Simple Complex and Clever Satchel's On 6th 1710 E. 6th Avenue 303-399-2560
While it's easy to see Prohibition as a golden age of American cocktails, the history of mixing booze dates back much farther. Before the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution outlawed the production and sale of booze in 1920 -- way before, actually -- people weren't just drinking cocktails as we know them today. As far back at the mid-1600s, punches were one of the most common mixed drinks, and many of the original punches would not have been complete without a generous addition of arrack.
Arrack is a unique spirit similar to rum and distilled in Indonesia, where it was discovered by Europeans during 17th century explorations of the South Pacific Ocean. Dutch spice traders brought it back to Amsterdam, where it migrated to London, then to New York. As the popularity of punches faded, so did Arrack. But it's made a comeback in recent years, traveling across the centuries -- all the way to Satchel's On 6th, where bar manager Derrick Mund is featuring it as the base of a cocktail he calls Simple Complex and Clever.
"I think of it as a hybrid of a tea punch and an Old Fashioned," Mund says. His recipe includes Arrack, fresh-squeezed pineapple juice, gomme syrup, and a few drops of bitters that he made with Oregon grape root, hibiscus, and cubeb berries.
"It's a winter rum drink," he continues. "It's not a tiki cocktail, but it has the elements of one: it has some citrus, it has rum, it's herbaceous." Sounds simple, but it's a bit more complex, as the name of the drink implies.
Arrack is produced in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The brand that Mund uses is called Batavia Arrack Van Oosten, which is made on the Indonesian island of Java. It's distilled from molasses and a locally grown red rice.
"It's hands-down my favorite rum," Mund says. "It has the characteristics of a Martinique rum, but it's a little earthier. I love it." It's also the only arrack, he adds, that's shipped from Java to the U.S.
The syrup called gomme that Mund uses to sweeten the cocktail is also quite unique, in that it contains sugar and water, and also gum arabic, which is the sap of a species of acacia tree. The sap is edible and basically flavorless. It's added to soft drink recipes where it reduces surface tension and increases the foaming of carbonated beverages. It stabilizes liquids, giving them a thicker mouthfeel. It's also used as a food-grade adhesive; if you've ever licked the back of a stamp or a rolling paper, you've tasted gum arabic.
"It makes the drink a little more viscous," Mund explains, "which, along with pineapple and rum, really adds a lot of body to the drink."
Mund got sick recently, so a friend gave him a bottle that contained a tincture of Oregon grape root. "It has a lot of restorative properties," he says. "It's good for your kidneys, it's good for your liver, it's good for your bartender -- which is why she gave it to me. And look what I did: I made a flavored bitters out of it."
Mund combined hibiscus and cubeb berries with alcohol and let them infuse for three weeks, then added that infusion to the grape root tincture. Also from the island of Java, cubeb berries look and taste like dried black peppercorns, and add an unexpected sensation; cubeb berries act as a numbing agent. "That's the note in this drink that you get on the very, very back end," Mund says. "It's like a little bit of numbing."
Before Mund serves this drink, he prepares a glass by smoking the interior with sage from his garden. The sage has long since dried out during the winter, but that's perfect for this recipe. "I just light it on fire, throw it in a glass and put a cup over it to let the smoke into the glass," he says. The burning sage is trapped between the two air-tight glasses, adding a little bit of the flavor to leak out into the cocktail.
"It's the same thing as smoking the glass," Mund continues, "but I think it's less intense. It's there, but it's not as intense as if you pumped the smoke in, which I've seen with a lot of 'smoked' cocktails. So it's just subtler."
The drink is garnished with one pineapple leaf.
If you're hungry, Mund recommends his drink with the seared pork chop entree ($23), with potatoes, sautéed Brussels sprouts and a pear demi-glace. "You have sweetness in both," he says, adding that both the pork and the arrack have a 'smoky' flavor.
Mund has been making cocktails at Satchel's for the past seven months. Before that, he tended bar at the Squeaky Bean, Justice Snow's (Aspen) and The Bitter Bar in Boulder. "I think there's a logic to flavor," Mund says, "and with that, there's a logic to cocktails. When you understand the structure of how something is made, or how a profile is conducted, you can really go anywhere with it."
That sounds complex, but also so very simple.
Simple Complex and Clever 2 ounces Batavia Arrack Van Oosten .25 ounces gomme syrup .25 ounces pineapple juice 3 dashes bitters
With a lighter, ignite one small branch of dried sage, and drop it into a mixing glass. As it begins to release smoke, place a glass upside down over the top of the mixing glass to trap the rising smoke.
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While the first glass is being smoked, pour all of the ingredients over ice in a second mixing glass and stir. Add a large ice cube to the smoked glass and pour in the stirred ingredients. Garnish with a pineapple leaf.