I knew it was going to be dangerous soon after I arrived there, having rocked up at L’Atelier des Chefs for an event that was part of the launch of Red Stag, a new black cherry flavoured bourbon from the Jim Beam stables. I was immediately brought a cocktail, which had been predetermined by my answer to a multiple choice question when responding to the invitation. My Claremont Julep went down very easily, a little too quickly and it confirmed to me that the evening was likely to be a slippery slope. Of course I had to try the other three cocktails and to sample the bourbon neat (several times) just to make sure that I got the full flavour. And of course, being in the presence of other foodie/drinkie people some of whom have a greater capacity than me, the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down, honour was at stake.
So to the Red Stag itself; it initially gives the palate a sweet cherry that to me is reminiscent of some pink medicines my mother gave me when I was ill as a child. This is quickly followed by some good peppery heat that both tingles and bites the tongue, the similarity with that pink medicine thereby completely eradicated. The bourbon flavour is very much there throughout. It has a syrupy mouth-coating texture and is almost liqueur-like. It’s a drink with big bold flavour that lasts well on the tongue. Over ice the sweetness is tempered somewhat, though you still get the peppery heat as the secondary sensation and of course, its length remains the same. For me it’s as a cocktail ingredient that this new drink comes into its own, those that I tasted were all extremely pleasant, a little on the sweet side, but then cocktails are about balancing the sweet and sour. Its intensely fruity cherry flavour does work well as a constituent part of them though. I have set out the recipes for the four I tasted below, just in case you’d like to try making any of them.
Aside from sampling the Red Stag neat and in each of the cocktails, the chefs at L’Ateiier des Chefs were creating some dishes using the bourbon as an ingredient, or perhaps more accurately, helping us to create them. Not one to shy away from the culinary challenge, as many of you will know, I cooked some seared scallops, one of my favourite things, which my chef mentor took over just before the end of the cooking process to flambé them with a dash of Red Stag. The scallops were perfectly cooked (well, would you expect me to say anything else?) the sweetness of the juicy scallop flesh enhanced a little by the bourbon, the hint of black cherry sweetness was just enough. A dish with asparagus similarly enhanced by the Red stag also worked pretty well. Then came the Red Stag soufflé, individual little sweet creations that had been given some excellent black cherry flavour by the spirit and I thought this was the best use of it as a cooking ingredient that evening. A lack of imagination would be the only thing stopping you thinking of other uses for Red Stag in your cooking, either in desserts or perhaps flambéing a duck breast after having seared it nicely.
A Red Stag representative told us that the target markets for this new drink is the student population and young professionals. I suppose the sweetness of the drink and the ability to use it in a cocktail would quite probably be appealing to younger palates, but there are plenty of older people who still enjoy sweeter drinks, so I imagine that its popularity will grow with greater exposure.
Fortunately, regardless of my wide tasting I didn’t slide down the slope too much, managing to get home, albeit well after midnight, but with everything intact, including my dignity.
Put 2 bruised mint leaves into a tall glass, half fill with crushed ice, add 35ml Red Stag, a dash orange bitters, then top up with crushed ice and mix till the ice begins to melt, garnish with a fresh cherry and mint sprig.
Cherry Mash Sour:
Muddle 4 cherries and a dash of lemon juice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker glass, add 50 ml Red Stag and a drop of angostura bitters, add ice cubes and shake well. Put contents into a tumbler and garnish with a cherry and a lemon snap.
Place a cherry and an orange snap in the bottom of a martini glass. Stir 50ml Red Stag, 25ml dry vermouth, 10ml amber picon, 2ml angostura bitters and 5ml maraschino liqueur in a shaker glass with ice cubes till well chilled, then strain into the martini glass.
Put 35ml Red Stag into a cocktail shaker with ice, add 100ml fresh apple juice, 5ml balsamic vinegar and a drop of lemon juice. Shake well and pour into a glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a slice of apple dusted with cinnamon.
You can find Red Stag at branches of Tesco and Asda nationwide, with a RRP of £21.75