Hot stuff: Monin spicy syrups

Well, looka what the postman brought:  Monin’s line of spiced syrups.  I had a great time experimenting with the Habanero Lime flavor over the weekend, which is why you don’t see it in the photo below, dashing it into 7-up, tequila, and whatever else I had on hand. I’m excited about this product line, with good reason.

Spicy Chocolate, Spicy Red Cinnamon, Spicy Mango, Chipotle Pineapple syrups.

Let me tell you a syrup story. Maybe a year ago, after the book manuscript was safely turned in to my editor but long before the publication date, I hit upon the brilliant idea of marketing a line of Spice & Ice-branded syrups and glass rimmers. Great idea, right? I got busy with all the due diligence:  I signed up for a seminar with the NASFT (the same folks who bring us the Fancy Food show); I found a commercial kitchen in Brooklyn willing to let me use their space; I ordered dozens of tiny food-grade squeeze bottles to share with a few selected bartenders; I cranked out a marketing plan.

But wait — one key piece of the puzzle still was missing.

The product.

Here’s the problem:  I have lots of great simple syrup recipes, but they’re good for a couple of weeks, and that’s it. In order to sell a product, it has to keep long enough to survive distribution, maybe sitting in trucks or warehouses or on shelves for months and months. Even refrigerated products require some longetivity.

I spent several weekends brewing up syrups I really liked – Habanero Orange! Jalapeno Mint! Clove & Cinnamon! – and then I’d decant them into squeeze bottles, cap ’em up, and sit them on a shelf to see how long a shelf life I might claim. Each time, it was about 2 weeks, and then a thin scum of black mold would grow. So very appetizing! So I’d toss out the bottle and start over again. I pestered a lot of very nice people with questions, who generously shared advice:  Use a greater sugar-to-water ratio, since sugar is a preservative. Purchase preservatives to extend shelf life (I had my heart set on creating an organic product, so that ruled out most preservatives). Find a better way to seal air out of the bottles.

Equally troubling: sulfur. I wanted to work with fresh peppers, which work great in freshly-made syrups but don’t age well. They begin to exude a horrible, knock-you-over-backwards, sulphuric stink after about 3 weeks.

So we stamp Kara’s Great Entrepreneurial Syrup Adventure with a big, fat, red FAIL.  (Anyone want to buy a box of 2 dozen tiny food-grade plastic bottles?)

If you’re still reading, you understand one reason I’m psyched about the Monin line:  they pulled off what I could not. I was sure this would be a high-fructose extravaganza, but no, they’re all made with cane sugar, and only the fruit-flavored syrups include potassium sorbate, a relatively innocuous preservative. But maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself:  I insisted on using fresh peppers and spices, where Monin subs in “natural pepper flavor,” “natural cinnamon flavor,” etc. I’m not entirely sure what goes into that, or how “natural” it actually may be.

In terms of taste, I was pleased. There’s a good balance of sweet and heat, with just a pleasant peppery tingle and no harshness in the throat or unpleasantly overt ersatz aftertaste. Nothing is the same as making it yourself, but I consider these syrups a perfectly acceptable substitute, and they get a rare recommendation from me. Bravo to Monin for making the product that I could not.

Drinking in Oregon-inspired cocktails

Last night I attended the Oregon Food Fete, held here in NY in a loft space somewhere west of the theater district. Although I don’t often report on such events, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality (and quantity!) of cocktails on offer, tucked in among pleasing nibbles like smokey blue-cheese chocolates, cayenne caramels, and award-winning chipotle cheddar.

At first I was skeptical – after all, food festivals typically trot out the best-of-the-best to represent. But then I thought some more about the thriving, delightfully geeky Portland bartending scene.  And even the IACP will be recognizing the culinary significance of Portland when their national conference is held there just a few short months — and I intend to be there, elbowing my way to the front of the bar (who’s with me?)

But back to the drinks:  First off I sampled two vodkas from Artisan Spirits, which is owned by Wildwood bartender and distiller Ryan Csanky. The first was made from wine, the second from honey. Neither is available here in NY yet, but I think bartenders are going to go bananas over this brand because it has very distinctive aromas and flavors that will blend beautifully into cocktails.

Then I headed over to House Spirits, which is probably best known for the phenomenally successful Aviation gin brand. In addition to Aviation, tBell pepper cocktailhey were showcasing Krogstad Aquavit (a domestic aquavit? not Swedish? that’s new) and the “Apothecary Line” of eau-de-vie-like liqueurs.  The mini bottles are adorable, but the product was just too strong for me to swallow more than a sip. Much more palatable was the bell-pepper cocktail, made with Aquavit, honey, lemon, mint, and muddled bell pepper.

And then the final stop was the Pear Bureau Northwest, which was showcasing pear-based cocktails made by ten-01 mixologist Kelley Swenson. (Disclosure: my Peppered Poire cocktail is a finalist in a cocktail contest sponsored by the PBN, which is why I was at the event in the first place.) Kelley Swenson, mixing things up

Although he was showcasing a recipe called the Autumn Anjou (Anjou pear puree, Aviation gin – naturally, Aperol, pear brandy, and lemon juice), I found a number of cocktails featured in a PBN booklet even more intriguing — featuring cardamom, clove, even black pepper flavors. Here’s one of those:

A Pear of Cloves

Brian O’Neill, Cafe Gray, NYC

1 1/2 oz. pear vodka

1/z oz puree of fresh pear, such as Green Anjou or Comice

1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 oz. clove-infused simple syrup (see recipe below)

3 to 4 thin slices Green Anjou pear, skin on

In a shaker, muddle the pear slices before adding the remaining ingredients. Fill with ice and shake until cold and frothy. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of pear.

Clove-Infused Simple Syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

6 whole cloves

Bring sugar, water and cloves to boil in a small pot. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain and chill.

Spice & Ice in The Washington Post!

If you haven’t already seen WaPo’s regular “iSpice” blog, penned by the lovely and talented Monica Bhide, you’re going to want to check it out. Each week, Monica writes about a different spice and how to use it to best advantage. This week, she’s focusing on cloves, and includes the Aperol Spice cocktail from Spice & Ice as a great example of how to showcase cloves in cocktails.

She made a great choice – the Aperol Spice is one of my favorite cocktails in the book.

The Aperol Spice

The Aperol Spice

 I love the rosy color, the sweet-bitter flavor, and the way mixing up a batch of cinnamon-clove syrup perfumes my entire apartment. Click here to read the article and get the drink recipe! 

(warning: WaPo includes calorie counts and other nutritional info with all their recipes, including this one. you may want to look away…)

Photo credit: Monica Bhide