y Pops, Iggy( his real name Ignacy ) used to tell me a story when I was a but a little spud about the fable of stone soup, how a weary traveller carrying nothing more than a pot and a stone came to make the most delicious meal the basis of which was mostly roots. Immigrant Italian fishermen in San Francisco had a soup too, the word Cioppino the story goes ,originates from the Italians not being able to pronounce the phrase “chipping in” when the American fishermen at the docks would be making food they would ask for the crew to chip in an ingredient. Though a Cioppino does not contain any root veg except for maybe the odd carrot to flavor the broth I like to think that this method of making a meal from bits and pieces was also used in the Italian’s love for Amaros, or would the plural be Amari??? On the back of every bar I’ve worked the backbone mixers are mostly Italian , French and sometimes German potions, made by flavoring a base spirit or wine with a medley of herbs, roots and spices, did these revivers and digestif elixirs start I wonder as a communal boozie root and spice based “soup” with humble beginnings, a bit of that, a bit of this. Then there’s the potato, you don’t get more of a humble warrior than that yet its been distilled in Poland and Russia for centuries into the drink of Kings as well as the common man to become Vodka and in Denmark to make Aquavit. I admire the way the poor man ( and women) around the world have a way of making something spectacular out of nothing in particular, a piece of ginger root ( ginger is a miracle worker on the digestive tract) a stick of bark,a pinch of fennel, magic, alchemy, you get the picture.
So since Thanksgiving has just passed , with it the memory of bright jewel like yams or sweet potatoes glistening in all their buttery maple glory still haunting us and since the root veggie is such a staple of our winter menus I figured what better subject to give thanks to than the humble , hardworking root.
lets give thanks to…Amaro.In Italian the word means bitter, as I mentioned before Amari are drunk as an after dinner digestif , they have a bittersweet taste and tend to have an alcohol content of no more than about 35%. Amaro is produced by macerating, herbs, roots, barks and sometimes citrus peels
in neutral spirits, sometimes in wine, this is then filtered and sugar is added to sweeten and make more palatable and a lot less like some indigestion cure you picked up from the dragon lady in China Town. Quite a few of the Amari on the market can trace their history back to the 19th Century where many were first produced in pharmacies or by Monks in monasteries as medicinal cures. Amaro is usually drank alone , sometimes on the rocks or with a slice of orange. More common Italian brands that are available are Averna which is at the milder end of the bitter spectrum, Cynar ( my love), CioCiaro, Amaro Nonino and Fernet Branca which is on the stronger end of the spectrum and will slap you around a bit if you are not used to its punch.From France there is Amer Picon and Germany Becherovka and Jaegermeister ( yes you heard right). Calistaya is a modern version that is produced in Eugene ,Oregon and can be drank as an aperitif or digestif. I am an Amaro addict, I confess I love to eat foods that disagree with me, believing that feeding my soul eternally with the memory of good food far out weighs an upset tum for a couple of hours, I usually finish a large meal with a shot I concocted at the bar I work at and now regularly dispense it to guests in need who have been known to call me “the Doctor”, quite ironic since my dream job as a ten year old was to be a pharmacist , only rock and roll and rebelling a catholic upbringing put those academic dreams to an end.
The Doctor is in ( no prescription needed)
2 oz Fernet Branca
1/2 oz angostura bitters
1/2 oz ginger root syrup
1 oz soda water
pour it all in a glass without ice, stir briefly and shoot it in one gulp, relief will ensue in mere minutes I promise!
The Nighthawk #2 ( my go-to nightcap)
2 oz Rye whiskey
3/4 oz Cynar ( pronounced “chinar”)
1/2 oz CioCiaro Amaro
3 drops Miracle Mile chilli bitters
orange oil and twist for garnish
In a mixing glass add all ingredients except for the orange twist, add ice and give a good stir for about 30 seconds or until the mixing glass gets nice and frosty. Strain into a chilled coupette glass, spritz the orange oil from twist over drink and plop twist inside glass.
Here’s a link to an article about this drink on Social & Cocktail from Scotland
If you are feeling adventurous here’s a recipe for homemade Amaro
You will need:
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
- 6 fresh sage leaves
- 6 fresh mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves (about 1 sprig’s worth)
- 1 allspice berry
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon gentian root
- 3 cups 151-proof neutral grain spirit
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 1/4 cups water
Grind the herbs and spices (including gentian root) with a mortar and pestle until roughly broken up. (Or pulse a few times in a food processor.) Transfer to a sealable glass jar and pour in the alcohol. Let steep at room temperature for 3 weeks, shaking frequently.After the initial steeping time, bring sugar and water to a boil at medium heat. Cook until sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely.
Pour cooled syrup into the steeped mixture, reseal jar, and let rest for an additional 2 weeks, stirring frequently. After 2 weeks, open jar and taste. If stronger flavor is desired, re-seal jar and allow to steep for an additional week
Strain through cheesecloth to remove solids, then filter through coffee filter or fresh cheesecloth into a selable bottle. Store at room temperature for up to 6 months.
lets give thanks to…carrots & beets. Most folks that know me also know I am a juice lover, no am not talking about the chemical shite that a certain and now infamous athlete who shall not be named used to conquer the world of competitive cycling, the juice I refer to is veggie juice, my morning tipple of choice which without my digestion is sluggish and my energy lacking, I’ve been hooked for some 15 years. About a year ago I was working on a making a new brunch cocktail list for a restaurant, I wanted it to be based on the idea of the classic Corpse Reviver, the drink created for gentlemen in the Thirties as a post binge pick me up, since my juices always make me feel so good and lively I figured why not add them to spirits to make “Hair of the Dog” style morning elixirs, health freaks please stop shaking your head, everything in moderation which includes sometimes doing something not so good for you . The most successful flavors came from carrots, beets and celery, though celery I’ll leave you for another time since the spotlight this week is not to be yours. The juice is used raw and filtered so as not to be surprised by a chunky drink and can be used as a substitute for tomato in a Bloody Mary or made sweet and spicier by adding yet another root concoction ginger syrup.
Beet and Lemon Shrub
The history of the shrub goes back to colonial America, in the 18th Century they were used to make a refreshing precursor to modern day soda, a shrub can also be called a fruit vinegar which is usually 1 part fruit + 1 part sugar + 1 part vinegar, apple cider, champagne or red wine vinegar are the mellowest vinegars of the bunch and less likely to make you feel like you just sucked on a lemon. The vinegar was originally added to make a digestive tonic as well as prolonging the shelf life of the sugar macerated fruit. Once the shrub is complete you can add it to plain old soda water or try experimenting with it in a cocktail, one of my favorites is a simple gin spritz.
Beet shrub recipe:
You will need:
1 cup filtered beet juice ( remember you don’t need a chunky drink)
1/4 cup simple syrup (1:1 ratio cane sugar to water) add more to taste if its too tart for you.
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 twist of lemon peel
Add all ingredients to a screw top mason jar and shake, leave for a day to infuse peel and dissolve sugar. Remove lemon peel and use.
2 oz Gin, I like to use Ford’s gin or the British classic Beefeater
1/2 oz Beet shrub
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup 1:1 ratio sugar to hot water
1 oz Cocchi Americano
Add all ingredients to your boston shaker with ice and shake for 30-40 seconds till you get a nice frost on your shaker tin.
Strain into a champagne glass and top with your favorite champagne
Read more in the LA Times article on shrubs
Red Headed Stepchild
1 1 /2 oz fresh carrot juice
2 oz of aquavit or vodka, typically I use Linie Aquavit or a good polish potato vodka like Luksusova or Uluvka
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz ginger syrup
3 dashes of Bob’s Cardamom Bitters
fennel frond or cilantro flower for garnish
throw everything into your boston shaker with ice and shake for about 30-40 seconds or till a nice frost forms on your tin, strain into a chilled coupette or martini glass and garnish.
Lets give thanks to…sweet potatoes because for one its rich in dietary fiber , and face it we all need some fiber, beta carotene for vision as well as being packed full of vitamin C and B. In the US the sweet potato is often confused with the yam which is a completely different species and is also only a distant relation to the potato, the sweet potato is actually part of the same family as the Morning Glory that lovely forget-me-not blue bell like flower that you see on garden hedgerows. Am a huge fan of the sweet potato but even I can’t manage to eat all the sweet potato leftovers after a Thanksgiving feast so recently I’ve started making these orphans into a sweet potato syrup that is a lovely companion to all types of whiskey as well as brandy and rum.
Sweet Potato Syrup
You will need:
1 cup of chopped roasted sweet potatoes, I roast mine with cumin and black pepper which adds a nice earthy spice to the mix.
1 1/2 cups water
optional 1 chai tea bag ( my choice is usually a chai rooibos or red bush which is caffeine free)
1 cup of cane sugar
Add the water , sweet potatoes and tea bag if using to a small pan and bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then let sit to infuse without heat for about half an hour. Discard the tea bag and mash the potatoes with a fork or ricer into the liquid . Strain and add the sugar. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Here’s a couple of drinkies to put it in.
Rye & Almond Ramos
2 oz Rye whiskey
1 oz sweet potato syrup
1 egg white
1 oz fresh lemon juice
3 drops orange flower water
3 oz almond milk , healthier option that the original cream version, the almond milk turns this almost into a boozie Horchata.
star anise garnish
Add your ingredients except for soda and cinnamon to boston shaker and dry shake without ice for 20 seconds, add ice and shake again for about 40 seconds, strain into a tall chilled glass, top with soda water and sprinkle of cinnamon
2 oz Cognac or Brandy
1 oz sweet potato syrup
1 oz fresh lemon juice
spritz of absinthe or Anise ( not Sambuca)
2 dashes of angostura bitters
mint sprig garnish
Add ingredients to your boston shaker with ice and shake for about 30 seconds , strain into an ice filled old fashioned glass, finish with a wee spritz of absinthe , garnish with lemon twist.
Lets give thanks to…Dandelion & Burdock roots. Back in the Seventies ( yes ok am aging myself) there was a soda delivery service up north in England called the Alpine Pop company, my Popsi would not allow fake stuff in the house with all that sugar but my Aunt was less strict and had a huge catholic brood that needed watering often and the Alpine brew was inexpensive, in fact now I come to think of it maybe she got one kid free with every 50 bottles of Alpine soda, they went through at least that many bottles a week. My cousins were a motley crew but they were deemed cool because round their house they were allowed Alpine’s Dandelion & Burdock soda , even though its a traditional olde English drink there was something very exotic about the flavor, similar to rootbeer but not so medicinal and a lot less sweet. In Ye Olde Blighty its a drink that has been imbibed since the middle ages ,thats about 700 years ago ! Originally as a beer fermented from the roots of said Dandelion and Burdock plants, over time it became less alcoholic and more of a soft beverage .Not only does it contain vitamins A and C and iron, it has also been claimed to improve liver metabolism and bile production, yum bile! Fans appreciate it for its unusual flavor, described sometimes as earthy or reminiscent of licorice. I found an old recipe for the beer from The Guardian in the UK thats supposed to be quite true to the original, its attached below. I buy my herbs and roots online at Dandelion Botanicals, they have a huge selection of plants and barks. If you want to get a taste of the brew before you go forth with
this project Fentiman’s does a nice version, it makes for a great summer soda or try adding it to ice cream for an ice cream float.
D&B Beer recipe
You will need:
3/4 cups of Burdock root (about 150g)
1/4 cup of dandelion roots (about 50g)
2 1/2 cups of cane sugar
2 tablespoons of black treacle
Juice of one lemon
Teaspoon of copper finings (carragheen) to help clarify the beer – optional
A beer yeast ( I usually buy this from Culver Brew supplies in Los angeles)
4.5 litres of water
Boil your roots with half the water (and the carragheen if using) for half an hour. Experience the aroma of an unpromising vegetable stew.
Take off the heat, add the remaining cold water, the sugar, treacle and lemon and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Strain the liquid into a clean fermenting bucket and cover.
When your brew reaches room temperature add the yeast, keep covered for up to a week then bottle in strong swing top bottles. Another week and it will be ready to drink, though it is well worth easing the top off of a bottle every now and then to check for potentially explosive levels of fizziness. Once ready it is a good idea to keep the bottles in the fridge to prevent further fermentation.
The bottle pictured above was quite sweet with a low alcohol content and a touch cloudy because I did not use finings. The flavour is mildly bitter and aromatic with a now pleasant hint of that vegetable stew
D&B Syrup recipe
You will need:
2 teaspoons of ground dandelion
2 teaspoons of ground burdock root
2 dry star anise roots
4-5 small chunks of peeled chopped ginger root
3 pints of water
cook the mixture in water for about half an hour. It will be a very strong-smelling and bitter brew; add sugar gradually until it’s sweet enough for your taste. When serving, add club soda for fizz and to adjust the strength.
2 oz demerrara rum
1/2 oz smith and cross rum
barspoon or half a teaspoon of absinthe
2 dashes angostura bitters
about 8 mint leaves for muddling
1 oz fresh lime juice, key lime or Persian lime juice adds a fragrant note to this sipper and are currently in season in Southern Cali
1 oz D&B syrup
mint sprig and half a key lime for garnish
swizzle stick for stirring or a bar spoon can also be used
gently muddle the mint with syrup in a high ball or collins glass, add rest of your ingredients except for garnish plus crushed ice, insert stirring tool and twirl the handle end of it in between the palms of your hand for about 30-40 seconds or until a nice frost forms on the glass. Add more ice if needed , for garnish poke a hole in the half of the key lime with a skewer, thread the stalk of the mint sprig through the hole and nestle the bottom of your lime half in the ice, add straw to drink.
D&B Egg cream
1/2 cup of cold whole milk
1 1/2 oz D&B syrup
barspoon acid phosphate ( used to add a tart zingy quality to drinks without using citrus juice ,traditionally used in American soda fountain drinks not usually in the NY egg cream but I think it adds a little spark to the creaminess)
1 cup cold bottled seltzer water
optional 1 1/2 booze, I find whiskey works really well, but then I find whiskey works really well anywhere, Scotch or Rye preferred
Add the syrup and the milk to the glass with the phosphoric acid, give a good stir, top with the cold seltzer water, no ice needed if your ingredients are good and cold.
Lets give thanks to…the potato. It is after all part of my Polish heritage and has been produced there since the early Middle ages. At the time the word “Wodka” referred to chemical mixtures such as medicine and cleansers , whilst the popular beverage was known as “gorzalka” which literally translates to mean “to burn” or heat. As a kid I suffered from hideous headaches, my witch doctor granny would soak a towel in 100% proof Polish vodka that the old timers called “spiritus”, she would wrap it around my head whilst chanting some sort of incantation to draw out the demons from my pain filled noggin. I don’t know if it worked, I usually nodded off probably as a result of all those alcohol fumes anaesthetising my brain, gran also rubbed the magic potion on our gums when we had toothache, is it honestly any wonder I became a bartender! A pharmacist back in the early days asserted that vodka could serve to increase fertility and awaken lust! Hmm so maybe the numerous cousins in our family were the result of my aunt and uncle’s vodka fueled night time operations. Who knew they seemed so puritanical!
Some Polish Vodka brands also go back centuries, the first Vodkas were distilled from Rye, Zubrowka dates from about the 16th Century, Goldwasser ( German translation “goldwater”) from the early 17th Century. The nobility of Poland were granted a monopoly on producing Vodka in their lands which was a substantial source of their pockets. Early production methods were pretty basic and not as high in alcohol as it is today, usually it was distilled three times then water was added to lower the alcohol content, it wasn’t until the late 19th Century that potatoes were used to make this aphrodisiac. Here’s a couple of riffs on classic cocktails made with Wodka…
Moscow Mule variation
2 oz of vodka
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz ginger syrup
Pilsner beer to top it off
mint sprig for garnish
Shake all ingredients except for beer in a Boston shaker filled with ice. Dump contents into a chilled glass or if you’re lucky a chilled copper mug ( copper is a good conductor of heat and cold so it keeps your drink colder longer). Top with your beer and garnish with a mint sprig.
2 oz smoked vodka ( see issue 005 on all things smoked)
1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
dash celery bitters
green olives for garnish,if you want stuff them with smoked gouda
In a mixing glass add vodka , vermouth, bitters and ice, give a good stir for about 30 seconds, strain into a chilled coupette or martini glass and garnish with your olive/s.
Thanks also to the most excellent photography of Patrick O’Brien-Smith, his are the moody, sexy pics that bring my page to life. He so good he can even make a cup of carrot juice look seductive, check more of his work out here
Lastly thanks must go to my Pops, thank you for all your stories and for your your patience with my inquisitive side. Am curious too if I was the result of copious amounts of the Polish lusty elixir, maybe its best that I dont know. Love you Popsi!
The Swizzle stick, used mostly for stirring drinks that contain crushed ice
The Trident spoon has a lovely weight to it and spins perfectly , its my favorite companion on the bar
The Yarai glass is lovely and a sturdy tool for your home bar
Cynar is a lovable oddball. This bitter liqueur is naturally flavored with thirteen herbs, most prominently–and strangely–artichoke. It also happens to work marvelously as both an aperitif and a digestif, unlike just about every other amaro we’ve come across. Introduced in 1952, it’s a relative newcomer to the bitter market, but it will quickly become a new favorite.
Fernet Branca Though created as an herbal tonic in 19th-Century Milan, Fernet-Branca has gained tremendous popularity in Argentina served with cola. Flavored with more than 40 herbs and spices–including myrrh, chamomile, aloe, cardamom, and saffron–Fernet-Branca is an aromatic, bitter, and utterly intense aperitif. While certainly an acquired taste, this bracing liqueur will inspire you to come back for a second try.
This storied liqueur, sold for numerous ailments throughout its lengthy history, was one of the few commercial alcohol brands still available as “medicine” under Prohibition. Today, you don’t need a prescription to enjoy it straight, on the rocks, or served with ginger ale.
Linie Aquavit , produced from potatoes, is flavored with caraway, dill, aniseed, sweet fennel and coriander. Matured in Oloroso sherry casks, the oak gives this Norwegian aquavit a golden color and soft notes of vanilla, and the remaining hints of sherry provide a subtle sweetness. Oxidation softens the herbs and spices, contributing to a rounder, more mellow taste. The casks are then stored on the deck of a ship as it travels around the world. Every bottle of Linie Aquavit carries the details of its journey: you will find the date of departure from Norway, the date it returned after crossing the Equator twice, and the name of the ship.
Smith and Cross Traditional Jamaica rum has a light mahogany amber color and is incredibly aromatic, flavorful and fully characteristic of 100% pot still rums with all of the associated heaviness (admittedly acquired tastes for many people). Tropical fruits notes like pineapple, papaya, orange peel as well as mild spices like clove, cinnamon, coriander and saffron. Dried tobacco, damp musty leather, a subdued brown sugar sweetness and mild vanilla add complexity.
Distilled on Jamaica, produced in the UK. Blend of two rums, the first is aged for less than one year, the second is split between 1 1/2 and 3 years.”Navy Strength” refers to the British Royal Navy’s requirement that shipboard rum be bottled to a strength of at least 57% alcohol by volume. If the ship’s magazine were to have rum sloshed onto it, the gunpowder would still be able to be ignited.
If you’re looking for an overproof rum with that real old world flavor to jack up your rum drinks, stop when you’ve found Smith & Cross.
Next up….more Bitter truths