Pineau Experiment No. 6 was perhaps the best of the bunch. . .
The next step was to try mixing some drinks of my own using Pineau des Charentes.
Pineau turned out to slightly awkward stuff to mix with, probably on account of it having such a mild taste. My natural inclination was try substituting pineau in recipes that traditionally call for other aperitif wines (i.e. following well worn patterns like Manhattans and Martinis). This approach did not work well.
While I did not come up with anything truly exceptional, several experiments yielded one or two promising results.
Not following any particular plan, I tried the following.
2 oz bourbon (Bulleit)
1 oz pineau
½ oz suze
1 tsp lemon added afterwards.
This was not a success. First, there was way too much bourbon. Second, I do not think bourbon and pineau are a good match. A spicier bourbon might be an improvement, but rye would be better still, and definitely in a smaller quantity. Calvados might also be interesting. Again a teaspoon of lemon juice proved an easy way of brightening it up a little. The Suze added a little interest but also did not really fit.
1 ½ oz pineau
1 ½ oz pisco
½ oz lemon juice
¼ oz Cynar
I figured I would try something using pisco, loosely based on the rhum agricole Pompadour, with the addition of ¼ oz of Cynar to give a bitter and complex finish. While I enjoyed this it did not compare with the Pompadour. The Cynar could be toned down and still do its thing. A teaspoon may be adequate.
2 oz Pineau des Charentes
1 oz pisco (or calvados)
1 oz fresh pineapple juice
2 dashes peach bitters
Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
On first taste this seemed almost too smooth and refreshing – like one of those vodka cocktails. I was not sure it worked. Despite an interesting list of ingredients it tasted boring. I made it again using Calvados instead of pisco, hoping for a better result. The Calvados version did not really work either.
1 oz pineau
1 oz Cruzan Estate Light Rum
1 drop (not dash) Angostura
½ tsp Kummel
This was good, making a very smooth rum drink that reminded me a little of the El Presidente on account of its soft profile fringed with herbal flavors. It needs to be reworked, but is a decent start. This one deserves repeating.
1 oz pineau
1 oz rye (Pikesville)
1 drop angostura
2 drops peychauds
This drink pretty much built on my experiences from Experiment #1. It is tasty enough but perhaps a bit mild and uninteresting. A bigger, spicier rye might have helped it.
2 oz pineau
1 oz dry apricot brandy (i.e. a eau de vie, not a liqueur)
½ oz lemon juice
1 tsp creme de framboise
Tasty. . . The honey taste in the pineau plays nicely with the apricots. The lemon juice and eau de vie keep things dry. The creme de framboise adds some sugar to round things out, plus an extra layer of fruit flavor that contributes to an overall impression of fruity complexity.
2 oz pisco
1 oz Pineau des Charentes
Dash of Orange Bitters
This was pleasant but unexciting.
I was probably expecting better results from messing around with Pineau. The first drink I tried with the stuff, the Pompadour, set the bar quite high. None of my own efforts came close.
Still, I think experiments #4 and #6 have potential. Experiment #6 was quite good, and Experiment #4 hints at a whole world of possibilities using pineau with rum and small doses of liqueurs or bitters. In general, Pineau seems to work well in drinks that are light on the spirits. Small touches of liqueurs also work nicely.
I would like to do more experimenting using Pineau and rums. There seems to be lots of potential there. It might also be interesting to mix Pineau with aromatized aperitif wines, something I did not try.
So that is it. While my experiments were not completely successful I think I showed there are promising possibilities for using Pineau in cocktails. Pineau des Charentes might not be as versatile as vermouth but it is still underrated as a cocktail ingredient. Used in the right way Pineau can make good drinks.