December 31, 2009

And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

For our New Year's Eve post, I'm of course using champagne, but I'm doing a little something different with it. Not a lot of non-lushes realize that champagne makes a great mixer. You get the effervescence of club soda with the flavor of wine, plus hell, anytime the champagne gets broken out, it's a party in and of itself.

This drink has many many stories as to it's origin, but it seems most likely that it originated just after World War I. Some say it was first made with cognac, which I can see, because cognac and champagne would have a lot of similar flavors going on, both being grape-based spirits, but my version, which could perhaps be considered the British version (as I am an unrepentant Anglophile), is made with gin. Named after the rapid-firing artillery piece that proved so useful to the French in WW I (contrary to popular belief in the US, the French are not the cheese-eating surrender monkeys they're so frequently portrayed as), I present to you, the last drink on this blog for 2009...
The French 75 Cocktail

1 oz gin
3/4 oz lemon juice
2 bar spoons simple syrup
champagne to top

Shake the first three ingredients with ice and strain into a small champagne flute. Add champagne to top. Garnish, if desired, with a lemon peel spiral and/or maraschino cherry.
Rather than the single-minded sweetness that so often plagues champagne, this really is a complex drink. The gin adds a little crispness that's most welcome here, and the lemon juice and small amount of sugar syrup also tweak the flavor profile of your champagne, making for a really interesting drink. The only problem is that it's waaaaay too easy to down two or three of these in rapid succession. And then, well, the eponymous machine gun may feel like it's opening fire on your sobriety...but hell, it's New Year's Eve!

Thanks for sticking with me so far, dear readers. I hope to keep things lively and interesting for you well into 2010 and beyond.

French 75 Cocktail

December 26, 2009

"And of course, you remember the Gray Rabbit and the Blue Chipmunk?"

First of all, if any of you know what movie the line I used for the title came from, I'll be very much surprised. If you do, drop me a line so I can applaud you.

Now, on to the drink. I must say up front that I would never have tried this drink were it not for scomorokh over at "Science of Drink." He featured this one about a week ago, and I sampled it and quite enjoyed it. He also takes photos that put mine to shame. Go on. Look at them. I'm almost ashamed to post mine, but no matter. I tried something new with my photo on this one, and I think you'll find it amusing.

This drink is sort of a herbal, woodsy flavor in a glass. With a cherry. It's called...
The Yellow Daisy

1 1/2 oz London dry gin
1 1/2 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
a few drops of absinthe

Shake all with ice, strain into chilled glass. Add a cherry.
Simple enough, but it's really quite interesting. All those botanical notes from the gin, the vermouth and that little bit of absinthe in there really go to work, pairing up and sounding off just like some sort of alcoholic square dance (and I'm of the opinion that if you plan to go square dancing, you're going to need some alcohol to live with that decision). The little bit of the sweet orange flavor from the Grand Marnier shines through, and the cherry is just sweet dyed icing on the cake. Try it out.

Yellow Daisy Cocktail

December 24, 2009

"I got a lot of problems with you people!"

Happy Belated Festivus, dear readers. I should have a new drink for you this weekend. For now, I'm self-medicating in advance, the better to deal with my family tomorrow...

And when that drink gets posted, you'll know I'll have made it through my family time unindicted, and that will be a true Festivus Miracle.

December 20, 2009

Make way for the seaway...

I was bumbling around CocktailDB the other night, trying to find uses for dry vermouth. I picked up a second bottle for Thanksgiving, thinking that what I had on hand wouldn't be enough. Ha. Silly me. I had MORE than enough for my friends at Thanksgiving, and so I've been trying to use up some of this stuff...

Well, I fumbled my way through the database, and I landed on this first glance it seemed like another Manhattan variant, but this one has 3 parts vermouth to 2 parts whiskey. Canadian, of course, given the name. I tried it and liked it, and am now featuring it here.
The St. Lawrence Cocktail

2 1/4 oz dry vermouth
1 1/2 oz Canadian Club whiskey
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
dash of Angostura bitters

shake well with ice, strain into cocktail glass.
What's interesting in this drink is how the whiskey plays backup to the's still well balanced, it's just not what you expect. The orange flavors of the Grand Marnier keep it from veering too far to the dry side of things, though, and make for a nicely tuned flavor. Give it a passport required.

St. Lawrence Cocktail

December 17, 2009

"In a pagoda, she orders a soda; banana-fanana...hey diggity!"

OK, first, before you wonder if I'm having some sort of transient ischemic attack and talking funny, watch this video. I'll wait.

All done? Excellent. The song is an old one, as evidenced by it's presence in the "Jeeves and Wooster"'s called "Nagasaki" and dates back to 1928. I figured, since in my last post I was experimenting with reconstructing the old Jamaican Ginger, sans paralytics, I might as well make one up of my own creation. And so I give you tonight's drink:
Hot Ginger and Dynamite

3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz Dubonnet
3/4 oz London dry gin
1/4 oz Jamaica Ginger (or equivalent. I wound up using a barspoon each of ginger syrup, ginger beer base and ginger extract)

Shake all with ice, strain into small cordial glass.
It's small, it's spicy, it's complex, and it'll make a great digestif. The gin and Dubonnet work nicely together, as always, the lemon and ginger play along, and all in all, it makes for a really interesting little concoction. I think if I had a spicier ginger extract, things would be even better. I'll have to keep plugging away at that.

Hot Ginger and Dynamite

December 10, 2009

Adventures in Illicit Ingredients

This drink cannot be made the way it was originally intended. It just can't. One of the crucial ingredients no longer exists. And frankly, it's a good thing that's the case. The original version of this drink used an ingredient called "Jamaica Ginger," which was a patent medicine of the 1930s, a 150-proof nostrum of ethanol and ginger, that managed to dodge Prohibition agents, at least for a short while, by virtue of being "medicinal." However, much as Listerine now adds an agent that makes its mouthwash "non-potable," the T-Men of yesteryear insisted that changes be made in the formulation of Jamaica Ginger to discourage it from being quaffed straight. A bit of a battle ensued, with bootleggers replacing ginger solids that existed in the drink (a measure by which Department of Agriculture inspectors would test) with actual pieces of ginger, or other adulterants like castor oil or molasses.

One day, however, a pair of bootleggers who were too smart for their own good, Harry Gross and Max Reisman, tried adding a plasticizing agent, tri-ortho cresyl phosphate, or TOCP, to the mix. It passed the Treasury and Department of Agriculture tests with no problems, and was assumed at the time to be non-toxic. It wasn't. It wound up being a neurotoxin, and scores of Jamaica Ginger drinkers wound up with severe, often permanent, cases of peripheral neuropathy...they lost feeling in their hands and feet. Leg and hand muscles atrophied. It's estimated that between 30 and 50 thousand people in the US were affected by this adultering agent. Jamaica Ginger, sometimes called "jake," was quickly yanked from the market.

Today, there are several ginger spirits on the market, and it's easy enough to make ginger-beer base, but I decided, on a whim, to try to make a rudimentary ginger extract. I soaked about an ounce of shredded ginger in enough 190-proof neutral grain spirits to cover it, and let it sit in the fridge for a week or so. It's crude, but it'll do. Had I some distillation apparatus, I could perhaps make a better quality jake. But then I'd likely have ATF and T-Men beating down my door. I'd rather avoid that. So I just combined some ginger-beer base, a fraction of an ounce (maybe 1/16th) of ginger extract, and a little leftover ginger liqueur. Seems to work, although it merits mentioning that even the most meticulously prepared ginger solution eventually loses most of it's pungency, in as little as two weeks. For best results, make your ingredients as fresh as possible.

There's more than a few drinks out there that call for Jamaica Ginger, and I'm going to try a few over the next few weeks. Tonight, though, I thought I'd try one that sounds appropriate. For me, the name conjures up visions of a ridiculously hot area on a steam ship. You may think that sounds uncomfortable, but given that the high-temperature here today was in the single digits, I'll take that trade-off, thanks. And so I present to you...
Hot Deck Cocktail

2 dashes Jamaica Ginger (two eyedroppers of ginger extract, two barspoons each ginger beer base and ginger liqueur)
1 oz sweet vermouth
3 oz Canadian Club

shake all with ice, strain into chilled glass.
As long as you've got fresh ginger extract, beer, and liqueur, this should be a remarkably potent drink. The nose-searing character of the ginger should meld with the slight spice of the Canadian Club (it's got a little rye in it, after all), and be tempered just a bit by the sweetness of the vermouth. Oh, yes...this is a fine one for those cold winter nights. Plus, tons of booze, for that extra warming effect.

If you're a cocktail enthusiast or professional that's come up with a better, more accurate reproduction of that hoary old Jamaican Ginger, do let me know how you made it, won't you? I'm a ginger fanatic, after all...

Hot Deck Cocktail

December 9, 2009

And now I'm back, from outer space. Or at least Chicago.

Oh, and what a libation-filled weekend I had, too, friends. Mixing drinks at a birthday party, mixing drinks at a combination housewarming/holiday party, making a pilgrimage to the new Chicago Trader Vic's and befriending my bartender...oh glory and trumpets it was a swell weekend.

But now I'm back, and after a weekend with no small amount of Tiki drinks (three of 'em at Trader Vic's alone), I figured I'd go for something a little more, well, sane and easy to make. This is yet another classic from the Savoy Drink Book, and is yet another variant on a whiskey cocktail. This one, however, is called:
The Commodore Cocktail

2 barspoons simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
juice of 1/4 lemon or 1/2 lime
1 1/2 oz Canadian Club (the Savoy Drink Book calls it, so that's good enough for me)

Combine all in shaker with ice, shaking well to combine. Strain into cocktail glass.
Yep, another variant on a whiskey cocktail or whiskey sour, but still...I never really get tired of them. Even in the little tweaks from drink to drink, there's still enough variety to keep things interesting. In this case, the lime juice and orange bitters are strong enough together to keep it from getting too sweet, and the Canadian Club has just enough heft to add just a little spice to things. It's a nice, very reasonably sized and tasty drink for a civilized gathering.

And speaking of civilized gatherings, I'll have to tell you all some time about some of the fantastic spirits my host at the housewarming/holiday party was good enough to share with me...oh, mercy, those were good.

Commodore Cocktail

December 4, 2009

An ever-so-brief hiatus.

There won't be any posts this weekend, as I'm headed down to Chicago tomorrow afternoon to visit some old friends. I should resume next week, though.

December 1, 2009

If you make it with shoddy knockoffs, is it an Astroturf Cocktail?

This was the third drink option at Thanksgiving this year, and before you even ask, I have no idea from whence the name springs. It doesn't look like grass, it doesn't taste like grass, and it certainly isn't kicked up by the cleats of football players (US football or the rest of the world football...this is one happy area where the terms overlap). It does, however, make for a very good drink.
Turf Cocktail

2 oz London dry gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz Maraschino liqueur
dash absinthe
dash citrus bitters (orange, grapefruit or Jamaican are all good here, in their own ways)

Build all in mixing glass over ice, stirring well to combine and chill. Strain into cocktail glass, garnish with lemon zest.
It's herbaceous, which I suppose could contribute to the name...but more than that, it's got a clean, crisp, woodsy character to it that really fit in well with the fall weather on Thanksgiving Day.

Now, of course, it's moving into winter, and more hearty drinks will have to be mixed. Perhaps some mulled wine or hot buttered rum is in the cards? Or a Tom and Jerry? Who can tell? Stay tuned, true believers!

Turf Cocktail