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).

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Cherry Blossom Tini

sake 2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The Japanese word for cherry blossom—sakura—is one of the first characters a school child learns to write, and the week or so of peak blooms holds a central place in the culture. I have a special affection for Japanese aesthetics, and, if former lives are real, I’m sure I’ve been Japanese. Then again, maybe I was Helen Herron Taft, the First Lady responsible for the exchange that brought cherry trees to Washington, DC in 1912.

I write a haiku a day on another blog and, as I compose, I often think about one of the central tenets of Japanese art, the balance between sabi (simplicity or, more broadly, poverty) and wabi (impermanence or, more broadly, freshness). Together they foster an appreciation of those instants when direct and uncomplicated observations give momentary pleasure. These ideas contribute to an interest in economy and intimacy, an unexpected joy in asymmetry and imperfection, and a shared sense that anything, even the most unconventionally beautiful, can be cause for celebration. Most importantly, sabi-wabi suggests right now is really all that’s important.

Perhaps you see the connection to cocktails.

This particular cocktail mimics the pink of the cherry blossoms while also deploying sake, the Japanese rice wine, and other smaller quantities of delicate influences: orange liqueur, orange bitters, lime juice, and cranberry. I suppose the combination might be considered a punch or another version of the cosmopolitan, but the name suggests some comparison to a martini, the most straightforward sabi-wabi cocktail I can imagine.

If you go online, you can find a number of sites predicting and reporting the moment cherry trees are most laden with blooms, both in Washington and in Tokyo. When I did my research before proposing this cocktail, I consulted those sites, and, sure enough, this week my Facebook page featured plenty of selfies in front of pink blankets of blossoms. I hear that, though we think of the pure aesthetic enjoyment of visiting groves of flowers, apparently the picnics occasioned by the celebration can be quite raucous. That too seems to fit the Cherry Blossom Tini.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmsakeA couple of months ago my youngest son and I went out for a mid-week sushi dinner. The restaurant was offering a saketini special where they would make any classic martini with sake. With little to lose, it was just 3 bucks, we both ordered dirty saketinis – a mix of olive juice and sake. There was a lot to lose. The sake was viscous like a roux gone bad and with the brine of the olive juice created a combination that could best be described as tepid sea water. I am ashamed to say I drank it all. It was either out of some bizarre sense of pride that having ordered it I had to finish it, or the lasting legacy of the “clean plate club” where we were encouraged as kids to finish all the food we were given.

So when David suggested the drink for this week, my first reaction was fear. Never mind that my bad experience was probably a mix of low-end sake and a poorly selected combination. I was afraid. Fortunately it was all for naught. The Cherry Blossom tini started off better, at least I think it did, because I chose a better sake. It also benefitted from a combination of orange, lime, and cranberry that are much more closely aligned with the rice wine than green olives.

Doubtless there is a drink that uses vodka instead of the sake was included in this cocktail, but this mix benefitted from the body that the sake provided. One of the added benefits touted for this drink is that sake is a much lower proof than standard cocktail spirits like vodka. The experience with this drink makes me wonder how many other cocktails could benefit from subbing out vodka or gin for a quality sake.

One last thing to taunt David. I wanted to include a picture of this drink with the spectacular pink blooms of our kwanzan cherry tree. Alas, spring is far enough along here in Charlotte that we are on the down side of that bloom, as well as the white dogwoods. The azaleas are incredible right now, so we mixed the last cherries, some dwindling dogwoods and a few azaleas to provide the backdrop to the drink.

Jonathan’s take: I need to go back to that sushi place and try a better combination. Or maybe I should buy my own sake for even tastier mixes.

David’s take: It seems I’ve been using the word “delicate” a lot, which is a way of saying I want to use it again… but I especially enjoy using the word this time.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Other than beer weeks and our first annual retrospective weeks, we haven’t taken any time off. And we won’t be doing it now dad gummit! I did note to David that I have an annual golf trip coming up and it seems appropriate that I select the drink for that week. So my hybrid proposal is both a way to (kind of) take some time off, to give me the selection for golf week, and to honor the resurgence of tiki (trust me, it’s coming). About.com’s cocktail section includes an article on essential and popular tiki drinks. We have tried some of the classics, but I am proposing that we try 2 more over the next couple of weeks. There will be single write up to lessen our “work” load. For my part, I will be choosing between the Scorpion, Blue Hawaiian, and Beachcomber, but will offer David the option to choose among those and the other classics that we have yet to try.

Jane Russell Cocktail

JanetoblameProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

We have tried cocktails with great provenance, some with disputed backgrounds and a few with only sketchy details. The only ones that I can recall with no back story, however, were ones we created. The Jane Russell cocktail is an exception. Other than a description as “voluptuous” like the eponymous star, there is no explanation why her name is associated with this drink. I couldn’t even find a reference that she did drink and would warrant a guess that spirits were not a large part of her life.

The drink itself is another Manhattan variant like we tried a few weeks ago. In this case the bitters change from Angostura to chocolate and the sweetening agent is a mix instead of the simple sweet vermouth. The exact recipe that I used:

2 ounces rye whiskey
¼ ounce Benedictine
¼ ounce Grand Marnier
¼ ounce sweet vermouth
Dash of chocolate bitters (I used Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate)

Mix all ingredients, stir with ice until chilled, strain into a coupe, and garnish with orange zest.

Like the Monte Carlo which used Benedictine for the sweet vermouth to great success, the mix of three spirits in this drink provides an interesting range of flavors and background. I can’t say that I could taste the chocolate bitters directly, but there was a roundness to the drink that invoked the comfort of that confection.

The question that remains is, “Why there are drinks named after Rosalind Russell and Jane Russell and along with that what about other famous Russells?” As I said in the introduction, there doesn’t seem to be answer to the first question, and I may be the only person that cares about the second. In hope that I can change the latter, I am going to propose some ideas for other Russell cocktails:

The Bill Russell. Arguably the greatest shot blocker in the history or basketball, this drink has to be the opposite of a shot. It needs to be a long tall drink with some type of whiskey, seltzer and bitters. Take that weak ass shot out of here.

The Kurt Russell. I read that he is libertarian so any drink that follows a set recipe makes no sense. Just take whatever is on your liquor cabinet, throw it together and drink until you begin to believe you need to escape a dystopian society.

The Leon Russell. Classic, long lasting and cream based. Leon is still writing and making music and presumably still sports the long white/gray locks. I’m thinking moonshine, cream and a little southern comfort on ice.

The Patrick Russell. What, you have never heard of the famous Scottish herpetologist who was an expert on the vipers of India? This drink tries again to make use of Scotch in a cocktail, but disguises it with something so sweet you never see the kick coming until it strikes like a serpent. I have some honey sweetened chai tea that might work well.

The Pee Wee Russell. This jazz musician might have drank himself to death and was known for rousing himself in the morning with drink, so an alcoholic beverage may not be appropriate. He also enjoyed brandy milkshakes, whatever that is, so I am proposing a simple vanilla milkshake with an accent of the same chocolate bitters we used in this week’s drink. A sure hangover cure.

The Nipsey Russell. With that first name how is there not already a drink named after him? It needs to be a small nip, good for the working man and invoke some wry humor. Maybe a rye, stout beer and Absinthe shot.

And Here’s David’s Review:

JanyI confess some suspicion about cocktail recipes like this one that call for specific brands of this or that—Grand Marnier instead of triple sec or two kinds of rye instead of just rye. For one thing, no one ever asks for Old Overholt or Dekuyper Triple Sec and, for another, they assume a refinement of taste I can’t always manage… particularly when I’m drinking.

That said, I can tell the difference between Carpano Antica and sweet vermouth and, whether a recipe calls for it or not, I rely on it. As I’ve not doubt written before (and forgotten… because of the drinking), Carpano Antica is a more bitter and, dare I say, more complex than Martini and Rossi. And it was the right choice for this cocktail because it cut some of the sweetness in the triple sec and Benedictine.

As for the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, they were a nice touch, and, being a bitters fiend, I happened to have some chocolate bitters on hand. Did I taste them, you ask, did they make a big difference? I wish I could claim they did, but see my earlier comments about drinking and reviewing. I’ll plead the fifth and say they added “Something quite subtle and refined” to the recipe, but they aren’t cardamom bitters, which is to say I’m not still tasting them two days later.

This variation on a Manhattan produced a wonderful collective effect. A successful cocktail, after all, might rest more on the harmony of its components, a harmony so complete that you can’t separate them… particularly after you’ve had a couple. This drink certainly fits that description. With the Benedictine and Carpano Antica (yes, I am trying to see how many times I can inject that name into this review), the herbal notes of this cocktail came forward but in a mixed way. If you make this drink, you may want to bump up just a touch the Grand Marnier—I had Mandarine Napoleon on hand, which is a wonderful alternative. And no, these people whose products I tout don’t pay me a cent.

Jonathan’s take: Sorry about the repetition of Manhattan variants. At least it was good and I skipped the cross my heart puns from so long ago.

David’s take: I’d have another. Wait… I did have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

As Saturday is Valentine’s Day, I’d like to raise a toast to the two people who share in and, my wife might say, make this silly hobby of ours possible. To assure we appreciate them appropriately, I’m proposing a Vanilla Champagne Cocktail, which is a little like the French 75 except that it substitutes bourbon for brandy and will require Jonathan and I to make some vanilla simple syrup between now and Saturday. I’m counting on Jonathan being willing to make the sacrifice. I hope, like me, he doesn’t mind having another simple syrup on hand.

The B-52

Proposed by: JonathanB-52

Reviewed by: David

The B-52 is a shot, a layered drink, a dessert or a memory device depending on your perspective. Before addressing all of that though, where did the name come from? Is it the super bomber used by the U.S. military for well over 50 years now? The beehive hairdo whose upright form resembles the nose of that bomber? Or could it be the band formed long ago in Georgia famous for me and David because of the rock lobster?

In some way or another the name comes from them all. The B-52 is a stratofortress bomber built by Boeing since the 1950’s. It is still in use today and has become known, among many other reasons, for its easily identifiable nose structure. That structure in turn resembled a famous hairstyle that dates to 1960. The beehive hairdo has its place in history but could still be seen on musical stars, like Amy Winehouse, in the last decade. The shape of the bomber nose and the hairdo are intertwined in the name of the band that formed in Athens, Georgia in the mid 70’s. The group that became the B-52’s started with an unplanned performance that followed the sharing of flaming tiki drink. You have to love that story for the nice, neat package that creates for a drink blog. Of course all of that is if you believe one of the many creations stories for this cocktail.

The story that I am sticking with is the one that connects the drink back to the band, and from there all the way back to the bomber. In this version of creation, a bartender at the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta created the shot. Peter Fich was apparently known for naming his drink creations after his favorite bands and the mix of coffee liqueur, Irish cream and orange cognac was named for that band in Athens. Their name in turn was derived through a dream, or so the story goes, and the beehive hairdos favored by the two female lead singers. And of course the beehive hairdo was tied back to the plane and its distinctive nose structure. So in all the drink is named for a band, named for a hairdo, which looks like a bomber. Makes perfect sense.

This is layered drink whether you consume it as a shot or mix and sip. The first layer is one part Kahlua, the second is one part Irish Cream, and the final layer is one part orange cognac. There are other versions that substitute Frangelico for the orange cognac (B-51), tequila for the Irish Cream (B-52 in the desert), absinthe for the orange cognac (B-55), peppermint schnapps for the Irish cream (B-57) or amaretto for the cognac (B-54). I’m sure there are more than that, and that somehow my expanded liquor cabinet could help make them, but you get the idea.

Party stores sell cups of all sizes and thanks to the whiskey tasting from some months ago, I have a supply of 1.5 ounce cups. I mixed B-52’s, B-51’s, and B-55’s for a tasting group. The classic was by far the favorite, and brought back some fond memories (I did not press for details) for a couple of friends who were dating at the time they first enjoyed them and now fall into the happily married for longer than they care to admit category. Another nice connection.

Here’s David’s Review:

portrait3I don’t lead the sort of life that routinely—or mostly ever—includes shots. However, f you look at the B-52 as a scientific proposition, it hardly counts as serious drinking. It’s not about rushing alcohol to the brain at all. It’s about specific gravity.

My wife found an article she’d clipped from the Louisville Courier-Journal over 25 years ago that lists spirits according to their weight, so that, if you were extra careful and had a shot glass a meter tall, you might “build” a drink with nearly 100 layers of spirits.

In making my first B-52, I went with the classic recipe, but after that I tried other combinations that might cooperate with the formula. I tried a B-55 (also called a B-52 Gunship) that substituted absinthe for triple sec, and I tried adding scotch as the top layer (pictured above). My experiments were partly play, but I also hoped to find some flavor combination that, besides being aesthetically pleasing, might taste the best.

I was torn on whether to drink in layers or mix. On Thanksgiving night I tried layers. Last night, I tried stirring before I drank.

But here’s the trouble: I don’t like Baileys much…. which is to say I don’t like it at all. Cream and alcohol are an iffy mix—no liqueur should curdle, as far as I’m concerned—and to me Baileys is as opaque in flavor as it is in appearance. It’s supposed to taste like Irish Whiskey and does, but everything added makes it sickly-sweet. I know plenty of people who enjoy Irish Cream, but, for some reason, it reminds me of a Three Musketeers candy bar dissolved in alcohol. Even its smell puts me off a bit. I imagine the nightmares my mind would invent if I drank too much of the stuff… testy leprechauns and Irish step-dancing hippos.

I know, I know, it’s all a matter of taste. Someone loves every spirit. I wish I liked it, and maybe a reader can introduce me to the perfect use for Baileys. In the meantime, based on first exposure, I’m ready to give away my seven-eighths of a bottle of Baileys.

I’ll also throw in Blue Curaçao, Crème de Menthe, and Malört as a bonus. My wife finished the Campari or you could have that too. My list of abhorred cocktail ingredients is not that long, but it’s growing.

Being a fan of the ironic whimsy of the band the B-52s and a true product of the late 70’s and early 80’s, I wanted to be wowed, and it was fun to play with the various possibilities. Plus, these shots were beautiful in a nearly Seussian way and certainly different from anything else we’ve tasted. I may return to the idea of layering using the yellowed list my wife found. However, as the B in the B-52 (and its variations) must stand for “Baileys,” I’ll be looking for a B-52 without the B.

It could be I’m just not made for shots, but, as fun as the science was, I’m fine with mixing rather than building drinks.

David’s Take: More pleasing to the eye than to the palate, and, as I’ve learned over and over on this blog, taste matters most.

Jonathan’s take: Sweet story, sweet memories and sweet drink. The variations are fun though, and boy did I have folks asking for more.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Jonathan’s birthday falls on Pearl Harbor day, which is next Sunday, so I thought about proposing a Pearl Harbor cocktail… but that’s much too tropical, not at all seasonal. Instead, I thought it’d be interesting to try something with gin. Though it’s not generally seen as a winter drink either, a number of winter gin recipes online intrigued me. So I decided on a Winter Gin Sangaree. The word “Sangaree” comes from the Spanish root “sangre” or blood, which it shares with “sangria.” In the specific case of this drink, the term refers to a style combining gin and wine dating from the 1770s. For my purposes, however, this concoction is intended to honor my beloved brother, with whom I share bonds of blood and friendship… and cocktails.

The Cosmopolitan

Proposed by: Davidcosmodbm

Reviewed by: Jonathan

So many claims and counterclaims litter the relatively short history of the Cosmopolitan (or “Cosmo” if you’re a frequent user) that it’s hardly worth offering a history. Suffice it to say, many people thought of it… and many thought they were first.

Whatever its origins, however, the Cosmopolitan quickly became the cocktail of the moment in the 90s and is still quite popular, especially among women. One reason may be its use as the signature cocktail of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City. By the time they made the series into a film, Carrie’s friend Miranda is asking why they didn’t order them anymore. “Because,” Carrie says, “everyone else started.”

Perhaps because of Carrie Bradshaw’s endorsement, the Cosmopolitan, I’m told, is a woman’s drink. I don’t really understand why any cocktail needs to be described that way—what could be more absurd than saying a drink is more suited to men or women?

My interest in the Cosmopolitan came from the favorite drink of graduate school friends, a Cape Codder. That cocktail combines Cranberry Juice and Vodka, and whenever I visited, they’d place one in my hand around 5:15. I thought the bitterness of the juice worked well with the clean and super distilled alcohol. It was refreshing in a way screwdrivers are not because it was never too sweet or dense. The sweet and sour of citrus and the bitter of citrus peel in the Cointreau, I figured, could only add.

As it turns out, those ingredients add a great deal. Whether positively or negatively I’ll leave to Jonathan, but I didn’t feel particularly girlish drinking one.

Here’s the Recipe:

1 1/2 ounces vodka or citrus vodka

1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce cranberry juice

Orange peel for garnish

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Cosmojbm

We have flirted with the Cosmopolitan even though we had not tried it before. Sometime early in the blog, I erroneously referred to the Cosmopolitan in my proposal for a drink for the next week (either my research is faulty or David’s editing has corrected my idiocy because I couldn’t find the reference). I also stated that there is a similarity in the drink name between the Metropolitan and Cosmopolitan, even though there is no similarity in the drink.

The base of this week’s proposal is the neutral spirit vodka. There is always some criticism about vodka drinks, some deserved and some not. The deserving part, in my opinion, is when people insist on particular brands of vodka despite combining them with mixers that completely mask any taste even if there was some. The underserving part is to completely dismiss vodka because it is neutral. That lack of presence allows the other ingredients to stand out more. That is a quality accentuated in this drink.

We tried a couple of different recipes for the Cosmo. The first was true to David’s link and combined the vodka, Cointreau (I did use another brand), lime juice and cranberry juice. The benefit of the orange liqueur in this version was both body (from the brandy base) and taste. The negative was that the color was slightly off from what I expect a Cosmo to be since there is little cranberry. To adjust, I increased the cranberry in the second recipe and used Triple Sec for the orange taste. That one was lighter and more cranberry-er but lacked the depth of the first. Both benefitted greatly from fresh lime juice and probably would have from fresh cranberry if I could have figured out how to juice those little suckers.

The Cosmopolitan could be the drink that defines the negative of shelf ready mixers. Most of my experience with this cocktail has been a quick mix of one of those and vodka. The drink is easy, the look and color are right, but the taste is sugary and off. If you have ever turned your nose up at the thought of this once trendy drink, try it again with fresh ingredients. Worth it.

Jonathan’s take: The base alcohol makes a difference, but if you’re going neutral there is still hope with the right mixers.

David’s take: Though I love sweet drinks, I’d love to play with some of these proportions and try some orange bitters and less Cointreau.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

There was a time, may still be for all I know, when Jagermeister shots were very popular in bars. That was not my time. I had read recently that other liquor/liqueur producers have tried to replicate that success. One of those is Tuaca an Italian liqueur with flavors of herbs and vanilla. There is a cocktail called the Livorno that combines that liqueur with bourbon and bitters and that’s where we are going next week. I just hope I can find Tuaca.

Tequila Sunrise

jmSunriseProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Prohibition plays a part in our family history and the purported history of the Tequila Sunrise. There is a great age gap between generations on our father’s side of the family. Our paternal grandmother was 44 when our father was born and our Dad 30 and then 32 when we were born. She had passed away before either David or I were entered the world, but we were told stories growing up about how she was active in the temperance movement leading to the ratification of the 18th amendment that began Prohibition in 1921. I am sure David can still sing the ditty we learned as children associated with that activism:

The birds drink clear water that falls from the skies,
They never touch liquor, and neither do I.

Obviously the cautionary song, while part of our history, has had no effect on our adult lives. Much like the fact that I have never been dissuaded from my curds and whey by any spider.

The muddled history of the Tequila Sunrise actually includes two separate drinks. The first drink associated with that name was a mix of tequila, crème de cassis, lime and soda water. It may or may not have included grenadine depending on what you read. One story associates the cocktail with an area south of Tijuana called Agua Caliente. It was popular with travelers from southern California looking for south of the border entertainment during the time of Prohibition where those travelers could enjoy legal alcohol.

There is a second tale of the creation of the cocktail that is also based on the crème de cassis recipe. In this version the drink dates back to the 1930’s or 40’s (after Prohibition was ended by the 21st amendment) and the Arizona Biltmore hotel. It is said to have been created by Gene Sulit perhaps as an alternative to the classic Screwdriver. In the Sulit recipe the grenadine would make more sense to mimic the vivid sunrises of the southwest.

The final credit for this beverage goes to a pair of bartenders in the area of Sausalito. This one dates to the 1970’s and is the basic recipe most often seen today – tequila, orange juice and grenadine. This recipe along with the other types of Tequila Sunrises have been associated with hangover cures.  The idea being that the ingredients are common morning beverages, stomach soothers and/or associated with rehydration. That makes sense no matter which recipe you consider.

The article linked in the introduction from last week shows the versatility of this basic cocktail. I chose the version created at the  Departure Restaurant & Lounge in Portland called The Rising Sun. The recipe is as follows:

2 ounces reposado tequila
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.25 honey syrup
.5 ounce grenadine

Shake with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass with ice. They recommend garnishing with an orange wheel and lemon twist.

The first versions I made had no garnish since they were served at a tailgate and were popular with the crowd. The good news is that with the large number of tasters I was turning them out very quickly and no one seemed to care about lack of garnish. The bad news is that I never tried one myself. Fortunately there was enough of each ingredient left that I was able to make a couple more a day later for my wife and I, although I chose to garnish it with 1/7th of my total fig crop (the bushes are young) instead of orange and lemon.

One last note about this drink: there are a lot of cultural references to the Tequila Sunrise including the Eagle’s song, and a movie. My favorite one, though, was brought up my oldest son who has been afflicted with my curse of being a Houston Astro’s fan. He noted people refer to the once famous multi-colored jerseys the Astros wore as “The Tequila Sunrise jerseys” for their classic gradation of colors.

Here’s David’s Review:

Sunrises5Having made a Tequila Sunrise, my worries about matching its proper appearance seem silly. I actually made two cocktails featured in the article Jonathan offered—an “Improved Tequila Sunrise” and the Oaxacan Sunset. Both looked perfect. Gently pouring along the edge of the glass allowed the heavier liquid to sink, and—voila—sunrise. Both drinks stayed sunrises, the taste of the drink evolving as we consumed its layers.

As a close grocery store includes a juice bar, I had no trouble finding freshly squeezed orange juice and, once again, enjoyed the immediate fruitiness of both cocktails. In fact, after seeing the Oaxacan Sunset didn’t include orange juice, I added it anyway. Orange juice seems the backbone of this drink, yet, oddly, the juice almost becomes a neutral element. Everything else about these two versions seemed to dictate the cocktail’s character.

Which seemed particularly true of the Oaxacan Sunrise, which includes three stronger elements, Mezcal, Gin, and a sweet sherry… plus the sneaky contribution of tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters. I had to guess the proportions—it seems bars hesitate to give away all their secrets, after all—but, though I played with the amounts, the smoky Mezcal hit me most and lingered most. The Gin and sherry largely disappeared. The tangerine syrup and chocolate bitters? Fogettaboutit.

I wish I’d had a standard Sunrise to compare, but the second tequila sunrise—the improved version from San Francisco’s Chambers Eat + Drink, substituted brandied cherry juice for grenadine and added Cointreau. At least at first, the result seemed more satisfying, sweet and sour, nicely alcoholic but not overwhelmingly so. In some ways, it evoked a Mimosa—clean and efficient, suitable for a true sunrise, some lazy brunch.

In the end, I’m not sure how I felt about the evolution of flavors as we passed through the layers. My wife thought I should just stir the dang things, but I didn’t want to spoil the appearance of the drink, which seemed pretty important to its nature. With the Oaxacan Sunrise, the transition from Mescal to sherry seemed welcome even if it was incomplete and maybe still too intense. While the Improved Sunrise was more pleasant at the start, the culminating swallows of cherry juice proved challenging after such an enjoyable prelude.

My experience overall helps me understand why so many Sunrises exist. The flavors seem ripe for experiment. The sunrise effect, which turns out to be so easy, gives this drink extra drama. It invites innovation and variation.

David’s Take: I dunno. Maybe I might need to try all 17 sunrises before I decide.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t let the 70’s classic reputation prohibit (pun intended) you from trying some version of this drink.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’m aiming for elegance, but we’ll see what happens. We’ve included a number of classic cocktails in this blog—including the Tequila Sunrise this week—but I’ll answer Jonathan’s fruit-based convention with a more spirit-based one of my own, the Metropolitan. With brandy, sweet vermouth, and simple (I mean simple) syrup, it’s all about dim bars, being in-the-know, and seeking relief from daily cares.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Margarita

Proposed by: JonathanMarge

Reviewed by: David

Our Mother asked me a few weeks ago how we come up with the cocktail of the week. Frankly, I think what she was really asking was “Why the heck did you drink that?” in reaction to some odd drink that we had tried. It did make me pause and consider how I arrive at a proposal. Most of the time, the genesis of the idea occurs in those obsessive wee hours of the morning when I am lying awake during a regular episode of insomnia. This week though, it was simply my turn to celebrate a national holiday, just as David had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. And what better way to celebrate National Chip and Dip Day than the classic margarita.

Here’s a surprise – the margarita has a murky and quirky history. There’s the story of a socialite from Dallas who created the drink as an experiment while hosting friends in Mexico. The problem with that explanation, despite her first name being Margarita, is that there are references to margaritas that pre-date her party in 1948. Next up is the showgirl who was allergic to liquor except tequila, and the bartender who created a drink to sidestep that allergy. Seriously, I am no allergist and don’t play one on TV, but allergic to liquor except tequila? Sounds plausible as a reason to become a shoeless expatriate, but little else.

That leaves a couple of explanations that make a lot more sense. The first is that the margarita is a cocktail version of the traditional tequila shot served with a wedge of lime and a bit of sprinkled salt. It does not take a leap of faith or an allergy to follow the progression from that to a salt lined glass with a lime and tequila mix in it. The second is my personal favorite explanation, though, because of its tie to my sweet yellow lab Daisy. A Daisy cocktail is a sour (alcohol, citrus and sweet element) with the addition of soda or seltzer. In particular, a tequila daisy contains lemon juice, sugar, tequila, orange liqueur and soda water. Add the fact that Daisy is a diminutive nickname for Margaret, and the English translation of margarita in turn can be “daisy flower” and you have a story worth swallowing.

The margarita is a classic for a number of reasons. It is easy to make, particularly if you don’t mind pre-made mixers, and easy to drink. It also invokes a relaxed and tropical atmosphere where worries float away thanks to a popular musical artist who shall go unnamed thanks to rabid trademark enforcement. Finally, there are so many options for variation simply by changing the type of tequila, the orange liqueur and/or the citrus. Don’t forget frozen or on the rocks either.

I chose the Tyler Florence recipe because it incorporates some of those variations while retaining the classic form. The recipe makes four servings by mixing ½ cup fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar, ¼ cup orange liqueur, ¼ cup triple sec, 1 cup tequila and the odd addition of ½ can of lager. All ingredients but the lager are combined and blended, the lager is added and mixed, and the drink strained into iced filled glasses that are salt rimmed (or not). Bold, strong and orange forward, this is an exceptional version of the classic.

margaritaHere’s David’s Review:

I occasionally order a margarita out—when the server describes something unlikely or exotic—but I don’t drink many. They’re sweet, slushy, more dessert-y than a before-dinner drink should be, and often scary, lurid hues generally not found in food (or, sometimes, in nature). Plus they delay my beer.

As Friday started my spring break from school, however, a margarita sounded awfully good, and this version was awfully good. I don’t know enough about the cocktail to say how commonly bartenders add a splash of lager, but, to me it made this drink.

Like many cocktails, margaritas balance sour and sweet, but the botanical element seems most powerful and important to me. Depending upon the orange liquor and triple sec you use—I used Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao and Luxardo Triplum, respectively—there’s a sort of marmalade taste that adds to the bitter lime citrus and the distinctive herbal aloe scent and cactus flavor of tequila. But the addition of the beer, which I registered largely as hops, take that element a step further. At first, the sugar in the recipe worried me, but now it seems entirely necessary, an effective counterpoint. If I hadn’t splashed the beer in myself (and I love splashing), I might not have guessed what lurked in this concoction, but I certainly noticed it when, on the second go-round, I forgot to splash. Without hops, this margarita seemed undistinguished, pedestrian. With hops, bueno.

I know who Tyler Florence is because he hosts one of my favorite Food Network shows, The Great Food Truck Race (and Tyler’s Ultimate, which I’ve never seen) , but when I saw the name of this drink, “Ultimate Margarita,” I harrumphed. “I’ll decide about that!” I said. I’ve decided my every margarita will follow his recipe from now on.

Jonathan’s take: From the addition of lager to the double dose of orange, this is not the run of the mill happy hour special margarita.

David’s Take: Wonderful. Let spring begin… too bad it snowed this morning.

Next Week (proposed by David):

When I think of a Rusty Nail, I picture a hard-bitten detective in the chilled half-darkness of some dive, bellied up to a bar, and waxing about the gritty streets and the poetic depravity of humanity. The cop is usually a little too far from pension and nursing his or her last ounce of optimism. But I’ve never had a Rusty Nail. The recipe, it turns out, has only two ingredients, and one is pretty sweet. So maybe just the name is hard-bitten. We’ll see next week.

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?