The Drunken Vegan, a.k.a. Patrick J. Hurley, is a full-time barman at the Civil Life Brewing Company and cocktail enthusiast about town. He's an unapologetic drunkard, a vegan and a bon vivant, and, no, he doesn't think those last two terms contradict each other.
The egg white is to the cocktail world what bacon (still) is to the culinary world: a damned nuisance, at least to the Drunken Vegan. During a recent happy-hour visit to Planter's House (1000 Mississippi Avenue; 314-696-6203), I confronted this fad head-on with the help of master mixologist Ted Kilgore.
Shaken into a drink, an egg white imparts a silky mouthfeel and creates an aesthetically pleasing cap of foam on top of a cocktail, but it may not be strictly necessary. Recipes for many cocktails have variants with or without the egg white.
See also: Planter's House Debuts Happy Hour Menu
The special happy-hour menu (available Friday through Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.) lists five snacks and five classic cocktails that all go for a very reasonable $5. The Drunken Vegan noticed quickly what was off limits for him (most of the snacks and two of the drinks, one of which contained egg white and the other honey) and started with a "Queens Park Swizzle," which is dark-rum based. Lime juice gives a nice tartness to balance the sweetness of the rum, and angostura tops it off, adding a visually appealing layer of red with an earthy herbal note on the nose and the palate. It's finished with a sprig of mint, fresh and sharp, meeting your nose as you raise the glass to take a first sip. Very refreshing. It was also the ideal accompaniment to the hand-cut fries. They were piled on a board and dusted with parsley and coarse salt. The tangy house ketchup was refreshingly not too sweet.
The "Mar-tea-ni" looked awfully appealing for a second round but, like a fair number of classic cocktails, contained egg white. Emboldened by a snack and a swizzle, the Drunken Vegan broached the subject of altering a cocktail with owner Kilgore. If making a cocktail vegan fundamentally alters its character, it might be best to just choose another, but Ted kindly offered to "re-balance" the drink. He said that egg whites "lengthen the flavor profile" of a drink, in part by mitigating the harshness and bitterness of some components. He added a bit more acid in the form of lemon and augmented the earl grey liqueur with some dark simple syrup, allowing the bergamot flavor to come through without being too harsh. The finished product was excellent. You won't even miss the egg white.
Good cocktails are about more than premium ingredients and perfect ratios; how they are served is just as important, and this includes the ice. The crushed ice in a swizzle is perfect for a refreshing quaffer. Up cocktails must be served in a properly chilled glass, so they may be finished before they start to warm up, which is also why they tend to be relatively small. Other drinks need to stay cold longer, without getting diluted. Here the key is a large single piece of ice.
The Drunken Vegan sampled a delightfully strong drink aptly called the "Boozehound" (the base consists of equal parts rye whiskey and cognac) and was entranced by the beautiful cylinder of ice protruding from that sea of strong drink. Anyone thinking standard ice is clear can be quickly disabused of that notion by visiting the nearest ice-cube tray. It generally looks fairly opaque. This ice was crystal clear. In fact, beneath the surface of the drink, it was invisible. It was a length of sculpture grade ice made from filtered water and cut to length with a band saw. Now that is attention to detail.
Thanks for thinking of everything, Mr. Kilgore. See you next Sunday.