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Cocktail Funk


Chris Amirault
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I got some good news yesterday, and when I got home I decided to make myself a special drink. Snooping through the cabinet, I spied my bottle of Erik Ellestad's Underhill Punsch and realized that I needed a Biffy Cocktail, a great way to bring out the special character of the Batavia Arrack in the punsch.

Tonight, I hankered for a drink of similar character. I've been addicted to the "Improved Holland Gin Cocktail" since I saw it mentioned here on eG Forums in a post on Dave Wondrich's Killer Cocktails. As Wondrich puts it in Imbibe!, "For those who have ever had one, to contemplate it is to desire it."

And desire it I did. However, I recently picked up a bottle of Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole, and started wondering whether an Improved Rhum Cocktail would be worth a try. I'm finishing it now; the answer is yes, oh yes.

These drinks don't have a lot in common on the page, a punsched-up gin sour on the one hand, and the mightily improved old fashioned variant on the other. But in my mouth they share something quite important in common: they are both terrifically funky drinks.

I'm not sure what I mean by "funky," mind you. It's not bad at all; quite the opposite: I apparently love the funk. Not everyone does around here, though; things that funk you up are much less likely to be finished than, say, a smooth, luscious Sidecar. That's fine with me, though, as I get to polish off whatever the guests leave in their glasses.

Given my addiction to the funk, I'm hoping that in this topic we can get a better handle on what it actually is. I don't think I'm alone with this funk jones, either, for many people around here use "funky" as an adjective to describe a pretty specific set of libations. To wit:

Genevieve and a few other genevers:

Had a friend over to keep me company while I worked on some projects and we tried a few things with a couple of goodies I got in mail order today; Improved Gin Cocktail with Genevieve was so nice and funky and so different than I anticipated.

Batavia arrack and Wray & Nephew overproof rum:

[T]he Indonesian (Batavia) arracks I've tried are really rums, albeit funky ones. The best substitute I know is the Wray & Nephew white overproof rum from Jamaica.

Wild Turkey Bourbon:

Wild Turkey is a little wild and funky for some tastes, although I love it. 

Luxardo Maraschino:

I find Maraska to be much closer to a sweetened kirschwasser than to the gloriously weird concatenation of funk that is the Luxardo.

And, by extension (at least to my tongue) Cynar:

a funky effect similar in scope to that of cynarin in artichokes.....

can anyone vouch for this???

I can. In fact, I must have the bottles on that list available in my liquor cabinet at all times. (Given how much I'm loving this funky Depaz, that's going on the list too.)

So what is this funk of which we speak? Is it a result of some ingredient or process? Are their chemical elements shared among this disparate group of spirits? What else might qualify for this good, earthy funk? Are these the feety matsutake mushrooms of hooch?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The funk is the je ne sais quoi, the "what the hell is that flavor I can't put my finger on" thing that defies description. I often have guests ask me what that strange thing I just added to their cocktail is. Usually it's Maraschino or Falernum when they ask because they don't recognize the bottles. I always say that I can't explain what it tastes like but it "adds deliciousness". That usually is sufficient. Particularly after they taste the end result. They usually nod knowingly and say, "yeah, I see what you meant."

This same discussion might also apply to wines that bear those flavors that are unappetizingly referred to as "horse blanket", "wet dog" or "barnyard". Often a characteristic of Rhone blends, most of which I love unconditionally.

Funk is a good thing. In cocktails, wine or cheese. :smile:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I would normally characterize funk (if forced to elaborate on it beyond that term) as a vegetal, peppery, or (I almost just typed funky, hah!) nutty character that is difficult to pin down and, more importantly, is an alien flavor from what is expected in spirits. I don't know if I would quite see it the same as the earthy character in Old World wines, but that may be more reflective of my affinity for those types of wines, vs the long and sometimes painful courtship I underwent with things like Maraschino, grappa, and tequila before I learned to appreciate them.

I do agree that there is a degree of je nais se quois involved in the 'funky' label, talking about it (or any other flavor or smell attribute) is like trying to describe what "red" looks like.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Had a friend over to keep me company while I worked on some projects and we tried a few things with a couple of goodies I got in mail order today; Improved Gin Cocktail with Genevieve was so nice and funky and so different than I anticipated.

i'd say part of geneva gin's funkiness is the malt character. it might be funky because its just new to people or it could by Funky because of the vegetal character that comes with malt. like the smell of a beer mash being cooked before you add the hops.

[T]he Indonesian (Batavia) arracks I've tried are really rums, albeit funky ones. The best substitute I know is the Wray & Nephew white overproof rum from Jamaica.

i'm a huge fan of both batavia arrack and wray and nephews. they have serious commonalities of Funkiness which i think primarily comes from how much heads and tales are left on the distillates. i have a feeling that both are barely cut down. you can also find their industrial, comparative to burnt rubber character in some grappas which in my understanding rely on huge amounts of heads and tales to create their uniqueness.

Wild Turkey is a little wild and funky for some tastes, although I love it. 

i don't drink alot of wild turkey but maybe they make their cuts significantly different creating extra riske character.

I find Maraska to be much closer to a sweetened kirschwasser than to the gloriously weird concatenation of funk that is the Luxardo.

i don't really enjoy luxardo maraschino. i think its Funkiness is all about the cherry stones that dominate the flavor. they unnerve me. smelling them makes me feel like i'm being poisoned but i can see flavor fetishists liking to flirt with that kind of danger.

a funky effect similar in scope to that of cynarin in artichokes.....

can anyone vouch for this???

this quote was kind of out of context but i'd say cynar has another kind of flirting with poisonous aroma kind of Funkiness due to the quinine. i made a large intensely potent quinine tincture and the resultant aromas are wild. just smelling it makes you feel weird.

i think the common thread of all this Funkiness is a level of aromatic danger which is loved or feared... excessive congeners in distilates, arsenic, the aroma of frightening bitter botanicals...

i've always been attract to wines with extra unique characters. dirt and earth, barnyard, petrol, smoke and coal furnace, blood and iron... anything but too much fruit... you find these aromas all over the rhone and all over southern italy.

i've never really figured out how grappa develops all its flavors but have expirimented with distilling some wines. i started drinking an 04 white rioja which is the single malt scotch of white wines. smokiness, oak, whiskpers of butter, strange sherry style appley fruit and a really strange kind of extra alcohol. some people i work with said they liked it alot and admired its complexity but couldn't drink an entire glass. i distilled a bottle of it, not throwing out anything and it smelled exactly the same... definitely Funky

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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Well, I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe. I was not offended.

This same discussion might also apply to wines that bear those flavors that are unappetizingly referred to as "horse blanket", "wet dog" or "barnyard".  Often a characteristic of Rhone blends, most of which I love unconditionally.

I definitely taste something funky in the Rhones I love, too, but I'm not sure if it's the same thing. I'd have to grab a bottle to see....

I would normally characterize funk (if forced to elaborate on it beyond that term) as a vegetal, peppery, or (I almost just typed funky, hah!) nutty character that is difficult to pin down and, more importantly, is an alien flavor from what is expected in spirits.

Nutty I get, but not quite sure about vegetal or peppery. For example, I taste the last two in all tequila, but most tequilas I have wouldn't qualify as funky on my palate.

i'd say part of geneva gin's funkiness is the malt character.  it might be funky because its just new to people or it could by Funky because of the vegetal character that comes with malt.  like the smell of a beer mash being cooked before you add the hops.

For me, though, neither Boomsma isn funky at all whereas the Genevieve is very funky. Malt, though, seems about right. I wonder if in my mouth it has to do with malty, yeasty tones.

i think the common thread of all this Funkiness is a level of aromatic danger which is loved or feared...  excessive congeners in distilates, arsenic, the aroma of frightening bitter botanicals...

So, like the heads and tails in the arrack, it's about extra weird stuff left hanging around?

My guess is that "funk" as we are using it here could be boiled down to the presence of a relatively small family of esters.

Say more. In reading up a bit on esters, I am sensing that they're primarily fruity. Do they provide a more yeasty, malty fruit character?

could this be the umami of cocktails?

Could be.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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My guess is that "funk" as we are using it here could be boiled down to the presence of a relatively small family of esters.

Say more. In reading up a bit on esters, I am sensing that they're primarily fruity. Do they provide a more yeasty, malty fruit character?

I think that esters can produce lots of different aromatic sensations. Many of the most commonly understood ones are thought to be "fruity." But plenty of them aren't. That said, it could be that it's a ketone or a fusel oil or some other relatively narrow group of chemical compounds that is responsible for this sensation. I'm thinking the best way to describe "funk" in this example might be "pleasantly musky."

could this be the umami of cocktails?

Could be.

Eh... not really. Umami is a taste, whereas we are almost definitely speaking of aroma.

--

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What about chartreuse? I drank a bijou last night and thought it was something I might call funky and I think it can be called musky. If we're going by aroma though, I just compared it's aroma to maraschino. I smelled the chartreuse first and thought it smelled funky. When I smelled the maraschino though, I rethought that. There's definitely something in the maraschino that's funky in a way that chartreuse isn't.

Is chartreuse funky? If so, it's in a bit of a different way than maraschino and I'm sure it's different than WT bourbon. Can there be one kind of cocktail funk or is it a word that just describes whatever's pleasantly strange on the palate?

nunc est bibendum...

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i think the common thread of all this Funkiness is a level of aromatic danger which is loved or feared...  excessive congeners in distilates, arsenic, the aroma of frightening bitter botanicals...

So, like the heads and tails in the arrack, it's about extra weird stuff left hanging around?

i think that all the examples sited have a variety of causes but in general i think you just enjoy dirty distilates. keeping extra amounts of congeners adds lots of extra flavors. they overlap with other stuff into this general "funkiness". wray and nephews could be pretty close to uncut. maraschino liqueur might be pretty close to uncut preserving as much of the fruit aroma as possible before the sugar is added.

congeners probably do not explain the character of quinine or gentian's aromas. its probably just similar in the fact that its bizarre.

so a lot of us apparently love rotgut booze. what good examples of it have i not been turned on to yet?

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

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bostonapothecary.com

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i love the "funk" in cocktails - maraschino, cachaca, genever, arrack, rhum agricoles, are all some of my favorite spirits to work with (also why i dislike certain cachacas, like sagatiba, which lack the "funk").

one of my favorite lesser-known funky cocktails is the fancy-free cocktail (per chuck taggert):

2 oz. bourbon or rye (i prefer rye)

1/2 luxardo maraschino

3 dashes aromatic bitters (angostura work fine, but whiskey barrel aged seem to work better)

3 dashes orange bitters (i like bitter truth)

Shake and strain......

i also think the basic capirinhia (2 oz. cachaca, 2 tsp sugar, 1/2 lime quartered, muddled and SHAKEN) is one of god's gifts to humanity, so i may be in the minority here.

Edited by maks_p (log)
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Pyrat Rum has a very funky taste. Probably the funkiest spirit I've come across.

Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes

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I would define funky (uh, in the taste context, not in the psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadooloop context) as yeasty, musty, decomposing-earth flavor and fragrance (since the two are inextricably linked -- which is why food tastes so bland when you've got a bad cold), rather than peaty, peppery or vegetal-other-than-mushrooms, if that makes sense. But I agree that umami is a mouthfeel thing as well as a flavor, so we may have to coin a new term here: funkistolic? pu-erhish? boomsmacking?

If I recall my high school chemistry correctly, I'm in line with those who say it's more likely to be congeners than esters that are responsible for the funk, and that it's the heads and tails left in that are where they come from. Same general idea as aging in charred barrels, seems to me.

As to why we, as a species, seem to get addicted to tastes/chemicals that can kill us in larger doses, that's way to big for me to handle, but as they say, lassez les bons temps roulez!

"The thirst for water is a primitive one. Thirst for wine means culture, and thirst for a cocktail is its highest expression."

Pepe Carvalho, The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

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  • 1 month later...

Damn!

Yet another reason to shell out the ducats for a bottle of arrack! I really don't need posts like these in our strained economic climate, but since I've got a bottle of Genevieve (and loving it), I'm already in halfway . . . .

"The thirst for water is a primitive one. Thirst for wine means culture, and thirst for a cocktail is its highest expression."

Pepe Carvalho, The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

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  • 2 weeks later...

At one point, I made an infusion of fresh lemon verbena and coriander seed in vodka, and promptly forgot about it. A few months later, the alcohol had all but turned the leaves to slurry and I had something resembling nasty river water, but with a very promising aroma.

After a few passes through a coffee filter, I had a translucent, grayish-brown liquid that is the very essence of "cocktail funky". It doesn't taste spoiled or offensive, but it has that wonderfully astringent, nostril-flaring quality that one gets from the Luxardo in an Aviation, et al.

I'm almost out, and I'm thinking it's time to replenish the supply. The rose-geranium infusion I made later is a thing of surprising beauty, too- I'll have to post the details sometime.

Yay funk! (in all of its incarnations)

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The rose-geranium infusion I made later is a thing of surprising beauty, too- I'll have to post the details sometime.

Please do! I have a friend with a ton of rose geranium plants that keeps offering me cuttings I have trouble keeping alive. (My notorious Black Thumb has been discussed over the ages in other forums....) I adore the scent of the rose geraniums, but am not confident of what to do with it.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Please do!  I have a friend with a ton of rose geranium plants that keeps offering me cuttings I have trouble keeping alive. (My notorious Black Thumb has been discussed over the ages in other forums....)  I adore the scent of the rose geraniums, but am not confident of what to do with it.

The way infused vodka happens at my house is usually random- I don't buy or drink much vodka personally, but sometimes a stray bottle will end up at my house after a party, and what to do with it besides making it into something more interesting!

So at one point, I had a fresh branch of rose geranium, around 12" long. I stripped the flowers from it, and stuffed them into a 3/4-full bottle of vodka, along with a tablespoon of turbinado sugar and a handful of lightly bruised cardamom pods. I shook it pretty viciously and let it sit.

Every other day or so, I turned the bottle upside down to mix things around a bit. After a couple of weeks, I had a rather unpalatable liquid that tasted like a florist's shop. I strained the liquid through a series of coffee filters into a fresh bottle and hoped for the best. It took about another 3 weeks for the aromatics to settle down. Since then, the stuff is super, unreservedly yummy. I only wish it didn't take so long to make!

An interesting mixture I made with it last night:

Bouquet:

1 1/2 oz dry gin

1/4 oz rose geranium vodka (or another floral liqueur)

1 oz strong hibiscus tea, chilled

2 dashes orange bitters (Angostura OB worked really well)

Combine all in ice-filled mixing glass, stir briskly, and strain. Top with flamed lemon or grapefruit twist.

Yum!

All the latest on culinary survival in the big city:

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