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Top 5 cocktails you can make with Czech spirits (as told by an expert)

All Photos: Bohemist

EXCLUSIVE: Tomáš Trnka of the upscale cocktail establishment Hemingway Bar let Bohemist in on their little secret to making award-winning cocktails using Czech spirits, and we’re spilling the beans.

By BOHEMIST STAFF

Tomáš Trnka. Photo: Bohemist
Tomáš Trnka. Photo: Bohemist

PRAGUE – We did it so you don’t have to. With the help of our friends at Prague cocktail institution Hemingway Bar, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 cocktails to make with local Czech liquors.

Czech liquors can cop a lot of flak from people who associate harsh drinks like Slivovice with grandparents and trips to the farm.

However, the country is rich in distilled wonders. We took bartender extraordinaire Tomáš Trnka to task to show us the top 5 cocktails using Czech ingredients. The 26-year-old mixologist, who has been working with cocktails for nearly ten years and Hemingway Bar for three.

“Probably 10 percent of people come in here and sit down and ask for a pina colada or a mojito. That’s like walking into a Michelin star restaurant and ordering the burger and fries,” Trnka said. “We can probably offer you a better cut of steak and potatoes done better than that.”

Hemingway boasts some 1,700 different types of liquor (including champagnes).

The cocktail menu at the bar changes once a year, with the 2017 menu to be launched late October. Read on for the recipes

THE LINEUP

The cocktail line-up was picked specifically to highlight the use of Czech liquors in cocktails. Before we get started though, here’s a little about the starting line-up:

1. Becherovka

One of the oldest continually produced liquors in the world, starting off as a humble science experiment between Jan Becher and his friend the King’s doctor, during a royal visit to Karlovy Vary. The two created the unique composition of what would become Becherovka as a tonic for stomach problems was originally branded Karlsbad Becher Bitter. (A use it is still famous for as a digestive.) It became (and still is!) a tradition for people sipping the famed Karlovy Vary curative spring waters to throw a few drops of Bercherovka in their cups. The Becherovka brand has since expanded to include the sweet Lemond, the red wine bitter KV14 and the white wine syrupy Cordial.

This local absinthe doesn't taste like lighter fluid! Photo: Bohemist
Believe it. This local absinthe doesn’t taste like lighter fluid. Photo: Bohemist

2. Slivovice

Particularly popular in Moravia, where, as Trnka puts it, “Almost everyone is making their own Slivovice.”

3. Absinthe

The Czech Republic gained its global reputation for Absinthe practically be accident. The “green fairy” was banned in the primary producing countries of Switzerland and France, prompting a number of distilleries to relocate to the more liberal land of Bohemia. As most Czech residents would know, the hallucinogenic powers of Absinthe are a myth, but they may not know that the popular consumption of Absinthe with burnt sugar is a Czech invention. The more traditional consumption is with sugar cubes and a water drip.

4. Fernet

Originally an Italian liquor, the Czech adaptation has sharper herbal notes and a fiercer after-bite.

THE DRINKS

1. Becher Butter Sour

This cocktail works well as an aperitif or digestive due to the stomach calming Becherovka herbs. The drink features an Indian Ghee infused Becherovka – an unusual infusion that gives the usually herbal liquor creamy notes.

dsc_5575Recipe

  • 50ml Ghee-infused Becherovka
  • 20ml Fresh lemon juice
  • 10ml Sugar Syrup
  • Egg white – dried or 50 ml of fresh

Mix

  1. Blend or dry shake the eggwhite with the other ingredients until a consistent thick and smooth texture.
  2. Transfer to cocktail shaker and shake fiercely with large ice cubes to chill.
  3. Pour into pre-iced Champagne glass and garnish with dried orange slice balanced on rim.

This cocktail has a rich buttery aroma and a creamy sensation on the tongue. Like many of Hemingway’s cocktails the Becher Butter Sour is designed to be enjoyed while eating the garnish. The dried orange brings to life the ‘sour’ while the egg white and Indian ghee infusion are a harmonious duo that mellow out the bitter edges of Becherovka.

2. Beton Bitter

The Beton is perhaps the most famous cocktail based on the Czech liquor. It was designed for Canadian EXPO as an export drink in 1967 in honor of Czech Canadian friendship. Although in those bleak, pre-Google years, the designers weren’t able to check their understanding that Native Americans and quinine tonic came from Canada (not USA). Nevertheless, a summer favorite was born. The Hemingway spin (which was invented by George Němec, Global ambassador for Becherovka) on this classic incorporates the KV14 Becher Apperitiv, a spicy liquor with strong bitters reminiscent of Fernet and red wine, cinnamon and orange peel notes.
dsc_5626Recipe

  • 40ml Becherovka
  • Fresh Tonic
  • 10ml KV14 Becher Apperitiv
  • 1 wedge each of lemon, lime and orange

Mix

  1. Stack a large wine glass with large ice cubes and press in the fruit wedges vertically, skin to the glass.
  2. Pour the Becherovka over the ice and top up with fresh, fizzy Tonic.
  3. With a steel cocktail stirer, stir the drink in one direction to loosen and mix the flavors.
  4. With the cocktail spoon, catch the KV14 Becher Apperitiv and ease onto the meniscus of the beverage as a float.

This is the perfect day time cocktail. Strong citrus notes are enhanced by the KV14 float. The drink is sparkling on the tongue and has a gentle Becherovka finish.

3. Hanky Švestky

This is a Czech twist on a Hanky Panky. This particular recipe is famous for being the first winning cocktail entry by a woman on the international stage.

Mmm, bacon. Photo: Bohemist
Mmm, bacon. Photo: Bohemist

Recipe

  • 30ml Vermouth (infused with plum and spices)
  • 30ml Slivovice (aged to round out the flavor)
  • 5 – 10ml Fernet Branca

Mix

  1. Stir quickly with cocktail spoon for around 20 seconds in beaker of large ice cubes, or large broken ice chunks and marry and chill the liquids but not violently disturb to avoid dilution.
  2. Strain and pour into pre-frozen small coupette glass.
  3. Garnish with seasoned bacon jerky.

This garnish, another designed to be eaten while enjoying the drink, is a hat tip to the farming traditions in Moravia of homemade Slivovice sucked down with home cured and smoked meats. This moody concoction would be perfect as a strong, after dinner drink. The warming spices from the Fernet echo through the drink. The infused Vermouth softens the other flavors, particularly the acute edges of the Slivovice. Having been stirred through ice, the resultant dilution anchors the woody, forest character of the drink by letting the three rather strong spirits have a little breathing room.

We were a little dubious of the extremely strong ingredients, but the drink has a pleasant sweet sensation at the front of the taste with the thick, sticky texture of the very high alcohol content having a honey-stricken-citrus ghost in the mouth.

4. Caipsinthe

At last the famous Absinthe comes to the party. This drink features a Swiss type white absinthe – Amave Absinthe – the stereotypical colour absent as the wormwood, fennel and aniseed are plucked at the first maturation, a more common Absinthe distillation method. This drink is a mash up of a traditional Caipirinha.

dsc_5719Recipe

  • 15ml Sugar Syrup
  • 50ml Amave Absinthe
  • ¾ lime

Mix

  1. Muddle limes in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Heap shaker with crushed ice and add remaining ingredients.
  3. Stir. Stir. Stir again. Keep stirring.

Served in a stout tumbler this drink is garnished with either a maraschino cherry or a marshmallow strained through Absinthe.

The huge dilution from the crushed ice allows the herbal notes of the Absinthe to bloom in full. Absinthe is rarely used in cocktails, usually only as a glass spray. The Caipirinha is, however, a natural conduit for the herbal liquor with the usual sugar and water accompaniments present. The drink has a heady alcohol content, but like its cousins, has a light and vivacious flavor. We’d take this one along to the next house party.

5. B-Celebration No. 2

The Hemingway bar owner designed the first incarnation of this cocktail as part of competitions and celebrations held for the 200-year anniversary of the creation of Becherovka. It is served in the unique Karlovy Vary spout cups, sometimes called sosátko in Czech, designed to catch and drink the curative spring waters of the valley.

dsc_5778
Officially regretting not having bought at least four of these cups on our last outing in Karlovy Vary. Photo: Bohemist

Recipe

  • 40ml Becherovka
  • 20ml Apricot Brandy
  • 50ml Ginger ale
  • 5ml lemon juice (or a squeeze of about 1/8 of a lemon)

Mix

  1. Pour the ingredients into the Karlovy Vary cup and fill with crushed ice.
  2. Agitate firmly but not erratically so as to mix and the ingredients but not melt all the ice.
  3. Top with additional crushed ice and cram fresh mint and apricot leather close to the spout of the cup.

The aromatic garnish, so close to the nose while drinking, brings alive the fresher and fruiter elements of the drink. The apricot brandy, coupled with the dried apricot skin, designed to be consumed along with the drink, enhances the sugar and sweet notes of the Becherovka, while the sulphur bite of the dried apricot pays homage to the sulphuric waters of Karlovy Vary. This is one to be sipped and enjoyed slowly. We like it as apperitiv.

Bonus round!

While it possible to order almost any drink under the sun at Hemingway, they do have a suggested selection on their menu of 20 or so drinks. These are swapped out annually, with the 2017 menu to be launched in October. We had a preview of one of the new designs that will feature.

dsc_5821Smash the Beets

This creation is Trnka’s own and is another in the line of Hemingway’s unique Becherovka cocktails.

Recipe

  • 50ml Becherovka
  • 40ml Apple and beetroot mix fresh juice
  • 15ml Lemon juice
  • 10ml Green apple liquor
  • One cocktail spoon of powdered sugar

Mix

  1. Prepare the garnish first by blazing brown sugar across a dried apple slice to create caramalised coating. Sprinkle with cinnamon while glaze is still viscous and set aside to cool.
  2. Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with crushed ice.
  3. Strain and pour into mason glass with fresh crushed ice.
  4. Consumed through a straw, garnish with mint and the caramalised apple garnish.

This drink was definitely the surprise of the night. Trnka had aimed to create a harmony of Czech ingredients used in a novel way. Almost all who attended school in the Czech Republic probably still have nightmares about cafeteria beetroot, but the vegetable, like Becherovka, first came into fashion for its medicinal qualities. The aerated Becherovka is sweetened by the beetroot juice with the lemon juice providing an edge in the style of the sweet and sour elements of a Whiskey Sour. The drink summons feelings of autumn with the heady apple and cinnamon aromas. We’ll be first in cue for one of these as the weather starts to turn to fall.

HOW DO I MAKE THAT?

Indian Ghee infused Becherovka

In a room temperature bottle of Bechervoka, pour one third or one half cup of melted ghee. Ghee should be melted, not sizzling or completely liquiefied so as to not disturb the Becherovka composition. Gently turn the bottle upside down and right side up to distribute the ghee without shaking or agitating. Refrigerate for two days or more. Remove the clarified ghee before pouring.

Hemingway Sugar Syrup

Hemingway uses a rich sugar syrup of 2 parts sugar, 1 part water. Lemon or lime? Most cocktails that call for one or the other do so deliberately. It is possible in a pinch to sub lemon out with lime, but may not give best results to sub lime out with lemon. This is due to lemon’s much more aggressive citric acid.

What about the ice cubes from my Ikea ice tray?

Sorry guys, cocktail making is an exact science and size matters. The size of your ice at least. Mixing a drink in large ice-cubes vs shattered ice or small cubes will change the flavor. Smaller ice dilutes the drink, releasing individual flavor components – perfect for Absinthe, less so for Slivovice.

 

About Bohemist

Bohemist is an upstart news outlet serving the Czech Republic. Feel free to write us at editor@bohemist.cz.

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