April 30, 2009

"Anyone who says I didn't create the Mai Tai is a dirty rotten stinker."

Thus sayeth Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron. The Mai Tai is a classic, though sadly, much mistreated drink. The first problem with it was the base rum that Vic favored, a seventeen year old J. Wray and Nephew Jamaican, saw it's worldwide supply exhausted within a year of the 1944 debut of this drink. Then it saw it's orgeat switched from an imported brand to an easier to procure one. After that, it's seen one modification after another. Hell, even I modified it tonight (but I only try to change you because I love you, alcohol), and in the great scheme of things, my change isn't too egregious of one. So here's tonight's version of the drink!
Mai Tai

2 oz Pyrat XO rum
1/2 oz orange curacao
1/2 oz orgeat syrup
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz Wray and Nephew White Overproof rum
1/8 oz simple syrup

Shake all ingredients well with tons of crushed ice and pour into your favorite Tiki mug (if you don't have a favorite Tiki mug, you really should get one. If you're pressed for time, though, you can use a Collins glass)
The name of this drink comes from the exclamation, in Tahitian, of the first people to taste Vic's concoction, Ham and Carrie Guld. On Carrie's first sip, she exclaimed (according to Trader Vic lore) "It's mai tai! It's mai tai roa áe!" She explained that it means "out of this world! The best!" And lo, the name stuck. And it should...it's a damned good drink. The original didn't use the overproof rum, and instead of simple syrup used 1/8 oz of "rock candy syrup" which is just simple syrup with some vanilla extract added to the mix. I opted to use the Wray and Nephew overproof to add a vanilla note, plus a little extra booze...the Pyrat is good, but it can underwhelm a bit in some mixes (though it's awesome to drink straight with a little lime). Contrast this to the Mai Tai served at your local TGI McTchotchke's GoodTime FoodDrinkery and you'll find there's a world of difference: the difference between expedience and craft. This little tipple, if consumed in the dog days of summer, just around sunset after a fun-filled day of yardwork, may just be the thing that saves your sanity and sends you, if only for a few minutes, "out of this world."
Mai Tai

April 29, 2009

Monkey Gland v. 2.0?

In the 1920s, a "fad drink" was making the rounds in Paris. It was called the Monkey Gland. To make a long story short, this was the sort of the "Slippery Nipple" of the time, a titillating name and nothing too special to back it up. Long story short, the name came about from a certain "doctor" (and I use the term loosely) who was transplanting monkey testicles into humans, with the notion that it may pump up the libido of the recipient. Sounds like a good recipe for Ebola, but that's just me. For more info on the drink, see Darcy O'Neil's post on his blog, "The Art of Drink."

So, I got to thinking on this one...it never really caught on here in the US, I think in part due to the already increased stigma on absinthe, an ingredient which was barely used in the original, but was thought to have some serious mind-warping juju in its depths. If it did come to the states, though, it probably would have come in through New Orleans, because with transplanted monkey parts, it sounds like voodoo already. So here's a small, more cordial, slightly more exotic take on the Monkey Gland; call it:
Monkey Gland v. 2.0

1 oz gin
1 oz orange juice
dash of Pernod (or absinthe if you have it)
dash of raspberry syrup
dash of Peychaud's bitters
3-5 drops of black pepper and orange extract*

stir all ingredients together with ice and strain into a cordial cup.

*to make this, just mix 1/2 tsp mixed peppercorns (some crushed, some whole) and 1/4 tsp of dried orange peel for every two ounces of overproof rum, let steep for a week, and then strain through a coffee filter.
monkey gland v2.0
Well, it turned out OK, but as Darcy says in his post, it's basically gin n' juice with a dollop of anise. The raspberry syrup's there for color more than anything, and the bitters and black pepper/orange extract, while present, are left kind of going "Well...here we are, Bartleby. What now?" (I have no idea who Bartleby is...he just showed up.)

So I got to thinking some more...what could I do to make it a little more interesting? And then it occurred to me...why not use some of the berry shrub base instead of the raspberry syrup? It'll add some more personality, and some more complexity, with the berries and vinegar playing off the rest...so here's:
Monkey Gland v. 2.1

1 oz gin
3/4 oz orange juice
3/8 oz berry shrub base
1/8 oz Pernod or absinthe
dash Peychaud's bitters
5 drops black pepper and orange extract
This one has a lot more appeal...it's not nearly so sweet for one, and it's got a lot more depth. The black pepper extract adds a little bit of heat right at the end, but not enough that you go "Why is there pepper in my drink, Bartleby? Did you get me a strange Bloody Mary? Is this some kind of new Sangrita?" The modified version's not quite got the same electrified hue of the original...it's a bit mellower due to the less refined nature of the shrub base blotting out some of the more fluorescent aspects of the raspberry syrup, but it more than makes up for being not quite as vibrant appearance-wise in the flavor department.
monkey gland v2.1
It's definitely worth a try...if you didn't, I'd say you were bananas.

April 28, 2009

Elect-ile Dysfunction

West Palm Beach. Election. Troubles deciphering ballots. Trying to sex chads. Swinging? Hanging? Pregnant? Tri-chad? Oh, those crazy November days of...1960?!


Seems that 40 years before the big dust-up in Florida electoral history, there was another sorry-ass chapter. In the aftermath of all that deciphering, a precinct captain in Palm Beach Lakes decided to create a drink to help unwind at the end of the day, and lo, the Swinging Chad was born.
Swinging Chad

2 oz golden Puerto Rican rum (or Cuban, if you know a guy who knows a guy)
2 oz unsweetened pineapple juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Pernod

Stir well with cracked ice and pour, unstrained, into a Collins glass. Top up with ginger ale, add a straw, and garnish it with a paper umbrella with little rectangles cut out of it.
It's a silly looking thing, but it's not too bad. As long as you don't go too heavy with the Pernod, this is a pretty well balanced, interestingly spicy concoction, one that's got enough magic going on that it's hard to pick out individual flavors. I'd say it's more of an occasional drink, though, rather than a twice or thrice a week tipple...as the Emperor said to Mozart..."too many notes."
Swinging Chad

April 27, 2009

See, I have this weird problem...

I like to drink Windex.
Blue Monday

You see, I have the tendency to take off my clothes for no reason and go running around the neighborhood...so I drink Windex to help me with it. It helps to keep me from streaking.


Actually, it's not really Windex in the photo (or I'd be on the phone with my local Poison Control Center). Rather, it's a very appropriate drink for today...it's a Blue Monday. The Blue Monday is one of the first "novelty drinks." It's nothing special, taste-wise...it's just fun to look at, because let's face it, blue foods are not exactly common on this planet (Tattooine has blue milk, apparently, if "A New Hope" is accurate, but as Alton Brown says, "That's another show." Probably the one in which I give you all the recipe for my "Flaming Wookie" shooter. It's on fire. Seriously.)

The Blue Monday is just vodka, Cointreau/white curaçao/triple sec, and blue food dye. It's citrusy, but a little sweet. So I did my usual futzing with the drink to make it a little more interesting, and came up with this:
Blue Monday
2 oz vodka (I used that Clementine-infused stuff I've got)
1/2 oz Cointreau or another good white curaçao or triple sec
2 or 3 drops blue food dye
dash of orange bitters

Stir well with cracked ice and strain it into a cocktail glass.

It's not a great drink, it's not a bad drink. It's just a blue cocktail that tastes, paradoxically, of orange. It's a goofy drink, and some days (usually Mondays), that's all you need.

April 26, 2009

He has fallen into shadow!

Every now and then I like to take a drink that exists and put my own little spin on it. And when you do that to drinks that were, themselves, just modifications of already extant cocktails, well, you can end up going a little crazy.

Take, for example, the Eastern Sour. It's a variant on the Ward Eight, which is, itself, a variant on the venerable Whiskey Sour. The Eastern Sour diverges from the Ward Eight by using bourbon instead of rye, lime juice in lieu of lemon, swapping in simple syrup for the grenadine, and adding a tiny bit of orgeat syrup. I'm not sure exactly which of those changes make it "eastern," but perhaps the orgeat added enough mystery to it that it seemed exotic by comparison.

Well, I like that well enough, but while I was pondering what made it eastern, I started thinking about the connotations of things in the east, in literature and culture. I can't help it; I'm a dork. And one of the things I came up with was that Mordor, in "The Lord of the Rings" is in the east. So I did some further swapping and modifying, and I made it a Mordor Sour! It's a tiny bit more involved, but it really makes for a neat looking and tasting drink.
Mordor Sour
2 oz bourbon or rye (I think rye would be a little more interesting)
1 1/2 oz orange juice
1 oz lime juice
1/4 oz orgeat syrup
1/8 oz simple syrup
1/8 oz clementine or mandarin infused vodka (optional)
dash of orange bitters
1/4 oz grenadine

Combine all ingredients save for the grenadine with ice in your shaker and shake well to combine. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass full of ice. Slowly add the 1/4 oz of grenadine, letting it seep to the bottom. Garnish with cherry and serve with a short stirring rod.
I think the only way this cocktail could be more exotic is if I added some crazy extract like, say, black pepper and orange (which I'm making, by the way). It naturally tends towards the sweet, even with all the citrus juice, so I'd go with the rye here, just to let that natural spiciness counteract it. I think the vodka also helps dry it out a little bit. I scaled back the simple syrup, since I was adding the grenadine, but if you're partial to more sour and less sweet, you can do away with it entirely. This has some great potential for tinkering with, and I think you could take it to really unusual places if you were so inclined. When my orange and black pepper extract is complete, I'll totally retry this with a few drops.
Mordor Sour

Oh, and because I don't want to get my broke ass sued, this drink is neither authorized nor endorsed by the Tolkien estate, New Line Cinemas, or any of the nifty people involved with The Lord of the Rings. Though if they like it and want to fly me out to make it for them at premieres or something, I would totally be up for it.

April 25, 2009

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

Humphrey Bogart: a man's man. Drinker, smoker, fighter, lover, a tough guy with an all-too-human heart. Ok, that's enough waxing rhapsodic, you're here for drinks, not a hagiography. I began with that introduction because tonight's drink is a little number called the Bogey. It's really a combination of all sorts of elements from other cocktails; a chunk of Martini here, a dash of Manhattan there, it's whimsical, but it makes for a good tipple.
1 oz gin
1 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz bourbon
1/4 oz Pernod
dash of lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass full of ice, introduce it to a bar spoon and stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass.
This is one of those drinks that you'd think would just taste like an amalgam of all it's ingredients, but it's really quite subtle. It's pretty much impossible to describe, but it'd be a great one to make at home, or see if your friendly neighborhood bartender can do it justice. It's a fairly uncommon drink, which is a pity, because it's got potential. Give it a whirl.

April 24, 2009

"Shaken not stirred?" UR DOIN IT WRONG!

Thanks to stupid James Bond (well, maybe not ONLY him, but he's a big part of the problem), everybody and their brother thinks two things about a Martini; it should be made with vodka, and it should be shaken. Here's why that's wrong. First off, classic martini? Gin. Second off, shaking? Doesn't "bruise" the flavors like people seem to suppose, but it does introduce microscopic air bubbles, which lend a cloudy appearance, which isn't exactly conducive to that gorgeous, crystal clear look that the Martini pulls off so well. For more info on shaking vs stirring, take a look at Imbibe Magazine's video on the subject, hosted by Jeffrey Morgenthaler (you may remember him from my Old Fashioned post). A further pet peeve of mine is that people seem to think that anything served up in a cocktail glass should carry the Martini moniker, but that's a quarrel for another time.

Long story short, a Martini, in the classic, timeless, perfect, sublime sense of the drink, has a scant three ingredients, plus optional garnish; gin, dry vermouth, a couple dashes of orange bitters, lemon twist garnish (actually, just twist the lemon over the drink and then ditch the peel...you really only want the oils). The main variances in the experience of the martini come into play with the alteration of the gin-to-vermouth ratio and the variety of each you use.

It's very possible to take the ratio to extremes...at times, the preferred ratio was 8 parts of gin and a menacing glare at the vermouth bottle...in other words, cold gin. On the other end of the spectrum, there's equal measures of gin and vermouth, which takes it back too far away from dryness...in the end, you want the best of both worlds; you want that crisp dryness from the gin tempered ever so slightly with the more mellow aspect of the vermouth (which is still dry, but not nearly so much as the gin). To this end, I agree with David Wondrich in that an idea proportion, though a tricky one to attain without using a scale (like I do, because Alton Brown taught me well) is 7 parts gin to one part vermouth. You can get pretty much there with 2 oz gin and barely two teaspoons of vermouth, or you can just plunk your mixing glass or shaker full of cracked ice on your digital scale, pour in 63 mL of gin and 9 of vermouth, dash in your orange bitters, and stir until everything is well chilled.

I commented to my two followers on Twitter (ok, one follower, the other is my main account) that I'd procured a couple new spirits today, including Rehorst, a locally produced gin. So I figured I'd test it out in a Martini. The gin's distilled by Great Lakes Distillery, and it features, among its botanicals, two unusual elements; sweet basil (sometimes called "sacred basil") and Wisconsin ginseng. Neither of those have ever been used in a commercial gin before, and they make for a really unique aroma and taste.

This is my first time sampling Rehorst's gin, so my impressions are about as fresh as possible. It's a really really clean gin, and oddly enough, the first flavors I get from this drink are a clean hard mineral flavor and, perplexingly, coconut, and then the citrus notes come into play! It's great, though, I'm sold already. I think, on reflection, that the mineral flavor I'm getting is the sweet basil and coriander, maybe some of the ginseng. Whatever it is, mark me down as a fan. I look forward to trying this one in a Gin Rickey and a G&T, as well. If you don't live in the Midwest, see if you can order it from their website. It's a damned good gin.

April 23, 2009

Special bonus post!

I decided to have a Gin Rickey again in anticipation of warmer weather, but I'm using a different gin from the last time. This go round I made it with New Amsterdam, which is probably a good starter gin for people who think they don't like gin...it's got a lower price point than most, and there's less juniper, which mean less "pine needle" flavor for those that can't handle it. New Amsterdam's stronger on the citrus, which means you probably won't want it in your martinis, but for mixed drinks that already rely on citrus components, this, like Gordon's London Dry Gin, is a pretty good one to go to.

So I made the Rickey with 1/2 lime juice, 2 oz New Amsterdam, and a teeny, tiny, two-drop addition of Pernod, just for some more herbal notes, then topped it all up with seltzer. Awesome. If your neck of the woods is slated for a warm spell for the next few days, it might not be a bad idea to go and pick up some of this.

This concludes tonight's random bonus post.

No school like the old school

I picked up some new cocktail books from the library to peruse. One of them is titled "173 Pre-Prohibition Cocktails" by Tom Bullock. Apparently Bullock was the celebrity bartender of his day, and compiled these back in 1917. Now there are some really strange drinks in here, like the Bombay Cocktail, made with olive oil, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, an egg , salt and paprika (sounds like a Prairie Oyster!) which you may rest assured I won't be preparing, but there are also some that stand the test of time. They're simple, to be sure, but they're good. Here's the one I opted to make first, if only because of it's name:
All Right Cocktail

1 jigger (1 1/2 oz) rye whiskey
2/3 jigger (1 oz) orange curaçao
dash Angostura bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
It's a simple concoction, but it gets the job done. If it were more modern, you'd probably see the curaçao reduced a bit more, to keep it from being too sweet, and possibly served over ice, but all in all, it's just as potable today as ever. Easy little bugger to make, too.
All Right Cocktail

April 22, 2009

This drink travels directly to...The Twilight Zone.

I was reading an old Thursday Drink Night post earlier this evening from late February, dealing with adding rinses to the inside of your glass before adding the cocktail itself...and I got to pondering...last night we played around with Pernod and noted that between that and the gin, there were a ton of extracts and herbal ingredients in it. So how many varieties of multiple extracts could I have in one drink and still have it taste good? I decided that I was just crazy enough to find out, and so I created another drink tonight! There's no photo, because it's really nothing special to look at, but it's worth trying if only to see if it cures your bursitis or something.
The Potential Monteleone Cocktail

For the rinse:
6 drops pimento dram
6 drops spice extract or falernum
6 drops Pernod
2 drops Peychaud's bitters

For the drink:
1 3/4 oz jenever-style gin
1/4 oz bourbon
1/4 oz dry vermouth
dash orange bitters
dash Angostura bitters

Swirl the rinse around in your prettiest cordial glass as far up the sides as possible, then pour out the rest. Shake the remaining ingredients with ice and strain into your glass.
This is really a weird, but good concoction. The nose is so at odds with the flavor that it's got this weird little cognitive dissonance thing going on, which I really like. The scent is very spicy, sweet, all nutmeg and allspice and cinnamon and star anise...and then the flavor is very dry and ascerbic, with a little bit of sweetness from the bourbon and a little fruit from the orange bitters. I'd almost use this as a digestif in its current size, or double it and have it with a splash of club soda as a larger size cocktail.

If you're in an experimental, mind-warp kind of mood, you could do worse than this drink. Not bad for a made up on the spot drink.

UPDATE! Dateline: El Cinco De Mayo 2009 [insert newsroom sound effects here] I'm entering this drink in a contest, and it has thus been renamed. It was "The Voodoo PuPu Platter" but it is now the "Potential Monteleone Cocktail" to reflect the contest in question.

April 21, 2009

If someone wants a drink that tastes like candy, serve them this!

Growing up, I remember my grandparents had some unusual varieties of candy. Mercifully, I never had circus peanuts inflicted upon me, but I did have spice drops. Remember those? Little dome shaped, sugar encrusted pieces of gummy candy? And no matter what the color, they all tasted the same? It wasn't a bad flavor, but it was distinctive. I'd forgotten all about those until I sampled tonight's drink...a drink that contains a spirit I've never had before; Pernod.

I'll confess, I looked for a miniature bottle of Pernod because I knew that it was an anisette, a sort of licorice-on-crack flavored liquid, and to be honest, black licorice is not one of my favorite foods. Sadly, there were no mini bottles to be found (frankly, I'm not sure if they even exist), so I figured I'd just bite the bullet, stop worrying and learn to love Pernod. Well my worrying proved unfounded, because while the nose of Pernod is full of licorice, the flavor is not nearly as monotone as that. And tonight's drink, cheerfully called "William Seabrook's Asylum," makes for quite the unusual, but intriguing, cocktail.

Pernod, like it's big brother absinthe, and cousin ouzo, is a liquor that louches, or clouds up when it's introduced to water. It makes for some pretty effects, especially in the Asylum. You'll notice on looking at the ingredients, that, despite containing grenadine, the beverage is very very yellow. That's solely due to my grenadine being homemade and pretty pale in color. If you use commercial (and if you do, PLEASE go with a brand like Stirrings over Rose's), or if you make your own using pomegranate juice, your drink will end up more orange than yellow. My grenadine was made by boiling down pomegranate pips, and is therefore not quite as colorful.
William Seabrook's Asylum

Pour slowly, and in this order, into an Old-Fashioned glass:

1/2 teaspoon grenadine
1 1/2 ounces Pernod
1 1/2 ounces London dry gin (though a Jenever-style would be interesting, too)

Add 2 to 3 ice cubes, letting them melt a tiny bit, and then swizzle to watch the clouds form.
I'd be lying if I said this tastes like anything besides a spice drop, but that's not a bad thing at all...it's not cloyingly sweet, and as David Wondrich points out in "Esquire Drinks," "[b]etween the Pernod and the gin, you've got the extracts of a few dozen assorted roots and herbs, not a few of which must have some serious juju going for them...[it] seems to impart a trancelike, unblinking calm tat is difficult to otherwise achieve." I don't know about "trancelike" but after a pair of these, I was feeling pretty damn mellow. For an introduction to Pernod, this drink made it pretty painless. Next stop, absinthe, maybe?
William Seabrook's Asylum

Addendum: You've probably noticed that in a lot of my photos, I've got the drinks posing with books. That's not by accident. I'm a voracious reader, and I will happily and most emphatically recommend any of the books you see in the photos. I try to match them based on a sort of emotional connection I feel each drink could make with them, but sometimes I just feel like singling out a book, you know?

April 20, 2009

an ode to unusual beverages...

I'm participating in a round table discussion at my local library about the future of food in the United States, looking at how farming and raising livestock has shifted from family run endeavors to huge, vertically integrated agribusinesses. One of the discussion points is the notion of eating locally-produced foods, and one of the things I plan to bring up at our next meeting tomorrow, replete with samples (non-alcoholic, sadly. I can't imagine the library would want booze on the premises) is the notion of preserving food. Now most people think of preserving food as either salting, smoking, canning or making jellies. There is another route, however, and it's one that was tremendously popular in the American Colonies...you can preserve the bounty of summer's fruit harvest by making a fruit shrub. No, not "shrub" in the sense of a small plant...the name actually comes from Arabic, and the word "sharab," which simply means "to drink". A fruit shrub is just a liquid that's produced by boiling together water, sugar, the fruit who's essence you want to keep on hand, and vinegar. In my recipe, I use white wine vinegar, just to keep it palatable, although I'd imagine apple cider vinegar could work as well. In either case, the acidity of the vinegar plus the simple syrup base combined to keep the liquid from spoiling in the fall and winter months in the Colonies, and could then be used to add a touch of summer's color and flavor to the bone-chilling bleakness of, say, January in New Hampshire. In my experience, this works best with berries, small stone fruits like cherries, and cranberries. Tonight's drink, which will also be tomorrow's drink at my "Menu for the Future" session only without the liquor, was made with four berries; raspberries, blueberries, marionberries and strawberries. Here's how to make the shrub.
In a medium-sized pot, whisk together 1 cup of sugar and one cup of water. Once combined, add 2 pints of the fruit of your choice and reduce the heat, simmering for 10 minutes. Then add two cups of white wine vinegar and return to a boil for two minutes. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to get out as much of the liquid as possible; this should result in about a liter of syrupy liquid. Bottle and chill before using.
Then for your drink, all you've got to do is add 2 to 2 1/2 ounces of rum to 1 ounce of your shrub mixture, building over ice, and top up with ginger ale.

A lot of people, on learning what's in this drink, invariably pull a face at the mention of vinegar. In truth, it adds a tang to the beverage, but it's flavor is so muted by the sweetness of the fruit (not to mention the sugar) that it's really more like the flavor a bit of lemon juice might add than anything else. It's really a fun drink to spring on people...and you can make it with a ton of different fruits. I've even heard of a ginger shrub, which must look a lot like a chutney before straining. And, of course, like so many specialty foods and beverages, if you don't feel like making your own shrub base (which means you'll lose out on half the fun and all of the feeling of accomplishment) you can buy it online, most notably, from Tait Farm Foods in Pennsylvania. One of my favorite aspects of this is the feeling that I've refined something, that I've taken these simple ingredients and rendered them down and made this beautiful, fragrant, jewel-colored liquid from them. It's a simple process, but it produces a great, and long-lasting result; that batch of shrub will make more than 30 drinks. It may be a good idea to share...
Rum Shrub

April 19, 2009

Are you embarrassed easily? If so, it's nothing to worry about. It's all part of growing up and being British.

I'll warn you right off the bat, tonight's drink has a funny name. Actually, it's got two names, and both are funny, but for different reasons. So if, like Homer Simpson, you can't even say the word "titmouse" without giggling like a schoolgirl, you should probably stay away. Go listen to Monty Python or something. Or play the vibraphone. Or work on building a scale model of a Wankel rotary engine.

Tonight's drink, as I teased earlier on Twitter, is veddy, veddy, jolly well British. I mean, this is something that Rudyard Kipling most likely drank while hunting tigers out in "Indiah," or whatever he did when he wasn't carrying his white man's burden or writing books in jungles...It's also really quite simple to make. If you want to be an insufferable twit about ordering it in the bar, you can call it a "Gin Pahit," as "pahit" is the Malay word for "bitter". Or, you can just call it a Pink Gin, which, despite the sissy sounding name, comes by it's color honestly, and said to be a favorite of "Officers and Gentlemen," though I'm not sure how Richard Gere feels about it. It is not, however, a sissy drink.

It's made by putting 3 or 4 dashes of bitters in a chilled glass and swirling the liquid around the inside. Then, depending on whether you want it "in" or "out," the bitters are kept in the glass or poured out, leaving a light residue clinging to the walls of the vessel. Then you add 2 ounces of well-chilled London dry gin. And that's it. Of course, you could make it a "Pink Gin and Tonic" by topping it up with tonic water. Or you could make your pahit with orange bitters, which wouldn't add any color, but go very well with the gin. After all, gin is an infusion of various botanicals in alcohol, and bitters are an infusion of various botanicals in alcohol, so why shouldn't they complement each other? Personally, I like to use three dashes of Angostura bitters and a dash of orange bitters, just to cover all the bases.

On the subject of color, you may find that the Pink Gin doesn't look especially pink. It really varies from gin to gin and from batch to batch of bitters. I have a theory that it even is impacted by how hard or soft your water is, but that's just me. I think for a lot of people though, it'll wind up being more orange than pink. That's ok. Just call it a Gin Pahit and no one will be the wiser.

Now just to be clear, this is a strong drink...you're drinking pretty much a neat gin, after all. You can add ice or dilute with cold water or tonic water if you want...I like mine just as is. It stiffens that upper lip quite nicely.
Gin Pahit

April 18, 2009

Sorry gang, no new drink tonight.

I mean, I'm drinking tonight, don't get me wrong, but I got back late from the birthday party I was at, and I don't feel like setting up the lights and camera and tripod...I'll be back tomorrow, promise.

April 17, 2009

Learning the provenances of rum is like strolling through a Beach Boys song.

I'm having another one of those nights where I can't decide what I feel like making. I'm flipping through some of my drink guides and going "Ooh, that sounds good! Wait, I don't have any Cherry Heering." Flip, flip flip. "Oh, that's a neat one, too--wait, didn't pick up any ginger ale. Crap." Page, page, page, flip, page. "Interesting, but I don't feel like faffing around with egg white tonight." Sometimes you're just lackadaisical, you know?

So I'm going to just take a basic premise, the venerable Daiquiri, and reconfigure it to what I have on hand. I'm not using a white rum, so that pushes it towards a Jamaica Rum Cocktail, but I'm going to use that Pyrat rum I picked up yesterday, so it'd be more like an Antigua Rum Cocktail. And I'm using simple syrup instead of bar sugar, and maybe I'll add a splash of pineapple juice along with the lime juice. And I don't feel like straining it, and I'm too lazy tonight to make a second one, so I'll just make it a double. Hmmm...what to call this monstrosity? Big, rummy, influenced by Tiki drinks as much as the classic Cuban recipe? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my newest creation:

The Brando Doble

(this makes a double; for a more manageable portion, just halve the ingredients)

4 oz Pyrat XO Reserve rum
1/2 oz 2:1 simple syrup
juice of 1 lime (about an ounce. if your lime gives you more, roll with it)
1/2 oz pineapple juice
2 dashes of orange bitters
3 drops (about 1/16 tsp) pimento dram

shake well with crushed ice and strain into a Double Old Fashioned glass filled 2/3 of the way up with ice.

This drink is proof that sometimes the things you just throw together can magically, alchemically merge into something surprising. Sorry if that sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but I was really quite surprised that this works as well as it does. I was worried it'd be too sweet, I was worried that the Pyrat wouldn't work with the lime, I was worried that the pimento dram would be overkill. I'm delighted that my worries proved unfounded on all fronts. This is a really fun drink. My only issue with my first version of this cocktail (as pictured in the photo), which I've since corrected in the above instructions, was that I used too little ice to keep it cold. The crushed ice I shook it with melted too quickly in the drink itself. So now I have you pouring it over whole ice cubes in your DOF glass. Enjoy!
The Brando Doble

April 16, 2009

Two Tiki drinks in as many nights?! How can you LIVE at that speed?!

So I put it to a vote among my Twitter friends tonight, asking them to choose one of the following cocktails for this blog entry: the Bronx, the Sunshine, or the Royal Hawaiian. One person replied, so I went with his request. I'll get to the Bronx and the Sunshine at a later time, because John wanted the Royal Hawaiian, even though we just had a Tiki drink last night. There's no accounting for taste. (Kidding!)

This drink comes to me from one of Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's cocktail compendiums, "Beachbum Berry's Grog Log". He got it from the old Moana Hotel in Honolulu, and it dates from the late 1940s. It's made as follows:
Royal Hawaiian

1 1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon orgeat syrup
1 1/2 oz gin

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Orgeat (pronounced "or-ZHAY") is a milky looking syrup that tastes vaguely of almonds, though there's some other ingredients in there to boot. You'd probably find it either at a well-stocked liquor store or maybe in with flavored syrups for coffee at your grocery. It's perhaps most famous as an ingredient in Trader Vic's classic Mai Tai.

That being said, I was fully prepared to not like this drink. I thought it would be odd combining the citrus with the orgeat, and the orgeat with the gin...and I'm very happy to say I was wrong. This is really a nice cocktail. The lemon juice keeps the orgeat from being too sweet, and the botanicals in the gin really add a fresh layer to this. I'd almost suggest using a really good quality gin in this, just to let those herbal notes sing...Hendricks would not be out of place in this. In fact, if you were to add a tiny splash of Pernod to this, or absinthe, I think it would be even more interesting. I'll have to try that, as I'm planning on procuring some Pernod (quelle alliteration!) in the next few weeks.
Royal Hawaiian

April 15, 2009

♫Rum lifts us up where we belong...♪

What is it about Tiki drinks that makes them so much fun to make AND drink? Is it the ridiculous names they frequently carry? Is it the unusual, exotic ingredients they contain? Is it the goofy garnishes you get to put on them? Who knows. All I know is I love makin' em. Which is why tonight's cocktail is another Tiki drink; the Rum Lift.

This fellow started out life at Don the Beachcomber's in Hollywood in the late '60s, ostensibly as a hangover remedy. I can safely tell you it's just as much fun to drink as a starter.

Rum Lift

2 oz orange juice
1/2 oz unsweetened pineapple juice
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
Dash of Angostura bitters
1 1/2 oz dark Jamaican rum (I cheated a bit and used Barbados)

Shake well with 1 cup of crushed ice, pour (ice and all) into a Collins glass. Garnish as desired, though a maraschino cherry and pineapple spear would not go amiss. Or just slap a bunch of crazy crap on the rim like I did:Rum Lift

There's something missing in this drink, and I'm not sure what...maybe it's the mellower Barbados rum versus the Jamaican. So I did what any sensible person would do. I finished off the first one and tried my hand at a second! I kept everything from the original recipe, but I added three more ingredients:
Dash of orange bitters
1/8 tsp homemade vanilla extract
1/8 tsp pimento dram

And then shake it like a British nanny.
This one is quite an improvement. You get that floral sweetness from the vanilla hiding in the background, and the pimento dram and orange bitters bring it a little extra spice. With the additional flavors, I'd be happy to make this one again in the future...it's got some personality that way.

Additionally, if you wanted to make a non-alcoholic version of this one, you could shake everything together without the rum, pour it into the glass and top it up with ginger ale, stirring to combine. I think it'd still be a good drink, although not nearly as fun without the rum.

April 14, 2009

Just an Old Fashioned Love Song...

If there is a near-perfect exemplar of the term "classic cocktail," it may very well be the Old Fashioned. If there is a drink that has suffered more at the hands of bartenders over the years, it may also be the Old Fashioned. Here in my home state, it usually consists of a horrifically mangled maraschino cherry and orange slice, a great deal of sugar, a couple dashes of bitters and (brace yourselves) brandy. BRANDY! Blasphemy! Abomination! Oh unclean spirit, defiling the glory of the Old Fashioned! It's assumed that this indignity, like so many others visited on cocktails, stems from the tendency during Prohibition to hide the sub-par hooch's er..."pungent character" under as many layers of competing flavors as possible. Don't start down that dark path, padawan, or forever will it dominate your destiny. And I'll be forced to mock you.

I've been more of a traditionalist when it comes to my Old Fashioneds. There's two techniques that are different enough to produce divergent drinks, but similar enough that it merits highlighting both. One requires a little more advanced preparation than the other...not much, but a little.

First up is David Wondrich's technique as outlined in, you guessed it, "Esquire Drinks":
In the bottom of an Old Fashioned glass, place a sugar cube, or 1/2 tsp of loose sugar. Wet it down with two or three dashes of Angostura bitters and a small splash of water or club soda. Crush/mash/muddle the mixture until the sugar dissolves as much as possible, then rotate the glass so that this syrupy goo in the bottom coats the inside.

Add a large ice cube (or two smallish ones) and pour in 2 1/2 oz of rye (or bourbon. BUT NOT BRANDY, YOU BLASPHEMER!) then squeeze a twist of lemon in and serve with a stirring rod.
You'll notice that there's no fruit muddled in there, and really, no garnish of any kind. Wondrich points out that "F.D.R. took his with only a twist, and he led us thorough depression and war," which I think is a fair point.

My preferred technique, though, is one used by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a terrific bartender out of Oregon. He uses a simple syrup in lieu of the sugar and water/club soda, and he actually does a tiny bit of muddling. But I get ahead of myself. First things first, the simple syrup. He suggests a 2:1 syrup, that is, 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. This makes for a richer, more concentrated sweetener, and one that is less likely to dilute your drink (the ice doesn't need any assistance on that front). So just mix up your syrup by adding sugar to boiling water, making as much or as little at a time as you want (I just made up a small batch with 6 ounces unbleached sugar and 3 ounces boiling water) and have it standing by. Here's Morgenthaler's method (also available in handy video form!):
In your Old Fashioned glass, combine 1/4 oz 2:1 simple syrup with two dashes of bitters. Add a section of orange peel, and gently press with your muddler. You're not pulverizing it to a paste, you're just pressing the oils out of the peel. Add two ounces of bourbon or rye (I prefer rye, but that's just me) and stir to combine. Add a few large ice cubes and stir until the glass just starts to frost or sweat, or until you just can't wait anymore.
I like the elements of orange that Morgenthaler's technique brings to the drink. Wondrich's is good, don't get me wrong, but by going with the simple syrup and the orange peel, you get a great deal more flavor without any grittiness. Both are great examples of the gold standard style of cocktailcraft, however. Let the ingredients do their jobs, and you won't need to gussy it up like some sort of be-lipsticked and rouged pig, which I feel obliged to point out is pink...just like a Cosmopolitan. Oh, and it's just not kosher, either.
Old Fashioned
(I even dug out my old tripod for tonight's photo!)

April 13, 2009

The Muppets took tonight's drink...

That's right, tonight we look at that classic, the Manhattan. There are approximately 438 variants on this puppy, most with increasingly unlikely names (the Honolulu? the Brown University? Whaa?!) but we're dealing with my favorite variant on it, the Perfect Manhattan. Couldn't be simpler. Well I guess technically it could, but as far as a 5 ingredient drink goes, this one's dead simple.

Perfect Manhattan
2 oz rye whiskey (if you can't find a straight rye, you can always go for a blend that's got a lot of rye in it: Canadian Club's probably your best bet, and it's usually not priced too high, either)
1/2 oz Italian (sweet and/or red) vermouth
1/2 oz French (dry and/or white) vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir it all briskly with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish, if you must, with a twist, or, only if absolutely unavoidable, with a cherry.

I prefer the Perfect Manhattan to the classic (which uses twice the Italian vermouth and none of the French) because otherwise it tends a little too much towards the sweet for my liking. In fact, I used to make it with only the French vermouth, and preferred that even to this, but that's not a Manhattan at all...in fact, I'm not entirely sure what that is. It's almost a Brooklyn, but it lacks the maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon. I suppose we could call it a "Five Points"... I also use two kinds of bitters just because I'm indecisive; the old Waldorf-Astoria in NYC (it stood where the Empire State Building is now) used orange bitters, Angostura bitters are traditional, and I like both kinds. So there.

Anyway this drink pits the smokiness of the bitters against the sweetness of the vermouth and the spiciness of the rye. It's a venerable drink, going all the way back to 1874 or so, but while it's drifted in and out of favor (it was rather too flavorful for the Men in the Grey Flannel Suits, who eschewed it for the comforting blandness of the vodka martini) it's lately been creeping back in to the limelight. It's still not a huge mover, but it's good to see it getting the attention it deserves after all these years.

April 12, 2009

No new post tonight...

I'm wiped out from eating with my family (if you had my family, you'd completely understand!) but I'll try to be back tomorrow with a new drink.

Until then...

April 11, 2009

Oh Rickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind...

One of the simple pleasures of summertime drinking is the Gin Rickey. It's got exactly three ingredients, is quick to assemble, and somehow manages to cut through all the heat and humidity like a knife made of dry ice. And while it's not yet summer, it's still a good time to brush up on the finer points of the Rickey.
gin rickey 1

A good Gin Rickey is nothing more than lime juice, dry gin, and your bubbly water of choice, be it club soda, seltzer, or Wonka's Fizzy Lifting Drink (Warning: Consuming a Gin Rickey made with Wonka's Fizzy Lifting Drink may be hazardous to your health and/or altitude. Consumer discretion is advised). Some people may say that you need to add sugar to it, but they are horrible liars that you should shun at all costs. Here's the technique I use...

Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lime into a tall Collins glass full of ice. Add 2 oz of London dry gin, chuck in the lime shell, and fill to the top with your fizzy liquid of choice. I've been known to add a drop or three of orange bitters as well, but I'm eccentric that way. I've even tried it once with a sparkling blood orange soda, which was really quite good, although I renamed that particular concoction...yeah, since it was orange I decided it wasn't a "Gin Rickey" so much as a "Lucy Ricardo." Please, hold your applause, just throw cash.

gin rickey heat stroke
It's not a really fancy drink to look at, but it's a damned good drink to have while, say, waiting for those burgers/chicken breasts/brats/steaks/salmon filets/black bean patties on the grill to finish up on your next summer cookout.
Just make sure you don't drink only Gin Rickeys while out in the noon-day sun, even if you are an Englishman and/or mad dog. Stay properly hydrated! Remember, if it starts to look like this... put down the glass and go have some water.

April 10, 2009

There's a funny little, sunny little melody...

So as luck would have it, I was beaten to the punch on tonight's drink. I was going to do "Jasper's Jamaican" but Trader Tiki over there in my blogroll beat me to it this afternoon. So I went with Plan B and put my own little twist on it. Tonight's drink is the first Tiki drink on the blog here, and it's a simple one (at least compared to some...there's Tiki drinks that you can get at Tiki-Ti in LA that have 8+ ingredients, some that need to be specially made). Trader Tiki commented in his post on Jasper's Jamaican that most Tiki drinks are variants on the Daiquiri, much like Harpo's Special from the other day. I'll give you the straight up recipe first, and then tell you about my addition (as that's an ingredient that you'll likely need to make yourself).

3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz triple sec
1 1/2 oz Barbados Rum (I went with Mount Gay and was not disappointed)

Rub the rim of a cocktail glass with the spent lemon shell and coat with sugar (I used demerara sugar). Shake the juice, triple sec and rum with ice cubes and strain into your sugar-rimmed glass.

Now my variant on it added a scant 1/8 oz of Pimento Dram. You can find it commercially as St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram, or you can make your own, which takes a while, but is incredibly good. Here's what you'll need

2 1/4 cups overproof rum (go with 151-proof Lemon Hart or 126 proof Wray and Nephew...leave the Bacardi alone)
1/2 cup whole dried allspice berries
3 cups water
1 1/2 lbs brown sugar

Crush the allspice berries coarsely with a mortar and pestle, combine in a large jar with the rum and seal it up. Let it steep for 10-14 days, shaking it every day. Once it's done steeping, pour through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, then pour that liquid through a coffee filter. You'll be happier without little bits of allspice in it.

Combine the sugar and water over heat to make a 1:1 simple syrup, cool, and add that syrup to your rum infusion in a clean, sterilized bottle and let it sit in the back of your fridge for a month or more. As it matures, it'll become very smooth, but very spicy. A little will go a loooooong way.

As for the modified Outrigger, I'm almost thinking the 1/8 oz of pimento dram I used tonight was a little too much, but it plays with this rum VERY well. The lemon juice and triple sec's citrus makes this almost Christmas-like when combined with the allspice liqueur, but not quite...the rum keeps it summery. I think if I upped the lemon juice a little more and added a dash of lime juice, it'd be even better. It wouldn't be an Outrigger anymore, but it'd be good!

April 9, 2009

"It's an investment in Havana - this is a little gift for the President"

One of my favorite sections of "The Godfather, Part II" is the part of the story set in pre-embargo Cuba (though obviously the scenes were shot elsewhere, the Dominican Republic in this case). While that section of the film took place in the 50s, Cuba has a long history with cocktails and booze. Bacardi's first distillery was there (Castro's government has since taken it over...it produces Havana Club, now), and Americans flocked to the friendly bars of Cuba during Prohibition, as it was a easy journey of just 90 miles from the US mainland. It was during that time that tonight's drink was invented, a rum concoction called El Presidente.

Now, you may have seen a drink with this name that purports to contain pineapple and lime juices. While that may be a lovely cocktail, it's not the real McCoy. In fact, that drink is closer to a Hotel Nacional Special or a Sunshine than El Presidente. No, the real El Presidente, named after Gerardo Machado, the former cattle thief turned leader who ruled Cuba until he was deposed by Batista in 1933.

The true version of El Presidente is made as follows:

1 1/2 oz white or golden rum
1/2 oz orange curaçao
3/4 oz French vermouth
dash of grenadine

Stir well with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Your end result should be a beautiful, clear orange hue, rather like this:
Have a cigar, you're gonna go far!
(Look at that, I even used props in this photo!)

I really like this drink. The French (dry) vermouth keeps it from getting too sweet and cloying, and lends it some depth. I think the next time I make it, I'd round it out with a dash or two of orange bitters as well to add a little more spice, but as it stands now, it's a damned fine drink. Definitely one to add to your repertoire.

40 minutes later: I made a second one and bunged in a dash of orange bitters...I was right, it's even better!

April 8, 2009

"Go, and never darken my towels again!"

Tonight I promised you all a long-forgotten but recently unearthed drink named after one of the Marx Brothers. I present to you, "Groucho's Delight!"
groucho's delight

Made from equal parts of cigar water, greasepaint, and dry sarcasm, this drink is...completely made up, as though the photo didn't give that away.

I really am working on getting some decent photos started on here. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, the money's just not there to get a setup that will truly do the drinks justice quite yet. So I tried to shoot a couple tonight and crop and tweak them into something presentable. They're not quite there, but they'll do.

The photo, minus the mustache, is actually of tonight's drink, known as "Harpo's Special." It's a variation on the Daiquiri that was named after Harpo Marx at the Algonquin (which was home to the eponymous Round Table of Dorothy Parker fame). Harpo would also stop by the restaurant from time to time, as did Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, and the drink's creator, Murdock Pemberton. The real drink looks like this:
Harpo's Special

Harpo's Special is made from 2 oz of rum (the original used white rum, but I much prefer the more mellow notes of a golden rum), 1/2 tsp of curaçao, the juice of 1/2 a lime (or lemon if you prefer, though lime is definitely better), 1 teaspoon of bar sugar, and a drop of Angostura bitters. Shake them all together with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Appropriately enough, since the drink is a close relative of the Daiquiri, it's taste is similar to that of a Daiquiri, differing only with the addition of the curaçao and the bitters. Those additional flavors work very well, though, and the end result is a little sweeter, more orangey, and dare I say it, tempers the tartness a little more than the original. Still, on a hot summer's day, either one would make a good drink to sit down and enjoy your Animal Crackers with. Also goes great with Duck Soup.

Ok, I'll stop with the Monkey Business. I've got to get to bed early, anyway. I've got to be up early for A Day at the Races, and that's no Horse Feathers.

This is a public service announcement...well, not quite, but...

To my beloved readers, all five of you, I just wanted to say that I'm aware that this blog is text-heavy. That's because I started it with no money. Now, I still have no money, but there's that old notion that you’ve got to spend it to make it, so in the weeks to come, I plan on stocking up on pretty/unusual glassware and investing in a small light-tent, so I can snap photos of some of these drinks as well. It's not going to happen overnight, but I hope you'll stick with me as I continue to tweak this site.

In the meanwhile, I'll have another drink up for you tonight, dripping with purple prose, as usual.

April 7, 2009

I'm sorry, that's never happened to me before...

But it could! It could happen to anyone. You come home from a long day of working/studying/underwater basket weaving/loafing about, and you're just too wiped out to even think about making some convoluted cocktail. But you still think a drink would be nice. But then you think, "Oh, man, just liquor and ice is gonna be kinda harsh..." And if the bus drops below 50 miles an hour, the bomb on board will be armed. What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?

Wait, sorry. That was a movie there at the end, wasn't it? With Sandra Bullock, and Keanu Reeves with no hair, and Dennis Hopper, what a bastard, and Jeff Daniels is already dead. I think it was called "The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down."

Anyway. Forget that crap about the bus and the bomb and wooden acting. You want a drink, you don't want to make a fuss, and you don't want to suck down just straight liquor. One option might be a highball of some sort. I opted for a Collins. Most people are familiar with the Tom Collins (no, not the guy from "Rent!"), which is just gin and bar sugar and lemon juice and fizzy water. But I had gin yesterday, so let's move on to a new spirit for this blog (reruns notwithstanding); RUM! Yes, you can make a Rum Collins, though it works better with lime than with lemon. And it couldn't be simpler.

1 teaspoon bar sugar
juice of 1/2 lime
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 oz light rum
soda water to top

Just combine the first four ingredients over ice, stirring briskly with your trusty bar spoon, and then top up with soda water, garnish with a lime wedge, and serve with a stirring rod.

Dead simple, but not boring. The fizz, which is always fun, lifts this out of the realm of the boring and, dare I say it, sort of pushes the flavors around in your mouth. If I may be excused a glowing product endorsement, I made this with Mount Gay Eclipse rum, and it's excellent. Mount Gay in Barbados is the oldest continually operating rum distillery in the world, so they know a thing or two. Their rum's got a nice, fruity flavor and some vanilla-y notes that are really nice opposite the lime and bitters. The sugar keeps it from burning too much, and the dilution with the club soda means you can drink it without wincing.

Now, for a laugh, if you made this with whiskey and lemon, what would you think it'd be called? Yes, Whiskey Collins is one correct answer, but also goes by "Joan Collins."

Tomorrow, just to tease you, I'll mix up a rum drink named after a Marx Brother. And no, it's not a "Zeppo" or a "Gummo." Because really, would you drink something called a "Gummo?"

April 6, 2009

"We shouldn’t have muddled! We shouldn't have muddled!"

One little secret that I can share with you from my time working as a bar-back: if you want your bartender to really hate you, you should order a mojito during the evening rush in the middle of the summer. At this point, I expect some of you are looking agog at your monitor and going "But why?! Why would that make them hate me?" Let me answer that with a little walk-through...You're the bartender, and you've been pouring beer and slinging G&Ts, serving up whiskey and Cokes, and even the occasional *shudder* Cosmo. Suddenly someone orders a mojito. The bar goes silent. A tumbleweed blows through the room. Somewhere, a lone crow caws. You turn around, open the bar fridge, pull out a bag of mint leaves, pluck off six or eight good ones, discarding half as many lousy-looking ones, drop them into a Collins glass, pour in some bar sugar and squeeze in a few lime wedges, and proceed to muddle them for the next two minutes, while the other drink orders pile up. Then you add the rum or cachaça and club soda, the spent lime bits, and hand it off to the person who ordered it. Then you turn back to see the scrum of other patrons who had to wait to put in their orders, and you spend the next ten minutes playing catch-up.

Okay, I may have ventured into hyperbole a little bit there, but my point stands...

The muddler, looking like nothing so much as a small baseball bat, is perhaps one of the most maligned pieces of equipment in the bar, thanks in no small part to the mojito. Even the Midwestern propensity to make Old Fashioneds with muddled up orange slices and cherries (and occasionally, blasphemy of blasphemies, brandy) does not provoke the ire of the bartender as much as a request for a mojito can, though perhaps that's because the Collins glass gives you less room to maneuver the muddler in, compared to the DOF glass. Now, not all bartenders will start twitching when you ask for one of these, though pretty much all those that I've worked with hated the process. Perhaps some like venting their aggression on the mint and sugar and lime. So it was with some trepidation that I approached tonight's cocktail, a drink calling itself "The Country Bumpkin" (hey, I don't name 'em folks, I just drink 'em), a drink which, like the mojito, requires the use of a muddler. However, this one, like the Old Fashioned, is made in the smaller, wider Double Old Fashioned glass, so it wasn't too terrible. Also helpful is the fact that you're not trying to grind up mint leaves with the action of bar sugar, but rather just crushing a soft fruit into a messy pulp. All in all, I doubt many bartenders would froth at the mouth were one of these ordered, though they may snicker at the name.

The Country Bumpkin is made as follows: Muddle four fresh blackberries and half a lime in the bottom of a Double Old Fashioned glass until unrecognizable. Add ice, a half-shot (3/4 oz) of sugar syrup (I actually went with homemade grenadine, figuring it'd complement the blackberries), a dash of Peychaud's bitters, and two shots (3 oz) of gin. Churn with a bar spoon and garnish, if desired, with a few skewered blackberries and raspberries. I also topped mine with just a little bit of club soda, just enough to bring the liquid close to the top of the glass, so maybe 3/4 oz or so.

This is an awesome drink. It's sweet (but not too sweet), it's woodsy, it's bright, it's nuanced, and it's pleasantly dark. The lush flavor of the blackberries contrast with the not-quite-bitter notes from the gin, with the sour of the lime juice balancing everything out. The Peychaud's bitters, which play so nicely with fruit-based drinks, take a backseat but still make themselves known, and the use of grenadine rather than just simple syrup adds another dark-fruit note that gets along very nicely with the blackberries. This is a complex but very nice drink.

If you wanted to add a little variety, you could use vodka in lieu of gin, maybe some 44 North, as it's infused with huckleberries. Or I could see using 2 oz vodka and an ounce of Chambord, though that would probably veer enough toward the sweet side that you'd want to add a little more lime. I could also see a version made with bourbon and some Cherry Heering (cherry brandy) as sort of a variant on the aforementioned Old Fashioned. And finally, you could just make a booze-free version of this by muddling the lime and berries together, omitting the grenadine/simple syrup, and just topping it up with 7up or Sprite or some similar lemon-lime soda. At any rate, this is definitely one to add to your summer drink repertoire. Now, if we could just do something about that name...

April 5, 2009

...but I've never even been to Rangoon!

Tonight's drink is finally a little different than the others I've been posting. It does still have a gin base, but I picked up a few other ingredients while I was out today. I also got some rum, but I'll save that for another day!

Among other ingredients, I picked up some Triple-sec. What I really wanted was orange curaçao, but my local grocery, love them though I do, only had blue curaçao. While it's the same liqueur deep down, just orange zest macerated with port wine and spices, it has the annoying tendency to make everything looks like a Blue Hawaiian, which isn't what I was after tonight. Triple-sec is similar, but it's been thrice-distilled, and usually doesn't use the peel of the bitter laraha citrus fruit that's found on the island of Curaçao. The two liqueurs are similar enough for this drink to work, but at some point I'd like to try it again with real curaçao, just to compare.

So, tonight's drink! The Pegu Club. I've been meaning to try this one for a long time, and while it'd be simple enough to order in a bar in terms of ingredients, it's not one that most bartenders would know off the top of their head. So I figured the only way to get one would be to make it myself or to head to a fancy bar that's out of my price range...you can guess which I opted for. I'd actually included this drink in the early bit of a book that I'd started working on for National Novel Writing Month (I never came close to finishing, halting at 6,394 words out of the goal of 50,000 with no idea where to take the plot). So, for your enjoyment, I present an 877-word excerpt here from that work that remains in progress...and then I'll get to the drink.

Clive watched as Drew filled a pint glass with ice, poured in a healthy amount of London gin and orange curaçao, squeezed in the juice of a lime, splashed in some bitters, and then pulled a small brown bottle out from under the counter and shook some in. “Orange bitters,” he said. “I tried for a while to find a reliable distributor, but it got to be hit or miss, so I just started making my own.”

“You make your own cocktail ingredients?” Clive asked. “Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

Drew shrugged. “I used to play around with stuff all the time when I was a kid. My mom told me that when I was eight I used to mix things together and say I was making ‘formulas.’ So I guess I started early. Anyway, it’s not complicated, once you find the ingredients for the stuff. You just need some neutral grain spirits, some cheesecloth, a cool dark place, and some time for it all to come together.”

“So, what’s in the orange bitters?”

“Dried orange peel, some cardamom, some coriander, a little gentian, some cinchona bark...”

“Wait, cinchona bark? Where the hell do you find something like that?” Clive interjected. “I mean, the orange peel and spices I can see, but if you can’t find a distributor that carries pre-made orange bitters, how can you find all that other stuff?”

“Clive, this is New Orleans,” laughed Drew, sliding a shaker on top of the pint glass and starting to mix. “The heart of voodoo country! If you know who to ask, you can find all of this stuff in a twenty-minute walk of this place! Besides,” he added, “Most of the ingredients aren’t that obscure. I make our grenadine in the kitchen every few months out of pomegranate juice and sugar, and then just stash the bottles in the freezer until I need them. Tastes better than the pre-mixed stuff, that’s for sure.”

Drew strained the drink into the two Old Fashioned glasses on the bar. “Technically, this is supposed to be served up, in a cocktail glass, but I’d rather not sit here at the bar with you sipping frothy mixed drinks out of a martini glass like we just stepped off the set of the all male production of ‘Sex and the City.’ No offense, of course, it just could send the wrong message.”

Clive looked around the deserted bar, “Send the wrong message to who, exactly?” he grinned.

“Better safe than sorry,” said Drew, sagely. “Anyway, bottoms up, tip tip hurrah.”

“Wait, I can’t drink it until I know what it’s called. I’ve got to make sure I’m not knocking back a ‘Maiden’s Prayer,’ or something. It could send the wrong message, you know.”

“Fair enough,” Drew smirked, “It’s called the ‘Pegu Club,’ after the bar in Rangoon it was created in.”

“Rangoon? The only thing I about Rangoon is the little crab and cream cheese things named after them in Chinese restaurants.”

“It’s in Burma, drink up.”


“Yes, Burma,” Drew said, feigning exasperation, “Now sometimes called Myanmar, Bay of Bengal, exotic ports of call, bartending mystique, will you drink already?”

Clive took a sip. He’d never really been a gin drinker, but he decided he could get used to it in drinks like this; the botanicals of the gin, the tartness of the lime, the sweetness of the orange curaçao, plus the spiciness of the bitters, they all worked together to make some wholly new flavor. it was refreshing, exotic, familiar yet somehow alien. Yes, he decided, he liked this. What’s more, he liked the alchemy that created it.

“Where’d you learn about this drink?” he asked Drew.

“Well, when I started bartending, everybody always ordered the same things; vodka martinis, Cosmopolitans, gin and tonics, screwdrivers. And I thought ‘There’s gotta be more to bartending than these tired old things.’ So I tracked down some old cocktail guides, and I’ve been trying to get people to try the old classics that everyone’s forgotten about.”

“And do they?”

“Some do. Not many, though. Most want their old standbys,” he conceded. “Plus, not a lot of people think I’m old enough to have any clue about mixed drinks, anyway. I mean, look at this face,” he gestured, “I’m almost thirty, I look barely over twenty, would you figure that I’d know anything about cocktails from eighty years ago? Besides, the middle of a dinner rush at a restaurant in the French Quarter is not the ideal time or place to try to get people to sample something new. Nor is it the time or place to make them if you care about quality. And I do. I’d rather take two or three minutes to get everything mixed and poured right than to crank out a half dozen Cosmos as fast as I can. Sadly, though,” he gestured around at the bar, “While the ambiance is right for the old classics, the whole restaurant and bar biz in this area isn’t conducive to resurrecting the golden cocktails of yesteryear.” He quirked his mouth in a sad smile and sighed, “The reality of the hospitality industry seems to be add odds with the whole notion of hospitality sometimes, don’t you think?”

So there you go. You get a little culture with your cocktail tonight, aren't you lucky? Oddly enough, I wrote that before I'd ever tasted the thing, and as it turns out, I was pretty much right on the money. This is a great drink, and would be even better in the summertime. I tend to think of gin as a warmer-weather liquor anyway, though lord knows it's good anytime. Now, onto the recipe!

Pegu Club

2 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz orange curaçao
3/4 oz lime juice
Dash Angostura bitters
Dash orange bitters

Shake well with crushed ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

As a funny aside, I'm still without an ice crusher, even at this point in my cocktail obsession, and therefore I was reduced to wrapping up ice cubes in a kitchen towel and walloping them with a cast iron skillet. It worked, but not as well as I might have hoped. Memo to self: procure ice crusher with all due haste.

As Columbo and Steve Jobs so often said, "Oh, one more thing..."

It just occurred to me, as such things tend do at 1:30 AM, that while I've repeatedly mentioned that you should use homemade grenadine whenever possible, I've neglected to give you any idea how to make it. Oops!

There's two routes that I've taken to get to homemade grenadine. One is super-easy and the other is slightly less easy but more complex in terms of flavor. Both are very good.

Option 1:

Get a 16 ounce bottle of pure pomegranate juice. Pour it into a non-reactive pot on the stove. Bring to a boil. Add 8 ounces of cane sugar. Cook until volume is reduced by about 1/2 and the liquid coats the back of a spoon (it'll look uncannily like cough syrup...just go with it) Let the mixture cool and add an ounce of vodka before bottling as a preservative. Keep it in the fridge.

Option 2:

Get two fresh pomegranates, quarter them, and remove their seeds (this is best done in a bowl of water, as the seeds will float out and the peel will sink). While you're separating the pips from the peel, bring 16 ounces of water to a boil and add 8 ounces of cane sugar. Heat until it thickens a bit, then add the pomegranate pips. Simmer for 10 minutes, pressing on the seeds with a wooden spoon to try to get them to release their juice, then remove from heat and let sit for two hours. Strain through a fine metal sieve, again pressing on the seeds with a wooden spoon. Strain that liquid through cheesecloth (just to be certain you've got all solids out) then add an ounce of vodka as a preservative and bottle.

The two versions turn out to be different, but both very good. Option one gives you a thick, deep purple liquid that's very heavily flavored. Option two returns a pale pink liquid that's rather more subtly flavored, but still packs a punch. I like the second one in particular because you get some flavors from the seeds that you don't get from straight-up pomegranate juice. Both are very good additions to the home bar, though. Vastly better than Rose's Grenadine, which is naught more than sugar (usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup), water, thickening agents, and red dye. Not exactly what Jerry Thomas or the bartenders at the Waldorf envisioned when mixing up drinks with grenadine.

Try that in your next Tequila Sunrise (or Shirley Temple) and see if it's not a huge improvement over what you're used to.

April 4, 2009

*insert pithy line about rum being gone here*

As I've remarked previously (you know, at some point in the dozen or so posts prior to this one), I'm a fan of Tiki drinks, and especially of rum. It's a pretty damn simple spirit, fermented and distilled from the normally-cast-off leftovers of the sugar refining process, but for it's simplicity in make-up, it's remarkably complex and varied in flavor, as well as in it's history (for which I highly recommend reading Rum: The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World by Charles Coulombe).

Most people that aren't rum-heads seem to think rum comes in two flavors; Bacardi White and Captain Morgan Spiced. Sometimes Malibu if they want coconut rum. By and large, those first two brands are good, solid workhorses of the rum world. They do the job they're meant to do in the drinks that they're served in. Not many people would think to just pour one of those over ice and sip, and they'd be right not to. They've come to be distilled and bottled as mixers, not as beverages you'd care to drink straight or on the rocks. There are, however, some great rums that let you do just that.

Now, I'm not a well-off guy, money-wise. I can't go out and taste the artisanal rums that get shipped out of Martinique and Trinidad. The biggest splurge I ever made on rum when when I got a promotion and bought a bottle of 10 Cane for about $33. And it was well worth it. It's a pale straw-colored liquid in a pretty cool bottle. It's almost more of a rhum or cachaça in that it's pressed directly from the sugarcane, rather than extracted from the molasses as most other rums are. It was a beautiful thing, and I was damned sad when it was gone.

In honor of that glorious spirit, here's a drink that I made with it; a slight variant on a classic Planters Punch (I bucked the "1 part sour, 2 parts sweet, 3 parts strong and 4 parts weak" rule a little bit, but it turned out wonderfully just the same).

3 oz 10 Cane rum
1 oz grenadine syrup (use homemade or Stirrings brand. Do not touch Rose's with a 10 foot pole)
2 oz lemon juice
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
soda water

Shake all ingredients save for the soda water vigorously with crushed ice and pour, without straining, into a tall glass. Pack the glass to the top with more crushed ice and fill to within 1/2 from the top with soda water, then gently mix with a bar spoon until the glass frosts.

As a variant, replace the soda water with mango juice. Very different, but very tasty.

April 3, 2009

I figured tonight I'd post a rant...

I am, I'll admit, a child of the 80s. I grew up thinking that the pinnacle of cool in 1987 or so was Rude Dog, that ALF was hilarious, and that candy cigarettes were fun but didn't especially make me want to start smoking the real ones (ultimately I did start, and then quit, but I don't blame the little sticks of peppermint-flavored chalk). There were two flavors in my childhood; sweet and...everything else. Now, I did like a number of things in that "everything else" category, but like so many kids, the sweet things were vastly more desirable. Even for non-kids in Reagan's America, sweets were what we wanted. The Gipper had a thing for jelly-beans, after all.

So I suppose it's no surprise that the liquor industry, being paradoxically slow to change but quick to jump on new bandwagons, felt that what Americans wanted in their spirits was an abundance of candy-like flavors. Even most domestic beers, with their reliance on things like rice for a "clean" taste, are far sweeter than those you'd find in Europe. We like our candy, and we like our alco-pops, the failure of Zima notwithstanding.

Now I've commented here before that I like a multitude of flavors in my cocktails. I like it when one ingredient plays off the other in some magical, alchemical way. And I'm not averse to infusing liquor with essences of various things. I like a good Sailor Jerry Rum or complex gin as much as the next guy. I prefer, however, that my flavors come from things I can actually see, touch and squeeze in the real world, rather than the labs from which so many liquor flavorings emerge. By and large, the flavorings in that rum or vodka you're mixing with are synthetic. They may taste like the real thing, or some platonic ideal of the real thing, but they're about as genuine as Michael Jackson's current nose (the pop star, not the late and much-missed beer expert).

And while I'm thinking of it, why are there about 60 linear feet of shelves at my local grocery's liquor department containing vodka of various types and flavors versus about 5 feet of rye or maybe 15 of rum (when the rum's not being mixed in with the tequila, that is)? How did a spirit whose main claim to fame was its absence of flavor suddenly explode into countless permutations whose labels proclaim, via text and color-coding, what flavor they'll impart? Do we need 15 different Smirnoff Twists? Do we need well over a dozen Absoluts, each as inscrutably clear as the last, regardless of what flavor the label tells us it is? If we want flavors in our liquor, why not extract them ourselves out of real, tangible ingredients rather than some compound that imparts something that only resembles what it purports to taste like? Have we grown that reliant on convenience that we'd take a handy simulacrum over a legitimate, slightly more laborious reality? If you macerate a handful of strawberries and plop them in vodka, you can stash in the back of your fridge for a week, strain off the solids, and have a spirit that not only tastes of real strawberry, but also has the coloration to prove it!

Believe me, the irony of a 20-something railing against the inexplicably clear flavored spirits like a buggy-whip manufacturer railing against the automobile owner is not lost on me. I'm not against progress at all. I love my computer, my iPod, my house's HVAC system, and indoor plumbing. But I'm a foodie as much as I'm a...drinkie? Well, I suppose it's better than "alcoholic," but... I like knowing where my food comes from, and that the flavors I'm tasting are genuine. I don't think that the artificial alternatives are bad, or are poisoning my precious bodily fluids, I just think that they're not as good as the real thing. To use something less for expedience or price seems unthinkable to me, especially if the savings is negligible. Would you rather have real vanilla that's been extracted from a pod that grew on an orchid, or imitation vanilla extracted through various chemical processes from oak chips, when the difference is less than a dollar a pint? Why settle when you don't have to? After all, the fermentation and distillation of spirits emerged from the advent and evolution of agriculture, doesn't it seem appropriate that the further refinement and augmentation of liquor should continue that tradition?

Oh, and tonight's cocktail is bourbon with a couple dashes of bitters. How's that for simple, honest flavors?

April 1, 2009

some assembly required

I'll admit, I tend to use some rather unusual ingredients in my drinks, things that are hard, if not impossible to find in stores because they're so obscure. Adding more esoteric ingredients keeps things from being too flat or boring, and can, when paired with other elements, bring out flavors you may have never expected. The only drawback is you've got to prep them ahead of time, so you have those unusual additions on hand to play with.

Take, for example, rye whiskey. It tends to be spicy, almost peppery, but still with that mellow flavor. Sometimes a caramel note hangs around. It's a great spirit for a winter evening (or fall, or spring) because it's got that warmth. But if you add a couple more elements to that, you can accentuate that warmth even more.

I wound up making a couple special ingredients for Thanksgiving last year, one of which was a Maple-Demerara Sugar syrup. Demerara sugar is a coarse, brown sugar usually made from raw sugar cane and left unbleached. It's got a less refined flavor, more molasses-y, and is great in coffee and baked goods. I just made a simple syrup with two cups of that and one cup of water, cooking it until reduced and thick, and then added about two ounces of maple syrup to it (the real stuff, none of that Log Cabin crap!), bottled it, and stuck it in the fridge.

After Thanksgiving, I had more than a little left over, so I started pondering what sorts of drinks I could make with them. Here's one that I came up with:

2 oz rye whiskey
3/4 oz apple cider
1/4 oz Maple-Demerara sugar syrup
dash Angostura bitters

Shake it all with ice and pour into a Double Old Fashioned glass.

The drink wound up being wonderfully balanced, the peppery nature of the rye being muted a little by the sweetness of the syrup and the tartness of the cider. It really is best as an autumn drink, but you can certainly see it's got enough appeal to have at any time.

You could also, if you wanted, make it without any alcohol at all (apart from what's in the bitters, though you use such a tiny volume of the stuff that it's pretty much moot) and just add the syrup to the cider (though I'd go for a really tart cider, maybe even a cherry or cranberry cider) and stir in the bitters. You'll have to stir it pretty well to get the syrup to dissolve into the cold cider, but if you wanted the drink hot, that'd make it a lot easier. You could also drizzle the Maple-Demerara sugar syrup over sweet rolls if you needed to use it up, or use it in place of honey with some buttermilk biscuits, add it to tea or coffee, pour it over sliced apples...

See? I'm willing to think about other things that just liquor!

One last thought for the night - a paean to gin

A lot of people say that they don't like gin. I'm not sure what percentage of those have actually sampled gin, and what percentage just have heard that it "tastes like pine needles" and left it at that.

Of those of you who say you don't like gin...do you like vodka? Gin is pretty much just vodka (neutral spirits) with some other flavorings added. Now, yes, the main one is juniper, which is an evergreen plant. But if all you've ever had is cheap, rail gin in a G&T or gin martini, you're really missing out.

This summer, on a sultry evening, those of you who think you don't like gin, try something for me. Ask your friendly neighborhood bartender if they've got Hendrick's, or Beefeater Wet, or Citadelle, or Tanqueray Rangpur, or Rehorst (if you live in the midwest, like me) behind the bar. If they do, ask them if they'll make you a gin and tonic with a lime twist using one of those. Then go to somewhere quiet, out on the patio if they have one, or away from speakers blaring what passes for music in some of these establishments, and sit down and take a sip.

If you have Hendricks, you'll get rose and cucumber dancing around your mouth. If it's Beefeater Wet, it'll be a subtle pear flavor. Citadelle will give you a mouthful of spice (including nutmeg, violets, and grains of Paradise), Tanqueray Rangpur brings a great zip of lime, and Rehorst has ginseng and sweet basil to offer, both very unusual ingredients in gin. Yes, all of them have juniper, but it's those other botanicals that the distillers add that makes or breaks a gin. And those botanicals, whether you can taste them individually or just get a fantastic amalgam of them competing for your attention, are going to make every gin a little different, a little more interesting or more unusual than the last one you tried, and may, perhaps, convince you that gin is not the alcohol equivalent of Pine-Sol, but can be, in the right hands, a really remarkable ingredient.

Drink Number Two tonight fared far better...

OK, so I decided to try to make it up to the gin and feature it in a drink that didn't totally suck. And I'm happy to say this one is far better than the first.

2 1/4 oz gin
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz orange juice (I used blood orange, again)
1/4 oz grenadine
dash of orange bitters

Shake 'em all together with crushed ice, pour out into a DOF glass, and add a drop or two of Angostura bitters on top.

This one works. The citrus and gin play well together, as expected, the orange bitters and the gin botanicals complement each other, the spiciness of the Angostura bitters is a nice touch, and the grenadine (I used homemade, natch...I'll post that recipe someday, as well, I promise) gives it a little sweetness to temper the tartness from the citrus juice.

All in all, I'm really pleased with this one, which I guess is just another Orange Blossom/Gin n' Juice variant. But it's not ordinary, and it has, like so many of the alchemical drinks that I draw inspiration from, managed to become more than the sum of its parts.

And I promise I will try to get some different kinds of spirits besides just gin and bourbon. As soon as I get some money and/or they go on sale.