Monday, October 6, 2014

The Hard Stuff: The Bitter Ibex

The ingredients for a fine Sunday morning

Red Beer. Bloody Beer. Red Eye. Michelada.

It may go by a handful of aliases, but when I was first spied someone in a bar dumping a glass of tomato juice in what appeared to be a perfectly good beer, I was horrified.

First of all, as affable as the gritty character drinking it was("Oh, that's really kind of you, but I have an appointment after this, so I'm going to have to decline your polite invitation to 'burn down a J' in the bar parking lot. Thank you, though!", drinking tomato based alcohol drinks in the evening always seemed kind of out of place in the cold, dim lighting of a divier establishment.

Secondly, why would one pollute what appears to be at least a reasonably refreshing beer with a can of Campbell's tomato juice? And furthermore, why would one drink five of these concoctions in a row?

Interestingly, the guy was a fellow Midwestern transplant, so naturally I wondered if this was a regional drink that had escaped me before I moved to Seattle. In the interest of alcoholic anthropology, I sought an expert in the world of Midwestern bar going, my younger sister, then an student at the University of Iowa.

According to her, this was indeed a thing, and it ran from at least Wisconsin to Ohio, but it was definitely viewed as a sort of tailgating restorative, a Budweiser corpse reviver with all of the salt and ethanol that a growing undergrad could need to get back onto their feet to cheer their beloved Hawkeyes(or other Big Ten school) on to victory.

What I did not realize until later, is that our neighbors to the South had been enjoying a similar if not more flavorful with the refreshing additions of lime juice, hot sauce, and some other savory MSG laden wondersauce, be it Maggi, soy, or good old fashioned Worcestershire. This make sense, given that the general blandness of many Mexican lagers make for an excellent blank canvas for a savory, effervescent beer that doesn't feel quite as wrong being drunk before noon.

Which brings me back to the shrub.

There aren't all that many drinks that pop into my mind that use tomato as a main flavor component, and I tackled a new spin on one of them, which led me to wonder if I could bring some of that rich, complex East African spice profile to the beloved red beer.

By heck, I think I may have done just that!

By substituting the very concentrated Elizabeth shrub for your less viscous, run of the mill tomato juice, we bolster the otherwise thin, but extremely clean taste of one's favorite lager with a salvo of savory. The umami punch and inherent heat of this shrub in this drink is so strong, it basically renders the need for additional Worcestershire and hot sauce almost irrelevant.

Which is not to say that you can't put those things in there, because this is your beer, friend! What goes on between a man or a woman and their beer in their kitchen is none of my damn business.

As for the lime: the kid stays in the picture. Lime brings a necessary dose of bright acidity to give this thing some lift. 

One area I did think could use an upgrade, however, was the salted rim. I am actually a huge proponent of people using salt in some drinks as it can really highlight or downplay other flavors. In this case, I felt like coupling the salt with one of the myriad of spices that are actually in berbere, would echo those flavors in a much more vibrant and immediate way.

I chose to make a Coriander salt, which approximates a nice balance of citric pucker with the salinity that gives the entire affair a sense of balance. Other good options if you're not a purist might be smoked paprika salt, or cayenne salt. If you're using African cayenne, please be careful; after putting that against your mouth a few times, the Flaming Lips won't just be a band name any more, but a very unpleasant temporary reality.

Ultimately, I've grown to love Micheladas(except the ones with Clamato, thanks) and their simple, but refreshing permutations and customizable nature. Since we're already playing with flavors, what's a continent or two between friends?

The Bitter Ibex

1-4 oz Elizabeth(to desired strength)
12 oz lager(I have used HUB and Fort George 1811 Lager)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Worcestershire, soy sauce, or Maggi sauce(optional)
Vinegar Based Hot Sauce(optional)
Coriander Salt(for rim)

Place tall glass in freezer until ice cold.

Pour flavored salt onto a plate in an even layer. Wet rim of glass with cut lime, gently roll glass rim in flavored salt.

Pour in desired amount of Elizabeth, followed by the juice of half a lime. If adding hot sauce and or other savory sauce, add it now. Swirl glass gently.

Pour lager into glass from a reasonable height so that the beer begins to mix and slightly agitate the shrub, lime juice, and any other optional ingredients you may have added.

Swirl gently again, and enjoy before beer gets warm.

Coriander Salt

2 parts salt
1 part ground coriander(I like Indian coriander for this, as it's more lemony)

Combine salt and ground coriander and mix together thoroughly.

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