Steep a warming cup of Earl Grey tea, and the first thing you will notice is that distinctive aroma of the leaves. But what gives Earl Grey that appealing fragrance? It’s the essential oil from the peels of citrus bergamia, otherwise known as the Bergamot orange. Grown in pockets around the world including southern Italy, southern France, Turkey and the Ivory Coast, this citrus fruit is about the size of an orange, with a flavor that’s less sour than a lemon, but more bitter than a grapefruit. Bergamot is used to flavor the classic English tea—as well as a new botanical white spirit on the market—and bartenders love the way that this perfumed, zesty and bitter fruit in both forms can boost flavor in beverages.
“Earl Grey is a fantastic tea that, while imparting some floral aspects, can also add bitterness,” notes Trevor Frye, beverage director of Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C. He explains that it can be used in different ways in a cocktail. “It can absolutely highlight the botanicals of a gin when used on its own just steeped, or enhance a Scotch or other whiskey when sugar is introduced.” Jack Rose adds Earl Grey into many of the “welcome” punches that greet bar guests, and Frye is experimenting with Earl Grey bitters.
Jack Rose’s MacKinnon Sour ($15) is a riff on a classic whiskey sour, named after the Clan MacKinnon which helped England’s Prince Charles Edward Stuart flee the Isle of Skye. Frye uses Talisker 10 Year Scotch from Skye’s only distillery, along with Earl Grey-infused simple syrup, lemon juice and the white from an uncracked egg soaked in Drambuie for twenty-four hours (since an eggshell is somewhat porous, it will have absorbed some of the flavor before being cracked, separated and added to the drink.) “The tea balances out the salinity of the Talisker Scotch because we make it into a syrup,” explains Frye. “In general, Earl Grey steeped at the right temperature and duration can add a nice depth to your everyday cocktail,” adding that the ingredient is vastly underutilized in drinks.
Another Earl Grey tea-cocktail with a Scottish influence is the Tea & Toast. This hoptail is made with Innis & Gunn Toasted Oak IPA, a hoppy, oak-aged beer. Bartender Claire McPherson, who created the drink for the brewery, mixes the IPA with gin, chilled Earl Grey tea and simple syrup, garnished with a grapefruit twist. “Earl Grey complements the floral hop flavor and aroma of our Toasted Oak IPA,” she notes. “The tannins in the tea also stop this drink from becoming over sweet, and keep ‘Tea & Toast’ quite dry, making it a delicious aperitif.”
Earl Grey’s main ingredient is the basis of a new botanical spirit on the market. Square One Bergamot offers the subtle aroma and flavor of bergamot/Earl Grey, and is designed as a unique and versatile base for cocktails. When experimenting to create the company’s latest offering, Allison Evanow, the founder and CEO of Square One Organic Spirits, wanted to make a citrus-based spirit that offered more than a traditional orange vodka, and would mix well with a variety of libations. “The huge aromatic, floral, grassy and pleasant tartness of fresh bergamot caught my attention a while ago,” she says. Appealing on the rocks, with tonic and a twist, with ginger beer or grapefruit soda, it has subtle bitterness that can also stand-up to Amaro, dry Sherry, Belgian-style beers and bitters, says Evanow. Square One’s Sherry Cobbler mixes it with Manzanilla or Amontillado Sherry, simple syrup and muddled oranges and raspberries, served over a mound of crushed ice. “Square One Bergamot starts with the aroma of bergamot and orange. On the palate, you have the enticing floral and grassy notes of bergamot, the bright fruit from the other oranges, and the warm finish from coriander, juniper and ginger botanicals.”
H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir in San Francisco and a brand ambassador for Square One Organic Spirits, has mixed it with barrel-aged spirits, Sherrys and Amaros, as well as to “dry out” sweeter liqueurs while lending unique flavor, and he also believes bergamot works especially well with Cognac in the Mediterranean Shores. “I was looking for simple cocktails to execute with a 1:1:1 combination—this formula is a classic—and I found that this cocktail just works, while showing off incredible complexity.” For this drink, he stirs Square One Botanical and Carpano Antica, served up and garnished with an orange zest. “Bergamot brings familiar citrus notes with a touch of bitterness and Old World flavor that is unattainable in any other citrus.”
2 oz. Talisker 10-Year Scotch
Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain the drink into another shaker, and dry shake without ice to give the egg a meringue-like head. Strain the drink into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish it with crumpled English tea biscuit.
Tea & Toast
1 oz. gin
Add the gin, tea and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake until chilled. Fine strain it into a chilled cocktail glass, top it with the beer, and garnish it with the grapefruit twist.
1 oz. Square One Bergamot
Add all except garnish to a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and stir until chilled. Strain it into a chilled couple glass, and garnish it with an orange twist.
1 oz. Square One Bergamot
1 ½ oz. Manzanilla or Dry Amontillado Sherry
Muddle 1 slice of orange and 2 raspberries in a cocktail shaker. Add the remaining ingredients except the garnish, add ice and shake until chilled. Strain it into a julep or stemless wine glass filled with crushed ice, and layered with the remaining orange slice and raspberries. Garnish it with a mint sprig.
Trevor Frye and H. Joseph Ehrmann will both be speaking at the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show on March 30 - April 1, 2015. You can find out more about their session at www.ncbshow.com.