Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria

photo-51Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

What exactly is a cocktail? Seems like an odd question after so many weeks and proposed drinks, but it is important this week. The most basic definition is that it is a spirit combined with at least two other ingredients. Other descriptions expand that and suggest that it is at least one spirit plus a bitter element and a sweet one. What is clear is that all of our proposals thus far can be considered cocktails.

The reason for exploring this idea is that the drink of the week is a Fall sangria. A number of weeks ago I figured out that I would be the proposer for Thanksgiving weekend and started thinking about something that could be made for a crowd. For most Thanksgiving meals, I have tried to find some new way to use cranberries so the proposal had to be some kind of cranberry based sangria. The final thoughts were that the drink needed to be less spirituous than some of the previous proposals and of course complement the Thanksgiving meal.

My question for David when the idea of sangria came up, though, was whether it qualified as cocktail. It includes at least two spirits, although I struggle with the idea that wine or even beer qualifies as a spirit because of the lower alcohol content, sweet and borderline bitter elements so I suppose in its own way does.

There are so many sangria recipes that it was less about choosing one than combining different ideas to create something that met all goals. It also seems that Bobby Flay, of restaurant and Food Network fame, is the creator of many of the sangria variations available in the public domain. The recipe I used is a slight variation on his Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria:

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Nothing left but the fruit!

2 bottles red wine (I used Beaujolais Noveau since it is November)
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup applejack brandy
½ cup triple sec liqueur
Cranberry simple syrup (added a cup of cranberries to a half cup of simple syrup and simmered until they began to split)
1 cup orange juice
Sparkling pomegranate juice
Cranberries, orange slices and chopped Granny Smith apples

Combine all ingredients, except the sparkling juice, and refrigerate for at least six hours. Add the sparkling juice before serving.

It could have been the craziness of hosting Thanksgiving or the popularity of the sangria, but I forgot to take a picture until after all but the fruit was left.

I also completely understand why there are so many recipes as the concept is so basic that it lends itself to variations by wine, liquor, fruit, juices and as in this case by season. I wonder what a President’s Day sangria would be like?

Here’s David’s review:

Adam Carolla markets a product called “Mangria,” a version of Sangria that boosts the alcoholic content by adding vodka to the fruit and red wine. The assumption, I suppose, is that Sangria is a genteel drink, not suitable for the hard liquor crowd.

Though I’m no manly-man, I had similar impressions before trying this sangria. It’s a drink for parties, a nearly-punch alternative to beer and wine and, just as Jonathan said, questionably a serious cocktail. Though you can sometimes order sangria in a restaurant, it’s often a special—because they’ve made a mess o’ sangria—and no one I know makes a single serving the way they do martinis or Manhattans.

That’s too bad, based on this recipe. Besides combining some prominent seasonal flavors, like the pairing of orange and cranberry juice, this cocktail’s addition of pomegranate and some fizz made it celebratory yet fruitful, a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal. I let the sangria mix overnight as instructed by the recipe, which effectively made the parts overlap until, like many good cocktails, the ingredients became difficult to distinguish.

When Jonathan proposed this choice, I worried about the red wine, as most wine coolers or, especially mulled wine, seem too rich and not actually refreshing. I wish I’d thought of using Beaujolais as Jonathan did—I used Shiraz—as it might have made the drink even fresher, but Shiraz seems a spicy red to me and added that element without introducing the cinnamon or cloves that might have been overkill.

As I have for all recipes calling for triple sec, I used Mandarine Napoleon, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite liquor. It’s not at all overpowering and, being a little different from regular orange in flavor, I suspect it worked almost the way the orange rind on the slices did, a slightly—pleasantly—bitter undertone.

One quibble: I wish I’d had the same snazzy system of serving this drink that Jonathan did, a container with a tap at the bottom. We made ours in a pitcher, and, while it was a pretty pitcher, the cranberries kept plopping into people’s glasses. When I reached the bottom and looked at the remaining berries, I had the same thought I have every Thanksgiving. Who the hell ever thought of eating these things? I’m not sure what the fresh cranberries might contribute, as they looked exactly the way they did when I put them in. Though they decorated well, they hardly seemed necessary. If Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria becomes a Thanksgiving tradition in my house, I’ll leave the cranberries out… or substitute something actually edible.

And I’ll make more… as with Jonathan, it was gone before I even had a chance to take a decent photograph. Oh well, that may be the best recommendation of all.

David’s Take: a refreshing and celebratory addition to a wonderful meal.

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Jonathan’s take: This will be a Thanksgiving tradition. If it’s not there will be some unhappy guests.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

I teach a Shakespeare course at school and have run into some odd drinks in my reading. One is a flip, which, though it doesn’t go by that name, has evolved over time to describe a class of drinks involving a spirit, eggs (I will use egg whites), and spirit. I haven’t decided which flip to try yet, but I’ve settled on rum as the spirit of choice.

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The Horse’s Neck

Horse's Neck

Beside the cocktail is a combination zester and channel knife

proposed by: Jonathan

reviewed by: David

This week’s drink is a Horse’s Neck, which dates back to the 1890s and was once popular in the British Royal Navy as a drink for officers. At Naval cocktail parties the stewards might offer pitchers of gin and tonic and Horse’s Neck and ask, “H-N or G&T, Sir?” The following recipe is included in the “Old Guard Cocktailschapter of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All:

1 lemon

2 ounces bourbon

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Ginger Ale

Carefully peel the zest from the lemon in one continuous spiral with a channel knife.  Coil the zest around a bar spoon or chopstick to encourage a bouncy spiral.  Place the lemon zest in the bottom of a chilled high ball glass, hanging the end of the coiled garnish over the side of the glass.  Fill the glass with ice.  Add the bourbon and bitters and top off with ginger ale.

There is quite a bit (pun intended) of conjecture and speculation about the origins of The Horse’s Neck, but what seems to be true is that the original Horse’s Neck was just ginger ale, a few dashes of bitters, and the long garnish of lemon rind for which the drink is named. The addition of bourbon or brandy made it a “Horse’s Neck with a kick.” There are other versions made with specified bourbons and many of those have their own name. The use of a true Kentucky Bourbon, for instance, is called a Kentucky Gentleman.

I decided to use a form of brandy instead of bourbon since last week’s cocktail was bourbon based. I went with Laird’s Applejack thinking that apple and ginger was a good combination. I also have the good fortune of living in an area with an excellent regional ginger ale – Blenheim. Blenheim comes in a standard but still spicy version and the even more spicy hot version. I went with the standard which had plenty of kick to complement the Applejack kick.

Here’s David’s review:HN.David.cropt

Perhaps it’s too early in my relationship with cocktails to say I’m in love, but a Horse’s Neck is the sort of drink I could see ordering all the time—uncomplicated, distinctive, and refreshing. I shared the drink with my wife and mother-in-law during a visit to Louisville after a hot day wandering around the Kentucky State Fair, and it seemed the perfect relaxer after all the parking hassles and crowd weaving. I even made a non-alcoholic version for my daughter that substituted ice tea for bourbon, and she seemed to enjoy it.

I’m a bitter person but not a bitter drinker, so I’d never tasted Angostura. The balance just a few drops added to the sweet spiciness of the ginger ale surprised me. For me, it really made the cocktail. Jonathan’s version sounds much more exciting than mine—I created the drink with Kentucky bourbon and regular Canada Dry—but I’d serve this cocktail to guests even in a pedestrian version. It’s a great balance between the familiar and new.

The lemon strip presents an exotic touch, but I’m not sure its purpose extends beyond aesthetics. Perhaps if you added a twist of lemon or kinked the string tightly before placing it in the glass—I wrapped mine loosely around a wooden spoon handle—it might influence the flavor profile of the drink, but I don’t think so. That said, creating one string from cutting around and around the lemon provided a great pre-drinking challenge. I wouldn’t want to handle a channel knife afterward.

pork rindsMy mother-in-law suggested pork rinds as the snack of choice to accompany our libations—she even hung one on the edge of my glass—and, oddly enough, their saltiness seemed a contrasting but chummy complement. And, wouldn’t it be fun to serve pork rinds in a genteel setting and make people eat them?

David’s verdict: Someday a Horse’s Neck might become my signature drink. At my funeral, someone might say, “And he would always order those damn Horse Necks and explain exactly how he wanted them”… in an endearing way, of course.

Jonathan’s verdict: Already predisposed to like Blenheim Ginger Ale, I thought the addition of bitters, lemon and Applejack offered a noticeable complexity. This is a pre-meal type of cocktail so forget the food pairing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Besides being the state cocktail of Louisiana (since 2008) and described by Wikipedia as “perhaps the oldest American cocktail,” the Sazerac is my son’s consistent cocktail choice and quite popular in fancy restaurants these days. Everywhere we go together seems to prepare its own variation using exotic bitters and different anisette substitutions for the original Absinthe. I’m going to try it with Pernod (or Herbsainte, if I can find it) and Peychaud bitters, named after Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a Creole Apothecary who created it around 1830 in Haiti. Like Angostura, it’s also a gentian-based bitter, but sources describe it as lighter, sweeter, and more floral.

By choosing a rye-based drink, I know I’m not straying far from the brandy-cognac-bourbon theme of the last two weeks, but part of the appeal to me is the drink’s history—if it IS the original American cocktail, don’t we have to try it? Also, it’s jealousy. When my son orders a Sazerac, I wish I were so savvy. My fancy beer suddenly looks gauche.

So next week, it’s a Sazerac.