Your ultimate New Year’s Eve cocktail: French 75 Punch

photo credit: Teri Lyn Fisher, for Cocktails for a Crowd

I know, it’s not even Christmas yet. But New Year’s Eve will be here soon enough, so I’m (re-)publishing one of my favorite celebratory punches. (PS, nothing wrong with serving this for Christmas eve either, if you choose.)  Here’s why this is the drink for your New Year’s Eve bash:

1. It’s sparkling, and you know you need something bubbly for toasting at midnight.

2. Between the fancy block of ice and simple orange-wheel slices, It looks great in a punch bowl. But it’s easy to put together and difficult to screw up. If all else fails, just pour in more bubbly.

3. As the ice melts over the course of the evening, the punch mellows a bit, but never waters down (thank you, gin), so the party keeps going until Auld Lang Syne.

French 75 Punch

From Cocktails for a Crowd

Serves 8

Total Volume: 7 3/4 cups (without ice)

The French 75 is a classic cocktail usually made with cognac, though gin is sometimes substituted, and that’s the spirit I call for in this recipe. It typically isn’t served as a punch but works quite well in this format. Serve this fresh, fragrant variation at any occasion that calls for toasting.

A simple chunk of ice, such as one frozen in a loaf pan or bowl will suffice, but for a special, decorative touch, consider freezing orange wheels inside the ice.

16 ounces (2 cups)  London dry gin
8 ounces (1 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces (3/4 cup) simple syrup
1/2 teaspoon orange bitters
32 ounces (4 cups) dry champagne or other sparkling dry white wine, chilled
1 large ice block
8 orange wheels, for garnish

In a punch bowl, combine the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters and stir well.

Just before serving, pour in the champagne and stir gently. Add the ice and garnish with the orange wheels.

To serve, ladle into punch glasses.

Like this recipe? Sign up at The Dizzy Fizz now through Jan 16 for a chance to win a copy of Cocktails for a Crowd.

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Pictorial: What’s your still’s name?

“Hi, my name is ___.” Go ahead and introduce yourself, because some stills have names too.

What kind of distiller names their still? I can only imagine it’s the same kind of person who names their car, boat or musical instrument. After all, many distillers spend as much time with their beloved hooch-making apparatus as they do with their loved ones. So why not refer to “George” vs. “Still No. 2”?

Of course, this tradition doesn’t apply to everyone. When I asked Brian Lee of Tuthilltown whether he named his still, he seemed taken aback. “Never!” he cried. “These stills need to be repaired and replaced pretty often. If I named one, I’d get too attached to get rid of it.”

Meet a few stills, below.

This is Old George, pictured with bartender Shawn Soole, at Fermentorium Distilling in Victoria, BC. Old George primarily makes Stump Gin. Where did the name come from? “It’s British,” Soole shrugged. “It’s old.” (It’s a 1920s copper still.)
IMG_0838Below, meet Mary, at A. Smith Bowman in Fredericksburg, VA, pictured with master distiller Brian Prewitt.  She’s an enormous 30-foot-tall copper still, installed in 1991 and named after Mary Hite Bowman, who was the mother of the Bowman brothers who founded the distillery. When I visited the distillery in December, Prewitt (who refers to the still as “my good friend Mary,”) told me he would be getting a much smaller (8 foot) still in a couple of weeks for making gin. And it will be named for Mary’s husband, George.IMG_0790IMG_0792This is a photo of George, who I understand has arrived at Bowman since my visit.IMG_0793

Meanwhile, Ugly Betty is the name of the still at Bruichladdich that makes gin, not Scotch. Designed in 1955, it’s described as a cross between a pot still and a column still; key to the design is an ugly, thick column-like neck with three extra removable sections for flexibility – sort of a Frankenstein’s monster approach. I’ve been told that it’s more common for gin stills to have names than whiskey stills, though I don’t know why.

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Finally, meet Wee Witchie, at Scotland’s Mortlach distillery. The smallest still at Mortlach was given its name in the 1960s by then distillery manager John Winton thanks to its unique shape: fat and rounded at the bottom and pointy at the top, resembling a pointy witch’s hat. At least one run of spirit from the Wee Witchie still is included in every bottling of Mortlach (a single malt Scotch starting to make inroads in the U.S. this year).

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In the photo below, Wee Witchie is the small still at the far end of the line-up.2014-06-22_17-26-25_994If you know of other stills that have been given names, I’d love to know — I’m sure there are plenty more out there!

Added 2/16: How could I forget about Ethel the Still, at North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff, IL? Unlike the stills above, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of making Ethel’s acquaintance in person. However, Ethel is probably the only still to have a Twitter account — so appropriately, she reached out to me via Twitter to remind me of her presence. Thanks, @StillEthel.

In my glass: Barrel-Aged Gin

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One of the spirits trends I’m most excited about now is barrel-aged gin. YES:  gin aged in casks that previously held whiskey or wine (or even rum!), giving the finished product a golden hue, a luscious wash of vanilla and surprising versatility in bridging the seasons between cold- and hot-weather drinking since it incorporates aspects of wintry whiskey and summer-friendly gin.

In fact: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that barrel-aged gin may be the ultimate spirit for spring.

The reason barrel-aged gin is so firmly on my radar screen is because I wrote about it for the July issue of Wine Enthusiast. Let me clarify:  I started out writing about gin, period — the unaged stuff. But then a few barrel-aged beauties came in during the review session, and knocked my socks off. I’m already a gin girl, but (like most of us), I drink it in cocktails, not straight. But barrel-aged gin is nuanced and interesting enough to sip straight. And I couldn’t believe how different each of the bottlings were.

Among the most creative and enticing takes I’ve tried:

St. George Dry Rye Reposado Gin (St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA). An unusual rosy gin “rested” for 18 months in casks that previously held Syrah and Grenache wines. The end result is crazily hoppy and malty and oaky, with a fleeting dark-fruit quality on the finish.

Corsair Distillery’s Barrel-Aged Gin (Nashville, TN): Aging their gin in twice-used Corsair Spiced Rum barrels gives a pumpkin-spice effect, with distinct cinnamon and nutmeg notes.

Smooth Ambler’s Aged Gin (Maxwelton, West Virginia): It’s rested in used bourbon casks. Though it’s bottled at a striking 99 proof, it still retains a sprightly botanical nose, vanilla/burnt orange notes plus an intriguingly buttery feel.

Treaty Oak Distilling Co. (Austin, TX): Their bold & gutsy Waterloo Antique Barrel Reserve Gin has a burnished-copper hue and a deep, molasses-like aroma. On the palate, it veers closer to brown sugar, finishing with dry notes of chamomile tea, cedar and clove. It makes a dynamite variation on a Manhattan, too.

Downslope Distilling Ould Tom Citrus Flavored Gin (Downslope Distilling, Centennial, CO). Perfect for cocktail history buffs. It’s made in the lightly sweetened Old Tom style, distilled from cane and barrel aged for three months, for a golden gin that features honey and pear notes.

Notice anything a little wacky about those picks? Usually, gin is a Brit’s game. And of course the British did it first:  Burrough’s is probably the best-known and most widely-distributed barrel-aged gin.

But the crazy Americans are changing the game. Craft distillers in particular are innovating in what has become one of the most exciting categories around. This is only a handful of the barrel-aged gin offerings out there — I fully expect more to come, and in my opinion, the sooner the better. I’d be delighted to see barrel-aged gin become more than just an offbeat niche category.

Negroni Sbagliatos for a crowd

Image courtesy Manhattan Cocktail Classic

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic has officially drawn to a close. This is one of those epic events where bartenders serve hundreds — in some cases thousands — of cocktails at a go.  There were plenty of mediocre offerings, to be sure. But there were a great many memorable drinks too. And this was perhaps the most memorable drink of them all.

Likely, I was particularly attuned to this drink because of the Cocktails for a Crowd book. No doubt I was paying closer attention than ever before to how batched drinks were presented, ranging from the punch served in painted ceramic punchbowls at Dead Rabbit to colorful pink and orange Palomas decanted into swing-top glass flasks and arrayed on silver platters during a seminar.

But Campari topped them all, offering wee cans of Negroni Sbagliato cocktails. It’s a relatively simple classic cocktail:  Campari, sweet vermouth, and dry sparkling wine, like Prosecco. I first heard of it after Frank Bruni wrote about it a couple of years ago; it started popping up on drink menus shortly thereafter, though it’s still lesser-known vs the Negroni (Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin).  The cans were handed out at the splashy MCC gala, as well as at a party thrown by the brand a couple of nights later.

Apparently, the genesis of this canned cocktail began at last year’s gala, where Negronis were pre-batched, carbonated and bottled. At the event, bartenders merely popped off the bottle caps and inserted a straw. It was on-trend — arguably, ahead-of-trend— fun to drink and speedy to serve. The canned cocktails had been floated for the 2012 gala, a PR rep told me (as we sipped Sbagliatos, natch), but tabled until 2013.

Apparently, a great deal of effort went into those canned cocktails. They had to be specially made, the cocktail had to be made in large quantities, and they had to be shipped over. The red-and-white striped plastic straws (not paper, which disintegrate quickly), were sourced from Etsy.

Everyone noticed them. From a drinker’s perspective, it was a good cocktail — truly, the most important part of this equation — and it was fun to drink, so people actually walked around and drank from the cans. It wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too boozy, so it was one of the few cocktails I actually finished at the Gala. From a marketer’s perspective, it was clearly branded — no mistaking the distinctive Campari red, and it was labeled in big letters anyway, identifying the brand and the name of the drink. It was memorable and everyone asked where to get one. It was clever and not too ostentatious. Even the straws reinforced the branding, but in a tasteful way.

Now here’s where things fall apart. Despite this marketing coup, no one can buy this product. And I heard many people say they would gladly purchase a six-pack of Sbagliatos (I was one of them). You can buy a cans of Pimm’s at convenience stores in the UK, yet in the United States, the Ready-To-Drink category is limited to pouches of awful slushy Margaritas made with fake lime flavoring. If Campari brought the canned Sbagliato product to market, I would consider it to be an outright marketing success. If not, it was just a clever flash-in-the-pan that will need to be topped again next year.

Celery-spiked cocktail recipe: Green Hornet

My article, “Put A Stalk In It,” about celery-spiked cocktails, is in the May/June issue of Imbibe Magazine.

Although it may seem like an obscure ingredient for cocktails, once I started looking around, I found myself spotting celery everywhere, in various forms. Erick Castro has a Paloma riff at his new bar, Polite Provisions, subbing Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda in place of grapefruit Jarritos. Celery foam tops Bloody Marys.  A Celery Gimlet is on the menu at Saxon + Parole, one of my new favorite bars — with celery juice and Maldon sea salt. Celery shrub here. Celery bitters there. Celery seed-infused syrups. Housemade celery cordial at Dead Rabbit. In researching a separate article on Rock & Rye, I came across a 1902 reference to “La Rue’s Celery Rock & Rye.”  

It’s enough to make you want a good drink.  So here’s one to try. Although it didn’t fit into the Imbibe article, it’s a mighty refreshing cocktail nevertheless.

Green Hornet

Tona Palomino, Trenchermen, Chicago, IL

The menu description reads simply:  celery gin and tonic. “A lot of people thought it was celery gin,” notes Palomino. “Rather, it’s a celery-flavored gin and tonic.”

1.5 oz. gin

1.5 oz. fresh celery juice

3/4 oz. simple syrup

3/4 oz. lime juice

I dash  Bitter Truth Celery Bitters (optional)

1 oz.  tonic water

Measure everything but the tonic water into a cocktail shaker. Cover with ice and shake. Strain into a 12-ounce Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top off with the tonic water.

Blast from the Past: The Ultimate “Mad Men” Martini

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The return of Mad Men on April 7 seems like a fine excuse to revive this post, which originally ran on March 18, 2012. A retro post about a retro show – Cheers!

Yes — I am one of those geeks counting the days until Mad Men returns (7 days left!). So I was happy to receive a copy of The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, which is refreshing my memory about seasons past and teaching me a few new culinary history tidbits.

At first, I couldn’t decide which drink to make. The 21 Club’s version of the classic Bloody Mary? The campy Blue Hawaii? In the end, I decided simplicity was best, and opted for the sleek, streamlined Martini. (It didn’t hurt that I have a shiny new bottle of Imbue vermouth in my fridge.)

[A quick aside:  Ever try to photograph a Martini? They might taste crisp and refreshing, but they look like dullsville on film. My husband gets 99% of the credit for the photo above. Hey, I made the drink!]

Here’s the recipe from the book, by way of New York’s legendary Grand Central Oyster Bar. Although I have oversized glasses and thus made mine a double, the Oyster Bar likely wouldn’t approve. According to the book, the restaurant recommends using small martini glasses, because the martini gets too warm in a larger glass.

Martini

Courtesy of The Grand Central Oyster Bar, New York, NY

Note:  Serve in a small martini glass and put leftovers in a rocks glass.

1/8 ounce dry vermouth

2 1/2 ounces gin

1. Fill a martini glass with water and large ice cubes (enough to keep it cold while mixing drink).

2. Pour vermouth and gin into a mixing glass and stir.

3. Pour ice and water out of martini glass. Pour martini from mixing glass into martini glass.

Source: “The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook” by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin.

Three things I’ve learned about…Non-London Dry Gin

Ready for Gin & Tonic season?  The April 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine will include (among other things) my review column on Non London Dry Style Gin!  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. New gins are coming to market in leaps and bounds. Long after I’d filed my review copy, I still continued to hear about new and intriguing gins, and eventually persuaded WE’s editors to run a story on “New Generation Gins.” Now…will we find enough drinkers to consume all of these gins? I’m skeptical, since the gin market runs far behind vodka, whiskey, and many other spirits in terms of market share. But its devotees are passionate, including the mixology community, so I’m hopeful.

2. Those damn botanicals again. As with other gin categories, botanicals (those natural “flavorings” like herbs and spices) figured into the mix. My favorite finding: Edinburgh Gin includes milk thistle among its botanicals. This is the same botanical that Elana Effrat, aka @theboozemuse, advised me to take before Tales of the Cocktail last year. As a hangover preventative! Nothing like having a hangover cure in your booze, is there?

3. There’s a fine line between gins considered “London Dry” and not. When I covered London Dry style gin last year, the first order of business was to figure out what the heck “London Dry style” meant. Essentially, it boiled down to juniper as the dominant botanical — and that was what differentiated it from the sweeter Old Tom style, the stronger-flavored Plymouth style, flavored/infused gins, aged “golden gins,” and Dutch genevers/jenevers.  

But really, where is the line of demarcation? A number of the Non London Dry gins still had a good dose of juniper, though overall they were more full-bodied, robust, and in some cases sweeter than traditional London Drys.

If you have a favorite gin (or gin cocktail!) I’d love to hear about it. Personally, I made a lot of Fitty-Fitty martinis (half gin, half dry vermouth…”50/50,” get it?) after the gin review sessions.