Old School Warmth
Article By: David Singer
As winter is upon us again it's time to revisit drinks that ward off the chill. And for this article its time to go back to the near-forgotten originals. The oldies are goodies for a reason and this certainly goes beyond my beloved Side Car. Recently I found some very interesting liqueurs that were in the United States many years ago and have only recently resurfaced. If we are going to return to the old school of cocktails, we must begin before they were called cocktails, but the liqueur was still mixed with other juices, herbs or liqueurs.
One of these very old-school but recently-returned libations is a Dutch liqueur known as Batavia Arrack. The trade of this liqueur dates back to the early 17th century when the Dutch East India Company sailed the known world. Batavia Arrack comes only from the Island of Java in Indonesia. It is distilled from sugarcane and fermented red rice, using Chinese pot stills with characteristic teak vats. This was a time when punch for many was the drink of choice. It was a celebration of the fruits and spices that were at that time rare and expensive. Many punches are made with Batavia Arrack; one of the more popular ones was Swedish Punch - or Punsch.
Another newly rediscovered liqueur is Zirbenz (est. 1797), which is a Stone Pine liqueur from the Austrian Alps. Now admittedly when I first saw this being poured by someone I can only think to call a "liquor geek", Eric Seed, Principal of the Haus Alpenz portfolio, my expectation was something akin to what fortified Retsina would taste like. I can't say I like Retsina much; I really do like Greek wine, but Retsina has always made me believe it would do a better job than Pine Sol on my floors. Seed's knowledge and passion was clearly evident so I continued to taste. The Zirbenz was a very delicious surprise; none of that medicinal pine quality evident. On the contrary, if it were possible to climb a pine tree in July and smell the cones in their infant form, this was the essence of what I was experiencing. Yet the taste of pine had an almost sweet quality to it as young garlic can have. As it turns out, baby pinecones are in fact used in the distillation of Zirbenz. You can drink this straight or as a Martini Salzburg, which is a combination of Zirbenz, gin, lemon juice, and a bit of sugar to balance. Another twist is on the hot rum toddy called le Grog Austrian. Amber rum is combined with Zirbenz, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, clove, and hot water.
Creme de Violette is another of these liqueurs that has been used in recipes for over a century but has been remiss for about a decade. It is sometimes confused with Parfait Amour, which has flavorings of mostly orange and vanilla, but Creme de Violette is quite different. It is made from very particular violets in Austria. A slightly sweet essence of violets was my first thought after tasting this for a classic cocktail, a Violette Royale, which mixes it with Champagne. A very old school cocktail that was made with this is the Aviation: gin, lemon juice, Creme de Violette, and a cherry.
The final long-standing traditional liqueur I'll recommend is Nux Alpina Cream - a walnut liqueur. This is the essence of what a fall cocktail could be made from. Flavors of walnut, caramels and clove are intense, sweet and long. It is made from green walnuts that have been steeped for months in Weinbrand, which is a local double distilled brandy, then in the final month with walnuts, spices and herbs. The number of cocktails that could be created with this - or ways in which it could be cooked with - are myriad. A couple of cocktails that have caught my attention are the Drake and the Raincoat. The Drake is Nux Alpina, vodka and amaretto, all topped with espresso. The Raincoat is Nux Alpina, bourbon and almond syrup on ice with cinnamon.
Using any of the above or any of the spirits in the Haus Alpena portfolio (available via Ideal) could be an excellent addition to the back bar or the home bar. Many of the cocktails I've described are classic, yet there certainly is the potential to reinvent these classics or spin the next wave of drinks. I look forward to seeing cocktail lists around town in the near future.