Petal and Thorn Vermouth by Imbue

petal and thornI picked up this 375ml bottle of vermouth at one of my favorite liquor stores and was immediately intrigued.  Imbue vermouth is already a local staple and this bottle seemed to be a small batch release.  Neil Kopplin of Imbue was kind enough to confirm that this is a barrel aged version of their normal Petal and Thorn aperitif.  Rested in french oak barrels for one year outside in the Oregon weather where it ranged from 98 to 28 degrees.  This small bottling was released in 2015 but the result was so good they have committed to incorporating the process into future products.

Bottled at 18% and individually numbered the bottles also include the latitude and longitude where the barrels were rested.  The corks feature a wax seal which gives them just a little touch of class.

Despite the barrel aging it doesn’t have an overly oaked flavor.  It blooms with a floral note and then sways into a more bitter tinge.  Like many vermouths this is a fine thing to drink on its own, blends well with gin and other cocktails.  Because it’s not a sweet vermouth or a “dry” vermouth there may be any number of cocktails where this won’t work well but it’s a wonderful drink all the same.

The Gibson

gibsonI sometimes wonder why every single variation in a cocktail requires an alternate naming scheme.  In this case you have a fairly simple drink, gin and vermouth.  One would think that these would be the determining factors, but no.  In this case it is the garnish which determines the name.  If you place a cocktail olive in the drink you have a martini, if instead you place an onion in the drink it becomes known as a Gibson.

Like many cocktails the Gibson’s creation is shrouded in mystery.  It is entirely possible that the drink originated in many places at the same time as the components are not rare, difficult to combine or unusual.  Regardless of the circumstances of its creation the drink is similar to the martini in all respects except for the item on the end of the toothpick.

Even further removed if you garnish the drink with an olive, an onion and another olive alternating on a toothpick the drink is called a Patton.

For those not familiar:

2.5 oz of gin
0.75 oz dry vermouth

Stir over ice, strain into coupe glass.
Garnish with cocktail onions.

You might ask how many, the best advice I’ve ever heard on the subject is as follows:

“Always add between one and three, but remember three is a meal and even numbers are unlucky.  I’ll let you figure the rest out.”

Rant: Strawberry Basil Martini

rant martiniThere are a lot of things you can assume about a place called the California Pizza Kitchen.  Being a naturalized Oregonian I too carry a certain disdain for the California ideal and can point and laugh with the best of the moistened natural born locals.

Things will be made with blue corn and have too much cilantro.  Flatbreads and fusion food.  Things in wraps and pizza made with artichokes and garlic cloves.

I stopped into one to snag food before a late movie, this was a failing on my part as there were a couple of venerable Portland food cart outlets just outside the door and they were both cheaper and more interesting.

What struck me in their menu was the picture at the left.

If you’re read my rant about the Gingerbread martini you may already know my personal distaste for the overuse of the word Martini.

This drink you can see is about as far from an actual martini as you can drift and still be drinking a cocktail.  For starters, martinis are generally clear, not opaque.  A dirty martini might be a bit cloudy but in all you’re using far more clear spirits than not.

It contains, no gin, no vodka, no vermouth and nothing even remotely similar to any of the above.

Broken down, the VeeV spirit is a strange duck.  Their website seems to deal more with their sustainable business practices and business philosophy than with the taste and process of their product.  The Açaí berry is a tasty and popular little devil.  It’s a pain in the ass to type with the little Cedilla under the c mucking up the smooth flow of a good thought.  It’s a double pain to pronounce, Ah-Sai-ee, which is probably why they called this a strawberry basil, rather than an Acai-strawberry.  People get uncomfortable ordering things they can’t pronounce.

You’ll note the blurb doesn’t mention the giant basil leaf dropped in the middle of the glass.  I’m a big fan of putting herbs into drinks for scent notes and flavor bits.  In this case it just looks like a funny garnish, something I don’t want to eat because it’ll have gotten all mushy from the rest of the drink.

I’ve not had the Veev spirit solo, and their site doesn’t give you an idea of what kind of spirit you’re supposed to take it for.  If it’s a flavored vodka then it’s failing to park itself in the right market share.  If it’s an eau de vie like brandy then it’s a bit low brow for the normal target there.  If it’s a fruit drink it’s a little clear for a mixer.  Here it’s being used as a base spirit which confuses one as to if this is a weak drink or a fruity drink.

Next up is the strawberry puree.  Fruit purees are generally something you find in a daiquiri, which is then going to involve Rum.  If you call it a daiquiri people are going to expect a blended drink instead of something served straight up.  This could be a blended drink, but lacking anything but the picture to reference how is the diner supposed to tell if it’s going to be cold or icy?

Lastly we come to the only thing that really peaked my interest.  Agave sour, the name alone makes me want to play around with nectar and syrups.  I can’t tell if it’s supposed to take this in a tequila direction, be a low-glycemic replacement for the simple syrup in sour mix or if it’s a stab at a whiskey sour which is just lemon juice and spirit.

Sadly a half page picture and a bare 17 words are all we have of description.

Vesper Martini

Vesper1As I’ve probably said about a dozen times now the “real” James Bond martini is not just a vodka martini (shaken not stirred).  The original and recognized drink of 007 is the Vesper, a drink he essentially created on the spot during the course of Casino Royale and named for the traitorous double agent Vesper Lynd.

There’s a lot of history on this drink, including a great deal of debate as to whether Ian Fleming created the drink or simply encountered it, but in 1953 Bond uttered the following:

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

In the course of trying to recreate this drink there are a number of factors that could make any number of difficulties but let us look first and foremost at the recipe.

3 oz Gordon’s Gin
1 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Kina Lillet

If you’ve been following my little scribblings here at all you can already see at least one problem.  The drink was created in 1953 and since that time Lillet has reformulated their line giving Lillet Blanc and entirely different flavor than what Fleming might have gotten from his buddy Ivar Bryce.  It has been intimated that Cocchi Americano is an acceptable and equal substitute for our lost Kina.

Another factor comes into play here, Gordon’s Gin was also reformulated at one point for the UK domestic market.  Gin is an incredibly complex spirit and even the slightest change is likely to result in a big flavor difference.  In the UK modern Gordon’s is an 80 proof Gin, the more traditional Gin is 94 proof.  I’m told reliably that the version exported to America is 94 proof but it is a good idea to check your gin before you mix if you want to be “authentic”.

Next up we have the vodka.  Bond recommended a grain vodka as opposed to a potato vodka.  I think in the US right now you’re actually more likely to find a grain vodka than a potato one.  After doing some research it also appears that vodka in the 50′ s was far more likely to be 100 proof.  Modern vodka tends more towards 80 proof.

Combined together we see that Bond was asking for a much stronger drink that what we might make with off the shelf bottles. Stoli makes a premium 100 proof vodka today which I gather would be the vodka of choice in trying to make this work.

So updated for the modern age the recipe might resemble something like this:

3 oz Gordon’s Gin
1 oz Stoli Premium Vodka
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano

Sadly I lack any of those ingredients.  What I do have is a perfectly good bottle of Lillet Blanc slowing losing flavor in my fridge.  So we improvise.

3 oz Aviation Gin
1 oz Crater Lake Vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
Thick slice of lemon peel twisted


On first sip I can say that I’m not a fan.  This is a huge, heavy drink without any of the bells or whistles.  It’s also a lot of gin, and I’m a big fan of gin.  The drink is heavy and doesn’t move along any flavor.  It may be that I’m using aviation, which is not a dry gin but I think this needs some tweaking for my taste.  I power through this one and step back up to the shaker.


Version 2: Here I went with slightly less gin, closer to 1.5 oz than 3.  Still an ounce of vodka but I upped the Lillet to a full ounce.  The shift is remarkable.  For starters I don’t feel like I’m drinking a fishbowl of booze.  For another the fruity notes in the Lillet are coming in loud and clear.  The vodka is doing the job of keeping the gin’s wilder tendency in check, and the Gin is dancing the fandango all around the herbal components in the Lillet.

I can’t say I’m going to make any more of these once my Lillet runs out, they’re simply dull.  But as a change from the Gin and Tonic they’re a temporary diversion.