General Harrison’s Egg Nogg

First, just a reminder that Sunday, May 22, 2011, is our monthly exercise in folly, Savoy Cocktail Book Night at Alembic Bar. If any of the cocktails, (they also have a great beer selection,) on this blog have captured your fancy, stop by after 6 and allow the skilled bartenders, (and me,) to make them for you. It is always a fun time.

General Harrison’s Egg Nogg
1 Egg. (1 Egg)
1 1/2 Teaspoonsful of Sugar. (1 1/2 Teaspoon Caster Sugar)
2 or 3 Small Lumps of Ice.
Fill the tumbler with Cider (4 oz Astarbe Natural Basque Cider), and shake well.

This is a splendid drink, and is very popular on the Mississippi river. It was the favourite beverage of William Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States of America.

First off, and let’s get this out of the way, this isn’t Egg Nogg. As far as I am concerned, and no disrespect to the General, this a Cider Flip. Period.

Second, most modern American Hard Cider is awful. Most of them are sweet, vaguely alcoholic, highly carbonated, compounded beverages more closely resembling Zima or Wine Coolers than actual Cider.

William Henry Harrison lived from 1773 to 1841, he would not have recognized these beverages as Hard Cider, or even something fit for adult consumption.

When we talk about the nature of historical ingredients, we rarely talk about the obvious stuff.

The fact is, until relatively recently, fermentation was poorly understood. I mean, people understood the end result and they understood how to control the process, but they really did not understand that it was a specific organism that was consuming the sugars and producing the alcohol. Yeast was pretty much a mystery. This means most fermentation was done using things similar to sourdough starters. This also means most beer was probably sour and most wine far less predictably delightful. The industrialization of these industries just hadn’t happened in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Likewise, Hard Cider was not inoculated with specific, delightful strains of yeast, it was just fermented with whatever wild yeasts and bacterias were in the air and on the fruit wherever it was being made. Hardly anybody does this anymore, because the results are not really predictable and the beverage you get on the other end may more closely resemble a tart Lambic Ale than an Apple Soda.

It is also worth noting, that opposed to the mild, juicy apples that are often now used to make Hard Cider and Apple Juice, the apples traditionally used to make cider were those you couldn’t eat out of hand. If you talk to someone who makes Calvados, another old, old tradition, they will tell you the only thing the many apple varieties used to make that beverage have in common are that they are small, ugly, and bitter.

So I was contemplating this, wondering if there was some cider I could find that would make sense to use in General Harrison’s Egg Nogg.

Over the past year or two, I’ve become a bit obsessed with naturally fermented beer and wine. I really like the unusual flavors you find in these beverages. I’d tried some more unusual beers and had some Natural wines which really made me perk up and take notice of things that stood outside of my frame of reference for fermented beverages.

One day, when I was visiting with Carl Sutton (of Sutton Cellars), he’d pulled out some Spanish Cider which blew me away. Not only did it have unusual flavors I didn’t associate with Cider, it also had a bracing acidity, that helped me to categorize many of the funky flavors I’d found in Calvados.

When we traveled to Spain last year, I made it my personal goal to try as many Natural Ciders as I could find while we traveled through the Basque and the Asturian regions of Spain. Well, after a couple bottles, none of my traveling companions really shared this enthusiasm. Tart, dry, funky and fairly alcoholic, they soon substituted Wine for the Cider I was drinking.

However, Spanish Cider makes complete sense as the type of Hard Cider someone would have been drinking in the late part of the 18th Century and early part of the 19th, and it makes total sense in the Harrison’s Egg Nogg. The acidity makes that amount of sugar sensible, the funkiness stands up against the egg, and the fact that it is barely carbonated makes it almost possible to shake the drinks without having it explode all over your kitchen or bar.

Forgot to turn on the music today before making the video. Note to self, feed the cats before making videos.

Safety Note: As with any recipe containing uncooked eggs, there is some small chance of salmonella. If that risk bothers you, use pasteurized eggs.

Finding Basque Cider: I got this Astarbe Cider at Healthy Spirits. When talking to them, they asked me to let them know what I thought. He’d gotten it a while ago, excited to find any Basque Cider available in the US. However, it really hadn’t sold very well. Personally, I had a hard time telling them that, yes, they should carry Basque Cider, when they have sold less than a case over what looks like about 5 years. If you disagree, let them know, as there’s only one bottle left. If that last bottle gets sold, and you still want to try Spanish Cider, K&L Wines does carry a Spanish and a Basque Cider.

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