Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bitter Mai Tai

It is still February, and in New England that usually implies utter misery. In a regular year, it means filthy piles of petrified snow, blackened by the gunk of a winter's worth of snowplowing, muddy melt, dog piss, and plain old city dirt. It means subzero temperatures and despondent people grimly huddled at bus stops or hobbling along the streets, bent against the bitter wind, rendered obese by layers of puffy coats, scarves, hats, sweaters, long johns, and winter fat. People look as if they are ready just to die. It means a certain hopelessness: will this ever end?

This year is different. February is just about over and we have been graced by some pretty nice temperatures. The coldest day this month had a high of 30 degrees fahrenheit with a 16-degree low. That was one day. Otherwise it has ranged from a mild mid-40s to a balmy mid-50s. January was not dissimilar. Essentially, this winter has been like spring. There are already snowbells blooming along the sidewalks, and bright little patches of purple and yellow crocuses pushing up through the ground. No snow, little rain - what does it all mean? 

Well, here at Lakeville Road it means the first Mai Tai of the year, albeit with a considerable twist. The Bitter Mai Tai, from a recipe courtesy of Jeremy Oertel at Brooklyn's Dram, seems peculiar on paper because its predominant ingredient is Campari. As you probably know, Campari is bitter and a Mai Tai is tropical (read: not bitter). But even if, like my wife, you don't care for Campari, I'll wager that you'll enjoy this particular combination of flavors. There is some bitterness, but there is also the pungency from Jamaican rum and a bright tartness from fresh lime juice and orgeat syrup - which also provides a sweet counteraction to the Campari, with a little help from orange curaçao. While it shares four out of the five ingredients in a standard Mai Tai, this is quite different. The sweetness on the tongue is undercut almost instantaneously by the bitter notes of Campari. And then, the smokey flavor of the Jamaican rum kind of rises to the fore, and characterizes the aftertaste. This is definitely the kind of bitterness I can get with at the tail end of February. It makes me feel... happy.

To do this right, you'll want to seek out Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum. As they say on the website, "Make no mistake, this is not a sipping rum by contemporary standards. Upon initial pour, allow a minute to open up before tasting." From an English company dating back to 1788, Smith & Cross is an unusual rum; in fact, sipping it straight you might not think it is a rum at all. It shares perhaps a few flavor characteristics with Myers's Jamaican rum, but it is a golden color and its odor is pungent, with a hint of burnt sugar or molasses. It contains "only Wedderburn and Plummer pot still distillates, famous for their notes of exotic fruits and spice." It is distilled in Jamaica and produced in London. It is Navy strength at 114 proof. It is worth finding purely for it's unique flavor. I found it at Cambridge Wine & Spirits, where you can also find orgeat syrup (or try the Boston Shaker).

That said, if you can't lay your meathooks on a bottle of Smith & Cross, try this with another aged Caribbean rum.

With the sun shining in the window and March just around the corner, this has proven to be a good choice of drink for today. And without boring you further by expounding relentlessly on the weather, here is the recipe:

Bitter Mai Tai

1 1/2 oz Campari
3/4 oz Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross recommended)
1/2 oz orange curaçao
1 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz orgeat syrup

Shake all the ingredients with ice until cold, and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. You can garnish this with a mint sprig or a lime (or both), as you would a Mai Tai.

Here's to you. Bottoms up!

1 comment:

  1. I love the dramatic lead-up to this recipe: it's 8:30 am and I really want this Mai-Tai. Love the bitter cussing of New England winter, and the suggestion of Christie in the background turning her nose up at Campari. Wish I was there.


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