The Tuxedo

Tux3Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This week’s cocktail comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, the first version published in 1882. You can still buy the book on eBay, and it’s apparently as relevant now as it was then. Written in a how-to style, it’s supposed to provide guidance on how to be a bartender as well as how to mix drinks. I wonder what it says about keeping bar and listening to customers. Everyone knows the stereotype, bartenders who function as amateur psychologists, doling out libation, wisdom, and painkillers in equal measure.

Oddly, it wasn’t really Harry Johnson I thought of as I sipped this drink, but Tennessee Tuxedo, a 1963-66 cartoon penguin voiced by Don Adams (of Get Smart) whose schemes often benefitted/failed on the basis of advice/complications from Professor Whoopee (voiced by Larry Storch, former star of F Troop). Of course, this drink has nothing to do with the cartoon, but the whoopee part struck me.

Aside from two dashes of bitters, the Tuxedo is all liquor. It’s called a gin martini, but it’s also related to the Poet’s Dream (which features gin, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine) and the Alaska (using gin and Yellow Chartreuse), and the Obituary (using gin and absinthe). It’s most closely related, however, to the Martinez, which, just like the Tuxedo, begins with gin and vermouth and maraschino. The difference is that, where the Martinez asks for red vermouth, Tuxedo’s includes dry vermouth and some anise. It is, in short, not designed for sweet drink lovers and quite potent enough to provoke a whoopee or two.

Which may be the reason for these drinks’ existence. There’s refinement and variety in the ingredients, but there’s also a slap-up-the-side-of-the-head immediacy from the first sip. I’m not a martini drinker, but the no-nonsense approach is probably what appeals to most fans. No fruit juice or mixer intrudes. You get the impression it’s the painkilling aspect of the drink that matters most.

And you don’t have to be too savvy to achieve that.

My role is not to review the drink (until later) but, for me, the success of drinks like the Tuxedo rely on whether the different secondary ingredients really make a difference or are just gussying up the drink’s actual purpose. I’ve always loved the expression “putting lipstick on a pig,” which communicates surface or trivial improvements designed to hide the truth. So is the Tuxedo putting lipstick on a pig? I don’t like to think so, but I’ll leave Jonathan (and you) to say.

Here’s how to make one:

  1. Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice.
  2. Stir.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

tux4One of the things I have learned in this pursuit is that I like gin. First off, I never knew there were so many varieties and I appreciate how the subtle, and not so subtle, differences in the types can change a drink. The characteristic flavor that some detractors refer to as drinking a pine tree is an interesting taste to me, and I like how the other flavors play off of that. It is also a versatile alcohol to mix and has probably been the main spirit in the largest number of our drinks.

The Tuxedo calls for Old Tom gin which is referred to as a milder, sweeter type of the spirit. I don’t get the sweeter part, but the milder description resonates. It doesn’t have the heavy juniper taste, but still has enough that you know you are drinking gin. That may not hold up to a strong tonic but when used in subtle cocktails like this one, it is perfect.

A standard martini is intended to be dry and basic. The promise of the Tuxedo is that it has the addition of maraschino liqueur and the background of the anise (absinthe in my mix). I had hoped that the touch of sweetness and the complexity of the absinthe would elevate the whole. Unfortunately, the amount of maraschino was so small that is got lost and the flavor of the anise, even in the tiny proportion you get from the ice wash, was dominant. I’m still not sure why the bitters are added, and since I forgot them at first I got to try one drink that did not include them and then did with no noticeable difference.

My neighbor came by try the drink and I made a couple of changes to his. I left out the absinthe since he hates licorice, and substituted maraska cherry liqueur for the maraschino. He had a second so I went back to the maraschino and substituted Peychaud bitters for the orange that I had been using. Since I can only provide feedback on color (the maraska made for a nice pink drink), I have to take his word for it that the latter was the better combination.

Jonathan’s take: The Tuxedo is nice drink, even if it didn’t live up to its promise.

David’s take: Good, but not great. I needed more nuance.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Every state probably has its own magazine, and North Carolina has a great example in Our State. I had not realized it, but each month they include a cocktail. Fortunately those can be found on-line and the one I am suggesting is a Carolina Hot Toddy. The recipe uses a North Carolina whiskey, but I want to use a local apple brandy. It is my fervent hope that this toddy is a celebration of the end of winter (sorry David) as it provides soothing comfort.

Caipirinha

CachacaProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The World Cup in Brazil should have been your introduction to this cocktail, but if not get ready for the Olympics next year. We have tried a couple of cachaça cocktails, the batida and the caipirinha de uva, but had not tried this classic yet. Considered one of the 7 most basic cocktails, it is simple to make and will vary with each version of cachaça that you try. There is little doubt that the popularity of the Olympics and the simplicity of the drink will make it the cocktail of the summer next year.

To start with, cachaça is a sugar cane spirit produced almost entirely in Brazil. Rum is also a sugar cane spirit at its most basic, but the difference is that rum is produced from the molasses left at the end of sugar production while cachaça is made from fermented sugarcane. Rhum Agricole is similarly produced straight from the sugarcane. The result is a liquor that varies with each type of sugarcane or the region in which it is grown.

Cachaça and the caipirinha made with it have been around long enough that there are a number of versions of the history of both. Cachaça production probably dates to the 1500’s and Portuguese influence on Brazil. The spirit was then mixed with lime and sugar to cut the harsh taste that was distinctive of early cachaças. Much like many of the other rum and citrus drinks there also has to be truth to the mix being popular for sailors as a combination of inebriant and way to ward off scurvy.

Though a couple of translations of caipirinha exist, both speak to its popularity with the masses. One source indicates that it means “little countryside drink” while another says it is “little peasant girl.” Either way it is the traditional way to serve cachaça and varies with each example of the Brazilian spirit. I offered that if David preferred using Rhum Agricole, a spirit produced primarily in Martinique, he could make a Ti’ (short for petit) Punch which is also a basic mix of spirit, sugar and lime and another indicator that this cocktail has multiple origins.

There are a few variations of the recipe for a caipirinha but they all follow the simple mix of 2 ounces cachaça, half a lime and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. I made three versions (for three people), one with 2 teaspoons of demerara sugar, one with 2 teaspoons of leftover vanilla rich simple syrup from last week, and the third with 3 teaspoons standard simple syrup. All three included cutting the lime into smaller wedges, muddling with the sugar, and then adding c cachaça and ice. The demerara may have been the most successful if for no other reason than the rough crystals making the muddling easier. The cachaça was a gold version from Ypioca, and I would have tried one with Leblon, but discovered it was all gone. Wonder how that happened.

Here’s David’s Review:

CappydickUnfortunately much of what I know of Brazil derives from a report I gave in Ms. Cullen’s seventh grade social studies class, and caipirinha, I’m sure, didn’t make my parade of geography, politics, exports, imports, flora, fauna, and celebrations.

However, it’s easy to imagine caipirinha as a sort of national cocktail. It’s direct and simple—just juice, sugar, and spirit—but the inclusion of cachaça also makes it distinctive. The directions seemed complicated at first, but I can see, with a little practice, concocting the drink might become as unconscious as mixing a martini.

And, if you like cachaça, you stand a good chance of liking this drink. And I do like it. Describing how something tastes is never easy because you have to resort to nebulous vocabulary and/or comparisons, but I’d say cachaça is rum’s uncultured cousin. Rum seems refined to achieve a molassy, aged sophistication, but cachaça is more forthright, almost like an alcoholic version of coconut milk fresh out of the nut, intensely organic and somehow dense, just a step past chewing on a sugar cane or cactus fruit. I know it sounds a little dicey to say cachaça’s smells and tastes “funky”—especially because I don’t mean like James Brown, but like fruit just past ripened. Still, there’s something real about cachaça, as if someone just made it instead of synthesizing it in a laboratory.

With the caipirinha, it helps that lime adds an acidic counterpoint and also that, by muddling the lime, you invite some welcome bitterness. As I used confectioner’s sugar, the sweetness diffused nicely through the liquid without becoming over-sweet or dominating the cachaça.

I don’t recall this from my seventh grade report, but I’ve read that Brazilians love their sweets, and, as Jonathan did, I’d advise playing with the type and quantity of sugar you include in your recipe. And I do mean your recipe because—if you like caipirinhas—you’ll want to spend some time perfecting your version of it. As many of our other cocktails have demonstrated, infinite subtlety arises from playing around with a few simple ingredients, and I’d be willing to bet every Brazilian has some secret to impart about making the proper caipirinha.

David’s Take: If you’re searching for a worthy pursuit, you could do worse than devoting yourself to making the perfect caipirinha.

Jonathan’s Take: Cachaça, and the caipirinhas made with it, varies with each type. Since it is so distinctive, choose your cachaça wisely.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, we’ve been skirting the Martini, trying variations that swap out one ingredient or experimenting with exotic secondary ingredients. This week, I thought “Maybe it’s time to just go for for it, to make a damn Martini already,” but then I thought, “Nope.” So I’m proposing yet another alternate, one that comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual of 1882 and is called The Tuxedo. It includes dry vermouth but also a little Maraschino liqueur and an absinthe wash, and I’m making mine with Old Tom gin, true to the original.

Vanilla Bourbon Champagne Cocktail

VBCCProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The romantic films of the late fifties and early sixties taught me champagne goes to your head more quickly than other types of alcohol. Count on it, once the cork pops Doris Day spills affection she means to keep bottled. Inhibitions vanish with an understanding only possible between the ungirdled. Then unlikely love blossoms, naturally.

Sorry if you continue to attribute special powers to champagne, but, chemically, alcohol is alcohol, and the inebriating potential assigned to champagne’s fizz is, sadly, dubious and perhaps imaginary.

Not that imagination is to be trifled with—science doesn’t support the existence of aphrodisiacs either, but people still invest in the idea.

However, in any case, Valentine’s Day seems like a great excuse to break out the bubbly and indulge imagination. Let’s be honest: husbands often approach this holiday with a special dread. Stakes are high, and my own record of making the day memorable is spotty. I like to think my wife and I have plenty of ungirdled love and understanding—champagne or not—but I’m all for celebrating with the good stuff if it gives me a way to express affection and supplies my wife with an answer when coworkers ask, “So, what did your lousy, good-for-nothing insensitive slob of a husband do for Valentine’s Day?”

They won’t exactly put it that way, of course, but that’s the gist.

As a category, champagne cocktails often aspire to beauty as well as flavor. The first, THE champagne cocktail that appeared (where else) in “Professor” Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book Bon Vivant’s Companion, combines champagne with cognac, angostura bitters and a sugar cube that produces lively bubbles when you drop it in the glass. Visit Martha Stewart’s site and you’ll find many other versions, each with a pleasing garnish and secondary ingredient that makes a celebrant say, “Now, what is that I’m tasting?”

This version, which has a great deal in common with the French 75, substitutes bourbon for that drink’s cognac and omits the simple syrup and lemon juice in favor of a vanilla syrup. Making syrups has become a sort of sub-hobby for me, and, though we’re running out of vessels to contain them all, I’m looking forward to adding this syrup to other drinks.

Here’s the recipe:

To Make Vanilla Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 vanilla beans
  1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise into halves and place in a heatproof jar or bottle.
  3. Pour the hot syrup over the vanilla beans and let stand for 8 to 10 hours.
  4. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To Make the Drink:

  1. Mix the bourbon and syrup in a Champagne flute.
  2. Top with Champagne.
  3. Garnish with a vanilla bean.

As usual, I’ll save my response to this cocktail for the end of this post, but I’ll give this much away—an aspiring husband on Valentine’s Day could do worse than a Vanilla Bourbon Champagne Cocktail and a heart-shaped box of sushi.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmvbcc

There are cat people and dog people, morning people and night people, those who prefer chocolate to vanilla and versa vice. I would say I am firmly in the dog, night and chocolate categories. Of course there are exceptions. I’ve met a lot of cats that are great, morning is not so bad if I am going fishing or playing golf, and I think I understand the subtlety of vanilla better as I grow older.

This cocktail is an odd mix of bubbly, bourbon and the subtle vanilla. It seems like any liquor that is wood aged is described as having “vanilla notes” even if that is a difficult taste to discern. The bourbon that is called for in the recipe, Woodford Reserve, is no exception so it is hard to tell if it is the super simple syrup with its added vanilla bean or the spirit. That taste is there though, and it is that subtlety that distinguishes the drink. Bourbon and champagne are an odd mix but something, maybe that vanilla, ties them together.

The other thing to note about this drink is the combination of champagne with a liquor. I have always felt, with no scientific proof whatsoever, that the physiological effect of champagne is noticed more quickly than other alcohols. It makes no sense, alcohol is alcohol after all, but it seems to hold true and, when combined with a higher proof spirit like bourbon, seems to be even more pronounced. Maybe I can get some foundation to help me study that further.

The last thing to note is that David proposed this as a Valentine cocktail. I do appreciate the fact that my wife puts up with this blog and am grateful that David’s suggestion notes our wives’ role in this endeavor. It seems like it should be all fun, but keeping up with it each and every week, the sometimes odd ingredients, and the strained shelves of our liquor cabinet is not all roses.

Jonathan’s take: The cocktails with effervescent spirits are almost always good. This one proves that rule.

David’s Take: I wish I had an excuse to drink this cocktail more often.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have tried a drink called the Caipirinha de Uva, but I am proposing the traditional caipirinha. It is a very simple mix of cachaca, sugar and lime and is the national drink of Brazil. If David doesn’t have any more cachaca, a sugar cane rum, he is welcome to substitute a similar cocktail called Ti’ Punch made with Rhum Agricole (another sugarcane rum), sugar and lime.

Jane Russell Cocktail

JanetoblameProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

We have tried cocktails with great provenance, some with disputed backgrounds and a few with only sketchy details. The only ones that I can recall with no back story, however, were ones we created. The Jane Russell cocktail is an exception. Other than a description as “voluptuous” like the eponymous star, there is no explanation why her name is associated with this drink. I couldn’t even find a reference that she did drink and would warrant a guess that spirits were not a large part of her life.

The drink itself is another Manhattan variant like we tried a few weeks ago. In this case the bitters change from Angostura to chocolate and the sweetening agent is a mix instead of the simple sweet vermouth. The exact recipe that I used:

2 ounces rye whiskey
¼ ounce Benedictine
¼ ounce Grand Marnier
¼ ounce sweet vermouth
Dash of chocolate bitters (I used Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate)

Mix all ingredients, stir with ice until chilled, strain into a coupe, and garnish with orange zest.

Like the Monte Carlo which used Benedictine for the sweet vermouth to great success, the mix of three spirits in this drink provides an interesting range of flavors and background. I can’t say that I could taste the chocolate bitters directly, but there was a roundness to the drink that invoked the comfort of that confection.

The question that remains is, “Why there are drinks named after Rosalind Russell and Jane Russell and along with that what about other famous Russells?” As I said in the introduction, there doesn’t seem to be answer to the first question, and I may be the only person that cares about the second. In hope that I can change the latter, I am going to propose some ideas for other Russell cocktails:

The Bill Russell. Arguably the greatest shot blocker in the history or basketball, this drink has to be the opposite of a shot. It needs to be a long tall drink with some type of whiskey, seltzer and bitters. Take that weak ass shot out of here.

The Kurt Russell. I read that he is libertarian so any drink that follows a set recipe makes no sense. Just take whatever is on your liquor cabinet, throw it together and drink until you begin to believe you need to escape a dystopian society.

The Leon Russell. Classic, long lasting and cream based. Leon is still writing and making music and presumably still sports the long white/gray locks. I’m thinking moonshine, cream and a little southern comfort on ice.

The Patrick Russell. What, you have never heard of the famous Scottish herpetologist who was an expert on the vipers of India? This drink tries again to make use of Scotch in a cocktail, but disguises it with something so sweet you never see the kick coming until it strikes like a serpent. I have some honey sweetened chai tea that might work well.

The Pee Wee Russell. This jazz musician might have drank himself to death and was known for rousing himself in the morning with drink, so an alcoholic beverage may not be appropriate. He also enjoyed brandy milkshakes, whatever that is, so I am proposing a simple vanilla milkshake with an accent of the same chocolate bitters we used in this week’s drink. A sure hangover cure.

The Nipsey Russell. With that first name how is there not already a drink named after him? It needs to be a small nip, good for the working man and invoke some wry humor. Maybe a rye, stout beer and Absinthe shot.

And Here’s David’s Review:

JanyI confess some suspicion about cocktail recipes like this one that call for specific brands of this or that—Grand Marnier instead of triple sec or two kinds of rye instead of just rye. For one thing, no one ever asks for Old Overholt or Dekuyper Triple Sec and, for another, they assume a refinement of taste I can’t always manage… particularly when I’m drinking.

That said, I can tell the difference between Carpano Antica and sweet vermouth and, whether a recipe calls for it or not, I rely on it. As I’ve not doubt written before (and forgotten… because of the drinking), Carpano Antica is a more bitter and, dare I say, more complex than Martini and Rossi. And it was the right choice for this cocktail because it cut some of the sweetness in the triple sec and Benedictine.

As for the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, they were a nice touch, and, being a bitters fiend, I happened to have some chocolate bitters on hand. Did I taste them, you ask, did they make a big difference? I wish I could claim they did, but see my earlier comments about drinking and reviewing. I’ll plead the fifth and say they added “Something quite subtle and refined” to the recipe, but they aren’t cardamom bitters, which is to say I’m not still tasting them two days later.

This variation on a Manhattan produced a wonderful collective effect. A successful cocktail, after all, might rest more on the harmony of its components, a harmony so complete that you can’t separate them… particularly after you’ve had a couple. This drink certainly fits that description. With the Benedictine and Carpano Antica (yes, I am trying to see how many times I can inject that name into this review), the herbal notes of this cocktail came forward but in a mixed way. If you make this drink, you may want to bump up just a touch the Grand Marnier—I had Mandarine Napoleon on hand, which is a wonderful alternative. And no, these people whose products I tout don’t pay me a cent.

Jonathan’s take: Sorry about the repetition of Manhattan variants. At least it was good and I skipped the cross my heart puns from so long ago.

David’s take: I’d have another. Wait… I did have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

As Saturday is Valentine’s Day, I’d like to raise a toast to the two people who share in and, my wife might say, make this silly hobby of ours possible. To assure we appreciate them appropriately, I’m proposing a Vanilla Champagne Cocktail, which is a little like the French 75 except that it substitutes bourbon for brandy and will require Jonathan and I to make some vanilla simple syrup between now and Saturday. I’m counting on Jonathan being willing to make the sacrifice. I hope, like me, he doesn’t mind having another simple syrup on hand.

Chai Town

chai1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Chicago is the city of many nicknames: The Windy City, Second City, City of the Big Shoulders, Chi-Town, Chi-city, chai2My Kind of Town, Paris on the Prairie, That Toddling Town, The Chi (pronounced “Shy”), The Chill (or Chi-Ill), The City That Works, City on the Make, The Third Coast, or—especially this weekend—Chi-beria.

However, “Chai Town” isn’t one of our nicknames, just clever.

Many languages translate tea as chai, but, in Starbucks, tea houses, and the other swanky locales for studying, meeting, and relaxing, chai is a drink of Indian origins, a decoction of green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn. Oh, and actual tea—the black, strong sort. I used tea bags, but it also comes as powders and concentrates. It’s spicy, but understated, no one part overwhelms the other, not even the tea.

The other parts of this drink seem designed to coax out the components, especially the ginger, which the ginger liqueur echoes. I used to own ginger liqueur but drank it up—my brother might accuse me of tippling like an old lady—so I used a DIY version I found online. Though the recipe was some trouble and required three days, the result was, I think, a success. It was sweet and hot and, while not as syrupy as the store-bought version might be, quite flavorful. Plus, it didn’t cost $30.

As I mentioned in the description last week, part of the challenge this week was building a cocktail on the basis of a list of its ingredients instead of a recipe. What to do about proportions? Last fall, I attended a cocktail class that described the ideal cocktail as six ounces, with one-third allotted to water resulting from a vigorous shake. You’ll find my solution below, but I admit to taking the easy way out. One of my Christmas presents was a three-part jigger with indeterminate compartments for a three element drink. The packaging (naturally) promises a “Home Cocktail Revolution” free of doling out portions, but that didn’t move me to rely on trust. I measured each of the sections and discovered the smallest was half an ounce, the middle was an ounce, and the third and largest one and a half ounces. The ginger liqueur took the smallest room, the vodka the medium sized room, and the chai (the star, I figured) the largest. The total, four ounces, left only the honey and nutmeg to accommodate. I added a teaspoon of honey at the end (and even then I found most of it at the bottom of the shaker, paralyzed by the cold). The nutmeg I sprinkled on top… just like last week.

Okay, so my answer for the proportions question was a little gimmicky. If you wanted a stiffer drink, maybe reverse the chai and the vodka or go full out on the ginger liqueur, but to me the balance seemed about right.

Here’s my recipe:

1.5 oz. chai tea

.5 oz. ginger liqueur

1 oz. vodka

1 tsp. honey

nutmeg

Shake the ingredient together without ice, add the ice and shake a few times more. Garnish with the nutmeg.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jbm.chaiIt may not be the most correct use of the word, but I feel like David’s choice of drinks offered us the chance to be forensic mixologists. Obviously we had the four ingredients but not the ratios, and I admit to being stumped how to mix them. I tried looking for similar drinks, the ratios of standard coupe cocktails, and simply ones that used one or more of the four parts. None of that worked very well until I went back a few weeks to our chopped cocktail experience and a lesson from the show. Use one ingredient as an accent to another.

I am a southerner. Said it before and say it now. That means if I am having tea, chai or otherwise, it needs to have some sweetness. Ergo, the honey was the sweetener for the steeped tea, and I only had three ingredients to work with. Since most coupe style cocktails are 3 ounces of drink that left options for an equal part cocktail (1:1:1), or a more common 2:1:1.

The ginger liqueur was a revelation all by itself. First, David included a link to a do it yourself version and it was well worth the effort. Second, the comments that were included following the recipe did some things that almost no such section on-line ever does—they added to the instructions, explained parts of it, offered excellent alternatives and in general were delightful to read. Who knew that comments sections like that existed? And finally, the home made liqueur is fantastic, a drink all by itself.

The liqueur is strong and assertive, though, so I decided on the ratio that used less. Vodka, ginger liqueur, and chai tea (sweetened with honey) mixed at a 2:1:1. Based on the comments section with the liqueur recipe, I also decided it needed a lemon peel garnish. The drink was great, but most of that goes back to the assertive ginger. It had an interesting mix of flavors, increased because I had saved one of our infused vodkas from last year (lemongrass and ginger candy) in my freezer and used that instead of standard. It’s not a drink you will find in bars outside of Chicago perhaps, but take the time to make the liqueur and once you do that, try the drink.

Jonathan’s take: Lots and lots of tastes, all combining to work together. Like the rare on-line comment section

David’s take: Spicy and fun—a nice break from more intense cocktails, though not as dramatic either.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year we tried a Rosalind Russell at David’s suggestion, and I spent the week confusing one actress with another, Rosalind with Jane. I asked my youngest son to help with a suggestion for next week with the limitation that it contain chocolate bitters. And what do you know – there’s a Jane Russell cocktail that does just that. Now, if I can manage to keep from confusing her with Rosalind.

The Painkiller

painkjbmProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The warm sun, cool blue water and light breeze all had to come from my imagination, but the painkiller still did its job invoking that setting. This is a relatively young drink created in the British Virgin Islands and The Soggy Dollar Bar of Jost Van Dyke. Daphne Henderson the owner of that bar gets credit for that creation. The story told on the Pussers Rum site, however, is that while Daphne may have made the first, it took some modification by the Pussers founder, Charles Tobias to perfect it. No matter how it came to be, here’s how you make your own concoction of this lovely tropical mix:

4 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce Coco Lopez (cream of coconut)
2 ounces Navy Rum

Combine all ingredients, shake well and serve over ice.

The type of rum may be one of the more interesting parts of this drink both for its style and the many drinking words associated with it. The name itself comes from the British Navy practice of providing a blended rum, or some derivative, to its sailors from the 1600’s up until 1970. Among those drinks was grog, named for Admiral Edward Vernon and his grogram (a type of fabric) coats. It was a mix of rum and lime, all the better to make the sailor happy and fend off scurvy.

The straight provision of rum was given in servings called tots which in turn is associated with the common spirit term of proof. It is said that sailors would mix the rum with gunpowder to see if that powder would still light and prove the rum had not been watered down. That meant that the alcohol content needed to be at least 57.5% which ultimately equated to 100 proof. Of course in the US, it is far more common to see actual alcohol percentage, but where proof is used it is twice the percentage of alcohol. Based on that 80 proof means 40% alcohol and that the gunpowder won’t light of course.

Another association with naval rum is one of the more interesting euphemisms. We have all heard classic expressions for drinking like bending your elbow, having a snort, or wetting one’s whistle. Perhaps a little more odd is washing the dust from your throat, and particularly odd is eating the pudding bag. I have no idea what the latter means, but you know I am going to use it.

The expression tied to serving rum on ships is splicing the mainbrace. It is associated with this rum and is used to signify either the regular time for tots or a special time to stop and have a drink. And probably something sailing related too, but as I said before this isn’t a sailing blog.

Here’s David’s Review:

painkillahIt felt odd to be drinking a Tiki drink as the sky grayed in anticipation of precipitation.

Chicago’s winter has been mild, as Chicago winters go, with some above-freezing days interspersed with vortex-induced single digits. We’re had little snow, so far, just forecasts featuring those two most loathed words, “Wintery Mix.” Chicagoans know not to crow over good fortune though—the next Lake Shore Drive closing snowpocalypse could be just around the corner, but this winter hasn’t called for any sort of painkiller… so far.

And it was no hardship to drink the Painkiller cocktail. This drink reminded me of a piña colada (with more pineapple and added orange juice to the coconut) and I’ve been a secret fancier of piña coladas for a while. Yet I confess I’m too embarrassed to order one outside of tropical climates. I define manhood liberally and think most men could use less bro-hood prohibitions and embrace all the feminine things they deny, but somehow I’m still squeamish about some snarky barkeep snorting over my ordering a piña colada. Maybe I could keep by Y-chromosome cred with a Painkiller.

Certainly ordering the drink out would be considerably easier than making the drink. Taking Jonathan’s advice from last week, I was determined to juice the fruit, which was easy enough for the orange, but not the pineapple. I couldn’t find any fresh pineapple juice in the frou frou grocery that usually supplies me with exotic ingredients, and getting the juice from the pineapple I purchased was laborious to say the least. Then there’s the cream of coconut, which was easy to find in two varieties—Thai Kitchen Coconut Cream without sugar and the Goya version with—but each can contained a substratum of waxy coconut oil. We blended the two types of cream of coconut together to reintegrate the fat.

By the time I’d combined all the parts in the glass though, I was already thinking, “This had better be good.” And it was. Refreshing and not as heavy as a piña colada, the painkiller is so fruity it balances the rum effectively without diminishing its spirit. Rum isn’t sweet, of course, but the dark version called for in this recipe (but not in a piña colada) imparts a caramel flavor that complements this collection of flavors especially well.

My only warning would be about the coconut. I don’t advise relying on the Goya cream of coconut because that’s dessert. If you have the time and energy to combine sweetened and unsweetened as we did, it’s worth it. If you don’t have time, use the Thai cream of coconut—the juices are plenty sweet—and consider tossing some of the coconut oil/wax. The drink will be lighter for it.

I felt like turning the heat up a little after downing such an icy concoction, but the drink is a healthy reminder that winter, even in Chicago, is finite.

David’s Take: As a harbinger of summer, this drink was out of place, but it was fresh, fruity, and welcome.

Jonathan’s Take: Winter got you down? Splice the mainbrace and have a painkiller and it will all get better.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

One of the regular features of The Chicago Tribune is a short column titled “Drink This” that describes a restaurant’s most notable cocktail. In early December the drink offered was A Chai Town, served at The Revival Social Club. The ingredients are intriguing—chai tea, vodka, ginger liqueur, honey, and nutmeg. However there’s one cagey element of this column. It never actually tells you how much of anything is needed. Nonetheless, I’m going to give this cocktail a try by coming up with my own damn proportions… and invite Jonathan to do the same.

Blood and Sand

Proposed by: DavidBlood&Sand

Reviewed by: Jonathan

It’s easy to dispense the pertinent facts about the Blood and Sand…

  • Rudolph Valentino: famous cinematic lover and American icon.
  • Blood and Sand: a 1922 silent film in which Valentino plays a matador who becomes reckless and hopeless when his affair with a seductive widow ruins his marriage.
  • Blood and Sand: a prohibition cocktail reputedly named after said film for its use of blood orange juice.

What interests me is the drink’ appearance on so many Top 100 Cocktail lists. I lead a circumscribed life and need not go again into my dearth of savvy, but I know no one who says their drink of choice is a Blood and Sand, and, though I don’t spend a lot of time at restaurants, I don’t recall ever seeing it on even the most extensive drink menus. So what is it about this drink that makes it so famous… without really being famous?

The history of the cocktail is, in mixology terms, pretty pedestrian. It first appears in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book and, in 1997, was updated to include Cherry Heering by Dale DeGroff in Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room. DeGroff himself, however, tried the cocktail mostly because it confounded him. Just like me.

So that leaves me only a few lame explanations for the drink’s supposed prominence. There’s the name, of course, which is colorful, and its association with a melodramatic film that was, by some accounts, worthy of lampoon and parody. It has since been remade, twice, once in 1941 and again in 1989. Then, the use of blood orange juice is exotic, though many recipes ask for plain orange juice (and, alas, so did I… couldn’t find a blood orange this time of year). Another possibility is that it’s a scotch cocktail, and those—apparently—are rare.

Yet none of those speculations satisfy me and lead me into bigger, maybe naïve, questions: “How do cocktails become popular and/or revered?” and “Who’s responsible?”

I like to think about Valentino himself seeking some refreshment after a particularly taxing scene and inventing this cocktail on a whim and on the fly. I like to think about every cocktail as rooted in experimentation and improvisation. I like to think about bartenders passing a recipe among themselves or customers carrying it from one establishment to another like a virus simply by requesting it or mixologists carving a niche for a drink by refining and updating it.

But the interweb only tells me so much. I only have my imagination.

And the recipe:

  • .75 oz Scotch

  • .75 oz Sweet vermouth

  • .75 oz Cherry brandy

  • .75 oz Fresh orange juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

trytryagainBlood and Sand. What are two things I’d rather not drink, Alex? I do realize we have had drinks called a Monkey Gland and Horse’s Neck but this one may take the cake for most peculiar name. Of course David has already explained the name is less description than connection.

The use of Scotch is appreciated, no matter what the name. I keep a few different bottles of Scotch in the house for friends who visit, but have never used it successfully in a cocktail. This drink, with its sweet Cherry Heering, sweet Vermouth and fresh squeezed orange comes as close to success as I think you can get though. The Scotch hides in the background, letting the cherry taste come forward. The layers of sweet also mask the barley liquor, but to an extent that you wonder why a dry vermouth or even the Benedictine substitute from last week isn’t used. I have to imagine that true Scotch drinkers would be offended, even if they wouldn’t be mixing a Scotch cocktail in the first place.

This is also another example of the beneficial use of fresh over bottled. I made the drink for neighbors over the weekend and since I was making more than one, I squeezed fresh oranges. When it came time for the picture, though, I used bottled orange juice and result was a cloudier, thicker and sweeter drink. If you are going to try this one, don’t be lazy like I was. Squeeze away. The difference is noticeable.

Jonathan’s take: There aren’t many cocktails using Scotch and this one works, but I may try some less sweet variations.

David’s Take: The scotch was certainly disguised—and maybe that’s the point—but no flavor seemed that prominent to me. I’ll keep searching for an effective scotch cocktail.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Winter has hardly gotten started and I am already tired of it. I need some spring, some summer and some warm sun. Since none of that is going to happen soon, I think we need to go tropical next week. Years ago we visited the home of Pusser’s rum in the British Virgin Islands. One of their signature drinks is the Painkiller and if we can’t go back to Tortola the least we can do is try to recreate that most descriptive cocktail.

 

 

Monte Carlo

monte carloJMProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The cocktail this week is a variation on the Manhattan called the Monte Carlo. There is little history to be found on this drink other than it is one of many, although very simple in this case, alterations of the basic classic. The recipe substitutes Benedictine for sweet vermouth and specifies rye whiskey. As stated in last week’s proposal, the recipe comes from The Art of the Bar:

2 ounces rye
¾ ounce Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon twist for garnish

The recipe suggests that the ingredients be combined, stirred with ice to chill, strained into a glass and garnished with the lemon. There is a discussion included in the book about shaking versus stirring and my synopsis would be to follow a simple hint. If the drink is all spirit one should stir, but if it includes a non-spirit like fruit juice or an egg it needs to be vigorously shaken to combine. There’s more to it, but that is easier to remember.

There is a layer of taste to this drink that I think is missing in the classic Manhattan. It could be that sweet vermouth is simply too subtle for me, but there is little doubt that the herbal presence of Benedictine is more assertive. We tried it with rye one day and then with aged rum the next (why not vary a variation after all?) and in both the herbal sweetness dominated in a good way.

This cocktail also brings me back to the concept of the perception of taste and how it is affected by place or setting. There is the very real concept of terroir and its effect on taste, but I am talking more about psychology than geography.

Terroir is the effect of geology and geography on the qualities of something one consumes. Soil and climate may be the most common elements that affect the taste of such things as grapes (wine), milk (cheese), spirits (Kentucky bourbon) and many other consumable products. There are also differences in production methods, but anyone who has tasted something as subtle as a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand compared to one from California has experienced this.

Earlier this week I heard an example of what I consider the psychology of taste. A show on one of the food channels included a discussion how bagels are better in New York City, which they undoubtedly are. One of the people commenting in the story suggested that the water in the city provided the subtle, but distinctive, difference. I would argue (apparently about anything since I am arguing about bagels) that the difference in taste comes from years of experience and the repetition of making so many bagels. I also think that bagels are one of the classic foods associated with New York, and people simply expect them to better in that setting—so they are. Similarly, one can make beignets and café au lait, but will they be as tasty as they would be if you were sitting at Café du Monde in New Orleans? No, no they wouldn’t.

You don’t need to travel to Monte Carlo to heighten the taste of this cocktail, but the right place and time can accentuate its taste. To me, this is a drink for a dark bar or sitting in front of a nice fire. It is one to be enjoyed pre-meal, with quiet music, conversation and good company. Maybe even a smoking jacket and comfy slippers although the nice fire is a better setting for that than the dark bar. That’s up to you though.

Here’s David’s Review:

MonteCarloDMThe highest compliment my geometry teacher ever delivered was “Elegant.” She used the word only for some solutions to proofs. An answer with seven or eight steps might be just as correct as one with three, and a shorter but more pedestrian response was fine too. What made a proof elegant in her eyes was the combination of novelty and economy.

I would describe the Monte Carlo as similarly elegant. After last week’s overcrowded cocktails, it was nice to try a recipe with so few ingredients and so simple a preparation. However, what made the drink, in my estimation, was the dominance of a single spirit and the subtle—yet evident—contributions of the other parts. If you like rye (as I do) and Benedictine (as I do) and bitters (as I do), you will probably enjoy this cocktail.

The dominance of Rye—my recipe used 2.25 ounces, to only .5 for the Benedictine—also made the Monte Carlo a stiff drink. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Seawright, my geometry teacher, never used the words “stiff drink,” but potency may contribute to elegance as well. From the first sip (and you’d better sip), the purpose of this drink seemed plain, and, on another cold Chicago evening, it seemed particularly warming.

The recipe I used invited me to play with the proportion of Benedictine, warning that the drink might be sweeter than some imbibers like. I didn’t find that to be the case. I wouldn’t describe the Monte Carlo as an overly sweet cocktail. But, after one, I wasn’t tempted to try it again with different proportions. Some bitter element might add something—Carpano Antica or Amer Picon (if you can get some or have a generous friend who lets you have some of his homemade batch)—yet I wouldn’t want to play with the elegance of this concoction. Though it’s straightforward, it’s complex without any additions.

Jonathan’s take: sometimes the variation is better than the original.

David’s Take: I felt so sophisticated drinking the Monte Carlo. That must be good.

Next Week (proposed by David):

During my usual agony over what to propose next, I located something on Difford’s Guide to the Top 100 cocktails that has always piqued my curiosity, Blood and Sand. The name is the greatest appeal to me… though the origin of that name is interesting too, as I’ll tell you next week. Plus, it uses Scotch. I’m generally not a Scotch drinker, but I would love to rehabilitate the spirit. There must be something out there that makes good use of the bottles in my liquor cabinet. In any case, it’s time to find out.

The Chopped Challenge

drinksProposed by: Circumstances

Reviewed by: Brave Souls

David:

Two brothers, one cocktail, only one chance to win…

Though not really—Jonathan and I would have to be in the same city to go head-to-head in our Chopped-style cocktail challenge. Instead, we’re treating the spirits and peripherals we’ve gathered as cocktailians as mystery basket ingredients.

The challenge… to make an unforgettable drink from these mystery ingredients, before… time… runs… out.

We gave ourselves 30 minutes to draw the slips of paper bearing the names of our ingredients and make and serve the cocktail, which is plenty of time for mixology. It’s so much time that I made three versions of my cocktail before settling on the “best.”

Our distinguished panel of chefs will critique their work… and one by one they must face the dreaded chopping block…

In the end only my wife and daughter were brave enough to test my efforts. When I described this challenge to people, I heard the same refrain, “That sounds like a very bad idea.”

Who will win the $10,000 prize… and who will be chopped?”

The contestants on Chopped are always playing for something—redemption, professional credibility, familial respect, some (usually pretty narrow) charity, fellow suffers of odd maladies, getting the ball rolling on some project (like a board game, twice), or pride. I don’t know about Jonathan, but my goals were more modest. I wanted to avoid spit takes.

“Two contestants think they have what it takes to be a Chopped champion. Let’s meet them…”

I’m actually not sure I do have what it takes. A big part of being a not-so-savvy cocktailian is the protection of the label. If you advertise yourself as incompetent, how badly can you fail?

I was trying to apply what I’ve learned, which—as I’ve said—isn’t enough. Writing “Crème de Menthe” and “Spanish Port” on slips of appropriately colored paper, I understood why Chopped contestants sweat so profusely.

Cocktailians… here are the rules. There is one round with its basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available are pantry and fridge.

categoriesWe divided the contents of our liquor cabinets into four categories—basic spirits, liqueurs, fortified wines, and other non-alcoholic ingredients like bitters, simple syrups on hand, grenadine, and the like. It’s hard enough to make a harmonious drink from three alcoholic components (never mind some weird bitter).

I’d already decided to interpret “pantry and fridge” liberally.

When the clock runs out our judges will critique your drinks on presentation, taste, and creativity.

At least two of those criteria didn’t seem so tough.

Please open your basket.

I let my wife draw my four slips of paper and opened them all at once:

  • basic spirit: aquavit (a basic because I figured aquavit is like gin… giant mistake)
  • liqueur: crème de violette (which I’ve always thought must be what perfume tastes like)
  • fortified wine: Spanish sherry (goody, some earth tones to go with purple and ochre)
  • other: cardamom bitters (perhaps the bossiest bitter—it has to get its way)

First I thought, “This was a very bad idea,” and then I tasted each ingredient just the way the contestants on Chopped do… when they’re stalling. In cocktail class, I learned each cocktail is actually six ounces, with two being ice or mixer. When I combined equal portions of the spirits and a single drop of cardamom, it came out to 4 ounces of army green. Fail.

Try again. I thought the crème de violette had to be less and the aquavit had to be less and who in their right mind would ever drink anything grayish green? So I reduced the crème de violette to half an ounce, made the aquavit and sherry one ounce each and, from the pantry, used a half an ounce of lemon juice. Then my hand slipped, and I ended up with three drops of cardamom. The color was better. The drink was wretched. Fail.

Too much sherry, still too perfumy, and I thought, “I kind of hate cardamom… and caraway… and these silly things I think are a good idea.” With a few minutes left I came up with what I’m calling Pomegranate Chaos:

  • 1 oz. Aquavit
  • .75 oz. Sherry
  • .25 oz. Crème de Violette
  • 1 drop cardamom bitters
  • .5 oz. blood orange juice
  • 2 oz. sparkling pomegranate juice

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Pour pomegranate juice to taste.

You will note that pantry and fridge ended up being pretty damn important.

Cocktailian, you’ve arrived at the Chopping block…

If you watch Chopped regularly, you know the judges have clear predilections. Never serve Scott Conant raw onions, don’t call something mole if Aaron Sanchez in on the panel, Marcus Samuelson will accuse you of not preparing an ingredient properly, and Alex Guarnaschelli hates pretty much everything (unless someone else hates it, in which case, she loves it).

Here is what I imagine my judges saying (and pretty much what they did say), “I like the color, and the juice and sparkling pomegranate give the drink a real freshness, but the basket items are all lurking, hidden like an ugly chair in the corner when company comes over. It’s drinkable, but the part I like least, the funky aftertaste, comes from the main ingredients.”

Ted will ask (he always, always does): “Well, this is not a simple matter—do you think you’ve got it figured out?” The judges always answer, “I think we have.”

Like Jonathan I tried a second drink, which I’m calling the Pola Debevoise, with more reasonable ingredients: gin, maraschino, brandy, lemon… and I added grenadine to tie it all up. I learned from the first round to diminish the stronger flavors and used .5 oz of the lemon and maraschino. Trying not to rely on the pantry too much, I included only .5 oz of the grenadine too. I chose an ounce of Brandy but relied on the gin as the dominant flavor (1.5 oz). The judges liked that one better, though I doubt I’d make any round two.

So whose drink is on the Chopping Block?

David’s Take: Uh, I think I know.

bottles 2Jonathan:

bottles 1My name is Jonathan and I have little experience, no celebrity mentor and there is no drive to be the best mixologist here or anywhere. I operate out of my home typically, although I have been known to guest star at a sporting event tailgate with an audience that is mostly college students. Not to say that they are an easy group to please, but left to their own choices they are apt to choose Busch Light. The only classical training that I have has been provided by the internet, books, the rare video and observation in the form of television watching. In short, I know little, provide drinks to a very small sampling and am self-trained. I am ready for Chopped Cocktail, though, since I have a cabinet full of spirits, liqueurs, bitters, fortified wines and assorted additives.

It is also my hope that I can be an inspiration to anyone who ever thought they could home bartend but were held back by having a second toe longer than the first. Morton’s foot sufferers may not have ever been told they couldn’t be bartenders, but given the chance I am sure they would. Imagine the strain and pain folks like me must feel as the pronounced second toe shifts extraordinary pressure to the second metatarsal. There were so many days standing in the kitchen that I felt I could not hold the Boston shaker for one more second, but persevered to create the finest drink I could. If I win, it will be a true victory for my second, but longest, piggy.

The true chopped has rounds for appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I really hoped, even with two attempts, to get a drink that could be a dessert but no luck. So here are my drinks with the appetizer first and entrée second.

drink picThe first choices revealed Irish whiskey, absinthe, lillet (rose’) and angostura bitters. It sounded a little like a Sazerac, at least from what I remember way back when we made that, so I went that direction. The first step was rinsing the ice with a little absinthe and then dumping the excess. I added the whiskey (1.5 ounce), lillet (1 ounce), and 2 drops angostura. The pantry provided a splash of simple syrup and an ounce of lemon juice. I shook all of that with the ice and strained into a coupe with a twist of lemon. The simple syrup may have been too much. For an appetizer it needed the bite of the bitters combined with the whiskey and acid of the lemon. The lillet provided enough sweetness by itself. Not a bad drink, but not the aperitif I wanted. The invented name (we need one of those, right) – The English Channel.

The second group was the entrée choice. This draw revealed rum, tuaca, sherry, and grenadine. These were mixed in a highball glass (1.5 ounce, I ounce, .5 ounce and 1 ounce respectively) along with orange juice (2 ounces) and seltzer water from the fridge. I added ice and garnished with lemon. It seemed a little tiki-ish so I should have added one of my leftover paper umbrellas to finish the drink.

This one was more popular with every taster except me. It had a similar color (keep in mind I am still color stupid) to the English Channel, but was much lighter in body thanks to the seltzer. Part of the concept of true tiki is multiple ingredients and I think tuaca has a future in that genre when it makes its next resurgence. It provides that unknown back flavor that would help distinguish the drink and make it hard to determine the secret recipes that are another part of tiki. This one I am calling Don the Chopped Amateur.

Jonathan’s take: When Ted pulls the shaker shaped cloche, I think I am chopped. Darn that stubby first toe.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Among the many drink related gifts I received this Christmas was a beautiful and well written book – The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. It is a great mix of information including more history and background on many of the cocktails that we have tried in the course of this blog. It also includes recipes for classics, twists on those classics (thus the subtitle “cocktails inspired by the classics”), and drinks that should be classics. After the chopped episode it might be time for one of those should-be classic cocktails called the Monte Carlo. It provides that important lesson that sometimes it is better to stir to chill instead of shaking to do so.

Wassail

jmwassailProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Let’s get this part over with:

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green;

Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too.

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year.

There are more verses but that should be enough to get the song stuck in your brain. But if not, maybe you need a little wassail.

Some time ago, when we tasted the French 75 as a matter of fact, I discussed toasts as part of the drinking experience. I’m not sure how I missed wassail at that time because the name probably derives from a toast, and the use of the word “toast” itself may come from this drink. There are different spellings but the derivation of the name of this punch probably began with waes hael a cheer offered to wish either “good health” or that the receiver “be fortunate.” Since that cheer was offered in conjunction with the drinking of a wine or apple cocktail, the punch became wassail and the cheering/singing wassailing. The toast part is a little more contrived.

One use of the wassail punch was to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas with a blessing of the orchard. A mulled apple punch was made, and revelers surrounded the oldest apple tree. Singing and dancing ensued to help bless the tree, the orchard and the harvest so that it would be bountiful. This ritual included soaking pieces of bread, toast, and then hanging that toast in the tree. Thus the wassailing, singing and wishing of good health was a toast. It’s stretch, but it makes as much sense as soaking toast in your punch.

The recipe I used for wassail put this drink well into the difficult category, and it may be hard to find a version that does not. It comes from another blog, The Nourished Kitchen, and can be summarized as follows:

Separate six eggs, mix the yolks until shiny and the beat the whites to a stiff peak. Fold those two together and then temper that mix with some of the mulling liquid. Finally, remove the sachet, combine the egg mixture with the mulled cider, and drop the baked apples and orange into the punch. Serve warm with an optional piece of toast floating in the drink.

I made the punch ahead on Christmas Eve and then refrigerated it while we went to a candlelight service. When it was first made the eggs formed a foamy meringue floating on top and did not combine well. Reheated, that foam combined but was a little clumpy so in retrospect, I would suggest making, mixing, and drinking. Either way, it was a pleasant punch and here’s hoping it brings good fortune and health.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_0538My favorite:

Wassail! wassail! All over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

All week I’ve looked forward to finally tasting the drink I’ve sung about so often. Though I have no white maple tree bowl to drink it from, wassail seems the perfect complement to the traditions of Christmas, especially as, with guests, we gathered a group to drink it.

The recipe, I admit, was daunting. As Jonathan did, the one I chose calls for separated (and them separately whisked) eggs that you then fold back together and temper before adding them to the drink. Not to mention the baked apples and the clove studded orange, the slow heating of the liquid to approach but not achieve boiling, spices added and spices bobbing a cheesecloth bag. After a full Christmas Day in the kitchen, I grumbled, “This better be good.”

Was it?

Well, it was warm, which was welcome. After last week, I wanted to redeem hot cocktails, and I’ve decided they can be good—not something I might have said last week.

And wassail isn’t as syrupy as I feared. The cider adds some pleasant sweetness, and, as I substituted one bottle of not-too-hoppy brown ale for one bottle of hard cider, the wassail was spicy without tasting like one of those fruitcakes people always say are the best thing you’ve ever eaten (that end up looking and tasting like sugared fireplace logs).

The addition of eggs wasn’t so bad either. Wassail is hardly eggnog. The whipped eggs don’t incorporate much. The drink is still thin, just with a cloud of froth on top. For me the cloud didn’t add much, but perhaps it’s meant as a neutral element to balance against the spices. As long as I didn’t think of that front as raw eggs, I could enjoy it.

I’ve never been a fan of mulled wine, and I was grateful to discover that wassail isn’t mulled wine either, but a drink with its own character—mild and not so sour, flavorful and not so aromatic—that reminds me of bread more than fruit.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Would I make it again? Maybe if I were having a party, but it won’t make my list of favorite drinks, nor will I ever have the gumption to order it out. At least, however, I’ll have something to say if I ever sing about it. “I’ve tried that,” I can say, “it’s pretty good.”

David’s Take: I’m grateful to have tried wassail, even if it seems too laborious to consume more than once a year.

Jonathan’s take: I’ll never hear that song again and wonder what the heck wassail is, that’s for sure.

Next Week (Proposed by Circumstances):

Perhaps you’ve seen the Food Network Program, “Chopped.” At the beginning of each episode, the host Ted Allen tells the contestant, “Each course has its own basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available to you are pantry and fridge…our judges will critique your dishes on presentation, taste, and creativity.” In honor the new year, Jonathan and I thought it might be fun to stage a “Chopped” of our own, by creating four categories:

a.) basic spirits (rum, whiskeys, gin, vodka, tequila)

b.) liqueurs

c.) fortified wines and the like (cognac, port, sherry, brandy)

d.) other items we’ve purchased to make cocktails (bitters, simple syrups, spices, etc.).

We’ll write the name of each item we have in the four categories then draw one from each—four mystery ingredients in all—to create a cocktail in 30 minutes. Our “pantry and fridge” will be whatever else we have around—juice, soda, etc. Next week, we’ll reveal our recipes… and let you know if (according to whatever judges we get) you should try them.