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.

 

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The Chopped Challenge

drinksProposed by: Circumstances

Reviewed by: Brave Souls

David:

Two brothers, one cocktail, only one chance to win…

Though not really—Jonathan and I would have to be in the same city to go head-to-head in our Chopped-style cocktail challenge. Instead, we’re treating the spirits and peripherals we’ve gathered as cocktailians as mystery basket ingredients.

The challenge… to make an unforgettable drink from these mystery ingredients, before… time… runs… out.

We gave ourselves 30 minutes to draw the slips of paper bearing the names of our ingredients and make and serve the cocktail, which is plenty of time for mixology. It’s so much time that I made three versions of my cocktail before settling on the “best.”

Our distinguished panel of chefs will critique their work… and one by one they must face the dreaded chopping block…

In the end only my wife and daughter were brave enough to test my efforts. When I described this challenge to people, I heard the same refrain, “That sounds like a very bad idea.”

Who will win the $10,000 prize… and who will be chopped?”

The contestants on Chopped are always playing for something—redemption, professional credibility, familial respect, some (usually pretty narrow) charity, fellow suffers of odd maladies, getting the ball rolling on some project (like a board game, twice), or pride. I don’t know about Jonathan, but my goals were more modest. I wanted to avoid spit takes.

“Two contestants think they have what it takes to be a Chopped champion. Let’s meet them…”

I’m actually not sure I do have what it takes. A big part of being a not-so-savvy cocktailian is the protection of the label. If you advertise yourself as incompetent, how badly can you fail?

I was trying to apply what I’ve learned, which—as I’ve said—isn’t enough. Writing “Crème de Menthe” and “Spanish Port” on slips of appropriately colored paper, I understood why Chopped contestants sweat so profusely.

Cocktailians… here are the rules. There is one round with its basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available are pantry and fridge.

categoriesWe divided the contents of our liquor cabinets into four categories—basic spirits, liqueurs, fortified wines, and other non-alcoholic ingredients like bitters, simple syrups on hand, grenadine, and the like. It’s hard enough to make a harmonious drink from three alcoholic components (never mind some weird bitter).

I’d already decided to interpret “pantry and fridge” liberally.

When the clock runs out our judges will critique your drinks on presentation, taste, and creativity.

At least two of those criteria didn’t seem so tough.

Please open your basket.

I let my wife draw my four slips of paper and opened them all at once:

  • basic spirit: aquavit (a basic because I figured aquavit is like gin… giant mistake)
  • liqueur: crème de violette (which I’ve always thought must be what perfume tastes like)
  • fortified wine: Spanish sherry (goody, some earth tones to go with purple and ochre)
  • other: cardamom bitters (perhaps the bossiest bitter—it has to get its way)

First I thought, “This was a very bad idea,” and then I tasted each ingredient just the way the contestants on Chopped do… when they’re stalling. In cocktail class, I learned each cocktail is actually six ounces, with two being ice or mixer. When I combined equal portions of the spirits and a single drop of cardamom, it came out to 4 ounces of army green. Fail.

Try again. I thought the crème de violette had to be less and the aquavit had to be less and who in their right mind would ever drink anything grayish green? So I reduced the crème de violette to half an ounce, made the aquavit and sherry one ounce each and, from the pantry, used a half an ounce of lemon juice. Then my hand slipped, and I ended up with three drops of cardamom. The color was better. The drink was wretched. Fail.

Too much sherry, still too perfumy, and I thought, “I kind of hate cardamom… and caraway… and these silly things I think are a good idea.” With a few minutes left I came up with what I’m calling Pomegranate Chaos:

  • 1 oz. Aquavit
  • .75 oz. Sherry
  • .25 oz. Crème de Violette
  • 1 drop cardamom bitters
  • .5 oz. blood orange juice
  • 2 oz. sparkling pomegranate juice

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Pour pomegranate juice to taste.

You will note that pantry and fridge ended up being pretty damn important.

Cocktailian, you’ve arrived at the Chopping block…

If you watch Chopped regularly, you know the judges have clear predilections. Never serve Scott Conant raw onions, don’t call something mole if Aaron Sanchez in on the panel, Marcus Samuelson will accuse you of not preparing an ingredient properly, and Alex Guarnaschelli hates pretty much everything (unless someone else hates it, in which case, she loves it).

Here is what I imagine my judges saying (and pretty much what they did say), “I like the color, and the juice and sparkling pomegranate give the drink a real freshness, but the basket items are all lurking, hidden like an ugly chair in the corner when company comes over. It’s drinkable, but the part I like least, the funky aftertaste, comes from the main ingredients.”

Ted will ask (he always, always does): “Well, this is not a simple matter—do you think you’ve got it figured out?” The judges always answer, “I think we have.”

Like Jonathan I tried a second drink, which I’m calling the Pola Debevoise, with more reasonable ingredients: gin, maraschino, brandy, lemon… and I added grenadine to tie it all up. I learned from the first round to diminish the stronger flavors and used .5 oz of the lemon and maraschino. Trying not to rely on the pantry too much, I included only .5 oz of the grenadine too. I chose an ounce of Brandy but relied on the gin as the dominant flavor (1.5 oz). The judges liked that one better, though I doubt I’d make any round two.

So whose drink is on the Chopping Block?

David’s Take: Uh, I think I know.

bottles 2Jonathan:

bottles 1My name is Jonathan and I have little experience, no celebrity mentor and there is no drive to be the best mixologist here or anywhere. I operate out of my home typically, although I have been known to guest star at a sporting event tailgate with an audience that is mostly college students. Not to say that they are an easy group to please, but left to their own choices they are apt to choose Busch Light. The only classical training that I have has been provided by the internet, books, the rare video and observation in the form of television watching. In short, I know little, provide drinks to a very small sampling and am self-trained. I am ready for Chopped Cocktail, though, since I have a cabinet full of spirits, liqueurs, bitters, fortified wines and assorted additives.

It is also my hope that I can be an inspiration to anyone who ever thought they could home bartend but were held back by having a second toe longer than the first. Morton’s foot sufferers may not have ever been told they couldn’t be bartenders, but given the chance I am sure they would. Imagine the strain and pain folks like me must feel as the pronounced second toe shifts extraordinary pressure to the second metatarsal. There were so many days standing in the kitchen that I felt I could not hold the Boston shaker for one more second, but persevered to create the finest drink I could. If I win, it will be a true victory for my second, but longest, piggy.

The true chopped has rounds for appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I really hoped, even with two attempts, to get a drink that could be a dessert but no luck. So here are my drinks with the appetizer first and entrée second.

drink picThe first choices revealed Irish whiskey, absinthe, lillet (rose’) and angostura bitters. It sounded a little like a Sazerac, at least from what I remember way back when we made that, so I went that direction. The first step was rinsing the ice with a little absinthe and then dumping the excess. I added the whiskey (1.5 ounce), lillet (1 ounce), and 2 drops angostura. The pantry provided a splash of simple syrup and an ounce of lemon juice. I shook all of that with the ice and strained into a coupe with a twist of lemon. The simple syrup may have been too much. For an appetizer it needed the bite of the bitters combined with the whiskey and acid of the lemon. The lillet provided enough sweetness by itself. Not a bad drink, but not the aperitif I wanted. The invented name (we need one of those, right) – The English Channel.

The second group was the entrée choice. This draw revealed rum, tuaca, sherry, and grenadine. These were mixed in a highball glass (1.5 ounce, I ounce, .5 ounce and 1 ounce respectively) along with orange juice (2 ounces) and seltzer water from the fridge. I added ice and garnished with lemon. It seemed a little tiki-ish so I should have added one of my leftover paper umbrellas to finish the drink.

This one was more popular with every taster except me. It had a similar color (keep in mind I am still color stupid) to the English Channel, but was much lighter in body thanks to the seltzer. Part of the concept of true tiki is multiple ingredients and I think tuaca has a future in that genre when it makes its next resurgence. It provides that unknown back flavor that would help distinguish the drink and make it hard to determine the secret recipes that are another part of tiki. This one I am calling Don the Chopped Amateur.

Jonathan’s take: When Ted pulls the shaker shaped cloche, I think I am chopped. Darn that stubby first toe.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Among the many drink related gifts I received this Christmas was a beautiful and well written book – The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. It is a great mix of information including more history and background on many of the cocktails that we have tried in the course of this blog. It also includes recipes for classics, twists on those classics (thus the subtitle “cocktails inspired by the classics”), and drinks that should be classics. After the chopped episode it might be time for one of those should-be classic cocktails called the Monte Carlo. It provides that important lesson that sometimes it is better to stir to chill instead of shaking to do so.

A Sling of Sorts #2

Sling2Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

While I have no idea why this drink is labeled “#2,” the other part of its tail end, “Of Sorts,” seems important. The name needs “Of Sorts” because purists might be upset it’s called a “Sling” at all. A sling isn’t supposed to be a cocktail, as the term “cocktail” originally classified drinks that, unlike slings (and like this drink), contained bitters. The true sling, which predated cocktails, omitted bitters and featured some sort of alcohol (naturally), some sweetener (sugar or simple syrup), and water (bubbly or still). Most slings now contain fruit juices—especially the most famous Singapore Sling—but juices weren’t originally required. One site I visited said a sling must contain nutmeg to be a sling.

It’s a free country, and you purists, if you’re listening, have a perfect right to scoff at my not-so-savvy rube-ish-ness. However, I also have a right to say that attempts to maintain an earlier order often seem desperate, like insisting shorts aren’t really pants because they don’t reach your shoes or that harmonicas aren’t instruments because there’s no fingering. Words shift their meaning and, besides, I didn’t name this drink. All drinks fit under the umbrella of “cocktail” in this new golden age of mixology. My message to purists: get over it and join the modern world.

Still, I have to admit there’s a lot of perverse variation in this sling. It contains not only bitters (the original recipe called for Bolivar bitters, but Angostura is a type of Bolivar bitter), but also Aquavit, hardly your typical spirit, and Port, which probably has no business going near a cocktail, much less something called a sling.

Maybe this drink is yet another demonstration (as if I needed one) of my inner mad-scientist. I like trying stuff. Ask my kids about cookies made on the grill. It’s fun finding out what happens. I figure the worst outcome is discovering what doesn’t work. Ask my kids about cookies made on the grill.

Mistakes are useful. How often do these wild forays into randomness bring positive results? My lifetime success rate, I’d say, is about 30%. Not enough for most, but enough for me. If we’re out to enlarge our mixology palette and have Aquavit in our bars, why not use it? Doesn’t everyone want to brag about drinking something garnished with a fennel frond?

Here’s the recipe (adapted generically):

  • 1.75 oz Aquavit
  • .75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • .75 oz Simple Syrup
  • .5 oz Port
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 oz Seltzer

Instructions: Shake all ingredients but the seltzer over ice. Add seltzer and double strain into collins glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a Fennel Frond.

Sling2aHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

So, here we are back to the traveling Aquavit. Combined with Port and bitters that can’t be found in Charlotte and I had to wonder what David was doing to us. It ends up he was sending a Valentine to Spring and the hope for warmer weather.

I had fled Charlotte this week for the warmer climate of Denver, yes that is in the correct order of places, only to return to the lingering remnants of the storm. Our weather is nothing compared to Chicago, but there has already been enough cold and now snow that I am ready for the longer, warmer days that are hopefully on the way.

This cocktail is a wonderful prelude to those days. It has been written many places that the best drinks are a combination of many ingredients, each enhancing the others. That’s true in this case. The Aquavit stands out, yet the other ingredients don’t disappear. I wish I was able to locate the Bolivar bitters, but the orange bitters I used acted as a perfect counterpoint with the simple syrup and lemon juice. Add a little seltzer and suddenly it was spring, even if my picture this week says otherwise. The final touch was the lovely color which I can only assume David intended to honor Valentine’s Day.

Jonathan’s Take: This could be a staple of spring and summer cocktails even with its odd ingredients.

David’s Take: A great discovery and worth revisiting, especially since I still have plenty of Aquavit.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

We started this project as beer drinkers and will stray from our cocktail mission to send each other samples of micro-brews. I have a cross section of NC beers to send that I will introduce and for which David can provide an opinion.

Rosalind Russell

RosProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

So, I see the cruelty of sending Jonathan to the liquor store for an obscure Scandinavian spirit, Aquavit. What demand can there be for Linie (the variety I chose), a spirit that crosses the equator twice in sherry casks to reach its proper flavor? It may be one of the more colorful stories of our tenure here, this fetishist tale of taste, what someone might do to make something distinctive.

That said, the cocktail is simple, with only four ingredients, the Aquavit, the Sweet Vermouth, the lemon, and the Angostura bitters. That’s all. I’m not sure any bar tender could reproduce it—who knows how many bars stock Aquavit—but it seems no more odd than a martini, I guess.

foodHere’s a case where maybe the accompaniment makes a big difference. We had crackers and lox with dill Havarti cheese, capers, and a horseradish whipped cream. It could be the Scandinavian connection of ingredients, but the food seemed perfectly complementary. Come to think of it, maybe it was all about the food. Perhaps that explains the collective effect of this cocktail.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Ice
  2. 2 ounces aquavit
  3. 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  4. 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  5. 1 lemon twist, for garnish

And here is Jonathan’s review:photo-61

Oh for the halcyon days of The Aviation. A beautiful Fall afternoon, a group of friends, and a what-the-heck cocktail of an indescribable taste and color.

The first thing I have to say about this week’s cocktail is a nod to the main ingredient, its unique voyage and how hard I had to look to find it. Aquavit, as the introduction says, is aged on a serpentine world voyage in sherry casks. I only wish I had the ability to produce a map of my voyage to find it because, other than not crossing the equator twice, I sense it was similar to the map on the back of the Linie Aquavit. It almost demanded that I try the strange gold-brown liqueur once I did find it.

The other admission I need to make is that, while the name Rosalind Russell is familiar I kept confusing her with another actress – Jane Russell. The more I had to look for Aquavit, the more I spent that time considering the creation of a Jane Russell cocktail as a substitute. The funny thing, cross my heart, is that there already is such a cocktail. And if I have to explain the joke in that sentence, you did not watch enough television in the 70’s.

So what happens when you mix that hard to find spirit with the red sweet vermouth and bitters? Another strange what-the-heck color cocktail with an odd and hard to describe flavor. The Aquavit description tells me I should expect caraway, but frankly I am not sure I know that taste well enough to say what it is. There is something familiar in the taste, however, and once we added a little simple syrup it brightened to a good familiar. Maybe a little more citrus would add some needed zing too. There is no doubt that I will make one of these for my friend Jerry. He liked the Aviation, so I suspect that this is one that will appeal to him also.

David’s take: Okay, I’m crazy. I love this stuff. The odder the better, as far as I’m concerned. I just like something new, I guess.

Jonathan’s take: I love the exotic and florid descriptions of spirits like Aquavit, but in cases like these the drinks have trouble holding up their end.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

My sons gave me a cocktail book for my birthday – Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh. The drinks are interesting and the descriptions even more so. I am proposing a choice for next week. David and I can choose to have monkey testicles surgically implanted to improve our virility, or we can try the wonderfully named Monkey Gland cocktail. Not sure what direction David is going to go, but I think I will go for the libation.