Caipirinha

CachacaProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The World Cup in Brazil should have been your introduction to this cocktail, but if not get ready for the Olympics next year. We have tried a couple of cachaça cocktails, the batida and the caipirinha de uva, but had not tried this classic yet. Considered one of the 7 most basic cocktails, it is simple to make and will vary with each version of cachaça that you try. There is little doubt that the popularity of the Olympics and the simplicity of the drink will make it the cocktail of the summer next year.

To start with, cachaça is a sugar cane spirit produced almost entirely in Brazil. Rum is also a sugar cane spirit at its most basic, but the difference is that rum is produced from the molasses left at the end of sugar production while cachaça is made from fermented sugarcane. Rhum Agricole is similarly produced straight from the sugarcane. The result is a liquor that varies with each type of sugarcane or the region in which it is grown.

Cachaça and the caipirinha made with it have been around long enough that there are a number of versions of the history of both. Cachaça production probably dates to the 1500’s and Portuguese influence on Brazil. The spirit was then mixed with lime and sugar to cut the harsh taste that was distinctive of early cachaças. Much like many of the other rum and citrus drinks there also has to be truth to the mix being popular for sailors as a combination of inebriant and way to ward off scurvy.

Though a couple of translations of caipirinha exist, both speak to its popularity with the masses. One source indicates that it means “little countryside drink” while another says it is “little peasant girl.” Either way it is the traditional way to serve cachaça and varies with each example of the Brazilian spirit. I offered that if David preferred using Rhum Agricole, a spirit produced primarily in Martinique, he could make a Ti’ (short for petit) Punch which is also a basic mix of spirit, sugar and lime and another indicator that this cocktail has multiple origins.

There are a few variations of the recipe for a caipirinha but they all follow the simple mix of 2 ounces cachaça, half a lime and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. I made three versions (for three people), one with 2 teaspoons of demerara sugar, one with 2 teaspoons of leftover vanilla rich simple syrup from last week, and the third with 3 teaspoons standard simple syrup. All three included cutting the lime into smaller wedges, muddling with the sugar, and then adding c cachaça and ice. The demerara may have been the most successful if for no other reason than the rough crystals making the muddling easier. The cachaça was a gold version from Ypioca, and I would have tried one with Leblon, but discovered it was all gone. Wonder how that happened.

Here’s David’s Review:

CappydickUnfortunately much of what I know of Brazil derives from a report I gave in Ms. Cullen’s seventh grade social studies class, and caipirinha, I’m sure, didn’t make my parade of geography, politics, exports, imports, flora, fauna, and celebrations.

However, it’s easy to imagine caipirinha as a sort of national cocktail. It’s direct and simple—just juice, sugar, and spirit—but the inclusion of cachaça also makes it distinctive. The directions seemed complicated at first, but I can see, with a little practice, concocting the drink might become as unconscious as mixing a martini.

And, if you like cachaça, you stand a good chance of liking this drink. And I do like it. Describing how something tastes is never easy because you have to resort to nebulous vocabulary and/or comparisons, but I’d say cachaça is rum’s uncultured cousin. Rum seems refined to achieve a molassy, aged sophistication, but cachaça is more forthright, almost like an alcoholic version of coconut milk fresh out of the nut, intensely organic and somehow dense, just a step past chewing on a sugar cane or cactus fruit. I know it sounds a little dicey to say cachaça’s smells and tastes “funky”—especially because I don’t mean like James Brown, but like fruit just past ripened. Still, there’s something real about cachaça, as if someone just made it instead of synthesizing it in a laboratory.

With the caipirinha, it helps that lime adds an acidic counterpoint and also that, by muddling the lime, you invite some welcome bitterness. As I used confectioner’s sugar, the sweetness diffused nicely through the liquid without becoming over-sweet or dominating the cachaça.

I don’t recall this from my seventh grade report, but I’ve read that Brazilians love their sweets, and, as Jonathan did, I’d advise playing with the type and quantity of sugar you include in your recipe. And I do mean your recipe because—if you like caipirinhas—you’ll want to spend some time perfecting your version of it. As many of our other cocktails have demonstrated, infinite subtlety arises from playing around with a few simple ingredients, and I’d be willing to bet every Brazilian has some secret to impart about making the proper caipirinha.

David’s Take: If you’re searching for a worthy pursuit, you could do worse than devoting yourself to making the perfect caipirinha.

Jonathan’s Take: Cachaça, and the caipirinhas made with it, varies with each type. Since it is so distinctive, choose your cachaça wisely.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, we’ve been skirting the Martini, trying variations that swap out one ingredient or experimenting with exotic secondary ingredients. This week, I thought “Maybe it’s time to just go for for it, to make a damn Martini already,” but then I thought, “Nope.” So I’m proposing yet another alternate, one that comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual of 1882 and is called The Tuxedo. It includes dry vermouth but also a little Maraschino liqueur and an absinthe wash, and I’m making mine with Old Tom gin, true to the original.

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Vanilla Bourbon Champagne Cocktail

VBCCProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The romantic films of the late fifties and early sixties taught me champagne goes to your head more quickly than other types of alcohol. Count on it, once the cork pops Doris Day spills affection she means to keep bottled. Inhibitions vanish with an understanding only possible between the ungirdled. Then unlikely love blossoms, naturally.

Sorry if you continue to attribute special powers to champagne, but, chemically, alcohol is alcohol, and the inebriating potential assigned to champagne’s fizz is, sadly, dubious and perhaps imaginary.

Not that imagination is to be trifled with—science doesn’t support the existence of aphrodisiacs either, but people still invest in the idea.

However, in any case, Valentine’s Day seems like a great excuse to break out the bubbly and indulge imagination. Let’s be honest: husbands often approach this holiday with a special dread. Stakes are high, and my own record of making the day memorable is spotty. I like to think my wife and I have plenty of ungirdled love and understanding—champagne or not—but I’m all for celebrating with the good stuff if it gives me a way to express affection and supplies my wife with an answer when coworkers ask, “So, what did your lousy, good-for-nothing insensitive slob of a husband do for Valentine’s Day?”

They won’t exactly put it that way, of course, but that’s the gist.

As a category, champagne cocktails often aspire to beauty as well as flavor. The first, THE champagne cocktail that appeared (where else) in “Professor” Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book Bon Vivant’s Companion, combines champagne with cognac, angostura bitters and a sugar cube that produces lively bubbles when you drop it in the glass. Visit Martha Stewart’s site and you’ll find many other versions, each with a pleasing garnish and secondary ingredient that makes a celebrant say, “Now, what is that I’m tasting?”

This version, which has a great deal in common with the French 75, substitutes bourbon for that drink’s cognac and omits the simple syrup and lemon juice in favor of a vanilla syrup. Making syrups has become a sort of sub-hobby for me, and, though we’re running out of vessels to contain them all, I’m looking forward to adding this syrup to other drinks.

Here’s the recipe:

To Make Vanilla Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 vanilla beans
  1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan.
  2. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise into halves and place in a heatproof jar or bottle.
  3. Pour the hot syrup over the vanilla beans and let stand for 8 to 10 hours.
  4. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To Make the Drink:

  1. Mix the bourbon and syrup in a Champagne flute.
  2. Top with Champagne.
  3. Garnish with a vanilla bean.

As usual, I’ll save my response to this cocktail for the end of this post, but I’ll give this much away—an aspiring husband on Valentine’s Day could do worse than a Vanilla Bourbon Champagne Cocktail and a heart-shaped box of sushi.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmvbcc

There are cat people and dog people, morning people and night people, those who prefer chocolate to vanilla and versa vice. I would say I am firmly in the dog, night and chocolate categories. Of course there are exceptions. I’ve met a lot of cats that are great, morning is not so bad if I am going fishing or playing golf, and I think I understand the subtlety of vanilla better as I grow older.

This cocktail is an odd mix of bubbly, bourbon and the subtle vanilla. It seems like any liquor that is wood aged is described as having “vanilla notes” even if that is a difficult taste to discern. The bourbon that is called for in the recipe, Woodford Reserve, is no exception so it is hard to tell if it is the super simple syrup with its added vanilla bean or the spirit. That taste is there though, and it is that subtlety that distinguishes the drink. Bourbon and champagne are an odd mix but something, maybe that vanilla, ties them together.

The other thing to note about this drink is the combination of champagne with a liquor. I have always felt, with no scientific proof whatsoever, that the physiological effect of champagne is noticed more quickly than other alcohols. It makes no sense, alcohol is alcohol after all, but it seems to hold true and, when combined with a higher proof spirit like bourbon, seems to be even more pronounced. Maybe I can get some foundation to help me study that further.

The last thing to note is that David proposed this as a Valentine cocktail. I do appreciate the fact that my wife puts up with this blog and am grateful that David’s suggestion notes our wives’ role in this endeavor. It seems like it should be all fun, but keeping up with it each and every week, the sometimes odd ingredients, and the strained shelves of our liquor cabinet is not all roses.

Jonathan’s take: The cocktails with effervescent spirits are almost always good. This one proves that rule.

David’s Take: I wish I had an excuse to drink this cocktail more often.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have tried a drink called the Caipirinha de Uva, but I am proposing the traditional caipirinha. It is a very simple mix of cachaca, sugar and lime and is the national drink of Brazil. If David doesn’t have any more cachaca, a sugar cane rum, he is welcome to substitute a similar cocktail called Ti’ Punch made with Rhum Agricole (another sugarcane rum), sugar and lime.

Jane Russell Cocktail

JanetoblameProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

We have tried cocktails with great provenance, some with disputed backgrounds and a few with only sketchy details. The only ones that I can recall with no back story, however, were ones we created. The Jane Russell cocktail is an exception. Other than a description as “voluptuous” like the eponymous star, there is no explanation why her name is associated with this drink. I couldn’t even find a reference that she did drink and would warrant a guess that spirits were not a large part of her life.

The drink itself is another Manhattan variant like we tried a few weeks ago. In this case the bitters change from Angostura to chocolate and the sweetening agent is a mix instead of the simple sweet vermouth. The exact recipe that I used:

2 ounces rye whiskey
¼ ounce Benedictine
¼ ounce Grand Marnier
¼ ounce sweet vermouth
Dash of chocolate bitters (I used Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate)

Mix all ingredients, stir with ice until chilled, strain into a coupe, and garnish with orange zest.

Like the Monte Carlo which used Benedictine for the sweet vermouth to great success, the mix of three spirits in this drink provides an interesting range of flavors and background. I can’t say that I could taste the chocolate bitters directly, but there was a roundness to the drink that invoked the comfort of that confection.

The question that remains is, “Why there are drinks named after Rosalind Russell and Jane Russell and along with that what about other famous Russells?” As I said in the introduction, there doesn’t seem to be answer to the first question, and I may be the only person that cares about the second. In hope that I can change the latter, I am going to propose some ideas for other Russell cocktails:

The Bill Russell. Arguably the greatest shot blocker in the history or basketball, this drink has to be the opposite of a shot. It needs to be a long tall drink with some type of whiskey, seltzer and bitters. Take that weak ass shot out of here.

The Kurt Russell. I read that he is libertarian so any drink that follows a set recipe makes no sense. Just take whatever is on your liquor cabinet, throw it together and drink until you begin to believe you need to escape a dystopian society.

The Leon Russell. Classic, long lasting and cream based. Leon is still writing and making music and presumably still sports the long white/gray locks. I’m thinking moonshine, cream and a little southern comfort on ice.

The Patrick Russell. What, you have never heard of the famous Scottish herpetologist who was an expert on the vipers of India? This drink tries again to make use of Scotch in a cocktail, but disguises it with something so sweet you never see the kick coming until it strikes like a serpent. I have some honey sweetened chai tea that might work well.

The Pee Wee Russell. This jazz musician might have drank himself to death and was known for rousing himself in the morning with drink, so an alcoholic beverage may not be appropriate. He also enjoyed brandy milkshakes, whatever that is, so I am proposing a simple vanilla milkshake with an accent of the same chocolate bitters we used in this week’s drink. A sure hangover cure.

The Nipsey Russell. With that first name how is there not already a drink named after him? It needs to be a small nip, good for the working man and invoke some wry humor. Maybe a rye, stout beer and Absinthe shot.

And Here’s David’s Review:

JanyI confess some suspicion about cocktail recipes like this one that call for specific brands of this or that—Grand Marnier instead of triple sec or two kinds of rye instead of just rye. For one thing, no one ever asks for Old Overholt or Dekuyper Triple Sec and, for another, they assume a refinement of taste I can’t always manage… particularly when I’m drinking.

That said, I can tell the difference between Carpano Antica and sweet vermouth and, whether a recipe calls for it or not, I rely on it. As I’ve not doubt written before (and forgotten… because of the drinking), Carpano Antica is a more bitter and, dare I say, more complex than Martini and Rossi. And it was the right choice for this cocktail because it cut some of the sweetness in the triple sec and Benedictine.

As for the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, they were a nice touch, and, being a bitters fiend, I happened to have some chocolate bitters on hand. Did I taste them, you ask, did they make a big difference? I wish I could claim they did, but see my earlier comments about drinking and reviewing. I’ll plead the fifth and say they added “Something quite subtle and refined” to the recipe, but they aren’t cardamom bitters, which is to say I’m not still tasting them two days later.

This variation on a Manhattan produced a wonderful collective effect. A successful cocktail, after all, might rest more on the harmony of its components, a harmony so complete that you can’t separate them… particularly after you’ve had a couple. This drink certainly fits that description. With the Benedictine and Carpano Antica (yes, I am trying to see how many times I can inject that name into this review), the herbal notes of this cocktail came forward but in a mixed way. If you make this drink, you may want to bump up just a touch the Grand Marnier—I had Mandarine Napoleon on hand, which is a wonderful alternative. And no, these people whose products I tout don’t pay me a cent.

Jonathan’s take: Sorry about the repetition of Manhattan variants. At least it was good and I skipped the cross my heart puns from so long ago.

David’s take: I’d have another. Wait… I did have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

As Saturday is Valentine’s Day, I’d like to raise a toast to the two people who share in and, my wife might say, make this silly hobby of ours possible. To assure we appreciate them appropriately, I’m proposing a Vanilla Champagne Cocktail, which is a little like the French 75 except that it substitutes bourbon for brandy and will require Jonathan and I to make some vanilla simple syrup between now and Saturday. I’m counting on Jonathan being willing to make the sacrifice. I hope, like me, he doesn’t mind having another simple syrup on hand.

Chai Town

chai1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Chicago is the city of many nicknames: The Windy City, Second City, City of the Big Shoulders, Chi-Town, Chi-city, chai2My Kind of Town, Paris on the Prairie, That Toddling Town, The Chi (pronounced “Shy”), The Chill (or Chi-Ill), The City That Works, City on the Make, The Third Coast, or—especially this weekend—Chi-beria.

However, “Chai Town” isn’t one of our nicknames, just clever.

Many languages translate tea as chai, but, in Starbucks, tea houses, and the other swanky locales for studying, meeting, and relaxing, chai is a drink of Indian origins, a decoction of green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn. Oh, and actual tea—the black, strong sort. I used tea bags, but it also comes as powders and concentrates. It’s spicy, but understated, no one part overwhelms the other, not even the tea.

The other parts of this drink seem designed to coax out the components, especially the ginger, which the ginger liqueur echoes. I used to own ginger liqueur but drank it up—my brother might accuse me of tippling like an old lady—so I used a DIY version I found online. Though the recipe was some trouble and required three days, the result was, I think, a success. It was sweet and hot and, while not as syrupy as the store-bought version might be, quite flavorful. Plus, it didn’t cost $30.

As I mentioned in the description last week, part of the challenge this week was building a cocktail on the basis of a list of its ingredients instead of a recipe. What to do about proportions? Last fall, I attended a cocktail class that described the ideal cocktail as six ounces, with one-third allotted to water resulting from a vigorous shake. You’ll find my solution below, but I admit to taking the easy way out. One of my Christmas presents was a three-part jigger with indeterminate compartments for a three element drink. The packaging (naturally) promises a “Home Cocktail Revolution” free of doling out portions, but that didn’t move me to rely on trust. I measured each of the sections and discovered the smallest was half an ounce, the middle was an ounce, and the third and largest one and a half ounces. The ginger liqueur took the smallest room, the vodka the medium sized room, and the chai (the star, I figured) the largest. The total, four ounces, left only the honey and nutmeg to accommodate. I added a teaspoon of honey at the end (and even then I found most of it at the bottom of the shaker, paralyzed by the cold). The nutmeg I sprinkled on top… just like last week.

Okay, so my answer for the proportions question was a little gimmicky. If you wanted a stiffer drink, maybe reverse the chai and the vodka or go full out on the ginger liqueur, but to me the balance seemed about right.

Here’s my recipe:

1.5 oz. chai tea

.5 oz. ginger liqueur

1 oz. vodka

1 tsp. honey

nutmeg

Shake the ingredient together without ice, add the ice and shake a few times more. Garnish with the nutmeg.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jbm.chaiIt may not be the most correct use of the word, but I feel like David’s choice of drinks offered us the chance to be forensic mixologists. Obviously we had the four ingredients but not the ratios, and I admit to being stumped how to mix them. I tried looking for similar drinks, the ratios of standard coupe cocktails, and simply ones that used one or more of the four parts. None of that worked very well until I went back a few weeks to our chopped cocktail experience and a lesson from the show. Use one ingredient as an accent to another.

I am a southerner. Said it before and say it now. That means if I am having tea, chai or otherwise, it needs to have some sweetness. Ergo, the honey was the sweetener for the steeped tea, and I only had three ingredients to work with. Since most coupe style cocktails are 3 ounces of drink that left options for an equal part cocktail (1:1:1), or a more common 2:1:1.

The ginger liqueur was a revelation all by itself. First, David included a link to a do it yourself version and it was well worth the effort. Second, the comments that were included following the recipe did some things that almost no such section on-line ever does—they added to the instructions, explained parts of it, offered excellent alternatives and in general were delightful to read. Who knew that comments sections like that existed? And finally, the home made liqueur is fantastic, a drink all by itself.

The liqueur is strong and assertive, though, so I decided on the ratio that used less. Vodka, ginger liqueur, and chai tea (sweetened with honey) mixed at a 2:1:1. Based on the comments section with the liqueur recipe, I also decided it needed a lemon peel garnish. The drink was great, but most of that goes back to the assertive ginger. It had an interesting mix of flavors, increased because I had saved one of our infused vodkas from last year (lemongrass and ginger candy) in my freezer and used that instead of standard. It’s not a drink you will find in bars outside of Chicago perhaps, but take the time to make the liqueur and once you do that, try the drink.

Jonathan’s take: Lots and lots of tastes, all combining to work together. Like the rare on-line comment section

David’s take: Spicy and fun—a nice break from more intense cocktails, though not as dramatic either.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year we tried a Rosalind Russell at David’s suggestion, and I spent the week confusing one actress with another, Rosalind with Jane. I asked my youngest son to help with a suggestion for next week with the limitation that it contain chocolate bitters. And what do you know – there’s a Jane Russell cocktail that does just that. Now, if I can manage to keep from confusing her with Rosalind.