Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Organic Tiki Bar

La Mariana is it, the last surviving Tiki Bar in the Pacific. You can get faux-Hawaiiana in the West Coast suburbs, and there more Trader Vic's in the Middle East than anywhere else. But here in the islands the art of the tropical cocktail is close to dead. Martinis are made with litchee and vodka, mai tais are so sweet they'll give you diabetes faster than tobacco will give you cancer, if you order a Manhattan you need to tell the bartender what goes in it, and Margaritas contain spent nuclear waste disguised as sour mix - it's a sad state of affairs, my friends.

I'm not sure when the Enlightenment ended. At the Del Rio we used to confiscate the ID's of anyone who ordered anything crass like Sex on the Beach, they refused to hire a bartender who admitted to liking Midori in his interview [and that after I had warned him not to mention green drinks], and asking for anything blended could get a customer stabbed right there at the bar.

Good times. Ain't we lucky we had 'em. Now I'm gonna do my part to fight the darkness, and I'll be starting in my own kitchen. Now that X has moved out I can actually stock a bar again. It's been years. I went to Fujioka's and Tamura's & splurged on good liquor - Cruzan Rum from the Virgin Islands, Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Jim Beam Rye, Brokers London Gin, and Sauza Añejo Tequila. And it's all so pretty on the shelf that I don't even want to drink it [although I'm sure I'll get over that quick enough].

But when I started picking up mixers I ran into problems. Angostura bitters are fine and easy to find. Other classic bitters were trickier, and I ended up ordering orange, peach, and mint bitters online. I could only find corn-syrup based syrups of other classic mixers [grenadine, orgeat, falernum]. Trader Vic's orgeat tasted ok in old-fashioneds and rum drinks, but I couldn't help but wonder how it compares to the original. Rose's Grenadine tasted like cough syrup, and I threw the bottle out. The Fee Brother's Falernum hasn't arrived yet, but I've heard mixed things about it.

And then the mad cook in me started coming out, and I knew what I had to do. I needed to channel the spirits of my ancestors and make my own [because while the drinks might be from Havana and New Orleans and Waikiki, I'm sure that the Irish were behind it all somehow].

So here's what's on deck for the weekend [and I'll let all five of you who read this know how it turns out] [most of the recipes come from the invaluable DrinkBoy and Cocktail Chronicles]:

This one is easy - mix together black cherries, a pint of cheap brandy, and a lot of sugar. Boil, then let cool. It makes a much better condiment than the rubber-injected maraschino cherries.

Another easy one. Option 1: Mix equal parts pomegranite juice and sugar. Shake until sugar is dissolved. Add vodka as preservative. Option 2: Boil juice, reduce by half, add sugar, cook until dissolved. Add vodka as preservative. Version 1 is supposed to be more 'sparkly,' while Version 2 [which I did] gives a nice thick rich syrup.

This one looks more involved.
  • 500 grams blanched almonds
  • 800 ml water
  • 700 grams table sugar
  • 100 ml Vodka or Brandy
  • 2 Tbls Orange or Rose Flower Water
Soak almonds in cold water for 30". Discard water.
Grind or crush almonds. Mix with water, and let stand for 1-2 hours
Strain mixture, squeezing all the water out of the almonds. Put almonds back in almond water.
Repeat one or two more times
Toss almond pulp. Put liquid in a pan, add sugar, and cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
When cool add brandy and orange or flower water.

I had never even heard of falernum, a spiced almond, ginger, and lime mix from Barbados, until last week. Now, of course, I must have it.
  • 6 oz White Rum
  • zest of 9 medium limes, with no traces of white pith
  • 40 whole cloves
  • 1½ oz peeled, julienned fresh ginger
Combine these ingredients in a jar and let soak for 24 hours.

Strain through moistened cheesecloth, squeezing the solids to extract the liquid.

  • ¼ t almond extract
  • Toasted almonds [not sure how many]
  • 14 oz cold process 2:1 simple syrup
  • 4½ oz fresh, strained lime juice
I think I'll make the first part, and only add lime juice when I serve it.

Just how far down the rabbit-hole do I want to go? This is sugar syrup with gum arabic, and hasn't been seen in these parts since Somerset Maugham trailed a Miss Sadie Thompson to Pago Pago. Is it worth it? The Cocktail Chronicler's verdict: Good God. OK, granted, a trained ape could make an incredible Sazerac just by introducing the Van Winkle rye into the mix, but the gomme lent it just the right texture, so it slipped down my throat as easy as you please.

Ohter reviewers say it smooths out the classic whiskey drinks, and adds a silkiness you won't find from a simple syrup. And so down the rabbit hole I go.
  • 2 oz powdered gum arabic, food-grade
  • 2 oz water
Let the gluey mess rest for a day

Boil a 2:1 syrup [8 oz water and 4 oz sugar]. Add dissolved gum powder.

Remove from heat. Skim off the scum. Cool, strain and bottle.

This is the last one. For now. I'll be reducing this recipe quite a bit.
  • 2¼ cups 151 proof rum.
  • ½ cup whole dried allspice berries, crushed.
  • 3 cups water.
  • 1½ pounds light brown sugar
Crush the allspice berries in a mortar and place in a 1-liter jar with a rubber seal. Cover with the rum and allow to steep for at least 10 days, agitating the maceration daily.

Pour through a fine strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquor as you can, then pour the strained liquor through another strainer lined with a coffee filter.

Make a simple syrup with the water and sugar. When cool, combine with the rum maceration and allow to age for at least one month. Decant and enjoy.

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