I’m excited to write that this cocktail was both delicious and fun to make. So far, this has been my favorite to make and to drink.
The cocktail base is Batavia Arrack, hazelnut orgeat, Bittermens Boston Bittahs, The Bitter End Moroccan Bitters, pineapple juice, and lime juice. It is accentuated by a mace tincture, made from El Dorado 151 Rum and dried whole mace blades.
Initially I underestimated the effort this cocktail would take to pull off because I was more focused on the serving vessel itself: the book calls for a glass ship in a bottle. Yikes. I was unable to find a food-safe glass ship in a bottle. After much head scratching and hand wringing an alternative occurred to me. Behold! My good friend Jim had recently given to me, as a gift, a whisky decanter globe with none other than a glass ship inside. What are the odds? It’s not exactly a ship in a bottle, but it is most certainly food safe, and I figured it would also make a very dramatic and impressive serving vessel.
With this hurdle cleared, I moved on to finding a candle that would look drippy and cool, like one you might find on an old pirate ship. To my dismay, all the candles I found were labeled as “dripless.” WTF? What is one to do if one wished for their candle to drip? The answer…tilt it and force the melting wax to pour down the sides before it can evaporate. As you can see, the result is one very ugly, drippy candle that came out of a package that said “dripless.”
On to the drink.
Step 1: Make The Orgeat.
I happen to love orgeat. I became obsessed with it back in 2008 when I first heard about the legend of the original Mai Tai (created by Trader Vic in 1944). Interestingly, this was my first glimpse of the interesting world of cocktails, and my first realization that big chain restaurants had completely bastardized countless traditional cocktails. For example, have you ever ordered a Mai Tai at a chain restaurant? Usually it’s a splash of pineapple juice, orange juice, some rum, maybe some grenadine, and if they’re feeling really fancy, they may also splash some amaretto in there (for the almond flavor, which I’ll explain momentarily). The problem is that a proper Mai Tai contains exactly none of these ingredients (well, it has rum). A proper Mai Tai has two rums (a dark Jamaican and a Martinique rhum), lime juice, orange curacao, and almond orgeat. Orgeat is really simple syrup in which ground almonds have been steeped (while the mixture is still warm). Often some orange flower water or rose water is added (careful with that rose water – one drop is really too much). The result is a beautiful, floral, sweet syrup, with a unmistakable nuttiness of roasted almonds. This flavor is what the big box bar tenders are trying to copy when they add amaretto to the fake Mai Tai. Until recently I was unaware that orgeats could be made from any number of nuts. This recipe calls for hazelnuts.
Spoiler alert: hazelnut orgeat is even more delicious than almond orgeat. To prepare, I blanched and peeled the hazelnuts. If possible, buy them already blanches and peeled because this process is tedious. The a quick toss in a little hazelnut oil, and then in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes (as called for in the recipe, but I left them for 25 minutes to deepen the roast). These are then added to sugar and water (equal parts by weight) and boiled. Once it’s off the heat, the recipe calls for you to chop the hazelnuts using an immersion blender. OK – this is a bad idea. Perhaps if you were making a giant quantity this would work. But the small quantity this recipe makes resulted in the immersion blender being on partially immersed, which led to splashing of just boiling sugar syrup. Ouch. If I were to make this again I would chop or grind the hazelnuts ahead of time, or let the syrup cool complete before using the immersion blender. I think option one is the best choice. Once the nuts are chopped, leave the mixture to cool, and toss some in orange peel. Steep for 24 hours then strain through a chinois. I cheated and let the mixture steep for only about 6 hours. It was perfectly delicious.
Step 2: Make The Tincture.
This process was very cool. This was my first time making a tincture, and I’m glad to acquire the new skill. A tincture is a concentrated liquid herbal extract. Often herbs are steeped in alcohol for weeks, but in this case, a matter of hours did the trick. What’s more, I had never worked with whole mace. Apparently, this comes from the same tree as nutmeg, and it packs a big punch! A little nibble of dried mace left my mouth feeling numb.
For the tincture, some equipment was necessary. First, 25 grams of mace (which is A LOT) is added to 100 grams of 151-proof rum, then the mixture is sealed in a vacuum bag. The recipe only talks about sealing the bag, not creating a vacuum, but I suspect the vacuum is necessary, otherwise the bag will float in the sous vide. I didn’t do a good enough job expelling the air, so I ended up with a floating bag, which I compensated for by attaching a chip clip, which provided adequate weight to keep the bag submerged during cooking. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In case you’re interested, I use the Weston Professional Advantage Vacuum Sealer.
Once the bag is sealed, it needs to be cooked in a circulating bath at 75 degrees (Celsius) for an hour. I use a Nomiku clip-on sous vide device, which I like, but it doesn’t seem to be easily available, so here’s one that seems well respected by Amazon customers. I use a big 18-quart Rubbermaid storage container for my water baths – this seems to the perfect height to accommodate my sous vide device. After cooking, plunge into an ice bath and allow to completely cool, then add it to an atomizer. Using a small funnel aids in this process. Whew! That’s a lot of stuff. Sorry about that.
Step 3: Juice The Pineapple
I use a Breville 1000-watt Juice Fountain. I’ve owned this for 7 years, and it’s been steady and dependable. There are other juicers available for less, though I don’t know how well they perform. This guy turns a whole pineapple into juice in seconds. I do cut off the skin and cut the flesh away from the core, though I’m pretty confident you could put the skin and the core through the juicer without an issue. Helpful tip: put a plastic grocery or produce bag in the refuse output bin – it will save you some cleanup work. While I was cutting up a pineapple, I went ahead and reserved the leaves to use as garnishes in Tiki drinks.
Step 4: Make The Cocktail Base
The spirit used is Batavia Arrack van Oosten, a spirit distilled from sugarcane and fermented red rice, originating from Java, Indonesia, and bottled in Amsterdam. This spirit has a funky taste and an even funkier history (read about it – it’s very interesting). This was my first encounter with this spirit, which has a rum-like character, but with something strange and complex going on in the back ground (that’s probably thanks to the fermented red rice, which was introduced to the distilling process by the Chinese long ago).
Added to the Batavia Arrack is the hazelnut orgeat, Bittermens Boston Bittahs (which have a strong chamomile note) and The Bitter End Moroccan Bitters (which, oddly, have a strong cumin note). Generally, bitters are added in dashes. Not here. I’ve never seen such a large quantity of bitters specified in a recipe. I had use about 20 full droppers full of the Boston Bittahs to reach the 20 grams specific. This same weight of water would equal about 2/3 of an ounce. I don’t know what the volume of the bitters was – but it was so much that I was concerned that it could be a misprint. I needn’t have worried. The two bitters created an earthy and floral marriage that added an indescribable element to the base. This base should be refrigerated until it’s time to put everything together.
Step 5: Assemble And Serve
A lot of work has gone into this so far. I was thirsty! The good news is that assembly was a snap. Add the base, some pineapple juice, some lime juice, and some cold water to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain. Using a funnel, I added this to the decanter. The decanter comfortably held enough of the cocktail for two servings. I used ceramic tea cups from an Asian tea service set we have to serve this in.
I thought this cocktail was a perfect balance of booze, acid and sweetness, and it had a very complex and thought-provoking flavor from the Batavia Arrack and the bitters. This is certainly among the tastiest cocktails I’ve ever had. I’d like to experiment with substituting the freshly juiced pineapple for canned pineapple and skipping the ship-in-a-bottle motif, and then serving the resulting cocktail either in a coupe glass or, possibly, on a large cube. If you hazelnut orgeat premade, this cocktail could be prepared in a matter of minutes, with minimal fuss, and you’d have an easy, outstanding Tiki-syle drink on your hands. That idea excites me greatly!