Welcome to the latest edition of Mixology Monday. I skipped a couple of months, busy with other stuff, but I had to return for this edition–it’s the fourth anniversary of MxMo! Having been a part of this online cocktail party from the very beginning, I feel I must participate tonight–it’s a moral imperative. (Of the original MxMo gangsters–the MxMafia, if you will–it’s fun to see who else was in it from the beginning: Paul Clarke, Rick Stutz, and Darcy O’Neil.)
Tonight’s theme promises to be a toot: pain-in-the-ass drinks, hosted by Seattle bartender Mike McSorley at the blog McSology. I’m cheating a little. I’m not doing a pain-in-the-ass drink. I’m doing a DIY garnish, the humble cocktail onion. Something I wanted to do at the restaurant bar was pickle onions for our cocktails, but life happened, and I’m doing it at home instead.
My wife, Jennifer, has played a lot with pickled things at home, but I had never tried it, so I thought this was the time. Jen and I bantied about a bunch of ideas as to how to pickle our onions, but in the end I chose to go with a basic template from the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Imbibe.
The first PITA was simply finding the mofo onions. Just over a week ago, when I first started thinking about this, our local grocery had fresh pearl onions. This week, none. (Yes, I could buy frozen, pre-peeled pearls, but where’s the PITA of that? Also, where’s the goddamn flavor of that?) So we simply bought the smallest onions we could find–larger than a pearl but still perfect at the bottom of a cocktail glass.
Next, PITA: peeling the mofo onions. Jen’s initial idea was that I should blanch them, so the skins would just slip right off, but then she saw a comment in Imbibe that overcooking the onions will take away their crunch. We decided to peel them the hard way.
My adaptation of Imbibe‘s recipe is as follows:
Pickled Cocktail Onions
- 12 ounces peeled onions
- 1/2 tsp. coriander seed
- 1/2 tsp. juniper berries (with these onions destined for a Gibson, that just made sense)
- 1/2 tsp. white peppercorns
- pinch of saffron
- zest of one medium lemon
- 1 quart vinegar (I used a mix of white-wine vinegar and simple white vinegar, as it’s what I had on hand)
- 3/4 quart water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
Assemble coriander seed, juniper berries, white peppercorns, saffron, and lemon zest into a cheesecloth sachet. Combine water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve, about five minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Add spice sachet and onions and return to heat. Bring to a boil; allow to boil for just one minute, and remove from heat. Cool to room temperature and remove onions and pickling liquid to jar(s), discarding sachet. Leave at room temperature overnight, and refrigerate (for up to two months) in the morning.
photograph © Jennifer Hess
Now, after doing all of that, I had some pickling liquid left over and didn’t want to waste it, so I also pickled some ramps. For that, prior to discarding the sachet, I cleaned the ramps, added them to the remaining pickling liquid (with the sachet in), and brought it to a boil. I then immediately turned off the heat.
Now, Imbibe‘s recipe comes from Todd Thrasher of PX in Virginia, and he seems to be going for a sweet-and-sour variety of pickle. Having tasted the results, we’re not crazy about it. Neither of us are fans of the sweet-and-sour pickle; we prefer the classic sour. What we do absolutely love about this technique, though, is the texture of the onions. Very crisp and crunchy.
Next time around, I want to lower the sugar content, increase the oomph-factor of the spices, and play with different vinegars or vinegar blends.
A while back, I highlighted an advertisement by Johnnie Walker, in which the striding man attended the gala coronation of Britain’s George VI. I made a note of the fact that I had scoured Google Books to see whether JW had run similar ads afterward, and couldn’t find any. Well, look here:
This ad, from New York magazine’s issue of January 10, 1977, says, “In America, anyone can grow up to deserve Johnnie Walker Black Label.” The timing? The January 20, 1977, inauguration of Jimmy Carter as the 39th president of the United States. Now to hunt for similar ads for other inaugurations.
Today, I’d like to revisit a favorite cocktail, one I’ve blogged before, the Princeton cocktail. The Princeton is a lovely mix of gin and port, with a little orange bitters in the gin. The Princeton comes to us from George Kappeler’s 1895 book, Modern American Drinks. Here’s how Kappeler describes it:
A mixing-glass half-full fine ice, three dashes orange bitters, one an a half pony Tom gin. Mix, strain into cocktail-glass; add half a pony port wine carefully and let it settle in the bottom of the cocktail before serving.
Tom gin? This is a reference to Old Tom, a nearly vanished style of gin popular in the cocktail manuals of the late 19th century. It’s lightly sweetened and a little rounder in flavor than such London dry styles as Beefeater or Tanqueray.
When I’ve written about this cocktail before, I’ve used a version that I encountered in David Wondrich’s book Imbibe! Writing in the benighted year of 2007, Wondrich was unfortunately bereft of Old Tom gin, which had disappeared decades earlier from the U.S. market. Dr. Dave suggested a workaround, though–take Plymouth (a dry gin similar in its botanical base to Tom), and add a small amount of simple syrup for sweetness. In making this drink previously, I’ve used a rich simple syrup of either demerara or turbinado sugar, which produces a drink that looks like this:
Pretty, yes? My most recent version, though, looks like this:
What gives? Well, as you know if you read my previous post, I’ve tracked down Old Tom gin, in the form of Hayman’s, a lightly sweet bottling out of the U.K. It makes a truly delicious version of the Princeton. Hayman’s has subtle citrus notes in its botanical blend, which pair well with both the orange bitters and the port. The clear top makes for a lovelier foil for the port below, and as you can see here, it even picks up light in a lovely way. My next step is to try it with Ransom Old Tom. That’s going to engender another batch of photos, however, because Ransom, as a barrel-aged gin, is brown like whiskey.
- 2 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom gin
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 3/4 oz. port
- lemon or orange twist, for garnish
Stir Hayman’s Old Tom gin and orange bitters over ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Pour the port gently down the edge of the glass until it slides under the gin mixture. Twist the lemon or orange peel over the glass, but do not drop into glass. It will ruin the layering effect.
Photographs © Jennifer Hess. All rights reserved.
A simple variant on the classic Aviation, using Hayman’s Old Tom gin. I chose the Hayman’s because I have a problem with the Aviation; I think it’s just a touch out of balance on my palate, with the lemon juice so heavy and the sweetening agents so light. (However, I know that if you bump up the maraschino and violet liqueur, you’re going to get a drink that’s just nasty.) Hayman’s is only mildly sweet, as far as Old Toms go, apparently, so I thought I’d try it. I like it.
- 2 ounces Hayman’s Old Tom gin
- 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons maraschino liqueur
- 1 teaspoon crème de violette
Shake over ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon twist.