Sex on the Beach

Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There’s a good chance I am a prude. I hadn’t given it much thought until I started reading the names of the many Peach Schnapps cocktails and considered there is little to no chance I would order any of them in a bar. Of course, what chance is there that I would be drinking Peach Schnapps in the first place.

When I proposed the Sex on the Beach cocktail I noted that there are many cocktails using Peach Schnapps and that most of them have a suggestive double meaning. I assumed in reading them that there must be some reason that was easily identified. Nope. Maybe the peach lends itself to that (fuzzy), perhaps the Schnapps are sweet and sneaky (all drinks referencing sex) or it could be that one thing just led to another (24 versions of some type of Sex on the…).

It isn’t just cocktails referencing sex though. There are a number that have peculiar names in general that, prude or not, I would never order.  Anyone imagine saying, “Excuse me bartender, could I have a Phlegm”? And what is the chance that you ask your friend to get you an Afterbirth, Alien Urine Sample or Cat Killer while they are up at the bar? If I am suggesting drinking a Dr. Kovorkean, I hope someone schedules an intervention and nothing is going to make me want to put down my beer for a Sewer Rat, Frothin’ Monkey Ass or Crackhouse. I have been known to scream F**k Me Running on the golf course but it has never been a drink of choice.

One more note about Peach Schnapps and liquor in general. I don’t ever buy the cheapest version of whatever spirit we are featuring nor do I buy the top end stuff. When I went to buy this liqueur though, there were cheap options and cheaper ones. It was one of the few times, out of fear of what else was in there, that I splurged for the expensive bottle. It was a whopping $10 which finally gave me an idea why the cocktail names suggested behavioral changes. All of this said, the basic recipe for Sex on the Beach is simple and satisfying.

1.5 ounces vodka
.5 ounce Peach Schnapps
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
1.5 ounce cranberry juice

Combine, shake with ice, strain into ice filled glass and garnish with an orange slice. The liquor.com recipe suggested an alternative addition of Chambord or Creme de Cassis but I skipped that. I did increase the Peach Schnapps a little because, frankly, that was the feature and it got lost otherwise.

David’s Review:

Another drink that, like Jonathan, I’d be embarrassed to order… and not just because of the name. As long as it wasn’t the first drink I ordered, I’m sure I’d have the gumption to name it. And it isn’t that drinks like this one seem more popular with women than men, because I really don’t understand those categories. My reluctance arises instead from the Peach Schnapps, which I’ll always associate with college “punches” designed to disguise intoxicating ingredients.

I wonder what sort of demand there is for Peach Schnapps. Unsurprisingly, the price point of a spirit is often an indication of its cache, and Peach Schnapps—the most upscale variety—will barely crack $10 even in Chicago. The taste is also some indication of its sophistication. No monks died for the secret of its eight thousand herbal ingredients, and no bottle passed over the equator just once to increase its familiarity with the smoky oak of its barrel. In fact, like many fruit flavored products, it tastes little like the ingredient it purports to represent. Peach Schnapps might be renamed “Peach Flavoring Schnapps”… but then they might have to give it away.

Yet, here’s the surprise. I really liked this drink. The vodka adds nothing, but combining orange juice and cranberry juice gives the cocktail a sharp citrus-y edge and brings the schnapps closer to the taste of an actual peach. I DID make the cocktail with Creme de Cassis and heartily recommend adding it. Sweet drinks like this one demand a bitter element, and, while it helped that we chose a cranberry juice from Whole Foods with minimal sweeteners, the Cassis contributed to that bitter note.

One more note: a key discovery of participating in this blog is how important fresh ingredients are. The schnapps is in no sense “real,” so it seems particularly important to squeeze some oranges or buy orange juice squeezed at the grocery. I don’t know if they sell Sex on the Beach in cans, but that would be nightmarish. What saves this cocktail is not the schnapps—which will likely occupy a spot in my liquor cabinet for a while—or the vodka but everything else. The everything else really matters.

David’s Take: Who’d have thunk I’d enjoy this cocktail so much?

Jonathan’s Take:

Next Time (Proposed by David):

I recently had a genever and black tea cocktail at a friend’s house and the close of summer inspires me to try something similar. I searched the internet for a recipe that combined those flavors and found Earl Grey Infused Gin Cocktail. The recipe calls for adding the tea to the gin, but I may add it to the simple syrup instead. There’s something about the combination that seems right for this time of year.

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Gin and Tonic Variations

DM G and TProposed and Realized By: David

Also Realized By: Jonathan

“The gin and tonic,” Winston Churchill once said, “has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” He was alluding to the British East Indian Company’s invention of the concoction as a way of delivering quinine, which was believed to be an anti-malarial medicine. However, knowing Churchill, it’s possible he was talking about the self-medicating properties of gin.

I prefer the explanation of the drink’s prominence offered by Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every planet has its own version of gin and tonic, all developed independently from one another and pronounced essentially the same. There’s something about the “G and T” (or “Gin Tonic” as it’s called in some countries) that demands invention. The drink was simply meant to be.

And, to support Adams’ theory, it turns out tonic doesn’t cure or prevent malaria because you’d have to drink too much of it (and keep drinking too much of it) to reach even the minimal level of quinine necessary to suppress the disease. Science has taught us something important about gin and tonic, however—rather than doubling the bitterness by combining its three main ingredients, the similarly shaped molecules glom onto each other to mitigate their bitterness. I take that discovery as further proof of Adam’s belief in the inevitability of gin and tonic.

So why would someone want to adulterate it, and why would we use this space (again) to encourage such an abomination?

I thought of a post devoted to the drink by itself debating the proper tonic water (I like Fever Tree or Q, by the way), the proper gin (more later), and the proper proportion of gin to tonic, but all that sounded fussy. Let me be that rare voice of political tolerance in our contentious age and state that all the people, Republicans and Democrats, should compose gin and tonics as they wish, according to their tastes.

As you’ll see, Jonathan was much subtler, thorough, and scientific in his pursuit of proper ingredients. For me, adulteration felt like a different sort of test—not can you mess-up a Gin and Tonic, but can you actually stay true to the Neo-platonic ideal of gin-and-tonic-ness while also introducing a variation that might actually enhance its essential nature?

My first experiment was to follow a basic formula:

1.5 ounces Gin

.5 ounces something else

3 ounces tonic water

the squeezed juice of one-eighth of a lime

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried all sorts of things for that something else—Lillet Rose, St. Germaine, Pimm’s #1, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Maraschino Liqueur, and Benedictine—and most of the results were passable, but no gin and tonic. The best were the ones with a certain je ne sais quoi, the ones that elicited the comment, “What’s different about this?” Of the ingredients above, Pimm’s #1 and Lillet were the most successful that way. Maraschino was also subtle. The worst? Benedictine.

Like Jonathan, I also bought dried juniper berries and other spices (though not in a nifty kit) and steeped them in vodka to create my own gin… and added sumac to regular gin… and used varieties of gin available in my liquor cabinet… and foisted all these varieties on various people. Jonathan’s testers are clearly better than mine. Everyone around me is sick of gin and tonics, so sick that their most thoughtful comments were “That’s nice,” or “Yuck.”

But not me. I’ll just say one thing about my experimentation. Nothing really ruins a gin and tonic… until it makes it something else.

Here’s Jonathan’s Approach:

JBM GTAlternatives of the classic gin and tonic? How hard could it be – change the gin and change the tonic. Heck, go crazy and change the garnish. One look at my liquor cabinet illustrates the true challenge, though. I have Old Tom gin, London dry gin, Rangpur gin, botanical gin, barrel rested gin and, after a quick search for tonic syrups that resulted in the purchase of a pre-measured spice mix, my own homemade gin.

You don’t need to go beyond tonic to understand the variations available. Quinine water, as we used to call it, ranges from classics like Seagrams, Canada Dry and Schweppes to a long list of high end and small batch sodas that grows each year. These include nationally available brands like Fever-Tree, Q and Fentimans to small batch soda versions found locally. There are also many syrups, I have used and love Jack Rudy’s, that can be mixed with club soda to make your own tonic water. Simple math made me realize I had to control the variables so I settled on premixed tonics.

The next question was gin. The classic uses London Dry and if the tonic was going to be dominant that made sense. As I noted, while searching unsuccessfully for new syrups I went into the Savory Spice Shop (a growing national franchise). They had a pre-packaged mix of spices to infuse vodka and make your own gin so that became another option. I also had a barrel rested gin, Cardinal, from nearby Kings Mountain N.C. and the gin style liqueur, Pimm’s No. 1, so I was set there too.

All that was left to do this right was to assemble taste testers and figure out ratios. My faithful panel was nice enough to gather for the task at hand and a forgotten shot glass made ratios approximate (I would guess it was 3:1 tonic to liquor). Here’s the three versions I made:

Prohibition (homemade) gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic
Lime wedge garnish

Barrel rested gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic in one session and Schweppes in another
5 drops Crude (Raleigh small batch brand) roasted pineapple/vanilla bitters
Lime wedge garnish

London dry gin
Pimm’s No. 1
Schweppes tonic
Mixed fruit garnish

The first mix was the most classic and the least liked. The gin was great. So good, in fact, that it was better by itself on the rocks. The nice part of make your own is that you can add and subtract spices. The juniper berries went in by themselves for 24 hours to emphasize that spice and the other spices were added for a final 24 hours.  If you are one of those people who don’t like the pine qualities of gin, though, you could add the juniper at the same time as the other spices (coriander, lavender, bay leaves, allspice and cardamom) and infuse for only 24 hours total to reduce their dominance. If gin is your favorite part of the G & T this may be the best option for your taste.

The second cocktail was a conservative variation yet well received. Barrel rested gin, at least the Cardinal version, is mellow and less spicy. The bitters added a subtle and different background flavor. I made this one with both the high end tonics and the less expensive stuff with the latter providing a quieter base to showcase the gin and bitters.

My final option was a G & T take on the Pimm’s Cup.  A number of Pimm’s Cup recipes suggest adding gin to increase the spirit quotient so I followed that idea by mixing Pimm’s and gin equally then adding tonic. The more assertive tonics worked really well here since it needed a mixer that stood up to the liquors. This is one to garnish with summer fruits like peaches, blackberries, blueberries and the like. The classic Cup addition of cucumber would probably work well also.

Jonathan’s Take: The T is my favorite part so high end tonics and syrups are well worth the cost.

David’s Take: Can I be a purist and an experimentalist at the same time? I’d like to try.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One of my testing panel members suggested a drink called Serendipity. It will require that I go against my goal of reducing the number of spirits in my cabinet by adding Calvados. The drink includes the addition, always welcome, of a sparkling wine though so I think it is worth it. Plus, I have to listen to my testers since they are practically professionals at this point.