Previously on the Rituals: We rescued the ACADIAN MEADS, made two kinds of ANISETTE DE BORDEAUX, and started the FORBIDDEN FRUIT simulacrum. All five items have been sitting in my closet for a couple of weeks. I stop by every couple of days and swirl around the bits that have settled to the bottom. Somehow this feels productive, as if I’m actually stimulating something.
Today is like Christmas at the Rituals. Today we will open everything up, in reverse order, to see what is inside.
First comes the FORBIDDEN FRUIT, which we have made based on a recipe in a comment thread somewhere, by a user named Anna, whom we hope to track down:
Macerate the flesh of 1 star fruit & half of a pomelo in 2:1 vodka: brandy blend for about two weeks. Strain and add honey (and, if desired, agave nectar at 1:1) to reach a liquor: sweetener ratio of about 3:1. It should be a light golden color with the consistency of a thick syrup.
Star fruit, check. Pomelo, check. Vodka/brandy blend, check. Strain and add honey, check. Agave nectar, no. Seems simple enough. We sample the mixture and it’s unremarkable. I think we should strain it further, seeing as how there are little pomelo and starfruit particulates still roiling around in there, but Brian demurs and I defer to his demurral.
Granted, this is a fool’s errand—trying to approximate what an extinct liquor might taste like. FORBIDDEN FRUIT went through three of four iterations during its day, starting from 80 proof and progressing to something less and less potent over the years. If anyone had tasted this liquor, it’s possible the flavor profile had aged by the time he or she did so, or even worse, that his or her memory is just off. Memory is fragile, after all—don’t I know it. This is a frustrating project, trying to approximate something nobody has accurately tasted since the 1970s.
But we soldier on and do our duty. We are performing a public service after all. In the end, our FORBIDDEN FRUIT tastes like a pomelo-infused vodka, not terrible, but not earth-shattering either, and the odds of it actually approximating the flavor profile of its famous, extinct namesake are nil. We shall see how it ages and if it improves. Someday we might be able to taste real FORBIDDEN FRUIT, if we are so lucky. Until then we will grope around in the dark.
Next, we have the two ANISETTE DE BORDEAUX variations we made at my place, one with Skyy vodka as a base and one with Christian Brothers brandy. We strain out all of the licorice-smelling twigs and grass in the bottoms of each canning jar and combine it with freshly made simple syrup. The brandied version is clearly superior. I’m not sure if it tastes good, mind you, but compared to the vodka version it is a well-integrated masterpiece. The vodka version smells like some bottom-shelf Euro cleaning solution, vaguely antiseptic and artificial. We shall see if these taste any better at our next Rituals session, where we dispatch the remaining ABSINTHES for good.
The fact that the ANISETTE is an ‘A’ makes Brian and I both feel happy and productive, as well. True, we are making the drink out of sequence, but it’s in service of an earlier recipe. The judges offer us a reprieve, and we can check another ‘A’ recipe off of the list!
Finally we come to what everyone is waiting for, the ACADIAN MEAD. The 1:4 mead (1 part honey, 4 parts water) doesn’t need to be opened up, however, because I can already see into it and what I see is a half-dozen islands of mold floating around on top. As Aunt Marjiann put it in her recent treatise, “dirt equals spoilage”, and in spite of straining out the mixture through a coffee filter a couple of weeks ago, there is still something rotten in Denmark. The 5.3:1 mead is unperturbed, definitely not spoiled, and smells clearly alcoholic. It is also not honey wine at all in this thick, viscous state. Not even close. But two things redeem the Complete World Bartending Guide, copyright 1977: the fact that it’s recipe didn’t spoil and the fact that it’s recipe smells alcoholic. Something is definitely going on here, and we will have to give the Book the benefit of the doubt, in spite of the fact that our honey wine is thicker than engine oil. Either way it’s the only ACADIAN MEAD left in the running, because the other, mold and all, goes down the drain.
Deep inside, however, I am pulling for this dark horse, the 5.3:1 mead. Everything points to its failure, but I am rooting, secretly rooting for it. Its recipe says nothing about adding brewer’s yeast; it says nothing about anything, actually. For me, however, it conjures up a simpler, medieval time, when some peasants accidentally left honey outside. Instead of spoiling the honey tasted good, really good, when they found it. They felt funny when they drank it, and they decided to make it again. There was no controlled environment then, there were no carboys, there was nothing. This is the romantic version of the mead that I hope we can stumble upon—I can already see Brian’s eyes rolling back in my head as I think this.
After consulting a more contemporary book on fermentation, Strange Brews, it seems we can bottle the mead and let it sit for between two weeks to a year. Great. More ambiguity, yes!!!