Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MxMo LXXXIX - In Which The Treasures And Abominations of Italy Are Examined

Mixology Monday happened, but also 1500 lb of very ripe plums arrived at the distillery, so unpaid (and typically under-appreciated) content Milling was put on hold temporarily. The plums are happily bubbling away now, and boy could I go for a drink.

The theme this month was selected by Chris at A Bar Above. His blog is everything mine isn't, namely informative, friendly, and useful. To each their own. The internet is a big place, and I firmly believe there is still room for both people who want to spread knowledge that will empower people to make better drinks AND for bitter cranks with ugly, poorly-formatted sites that are useful to no one. The theme selected was "unknown"

Basically the idea is to try something new, an ingredient or technique that you’ve never had experience with before and create a cocktail around it… Use a spirit that you’ve never used before. It could be a base spirit, modifier or that Belgian Ale that rings in at 15% alcohol. Use an ingredient that has always captured your imagination in the supermarket. Maybe that weird looking fruit that you always walk by at Whole Foods, or that unusual looking vegetable that you can’t even pronounce. [or] Use a new technique that you’ve never tried, but have always wanted to. Have you been dying to make your own vermouth, amaro, or martini glass made completely out of flavored sugar.

The 'unknown' is my bread and butter around here, and I am enmeshed with it deeply enough that it sometimes becomes difficult to separate the unknown from the commonplace. In the same way if someone asked me to write about a jazz flutist, I would be left sputtering for something to say, not because know nothing but because I know too much. So basically after going uuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh for a while, I decided to try a few 'italian' cocktails, ordinarily something I'd give a wide berth.

There are a few italian cocktails that have achieved fame; the recently inescapable Negroni, the mostly similar Americano, the tasty but I suspect Austrian Aperol Spritz and the barely a cocktail Bellini. All delicious things, but not a very diverse list. Should you choose to venture beyond those the options quickly narrow and grim results loom. A Manhattan ordered at an otherwise delightful piazza-side 'bar' stands vivid in my mind as one of the worst drinks I've ever paid for, and the general sense seemed to be that further exploration would not be rewarded.

Why? My time in Italy has not been extensive, but you don't need to be there very long to grasp how different their drinking culture is from Americas. Primarily, there are no 'bars' in the sense of a place you go to get really fucked up. Drinks always (and just about only) accompany food, a quick glass of wine arrives with a snack plate, or the shot of fernet you desperately require to survive the digestion of la cucina tipica will come with some cookies. The cocktails which get served are mostly low alcohol, fizzing, and served only in a slim pre-dinner window. It's outside their conception that an otherwise healthful person might want to drink 5 oz of rum on an empty stomach. So it seems other cocktails are approached from that viewpoint of befuddlement about how or why someone would drink what they are preparing.

With that in mind, lets try a few Italian drinks.

The Moretta is a hot coffee-based drink which is claimed by the town of Fano in Marche, a port town of some 64,000 souls. The wikipedia entry for this drink very tellingly claims "In the past, the poor economised, so leftovers were gathered together as a liquor. Over time, these ingredients became the basis for moretta." I've used Mistra, a type of anisette typical to the Marche/Lazio region, because this is the only recipe in the history of the world that specifically called for it. Mistra is excellent in coffee, as it contains very little sugar compared to many anise spirits.
1/2 oz Mistra or other Anisetta
1/2 oz Rum
1/2 Brandy (Grappa Piave is great in coffee)
4-5 oz espresso or Moka Pot
spoonful of sugar
Lemon peel

Rinse glass with hot water to warm, then blend together spirits (warmed in another vessel) with sugar and lemon peel. Add coffee. Pretend you are a rugged peasant fisherman, warming up after a tough day hauling in your meager bounty, rather than someone sitting in a warm house and blogging in their boxers.

You know what, I quite enjoyed that. Breakfast has been dispatched but the cutting board is still dirty so lets have Second Breakfast. This next recipe is courtesy of Renato G. Dettori's 1953 book "Italian Wines and Liqueurs". While his cocktail recipes are somewhat suspicious, in his section on "Nutritional Properties" he offers my personal credo that "alcoholic drinks are a valuable supplement to food and undeniably have a positive effect on health".

Italian Bloody Mary

1/2 Absinthe
1 Tomato Juice
1 teaspoon of grenadine syrup
Pinch of Salt

Renato's recipe didn't include directions, but I mixed everything together to dissolve the grenadine and then rolled with ice between two shakers. I also made this very small because absinthe is 64% abv, and because I thought it would be fucking horrible and I was right.

If you ordered a Bloody Mary in America and it came out like this, no bartender could complain if you socked them in the mouth. I was going to make an additional drink (an intriguing combination of gin, red wine, orange juice, and fernet) but this has crushed out my will to go on. So, as they say in Italy Non mi rompere i coglioni!

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