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February 19, 2017 / gem

A Tradition Continues: Coal Stove Sink Visit January 2017

Winter solstice came once again to the beautiful Shenandoah River Valley. Snow on the Blue Ridge Mountains dominating the horizon signaled that it was high time for my annual pilgrimage to the [Zane and Xena] household and of course to the coal stove sink guesthouse itself. I arrived early afternoon just in time for a little bit of work (very little), a few errands in greater metropolitan [whoville], and a nice brisk walk along the river and through the Monastery fields that border it. Our errands included getting coffee beans at the local coffee shop where we marveled at the copper bean roaster proudly displayed in the lobby to the shop.

Mogli and Puck were thrilled as they ran ahead, came back to check in, ran ahead, and…well you get the picture. It’s a good thing you get the picture too, because I didn’t take any pictures of the views or the dogs galloping off in front for you to see.

Once back at the homestead after our wonderful sojourn, I anxiously anticipated just what the beverage of choice might be this time for Zane as he made his way to the bar. The bar, of course, I have several pictures of.

Our  mystery host behind the bar

Our mystery host behind the bar

As it turns out, the very simple job that I had earlier accomplished that afternoon played a direct role in the beverage choice that evening. Zane had asked me to grab a Prosecco bottle from the front porch (the most difficult part of my task), open it (well, maybe that was the most difficult part) and pour it into a saucepan (oh the burden of my workload) for Zane to create a “Nutmeg wine reduction” central to the creation of, what I learned later, would become a Scot Toddy.

A bit of history here as an aside: a Scot Toddy is a delightful mixture of gin, the aforementioned Nutmeg wine reduction, orgeat, and squeezed lemon juice. Add a mint sprig and lemon twist to the saucer and you have perfect anecdote on a winter’s evening. [Ed: we will not mention the “millionaire’s bitters” made from saffron and cardamom which renders the Scot Toddy an orangish yellow hue.]

Zane showed me the proper technique for “flexing” a lemon peal to release lemon oil along the rim of the ornate, porcelain teacup holding the golden nectar.

Three scot toddies all in a row

Three scot toddies all in a row

I was admiring the diversity of ingredients in the bar while waiting (at Zane’s beck and call, FWIW) to be whisked away with an historically accurate and delectable drink of choice. The welcome downtime prompted me to flip through some bar library offerings, only to discover the true origin of the “Old Fashioned,” one of Zane’s go to drinks. Zane also showed me his bound book of record for all of the drinks he has learned and dutifully recorded over the, eh ehm, years. The book includes the Scot Toddy recipe and instructions are carefully written by Zane.

Working notes for the Scot Toddy in the bar book of record

Working notes for the Scot Toddy in the bar book of record

According to Wikipedia, The Old Fashioned, developed during the 19th century and given its name in the 1880s, is an IBA Official Cocktail. 

By the 1860s, it was common for orange curaçao, absinthe, and other liqueurs to be added to the cocktail. The original concoction, albeit in different proportions, came back into vogue, and was referred to as “old-fashioned”. The most popular of the in-vogue “old-fashioned” cocktails were made with whiskey, according to a Chicago barman, quoted in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1882, with rye being more popular than Bourbon. The recipe he describes is a similar combination of spirits, bitters, water and sugar of seventy-six years earlier. The first use of the name “Old Fashioned” for a Bourbon whiskey cocktail was said to have been at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky. The recipe was said to have been invented by a bartender at that club in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City. With its conception rooted in the city’s history, in 2015 the city of Louisville, KY named the Old Fashioned as it’s official cocktail. Each year, during the first two weeks of June, Louisville celebrates “Old Fashioned Fortnight” which encompasses bourbon events, cocktail specials and National Bourbon Day which is always celebrated on June 14th.

The good news is that the history of the cocktail (a term first used in 1861) and indeed the evolution of mixology as a discipline is not likely to become extinct as long as Zane’s bar is active. Fortunately, all of human kind going forward will continue to benefit from the historical significance and accuracy of Zane’s bound bar book—a tremendous reference source given the high probability of a gradual memory loss symptom observed directly correlated with the length of time that I (or indeed anyone) sit(s) at the bar.

Maybe it was earlier or maybe it was later, who knows, but at some point I believe I noticed the incredible diversity of bottles behind (under, and around) Zane’s bar and, in particular, how the bar itself evolves every year. Zane’s pride and joy (and Sammy’s too) seems to be Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon. Zane had two bottles left with very little remaining in the bottom (perhaps evidence of previous visits by Drew and Sammy, or perhaps due to inordinate evaporation which seems to run rampant at this particular establishment).

Pappy 20 and 23

Pappy 20 and 23

The next drink, made with the venerable old Laird’s Apple Jack, was called a Jack Rose. It lived up to its billing as a unique combination of flavors that delighted one’s palate and certainly took the edge off. (Though by this time, edges were beyond dulled in a nice comfortable manner.) The Jack Rose also set up our appetitle very nicely for a sumptuous dinner.

Time came for us to get serious about making dinner. Of course that meant Zane had to get serious about making it since all I did was mostly watch. He started by pan searing two porterhouse cuts that came from a cow shared with his neighbors in a blend of garlic, rosemary, thyme, and butter. I had the easy job of cramming fresh spinach into a saucepan with magic ingredients [ed: that is, shallots] simmered and steamed to perfection. The resulting feast was complimented with a smooth Syrah that provided a nice compliment to the annual political dialog that was this year just as unprecedented as the election (both of us lamenting the choice made by a majority of American electoral college representatives and a major minority of actual voters).

Zane and I actually agreed on something (a rare event) as we satisfied our palates with perfectly cooked steak (thanks to a digital meat thermometer and Zane’s forethought to put the skillet into a 450 degree finishing oven to ensure a perfect result). We agreed on how magnificently the steak and spinach turned out (as did Xena) and we also agreed on a prediction that Trump will not finish his term and will instead be forced to resign due to something scandalous that materially destroys his presidency (Vlad- this is your cue). Xena thought that this was merely wishful thinking among boys.

After dinner, we adjourned back to the bar for some nighttime inspiration and had a nightcap before calling it a relatively early night. I suspect that my limited consumption may have prompted Puck to opt out of the walk up to the guesthouse. Mogli was game until Puck hesitated and then he retreated as well.

The stars were absolutely brilliant looking more like drones than stars. Of course I didn’t know that stars could look like drones until Intel and Gaga set me straight during the halftime show of the Super Bowl LI (which happened after my annual visit to the Coal Stove Sink Guesthouse). And as with the many previous visits, Zane and I agreed to collaborate on a few projects to help move our beleagured industry forward a few minute steps.

I had a wonderful visit back to a familiar place. There’s nothing quite like an immersion in cocktails from a bygone generation that remain alive and flourishing in rural [Whoville].

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