Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spiced Cocktails

Monica Bhide's blog, A Life of Spice, is one of my favorites, and has frequently inspired others of my posts (such as the particularly influential experiments with garam masala.) This month, she is hosting a contest for cocktails incorporating spices, so I have not only felt compelled to participate, but to rope in the creative concoctions of my spouse Will as well.

Will's tendency straight away was toward a coffee-based drink, heavy on the chile peppers. We went back and forth on this, me arguing that "cocktails" specifically refer to a type of drink that would not be found to include coffee, while he posits that the intention of the contest is simply to encourage the use of spices in interesting beverages perhaps including alcohol. Looking at some of the other submissions to the contest thus-far, I see others that are based on coffee, but I had already urged Will in another direction for his recipe.

Another internal debate about the intentions of the contest revolved around the distinction of "spices" - I love herbal cocktails and especially this past summer, Will and I both made numerous syrups of sugar solution steeped with fresh herbs like basil, tarragon, and mint. I'd love to do more with lemon thyme, lavender, or sage. They make particularly refreshing summer "coolers" with sparkling water and citrus flavors, and I can't resists but to post my favorite below, a grapefruit-tarragon drink. But herbs and spices, while commonly perceived together, and similar in their abilities to change a drab and boring dish into a sensational spotlight-grabbing star-of-the-meal, are fundamentally different. Herbs are like the leaves of a plant, while spices are the seeds and berries. If rules call for spices, then leafy green herbs will not qualify.
Finally, the contest rules did not specify a limitation on multiple entries, so I have posted each of my household's creations as we muddled, mixed, and mmmm'd in pursuit of the winner. They are listed in order of my personal preference (although the grapefruit-tarragon is my favorite, and appears last due to its supposed disqualification for lack of spice.) 

Corangiander Crush
1 shot vodka
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed
2 teaspoons orange brandy (such as Grand Marnier)
orange rind twist for garnish

At least 6 hours in advance (or a couple of days if you have time), stir together the vodka and coriander seeds. [Scale up the proportions to make more than one serving.] Allow to steep until ready to mix cocktail.
Strain vodka from the seeds into a cocktail shaker. Add orange brandy and shake with ice until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with orange twist.

Corangiander Crush (I didn't have any fresh oranges for garnish, so I used a chile pepper.)

Cloven Hoof
1 shot gin
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves, lightly crushed
1/2 thick "coin"-shaped slice of fresh ginger, peeled, and cut in 6 pieces
1 shot pear nectar
At least six hours in advance, (or a couple of days if you have time) stir together gin, cloves, and ginger. [Scale up the proportions to make more than one serving.] Allow to steep until ready to mix cocktail.
Strain gin into a cocktail shaker, reserving some of the cloves for garnish. Add pear nectar and shake with ice until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and float a couple of the reserved cloves on top.

The Cloven Hoof Cocktail

Poddy Toddy
1/4 cup boiling water
4 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 teaspoon honey
1 thai chili, cut in half lengthwise through the stem
2 shots brandy
whipped cream
ground cardamom (optional)

Steep cardamom pods in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Strain, and stir honey into water, add the chili halves, and reheat water until hot or boiling.

Remove chili halves and reserve. Add brandy. Divide liquid between two mugs. Top each with a dollop of whipped cream, a very light dusting of ground cardamom atop the cream, and  hang half a chili from the side of each mug.

Grapefruit-Tarragon Cooler
For syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 ounces fresh tarragon (or basil) leaves/sprigs

Bring water and sugar to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add herbs (stems are fine to include) to solution, stir to coat, and cover pot with lid. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. Strain out leaves. Syrup keeps refrigerated for 3-4 weeks.

For cocktail
In Collins glass filled with ice, pour:
1 shot gin
1/2 shot syrup
couple of drops grapefruit bitters
Fill with sparkling water and garnish with a wedge of fresh grapefruit.

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