Maharani Cocktail

Proposed By: Jonathanjbm

Reviewed By: David

It would be a stretch to call anything related to a cocktail blog a responsibility although there are parts that feel that way. Each week we provide some background to the drink, its history, the reason we selected it or some context that affected our perception of it. More often than not that requires some shorthand that does not do justice to the drink or its creation. I suspect that most readers are more interested in the drink itself though so hopefully it works.

The reason I bring all that up is the name of this drink. To summarize that name I need to summarize a miniscule part of the culture of India and do so in less than a paragraph. The summary is so miniscule that I fear offending people who know and understand the incredible diversity of that country and subcontinent. Alas, I have my responsibilities as a not so savvy cocktailian, so here it goes.

The words raja and rani, and various spellings, are best known to me as crossword solutions. The true definition of raja or rani is a prince/king or princess/queen in India. From Sanskrit origin, the maha portion means a great prince or princess superior to the raja/rani. The maharani in particular can be the wife of the maharaja or the princess/queen leader. So what does that have to do with this drink? Absolutely nothing that I can determine, except perhaps the base alcohol, but it is that base of Tanqueray Rangpur that led me to this drink in the first place.

The recipe comes from another blog and I could not find any other reference to it anywhere. The Intoxicologist wrote the Straight Up Cocktail blog and it appears this is an original drink:

1.5 ounce Tanqueray Rangpur gin
1.5 ounce St. Germain
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
Lemon and lime wheels for garnish

Mix the first three ingredients, shake with ice (or stir in my case) and strain into a coupe. Garnish with the lemon and lime wheels.

It has been a long time since we used the Tanqueray Rangpur gin and I have to wonder why. Flavored with the exotic lemon and mandarin hybrid, this gin may be the best connection to the maharani name with its origin traced to Rangpur, Bangladesh. The unique citrus taste accentuates the gin even more than the classic combination with lime. I have found few liquors during this endeavor as interesting and appealing.

Here’s David’s Review:

dbmmWhen proposing cocktails, my brother—considerate soul he is—thinks of ingredients purchased for earlier recipes. Unintentionally, however, he makes choices that sometimes fill me with shame. That bottle of Chartreuse I’m supposed to have put aside… well… and that Mezcal… well… It’s not that I’m overindulging. It’s just that, when I like something… well… Please note that my bottle of crème de menthe is nearly full.

I did have enough St. Germain to make two Maharani cocktails for my wife and me, but the rest of the St. Germain disappeared long ago in various “experiments” and nightcaps. Anyone who has tried elderflower liquor probably relates.

And the Rangpur. I’m glad it’s still available at my local liquor superstore. Gin is my favorite base spirit, and I like all its manifestations. Whatever gin I have on hand goes into gin and tonics or even—once every great while—some martini variation. I can’t seem to hang onto gin for long. It’s amiable to so many cocktails. It’s not my fault.

Rangpur is also a particular favorite of mine. Like Jonathan, I’ve developed the habit of trying ingredients alone when we combine them in cocktails. Rangpur is less piney than dry gin, less sweet than Old Tom, more floral and, more citrusy than any other gin. At the same time, it’s hardly one-note. I also taste a bit of anise and maybe some bay leaf.

Not every sum is greater than its parts, but sometimes the promise of parts proves valid—what could go wrong with St. Germaine and Rangpur? A variation of the gimlet, this cocktail had me at the ingredient list. Fresh and sophisticated, the Maharani offers a dramatic citrus attack and the subtle herbal interplay of liqueur.

It’s also sweet, maybe too sweet for some people, and I wondered what it might be like to combine it with tonic in a taller glass filled with ice. Perhaps it’s my age, but bitterness seems natural to me. I looked for something to triangluate the acidity and sugar of this drink.

But I didn’t look that hard. If you like gimlets, you will love this cocktail. Maybe, like me, you won’t be able to keep the components long.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe the name came about because you feel like a maharaja or maharani when drinking this exotic and interesting cocktail.

David’s Take: I could order this one quite a few more times.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’ve arrived at our second anniversary on this blog and will celebrate the occasion as we did last year, by naming the drinks we liked best (and least) and offering some lessons for the year. I don’t know how Jonathan feels, but I actually feel that much more savvy. Nonetheless, we are more experienced… and that should yield some discoveries.

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Roasted Fig Cocktail

Figgy2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Figs are, for me, lovable fruit. If they were human, they might be those amiable friends you take for granted. Sure, they’re less than gorgeous and at times positively gritty, almost too real inside, but you can’t doubt their sweetness, even when it’s subtle. And, if you’re lucky, when the time is right, they seem to just be there, waiting for you to reach out.

Jonathan, both my sisters, and my older brother grow (or have grown) figs, and they may regard them differently. I never think of figs’ proliferation, their appeal to birds or deer, and the obligations of using an overabundant yearly harvest resourcefully. They will never be the zucchini yield my coworkers seems to proffer. I regard them as supermarket treats. They never last long enough.

All those feelings account for my search for a cocktail exploiting figs. This summer, this blog has focused on seasonal fruit, and, as we edge toward fall, figs seemed the ideal choice. If the groceries are already offering Octoberfest beer, why not turn toward some of the warmer flavors of autumn? The particular recipe I chose also includes a nod to the shrub we tried a few weeks ago. The roasting that creates the fig puree owes a great deal to the balsamic vinegar balancing sweet and sour. The inclusion of maple syrup and bourbon only add to the transitional character of this cocktail. It’s neither a light nor refreshing cocktail of summer. Instead, it’s rich and dense.

Yet, I’m hoping it’s also a little fun. Maybe that’s because I can’t help thinking of that old Nabisco ad. Those “of a certain age” will remember it—a nebbish-y guy named “Big Fig” wearing a fig costume calls on the piano player Hal to help him sing a paean—decidedly off-key—to the virtues of Fig Newtons. Meanwhile he does a dance that’s not nearly as difficult as he thinks. At one point, he cries, “Here’s the tricky part!” and strikes a pose. Of course it’s not tricky at all. My brother and I could do it at ease, from memory. It’s ordinary, and most viewers at the time probably said, “How silly.”

Maybe I’m alone in extolling the virtues of underappreciated figs, but… well… I love them.

Here’s the recipe:

For the fig purée:

  • 12 ripe figs, halved
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

For the cocktail:

  • 1 heaping teaspoon fig purée
  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon
  • 1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce maple syrup
  • Dash orange bitters

Directions

  1. To make the fig purée: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the figs in a 9″x9″ metal baking pan and pour the balsamic vinegar over top. Bake for 12 minutes, stirring twice to prevent burning. Remove the figs from the oven and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  1. Pour the figs and remaining liquid into the blender and purée until fully blended. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  1. To make the cocktail: Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add fig purée, bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup, and orange bitters. Shake for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmfig

We have used some odd ingredients. For instance, the very first cocktail included a peanut orgeat. A regular orgeat with almonds, which we also made and used, is different enough but that peanut one was messy, sticky and oddly delicious. The Bengali Gimlet included so many spices that I still have a small part of the spice shelf devoted to the left overs. There have been vinegars, multiple syrups, and a few peculiar fruits. This week was a different fruit and a vinegar. Bonus.

The combination of figs and balsamic vinegar to create a paste wasn’t hard and it did result in wonderful smelling kitchen. I used black mission figs mostly because that was what I could find but also because the ones I am growing have been an easy snack for all of the critters that have been enjoying my attempt at an edible landscape. It created a paste that is a dark purple studded with gold seeds which is lovely. I hope the picture shows off both the purple and the gold floaties as it was quite a visual.

The drink itself was interesting which discerning readers will recognize as transparent code for “I won’t be making more of these.” It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it especially with it unique taste. It just wasn’t special enough that I would be blending up a batch of fig paste each week to make more. The bourbon also got lost in the drink to the point that I think the proportion needs to be increased to at least 2 ounces. It might also cut some of the thickness of the paste, which you get with that heaping teaspoon.

My question now is what do I do with the rest of that paste? I am afraid that the balsamic vinegar would stand out too much to throw some in a smoothie. I could have bought some frozen pastry dough and whooped up some homemade newtons, but that thought only occurred to me after we had been shopping. Not to mention that there is probably not enough paste even after all the scraping I did to get it out of the blender. I think the best option is crostini, cream cheese and a schmear of paste. Mmmm, fig paste!

Jonathan’s take: One of the prettiest drinks that we have made

David’s take: Certainly not an everyday drink, but enjoyable

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Did anyone know there is more than one Maharani cocktail? Me neither. The one I am proposing uses Tanqueray Rangpur (that goes back to the Bengali Gimlet) and St. Germain. I still have both and am hoping that David does too.

Top 100 Cocktails

drink.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Proposed By: David

The proposal that each of us try a top 100 cocktail should have included a link to a definitive list. The problem, of course, is that there is no definitive list. Sure there are plenty of opinions, lists by drink category and even more scientific lists that purport to determine popularity by internet searches but all of them have differences based on their perspective.

David had sent me a list many months ago from a restaurateur in Houston. Bobby Heugel’s top 100 is from his restaurant Anvil Bar & Refuge. It has gone through the occasional revision but has remained mostly consistent in representing the best from various categories of drinks. Since I was going to be traveling, including in Houston, that seemed like a good list to use. It also seemed serendipitous and my plan was to go to Anvil to try the top 100 cocktail there. Only problem was that I read somewhere that Anvil is not open on Sundays (the day I would have a chance to go) so the best I could do was go by on the way to a couple of places near there on Westheimer Road.

We’ve written that David and I spent our formative years in Texas and that resulted in my being a lifelong Astros fan. My two sons and I were in Houston to see a couple of games, and my nephew picked us up on Sunday night to have dinner with him and my niece. We ended up in on Westheimer at a couple of wonderful places for a beer and then dinner and Anvil was in between. Anvil was open. Sometimes serendipity is a booger, but I sure am glad we got to spend some time with my niece and nephew.

It all worked out the next night though when my oldest son and I found a classic cocktail spot in San Antonio. The Last Word is not too far in distance from the Alamo but its location below street level is a long way from the standard tourist spots downtown. They have their own short list of classic cocktails, including some on tap and some of their own creations. After a long day of walking and a great meal, I chose the classic Boulevardier as both a digestif and a way to unwind and relax. Their version is served on the rocks (nice medium square ones) rather than strained into a coupe. Something worth trying for the Negroni in my opinion.

The Boulevardier is the older cousin of the Negroni. The latter may be the more famous with its mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but the former predates it based on published recipes. It substitutes whiskey, either bourbon or rye, for the gin and depending on taste includes more of that base rye or bourbon.

The drink dates back to the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris that is credited for the creation of a number of classics. Harry McElhone of that bar is sometimes given credit though it seems more likely that Edward Gwynne was the one who came up with it or inspired the drink. Gwynne had moved to Paris around prohibition and had started a magazine called The Boulevardier that was intended to mimic The New Yorker. The term “boulevardier” is synonymous with flaneur and indicates, on very simplistic terms, a stroller, lounger or man about town. That seems very apt for a sophisticated drink that combines the depth of whisky, the bitter of Campari and the smoothing properties of a quality sweet vermouth.

David’s Drink:

Bramble2One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about this blog is, “How long have you been doing it?” Recently—now that we’ve written about over 100 drinks—another question follows, “Are there any drinks left?”

Well, obviously. I’m not sure how many cocktails exist. That may be a Neoplatonic question, after all, more a matter of asking “What IS a cocktail and is it a material thing or an ideal that exists apart from the physical universe?” I’m sure, however, of more than 100. In fact, as Jonathan said, there seem to be more than 100 Classic cocktail lists for the top 100 cocktails. Using the list above, we’ve tried 27 (I counted) and that leaves 63 (times the number of other lists).

In choosing which of the remaining classics, I let my liquor cabinet do the talking. I looked for what was possible given my supplies, and I discovered a recipe, The Bramble, that asked for Crème de Mure (a blackberry liqueur), half a bottle of which I just so happen to possess, thanks to the generosity of a friend… and cocktail abettor.

There are many Bramble recipes online, but here’s a link to the one I used.

Like many of the classics, the Bramble is a simple concoction, relying on gin, simple syrup, lemon, and the Crème de Mure, but—also characteristically classic—it requires a certain sophistication in its use of these ingredients. If it’s to work really well, you need two types of ice, cubes to cool the cocktail (minus the liqueur) in a shaker and crushed ice for the glass. You also have to be pretty good at pouring patiently, as drizzling the blackberry over the gin—and lemon and simple syrup—soaked ice creates a cascading effect as the heavier liqueur drips through.

Alas, as you might see in the photo I’m not savvy enough to capture that moment in my photo. Nonetheless, take my word for it, for a second or so the drink was beautiful.

The non-egg-headed explanation for the proliferation of cocktails, of course, is that so many variables (and variables of variables) make a drink what it is. We’ve tasted a number of fruit based drinks recently, for instance, but what makes a Bramble different is the refinement of the liqueur. It isn’t fresh blackberry or blackberry syrup but closer to a brandy, so it gives this the mixture depth and gravity. In fact, the simple syrup is optional, as far as I’m concerned, because a Bramble is sweet enough without it, and the lemon doesn’t overwhelm the Crème de Mure, which has sufficient density to even things out.

As Jonathan explained, one reason for this week’s post is that he was in Houston and wanted a drink he might order out. I’m not sure many bars have Crème de Mure on hand, but, if they do, it’d be worth asking for a Bramble. You’ll certainly look like you know what you’re doing, and you’re likely to enjoy it too.

Jonathan’s take: It could just be the drink, or the good company with whom I enjoyed it, but I am ready to give Campari a try again after the delicious Boulevardier.

David’s Take: The Bramble is a genteel drink, and, as the Crème de Mure ran through the ice, I felt just a little savvy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My break from teaching is waning. As I approach returning to class, I’m up for a final celebration of one of my favorite fruits of summer, the fig. The recipe I’ve chosen seems the ideal transition to the fall ahead.  My proposal is a Roasted Fig Cocktail using the fruit cooked in balsamic vinegar, then puréed, then combined with bourbon, lemon juice, and a little maple syrup. I hope the prep won’t be too onerous… or at least worth it.

 

Prickly Pear Margarita

Prickly.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This week’s cocktail isn’t our first margarita… but it’s certainly our most exotic one. Our brother Chris sent us each two mason jars of prickly pear syrup, which formed the basis for a frozen margarita using mezcal and, as a bonus, some food item using his gift.

Our brother Chris loves plants, especially fruiting plants and cacti. I’m pretty sure he joined The Cactus and Succulent Society before he hit his teenage years. Early this summer, when Chris posted a photo of a pitcher of syrup from his prickly pear fruit harvest, I asked him in a comment what it tasted like. His response, “Like prickly pear,” didn’t tell me much, but now that I’ve tried it myself, I see the sense in his answer. The syrup reminds me a little of raspberries (though not so tart) and a little like aloe (though not nearly so bitter) and watermelon (though not so watery) and somewhat like kiwi (though mostly in texture). Any attempt I’ve made to triangulate (quadrangulate?) its flavor, however, ends with the simple assertion that it tastes wonderful. And it’s mild, lending a distinctive flavor while playing well with all the citrus in a margarita.

My version of this week’s margarita was frozen, and though we don’t have much experience with that method of preparation, I’ve noticed the cooler a drink is, the more dramatic its trigeminal effects. As I don’t have a margarita machine, the ice remained mostly chunky, not the slushy you might expect from a trip to your local Mexican restaurant. The ultimate goal of any margarita is refreshment… though it’s nice if it’s potent too. I’ll leave for Jonathan’s review whether prickly pear syrup helps achieve those ends.

Here’s the recipe (for two servings):

1/2 cup crushed ice
1 ounces freshly-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce undiluted frozen limeade
2 ounces Mezcal
1 1/2 ounces Triple Sec
1 ounce Prickly Pear Cactus Juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar or corn syrup
Lime wedges for garnish

In a blender, add crushed ice, lime juice, Tequila, Triple Sec, prickly pear juice, and sugar or corn syrup; cover and mix ingredients (a pulsating action with 4 or 5 jolts of the blender works the best). Correct with additional sugar or corn syrup if it is too tart. Serve in Margarita Glasses with coarse salt or Margarita Salt on the rims of the glasses and a lime slice, and serve immediately.

As for food, I left most of that to my daughter, who suggested we marinate some shrimp in a few simple spices (old bay, mustard and garlic powder, salt and pepper) then grill them on the barbeque. Along with the shrimp, she made corn cakes featuring corn cut from the cob and a mixture of salsa plus chipotle pepper with adobo sauce and a liberal amount of prickly pear syrup. The combination was spicy, smoky, and earthy—like mezcal—without being too sweet. A hearty hors d’oeuvre rather than main course, it seemed a great complement to the margarita.

I still have another jar of syrup remaining. I have many other plans for it—other cocktails among my schemes—and perhaps those will make some appearance in later posts. In the meantime, the only remaining thing to do is to thank my brother Chris for introducing me to such an intriguing and enticing ingredient.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

prickly.jbmA few years back I found a go-to recipe for grilled salmon. It is as simple as sprinkling the fish with chili powder, grilling it and then finishing it in the last few minutes with a glaze of 50/50 bourbon and honey. You can add a cedar plank to the grill surface to cook it on for a little je ne sais quoi, but that is just complicating delicious.

The first thought I had when our oldest brother said he was sending prickly pear syrup, even though I had never tried it, was that I needed to find a way to use it in a recipe. That turned into a modification of the go-to salmon recipe. We switched the fish to wild caught mahi-mahi, used blackening seasoning instead of chili powder and then added a coating of prickly pear syrup mixed with tequila for the last couple of minutes of grilling. It’s still peach world in our house, so we also made a peach salsa to cover the grilled fish.

And then there was the drink. David had suggested a prickly pear margarita with mezcal substituted for the tequila. The recipe called for prickly pear juice and sugar, but since we had a syrup the sugar seemed unnecessary. I used tequila for round one then switched to mezcal for the second. The recipe calls for half a cup of ice, which is hard to measure in cubes so I kept adding more to try and adjust for the limeade concentrate. That, and it is hot and humid, especially when grilling, so more ice seemed like a good idea.

The end result were two of the best margaritas I have ever tried. The tequila version was very lime forward between the fresh juice and the concentrate though the prickly pear toned that down a little. The mezcal version had the smoky deeper taste of that spirit and, for some reason, seemed more in keeping with the prickly pear. If I had to decide between the two, the mezcal version was more complex and balanced, so that would be the choice. One other thing to add—once you start adjusting and increasing the ice, one recipe is plenty for two drinks.

David’s Take: A wonderful variation that makes what’s become a rather cliché cocktail into something new and exciting again.

Jonathan’s take: Still got plenty of prickly pear syrup so I think pancakes are next.

Next Week (Proposed By Jonathan):

I rely on David to do all the hard work for the blog. When we started the idea was that he would give me the sign in and I would learn to use the WordPress site to do my part. Feigning stupidity, or actually being stupid, ended that idea, and now I just send him my part by e-mail and he completes the post. Since I don’t do the posting, I also rely on him for statistics like how many visits we get and even how many posts we have done. It should be close to or just above 100 (David’s Note: it’s 103) and my proposal for next week is that we do a wild card week to recognize that. Each of us will independently try a top 100 cocktail (there are lots of different lists to choose from) that we haven’t tried for this blog and likely have never tried. It will be a good test of genetics to see if we end up trying the same drink. It will also be a good test of memory to see if we try a drink that we haven’t written about before.

 

Sparkling Peach Sangria

IMG_0104Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

Sangria does not need a recipe in my opinion. I started with this write up with the mix that I used but every ingredient can be changed for another, and some of them can be left out entirely. There were a couple of exact recipes that I sent David, but it became apparent, especially after I got too lazy to buy more brandy and decided to use what I had, that the best bet was to wing it.

The mix can also be changed for taste. Want it more or less sweet for instance – use sugar, don’t use it, add more simple syrup, don’t add more, or change out between a dry or sweet wine. Some sangrias sparkle based on the use of seltzer, club soda or in the case of this recipe both soda and sparkling wine. Fruits vary by season, like the peaches that are front and center this week, and add to both the color and presentation. It’s all your choice and even though this is one of the ultimate group drinks, if you are making it you get to decide.

Sangria is associated with Spain and Portugal and the term is now protected within the European Union. That said, there are versions in every country and some suggestion that what we typically think of as sangria was actually created in the U.S. The classic versions are made with fruit, sweetener and wine. Almost every version I have read about or made also includes a spirit, like brandy, for fortification. It is usually made with red wine (the base word is sangre, or blood, after all) but the versatility has led to versions with white wine and sparkling wines.

The other thing to note is that it is a group beverage. I found a couple of recipes that broke it down to single servings but that was the exception. Most recipes are based on proportions that work from a full bottle of wine or more. That is also beneficial for another reason. It should be prepared in advance to let the flavors mix and meld so when the party starts there is no need to stop and mix.

Here’s a basic recipe:

Sliced fresh peaches
Blueberries
½ cup apple brandy (would have used peach or apricot if I had it)
¼ cup simple syrup
Lemon and lime juice (2 small lemons, 1 small lime)
½ liter club soda
1 bottle moscato

Mix everything except the moscato in a pitcher and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve, add the sparkling wine, stir gently and serve with ice.

And Here’s David’s Review:

SangriaDBMAs Jonathan has said before, it isn’t easy separating a drink and the occasion you try it. When you are with family and friends, almost any concoction might serve. You might never live down serving something wretched, but the memory would at least evoke warm mirth. If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that the company is far more important than the cocktail.

This weekend I was on the Rappahannock in Lancaster, Virginia visiting my sister and her husband as my mom visited. On Saturday night, when we made the sangria, the crowd swelled with my niece and nephew and their families and guests. We not only chose a recipe suited for a crowd, we doubled it.

And I think this drink was a hit. You can’t really mess-up Sangria. As long as you like fruit—peaches, in this case—and wine, there’s infinite potential for experimentation and amendment until you get it just right.

The recipe I used was a little different from Jonathan’s. It didn’t contain simple syrup because, between the moscato and peach brandy, it looked plenty sweet. Unlike Jonathan, I didn’t include lemon and lime juice. I hoped the citrus in the lemon-lime seltzer we used might be enough.

It wasn’t, and that’s where my sister’s brilliant amendment made all the difference. For the second batch, Alison suggested we add some lemon verbena from her herb garden. She macerated it before adding it to the drink, but you could also muddle it with the peach. Just don’t over-muddle as I always seem to do… or you’ll have to strain the drink before putting it in glasses. It doesn’t seem to take much to release the herb’s lemony smell, but the herb adds so much more than that, a spicy and fresh flavor that plays the same role basil does in so many drinks. If I have any objection to Sangria, it’s that it can be a little one-note and become more like party punch than a libation. I’m sure I never would have thought of including lemon verbena, but, as our meals this weekend made obvious, Alison knows how to add complex and harmonious flavors to enhance the whole experience.

The same might be said for this weekend’s celebration. Whatever combination of ingredients made their way into the sangria, the combination of people drinking it surpassed it. It’s especially tough this week to tell exactly what (or why) I’m reviewing.

David’s Take: My next sangria (and next and next) will include lemon verbena or some other herb.

Jonathan’s Take: I can’t help it. This one was just peaches.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Continuing our summer of summer cocktails and family, next week’s drink will include a an unusual ingredient generously supplied by our brother Chris from his garden in Tucson. He sent each of us a couple of mason jars of prickly pear syrup with instructions to use it in a cocktail. I thought at first we’d have to invent something, but it turns out the web offers many, many options. I’m suggesting a frozen prickly pear margarita with one important substitution, mescal for the traditional tequila. We’ll also be preparing some food (of our own choice) with the syrup, and I’m as excited about what will accompany the drink as I am about the drink itself.