The Jamaican High Thyme

I usually don't like people when I first meet them, but not Sam. On the afternoon of Montreal Bar Vs. Chef, us competitors, which included said Sam, took a written test about contest sponsor Appleton rums, then we had a break for dinner. Sam strode up to me and asked in a friendly sort of bellow if I'd like to come have dinner with them. I didn't know who them was but I said sure. Turns out that Sam is one of those folks who can make conversation with a relative stranger quite a pleasant experience, which is probably just one reason why he's so well-suited for what he does.

Sam, who tends bar at Barbu but does not sell seashells by the seashore, started his presentation with a corny joke that fell flat -- something about the pun that is this cocktail's name, what with the rum from Jamaica and the getting-high like we like to think Jamaicans do a lot and the... well, you get it. Luckily, it was all uphill from there as Sam suavely concocted this most elegant libation.

I was quite shocked by the simplicity of what Sam presented, considering that we were up against dry ice and test tubes and coconut shells and ingredients set ablaze. The Appleton is the only booze in the glass, and he stayed a half-ounce under the contest's two-ounces-of-hooch-max rule. Probably he was the only one who used less than two ounces. Sacrilege!

As Sam puts it, "Everyone tends to go complex in cocktail competitions. Mostly when they cannot infuse alcohol in regular bar situations, they go all out when they can! [Ed. Note: In Montreal, it is illegal to serve infused alcohol. Don't even get me started.] I tend to go the other way and focus on the presentation. (oral and of the cocktail). [Ed. Note: I think that parenthetical was a bit of wobbly English on Sam's part, but you get what he means. And p.s. that's what she said.] From my experience, I don't think any judge will give a lesser note if a cocktail appears simpler if the overall balance is present."

And so say all of us, Sam! Sam finished second in the competition, woot! Even better news for us, so long as you've got a juice presser at home -- for the smallish apricot, one of these would suffice -- his drink is easy to replicate chez vous.

The Jamaican High Thyme

1 1/2 ounces Appleton Estate Reserve 

1 ounce apricot syrup

2 ounces freshly pressed apricot juice

1 raw egg (or the equivalent amount of raw egg white)

3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 sprigs of thyme 

1 dash Peychaud's Bitters

Combine rum, apricot syrup, apricot juice, lemon juice and the raw egg white from one egg into a shaker.

Do a dry shake -- this is where you shake your liquid ingredients without ice. It's often recommended to first do a dry shake when dealing with raw egg white, and thanks to Sam for reminding me of such. For extra-fancy dry shaking, remove the coil from a standard strainer and drop it into the shaker first along with your ingredients, which acts like a whisk for the egg white.

Muddle a sprig of thyme in the bottom of the shaker. Add ice and do a second ("wet," i.e. regular) shake.

Strain into cocktail glass, add dash of Peychaud's and garnish with a second sprig of thyme across the lip of the glass.

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The I'll Fake Manhattan

Did you know you can make a Manhattan* with aged rum instead of bourbon? Because you totally can and it's really pretty good!

I happened upon this discovery of sorts while toying with recipes for that Montreal Bar vs. Chef competition I clearly can't stop talking about. My original idea was to do a flip, but after many, many attempts to make even a halfway-decent one, it was clear that what I had on my hands was actually a flop. (Rim shot!)

This left me stuck in a cocktail-intellectual vacuum, not knowing where to go next. (My swizzle idea, which I ultimately went with, hadn't yet come to me. ) I thought maybe a way to go would be to start with a classic cocktail recipe as a template and work my way forward from there. And voila -- the I'll Fake Manhattan!

The I'll Fake Manhattan 

1 ounce aged rum

1/2 ounce Cinzano Sweet Vermouth

1/4 ounce Cinzano Dry Vermouth

1/4 ounce Luxardo

2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

Splash of orange-infused gin, optional

Brandied cherry, to garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled mixing  glass. Stir vigorously with a bar spoon, strain into chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a brandied cherry.

Tasting Notes

Usually I tell you exactly which brands of liquor I use when making a cocktail; above, I just said "aged rum" because I actually mixed two together, for purely practical reasons; I didn't have a full ounce of Appleton Reserve left after all the experimenting I did with it for Montreal Bar vs. Chef. I made up the difference with Rhum Barbancourt. Appleton has a more piquant flavor profile, methinks, whereas I find Barbancourt to be more smooth, rounded and bourbon-like. What you will.

Note that, with my use of both sweet and dry vermouths, what we have here is a perfect Manhattan, and that I have indeed strayed from a classic Manhattan recipe by using Peychaud's instead of Angostura bitters.

My splash of orange-infused gin, I just like. Rounds things out a bit more. Makes it go down a little quicker. No biggie if you don't have it, although you can make it super simply.

*Did you also know that the Rodgers and Hart tune you probably remember as "I'll Take Manhattan" is actually just called "Manhattan," which makes it really hard to Google? Well, at least now you get why I called this drink what I called it.

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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 Dark 'n Stormy

OK, yes, I know Dark and Stormies are so 2009-at-Botanica. Even if I did not know that, it is a fact that the D'nS has jumped the fad shark because by the time the NYT gets around to running a story about something, that something has likely already filtered its way down into a TGI Friday's/Old Navy/insert corporate chain you love to mock here.*

The thing is, Dark and Stormies are good. So good. At our bon voyage boozeefest in July, our lushy-lush friends polished off an entire bottle of Myers's in one night thanks to Dark and Stormies. And they're so goddamned simple it's almost not fair. They're highballs, for Chrissakes. Why bother bashing your skull coming up with the GREATEST COCKTAIL EVER when it's so easy to just fix yourself a Dark and Stormy?

I must admit, I learned a few things D'nS-y from the Times story. Like the fact that it's technically a Bermudan cocktail. It's the shorts of cocktails! And that there's a whole legal meshuggas concerning Gosling's Black Seal Rum; the company that makes said rum owns the trademark on a "Dark 'n Stormy" (note specific punctuation), and the company's flacks seem none too happy that the drink is made with any dark and/or aged rum one's got on hand. The whole wrangle sounds kind of exhausting, actually, and makes me want a cocktail.

At LAB, they serve a Dark and Stormy with more than a hit of fresh lime juice, which is not uncommon, even if it is I guess technically illegal according to the trademark. I like it that way, but I'll err on the un-sue-able side and give you here the official recipe according to Gosling's.

The Dark 'n' Stormy (R in a circle)

(All credit due to this web page and I own nothing and blah blah no lawsuit please)

1 1/2 ounces Gosling's Black Seal Rum

Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer

In a tall glass filled with ice add 1 1/2 ounces Gosling's Black Seal Rum and top with Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge (optional).

Tasting Notes:

pssssst, over here... Really, try it with like an ounce of fresh lime juice. This Tasting Note will now self-destruct.

* Yes, I am in large part blogging about Dark and Stormies because Mama wants a pageview bump.

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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.