Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Chanteuse

Chanteuse (flute)
4 oz sparkling wine, spl absinthe, 1/2 oz pernod, 1 cube sugar, peychaud's
soak sugar cube in peychaud's
pour absinthe and pernod over it through a slotted spoon
top with sparkling wine
drop sugar cube in bottom
The Chanteuse has a couple of origin threads. One is my friend Cumorah, who used to work at the bar next door to mine, and is a culinary-school-trained chef and a big fan of Pernod and anisette in general. The other is an Iron Bartender competition that I lost (albeit closely) a few months ago at Tiger Tail in Ballard. The secret ingredient that evening, which we were obliged to use in three different concoctions, was Marteau Absinthe, a French-style absinthe made in Portland, Oregon. Marteau was the semi-official sponsor of the competition that evening (they did, at very least, donate a case of the stuff for us to use).Two of the rounds of the Iron Bartender competition involved creating a cocktail to match with food from the Tiger Tail kitchen, and the first round was an oyster shooter appetizer that was heavy on the salt and lime.

Now, normally anisette is not the congener that I would match to something like that, but, it being an Iron Bartender competition, I was obliged to use the absinthe. But the classic pairing with oysters is sparkling wine (well, champagne, technically, but you get the picture). And so I got to thinking about how I could combine the two. Absinthe and sparkling wine, that is. I also wanted something light, minty even, to counteract the sour-salt sting of the oysters, which was, honestly, a little overdone.

Mint didn't really seem the way to go, though, but I thought that maybe the eucalyptusy airiness of Peychaud's bitters might work. Mint and Eucalyptus are pretty different, but they do share a certain sort of ethereal quality, in that they clear air passages and soothe them with a similar coolness.

What I decided to do, in the end, was a variation on a classic, the Champagne Cocktail, which is just a glass of champagne with a bitters-soaked sugar cube dropped in it (the bitters being Angostura, the one every bar carries). Instead of the Angostura, I used Peychaud's, and I mixed a little absinthe in as well. It worked okay, though I wasn't as crazy about it as I wanted to be, at least at the competition, but it put the idea for the thing in my head.

Later, one night while I was working at Tost, Cumorah came in for a drink, as she was wont to do from time to time, and told me to make her something. I am, apparently, the only bartender she trusts to just make something up for her, and I knew she had a certain fondness for anisette, and for funny bitters-y liqueurs in general. And so I decided to make her a second-generation prototype of the Chanteuse. I made it without the absinthe, which Tost doesn't stock. I just dropped a Peychaud's-soaked sugar cube in a flute, poured sparkling wine over it, and drizzled a little Pernod over the top, which turned it a lovely shade of green.

She loved it. Which made me happy, because I like when people like my drinks.

So, for the party, I decided to take it just a little bit further, and prepare the drink in accordance with traditional absinthe service (wherein it is poured over a sugar cube). So, for the Chanteuse, the cube is soaked in Peychaud's, over which the Pernod and Absinthe are poured, then topped with sparkling wine, making a cloudy green bubble bath of anise-flavored decadence. Then I drop what's left of the sugar cube into the bottom, where it bubbles away for a while, giving the drink a nicely effervescent texture and slowly sweetening it as the sugar dissolves. It also makes a little patch of pinkish-red below the cloudy green, which I think looks nice as well.

As for the flavor, if you like licorice, you will love the Chanteuse. It's a very powerfully flavored drink, that provokes an odd mellowness when you drink it. It's not the most complicated flavor I've ever devised, but it's a little challenging and exotic (hence the name), and the rewards for engaging with it are well worth the effort, I think.

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