Miami mixologist shows how to jazz up your tired old cocktails with exotic liqueurs at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Xanté Pear Sidecar, Blood Orange & Sand, Singapore Sling, and Xanté Old Fashioned

The results of Freddy Diaz’ handiwork during his cocktail seminar at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in October 2012 (from left): Xanté Pear Sidecar, Blood Orange & Sand, Singapore Sling, and Xanté Old Fashioned.

A worthy New Year’s resolution for any mixologist would be to break away from the norm and explore alternative ingredients to make your cocktails stand out from the crowd. Today’s explosion in creative craft cocktails makes it difficult to decide what direction to take, but luckily there are some great experts in the field to guide us.

I had the opportunity to learn from one such expert recently at the 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World, where Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami presented an educational and entertaining seminar on behalf of the Peter F. Heering Co.

See below: Cocktail recipes | Photos of the seminar
Related: Disney raises the bar for cocktails, decadent dishes and desserts at Epcot fest

After 17 years, the festival has really hit its stride lately with not only a great selection of tasty food, wine and adult beverages for purchase at international booths along Epcot’s World Showcase, but also a growing array of wine and beverage seminars. This was the second year that cocktail experts joined the party, and there were many interesting choices on the schedule. It’s highly recommended you check these out if you plan on attending the fest in the future. They typically cost around $11 for an information-packed 45-minute session and cover a wide variety of topics.

My trip in October coincided with one of Diaz’ two talks about Cherry Heering and Xanté pear liqueur, both of which I’m familiar with from past visits to Epcot during the festival. Cherry Heering is a key ingredient in a traditional Singapore Sling, which has been a mainstay in the Singapore marketplace for years and was one of the Food and Wine Festival’s cocktail highlights. The exotic Xanté, a more recent addition, could be enjoyed at the fest’s Scandinavia booth both on the rocks and in the Xanté Sunshine cocktail. I gave both cocktails glowing reviews in my recent festival recap.

Hurricane Hayward meets up with Freddy Diaz at the end of his Epcot International Food and Wine Festival seminar for the Peter F. Heering Co. in October 2012

Hurricane Hayward meets up with Freddy Diaz at the end of his Epcot International Food and Wine Festival seminar for the Peter F. Heering Co. in October 2012.

I was also looking forward to seeing Diaz work, since I’m quite familiar with his South Florida endeavors and walked away impressed from my two encounters with his mixology skills at several Mai-Kai events presented by the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. He mixed up some nice cocktails at a premium rum tasting in September. And we had the pleasure of competing head-to-head in April 2011 at the Zombie Jamboree cocktail contest.

Before diving into the seminar, here’s a little background on the liqueurs. Both are great high-end spirits that could be better utilized in cocktails. Sure, they’re a bit pricey (typically $30 for Cherry Heering and $40 for Xanté) but these are top-of-the-line ingredients. And a little goes a long way.

Cheery Heering (aka Heering Cherry Liqueur) is considered the original cherry brandy and dates back to 1818. It was created by Peter Heering, a Danish merchant and purveyor to the Royal Danish Court. It contains only natural ingredients, including sour Danish cherries, almonds and spices (no additives or artificial coloring). It ferments in oak barrels for up to five years. Note that most other so-called cherry brandies are full of artificial ingredients. This is the real deal, made famous by its use in the gin-based Singapore Sling and scotch-based Blood and Sand cocktails. It’s quite versatile and criminally under-used as a cocktail ingredient, perhaps due to its price and somewhat limited availability. If your local liquor store doesn’t stock it, be sure to request it. FYI, the Heering brand was sold in 2008 to the Sweden-based family that owns Xanté. Both are imported into the United States by Gemini Spirits & Wine.
* Official Cherry Heering site

Xanté pear liqueur is a much more recent addition to the marketplace, but it actually has a rich history that goes back to the 1890s. Fleeing German rule, Jean Heinrich took up sanctuary at a Benedictine monastery in Belgium. According to the legend, the monks confided in him a collection of ancient, all-natural liqueur recipes, the most secret of which became the base for Xanté. I’m not sure I buy this tale, but there’s no doubt about the quality of this premium liqueur. It’s a blend of sweet Belgian pears and French cognac, matured for four years in oak barrels. Xanté contains high-quality, all-natural ingredients and no artificial additives. It’s been available in Europe for around 10 years and was introduced in the U.S. in 2009. It’s also worth tracking down, as the seminar recap and recipes below will demonstrate.
* Official Xanté site

Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami begins his cocktail seminar at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in October 2012

Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami begins his cocktail seminar at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in October 2012.

I caught Diaz as he was setting up in Epcot’s Festival Center for one of his October sessions. His company, AlambiQ Mixology in Miami, specializes in bar consulting, event catering, sales reinforcement, spirits and cocktail education, and brand marketing. It was his first event experience at Disney World, but he hardly seemed nervous. The large room that’s also used for wine seminars (hence it’s name, The Vineyard) was being readied for the awaiting guests.

As we entered, the 75 or so participants were greeted by Diaz and his elaborate bar set up on stage, plus lots of goodies at our seats. These included a sheet to write our tasting notes, and handouts featuring the cocktail recipes you see below, plus more Cherry Heering favorites. And those of us who answered any of the many trivia questions posed by Diaz throughout the 45-minute presentation were treated to free samples. My two little bottles of Xanté have come in handy. Elaborate garnishes including dehydrated fruit were also set aside, awaiting our sample cocktails.

After a quick introduction, Diaz launched into a anecdote-filled, Cliffs Notes-style version of the history of mixology. He quickly injected theory into the discussion, explaining how modern well-balanced cocktails can be traced back to the advent of the punch and its five key ingredients (herbs, citrus, sweet, water, and alcohol).

He also made sure to mention his company’s namesake, the alembic. During during the Middle Ages, this copper pot still was invented, paving the way for today’s modern stills used to produce alcoholic beverages. Diaz’ enthusiasm for the subject matter made it more than a dry history lesson. “I love history and where it comes from,” he said, retelling the story of how juniper water, which later became known as gin, was used to combat the Black Plague in the 1300s.

Mixologist Freddy Diaz demonstrates how to flame an orange peel to give a drink the essence of fruit

Mixologist Freddy Diaz demonstrates how to flame an orange peel to give a drink the essence of fruit.

The first published use of the word cocktail appeared in 1806 in a newspaper in Hudson, N.Y., related Diaz. This modern version contained four (not five) ingredients: Spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. “That’s the perfect definition of the cocktail,” Diaz said before beginning his demonstration by making an example of that original prototype.

During the demos, Diaz was also gracious enough to throw in some useful mixology tips. His first: Always start with the cheapest ingredients, just in case you need to abort and start over. His example of a simple, well-balanced cocktail was a Xanté Old Fashioned (a few dashes of bitters, 1/4 ounce simple syrup, 2 ounces of Xanté). He also recommends always using a mixing glass (so you can see what you’re doing) and adding the ice last so it doesn’t become too diluted. He demonstrated how to stir the drink with a mixing spoon to get the proper dilution, then he poured it through a julep strainer into a chilled glass filled with ice.

“The reason why I stir with ice and then I strain over fresh ice is because I want to cool my spirits, I want to add that proper amount of dilution in my cocktail,” Diaz said. He then “got fancy,” cutting a piece of orange and demonstrating how to caramelize the fruit with a lighter (he actually prefers matches) by burning the outside of the skin to open up the pores and laying it on top of the drink. “This gets some of those oils inside the cocktail,” he said. “You layer the top of the cocktail so you get that nice citrus taste.” Though this was the only cocktail we didn’t get to sample, it provided a great foundation for what was to follow.

A sample Singapore Sling awaits its garnish

A sample Singapore Sling awaits its garnish.

An even more perfect definition of a cocktail, Diaz said, is the Sazerac, invented in New Orleans in the 1850s and still popular today. He outlined its inventive construction, then referenced legendary 19th century bartender Jerry Thomas, “the mentor, the professor.” He’s the one who really laid the groundwork for all of us, Diaz said.

After a quick history of Peter F. Heering and his original cherry brandy, Diaz began his own unique take on the classic Singapore Sling. As sample drinks were distributed to the audience, Diaz demonstrated his version, which includes several ingredients not in the original (lemon juice, simple syrup, Xanté) and leaves out a few (lime juice, Cointreau, Benedictine). Instead of pineapple juice, he used a puree (the Boiron brand) that he endorses (Disney also uses the brand, he noted). The sample drink was sweet and well balanced with the pineapple and cherry flavors doing a delicious dance together. It also featured a nice kick from the gin. [See recipe, notes and discussion below]

Next up was the Blood and Sand, a scotch-based cocktail from the 1920s made in honor of a Rudolph Valentino movie of the same name. Diaz stuck very close to the classic ingredients (Cherry Heering, sweet vermouth, scotch), with the only change a substitution of blood orange puree (Boiron again) for the usual blood orange juice. Diaz calls his take Blood Orange & Sand, and it’s very close to a prototype bitter cocktail, very well balanced. He also showed off his very cool dehydrator that he uses to make dried fruit, such as the cayenne blood orange slice that garnishes the Blood Orange & Sand.
[See recipe, notes and discussion below]

Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami presents his Xanté Pear Sidecar

Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami presents his Xanté Pear Sidecar.

While we enjoyed our first two cocktails, Diaz took a few minutes to cover the history of Xanté. The biggest market for the liqueur is Scandanavia, he said, but it’s receiving a big push in the U.S. To show off this unique ingredient, Diaz said he chose “one of my favorite cocktails of all time,” the Sidecar. But, of course, he “tweaked it up.” Invented around 1930 in Paris, the Sidecar traditionally contains cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice. But, as Diaz notes, the same basic drink appeared 70 years earlier in Jerry Thomas’ bartending guide as the Brandy Crusta. Diaz changed it up with Xanté instead of cognac, plus cinnamon pear syrup instead of the orange liqueur. The result was the Xanté Pear Sidecar with its very intense pear flavor packed into a small cocktail. And a final dusting of cinnamon added more depth of flavor. [See recipe, notes and discussion below]

After wowing us with his knowledge and mixology skills, Diaz took questions from the audience. He explained how cocktails need to appeal to all five senses. There’s the obvious look, taste and smell. But, he said, there’s also the sound of the cocktail being shaken and the feel of the glass. The entire presentation was a feast of the senses, perfectly presented by a talented mixologist.

Below are the recipes and some discussion of the drinks presented at the seminar. Also scroll down for a photo gallery.

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SINGAPORE SLING
(By Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology, presented at the 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival)

A fully garnished Singapore Sling sample

A fully garnished Singapore Sling sample.

* 1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
* 1 1/2 ounces gin
* 1 ounce fresh pineapple puree (or juice)
* 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce simple syrup
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* 1 ounce club soda
* 1/2 ounce Xanté pear liqueur

Method: Shake all ingredients except soda and Xanté with ice cubes. Strain over crushed ice in a highball glass. Add soda water and stir thoroughly with a bar spoon. Top with Xanté. Garnish with a pineapple leaf, Morello cherry, and a lemon wedge.

Notes: Diaz uses and endorses Boiron, a high-end brand of fresh frozen fruit purees from France. He used the pineapple puree in his Singapore Sling. He sings the praises of Boiron, citing its use of the best ingredients (lemons from Sicily, limes from Florida, pineapple from Costa Rica). I haven’t had the opportunity to try this product yet, but I did have a fresh pineapple on hand so I made a puree from that in testing this recipe at home. Diaz used Beefeater in his seminar, but I went with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, which has a sweeter flavor profile. Feel free to try different gins. You won’t miss the more herbal Benedictine, which he omitted. Replacing lime with lemon is also a good choice, dialing back the tartness a bit. Simple syrup replaces grenadine, which also isn’t missed. There are already enough fruit flavors in the drink, though it does make the color a bit less red. If the pear flavor is a bit too intense as a float, you could shake the Xanté with the rest of the ingredients. The soda could be included in the shaker as well, though it’s probably best added afterward.

Discussion: This is a sweeter and more complex tasting version than any other Singapore Sling I’ve had yet, perfectly balanced. The sweet, dry and fragrant Xanté gives the drink a whole new complexity and deliciousness, yet it doesn’t alter the base flavors. The cherry and lemon are at the perfect levels, allowing the gin to shine through. Every ingredient has a clear role in this drink. It’s not overly complex and muddled – or overpoweringly strong – like many Singapore Sling recipes. Highly recommended.

This is probably the best of all Singapore Sling recipes I’ve reviewed. Click here for the classic Singapore Sling recipe that was my previous favorite. And click here to see what’s in the version served at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival’s Singapore marketplace.

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BLOOD ORANGE & SAND
(By Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology, presented at the 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival)

A Blood Orange & Sand cocktail garnished with a cayenne blood orange slice

A Blood Orange & Sand cocktail garnished with a cayenne blood orange slice.

* 3/4 ounce Cherry Heering
* 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
* 3/4 ounce blended 12-year-old scotch
* 3/4 ounce fresh blood orange juice or blood orange puree

Method: Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cayenne blood orange slice. (Lightly sprinkle blood orange slices with ground cayenne pepper; dehydrate until fully dried and crunchy.)

Notes: This is a variation of the vintage Blood and Sand with a few slight tweaks. Diaz made the proportions of all his ingredients the same, which makes for easy mixing and a perfect balance. Instead of juice, he used a blood orange puree from Boiron (available via Amazon), which adds an extra kick. At the seminar, he used Carpano Antica vermouth and Chivas Regal scotch.

Discussion: A simple classic. The Cherry Heering helps offset the bitterness of the vermouth and plays off the scotch nicely. And the cool dried fruit garnish makes me want to rush out and buy a dehydrator.

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XANTE PEAR SIDECAR
(By Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology, presented at the 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival)

The final cocktail sample of the seminar is a Xanté Pear Sidecar

The final cocktail sample of the seminar is a Xanté Pear Sidecar.

* 1 1/2 ounces Xanté pear liqueur
* 3/4 ounce fresh pressed lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce cinnamon pear syrup*

Method: Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a fresh pear fanned into slivers and sprinkled with cinnamon.

* To make cinnamon pear syrup, bring one cup of water to a boil, add three cinnamon sticks, stir for 30 seconds, and let steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain water, discarding the cinnamon sticks. Add equal parts of sugar to the cinnamon steeped water, and stir until dissolved. Add 1/2 part of pear puree (Boiron) and stir. Let steep for 15-20 minutes. Push all ingredients through a fine-mesh strainer. Store cold.

Notes: Instead of juicing basic lemons, Diaz recommends pressed lemon juice or Boiron’s puree, which includes a burst of extra flavor and sweetness.

Discussion: The liqueur mixes well with the intense pear syrup and tart lemon to create a bold flavor punch in this twist on a classic. The sprinkling of fresh cinnamon is also a great touch and enhances the sensory experience.

More from The Atomic Grog
* Disney raises the bar for cocktails, decadent dishes and desserts at Food and Wine Fest
* Cocktails come of age at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

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Related links
* Epcot International Food and Wine Festival | Facebook page
* AlambiQ Mixology | Facebook page | Twitter
* Heering | Facebook page | Twitter
* Xanté | Facebook page | Twitter

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Photo gallery: Peter F. Heering Co. mixology seminar by Freddy Diaz
Presented at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, October 2012

(Click on thumbnails to see larger images or to view as slideshow)

All photos by The Atomic Grog, October 2012

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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