Ingredient of the Day: Haamonii Smooth Shochu

shochu

Shochu, which surpassed sake consumption in Japan in 2003, is a clear spirit distilled from grain, rice, barley, sweet potato, and/or buckwheat. Low in calories (about 35 calories in 2 ounces) and alcohol content (typically 25 percent), shochu is a delicate spirit that works best in uncomplicated cocktails, infusions, or served neat. It’s also known as “soju” in Korea. The spirit can be traced back to 13th century China.

Last week, Haamonii Smooth, a shochu brand based in San Francisco, held an NYC launch event at Irving Mill. Guests, invited via Haamonii’s twitter, were asked to tweet live reviews during the tasting, which appear on the homepage of the brand’s website. Two cocktails were served, a shochu Arnold Palmer (tea and lemonade) and a shochu, pomegranate, and blueberry concoction. Both were so light and refreshing that the alcohol was barely noticeable. Sipped neat, I found the Haamonii truly lived up to its name–it’s so incredibly smooth, that the words “liquid cashmere” came to mind. It’s faintly sweet and bright with virtually no alcohol burn. Haamonii also offers a lemon-flavored variety made with natural lemon juice, which is also lovely on its own. Haamonii, or “Harmony,” encourages drinkers to pour for others and not the self, so that you’ll never drink alone.

Arnold Palmer shochu cocktail and pomegranate-blueberry shochu cocktail.

Arnold Palmer shochu cocktail and pomegranate-blueberry shochu cocktail.

Ingredient of the Day: ROOT

 

root2

Philly’s love for all things antiquated is really exploding right now, which isn’t too surprising given the City of Brotherly Love’s rich history as the centerpiece of early America. The classic cocktail scene is thriving at bars such as Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Southwark, and APO Bar & Lounge (formerly Apothecary). There’s also interesting non-alcoholic concoctions (such as orgeat, grape, and bitters phosphate) to be found at Franklin Fountain, a classic ice cream and homemade soda shop. So it’s not too surprising to see ROOT, an organic root tea liqueur based on a Pre-Prohibition recipe that was a predecessor to root beer, sprout up in Pennsylvania. Only available for online purchase ($38.99) in 28 other states, ROOT was released in May as a small-batch spirit by crafty collective Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in collaboration with the producers of Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum.

Long before the Pilgrims breezed into Plymouth Rock, Native Americans were sipping root tea as an herbal remedy. As colonial settlers handed the recipe down from generation to generation, the drink grew in potency and complexity. During the Temperance Movement, a Philadelphia pharmacist removed the alcohol and mixed the tea with soda water, renaming it (ironically) as “root beer” to folly hard-drinking coal miners and steelworkers. Turning back the clock to the colonial era, ROOT is an 80-proof sugarcane spirit containing birch bark, smoked black tea, essence of sassafrass, orange and lemon peel, anise, allspice, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The essence of sassafrass is a mix of citrus, spearmint, and wintergreen since actual sassafrass root was banned by the FDA in 1960 because the root bark contains a mildly toxic oil.

I can’t tell you what ROOT tastes like because I haven’t ordered it just yet, but I thought you all should know about this exciting new spirit which is getting added to many cocktail menus in Philly. Hopefully NYC will catch up soon! Just this week, the makers of ROOT held a cocktail competition at Silk City in Philly. Here’s the winning recipe by Kate Loeb of Oyster House:

Dr. Hadley’s Root Restorative

.5oz Demerara simple syrup
6 large mint leaves
1.25 oz. Lairds Bonded (100 proof) Applejack
1.0 oz ROOT Liqueur
.5 oz. Benedictine
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Mint sprig

Muddle mint in simple syrup. Add ice and other ingredients. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a spanked mint sprig.

Ingredient of the Day: Veev Acai Spirit

 

Although acai’s reputation as a cure-all superfood has been questioned lately, there’s no denying that the Brazilian berry that became a media darling in recent years is very high in antioxidants–reportedly 57 percent higher than pomegranate. Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) tastes like a cross between blueberry and blackberry with a chocolate finish. Bringing these sweet health benefits to your cocktail glass is Veev, a 60-proof white grain spirit flavored with acai, as well as prickly pear and acerola cherry. Not only can you feel good about counteracting your liver damage when you drink Veev, but the company is progressively green. For every bottle sold, $1 goes toward efforts to restore the Amazon rainforests, and to ensure that harvesting of acai is sustainable. Veev also prides itself on being the only carbon-neutral spirit–the distillery is powered by wind. Distilled from wheat, Veev liqueur mixes like vodka, but its ad campaign hails it as “The End of Vodka,” probably to better appeal to mixologists. Brothers Courtney and Carter Reum, both former Wall Streeters, launched Veev in 2007 after encountering acai on a 2003 surfing trip to Brazil. Really, what’s not to like? I attended a Veev event last night at Delicatessen, and I’ll have details up here soon. In the meantime, try this at the next bar you see Veev in:

veev

 

 

Spa Cooler by Veev

 

2 oz. Veev

4 sprigs of fresh mint

1 oz. fresh lime juice

1/2 oz. simple syrup

4 slices of cucumber

 

Muddle mint, lime juice, and simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add Veev, cucumber slices, and ice; shake well. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass or double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of cucumber.

 

Ingredient of the Day: Creme de Violette

 

This sun-kissed start to Memorial Day weekend has my mind buzzing with visions of a blossoming summer garden–I can’t wait to get herbs, tomatoes, and flowers a-sproutin’. Memorial Day, originally called ‘Decoration Day,’ was first observed May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. So when thinking of a cocktail to observe (or celebrate) the long weekend, a natural choice is the Aviation, which delicately blends gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur (which has nothing to do with those syrupy cherries), and Creme de Violette.

 

Over the past two years, Creme de Violette has come back into production after being unavailable for decades. Rothman & Winter’s version is most likely to be available here in NYC–try specialty liquor stores like Astor Wines and Spirits. It’s a floral, herbaceous deep purple liqueur made from (you guessed it) violet petals. On its own it will probably hit you as too perfume-y, but a spoonful in the right cocktail adds a certain joie de vivre. Since my roommate, Gardner, is the brand ambassador for Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky, he was fortunate to receive a bottle of the extremely-hard-to-find Hermes Violet by Suntory. As you can tell by the photo, we still have yet to open our bottle (still waiting for the right occasion), but we have cracked the Rothman & Winter violette, and it’s as elegant as a spring evening.

 

Creme de Violette is a close cousin to Creme Yvette, a liqueur that disappeared in the 1960s made from violet petals, berries, vanilla, and other spices. It’s been completely obscure, although–that appears to be changing! In researching this post, I was thrilled to discover that none other than Robert Cooper, who created St-Germain elderflower liqueur, is in the process of launching a Creme Yvette. Apparently it was on view at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America conference in Orlando last month. I wonder if it will be available at the New York Bar Show in June? Until then, here are three cocktails using Creme de Violette to get you through the three-day weekend:

 

 

Rare Japanese import Hermes Violet.

Rare Japanese import Hermes Violet.

Aviation adapted by Robert Hess

 

2 oz. gin (try Plymouth)

1/2 oz. lemon juice

2 tsp. maraschino liqueur (try Luxardo)

1 tsp. Creme de Violette

 

Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Drizzle the Creme de Violette into the glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

 

 

Atty Cocktail from the Savoy Cocktail Book, adapted by Erik Ellestad

 

3/4 oz. dry vermouth (try Noilly Prat)

1 1/2 oz. gin (try Beefeater)

1 tsp. Creme de Violette

1 tsp. absinthe (try La Fee)

 

Add ingredients to a mixing glass filled with cracked ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze a lemon twist on top and drop it into the drink.

 

 

Violette Royale

 

4 oz. Champagne

1/2 oz. Creme de Violette

 

This one should be self-explanatory. Cheers!

Ingredient of the Day: Zipang Sparkling Sake

 

At last night’s World Cocktail Day party at Pranna, this light and sweet sparkling sake was used to top many of the cocktails in lieu of soda water or champagne. Imported by sake producer Gekkeikan, the naturally carbonated sake is infused with tropical fruits to give it an extra zip, if you will. It comes in single-serving sized bottles (250 ml priced at $6), and should be served cold.

 

Effervescent and lightly tropical.

Effervescent and lightly tropical.

 

 

 

Try it in: 

 

The Blueberry Collins by Plymouth Gin Ambassador Simon Ford

 

2 oz. gin (Plymouth)

1 oz. ginger liqueur (Domaine de Canton)

1 oz. lemon juice

1/2 oz. simple syrup

handful of blueberries

Zipang Sparkling Sake

 

Muddle blueberries in a tall glass. Add other ingredients and ice, top with sparkling sake. Gently stir.

Ingredient of the Day: Orange Bitters

 

Orange Bittters are an essential ingredient for many classic cocktails. Made from the dried peel of unripe sour or bitter oranges steeped in gin or grain alcohol, the orange character and supporting spices add depth and a subtle flavor with just a few dashes. Bitters became hard to find after 1906 following the Food and Drug Act because their medicinal properties could no longer be proven. Thanks to the cocktail renaissance, this ingredient is back in production, and at the same time, many bartenders are choosing to make their own. Popular brands include Regan’s Orange Bitters #6, Fee Brothers, The Bitter Truth, and Angostura Orange Bitters.

 

No bar is complete without orange bitters.

No bar is complete without orange bitters.

 

 

Try it in:

 

The Martinez adapted by Jamie Boudreau

 

2 oz. gin (try Plymouth)

1 oz. sweet vermouth (try Cinzano)

1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur

1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

1 dash Fee’s orange bitters

 

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice until the glass starts to frost. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a citrus twist.

Ingredient of the Day: Beefeater 24

 

If you haven’t tried Beefeater’s new edition yet, Beefeater 24, get thee to a decent cocktail bar or liquor store. Named after its 24-hour steeping process prior to distillation, this variety of the London dry gin has toned down the juniper and includes a mix of 12 botanicals. A blend of rare Japanese sencha and Chinese green teas, grapefruit and Seville orange peels, bitter almond, and orris root are some of the more prominent flavor notes, and the overall taste is smooth and subtly aromatic. Created by Master Distiller Desmond Payne with the cocktail enthusiast in mind, Beefeater 24 is inspired by the fact that Beefeater’s founder, James Burrough, was the son of a tea merchant. Stateside, it’s only available in New York and San Francisco for now, so consider yourself lucky to get a taste from this crafty new bottle.

Perfect for 24-hour party people.

Perfect for 24-hour party people.

 

Try it in:

The 24 Martini by Beefeater Brand Ambassador Dan Warner

2 oz. Beefeater 24

1/3 oz. Lillet

3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a citrus peel.