Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

COCKTAILS: For the Discerning Mixologist

Making cocktails is kind of like alchemy. You may start out with practical miracles. For an alchemist, this involves making inks, paints, and extracts and working metal and glass. For a mixologist this means perfecting the basics, like the Martini, the Manhattan, the Sidecar and the Gimlet. But after working your craft for a time, you begin to get restless, and that is where the goals begin to run together. The alchemist seeks to leave behind his mundane tasks and reach for the sublime - to turn the ordinary into precious metal, or to mix together the elixir of life itself. And the mixologist -- the same -- she is ready to branch out beyond the steadfast classics and discover alcholic gold, or even better, the elixir of life.

In order to create miracles, however, one needs the proper ingredients. Adding the following potions to your cabinet of wonders, aka, the liquor cabinet, will allow you create drinks that may not cure all ills and extend life indefinitely, but will certainly cure SOME ills, and make life more enjoyable. A worthy goal!

Luxardo Maraschino: Maraschino is a liqueur made from real Maraschino cherries, not the freakish neon Frankenstein monsters that get popped into your drink on occasion, but sour Marasca cherries from Croatia or Northern Italy. Both the cherries and the pits are part of the brew, giving the liquor a distinctive taste of fruit, nut and wood. Drinks made with Maraschino are always elegant. I can only vouch for Luxardo, which has been making Maraschino since 1821, and Luxardo's Maraschino was developed by a woman - Maria Canevari, who became famous for her home brews, so her husband went ahead and opened her a distillery.

The classic recipe for Maraschino is the Aviation. It's my favorite cocktail. Drink it when you are feeling really classy.

50% Gin
30% Lemon Juice
10% Luxardo Maraschino
10% Simple Syrup
Shake over Ice & Strain, Lemon Twist garnish

If you are feeling old-school, go for a Martinez, the forerunner of the martini, it was invented by a Bay Area ferry passenger with limited drink resources (i.e., rotgut gin).

4 parts gin
1 teaspoon sugar syrup (optional)
2 parts sweet vermouth
1-3 dashes Angostura bitter
1 part Maraschino Luxardo liqueur

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass.

Chartreuse is one of those love-it or hate-it liqueurs. Made from 130 different herbs and glaring a lurid green (or yellow), one can find Chartreuse in the most apropos places - literary lovers of Chartreuse include Gatsby, the ambiguously gay duo of Brideshead Revisited, Quentin Tarantino characters, and Poppy Z. Brite's lost New Orleans vampire souls. If you like those things (I do!), you may also like Chartreuse.

In keeping with my post's theme, Chartreuse has its origins as a purported alchemical recipe for the "elixir of life," presented by the King of France to some monks in 1605, who have made their living brewing the top secret potion ever since. The monks have perservered through trials, tribulations, exile, and rewelcoming and Chartreuse is still produced by three guardians of the ancient secrets. Only three monks ever know the recipe. It's color, despite its unnaturally vivid appearance is au naturelle, a product of chlorophyll.

Chartreuse has an undescribable flavor. It is not anise, as so many herbal liquors are. It is sweet, spicy, and pungent all at once, and tastes sweeter when served at room temperature than when served over ice. Generally, I just drink Chartreuse over ice or with soda, but if you are a Chartreuse enthusiast, this is a good cocktail I have had using Chartreuse, at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco:

Mujer Verde

1 1/2 oz. Hendrick's gin
1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse
1/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

Pour ingredients into shaker with ice, shake, and strain. Pour into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lime.

St. Germain:
St. Germain is a liqueur I highly recommend as a gift. It is stunning to look at and equally stunning to taste. St. Germain is an elderflower liqueur with a story as romantic as its bottle and its flavor. For a few days in spring, when elderflowers are in full blossom, the bohemians gather in the foothills of Alps and gather flowers by hand just for you and your cocktail. They then hand off their sacks of flowers to a little old man on a bicycle, who cycles it off to the market to be purchased for this liqueur. I kid you not - this actually happens. As the website says, Vraiment. Each bottle comes with a number, to assure you that your Bohemian picked some flowers just for you, and your little sideburned man cycled the flowers to market just for you, and St. Germain made them into a drink and put them in a pretty bottle just for you, and your bottle is number 51,044 of the 2007 vintage.

The best way to drink St. Germain that I know of is with champagne. I did not know this until now, but when you drink this, apparently you are to drink a toast to the elegance of simplicity. Will do, mes amis. Or, add 1/4 shot freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a French 77, whereupon you are instructed to contemplate the name as you drink - why 77? Some things shall never be explained.

Lillet Blanc:
Lillet Blanc is an aperitif wine created in 1886 by two brothers. It is generally served over ice with or without soda and a twist of orange. Lillet is made of wines and fruits and there is no set recipe.

The most famous recipe calling for Lillet is the "Vesper" martini, created by Ian Fleming in the novel "Casino Royale" in which James Bond creates the drink and names it for his love of the moment, Vesper Lynd. The Vesper was to be made with Kina Lillet, which is no longer produced, so Lillet Blanc is the modern-day substitution.

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

Campari/Aperol: Campari and Aperol are fraternal twins - closely related, yet not the same.

Campari is a bitters, created by the infusion of a multitude of ingredients combined and macerated in a blend of distilled water and alcohol for several weeks. Campari, like many good alcohols, was invented a long time ago - in 1860. The recipe, also like many good alcohols, is a closely guarded secret. It is known that among the ingredients are bark, quinine,
bitter herbs, rhubarb, pomegranate, spices, ginseng, bergamot oil, and orange peel. The taste of Campari most closely resembles grapefruit to me. If you like bitter flavors (I do!) then give Campari a shot. Campari can be drunk with soda, or with grapefruit juice and soda. The classic Campari cocktail is a Negroni, a pre-dinner cocktail. (see below).

Aperol is produced by the same company as Campari, but is less bitter. Aperol was only recently imported to the United States, which is strange, since it seems to have more potential with American palates than its bitter sister. It is flavored with bitter orange, gentian root, rhubarb, and other roots and herbs, and has a low alcohol content of 11%. Where Campari evokes grapefruit, Aperol evokes oranges, a friendlier and more manageable fruit. Aperol generally drunk on its own, with soda, or with prosecco (Italian sparkling wine).

Next time you are out to dinner, especially at a carbo-loading Italian restaurant, consider an aperitif, rather than wine, beer, or cocktails, which can add a lot more to your carb count - if you worry about such things.

NEGRONI Pre dinner ( old fashioned glass )
3.0 cl Gin
3.0 cl Campari
3.0 cl Sweet Red Vermouth
Pour all ingredients directly into old fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir gently. Garnish with half orange slice and stirer.
Optional : Splash of Soda Water.

Whatever your poison , surely there is something above that will work with it. If you have no poison, then what have you been reading this for? Maybe you are curious? Give something a try - perhaps you will discover your very own philosopher's stone or elixir of life.


MMMmmmmmmmmm Chartreuse :D

It goes stupidly well with apple pucker. I'll have to see if Luxardo is at my neighborhood store.

said by sketchy at 7:15 AM Delete

What are your thoughts on benedictine? I love it, but don't know what to mix with it, if anything.

said by Demery at 7:10 PM Delete

sketchy: I have never though of Chartreuse with Pucker ... hrm. They are both similar colors! Definitely get the maraschino if you run across it. I wouldn't be without it now.

dem: The only thing I know to mix with it is brandy. That's the classic combo. (I know that from Trivial Pursuit!) Also J. says there a lot of cocktails that use it ... I could have him pull some that he likes. He's the resident bartender around here.

said by KT at 7:24 PM Delete

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