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Brandy & Liqueur Reviews: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac and Dry Curaçao

Pierre_ferrand_cognacPierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac
Brandy/Cognac
Final Grade: B+
Price: $45 (750ml)

Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
Orange Liqueur
Final Grade: A-
Price: $30 (750ml)

Cognac Ferrand is one of the hottest companies in the spirits world today. Mixologists, critics and connoisseurs have been following the French distillery with great interest as they introduce one excellent product after another. The force behind the fine line of Plantation Rums, in addition to their cognacs, Pierre Ferrand is noted for spirits that are especially well suited both for cocktails and for enjoying on their own.

As a result, I was excited to try two of the companies latest products: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. Both were developed by the experts at Cognac Ferrand, with assistance from the esteemed cocktail and spirits historian David Wondrich.

The 1840 Original Formula Cognac is what was referred to in the 19th century as a "three star" cognac — the equivalent today to what is typically called "VS." It's a younger brandy, lively and with lots of flavor. It was modeled after an extremely rare cognac that had been preserved from 1840, and is designed primarily to be mixed in cocktails.

Dry_curacaoThis cognac has a grapey, slightly floral aroma. Pleasant, although without a lot of complexity. The flavor is rich and slightly sweet, with just enough oak to give it some nice, spicy notes. It is very smooth for a 90-proof brandy, with a medium-long finish. You could certainly sip this cognac if you wanted, and enjoy it quite well.

Like the cognac, the Dry Curaçao was developed to mirror the style of a 19th-century predecessor. It's blended from brandy and cognac, flavored with the peels of Curaçao oranges and various spices, and then barrel aged to smooth out the rough edges. This is what traditional curaçao is supposed to taste like.

This curaçao opens with a bright and authentic smell of sweet oranges. It has none of the artificial aroma of cheap orange liqueur — this is the real stuff. The flavor follows in the same fashion: sweet and rich, bursting with orange flavor and hints of vanilla. It's not quite as complex as I might have wished. A touch more spice would have really sent it over the moon. But it's undeniably very tasty and well balanced. (And also extremely smooth for its 80 proof.)

Good enough as they are on their own, these products were both developed to be mixed in cocktails, so that's where the true proof lies. One of the cocktails suggested by the distillery is a Brandy Crusta, and I thought that would be an ideal way to sample these two spirits in conjunction with each other.

Brandy Crusta
from Julie Reiner, Clover Club (NYC)

2 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac
1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Rim a snifter with sugar. Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into the snifter filled with ice cubes. Garnish with an orange peel.

Brandy_crusta

What a delicious cocktail! The flavors blend together perfectly; the sweetness of the curaçao balancing with the lemon juice, the maraschino adding delightful floral notes, and the bitters adding some spice to bring it all together. I don't ordinarily drink brandy cocktails, but this one is definitely going in the repertoire.

As good as they are individually, the Pierre Ferrand cognac and curaçao mix up beautifully, especially when used together. They're definite winners.

Report Card: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac

Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: B
Final Grade: B+

Report Card: Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao

Quality Grade: A-
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A-

Categories
Liqueurs Mixology

A Guide to Orange Liqueurs

CointreauI'm fascinated with orange liqueurs. Whether it's triple sec or curaçao, dry or sweet, orange or blue, I love the stuff. Not to drink on its own — I've never really cared for that — but for use in cocktails. Orange liqueur is one of the most important cocktail ingredients, adding depth and flavor to so many great drinks. (Two of my favorites are the Mai Tai and the Margarita.)

I've been meaning for some time to do a comprehensive write-up of orange liqueurs, but there's a lot of work involved and I haven't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, though, Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats has put together a very useful primer on the subject.

Dietsch does a good job of defining the different types of orange liqueur, although in practice the terms are so misused that it's often hard to tell what is what. In short:

  • Orange liqueur is any sweetened distilled spirit with orange flavoring added. This includes curaçao, triple sec and other varieties.
  • Curaçao is a liqueur made with a base of brandy that is sweetened and flavored with orange. It was originally a liqueur produced on the island of Curaçao, made from brandy and flavored with the dried peels of Curaçao (Laraha) oranges. There is still one company, Senior, that produces curaçao in this fashion.
  • Triple sec is a liqueur made with a base of neutral spirit (essentially vodka) that is sweetened and flavored with orange. The "sec" in this case is the French word for "dry," since originally triple sec was less sweet than curaçao.

Grand_marnierDietsch includes a lot more detail and history, which is definitely worth reading. And yes, the subject gets confusing, especially as there are no regulations on the use of the different terms. So distillers can call their product "triple sec" or "curaçao" without regard to how it's actually produced or what it contains.

The bulk of the article is a look at several different brands of orange liqueurs, with brief critiques of each. I agree with most of what he wrote, and it's something you'll want to review before making your next trip to the liquor store.

The two most important names in orange liqueurs are the two that most people already know: Cointreau and Grand Marnier. These are two of the most expensive liqueurs you're likely to buy, but in this case you really get what you pay for. Their quality may not be unmatched, but it's certainly unsurpassed. (However, if you're like me and hate paying for the good stuff, Dietsch suggests some alternatives.)

As for the answer to the question that is so often asked: Grand Marnier is curaçao and Cointreau is triple sec.

Now go make a Mai Tai. Or Margarita. Or Cosmo. Or Sidecar. Or Kamikaze. Or White Lady. Or Pegu Club. Or Derby. Or…

Categories
Drink Recipes Gin

Martinez Drink Recipe – The Original Genever Version

MartinezRegarded by most cocktail historians as the forerunner of the Martini, the Martinez exists in many variations.

Although it is seldom drunk today, it's one of the classic cocktails for a reason, and definitely something you should try.

I mixed up one in the original fashion, using Dutch genever instead of the more typical London Dry gin.

Made in this way, you can think of the Martinez as a variation on the Manhattan, since genever has a flavor that is in some ways reminiscent of a young bourbon (along with the added botanical flavors, including juniper, that are usually found in gin).

The result is on the sweet side — you could cut back on the vermouth a little to modify that, if desired — but quite delicious.

 

Martinez

1 1/2 oz Bols Genever
1 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/4 oz Orange Curacao
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

I recommend the Bols Genever for this cocktail, although you can substitute a different genever (prefreably of the oude variety) if that's all you have.

I used Martini sweet vermouth — any good sweet vermouth would work, just make sure it's fresh.

Marie Brizard is my go-to curacao, and it's definitely worth seeking out. If you don't have orange curacao, you can substitute Grand Marnier, although you might use a little less since it's sweeter.

Cheers!

Edit (4/18): The original inspiration for this post was based on something I read on Difford's Guide, which claimed genever as the spirit in the original Martinez. However, it now appears that the support for that claim is tenuous at best. When I asked David Wondrich about it, he prounounced it, "Unlikely. There's a divide in the late 19th century, with Holland gin going into the old classics and English gin in the new drinks…I [don't] believe that there's such thing as a Martinez as distinct from a Martini."

Categories
Drink Recipes Rum Tiki

Recipe: The Mai Tai

Declaring a particular cocktail my favorite is a little like declaring one of the kids my favorite — I could do it, but I wouldn't want them to hear. Cocktails can be such sensitive creatures.

It used to be that I drank mostly vodka. I'd mix it with a little lemonade or fruit juice and call it done. So the only "real" drink I favored was the gin and tonic. And the G&T is still one of the best around, a perfect balance of crisp, refreshing flavors. Plus, it helps ward off malaria. (You can never be too careful)

But ever since I've started my exploration of the constellation of rums, I've discovered a whole new world of drinks. And at the epicenter of that world is the king of all rum drinks: the Mai Tai.

The origins of the Mai Tai are as shrouded in mist as the lead singer of an 80s New Wave band in a music video. According to popular lore, the Mai Tai was invented in 1944 by Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron at his faux-Polynesian restaurant in Oakland, California. Allegedly, Vic set out to create the best drink possible, and when he served it to a pair of friends visiting from Tahiti, they pronounced it "mai tai" ("the best").

Although there are credible stories that date the true provenance of the Mai Tai to 1933, attributing its creation to Trader Vic's longtime rival Don the Beachcomber (aka Donn Beach, aka Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt), at a certain point it becomes more academic than anything else. All we barflies really want to know is: how does it taste?

In a word: delicious.

(If you do want to investigate further the origins of the Mai Tai, and all other tropical drinks of significance, I strongly recommend you peruse the works of Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, the world's foremost authority on Tiki drinks. His book Beachbum Berry Remixed is particularly invaluable.)

The Mai Tai is not the syrupy, sticky sweet, red, blue, or purple, pinneapple-infused, grenadine-tinged monstrosity that is usually served by the hapless bartenders of too many bars across the world.

The Mai Tai is actually a fairly simple drink, composed of only five ingedients. When Trader Vic first mixed it, he was really trying to showcase the rum, a rather old and impressive bottle from Jamaica. And a well-made Mai Tai should still focus on rum, with the other flavors serving as compliments.

 

Trader Vic's Original Mai Tai Recipe

2 ounces 17-year-old J. Wray & Nephew Jamaican rum
1/2 ounce French Garnier Orgeat
1/2 ounce Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1/4 ounce Rock Candy Syrup (a rich simple syrup with a hint of vanilla)
juice from one fresh lime

 

Although that particular rum is no longer available (allegedly there are only four bottles extant in the world today and the last time one sold, it was for $50k), Trader Vic eventually modified his Mai Tai to take advantage of a blend of two different aged rums that gave his signature drink the robust flavor he was looking for. With a few slight variations, that's the same recipe I use.

 

Mai Tai

Shake with lots of crushed ice:

1 ounce aged gold rum1
1 ounce gold/dark Jamaican rum2
1/2 ounce Orange Curacao3
1/2 ounce orgeat syrup
1/2 ounce simple syrup (1:1 sugar dissolved in water)
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice

Pour unstrained into a double old fashioned glass and top with more crushed ice, if necessary. Garnish with one of the squeezed lime halves and a sprig of fresh mint. (The garnish is supposed to look like an island floating in the sea with a palm tree.)

1Trader Vic preferred to use a rhum agricole from Martinique, but I usually substitute a demerara rum, such as El Dorado. You can use any gold rum, but try to get a decent aged rum. Rhum Barbancourt is another favorite of mine.

2The go-to rum here is Appleton. I recommend either the V/X or Extra (12 Year). You can also use the cheaper Appleton Special Gold. In a pinch, Coruba or Myer's will work. (Do not use spiced/flavored rum!)

3I use Senior Curacao of Curacao or Marie Brizard. Bols works, too. You can substitute Triple Sec, but it's going to change the flavor of the drink. If you do, cut back on the sugar.

 

Most recipes call for a little less simple syrup than I use — although it should be noted that Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup was made with 2:1 sugar/water, so it was approximately half again as sweet as the 1:1 stuff I use. I find that I like that little extra sweetness. I don't care for drinks that are overly tart, so I decided to up the sugar a little rather than decrease the lime. (I'm still trying to stick as closely as possible to Vic's original recipe.)

Orgeat, a sweet, almond syrup with just a hint of orange flower water, is a key ingredient of this recipe, as it was in so much of the repertoire of Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber. It adds an undercurrent of flavor to the drink that makes it taste both richer and more exotic. (If you can't find orgeat, you can substitute regular almond syrup — the kind that is used by coffeehouses, for example — but it will taste a little different.)

If you find that the Mai Tai is to your liking, I recommend that you play around with the combination of rums to find a pairing that best suits your palate. (Or, do like I do and pick a different pair of rums to suit your mood, or even at random.) As long as you don't use a flavored or spiced rum, anything should work in this drink. 

The selection of rums will, of course, be limited to what you have on hand. And if you're like most people, that won't be much. (But please invest in something other than that bottle of Bacardi you've been nipping at for the past five years.) The rum(s) you choose will change how good the final product tastes. But no matter what, it's likely to turn out "mai tai."