Monday, February 28, 2011

Winners and Losers

Having made a lot of hard cider that doesn't measure up to our admittedly lax standards, we've become increasingly interested in mixology. We weren't really cocktail people, tending to stick to single-alcohol beverages like beer, wine, cider, or single-malt scotch. Between needing to find a way to make our also-ran ciders more palatable and living near a town that has some spectacular bartenders (I'm looking at you Sean), we have been won over.

Something old: Sazerac--the classic New Orleans cocktail and Jim's drink of choice at Zambra
Something new:  No one cocktail comes to mind, but we're enjoying many of the drinks based on the new liqueurs that are coming on the market: St. Germain (elderflower), Canton (ginger), and Pama (pomegranate)
Something borrowed: the Dark and Stormy--The Admiral (Asheville's spectacular gastro dive) put their spin on this Commonwealth drink with their homemade ginger beer and Cruzan's Blackstrap Rum
Something blue: The Blue Hour--Alison loves Zambra's ginger beer, gin, mint, and lime combo

Anyone notice a ginger theme here? Can't get enough ginger--raw, cooked, candied, or booze-ified.

So, when we opened a bottle of last year's cider and it didn't have much flavor, we turned to Cruzan's Blackstrap. I never was a big fan of rum, but I've learned its value in mixed drinks. Being a huge fan of molasses, just getting a whiff of this stuff upon opening the bottle made me want to drink it straight. I had high hopes for it adding just the right level of interest and sweetness to our slightly tart, dry cider.

Before on the left and after on the right. In a word, fail. The flavor was a little more interesting but still too tart. We've had this problem before: adding sweet to tart just makes the tart more pronounced. Someone could probably explain the chemistry behind this counterintuitive outcome but not me. Adding bourbon or brandy usually works but we were over it at this stage. As a lightweight and a cheapskate, I'm not going to waste my limited capacity for drinking and my good booze by continuing to test further combinations. Boo.

That unhappy experiment was countered by a huge win with yet another successful drink recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit. Although the March issue seemed a bit late for promoting a warm drink (where was this in December when we were freezing????), I had to try Chinese Five-Spice Mulled Wine as soon as I saw it. I've loved mulled wine ever since I was handed a mug of the stuff along with a miniature mincemeat pie just for walking into a shop in London at Christmastime. Still, I'm not that good at making it. Getting the balance of sweetness right so that it still tastes like wine but without a nasty edge takes some talent or knowhow that I lack. I have similar problems with Sangria (still haven't found a recipe I like). Plus, the recipes always want you to throw in some orange slices or orange peel which I never have just lying around. Bon Appetit to the rescue.

Despite taking a flyer on a cheap bottle of Zinfandel that was not so nice to drink, the results were spectacular. The combination of wine, ruby port, and brandy gave the drink a wonderful smooth and full mouthfeel while the spice combo of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel seeds, and peppercorns lent a flavor that delighted without overwhelming. A little simple syrup holds everything together. Maybe that's what we needed for the cider, too. Maybe next time, but right now, I'm hoping for a little more cool weather so we can enjoy another batch of Chinese Five-Spice Mulled Wine before next winter.


  1. mmmm. That Blue Hour sounds tasty.

  2. It's 9 am in Chicago. Never before have I yearned for alcohol at this hour. Thanks for the inspiration (I think)...xx