Friday, October 30, 2015

The Oaxacan Dead

It is the time of year when I watch horror movies. Not just a few, either. I gorge on them like a zombie gorges on human flesh. Speaking of zombies, I never tire of a good zombie flick.

As a kid, I inflicted myself with a sick sense of existential dread watching George A. Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead. I used to imagine what it would feel like to come home from school and find my home abandoned... Front door swinging on its hinges, the aftermath of a struggle, blood caked on the floor... And then to discover that my family had become bloodthirsty zombies. Where would I run to? Who could help me? As a child, it genuinely terrified me. So, after that, I watched every zombie movie I could get my hands on. I still do. Right now, the Walking Dead continues to fascinate (and frustrate) me. Maybe it is something about the struggle to retain some human dignity within a world increasingly driven by dumb bloodlust.

Night of the Living Dead
In homage to zombies, I am sharing a recipe for a drink called the Oaxacan Dead. From what I can tell, this cocktail was concocted right here in Boston at Deep Ellum, down in Allston. Their recipe is a bit different from the one presented here. Subtitled the "Mezcal Zombie," their version includes mezcal, rum from Jamaica and Trinidad, falernum, grenadine, grapefruit-cinnamon syrup, Herbsaint, bitters, and citrus. The ingredients, especially the falernum, place this drink firmly into the tiki category (it is, in fact, derived from Don the Beachcomber's original 1934 Zombie, and is similar to the Mai Tai). In the same family as orgeat syrup, falernum is a sugar syrup with hints of lime, ginger, vanilla, clove, allspice, and almond—Caribbean flavors that impart a fragrant, tart, sweet, and spicy element.

The Walking Dead
A brief note about falernum. I use John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum, a sugarcane-derived product of Barbados that contains a bit of alcohol and is far superior to the competition, if that competition is Fee Brothers. While it might do in a pinch, the Fee Brothers falernum syrup is full of sweeteners and artificial flavors and mercilessly free of alcohol. It is worth the effort to find John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum if you plan on making any sort of tiki drink from the era of Don the Beachcomber or Trader Vic's. However, if you can't find it in the store, many folks suggest that homemade falernum is not only quite easy, but also better than anything you can buy in the store. Read more about that in Imbibe magazine.

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
Despite its tropical origins in the Zombie, I am sharing this recipe for the Oaxacan Dead now, in the last days of a New England October, because I think it is thematically appropriate for my favorite day: Halloween. Honestly, I am unaware of how the original recipe for this drink (with rum) evolved into the one highlighted below, but I can attest that the smokey flavor of the mezcal and the tangy notes of the falernum and lime blend perfectly with the earthy apricot liqueur. It's a delightful, satisfying drink—as good on a chilly October night is it would be on a beach-balmy summer afternoon—and I encourage you to celebrate All Hallows' Eve with one.

The Oaxacan Dead
  • 1 1/2 oz mezcal (I used Vida)
  • 1/2 oz apricot liqueur (I used Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot)
  • 1/2 oz falernum (if you can find it, John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum)
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
  • 2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
  • Fresh mint for garnish
Shake the ingredients vigorously—look alive!—with ice and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with the mint (if you want—it is not critical). Bottoms up!

And, Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Whittemore Sipper

After some midlife upheaval, I now live in a strange oasis called the Whittemore Estates. This is a hidden secret of Boston, a rambling property of flagstone and apple trees, vegetable gardens and a rich abundance of flowers. There is also a quite remarkable swimming pool, certainly an anomaly in Boston, that brings to mind the south of France, or at the very least, a summer vacation spot in Maine or Cape Cod.

It is now October and the pool is forlorn and covered. We are heading toward Halloween. Days have become cooler, the nights downright chilly, and the apples are falling off the trees en masse. The air is redolent of their broken flesh, of woodfire and damp leaves. 

In homage of this magical place, I have a cocktail to share. Based loosely on a cocktail by Jay Zimmerman of Brooklyn's ba'sik, the Whittemore Sipper is, as is my wont, a twist on the Manhattan using rye whiskey, Orchard Apricot Liqueur, and Byrrh Grand Quinquina (an aperitif flavored with quinine—which comes from chinchona bark—and has flavors reminiscent of finer vermouths, but with a gentle bitterness). To this I add a combination of bitters, and a flamed orange peel. 

I have played around with this cocktail quite a bit, veering away from my first choice of Punt y Mes vermouth, which is a bit too heavily bittersweet (in my opinion) for this drink, and opting eventually for the gentler Byrrh, which has tones (such as chocolate) that complement the apricot and rye nicely. You could substitute the very fine Bonal Gentiane Qiuna, another quinine-derived aperitif (and a key ingredient in the Bonal & Rye cocktail). 

Go easy on the apricot liqueur—at least if you are using the Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot—as it can be a bit medicinal if overused. And find a rye that has punch. I have been using 100-proof Hochstadter's Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey, but the 100-proof Rittenhouse Rye works well too. I'm sure even Old Overholt would work, in a pinch, but the rye flavors—all the flavors, in fact—are more muted.

Also, I have played around with bitters, starting with Regan's Orange Bitters and moving to Dutch's Colonial Cocktail Bitters and a few others. I settled on a combination of the unshakeable Angostura Bitters and Bittermen's Xocalatl Mole Bitters, which adds suitable depth and complementary flavors to the drink. However, part of the fun is experimenting, so perhaps there are other types of bitters that would bring out different flavor profiles in this drink.

Experiments are underway employing a rinse of smoky scotch, and the verdict is out. But, again, this is why drinking is fun. Without further ado, the recipe.

The Whittemore Sipper
  • 3 oz rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz Byrrh Grand Quinquina
  • 1/2 oz apricot liqueur
  • 2 dashes Bittermen's Xocalatl Mole Bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • Flamed orange peel
In a mixing glass with ice, combine all the ingredients except the flamed orange peel. Stir until very cold and strain in to a cocktail glass. Flame the peel (see how to flame a peel) over the drink and discard the peel. Drink the drink. Bottoms up.

And, please don't hesitate to provide your feedback on this recipe.