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Brandy-Based Cocktails – US food trends

30 March 2010

The classic after-dinner drink also is a popular anchor for cocktails.

This article first appeared in the 1 February2010 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

Brandy evokes a certain prototypical image: the post-prandial snifter, cradled by a well-heeled gentleman enjoying a nip in an elegant dining room.

"Brandy is a hot mixer right now," Dave Herlong, master mixologist for the Las Vegas-based N9NE Group, says of the spirit, which is distilled from wine or other fermented fruit juices.

Beyond offering traditional and updated takes on classics such as sidecars and brandy Alexanders, bartenders are stirring up renditions of regional favorites, including New Orleans' brandy milk punch (a brunch cocktail mixed with milk or half-and-half, vanilla extract, confectioners sugar and nutmeg) and Philadelphia Fish House Punch (which features regular and peach brandies, dark rum, sugar or simple syrup, lemon juice and, often, tea).

Cocktail lists also boast new brandy-based drinks. Custom House Tavern in Chicago serves the Almond Toast, which combines brandy, a house-made Marcona-almond syrup and a few dashes of bitters. The Shanghai Martini at Karma, an Asian-themed restaurant in Mundelein, Ill., stars brandy, pineapple juice, cherry liqueur and blue curacao.

Herlong's repertoire at the N9NE Group properties includes several concoctions he created for a recent brandy-cocktail competition (which he won) in Cognac, France. Here, he shares tips on what works and what doesn't when crafting brandy-based quaffs:

Don't bother with high-end or aged brandies, whose nuances will be lost amid multiple ingredients. "I'm looking for something that's mellow, not overpowering in flavor," he says.

To figure out which mixers will work best with a particular brandy, smell it. "I [might] pick up orange, vanilla, ginger, citrus peel, so I like to stay in that realm," he says. "A lot of times, the nose will inspire you to create something different and complementary."

Weightier additions such as chocolate and cream match well with brandy. "It's not going to falter when you add that heavy chocolate or cream. It's going to stand right up and be an important element in the cocktail."

Use carbonated mixers in moderation. "I don't think carbonation should be your main mixer, but you can use it as an accent or a float," he says.

For more ideas and inspiration, check out the brandy-based recipes below:

VANILLA SKY
N9NE Group, Las Vegas, Mixologist Dave Herlong
Yield: 1 serving

  • Cognac 1½ oz.
  • Vanilla-bean-infused simple syrup ½ oz.
  • Fresh lemonade 3 oz.
  • Vanilla-infused cognac 1 oz.
  • Lemon wedge to garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine cognac, vanilla syrup and lemonade. Shake well; strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Float vanilla cognac on top. Garnish with lemon wedge.

BRANDY MILK PUNCH
Acadiana Restaurant, Washington, D.C.
Yield: 1 serving

  • Brandy 2 oz.
  • Half-and-half 3 oz.
  • Confectioners sugar 2 tsp.
  • Egg white ¼ tsp.
  • Vanilla extract ½ tsp.
  • Nutmeg ½ tsp., plus extra to garnish

Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add brandy, half-and-half, sugar, egg white, vanilla extract and ½ tsp. nutmeg. Shake; pour into a highball glass. Top with a dusting of nutmeg.

OREGON PEAR SIDECAR
Accanto, Portland, Ore., Bar Manager Chris Grant and Lead Bartender Rob Fuller
Yield: 1 serving

  • Locally sourced brandy 1½ oz.
  • Triple sec ½ oz.
  • Sour mix ¾ oz.
  • Pear juice 1½ oz.
  • Orange twist to garnish

In a mixing glass with ice, combine brandy, triple sec, sour mix and pear juice. Shake; strain into a martini glass. Garnish with orange twist.

SHANGHAI MARTINI
Karma, Mundelein, Ill.
Yield: 1 serving

  • Brandy 2 oz.
  • Pineapple juice 2 oz.
  • Blue curacao 1 oz.
  • Maraschino-cherry juice or liqueur 1 oz.
  • Orange twist to garnish

Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add brandy, pineapple juice and curacao; shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

Carefully pour the maraschino-cherry juice or liqueur down the side of the glass so it settles in the bottom. Garnish with orange twist.

PHILADELPHIA FISH HOUSE PUNCH
Village Whiskey, Philadelphia
Yield: 35 servings

  • Brandy (preferably V.S. cognac) 1 (750 mL) bottle
  • Dark rum 1 (750 mL) bottle
  • Peach brandy 1 (750 mL) bottle
  • Ginger-infused simple syrup 1 qt.
  • Pomegranate tea 1 qt.
  • Cold water 2½ qt.
  • Lemon juice ½ qt.
  • Club soda 1 (2L) bottle

Combine first seven ingredients in large punch bowl; stir. Cover; refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.

To serve, add ice to a wineglass and ladle in punch. Add 2 oz. club soda to each glass; stir. Garnish with seasonal fruit.

ALMOND TOAST
Custom House Tavern, Chicago
Yield: 1 serving

  • Brandy 2 oz.
  • Almond-infused simple syrup 1 oz.
  • Bitters 3 dashes
  • Ground cinnamon to garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice; add brandy, almond syrup and bitters. Shake just enough to blend. Strain into a highball glass over ice. Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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