Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Goodbye Brandy and the Stones (or What I've Learned About Seattle)

A New Yorker by import, Charlie Kane of The Monthly Sip recently made a trip across the entire country to sample the sights and sounds of the Pacific Northwest. Several things immediately became clear. First, there is a major dearth of liquor selection in the Emerald City of Clouds compared to the Big Apple. Second, the prices are noticeably higher - a liter of Cointreau at Astor Wines in Manhattan goes for $35. A fifth of the same (not even available in liter size bottles), available only at state regulated Wine and Liquor stores goes for $39. That looks like a big discrepancy even before you compare oranges to oranges: 1 mL of Cointreau in NYC is $0.035, in Seattle it's $0.052. By my calculations (and I think they're right?) That's nearly 1.5 times more expensive. That's a significant difference. But booze is booze, and given a choice between none and some, the obvious choice is to have some. Or maybe it's only on imported liquors, because Laird's Applejack seems to be about the same price from both vendors. Maybe it's just anti-Franco pricing. Third, there are innumerable coffeehouses, most of them serving top-notch coffee at great prices. Fourth, there seem to be more Vietnamese pho shops here than anywhere outside of Vietnam (feel free to refute that claim - but come here and drive around first).

One of my first orders of business in Seattle was preparing hardware and software for cocktail preparation at the lowest cost. Necessary hardware must include a shaker, a measuring device, a bar spoon, and something to strain with. Every housewares shop in every city throughout the country sells some sort of cocktail shaker with a built in strainer, but you'll have to drop at least $20 for the privilege. A better, more economical option is a pint glass and a larger metal tumbler. One fits inside the other to make a Boston shaker. Combined price? About $10. Functionality? Priceless.

Rather than getting a jigger, I picked up one of those little angled liquid measuring cups - useful for more than just proportioning out spirits. There's basically one choice for bar spoons - the long twisted type with a red cap on the end. Finding a strainer was a bit less simple, but eventually I found one that works. And that is all the hardware you really need to make the majority of drinks.

September was supposed to be brandy month, and in more than a few ways it was. What it wasn't much of was cognac month. There were several cocktails made with cognac - the Stinger and the Sidecar especially. But brandy has various permutations, like the Canton ginger liquor I wrote about recently and Applejack, which I tried for the first time last week.

Laird's Applejack is the only applejack available in America. Its label claims "Laird's Applejack was first made by William Laird in Monmouth, New Jersey in 1698. Around 1790, George Washington discovered this unique beverage, asked for and received the Laird family recipe and soon introduced Applejack to the Virginia Colony." Like my beloved Michter's Rye, this spirit clearly has a history.

Coincidentally, the newest issue of Imbibe Magazine has a feature on Applejack, complete with three cocktail recipes. It doesn't include one of the most famous (and apparently difficult to locate) applejack cocktails, the Jack Rose. A variety of recipes exist for this drink, but my favourite comes from Dale DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktail. The book is another great addition to my arsenal.

In a shaker, combine 1 1/2 ounces of applejack, 1 ounce of simple syrup, 3/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice, and 2 dashes of grenadine. Shake over ice and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. Correctly proportioned, this is a tart, delicious drink. The grenadine is mostly for color, the sweetness coming from the simple syrup.

In a future post, I'll add some recipes for syrups I recently created at home including grenadine and simple syrup. These are necessary ingredients to make top quality cocktails and to get the most flavor for your buck, you should be making them yourself.

Finally, a note on the Rolling Stones. On the last day of September, late at night, I picked up a copy of Gimme Shelter, the Stones documentary by the Maysles brothers. I saw it for the first time a couple years ago, but this time, watching it with my lady friend, the most striking thing is how young all of the band members are.

Shot in 1969 during the Stones American tour, after the release of Let It Bleed Mick Jagger is 26 and Keith Richards is 25. Both look emaciated by today's standards, but they're already rock superstars. Rock superstars who still understood it was about the music, not about the fame. If you have any interest in rock history, in the stones, or in movies, this is an absolute must see. Enjoy it with a Jack Rose cocktail, and think of me.

No comments: