Tabernacle Crush

Tabernacle3Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

First, a little business. This blog is approaching its one year milestone, and Jonathan and I (no surprise) plan to celebrate. On August 9th, we’re going to write about what we’ve learned during this year of being a two person remote cocktail club, but then we’ll need your help. The next week (8/16) we want to write about what we consider the hits and misses in our selections. You, Dear Reader, might have something to say about that too. Jonathan and I recognize the same names as frequent fellow travelers on this adventure, and we would love to hear what you’ve tried, what you’ve liked, and what you’ve loathed. Please let us know. We promise to make you semi-quasi-proto-famous (just like us) by mentioning you.

Now onto this week’s business. Peaches—good peaches—don’t appear in Chicago until late July and disappear by the end of August. During that window, if you’re lucky, the grocery may present a few that actually smell like peaches. Those ripen. The others might as well be stones that, over time, soften to paste. A good peach is so good, a pasty one seems a particular crime.

The peaches I used for this recipe came from my wife’s visit to a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Lincoln Park, and proposing a drink dependent on such a rare and special fruit was a leap of faith. To be honest, I’m not sure where those peaches originated before that, but, around here, the common answer is “Probably Wisconsin.” I owe my wife… and Wisconsin… a debt of gratitude for the wonderful peach her visit produced.

To be candid, the name of this drink defies me—Tabernacle… what? Crush… what?—and I almost stopped right there, but, as a thrill-seeker and a summer-lover, I figured, why not turn my favorite sweet of summer into a drink. We can’t grow many things on our porch in Chicago, but basil is one plant that doesn’t mind the shade of taller buildings, so that was another plus.

Then I said a little prayer… “Oh please peach, be good.” I hope Jonathan had similar luck.

Here’s the recipe:

1/2 large peach, sliced

6 small basil leaves, plus more for garnish

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces gin

1 ounce Lillet

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Ice

Club soda

In a tall glass, muddle the peach with the 6 basil leaves and the lemon juice. Add the gin, Lillet and simple syrup. Add ice cubes and top with club soda. Garnish with basil.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JBM

Spent the whole week trying to remember the name of this drink. I could tell you what was in it, how it was prepared, and drinks that, I assumed, were similar. I just could not remember the name because despite some muddling that could become crushing with a little more vigor, the name makes no sense. I sure hope David has offered some enlightenment.

South Carolina is my common destination of choice for the spirit of the week. As I have described, they operate under a private ownership system as opposed to the state run system in North Carolina. The price difference is not that great from what I can tell, but there is often a much greater selection and the employees are much more willing to offer advice and recommendations. Of course this far into the endeavor, it is always more a question of which gin I will use rather than a need to buy more.

The southern Carolina is also the location of choice for peaches. A distant second to California in annual production, it is still a major producer, and there are roadside stands within 20 minutes of our house. Summers become a game of waiting for the first ripe peaches, then waiting for the different varieties—all with the goal of finding that perfect peach so sweet and juicy that a single bite can lead to peach nectar dripping from hand to elbow. This drink was just another excuse to go in search of that perfect peach.

This is also the third drink within the last month that used basil, but the description made me think it might well be the best combination. I’m not sure that part was true, but the use of the muddled peach was not a disappointment. The botanicals of the gin clouded the basil taste, while the peach shone through. It is very important to pick a peach for the drink that is ripe to the point of being mushy. The ripe fruit breaks up in the muddling and while that makes it more difficult to drink it gives the cocktail a wonderful color and full peach taste. This may be one of those drinks that a purist would snub, but in the heat of summer, and at a time when the perfect peach is a worthy pursuit, it is great refreshment.

Jonathan’s take: Odd name, wonderful drink to celebrate summer and peaches.

David’s take: I’ll try to recall this one next summer… though I’m sure the name will slip from memory.

Next week’s proposal (proposed by Jonathan):

It doesn’t seem to matter what I am reading, there is one classic that keeps coming up – the Pisco Sour. Pisco is a South American brandy made with grapes and the sour is the classic drink of the spirit. In fact, it is the national drink of both Peru and Chile. More on the arguments about that next week.

Mai Tai

20140713_180821_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

I am afraid. Very afraid actually. Who could have known, before doing research on this drink and the background, that people are so into and argumentative about all things tiki. The disputes run deeper than the origin of the Mai Tai, there are debates, web sites and input all over the board about tiki decoration, tiki food and especially tiki cocktails. I can’t prove it, but am fairly sure that someone sent an attack yellow jacket to sting my hand yesterday to leave me incapable of typing. Despite the swelling and itching, though, in the name of all that is right in cocktailia, I am pushing forward.

The Mai Tai is included on virtually every list of the top 100 cocktails of all time. It meets the basic definition of two parts spirit (rum in combination of types), one part sour (lime) and one part sweet (the mix of orgeat and orange liqueur) at least in the basic recipes. The odd thing is that there is no simple, basic recipe.

This cocktail is less disputed as to the creator than it is about actual ingredients. There is little doubt that Victor Bergeron created a drink that is now known as the Mai Tai at his Trader Vic’s restaurant and bar in California. That drink highlighted an extremely well-aged rum (J. Wray & Nephew which is no longer available) and paired it with lime, orange curaçao, orgeat, and simple syrup. Sometime before that, however, Ernest Gantt (perhaps better known for his name alteration – Don the Beachcomber) had also made a drink ultimately called a Mai Tai. It is a much more complicated mix of ingredients which included grapefruit juice, Pernod, and bitters among other things. Search Wikipedia and one can find a link to wikibooks with no less than 11 recipes for the Mai Tai. I am perfectly happy to give both of them credit.

Not surprisingly, David and I exchanged messages this week about what recipe to use. I settled on this one, but even that changed a couple of nights later when I made the pictured drinks. From Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists:

1 ounce aged rum
1 ounce heavy rum
½ ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce orgeat

Combine the rum, Grand Marnier, lime juice, orgeat and ice in a shaker. Shake and pour, unstrained, into a rocks glass, add a half of the previously juiced lime and a sprig of mint. Of course, I added the parasols since we are talking faux tiki here.

The first test version, which I made after creating the homemade orgeat (still quite a task but worth it), included Pusser’s Navy Rum and an aged rum along with a Grand Marnier knock off. That drink had too many parts that came to the forefront. The official tasting version included the same aged rum, but substituted Muddy River Rum and triple sec for the Navy rum and Grand Marnier. It was a much better blend. The rest of the debate about all things tiki? You’ll need to take that up with Martha Stewart. Just watch out for yellow jackets

Here’s David’s Review:mt2

As a category, tiki drinks have an ironic appeal for me. The crazy glasses, the pastel colors, and the fruity profusion of exotic secondary ingredients make tiki drinks the circus clowns of the cocktail world. I might drink one just to grin at the monstrosity before me, just to inform the world I’m not afraid of stepping out and standing out.

As Jonathan notes, the Mai Tai may be the greatest of the tiki drinks, the granddaddy of the them all and, as such, bartenders have created many lurid and gaudy variations. Like Jonathan, however, I went with the classic Mai Tai to test the theory that serious cocktails can make do with elegant simplicity. I had to have the little parasols too, but otherwise I meant to do Trader Vic proud. Nor was I disappointed.

My appreciation of fresh squeezed lime increases each time we use it. Depending on the context, a lime can add sweetness, tartness, or a citrusy spiciness. In this setting the lime seemed to do all three, mixing with the caramel overtones of the aged rum to give the drink depth as well as freshness. Curaçao is a little sweet—I always wish it were more like marmalade than candy orange wedges. And my version included a “rock candy simple syrup” that is two parts sugar to one water. I’m unconvinced of the necessity of the extra sweet simple syrup, as Jonathan’s version includes no simple syrup the simple syrup I had, which was not so sweet, was too sweet. The orgeat, however, contributed an interesting weight and smoothness, almost like adding egg whites. I wish I’d made mine from scratch as Jonathan did, but the version I found was quite good… even if it was a little expensive. Plus, I have more, should I find other recipes calling for it.

I was tempted, of course, to put the concoction in a party-store-purchased pink plastic hurricane “glass,” decorate the rim with pineapple, and add a twisty straw along with a sword skewer of cherry, grape, and melon ball, but I’m older now. It would not befit my age and station any more than the Hawaiian print shirt still hanging in the back of my closet. Besides, any addition to this recipe would be gilding a lily. The secret of the Mai Tai, a couple of glasses tell me, is its assertiveness… no equivocation allowed.

My sister (who, coincidentally, is also Jonathan’s sister) and her husband visited Chicago this weekend, and, though they gave me no lengthy reviews, they seemed to appreciate the sour attack of this sweet and substantial drink. As my brother-in-law noted, it’s also a potent drink, and that’s sure to pave the way for greater enjoyment still. An accomplished and famous cocktail, the Mai Tai is clearly the product of careful and sensible proportions and blending.

David’s Take: I would have another… and another… though I’d ask how the bartender makes his Mai Tai if I ever order one out.

Jonathan’s take: I came into this week thinking fruit juices and rum when I thought Mai Tai, but leave fairly confident in Trader Vic and his simple orgeat version.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’d like to stay on the summer theme by suggesting the Tabernacle Crush, a cocktail featuring a fruit I love—peach—and an ingredient I’ve wanted to return to—Lillet. This one will also call for basil, but it’s an herb that even we Chicagoans can grow in the summer.

LIbertea

iteaProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

As far as I’m concerned, the southern intonation of “sweet tea” can’t be rendered phonetically in prose, as it contains bent notes divergent from most American English. Though sweet tea as a concept entered my consciousness long ago, my clearest memory of hearing the term was during college at Wake Forest, late one semester when I was flush with unspent meal credit. That was the only time I’d think of visiting the Magnolia Room, the most upscale of all the dining options, complete with white tablecloths, baskets of rolls before dinner, and student servers. I remember scheming to make our server, a friendly classmate from Charlotte, use the words “sweet tea” over and over just to hear them spoken properly.

I like to hear Jonathan’s wife Debbie say the words as well—she knows, as a true North Carolinian, how they ought to be delivered. Maybe sweet tea isn’t exclusively a North Carolina thing, but it receives proper reverence there, and rightly so. It’s can’t be good for you, but, if you have a sweet tooth as I do, it’s a treat.

All of which is prefatory to saying this week’s cocktail, Libertea, feels like a variety of sweet tea to me… only alcoholic. I found the recipe online and thought it’d be appropriate for July 4th celebrations. Despite the name, I seriously doubt Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Patrick Henry invented this cocktail. It must have originated with the folks who make Wild Turkey, as it involves both the bourbon and a cordial called American Honey made by the same company. Add lemonade and black tea to the liquor, and you have an Arnold Palmer—who also went to Wake Forest, by the way—only with a kick.

The recipes, in fact, demand you make the stuff in quantity. I couldn’t find any versions that whittled the contents down to a single serving. So, like Jonathan, I split it between a mint and basil version. While it looks intimidating to pour in alcohol measured in fractions of a cup, the potent part of the recipe is proportionally small—which is to say, you can drink a lot before you realize it’s creeping up on you… sort of the way your weight creeps up on you if you subsist on sweet tea. I’ll leave the full review to Jonathan but will offer at least this warning—yes, the bourbon is in there, wait.

And I’ll tell you the recipe, of course:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups lemonade
  • 4 black tea bags
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I made half a batch with basil and half with mint)
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 cups American Honey Liqueur

Preparation: In a large saucepan, boil 2 cups water.Remove from heat; add 4 teabags of black tea. Steep 8 minutes; discard teabags. Add 2 cups cold water and lemonade; transfer to pitcher and chill. Add fresh basil (or mint) leaves. Using a wooden spoon, crush leaves until fragrant. Stir in bourbon and American Honey.

liberteaalsoAnd here’s Jonathan’s Review:

David has felt that he has been on the schneid in his cocktail choices. A quick review of the last couple of months shows that it is not true, although I might suggest that he avoid suggesting oddly colored drinks. I also don’t believe that tasty or even enjoyable mixes were ever part of our mission. It makes perfect sense that we would hope to suggest and try something we could enjoy, but our mission was to explore”… exotic, classic and forgotten mixed drinks.” Whether he was on the schneid or not doesn’t matter this week, as this is one of the best cocktails that we have tried.

The recipe has a lot of steps like many of the ones we have sampled recently. This one began, as I am sure David has described, by making tea, adding lemonade and infusing with basil. We both decided, following David’s suggestion in his introduction, to try infusing half with basil and half with mint. I gave up on the idea of working out proportions and decided instead to make the full batch (split for the infusions) since there are usually others who want to taste the week’s creation and it probably keeps pretty well. Plus there is always the hope that our follower, Jerry, might show up in town with cup in hand.

The highlight of the Libertea is the perfect amount of enough sweetness to the drink. Between the lemonade and the American Honey, the sweet combines perfectly with the bourbon, basil (or mint), and black tea spices. I am inclined towards iced tea as a beverage anyway, and often mix it half sweet and half unsweet, so this is the alcoholic version of that. Add the lemonade and I have to wonder why someone hasn’t worked out how to make this a bar staple. Since we tried two versions, it should be noted that the basil version, to me, was the better of the two.

Jonathan’s take: Tea, lemonade, bourbon and spice mixed to perfection.

David’s take: Nostalgic and intoxicating… perfect.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I wanted to go back to rum as the base. There are quite a few exotic and tropical alternatives, but I decided to go with another classic of the tropical set – the Mai Tai. Some recipes require two mixes, grenadine and orgeat, which need to be made in advance but the version I am leaning towards skips the grenadine. All recipes require small paper parasols.

Basil Watermelon Cooler

coolerJMProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Last week’s introduction suggested this would be one of the drinks of summer. And what says summer more than watermelon and fresh herbs? Just like last week there is no back story to this drink. No famous bar, classic recipe, or standard ingredients. Our now slightly famous Sid doesn’t even have anything to say about it or where it came from.

The idea was to use items that are typically only available in summer – in this case, fresh basil and watermelon. Add to that mix ginger root, ginger ale and a spirit (vodka) and you have a drink:

3 large basil leaves
1 slice peeled ginger
1 two inch square of watermelon
.5 ounce simple syrup
2 ounce vodka
.5 ounce lime juice
Ginger ale

Place basil leaves, ginger slice, watermelon and simple syrup in shaker and muddle. Add ice, vodka, lime juice and shake. Strain into double old-fashioned glass filled with ice (I used a fine sifter to strain), top with ginger ale and garnish with watermelon and basil. The recipe rates the difficulty as “complicated” and it is. Get everything ready, invite friends, and make plenty.

There is some version of this drink on most summer cocktail lists at bars that vary their menu by season. And by some version, I don’t mean a watermelon and basil drink, I mean a fruit of summer and some herb mixed in an interesting way, a seltzer, soda or bubbly added and all followed with a chaser of refreshment. This particular combination is not going to show up in a book of cocktail classics, but if you are looking for something to add to the pantheon of summer libations such as the margarita or mojito, it is well worth the effort.

A couple of interesting parts of the recipe that I omitted. The vodka is very precisely identified as Grey Goose. I am no expert, as we have established, but I wonder if anyone could identify a version made with that vodka versus another wheat vodka, or even a corn or potato vodka. In fact, we tried a version with vanilla vodka and other than a slight aftertaste it was hardly distinguishable from the original. The other interesting part is that the ginger ale is not specified. As I have crowed before, in Charlotte we have Blenheim Ginger Ale and the drink is the better for it. The muddled ginger adds some spice, but the Blenheim asserts that spice in a wonderful way.

coolerAnd Here’s David’s Review:

Due to my generally cranky outlook, anything called a “cooler” doesn’t fill me with giddy anticipation. The word seems forever linked to bottles of ersatz wine occupying the 7 Eleven refrigerator case. They usually have “breeze” in their titles and come in unlikely flavors never meeting in nature. Besides, anyone expecting to be cooled by alcohol doesn’t understand its physiological effects. Don’t expect to survive in the desert with a bottle of rot-gut whiskey—I learned that from the westerns Jonathan and I watched as boys.

This cooler ought to shed the name but distinguishes itself in some important ways. First, the collection of fresh ingredients adds a great deal, especially this time of year when fresh is welcome. Watermelon is appropriately named, and the juice is wonderfully light and sweet. The ginger and basil, muddled together, give the drink deft spiciness as well. The combination surprised me, as they unexpectedly harmonized.

Like Jonathan, I like to try more than one drink… er, I meant variation… so I made a second version with some basil brown sugar simple syrup I’d created for a cocktail party earlier in the summer. Watermelon is watery, and I see why the simple syrup is there—to give the drink additional gravity. However, to me, my second version excelled the first because it gave more taste to the original, which seemed simply sweet. The herbal overtone deserves more heft from the other ingredients, particularly since I have only pedestrian ginger ale and, alas, no Blenheim.

Fruit drinks seem less potent to me, and the temptation to try another version—this one with a spirit other than vodka—almost possessed me. My one substantial objection to this cocktail is its base spirit, which adds little or nothing other than alcohol.

Okay, okay, I’m not crazy about vodka, but I also wonder if bourbon might further complement the spiciness of the drink (and my brown sugar simple syrup), while contributing a mellowness and depth the drink could use. My wife says that’d create too much competition, and it wouldn’t be a cooler anymore. I say, maybe you don’t find depth in a “cooler,” but I still think the drink would be refreshing, not too potent, and tasty.

David’s Take: A great drink for the season… though I may play with the ingredients enough to justify a name change.

Jonathan’s take: Yeah Sam, I’ll take the usual. You know that fruity one with the watermelon, basil and ginger. Yup, that one.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’d like to test my theory that bourbon might work as a summer spirit too, and, as the 4th is coming up, I’m proposing another summer cocktail, this one called The LiberTea. This cocktail combines ice tea and bourbon and a honey liqueur (or just plain honey). All the variations online are for a party, but I will work from the proportions to create a few servings. The recipes also call for basil, but, as we just did basil this week, I may substitute mint… or try both and compare.

The Greenback

Proposed by: DavidGreenback

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The Greenback is the rarest of cocktails for this blog—it has no provenance I can find, no noted inventor, no disputatious history or colorful but apocryphal naming myth. It is, in short, just a drink.

That’s not so bad, as it allows me to invent:

One, British import-export agents developed the Greenback in a remote South American tropical outpost because they admired the local sloths whose inactivity invited the growth of green stuff in the fur on their backs.

Two, some guy named Sid (later famous for inventing butterscotch schnaps) came up with it in the Dekuyper research and development lab during the late 60’s when Sid’s boss yelled daily for more uses for crème de menthe.

Three, the Greenback was invented by those giant-eyed space aliens in honor of the feature of their mates they love most.

Here’s the origin myth I’ve decided to launch into cyberspace. It involves some nameless home bartender bemoaning an imbalance of ingredients in his liquor cabinet, stuff he’s not quite sure what to do with. There’s lemon and gin in this drink, and they’re common enough, but crème de menthe is one of those bottles he wants to hide when company comes over. My recipe also includes absinthe, which, even if you like it (I do) just doesn’t come up all that often.

So, anyway, this imaginary beleaguered bartender combines these ingredients to devise a lovely emerald concoction which he dubs The Greenback because it reminded him of the Civil War monetary policy continuing into the latter half of the 19th century that introduced unsecured green paper money backed—supposedly—by federal deposits of gold that—supposedly, but probably not—became the basis for the emerald city in The Wizard of Oz, according to dubious allegorical readings of the novels.

None of these stories are true or likely, but that’s all I’ve got. That and the recipe (which I doctored a bit from online sources and the Anvil cocktail list:

20140622_160951_resized-1Here’s the recipe:

½ oz. absinthe

1 oz. lemon (or lime)

1 oz. crème de menthe

1 and ½ oz. gin

Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake and serve in martini glasses.

And here’s Jonathan’s review:

It is fairly common that David and I communicate during the week (e-mails because, face it, who calls anymore) about the cocktail of the week, the exact recipe and what we plan for future weeks. We occasionally even sneak in a few comments about the rest of our lives. That is, in the end, the real purpose of our virtual cocktail club – that we talk more than we have in the past. Not so much because we aren’t close, but because we are both bad communicators especially for two people who rely on, and manage well, that skill on a daily basis.

This week communication was difficult, David was busy and I had a professionally challenging week, but most of the conversation was about the recipe. Specifically, where do you see Absinthe in this drink? I should have asked the more challenging question about why on earth we were using Crème de Menthe again. Ever.

The drink is almost lost in my picture, but as much as you can, look at the color. If we eat with our eyes first, we also drink with them first and no drink should be that color. The Crème de Menthe is as forward in this drink as the color would suggest. I had tried this week to find what type of gin worked best (our previous drinks would suggest that every gin drink calls for some specific type) but could not find a single recipe that did that. That is for good reason, in that the gin is completely lost. And the lemon, or lime in some cases, in the recipe? It adds just enough astringency to the Crème to make you feel as though you just flossed and are enjoying your Listerine rinse.

The funny thing, as I tried it a few more times before tossing the rest, is that I was sure David would like this drink. I don’t know why or how, but there was something so peculiar that I was confident he would taste a redeeming quality. Not me.

Jonathan’s take: This is our second drink with Crème de Menthe (Irish Eyes was the first). I have a bottle available for whoever wants it.

David’s take: Oddly, I liked this drink. Crème de Menthe is awful stuff to be sure, but—to me—this drink found a suitable disguise.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

My thought was that this is the time of year when so many publications, print and on-line, list their drinks of summer. I asked my wife for suggestions, and one Pinterest page later, we settled on a cocktail with watermelon and basil. It’s a basil watermelon cooler and it hardly qualifies as a hard core. But it sure looks like a good way to use all of that basil I have growing, and with this heat any excuse for watermelon is a good one.

 

The Vieux Carré

VieuxJBMProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

”Take this book as a testament to the fact that we are ready to endure all the little factoids, anecdotes and stories that may come with the drinks – as long as the drinks keep coming.”

That is what my sons, David and Josh, inscribed in the front cover of the Ted Haigh book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails when they gave it to me as a birthday present. It seems fitting then that for the week of Father’s Day our cocktail should be one of the forgotten recipes from that book, the Vieux Carré. Of course in the theme of quibbles about invention and ingredients, neither of which come into question with this drink, I would suggest it is not so forgotten after all. Nor should it be.

The  Vieux Carré was created in New Orleans and the name derived from there. It is confidently credited to Walter Bergeron a bartender at the Monteleone Hotel. The name is obviously French and refers to the French Quarter, or more specifically the “Old Square” around which the French Quarter district grew. The general makeup is equal parts of three spirits with the addition of a liqueur accent and bitters, much as is found in the New Orleans inspired Sazerac. The recipe hardly differs from one version to another:

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce cognac
1 ounce sweet vermouth
½ teaspoon Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Mix all of the above, shake with ice and strain into a coupe to serve neat or into an old fashioned glass to serve with ice (some versions specify one very large square of ice). Garnish with a lemon twist.

It is certainly not as well-known as other classic drinks using bitters such as an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or the aforementioned Sazerac, but the Vieux Carre’ is hardly forgotten. When I was considering rye whiskey drinks, it came up quite often on-line and in other books I have accumulated. It would be a good test to walk into a cocktail bar and order one to see what the reaction would be. Or even better, head to the Old Square, find some place that makes more than Hurricanes and seek one out. After trying them this week, I would suggest that in either scenario it will be well worth it.

vcHere’s David’s Review:

My track record should tell you I’d enjoy this drink. The Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Sazerac and De La Louisiane should tell you that. Plus it’s Father’s Day, which for some folks probably calls for something strong. When I served this drink at a cocktail party we held this week, one of the guests offered the review, “It’s all alcohol.”

Recipes that even out the parts seem to galvanize the flavors and, despite being all alcohol, this cocktail wasn’t at all hard to drink. I had it out a couple of weeks ago when we were celebrating my wife’s birthday, and that version seemed a little different to me—not quite as sweet and somehow heavier on the rye. This version, howeve, hits me in layers, first the rye, then the cognac, and finally the sweet vermouth. The Benedictine was in there too somewhere, but I was as sparing with it as the recipe suggested and I barely noticed it—it was one ingredient that seemed too subtle for my palate, except to add a little more sweetness.

Some of the guests at my party found the drink too sweet, and, if I had one suggestion it would be to choose the cognac wisely. Some cognacs have a sugary taste and heavier dose of grapey-ness, and, for a cocktail like this one, it seems important to go for more dry cognac and give the rye gets a chance to stand in the foreground.

David’s Take: I don’t think I’ll wait until next Father’s Day to have another.

Jonathan’s Take: Be sparing with the Benedictine, but otherwise try this cocktail. It could become your classic.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’m at a writing conference this week and have heard repeatedly that it’s all about taking risks. When it comes to cocktails, some of the biggest risks are taking an ingredient we already have (and may not have liked) and trying to rehabilitate it. That’s why I’m proposing a Greenback cocktail for next week. The gin and lemon are safe enough, but the other two ingredients are creme de menthe and absinthe. According to Anvil in Houston it’s a classic. We’ll see.

The Belmont Breeze

Proposed by: DavidBelmontage

Reviewed by: Jonathan

In 1998, Dale DeGroff replaced the old official Belmont drink—the White Carnation—with a new cocktail. The Belmont Breeze isn’t a breeze to make, but some alchemy dictates its formula: one sour, two sweet, three strong, and four weak. If you study the recipe closely, and designate rightly, you can see how it fits, and DeGroff got the idea from colonial punch.

The biggest innovation from the White Carnation was the substitution of bourbon (or, as some recipes have it, American blended whiskey) for vodka, and sherry for peach schnapps. The White Carnation, apparently, was an acquired taste, as it also included orange juice and cream, making it the sort of Orange Julius of the cocktail world.

Being a mint julep fan—and a Derby snob—I don’t know what to think of a cocktail named after the track. These days, every stadium bears the name of an underwriting corporation, and you can hardly swing your head left to right without inadvertently scanning logos, brand names, and overt or covert advertising. I imagine when The White Carnation stopped selling, the powers-that-be sought another drink with this space for sale.

Sorry to be so cynical. My experience with this blog suggests two cocktail worlds: The older, more mysterious one features murky, almost magical, provenances, archival ingredients, and word-of-mouth transmutations and evolutions. The newer one is available online in videos of muscular and/or beautiful people mixing insert-alcohol-sponsor-name here and various other variable parts to create something trademarked.

Perhaps you sense which I prefer.

I don’t want to speak for Jonathan, but my experience (coming up on a year) tells me there’s something quixotic in mixology. You’re always looking for that combination of ingredients that click like tumblers deep inside a safe door and throw it open with a shouted, “Behold!” I shouldn’t be surprised at the challenge of reaching that word. I shouldn’t be surprised there’s money in it too.

But enough soap-boxing, here’s the recipe:

Muddle the mint and mix the ingredients in a shaker, and strain into ice-filled glasses.

betterbelmontHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

First the lament. I thought this was the year. Thought that California Chrome would be trademarking California Crown. All that thinking made me sad that I would not be able to watch the coronation due to other celebrations we were attending. As it ended up, we were able to watch the race and the stretch run that never came for a tired horse. No need to get into the fairness of the competition, this in fact being a cocktail blog not a sports discussion, just to wallow in the lament of another year gone by without that extra special horse.

Now back to the real purpose, the final leg of the triple crown of cocktails. The Belmont Breeze is another in the category of changing tradition. This race even had another name for its traditional cocktail (the White Carnation David has mentioned) and a number of versions of the Breeze to choose from. Our selected recipe was the bourbon and fruit juices version and despite all the indecision by others it was a great choice.

I followed the path that has led to the most success and used fresh squeezed juices for all but the cranberry. The truth is that I almost switched up and used fresh pomegranate instead of the cranberry so I could use all fresh, but stuck with the recipe. That is stuck with it other than ignoring the measurements simply listed as “a splash of.” The end result, because both the oranges and lemons were not very sweet, was a tart drink that mixed with the bourbon and sherry almost perfectly. A second version with a tiny amount of simple syrup was perfect. If only the race had been.

There can’t be a triple crown of cocktails celebrating horse racing without a win, place and show. The show cocktail was the Black Eyed Susan. Too fruity, too much change and too little satisfaction. Maybe David’s version with St. Germain was better, but mine was a distant third. Placing was the Belmont Breeze but only because of that lack of tradition. The drink is excellent, especially with the fresh juices, even if they change it year in and year out. A fresh pomegranate juice for the cranberry version could even nose at ahead at the line. But in the final reckoning the Julep wins because it is wonderful, traditional and demanding. There may be few versions, or preferences in making them if you like, but it is a storied drink that must have its own type of cup, the right kind of ice and then it demands you savor it.

David’s Take: A lot of flavors left me unsure of the winner

Jonathan’s take: The Belmont should stick with the DeGroff version and create the tradition.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Summer is coming, but before then is Father’s Day. It may be stereotypical, but when I think of a fatherly drink it has to start with whiskey. I was leaning towards rye whiskey and kept coming across the Vieux Carre Cocktail. It has also those standards of a classic, which it is, including the whiskey, plus cognac, vermouth and a mix of bitters.

 

The Old Oaxacan

Proposed by: Jonathanoxan

Reviewed by: David

It has been my observation, and I am sure I have written it before, that people come up with some interesting things to use in the making of alcoholic beverages. Surely the agave plant is one of those. Agave is a succulent, don’t call it a cactus, that grows primarily in Mexico and has a number of uses. Among those uses are a variety of spirits that range from the fresh, quick pulque made from the sap to this week’s spirit, mezcal, which is made from the roasted heart (pina) of the plant. In between those lies tequila which is arguably the most common and popular of the agave liquors.

I have heard it said that all mezcal is a tequila, or all tequila is a mezcal but that makes little sense to me. Tequilas are made from a variety of agave plants, but primarily blue agave. The distillation of the spirit is centered around the town of Tequila, does not involve roasting the pina, and can include some aging. Mezcal on the other hand is made from Agave Americana, must come from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and gets its characteristic taste from roasting the heart of the plant (after a great deal of work to make sure it is full of sugar/sap meant for the flower) in ground ovens. That roasting gives it the distinctive smoky flavor that is both a benefit and curse.

My sons were home this week and I let one of them do the shopping for the mezcal. There is not a great deal of selection, especially compared to tequilas, which says something about popularity and taste. A number of sources describe the smoky and complex character of mezcal to that of a fine scotch. With that in mind, we tried the pina liquor simply poured over ice as a test. Either it, or we failed. The complexity came across more like a fuel than a fine spirit, strong and distinctive but tasting of solvents with no sweetness.

That left my proposed drink a challenge to see if there was a way to mix that distinctive taste and find something that meshed. The proposal was for a drink called the Old Oaxacan which is as follows:

2 ounces mezcal
1 ounce simple syrup
.75 ounce lime juice
4-5 shakes angostura bitters
8 mint leaves
2 ounces champagne

Mix all ingredients, except the champagne, in shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe, add the champagne and garnish with mint. I used a chocolate mint because it made sense to me when I considered the desert south of Mexico.

The end result was oddly harmonious and so much better than the spirit by itself or even in a simple mix with citrus and sweetener. It may be the champagne talking, but I finally understood the odd complexity of the roasted agave, and perhaps the idea to use it to make hooch in the first place.

David’s Review:

OldOaxWhen Jonathan and I were young, we launched model rockets, and, oddly, this drink made me remember those launches, not just the smoke but also the thrill of watching them streak into the sky nearly before you noticed.

If you read carefully, that’s the sum of my review. Mezcal seems an entirely different beast from tequila in its charcoaled taste, and, for reasons I can’t quite explain, this drink seemed particularly potent and particularly sudden in attack. It may be the champagne, which every celebrant knows goes to your head, but it could be that the other ingredients—angostura, lime, and a little simple syrup—hardly slow the drink down.

My daughter, the most instinctually culinary in our family, suggested I boil a lime peel with the sugar and water, but the smokiness of the mezcal subdued any subtlety that step may have imparted. The lime juice seemed muted too, and the angostura, though it gave the drink color, added a bitterness well in the background. My liquor purveyor described mezcal as the Islay of tequilas, and that description fits but there’s something western in it, more mesquite than oak.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The Old Oaxacan is interesting, a perfect accompaniment to guacamole and chips, a suitably more serious substitute to that sweet margarita you’ve gotten used to. One caution: if you’re expecting the familiar tequila-laced confection, overcome that anticipation. You’ll find something quite different here, an in-your-face confrontation with fire and sugar that speaks more to char than caramel.

David’s take: I loved it, though I suspect it’s not for everyone.

Jonathan’s take: A good tequila would still be my preference, but this didn’t kill my curiosity about the subset that is mezcal.

Next Week (proposed by David):

We’ve celebrated the Derby. We’ve celebrated the Preakness. So far, California Chrome has responded. With the Belmont next week, we can’t pass up a Belmont Breeze. Though part of me bristles at a drink so obviously and cravenly promotional, the ingredients and combination sound wonderful. And if it will help the horse, well, that’s a bonus.

The Tom Collins

Proposed by: DavidTom

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I’ve reached the conclusion—duh—mixology is subtle. My brother and I encounter some exotic ingredients, but many drinks vary themes. We revisit the staples—juice, simple syrup, the major spirit and the minor one, maybe some stretcher like soda or tonic of ginger ale, and perhaps an element like bitters to challenge an untrained palate. The Tom Collins contains essentials and is even more basic than the archetypical cocktails’ constellation of ingredients. With just four parts, it’s simple.

Yet, our cocktailian adventures tell me every variation deserves a story. To me, it’s a wonder someone playing with these ingredients wouldn’t discover a Tom Collins, but disputation is more interesting, and, of course, there’s an argument.

Who invented the Tom Collins and how does the name arise? A cocktail called John Collins hits the historical record in London around 1860 as part of a song of the time. The name change, apparently, comes from “Professor” Jerry Thomas, the famous American mixologist whose description in 1876 gave the Tom Collins a name and place in bar lore.

But wait a minute. The name change may actually arise from London and the addition of Old Tom Gin, a slightly sweet version of Gin.

But wait a minute again. It turns out that the Tom Collins was also a hoax popular in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in 1874. People would approach someone they knew and say, “Do you know Tom Collins?” and then regale their listener with outrageous stories of the aspersions Tom had been casting about them in a nearby bar. Once the perpetrator had sufficiently riled the victim, the hoaxed person stormed into the bar and shouted, “Where is Tom Collins!?” The other patrons would roar with laughter, happy to discover (and I hope welcome) another snipe hunter.

No one really knows whether a Tom Collins is British or American—though plenty of people, apparently, fight half-heartedly over it. By 1878, it’s a popular drink in bars in New York and London, busily proliferating as people tinker with alternative spirits and other ingredients.

When it comes to provenance, cocktails soar to baffling complexity. You can’t know how hard I fought against making up my own story about the Tom Collins, including obscure German philosophers, time travel, an expedition to Africa, and some mighty angry hippos.

Instead, I’ll just give you the recipe:

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

OTomIt’s funny how even with the classics, like the Tom Collins, there is something to learn and the opportunity for a new liquor to be acquired. We’ve tried a lot of gin recipes and as a result learned quite a bit about gin. Even with that, I hadn’t read much about Old Tom gin or had a reason to use it. But if a drink is named after the gin type, and I lean towards the story that the drink’s first name comes from the liquor, I had to add to the gin collection with some Old Tom.

Another given is that there needs to be some variation of the classic to try along with the basic recipe. We subscribe to a CSA (community supported agriculture) where we pay a seasonal fee and get a bag of fresh produce each week. One of the benefits of this CSA is that we get fruit along with the vegetables plus a small amount of local maple syrup. You read that right—tapped and collected from maple trees in central North Carolina.

This year the farmer has added a quart of sorghum syrup too. Sorghum is one of the early sources for a sweetener that went out of style as sugar cane took over. A quick Google search will show that it is regaining popularity, and I thought it would be interesting to substitute a simple syrup made from sorghum syrup and water in place of the standard simple syrup.

This part is simple—the classic was better. Clear and sparkling, it is a great summer drink. Not sure I could tell a difference in the Old Tom versus another gin, but we can pretend. I expected that the sorghum version would add an extra subtle bitterness that is characteristic of the sorghum extract, but there really wasn’t any notable difference in taste. The color was the main change, and the golden brown, while pretty, wasn’t as appealing as the light color of the original. It was worth the try though.

Jonathan’s take:  It may be boring, but I’m not sure you can beat this classic for simplicity and taste.

David’s Take: Like most classics, this drink does little to offend. I’m not sure whether that’s a recommendation, but it’s certainly an affirmation.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):

Time for something different. I’ve been intrigued by types of tequila, and particularly mezcal. There are few cocktails made with mezcal in large part because of the assertiveness that results from the roasting and smoking of the agave. The drink that I am proposing is called the Old Oaxacan and it includes lime, mint and champagne to soothe the savage liquor. At least that’s what I hope.

The Black Eyed Susan

b-eyed sProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The Preakness Stakes is the second race of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Two weeks ago we celebrated the first race, the Kentucky Derby of course, with the traditional Mint Julep. This week’s cocktail is named after the official flower of Maryland and is the cocktail of The Preakness – the Black Eyed Susan.

Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore hosts the Preakness which was run for the first time in 1873, two years before the Kentucky Derby. Unlike the Derby which has been run every year since 1875, though, the Preakness missed a few years and was run at other tracks during its history. The race features its own traditions in the singing of Maryland’s state song (Maryland, My Maryland), a blanket of flowers for the winner (Black Eyed Susans or their substitute since they bloom later in the year), and the cocktail that we are celebrating.

The official cocktail has changed recipes over the year and any quick search will turn up a number of variations. The history began in a cloudy way when the first versions were premixed and the exact makeup kept secret by the company that made them. The story goes that the folks at Pimlico decided to make their own and a recipe was created to mimic the original. Since then though, there are versions different enough that they do not even contain the same base liquors. The Preakness web site includes what is now the “official” version made with Finlandia Vodka, St. Germain (an elderberry liqueur), and the juice of lemon, limes and pineapple. Needless to say it is official because it is sponsored by Finlandia and St. Germain.

My proposal last week was that we each try the version of our choice. Last year, before this blog was envisioned, our household celebrated the Derby with Juleps. The races that followed seemed to be a good excuse to try the traditional cocktails of each and we did just that. The Black Eyed Susan I made then included vodka and Kentucky whiskey (Early Times Kentucky Whisky, and yes, the spelling difference is correct). Based on that and few extra taste testers I found a recipe for a pitcher of the drink that was close to it:

1.5 cups vodka
1.5 cups rum, whiskey, or bourbon (I used bourbon)
.75 cups triple sec
4 cups orange juice
4 cups pineapple juice
1 tablespoon of lime juice

Garnished with an orange slice, cherry and fresh pineapple.

Add in some kind of crab dish, singing along with Maryland, My Maryland and you have your own tradition. At least until they change the recipe again.

beyedsuzDavid’s Review:

I had no intention of including St. Germain in this recipe, despite what the track says this year, but I did. It was on sale at a high falootin’ grocery I visit (but still mighty expensive) and I just couldn’t resist. Say what you will about the cost of St. Germain, it’s delicious and, I think, adds a great deal to this cocktail.

The Preakness usually goes unnoticed for me—it’s the first race after the Kentucky Derby—but this cocktail called for close attention. I’m no fan of pineapple juice, as the juice is another case where the fruit can’t be improved upon. Yet this drink offered a fresh and refreshing combination of flavors. Unlike Jonathan, I stuck to vodka and rum (and St. Germain), which made the fruit that much more prominent. In addition, St. Germain has an odd resonance with citrus. Tasted by itself, the liquor is positively protean, seeming at turns herbal, spicy, and fruity. And, at times, it tastes positively pineapply to me.

As we’ve suggested before, the ultimate review of a mixed drink is whether you order another, and we did. We missed the race—why so early, Maryland?—but the drink was a fine way to wind down as spring (finally) seems to be arriving in Chicago.

Maybe expense doesn’t matter so much if the result is a quiet moment of celebration. You don’t need a race or anything else, just the will for gratitude, a desire to acknowledge how good a moment of calm can be.

Jonathan’s take: Fruity. No other way to put it – fruity.

David’s take: Fruit is good, maybe even healthy. Whether it is or not, though, I’ll have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Time for another classic, I think. Let’s try a Tom Collins. I don’t have any idea who Tom Collins might be (though I’m certain I’ll find out), or how the drink arrived at that name, but as just about everyone seems to recognize the concoction, maybe it’s time to try one. We have the ingredients after all, and that’s a definite plus.