Czeching out Oddball Tiki – Punchy’s First Strike, The Strike Two, and Becherovka

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.

Becherovka

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:

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.

Going Deeper with Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, and Dutch rum powerhouse E&A Scheer

I recently did a post about three Dutch rums, including the new Denizen’s Merchant’s Reserve, a blend of aged Jamaican and Martinique rums. The Merchant’s Reserve has a bit of buzz around it from Tiki wonks as it’s been promoted as being a good facsimile of the rum used to make the original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai back in the 1940s and 1950s. After acquiring my bottle of the Merchant’s Reserve, trying it out, and reading as much as I could find online, I still had questions beyond what I was finding. I emailed the founder of Denizen Rum and he graciously agreed to talk with me in more detail about the Denizen Rums.

Continue reading “Going Deeper with Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, and Dutch rum powerhouse E&A Scheer”

Talking Rum with Erik Carlson and House Spirits’ Bridgetown Rum

House Spirits of Portland, Oregon is dipping their toes into the rum pool with their new Bridgetown rum, part of their limited release, small batch series. House Spirits has made a name for themselves with their Aviation Gin, Westward malt whiskey, and other releases. To help define the character of the rum they partnered with Erik Carlson, the bar manager at Stoneburner and Bastille, and one of Seattle’s better known craft bartenders. Having studied Erik’s cocktail list at Stoneburner, I can tell he’s passionate about tropical style drinks, although certainly not limited to them. Thus he was a natural choice to work with House Spirits team, which he did over a number of sampling sessions.

Having attended the Bridgetown Rum launch party at Bastille, I was sufficiently intrigued to acquire a bottle and chat with Erik during a visit to the bar at Stoneburner. The Bridgetown name is a nod to the capital of Barbados, considered the birthplace of rum and home to Mount Gay, Foursquare, Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey rums. Bridgetown also alludes to the bridges between Ballard (a Seattle neighborhood) where Erik lives and Portland, about 170 miles south, where House Spirits is located.

Erik described to me the details of Bridgetown rum making process. It starts with “Barbados style” molasses, which is unsulphered, baking grade molasses and is fermented with Guadeloupe yeast strains. After double distillation in copper pot stills, 80% of the distillate is aged for six months in used House Spirits Westward whiskey barrels. The other 20% is aged for 3 months in New #2 char American Oak barrels before the two parts are brought back together. For the flavor profile, Erik targeted a mixing rum that merged his three favorite styles:

  • Agricole – Straw, grass and sugar cane
  • Jamaican – Funk, molasses, baking spices
  • Barbados – Ripe fruit, vanilla, butterscotch

In its substantial, individually numbered bottle, the Bridgetown’s color is a light-to-medium gold. Although intended as a mixing rum I first nosed and sipped it neat. There’s an initial enticing hint of Smith & Cross style Jamaican funk. This quickly turns to a bit of moderate burn and tails off to a woody finish. Yes, the Bridgetown is not a sipper. Instead, its flavor profile is more attuned to cocktails where the blend of rum styles is an asset. To me, the agricole and Jamaican notes are equally present, with the Barbados a bit less evident.

The obvious choice for testing out a rum like this is the Daiquiri. However, to mix it up a bit I went with a variation of the Daiquiri’s slightly more sophisticated cousin, the Royal Bermuda Yacht club:

Royal Bridgetown Yacht Club

  • 2 oz House Spirits Bridgetown Rum
  • ½ oz lime juice
  • ¼ oz Dry Curacao
  • ¼ oz Falernum
  • ¼ oz simple syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled coupe.

In cocktails the Bridgetown holds its own but plays well with others like a good mixing rum should.  It’s nice to see that the Bridgetown rum is further expanding flavor dimensions of rums from craft distilleries along the West Coast of the US.

Power Tools for the Home Bar Wonk

I’ve realized recently that within the mixology world there are two tribes: The professionals who work at a bar and passionate amateurs, the “home bartenders”. Most experience with spirits and technique are shared by both tribes. I’m firmly on the home bartender side but I can converse with expert bartenders about many topics. When it comes to creating drinks at scale however, thinks are very different. A professional bartender needs to quickly make many drinks quickly, so the bar is set up for that. Ice is an arm’s length away, ingredients such as fresh lime juice are prepped beforehand and in easy-pour bottles, and dedicated rinsing devices speed up the turnaround time on each cocktail.

When I watch my professional friends behind the bar I wish I had those sort of conveniences. However, without dedicating a fairly large amount of space and money, I know it’s not feasible in my home bar. The space I have is roughly six feet by five feet, but I’ve packed in a few essential “power tools” which raise my cocktail making ability several notches above the guy with an ice cube tray, a lime and a couple of tumblers.

Here are my essential power tools:

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Lost Spirits Distillery’s new Polynesian Inspired Rum, and a Polynesian Paralysis variation

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.

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

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.