Spiked Pear Cider

img_1799Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Thanks to this cocktail blog, our history with good and bad holiday drinks is well-chronicled. I won’t return to Tom and Jerrys—ever—and the French 75—though it remains my favorite champagne drink. The time has come to move on, say goodbye to 2016, thankfully, and try something new.

As I mentioned last time, a Google search for “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails” turns up choices like Peppermint Martini, Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate, and other drinks rejected for being too sweet, too thick, too complicated, too unnatural, and/or too Seussian. Mostly they were too frou-frou. Though I’m not Fezziwig or the most uproarious holiday party guest, I’m no Scrooge. I try to keep my bah-humbugs to a minimum and keep the season well, but, sometimes, when I look at a Yummly page quilted with coupes of technicolor libations on elaborate tablescapes created for this time of year, I cry a little inside. Does it have to be such a big deal, really?

Plus, while I’m showing off my decision tree, let me confess that I try to consider friendly fire in choosing cocktails—the people around my brother and me, mostly our wives, who will have to share these drinks with us. During this season or any other, I’ve learned to reject the purely alcoholic combinations and know that the most welcome ingredients may be juice and some prominent liqueur we already have. That’s why I thought of Spiked Pear Cider. Its central ingredient is juice, not alcohol—it’s not at all boozy—and it’s both warm and a little fizzy.

  •  4 c. sparkling pear or apple cider
  • 3 c. pear juice
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 5 whole cloves
  • ½ c. brandy
  • 3 tbsp. orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
  • 1 Seckel pear

The preparation may seem a little complicated, but it isn’t. Just bring 3 cups of the sparkling cider, the spices, vanilla bean (I used a few drops of extract), and the 3 cups of pear juice (I recommend Jumex in a can. Bring that to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer it for 7 minutes. Stir in the brandy and orange liqueur after that. The recipe says to strain the liquid into a pitcher, but we skipped that part. We also halved the recipe. Top it with more sparkling pear cider and garnish.

Though we’re currently suffering a polar vortex here in Chicago, this winter has otherwise been warm, and I don’t think the hot part of this cocktail is all that essential. In fact, I could see returning to this recipe in June, maybe with a little iced tea added. My inner Thoreau wants to urge simplicity, simplicity, simplicity and doing what seems easiest and most comfortable during this harried time. Just enjoy yourself and each other, no extra assembly required.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

daisyOh those hazy, crazy, lazy days of late Autumn. First, we had the drink as a punch on Thanksgiving Day and now it will soon be Christmas and I am just writing the review. Hazy memory. I wish I could blame that on important things going on but it is really just a jumble of work, events, then some utility construction that has destroyed swaths of our yard and sent me to customer service purgatory on numerous occasions. The next time I call Time Warner will be the official edge of crazy. Finally, the picture that is included is my best illustration of lazy. As in, hey-dummy-you-forgot-to-take-a-picture-of-the-drink lazy.

This is the type of proposal that I love. David came up with a cocktail that could be made in advance (mostly), added a wonderful fragrance to the kitchen and served a group. It was the perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving so that is how it was served.

There were a few small changes that I made to the recipe. The most important was that I served it cold. That allowed us to make the base, with another slight change by using bourbon soaked vanilla bean pods, in advance and then top with chilled sparkling cider with each serving. The final change was that I used an apple/pear brandy that I had left from a Calvados drink we made earlier.

This punch is a mix of subtleties. The base has a background taste that just hints at the vanilla and cloves. In the same way, the pear and apple meld with neither being dominant. And unlike the many cocktails we have enjoyed with bubbly, the effervescence of the sparkling cider is muted by adding most of it during the mulling process. It could be my predilection for champagne drinks but I think it would be worth trying this with all the sparkling cider added to the base and then substituting sparkling wine for the topper. Especially if you drink this cold.

Jonathan’s Take: This is a Fall drink – subtle, quiet and simple like a day of drifting leaves.

David’s Take: If we do ever have a holiday party, I’ll serve this.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

We’ve gone so long between entries that another holiday is upon us. It is that time when we enjoy more confections, and food in general, than we do throughout the rest of the year. It is also the time for odd foods such as fruitcake which is rendered edible only through a thorough soaking in booze. We’re going to take a slight break from cocktails and try some foods that are enhanced or dominated by spirits. That can include candies, sides and main dishes as long as there is a liquor component.

Sidecar

sidecar-jmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

It is a little hard to believe that there are any classics left for us to try. When you study cocktails—an exaggeration of the idea of “study” if ever there was one—it is hard to believe there are so many cocktails available to try in general.

The Sidecar has the typical disputed history, but what is not in dispute is its origin. This is a drink that derives from the brandy crusta. David Wondrich (yes that guy again) notes the crusta as the genesis of citrus in a cocktail. A New Orleans bartender, Joseph Santini, created the brandy crusta at the New Orleans City Exchange bar in the 1850’s. The recipes for these early drinks are complicated by ingredients (gum syrup), garnishes (half a lemon peel) and glassware (a wine glass that isn’t what most would call a wine glass) that need interpretation. Here’s the gist of the crusta after Wondrich finished interpreting:

2 ounces brandy,

1/2 teaspoon curaçao,

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 dashes bitters.

Take a wine glass, coat the rim in fine sugar, add the peel of half a lemon, mix all the ingredients in a tumbler with ice then strain into the glass.

It is easy enough to see how the Sidecar evolved from the crusta, but the question remains: who did it and where did the name come from? One story traces the drink to the now familiar, at least to discerning readers, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Sometime after World War I an American serviceman, who very responsibly caught a ride to the bar in a motorcycle sidecar, asked for something fancier than straight spirit and was served a mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice in equal parts. The Ritz Bar is also given as a Paris birthplace of the drink but the back story is the same.

Those stories are countered by a couple of others. There is the version where the drink was born in Buck’s Club in London. In the English version the proportions may be different, but the motorbike accessory is still cited for the name. Another idea is that the evolution of the crusta occurred in the city where it originated—New Orleans. My favorite part of that one is the different explanation for the cocktail’s name. When a bartender mixes too much of a drink, the extra is poured into a shot glass, and it’s is referred to as a sidecar. Although I overdo the mixers all the time—that’s why I typically use a glass that can handle the extra—I am not sure I have seen a professional bartender make that mistake. I like the term though.

The final issue for this cocktail are proportions. As noted earlier, if you order the Sidecar in Paris you will get equal amounts of all three ingredients. Others suggest that the best mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice is 2:1:1 or 8:2:1. The latter is too complicated, and I like the lemon juice to be more dominant so I chose the former. Mix everything with ice in a shaker, shake and strain into a coupe that has been rimmed with sugar. Garnish with an orange peel. As my picture shows, I skipped the sugar and used a wedge of orange. I figure, if they can’t settle on a story, why should I follow the recipe exactly? That is why since Crustas were also made with other spirits, I made a Sidecar version with bourbon substituted for cognac. The whiskey was very dominant so I would suggest sticking with the classic version of the classic.

Here’s David’s Review:

sidecarThis cocktail is one of the few I’d tried when Jonathan and I started this blog, which, since I’d had about ten cocktails before this adventure, is saying a great deal. I was out with a friend who ordered a Sidecar and I took it as an omen. “I’ll have a Sidecar for his Sidecar,” I thought.

That was a long time ago, but I remember sitting with my friend at the bar watching the bartender agog at how unfussy the drink seemed, hardly the elaborate production of a libation I expected at the time.

Now I know, the only complicated aspect of most classic cocktails are their origin stories. Everyone, it seems, wants to get credit for making something so simple that anyone goofing around with basic ingredients might stumble upon it. The classics of the classics—like Old-Fashions and Manhattans and Martinis—morph into endlessly accessorized versions with the inventions and additions of ambitious mixologists. I’d be the last person to scorn their efforts because this blog is a tribute to some pretty clever combinations of spirits and mixers, but sometimes you just can’t improve on the essentials.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Sidecar is an essential. Like Jonathan, I followed Wondrich’s perambulations and experimented with proportions and ingredients—I’m with him on the bourbon, but, as I like a sweet counterbalance to lemon, I upped the curaçao a little—but really the recipe Jonathan offered is as sound as granite. And I liked this libation.

Would I make the Sidecar my signature drink? No. The conversation about “Which cocktail would you choose if you could only order one for the rest of your life?” continues. However, I am in awe of classic cocktails like the Sidecar because I can actually remember how to make them even months after my last one and also because they are reliably delicious.

Jonathan’s Take: In the beginning there were just spirits, then there were cocktails and after that there’s a sidecar load of variations.

David’s Take: The older I get, the bigger the appeal of the classics… but, then again, maybe I just want to become one.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Since Jonathan proposed a classic we’d somehow missed, and I’m going to propose a somehow missed ingredient—Sloe Gin. As always, introducing a new bottle to our liquor cabinets has to come with an apology, but I’m tired of walking past the Sloe Gin and thinking, “What IS that stuff anyway?” My research tells me sloes are wild and apparently beautiful British berries that have  astringent taste no one would like if it weren’t pickled in alcohol. I looked a number of recipes using it but finally settled on the naughtily-named Nice and Sloe (because I’m pretty sure Jonathan and I already own or can easily obtain the other ingredients).

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.

 

The Crusta

FullSizeRender-22Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are two parts to this introduction. One part, of course, is the background and history of this drink. That history is part of the evolution of the cocktail as we know it and is tied one the most common birthplaces for tipples that have spanned generations. The other part is familiar territory for the blog ,which is the theme of how we get ideas and proposals for what we will try each week – or every other week now. It may be best to start with the latter.

I have an ever-growing library of books about spirits, cocktails and the things that go with them. Those books are in actual paper format and e-books. As an aside, it is hard enough to remember where I read what but that is magnified by trying to recall which format first. At least e-books have a search function once I get that far. Among the newest of those books is Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee. I almost always do a quick perusal of books as I get them and the first thing that jumped out from this one were some recipes to go with the cocktails. In a twist on the traditional New Year’s Day menu for health, luck and money we used two appetizer suggestions. One was a black eyed pea queso and the other country ham and goat cheese pinwheels. Throw in some corn and collard green pancakes with lemon zest sour cream and we had the peas, ham, corn and greens we needed to start our year.

The cocktail I chose from the book was a familiar one called The Crusta. But why was it familiar and where the heck did I read about it before? Here’s the recipe first:

Fine grained sugar
Wedge of lemon
1.5 ounces cognac or bourbon
.5 ounce orange liqueur
.25 ounce maraschino cherry liqueur
.5 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
Dash angostura bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Wet the rim of a wine glass with the lemon, put sugar on a plate and rim the glass in sugar, mix all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into the wine glass into which new ice has been added. Garnish with the orange peel.

There are multiple versions of this recipe as David pointed out to me in a welcome reminder that I had not told him which one we would be using. Although this one does not have any sweetener other than that on the rim, history tells us that it should.

The reason that this drink sounded familiar is that it is part of the evolution of cocktails. David Wondrich wrote about The Crusta in his classic book Imbibe (that one is an e-book in my library) and notes that it marks the addition of citrus to the cocktail world. The Crusta is among one of many classics that were invented in New Orleans and is most certainly near the top of that list chronologically.  It was created by Joseph Santini in the 1850’s at the New Orleans City Exchange bar or an establishment called the Jewel of the South that he opened a few years later. Southern Cocktails credits it to Santini’s Saloon but I will stick with Wondrich on cocktail history. The drink impressed the oft noted professor, Jerry Thomas, so much that he included it in his famous book on cocktails. He included a version with gin but brandy/cognac seems to be the most common.

I am still in the self-imposed alcohol free zone of January. I did employ my taster, though, and even had the poor guy try both a cognac and a bourbon version. Classic cocktail evolution and the recipe both make it obvious that this is a spirit forward drink. He likes bourbon more than the unfamiliar cognac and preferred that one. By the same token if gin is your favorite then follow the professor’s lead and go with that.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1369You have to understand something about this blog—sometimes it feels as if it’s all about the photo. When the recipe calls for a specific garnish, or the drink is supposed to separate into layers, or even when there’s whipped cream, I start to worry. The Crusta, from every version I saw online looked more aesthetically pleasing than I usually muster. The sugar is part of the cocktail, of course. It lends sweetness to every sip… but that orange peel?

My brother might tell you I’m a champion worrier and that, nine times out of ten, my worry is entirely unjustified. In this case, the relief of making the Crusta look like the pictures of it distracted me. I’d had most of one before I thought, “Hey, what’s this like?”

Much about the drink suggests its venerable heritage. For one, whether you used Bourbon or Brandy (and I also made one of each), the spirit pushes to the forefront of this cocktail. The lemon juice, curacao and maraschino seem simply complementary, pleasant background to the main event. The sugar on the edge of the glass will seem a little too much to some who prefer more bitter, but I didn’t mind as long as the bourbon/brandy came through.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my feeling about these cocktails sometimes drifts into fiction. I think about who might drink them and in what circumstance. I’ve never seen a Crusta on a cocktail menu, but I imagine a person-in-the-know (a cognoscenti, or cocktailscenti, if you were) ordering it. He or she does it, in part, to challenge the bartender and, in another part, to draw some line back to the proto-cocktails that started everything. They say cocktails are an American art like Jazz or early cinema, and I like that idea. I like thinking Americans know how to combine, how to make something inventive simply by putting several different, and occasionally seemingly disparate, parts together. This libation, held up to the light by my imaginary customer, promises a celebration of ingredients, and I approve. The originals are often the most satisfying.

David’s Take: Not sure I can take the pressure of presentation too many more times, but I loved this cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails without citrus? Say it ain’t so, and then say thank you to Joseph Santini.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Boy, I hope Jonathan is up for this. Now that my brother has returned from cocktail exile, I’m going to propose a serious drink, the author of Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess’ favorite, the Hangman’s Blood, a potent—even if literary—”cocktail.” Call it revenge if you like. With seven (yes, SEVEN) spirits, this drink may prove the better of the Long Island Ice Tea. We can each split one with our wives, that’s permissible, but I’m been threatening this drink for awhile… maybe it’s time.

 

Sparkling Peach Sangria

IMG_0104Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

Sangria does not need a recipe in my opinion. I started with this write up with the mix that I used but every ingredient can be changed for another, and some of them can be left out entirely. There were a couple of exact recipes that I sent David, but it became apparent, especially after I got too lazy to buy more brandy and decided to use what I had, that the best bet was to wing it.

The mix can also be changed for taste. Want it more or less sweet for instance – use sugar, don’t use it, add more simple syrup, don’t add more, or change out between a dry or sweet wine. Some sangrias sparkle based on the use of seltzer, club soda or in the case of this recipe both soda and sparkling wine. Fruits vary by season, like the peaches that are front and center this week, and add to both the color and presentation. It’s all your choice and even though this is one of the ultimate group drinks, if you are making it you get to decide.

Sangria is associated with Spain and Portugal and the term is now protected within the European Union. That said, there are versions in every country and some suggestion that what we typically think of as sangria was actually created in the U.S. The classic versions are made with fruit, sweetener and wine. Almost every version I have read about or made also includes a spirit, like brandy, for fortification. It is usually made with red wine (the base word is sangre, or blood, after all) but the versatility has led to versions with white wine and sparkling wines.

The other thing to note is that it is a group beverage. I found a couple of recipes that broke it down to single servings but that was the exception. Most recipes are based on proportions that work from a full bottle of wine or more. That is also beneficial for another reason. It should be prepared in advance to let the flavors mix and meld so when the party starts there is no need to stop and mix.

Here’s a basic recipe:

Sliced fresh peaches
Blueberries
½ cup apple brandy (would have used peach or apricot if I had it)
¼ cup simple syrup
Lemon and lime juice (2 small lemons, 1 small lime)
½ liter club soda
1 bottle moscato

Mix everything except the moscato in a pitcher and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve, add the sparkling wine, stir gently and serve with ice.

And Here’s David’s Review:

SangriaDBMAs Jonathan has said before, it isn’t easy separating a drink and the occasion you try it. When you are with family and friends, almost any concoction might serve. You might never live down serving something wretched, but the memory would at least evoke warm mirth. If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that the company is far more important than the cocktail.

This weekend I was on the Rappahannock in Lancaster, Virginia visiting my sister and her husband as my mom visited. On Saturday night, when we made the sangria, the crowd swelled with my niece and nephew and their families and guests. We not only chose a recipe suited for a crowd, we doubled it.

And I think this drink was a hit. You can’t really mess-up Sangria. As long as you like fruit—peaches, in this case—and wine, there’s infinite potential for experimentation and amendment until you get it just right.

The recipe I used was a little different from Jonathan’s. It didn’t contain simple syrup because, between the moscato and peach brandy, it looked plenty sweet. Unlike Jonathan, I didn’t include lemon and lime juice. I hoped the citrus in the lemon-lime seltzer we used might be enough.

It wasn’t, and that’s where my sister’s brilliant amendment made all the difference. For the second batch, Alison suggested we add some lemon verbena from her herb garden. She macerated it before adding it to the drink, but you could also muddle it with the peach. Just don’t over-muddle as I always seem to do… or you’ll have to strain the drink before putting it in glasses. It doesn’t seem to take much to release the herb’s lemony smell, but the herb adds so much more than that, a spicy and fresh flavor that plays the same role basil does in so many drinks. If I have any objection to Sangria, it’s that it can be a little one-note and become more like party punch than a libation. I’m sure I never would have thought of including lemon verbena, but, as our meals this weekend made obvious, Alison knows how to add complex and harmonious flavors to enhance the whole experience.

The same might be said for this weekend’s celebration. Whatever combination of ingredients made their way into the sangria, the combination of people drinking it surpassed it. It’s especially tough this week to tell exactly what (or why) I’m reviewing.

David’s Take: My next sangria (and next and next) will include lemon verbena or some other herb.

Jonathan’s Take: I can’t help it. This one was just peaches.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Continuing our summer of summer cocktails and family, next week’s drink will include a an unusual ingredient generously supplied by our brother Chris from his garden in Tucson. He sent each of us a couple of mason jars of prickly pear syrup with instructions to use it in a cocktail. I thought at first we’d have to invent something, but it turns out the web offers many, many options. I’m suggesting a frozen prickly pear margarita with one important substitution, mescal for the traditional tequila. We’ll also be preparing some food (of our own choice) with the syrup, and I’m as excited about what will accompany the drink as I am about the drink itself.

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.

Metropolitan

metroProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I don’t really know who Jerry Thomas is, but every cocktailian turn I take, there he is in his white shirt, bowtie, vest, and sleeve garters throwing a drink from one glass to another. Fans of Jeremiah P. Thomas (also known as “The Professor”) consider him “The Father of American Mixology” and credit him with inventing most of the drinks we consume today. The rest, of course, are variations of libations he created.

The Metropolitan can be traced back to Thomas, even though, gasp, it’s not included in The Bar-Tender’s Guide (or How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion). The recipe first appears in Modern Bartender’s Guide by O. H. Byron in 1884, but, cocktailian historians—and, by the way, can someone tell me how you get that job?—say that Byron may have been a composite, a convenient name under which recipes might be gathered by some clever, profit-minded editor. And from whence did this editor collect these drinks, including The Metropolitan Cocktail? You guessed it—from a bar where Jerry Thomas (also known as the “Jupiter Olympus of the Bar”) worked. Other drinks in the Byron collection certainly came from Thomas, so some people want to attribute the Metropolitan to him as well.

Past a certain point, who invented a drink can become a little silly. When the ingredients are as basic as the ones included in a Metropolitan—brandy, vermouth, simple syrup, and bitters—its discovery seems inevitable. Somebody’s peanut butter was going to end up on someone’s chocolate, if you follow my ancient advertising history allusion.

Purists might argue, in fact, that the Metropolitan is little more than a variation on the Manhattan and hardly deserves a separate name. However, others—Impurists?—probably celebrate every variation as a subtlely new experience. One of the regular readers of this blog (I won’t reveal his identity, but his initials are Steven Coberly) wanted to know which bitters I had in mind for the drink. The original recipe called for “Manhattan Bitters,” which were likely, or like, Angostura. However, because this combination is so basic, using Peychaud’s or Orange or, my current favorite, Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters can move the cocktail’s taste dramatically one way or another. I tried a few bitters… but not all at once.

Just stay away from the cardamom bitters. I mean it.

One more note, don’t confuse this drink with the vodka cocktail also called The Metropolitan. Names, apparently, are also subject to secondhand discovery. The vodka Metropolitan is closer to a Cosmopolitan.

Another one more note—I ran into some sites that disagreed on proportions. Though the recipe I used calls for one and a half to one (brandy to sweet vermouth), some suggested two to one. If you’re using Carpano particularly, a little less vermouth will make a sweeter, more robustly brandy-y cocktail. But my advice is to experiment. I bet that’s what Jerry Thomas did, and he set the world record for the most honorifics awarded in one lifetime.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 ounces brandy

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 teaspoon simple syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

metro2

There is a show on the Esquire network that I have been telling David about. Called the Best Bars in America, the show follows two comedians, Sean Patton and Jay Larson, as they travel and sample at bars that have been featured in Esquire. There are plenty of drinks featured that we haven’t tried and probably won’t, but others have appeared on our list or should. One of the cocktails I noted while watching is the Metropolitan.

The interest may stem from the name, the appearance, or the idea that it is related to two drinks that seem quite dissimilar. Those drinks are the Manhattan (that similarity should be easy enough to see) and the other is the Cosmopolitan. Okay, as David says, the second one is similar mostly in name.

I need to state up front that there have been few times that I can remember drinking, much leas enjoying, brandy. This week’s cocktail is alcohol forward, and, even with the sweetening effect of the vermouth and simple syrup, enjoying brandy is important. The wonderful thing is that the interplay of ingredients allows one to do just that. The brandy is still very present, and it’s important to choose a quality one that holds up to that dominance. The vermouth softens it and even has enough sweetness that the simple syrup really isn’t necessary. The bitters are the final measure that round out the drink. I used peach bitters, mostly because I thought this could use some fruit, but I need to go back and try it with Angostura. Especially since this is a brandy Manhattan.

Jonathan’s take: The subtle differences in cocktails are making more sense and this is proof.

David’s Take: The simplicity of this cocktail, for me, achieves elegance. This cocktail seems a warmer, grapier Manhattan, and I intend to continue refining its combinations.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We have accumulated a variety of whisky and whiskey. I think it is high time to explore some of those again in two ways. The first is an idea David had promoted which is a taste testing to directly compare the types and rate them against the other. After choosing a winner, the second idea is to use that spirit in another classic drink—the Old Fashioned. Sean and Jay always have my head reeling by the end of each show with the amount of drink they have consumed. Part of the trick next week will be to keep my head from reeling due to the testing.

La Belle Quebec

LaBelleProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The choice this week is more about the liquor than it is the cocktail. My somewhat overfull shelves in the liquor cabinet include rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, American whiskey and some sweetened versions of a few of those. It was time to try Canadian and the vehicle was somewhat of an afterthought. As it turns out, at least in my opinion, that is a shame.

Canadian whisky or Canadian rye is not nearly as regulated as its counterpart to the south. In the U.S. rye (whiskey not whisky) must contain at least 51% rye grain in the mash with the remainder likely corn and barley. It is aged in charred oak barrels that have not previously been used. Canadian whisky is referred to as rye whisky more out of tradition than actual makeup. The mash mix may contain some rye but there are no restrictions on how much if any. Aging is accomplished in wood barrels, but once again the methods do not mandate the type of wood, charring or if they have been used previously. It follows a stereotype, but when it comes to Canadian whisky, those Canucks don’t let a bunch of rules bog them down.

The whisky I chose more resembled a scotch than the rye whiskey we have used in previous drinks. I bought Canadian Club small batch classic. Bottled at 80 proof, it does not identify the exact mix in the mash, and, with 12 years of aging in charred oak barrels, it is as smooth as a single malt to me. I tried a very small amount straight to compare it to the rye, and, though I am not one to taste all the subtleties, my first thought was that I need to offer it to friends who are scotch drinkers to see what their reaction will be.

This is a cocktail blog and I don’t want to forget the drink itself. La Belle Quebec is an obscure drink I found in an older Gary Regan book The Bartender’s Bible. The recipe is

1.5 ounce Canadian whisky

.5 ounce cherry brandy

.5 ounce brandy

.5 ounce lemon juice

half teaspoon fine sugar

Shaken with ice and strained into a coupe.

I used Cherry Heering instead of cherry brandy because I had it and would suggest that in doing so the sugar could be omitted to create a cocktail with a little less sweetness. The end result was a very nice drink, hardly deserving obscurity. It has a nice color, smooth taste and finish and just enough complexity to make it interesting.

photo 4-31Here’s David’s Review:

My wife and I have visited Quebec—we honeymooned there and made a return visit for our 25th wedding anniversary. She does much better with the French than I do, but it doesn’t matter much. Everyone seems equally friendly whether you say “Bonjour” or “Hello.” I’m a little surprised, in fact, that in our visits to Quebec City, no one has offered me one La Belle Quebec.

The flavors are certainly appropriate—Canadian Whisky, Brandy, and the one non-brown (but still dark) spirit I substituted for cherry brandy, Cherry Heering. Though the lemon juice lightens the combination a little, this cocktail is as potent and dense as it sounds. And, with sugar added, it’s quite sweet. About half-way through her glass—full or empty, you decide—my wife wondered if it would be a sin to fill the balance with seltzer. I joined her, and the drink seemed more refreshing, more suited to the heat that has finally descended on Chicago now that it’s late August and really ought to start cooling off.

Which is a natural segue to my review. I liked this drink. The warmth and depth and gravity of the cocktail would make it wonderful after dinner, but—if you need loosening up—maybe before dinner is good too. We have a deck of cards from the Chateau Frontenac that depicts the old hotel covered in snow, and I couldn’t help picturing us sitting in the hotel bar, happy we didn’t have to go out and happy for calm and friendly company. For me, it fits the same category as the great dark drinks—Sazerac, Manhattan, Vieux Carré, De La Louisianne, etc.—and we will never try enough of those as far as I’m concerned.

Is it the best summer drink? No. If you like the taste and want to have couple, the addition of seltzer isn’t a bad idea, particularly if you include lemon seltzer. Is it too sweet? Maybe, and I’ll certainly skip the sugar in the recipe when I make it again. Here’s “however”: I sometimes hear people say something has “Good bones” when they mean it has solid components, whatever objection you might have to their assembly or appearance. That.

On a related note, having never tried Canadian Whisky I was curious to try some on its own. A regular reader of this blog undoubtedly knows I favor the darker spirits (and the darker versions of the lighter spirits), and I’m grateful to Jonathan for introducing me to this one—it has the spiciness of rye and mellowness of bourbon and a clean, direct flavor all its own. Those Canadians are onto something.

And Cherry Heering, it’s delicious. Jonathan sent me an email earlier this week saying I should have Heering from an earlier recipe (I didn’t—I substituted something else). Then he added, “Unless you’ve been tippling like an old lady.” I don’t know. Maybe I will tipple that Heering away… or find another cocktail where it takes a central role.

David’s Take: Worth adding to the repertoire, and I’ll definitely return to it this winter.

Jonathan’s Take: I like the idea of less rules, and I like La Belle Quebec. A good combination.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, I’ve been looking for a definitive Chicago cocktail and have finally found one, The Cohasset Punch. I know it’s wrong that it should be named after a small town in Massachusetts, but (as always) there’s a story behind that. A popular drink from the turn of the 20th century until after World War II, it even appears in native son Saul Bellow’s debut novel, Dangling Man. The specific version I’m choosing is the update, The Cohasset Punch #2, which will require cinnamon simple syrup. I may also sneak in the original as well, which will require a canned peach… really.

Singapore Sling

better?Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There is a great deal of consensus about the creator, location and basics of the Singapore Sling. The popular history of the drink is that the bartender Ngiam Tong Boon of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore made the first one in the early part of the 20th century. There is also agreement about gin as the main ingredient along with Benedictine, cherry heering or brandy, lime juice, and club soda.  Since the original recipe no longer exists, or at least it is probable it does not, proportions and extra ingredients vary from that point. That should not be surprising to anyone who has ever researched the origins of classic cocktails.

One of the first things you learn when exploring cocktails is that there does not seem to be a definitive history for any drink. Almost every classic cocktail we have tried includes multiple versions of the history, ingredients and proportions. For instance, even with all the consensus, there are those who suggest the Singapore Sling came about before the cocktail by that name was served at the Raffles Long Bar. Different versions include pineapple juice, orange liqueurs, sugars, wine, floats of liquor and a variety of garnishes just to name a few. In fact, there are almost as many recipes as cocktail guides and write-ups.

As an aside, I have enjoyed reading the many blogs about cocktails, although their existence explains part of my problem with this blog. When we started I had visions of great popularity, worldwide acclaim, visits to late night talk shows and branching into alternative endeavors. Who knows, I thought, maybe I would finally achieve the life long career goal for which both David and I have practiced since we were young television addicts—cartoon voiceover artist.

Unfortunately, we are just one blog of thousands exploring the realm of alcohol, and I will need to keep my day job.

The proposal last week suggested that David find a recipe to his liking since there are so many variations. I ended up doing the same after reading multiple suggestions and then changed that up as I made more drinks. The base recipe I used was equal parts (1 ounce) of gin, cherry heering, Benedictine and fresh lime juice. Those were all shaken with ice, 2 ounces of club soda and few dashes angostura bitters were added before serving over ice in a highball glass. The second drink added an equal part of pineapple juice to tone down the sweetness of the heering and I changed the bitters to orange.

It was surprising how the gin got lost in the drink and the Benedictine stood out. My sister-in-law suggested the drink made her feel like she should be on a cruise ship and that really summed it up. It is bright, cheerful and tropical. So much so it seems to cry out for an umbrella. Maybe that is why there are so many versions; it is satisfying, but everyone is looking for that magic combination that takes it to another level.

photo-80Here’s David’s Review:

It appears it’s been a tough winter everywhere and, of course, here in Chicago we like to believe we’ve had it worst with our fourth greatest inches of snowfall ever, our polar vortexes, and our temperatures lower than Antarctica lowered ridiculously again by wind chills. True or not, since winter hit in late October, I’ve been thinking, “Boy, I could use a Singapore Sling!”

Not really, but it was a welcome drink for early March, a reminder of tropical climes and a harbinger of spring. It has to be spring soon, doesn’t it, because how can they dye the Chicago River green if it’s covered with ice?

I like all the ingredients in this drink, every one, so their combination was wonderful to me. I used the classic Raffles Hotel proportions, and it’s complicated measuring out all its parts—harder if you’ve had one. Yet all the varieties of spirits seemed perfectly balanced against the freshness of the pineapple juice… also one of my favorite things. The pineapple garnish gave me a good excuse to eat the entire fruit. I know, I should be ashamed of myself.

After an abortive trip to the market—yes, Jonathan, it happens even here—I went with ingredients we already possessed, Luxardo Maraschino and Mandarine Napoleon in place of Cherry Heering and Cointreau, but the result was pleasing, fruity and fresh with a complementary hint of botanicals from the Benedictine and Gin. Naturally, I’m curious what this cocktail might be like with first-string components and intend to try it again sometime with its archival “necessities.” That said, I was quite satisfied. It’s a classic for good reason. Cocktails involving fruit juice always seem smoothest. Maybe I think somehow I’m being healthy… though the next morning usually disavows that notion.

Jonathan’s take: This is a drink for one of my favorite cartoon characters, the fellow who offered everyone a Hawaiian punch. I need to work on that voice.

David’s Take: Wonderful and welcome.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Erin go Braugh! St. Patrick’s Day is a big celebration around here, with roving bands of stumbling drunks swinging from trolleys and hailing taxis all over the city. I’m using the occasion to suggest something other than green beer. I’ve chosen a cocktail that’s suitably green, uses Irish whiskey, but is perhaps—and how could it not be?—more subtle: Irish Eyes. It’s compared to a White Russian, which I think Jonathan’s wife enjoys, so I’m hoping for the luck of the Irish. And isn’t everyone Irish on March  17th… or thereabouts on the calendar somewhere in there?

The French 75

French75Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The first order of business is this week’s drink, the French 75. Like many of the cocktails we have tried there is some dispute as to its origin. The best information points to Paris and a drink named after an artillery weapon because of its hard hitting conclusion and that is the one I like the best. Clearly dating to at least the early part of the 20th century, the French 75 is named after a 75mm howitzer and is a mix of spirit, sweet, citrus, and sparkling wine. There is some disagreement, or at least a difference in taste, about whether it should be made with gin or cognac. Here is the recipe that I decided to use:

1.5 ounce Cognac

.5 ounce simple syrup

.5 ounce fresh lemon juice

Sparkling wine (I used Cava this time)

The idea of proposing a sparkling wine based drink is that we are in that holiday period of drinks that are part of gatherings and celebrations. This drink fills that role wonderfully. Not as basic as a simple pour of bubbly, the French 75 adds a complexity through the cognac and along with that a kick. It may be a factor of suggestion, but the drinks with effervescence always seem to cry out for sipping lest they hit with the quick power of the aforementioned artillery piece.

A secondary purpose of suggesting this drink was to introduce the concept of toasts. The subject would take far more than a simple blog post to explore, but as with the drink, tis the season for such things and there are some basics worth exploring.

Toasts are definitely cultural, and any discussion should include the customs and etiquette that accompany them. Certain countries, think Ireland, are famous for toasts of all types while others, Russia in this case, are cited for a toast before each drink. It can be considered bad taste to toast with water, to not drink after toasting, or to miss out on touching glasses with each person toasting. One of my favorite tidbits is that toasting may have started with mistrust and the partial sharing of drinks to be sure that none of the drinks were poisoned. In fact, it is said that the touching of glasses, the clinking that has become spoken in many cultures, is a sign of trust the drink need not be shared to ensure the absence of poison. The best part of almost every cultural tradition of toasting is the recognition that the sharing of drinks is the sharing of company. That is something I always consider, even if David and I share virtually, as I try each week’s drink.

Almost everyone has a favorite toast even if they do not know the origin. I have always liked the simple “a votre sante” which is most basically translated as “to your health”. Similarly many offer “salud” or “health” to say the same thing, which is the common wish that your fellow drinker experience good health or good fortune. Na Zdrovie is another well-known example of wishing “to your health” although most associate it with incorrectly with Russian toasts (it does not actually translate that way) instead of the Polish Na zdrowie where it actually is a wish for health.

My favorite toast has always been “here’s mud in your eye” although, and probably because, I have no idea what that really means. There are biblical explanations (Jesus rubbing clay in the blind man’s eyes to restore his health/sight), historic (soldiers in muddy trenches), and agricultural (used by farmers for no good darn reason that I have heard). The best explanation, or at least the one I like the best, is that it originates from horse racing. The idea is that the lead horse has clear racing and those that follow have the mud of the race course flying in their eyes as they trail. An alternate, but similar, explanation is that it was a way of saying “so long” before downing the drink and taking off on horse with mud flying back at the other drinkers. No matter what the explanation – here’s mud in your eye!

french 752Here’s David’s Review:

Though I’d never describe myself as a “foodie,” I’ve eaten in enough fancy restaurants to know that simplicity and sophistication often arrive together. A good chef makes salad, asparagus, mashed potatoes and seared scallops so delicious, you may feel as if you’ve never really consumed them before.

I feel that way about the French 75, which, with just four ingredients, offers a bright, refreshing, and novel cocktail. Though the lemon juice makes this drink somewhat reminiscent of a gimlet or even a daiquiri, the cognac gives it more warmth and depth, and the sparkling wine (we used prosecco) gives it a light, celebratory lift.

It seems the perfect accompaniment to hor d’oeuvres and conversation, sweeter than white wine and yet tart enough not to be cloying. After last week’s dense, eggy, homestyle cocktail, this one seemed especially buoyant, more nectar than batter. Using no spices or bitters, the French 75 is direct and natural, the perfect answer to all the heavy food and buttery, cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y, clove-y flavors proliferating this time of year.

Online, like Jonathan, I found recipes that called for gin rather than cognac, but, to me, gin would only scuttle the drink. Introducing botanical and bitter elements would certainly make its flavor profile more complex, but simplicity seems the soul of this cocktail’s appeal.

As Jonathan says, this drink gets its name from a French field gun because it’s supposed to possess a similar kick, but I’m not sure it has much in common with artillery. Quite the contrary, the drink went down very easily. We had it Christmas afternoon just before the meal and regretted that we only had enough lemons for each of us to have one, as the French 75 seems something you could drink a lot of.

While my experience with champagne tells me having many might be a bad idea, you may find your judgment slipping if you like this drink as much as I did.

On the matter of toasts, I received a book devoted to the topic in my stocking, a suitable accompaniment to this week’s drink. Among the information offered is a list of toasts by nationality. My favorites, strictly by pronunciation (because I have no idea of meaning) are: Gan Bei (Gan BAY: Chinese), Hulu pau (Hoo-lee pow: Hawaiian), Heko (hee-ko: Swahilii), and Vô (Voh: Vietnamese). Please don’t ask me any more—they just sound cool.

Jonathan’s Take: The classics, and French 75 is certainly one, never seem to disappoint. Consider adding it to your New Years traditions.

David’s Take: Here’s one I’ll remember and repeat for celebrations ahead.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My proposals haven’t always been so successful, so I’ve decided to embrace being the bold and quirky cocktailian brother. I’m sending Jonathan to the liquor store for Aquavit (a Scandinavian caraway flavored spirit) to create a drink named after Rosalind Russell, the actress most famous for His Girl Friday and the movie version of Auntie Mame. She also married a Danish-American, which may be where she developed a taste for Aquavit, a rather odd ingredient. I hope everyone is up for a challenge—who knows what to expect, besides fun, fun.