Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.

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Bengali Gimlet

Bengali2Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Cookbooks don’t have to be very complicated to challenge me, but I’m especially worried when instructions say, in effect, “Go to the grocery (or specialty spice store), ask someone about uncommon and/or subtle ingredients, add them together one by one (mostly through distinctly different processes), and then combine them all (until you wonder why you didn’t just do that in first place), then you are ready to begin.”

If you follow links below, you will understand my apprehensions this week. Central to this cocktail was curried nectar, a simple syrup flavored by traditional Indian spices. And I didn’t think very clearly about Jonathan’s being at the beach where obtaining ingredients might be even more challenging.

My excuse is that I’m in San Antonio this weekend and, while I was visiting my mom, my sister hosted a “Gourmet Club” comprised of some neighborhood friends. I found this recipe online, and it seemed a natural for the focus on Indian Cuisine. The earliest incarnation comes from Jonny Raglin, when he was the head bartender at the Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, and it relies on a combination of sweet, spice, and sour in the syrup, curry, and lime.

The combination isn’t unusual, but the guests at my sister’s party seemed leery about trying one at first. Maybe it was the color—my version seemed more brown than Jonathan’s—but, as the rule of the club is to try everything, everyone had one eventually… and some had more than one. It helped that the essential spirit, gin, fits the season and that, by definition, a “gimlet” promises something refreshing. The term “gimlet” actually comes from a drilling tool, and, in when it’s associated with eyes or expressions, the term labels a penetrating quality.

Some mixed drinks hinge on absolute, elegant simplicity, but another category of cocktails ask a great deal of cocktailians. Both involve creativity, but the second present special risk, brinkmanship, the high-wire act. Little doubt, this drink tests a taster’s mettle.

bengaliJMHere’s the recipe:

1½ ounces Tanqueray Rangpur gin

½ ounce lime juice

½ ounce Curried nectar

1 kaffir lime leaf

Muddle Kaffir lime leaf with Curried Nectar in a mixing glass. Add ice, lime juice, and Tanqueray Rangpur gin. Shake heavily and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a paper-thin lime wheel. In the interest of space, I’ve linked to the nectar recipe.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

This cocktail is, on many levels, amusing. The first part of that is the complexity belied by the recipe description as “easy.” If it has not been apparent in the proposals and reviews, David is the one who more often proposes the drinks that are complex in both ingredient and preparation. He seems to worry about that, but I enjoy both the pursuit of the necessary parts and the preparations required.

The next part of the drink/challenge that I enjoyed was tracking down the needed items while on a beach vacation. Kaffir lime leaves? That would be difficult in my hometown, but was impossible on the coast of South Carolina. Fortunately, the rest of the spices were not quite as hard to find, although I should point out that I had to venture back into North Carolina to do so. The other option is that the curry nectar could have been a simple syrup with curry powder but with our sister, Laurie, preparing Indian food while David made his nectar, I would have been a slacker to do that.

The final part about this week that was an amusing coincidence is that one of my co-workers, who is Indian and a regular reader of this blog, recently left for a job with another organization. Just when I needed his expertise and advice, he abandoned me. At least that is what I want him to think.

PotIt would be most appropriate if David includes a picture of the nectar in the making. We exchanged messages during the process mostly because the stew of spices, peppers, sugar and water was terrifying to look at for a not-so-young person with a finicky stomach. The end result, though, was a spicy (even after a rough strain and two fine strains in my case) and complex simple syrup unlike anything I have ever tried. Side note – I am planning on using part of the remainder to bake some peaches.

It may sound like shilling for a liquor, but the other complex and wonderful part of this cocktail is the gin that is specified. I had thought that we had explored gin fairly extensively, but Tanqueray Rangpur is an amazing citrus and ginger version. My first inclination was to use a gin that I had on hand, but it seemed to be an unnecessary shortcut especially considering the difficulty in making the curry nectar. Good decision. Tanqueray Rangpur has to be the go-to gin for anyone who loves a gin and tonic.

The classic gimlet is one of my favorites. This version with its spice and strong lime presence through the liquor, and probably the kaffir leaves for those who can find them, was excellent. I’m sorry I did not get to experience it with Laurie’s food or with my former co-worker, but I loved it.

David’s Take: Unusual? That goes without saying, but a deft and creative cocktail… sometimes there’s a sort of artistry in this stuff.

Jonathan’s Take: David may worry about his complicated proposals but if they are this good – bring them on.

Next week’s proposal:

David noted a while ago that next week we will hit the one-year mark for this blog. Each of us will note some of the lessons that we have learned in this endeavor. We could probably set some arbitrary number, but why? The week after we will list what we consider the hits and misses of our proposals. Don’t forget that we want reader submissions on the latter!