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Unlock the Bars: Magazine 63 celebrates the distinct nuances of nutmeg in a cocktail made with Martell Noblige

In this episode, we make our way up north to George Town, Penang and meet up with Richmond Teoh from Magazine 63 to bring back nutmeg into the limelight with a celebratory cocktail made using Martell Noblige.

Unlock the Bars travels north to the historic city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, George Town, Penang to unearth the unique flavours of nutmeg that has been cultivated in the island since the 18th century. Host Venice Min and bartender Richmond Teoh from Magazine 63 venture to the other side of the island in Balik Pulau to learn all about nutmeg — an eye-opening trip that opens up the amazing versatility and benefits of the fruit. Taking cues from the different nuances of nutmeg, we begin to have a stronger appreciation towards the humble nutmeg and how its flavours are translated into the cocktail. 

Almost forgotten, nutmeg began losing its popularity in the early 1990s despite it being a quintessential spice in many local cuisine. 

Nutmeg in Penang
Unbeknownst to many, nutmeg is not native to Malaysia but was brought in by the British East India company in the late 18th century.

Unbeknownst to many, nutmeg are not native to Malaysia. Nutmeg trees were first cultivated in Penang in the late 18th century by the British East India company as a way to expand their lucrative spice trade. Today, nutmeg trees are likely to be seen in certain parts of Penang island and are the source of two popular spices — nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is the seed inside the fruit, while the mace is the red netlike aril that envelopes the seed. Mace is the most expensive part of the nutmeg fruit despite having a rather subtler flavour.

Penang Nutmeg
Nutmeg is a versatile fruit that has many uses and benefits, for cooking and healing.

Fresh from the tree, nutmeg fruit is edible and its flesh is the source for both nutmeg juice for commercial consumption and as a pickle — pickled nutmegs are also known to the locals as “kiam suii tnee” (translates salty, sour, and sweet in Hokkien). When consumed, it leaves a prominent astringent note and slowly warms up the entire body — just like Martell Noblige that gives off an initial sweet and spicy expression, and a delightful warmth at the end.

In the making of this recipe, the Magazine 63 bartender highlights Martell Noblige as the main inspiration of the drink. When one takes the first sip of the Martell Noblige cognac, the opening flavours reveal creamy and fruity notes. Allow the cognac to linger in your palate, as it unveils delightful dark hints of stone fruits that finish with a comforting warmth. Richmond is translating that experience into the making of this unique cocktail. 

Richmond explains that he wants to celebrate the nutmeg through and through in a cocktail that develops its flavours in gradual stages — just like Martell Noblige — the first sip expresses a subtle sweetness, the second maintains an enjoyable flavour with a lingering aroma of nutmeg, and the third sip that warms up the entire system from within.

Nutmeg Aril Mace
The red net-like aril wrapping the seed is the source of mace.

Complementing the expressions of Martell Noblige, Richmond starts by infusing the cognac with the mace to further intensify the spicy dark notes of the spirit. He also creates a nutmeg syrup by blending equal parts of nutmeg flesh and sugar, creating a light syrup to balance the flavours in the cocktail. 

Richmond demonstrates the making of the cocktail with ease, mixing the mace-infused Martell Noblige with the nutmeg syrup, golden falernum liqueur, dry vermouth and chocolate bitters — all in chunks of ice. He gives the concoction a few swirls — stirring the mixture to ensure that it is perfectly chilled yet not over diluted.

To serve, he places a hand-cut ice block in a champagne saucer and pours the cocktail with a double strainer to rid all impurities — leaving with a rosé-like golden concoction that glistens through the ice. And the colour exemplifies the golden hues of Martell Noblige cognac. He further enhances the sensorial experience by crushing the seed of an unripened nutmeg and rubbing it around the rim of the glass, leaving a beautiful scent on the nose. Richmond finishes off by grating the nutmeg seed for an extra punch of spice, before garnishing with an elaborate piece of mace.

Richmond garnishing the cocktail with an elaborate piece of mace.

Celebrating the humble nutmeg through and through, the recipe utilises every part of the nutmeg fruit to create a cocktail that represents the story of the nutmeg itself — a spice that travels from the west to the east, and seemingly adopted into local cooking and everyday consumption, particularly in Penang. In fact, nutmeg is also a rather uncommon ingredient to pair with cocktail but this intervention has proven that the fruit is a great complement with Martell Noblige.

The Magazine 63 bartender also admits that it is his first time pairing the cognac with nutmeg, and the results have been pleasantly surprising. Just like nutmeg, the warm notes of Martell Noblige are balance and gradually transform into nutty rich notes, with earthy undertones. Both are versatile with flavours that leave a lasting impression. He is able to embody the nuances of Martell Noblige in a cocktail that infuses nutmeg in a simple yet unconventional way — reflecting the spirit of audacity that the Maison has celebrated through the years. The cocktail made using Martell Noblige and perfumed with the difference nuances of nutmeg, is named “Oriental Voyage” — taking cues from the characteristics of the nutmeg as a fruit teeming with history.

The ‘Oriental Voyage’ made using Martell Noblige and various parts of the nutmeg as the highlight ingredient.

If you’re on a constant search for something new to try at home, Richmond shares the recipe to this easy-to-make stirred cocktail with a little alchemy involved.

Oriental Voyage

40ml Martell Noblige (infused with mace)

10ml Golden Falernum Liqueur

10ml Dry Vermouth

2 dashes of Chocolate Bitters

5ml Pickled Nutmeg Syrup

Grated nutmeg for garnish

Otherwise, if you happen to be in Georgetown, Penang, pop by Magazine 63 bar to experience the tribute cocktail ‘Oriental Voyage’ made with Martell Noblige, that celebrates the nutmeg in its truest form. ‘Oriental Voyage’ will be available at Magazine 63 from now until 31 December 2021.

Unlock the Bars is a collaborative initiative between Martell and Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur to explore the possibilities of blending Martell Noblige cognac with locally-inspired elements. Unlock the Bars travels to different cities in Malaysia to unearth new talents in the country’s vibrant bar scene and invites you to taste the unique creations of Martell Noblige.

Martin Teo
Editor
Martin has a bent for history and food culture, especially of the Peranakan heritage. Since the pandemic, he finds joy in plant parenting and continues to expand his collection of Philodendrons, Anthuriums, and Syngoniums. He's now on a lookout for the elusive Philodendron Florida Beauty to add to his urban garden.