Tuesday, May 11, 2010

World Cocktail week

The anniversary of the first printing of the word "cocktail" is the cause for celebration around the country. The "cocktail" is one of the most precious original items in our collective American culinary culture and it should be celebrated. At Elixir we're going to do so by featuring the Pisco Punch all day long and for only $5. The profits of which we will give to the Museum of the American Cocktail to help support their efforts to preserve and advance American cocktail culture.

Why the Pisco Punch? because is fundamentally the most recognized and famous cocktail to come out of San Francisco. It was created in 1893 by saloonkeeper Duncan Nicol utilizing some key ingredients that are also part of our San Francisco history:

Peruvian Pisco - Because of the trade routes that came around South America and landed in the San Francisco Bay, we had a regular supply of pisco coming out of the Port of Pisco, Peru. This unaged brandy is made from a variety of grapes and most notably the Italia. We don't have regular access to the Italia varietal today, but Barsol Pisco aims to change that and currently offers us the Quebranta varietal, which is very versatile and delicious. Pisco was a very abundant and popular spirit in the Barbary Coast days. You can pick some up here. In a further evolution of the category, local bartender and latin cocktail bar proprietor (Cantina) Duggan McDonnell is due to launch his own Pisco very soon. This Acholado version is a blend of various grapes and Duggan did the blending himself in Peru. Called "Encanto", it's a tasty product and will do a lot to help build this promising category.

Pineapple Gum Syrup - Pineapples were a very exotic and high end product in Victorian days. You didn't just go to the corner store and pick up a Dole branded, perfectly looking pineapple on a whim. Instead the pineapple image appears in architecture, print and even clothing design of the era as it conveyed a touch of class and adventure. The unique and luxurious flavor was preserved and utilized in cocktails by cooking it into a simple syrup that was thickened by Gum Arabic, making it viscous and smooth. Jennifer Colliau gets the credit for bringing that ingredient back to life via her Small Hand Foods company. She's a local San Francisco bartender that saw the need for many of the syrups we need to make high quality cocktails and she built a company around it. Her products are excellent and are now available to the public as well. GO look for them or check out SmallHandFoods.com

Lemon Juice is a quite simply an indispensable cocktail ingredient and provides the acid to balance the sweetness of the syrup. When combining these three ingredients we get a simple punch that is delicious and dangerously quaffable.

I also make a variation on this cocktail that I put on the menu at the JW Marriott's Level III menu when I did that program. I call it The Bank Exchange Punch and it is simply the same recipe with a dash of St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram, another reincarnation of a Barbary Coast era cocktail ingredient that was lost for many years, then known as Pimento Dram. This adds a pleasant note of warm baking spices. I like the drink both ways. Being a very basic drink built off of the sour formula, you can make variations on this pretty easily. Just take one flavorful component and add a touch of it. I did it with the Dram, but you can add a floral note with something like St. Germain or any number of products. Just be sure to keep your sweet and sour in balance and don't drown out the pisco. Enjoy!

Pisco Punch
(taken from SmallHandFoods.com)
Duncan Nichol, San Francisco, 1893

2 oz Pisco
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
¾ oz pineapple gum syrup

Shake all ingredients vigorously in mixing tins, then strain into a chilled coupe glass.

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