Yes, it has been far too long since I have blogged. There are far too many interesting and wonderful things going on in the world of spirits, beer, and cocktails for me to have been away for so long. Let us not speak of this again.
While I love my beer, I am a sucker for well made cocktails. I would have been dipsomaniacally at home during the turn of the 20thcentury at the very heart of the golden age of cocktails. With that stated, the 21st century isn’t too shabby. The rebirth of the cocktail revolution is quite fortuitous with those with discriminating palates. Some argue that the current rebirth started in the late 1990s, but I think the pendulum really began to swing about 7 years ago.
In 2004 the Algonquin Hotel in New York City – which was the regular haunt of one of my favorite dipsomaniacal heavy weights, Dorothy Parker – began offering a martini for the measly cost of $10,000. This Vesper Martini (Lilet is substituted for the vermouth in this drink) is served with a one and a half carat diamond at the bottom of the glass. It isn’t the diamond in the glass that caught my attention; it was the use of Lilet. While I find a vesper martini not only an improper martini and a waste of a fine apéritif, at least the oft ignored Lilet had reappeared. This is my long-winded version of stating, it’s nice to see quality ingredients going back into cocktails. This brings me to the topic at hand: The Baltimore Sun’s Dining@Large ‘Starving Artist Happy Hour” at Mr. Rain’s Fun House in Baltimore. While this event occurred more than a month ago, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this affair.
While the food was very good, I will leave that to others to discuss because there is much to be explored with the libations. The cocktail menu is pleasantly sizable and very inventive. While it is certainly possible to order a classic cocktail, that isn’t the style of this establishment. The menu and especially the cocktail menu reflect the eclectic surroundings of the building in which it resides: the American Visionary Art Museum. Do not take the whimsy of the menu and surroundings to heart for these libations are deadly serious.
To begin, I must give a tip of my chapeau to what piqued my initial interest in this venture: The first item on the drink menu is a flight of cocktails. It is a brilliant concept and as an individual who needs to taste as many new items as possible a boon of epic proportions. This bravado is backed by the staff. Our bar chef, Michelle, did an outstanding job. She was knowledgeable and crafted a superb beverage.
Our adventure included a number of fabulous cocktails, but today I’m going to focus on one cocktail from each of Mr. Rain’s cocktail categories: the Earth and Fire from The Garden Variety selections, the English Breakfast from the Aroma Therapy selections, and the crown jewel of the evening: The Orchard from the A Cure for What Ails You (indeed!) selections.
I love that mezcal – while struggling – is battling with a pugilist’s determination to make its way into the mainstream of the spirit world. Mezcal originates from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, although it is now produced in a few different regions in Mexico. There are a number of differences between mezcal and its more popular cousin, tequila. Both are made from the agave plant (although, tequila is only made with blue agave). Mezcal is only distilled once whereas tequila is distilled twice and while it is generally accepted that mezcal is not as smooth as tequila, mezcal has a beautifully smoky and complex flavor profile. The complexity found in mezcal is only found in the most expensive high-end tequilas and even then, I generally gravitate towards mezcal and I am glad that mezcal was used in the aptly named Earth and Fire.
The Earth and Fire is a combination of Beet Infused Sombra Mezcal, Fennel Tincture, Cointreau Orange Liqueur, and Oregeno.
There is a distinct nose and hint of sweet earth on the palate from the beet. This is quickly followed by the robust and powerful smoke from the mezcal. The fennel tincture and oregano add a fabulous twist that incorporates a roundness that is reminiscent of an apothecary. The last note from the Cointreau that completes the drink cannot help but remind me of one of my favorite cocktails, the Blood and Sand.
The English Breakfast is an amusing and refreshing libation that works well as an aperitif. This combination of Hendrick’s Gin, Cherry Heering, Luxardo Orange Liqueur, mint, and Pimm’s No. 1 foam is an aromatic delight stylishly served in a metal martini ‘glass’.
It would be easy to muddle all of the complex flavors that are contained in this drink and end up with an overly alcoholic heavy tasting mess. What I received was a cocktail that floated on gossamer wings to my tongue. The mint surprisingly played well with the cucumber components in the Hendrick’s and was not only an aromatic treat, but was a refreshing change after some of the heavier cocktails. The fruit components of the cocktail were just barely discernable, which is the absolutely correct intent. The botanicals from the gin and the herbs from the Pimms dance friskily in your nose. I would fully expect Puck to quaff several of these on a warm midsummer evening.
Despite my overwhelming delight with the aforementioned cocktails, The Orchard is an absolutely brilliantly crafted cocktail and has quickly arisen among my favorite cocktails.
The Orchard is comprised of Bulleit Bourbon, Lillet Blanc, apple cider, a cinnamon tincture, and maple perfume. This beverage is where apples hope to go when they die. As our bar-chef so astutely noted apple and bourbon are a perfect pairing and complement one another exceptionally well. Cinnamon – also a natural pairing for apple – is a brilliant component to include in bourbon cocktails and I am ashamed to admit that I have not thought to include cinnamon more often. Good cinnamon will act as a type of drying agent to bourbon, which often trends towards sweetness in cocktails and if one is not careful can easily fall over the precipice into the unwelcome realm of cloy. For those that may have never used maple for anything other than breakfast victuals, it is an exceedingly tricky component to effectively utilize. Maple is a very robust flavor and an unsteady hand can easily turn something from delicious to disastrous. Luckily, our bar-chef has a keen eye and measured hand for the maple perfume was executed perfectly. While the maple was clear and forward in the nose it was just barely perceptible on the palate. The mouth feel is rich and slightly decadent without being sweet with overtures of vanilla from the bourbon and a touch of herbaceousness from the Lillet.
Mr. Rain’s Fun House is one of the hidden gems in Charm City and I am truly surprised that there is not more of a buzz around this establishment. The food is creative, fun, and stylish while still very approachable. The cocktails are a true joy. I can only imagine that its location atop the museum have kept it somewhat out of sight and thus out of mind. However, with the quality of products from this institution, I expect the feline to be released from the sack quite soon.