Another Marx Foods contest - in this one, they sent out a package of ingredients and bloggers had to make both a cocktail and a non-alcoholic drink, using at least one ingredient in each drink. The ingredients were saffron, fennel pollen, dill pollen, juniper berries, long pepper, and dried pineapple.
I decided to use juniper berries and long pepper because they were the ingredients I had done the least with. The result: Vir-Gin and Tonic, with tonic water, juniper-blueberry-lime "shrub," and cucumber juice; and the Spiced Butter Rum and Coke.
Vir-Gin and Tonic
The idea here is not to emulate the gin and tonic per se, but to come up with a drink that is as refreshing and as complex as a gin and tonic, without alcohol. Gin's complexity comes from its botanicals, usually about a dozen of them - the most prominent of which, the only one required by law and definition, is juniper. That piney taste gin has - that's the juniper. I originally considered pairing it with spruce tips, but in a recipe contest I don't know how useful it would be to include an ingredient that isn't commercially available (mine were foraged in Alaska and purchased on eBay).
Instead, I combined equal amounts of cucumber juice, tonic water, and a sort of shrub. Shrub is a sweetened vinegar syrup that dates from Colonial times; mine uses lime juice instead of vinegar.
Peel cucumbers and remove the seeds (which contribute bitterness) by scooping out the centers with a spoon. Blend and strain through a mesh strainer, pressing on the solids.
Cucumber pulp, strained, gelatin added.
Cucumber pulp, strained, frozen.
Cucumber pulp strained, frozen, strained - cucumber juice.
To further clarify, strain through cheesecloth several times or add a little dissolved gelatin - bloom a couple pinches of gelatin in a spoonful of cold water, heat it up to melt the gelatin, stir it into the cucumber juice, freeze the whole thing, and then thaw it in a strainer over a bowl in the fridge. As it thaws, the gelatin will bundle up the solids so that what thaws is just juice. If you use too much gelatin, it will stay too Jello-like when it thaws.
Grind a spoonful of juniper berries.
Crush fresh blueberries lightly in a pan, heating over low heat until they darken and start to release their juices. Add a few spoonfuls of sugar - it depends on how many blueberries you're using, but you don't need a lot since the tonic water is sweetened - and the juniper berries and stir until the blueberries are fairly juicy. Remove from heat, let cool to room temp, and add an amount of lime juice equal in volume to the blueberries.
Let sit for a little bit, then strain. Chill.
Vir-Gin and Tonic:
Combine equal amounts cucumber juice, tonic water, and shrub. You get the tang of the blueberry and lime, the freshness of the fruits and cucumber, and the piney note of the juniper matching the bitter quinine of the tonic water. This is a "mocktail" that's more than an afterthought.
Spiced Butter Rum and Coke
I've talked about fat-washing before. Those flavor compounds which are fat-soluble are also alcohol-soluble; therefore, combine fat and alcohol, wait, and then remove the fat, and the flavor from the fat has transferred to the alcohol. This is why citrus liqueurs with a true fruit flavor are so much easier to make than other fruit liqueurs, for instance - because the flavor of the rind, the smell of the fruit, is contained in its oil, whereas the flavor of an apple or a grape is primarily water-soluble (which is why we ferment the juices to make brandy and wine, more often than we use them in infusions).
Bacon bourbon in Bacon Old Fashioneds gets a lot of buzz, because the internet loves bacon, but brown butter is more interesting to me. Brown butter is simply butter heated in a pan until it stops foaming and sizzling, at which point the milk solids have browned, giving it a richer, deeper flavor.
Heat a couple tablespoons of butter accordingly, and let the brown butter cool (it will be very hot). Add to a cup of rum and a long pepper, cover, and wait about four days.
The easiest way to strain anything fat-washed is to put it in the freezer, so that the fat becomes very solid, and then pour it through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. I allowed a few bits of butter fat to remain in the spiced butter rum because I like the effect of butter flecks on the surface of the drink.
Long pepper is really, really awesome. Chile pepper and black pepper eclipsed it in part because it's harder to grind than they are, but for centuries it was a major commodity in the spice trade. The flavor is more complex than even the best black peppercorn - the heat of black pepper, but with a pronounced fruity fragrance, pronounced enough that it's the dominant smell even in this drink. The pepper heat is mainly in the aftertaste, and it blends in perfectly with Coca-Cola's botanicals (which are nearly as numerous as gin's). The butter adds richness that goes well with the sweetness of the soda, without the mouthfeel of actual hot buttered rum.
Add spiced buttered rum to cold Coca-Cola to taste - I suggest a shot of 1 1/2 ounces in a rocks glass of Coke. Normally I add lime juice to rum and Coke; I wouldn't add acidity here, with the butter flavor.