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.

The Colonial Tradewind Swizzle

The moral of this week is: Take things literally. Yesterday I blogged about my Breakfast of Champions, an original cocktail o'mine that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Moon Over My Hammy at Denny's -- and yes, it's a little embarrassing for a high-functioning alcoholic mature mixologist to admit to such levels of kitsch. Today's recipe, while not quite so blatant, was likewise created via an over-the-top approach.

The basic premise was to construct a swizzle using the sweetest ingredients we (Sean and I) could think of, but somehow manipulate them into a drink that tasted better than, say, a shot of insulin with a Blow Pop chaser. Our secondary goal was to make a juice-less swizzle -- which, according to rather strict definitions I've found and mentioned here before, means it technically wouldn't be a swizzle, but whatevs -- as our at-home citrus stock was low.

The Colonial Tradewind Swizzle achieves that pucker-up tartness I love in any swizzle, and like all other swizzles I've enjoyed, I find that the crushed ice actually helps by coaxing the imbiber to drink in short sips. (Try downing a swizzle like a regular cocktail, with slightly bigger gulps, and chances are it'll suddenly seem overpowerfully saccharine.) I'm also quite jazzed that we finally found a recipe for our Fee BrothersFalernum (a kind of first-cousin to orgeat).

The Colonial Tradewind Swizzle

1 1/2 ounces 10 Cane Rum

1 tablespoon Pimm's

1 teaspoon Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

1 tablespoon Fee Brothers Falernum

1 teaspoon vanilla-infused simple syrup

Lime twist, for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously until you've created enough energy to power a toaster. Strain into a Pilsner glass that's filled with crushed ice. Garnish with lime twist.

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The Paris When It Swizzles

Inventing cocktails is hard, y'all! Especially when you think you've come up with the wittiest cocktail moniker this side of an H.L. Mencken bon mot and don't want to waste it on a subpar recipe. Even more especially when you're putting together said recipe and discover that more than one authority has published more than one set of rules for what, exactly, constitutes a swizzle.

According to Tasting Table, where I first read about Death & Co.'s Robert Johnson Swizzle, any and all swizzles are composed of a liquor, a liqueur, a fruit juice and crushed ice. Meanwhile, one of my at-home bartending books lists the swizzle's fundamental ingredients as a liquor, crushed ice, lime juice (specifically, not just any juice) and club soda... so, like, a rickey? I had to side with the Church of Pre-Prohibition-Style Speakeasy-ish Cocktail Lounges.

Next step: A drink known as the Paris When It Swizzles needs ingredients from France. Seems obvs, but I resisted doing so through my first three attempts because, well, rums and tequilas go better with fruit juices, right? They go so well, in fact, they just sort of faded into the aftermath of the juice and no matter what I drizzled in there to coax them out -- Campari, oregat (that's the almond-y syrup key in classic mai tais), chocolate bitters -- the alcohols' flavors just refused to come out of hiding. I basically had a screwdriver on my hands. Meh.

Feeling momentarily defeated, I retreated to my Robert Johnson Swizzle recipe and leaned on it like a set of training wheels. I also figured I'd try going whole-hog with the Fronche booze idea, and thank goodness I've kept that bottle of Lillet in my fridge since forever, despite convincing myself that I'd never figure out a drink to put it in, because now we were getting somewhere!

The Robert Johnson Swizzle features great, tart complexity, which I was more than happy to ape, which I did via the vanilla syrup, lemon juice, and barrel-aged bitters. The Very Cherre juice -- which is not at all like a certain other cherry juice -- had been, like the Lillet, sealed in our fridge for months now, something I picked up at a gourmet market hoping I'd one day find it a home in some nice barware.

The Paris When It Swizzles

1 1/4 ounces Remy Martin

3/4 ounces Lillet

3/4 ounces Very Cherre

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla simple syrup

3 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Lemon twist, for garnish

Fill a Pilsner glass (or something similar; think summer cooler glassware) with crushed ice. Place it in the freezer momentarily while you make your cocktail by combining all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shaking vigorously for a good 20 seconds. Strain into glass over crushed ice. Garnish with lemon twist.

Tasting Notes:

As with the Robert Johnson Swizzle, I'm recommending shaking the cocktail rather than "swizzling" it in the glass because most of us don't own swizzlers. I'm not talking any whozit-whatzit doodad-festooned stick to put in your drink, but specfically a long, slender, wooden stick with little prongs at the tail end that do the bulk of your mixing. Honestly, I've never seen them anywhere but live and in person at Death & Co.

You can swap in a citrus-y white wine (something in the sauv blanc family?) for the Lillet and/or Pom Wonderful for the Very Cherre (they're equally hefty, so the balance should maintian).

To make a quick and easy vanilla simple syrup, heat a cup of water and a cup of granulated sugar on the stove, stirring frequently, until it's brought to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in a tablespoon of vanilla extract, stir a bit more, bottle and refrigerate. Of course, you can also make a syrup with honest to goodness vanilla beans. There's a recipe with great photos here.

Sean got me a vintage, hand-cranked ice crusher for Christmas, which means no more wrapping ice cubes in a hand towel and banging them with a mallet, yay! Srsly, eBay's always got vintage crushers up for bid at under $20; I highly recommend considering one.

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