Monday, May 26, 2008
Drink Du Jour- The Mad Monk
Today I took the world's best dog (ok, maybe not the best dog, but definitely the world's best great dane), Huckleberry, to a new groomer. Huck hates to go to to the groomer and he hates being bathed, so I leave that to the professionals. As he is so large (140 lbs), bathing and grooming sessions usually run around 2 hours for him, usually giving me plenty of time to kill.
I decided to go see if I could find a Russian or Eastern European market. I didn't have any ideas of what I was looking for, but I hadn't been to a Russian market in some time and I was curious to see what I could find. I harbor a fantasy of someday walking into a Russian market and being offered a stash of homemade buffalo grass vodka or some such nonsense, but thats never happened to me. Instead, I drove out to SE 82nd ave and drove around until I found I market with windows covered in Cyrillic lettering and a sign that said," Good Neighbor Market".
Let me preface this by saying that I love Russian food. Its a rare treat when I get to eat it (its hard to find a good Russian restaurant on the west coast), so I relish the opportunities that present themselves. While I consider myself a pretty good cook, unfortunately, my repetoire does not yet include Russian cuisine.
Good Neighbor Market was exactly that, a quiet, friendly and well stocked market filled with Russian and Eastern European pickles, meats, seafood, vegetables, candies and more. I don't read any Cyrillic, so the meat case and seafood were a mystery to me, although some of the smoked fish behind the counter were some of the most tantalizing specimens that I've ever seen. Other things, like the cheese counter, did have a few labels in English. For instance, a large, round, white wheel of cheese was simply labeled, "city cheese", which meant nothing to me. I'm going to have to find a tour guide to fully appreciate the treasure that I uncovered today. As it was, I was reduced to checking canned and dried products for a stick on label in english, which gives a name of the product and some basic nutritional information. I stocked up on some new and interesting things for the pantry, and then I came across the beverage section. A label stood out to be, "KBAC". I don't understand Cyrillic, but I knew that this was the spelling for what we call kvass.
Kvass is an old Russian beverage. Its essentially a peasant drink, and a cousin of beer. It was originally brewed with rye bread, although in modern times I understand that actual bread has been replaced with a dark malt and other flavorings. During the time of Peter the Great, kvass was the most common drink in Russian society. Kvass is mildly alcoholic (.05-1.4%), and I'm sure that the kvass I purchased was on the lowest end of that range. If you do happen to run across kvass, it also might be labeled as Russian soda.
Kvass is a wonderful beverage on its own. Its full flavored, full of rye and malt flavors, it almost tastes like a delicious glass of liquified rye bread. Its full bodied, yet refreshing in a way most of us with Western palates are unused to. To put it simply, I'm a fan. Its a very food friendly beverage, I started imagining good lox on rye bread, blinis with melted butter and caviar, and cabbage rolls while I was drinking it.
I decided to create a cocktail using kvass as a mixer. I obviously wanted to not only create a cocktail that tasted great, but also used appropriate ingredients for Eastern Europe. While a good Russian vodka is an obvious choice, I actually didn't have any in the house (ok, I'm not much of a vodka fan to be honest). I do happen to have a bottle of Bardenay vodka from Idaho, which I think may be one of the finest vodkas that I've tasted, so I decided to use that instead.
Next, I selected a bottle of aquavit from a local producer, House Spirits. Their Krogstad aquavit has nice caraway and star anise overtones which I thought would place some nice notes into this drink.
Lastly, as every cocktail needs a bit of bitters, I chose Angostura Orange Bitters. I don't think these have been released to the American market quite yet (I think they are a month off but I could be wrong). I love the pairing of rye with orange, so the match made sense in my opinion. Plus, among the orange bitters on the market, I find Angostura's to be the most complex, carrying notes of a well made English marmalade, and quite dry.
The resulting cocktail won't be for everyone. You'd better like flavors like rye and caraway if you are going to try this one, but if you have an appreciation for flavors like these, I think you'll be in heaven. This is a tasty little cocktail, and it will be very food friendly to boot. Without further ado, I offer up the Mad Monk.
The Mad Monk Cocktail
1 oz Russian vodka
1 oz Aquavit (I recommend Krogstad)
4 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
4 oz Kvass ( I used Ochakovo)
1) In a double rocks glass, add vodka, aquavit, and bitters, stir to incorporate
2) add ice
3) top with kvass, garnish with an orange wedge (optional)