Tag Archives: Bitters

January Cocktail: Two Divas and a Play

We’ve reached Epiphany, in Finnish called ‘Loppiainen’, which traditionally ends the Christmas time and is a public holiday. In contemporary thought, by Loppiainen you should really have run through the Christmas leftovers, and started concentrating on those ‘new year, new life’ resolutions. We don’t make those. But we have had an excess of about everything during the holidays, so January’s cocktail recipe is based on what is reputed to have been the favorite digestif and cure-all of both the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II.

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Recently Laura and I have been stocking our personal bar with fun stuff,  eau-de-vie de poire being among the lot. We’ve also been experimenting with Dubonnet, trying it out in the Bijou, the Negroni and such. We also tried the classic Dubonnet Cocktail, or Zaza, as it is also known. Although it was the favorite daily tonic for a few queens, and while gin does mix with anything, Zaza, in our humble opinion, leaves something to wish for. A Bentley, for example, when using good Calva works better.

Searching for more recipes for Dubonnet, I stumbled upon a rather strange version of the Diabola on the web page of a known Swedish vodka brand. This version had gin, Dubonnet and Pear eau-de-vie (see where this is going?). I call the Swedish version strange, because the Diabola, as it appears in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book calls for gin, Dubonnet and orgeat syrup. Now neither one of these sound like they have anything to do with the Devil. The latter, possibly originally made with Old Tom or Genever, is probably very sweet and perhaps more angelic than diabolic.

I was intrigued, however, by the idea of mixing Dubonnet and the pear brandy. I was also fixated on the name the creator had chosen for the drink. For the while I thought I was making a Diabola with a twist. I wanted to add something to the mix that would make it more devilish in taste.

So I went through our bitters and our spices, and thought of introducing chili in to the mix, but luckily decided against it. I also discarded bitters, since I didn’t really want to introduce more flavors or destroy the balance between the pear and dubonnet – I rather wanted to find something to tie them together. I was getting the feeling that I was looking for something specific – I could almost taste it, but couldn’t quite grasp what it was. That is, until I picked up an empty bag of allspice. I knew I wanted to use pepper. But black pepper would be too strong, white would not work either, and rosepepper would introduce too much flavor. At last I picked up a bag of green peppers, the one variety I have the least experience of. The aroma was rich but not overpowering, and the taste was rather fine, almost non-existent.

As I started making the drink, I realised I was not making a Diabola at all – losing the orgeat syrup kind of takes us back to Zaza. So, while making this seasoned Zaza, I started wondering about the name Zaza (I was having a very name oriented day!) and it’s possible origins. What I discovered was two American actresses and one play. The actresses were Mrs. Leslie Carter, known as the ‘Sarah Bernhardt of the US‘, and Claudette Colbert, once the highest paid actress in Hollywood and the leading lady of Paramount for two decades. And the play? Zaza, a story of a prostitute who becomes a music hall entertainer and the mistress of a married man. The play was written in 1890s by the French playwrights Pierre Berton and Jules Simon, and made in to an opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo two years later.

At this point I knew I was absolutely making a Zaza, in homage to the ladies Carter, Colbert and Zaza and the music halls and cabarets of Paris.

♦Pear’n’Pepper Zaza♦

1 part gin (Laura prefers Seagram’s)
2 parts Dubonnet Rouge
A generous dash of G.E. Massenez Poire Williams
Crushed green pepper pods

Place a few uncrushed pepper pods at the bottom of a chilled coupé glass. Stir the drink with ice and strain in to the glass.

Don’t bother double straining – the few crushed peppers that might end up in the glass just add to the taste. Also, don’t overdo the pepper – you want to create a strong spicy scent, but you don’t want the drink to become unpleasantly ‘hot’ or peppery.

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November Cocktail: Hindenburg cocktail, or Pauline’s cherry lips

Here is our cock-tale for November. Follow the links to the story, or if you’re impatient,  just skip to the recipe and pictures below.

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Not the Hindenburg actually, but Graf Zeppelin, hovering over our home city Helsinki in 1930, unable to land due to weather conditions.

As a bartender, I would never want to be in the situation in which Max Schulze found himself during the maiden voyage of the Zeppelin Hindenburg – you see, his bar ran out of Gin. While Max was most probably cursing the American passengers who seemed never to have heard of “rationing”, Pauline Charteris came up, true to the fashion of American alc… cocktail aficionados, with an alternate solution. She’d tasted some Kirschwasser on her trip to Germany, and found it somewhat more agreeable than the cheap American gins of the Prohibition*. “Why not substitute Kirsch for Gin”, said Pauline to her hubby. To which his husband replied, “Really now, darling? That’s as absurd as The Saint going to appear in moving pictures.”

The original recipe of Pauline’s Kirschwasser cocktail is now lost to history, along with many of the other recipes from the Hindenburg. As a given, the concoction, designed specifically to replace dry martini on board, probably had Kirschwasser and Vermouth in it. The rest is up to imagination. The German opus “Der Mixologist” by Carl A. Seutter gives a recipe for the Imperial Cocktail (gin, dry vermouth, maraschino) with no gin, but with a few dashes of absinthe included. The Imperial Cocktail has no Kirsch in it, though, and there’s no saying if Schultze was actually familiar with Seutters’ book.

At first, we intended to do a serious historical study, but in the end we discarded this idea – for a better one. Airships.net has made a very reasonable version of Charteris’ drink, calling for only kirsch, vermouth and a dash of grenadine for sweetness. On board the aircraft, with a limited supply, the drink might have been quite as simple as that. But maybe, just maybe, after the voyage Max Schultze went home, and decided there’s more to be had from Pauline’s suggestion**. Maybe he mixed the idea of a Kirsch Martini with a recipe he remembered reading a decade back in a German cocktail book? And maybe while sipping this new cocktail he reminisced on a brief brushing together of lips one night at the Hindenburg’s bar…

And that is where we stop with counterfactual history and get back to the present day. Some time ago, not quite happy with any of the commercially produced orange bitters,  Jere made a batch of his own ***, and of course, the difference is like night and day. We wanted to create a recipe to which we could incorporate the self-made bitters, and as we’d been playing around with the idea of the Hindenburg drink, we decided to combine the two. We completely discarded the “dry martini” approach, and tried to find out what would really go well together with the Kirsch. Here’s what we came up with; enjoy.

P.s. For this recipe and many other things, we’d like to thank Dan Grossman, an American aviation specialist – check out his wonderful site about the Hindenburg and Zeppelins in general. Thanks Dan, you’re super and we hope you get to read this!

♦Pauline’s Cherry Lips♦

A jigger (50 ml) of Kirschwasser
A barspoon of dry Vermouth
2 barspoons each of Absinthe and Maraschino liqueur
A dash of orange bitters
Two dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
Maraschino cherry or lemon peel for garnish

Stir and strain in to a cocktail glass.

There are a few things to consider with this drink:
1.) There is a great difference between using lemon peel or cherry for garnish. Both are to be placed in the glass, and the maraschino cherry must not be rinsed.
2.) You could substitute the Maraschino liqueur for Maraschino syrup, in which case definitely use lemon peel for garnish and only one spoonful of maraschino syrup.
3.) If using a less aromatic type of orange bitters, consider two to three dashes. The two dashes of Peychaud’s highlight the absinthe, but also give the drink a beautiful cherry hue.

*In fact, by 1936 many brands had already opened distilleries in the US.

**After about a month of making the drink for the first time, and a few days from writing this post I found out about the Tuxedo Cocktail No.2, featured in the Savoy Cocktail Book. Ironically, the Tuxedo No.2 is very much like Pauline, but instead of Kirsch it has Gin (and no Peychaud’s). There is also the Turf Club Cocktail in the Savoy book, and the difference is that Tuxedo uses London dry gin, whereas the Turf Club calls for Plymouth gin and a few dashes more of absinthe and maraschino. It’s possible that Schulze knew either of these recipes, and made use of them with the Kirschwasser cocktail.

***There is no exact recipe for the orange bitters I made. The most notable features are, that counter to common practice I used no gentian root or extract but there’s some dried sage in it, there’s the peel of about one lemon to three of oranges, and the base spirit is not clear grain alcohol but overproof rum. The choice of spices makes it more an amalgam of aromatic and orange bitters, with a pronounced “bottom”, due to use of rum, a bit of cinnamon and the sage. During the holidays I’ll make another batch and fine tune the recipe. -Jere

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