Archive for August 2011

Travels in Hungary and Romania: Palinka

We're pleased to finally share with you the travelog and guest cocktail blog from our friend Erik Dayrell and his trip to Europe this past Spring.

At the end of May this year I traveled to Romania and Hungary for 10 days with my brother. The main impetus for the trip was a wedding in Oradea, Romania. Located just 7.5 miles from the Hungarian border, Oradea is considered the Little Paris of Eastern Europe for it's collection of stunning Art Nouveau and Baroque architecture. Oradea is also known for its thermal spas, where one can choose from a variety of pools of varying temperatures and mineral contents to cure your body's ailments. There was an active night scene, and considering the ease of getting around (English has been taught in schools since communism fell in the late 80's and mass transit is aplenty) I would highly recommend a visit.

Oradea was where I was first introduced to Palinka, and while the spirit is technically Hungarian, Oradea was a part of Hungary until WWI.

Palinka is a fruit brandy distilled from fruit and grape pomace (the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of grapes after pressing for juice or oil). Prunes and apricots are the most common fruits used, but pears, peaches, cherries, apples and quince are also used. As of 2004 the European Union designated Palinka as a Hungaricum, a Hungarian specialty. No other country is allowed to use the name Palinka, and to be considered Palinka the spirit must be made within Hungary. The fruit must be grown, the mash fermented and distilled, and finally bottled, all within Hungarian borders. Alcohol and aromas cannot be added, nor can colorants, flavorings and sweeteners (hence the clear color). The final spirit has an ABV between 37.5% and 86%.

Traditionally Palinka is served as a chilled shot. Small pitchers are placed around the table and shots are poured into tulip shaped glasses. Give a toast, finish it off by saying 'Naroc' (Good Luck), and then tip it back. Be careful... the sweet aroma of Palinka is generally followed by a serious alcohol bite.

You can now find Palinka in the States through online liquor stores.

Erik and I tested the Palinka in a few classic coktails with varying results. We'll share with you a couple that we thought were quite drinkable. Please share with us your ideas for experimentation as we're pretty new to it's favor profile.

Palinka Alexander
1 1/2 oz Apricot Palinka
1/2 oz Dark Creme de Cocoa
1 1/2 Cream or Half and Half

Shake on ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

Palinka Stinger
1 oz high-proof Palinka
1 oz Absinthe

Shake on ice for a good minute. Stain into ice-filled rocks glass.


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Remix: Whiskey and Ginger

When I bartended many years ago at a local dive bar, the typical order was beer (PBR) or whiskey and ginger. I have many friends who still call whiskey-ginger their drink, so this is dedicated to them and all the storied dive bars of Chicago. Here are a few in my neighborhood:

J&M Tap (aka the Secret Squirrel) on Augusta and Leavitt

Zakopane (named for a ski town in Poland) on Division and Wood

Rite Liquors (bar and liquor store) on Division and Paulina. Photo Credit: Chicago Reader

Marie's Riptide (good late night destination) on Armitage and Hermitage

The actual dive bar I worked, RIP Vertigo, now Blind Robin on Western and Iowa

Summer Whiskey Smash

1 1/2 oz Bourbon
1/2 oz Pimm's
1/2 oz lemon juice
3 oz ginger beer
Sliced strawberries, sugar and ginger root

Muddle one sliced strawberry in a shaker with a bit of fresh grated ginger and a teaspoon of sugar or one sugar cube. Add the bourbon, Pimm's and lemon juice. Shake and pour into collins glass. Top with ginger beer and bitters.

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the Buck and the Mule

I have been craving ginger cocktails ever since I sampled my friend Marc's Cherry Buck, which he made for his baby shower a few weeks ago.  He infused Heaven Hill Gold Label bourbon with black cherries, added Cherry Heering, demerara syrup, lime juice and topped it off with ginger beer and some Angostura bitters.  It was my first ever "buck" cocktail, and it was a huge hit at the party. 

I was familiar with the Moscow Mule, a relative of the buck cocktail made with vodka, lime and ginger beer.   Coming full circle, the mule was popular during the 1940's-1960's when vodka was in fashion, hence the nod to Russia.   

The buck, usually refers to variations of ginger beer cocktails using gin, bourbon, brandy, rum and other liqueurs. In fact, the dark and stormy is also considered a rum buck.  Marc Hellner is manager of local watering hole Bigstar in Chicago, and was nice enough to share his recipe below.  

Marc's Cherry Buck
2 oz black cherry infused Heaven Hill Gold Label
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
1/4 oz demerara simple syrup
1/2 oz lime
2 drops Angostura bitters

Shake and serve over ice.

Top with ginger beer.
Garnish with a cherry.

Moscow Mule
2 oz vodka
1 oz fresh lime juice
4 oz ginger beer

Serve over ice.
Garnish with lime.

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Welcome Baby Hellner: Baby shower in a bar

Who said you can't have a baby shower in a bar!  With so many talented friends, The Charleston in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood proved to be the perfect spot to host a co-ed baby shower for soon to be parents of a beautiful boy, Chanel Pease and Marc Hellner.  I should point out that Chanel is the Charleston's bar manager, and Marc manages local bar Bigstar.

The beautiful decor and treats were provided by friends and Marc made the punches. I will post a recipe for Marc's Cherry Buck soon.

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Cocktail hour for Marwen Foundation

 fiber sculpture (artist unknown)

 painting, Suzie Makol

sketchbook, Regin Igloria

We did a cocktail hour last night at a benefit for the Marwin foundation, an awesome program that offers visual arts classes to under-served young people in the Chicago community.

In honor of National Watermelon Day, we made a watermelon gin fizz. 

Watermelon Gin Fizz
2 oz watermelon juice
3/4 oz lime
3/4 oz orgeat syrup
1 1/2 oz gin
Angostura bitters

Shake watermelon juice, lime, syrup, gin and strain over ice.  Top with soda and garnish with mint sprig and a few drops of bitters.

Notes:  In a pinch you can substitute simple syrup for orgeat syrup, but we felt the orgeat syrup gave the cocktail a nice complexity.  To juice watermelon, we used a food processor and strained pulp through damp cheese cloth. 

Party Batch  (makes approximately 40 drinks)
1 handle of gin (1.75 L)
1 med/large watermelon (10 cups/80 oz watermelon juice)
1 batch of orgeat syrup below (30 oz)
30 oz fresh squeezed lime
2 x 2L soda water

Premix everything but soda water and mint.  Pour individual drinks over ice from pitcher and top with soda and mint.

Orgeat Syrup
1 1/2 almonds
3 cups water
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup brandy
1/8 tsp orange flower water

Toast almonds and let cool.  Cover with cold water and let soak for 30 min.  Strain and chop pretty fine in food processor.  I have used pre-slivered almonds to save time and they chop more easily in food processor.  Cover chopped almonds with 3 cups water and let stand for 2 hours.  Place damp cheesecloth over strainer on top of bowl.  Strain almonds and water, squeezing cloth to extract all liquid.  Add almond pulp back to water, let soak for another hour and strain again.  Repeat again if time allows.  The flavor of the syrup will come from the oils and fat in the meat of the almonds which you are helping to release in squeezing process.

Strain once more and discard almond pulp.  Warm liquid gently over mild heat and add sugar stirring until fully dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Add brandy and orange flower water.

Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.  Shake syrup if separation occurs.

Note:  I have made this syrup several times.  This is a recipe I have adapted from one we found on the Chanticleer Society.  I cut back the orange flower water significantly from original recipe and added more water and sugar to the almond ratio.  If you are soaking almonds overnight which is perfectly fine, place in refrigerator to prevent fermentation.   

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