Wednesday 22 July 2015

Absinthe, tequila…and cucumber

The experimental Maid in Jalisco. Looking at it, I think I should come up with a cocktail for St Patrick's Day,
garnish it in the same way with thin slices of cucumber, and call it a Four-Leafed Clover…

Cucumber in booze is nothing new—both Hendrick’s and Martin Miller’s gins include cucumber among the flavourings.* But synchronicity dictated that I receive two emails today that embraced the noble plant and, since it is summer and I am in England, what could be more apt?

Emerald Street, a well-written daily offshoot from Stylist magazine, today featured a number of inspiring things you can do with your blender, including a frozen Margarita that includes puréed cucumber (two peeled ones, the juice of five or six limes, 100ml tequila and four cups of ice cubes, whizzed together, plus agave syrup to taste).**

Meanwhile, a post on the Real Absinthe Blog takes a scholarly look at Hemingway’s consumption of absinthe and concludes that, in his writing at least, he only ever drinks it in the traditional way with water, plus the Death in the Afternoon cocktail (absinthe and Champagne). Absinthe has such a powerful flavour that where it does appear in cocktails it is often present in homeopathic quantities (typically the serving glass is rinsed with absinthe that is then discarded before the cocktail is poured in). Last year Gaz Regan in his Regan Report noted the importance of absinthe as a cocktail ingredient but likewise warned against adding too much. Anyway, the post included a link to an earlier item describing the Maid in Cuba cocktail:

2 shots white rum
1 shot lime juice
½ shot sugar syrup
Small handful of mint leaves
3 slices of cucumber

Vigorously shake the first five ingredients with ice and strain into a glass that has been rinsed with the absinthe. It’s essentially a melding of Cuba’s two most famous cocktails, the Daiquiri and the Mojito, with added cucumber and absinthe.

Absinthe is pretty complex stuff in its own right, so you might argue that it is best drunk on its own. However, that would be a coward’s way out, so I found myself wondering what it might naturally synergise with. Gin, with its botanical arsenal, seems a likely contender, and classic absinthe cocktails like the Corpse Reviver No.2 and the Monkey Gland (gin, orange juice, absinthe and grenadine) do tend to be gin-based.*** I wouldn’t say that absinthe had a particular affinity for the white rum in the Maid in Cuba, as it is pretty much a blank canvas, but just thinking about it you can suspect that the herbaceous nature of tequila is going to marry well. And you’d be right. Just try rinsing a glass with absinthe then pouring in some tequila and you’ll see what I mean—the flavours of the two ingredients merge seamlessly.

So, by splicing Emerald Street’s cucumber Margarita with the Maid in Cuba you come up with something we might call the Maid in Jalisco:

2 shots tequila
1 shot lime juice
Agave syrup to taste (½ shot perhaps, although this was too sweet for me)
3 slices of cucumber
½ tsp absinthe

Shake with ice and strain. I started off just rinsing the serving glass with absinthe but I felt that it needed another ½ tsp at least (I was using Jade Terminus). I think the absinthe really works, though I must admit I’m less sure about the cucumber. I think that just by adding absinthe to a Margarita you have something very interesting indeed.

* Evidently cucumber doesn’t work if you infuse it with the other botanicals and distil, so it must be added post-distillation. (See my exploration of how Hendricks is made.) This means that these gins can’t call themselves “London Dry Gin” as this is an EU-defined category that does not allow any additives after distillation. Some people get quite exercised about this and query whether the definition or terminology should be changed, but I have always said that consumers almost certainly won’t consider the term “London Dry Gin” to be a stamp of quality. If anything they will probably assume that it means it was made in London, which it probably wasn’t, as the term does not encompass any geographical requirement.

** Classically the Margarita uses triple sec (such as Cointreau) but it is increasingly common to use agave syrup instead.

*** With the noble exception of the Sazerac, of course, a New Orleans classic that adds a smidgeon of absinthe to rye whisky, Cognac or a blend of the two, along with sugar and bitters.

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