Serendipity

SerendipityProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

We don’t post as often now but having reached the three year mark it is increasingly difficult to come up with a proposal. While driving to the coast to meet friends, I was thinking about the gin and tonic alternatives I’d be serving them and wondering what I would suggest for the next drink. Nothing came to mind, but one of those friends was talking about a drink he had tried at a bar in Greensboro, N.C. He knew I liked cocktails topped with sparkling wines and thought it was one I would enjoy. The word escapes me but it was almost as if I had discovered my proposed drink by accident.

The Serendipity cocktail is a somewhat recent invention of the bartender Colin Field at the Hemingway Bar in the The Ritz Paris. The history of the drink is short, but that bar and others in Paris have long histories and are credited as having been the source of some of the classics. French 75, Sidecar, Monkey Gland, and (erroneously as it ends up) the Bloody Mary are just some of those.

The two bars were locations where the famous chose to drink also. Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, Humphrey Bogart, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were all known to drink at Harry’s New York Bar and The Ritz in Paris. Even James Bond, thanks to Ian Fleming, had a drink at Harry’s.

Despite the fact that the Serendipity is not that old there are various recipes. If we only had a time machine (pronounced in true Dr. Evil fashion) we could get an exact recipe from The Hemingway Bar. Or we could simply fly to Paris and ask since that bar and The Ritz recently reopened after a major renovation. The time machine sounds more fun though. Here are two similar options:

6 mint leaves
1 teaspoon bar sugar
3/4 ounce Calvados
1 ounce clear apple juice
3-4 ounces brut champagne

Mint
1 ounce apple juice
1/2 ounce Calvados
1/2 ounce pear brandy
3-4 ounce champagne
Slice apple

For both recipes you bruise the mint, add other ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a glass with ice, top with champagne and garnish (the apple slice in the second recipe or mint and peach slices for me). I also used mint simple syrup instead of sugar and a peach/pear brandy instead of Calvados.

This is a simple, subtle yet refreshing drink. The original concept was to use apple juice from Normandy with French Calvados and champagne. Since I couldn’t get apple juice from France I chose another (less expensive) option for the brandy and garnished with peach slices to make it a true fruit salad. I would suggest the sugar or syrup if using a brut champagne.

David’s Review:

SDMA friend in college famously combined unlikely foods in his dining hall meals. He like mashed potatoes with his tacos or a side of jello salad with spaghetti. He loved to squeeze a packet of Chinese mustard into his macaroni and cheese. When we commented, he always offered the same answer. “Hey,” he’d say, “it’s all going the same place.”

I’m still not sure I know what that means (or don’t want to think about it), but I get the spirit of his approach: only unimaginative people avoid crossing categories. It’s all food.

When it comes to cocktails, some people don’t like mixing beer with spirits… or wine with spirits… or beer with wine. Okay, I get the last one, but it seems a shame not to give an occasional beertail a try, and it’s a particular shame to avoid cocktails like the Serendipity that top the concoction with a splash of champagne.

What does champagne add? The current political climate leads me to believe there’s no convincing anyone of anything, but I’ll try anyway. Here are the pluses:

  • Effervescence: I’m sure it’s a trigeminal thing, but the the bubbles definitely contribute to creating a refreshing experience.
  • Subtle sweetness: The longer this blog goes on, the more my taste for sweet abates. Sparkling wine seems to add just enough.
  • A different sort of intoxication: Beer brewers sometimes add champagne yeast last in order to digest the last bit of unmetabolized sugar. There must be something to that.
  • An unacknowledged (and unnoticed) relation between ingredients: The connections between spirits are often hidden, but champagne and Calvados both come from fruit, apples and grapes.
  • Deep associations: Somewhere in my lizard brain is the notion that champagne is somehow more celebratory… though I doubt many lizards realize the connection.

I didn’t try the peach version Jonathan discussed, but I loved the common version of this cocktail. As is often the case with a classic, everything about it seems subtle. The mint is bruised, not muddled (and, like Jonathan, I tried mint simple syrup… but thought it was too much). Calvados, while obviously apple-y, isn’t cloyingly so. When Jonathan told me about the Serendipity, he apologized for sending me to the liquor store for another ingredient—both of our bars are now full with enough choices for a block party—but he needn’t have worried. Calvados has a more versatile taste than I expected and, in future experiments, will make my tasters say, “What’s that other flavor?” Finally, the apple juice adds a fresh element to this drink without overwhelming it. If fact, in my opinion, you could do without sugar or simple syrup altogether.

David’s Take: One of my favorites, though it seems too special to drink all the time.

Jonathan’s take: Another wonderful drink thanks to a champagne topper.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Here in Chicago we are just getting some relief from some hot days, but, on the east coast, it’s hotter today than anything we experienced. It seems time for a blender drink, so I’m proposing the Rock Lobster. Since we’ve already had B 52s, it seems appropriate, but I’m ready for some fruit. It will also be fun to use that banana liquor languishing in my cabinet.

Gin and Tonic Variations

DM G and TProposed and Realized By: David

Also Realized By: Jonathan

“The gin and tonic,” Winston Churchill once said, “has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” He was alluding to the British East Indian Company’s invention of the concoction as a way of delivering quinine, which was believed to be an anti-malarial medicine. However, knowing Churchill, it’s possible he was talking about the self-medicating properties of gin.

I prefer the explanation of the drink’s prominence offered by Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every planet has its own version of gin and tonic, all developed independently from one another and pronounced essentially the same. There’s something about the “G and T” (or “Gin Tonic” as it’s called in some countries) that demands invention. The drink was simply meant to be.

And, to support Adams’ theory, it turns out tonic doesn’t cure or prevent malaria because you’d have to drink too much of it (and keep drinking too much of it) to reach even the minimal level of quinine necessary to suppress the disease. Science has taught us something important about gin and tonic, however—rather than doubling the bitterness by combining its three main ingredients, the similarly shaped molecules glom onto each other to mitigate their bitterness. I take that discovery as further proof of Adam’s belief in the inevitability of gin and tonic.

So why would someone want to adulterate it, and why would we use this space (again) to encourage such an abomination?

I thought of a post devoted to the drink by itself debating the proper tonic water (I like Fever Tree or Q, by the way), the proper gin (more later), and the proper proportion of gin to tonic, but all that sounded fussy. Let me be that rare voice of political tolerance in our contentious age and state that all the people, Republicans and Democrats, should compose gin and tonics as they wish, according to their tastes.

As you’ll see, Jonathan was much subtler, thorough, and scientific in his pursuit of proper ingredients. For me, adulteration felt like a different sort of test—not can you mess-up a Gin and Tonic, but can you actually stay true to the Neo-platonic ideal of gin-and-tonic-ness while also introducing a variation that might actually enhance its essential nature?

My first experiment was to follow a basic formula:

1.5 ounces Gin

.5 ounces something else

3 ounces tonic water

the squeezed juice of one-eighth of a lime

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried all sorts of things for that something else—Lillet Rose, St. Germaine, Pimm’s #1, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Maraschino Liqueur, and Benedictine—and most of the results were passable, but no gin and tonic. The best were the ones with a certain je ne sais quoi, the ones that elicited the comment, “What’s different about this?” Of the ingredients above, Pimm’s #1 and Lillet were the most successful that way. Maraschino was also subtle. The worst? Benedictine.

Like Jonathan, I also bought dried juniper berries and other spices (though not in a nifty kit) and steeped them in vodka to create my own gin… and added sumac to regular gin… and used varieties of gin available in my liquor cabinet… and foisted all these varieties on various people. Jonathan’s testers are clearly better than mine. Everyone around me is sick of gin and tonics, so sick that their most thoughtful comments were “That’s nice,” or “Yuck.”

But not me. I’ll just say one thing about my experimentation. Nothing really ruins a gin and tonic… until it makes it something else.

Here’s Jonathan’s Approach:

JBM GTAlternatives of the classic gin and tonic? How hard could it be – change the gin and change the tonic. Heck, go crazy and change the garnish. One look at my liquor cabinet illustrates the true challenge, though. I have Old Tom gin, London dry gin, Rangpur gin, botanical gin, barrel rested gin and, after a quick search for tonic syrups that resulted in the purchase of a pre-measured spice mix, my own homemade gin.

You don’t need to go beyond tonic to understand the variations available. Quinine water, as we used to call it, ranges from classics like Seagrams, Canada Dry and Schweppes to a long list of high end and small batch sodas that grows each year. These include nationally available brands like Fever-Tree, Q and Fentimans to small batch soda versions found locally. There are also many syrups, I have used and love Jack Rudy’s, that can be mixed with club soda to make your own tonic water. Simple math made me realize I had to control the variables so I settled on premixed tonics.

The next question was gin. The classic uses London Dry and if the tonic was going to be dominant that made sense. As I noted, while searching unsuccessfully for new syrups I went into the Savory Spice Shop (a growing national franchise). They had a pre-packaged mix of spices to infuse vodka and make your own gin so that became another option. I also had a barrel rested gin, Cardinal, from nearby Kings Mountain N.C. and the gin style liqueur, Pimm’s No. 1, so I was set there too.

All that was left to do this right was to assemble taste testers and figure out ratios. My faithful panel was nice enough to gather for the task at hand and a forgotten shot glass made ratios approximate (I would guess it was 3:1 tonic to liquor). Here’s the three versions I made:

Prohibition (homemade) gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic
Lime wedge garnish

Barrel rested gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic in one session and Schweppes in another
5 drops Crude (Raleigh small batch brand) roasted pineapple/vanilla bitters
Lime wedge garnish

London dry gin
Pimm’s No. 1
Schweppes tonic
Mixed fruit garnish

The first mix was the most classic and the least liked. The gin was great. So good, in fact, that it was better by itself on the rocks. The nice part of make your own is that you can add and subtract spices. The juniper berries went in by themselves for 24 hours to emphasize that spice and the other spices were added for a final 24 hours.  If you are one of those people who don’t like the pine qualities of gin, though, you could add the juniper at the same time as the other spices (coriander, lavender, bay leaves, allspice and cardamom) and infuse for only 24 hours total to reduce their dominance. If gin is your favorite part of the G & T this may be the best option for your taste.

The second cocktail was a conservative variation yet well received. Barrel rested gin, at least the Cardinal version, is mellow and less spicy. The bitters added a subtle and different background flavor. I made this one with both the high end tonics and the less expensive stuff with the latter providing a quieter base to showcase the gin and bitters.

My final option was a G & T take on the Pimm’s Cup.  A number of Pimm’s Cup recipes suggest adding gin to increase the spirit quotient so I followed that idea by mixing Pimm’s and gin equally then adding tonic. The more assertive tonics worked really well here since it needed a mixer that stood up to the liquors. This is one to garnish with summer fruits like peaches, blackberries, blueberries and the like. The classic Cup addition of cucumber would probably work well also.

Jonathan’s Take: The T is my favorite part so high end tonics and syrups are well worth the cost.

David’s Take: Can I be a purist and an experimentalist at the same time? I’d like to try.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One of my testing panel members suggested a drink called Serendipity. It will require that I go against my goal of reducing the number of spirits in my cabinet by adding Calvados. The drink includes the addition, always welcome, of a sparkling wine though so I think it is worth it. Plus, I have to listen to my testers since they are practically professionals at this point.

Razzle Dazzle

RazzleJmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There is a grumpy old man living in my house. Children who ride their skateboards or bikes without helmets nearby know him as the man who asks them if their brains are valuable. He is the guy who screams at commentators on television about their grasp of the startlingly obvious. Shoot, it was only a few minutes ago that he went out and yelled at the deer for eating day lilies. I am trying really hard to be more positive but I am that old man and those are small examples compared to my most common areas of contempt.

A typical commute is punctuated with outbursts. Charlotte is surely not the only town where red lights are treated as suggestions but it could be one of the worst. It is a rare day when I don’t scream, to myself in the car of course, that just because you are late or lazy doesn’t mean we have to die. Folks who fly by on the main road near our neighborhood are greeted with 3 fingers on one hand and 5 on the other to remind them it is a 35 mile an hour speed limit. Many of them signal that they are only going one mile an hour over that. At least that is what I assume that finger means.

Fortunately my wife does much of the shopping. The nearest grocery to us is located in an affluent area and most of the shoppers are either residing in their own private Idaho or just don’t care about other people. I am working hard on that positivity so last weekend when we were there I was practicing Zen and the art of not committing murder. While I was silent and ignored my fellow shoppers, my wife was the one who stated out loud, in a much more cogent a way than I would have, that we had stumbled into an entire store full of people who were grocery shopping for the very first time in their lives.

The Internet is another regular source of frustration. Don’t put proper contact info, or worse don’t reply to the contact form you do put there, and it is doubtful I will ever do business with you. A slide show that won’t load instead of a simple list? Return arrow guaranteed. Don’t even get me started on sites that just don’t work – yes si.com I mean you.

Cocktails sites are among the worst. Maybe it is a law somewhere but who are they kidding by asking users to input their date of birth? A 13 year old who inexplicably wants to know how to make a Rob Roy takes about 10 seconds to supply any date that makes them 60. Some even ask what country you are accessing the site from. I would have to give up my grumpy card if I didn’t follow the rule that if the United States is at the bottom of your drop down list your site is banished to Siberia.

The link to the Razzle Dazzle violated all of this and whole bunch of grump more. The site includes the dreaded birthday input. That would be passable if I had remembered the recipe or written it down but I did not. Each time I accessed I swore it was the last time I would have a birthday. Added to that insult was a recipe that included parts rather than exact amounts. I cook and mix drinks enough that I would be fine with that but these proportions made no sense. Five parts vodka to four parts other liquid? First there is no base measurement that works with that and second that is a lot o’ vodka.

I won’t write out the recipe they supplied and will give what I used instead:

2 ounces vodka
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
8 or more blueberries
8 or more mint leaves

Muddle mint, blueberries, lime and cranberry juice. Add vodka and ice, shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with blueberry and mint leaf. It makes a beautiful if unsatisfying drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

DazzleDmI go to bars pretty much never, but with this drink I’ve been imagining sidling up the bar and drawling, “Give me the Razzle Dazzle.” Who knows what I’d get back—perhaps the bartender would break into tap dance and song or flash me some jazz hands…. or maybe deliver a deft and surprising punch to my nose.

Knowing the name of a drink rarely helps you with what’s in it. If I walked the streets of Chicago asking passers-by what’s in a Razzle Dazzle cocktail, I’m sure I’d get as many strange guesses as one of those Thanksgiving cookbooks first grade teachers assign their classes, the ones filled with surreal recipes co-authored by Dr. Frankenstein.

No Chicagoan, I bet, would say cranberry juice. There’s little that’s razzle-y or dazzle-y about cranberry juice, and in this concoction you might have trouble identifying the ingredient. Nor, if you told them about the cranberry juice, would they say “mint” because when is that a typical pairing? Then lime (because cranberry juice plus mint cry “lime”?) A passer-by might take the hint in the word “razzle” and say “raspberries,” but that, naturally, would be wrong, This drink contains blueberries… of course.

Maybe Dr. Frankenstein coauthored this recipe after all.

“Is this confluence of unlikely ingredients mellifluous?” you ask (well, maybe not in those exact words). I’m afraid the answer, for me, is a shrug. As photos convey, the Razzle Dazzle is beautiful, and the disparate flavors do, surprisingly, go together. But I’m not a vodka fan—it adds little or nothing. Plus, even if you switch out the vodka for gin or tequila, it involves muddling—which I never do without grumbling “This had better be good”—and leaves millions of blueberry seeds to sediment the drink and mint pulp to clog the shaker.

To be fair, my wife loved this drink. She may ask for another next weekend, but, unless we happen to have cranberry juice, mint, and blueberries handy, I will not ask for another. I love the name Razzle Dazzle (Razzledazzle Marshall would be a great name for a grandchild), but, as the name of a cocktail, Razzle Dazzle is a awful lot to live up to.

David’s Take: Perfectly palatable… not that memorable

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I have work to do on the positive attitude.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Having crawled over the finish line of the school year, I’m ready for summer ahead. That means it’s gin and tonic season for me, and I thought about proposing each of us make the perfect G&T next time. But that’s too simple, right? So, instead, I’m proposing we each create a gin and tonic variation. I found some suggestions, but they are only suggestions. Each of us will add a little something of our own Gin and Tonics in a (likely misguided) attempt to improve the classic… and get summer going at last.

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.