This is part of an ongoing series entitled Bar None, which explores local bartenders' favorite ingredients, familiar haunts, tipple of choice and “scientific” methods. Each week, a topic will be featured, rotating throughout the month.
When bartender Matthew Biancaniello, known for his commitment to using market-fresh and sometimes surprising (truffles, Candy Cap mushrooms) ingredients in his drinks, discovered emu eggs at a San Diego farmers market – huge, deep bluish-black emu eggs – he immediately started using them, both the whites and yolks, in drinks. And late at night, after the bar closed, he would whip up luscious scrambled eggs with whatever was left over. One year on Easter Sunday, Biancaniello even served drinks in the shells and allowed guests to take them home.
Then, tragedy struck: Roaming coyotes killed the entire herd of egg-supplying emus, forcing Biancaniello to wait two years for new emu eggs, from chicks that had to come to egg-bearing maturity first. Now the emus are laying eggs in full force, so – while they're available (emus lay eggs from about January through March), the eggs will find their way into Biancaniello's cocktails once again.
]Eggs have been used in cocktails since the early days of mixed drinks. But those eggs were, in general, the standard-issue chicken egg. So what exactly does an emu egg, which is almost all yolk, taste like?
“It's not gamey,” Biancaniello says. “It's more custardlike.” True to his “eat your drink” philosophy, Biancaniello will debut a kombu-infused tequila, complemented by a bonito, St. Germain and emu egg-white foam cocktail at Cheetah's this coming Sunday, Jan. 19. Soon after, you'll be able to sample other concoctions at Plan Check (the second location on Fairfax just opened in December), where Biancaniello usually tends bar on Thursday nights.
Egg-white foams – emu or otherwise – can play a major role in drink styles such as sours and fizzes, but Biancaniello also intends to experiment with the yolks and whole eggs. His cocktail of choice? A flip, which is an old-school combination of spirits, sugar, spices and egg, creating something akin to eggnog, although without the oft-added cream.
Biancaniello's very modern take on the drink style will combine egg yolk, emulsified in Chareau aloe liqueur and wheatgrass. Originally served hot, the drink employed a “flip-dog” – a red-hot poker – to heat the mixture. (The flip was so popular in the 19th century that even Dickens had his own recipe for it, which he showcased in Little Dorrit.)
While foam creates a frothy quality in a drink, the use of the yolk adds a velvety smoothness to the mix. If you still find yourself a bit skeptical about eggs in your drink – a practice that is a staple in most if not all of L.A.'s classic cocktail bars – taste one of Biancaniello's boundary-pushing drinks and you will likely be a convert. Dickens, a man who appreciated good food and drink, probably would have approved.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book “Gin: A Global History.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.