[For more information about Curaçao liqueur, in general, see the earlier posting on the subject.]
I have read the assertion that Curaçao liqueur “would have originally” been made of brandy. I don’t know who first hypothesized this. People have certainly repeated it enough that it has stuck in my craw.
I have never seen the originally-brandy-based hypothesis backed up by any historic formula or historic description indicating such. So, I have looked for myself.
There are nineteenth-century instructions to make something called “Curaçao” that is made only by macerating the orange peel in brandy without ever distilling it again. But, such recipes are always found in cookbooks or guides meant for home use, or in more-professional-seeming books that almost always title the recipes something like “Curaçao, without distillation” or “Curaçao, imitation.” Below is one source from 1863 that gives both types of methods, presented with what was considered in that book, and across the industry, the best way to make Curaçao liqueur.
Note: there is no brandy! Below is an old recipe that does include brandy:
Note: there is no distillation! Note also that the author considers the formula to produce an “imitation” of Curaçao liqueur. Perhaps the same, make-it-yourself, type of Curaçao recipe found in Christian Schulz’ book that was appended to Jerry Thomas’ famous book has been mistaken for standard, quality procedure in the distilling industry of the day. The presence of brandy in a recipe for a relatively-quick, imitation product like the one above, or that of Christian Schulz, should not confuse anyone into thinking that it was present in high-quality, industry-standard, Curaçao liqueur of the day.
Aside from the probability that the idea of Curaçao liqueur being originally made of brandy is based on such dubious sources as mentioned above, the assumption is surely made by people who don’t fully understand a specific type of distillation.
The Germans have for centuries distilled spirits from ingredients that do not ferment naturally. They macerate such ingredients in grain spirit, and then re-distill in a pot-still to make a spirit flavored more of the un-fermented material than of the original spirit base. They call this sort of a spirit a geist. Absinthe is a geist. Gin is a geist. In fact, the Germans seem to have distilled a juniper-only geist at Steinhagen, near the Netherlands border, long before anyone on the other side ever made genever. Either way, the Netherlanders have been making geist-like spirits [historically using good German grain] for longer than Curaçao liqueur has been around and it would have been natural — probably the first method tried — for them, the owners of the island of Curaçao, to make liquor from orange peel in the geist way. I must add here that the peels are dried on the island of Curaçao and then shipped to the Netherlands where the liqueur was surely first made. The French quickly followed suit. There is one Curaçao liqueur that is actually made on the island — the Senior brand. But that is a relatively new development. They have only been around for about sixty years. Except for this, the liqueur has always traditionally been made in Europe.
See the below formulae and instructions that use the best of ingredients, but no brandy, and distill the product — as all high-quality producers, such as Cointreau, have always done. Even Grand Marnier distills a Curaçao spirit without brandy that they then blend with Cognac brandy into their famous orange-flavored brandy liqueur.
Curaçao liqueur gets its orange peel flavor by way of maceration of the peel in alcohol, and then re-distilling it at relatively low proof (between 130 and 140 — usually in a pot still) to allow plenty of flavor from the orange peel through. Bitter orange peel is, in the process, to Curaçao liqueur what juniper berries are to gin. If one were to use brandy to extract the orange peel flavor and aroma, the secondary distillation would remove all of the brown color, and the barrel-or-woody flavor, that one expects from nearly any brandy (other than Pisco brandy). Also, brandy is typically nowhere near the strength (86%, or 172-proof, in the formulae above) to macerate out enough flavor from the orange peel to make a strongly-enough flavored spirit after the secondary distillation. So, if anyone ever did make a distilled Curaçao liqueur using brandy as the macerating alcohol, it certainly did not taste much like brandy, nor like the Curaçao orange peel. The brandy and the orange peel both would have been wasted.
Stoughton’s bitters were famous and in-demand before Angostura aromatic bitters were even created. Even long after other famous bitters entered history, Stoughton’s bitters were still preferred by some as the bitters of choice for the Whiskey Cocktail, and others, into the early twentieth century.
The above instructions were given in the text as being from a U.S. Navy captain. If you want to make and taste what he considered to be the perfect Whiskey Cocktail, you will need some Stoughton’s bitters. Unfortunately, anything being sold today as “Stoughton” bitters is so inferior in quality that they cannot possibly be anything like the product of such former repute. But, there is always hope of coming up with something better on your own. For that an understanding of what Stoughton’s bitters were is necessary.
Firstly, like in the case of Boonekamp bitters, Stoughton’s bitters seemed to have been named for a physician that legendarily prescribed the formula without ever marketing the bitters as a trademarked item.
A British book, The Compleat Housewife from 1758 indicates to make Stoughton’s elixir only with brandy, gentian, Seville (bitter) orange peel and, for red color, cochineal.
Here are some formulae for Stoughon’s bitters as suggested by various sources throughout the nineteenth century:
There are many other formulae from the same time period that can be found. They also range from simple to complex. I have included three that are simpler and one that is complex. The complex one can be seen as a bit of an outlier for Stoughton’s bitters, but I wanted to show that there was considerable variety.
Virtually all pre-prohibition formulae for Stoughton’s bitters have the bitter principal containing both gentian and orange peel. Some have other bitter ingredients and some do not. All of them are colored by a reddening ingredient such as red sanders (a.k.a. red sandalwood or red saunders), cochineal, saffron, or camwood (a.k.a. African sandalwood). This is consistent with the navy captain suggesting that his Whiskey Cocktail with Stoughton’s bitters should be “tinted slightly with red.”
Considering all of this, I think that the minimal reliable description of Stoughton’s bitters would be bitters based on gentian and orange peel that should yield a hint of reddish color to mixed drinks.
In fact, that is pretty much what famous English physician, William Cullen, stated in his 1789 book, Materia Medica. In 1819, the Cyclopaedia published by Abraham Rees agreed with Cullen:
This establishes that from very early on, Stoughton’s bitters were thought of as gentian and orange peel bitters.
Since any product that though one can purchase today labeled as “Stoughton Bitters” is surely nothing like the historic bitters in either flavor or color, what is one to do?
Note the following ingredient list from a U.S. bottle of Angostura aromatic bitters:
Since gentian is listed prior to “natural flavorings,” it is clear that there is more gentian used in making Angostura aromatic bitters than all of the the other botanical ingredients combined.
Angostura aromatic bitters can therefore be described as primarily a gentian bitters — one that is also famous for its ability to tint drinks red or pink.
So, with the slightest effort can be mixed:
I call this mixture of bitters Stoughton-esque because there are probably some minority ingredients in the above products that would not have been in a classic Stoughton’s bitters. Yet, I am convinced that making these Stoughton-esque bitters will probably yield something very close to the historic bitters with a minimum of work.
I settled on the parts shown above because I like the product that way. I also liked the result of using three parts Angostura aromatic and two parts Angostura orange bitters. You could mix the two in different proportions. But I think that the early medicinal instruction that Stoughton’s bitters were gentian bitters improved by the addition of orange peel, taken with the survey of historic formulae for Stoughton’s bitters, clearly indicates that the primary ingredient should be gentian. Therefore I would recommend always using more gentian-rich Angostura aromatic bitters in your Stoughton-esque bitters than Angostura orange bitters. Remember that there are other ingredients in Angostura aromatic bitters and so using equal amounts of the two bitters would put the gentian behind the orange. It should also be noted that I can not recommend the use of any other brand of orange bitters at this time.
This project is easy to to do, and the result is nice. Then you can make a Whiskey Cocktail the way our good captain liked it.
Many bottles of liquor come to the NipJoint that will not be replaced. Some are redundant, others just aren’t quite good enough to make space for. None of the bottles are total junk, and some are pretty good. For example, there is no Bacardi, but there is Chivas Regal 18-year. These bottles must be used.
Above: The Dampier Cocktail garnished with half a finger lime on the rim.
During the Experimental Mixing Symposium this past Saturday, a good number of drinks were made by the students using some relatively-unusual citrus that I had on hand. The two species that made the biggest impression were Citrus junos (or, more accurately Citrus ichangensis x. Citrus reticulata), the yuzu (or Japanese citron); and Citrus australasica, the finger lime.
Everyone loved yuzu juice in drinks. It is about as sour as Eureka lemon juice, but with a very different flavor — a little delightfully funky and with hints of vanilla. I think that every drink made on Saturday using yuzu juice as the sour element was enjoyed by all. The season for ripe Yuzu fruit is from late November until about the middle of December. The Mud Creek Ranch people usually have some for sale at that time. During the rest of the year, bottled yuzu juice must be used. As long as you are willing to pay for first-pressing juice imported from Japan, the quality should be fine. For mixing in drinks, avoid any yuzu juice that is second pressing or features English words on the manufacturer’s label! Also avoid the little bottles that contain salt as a preservative! You want 100% pure, first-pressing, yuzu juice. Here is one to look for:
Bottled yuzu juice also lasts at good quality for much longer than lemon juice. The bottle we used on Saturday was opened eight months ago and was still absolutely delicious.
When I think of yuzu drinks, I first think of the great drink made last December in session six of the Standard Drinks Course by chef Tony DiSalvo, then a student. Thank you, Tony! For lack of a better name, I call it the Salvation Sour. The name Sushi Sour has also been suggested and this drink would surely go better with sushi than any sake served in any way! One student exclaimed, “Now I want sushi!” In addition to yuzu juice, you will want Hendrick’s gin and arraks punsch extrakt (with which you can compound your own superior Swedish punch liqueur by mixing it with an equal part of vodka):
Here is the recipe. Click on the image to enlarge it. If you get together the ingredients, I guarantee that you will love this drink — and that it will blow away anything made by some professional ‘bar creature’ with his infused arugula syrup and oily walnut bitters.
Now, from all of the rare citrus drinks made this last Saturday, two really stood out for me. The first one I call the Dampier Cocktail. I imagined it and, tasting it with my mind’s tongue, suggested it to the students. It is nothing more than a Gin Cocktail accented with the tart finger lime. We tried it with twice as much finger lime and it was good, but somehow the flavor of finger lime went from an interesting and unusual accent to a less interesting lime hammer. Imagine a vaguely finger lime version of the sour known as the Gimlet, and that’s about what it was. I preferred the true cocktail version. Here it is. Click on the image to read the naming logic in the note below the drink.
Another good drink was made by student Rachel Blum. It was the Yuzurinha — a Caipirinha with yuzu instead of lime. I expected that to be good, and it was. But, the drink that surprised me by being so delicious was the result of student Chris Hain’s inspiration to make the Oxford Milk Punch with yuzu instead of lemon. I suggested that Chris use honey mandarine (in season now and on hand on Saturday) instead of the orange juice in the Oxford Milk Punch. This drink was truly good. I call it the Cavendish Milk Punch for reasons legible in the notes below the recipe if the image is clicked on.
I have kept the Salvation Sour to my courses since December and really thought about not sharing any of these newer drinks with a wider audience. I don’t like it when hard-to-find ingredients become even harder to find! But, these drinks are just so damned good that I could not justify keeping them from anyone.
Those of you who bother to get the ingredients and make these drinks will discover why they must be shared.