Episode 031 - Indian Cocktails
We’re ringing in 2018 with a 4-part series that investigates spirits, cocktails, and cocktail cultures from around the world as a celebration of the brand spanking new Embitterment Heritage Collection, which is a premium line of cocktail bitters we’re launching this month in January of 2018.
We started developing these flavors early last year, knowing that it was going to take a lot time, a lot of research, and many different test batches to make sure that we could do justice to the cultural flavor palettes we selected. Because instead of looking around for seasonal flavors or weird novelty blends, we decided to look beyond our own shores (in some cases) for entire cuisines and cultures that inspired us.
We dumped out our spice racks, pored through old cookbooks and cocktail recipes, and ended up with a set of ingredients and flavor combos that have thoroughly seduced us.
So, without further ado, here’s your first look at the Embitterment Heritage Collection:
Leading off with today’s episode, we’ve got our Liquid Gold Ancient Trade Bitters, which are a celebration of the spice trade powered by the people and flavors of the Indian Sub-Continent from ancient times right up through the present day.
To celebrate the launch of the Heritage Collection (and to thank you for being a listener of the podcast), we’re also gonna give you 15% off any order from modernbarcart.com through January 31, 2018 if you enter the code WORLDHERITAGE (all one word) at checkout.
The Liquid Gold Gin & Tonic
There’s a couple of things that make the trusty G&T a great pairing for these bitters. First, it’s probably the best vehicle for a really dry gin. Here, I’m thinking Tanqueray or Beefeater, maybe Gordon’s. And second, that squeeze of fresh lime juice is an absolutely perfect way to balance the rich, mysterious flavor of these bitters with the austere, cool nature of the gin and tonic water.
When I make my Liquid Gold G&T, I add the gin and ice to my collins glass with a squeeze of lime, then I’ll add one, maybe one and a half eye-droppers full of the Liquid Gold bitters, give everything a good stir, and then top off with my tonic water of choice that day.
I think this is one of the best blank slates to use when you first start out experimenting with these bitters, and it doesn’t hurt that the bitters turn the drink a beautiful yellow color that you don’t see very often in the world of the gin & tonic.
The Mumbai Manhattan
This drink is basically a modified Dry Manhattan made using Bourbon.
To make it, you’ll need 2 oz Bourbon, ¾ oz to 1 oz of Dry vermouth, depending on your taste, and one eyedropper of Liquid Gold Ancient Trade Bitters.
Combine all that in a mixing glass with ice, stir for 20-30 seconds, then strain it into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange twist. Now, if you’d like to get real fancy, you can flame that orange peel, but please be careful when you use fire around your drinks. We aren’t responsible for you burning down your bar--so if it sounds tricky, leave it to the pros.
The Story of Indian Fertility
Roughly 10 million years ago, India was just a large island, moving slowly toward the Eurasian landmass at a rate of only a handful of centimeters per year. Then, geologically speaking, the island slammed into the rest of the continent, and the mountain chain we know today as the Himalayas began to form.
What does this have to do with fertility, you may ask? Well, it turns out, quite a bit.
As the Himalayas grew in size during the millennia before humans migrated out of Africa and began to populate Asia, the mountains began to play two central roles that influence the climate and fertility of India.
- They formed a barrier between India and the colder air that sweeps down from the Siberian region during the winter months. This keeps India insulated from extremes of hot and cold.
- During the summer, when tropical air masses creep northward, the Himalayas repel them and rapidly cool them in the process, which results in great quantities of rainfall for the entire subcontinent.
I’m sure a geologist or a meteorologist could tell that story much better than I just did, but the result is a dazzlingly fertile land with a predictable weather pattern. In other worlds, a perfect place for agriculture.
The Rise of the Indian Spice Trade
As civilizations developed, India became a major bread basket, and there was a lot of interest in trade as cities and road networks began to flourish.
India doesn’t traditionally get a whole lot of credit for being early to the urbanization game, but archaeologists in the 20th century made huge discoveries revealing that thriving cities existed in India at the same time as other Western civilizations were also settling in larger numbers.
And what became the driving force behind many Indian cities as rumor of their spice wealth reached curious palates in the middle east and the Mediterranean world? Trade.
Even before the height of the Roman empire, technology and precious metals flowed east, while the flavorful bounties of the Indian subcontinent traveled west in caravans, as well as on boats sailed by captains who knew how to use the changing winds of the monsoon to speed their voyages between the shores of India and the numerous port cities that dotted the horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Persian Gulf.
When I think about the ancient spice trade, what impresses me most is the sheer scale and human toil necessary to transport a single peppercorn from a province in South India to the table of a wealthy Roman noble, for example. Just think of all the logistics. There’s the seed that is planted, the rain and sun and soil that help the seed grow into a pepper plant that produces other seeds, which are then hand-harvested, dried, sorted and packed, placed on a cart, which is then brought to the docks or the bazaar, loaded onto a camel or a boat, transported HUNDREDS or THOUSANDS OF MILES during an age when transport over land or sea was incredibly dangerous, then passed off to any number of middle-men who repeated their own similar versions of this journey, until finally, the slave of this Roman patrician purchases a handful of peppercorns at the market, grinds them by hand, and uses just a few precious pinches to season a stew cooked over an open fire on a hearth so far away from the source of that lowly peppercorn that it might as well be on another planet.
THAT is what blows my mind.
Today, of course, we’ve got everything mechanized, from planting, to harvest, to shipping and processing. But what we’re celebrating with the Liquid Gold Ancient Trade Bitters in the Embitterment Heritage collection is the journey and human determination that made the spread of flavor and ideas possible in the first place. When you taste these bitters, we want you to be transported, just like the spices were, across thousands of miles of deserts, oceans, and mountain ranges, to a place where you’re inspired by exotic sights, sounds, and flavors.
The Story of Punch
Many believe that “Punch” is a loanword from the Sanskrit pañc, meaning “Five,” which indicates the number of ingredients in the drink: Spirits, sugar, citrus, water, and spice (or tea).
It’s a flexible beverage, in that it can be served hot or cold, made with various spirits, sugars, citrus, and spices, and adapted to the cultural palate of wherever it’s being served. But the cultural and logistical realities that allowed for the discovery and adoption of punch by the British and then made it possible for this beverage to spread across the globe are fascinating in and of themselves.
Down through the ages, the Indian people - by and large - are a peace-loving bunch, and their popular religions either discourage alcohol (in the case of Hinduism and Buddhism) or outright ban its consumption (in the case of Islam). But, if you remember those warlike military ruling classes from out of town I mentioned a minute ago, they either tended not to share the popular religious discouragement of alcohol, or they simply felt they were above the rules. Because that’s just how sovereign rulers tend to operate.
In the case of the Christian British colonial powers who arrived in India in the early seventeenth century, alcohol really wasn’t an issue. It played (and continues to play) a large role in British culture. Add to this the fact that, in the early 1600s when the British East India Company started sending a ton of people to colonize India, English ships started carrying a large quantities of spirits (rather than beer and wine) to avoid spoilage during the long, hot voyage.
This is not to say that India didn’t already have spirits. The typical variety is called “Arrack,” which is a generic term for most spirits made in Asia, and the important thing to remember about this term is that it’s generic. When you say “Arrack,” you’re saying something closer to “liquor” or “spirits,” not something more specific like “gin” or “whiskey.” And this undoubtedly played into the flexibility and adaptability of punch as a discipline (if it can be called that).
What other factors led to the rise of punch? Well, it helps that Indians had been cultivating various citrus fruits for a long time, and many of the southern provinces of the subcontinent prolific growers of tea.
So we’ve got our booze (foreign and domestic), we’ve got our citrus, spice, and tea, and we also have a lot more sugar being produced and shipped across the world due to the advent of the sugar industry in the west indies and elsewhere.
Ever since it was discovered that the consumption of citrus was helpful in warding off various illnesses that sailors were prone to (such as scurvy), people had been tinkering with the best way to take their vitamins. So, as these British East India ships traveled up and down the coast of India, you can imagine that punch became a popular way to make taking said vitamins a bit more enjoyable.
CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTIONS
Clips from the following artists were used in this episode, with great gratitude. All music is licensed for commercial use under Creative Commons 4.0.