Drink of the Week: The Montenegro Sour

The Montenegro Sour. Lately, we’ve been featuring a few cocktails made with really good booze sent to me by the dark forces of the liquor-industrial complex. Today’s post is a bit different as the much appreciated gift of free booze came not from some shadowy Sidney Falco, but from Ron Shishido, a very old junior high/college buddy who’s probably taught me how to appreciate a good booze concoction as much as anyone else on this planet, including Rachel Maddow.

Amaro Montenegro is, on it’s own and served neat, quite a lovely drink. It’s a member of the amaro family of bittersweet liqueurs which occasionally pop up in cocktails. It’s popular enough in Italy to be featured in a series of slick commercials of the kind we use to sell highish-end beer in the States, and that’s for a reason. With a hard-to-pin down but relatively fruity flavor, it’s a kinder, gentler, vastly more drinkable brew than, say Torani Amer or the superior — but still two-fisted — Amaro CioCara. As bitter digestifs go, this one’s pretty sweet.

Perhaps because it’s so readily drinkable all on its own, I had a hard time finding a cocktail made with this particular amaro. However, Food and Wine bloggers Carey Jones and John McCarthy came to the rescue with a few recipes. I chose one featuring my all-time favorite non-alcoholic cocktail ingredient, egg white.

I’m not sure the drink is so accurately named, however. Whatever alleged citrus flavor there is comes from the mysterious herbal blend from which Amaro Montenegro is made, so it’s really more bitter, in a good way, than sour.

On the plus side, that means no potentially messy juice squeezing is required this time around and that definitely speeds up the cocktailing process. That’s good because I’m breaking my usual rule against recipes requiring home-made syrups. Yes, there’s a tiny bit of extra work involved, but be bold and read on.

The Montenegro Sour

1 ounce Montenegro Amaro
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 fresh egg white or equivalent (see below)
1/2 ounce honey syrup (see below)
1 dash aromatic bitters, Angostura or similar

Combine the Amaro Montenegro, bourbon, syrup, and bitters in cocktail shaker. First, as always with egg or egg white cocktails, we do a “dry” shake without ice to emulsify it. Then, we shake again, very vigorously and with plenty of ice, and strain it into a chilled cocktail glass or smallish rocks glass. We then enjoy this delightfully refreshing beverage and toast our amaro’s namesake, Princess Elena of Montenegro, the World War II-era queen consort of Italy known, for the most part anyway, for her good works.

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Despite the fact that I often tell publicists with recipes that make-it-yourself syrups are off the table, I decided to make an exception this week for a couple of reasons.

First. the honey syrup for this recipe is ridiculously easy to make. Just mix equal parts honey and hot water, then stir. I put 1/4 cup of honey and that much water in the microwave for 30 seconds, stirred the stuff, and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes so it wouldn’t be too hot. Low on both muss and fuss.

The second reason we’re using the honey syrup is that I actually tried this drink more than once with my usual Master of Mixes Simple Syrup and it just didn’t do the trick. Too simple. Apparently, you need that little bit of honey flavor to complement the bourbon and amaro.

I used three different brands of bourbon. The always outstanding 80 proof Basel Hayden’s yielded a nectary result that went down very easy indeed. 94 proof Wathen’s, a brand that’s I recently bought out of curiosity and which I’m quite liking, produced a boozier, but also more full bodied, result.

Finally, there was the version using an old DOTW favorite that’s been returning to my local stores of late, “bottled in bond” 100 proof Old Fitzgerald, which remains the best bourbon bargain I’ve found at, in my case, less than $15.00 for a bottle. It produced a sweet, tangy, and very punchy attitude adjuster that, at that particular moment, was very much what the doctor ordered. Admittedly, however, that doctor would not be a liver specialist.

Finally, I have to add a few more words on the enormous power of egg whites to really transform a drink. Contrary to the common assumption, whites in drinks are not even slightly slimy but add a smooth, almost milky, froth to a drink. The froth smooths over the rough edges of the other flavors and unites them as well as anything I’ve ever experienced.

Still, many folks resist, and not all of their reasons are bad. I’ve been talking to an expert or two lately about what I still believe are the very low risks of using raw egg white. However, I’ve been told that, for people who are concerned, caution may still be in order especially right now for a number of reasons, cost-related reductions in government inspection among them, no doubt. (God forbid big government should stand in the way of a microbe’s ability to grow and prosper in a free-market environment.)

I just crack open a large egg and maybe wash the shell first. However, people with real health concerns of any kind  about this should very definitely consider using about 1-1.5 ounces of one of the many brands of pasteurized egg white on the market.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Pilar Old Cuban

The Pilar Old Cuban.A really topnotch new brand of dark rum, fresh lime juice, a little sweetness, some fresh mint leaves, champagne…what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, really. Nothing at all. It’s just…

I have to be honest with you — I don’t really feel like I’ve nailed this week’s drink, not quite. Yes, it’s refreshing and fairly well balanced, it’s base spirit is kind of spectacular, easily one of the best products I’ve ever been lucky enough to get for free. However, the final flavor profile just didn’t wow me as much as you’d expect, especially given how good the main ingredient really is and, really, how sound this recipe — a variation of a drink that’s been around for awhile — really seemed on paper.

At the same time, I have a confession to make, but we’ll get to that in the post-recipe section of this post.

The Pilar Old Cuban

2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6-8 fresh mint leaves
2 ounces brut champagne/dry sparkling white wine

Muddle the mint leaves lightly in a cocktail shaker. Add the rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters (very important or this drink will come out way too sweet…I know because I forgot them on my first attempt at this drink), lots of ice, and shake vigorously.

Strain into an extra large cocktail glass (double strain if you’re fussy about bits of mint leaf getting into the drink). Top off with two ounces of cold champagne/sparkling white wine. Toast the real life elderly Cuban person of your choice. Mine would be the late Ruben Gonzalez, the wonderful, gentlemanly pianist featured in Wim Wenders’ 1998 music documentary, “The Buena Vista Social Club.”

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Today’s cocktail appears to be a variation of a drink reportedly invented by famed bartender Audrey Saunders, which features a premium rum from a far better known brand and is simply known as The Old Cuban. As mentioned above, the base spirit in today’s drink is the truly extraordinary Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum, which is dynamite stuff. This very flavorful expression, which has strong hints of vanilla and a lot of molasses to it, makes a truly fantastic Old Fashioned. It’s got so much natural flavor and sweetness that you can make that drink with just 1/2 a teaspoon of raw sugar.

Nevertheless,  I chose to make the Pilar Old Cuban instead. If I really did make a mistake on this version that kept it out of the cocktail stratosphere, I’d hazard a guess that it was — and here’s my confession — my use of a pretty darn cheap champagne to finish off the drink.

Yes, I ignored the obvious disapproval of a local liquor purveyor who tried to steer me towards a $12.00 bottle of bubbly. I simply wasn’t in the mood to spend that kind of a money on an ingredient that wasn’t even really the star of the show and it’s not like I’d get to use the unused champagne on future cocktails. So, I went with a $5.00 brand that you may well have consumed at a not-too-upscale champagne brunch.  Maybe that’s what did it, or rather, didn’t quite do it.

So, it’s possible I missed the point here. Try this drink with a really good brand of champagne, especially if you’re going to be opening a bottle of the stuff anyway. You can experiment with a little less simple syrup, or try it with superfine sugar instead, maybe just a tablespoon full or slightly more. Or, you could just listen to the beautiful playing piano playing of the later Mr. Gonzalez, which makes everything perfect.

  

Drink of the Week: The Blackthorn Cocktail (Harry Craddock Version)

The Blackthorn Cocktail.I totally blew it last week, St. Patrick’s Day wise. I decided, therefore, to atone for my sin this week with the most severe Irish whiskey based cocktail I could find. And so we present the Blackthorn Cocktail, which sounds a little bit like it was named after the villain of a 1950s swashbuckler with Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger.

This drink appears in, among other places, Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but finding a human being who’s actually had one today will be a challenge — even many cocktail bloggers seem to avoid this one. Superstar booze maven Gary Regan adapted it into a more popular version which, to begin with, substitutes sweet vermouth for the dry stuff used in this version. Maybe we’ll get to that one eventually, but I don’t hold with some of the disdain this Blackthorn Cocktail has generated. It might not be sweet treat, but neither is a martini, and we like those, right?

The Blackthorn Coctail

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon absinthe
3 dashes Angostura/aromatic bitters

This is an easy one. Just combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with your usual massive amount of ice. Shake, yes, shake this drink vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the classic cocktail purists who, for once, allow us to shake a drink that contains no citrus. Aye and begorrah!

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I admit that the Blackthorn Cocktail is what you would call a sophisticated drink, it’s definitely not for everyone. On the other hand, it’s actually no more inaccessible than a 50/50 martini (i.e., 50% gin and 50% dry vermouth) or a Dry Manhattan, both of which have their share of similarities with the Blackthorn.

It does have that tiny bit of absinthe — a classic case of a little going a long way. Here, however, it goes just the right distance,. I should note that my 1/2 teaspoon of the formerly notorious wormwood liqueur is different from the original Craddock version, which calls for three dashes. Maybe I should just purchase an eye dropper, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to get a dash out of an ordinary, non-squirt top bottle. Anyhow, I liked my results this way. The licorice-like flavor of anise centers this drink.

I tried the Blackthorn Cocktail with two different Irish whiskey brands. Generally speaking, I prefer Bushmills  — love the stuff, actually — but the more assertive flavor of Kilbeggan worked very nicely and resulted in a somewhat livelier drink. As for my vermouth, I did most of my Blackthorns with Martini, which was very good. Thirsting for more adventure, I finally got around to trying the cocktails hipster’s choice these days, Dolin Dry Vermouth. It’s a less dry dry vermouth, if you follow me, that actually puts me a bit in mind of the now either hard to find or all but nonexistent stateside Noilly Pratt Original Dry Vermouth. It’s maybe a bit more complex and sells for roughly double the price. Similarly to when I used the Killlbeggans, the Dolin made for a slightly livelier, crisper libation.

  

Praying for poker

There’s a new kind of bible in town – and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.

We all know games of cards for what they are – a social pastime that can get men and women together in a variety of situations, from informal game nights to fighting to the death poker rounds. Poker, by its very nature, is a game, and is often overlooked in the media, save for a few references in Robert DeNiro movies.

Lights, camera, action

This is to become a thing of the past however, as the geniuses over at Titan Poker have added a new facet to their world of online gambling. The poker addicts have fused the controversial topics of religion and gambling, coming up with a recipe for laughter – the poker bible.

As its blurb states, The Poker Bible is a humorist book made up for poker fans connecting both the world of the Bible and its scripts and that of the poker game. The Bible, as it is so blasphemously known, has also been transformed into a tongue in cheek cartoon movie, with a trailer voice over so familiar you might just think you’re listening to Morgan Freeman.

Watch this trailer and you might just think you’re watching Morgan Freeman.

Not quite so black and white

So how exactly can the chalk and cheese topics of gambling and religion be married up into a new fad? Well it would appear that the two are not quite so different after all. In fact, many people think that poker evolved just 150 years ago, when in reality, the game has been proven to have dated back to biblical times.

Keeping everything very tongue in cheek, Titan Poker’s Poker Bible mirrors the words and phrases of the original Christian bible, and even has its own set of commandments by which to live (for the really keen poker players among us.) ‘Thou shall not bluff frequently against thine neighbor’ is just one of the cheeky rules, others of which include ‘honor your dealer’ and ‘remember to play the right cards and keep them holy.’

poker-and-the-bible-cover-1

While it may not get you into heaven, the Poker Bible is the poker fan’s go to guide for the rules and regulations of poker, without having to get too bogged down in the details. If good old fashioned praying and church attending isn’t working out for you, you may just find yourself a little more fortunate in life if you stick to this good book.

  

Cigar Boxes

Clásica caja de puros

Superior Storage

There are many pieces literature to be found that detail the different types and blends of tobacco, leaves and growing methods used in the making of cigars. As we well know, such factors have an important bearing on the quality and taste of the final product, but these elements are not the sole influences. The unsung hero of the cigar world is an excellent storage box that will empower you to maximize the flavourful goodness.

Since the Eighteenth Century, cigars have traditionally been housed and cured in wooden cigar boxes. In times past, the mode and method of such storage was valued highly – however, in our industrially-driven modern-age, cigars are mass-produced and increasingly wrapped and contained in contemporary materials such as cellophane or cardboard.

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