Right Place, Right Time

There are some beers which are tied to a very specific place. For me, this is one such beer. already reviewed another offering from this distinguished brewery, their Pemi Pale Ale. The Pemi is by far my favorite Woodstock offering, but there is a place in my heart that loves their darker ale. Whenever we go up to the Loj, a log cabin in the White Mountains that Tufts owns, it is inevitable that we go over to the brewery and get some fresh brewed growlers of their Pig’s Ear Brown. Two weeks ago we even got a fresh brewed keg of the Pig, as we affectionately call it. Without further ado, I give you:

Woodstock Inn Brewing Co.: Pig’s Ear Brown Ale

Tasting conditions: It sat in the fridge for about a month before being drunk, well chilled. Traditional 16oz pint glass. I enjoyed it just before dinner after a hard day.

Eye: A dark amber brown with no visible bubbles. The head remained for a little bit which suggests a decent quantity of protein in the beer, though the initial poor did not reveal significant initial head. The bottle was brown glass with just a traditional wood-look Woodstock Inn logo, and a cartoon pig.

Nose: The beer had a nice nutty odor that was noticeable with a sniff, but not neatly as in-your-face as the Smuttnose Pumpkin.

Mouth: The taste was quite nice. There was a nice hoppy front-end followed by a pleasant sweetness on the back end with a nutty aftertaste. On a second taste, the front had a slight spice-taste (that is a taste of spices, not a hot taste). The end had a nice slightly bitter hint that really gave a nice contrast to the rest of the beer.

Conclusion:
Pig’s Ear reminds me of nights at the Loj, the log cabin owned by my school, often before leaving for a trip up some mountain or another. Tasted alone, the beer is good, quite good, actually, but not nearly as good as it was at the Loj. That’s not to say it’s bad, but I realize that a certain amount of my affection for the Pig is sentimental. I would still highly recommend this fine ale. It is an incredible beer.

A note on the photo. I am 99% sure that this photo is the right beer. However, the Pig was one of the earliest reviews I did, and it was before I put the bottle in the review, so I can’t be one hundred percent sure.

Fair travels,
The Scribe

Drink Softly, and from a Big Glass

If you look at cocktail blogs and sites across the ‘Net, you can find literally millions of way to combine alcohol with everything from Tabasco to rock candy to bacon. People will turn it into a gummy bear, shake it up with ice and myriad other ingredients, or simply drink a pure solution of ethanol and water. Mixologists around the world are concerned with taking whisk(e)y, rum, brandy, vodka, gin, and a variety of more exotic spirits and turning them into interesting drinks. But why must all mixed drinks be either alcoholic, and usually extremely so, or overly sweet concoctions? Whether it is to allow children to sit with their parents at a bar, even to let college students just over and just under the legal drinking age to hang out together there, simply to make it easier for the designated driver to have a good time, or if it is only to expand our drinking horizons, we should also try non-alcoholic and minimally alcoholic cocktails.

The easiest drink is to take a soda and put in a generous splash of bitters in. Stirring’s bitters are even non-alcoholic, making them quite well suited to the task. One drink I have been enjoying recently is:

Ginger Tonic

  • 1/2-1 oz – Bitters (Stirring’s Blood Orange)
  • 4-8 oz – Ginger Ale (Canada Dry)

Build in a long glass with ice. Garnish with a cherry or orange wedge.

This is, of course, a very simple drink. However, we have the juices of a hundred fruits, bitters, sodas, waters, and a thousand different syrups. We can even use ice cream, as in the beloved root beer float, or coffee, or both as in an Israeli cafe au lait. We can infuse various herbs and spices into the drink as we please. An iced chai is little more than water infused with herbs and spices, and then mixed with milk.

If you have some interesting virgin drinks, either post them on your blog, or let me know in the comments. They may not help your heart, but they may help a friend.

Cheers!
The Scribe

(For any of you who may be scarred, I will not switch to non-alcoholic drinks. It is just a subject I have been thinking of a bit recently.)

MxMo: Cocktail Etoufee

Now without a doubt, this MxMo will break down into three distinct groups. The tikiphiles out there will whip up a bunch drinks from Don the Beachcomber, a New Orlinian. The classicists out there will be slinging milk punches, sazeracs, absinthes suisse, and vieux carres like they’re going out of fashion, not coming back in. Meanwhile the innovators will be modifying more modern New Orleans specialties like the obituary cocktail, the corpse reviver, and even the hurricane.
I hate going with trends, and I’m nowhere near good enough to make something that will stand out if I were to go with the trends, so that kind of leaves me stuck without too much to go on. I mean, the theme is New Orleans, and if I’m not going with a drink hailing from New Orleans, how am I to fill that challenge? As I was thinking this and despairing, an old joke came to my rescue:

“How does a creole chef change a light bulb?”
“Well, fus’, he make a roux…”

And how does a creole chef make a cocktail?
“Well, fus’, he make a roux…”

And with that I was off and running. After that, I got another bit of inspiration from one of my good friends from New Orleans, the guy who gave me my first mixed drink. The drink was known as a “Witch’s Brew” and I think has more to do with college than it does with New Orleans. First, you take an American pale lager, and to that you add a shot of whatever cheap spirits you have hanging around. Sounds yummy, dunnit? The last thing I needed came from a previous post on chocolate pairing, where I thought to use a solid, food ingredient, as a “virtual ingredient” in the cocktail.

With my three bits of inspiration together, I was ready to go. The first step, was a roux. A roux, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is mixture of roughly half fat and half flour that is cooked over medium heat. It is the mother the French “mother sauces” and thickens everything from gravy to gumbo…to cocktails. That was my hope was to get a nice thickening effect to get some extra mouth feel. Meanwhile, the proteins in the flour would act the same way egg or milk proteins do in egg and milk drinks. The longer you cook a roux, the more flavor you get out of it, but the less it can thicken whatever liquid you add it to. You start out with a white or blonde roux, and you progress in slowly darkening color until you get a “black roux,” which is when your roux burns and becomes useless. In Creole cuisine, the tradition is to use what is known as a brick roux which is where you cook your roux until it is brick red. Unfortunately, that’s about a shade shy of the black roux, and thus very easy to overcook. Instead, I went with a peanut butter roux, which was cooked until the color you can see at the right.

I had prepared a beer syrup in advance, using a cup of decarbonized beer, and a packed cup of brown sugar for reasons that will soon be apparent. I slowly added the cold syrup to the hot roux, stirring the entire time until it was all combined. The flour, in addition to everything else, also acted as an emulsifier. With a roux made up of a quarter cup butter, and a quarter cup flour, the whole mess came to a cup and a half of roux-thickened beer syrup.

I paired a chocolate chip shortbread with my cocktail. This used half of the roux-thickened beer syrup (3/4 c.), one and seven eighths of a cup of butter, two cups of brown sugar, which were mixed together, and then three cups of flour and a generous amount of chopped chocolate was added in. The mixture was poured into a sheet pan to bake for twenty minutes, then cut into finger-sized pieces.

All that was left was to assemble my cocktail:

The Witch’s Broux Cocktail

  • 3 pt. (2.25 oz.) – Rye Whiskey (Old Overholt)
  • 1 pt. (.75 oz.) – Roux Thickened Beer Syrup (see above)
  • 7-8 dashes – Aromatic Bitters (Peychoud’s)

Shake whiskey and syrup in a shaker and strain into an short tumbler full of ice. Spread thickened syrup over a piece of shortbread, and serve next to the cocktail. Garnish with a brandied cherry, and sprinkle bitters gently on top, instructing the drinker to give a stir before drinking.

While I did not have any cherries handy, the layering of the bitters on top gives the drink a pleasant appearance. In addition, by putting the bitters in at the end, the aroma of the bitters fills the glass, which is a pleasant bonus. I find that cherries tend to work as an excellent garnish for anything containing Peychoud’s bitters as it has some very pleasant cherry notes. It would be interesting to cut back a tad on the syrup, or at least its sweetness, and coat the glass in marascino to accent the cherry notes. Even without any actual cherries, this cocktail has a pleasant cherry taste, which plays quite nicely with the fruitiness of the summer ale I used for the syrup, and especially with the apple notes in the rye. My only other question for this cocktail was whether I should call it the “Witch’s Broux cocktail” after one of the key inspirations or whether I should call it the “Cocktail Etoufee” as etoufee is a roux with onions, pepper, and seafood cooked in it. My thought was to reserve the cocktail etoufee for more of a savory cocktail, but let me know what you think in the comments.

Be sure to check out the wrapup and also my previous entry, which I put up when I heard MxMo was delayed.

I bid you good drinking,
The Scribe

My Bowl Floweth Over

Last night we celebrated my housemate’s 21st birthday in the appropriate style with lots of carrying on and suchlike. While we offered a full, if low end, bar to our guests, the focus was on a rum and sparkling wine punch.

Pomegranate Birthday Puncheon

  • 3 L – Sparkling Wine (We used J. Roget which is “methode moderne” or gas injected. Please use better wine.)
  • 1 L – Rum (Bacardi works, but something like 10 Cane or a good gold would work better.)
  • 1 L – Pomegranate Juice (Bottled is, of course fine, but fresh is always better.)
  • 1/3 L (1.5 c.) – Simple or invert syrup
  • 1/4 L (1 c.) – Fresh lime juice
  • 1/8 L (1/2 c.) – Fresh orange juice
  • 25 dashes – Peychoud’s bitters

Mix together in a large punch bowl. Chill with very large ice cubes (freeze water in a bowl) and garnish with cut up fruit from the juice, and pomegranate seeds if available.

While this punch was entirely drinkable, and masks a pretty massive kick behind a somewhat sweet fruit taste, it wasn’t wonderful. For a start, the sparkling wine being cheap American stuff (even worse than Andre), not only failed to add to the taste but, indeed, subtracted from it. In addition, since sparkling wine that gets its bubbles from gas injection holds its bubbles much worse than either the methode tradicionale or the metodo Italiano, the hoped for bubbly effect was not present. My reworking of the recipe was:

Scrivenal Sparkling Pomegranate Puncheon

  • 8 pt (1.5 L) – Sparkling Wine (Cava or prosecco would probably be better than Champagne.)
  • 4 pt (750 mL) – Gold Rum (Mount Gay works well.)
  • 2 pt. (1.5 c.) – Lime juice
  • 1 pt. (3/4 c.)- Grenadine (Use the real stuff from pomegranate juice. If you find this a bit sweet, cut the grenadine with pomegranate juice reduced by half.)
  • 1 pt. (3/4 c.)- Pomegranate liqueur (Pama works, but so would DeKuyper.)
  • 1 dash/oz. rum (25 dashes) – Peychoud’s bitters

Stir together with a generous pinch each of cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a punch bowl. Garnish with lime wedges, spent fruit shells, pomegranate seeds if available, and fruits of the season.

This, to my mind, is a much better punch, and at 27% alcohol packs an even stronger punch, while still tasting even better. In addition, by using the grenadine, or reduced juice, the taste of the juice comes through much stronger. The sweetness can be easily adjusted by mixing all of the ingredients together except the grenadine, then add the grenadine slowly, tasting as you go. Once you reach the ideal sweetness, make up the difference with pomegranate juice reduced by half. I find pomegranate juice only a bit on the sweet side, so it gives flavour without affecting the balance of the drink quite as much as grenadine does.

May good drinks and merriness follow you all the days of your life,
The Scribe

Keep it Simple, Stupid

Okay guys, I hate to do this, but I have read one too many recipes which call for orange infused vanilla simple syrup with a hint of bacon. While there is nothing wrong with such an ingredient as such (though it is a bit hard to make), that isn’t “simple syrup.” Simple syrup or sugar syrup, also known to chefs as cottage syrup, has two ingredients: sugar and water. If you want to make it slightly more complex, you can add gum arabic, though technically, that gomme syrup, or a drop of lemon juice, which is technically invert syrup if you cook it long enough. If you add vanilla to it, you have vanilla syrup, if you add orange to the picture, you have orange syrup, and so on. It’s kind of like a martini. Martini’s have up to four ingredients: Gin, vodka, fortified wine, and possibly bitters. Just as a “sour apple martini cocktail” is not a martini even if it may be a cocktail, so too is a “sour apple simple syrup” not simple, even if it is a syrup.

I will give you infused simple syrups if you must. Technically, I guess if you used vanilla or some other sort of infused sugar to make a simple syrup, that could be considered an infused simple syrup since you are still sticking to the sugar, water, and nothing else formula of simple syrup.

Since you all probably want to get something useful out of this post, I just thought I would pass along a cool trick I got from a baker roommate of mine. First however, I just want to clear up some terminology as it relates to this blog:

  • Simple syrup refers to one part granulated sugar, one part water by volume.
  • Rich syrup refers to two parts granulated sugar, one part water by volume.
  • Brown syrup refers to one packed part dark brown or raw sugar, on part water by volume.
  • Rock or rock candy syrup refers to a supersaturated sugar-water solution.
  • I probably won’t be using gomme syrup, but if I ever do it refers to a syrup that requires an emulsifier to hold together.
  • If I modify any of the above sugar types with “invert” it means that I used the aforementioned quantities and used invert sugar to make it.

Which leads me to my little tip. Invert sugar is wonderful stuff. It’s effectively what honey is made out of and is sweeter per unit volume than an equivalent syrup, thus being healthier, and, even better, it keeps at room temperature for about six months. Sound good? It’s not too hard to make. Start with whatever syrup you like, and add just a touch of lemon juice or other acid to it. A touch. We’re talking about one percent here, which is about half a teaspoon per cup. Let it cook for about twenty minutes, and whamo presto: invert syrup. It was strongly recomended to me that I allow the mixture to cool without touching the pan, as jostling could start the crystalization if you aren’t careful. Incidentally, looking this up online says that heat alone will slightly invert the sugar. Alternately, if you work somewhere where you have a pastry chef available, just ask them.

Sweet times,
The Scribe

Welcome to My Life…

So I get home from the liquor store and read the review of orange bitters over at Oh Gosh! and discover the Stirrings blood orange bitters I had bought weren’t really cocktail bitters at all, though I suspect they’ll go nicely in soda, and a bitter soda is another treat I enjoy. Anywho, I headed back to Downtown today and picked up a bottle of Regan’s #6, and discovered that between when I went in on Monday and when I was there today, they had also gotten in a shipment of Peychoud’s. Anyway, now I’m well stocked up with bitters. Next subject to pursue: Getting my modifiers up to snuff. I need some vermouth, some triple sec, and maybe some St. Germain or Chartruse, and possibly even a bottle of le muse verte.

Incidentally, looking at Regan’s and Peychoud’s bitters together, I noticed that they are almost identically packaged. The bottles are the same, they both have a stylized letter on the plastic seal, the label even has the same textured feel. I wonder if they are commonly made or bottled. If you know anything, please drop it in the comments.

A Bitter Victory

About six months ago I went to my better spirits shop looking for bitters (yes, I have three package stores, my cheapie, Hillside Liquors, with crappy selection but good prices, my better spirits shop, Downtown Wine & Spirits, which is more expensive but has whatever you are looking for whether it’s premium spirits, exotic beers, or wines, and my big box, Kappy’s which is pretty far, but has the advantage of being cheap and having a pretty decent selection, but I digress) and they had one, count it one bottle of Angostura bitters collecting dust on the shelves behind the counter. When I went there the other day looking for Peychoud’s bitters, they had expanded their selection to Regan’s #6 and Stirrings…and they said they were looking into more! They recently remodeled and now every concievable cocktaily treat is within easy read, from arrack (and arak) to ahm….zwetchenswasser. Actually, I somehow doubt they have zwetchenswasser, since CocktaiDB says it’s hard to find outside of Germany, but you get the point.

Anywho, I just thought I would share this news about the local occurance of this national phenomenon.

Best of health!
The Scribe