Whiskey Sour

WhiskeySourJBMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The sour is one of the most basic of cocktails. A mix of spirit, sweet, and sour elements with no augmentation required provides a simple and refreshing drink. We’ve tried the Pisco Sour, which is in the end a direct derivation of the early brandy sour, but to this point have not had a whiskey sour. Perhaps the end of the Mad Men series was a good week to try this classic that started its fall out of favor in the 60’s-70’s.

The popularity of sours spanned more than a century from the 1860’s to 1960’s. David Wondrich tracks sours of all types back to a time before the famous Jerry “Professor” Thomas—although the father of all bartending, or so it seems, included the drink and discussions of it in his guides. If there was a debate about such a simple drink, Thomas engaged in that discussion about how sweet or sour the end product should be. There were also the inevitable flourishes, a swirl of claret perhaps, as mixologists provided their own touches to lessen the simple.

That sweet/sour debate is obvious when one looks for recipes for a classic whiskey sour. Bourbon is the preferred spirit, but, after that, the proportion of sweet, proportion of sour and what type of sweetening agent varies by source. Early recipes are marked by sugar dissolved in a small amount of water, which gave way to sugar and seltzer water, and that in turn was replaced by syrup.

There were eventually variations that used some egg white for a frothier drink (a Boston Sour), and, in what was probably part of the demise of the drink, sour mixes that provided sweet, sour and froth all in one bottled mix. I settled on a simple ratio:

2 ounces bourbon
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice (approximately one small lemon)

Mix those three, shake with ice, strain over new ice in a glass and garnish with an orange slice and cherry. This is a drink that has its own glass, a small goblet style, but my cabinet runneth over on glassware so I went with an old fashioned glass.

I had every intention of trying one basic sour and then a Boston Sour but one was enough. It’s not that this isn’t a classic for a reason—it was very good—it’s just that the combination of sweet and sour all too effectively blends with the bourbon to the point you almost forget it is there. A dangerous combination on a warm afternoon so one was enough.

Here’s David’s Review:

WSDMIn my cocktailian experience, the classic drinks aspire to the greatest subtlety. A serious mixologist will tell you that introducing a quarter of an ounce more vermouth to a martini, substituting a different bitter in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, or reordering the preparation of a Caipirinha makes all the difference. Still not-so-savvy after nearly two years on this blog, I wonder how much subtlety is lost on me.

People often say of art, “I don’t know much about it, but I know what I like.” That’s my response this week. I tried three Whiskey Sours, one with the traditional bourbon, one with rye, and a third with Canadian Whisky. All were good. To me, the key to the drink isn’t in the spirit but in the lemon that stands up well in such a spirituous libation—otherwise, but for a little optional sugar, it’s all alcohol. I’m not at all sure what the word “bracing” means in culinary diction (if it means anything at all), but that’s the word I want to use. From the first sip, you know you are holding a real drink.

And, actually, if you like the ingredients, I wonder how you could mess it up. The taste certainly changed with the different spirits, but the bracing aspect of the cocktail didn’t. Of all the whiskeys, I like rye most, so I enjoyed that Whiskey Sour, but the other tasters in my family thought the mellow and round character of bourbon balances the lemon best. I’m not averse to testing their theory further, as this cocktail is not only incredibly easy to make but also incredibly easy to quaff (see: Three Whiskey Sours).

Which leads to my one quibble about drinks like the Whiskey Sour. They’re perfect for sipping, and with all the ice, the quantity seems tiny. For me, it disappears too quickly, and I want another. That said, my brother will confirm that I am the world’s fastest consumer of food and drink. I often look down to discover an empty plate or glass with symptoms of “foodnesia”—I search my mind to remember what I just ingested and how it may have tasted. I’m no sipper, and making Whiskey Sours my constant drinking companion might lead to slurred speech, lambada demonstrations, and/or impromptu Elvis impersonations (my personal favorite: Love Me Tender).

You, Dear Reader, might consider that outcome a good thing, and my worry of cutting loose certainly says volumes about my enjoyment of this classic cocktail. But I’m generally a restrained and reserved person who hopes to navigate life with as much dignity as I can manage. If I’m only going to have one drink, the Whiskey Sour won’t be it.

Jonathan’s take: The great debates of cocktails still amuse me. Too much sour! No too much sweet!

David’s Take: Now I know what to order whenever I’m sitting at the bar waiting for our table to be ready.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

There’s no guarantee that, even by next weekend, our fancier cocktail glasses will emerge from moving boxes, so I devised two requirements for next week’s choice—it has to use a Collins glass (we have those) and it has to include Gin (I like Gin). So we’ll be making a Salty Dog, a variety of the Greyhound Cocktail (gin, grapefruit juice, and lime) that calls for salting the rim of the glass. That, we can also do.

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Moving Sale

Moving Sale Ver 2Proposed By: David

Enacted By: David and Jonathan

Maybe the expression, “Necessity is the mother of invention” shouldn’t apply to cocktails. Putting aside the troublesome aspects of drinking being a “necessity,” mixology seems a more deliberate science involving arduous research and development, subtle variation and adjustment, measurement and refinement. The ingredients are too precious after all, and no one wants a bartender who presents some sloppy, improvised “invention.” And yet…

We’re moving this week, and, for the past week or so, I’ve been roaming my house sorting through our possessions, boxing some and giving or throwing the rest away. Anyone who’s transplanted recently knows that moment when you realize these things possess you and not the other way around and decide you really should have hired a hot-air balloon for your move instead of a truck.

As fun as it is being a not-so-savvy cocktailian, my liquor shelf feels especially burdensome, with all those bottles I’d opened for a few ounces and the others I’ve used nearly to the bottom. Well, the luridly colored Crème de Menthe, Crème de Violette, and Blue Curacao will have to come with us, and—who knows?—someday I may have a serious hankering for Kahlua or Tuaca (because stranger things have happened), but surely I can do something about those dregs.

Anyway, that’s the thinking behind this week’s cocktail challenge. I wanted to invent a drink called The Moving Sale to consume those spirits and other ingredients near exhaustion. On my mythical moving company hot-air balloon, every ounce is precious, so I gathered some candidates for casting off and set out to experiment.

Had my standards been lower, I could have chosen a number of bottles, but I ended up with just those pictured above, each with an ounce or two of liquid remaining, plus some stuff in the refrigerator like coconut cream and homemade grenadine that simply had to go. I even included my Pechaud and Orange Bitters, though it might take another year or so to spend the last couple of ounces of those.

Here are the two drinks I invented (followed by a brief appraisal):

Moving Sale Drink 1Moving Sale 1:

1 oz. Frangelico

2 oz. Aquavit

2 oz. Grenadine

1 oz. Lemon Juice

Fill a shaker with ice and all the ingredients, shake, and serve.

The Frangelico stands up remarkably well against the Aquavit, and, because it’s on the sweet side with the addition of grenadine, it needs the lemon and bitters to balance it.

Moving Sale 2:

2.5 oz. Tequila Blanco

2 oz. coconut cream

Macerated Mint Leaves

2 dashes orange bitters

Fill a shaker with ice and all the ingredients, shake, and serve.

This one seemed a little odd to me. For one, coconut cream must work better with rum and, for another, mint and coconut? Still, as strange as it seems, this version had a nice botanical gravity.

Here’s Jonathan’s version:

This week’s drink proposal, concept really, was birthed from David’s need to purge before a move. Every time David mentions relocating I think back to when he and my sister-in-law, Beth, left Louisville. He is anything but a sentimentalist when it comes to things, at least ordinary things, and he claimed that each time during that move there was a disagreement about whether to move something or chunk it he slipped a note in the box. That note said something to the effect that if it had not been discovered before the next move the item or items had to be abandoned.

With that memory in mind, I have been imagining Beth paying him back. I see her dropping tiny waterproof capsules into the odd bottle of spirit. Each capsule in this scenario contains an even tinier note that tells the discoverer the liquor must be dumped if the note has not been read by a set date. Of course, I haven’t told my wife about this strange fantasy for fear that I will someday wonder what is floating in those bottles of crème de menthe, blue curacao, and crème de violette.

The real idea for this week was to take three items that were in short supply and exhaust them in a simple mixed drink. It could also have meant that I was supposed to make up my own drink, but during the week I rediscovered the Preakness cocktail. Devoted readers and followers of all things horse racing know that the official drink of The Preakness is now the Black Eyed Susan (a new sponsored version), but at one time it was a Manhattan variation. It is a mix of 2 ounces rye whiskey, 1 ounce red vermouth, ½ teaspoon of Benedictine and two dashes of Angostura bitters. All of that is stirred with ice, strained into a coupe and garnished with lemon peel.

If the true intent was to empty bottles it was a smashing success. First, I had an old bottle of vermouth that had long ago gone bad in the fridge and it was emptied and recycled without using any of it. The next dead soldier was a bottle of rye. In fact, I thought I had two of those, but the other must have gone away long ago so we worked on finishing a wheat whiskey that may never be gone. The bonus was that we had relatives over and a dwindling bourbon bottle breathed its last vanilla and oak scented breaths. We’re not moving so I can’t wait to see what takes their place.

Jonathan’s take: I like this idea. Wonder what crème de violette, crème de menthe and blue curacao mixed together would taste like?

David’s take: Maybe both of my drinks should be called accident, but—if so—they were happy accidents.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I knew there had to be a classic that we have missed, and there was. Since David will still be in the process of moving, I am suggesting a whiskey sour. Surely in a big city like Chicago, David can find that and a few dozen variations too no doubt.

 

Pimm’s #1 Cup

pimmsJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This drink has intrigued me for a long time. I am not ashamed to admit that it was simply the name and pictures of the drink that did it too. The first part was curiosity about who, or what, Pimm was and whether there were other numbers of cups. Pull out or pull up any well illustrated cocktail guide and one will see what I mean about the pictures. The drink is usually an amber liquid packed with fruit, cucumber, mint and ice. It screams summer.

It ends up that James Pimm was a restaurateur in London who owned an oyster bar. The number 1 elixir he created in the 1840’s was a liqueur of gin, quinine and herbs meant as a curative (what else) and digestif. It was mixed in large batches, much like the punches of American bars of the 1800’s, and served by the tankard or cup full. The popularity increased to the point that it began to spread to other bars, eating establishments, and eventually by the bottle.

The popularity of the #1 continues today. It is a popular summer drink in Britain with various sources suggesting that 40-80 thousand pints are sold during the Wimbledon tennis tournament alone. Even New Orleans claims the drink (erroneously) as a summer cocktail of lower alcohol content for those who don’t want to drink less, but do want to pace themselves. There were other numbers, five others in fact, that were made with different spirit bases but only the #1 and a winter cup are sold widely now.

There doesn’t seem to be one definitive recipe, and I will be curious to see how David concocted it. The basics are one part of Pimm’s #1 to two to four parts mixer with a garnish of fruit, cucumber and mint. The mixer of choice is lemon-lime soda (called lemonade in England apparently), but alternatives include ginger ale or soda water for those who want to cut the sweet. I made three versions but each started with this basic mix of liqueur, cucumber and fruit:

2 ounces Pimm’s #1
1 slice cucumber (recipes said English cuke but I have no idea what that is)
1 wheel of lemon
A few pieces of quartered strawberries
Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries

In the basic version those were stirred together, ice added, and it was all topped with 4 ounces of lemon lime soda that was stirred in lightly. I forgot the mint, but that would have been a good time to add it.

Other versions simply added or substituted. The first was a strawberry version that started the day before. I blended up a bunch of strawberries, strained them through a sifter until I had a cup of liquid, and then warmed that in sauce pan with a cup of sugar to make a strawberry syrup (nothing simple about it). In case you were wondering, it is excellent drizzled over a piece of toast that had been smeared with peanut butter. That’s healthy, right? The final version was the basic recipe with ginger ale instead of lemon-lime soda. The standard Blenheim worked well although someone who really wanted to elevate the drink could try the extra hot. The subtle Pimm’s might get lost in that though.

The end result of all this experimenting is a cocktail as healthy as any we have tried. I tasted the strawberry syrup version, but preferred the basic or the ginger ale mix. All of the tasters ended up digging out the fruit at the end and eating it as the dessert part of the cocktail meal. Tasty.

And Here’s David’s Review:

PimmyMy encounters with British literature, television, and cinema have taught me some important Britishisms like “in hospital” instead of “in THE hospital,” the pronunciation of “Frus-TRAIT-ed” and the spelling of “gaol” instead of “jail.”

This exposure to British culture has also created some lasting curiosities, like, “How do you pronounce ‘Pshaw’?” and “What the hell does Pimm’s taste like?”

Thanks to Jonathan, I can at least tentatively answer one of those questions. As is my practice, I tried a little Pimm’s before adding it to this week’s cocktail. I decided Pimm’s is red. It’s amber, as Jonathan said, but it tastes rather, well… red. It’s not that it’s strawberry or cherry or cinnamon or punch or anything that must be red. It possesses the unspecified flavor of foods with a convenient rather than essential color. It’s citrusy (sort of) and spicy (sort of), which I suppose makes it a good mixer with soft drinks, gin, and other spirits.

By itself, meh.

The proper sort of additives, however, must really make this drink. I made my version with lemon, strawberry, cucumber, and mint. I see how the combination works. Lemon is more sour than sweet, and, when a strawberry is perfect, it’s sweet but also acidic. Cucumber has a surprisingly distinctive settling strength when it’s used indulgently. Mint is aromatic, and, though it’s not as important here as in a julep, it renders the cocktail a more complete sensory experience.

But I also made strawberry syrup. And that syrup… and that Seven-Up. I suspect that, with better strawberries or less sugar, I might like the syrup more, but it was dense and sickly sweet and, for me, sunk any chance of the drink being refreshing or light. The Seven-Up only added to that effect. We tried other versions—my wife had a second made with lemon-lime seltzer and I used tonic for the second version—but both still seemed heavy. If I was going to create a drink like this from scratch, I’d just muddle the cucumber, strawberry, and mint and have done with it.

Of course, I’d like to try this drink at Wimbledon. What drink wouldn’t taste better amid such pageantry? And whenever one of our concoctions doesn’t wow me, I wonder what I must have done wrong, what secret I missed in preparing it. How can such a popular drink not wow me? Perhaps the problem was how I cooked the syrup or the proportions of soft drink to alcohol or the gray (or should that be “grey”) stormy weather outside that seemed to call for a tarp and a rain delay. I don’t know. I just wasn’t blown away.

I’m happy, however, to have a bottle of Pimm’s #1 to experiment with, and some interesting possibilities for its use occurred to me right away. Maybe Pimm’s means to be a supporting player, the understated actor who draws no attention to him or herself but assembles the assemble. I’ll find out.

Jonathan’s take: Some days, like this Mother’s Day spent with Pimm’s, I wish we could stop at favorite drink for a while. Science and experimentation beckons us though.

David’s Take: I wanted to really love it and only liked it.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’re moving soon, and I keep staring at my liquor shelf, thinking which bottles are closest to being empty, which contents can be consumed and bottles jettisoned before we load everything else on a truck. Thus, selfishly, I’m proposing a drink called “Moving Sale” invented in his own way by Jonathan and my own way by me. The rules are that it consist of three ingredients we might exhaust. My respect for the spare and simple life grows as we gather our stuff in boxes. Let’s raise a drink to casting off.

Julep Varietals

JulepDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I went to the Kentucky Derby with our wives in the mid 80s, we parked our infield picnic blanket next to some proto-bros with a water balloon catapult. A couple of races in, they found their range and pinned a poor racing form seller inside his tin hut. An official-looking person arrived with commands to desist, but by then they were out of ammo anyway. Around three in the afternoon, they began launching their uneaten ham sandwiches instead.

People drink a lot at the Derby.

Churchill Downs’ mint juleps have a reputation for being a little watery, but I think I remember downing a few that day. And it makes me laugh when people talk about juleps as a genteel drink. At three parts bourbon to one part simple syrup, home versions can be quite strong. The idea is to sip them, allowing the ice to dilute their potency, but I enjoy them so much I seldom manage it.

A mint julep is technically a “smash,” a group of drinks defined by spirit (not necessarily bourbon), crushed ice, and macerated mint (or basil, or something leafy). The idea is to coat the glass with the oils of the leaf and lend an aromatic quality to the libation. In the classic julep, mint simple syrup is the short cut. In one of the julep alternatives I tried, “The Wild Ruffian,” (here’s a link to the recipe) the syrup is made of peach preserves, and the mint is pulverized with a muddler. That drink also called for cognac instead of bourbon, so I doubt anyone would recognize the concoction as a “julep.” Nor do I think Churchill Downs would ever serve one… or certainly not in the infield.

Another of the drinks both Jonathan and I tried was the Oaks Lily (recipe link), named for the featured race for fillies highlighting the day before the Derby. When I lived in Louisville, seeing the Oaks in the grandstands was actually affordable and accessible for commoners—no more, apparently—and the Oaks Lily is also suitably direct, relying on vodka over bourbon and cranberry and lime juices, plus a splash of triple sec, instead of simple syrup. Not a sprig of mint is to be seen anywhere, so it wouldn’t really qualify as a smash, just a way to preserve Saturday for the real julep.

As Jonathan explains below, he tried yet another julep alternative called a Bufala Negra, but, despite our experimentation, we both needed to make real juleps too. It’s not that they’re fancy—what could be plainer than 3:1 bourbon to syrup?—but they are tradition. And, if they are good enough for infielders, they are good enough for us.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JulepJMIt has been my impression that there are many places where the idea of a mint julep is met with disdain. The drink is decidedly a bourbon concoction, but if you love bourbon you don’t need, or want, the dilution and sweetening of the mint or simple syrup. If it is the latter that you like, there’s a good chance that bourbon is not your favorite. All of that is a shame because of how well the flavors go together.

Many years ago David and I had a very bad bourbon experience, and I had sworn off the stuff. A beach trip with our siblings and families helped with my gradual tolerance, and eventual embrace, of the brown liquor. Each sibling had a night when they were responsible for dinner and a cocktail and David chose to make juleps. The key to his mix was a well-crafted mint simple syrup that, to me, makes the difference in a julep. By mixing mint in the syrup, there is no need for dissolving sugar in water, muddling of mint or waiting for the inevitable melding. The two ingredients just mix with their friend crushed ice and a long sip later make for a wonderful combination.

This week was about alternatives though and we tried a couple of them. The first was a drink that was suggested in Southern Living that both David and I tried. I trust that David has provided the recipe for the Blush Lily which is the magazine’s take on the classic drink. It is a nice alternative for those who don’t like bourbon although some may find it more tart than sweet with lime and cranberry as the juices. We tried adding a splash of Blenheim ginger ale and that seemed to address that aspect as well as extend the drink.

My second alternative julep is called the Bufala Negra. I have no idea where that name came from but it is a mix of bourbon and basil with an interesting twist:

4 basil leaves
1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
½ ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounce bourbon

Muddle 3 basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and simple syrup. Add bourbon, crushed ice and stir. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.

The interesting part of this drink is how well the flavors mix. I was wary of drinking even a small amount of vinegar, but mixed with the basil and syrup it was a great match for bourbon. The end result was a less bourbon forward cocktail that still had the sweetness and herbal qualities of a classic julep.

Jonathan’s Take: The classic julep is still the best, but the Blush Lily is great for those who don’t love bourbon and the Negra is an interesting alternative for those who love variety.

David’s Take: The classic is still king, but the others are welcome variations

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I have been getting some grief about proposing the drink of Wimbledon well before the sporting event. The Pimm’s Cup is a classic drink of summer, however, and there seem to be a number of varieties that showcase different fruits. It is strawberry season all over the country and I wanted a drink that used that fruit without being a return to the sweetness and rum of tiki week.