Saturday, February 16, 2008

Too Easy to Like? A Devil's Advocate View of Canton

I threw a little party for the week a couple weeks back. It's impromptu theme (her idea) was "Coffee and Cognac." Some people took it very much to heart, and one person brought as a gift a bottle of French Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, which is made with VSOP Cognac.

I had never tried it before. It's basically ginger-infused Cognac, the world's first "premium" item in that category—even though a similar drink was made for some time in the China. It was an immediate hit with the crowd, and we're lucky we were left with some. It came with a little booklet of cocktail recipes and, after the party was done I tried a couple, including the La Coloniale (2 parts Canton, 3 parts gin) and the Canton Ginger Sidecar (2 parts Canton, 3 parts Cognac, making it the most Cognacy cocktail ever!). After that, wifey took it away from me and said "Mine!"

The Sidecar was the better, offering more character, and, because of the Cognac I used, a little more kick. The Coloniale was quite smooth and enjoyable, but maybe too smooth and enjoyable. I suspect the Classic Ginger Martini (2 parts Canton, 2 parts Vodka) would be even more smooth. (BTW, how can it be classic, when Canton hasn't been around that long, and it's made with vodka? Marketing, I know, but it drives me nuts.)

Which brings me to my devil's advocate question? Before I get argumentative, two things: 1) I like Canton very much; it's terrific; and 2) I understand the ginger gives it a bit of a zesty zing, but it's still basically a smooth, easy-drinking liqueur.

My question is: Is Canton too easy to like? Furthermore, was it designed to be easy to like? As I sipped it and mixed it and enjoyed it, I started thinking: this is too unproblematic. It began to remind me of the reaction I get when I drink St. Germain, the wonderful elderflower liqueur that is also quite new on the market and which I adore. But I'm always a bit suspicious about how utterly appealing it is to my and all other palates, and I feel the same about Canton. It's like that old line: Never trust anyone who doesn't have any enemies. St. Germain and Canton appear to have no detractors. Reviews always deem them "perfect liqueurs."

A part of me thinks that Canton is part and parcel with our currently dominant vodka-drinking culture. As with the cocktail booklet that came along with the St. Germain, many of the recipes call with vodka or champagne. Sometimes gin. And most of the libations, once made, offer no resistance. They glide down the gullet like water and make you very happy. But they don't make me think much, except for maybe the thought that you'd like another. I like a simple cocktail as much as the next purist, but a good simple cocktail—one made with gin or rye or bourbon—is simultaneously complex, and evokes complex reactions. A Canton cocktail or St. Germain cocktail is about one idea: the flavor of Canton or St. Germain.

And so I'm torn about Canton. Again, I like it and admire it, and I will buy it again. But I'll probably always drink it during those tired moments of the day when I don't want to challenge my weary mind, and only want to relax. For many people, this is exactly what they want from an alcoholic drink. I guess I'm just a little more demanding.


Kosmonaut said...

That sounds good - I'll keep an eye out. Also, love how you have "Where to find a good Sazerac" in your sidebar. Please do NOT try the Sazerac at Pastis in the Meatpacking District - I tried theirs and it was absolutely foul. How anyone could ruin a Sazerac is beyond me.

Should you find yourself in San Francisco, you must go to Bourbon & Branch.

camper said...

Great topic. I think there was a universal reaction to St. Germain- "This is perfect. Let's put it in everything!"

Liz said...

I just bought a bottle the other day - this stuff is fantastic. Domaine de Canton is one of the most versatile liqueurs I've ever had. Two thumbs up!

Anonymous said...

Domaine de Canton just won SF Spirits Competition - I can't wait to try it!

San Francisco Photos said...

I loved Domaine De Canton as well. Quite the tastiest liquor I've had for a long time. YUM!

Sc'Eric said...

I have to agree: Canton is very easy to like--be it straight from a snifter or mixed in your favourite cocktail. So far, my best pairing has been with Jean Danflou's La Captive (Poire William brandy)... and a nice slab of cedar-smoked salmon!

But speaking more to your criticism: if you'd like a more balanced vodka-tini, you should try pairing Canton with Buddha's Hand Citron from Hangar-One. (And if the new batch of Fraser River Raspberry vodka--also Hangar-One--were available on-schedule, I'd probably say that they're a match made in heaven! We'll find out for sure in August.)

I'd love to try your variation on the Sazerac, but Peychaud's is apparently not made available even in the liberal regions of this "red state" we call Pennsylvania. And I'm not going to sully my first Sazerac experience/s by cutting corners.

Finally, regarding St.Germaine... You really need to try SoHo lychee liqueur before you cast your final vote. St.Germaine is just sweet and syrupy, ultimately very difficult to mix. On the other hand, SoHo--while offering the same general flavour profile--is comparatively bitter-sweet... which makes for inherently more interesting and complex cocktails.

Here's some recipes to try...

~ 1.5 H-1 Buddha's Hand citron
~ 1.0 Canton ginger liqueur
~ 0.5 Lemon juice (or Limoncello)
~ Dash Simple syrup (optional)
Shake w/ ice, strain. Garnish with Crystalized ginger.

(*in beta-test stage)
~ 1.0 Canton ginger liqueur
~ 0.5 La Captive (Poire Wm. brandy)
~ 0.75 Grey Goose La Poire
(or subst. Moonstone Asian Pear sake)
~ 3-drops Pernod
~ 0.75 Zen green tea liqueur
~ 0.5 Moscato (or Riesling, Champagne)
Shake w/ ice and a pinch of Chinese 5-spice. Serve on the rocks with a dash of Jacquin's Creme-de-Noyeaux for colour. (Note: this is intended to be a potent cocktail... like a sweet drink for scotch-lovers.)

And finally...

1.5 SoHo lychee liqueur
0.5 Grey Goose La Poire vodka
0.5 Ciroc Snap Frost vodka
0.5 Bak's Bison Grass vodka (Zubrowka)
3.0 Organic Cranberry juice cocktail
Shake w/ ice. Serve straight up or on the rocks with a cherry-stuffed lychee fruit and/or a lemon twist. (Note: this recipe comes from the SoHo website. The mixture of three different vodkas is my own doing, as I've discovered a wonderful, synergistic quality when combining all three.)


~Sc'Eric, bar manager
Fuji & Jade Garden
State College, PA

Sc'Eric said...

You know, I saw the Canton Sidecar recipe on the tag... but it just didn't sound that good. Try this instead:

~ 1.5 Canton ginger
~ 0.75 Cointreau
~ 0.75 Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake w/ Ice. Garnish w/ Cherry and/or Orange slice.