The Caipirinha de Uva

CDrinkProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Caipirinha (pronounced “kye-pur-een-yah”) is the national drink of Brazil, the web tells me, and Brazilians everywhere enjoy variations on its main ingredients, lime, sugar, and cachaça, a Brazilian rum Jonathan and I used a couple of weeks ago. The particular recipe also included green grapes (that’s the “de Uva” part, as uva is Portuguese for grape) and a sweet white wine.

Some cocktail historians say Caipirinha started as a cure for the Spanish Flu incorporating lemon, garlic, and honey. That sounds pretty horrible to me, but the modern version—the alcoholic version, like the variation included here—is still used as a remedy to the common cold. And that’s not so bad.

The key addition to the original recipe (after the subtraction of garlic and honey) was sugar, intended to balance the lime. This version adds the white wine (and fresh green grapes) to make the drink even sweeter. I substituted Lamarca prosecco for the Riesling, as I sought some celebratory element to commemorate a visit to my sister and mom in San Antonio. I also hoped a drier prosecco might keep the sugar from overwhelming the lime:

  •  4 lime wedges (from 1/2 lime)
  • 7 green grapes
  • 2 teaspoons raw sugar, such as turbinado or Demerara
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) cachaça
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) semisweet white wine such as Gewürztraminer
  • 8 to 10 ice cubes

Preparation

In cocktail shaker, stir together lime wedges, 5 grapes, and sugar. Using wooden muddler or spoon, pound and press until fruit is crushed and juices are released. Add cachaça, wine, and ice, and shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Pour into old-fashioned glass. Thread remaining 2 grapes onto skewer, place in drink, and serve immediately.

Okay, I didn’t really follow these preparation instructions at all well. I mixed the sugar, grapes, limes, and cachaça first, shook them, and then poured the liquid over ice. Rather than shake up the prosecco (not a good idea since just opening the bottle sent the top flying and foam geyser-ing), we added that until our glasses were full. One more note about the muddling: once you’ve mushed the grapes and lime wedges and sugar and such, the cocktail shaker is pretty crowded with stuff. Not much comes out before all that dams the pouring process. You’re going to need to turn it upright a few times to get all the liquid out, but, be patient, it will all leak out.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

This is our second drink with Brazilian Rum, cachaça, and it is the one that I first considered before proposing the Batida. As has been noted it is the national drink of Brazil, but David chose a version with semi-sweet wine as part of the recipe. Once again this drink was shared during a pre-game tailgate at a college football game.

I was really looking forward to using the cachaça, especially after David’s pinpoint review of the taste and complexity of this liquor when we used it before. The cachaça did not disappoint in both its smell and taste. Just opening the bottle brings on a bouquet that would make a wine drinker jealous. The addition of muddled grapes, lime and sugar increased the interest in the drink.

The problem for me was the addition of the wine and in particular my choice of Riesling for its slight sweetness. The Riesling ended up overpowering many of the flavors including the main ingredient, cachaça. I had considered David’s suggestion of using a sparkling wine and am sure it would have been an improvement. I also thought about going my own way with mint in the muddle and wished I had tried that too. Finally, it took me at least three rounds to figure out that the drink needed a non-ice shake to dissolve the sugar before adding ice to the final shake.

David’s take: The lime and cachaça are stars here. I think my variations to this variation made a difference. The prosecco kept it light and less than cloying.

Jonathan’s take: There were a lot of taste testers for this one and we were consistent in thinking we should have tried the Cachaca, lime and sugar by themselves.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I heard somewhere that North Carolina, where I live, is one of the largest apple producing states. Ends up it is 7th, and in honor of that and Fall I think we should use apple cider in a drink. It’s also time to go back to brown liquor and we’ll do that too.

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The La Marque

Proposed by: JonathanLa Marque

Reviewed by: David

The first cocktail in this endeavor was the Tallulah. It was a nostalgic nod to combining cola and salted peanuts. You can go back through the weeks to find our reviews, but in general it was someone else’s nostalgia and made me start thinking about some food or beverage that David and I shared in our past that could inspire a cocktail.

The other piece of background that many of you probably already know that David wrote a book, The Lost Work of Wasps, that is a series of essays about memory and memories. It is a fantastic exploration of what we remember, how we recall things and some of the thoughts about memory that others have shared. The first thought that stood out to me in reading it are that memories are as unique as those who hold them. Just as a single event can be perceived differently by two people observing it at the same time, our memories are shaded by our perception immediately and shaped by that perception over time. The second thing I thought about is how it is not always the earth-shattering that we recall most vividly, but instead those things that resonate with us no matter how seemingly trivial. It is that last thought that brought me back to Big Red Soda.

Big Red Soda dates back to 1927, or so the label tells me. It was a regional soft drink only distributed in Texas and Kentucky and was unique for both its flavor and nuclear red color. Described as an American cream soda, it does not have a flavor associated with red (think cherry or strawberry) as much as it does the vanilla presence of cream soda. Other flavor descriptors include lemon and orange, although from my own perspective there is something “red” to it. The rights are now owned by a national company and it is available all over, which is something I did not realize when I sought it out during a visit to Texas recently.

The memory part is that it stands out as the drink of our childhood. There were always the ubiquitous colas and variations, but Big Red was unique to where we lived. It was a special treat to go the 7-11 or gas station within walking distance or when our Mother bought a six pack. It was also a great disappointment when our other brother, the oldest of five children, explained in logical detail why the extra bottle of every six pack was rightfully his. Just as David explored in his book, I am sure there are flaws to this memory, but before trying it again I could always recall its presence and the odd color without any recollection of the exact taste.

My cocktail version was never intended to be a perfect mimic. The most important parts were vanilla, the red color and carbonation. It is a very sweet soft drink and losing some of that was a good trade off for the adult alcoholic version. The drink starts with vanilla vodka, one of the astounding number of flavored vodkas available, and includes Grenadine, a cocktail staple, in a made-at-home version. The red is achieved with pomegranate in part because of taste but mostly because, where we grew up in south Texas, pomegranate bushes grew well enough that they could be encountered in many yards. The following is the recipe I came up with through the help of a taste-testing spouse and friends, and yes, I made them try the original Big Red first:

1.5 ounce vanilla vodka (I didn’t skimp here and went with Stoli’s)

1 ounce triple sec for the orange

1 ounce grenadine (recipe for home made follows)

3 ounces club soda

lemon wedge to garnish

Mix all the ingredients, add ice and stir.

This version of Grenadine is less sweet and, though I may be color blind, got me mighty close to the right color:

1/4 cup sugar (I used demerara sugar because I had it for another drink)

1 cup pure pomegranate juice

seeds from 1/2 fresh pomegranate

1 small lemon

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Bring sugar, pomegranate juice and the slightly smashed seeds of half a pomegranate to a boil, then reduce to simmer for at least five minutes to concentrate it to a more syrupy consistency. Once that is done, halve the lemon, squeeze the juice into the syrup and drop the halves into the syrup. Let it steep and cool then remove the lemons, strain it through cheese cloth and add a little regular vodka as a preservative if you think it will stay in your refrigerator more than a couple of weeks. Seems like a lot of trouble, but worth it for a less sweet grenadine.

Here’s to memories and a drink I call the La Marque in remembrance of a the small town in Texas where we grew up.

And here’s David’s review:

My brother has me at a disadvantage here. I remember my older brother’s elaborate argument for the special privilege of the sixth soda but don’t remember Big Red nearly as well as Jonathan does. I might have more luck recreating a cocktail based on Yoo-hoo than this one… as horrible as the thought of a Yoo-hoo cocktail seems to me. With no clear memory to match it against, the La Marque seemed appropriately sweet, appropriately complex, and appropriately flavorful. I wish I could compare it to Big Red, but smells and flavors seem hardest for me to recall. They say it is the most evocative sense, and that’s certainly true. But you either have those sense memories or don’t. And I don’t. That said, I could approach this drink without a clear context, and I’d loved it.

I especially liked the grenadine, which I do remember as I bring back the days we wandered through our neighborhood, pillaging gardens for pomegranates our neighbors must have hoped to keep to themselves.

Rather than Triple Sec, I chose a cordial I might drink later, Mandarine Napoleon, which presented more tangerine flavor than orange, a sweet and astringent flavor to balance and complement the lemony (but mellow) pomegranate. I think it added a different undertone, something more bitter and spicy than pure orange might have. Sorry Jonathan, I just couldn’t face a neglected bottle of triple sec in my bar.

I have to say again what a difference homemade grenadine makes! My recipe wasn’t quite as complex as Jonathan’s—I used pomegranate juice exclusively without any real pomegranate seed—but the effect was just as dramatic, introducing a distinctive and rich element, fruity and lush.

This cocktail may be the adult version of Big Red, less sweet and more complicated than the original, but it also stands on its own, without the connection. Hats off to my brother for creating such an interesting and innovative cocktail. I’d like to come up with something so evocative myself. …I’m thinking.

Jonathan’s Take: La Marque sweep the cocktail scene? No. Was it good? Yup

David’s Take: I’d order this cocktail—it was interesting and refreshing, true to our Texas roots, so what’s not to like?

Next Week (proposed by David):

My wife and I will be visiting in San Antonio, where my sister and mom live. I’d like to introduce them to a new spirit, something outside their ken, so I’ve decided to use Cachaca and recreate the national drink of Brazil, Caipirinha de Uva. I know my brother-in-law is fond of martinis, so I hope he’ll be okay with this wine, fruit, and rum cocktail.

The De La Louisiane

Proposed by: David20131013_174451

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The De La Louisiane cocktail served as the signature drink of the Restaurant de la Louisiane, once described as “the rendezvous of those who appreciate the best in Creole cuisine.” The recipe might have disappeared from cocktailian lore if not for Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, published in 1937.

I’m sure that makes me sound quite savvy, but I got it all off the web. For a cocktail that reportedly—and reportedly and reportedly—nearly disappeared from the earth, it sure is everywhere in cyberspace.

Truth is, I chose this cocktail because I have all the ingredients and, knowing how busy weekends are, hoped for something a little easier than usual. Silly me, I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough, as it called for a brandied cherry garnish. One can’t simply buy brandied cherries (one must make them) and, because it’s October, you won’t find many cherries about. My wife and I found some maraschino cherries—not the lurid, Campari colored ones, but really dark ones—and I also made some brandied figs, which I thought might make a good substitute.

This is a potent drink that calls for equal parts of its main ingredients:

photo-41¾ oz. Rye

¾ oz. Sweet Vermouth

¾ oz. Benedictine

a dash of Peychaud Bitters

a dash of Absinthe (or substitute—many asked for Herbsainte)

Our savvy readers may recognize this drink as similar to the Sazarac, sharing as it does New Orleans and two ingredients (rye and absinthe), but the absinthe is much more subtle in the De La Louisiane, a shade instead of a shadow, and the sweetness provided by Benedictine is botanical, not neutral like the simple syrup in a Sazarac.

Steve&LoriMy wife and I were headed to a house warming and invited a couple of friends to share the De Le Louisiane with us as part of what—my guest told me—F. Scott Fitzgerald would call “A Dressing Drink” and my children would call “Pre-gaming.” Whatever you want to call the event, it was fun to have company in our weekly cocktailian adventure.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

This theme has come up a number of times already – that many of these cocktails are situation and setting appropriate. Obviously, the aperitif and digestif are intended for before and after dinner respectively but we have also proposed drinks suitable for a summer evening, sitting beachside and in the case of this week’s drink and the Sazerac for quietly sipping at a dark bar or by the fire.

Certainly an enhanced experience based on setting is not exclusive to cocktails. This week marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi. I heard a story on NPR marking the date and talking about his many great operas. I have never fully appreciated opera, but as they played pieces it was not a stretch to think that sitting in an ornate theatre, or sipping a simple wine in Italy, the music would be transcendent.

The La Louisiane Cocktail offered a broader range of tastes than the Sazerac to which it is so similar. In particular, the interplay between the herbal Benedictine, the sweet vermouth and the rye whiskey was noticeable and welcome. It is odd, considering that licorice is not a favored taste for me, that the background absinthe was also very much forward in this cocktail and really added to it. I took the opportunity this week to make my own brandied cherries to use as a garnish. Not sure they added to the drink, but it was a nice snack at the end.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails like these make me feel like warming my feet by a fire and singing like Robert Goulet. Excuse me while I do just that.

David’s Take: A truly enjoyable cocktail–perhaps it was the company, but this drink seemed a great start to any evening.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The time has come in this project to propose a drink of my own creation. We started with the nostalgic Tallulah, someone else’s nostalgia, and my proposal will reach back to a non-alcoholic drink from childhood. The only hint I’ll give is that anyone wishing to try it should make a batch of homemade grenadine this week.

The Batida de Coca

20131004_170208-2Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

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This week is our first foray into Rum as the primary spirit. Well technically, it is our first time using Cachaca which is a Brazilian Rum. The drink is the batida de coco and the recipe is

2 ounces Cachaca
3 ounces coconut milk
2 tsps. simple syrup
1 ounce sweetened condensed milk

Mix all of the above (vigorously since it has condensed milk), and serve over ice. Almost any fruit juice can be used in this drink and I read other recipes that blended it with ice to make a frozen drink.

My oldest son, David, had suggested a cocktail using Cachaca. The standard drink using this Rum is the Caipirinha (the national drink of Brazil) but it was too close to last week’s Gimlet. I also was planning on going to the South Carolina coast and with an odd October weekend with highs in the mid 80’s the Pina Colada type drink was appealing. It is a little unfair that my brother would be experiencing much less hospitable weather in Chicago, but I was hoping that he could still find a beach where he could enjoy the drink. We actually violated the virtual cocktail set up and talked by phone and since Chicago had a spate of thunderstorms going through, I gave him a pass on the beach.

There is a mistaken impression that Rum is all distilled from fermented sugarcane juice. That is true for Cachaca and Rhum agricole, but the majority of Rum is made from distilled molasses which is the thick syrup left over after sugarcane juice is filtered and heated to crystalize the sugar. I used Leblon Cachaca which is a beautiful pale grass green and probably too fine of a spirit to adulterate with condensed milk.

The versions we made included the straight coconut, guava and then coconut/pineapple. One of the suggestions in recipes is to add nutmeg or cardamom (either would be good in the simple syrup) to cut the sweetness. That sounds a lot like a Painkiller and seems like a good excuse to go back to the beach the next time the weather is this beautiful.

Here’s David’s Review:20131004_170519

If you can judge a cocktail by your appreciation of its ingredients, this drink was a winner from the start. I love coconut milk (in curries), sweetened condensed milk (in fudge), and simple syrup (anywhere). Though I’ve never tried cachaça, what’s not to like?—A “rum” made with fresh cane syrup, Brazilian, in a tall elegant bottle, all good. Sometimes the sum is less than the whole and sometimes greater. I enjoyed Batida de Coco immensely. Though it was certainly sweeter than I’m used to in a pre-dinner drink—it was as sweet as dessert—this cocktail evoked a sunny beach, an afternoon free of anything like work.

Cachaça is often called Brazilian rum, but it doesn’t taste at all like rum to me, having a much more direct flavor—more like vodka—with an almost tequila-like complexity. The combination of this spirit with so many sweet ingredients doesn’t erase its immediacy, and the clean taste of cachaça does much to balance the weight of ingredients like sweetened condensed milk. Looking at a mixed drink resembling milk is a little disconcerting, I admit. A drink so white promises little complexity. Jonathan advised adding a little nutmeg or cardamom to cut the drink’s sugary heaviness, and that was good advice. It dressed up its appearance as well as moderating its taste. The little spiciness added a great deal. It made me wonder what coffee or some other bitter note might add as well. I may try that later.

I’m not sure I could drink a Batida de Coca every cocktail hour or even once a week—it seems made for moments you see the promise of total relaxation—but as a step out of the usual it seemed especially enjoyable. Sweet without being cloying, dense without being heavy, smooth without being thick, it seemed the perfect escape, a brief trip to Brazil or, at least, to somewhere much warmer and more tranquil than Chicago in October.

David’s take: A fun drink, worth reserving for those times when fun is not only possible but the top priority of the occasion.

Jonathan’s take: This drink is too decadently sweet and rich to drink more than one, but I have to admit that one was delicious.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

I’ve been wanting to return to Rye for a while, and I found a drink that combines many of the ingredients we’ve gathered over the last few weeks, the De La Louisiane. This drink is a combination of Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Absinthe, and Peychaud Bitters. I’m a little worried about finding the three brandied cherries required, but what’s life without a few challenges?