Cocktail competitions are an interesting way to test one's skills. Most competitions revolve around a single ingredient, as was the case with the Hiram Walker Gingerbread Liqueur event. Now, gingerbread isn't something you generally think of as a cocktail ingredient, but then again, there are a lot of things going into cocktails these days. I guess that's why a competition was in-order.
The Gingerbread Liqueur is an all-natural product, which is nice to see. The flavour and the aroma are intense gingerbread, which should surprise no-one. This isn't a subtle liqueur with nuances, this is in your face gingerbread. It would make a very good ingredient for foodie types.
The trick to working with strong flavours is to pair them with equally strong flavours. Otherwise you just end up with a slightly diluted strong flavour.
Apple cider was the first pairing that came to mind, since it is apple season. Apple cider is great because it has an intense apple flavour with good acidity, so it would help balance out the sweetness in the Gingerbread liqueur. I think a few other participants selected cider also.
The only two spirits that I thought would work with this combination are whisky and rum. I tried spiced and amber rum, but it didn't seem to work, so I went with whisky. Bourbon, with it's bold, intense flavour really fit.
So here is what I came up with:
1 oz Bourbon
½ oz Gingerbread Liqueur
½ oz Jerez Fino Sherry
3 oz Fresh Pressed Apple Cider
3 Dash Angostura Bitters
Instructions: In a double old fashioned glass packed with ice, add all of the ingredients and stir until chilled. Garnish with an apple slice. This drink can also be served warm, but but I prefer it chilled. It's versatile.
The key to this cocktail is the use of Fino sherry. With the sweetness of the bourbon, gingerbread liqueur and the apple cider, there has to be an element to reduce the sweetness, and bring the cocktail together. This is what the sherry does. Even though cider has good acidity, it isn't enough to balance the whole cocktail.
The sherry also adds a subtle nutty flavour to the cocktail. It is imperative that you use dry sherry! Using cream or sweet sherry will just make the Fameuse Cocktail sweeter, which isn't good. I used a sherry with an extra dry rating. It does a surprisingly good job and actually brings all of the flavours together.
I made the cocktail with Woodford Reserve, Maker's Mark and Buffalo Trace, and all make a great cocktail. But, I'm leaning towards the Buffalo Trace in this cocktail. The Woodford and Maker's are a touch too smooth in this case, and the more forward style of Buffalo Trace works with the big flavour of the apple cider.
Angostura bitters rounds out the cocktail with some complimentary spicy notes and a slight tempering of the sweetness.
I like this cocktail a lot. It has a pleasant autumn feel to it. The characteristics of the bourbon still shines through, even though it is paired will other strong elements.
1. You can use any bourbon, but I found Buffalo Trace tasted better than Woodford or Makers Mark. Oddly, Woodford and Makers are my two favourite bourbons, but Buffalo Trace worked best in this application.
2. It is important to use a dry (Fino) Sherry for this recipe. I used Tio Pepe from Jerez, but it doesn't have to be from Jerez. Osborne from Australia makes a good, affordable, Fino for cocktail applications.
3. I used apple cider from a local orchard. It is fresh pressed and pasteurized. Apple juice is not a substitute.
4. The name comes from a heritage variety of apple grown in Canada since 1636. It is also called a Snow Apple or Royal Snow Apple. It is thought to be the parent of another Canadian variety of apple, the McIntosh. Fameuse apples make an exceptionally tasty cider. Any good apple cider will do for this cocktail though.