On our way to downtown New Orleans in a freezing drizzle, we stumbled upon Peche, Donald Link's new seafood joint. It was too early for dinner, but we were cold. We sidled up to the bar, and admired the girthy timbers supporting the high ceiling. A gas oven blazed at the opposite end of the restaurant. We ordered a half dozen Gulf oysters, three from Alabama and three from the Louisiana coast, and backed them with cocktails. I had the Buffalo Louie: Buffalo Trace bourbon, ginger beer and Steen’s basil vinegar muddled with mint and crushed ice. Steen’s is a longstanding maker of cane syrup out of Abbeville, LA. Probably more of a warm weather concoction in the julep family, the Louie was nonetheless delicious. One of this weekend’s projects is to try and mimic the drink. There’s a wonderful, biscuity pale ale we encountered regularly in south Louisiana called LA 31 Biere Pale and we also downed a couple of those. The oysters were clean and pristine, and we landlubbers should have ordered more.
We're working with different ingredients in the north country, so when it comes to trying to approximate the Buffalo Louie it's all about adaptation. To my mind, one of the best bourbon bargains is the bonded Old Grand-dad with its gaudy orange label and rye-heavy grain bill. We're experimenting here so why fork out for a bottle of upper-mid shelf Buffalo Trace when you can have a fine bottle of whiskey for $19.00?
The ginger beer makes this a fairly sweet drink and, in the original, the basil vinegar provides a tart, savory counter-balance. To make a proper basil vinegar, one would have to steep leaves of the herb in vinegar for a couple of weeks. I didn't feel like waiting so I made a basil simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water and three bundles of fresh basil.
Now that I've got an even sweeter drink on my hands, the vinegar becomes more important. There's got to be more of it and it therefore has to taste wonderful. Luckily, I'm reminded by Bee that we have just the thing. Mikuni, the Seattle-based wild foods company, has a line of maple syrups that are finished in oak bourbon barrels. They make a sherry vinegar that is stored in the barrels after they have housed syrup. The dark amber ''tonic'' is great in salads and drizzled over kale, mustards, collards or bowls of beans. Or pretty much anything, really.
Here's a recipe for the Grand-Dad Lewie: In a pint mason jar, muddle 6 or 8 mint leaves. Add three ounces of bourbon, 3/4 ounce of basil simple syrup and a half ounce of vinegar (or more to make it more bracing). Give it a stir. Add crushed ice and top off with a spicy ginger beer like Cock and Bull. Add a whole sprig of mint, give the whole a gentle stir and then enjoy- allowing the fragrant mint to tickle your nose while you guzzle. Bring on the summer.
I've named my version of this classic from Peche after Bee's grandfather Lewis, a true gentleman if ever there was one.
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