adult beverages, boozy beverages, cheese pairings, drinking, drinking with friends, holiday drinks, obscure holiday cocktails

Obscure Holiday Cocktails IV

You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can´t make it out alone
I´ve built my dreams around you

And the boys of the NYPD choir’s still singing Galway Bay
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day.
–Shane McGowen “Fairytale of New York

There are two things that signify Christmas time for me.  The first is having my alarm clock go off the day after Thanksgiving and hearing Wham’s “Last Christmas” playing on the radio. The second is gathering with some fantastic friends and indulging in more bitters and booze in one night than I do in one year.  Happy 4th Annual (HOLY SHIT!!) Obscure Holiday Cocktails, kiddies.

The mood was festive as we all had a pretty damn good year in 2012. For us, I received a promotion at work over the summer, that very morning the Missus had officially finished her graduate school program and Maine became the first state to recognize marriage equality via popular vote this past November.  We’ve spent the past month partially dreaming about our ceremony and fretting over where we were going to host about 100 friends and family..and how we would pay for it all.

But, this was not a night to worry, this was the night for all of us to drink beyond the boundaries of moderation. Except for Vrylena, whose due any day. Dave drank her share and she got to sit there, eat cheese and watch as some of us wore our drunk a little more pronounced than others.

To start the evening was my darling Kate, who had a rough go of it in her choice of drink last year. This year she poured:

1 ounce apple brandy
3/4 ounce rosé vermouth
3/4 ounce Spiced Honey Syrup (See Note)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Dash of Peychaud’s bitters
1 ounce chilled cava or other dry sparkling wine
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the cava and shake well. Strain into a large chilled coupe and top with the cava. 
Notes Spiced Honey Syrup: Wrap 1/2 cinnamon stick and 2 green cardamom pods in a kitchen towel and crush with a mallet or heavy pan. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup honey with 4 ounces water. Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger and the crushed spices and simmer over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the syrup darkens and the spices are very aromatic, about 15 minutes. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate until chilled and infused, at least 8 hours. Pour the syrup through a fine strainer into a clean jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 6 ounces
and I paired: 
Lady Laurier d’Arthabaska, a triple creme brie from Canada that is infused with vanilla. On the plate I added a bit of Leslie Stowe’s Salty Date and Almond Raincoast Crisps.  
Maybe it was a subconscious nod to Vrylena, but this trio would be right at home at a baby shower. I’ll play into gender norms for a moment to declare: This was extremely girly f’ing way to start off the evening.  Kate’s drink had a cava float, for God’s sake!  But, all of it melded so perfectly together.
Professor A. asked why I had chosen that particular cheese and, for me, it was all about the addition of the sparkling wine. If the sparkling element wasn’t there, the cheese would have been completely different.  But, for general pairings, triple cremes and sparklings are meant to be together.  
The butterfat of a triple creme starts at around 72% (for perspective, butter starts at around 80%), so it is complimented by a bubbly because the bubbles help lighten the richness of the cheese. Most triple cremes are so rich that they eat like ice cream. Add in the elements of tartness from the apple brandy and sweetness of the honey syrup, combined with the light vanilla profile, and you have a beautifully sweet marriage. The crackers, there really to act as a vessel for the creamy cheese, added a bit of salt and crunch. There wasn’t anything left on the plate, or in our glasses, at the end of round one, so I think we can call it a resounding success. 
Our hostess, Dawn, was up next. Because the night fell on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, she dubbed her drink the “Admiral Yamamoto:”


“Wash” a martini glass with a splash of Laphroig single-malt scotch
Pour 2 ounces of Bulleit Rye into a martini shaker full of ice
Add .5 ounce of Cherry Heering
Add .5 ounce of Carpano Antica
Add .5 ounces of Campari
Add 2 dashes of orange bitters
Shake, pour into martini glass. Then, put flame to an orange peel to slight smoke. Add to drink. 
I chose: 
 Robiola di Capra in Foglie di Castagna. 
How’s that for a mouthful?  I guess it’s only fitting, for a WWII inspired drink, that I chose to pair an Italian cheese. The Robiola di Capra is a beautiful goats milk cheese, from the Piedmont region of Italy, wrapped and aged in chestnut leaves.  When I saw the list of Dawn’s ingredients, I knew I wanted a goat cheese because I enjoy pairing younger style goat cheeses with cherry preserves. I imagined the Cherry Heering would have a pronounced presence in the drink. It did not. In fact, Dawn’s drink wins the award this year for “Most Burny.”  Seriously, my notes simply say: 
Burny. Tangy goat cheese brought up more sweetness in the drink.

I’d suffice to say that I am in no way up to Dawn’s level of spirit appreciation. But, while the drink was a little too stiff for me, the cheese smoothed it all out.  Though it was too young to start being influenced from it’s swathing in chestnut leaves, the cheese was probably my favorite of the evening. When eaten in small bites the paste, dense and cakey, did coat the tongue enough to buffer against the burn of the Rye. But, take too big of a bite and the acidity, naturally found in a goats milk cheese, seemed to turn up the flame on my tongue. Both called for restraint and moderation, which was good because there was still a bit of cheese and drinks ahead.

Professor A. followed next and his drink was the most anticipated of the evening (at least for me). Because a name was demanded, he went with “Cider House Rules:”

3 oz ice cider, Eden single varietal barrel aged

1 oz single barrel Jack Daniels
.5 oz ice extracted tower shot from Speckled Ax
2 dashes walnut bitters

Orange twist

We nibbled on: 
Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm in Vermont.
This was the only moment of the night where I enjoyed the drink more than the cheese–and I LOVE me some Tarentaise. One thing about this raw cow’s milk, Alpine style cheese is that the raw milk can have a very large presence. This will usually translate to a dance across the palate or, if you’re not familiar with raw milk cheeses, you can think you’re having an allergic reaction to the cheese because your mouth begins to itch.  I like to tell people that it’s the cheeses way to remind you that its milk is still alive when you eat it. Get past that, though, and you’re rewarded with the best thing west of Comte. It’s the perfect Swiss: grassy, nutty and buttery, with a smooth texture. This is one of the best domestic representations of the style out there. I picked it for the nutty bite to pair with the walnut bitters in his drink.  
And, man, what a drink. If I weren’t already growing belligerent and demanding that Vrylena drive us all to Denny’s for Hobbit Holes, I would have had another one. But, instead, I plotted with the Missus and Dawn to make this again, serving it over a bowl of anything from Gorgeous Gelato. At first sniff, it reminded me of toasted almonds, but was sweet and syrupy, with notes of dark chocolate when it hit my lips. This was the unexpected hit of the evening all around, and you could tell that Professor A. was quite pleased with his original creation (and I’m going to openly advocate for this to be picked up by Hugo’s or Bar Lola for their drink menu. Mostly so I can go there and drink it when I want).
Lastly, we have Adam and his “Pearl Arbor:”
From his email:
exact recipe is in progress but basically, its an eggnog made with spruce infused vodka.

ingredients: cream, egg, vodka, spruce needles, pinenuts, frangelico, nutmeg.

could call it the ‘i’m dreaming of a white russian christmas’, or since we’re celebrating on dec 7, it could be called the ‘pearl arbor’.

Our cheese finale was:

Winnimere, from Jasper Hill Farm and homemade dark chocolate fudge.   

So, um..yea. Spruce needle infused vodka. I have to tell you, it was a bit of a mindfuck. You would think that it would smell very much like Lysol. But, it smells like mint. Yet, tastes of pine.

I love Adam, but I did not like this at all. I think I drank about a 1/4 of my share and called it good. There was just too much happening and to end with this, after so many different alcohols and sugar (on top of more sugar) were consumed. I just couldn’t.

I could, however, enjoy some cheese and chocolate.  This would have been a better pairing with Professor A.’s drink for the coffee, nut and chocolate layers in it. With this being the first Winnimere batch of the season, you can see that it’s not terribly ripe. So, the usual notes of smoke and meat were tame. It was, however, buttery and rich with umami. The fudge, while basic, was a nice note to end on.

And so we end this chapter of Obscure Holiday Cocktails. Let’s have a toast to Vrylena and Dave and the little fellow to soon join them. A toast to having health, love, family and good friends. Cheers to you and yours.



drinking, holidays, obscure holiday cocktails, whiskey drinks

Obscure Holiday Cocktails

I have a holiday confession… I’ve never had spiked Egg Nog or a Hot Toddy or Christmas Punch or any other popular cocktail that pops up this time of year. The truth is, I don’t really drink and if I do it’s nothing more than a glass of wine every few months when the meal calls for it. My take on alcohol, in general, has always turned me to respond with a Ralph Wiggumism: “It tastes like burning!”

So, when the opportunity was presented to attend an “Obscure Holiday Cocktail” tasting with some fellow local bloggers, I was slightly scared. It was more my baby sized tolerance that frightened me the most as I was deeply concerned that I would make a complete and utter ass of myself in front of these new friends. Thankfully, things were paced enough and there was enough food to ease the way, that I walked away with dignity intact.

The evening the brain child of Dawn, from Appetite Portland, and Kate, from The Blueberry Files after a conversation they had with well known local author and bartender genius, John Myers. I volunteered to pair cheeses for the drinks, but had to resort to asking my father, a part-time bartender, for flavor profiles on many of the ingredients in the drinks. It made me laugh, and slightly anxious, that I had absolutely no point of reference for any of them outside of Southern Comfort and Port. In the end, I chose cheeses that I knew, even if they weren’t perfectly paired, would at least be enjoyed.

Our menu for the evening:

Whiskey Mac
1 1/2 oz Scotch whisky
1 oz green ginger wine

**Dawn, the bartender for the evening, informed us that the only ginger wine you can use is Stone’s Green Ginger Wine.

Cheese: Quadrella di Bufala: a buffalo milk Taleggio.

This was a hell of a way to start the evening. Made with Johnny Walker Black, this was all whiskey, or rather what I imagined it to be–heavy, sweet and toasty. The ginger wine was completely lost under the weight, only showing hints of spiciness to remind us it was in the glass. The thick paste and cream of the buffalo milk cheese, with it hints of earth and must, were enough to cut through the after burn of the whiskey. While the textures worked for me, I wasn’t completely sold on the flavors as I found something off about the mushroom/caramel mixtures. If it was available to me at the time, I think I would have gone with Ardrahn, a washed rind from Ireland.

Rye Flip
Rye Whiskey
Maple syrup

Cheese: Gabietou: raw sheep and cow’s milk from Herve Mons of France.

This was the oddest of the night for me. The color was a washed out yellow that had a stronger flavor of whiskey than I had expected. It was nice, especially when the nutmeg came through but had no maple flavor and seemed like it needed, as Adam pointed out, cream to give it more heft. I could easily see this as being an alternative for some to Egg Nog. For many, the cheese, made partially of sheep’s milk, added weight to the mouthfeel and brought the drink to a higher level. Dawn pointed out that it was normally the drink that brought up the food and found it interesting to see it reversed.

Christmas Pudding
100 ml Southern Comfort
100 ml Drambuie
500 ml Guinness Stout

Cheese: Landaff: Raw cow’s milk, milked in NH and aged in VT at Jasper Hill Farms.

When I saw the ingredients for this one, I didn’t want anything to do with it. Not only was my last experience with Southern Comfort a bad one, but I can’t stand Guinness. That being said, I don’t think it was anywhere near as bad as I feared. Overall, as wisely pointed out by A. from PFM, this tasted exactly like root beer. Flat, slightly boozey, root beer. Overall, the reception for it was pretty bad, but I didn’t mind it. The cheese paired nicely, reminiscent of an english farmhouse cheddar, but there was nothing remarkable about the two together.

Our recipe:
* 8 ounces water
* 1 cup raisins
* 3 cinnamon sticks
* 5 whole cloves
* 12 cardamom seeds
* 2 dry orange peels
Boil ingredients for 10 minutes in saucepan, then add:
* 1 gallon port wine
* One 750-ml. bottle brandy
* 16 ounces rum
* 1/2 cup sugar
Bring to boil and let simmer 1 minute, then turn off burner and ignite. Allow the mixture to burn for about 15 seconds. Serve hot.

Cheese: Rogue River Blue: raw cows milk blue wrapped in brandy soaked grape leaves

Easily the most enjoyed of the night. Warming to the belly and easy to sip, it was simply great mulled wine. And really, what drink isn’t great when you have to set it on fire? Once I saw Port and Brandy were ingredients, I knew right away that Rogue River Blue would go amazing with this and it didn’t fall short of expectations. Both buttery, slightly salty with just a hint of peppery blue it is, to me, one of the most perfect cheeses in the world.

It was truly a great night of conversation and tastings and I want to thank my hosts again for opening up my palate to a world of new flavors. Cheers!