These Drinks I Had on Crispin’s Day

This is the first drink I’m posting as part of the Liturgical Calendar of Cocktails series; in fact, Sts. Crispin and Crispian (or Crispianus, depending on whom you ask) were among the first saints to inspire said calendar.  Why?  As I wrote on my other blog last year, they’re remembered as much for being mentioned in Henry V as they are for their own sainted lives.

That was something of a guide as I crafted a drink for them.  One could commemorate Crispin and Crispian simply by drinking Crispin Hard Cider, but that seemed lazy.  I spent some time in discussion with my friend Emily to determine what would be appropriate for Crispin’s Feast:

Em: I’m thinking something with anguished cries of dying soldiers, the dirt of hallowed ground, and the dreaded sounds of war horses’ hoofbeats, with a hint of bitter irony
T: Hmmm.  So we’ve got…Fernet Branca…either gin or whiskey…not sure about the hoofbeats, but they may be “garnish with a nail”…and maybe some bitters on top.
Em: And of course you TELL people there’s honor in it, to make them think they taste it, when there’s actually no such honor in it.
T: Haha!  Okay, so I’m going to toss in a bit of grenadine for bloodcoloredness, and see how that all works.  If it’s too much to swallow, I may add some Drambuie.  …admittedly, I think we’re passing over Crispin and Crispian in favor of battles fought on their vigil feast, which is different.  Hmmm.  …
Em: Hmmmm.
T:  Whiskey, Fernet, bitters, grenadine, and a nail still sound legit for Crispin and Crispian, I think.

So with all that in mind, I went to work.  As I gathered my bottles, I remembered having sweet vermouth in the fridge, which seemed more appropriate than grenadine, so I added it with the Fernet Branca to three different spirits: cognac, Irish whiskey, and Scotch.  Unsurprisingly, the cognac melded best with the vermouth and the minty Fernet.  Should you find yourself without Fernet Branca, sub in Jägermeister.

[I mixed half an ounce of cognac with a teaspoon each of Fernet and vermouth, so as to not waste my spirits or get utterly sloshed whilst testing]

Having tested it, I then compared the nascent drink with other combinations: cognac/Fernet/vermouth with a dash of applejack, and cognac/Fernet/vermouth with Drambuie added.  The applejack wasn’t a distressing addition, but it wasn’t very helpful either; the Drambuie simply stomped over all the other flavors.

Having concluded that the mini-drink had the proper proportions, I set out to make a full-sized version.  I opted to add ice rather than shake, stir, or leave it neat, and added the promised nail by spearing some lemon slices.  Unfortunately, while this made for a neat visual, it destroyed both the aroma and the flavor of the original beverage: the lemon smell overpowered the other scents, and the ice melted alarmingly quickly so as to water the whole thing down.

So then came the final proof: a chilled glass meant for a smaller amount (4-5 oz) of liquid, with the following stirred with ice in a shaker then strained into it:

1.5 oz cognac
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.75 oz sweet vermouth

Just the thing for both sainted cobblers and soldiers at Agincourt.

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

The Calendar Project

Too long have I kept silence.  Once again, I confess that I have not ceased mixing; I’ve just stopped sharing the bounty of the vine and the still with you.  Some drinks have been suggested or perfected by others; some are my own attempts at drink creation.

But the time has come to tell you all about the cocktail project which will keep me mixing busily for some years to come:

The Liturgical Calendar of Cocktails.

This is the brainchild of my friend Michelle, who enjoys celebrating high holy days in a particularly festive fashion.  She and I are both members of what we call the Traveling Scriptorium, which is to say that we have a healthy affection for all illuminated writing.  Between the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Orthodox calendars of saints, we reckon that every day is a red-letter day.

We’ve begun going through our lists of saints and drinks, attempting to pair them up as appropriate.  Stephen gets the Old-Fashioned for being the first martyr; John the Evangelist, writer of the book of Revelation, the Last Word; St. Bernard of Clairveux, the “Mellifluous Doctor,” the Milk and Honey; St. Thomas the Apostle (and patron of India) the Bengali Gimlet; and so on.

As Traveling Scriptores, Michelle and I dream of crafting a hefty tome of vellum and ink, which will describe the saint’s life (and the rational for choosing each drink) on one side, with the drink recipe on the facing page.  The pages below are our inspiration; some of them come from the Book of Hours, which (among other things) marks down those red-letter days, that one may prepare accordingly for them.

So look for such posts.  They’ll be filed under “Liturgical Calendar of Cocktails,” and will note what feast day they’re meant for.

The Meursault

I broke down on New Year’s Day
and I mixed my drinks
and I lost my way
I walked past the houses
of every friend I’d ever known
and I set off on my own

Having promised a description of the Meursault (pronounced “mer-soo” or something like), I am striking while the proverbial iron is hot within my soul.  If you are not a gin drinker, then take heart and have patience; I promise I’ll get the Myers and Bulleit back out ere long.

This drink is the brainchild of my lovely friend the Mead, who once remarked to me:

we need to invent a cocktail called meursault (in honor, of course, of this band, this song in particular: it strikes me as gin-based, with not too sweet a flavoring — perhaps something along cran or other berry lines. a drink, in short, that could make you lose your way, sink you into melancholy over what you’d left behind, and yet somehow also brace you for continuing onward.

So, proceeding on that basis, I got out my gin.  Initially I had no cranberry anything around, but I did have a pomegranate, a lime, sugar, and grapefruit bitters, which were mixed as follows: a shot (1.5 oz) of Plymouth, a shot of squeezed* pomegranate juice, ½ oz lime juice, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 3 dashes of grapefruit bitters.  It was a good start, somewhat tart with an intriguing texture as well as some fun overtones from the bitters.

I added a bit more pomegranate juice and a touch more sugar the next time around, which edged it away from the tart end of the pH scale.  The third time around, we juiced some fresh cranberries (which yields a fairly bitter extract, beware!) and mixed a tablespoonful of it with a shot of gin, a shot of pom juice, ½ oz lemon juice, and a tablespoonful of sugar.

Cranberry juice on the left, pomegranate on the right. Check out how luscious it is.

The final iteration took what we’d learned from the first few rounds and fashioned it into something which, when partly prepared ahead of time, mixed up faster.  There was still a shot of gin, and still a generous shot of pomegranate juice (I carefully bottled about 7 pomegranates’ worth).  Having enjoyed both the lime flavor and the lemon flavor, I mixed and bottled equal amounts of both to use as the ½ ounce of citrus.  The sugar was necessary to offset the extreme bitterness of the juiced cranberries, but dissolving it required more shaking than I preferred, so I opted to mix it into yet another jar, this one full of cranberry juice.

The effect of all the bottling was that I could head to my boss’s house and mix up some cocktails for the office’s Christmas party with relatively little vexation.  Despite the last-minute substitution of Tanqueray for the less-piney Plymouth, even the people who “weren’t really gin drinkers” loved it.  Merry Christmas and happy New Year.**

And I hope that someone is praying for me
out there at home

*Once upon a time, one of my brothers bought a Jack LaLanne power juicer for to make himself healthy drinks.  He soon discovered that its purported “easy cleaning” was in fact rather complicated, tired of it rapidly, and handed it off to me.  I don’t use it that often, but I love juicing pomegranates with it.  POM Wonderful is one of the best pomegranate juices I’ve encountered, but it has nothing on the frothy fuchsia of freshly home-juiced pomegranate.
Which is sort of sad, I guess, for all the people who don’t have a juicer sitting about.

**But even those of us with juicers are doomed to suffer through Not Pomegranate Season, as I am right now, so POM is probably the best stopgap where I live.  If one wanted to be really low-key about it, one could mix some gin, some Ocean Spray or Northland cran-pomegranate blend, and dash in some citrus to perk it up.  Obviously it won’t give you the same texture, so be wary, as it might give you a touch more melancholy than intended.

The Union Club

Buckle in, folks, there be peculiar similes ahead.

I did some whinging about how Campari is just so bitter and I don’t know how to deal with that, whereupon Mr. Joseph Tkach suggested a Union Club.  Wanting to work my way through the Campari at a reasonable pace (and use up a nearly-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark), I figured now was the time.  So here we go:

The Union Club

2 oz bourbon
½ oz maraschino liqueur
½ oz Campari
1 ½ oz fresh orange juice

I could get as far as imagining the bourbon playing well with the orange juice, and the maraschino hanging about with the Campari.  But so far as I could see, they were on opposite sides of the playground – the bourbon and OJ playing rugby or football or something while the Campari wrote curiously obscure poetry and the maraschino tried not to look so tall.

Altogether, the maraschino was easiest to smell and the first thing I tasted.  Then came the slight punchiness of the bourbon, with whispers of orange accompanying it, before the swooping bitterness of the Campari – although I must grant you that it was the least unpleasant Campari’s been in my experience.  One could say that I was so focused on not focusing on the Campari that I hardly noticed anything else.  By the time I’d reached the bottom of the drink, the flavor of the bourbon had somehow – magically, even alchemically – melded with the Campari’s bitterness, which ameliorated it slightly.

Overall, it was miles ahead of the Campari Collins and about half a block ahead of the Carolingian Effort.  It doesn’t quite make me leap up, saying “Ahhh yes, that is what I need to drink right now!”

But it also does away with the idea that Campari should be a penalty foisted on those who lose bets.  I shall chalk it up as a success.

Yakimuddle; or, the Traverse City Smash

Oh, hello.  Yes, it’s been quiet around here for some time, hasn’t it?  You probably thought I’d become some manner of Teetotaling Poop.  I’m happy to report that’s not the case: I carried on mixing drinks but failed to carry on telling you about it.

But then the other night, La Roommate brought some cherries home, and it seemed a good plan to let you know what to mix with them should you find yourself having more cherries than you can eat.

The Yakimuddle/Traverse City Smash

Yakimuddle 2.0

At first I muddled about five of them (after removing the pit, and quartering them for easier muddlage), mixed that with 2 ounces of Plymouth gin, half an ounce of maraschino liqueur, half an ounce of lime juice, and some peach bitters.  It turned out translucent and tasting rather like fruit punch, with a very strong maraschino smell and flavor, reminiscent of an Aviation cocktail.  Not wanting the maraschino to dominate over the cherries or gin, which got a bit lost in the shuffle, I dialed it back and tried again.

So here's the thing: if they're Washington cherries, it's a Yakimuddle.  If they're Michigan cherries, it's a Traverse City Smash.

The second iteration employed twelve muddled cherries, another 2 ounces of Plymouth, ¼ ounce lime juice, ¼ ounce lemon juice, ¼ ounce maraschino, ¼ ounce Amaretto, and 3 dashes peach bitters.  This was more balanced, with a stronger cherry flavor and smell.  It was an opaque crimson and rich, the cherry pulp giving it a dense texture, almost like a flip.  The Amaretto’s nuttiness helped round out the flavors, and kept it sweet without being overkill.

The third iteration was quite similar, but I used a full 15 muddled cherries and 2 ounces of Tanqueray – partly to impart a stronger juniper flavor but also because I’d run out of Plymouth.  When LR and I tried it, she said “Mmm, bit like Christmas, isn’t it?  Kind of like a Meursault?” and I went “But the cherries, that’s like summer,” and we agreed that either way it was quite drinkable.  It was also rather homogenous, so we threw in a bit of lemon peel and a bit of lime peel to contribute some zesty goodness and a bit of contrast.

One bit of warning: if you use the full recommended amount of cherries, it will take some time – a good three minutes by my clock – to muddle them.  If I can bust out of my summer lethargy, I’ll try putting them through my juicer to see how that affects the texture.

Stay tuned for tales of the Meursault!

The Irish Kiss

My friend the Mead shares a lot of things with me: Joel Stickley’s excellence, delight in the Inky Fool, all manner of Scottish and Irish music, the occasional road trip, and more often than not, new drink recipes worth trying.  Sometimes they call for ingredients beyond my pantry’s ken, but on occasion I have the necessary on hand.

Last month, she sent this:

Irish Kiss

2 ½ oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 oz lemon simple syrup
Dash of bitters
Combine in a shaker with ice.  Shake well and serve up.

Fairly simple-looking, is it not?  Indeed.  But wait.

Here’s how to make the lemon simple syrup:
Zest 2 lemons (using a microplane) into a small sauce pan.  Juice the lemons into a measuring cup.  Remove the seeds.  Note the amount of juice and add it to the pan.  Add the same amount of sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Stir and then allow to cool.

The syrup alone sent LR and me into raptures, never mind mixing it with whiskey or using it to top ice cream (which, it turns out, is a stellar plan, especially if one dashes some grapefruit bitters here and there).  The syrup is like a homemade sherbet lemon without fake coloring, or like a lemon meringue pie with no effort.  It is lemon custard with no guilt.  It is Turkish Delight without betraying your siblings or covering your clothing in confectioner’s sugar.

[Please note that as this was an experimental effort, and in order to avoid passing the point of hilarity, we split the drink in half.  Typically it would be served in a cocktail glass or perhaps a coupe.]

Mixed with Jameson and bitters?  Delicious.  We should only hope that an Irishman’s kiss would be delightful as this drink!

The Little North Creek

Last autumn, I went hunting for the very first time.  My family owns land some hours north, with a cabin and plenty of trees and some number of deer.  We’ve paid taxes on it for years, so my mum felt it was a shame that neither my brothers nor I had gone and made use of it like we might have – and of course it was high time that we learn.

It’s been called The Rest Camp; the Mustache Club; and, in a story about my oldest brother at age 4 which my uncle loves repeating, The Greatest Place in the Whole World.

I was telling La Roomie about it while cutting up raw chicken in a feeble attempt to inure myself to the prospect of cutting up raw, still-warm meat.   We pondered the nature of the hunt; how Mustache hunting would be different from opening day, which I spent with a co-worker on his favorite hunting grounds; how awesome it would be if I were to bring back a freezer’s worth of venison; and the family camp in general.  For me, the most significant thing about the Mustache Hunting Club is that I was baptized there in the Little North Creek when I was about seven months old.  Obviously I don’t remember the event itself, but my father and brothers have seen fit to “put me in mind of my baptism” every time we went swimming (which is to say that they always took glee in dunking me three times.  I had a rather dim view of baptism in my youth).

And then we went back to discussing the hunt, and how all the men grow a mustache in November for it (dear No-Shave November, my family anticipated you decades in advance), and the film once made of the traditional “drink on the buck.”  In this home movie, my grandfather drives around to the homes of all my great-uncles and aunts with his prize buck tied to the hood.  Everyone takes a sip from a flask in a toast to the buck, and there is much made of the antlers and whatnot.  The motion’s a bit choppy (it can’t have been made earlier than the ’50’s), but I think the idea was that Grandpa got progressively drunker (or feigned it, anyway).

Bearing all that in mind, it was only a matter of time before La Roomie and I decided a new drink was in order, and it was also clear that Jägermeister (German for “hunt master,” if you are not a polyglot) had to be involved.  The name of the liqueur itself demands it, as does the stag-and-cross on the bottle, an allusion to the legends of St. Eustace and St. Hubertus.

Thing is, we weren’t sure what to mix the Jägermeister with.  I’ve eschewed Jägerbombs but have enjoyed a Starry Night (also called a Golden Elk), which is dark in color and tastes of cinnamon.  After some pondering, we elected to use gin, as its juniper flavor is reminiscent of the woods Up North; our thyme syrup, both because it needed to be used and because of its herbal nature; lime juice, probably because it was on hand at the time; and some manner of bitters.  Then, because it had been a while since we’d pulled out the blue curacao, we added some of that to the palette.  Before mixing the drink, we tried to figure out what amounts of Jagermeister and curacao would balance well by adding increasing amounts of each to an ounce or so of water.

It turned out a slightly murky yet somehow glowing drink.  Of course we dubbed it The Little North Creek.

1½ oz gin
½ oz thyme syrup
½ oz lime juice
½ oz Jägermeister
½ oz blue curaçao
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

When I went north, I took a few pictures of the creek (with and without flash) to see how they compared.  The real creek is mostly clear, really, but has enough vegetation in it to trick the eye.

next up: The Big North Sky

This is the hunter’s badge of glory,
That he protect and tend his quarry,
Hunt with honour, as is due,
And through the beast to God is true.