Cocktail Obsession: Hemingway in the Hebrides

 

I have a (bad) habit of conjuring up spirit flavor combinations that sound great in my head, then inflicting those ideas as off-menu request to my favorite Seattle bartenders. An entirely drinkable concoction always arrives, but every so often I hit the jackpot – a killer drink that I need to experiment more with at home. Recently I hit up Erik Hakkinen, bar maestro at Seattle’s legendary Zig Zag Café, with “Something lush… sherry… maybe some spice… and smoke!” Erik smiled, as he’s prone to do, and said, “I got this.”

What Erik created with my loosely defined request knocked my socks off, and he graciously provided the recipe, handwritten on a coaster, sans name. While incorporating all my ideas (sherry, Ancho Reyes for the spice, Islay scotch for the smoke), Erik saw what I was missing – a base flavor to bring together the flavors I’d requested. I had an “Of course!” moment when he mentioned that an apple brandy (Laird’s Bottled in Bond) was his starting point. In Erik’s creation, no one flavor dominates, and the apple, sherry, pepper spice, and smoke flavors harmonize well together.

Naming drinks is always the hard part, and Erik left that to me. Thinking about the ingredients–Spanish sherry, smoky scotch, Mexican pepper (from the Ancho Reyes) and robust apple–it seemed to me like something Ernest Hemingway would drink – robust and manly! (If I do say so myself…) All are bold flavors, strongly associated with their respective countries. Hemingway was born in the US, and traveled in Spain and Mexico, but I couldn’t find a solid reference to him traveling to Scotland. I like to think that if he’d visited, he’d have gone to Islay, home of smoky scotch, which is part of the Hebrides isles, and when he arrived at the bar, he’d have had something like this:

Hemingway in the Hebrides

  • 1.5 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy (100 proof, bottled in bond)
  • 0.75 oz Ancho Reyes
  • 0.75 oz Lustau East India Sherry (sub sweet Oloroso or PX sherry in a pinch)
  • 0.5 Laphroaig (sub other smoky Islay scotch)
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
 Stir over ice, strain into chilled coupe. Express lemon peel over drink, drop in.
Bar coaster with recipe from Erik Hakkinen, Zig Zag Cafe, Seattle
Depending on your preference for spice versus smoke, adjust the Ancho Reyes and Laphroaig ratios. A variation on the above that I found enjoyable (and a bit punchier) drops the apple brandy component down, brings up the smoke, and reduces the spice a tad.  I like to think Papa would approve.

  • 1 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy
  • 0.5 oz Ancho Reyes
  • 0.75 oz Lustau East India Sherry (sub sweet Oloroso, or PX sherry in a pinch)
  • 0.75 Laphroaig (sub other smoky Islay scotch)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir over ice, strain into chilled coupe. Express lemon peel over drink, drop in.

 

A Summer Trip to Puebla – Strawberry, Spice and Tequila!

A recent confluence of events has had me writing and thinking about fruit shrub, Ancho Reyes Chile licor, and tequila. It’s not a stretch to picture the three flavors together – Ancho Reyes and tequila come from Mexico, and at least here in the U.S., there’s a good chance your fruit did as well. If you’re not familiar with the relatively new Ancho Reyes, it’s essentially neutral cane spirits infused with chile.
The genesis of the idea for my “A Summer Trip to Puebla” cocktail (Puebla is the town where Ancho Reyes originated) was my strawberry shrub, which I blogged about previously. While searching for the next great drink idea, I had the sudden recollection that the flavors of hot spices and strawberries go well together, and that Ancho Reyes provides a nice amount of warm spice without setting your mouth on fire or rendering you prostrate.
The vinegar and sugar in the strawberry shrub do a fine job of providing the sweet and sour elements that make up so many cocktail patterns. But a cocktail with just Ancho Reyes and strawberry shrub alone is too intense for most folks. Plus, to get to the typical 2 oz of 80 proof spirit in a drink would mean 2 oz of Ancho Reyes, which is a large volume of spice.
What I needed was something that would contribute to overall alcohol content, while letting me use a more moderate amount of Ancho Reyes – augmenting the chile flavor but not competing with it. A quick scan of my bar bottles and the choice was obvious – A blanco tequila, rich with its own floral notes, and also a good companion to spicy heat. I used Cabeza, a fine mixing tequila from the 86 Company.
A Summer Trip to Puebla
Build in lowball glass, fill with crushed ice and stir to mix. Garnish with mint leaves or other fitting garnish.

Bartender! There’s Chile in my Tiki Drink (The Aztec Warrior)

The Aztec Warrior at Rob Roy, Seattle

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.