2 oz Old Tom Gin [Hayman’s]
3/4 oz Punt e Mes
1/2 oz Suze
1/4 oz Zucca
Few dashes Black Cloud Bitters Garden Party Bitters
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
You guys, if you don’t have the Death and Co. book, you need to remedy that right now. There is so much inspiration in these pages it’s almost too good to be true. I could probably make it a few months of drinking nothing but these recipes and be a happy camper. There are so many delicious looking recipes sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever make it through them all. On top of that, every recipe is a little ball of inspiration, so the possibilities are truly endless.
A few weeks ago I was flipping it and landed on Le Baleteur. The combination of gin, punt e mes, Strega and Cynar was very intriguing. Unfortunately, I don’t have these last two bottles. No problem, time for the good ol’ switcheroo! I thought about the flavors of Strega and Cynar – both are bitter and herbal, but there is also an unmistakeable vegetal flavor in there too, and looked to see where I could draw some parallels.
The idea with substitutions isn’t so much a 1:1 replacement as it is capturing the spirit and tone of the bottle you don’t have. Luckily at one time I did have Cynar, so I knew its flavors pretty well. I often reach for Zucca as a substitute because they are both very bitter, and have strong, unique flavor profiles dominated by herbs and vegetables. Strega was a little trickier as I’ve never had it on its own, only in drinks at bars. Some quick googling tells me it’s a semi-sweet herbal liqueur, with minty, coniferous flavors. Plus it’s a very striking yellow color, which led me to Suze. This french digestif (Strega is Italian) has that some golden hue, and lots of herbaceousness. It’s plenty bitter though, so I decided to temper that by using Old Tom gin to bring in some more sweetness.
Zucca and Suze combine for a very formidable nose. Root vegetables, earthy spices and pepper dominate. Some faint grapes are present from the Punt e Mes. The sip starts with a bracing bitterness that is almost refreshing. Some more of the woodsy flavors of the Suze come through, as the Old Tom starts to mellow things a bit. Good thing it’s here, otherwise it could all be a bit overwhelming. Sweetness does it’s best to make its way through as rhubarb pops up. The finish returns to the woodsy bitter flavors at the end, followed by one last sweet hit.
The French translation of the original drink means “the fool”, which is also a tarot card represented by a court jester. I played off that for the name, going back to the 80s Tom Cruise classic Top Gun. Jester was the call sign of one the instructors at Miramar. Naturally Cruise’s cocky Maverick wanted to take him down in a live exercise. When he finally got good tone (albeit below the Hard Deck), he and Goose let out the victorious cry, Jester’s Dead!