As I'm sure all of you have noticed, it has been hot as a mother this year. According to Discovery News, it has, in fact, been the hottest half-year in the history of the United States. Pretty friggin' intense. In weather like this, I find there are few things more satisfying than a nice Belgian Pale Ale or a fruit-forward cocktail utilizing seasonal ingredients... So, for your drinking pleasure, I figured I'd whip up a beer-based beverage that brings both of those elements together.
The idea for this cocktail popped into my head about a year ago when I was having dinner at Chris Santos' Beauty & Essex on the Lowest East Side of Manhattan. Along with some of the most incredible food I've ever eaten (for the love of god, go there and get Oven Braised Chicken Meatballs), this swanky, speakeasy-style small-plate restaurant offers a wide array of vintage-modern cocktails that are unparalleled. Though we were pretty well floored by all of them, the one that really stood out was the Sapphire Seventy-Five. This drink mixed a blueberry-infused gin with homemade sour mix in a champagne flute, then topped the whole shebang with a few ounces of sparkling wine. I remember the light bulb illuminating moment where I thought, "Hey, I could make this... WITH BEER!"
Now sure, the easy way to put this together would be to go to the grocery store, grab some Leffe Blonde, a bottle of Master of Mixes, a bunch of blueberries, throw that shit in a blender and call it a day. However, if you've ever seen me cooking or brewing in the kitchen, you'd quickly learn, for better or worse, that I don't do anything the easy way. Sure, sometimes it blows up in my face... literally... but on a whole, I find making things from scratch to be far more rewarding and, more often than not, far more delicious that your run-of-the-mill supermarket fare. So, off I went making my own blueberry-infused gin, sweet and sour mix, and, of course, scouring the ends of the Earth to find the perfect beer.
I started by heading to Bottle Buys for some Gin to use as the base. Though I'm not particularly versed in the world of aromatized spirits, I've always been partial to Plymouth Gin, so I picked up a bottle. I find it more herbal and less medicinal than other popular brands, so I thought it would work well with the blueberries and yield a delicious infusion that would be perfect for a light summer cocktail. Coincidentally, when I looked online for advice on homemade infusions, I found this article on Kitchen Confidence, which referenced this article from Post Prohibition, both of which made blueberry infusions with Plymouth Gin. Booyah. I quickly fell in love with both blogs, particularly Post Prohibition, which has some of the most incredible content and gorgeous booze-related photos I've seen. These people clearly know more about this shit than me, so I followed their guidelines.
Basically, you use a ratio of 4 cups of organic blueberries to one 750ml bottle of gin, which I scaled down significantly, just in case I screwed it up. You start by tossing the blueberries in a pot over very low heat for about 5 minutes, until the fruit begins to release its juice but still has some texture, then you remove it. When cooled, you pour the whole pot o' deliciousness, juice, solids, and all, into a sealable jar and top it with the gin. I didn't have a container large enough, so in a sheer act of classiness, used a clean flower vase, plastic wrap and rubber bands. After 5-7 days in a cool, dark place, you run the mixture through a strainer and/or a coffee filter to remove any solids, transfer it to a clear container, then pop that bad boy in the fridge.
The blueberries come through much more in the aroma than the taste of this mixture, which is still pretty gin-tastic, but I see that as more of a pro than a con. This process just adds a nice, fruity overtone to the bitter, herbal character of the spirit, that makes it fantastic for summer cocktails. It's definitely worth trying.
Homemade Sour Mix
Next, I went on to make my own sour mix. Apparently, its ridiculously easy, requiring only 3 or 4 ingredients, and maybe 5 minutes of your time. It makes me wonder why people ever bought the giant, plastic jugs of processed mixers to begin with. There are a ton of recipes out there, all largely the same, so I went with one by Emeril Lagasse. I made it first per his instructions, but found it a touch too watery and lemony, so I doubled the batch and tweaked it accordingly. I found this mixture suited my tastes:
1-1/2 oz. of fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. of fresh lime juice
2 oz. of sugar
3 oz. of water
Toss all of the ingredients into a bowl, stir until the sugar dissolves completely, transfer it to a sealable container, toss it in the fridge, and voila! Stupidly simple sour mix.
From there, it was time to find the beer. I bounced back and forth quite a bit thinking about what would be appropriate to put in this cocktail. It had to be light, somewhat dry and well carbonated, but those were really the only requirements. Obvious choices were Witbier or Hefeweizen, but the brightness and bitterness of an American IPA or something crazy like Sorachi Ace may have worked well, too. Then, I cracked open a bottle of AMA Bionda. This Belgian-style Pale Ale is brewed in Italy, by Birra Amacord, but the recipe, which features aromatic malts, three varieties of hops, and Italian Orange Blossom Honey, was a collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery's Brewmaster, Garrett Oliver. It was exactly what I was looking for.
The idea for this beer was to create a fairly light-bodied and neutral flavored beer for the Italian dinner table that had the complexity and intrigue of weightier brews. Based on that criteria, I'd say the brewers accomplished their goal. It's sold in a gorgeous, teardrop-shaped bottle and looks beautiful in the glass, with its hazy, golden-orange hue and fluffy white head. It definitely shows restraint in both the flavor and aromatics, but has a nice, dry snap to its finish that makes it perfect to share over a family meal. It's undeniably a flawlessly brewed beer, perfectly "to style" in every conceivable way, and one I'd be happy to drink an alarming amount of on a hot summer day. That being said, were I to brew it myself, I think it could use just one more ingredients, one pinch of something to add a subtle, distinctive characteristic. This got me thinking, if I can't put stuff into the beer, I could sure as hell put the beer into stuff and use it as the cocktail base. As they say in Italy, "Perfetto!"
And Finally... The Cocktail
Alas, with the perfect beer identified, it was finally time to construct my cocktail. Aside from the ingredients mentioned above, I thought it would be a nice touch to take a few of the remaining fresh blueberries, skewer them on a toothpick and toss them in the freezer. There's so much juice in blueberries that I figured they'd freeze solid and work similarly to ice cubes to keep the drink chilled, but instead of diluting the drink with water as it thawed, it'd add a nice dose of berry goodness. Plus, when you're done with the drink, you get a booze-soaked snack at the bottom of the glass. I think it worked extremely well, functionally, and acted as expected, but Erin was less stoked about it. She didn't dig the fact that the blueberries were rather textureless after they thawed. We also both agreed that due to the haziness of the drink and my lack of fancy-dancy cocktail paraphernalia, it didn't add much to the aesthetics. I think in the future, I'd use a lot more blueberries on a longer skewer in a more decorative fashion. Or think up a different way to present it.
But anyway... I digress. Here is the official recipe:
Yield: 1 Serving
1 oz. Blueberry-Infused Plymouth Gin
1 oz. Homemade Sour Mix
AMA Bionda Beer
Frozen Blueberry Skewer
Combine the gin and sour mix, shake over ice and strain into champagne flutes. Top the glass with beer (about 4-5 ounces worth) and garnish with a frozen blueberry skewer.
I think it came out pretty damn good for one of my first attempts at making my own cocktail, particularly given that I also made the mixers. I think it'd be great poolside on a warm afternoon, or at a backyard barbecue, or, in my case, in the sweltering heat of a 6th floor Queens apartment with insufficient air conditioning. If you give it a try, let me know what you think.
Also, this cocktail is currently nameless. I couldn't think of anything clever, but the window of opportunity where it'd be seasonally appropriate to post about a blueberry beverage was closing quickly, so I just went for it. If you come up with any good ideas, let me know, and I'd be happy to send some homebrew your way. Enjoy!