Cocktail of the Week: Play It, Sam
Infusing liquors with flavors is nothing new. After all, it’s the aging process in wooden barrels that impart rum and bourbon with their unique characteristics. Adding fruit flavors to vodka started a new trend that branched out to instilling spirits with savory herbs, spices and even vegetables.
The process of fat-washing liquors took off with the recent bacon craze, where crafty bartenders added bacon and pork fat to create a rich, unami taste. Josh Berner, mixologist at Cleveland Height’s Ripple has taken this movement and pushed it a step further, by fat washing liquors with vegetable fats, such as olive and sesame oils.
Ripple currently has three fat washed cocktails on its drink menu. They include the Basil Exposition – an olive oilwashed vodka, green chartreuse, white wine and basil combination, Play It Sam, forged from sesame oil-infused gin, aquavit and a date reduction and the Chile Manteca y Dulcet, a mixture of bacon-infused Benevamezcal, cayenne and toasted pecans.
Berner recently hosted a cocktail class where participants were taught how to make fat-washed liquor at home and mix these three delicious tipples.
Berner demonstrated the vegetable fat-washing process by making a batch of the sesame-oil infused gin that is used in the Play it Sam cocktail. The process begins by using one 750-milliliter bottle of gin and combining it with two ounces of sesame oil in a saucepan. Berner melds the ingredients by cooking them over on the lowest heat and stirring for 20 minutes. The heat needs to stay low, because if the gin begins to boil, the alcohol will burn off.
The mixture is then poured into a container and placed in the freezer for at least 12 hours, until the fat is solidified. Next, using a pre-chilled batch, Berner showed the participants how to remove the solid fat from the gin with a spoon and then strain it, using wither a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Once the oil has been removed, you are left with a smooth liquor infused with sesame flavor.
The Play it Sam was named after what Berner calls the correct line from movie, “Casablanca.” “She never actually says ‘Play it again Sam,’ ” he said. The “Casablanca” reference is due to the Moroccan flavors found in the cocktail.
Besides sesame, this potable also features aquavit, a Scandinavian liqueur flavored with caraway and anise and a date reduction. The date reduction is made taking finely chopped dates, sugar and water and cooking it until it is reduced into a concentrated flavor.
The aquavit was the main building block for Berner in creating this cocktail. “I started off with aquavit,” he said. “It’s a great liquor. It has a wonderful flavor and it’s underused. So I thought about what I can do with it to make it interesting and taste good.” Berner started researching foods to see what flavors would mix well with the caraway and anise which led him to Moroccan cuisine. From there, he decided on the addition of sesame and experimented with some different fruit mixtures including cherries and a cherry and date combination.
Another important, flavorful aspect to this drink is the lemon twist garnish. Berner uses a channel knife to make lemon twists that are not only pretty, but serve an important purpose as well. As he cut the peels over the cocktail glass, bits of lemon oil squirt into the drink. The oil gives off a nice scent and imparts a balancing flavor. He also rubs the peel along the rim to add a bit more punch.
Berner said that when he first made the drink without the lemon peel, he was not happy with the flavor, but once he added the lemon oil, “the flavors popped, “he says. “A little oil made a big difference.”
The result is an exquisite flavor combination. The lemon lends nice citrus nose that is quickly followed by the flavor of the aquavit, which is tempered nicely by the dates. The sesame kicks in with a subtle hint on the finish. Lick your lips after one sip, and you will definitely taste the tangy sesame. Not sweet at all, this is a dry cocktail, which is spicy yet refreshing at the same time.
While Ingrid Bergman did not say “Play it again, Sam,” in the movie, you may find yourself saying. “Again,” when imbibing this drink. Its brisk and cool flavor will make it hard for you to stop at one. ★
PLAY IT SAM 1 1/2 ounces sesame-oil infused gin 1/4 ounce aquavit 2 ounces date reduction Lemon twist In an ice-filled mixing glass, stir gin, aquavit and date reduction until cold. Strain into ice-filled highball glass, garnish with a lemon twist, rubbing the peel on the rim of the glass. Readers may taste the Play It Sam at Ripple, located at 3417 Connecticut Ave., NW.