Hangman’s Blood

HangeronProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, librettist, and composer, but he’s most famous for Clockwork Orange, the book that became a controversial Stanley Kubrick movie and assured Burgess’ lasting fame. That… and Hangman’s Blood, of course.

Hangman’s Blood was Burgess’ signature concoction, and if you’re a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you noticed the comment section stir (well, relative stir… we have about 25 regular readers) caused by my proposing Burgess’ favorite indulgence, a cocktail he said “tastes very smooth, induces a somewhat metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover” but which everyone else sees as the spirituous equivalent of a “suicide,” that fountain drink mixed from orange, Coca Cola, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and Nehi Grape your seventh grade friend Mark (or Bobby or Steve or Jeff) dared you to drink:

1 1/4 oz gin
1 1/4 oz rum
1 1/4 oz whiskey
1 1/4 oz brandy
1 1/4 oz port
5 oz Guinness® stout or stout beer
4 oz Champagne

Add all five shots to a pint glass. Top to desired level with stout beer, 5 oz is just about right. Fill to top of glass with champagne.

Okay, so call me a fool if you like. I prefer to see myself as a thrill-seeker willing to stand apart from the genteel martini drinkers also after a spirituous experience but reluctant to say so. I could, of course, claim I meant to add to our list of literary drinks, the Hemingway Daiquiri, the Bobby Burns, etc. That, however, would be a lie. Mostly I wanted to see if something so crazy could possibly be good. I mean, it’s possible. Maybe I just grew tired of threatening and wanted to make good on the threat.

Was that a good idea? I’ll leave the review for later, but, well, hey, all hopes are somewhat foolish.

Jonathan and I both chose a collection of bottles to depict this drink—though he suggested it might have been more appropriate to show him stretched out on his den floor—and a row of spirits may be the best (and only possible) tribute to Burgess’ invention.

In any case, here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0204-2Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like an ice cold Hangman’s Blood. Most people were thinking about a nice bottle of bubbly, a glass of red wine, or perhaps an innocent cocktail like a mimosa. Not us, we were emptying the liquor cabinet, throwing in half a bottle of stout and for an ounce, or four, of redemption adding some champagne.

There’s an image of the rough guy who sits at a dimly lit bar. No one sits near him as he orders a beer with a shot a rye. He drops that shot in the pint glass and downs them together. He is the most basic and roughest drinker. That is until someone walks in, takes the bar stool right next to him and orders a Hangman’s Blood. Fifteen minutes later the bartender finishes grabbing half the bottles he has available, throwing on some beer and bubbly and presents the drink. The new drinker winks at his bar mate and downs the concoction in one long draught. The only options left for Mr. Boilermaker are to relinquish his status as the toughest fool there or wait ten minutes for Mr. Hangman to fall off that bar stool and take his rightful place on the floor with the peanut shells and pretzel crumbs.

I have dim memories of a punch that was popular among college students who had tired of mixing grain alcohol and fruit juices into PJ. Battleship Punch, and I am going from memory here since I can’t find it on the internet, is a mix of grain, vodka, brandy, and champagne among other liquors. There were some non-alcoholic ingredients but the concept was that the champagne hit you first followed by the brandy, vodka and grain in that order. By the time you had drunk too much it was too late. Your battleship was sunk.

This is that punch in cocktail form. I mixed up a half batch, shared that with my wife and still didn’t come close to finishing it. The effervescence helped the drink and brightened it, but nothing could erase the thought that I had just poured four liquors, one fortified wine and beer together before I had topped it with that champagne. My mind wouldn’t let me taste any subtlety, judge the color, or even start to think why someone would drink a full cocktail of this. Sorry David, I am not the meanest son of a gun at the bar.

Jonathan’s take: Champagne can redeem a drink. Not this one.

David’s take: Really awful. Sorry, Mr. Burgess. Sorry, everyone.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Ever since David proposed the current drink I have been trying to think of the sweetest drink, one that was mostly Irish Cream, or how I could mix crème de menthe and blue curacao. Guess what? There is drink called the Frostbite (perfect for the Chicago winter I suppose) that is tequila based but includes blue curacao, crème de menthe and a sweet element – chocolate liqueur. I hate there is no Irish Cream but you can’t have everything.

 

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Orange Wheat Shandy

beert1Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Giving up some of your other favorite libations, Jonathan might agree, is the sacrifice of being a devoted cocktailian. Before we started this journey toward savvy-dom, I considered myself a “Beer Snob.” Actually, the name of a local bar—Beermiscuous—might be a more accurate descriptor. The opposite of brand-loyal, I’ve tried and tested just about every style of ale, lager, stout, porter, and barley wine. I’ve read up on methods of drying and toasting malt, encountered many varieties of hops, and studied the brewing traditions of regions and nations. I’ve even brewed beer myself—terrible, undrinkable stuff… but still.

Beer and wine make odd companions for spirits, but we’ve found a number of valuable ways to incorporate them. The trick seems to be finding what goes with what, recognizing which spirits echo, enhance, and complement beer and wine. This week’s recipe, however, aims to put beer first, pairing a hefeweizen (wheat beer) with orange juice to create a “beertail.” In this case, beer is the star.

As purists would have it, wheat beer is a bastard child. It steps outside the four essential components of beer—water, hops, barley malt, and yeast. Those four variables were plenty for the authors of the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1487. Wheat contributes to a cloudier and slightly denser brew, with esters redolent of apples or bananas. These qualities make orange a suitable accompaniment, something tart to balance the dry quality of wheat beer. Blue Moon, a Belgian Wit beer, takes advantage of this combination, balancing citrus against the gravitas of wheat.

The recipe calls this cocktail a “Shandy,” a combination of beer and juice (or soft drink) that’s appealing for its low alcohol content. In some parts of Europe, shandies are exempt from laws that apply to other alcoholic beverages, but the convention of combining beer and something sweet isn’t strictly a way of evading the law to sell to minors. The earliest versions, called “shandygaffs,” appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, long before people figured out maybe the consumption of alcohol isn’t so good for youngsters’ noggins.

For this week’s cocktail, I chose a Great Lakes Wheat Beer, Sharpshooter, described as a “Session Wheat IPA,” a little hoppier and less potent than a typical hefeweizen. The subtle addition of the orange peel added to its bitterness and, I thought, might cut some of the sweetness of the freshly squeezed orange juice. Just as with the primary spirit of any cocktail, however, this one could be very different with a different version of hefeweizen.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 6 parts wheat beer
  • 1 part freshly squeezed orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
  • a dash of almond extract (optional)
  • Thinly sliced oranges

Combine beer, orange juice, and almond extract in a pitcher. Stir; serve with sliced oranges.

When we visited in San Antonio a few weeks ago, Jonathan’s wife mentioned she liked the cocktails best when they weren’t “100% alcohol.” A drink like this one aspires to a lighter, more refreshing concoction suitable for summer afternoons.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

beertail.jbmI love beer. Hefeweizen, or any wheat beer, is not my favorite as the subtlety is lost on me, but it’s still beer. I also love orange juice. Fresh squeezed, from the waxed carton, or from concentrate, I start every morning with it (fortunately I cannot say that about beer) and would miss it as much as coffee if I tried to do differently. Put those two together and what could go wrong? Not much as it ends up.

The beer of choice was a Hefeweizen from Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. It is called Hornet’s Nest after the name given to Charlotte during the Revolutionary War. The British commander, Lord Cornwallis, called Charlotte a “Hornet’s Nest” after encountering fierce resistance from the populace.

The beer is anything but fierce. It is a classic of the form – unfiltered, mellow and smooth. The orange juice was fresh squeezed as the recipe dictated but I did differ from a couple of points. First, I made each Shandy individually by mixing one bottle of the Hefeweizen with 2 ounces of orange juice instead of making a full batch and stirring like Martha Stewart told us to do. Martha also called for a small amount of almond extract and instead of figuring out how much to add to a single drink I skipped it. The Shandy was missing something though, so I added a couple of dashes of orange bitters for some contrast. It could be my imagination, but trying it before those dashes and after I think they added something.

I do need to note another small thing. My picture is a homage to our sisters. One glass is from a microbrewery/restaurant in Boerne where one sister lives, and the second is a pint glass from Virginia where the other lives. I picked it up in Charlottesville where our sister and brother-in-law spend fall afternoons rooting for the Cavalier football team. That can be a struggle, depending on how Virginia is playing, but the UVA baseball team just won the College World Series (baseball) and the glass is another way to say “congratulations.”

Jonathan’s take: It was surprising once it was all put together, but I really like this.

David’s take: I may keep experimenting with shandies—the concept of mixing different types of beer with different juices is as interesting as this individual example.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I really hate to make David make another syrup, but I have to do it. At least this one, like the strawberry syrup from a few months ago, can be used on pancakes if there is anything left. The cocktail is from Better Homes and Gardens, of all places, and is a Blackberry-Bourbon Lemonade. Blackberries are part of our youth so it seems fitting that we incorporate them in a drink in syrup and fruit form.

Wassail

jmwassailProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Let’s get this part over with:

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green;

Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too.

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year.

There are more verses but that should be enough to get the song stuck in your brain. But if not, maybe you need a little wassail.

Some time ago, when we tasted the French 75 as a matter of fact, I discussed toasts as part of the drinking experience. I’m not sure how I missed wassail at that time because the name probably derives from a toast, and the use of the word “toast” itself may come from this drink. There are different spellings but the derivation of the name of this punch probably began with waes hael a cheer offered to wish either “good health” or that the receiver “be fortunate.” Since that cheer was offered in conjunction with the drinking of a wine or apple cocktail, the punch became wassail and the cheering/singing wassailing. The toast part is a little more contrived.

One use of the wassail punch was to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas with a blessing of the orchard. A mulled apple punch was made, and revelers surrounded the oldest apple tree. Singing and dancing ensued to help bless the tree, the orchard and the harvest so that it would be bountiful. This ritual included soaking pieces of bread, toast, and then hanging that toast in the tree. Thus the wassailing, singing and wishing of good health was a toast. It’s stretch, but it makes as much sense as soaking toast in your punch.

The recipe I used for wassail put this drink well into the difficult category, and it may be hard to find a version that does not. It comes from another blog, The Nourished Kitchen, and can be summarized as follows:

Separate six eggs, mix the yolks until shiny and the beat the whites to a stiff peak. Fold those two together and then temper that mix with some of the mulling liquid. Finally, remove the sachet, combine the egg mixture with the mulled cider, and drop the baked apples and orange into the punch. Serve warm with an optional piece of toast floating in the drink.

I made the punch ahead on Christmas Eve and then refrigerated it while we went to a candlelight service. When it was first made the eggs formed a foamy meringue floating on top and did not combine well. Reheated, that foam combined but was a little clumpy so in retrospect, I would suggest making, mixing, and drinking. Either way, it was a pleasant punch and here’s hoping it brings good fortune and health.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_0538My favorite:

Wassail! wassail! All over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

All week I’ve looked forward to finally tasting the drink I’ve sung about so often. Though I have no white maple tree bowl to drink it from, wassail seems the perfect complement to the traditions of Christmas, especially as, with guests, we gathered a group to drink it.

The recipe, I admit, was daunting. As Jonathan did, the one I chose calls for separated (and them separately whisked) eggs that you then fold back together and temper before adding them to the drink. Not to mention the baked apples and the clove studded orange, the slow heating of the liquid to approach but not achieve boiling, spices added and spices bobbing a cheesecloth bag. After a full Christmas Day in the kitchen, I grumbled, “This better be good.”

Was it?

Well, it was warm, which was welcome. After last week, I wanted to redeem hot cocktails, and I’ve decided they can be good—not something I might have said last week.

And wassail isn’t as syrupy as I feared. The cider adds some pleasant sweetness, and, as I substituted one bottle of not-too-hoppy brown ale for one bottle of hard cider, the wassail was spicy without tasting like one of those fruitcakes people always say are the best thing you’ve ever eaten (that end up looking and tasting like sugared fireplace logs).

The addition of eggs wasn’t so bad either. Wassail is hardly eggnog. The whipped eggs don’t incorporate much. The drink is still thin, just with a cloud of froth on top. For me the cloud didn’t add much, but perhaps it’s meant as a neutral element to balance against the spices. As long as I didn’t think of that front as raw eggs, I could enjoy it.

I’ve never been a fan of mulled wine, and I was grateful to discover that wassail isn’t mulled wine either, but a drink with its own character—mild and not so sour, flavorful and not so aromatic—that reminds me of bread more than fruit.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Would I make it again? Maybe if I were having a party, but it won’t make my list of favorite drinks, nor will I ever have the gumption to order it out. At least, however, I’ll have something to say if I ever sing about it. “I’ve tried that,” I can say, “it’s pretty good.”

David’s Take: I’m grateful to have tried wassail, even if it seems too laborious to consume more than once a year.

Jonathan’s take: I’ll never hear that song again and wonder what the heck wassail is, that’s for sure.

Next Week (Proposed by Circumstances):

Perhaps you’ve seen the Food Network Program, “Chopped.” At the beginning of each episode, the host Ted Allen tells the contestant, “Each course has its own basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available to you are pantry and fridge…our judges will critique your dishes on presentation, taste, and creativity.” In honor the new year, Jonathan and I thought it might be fun to stage a “Chopped” of our own, by creating four categories:

a.) basic spirits (rum, whiskeys, gin, vodka, tequila)

b.) liqueurs

c.) fortified wines and the like (cognac, port, sherry, brandy)

d.) other items we’ve purchased to make cocktails (bitters, simple syrups, spices, etc.).

We’ll write the name of each item we have in the four categories then draw one from each—four mystery ingredients in all—to create a cocktail in 30 minutes. Our “pantry and fridge” will be whatever else we have around—juice, soda, etc. Next week, we’ll reveal our recipes… and let you know if (according to whatever judges we get) you should try them.

Beer Cocktails

DB@Proposed by: David

Proposed by: Jonathan

Here are two reasons we both proposed drinks this week. First: I’ve been curious about beer cocktails (or “beer-tails”) for quite awhile and, since it may be some time before we revisit the style, it’s better to have two representatives instead of one.

Second: I don’t have any more Chartreuse. Jonathan’s choice—Last Call to Porter —requires Chartreuse, which I used to have, which people drank up at a cocktail party I hosted (because they never drink up the Crème de Menthe), and which is too expensive to replace.

Only the second reason is true.

But let’s pretend it’s really the first. Beer cocktails have been around forever—there are recipes for mixing beer with other ingredients from the 17th century—and a lot of people know the basic ones, like the Shandy (beer and lemonade) or a Liverpool Kiss (Guinness and Crème de Cassis), the Michelada (a sort-of beer Bloody Mary) or a Black Velvet (stout and champagne, beautifully layered to separate) or a Boilermaker (beer with a shot of whiskey, sometimes just plopped right in the pint glass). However, with the growing interest in the various styles of craft beer plus the growing interest in cocktails, bartenders are experimenting with other spirits—even gin!—and/or liqueurs.

A beer cocktail has certain advantages. Instead of extending volume with a soft drink or mixer, you complicate the flavors—in a good way—with beer. And, depending on the beer you use, the combination can be quite merrymaking. I started to say “potent,” but I’ve decided from now on that, today, “merrymaking” will be my synonym of choice.

Volume, however, can be a challenge. “When you’re working with beer, you’re dealing with longer drinks. You have to make sure that what you add accentuates the beer,” says Daniel Hyatt, bar manager at The Alembic Bar in San Francisco. The second challenge he identifies is, “Just getting people to drink it.”

He believes the key is finding cooperative flavors. Brown spirits—scotch, rye, bourbon, and all the whiskeys—pair well with ales, stouts, and porters, where gin and white ales might align for another alternative. Belgian beers, which can sometimes be herbal and merrymaking, go well with Tequila, and dark or spiced rum might work well with a lager. Some folks apparently use beer in creating syrups for mixed drinks, which is another way of introducing hops to a cocktail without making it too merry.

De Beauvoir

In deciding which beer-tail to try, I had many choices, including one popularized by the author of Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, called Hangman’s Blood that combines Guinness and gin, rum, whiskey, brandy, and port and then tops that with champagne. I thought about that one but decided it’s much too much merry to make.

So I found a drink called De Beauvoir (which I thought might be literary too but is actually a place) that won a beer cocktail contest in 2013 and uses smoked porter with Rye, Frangelico (no one at the party drank that either), plus a little sugar and lemon juice.

Here’s the recipe:

1 oz. Rye

2/3 oz. Frangelico

1/2 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

2 oz. Smoked Porter

1 tsp. brown sugar

1 dash Whiskey Barrel Bitters

The recipe calls for shaking these ingredients with ice and then fine straining them into a coupe glass garnished with orange peel. As I don’t like my beer shaken or diluted, I just combined them with a spoon. It worked.

Some quick notes: I tried this cocktail twice with two different porters, and I definitely preferred the smokier of the two because it balanced the sweetness best—as far as I’m concerned, the sugar is optional—it’s sweet enough without it. I couldn’t find Whiskey Barrel Bitters, which, as I communicated to my brother, was mighty disappointing, but I used Jerry Thomas bitters. They were nicely woody and smoky too. That’s what you want I think.

Last Call to Porter

FullSizeRender

After two weeks where we discussed ideas for drinks and where we get those ideas, this week was a sourcing challenge. David suggested cocktails that incorporate beer. He provided a link that thoroughly reviewed the concept, and suggested some recipes, but he didn’t specify any cocktail in particular. That left a lot of latitude and a great deal of fun in finding a couple of contrasting ideas.

The first idea was the easiest. I get a weekly e-mail from The Splendid Table that spotlights a recipe and links a number of others. There is often a noveaux cocktail included with those links, and a couple of weeks ago it was one called the Last Call to Porter. Being considerate of my brother, and manipulative since I wanted to try it, I forwarded the e-mail with a strong suggestion that it might be appropriate for the next week. That was when I found out that David’s friends had liberated his Chartreuse one cocktail at a time. Fortunately, he suggested a category rather than a drink which left me, and my half bottle of Chartreuse, in business.

The Last Call to Porter is the invention of Katie Rose of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The drink was inspired by an historic, and in many ways tragic, event in England. In 1814 the Meux Brewery of London suffered a catastrophic event when a large vat of porter beer ruptured and in turn caused other vats to rupture. The resulting flood, there was an estimated 323,000 gallons let loose,  caused the tragic death of as many as nine individuals but also led some Londoners to head to the streets to capture the flowing porter with buckets.

Katie Rose’s cocktail combines the historic porter with bourbon and two liqueurs. Bourbon (she specifies 1 ounce Knob Creek) is combined with a half-ounce each of two monk made liqueurs – Green Chartreuse and Benedictine. Those are shaken with ice, strained into a coupe and topped with porter. She suggested a Milwaukee porter but I used People’s Porter (seems more fitting since the townspeople were most affected by the flood) from Winston-Salem, N.C.

The recipe sounds like a battle of flavors, especially since the two liqueurs have so many ingredients, but it is the Chartreuse and porter that shine through. Porter is so mellow and balanced from the roasted malts and the herbs of the liqueurs balance that perfectly. I am not sure where the bourbon fits in but the drink is smooth like a porter, and complex like a classic cocktail. Same admonition I often give though, this drink should be sipped.

I wanted a second beer cocktail that would contrast the herb heavy flavor and richness of the Last Call to Porter. That led me to a variation on the shandy which is often a summer cocktail. Typically a shandy is beer mixed with lemonade, ginger beer or a soft drink. They have become so common that there are a number of varieties pre-mixed and sold in the beer case.

I chose a shandy style cocktail called the Beer’s Knees which is a riff on the gin based cocktail the Bee’s Knees. A Bee’s Knees mixes gin, honey and lemon in a coupe while the Beer’s Knees is a mix of gin (1.5 oz.), lemon juice (1 oz.), honey syrup (1 oz.) and hefeweizen (3 oz.). Mix the first three ingredients, top with beer, add ice (or not if you so choose) and garnish with lemon. Since it is not summer anymore, unfortunately, I was used a hefeweizen style winter white ale from Bell’s to use in the recipe. Compared to the first drink, this one was a beautiful color, light and brisk thanks to the lemon. The honey offers slight sweetness in perfect combination with the lemon and wheat beer. This cocktail also kept me in good graces since it is a style of drink, and beer, that my wife enjoys much more than porter and herbed liqueurs.

Jonathan’s take: This week combines the old world and new, beer and cocktails, and a challenge to sources, all with a history lesson thrown in.

David’s Take: I loved the De Beauvoir—it was rich and warming, perfect for the season—and I’d recommend making it a double. You have to finish the porter anyway…

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year, I had suggested a drink that could be served to the masses for Thanksgiving. This year I messed up and made that suggestion, Pear Bourbon Cider, two weeks too early. That won’t prevent me from mixing up a variation of the PBC (who knew TJ’s Pear Cinnamon sold out so quickly and I would have to use something else) for a house full on Thursday. That leaves a drink of the week, though, so my suggestion is the B-52. It is a blast from the past that is part shot and part dessert drink. It is also small enough to fit into whatever space is left after all of the gluttony. There are a great number of variations too, all with unique names, so guests can choose their own version.

 

Drinking Out

Proposed by: Davidphoto-85

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Letting someone else mix your drink, I’ve discovered, isn’t so bad. You needn’t worry about imposing on your brother—the last person you’d want to impose upon—and there’s usually company, a welcome meeting of friends, the celebration of reconnecting.

This weekend, Jonathan and I went out. On my half, his friend Jerry Beamer and his wife Jean were visiting Chicago, and so we met at Epic, a restaurant downtown known as a “spot,” a place to get good food and good cocktails and good conversation. All of which we more than achieved. The evening went by in a blur, but it was, in every possible way, a pleasant blur.

Jerry ordered an Effen Avocado just before we arrived, a combination of Effen Vodka (brilliantly named), avocado puree, lime, and agave nectar. I didn’t taste any, but Jerry reported satisfaction, a pleasing combination of weight and spirit.

At dinner, Beth tried a G6, a combination of St. Germaine, agave nectar, and prosecco. Jerry’s wife Jean chose Crimson Love, Ketel One Vodka infused with lemon and lime, solerno—a blood orange liqueur—actual blood orange puree, and Aperol.

Jerry and I both decided on The Epic Mule, the restaurant’s variation on the Moscow Mule, served, appropriately and necessarily, in a copper cup and featuring—the deviation—tarragon simple syrup. With vodka and ginger beer and lime, it seemed refreshing, almost (not quite) like the water that accompanied the meal. I have to think that’s the whole point of metal vessels, to make you think you’re drinking from a spring with a ladle… though water never tasted so good.

For the second round, Jerry ordered more of the same, except that he substituted bourbon for vodka, and I had to follow suit. That drink, in my humble opinion, surpassed the first, with the complication of an amber spirit replacing the directness of clear. I hadn’t thought of adding lime to whiskey, but the combination was perfect, just as refreshing but more complex. It made me want to invent more lime-bourbon drinks.

The food was wonderful too.

All in all, the evening couldn’t have been better. Good history, good food, and good cocktails. Fun, I hope, for all, a reminder we must stick together. Company enhances cocktails, but ultimately communing with friends is why we’re here, to celebrate the warm connections we’ve made.

Here’s Jonathan’s account:

out

This week was a short break from making our own cocktails, but not a break from unique drinks. Thanks to Jerry and Jean’s (Bourbon Jerry and Jean-Baby to me) visit to Chicago it was a chance to try out the cocktail scene in our respective cities. And in that trying out, it gave us a chance to go to a part of Charlotte that we don’t visit often.

A simple Google search of best cocktails led me to Heist Brewery which seemed odd since one would assume that they would concentrate on beer. Bad assumption. Their menu includes interesting food with a local farm to fork emphasis served in small portions to encourage tasting a number of items. Added to that is their large and small batch micro-brews, beer cocktails, and what they term “craft cocktails.” They are located in a part of Charlotte that was formerly an area of textile mills and the accompanying mill village. What used to be a simple blue collar area is now a unique part of town that is home to micro-breweries, restaurants, live music clubs, and an interesting mix of housing.

We tried a couple of those cocktails and intended to try two of the beer cocktails. Many, many years ago our family made a stop in San Angelo, Texas. I have no idea how we ended up there and why but there are two things I remember about San Angelo – a train museum and horned frogs (or horny toads as we called them). La Marque had an occasional horned frog, but San Angelo was lousy with them.

That is all my way of explaining why I chose the one of Heist’s classics, the Horny Toad. It is made with Hornito’s tequila, jalapeño agave syrup, elderflower liqueur, fresh sour mix, a dash of Cholula and is garnished with jalapeño and lime slices. My wife had a Texas Mule made with Tito’s, vodka, fresh lime juice, and Heist made ginger beer served in the classic tin mule cup over crushed ice.

Both drinks were excellent and unique, but the Horny Toad stood out. First, it was beautiful in a way that none of my drinks seem to be. Second, the fusion of flavors made it spicy but not, and tart but not. It was perfectly refreshing and unique. The Texas Mule was also really good, especially the ginger beer, but the Toad was so assertive it made the Mule seem a little too calm.

And those beer cocktails? Debbie made her second drink a Horny Toad after tasting mine, and I couldn’t go to a brewery, stare at the brewing room, and not try a beer. Opting for their Porter to go with our small plates, I made another excellent decision. Thanks to Heist, it was an evening of them.

One more recommendation. It was National Pretzel Day on Saturday (we found that out later) so it was only fitting that our best small plate was beer cheese with soft, freshly baked pretzel sticks. That and a Horny Toad and you can’t go wrong.

Jonathan’s take: There is an art to true cocktails. It may have an odd name, but Heist’s Horny Toad proved that

David’s take: Hail to the mule… and visitors.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I don’t know if it is my proposal or David’s, but next week is the Kentucky Derby so we’re having Mint Juleps. I have already ordered a couple of julep cups, stocked a new bourbon, and made mint simple syrup. Jerry, that cocktail trying fool that he is, will be here to try them with us and I can’t wait!