Pisco Sour

20140726_173224_resized-1Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

What could there be to argue about with a cocktail? Invention, ingredients, proportions, neat or iced, glassware, and base spirit are probably only a fraction of the list in drinks we have tried so far. My proposal last week noted the beverage of the week is the national drink of both Peru and Chile but the differences cover most of that list.

The first part of this drink may be the area of the most concord (that’s a grape pun in case you missed it). Pisco is a clear or lightly colored spirit that is considered a brandy since it is made from grapes. In particular it is a pomace brandy due to it being fermented from the must (juice, skins, seeds and stems) with the solid parts of that must being the pomace. Although Pisco is aged, it is done in neutral vessels so there is no added taste from that part of the process.

There are different types of Pisco (besides the differences between Peruvian and Chilean Pisco) that are related to the type of grape, whether it is made from a single grape, and how much residual sugar is left after fermentation. For purposes of this drink, I used acholado Pisco which is a blend of grape types.

The name Pisco probably originated from a geographic area of Peru and that has added to the dispute. Peru considers the designation limited to spirits from that region only similar to the wines of Bordeaux. Chile produces Pisco and uses the name as a designation of a liquor created from the fermentation of grape must. In the United States, the products of Peru and Chile are both sold under the appellation of Pisco.

The Peruvian Pisco Sour was first created in the 1920’s. It was the invention of Victor Morris in a bar he operated in Lima. The drink evolved until it eventually included Peruvian Pisco, lime juice, sweetener, egg white and bitters. The Chilean version, with its own story of invention, does not include the egg white or bitters and uses a Pisco made in Chile. I used a recipe from the Brad Thomas Parson’s book Bitters that is clearly in keeping with Morris’ recipe so my Pisco is from Peru:

2 ounce Pisco
1 ounce lime or lemon juice (I used lime)
.5 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Angostura bitters

Dry shake the Pisco, lime, simple syrup and egg white. Add ice to the shaker, shake again and strain into a coupe. Drip or dropper 4 drops of Angostura on top and create your own design by spreading it.

The end result looks familiar but has a unique taste. The Pisco has an earthiness, maybe it is the marc/pomace, but otherwise I see how it can be described as similar to tequila. It still seems odd to add a raw egg white to drink, but the body that it imparts is noticeable. In fact, one of the cautions I would add is the lift provided by the egg is so great that you need to be careful that the top of the shaker doesn’t dislodge and spray drink. Not that I did that (again) as far as anyone knows.

PeescoHere’s David’s Review:

After nearly a year of cocktails, I’ve begun to connect one to another. Some cocktail has a similar color, or complexity, or flavor profile to one we’ve tried before. Another is very like fill-in-the-blank except….

This cocktail reminded me a bit of the version of the Caipirnhia (the Caipirnhia de Uva) that we tried last October. As Pisco (whatever its origination or appellation) is a grape-based spirit, this drink brought the same taste forward along with the organic freshness of cachaça. Of course Pisco isn’t cachaça, and I don’t want to sound like I’m lumping all of South America together in its cocktail preferences. My appreciation for South America, though I’ve never been there, is far more nuanced, I assure you. It’s just that, with the simple syrup—I made a particularly viscous, almost butterscotch-y batch for this recipe—this drink had the same rich sweetness, the same direct, highly spirituous approach.

For my version of the Pico Sour I went Peruvian all the way, with a Peruvian Pisco and a Peruvian formulation of the recipe. My liquor doyenne at the store where I shop explained in great detail how the two nations formulate and regulate their versions of Pisco separately.

“Which do you like better?” I asked.

“This one,” she said, which was Pisco Portón, a highly refined and potent version of the drink… and one of the more beautiful spirit bottles I’ve encountered.

When I went home I looked at descriptions online because I’m a better reader than listener, and, for a few moments suffered buyer’s remorse. The Chilean version seems more raw, more immediate. I quickly got over that, however, when I tasted the Pisco I’d purchased. Yes, it’s strong. It’s also smooth and complex.

This cocktail was wonderful, and, in praising it, I have two important observations to offer. First, egg-whites add so much substance and refinement to cocktails. I don’t know why any one would malign including them. Second, not to be a snob or anything, but please don’t buy sour mix. The addition of fresh-squeezed lime (or lemon) does so much more for a cocktail than any saccharine bottled who-knows-what. Certainly there are times to cut corners and seek ease over sophistication, but cocktail hour should never be one of those times.

Jonathan’s take: I won’t argue, disagree or dispute. Nice, simple, tasty drink.

David’s take: The grape-sweet and citrus mixture seemed excellent, particularly with the substance of egg-white.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Next weekend, my family and I are going to be in San Antonio and participating in a “Gourmet Club” at our sister’s house. The theme is Indian cuisine, and I looked for something appropriately sub-continent for the evening. What I found is called The Bengali Gimlet. It includes curry spices associated with Indian cooking. I have no idea what to expect—other than some elaborate preparations—but feel confident this cocktail will be something new and different. And gourmet, of course.




Tabernacle Crush

Tabernacle3Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

First, a little business. This blog is approaching its one year milestone, and Jonathan and I (no surprise) plan to celebrate. On August 9th, we’re going to write about what we’ve learned during this year of being a two person remote cocktail club, but then we’ll need your help. The next week (8/16) we want to write about what we consider the hits and misses in our selections. You, Dear Reader, might have something to say about that too. Jonathan and I recognize the same names as frequent fellow travelers on this adventure, and we would love to hear what you’ve tried, what you’ve liked, and what you’ve loathed. Please let us know. We promise to make you semi-quasi-proto-famous (just like us) by mentioning you.

Now onto this week’s business. Peaches—good peaches—don’t appear in Chicago until late July and disappear by the end of August. During that window, if you’re lucky, the grocery may present a few that actually smell like peaches. Those ripen. The others might as well be stones that, over time, soften to paste. A good peach is so good, a pasty one seems a particular crime.

The peaches I used for this recipe came from my wife’s visit to a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Lincoln Park, and proposing a drink dependent on such a rare and special fruit was a leap of faith. To be honest, I’m not sure where those peaches originated before that, but, around here, the common answer is “Probably Wisconsin.” I owe my wife… and Wisconsin… a debt of gratitude for the wonderful peach her visit produced.

To be candid, the name of this drink defies me—Tabernacle… what? Crush… what?—and I almost stopped right there, but, as a thrill-seeker and a summer-lover, I figured, why not turn my favorite sweet of summer into a drink. We can’t grow many things on our porch in Chicago, but basil is one plant that doesn’t mind the shade of taller buildings, so that was another plus.

Then I said a little prayer… “Oh please peach, be good.” I hope Jonathan had similar luck.

Here’s the recipe:

1/2 large peach, sliced

6 small basil leaves, plus more for garnish

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces gin

1 ounce Lillet

1/2 ounce simple syrup


Club soda

In a tall glass, muddle the peach with the 6 basil leaves and the lemon juice. Add the gin, Lillet and simple syrup. Add ice cubes and top with club soda. Garnish with basil.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:


Spent the whole week trying to remember the name of this drink. I could tell you what was in it, how it was prepared, and drinks that, I assumed, were similar. I just could not remember the name because despite some muddling that could become crushing with a little more vigor, the name makes no sense. I sure hope David has offered some enlightenment.

South Carolina is my common destination of choice for the spirit of the week. As I have described, they operate under a private ownership system as opposed to the state run system in North Carolina. The price difference is not that great from what I can tell, but there is often a much greater selection and the employees are much more willing to offer advice and recommendations. Of course this far into the endeavor, it is always more a question of which gin I will use rather than a need to buy more.

The southern Carolina is also the location of choice for peaches. A distant second to California in annual production, it is still a major producer, and there are roadside stands within 20 minutes of our house. Summers become a game of waiting for the first ripe peaches, then waiting for the different varieties—all with the goal of finding that perfect peach so sweet and juicy that a single bite can lead to peach nectar dripping from hand to elbow. This drink was just another excuse to go in search of that perfect peach.

This is also the third drink within the last month that used basil, but the description made me think it might well be the best combination. I’m not sure that part was true, but the use of the muddled peach was not a disappointment. The botanicals of the gin clouded the basil taste, while the peach shone through. It is very important to pick a peach for the drink that is ripe to the point of being mushy. The ripe fruit breaks up in the muddling and while that makes it more difficult to drink it gives the cocktail a wonderful color and full peach taste. This may be one of those drinks that a purist would snub, but in the heat of summer, and at a time when the perfect peach is a worthy pursuit, it is great refreshment.

Jonathan’s take: Odd name, wonderful drink to celebrate summer and peaches.

David’s take: I’ll try to recall this one next summer… though I’m sure the name will slip from memory.

Next week’s proposal (proposed by Jonathan):

It doesn’t seem to matter what I am reading, there is one classic that keeps coming up – the Pisco Sour. Pisco is a South American brandy made with grapes and the sour is the classic drink of the spirit. In fact, it is the national drink of both Peru and Chile. More on the arguments about that next week.

Mai Tai

20140713_180821_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

I am afraid. Very afraid actually. Who could have known, before doing research on this drink and the background, that people are so into and argumentative about all things tiki. The disputes run deeper than the origin of the Mai Tai, there are debates, web sites and input all over the board about tiki decoration, tiki food and especially tiki cocktails. I can’t prove it, but am fairly sure that someone sent an attack yellow jacket to sting my hand yesterday to leave me incapable of typing. Despite the swelling and itching, though, in the name of all that is right in cocktailia, I am pushing forward.

The Mai Tai is included on virtually every list of the top 100 cocktails of all time. It meets the basic definition of two parts spirit (rum in combination of types), one part sour (lime) and one part sweet (the mix of orgeat and orange liqueur) at least in the basic recipes. The odd thing is that there is no simple, basic recipe.

This cocktail is less disputed as to the creator than it is about actual ingredients. There is little doubt that Victor Bergeron created a drink that is now known as the Mai Tai at his Trader Vic’s restaurant and bar in California. That drink highlighted an extremely well-aged rum (J. Wray & Nephew which is no longer available) and paired it with lime, orange curaçao, orgeat, and simple syrup. Sometime before that, however, Ernest Gantt (perhaps better known for his name alteration – Don the Beachcomber) had also made a drink ultimately called a Mai Tai. It is a much more complicated mix of ingredients which included grapefruit juice, Pernod, and bitters among other things. Search Wikipedia and one can find a link to wikibooks with no less than 11 recipes for the Mai Tai. I am perfectly happy to give both of them credit.

Not surprisingly, David and I exchanged messages this week about what recipe to use. I settled on this one, but even that changed a couple of nights later when I made the pictured drinks. From Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists:

1 ounce aged rum
1 ounce heavy rum
½ ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce orgeat

Combine the rum, Grand Marnier, lime juice, orgeat and ice in a shaker. Shake and pour, unstrained, into a rocks glass, add a half of the previously juiced lime and a sprig of mint. Of course, I added the parasols since we are talking faux tiki here.

The first test version, which I made after creating the homemade orgeat (still quite a task but worth it), included Pusser’s Navy Rum and an aged rum along with a Grand Marnier knock off. That drink had too many parts that came to the forefront. The official tasting version included the same aged rum, but substituted Muddy River Rum and triple sec for the Navy rum and Grand Marnier. It was a much better blend. The rest of the debate about all things tiki? You’ll need to take that up with Martha Stewart. Just watch out for yellow jackets

Here’s David’s Review:mt2

As a category, tiki drinks have an ironic appeal for me. The crazy glasses, the pastel colors, and the fruity profusion of exotic secondary ingredients make tiki drinks the circus clowns of the cocktail world. I might drink one just to grin at the monstrosity before me, just to inform the world I’m not afraid of stepping out and standing out.

As Jonathan notes, the Mai Tai may be the greatest of the tiki drinks, the granddaddy of the them all and, as such, bartenders have created many lurid and gaudy variations. Like Jonathan, however, I went with the classic Mai Tai to test the theory that serious cocktails can make do with elegant simplicity. I had to have the little parasols too, but otherwise I meant to do Trader Vic proud. Nor was I disappointed.

My appreciation of fresh squeezed lime increases each time we use it. Depending on the context, a lime can add sweetness, tartness, or a citrusy spiciness. In this setting the lime seemed to do all three, mixing with the caramel overtones of the aged rum to give the drink depth as well as freshness. Curaçao is a little sweet—I always wish it were more like marmalade than candy orange wedges. And my version included a “rock candy simple syrup” that is two parts sugar to one water. I’m unconvinced of the necessity of the extra sweet simple syrup, as Jonathan’s version includes no simple syrup the simple syrup I had, which was not so sweet, was too sweet. The orgeat, however, contributed an interesting weight and smoothness, almost like adding egg whites. I wish I’d made mine from scratch as Jonathan did, but the version I found was quite good… even if it was a little expensive. Plus, I have more, should I find other recipes calling for it.

I was tempted, of course, to put the concoction in a party-store-purchased pink plastic hurricane “glass,” decorate the rim with pineapple, and add a twisty straw along with a sword skewer of cherry, grape, and melon ball, but I’m older now. It would not befit my age and station any more than the Hawaiian print shirt still hanging in the back of my closet. Besides, any addition to this recipe would be gilding a lily. The secret of the Mai Tai, a couple of glasses tell me, is its assertiveness… no equivocation allowed.

My sister (who, coincidentally, is also Jonathan’s sister) and her husband visited Chicago this weekend, and, though they gave me no lengthy reviews, they seemed to appreciate the sour attack of this sweet and substantial drink. As my brother-in-law noted, it’s also a potent drink, and that’s sure to pave the way for greater enjoyment still. An accomplished and famous cocktail, the Mai Tai is clearly the product of careful and sensible proportions and blending.

David’s Take: I would have another… and another… though I’d ask how the bartender makes his Mai Tai if I ever order one out.

Jonathan’s take: I came into this week thinking fruit juices and rum when I thought Mai Tai, but leave fairly confident in Trader Vic and his simple orgeat version.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’d like to stay on the summer theme by suggesting the Tabernacle Crush, a cocktail featuring a fruit I love—peach—and an ingredient I’ve wanted to return to—Lillet. This one will also call for basil, but it’s an herb that even we Chicagoans can grow in the summer.


iteaProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

As far as I’m concerned, the southern intonation of “sweet tea” can’t be rendered phonetically in prose, as it contains bent notes divergent from most American English. Though sweet tea as a concept entered my consciousness long ago, my clearest memory of hearing the term was during college at Wake Forest, late one semester when I was flush with unspent meal credit. That was the only time I’d think of visiting the Magnolia Room, the most upscale of all the dining options, complete with white tablecloths, baskets of rolls before dinner, and student servers. I remember scheming to make our server, a friendly classmate from Charlotte, use the words “sweet tea” over and over just to hear them spoken properly.

I like to hear Jonathan’s wife Debbie say the words as well—she knows, as a true North Carolinian, how they ought to be delivered. Maybe sweet tea isn’t exclusively a North Carolina thing, but it receives proper reverence there, and rightly so. It’s can’t be good for you, but, if you have a sweet tooth as I do, it’s a treat.

All of which is prefatory to saying this week’s cocktail, Libertea, feels like a variety of sweet tea to me… only alcoholic. I found the recipe online and thought it’d be appropriate for July 4th celebrations. Despite the name, I seriously doubt Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Patrick Henry invented this cocktail. It must have originated with the folks who make Wild Turkey, as it involves both the bourbon and a cordial called American Honey made by the same company. Add lemonade and black tea to the liquor, and you have an Arnold Palmer—who also went to Wake Forest, by the way—only with a kick.

The recipes, in fact, demand you make the stuff in quantity. I couldn’t find any versions that whittled the contents down to a single serving. So, like Jonathan, I split it between a mint and basil version. While it looks intimidating to pour in alcohol measured in fractions of a cup, the potent part of the recipe is proportionally small—which is to say, you can drink a lot before you realize it’s creeping up on you… sort of the way your weight creeps up on you if you subsist on sweet tea. I’ll leave the full review to Jonathan but will offer at least this warning—yes, the bourbon is in there, wait.

And I’ll tell you the recipe, of course:


  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups lemonade
  • 4 black tea bags
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I made half a batch with basil and half with mint)
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 cups American Honey Liqueur

Preparation: In a large saucepan, boil 2 cups water.Remove from heat; add 4 teabags of black tea. Steep 8 minutes; discard teabags. Add 2 cups cold water and lemonade; transfer to pitcher and chill. Add fresh basil (or mint) leaves. Using a wooden spoon, crush leaves until fragrant. Stir in bourbon and American Honey.

liberteaalsoAnd here’s Jonathan’s Review:

David has felt that he has been on the schneid in his cocktail choices. A quick review of the last couple of months shows that it is not true, although I might suggest that he avoid suggesting oddly colored drinks. I also don’t believe that tasty or even enjoyable mixes were ever part of our mission. It makes perfect sense that we would hope to suggest and try something we could enjoy, but our mission was to explore”… exotic, classic and forgotten mixed drinks.” Whether he was on the schneid or not doesn’t matter this week, as this is one of the best cocktails that we have tried.

The recipe has a lot of steps like many of the ones we have sampled recently. This one began, as I am sure David has described, by making tea, adding lemonade and infusing with basil. We both decided, following David’s suggestion in his introduction, to try infusing half with basil and half with mint. I gave up on the idea of working out proportions and decided instead to make the full batch (split for the infusions) since there are usually others who want to taste the week’s creation and it probably keeps pretty well. Plus there is always the hope that our follower, Jerry, might show up in town with cup in hand.

The highlight of the Libertea is the perfect amount of enough sweetness to the drink. Between the lemonade and the American Honey, the sweet combines perfectly with the bourbon, basil (or mint), and black tea spices. I am inclined towards iced tea as a beverage anyway, and often mix it half sweet and half unsweet, so this is the alcoholic version of that. Add the lemonade and I have to wonder why someone hasn’t worked out how to make this a bar staple. Since we tried two versions, it should be noted that the basil version, to me, was the better of the two.

Jonathan’s take: Tea, lemonade, bourbon and spice mixed to perfection.

David’s take: Nostalgic and intoxicating… perfect.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I wanted to go back to rum as the base. There are quite a few exotic and tropical alternatives, but I decided to go with another classic of the tropical set – the Mai Tai. Some recipes require two mixes, grenadine and orgeat, which need to be made in advance but the version I am leaning towards skips the grenadine. All recipes require small paper parasols.