Southern Comfort Showdown 2016
The Gambit – Christian Tirel
edit: 2016 UK Grand Final Winner
“….often mornings would start with a dose of X-Men and evenings end with Southern Comfort, I’m not even kidding, so the two unknowingly went hand in hand for me.”
3 Dashes of Regans Orange Bitters
2 parts Southern Comfort
1 Part Peychaud Aperitivo
Kinetic flamed blast of salted Absinthe
(Not necessary but fun ) Garnished: Edible Gambit SoCo playing card “seasoned” with Van Winkle Rye clipped on with a mini-peg (as it reminds me of my Puggle – small, cute, annoying and can have a hell of a bite)
Serving ABV – 20.5%
This drink was born from nostalgia and great memories, Southern Comfort came into my life in my mid teens, not that I was drinking then of course!. However more often than not it comprised ….of mornings would start with a dose of X-Men and then end with Southern Comfort, I’m not even kidding, so the two unknowingly went hand in hand for me for this competition drink. Why not, name it after the coolest fictionally character to come out of New Orleans – The guy that all the guys wanna be and the guy that all the girls haven’t got a clue who is (until Channing Tatum plays him in the movie) meets one of the coolest brands to come out of New Orleans. In the grand scheme of things not a big place, however a place that carries a huge history and fantastic memories for a lot of people. There is also the matter of fact its history has also touched every bartender in this room, albeit classic drinks such as the Sazerac, Vieux Carre, De La Louisiana, bitters such as Peychaud’s, not to mention a certain little named brand that you may have heard of, and keeping it in the family with this drink. Although we are here for what New Orleans is probably most commercially know for Southern Comfort.
Designed to be drank on the bayou or at the port during the magic hour, when the sun is setting, essentially the calm before the storm.
Southern Comfort with its stone fruit, black cherry, apricot and peach led nose moves straight into a vanilla, anise, clove and dried apricot taste with a long peachy, caramel finish to it. In essence, flavour wise a bartenders dream to work with. My core focus with this drink is to target the style of drinks they would have been making back in the 1880’s with this liquid. As it is all about the nostalgia for me going back some 10 years when I first learnt these drinks and revisiting how how I used to make drinks, with simplicity in ingredients and complexity in taste. I then reached for a citrus led bitters, for me there was only one, Regans No.6 and much softer spiced style of bitters with background cardamom notes, not the usual tangy sherbet style orange bitters – I also have it on good authority that the old style SoCo recipe Manhattan was one of his favourites, so why not listen to the guy that taught us all life begins at 60.
I genuinely wanted to make a defined classic. This is where a very new product with an incredible heritage comes in Peychaud Aperitivo. This products lives and breathes New Orleans and you can instantly tell by the way these 2 bind like they were made for each other. The bittering agents and low ABV almost single-handedly bring this down to a balance, complimenting with the key spiced pink grapefruit and gentian notes followed up with that familiar Peychaud Bitter wormwood backbone. I thought this would be a fantastic complimentary ingredient as with the re imagining of the Peychaud Bitters formula, I am aware of there being a new Southern Comfort recipe being developed by probably the best man in the world for the job, who I have had the opportunity to meet a few times and also call a friend (despite leaving him out in the rain for 45 minutes) Mr.Drew Mayville, the man behind all the blending at Buffalo Trace, so you know what George T Stagg….yeah, that guy, so yeah its all about welcoming change a new folk to the family, right? (Wink Van Wink-le)
The rinse is a true testament to a staple ingredient to the old school Orleans, french Absinthe. There is the light running theme of wormwood through the back of this drink a great bittering ingredients that helps tame any sweetness, there is also sea salt dissolved in the absinthe to aid with taming of the sweetness as well as a representation of what I imagine there to be sea air coursing through NOLA. This naturally has to be flamed right, as it is Gambit we are talking about, this helps to intensify the aromatics and also burn off any excess alcohol that can sometimes lip the glass. (It is a little counter-productive flaming a chilled glass, however its GAMBIT). This is all finished with an edible Gambit playing card seasoned with another of NOLA’s staples, rye whiskey. Although I wanted to express this from my heart and will be seasoning it with Van Winkle Rye, as a little tip of the hat to the iconic Sazerac and also as a little welcome back to the family ; )
Starting its life under the watchful eye of Martin Wilkes Heron, a bartender kicking about in New Orleans in the 1870’s, developed a recipe officially 1874 by the name of Cuffs & Buttons initially to go in competition another couple of batched liquors of the time popular ones named “White Tie & Tails” & “Hats & Tails”, already you can see a common link here, appealing to the well dressed Southern gentleman. However cleverly made a product that was very consumer friendly and with the pre-batched nature of it only made by him, very consistent. The ingredients he reached for as depicted by Chris Morris in The Thirsty Traveller “Start with a good quality Bourbon add an inch of vanilla bean, about a quarter of a lemon, half a cinnamon, four cloves a few cherries and an orange bit or two, peach brandy. Although this will never be fully confirmed as not many people are alive to fully confirm what his exact methods were time of maceration etc. etc. So it is open to interpretation, there could have likely been dried apricots in there, honey, but what kind was readily available then. All we know is that it was the foundation to a fantastic world famous product. It wasn’t until 1884 when Cuffs and Buttons was chosen for the Worlds Industrial & cotton Centennial Exposition that the name changed to the iconic Southern Comfort. After this he decamped to Memphis where he began bottling his formula as Southern Comfort. The rest is history.