado Tequila.

Sanders creation is built around a tequila that’s surprisingly complex and tasty, especially at it’s very reasonable price point, and the highly underrated, but not under-priced, flavor of blackberries. Indeed, on a per drink basis, the antioxidant laden berries might well run you more than the booze. It’s also relatively labor intensive for a DOTW beverage, but love and a little work kind of go hand in hand.

The Berried Treasure

2 ounces Hornitos Reposado Tequila
8 blackberries
2 sprigs of rosemary
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup (or 1 heaping tablespoon of superfine sugar)
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Put the tequila, lemon juice, bitters and simple syrup or sugar into a cocktail shaker along with six of your eight blackberries and one of your two sprigs of fresh rosemary. Muddle the blackberries and rosemary,so that you have a nice dark purple mixture. Add plenty of ice and shake very vigorously.

Now, here’s the tricky part for almost everyone who’s not a really experienced amateur or pro-bartender, and even for me. You’ll be double straining all of this into a old fashioned glass with ice cubes, but that’s slightly easier said than done.

The problem is that the pulp gets pretty thick — so thick, it very likely will prevent most of your drink from actually leaving your typical built-in cocktail shaker strainer. So, you’re going to need to use both a standard cocktail strainer like the pro bartenders use and a second mesh food strainer to strain out the pulp. This sounds harder than it actually is. Just hold the shaker with the cocktail stainer over your mesh strainer and allow the liquid to make its way through both strainers into the ice-filled glass. When that’s done, about a minute later, you’ll be ready to add the remaining two blackberries and rosemary sprig as garnishes.

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It might be lot of work compared to the many of the drinks I feature here, but the Berried Treasure is a delightful concoction. It’s almost perfectly balanced between sweet and tart and complements the tang of the slightly mellowed blue agave of the Hornitos Reposada. (I can’t stop you from trying it with other reposados, of course, but I haven’t had a chance to test it out with a Brand X for myself.)

There is one genuine X factor here and it applies to any fresh fruit-based drink, that is the taste of the fruit. I accidentally bought two different brands of on sale (but still pricey) blackberries. The first batch was definitely sweeter and the second more tart, and that definitely impacted the final product. Still, the Berried Treasure was never less than exceptionally good, and you can always add a hair more sugar or simple syrup if you like.

  

Drink of the Week: The Gin Rickey

The Gin Rickey.It’s probably somewhat criminal that it’s taken me so long to get to a drink that’s as simple and classic as the Gin Rickey. Like the Martini, this is a drink that not everyone will cotton to immediately. Indeed, to be very honest I’m still working on acquiring a taste for it myself as it’s more than a little on the tart side for me. No surprise as it contains lime juice and zero sweetener.

Still, this is a drink with a little history and it certainly won’t be bad on a warm day. And, yes, I know it’s January. However, I live in North Hollywood, California and high temps on this side of the L.A. hill are in the eighties this week, so nyah, nyah, nyah East Coasters with your snow and frequently superior public transportation.

The Gin Rickey is named for one Colonel Joe Rickey, a Confederate soldier turned 19th century Democratic Party lobbyist, back when the Democrats were the party of Andrew Jackson instead of Franklin Roosevelt and the Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln instead of Ronald Reagan. Anyhow, it seems that Colonel Rickey was the kind of drinker who frequently needed a morning “eye-opener” to get him over the hangover hump, and somewhere along the way a helpful bartender named George A. Williamson helped him create a drink made with bourbon, seltzer water and a bit of lime juice. Over the years, however, the gin version became far more popular, with its lighter, easier to take flavor, and that’s what we’ve got here.

The Gin Rickey

1 1/2-2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2-5 ounces carbonated water
1 lime wedge or one spent lime shell (garnish)

Build over ice in Tom Collins or highball glass. partly depending on what you’ve got on hand and how much soda water and gin you’d like to use. (Highball glasses are often a bit larger.) Stir. Garnish either with a spent lime shell or, my preference, a lime wedge. Toast carbonated water, for it contains water but also air. That’s two out of four elements!

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I tried this drink a number of different ways and what we’ve got here is, basically, something like a martini. What I mean by that is that it’s a drink that requires a bit of getting used to. It may not be as boozy, but it’s somewhat tart without being at all sweet. I also mean that it seems to work fairly well when you mess around with the proportions, much as both dry and very un-dry martinis can both be perfectly great. On the upside, it is refreshing and about as low-cal as a mixed drink gets.

I tried my Gin Rickey with four different gins. I found I got the best results with both my most expensive gin on hand, Nolet’s and my least expensive, good old Gordon’s. Both added a nice herbal tang to the affair. Tanqueray, somewhere in the middle price wise but a classic product for a reason, was fine but a bit more in your face.

I also read that Old Tom Gin, which is sweetened, could also be used with a Rickey. Oddly enough, however, the little bit of sugar in Hayman’s Old Tom Gin merely set off and thereby emphasized the tartness. Not really an improvement.

The one thing I haven’t tried yet, partly because I ran out of fizzy water and kept forgetting to replace it, is the original Bourbon Ricky. Don’t worry, I’ll give that a whirl some day.

  

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