Cocktail of the Week: Iceland’s pungent ‘black death,’ Brennivin

May 3, 2012

While most travelers are familiar with the many specialty foods of Europe, many of these same countries also make their own specialty liqueurs.

In Italy, the spirits selection is as varied as its amazing cuisine. If you happen to find yourself in the birthplace of spaghetti, make sure you save some room for Sambucca, Limoncello or Aperol. In Greece, the anise-favored Ouzo is considered a symbol of Greek culture. And in Scandinavian countries, the locals enjoy Aquavit a spiced liqueur whose name is derived from the Latin “aqua vitae,” meaning “water of life.” Sampling these local elixirs during your vacation can be as much fun and culturally invigorating as enjoying a dinner of local fare.

During a recent trip to Iceland, I was excited about trying the local spirit: Brennivin, a type of schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway seeds. The name Brennivin, which literally translates into English as “burning wine,” is also known locally as “black death.” With a name like that how could one not be intrigued? Before landing in the capital city of Reykjavik, I envisioned Iceland as a land of hard-drinking Vikings staving off the frigid climate with loads of alcohol. I had read about the legendary nightlife in Reykjavik, a city where the darkness can last up to 20 hours in the dead of winter.

Even though my hotel was situated on Laugavegur Street, Reykjavik’s main party-strip, I decided to get into the spirit of Vikings before trying my first taste of Brennivin. I headed to the Vikingarain restaurant, a themed eatery that also features skits based on Icelandic history. Visitors enter the restaurant through a primitive fort-like wooden gate. Inside, the rooms are covered with rough pieces of raw wood, candlelight, bones and animals skins draped over the rustic tables and chairs. As servers greet you in traditional clothing, you are transported back 1,000 years in time.

The restaurant boasts that it presents the same food cooked and served in the same style as the Vikings ate. While I was eagerly looking forward to ordering a whale steak, I was curious to drink what the Vikings drank. While I had pictures in my head of Vikings carousing with giant steins of brewski, my bartender explained that they actually drank mead, a honey wine.

While modern Iceland is known for nightlife, the country has had a temperance tradition since the early 1900s. Prohibition was enforced 1915 through 1921 for wine and until 1935 for alcohol. Surprisingly, beer was prohibited until 1989. According to my bartender, on the first day that beer was legalized, more than 350,000 bottles were sold — more than the entire population of Iceland.

It turns out that Brennivin’s lethal nickname stems from the temperance movement. In an effort to scare consumers, the Icelandic government placed a skull and crossbones logo on all liquor bottles. With its stark black label and skeleton, Brennivin became known as “black death.” Today, the label sports an outline map of Iceland in lieu of a skull. Undeterred by the propaganda, I asked my bartender for a shot of Brennivin which he suggested washing down with a cold beer. The liqueur had a bold and pungent taste, heavy on the caraway, almost like drinking a slice of liquid rye bread. As my taste buds were processing this sharp flavor, my bartender explained that traditionally Brennivin was served with dried fish — specifically Hakral, a putrefied shark — in an effort to stave off an even stronger taste.

Brennivin today is mostly enjoyed as a patriotic drink, most notably on St. Thorlac’s Day (December 23), a holiday that honors the patron saint of Iceland. It’s a popular souvenir sampled then brought home by Iceland’s growing number of tourists. Although it’s not currently imported into Washington, Brennivin can be purchased online at NordicStore.com.

Cocktail of the Week: Warming Up to Tom and Jerry

February 8, 2012

Washingtonians rang in 2012 during one the warmest New Year’s Eves in memory, but the days that followed turned bitterly cold giving locals their first real taste of winter this season. Last week’s spell of gusty winds and snow flurries set the stage for me to whip up a winter cocktail to soothe my January chills.

Fortunately, I was armed with a collection of recipes that I sampled last month during the Musuem of the American Cocktail’s annual holiday party The event featured seasonal offerings from some of Washington’s most innovative cocktail lounges, including Bourbon Steak, the Columbia Room, PS-7 and Room 11. Jon Harris of the Gibson presented a classic tipple, the Tom and Jerry using Jerry Thomas’s original recipe from the 1850s.

The Tom and Jerry is a hot variation of the holiday staple eggnog, spiked with cognac and rum. But while most people forget about eggnog after December, the Tom and Jerry makes a delightful warmer throughout the cold and snowy months.

The biggest difference between the two is that the Tom and Jerry is served warm; secondly, the Tom and Jerry has a whipped, silky texture that doesn’t weigh you down like thick eggnog.

According to Harris, the Tom and Jerry first appeared in the 1820s. It was created by London sportswriter Pierce Eagan. Its name is not derived from the famous cartoon cat and mouse duo but from a book Eagan wrote called “Life of London: or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and His Elegant Friend Corinthina Tom.” The book described the exploits of two gentlemen as they ran rampant through London having a good time, drinking and carousing. Eagan fashioned the drink as a publicity stunt to promote his work. He would hand out cocktails in shops in hopes of increasing sales.

The popularity of the Tom and Jerry exploded in the 1860s after it was featured in “How to Mix Drinks,” “Professor” Jerry Thomas’s pioneering collection of cocktail recipes. It remained fashionable through the 1940s, and ’50s, when people held Tom and Jerry parties and served their drinks in specially made sets of gold-trimmed ceramic mugs with “Tom and Jerry” emblazoned on the front. These collectibles can still be found on eBay and antique stores. The drink nearly disappeared in 1960s during the era of convenience foods, when pre-made mixes replaced fruit juice and fresh ingredients in cocktails.

Making a Tom and Jerry from scratch is a time-consuming process. It involves a dozen of eggs, separated, with the whites whipped into stiff peaks and yolks beaten with sugar and spices. These two components are then folded together to form a batter, which can be made ahead and stored. Harris recommends keeping it overnight to allow the spices to meld.

When ready to serve, prepare a cup by pouring a shot each of cognac and rum, then adding a dollop or two of batter. Heat the cocktail by adding warm milk and stirring.

A properly made Tom and Jerry makes a soothing treat that will kill the chill in your fingers and toes. It starts off with a potent kick from the rum and cognac but goes down smoothly with a soft, fluffy meringue-like finish. It’s just the ticket until the milder days of spring return.

The Tom and Jerry
(based on Jerry Thomas’s recipe)

12 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 bottle Remy Martin cognac
Pinch each of ground allspice, ground cinnamon, clove and nutmeg
1 bottle Appleton’s Reserve Extra 12-Year-Old Rum
Milk

Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until they form a stiff froth. Beat the yolks and sugar and spices, separately until thin. Gradually add 4 ounces cognac. Fold the whites into the yolks.

When ready to serve, give it another stir and then put 1 tablespoon of this batter in a small mug or tumbler. Add 1-ounce cognac and rum, stirring constantly to avoid curdling. Fill to the top with hot milk (or a 50/50 mixture of water and milk) and stir until foamy. Garnish with nutmeg on top.

Ingredients to make the Tom and Jerry may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, 3429 M Street, N.W., in Georgetown. For more winter drink recipes, visit CocktailMuseum.Wordpress.Com.

Cocktail of the WeekNovember 16, 2011

November 16, 2011

As far as acclaimed drinking establishments in Washington D.C., one place stands the test of time over all others ? the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. Perhaps it?s the long and storied history, the impressive roster of influential guests, or its long-standing reputation as a gathering place for high society

This uniquely Washington landmark, steps from the White House, transports visitors back in time, to an era of grand and luxurious hotels. Jim Hewes has been entertaining the well-to-do and mixing classic cocktails at the Round Robin since 1986.

Conversing with Hewes reminds you of a golden age when hotel bars hired top-notch bartenders who were as skilled in the art of conversation as they were at mixing libations. Whether you are a celebrity, a tourist, a politician or a local, Hewes will make you feel at home and, if you like, provide you with a witty and enjoyable history lesson.

The Round Robin is well known for its mint julep. The recipe hasn?t changed since Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay introduced the Southern-style drink to Washington in the 1800?s. The julep aside, the Willard is revered by those seeking a quality cocktail in a stately environment. Hewes can shake up a first-rate martini with pizzazz and mix an impressive repertoire of classic drinks.
One of those concoctions is the hotel?s namesake cocktail, the Willard. This tipple was invented to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Willard in 1947. Hewes uncovered the recipe years ago in a James Beard article on hotel bars and cocktails in the New York Times.

Like many classic cocktails, the Willard starts out with a gin base. Hewes recommends a dry gin such as Plymouth or Beefeater, in lieu of a sweeter gin, which can be too overbearing. The recipe also includes peach and apricot brandies along with a dash of lime juice. While the original recipe called for fresh squeezed lime, Hewes prefers to use Rose?s lime juice. ?I like to use Rose?s, reason being, that it keeps a clarity to the drink, ?He says. ?It?s not cloudy, you can look right through it and see what you?re drinking.?

The Willard has a strong gin rush up front but finishes with a refreshingly sweet touch from the fruit liqueurs. It?s a timeless drink. ?We like to keep things simple here,? Hewes says. ?It?s a classic cocktail ? two sips. One is not enough. Three is too many.?

The circular Round Robin bar is perched in an elegant room on the Eastern end of the hotel. According to Hewes, the bar has always had a similar arrangement. ?There has been a bar on this corner since the early 1800?s. Thomas Jefferson sat here after he left office,? Hewes informs. ?The room has always had a round configuration. At one time ?meet me at the rotunda? meant ?meet me at the Willard? – not the Capitol.?

During his tenure, Hewes has served many important guests. ?History is always happening here. You never know who?s going to walk in and have a drink,? he says. ?Heads of states, captains of industry, entertainers, you name it.?

When people ask Hewes if anyone famous been there, his line is usually, ?Well I didn?t catch his name, but he must have been famous because he had the Pope driving him around.?

**The Willard Cocktail**
*?Circa 1947?*
1 1/4 oz dry Gin
? oz Apricot brandy
? oz peach brandy
? oz lime use (Rose?s lime or fresh lime – your preference)

Pout over ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel and a cherry.
Readers may sample the Willard at the Round Robin bar located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. Ingredients to make the Willard cocktail may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M Street NW).

George Washington: Statesman, General, Distiller

November 3, 2011

George Washington is still entertaining in fine style at his Mount Vernon home with the release of his original recipe un-aged rye whiskey, now being sold for the first time since 1814. A limited number (only 471) of the bottles, priced at $85, were available this month and I was thrilled to be number 30 in the queue. There was also a commemorative boxed set containing an engraved shot glass and mini bottle of the aged variety, a tempting bracer for a brisk autumn fox hunt.

A magnificent morning greeted eager tasters who toured the distillery and gristmill along the banks of Doe Creek, where the rye whiskey is being made and bottled by hand, just as it was done two centuries ago, according to original records uncovered at the estate.

Virginia state Senator Toddy Puller, whose efforts cannot be understated in sponsoring Virginia’s new distilled spirits tasting law, which allowed Mount Vernon a special designation to sell the whiskey, was presented with the first bottle by Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon’s Associate Director for Preservation, and Dr. Peter Kressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS), who proudly told of his association’s commitment in leading industry funding for the $2.1 million archeological excavation and reconstruction.

James Rees, president of the influential Mount Vernon Ladies Association, spoke of Washington the innovator and entrepreneur. “This was the largest and most successful distillery in the United States, marketing to the West Indies, England and Portugal,” he said.

Master Distiller David Pickerell, formerly of Maker’s Mark Bourbon and now distilling his own WhistlePig Farm rye whiskey in Vermont, described the whiskey this way, “Its nose is slightly floral, earthy and grainy, with a taste that is surprisingly sweet and mellow with a berry taste.” He added, “The whole process was exhausting. Everything was made by hand and we did it in two weeks!”

The estate currently has around 50 gallons laid back of the two-year-old whiskey aging in oak barrels. It won’t be available until next spring. But according to Pogue, the demand for the un-aged variety has been so high they are trying to have a new batch ready at the same time.

Local mixologist Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve and PX in Alexandria was so inspired he created a new recipe just for the occasion:

I Cannot Tell a Lie
1 ounce George Washington rye whiskey
1 ounce bourbon
1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino cherry liqueur
2 ounces cherry vanilla juice (recipe follows)
Dash of Fee Brothers cherry bitters

Cherry Vanilla Juice
Mix together 1 quart of pitted cherries and 1 scooped out vanilla bean. Pass through a food mill.
To serve:
Stir all the ingredients together and serve in a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry. Courtesy of Todd Thrasher, www.restauranteve.com.

For questions or comments on this article, contact jordan@whiskandquill.com. [gallery ids="99178,103210,103199,103206,103203" nav="thumbs"]

Spiced Kentucky Pie


Turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. The mere mention of these foods conjures up images of a traditional Thanksgiving feast complete with all the trimmings. While many people choose to serve wine with their formal meal, I found a delightful cocktail at Rasika Restaurant in the Penn Quarter that should become a Thanksgiving classic.

Bartender Jason Strich has created a delectable fall cocktail he’s dubbed the Spiced Kentucky Pie. Jason’s seasoned sweet potato-based drink recently took first place in the Washington, D.C. bracket of the Domaine de Canton Bartender of the Year Competition. For his efforts, Jason will travel next year to French St. Martin to compete in the final round of the competition.

Jason came up with the idea while experimenting with ideas for autumn cocktails. He first thought about using pumpkin, but decided to go with sweet potatoes to create something a little more unusual.
The autumn creation begins with bourbon, hence the Kentucky moniker. At Rasika, Jason uses Jim Beam but also recommends making the drink with Basil Hayden’s, a light-bodied small batch bourbon. Next, as a sweetening ingredient, he adds Domaine de Canton. This French ginger liqueur is comprised
of Cognac, Provencal honey, Tunisian ginseng, and fresh baby Vietnamese ginger.

The principal component is Jason’s sweet potato water that he makes from scratch at Rasika. This liquid has a rich orange hue and is made by peeling and juicing fresh sweet potatoes. The extract
is then cooked with water and spices to infuse it with flavor. Jason’s unique spice mixture includes clove, coriander, ginger, star anise and black pepper. The end result is a flavorsome liquid
that tastes like sweet potatoes and maintains a good texture without being too thick.

The cocktail is topped off with a fluffy white head of toasted marshmallow that Jason toasts with a blowtorch and sprinkles with cinnamon. Jason uses a confection he calls “quick marshmallow”
forged from sugar, gelatin and egg white that finishes with a silky meringue consistency. Marshmallow
cream may be substituted, but the topping will not be quite as light and airy.

The robust bourbon taste shines through on my first sip followed by a distinctive kick from the Domaine de Canton and spiced sweet potato mixture.

With the whipped topping and opaque color, the cocktail gives the appearance of a sweet and heavy dessert, but in actuality it is thin and savory. As the marshmallow gradually melds into the drink, the flavor becomes slightly sweetened, but never overly cloying.

The cocktail’s overall appearance bears some resemblance to the tired casserole of canned sweet potatoes and marshmallow fluff that many will endure while dining with their in-laws. It’s sophisticated
and fresh flavor, however, are of no comparison.

Spiced Kentucky Pie
1.5 ounces bourbon
1.5 ounces Domaine de Canton
1.5 ounces sweet potato water
Combine ingredients in a glass and top with marshmallow. Toast with a torch and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Readers may sample the Spiced Kentucky Pie at Rasika located at 633 D St. Domaine de Canton, Basil Hayden’s, and wide selection of bourbons may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown.

Champagne and Pearls


Maybe I should have paid more attention in science class. Chemistry sets, atoms, experiments — these projects tended to bore me when all I could think about was where I was going out Friday night.
But after attending a recent cocktail event sponsored by Cointreau, my interest in science was piqued — mainly because they found a way to combine chemistry and clubbing. It’s called molecular mixology and involves using science to turn a liquid alcohol into a solid. Looking back, if alcohol had been part of my lab days in chem class I would have shown up more often, at least for the samples.
Cointreau experts and Fernando Casellon, a well-known mixologist, harnessed their expertise to turn liquid Cointreau into solid droplets (dubbed Cointreau Pearls). These pearls are created through a scientific molecular mycology process called spherification.

Cointreau hosted a “How are they made” demonstration worthy of the Discovery channel at the newly redesigned St. Regis Hotel bar.

Upon my arrival I was introduced to mixologist Erin Williams, who was busy at work with a stack of lab equipment on the bar. Williams appeared more like a CSI character than bartender as she worked on creating a batch of pearls.

The equipment is part of a highly specialized tool kit provided by Cointreau that includes beakers, a magnetic agitator, syringes, jars of chemicals and the best part: liquor. The St. Regis is the only bar in Washington with this exclusive kit.

On one side of the bar, Erin had had a beaker filled with Cointreau and gold flakes. The edible gold pieces were added to give the finished pearls a glittery appearance. Meanwhile, on the other side of the bar, Erin meticulously mixed another beaker filled with a calcite bath made with Fuji water and a special “sphere gel.”

The actual pearls were formed when Erin dropped the Cointreau mixture, using a syringe, into the calcium solution. The droplets gently formed into tiny solid bubbles that glistened with an orange and golden hue.

I tasted a few of the jellified balls on their own. They had a consistency somewhere between caviar and gummy bears that burst open with an orange rush when bitten.

Next I enjoyed them served with Piper Heidsieck Champagne. The delicate orange spheres danced subtly in the glass along with the Champagne bubbles. The delicate texture of the pearls melded nicely with the crisp sparkling wine.

Cointreau pearls can be customized by bartenders and infused with other flavors. Fruits, herbs, and/or spices simply need to be mixed with the Cointreau before it’s dropped into the calcium bath.

In addition to the Champagne and pearls, two other pearly drinks are featured on the St. Regis’ cocktail menu. The Aphrodite’s Pearl is made with Cointreau pearls infused with cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon, combined with a white wine fortified with tropical fruits and liqueurs. The Acai of Spring features pearls infused with acai berries, cherry-acai vodka and Piper-Heidsieck rose Champagne.

The cocktails were delicious, the overall demonstration entertaining, and I think I actually gained a bit of scientific knowledge. Who knew that drinking could be so educational?

Readers may try Cointreau pearl cocktails at the St. Regis Hotel, located at 923 16th St. Cointreau may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M St.) in Georgetown.

A Spot of Irish Coffee


Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” With its damp air and piercing Pacific wind, the City by the Bay can be nippy year-round. I recall a late-summer visit where the wind was whipping at my tail as I strolled along Fisherman’s Wharf after dinner.

Fortunately, a perfect remedy lurked nearby. The Buena Vista Cafe, which is known worldwide for their steaming cups of Irish coffee, was only few blocks up one of the city’s famous hills. As I trudged up the steep incline, the Buena Vista’s red neon sign served as a beacon signaling relief from the cold. The long and narrow bar draws devoted locals as well as out-of-towners relaxing after a day of sightseeing.

Watching the staff at the Buena Vista make the Irish coffees is a spectacle in itself. When the small cafe gets crowded, the bartenders line glass mugs up and down the tapered bar assembly-line style. Methodically, the staff pours blazing hot coffee into the waiting mugs, followed by sugar cubes and jiggers of Irish whiskey. Finally the toddies are topped with generous dollops of whipped cream before being served to eager customers waiting to warm their souls with steaming goodness.

Some mistakenly believe that the Buena Vista invented the Irish coffee. According to the Museum of the American Cocktail, Irish coffee was invented in 1942 by Joseph Sheridean, the head chef at Foynes Airbase in Limerick (now Shannon Airport), as a way to provide a warming beverage to cold and weary travelers.

According to the bar’s Web site (www.thebuenavista.com), on the night of November 10, 1952 Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help re-create the highly touted Irish coffee served at Shannon Airport. Intrigued, Stan accepted Jack’s invitation, and the pair began to experiment.

Throughout the night they stirred and sipped judiciously and eventually acknowledged two recurring problems. The taste was “not quite right,” and the cream would not float. Jack pursued the elusive elixir with religious fervor, even making a pilgrimage overseas to Ireland.

Upon Jack’s return, the experimentation continued. Finally, the perfect-tasting Irish whiskey was selected. Then the problem of the bottom-bent cream was taken to San Francisco’s mayor, a prominent dairy owner. It was discovered that when the cream was aged for 48 hours and frothed to a precise consistency, it would float on the surface.

Soon the fame of the Buena Vista’s Irish coffee spread. According to a Frommer’s guidebook, the bar has poured more of these addictive pick-me-up drinks than any other bar in the world, and ordering one has become a San Francisco must-do.

Irish Coffee

The Buena Vista’s Web site offers step-by-step instructions on how they make their Irish coffee.

1. Fill glass with very hot water to pre-heat, then empty.
2. Pour hot coffee into hot glass until it is about three-quarters full. Drop in two cocktail sugar cubes.
3. Stir until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved.
4. Add full jigger of Irish whiskey for proper taste and body.
5. Top with a collar of lightly whipped whipping cream by pouring gently over a spoon.
A selection of Irish whiskeys may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, located at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.

Pina Colada: African Style


The piña colada is a well-known tropical drink. The sheer mention of it conjures up images of beach bars and tiny cocktail umbrellas. While the drink’s origins hail from Puerto Rico, this festive libation is a staple at vacation spots around the globe.

Recently while on holiday in Ghana, my interest was piqued by a sign at my beachfront retreat that boasted the “Best Piña Colada this Side of the Equator.” The sprawling complex, dubbed Big Milly’s Backyard, was a laid-back place filled with friendly locals and mellow Rastafarians. Small bungalows and huts were dispersed through out the palm-shaded grounds dotted with an oceanfront restaurant and 24-hour open-air bar which featured live reggae and African drumming shows.

One afternoon as the scorching sun baked everyone at the beach, I decided to test Big Milly’s cocktail claims. Paajoe Quansah, a helpful young man who seemed to be a jack-of-all-trades around the complex, volunteered to mix a piña colada for me.

He started off by taking off his shoes and leaving the bar. Puzzled, I followed him a short distance to a towering palm tree, which he proceeded to climb. I strained my neck to look up as he scampered to dizzying heights where the coconuts grew and dropped several of them to the ground. I was in awe — this was going to be one mighty fresh piña colada!

Once he safely made it back to ground level, he split the coconuts open with a machete. First he expertly carved a spout and poured out the juice, which he shared with two eager young local children that suddenly appeared nearby. Next he used a knife to scrape the meat from the coconut and added it to the water. After repeating the process with about four coconuts, he combined the coconut meat and water in a blender to make a thick and frothy mixture.

Once the fresh coconut puree was prepared, Paajoe began to build my cocktail. He added two shots of African rum to the liquid coconut. He topped it off with a generous splash of Big Milly’s freshly squeezed pineapple juice, which on its own was a popular refresher at the bar. The finished cocktail was served over ice.

Its flavor was bright and fresh and not overly sweet. It stood as a stark contrast to the sickly sweet frozen piña coladas made with commercially prepared mixes. However the generous portions of local rum did provide a noticeable burn.

After two of these elixirs, the sun seemed to mellow out a bit and I felt a little cooler. The rest of the afternoon flowed nicely into serene sunset followed by dinner and a late night wiling away at the bar.

Piña Colada – Ghanaian Style
3-4 coconuts
Water
1-2 pineapples
Rum
Sugar to taste
Drain liquid from coconuts. Many coconuts sold in the U.S. will have little or no liquid inside. Scrape meat from coconut and add to blender. Blend until fluid, adding water as necessary. Remove fruit from pineapple and juice in a blender. Imported pineapples will be less sweet than locally grown African fruit, so add sugar to taste. In a tall glass, add 3 ounces rum; add 2 ounces pineapple juice and 2 ounces coconut mixture. Serve over ice.
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The Fireside Sour


They say that variety is the spice of life. During a recent seminar at the Museum of the American Cocktail, Tad Carducci, a multi-award-winning bartender and founding partner of the beverage consulting firm Tippling Brothers, demonstrated how to use a variety of spices to give new life to some basic cocktails.

While many food enthusiasts are fervent about applying herbs and spices to various foods, Carducci is passionate about using spices to make unique and distinctive cocktails.

The seminar followed the use of spices, herbs and bitters from 2500 B.C. to the present. Carducci discussed the historical importance of spices and herbs as medicine, currency, foodstuffs and flavoring agents for spirits, liqueurs and cocktails.

Carducci mixed five different tipples, varying in flavor from sweet to sour to bitter to fiery hot. The most versatile and striking cocktail of the evening was the Fireside Sour.

Sours are a category of cocktails that consist of a base liquor, lemon (or lime) juice and a sweetener. Carducci’s creation follows this formula by combining Applejack liquor, lemon and tangerine, and a homemade simple sugar and spice syrup. Laird’s Applejack is one of the oldest domestic spirits in the United States, dating back to colonial times.

Carducci tracked the origins of the Fireside Sour back to original concept of punch, which was brought from India to England after colonization. Punch originally consisted of spirits, sugar, lemon, water and spices (often tea), 95 percent of which are grown in India, Carducci noted.

Before mixing the Fireside Sour, Carducci pulled a volunteer from the audience to demonstrate the ease of making the cocktail. The process began with juicing a fresh lemon and muddling tangerine slices for an extra citrus boost. Next, Carducci added his homemade spiced simple syrup and Laird’s Applejack before showing off his cocktail shaking technique.

The “secret” to the Fireside Sour was, without a doubt, Carducci’s spiced syrup, made from a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, ginger cloves and star anise.

The cocktail had several layers of flavor. At first sip, the tangerine provided a fresh and sweet smack, followed by a spiced apple pie flavor from the Applejack and spice syrup and finished off with a clear bite of cinnamon. Its taste resembled a bright and juicy version of mulled cider. While Carducci described it as a wintry drink that combined all his favorite flavors of Christmas, the sunny orange flavor makes this drink ideal for summertime.

Fireside Sour
2 ounces Laird’s Applejack (7 1/2 yr. preferred)
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 fresh tangerine, halved
1 oz. spice syrup (see recipe below)

Muddle tangerine. Add all remaining ingredients and shake. Double-strain into chilled glass. Garnish with floating tangerine wheel. Dust with cinnamon.

A simple variation on an Applejack Rabbit, this cocktail embodies all the flavors we associate with cold weather and the holidays and that we associate as being very American. They are actually very exotic.

Spice Syrup:
1 quart simple syrup
3 cinnamon sticks
1 nutmeg seed
1 finger ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 whole star anise pods
2 tablespoons allspice berries
2 tablespoons whole cloves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns

Laird’s Applejack is available at Dixie Liquor (3429 M St.) in Georgetown. For more information about upcoming events from the Museum of the American Cocktail, visit www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org.

The Mermaid Cocktail


Anyone who has seen the newly released “Sex and the City 2” will tell you that there’s nothing quite like vacation with your BFFs. Fans of the original series will also confirm that Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha enjoy a good cocktail.
On a recent girlfriends getaway, my posse and I decided to make a themed cocktail to match the mermaid theme of our vacation. The main characters were myself, Miss Pixie Windsor, a Washington antique storeowner and avid collector of Mermaid memorabilia, and Jamye Wood, an upstate New York Web designer who has written a novel about a young girl who becomes a mermaid.
The three of us traveled to Florida’s Gulf coast to visit Weeki Wachee Springs, the town of living mermaids. Weeki Wachee is one of Florida’s oldest and most unique roadside attractions. It is now a state park, where live mermaids (that is, women dressed in fancy mermaid costumes) perform graceful underwater ballet in an aquarium-like setting on the Weeki Wachee River. The mermaids perform to music, using air hoses to stay under water throughout the entire show. Many celebrities, including Elvis, have attended the mermaid shows.

Our group decided to base ourselves in Siesta Key, FL to clock in some beach time. When perusing through a wide choice of beach houses to rent, we were all in agreement on a little cottage dubbed “The Sand Dollar,” mainly because of the heated saltwater pool with a tikki bar in the backyard. The house itself was secondary.

Our visit to Weeki Wachee did not disappoint. We enjoyed a day of retro fun, watching live synchronized mermaid shows that included a replay of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and a patriotic number with mermaids performing underwater flips with Old Glory. While we were unable to find a cocktail bar inside the park, one of the snack bars served drinks in mermaid-shaped souvenir cups that we took back to our beach house for later use.
Our first criteria in building our cocktail was that it had to be bubbly — sort of like the upbeat mermaids blowing bubbles underwater. We therefore decided to use sparkling wine as one ingredient.
Next, although the mermaids’ costumes at Weeki Wachee included bright red and gold attire, we decided that our drink should be the traditional green color. I determined the bright emerald hue of melon liqueur would fit the bill.
Jayme insisted that we include local ingredients, so we purchased fresh oranges at a nearby farmers’ market for juice. She even scouted out a starfruit to make celestial-shaped garnishes. In order to highlight the orange flavor, Pixie purchased Stoli Orange vodka for an added citrus boost.
Our finished cocktail turned out to be deceptively light and refreshing. The bright and sunny flavor from the fresh juice and sparkling wine masked the taste of the vodka. The melon liquor added a perfect hint of sweetness while giving our drinks a cool green glow. Not bad for improvising on vacation!

The Mermaid Cocktail
1.5 ounces Stoli Orange vodka
1.5 ounces orange juice
1 ounce melon liqueur
Sparkling wine
Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a long glass over ice and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with sliced starfruit.

Ingredients to make the Mermaid Cocktail may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown.