by Jolene Lamb, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
The culinary world of food and beverage has always included wine and spirits. In recent decades the craft cocktail has emerged, and its presence is pushing rock star mixologists into the spotlight with celebrity chefs and bakers.
Several years ago I first heard the term craft cocktail. I was immediately interested. I’ve always known of classic cocktails such as an old fashioned, mint julep, the French 75 and Manhattan; however I rarely found them on a typical menu.
There were mixed drinks on some menus, consisting mostly of spirits with liquor and/or fruit juice mixers topped with a splash of grenadine and garnished with a neon red orb version of a maraschino cherry. But today a bar or restaurant menu lists a plethora of drinks made from classic to gourmet and almost forgotten ingredients. The almost forgotten ingredients such as orange bitters, true maraschino cherries, cocktail shrubs and absinthe are shaking up (or stirring up, if you prefer) drink menus everywhere.
A cocktail shrub is a concentrated syrup that combines fruit, sugar and vinegar. The result is a sweet, acidic mixer that can be enjoyed on its own or used in a variety of mixed drinks. Quite often, herbs and spices are also used to create interesting flavor combinations. Orgeat syrup is another underutilized sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange flower water. It was originally made with a barley-almond blend. It has a pronounced almond taste and is an important ingredient in the Mai Tai.
Absinthe was almost extinct and without Ted Breaux, there would be no absinthe revival. In 1993, Ted was a research scientist for the petroleum industry based in Louisiana when he first heard about the defunct spirit from a colleague. Absinthe was still illegal then, or thought to be, and had been for much of the 20th century. He read as much as he could, acquired old bottles, and even tried to make the stuff himself. Eventually, he helped conduct the studies that showed absinthe contained none of the harmful chemical compounds that the U.S. government thought it did—studies that led to its being sold again in the country starting in 2007.
True maraschino cherries, called Luxardo cherries, are the real deal and they have to be one of my favorite rediscovered craft cocktail ingredients. Before it became known for its preserved cherries, Luxardo was a distillery on the coast of what is now modern-day Croatia. Founded in 1821 by Girolamo Luxardo, the company made its name with a cherry liqueur called Maraschino, which Girolamo based on a medieval spirit. The liqueur was made from sour Marasca cherries (grown in the sandy soil of Croatia) and made by distilling the fruit’s leaves, stems, pits and skins. (It’s those pits, by the way, that give the liqueur its characteristic nutty background flavor, which is often mistaken for almonds.) In 1905, the distillery started selling cherries candied in a syrup of Marasca cherry juice and sugar, thus creating the original Maraschino cherry.
Mixologists are creating cocktails with amazing layers and depths of flavor. Fruit, muddled herbs and spices are adding interesting flavors to drinks. Oak aging cocktails add another flavor profile to cocktails, and this can even be done at home, without an oak barrel. Oak provides an important contribution of flavor from the wood that you can’t get any other way.
Consider a bottle of bourbon. During the aging process of whiskey production, toasted and charred American white oak gives bourbon most of its flavor and all of its color. In the summer months of Kentucky, for example, corn distillate that is destined to become bourbon sits in storage rick houses, sealed inside huge oak barrels. As the seasons pass, the spirit moves in and out of the walls of the barrel taking some of the resinous flavor from the wood with it. Notes of vanilla, caramel, spices—these all come from the charred and toasted oak. Even ice has become a component as much as anything else, rising up as jewels in the cocktail.
I encourage you to venture out to a restaurant, cocktail bar, or modern day speakeasy and try a craft cocktail. Get adventurous and go for whatever sounds the most interesting to you. Or pick up one of the many cocktail recipe books featuring old classics recipes and modern cocktails and mix up a few new drinks for your next party. If you are still nervous or unsure about your skills as a mixologist, you can attend one of our mixology classes that will have you creating craft cocktails like a pro.
Interested in aging your own cocktails? Oak barrel aged cocktails are amazing. Here’s how to make your own (no barrel required).
Start by making five Old Fashioned cocktails (recipe below) in a quart glass canning jar.
To the cocktail, add the woodchips.
15 dashes bitters
half an orange, sliced
5 maraschino cherries
5 sugar cubes
13 ounces Bourbon
17 grams Jack Daniels Oak Barrel chips
Combine bourbon, sugar and bitters.
Muddle the orange, and mash the peels. Remove peels before aging.
Add the cherries and secure jar with lid.
Store in a cool place for at least 48 hours or up to a week for more flavor. Note: The cherries turn into little Bourbon bombs and pretty much make the whole exercise worthwhile.
The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was published in 1930 includes the Dandy Cocktail. It’s a 50-50 Manhattan made with the red wine-based aperitif Dubonnet Rouge instead of the usual Italian Vermouth. As with any 50-50 type drink, using a higher proof spirit helps increase the presence of the whiskey. Also, it doesn’t hurt to experiment with other red wine-based aperitif: Byrrh, Lillet Rouge, Vergano Americano or Barolo Chinato in place of the Dubonnet.
1½ ounces rye whiskey
1½ ounces Dubonnet Rouge
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon Cointreau
1 piece orange peel
1 piece lemon peel
Measure ingredients into mixing glass, express peels, and drop in. Fill with ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve without a garnish.
This is an elegant drink that plays well in all seasons. It’s delicate and light enough—despite the lack of citrus—for the summer, yet complex enough to be enjoyed in the winter, where the lack of citrus helps. All ingredients are easily found, but the key ingredient is the apricot liqueur. Ensure you find an amazing one as it will make all the difference in the world. Giffard’s is recommended.
1½ ounces gin
¾ ounce Lillet blanc
¼ ounce Giffard apricot liqueur
Stir all ingredients, except absinthe, in an ice-filled mixing glass. Rinse a chilled cocktail glass with absinthe. Strain contents of mixing glass into the absinthe-rinsed glass.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.