The Pizza Highball

This one's been on my bucket list (it's a champagne bucket, a-doy) ever since the PhoBlograpHusband and I date-nighted at one of New York Vintners' pizza-and-wine tastings: Come up with a cocktail that goes with pizza. A potable that pairs reliably with a slice or a pie -- why/how is this not a thing?

The obvious answer: Because a nice glass of red ain't broke, so why invent something to fix it? Backup answer: Pizza likewise does nicely with crisp Pilsners and not-too-hoppy IPAs. And thirdly, there's something about a pizza cocktail that just doesn't sound quite right, even to a boozehound like me. Is it that cocktails are meant for sipping while pizza's meant for houncing? Do I have some unfounded fear that the cocktail's going to reach room temperature before I'm done eating? (When I eat pizza, I eat lots of pizza.) Is it the bread, maybe, that eating large quantities of crust just doesn't feel right with a liquor accompaniment. Is a liquor/'za pairing all too much grain, like eating the meat and the egg of a chicken at the same meal? WTF IS IT??!?

Whatever the seemingly insurmountable conundrum -- and really, for a long while I couldn't think of an entry point for the Pizza Cocktail other than Lambrusco -- I got help big time from the soda aisle at my Montreal supermarket, where I found Brio Chinotto, a quinine-tinged, it's-a-Canadian-thing cola. The label suggests enjoying Brio "simply on ice with a slice of lemon, or add zing by mixing Brio with vodka or rum. Fantastic with pizza!" According to my rudimentary Googling, chinotto is a type of cola found in Italy, while Brio is the brand name of that style of cola as sold in Canada; on this blog, a commenter claims that pizza and Brio is a traditional Canadian-Italian weekend treat.

So my cocktail would be a highball. Now I've said before that I have no formula, no hard and fast rules for how I develop my recipes, but even I admit that when this one manifested in my skull, I tried to ignore my every instinct, all of which were shouting at me, "Bourbon and gin! Yes, together!" I don't know why. Call me the Long Island Ice Tea Medium. The two vermouths I clearly chose because I want every cocktail I drink to be a Manhattan.

All of those ingredients plus Brio equaled something a lot like plain cola (albeit, ahem, a homemade cola). Then came the homemade oregano shrub syrup. I'll pause for a moment while you roll your eyes at the dreadful of-course-oregano-ness of it all (gosh, Rose, how about a pepperoni rind garnish? pfffttt...) but it did make the difference. Sean described the result as "an herbaceous cream soda and a stiff drink at the same time." Not even a 99-cent slice can beat that.

The Pizza Highball

3/4 ounces Heaven Hill Bourbon

3/4 ounces Bombay Dry Gin

1/4 ounce Stock Sweet Vermouth

1/4 ounce Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth

1/2 ounce oregano shrub syrup

Brio Chinotto, to fill

Combine liquors and syrup in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into ice-filled highball. Top with Brio Chinotto.

Tasting Notes

My recipe for oregano shrub syrup, paraphrasing the raspberry shrub syrup recipe published in Eric Felten's How's Your Drink?: Whisk a cup each of water and sugar together at a boil. Reduce heat for a few minutes, add a cup of fresh oregano (I'd tear up the leaves beforehand) and stir occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups white wine vinegar and bring to a boil for two minutes. Strain, cool and refrigerate or freeze (it lasts several months if you do the latter).

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The Bicerin (send it over the Alps)

A regular of mine at The Royale (one of the ones I had a crush on) came in one night many years ago and ordered "a Manhattan, put it up on skates." I shot him one of my perplexed Charlie Brown faces; he unfurled a devilish Cheshire grin (catnip to a female bartender who was fed up with her boyfriend at that point). He'd just heard this phrase, probably earlier that night during his own shift, and couldn't wait to test it out on me. My demurely flirtatious reply: "What the fuck does 'put it up on skates' mean?"

It meant, shake the shit out of a Manhattan so hard that when you strain it, perfect, adorable little ice floes, teensy shards small enough to scoot through the coils of your Hawthorne strainer, dot the surface of your cocktail. To this day I know of nobody else who's ever heard of or used this expression, but it's always stuck with me as quite a cool thing to say... although yes, nowadays we know that all-alcohol cocktails like the Manhattan ought to be stirred, not shaken, lest you "bruise" their precious molecules. (See: "Don't ever shake that drink, or you'll kill it.") Someday I'll side-by-side taste-test that theory, but for now what can I say except that it was the 00's; we were the young and the reckless, and I was really hoping to kiss this guy soon.

Non-narrative jump to today: I read Afar Magazine. Their July/August 2011 issue has a story on bicerin (bee-chay-reen), an Italian beverage with secret-recipe roots stretching back to 17th century Turin along the foothills of the Italian Alps. Its main ingredients are milk, melted chocolate, espresso and whipped cream. Cafe Al Bicerin, a Turin institution that takes its name from the drink, is where locals head after Sunday Mass to break the fast. God bless the Italians, with their Roman Catholic guilt and their natural disregard for calorie counts!

Of course, I took one look at the Afar story and said, "Dude, I should totally incorporate that into a cocktail." And what I did was, I sent it over the Alps. What the fuck does "send it over the Alps" mean? It means (says me) to douse peaks of whipped cream ("the Alps") with a shot of yellow Chartreuse, that suave, milder-than-green-Chartreuse liqueur made by monks in the village of Voiron, along the foothills of the French Alps ("send it over").

My recipe was kismet: The thought of adding yellow Chartreuse to the bicerin stuck in my head for a few days, then I discussed it with Sean and found out he'd had the very same notion, then I Googled a map and saw that, indeed, the mother lands of Chartreuse and bicerin are a mere three hours apart, the Alps stuck in between. Something about bicerin made me less wary than usual about doing a dessert cocktail, and while my end result technically isn't a cocktail but a spiked coffee beverage, it reads on the palate like a cocktail to me: You can detect all the parts that are in there but the impression on your senses is that of a fully integrated taste, more than the sum of its parts. (Spiked coffee beverages, on the other hand, often taste to me as just that: Coffee with a high-spirited intruder who somehow found his way in.)

We contemplated a second liquor, but it just doesn't need it.

P.S. I like this one so much, I'm contributing the recipe to the first-ever gojee Virtual Potluck, an online smorgasbord of eats and drinks put together by yours truly and many of gojee's other fine blogging contributors. Starting on Thursday, January 26, check out other potluck dishes fellow gojee contributors shared. Go to gojee.com and enter "gojeepotluck" into I Crave. You can also follow #gojeepotluck on Twitter.

The Bicerin (send it over the Alps)

(Adapted from Afar Magazine; its recipe for the original bicerin is an educated approximation, as Cafe Al Bicerin's recipe is "closely guarded")

2 ounces yellow Chartreuse

1/2 cup 2% milk

1 1/2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 shots very strong coffee

1/4 cup freshly whipped cream, sweetened to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk and chocolate until boiling, whisking vigorously all the while. Remove from heat, then pour mixture into a clear cappuccino mug, goblet, etc. Slowly pour in coffee. Top with whipped cream. Slowly pour Chartreuse over whipped cream. Serve with a sundae spoon (optional).

Tasting Notes

Afar's printed recipe calls for whole milk, dark chocolate and espresso. I went with what I went with (2%, semi-sweet, "strong coffee") because I already had them in the house. Having said that, this drink was diabetic coma-inducing enough the way I made it. Proceed with whole/dark/espresso at your own risk. (Seriously, garnish with insulin injectable or something if you must go all the way.)

If you don't have yellow Chartreuse, try making this with a shot of Benedictine instead. Their smell and taste profiles are quite similar, although of course you won't get the same, sunny brightness shining down on your Alps. Don't use green Chartreuse; it's too herbal in taste, and everyone will assume it's creme de menthe and that you made some sort of caffeinated Grasshopper.

I was afraid of melting chocolate in a saucepan rather than a double boiler, but with the milk this was actually not an issue at all. (I did use a nonstick saucepan, for what that's worth.)

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