Each week, we encounter lots of interesting booze news—from new flavor releases to unexpectedly viral videos and products. However, not all stories make us fall off our bar stools. This month’s craziest booze news includes soccer star David Beckham, an odd mix-up between the Feds and a new brand of powdered alcohol, and even more developments in the troubling lime shortage. Curious? Mix a drink, pull up a stool and get educated.
It’s not only the earthbound tacos and gimlets that are suffering because of the lime shortage: Airlines have decided to stop stocking the citrus, too. So if you were hoping for a margarita on your next flight, sorry to say it, but you’re S.O.L.
Recently, the Feds gave the go-ahead to Palcohol, maker of questionable powdered-alcohol “just add water” cocktails like the Powderita and mojito. And then promptly took it back. We don’t understand the appeal, but look forward to seeing how this mess plays out.
If you’re a fan of the retired soccer star and fancy Scotch, you’ll appreciate this new partnership between Beckham and Haig & Haig Single Grain Scotch Whisky, a new bottling that is set to launch this summer.
It seems like a new flavored vodka is released almost daily, but when we heard about Grey Goose’s new Le Melon expression, we were kind of intrigued. It gets its sweet essence from French Cavaillon melons, which sounds about as summery as it gets.
We hope you’ve seen this viral video from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, which features NBC news anchor Brian Williams rapping Snoop Dogg’s classic “Gin and Juice,” but if you’ve been living under a rock, we recommend you watch it ASAP:
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This Extremely Weird Cocktail Ingredient Will Set Your Mouth Tingling Like Nothing Else
Bartenders like to say that we drink with our eyes first, and that’s certainly true. The best cocktails have a way of holding the gaze before they begin the rapid journey to the mouth, where smell and taste quickly take over. Often, that’s the end of the road for the senses. But now a forward-thinking group of bartenders are tinkering with the way a drink feels.
Seasons 52, a restaurant and wine bar chain headquartered in Orlando, recently added the Botanical Buzz to its drink menus. On the outside, the Buzz looks like little more than your garden-variety summer citrus drink: icy cold and refreshing. Consisting of vodka, honey syrup and fresh lemon juice, it’s dumped into a large rocks glass and topped with a small pink and yellow flower bud. And that’s where things get interesting.
The Szechuan button (also known as the electric daisy or buzz button) grows on a species of herb called Acmella oleracea. When consumed, it releases a naturally occurring alkaloid that produces a strong numbing or tingling sensation in the mouth, followed by excessive salivation and then a cooling feeling in the throat. It gives a whole new meaning to the word mouthfeel.
“This little simple flower can transform a classic, crisp cocktail into a completely new sensory experience,” says Season 52 executive chef Jim Messinger. “It manages to activate the sense of touch, on top of taste and smell, and really heightens the flavors.” What’s more, Messinger says, as the tingling and numbing sensations gradually wear off, the drink’s flavors and temperature seem to change with every sip.
At The Chandelier bar at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, chief mixologist Mariena Mercer has been experimenting with Szechuan buttons for years. One of the bar’s most popular signature drinks, the Verbena, mixes Herradura blanco tequila with ginger syrup, lemon verbena leaves and a sour mix made with yuzu and calamansi juices and is garnished with a Szechuan button. (Get the recipe here.)
“No ingredient acts quite like the Szechuan flower,” says Mercer. “The sensation you get is hard to ignore.” In essence, says Mercer, for a short amount of time, everyone becomes a supertaster. She has discovered that the flower works best with citrus, ginger and vegetal flavors like agave less synergistic are ingredients that contain capsaicin. “The heat from the capsaicin disrupts the tingling sensation on your palate, resulting in both ingredients furiously competing for the biggest reaction.”
Los Angeles gastropub mini-chain Plan Check pops a buzz button on top of its house version of a Penicillin, made with mezcal, ginger, lemon, agave and fennel. Owner Terry Heller says the bar team has wanted to add the ingredient to the menu for some time and likes the way it complements the ginger and citrus. “It adds an almost interactive element to the cocktail,” he says. In fact, the garnish can be added to any drink on Plan Check’s menu, dramatically altering its taste and overall feel.
Buzz buttons aren’t the only mouth-numbing ingredient bartenders are adding to their arsenal. The Szechuan peppercorn, sometimes called prickly ash (a dried fruit of the zanthoxylum tree), is also showing up on more drink menus. “I found it while we were researching dishes for the opening of Maketto,” says Colin Sugalski, the beverage director for the Cambodian and Taiwanese restaurant in Washington, D.C. “I had never experienced anything that was spicy and cooling at the same time. I wanted to incorporate it into a cocktail.”
The Mala Colada sees the peppercorns cooked with coconut milk, palm sugar, Chinese cinnamon, star anise and chile before it’s cooled and blended with white rum and lime juice. “Your tongue is prickly and tingly, but all of a sudden your mouth starts watering and you want another sip of the cocktail to taste the sweet coconut and tart lime, starting a vicious cycle that leads to an empty glass,” says Sugalski.
Szechuan peppercorns can be a fickle ingredient, though. Mix them with anything too lightly flavored, and they get lost, but with anything too strong or intense they try and compete. And transparency with anyone who orders it is paramount. “I’ve had guests think they were having an allergic reaction,” says Sugalski. “You need to make sure everyone is very clear on what’s in the drink and what’s going to happen.”
At Metropole at 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati, beverage manager Chris Brown infuses Szechuan peppercorns and Concord grapes into a syrup, which is mixed with Catoctin Creek Watershed gin and yogurt for the Nehi to a Grasshopper cocktail. “It gives a slight tingling, which is balanced out by the sweetness of the grape and the creaminess of the yogurt,” says Brown.
But the pods offer up even more than a funky sensation. “Guests are very surprised by its citrusy aroma with faint hints of mint and how well that seems to go with a cocktail,” says Rajee Aryal, the food and beverage director at Chiya Chai, a Nepalese café in Chicago. She uses prickly ash in the Honey Mango, where it’s mixed with pink Himalayan salt and used as a drink rimmer. The tingling and buzzing changes to a mild vibration, then a near numbness, all of which are heightened by the heat of the tequila and countered by the sweet honey and mango.
Aryal sees the peppers as exciting additions to citrusy or mildly savory drinks and is considering sprinkling some on the Cucumber Martini and another drink with green apple. “It’s truly a unique ingredient that people are not all that familiar with,” she says. “It’s an exciting spice that needs more exploration.”
Chef Sandra Lee’s 1 hot chocolate recipe, 3 ways
When it comes to hosting for the holidays, Sandra Lee knows how to make recipes that dazzle the guests and one of her secrets just happens to be hot chocolate three ways. She calls it a “five months a year” kind of drink, and an easy way to add a bit of joy to any event no matter the holiday.
She shares her favorite hot chocolate recipe that she learned from a French chef in Paris. Her favorite part about the recipe is not only how thick and decadent it is, but how versatile it is as well. She suggests that you can make extra and stick it in the fridge overnight – the next day it will be pudding – ready for dessert. Alternatively, you can mix it with ice to make frozen hot chocolate – and buy a multipack of straws so everyone can have a different color and keep track of their cup.
SANDRA LEE: Hi, everyone. I'm Sandra Lee. I have some ideas that are going to make you the hostess with the mostest this holiday. And it all starts off with the most delicious hot chocolate, ever. And I'm going to show you how to make that three different unique ways.
Now a lot of people always ask me, where did you get that hot chocolate recipe from? And I can tell you-- Paris. I met a chef and he had the most amazing hot chocolate I've ever had in my entire life. Let's start off with our first of three recipes.
Pot on the stove top. You're going to turn on your stovetop. The first thing you want to do is you want to add heavy whipping cream. Once this heats up, we're going to add a little bit of sugar and cocoa powder. This is just a quarter of a cup. It does call for vanilla, where it says one. I always put in two. Come on in here and give this a stir. You want to start combining all of this together as it heats up.
One cup of dark chocolate chips. If you want it really dark and wonderful, put in a little more. You can also do a combination of chips. Continually whisking this is one of the keys to get a velvety outcome in your hot chocolate.
Look at this. Yum. How decadent and delicious does that look? Put in marshmallows, if you want. I even found these cute things in the grocery store that are marshmallows and made to look like little snowmen.
I always like to put gift tag or a name tag on them with my guest's name. I think that that's a little bit more special. That is a winter wonderland in a glass.
And I'll give you a little secret-- let's talk about dessert. All you have to do is put this in to the refrigerator in little ramekins overnight, and it will set up, and it'll be pudding the next day. It's very simple to put a place card just like we did on the mug on the dessert. And then you know who's supposed to be sitting at that seat. You could even put in there a chocolate chip cookie, if you wanted to. That is a sweet, sweet dessert.
Let's talk about one more thing that you can make with this hot chocolate. It is called frozen hot chocolate. It's all sorts of wonderful in a glass. All you need is your blender full of ice. Just place the hot chocolate. You want to bring it to room temperature or cool it down a little bit before you put it over ice.
Into a glass it's going to go, thick and delicious. So if you're not going to put on a name tag, get a multi pack of straws, you will always have something that everybody can identify which one is theirs. That is just as beautiful as the hot hot chocolate.
Holiday hosting is always easy when you are using simple store-bought ingredients. And I promise you and yours are going to love this recipe. Happy holidays. Mwah.
Decadent hot chocolate mix
Here is how I’ve made hot chocolate for most of my life: heat some milk in a saucepan, add a bit of unsweetened cocoa and sugar and whisk. Form lumps. Be unable to break up lumps. Get frustrated, try again, this time slowly slowly slowly whisking milk into cocoa and sugar, hoping to form something of a cocoa roux. Heat mixture until steamy and drink merrily, trying to ignore faint background of chalkiness. Hooray for cocoa?
Until this week, that is. This week, I saw a recipe for a homemade hot chocolate mix in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated that had my undivided attention because it wasn’t just cocoa and sugar but ground chocolate and vanilla and salt and and and… I mean, how bad could it be? What was the worst that could happen — we’d have to warm up with several cups of hot cocoa in a single week in the name of recipe testing? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: sometimes, this job is the worst.
Shockingly, because given that the source is basically perfect, it wasn’t for me. Even more surprising, because I love bittersweet chocolate so much, I actually found it too bitter. But this just gave me the excuse to make more. I nixed the milk powder because I’m rather eh on it, especially when a) there’s real milk around or b) it would keep the recipe dairy-free so you could instead use steamed coconut, almond or soy milk. I switched out the unsweetened chocolate for semisweet/bittersweet, reduced the salt and vanilla a little and bumped up the cornstarch ever-so-slightly to encourage the mixture to dissolve perfectly, even without the powdered milk.
And then, well, I probably should pretend this heaping pile of miniature marshmallows was for the kindergartener. Because only a kindergartener would so shamelessly use a cup of decadent, gloriously rich hot cocoa as a vehicle for marshmallow consumption, right? I really should. But we all know the truth. Kindergarteners are at kindergarten during the day, giving adults an excuse to not act their age for a while. I regret nothing.
On Pinterest: Want a little visual guide to all 70 cookies in the Smitten Kitchen archives? How about some homemade food gifts? It’s beginning to look a lot like December over there, come see!
Facebook Notifications: Are you only sometimes finding out through Facebook when there is a new recipe here? Here’s how you can make sure you don’t miss a single one: once you’ve liked the smitten kitchen page (thank you!) you can use the dropdown menu right under the “liked” button to select “get notifications.” This lets Facebook know going forward that they shouldn’t dare get between you and your marshmallow-studded hot chocolate.
Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix
Adapted a little from Cook’s Illustrated
This is the ideal homemade December gift to pack up for friends and family, if I do say so myself. It’s both rich and deeply chocolaty, without being excessively sweet. Add some homemade springy fluffy marshmallows or the my new favorite thing to dunk in hot chocolate (next up!) if you want to do it up further.
Yield: Just under 1 3/4 cups mix, enough for 9 cups packs up well in a 2-cup jar
Prep time: Seriously like 10 minutes
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.
To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. Pour into mug, top with mini-marshmallows or a dollop of whipped cream and
hide somewhere nobody will make you share give it to someone you love.
Other flavors: CI walks you through how to make variations including Mexican Hot Chocolate (with some chile powder, cayenne and cinnamon), Mint Hot Chocolate (with mint extract instead of vanilla), Mocha Hot Chocolate (with a couple tablespoons of espresso powder) and usually I’d say “have fun with it!” I mean, you can and should. But I have to admit to being a bit of a traditionalist with my cocoa, and would take the pure chocolate flavor of the above recipe over anything that would clutter my tastebuds. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t listen to someone who needs a minimum of two dozen mini-marshmallows on a single cup of hot chocolate?
Packaging ideas: Had I more time, I might have picked up some charming Weck Juice Jars or Tulip Jars (.5 liter size, which will give you some space at the top — perfect for a handful of marshmallows?), either of which can be used later for pickling or storage. I used Mason jar-ish mugs with lids (1, 2), which could be used later for hot chocolate consumption. You could tie a a tablespoon measure on as well with ribbon, to make their end of the work even easier.
Telling your boss she has something in her teeth OR maintaining your silence?
Keep quiet. Unless you two are close, speaking up assumes a level of familiarity that she may not be comfortable with, says Jacqueline Whitmore, founding director of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. One caveat: It is smart to say something if you know she's heading somewhere important, like a meeting with her boss. Then say: "I know you have a big meeting—and I just noticed you have a little something in your teeth." It conveys that you have her best interests in mind, and the casual delivery makes it clear you haven't been staring at her mouth for the past 20 minutes.
Torres' hot-chocolate recipe calls for 4 ingredients, and none of them are sugar
The ingredients for Jacques Torres' hot chocolate. Paige Bennett for Insider
Torres, a renowned pastry chef and "Nailed It!" cohost, has a very simple hot-chocolate recipe with just four ingredients - milk, milk powder, cornstarch, and dark chocolate, which I Iove, so I couldn't wait to get started.
But the one thing I noticed right away is that there are no sweetening agents in this recipe, so I expected it to be more bitter than the others.
Classically Delicious Vanilla Malted
Total Time: 4 minutes | Prep Time: 1 minutes | Serves: 1
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup vanilla ice-cream
- 4 tablespoons malted milk powder (Horlicks or Ovaltine)
- Place ingredients in blender.
- Blend for 10‒20 seconds or until creamy.
- Serve in a tall glass with whipped cream on top.
For the chocolate version, add 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup and chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla. You can also make it boozy by adding 1 ounce of Irish cream.