‘Conte, I do believe Master Fehrwight has just requested nothing less than a ginger scald.’
Conte moved adroitly to fill this request, first selecting a tall crystal wine flute, into which he poured two fingers of purest Camorri ginger oil, the color of scorched cinnamon. To this he added a sizable splash of milky pear brandy, followed by a transparent heavy liquor called ajento, which was actually a cooking wine flavored with radishes. When this cocktail was mixed, Conte wrapped a wet towel around the fingers of his left hand and reached for a covered brazier smoldering to the side of the liquor cabinet. He withdrew a slender metal rod, glowing orange-red at the tip, and plunged it into the cocktail; there was an audible hiss and a small puff of spicy steam. Once the rod was stanched, Conte stirred the drink briskly and precisely three times, then presented it to Locke on a thin silver tray.” -The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
Ginger Scald, vodka, ginger syrup, and pear brandy
This, dear readers, took some doing. After several months of on and off trial and error, I ended up with two versions, neither of which was really satisfactory, to my standards. So there they languished, in the draft post. Until one evening, when I opened the post back up, scrapped both those recipes, and came up with the one you find here. I was especially driven to finish the post because, after tweeting about the difficulties of finding a hot poker, a package arrived in the mail from Andrew Cairns at Willowdale Forge with two such accessories. Finding myself thus enabled, how could I not follow through?
The thick sugary syrup sticks to one’s lips and tongue, the concentrated ginger burning pleasantly. I tried several versions of a ginger oil, but they were, at best, completely unappetizing. Hence, the ginger syrup swap, the texture of which, I think, closely mirrors how a ginger oil would behave on the palate.
I hemmed and hawed over the pear brandy. It’s described in the book as being “milky”, but I’ve never seen such a creature. I did a few experiments to see if I could come up with a way to milkify my pear brandy, but the end results were not worth the effort, and moreover, detracted from the cocktail as a whole.
The last ingredient was also somewhat troublesome. It seems to me that it cannot be both a liquor and a cooking wine. Given the cocktail nature of the beast, I opted for liquor. Mind you, I also tried a radish-infused white wine (BLECH!), but it left a great deal to be desired. Instead, I’ve decided to go for vodka: it’s clear, and made from roots (potatoes). If you like, you can infuse the vodka with some sliced radish, but trust me when I say to go sparingly. Pretty much, let the vodka look at a radish, and that will be enough (or possibly too much…).
The end result is a decadent, ethereal cocktail that will knock your socks off. If you’ve scalded it, the cocktail will still be warm from the poker, and that physical heat transitions into the burning flavor of the ginger. Adding to that theme is the slight tone of burned sugar, while the pear flavor is much complimented by the ginger, and the vodka gives it an extra boost of intoxication.
It was described by my tastetesters as “exquisite”, “otherworldly”, “exotic”, and “amazeballs”. All in all, it’s just complex enough to be special, without being impossible to make.
Make it at Home!
- Ginger Syrup (see below)
- Pear Brandy (if you’d like to make it)
Follow the written directions:
Into a champagne flute, pour about two fingers worth of ginger syrup. Follow this with a good splash of pear brandy, then a finger or so of vodka.
Stir the mixture vigorously to get the sugar up from the bottom; you’ll be able to see it swirl around as you stir. The top photo settled while I was shooting: Do as I say, not as I do! Once it’s mixed, you can sear it with the hot poker. See the note at the bottom on the crazy danger of hot pokers.
Ginger Syrup Ingredients:
- 2 cups roughly chopped fresh ginger
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 cups water
Combine ingredients in a saucepan, and place over medium heat. Allow to simmer for about an hour, at which point much of the liquid should have boiled off, and the remainder be a nice cinnamon sort of color. Let the mixture cool (nobody likes sugary burns!), then strain into a glass jar. It will keep for several weeks, and makes enough for around 10-12 cocktails.
Caution on handling Hot Metal
*Note* If you are planning to singe the cocktail with a hot poker, I really can’t stress enough the importance of being careful. If you let the poker touch the side of the champagne flute, it could explode. If you yourself touch the hot poker, you will be scalded. Also, do not do as Conte did, and wrap a wet towel around the poker- the moisture will translate the heat straight into your hand. Instead, use a heavy-duty oven mitt. Lastly, be warned that the cocktail will sputter, hiss, and jump all around, so keep a steady hand when you first plunge the poker into the drink. And please remember, friends don’t let drunk friends play with hot pokers…