Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Session #27 - Tyranny Undercover


Not the same. But easier than trying to make it from scratch.
 
There's no denying the truth behind the old saying about best laid plans, which is precisely how someone could find themselves in a situation like this, on a drizzly morning in May, staring at a dust-ridden bottle of Torani Amer and a folder full of unsent email drafts, wondering how these self-imposed writing deadlines can arrive so unexpectedly, and how those once grand statutory visions are often reduced, by necessity and  panic, to hardscrabble dirt and mud golems imbued with the hot breath of its composer's hope that it too might live and walk and keep momentum going for just another day. It's all the more shameful when the gifts all seem to align themselves in a row - gifts of the cocktail persuasion! - offering up easy riches in the form of a puckish topic, affable co-conspirators, and the burblings of some potentially avant mixology. It's all past potential now, though, and truly, it isn't even morning by the time this sentence has been typed, another interruption likely on the horizon (how prescient, now that this bit is being typed nearly 12 hours past its inception, that light drizzle having been replaced by a whipping downpour, and my thoughts squarely with those slogging their way into the deep end abyss of Boonville to pitch their muddy tents) and odds even that the publish button below won't even get clicked, despite, as I said, the best laid plans. Certain folks will have to stow their cabinet of tinctural curiosities for a later date, curtains drawn back over the mysteries of the unrealized, and the wings of rootless fantasy clipped and grounded. What could have been, isn't. Let's make us a drink, shall we?

So even though it's already been done, both here (and even before) and now already in this month's Session, we're going to keep it simple with this very brief reflection on a little drink called the Picon bière. The recipe, if you want to call it that, isn't much to speak of. But as our host this month is a neighbor of sorts, he deserves a little more. It was three or four years ago, in the redwood enshrouded grand Victorian dining room of the Lark Creek Inn, an arguably classic dining establishment crippled and shuttered by economic woes, those weird tendrils of financial panic that've traveled even up into the toniest, most insusceptible neighborhoods, a restaurant doomed to soon be resurrected as "affordable", or heaven forbid, something more ghastly like "family friendly". They had - and I hope this doesn't change - a serious, adult, fantastic bar. And it was here that I had the most unlikely of cocktails offered to me before dinner one night, as our waiter recognized my middling response to their beer list (and as for why I was glancing over their beer list, I probably wouldn't have even ordered a beer in an establishment like this, wrought of good, heathful digestifs and aperitifs and punishingly delicious whiskeys, but it's a habit - I always look at beer menus, because there are often surprises, sweet buried treasures cellared away by one discriminating chef who knows that no matter what the others think, his poached sole goes better with that Moinette than any of the wine they've got gathering dust down there) and offered to make me a cocktail made of their Urquell and a dash of Amer Picon. Little did I know how much I'd love it. Littller did I know how much I'd regret making its acquaintance when I discovered that true Amer bitters were entirely unavailable in this country and that the few bottles they'd had on hand in the bar had made their way back across the Atlantic in somebody's luggage. Granted, there are instructions on how to replicate that magical ingredient in the solace of your own home, but they're frankly not much simpler than building an ultralight aircraft in your garage and using it to fly across the North Pole to pick up a bottle of the authentic item. So we have this: From the people who brought you the the flavor du jour in your trendsetting latte, Torani's very own Amer mixer. It tastes only vaguely correct. But it will do.
Mia's working on taking over the photg job here.

Blended with a continental lager, this cocktail makes sense, as the flabby taste impression that old, ship-worn and light-struck bottles leaves little to be excited about, the strange, orangy, botanical, somewhat vegetal elixir of the Picon carrying the drink into a nearly Campari-esque realm, with a gut-stirring astringency and a snap of old fashioned, resuscitative, rejuvenated medicinal edginess. The florals of the hops are accentuated. Front end bitterness is restored. Weird hints of woodsy, rooty, dirty darkness lurk on the edges. But there's as little traditional lager in this house as there is true Amer Picon. And that's how we arrived here, with a bottle of the already lively and wicked Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown ale, a beer that hardly calls for adulterating, being spiked with a splash of Torani's finest 78 proof bitter buddy. In a satanically crimson body it comes off like chugging on a jar of homemade marmalade, a pungent whack of orange sweetness, all fringed in a pithy bitterness that somewhat masks the dangerous level of alcohol. Would I mix one up again? Maybe. But does it compare to that sun-sprayed June afternoon in Graton years ago when a bottle of the stuff disappeared into cup after cup of shabby homebrewed "kõlsch" as our friends wedding spun on around us? No, but that's a whole other story.
And as much as I'm usually not afraid of embarking on increasingly embedded diversionary topics, now it's not even Friday anymore. But it's still raining. Does this really count as a Session post now, being as late as it is? No matter, Mia would be sad if I didn't take the opportunity to show off her new shoes.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by Joe of Beer at Joe's. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide. You can also follow folks' entries on twitter by searching for posts marked with the #thesession hashtag.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Joe Ruvel said...

Rob - as usual your words spin around the topic in away that makes me want to travel to find a true Picon bière - hmm how much are plane tickets from SFO to France - oh well - thanks for a great post.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie B said...

I'm sorry, was it the four ingredients that made the Amer Picon replica difficult?
Should the Amer Picon recipe that is better than the Amer Picon that is currently available only named two ingredients?
;-)

12:19 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

Okay, fair enough. My anemic pun about building an ultralight in your garage being easier than your Amer recipe was pretty weak, considering that yeah, it is pretty simple. Just for that comment, I'm going to have to go ahead and make some.

9:22 AM  
Blogger drinkaweek said...

I thought your comment was in regards to how lazy you are:) If it helps I've got a couple of jars of orange tincture left over from my last (failed) bitters experiment you can have.

11:43 AM  

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