Nolet’s Garden to Glass

Back in June, I received a lovely package from Nolet’s gin. The company was starting a promotional program they call Garden to Cocktail. The idea is to pair their Silver Dry Gin with a different ingredient each month and use the special ingredient to create new and interesting cocktails.

The first ingredient they sent me was feijoa (along with a promotional bottle of the gin, of course), and I must admit, I was stumped. I had never heard of feijoa prior to this.

Gin 'n' ... feijoa?

So I bumped around online for a bit to see what I could find out. I asked Twitter, I inquired on Facebook. I even foodpickled.  I got great answers from people about what feijoa is and what it tastes like, but I was still stumped. (Some bloggers received a recipe card from Nolet, featuring a drink using the gin and feijoa; not only was the recipe card missing from my box, but I generally don’t like simply republishing cocktail recipes sent me in promotional materials, so I would have asked around anyway.)

And then I tried the fruit itself. Um … I think the best I can say is, it’s not for me. I didn’t care for either the flavor or the texture, and I was even less sure how to make a cocktail from it.

But the gin! Oh, the gin is a different story.

the gin!

Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin is a fairly new product on the market, so you might not be familiar with it. Made by the Dutch Nolet family, it’s the latest recipe from a family who have pursued a 300-year legacy of distilling — first in genever and then, most famously, in vodka. The Nolet family’s Ketel One is perhaps one of the most famous vodka brands in the world, and the family has been able to capitalize on that success by investing resources back into gin.

Now, Nolet’s gin is an example of what some people call a new-style gin. That means it’s less reliant on gin’s traditional juniper flavors, pushing the pine qualities of juniper into the background.

I have mixed reactions to these newer types of gin. Some brands do this style very well, and others decidedly less so. In thinking about which brands succeed in this style, I’ve decided to pay attention to what flavors they emphasize instead of juniper. Some brands, the ones I like least, do very little instead of juniper. In other words, they don’t really emphasize anything. At best, they have a watered-down gin, and at worst, they have a mislabeled vodka.

Nolet takes a different approach, luckily. The family has crafted a gin with a soft, floral, and somewhat fruity flavor profile–the botanical blend includes such unlikely ingredients as rose, peach, and raspberry.

mmmmmartini

I was intrigued by the flavor on its own, so I tried it in a couple of different types of martini. First, I mixed my version of a “dry” martini: 5 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. (It’s hard to use the word “dry” anymore without someone misunderstanding you, so I always clarify what I mean by “dry.” Some people say a dry martini contains only a scornful glance at a vermouth bottle, whereas other tipplers say it’s anything drier than a 50-50 mix of gin and vermouth.)

In my 5:1 ratio, I found the Nolet to make a delicious martini. Sure, not as juniper-forward as a Tanqueray or Beefeater version, but I’ll be honest: I don’t always want that. The Nolet is round and creamy, and at 95.2 proof, it carries its flavors handsomely into marriage with vermouth.

I then tried it mixed “wetter,” at 2 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. I didn’t care for this at all. The gin lost its own character into the vermouth and I felt like I was drinking little of substance. A week later, I tried it again at 5:1 and again loved the martini.

what’s next, or, a very lychee dietschy

So having felt that the feijoa was a dud, but loving the Nolet martini, I was eager to see what awaited me in my second shipment. When this arrived, I opened it to find several lychees. This time, I did get the recipe card that Nolet sent, but again, I didn’t want to just reproduce that cocktail; I wanted to try something different.

Also, my wife is nine month’s pregnant and, for that reason, abstaining from booze. Whenever I mix up a fruity cocktail for myself, I like to make her a dry version when I can.

So I dug around online and found a Serious Eats post from earlier this year, describing a Lychee Soda at the Modern Bar Room in New York. (Disclaimer: I write for Serious Eats.) That sounded very crisp and refreshing, and I knew it would make Jen a lovely NA drink.

So I pureed the lychee, mixed it with some Lavender-Lemon Simple Syrup, from Royal Rose Syrups in Brooklyn (disclaimer: Royal Rose sent me several syrup samples.) Jen’s got topped with seltzer water, whereas mine first got a hit of Nolet’s and then a seltzer blast.

photo © Jennifer Hess. All rights reserved.

Okay, yum. My only complaint is that I’m out of lychees.

A Very Hoppy MxMo

MxMo HopsWow, I don’t even want to think about how long it’s been since I’ve participated in a Mixology Monday. All sorts of things–lazyness, apathy, antipathy, psychopathy–have gotten in the way. But I’m back, dammit, at least for this one. I love this month’s theme–beer cocktails–so I’m happy to play along. Ta muchly to Cocktail Virgin Slut for hosting!

I’ve decided to update a cocktail I submitted to a Food52 competition, in the long-ago days of October 2009. I didn’t win or place or even show, unfortunately, but I love the drink I made, so I’m hoping this time it meets with more enthusiasm. Here’s my writeup from Food52:

The Seelbock is a variant of the classic Seelbach cocktail, from the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky–bourbon, Cointreau, and generous amounts of both Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, topped off with a big pour of champagne. For this version, I used a 100-proof rye whiskey in place of bourbon and I tinkered with the bitters. And most importantly, I used a weisse beer, a wheat beer, in place of the champagne. Wheat beers are light, effervescent, and yeasty, just like champagne. For this, I chose the Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse, a collaboration between Schneider Weissbier and Brooklyn Brewery. If you can’t find this brew, substitute any good quality wheat beer. If you can’t find lemon bitters, you can muddle lemon peel into the mixing glass before you add the other ingredients.

Some things I didn’t tell the Food52 crowd (I like to keep my headnotes there short):

  • I swapped rye for bourbon because I thought it would provide a stronger backbone for a beer cocktail.
  • I ditched the Peychaud’s because, frankly, I didn’t like it at all in this drink. I found it clashed with the beer. So instead I used lemon bitters (The Bitter Truth’s version), and that was a great choice because it highlights the natural citrus notes in the beer.

photo © Jennifer Hess; all rights reserved

Now, as I said, the July 2011 version of the Seelbock is an update, and here are the changes I’ve made:

First, although it makes a lot of sense to choose a Weisse beer that somewhat resembles champagne (light, effervescent, and yeasty), I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense to name a drink -bock when you’re using a Weisse. And, since I wasn’t sure I’d find the Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse again (since it was a limited-edition brew), I thought, well, hell, Dietsch, just get a goddamn bock this time.

So I got a goddamn bock this time, but I kept it in the G. Schneider und Sohn family, choosing their Aventinus doppelbock. It’s wheaty, of course, like their Brooklyn Brewery collab, but it’s a lot darker and richer. I wanted to play with it in this cocktail, to see what a darker brew would add.

The only other change I made to the original recipe was here: “1 ounce rye whiskey”. Let me be honest: I did that for Food52, concocting a less-potent cocktail than I normally drink, in hopes that civilians would try it. I don’t need to do that here.

Between the oils from the lemon twist, the lemon bitters, and the Cointreau, this is a brightly citrusy cocktail, which makes it all the more refreshing for a hot July day. I think I’m happier with this version than I was the Food52 edition.

Seelbock

  • 1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse, as I did in the original)
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau (I don’t know why I preferred Grand Marnier originally; perhaps it was all I had at the moment)
  • 1/4 oz. lemon bitters (measure!)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4-5 oz. Aventinus doppelbock
  • lemon twist, for garnish
  1. In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir rye, Cointreau, and both bitters.
  2. Strain into champagne flute and top with beer.
  3. Add garnish.
  4. Burp and be happy.

Drink of the Week/Month/Year/Whatever: XYZ

Near the end of his Savoy project, Erik Ellestad featured the XYZ cocktail, a daisy/daiquiri/sidecar variant using rum. The drink sounded great to me, and while browsing through the comments, I saw that someone suggested using Banks 5 Island rum as the base.

The original, from the Savoy, calls for lemon juice, Cointreau, and Bacardi. Erik used Clement Creole Shrub in place of the Cointreau. The same person who suggested the Banks, though, also thought that maybe Cointreau or Combier might pair better with Banks because he found the cocktail a little dry.

I happened to have a bottle of Banks 5 Island, provided to me as a free product sample, and I wanted to try it in this cocktail. I love Banks. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a white rum, but it certainly doesn’t taste like one. It has a funky taste you normally expect from a rhum agricole. Banks is actually a blend of rums from five islands: Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, and Indonesia.

Wait. That’s a little misleading. Banks is actually a blend of rums from four islands: Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados. The Indonesian component is not a rum at all: it’s Batavia arrack, a pot-still distillate made of sugarcane. It’s similar to rum but it’s much funkier. It brings a unique character to Banks 5 Island that you can’t find in other white rums.

I find that Banks is great in cocktails. It blends exceptionally well with other ingredients without losing its own character. Unlike most white rums, though, it’s also wonderful sipped on ice or stirred into an old-fashioned.

I wanted to try it in the XYZ, though. I mixed it twice, over successive nights. The first time, I tried it with Creole Shrubb. Like Erik’s commenter Sam, though, I found it a little dry that way. So the next night, I mixed it with Combier and — oh my! — that was lovely.

Drink of the Week: Martinez

Rhode Island recently started (finally) getting in bottles of Ransom Old Tom Gin; having heard so much about it over the last two years or so, I had to buy a bottle and try it.

The only other Old Tom I’ve had is Hayman’s, and I have to say, these are very different products. Both are excellent in quality and great in flavor, but the Ransom has a maltiness to it that makes it stand out just a bit. I suspect each Tom will shine brightly in specific cocktails, so I can see both of them having a place on my bar.

A cocktail in which the Ransom excels is the Martinez, the martini precursor that uses gin, sweet vermouth, bitters, and sometimes either curacao or maraschino. Historically, the Martinez calls for equal parts gin and vermouth. I like them prepared that way, but I prefer a little more gin in mine.

Here’s my recipe:

Martinez

  • 2 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • lemon twist

Stir all ingredients except for lemon twist in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over drink and discard.

Photograph © Jennifer Hess

Drink of the Week: Oude Plein

One evening, a few weeks ago, I was contemplating a new bottle of Bols Genever, trying to find a new use for it in a cocktail. I started thinking of a New Orleans favorite, the Vieux Carré, a blend of rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two types of bitters.

Now, depending on the brand of vermouth used, I sometimes find that the Vieux Carré’s request for equal parts whiskey, cognac, and vermouth is a little on the sweet side, so I often reduce the vermouth by a tad–down to 3/4 ounces instead of 1. Or if I want a boozier drink, I up the spirits.

Which is what I did here:

  • 1.5 oz Bols Genever
  • 1.5 oz Pierre Ferrand cognac
  • .5 oz Dolin sweet
  • 1 tsp. Benedictine
  • 2 dashes each of Ango. & Peych.

Mix all ingredients in a double Old Fashioned glass over ice; stir.

My mention of this drink on Twitter sparked a brief conversation, and someone (Matthew Robold, I think) suggested naming it the Oude Plein, which Google Translate offered up as a Dutch translation of “old square.” Works for me.

The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans remains one of the most reliable places in my experience to find a Vieux Carre, and they’re served in these lovely flared OF glasses. For my variation, I used the closest thing in my cabinet.

Odds and Ends

No one ever seems to blog much during Christmas week, and I’m no exception. Just wanted to drop a quick post linking out to a couple of other things I’ve been working on.

The biggest news is that I’m contributing to Serious Eats. I’m writing a weekly column for the next several weeks on basic cocktail techniques. Right now, I’m in the middle of a three-part series on party planning. Parts 1 and 2 are up, along with a recipe for a batched Negroni. Part 3 should be up next week. I still can’t believe people pay me to write about what I love.

I also have a recipe that’s part of a crowded field at Food52, competing for best Hot Toddy recipe. My entry, the Rum Tum Toddy, features baked apple and Smith & Cross rum. I love the drink and hope it has a chance, but we’ll see. Here’s a video of me flaming an orange twist to go atop the toddy. I sloppily managed to drop the twist pith side up, which irritates me, but I didn’t get a smudge of match soot on the peel, which would have vexed me even more. (Yes, that’s a box of wine behind me. Sigh.)

From the Archives: The Thistle

Repeal Day came and went this year, with nary a comment from me. What can I say? Bad blogger. Today, though, I want to revisit a cocktail I first explored four years ago, for Repeal Day 2006: the Thistle. The Thistle is a simple cocktail; my version came from Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them, and it calls for 2 parts Scotch, 1 part Italian vermouth, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Wait a minute. Scotch, sweet vermouth, and bitters? Yes, you’re going to say the same thing someone else said in 2006, and that Erik “The Obscurist” Ellestad noted earlier this year: that’s a Rob Roy. Okay, it’s a Rob Roy. It’s a Thistle. It’s a York. You can call it a peppermint patty for all I care, it’s a fine damn drink.

I don’t know how to admit this to you, dear readers, but I actually prefer a sweet Thistleroy to a sweet Manhattan. Even made with rye, a sweet Manhattan simply tastes too sweet to me. For it to be truly tasty, I have to make the perfect variation on it: 2 oz. rye, 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth, and 1/2 dry vermouth. Scotch, though (even a blended variety), brings enough smokey character to the cocktail to rise up and tame the sweet vermouth.

Four years ago, I used Dewars for the scotch, and Cinzano for the vermouth. This time, I went a different route, and came up with something my wife and I loved. First, I wanted to play with a single malt in this instead of a blend. I used Knockdhu Distillery’s An Cnoc 12, a well-balanced and relatively inexpensive Highlands whisky.

For the vermouth, I chose a product that wasn’t even available to me (or anyone in the United States) in 2006: the French Dolin Rouge. I’m really starting to shun the available-everywhere products like M&R or Cinzano, in favor of more bitter and herbal vermouths such as Dolin or Carpano Antica, the latter of which I have to schlep from Boston. I found that the Dolin’s bittersweet herbaceous qualities married well with the An Cnoc.

Finally, I rounded the drink out with Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters from the Bitter Truth. I remembered, too late, that I had drained the Angostura the previous evening. But it’s okay, because I like the Christmas-spiciness of the Jerry Thomas.

In all, the Yorkeroy is a great drink that deserves a regular spot in my drinks rotation, and it’s proven itself as open to experimentation as a horny college student. I’ll have another.

(If you’re joining me from Serious Eats, welcome aboard. Look around, kick the tires, poke the cats, and pour yourself a stiff one.)