Thoughts on an ImPORTant Ingredient

O.K., it’s nothing new to see port as an ingredient in cocktails, though, you don’t see too many of them.   Look through some vintage cocktail books like those from “The Professor”, A.K.A., Jerry Thomas and you’ll see some listed there, as well as Harry Craddocks’ 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book.  In the early days of the cocktail when there were so few ingredients readily available, even to a well
 stocked bar, port was a common ingredient, especially in flips, nogs and punches.  What is port exactly?  Basically it is a fortified wine (usually red) high in residual sugars and alcohol.  This produces a richly sweet and decadent wine that is typically served as an aperitif or dessert.   Port became very popular in England back in the early 18th century when merchants were importing it regularly due to the war with France depriving thirsty Brits from fine French wine.  The long haul also begot spoilage for most wines which brought about the technique of fortifying wines in order to make the long journey, thus port was born.  Typically produced in Portugal, though, in the United States wines labelled as port, can be from anywhere in the world.

Port falls into two basic categories:  Bottled aged and barrel aged port.  Bottle aged ports are wines that are matured in bottles, with no exposure to air, thus allowing the wine to be generally smoother and less tanic.  Examples of this are ruby, white and late bottled vintage (LBV) ports.  Barrel aged wines, such as tawny port, are aged in wooden barrels and thus allowing the wine exposure to air which oxides and causes the wine to evaporate, resulting in a richer, more viscous port.  Now, I wouldn’t typically use a nice 30 year tawny for a cocktail, as the rich, caramel goodness and mouth feel would overtake a cocktail.  Unless you like drinking things like vanilla extract and maple syrup right out of the bottle.  However, a ruby or white port plays quite nicely with other ingredients, especially chocolate, sweet fruits and spices.

One of the great classic cocktails featuring port as a main character is the Coffee Cocktail.  First appearing in Jerry Thomas’ 1887 Bartenders Guide, this cocktail is a fine example of taking 4 basic ingredients, cognac, ruby port, sugar and egg, and creating a fantastic cocktail.  You’ll notice there’s no coffee anywhere to be found, something to which other cocktail experts, and Jerry himself, have always been baffled with.  In any case, have a few of these and maybe you’ll never want a cup of Joe for your morning pick me up ever again.

Coffee Cocktail
1 oz Cognac (Remy Martin VSOP would be a fine choice)
2 oz Ruby Port
1 tsp Sugar (use superfine, it dissolves better)
1 Egg
Freshly Grated Nutmeg for Garnish

Dry shake everything but the nutmeg vigorously for 15 seconds.  Add ice, and continue shaking vigorously for another 15 seconds.  Strain into a small cocktail glass and grate a little fresh nutmeg on top.  Enjoy.

Another fine cocktail containing port, and which is an early 20th century adaptation of the Coffee Cocktail, is the Josephine Baker.  Named for the early 20th century actress who gained fame in Europe, France particularly.   This adaptation from the 1937 reprint of Bar La Florida Cocktails book, elevates the Coffee Cocktail by adding the addition of apricot liqueur and lemon.  Use a quality liqueur, like that Rothman & Winter or Marie Brizard.  The addition of apricot and lemon does make this a bit sweeter than it’s predecessor, and the yolk only renders the mouth feel more silky.  Still, it manages to remain a balanced cocktail with all the components coming to together to create something special.

Josephine Baker
1 oz Cognac (Remy Martin VSOP would be a fine choice)
1 oz Ruby Port
3/4 oz Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur
1 tsp Sugar (use superfine, it dissolves better)
1 Egg Yolk
Lemon Peel
Freshly Grated Cinnamon for Garnish

Dry shake everything but cinnamon for about 15 seconds.  Add ice and continue shaking for 15 seconds more.  Strain into a small cocktail glass and garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.  Enjoy.

A recipe that caught my eye the other day was the Jersey Devil, featured in Speakeasy, a cocktail book written by the owners of Employee’s Only, a modern speakeasy joint in NYC.  There recipe involved the use of English Bishop, an old recipe involving spiced orange, sugar and port.  The Jersey Devil is divine for the holidays and cold winter nights when you really want something with rich, complex flavors of orange, spice, apple and, of course, the sweetness of good port.

English Bishop
1 Orange
30 Whole Cloves
1 bottle Ruby Port
1 cup Superfine Sugar

Stud the orange all over with the cloves and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and while still warm, cut the orange into quarters and place in a large sauce pan over medium heat.  Add port and simmer for 30 minutes.  Strain the liquid and add sugar, stirring till dissolved.  Bottle and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Jersey Devil
1-3/4 oz English Bishop (recipe above)
1-1/2 oz Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy or Applejack
1/2 oz Berentzen Apfelkorn Apple Liqueur
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Orange Half-Wheel for Garnish

Combine in a ice filled mixing glass, stir for 40 revolutions.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange wheel.
Moving in a slightly different direction, I began playing with idea of pairing bourbon and port.  Both vastly different in flavor and texture, yet both are excellent contributors to full bodied cocktails, especially in cold weather themed cocktails.  I wanted to blend the aged, rich flavors of vanilla and honey in a quality American bourbon, and the sweet, ripened berry flavors of a ruby port.  The blueprint to which I turned to was a classic Whiskey Sour from which I would base my foundation on.  With the addition of allspice to help bridge the gap between both the bourbon and port (seeing as how both respond to spice quite well), the Perfect Storm was born.

Perfect Storm
1-1/2 oz Jim Beam Black Bourbon
3/4 oz Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto (or your favorite ruby port)
1/4 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1/2 oz Honey Syrup (1:1 ratio of honey and hot water)
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3 Dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters #6

Shake all ingredients except port with ice.  Strain into an ice filled Old Fashioned glass.  Carefully float port on top, it will slowly sink creating a swirling “storm” effect.  Enjoy.

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