Ómós Digest #30 An Ode to Seasonal Beverages.
+ A recipe for Clarified Milk Punch by Empirical's R&D, Chris Stewart
Welcome to the Ómós Digest. This newsletter will hopefully bring you on that journey about the food you were looking for, or perhaps never knew existed. It is our quest to expand on what we don’t know and to share with those who care. If you haven’t read Newsletter #1 yet, it can be found here.
Every Christmas my other half makes eggnog for my family. It’s a big deal - it’s seasonal, served over ice and laced with the good stuff. It’s American, she’s American, and we like it. We appreciate it as a heartfelt gift and patriotic ode to her homeland. The irony is that her family doesn’t have a tradition of drinking eggnog. In fact, the sheer quantity of yolks present in the beverage might send her egg intolerant brother into anaphylactic shock (not the seasonal gift one might hope for). Fear not Nicholas (coincidentally her brother's rather festive name), there exists a delicious seasonal beverage served in Ireland that is not based on eggs, but on milk, Irish whiskey and butter. It’s called Scaíltín (pronounced scawl-teen) and is a luxurious, creamy beverage served warm and finished with crushed caraway or nutmeg. It’s almost like a hot milk toddy!
There is a saying in Irish “An té nach leigheasann im nó uisce beatha, ní aon leigheas ar” - What butter and whiskey cannot cure, there is no cure for.
Not just for reindeer
It might seem odd to include caraway in an Irish beverage, but the spice has been an unlikely staple in Irish recipes for centuries. Caraway, also uncommonly referred to as Persian cumin, is a member of the Umbelliferae family (the what?) or carrot family (ah ok), just like dill, anise, garden angelica, celery, chervil, coriander, cumin, fennel, parsnips and parsley. Walk along almost any beach in Ireland during late summer and you will come across wild carrots, especially along infertile saline patches. With white flowers and notable black or purple dots at their centre which often attract insects, wild carrots are quite easy to identify! I wouldn't suggest eating the root (the carrot itself) as it's very fibrous, but the flowers can be picked, dried and used for infusions or herbal tea.
I read somewhere that caraway has a nutty, bittersweet flavour to it, finishing with aniseed. I’m currently chewing on a seed to determine whether I agree with this description… I do (kind of). Its unique flavour works wonderfully with roasted pork, cheese and sweet preparations. In Scandinavia, caraway is commonly found in rye bread or rye crackers served with cheese, making it a great spice to use for this celebratory season! However my mother, whose family come from a very modest village in Connemara on the West Coast of Ireland, recounts how it was once typical to find caraway served in tea at local homes in the area. One family had 13 kids in a two room house with no toilet and one cow. Nevertheless a spice from North Africa and Asia was a cupboard staple in their household. As mentioned in Digest #24, historically sailors brought these spices and dried fruit to our shores, trading with locals for fresh meat and vegetables. Oranges became marmalade stored in traditional ceramic jars, spices were baked in speckled loaves with currants and sugar and tea was spiked with caraway (and the occasional drop of something more traditional).
Now, if drinking spiced tea while sitting next to a cow in a crowded sitting room hasn't whetted your palate, let's talk about milk washing. No, not bathing in milk, I mean the process of curdling milk with alcohol and acid. Still with me? In the 18th century before developed distilling methods were applied to alcohol, milk washing was used to soften the harsh alcohol available in that era which was much harsher than what is found today.
When milk is mixed with intense compounds like acid or harsh alcohol, the pH in the milk drops (i.e. increased acidity). This causes milk protein molecules (casein) to become attracted to one another and the milk to curdle, much like when old milk acidifies. These proteins form curds and separate from the whey present in the milk. As the curds form, they too trap a number of the harsh properties within the alcohol, such as tannins, polyphenols, pigments and unwanted flavour compounds, and when strained, what is achieved is a far more palatable alcohol. A fun fact for sure, but why should I care?
While removing flavour compounds from alcohol may seem counterintuitive today, there are a lot of positives to milk washing. For example, let’s say you make a dark punch with tea, sometimes red wine, citrus, sugars and liquor. This in its own right is a delicious blend which can, of course, be consumed there and then. However, if you mix it into full fat milk (not the other way), leave it for a couple of hours to curdle and strain well through a coffee filter, the protein in the milk clarifies your cocktail. What you achieve is a crystal clear liquid - remember it was dark brown. What’s more, the milk has now been converted into clarified whey which adds its own depth, as the protein enriched water contains more body and texture than H20. The result is a smoother beverage with improved viscosity and a flavour that is more mellow and cohesive.
Full fat milk + alcohol + acid (lemon juice or ascorbic) = pH in milk drops= curdling.
Result of curdling: separation of curds + whey.
Intense straining through a coffee filter = crystal clear solution of whey and alcohol.
= ONE HECK OF A GOOD DRINK.
*pH is a measure of how acidic/basic water is. The range goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. pHs of less than 7 indicate acidity, whereas a pH greater than 7 indicates a base. So when we say the pH drops in milk, the acid in milk increases.
Ayuuk ready? Meet Chris.
Naturally, each and every one of us thinks that we can make a cocktail. This perceived self-efficacy seemingly multiplies the more cocktails we consume. Instead of going through the arduous task of trialling multiple renditions of milk-washed-beverages and becoming blind drunk in the process, I've thought it better to call on the wisdom of a venerable friend and sorcerer of all things alcoholic: Chris Stewart. Chris is Head of Research and Development at Empirical in Copenhagen, an unconventional distillery. They utilise custom-built vacuum stills, crafting spirits from raw materials like barley koji, purple wheat and manioc paired with selected yeast strains and often unique botanicals that feel energising and alive on your palate. The release of their 'Fuck Trump and His Stupid Fucking Wall' spirit brought about quite the stir but this blend showcased their base spirit distilled with habanero and a habanero vinegar distillate. More delicate is ‘The Plum, I suppose' which is comprised of plum kernels, marigold petals and marigold kombucha. It gives the spirit a perfumed quality reminiscent of unripe almond.
I first met Chris long before his Empirical days, when he worked at my favourite cocktail bar in Copenhagen, Balderdash. Chris is by far the most talented bartender I have ever known and it’s no coincidence he hails from Co. Donegal. Taste his drinks and prepare to fall deep into a palpable world of sheer contentment, wonder and even absurd giddiness. To give you a taster, Chris has shared his recipe for a clarified milk punch using Empirical’s newest creation Ayuuk. The smoky Pasilla chili is the sole botanical and the source of all the complexity in Ayuuk. It is sourced directly from Mixe farmers in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico and macerated in a spirit made from Danish heritage purple wheat and pilsner malt. After distillation, the best fractions are rested in a sherry Oloroso cask, allowing the flavours to infuse and mature with each other for a smooth, distinct and savoury finish.
AYUUK MILK PUNCH: A RECIPE BY CHRIS STEWART