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.

 

Advertisements

Blackberry-Bourbon Lemonade

RedjbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

We grew up in a small town near Galveston Bay. At least that is what I usually say even though it may be more accurate that we spent our formative years there. We lived there pre-school, elementary, middle and, for David, the first two years of high school. It was a great place to be a kid, at least in my estimation, because the town was small (we moved across town and the two houses were barely over a mile apart). You could leave the house in the morning and show up again at dinner without anyone wondering where you had been.

It was also an area that allowed for food gathering. The bay and bayous were within walking and biking distance, which meant crabbing and fishing for most of the year. There were also plentiful figs and berries. Mulberries grew on trees and were okay but not worth stealing from the birds, but the blackberries that grew in open areas were definitely worth the occasional interaction with an indigo or hognose snake (I think they were there to eat things that eat blackberries). Straight snacking or filling a pouch by turning up the bottom of my shirt, I grew up with an affinity for blackberries.

My wife was the one who suggested this week’s drink. The lemonade and bourbon were interesting, but it was the picture of blackberries floating in the drink that sold me. And all of that was before I realized there was a blackberry/rosemary syrup. That syrup is medium on the difficulty scale, although the smell alone is worth it. The name may be too complicated for Yankee Candle, but some candle entrepreneur should figure how to replicate the sweet and savory odor of the simmering stems of rosemary with a mound of blackberries. It tastes wonderful too:

12 ounces blackberries by weight (a couple of cups by volume)
1.5 tbs of rosemary (three to four short stems)
¾ cup water
¼ cup sugar

Mix water and sugar in a saucepan to combine, add rosemary and blackberries, bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Spend the last 5 minutes smashing the blackberries and then strain – through a colander first and a fine mesh screen second.

The drink is easy on the mixing scale:

2 ounces bourbon
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
2 tsps blackberry/rosemary syrup
1/3 cup sparkling lemonade

Mix the bourbon, lemon juice and syrup in a shaker with ice. Strain into a highball or double old-fashioned glass, add the sparkling lemonade and ice then garnish with fresh blackberries.

Better Homes and Gardens also provides the proportions to make it by the pitcher full. My recommendation is to invite folks over and do exactly that.

Here’s David’s Review:

Red.dbmNo sense in being coy. I loved this week’s cocktail. I would go as far to say it was one of the best we’ve tried… which leaves me very little else to say except to explain why.

I’ll start, however, with the one reason I didn’t love this cocktail. I have a love-hate relationship with syrups, and the central element of this cocktail meant pulling out the cheesecloth again. Syrups (especially this one) are worth the trouble, and it’s not like it’s impossible to boil fruit with sugar. The sticky point arrives when it’s time to eliminate parts of that mixture you don’t want. Perhaps my impatience dooms me, but I end up staring down the fine mesh screen as it clogs and slows to an agonizing drip. Forcing the liquid out with a spoon leaves too much behind, so I end up squeezing the stuff through cheesecloth.

All this kvetching leads to a prayer: someone somewhere out there (please!) must know how to separate pulp and syrup without so much trouble or mess. I’d love to learn your secret.

In the meantime, I’m sure my hands won’t be stained red for that long.

What I do love are blackberries. Like Jonathan, I especially appreciate the nostalgia they evoke. I vaguely remember picking them at some farm in coffee cans, but I can still taste the variably sweet and sour variety that sprouted wild in the Texas town where Jonathan and I grew up. My own recollection is that few summer days passed without pausing to grab a couple from the brambles, snakes be damned. Sometimes we even gathered enough in our T-shirts to convince our mom to make cobbler. Of course, we never thought of combining them with rosemary, but the influence of the herb is subtle and perfect.

Which is another thing I loved about this cocktail—each ingredient seemed assertive without being overwhelming on its own. Though you taste the bourbon, it doesn’t take center stage. The syrup is clearly blackberry, but the lemon in the drink keeps it from coming across as too sweet or heavy. I used Izze Limon as my sparkling lemonade because I couldn’t find anything else, but that choice seemed serendipitous. The touch of lime and the understated sweetness of the soft drink made the final concoction light and refreshing, perfect for a July 4th afternoon.

When Jonathan sends his portion of our post, I nearly always find we’ve touched on similar ideas. Even before he sent his part, I’d written the same advice: leap directly to making a pitcher of this stuff. Creating the syrup is the only downside, so make a lot—red hands be damned—and look for friends to share the plenty of summer blackberries.

David’s Take: One of my favorites.

Jonathan’s take: The blackberries drew me in, the syrup and bourbon increased my interest and the drink clinched it. I’d fight a hognose for it.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Summer—even in Chicago—brings verdant growth… and farmers’ markets. It’s fun this time of year to recognize the peaks of various plants, as rhubarb gives way to peaches and asparagus to tomatoes. This week’s recipe is a Lemon Basil Cocktail, another lemonade involving an herb, this time made with tequila, triple sec, lemon, and the tender basil that is just beginning to appear for sale in Chicago. At first I thought about mixing things up more—we are on a streak of fruit drinks—but why not take advantage of summer’s bounty?