February 6, 2013

Maine Wintah

My friend Julia recently asked me to recommend a cocktail she might prepare as a treat for herself at the end of a difficult day. Ready for the challenge, I asked her what ingredients she had available in her Maine kitchen.

Though clearly in need of a trip to the grocery store--not such a simple task in snowy, icy conditions that I rarely face down here in Atlanta--she had enough to make a rather tasty drink. Here's the recipe:

1/2 oz liqueur raspberry liqueur
1/2 Tbsp honey simple syrup (mix equal parts honey and hot water to dissolve honey)
2 ozs vodka
shake w/ ice
strain into a cocktail glass

Typically when coming up with a recipe I prefer to sample it in my own kitchen, tasting and tweaking as necessary before sharing the details. But I was pretty confident in that straightforward drink. And she liked it. So success!

Weeks later, Julia decided she was ready for a treat and emailed me a list of her available ingredients: honey, maple syrup, orange juice, bourbon, vodka, sparkling lemonade, lemon juice and frozen blueberries.

This was the original idea...which I didn't have time (or the same round-up of ingredients readily available) to test and tweak. So I suggested that she play around a bit.

2oz bourbon
1 Tablespoon maple syrup (or honey simple syrup)
1 oz OJ
1/4 to 1/2 fresh lemon juice, adjusted to taste
frozen blueberries

Julia used sparkling lemonade instead of fresh lemon juice. Turns out, she didn't actually have fresh lemon juice, she had that stuff in the green bottle. (I don't recommend it.)

She enjoyed the results, and dubbed the drink "Maine Wint-ah" (documented in her column in the Bangor Daily News.) But the photo she sent me of the drink looked a bit too muddy to be close to what I'd call a true recipe success.

So I headed to the grocery store to match her ingredients as near as possible and get to work experimenting and refining things.

This is my result with the original recipe--I started by making and tasting that so I'd get a sense of what I liked and didn't. It's a bit too muddy in appearance and sweet in taste to please my palate. Not bad, but we can do better.

In search of balance, I decided to work on a recipe I'd call "Less Is More."

This is what I consider the better recipe:

6 Tablespoons bourbon
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a lowball glass (or two, if you prefer less to drink) and add ice as desired.

Garnish with a lemon wheel and/or frozen blueberries

Now, the honest truth is that I spent about 20-30 minutes working on that recipe (along with some other drink experiments, including a martini, below). And then, while I was feeling quite pleased with myself, a bit later that evening I ran across a recipe in Cooking Light magazine that is the exact same thing. Cooking Light called it a "Maple-Bourbon Sour." The only difference is that version didn't use frozen blueberries. But a garnish doesn't alter the base cocktail flavor.
You could play with this recipe. If you prefer honey to maple syrup, you could substitute a honey simple syrup--made by dissolving equal parts of honey and hot water. Because it's watered down, which is essential or the honey winds up a big glop in the bottom of the glass, you may need a wee bit more or less of it than the maple syrup, adjust as needed to suit your palate. And while the original use of OJ does add a little sweetness, it also makes the drink cloudy, so that's why I decided it needed to be left out.
Based on the list of ingredients that Julia had provided, our original idea was to come up with something that might incorporate an icicle doing double duty as the swizzle stick/ice. I gravitated toward the bourbon since I'd earlier suggested a martini, and also because I thought it would make a nice photographic contrast with an icicle. Of course, I can't readily find icicles down here in Georgia, so that part of the experiment is left to Julia.
In the vein of "Less is More" here is a very simple martini:
1.5 oz vodka
dry vermouth (to taste, somewhere in the range of 0.5 to 1 oz.)
stir with ice, strain into glass
garnish with frozen blueberries

And Julia, when there's a break in the weather and you next head to the grocery store, consider adding these to your available cocktail ingredient arsenal: fresh limes, lemons and/or oranges, grapefruit and/or cranberry juice, Angostura bitters, club soda, and perhaps even vermouth and triple sec. But we'll work with what you like and what you can get. Even icicles.