Friday, September 25, 2009


1 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1 oz. Batavia Arrack
1 oz. Dry Vermouth (Noilly Prat)
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
2 dashes Xocolatl Mole bitters

Stir in a thick-bottomed double old-fashioned glass with a small iceberg. Express the oil from an orange twist over the drink (do not flame [1]), discard twist. Lightly salt the top of the ice cube and serve.

As Fred mentioned in the previous three entries, we were invited to a Grand Marnier appreciation party at Drink this past Monday evening. In point of fact, we were invited, along with several far more distinguished mixologists, to develop a cocktail featuring GrandMa for the event. By featuring, they meant more than just an accent, which we interpreted as a minimum of 3/4 oz. per 3 oz. pre-melt cocktail. Neither Fred nor I are fans of sweet cocktails, so we eagerly took this opportunity to challenge our mixology skills. More on this in a future post.

One mixologist who rose to the challenge was Scott Holliday from Rendezvous (though he probably sniffs contemptuously at the trendy "mixologist" label). The Alicante is his invention. When we received the other non-Drink mixologists' recipes a few days before the event, Scott's drink weighed in with the heaviest amount of Grand Marnier, at 1 1/2 oz. [3]. He has confessed in the past to having a bit of a sweet tooth, so I eyed his cocktail with no small amount of mistrust. Prejudiced I was, yes.

When I walked into Drink on Monday, I was tickled by the Gay Paree theme that the LUPEC ladies had chosen for the event, which also served as a fundraiser for On The Rise. After sampling the Hugo Ball and the Sous Le Soleil, I wandered over to the ice bar. Though it was the site of a boisterous crowd earlier (it was situated close to the kissing booth), by midnight it provided a nice quiet little corner. I asked Sam which cocktails he was serving at his station (the Alicante, with its mini-iceberg carved right there, was one of them). I'd noticed several people walking around with elegant cut crystal double-old-fashion glasses, and they'd seemed quite happy (to wit, one LUPEC lady was already working on her second glass by the time I'd arrived an hour and a half earlier). When I expressed to Sam my hesitation to order the Alicante, he enthused that the Batavia Arrack and the dry vermouth served to dry out the drink substantially, lending a smoky orange flavor to the drink (sans flamme). I deferred to his excellent judgement, and indeed, one sip changed my mind completely.

Batavia Arrack Von Oosten, being a cane spirit much like rum, is itself on the sweeter side with a hefty does of funkiness. This funky flavor reminds me of a rhum agricole, trending on the umami side of the flavor spectrum. That same funkiness can sometimes hijack a cocktail, but in the Alicante, it lent a very pleasing complexity to the sweetnness factor. Scott's cocktail managed to hit almost all of the classic parts of the palate - sweet, bitter (from the bitter orange notes in the GrandMa), umami, and salt (for this last, I had to swirl the drink around quite a bit to get the sprinkled salt to dissolve in the drink, since the iceberg poked a good couple of cents above the liquid). It tasted almost like it was made with scotch - and in fact Fred and I had toyed with the idea of using scotch as a base spirit to mix with Grand marnier. I also picked up a bit of chocolate flavor from the bitters - Batavia Arrack is often used in confections and chocolate making to heighten cocoa and spice flavors (and clearly this was the effect Scott was striving for). I wonder if that aspect could have been even stronger in the individually-made (as opposed to batched) cocktail [4]. Bitters scaling for batched drinks can be finicky. Although the scaling formula calls for 70 dashes to 1 oz., I'd really rather see the dashes added to the individual serving and then given a quick stir whenever serving batched drinks calling for bitters. So if any of you readers decide to make this drink at home, you won't have this problem, and will get to experience the cocktail as I imagine Scott originally intended. And you, too, might find any sweet drink dogmatism pleasantly challenged.

[1] The hatred that burns in my heart for the flamed orange peel has dulled over time. This is mostly due to the fact that more bartenders have learned how to do it correctly, namely, by letting the acrid match fumes burn off for a moment or two so that the sulfur doesn't flavor the drink. In fact, at home Fred prefers to use a lighter instead of a match, in deference to my delicate senses. I still hate the smell of a freshly-struck match.

[2] I am eager to try the source cognacs used in the Rouge and Centennaire GrandMa formulations, since I'm not sure if the sweetness comes from the cognacs or from added sugar. When they passed out samples of the Centennaire formulation at the event, I found it deliciously complex with just a hint of sugar.

[3] John Gertsen, of course, refused to be out-done.

[4] At least, I *hope* this was the case. I've only tasted the Xocolatl Mole bitters in the earlier days, when the Glassers were giving out hand-made samples to area cocktail bars. They were sublime. The bitters are now being manufactured by The Bitter Truth, and I sincerely hope they have overcome the all-too-common difficulties encountered in industrial scale-up.

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