MxMo CVII: Smoke over the Temperance

This month’s Mixology Monday prompt is overproof spirits. In Dagreb of Nihil Utopia‘s words:

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“My theme this time is overproof. Or rather how you utilize overproofs.  Do you sub them into your standards? Save them for accents in particular recipes? Pour them into ceramic volcanoes and set them on fire? Reserve them only for making liqueres? … 

First let’s decide what is proof. It’s my party so I say 50% abv is proof. Above that is overproof. You disagree? Host your own party! (No really host a MxMo it’ll be fun.) So BIB liquors are exempt this month but lots of bottles are fair game! Whether it boldly proclaims its strength on the label or nonchalantly lets you discover its strength for yourself use that bottle that packs a punch in a drink this month.”

I don’t have much in the way of overproof spirits in my bar. In fact, I only have one bottle that’s over 50% abv. – cask-strength Laphroaig. So, what can I do with a tight budget? Play off Laphroaig’s smokiness, of course. Sipping Laphroaig reminds me of camping, specifically on Minnesota’s North Shore. That’s where my wife and I were wed, and we try to make it up to the shores of Gitche Gumee at least once a year. I wanted to make a drink that would evoke camping on a cool evening by the lake.

The first thing I thought of was toasted marshmallows. They remind me more of camping as a kid, but regardless of age, they’re mighty tasty. But how to incorporate the smokey caramel sweet of the marshmallows? I decided to attack the problem head-on, by toasting an entire package of marshmallows.

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After toasting the marshmallows, I put them in a saucepan and added some water. Once the marshmallows melted into a syrup, I strained out the burnt pieces, then put the syrup back into the pan and added some more sugar to taste. Surprisingly enough, the melted marshmallows weren’t sweet enough (compared to a traditional simple syrup) on their own.

Fair warning to anyone who wants to make this syrup themselves: you haven’t gotten rid of the gelatin in the marshmallows. You’ve really just created marshmallow jelly. You’ll have to heat it up to make it a liquid again. It’s a pain when you just need a little for experimenting, but definitely manageable when using it to please a crowd.

Once the syrup was finished, I tried several drinks with it, but nothing worked. The gelatin in the syrup, when chilled, caused the drink to separate much too quickly. Adding enough acid to threaten the gelatin overwhelmed the rather subtle toasted marshmallow taste. So I went back to where I started: heat.

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Smoke over the Temperance

  • 2oz Lapsang Souchong Tea, brewed
  • 1.25oz Rittenhouse Rye bottled-in-bond
  • 0.75oz Toasted Marshmallow syrup, warm
  • 2 barspoons lemon juice
  • 3 dashes The Bitter Truth chocolate bitters
  • 8 drops cinnamon tincture
  • Laphroaig scotch rinse

The key to this riff on a hot toddy, I’ve found, is procedural: keep everything as warm as possible as long as possible. It keeps the gelatin in the syrup under control, and it really allows the smokey aromatics throughout the drink to shine.

I start by brewing the tea. 5 minutes, boiling water. While that’s steeping, I fill the serving glass with hot water to temper it, and I heat up the syrup so it’s pourable. When the tea is done brewing, I begin building the drink. First, dump the hot water from the serving glass and rinse it with the Laphroaig. Then add the bitters, cinnamon tincture, lemon juice, syrup, and rye. Finally, top with the brewed tea, and serve immediately.

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This is a drink you taste just as much with your nose as with your tongue. The smoke of the tea and the scotch fill your nose as you take a sip, and the complex sweetness of the toasted marshmallow really comes through as it lingers on your tongue, supported by the chocolate and cinnamon without tasting like a s’more. Not that that’s a bad thing; that’s just a different drink. The lemon provides just that little bit of brightness, but really, any more than a barspoon or two can overwhelm the subtle syrup. Then the drink finishes with that rye spiciness mixing with the smoke that’s still in your nose from earlier. It’s wonderful.

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In the future, I hope to expand my knowledge of overproof spirits. Right now, it’s limited to a few whiskies and, for better or worse, the grain alcohol I use to make limoncello. I look forward to reading about all the other great drinks submitted for this month’s prompt, and I have no doubt they’ll inspire me to get my hands on some strong spirits.

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