Monday, May 04, 2009

Mexican Standoff and Hellfire Bitters

One of my coworkers, Matty Conway, came up with a tremendous (and does not lead to the other unfortunately) cocktail called the Mexican Standoff.

2oz. Chichicapa Mescal
1/2 oz. Averna
1/2 oz. Creme de Cacao
Hellfire Bitters

This is one of those lusty drinks composed of the bold flavors that stomp their feet more than they dance around the glass. I think it is well-named in that there is an inherent tension between two of the modifiers, Creme de Cacao and Hellfire bitters. A 'sweet chocolate staring down hot chilies across a smoky field,' kind of thing.

Anyhoo, the Hellfire Bitters used here have been a pretty hot topic of conversation recently (pun totally intended.) I first heard the name Hellfire in Baltimore at an ancient Fell's Point saloon called the Seafarer which closed a few years ago. The barman at the time was a huge white-haired, white-bearded slinger who had purportedly started working at the bar when he was a teenager, and never left (he was clearly in his 60's.) I was asking him about the trough down where the rail usually is on the patron side of the bar as I was freshly legal and had not seen such a thing before. Like any self-respecting young American male when faced with a vintage fire pole, car or pissoir, I asked if it still worked and that got us to talking. Or him to teaching really.

One of the few but incredible topics covered was a drinking tradition that was dying out when he was young. It involved men betting about how many hits of 'Hellfire' or 'Hot-Drops' they could handle in their beer. I had always assumed he meant some sort of pepper vinegar or hot sauce until I read Eric Ellestad of Underhill Lounge talk about Charles Baker's Hellfire Bitters. As I have never been, nor ever will be, good at following recipes, I started working on my own Hellfire three years ago.

The gist of the formula is coffee and jalapeno. I do add a couple of other things for depth, but will leave those up to your imagination. It usually takes a solid month for full extraction, but the Chronicle wanted a version that could be made at home in time for Cinco de Mayo as that was the reason behind the whole piece. After some experimentation both on my part and by Jon Bonné, a quick method has been discovered. I pronounce it...pretty good.

1 medium jalapeno pepper
2 ounces white rum
1 ounce (by volume) ground espresso or other coffee
1 ounce water
Instructions: Muddle the entire pepper, including flesh, seeds and pith, in a small saucepan. Add rum and continue to muddle until pulpy. Add ground espresso and water. Heat, covered, over very low heat for 10 minutes, minimizing the evaporation of the rum. Remove from heat, cover tightly and cool. Transfer the mixture to a small glass jar and cover tightly. Let sit at room temperature for at least six hours, preferably a day or longer. The longer it sits, the more intense the flavors will be. When ready, strain the mixture through a double-folded cheesecloth or coffee filter and pour into a small bottle.

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