Drinking Out

Proposed by: Davidphoto-85

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Letting someone else mix your drink, I’ve discovered, isn’t so bad. You needn’t worry about imposing on your brother—the last person you’d want to impose upon—and there’s usually company, a welcome meeting of friends, the celebration of reconnecting.

This weekend, Jonathan and I went out. On my half, his friend Jerry Beamer and his wife Jean were visiting Chicago, and so we met at Epic, a restaurant downtown known as a “spot,” a place to get good food and good cocktails and good conversation. All of which we more than achieved. The evening went by in a blur, but it was, in every possible way, a pleasant blur.

Jerry ordered an Effen Avocado just before we arrived, a combination of Effen Vodka (brilliantly named), avocado puree, lime, and agave nectar. I didn’t taste any, but Jerry reported satisfaction, a pleasing combination of weight and spirit.

At dinner, Beth tried a G6, a combination of St. Germaine, agave nectar, and prosecco. Jerry’s wife Jean chose Crimson Love, Ketel One Vodka infused with lemon and lime, solerno—a blood orange liqueur—actual blood orange puree, and Aperol.

Jerry and I both decided on The Epic Mule, the restaurant’s variation on the Moscow Mule, served, appropriately and necessarily, in a copper cup and featuring—the deviation—tarragon simple syrup. With vodka and ginger beer and lime, it seemed refreshing, almost (not quite) like the water that accompanied the meal. I have to think that’s the whole point of metal vessels, to make you think you’re drinking from a spring with a ladle… though water never tasted so good.

For the second round, Jerry ordered more of the same, except that he substituted bourbon for vodka, and I had to follow suit. That drink, in my humble opinion, surpassed the first, with the complication of an amber spirit replacing the directness of clear. I hadn’t thought of adding lime to whiskey, but the combination was perfect, just as refreshing but more complex. It made me want to invent more lime-bourbon drinks.

The food was wonderful too.

All in all, the evening couldn’t have been better. Good history, good food, and good cocktails. Fun, I hope, for all, a reminder we must stick together. Company enhances cocktails, but ultimately communing with friends is why we’re here, to celebrate the warm connections we’ve made.

Here’s Jonathan’s account:

out

This week was a short break from making our own cocktails, but not a break from unique drinks. Thanks to Jerry and Jean’s (Bourbon Jerry and Jean-Baby to me) visit to Chicago it was a chance to try out the cocktail scene in our respective cities. And in that trying out, it gave us a chance to go to a part of Charlotte that we don’t visit often.

A simple Google search of best cocktails led me to Heist Brewery which seemed odd since one would assume that they would concentrate on beer. Bad assumption. Their menu includes interesting food with a local farm to fork emphasis served in small portions to encourage tasting a number of items. Added to that is their large and small batch micro-brews, beer cocktails, and what they term “craft cocktails.” They are located in a part of Charlotte that was formerly an area of textile mills and the accompanying mill village. What used to be a simple blue collar area is now a unique part of town that is home to micro-breweries, restaurants, live music clubs, and an interesting mix of housing.

We tried a couple of those cocktails and intended to try two of the beer cocktails. Many, many years ago our family made a stop in San Angelo, Texas. I have no idea how we ended up there and why but there are two things I remember about San Angelo – a train museum and horned frogs (or horny toads as we called them). La Marque had an occasional horned frog, but San Angelo was lousy with them.

That is all my way of explaining why I chose the one of Heist’s classics, the Horny Toad. It is made with Hornito’s tequila, jalapeño agave syrup, elderflower liqueur, fresh sour mix, a dash of Cholula and is garnished with jalapeño and lime slices. My wife had a Texas Mule made with Tito’s, vodka, fresh lime juice, and Heist made ginger beer served in the classic tin mule cup over crushed ice.

Both drinks were excellent and unique, but the Horny Toad stood out. First, it was beautiful in a way that none of my drinks seem to be. Second, the fusion of flavors made it spicy but not, and tart but not. It was perfectly refreshing and unique. The Texas Mule was also really good, especially the ginger beer, but the Toad was so assertive it made the Mule seem a little too calm.

And those beer cocktails? Debbie made her second drink a Horny Toad after tasting mine, and I couldn’t go to a brewery, stare at the brewing room, and not try a beer. Opting for their Porter to go with our small plates, I made another excellent decision. Thanks to Heist, it was an evening of them.

One more recommendation. It was National Pretzel Day on Saturday (we found that out later) so it was only fitting that our best small plate was beer cheese with soft, freshly baked pretzel sticks. That and a Horny Toad and you can’t go wrong.

Jonathan’s take: There is an art to true cocktails. It may have an odd name, but Heist’s Horny Toad proved that

David’s take: Hail to the mule… and visitors.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I don’t know if it is my proposal or David’s, but next week is the Kentucky Derby so we’re having Mint Juleps. I have already ordered a couple of julep cups, stocked a new bourbon, and made mint simple syrup. Jerry, that cocktail trying fool that he is, will be here to try them with us and I can’t wait!

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Chartreuse Gin and Tonic

20140420_184918_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

As the Jeff Goldblum character in The Big Chill tells us, the world is full of great rationalizations. One category of rationalizations is the adage of alcohol as medicine. The proposal this week was to use our newly acquired liqueur, Chartreuse, in a mix with gin and quinine, and each of those ingredients has been purported to have medicinal qualities.

The legend is that Chartreuse was not only created as a medicine, but as a way to prolong life. The monks who actually made it did so specifically for medicinal purposes. No doubt the popularity has led to production for other purposes, although even monks could be excused if they continue to rationalize that it is made for its curative properties.

There is no need to repeat the full history of gin, especially in this short form, but it’s also one filled with tales of the health benefits of gin and juniper. Ailments ranging from stomachaches to gout have been addressed with gin. In fact, the very popularity of the spirit in England is said to have begun with the observation that, if opposing soldiers drank it prior to battle, it calmed nerves.

One of the best, and most complete, histories of the use of juniper and making of gin is found in The Drunken Botanist. I’ve mentioned this book by Amy Stewart before, and it is a wonderfully detailed cataloging of the use of plants throughout history in the making of alcoholic beverages. The section on juniper and gin is a combination of history, anthropology, and botany. Once again, much of that also includes the medicinal principles applied to gin in general and juniper specifically. Read it for yourself so that the next time you crave gin, you can suggest the drink is only because you wish to “…thin any thick and viscous juices.” There’s a nice rationalization.

The last ingredient is quinine, which is also known for its health effects. Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree and has been used, among other things, for pain, inflammation, and most famously, malaria. Recipes for the classic gin and tonic range from high-end tonic water, that presumably contains the most quinine, to those made with whatever you can find on the grocery store shelf. I even read a few recipes for creating my own, but lacking a cinchona tree, I ignored those. My choice was Schweppes since our brother-in-law, Will, recommends it.

My original proposal was to create a Chartreuse, gin, and tonic. As it ended up, I did that to mixed effect (too much botanical) and then backed up to make the classic G & T with lime garnish, as well as, a Chartreuse and Tonic with mint garnish. The latter was an interesting substitute for the classic and the former its normal reliable cocktail. All of this, of course, was for my health.

Here’s David’s Review:g+t

I’ve had a few gin and tonics. I joked with one of Jonathan’s college friends that, wherever I went, I could get them to slip me a gin and tonic. That gas station and convenience store outside Carboro? Of course. The county courthouse you passed on the way to Fayetteville? You just needed to know who to ask. The concession at the mall multiplex? They were ready. You just had to put finger to nose and nod in just the right direction, no code words required.

To me, you can change gins and change tonics, and a gin and tonic still tastes like another gin and tonic. But add Chartreuse, and a gin and tonic isn’t one anymore. Chartreuse ain’t cheap, which should be abundantly clear by now, but it’s also quite distinctive in its effect (and potency, by the way). The bitter and botanical flavors of quinine and juniper meet a sort of a kind of an ally in Chartreuse, yet the Chartreuse adds a mellow and syrupy element that makes the cocktail smoother and sweeter, heavier than the typically crisp, summery, and refreshing gin and tonic.

I’m not sure this drink would ever replace gin and tonic for me. I liked it, but you need to enjoy Chartreuse to appreciate it. In the version my wife and I first tried, you would also need to enjoy lime juice. The half-ounce we added distanced the cocktail further from gin and tonics. To me, it was too much, the sugar in the fruit pushing the drink closer to a daiquiri than a cure for malaria.

As someone with a deep fear of malaria, I like my gin and tonics medicinal, more bitter than sweet.

In the second iteration of this cocktail, we used the mint we’d forgotten the first time and added only as much lime as we could squeeze from one quarter. I liked it better because the mint found an echo in the Chartreuse—I figure mint may be one of the 130 ingredients—and, if you happen to already have some Chartreuse on hand, I’d recommend that version.

A disclaimer, however: I am not recommending stopping at the county courthouse on the way to Fayetteville to ask for a Chartreuse, Gin, and Tonic. No amount of gestures and cryptic remarks are likely to get you one. In fact, you could very well be arrested and/or sent summarily to the nearest mental health facility. You might also have your mettle questioned, which, as every gin and tonic drinker knows, is untenable.

Jonathan’s take: The idea to use Chartreuse was a great excuse to revisit a classic.

David’s take: As a variation, wonderful, but I’m going to keep experimenting with Chartreuse. I’m not sure we’ve found its best use yet.

Next Week (proposed by David):

One of Jonathan’s best friends (and a fan of this blog) is visiting Chicago next weekend, and my wife and I are looking forward to sharing dinner with him and wife. I’ve chosen a restaurant with a nice cocktail list, so I’ve suggested that Jonathan and his wife go find a place for cocktails in Charlotte. Who knows what we’ll try (or retry), but putting our fate in the hands of a professional mixologist will be a nice change… and maybe spare us (and our budgets) another bottle of something odd in our liquor cabinets.

The Last Word

this oneProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof features a bar moment where one patron asks another, “What is that you’re drinking?” His answer: “”Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”

I confess my chief interest in The Last Word was Chartreuse. As a visual artist, I’m fascinated with color, and chartreuse is one of my favorites, a slightly gray green, but spring green not evergreen or hunter. The idea that a color comes from liqueur intrigued me, as did its history, which goes back to a secret recipe of 130 herbs, plants, and flowers given to Carthusian Monks in 1605. Chartreuse appeared commercially in 1764, which is, oh, only 250 years ago.

But, I confess, my choice was self-indulgent and not terribly considerate because, first, my brother Jonathan is color-blind (and who knows how he sees chartreuse) and second, this shit is expensive! When I visited the liquor store to buy it, I immediately emailed my brother with an apology, which I’ll make again publically now.

Sorry Jonathan, I wish I’d looked at the price before choosing it.

At least this cocktailian adventure has history to recommend it. The Last Word is a drink with recent antiquity too, invented during prohibition in Detroit, the entry point for much of the Midwest’s bootlegging—Canada was, as always, much more sensible during those years—and, at first, the drink enjoyed considerable popularity.

The Last Word largely disappeared, however, until returning in Seattle, at the Zig-Zag Café when bartender Murray Stenson found it in Bottoms Up! Ted Saucier’s 1951 bar guide. Possibly the color recommended it most, as the combination of lime and Chartreuse is a charmingly watery green, in evening light almost luminescent. Chartreuse, after all, is the drink of vampires and turns their eyes a lurid shade.

You hear me. I’m trying to sell it, working to justify the expense and trouble. Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard…

So here’s the recipe:

  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce green Chartreuse

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, and shake briskly for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

colorHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

The laws that govern alcohol sales in North Carolina are bizarre to say the least. First, there are still plenty of dry (no sales of alcohol whatsoever) cities and counties. Even some counties that are fairly urban are still dry with sales of any type of spirit permitted only within the cities. On-premise sales typically include beer, wine and liquor, though not always all of them. Off-premise sales allow beer and wine to be purchased from private stores while hard liquor must be obtained in state owned ABC stores.

The fun part used to be the customer service philosophy of those state run stores. When I was first of legal age, shopping for alcohol was an uncomfortable experience. The workers were trained, or so it seemed, to bring an enforcement and puritanical attitude that asked the unspoken questions “Are you old enough and do you really need that demon alcohol?” That attitude, luckily, has changed and workers are now helpful and friendly although they are still limited in the information they provide.

Why is this important? Depending on the drink and its ingredients, I try to decide if the nearby ABC store or the more helpful SC stores are my best bet. The only part of this cocktail that I did not have was the proprietal Chartreuse, so I decided that there was no need for advice nor a real cost advantage to going south. The last part, of course, based on an assumption that the 3 monks who hold the secret recipe for Chartreuse are also hard and fast capitalists who make you pay for that closely held information. Boy was I right on that one.

David compared this drink in his introduction to the Aviation. That is a fair comparison, I think, with one exception – I really liked this one. The first part that is similar to the Aviation is the amount of alcohol in the drink. The Chartreuse by itself is higher proof than the gin, and the only non-alcoholic part of the mix is the lime. The other part that is reminiscent is the odd color. The mix of chartreuse and the deep red of the maraschino give this cocktail an odd pomegranate color, or so my more color adept wife tells me. The biggest difference was the background herbal flavors of both the liqueur and the gin which mixed perfectly. The citrus of the lime, and oil from the garnish, was a nice counterpoint to that. Add in a beautiful spring day, and this was a relaxing aperitif to sip the afternoon away.

Jonathan’s take: The color and herbal depth made this different and unique. This one was worth the monk-determined value.

David’s Take: Pleasure mixed with guilt—I guess pleasure wins. As precious as Chartreuse is, it tastes good. Can’t help scratching my head over our two drinks’ color difference… but what else is new?

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I feel the need for a drink that celebrates spring and the approaching warmth of summer. Of course, I also feel the need to use my newly acquired Chartreuse. There are recipes for Chartreuse and tonic, but since the liqueur goes so well with gin and lime, I am proposing that we make a standard gin and tonic but split the gin with an equal amount of Chartreuse. Add some mint leaves and celebrate.

The Long Island Ice Tea

LIITProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are two parts to the introduction to this week’s cocktail—Long Island Iced Tea. The first is the background on the drink and the inevitable varying accounts of its origin. There is also a second part about how I ended up proposing what could be considered a party punch because of its large proportion of liquor, and another version worth trying.

One would assume that the Long Island part of the name is the biggest hint to the origin of this cocktail. In fact, many accounts attribute the invention to a bar in Long Island and a bartender with the catchy name of Bob “Rosebud” Butt. That is far too simple a history, though, and other accounts suggest a different bartender (Chris Bendickson), different locations of the same bar (the Oak Beach Inn) and that the drink’s origin predates the Oak Beach Inn concoction.

My favorite story of this cocktail reveals a personal bias. I was born in Maryland, reared in south Texas and have spent my entire adult life in North Carolina. That clearly makes me a southerner and with that a lover of true (sweet) iced tea. The concept of the Long Island Iced Tea is that the odd mix of numerous liquors, citrus, sweetening agents and cola resembles, or even mimics, actual sweet tea. How then, can this drink have been invented in Long Island, New York where they clearly do not know or appreciate (yes, I know this statement may offend) sweet tea?

That brings us to the community of Long Island in the southern city of Kingsport, Tennessee. This story of Long Island Iced Tea obviously bases the name on that community and a resident affectionately referred to as Old Man Bishop. He is said to have first introduced this alcoholic tea in the 1920’s and his son, Ransom Bishop, perfected it in the 1940’s. There are suggestions that they might have distilled their own alcohol which makes me wonder both why the mix of so many different liquors, as opposed to simple moonshine, and why tequila is part of most recipes. Those inconsistencies aside, I like this story better simply because a drink that mimics sweet tea needs to have come from a place where they know and appreciate true sweet tea.

The recipe I started with was equal parts vodka, gin, triple sec, tequila and rum. Added to that was one part homemade sweet and sour mix (3 parts water, 3 parts sugar, 2 parts lemon and 2 parts lime) and 2 parts cola. The first batch was too gin dominant and strong so I changed to half parts gin and triple sec and increased the sweet and sour and cola amounts. Not only did it taste better, and more like tea, but it decreased the alcohol content.

the drinkersSo why a cocktail that falls into a category that includes such party stalwarts as PJ, rocket fuel and battleship punch? This weekend was an annual golf trip that now includes 24 to 28 golfers but began with a smaller group of friends from college. I asked the core group to vote on the cocktail and they suggested this one despite my plea for something golf related such as the Hole in One cocktail. While we ended up with the Long Island Iced Tea we were able to accomplish the second golf related goal with another version of this cocktail. Substituting Blue Curacao for the triple sec and sprite for the cola creates a drink that is named for the cry of a golfer as he launches a shot deep into the woods or the depths of a water hazard – Adios, Motherfucker!

It’s a real drink, I promise.

Here’s David’s Review:

The Long Island Ice Tea was notorious when I was a college student, and classmates spoke of it as a sneaky drink that tasted like punch and then hit with an even bigger inebriating punch. They described having two or three (or four—we are talking about college) when they should have had one. The story really focused the mayhem that ensued.

Maybe that warned me away. More likely I busied myself killing brain cells in other causes. In any case, I’m perhaps the only undergraduate of my era never to have had one. My first LIIT came this weekend, and I’m rather glad. It is delicious. It is lethal. Had I encountered it earlier, my grades might have suffered.

Though it tastes little like tea to me, contains no tea, and isn’t really even the right color for tea, the Long Island Ice Tea somehow manages to go down as easily. I didn’t taste any of the liquors, not even the gin, which, unlike Jonathan’s, didn’t assert itself, nor did I get the sort of coughing kick you’d expect from four-plus ounces of alcohol. I read somewhere that a Long Island Ice Tea boasts 22% alcohol, yet it tastes like sodee-pop.

Does that make it good, its disguised potency, innocent and diabolical all at once? As a collegian, I’m sure I’d have said “Hell yeah!” As a more mature, refined, and sophisticated appreciator of cocktails, I have to say “Hell yes.”

You’ll note I only remove the exclamation point and turn to less colloquial language.

What’s most deceiving in the Long Island Ice Tea is the subtle balance it achieves, propping tequila against gin and gin against rum and rum against lemon and triple sec. I chose a recipe that threw coke in at the end to achieve the proper tea color (though, in my photographs, it didn’t) and even cola disappeared in the mélange of flavors. In television dramas people talk about ensembles. If, in this blog’s past, we’ve praised drinks for their achieving something greater than the sum of their parts, this drink deserves credit.

Is the Long Island Ice Tea my new favorite? No. It’s more than I can usually handle. As a vacation drink or as a celebration of good fortune though, it’ll do. I’ll return to it, I’m sure, when the occasion calls for it.

David’s Take: I almost wish it weren’t so good.

Jonathan’s take: If I want a drink that tastes like sweet tea, I think I will stick with the real thing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Okay, so maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve been eying that Chartreuse I see in the liquor store—how can you not be curious about a liqueur that gives rise to a color and not the other way around?—and I’ve been dying to buy some. This week, I’m gonna (and hope Jonathan can do the same… sorry, bro). My choice of cocktail is The Last Word, a combination of Chartreuse, Gin, Maraschino, and lime juice. Who knows what it will taste like, but at least it looks beautiful. Of course I said the same thing about The Aviation