Monday, November 17, 2014

MxMo XCI: Shims - The Owl Creek

I love making cocktails with shrubs, and I really like the idea of spiking the MxMo punchbowl with my own specialized corner of the cocktail universe when I can, and some months the topics lend themselves more the sharp world of shrubs than other.

It was for this very reason, that I was particularly excited to see that this month's topic was hosted by the illustrious Dinah Sanders at, author of The Art of The Shim which fills what was once an a glaring low-octane hole in the world of leisurely imbibing. I am the type of guy who favors fellowship over falling down any day of the week, and since shrubs are also a very flavorful way to lengthen and augment some boozier elements without going too wild, this challenge seemed like it was right in my wheelhouse.

Coincidentally, I also happened to be finishing up some new shrubs that I wanted to work with for cocktails anyway, and since Thanksgiving is upon us, I thought it might be nice to have a cocktail that looked and tasted as though it were designed for Thanksgiving gatherings.

Now, making a drink to pacify a house full of various and disparate personalities is a delicate balance under even the most unrestricted circumstances, of course; the cocktail has to be flavorful, but cannot be so sodden with heavy liquor that your Uncle Ted and Second Cousin Ralph are going to engage in a Greco-Roman free-for-all before the salad course, or when Aunt Mimi guzzles five of them in a row, she will not spend the rest of dinner half in the bag, telling you and anyone in earshot all about her glory days as a burlesque dancer in candid detail, or even worse, demonstrating said glory days before drowsily dropping face first in her apple pie.

And this, friends, is where the shim comes to the rescue. Since a shim is a cocktail limited to only a half an ounce of 80 proof(or above) liquor, one can confidently shield themselves with the proverbial fig leaf of liquid gregariousness all night while severely limiting their chances of acting a like a complete ass. Unless of course, they do that sober, in which case my drink can't help them, but they might want to enjoy a long, tall glass of introspection instead.

The Owl Creek and Its Non-Shrub Components
To keep things from getting too rowdy, I opted to use the bittered aperitif wine Cocchi Americano as the base, with a hefty dose of cranberry shrub, as well as a judicious but noticeable amount of amontillado sherry, and a dash of Angostura bitters. To fortify all that wine and shrub, I chose Beefeater gin to use as my allotted half ounce of full on base spirit . This guy clocks in at a slightly heftier 94 proof, but, come on, man! It's still a party!

My initial reaction was the sparkling wine would really highlight the celebratory nature of the drink, but I opted for sparkling water instead, which fulfilled the dual purpose of adding some effervescent whimsy to the proceedings, but without any extra alcohol, and in fact, dilutes the drink even further without a loss of taste or excitement.

The combined result is quite tasty: the Cocchi acts as both a base and an anchor with its very mild bitter finish which blends seamlessly with the bottom notes of both the cranberry shrub and the Angostura bitters. The Angostura also adds a slightly woody and spicy note that confidently riffs off of the nutty qualities of the amontillado and the cranberry shrub, bring the profile full circle, while the scant amount of soda water just loosens it up ever so much, giving the drink a spry lift and mellowing out the overall viscosity of the rest of the ingredients. If I missed one trick here, I would say it could have used an orange twist, which I didn't have lying around as I finally got this drink into focus.

Barring that, I would say that this is a festive, ruby colored kick in the trousers; just assertive enough to goose you a touch, but not enough to knock you onto the rumpus room floor. It's bittersweet, effervescent, and a touch nutty.

So this Thanksgiving, why not serve a tasty drink that practically describes your family your family?!(How meta!)

Just keep an eye on Aunt Mimi, I think I just saw her finish her fourth one...


2 oz Cocchi Americano
1 oz Ambrose(cranberry shrub, see below)
.5 oz Beefeater gin
.25 oz amontillado sherry(I used Lustau)
1 dash Angostura bitters
2-3 oz club soda

Combine all ingredients except for club soda in a mixing glass or tin. Stir with ice until chilled, and strain into champagne flute. Top with very cold club soda.

Optionally garnish with orange twist.



16 oz cranberries, pulsed
13 oz white sugar
13 oz white wine vinegar


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

Wash cranberries and pat dry.

Put blender carafe or separate bowl on the scale and use the tare function. In your blender carafe or a separate bowl, weigh cranberries on scale and use tare function to zero out the reading. Add sugar until you reach desired weight of sugar into container until desired weight is reached. Use tare function again.
In blender or food processor, blend sugar and cranberries until a thick, syrupy mixture forms. Pour mixture into non-reactive 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  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.

*Additional notes: The name of this cocktail is tangentially related to the name I gave the cranberry shrub in the cocktail, as it is the name of a short story called An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge written by early American author, Ambrose Bierce.

Thanks again to MxMo and Dinah for hosting this month and writing such a great book!

1 comment:

Aerk's Shrub said...

Thanks your detail I like it I past you my shrub