The Fig Old-Fashioned

The ex-boyfriend of an ex-friend of mine, a guy who last I heard is now an ex-actor, played the cunnilinguistic Mr. Pussy on an episode of Sex and the City. His audition for the part, I remember hearing at the time, entailed eating (out?) a fig with oral, in flagrante delicto brio.

But that's neither here or there. I actually want to talk about figs today because, as I'm hoping at least a few of you noticed over the weekend, I posted on this blog's Facebook page that I was playing with a recipe I'd found at The Kitchn for a Fig Old-Fashioned.  It caught my attention because I happen to have some figs on hand in a very-delicious-and-not-at-all-derelict way. Back in August my friend Jackie visited us and, upon spotting figs at the Jean-Talon Market, declared herself a huge fan and promptly purchased some. Most of them wound up becoming the property of The Five O'Clock Cocktail Blog (certain restrictions apply), and the PhoBlograpHusband, as he is wont to do, immediately set about brandying them.

You brandy, jar up and refrigerate a fruit like a fig or a cherry (which we use in place of maraschino), it's gonna last you a looong time. The one I chose for this cocktail was still springy and held its shape perfectly. And when I muddled it with maple syrup (The Kitchn says to use "Grade B, if you can find it." Pshaw, in Canada there's no maple grading because EVERYTHING IS AWESOME), I could hear the fig seeds crunching, exactly the way they do when you bite down on a Fig Newton. (And now you pretty much know every fig reference life has provided me so far: Newtons, Jackie visiting, Mr. Pussy. Truth be told I don't think about figs much.)

Also truth be told: I wasn't entirely sure if I'd like, or even be able to palate, this recipe. Mostly because of the balsamic vinegar. I'm definitely a fan of vinegar in cocktails, it's just that one whole teaspoon of balsamic straight up seemed like it would be way too much. The only time I'd ever used unadulterated balsamic for a cocktail was to spatter some Pollock-style atop an egg-white-foamy concoction, more for effect than taste.

But the verdict is: This cocktail rocks! Its overall sweetness does mirror that of a classic Old-Fashioned, but I actually think it's way more complex in its start-to-finish flavor profile. And yet, while also multifaceted, the ingredients coalesce very well;  you really won't taste the vinegar at all, although I'm sure it's in there doing something essential to bridge everything together.

The Fig Old-Fashioned

(Adapted slightly from The Kitchn)

1 1/2 ounces Jim Bean Black bourbon

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 ounce "Grade-B-if-you-can-find-it" maple syrup

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 California black mission fig

Orange peel, to garnish (optional)

Remove the fig's stem and cut it into quarters. Put fig pieces in the bottom of a shaker. Add maple syrup and muddle until you've got a paste. Add bourbon, orange juice and vinegar, fill shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Double-strain (see Tasting Notes) into an ice-filled highball glass.

Tasting Notes

Nitpick alert! The Kitchn says to do your muddling in a mixing glass, but then add the rest of your ingredients to said mixing glass before filling it with ice and shaking. Dear Kitchn, I wish my money grew on fair-traded, sustainably harvested, organic potted trees, but since it doesn't, I don't want to risk shaking my 'spensive mixing glass -- nay, chalice (emphasis mine, as is the decision to ostentatiously deem it a "chalice")Might I suggest sticking with a shaker throughout?

Double straining: Basically, get that liquid to pass through two forms of strainer on its way into the glass. Your second strain is probably going to come via a wire mesh tea strainer, which you'll perch just atop your cocktail glass. Your preliminary level of straining can come from a Hawthorne strainer or the built-in strainer located in the cap of a cobbler shaker.

I added the orange peel. Brings out the bouquet-ish quality of the drink. Mr. Pussy.

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The Derby

If this blog betters your drinking in but one, minute way, I hope it provides you with a plethora of ideas for mixing easy, whiskey-based cocktails. Sometimes I picture you -- yes, you -- lumbering through the door of your recession-era, DIY-chic digs, on the edge of weary after a long day slogging through your paper-pushing profession of choice (or, in keeping with the recession theme, necessity), and of course nine times out of ten you're going to reach for the bourbon. Neat or straight-on-the-rocks will always do, but don't you deserve a bit more of a to-do? Just something uncomplicated that can add a little brightness, a little aroma, a soupcon of civility to your drink and your day? That's what I'm here for.

Le Chien Fumant was recommended to me by guest blogger Dan Saltzstein, who had visited our new hometown of Montreal this summer. It's a short walk from our own DIY-chic digs, so before dining there we'd already cased the joint out on dog walks. It's very British-inn cozy, and since the bar is just a counter separating the open kitchen from the dining area, without room for storage, the liquor bottles are suspended from the ceiling by bungee cords. Dangling booze!!

Our bartender was James Bond cocky/cool and assured us that, should we not fancy any of the specialty cocktails on the printed menu, he could fashion us "any of the standard, classic cocktails..." [saunters away towards a drink ticket, then suddenly remembers something important and leans back towards us to say] "... except Cosmopolitans." But the cocktail menu was quite intriguing, lined with a number of just the kind of bourbon cocktails I'm always looking  for: those with a short list of easily accessible, often-on-hand ingredients, but ingredients I never would've thought to put together myself.

The Derby I ordered contained bourbon, sweet vermouth, Cointreau and lime juice. It was pleasant and way too easy for a drunk pro like me to finish. They used more lime juice than I would; in fact, tasting it prompted me to utter the term "juice-forward" for the first time in my life.

I recreated it at home using much less lime, and added some Luxardo to provide a sour/bitter note at the end. I suppose I could've just used bitters, but you guys deserve something a little bit more, n'est-ce pas?

The Derby

(Adapted from Le Chien Fumant)

1 1/4 ounces Jim Beam Black bourbon

1/2 ounce Cinzano sweet vermouth

1/2 ounce triple sec

1/2 ounce Luxardo

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for half a minute and strain into a cocktail glass.

Tasting Notes

I used Jim Beam Black and no-name triple sec (instead of Cointreau) simply because booze in Quebec is expensive and hard to come by. I like Jim Beam Black and it works quite nicely here, but I suppose if I had my druthers I'd opt for a higher-end, also-non-wheated bourbon like a Michter's small-batch.

Didn't bother with a garnish this time around; maybe an orange peel to pick up on the triple sec? Other suggestions?

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The Whatchawant

I'm gonna be honest with you guys -- I'm always honest with you guys, right? -- and tell you that the Whatchawant is actually a mistake version of another drink I wanted to make for y'all. Maybe not so much a mistake as misinformation; based on what I'd read of it in a magazine, I went about recreating this particular cocktail -- wrongly, as it turns out -- that's on the menu at a place in St. Louis called Sanctuaria Wild Tapas.

I can't vouch for how "wild" the tapas is (does it belly dance for you unsolicited, just 'cuz it feelin' feisty?), but the cocktail side of Sanctuaria's operation is phantasmagoric in concept and makes me regret leaving St. Louis before I got to set foot in the place. Get this:

Buy a $20 lifetime membership to the house's cocktail club and you'll get a) lots of nifty accoutrements perfect for cocktail fetishists, like a membership card and a composition book (for tasting notes, natch); b) $2 off every cocktail (most people, I tell them $10, but for you? $8!); c) various discounts for tasting events, retail merch, etc.; and d) first drink free!

First drink free... out of 150!! Once you slurp your way through that sesquicentennium of happiness, you get new perks like a) free liver transplant!; b) bigger merch, etc. discounts, but most importantly; c) third drink on the house for life!!! (All the better to break in new liver.)

Anyway, back to me and my stupidity. Because I have an impatient streak, I didn't verify the recipe with Sanctuaria beforehand. Afterhand, I discover that I'd used the wrong kind of bitters and omitted a key ingredient, pommeau (unfermented apple cider + apple brandy), which I doubt I'd be able to find up here in liquor-finicky Montreal even though it's Frenchy... [decides to check out SAQ's website before once again jumping to conclusions]... feck, they do have pommeau here. Damn this incurable impatience!

Anyway! I made a good drink and that's all that matters! I like the Whatchawant because it's got just four ingredients that any boozehound's home is likely to keep stocked, and because it's super-pleasant but not bland; perfect for coming home after work. Also, I checked around (before I published this post -- I'm learning!) and haven't found evidence of the Whatchawant existing elsewhere under another name. I believe the closest thing to it is the Louisville Cooler, which swaps out the bitters in place of powdered sugar.

I called it the Watchawant because I promise you it'll hit the spot time and again (that's what she said). Here's to easy drinking! (She probably also said that.)

The Watchawant

2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 ounce fresh orange juice

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into (preferably chilled) cocktail glass.

Tasting Notes

I should start mentioning the chilling of cocktail glasses more often. It only helps, right? And you guys know how to do it, right? Just put ice, then water, in your cocktail glass and leave it there while you make the drink in the shaker.

Can you use Angostura bitters instead? Totes.

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The Ghetto Julep

You know that month and change earlier this summer (it's still summer, right? Cuz in Montreal it kinda no longer is) when I wasn't blogging? Becuz I was moving? Out of the country? Well, during the first couple weeks post-move -- when Montreal's August air hovered around a blissful 74-degrees-Fahrenheit-(eff-this-Celsius-shiz-up-here)-and-breezy -- Sean and I often retreated to our blacktopped backyard for five o'clock cocktail hour. (It's not just a blog; it's a thing you can do!)

And during those first couple weeks, when boxes were still in the unpacking and Francophone grocery stores still scurred me a bit, I got into the habit of doing something that I chafe to admit to you good people... I made a lot of Ghetto Juleps.

You all know that I rilly rilly fancy bourbon and that I've made it my business to tour a lot of whiskey distilleries and that I consider the making of a true mint julep a devout and hallowed endeavor. What I don't think you know is that on one of my distillery visits, I bought at the gift shop a bottle of Old Honey Barn Kentucky Mint Julep Mixer. I bought high fructose corn syrup and green food coloring because the bottle looked cute. (*shame*)

But honestly, I never cracked the seal on that bottle until Montreal, until just last month. I finally did that because I felt like a julep but didn't have any fresh mint in the house, and I didn't know the exact-right way to ask for some at the store. Avez-vous menthe? Avez-vous la menthe? De la menthe? Some days here I get exhausted debating prepositions in my head.

So yes, I used the mixer. I made a Ghetto Julep, and it was so good I started making many of them.

If we can no longer be friends, I understand, but I must own up and repeat once more: Ghetto Juleps are yummy! They're fun the way a Big Mac or Gummi Bears are fun. They are the Legally Blonde of juleps -- dumb and silly and oh goodie look what's on TBS!

I won't tell anyone if you make one.

The Ghetto Julep

3 ounces bourbon

1 teaspoon Old Honey Barn Kentucky Mint Julep Mixer

Pour mint julep mixer into bottom of highball glass. Top with ice cubes that you have not bothered to crush. Pour in bourbon. Stir the shame and guilt away briskly.

Tasting Notes

I didn't specify what kind of bourbon to use in your Ghetto Julep. I mean, honestly, does it really matter? Screw it, make yourself a bourbon blend right there in your highball.

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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.