Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch, Part 1: Inspiration

A Modern Replication of a Colonial Cocktail in Three Parts

I am not a wizard in the kitchen, not by any means.  My culinary feats don’t range far beyond cold breakfast cereal, grilled cheese, and when I’m lucky, not breaking the yolks when preparing my eggs over-easy.  Beverages, on the other hand, are another story altogether; it seems I have quite the knack for creating my own brandies, infused vodkas, and homemade limoncello.

With this self-taught confidence and determination in hand, it’s no surprise I quickly gathered the ingredients necessary to make my own batch of milk punch using Benjamin Franklin’s own recipe.  I first learned of it after reading Ashlie Hughes’s The Aperitif column at the Huntington-Belle Haven, VA Patch, a local suburban publication where she writes on featured drinks and cocktails.

In her Milk Punch post, Ashlie explains: “The recipe I chose comes from the book Vintage Sprits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh and calls for a combination of rum, brandy, milk, vanilla extract and simple syrup… According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, the boozy drink has roots dating back to the 18th century–Benjamin Franklin even had a recipe he shared with friends.”

As she and I are occasional pen pals and both contributors to Metrocurean, I reached out for a bit more background on her story.  “I have a weird obsession with colonial era beverages so I’m interested in trying Franklin’s recipe,” she told me.  Certainly as good a reason as any.  Yet she hadn’t tried to re-create it herself.  And who can blame her?  The Historical Society calls Franklin’s punch “lemony, with a slightly medicinal kick.”

But I’m not one to scare easily at questionable food or drink descriptions: I’ve subsisted on military rations; sampled cow’s tongue in Moscow; and shared kofta in downtown Baghdad.  So words like medicinal and lemony cause more curiosity than hesitation.  I was determined to create a batch, using Franklin’s own words as my guide.  Thankfully, the Historical Society provided just that – in two ways actually: several high-resolution JPEGs as well as a neatly formatted text in Times New Roman font.

It’s time to turn back the bartending clock.

Published in: on January 30, 2012 at 5:08 pm  Comments Off  
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Kaye and Altier’s How to Booze

I wasn’t going to do a full post on Jordan Kaye & Marshall Altier’s book, How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails and Unsound Advice.  No, I was just planning to quietly add it to the Recommended Reading page with a few quick words, and leave it at that.  You see, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by drawing attention to the fact that I’ve been reading it since way back when.  Yet as I finished the book and looked back on the pages I dog-eared, I realized this short book really had several great quotes, and even a few lessons that are worth elaborating upon.

At first glance, this short book reads like any other “how to” booze guide: a description of standard barware; the authors’ description of several cocktails, alongside an entertaining description of the drink’s purported origins and a singularly notable situation the authors found themselves in whilst drinking the particular libation.  And perhaps that well-worn formula was partly responsible for why it took me so long to finish the book.

That’s not to say it’s a bad, unhelpful, or even unfunny book.  On the contrary – the book’s early instructions on “garnishing with a lemon peel” and “how to flame an orange peel” are two uniquely helpful and interesting paragraphs.  However, most of book’s early content – “if any self-destructive pastime can be elevated into an art form, we believe we have stumbled upon it,” for example – rang hollow, trite, and overused.

On the other hand, there are other parts I agree with wholeheartedly.  The authors’ statement that “the right drink is always, always, always, whatever you bloody well feel like drinking” is spot on.  You can’t disagree with their assertion that the Americano’s history makes it belong “to everywhere and nowhere” and that it’s “rarely out of place.”  And I particularly enjoyed their rant against technology’s pervasiveness when out drinking:

We will not join the rest of the world in celebrating this information revolution…  So for old time’s sake, pretend for the moment that your flight is ready for takeoff.  Power down your handheld devices, lift up your trays, and unplug your laptops.  Cut off all access points to the factual record.  The only way to test the strength of your friendships is to nearly ruin them by bickering as if there is no right answer: as if you live in a vacuum and the only path towards redemption involves repeating the same points over and over at progressively louder decibels, insulting each other’s intelligence, and rejecting the possibility of your own fallibility.

Perhaps it is my age, or my current place in life, that made this book’s later pages more relatable than some of the earlier content.  In recommending the Golden Gin Fizz before attempts at procreation, the authors turn introspective.  “Having children may not be the rational thing to do, but it is the gratifying thing to do: gratifying in ways that only a parent can truly comprehend.  Parenting makes every other activity look idiotically pointless in comparison—but it takes being a parent to know that.”

A few pages later, they make a similar point, suggesting the Mint Julep for those times you must accept your present station in life, that of the average, run-of-the-mill yuppie father.  “Throughout life, there are dark moments of weakness, humiliation, and shame – many of them are described in this book – and they call, desperately, for something called liquid dignity.  This is a concept we have no doubt inherited from Hemingway, and though we didn’t want to get you down by mentioning it too early in the book, we should note that the need for liquid dignity is a primary reason for boozing.”

This book’s applicability and usefulness will certainly depend on where you are in life.  Nevertheless, everyone can learn a thing or two about choosing the right drink for the right time.

Published in: on January 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Booze News, 5th Edition

Happy belated New Year!  Booze News is back for its fifth installment.  This time, The Economist provides a pair of articles on the wonders of Belgian and British beer, some thoughts from an Atlantic contributor on an increasingly popular herbal liqueur, and finally, some information on why drying out after the holidays is just a waste of time.

I’ve previously written about Belgium’s fantastic Trappist ales.  And it’s not just those seven specific brewers.  Generally speaking, Belgian beer is some of the best anywhere.  The Economist agrees, but supports the conclusion with a bit more analysis.  In addition to reputation, “Belgium is also home to the world’s biggest brewer. Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev, based in Leuven, a small university town half an hour by train from Brussels, turns out one in five of every beer sold around the world.”

Belgium’s geographic location also doesn’t hurt: “the climate and the land are excellent for growing barley and hops, the basic ingredients of beer. Belgium is also known for its high-quality water, vital for turning out good beer.”  Furthermore, “at one time or another most of Europe’s great powers have held sway over Belgium; many have left behind influences and flavours.”  No doubt then why Belgian beer is just so incredibly tasty.

Read the Economist article, Belgian Beer: Brewed force

Looking north and homeward to the British isles, The Economist next considers Britain’s long history and culture of binge drinking.  In his upcoming book Intoxication and Society, Cambridge historian Philip Withington argues it “was the educated elite who taught Britons how to drink to excess.”

However, these elites were forced to booze responsibly: “Men were to consume large quantities of alcohol in keeping with conventions of excess. Yet they were also supposed to remain in control of their faculties, bantering and displaying wit. Students and would-be lawyers formed drinking societies, where they learned the social—and drinking—skills required of gentlemen.”  Thus, copius drinking was permitted so long as one could still think sharply and cleverly.”

And perhaps things haven’t changed so much from the past.  “Although intoxication was a classless pursuit in the 17th century, it was the privileged who turned it into a cultural phenomenon. The affluent are still boozy… The wit is still there, too—although it is likely to seem funnier after the listener has had a few drinks as well.”

Read The Economist article, England’s booze culture: Always with us

From Belgium and Britain, we head now to Argentina, home of fernet, “the liquor for all occasions. Grandparents swear by the herbal libation; the young heading out into the night mix fernet with cola and then order it en masse at bars and clubs; and no one would dare organize a barbecue, which are called asados in Argentina and are very regular affairs with friends or families, without fernet.”

What is this mysterious liqueur, you might ask?  I’ll let Karina Martinez-Carter explain: “For the first-time fernet drinker, the popularity of booze that tastes like black licorice devoid of sugar might be confounding. The botanical, 80-proof fernet is no innocuous vodka. It is made from bitters and herbs, and though it goes down relatively smooth, the aftertaste kicks and lingers. It is, as almost everyone describes it, an acquired taste.”

After picking up a bottle of Italian Fernet Branca last week, I’m still attempting to acquire a taste myself.  Good luck acquiring your own.

Read Martinez-Carter’s Atlantic article, Fernet: The Best Liquor You’re (Still) Not Yet Drinking

And finally, we return once again to Britain, where scientists at the British Liver Trust give us another reason to just keep on drinking after the holidays.  “Giving up alcohol or going on a detox for one month is pointless, especially after the excesses of the festive season… Experts agree that a short period of complete abstinence will not improve liver health,” reports the BBC.

Instead, Andrew Langford, the British Liver Trust’s chief executive recommends “making a resolution to take a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for January only.”  A few days a week rather than an entire month off – that’s  certainly much more reasonable.

Read the BBC article, Detoxing in January is futile, says liver charity

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Drink With… Ron Swanson

Whisky.

Ron doesn’t hide his love of a dram.  Especially when it’s served next to a thick porterhouse or ribeye from any number of his favorite restaurants.  The drink is secondary, to be sure, but that doesn’t make it less important.

He’s not a picky man, not with his drink.  He’ll remember a good scotch – like that Lagavulin 16 year old he had with his medium rare ribeye back on February 14, 1996 – memorialized for all time in his Mulligan’s Steakhouse book.  But Mulligan’s, that’s more about the meal than the beverage.

When he’s drinking (and especially when eating), don’t interrupt him.  He’s a solitary man who can’t be trifled with minor distractions like conversation.   Or strippers.  So perhaps it’d be more accurate to say that you don’t have a drink with Ron Swanson, you have a drink near him.

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And for an extra culinary treat and your viewing pleasure, see this video for all things related to Ron and food.  Well, not all kinds of food, and certainly not salads.  Mostly just free breakfast buffets, bacon-wrapped shrimp, Meat Tornadoes, a “Swanson,” and all your bacon and eggs.  That’s right, bacon’s listed twice.

Published in: on January 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Côtes du Rhône Wine

I am not a wine aficionado.  A quick category check on The Hip Flask homepage – below on the right, just above the badges – will show how infrequently I write on wine as compared to beer, spirits, or my catch-all miscellaneous category.  Yet when I do enjoy wine, on occasion and usually with dinner, I’ve returned several times to southern France’s Côtes du Rhône region.

As always, a little background first – which, in this case, is more for my benefit, a novice oenophile at best.  This wine-growing region, referred to as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in French, is located in south-central France, along the valley formed by the Rhône River.

Geographically, the Côtes du Rhône AOC lies between the French towns of Vienne and Avignon.  The AOC is divided into two areas – northern and southern.  “If the north is cool, discreet, noble, and expressed in different shades of just one red grape, the south is the antithesis: warm, exuberant, heartily earthy, with myriad grape varieties.”  The town of Montélimar could be used to generally separate the northern sub-region from the southern.

However, another introductory distinction is present.  Although Côtes du Rhône “is also the label given to a broad base of generic wines…accounting for over 40,000 hectares of vines and nearly two million hectoliters of wine in an average year,”  Côtes du Rhône Villages is an important and distinct category, representing “a distinct step up from generic Côtes du Rhône… The villages appellation covers 96 Southern Rhône communities, of which 16 are allowed to print their village names on the labels.”

While all this French wine bureaucracy and geography is fun to me, it’s not really that important when a glass sits before you.  The Rhône’s most common grapes, Grenache and Syrah (or a blend of the two), are really what’s important in the end.  As it turns out, I’ve enjoyed each bottle of Côtes du Rhône wine I’ve had, regardless of price.

Here are a few bottles I’ve recently enjoyed, either out at dinner, with friends, or at home with my family:

- Valréras “Cuvée Prestige” Côtes du Rhône Villages 2010

- Alain Jaume & Fils Réserve Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône 2009

- Domaine Ferraton Côtes du Rhône 2007

- Caves du Fournalet Côtes du Rhône 2010

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Read more and reference quotations at DK’s Wines of the World, 2004 Edition pages 119-135.  Wikipedia’s Côtes du Rhône AOC page also provides a particularly helpful introduction as well as a superb map.

Published in: on January 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm  Comments (3)  
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