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:
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.
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.
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.
* 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!