This week’s recipes require two new ingredients: blackberry flavored brandy and Russian kümmel. Both of these items have the potential to sit ignored on my shelf for years to come and it’s no surprise I can feel my feet dragging behind me these days.
Can’t we just skip these drinks or make some intelligent substitutions instead? No, we cannot. The Rituals is larger than my personal desires. Can’t we find a bar that is already in possession of these spirits so that we do not have to buy whole bottles? Sure, okay, but who has this stuff? Finally I come to terms with my duties, but after some sleuthing around I am unable to source a decent kümmel and a decent blackberry brandy or liqueur at my usual places in Los Angeles. Somehow making this task even bigger and more inconvenient redeems it for me, however, and I decide to take a field trip to the worthy Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California in order to make the buy.
Kümmel is a Dutch spirit made from caraway, cumin, and fennel, and I am excited to try it! Sometimes a little reframing is all one needs in order to seize life by the shoulders. Just think: Not only is this is an opportunity to grapple with a new thing, it’s an opportunity to continue grappling with the remaining 740 ml of this thing over the coming years! Now this particular recipe specifies Russian kümmel, but in the end I rely on French producers for both of my purchases (Combier for the kümmel and Vedrenne for the crème de mure—blackberry liqueur) because it seems like the most sensible thing to do. I hope this doesn’t disqualify these cocktails after all of my efforts.
Brian and I are most skeptical of the blackberry liqueur, so that is what we have to try first.
Eric: Let’s taste this crème de mure I drove 100 miles to get. It better be better than DeKuyper. Or that other guy, Hyman Walker.
Brian: That’s Hiram Walker. Hiram.
Brian: It’s kind of reddish. It comes on a little tart at first, and then it’s just blackberry. I don’t taste any booze.
Eric: Wow, I don’t hate that. We should pour this on our pancakes.
Today’s labor begins with the ALLEGHENY, which many sources reachingly attribute to the brave-hearted pioneer slog over the great Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Along the way these pioneers picked blackberries and lemons and then added them to the glorious bourbon they distilled after they settled. Or something like that. By the way, my father loves to ridicule people from California who go to great pains to cultivate blackberries in their yards when this crop is basically a weed in the Pacific Northwest. But that is another story. Let’s see how this blackberry liqueur works out.
1 oz. bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
1 oz. dry vermouth (Dolin)
1 dash bitters (Angostura)
¼ oz. blackberry flavored brandy (Vedrenne crème de mure)
2 tsp. lemon juice
Stir and pour. Add lemon slice or twist to suit.
Brian: This is another summery thing. It needs to be hot out.
Eric: That’s a good go-to review. “Personally, I think this cocktail works best on an early autumn afternoon.”
Brian: Well, would you want this on a cold rainy day? No you wouldn’t—
Eric: I think it has a nice balance. It’s not overpoweringly limey.
Eric: That’s what I said. You can still taste the vermouth. The blackberry is a little hidden but it’s doing something. And you can still taste the whiskey. It’s kind of tart. It’s not cloyingly sweet. I’m going to talk myself into a good score here!
Brian: Do you believe that our take on these drinks has changed because we’ve been on such a long hiatus?
Eric reads from the Cocktails in Charleston blog, which used Leroux “Jezynowka” blackberry brandy, “made specially to the Polish taste.”
Eric: “In my opinion the downside to drinking the Allegheny cocktail lies in that taste.” That’s the quote of the year, by the way.
Brian: I’m not getting any cough syrup notes like he did. Maybe ours isn’t to the Polish taste.
Eric: Would you make any modifications? I feel like I want just a titch more blackberry since I drove all the way to Costa Mesa to get it.
Brian: Eric is putting his fingers close together as if to say “tiny.”
Eric: (drinks) No that’s worse. It’s a fine line isn’t it?
Brian: Not many people are going to have the blackberry brandy to make this drink.
Eric: They’re going to have to come over to my house.
Brian: “I had an inkling for one of those Alleghenys but then I’m going to go.”
SCORES: Eric 6.5, Brian 6.5
Next up is the ALICE COCKTAIL, which uses our hard-earned bottle of kümmel. Punch magazine has a nice write-up of new things people are doing with this old spirit, but we aren’t doing anything particularly modern, of course, so never mind about that. Redbird in Los Angeles does an Alice, Mine cocktail which also uses equal parts sweet vermouth and kümmel with a dash or two of Scotch, but I’m sure when they put their fairy dust in there it becomes fifty times as good as what we experience in Brian’s kitchen. But as far as I can tell the Alice, Mine and the Alice Cocktail are the same thing.
.75 oz. Italian vermouth (Carpano Antica)
.75 oz. Russian kümmel (Combier)
1 dash Scotch whiskey (Famous Grouse)
Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain, and serve.
Eric: (sniffs) It smells great!
Brian: It does smell good. But, man, cumin!
Eric: I love it. It’s savory.
Brian: You’re probably going to like this drink then.
Eric: (drinks) That’s bizarre. Kümmel is confusing, isn’t it? I’m confused by it.
Brian: I’m trying to figure out where that dash of scotch is. Where is it? Where is that dash of scotch?
Eric: Does it need more scotch?
Brian: Isn’t that the question in life? Does it need more scotch? I don’t know.
Eric: I can’t taste it. What is it supposed to be doing?
Brian adds the tiniest bit of scotch to the cocktail.
Brian: Wow, that actually took away flavor. It neutralized the Antica. It still reeks of cumin, however. The cumin will not be denied.
Eric: I’m going to downgrade it after that scotch. I’m going to say it’s a 5.
SCORES: Eric 5, Brian 5.
More disappointment. I was excited about the Alice Cocktail because it had the elusive potential to be both weird and good, like performance art. Like most performance art, however, this drink left me with an unsatisfied empty feeling that will linger in the core of my being until it is replaced by something else, perhaps tacos.
Next week we finish this session up with the All-White Frappe and the Allen, which you could probably ask for at Starbucks and not get laughed at. The origins of these obscure cocktails are even murkier than usual and we look forward to filling in the blanks for those of you who demand historical context. We are the writers of history, after all. Us, that’s who. Forget the pioneers who slogged over the Allegheny Mountains picking lemons; we at the Rituals are the true pioneers. So put on your coonskin cap and join our slog instead.