Sunday, November 28, 2010

Drinks for the Season: Krupnik

As a person of Polish heritage, I feel that I would be remiss if my list of seasonal/holiday drinks did not include a taste of Polish culture.  So with that, I bring you:   Krupnik!  Krupnik is a traditional Polish spiced honey liqueur with an origin that dates back (in some form) to at least to the 18th Century, and some claim as far back as the 5th Century (although the ingredient list has evolved over time).  It is also drunk in Lithuania, where it is called Krupnikas.  Krupnik is said to have been used as an herbal/medicinal remedy for certain ailments, including the common cold.  Krupnik is also a traditional drink during wigilia, the traditional Polish celebration of Christmas Eve.  There are commercial versions of Krupnik available, including one made by Starogard Gdanski distillery, the maker of Sobieski vodka.  Homemade recipes for Krupnik (which are clearly where the fun is at) are said to be common family secrets handed down from generation to generation (although alas, I had to come up with my own).

Without further ado, here's the recipe I have used for making homemade Krupnik, a variation combining elements from a number of different recipes I've come across (see e.g. the sources at the bottom).

16 oz raw honey
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cold water
3 cups boiling water
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole vanilla bean pod (split open)
1 small nutmeg, grated
zest from 1/2 lemon
zest from 1/2 orange
4 juniper berries, whole
10 allspice berries, whole
10 black peppercorns, whole
3 star anise fruits
750 ml vodka  (I used Lukosowa potato vodka)
- Combine 1 cup sugar and 2 tbsp cold water in large saucepan.  Heat until dissolved, then bring to a hard boil until caramelized, stirring well in the meanwhile.  The mix will begin to turn yellow-brown, and then begin to darken pretty quickly once the sugar begins to melt.  I suggest turning down the heat a bit once about half the sugar has melted and begun turning color.
- Remove from heat, then add 3 cups boiling water, being careful to avoid splatter.  Warning:  the mix will also steam heavily as the water is added. 
- Add in spices and zest. 
- Heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.  You should now have a wonderful smelling mix reminiscent of mulled cider (frankly, if you wanted break off here and blend in some apple cider instead, I wouldn't blame you and I bet the result wouldn't be half bad!). 
- Let cool for approx 30 minutes.
- Strain the syrup mixture through cheesecloth and coffee filters.
- Return syrup to a pot.  Begin heating and stir in honey until dissolved, straining off any floating residue with a slotted spoon.
- Bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat.
- Gradually stir in vodka.
Serve hot, or let cool and bottle.

The resulting liqueur has a potent honey taste to it with a number of delightful spiced notes.  

Some other recipes can be found here, here, here, here, and here.  Most use a similar general methodology to what I used, although some suggest a cold mix with more aging.  In some cases, the recipes suggest using rectified spirits (grain alcohol, or if you are Polish, spirytus) rather than vodka as the base.  I might go that route the next time around for comparative purposes (in Connecticut at least, there's some Polish import stores where you can actually buy Polish spirytus).  If you want to go this route, then, assuming you are using approx 190 proof neutral spirits, I would use between 1/2 and 2/3 the amount of spirits in the recipe (depending on how much bite you are looking for).  You can also tone down the sweetness some by dropping the amount of honey to 12 oz. 

If you are looking for something more do to do with your Krupnik than just drink it straight, some suggestions I've seen include adding it to either champagne or beer.  The Drinkgal website also has some cocktail ideas that use Krupnik here.

Na zdrowie!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Cocktails

Turkey Day commeth!  So, for anyone looking for a little something by way of drinks for the holiday, here's a few ideas. 

Let's start with a pretty simple one, the Turkey Feather.

Turkey Feather
2 oz. Bourbon (Wild Turkey is the obvious choice)
1/2 oz. Drambuie
1/4 oz. Amaretto
This is a solid drink for a whiskey enthusiast, but if you are looking for something that's either a bit more easy going or more of a challenge, I have something that fits the bill as well.  The In the Land of Cocktails website has a webisode featuring a cocktail from the head bartender at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, Ferrel Dugas:  the Drunken Pumpkin.  This cocktail has a fascinating array of ingredients:  Bourbon, Fee Brother's Pumpkin Spice Cordial syrup, an orange liqueur, lemon juice, black cherry vinaigrette, and simple syrup (with a rosemary garnish).  Now, looking at this list, if you are anything like me, your first reaction will be something like "oooooo" and your second will be "where the hell do I get Fee Brother's Pumpkin Spice Cordial syrup"?  And my answer to those of you in the Boston area for this is...I haven't a clue.  I hunted around, and no luck (you CAN order it online from Fee Brothers, however).  But, fear not, there's a solution to this problem, namely DIY!  A simple recipe for some pumpkin spice syrup that uses ingredients that aren't uncommon this season is as follows (based on recipe from Cook Like a Champion):

Pumpkin Spice Syrup
1 1/2  cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used Turbinado)
4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp ground cloves (I would probably try subbing 3 whole cloves on the next go-round)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin (in the interest of time, I used the latter)
-  Heat sugar and water in a sauce pan until dissolved
-  add other ingredients and cook 6-8 minutes while stirring (do not boil)
-  let cool for a bit, then strain and bottle

Note:  if you are thinking this might be excessive effort for a cocktail, I will point out that this will also give you the makings for a pumpkin spiced latte/pumpkin spiced coffee.  I for one find this a great bonus.

Even with my pumpkin spice syrup in hand, I was still lacking a few of the other ingredients used in the original recipe, so since I was changing things up anyways, I decided to play around with the Cranberry Shrub that I had recently mixed up.  I must say, the results were very pleasing.  I had to play around with the ratios a bit, but the result I liked best was the following:

Drunken Pumpkin (with a side of Cranberry)
2 oz. Bourbon (Eagle Rare)
1 oz. Pumpkin Spice Syrup, homemade
1/4 oz. Grand Marnier
1/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. Cranberry Shrub, homemade
If you are lacking in Cranberry Shrub, and also lacking in black cherry vinaigrette, I think you could use the original recipe and probably get away with substituting a more common vinaigrette like raspberry without too much harm.  I also omitted the garnish and still found it pleasing (I didn't try it, but you might even be able to leave out the orange liqueur and use an orange garnish instead if you want to experiment).

Finally, if you are still searching for another option, Glamnest has an interesting recipe for a Pumpkin Mojito that I have not had a chance to try, but which looks intriguing.  Also, I finally did get a chance to try an idea I suggested in my Cranberry Shrub post, namely adding the shrub to some pumpkin ale (in particular, Southern Tier's Imperial Pumpking).  I must say, the result was very tasty!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mixology Monday (MxMo LII): The Fancy Vermouth Cocktail

This month's Mixology Monday is hosted by Dennis of the Rock & Rye blog, with the theme for the month:  Forgotten Cocktails.  The objective of the theme is "to bring to light a drink that you think deserves to be resurrected from the past."  My choice for a cocktail that fits this description is one I was first introduced to at a wine-based cocktails class at the Boston Shaker.

Fancy Vermouth Cocktail (The Boston Shaker)
2 oz Italian (sweet) vermouth
1/2 tsp. maraschino liqueur
3 dashes bitters
Stir ingredients with ice, strain and garnish with quarter lemon.
The initial reaction of the unacquainted might be to cringe at this - not vermouth!  To reiterate the tirade that most cocktail enthusiasts will give on the topic for a second, vermouth has gotten a bum rap in recent decades.  The reason for this is primarily mistreatment.  Somewhere along the line, bartenders and the populace at large seem to have forgotten what vermouth actually is, namely a fortified wine.  The same people that would never dream of sipping an occasional glass from a bottle of white wine that's been sitting on the coffee table for a year would then take vermouth that was sitting in a liquor cabinet for a year or longer, dribble some into a shaker of gin, and call it a Martini.  Unsurprisingly, people going through these motions would find the smell and taste of said vermouth unappealing.  Why?  because the vermouth had gone bad! Really bad!  The simple test to show the distinction to someone is to have the person smell and taste the difference between a capfull of fresh vermouth versus a capfull from a bottle that's been sitting around for an eternity; there's a world of difference.  Thus, the common  wisdom with regard to vermouth is 1) refrigerate it after opening in order to help preserve it (a wine saver is not a bad addition as well); and 2) don't use old vermouth; even with refrigeration, most vermouths will begin to turn after a month at most (some last better than others; I have found that Carpano and Punte e Mes, for example, tend to still be usable after several months, although the taste does start to change a bit). 

Now, with the standard tirade out of the way, I will go on to add that I think that vermouth can be fantastic, and not just as a cocktail ingredient.  In fact, if Dennis had left out the word "cocktail" from the theme for this month and simply said "forgotten drinks," I think a worthy candidate would be vermouth in general, for the very history described above.  A good vermouth with nothing more than some soda and a slice of orange can be a wonderful aperitif.  Furthermore, there is a vast (and growing) array of excellent, and distinctive tasting vermouths available in the U.S., including newer offerings like Sutton Cellar's Brown Label Vermouth and offerings like Carpano Antica that could not be found just a few short years ago.

Good vermouth is also, unsurprisingly, the key to the Fancy Vermouth Cocktail above.  At the Boston Shaker class, we tasted a Fancy Vermouth Cocktail that used Carpano Antica Formulare sweet vermouth (the so-called king of vermouths) and Urban Moonshine Original bitters.  Carpano is quite simply, fantastic.  It is eminently drinkable on its own, which is why the subtle additions made in the Fancy Vermouth Cocktail work so well; they add something without drowning out the wonderful taste of the Carpano.  For a very different take on the same cocktail, with a much lighter note to it, I suggest trying Martini and Rossi's Rosato vermouth (I used Angostura for the bitters, although I something like the Bittermen's Boston Bittahs might also prove interesting). The Rosato has a light, crisp taste to it with some

As a final note, below is a list of some vermouths, or vermouth-like fortified wines that I am particularly fond of.  Some of these will actually be found in the aperitif aisle of a liquor store rather than with the vermouth (the ones listed with an * below are the ones that I have seen most commonly fall into this category).  Unlike many categories of alcoholic beverages, the term "vermouth" does not have a legally restricted meaning for purposes of labeling.  Consequently, it is largely up to the producers and the marketers whether to label their fortified wine with the term vermouth or not.  Again, because of the stigma that is sometimes associated with the term, it is often omitted from some products that might commonly be found filling the role of vermouth in cocktails.

Carpano Antica Formulare* - the best sweet vermouth out there, hands down.  It has a rich, deep flavor with hints of caramel.
Punt e Mes* - another sweet vermouth from the same maker as Carpano.  Punt e Mes is also excellent, but quite different than Carpano. It has more of a bitterness to it than Carpano, but also has a very fruity/botanical temperament.
Noilly Prat (Dry) - A French offering that I think is one of the best deals for the price; I like the dry in particular.
Martini & Rossi (Rosso & Rosato*) - An inexpensive Italian offering.  The red (Rosso) is a solid choice in the absence of some of the high end choices.  The Rosato is a new offering that makes a great aperativo.  It features hints of pomegranate, raspberry, cinnamon and lemon.
Dolin (Dry) - Dolin is a French producer of vermouths.  They are a bit higher price-point than Martini and Rossi or Noilly Prat, but their dry in particular is one of my favorites for a Martini.
Sutton Cellar's Brown Label Vermouth - A California-made vermouth with a bit higher price point that is marketed primarily as an aperitif. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Drinks for the Season: Cranberry Shrub

With Fall upon us, and the holidays close at hand, I figured it was about time to start up a thread on seasonal drinks.  Rather than start off with the easier one-offs like a hot tody, I decided I'd start out with some drinks that require a bit more time and forethought.  Conveniently enough, I have some ongoing projects that fit the bill perfectly, the first of which utilizes the Thanksgiving day classic, the cranberry.

My tale of cranberry begins thus.  Some weeks back, I attended a friend's wedding, from which my roommate's and I inherited some centerpieces.  One of these pieces was an arrangement filled with cranberries.  Not wanting them to go to waste, I brain stormed some ideas of how to use them.  My first idea was cranberry bitters (more on that at a later date).  Fast forward a bit, and some friends and I were at the Hungry Mother in Cambridge enjoying some cocktails.  One cocktail on their menu (the No. 64 I believe?) was particularly intriguing because its ingredients included blueberry shrub (also intriguing, it came in two variations; one using a fill of proseco, and the other beer).  Voila!  New plan:  cranberry shrub.

For those unacquainted with a "shrub" in the context of beverages and cocktails, I will first tell you that if you scour the Internet for information about them (as I of course did), the information on what constitutes a shrub and how they are made varies a bit.  This is not overly surprising, given that sources generally peg the origin of shrubs in the pre-colonial era, with ebbs and flows of popularity since then.  Here is what I've been able to gleam from my research, as well as the recipe that I went with for making my own shrub (and what I would change next time around).

Shrubs are fruit-based syrups used for hundreds of years in drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  One source I found identified a rise in popularity of shrubs in non-alcoholic beverages as part of the Temperance movement.  Some sources describe shrubs as primarily involving the elements of fruit, sugar, and, most unconventionally to the modern palate, vinegar.  This is where things begin to get dicey.  If you go back to Jerry Thomas' seminal 1862 work, How to Mix Drinks, sure enough you will find a recipe for Rasberry Shrub as follows:
Raspberry Shrub
1 quart of vinegar.
8 quarts of ripe raspberries.
After standing a day, strain it, adding to each pint a pound of sugar, and skim it clear, while boiling about half an hour. Put a wine-glass of brandy to each pint of the shrub, when cool. Two spoonfuls of this mixed with a tumbler of water, is an excellent drink in warm weather, Kid in fevers.

Thomas also has several other recipes listed in his book described as "Shrubs" including Cherry Shrub and Currant Shrub, which make no mention of vinegar.  Instead, the basic pattern includesfruit, brandy (or rum), and sometimes sugar.  The alleged etymology of "Shrub" doesn't lend much clarification.  The origin of the word shrub in this context is said to be related to the arabic sharba, meaning syrup.  In any event, I was gunning for a variation on Thomas' raspberry shrub recipe this time around because I think the vinegar element makes it a more interesting combination.  Even within this particular genre of shrub recipes, there were some further choices to be made.  Some recipes call for a hot mixture of ingredients; some call for a cold mix with additional aging; some add spices and additional elements; some say to age the cranberries with sugar for a day as a first step, while others say to age the cranberries with the vinegar. 

Picking and choosing among the compositions and preparation techniques out there, I settled on the following recipe for my cranberry shrub.  I went with a very basic recipe, involving a cold mix technique based on the technique attributed to Neyah White.

Cranberry Shrub
2 cups cranberries
2 cups sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar (I used an unfiltered organic)
- Muddle/bruise cranberries and (before or after), place in a large mason jar
- Add sugar and blend into a syrup
- Let sit for 24-48 hours
- Combine vinegar into syrup mix, stirring
- Let sit for 10 days in a cold place, shaking periodically to make sure sugar is entirely dissolved
- Strain, filter, and bottle

Overall, I think this recipe produced an intriguing product.   One improvement I would make is to bring out the cranberry taste more, as I find that the it gets lost a little to the vinegar. I think this could be achieved by upping the cranberry quotient a bit to 3, or even 4 cups and blending or crushing the cranberries more thoroughly.  Also, playing with the type of vinegar used might make for some nice variations - perhaps a white wine vinegar instead of the cider?

Now, with newly minted shrub in hand, the next question is...what to do with it?
What makes the fruit-sugar-vinegar shrub formulation interesting in a drink is the way the acidity plays with the sweetness in the shrub itself, and in sweet elements with which it is combined.  The Hungry Mother's route of using Prosecco thus looks like a natural pairing.  One mix I tried was the following, French 75 like drink:
3/4 oz cranberry shrub
1 oz gin (Plymouth)
Prosecco (approx 4 oz)

Shake cranberry shrub and gin with ice; pour into wine glass, top with Prosecco.
Other ideas that I'd like to try:
cranberry shrub + ginger ale
cranberry shrub + pumpkin ale!  In particular, I'd like to see how the shrub would play with the taste of Southern Tier's Imperial Pumpking.  The Pumpking has a distinctive pumpkin pie taste to it that would make for an interesting blend with the cranberry (very Thanksgiving).

The acidity from the vinegar in the shrub balances sweetness very well, thus any pairing with a sweet element has potential.

Here are some further sources for shrubs info of various kinds, which also include some further cocktail recipes involving shrubs as well:
Jaimie Boudreau's spritsandcocktails blog on Berry Shrub
Shaken, Not Stirred Blog
Cocktail Virgin Slut notes about shrubs and blueberry shrub
Note:  There's also at least one commercially available form of shrub from Tait Farms that is also sold at the Boston Shaker, for those in the Boston area.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Alas, the day job and other chaos has kept me from posting in a while, but fortunately some of that busyness has included some cocktail-related projects as well.  I have currently in progress a number of homemade creations including some peach amaretto (courtesy of the recipe in a recent issue of Imbibe), Regan's Orange Bitter's No. 5, some meyer lemon limoncello, and a cranberry shrub just to name a few!  More on those at a future date, as well as some other content that I've been working on.

In the meantime, I would like to take a moment to point out some resources I'm in the process of posting to this site, and as a bonus, some other interesting content on the web to keep you occupied in the interim.

As with many other cocktail blogs, I have a section of links posted with related resources such as other on-topic blogs.  However, I am also attempting to add a little something more.  In the Suggested Reading page, I've listed some of my favorite content from my cocktail book library, however I've also begun a list of some vintage reading related to cocktails and spirits from the 19th and early 20th Century.  Best of all, many of these books, with their copyrights now expired, are available in their entirety online thanks to Google Books.  Where available, I've provided the link to this content on Google Books, or if unavailable there, to any other source of the material I can find (such as reprints on Amazon).  I hope to keep updating this list as I can find additional resources.

Having provided some resources for the vintage cocktail world, I now leave you with a note from the modern cocktail world.  As mentioned on, a bartender-oriented reality tv show styled something like Top Chef and called "On the Rocks:  The Search for America's Next Top Bartender" has recently begun airing its third season.  The show features 2 Boston area talents this season, Trina Sturm of Somerville's Trina's Starlight Lounge and William Codman of Woodward at Ames Hotel.  Sadly, the show is a bit tough to catch here on the East coast (I've read the first 2 seasons didn't even air on this coast).  It airs at 1am on Saturdays on NBC (to make it even more challenging, the first episode actually listed as "Paid Programming" in the guide from my cable company).  Luckily, episodes are available on the show's website as well (the Internet to the rescue again!). 

That's all I have time for right now, but if nothing else you now have some reading and viewing material to tie you over until next time.