I remember vividly the first time that I tasted the unmistakable flavor of Thai food. It just was electrifying. The flavors were intensely spicy and they crackled over my tongue in a way that Americanized Chinese food was incapable of doing.
I was living out in California in Venice Beach and seemingly overnight a new wave of brightly flavored and textured cooking erupted on the scene. The usually gloppy, overly sweetened and excessively oily pan-Asian style foods were suddenly replaced by crisp, aromatic and intensely spicy flavors that I’d never experienced prior. This occurred around 1980 so the phrase “California Cuisine” had not been invented yet. But Thai food had just arrived on the West Coast and it blew open my palate like nothing ever had prior.
What I enjoy most about Thai food is the depth of the spice, the clarity of the heat and the intense simplicity of the spices and herbs used in the cooking.
One strikingly potent ingredient is called the Kaffir Lime leaf. This leaf, used in Thai and Laotian curry pastes gives foods an sour, astringent and bitter flavor that works perfectly against the sweeter elements of palm sugar and the heat of the spices.
I love Kaffir Lime leaf in my food and my drink. Sometimes I cut a Kaffir Lime leaf in half and drop it into a glass of seltzer water. It’s drinking a trip to Thailand without the expensive plane ticket.
This would stand to reason from my passion for spicy Thai food, that I would enjoy Kaffir Lime leaf added to a cocktail with my vodka as well. Not an insipidly sweet chemical plant, processed liqueur, but a richly flavored, lush and intensely elegant vodka that is remarkably restrained and aromatic. Adding a muddled Kaffir Lime leaf is something so unusual that I would say safely that I’ve tasted nothing so mesmeric in my life- other than Thai curry. And I’ve just learned that the Kaffir Lime leaf when sprayed on crawling and biting insects is known to create an excellent insecticide. But I don’t recommend rooting out bugs infestations with the leaf, especially since it tastes so delicious in a craft cocktail.
What I recommend doing with it is mixing with it!
Recently I received a gorgeous bottle of vermouth from Italy by way of a friend in NYC. Carpano Bianco is the name of the vermouth. If you love the traditionally red Carpano Antica Formula and couldn’t imagine using anything else in a Negroni, please indulge my sense of balance in a cocktail. You should try the new Bianco (white and Dry) version. Carpano Bianco is opulent across the tongue, velvety and packed full of aromatic herbs, secret spices and roots. In a tip of the hat to the Negroni cocktail, I would suggest using the Bianco, instead of the deeply red colored Antica for a lighter, change of pace. To describe the opulence of Carpano you must first throw out those bottles of vermouth that are over a few years old. You haven’t been refrigerating them? Shame! Do you store them in a cool cellar? No???
If you have been stashing your vermouth on top of the fridge or in a hot closet- throw your bottles out immediately! Vermouth needs care- not too much care, but it should be treated like Port or Sherry. (Both fortified wines) Eventually vermouth will turn vinegary and will fail to please you- and that’s the rub because most people are still drinking the less expensive brands that start off sour or vinegary, like Martini and Rossi or Cinzano. These are industrial brands with venerable, historic names- that’s about it. So if vermouth has injected a bad taste in your cocktail- it is not necessarily the quality that is bringing your drink down, it’s because your vermouth has soured!
As with all great things in life, the quality of a product is not necessarily dictated by the price, but I do think an artisanal product such as Carpano is not going to come inexpensively. That is a fact of life in a consumer driven society. Where there is high demand and limited supply comes price and Carpano Bianco (DRY) is not inexpensive. But what you have of it is truly gorgeous and you need to buy a bottle of a brand new vodka that is now available in New York and New Jersey with more states to follow… It is named Mamont Vodka. And it is made by women! Yes! In Siberia.
Mamont is gorgeous vodka and I absolutely recommend it in Pacific Rim influence drinks as well as how they do it in Russia. What? You mean to say that this vodka is available in Russia? It’s not only Russian in name my friends. When I attended the Moscow Bar Show last September, we very much enjoyed our Mamont Vodka in the place where from whence it originates.
And just so you know it from the ‘horse’s mouth’… the Russians don’t usually mix their vodka. They like it straight up.. in a ½ ounce glass. With freshly crushed apple juice on the side. Just like that. We’re not doing that cocktail here though.
I have some other ideas though and one of them is the use of dry Vermouth and very special grapefruit bitters along with a splash of seltzer for the fizz.
To make this cocktail really sing, I stumbled across a bottle of Bitter Truth Grapefruit bitters. To me, the addition of the unrestrainedly bitter oils of the grapefruit zest encapsulated in the bitters, added to this craft cocktail with both Carpano Bianco and Mamont Vodka just speaks Colonel Kurtz in the film named, Apocalypse Now…
Mysterious, beguiling and very sensual is just the beginning of this drink that I call, the Heart of Darkness Fizz.
The Heart of Darkness Fizz
- 1 Kaffir Lime Leaf, lightly muddled
- 2 oz. Mamont Vodka from Russia
- ½ oz. Carpano Bianco Dry Vermouth
- 2-3 shakes Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
- 1 oz. Seltzer Water
- Add all ingredients to a Boston Shaker (except for the seltzer and the bitters, that would be very messy!)
- Muddle the lime leaf with a bit of the ice and vodka…
- Add the Carpano Bianco
- Shake hard for at least 20 seconds
- Pour into a coupe or a rocks glass and add a splash of seltzer
- Dot with the Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters to finish