I’ve come to the bitter side of the cocktail world slowly. I started out with a preference for sweeter or booze forward mixtures, but the more I experiment, the more I appreciate the other side of the coin. I tried lots of things, but the first of these more herbal bitter spirits that really connected for me was Branca Menta, Fernet-Branca’s lighter, sweeter, mintier cousin. It was my launching point and is still a favorite. I often enjoy tossing half an ounce in my morning latte. So, when I saw this tropical Branca drink, I knew I had to try it. So, with a nod to Kevin Smith and appreciating the bitter and the sweet, won’t you join me now as we stand and make, the Brancolada.
The first thing you need to know about Branca Menta is that it is an entirely different drink when you chill it and that’s why I have carved out a section of the fridge for it. It’s fine at room temp, but the cold weather will make the herbal, minty notes in it sing and I love that. This one was created by Jeremy Oertel of the cocktail bar Donna in Brooklyn. Sadly, this amazing bar has closed its doors for the last time, but the drink lives on. It’s a riff on the classic Piña Colada, but pushing that ice cold Branca Menta to the front of the line. The story is he was inspired to create this treat by watching staff drizzling Branca Menta fresh out of the chiller over ice cream sandwiches. I have heard great things about this one and I am here for it. So here for it, that I bought an old school milkshake blender, so we could get the flash blend, just right.
Yep, we are flash blending this one and I am not going to cheat and just go for quick couple of pulses in my classic beehive blender. Nope, I ordered a milkshake blender, the kind with the metal stem coming down in a metal cup that you see behind the bar at an ice cream parlor. As it turns out, this was the style blender used in the original tiki bars, like Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s. These are perfectly made to mix and aerate your drink, bringing those fruit juices to the pinnacle of flavor in what the old books referred to as a “flash blend”. If you don’t have one of those, you can always go for a few pulses in a standard blender, or shake it with some pebble ice in your tins.
Grab your vessel of choice and pop in 1 ounce of Branca Menta, 1 ounce of Jamaican Rum, I chose Smith + Cross; 1 1/2 ounces of pineapple juice, 1/4 ounce of fresh squeezed orange juice and 1 ounce of coconut cream. Toss in a handful of pebble ice, set the cup in place and blend for 15-30 seconds to the dulcet sounds of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy“. Yeah, I know that doesn’t fit this drink or these words thematically or tonally, but it’s been on my mind today and the drink was created by a guy named Jeremy and well, sometimes the bonds are tenuous and you’ve just got to learn to accept that. When your drink is well blended, dirty dump into something beautiful and top with pebble ice. I chose this hand blown glass with a mountain in the bottom from Knoxville’s Pretentious Glass Co. They make some truly wonderful and practical vessels there, plus the Pretentious Beer Co. is just next door, if you need to fill one of their works of art with another work of art. I picked this one up a couple of years ago and it always gives me pleasure to gaze upon it. Nevermind, the fact that the mountain is entirely obscured by the drink. I know it’s beauty is there and that makes me feel a little bit better about the world we live in. It’s a tropical drink, so go crazy with the garnish, throw in some mint and some lilies and snapdragons or whatever those things growing beside the steps are, just have fun with it, before popping in a glass bamboo straw from Surfside Sips, which cannot sit at the most aesthetically pleasing angle, because of hidden mountains. It happens.
It’s a little weird and it’s wonderful. The standard pineapple and coconut thing comes forward immediately, but then that herbal goodness hits and the complexity goes off the charts. That bitter balances the sweetness and the drink just sings. It reminds me of another of my favorites, the PiÃ±a Verde and it’s heavy dose of Green Chartreuse. Those herbal notes are what the PiÃ±a Colada needs to elevate it above the usual too sweet boat drink fare. It’s a damned fine drink, fully deserving of all the hype.
So, the bitter makes you appreciate the sweet. Who knew? Well, most every artist ever, apparently. Need a satisfying love story, add a touch of sadness. Want to make that chocolate cake better, drop in some coffee. It goes both ways too, if you find yourself suffering from the general ennui of day to day existence in our modern world, toss in bit of compassion. Hate the things you see on the news, mix in some empathy and things will seem a bit better. It’s all about balance, they say. We need those opposites, working together, keeping each other in check, giving us options. Maybe that’s the key to help us stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.