The Fall Gimlet

Proposed by: DavidGimlet

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Even the name “Gimlet” has an interesting history. The word used as a description of a drink appears first in 1928, and many people associate it with a tool for drilling tiny holes with piercing, penetrating precision. Others say the cocktail commemorates the British navy surgeon Thomas Gimlette (active 1879-1913), who developed the lime-centered drink as an anti-scurvy measure. These theories may or may not be true, but the drink itself has been around long enough to make tracing it back challenging.

I read somewhere that, in the current surge of cocktail drinking, the Gimlet has largely been left behind. Why isn’t clear, but I have my own theory. Rose’s Gimlet is a dusty choice, a bartender’s friend, automatic and easy. It was a staple of your father’s generation, more cloying than sweet, more like a can of cocktail than the fresh, sophisticated, and often exotic mixed drinks popular now.

Fresh lime juice restores some of the drink’s vitality, but the recipe I proposed for this week, the Fall Gimlet, also adds warmth in the form of a trendy cocktail sweetener, maple syrup. Any gimlet requires a sweet element—simple syrup or sugar—but the idea behind this drink is to balance the sharp citrusy attack of fresh lime with the amber and mellow complexity of the woody syrup. I suppose it’s called a Fall Gimlet because we’re closer now to harvesting maple syrup, but the color is also perfect for the name, the same yellow ochre of some of the leaves turning on a tree outside my window now.

As I had trouble imagining limes in Vermont, I was a little worried proposing such an odd combination, but I thought it might be worth a try and enjoyed the direct and refreshing promise of this cocktail. Here’s the recipe, which requires no elaborate preparation:

1.5 oz. Gin

1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

¾ oz Maple Syrup

Add Gin, Lime, and Maple syrup to an empty glass or shaker, add ice, shake and strain.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jonathan's GimletsCropt

This has been said before (in fact it is the basis of this blog), but I am a neophyte when it comes to cocktails. The closest I have come to a mixed drink most of my adult life has been a margarita or mojito.

There was a time though when I tried a few cocktails in hope of being more sophisticated. I have always been inclined towards alternative music, but thanks to my Dad I had an understanding and appreciation for jazz and the classics. There came a point in young adulthood that I began listening to Sinatra and Billie Holiday. About that same time I thought martinis were the sophisticated drink and that would be my cocktail of choice. The only problem is that I didn’t like them, other than as a marinade for olives or cocktail onions. When the olives began to out crowd the Gin, I decided I needed a new option. That was when I discovered the Gimlet.

A simple mix of sweet Rose’s Lime Juice and Gin shaken with ice yielded an accessible drink that gave an air of sophistication. My love of beer won out though, and the Gimlet was left behind. Now I am wondering why.

This drink, especially with the fresh lime juice and sweetened by maple syrup is, to me, the best of the drinks we have had so far. The tartness of the lime is perfect with the Gin botanicals and the maple sweetness acts to soften those flavors and accentuate them at the same time. I also have to admit that as the first drink of Fall the maple syrup makes perfect sense.

Just to push the point I decided to try a variation of the recipe David proposed called the Old Vermont. That drink alters the proportions and adds orange juice and a couple of dashes of bitters (I used Peychauds) to the mix. I liked this variation just as much although my fellow taste tasters liked the simple Gimlet better. Those fellow tasters included old friends who I first met as a freshman in college in 1979 and my neighbors the next day. Just wanted to point that for anyone worried about consumption level.

David’s Take: I enjoyed the combination of flavors in this drink–the botanical gin, the mellow maple syrup, and the fresh and tart lime. They played surprisingly well together.

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Jonathan’s take: An old friend revisited was the theme of the weekend and this classic fit that perfectly. I could go back to this any time.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We haven’t used much Rum yet so next week’s drink will feature that with a tiny variation. I have already let David know that the drink of choice will need to be enjoyed on a beach which is slightly unfair since he is in Chicago and I will be in South Carolina, but he can pay me back with some winter classic later.

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Bloody Mary

bloodyProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The senator from North Carolina was grateful to be ceded the floor to make this week’s selection and chose the Campari Mary.

No, I’m not serious and, as David suggested last week, I proposed the Bloody Mary and its many variations.

The story of the Bloody Mary and its history is clouded by the many folks who want to take credit. What cannot be doubted is that any number of people probably came to the conclusion that vodka and tomato juice would go well together (Penne alla Vodka anyone?) and that this concoction would somehow be best served for breakfast. What is intriguing to me is that this drink became associated as a hangover cure and be referred to as “the hair of the dog.” Just as I cannot relate to someone who thinks “I believe that gin would be a lovely substitute for club soda,” I can’t imagine thinking that tomato juice and vodka mixed with any number of spices would be a cure for a sour stomach (unless that cure involved projectile spewing). Just as an aside, I would also not be inclined to think that the best cure for a dog bite would be to put the hair from that same dog in the wound… yet that is apparently the origin of the saying.

The Bloody Mary is another classic that lends itself to numerous variations. Some of the better known and more interesting are the Bloody Maria (tequila), Red Snapper (gin), Bloody Scotsman or Smoky (add scotch along with the vodka) and of course the Bloody Shame (no alcohol). There are also numerous additives. Most basic recipes include tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, celery salt, black pepper and hot sauce. From there savvyones have added horseradish, peppers, olives, dill pickle spears, pickled okra and a long list of spices.

I created my own Bloody bar like the ones that have been popular with brunch spots. I threw in a few surprises but included the liquors mentioned above, low salt tomato juice (there’s enough salt in the remainder of the ingredients) and the other basics listed earlier. This was a drink to share. That means a bunch of friends on a golf trip were my willing taste testers, especially if I made the drinks. Between us we tried the traditional Bloody Mary, a Bloody Maria, Red Snapper, Bloody Smoky, Bloody Caesar (clamato juice) and Screw Mary (orange juice). The latter was awful but the rest were nice. I must admit a preference for the tequila version as it adds more taste than vodka.

We also varied garnishes. Those included traditional celery as well as olives and cornichons.

Though maybe I should have added some antacids so there’s no need to look for dog hair.

Here’s David’s Review

Bloody Marys are unusual drinks. For one thing, they have nutritional value. After two different types, I felt full and (relatively) virtuous that I’d consumed vitamins with my vodka. Though I was drinking these Bloody Marys in the p.m. instead of in the a.m., I understand why they are the beverage most likely to accompany breakfast or brunch. A close friend of waffles and eggs, Bloody Marys suggest something solid and reliable, respectable even.

From my perspective, too many variables surround creating a Bloody Mary to review it accurately. I found a recipe for a Bloody Mary mix that included Dijon mustard and green olive brine that seemed pretty distinctive and tried two variations on top of that—a Bloody Smoky (with Scotch) and a Bloody Bishop (with Sherry). Who am I to pass judgment on a class of drinks when I experienced just a taste and still have a lot of the homemade mix in my refrigerator?

I confess, I don’t drink tomato juice. Never have I slapped myself on the forehead and uttered, “I could of have a V8!”—perhaps if I accidentally drank a cup of hemlock I would, but, otherwise, no. Though I used V8 as the base for my Bloody Mary, tomato juice is dense and intense—a taste I associate with substantial bag lunches and health kicks. So spiciness and other flavors are everything. Without the proper bite of Tabasco (I used both regular and chipotle) and pepper, a Bloody anything won’t work. That, and the spirit. With the gift of vodka, gazpacho might make a tasty drink.

As a 54 year-old who’s never purchased Scotch, I particularly enjoyed the Bloody Smoky, which balanced the sweetness of tomato with an subtle peatiness. I cut down on the vodka to compensate for adding an Islay variety of Scotch (1 ounce vodka, one-half Scotch) and the effect was wonderful, particularly when I added a few more drops of the chipotle Tabasco, which is similarly smoky. The Bloody Bishop was also good and for some of the same reasons. Vodka seems such a neutral spirit to me—perhaps I haven’t learned to taste it yet—so the character of the second spirit appears important even in combination with substantial and spicy tomato juice. The sherry I used was not the dry sort and, though there was just a taste of it in the drink, it steered the Bloody Mary in a sweeter and nuttier direction.

Bloody Marys are idiosyncratic drinks, particular to a specific circumstance. Yet, with such broad variations in ingredients they’re hardly one drink at all. As an aperitif, they don’t work well—My wife and I didn’t feel much like dinner after our experimentation. And, sadly, I don’t have the sort of life where I can sabotage the cold judgment and absolute sobriety of the rest of the day for a morning Bloody Mary. As a very occasional excuse to start the day happy, I’m sure they’re wonderful.

David’s take: The genre of Bloody Marys is too vast to judge so summarily. More sampling seems called for.

Jonathan’s take: the versions are endless and while one is plenty, no single one needs to be like the other. My only must is horseradish as without it all versions are a little flat.

Next Week’s Drink (proposed by David):

After some bitter and/or elaborate weeks, I propose taking a sweet and simple turn while reusing our supplies in a Fall Gimlet. As a proper Gimlet should, it contains gin and fresh lime juice—no Rose’s Lime Juice for this cocktailian!—plus an unconventional sweetener to be revealed next week.

The Americano and Negroni

Proposed by: Jonathancamparicropt

Reviewed by: David

Absinthe is purported to have a slight hallucinogenic effect. There was no immediate effect from the Sazerac a few weeks ago, at least that I am aware of, but I am going to claim a delayed effect.  Somehow I thought I had read about a version of the Cosmopolitan that used gin and Campari. The more savvy cocktailians (maybe we’ll just call them savvyones) know the classic Cosmo is vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and lime. It might be a stretch to substitute gin and Campari for the vodka and cranberry and call it a Campari Cosmo. I still want to begin to use some of the ingredients that we have acquired and to offer some possible variations though, so my proposal for this week was both the Negroni and Americano.

The Negroni is a drink attributed to Count Camillo Negroni in Florence Italy. Apparently the Americano was not strong enough so the Count suggested replacing soda water with gin. I cannot say that is a suggestion that would come to me naturally, but you only have to go back to my review from last week to read that I found the Cinquecento more than a bit too powerful and bitter. After that experience, I read that Campari, as a bitter, is an acquired taste which also factored into my suggestion of two alternatives for this week.

The Americano is in many ways the simpler drink, It is made up of 1 ounce of Campari, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and club soda. Served in a highball glass it is garnished with a twist of orange. The bitterness of the Campari is really knocked down by the sweetness of the vermouth and dilution of the club soda. It was so much more enjoyable and, like a bitter IPA beer, was great with spicy food.

A Negroni is equal parts (1 ounce) of Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. It is also served with a twist of orange, on ice in an old fashioned glass. We tried it as an aperitif as it was intended and although it was a strong drink it mellowed as the ice melted. Overall it was complex and enjoyable. The Americano impressed me as a drink that people who like gin and tonic would enjoy as an alternative.

Here’s David’s Review:

Jonathan mentioned online recipes call each of these drinks “an acquired taste.” As a great acquirer of tastes, that didn’t scare me. Quite the contrary, it inspired me. Black coffee, obscure documentaries, and knowing the minute details of the history of the hammer-throw make you feel special. You get used to justifying what others find strange, and then you begin to take pride in it, and then you start to annoy friends by urging odd things upon them. Later, when they complain, you sigh, “Oh well, maybe it’s an acquired taste.”

Only, I don’t like Campari. It isn’t the bitterness exactly, but the sort of acrid smell and undertone (like licking an aspirin) that turns me off. That, and the syrupy mouth feel. And the lurid, obviously dyed color. I could get used to Campari—you could probably get used to sipping shampoo—but, as we’re only drinking one cocktail a week (or, in this case, two), I’d like to enjoy the main ingredient… which, in case it’s not yet clear, I don’t.

Jonathan is right that, in the Americano, at least other ingredients balance the bitterness. The sweet vermouth is truly sweet. Its vaguely herbal undertone doesn’t add much bitterness—though, like the Campari, a dandelion flavor lurks in it—and the soda lightens the whole drink. I maybe might could possibly enjoy this cocktail… if it weren’t for the Campari, which made the whole concoction taste like, well, a concoction.

Gin is one of my favorite spirits (and, in fact, I love gin and tonic) so it pains me to say I liked the Negroni less. Gin IS medicinal, wonderfully so, but, in combination with the vermouth, and especially the Campari, the drink seemed an unsuccessful attempt to mask some sorcerer’s cure. Cocktails aren’t good for you, and one item that’s sure to make my future essay, “The Education of a Cocktailian,” is that mixed drinks shouldn’t taste like prescriptions.

Okay, I know someone is going to go all Sam-I-Am on me, tell me I’m being unfair to Campari and haven’t given it the chance it deserves. I only know a few Latin phrases, and one is my response: de gustibus non est disputandum or “There’s no disputing about matters of taste.” Maybe some of our dear readers love Campari and feel hurt by my rejection, and sorry. Your taste buds must be built differently than mine. We can’t all like the same things. And some tastes you don’t even like enough to acquire.

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Jonathan’s take: There is a lot to be said for introducing strong, new tastes slowly. The progression from Americano to Negroni was more gradual and made each that much better.

David’s take: Damn you, Campari.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan really, but described by David):

Jonathan will be on a golf outing with his buddies, so I’m ceding the floor to him, the senator from North Carolina. After the Cinquecento tailgaiting debacle, we discussed trying some Bloody Mary variation(s). I’m going to let Jonathan choose what will work best in that setting… and look forward to something without Campari.

The Cinquecento

Proposed by: Davidcinquecento

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Can’t help thinking about my brother when I propose these cocktails—I worry they’re too elaborate or require too many new and strange ingredients or are simply too fussy. To be honest, my contributions have been on the baroque end of the cocktail scale.

And a little capricious. This week’s drink, the Cinquecento, came to me because a.) I was looking for a vodka drink with bitters (because those seem rather rare), b.) I like saying its name—Cheenko-chennnto— and c.) it evoked the quirky sophistication of the Fiat 500Ls now proliferating in Chicago. It also reminded me of a commercial my sister-in-law posted on facebook where a couple buying the car discovers, to their surprise, that it comes with an authentic Italian family in the back seat. A montage follows. The couple becomes Italian. I’d like to become Italian.

This cocktail isn’t that elaborate in preparation, but it requires three varieties of alcohol:

  • 1.5 oz  Vodka
  • .5 oz Bénédictine
  • .5 oz Campari
  • .75 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Garnish: Grapefruit twist

Glass: Coupe

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

The provenance of this recipe is elaborate. One of Gaz Regan’s top 101 new cocktails of 2011, it originates with Fredo Ceraso, who entered it (as the winning selection) in an “Anyone Can Be a Mixologist” contest at Louis 649 Bar in Manhattan. In Mr. Ceraso’s description he says, “This cocktail is called the Cinquecento (500 in Italian) to honor the two modifying spirits: DOM Bénédictine (celebrating its 500th anniversary) and Campari (which hails from Torino, home of the iconic Fiat Cinquecento).”

I’m learning, however, that cocktails offer a palette of colors and tastes (and even textures) that transcend the accident of their birth. This cocktail, a lovely persimmon hue, is more substantial than light. Mr. Ceraso also mentions in his write-up that grapefruit juice naturally complements Campari, and I’d agree. I’d actually never tried Campari before, but it possesses a similar sweet bitterness prominent in this cocktail. My wife, who’s made it her mission to pair these drinks with sensible snacks, supplied some salty and sharp cheddar on rye crackers. That combination seemed perfect to me, as the bitterness of this drink (at least in my version) might otherwise be too persistent. It was pretty persistent anyway.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Wow! Looking at David’s proposed drink and reading the ingredients, there were a lot of directions I thought I might be going with this review. Never thought I’d end up where I am though.

The review begins with a confession. We were tailgating before a college football game that began at 12:30 so this drink was going to be enjoyed at breakfast rather than as the aperitif that it is intended to be. The addition of grapefruit juice gave me some comfort that it might work, although that thought was countered by the fact the drink is almost all liquor/liqueur.

Some more quick background is that although I can be negative, I rarely put it in writing or take action. Angie’s List calls us to solicit reviews because we don’t provide them. Bad service at a restaurant? Your tip just went from 20% to 15% mister. Really lousy service? Okay, I’m going to show you with only 10%.

You might guess by now that I really disliked this drink. I made a couple and ended up passing them around to almost everyone at the tailgate and it wasn’t just me. The comments ranged from “tastes like something mixed up at a high school party” to “I think I’ll have something else now.” Even with the help, I couldn’t finish mine, as the combination of all the bitters made me feel like I needed to shave my tongue. To be fair, I will try it again with a juice that is sweeter than grapefruit and as an aperitif to see if anything changes. Sure hope so.

Jonathan’s take: This was a bad “wow.” Tasting overly like pure alcohol and very bitter, it’s not my drink.

David’s take: The distinctive honeyed, spicy, and bitter taste of this cocktail grew on me… but, then again, maybe that’s the alcohol talking.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The best part of this week’s drink was the color of the Campari. It made me think of Cosmopolitans, which is one of my wife’s favorite drinks. I was already leaning towards Gin as the base liquor, and I wanted to begin to use some of the ingredients we have been accumulating as part of this endeavor, so I am proposing a Campari Cosmopolitan. There are a couple of options for the recipe, and I will include both for some experimentation.

The Pink Mojito

Proposed by: Jonathanp mojito2

Reviewed by: David

There are folks who are fanatical about barbecue. They insist that one type (beef or pork typically), style or place is the absolute best. Having spent my formative years in Texas and all my adult life in North Carolina, however, I am an equal opportunity eater. I can’t proclaim what is the best type, style or place simply because I have not tried them all. That hasn’t stopped me from trying though.

What does this have to do with cocktails? I was introduced to the mojito by some friends only a few years ago. Since that time, I have tried a number of variations at many different places and, like barbecue, am not sure what is the best because I have yet to try them all.

More savvy cocktailians have probably already discerned that my proposal statement from last week is not correct. The mojito is a classic cocktail with a history that is probably over 150 years old and a cast of associated characters that includes one of the great drinkers (who also dabbled in writing) of all time – Ernest Hemingway. He had the good fortune to enjoy a mojito in its birthplace of Cuba while the closest I have come is the best one I have had to date. Just down the street from Hemingway’s Key West home is the Blue Heaven restaurant and whether it is the actual drink or the wonderful setting, I would recommend stopping in to try one for yourself if you are nearby.

The other tie to barbecue is the speculation that the name Mojito is related to food preparation and citrus-spice mojo marinade. While I am not sure if that connection is real, it seems like a good enough reason to connect these two pursuits and enjoy the mojito with the mojo marinated and grilled meat of your choice.

The mojito lends itself to experimentation through variations in the liquor, fruit and additives. The version I have chosen is credited to Hakkasan, a restaurant in London. Sadly, I have never tried it in person although it does seem like another good reason to visit London.

The recipe is as follows:

2 ounces Cabeza tequila (I think any quality agave tequila will work here)

½ ounce brown simple syrup

20 mint leaves

½ lime

Cranberry juice

Muddle mint and lime with simple syrup and pour over crushed ice. Add tequila and top with cranberry juice.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’m not the guy who wears long pants on a July beach or shows up in a resort bar sporting a paisley tie… but close. Drinks identified with Key West or London or Cuba are unfamiliar, and, to my knowledge, I’ve never owned a bottle of Tequila—blancho, joven, reposado, añejo, or other.

So imagine my delight encountering the pink mojito—a drink equally bright and complex, minty and citrus-y, sour and fruity, bitter and bright. Jealous of Jonathan’s brown simple syrup, I substituted cane syrup, and the addition only enhanced the island quality of the cocktail. I’ve had a mojito before (well, once) but the cranberry juice created a nice astringency, a natural echo of the tequila’s agave tang. And this drink is sweet and minty, resonant of the juleps I know well from multiple Derby parties in Louisville and elsewhere. My wife has been growing mint all summer on our porch, so I was happy to make use of her labor, and maybe nothing is better than the flavor liberated by a freshly muddled tender mint leaf.

My one critique is the bolus of organics gathering in bottom of the glass, waiting for your last swallow. Maybe it’s my problem, my fastidiousness, the same stiffness that would have me wear the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place, but I like my cocktails shaken, strained, and clear. Perhaps, in that, I’m not yet ready for the tropics, not yet ready for the overabundant foliage of abandon.

That said, the ultimate judgment lies in wanting another. My wife and I finished the first with an immediate, “How about more?” Having all I need to create another, I’ll add pink mojito to my list of cocktail options, even in Chicago February when summer is far away and a distant memory.

David’s take: Love it. Wish it were acceptable for the whole year, even though it couldn’t be further from my usual tastes.

Jonathan’s take: The Pink Mojito won’t make my top ten. The cranberry overwhelms the line and mint, which is the best part of the drink.

Next week (proposed by David):

My sister-in-law, an Italian, sent us a very funny advertisement for Fiat’s 500L or “Cinquecento,” which inspired me to find a cocktail worthy of its quirkiness and celebration of eccentricity. I found one in the Cinquecento cocktail, a combination of vodka and bitters, which my source site describes as unusual because it’s “vodka being used in a recipe that’s well thought out,” one of the top 101 best new cocktails for 2013.

Please join us in enjoying the Cinquecento!