Drink of the Week: The Brancamenta Giulebbe di Menta

The Brancamenta Giulebbe di Menta. So, yeah, last week we hit Cinco de Mayo pretty good here at DOTW central, and we pretty much ignored Derby Day, but better late than never as we’ve got a very nice Mint Julep variation with a bit of an Italian or perhaps Argentine twist. I’d love to also make a connection to Mother’s Day somehow. Well, if mom likes bourbon and mint, we’ve got something for her, too.

This week’s drink comes to us via the good folks at Four Roses bourbon as well as the manufacturers of Fernet Brancamenta, the lesser known mintier, sweeter cousin of the world’s most hairy chested herbal cult liqueur, Fernet Branca.

There are times when I wonder why I get so much free stuff, as I’m actually pretty honest about how I feel about things in my own polite way. If I seem fairly positive for the most part, it’s probably that most widely marketed premium products taste pretty good, I suppose. Also, if I’m likely to really dislike something I tend to ignore the pitches. At the same time, something that doesn’t wow me on its own might working amazingly well in a cocktail and sometimes, it’s kind of the reverse.

This weeks’s products, however are definitely, right on the money. I’m still trying to figure out what else can be done with the Branca Menta, but I can tell by tasting it that it has great possibilities. The folks in Argentina love it with Coke, I’m told. And Four Roses Yellow Label is just a very good, basic bourbon. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. This week’s cocktail is also pretty good, despite not having any bitters, and it might have been a complete revelation if only I was able to master the art of cracking ice.

Part of the problem is that I tend to make these drinks relatively late at night. It turns out that it takes more to properly crack ice than to simply wrap some ice up in a towel and give in a solid tap. Apparently, you’ve got to whack it with all of your might. Well, I was too afraid of A. Waking somebody up and B. Destroying kitchen linoleum with my little meat tenderizing hammer to give my ice the throttling it needs and deserves. The result was perhaps not as ice cold as it should been. One of these days I’m going to have a julep that’s practically a bourbon Slurpee, and I’m going to love it.

Still, we make do.

The Brancamenta Giulebbe di Menta

2-3 ounces Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
2 teaspoons of sugar
12 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon Fernet Branca Menta
Perrier or other soda water/club soda
Mint sprigs and orange slice (garnish)

Place sugar, mint leaves, and maybe a splace or two of your Perrier or other soda in the bottom of a chilled, tallish glass — Tom Collins or what not — or one of those metal julep cups if you’ve got one.  (I don’t.) Lightly muddle the mint and the sugar. You don’t want to muddle the mint too hard or it might get a tad bitter. You also might have better luck working with the sugar if you use superfine sugar, like I do. (Simple syrup might well work just as well here.)

Add lots of ice — as cracked as you can make it — as well as your bourbon, adjusting a bit for taste between 2 and 3 ounces, and a teaspoon/bar spoon of Brancamenta. Add just a little bit more soda, too. Stir well and throw in some additional mint leaves and a orange slice for a garnish if you like. I think the orange slice helps a bit with the taste.

Once your drink is ready, if you can think of something that’s Italian or Argentinian  and also Kentuckian (for the bourbon), toast it by all means. Make sure it’s good and cold, and drink up.

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This is where I usually comment about different brands and what not, but there’s only one Brancamenta  that I know of. I can’t stop you from trying different bourbon brands with this. It’s a free country and all that. Still, the relative lightness of Four Roses, which is the rare premium bourbon that’s only 80 proof, works well here.

  

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The Paris Manhattan

Paris Manhattan.

There’s a movie out right now called “Paris-Manhattan” but that is actually just a pretty massive coincidence. I haven’t seen this French homage to the films of Woody Allen, but I’m certainly willing to piggy-back on it by accident. What actually happened was I was looking for a cocktail that justified the big bottle of rather expensive St. Germain elderflower liqueur I’d recently sprung for. The Paris Manhattan is what I found.

As it happens, this drink is not an ancient classic like its antecedent, the Manhattan, but was developed in the mid 2000s, reportedly by famed cocktail writer and entrepreneur Simon Difford. (As far as I know, no relation to the very talented Chris Difford of the band, Squeeze.)

Difford apparently was somehow involved in the creation of St. Germain, which has become the go-to elderflower liqueur for almost everyone, and he therefore has a vested interest in this cocktail. Indeed, I personally think he put just a bit too much of it in his drink. No worries, though, because I’ve fixed it!

The Paris Manhattan

2 ounces rye, Canadian, or bourbon whiskey
3/4 ounce St. Germain/elderflower liqueur
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
2 dashes of aromatic/Angostura bitters
1 cocktail cherry or orange twist (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in cocktail shaker or mixing glass and stir vigorously. Strain into glass and add the cherry or orange twist garnish of your choice. Drink to Paris, Manhattan, some other city, or just drink. You’ll be fine.

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I actually tried shaking this one, but it really didn’t work. The extra water and ice crystals simply didn’t add anything, while nevertheless detracting from the flavor.  More importantly, I found that I thought the original recipe, which called for a full ounce of St. Germain, was too sweet — though I liked the results better with the remainder of my nearly consumed Templeton Rye than with Old Fitzgerald bonded bourbon. Oddly enough, no recipes I found online called for any less of the very sweet, you might say honeyish, liqueur.

I nevertheless tried it with only half an ounce of the elderflower liqueur, and that was a major disappointment. It didn’t taste any less sweet but was just kind of sharp in an unpleasant way.  Then, I tried only 3/4 of an ounce with the rye and — because I was running out, just a whiff of Canadian Club Sherry Cask. Bingo.

  

Drink of the Week: The Conhattan

The Conhattan. With St. Patrick’s Day 2013 nearly upon us, we’re featuring the second of two cocktails that claim some sort of association with the Emerald Isle and it’s descendents in the vast Irish diaspora. Last week, we had the delightful, but in no way particularly Irish, Shamrock Sour.

The Conhattan was suggested to me by a representative of a newish brand of Irish whiskey which has divided critics to a certain extent and actually boasts a connection with the town of Livermore. Livermore is not, I must tell you, located near Dublin or in County Cork, but in County Alameda in Northern California, a relative stone’s throw from Oakland and San Francisco. Aside from being the home of the famous/notorious nuclear weapons laboratory, it’s also the home of Concannon Winery, which is legitimately Irish-American but also, well, a winery.

This whiskey is made in Ireland, of course, by a distiller who finishes the whiskey in actual petite sirah barrels from Cali. As for the taste, it might not strike everyone as particularly Irish. While this video argues differently, to me, Concannon Irish Whiskey is probably best enjoyed by those who lean toward Scotch and find Jameson and Bushmills a bit overly soft. It’s very decent, but a bit astringent like a Scotch, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, I think the astringency may just be essential to today’s drink, a very sweet variation on a Manhattan but which differs a great deal from the more classic Irish Whiskey Manhattan, which we featured last year at this time. This time, this whiskey is mellowed not by sweet vermouth, but by a very popular cocktail ingredient we’ve never featured here before — St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Anyhow, let’s get started with a concoction created for Concannon by Dublin mixologist Gillian Boyle.

The Conhattan

1 1/2 ounces Concannon Irish Whiskey
1 ounce St. Germain
1 teaspoon Noilly Prat dry vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 orange twist (garnish)
1 cocktail cherry (somewhat optional garnish)

Put all liquid ingredients into a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Ms. Boyle would have stir just until the drink is “evenly diluted” but I say stir as long as you like, or be a heretic like me and shake the thing. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add the orange peel and, if you like, the cherry, and toast your favorite Irish or Irish-American person, real or imagined.

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I often strip out most of the brand names from my recipes because I like to offer readers the freedom to try out drinks with their own brands and not feel tied to what I happen to be using. This time, however, I really think it’s best to mostly stick with the script as provided by Boyle. I haven’t actually had the opportunity to try the Conhattan with other products, but I strongly suspect this drink would completely fall apart if you attempted it with say, Bushmills or Jameson’s. Much as I adore those highly approachable whiskeys, I strongly suspect that they wouldn’t stand up to this much St. Germain, which is complex but also extremely sweet. Also, you’d have to change the name (“The Bushhattan”??). You could probably cheat by using another brand of dry vermouth than Noilly Pratt, but since it’s been a favorite go-to brand of mine for years now, I see no reason to diverge there.

On the other hand, I am offering readers the option of raising or lowering the amount of St. Germain, for a very simple reason. Very frankly, though I am no stranger to the tooth that is sweet, I found the original recipe, which called for a full ounce of liqueur, overly sweet — good enough for DOTW but very far from a personal favorite.Reducing it to 1/2 ounce, however, produced an extremely nice cocktail on which I’m proud to place my personal stamp of approval. At that amount, the light touch of the elderflower is just sweet enough to properly soften the kick of the Concannon without muffling it outright.

It’s all about balance. Indeed, there’s a place for sweetness on St. Patrick’s Day, as director John Ford — the ultimate Irish-American mythmaker — undoubtedly would have agreed.

  

Drink of the Week: The Shamrock Sour

the Shamrock Sour. Okay, we admit that St. Patrick’s Day is nearly a fortnight away, but the tireless promoters of the alcoholic industrial complex have been hard at work plying me with bottles of top-quality hooch and some intriguing holiday themed recipes to go with them. In this case, we’re talking about my personal favorite member of the Jim Beam Small batch family, Basil Hayden’s. Yes, it’s only 80 proof and therefore less overtly flavoriffic than a typical high quality bourbon, but it mixes so harmoniously, I really can’t say anything bad about it. It’s definitely one bourbon that’s worth trying with just a bit of cold water or maybe some ice cubes. Sort of like a sweeter version of a very nice Scotch.

Nor do I have anything but nice things to say about the Shamrock Sour, a lively variation on a timeless tonic developed by New York mixologist and proprietor, Julie Reiner, who appears to be something of a budding superstar in the bar game. I can’t think of a better final chapter to wrap up the quartet of delicious sours I’ve been featuring in recent weeks.

Now, I would agree with naysayers that the Irish/St. Patrick’s Day bonafides of any bourbon-based beverage are very seriously in doubt — it’s not like Kentucky is any kind of Irish-American enclave. On a more superficial level, the Shamrock Sour isn’t even particularly emerald colored, a bit of very expensive but worth it green chartreuse notwithstanding. Still, if the choice is between good taste and thematic consistency, I have to go with the taste. On the other hand, we’ll be trying out another drink using actual Irish whiskey as the big boozing day approaches. For now, however, I wholly endorse the Shamrock Sour for St. Patrick’s Day, or any other day. Authenticity, be darned.

The Shamrock Sour

2 ounces bourbon (preferably Basil Hayden’s®, naturally)
1/2 ounce green chartreuse
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grapefruit juice, preferably fresh
1/4 ounce agave nectar
1/4 ounce water (to mix with the agave nectar)
1/4 ounce egg white
1 lemon wheel (highly desirable garnish)
1 sprig of fresh mint (even more desirable garnish)

Combine bourbon, chartreuse — a highly distinctive a-little-goes-a-long-way liqueur whose complete formula is known only to a pair of monks in France’s Chartreuse Mountains — and juice in a cocktail shaker. Mix the agave nectar with an equal amount of water to make 1/2 ounce of agave syrup. Add the egg white and, as usual with egg cocktails, shake vigorously before you have added ice.

Then, add ice, shake again very vigorously and pour over fresh ice into a fairly good size rocks glass. Add a lemon wheel and mint sprigs, which I think is actually an important part of the flavor here, particularly the mint. Toast the people of Ireland (who gave us James Joyce), the people of Kentucky (who gave us two of my favorite character of recent pop culture, Raylan Givens and Abraham Lincoln), and why not throw in those Carthusian monks and Julie Reiner while you’re at. I know I’m grateful to all of them.

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This really is an especially well-balanced whiskey sour variation. Aside from the good booze, the agave, and the all important (though viscous and therefore tricky to measure out), egg white, the secret ingredient in here is the grapefruit. In fact, I have to credit this drink for dispelling my childish dislike of the bittersweet citrus fruit with legendarily healthy properties. I hated the stuff as a child and always remembered it as just bitter and ultra tart. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t tried eating the stuff in years. Apart from this drink, I find I now am increasingly tolerant of the stuff. It’s actually about as sweet as it is bitter, sorta kinda like the citrus equivalent of Campari or Aperol.

It’s healthy too. In fact, now I understand that grapefruit might actually help fight type 2 diabetes, an illness genetics — and my outsize enjoyment of food and drink — suggest I might fall prey to. Is it possible this is a drink that could save my life? Well, I’m definitely going to use that excuse the next time I make it.

  

Drink of the Week: The Meyer 100 Proof Bourbon Semi-Sour

Image ALT text goes here.Corrections and retractions time. Though I totally stand behind my creation last year of the Meyer Canadian Semi-Sour, I was perhaps wrong when I described the wondrous Meyer lemon as “partly an orange.” Turns out,  it might actually be partly a Mandarin orange. That would make sense since la wiki tells us that it was once actually a primarily a houseplant in China. The humble plant’s destiny was forever changed, however, after being discovered sometime around the turn of the 20th century by a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee named Frank Nicholas Meyer.

Anyhow, with the return of the Meyer lemon to stores in my vicinity and with my recently rekindled interest in the eggier side of the sour family of cocktails, I decided to see if the juice of the more edible lemon worked as well with 100 proof bourbon as it did with the ever-so gentle, and merely 80 proof, Canadian Club I used last year. I’m happy to say that, if anything, it’s even better — as long as you like your cocktails boozy and sweet as heck.

The Meyer 100 Proof Bourbon Semi-Sour

2 ounces 100 proof (more or less) bourbon
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1/2 large egg white
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 dash orange bitters (very optional)
1 maraschino/cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

If you’ve read my other recent sour recipes, you can probably guess what the drill will be. Combine the bourbon, juice, sugar and (if you’re using them) bitters in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake the contents to emulsify the egg white. Then, add ice, shake a bunch more, and strain into a well chilled rocks glass. Garnish with cherry and salute the late citrus pioneer, Mr. Meyer, and mourn his untimely and mysterious passing in 1918.

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I used my personal default bourbon, the highly underrated, little known, and very reasonably priced Old Fitzergald’s Bonded in Bond 100 proof (aka “Old Fitzgerald Green Label”). I can’t be sure, but I suspect this recipe would also work with very high proof bourbons or something even as meek as Maker’s Mark, which I guess is going to remain 90 proof indefinitely after that brouhaha last week. (All I can say, is where were you people when Canadian Club and countless other brands went from 86 to 80 proof sometime in the 1980s or 1990s?)

Re: bitters. I originally tried using Angostura in this, but found it an unwelcome distraction. Then I tried it without bitters at all, and found the drink absolutely wonderful. Then, I tried it again with Regan’s Orange Bitters and found the drink tasted tangier and even sweeter and not quite as much to my personal liking. However, one of my test subjects here at DOTW Manor was very pleased with this version, so I’m leaving you the option of throwing the orange bitters in. Try it both ways, I say.

Finally, there is the question of how you determine that you’re using half an egg white. I’m sure there’s a way to do that with measurements — though measuring egg whites can be a hassle, or you can do like I’d probably do and just sort of eyeball it. This time, I took the easiest and least wasteful way out and just doubled up and made two Meyer 100 Proof Bourbon Semi-Sours at the same time. This is a drink worth sharing.

 

 

  

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