Thursday, June 13th, 2013
Mexico City is known by a few names, including México DF – the DF stands for Distrito Federal (Federal District) – or simply DF (pronounced “day effay”). It is not a part of any of Mexico’s 31 states, but rather belongs to Mexico as a whole.
Our newest cocktail is a summertime Mexican twist on the classic Manhattan – hence the name De Efe, riffing on the parallels between the two cities. This is another in the line of cocktails on our roster that are inspired by classics – in each case, we substitute tequila or mezcal for the more typically used spirit, always to interesting and delicious effect. Examples would be El Burro, which is a Mexican spin on the Moscow Mule, Abuelo Sucio, our twist on the Old-Fashioned, and Joaquin Murrieta, a south of the border Negroni.
Matthew Campbell says the initial inspiration for De Efe came when he was stealing cherries from our cook Graciela as she was pitting them for the arroz con leche dessert. Their fresh, vibrant flavor inspired him to build a drink around a garnish.
It’s a lighter take on a Manhattan, in order to not mask or override the fruit. With that in mind, an old school blanco, Purasangre (literally “pure blood”, though it means thoroughbred), was chosen. Purasangre is a brand that our good friend Jake (Cimarrón, Don Amado, etc) recently brought stateside. Continuing on the “lighter” theme, Imbue bittersweet vermouth (from Oregon) stands in for red vermouth. Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao lends balance and body – it’s also a natural fit with the cherry. Orange bitters and grapefruit zest (peel discarded) add aromatics and some bright, acidic notes.
A variation on a theme, built backwards from the bounty of our local summer produce.
JP (with input from Matthew C)
Friday, June 7th, 2013
Our latest cocktail has been a long time coming. Sometimes drinks come together quickly, other times less so. In this case, the original concept for Beta Test came from a brainstorming session between Matthew Campbell and Scott Baird months ago.
Much more recently, Matt C was juicing beets and thinking about naturally occurring pigments. What about a drink that is the color of juiced carrots? Ideally it wouldn’t taste much like juiced carrots, but still have that bright yet earthy orange hue. First, lemon and ginger were added to the mix to brighten, lighten and offset the vegetal profile of the carrot.
Matt then chose Calle 23, a classic highland reposado, to push the “green” agave flavor – highland tequila is generally more fruity/vegetal than lowland tequila. Further, this repo is stored in French oak, which imparts a slight vanilla across the mid-palate.
At this point, Scott suggested the addition of Aveze, a French gentian liquor that smells and tastes like old books cellared in a chateau and adds some bass notes to the cocktail.
Overall, this cocktail is based on the same flavor balance of our sangritas: sweet, savory, tart and spice. In this case, the spice comes from a house-made black pepper tincture that lingers on the finish and resets the palate, bringing you back for more.
Despite the somewhat unconventional elements comprising Beta Test and its long road to prime time, it’s surprisingly approachable. I’m not sure what the final tweaks were, but it has recently evolved from an “interesting” drink that was not quite “there” to a delicious drink, full of depth and complexity.
Saturday, May 4th, 2013
The number five seems to be enjoying its day in the sun lately. In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan put forth some basic rules of eating. One memorable rule is “Avoid Food Products That Contain More Than Five Ingredients.” Soon after, clever, manipulative products and ad campaigns followed, most notably Häagen-Dazs’s Five line of ice creams featuring only five ingredients and Lays Classic Potato Chips boasting that they are made with “three simple ingredients” – neither of which are particularly healthy foods.
And in an unrelated but locally relevant example, there’s Five restaurant down the street.
Anyway, we didn’t necessarily set out to have five ingredients in Cinco de Mezcal, our special Cinco de Mayo cocktail, but that’s what we ended up with nonetheless: mezcal, lime, pineapple, chartreuse and hoja santa. The first three are no doubt familiar and require no explanation. Chartreuse is a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since the 1740s that includes over 130 herbal extracts (there seems to be a long tradition of monks making all manner of spirits, but that’s for another time). Hoja santa is an oft-used herb in Mexico, whether for tamales, wrapping whole fish or mole verde. It is a plant with heart-shaped leaves that grow up to a foot in size and have a complex flavor, with notes of sassafras, mint and anise.
Matt Campbell’s idea for Cinco de Mezcal evolved from the Mexican flag, but we didn’t want to make a layered drink with cinnamon schnapps. The Chartreuse, lime, pineapple and hoja santa mingle to create a nice balance between earthy and fruity, and the mezcal adds some smoky intensity. The ‘flag’ on top is comprised of mint for aromatics and a pineapple chunk dipped in a salt of morita and guajillo chiles and tomato powder. As barman Matt says, “A little spice alongside a good amount of lime and mezcal is exactly what I want to beat the heat this weekend. It’s a good sweat. I’m starting to sound redundant but this drink is meant to be refreshing and quaffable-on the patio or in paradise-oh wait, it’s both.”
Hope to see you at Comal on this momentous weekend that includes both our one-year anniversary (on Saturday) and Cinco de Mayo.
Saturday, April 6th, 2013
The new cocktails keep coming out of the basement laboratory. The latest, Lee Trevino, is another quaffable, easy-drinking option (alongside SPF 2020 and old standby the Comal Swizzle), inspired by rival golfer Arnold Palmer’s namesake concoction (half lemonade/half iced tea), and the related “John Daly”, which is an Arnold Palmer plus vodka.
The initial idea came from chef Matt, who suggested a tequila-based twist on the Arnold Palmer. The “lemonade” in the Lee Trevino is a complex affair, consisting of house-made Meyer lemon marmalade and fresh lemon juice. Add Cimarron blanco tequila infused with mango black tea and some Erdinger Weissbrau, shake on ice and serve tall – voila! It’s either a deconstructed tequila-based Arnold Palmer or a fortified Bavarian spring shandy, but either way it’s delicious.
For those of you who aren’t golf fans, Lee Trevino is a legendary Mexican American golfer who played his best golf in the seventies. He has won every significant tournament except the Masters and is also a very funny man. He once quipped, “I played the tour in 1967 and told jokes and nobody laughed. Then I won the Open the next year, told the same jokes, and everybody laughed like hell.” After he was struck by lightning at the 1975 Western Open, Trevino was asked by a reporter what he would do if he were out on the course and it began to storm again. Trevino answered he would take out his 1 iron and point it to the sky, “Because not even God can hit the 1-iron.”
Probably my favorite Lee Trevino tidbit is that early in his career he wore a Band Aid to cover a tattoo of his ex-wife’s name.
JP (with input from MC)
Sunday, March 24th, 2013
We have a new cocktail on the list just in time for longer days and warmer temps: SPF 2020. Apparently the secret is already out, as it’s quickly vaulted near the top of our cocktail sales ladder. As noted above, our often eloquent barkeep Matthew Campbell describes SPF 2020 as “Sand between your toes in liquid form”. There’s not much I can add to that pithy summary, but I’ll at least offer a little context.
SPF 2020 has all the makings of easy drinking, tropical drink nirvana: tasty rum (Matusalem – a traditional Cuban rum now made in the DR), strawberry, blood orange, and lime. Our special sauce in this one is spiced dram – a house-made liqueur of cinnamon, clove, mulato chile, allspice and vanilla – cooked up in the Comal lab by Matthew and Tony. The dram’s spicy notes nicely offset the tropical drink “fruit bomb” effect, especially when coupled with the St Germain.
The “cherry on top” in this case is a green strawberry, cooked sous vide in syrup. All in all, a rather culinary take on what is usually a very simple drink – and while the end result is certainly easy drinking, it is also deceptively nuanced and complex.
As I prepared this piece, I turned up this, err, fanciful account of how St Germain is produced – as Scott Baird put it, “If you believe the account on their website, I’ll sell you the bridge…” – pay particular attention to the impressive lamb chops on the guy behind the bicycle in the second photo.
JP (with notes from Matthew Campbell)