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.



Judy Ann from Idaho said...

Hope you can help me, as I have never made a shrub before, and you seem to have been doing this for years. I know that all the shrub recipes are pretty much equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar (maybe with a few additional additives). I just finished making maraschino cherries with sweet cherries, and I have a TON (ok, quarts) of the cherry juice left. It smells heavenly, tastes almost that good, but is not pure cherry juice. It is about equal parts water, red grape juice, and sugar (plus some spices and extracts, and lemon juice), with the cherries cooked in it, so there is SOME cherry juice in there, but probably not much. Can I add vinegar to this to make a shrub? I have 4 quarts of this, don't need to make any more maraschino cherries, and really hate to just throw it away. So is this possible? Thank you.

Alexander Kern said...

Judy Ann: Thanks for stopping by.

I don't think it would hurt to try adding vinegar to that, as it has some kind of juice in there along with sugar and those things and vinegar put you in shrub territory.

You might consider doing it with a smaller amount first as I usually find it easier to figure out the proportions of a small recipe, and then scaling up from there.

If you have any other questions or need any help, please let me know.