Thursday, March 18, 2010

Top 10 out of 100 - #9 The Caipirinha

Muddling. Technically, it's combining ingredients in the bottom of a mixing glass (typically with an instrument made for this purpose, called a....wait for it....muddler) before the rest of the liquid ingredients are added to make a cocktail. Following shaking and stirring, it is probably the most typical action needed to create cocktails. And it's one which I think is done incorrectly more often than not.

Like any action related to bartending, it can be argued there is no right or wrong way to do anything. Slow shake, hard shake, Japanese shake, lazy shake - which way a bartender performs any action is dependent upon their experiences and preferences, and of course those vary widely. So I am not saying that there is a "wrong" way to muddle ingredients for a drink. However, the basic goal of muddling is to extract desirable flavors from the ingredients being muddled. And it therefore makes sense that different ways of performing this action accomplish this goal better than others.

Of what I have read and seen, a deliberate, GENTLE muddling fits the bill just fine. You're trying to coax the essential oils, juices, and flavors from the ingredients, not beat the living crap out of them (I saw one obviously 'roided-up bartender muddle limes and mint for a mojito like he was driving a steel pole into the ground - he was SWEATING afterwards). And ingredients like mint, which tend to bruise and discolor if too harshly treated, hold up better when not abused like the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon.

Which leads us to the Caipirinha (kai-pee-reen-ya), a drink so simple it's almost criminal how good it is. I think the only reason this isn't much more popular than the mojito is that almost no one is confident they know how to pronounce it (or its main ingredient, cachaca (ka-sha-suh)). The muddled lime stays in the glass, there is no shaking required, no bar instruments other than something to perform the muddling with need be brought out - cut lime, add sugar, muddle, add ice and cachaca, quick stir, done. And it's gorgeous to look at - perfect for those warm spring cocktail parties or hanging out on newly opened bar patios.

The Caipirinha

2.5oz cachaca
.5oz simple syrup (or barspoon of sugar)
one lime, quartered

Muddle the lime and sugar in the bottom of an old fashioned glass. Add cracked ice to fill the glass. then add cachaca. Stir well.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Time To Drink: Dogfish Head Fort

Taste testing @dogfishbeer Fort ale w/ @suzmiguel 18% ABV! on Twitpic

What is a beer? Not really an existential question, and not one that people outside of beer geek circles spend a while lot of time contemplating. But with the release of the "strongest beer in the world," the Sink The Bismarck "quadruple IPA" from BrewDog brewery in Scotland, it's been asked a lot lately, both by beer geeks and the mainstream press. Is an alcoholic beverage that clocks in at 41% ABV really still a beer, or is it some other category of beverage - not quite a spirit, certainly not a wine, but "beer" doesn't quite get it either?

I'm not going to delve into that heady discussion (get it? heady? beer?? No?). But that question was running through the back of my mind as Suz and I tasted Fort by Dogfish Head brewery. Touted as the strongest fruit beer in the world, this 18% ABV monster uses over a ton of raspberries during fermentation, and that was obvious from the second we poured some from the large format (25.6oz) bottle into some wine glasses - the raspberries hit you right away. But so does the alcohol, which was very clearly present on the nose. The head - tiny, tight bubbles - dissipated quickly, leaving the lovely, rose-gold, slightly opaque liquid alone in the glass.

Fort is "strong" in French, and this beer is certainly that. Suz noted it more closely resembled a currant liqueur like Chambord than a framboise style Belgian beer. Lightly carbonated, the finish was long, and almost cloyingly sweet. That alcohol on the nose wasn't as obvious in the taste (but it was pretty obvious based on the buzz we had after finishing the bottle). But that sweetness builds on the palate, and becomes overwhelming eventually. It's pretty clear that this type of beer is not suited to a couple of people knocking back 12.5oz of the stuff while playing Scrabble (let's just say two letter words were about all we could conjur at the end of that game).

So when should you drink this? With three friends (a 6oz serving each seems right), from a white wine glass, while eating a great chocolate dessert (Suz suggested a dark chocolate mousse, which would be right on - bitter chocolate and sweet raspberries = yum). And I think that gets at the question about whether these types of beverages should be thought of as "beer" - we have to change the way we think of what beer is, or can be. Pop the cap on one if these and chug it down at a tailgate, and you're going to be in for quite a shock. But serve it like a dessert wine, or, in the case of the Sink The Bismarck, like a fine dram, and you begin to experience the beer the way the brewers intended. Some initial research can help determine your approach to these beverages, and result in some increased knowledge about what being a beer really means.