Ale, ale, prunelle. Like some outlandish alcoholic version of Duck Duck Goose, today we delve into some early cocktail history and end with a defunct liqueur. We also have a guest with us today, James Mann.
Eric and I have known James for quite a while. We all met early on in our careers in the film industry. James is now a director and cinematographer. His recent work has been food and beverage-related shorts films “that blur the boundary between advertising and documentary.” Because of those subjects and because he is our friend we believe him to have a discerning palate, why not boil some beer and see what he thinks?
We start our day revisiting a failed drink. In our last post we attempted to make an ALE FLIP, but we ended up making ale egg drop soup. Once again, against our better judgment we followed the directions in the book to a T and it ended in failure. Hopefully we shall right this wrong.
2 egg whites
2 egg yolks
1 quart ale (Ballast Point Scottish Ale)
2.5 tsp. sugar syrup
Beat the egg whites until creamy; beat the egg yolks, and combine the two, adding the sugar syrup. Pour the ale into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually add the egg mixture to the boiling ale, stirring it constantly. Remove from heat and transfer between two pitchers vigorously to build a frothy head. Balance out the brew between the pitchers, dust with nutmeg and serve steaming hot.
The only thing we tweak in this recipe is the boiling part. Instead we heat the ale up till is starts to steam at which point we incorporate the egg mixture. This time the ale and the egg mixture combine flawlessly. No more ale egg drop soup for us. Eric froths the concoction between two glasses to create a good head. We don’t have fresh nutmeg so we use some ground nutmeg Eric has in his spice drawer to lightly dust the top of the ale.
We are unsure if it’s the ale, the possibly old nutmeg, the egg mixture, or a combination of all of those things but the drink smells of cardboard, either way we drink it.
James quickly states. “If you had a beer, didn’t finish it, left it out over night, and then tried it the next day, that’s what this tastes like.” That was how beer was back then, there was no refrigeration, beer was always served at room temp so James isn’t far off on that assumption. Eric thinks it needs to be hotter to which I quip, “I don’t think that’s going to help it.” Eric and James fire back in unison with, “It might!” Eric puts the ALE FLIP in the microwave, very pre-prohibition, for a quick second. I don’t think it helped but James hypothesizes that it gave a little more bite to the beer making it slightly better.
James: Solid 2. “Tastes like what I would imagine this book tastes like. It’s musty? Musky?…It’s a very musky drink.”
Brian: 1.5. “The beer is great just don’t put egg in it and heat it up and sprinkle nutmeg on it.”
Eric: 2 minus. “In Korea they have this fermented rice brew called makolli. I’m not saying this tastes like that but it has kind of a similarly disgusting allure…”
Round two of our alcoholic Duck Duck Goose game involves more ale in the form of an ALE SANGAREE. If you were thinking this sounds a lot like sangria you aren’t far off. We have quite a long discussion on the etymology of the word then turn to the Internet and Dave Wondrich’s book Imbibe for clarification. A sangaree is generally a wine drink with port or possibly sherry, but Jerry Thomas had recipes for brandy, gin, and ale sangarees in his Bartender’s Guide.
Here we are with more beer, more sugar syrup and, more nutmeg. What is it with all this nutmeg? Was beer that bad back then they had to doctor it up so much? Some fun facts about nutmeg: the Dutch traded Manhattan with the British for Britain’s last nutmeg producing island and a South American sugar producing territory, nutmeg is an abortifacient and pregnant women should avoid it, nutmeg is a hallucinogen in a large enough quantity, and nutmeg is a good spice for layering flavor. I don’t think the dusting of the drink was enough to cause hallucinations but the idea of layering flavor is an interesting one.
.5 tsp. powdered sugar
10 oz. chilled ale
Dissolve the sugar in with a few drops of water. Add the ale and dust with nutmeg.
Not a lot to this drink. This tastes like a slightly sweetened beer with odd aromatics of old nutmeg. It tastes like beer, good beer. We ended up again using Ballast Point Scottish Ale. There is really nothing to this.
James: 5. “Good beer, bad drink.”
Brian: 5. “You’re basically rating the beer and this is good beer. But as a cocktail I’d go 5.”
Eric: Abstains. “I would give this a score but I don’t believe it deserves one.”
Well now we reach the proverbial goose of our particular game, ALEXANDER WITH PRUNELLE. I would like to talk a little bit about prunelle. I stated earlier that one of our drinks used a now defunct ingredient. I was referring to prunelle. I say defunct because it is not something that you can get in the states, at least we couldn’t find it anywhere. However online you can find prunelle liqueurs in Europe. Did America ban prunelle? No. Did America lose touch with an obscure cocktail ingredient used in a handful of recipes? That seems more plausible.
Prunelle is a liqueur made from the stones and fruit of the sloe berry. The closest substitute liqueur we thought of is sloe gin. Sloe gin has a dark red almost purplish coloring to it and is quite sweet. Sloe gin is made with sugar, sloe berries, and gin whereas prunelle is made with a neutral spirit. The sugar is used to help fully extract the flavor from the sloes and to sweeten the liqueur.
ALEXANDER WITH PRUNELLE
1.5 oz. gin (Hayman’s Old Tom)
1 oz. prunelle sloe gin (Plymouth)
1 oz. cream
Combine with ice; shake well. Strain, and dust with cinnamon.
Since we substituted sloe gin for prunelle we are almost doubling the gin for this cocktail. I should also remind you that we have tackled gin and cream cocktails before with the ACE. I have reservations about this one, but one bright side is no more nutmeg and instead cinnamon. Cinnamon is one of the alternatives we thought up for a spice on either of the ale drinks.
The cinnamon aroma hits as you sip the drink, then the cream coats your tongue with sloe gin. The fat in the cream coats your tongue so well that the flavor lingers for what seems like fifteen minutes. Eric likes the drink and says, “It sits on your tongue like a blanket. Like a heavy blanket. It has some weight to it.” James likes the “very present” sloe gin flavor, calls the aroma “miraculous,” and deems the drink a “good one.” After some discussion on 1) whether we would make this drink again and 2) the context in which this would best be drank, we score the drink.
James: 8. “I like drinks that are a little bit odd.”
Brian: 6. “It’s desserty.”
Eric 7.5. “It’s a handsome drink.”
We made a good drink from the book! It’s these little successes that keep us going. In the case of the ALE FLIP we did have some failure, but I attribute that to my stubbornness in making the drinks specifically as stated in the recipe—knowing full well what could happen. These small moments, failures, whatever you want to call them, make us better connoisseurs. Ultimately having a bad cocktail isn’t bad; it’s a moment to hone your tastes and your skills. In our next post we hone our skills with ALEXANDER YOUNG, ALEXANDRA, and ALFONSO.
-Alexander with Prunelle
Session Alternate of Actual Quality:
-Even though we had a winner Eric made a true beer cocktail—the DETROITER from bartender Matt “RumDood” Robold at 320 Main in Seal Beach, CA.
.75 oz. Bonded Apple Brandy
1 oz. Cynar
.75 oz. lemon
.75 oz. honey syrup
2 oz. Stone IPA
Add all ingredients to the shaker and shake hard without ice to flatten the beer. Add ice and shake again for about 10 seconds. Strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass and top with fresh IPA. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.
-The old times