Sunday, July 6, 2014

Are You Crafty? (Craft Cocktails)

Here's my May column from the Petaluma Post...

I’m not talking arts and crafts, I’m talking craft cocktails.  Bourbon and gin are not just for your grandpa anymore.  Don’t say yuck!  It wasn't that many years ago that I didn't care for either of these, but I was introduced to them in well crafted cocktails, then grew to appreciate the complexities of finely made spirits from small craft distillers.

Food and beverage have always gone hand in hand. What is an elegant dinner without a selection of wines?  However times are changing, and spirits are becoming a very popular choice.  Whether serving straight spirits to pair with the menu or mixing custom cocktails to complement each course or the theme of the meal, this is an increasingly popular trend.

What is a spirit?  This is distilled liquor aka hard liquor.  Most popular is Vodka, an American original is Bourbon.  There are local makers of Gin, Vodka, Bourbon and more.

I have had a great time the last couple of years playing with both Bourbon and Scotch.  I have paired with local non-profits to host specialty dinners.  We have worked with the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum on an annual Scotch tasting dinner for the past two years, and with the Petaluma Arts Center on a Bourbon tasting dinner last year.  This year was a sellout crowd of over 100 scotch enthusiasts.  I enjoyed working with a whisky master to choose the scotches by style and region.  Much like wine they can vary greatly by the region they come from, from clean and fruity to dark peaty and smoky.

At the last Scotch dinner we paired a Gorgonzola Mousse with a Lagavulin 16 year old scotch.  This is one of the smokiest of the scotches, and I’m not a fan of this one, as it is just too much smoke and peat.  But pairing with the Gorgonzola transformed it; the mousse was strong enough to both stand up to it and smooth it out.  The Cragganmore, a medium bodied scotch, was paired with Roasted Quail on an Apricot Almond Cous Cous Pilaf; the apricot just made this scotch pop.

Along with tasting and learning more about particular liquors, I enjoy the flavor profiles of creating cocktails.  From using locally grown ingredients and spirits to matching a menu that I am planning, I make it a part of my event menu.

One of my favorites is a Blood Orange Margarita
2 oz blood orange juice
½ oz fresh lime juice (always fresh, not the bottled stuff)
1½ oz tequila (I like an anejo for the caramel flavors)
1 oz orange curacao

Shake vigorously with ice and pour over fresh ice.  This margarita is great made in large quantities and served in a tall jar; just pour over ice at serving time.

I am often found looking for culinary inspiration in local watering holes.  Inspiration… really!  That’s why I’m there.  One of my favorite combinations is at Seared, their Latin Lover, a gin and cilantro based cocktail, served with their salmon carpaccio is a perfect combination!

The Farmers Daughters cocktail at the Social Club was made with fresh peaches and paired just perfectly with their fried chicken.

Located next to us on East D Street is Mario and John’s Tavern, just recently remodeled and reopened.  Nick and Micah have revived a great local location with a craft cocktail style.  Not a pretentious bar from the city, it is warm with Petaluma style, with one of the best collections of spirits I’ve seen.  They are bringing their experience to Petaluma and with a great cocktail menu.  If you get a chance, stop by for a Midtown Mule, an update on the classic Moscow Mule.

After you have enjoyed a drink at a local watering hole and tried a new spirit don’t hesitate to stop by Willabee’s Wine and Spirits to look for locally produced spirits.  I just purchased a bottle of Sonoma Spirit Works Gin- it is incredible.  Sonoma Spirit Works is a craft distiller located in Sebastopol in their new Barlow Center.

Don’t be afraid to add a cocktail to your dinner menu, be creative.  It is a great way to set the stage for the evening.  Recently we did a southern dinner with friends and started out with a Sazerac (a rye based cocktail with Absinthe) paired with fried chicken and waffles as the hor d’oeuvres.  Dinner was Shrimp Etouffee and dessert was peach cobbler

2 oz Rye Whiskey
½ oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes of Peychaud Bitters
A wash of Absinthe

Shake the Rye, simple syrup, and bitters well with ice.  For simple syrup you can substitute about half that much sugar (but make sure to mix it more thoroughly) or one third the amount of agave syrup. Next coat the inside of your serving glass with absinthe and drain most or all of back out.  Absinthe has a very powerful flavor so you only need a little.  Fill the glass with crushed ice and strain the rest into the glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

Spirits can be very easy to pair with and will start the evening well.

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