Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Scholastic Edition

Earlier this week, the husband and I took part in a wonderful class at the Astor Center. It was an evening devoted to learning about botanical spirits, conducted by master mixologists James Moreland and Jonathan Pogash. And the best part? It was a hands-on experience. We had the opportunity to not only taste a variety of botanicals, but to mix up our own cocktails with them as well. Sweet!

Without getting too technical here, botanicals are any plant or plant parts that are valued for their medicinal properties. A short list includes but is not limited to: juniper berries, cinnamon, chamomile, nutmeg, grains of paradise, anise, licorice, black pepper, etc. Perhaps the most well known botanical spirit is gin.

Botanical oils are used in the distillation of gin to build bridges back to the juniper berries which are the most predominant flavor component of gin. The botanical oils added to premium gins (such as Hendricks, Bombay Sapphire and G'Vine) bounce up and down on the tongue and hit the palate in different locations, giving the gin "stretch" - or a longer, more complex finish. Which is why I must and still insist that gin is far more interesting than vodka!

The following spirits also fall into the botanical category: amaro, vermouth, absinthe, Cherry Heering, and all forms of bitters. In the picture above, you can see my tasting flight, composed of G'Vine Gin, Luxardo Amaro, Luxardo Bitters, Carpano Antica Formula (a white vermouth) and Lucid Absinthe. Each was more delicious than the next, though I particularly enjoyed the Luxardo Amaro, the Caprano Antica vermouth, and the Lucid Absinthe.

After enjoying the presentation and the tastings, we got down to some serious mixing - beginning with a recipe for a classic "sour". Sour cocktails first appeared on the scene sometime back in 1862, and they are among the easiest cocktails to craft. A sour is the perfect way to enjoy almost any spirit because its so beautifully balanced. Feel free to substitute whiskey or vodka for the gin in the following recipe, if you so desire.

Classic Gin Sour:
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounce of gin
Pour the lemon juice, simple syrup and gin into a martini shaker and fill it with ice. Close shaker and shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

You'll note that the shot above shows half of a sour ... because I was so enthralled with this delightful little sipper, I was halfway through before I remembered to take a picture! This drink was made with Bombay Sapphire and it was exquisite.

Following the sour, we shook things up a bit by muddling a variety of fruits and herbs that were placed around our stations for use. In this case, I used some watermelon and fresh mint, while the husband grabbed some watermelon and fresh basil. Both were equally delightful! It may look like something of a mess in the glass, but it was getting late and by this time we were on our third drink! The presentation may have suffered, but I assure you, the drink was magnificent.

Recipe for a Basic Muddled Drink:
  • 3 wedges of fresh lemon or lime
  • 2 chunks of fresh watermelon
  • 10 fresh mint leaves (or 3 to 4 large basil leaves)
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces gin
Place the lemon or lime wedges, watermelon and mint (or basil) into the bottom of a martini shaker and muddle with a muddling tool, pressing up and down 4 to 5 times to extract the lemon juice and crush the watermelon and mint. Add the gin and fill the rest of the shaker with ice. Cover and shake briefly to combine, then pour into a tall glass. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

Here again, you may substitute vodka for the gin ... though I wouldn't! The fruit may be varied as well. I know that some members of the class used mango, rather than watermelon, and I'm sure that you could use a variety of fresh berries in season too. Experiment and have fun with this recipe!

I can't say enough good things about the Astor Center. The facility is magnificent, the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable, and James and Jonathan were outstanding instructors. There was no shortage of booze on hand, and each station was also provided with tumblers of water and a basket of fresh bread and cheese on which to nibble during the festivities. Plus, each participant was given a lovely little boozy swag bag to take away. Bonus! The Astor Center offers a wide variety of both food and spirits workshops and I recommend them highly if you are in the New York City area. I know I'll be back for another class and soon.

In other news, its come to my attention that there's another food blog offering a Thirsty Thursdays feature out there: Cafe Lynnylu ... so you can party hop. Be sure to stop by and see what Lynnylu is mixing up today and tell her Diva sent you!

I've got pages and pages of notes from the class on botanicals that I'll be sharing with you in the weeks to come. For now, why not give yourself a treat and mix up one of these yummy little sippers? Its Thursday and I know you're thirsty.



Mo Diva said...

simply put: i wanna party with you.
and your posts make me thirsty.

i love sour mixes and thsi one is sooooo simple... yet looks perfect.

The Diva on a Diet said...

We can definitely do that, Mo! Perhaps next month when things calm down a bit. Glad to year you're a fan of sours too. This one is exceptionally good! :)

Lynnylu said...

What a great experience! The gin sour looks amazing! I have some Luxardo Maraschino that I have mixed with a Chartreuse liqueur and lime juice to make a drink I had recently at the Slanted Door in San Francisco called the Last Word. Sounds like a Thirsty Thursday drink! It's great to meet another libation aficionado! We have a good thing going!

Kathleen said...

This sounds really great. Love a mixed drink with gin!

Debinhawaii said...

That sounds like a wonderful class. I love learning about all the benefits of botanicals and making them into cocktails is just frosting on the cake! ;-)

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Wow, what a fun evening! Great pics and recounting. :-) I really must have one of those muddled drinks. Muddled anything is not usually good, but it sure looks to be in this case! Seems like the perfect drink to sip on our veranda. I've got some Bombay Sapphire ... just need to pick up watermelon and get fresh mint from my MIL (totally worth it for this!). I actually think this muddled drink would be far preferable to a mint julep so also perfect for viewing the Kentucky Derby tomorrow. :-)

Thanks, Diva!

The Diva on a Diet said...

Lynnylu - I've been meaning to get my hands on some Maraschio, and will look for the Luxardo. That cocktail made with it and the Chartreuse sounds amazing! We do have a good thing going hear and I'm happy you introduced yourself so we can support each other! :)

Kathleen - finally, another gin aficionado! Glad you liked it!

Deb - botanicals are so interesting and this class was truly worthwhile. I'm glad you enjoyed the post too. :)

Shirley - I couldn't agree more about the watermelon/mint drink being a good fit for the Kentucky Derby this weekend! Great idea! I find Mint Juleps rather too sweet, so this would be perfect. Thanks for pointing that out!

Anonymous said...

Fun event! That muddled drink looks especially good!

Tangled Noodle said...

My husband would've loved a class like this! I will definitely keep the Astor Center in mind should we make plans for a visit to NYC.

I've always enjoyed being educated by you on the finer points and delicious possibilities of spirits!

Daily Spud said...

Thanks for bringing us along in a virtual way to your cocktail making lessons - I reckon you're well on your way to becoming a master mixologist yourself :)

Wilma said...

Hi Auntie,
A day late and a dollar short as they say, I figured I'd clue you in on what Mom is drinking tonight. Not sure if it qualifies as an invented cocktail, but she is just raving about it. She had some Steaz green tea soda in key lime pie flavor and she simply added to it, Bombay Sapphire. She says she wishes she had a couple of frozen raspberries to plunk in there.They must be good, cuz she's in an awfully good mood.

pixelgal said...

And you know the saying....Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder!!!! (Sorry, couldn't resist...tee hee!)