PBF&W Aftertaste Report (With Five Recipes): Cocktails Can Be Awfully Educational
April 23, 2012
Cocktails are changing.
The pioneering progress—well beyond craft cocktails and into shaking and stirring lands where words like "botanicals" and "maceration" are often deployed—was on tasty display at Pebble Beach Food & Wine 5.0 earlier this month, so a sharing of recipes was in order.
Belvedere anchored the adventurous afterparty on Thursday at Spanish Bay and manned a magnetic lounge at the grand tastings.
It was in the all-white lounge where I rapped with the brand's head of Spirit Creation and Mixology, Claire Smith, while her team mixed palate dreams like the Belvedere Lemon Tea Fresca with its new lemon tea vodka.
One of the surprises she threw at me was a reverse Polish joke of sorts: She says the reason Belvedere doesn't tinker with synthetic flavors like much of the rest of the growing infusion-spirits field is precisely because of Polish stubborness.
"We're unique in that we don't take the short-cut approach," she says.
That means a lot of fresh fruit soaking in very nice vodka for weeks before it's distilled again in a small pot still to keep the color clear. The liveliness produced means many signature Belvedere drinks do best with simple combinations—Smith recommends trying types like pink grapefruit, bloody mary or citrus neat or with just a splash of soda water.
"A ready-made cocktail," she says. "All the infusions are very expressive."
The fresca provides successful evidence of that approach—just a little lemon juice and simple syrup and you're golden—as does my favorite elixir of the afternoon, what they were calling a "classic tea punch" with a little black tea to smooth tannins and provide calming antioxidants. (The easy recipes appear at the bottom of the post.)
The other cocktail oracle of the weekend was Mariena Mercer. She's manning a wildly ambitious and sophisticated drink program in one of the top grossing bars in the country, Chandelier Bar in Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, and shared some of her secrets with a Friday seminar crowd seated at tables equipped with a range of mixers, ingredients and spirits.
She called her fresh-ingredient beverage program the largest scale in the world, and says she draws much of her "culinary-forward" cocktail inspiration from cookbooks. Her recipes certainly bear that out, maximizing the depth and texture of inputs ranging from ginger ("My new favorite ingredient," Mercer said) to a stunning little number called a "buzz button."
The buzzer, or "Szechuan button," is a little organic flower bud that somehow speeds up salivary glands. Mercer has guests eat one before splashing into the complexity of her "Verbena" deliciousness.
"The button makes everyone a super taster," she says. "Everything comes alive."
As with cookbooks, just a look at her recipes makes the mouth water and mind wonder what similar creations will appear in your kitchen. Fittingly enough, she uses Belvedere in her tasty "Eastern Mule."
The Belvedere recipes appear first:
BELVEDERE LEMON TEA FRESCA 1.5 ounce Belvedere Lemon Tea ½ ounce lemon juice Dash simple syrup
Highball. Top with Fever Tree ginger ale, garnish with a mint sprig and lemon wheel.
LEMON TEA CLASSIC PUNCH 1.5 ounce LT 1 ounce oleo saccherine (sherbet) 2 ounce black tea Dash lemon juice
Shake and pour into tea glasses (ideally) or highball. Garnish with a mint sprig and lemon wheel.
THE EASTERN MULE INGREDIENTS Lemongrass Syrup: 6 cups water 6 cups sugar 6 segmented lemongrass stalks Drink: 1 spoonful sweet ginger puree (by perfect puree) 2 torn kaffir lime leaves ¼ oz. lemon juice ¼ oz. Coconut Ginger Roobios Tea (available through Teavana) ½ oz. lemongrass syrup 2 oz. Belvedre Vodka top with Gosling’s Ginger Beer METHODOLOGY Lemongrass Syrup: Bring water to a boil. Slowly stir in sugar and let dissolve. Add lemongrass. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Double strain and refrigerate after cooled. Drink: Tear kaffir leaves and muddle with ginger puree. Combine with remaining ingredients and shake well. Strain over crushed ice into a Collins glass and garnish with a kaffir lime leaf and candied ginger.
THE DARK HORSE INGREDIENTS Fuji Apple Puree: 4 fuji apples (peeled and cored) 4 oz. fresh lemon juice 4 oz. simple syrup 1 tsp ascorbic situation Chinese Five-Spice Syrup: 6 cups water 6 cups sugar 2 cups Chinese Five-Spice 2 oz. freshly juiced ginger root 4 cracked cardamom pods Drink: 2 oz. Ron Zacapa Rum 1 oz. fuji apple puree 1 oz. Chinese Five-Spice Syrup ½ oz. Olorosso Sherry ½ oz. lemon juice METHODOLOGY Fuji Apple Puree: Puree in an electric blender until smooth. Chinese Five-Spice Syrup: Bring water to a boil. Slowly stir in sugar and let dissolve. Add Chinese Five-Spice, ginger root and pods. Cover and let simmer for 2o minutes. Double strain and refrigerate after cooled. Drink: Combine all ingredients in a chilled shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a tall wine glass. Garnish with an apple chip pinned with Star Anise and sprinkle with orange cinnamon sugar.
THE VERBENA INGREDIENTS Ginger Syrup: 6 cups water 6 cups sugar 4 oz. freshly juiced ginger root Drink: 6-8 leaves of lemon verbena 2 oz. ginger syrup 2 oz. yuzu sour ½ oz. fresh lemon juice 1 ½ oz. Patron Silver 1 Szechuan button (available online) METHODOLOGY Ginger Syrup: Bring water to a boil. Slowly stir in sugar and let dissolve; cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add ginger root to simple syrup and stir. Refrigerate after cool. Drink: Muddle verbena leaves together with ginger dyrup. Combine with remaining ingredients shake. Strain over fresh ice into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a Szechuan button first on a lemon boat. Eat the Szechuan button first for a burst of electric flavor.