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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The Afterbird

My gosh, today kinda sucks, no? Not to rain (or snow, as it is up here in the Great White North) on anyone's Thanksgiving Eve Parade, but this is always a busy and stressful day. What with the last-minute cleaning and shopping and cooking and fretting that your mother-in-law is going to get stuck in a snowbank somewhere north of Albany on her drive up to see you. And, even if you're the self-employed, work-at-home type like me, the assignments you're trying to get out the virtual door before getting yourself out your actual one, where walkway clearing awaits so Mom doesn't kill herself on her way from her car to your apartment. Meanwhile, your dog won't let you type at full speed because she likes her paw held while snuggling on the couch next to you, which results in typos like this one that just happened: "ci 980hkmn."

Phew, *breathe*! My point is, I've got one more to-do to put on your list today, and it is worthwhile and it is this: Buy Underberg at your neighborhood's finer liquor store. (Or Dean & Deluca.)

Last November on TastingTable.com, I read about this pocket-sized vial of Germanic, herbaceous elixir: "This shockingly bitter, aggressively alcoholic Germanic beverage is meant to be taken in one swig from its handsome miniature bottle, which promises that 'after a good meal' it will confer brightness and alertness upon the drinker." Of course, they don't have Thanksgiving in Deutschland, but they do have Oktoberfest. For that reason alone I'll take their word on its overindulgence countereffects.

Mere days after I read this, the PhoBlograpHusband and I were stocking up on holiday booze essentials at The Wine Library in New Jersey and there was Underberg, lined up on the shelf next to the bitters. They come three 2/3-ounce bottles to a box the size of a cigarette case. I dutifully purchased one and held onto it for almost a year. Now I am here to share with you the digestif cocktail I invented so that you can incorporate your Underberg into your post-pie euphoria.

What does Underberg taste like straight? Like acrid licorice, like smoked Jagermeister. Kinda gah, if you ask me. Definitely not something I'd have any natural inclination to swig in one swallow.

As you may well know from my recent posts, the liquor supply chez Lorre is way low as of late. (Mom-in-law is bringing us a bottle of Buffalo Trace this afternoon! Go Mom-in-law!) At the same time, I happened to have some raw egg yolks, with a bit of whites, kept in an airtight container in the fridge, left over from when I made my Bathtub Gin(ger). Furthermore, I have been hellbent for months on devising a successful flip, a cocktail that makes use of a whole, raw egg instead of just the whites; I'd made a Cynar Flip a long while back, based on a recipe from a bar in Boston, but have had no luck writing a flip recipe of my own from scratch. Maybe now was the time; Underberg is as potent and pungent as Cynar, after all.

I wound up going a little crazy coming up with this cocktail, in what I think of as a very good kind of crazy. Adding raw egg to Underberg mellowed out the start of the cocktail but still left it with a long, unpleasant finish. I scoured my liquor shelf and decided to try yet another ingredient that I'd long longed to find a use for: Hispaniola Mamajuana, a Dominican, rum-based, herbaceous-yet-soft liqueur. (You learn about stuff like Hispaniola Mamajuana when you spend three years of your life living In The Heights.) The Hispaniola worked wonders on rounding the whole thing out, start to (still nice and long) finish. Then came the espresso (by which I mean, black coffee, but we're not fancy with the caffeine around here) and -- and this is great, truly! -- the Tabasco, which melded with the bitter herbs at the finish in a tongue-tickling way and reminded me a bit of a Sandinista. (Wait a minute, she said as she looked at the meager Google results for "Sandinista recipe." You mean nobody knows what a Sandinista is outside of St. Louis? The blog will remedy this soon. To the blogmobile!)

At this point, all that was missing was some heft and body -- I think the raw egg took some of that away -- which I added back with the Benedictine.

This cocktail is loopy, yes. But then again, so's your Grandma Ruthie when she takes her dentures out and puts them on the dinner table. It's in the spirit of the holiday! Let us rejoice and be thankful.

The Afterbird

1 1/2 ounces Underberg

1 ounce Hispaniola

1 ounce Benedictine

1 whole, raw egg

 3 drops Tabasco

1/2 ounce freshly made espresso

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake shake shake shake shake it! Seriously, shake it a lot, because you've got liquid ingredients of every possibly viscosity in there and you need to mix it all up really well. Strain into a cocktail glass that's been very very very well chilled. Seriously, like very well chilled, because thanks to the egg, this drink can get thin-tasting quickly and the chilled glass will combat that.

Tasting Notes

I have a hunch you could take this cocktail even further. Specifically, I suspect that an aged tequila (anejo or reposado) would be a good base liquor, in addition to or instead of the Benedictine, to drive up the heat quotient. If you'd rather emphasize the smoky, try adding an ounce of Scotch. Also, I am quite sure you could garnish this with sprinkles of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, maybe even cayenne pepper. (Tell me if you do! Happy Thanksgiving!)

P.S. Look how foamy this cocktail is!

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