What’s cooking behind the bar?
On a recent spring day, I was enjoying an after-lunch drink with a friend at Poste Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco when I was struck by an enchanting aroma coming from behind the bar. It had a fruity scent, joined with the fragrance of exotic spices. Since it was one of the first warm days after an early-April cold snap, the tropical scent tingled my senses.
As I leaned over to take a peek, I spied a pot filled with a brilliant yellow hue slowly simmering. Bartender Joel Newbraugh explained that he was preparing a seasoned pineapple syrup for one of the house cocktails, the pineapple airmail. The bouquet of spices included cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon.
The airmail is a classic, dating back to the golden age of cocktails. Even the name brings back memories of days gone by. Airmail (the service) was quite a feat when it lifted off in the U.S. in 1911. The idea of sending correspondence across the country — and later over the ocean — in a few days was unthinkable just a generation before.
Airmail eventually gave way to special couriers like FedEx and DHL — and, eventually, email. But at one time if you wanted a letter to get somewhere quickly, you went to the post office, bought an envelope with red and blue barbershop piping around the edges and attached a special stamp (often with a photo of an airplane).
Cuba began regular airmail service in 1930 and the cocktail of the same name appeared shortly afterward in a promotional pamphlet for Bacardi, then headquartered in Cuba. It is not known whether it was a Bacardi creation or copied from a Havana bar.
This delightful drink was composed of Cuban rum, honey, fresh lime juice and Champagne. It later officially turned up in in Esquire’s 1949 Handbook for Hosts. It was sometimes served with a special airmail stamp affixed to the glass.
Poste’s pineapple version, conceived by head bartender Justin Hampton, reinvents this timeless drink by replacing the honey with the aforementioned pineapple syrup, adding a sultry dimension.
The original version calls for Cuban rum, which unfortunately is not available here in the States. This rendering uses Plantation 3 Stars — a multinational rum blended with spirits from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad. Bartender Amy Russell describes the flavor as similar to a rhum agricole (rum-distilled sugarcane juice), “but not as intense.”
The distiller says that each of the three distinct rums lends a specific character to the spirit. “Matured Trinidad rum imparts its classic elegance, Barbados delivers sophistication with a balanced mouthfeel and Jamaica conveys its unmistakable structure and rustic edge.”
The pineapple airmail is served in a champagne flute garnished with a mint leaf. While its appearance may look like a gentle mimosa, do not be fooled; this drink is definitely not tame.
On first sip, the full-bodied flavor of the rum and spice hits your tongue, mingling with the sweetness of the pineapple like happy bedfellows. Then, thanks to the lime and sparkling wine, it has a dry tart finish. The mint leaf adds a bit of coolness.
Pineapple drinks can easily become cloying, but cooking the fruit with spices curbs its sugariness. The airmail delivers the whimsical fun of a tropical drink with a refined flair.
If you want to try the pineapple airmail, you must hurry to the Hotel Monaco. Poste Brasserie is slated to close temporarily this summer, then reopen with an edgy new concept.
The Pineapple Airmail
1 ounce rum
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce spiced pineapple syrup
Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker and pour into a champagne flute. Top it off with Prosecco.