Sometimes you come across a cocktail recipe and think: “How on earth does this work?” Such was the case with the Punchy’s First Strike, a cocktail originating at Tavern Road in Boston. The recipe goes like this:
Punchy’s First Strike (Tavern Road, Boston)
.75 oz Cherry Heering
.75 oz Clement Créole Shrubb
.25 oz Allspice Dram.
.75 oz Becherovka
.75 oz lemon
Dry shake, pour over crushed ice in a double old-fashioned glass.
Garnish with 5 dashes of Peychaud’s.
Based on the ingredients, this recipe at first seems like it’s following the Tiki pattern – Cherry Heering and Allspice Dram are frequently used in Tiki drinks. The Clement Creole Shrubb is a rum-based orange liqueur from Martinique, similar in flavor, sweetness and proof to Grand Marnier. And while lime is usually used as the sour component in Tiki, lemon is the second most common citrus choice.
Yes, this is certainly starts out like a Tiki concoction – Just add a couple ounces of rum and we’re off to the islands. Except…. What’s this Becherovka? This isn’t rum! In fact, Becherovka is nowhere close to rum. Becherovka is a 76 proof herbal-bitter spirit from Czechoslovakia, made from a secret recipe of 20 spices and only the finest water with impeccable credentials, if you believe Becherovka’s marketing.
While Becherovka is labeled as a bitter, the bitters category is very broad. For instance, Campari and Jagermeister are both bitters. Campari and Montenegro with their strong citrus elements are on the opposite end of the taste spectrum from the central European kräuterlikörs such Jagermeister, Becherovka and Kuemmerling. To my palate, Becherovka is bracing and makes me think of Aqua Velva after-shave, but with nice touch of Christmas-y cinnamon warmth. I’m probably not selling the Becherovka well right now, but if you like other strong, bold bitters, you should grab a bottle. You could sip Becherovka but I prefer it for mixing in cocktails. The Cocktail Wonk never endorses shots, so put that idea out your head right now.
Back to our recipe – We have nearly a classic Tiki recipe, except that we’ve replaced rum with an herbal, after-shavey Czech spirit. Believe it or not, the end result is magical. The herbal bitters balance out the sweet orange and cherry components. While a ¼ ounce of Allspice dram can sometimes overwhelm a drink with clove, in the Punchy’s First strike the Allspice Dram plays nicely with others. At Tavern Road, the bartender told me they set out to create an “Adult Hawaiian Punch.” From that perspective the recipe really works – A little on the sweet side without going overboard. If you’ve ever needed an excuse to buy Becherovka this drink is a perfect reason. And if you decide to not go the Becherovka route, keep reading for a non-Becherovka variation.
When making this drink don’t skip or skimp on the Peychaud’s bitters. Use five healthy dashes at the end after the drink is ready to go in a full glass of crushed ice. It gives the drink a dramatic look, and if you don’t immediately stir it the Peychaud’s stays on top till you’ve consumed most of the drink, after which you get a nice uptick of flavor as you draw out the last few sips.
Lately I’ve been tinkering with the bones of this recipe to make something else a bit different. My efforts have focused on switching out the Becherovka for something else interesting using a bit more mainstream ingredient. The key thing I wanted to retail while replacing the Becherovka was the warm, spicy, Christmas-like element.
My first stab was to use Chairman’s Reserve Spiced rum as it has a lovely cinnamon-forward spice flavor that I thought would work well. However, with only ¾ oz of the Chairman’s Reserve the spice got lost in the orange and Cherry Heering Flavors. Next, I tried Fernet Branca as the stand in for Becherovka. If you’re down with the mouth-full-o-wintergreen-lifesavers aspect of Fernet Branca, it’s interesting but not as accessible as when using Becherovka.
Experimenting – Punchy’s First Strike at left, Fernet Branca version at right.
Finally, after one last futile scan of my liquor inventory, it hit me – A good Becherovka replacement is already in the drink! The five dashes of Peychaud’s bitters as a garnish on top are nice, but using a full ¾ ounce of Peychauds in place of Becherovka makes the drink outstanding. At 70 proof, Peychaud’s is roughly the same strength as the Becherovka and equally as bitter. It also has the pleasant cinnamon/nutmeg essence that I like about Becherovka.
Bitter, sweet, and very, very red! I’ve dubbed my version the Strike Two:
.75 oz Cherry Heering
.75 oz Clement Créole Shrubb
.75 oz Peychaud’s Bitters
.25 oz Allspice Dram.
.75 oz lemon
Dry shake, pour over crushed ice in a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon slice.
Having recently gotten my hands on the Polynesian Inspired rum from Lost Spirits Distillery, I’ve been test driving it and comparing it to their first rum, Navy Style. I’ve written about Lost Spirits quite a bit already, and have chatted with Bryan quite a bit about his process, including him giving me a custom presentation of his talk from the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance. With the context of my previous post (highly suggested background reading) I can better describe the differences between the two rums. I’ll end with a few other interesting anecdotes about Lost Spirits Distillery that Bryan shared.
Polynesian Inspired Rum
Coming in at 132 proof, the Polynesian Inspired rum is a take-no-prisoners powerhouse of a rum. Starting with the label, there are obvious stylistic similarities between the Polynesian and the Navy rums. The Polynesian label is essentially the Navy label’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ships and skulls replaced with Maori and Easter Island elements, and a color change. The fonts and other decorative details remain essentially the same.
The rum’s hue is a solid medium-to-dark gold, but compared to its Navy Style stable mate is noticeably lighter in color. On the nose both rums start with a similar strong, pleasing molasses element but eventually go in different directions, the Polynesian finishing a bit lighter and fruitier. This isn’t an accident. When deciding what the Polynesian should be, Bryan accented the pineapple aspect since it’s an essential Polynesian flavor.
In my prior post about Lost Spirits, I covered the seven ways that flavor can be controlled via science. The sixth step I mentioned is barrel aging, which is where the simpler fruit and spicy smelling esters get merged into the longer chained honey esters. In that post, I described how the ester Ethyl Butyrate has a strong pineapple smell. Given that you want a rum with a strong pineapple element it’s reasonable that you’d want to minimize the transformation of this ester into other esters. Bryan accomplishes this by using a different barrel preparation that minimizes the amount of phenols that convert the short chain esters (fruity) into long chain esters (honey). In addition, the amount of rancio, the nutty smell described in step 7 of my earlier post is dialed down considerably. Up to the barrel aging step though, the Navy Style and Polynesian Inspired rums are essentially the same.
On the palate, assuming you’re up to sipping 132 proof rum, the Polynesian is much like you’d expect given the nose – A strong molasses flavor that turns to pineapple and butterscotch. Bryan says with a few drops of water it turns into a “pineapple bomb” and I can attest to that.
A few days after my bottle arrived, Jason Alexander of Tacoma Cabana and I sat together and tasted the Polynesian together. Jason, with his encyclopedic Tiki knowledge immediately thought it would work well in a Polynesian Paralysis variation. A few days later he sent me his recipe:
Polynesian Paralysis – Jason Alexander Variation • 3/4oz pineapple • 3/4oz lemon • 3/4oz Lilikoi juice (sub passion fruit syrup) • 1/2oz orgeat • 1/2oz falernum • 1/2oz Okolehao (A Hawaiian spirit, sub bourbon if not available.) • 2oz Lost Spirits Polynesian Rum
Flash blend with about a cup of ice
Lost Spirits – Diving Deeper
Beyond just getting a custom presentation of the Bryan’s Rum Renaissance presentation, I interjected a number of questions that veered off into other interesting topics. First and foremost, I was surprised to learn that Lost Spirits has a number of patents filed on his processes, and that Bryan licenses technology and consults for major distillers. In a sense Lost Spirits Distillery is his laboratory where he gets to do all sorts of fun experiments without needing the distillery to make a certain amount of money to stay afloat.
Lost Spirits first came out with a series of whiskeys including three different Leviathan releases and an Umami release. The distillery continues to age more whiskey stock and they have plenty of back orders, so naturally the question is “Why make a rum?” The initial reason Bryan and Joanne Haruta, his business partner started making rum was to season their whiskey barrels. Over time they found themselves enjoying the rum quite a bit and they decided to sell it. These days they find themselves focusing more and more on the rum side of things. Bryan says one reason for focusing on rum is that high end whiskey buyers typically buy just a bottle or two and add it to their 600 bottle collection whereas serious rum lovers will buy and consume multiple bottles over time.
As we now know, Cuban is the next rum style coming from Lost Spirits. However Bryan also mentioned an interest in doing a “Jamaican ester bomb” which I immediately endorsed with all available enthusiasm. But don’t expect a clone of Jamaican dunder rum, as one of the central elements of Jamaican dunder is clostridium saccharobutyricum which grows optimally in the soil surrounding the dunder pit. Bryan grows his “dunder” in five gallon plastic buckets that are controlled with lab grown bacterias, and thus he has the freedom to control the bacteria, tailoring it to the flavor profile he wants. In Jamaica, dunder pits aren’t such a big deal at the distilleries. In Monterey County, CA a bacteria pit is out of the question as it might create some serious problems with the health inspector.
When deciding what style of rum to make, here’s the Lost Spirits process: • Design a really cool label • Based on the label, envision what the rum tastes like • Do the science to produce a rum with that flavor profile.
In my post on Lost Spirits Navy Style rum, I said “You can easily imagine a pirate drinking it in the 1700s.” Thus, it delighted me then when Bryan recounted that they watched Pirates of the Caribbean approximately 40 times when deciding what the Navy Style should taste like.
For the Polynesian, Bryan set out to make a rum that’s perfect for all sorts of Tiki drinks. Another reason for doing the Polynesian rum is to show that the notion of molasses “terroir” isn’t nearly as important as some believe. Starting with the same ingredients and by tweaking just a few processes, Lost Spirits Distillery has created two largely different rums, and a third rum, the soon to be available Cuban style, should further prove this point.
Recently I had the good fortune to be at Rob Roy in Seattle on a night that Brady Sprouse was tending bar. I’ve enjoyed Brady’s previous work at Smith and have wonked out on a few occasions with him about craft cocktail ingredients and such. After the abnormally busy Thursday night crowd died down I asked Brady to make me something off-menu and of his choosing. What he delivered to me was a mezcal-based Old Fashioned variation that included Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur.
Ancho Reyes is a relatively new spirit from Mexico, flavored primarily by the ancho chile. Up till this point I’d never tried it so Brady offered me a small sample of it, neat. I anticipated that it was going to be fairly spicy but I was pleasantly surprised when it had a mild to medium heat and enough sweet and other spice elements to make it easily sippable.
As I nursed my drink, the thought “Hey, this might be interesting in Tiki!” popped into my head. I mentioned this off-handedly to Brady and he immediately replied “I’ve got an interesting idea along those lines if you’re willing to try it.” Never one to forego mixological experimentation I said “Sure!”
Brady went to work with his magical bottles, and other then a quick dash of Smith and Cross at the end, I saw no rum appear. What he eventually set in front of me had the full on Tiki mug treatment, so that was encouraging. I naturally asked about the ingredients and was most surprised that he used the Ancho Reyes as a base spirit. Turning back to the Ancho bottle in front of me, I saw it was indeed 80 proof, and subsequent research shows that the primary ingredient is “neutral cane spirits”, which I’m going to call close enough to rum for this discussion.
Finally taking a sip, a smile crossed my face. The chile spice is definitely present but doesn’t dominate and it’s unquestionably a tiki-style drink. Brady was nice enough to jot down the recipe, which he quickly dubbed the “Aztec Warrior.” If you’re a tiki-wonk you’ll notice a certainly similarity to the Jet Pilot, one of the house specialties at Casa CocktailWonk. The primary difference between the Aztec Warrior and the Jet Pilot are that the rums are swapped out for Ancho Reyes and Batavia Arrack.
Aztec Warrior (Brady Sprouse)
1.5 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Licor
.5 oz Batavia Arrack
.5 oz rich cinnamon syrup
.5 oz Falernum (Use alcohol-based, house made, rather than Velvet Falernum)
.75 oz grapefruit
.75 oz lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
.25 oz Smith and Cross (for the float)
Combine everything except the Smith & Cross. Shake, pour over crushed ice. Float the Smith & Cross, then garnish with a dash of Angostura Bitters and whatever Tiki-like garnish you like.
I started this past week with no Dutch rum in my collection and ended it proudly possessing three very different bottles from the Netherlands, each with a great story to tell. Wait – rum from the Netherlands you may be thinking? It’s not a big stretch to associate the Dutch with rum given that they had a long history of colonization in the Caribbean during the 1600s right alongside the English.
When Mrs. CocktailWonk told me she was headed to Germany and Amsterdam for a work trip I immediately started researching what sort of goodies she could bring back that I can’t easily get here in the United States. I got some great advice from the fellow members of the Ministry of Rum Facebook page and assembled a “Things to look for” guide for her. After getting a pointer from the bartender at Door 74 in Amsterdam, she went to Le Cellier in Amsterdam where she was able to reach me by phone – She read bottle labels to me while I rapidly researched what she was finding. Among the finds were two unique rums.
First up is the Zuidam Flying Dutchman Dark Rum No. 3. Zuidam is an artisanal distillery in the Netherlands that produces a prodigious number of different spirits, including genever, whiskey, rum, and liqueurs. Seriously, check out their product line on the website – They make every other distillery look like slackers. There are two Flying Dutchman rums – No. 1 is a white rum while No. 3 has been aged for a minimum of 3 years. I can’t rave enough about the Flying Dutchman. The bottle is absolutely stunning – I can’t stop picking it up and admiring it. As for the rum, it’s tripled distilled, then aged for a minimum of three year in (quoting the label): “Olorosso Sherry, PX casks, and new American oak.” An interesting choice to go with New American Oak. The taste is sublime – It reminds me strongly of cognac. Not overly sweet, this is a fantastic sipper for rum wonks who are past their Zaya phase. At about 25 Euros, this rum is a total steal. Buy as much as you can when you see it.
Next is the Tres Hombres XV Anos, Republica Dominicana ed 05 2013. The Tres Hombres story is that of three men who make yearly visits to the Caribbean on their boat, seek out interesting rums, and then bring the rum back to the Netherlands on a long sea voyage. The ship is an old German wooden fishing ship that the three Tres Hombres converted into a square-rigged sailing cargo vessel with no engine. Without and engine the journey of the rum from the Dominican Republic to the Netherlands took five months. Part of the claim is that the months at sea, with the rum sloshing around in the barrels, adds to its character. I’m still trying to figure out if what happens to the rum once it reaches the Netherlands – Is it simply bottled or does more happen?
Each year Tres Hombres puts out a different rum. For my bottle, edition 5, the rum originated in the Dominican Republic from Oliver and Oliver Internancional, a distillery who’s products aren’t readily available directly in the US. However, Oliver and Oliver also sell rum to other companies that rum wonks have likely heard of including Atlantico and Vizcaya. The rum has been aged for 15 year using the solera method. While not quite as sweet as Vizcaya or Ron Zacapa, the XV Anos has a dark, mellow character that reminds me of them. At 65 Euros the XV Anos a bit expensive but still a fairly good value given the character of the rum and the story behind it. If you’re a rum collector and you see this bottle, grab it.
My final Dutch rum arrived via FedEx rather than thanks to Mrs. CocktailWonk. Denizen is a Dutch rum blender that up till now has been known for their white rum, a blend of rums from Jamaica and Trinidad, both well-known rum origination points. More recently, Denizen has released their “Merchant’s Reserve” rum, which has caused quite a stir among tiki-aficionados. The Merchant’s reserve is a mixture of Jamaican and Martinique rums, aged for eight years. The Jamaican portion is a blend of Plummer pot stilled rum from “Worthy Park, Hampden, New Yarmouth, and Clarendon”. This may mean nothing to most folks, but as someone who worships at the altar of Jamaican Funk and Smith & Cross rum, I couldn’t be happier to read those words. The martinique rum component is unusual in that it’s not an agricole style, which is usually what people think of when they think of Martinique rums.
The reason Denizen Merchant’s Reserve has attracted tiki-wonk attention is that beyond just the funk, it’s said that the Jamaican and Martinique rum blend was picked to replicate the holy grail of Tiki rums, Wray & Nephew 17, which the Trader Vic’s 1944 Mai Tai calls for and which hasn’t been available for decades. Once my Merchant’s Reserve arrived I immediately set out to create the 1944 Mai Tai as faithfully as I could.
Pretty close to an original 1944 Trader Vic’s Mai Tai
CocktailWonk’s Pretty Darn Close 1944 Mai Tai 1 oz Denizen Merchant’s Reserve 1 oz Clement VSOP Agricole .5 oz Clement Creole Shrubb .5 oz Small Hand Foods Orgeat 1 oz Lime juice
From what I’ve read, the Jamaican funk esters don’t stand up terribly well to long aging – Smith & Cross is a fairly young rum. The Merchant’s Reserve at 8 years has definite funkiness similarities to the Smith & Cross but it’s more subtle. On the other hand, with the additional aging the Denizen is smoother. I can happily sip or mix this rum. It’s not what I’d serve to somebody as their introduction to rum and it’s not particularly sweet, but if you enjoy the many different incarnations of rum, or if Tiki authenticity is important to you (and it should be) grab a bottle or two of the Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. It’s starting to roll out in the US, and at $30 it’s a solid addition to your rum collection. The blog “A Mountain of Crushed Ice” has a nice review with even more background on it.
One day as Jason Alexander and I were doing our usual Facebook chatting about all topics rum and Tiki, we were both lamenting that with 70 years of history and a well-established set of ingredients, it can be difficult to really innovate in the Tiki space. Sure it’s fun to make classics and tweak things with latest rums, spices and syrups, but sometimes you just want a new flavor “toy”.
Falernum is a canonical Tiki ingredient and it’s a grab bag of flavors – Clove, lime, ginger, and almond are the basics, plus lord knows what else people add to their homemade concoctions. Yes, falernum seems like a ripe place to introduce a new flavor element. I’ve long thought that the flavor of coffee fits well within the flavor profiles of other Tiki ingredients – strong and spicy. Think allspice dram, cinnamon syrup, vanilla, and so forth. While coffee flavors occasionally show up in Tiki recipes, those recipes are relatively rare in the canon of Tiki recipes.
Although it might seem odd at first, adding coffee flavor to the falernum stew makes sense. All the traditional falernum ingredients, as well as coffee are found in the Caribbean; Jamaica is famous for its Blue Mountain coffee beans. And while coffee is a strong flavor that might ordinarily dominate some infusions, clove, ginger and lime are no slackers in the strong flavor category either. With that in mind, Jason and I decided to try making a falernum with coffee and immediately realized we had different ideas about to achieve it.
In the context of Tiki and syrups, coffee is unusual in that its flavor essence is easily extracted by water, and we have a long history of doing so. This was the approach Jason thought of – Make a strong espresso and mix it with sugar to make a strong coffee syrup that’s then added to the infused rum component in place of the normal 2:1 simple syrup. My thought was to treat the coffee like the clove, ginger and lime peels – grind it and add it to the rum base to let the alcohol do the flavor extraction.
As I write this, Jason has his Coffee-Falernum ready and has been using it at the Tacoma Cabana. My rum infusion is still brewing, and tomorrow I’ll finish it off before taking it down to Tacoma where Jason and I will compare/contrast the flavor. If either or both of them pass muster, I’ll update this post with the results and recipes.
Update – 6/8/14
Jason and I tasted the falernums down at Tacoma Cabana last night. We both agreed that Jason’s turned out a little bitter, but this wasn’t due to the coffee itself. We both attributed it to the lime peel, with backing evidence from Jason’s normal falernum. When he made his coffee falernum, he simply set aside a small amount of the rum brew to mix with the espresso syrup. Jason’s going to continue experimenting with his method however.
I was pretty happy with my falernum, although the coffee element was stronger than I’d hoped for. About 2 seconds after adding the coffee to the rum brew I wished I’d added less ground coffee. Nonetheless, the final result showed promise. You get the coffee taste up front for a few seconds but it then rapidly segues to the traditional falernum flavors (lime, ginger, clove). In my recipe below I’ve reduced the amount of ground coffee to bring down the initial coffee flavor dominance.
40 whole cloves
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup fresh ground coffee
8 oz Wray & Nephew White Overproof rum
Zest of 5 small limes (reduce if bigger limes)
3/4 oz sliced raw ginger
2 cups white sugar
1 cup water
Crush the cloves, then toast the cloves and almonds on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil in an oven at 325 degrees for ~5 minutes.
Let cloves/almonds cool before adding them and the ground coffee to the rum in a sealable jar to form a brew. Let sit for 24 hours.
Add the lime and ginger to the brew. Let sit for another 24 hours.
Prepare the 2:1 simple syrup with the sugar and water.
Strain the rum brew through cheesecloth or other fine filter into the simple syrup. Stir well.
After the taste testing, Jason made two Castaways, one with his falernum, the other with mine. The one using mine was quite tasty – I’ll be making that one at home.
With Mrs CocktailWonk off in Europe this week touring faucet factories and perusing liquor stores on my behalf, I’ve been catching up on some quality bar time around Seattle. However I’d been ignoring my home bar and by Friday I was feeling some homemade Tiki was in order (surprise!) but with an upcoming visit to Tacoma Cabana in my very near future, I knew the rum bases were covered. I’ve always considered rum and tequila to be kindred spirits and I enjoy a hearty, smoky mescal nearly as much as an ultra-funky Jamaican rum. My mind went to the Zombie and the wheels started to turn.
The short version of the Zombie recipe is multiple rums, Apricot Liqueur, pineapple and lime juice. My goal was to replace them with ingredients more associated with Mexico while keeping it balanced and hewing to the Zombie pattern, and I’m pretty happy with the results:
South of the Border Zombie
South of the Border Zombie
1oz Cabeza (blanco tequila)
1oz Sombra mescal
1oz Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal
Shake, pour over crushed ice in a chilled glass. Liberally dash Peychaud’s bitter over the top of the ice.
The Cabeza is a good quality blanco tequila, singing background to the other players here. The Sombra provides a healthy dose of mezcal smokiness. To me, it’s the mescal equivalent of Smith and Cross rum.
The Crema de Mezcal bears special note here – It’s not a regular mescal. Rather, it’s 90% mescal, and 10% agave syrup so it’s much sweeter than a mescal. It’s fantastic to sip straight or simply add a bit of lime juice and you’ve got something akin to a smoky margarita. I relied on the Crema de Mezcal sweetness to help balance out the sour from the lime, so factor that in if you substitute for it.
For the pineapple juice component of a Zombie, I used grapefruit juice like the Paloma, another well-known Mexican drink. Grapefruit juice isn’t as sweet as pineapple juice, but the Crema de Mezcal helps to bring up the overall sweetness. Lastly, the Damiana replaces the Zombie’s apricot liqueur. Damiana is a Mexican herbal liqueur flavored primarily from the Damiana tea leaf. It falls into the same herbal flavor category as spirits like chartreuse or Benedictine, and is moderately sweet in its own right.
The South of the Border Zombie is well balanced and with four different spirits, packs a punch like the original Zombie. You get a dose of smokiness but it’s not overwhelming. It’s not overly sweet, and some people might enjoy it with a touch more Crema de Mezcal or simple syrup to up the sweet to sour ratio.