Orgeat syrup

Orgeat1

This almond-flavoured syrup, pronounced orr-zha (as in Zsa Zsa Gabor), crops up in quite few cocktail recipes, especially in the Tiki style (Mai Tai, for example). But I wanted to try a Japanese cocktail, invented by Harry MacElhone back when he ran Harry’s American Bar in the 1920s (the recipe has no particularly Japanese ingredients, but was supposedly developed to honour a Japanese delegation, visiting Paris at the time). But my online research suggested that most modern commercial versions are just sugar syrup with almond flavouring, and as a result, a bit disappointing.

In the spirit of MacElhone’s original I wanted to make my own, so I found recipes to make syrup from almonds and sugar, with the addition of some vodka and orange blossom water. The recipe I used came from the Serious Eats website, so it is only fair I direct you to them for the ingredients & method. The process will only take an hour or so, plus some overnight cooling & steeping of the almond and sugar mixture, but be warned, it is a sticky business. I used blanched almonds to get a paler syrup, but you can use skin-on almonds for a darker result (and possibly more flavour). I used the orange blossom water option (you can use rosewater, but I don’t like its perfume-y overtones).

I found the final results missed the hit of bitter almonds I was expecting, so if I made it again, I would add a quantity of good quality natural almond essence, and the ratio of sugar-to-water produces a very sweet liquid, so I would reduce the sugar as well.

As most recipes that use the syrup call for a single measure or less, the small bottle produced by the recipe will certainly last the month suggested for storage, unless you are planning a Tiki party.

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Benjamin Franklin’s Orange Shrub

Ben Franklin's rum & orange shrub
Ben Franklin’s rum & orange shrub

I recently added Michael Dietsch’s book, Shrubs, to my collection of drink books, this being a history of two distinctly-different styles of drink that share the same name and most likely a common ancestor in the middle Eastern sherbet, a combination of fruit flavours and sweetening to make a refreshing drink. The first style of shrub is the older English combination of citrus and sugar, steeped in alcohol, that developed when this country opened up trade with the caribbean and citrus fruit, rum and sugar became more available. The other shrub is a vinegar-based fruit drink that came out of the early colonial period in America, presumably using the antiseptic and preservative properties of vinegar to preserve the fruit ingredients of the drink.

I wanted to make one of the older, English-style drinks based on rum & sugar, so settled on a recipe from Dietsch’s book that came from the papers of Benjamin Franklin, one of the most famous founding fathers of the U.S.A. He was a remarkably talented man who crossed the Atlantic nine times in his amazing life – no small achievement when this meant an arduous journey by sail. America, as a trading colony, is reflected in the recipe – simply sugar, combined with rum and oranges, and left to steep for several weeks. Unlike Franklin’s recipe, which runs to gallons and quarts of ingredients, I made a smaller batch: half a cup of sugar, two oranges & half a bottle of rum.

The method is simple: Firstly, juice the oranges, and combine with the sugar. Then, in a bottle, combine the peel from the juiced oranges with the rum and leave overnight.

The following day, remove the peels, and add the sugar/juice combination to the rum and shake to combine. The mixture should then be left somewhere cool and dark to mature for 3-4 weeks.

My mixture went into the bottle at the weekend, so will be ready sometime around the beginning of March.

 

Steel-aged Manhattan

Blending house Manhattans for ageing in steel for six weeks...
Blending house Manhattans for ageing in steel for six weeks…

The section in Tristan Stephenson’s Curious Bartender about ageing cocktails was very interesting to read. Most cocktail ingredients – spirits, vermouths, bitters and so forth – have been through individual ageing processes before being bottled, creating their unique flavour that adds to each drink they are used in. Stephenson suggests another level of ageing, mixing a cocktail and then allowing the blended drink to rest for a further period, creates a subtly different drink to the one mixed and served immediately, giving examples of both his own drinks and those  of other bartenders he has sampled. He notes the differences between the various ageing devices, from wooden barrels to bottles & flasks, retaining his greatest enthusiasm for simple stainless steel flasks.

I thought I would put this to the test with a batch of my own ‘house’ Manhattan, adapted by the recipe for the Industrial Revolution cocktail that Stephenson gives in his book. Using a basic stainless steel drink flask that I found on Amazon for around £6, I mixed up the following:

300ml of bourbon (Wild Turkey)

100ml of sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso)

50ml of dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)

15ml of maraschino (Briottet marasquin)

10 drops of Bob’s Abbott’s bitter

All of this went into the flask, given a good shake and labelled with the starting date. I aim to be trying this out with some friends at a cocktail evening in September. I will keep taking a quick sniff from the flask from time to time to see if I can detect any changes.

Once ready, the mixture will be stirred over ice and then strained into a chilled glass. For the sake of the experiment, I will be mixing an unaged version at the same time to sample against…

Update – November 2017.

IMG_5972Last night, I returned to a batch of rye-based Manhattans I made around Christmas 2016, and which had been maturing in a flask in my drinks ‘fridge ever since. Chilled & ready mixed, I just needed to measure out 3ozs into a cold glass, and add a garnish of lemon zest.

Somehow, resting quietly at a few degrees above zero for around a year had really changed & improved the flavours of the drink; it was an incredibly smooth Manhattan, rich and spicy & with a distinctive, but not overpowering, bitter note. This might see like an overly-elaborate method of cocktail making, but it really does seem to add a dimension to the drink I hadn’t expected. I really don’t know what is going on with this approach, but something good is happening in that flask. Worth experimenting with, I believe – if you have the time, and the patience.