Redless Snapper

bloodless.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

It may be more common to say there are two camps on any subject, yet when it comes to the Bloody Mary there seems to be three. Of course there are those who love them and those that do not, but there is also a third group that wants to love them.

The lovers have many reasons. They are one of the few cocktails that are associated with breakfast or brunch, mixing and matching ingredients makes them adaptable and customizable, and switching the liquor not only changes the taste but changes the name. Finally, how many drinks include the juicy rationalization that you are actually drinking something healthy? Okay, maybe I am the only one who claims that.

The detractors have their points too. Tomato juice is the main ingredient and it dominates the drink. Don’t like tomato and you won’t like the drink. The thickness, spiciness, acidity and garnishes are all cited by those who much prefer a Screwdriver as a spirited part of their breakfast or brunch.

That final group is the one this week’s cocktail may attract. I have a friend, we’ll just call him “Willard” to guard his anonymity, who wants to like the Bloody Mary but can’t get past all of the negatives listed above. It is the thickness of the tomato juice based mix that really holds him back, and he challenged me to try and find an alternative. Clam juice, water and even orange juice (yes, there is a version of the Mary with orange juice) couldn’t cut the thickness to move him from one group to the other. So it was with some interest that I read about the Redless Snapper.

This cocktail is the creation of Kevin Barrett at Foundation Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was one of the drinks featured in an article in the February/March 2014 edition of Garden and Gun about spirits distilled in the south. It uses Cardinal Gin made in Kings Mountain, North Carolina and is technically a Red Snapper because of the gin substitution for vodka. The key to the cocktail, though, is that it uses tomato water made with fresh tomatoes instead of the standard mix.

The recipe for the tomato water is as follows:

6 large tomatoes, peeled and cut up
3 tsp. lime juice
½ green or red pepper
½ small clove of garlic
1 -2 tsp. fresh horseradish
1 jalapeno (optional)
Salt and pepper

Blend all ingredients except salt and pepper until smooth. Heat in a saucepan until it turns from the pink color to a deep red. Let it cool and strain through a fine strainer and then cheese cloth until it reaches the clarity you want. Add salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate. It reads harder than it really is.

The drink doesn’t specify the amount of tomato water to use but here’s the way I made it:
Moisten the rim of a highball glass with lime and roll in Old Bay seasoning

2 ounces gin
3 ounces tomato water
2 dashes celery salt
Ground black pepper
2 dashes hot sauce
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Serve in the highball glass with ice and garnish with the usual suspects – lime, olive, cornichon, celery, pickled okra – your choice.

Obviously you could use vodka to make a standard Blood Mary but either way it makes a much lighter cocktail that takes advantage of fresh tomatoes and the desire for a softer drink more appropriate for summer. Maybe even a drink that Willard would like.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1043Looking at this recipe for the first time, I recognized it immediately as a sneaky version of a Bloody Mary. The name strays from the usual witty word-play—“Redless Snapper” makes no use of “Mary” as most varieties do—but maybe “Bloodless Mary” was just too much.

Like “Willard,” the part of a Bloody Mary that always gives me the most trouble is the tomato. Gazpacho, I love—it takes advantage of perfect tomatoes in their juiciest peak along with a number of complementary fresh and—this is key for me—uncooked ingredients.

Despite approximately 258,000 repetitions by advertisers, I’ve never wished I could have had a V-8 (what never?… no never) because tomato juice tastes cooked to me, like tepid pasta sauce, too dense to be a satisfactory beverage.

Thus, the notion of “tomato water” in the Redless Snapper appealed to me, as it promised the taste of tomatoes without the usual gravity of tomato juice. Plus, this Bloody Mary used gin (increasingly my favorite spirit) and perhaps enough citrus to leaven the heaviness of the cocktail. The preparation of the tomato water was arduous to me—maybe I’m just developing an antipathy for straining—but I had very high hopes for this drink.

My wife liked the Redless Snapper quite a bit, but I’m still convinced tomato cocktails are just not for me and maybe I should figure out how to spike gazpacho. This drink was much lighter and much more refreshing, its savory elements weren’t overwhelmed by the tomato taste, and it accommodated the gin well. I still consider myself a member of Jonathan’s third group. It’s my problem, must be a former life thing or some scarring event from my childhood I can’t remember.

But we still have plenty of tomato water remaining, and I may try it again some Sunday when a get a hankering for a brunch-style drink. Next time around, however, I may try changing the proportions, with more citrus and more gin to diminish the tomato that, even as water, still seems too much for me.

Jonathan’s Take: I have always been in the lover of Bloody Mary camp but this is good. Still need a side of Tums to go with it too.

David’s Take: Foiled once again by another attempt to rehabilitate the Bloody Mary, alas.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Summer seems the perfect time for beer, and I’m proposing we try a variety of Shandy—beer with citrus, usually lemonade. Next week’s version is called the Orange Wheat Shandy. Americans have taken to adding a slice of orange to Blue Moon beer (brewed by Miller-Coors), and that’s the idea… yet, beer-snob that I am, next week’s “beertail” ventures further than average, substituting the more hearty, and older, German Hefeweizen (a cloudy brew with substantial body and a yeasty taste redolent of cloves and bananas) for the imitation Belgian Wit-bier and trading fresh orange juice for the one measly orange slice.

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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.