Friday, March 30, 2012

Cabin Fever Cocktail Challenge

As the majority of these past few weeks in Chicago have been exceptionally warm for the month of March (temps in the 70s/80s vs historical average in the low 40s - apparently referred to as 'season creep' among climatologists), it is fitting to have recently come across the 'Cabin Fever Cocktail Challenge' sponsored by Drinking In America.  As described on their site:

Spring has arrived and we’re ready for a toast to the season. This month’s challenge is to create the ultimate springtime drink. Give us your best recipe for kicking the last of this cold weather to the curb...

All entries must be submitted by March 28th before 5:00 pm EST. From there, Mike Cerretani, bartender at Bitter Bar, will judge the recipes. He’ll be looking for overall creativity based on the following:

  • Best use of flavor/combination of spirits (taste) 
  • Best representation of springtime theme

With fresh fennel on hand and it's inspirations of spring, some initial ideas revolved around how to integrate it with other flavors in a cocktail.  While the vegetable itself has some sweet anise character, especially when slowly roasted, the lesser used fronds possess a brighter and more subtle anise flavor that I thought might lend itself well to a syrup, so that was where I began.  Along with the mounds of fresh clementines we've been getting, these two components of fennel fronds and citrus would combine as two of the flavors I would feature.  While I was at it, freshly cracked coriander came to mind, often used with citrus and not uncommon with fennel either, I thought this spice would also be a nice element to tie things together with gin.  I went with Plymouth given its brighter citrus overtones and paired it with Cocchi Americano for a bit more citrus and crisp botanicals.  To brighten it up a bit, I added some fresh lemon juice, along with a couple dashes of Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas bitters.  The resulting flavor combination worked rather well, but for texture, I thought a nice frothy egg white was in order here...

Season Creep
2 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz fennel frond syrup*
1/2 oz egg white
2 dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas bitters
1 tsp whole coriander seed
1/2 clementine, unpeeled

Crack/muddle the coriander seed in a mixing glass, then add the clementine and muddle to integrate the two. Add the remainder of the ingredients and dry shake until frothy, about 20-30 seconds. Add ice, shake again until well chilled, and double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with fennel frond.

Fennel frond syrup*
1/2 c fresh fennel fronds, roughly chopped
1/2 c water
1/2 c sugar

Add all ingredients to saucepan and bring to a bare simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit until room temperature. Store covered for a day, then strain into a clean bottle (pressing the fronds against a mesh strainer to extract the most flavor) and store in the refrigerator.

Season Creep

This cocktail presents bright, crisp citrus and bontanicals on the first sip, with the scent of anise notes from the fennel frond coming thru to accentuate the slight hint of the syrup. The coriander and clementine combine well with the Plymouth and Cocchi Americano, all rounded out with the light texture of airy egg white.

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