Cherry Blossom Tini

sake 2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The Japanese word for cherry blossom—sakura—is one of the first characters a school child learns to write, and the week or so of peak blooms holds a central place in the culture. I have a special affection for Japanese aesthetics, and, if former lives are real, I’m sure I’ve been Japanese. Then again, maybe I was Helen Herron Taft, the First Lady responsible for the exchange that brought cherry trees to Washington, DC in 1912.

I write a haiku a day on another blog and, as I compose, I often think about one of the central tenets of Japanese art, the balance between sabi (simplicity or, more broadly, poverty) and wabi (impermanence or, more broadly, freshness). Together they foster an appreciation of those instants when direct and uncomplicated observations give momentary pleasure. These ideas contribute to an interest in economy and intimacy, an unexpected joy in asymmetry and imperfection, and a shared sense that anything, even the most unconventionally beautiful, can be cause for celebration. Most importantly, sabi-wabi suggests right now is really all that’s important.

Perhaps you see the connection to cocktails.

This particular cocktail mimics the pink of the cherry blossoms while also deploying sake, the Japanese rice wine, and other smaller quantities of delicate influences: orange liqueur, orange bitters, lime juice, and cranberry. I suppose the combination might be considered a punch or another version of the cosmopolitan, but the name suggests some comparison to a martini, the most straightforward sabi-wabi cocktail I can imagine.

If you go online, you can find a number of sites predicting and reporting the moment cherry trees are most laden with blooms, both in Washington and in Tokyo. When I did my research before proposing this cocktail, I consulted those sites, and, sure enough, this week my Facebook page featured plenty of selfies in front of pink blankets of blossoms. I hear that, though we think of the pure aesthetic enjoyment of visiting groves of flowers, apparently the picnics occasioned by the celebration can be quite raucous. That too seems to fit the Cherry Blossom Tini.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmsakeA couple of months ago my youngest son and I went out for a mid-week sushi dinner. The restaurant was offering a saketini special where they would make any classic martini with sake. With little to lose, it was just 3 bucks, we both ordered dirty saketinis – a mix of olive juice and sake. There was a lot to lose. The sake was viscous like a roux gone bad and with the brine of the olive juice created a combination that could best be described as tepid sea water. I am ashamed to say I drank it all. It was either out of some bizarre sense of pride that having ordered it I had to finish it, or the lasting legacy of the “clean plate club” where we were encouraged as kids to finish all the food we were given.

So when David suggested the drink for this week, my first reaction was fear. Never mind that my bad experience was probably a mix of low-end sake and a poorly selected combination. I was afraid. Fortunately it was all for naught. The Cherry Blossom tini started off better, at least I think it did, because I chose a better sake. It also benefitted from a combination of orange, lime, and cranberry that are much more closely aligned with the rice wine than green olives.

Doubtless there is a drink that uses vodka instead of the sake was included in this cocktail, but this mix benefitted from the body that the sake provided. One of the added benefits touted for this drink is that sake is a much lower proof than standard cocktail spirits like vodka. The experience with this drink makes me wonder how many other cocktails could benefit from subbing out vodka or gin for a quality sake.

One last thing to taunt David. I wanted to include a picture of this drink with the spectacular pink blooms of our kwanzan cherry tree. Alas, spring is far enough along here in Charlotte that we are on the down side of that bloom, as well as the white dogwoods. The azaleas are incredible right now, so we mixed the last cherries, some dwindling dogwoods and a few azaleas to provide the backdrop to the drink.

Jonathan’s take: I need to go back to that sushi place and try a better combination. Or maybe I should buy my own sake for even tastier mixes.

David’s take: It seems I’ve been using the word “delicate” a lot, which is a way of saying I want to use it again… but I especially enjoy using the word this time.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Other than beer weeks and our first annual retrospective weeks, we haven’t taken any time off. And we won’t be doing it now dad gummit! I did note to David that I have an annual golf trip coming up and it seems appropriate that I select the drink for that week. So my hybrid proposal is both a way to (kind of) take some time off, to give me the selection for golf week, and to honor the resurgence of tiki (trust me, it’s coming). About.com’s cocktail section includes an article on essential and popular tiki drinks. We have tried some of the classics, but I am proposing that we try 2 more over the next couple of weeks. There will be single write up to lessen our “work” load. For my part, I will be choosing between the Scorpion, Blue Hawaiian, and Beachcomber, but will offer David the option to choose among those and the other classics that we have yet to try.

St. Germain Cocktail

St Germain.JBMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are times when I feel like my introductions are more eighth grade book report than history… if I was reading alcohol literature in eighth grade, that is. The book in this case has been mentioned before and is Jason Wilson’s Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits. The author is described as a columnist on travel, food and drinks, which is quite the career description. Darn, have to go on a business trip to France, drink and eat well and then write about it. Woe is me.

The fourth chapter of his book discusses the marketing and romance of the liqueur part of the spirit industry. The better and more mysterious the back story, it seems, the better the liqueur. In the case of St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, the author relates the tale of the simple, yet magical, gathering of the flowers necessary to make the elixir. This gathering story includes a very limited time and place when the flowers are ready to be picked (a few short days in May in the French Alps), mustachioed gatherers dressed in berets, and the simple transportation of bags of the harvested blooms borne by bike to be processed. The actual production of the liqueur is also said to be based on a special maceration process that gently elicits the honeyed sap of the flower without bruising and damage. It is all a marketing tale that the cynical, like me, will quickly dismiss yet it is still so evocative that I have always felt the need to have this liqueur. And now I do.

This is simple cocktail that features the St. Germain liqueur. There are two versions that I have found – one in Collins glass form and the other served in champagne flutes. I chose the former and mixed 1.5 ounces St. Germain, 4 ounces Prosecco and 2 ounces sparkling water. That was served over ice with a twist of lemon as garnish. If you want the more elegant fluted version, it calls for 1.5 ounces St. Germain poured into the glass with 2 ounces of sparkling wine. The liqueur is delicate, from all that careful gathering and maceration of course, so a simple sparkler works best.

Here’s David’s Review:

St Germain C.DMMy memories of Easter when Jonathan and I were growing up don’t include any special celebration on my parents’ part—certainly no Easter cocktail—and no deviation from the usual routine of church-going other than perhaps some “new” handed-down clothes and candy for breakfast. This Easter my wife and I are in the throes of a property search. We’re empty-nesters no longer responsible for hiding eggs or filling baskets, and this place has grown too big for us.

And the Saturday afternoon before Easter, which once involved dying eggs, was decidedly more quiet. The St. Germain cocktail, in fact, seemed an ideal accompaniment to our circumstance. It also is quiet, the liqueur being as subtle as the prosecco and the seltzer diluting even that. The lemon actually seemed assertive, and we added only a slice.

We enjoyed it. St. Germain is wonderful stuff in any concentration and who doesn’t like bubbly? The liberal quantity of seltzer made the cocktail super carbonated, but not many cocktails can be described as “refreshing” as this one can. Maybe I’m becoming an inveterate drinker, but my only complaint about was that it seemed almost too subtle. The combination of liqueur and white wine is wonderful by itself. A couple of Christmases ago, our son bought us a bottle of St. Germain and added it to champagne for dinner. You could create something less effervescent (and more striking) by choosing the champagne flute over the Collins glass, skipping the ice, and topping the cocktail conservatively with a splash of seltzer, if you add any at all. You might also substitute tonic, as I did on the second go-round, to cut some of the sweetness. The idea of introducing a second liqueur would also be interesting to me.

As holidays go, Easter has always seemed a little melancholy to me, coming as it often does before spring has really sprung and usually affording less of the relaxation offered by Christmas or even Thanksgiving. You might get Good Friday or Easter Monday off, but it’s a holiday generally taken in stride, a pause instead of a break. Perhaps the frantic search for a new home has infected me, but the St. Germain cocktail matches that on-the-run feel of this holiday—a pleasant celebration but nothing that will stop the world for long.

Jonathan’s take: The drink is simple and spring ready. It could probably use a tiny bit of one of its cousins, Benedictine or Chartreuse, to jazz it up though.

David’s Take: I know it sounds like I have faint praise for this cocktail, but that isn’t no praise at all. It’s quite drinkable (deceptively so), just muted.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

In honor of Washington DC’s cherry blossoms, which should reach their peak sometime in the next week or so, and my affection for all things Japanese, which inspires me to compose a haiku a day, I’m proposing a Cherry Blossom Tini. Though the name suggests a variation on a martini, the cocktail actually combines orange liqueur with sake and a little lime and cranberry juice. Another delicate cocktail of spring, it at very least promises to be beautiful.

3GT

3GT2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Inventing a cocktail should be the easiest thing ever—just stumble over to the liquor cabinet, pull out a couple of bottles and maybe a mixer, combine them, and gussy up the glass with some garnish. It’s true that it’s simple to select ingredients and, unless you’re looking to match a flavor profile or attempt some exotic preparation, it’s simple to stir, shake, or swirl them together. Getting the drink right, however, means the loving trial and error of choosing complementary spirits, determining their proper proportions, and, of course, coming up with a name not already claimed.

A tough job, though I suppose someone must do it. This week I volunteered.

The G’s in “3GT” stand for three ingredients we encountered elsewhere: Ginger beer (which we used in the Kentucky Mule and the Dark n’ Stormy), Gin (which, Jonathan tells me, is his favorite spirit, one that comes in many distinctive varieties), and Goldschläger (which we used before with champagne, and which is apparently more commonly ingested by crazy people as shots). The T is tonic because, well, everything else in this drink is alcoholic, and you can’t do much experimenting when you’re under the table.

And, since I get to tell my own origin story for this week’s drink, I’ll take the unusual tack of telling the truth: I like all these ingredients and wondered if they might taste good together. Crabbies Ginger Beer has become a favorite libation for me, nicely spicy and sweetish. Ransom’s Old Tom Gin, the variety I chose for this drink, lends a mellow and botanical tang. Goldschläger is really strange stuff to be sure, but the cinnamon taste adds a different sort of heat (and I have a whole bottle to use up). Tonic is the bitter element to keep the whole thing from being too sweet.

Yet the origin story isn’t over. Though I’m revealing this drink today, alas, additional research may be necessary to perfect it. It still may be too sweet and still may need more bitterness. I’ve experimented with including another half-ounce of a friend’s homemade Amer Picon (before I—tearfully—used it up) or Punt e Mes, a particularly bitter red vermouth. Both, I think, enhanced the drink, but I didn’t want to burden Jonathan with another hard (or impossible) quest.

So here is the recipe I devised (with the other variation in parentheses):

3 oz. Ginger Beer

1 oz. Old Tom Gin

.5 oz. Goldschlager

(.5 oz. Punt e Mes)

Tonic to fill

Fill an 8-10 oz. glass half way with ice, add the first three (or four) ingredients and a cherry. Pour tonic to fill the glass. Stir gently and serve.

Naturally, I’m apprehensive about Jonathan’s reaction but have decided to accept his comments as part of the next stage of the creative process. Maybe, Dear Reader, you can help too.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbm3GT

The proposal for this drink had me wondering if I am too critical. My first thought was that I had been hard on David’s other original drink, The Pear Culture, but I loved that drink and wrote so. Then I thought there was some disparity between my reviews of drinks that I proposed and those for which David was the proposer. It wasn’t a complete reading of all blog entries, but it appears I have been fairly equal in my likes and dislikes. That leaves me with one last idea – David was setting me up for a drink he had invented, tried, and didn’t like. That can’t be it either as this drink could make the cocktail list at any bar.

Last week was a great example of the difference in my taste and David’s tastes. Our list of beer by preference wasn’t completely inverse, but it was close. And it goes further than that. David is mostly vegetarian, and I am full on carnivore. Where he might prefer fruit and vegetables, I am likely to go towards a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries, the latter my nod to some semblance of nutrition. I do not eat that poorly, but if it wasn’t for the heartburn that increases with age, I could find a way to eat some form of nachos almost any night. In sum, it seems we should have conversely different tastes in cocktails too, but for the most part have agreed on the good, bad and in between.

This cocktail’s best quality is that it is can change with variations in each base ingredient and still be excellent. Here are some of the examples: I used Jack Rudy’s mix to make my tonic but it was apparent that strong to weak tonics would work; David suggested an Old Tom gin, which I used, although a second version with a more juniper forward gin made a less sweet version; and, the ginger beer I chose was non-alcoholic (mostly because it looked more interesting than the alcoholic version available) and that ingredient alone could completely change the profile of the drink so there could be endless versions. I kept the Goldschlager the same in each drink because the cinnamon was a great counterpoint to the herbs and ginger. I wouldn’t change that, but won’t be surprised if David did to great success.

Jonathan’s take: Seriously, this could and should be on cocktail lists far and wide.

David’s take: What can I say? I’m biased.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Easter is not a holiday one would associate with cocktails. Although I learned long ago that an internet search will return results for almost any insane search, I was surprised how many results there were for “Easter cocktails”. Even the ever present Pinterest page (I ignored that). David should have St. Germain liqueur, and I should have bought some long ago. That hole in my cabinet will be filled and we will be trying the St. Germain cocktail a mix of liqueur, sparkling water and Prosecco.

Beer Week 2015 (North Carolina)

NC BeersProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

I love spring. My beard is shaved, the flowers are starting to bloom, all the trees are budding, and the slight chill to the air is welcome, not foreboding. This week was my turn to supply the beers and the testing panel assembled on our back patio to do our scientific research and tasting. Here’s the lineup with descriptions mostly supplied by brewery websites:

Triple C Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stout (Charlotte): This beer starts with four malts – German Pilsner, Special B, white and chocolate wheats. It is aged in bourbon barrels and then on cacao nibs. The final addition is to add salt for the full pretzel treatment. Obviously meant to be the dessert for this tasting.

Howard Brewing General Lenoir’s Old Ale (Lenoir): This one was picked for its tie to NC history. The recipe comes from a 1795 hand written note attributed to General William Lenoir. The beer is touted as a traditional ale made with ingredients traced to the late 1700’s and Lenoir’s Fort Defiance. If we are going to taste beers from NC, we might as well taste a caramel and roast ale that is living history.

Highland Brewing Weizenbock Ale (Asheville): Highland is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I got to visit there with my wife, sister, brother-in-law and nephew last fall. They have created a group of small batches to honor the anniversary and this is one of them. The website notes for this beer tout flavors of cloves and bananas and malts that include wheat, barley and chocolate rye. I do have to say that when we toured, our nephew Dan knew more about beer than our guide, so I should have sent him one of these to try.

Foothills IPA of the month for March (Winston-Salem): The label is a caricature of Boston terrier mix named Murphy who in turn was named after a band. They really emphasize the final Citra and Lemondrop hops that provide the citrus bloom to the flavors, and the traditional German malts that give it depth.

NoDa Brewing Hop Drop & Roll (Charlotte): This beer won the 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Medal for American Style IPA which is the most contested category based on the number of entries. Hopping occurs throughout the brewing process with a late addition of Citra and Amarillo hops. Multiple malts add depth and body to this brew.

Holy City Bowen’s Island Oyster Stout (Charleston, SC): There are 2 bushels of oysters per 15 barrels of beer in this stout. I bought this one in Charleston a couple of months ago (as a note to our nephew Dan, it is not skunked being two months old) and sent one of these as a bonus beer. I like odd numbers and I am calling it a bonus so that I was sending 5 beers plus one.

David can rate these in order but I have to provide my tasting notes supplemented by my illustrious panel. One of the tasters is not a fan of IPA’s so we spared him the Hop Drop & Roll. That said it was the best of these beers, even if the award may have biased our judging. The Chocolate Pretzel Stout was probably second with an amazing complexity that reflected the numerous ingredients and careful attention to the brewing process. Surprisingly the General Lenoir Ale was the next favorite. The intrepid tasters noted that is best represented the concept of beer. The Weizenbock was a German style beer with little to distinguish it, the Foothills IPA for March was good but not spectacular, and the Oyster Stout suffered for having followed the Pretzel Stout. A regular beer after dessert? That’s hardly fair.

Here’s David’s Review:

March IPADuring our first week of beer, Jonathan threw down the gauntlet. He sent selections to convince me to like IPAs, and, while I won’t concede it’s my favorite style of beer, I enjoyed both of the IPAs he sent… and the others too. Like last week, not one of these beers was a bust. All were quite good, even and especially the IPAs. Reluctantly, maybe I’ll have to rethink my perverse antipathy toward the beer everyone else seems to enjoy… along with my distaste for many movies, literature, music, and art popular and universally beloved.

Nah.

I’ve ranked these beers, and I can’t help noticing how differently I regarded them… but it’s more a matter of preference than taste. I wouldn’t turn down any:

6. Holy City Bowen Island Oyster Stout: My wife really enjoyed this dense and dark beer, and I also appreciated its evocation of smoked oysters. I liked it much better than I expected I would and think it’d make an excellent cooking beer. Oyster stout just may not be my thing.

5. Triple C Chocolate Pretzel Stout: Chocolate covered pretzels are one of my favorite foods in the world, but I confess some fear of stouts. This one possesses the characteristic intimidating gravity and dark bitterness that sometimes turn me off, but, as a dessert beer, it was surprisingly good. Can’t say I tasted chocolate or pretzels, though.

4. General Lenoir Old Ale: I expected to like this one the best because it’s a sort of red, British style ale, the style I enjoy most consistently. Plus, the history is so cool. I did enjoy it, though its flavors didn’t seem quite as well integrated as some of the others. It tasted alcoholic—though the NoDa was the quite clear champion there!—and its carbonation seemed quite sharp, undercutting its mellow flavors.

3. NoDa Hop, Drop & Roll IPA: I know this one was supposed to be the award winner, and you have to love the name. It reminded me of the posters in my college dorm reminding us what to do should we happen to catch fire. I liked the beer too. It made very positive first impression, but it was the second best IPA for my taste. It amasses layer on layer on layer of hops. In the end, I found the combination of hops overwhelming by the time I emptied the glass.

2. Foothills March IPA: My objection to IPAs has always been how unbalanced many of these beers are, but this one was nicely fruity. For me, the strong hops complemented rather than overwhelmed the character of the beer… like a hoppy plum. Then again, as this beer is from my old hometown Winston-Salem, maybe it’s just nostalgic pride.

1. Highland Brewing Wiezenbock: My understanding of the Weizenbock style is limited, but I know it’s wheat beer and, as such, delivers just what you’d expect—a lighter, cloudier character that’s more subtle than bold—but, for me, the bock part of this ale also made it rich, roasty, and a little on the sweet side. I like the sweet side.

Jonathan’s take: A beautiful spring afternoon tasting beer. That’s probably the winner.

David’s take: Some IPAs are good… but that’s all you’re getting out of me.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

It’s been quite some time since either of us invented a cocktail, but I often fool around with the ingredients we have left over, and I’m ready to risk introducing one of my concoctions to my tough-reviewing brother. I’m calling it a 3GT. The letters stand for gin, ginger beer, Goldschläger, and tonic. Here’s hoping Jonathan hasn’t consumed all of those former ingredients… and won’t be too hard on me.

Beer Week 2015 (Chicago)

crop2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This weekend seemed especially apt for taking a break from cocktails and trying some local beers. Saturday Chicago dyed the river green and let luridly green bands of 20-something drunks loose to rove the city (mostly its bars, but some get lost) in overcrowded trolleys. Invariably some happy leprechauns will end up caterwauling down my block singing/shouting incomprehensively. An angry leprechaun may start a fight that ends up on the front hood of the parked car in which you’ve taken refuge. Overindulgent leprechauns—which seems all of them—will leave parts of green get-ups and curious splatters on sidewalks.

It’s not my favorite day of the year, so I was happy to escape and have a much smaller celebration at home.

We’ve done this beer exchange before, and, last time, I was so scientific and systematic. This time, I went to my favorite liquor store and picked out four big bottles (bombers) from the aisle labeled “Midwest Breweries.” All the breweries were small, all but one in Chicago, and most were unusual varieties of ale. Here are the bottles I sent:

Enkel, an abbey style ale by Une Annee Brewery: The most conventional and plainly (almost generically) labeled of all the ales I sent, this beer sits solidly in the Belgian monastery style, and the brewery, which is only a couple of years old, focuses on just Belgian and French ales. A little less alcoholic than their other offerings, they tout Enkel as an ideal accompaniment to a meal.

Bam Noire, a dark farmhouse ale by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales: Largely a French style, farmhouse ales can be tart or sour, but, uncharacteristically, this beer uses darker, burnt malts. It’s really a marriage of two types of ales. Jolly Pumpkin was the only non-Chicago brew I chose—it’s from Michigan—and it’s also the one you’re most likely to find outside Chicago.

Can’t Someone Else Do It?, a double India Pale Ale from Spiteful Brewing: As I’ve discussed with my brother, I’m perhaps the only person on the planet not crazy about the IPA craze. I like hops, I do, but this style seems to focus so exclusively on hops that many versions lack any sort of subtlety or nuance. That said, I haven’t given up and know my brother likes them, so I chose one from a “nanobrewery” in town. Plus, I like their labels, which are more than a little surreal.

Pipeworks G&T, a gin and tonic inspired ale by Pipeworks Brewery: What makes this ale “Gin and tonic inspired” is the inclusion of spices besides hops, some botanicals and citrus. I thought I should send at least one outside-the-box selection, and Pipework seems perfect for providing that. They are super-small, and a new self-made and hand-distributed beer seems to come out every week. I haven’t been able to keep up, but I’ve liked what I’ve tried… and loyal readers of this blog will know of my history with gin and tonics.

Here are Jonathan’s Reviews:

JbmbeerThe best part of beer week is that David sends me everything that I need. The doorbell rang early in the week and when I opened it, there was a box full of beer. In this case it was four bombers (a term for oversized bottles of beer I recently learned) to go with the list that I had been sent earlier. All I had to do was assemble my tasting panel and I was ready to go, Fortunately, my son Josh was around and my neighbor Rob is always ready to try the drink, or in this case beer, of the week. So without further ado, here is the list in ascending order:

  1. Pipeworks G & T Ale. As David has described, G & T really means gin and tonic. I could taste those flavors, although they are subtle, but actually wished they were more prominent. The thing that really made me like this less (I liked all the beers so this is just an order of which I liked the most) was the odd mouth feel. That may be a wine term, but this beer had an odd viscosity that distracted from the flavor. My fellow tasters did not mind, and I think it rated higher with them.
  1. Bam Noire Farmhouse Ale. This beer had a wild yeast quality that gave it a welcome sour taste. It was complex, tasty and defied categorization. The body was really nice and it had a deep color that was also pleasant. Beers rarely live up to the label and/or web site description but this one came close. If it were part of a blind test I would have sworn this was a German beer.
  1. Une Annee Abbey Ale (Enkel). I still have questions about the brewery name and the beer name – is it an abbey ale or an enkel and what the heck is an enkel? Add to that the label description that talks about a “brett” taste and I was really confused. Brett, as it ends up, is a negative for wines and a positive for beers. It describes a leathery taste that I must have completely missed. But I loved the beer, it was smooth, had a complex flavor and a really nice color. The other tasters thought it too subtle, but they still liked it.
  1. Spiteful Brewing Can’t Someone Else Do It Double IPA. They had me with the label that was an illustration of two creatures (sloths I suppose) with shirts that read “sloth life.” The description suggested that the right amount of procrastination is always useful in getting someone else to take care of chores—a fantastic life lesson unless you are the one who gives in. David and I differ about IPAs. He feels hops are overused and I think they sing a song of flavor. This beer had the perfect combination of flavor and body to accompany any meal, especially the pizzas we paired it with. I recently tried a white whale beer (the heavily pursued Bell’s Hopslam) that was excellent, but this was better. Josh and I split this one and I wished I had stolen his share.

Jonathan’s take: I hope that my selections offer as much variety. The best part was the massive differences is each of these beers.

David’s take: I liked all of these beers and for different reasons, but, surprisingly, the beer I want to try again is the double IPA, which seemed especially good.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I have already picked NC beers from some of my favorite breweries. I also found one that I had never heard of but it has an historical context. Last time I avoided IPAs, but this time I am going to try to make David like them, or at least one of them that is my favorite. Now we just need to get them shipped so he has time to taste over few days time.

Hot Toddy

hottie tottieProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The proposal last week included a link to the Our State magazine article about this drink that I hope blog readers took the chance to read. It had caught my attention for a few different reasons: I’ve been intrigued with the term “toddy”; our weather had been cold, icy and miserable; and the story provided with the recipe struck a note of nostalgia with me.

The meaning of toddy is not at all what I thought it would be. A hot toddy is basically hot water, sugar, spices and a spirit that is most often whiskey. Based on that my assumption was that “toddy” was an English term related to tea. It is, however, derived from a drink produced by fermenting the sap of palm trees in Southeast Asia. The Hindi term tadi referred to the type of wine palm that was tapped for its sap or the drink that was fermented from that sap.

No matter where the term came from, it is so associated with a hot drink to the point that “hot” seems redundant. We have experienced a period of weather in Charlotte that has been awful by our standards (even if David and his fellow Chicagoans would call it “Spring”). It has been wet and cold with every four days spiked by some form of wintry precipitation including ice, sleet, snow and that odd mix referred to as sneet. The idea of a hot soothing drink seemed appropriate especially after I had failed to collect enough snow to make snow cream with my leftover ginger liqueur. Of course, by the time we tried the cocktail (loosely used with this drink) it was sunny with highs in the 70’s.

The final point of interest was the reference to the toddy as a traditional cure for winter ailments. Our father was a physician, but that never stopped him from proposing home remedies. One of those was his cure for a cold, cough, sore throat, or any variety of upper respiratory ailment. I do not recall an exact recipe but do remember that it involved bourbon, lemon, honey and even the odd piece of onion on occasion. That prescription could be served straight up or mixed with hot water depending on Dad’s determination of the severity of our condition. I suspect that what he really knew, as most doctors do, was that the sick welcome a cure and are open to its benefits even if there is no true curative value. It was either that or he figured the bourbon would make us quiet and sleepy.

This particular toddy calls for all the classic ingredients with the spice supplied by tea. What follows is my adaptation of the published recipe:

One cup of herbal tea
1-2 ounce of whiskey (I used a Carolina apple brandy instead)
Lemon juice to taste
1 ounce of honey, or more if that is your taste
A garnish of lemon slice studded with cloves, and a segment of cinnamon stick

It seemed easiest to brew cups of tea and set the rest of the ingredients out for each person to fix to their liking which in turn proved to match the description of the early toddies experienced by British travelers in India. And our Dad’s mix and match cures too.

Here’s David’s Review:

hottyDespite our father’s home remedies, I’ve always believed drinking to cure a cold or flu is wishful thinking, and now when I think about a hot toddy I picture some grandma and grandpa taking snoots in some dim hope medical science will someday justify their vices. Before you cry “foul” on behalf of your elders, I know that’s unfair, but there are plenty of good reasons to have a hot toddy that don’t involve a cure.

With the right tea and/or the right apple juice, this warm cocktail could do much to relieve a winter night. For the tea, I chose Tazo Passion. The label promises, “Tart rose hips and citrusy lemongrass woo the voluptuous blooms of hibiscus flowers,” to produce “an infusion that’s bursting with life and tinged with the color of true love to make sure you never have to live a day without passion.”

Okay. I’m not sure I could attest to all that, but the concatenation of flavors did give this cocktail a decidedly botanical taste. With the honey, lemon juice, and (on the second iteration) apple juice, this “cure” wasn’t hard to enjoy. Hell, having something hot is enough to make a Chicagoan weep with joy this time of year.

My only complaint was that it wasn’t strong enough. One ounce of bourbon gives the hot toddy a tiny kick, hardly enough to knock out anything or anyone. I’d think that, to have any sort of chance against a nasty cold, this drink needs to promise a wallop worthy of Nyquil.

But I guess I’m putting myself in the category of grandma and grandpa in saying so. My advice is to enjoy the hot toddy for what it is, an invitation to hibernation, a sweet and endearing cocktail worth coming home to after braving a polar vortex or a winter storm so major it needs a name.

David’s Take: Pleasant… though likely no medical miracle.

Jonathan’s Take: Before you make this drink, go ahead and put your jammies on.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Jonathan and I are returning to a sojourn from cocktails that we tried last year, namely beer. Tomorrow I will be sending Jonathan four local beers, and, the week following, he’ll send me something. I won’t say too much now about the choices I’ve made, but there’s a couple of odd selections coming Jonathan’s way that are supremely local… and a little strange. Just so it’s fun.

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.