Friday, March 27, 2009

firpo's balloon cocktail

1 jigger Rye (1 oz Sazerac 6 Year Rye)
1 jigger Sweet Vermouth (1 oz Noilly Prat)
1 jigger Absinthe or Pernod (1 oz Pernod)
2 dash Orange or Angostura Bitters (2 dash Angostura Orange, 1 dash Angostura)
1 1/2 - 2 tsp Egg White (1/2 Egg White from a Small Egg))

Shake ingredients once without and once with ice. Strain into a champagne saucer.

Last night while Andrea was making dinner, I was flipping through my recent purchase of Charles H. Baker, Jr.'s Jigger, Beaker, & Glass: Drinking Around the World (*). The drink recipe that caught my eye was Firpo's Balloon Cocktail, the Calcutta Classic. The story Baker gives for this cocktail relates to Firpo's nightspot in Calcutta, India, where Firpo claimed that the fifth one of these 'balloons' would cause the imbiber to be "bobbing about up under the ceiling." I acknowledged Firpo's understanding of how strong his drinks were and modified the recipe by cutting the jigger down to an ounce and used the ingredients as specified above. The egg I used came from one of Andrea's co-workers who has a small farm in Southborough, MA. It is surprising how different farm fresh eggs are compared to the ones bought at stores from factory farms, even the organic cage-free ones. The egg white was yellow with beta carotene and thick, not runny.
The drink itself was very anisey but that flavor dissipated with the swallow. The egg white did a decent job of reducing the intensity of the Pernod; however, the Pernod and the egg's muting effects did overwhelm the rye and vermouth. The rye was somewhat detectable especially on the nose and, as the drink warmed up, also on the taste, whereas the vermouth's effect was rather hobbled throughout. The rye and sweet vermouth did play an important role in the beautiful apricot color of the cocktail. One of my notes on the recipe was a complaint that the absinthe(Pernod) ratio was very skewed and needed to be toned down by a factor of 3 or so. While browsing the web today about this cocktail, I found an interview of St. John Frizell (bartender at Pegu Club in Manhattan and the Good Fork in Brooklyn) by Paul Clarke from Tales of the Cocktail blog last year where Frizell mentions this drink and mirrors my assessment:
The first drink I mixed from Baker's books is Firpo's Balloon Cocktail from Gentleman's Companion ... With Baker, you should have no qualms about adjusting recipes—ingredients have changed, and so have tastes. It seems like a quarter of Baker's recipes call for a big slug of 120-proof Pernod; try serving that at a bar today, and see how many you sell. Besides, Baker was a poet, not a chemist -- I imagine many of the notes he took while traveling were pretty hard to read the morning after.
While Andrea and I seemed to enjoy the flavor of anise seed more that Frizell does, we do agree about the recipe's balance. And indeed, it may be the case that Baker's books are better read as literary or historical works rather than recipe resources.

(*) The New York Times has a great article on Baker's cocktail tour of the world.


Paul said...

Great post, as always--

One thing I should note: the interview you mention is one I conducted with St. John Frizell, a bartender, writer and damn nice guy who is probably the best authority around on Charles H. Baker, Jr. and his writing. The quote you list is St. John's, not mine, though I agree with his assessment that Baker's recipes sometimes need to be twiddled with in order to make them more approachable.

frederic said...

Paul, thank you for the correction. I made the sin of quoting without reading the text completely (I left the tab still open... will read now). Oops! I just got excited when I found something online about this drink.

Kaiser Penguin said...

At the risk of incriminating myself, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I really enjoy this cocktail. Then again, I haven't made it in a year or two. As always, love the cocktail coverage even though I don't often comment. I star a ton of them to try in Google reader, however. Cheers!