From The Bartender’s Gin Compendium by Gary Regan. By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
2 oz Leopold’s Gin (Plymouth specified)
0.5 oz Lemon Juice
0.5 oz Grade A Maple Syrup
1 grapefruit twist, as an aromatic garnish
Combine Gin, Lemon Juice and Syrup in a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Champagne flute
Top with Champagne
Release the oils from the grapefruit twist onto the top of the drink, then discard the twist
* * *
Maple syrup is one of the wonders of nature. The magic begins in early spring as the sun breaks through, warming the trees and thawing the winter snow. This delicate balance makes the tree sap flow and signals the start of “sugaring” season across Northeastern America and Canada. The “sugarmakers” gather the sap from the maple trees and then boil off the water to produce the lovely amber-colored syrup that blankets our pancakes, waffles, and other doughy breakfast treats.
The Native Americans introduced the European colonists to maple sap, which became a fixture on the colonial table because it was a convenient and tasty substitute for imported West Indian cane sugar. After the passage of the Sugar Act in 1764, which heavily taxed imported sugar, local maple sugar became even more fashionable. Abolitionists rallied around the product, which provided a viable alternative to the slave-produced sugar of the West Indies. In 1887, an enterprising fellow named P.J. Towle started making a cheaper alternative to pure maple syrup. Blending real maple with sugarcane syrup, the sweetener was packed in a log cabin-shaped tin and dubbed Log Cabin Syrup. Today, most of these ersatz syrups rely on that modern demon, high-fructose corn syrup, for their flavor and thickness.
If you ever wondered why real maple syrup is so expensive compared to products like Log Cabin, the answer lies in the harvesting and processing. The sugaring season only lasts about six weeks and it depends on very specific weather conditions (a freeze is required to suck water into the tree roots, which then creates pressure during the thaw, thus making the sap drip out). It is also labor-intensive. Traditional “sugarmakers” still tap the trees the old-fashioned way – drilling small holes in the maple tree bark, inserting a spout, and hooking a bucket on it to catch the running sap; the sap must be collected daily from each tree. More modern methods use interconnected plastic tubing that runs between trees and sends the sap to a collection tank; this makes for easier sap harvesting but requires more off-season maintenance (darn those pesky rabbits!). At the “sugarhouse”, or “sugarshack”, the sap is boiled immediately as sap spoils quickly. Once the sap has been boiled down to syrup, it is filtered to remove the gritty “niter”, and tested with a hydrometer for proper density (sugar content). The final product is an unadulterated sweetener with no additives whatsoever. Today, the sugaring season in New England is filled with rituals like the “sugar in the snow” party where maple syrup is poured on fresh snow and eaten like a flavored granita.
Here at 12 Bottle Bar, we don’t present ourselves as teachers, but we note that you will need to recall your A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s to understand maple syrup, which is classified by color. In Canada, which produces most of the world’s syrup, there are three grades — #1, #2, and #3. Each grade contains various subdivisions — Canada #1 includes Extra Light (AA), Light (A), and Medium (B), then we have #2 Amber (C) and #3 Dark. American standards focus on Grades A and B, with Grade A including Light Amber, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. Grade B is heartier and better used for baking. Grade A is what most Americans favor, but as we prefer the robustness of Grade B on our pancakes, we think much of the Grade A preference is purely psychological.
So, enough of Maple Syrup 101, let’s talk Doc. The Doc Daneeka Royale is an intriguing drink for any number of reasons. First, there’s a Champagne topper. When you see “Royale” in the drink title, it denotes Champagne. The Doc Daneeka Royale is falls soundly into the category of Champagne Cocktails (the original: Champagne, Bitters-soaked sugar cube, lemon twist), albeit with some very modern – and not so modern — modifications. Champagne, on its own and as a drink topper, was quite popular in the good old days. In The Joy of Mixology, Gary Regan references The Wild West Bartenders’ Guide which talked about a bar in 1886 Albuquerque that added a Champagne topper to all of their cocktails. Indeed, Regan even suggests trying this simply by pouring one ounce of a classic cocktail like the Manhattan or the Rob Roy into a Champagne flute, then filling the glass with Champagne. (Or, he notes, using the full-strength cocktail and adding a Champagne float instead.)
By the 1930s, says Regan, the concept of the Champagne Sour had taken hold, using lemon juice instead of Bitters, much like our Doc Daneeka does. Regan also suggests using dry — brut or extra brut –Champagne since Champagne cocktails tend to already have a sugar component. As to quality, you be the judge. Inexpensive Champagne or sparkling wine will work, especially since the ratio is low. However, as Regan says, “you can use good Champagne, even the very best, and the resultant cocktail will benefit greatly from it.”
The original Doc Daneeka recipe specifies Plymouth Gin, however, Leopold’s offers a citrus profile which marries well with the lemon juice and the grapefruit aromatics (of course, we’re not going to stand in your way should you choose Plymouth instead). The grapefruit part is important because the twist releases the oils from the fruit rind into the drink. After that, we’re done with the rind.
So then, what about that maple syrup, surely the most intriguing element of this drink. Why put maple syrup in a cocktail? Well, for all intents, maple syrup is simply sugar (in this case, sucrose). Think of maple syrup as a sort of an infused simple syrup, which offers a unique flavor profile unlike any other sugar, and you’ve got a tasty way to bring more Autumnal “roundness” to your drinks.
Regan adapted this drink from a recipe created by Alexander Day of New York’s Death & Company. Death & Co. won awards for Best American Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu at the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail, so it’s no mystery that they would produce such an interesting drink. The mystery lies in the provenance of the drink’s name. Those of you literati out there will recognize it (minus the “royale”) as belonging to a character in Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22”. Doc Daneeka is the book’s hypochondriac physician, a singularly self-serving fellow who eventually discovers his moral core. The irony here is that, the moment Doc becomes a decent man, he is declared legally dead by the army and literally disappears from the book.
Fascinating in terms of character arc and all that, but, what does Doc have to do with the Daneeka. I must confess, I do not know. To my knowledge, there is no mention of Champagne or maple syrup in “Catch-22”, so I can only offer the following musings. The Champagne in the drink makes sense as Doc was stationed in France; the maple syrup because Doc is from Staten Island, a borough of New York, a state which also produces maple syrup. Okay, so I’m reaching. As Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name… A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And so too, the Doc Daneeka, a cocktail that, by this or any other name, would taste as sweet.
- Global warming’s next victim: Maple syrup (holykaw.alltop.com)
- 5 Cocktails Made With Maple: Cheers to the Flavors of Fall! (laist.com)