Out of the Ordinary

Muddled fruit.

I typically don’t go for this sort of thing. Not only do I not do it, but — given the plethora of pineapple mojitos, kumquat margaritas and blueberry Sazeracs (ok, I made that one up, but somebody’s probably doing it) that you see on so many bar menus nowadays — I typically frown on and/or mock the whole practice of muddling fresh fruit in a cocktail. (And don’t even get me started on the whole Old Fashioned thing.) Sure, it tastes good — it’s fruit; fruit tastes good; it doesn’t require a masters in mixology to figure that out. And I might even be more generous to the whole muddling practice if so many Seattle bartenders didn’t consider a muddler to be best used as a tool to chase a couple of lime wedges around in a pint-glass full of ice, smashing and liquefying everything except the freaking lime in the process. But ultimately, does your typical mango Manhattan (ok, I made that one up, too, but you just know it’s out there) advance the greater cause of culinary cocktails? Huh-uh.

Then you have the rare atypical drink; the exception that proves the rule. This unnamed drink that appeared on eGullet some months ago is one of those cocktails.

As with the Prince Parker Swizzle, this drink was created by Alchemist, and is the second winner in as many days that I’ve tried from his recipes.

Unnamed Cocktail from Alchemist on eGullet

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce rich demerara syrup*
  • 1/4 ounce white creme de cacao
  • Peychaud’s bitters [I used 2 dashes]
  • cherries [I used 3-4 fresh cherries]

Muddle cherries in your mixing glass. Add the other ingredients and shake with ice. Strain (you’ll want to pour it through a mesh strainer) into a chilled cocktail glass.

* to prepare rich demerara syrup, simply mix two parts demerara sugar with one part water in a saucepan over medium heat, and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

In contrast to a bulk of the other fruit-muddled drinks I come across, this one had a couple of points in its favor: first, it uses rye as a base, instead of the more neutral vodkas and white rums you see in so many fruity drinks; plus, it seemed like a flavorful cocktail in its own right, even without the fruit added (and, of course, it uses fresh cherries, something I’m a major sucker for at this time of year). To be fair, the author doesn’t specify fresh cherries — I suppose you could take a crack at it with the neon-red maraschino thingies if that’s your inclination — but when fresh cherry season hit here a week or so ago, and the farmer’s markets started displaying these heaping mounds of bings, chelans and rainiers, I knew I had to give this drink a whirl.

And I’m so glad I did. The drink leans to the sweet side, but not cloyingly so — if you want it drier, simply cut down on the demerara syrup a bit. But while it starts out as an engaging rye-based cocktail not too dissimilar from the Delmarva Cocktail No. 2, the cherries really freshen it up, taking the rye — a winter-friendly brown spirit if ever there was one — and dragging it into the season, sticking some Bermuda shorts on that guy on the Old Overholt label and putting a slather of sunscreen on his nose. The cherries take what could be a slightly heavy drink — between the rye, the demerara and the cacao, you’ve got some seriously ponderous flavors in there — and brighten it up (the Peychaud’s helps, too), making it an enticing, refreshing summer-appropriate cocktail.

I’ve had a few of these over the past week, and hope to get on the outside of several more before cherry season wraps up. Then? Well, I’m still holding off on the apricot daiquiris.

9 Responses to Out of the Ordinary

  1. erik_flannestad says:

    I haven’t had a mango manhattan; but, was eating mango the other night (no jokes, please) and thinking, man it would be good with gin. It’s already got a bit of that pine flavor going on.

    Must work on it. Mango lassi is already half way to a ramos fizz, afterall. I promise not to do the “seattle muddle”.

    And thanks for pointing out that cocktail. Somehow I missed it on eGullet, and am always looking for a way to use that pesky bottle of creme de cacao.

    ~Erik

  2. Rick says:

    Who needs grenadine for making bright-red cocktails when you can muddle fresh sweet cherries?

    I’m getting bold hints of the rye, but all of the other ingredients seemed to have almalgamated into some strange new flavor.

    It borders ever so slightly on that familiar and never-sought-after cough syrup taste, but it never reaches it, to my delight.

    I think on my next go-around, I’ll add another dash of Peychaud and drop the demerara syrup down to 1/4 or 1/3oz.

  3. Paul says:

    Yeah, I tend to lean on the Peychaud’s pretty heavy in drinks that call for them. They’re pretty agreeable–douse away. You may also want to reign in the cacao just a tad–I suspect with a reduced demerara, your chocolate flavor will come out a little stronger, and you may not be looking for that.

  4. Jamie says:

    Since there is a grocer right across the street from work, and the cherries were taunting me, begging to be crushed, I thought I’d give the drink a try. While I thought the drink was interesting, I also thought it lacked an intangible “something”. After continuous tweaking, I came up with this:
    1 1/2 oz rum (I used Barbancourt 8 yr)
    1 oz Cinzanno Rosso
    1/4 oz demerara syrup
    1 bar-spoon lingenberry syrup (optional)
    2-3 dashes Angostura
    2 dashes Peychaud’s (I love me bitters!)
    4 muddled cherries
    shake hard and strain-(demerara may need to be adjusted depending on how sweet your batch is)

    If you have cherries left, give it a try and tell me what you think. (I know it kinda morphed into a bastadized rum manhattan, but it is good!)
    If I recall I also made a tall version of this, swizzle style, with a bit of apple juice (~1 1/2 oz) to lengthen the drink that tasted pretty good as well.

  5. Rick says:

    Jamie, I must apologize, but this killed me with sweetness! I think maybe if I used sour cherries it would help, but I’m not sure.

  6. Jamie says:

    That’s funny, that was my main problem with the original recipe…I thought it was too sweet. Our syrups must be quite different! (Or your bar-spoon quite large, or my BC cherries more tart) As anyone who knows me will attest; I hate a sweet drink (or a drink with vodka). I’ve always wondered how some recipes get printed in certain bar books, and I guess this is a perfect example; print doesn’t always translate to tongue!
    On another note, I’ll let you know when Vessel is open in Seattle, and you can try my cocktails in person (we’re shooting for the 24th of August)

  7. Kurt says:

    Where to start?

    1. So, what the hell should we call this drink? I suppose an email to Alchemist or a post at eGullet is in order but if he hasn’t come up with anything how about we brainstorm a bit? Certainly we can find something that rolls more trippingly off the tongue than “Unnamed Cocktail from Alchemist on eGullet”.

    2. Why so down on muddling, Paul? I never muddle for the sake of muddling. Muddling sugar and bitters for an Old Fashioned, for example, strikes me as a huge waste of time what with simple syrup being such an easy and elegant solution. And I never showboat-muddle–muddling’s a hassle, why turn it into a circus act to boot?–but, that said, Caiprinhas and Mojitos are fine beverages as is the lovely and refreshing Mango Margarita.

    When I noticed the mango in the fruit bowl on that warm evening last summer as I reached for a lime I thought what the hell. Turned out that a little muddled mango goes very nicely with tequila, Citronge and lime juice.

    Frankly, if excessive and/or pointless muddling is a crime I submit that any bartender guilty of it at the very least has his or her heart in the right place. I can’t agree that cocktails based on muddled fruit are somehow lesser mixology. Sometimes one reaches for Grog Log and sometimes one reaches for Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails….

    3. Erik, you are so right about the “piney” element in mangoes. What kind of boozer am I that I never made the leap to gin? May Paul forgive me, the next mango I buy will be giving its life in a brutal, muddled way as I pursue the idea of a gin and mango cocktail.

    4. The Twentieth Century is a fine use of Creme de Cacao if you’re looking for a way to get rid of a bottle.

    Kurt

  8. Paul says:

    Kurt,

    1. Perhaps an inquiry to Alchemist is in order (I didn’t want to just seize the reins and start casting names about).

    2. I wouldn’t say I’m down on muddling, per se–just unnecessary muddling. I agree completely, mojitos and caipirinhas (and mint juleps, and Old Fashioneds–I like a bit of lemon peel muddled with the sugar) are excellent beverages that require loving muddling.

    I don’t know how the situation is where you live, but here in Seattle, there’s certainly a trend among bartenders to muddle just about anything you can get your hands on (there’s also the whole “Seattle muddle” issue, as Gary Regan calls it, that involves bashing up a glass full of ice, but that’s a separate matter). Sometimes–as with your tequila & mango combo, or with Alchemist’s cherries and rye–it’s done with thought and taste and balance, and it works. But far too often, it seems that the basic approach is to make a new drink with citrus vodka (or gin, or bourbon, etc)and, as blueberries are in season (or pears, or strawberries), the path followed is to take something that tastes good anyway, like fresh fruit, and make that the focus of the cocktail, rather than matching flavors together to create a well-balanced drink, such as occurs with lime, rum & mint, cherries and rye or your tequila and mango (I’m taking your word on that one–haven’t tried it, but on your recommendation I just might). I’ve had those drinks before, and they’re one or, at best, two dimensional–all you taste is muddled orange with bourbon lurking behind it, or the tang of fresh blueberries with a completely concealed white rum in there somewhere (actual examples I’ve had around town). Does it taste good? Sure, in the way that a bowl of fresh blueberries tastes good, but it doesn’t have depth–instead of a balanced cocktail, it’s simply a fortified smoothie. Is it done, as you assert, by bartenders who have their heart in the right place? Sure, plenty of times(but certainly not all the time).

    And it’s not my point to say that muddling fruit is a sign of inferior mixology–if it was, I wouldn’t have posted this drink. Instead, my intent is to celebrate drinks that do buck the norm, and Alchemist’s drink is, I believe, one of the rare exceptions in that the cherries are present in the drink, but no more so than any other ingredient, and the drink deserves praise for rising above the hubbub–for all I know, yours may be, too.

    3. Go for it with the gin and mango–if I came across as a fundamentalist, that’s just due to my hamhanded way of expressing my frustration with excessive muddling and unnecessary muddling.

    4. Damn straight.

  9. [...] also been guilty in the past of being dismissive of muddled ingredients, a position I still hold on a certain level because it’s so overdone, and so badly in many [...]

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