Sunday, August 24, 2014

MxMo: The Bankhead and Entropic Thunder

Hello, welcome to my first nervous foray into the monthly blog party known as Mixology Monday, in which a kind fellow drinks blogger plays willing host to a house full of cocktail creatives and supplies a theme for those folks to riff off of.

After narrowly missing the window for last month's Smash theme, I vowed to jump into August's theme with wild abandon. As it happens, our host this month is Rated R Cocktails with an intriguing theme: coconuts.

As some of my old readers might recall, my last adventure with coconut as a shrub ingredient was equal parts amusing and mediocre, so rather than digging that old skeleton out of the closet, I thought I should perhaps think outside the box.

While coconut immediately lends itself to more traditional uses in cocktails, I knew it would be a challenge to work shrub in somehow. I was stuck until my brilliant wife finally screwed in the light bulb that had been flickering rather dimly over my head.

"Since your pineapple shrub is mostly made up of coconut vinegar, wouldn't that count?"

Why, yes. Yes, it would.

The brand of coconut vinegar that I use is made from the sap of coconut trees, which is aged until it ferments and eventually becomes vinegar over nearly a year's time. What can seem particularly misleading about this type of coconut vinegar is that it smells and tastes almost nothing like coconut, in fact taking on a slightly gamey, fermented note reminiscent of the hogo of some funkier rums.

When mixed with pineapple, habenero and turbinado sugar, the resulting shrub is spicy, sharp, and effectively has an almost butterscotch like funk to it. Here's how to make it.

Don Whoa!
12 oz raw coconut vinegar
4 oz white wine vinegar
16 oz pineapple, roughly chopped
12 oz Sugar In The Raw
1-3 habanero peppers, halved, seeded and membranes removed depending on desired heat level

Cut peppers in half, optionally seeding and removing membranes to reduce heat level. Set aside.

Pour white wine vinegar into Pyrex measuring cup and microwave until hot but not boiling. Gently immerse hot peppers into hot vinegar and cover with lid, plate, cling wrap or other means of holding in heat. 

Agitate gently, and check every 15-20 minutes to see if desired spice level has been reached. Remove peppers and any seeds that may have become loosened during steeping process. Set steeped vinegar aside.

Remove top, bottom, and outer skin of pineapple, slicing into rough chunks, until there are 16 ounces of pineapple chunks. You may macerate the pineapple with 12 ounces of Sugar In The Raw by either placing pineapple and sugar in the jar you will be making shrub in and muddling or using immersion blender until a syrupy pulp forms, or alternatively blending pineapple and raw sugar in Vita-Mix and pouring blended results into the glass jar. In either case, put jar of pineapple/sugar mixture into refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 5.

Remove jar from refrigerator and add both coconut and chile infused white wine vinegar to pineapple/sugar mixture. Agitate vigorously and place back in refrigerator for 1 week.

At the end of one week, place two strainers over a large Pyrex measuring cup. Carefully pour contents from the jar into the strainer, occasionally pausing to press on solids to squeeze out excess liquid. Discard solids. 

To bottle, situate tea strainer in funnel, and gently pour shrub through tea strainer into clean bottle. Refrigerate. Shrub should keep bottled in refrigerator for at least six months and likely up to 1 year or more.

Depending on fruit, may yield 16-24 ounces of shrub.
In any event, it got me thinking about one of the request in this month's MxMo post in which the host mentioned it might be nice to see something done in the pre-prohibition mold. 

I examined the DNA of two well known-ish drinks from drinking's Golden Age that share pineapple juice in common, and figured I would use my Pineapple/Coconut Vinegar shrub to split the difference.

Borrowing the rye and dry vermouth elements from The Algonquin, and maraschino liqueur from the Mary Pickford and a couple of dashes of Regan's Orange bitters for good measure, may I present: The Bankhead, named for actress and Algonquin Round Table member Taullulah Bankhead.

The Bankhead 

1.75 oz rye whiskey(I used Bulleit)
.75 oz Don Whoa!(see above)
.5 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz maraschino liqueur(Luxardo)
2 dashes orange bitters(Regan's No. 6)

Combine ingredients in mixing glass or tin, stir with ice, 

Strain, up, into cocktail glass.

The Bankhead seems to get around one of the complaints I often hear about The Algonquin, which is that it is generally too dry and not particularly worth doing again. However, The Bankhead incorporates this shrub and its wild, rich tangle of sweetness, subtle heat from the pepper, and undefinable but manageable gaminess from the coconut vinegar, which melds very well with the rye and builds a bridge that closes the gap between it and the herbaceous notes of the dry vermouth.

I guess from a more modern standpoint, one might argue this is kind of like a Bensonhurst with a high dose of pineapple shrub in place of Cynar.

As tasty as that is, I kind of feel like I owe everyone something with a more traditional coconut ingredient: coconut milk.

While my first reaction was to think of Pineapples and Coconuts dancing in a conga line or something of the sort, I thought if I am already doing cocktails with shrubs, I had better go for broke and do something really, really crazy. Cacao nib balsamic shrub, anyone?

Before we get to the cocktail, we need to make this shrub, which I have nicknamed Time's Arrow.

Time's Arrow(Cacao nib balsamic shrub)

16 oz Balsamic Vinegar
8 oz cacao nibs
5 oz turbinado sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

In a sealable, non-reactive container, combine cacao nibs, balsamic vinegar, and vanilla bean. 

Store in refrigerator for 2-3 days, then strain solids. Add 5 oz turbinado sugar to mixture, combine stirring until sugar dissolves. Strain shrub into bottles with a canning funnel. 

Refrigerate. Shrub should remain good for 1 year or so.

If you are a fan of dark chocolate, you're going to dig this. The syrupy body and pronounced sharpness of balsamic vinegar coupled with unsweetened cacao nibs give the impression of a very dark high percentage cacao chocolate bar, just barely sweetened with earthy turbinado sugar and a bit of vanilla bean.

Now that you have cacao nib shrub, let's make this cocktail, which I call Eddington On The Beach.

After a few failed attempts with other base spirits, it became apparent that rum was the spirit for the job. Aged rum was a decent choice, but wasn't really clicking with the cacao shrub/coconut milk combination. I needed heavier body, and there are few heavier than our friend Cruzan Black Strap Rum. I needed a couple of other flavors to round things out, so I bought in Amer Picon which has worked well with this cacao nib shrub before matching it in both body and it's complementary orange flavor which would work with both chocolate and coconut. Rounding the whole thing out was a little bit of turbinado simple syrup. Like so:

Entropic Thunder

2 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum
.5 oz Amer Picon
.5 oz Time's Arrow(cacao shrub, see above)
.5 oz turbinado simple syrup
.25 oz coconut milk

Combine ingredients in mixing tin, shake without ice, then with. 

Strain into Old Fashioned glass over rocks

The result was quite nice in a cocktail geek meets tropical dessert drink kind of way. The light hand with the coconut milk got the flavor across without smoothing off the edges of the spirits to the point they were flat, while also blending with the cacao nib shrub and the pitch black rum in a way that reminded me of a Mounds bar if it had a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in its wrapper. It was sweet, but not cloying. Smooth, without being boring. One could jazz it up even further if one were inclined with a little bit of Mole bitters or some such thing.

Hell, if you really want to go full vacation mode, you could blend the thing with ice and really go crazy. That said, I think I would recommend the above recipe for weeknights and less whimsical moments. 

As for the name, it is a nod to the phrase Tropic Thunder and a nod to Time's Arrow itself.

I'd like to extend my thanks once more to JFL for hosting this crazy coconut themed shindig and letting me do my inaugural MxMo post on such an interesting and fun topic. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Savory Shrub: Elizabeth Revisited

Hello again.

Apologies for the long delay between posts; I was on holiday in Oregon and didn't have much access to do much in the way of shrub related activities for the past week or so.

To make up for this terrible lapse, this week I wanted to revisit one of the more unusual shrubs that I've done, and that was Elizabeth, an heirloom tomato and berbere shrub I did a couple of years back. When I say unusual, I mean to say that unlike most of the jammier, fruit and herb based options, Elizabeth had the distinction of being the first shrub that I ever did that leaned savory rather than sweet. I won't bore you with all the fine details again in this post, but if you want to re-read the original or haven't read it before, you can do so here.

If one can get past Elizabeth's ruddy, not so glamorous looks, I think the shrub's savory nature really lends itself to some really interesting possibilities outside of being enjoyed by itself; I mean, let's face it, I don't foresee people sitting around sipping on this one with soda they way they might with a strawberry or ginger shrub, so it's likely going to be the backbone of some other delicious and quaffable application.

In regard to those applications, I am hoping to share some of those possibilities with you shortly, beginning with an interesting cocktail that goes its own way, straying adventurously from the path of the world's well-worn vodka fueled brunch staple. 

In the meantime, you'll need to know how to make this delightful megaton payload of umami greatness before Heirloom Tomato season is over, so without further ado, here you are:


16 oz heirloom tomatoes
8 oz brown sugar
12 oz white wine vinegar
4 oz apple cider vinegar(Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar)
2 tsp bebere, ground

Food scale
Sealable non-reactive container
Muddler or heavy spoon
Strainers of increasing fineness
Large measuring cup
Tea strainer
Funnel(preferably canning funnel)
Sealable glass bottle

Wash tomatoes and pat dry. Cut into large chunks and set aside.

Put open non-reactive container on scale and use tare function to zero out the reading. Gently drop tomato chunks into container until desired weight is reached. Use tare function again.

Pour or spoon brown sugar into container until desired amount is reached. Add ground berbere, and using muddler, grind sugar into tomato until a thick, syrupy mixture forms. Seal container and rest mixture in refrigerator for 2-5 hours.

Remove container from refrigerator and unseal. Place on scale, once again using tare function. Add appropriate amount of white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar to container. Reseal, and place back into refrigerator. Rest jar one week.

After one week, remove container from refrigerator. Arrange strainers in levels of increasing fineness over measuring cup. Strain liquid through strainers, pressing on pulp to express any trapped shrub. 

Place funnel in bottle, and situate tea strainer in funnel opening. Pour strained shrub through tea strainer into bottle, and seal bottle. 

Refrigerated shrub should last from six months to one year.


See you all later this week with a cocktail!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Hard Stuff: Laughton


One of the most rewarding things about making shrub is finding creative ways to use it outside of the traditional combination of shrub and club soda. If you're lucky, some of them pair quite well with tonic as well as does a grapefruit shrub, or our last shrub, Reverend Powell.

Though Reverend Powell mixed with tonic gives one the faint echo of a gin and tonic, I felt that it should really have the opportunity to shine in a more bibulous manner, so I set off in search of a cocktail that would let this shrub of unusual flavor really strut its stuff. 

The search lasted a bit longer than I expected. I first thought that maybe it would be nice to do more of a shim, which is another name for a low proof cocktail that allows one to get down with their bad self while still remaining upright. This line of curiosity led to experiments with Gentian liqueurs like Bitterman's Amer Sauvage, and aromatized wines like dry vermouth, and even a brief flirtation with the likes of Campari. Ultimately, there was some promise with the Amer Sauvage and the red currant taking on as sort of excellent deeply ripe authentic cranberry note; while this was interesting ground I'd like to till in the future, it just wasn't coming together for this cocktail. 

I had to face the facts: this cocktail was likely going to need a base spirit to be successful. As everyone knows, in today's market there are so many possibilities around, it's hard to even know where to begin. Looking at the basics, I began to whittle down the list. 

My big fear was that the juniper notes in the shrub would clash with anything that didn't have juniper notes in it already(gin) or something fairly broad and neutral in flavor(vodka). I just did a drink with gin, and figured I would do another if nothing else worked, and I didn't have any vodka. 

The next logical step was whiskey. Bourbon, it turned out, was a bit too smooth and flaccid to stand up to the very pronounced fruit flavor of the shrub. When I pulled out the rye, however...oh yes, now we were cooking with gas. 

A generous slug of a big rye, in this case the 90 proof Bulleit variety, with its spicier character and extra muscle, was able to keep the sweetness of the shrub in in check without devolving into insipid juicebox territory. Meanwhile, the currant flavors in the shrub offered a bright, fruity finish that segued effortlessly out of the strong flavors of the whiskey. 

Still, it was missing something; there needed to be another note not to balance the sweetness of the shrub, but something to bring its high notes a little closer to Earth. I know that sherry and shrub favor each other in general, so a dry, nutty Amontillado seemed like a good plan. To brighten things up and tie everything together, a couple of dashes of Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters were tipped in. 

All in all, I like this one quite a bit. In the past I have found that it's not always easy to reconcile brown liquors with brighter fruit flavors that aren't particularly autumnal such as pear and apple. The combination of the brawny rye with bright fruit is grounded by a subtle savoriness in the sherry, with the orange bitters lending just a hint of citrus to complete the package. It is, dare I say, a nice whiskey drink for a summer day. 

As to the name, as the name of the shrub in this cocktail is Reverend Powell from The Night of The Hunter, the cocktail is named after its director, English actor, Charles Laughton. Laughton appeared in a great deal of classic films including I, Claudius, The Big Clock, and Spartacus to name a few.

Despite his long list of acting credits, Laughton only directed the one film, but given the long standing hold that it's had on countless audiences over the years, he sure as hell looks to have made it count.


2 oz rye whiskey(Bulleit)
.75 oz Reverend Powell
.25 oz Amontillado sherry(Lustau)
2 dashes orange bitters(Regan's No. 6)

Combine ingredients in cocktail tin or mixing glass.

Stir with ice until container frosts.

Strain into cocktail glass, up. No garnish.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Shrub #21: Reverend Powell

Reverend Powell
After people get over the initial shock of the concept of drinking vinegar for recreational purposes, you begin to see the wheels turn as you list off all of the various flavors of shrub one can make. The fields of strawberries dancing in one's head, the cascade of crisp, sweet raspberries, or the juicy inspiration of summer at the mention of ripe peaches. The tart bracing delights of red currants...

[Insert Record Scratch Here]

So...yeah, if summer fruit had a social strata, red currants would clearly be one of the thoughtful outcasts who reads Sartre and doesn't like to talk much. They take a lot more effort to work with, but in the end, they are as bright and sharp as other berries, but with a decided air of mystery and subtlety that his more popular counterparts seem to lack ever so slightly.

Red Currants are so under the radar, I am frankly overjoyed and excited every time I run across them at all. The first time I made this particular shrub was probably in 2011 when I had a chance encounter with them wrapped up in their snug cellophane cartons in a grocery store. I had never had anything particularly currant related at the time other than perhaps some creme de cassis in something and maybe a cassis lambic years and years ago. I thought after my brief dalliance with this elusive berry that I would treasure our time together fondly and move on.

Richter's Red Currants
That was until a few weeks ago I happened to be in the same grocery and to my surprise, I stumbled across an entire display of offerings from Richters, the same farm that I had used last time. There were gooseberries and red currants both, and though the thought of experimenting with gooseberries was an exciting one, I knew I had to have another go at red currant shrub.

While making this shrub doesn't register a particularly high degree of difficulty, be warned that when I mentioned them being a lot more effort to work with, I wasn't kidding.

As you can see, red currants are tiny. I mean, really tiny. It takes, as Bertie Wooster might have said, a "goodish" amount of them to make a reasonable quantity of shrub. Paired with the amount of time it takes to remove the tiny stems that are attached to them, it seems like more trouble than its worth, but trust me, when you see the end results, you won't feel that way.

As with any fruit for shrub, grab a colander and wash it thoroughly. Red currants are the sensitive, brooding sort, so be gentle; these guys could become pulp in your fingers when too much rough pressure is applied.

Washing The Currants
The next step is to get a clean and sterilized non-reactive container. As usual, I am using one of my trusty bale jars which I put on the scale before using the scale's tare function to zero out the weight. This will make it a lot easier to portion out and get the correct weight of the currants.

With all of this in place, it's time to get the currants in the jar. Unfortunately, it's not quite as easy as that, since there are a lot of tiny stems and things you have to pull off of these tiny little berries. I find that this process is not quite as excruciating as when one is making a shrub with pie cherries, but it's still mildly irritating.

On the bright side, you don't have to pit anything, so there's that.

The Jar and the Colander(Not the title of a new children's book)
After weighing the appropriate amount of currants into the jar, it's time to gather the sugar. I chose white sugar for this one because I wanted a clean, unencumbered sweetness. I think anything earthier would overpower these guys, and given their subtle flavor, it would be extremely easy to do.

Given the fact I like using these shrubs as soda syrups, I thought juniper would bring another level of depth and interest to it as a non-alcoholic beverage. For the unfamiliar, juniper is technically a seed cone from pine trees with a potent, resinous texture even when dried, and a sharp, piney, woodsy flavor. Most recognizable as the main flavor element in gin, it is a bold and unapologetic spice that works beautifully in concert with other earthy ingredients in small quantities. 

A Little Dab Will Do Ya

As I often look to the culinary world for inspiration, it occurred to me that both red currants and juniper are frequently used in the preparation of game meats which further solidified my confidence in this pairing.One cautionary note, however: it's really important to be judicious with the amount you add, unless you enjoy drinking a delightful berry soda that has been filtered through pine cones. 

Currants and Sugar in Repose
Once the sugar and juniper are measured into the jar, I begin to muddle. Muddling is usually one of my favorite parts of this endeavor. One the one hand, I enjoy the subtle transition from two materials into one, the melding of ingredients, and the beautiful stratification of colors. On the other hand, it's really therapeutic to wield a giant piece of wood and smash fruit to bits, letting you live out those long dormant childhood fantasies of impersonating Gallagher's act in your own home.

The Beauty of Wholesome, Unsullied Ingredients

The Beauty of Wholesome, Sullied Ingredients

After that enjoyable endeavour, one should have a viscous mass of fruit and syrup. The jar is closed up and put in the refrigerator to rest for a few hours, where the sugar should continue to pull the juice of the crushed fruit. Anywhere from two to five should do it, but if you accidentally forget overnight, it certainly will not hurt the shrub in any way.

A Viscous Mass of Fruit and Syrup

After its brief respite in the chilled confines of your fridge, the vinegar goes in. I chose white wine vinegar for this as it has a mild, but very present acidity to balance the heavier dose of white sugar I used to balance the tart berries. Shrubs are always a bit of a balancing act, and it can be especially tricky in cases where you want to offset tartness in certain fruits such as this one. It's also a bit more neutral in taste than other wine vinegars, so it lets the other ingredients take control without being too present as a red wine vinegar or a balsamic would be.

After agitating the mixture, it goes back into the fridge for a week. After that, it's filtered three times, and then bottled.

After all of this, the real question is of course, "What is the shrub like?"

The unsatisfying, but brief answer is, "It's great!"

In all sincerity, unless you have currants growing on your property, this can be a slightly more expensive project as it takes a few cartons to make a reasonable amount of shrub. Putting aside price for the time being, I really love this one.

The best way I can describe it is to say that it is reminiscent of a non-alcoholic gin mixed with sweet and tart berries, with touches of mild acidity creeping around the outside. It doesn't seem to have as much natural pectin as say raspberries or strawberries, so the mouthfeel is not exceedingly syrup like despite its sugar content.

In temperance mode, this thing is an outright gem, especially when mixed with a better quality tonic water like Q or Fever Tree as it makes you feel like you're drinking a fruity G & T, but without the eventual impairment, and when the weather is warm, G & T's are one of my favorite warm weather coping mechanisms. Don't like tonic? No problem, soda water is also excellent, as it slips into more of an adult soda mode. Either way, you just can't lose.

In regard to cocktails, there are some definite possibilities across the board. Vodka and gin are no brainers, as the juniper will either come through solo against the cold, stark canvas that vodka offers, and it will reinforce the juniper notes already in most gins.

As I will demonstrate in a day or two in the next installment of The Hard Stuff, even a muscular whiskey enjoys its company when arranged in the proper context.

As for the name, this shrub's moniker was a bit of a leap through word association. As red currant and juniper are both used in dishes involving game meats, I thought of hunters, which in turn made me think of the film Night of the Hunter.

From there, it wasn't much of a hop to the foreboding and mysterious Robert Mitchum character, Reverend Powell, the creepy and effective antagonist of the film. For those who have never seen it but are familiar with "LOVE" and "HATE" tattoos on knuckles, or any pop cultural references to said knuckles, Mitchum's Powell had them first and utilized them best. As far as anti-heroes and creeps go, Robert Mitchum is tops in my book, and his Harry Powell stands tall as both a cultural icon and one evil so and so.

So while red currants and juniper are both kind of like two misunderstood loners of the fruit and spice worlds, respectively. It seems lucky, but not so surprising perhaps, that in a shrub like this they have become fast and inseparable friends.


14 oz red currants, separated from stems
13 oz white sugar
14 oz white wine vinegar
2 to 2.5 tsp juniper berries, finely ground

Food scale
Sealable non-reactive container
Muddler or heavy spoon
Strainers of increasing fineness
Large measuring cup
Tea strainer
Funnel(preferably canning funnel)
Sealable glass bottle

Gently pull red currants from their stems, placing in colander. Discard stems.

Rinse red currants thoroughly in colander. Shake colander to get rid of excess water.

Put non-reactive container on scale and use tare function to zero out the reading. Pour or spoon red currants into container until desired weight is reached. Use tare function again.

Pour or spoon white sugar into container until desired amount is reached. Add ground juniper, and using muddler, grind sugar into fruit until a thick, syrupy mixture forms. Seal container and rest mixture in refrigerator for 2-5 hours.

Remove container from refrigerator and unseal. Place on scale, once again using tare function. Add appropriate amount of white wine vinegar to container. Reseal, and place back into refrigerator. Rest jar one week.

After one week, remove container from refrigerator. Arrange strainers in levels of increasing fineness over measuring cup. Strain liquid through strainers, pressing on pulp to express any trapped shrub. 

Place funnel in bottle, and situate tea strainer in funnel opening. Pour strained shrub through tea strainer into bottle, and seal bottle. 

Refrigerated shrub should last from six months to one year.