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    Episode 227 – The Margarita: A Sweet Technology

    In 1875 – at the height of the Phylloxera crisis, Cointreau created its iconic brand of Triple Sec, using a method we can only assume was very similar to the one pioneered by Combier. Until the introduction of Maison Ferrand’s Dry Curacao in 2011 (which was actually developed in partnership with Dave Wondrich), Cointreau was pretty much the gold standard for what a clear orange liqueur is and should be. So if you encounter – at any point – a cocktail recipe that calls for Triple Sec, go ahead and assume that Cointreau is going to be an exemplary representative of the category.A Felicitous Partnership5 years after the launch of Cointreau in 1875, a new player entered the picture and its name was Grand Marnier, a mashup comprised of the surname of the family responsible for inventing it and a timeless suggestion from a helpful friend. The family were the Marnier-Lapostolles, who ran a distilling operation in a town called Neauphle-le-Château just west of Paris, and the friend was César Ritz, the Swiss Hotelier responsible for creating what we now know as the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain.After tinkering with a large stock of Cognac acquired by his father-in-law, Eugène Lapostolle, Louis-Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle decided that it would benefit from the addition of a rare orange extract from the Caribbean (in all likelihood, the very same flavorant used in Orange Curacao). Some fine old Cognac, some orange extract, and a little bit of sugar to marry it all together…et voila! A star is born. But to be a star, you need to do more than walk the walk. You need to talk the talk, and you need to dress the part.In 1880, “La Belle Epoque” was really kicking into high gear in Paris, ushering in a cultural golden age that featured a ton of fashionable trends and innovations. One linguistic fad was to call everything “petite,” which literally means “small,” but is often informally taken to mean “cute” or “charming.” So you didn’t just have a dog, you owned a “petit chien,” and you didn’t just read the daily newspaper, you read either, Le Petit Journal, or Le Petit Parisien. Those were the actual, official names of the publications, not just nicknames.From Petite to Grand MarnierSo amidst all this cutesy petite-ness, one day, Louis-Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle poured a dram of his orange-infused, sweetened Cognac concoction for his good friend, César Ritz, and the latter decided that it would be smart to buck convention, to go against the grain, and call this delicious nectar, “Grand Marnier,” a name that was loud and proud, big and bold, in a world where many seemed ready to kick back against the stifling “petiteness” of the bourgeoisie. So now we’ve got a spirit that talks the talk AND walks the walk…but how would it dress the part? Well, that’s where the tradition of the Cognac region comes in. If you look at a bottle of Grand Marnier, you’ll notice that it resembles the traditional alembic (or “Charentais”) still design used by French brandy distillers. This, of course, is no coincidence. The bottle was designed to look strikingly different – to stand out from the herd – and the whole ensemble is adorned with a red ribbon (or “cordon rouge”) affixed to the bottle with a wax stamp. For this reason, the term “cordon rouge” very quickly became synonymous with Grand Marnier’s signature product.But it wasn’t just Grand Marnier who benefitted from its relationship with César Ritz. The hotel magnate famously partnered with Georges Auguste Escoffier, one of the most famous and influential French chefs of all time. The liqueur was very quickly adopted by their respective food and beverage programs, also featuring in one of Escoffier’s most iconic recipes: Crêpes Suzette. This immediate exposure to the wealthiest palates across the continent catapulted…to talk about.Orange Liqueur, In SummaryTaken as a group, the trio of Orange Curacao, Triple Sec, and Grand Marnier are the three orange liqueurs that best define the category of “orange-sweetened sours” that eventually evolved into the Margarita. Curacao focuses on the intensity and uniqueness of the bitter orange flavor, Triple Sec operates by trying to convey all the orange flavor of Curacao, but without nearly as much sugar, and Grand Marnier is predicated on the notion that extravagance and boldness can bring any beverage experience to the next level. Orange liqueurs in general, and bottles like Cointreau and Grand Marnier in particular, were a huge part of beverage culture in continental Europe and beyond by the early 20th century, when Americans began quaffing “sunrise tequilas” at Mexican resorts, as we mentioned at the conclusion of Part I. But while all this experimentation with “new-style” and “old-style” daisies was happening in the new world, a new conflict was about to break out in Europe. I mean, yeah, there was some little squabble about an archduke assassination that got a few people bent out of shape, but the conflict I’m referring to is one that would push bartenders to not merely combine spirits, acids, and orange liqueurs, but also to seriously consider and ruthlessly defend the ratios they used in the cocktail shaker.The Sidecar: Conflicting FormulationsTo learn why, we need to set the timeline back about 100 years before the present day to a famous bar in Paris, where a bartender named Harry MacElhone was whipping up drinks for thirsty American Expats who couldn’t drink out in the open on their native soil, where the Volstead Act was in full force.His venue was known as Harry’s New York Bar, and this eponymous joint is absolutely legendary in the beverage world as being the definitive or assumed origin of drinks like the French 75, Bloody Mary, Old Pal, Monkey Gland, and, importantly for this episode, the Sidecar. According to cocktail historian Simon Difford, whom we’ll return to in just a minute:The son of a jute mill owner from Dundee, Scotland, Harry first worked at number 5 Rue Daunou in Paris (the site that he would later acquire and turn into Harry’s Bar) when Milton Henry Opened his New York Bar there in 1911. He then headed to America, working at the Elton Hotel Bar in Waterbury, Connecticut, and the Plaza Bar, New York, before serving in the air force in World War I.When the war ended, Harry took up a role at Ciro’s Club, London, where he became enough of a celebrity to publish his first book, Harry of Crio’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails in 1921.”In this book, we find a recipe for the Sidecar cocktail, which is described as containing equal parts Cognac, the orange liqueur Cointreau, and Lemon Juice. I managed to dig up a scanned PDF of the book online, so you can head over to the show notes page if you’d like to see how it appears in its original format. Unfortunately, the edition I was able to find was the 1923 reprint, and not the original version that came out two years prior, but you’ll note that at least this edition of the book credits the Sidecar to a bartender named Pat McGarry at Buck’s Club in London. The same equal parts recipe also appears in another 1922 book called Cocktails: How To Mix Them, by a Belgian-born bartender named Robert Vermeire.Around the same time, a second recipe for the drink appears, courtesy of Paris Bartender Frank Meier, who tended bar at The Ritz. According to a Tweet thread I dug up from Dave Wondrich (also linked in the show notes), this recipe was published in 1923, a year after the two equal-parts formulas hit print, and had something that Wondrich describes as a ⅔ – ⅙ – ⅙ formulation. This looks SOMETHING like 1 ¾ ounces of Cognac, paired with about a third of an ounce each of lemon juice and Triple Sec.A little less than a decade later, a book would come out that presented a schism in the church of brandy sours much like the schism between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The author was a barman by the name of Harry Craddock, the book was the legendary Savoy Cocktail Book, and HIS recipe for the Sidecar calls for 2 full ounces of Brandy and one ounce each of orange liqueur and lemon juice.London vs. ParisCraddock’s Sidecar recipe became known as the “London” school, since he tended bar at a London hotel, while the equal parts rendition became known as the “Paris” school. Ironically, it may have been Frank Meier’s Paris Ritz version that inspired Craddock (since Craddock’s formula uses similar ratios, but different measures), and we know with very little doubt that the equal parts Paris version was originally created by Pat McGarry in London.While all of this chiasmatic cocktail commerce twixt London and Paris makes for incredibly confusing historical commentary, the upshot is this:As different palates and sensibilities had the opportunity to test and tweak the Sidecar formulation, it migrated from an equal-parts recipe to something that resembles what we today would think of as a classic sour ratio: 2 or 3 parts booze, one part sour, and one part sweet.Now, all these measurements are a huge pain in the neck to keep track of if you’re just using automatic recall, so I’ve created a very special Google Sheet with all the recipes I referenced here and in Part I so that we can do a little bit of number crunching, and so you can compare these different builds based on other qualities like publication date, service method, and ABV. So please, if you have the chance, take a look at all these different sour cocktail recipes lined up next to one another on that spreadsheet. I guarantee it’ll give you a completely new appreciation for the format.  LEGGI TUTTO

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    Episode 226 – You Put the Bogbean in the Poitín

    In this fascinating conversation with Pádraic Ó Griallais, founder and director of Micil Distillery, some of the topics we discuss include:The history of distilled spirits in Ireland, with special attention to how pretty much every law or distilling practice somehow ties back to evading unjust taxes.What it was like for Pádraic growing up in a family where distilling was practiced and taught using the oral tradition, and how his grandfather’s role as a seanchaí (SHAN-a-khee), or storyteller, had a massive impact on the way he tells stories using flavor.We also dig into the history and common misconceptions surrounding Poitín, Ireland’s original endemic spirit and Micil Distillery’s flagship product. In particular, we cover what it’s made with, how long it can be aged, and why Pádraic and his team throw a local botanical called “bog bean” into the still whenever they make a batch.Of course, we spend some time talking about the whiskey-making and barrel-aging initiatives at Micil, which benefits from being located in Galway, a city with a centuries-old tradition of sourcing excellent casks from mainland Europe.Along the way, we cover the influence of crop rotation on Poitín mash bills, how to repair a still using porridge, incantations for confusing the police, and much, much more.Pádraic and his team are at a really exciting point in the evolution of their growth right now. They’ve successfully taken a renegade distilling operation and turned it into a successful, licensed company, and they’ve got some excellent plans for growth that we cover toward the end of this episode. Featured Cocktail: The TipperaryThis episode’s featured cocktail is The Tipperary. To make it, you’ll need:1 1/2 – 2 ounces Irish whiskey1 ounce sweet vermouth1/2 ounce green Chartreuse2 dashes Angostura BittersCombine these ingredients in a mixing beaker with ice, stir until everything is well chilled and diluted, then strain into a chilled, stemmed cocktail glass, garnish with an expressed orange twist, and enjoy. This recipe dates back to the second decade of the 20th century, with entries in books by Hugo Ensslin and Harry MacElhone, and it has recently been revived and tweaked by the good folks at the Dead Rabbit in New York City.Essentially, this is an Irish Whiskey Bijou, with the whiskey taking the place of gin and the Angostura bitters replacing orange bitters. But hey, if a Manhattan and a Martini can play this game, then we don’t see any reason why the Bijou and the Tipperary can’t trade base spirits and modifiers with similar success. LEGGI TUTTO

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    Episode 224 – The Worm and the Margarita

    Can you produce a recipe with precise measurements? Can you tell me about the bar where it was popularized or the bartender who invented it, or when any of that happened, historically speaking?If you can’t answer any or all of those questions with rapidity or certainty, don’t worry – you’re not alone. And the reason why you’re not alone is because they’re not technically answerable questions. The Margarita cocktail represents a branch of the sour cocktail family tree that constantly forks and elaborates outward from its origins. But maybe “forking” is the wrong way to describe what the margarita does. The Negroni forks into a Boulevardier, which then forks into an Old Pal and a Man About Town. A Martini forks into a Vesper and a Gibson. But a Margarita radiates, spitting out little twigs and off-shoots specific to time, place, style and culture, all with different recipes, but all bearing the same name.I’ve always been fascinated with cocktails that seem to resist one or a few canonical recipes, cocktails so good and so easy that the point isn’t to worry about them or argue about them, but rather, to simply enjoy them. Here’s the catch with these kinds of cocktails, though: you can sip on a mediocre one and not give it a second thought, not be disappointed, but when you encounter a truly amazing one, it’s a thing of sheer beauty.In the end, my hope is to discover the true heart of the Margarita, to understand what makes it different from all the other sours in the cocktail pantheon. The internet is littered with recipes (good and bad), history (real and speculative), and plenty of brand-sponsored misinformation. And because of that – because I couldn’t find a resource that stripped down the Margarita to its essential components and then reassembled it for me to consider, I decided to tackle that project myself.I’m glad you’ll be with me on this journey because it begins many, many years ago, when the world was a very different place. So come along with me, and maybe pack a snack because to understand why the Margarita is such a delicious drink, we need to go back in time roughly 500 million years.The Worm and the MargaritaThe story of the Margarita, like any good story, begins with a worm. And we’re not talking about the worm in the mezcal bottle here, but a 1-millimeter-long roundworm known as C. elegans. In the days before mammals, before dinosaurs and reptiles, and before even the simplest fish swam in primordial seas, C. elegans split off from flatworms and other basic eukaryotes and started wiggling around in the mud. That is what worms do, after all. Things haven’t changed all that much in 500 million years…But C. elegans isn’t just any wiggly, little worm – it’s something known today as a “model organism,” which is different from when your third grade teacher called you a “model student” because I have a feeling your third grade teacher wasn’t studying your reproductive life cycle or actively mapping your genome. That’s what we do with model organisms: we look at how they reproduce, evolve, and respond to various stimuli in order to understand questions about the human body that are too complicated or unethical to test on humans.For more than 50 years now, scientists have been using C. elegans in various studies and experiments, and in 2002, it was the first multicellular organism to have its entire genome sequenced and mapped out for the world to see. One of the consequences of this work is that we can look at a gene that is present in the human genome, and then step into our genetic version of the “Way Back Machine” to see if that gene or gene family is also present in this very early, very rudimentary organism.OTOP1 – The Sour Perception GeneWell, it turns out that one gene family that you and I have in common with C. elegans is called OTOP1, which is responsible for our ability to perceive sour flavors. According to researchers, OTOP1 is “uniquely suited to mediate sour taste transduction” and “[is] not structurally related to any other known ion channel or transporter.”This is all a very complicated way of saying that, to the best of our knowledge, there were little worms crawling around in the mud about 500 million years ago, and their ability to perceive what amounted to sour tastes in their environment is directly tied to our ability to taste them in our cocktails today. Maybe not exactly what you want to hear as you take your first sip of a Margarita, but I think it points toward a very deep and very essential relationship between living organisms and sour tastes.From here, the question arises: why did organisms at any point in our evolutionary history need to know about the presence of something sour?Well, if you can extract yourself from thinking of sour as a “taste” for just a minute, it’s a little simpler to think of an acid as just a compound with some extra hydrogen ions. Let’s put on our chemistry hats here for just a moment – and I apologize in advance because I haven’t worn this hat since junior year of high school, and it was never one of my favorite hats. Anyway, a hydrogen atom is simply comprised of a proton and an electron, and if that electron decides it’s got better things to do, a hydrogen ion is formed. This is the simplest of all the ions because it’s JUST a proton – a single, positively-charged subatomic particle. When we measure the acidity of a solution, we use a measure called pH, which refers to “potential Hydrogen” or the “power of Hydrogen.” Either way you translate it, whenever we measure pH, the end goal is to figure out how many hydrogen ions are hanging around in a given solution. That translates to its acidity.So if I’m a little worm hanging out in the mud 500 million years ago, or even a fish swimming around in the prehistoric oceans sometime later, and I sense a distinct increase in the acidity of my environment, I’ve got two choices, I can either ignore that stimulus, or I can respond to it. If that acidic environment turns out to be bad for me, and I stay, then I die. But if I move, then I maintain my homeostatic balance long enough to reproduce and create copies of myself that will do the very same thing when they sense a potentially harmful shift in the pH of their environments. That’s how evolution works, and that’s how certain physical traits and capabilities are passed down over eons.Acid Perception in PrimatesBut let’s face it: you and I are not worms. We are not fish. We are primates. Instead of sensing the presence of acidity in an aqueous environment using receptors on the outside of our body, we need to actively ingest a substance to determine whether or not it is acidic. Now, anyone who’s ever juiced a lemon or a lime when you’ve got a cut on your hand knows that’s not strictly true, but for the purposes of sour cocktails, it remains the governing truth. Here’s professor Dan McCall from the Gettysburg Odor and Flavor lab explaining how our taste receptors identify a given taste. If you can believe it, this is from WAY BACK in Episode 7! That’s almost 5 years ago!  LEGGI TUTTO