Rock Lobster

RLDBMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Built-in obsolescence suggests our blender should be dead. My wife owned it before we were married 30 years ago, and now I hear its grinding as the complaint of a very old man called to do the twist the way he did in 1961. Still, though we don’t summon the blender often, it works, and the results are better because the old man can still make it around.

This drink called the Rock Lobster (sorry if you’re like me and just the name gets the song going in your head) is a sort of Tiki drink. Seemingly a lot of stuff is in it—coconut rum, dark rum, banana liqueur, and “dashes” of grenadine, orange juice, and pineapple juice, plus half a banana, but the biggest ingredient is ice. Once blended, the consistency is like a smooth slushy, not quite as creamy as a piña colada would be, but just as tropical. The recipe appears below, but, to be honest—and you’ll see Jonathan agrees—the proportions seem a little loose. Who measures ice? Then you just add some of this and that to the pour a little dark rum over the top. Clearly, experimentation is required:

1 cup of ice

1 ounce coconut rum

1/2 ounce banana liqueur

Dash of grenadine

1/2 ripe banana (peeled)

Dash of pineapple juice

Dash of orange juice

Dark rum to top

One necessity—the banana seems integral, as it makes this cocktail less icy and, especially if you have a blender like ours, keeps separation to a minimum. As for the dark rum, you might try a spiced rum. I used Kraken because dramatic signage for it is everywhere in Chicago, but you may welcome something to break up the sweetness and banana-ness of this confection/concoction.

And invite friends. We were lucky enough to serve this drink during my nephew’s Pete’s visit to Chicago with his girlfriend Jenny. It was a suitably hot day, and, also suitably, they were just back from a Cubs game in which the home team lost. We had a reason to drown sorrows even if there were no real sorrows to drown.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

RLJBMThe question is whether my thoughts are generally disorganized or if I am suffering from brain freeze due to quickly slurping a Rock Lobster. Either way, I am all over the place when it comes to this drink but here are my iced down musings.

Ever since David proposed this tiki drink I have been questioning how to measure a “dash”. It’s not like we don’t have this measurement fairly often (think any drink with bitters here) but this recipe calls for dashes of three ingredients that seem fairly integral. They are also parts that I would typically go with fresh or homemade over packaged. The all knowing internet says a dash is 1/8 of a teaspoon. Let’s see, should I squeeze an orange, pulverize a pineapple and strain the juice, and mix my own grenadine for a dash of each?

There is more than one drink called a Rock Lobster. I’m sure David chose the cocktail because the B52 song by the same name is one of his favorites and I am guessing he chose this version because of the fresh banana, banana liqueur and coconut rum. Maybe it’s just because, as he suggested in his proposal, it’s damn hot. Good choice no matter why he made it.

As much as any tropical frozen drink this one calls for a straw. Combine that straw with smoothie consistency and banana dominance and you are guaranteed to drink this too quickly. I forgot the dark rum float at first but stopped to add it as soon as I remembered. That didn’t prevent the brain freeze nor did it keep me from drinking this like I thought a monkey was going to steal it. I should have added some chia seeds to slow me down but the speed quaff made for a fun walk with the dog afterward.

My final recipe used a mix of homemade and packaged. The recipe projected as sweet so I made my own grenadine where I can control the sugar and turn up the pomegranate. For the orange and pineapple though I went with a premixed carton of the two. I also erred towards a heavy pour for each of those instead of the suggested dash.

The result was one of the better tiki drinks I have tried. The coconut in the rum was much lighter than the typical coconut cream which allowed the fresh banana and liqueur to stand out. Even with the heavier pour, the orange, pineapple and grenadine were background flavors. Homemade grenadine did help tamp down the sweetness which was welcome. My one quibble was my own weakness – I drank it too fast.

Jonathan’s take: Fruit juice dashes can be more than bitter dashes no matter what the net tells you.

David’s take: I’ll save this drink for celebrations, as I don’t want to test our blender too often. With spiced rum particularly, it’s a worthy remedy to a hot day.

Next Time (Proposed by Jerry):

Yes, you read that right—we have a guest proposal from Jerry “Bourbon Jerry” Beamer, a frequent commenter and fan of this blog. We’ll be making an Old Fashioned Slush, a cocktail intended to serve a Labor Day crowd. Jerry says:

We are upping our game to a level of sophistication as Don Draper and Carrie Bradshaw come over for cocktails! This is a coming together of ingredients, people! What God has put together, let no man put asunder. We are fixin’ to feel the presence of others as we clink our cocktail glasses in celebration of our time together. We can do this cocktail party nice and easy or we can play it rough (listen closely and you will hear Tina Turner coming at you with Proud Mary—that is if you can hear what I hear and I know you can)—just like Tina, I am going to start off nice and easy as I propose the Old-Fashioned Slush** to the cocktailian Marshall brothers. This cocktail is made in advance of the red carpet since you do not want to be looking for bitters and sugar cubes with Don and Carrie on your porch!

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Beer Week 2015 (Chicago)

crop2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This weekend seemed especially apt for taking a break from cocktails and trying some local beers. Saturday Chicago dyed the river green and let luridly green bands of 20-something drunks loose to rove the city (mostly its bars, but some get lost) in overcrowded trolleys. Invariably some happy leprechauns will end up caterwauling down my block singing/shouting incomprehensively. An angry leprechaun may start a fight that ends up on the front hood of the parked car in which you’ve taken refuge. Overindulgent leprechauns—which seems all of them—will leave parts of green get-ups and curious splatters on sidewalks.

It’s not my favorite day of the year, so I was happy to escape and have a much smaller celebration at home.

We’ve done this beer exchange before, and, last time, I was so scientific and systematic. This time, I went to my favorite liquor store and picked out four big bottles (bombers) from the aisle labeled “Midwest Breweries.” All the breweries were small, all but one in Chicago, and most were unusual varieties of ale. Here are the bottles I sent:

Enkel, an abbey style ale by Une Annee Brewery: The most conventional and plainly (almost generically) labeled of all the ales I sent, this beer sits solidly in the Belgian monastery style, and the brewery, which is only a couple of years old, focuses on just Belgian and French ales. A little less alcoholic than their other offerings, they tout Enkel as an ideal accompaniment to a meal.

Bam Noire, a dark farmhouse ale by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales: Largely a French style, farmhouse ales can be tart or sour, but, uncharacteristically, this beer uses darker, burnt malts. It’s really a marriage of two types of ales. Jolly Pumpkin was the only non-Chicago brew I chose—it’s from Michigan—and it’s also the one you’re most likely to find outside Chicago.

Can’t Someone Else Do It?, a double India Pale Ale from Spiteful Brewing: As I’ve discussed with my brother, I’m perhaps the only person on the planet not crazy about the IPA craze. I like hops, I do, but this style seems to focus so exclusively on hops that many versions lack any sort of subtlety or nuance. That said, I haven’t given up and know my brother likes them, so I chose one from a “nanobrewery” in town. Plus, I like their labels, which are more than a little surreal.

Pipeworks G&T, a gin and tonic inspired ale by Pipeworks Brewery: What makes this ale “Gin and tonic inspired” is the inclusion of spices besides hops, some botanicals and citrus. I thought I should send at least one outside-the-box selection, and Pipework seems perfect for providing that. They are super-small, and a new self-made and hand-distributed beer seems to come out every week. I haven’t been able to keep up, but I’ve liked what I’ve tried… and loyal readers of this blog will know of my history with gin and tonics.

Here are Jonathan’s Reviews:

JbmbeerThe best part of beer week is that David sends me everything that I need. The doorbell rang early in the week and when I opened it, there was a box full of beer. In this case it was four bombers (a term for oversized bottles of beer I recently learned) to go with the list that I had been sent earlier. All I had to do was assemble my tasting panel and I was ready to go, Fortunately, my son Josh was around and my neighbor Rob is always ready to try the drink, or in this case beer, of the week. So without further ado, here is the list in ascending order:

  1. Pipeworks G & T Ale. As David has described, G & T really means gin and tonic. I could taste those flavors, although they are subtle, but actually wished they were more prominent. The thing that really made me like this less (I liked all the beers so this is just an order of which I liked the most) was the odd mouth feel. That may be a wine term, but this beer had an odd viscosity that distracted from the flavor. My fellow tasters did not mind, and I think it rated higher with them.
  1. Bam Noire Farmhouse Ale. This beer had a wild yeast quality that gave it a welcome sour taste. It was complex, tasty and defied categorization. The body was really nice and it had a deep color that was also pleasant. Beers rarely live up to the label and/or web site description but this one came close. If it were part of a blind test I would have sworn this was a German beer.
  1. Une Annee Abbey Ale (Enkel). I still have questions about the brewery name and the beer name – is it an abbey ale or an enkel and what the heck is an enkel? Add to that the label description that talks about a “brett” taste and I was really confused. Brett, as it ends up, is a negative for wines and a positive for beers. It describes a leathery taste that I must have completely missed. But I loved the beer, it was smooth, had a complex flavor and a really nice color. The other tasters thought it too subtle, but they still liked it.
  1. Spiteful Brewing Can’t Someone Else Do It Double IPA. They had me with the label that was an illustration of two creatures (sloths I suppose) with shirts that read “sloth life.” The description suggested that the right amount of procrastination is always useful in getting someone else to take care of chores—a fantastic life lesson unless you are the one who gives in. David and I differ about IPAs. He feels hops are overused and I think they sing a song of flavor. This beer had the perfect combination of flavor and body to accompany any meal, especially the pizzas we paired it with. I recently tried a white whale beer (the heavily pursued Bell’s Hopslam) that was excellent, but this was better. Josh and I split this one and I wished I had stolen his share.

Jonathan’s take: I hope that my selections offer as much variety. The best part was the massive differences is each of these beers.

David’s take: I liked all of these beers and for different reasons, but, surprisingly, the beer I want to try again is the double IPA, which seemed especially good.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I have already picked NC beers from some of my favorite breweries. I also found one that I had never heard of but it has an historical context. Last time I avoided IPAs, but this time I am going to try to make David like them, or at least one of them that is my favorite. Now we just need to get them shipped so he has time to taste over few days time.

Chai Town

chai1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Chicago is the city of many nicknames: The Windy City, Second City, City of the Big Shoulders, Chi-Town, Chi-city, chai2My Kind of Town, Paris on the Prairie, That Toddling Town, The Chi (pronounced “Shy”), The Chill (or Chi-Ill), The City That Works, City on the Make, The Third Coast, or—especially this weekend—Chi-beria.

However, “Chai Town” isn’t one of our nicknames, just clever.

Many languages translate tea as chai, but, in Starbucks, tea houses, and the other swanky locales for studying, meeting, and relaxing, chai is a drink of Indian origins, a decoction of green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn. Oh, and actual tea—the black, strong sort. I used tea bags, but it also comes as powders and concentrates. It’s spicy, but understated, no one part overwhelms the other, not even the tea.

The other parts of this drink seem designed to coax out the components, especially the ginger, which the ginger liqueur echoes. I used to own ginger liqueur but drank it up—my brother might accuse me of tippling like an old lady—so I used a DIY version I found online. Though the recipe was some trouble and required three days, the result was, I think, a success. It was sweet and hot and, while not as syrupy as the store-bought version might be, quite flavorful. Plus, it didn’t cost $30.

As I mentioned in the description last week, part of the challenge this week was building a cocktail on the basis of a list of its ingredients instead of a recipe. What to do about proportions? Last fall, I attended a cocktail class that described the ideal cocktail as six ounces, with one-third allotted to water resulting from a vigorous shake. You’ll find my solution below, but I admit to taking the easy way out. One of my Christmas presents was a three-part jigger with indeterminate compartments for a three element drink. The packaging (naturally) promises a “Home Cocktail Revolution” free of doling out portions, but that didn’t move me to rely on trust. I measured each of the sections and discovered the smallest was half an ounce, the middle was an ounce, and the third and largest one and a half ounces. The ginger liqueur took the smallest room, the vodka the medium sized room, and the chai (the star, I figured) the largest. The total, four ounces, left only the honey and nutmeg to accommodate. I added a teaspoon of honey at the end (and even then I found most of it at the bottom of the shaker, paralyzed by the cold). The nutmeg I sprinkled on top… just like last week.

Okay, so my answer for the proportions question was a little gimmicky. If you wanted a stiffer drink, maybe reverse the chai and the vodka or go full out on the ginger liqueur, but to me the balance seemed about right.

Here’s my recipe:

1.5 oz. chai tea

.5 oz. ginger liqueur

1 oz. vodka

1 tsp. honey

nutmeg

Shake the ingredient together without ice, add the ice and shake a few times more. Garnish with the nutmeg.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jbm.chaiIt may not be the most correct use of the word, but I feel like David’s choice of drinks offered us the chance to be forensic mixologists. Obviously we had the four ingredients but not the ratios, and I admit to being stumped how to mix them. I tried looking for similar drinks, the ratios of standard coupe cocktails, and simply ones that used one or more of the four parts. None of that worked very well until I went back a few weeks to our chopped cocktail experience and a lesson from the show. Use one ingredient as an accent to another.

I am a southerner. Said it before and say it now. That means if I am having tea, chai or otherwise, it needs to have some sweetness. Ergo, the honey was the sweetener for the steeped tea, and I only had three ingredients to work with. Since most coupe style cocktails are 3 ounces of drink that left options for an equal part cocktail (1:1:1), or a more common 2:1:1.

The ginger liqueur was a revelation all by itself. First, David included a link to a do it yourself version and it was well worth the effort. Second, the comments that were included following the recipe did some things that almost no such section on-line ever does—they added to the instructions, explained parts of it, offered excellent alternatives and in general were delightful to read. Who knew that comments sections like that existed? And finally, the home made liqueur is fantastic, a drink all by itself.

The liqueur is strong and assertive, though, so I decided on the ratio that used less. Vodka, ginger liqueur, and chai tea (sweetened with honey) mixed at a 2:1:1. Based on the comments section with the liqueur recipe, I also decided it needed a lemon peel garnish. The drink was great, but most of that goes back to the assertive ginger. It had an interesting mix of flavors, increased because I had saved one of our infused vodkas from last year (lemongrass and ginger candy) in my freezer and used that instead of standard. It’s not a drink you will find in bars outside of Chicago perhaps, but take the time to make the liqueur and once you do that, try the drink.

Jonathan’s take: Lots and lots of tastes, all combining to work together. Like the rare on-line comment section

David’s take: Spicy and fun—a nice break from more intense cocktails, though not as dramatic either.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year we tried a Rosalind Russell at David’s suggestion, and I spent the week confusing one actress with another, Rosalind with Jane. I asked my youngest son to help with a suggestion for next week with the limitation that it contain chocolate bitters. And what do you know – there’s a Jane Russell cocktail that does just that. Now, if I can manage to keep from confusing her with Rosalind.

The Medicine Man

Proposed by: Davidmedicine1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Let me part the curtains and take you behind the scenes here at A Drink With My Brother (the Chicago end, anyway). I’m sure you wonder about the origins of these crazy selections.

Whether you do or not, however, picture this. It’s last Saturday afternoon, around two-thirty, and I’m wondering if I’ll look like a boozehound if I start the cocktail Jonathan has proposed, for which I believe I have all the ingredients. “By the time I gather the parts and set up the photograph,” I tell myself, “it will be nearly three.”

Then I discover a. my wife is still drinking tea and isn’t ready to let day slide into evening, b. hey, there’s supposed to be food, this isn’t just about knocking a couple back, you know, and c. actually, turns out, I have nearly all the ingredients.

A walk to a nearby grocery provides a delay for my wife to drink her tea and gives me time to consider this project Jonathan and I have undertaken. Once again I ask myself whether the whole remote cocktail club thing is really just an elaborate ruse to avoid facing a growing drinking problem.

“Nah,” I decide.

Then I turn to my next worry—what about next week?

I much prefer weeks, like this one, where I’m off the hook for choosing what’s next. I enjoy making Jonathan’s cocktails and tasting them, but not only does reviewing drinks tax my flavor vocabulary but also comes with the more nervous element for me, finding something that won’t make my brother (and other intrepid followers of this blog) howl.

Sometimes the spirit starts the search. Sometimes it’s an article in the Tribune describing—never specifically enough—a concoction at a local restaurant. Sometimes it’s a recently neglected spirit. Sometimes it’s the season, the situation, or a bottle gathering dust that really needs another use. Whatever it is, though, it’s hard. I usually decide and undecide about five times before finally screwing my courage to the sticking place and all that.

Back to last weekend: my walk takes me past almost bare trees and into those Chicago gusts that tell you clothes are actually permeable and little protection from the elements. I think of a warm drink, but that seems premature. Living in Chicago, I know I’ll need heat later. So I consider something spicy. Mezcal is out, as it’s in the The Great Calabaza, then I remember the smoked paprika from Istanbul one of my son’s friends, Joe Girton, gave us when he visited with my son last spring… and a weird cocktail calling for paprika.

I don’t recall the sage. I forget about the maple syrup. But that’s how I discover this week’s choice. Later, when I look online, I discover this description:

Smoke can be imparted in any number of ways. Some of the cool guy bartenders out there have taken to cold smoking their ice, while others infuse smoke directly into the cocktail using handheld smokers. The Medicine Man, a cocktail sold at San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, uses paprika for a gently spiced and smoky rum drink that you’ve got to try to believe.

Perfect, I think… and pray it won’t be wretched.

Here’s the recipe (makes one cocktail):

2 ounces white rum

¾ ounce lemon juice

½ ounce maple syrup

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

4 sage leaves, divided

In a shaker, combine rum, lemon juice, maple syrup, paprika, and three sage leaves. Shake vigorously until cold. Strain into a chilled glass, and garnish with remaining sage leaf.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

medicineJBM

The whole idea of learning about tapping maple trees while growing up in La Marque, Texas amuses me. I completely understand that one should learn about things outside of your own world, but La Marque was almost as far from quaint New England as you could get. There are lots of trees (but not maples as far as I can remember) that include live oaks, the pecan trees that surrounded our second house and the invasive chinaberry tree. The latter is my favorite due to the eponymous berries that could be gathered for an impromptu pelting of friend or foe at any time.

There are plenty of maples where we live in North Carolina and this is the time of year that they are at their most spectacular.

Depending on variety they are turning yellow, red, and orange as we progress through fall. There are even folks who tap them, like the farmer that supplies our community supported agriculture (CSA). He does use recycled 2 liter bottles for collection instead of the classic pails that showed up in our grammar school books, but the small amount we get with our CSA is no less sweet and precious for the use of old coke containers.

Based on what I have written, it should be no surprise it was the maple that excited me most about this cocktail. It is different in that the maple is used straight instead of diluted into simple syrup, and there was no disappointment on that front as the syrup accentuated the sweetness and sugar cane base of the rum. What surprised me was how much the sage added to the drink. Sure, there are probably still small amounts stuck in my teeth from the vigorous shaking but the additional background taste was well worth it. The smoked paprika, on the other hand, was great in terms of taste, but difficult to deal with as a raw ground spice floating in the drink. Maybe a maple, sage and smoked paprika simple syrup that was strained through cheese cloth would be better, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as easy.

Jonathan’s take: It took me a while to find the smoked paprika so it got to do double duty as part of a salmon marinade. Worked better there.

David’s Take: Those Turks must like their spices hot. If I were drinking a Medicine Man again I’d give the sage more of a chance by reducing my paprika.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We are still enjoying fall and the flavors that come with it. Since it has also been a while since we have added a sparkling ingredient, I am proposing a bourbon drink that combines pears in a cider form and apples in a sparkling form. This pear bourbon cider doesn’t have a memorable name so if the drink is good, we’ll have to come up with one.

The Mule (Moscow and Otherwise)

muler?muler?Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a drink a drink. Specifically, I’ve been wondering how so many varieties of mules (some call them bucks) can all be all one drink. How can one name fit seemingly infinite visions and revisions?

This week, my wife and I attended a cocktail class taught by Devin Kidner, the founder of Hollow Leg and a master mixologist for the Koval Distillery. Besides having a wonderful time on a roof deck with an awe-inspiring view of the Chicago skyline, we learned a lot about cocktails’ basic components and how they cooperate to create drinks’ distinctive tastes. One of the most illuminating lessons for me was that, once you identify the essential elements of a drink, you can mix, match, and adapt freely and without fear.

Taking that lesson to heart, I tried a couple of variations on the classic Moscow Mule, which traditionally includes lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer, often in nifty copper cups, which—thanks to a birthday gift from my wife—we now own. I can’t distinguish between ginger beer and ginger ale or say what a buck is. Wikipedia will have to help you with the drink’s history, but the web is crowded with many other less than traditional mules. Many restaurants and bars have signature mules. You can change the spirit and the juice and serve it in a glass. You can shake it with ice or make it in the cup. You can garnish it with mint or lemon or nothing. But nearly every mule recipe calls for ginger—ginger beer, ginger ale, ginger syrup, even (I suppose) real grated ginger or ginger candy.

Devin gave me the idea that a sweet liqueur can substitute for simple syrup, and I chose Koval Ginger Liqueur to stand in for the essential mule element. She also suggested, though, that carbonation is never incidental in a well-made mixed drink. It not only cuts the sweetness, but also often balances, enhances, or moderates the spicy and/or hot aspects of a cocktail, which she labeled as their trigeminal effects. You’ll have to ask her what that is, but, as the drink clearly needed something fizzy, I added seltzer for one variation and a combination of seltzer and tonic for another.

Then, just to make the whole enterprise even more complicated, I used bourbon instead of vodka, meaning my cocktail was more accurately a variation of a Kentucky Mule.

A little knowledge can be a powerful thing. Devin compares her mission to the old adage about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish, and it’s liberating to know that a manhattan or a sling or a mojito or a caipirinha can be just the starting point for cocktails in many different guises.

And on that copper cup… while it may not be essential, it does definitely add to the experience of a mule. The metal gets very cold and condensation quickly covers its surface. That’s pretty, but it also creates an enlivening and refreshing sensation similar to drinking spring water from a metal ladle, which—I’m guessing—could be another trigeminal effect. I’m not at all sure about the science, but now that we have those cups, I’ll be looking for other reasons to use them.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

mulishness2

There are so many questions that I hope David has answered. What is the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer? Is there a difference in a mule and a buck? Why does this cocktail have its own designated vessel and does it make a difference? What the heck does Moscow have to do with this anyway? To be so perplexing this classic is worth the questions.

My ginger beer of choice was Crabbie’s, a version from the United Kingdom. That really raised the initial question, since up to that point I thought the difference in ginger ale and beer was alcohol. Apparently not since when I asked in the store for ginger beer the helpful clerk responded with “alcoholic or non-alcoholic.”

This is a cocktail blog – I answered “alcoholic.”

The vodka this week was a grain version from Iceland called Reyka. I am still not sure that the brand, or even base material for the mash, makes much difference when it comes to vodka in cocktails, but this one has a really impressive label. If that means anything.

One of the things I cited as a lesson after our first year of this blog is that it makes a difference who you are sharing the drink with. We were very fortunate to be able to meet one of my sisters, her husband and my nephew in Asheville for the weekend and as a result shared the cocktail with them. It was, as I suspected, an affirmation of the lesson and that much better for the sharing.

There were actually two versions of the cocktail, as anyone who has paid attention should know. The first version used the Crabbie’s and I made a second with Blenheim ginger ale. Both drinks showcase the ginger with the ginger beer version more complex and the lime less prominent. The lime stood out in the Blenheim mix and the ginger, while stronger, did not have the background depth of the Crabbie’s. Push come to shove, I liked the Blenheim version better, but probably because the lime stood out and offered a contrast.

Jonathan’s take: Mule or buck, ale or beer, Borgarnes (Iceland) or Moscow, none of it matters when the cocktail is this good.

David’s take: A Mule is well-worth riding, copper cups or no.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Some of our regular tailgaters, my son David and his friend Trevor, asked if they could suggest a drink. Interestingly it is very similar to the Moscow Mule especially since they didn’t know that was what we were trying this week. They have proposed the Dark ‘N Stormy, another mule/buck using spiced rum, typically Gosling’s. I already tried different versions of the Moscow Mule so I imagine this week will offer more chances to mix up the ginger ale and beer to see how that changes things.

Cohasset Punch #2

CocktailSProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The strange origin story of Cohasset Punch #2 begins with a Chicago bartender named Gus Williams, who was invited to travel to small Cohasset, Massachusetts by William Henry Crane, a popular comic actor of the Victorian period. According to accounts of the day, Chicago loved the actor’s creative use of transformative greasepaint and face prosthetics, and he was a much-demanded and much-lionized figure in Chicago theaters. The association between Williams and Crane was a business matter—to celebrate his success on the Chicago boards properly, Crane needed a bartender he could trust to serve drinks during the infamously large and raucous parties he hosted at his vacation home back east.

It was on this trip that Gus Williams invented Cohasset Punch, a cocktail using canned peaches, rum, sweet vermouth, orange bitters (later Grand Marnier), and lemon juice. The drink started with half a peach at the bottom of a large coupe glass, followed by ice, with the shaken spirit and lemon combination (plus some syrup from the peaches) poured over.

Williams carried his recipe, which he kept secret, back to Chicago, and it became one of the most popular drinks in his bar. Eventually, he sold his formula to The Lardner Brothers Saloon on West Madison Street, which they later adorned with a neon sign reading, “Home of Cohasset Punch.” The Lardner Brothers bottled the drink as well. Despite their efforts to keep Williams’ secret, the drink also became popular—under other names—throughout the city.

LadnerBrosStreetShotJJBy the 1950s, the sign was a curiosity, but for a long time, Chicagoans thought of it as the city’s signature cocktail. As I mentioned last week, it appears in Saul Bellow’s first novel Dangling Man when he describes the quintessential Chicago arts party with spare Swedish furniture, brown carpet, prints of Chagall and Gris, vines on the mantelpiece, and a bowl of Cohasset Punch. I haven’t read the novel, but my understanding is the punch went down much too easily. The evening ended with the hostess haranguing all assembled.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I made a Cohasset Punch as it was originally formulated—being a Chicagoan, I sort of had to. However, reviews that described the drink as “pleasant enough” encouraged me to focus on the update, Cohasset Punch #2 created by Mathias Simonis (from Distil in Milwaukee). The canned peach is gone—it’s so not 21st century, right?—and it adds cinnamon simple syrup, which involves steeping cinnamon sticks in regular simple syrup. You’ll see what Jonathan thought of the cocktail, but I have a spice store near me and bought some Vietnamese cinnamon for the syrup and, wow, it made a spicy and pleasant concoction. Here’s how to make the new and improved Cohasset Punch #2:

2 oz Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

The first thing everyone says, or asks, when you tell them the drink of the week is the Cohasset Punch #2 is, “What about #1?” David has described the differences so my simple response of “canned peaches” makes more sense. At least more sense than the other response, “So it could get to the other side.”

It is more than Labor Day as this week and weekend marked the end of summer with a celebration of marriage and the unofficial beginning of fall. My wife and I ended last week at a beautiful family wedding in Charleston and continued the fun at our first tailgate of the college football season in Chapel Hill. The first event was not short on festive parties, but the cocktail had to wait until the latter event to be unveiled.

The other part of the context of this week’s selection needs to come with a qualifier. That qualifier is that I do read books other than those related to libations, spirits, and drinking, but I am currently back on that category of non-fiction. I am reading And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. David’s suggestion of this cocktail came just as I was getting to the chapter related to the era of rum punch, so it seemed to be particularly apt.

There is little question, at least to me, that the best part of this drink is the cinnamon simple syrup, although that may also be why it is not found at more bars. That syrup provides a background taste and sweetness that gives the punch a depth beyond the classic image of punch. Both the orange bitters and lemon twist add to that depth. In fact, the first batch we shared with tailgaters was without the lemon twist, and there was a noticeable improvement when it was added. The drink could have been a little less sweet (maybe a substitute for sweet vermouth), but that may not be in keeping with the whole punch concept. This was the most elegant punch I have ever had, perhaps the only elegant one, and it punctuated the end of summer.

Jonathan’s take: Never doubt the subtlety of the perfect garnish (lemon twist in this case) and what it adds to a drink.

David’s Take: The story might be better than the drink, but cinnamon simple syrup has promise for future cocktails

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The suggestion is to return to the top 100 classics with the Tequila Sunrise. There is a wonderful article on the Huffington Post site by Anneli Rufus reintroducing the drink and providing some new twists available at bars across the country. David will have the opportunity to try one, or more, in person since three of those bars are in Chicago. My plan is to try the Rising Sun created at the Departure Restaurant and Lounge in Portland, Oregon, but I will have to make it myself. Any excuse to make my own grenadine is okay with me though.