Biffy Cocktail

Speaking of Mr. Darcy O’Neil…

A couple years ago, Darcy published an article about Arrack. Being as I thought Arrack was, at the time, completely unavailable to those of us in North America, I was quick to send him a note asking where on earth he’d found it.

Batavia Arrack is important because it is used as the base for a liqueur called Swedish Punch. Swedish Punch has not been available in the US for a number of years and has no direct substitute. If you want to make cocktails with it, your only real options are to either travel to Sweden or make it yourself. Unfortunately, as I noted, Arrack had also not been available in the US for a long time, so you couldn’t really even make it yourself.

After a little exchange of interests and ideas, a bottle of Very Special Old Arrack from Sri Lanka appeared on my doorstep.

In his article, Darcy also noted that Jerry Thomas had a few recipes for Arrack Punch. One involved Calves’ Foot Jelly, which seemed a little hard core for me, even if it really is the same stuff as Jello. The other two seemed fairly adaptable.

United Service Punch.
Take ½ pint of Arrack.
1 pint of Jamaica rum.
½ pound of loaf-sugar.
3 pints of hot tea.
6 lemons.

Rub off the peel of four of the lemons with some of the sugar. Dissolve the sugar in the tea; add the juice of all the lemons, and the Arrack. Serve cold.

Imperial Arrack Punch.
Take 1 quart of old Batavia Arrack.
6 lemons.
1 pound of loaf-sugar.
1 quart of boiling water.

Cut the lemons into thin slices, and steep them in the Arrack for six hours. Remove the lemons without squeezing them. Dissolve the sugar in the water, and add it while hot to the Arrack. Then let it cool. This makes a fine liqueur which should be thoroughly iced before serving.

I wasn’t sure about amounts for the liquids, since I have no idea what proof liquors Thomas might have been working with. I decided to shoot for something around 20% alcohol, since this seems to be where I see most Swedish Punch listed. I ended up doing a sort of hybrid of Thomas’ two recipes.

Trying to halve the recipe above, I steeped 2 thinly sliced lemon in 1/4 pint Arrack and 1/2 pint Mount Gay Eclipse Rum overnight.

I made a double strength cup of Darjeeling tea, dissolved a cup of Demerara sugar in it, cooled to room temperature, (the reason to cool to room temp before chilling is tea tends to cloud if chilled too quickly,) and chilled overnight.

In the morning I strained the alcohol mixture (not squeezing) and combined it with the tea syrup.

12 hours later, I ran the barely aged liqueur through a filter and bottled. The result wasn’t a bad tasting liqueur. A bit odd, it must be admitted. Still, tasty.

I had no idea, at the time, if it was remotely similar to real Swedish Punsch. But, that didn’t prevent me from making a Biffy Cocktail with it!

Biffy Cocktail

1/4 Lemon Juice (3/4 ounce Lemon Juice)
1/4 Swedish Punch (3/4 ounce homemade)
1/2 Dry Gin (1 1/2 Ounce Plymouth Gin)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

But, here’s the problem.

As I did more research about Arrack, I discovered that the Sri Lankan Arrack that Darcy had sent me is altogether different from Batavia Arrack. Sri Lankan Arrack is made by distilling Palm Wine.

The Batavia Arrack that Jerry Thomas is calling for, and that is used in Swedish Punch, is made in Indonesia and distilled from fermented Sugar Cane. It is basically a Rum. However, for a rum, it is unusual in that its fermentation is started with the addition of fermented red rice, giving it a hint of the unusual flavors, (for a Westerner,) that you find in Sake and some distilled Asian spirits.

The Biffy was tasty with my liqueur. If I’d had Batavia Arrack, I would have been making Swedish Punch. But with Sri Lankan Arrack, what I’d made wasn’t Swedish Punch.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Orgeat? Almond Fudge?

First off, let me say that the websites which say that blanching almonds is as easy as…

Place almonds in a bowl.
Pour boiling water to barely cover almonds.
Let the almonds sit for 1 minute and no longer.
Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again.
Pat dry and slip the skins off.

…are lying. Sure, maybe the skins of 1 in 10 almonds will “slip off,” but based on the last hour I have spent taking the skins off of 1/2 pound of almonds, painstakingly, with my fingernails, this is optimistic at best.

Shopping List:

1/2 pound raw almonds, preferably blanched
(1/2 oz Apricot Kernels, optional, blanched)
1/4 Cup Cognac or Brandy
1 tsp. Orange Flower Water

To make the cocktail ingredient called “Orgeat” you first make almond milk, and then use that almond milk to make syrup. You add sugar, about equal parts by volume, and boil until it reaches “syrup” stage or around 235 degrees Fahrenheit.

Almond milk is made in a similar way to coconut milk. I can’t quite decide if cracking a coconut, separating it from the brown skin, and grating it is less or more work than peeling almonds. It’s kind of a half a dozen of one, six of another kind of thing. Less coconuts, but difficult to find shelled coconut meat. I can say with a large degree of certainty, that you do not want to start with almonds in the shell, unless you are truly a masochist.

So you have a half pound of raw almonds which you have blanched and peeled or, if you were smart, you bought blanched and peeled. Then you put them in a blender or food processor and turn them into crushed almonds. Careful not to make butter here. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and continue processing. Let this sit for about an hour. Then you put them in a cheesecloth or nylon preserves straining bag and squeeze as much liquid as you can possibly get out of them. If you’re particular, you will then put the squeezed almonds back in the liquid, soak for another hour and repeat. Maybe even do this one more time.

Then measure the almond milk and put it on the stove. Add about an equal amount of sugar by volume, and heat until it reaches 235 degrees.

Mine looked like this when I pulled it off the stove. I didn’t really seem to have enough volume to get an accurate read from the candy thermometer, so I think I have something between almond syrup and almond fudge. Oops. Hey you can always add water back in. Damn, is it tasty though. Cool the almond syrup, add a quarter cup cognac (or brandy) and a teaspoon of orange flower water and you’re done. Stored in the fridge a syrup like this should keep fairly well for a month or so, as long as you don’t double dip.

It really is a fair amount of work, probably 2 hours minimum, but in the end you’ll have something so far exceeding the so-called orgeat from Fee’s, Monin, or Torani that you’ll kind of wonder why you had been paying money for them.

Acknowledgments: This is based on recipes published in this topic on eGullet, Orgeat. Special thanks to Jennifer Colliau at the Slanted Door for giving me a taste of her version of Orgeat, enlightening me to how much better the house made stuff could be.

BOTW–AVBC 20th Anniversary Imperial IPA

Normally, I quite enjoy the beers of the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Really enjoy their Boont Amber, Deep Ender’s Porter, and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. All are fine examples of California Beer Brewing.

But, boy I did not like this 20th Anniversary Imperial IPA.

It’s an OK Imperial India Pale Ale. Not particularly out there in hoppiness or strength.

The place where it falls completely down, to me, is the smell.

It is completely and overwhelmingly yeasty.

But the weird part is it doesn’t smell like beer yeast. Instead, it smells like the Red Star Active Dry Yeast you would normally use for making bread.

This was definitely a “no thank you helping” type beer for me.


Making drinks in a bar is like, “doing it,” with a beautiful woman?

Making drinks at home is “onanism”?

Have I gone crazy? Is this my mid-life crisis? Could I use a bigger cliché?

After reading that last post certain persons in the house were about ready to call the exorcist, fearing I had been possessed by the ghost of Norman Mailer or Anthony Burgess.

Well, there you go. That’s certainly Crazylandia.

Anyway, you’re up to date, I’m up to date.

Enough of this blogging as therapy.

I’ve got shopping to do. Dinner and orgeat to make.

I might not even write about it.

Latin Words and Other Metaphors

I had a good time with the guys at Flower on Friday, but I went into the weekend with a bit of a heavy feeling in my heart.

Two more times and that’s it.

All of E.’s arguments against me working at Flower made sense. Plus, it’s in Oakland, making the late night commute back to my neighborhood in SF a bit of a bear.

Except for the fact that, well, making drinks in an exciting setting with a good bunch of guys and getting actual feedback from other living beings is a lot more fun than doing it by yourself at home.

I mean, sure, onanism is great as part of a well balanced life. Or if that’s all you can get. Or if you don’t know any better. But if that’s all you do, it’s maybe a little pathetic.

Once you’ve done it with a beautiful wo/man like Flower, (and s/he is always beautiful your first time,) it seems a bit hollow to go back to scouring the internet for free pictures of drinks and then get all sticky in the kitchen making them by yourself.

Will Work for Food

After Enrique the barback spontaneously hit me with the kudos, we had to explain the whole situation.

Tell him I actually have a job and a wife that probably wouldn’t be thrilled if I worked more than a couple nights at a bar. I was just checking it out. I think he thought I was truly crazy when he found out I was doing it without getting paid.

Sure, there is a tradition among restaurant jobs, where you “stage” to check out what it is like to work in a real kitchen. You work like a dog and they don’t pay you.

But bartending?

As I said before, this was about curiousity for me, more than anything else. Could I do the job?

It’s funny, though, a lot of my best friends are in bands or have other expensive hobbies. Belong to a gym or do triathlons.

They do these things because they find them enjoyable and satisfying, not because they expect to make any money at them.

I guess, at this point, I’m looking at my “volunteer” bartending in this light.

I’m pleased to find I’m good at it, enjoy it, and happy to have the experience.

Some people might think it is a bit crazy to work that hard for no money.

But those same people might pay $50 a month to a gym and get the same upper body workout I get shaking drinks and shoveling ice.

Crazylandia Fourteen

The big difference between the first Friday and the second Friday at Flower was that Mrs. Underhill had been out of town the first week. The second week I was giving up a night at home with my wife.

When we sat down, E. asked, “So what’s next?” I’ll paraphrase E.: I’ve been watching you this evening and you could do this job. You’d have to work at least 2 shifts, probably Friday and Saturday. They want someone who will stick around. How long would you want to give up 2 weekend nights with your wife? How long would your wife put up with you missing 2 weekend nights?

Of course the answer to that one is, she wouldn’t. I mean, she has in the past, but she wouldn’t put up with it for me to be a part time bartender in addition to my other career.

If not here at Flower, you’ve got a full time job. What sort of shifts could you work, if you couldn’t start until 5 or 6. Typically those jobs would be from 6 PM until 2 AM. How would you handle working those hours and then going to your day job? I could recommend you to other bars and tell them you’re good and work really hard for free. But how much sense does that make?

So where does that leave us?

E. thought I should work a shift staging at Tilted Portal. That it would be fun for me to see what working in another restaurant would be like. Also maybe work another shift at Flower. Have some more friends and my wife come in for drinks and dinner.

That all sounded good to me. I finished my dinner, changed, said goodnight to the guys, and headed out to catch the BART back to San Francisco.

Much to mull over.

Crazylandia Thirteen

The next Friday, I’d planned with E. to again work at Flora.

I have to admit I was far more nervous this time than the first. Afraid I’d get over confident, and really muff it this time. Actually had a little of a hard time sleeping the night before, due to worry. Very tired during the day Friday and pretty burned feeling as I took SF MUNI and BART to Oakland. Plus, there was the fact that friends Trott and Humuhumu had promised to come and visit me while I was working. Glad they were interested in showing support, but still it was another thing to weigh on me during the course of the evening.

Made it in, changed, said, “Hi,” to E., and he said today he’d have me work the well with L. instead of working with him. When I greeted L. he told me he and I would both work the well and deal with the bar customers on our end of the bar. As well, he would show me how the Point of Sale System worked. Well, nothing like confronting your fears to distract you from being a bit tired.

In the drink making category the night went great. I had to double check each recipe only once the first time I made it, but from then on was good to go. I could make them without pausing or thinking too much.

Customer work was a lot harder for me. Honestly, it was like developing a muscle I hadn’t used in a long, long time. I just didn’t feel comfortable at first greeting customers or asking them what they would like. One of the hardest things I’ve done in a while. I started to feel a bit more comfortable towards the end of the evening when a nice couple sat near the end of the bar and I was able to engage them in conversation about Absinthe and other interesting events in their past.

Trott and Humuhumu arrived fairly early. 7:00 PM, maybe. They were able to get seats at the bar after a bit of a wait. When I went over to greet, they told me they would like me to make a drink for them some time during the evening. I replied, “Oh c’mon, you can come over to my house any time and I’ll make you a drink. You should have one of these other fine gentlemen make something for you!” Amusingly, E. soon took me aside and said, “Uh, you either know those people or just made a completely inappropriate remark.”  Fortunately, the former!  It was great to see Trott and Humuhumu, I was truly grateful for their support, and from what I could tell they had a great evening of food and drink.

The evening wasn’t as busy as the previous week, but bar orders kept dribbling in at a regular clip until much later. There was a group of a few larger tickets around 9:30-10:00, and my mind just couldn’t quite take it in. I guess, understandable, as by this point I had been working for over 12 hours, with only a break for a lunch and a BART ride. L. told me to go check on E. and he would handle it. This ended up being a poor decision, and perhaps due to poor communication between the wait staff and the bar, one of the tables walked before their drink order came out. This snapped me back into focus, but the night was mostly over.

Highlight: Awesome bar back Enrique asking me, “Are you going to be working here?” and then adding, “You’re really good!”

Around 10:30-11:00 we put in our food orders, as the kitchen was starting to close. Our orders came up and E. and I sat down to talk about what was next.

Bich’s Special Cocktail

Bich’s Special Cocktail

1 Dash Angostura Bitters.
1/3 Kina Lillet. (3/4 oz Lillet Blanc)
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Beefeater’s Gin)

Shake (Stir, please) well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze orange peel on top.

This one was nice. Using Beefeater’s, it really showcases the flavor of Lillet more than any other cocktail I’ve tried. It is a surprisingly complex cocktail for such simple ingredients.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

BOTW–Firestone Walker Pale Ale

I got home at about 1:00 on Saturday morning.

It might have been late, but I’d been serving drinks to people all night. I was hot, sweaty, and thirsty.

Quite some time ago, I had tried Firestone Walker‘s Double Barrel Ale and not really cared for it. To me it tasted kind of like unmalted grain. Not very appealing.

But I recently picked up their Pale Ale and have been quite enjoying it.

It’s a fairly light beer, with just a touch of hops. Crisp and enjoyable.

Just the thing after a day and night of hard work.