Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Spiritous Occasion

I love spirit-driven cocktails.  After a long day at work, nothing hits the spot like an ice-cold, spirit-forward drink.  Now don't get me wrong, I love a classic Daiquiri, a Tommy's Margarita or any number of citrus-driven libations given the right time and place.  But after a particularly grueling day, unwinding with a Manhattan or Negroni makes everything right in the world.  But I'm always looking for new and interesting spiritous drinks that are not Manhattans, Old Fashioneds or Negronis.  I love rum, but we don't see rum in this style of cocktail very often.  Rum plays well with baking spices and pineapple, so let's start wth that in mind.  Building from there, we decided to split the base spirit between a lightly aged Jamaican rum (overripe banana, molasses, and caramelized pineapple notes) and a VS Cognac (lending dried fruit, baking spices, and orange peel notes).  Instead of using sweet vermouth as the modifier like we would in a Manhattan, we combined a sweetened Oloroso sherry with pineapple gomme syrup (the pineapple gomme lending a subtle tropical note and contributing viscosity and a silky texture to the finished drink).  Add in a few dashes of aromatic bitters for an accent of flavor and to tie everything we're on to something!

A Spiritous Occasion
glass - frozen nick & nora
method - stir and strain
garnish - skewered amarena cherry
.75 oz. Appleton Signature Rum
.75 oz. VS Cognac
.5 oz. Pineapple Gomme Syrup 
.25 oz. Lustau East India Solera Sherry
3 to 4 dashes aromatic bitters

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Common Good

Common Good:  In philosophy, economics, and politics, the common good is a term of art, referring to what is shared and beneficial for all members of a community.  Tonight, we're applying this term to cocktails.  Here's to the common good (and to delicious, spirit-driven cocktails)...cheers.

The Common Good
glass - frozen coupe
method- stir and strain
aromatic garnish - lemon peel oil expressed over the surface of drink; discard peel
2 oz. Common Good Spirits Blend*
.75 oz. Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur
1 bar spoon Navaro Verjus 
1 healthy dash Angostura Bitters

*Common Good Spirits Blend = 16 oz. Barsol Quebranta Pisco +  8 oz. Barbancourt Rhum Blanc + 8 oz. Boulard Calvados VSOP.  Mix thoroughly and pour into a liter-sized glass bottle.

Sip. Savor. Repeat.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Garden Cup

I love the combination of celery and apple; they have such an affinity for each other.  Here, both flavors combine in a fun and unique gin-based cocktail that's perfect for summer imbibing. Cheers!

Garden Cup
glass - silver julep cup, crushed ice
method - shake with 3 ice cubes and strain
garnish - 1 thin granny smith apple slice & 1 large sprig of slapped lemon thyme.  Too much work?  The tip of a celery stalk with those beautiful leaves works just fine!

William Chase Gin
house-made celery-apple cordial*
fresh lemon juice

*Celery-Apple Cordial:  a combination of fresh celery, celery seed, green apple puree, sugar, water, a pinch of salt, and Venus Aquavit.  Blend thoroughly in Vita-Mix blender, push through a fine-mesh strainer, bottle and refrigerate.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Brainstorming Culinary Cocktails - The "Beet" Goes On

Certain flavor combinations make me a happy guy.  Beet juice and Sherry is one of those! Different styles of Sherry work well in a lot of savory, culinary-inspired cocktails: fino sherry with celery juice and amontillado sherry with roasted red pepper puree are a couple of my favorites to play with.

While working on a cocktail for an upcoming gala, we had a request that "the cocktail incorporate red beets in some way, shape, or form."  I kept coming back to a favorite salad of mine--arugula, red beets, sliced almonds, topped with a splash of sherry vinaigrette--and how I might be able to incorporate some of those flavors into a cocktail.  I had also used baby golden beet juice with sherry in past cocktails, so I had a feeling sherry and red beets would be a nice combination.

Here was the initial thought process and brainstorm:

red beets = use fresh beet juice

arugula = I didn't want to use arugula in the drink, but the peppery, vegetal notes found in arugula could be brought to the drink in other ways, perhaps by making a savory syrup consisting of peppercorns and a few other ingredients.  Maybe the savory syrup could be combined with the beet juice and some neutral alcohol to create a cordial of sorts?

sliced almonds = for a nutty note in the cocktail, I could use amontillado sherry.  The subtle, tangy acidity of the sherry could also be a plus in the overall flavor profile and mouthfeel of the cocktail (much like the vinaigrette added a tangy note to my favorite salad)

spirit = vodka or gin?  both could work.  vodka would be more of a blank canvas.  The botanicals in gin could work really well too, perhaps Hendricks?  What about cucumber vodka?  Cucumber plays well with red beets, the savory syrup, and sherry, so the cucumber profile of the vodka could be a really nice addition (now vodka wasn't just a blank canvas for the cocktail anymore, it was now adding flavor to the drink)

And that's how I got the ball rolling!  To start the R&D process, I made a beet cordial to work from.  The cordial combined 1 part fresh red beet juice with 2 parts of a sweet & savory syrup (bay leaf, black peppercorns, thyme, lemon peels, sugar, and water), and a bit of overproof vodka.  So with savory, earthy beet cordial in hand, I started looking for flavors that shared an affinity with the ingredients and overall flavor profile of the cordial (using ideas from that initial brainstorm session to move forward).

In addition to the savory beet cordial, I had amontillado sherry, lemon juice, and cucumber vodka (or perhaps gin) on my list of possible cocktail ingredients.  Now it was time to start playing around with ratios and making some cocktails...a.k.a. "the fun part!"  After several test-runs, I settled on cucumber vodka as the base spirit, nailed down the measurements, and a delicious new cocktail was born:

The Beet Goes On
savory red beet cordial, amontillado sherry, lemon juice, cucumber vodka
shaken and served "up" in a chilled coupe glass

For a garnish, I'm thinking about a skewered, paper thin pickled beet wheel lightly dusted with a spice mix of some sort.  Perhaps crushed almonds, cracked black pepper, and sea salt.  Time to go pickle some beets!  Cheers :)

Sip. Savor. Repeat.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Slanting Door

The Slanting Door
glass - chilled cocktail
method - shake & fine-strain
garnish - long, curled lime twist
1.5 oz. Rhum Barbancourt Blanc
.75 oz. fresh lime juice
small drops of hot & spicy Thai Chili Tincture, to taste
1 oz. house-made Slanting Door Syrup*
*a combination of coconut water, lemongrass, sugar, shredded coconut and lime peels

Sip. Savor. Repeat.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sips & Pics, 2015

Cocktails crafted by Jay Crabb for Paula LeDuc Fine Catering. Photography by Josh Gruetzmacher.  Styling and staging by Paula LeDuc Fine Catering Design Dept.  Pictures shot on location at our venue Beaulieu Garden in Napa, California and the Paula LeDuc Fine Catering headquarters in Emeryville, California between April and October of 2015.


A Spirituous Occasion:  VS Cognac, Jamaican Rum, East India Solera Sherry, house-made "trifecta spice blend" cordial, aromatic bitters, amarena cherries

Rosa Eterna: raspberries, rose syrup, fresh pink grapefruit juice, Lillet Rosé, local gin, sparkling wine

The Menacing Mule:  spicy ginger cordial, pomegranate, lime, citrus vodka, club soda, dry ice

The Gold Standard:  amontillado sherry, baby golden beet juice, heirloom tomato syrup, fresh lemon, pimenton spice mix rim

Coco Sofisticado: rum blend, house-made coconut cream and pineapple cordial, fresh lime and orange juices, spiced bitters, nutmeg 

Il Nostro Sour: slivovitz, rhum agricole, apricot, lime, egg white, house-made aromatic bitters, edible flower petals

Apple Celery Julep: house-made celery cordial, Akvavit, fresh lemon juice, German apple liqueur, crushed ice, lemon thyme

The Best Man:  rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, amaro, maraschino liqueur, house-made orange bitters, amarena cherry; served over an ice sphere

Garden Gimlet:  Beaulieu Gardens fresh garden herb blend, local gin, house-made lime cordial

Blueberry Sonata: gin, fresh blueberries, lemon juice, honey syrup; topped with lemon-sage foam

Gustoso Bevanda: pisco quebranta, aperol, fresh red bell pepper juice, basil, salt, lemon

La Pina en Fuego: tequila blanco, carmelized pineapple, cilantro, lime, spicy mixed chili tincture

Il Cetriolo Amaro: beet-stained cucumbers, ginger beer, averna amaro, pimms liqueur, fresh lemon juice, california bay laurel

Daiquiri:  aged rum, fresh lime juice, rich cane syrup

1944 Mai Tai:  jamaican rum, house-made spiced rum, orgeat, dry curacao, fresh lime juice, with a  dark rum float inside of an inverted lime shell

Front Porch Cooler:  bourbon, mint, peach bitters, falernum, house-made "front porch" syrup, fresh lemon juice

Winter Old Fashioned:  apple brandy or bourbon, maple syrup, spiced bitters, orange peel, amarena cherry, large chunk of ice

Pisco Tropicale:  pisco, house-made aromatic bitters, apricot, pineapple, lime, brut sparkling wine

Paloma Picante:  carbonated cocktail with mezcal, aromatized wine, hot pepper blend, orange blossom honey, fresh pink grapefruit juice, lime, and black lava salt

Sip. Savor. Repeat.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Feels Like The Holidays!

It's been Fall for a good month and a half now, but it hasn't felt much like it in the Bay Area.  After being out and about this weekend, it's finally beginning to feel like Autumn.  It even felt like (dare I say it) the Holiday season was amongst us.  But what can I say?  I love the Holidays!  I cherish this time of the year.  The cooler weather, the falling leaves, the rain (being in the midst of a long, never-ending drought, I vaguely remember what water falling from the sky is like).  And of course...the cocktails.  I was surprised to see one of my favorite Autumn/Winter cocktails on the menu at one my favorite East Bay restaurants yesterday.

I had the perfect meal at the Ramen Shop in Oakland last night, and enjoyed a wonderful pre-dinner Pan American Clipper.  Crisp and refreshing with aromas of baked apple, flavors of pomegranate, balanced acidity, and a tinge of botanical complexity from the's truly Fall in a glass.  The Pan Am Clipper--a venerable drink that spent far too long in the "lost and forgotten" category-- has been a favorite of mine for many years.  Back when I was behind the bar, the Pan Am always found a place on my Fall or Winter cocktail menus.  It dates back to at least 1939, when it appeared in Charles H. Baker's The Gentleman's Companion.

Let's raise a glass to the Holidays, and to enjoying lots of good times with family and friends,

Pan Am Clipper
glass - coupe
method - shake and fine-strain
garnish - lime twist
1.75 oz. apple brandy (Lairds Straight Apple Brandy is fantastic)
.5 oz (plus one full bar spoon) of fresh lime juice
.5 oz. home-made pomegranate grenadine*
3 dashes Absinthe
1 dash baked apple bitters (optional...I prefer it)

* I make grenadine using POM brand pomegranate juice, pomegranate molases, orange flower water, and sugar.  

Another seasonal favorite of mine is the Cranberry Arbuste.  It's a super simple 3-ingredient cocktail packed full of flavor.  You can use apple brandy or bourbon.  Both work quite well.  This cocktail calls for a shrub (also known as drinking vinegars): at their most basic, a simple mixture of fresh fruit, vinegar, and sugar,  Think tangy, refreshing, and oh-so delicious.  The shrub in this particular cocktail spices things up for the holidays with fresh cranberries, gravenstein apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, star anise, orange peels, and allspice.

Cranberry Arbuste
glass - nick & nora
method - shake and fine-strain
garnish - orange peel with a small sprig of rosemary inside the peel
1.75 oz. apple brandy or bourbon
.75 oz. spiced cranberry shrub
.25 oz. frsh lemon juice


Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Gold Standard Cocktail

Golden beets, heirloom tomato, sherry?  Let's make a drink!

This low ABV cocktail goes by the name of the Gold Standard, and features Amontillado Sherry, raw golden beet juice, an heirloom tomato water simple syrup, and fresh lemon juice.  It's shaken with ice until well chilled, and then strained into a chilled cocktail glass with a Pimenton spice mix on the rim.  It's a crisp, savory, immensely drinkable low-alcohol cocktail crafted in the culinary style (food pairings abound). Cheers!

The Gold Standard
glass - chilled cocktail glass; pimenton spice mix on the rim*
method - shake and fine-strain
garnish - none

Amontillado Sherry
raw, baby golden beet juice
golden heirloom tomato water simple syrup (1:1  sugar to tomato water)
fresh lemon juice
pinch of sea salt

*Pimenton Spice Mix for rim

toasted, sliced almonds

black peppercorns

Spanish Pimenton or smoked paprika

coarse sea salt

Using a spice grinder, pulse almonds and peppercorns a few times. Add pimenton and salt. Pulse to desired texture. The almonds should be ground fine, but not powdery; you want them to retain some texture.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The 3-Ingredient Challenge

I make a lot of culinary-inspired, produce-driven cocktails, and I enjoy drinking them too.  They certainly have their place on a balanced cocktail menu, especially here in the Bay Area where we have access to such a vast array of fresh ingredients.  But I'm a bigger fan of simple, delicious, spirit-driven libations.  Even better if it's a 3-ingredient production.  I'm also a proponent of batching cocktails for service in a busy bar/restaurant setting, and cocktails like this are a breeze to batch ahead of time.  You grab one bottle, measure out 2.5 ounces of the batched drink, stir, strain, garnish, done!  It's a win/win for both the bartender and the guest.

Developed by Kansas City bartender Ryan Maybee, the Pendergast (named after the 1920's and '30s Kansas City political boss) has quickly become a contemporary classic.  Simple, sophisticated, delicious.

glass - chilled rocks glass
method - stir and strain
garnish - lemon or orange twist

1.5 oz. Bourbon*
.75 oz. Punt e Mes
.25 oz. Benedictine
1 healthy dash of Angostura bitters

*for this particular cocktail, I prefer a bolder, spicier bourbon, so I reach for one with a higher rye content and elevated proof: Old Grand Dad 100 proof.  The Old Grand Dad (part of the Jim Beam portfolio) also happens to come in at a nice price, perfect for mixing. 

Originally found in the Savoy Cocktail Book, the Opera cocktail is one of those lost and forgotten classics that doesn't get much attention these days.  Using a Navy Strength gin and being generous with the bitters brings to life this forgotten gem; certainly worthy of a place on more cocktail menus.   
glass - coupe
method - stir and strain
garnish - oil from an orange or lemon peel; discard the peel

1.75 oz. Navy Strength Gin
.5 oz. Dubonnet Rouge
.25 oz.  Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 healthy dashes orange bitters

What about a citrus-driven 3-ingredient cocktail?  Here's a recipe for the classic Daiquiri, one of my all-time favorites:

glass -coupe
method - shake & fine-strain
garnish - thin lime wheel

2.5 oz. Banks 5 Island Rum
.75 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. rich simple syrup (2:1, sugar to water)


Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Little Funk Is A-OK

Jamaican rums are known for their funk.  We're talking about big, bold flavors, the result of special and unique yeast strains, longer fermentation periods that incorporate dunder (yeast-rich foam leftovers from a previous batch of rum), and in many cases, the use of retorts (copper vessels attached to the pot still that contain the leftover high and low wines from a previous distillation, creating additional flavor compounds). Each of these elements contribute to rich, ester-laden rums that truly sing when mixed in a cocktail. 

Jamaican rums are actually classified by their ester levels (esters are volatile/acetic compounds that can lend fruity notes to a spirit), and they basically break down into these 4 levels:

- Low ester rums are called Common Cleans.  Think delicate and slightly floral.  

- Plummers have a bit more going on.  Now we're getting into light tropical fruit aromas and flavors,

- Wedderburn are fuller, with deeper fruit, more body, and increased pungency and lift.

- At the top of the scale lies Continental Flavored, also known as High Ester.  When sipped neat, these rums are the most pungent, the most powerful.  Some would even say it reminds them of nail polish remover.  Sound appealing?  Don't be scared.  Because when diluted with a little water, or properly mixed in a balanced cocktail, that nose-burning intensity is replaced with concentrated aromas of pineapple and very ripe banana.  

So what kind of a cocktail lets these high ester rums shine?  I'm currently serving the Bebita Caribe in the home bar: a blend of Appleton VX and Smith and Cross rums, St Liz Allspice Dram, fresh lime juice, house-made raw ginger solution, and home-made ginger beer.  Funky tropical fruit and baking spices, citrus, and a little fizz from the ginger beer combine in this bold yet refreshing rum cocktail.  Cheers!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Cocktail and The Bar

The Cocktail:  "It should stimulate the mind as well as the appetite. The well made cocktail is one of the most gracious of drinks. It pleases the senses. The shared delight of those who partake in common of this refreshing nectar breaks the ice of formal reserve. Taut nerves relax, taut muscles relax, tired eyes brighten, tongues loosen, friendships deepen, the whole world becomes a better place in which to live.”
- The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. (1948) David A. Embury

The Bar:  It fosters a convivial community of compatriots…camaraderie with the staff and fellow regulars.  A great bar gives you a sense of belonging; it welcomes you with open arms and becomes an integral part of the neighborhood.  A great bar has the ability to become that "third place" or "third space."  It's not work and it's not home, bur rather that all important social space that's important for a civil society, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of "sense of place."