Dark ‘N Stormy

Proposed by: Jonathan20141019_165024_resized

Reviewed by: David

The questions I started with last week went unanswered, and this week is no different. Those questions were simply what the difference between a mule and a buck cocktail are, as well as what differentiates ginger beer and ale. As best I can tell, there is no answer because there is no difference.

There are multiple meanings to mule and buck beyond their cocktail uses. A mule is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey (forget learning cocktails, now I know a cross between the opposite sexes of each animal is called a hinny). It can also be a drug carrier, a women’s shoe with no strap on the back or some stubborn dolt who won’t give up trying to figure out why the heck a drink is called a mule. Buck could be the male deer in my backyard who is still pissed that our dog chased his fawn a couple of weeks ago, or the marker in poker that designates the next dealer, leading to the expression “pass the buck.” My favorite use is the adverb form of buck that means “completely” as in “I drank a bunch of dark ‘n stormys and next thing I knew I was running buck nekkid down the beach.”

The best explanation for why the words are used with cocktails goes back to the second drink featured in this blog – the Horse’s Neck. The original of that drink was simply ginger ale and bitters and did not include alcohol. When it was added, the name was amended to include “with a kick.” It makes only the tiniest amount of sense that the translation of that was from a kicking horse to a bucking mule, but that is the story that has evolved.

When it comes to cocktails, though, the use of mule and buck now means any drink that is mixed with ginger beer/ale, citrus, and a spirit. The best part of that is the simplicity. Take the ale or beer in four parts, the spirit in two parts and the citrus in one part and you have a cocktail. You don’t even have to stick with those proportions, and, if you toss in some bitters, who can blame you. There are more complicated variations that use ginger liqueur, as David mentioned last week, or ginger simple syrup but that ruins the utility of the basic recipe in my opinion.

The Dark N’ Stormy is trademarked by Gosling’s and use of any other rum besides Gosling’s Black Seal makes the drink a rum buck. To truly taste the cocktail by that name we went with the classic Black Seal in two parts, Barritt’s ginger beer (also from Bermuda) in four parts and an ample wedge of lime. If we added a little lime juice to the mix (that would be the one part mentioned above), you and Gosling’s lawyers don’t know about it.

There are so many rums and gingers that this is a drink, in its non-trademarked buck/mule form, that demands experimentation. The tailgaters that recommended the drink also made versions with Kraken rum, Crabbie’s ginger beer, Saranac ginger beer and the all of the combinations that allowed. The picture that is included is a version with Bacardi spiced rum that is lighter and lets the citrus come to the forefront. All of the versions were a hit, although I will admit that the true Dark ‘N Stormy was the best in my estimation.

It was a week when the country of origin for this drink, Bermuda, was truly dark and stormy thanks to Hurricane Gonzalo. It sounds like the island nation fared well, all things considered, and I’m happy we got to enjoy their national drink with true Bermuda ingredients.

And Here’s David’s Review:

dark.andI thought briefly about not buying Gosling’s Black Seal because, well, proprietary cocktail recipes reek of craven marketing and rampant capitalism. No one should own a cocktail in a free country, right? Fortunately, however, I read a review of the rum’s appearance as “A little foreboding” and its greeting as, “an enticing unpleasant aroma.” Then I had to have it. It wasn’t at all expensive anyway. And, just as described, its creosote color repelled light and offered a dense molasses and sulfury taste perfectly cut by lime and ginger beer. Almost from my first sip, I wanted another.

Last week, when Jonathan asked about ginger beer, I really didn’t know the difference, but I can at least answer one of his questions (I’m happy Jonathan answered the other). Now I understand that ginger ale uses fresh ginger—uncooked, unprocessed, the raw stuff—whereas ginger beer involves fermentation and is usually less sweet, more spicy. I used Fever-Tree ginger BEER (they have an ale version too), yet what struck me most was not the difference between beer and ale but how effervescence counters the weighty gravitas of a seriously dense spirit like Gosling’s. More trigeminal interference, I suppose.

While examining alternative recipes, I encountered one that urged leaving out the lime, but, to me, that would be a serious mistake. As with the Mules last week, fresh citrus adds sweet, sour, and bitter elements contributing to the cocktail’s complexity. In another case of the sum being greater than its parts, the burnt sugar taste of the rum, its hint of anise—almost like licorice—needs the spicy ginger and tart lime to dilute and lift it.

As Jonathan said, this cocktail, like many we’ve encountered lately, also seems amenable to improvisation. Though I haven’t tried it yet, I might substitute ginger liqueur (despite what my brother says) and a combination of tonic and seltzer. I might try paler rum—perhaps even caçhaca, though I suspect that will make it both lighter and less stormy, maybe light ‘n drizzly. I may even try garnishing with pickled ginger. Crazy, I know, but sometimes a week isn’t enough to explore one of these drinks, especially when it seems as well-conceived (good work, Gosling’s Black Seal people) and balanced as this one.

David’ Take: I’ll have another.

Jonathan’s Take: The rum mule/buck is an experimenter’s dream, but try it with Gosling’s and make their attorneys happy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Though it seems odd to suggest a Martinez before the Martini, the former is a predecessor to the latter—and maybe we’ll have to try a Martini after that. A sweeter drink involving gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitters, it promises to be another cocktail with some heft and potency… just my cup of alcohol. And, unlike a Martini, I’ve never had one… which is the fundamental requirement for being included on this blog, right?

The Mule (Moscow and Otherwise)

muler?muler?Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a drink a drink. Specifically, I’ve been wondering how so many varieties of mules (some call them bucks) can all be all one drink. How can one name fit seemingly infinite visions and revisions?

This week, my wife and I attended a cocktail class taught by Devin Kidner, the founder of Hollow Leg and a master mixologist for the Koval Distillery. Besides having a wonderful time on a roof deck with an awe-inspiring view of the Chicago skyline, we learned a lot about cocktails’ basic components and how they cooperate to create drinks’ distinctive tastes. One of the most illuminating lessons for me was that, once you identify the essential elements of a drink, you can mix, match, and adapt freely and without fear.

Taking that lesson to heart, I tried a couple of variations on the classic Moscow Mule, which traditionally includes lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer, often in nifty copper cups, which—thanks to a birthday gift from my wife—we now own. I can’t distinguish between ginger beer and ginger ale or say what a buck is. Wikipedia will have to help you with the drink’s history, but the web is crowded with many other less than traditional mules. Many restaurants and bars have signature mules. You can change the spirit and the juice and serve it in a glass. You can shake it with ice or make it in the cup. You can garnish it with mint or lemon or nothing. But nearly every mule recipe calls for ginger—ginger beer, ginger ale, ginger syrup, even (I suppose) real grated ginger or ginger candy.

Devin gave me the idea that a sweet liqueur can substitute for simple syrup, and I chose Koval Ginger Liqueur to stand in for the essential mule element. She also suggested, though, that carbonation is never incidental in a well-made mixed drink. It not only cuts the sweetness, but also often balances, enhances, or moderates the spicy and/or hot aspects of a cocktail, which she labeled as their trigeminal effects. You’ll have to ask her what that is, but, as the drink clearly needed something fizzy, I added seltzer for one variation and a combination of seltzer and tonic for another.

Then, just to make the whole enterprise even more complicated, I used bourbon instead of vodka, meaning my cocktail was more accurately a variation of a Kentucky Mule.

A little knowledge can be a powerful thing. Devin compares her mission to the old adage about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish, and it’s liberating to know that a manhattan or a sling or a mojito or a caipirinha can be just the starting point for cocktails in many different guises.

And on that copper cup… while it may not be essential, it does definitely add to the experience of a mule. The metal gets very cold and condensation quickly covers its surface. That’s pretty, but it also creates an enlivening and refreshing sensation similar to drinking spring water from a metal ladle, which—I’m guessing—could be another trigeminal effect. I’m not at all sure about the science, but now that we have those cups, I’ll be looking for other reasons to use them.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

mulishness2

There are so many questions that I hope David has answered. What is the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer? Is there a difference in a mule and a buck? Why does this cocktail have its own designated vessel and does it make a difference? What the heck does Moscow have to do with this anyway? To be so perplexing this classic is worth the questions.

My ginger beer of choice was Crabbie’s, a version from the United Kingdom. That really raised the initial question, since up to that point I thought the difference in ginger ale and beer was alcohol. Apparently not since when I asked in the store for ginger beer the helpful clerk responded with “alcoholic or non-alcoholic.”

This is a cocktail blog – I answered “alcoholic.”

The vodka this week was a grain version from Iceland called Reyka. I am still not sure that the brand, or even base material for the mash, makes much difference when it comes to vodka in cocktails, but this one has a really impressive label. If that means anything.

One of the things I cited as a lesson after our first year of this blog is that it makes a difference who you are sharing the drink with. We were very fortunate to be able to meet one of my sisters, her husband and my nephew in Asheville for the weekend and as a result shared the cocktail with them. It was, as I suspected, an affirmation of the lesson and that much better for the sharing.

There were actually two versions of the cocktail, as anyone who has paid attention should know. The first version used the Crabbie’s and I made a second with Blenheim ginger ale. Both drinks showcase the ginger with the ginger beer version more complex and the lime less prominent. The lime stood out in the Blenheim mix and the ginger, while stronger, did not have the background depth of the Crabbie’s. Push come to shove, I liked the Blenheim version better, but probably because the lime stood out and offered a contrast.

Jonathan’s take: Mule or buck, ale or beer, Borgarnes (Iceland) or Moscow, none of it matters when the cocktail is this good.

David’s take: A Mule is well-worth riding, copper cups or no.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Some of our regular tailgaters, my son David and his friend Trevor, asked if they could suggest a drink. Interestingly it is very similar to the Moscow Mule especially since they didn’t know that was what we were trying this week. They have proposed the Dark ‘N Stormy, another mule/buck using spiced rum, typically Gosling’s. I already tried different versions of the Moscow Mule so I imagine this week will offer more chances to mix up the ginger ale and beer to see how that changes things.

The Livorno

fireProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

One of the things I have worried about with this blog is excess. I am here to admit I have reached that point. Not in drink, but in literature. The basis of the cocktail blog is that we are tasting and experimenting which means that, except in very rare occasions, the weekly drink is only one or two cocktails. The books about spirits, though, have begun to mount especially in digital format. I had no idea there was so much variety to the genre of alcohol related non-fiction. The latest is Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson and it is the inspiration for this week’s drink.

The drink is the Livorno and the recipe is as follows:

1.5 ounce bourbon
.75 ounce Tuaca (tu’ a ka)
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Preserved or maraschino cherry

Fill glass with ice, add bourbon, Tuaca and bitters. Stir until cold and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

The main, and most interesting ingredient, is Tuaca an Italian liqueur with flavors of vanilla and citrus. Like many of the liqueurs, especially those from European countries, it has an interesting history. The original recipe goes back to the Renaissance period and was rediscovered by two Italian families the Tuonis and Canepas who lived in the city of Livorno. That recipe has evolved from what was once called Milk Cognac to a less alcoholic version that certainly contains no milk. Originally produced in Italy, the brand was purchased by liquor giant Brown-Forman of Louisville. It had reached a point that most of the product was made in Italy but exported to the U.S., so it is not surprising that the production has moved to the U.S. I should mention that to complete the Louisville connection, I chose a bourbon from the same company that is produced in that city – Old Forester.

Jason Wilson describes the liqueur in a chapter that focuses on St. Germain, Jagermeister and Tuaca. Each of these liqueurs has a fanciful history that stretches the imagination and one of them, Jagermeister, has reached a level of popularity through marketing and placement that far surpasses any history or tall tales. Tuaca was marketed and positioned to challenge Jagermeister in bars as a shot for the younger crowd, but I think the confused looks I received when I mentioned that to some recent college graduates speaks to the failure of that marketing. In fact, I would say the expressions of that same crowd when I served this cocktail speak to part of the reason for that.

Here’s David’s Review:

LivornoSaturday being my birthday, my wife and I invited guests for dinner and served them the Livorno. And, because I’ve become the Cliff Clavin of cocktails, I explained what Tuaca is, where the cocktail got its name, how the drink might be considered a Manhattan variation… yadda, yadda, yadda. I must have sounded pret-ty savvy because a guest asked me if I’d try the drink again prior to writing the review. I said “No.” Though I liked this drink, I didn’t need to take notes or swirl the cocktail around the glass or in my mouth.

When we tried whiskeys a couple of weeks ago, I watched some videos of tasters online and came away feeling inadequate. Perhaps you’ve had this experience watching a blu-ray DVD on your friends’ new floor-to-ceiling flat screen TV or listening to that super expensive sound system that sends waves through baffles or into an anchored sub-woofer or up into space and back. One whiskey taster online detected marshmallow charred over oak and mesquite smoke, and I thought the whiskey was kind of burn-y because I accidentally aspirated a sip.

So, if you’re not already, please regard my comments as the views of a well-meaning philistine. Tuaca, like many liqueurs I’d put in the TLAOL (Tippling Like An Old Lady) category, is quite sweet, syrupy even. The description on the bottle describes it as “A Vanilla Citrus Liqueur,” but I don’t really taste the citrus at all—certainly not the bitter citrus of a peel. Tuaca has a sort of amaretto or praline flavor, faintly nutty and matching mellow bourbon or complementing the sharp taste of Rye.

The spiciness of the Rittenhouse Rye I used and the warm, spirituous Tuaca, in fact, largely erased the Peychaud Bitters. One of my guests—who seems far more savvy than I—commented that this cocktail, lacking bitter elements, couldn’t stand up to the complexity and depth of a Manhattan. Though I like sweet drinks, that response makes sense to me.

One of the most interesting conversations at dinner was about the nature of cocktails, whether they are like cooking, which accommodates improvisation, or like baking, which sometimes punishes experimentation with abject failure. No doubt, invented cocktails can be utter flops (particularly when they include Crème de Menthe) but I like to believe cocktails are more like cooking because I have all these silly things in my liquor cabinet (minus Crème de Menthe) to fool around with. Maybe I just can’t taste failure, but, when it comes to mixology, I have an infinite capacity for hope.

If I do try the Livorno again, I may experiment with a lower measure of Tuaca to cut some of the sweetness of the drink, and make up the difference with a bittersweet vermouth like Carpano Antica or dry vermouth. The alterations might add another dimension, or—like that time I tried to bake cookies on the grill—only create another tragic tale.

Jonathan’s take: Bourbon overwhelms any subtleties of the Tuaca, but for a sipping drink by the fire it’s not too bad.

David’s Take: I enjoyed the Livorno. It could be I was swayed by the wonderful company, but it seemed a warm and wonderful way to start an evening.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Moscow Mules have become a staple of bar menus. I’m not sure what those copper cups add to the drink, but I do think they give it an appealing festive feel. Up to now, I’ve stayed away from making Moscow Mules at home because I didn’t have the proper bar ware. No more! My wife gave me two cups for my birthday, so it’s time to try one (or some variation). If the cup is important, maybe Jonathan and his wife can have one out at a bar, but it’d be interesting to see what the cup adds (if anything at all). Shouldn’t it be the same drink, regardless of its container?

The Cosmopolitan

Proposed by: Davidcosmodbm

Reviewed by: Jonathan

So many claims and counterclaims litter the relatively short history of the Cosmopolitan (or “Cosmo” if you’re a frequent user) that it’s hardly worth offering a history. Suffice it to say, many people thought of it… and many thought they were first.

Whatever its origins, however, the Cosmopolitan quickly became the cocktail of the moment in the 90s and is still quite popular, especially among women. One reason may be its use as the signature cocktail of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City. By the time they made the series into a film, Carrie’s friend Miranda is asking why they didn’t order them anymore. “Because,” Carrie says, “everyone else started.”

Perhaps because of Carrie Bradshaw’s endorsement, the Cosmopolitan, I’m told, is a woman’s drink. I don’t really understand why any cocktail needs to be described that way—what could be more absurd than saying a drink is more suited to men or women?

My interest in the Cosmopolitan came from the favorite drink of graduate school friends, a Cape Codder. That cocktail combines Cranberry Juice and Vodka, and whenever I visited, they’d place one in my hand around 5:15. I thought the bitterness of the juice worked well with the clean and super distilled alcohol. It was refreshing in a way screwdrivers are not because it was never too sweet or dense. The sweet and sour of citrus and the bitter of citrus peel in the Cointreau, I figured, could only add.

As it turns out, those ingredients add a great deal. Whether positively or negatively I’ll leave to Jonathan, but I didn’t feel particularly girlish drinking one.

Here’s the Recipe:

1 1/2 ounces vodka or citrus vodka

1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce cranberry juice

Orange peel for garnish

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Cosmojbm

We have flirted with the Cosmopolitan even though we had not tried it before. Sometime early in the blog, I erroneously referred to the Cosmopolitan in my proposal for a drink for the next week (either my research is faulty or David’s editing has corrected my idiocy because I couldn’t find the reference). I also stated that there is a similarity in the drink name between the Metropolitan and Cosmopolitan, even though there is no similarity in the drink.

The base of this week’s proposal is the neutral spirit vodka. There is always some criticism about vodka drinks, some deserved and some not. The deserving part, in my opinion, is when people insist on particular brands of vodka despite combining them with mixers that completely mask any taste even if there was some. The underserving part is to completely dismiss vodka because it is neutral. That lack of presence allows the other ingredients to stand out more. That is a quality accentuated in this drink.

We tried a couple of different recipes for the Cosmo. The first was true to David’s link and combined the vodka, Cointreau (I did use another brand), lime juice and cranberry juice. The benefit of the orange liqueur in this version was both body (from the brandy base) and taste. The negative was that the color was slightly off from what I expect a Cosmo to be since there is little cranberry. To adjust, I increased the cranberry in the second recipe and used Triple Sec for the orange taste. That one was lighter and more cranberry-er but lacked the depth of the first. Both benefitted greatly from fresh lime juice and probably would have from fresh cranberry if I could have figured out how to juice those little suckers.

The Cosmopolitan could be the drink that defines the negative of shelf ready mixers. Most of my experience with this cocktail has been a quick mix of one of those and vodka. The drink is easy, the look and color are right, but the taste is sugary and off. If you have ever turned your nose up at the thought of this once trendy drink, try it again with fresh ingredients. Worth it.

Jonathan’s take: The base alcohol makes a difference, but if you’re going neutral there is still hope with the right mixers.

David’s take: Though I love sweet drinks, I’d love to play with some of these proportions and try some orange bitters and less Cointreau.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

There was a time, may still be for all I know, when Jagermeister shots were very popular in bars. That was not my time. I had read recently that other liquor/liqueur producers have tried to replicate that success. One of those is Tuaca an Italian liqueur with flavors of herbs and vanilla. There is a cocktail called the Livorno that combines that liqueur with bourbon and bitters and that’s where we are going next week. I just hope I can find Tuaca.

Whiskey (or Whisky) and the Old Fashioned

heavenProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are classic cocktails and there is the classic cocktail. If the Old Fashioned is not the most classic cocktail, it is on the very short list being considered. A cocktail, or bittered sling for you old fashioned types, is defined as a spirit, water, sugar and bitters. The Old Fashioned is traditionally a whiskey, sugar, water and bitters. There may have been a different bitter in the original recipe but since it is no longer available Angostura is the most common.

This may be one of the few drinks, despite its age, for which there is some consensus about the history. It was created in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1880’s at the Pendennis Club. The recipe was introduced to New Yorkers through one of the Pendennis Club members, Col. James Pepper, who had it made at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. There were variations that included different types of gin, brandy and other whiskeys and it is not too hard to imagine that rum was another alternative at that time.

The most traditional way to make an Old Fashioned uses straight sugar. The sugar, in lump or granular form, is muddled with a small amount of water. The whiskey and bitters are added followed by ice and a garnish of lemon peel. I chose a recipe that used simple syrup instead of the muddled sugar and water:

2 ounces whiskey (rye or bourbon classically)
.5 ounce simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitter
Lemon peel for garnish

Mix all ingredients in glass with ice, stir and strain into a glass (old fashioned of course) with a large chunk of ice then garnish with lemon peel. I also made a version with demerara simple syrup and orange bitters. Purists may argue that the classics should remain steadfast to the basic recipe, but this is a drink that has almost as many variations as the simple list of components permit.

The second part of this week’s selection was a whiskey tasting, in part to determine what to use in the cocktail. Thanks to this blog, I had a number of options to taste and friends contributed more. A group of us ended up trying two regular bourbons, one high proof bourbon, a wheat whiskey, a rye whiskey and one from Tennessee.

Tastings can be as detailed and complex as you want, but we settled on some introductory comments and instructions from Bourbon Jerry on what to look for and consider and a basic rating system. All the participants tried small, very small, tastings of numbered whiskeys (so there would not be any bias), rated them on a scale from 1 to 10 with the higher number the better rating, and added short comments if they chose.

Not too surprisingly, the higher end selection of the two bourbons was rated best. It was a little unexpected that the other straight bourbon, which by itself on ice has been a very popular brand with some of the regular bourbon drinkers, was the lowest rated. The wheat, rye, Tennessee and high proof bourbon all had similar ratings with notes that ranged from the basic “smooth” to the more detailed “tastes like pine trees.” Not exactly pure science, but an interesting way to compare and contrast. One final note – after the tasting it was hard to get folks to try the drink so maybe one endeavor or the other at a time would be better.

And Here’s David’s Review:

whiskers1As seriously as I took this tasting process—and I thought of it as the main event before making my Old Fashioned—my assessment was anything but scientific. Even if I put aside using one version of each whiskey to represent the style and overlook my suspect tasting apparatus, the task itself was troublesome.

When students miss the purpose of comparison-contrast analysis, I sometimes demonstrate with paperclips. The paperclips I pass around look identical but, on closer examination, differ in subtle ways. One is more tarnished, another noticeably re-bent into shape. One is slightly larger or smaller, a frailer gauge, another grade of metal, or looser than another. The point is that, when two things seem alike, you become more discerning and make subtle—we hope, more valuable—distinctions.

Whiskeys are so different it’s difficult to compare in subtle ways. Were they paperclips, they’d be a brass fastener and a bobby pin, an alligator clip and a clothes pin, or a surgical clamp. I wondered, “What do these seemingly unlike things have in common that makes them all whiskeys?”

Of course, you can look elsewhere for the technical answer, but as a taster (with some help from a friend, thank goodness), I recognized oak in nearly all and a mellow, rounded sweetness that, depending on the type, announced themselves or demurred. On top of that flavor base, the way they entered and exited my notice varied considerably.

A taster’s vocabulary is usually much more savvy, but comparing unlike things is tough. Six bourbons or scotches might incite subtler, more taster-worthy diction, as Jonathan’s process suggests. However, here’s my line-up, with preferences (and ranks) after each:

Scotch Whiskey (Glenmorangie Single Malt, 10 Year Old): Thanks to an unfortunate experience at a Revolutionary War reenactment many years ago, I have a pretty indelible sense of what scotch tastes like. It’s earthy, often peaty or smoky, and, compared to some of the other whiskeys on this list, seems harsher in its attack and more lingering in its aftertaste. Though the particular scotch I tried was mellower and less leathery than the Islay scotches I’ve tried, it nonetheless reminded me that scotch is the most distinctive whiskey, redolent of tannin and more sulfurous (to me) than the others.

Though I’m not a scotch man, I can appreciate its unabashed idiosyncrasies (4).

Irish Whiskey (Powers Gold Label): Depending on your taste, the multiple distillations of Irish Whiskey either make it smooth (and thus highly drinkable) or domesticated to the point of being too tame. To me, the Powers evoked caramel that almost erased the oak until it reappeared at the finish and created something refined, more gentle than bold. Fieriness and distinctively different components weren’t as notable in this Irish whiskey. Maybe the proof of two spirits—the scotch was stronger—accounts for that, but flavors appear to cooperate more in Irish whiskey.

Drinkable, partly because some flamboyance seems washed out by distillation (5).

Canadian Whisky (Bison Ridge Canadian Whisky, 8 Year): A fine line divides “subtle” and “confused.” People who love Canadian Whisky will say my tasting apparatus is flawed, but, in this field of whiskeys, the Canadian variety seemed tame, relatively uniform in medicinal flavor start to finish, thoroughly distilled. It could be the brand I chose, but this spirit possessed less woody or sweet overtones than its brother-whiskeys. Were they a family, Canadian Whiskey would be the reticent one—visitors lean in to catch a few words.

Canadian Whisky is solid, likeable, and maybe not ambitious enough for me (6).

Bourbon (Rebel Yell): Bourbon seems all about corn and displays a rounded gravity and sweetness that sets it apart from the other whiskeys. Any bitter or tannin-y flavors imparted by the oak are largely subdued by a taste that, for me, recalls cornbread. There’s something quite cooked about bourbon that some enjoy and some don’t. My tasting companion finds its grain elements so overabundant they distract from its spiritousness. Bourbon comes closest to the candied flavor of liqueurs (without their overt sugariness).

I like Bourbon’s recollection of cornbread, though I see why some don’t (2).

Rye (Rittenhouse): As a higher-proof rye whiskey, my version made itself known right away in a very alcohol-forward first impression. However, the sharp and spicy taste of rye also rests with rye itself, which—think about rye bread—can conjure anise or fennel. The sweet element in rye takes a second seat to an almost botanical taste, seeming more burnt—think pralines—than refined. Rye’s popularity in cocktails may rest in its capacity to echo whatever spice, sweetness, or botanical taste the other ingredients provide. One its own, its more direct, and for some, probably too harsh.

Among whiskeys, rye may be less palatable straight but is a welcome chameleon in cocktails (1).

Corn Whiskey/Moonshine (Buffalo Trace White Dog, Mash #1): Having encountered moonshine only in movies and television, I expected it to be close to ethyl alcohol in potency and distillation. However, the particular variety I chose reminded me much more of cachaca. It seemed uncooked, and, having never been aged in any sort of cask, nothing mitigated its almost candy corn smell and taste. Yes, it was potent (quite) but not at all in the medicinal way I thought. In fact, it felt closer to raw bourbon or rum than vodka.

This whiskey’s corn power and taste seem crude, which is a good and bad thing (3).

My choice for the Old Fashioned was Corn Whiskey—not because I liked it best but because it seemed the most dramatic. After tasting all those whiskeys, it seemed especially alcoholic to me. I see why the Old Fashioned is Don Draper’s favorite. It’s straight and sweet. Yet, I’d never in a million years make another with Corn Whiskey (and doubt he would either) because the spirit seems to steal the show.

Jonathan’s take: I am no purist, so the basic Old Fashioned offers endless possibilities and an excuse to acquire more bitters.

David’s take: Cocktails that promise variation and experimentation are a this not-so-savvy cocktailian’s dream.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

As my late and long posting indicates, this week seemed pretty ambitious to me. Next week, not so much. After a week of drinks that made me feel like I was being embraced by a series of grandfathers in wool cardigans, I thought it’d be nice to try a Cosmopolitan, an easy and breezy combination of vodka, cranberry juice, and orange liqueur… and quite a leap from Mad Men into Sex in the City.

Metropolitan

metroProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I don’t really know who Jerry Thomas is, but every cocktailian turn I take, there he is in his white shirt, bowtie, vest, and sleeve garters throwing a drink from one glass to another. Fans of Jeremiah P. Thomas (also known as “The Professor”) consider him “The Father of American Mixology” and credit him with inventing most of the drinks we consume today. The rest, of course, are variations of libations he created.

The Metropolitan can be traced back to Thomas, even though, gasp, it’s not included in The Bar-Tender’s Guide (or How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion). The recipe first appears in Modern Bartender’s Guide by O. H. Byron in 1884, but, cocktailian historians—and, by the way, can someone tell me how you get that job?—say that Byron may have been a composite, a convenient name under which recipes might be gathered by some clever, profit-minded editor. And from whence did this editor collect these drinks, including The Metropolitan Cocktail? You guessed it—from a bar where Jerry Thomas (also known as the “Jupiter Olympus of the Bar”) worked. Other drinks in the Byron collection certainly came from Thomas, so some people want to attribute the Metropolitan to him as well.

Past a certain point, who invented a drink can become a little silly. When the ingredients are as basic as the ones included in a Metropolitan—brandy, vermouth, simple syrup, and bitters—its discovery seems inevitable. Somebody’s peanut butter was going to end up on someone’s chocolate, if you follow my ancient advertising history allusion.

Purists might argue, in fact, that the Metropolitan is little more than a variation on the Manhattan and hardly deserves a separate name. However, others—Impurists?—probably celebrate every variation as a subtlely new experience. One of the regular readers of this blog (I won’t reveal his identity, but his initials are Steven Coberly) wanted to know which bitters I had in mind for the drink. The original recipe called for “Manhattan Bitters,” which were likely, or like, Angostura. However, because this combination is so basic, using Peychaud’s or Orange or, my current favorite, Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters can move the cocktail’s taste dramatically one way or another. I tried a few bitters… but not all at once.

Just stay away from the cardamom bitters. I mean it.

One more note, don’t confuse this drink with the vodka cocktail also called The Metropolitan. Names, apparently, are also subject to secondhand discovery. The vodka Metropolitan is closer to a Cosmopolitan.

Another one more note—I ran into some sites that disagreed on proportions. Though the recipe I used calls for one and a half to one (brandy to sweet vermouth), some suggested two to one. If you’re using Carpano particularly, a little less vermouth will make a sweeter, more robustly brandy-y cocktail. But my advice is to experiment. I bet that’s what Jerry Thomas did, and he set the world record for the most honorifics awarded in one lifetime.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 ounces brandy

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 teaspoon simple syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

metro2

There is a show on the Esquire network that I have been telling David about. Called the Best Bars in America, the show follows two comedians, Sean Patton and Jay Larson, as they travel and sample at bars that have been featured in Esquire. There are plenty of drinks featured that we haven’t tried and probably won’t, but others have appeared on our list or should. One of the cocktails I noted while watching is the Metropolitan.

The interest may stem from the name, the appearance, or the idea that it is related to two drinks that seem quite dissimilar. Those drinks are the Manhattan (that similarity should be easy enough to see) and the other is the Cosmopolitan. Okay, as David says, the second one is similar mostly in name.

I need to state up front that there have been few times that I can remember drinking, much leas enjoying, brandy. This week’s cocktail is alcohol forward, and, even with the sweetening effect of the vermouth and simple syrup, enjoying brandy is important. The wonderful thing is that the interplay of ingredients allows one to do just that. The brandy is still very present, and it’s important to choose a quality one that holds up to that dominance. The vermouth softens it and even has enough sweetness that the simple syrup really isn’t necessary. The bitters are the final measure that round out the drink. I used peach bitters, mostly because I thought this could use some fruit, but I need to go back and try it with Angostura. Especially since this is a brandy Manhattan.

Jonathan’s take: The subtle differences in cocktails are making more sense and this is proof.

David’s Take: The simplicity of this cocktail, for me, achieves elegance. This cocktail seems a warmer, grapier Manhattan, and I intend to continue refining its combinations.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We have accumulated a variety of whisky and whiskey. I think it is high time to explore some of those again in two ways. The first is an idea David had promoted which is a taste testing to directly compare the types and rate them against the other. After choosing a winner, the second idea is to use that spirit in another classic drink—the Old Fashioned. Sean and Jay always have my head reeling by the end of each show with the amount of drink they have consumed. Part of the trick next week will be to keep my head from reeling due to the testing.

Tequila Sunrise

jmSunriseProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Prohibition plays a part in our family history and the purported history of the Tequila Sunrise. There is a great age gap between generations on our father’s side of the family. Our paternal grandmother was 44 when our father was born and our Dad 30 and then 32 when we were born. She had passed away before either David or I were entered the world, but we were told stories growing up about how she was active in the temperance movement leading to the ratification of the 18th amendment that began Prohibition in 1921. I am sure David can still sing the ditty we learned as children associated with that activism:

The birds drink clear water that falls from the skies,
They never touch liquor, and neither do I.

Obviously the cautionary song, while part of our history, has had no effect on our adult lives. Much like the fact that I have never been dissuaded from my curds and whey by any spider.

The muddled history of the Tequila Sunrise actually includes two separate drinks. The first drink associated with that name was a mix of tequila, crème de cassis, lime and soda water. It may or may not have included grenadine depending on what you read. One story associates the cocktail with an area south of Tijuana called Agua Caliente. It was popular with travelers from southern California looking for south of the border entertainment during the time of Prohibition where those travelers could enjoy legal alcohol.

There is a second tale of the creation of the cocktail that is also based on the crème de cassis recipe. In this version the drink dates back to the 1930’s or 40’s (after Prohibition was ended by the 21st amendment) and the Arizona Biltmore hotel. It is said to have been created by Gene Sulit perhaps as an alternative to the classic Screwdriver. In the Sulit recipe the grenadine would make more sense to mimic the vivid sunrises of the southwest.

The final credit for this beverage goes to a pair of bartenders in the area of Sausalito. This one dates to the 1970’s and is the basic recipe most often seen today – tequila, orange juice and grenadine. This recipe along with the other types of Tequila Sunrises have been associated with hangover cures.  The idea being that the ingredients are common morning beverages, stomach soothers and/or associated with rehydration. That makes sense no matter which recipe you consider.

The article linked in the introduction from last week shows the versatility of this basic cocktail. I chose the version created at the  Departure Restaurant & Lounge in Portland called The Rising Sun. The recipe is as follows:

2 ounces reposado tequila
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.25 honey syrup
.5 ounce grenadine

Shake with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass with ice. They recommend garnishing with an orange wheel and lemon twist.

The first versions I made had no garnish since they were served at a tailgate and were popular with the crowd. The good news is that with the large number of tasters I was turning them out very quickly and no one seemed to care about lack of garnish. The bad news is that I never tried one myself. Fortunately there was enough of each ingredient left that I was able to make a couple more a day later for my wife and I, although I chose to garnish it with 1/7th of my total fig crop (the bushes are young) instead of orange and lemon.

One last note about this drink: there are a lot of cultural references to the Tequila Sunrise including the Eagle’s song, and a movie. My favorite one, though, was brought up my oldest son who has been afflicted with my curse of being a Houston Astro’s fan. He noted people refer to the once famous multi-colored jerseys the Astros wore as “The Tequila Sunrise jerseys” for their classic gradation of colors.

Here’s David’s Review:

Sunrises5Having made a Tequila Sunrise, my worries about matching its proper appearance seem silly. I actually made two cocktails featured in the article Jonathan offered—an “Improved Tequila Sunrise” and the Oaxacan Sunset. Both looked perfect. Gently pouring along the edge of the glass allowed the heavier liquid to sink, and—voila—sunrise. Both drinks stayed sunrises, the taste of the drink evolving as we consumed its layers.

As a close grocery store includes a juice bar, I had no trouble finding freshly squeezed orange juice and, once again, enjoyed the immediate fruitiness of both cocktails. In fact, after seeing the Oaxacan Sunset didn’t include orange juice, I added it anyway. Orange juice seems the backbone of this drink, yet, oddly, the juice almost becomes a neutral element. Everything else about these two versions seemed to dictate the cocktail’s character.

Which seemed particularly true of the Oaxacan Sunrise, which includes three stronger elements, Mezcal, Gin, and a sweet sherry… plus the sneaky contribution of tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters. I had to guess the proportions—it seems bars hesitate to give away all their secrets, after all—but, though I played with the amounts, the smoky Mezcal hit me most and lingered most. The Gin and sherry largely disappeared. The tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters? Fogettaboutit.

I wish I’d had a standard Sunrise to compare, but the second tequila sunrise—the improved version from San Francisco’s Chambers Eat + Drink, substituted brandied cherry juice for grenadine and added Cointreau. At least at first, the result seemed more satisfying, sweet and sour, nicely alcoholic but not overwhelmingly so. In some ways, it evoked a Mimosa—clean and efficient, suitable for a true sunrise, some lazy brunch.

In the end, I’m not sure how I felt about the evolution of flavors as we passed through the layers. My wife thought I should just stir the dang things, but I didn’t want to spoil the appearance of the drink, which seemed pretty important to its nature. With the Oaxacan Sunrise, the transition from Mescal to sherry seemed welcome even if it was incomplete and maybe still too intense. While the Improved Sunrise was more pleasant at the start, the culminating swallows of cherry juice proved challenging after such an enjoyable prelude.

My experience overall helps me understand why so many Sunrises exist. The flavors seem ripe for experiment. The sunrise effect, which turns out to be so easy, gives this drink extra drama. It invites innovation and variation.

David’s Take: I dunno. Maybe I might need to try all 17 sunrises before I decide.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t let the 70’s classic reputation prohibit (pun intended) you from trying some version of this drink.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’m aiming for elegance, but we’ll see what happens. We’ve included a number of classic cocktails in this blog—including the Tequila Sunrise this week—but I’ll answer Jonathan’s fruit-based convention with a more spirit-based one of my own, the Metropolitan. With brandy, sweet vermouth, and simple (I mean simple) syrup, it’s all about dim bars, being in-the-know, and seeking relief from daily cares.

 

 

 

 

 

Cohasset Punch #2

CocktailSProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The strange origin story of Cohasset Punch #2 begins with a Chicago bartender named Gus Williams, who was invited to travel to small Cohasset, Massachusetts by William Henry Crane, a popular comic actor of the Victorian period. According to accounts of the day, Chicago loved the actor’s creative use of transformative greasepaint and face prosthetics, and he was a much-demanded and much-lionized figure in Chicago theaters. The association between Williams and Crane was a business matter—to celebrate his success on the Chicago boards properly, Crane needed a bartender he could trust to serve drinks during the infamously large and raucous parties he hosted at his vacation home back east.

It was on this trip that Gus Williams invented Cohasset Punch, a cocktail using canned peaches, rum, sweet vermouth, orange bitters (later Grand Marnier), and lemon juice. The drink started with half a peach at the bottom of a large coupe glass, followed by ice, with the shaken spirit and lemon combination (plus some syrup from the peaches) poured over.

Williams carried his recipe, which he kept secret, back to Chicago, and it became one of the most popular drinks in his bar. Eventually, he sold his formula to The Lardner Brothers Saloon on West Madison Street, which they later adorned with a neon sign reading, “Home of Cohasset Punch.” The Lardner Brothers bottled the drink as well. Despite their efforts to keep Williams’ secret, the drink also became popular—under other names—throughout the city.

LadnerBrosStreetShotJJBy the 1950s, the sign was a curiosity, but for a long time, Chicagoans thought of it as the city’s signature cocktail. As I mentioned last week, it appears in Saul Bellow’s first novel Dangling Man when he describes the quintessential Chicago arts party with spare Swedish furniture, brown carpet, prints of Chagall and Gris, vines on the mantelpiece, and a bowl of Cohasset Punch. I haven’t read the novel, but my understanding is the punch went down much too easily. The evening ended with the hostess haranguing all assembled.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I made a Cohasset Punch as it was originally formulated—being a Chicagoan, I sort of had to. However, reviews that described the drink as “pleasant enough” encouraged me to focus on the update, Cohasset Punch #2 created by Mathias Simonis (from Distil in Milwaukee). The canned peach is gone—it’s so not 21st century, right?—and it adds cinnamon simple syrup, which involves steeping cinnamon sticks in regular simple syrup. You’ll see what Jonathan thought of the cocktail, but I have a spice store near me and bought some Vietnamese cinnamon for the syrup and, wow, it made a spicy and pleasant concoction. Here’s how to make the new and improved Cohasset Punch #2:

2 oz Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

The first thing everyone says, or asks, when you tell them the drink of the week is the Cohasset Punch #2 is, “What about #1?” David has described the differences so my simple response of “canned peaches” makes more sense. At least more sense than the other response, “So it could get to the other side.”

It is more than Labor Day as this week and weekend marked the end of summer with a celebration of marriage and the unofficial beginning of fall. My wife and I ended last week at a beautiful family wedding in Charleston and continued the fun at our first tailgate of the college football season in Chapel Hill. The first event was not short on festive parties, but the cocktail had to wait until the latter event to be unveiled.

The other part of the context of this week’s selection needs to come with a qualifier. That qualifier is that I do read books other than those related to libations, spirits, and drinking, but I am currently back on that category of non-fiction. I am reading And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. David’s suggestion of this cocktail came just as I was getting to the chapter related to the era of rum punch, so it seemed to be particularly apt.

There is little question, at least to me, that the best part of this drink is the cinnamon simple syrup, although that may also be why it is not found at more bars. That syrup provides a background taste and sweetness that gives the punch a depth beyond the classic image of punch. Both the orange bitters and lemon twist add to that depth. In fact, the first batch we shared with tailgaters was without the lemon twist, and there was a noticeable improvement when it was added. The drink could have been a little less sweet (maybe a substitute for sweet vermouth), but that may not be in keeping with the whole punch concept. This was the most elegant punch I have ever had, perhaps the only elegant one, and it punctuated the end of summer.

Jonathan’s take: Never doubt the subtlety of the perfect garnish (lemon twist in this case) and what it adds to a drink.

David’s Take: The story might be better than the drink, but cinnamon simple syrup has promise for future cocktails

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The suggestion is to return to the top 100 classics with the Tequila Sunrise. There is a wonderful article on the Huffington Post site by Anneli Rufus reintroducing the drink and providing some new twists available at bars across the country. David will have the opportunity to try one, or more, in person since three of those bars are in Chicago. My plan is to try the Rising Sun created at the Departure Restaurant and Lounge in Portland, Oregon, but I will have to make it myself. Any excuse to make my own grenadine is okay with me though.

 

 

La Belle Quebec

LaBelleProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The choice this week is more about the liquor than it is the cocktail. My somewhat overfull shelves in the liquor cabinet include rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, American whiskey and some sweetened versions of a few of those. It was time to try Canadian and the vehicle was somewhat of an afterthought. As it turns out, at least in my opinion, that is a shame.

Canadian whisky or Canadian rye is not nearly as regulated as its counterpart to the south. In the U.S. rye (whiskey not whisky) must contain at least 51% rye grain in the mash with the remainder likely corn and barley. It is aged in charred oak barrels that have not previously been used. Canadian whisky is referred to as rye whisky more out of tradition than actual makeup. The mash mix may contain some rye but there are no restrictions on how much if any. Aging is accomplished in wood barrels, but once again the methods do not mandate the type of wood, charring or if they have been used previously. It follows a stereotype, but when it comes to Canadian whisky, those Canucks don’t let a bunch of rules bog them down.

The whisky I chose more resembled a scotch than the rye whiskey we have used in previous drinks. I bought Canadian Club small batch classic. Bottled at 80 proof, it does not identify the exact mix in the mash, and, with 12 years of aging in charred oak barrels, it is as smooth as a single malt to me. I tried a very small amount straight to compare it to the rye, and, though I am not one to taste all the subtleties, my first thought was that I need to offer it to friends who are scotch drinkers to see what their reaction will be.

This is a cocktail blog and I don’t want to forget the drink itself. La Belle Quebec is an obscure drink I found in an older Gary Regan book The Bartender’s Bible. The recipe is

1.5 ounce Canadian whisky

.5 ounce cherry brandy

.5 ounce brandy

.5 ounce lemon juice

half teaspoon fine sugar

Shaken with ice and strained into a coupe.

I used Cherry Heering instead of cherry brandy because I had it and would suggest that in doing so the sugar could be omitted to create a cocktail with a little less sweetness. The end result was a very nice drink, hardly deserving obscurity. It has a nice color, smooth taste and finish and just enough complexity to make it interesting.

photo 4-31Here’s David’s Review:

My wife and I have visited Quebec—we honeymooned there and made a return visit for our 25th wedding anniversary. She does much better with the French than I do, but it doesn’t matter much. Everyone seems equally friendly whether you say “Bonjour” or “Hello.” I’m a little surprised, in fact, that in our visits to Quebec City, no one has offered me one La Belle Quebec.

The flavors are certainly appropriate—Canadian Whisky, Brandy, and the one non-brown (but still dark) spirit I substituted for cherry brandy, Cherry Heering. Though the lemon juice lightens the combination a little, this cocktail is as potent and dense as it sounds. And, with sugar added, it’s quite sweet. About half-way through her glass—full or empty, you decide—my wife wondered if it would be a sin to fill the balance with seltzer. I joined her, and the drink seemed more refreshing, more suited to the heat that has finally descended on Chicago now that it’s late August and really ought to start cooling off.

Which is a natural segue to my review. I liked this drink. The warmth and depth and gravity of the cocktail would make it wonderful after dinner, but—if you need loosening up—maybe before dinner is good too. We have a deck of cards from the Chateau Frontenac that depicts the old hotel covered in snow, and I couldn’t help picturing us sitting in the hotel bar, happy we didn’t have to go out and happy for calm and friendly company. For me, it fits the same category as the great dark drinks—Sazerac, Manhattan, Vieux Carré, De La Louisianne, etc.—and we will never try enough of those as far as I’m concerned.

Is it the best summer drink? No. If you like the taste and want to have couple, the addition of seltzer isn’t a bad idea, particularly if you include lemon seltzer. Is it too sweet? Maybe, and I’ll certainly skip the sugar in the recipe when I make it again. Here’s “however”: I sometimes hear people say something has “Good bones” when they mean it has solid components, whatever objection you might have to their assembly or appearance. That.

On a related note, having never tried Canadian Whisky I was curious to try some on its own. A regular reader of this blog undoubtedly knows I favor the darker spirits (and the darker versions of the lighter spirits), and I’m grateful to Jonathan for introducing me to this one—it has the spiciness of rye and mellowness of bourbon and a clean, direct flavor all its own. Those Canadians are onto something.

And Cherry Heering, it’s delicious. Jonathan sent me an email earlier this week saying I should have Heering from an earlier recipe (I didn’t—I substituted something else). Then he added, “Unless you’ve been tippling like an old lady.” I don’t know. Maybe I will tipple that Heering away… or find another cocktail where it takes a central role.

David’s Take: Worth adding to the repertoire, and I’ll definitely return to it this winter.

Jonathan’s Take: I like the idea of less rules, and I like La Belle Quebec. A good combination.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, I’ve been looking for a definitive Chicago cocktail and have finally found one, The Cohasset Punch. I know it’s wrong that it should be named after a small town in Massachusetts, but (as always) there’s a story behind that. A popular drink from the turn of the 20th century until after World War II, it even appears in native son Saul Bellow’s debut novel, Dangling Man. The specific version I’m choosing is the update, The Cohasset Punch #2, which will require cinnamon simple syrup. I may also sneak in the original as well, which will require a canned peach… really.

Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.