The Maple Mint Fizz

How did I never manage to invent the Maple Mint Fizz myself? Why did I have to move to Montreal to discover it?

The answer to the first question is: I did come close with the Martelorre (Maker's, lemon, mint, ginger beer). To answer my second question: Because Le LAB is where everything wonderful, like Maple Mint Fizzes, happens, and also because only in Canada would "our variation of the mojito" include maple syrup.

As a north-of-the-border mojito substitute, the Maple Mint Fizz (I love saying those three words together!) was rotated off LAB's menu with the onset of autumn. But as a south-of-the-border expat, I find fall to be the perfect time to indulge in maple-flavored treats, even if they also call for summertime-y limes and mint leaves.

The lime, in fact, is what makes this cocktail for me, imparting a great, sourtastic, unexpected twist of je-ne-say-wha? If I had ever thought to invent this drink, I'm not sure I would've come up with the lime part. Damn it, LAB, you've done it again.

The Maple Mint Fizz

(Adapted from Le LAB)

2 ounces Maker's Mark bourbon

7-Up

A small handful of mint leaves

A splash or two of lime juice

A splash or two of maple syrup

Take several mint leaves, tear once, and drop into the bottom of a Collins glass. Pour splash of lime juice on top, then cover the whole thing with just-enough maple syrup. Muddle. Fill glass with ice, add Maker's Mark and fill with 7-Up.

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The Antithesis (L'antithese)

I've been trying to recall a good example of how much of a goody-two-shoes I was during my grade-school days. Kids called me "the A girl," in second grade I wrote a short story about a botanist, and once during a 7th-grade-wide trivia competition, I avoided elimination by successfully (and accurately, ahem) convincing the MC (my math teacher, I believe) that a peanut is, in fact, a legume. Take that, coolness!

Try as I might, though, I can't think of anything nerdy enough to compare to the eight-page dossier presented by my friend and Le LAB bartender Gabrielle to the panel of judges at Montreal Bar vs. Chef, her completely unrequired, written dissertation for the cocktail that, as it turned out, took first place. (Eight pages = first place. Must remember that for next time.)

In the weeks before the competition, Gabrielle told me she was considering a cocktail on the theme of Quebec ingredients. I'd actually toyed with the idea, too, until it became apparent that, beyond maple syrup and certain fruits (Quebec strawberries NOM), I didn't know enough to put them to best use. Really, anything I could've come up with would've been put to shame by Gabrielle's creation.

I think it's clear that Gab won because her cocktail was elegantly simple in presentation yet wildly complex in taste, with an impressively reasoned philosophy behind each ingredient:

Appleton Reserve Rum: Because they were sponsoring the contest, a-doy.

Gin Ungava: Made near Montreal in the touristy Eastern Townships using local herbs, "it brings to my cocktail that which the rum cannot: freshness, herbaceousness, acidity. Complementing the rum, it cannot offer a more beautiful contrast."

San Perrino Vermouth, a red-apple vermouth made just outside the city at la Maison des Futailles: "This aperitif is soft on the palate with a beautiful acidity and depth... It brings a balance between my spirits."

Labrador tea, aka Hudson's Bay or Indian tea, another Canadian specialty: "I wanted to reinforce the astringency of my recipe, and at the same time, balance it out."

Maple water: "To sweeten my recipe, I chose to use maple. I made a maple water (much less sweet than the syrup). I wanted to create a relatively dry cocktail, while maintaining a subtle maple flavor."

Lemon juice: "To achieve the perfect balance."

Homemade apple bitters: "I chose Angostura bitters as a base because I appreciate the character and depth it brings to the rum."

Clearly, Gab gets an A++ (or a check-plus-plus, remember those?) -- I mean, she had different ingredients going on down to the quarter-ounce. And, save the Angostura, she really did manage to keep all of her ingredients, alcoholic ou non, local.

In actuality, Gab gets a trip for two to Jamaica, which was the first-place prize. And, of course, when the A++ girl throws off the curve for the rest of us underachievers, what we get is homework. So pay attention, class! This recipe's involved. You may have to stay late.

The Antithesis

1 ounce Appleton Reserve Rum

1/2 ounce Gin Ungava

1/4 ounce San Perrino vermouth

1/2 ounce Labrador tea

1/4 ounce maple water

1 dash freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 dashes homemade apple bitters

Apple slices, to garnish

Put all ingredients in a chilled mixing glass, add ice and stir thoroughly. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a pair of apple slices.

Tasting Notes

To make the homemade apple bitters, I'm gonna give it to you straight from the future Jamaican tourist's mouth, which came out of said mouth in the form of milliliters. (Convert to ounces here.): Mix together 100 ml Angostura bitters, 45 ml apple brandy (she used Michel Jodoin), 30 ml Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, 30 ml Absinthe 55 and 15 ml smoked bitters. Cut up three-quarters of a Granny Smith apple into small cubes and add to the mixture. Gently mash apples with a pestle. Let steep for three weeks in a dark place. Filter before using.

Making maple water: You're basically making a maple simple syrup by boiling down equal parts water and pure, granulated maple sugar. Gab told me she also steeped some juniper berries while this mixture cooked down. Because she is an extra credit-bogarting geek. Just kidding.

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The Smoking Kingston

When Tao -- short for Taoufike Zrafi, bartender extraordinaire at Piano Rouge in Old Montreal -- came out from behind the bar after his turn up at bat competing in Montreal Bar vs Chef, I beelined over to him, pat him on the back and bellowed, "Looks like someone really wants to go to Jamaica!" (Because the top prize at our little Appleton-sponsored cocktail competition was a trip to, um, Jamaica.)

What Tao invented ("concocted" is too culinarily namby-pamby a word) sent my lower jaw slamming into the floorboards. When you're at home futzing around with your shaker and your bottles, do you ever play-act mad-scientist-going-MWAH-HA-HA fantasies in your head? Tao's Smoking Kingston is actually that.

As if that is not enough, Tao's presentation included a laminated copy of this flow chart (Tao calls it a "polygramme"; adorbs!):

And now, since you are absolutely as confused/titillated/stunned/feeling stupid as I originally was, I'll let Tao explain (in cutely  imperfect English) what's up.

My goal and main way to create the cocktail was to peel out every information from every word in "Appleton Estate Reserve." 

I noticed that Appleton didn't have a spiced rhum which I'm fan of so I decided to create one! [Ed. Note: Infusions of the mandatory Appleton Reserve rum or any other liquors you chose to include were highly encouraged.]

I've already made before a rhum recipe with hickory smoked sauce, for the competition I wanted to push the idea further and make it smoky and flowery!

The dry ice was to complement the idea. It's the same smoke that comes out when I smoked my pisco with apple wood and orange peel -- white, intense and heavy -- and since my cocktail was short, without any actual fruit addition, the dry ice seemed well as a garnish.

The lab tube expresses the work behind the recipe, I have infused a lot of rhum samples with multiple spices, some of my infusions took a month some of them took 24 hours just to be able to blend them and get the perfect spiceness! I had to mix them in lab tube which is something that made my friends call me the alchemist cause I have tendancy to mix stuff even outside the regular cocktail form or just to create something new ! 

Now let's get around to what the Smoking Kingston tastes like. Guess what? It actually tastes like two drinks in one!

For the taste, the first nose will be very smoky in the mouth. You'll find spicy notes with sugary flower hint. After a while [Ed. Note: I think at the competition Tao said three or four minutes] holding the tube in your hands, the liquids get warmer which gets you to a different level: a smoky taste with citrus hints and a flowery odor mixed with vanilla, and at the end, spicy tanginess in the back of your tongue. Which explains more the use of dry ice. Once it's warm you can put the tube back in the ellen meyer [Final Ed. Note: He means Erlenmeyer, as in flask, but srsly, is that not a swoon-worthy malapropism??] to retry the first taste !

The Smoking Kingston

1 ounce Appleton Reserve, infused with pink peppercorn, green cardamom and slices of Kaffir lime

1/2 ounce Pisco, infused with rose petals, smoked apple and dried orange peel   

1/2 ounce St-Germain

1/2 ounce orgeat syrup infused with bourbon vanilla beans marinated in Appleton-mace

Juice of a quarter lime

2 drops liquid hickory sauce

Dry ice 

Here's how Tao says you do it: "For the making you just put all the ingredients with four cubes of ice [Ed. Note: Into a mixing glass, I'm assuming] and stir them and then double strain them [Ed. Note: Into your test tube, natch]." [Absolutely last Ed. Note: And then of course, you've got to put some dry ice in an Erlenmeyer flask. Consider this my official disclaimer stating that I don't know how the fuck to do that.]

Tasting Notes:

I'm sure you're dying to know more about these in-sane-fusions, so here goes.

The infused Appleton rum: "Simple infusion of these three ingredients in 8 ounces of Appleton Reserve rum, then re-diluted with non-infused rum to achieve the desired taste. (For best results, a maximum of two pieces of cardamom for each 8 ounces.)

The Pisco infusion: "Simple infusion with rose petals..." I'm going to translate the smoke-infusion part, and speaking of, let's do some on the blog soon, ay? So anyway, you would smoke an apple like you would smoke meat or whatever, but in a relatively small smoker, one where you can run a piece of tube off the top of the smoker, aka the stack (smoke rises!) and submerge the other end, which must be outfitted with an aerator, directly into your liquid. Next... "Repeat the operation at least 8 times. Strain the liquid following the smoking process and infusion to achieve the desired result."

The orgeat whozit-whatzit: "Bourbon vanilla beans submerged in a mixture of Appleton Reserve and ground mace, put in the oven at a low temperature. (122 degrees F)" Yeah, I converted that shit for you, reader!

 

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The Raspberry Rum Shrub Swizzle

I am writing to you from on a cocktail high. It's almost noon yet I'm still riding my 3 a.m. buzz. Last night, I competed alongside 11 of the city's best bartenders in the first-ever Montreal Bar vs. Chef competition. It was like PROM FOR COCKTAIL NERDS!!!

The contest was held at Le LAB, my maison away from maison here in Montreal. (The first night Sean and I went there, I got just pickled enough that I started blabbing about my cocktail blog, and next thing I know the LAB staff and the PhoBlograpHusband had conspired against me to sign me up for the contest, despite my being neither a French-fluent nor an actually-employed bartender.) It was sponsored by Appleton Estate and consisted of three parts:

1) A written test: In what year did Christopher Columbus plant the Caribbean's first sugar cane crops? (1493.) In what year were the first Appleton rums introduced? (1749.) Did your fair blogtender ace the shiz out of this test -- she who was chided as "The A Girl" in middle school and spent her Sunday night cramming? Mais oui, mothafuckas! (Actually they never told us our scores, but I'm pretty sure I did well.)

2) A cocktail of your own creation which you produced on site for the panel of five judges and, as much as feasible, for the crowd at large. We had about a month to come up with our recipes. You needed to use at least one ounce of Appleton Estate Reserve, and the drink in total could only contain two ounces of alcohol, max. That was hard. Usually two ounces of alcohol is what I call "Step 1."

3) Five minutes before you were up (I went 9th out of 12), you got to open your "mystery box" of ingredients, so you had to make a second drink off the top of your head using Appleton Reserve plus everything that was in your box (that's what she said -- they do get that joke in French Canada, by the by). As soon as I get a chance to recreate it, I will blog that recipe of mine, which was AWESOME! Srsly, of myself I have rarely been prouder. My mystery ingredients were a pineapple, a bunch of carrots, rosemary, agave syrup and some weird wild carrot essential oil. I muddled the rosemary and the carrot greens (oh yes I did!) with Appleton and Hendrick's, then shook that on ice with the agave syrup, some lemon juice and some Cynar. I used a slice of pineapple to coat the inside of my cocktail glass Sazerac-style, treated the rim with the carrot oil, strained my shaker contents into the glass, and lastly garnished with two thin carrot peels laid across one another like an X. I used up every second of my allotted time, which was very exciting. Honestly, the cocktail was great and tasted like nothing I'd ever had before. I was asked to name it on the spot and I said, "The Carrot Top!" (This is doubly funny because I am a redhead.) I got very lucky.

But back to #2, the recipe I made up in advance and brought with me -- with that, I was not particularly lucky.

I wanted to make a swizzle because I've had experience with them and I'd never seen one up here; in fact, I'd polled the LAB bartenders beforehand and they'd never heard of it. A swizzle seemed like a cocktail that I could do with the right amount of bells and whistles. Meaning, you definitely want to show off a bit, do something different, be clever, yada yada, but not to the point where you're serving up a Rube Goldberg machine on the rocks.

Guess what the guy who went 8th made? A swizzle! In a coconut shell!! omg, I was ready to crawl back to my hovel of shame. Sean and Gabrielle -- the first LAB bartender we met, who also competed last night and is just sweet and adorable -- had to psych me back up.

Then I actually got behind the bar and I... messed up. See, you had only half a bar to work with (on the other side, real bartenders were serving actual customers), no barback, and you were behind a bar you've never been behind before. (And I'd never been behind any bar for almost three years. And I'm doing all of this in Frenglish.) My mise en place was royally scattershot, as was I. There were numerous jiggers at my disposal and I must have picked up the wrong one at some point. So I wound up with too much drink, but since you build a swizzle in the glass (as opposed to a shaker, say) I couldn't just leave some liquid behind in my hypothetical shaker to correct this. My Pilsener glass runnethed over, is what I'm saying.

Second, only after all that did I then realize that I forgot to put my lemon juice in entirely! Ay yi yi.

But I was pretty lucky in the end because the swizzle stood up well despite all this. So now let's talk in more positive terms (someone on my Facebook feed just informed me that today is "Positive Thinking Day") about this lovely drink I done invented.

Shrub syrup is something I read about in cocktail Yoda Eric Felten's book How's Your Drink? It dates back to colonial times, when refrigeration was scarce and cocktails were made from a liquor, sugar, water and a flavoring agent. It's basically simple syrup cooked down with a fruit or other flavoring, plus white wine vinegar, which gives the syrup a good shelf life. Traditionally, a shrub as a drink is liquor, shrub syrup and club soda on the rocks, so my concept was to combine a shrub and a swizzle. (I decided to go with the utilitarian name of The Raspberry Rum Shrub Swizzle just because there was enough going on in the drink that I thought the name should serve to shed light on it all. Also, the name is both alliterative and assonant. When I was called "The A Girl" in middle school, mostly it happened in English class.)

Thanks to the Robert Johnson Swizzle, I know that I really like bourbons in swizzles, and as Sean said a few days ago, "This is you. You cannot enter this contest without some bourbon." The cilantro syrup brought out the spicy/tart/fizzy qualities of the shrub syrup. The raspberry garnish just gives your nose something fun to waft while the drink's going down.

In the end, Gabrielle won the contest (Congrats, m'amie!) with a fantastic apple-y cocktail. I'll see if I can get the recipe from her. In fact, in the coming days I'll get as many of the recipes as I can, as well as better pics. (Sean couldn't get close enough last night to shoot my swizzle.) I met lots of wonderful people last night, not including that one guy who was clearly just trying to get an up-close view of my cleavage but thankfully he was not one of the bartenders and finally retreated after I blatantly played with my wedding ring long enough. I finally have Facebook friends in Montreal! I hope some of them are reading. Smile!

The Raspberry Rum Shrub Swizzle

1 ounce Appleton Estate Reserve rum

1/2 ounce Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon

1/2 ounce Pimm's

1/2 ounce raspberry shrub syrup

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Splash of cilantro-steeped simple syrup

Crushed ice

Fresh raspberries, to garnish

Combine rum, bourbon, Pimm's and bitters in a mixing glass. (No need to stir or shake, you'll swizzle later.) Fill a Pilsener glass with crushed ice. Pour contents of mixing glass into Pilsener. Add lemon juice and syrups into glass. Swizzle. Serve with a slender straw that's been skewered with fresh raspberries.