Description from Bespoke Post: “The modestly spicy love child of a dirty martini, and a whiskey sour.” Full recipe here.
When I found out I was getting a gift of the November 2012 Bespoke Post – the Slate box – I immediately checked the website for the list of goodies inside. (You can see my unboxing and review videos here.) My professional curiosity was piqued by a front and center cocktail recipe using the brine from the spicy pickled okra, aka the Smokra.
I did not have high hopes for this cocktail. I’m more than a bit of a prude when it comes to cocktails and the ingredient list seemed a tad disorganized. When I judged the first round of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Competition recently, I dismissed three of the drinks due to excessive sweetness (cloying – ugh) and two for not really being justifiably manhattan descendants. I take my cocktails very seriously. With the rise of the craft cocktail movement (good!), there’s been a PR trend to throw cocktail recipes at everything (bad!). I’ve had to review many such PR-developed cocktails and few have been worthy of drinking.
It looks like the people at Bespoke Post threw a challenge to the people at Rick’s Picks (makers of the Smokra) to develop a Smokra brine and Buffalo Trace cocktail, since Buffalo Trace produced the bourbon brittle included in the Slate box. That’s not a request I would have wanted coming across my desk.
Normally a brine would be attached to a savory vodka or gin based cocktail like a bloody mary, but bourbon in a bloody mary is hard to pull off. The mixologists at Rick’s Picks went pretty much 180 degrees from that and attempted a spicy whiskey sour sweetened with maple syrup.
I followed their recipe almost to a T. I did have to use Old Forester in place of Buffalo Trace but I used organic maple syrup and fresh-squeezed lemon juice and even poured the entire cocktail through a fine mesh strainer. And that’s where I stopped.
This brings me to the first of my two (minor) complaints about this cocktail. You see, your average martini or manhattan is 3 oz of liquid total. Perhaps 3.5 oz if you have a lot of dilution or add a bit of olive or cherry juice, respectively. The typical martini glass is about 6.5 oz. You want a good 1/2 to 3/4 inch of room at the top of a martini glass so as to be able to walk about glass in hand and not splash everywhere. Total volume of this cocktail? 6.5 oz. I couldn’t event get the pickled okra garnish in the glass without spilling.
What to do? Sip a little off the top, of course.
So how’s the flavor, you ask? Let me use a metaphor to describe it. Where a rich and silky manhattan is like a small symphony orchestra playing smoothly together, the Smoky Burb is like a really good jazz band. While all of the individual instruments (flavors) are distinctly present, they play well simultaneously and give each player a chance to come to the fore.
The first note is distinctly bourbon but that almost instantly gives way to the smokey, salty, pungent and spicy flavor of the brine. That in turn quickly fades into the sharp sour of the lemon juice and that bows out to the sweet and smokey maple syrup. It’s a surprising rush of powerful flavors. The finish is pleasant combination of everything with a meandering balance shift back and forth between the maple syrup and the Smokra brine.
The reason it works so well is the smoke theme holding together the bourbon, the brine and syrup. The sour of the lemon contrasts the sweet present in those three ingredients and prevents the drink from being too much sweet and smokey. It’s an odd but very pleasant flavor experience.
Will this be to everyone’s taste? Absolutely not. I do like it, and I’m sure I’ll make it again. If you prefer that your cocktails taste like candy or chocolate or coffee you won’t like this at all. Only drink fruity cocktails? Pass on this. A pretty good test would be if you like the Rick’s Picks Smokra pickled okra. If yes, then I’d say you’ll mostly likely enjoy this drink. If not, don’t waste your bourbon.
And next time I make it, I’ll cut the recipe in half. I can always head back to the kitchen to make a second one.
(Got this far and wondered what my second minor complain was? This doesn’t need to be a shaken cocktail. Twist the lemon peel into the shaker and stir instead. The texture of the liquid will be smoother. Do I take my cocktails seriously? Yes. Too seriously? Probably.)
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