Drinking the Bounty: White Onions

IMG_9778Onions. You guys, he made a cocktail with onions. AND IT WAS GOOD.

The only thought process to share on this one is that Chris knew he didn’t want to add sugar so he muddled a thin slice of onion straight into the lime juice. Aquavit brought some complementary flavors like caraway to the party and the whole thing ended up tasting a bit like biting into a tart green apple. After the first few sips, we actually decided it needed MORE onion so he smashed another slice with the side of the knife and added it as a garnish. The extra aroma added a nice sharpness to the sip.

This drink is magic. It’s alchemy. It’s alive! It’s delicious!

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Awful pic because I was busy going “Wait, whaaaaaaaaaaa?”

The Gobsmacker (named for my reaction to how well this worked)

  • Juice of half a lime
  • 2 oz Aquavit
  • Two thin slices of a fresh white onion (these were smallish CSA, not grocery store bohemeths)

Add ingredients to Collins glass, gently middle the onions into the line juice. Add Aquavit, top with ice and side. Garnish with reserved onion for added aroma.

Peach Tea Brandy Spritzer

FullSizeRender (8)I think most of us who drink have a few regretful drinks in our history. Somewhere along the lines, as a younger drinker, I got the idea of mixing Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea with Malibu. It was horrifying. And secretly delicious. Shut up, it was a lot time ago.

Because I secretly love that old horrifying beverage, I’ve been looking for a way to recreate it in a less terrifying way. Last year I bought peach schnapps and steeped a bunch of black tea bags in the schnapps to create a base that could be watered down or added to other things. It was surprisingly tasty but the shcnapps was syrupy sweet.

I wanted to come at it from a slightly different angle this year and Chris convinced me to try steeping the tea in peach brandy instead. The result is a bit drier and less “juicy,” but also way less cloying.

We just finished a morning of errands and yard work so I kept things simple. About two ounces of the peach tea brandy with ice, soda water, and a sprig of mint. It’s actually quite tea and tannin forward so next time I may try it with a bit of lemon or simple syrup. Maybe Malibu. HA! TOTALLY KIDDING!! HAHAHAHAHA!!! (Sneaks off to the hidden corner of the bar where the embarassing things are kept.)

Drinking the Bounty: Snap Peas

My bartender is out of town this week. OH NO! I love cocktails, I love thinking about and drinking cocktails. But I leave the making of cocktails up to Chris most of the time. I’ve certainly never tried to come up with a mostly original idea myself. I was hoping there would be a softball this week – a cucumber or maybe some early raspberries. But nope – it was all greens.

IMG_9335As I stared at my vegetables and they stared back at me, I decided the sugar snap peas were going to work best for me because of their crisp sweetness. Suddenly it occured to me that peas are often paired with mint – I could go in a mojito direction! I spent a few minutes marveling at my own creativity before googling “snap pea mojito” and realizing I’m not that original. Oh well, still sounds good.

I started by muddling four or five pods worth of shelled peas into a shaker with just a pinch or two of sugar. I wanted the sugar there more for abrasion than sweetness. Once I had something of a paste, I added two ounces of Skalvenn Rum (a local rum that is a nice mixing spirit) and ice. I gave it all a quick shake IMG_9341and then strained (I should have double strained) into a highball glass and topped it all with a bit of soda water and a sprig of mint.

You might think the delicate flavor of the peas would be overpowered by the mint, and you would be almost right. But there’s a sweet “green” flavor, for lack of a better term, that shines through and adds a

beautiful spring-like crispness. This is definitely the sort of drink to enjoy on the patio during a summer heatwave. I may not have been as creative as I hoped, but I still managed to make something tasty!

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Snap Pea Comeback

  • 15-20 peas (4-5 pods worth)
  • 3-4 mint leaves
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 oz white rum
  • Soda water

Muddle the peas, mint leaves, and sugar to form a rough paste (you want the flavors blended but the leaves still mostly green) then add rum and ice. Shake and strain into a highball glass, top with soda water and garnish with a mint sprig.

Drinking the Bounty: Baby Beet Stems

We expected this to be a tough challenge. We knew there would come a week when we would look at our amazing array of produce from Featherstone Farm and thing “there is no way any of this will make a tasty cocktail.” We’d be tempted to cheat – maybe by using something from the farmer’s market, maybe by repeating an ingredient, maybe by using Romaine lettuce as a giant garnish. But we didn’t expect it to happen on week two.

I don’t know why I was optimistic – I live in Minnesota where the seasons come and go as fast as Taylor Swift’s boyfriends. It can be 90 in April and 50 in June. Heck, it can be 90 and 50 in the same week. What I’m saying is that late Spring/early Summer is tough for farmers around here. That we have any local produce is a miracle some years.

DSC01268This week’s box contained spinach, red and romaine lettuce, garlic chives, asparagus, kale, rhubarb, and beet greens (with a few tiny roots). While we may eventually repeat an ingredient (but only if we can use it in a dramatically different way), we didn’t want to use rhubarb two weeks in a row. I mean we already admitted that rhubarb is practically cheating by being a veggie we treat as a fruit. I’m not ready to dive into salad green cocktails yet so we turned to the other vibrant option – the beet greens.

Let me be clear – I do not like beets. At. All. I’ve had one or two that were roasted and caramelized until they were almost palatable. Almost. But I knew that beets were going to show up and I knew Chris would want to try them in a cocktail.

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Right after adding vodka
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24 hours later

These beets came to us as beet greens but we decided to use the tender stalks. There was one dime sized root but most of these were (for lack of a better term) embryonic beets. I was hoping this would mean a more delicate flavor (i.e. not dirt) and was mostly right. Chris opted to chop the stems and roots and then soak them in vodka for 24 hours in order to get all the beety goodness (Kate says “HA!”) extracted. The vodka turned a light pink within minutes and a deep magenta by the next day. I hoped that Chris would bury the beet flavor under sugar and booze – but he stubbornly insisted on trying to accentuate different parts of the flavor with two different cocktails.

 

 

For both cocktails, he was inspired by a beet salad he once had with beets, oranges, and raisins. This led to him building a foundation of a nice raisiny Cognac and the locally made Tattersall Orange Crema (similar to a curacao). For cocktail number one he merely added some orange bitters for structure along with a flamed orange peel. Cocktail number two went in a Sidecar direction by bringing in lemon juice and 11 Wells Allspice Liqueur to brighten the overall beet flavor.

Amazingly enough, I enjoyed both drinks though the “Sidecar” won me over with the Allspice. The warmth of the liqueur evoked the caramelization of a well roasted beet and the lemon juice cut through the dreaded earthiness without hiding it. Cocktail number one was beautiful in its simplicity but was a bit too heavy for my tastes. In both cases I believe the delicate young stalks conveyed much of the distinctive beet flavor without the bitterness that comes with age. Wait, am I still talking about vegetables or did I veer into self-analysis? Beets me.

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Cocktail #1 – Bonnes Beets

3/4 oz Beet Vodka
1 oz Orange Crema (or Orange liqueur)
2 oz Cognac
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir and serve over ice. Garnish with an orange peel, ideally flamed

 

 

 

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Cocktail #2 – (All Things) Bright and Beetiful

3/4 oz Beet Vodka
1 oz Tattersall Orange Crema (or Orange liqueur)
2 oz Cognac
1 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz 11 Wells Allspice Liqueur (or Allspice Dram)

Shake with ice, strain, serve with a lemon twist.

Home Bar Inventory

IMG_7392My home bar has kind of exploded recently so I took advantage of my home bartender/boyfriend being out of town and decided to inventory and organize my spirits. I still haven’t found an app that does quite what I want, though I feel like it MUST exist. In a perfect world, I would scan the barcode on a bottle and then tell it how much is remaining in the bottle – that’s all I really need. Having recipes that use what’s in my bar would be a nice bonus.

Anyway, it’s not like I’m trying to do inventory management very IMG_7394precisely at home. But when the spirit collection starts to overflow the bar, it’s nice to see which bottles are nearly empty and need to be used up. It’s also nice to have a clear idea of what bar staples are low or out – for instance, last night I killed our bottle of Cabin Still for the sake of space management. Yeah, let’s call it that. Knowing what we have also means remembering that lovely Glenrothes from last Christmas that doesn’t get sipped nearly as often as it should.

IMG_7396Not every home bar enthusiast needs to be this particular. Hell, I’d go so far as to say *I* don’t need to be this particular – but once in a while I enjoy it. Plus, we have a cocktail party coming up soon and will need a clear shopping list for that. Since I couldn’t find an app that did what I wanted, I settled on my other favorite tool – Google Docs. I’ve set up a very basic spreadsheet with spirit type, name, notes, inventory date, percentage left in bottle (rough estimate), bottle size, and approximate volume. The next stage in this insane process will be cataloging the things like mixers, bitters and vermouth.

IMG_7399If you sort the sheet by approximate volume, you can see that when my
bartender…I mean boyfriend…gets home, he needs to find a way to use up the wee bits of Svedka (left over from a brunch party), cognac, navy strength rum, and pear liqueur. I was tempted to just pour all four in a glass and drink it, but a)three of the four ingredients deserve better and b)I had to come to work today.

I learned a few things from all this.

  • One, I really like organizing stuff and making spreadsheets. (Well, I knew that already. My friends verbed my name to reference organizing by spreadsheet.)
  • Two, bottle shapes and sizes are annoying.
  • Three, we have a bizarre collection of liqueurs.
  • Four, I’m pleased with the number of local spirits we’ve got.
  • Five, for a cocktail novice, I have an enviable bar. Thanks honey!
  • Six, we need a bigger bar.
  • Seven, you totally want to come to our cocktail parties.
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The finished bar

 

 

Now I need to catalog the beer cellar. See you in a few months!

Boozing and Learning

As I continue to grow this blog, I’m realizing how little I actually know about spirits and cocktails. I love cocktails, I love tasting how someone crafts a balanced but exciting flavor combination in a glass, but when I try to order without a menu, I freeze. If someone asks if I want something up or on the rocks, I freeze. I know a few favorite cocktails and I know what up or on the rocks means, but I don’t know what it changes about my drink or my spirits.

With this in mind, I have asked my drinking buddy to help me “train” by doing some tasting flights. We tried our first one tonight, with four wildly different whiskies. I sniffed, I swirled, I sipped, I distilled. And I was amazed at the flavors.

The best way to learn is to do, and so I will drink my way to being a more educated drinker. Life. Is. So. Rough.

Epic Weekend: Drinking Edition, Part One

The original plan for the weekend was just the Adria talk and tasting at Mia, then we added a tour of 45th Parallel on Sunday because my coupon was close to expiring, then we added a class at 11 Wells because it was free and we wanted to check out all their new stuff, then we added on two breweries because they were close to the distilleries, and finally we added a stop at Marvel Bar because, well, Marvel Bar. And because they would be open to the public just as a fancy dinner got out upstairs – I’m a sucker for good people watching.

Friday Night – Notes on Creativity Talk & Tasting  – Minneapolis Institute of Art

beer2The highlight of this event was definitely the food, but it also promised cocktails from Bradstreet Crafthouse and wines chosen by Bill Summerville. Beer, however, was a surprise. As we entered the event, we were greeted and handed a glass of the beer Ferran Adria helped create. It was a very light and refreshing beer with just a hint of spice. Enjoyable, but as a beer that was developed to pair with food, I think we missed it’s best features because it’s hard to stand, drink, and eat tiny plates of food. I’d like to try it again with a meal.

Bill Summerville was in charge of the wine program at La Belle Vie (*sigh*) for many years before heading to Spoon and DSC00339Stable and then moved to a local wine distributor, New France Wine Co. For the tasting event, he had two tables of wines set up, one each for reds and whites. I never got much of an explanation of the wine choices because there were two tables, hundreds of thirsty people, and only one Bill. I did, however, grab a glass of a 2003 Burgundy that was light, fruity and just generally enjoyable. We never made it over to the table of white wine so I’m not sure what was on offer there.

Bradstreet Crafthouse brought a punch, which is a perfect idea for a large event. With so many people in so small a space, the last thing you want is lines forming while you try to finish something fussy. I wasn’t able to learn much about the punch from the person serving when we got there, except that it had Rebel Yell and St. Elder. The punch was good but forgettable, I know it’s a challenge to make a bulk cocktail but I feel like some sort of surprising flavor or texture could have been incorporated to celebrate the creative genius of the guest of honor.

Saturday – 11 Wells, Flat Earth Brewing, Marvel Bar

Our last visit to 11 Wells was for an open house in July of 2014, I’m not sure they had released anything but their white whiskey at that point. Fifteen months later they have a product lineup that includes the first Minnesota Vermouth, a beautiful Allspice Liqueur, and an Orange Curacao that I want to drink all day long (maybe with a drop of the Allspice??). While we waited for our “Know Your Spirits” class to get started, we were able to sample just about everything and chat with Christine, who helped blend the vermouth and also happens to make great drinks at Spoon and Stable.

11WellsClassThe class was taught by head distiller Lee Egbert, who is also behind Dashfire Bitters (the first Minnesota-made bitters). Because he started with bitters, Lee seems to approach distilling from the cocktail down instead of from the spirit up. When I asked him if it’s unique to have distilleries popping up from the cocktail world (like his, and Tattersall), he said that in his travels he found maybe 10% of the distilleries out there are coming at it from the cocktail angle. If you make a spirits with bartenders in mind, you end up making something that is palatable both straight and mixed. Control is especially important with liqueurs and the like – too many products are made with lots of added sugar. Bartenders would rather work with a pure flavor and sweeten to their liking, it allows for more flexibility in drink creations.

So if only 10% of distilleries are being started by someone with a cocktail background, how lucky are we to have two of them? Well, Lee joked that there’s a friendly race between him and Dan Oskey of Tattersall to get new products out. Oskey won on fernet, Egbert won on vermouth. The local drinking public just wins, period. (P.S. 11 Wells is now releasing their gin which has a lovely and warm botanical base. Keep an eye out for a custom tonic syrup perfectly paired for the gin. It’s been only a matter of time before someone made a custom gin and tonic pairing, I’m excited that it might be close!)

While we were waiting for the class and chatting with people at the distillery, someone mentioned that Flat Earth Brewing was just around the corner. We knew DSC00362they had moved into the area but had no idea it was so close – of course we had to go check it out! Flat Earth has taken over a wing of the old Hamm’s Brewing complex and managed to make a taproom that retains some historic character while also feeling welcoming, warm, and airy. When you walk in, you’ll find a small bar in the first room that sells merch and bottles. Keep going around to the left and suddenly you find yourself walking up to a long wooden bar. When we got there, the head brewer was pouring the pints he’d made. I love it! Flat Earth has gone through a lot of changes lately, both in their space and their staff.

DSC00363My partner ordered the Cygnus X-1 Porter, a long time favorite, to see how it had fared through the shakeup. The answer is, quite well. Still smooth and roasty, the porter has a rich coffee flavor that gets more pronounced as it warms. Having just tasted EVERYTHING at 11 Wells, I opted for the housemade ginger beer at Flat Earth. The brewer wouldn’t tell me his secret ingredients, but the ginger beer had a mild and pleasant ginger flavor (not enough burn for my tastes, but he said when it was spicier too many kids complained, I realize I’m a ginger freak) with a sort of “green” herbal note and aroma. It was tasty at first but as it warmed up, the green overpowered the ginger and I ended up leaving half of it behind. Given the natural pairing of ginger and things like lemongrass, I think I know what he was trying to do – but it didn’t work for me. That said, I’ve always like Flat Earth best for their dark beers so ordering the polar opposite was probably a mistake on my part.

After our Flat Earth expedition, we did a bit of wandering around the brewery complex (You can check out MSP365 for photos of the historic structure.) before heading back towards Minneapolis and Marvel Bar. You see, I had gotten word of a private event at The Bachelor Farmer and in doing a bit more research, realized it was kind of the Friday night tasting, but on steroids – great local chefs preparing Adria inspired food on a grander scale (and for 15 times the price) as a fundraiser for Mia. But I had also gotten word that Marvel would be open for business as usual, despite the special event, and so we decided to “crash” the party in hopes of some great people watching. And let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much to convince us to go to Marvel.

MarvelThe party was just winding down when we got into the bar, but we did see a lot of well dressed patrons and a brief appearance of Chef Adria. Peder, the bar manager, had already popped outside and given us a head’s up to several seats at the bar (our favorite place to perch) and as soon as we sat down, Keith dropped off a flight of the four cocktails made for the event. First in line was a calvados eggnog that was spicy and sweet, with all the richness of eggnog but also a bit of lightness from the apple spirit. Next was a gin and tonic made with the Letherbee Autumnal gin, a barreled gin with notes of maple and spice. Then we had a blend of celery and aquavit, a cocktail which I still can’t decide if I liked or not – but I want to drink more of. In his talk, Adria said he didn’t make food so people would like it, he made food so people would think about it. This cocktail was everything I wanted a cocktail to be for this event, I can’t decide how I feel about it but I can’t stop thinking about it. Finally there was a beautiful Manhattan. We’re arguing a bit over the details because I hear “barrel aged” and he heard “bottle conditioned.” I think the story was that the Manhattan used one of their private barrels of whiskey, and then aged the cocktail in said barrel. I could be wrong, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it was beautiful.

There were other cocktails as well, I had a Remember the Maine because Lee had talked it up in class. My date had a martini which was apparently perfect in it’s simplicity – he’s had a lot of martinis at Marvel, home, and elsewhere but for some reason this was his favorite. No fancy ingredients or special tricks, just a damn good martini. Props to bartender Stephen for being the first person to get Chris to say a bar made martini was better than the ones he makes at home. I don’t have a trophy, but I probably should. I asked for something refreshing, gingery, and low alcohol to finish the evening and Matthew made me a concoction of ginger, kombucha, soda water, and just a splash of gin. Even when it’s busier than our usual outings to Marvel, they will tailor make you something if you just know what you want, I love it.