One of the last big family trips we took, while I was in the early years of college and “cough” smoking a pipe was to Egypt.

A lot of things about that trip were revelations for me: Savory Breakfasts, Grain Salads, Middle Eastern Tea, African Coffee

But one thing that stuck with me was a hibiscus beverage that was served from spigots by men carrying tanks of it on their backs.

I’d always liked Red Zinger tea, and it was similar, as well as the Mexican hibiscus beverage called “Agua de Jamaica”, but none of these were as cool as the sort of steam punk aesthetic of these men serving hibiscus beverage out of tanks on their backs.

When I started thinking about a second Milk Punch to make for The Coachman, our bar manager remarked that he really liked the color of the first Milk Punch I had ever made. It was a recipe for a Rum based Milk Punch colored with Hibiscus, which I’d adapted from the bar Drink in Boston.

Rum Hibiscus Milk Punch

Not wanting to simply repeat myself, and the guys at Drink, I thought a bit more about it and decided to blend that recipe with the Pisco Milk Punch I’d made for the SF.Chefs.Unite benefit for Japan. Pisco is floral, so it seemed like a natural combination with dried Hibiscus flower tea.

The Punch turned out awesome, but what I’ve been really enjoying is a compound non-alcoholic beverage made with the spiced Hibiscus tea I used to sweeten the punch.

As you know I am often frustrated by the qualities of so-called non-alcoholic adult beverages in the US (Lack of Adult Beverages). I would really like something that is close to wine in sweet/tart balance in intensity, but not alcoholic. Shrubs often come close, though are often made too concentrated. This beverage is the closest I’ve come so far to an enjoyable compound shrub.

Quick Hibiscus and Cranberry Shrub

In a pint glass, combine a quarter cup of chilled, spiced hibiscus syrup* with a quarter cup of chilled, unsweetened cranberry juice and a generous teaspoon of natural cider vinegar (Hey! A fine use for the Cider Vinegar from the Bragg Foods health food cult! Try not to used distilled vinegar, it’s pretty harsh, dude.). Top up with chilled soda water and enjoy this refreshing and bracing beverage. Feel free to add booze, Rum or Tequila are awesome. Also, a fine all hallows eve beverage, as it looks like you are drinking a pint of blood.


*Spiced Hibiscus Syrup

3 Pints Water
3 Cup Sugar (Washed Raw Sugar or Demerara preferably)
1 Cup Dried Hibiscus Flowers
2 Cinnamon Sticks
9 Whole Clove
1 teaspoon Whole Coriander
1/4 Cup Yerba Mate

METHOD: (If the Hibiscus Flowers are really dirty, put them in cold water briefly and allow the dirt to settle out. Grab floating hibiscus flowers off of settled dirt.) Bring Water to a Boil with Sugar to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and steep for a few hours or overnight. Strain out solids and filter a second time through coffee filters. Refrigerate in a non-reactive container.

Apple Amaro

As you may recall, I was making a bit of an effort in January to drink as little as possible.

However, the Apple Ginger Tea Toddy was kind of awesome.

While I was drinking it the second, or third, time, I thought to myself, “Self, you know this isn’t too far from my Hercules recipe. What if I made a chilled bitter beverage with apple juice instead of wine?”

And why do people who don’t drink, often end up as an afterthought at bars, with kind of shit choices?

It’s like vegetarian’s in restaurants, there’s no reason vegetarian food can’t be as delicious, or even more delicious, than food with meat, if you put a little effort and thought into it. And salt, salt, for goodness sake, and seasoning herbs.

Why can’t people who don’t drink have interesting bitter aperitif or digestiv beverages?

Apple Amaro

Apple Amaro

500ml Apple Juice
250ml Gingerzizer Ginger Apple Beverage (or Apple Juice, a little honey, and some crushed ginger root)
Peel 1 Tangelo (hey, it’s what we have, pick any orange relative in your fridge.)
1 Cinnamon Stick
3 Green Cardamom Pods, Crushed
6 Cloves, Crushed
1 tsp Coriander Seed, Crushed
1 tsp Fennel Seed, Crushed
1 tsp Gentian Root
1 tsp Cinchona Bark
1 scant tsp Angelica Root
1 scant tsp Calamus Root
1/4 Cup Sugar
2 tsp Chinese Black Tea
?2 TBSP Cider or White Wine Vinegar

METHOD: Bring all ingredients other than tea and vinegar to a simmer. Turn off heat, add tea and steep for 15 mins. Taste and add vinegar to bring acidity up to the level of a young red wine. Chill.

I initially made it without the sugar or vinegar, but without the sugar, the bitterness was quite off putting. Without the vinegar, it lacked impact on the palate.

I had the Angelica & Calamus for another project, common ingredients in old vermouth recipes and sometimes Gin. I think the Angelica might have been a mistake, it has a floral, curry thing going on that is a little off putting in combination with the other spices. I’d probably leave both of them out next time.

On the whole, it is an interesting first effort. Ideally, I want to figure out a way to make a Sanbitter Syrup, as replacement for that discontinued product. It’s a start and the Apple Amaro is pretty darn tasty with a little Rye Whiskey. Don’t tell the vegetarians.