Archives for the month of: January, 2010

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa

Over the past couple of years, infusions have been all the rage in restaurants. And why not? They allow us to express our creative natures, utilizing the freshest ingredients, without being confined to the liquors and liqueurs that are available on the market. Not to mention the fact that they’re some of the easiest things to make and store, and they last a long time.

In these days where micro-gastronomy and micro-mixology continue to reach new heights, infusions continue to get more intricate, complex, and subtle, while staying affordable. Flavors range from simple fruit (mango, pineapple, lime and strawberry) to complex infusions of herbs, flowers, vegetables, and spices. And because of the nature of infusions, it’s not required that you use premium liquors such as Patron or Grey Goose as the base; the flavoring agents do most of the work.

Tons of restaurants have infusions these days (including, yes, ‘Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern’). Take Burlington’s The Green Room, for example. My buddy Alex Moran is the bar manager and mixologist, and soon he’ll be bringing back his incredible peach-and-cinnamon infused Herra Dura tequila.

Drink in Burlington features an iced tea-infused vodka with tea, oranges and simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water). Leunig’s offers a great Thai pepper-infused vodka for your Bloody Mary (Leunig’s GM Bob Conlon tells me he loves the mix but thinks the vodka’s a little too spicy for his tastes. I say, “Bring it on!”)

Here at Butler’s Restaurant and Tavern, we feature one of our most popular infusions, which we try to make enough of to last all year—the blood orange-infused vodka. Blood oranges, also known as Moro, Tarocco (native to Italy) or Sanguinello (native to Spain), are extremely sweet and very beautiful (as the flesh is tinged dark red as they ripen). Extremely seasonal (usually found only from December through April), it is a great fruit to use in infusions (and in the killer cosmopolitan recipe below).

The beauty of infusions is you don’t have to be a master mixologist to make your own. All you really need are a base spirit, a large jar that holds at least a quart, some flavoring agents, a dark, cool spot in your home, and a little time. So infuse a little flavor into your cocktail, and enjoy!

Blood Orange Infused Cosmopolitan

2 oz. blood orange-infused vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
Splash of lime juice
Splash of cranberry juice

Combine ingredients and shake vigorously with ice. Strain in a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime.

Making Your Own Infusion
1. Start with your base. The more neutral the spirit, the more the flavor will be reflected. Vodka is a natural starting point, but you can also try tequila (we infuse strawberries), rum (try pineapple or coconut), bourbon (mint is nice, but blackberries are great, too), or even gin (cucumbers are very refreshing).

2. Puncture your flavor. Depending on what you’re using, make sure it has an easy way to infuse into your spirit. Berries are best sliced. Herbs should be left whole with stems. Larger fruits can be diced. And vegetables can be whole or sliced. (Depending on intensity, hot peppers can be cut in half or left whole, while cucumbers should be sliced into rounds).

3. Infusion time. Once you’ve combined your ingredients, seal your container shut and leave in a dark place. For best results, shake 3-4 times a day. Flavorful agents such as citrus, peppers, herbs, etc., can be left 3-5 days. Lighter flavors such as berries, pineapple, some spices, etc. can go as long as two weeks.

4. Strain the goodness. Make sure you strain your fruit to capture all the flavoring agents. In a finely meshed strainer, pour your juice and fruit through and gently tamp down to extract the juice. WARNING: Do not over press the fruit as it’s possible to extract the bitterness from the seeds and skins. (After you’ve pressed the fruit, you can eat it, although I don’t recommend it, since it’s mostly saturated by alcohol with little of its original flavor).

5. Store your infusion. Most infusions will be just as easy to store as the spirit base you’ve chosen. You can keep it in the same mason jar if you like, just make sure that it’s well cleaned.

We are proud to be hosting our 4th annual Calcutta night to benefit the United Way of Chittenden County on Friday, February 5th at 6:00 p.m.

Everyone who attends will receive a three-course dinner for two prepared by Executive Chef David Coolidge, a guaranteed Calcutta prize, and a gift certificate for a future one-night Winter Getaway at The Essex.

All the proceeds raised during the event will go directly to support the United Way of Chittenden County and its member agencies. Tickets to the event are $135 per couple.

The festivities will once again be hosted by WOKO’s ‘Wild Bill’ Sargent. Cocktail hour begins at 6:00 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:00 p.m. and the Calcutta at 8:00 p.m.

In addition, The Essex is offering a special overnight room rate of just $79. Room upgrades are also available, with the proceeds going to the United Way.

To reserve your spot or for more information, please call (802) 878-1100.

A night of fun, great food, prizes, and supporting the United Way… what could be better?

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

I’ve never been much of a skier. I know, I know– born-and-bred Vermonter and not a skier? That’s tantamount to being born in California and not being much of a surfer.

For some reason, though, I’ve never seen going down the side of a mountain with two pieces of wood hooked to my feet, dodging trees at high speeds as a good time. Now the base lodge, on the other hand? That’s my idea of fun. Good conversation, a warm fireplace, plenty of friends, and of course, plenty to drink.

So I sit here wondering what kind of drink would appeal to the sophistication of skiers, be seasonally appropriate, and have a good name. Enter my right-hand man, Mark Elwell and his Aspen Mint Martini: Stoli Vanil, creme de menthe, White Godiva liqueur, and Baileys Irish Cream.

If you will remember from previous articles, Baileys is a liqueur that has been distilled and includes additives such as nuts, flowers, fruit, spices, cream, and sugar. These are great flavoring agents, but also are quite delicious on their own as aperitifs or digestifs. Baileys has been around for a long time and is a great mixer for cocktails, including martinis and coffee additives.

One of the primary ingredients in Baileys is Irish whiskey (which comes from the Celtic word usquebaugh meaning “water of life”). And what better place to make whiskey than Ireland; the oldest surviving distillery license was granted by King James I in 1608 to a distillery in there. Another marked characteristic of Ireland is its farms. Baileys relies on more than 1,500 hundred farms (and their 40,000 cows) to produce its cream. The cows are fed on four different strains of grass and are outside grazing more than nine months of the year. Through a clever process of homogenizing alcohol, Irish whiskey and cream, the products are emulsified along with some vegetable oil (to prevent separation). Baileys then adds cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, sugar and caramel to get the finished product.

This week I’ve included two recipes for you: the Aspen Mint Martini along with Water’s Homemade Baileys Irish Cream, which comes from my friend Erin Waters. It’s a pretty good recipe to make ‘your own’ Baileys. Be aware, though, that it will separate after awhile– so I recommend you only make what you’re going to use in a sitting. Both are tasty, both will warm you up after the slopes, and both are easy to make.

So, calling all ski bums! Please enjoy.

The Aspen Mint Martini
1 ½ oz. Stoli Vanil vodka
1 ½ oz. Baileys Irish Cream
¾ oz. crème de menthe
¾ oz. Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur
Hershey’s syrup

Combine vodka, Baileys, crème de menthe, and Godiva in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Take a chilled cocktail glass and slowly turn while drizzling in Hershey’s syrup (creating a pattern). Strain Aspen Mint Martini into the cocktail glass. Serve garnished with chocolate shavings.

Water’s Homemade Baileys Irish Cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half & half
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 tbsp. Hershey’s syrup
1 ½ tsp. instant coffee
1 ½ -2 cups Jameson Irish Whiskey (based on your tastes)

Combine ingredients in a blender until incorporated. Refrigerate and enjoy.

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa

As I sit here staring at my thermometer hovering around negative numbers, I can’t help but close my eyes and wish I was somewhere that snow, wind chills, and ice were only a myth, and this time of year, I’m sure I’m not alone. So– seeing as how all I can think about is tropical weather and how it just happens to be citrus season, I think it’s the perfect time to talk about… rum.

Rum is a liquor that fermented and distilled from sugar cane byproducts such as molasses. Its roots can be traced back for hundreds, if not thousands of years. There is some speculation that rum was first discovered in either ancient China or India, and there is significant evidence that Marco Polo (in the late 14th century) found a “very good wine of sugar” in what is now Iran.

Barbados was granted the official first true distillation of the spirit, and the Caribbean islands themselves still serve some of the best rum found in the world, though it is produced in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany, among others.

Rum has strong ties with Britain’s Royal Navy (who gave sailors a daily ration until the practice’s abolishment in 1970) as well as piracy (due in part to Treasure Island but also because the English Privateers who traded heavily in rum became pirates and took their love of rum with them).

Today, there are many different classes of rum. Most rum is aged in oak, which imparts its flavors of vanilla and spice, but some are left clear; these are better for mixing.

• Light Rum: Known also as silver or white, this rums tends to be your best for mixing with juices and mix bases. Besides sweetness, the flavors is not very pronounced.

• Gold Rum: A medium-bodied rum, it spends time in white oak casks that have been charred slightly on the inside. Typically having more spice components as well as hints of vanilla and nutmeg, gold rum is the in-between choice for those who are looking for more flavor than a light rum without the heaviness of a dark rum.

• Spiced Rum: This baby’s been “seasoned”, if you will, with natural and artificial spices, such as nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, and clove, to create a more complex and distinct flavor. Captain Morgan’s is a good example.

• Over-proof Rum: Created simply for the joy of getting completely hammered — and to help pyromaniacs set drinks on fire — it typically has a proof of 150 or higher.

• Dark Rum: The darkest of rums (also known as black rum), it spends time aging in highly charred oak casks for several months and has strong flavors of caramel, spices, and molasses. Dark rum tends to be higher in alcohol, and it adds a little get-up-and-go to rum drinks. It also the most popular rum used in cooking.

• Flavored Rum: Generally using a light rum as a base, flavored rum is artificially flavored to make it easier for you to use in mixed drinks. Malibu, a coconut-flavored rum, is a popular variety that you can find in almost any liquor store. You can certainly drink flavored rum on the rocks or neat, but I recommend that you use them as a mixer.

• Premium Rum: Similar to high-end cognac or whiskey, premium is generally aged for many years and carefully crafted. It’s created by boutique crafters and has many complex flavor and aroma components. Premium rum is generally sipped neat or on the rocks and almost has a whiskey-like nature.

Now that you have a little knowledge of rum, I’d like to share a recipe my bar manager Mark Elwell gave me. Not only does the finished product look nice, but it tastes good, too. So sit back, close your eyes, and pretend you’re on a tropical island time taking in the sunshine.

Enjoy!

Tavern Rum Special
1 ¼ oz. Bacardi (light rum)
¾ oz. Malibu (flavored rum)
4 oz. orange juice
4 oz. pineapple juice
¾ oz. Grenadine
½ oz. Myers (dark rum)

In a pint glass, combine Bacardi, Malibu, and orange and pineapple juices. Shake vigorously with ice. Fill a chilled Collins glass with ice and add grenadine. Top grenadine with drink in a shaker. Add a floater of Myers on top. Garnish with a lime, and “splice the main beam”, mateys! (That’s pirate for “double the ration of rum”).

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

In the past few years, I have noticed that more and more companies are holding their holiday parties in January, and (especially this year) companies — big and small — are opting to host informal gatherings at an employee’s home, rather than in a restaurant.

So, one of the questions I’m frequently asked is: “What is the perfect drink to serve to a variety of different people with different palates?”

The answer: One hasn’t been invented. You’re not going to please everyone. However, you can have a drink that works for the majority of guests.

People have worked on inventing such a drink for years. The key is balance. Create something too sweet, and it will turn off anyone who is a bourbon or whiskey drinker. Create something too alcoholic, and you risk losing those folks that have delicate palates.

When I speak of balance, I’m suggesting that you need to create a drink that has the right amount of alcohol, the right amount of sweet, enough acid to keep it interesting, a hint of bitterness to round out the sweet, and a look that doesn’t suggest you’re drinking pond water.

This Saturday marks the annual birthday celebration of my gorgeous wife, Kristi. (I’m not revealing any ages on this document because I enjoy breathing.) We always have a small get-together with close friends and family, and every year, I make my version of this perfect drink—a fruity punch called Jungle Juice.

You might have heard of this type of drink in your college days, as it is traditionally mixed in garbage cans and bathtubs, with a distinct disregard for any true taste; its primary function is to get people loaded. Also known as Gin Bucket (with gin mixes), Hunch Punch (made with Kool-Aid) or Spodie, it is not a very good drink and is generally created solely to make everyone extremely sick come morning.

My version, if I say so myself, has been carefully crafted over the years to balance the flavors I described. I’ve always kept this a secret, but in honor of my wife’s birthday, I’ve decided to release it for the first time. So, for your next holiday celebration, or just gathering of friends, try this friendly recipe. It’s easy to make, easy to serve, and very easy to consume.

Cheers (and happy birthday, honey!).

Benji’s Jungle Juice
Makes about 3 gallons.

1 bottle Stolichnaya Stoli Razberi
1 bottle Stolichnaya Stoli Ohranj
3 oz. triple sec
1 container frozen orange juice concentrate
1 bottle cranberry-grape cocktail
1 two-liter bottle Sprite
1 bottle champagne
2 limes, sliced
2 oranges, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
Sliced strawberries, to taste

In a large bowl, combine both Stolis and triple sec with sliced fruit. Allow to sit for about an hour. Add frozen concentrate and allow to dissolve, about one hour. Add juice cocktail.

When party is close to beginning, add chilled Sprite and champagne.

Serve over ice. Enjoy.

Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa.

With the birth of the year, comes the beginning of a new decade as well. In the past decade, the trends in the beverages and liquor included micro-mixology (the beverage side of micro-gastronomy), pomegranate and other exotic fruit liqueurs, and the rebirth of classic cocktails such as the Sloe Gin Fizz, Sidecar, and Brandy Alexander. This coming decade will prove to be, I think, a continuation of these themes.

We also will see significantly different cocktails that explore flavors as they relate to texture and mouth feel. The classics will continue to be replicated and improved upon with different twists. And we know that the abundance of flavors found in the world will only increase — perhaps a smoked salmon vodka served with Frangelico and Bailey’s to duplicate the classic bagel and lox? (Although I sincerely hope no one tries to do this!)

Whatever the future holds for us, I hope we will continue to rely on the classic cocktails that bring full circle the tradition and memories we enjoy. In addition to Bloody Mary, one of the most classic cocktails served on New Year’s Day is the mimosa. The name is derived from the mimosa plant, whose flowers are very yellow and appear frothy at a distance.

The standard mimosa, of course, is served with one part champagne or sparkling wine and two parts orange juice. But, as you know, I enjoy putting a little twist on things. There are many different classic ways to improve the mimosa, and all involve a little help from the spirit land. Try adding a floater of Grand Marnier, which ratchets up the alcohol content, flavor, and texture of the mimosa. Or try making a Kir, which classically is done by adding some Chambord to the top of the drink. Or you can try another rendition of the mimosa (and some say the original that was later plagiarized) called the Buck Fizz — add a little grenadine for a slight cherry flavor and a lot of color.

Or you can go completely different and prepare the following recipe, the St. Germaine Sparkling Cocktail, which I have recently fell in love with. It goes great with Sunday brunch (we recently started serving these at The Essex, and they’re a hit).

So have a safe and happy holiday, and the best to you for a wonderful 2010. Happy New Year!!

St. Germaine Sparkling Cocktail

1 part dry sparkling wine
1 part soda water
1 part St. Germaine liqueur

Combine ingredients slowly and serve in a champagne flute. Great for parties and goes well in pitchers.