Here’s the thing: a week or two ago a very nice sounding PR person contacted me and asked me to come up with a cocktail featuring Veuve Ambal and Hella Bitters. This does not happen to me a whole lot.
“Are you sure you’ve got the right blog?” I asked her.
“I’m sure,” she said, and sent a box of booze to my office. Apparently my cocktail could win the chance to be featured at a fancy party, in which case, I would be lavished with even more bottles of bubbly. This seemed like a win win.
My sister Sarah, no stranger to having bottles of fizz and bitters arrive on her desk – she’s a buyer for the Wine Society – offered practical advice:
“Riff on the classics.”
Round 1. Jon & Me. Sarah on Skype.
Grape puree was discussed at length, mirroring the grapes in the Veuve Ambal, which turned out to be light and fresh, with a buttery chardonnay finish. The idea was simple: Make a grape puree, add the bitters and let them hang out for an hour to let the flavors mingle. Add puree to the glass top up with bubbly, voila, a grape take on the classic Bellini. We were all very excited.
I bought the grapes and made the puree, adding a good dash of both the citrus and the spice bitters. Jon popped the cork and poured the drink, Sarah watched on her computer screen.
It tasted lovely, but it looked like bubbling ectoplasm.
“Well, when you think about it,” said Sarah, “Bellini’s aren’t really all that attractive are they?”
“More attractive than this,” said Jon.
Round 2. Jon & Me, Annie and Larry, and Sarah, once again, by Skype.
Saddened that her grape puree idea had not entirely gone to plan, Sarah followed up with an email that demonstrated that she was taking the whole thing a lot more seriously than I had imagined.
“I’m thinking, a take on the classic champagne cocktail. Citrus bitters, brown sugar cubes and …”
So, a classic champagne cocktail is made with brandy, but, when all’s said and done, brandy is just a spirit distilled from grapes, the same as Armagnac, or Cognac, or even Metaxa, the Greek strip-the-back-off-your-throat tourist bottle, that, for some reason, was the first alcoholic drink consumed in space. Every day’s a school day.
This was Sarah’s twist:
“Twist! Instead of brandy, use Pisco. Not just any Pisco, Mosto Verde.”
Funnily enough, I actually Have this in my slightly haphazard spirits cupboard, and I could see Sarah’s point: it’s like a brandy, but way grapier and fresher, because it’s made with partially fermented mushed up grapes (must), so only some of the sugar is turned to alcohol, the rest is around to give the drink a slightly sweet, brighter tone. The Citrus Hella bitters would zing things up even further. Nice thinking.
The simplicity was appealing too. A strong contender.
And I had been doing some ruminating of my own. The spice Hella Bitters had a vanilla scent, under all the smoke and bosky musky Indian Bazaar vibe. “Kinda vanilla” led me to bourbon, which, being oak casked, is also “kinda vanilla.” My idea also included a brown sugar cube to give the drink some caramel sweetness.
“It’s going to be amazing,” I told Jon, Annie and Larry as I made the samples. “bourbon, bitters, sugar, bubbles, how could this be bad?”
“Because it looks like swamp water?”
It was true. It did. Though, you guys, it tasted really good.
But the winner was the Pisco Veuve Ambal Cocktail, hands down. Sarah nodded knowingly. Yeah. Of course it was. In fact, it hit pretty hard. So hard that I lost track of time and burned the chocolate brownies and nobody even noticed.
I therefore recommend it to the house.
Pisco Veuve Ambal Cocktail (per glass)1 brown sugar cube 3 dashes of Hella Bitter citrus bitters 1 part Mosto Verde Pisco 4 parts Veuve Ambal (or, math fans, 30 ml of the Pisco, which is a standard measure, then top up the glass with bubbles, which should be proportionally about right.) Orange peel garnish
- Chill the glass. Stick the Pisco in the freezer for half an hour. Chill the champagne.
- Drop 3 splashes of Hella Bitter citrus bitter on the sugar cube, and place in the bottom of a champagne glass
- Pour in 1 measure of Pisco, then top up with the Veuve Ambal
For the garnish
- Pare a strip of peel off the orange, squeeze it, twist it over the cocktail to release the scented oils, then drop into the glass.