Trend-spotting: Curry Cocktails

Photo credit: Erwin Schoonderwaldt (via Flickr)

The April issue of Bon Appetit magazine arrived over the weekend (I was a Gourmet subscriber – and although I honestly have nothing against Bon App, I still feel a little stab of resentment every time the unasked-for substitute shows up in the mailbox). As I was leafing through, the page serendipitously fell open to a recipe for Curry-Spiced Bloody Marys.

It’s an otherwise standard recipe (tomato juice, vodka, lemon and lime juices, salt and pepper, celery-stick garnish), but it also calls for two unusual ingredients:  balsamic vinegar, and “2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons” of Madras curry powder. (I’ll assume that 3 full tablespoons would have overpowered.)

I seem to be all but stumbling over curry-spiked cocktails lately!  At the Cocktail All-Stars event, I was handed a Delhi Daisy, made with tequila, elderflower, lemon, curry simple syrup, and aromatic bitters. (I later learned it was the brainchild of Misty Kalkofen, of Boston’s Drink).

Just days later, I was sent a press release for AGAINN, in Washington D.C. And tucked in among a number of innovative drinks was The Bare-Knuckle Boxer, described as follows:  “house-blended madras curry powder infused into John L. Sullivan Irish Whisky, R&W Orchard Apricot liqueur, Dolin Dry, and Peychaud’s Bitters.” 

Hmm, I thought:  here’s someone mixing up their own spices, and then infusing them into a base spirit. Very different approach from Misty’s simple syrup approach. But wait…why did it sound so familiar?  And then it hit me:  a few months back, I interviewed Justin Guthrie of Central Michel Richard, also in D.C.  He was all kinds of fired up about a recent experiment utilizing sous-vide technology from the kitchen, which he’d used to concoct a  curry powder “super-infused” bourbon.  The end result:  an exotic whiskey sour

Though I’m not exactly a sous-vide expert, what I do know is that it’s a method of slow-cooking. In other words, not exactly curry in a hurry.

Not the same old grind: Peppercorn Cocktails

I’m honored that my “Peppered Poire” drink is a winner of the Pear Panache cocktail contest, and will be featured all this month on the USA Pears web site.

However, this drink comes with a dirty secret:  There’s a Peppered Poire cocktail in the Spice & Ice book, but… it’s not the same as the Pear Panache winner.

Don’t get me wrong — like all the drinks in the book, it was tested, I love it, and I stand behind it.  However, long after the Spice & Ice book had gone to press, Chile Pepper magazine assigned me a story on peppercorn cocktails (and yes, I’m quite aware that this is the delightful kind of piece that would ONLY be assigned by Chile Pepper!).

That piece included a recipe for the Black Pepper Gin Rickey, created by Justin Guthrie, bar manager at Central Michel Richard in Washington, D.C. His wonderfully piquant drink took first-place honors at a regional Craft Bartenders Guild competition. It’s a complicated drink, which involved building a house-made black pepper-lime soda to add flavor and fizz to a classic rickey. And to make that soda water, Guthrie first brewed a simple syrup infused with black peppercorns and hot red pepper flakes.

When I saw that syrup, that was my “a-ha” moment. The original Spice & Ice recipe got the pepper in by shaking freshly-cracked black peppercorns with the drink. It was a perfectly serviceable technique, as long as those crunchy little peppercorns were strained out– I even had to add a line in the recipe advising to watch out for those stray little tooth-crackers.

But the simple syrup was brilliant – it was even hotter than the original recipe thanks to the red pepper flakes, and all the solids are strained out after the steep. Of course, adding simple syrup made the drink way sweeter, so I had to adjust some of the other ingredients to balance things out. Here is the final, award-winning (!) result.

Makes one drink

The Peppered Poire

Black Pepper Simple Syrup
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar

The Peppered Poire Cocktail
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Poire William or similar pear-flavored liqueur
1/4 ounce fresh Bartlett pear puree
1/2 ounce black pepper simple syrup
Sparkling wine

To make the simple syrup, place a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the black peppercorns and red pepper flakes and toast for 30 seconds, shaking the pan frequently to move contents and prevent burning. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Reduce heat to medium low and add water and sugar. Let simmer for a few minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. Strain the syrup into a container and discard the solids.

To make The Peppered Poire, add the gin, Poire William, pear puree and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake well. Strain the contents into a champagne flute and top off the glass with sparkling wine. Float 2 or 3 whole black peppercorns on top of the fizz, if desired.