Thursday, 15 December 2011

Gold, frankincense—and stir!

Gold, Frankincense and Byrrh: Stare into the drink and you can see the flakes of
gold from the Goldschläger

At the end of last month a bunch of us gathered at the newly opened Shaker & Co (formerly the pleasantly oriental Positively 4th Street and the scene of the New Sheridan Club’s 2008 “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” party) for an experimental seminar courtesy of the London Cocktail Society and Master of Malt, to have a look at the latter’s new range of “single varietal” bitters. I’ve talked a bit about them before, along with some experiments I have conducted using individual bitters in cocktails, but the object of the exercise on this occasion was to have a competition to blend them to make a definitive LCS bitters, which Master of Malt would then undertake to market.

The full range was there and the samples had helpfully been categorised into those you could safely use a lot of and the scary ones—such as very bitter infusions of wormwood or gentian, or the volcanically hot naga chilli—that you were warned to go easy on in your mix. I formed a team with Jenny from Sip or Mix: calling ourselves the Artemisians we decided to make an absinthe-influenced bitters which had 5 parts fennel, 4 parts liquorice, 4 parts coriander, 4 parts cardamom, 5 parts curaçao and one part each of black pepper, frankincense, angelica and, or course, wormwood. The aniseedy liquorice and fennel were actually balanced by the pretty strong citrus influence of the curaçao, and the bitterness of the wormwood offset by the sweetness of the curaçao and the liquorice. But it’s odd working on a bitters neat, given that it is something that will actually be used in minuscule doses in a cocktail. Should it even taste nice on its own? Peychaud’s certainly doesn’t! Perhaps it would be best to test it by putting a few drops in a glass of water…

Needless to say we didn’t win. I haven’t tried the winning formula, as it is presumably now an industrial secret in the Master of Malt labs, but it should be available for the MoM website soon. But it certainly gets you thinking about how some of the single varietals could be, erm, “leveraged” in cocktail making. Such as the coffee, chocolate or kola bitters, for example.

I’ve been doing some more tinkering with the Frankincense Bitters, not least because it is seasonal. Frankincense is not something that most of us are used to working with (though it is a key ingredient in Sacred gin). Made from the sap of the Boswellia sacra tree it is a fragrant resin that is burned for its aroma and smells a bit like cinnamon and a bit like hot solder (which has resin in it), a mysterious, almost dangerously aromatic smell, which was why I used a bit of the bitters in our Opium Dream cocktail for the 1920s Shanghai event at the Candlelight Club. My friend Fr. Michael Silver, a high-church priest by trade, sampled one of these cocktails and immediately picked up on the frankincense note, and I guess he would know!

Opium Dream
2 shots gin
2 shots mandarin, clementine or orange & mandarin juice
½ shot poppy liqueur
¼ shot lime juice
1 splash of bleue/blanche absinthe (we used La Clandestine)
5 drops Frankincense bitters

Shake and strain into a Martini or coupe glass. The poppy liqueur I used was from the Briottet range. Obviously I mainly used it because it existed and seemed appropriate, though it has a very confectionary, floral taste, a bit like rose or violet creams. It reminded me of grenadine, so this cocktail is really a Monkey Gland with Liqueur de Coquelicot de Nemours instead of grenadine, plus the frankincense. The mandarin juice was originally just there as a joke because it fitted the Chinese theme, but being sharper than orange juice it balances the sweetness of the liqueur. They sell cartons of clementine juice in Tesco now, I see.

The Gold, Frankincense and Byrrh cocktail
I’m using these bitters again for our Christmas party in a cocktail that I couldn’t resist inventing just for the name, really:

Gold, Frankincense and Byrrh
1 shot Byrrh
½ shot Goldschläger
5 drops frankincense bitters
Champagne or sparkling wine to top

Either shake the first three ingredients with ice or simply add them to a Champagne flute or coupe and top with chilled Champagne or sparkling wine. It has a distinct gingeriness from the Goldschläger plus aromatic and bitter notes from the Byrrh and that resinous mystery from the bitters. Like a very refined and holy mulled wine. Which isn’t mulled. But is quite seasonal.

1 comment:

  1. Just to let you know that the LCS bitters are now available:

    Order today and you can have it in time for Christmas!