Fall fun: Cider Cocktail

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Recipe: Cider Cocktail

  • 1/2 oz Brandy
  • 2 Ice Cubes
  • 6 oz Dry Sparkling Hard Apple Cider – Honesty Box (NZ), Strongbow (UK), or  Big Rock (Cdn) are good choices.
  • 1″ Twist of lime (just the outer skin)
  • Dash Orange Bitters (Optional)

Method:

  1. In a champagne flute add the ingredients in order shown.
  2. Stir gently
  3. Enjoy

Notes:

Doesn’t get much simpler. The original recipe calls for expensive Calvados. This version uses less expensive brandy (Remi), with the lime twist and orange bitters adding a subtle hint of fruit in the mix.

Cheers,

Aaron

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DIY Beerwalk: Tasty Treats on Vancouver’s East Side

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Not too long ago a good friend, Mal Harkness, asked me to arrange a beerwalk, or a walking tour of craft breweries, in the Grandview-Woodlands area (East End) of Vancouver. He knew that I frequent these places regularly for growlers (1.89 l refillable bottles) of unique and tasty fresh beer. He also knew that my shaded past involved quite a bit of home brewing so he figured I was the natural choice to lead the expedition. So with a little prompting I created a manageable walking tour of three of the city’s finest craft beer breweries along with one of the city’s new craft distilleries. We dragged along two members of Mal’s soccer team, Billy Rawsen and George Thompson, along with one of our fencing students, Nadine Wagner-Westerbarkey.

The plan was fairly simple: starting from a meeting point at Commercial Drive and Hastings Street in Vancouver we would first visit the three breweries before a stop at the distillery and a late lunch at a local restaurant. Below is the map of the route we took:

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  • We started at Storm Brewing. This is one of the oldest “Craft Beer” breweries in Vancouver and rightly famous for their dark beers and classic styles of European Ales. There’s usually between 6 and 10 beers on tap, four regular beers (including the sweet, thick and delicious Black Plague Stout) along with a rotating selection of so called “Brainstorm” concoctions. We were fortunate to find their classic extremely tart but delicious Imperial Flanders Red Ale on tap, along with some interesting brews such as Creamsicle and Rosemary. Cost is by donation, but you should expect to drop about $5 into the tip jar per person. I’ll be honest, this is my favourite breweries in the world and I’ve been a long time fan of brewmaster James Walton.  (310 Commercial Drive)

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  • Next up was Parallel 49th Brewing and the most commercial of the three breweries. Most of the beers on tap are available at government liquor stores and select cold beer and wine outlets, but they usually have one or two that are not. Although not available on our visit, one of my favourites is their Salty Scot. Recently they have been experimenting with nitrogenated beers with some good results. The tasting room is very spacious and can easily handle larger groups. They sell samples by the 4oz glass for 1.15 plus tax, or you can buy a flight of four samples for $3.50. (1946 Triumph Street)

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  • Next in line was Powell Street Craft Brewery. This is the smallest of the three breweries for the day. It is also the smallest in terms of space and it will be a tight squeeze depending on how many are in your group. This is the only brewery in the walk that only sells its beer on site. They are best known for producing really heavily hopped Northwest style ales. The sell only glasses of beer at $3.50/each so if everyone wants to sample, you might want to buy a few and share. Unfortunately I discovered that they are in the process of moving and will only be at this location until July 5th, 2014. (1830 Powell Street)

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  • The last drinking spot was a bit of an add on. Odd Society Spirits is a relatively young, small batch distillery. They haven’t yet developed a wide range of different alcohol varieties, but at some point in the near future they will be producing a gin and offering a Canadian whiskey. When we dropped in, they had East Van Vodka and a great Crème De Cassis available. They will allow very small samples, but also make great cocktails – Approximately $8-10. (1725 Powell Street)

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  • Kessel&March is a pleasant bistro a few doors down from the distillery where we grabbed a bite post walk. They have some local suds from Howe Sound Brewing on tap and run a brunch menu until 3pm Saturdays. (1701 Powell Street)

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The beerwalk turned out to be a lot of fun for all of us and very manageable in about a three hour window. Here’s a few additional shots from the area and a couple of outtakes from the trip (shots courtesy of Nadine).

Cheers,

Aaron

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Silver Spoon

The Relic

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So I paid a visit to my brother up in the Sunshine Coast region of BC, for the Canada Day long weekend. The food and drink has always been great at his place and this time was no exception.

Recently he has become enamored with some of the more classic aperitifs such as Lillet and Campari. The other day he picked up a bottle of the Italian aperitif Aperol.

He said he found it a little on the sweet side and was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with it. I pointed out that I’d seen a few cocktails with Aperol, and that we should look them up.

Unfortunately, most we came across tended to involve very obscure mixes such as white crème de cacao or cucumber infusions. I decided instead to riff on the sours that I like so much and came up with the following recipe.

Recipe: The Relic

  • 1.5 oz Dry Gin
  • .75 oz Aperol
  • .75 oz Lime juice
  • 3-4 Ice cubes
  • Ginger ale to top up
  • Thin slice of lime for garnish

Method

  1. Combine first four ingredients in a tall Collins glass
  2. Stir well to chill
  3. Top up with ginger ale (about 2-3 oz)
  4. Garnish with a thin slice of lime

The name for this drink comes from a surly character featured in the 1970s drama, The Beachcombers, portrayed by the actor Robert Clothier. The show was set in the area where my brother lives–Gibsons, BC–so the name seemed fitting.

Cheers,

Aaron

Coffee Anyone? – A stove-top espresso how to

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Gawd I love coffee. Strong black and bittersweet, coffee gets me going and keeps me there. At my house the six cup stove-top espresso maker (the lower portion pictured above) is king. While the full size steam or pump driven espresso machines and the stove-top coffee pot all produce espresso, this style of pot is referred to as macchinetta in Italian to distinguish it and the coffee it makes.

Ours is a stainless steel Bialetti unit. It has both stainless water and coffee reservoirs and a stainless filter unit. Due to some concern over the use of aluminum coffee pots, we made the switch about two decades ago. Whether the fear is real or imagined, I have seen the corrosion that coffee can be produced on aluminum pots and felt that I probably didn’t need any more base metals in my diet. This is our third unit. Through trial and error we found that constant torquing on the pouring handle while tightening the two main sections together will eventually lead to breakage (I’m not always the sharpest tool in the drawer). Tip #1: Don’t tighten the two pieces using the handle for leverage.

It took a while to determine the optimal grind of coffee to get a full flavoured brew. Initially we opted for the “stove-top espresso” grind at the local Starbucks, but found that even with tight packing it always produced a weak espresso. Gradually we changed to a grind somewhere between “filter” and full on “espresso” grind, and stopped packing it very tightly. Since purchasing a burr grinder about eight years ago, we’ve settled on a grind one notch up from espresso (not very scientific I know, but it closely resembles the grind we used to buy). You should be aiming to find a grind that balances body/flavour without being too fine. Tip #2: Find your grind.

With the grind figured out, the next step was filling the water reservoir. We used to be very cavalier about the how much water we put in. You should be careful to keep the water level below the steam escape valve that all these units come with. A friend (not me this time) recounts the story of an accidentally submerged steam escape valve exploding off the base with enough force to embed it in the wall of his apartment. Tip #3: Always leave the steam escape valve above the level of the water in the reservoir.

We also used to be pretty loose with the water used in the unit, but we found that the chlorine in water treatment and the hardness of the tap water effected the quality of the coffee–particularly when we traveled outside of our home base (which has fairly soft low chlorinated water). Now we use filtered water. It makes a difference, particularly with a high acid coffees like those found in Central America. Tip #4: Use filtered or bottled water when possible.

Filling the coffee filter unit is something of an art depending on the grind you’ve settled on. I learned to make coffee from an old Italian who had been making it literally since childhood, and he was always insistent upon packing the coffee firmly but not tightly into the filter. Overpacking the filter with fine ground coffee will cause the coffee to “burn” as the heated water is forced to try and get through the tight plug of coffee–i.e. the water will superheat under pressure and leech bitter alkaloids into your finished brew. I slightly overfill the reservoir and then tamp it level with the rim using light finger pressure. I call it an art because it takes practice to get it right–not tight enough and you can see water left in the coffee filter unit when you open it, too tightly and you’ll see that the coffee has taken on a nasty black colour. Tip #5: Tamp the coffee into the filter keeping it level with the rim of the filter unit.

One more thing about filling the filter unit that you’ll notice the minute you do it incorrectly–always make sure the lip of the filter has no grounds stuck to it. It will break the seal between the water and coffee reservoirs and allow steam and water to escape. Tip #6: Always clean the lip of the filter unit.

Now that the coffee is in the filter, screw the coffee and water reservoirs together tightly, and start brewing. I always do this at high heat, but if you have time doing it medium high or even medium heat will often produce a richer cup of coffee. Watch the coffee as it slowly fills the reservoir. The time to take it off the heat is when the rich coffee “crema” (the light mocha coloured foam) starts to pour from the inlet pipe in the centre of the reservoir. If you leave it until the steam flows from the inlet valve you will again end up with a poor product as the steam and residual water heat the grounds and leech bitterness into the now finished coffee. Tip #7: Remove the pot from the heat as the crema forms and before the steam begins to escape.

If all as gone according to plan you’ve ended up with a rich full bodied espresso ready to tip into your preheated demitasse and enjoy… or like if you’re like us, use it to make “Americano” style coffee (I really hate this made-up term) by adding 2 parts hot water to 1 part espresso–creating basically a heavy-weight, North American style coffee.

Aaron

PS You’ll notice I haven’t made any recommendations about what kind of coffee to use. Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal choice, but we’ve found that most coffee sold for espresso use is generally over roasted. Look at the beans in a true Italian coffee shop and you’ll see they are a blend of lighter and darker roast beans–but never black. Pass on the French Roast or even the Espresso roast found at most retailers and look for a good, full bodied, medium dark roast coffee (dark but not too dark). My preference is for low acid Indonesian coffees (usually grown in volcanic soil), but many people like the high acid Central American beans–let taste be your guide.

Cocktail du jour – The Cypress Brandy Sour

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This is the latest “house” cocktail–the Cypress Brandy Sour. It’s a nice and refreshing take on the basic whiskey/brandy sour that your father or grandfather might have ordered back in the day. I find that it works any time of year, but particularly when the weather begins to warm. Since malaria is a thing of the past in most parts of the world, this makes a nice change from the ubiquitous gin and tonic.*

Cypress Brandy Sour

  • Juice from half a lime or lemon
  • 1 1/2 oz Brandy
  • 3 to 4 oz Bitter lemon soda or ginger-ale (see note)
  • Ice

Add ice to a short collins or highball glass.
Add lime/lemon juice, and stir vigorously to chill.
Add bitter lemon soda to top up.

Notes: This is one of several sour variations I’ve found. Others call for lemonade in place of the soda, but there’s something to be said for the bitter lemon soda (I use the San Pellagrino Limonata pictured above). It also works with a dash of angostura bitters, but it’s a question of personal taste.  When making it at home I use the inexpensive French St-Remy, but on a recent trip to Hawaii I used the American E&J VS brandy and the result was quite acceptable. I would personally avoid using the better grades of brandy, first because wasting good booze in a mixed drink is a sin and secondly because the aging method used for the good stuff often imparts a dryness and subtle flavour changes that don’t suit the cocktail. If you find it a bit tart for your taste or feel like saving coin, a lightly flavoured ginger-ale such as Canada Dry can be substituted for the lemon soda. We often take the latter course if the bitter lemon soda isn’t available.

Aaron

*A silly reference on my part, but Tonic water was used as a preventative/cure for malaria in the 19th and early 20th centuries because of the quinine it contains.