We’ve gone off the deep end with shrubs. I’ve talked about this once already, and now we’ve got about six in the refrigerator, with many more on the way. They really are lovely with just ice and sparkling water, but it’s Friday, and we’d like a little something that’s appropriate for happy hour.
So here we present you with a Shrub Bramble, which lends itself to being called a “Shramble” if you like silly names. This recipe replaces the lemon juice that is normally in a Bramble with a lemon shrub. The shrub we used is mostly lemon with bit of lime and uses white wine vinegar, which is subtle and allows the citrus to shine though. Like any shrub in a cocktail, this lemon adds a depth and complexity to one of the main flavors.
The Bramble has a whole history that goes along with it, that I won’t do justice if I attempt to recount. If you want more info, check out the explanation from the guys at Gin Foundry and Dillford’s Guide. We started with the Dillford’s recipe and adjusted to our taste.
What is a shrub, you ask? Well, there are certainly others who can explain it better than I can, but the basics are this: fruit + sugar + vinegar. Sounds strange, yes, but the roots of this drink go all the way back to the Romans who used it as a way to preserve fresh fruit. It’s a really interesting combination of sweet and sour, and even if you are skeptical, worth a try.
Anyway, a friend made some pomegranate shrub and gave us a small bottle when we were in New Orleans in December. We hadn’t really done much with it until recently when the weather started getting nice.
Shrubs can be used to make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, which makes them pretty versatile in application, and there are TONS of recipes online about how to make them (our friend referenced this one). Most of these recipes say they are “fantastic additions to cocktails” but don’t really go into the details about what cocktails, what proportions or anything really.
So we started with the most basic recipe. The pomegranate shrub we have is delicious when added to sparkling water, so why hide that amazing flavor with something fancy? This a a simple vodka soda with shrub added. Vodka is the definition of neutral, so try ANY flavor shrub with this recipe.
We love a good Negroni. It’s a classic, and it’s one of those simple recipes that uses equal parts of three ingredients; in this case gin, Campari and vermouth. Add an orange peel as garnish and you’re done. So simple.
Some die-hard Negroni fans feel like any departure from the classic proportions is sacrilege, but that hasn’t stopped an endless number of variations. I’ll be the first to admit that Campari is an acquired taste, and not everyone’s cup of tea. Equal parts of everything usually ends up leading to a Campari-forward cocktail. While many love this bitterness, there are many variations out there that tone it down by dialing back the Campari.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I love anything that has been put in a barrel, so when I started seeing barrel-aged Negronis, I had to try them. What can I say, they are also delicious.
My one criticism is that the barrel treats all of the ingredients equally, and depending on your gin, may end up muting some of the botanicals that make it unique. So we ran some tests using oak on the Campari only.
We used toasted wood chips, not a barrel (yet) and a ratio of 1g to 100ml. We tried a light toast and a heavy toast, and four days was plenty to get some of the nice oak characteristics and a hint of sweetness from the caramelized sugars in the wood.
Between the two, we preferred the light toast, but the possibilities are endless, so check your local homebrew store and experiment for yourself to find the combination you like. As a rule of thumb, the more surface area the wood has (chips vs. chunks vs. larger pieces of oak, aka “dominos”), the faster it will impart those oak flavors. It is possible to “over-oak,” so you’ll just have to taste it every day or two.
This recipe is a bit of a happy accident. Last year I was experimenting with cherries to make our own garnishes for cocktails. Someone had left some brandy at our place after a party, and I thought I’d play with this forgotten bottle.
The process was simple: Buy some fresh cherries (the sweet kind, not the bitter/sour kind), remove the stems and the pits, put them in a jar, and fill the jar with brandy so the cherries are completely submerged.
Leave the jar in the refrigerator for some period of time (days, weeks, months), and that’s it. Super easy.
The problem was when I tried the cherries after a few weeks. WAY too strong with brandy and not enjoyable as a garnish for anything. The alcohol in the brandy had also pulled the color out, so they resembled green olives more than cherries. Again, not good for a garnish.
Honestly, then I forgot about them. They lived in the back of the refrigerator for months. It was only recently that I realized what I did have was a nice cherry-infused brandy, which was much more interesting than the cherries themselves.
So, what to make with cherry-infused brandy? How about a Brandy Manhattan? It is sometimes also called a Metropolitan, which causes some confusion. There is another version of a Metropolitan cocktail out there, that is a cousin of the Cosmopolitan and includes vodka, lime juice and cranberry juice. I am not talking about this drink.
As the name would imply, this lovely drink uses the same ratios of a regular Manhattan, but with brandy in the place of Rye.
A couple of weeks ago we went on a green Chartreuse kick, and did some experimenting with a variety of cocktails. One that stood out was the Bijou (“jewel” in French), which combines gin, green Chartreuse, sweet vermouth and a dash of orange bitters.
The original recipe has equal parts of the principal ingredients, but most modern versions have tweaked the ratios. A couple of days later we played with these ratios ourselves and definitely preferred ours more gin-heavy and dialed-back on the Chartreuse. The one we settled on was closer to this version from Imbibe Magazine.
Chartreuse is a lovely and complex liqueur that touts 130 different plants and flowers. In laymen’s terms, this means it will likely overpower an herbal/flowery gin. We used one of our Corpen gins that is more earthy to complement, rather that compete with, the herby flavor of the Chartreuse.
We’re trying something new here. I’ve been working on building a craft distillery here in Barcelona, and in the interest of professional development, we’ve kicked our cocktail game into high gear over the last couple of years.
Here’s the first installment in what will become a recurring theme: Cocktails we love, we are experimenting with, and/or have made up ourselves.
Our first installment in this series is the lovely Boulevardier, which we recently had at Mark’s Bar in London (downstairs in HIX Soho). Upon ordering this, the bartender said “Ah yes, a whiskey negroni.”
Yep, that’s about right, and exactly why we love it.
Right now World of Beer is taking applications for a Beer Internship (called Drink it Intern) and part of the application is a one-minute video about a new beer, a review of a favorite brew, your favorite brewery, or some hidden talent.
So here’s my video! I tell a quick story about our visit to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, with it’s crazy network of pre-refrigeration tunnels.
We just got back from a trip to Belgium, and have been drinking Belgian beer for over a week straight. We generally plan our itineraries around food and booze, first mapping out where/what we will eat and drink, then we see what kind of historic things we can fit in between. Breweries, distilleries and wineries almost always have top priority.
This trip was of course no exception and Belgian beer has a reputation that needs no explanation, so I’ll cut to the chase. We visited three cities: Brussels, Bruges and Ghent and hit one brewery in each. There are hundreds of breweries in the country, but we selected these three because they were centrally located and easy to get to on foot.
Open: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1000 – 1700
Closed: Wednesdays, Sundays and public holidays Cost: 7€ (comes with two sample sized beers)
Tour is self-guided and takes about 45 minutes. More info: http://www.cantillon.be/
Going to Cantillon is like stepping back in time to see how beer was made 100+ years ago. Here they make Lambics, Gueuzes, Faros and Krieks the old fashion way, literally. Nearly all of the structure and equipment is the original from when it opened in 1900.
The process of milling and mashing the grain is pretty much the same as modern breweries today, but what is truly fascinating about this place is that they rely on spontaneous fermentation to make their beer. That means they do not add yeast, but instead pump their wort to a large shallow tank that is exposed to the ambient air, and wild yeast finds its way to the liquid. They are the only brewery in Brussels still doing it this way.
The beer is then pumped into large oak or chestnut barrels where it is left to ferment for up to three years. Yes, you read that right, three years. The beer can then be bottled or have fruit added, which gives them their kreiks.
Touring Cantillion is really an amazing experience because the place is unlike any brewery you’ve ever been to before. Like all great tours, at the end you get two tasting glasses to drink in the bar area. Even if you don’t feel like doing the tour, you can still buy a bottle and hang out for a drink.
Fair warning though, lambics are not for everyone because they are quite sour/bitter. If that’s not your thing, the tour is still worth seeing.
Practical Stuff: Daily Tours between 1100-1600 in Dutch, English and French. On Saturday Tours available til 1700.
Check their website for times of the tours and to book your reservation. Cost: 8.50€ (comes with a glass of their Brugse Zot Blond)
Group guided tour takes about 45 minutes and includes lots of stairs. More info: http://www.halvemaan.be/en/brewery-visit
Half Moon Brewery in Bruges is set in a beautiful part of a ridiculously picturesque city. Nestled between a cafe-lined plaza and one of the city’s canals, this brewery is half modern and half museum. The brewing kettles were recently upgraded and the bar/restaurant area looks like an upscale brewpub. Taking the tour however, you see the evolution of machinery and equipment that have been used over four generations of brewing.
The tour meanders up and down stairs, through old lofts and between tanks. A brief stop on the roof gives an amazing view of the city, but also make it clear that they have no more room to expand their facilities and production. The solution, our guide explained, is to build a beer pipeline from the brewery to a bottling facility over a kilometer away. That’s right, a beer pipeline.
Beers here were great; they go by two different labels: Brugse Zot (with a blond and a dubbel variety) and Straffe Hendrik (with a tripel and quadrupel variety). You can try them all in the bar/restaurant and get lunch or dinner while you’re at it.
A photo posted by bbbliteration (@bbbliteration) on
#3 Gentse Gruut – Ghent
Rekelingestraat 5, 9000 Gent (When you look this up by the address on Google maps it puts you on the wrong side of the river. It is directly across from Gravensteen Castle on Rekelingestraat)
Practical Stuff: Tour by appointment, mainly for groups Check their website to book. Cost: 9.00€ (8+people) or 10.00€ (less than 8 people). Comes with three tasters.
Tour/tasting can be paired with some small food items. More info: http://www.gruut.be/
Gentse Gruut is super interesting because they do not use hops in their beer, but rather a mix of herbs. This is apparently how beer was made before the days of hops, we’re talking medieval time here. Only one of their five beers has any hops in it, and honestly it was hard to tell which.
To be honest, we did not figure out the tour at this brewery, which recently moved locations. After walking by it several times (see note above about the address on Google maps) we came into what looked like a reception or event hall. There was a bar, tables and chairs, and OH HEY! a very small brewing setup. Given the really small size, it’s impressive the reach this beer has because we saw it all over the city. We certainly could have asked about the tour, but we really just wanted to sit and drink this hop-less beer, which turned out to be SUPER good.
One more interesting fact about this place is that the head brewer/owner is a woman named Annick De Splenter, which is really cool to see in an otherwise dude-dominated industry.
Have you been to any other awesome breweries in Belgium? Let us know because we’ll definitely be doing the pilgrimage again soon!
Last Monday, August 1o, La Rovira opened its doors and taps just in time for Festa Major de Gràcia. Since then, as far as we can tell, they’ve been killing it. One or both of us have been three times since the opening, partly because it’s minutes away from our place, but mainly because they have an incredible selection of craft beers from all over. La Rovira has 18 beers on tap from craft breweries far and wide and with many, many more in bottles. It’s enough to keep any beer enthusiast busy for a while. They are also serving their own beer called De La Vila, which was made just for the Festa Major. It’s a light session IPA with a citrus and floral nose and a slightly fruity taste with mild bitterness from the hops. Most standard IPAs have an ABV (alcohol by volume) in the 5.0-7.0% range (some are much higher); this one comes in at 4.7%, which means you can drink it all afternoon on a hot summer day and still find your way home.
In a previous post, I talked about what inspired me to do my thesis on food and cooking. Now that it’s done and turned in, I thought I’d adapt some portions of my writing and focus on them here. One of the first, and most significant topics when talking about our food, is that of food processing.
Scientists, doctors, nutritionists and health organizations all acknowledge that the production and consumption of processed food and drinks are important causes in the current pandemic of obesity and related chronic diseases.1
As food writer Michael Pollan so eloquently puts it, big food corporations “cook very differently from how people do (which is why we usually call what they do ‘food processing’ instead of cooking). They tend to use much more sugar, fat and salt than people cooking for people do; they also deploy novel chemical ingredients seldom found in pantries in order to make their food last longer and look fresher that it really is”.2
These novel techniques and ingredients, along with excessive amounts of sugar, fat and salt, create a diet that health professionals describe as “intrinsically nutritionally unbalanced and intrinsically harmful to health”.3
Shall I go on? OK, I will…
Carlos A. Monteiro, Director of the Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition at the University of Sao Paulo, proposes that the amount of processing our food undergoes is what determines how healthy or unhealthy it will be, not the food itself, nor its nutrient parts.
Across the globe, government food recommendations do not recognize this difference, and as a result, food like whole fresh fruit, fruit canned in sugary syrup and reconstituted sugary fruit beverages all get classified as “fruit”.4
Side note: A 2010 study found that the diets of nearly the entire US population did not fall within federal dietary recommendations. So, even with sugary fruit beverages being classified as fruits, we still do not meet the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Monteiro argues that most food today has some degree of processing and that there is little use in classifying food into only processed and unprocessed groups. Instead, he proposes three levels to describe the drastic differences in processing that occur between, for instance, pre-washed fruit and a gummy fruit snack.
The three categories are:
Group 1: Unprocessed and minimally processed foods: No processing, or mostly physical processes used to make single whole foods more durable, accessible, convenient, palatable or safe. Group 2: Processed culinary or food industry ingredients: Extraction and purification of components of single whole foods, resulting in producing ingredients used in the preparation and cooking of dishes and meals made from Group 1 foods in homes and traditional restaurants, or else in the formulation by manufacturers of Group 3 foods. Group 3: Ultra-processed food products: Processing of a mix of Group 2 ingredients and Group 1 foodstuffs in order to create durable, accessible, convenient, and palatable ready-to-eat or to-heat food products liable to be consumed as snacks or desserts or replace home-prepared dishes.
The groups are described more thoroughly below (from Monteiro’s research) but it’s easy to see that foods like cookies, snacks, pre-prepared meals, processed meat like chicken nuggets and burgers all belong in Group 3.6
He does not propose that healthy diets are made up of entirely unprocessed/minimally processed foods, but rather a healthy balance of the three groups.
The problem is, that across countries like Brazil, the UK and the US, we seem to completely lack the ability to maintain this balance.
In Brazil, ultra-processed (Group 3) foods made up 20% of consumed calories. As income increased, so too did the presence of these ultra-processed foods. In the households with the highest income, nearly one-third of all calories came from ultra-processed foods.7
In the UK, ultra-processed foods made up 45% caloric intake.8
In the United States, the five most commonly consumed foods were all considered Group 3 foods: sodas, cakes and pastries, burgers, pizza and potato chips. These five foods alone made up 20% of the total calories consumed in the United States.9
A similar study in Canada showed that 61.7% of dietary energy consumed came from ultra-processed foods and that 80% of the Canadian population had diets consisting of more than 50% of ultra-processed foods in terms of caloric intake.10
Yeah? So what does that mean?
Monteiro’s claim that the act of processing food is a culprit in our rapid decline in health is being confirmed more specifically in subsequent studies. One recent study showed a link between two commonly used emulsifiers and the development of metabolic syndrome and low-grade inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract of mice.11
Emulsifiers can be found in nearly all processed food and are used to prevent ingredients like fats and oils from separating. They go by many names, but some of the common ones are: polysorbate 80, lecithin, carrageenan, polyglycerols and xanthan gum. The “metabolic syndrome” that these items are linked to is a term used to describe a group of risk factors, including high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar, as well as obesity. Someone with metabolic syndrome is more likely to develop more serious health issues like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes.12
The addition of emulsifiers is by no means the only cause of obesity, but the inflammation that it causes in the gastrointestinal tract appears to interfere with the feeling of “being full” while eating.13 Not feeling full often leads to overeating and, in turn, the development of more fat.
So what can I do about it?
Simple! First, decrease, limit and/or eliminate ultra-processed foods from what you eat. It has clear benefits in preventing disease and promoting general well being, Monteiro says.14
Second, even with the downward trend of cooking, more than two-thirds of caloric intake for adults in the US still occurs in the home.15 Therefore, the most good can be done by focusing on food and meals we consume at home.
I think these point to a clear path forward: cut down on processed foods by cooking more at home. It is one of the easiest daily acts we can do to improve our health.
Numerous studies have the same conclusion, one even suggesting that, “Efforts to boost the healthfulness of the US diet should focus on promoting the preparation of healthy foods at home while incorporating limits on time available for cooking”.16
An increase in cooking at home has been shown to relate directly to a decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI),17 and lower BMI decreases the risk other health issues like diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and many types of cancer.18
So what are you waiting for? Put down the fast food and the pre-packaged meals and make your next meal from simple, fresh ingredients.
If you want to read my Masters Thesis in its entirety, you can download it in the Download section. You can also see a shorter slide show here. Enjoy!