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December 2010
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February 2012

Wee Drinkies

Last year I came across a very nice drinks blog called 12bottlebar.com while in search of a cocktail recipe and wound up spending several facinated hours there, the result of which was a plan to go through the recipes one at a time to broaden my tastes. I ended up getting stuck on one specific drink, the Brandy Milk Punch, (paleo version using whole raw milk and - because it was what I had on hand, and I love it - Metaxa) that I loved so much I just couldn't move on. If you try this drink, don't forget the freshly grated nutmeg.

Time, of course, passed and I did move on, and then took a hiatus from drinking in general due to gastric distress ( the result of WAY too much spicy, acidic food and too many acidic, citrusy drinks). Rice pap and water, bleh!

It's only been a couple of months now that I've returned to adult beverages, particularly rediscovering my love for the many varieties and flavors of wine, including the subtle shift in profile as the wine oxidizes in the glass, and how this will usually improve, but sometimes (rarely) ruin it. 

A few nights ago I was in the mood for a drink, but discovered we were out of wine. We had plenty of gin in the freezer, though, and *ding* out of the depths of my subconscious popped the memory of that fab website. It took another while before I could reconstruct what it could have possibly been called, but thanks to some desperate memory tracing I finally found what I was looking for! 

And the recipe I decided on trying was The Obituary Cocktail

Two ounces of gin coupled with a quarter ounce each dry vermouth and absinthe - it sounded like a nice departure from a typical martini.  And I liked it well enough initially, but decided that the absinthe flavor became somewhat overwhelming, cloying, even, as it warmed up. And with my slight constitution and low tolerance, this drink was definitely a slow sipper. I ended up not finishing it, but not willing to give up on the concept...there were enough intriguing flavors in the concoction that I decided to toy with it.

The next evening, I decided to reduce both the absinthe and the vermouth to mere dashes - drizzles, if you will - and to add a citrus note, which I thought would go very nicely with both the gin and the absinthe. I had two slightly shriveled Seville oranges left over from my holiday visit to my mother's house in Sunny Florida, and decided they were perfect for my experiment. The result was one of the finest cocktails I've ever enjoyed, featuring that distinctive orangey-bitter note that only a Seville can contribute, tempered by the botanical...hmmm...anise-ness of the absinthe, which itself was contained and became an enhancement to the drink, instead of a main feature.

A Bit of a Side Note About Seville Oranges

If you are not familiar, Seville, or bitter oranges are known for their amazingly fragrant, thick skins and very sour juice. They are the oranges traditionally used for marmalade.

When I was a teen growing up at my mom's, we all eschewed those bitter little oranges, convinced there was something terribly wrong, possibly even diseased, with the poor, puny orange tree growing in our back yard. They were mostly a nuisance, aside from the lovely fragrance of their blossoms and their use as an occasional garbage disposal freshener. 

And then we met some ladies who changed our minds and opened our eyes to the treasure, the great value that we had so sneeringly derided. 

I'm not even sure how the conversation started...we were at a restaurant, my mother and I, down in St. Augustine, dining with some old school pals of mine (I have always included my mom in my social interactions - she's cool like that) and these lovely ladies - also friends of my friends and who hovered somewhere between mom and I in age - somehow in the course of our dinner conversations discovered that we had an orange tree in our back yard. They started plying us with questions, a very excited, hopeful look on their faces. Once they had established, with great relish on their parts, that we most likely were in possession of a Seville orange tree, they practically begged us for some seeds, some left over peels, anything really.

My mom did them one better and told them they could come and harvest as many oranges as they liked and we'd be grateful for the favor. And they did harvest them. They also told us a bit of the history, uses, and merits of the Seville orange, and how they had searched for years for a source of seeds, so they could grow their very own trees.

After that, of course I had a new-found respect for our little tree, yet, still I was never really fond of its fruits, since their sourness rivals that of a lemon or lime. Never liked them until, that is, until I went Paleo and stopped eating anything with processed or added sugar.

Last spring my husband and I took a couple of our friends with us down to visit my mom and we made pitchers of homemade margaritas with the oranges...Outstanding! A good reposado, the luciously tart and fragrant juice of the seville, and just a bit of fresh lime. There was no need for cointreau. Triple sec? Pah! We pretty much overdosed on Seville margaritas, and I (dis)credit those oranges with my subsequent relish for sour, acidic beverages that ultimately led to my gastric downfall!

A Return to the Topic at Hand

Apologies...I tend to get a bit off track. I blame my fine art schooling in college, which taught me to work an entire canvas instead of focusing on one element at a time. In art, sure, it can mean that the entire piece is integrated, because it is treated as a whole product and flows accordingly. In writing, (and the rest of life, unfortunately) it means that I tend to digress and get sidetracked very easily, meandering and pontificating, and only through a very concerted effort of will do I ever manage to stick to something long enough to satisfactorally conclude it.

Anyway, we left off with the Seville orange addition to the Obituary Cocktail, and how lovely it was. Well, the next evening arrived and I was out of Sevilles. But I had lemons!  

Ok, so lemons don't have the range or depth of that floral, orangey flavor that worked so charmingly with the absinthe, but certainly it must have some charm of its own! So, I gave it a try, but made the error of squeezing the juice of an entire lemon into my drink. Too tart, of course, so I had to temper it with the juice of some brandied bing cherries that a friend of mine made and was so kind as to include in my Christmas bag of goodies. The flavor was just what was needed to temper the lemon, but sadly, the added alcohol from the brandy  - and the added sugar - left me wide awake in the wee hours of the morning with a pounding heart and the sweats. (Paleo peeps, be warned if you don't already know - sugar and alcohol will affect you much more strongly! And for Deity's sake, stay the F*&^ away from agave! Your poor liver is already adjusting to so much, don't thrust upon it the added burden of fructose processing when you are already pushing it through it's paces with alcohol!)

Tonight marked the most recent iteration of this drink, and I started by discovering a surprise bottle of even better absinthe in my Drinkies cabinet. (We entertain a lot, and people bring a LOT of alcohol to our house. The leftover bottles inordinately end up in our Drinkies cabinet, a dark little space filled with strange dusty bottles of things we generally don't imbibe. (The good stuff either goes in the freezer or lives on the counter where it's consumed in very little time.)

I was looking for rum, to try the Trafalgar, a fitting drink since I LOVE anything that is remotely related to Patrick O'brian and his 20-book Aubrey-Maturin historical fiction series. Sadly, there was no Pusser's in the cabinet, which is what 12bottlebar recommends, so that recipe has been shelved for now, but 'lo if there wasn't a partial bottle of Golden Absente, a 138 proof, slightly greenish tinged upgrade to the regular 110 proof Absente that I've been drinking!

I started with a modest margarita glass (the normal kind you buy at the department store, not the fish-bowl versions you find at most Mexi-themed chain restaurants) filled it with ice, then poured in one standard shot of Bombay Gin (my preference is Hendricks, and the 12bottle website recommends Leopold's, but one does what one can with what one has, doesn't one?). Then I added the juice of only 1/2 a lemon, the usual conservative drizzle each of absinthe and dry vermouth, and 3 careful dashes of Angostura Bitters.

WOW!

This drink is phenomenal! The upgrade in absinthe was very noticeable, even with all the other elements. It was smoother and more subtle. My next pursuit will be to get a bottle of Kubler Absinthe, which is the recommendation of 12bottlebar. Just to see if I can taste the difference.

I also found that the bitters, far from interfering with the flavor of the absinthe, actually deepened it, working with it in a very pleasing way. I'm not sure I even have the words to express the subtle difference, but I recommend trying the drink before  and after adding the bitters to really get a TASTE of the difference.

And that, my friends, concludes this little daliance into the realm of adult bevarages. I had intended it to be a short piece celebrating 12bottlebar, but it ended up turning into something a bit more. Hopefully this piece will be of interest to more that just me, but even if it doesn't I've had a blast writing it, and enjoyed a titillation of my taste-buds to boot. (Isn't that a fab word? Titillation. It rolls off the tongue and makes one feel...well, titillated.)