Drink of the Week: Picon Punch

Picon Punch.Happy New Year! By now, a lot of you are probably wondering about the wisdom of ever having another alcoholic beverage. Some of you, perhaps, are just getting started. Either way, I hope you’re having a good, but also highly survivable, first day of 2016.

Apparently invented and perpetuated by Basque settlers and their descendants in California and Nevada, Picon Punch as you and I are likely to enjoy it is something of an approximation. That is because it’s traditional chief ingredient isn’t really available in the United States or, arguably, anywhere else.

You see, even if you are able to grab a bottle of Amer Picon from France, we are told, the original formula was drastically altered by lowering the amount of alcohol. If you’d like a reasonably authentic Picon Punch, your two choices are doing a great deal of research and work to try and make your own version of the now borderline nonexistent real thing, or you can do what almost everyone does and use Torani Amer. That’s an amaro manufactured by a company far better known for making the syrups that both bars and old-style indie coffee houses rely on —  almond flavored orgeat, for example. Torani Amer is available here in California and perhaps nearby Southwestern states, presumably to feed the appetites of the still robust Basque community.

In other words, if you find yourself in the still largely rural areas around Bakersfield, your musical choices should be local country legends Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Your cocktail choice might as well be a Picon Punch especially since, as booze historian Ted Haigh wrote a few years ago, nearly every bar in Bakersfield stocks Torani Amer.

Picon Punch

2 or 2 1/2 ounces Torani Amer (Amer Picon substitute)
1 teaspoon or 1 ounce brandy (float)
1 teaspoon grenadine
Soda water
lemon peel (optional garnish)

Combine the Torani Amer and grenadine in a collins or highball type glass, stir. Add soda water and ice, but leave a little bit of room on top for your brandy float. Stir again, if you like (I like) and add your brandy float. Sip and wish the world, which has such marvels as Picon Punch in it, a very happy new year.

*****

So, I basically tried two versions of Picon Punch: a super-potent iteration featuring 2 and 1/2 ounces of the nearly 80 proof Torani Amer and a full ounce of brandy on top, and a kinder, gentler variant with only 2 ounces of the Amer and a teaspoon of brandy. Both were very respectable and oddly refreshing, considering the amount of booze. The second version tasted slightly better, but I felt better after the first version.

There is another version of Picon Punch, offered by Robert Hess in The Essential Bartender’s Guide. On the one hand, it contains some lemon juice, so I guess it’s technically more of a true punch, which usually contains one or more fruit juices. Still, I gather than this nearly juice-free version is the one the Basque folks actually drink. If you’ve ever had Basque food, you know these are a people who enjoy hearty flavors. I’ll stick with their version for now.

  

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Drink of the Week: Hot Milk Punch

Hot Milk Punch.Merry Christmas from Drink of the Week!

Now, the way we figure it, your holiday is likely breaking down in one of two ways. Either you’re being besieged with relatives — or are yourself a besieging relative — or you’re one of those folks who, for whatever reason, are finding yourself with not much more than a movie and maybe the proverbial Chinese dinner to keep you company this year.

Whichever of these positions you find yourself in, tonight might well be the perfect time for a super-duper relaxing hot drink. How relaxing? Well David Wondrich, usually at no loss for words in providing mixology advice along with generous dollops of background and history, only had two words to describe this recipe for Hot Milk Punch: “liquid Ambien.”

Now, to be clear, punches of all types, including milk punch, have quite a long history and I’m only starting to learn about them myself. There’s a cold version of this drink and we might well revisit the topic then. In the meantime, it’s Christmas and, most likely, you’re either trying to escape from numerous family duties while reading this, or perhaps distracting yourself in various ways. So, let’s keep it about as simple as we can.

Hot Milk Punch

1 ounce dark rum
1 ounce brandy
6 ounces milk (full fat, probably)
1 teaspoon sugar
nutmeg (garnish)

Heat the milk, preferably in a pan. For whatever reason, microwaved milk seems to lack a certain comforting consistency. While you’re heating the milk, combine the booze and sugar in a coffee cup. Pour in the hot milk and stir. Top with some ground nutmeg and sip cautiously. Whatever your situation, be grateful if you have a roof over your head and have the wherewithal to supply yourself with delicious alcoholic concoctions. Maybe think about actually doing something nice for people who don’t.

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What with the holidays and all, it’s been a pretty crazy week here at DOTW Manor. On the one hand, that made Milk Punch just the right beverage…on the other hand, my general high level of busyness limited my experimentation to a certain degree.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my drink using both Martell and Reynal brandy combined with Whaler’s Rum, a very inexpensive and very sweet dark rum. Using much pricier (and generally really delicious) Papa’s Pilar dark rum wasn’t quite as comforting somehow. Bacardi 8 simply wasn’t dark enough. Indeed, I really enjoyed the drink when I discarded complexity entirely and used two ounces of the Whaler’s with no brandy at all.

So, make it entirely with a very sweet dark rum, or go whole hog sophisticate and use only cognac. It’s your bedtime. Hope the day that comes before it turns out to be a more or less merry one.

  

Drink of the Week: The Horsecar

Image ALT text goes here.The holidays are coming but there’s a limit to how many sweet and rich ingredients a person can or should imbibe. That’s especially true if, like me, you’re thinking about appropriate holiday cocktails while dealing with a bit of a lifelong weight issue — these posts haven’t exactly helped! — and also trying to prepare for upcoming celebratory indulgences. So, while you’re definitely free to make the more traditional holiday cocktails I’ve offered in the past, this week, I took a complete break from the flipping excess of last week’s beverage and went with something simple, and only a little bit sweet.

The Horsecar is a drink of uncertain origin as far as I can tell, but Saveur tells us it was featured in a 1956 cocktail book issued by our men’s magazine forebears over at Esquire. It’s a definite relative of the various Perfect Manhattan-esque drinks I’ve been messing with lately, combining both sweet and dry vermouths. And, yes, it’s a near replica of the Jumbo — which, by absolute sheer coincidence, was the featured drink here just barely under two years ago by about three days. Still there’s one key difference. See if you can spot it.

The Horsecar

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Not a lot of surprises here. Pour the rye, vermouths, and bitters into a cocktail shaker and mixing glass. Shake or stir, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the millions of subtle variations possible when you combine liquids in differing proportions.

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Okay, so, like the Jumbo, the Horsecar is good for those who love Manhattans, but maybe sometimes find the standard version too high either in sweet vermouth or too heavy on the whiskey. The difference between the drinks is that the classic Jumbo calls for Peychaud’s bitters, which have an almost candy-like flavor, and the Horsecar calls for orange bitters, my  frequent personal choice when I’m making Perfect Manhattans. (I understand that you can also make Horsecars with Angostura-style aromatic bitters but, to be fair, that cocktail should probably be given it’s own name.)

My rye brands this time around were Rittenhouse, Old Overholt, Bulleit, and Alberta Dark Rye. My dry vermouths were Dolin’s and Martinis. My sweet vermouths were Martini, Vya, Carpano Antica, and, experimenting with a new brand, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. The results were uniformly very nice, with floral and sweet qualities predominating. Probably the single most drinkable version contained Old Overholt — not really a personal favorite — Dolins and Carpano Antica. That version would have been the height of craft cocktail bar orthodoxy, except I shook it instead of stirring. Yes, it was clouded with ice crystals but it was also very easy on the palette without being boring.

I liked the Horsecar stirred as well. Those drinks were definitely a bit bolder in flavor, and could also be quite lovely. The only one that didn’t seem to work as well contained Alberta Dark Rye; it’s a brand I like quite a bit, but it’s a bit of a whiskey outlier and actually contains 1 percent sherry wine. Sometimes the dark horse really does come in last.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

the Imperfect Persimmon Flip.If you don’t know a persimmon from a papaya, don’t feel too bad. I had not the vaguest idea of what the darn things tasted like until our in-house guinea pig here at Drink of the Week Manor brought in a gigantic box of the somewhat obscure fruit freshly picked by relatives.

Persimmons look a bit like the offspring of a tomato and a pumpkin, and taste something like an apple-pumpkin-mango hybrid; they’re pretty delicious. As they become over-ripe, they eventually develop an almost jam-like consistency and sweetness without actually rotting.

Of course, blessed with so much of this highly underrated fruit, my mind turned to cocktails. The few recipes I found online called for making persimmon purees, which flies in the face of my often stated goal of making all of these drinks something you can throw together in less than 10 minutes.

So, it was time me to get creative and whip up something simple of my own. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until your persimmon turns to jelly, all you need is a strong arm and a decent muddler, an egg, and a few basic cocktail ingredients to make yourself a really hearty, holiday season appropriate, dessert cocktail.

The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 small persimmon (i.e., a slice of about 1″ x 2″)
1 whole large egg
1/4 ounce agave syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Thoroughly muddle the persimmon half/slice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Unless your persimmon is super-duper ripe, you’ll need an actual muddler and some substantial elbow grease to make sure you get it sufficiently juicy and mushy. Add the other ingredients and then dry shake it all without ice to make sure the whole egg emulsifies properly, giving the drink the milky-noggy consistency you want, not the slimy consistency people who have never had drinks with egg or egg white frequently fear. Make sure you keep a tight seal on the lid because the albumin in egg white can make the top of a shaker want to fly off.

Then, add plenty of ice and shake again, this time very vigorously and for no less than 10-15 seconds. Strain into a well chilled cocktail glass or, as pictured, a smallish rocks/old fashioned glass as shown above. You’ll want to use a Hawthorn strainer that will let some chunks of persimmon through. Although flips are traditionally topped with nutmeg, I think cinnamon works better on this drink.

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If you’re wondering about why I’m calling this the Imperfect Persimmon Flip, that’s easy. It’s a flip because it has a whole egg in it. It’s imperfect because I actually started out calling this the Perfect Persimmon Flip in that, like last week’s Perfect Cocktail, it originally featured both sweet and dry vermouth. When the dry/floral flavors clashed with the sweetness of the rest of the drink, I doubled down on the sweet vermouth and found myself with a much better drink, imperfect though it is.

Now for the brands, which can make a real difference here. As you can see in the picture, I started out with Maker’s Mark, one of the sweeter, gentler premium bourbons, and Martini, pretty much the default brand for vermouth. My aromatic bitters were Angostura, another default choice.

That earlier version was not one bit bad, nor was one using Martini and 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye. I have to admit, however, that this drink only really hit the stratosphere when I went with another line-up entirely: my freebie bottle of the notably less sweet and notably stronger Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, cocktailian-approved Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Fee Brothers’ friendlier aromatic. The almost chocolatey bitterness of Antica and the more astringent, assertive Wild Turkey emphasized the sweeter flavors and made for a holiday-time treat that, as my generous human guinea pig put it, looked and tasted something like a drinkable, cold, pumpkin pie.

  

Drink of the Week: The Perfect Cocktail

The Perfect Cocktail.Let’s get this out of the way: the Perfect Cocktail is not the perfect cocktail, but you already knew that. It is, however, not one bit bad.

My guess would be that this little known selection from Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” such as it is, is either named after the Perfect Manhattan or I suppose it could be a precursor. What they both have in common is a combination of sweet and dry vermouth combined with a spirit…though the proportion of hard liquor is less than it would be if were something closer to a sweet or dry martini. It’s a fairly tasty concoction if you use the right ingredients and it’s not too terribly strong, which is sometimes a very good thing. Also, the simple symmetry of its ingredients is, if not actually perfect, pretty snazzy.

The Perfect Cocktail

1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce gin

Combine the liquids in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you insist, it is also okay to stir this in a shaker or mixing glass and then strain the slightly prettier, but less icy, liquid into that same chilled glass.

*****

In preparation for the Perfect Cocktail, I made sure I was well stocked with various types of vermouths — all purchased in small bottles to maximize freshness. (Yes, I’m going to remind you, yet again, to always refrigerate your opened vermouth bottles and to try and use them up within a month or two, if possible.) Since the vermouths actually predominate in this drink, they’re obviously the most important ingredients.

I used Martini and Dolin for my dry vermouths; Martini, Vya, and Carpano Antica were my sweet choices. Overall, the more expensive options seemed to work notably better, with the possible exception of Vya. Martini Extra Dry seemed to pose a special issue, as the Perfect Cocktail seemed to accentuate some of its more imperfect bitter flavors.

My gins this time around were Bombay Dry, Gordon’s, and Plymouth. A slight edge went to the latter. Using Dolin, Plymouth (slightly less dry than you standard dry gin), and Carpano seemed to yield the best result, with the most piquant combination of sweet, floral and more mouth-friendly bitter flavors.

Though I usually suggest stirring gin-centric beverages, I liked this a lot better shaken. That’s probably because it’s really the vermouths that are the star of the show, with the sweet vermouth being the most dominant. It might be worth trying this drink even if you’re out of gin but have some vodka on hand.

I also experimented with using a cocktail cherry. I can’t say it helped noticeably, but neither did it hurt. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to use a cocktail cherry — and some of them are better than you might think — you might as well use it for the Perfect Cocktail.

  

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