Equal Parts Cocktail

ughProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Mixologist author Kara Newman describes equal parts cocktails as, “Easy to remember but challenging to develop.” Well, I guess that depends on your standards, on both counts. If you’re just looking to balance sweet, sour, bitter, and spirit, a host of combinations will develop in interesting ways. However, if you’ve had a few of these cocktails, remembering might be harder than you imagine.

Newman’s book, Shake. Stir. Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts, will come out in October. The book, she says, encourages versatility. She urges cocktailians not only to create new drinks but also to re-envision and re-proportion some favorites.

What appealed to me was simplicity. For once, I might make something I can remember when someone says, “How do you make that?

I’ve been experimenting with the equal parts cocktail for the last month or so—and sorry readers, our blog-silence is my fault, not Jonathan’s. I’ve reached important conclusions:

  • plan before you act—failing means failing entirely
  • don’t expect a single ingredient to establish itself as the star—maybe that will happen, but probably not
  • use ingredients you like by themselves
  • add some non-alcoholic elements; otherwise, the drink or it will be lethal

I made a number of these cocktails, and most I invented. I’ll offer two for your consideration—one sweet and one sour

Sam I Om (a Mimosa Variation)

one ounce each…

Gin

St Germaine

Lillet Rose

Orange Juice

Tonic

Shake the first four ingredients, add to glass and top with tonic

Whatever

one ounce each…

Lime Juice

Mezcal

Benedictine

Triple Sec

“Take a ratio that already works,” Newman suggests, “and just swap out elements one at a time until you end up with a drink you enjoy.” And maybe that’s all the advice you need to begin experimenting.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0218-2The first thought when I read David’s proposal was that I should make a sweet and a non-sweet drink. The second thought was that this idea would also allow me to re-visit the concept of layered drinks and the fascinating, to me, use of specific gravity to figure out the order of the layers. Neither thought was realized with great success.

There were all sorts of sweet and semi-sweet drinks that came to mind. I knew that I did not want to proportion a group of different alcohols which meant that I needed fruit drinks, milk products, syrups and the like to mix as a non-alcoholic portion. All of those make the drink sweet. I just could not come up with the equivalent in a savory or bitter drink although I hope on reading David’s intro that he was able to do so. The ultimate choice in this category was my version of the key lime cocktail:

1 ounce vanilla vodka
1 ounce tequila
1 ounce half and half
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce lime syrup (maybe it was cheating but I mixed key lime juice and simple syrup 50/50)

Shake everything together with ice and strain into a glass rimmed with crushed ginger snaps and garnish with a lime.

The result was an all too white, fairly sweet drink that fell well into the tiki category. Good but one was plenty.

One of the main purposes of the layered drink, besides testing specific gravity, was to use a liqueur from South Africa that seems to be gaining the popularity it deserves. Amarula is sweet cream liqueur from South Africa made from fruit derived from the marula tree. That tree is also known as the elephant tree due to the pachyderms fondness for it. Interestingly, elephants eat the fruit, bark and branches of the tree so they can be hazardous to its health except in the spread of fertilized seeds in their dung.

I made two layered drinks with amarula the first of which is called the Monk’s hood. That one, with specific gravity in parentheses is Kahlua (1.14), Frangelico (1.08) and amarula (1.05). The second one substituted white crème de cacao (1.14) for the Kahlua. The gravities are so close that separation was going to be difficult so I used chilled shot glasses, poured each liqueur over a bar spoon to introduce them delicately and chilled the drink to let them separate further. None of that worked very well but the drinks were great. As great as doing shots for a not too young person can be that is.

Jonathan’s take: I am sure that sometime this week I will wake in the middle of the night and realize a proportional drink with rye whiskey that I could have made. Then I will go back to sleep.

David’s take: Reviewing a whole class of cocktails? Clearly more empirical evidence is needed.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Vodka is not my favorite. It must not be David’s either since it is the major spirit that we use the least. The time has come, however, to try a cocktail with vodka at its core. There are plenty of classics that we could, perhaps should, try. There are also variations of those – such as the madras version of the screwdriver. It’s the beginning of blueberry season though so I am proposing the gravely named Razzle Dazzle cocktail.”

La Paloma

palomajbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

Paloma, La Paloma, the Dove or as one odd reference suggested Paloma Tequila. This is a cocktail I chose, in part, for its increasing popularity and many variations. It has those. What it needs is a name on which everyone can agree. For our purposes, and for history as you will read, I like La Paloma.

The link in the last blog post proposal takes you to a Feast Magazine write up that includes history for the cocktail and a couple of different recipes. That means readers should know the history, or does it? They write that the cocktail traces back to the town of Tequila in the Jalisco state. The bartender who can claim it was Don Javier Delgado Corona. Quibblers would want say that it is such a basic drink, essentially in the family of the Tom Collins, that there were probably many versions created in many places. Even the name is linked to questions about where it came from with the suggestion that it might be as old as an 1860’s folk song called “La Paloma.”

The recipes are fairly consistent with simple versions using grapefruit soda and others using fresh grapefruit juice.

2 ounces blanco tequila
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
Grapefruit soda

Mix the first three ingredients, add soda (4-6 ounces) and ice. Garnish with lime, grapefruit or nothing.

2 ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon agave syrup or simple syrup
Club soda

Mix everything but the soda, then add that and ice. Garnish away.

There are recipes that say salt the rim of the glass instead of adding it to the drink. If you choose to use grapefruit soda expect lots of recommendations. The sodas list includes Fresca (it’s lighter but don’t do it), Jarritos (you’ll need a Mexican market), Squirt, Izze, or Whole Foods Italian grapefruit soda. Those are just some of the options.

There were lots of tasters so I made versions with blanco tequila, reposado tequila, Fresca (which is why I know not to use it), Squirt and Izze. A half ounce of lime didn’t seem like enough so there was probably more in each cocktail too. I didn’t make the fresh grapefruit version but if I was to make this a regular drink I think the combination of fresh juice and agave syrup could be just right. It would really be the Tom Collins of Jalisco then.

Here’s David’s Review:

palomadmWhen I mentioned to a friend that Jonathan and I were trying a Paloma for the next blog post, she said, “Isn’t that a sort of Margarita?” Certainly, some connections suggest so—tequila, for one, and also lime and salt. If you like your margaritas exotically flavored—prickly pear, anyone?—the grapefruit isn’t any serious adulteration. Blending grapefruit juice, agave syrup, lime, tequila, and ice with a machine… you might call that a margarita.

Yet, here’s a case where differences matter. I like margaritas, but I like this drink better. For one thing, preparing it does not require electricity. It’s shaken. Plus, though the Paloma has the sweet and sour (and salty) mix of a margarita, it doesn’t start, as many margaritas do, with a frozen mix that renders it an adult Icee. This cocktail did not seem nearly as sweet—grapefruit soda means you can skip the agave syrup—and, more tequila-forward, it presented itself as more than a way to hide spirit. A Paloma isn’t dessert. It feels… sophisticated.

Maybe this drink is the branch of the mixology tree margaritas ought to have followed.

In our experiment, we tried some variations Jonathan didn’t, choosing mezcal as the tequila and even substituting half the mezcal for gin in one version. Everything we tried was satisfying, but the mezcal added the most. Between sweet, sour, the salty, bitter, and smoky the Paloma seemed one of the most complex cocktails we’ve tried. The addition of botanical complexity of gin was perhaps a step too far, but why not test the envelop? The result was interesting, suggesting the range a basic recipe can cover when swaping one element for another.

Recently I wandered into a music review online. I don’t read them generally because they feature so many descriptors I barely understand. One I do understand, though, and one of my favorites, is the prefix “proto,” which I take to mean before what we have now, the more basic past some present relies upon. The Paloma felt like a proto-cocktail to me, a combination evolution can work with.

Jonathan’s take: You want summer? You deserve summer and this drink is it.

David’s Take: One of my favorites, in all its variations.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Most cities likely have a cocktail column by now, a few paragraphs buried in the home section or weekly magazine. They can’t hide from me, and last week’s Chicago Tribune included an article that intrigued me—“Cocktails With Equal Parts Are Easy, Yet Sophisticated.” For next time, I’m inviting Jonathan to join me in inventing an equal portion cocktail. No specific ingredients, no history we’re beholden to, no famous and magical mixologist—just equal ingredients.

The Blinker

Proposed By: DavidBlinkerDBM

Reviewed By: Jonathan

It’s “Spring” break here in Chicago, but the quotation marks refuse to come off—only a few hours last week crested 60 degrees, and, though some trees are thinking about budding, most of the landscape remains gray. Yet, when I get back to work, I’ll no doubt encounter the tanned faces of all those people who escaped the city for Florida or other warm climes.

At least we have grapefruit from those places.

This week’s cocktail, the Blinker, features citrus in a wishful way. On some sites, it’s described as a “winter citrus cocktail,” and that label fits the way Chicagoans consume grapefruits this time of year. Though Americans have become accustomed to getting any fruit we want any time of year, grapefruit remain a popular winter treat here. Organizations still sell boxes or bags of grapefruit to raise money. People occasionally give prodigious amounts of citrus as thank you gifts to distribute among officemates.

The Blinker dates back to times when a winter grapefruit was probably more exotic. Though the exact origins of the drink recede into the fog of history, the recipe emerges in Patrick Gavin Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual, published in 1934, and Ted Haigh (or Dr. Cocktail) renovated it for his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails in 2004. The original recipe called for grenadine, but his version uses raspberry syrup or raspberry preserves. Here’s the iteration that appears in my source, The PDT Cocktail Book:

2 oz. Rye Whiskey

1 oz. Grapefruit Juice

.25 oz. Simple Syrup

1 barspoon Raspberry Preserves

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

What makes the Blinker a winter cocktail is the rye, which, besides lending a spicy backdrop to the citrus, makes the drink more robust than gin would. However, you could try this cocktail—as my wife and I did—with gin as well. The result is more botanical than robust (and probably has a different name I didn’t discover) but the gin version highlights the grapefruit nicely. The raspberry certainly adds to both rye and gin, but using gin makes grapefruit the star.

The recipe I used didn’t call for a garnish, but what fun is that? I added a twist of grapefruit peel I’d rubbed on the edge of the coupe. One recipe online said not to use ruby red grapefruits, but we did. The color was gorgeous. Besides, Jonathan and I used to eat a lot of Texas ruby reds. Our older brother achieved almost factory efficiency cutting and dispatching them. The smell of a grapefruit peel still provokes powerful nostalgia for me and makes me long for short-sleeve shirts… or at least no coat heavier than a windbreaker.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

blinker.jbmClassics have usually stuck around for good reasons in particular because they taste good. But what about a classic that disappears, gets dusted off and then comes back with a slightly different identity?

David sent me a link for the Blinker which like most references credit Ted Haigh with its resurgence. I have Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails so I turned to that as a primary source. The part that intrigued me was that it was originally made with grenadine, one of my favorites, yet Haigh changed it up to add raspberry syrup. It is also interesting that the current recipes for this cocktail all use the raspberry but with little consistency in the type specified. Oh the quandary of mixology – what kind of raspberry syrup should I use or dare I break ranks and make it with grenadine?

Well, who am I to question Ted Haigh? I went with raspberry syrup. I made my own simple syrup with fresh raspberries. Once that had simmered a little to thicken, I let it cool, strained it and added a little vanilla vodka (there has been little use for that in my liquor cabinet) to stabilize it.

The final proportions, which I am curious to compare to David’s, were two ounces rye, one ounce fresh grapefruit, and two teaspoons raspberry syrup. The classic did not fail. Rye stands out but the full ounce of grapefruit provided a counterbalance. The raspberry was a little lost except for color and sweetness. I think a thicker and sweeter syrup might have worked better and given the drink more body. This seems to be a drink that is meant to be about the rye, though, and I am good with that.

Jonathan’s take: Still wonder what the grenadine did to get jettisoned.

David’s take: I like rye. I like grapefruit. Together? The jury is still out.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

There are so many quality tequilas and mezcals available, which we have written about before, and I keep trying to find cocktails that highlight them. Searching for that brings up a drink that seems to be slowly pushing the Margarita back – the Paloma. My guess is that the resurgent cocktail movement has deemed the Margarita pedestrian while the Paloma is a less known, just as malleable for crafting new versions and well suited to warm weather refreshment. Or maybe I hope all of those things.

Frostbite

Frostbite2Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are so many drinks that have no backstory. With the cocktail resurgence, some have one but it is the classic drink on which it is based and not the drink itself. Others are new creations that follow basic formulas. The final category are tipples that seem more a mix of available ingredients or an odd mélange of things that don’t seem to go together. The drink this time is surely the former.

The whole idea was to find a drink that was not the Hangman’s Blood. I had hoped that it would be sweet, include David’s least favorite liqueur, crème de menthe, and that we could throw in a few other bottles that had been gathering dust in the cabinet.  The Frostbite does all that and how.

1.5 ounce blanco tequila
1 ounce cream
½ ounce blue curacao
1 ounce white/clear crème de cacao
½ ounce crème de menthe

Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe with or without ice (I chose without).

The closest I have to have any background was the book I was reading at the time this cocktail was proposed. Mark Horrell is a blogger, author and self-described hill walker. He writes a blog about trekking and hill climbing that became his account of preparing for and then climbing Mt. Everest – Seven Steps From Snowden to Everest. By his own account he is an average Joe who went from hiking hills and mountains to summiting the highest peak in the world. There is a tendency to read his story and think that means anyone, with the right help, can do it. The truth though is that he tediously took all the necessary steps (yes I intended that pun) to prepare himself. For a number of years he took increasingly difficult trips and made climbs that made his success at Everest possible. So the real answer is that maybe anyone can attempt the ultimate summit – if they prepare for years and learn all the right lessons.

What this has to do with the drink is frostbite. There are no tales of scaling the highest peaks without stories of experiencing and suffering from frostbite. The body reacts to extreme cold by slowing and then eliminating blood flow to extremities so that the core stays warm. Tissue in fingers, toes and then feet and hands gradually suffers more damage the longer that flow is impeded and the colder it gets. The initial stage is frostnip (a more appropriate name for this drink by the way) where the area loses circulation but there is no permanent damage. From there the damage gets more severe and can result in long term tissue damage with loss of feeling all the way to total loss of circulation, gangrene and amputation. All the more reason to stick with frostbite as a cocktail instead of an affliction.

Here’s David’s Review:

DmFrostbiteWhen we moved last spring, we carefully assessed every possession—is it worth moving a ceramic monkey my daughter gave me when she was seven, how about that sweatshirt I received as a coach two jobs ago, and what about that Monopoly game I bought at a garage sale in 1985?

Each bottle underwent the same examination, but what do you do with that bottle of Crème de Menthe or that Blue Curaçao? You can’t leave them by the trash can in the alley where anyone desirous of ethanol blindness might find them. You can’t give them to people whose late night revelries on their party deck tormented you for ten years, and you certainly can’t actually consume them. That is out of the question.

Enter the Frostbite. At first, I was sure Jonathan was paying me back for my last choice—Hangman’s Blood—which was, I freely admit, wretched. I figured, in asking me to go to the back of the cabinet to find the luridly colored bottles I couldn’t bear to toss, he meant vengeance. He even asked me to buy another bottle sure to hang on for a while Crème de Cacao. And then heavy cream and ice? Too cruel.

But, though the drink looked a lot like something invented by Dr. Seuss, it was actually not that bad… once you closed your eyes. The tequila kept it from being pure confection, and it made it exactly what it was advertised on the web, “an adult grasshopper.” I even tried one with Mezcal, and that I liked even more—smoky sweet and aromatic.

Well, Jonathan, revenge spoiled. I’m not so fond of luridly colored spirits, and this cocktail was a little too sweet to be consumed before dinner, but the Frostbite isn’t a Hangman’s Blood. You’re going to have to work a little harder to equal that.

David’s Take: A surprise. Not your everyday cocktail, but not bad in place of an after dinner mint.

Jonathan’s take: Drinks that use forgotten bottles of liqueur are welcome. Ones that actually taste good like this one are really welcome.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

A big part of the cocktail resurgence has been the rediscovery of “lost” cocktails, drinks described in some official mixer’s manual of the thirties and subsequently buried in everything new and unusual since. I found the Blinker in the PDT Cocktail Book published in 2011, but they attribute it to Patrick Gavin Duffy in 1935 (via Ted Haigh). A combination of Rye, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and raspberry, it promises to be a contest of flavors, but maybe those ancient bartenders were onto something. We’ll see.

Hangman’s Blood

HangeronProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, librettist, and composer, but he’s most famous for Clockwork Orange, the book that became a controversial Stanley Kubrick movie and assured Burgess’ lasting fame. That… and Hangman’s Blood, of course.

Hangman’s Blood was Burgess’ signature concoction, and if you’re a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you noticed the comment section stir (well, relative stir… we have about 25 regular readers) caused by my proposing Burgess’ favorite indulgence, a cocktail he said “tastes very smooth, induces a somewhat metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover” but which everyone else sees as the spirituous equivalent of a “suicide,” that fountain drink mixed from orange, Coca Cola, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and Nehi Grape your seventh grade friend Mark (or Bobby or Steve or Jeff) dared you to drink:

1 1/4 oz gin
1 1/4 oz rum
1 1/4 oz whiskey
1 1/4 oz brandy
1 1/4 oz port
5 oz Guinness® stout or stout beer
4 oz Champagne

Add all five shots to a pint glass. Top to desired level with stout beer, 5 oz is just about right. Fill to top of glass with champagne.

Okay, so call me a fool if you like. I prefer to see myself as a thrill-seeker willing to stand apart from the genteel martini drinkers also after a spirituous experience but reluctant to say so. I could, of course, claim I meant to add to our list of literary drinks, the Hemingway Daiquiri, the Bobby Burns, etc. That, however, would be a lie. Mostly I wanted to see if something so crazy could possibly be good. I mean, it’s possible. Maybe I just grew tired of threatening and wanted to make good on the threat.

Was that a good idea? I’ll leave the review for later, but, well, hey, all hopes are somewhat foolish.

Jonathan and I both chose a collection of bottles to depict this drink—though he suggested it might have been more appropriate to show him stretched out on his den floor—and a row of spirits may be the best (and only possible) tribute to Burgess’ invention.

In any case, here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0204-2Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like an ice cold Hangman’s Blood. Most people were thinking about a nice bottle of bubbly, a glass of red wine, or perhaps an innocent cocktail like a mimosa. Not us, we were emptying the liquor cabinet, throwing in half a bottle of stout and for an ounce, or four, of redemption adding some champagne.

There’s an image of the rough guy who sits at a dimly lit bar. No one sits near him as he orders a beer with a shot a rye. He drops that shot in the pint glass and downs them together. He is the most basic and roughest drinker. That is until someone walks in, takes the bar stool right next to him and orders a Hangman’s Blood. Fifteen minutes later the bartender finishes grabbing half the bottles he has available, throwing on some beer and bubbly and presents the drink. The new drinker winks at his bar mate and downs the concoction in one long draught. The only options left for Mr. Boilermaker are to relinquish his status as the toughest fool there or wait ten minutes for Mr. Hangman to fall off that bar stool and take his rightful place on the floor with the peanut shells and pretzel crumbs.

I have dim memories of a punch that was popular among college students who had tired of mixing grain alcohol and fruit juices into PJ. Battleship Punch, and I am going from memory here since I can’t find it on the internet, is a mix of grain, vodka, brandy, and champagne among other liquors. There were some non-alcoholic ingredients but the concept was that the champagne hit you first followed by the brandy, vodka and grain in that order. By the time you had drunk too much it was too late. Your battleship was sunk.

This is that punch in cocktail form. I mixed up a half batch, shared that with my wife and still didn’t come close to finishing it. The effervescence helped the drink and brightened it, but nothing could erase the thought that I had just poured four liquors, one fortified wine and beer together before I had topped it with that champagne. My mind wouldn’t let me taste any subtlety, judge the color, or even start to think why someone would drink a full cocktail of this. Sorry David, I am not the meanest son of a gun at the bar.

Jonathan’s take: Champagne can redeem a drink. Not this one.

David’s take: Really awful. Sorry, Mr. Burgess. Sorry, everyone.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Ever since David proposed the current drink I have been trying to think of the sweetest drink, one that was mostly Irish Cream, or how I could mix crème de menthe and blue curacao. Guess what? There is drink called the Frostbite (perfect for the Chicago winter I suppose) that is tequila based but includes blue curacao, crème de menthe and a sweet element – chocolate liqueur. I hate there is no Irish Cream but you can’t have everything.

 

The Crusta

FullSizeRender-22Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are two parts to this introduction. One part, of course, is the background and history of this drink. That history is part of the evolution of the cocktail as we know it and is tied one the most common birthplaces for tipples that have spanned generations. The other part is familiar territory for the blog ,which is the theme of how we get ideas and proposals for what we will try each week – or every other week now. It may be best to start with the latter.

I have an ever-growing library of books about spirits, cocktails and the things that go with them. Those books are in actual paper format and e-books. As an aside, it is hard enough to remember where I read what but that is magnified by trying to recall which format first. At least e-books have a search function once I get that far. Among the newest of those books is Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee. I almost always do a quick perusal of books as I get them and the first thing that jumped out from this one were some recipes to go with the cocktails. In a twist on the traditional New Year’s Day menu for health, luck and money we used two appetizer suggestions. One was a black eyed pea queso and the other country ham and goat cheese pinwheels. Throw in some corn and collard green pancakes with lemon zest sour cream and we had the peas, ham, corn and greens we needed to start our year.

The cocktail I chose from the book was a familiar one called The Crusta. But why was it familiar and where the heck did I read about it before? Here’s the recipe first:

Fine grained sugar
Wedge of lemon
1.5 ounces cognac or bourbon
.5 ounce orange liqueur
.25 ounce maraschino cherry liqueur
.5 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
Dash angostura bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Wet the rim of a wine glass with the lemon, put sugar on a plate and rim the glass in sugar, mix all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into the wine glass into which new ice has been added. Garnish with the orange peel.

There are multiple versions of this recipe as David pointed out to me in a welcome reminder that I had not told him which one we would be using. Although this one does not have any sweetener other than that on the rim, history tells us that it should.

The reason that this drink sounded familiar is that it is part of the evolution of cocktails. David Wondrich wrote about The Crusta in his classic book Imbibe (that one is an e-book in my library) and notes that it marks the addition of citrus to the cocktail world. The Crusta is among one of many classics that were invented in New Orleans and is most certainly near the top of that list chronologically.  It was created by Joseph Santini in the 1850’s at the New Orleans City Exchange bar or an establishment called the Jewel of the South that he opened a few years later. Southern Cocktails credits it to Santini’s Saloon but I will stick with Wondrich on cocktail history. The drink impressed the oft noted professor, Jerry Thomas, so much that he included it in his famous book on cocktails. He included a version with gin but brandy/cognac seems to be the most common.

I am still in the self-imposed alcohol free zone of January. I did employ my taster, though, and even had the poor guy try both a cognac and a bourbon version. Classic cocktail evolution and the recipe both make it obvious that this is a spirit forward drink. He likes bourbon more than the unfamiliar cognac and preferred that one. By the same token if gin is your favorite then follow the professor’s lead and go with that.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1369You have to understand something about this blog—sometimes it feels as if it’s all about the photo. When the recipe calls for a specific garnish, or the drink is supposed to separate into layers, or even when there’s whipped cream, I start to worry. The Crusta, from every version I saw online looked more aesthetically pleasing than I usually muster. The sugar is part of the cocktail, of course. It lends sweetness to every sip… but that orange peel?

My brother might tell you I’m a champion worrier and that, nine times out of ten, my worry is entirely unjustified. In this case, the relief of making the Crusta look like the pictures of it distracted me. I’d had most of one before I thought, “Hey, what’s this like?”

Much about the drink suggests its venerable heritage. For one, whether you used Bourbon or Brandy (and I also made one of each), the spirit pushes to the forefront of this cocktail. The lemon juice, curacao and maraschino seem simply complementary, pleasant background to the main event. The sugar on the edge of the glass will seem a little too much to some who prefer more bitter, but I didn’t mind as long as the bourbon/brandy came through.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my feeling about these cocktails sometimes drifts into fiction. I think about who might drink them and in what circumstance. I’ve never seen a Crusta on a cocktail menu, but I imagine a person-in-the-know (a cognoscenti, or cocktailscenti, if you were) ordering it. He or she does it, in part, to challenge the bartender and, in another part, to draw some line back to the proto-cocktails that started everything. They say cocktails are an American art like Jazz or early cinema, and I like that idea. I like thinking Americans know how to combine, how to make something inventive simply by putting several different, and occasionally seemingly disparate, parts together. This libation, held up to the light by my imaginary customer, promises a celebration of ingredients, and I approve. The originals are often the most satisfying.

David’s Take: Not sure I can take the pressure of presentation too many more times, but I loved this cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails without citrus? Say it ain’t so, and then say thank you to Joseph Santini.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Boy, I hope Jonathan is up for this. Now that my brother has returned from cocktail exile, I’m going to propose a serious drink, the author of Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess’ favorite, the Hangman’s Blood, a potent—even if literary—”cocktail.” Call it revenge if you like. With seven (yes, SEVEN) spirits, this drink may prove the better of the Long Island Ice Tea. We can each split one with our wives, that’s permissible, but I’m been threatening this drink for awhile… maybe it’s time.

 

Bushwick Spice Trade

IMG_1725Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When it comes to cocktail books, Jonathan is a bigger collector than I. After I try his proposed drink, I trawl the internet nervously, inserting various spirits I have (or want to have) in hopes of finding something interesting for our next post. People give me cocktail books, and, as an English teacher who’s supposed to love books, I ought to be poring over them. I’m not.

This week is the exception. I pulled out a book my wife gave me for Christmas last year, Shake, by Eric Prum and Josh Williams. It’s full of nifty pictures. It includes an opening statement of purpose, “Cocktails should be fun. Cocktails should be simple. Cocktails should be social.” It offers a section on “Cocktail Crafting” and then moves on to seasonal recipes, each with its own (pictorial) line-up of ingredients. This week’s cocktail is the first in the section labeled “Winter.”

Funny, the process seems a little more celebratory when someone devotes pages of photos to libations. This drink—described by the authors as only a little something to have on a night you are eating Asian take-out—seemed pretty fancy to me. Perhaps the pink peppercorns in the photo gave this drink a professionally exotic look, or the lovingly placed garnish, or the gleaming glassware, or the artfully blurred tabletop.

Here’s how you make two:

4 ounces gin

4 cubes cane sugar (I used demerara)

1.5 ounces lemon juice

4 slices fresh ginger

1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

4 basil leaves

Muddle the sugar cubes, lemon juice, ginger, pink peppercorns and basil in the bottom of a shaker. Add gin and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into coupes.

I’ve been to Bushwick in Brooklyn, detected no spice trade there, and can’t say the drink and the place are both so swanky. So what is it exactly that makes this drink say Bushwick? I think it must be the hipster aesthetic, the (seemingly) careless coolness of it all, a cocktail that’s fancy without trying too hard.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Bushwick.jbmIs it possible that a cocktail blog can be challenging? Of course it can. There are techniques that the professional bartender makes look simple that seem beyond my grasp. For instance, I am not sure I have properly garnished a drink yet. Some of the cocktails also require preparations that would push the skills of a chef. We have only made a couple of orgeats, yet I recall the difficulty of trying to filter them without ending up so sticky that I would be unable to move. Then there are ingredients, orange blossom water comes to mind immediately, that just don’t seem to be available. David offered that type of challenge again with pink peppercorns.

The odd thing about the peppercorns is that I was sure I had seen them a number of places before. If I had though, they had gone into hiding. Fortunately, I was able to track them down at the third place I looked (should I have been so lucky with orange blossom water) so I am not really complaining. Our sister, Laurie, had called just before my quest and was looking for a recommendation for a cocktail to go with an Asian inspired dinner club meal. This drink seemed perfect so I sent her the ingredient list and last I heard she was still looking for the elusive pink fruit and/or considering alternatives. There was a secondary theme, monkeys oddly, so hopefully she had better luck with the Monkey Gland mixers and had fun telling the backstory to that peculiar drink.

The other challenge to this drink is a really different one. Last week one of our neighbors came over to exchange some IPA’s, which she does not like, for some type of beer out of our mixed selection that she does like. Her explanation was that the next day would be the beginning of no-alcohol January for her and her husband. After she left, my wife and I decided that sounded like a worthy endeavor and we should join them. The challenge, of course, is that it is hard to do that and hold up my end of the blog.

The good news is that our neighbor, Rob, folded faster in the pursuit than Cosmo Kramer did in “The Contest.” His story is that he went for an early run yesterday and felt he deserved a beer. The even better news in all of this is that he is one of my more regular samplers which gave me the opportunity for a guest taster. So here’s Rob’s review (I did prepare the drink) of the Bushwick Spice Trade: it’s very basil-y. That’s pretty much it. He does like gin, he got a little spice from the peppercorns, or the ginger, and the sugar was not off putting. Mostly, it was very basil-y. I don’t think he would put it very high on the list of drinks that I have served him but maybe he just felt bad drinking it in front of those us who are still masters of our own domain.

Jonathan’s take: It is a lovely drink especially with all the floaties and I enjoyed making it. Sorry, all I got this time.

David’s take: The heat of the ginger and pepper played well with the gin and lemon juice.

Next Time (Proposed By: Jonathan)

Like David, I got a new got a new cocktail book for Christmas. This one is Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions & Classic Libations. We have already used the book for an alternative version of the lucky New Year’s meal, more on that in the write up, and there are some intriguing cocktails and cocktail variations that caught my eye in reading it. The one I am proposing is The Crusta. Invented in New Orleans, it can be made with cognac, bourbon or you can try one each way. There is a slight challenge left. It will still be January so I will need another taster. No camping out allowed and I will not buy pizza for everyone in the line.

Hot Cider Nog

ACNogJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

One could posit that the proposed drink is more a posset than an eggnog. That assumes, of course, that one knows the difference between a posset and a nog or even what a posset is.

The history of eggnog can be traced back to England and a hot drink that sometimes doubled as a dessert. Possets date back to at least the 15th century based on their appearance in historic documents. Samuel Pepys wrote of eating a sack posset in his diary and was referring to a warm milk drink that was curdled with sack (like a sherry), sweetened and spiced. The classic version included milk or cream, sugar, spices, an ale or wine for curdling, and some kind of thickening agent. Special pots, much like a fat separator for gravy only much fancier, were used to pour out the lighter liquid to drink while leaving the thicker part to eat like a custard (a syllabub if you want to be technical). Later versions added eggs although both eggs and dairy were available mostly to the upper class.

Shakespeare referenced possets in a number of plays. David is the Shakespeare scholar in our family so I am sure he immediately thought of Lady Macbeth in reading that word. She used a drugged posset to render Duncan’s guards immobile so that Macbeth could steal in and assassinate the king. It appears she even enjoyed a spirited version of the drink to fortify herself:

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold
What hath quenched them hath given me fire

This beverage tradition of possets traveled to the colonies. Milk, cream and eggs were of much wider availability which could have led to greater popularity. The sack or sherry was replaced with the more common spirit, rum, in the colonial version. Speculation on the name relates to both the addition of rum and the type of cup in which the drink was traditionally served. Rum, or grog in common parlance, led to a drink called egg and grog. It was served in a small rounded wooden cup called a noggin (yes that is where the slang reference to the head probably started) and became egg and grog in a noggin. Finally, nog is slang for ale, which was of course one of the original ingredients in the posset.

Whatever the origin, what we call eggnog makes its regular appearance as the holidays approach and the weather, in theory, turns colder. The version that I proposed came from Southern Living and included an unusual addition unless you consider the evolution of the drink. This Hot Cider Nog adds apple cider which harkens back to the cider, ale or wine used in a posset:

2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
1 cup apple cider
2 large eggs
½ cup cider
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream and cinnamon sticks for garnish

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large saucepan and gradually warm while stirring occasionally. The recipe recommends cooking until the thickened liquid coats the back of a spoon. I whisked the liquid almost constantly until it reached a temperature of 160 degrees to ensure those pesky eggs were safe but the milk and cream not overly scalded. The bourbon goes in last and I did bump the amount up to ¾’s cup.

There are recipes that suggest the final product should be cooled and even aged in the refrigerator for periods up to or even beyond six months. Our eggnog did get cooled but it had little time to age in a house full of family and guests. The odd addition, cider, was really not distinctive in the drink and fortunately did not curdle the milk. It did make for a lighter eggnog that was much better than the usual store-bought versions.

Here’s David’s Review:

NogDMIt occurred to me (ever so briefly) that I might save myself all sorts of time and trouble by just buying eggnog at the grocery. Making eggnog yourself is a delicate process—too hot and you have bits of scrambled egg in your drink and too cool and you might as well be Rocky before a morning run. Plus, the commercial stuff is readily available, and as a child, I loved it. I always looked forward to the holiday season when that carton hung around in the back of the refrigerator. I wouldn’t think of adulterating it with alcohol.

But now I know how caloric commercial eggnog is. Its preternatural viscosity probably derives from the sap of a South American tree, and the only eggs that go near it must start as powder. I’m a grown-up now. Making my own eggnog can’t be that daunting.

Well, okay, it was. Jonathan suggested a thermometer to assure the mixture didn’t reach 180°, and I’m glad he did. It seemed to keep the curdling down to a minimum and the cocktail from being too viscous. The apple cider also made the nog a little thinner than usual, which fooled me into thinking it might not be thickening as it should be. I worried more than I should (not surprising news for anyone in my family) but the whole concoction came together suddenly… accompanied by a sigh of relief.

And the result was well worth it because the cider undercut the usual sweetness of eggnog with a pleasant acidity. The whip cream added too, as it melted almost immediately and made the drink creamier and richer. While the holidays offer no shortage of celebratory libations, this one seemed a particularly suitable nightcap.

Jonathan is more of a historian than I am—as he mentioned, I’ve taught Shakespeare for years, yet have always wondered what the heck a “posset” is—but I’m the sentimentalist. Tradition impresses me most. Eggnog hardly seems a 21st century drink, and I have a hard time believing millennials, with all their post-modern fixations, will keep it going. However, that groceries still stock eggnog, that Starbucks still makes it a prominent ingredient, that people still drink it (at least in all of those cheesy holiday movies), all that suggests some elements of the past are hard to erase. In this case, I’m glad.

Jonathan’s take: Homemade eggnogs really are better.

David’s take: My favorite version of eggnog yet… eradicates my Tom and Jerry nightmares, almost.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

My collection of cocktail books isn’t as extensive as my brother’s, but I have a few. I thought I’d pick one from a gift I received last Christmas called Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails. The authors, Eric Prum and Josh William, are from Brooklyn, where my son lives (in Bushwick), and I’ve been particularly intrigued by one of their winter cocktails called The Bushwick Spice Trade. It uses Gin, sugar cubes, lemon juice, and—for spice—basil, pink peppercorns, and fresh ginger. The authors say, “We like to pair this intriguing cocktail with spicy Asian take-out when frigid temperatures call for a night in.” After so much celebration, that sounds good to me.

Almeria Cocktail

AlmeriaDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Almeria is a seaport in southern Spain on the Gulf of Amería, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. Having offered that fact, I’ve expended all my background knowledge of this cocktail.

I tried to find more. Wikipedia had nothing, Google was, for once, a cipher, and, search as much as I had time to search, no clue appeared in my cocktail books or favorite sites. Oddly, multiple versions of the drink appeared everywhere, but why and how? Who knows? I did find something called an Almeria Cocktail Dress, but meditating on their colors and silhouettes yielded nothing. Of course, as a history and English teacher, I’m well-aware of the chief pitfall of research, which, roughly translated, is “You can’t always get what you wa-ant.”

So, by extension, in introducing this drink that is little more than named, I guess I have to hope for what I need.

What I need is a fictional backstory. Along with the name, this cocktail suggests its origin in its base spirit. The recipe is quite rum-based—there’s the rum, if course, but also Kahlua, which combines coffee, vanilla, and rum—and collectively they speak to some bartender looking to evoke a few days spent in Almeria. I’m guessing coffee is very good there. I’m guessing the afternoons are languorous, that after a morning spent talking at the square, gathering supplies from a market and a lunch in a local café, nothing will do but a siesta, and, after that, nothing will do to counteract grogginess but something substantial (the egg) and also something jolting, the coffee. The day can’t be half-over for my bartender, he or she has most of the day’s work ahead, and there’s this signature cocktail that might have arrived in the twilight of dreaming:

2 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Kahlua
1 Egg white

Take care of the whites first. Shake them well without ice, then add ice and the other ingredients. Shake. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Okay, so this fiction I’ve invented, I admit, may come from a week spent visiting my daughter who is studying in Dublin. So many gray days left me thinking of another Irish coffee, one rooted in a sunny clime perfect for cocktails instead of the misty rain and penetrating cold right only or Guinness or maybe Smithwicks. All the time I was there, my imaginary bartender was too, head in hand, staring out the window at yet another sun-drenched (not rain drenched) day.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbm.amerThe proposal for the Almeria noted, correctly and amusingly, that the eggs in this cocktail would be greeted with some queasiness. It’s not like the use of eggs in drinks is unknown or even rare. We have tried sours and flips that used them and classic cocktails make great use of whites, yolks or both. The problem is not the idea of salmonella either. It is just the idea of going full Rocky with raw whites in a drink.

There are lots of suggestions for how to deal with this issue. Some folks suggest that the alcohol, in high enough concentration, takes care of any problem. There are others who suggest the use of powdered egg whites, pasteurized whites in a carton, or pasteurized whole eggs. I went with the latter just to see how they worked. Besides, they have a nice little “P” marked on them to let me know they are special or perhaps that their use is prudent.

I do hope David has explained where the name came from but this could easily be the breakfast cocktail. The coffee liqueur, egg and their friend rum seems like a strange twist on classic breakfast all while acting like a nightcap. The dark rum enhances the coffee flavor and the egg does what it is supposed to do – it gives the drink body and that promised mouthfeel. It is a drink that could substitute most places where one would want a nice cup of joe. Maybe not breakfast though.

This is also let me showcase my increasing skills with a cocktail shaker. I made an initial, vigorous shake without ice then added ice for another round of shaking. I bet if anyone had seen me they would have been impressed. Heck, I saw my reflection in the window and I was impressed. That should be good enough.

Jonathan’s take: I love coffee and eggs. Never thought about mixing them with dark rum and drinking it but I should have.

David’s take: Egg cocktails, I know, are unpopular, but they give a drink gravitas.

Next drink (Proposed by Jonathan):

The weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful. Okay, the weather is beautiful and warm here and the fire is mostly for ambience, but it is Christmas time and the perfect occasion to go back to a warm or hot drink. We have tried a few and this proposal combines some of the basics of those. It is a Hot Cider Nog that acts like an eggnog yet brings in its friend apple cider just to be different. It also has eggs, of course, which gives me another use for those prudent ones I bought this week.

Rock and Rye

Rock and Rye.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This is an inauspicious beginning. I wasn’t there but take it on good authority that early rye whiskeys were not good. They had off flavors that needed to be disguised and that mask was typically a sweetener. If you wanted to drink a bad whiskey it is doubtful that you wanted to water it down with any other liquid so bartenders provided lumps of rock candy for that purpose.

The evolution of the sweetened rye continued from that simple combination. Rye was livened up with sugar and a flavoring of fruit and herbs. The concoction became a popular curative, there’s that theme again, with the addition of herbs that helped, or purported to help, with chest and head congestion. One of these, horehound, is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries for congestion and respiratory issues. Modern researchers have determined that aspects of the herb may also be beneficial for other ailments and even for anti-cancer benefits. Try that excuse next time you want a drink.

Rock and rye lasted into and through prohibition due to these claims as a medicinal aid. Once prohibition ended, though, its popularity faded. If I were to guess, the attention on creating quality spirits once they became legal again probably chased away the need to mask bad liquors with herbs, fruit and sweeteners.

Part of the increased popularity of cocktails has been a resurgence of unique rock and ryes made both in bars and at home. The basic recipe is to start the infusion with fresh fruit, fruit peels, dried fruit or some combination of those. Herbs are added and then the crafted liquor is finished with the rock candy that provided half of its name. The recipe that I used is from Gun and Garden magazine and is credited to John Maher of Rogue Gentlemen bar in Richmond:

1 750 milliliter bottle of rye (they recommend Reservoir but there’s no way I am spending that much on whiskey and then doing some home flavoring)
Peel of half an orange
Peel of one lemon
10 dried cherries (I went tart here for a hoped for contrast)
½ cinnamon stick
1 clove
1 star anise
1 tsp horehound (had to use horehound candies since I couldn’t find the straight herb)
1 six inch piece string of rock candy soaked in Cheerwine (a regional black cherry soda) syrup (12 ounces of soda simmered until it is reduced to at least half that volume).

Combine the first 5 items in a glass container and set aside for 3 days. Add the rest of the items on the list and infuse for another day. Strain the mix and put back into the original rye bottle. That last part is not on their recipe but it made sense to me. Plus I had to try a little since the Cheerwine syrup added a little extra liquid. I added a few more dried cherries into the bottle because I had read somewhere that they do that in bars to identify their different mixes.

My proposal included the suggestion that we try this on the rocks and in a cocktail. The base rock and rye was very good served with ice and some Angostura bitters. I was extra careful not to add too much Cheerwine syrup when I did the infusion since I had used horehound candies and didn’t want it to be too sweet. The bitters also helped with that. Between the soda and the dried cherries it had a nice fruit flavor that went well with the rye. The cocktail was a simple mix of ginger ale and rock and rye. Oddly, the more basic ginger ale was better than the spicier versions as a mixer.

Here’s David’s Review:

DBMTo start, two confessions:

First, my Rock and Rye didn’t steep the proper number of days. Even though Jonathan and I have had this concoction in mind for a while and I’d gone to some trouble to obtain Cheerwine, I didn’t consult the recipe until Friday morning, which meant my wife quickly combining of the ingredients, my shaking it all weekend to compensate for brevity (every time I passed the jar), and delaying consumption until the last possible moment Sunday evening.

Second, I couldn’t find the horehound the recipe called for, even at my super-fancy spice store. They were sure the recipe meant horehound candy, but that didn’t make sense to me because the ingredient is measured in teaspoons. No matter, I couldn’t find the candy either. Asking about it did elicit some interesting and amusing expressions, however.

So here’s what I think of my admittedly imperfect version: it’s strong. I guess I missed the part where Jonathan suggested using it with a mixer. You need to know, when you drink this stuff, you’re essentially drinking some citrusy and spicy rye. Some of you may say, “Great!” but my rock candy hardly sweetened it. If you’re as unused as I am to drinking spirits straight, you will need to tell yourself to slow down.

And, to me, it tastes mostly like rye. Certainly the lemon and orange are there, but they come across mostly as a bitter finish, intruding on the rye only in the last taste. If I were steeping this mixture again, I might put the anise and other spices in earlier, as, in my version at least, they were so subtle as to be barely recognizable. The cherry didn’t stand a chance at all.

I read in one account online that the Rock and Rye available in bars was particularly appealing to an overindulgent customer who chose it because “It has fruit in it.” His rationalization makes perfect sense to me, which is perhaps why I’ll look for ways to mix this stuff into other cocktails rather than drinking it straight.

On a side note, some weeks ago, during a visit to my friendly neighborhood not-so-upscale liquor store, I spotted a bottle of liqueur labeled Rock N’ Rye, so I bought some, for comparison’s sake. It’s far sweeter—you’d have to pour all of the Cheerwine syrup into this iteration to get even close—and there must be some other stuff in the commercial version too. The store-bought isn’t as citrusy or spicy. As Jonathan always says, there’s no substitute for fresh (and actual) ingredients, and, in comparison, the liqueur just tastes like sweetened rye.

That said, I may pour some Cheerwine syrup into my bottle (hey, what else am I going to do with Cheerwine syrup?) and try my Rock and Rye in combination with ginger ale or soda. The idea (if not-so-much the reality) of both versions appeals to me, and I haven’t given up on my homemade libation.

David’s Take: Do you like rye and the peels of lemons and oranges? Ask that question before you invest your time and energy.

Jonathan’s take: May have to make a Thanksgiving version this week with orange peel, dried cranberries, nutmeg and allspice.

Next Time (Proposed By: David):

I sometimes think of my ingredients as athletes sitting on the bench waiting for the chance to get into the game. Next time, I’m calling in Dark Rum, Kahlua, and (my sister-in-law will likely hate me) eggs. It just seems the time to return to an egg cocktail, so I’m suggesting the Almeria Cocktail.