Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Cusp of Magic and the Art of Balance at O’Duffy’s Pub, Kalamazoo, MI

“Just like everything in life, the perfect cocktail is all about BALANCE.” More often than not, I begin a class or cocktail demonstration with this statement. The cocktail is a balancing act of Spirit, Sugar, Bitters and Water with a little bit of magic added by the mixer. Distillation in the late Middle Ages produced strong, fiery and raw spirits. Methods for softening these harsh distillates included flavoring with herbs, sweeteners, or outright mixing with wine, beer, or water. The first art of “balance,” or taming of the Swill, occurred in the early 17th century in India. “Panch,” the Farsi and Hindi words for “five,” contained five elements: Liquor, Sugar, Citrus Juice, Tea (or other spice) and Water. You know “Panch.” We call it “Punch.” Many cocktails began as punches, including the Tom Collins (1820-1830), born in London and created for gin to be stretched out with iced soda water in punch form.

O'Duffy's Irish Pub
(photo courtesy of O'Duffy's Pub)
On a recent trip to Kalamazoo, we decided to visit the only neighborhood Irish pub in the area. We had heard through the grapevine this little tucked-away watering hole was modeled after the neighborhood pubs in Chicago that are lively and prevalent throughout every neighborhood.  O’Duffy’s Pub is family-owned with real food, real beer, and really wonderful people. Serving Gold Standard Award Guinness Pints every time, O’Duffy’s opened in the summer of 1999 and is located at the corner of West Vine and Locust Streets in the historic Vine neighborhood, a neighborhood filled with architectural beauty that houses a beautiful and diverse group of inhabitants. Upstairs is Cosmo’s Cucina, a contemporary oasis offering affordable gourmet cuisine through simply creative cooking, and was established in November 1992.  The pub was lively and filled with an eclectic group of patrons that ran the gauntlet from senior citizens, to college students who lived in the area, to young families with their children.  We were greeted by quaint and historical charm in the form of fabulous wood floors, a tin ceiling and a magnificent Brunswick Bar.  (The Bar fixture was built somewhere between 1890 – 1915 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Sold by a billiard dealer on North Halsted in Chicago, and delivered to Mr. Paul in Michigan City, Indiana.  This piece of bar “art” more than likely was housed in the Spaulding Hotel.)  It was VERY cold out this particular Saturday.  The temperature was painful outdoors and ranged between 10 to 15 degrees, depending on if you caught the sun for a brief moment between snow showers. We sat down and my natural instinct was to order some whiskey to warm up.  What else would one order at an Irish pub?  

My eyes began to gaze across the beautiful wood of the Brunswick bar and noticed a rather large glass infusion jar with a spigot.  I pointed out this little liquid treasure to my companions and we decided we wanted to know what Pandora’s Jar had in store for us.  Our server, Brittany, returned shortly to see how we were doing and we asked the question, “So, what’s up with that canister of infused goodness sitting on the bar?”  Brittany, whom I should mention NEVER stopped smiling the entire time we were there, promptly filled us in.  

O'Duffy's Pub Winter Sangria
The magical canister contained winter sangria that was created by the bartender, Larissa Long.  Brittany further explained the sangria contained rum, chardonnay, triple sec and triple citrus flavors.  Ding Ding!  We had a winner and we wanted a glass.  Besides, Brittany’s description was spot-on and her natural excitement as she described the libation was enough to get us to want it even more.  I noticed a nice balance with my first sip.  We settled in and I continued to enjoy my crisp and effervescent wintery blend of what we soon named, “Snow Globe Sangria.”  Lake effect snow bands were kicking up at intervals during our stay, and at times snow was coming down in large fluffy flakes at a rapid rate.  The snow shower resembled the snow created in a snow globe and we felt like we were in our own little Irish Pub version of these nostalgic art pieces.

Larissa Long - O'Duffy's Pub
Larissa Long began bartending 2 ½ years ago, and is mixing and balancing her libation craft at O’Duffy’s Pub.  Larissa explained that she used Blanco (Silver) Rum, an older, and aged chardonnay that was dry with heavy oak and butter notes that she balanced with the earthy flavor profiles of agave nectar.  She followed up with triple citrus flavor profiles in the form of lemon, lime and orange juices and triple sec.  The winter sangria is served on ice with an appropriate spritz of seltzer water.  Larissa is currently training to be a Yoga Instructor at Sangha Yoga, a locally-owned and operated industry leader since 2003. Sangha Yoga teachers are certified and highly qualified to guide others into a safe and meaningful yoga experience.  They offer a holistic (mind, body spirit) and therapeutic approach to yoga practice.

Yoga is defined as “A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.”  In Hindu scripture, this sense of the term "yoga" mentions, "When earth, water, fire, air and akasa arise, when the five attributes of the elements, mentioned in the books on yoga, become manifest then the yogi's body becomes purified by the fire of yoga and he is free from illness, old age and death." - wikipedia

Maybe this is why Larissa understands balance.  She used all five elements of “Panch” or Punch (Base, Modifier, Sugar, Bitters, Water) in her Sangria and I’m sure she practices the five attributes of the elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Akasa) while studying to be a Yoga Instructor.  I watched her “balance” the bar by working her bartending magic to each and every guest at O’Duffy’s that cold Saturday afternoon.  Besides being advocates for “balanced” lives and mixers of elixirs, Larissa and I both share a special “magical” trait.  We share the same birthday of June 23, which falls on the Gemini/Cancer Zodiac Cusp known as The Cusp of Magic   (19 June - 23 June).  Those born on June 23 often remain youthful and lighthearted their whole lives. These people have a strong association with food and a willingness to always try something new; they often make excellent cooks. Their many interests make them entertaining and stimulating conversationalists who really love people. The great strength of the Gemini/Cancer-born is in their blending of intellectual and conversational skills. Those born on the Gemini/Cancer cusp display great imagination and tend to be very expressive. June 23 people want all that life can give them. They have the patience to wait for their goals, understanding that much of what they desire must come over a period of time. They're never without a new dream.   

It sounds like we both picked perfect professions that utilize our “magical” abilities and “balanced” traits.  Here is a little recipe gift to those wonderful people who put a little magical Irish Pub in the Historical Vine Street neighborhood and keep the magical libations flowing with bright, vibrant smiles and personalities. 
The Great Chicago Shuck n Suck -
Chicago Food Film Festival, Kendall College
Renaming one of my cocktail creations that I designed for 2011’s Chicago Food Film Festival, this “spicy” Irish version of a classic John Collins uses ginger-infused simple syrup and Jameson Irish Whiskey, a perfect aphrodisiac liquid accompaniment to the Film Festival’s evening theme of “Food Porn.” The Festival’s food featured Low Country oysters fresh from South Carolina, as well as savory sides by Chef Mark Steuer of The Bedford, including cornbread, Brunswick stew, and boiled peanuts.  

The O’Duffy Smutty Collins 
(a.k.a. the Jenna Jamison)

1 ½ oz. Jameson Irish Whiskey
¾ oz. Ginger Infused Simple Syrup
¾ oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
Seltzer Water
Lemon Twist/Candied Ginger Piece (Garnish)

Combine whiskey, simple syrup and lemon juice in a mixing glass.  Add ice to Boston Shaker, shake ingredients for 10 seconds.  Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice and top off with a splash of seltzer water.  Garnish with a lemon twist and a piece of candied ginger.

Ginger-Infused Simple Syrup
1 cup water
2 cups fine granulated sugar
¼ cup cubed, skinned ginger root

Heat 1 cup of water in a non-reactive (non-teflon) pan over medium heat.  Slowly add 2 cups of sugar and stir well, continue stirring and adding sugar until completely dissolved.  Remove from heat and add ¼ cup of cubed, skinned ginger root.  Allow ginger to steep in the syrup for 20 – 40 minutes, until desired flavor is achieved.  Remove ginger chunks, fine strain syrup into a bottle and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
The Traveling Elixir Fixer pictured with the two fabulous gentleman
that drove 7,000 oysters from South Carolina to Chicago
for the Great Chicago Shuck n Suck Event
and enjoying a "Smutty" Collins, a.k.a., the Jenna Jamison
For more information on the Chicago Food Film Festival, be sure to check out the Delicious Dirt Recap at Elevate Your Presence.  Cheers!