Archive for the ‘Booze’ Category

I’ve been researching (read: drinking) some new vermouth and other fortified wines lately. I wrote a piece for my Seattle Weekly column with some of my findings, and have continued to taste and try other brands. One of my longtime favorites is Dolin. Last summer I went through quite a bit of the Dolin Blanc, which is tasty and refreshing with some soda water and a dash of bitters or a twist. Lillet Blanc over ice with a slice of orange was another summertime favorite.

This summer hasn’t exactly been the summer to lounge on the deck in the late afternoon sun sipping long drinks. There have been maybe three balmy evenings where we wanted a cold, light and refreshing cocktail. Most of the time, we’ve wanted something a bit more boozy. Something flavorful and rich, but not too heavy on the alcohol. Enter the inverted cocktail.

I’d heard about inverted Martinis and Manhattans before. You just take the normal ratio (2 parts spirits to 1 part vermouth) and invert it. Nathan Weber, who bartends around town, was at Rob Roy when I stopped in there a couple of weeks ago. I was working on a different Seattle Weekly column I sometimes write. Nathan and I got to chatting about vermouth. He’s a big fan of Dolin as well and loves to just drink it straight. He’s also a fan of inverted Martinis and Manhattans.  I had an inverted Martini  there with Gordon’s gin, Dolin dry vermouth and a couple of dashes of bitters. Served up with a twist, it’s more thirst quenching than a traditional Martini, and less likely to get you tanked. Well, that depends on how many you drink I suppose….

I’ve long been a fan of Manhattans. I love them and all their variations, particularly when they are made using interesting vermouths like Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes. I met friends for happy hour at Lot No. 3 in Bellevue last week. This bar is known for its “build your own Manhattan” menu. After talking a bit to the bartender about vermouth, he pulled out a bottle of Cocchi Torino. This is said to be the original recipe of Italian vermouth first produced in 1891. It’s spicy and rich, with a clove, citrus and nutmeg aroma. He used it to make me an inverted Manhattan with Old Overholt rye. It was nutty and complex, thought not exactly refreshing. It was perfect for a grey and rainy Seattle summer day.

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Aging cocktails applies the already well-tested theory that age adds depth, flavor, and character to spirits. It’s a low-tech way to improve cocktails at a time when high technique is popular in both the culinary and bartending worlds. And it’s a technique being seen at more and more bars around Seattle. Just as barrels give whiskey its flavor and color and soften the harsh tannins in wine, aging cocktails in wood barrels smooths the sharp edges of some drinks, while creating new flavors like vanilla and warm, spicy notes in others.

The popularity of aging cocktails was referenced in print in the early 1900s, but was recently revitalized in the U.S. by Jeffrey Morganthaler, the bar manager at Portland’s Clyde Common, by way of London. While in London, Morganthaler visited Tony Conigliaro’s bar at 69 Colebrooke Row. There, Conigliaro had been aging cocktails for over five years. By time Morganthaler visited in 2009, the aged cocktails were already well established and he was impressed. Upon his return to Portland he began experimenting with aging ingredients as well as complete cocktails. He also took the concept of aging cocktails one step further and started aging them in wood.

Today, at bars from New York to Chicago to Seattle, bartenders are taking small, two- and three-gallon barrels and aging everything from Negronis to Manhattans. Most bartenders agree that gin-based cocktails work best for barrel-aging. The floral and herbal qualities help it stand up to the flavors imparted by a charred wood barrel. Bitter ingredients like Campari become subtler, while vodka takes on too much of a whiskey flavor.

Aging in small barrels means the flavor of the wood is imparted into the barrel’s contents more quickly. So instead of several years, a cocktail can be aged in a few weeks. Five to six weeks seems to be the sweet spot for many cocktails, though some are aged longer. The trick is to take small samples of the cocktail during the aging process to taste the progress. If using vermouth, barrels must be filled entirely, with no air space allowed to oxidize the contents. A large barrel could cost thousands of dollars to fill–another practical reason for using a small barrel. Most bars charge $1-$2 more for aged cocktails, which offsets the cost of the barrels, since they are typically only used once or twice.

Mulleady’s Irish Pub, in Magnolia, has a barrel-aged Negroni regularly on their menu. Tasted alongside a classically made Negroni, the aged Negroni is smoother and in some ways richer. The Campari is beaten into submission, allowing the floral sweetness of the gin to shine through. Owner Travis Stanley-Jones has plans for aging a Widow’s Kiss, in hopes that the apple and spice flavors of the calvados will be enhanced after some time in oak. He admits, though, that barrel-aging is a one-shot opportunity. “Once the cocktail is in the barrel, you can’t undo mistakes like you can when mixing a cocktail to order,” he lamented.

Liberty on Capitol Hill has a “Barrel-Aged Cocktails for the Masses” program where customers can choose a cocktail to have mixed and aged in one of several half-gallon barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Co. After several weeks, your cocktail will be available for purchase by you and other patrons at the bar.

Owner/bartender Andrew Friedman likes the “innovation factor” of barrel-aging and has created an original cocktail called The Good Dog. It’s a mix of Woodinville Whiskey Co.’s White Dog (an unaged whiskey), a chamomile-infused grappa, and Bitter Truth’s Lemon Bitters. They are also currently offering aged versions of a Sazerac with gin, a Vieux Carré, and the Negroni–and hopefully, in a few more weeks, an aged version of the Trident suggested by yours truly (Hi, Andrew!). They have also aged individual spirits like Campari, housemade orange bitters, and sweet vermouth, in hopes that adding any of those individual ingredients to a cocktail will make it more interesting.

Want to try aging your favorite cocktail at home? You can get the half-gallon barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Co. for $69.95.

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Quick & easy eggnog

The first time I tasted homemade eggnog, it changed me forever. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll drink the store bought stuff. And an eggnog latte?! Love it. Since learning how to make eggnog however, I almost drink it exclusively.

First, you need a good source of fresh eggs because you’ll be eating them raw. My regular egg supplier gives her hens a vacation in the winter. The shorter days and colder temperatures cause them to molt and nearly ceases their egg production. So, I buy eggs. I like to check out the Cornucopia Institute’s egg scorecard, which has led me to buy eggs from Wilcox farms. They’re available at most supermarkets, which makes them the most convenient option for me.

As much as I’d like to try Jess Thomson’s recipe, I always wimp out. The recipe I use is based on one by Alton Brown. It makes about nearly a half gallon of egg nog. His recipe calls for mixing in the Bourbon, which sounds like a fine idea to me but less so to my non-Bourbon drinker husband. Plus, if you do want to make an eggnog latte in the morning you’ll seem like less of an an alcoholic if there’s no booze in your ‘nog.  

4 egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (see Cook’s Note)
4 egg whites

In a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the ⅓ cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whiles in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running, gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites into the mixture.

To Serve: Pour a shot of Bourbon or Rum – or even Kahlua – into a glass and add 1 cup or so of egg nog. Grate a dash of freshly grated nutmeg on top.

Cook’s Note: DO NOT buy ground nutmeg. For about 15 cents, you can buy a whole nutmeg that will last forever. You just need a Microplane zester. They are only $15 or so and also last forever and can be used to zest citrus or grate hard cheeses.

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Inspiration for writing ebbs and flows for me, as I’m sure it does for anyone who writes and blogs. I am my own boss and my own editor…and deadlines come and go without huge consequences. As I look back through my archives, there are months with one entry and months with 10+ entries. I don’t beat myself up over this, but do want to get better. Or at least more consistent.

I’ve had a lot of fun food activities and meals over the summer. I’ve made gallons of ice cream, dozens of pies, canned pickles, beans, beets, carrots and dill relish, and have had some incredible meals out in restaurants. But instead of writing about those things…I’ve either tweeted about them or shared some snaps on Facebook. I promise I’ll get better. I promise to blog more.

Instead, today (tonight actually) I want to share with you some of my greatest hits. If you are new to my blog, I think these entries are a good way to get to know me.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love Bourbon.

Ridiculously delicious cookies. The other thing you should know about me is that I am half Swedish and half Norwegian (my parents both immigrated to the U.S.). I love to write about some of our favorite family recipes.

Go Bananas. I travelled to the Philippines in 2008 and loved it. And can’t stop thinking about it. And planning my next trip.

Italian with a Rock & Roll Soundtrack. Me and the Mr. went to NYC for our anniversary and ate at Babbo.

Poundcake. When I learned my husband was having an affair. With a dessert.

Amy Sedaris’ cheeseball. Why I hate potlucks, but love Amy Sedaris.

Marshmallow Heaven. One of my first blog entries and the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

Raincoast Crisps. Best. Crackers. Ever.

Kitchen Gear I Love. Hi, my name is Sonja and I love kitchen gadgets.

When Accidents Happen. I’m not too proud to share my failures.

I Got Schooled. An early experience at Seattle’s famed Zig Zag Café.

My Glamorous Job. My former life as a European tour guide. Not all it’s cracked up to be.

So, I hope you enjoy reading a little more about my past and hope to bring you a lot more in the future. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think. Or follow me on Twitter. And if you are in the Seattle area, I hope our paths cross soon.

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Raspberry shrub

The first time I heard the term ‘shrub’ I thought the person was talking about vegetation. When talking about food and drink though, it turns out a shrub is an old method of preserving fruit juice. Mix fruit, sugar and vinegar for a syrupy concentrate you can mix with water. They remind me a lot of a Scandinavian drink called ‘saft.’ Saft is a juice concentrate made from seasonal berries – often blackcurrants, sometimes raspberries or lingonberries – and lots of sugar. Mix saft with still or sparkling water (in a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5 usually) for a tasty, refreshing drink.

Shrubs are very similar, but the added vinegar makes them last almost forever and gives them a nice tart kick. If you look up shrub on dictionary.com, it is defined as “any of various acidulated beverages made from the juice of fruit, sugar, and other ingredients, often including alcohol.” The word has its origins in Arabic. The word shurb meant “to drink.” Though I imagine the Arabs weren’t adding any alcohol.

The garden at my parents house is slowly being taken over by their raspberry bushes. Despite my having had no hand in the quantity of raspberry bushes they planted (I’d like more black currants and blueberries), they have been harassing me in recent weeks to come pick raspberries. Don’t get me wrong, I love raspberries. But after making jam, ice cream, pie, and eating handfuls of fresh berries nearly everyday…I was getting raspberried out.

I made a simple raspberry concentrate with some of the excess berries one week, by simmering some raspberries with sugar for 15 minutes or so and then straining. It was syrupy and sweet and perfect when mixed about 1:6 with sparkling water. After hearing about shrubs a few more times though (twice in one week!), it was time to make a raspberry shrub.

The first time I tasted the shrub, it was the smell that hit me first. It was pretty vinegary. I love me some tangy-tartness, but whoa! And then I tasted it. It almost sparkled on my tongue. Once mixed with sparkling water it was even better. The New York Times recently had an article about raspberry shrub and I love how Amanda Hesser describes first tasting it, “The taste was sweet and full-bodied, and the acidity wasn’t the ephemeral “ping!” of most berries but more of a fiery bellow. The taste was intense and addictive, and I wanted to drink the syrup as an elixir.” 

Recipes vary a great deal. Below is an approximation of what I made. I would adjust the vinegar and sugar according to your own taste.

Raspberry Shrub

1 quart fresh raspberries,
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar or more, to taste

Let the berries and vinegar soak for 4 days in the refrigerate. Strain, and add 1 cup of sugar or more to taste.

Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain through cheesecloth into a bottle. Keep in a cool place.

The first time I heard about shrubs was from Marley, a local bartender, at my last LUPEC meeting. So I couldn’t get my mind off the idea of making a boozy shrub. It appears that you can make a shrub out of just about any fruit and even ginger or rhubarb. A classic boozy shrub is made with Rum and citrus. Quantities and ingredients vary a little, but if you are interested in hard shrubs just search for “rum shrub” and you’ll find lots of options.

After my shrub was ready to use, I put a call out on Twitter for some ideas for cocktails. My friend Courtney over at the Cocktail Quest blog came through with lots of ideas, in 140 characters or less:

Basic rum shrub: 2.5 oz rum, 1 oz shrub, build over ice, fill w/ quality ginger beer (about 4 oz.). a good one to start with

Clarke’s conundrum: 2.25 rye, .5 shrub, .5 pedro xim. sherry, 3 dash ang., stir, lemon twist

Jan’s conundrum: 2.25 rum, .5 shrub, .5 dry amon. sherry, 3 dash ang., stir, lemon twist

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A few months ago I started noticing mentions of ‘LUPEC’ on Twitter. A lot of the food writers, bloggers and tweeters I follow were talking about it and I wanted to learn more. After some quick searching, I learned it was a club called “Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.” According the founding chapter of LUPEC in Pittsburgh, members…

    “…are dedicated to the Gin Fizz, the Widow’s Kiss and the Singapore Sling – the drinks our mothers and grandmothers drank, the drinks we strive to save from extinction as a small measure of remembering those great women and their great cocktail parties.”

Sign. Me. Up.

These are ladies that don’t order Lemon Drops, Jaeger Bombs or Rum & Cokes. Not that there is anything wrong with those (lord knows I have consumed a few in my day), it’s just that there are so many great, historically-significant and flavorful cocktails out there to explore and experience.

It turns out there are LUPEC chapters around the country. The Seattle chapter was started last year by Wendy Miller, a travel blogger and cocktail enthusiast; Anu Apte, owner of and bartender at Rob Roy, and; Stevi Deter, computer programmer by day – cocktail blogger by night.

The first LUPEC “meeting” I attended was at the Zig Zag Café, which you may already know – is my favorite bar in Seattle. I arrived early to enjoy a drink – and some Murray time – at the bar before the official gathering. As the LUPEC ladies started to gather, I surveyed the scene and then walked over and joined the party. By that time there were no more seats. This forced me to circulate around from table to table, often kneeling and sometimes just squeezing in. This meant I met lots of people that first night.

Two of the people I met were Valentina and Lorraine. I already followed them on Twitter and was excited to finally put faces to names. Valentina still credits me with reintroducing her to Gin that night. I shared sips of my Aviation with her and others and also talked many into ordering a Bisongrass Sour (Zubrowka vodka, egg white, lemon juice, simple syrup, dash of cinnamon). Of course I credit Murray with reintroducing me to Gin.

For May’s LUPEC gathering, we were assigned homework rather than invited to gather at a bar. The assignment was to go to Sambar in Ballard – a cocktail bar attached to the venerable Le Gourmand – try their cocktails and report back to Wendy. I got in touch with Lorraine and Valentina and we decided to form a study group and tackle this assignment together.

Well, I have never been a good student and this was no exception. I enjoyed great company, tasty food and good cocktails…but other than the picture above, I didn’t record the experience at all. Oh well, at least this homework wasn’t being graded.

Last month’s LUPEC meeting was at the Copper Gate (Web site NSFW) in Ballard. This newly revitalized bar boasts a Scandinavian theme: A bar shaped like the prow of a Viking ship, cocktails featuring Akvavit, Gammel Dansk and lingonberries, a half dozen or so Akvavits by the shot, lots of umlauts, and a menu full of Scandinavian dishes like Swedish meatballs and pickled herring.

We met in the “Pussy Room,” the Copper Gate’s private event space. I kid you not, that’s what it’s called. The whole restaurant actually is plastered with old-timey nudie pics, which may be why they refer to it as a “Scandalnavian” bar. It is the perfect ladies-only party venue.

I met more fun and interesting women at the Copper Gate gathering including Marley, who tends bar at Spur, and Courtney and Tracy, who each have fun and informative blogs.

The thing I have found so interesting and energizing about the three LUPEC events I have participated in, is that they are not so much about getting intoxicated as much as they are about exploring cocktails – new and old – with other women who appreciate them as much as you do. Each month I find myself awaiting a message from Wendy with news about our next meet-up. And until then, I’ll be doing my homework.

Addendum: If you are interested in joining the Seattle chapter of LUPEC, it is open to any ladies that would like to join. More details here.

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Seattle is filled with whiners. This summer when temperatures broke 100 degrees for over a week, they whined. This week, temperatures have barely risen above freezing during the day. And guess what? Seattleites are whining again. What am I doing? I’m drinking.

OK. That didn’t sound quite right, but it is in fact what I am doing to combat the cold. Just like I made ice cold daiquiris this summer and retreated to our blissfully cool basement, I have been making warm drinks this week and curling up under a down comforter. Let’s call it S.A.D. – seasonally affected drinking.

Warm drinks on a cold winter’s night are traditional in Northern climates and where my family comes from, Glögg is the drink of choice. Other countries have Glüwein or mulled wine, but in Sweden, it’s Glögg. They are all pretty much the same: steep some spices in wine, heat and serve.

I’ve tried several recipes over the years. A favorite comes from a dear familiy friend, John Swedstedt, who adds Vodka to his Glögg. This year however, I wanted to try out some new recipes. That’s not to say I didn’t want Vodka in my Glögg, I just needed an updated recipe.

In a pinch I’ve used the bottled Glögg concentrate from IKEA. It works, but I find the spices to be kind of flat.

I heard Marcus Samuelsson on the radio a couple of week’s ago. He’s an Ethiopian born Swede that now lives in America. His restaurant – and cookbook – Aquavit, had just what I was looking for. A little more online research and cookbook consulting and I think I’ve found a recipe to call my own.

3 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1 Tbsp cardamom pods
2-3 small pieces candied ginger
Grated zest of 1 orange
6 whole cloves
1/2 cup vodka
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine. I like Zinfandel
1 cup port
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 brown sugar
1/2 cup blanched, slivered almonds
1/2 cup raisins

Crush the cinnamon and cardamom using a mortar and pestle or smash on a cutting board. Put them in a small glass jar and add the ginger, orange zest, cloves, and vodka. Let stand for 24-48 hours. Strain the vodka into a large saucepan and discard the spices.

Add the red wine, port and sugars and heat over medium heat just until bubbles start to form around the edges. Do not boil.

Add a few almonds and raisins to the bottom of each mug and pour the hot Glögg over the top.

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