La Belle Quebec

LaBelleProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The choice this week is more about the liquor than it is the cocktail. My somewhat overfull shelves in the liquor cabinet include rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, American whiskey and some sweetened versions of a few of those. It was time to try Canadian and the vehicle was somewhat of an afterthought. As it turns out, at least in my opinion, that is a shame.

Canadian whisky or Canadian rye is not nearly as regulated as its counterpart to the south. In the U.S. rye (whiskey not whisky) must contain at least 51% rye grain in the mash with the remainder likely corn and barley. It is aged in charred oak barrels that have not previously been used. Canadian whisky is referred to as rye whisky more out of tradition than actual makeup. The mash mix may contain some rye but there are no restrictions on how much if any. Aging is accomplished in wood barrels, but once again the methods do not mandate the type of wood, charring or if they have been used previously. It follows a stereotype, but when it comes to Canadian whisky, those Canucks don’t let a bunch of rules bog them down.

The whisky I chose more resembled a scotch than the rye whiskey we have used in previous drinks. I bought Canadian Club small batch classic. Bottled at 80 proof, it does not identify the exact mix in the mash, and, with 12 years of aging in charred oak barrels, it is as smooth as a single malt to me. I tried a very small amount straight to compare it to the rye, and, though I am not one to taste all the subtleties, my first thought was that I need to offer it to friends who are scotch drinkers to see what their reaction will be.

This is a cocktail blog and I don’t want to forget the drink itself. La Belle Quebec is an obscure drink I found in an older Gary Regan book The Bartender’s Bible. The recipe is

1.5 ounce Canadian whisky

.5 ounce cherry brandy

.5 ounce brandy

.5 ounce lemon juice

half teaspoon fine sugar

Shaken with ice and strained into a coupe.

I used Cherry Heering instead of cherry brandy because I had it and would suggest that in doing so the sugar could be omitted to create a cocktail with a little less sweetness. The end result was a very nice drink, hardly deserving obscurity. It has a nice color, smooth taste and finish and just enough complexity to make it interesting.

photo 4-31Here’s David’s Review:

My wife and I have visited Quebec—we honeymooned there and made a return visit for our 25th wedding anniversary. She does much better with the French than I do, but it doesn’t matter much. Everyone seems equally friendly whether you say “Bonjour” or “Hello.” I’m a little surprised, in fact, that in our visits to Quebec City, no one has offered me one La Belle Quebec.

The flavors are certainly appropriate—Canadian Whisky, Brandy, and the one non-brown (but still dark) spirit I substituted for cherry brandy, Cherry Heering. Though the lemon juice lightens the combination a little, this cocktail is as potent and dense as it sounds. And, with sugar added, it’s quite sweet. About half-way through her glass—full or empty, you decide—my wife wondered if it would be a sin to fill the balance with seltzer. I joined her, and the drink seemed more refreshing, more suited to the heat that has finally descended on Chicago now that it’s late August and really ought to start cooling off.

Which is a natural segue to my review. I liked this drink. The warmth and depth and gravity of the cocktail would make it wonderful after dinner, but—if you need loosening up—maybe before dinner is good too. We have a deck of cards from the Chateau Frontenac that depicts the old hotel covered in snow, and I couldn’t help picturing us sitting in the hotel bar, happy we didn’t have to go out and happy for calm and friendly company. For me, it fits the same category as the great dark drinks—Sazerac, Manhattan, Vieux Carré, De La Louisianne, etc.—and we will never try enough of those as far as I’m concerned.

Is it the best summer drink? No. If you like the taste and want to have couple, the addition of seltzer isn’t a bad idea, particularly if you include lemon seltzer. Is it too sweet? Maybe, and I’ll certainly skip the sugar in the recipe when I make it again. Here’s “however”: I sometimes hear people say something has “Good bones” when they mean it has solid components, whatever objection you might have to their assembly or appearance. That.

On a related note, having never tried Canadian Whisky I was curious to try some on its own. A regular reader of this blog undoubtedly knows I favor the darker spirits (and the darker versions of the lighter spirits), and I’m grateful to Jonathan for introducing me to this one—it has the spiciness of rye and mellowness of bourbon and a clean, direct flavor all its own. Those Canadians are onto something.

And Cherry Heering, it’s delicious. Jonathan sent me an email earlier this week saying I should have Heering from an earlier recipe (I didn’t—I substituted something else). Then he added, “Unless you’ve been tippling like an old lady.” I don’t know. Maybe I will tipple that Heering away… or find another cocktail where it takes a central role.

David’s Take: Worth adding to the repertoire, and I’ll definitely return to it this winter.

Jonathan’s Take: I like the idea of less rules, and I like La Belle Quebec. A good combination.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, I’ve been looking for a definitive Chicago cocktail and have finally found one, The Cohasset Punch. I know it’s wrong that it should be named after a small town in Massachusetts, but (as always) there’s a story behind that. A popular drink from the turn of the 20th century until after World War II, it even appears in native son Saul Bellow’s debut novel, Dangling Man. The specific version I’m choosing is the update, The Cohasset Punch #2, which will require cinnamon simple syrup. I may also sneak in the original as well, which will require a canned peach… really.

Advertisements

Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.

One Year Drinking With My Brother

embarrassingAs announced, we’re celebrating a year’s worth of posts by putting aside our usual practice to reflect on all the lessons we’ve learned as not-so-savvy cocktailians:

Jonathan:

One of the many benefits of growing up in a large family are the things you learn from your siblings. Some are more important than others, but all add to who you are. David and I are the fourth and fifth children, respectively, of five in our family. As the two youngest we shared rooms, seats next to each other in cars, places at the table and spots on couches. More than that we shared a lot of time with each other, and even today I hear myself using expressions that I know come directly from him. One of my absolute favorites is and has been the description of someone as “a master of the startlingly obvious.” And that is what I feel like I am with my observations and lessons gleaned from our first year of this blog. That won’t stop me from sharing my thoughts though.

1. A close observer/reader should know that fresh ingredients and homemade mixers are the key to better drinks. To make cocktails I have juiced lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, pomegranates, and kumquats. Simple syrups have been created from sugar, brown sugar, demerara, sorghum, maple syrup and honey. Those syrups have been flavored with herbs, spices, nuts and more fruit. Store-bought sweet and sour, grenadine and orgeat? Why, when you make your own during the week. The end result may take longer, but the difference is well worth it.

2. It is often repeated in our weekly write up, but prior to this blog, beer and wine were pretty much the extent of drinks I enjoyed. I always assumed, however, that I knew the basics of liquors and the drinks made with them. Wrong, very wrong. Gin might be the best example of a liquor with incredible variation and types, so much so that using the right one in a drink can drastically improve the taste. Then there are the liquors that I never knew existed (a few of which I could still get by without knowing Mr. Campari) like aquavit, cachaça, and pisco. The stories of these unique distillations is in itself a lesson in history and culture. Every time I think we are reaching some level of understanding and knowledge, there is another one that appears and begs to be used. I hope David is ready for Cynar because it, and a pronunciation guide, will make an appearance soon.

3. We compared notes this week and the next lesson is one that overlaps for us—taste. There have been more drinks that we have both enjoyed, and a few where we both did not, than there has been disagreement. Next week we will get a better idea of that when we choose our hits and misses, but, before that, there are some generalizations to be drawn. The classic cocktail, in my mind, is the standard sour. Liquor, sweetener and sour element are the basics of that drink. Almost any mix that has followed that simple idea has met my approval. I especially like those with interesting sweeteners like maple, or odd sours like grapefruit. There are other categories of drinks besides the sour, such as those with effervescence from sparkling wine or club soda, that also stand out but in a pinch I fall back on the sour.

4. Another general rule of taste is the use of bitters. It is an odd ingredient in most drinks because, to my taste, it never stands out. In fact you can rarely identify that one has been added, but, like salt, it seems to intensify and improve the other parts of the drink. The drinks that are all liquor, bitter elements and actual bitters have not been my favorite, but take a simple drink like bourbon and ginger then add some Angostura and you can taste a transformation.

5. My final lesson is one that I did not really learn so much as re-learn. Drinking is a social experience. The first and most obvious part of that is the very basis of this blog. David and I started this as a way to interact more, even if it was a virtual interaction. Along the way, my wife has joined me in almost every weekly tasting, as David’s wife has in his. Our children are adults so they not only try some of the drinks, but are great sources for suggestions. There have been tailgates, family visits, happy hours, celebrations and random get-togethers with friends and neighbors. It has reached the point that even as the specific drinks escape memory, the events do not. Of course there is also the virtual interaction with readers who comment on-line, or through text and e-mail. It is a rare week when I do not receive some feedback, suggestion or drink recipe in some form or another. Those of you who keep sending pictures and menu snippets, and you know who you are, keep sending them and I will keep looking for edible glitter.

booksDavid:

I few weeks ago, when we were thinking about ways to celebrate our 52nd post on this blog Jonathan speculated how long we’d keep it up, then asked, “Until we’re famous?” That sounds good to me, mostly because we aren’t famous yet and therefore must continue. This enterprise is too much fun to give up. Beside the benefit Jonathan has mentioned—our increased communication—a weekly cocktail gives me something to look forward to, and, yes, I’m learning. Sure it’s not the same as learning differential equations, but growth is growth. Don’t judge. Though I’m not yet a savvy cocktailian, I’m certainly savvier. Thinking about the lessons of the year, many occurred to me, and as Jonathan said, most won’t be surprising. Still they’re important… just the way this blog is important even if we aren’t famous (yet).

1. Get to know someone. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the helpful and friendly people who answer my every silly question about the difference between Cachaça and Rum and Rhum and Rum. Echoing Jonathan, this blog teaches me how much there is to know, but it also teaches me how many patient, generous, and funny teachers are out there. I don’t get a “Norm!” when I visit my local upscale grocery, but I do get, “What’s the cocktail this week?” and some thorough and thoughtful advice.

2. The alcohol isn’t everything but it’s something. Let me say for the record that inebriation isn’t a good hobby, but Jonathan is right, part of the joy of cocktails is that they announce an intention to relax and a desire to put aside much too crowded and busy lives to share relaxation with others. Were my brother and I involved in a remote popsicle club, I’m sure that’d be fun too, but, in moderation, spirits are much more fun.

3. De gustibus non est disputandum: I’ve memorized few Latin phrases, but I know that one. It means, “There’s no disputing about matters of taste.” Week to week, I’m struck by how differently people react to cocktails. Just when I think no one could possibly stomach an Aviation, my wife asks for another. Human organisms must experience taste (literal and figurative) in so many different ways. And, not to be too philosophical, but what’s worth celebrating more than that?

4. On a related note, smell matters, and not just smell but all the senses matter. I’ve discovered every sense is critical to a cocktail—its look and its taste and its smell and its “mouth feel.” Okay, so maybe its sound doesn’t matter so much, but really enjoying a cocktail requires engaging your whole sensory self. Maybe, in fact, that’s the secret, pausing long enough to appreciate the extraordinary apparatus with which we’re blessed.

5. Don’t overcomplicate the complications. A few times during this journey—okay, more than a few—I’ve thought “Why all the steps?” Yet trouble is part of the investment you make in the result. Although I worry sometimes about all the hoops I make Jonathan leap through—particularly in the spirit-backward state that is North Carolina—anything wonderful is worth working for. I have nothing against simple and elegant cocktails, but as in many matters, the journey endows the destination with special meaning.

Next Week:

Jonathan and I will be examining the hits and misses we’ve encountered this year. It’s not too late to let us know what you think!

Bengali Gimlet

Bengali2Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Cookbooks don’t have to be very complicated to challenge me, but I’m especially worried when instructions say, in effect, “Go to the grocery (or specialty spice store), ask someone about uncommon and/or subtle ingredients, add them together one by one (mostly through distinctly different processes), and then combine them all (until you wonder why you didn’t just do that in first place), then you are ready to begin.”

If you follow links below, you will understand my apprehensions this week. Central to this cocktail was curried nectar, a simple syrup flavored by traditional Indian spices. And I didn’t think very clearly about Jonathan’s being at the beach where obtaining ingredients might be even more challenging.

My excuse is that I’m in San Antonio this weekend and, while I was visiting my mom, my sister hosted a “Gourmet Club” comprised of some neighborhood friends. I found this recipe online, and it seemed a natural for the focus on Indian Cuisine. The earliest incarnation comes from Jonny Raglin, when he was the head bartender at the Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, and it relies on a combination of sweet, spice, and sour in the syrup, curry, and lime.

The combination isn’t unusual, but the guests at my sister’s party seemed leery about trying one at first. Maybe it was the color—my version seemed more brown than Jonathan’s—but, as the rule of the club is to try everything, everyone had one eventually… and some had more than one. It helped that the essential spirit, gin, fits the season and that, by definition, a “gimlet” promises something refreshing. The term “gimlet” actually comes from a drilling tool, and, in when it’s associated with eyes or expressions, the term labels a penetrating quality.

Some mixed drinks hinge on absolute, elegant simplicity, but another category of cocktails ask a great deal of cocktailians. Both involve creativity, but the second present special risk, brinkmanship, the high-wire act. Little doubt, this drink tests a taster’s mettle.

bengaliJMHere’s the recipe:

1½ ounces Tanqueray Rangpur gin

½ ounce lime juice

½ ounce Curried nectar

1 kaffir lime leaf

Muddle Kaffir lime leaf with Curried Nectar in a mixing glass. Add ice, lime juice, and Tanqueray Rangpur gin. Shake heavily and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a paper-thin lime wheel. In the interest of space, I’ve linked to the nectar recipe.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

This cocktail is, on many levels, amusing. The first part of that is the complexity belied by the recipe description as “easy.” If it has not been apparent in the proposals and reviews, David is the one who more often proposes the drinks that are complex in both ingredient and preparation. He seems to worry about that, but I enjoy both the pursuit of the necessary parts and the preparations required.

The next part of the drink/challenge that I enjoyed was tracking down the needed items while on a beach vacation. Kaffir lime leaves? That would be difficult in my hometown, but was impossible on the coast of South Carolina. Fortunately, the rest of the spices were not quite as hard to find, although I should point out that I had to venture back into North Carolina to do so. The other option is that the curry nectar could have been a simple syrup with curry powder but with our sister, Laurie, preparing Indian food while David made his nectar, I would have been a slacker to do that.

The final part about this week that was an amusing coincidence is that one of my co-workers, who is Indian and a regular reader of this blog, recently left for a job with another organization. Just when I needed his expertise and advice, he abandoned me. At least that is what I want him to think.

PotIt would be most appropriate if David includes a picture of the nectar in the making. We exchanged messages during the process mostly because the stew of spices, peppers, sugar and water was terrifying to look at for a not-so-young person with a finicky stomach. The end result, though, was a spicy (even after a rough strain and two fine strains in my case) and complex simple syrup unlike anything I have ever tried. Side note – I am planning on using part of the remainder to bake some peaches.

It may sound like shilling for a liquor, but the other complex and wonderful part of this cocktail is the gin that is specified. I had thought that we had explored gin fairly extensively, but Tanqueray Rangpur is an amazing citrus and ginger version. My first inclination was to use a gin that I had on hand, but it seemed to be an unnecessary shortcut especially considering the difficulty in making the curry nectar. Good decision. Tanqueray Rangpur has to be the go-to gin for anyone who loves a gin and tonic.

The classic gimlet is one of my favorites. This version with its spice and strong lime presence through the liquor, and probably the kaffir leaves for those who can find them, was excellent. I’m sorry I did not get to experience it with Laurie’s food or with my former co-worker, but I loved it.

David’s Take: Unusual? That goes without saying, but a deft and creative cocktail… sometimes there’s a sort of artistry in this stuff.

Jonathan’s Take: David may worry about his complicated proposals but if they are this good – bring them on.

Next week’s proposal:

David noted a while ago that next week we will hit the one-year mark for this blog. Each of us will note some of the lessons that we have learned in this endeavor. We could probably set some arbitrary number, but why? The week after we will list what we consider the hits and misses of our proposals. Don’t forget that we want reader submissions on the latter!