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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Razzle Dazzle

RazzleJmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There is a grumpy old man living in my house. Children who ride their skateboards or bikes without helmets nearby know him as the man who asks them if their brains are valuable. He is the guy who screams at commentators on television about their grasp of the startlingly obvious. Shoot, it was only a few minutes ago that he went out and yelled at the deer for eating day lilies. I am trying really hard to be more positive but I am that old man and those are small examples compared to my most common areas of contempt.

A typical commute is punctuated with outbursts. Charlotte is surely not the only town where red lights are treated as suggestions but it could be one of the worst. It is a rare day when I don’t scream, to myself in the car of course, that just because you are late or lazy doesn’t mean we have to die. Folks who fly by on the main road near our neighborhood are greeted with 3 fingers on one hand and 5 on the other to remind them it is a 35 mile an hour speed limit. Many of them signal that they are only going one mile an hour over that. At least that is what I assume that finger means.

Fortunately my wife does much of the shopping. The nearest grocery to us is located in an affluent area and most of the shoppers are either residing in their own private Idaho or just don’t care about other people. I am working hard on that positivity so last weekend when we were there I was practicing Zen and the art of not committing murder. While I was silent and ignored my fellow shoppers, my wife was the one who stated out loud, in a much more cogent a way than I would have, that we had stumbled into an entire store full of people who were grocery shopping for the very first time in their lives.

The Internet is another regular source of frustration. Don’t put proper contact info, or worse don’t reply to the contact form you do put there, and it is doubtful I will ever do business with you. A slide show that won’t load instead of a simple list? Return arrow guaranteed. Don’t even get me started on sites that just don’t work – yes si.com I mean you.

Cocktails sites are among the worst. Maybe it is a law somewhere but who are they kidding by asking users to input their date of birth? A 13 year old who inexplicably wants to know how to make a Rob Roy takes about 10 seconds to supply any date that makes them 60. Some even ask what country you are accessing the site from. I would have to give up my grumpy card if I didn’t follow the rule that if the United States is at the bottom of your drop down list your site is banished to Siberia.

The link to the Razzle Dazzle violated all of this and whole bunch of grump more. The site includes the dreaded birthday input. That would be passable if I had remembered the recipe or written it down but I did not. Each time I accessed I swore it was the last time I would have a birthday. Added to that insult was a recipe that included parts rather than exact amounts. I cook and mix drinks enough that I would be fine with that but these proportions made no sense. Five parts vodka to four parts other liquid? First there is no base measurement that works with that and second that is a lot o’ vodka.

I won’t write out the recipe they supplied and will give what I used instead:

2 ounces vodka
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
8 or more blueberries
8 or more mint leaves

Muddle mint, blueberries, lime and cranberry juice. Add vodka and ice, shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with blueberry and mint leaf. It makes a beautiful if unsatisfying drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

DazzleDmI go to bars pretty much never, but with this drink I’ve been imagining sidling up the bar and drawling, “Give me the Razzle Dazzle.” Who knows what I’d get back—perhaps the bartender would break into tap dance and song or flash me some jazz hands…. or maybe deliver a deft and surprising punch to my nose.

Knowing the name of a drink rarely helps you with what’s in it. If I walked the streets of Chicago asking passers-by what’s in a Razzle Dazzle cocktail, I’m sure I’d get as many strange guesses as one of those Thanksgiving cookbooks first grade teachers assign their classes, the ones filled with surreal recipes co-authored by Dr. Frankenstein.

No Chicagoan, I bet, would say cranberry juice. There’s little that’s razzle-y or dazzle-y about cranberry juice, and in this concoction you might have trouble identifying the ingredient. Nor, if you told them about the cranberry juice, would they say “mint” because when is that a typical pairing? Then lime (because cranberry juice plus mint cry “lime”?) A passer-by might take the hint in the word “razzle” and say “raspberries,” but that, naturally, would be wrong, This drink contains blueberries… of course.

Maybe Dr. Frankenstein coauthored this recipe after all.

“Is this confluence of unlikely ingredients mellifluous?” you ask (well, maybe not in those exact words). I’m afraid the answer, for me, is a shrug. As photos convey, the Razzle Dazzle is beautiful, and the disparate flavors do, surprisingly, go together. But I’m not a vodka fan—it adds little or nothing. Plus, even if you switch out the vodka for gin or tequila, it involves muddling—which I never do without grumbling “This had better be good”—and leaves millions of blueberry seeds to sediment the drink and mint pulp to clog the shaker.

To be fair, my wife loved this drink. She may ask for another next weekend, but, unless we happen to have cranberry juice, mint, and blueberries handy, I will not ask for another. I love the name Razzle Dazzle (Razzledazzle Marshall would be a great name for a grandchild), but, as the name of a cocktail, Razzle Dazzle is a awful lot to live up to.

David’s Take: Perfectly palatable… not that memorable

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I have work to do on the positive attitude.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Having crawled over the finish line of the school year, I’m ready for summer ahead. That means it’s gin and tonic season for me, and I thought about proposing each of us make the perfect G&T next time. But that’s too simple, right? So, instead, I’m proposing we each create a gin and tonic variation. I found some suggestions, but they are only suggestions. Each of us will add a little something of our own Gin and Tonics in a (likely misguided) attempt to improve the classic… and get summer going at last.

Julep Varietals

JulepDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I went to the Kentucky Derby with our wives in the mid 80s, we parked our infield picnic blanket next to some proto-bros with a water balloon catapult. A couple of races in, they found their range and pinned a poor racing form seller inside his tin hut. An official-looking person arrived with commands to desist, but by then they were out of ammo anyway. Around three in the afternoon, they began launching their uneaten ham sandwiches instead.

People drink a lot at the Derby.

Churchill Downs’ mint juleps have a reputation for being a little watery, but I think I remember downing a few that day. And it makes me laugh when people talk about juleps as a genteel drink. At three parts bourbon to one part simple syrup, home versions can be quite strong. The idea is to sip them, allowing the ice to dilute their potency, but I enjoy them so much I seldom manage it.

A mint julep is technically a “smash,” a group of drinks defined by spirit (not necessarily bourbon), crushed ice, and macerated mint (or basil, or something leafy). The idea is to coat the glass with the oils of the leaf and lend an aromatic quality to the libation. In the classic julep, mint simple syrup is the short cut. In one of the julep alternatives I tried, “The Wild Ruffian,” (here’s a link to the recipe) the syrup is made of peach preserves, and the mint is pulverized with a muddler. That drink also called for cognac instead of bourbon, so I doubt anyone would recognize the concoction as a “julep.” Nor do I think Churchill Downs would ever serve one… or certainly not in the infield.

Another of the drinks both Jonathan and I tried was the Oaks Lily (recipe link), named for the featured race for fillies highlighting the day before the Derby. When I lived in Louisville, seeing the Oaks in the grandstands was actually affordable and accessible for commoners—no more, apparently—and the Oaks Lily is also suitably direct, relying on vodka over bourbon and cranberry and lime juices, plus a splash of triple sec, instead of simple syrup. Not a sprig of mint is to be seen anywhere, so it wouldn’t really qualify as a smash, just a way to preserve Saturday for the real julep.

As Jonathan explains below, he tried yet another julep alternative called a Bufala Negra, but, despite our experimentation, we both needed to make real juleps too. It’s not that they’re fancy—what could be plainer than 3:1 bourbon to syrup?—but they are tradition. And, if they are good enough for infielders, they are good enough for us.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JulepJMIt has been my impression that there are many places where the idea of a mint julep is met with disdain. The drink is decidedly a bourbon concoction, but if you love bourbon you don’t need, or want, the dilution and sweetening of the mint or simple syrup. If it is the latter that you like, there’s a good chance that bourbon is not your favorite. All of that is a shame because of how well the flavors go together.

Many years ago David and I had a very bad bourbon experience, and I had sworn off the stuff. A beach trip with our siblings and families helped with my gradual tolerance, and eventual embrace, of the brown liquor. Each sibling had a night when they were responsible for dinner and a cocktail and David chose to make juleps. The key to his mix was a well-crafted mint simple syrup that, to me, makes the difference in a julep. By mixing mint in the syrup, there is no need for dissolving sugar in water, muddling of mint or waiting for the inevitable melding. The two ingredients just mix with their friend crushed ice and a long sip later make for a wonderful combination.

This week was about alternatives though and we tried a couple of them. The first was a drink that was suggested in Southern Living that both David and I tried. I trust that David has provided the recipe for the Blush Lily which is the magazine’s take on the classic drink. It is a nice alternative for those who don’t like bourbon although some may find it more tart than sweet with lime and cranberry as the juices. We tried adding a splash of Blenheim ginger ale and that seemed to address that aspect as well as extend the drink.

My second alternative julep is called the Bufala Negra. I have no idea where that name came from but it is a mix of bourbon and basil with an interesting twist:

4 basil leaves
1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
½ ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounce bourbon

Muddle 3 basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and simple syrup. Add bourbon, crushed ice and stir. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.

The interesting part of this drink is how well the flavors mix. I was wary of drinking even a small amount of vinegar, but mixed with the basil and syrup it was a great match for bourbon. The end result was a less bourbon forward cocktail that still had the sweetness and herbal qualities of a classic julep.

Jonathan’s Take: The classic julep is still the best, but the Blush Lily is great for those who don’t love bourbon and the Negra is an interesting alternative for those who love variety.

David’s Take: The classic is still king, but the others are welcome variations

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I have been getting some grief about proposing the drink of Wimbledon well before the sporting event. The Pimm’s Cup is a classic drink of summer, however, and there seem to be a number of varieties that showcase different fruits. It is strawberry season all over the country and I wanted a drink that used that fruit without being a return to the sweetness and rum of tiki week.

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.

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.

The Belmont Breeze

Proposed by: DavidBelmontage

Reviewed by: Jonathan

In 1998, Dale DeGroff replaced the old official Belmont drink—the White Carnation—with a new cocktail. The Belmont Breeze isn’t a breeze to make, but some alchemy dictates its formula: one sour, two sweet, three strong, and four weak. If you study the recipe closely, and designate rightly, you can see how it fits, and DeGroff got the idea from colonial punch.

The biggest innovation from the White Carnation was the substitution of bourbon (or, as some recipes have it, American blended whiskey) for vodka, and sherry for peach schnapps. The White Carnation, apparently, was an acquired taste, as it also included orange juice and cream, making it the sort of Orange Julius of the cocktail world.

Being a mint julep fan—and a Derby snob—I don’t know what to think of a cocktail named after the track. These days, every stadium bears the name of an underwriting corporation, and you can hardly swing your head left to right without inadvertently scanning logos, brand names, and overt or covert advertising. I imagine when The White Carnation stopped selling, the powers-that-be sought another drink with this space for sale.

Sorry to be so cynical. My experience with this blog suggests two cocktail worlds: The older, more mysterious one features murky, almost magical, provenances, archival ingredients, and word-of-mouth transmutations and evolutions. The newer one is available online in videos of muscular and/or beautiful people mixing insert-alcohol-sponsor-name here and various other variable parts to create something trademarked.

Perhaps you sense which I prefer.

I don’t want to speak for Jonathan, but my experience (coming up on a year) tells me there’s something quixotic in mixology. You’re always looking for that combination of ingredients that click like tumblers deep inside a safe door and throw it open with a shouted, “Behold!” I shouldn’t be surprised at the challenge of reaching that word. I shouldn’t be surprised there’s money in it too.

But enough soap-boxing, here’s the recipe:

Muddle the mint and mix the ingredients in a shaker, and strain into ice-filled glasses.

betterbelmontHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

First the lament. I thought this was the year. Thought that California Chrome would be trademarking California Crown. All that thinking made me sad that I would not be able to watch the coronation due to other celebrations we were attending. As it ended up, we were able to watch the race and the stretch run that never came for a tired horse. No need to get into the fairness of the competition, this in fact being a cocktail blog not a sports discussion, just to wallow in the lament of another year gone by without that extra special horse.

Now back to the real purpose, the final leg of the triple crown of cocktails. The Belmont Breeze is another in the category of changing tradition. This race even had another name for its traditional cocktail (the White Carnation David has mentioned) and a number of versions of the Breeze to choose from. Our selected recipe was the bourbon and fruit juices version and despite all the indecision by others it was a great choice.

I followed the path that has led to the most success and used fresh squeezed juices for all but the cranberry. The truth is that I almost switched up and used fresh pomegranate instead of the cranberry so I could use all fresh, but stuck with the recipe. That is stuck with it other than ignoring the measurements simply listed as “a splash of.” The end result, because both the oranges and lemons were not very sweet, was a tart drink that mixed with the bourbon and sherry almost perfectly. A second version with a tiny amount of simple syrup was perfect. If only the race had been.

There can’t be a triple crown of cocktails celebrating horse racing without a win, place and show. The show cocktail was the Black Eyed Susan. Too fruity, too much change and too little satisfaction. Maybe David’s version with St. Germain was better, but mine was a distant third. Placing was the Belmont Breeze but only because of that lack of tradition. The drink is excellent, especially with the fresh juices, even if they change it year in and year out. A fresh pomegranate juice for the cranberry version could even nose at ahead at the line. But in the final reckoning the Julep wins because it is wonderful, traditional and demanding. There may be few versions, or preferences in making them if you like, but it is a storied drink that must have its own type of cup, the right kind of ice and then it demands you savor it.

David’s Take: A lot of flavors left me unsure of the winner

Jonathan’s take: The Belmont should stick with the DeGroff version and create the tradition.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Summer is coming, but before then is Father’s Day. It may be stereotypical, but when I think of a fatherly drink it has to start with whiskey. I was leaning towards rye whiskey and kept coming across the Vieux Carre Cocktail. It has also those standards of a classic, which it is, including the whiskey, plus cognac, vermouth and a mix of bitters.

 

Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria

photo-51Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

What exactly is a cocktail? Seems like an odd question after so many weeks and proposed drinks, but it is important this week. The most basic definition is that it is a spirit combined with at least two other ingredients. Other descriptions expand that and suggest that it is at least one spirit plus a bitter element and a sweet one. What is clear is that all of our proposals thus far can be considered cocktails.

The reason for exploring this idea is that the drink of the week is a Fall sangria. A number of weeks ago I figured out that I would be the proposer for Thanksgiving weekend and started thinking about something that could be made for a crowd. For most Thanksgiving meals, I have tried to find some new way to use cranberries so the proposal had to be some kind of cranberry based sangria. The final thoughts were that the drink needed to be less spirituous than some of the previous proposals and of course complement the Thanksgiving meal.

My question for David when the idea of sangria came up, though, was whether it qualified as cocktail. It includes at least two spirits, although I struggle with the idea that wine or even beer qualifies as a spirit because of the lower alcohol content, sweet and borderline bitter elements so I suppose in its own way does.

There are so many sangria recipes that it was less about choosing one than combining different ideas to create something that met all goals. It also seems that Bobby Flay, of restaurant and Food Network fame, is the creator of many of the sangria variations available in the public domain. The recipe I used is a slight variation on his Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria:

20131128_164130-1

Nothing left but the fruit!

2 bottles red wine (I used Beaujolais Noveau since it is November)
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup applejack brandy
½ cup triple sec liqueur
Cranberry simple syrup (added a cup of cranberries to a half cup of simple syrup and simmered until they began to split)
1 cup orange juice
Sparkling pomegranate juice
Cranberries, orange slices and chopped Granny Smith apples

Combine all ingredients, except the sparkling juice, and refrigerate for at least six hours. Add the sparkling juice before serving.

It could have been the craziness of hosting Thanksgiving or the popularity of the sangria, but I forgot to take a picture until after all but the fruit was left.

I also completely understand why there are so many recipes as the concept is so basic that it lends itself to variations by wine, liquor, fruit, juices and as in this case by season. I wonder what a President’s Day sangria would be like?

Here’s David’s review:

Adam Carolla markets a product called “Mangria,” a version of Sangria that boosts the alcoholic content by adding vodka to the fruit and red wine. The assumption, I suppose, is that Sangria is a genteel drink, not suitable for the hard liquor crowd.

Though I’m no manly-man, I had similar impressions before trying this sangria. It’s a drink for parties, a nearly-punch alternative to beer and wine and, just as Jonathan said, questionably a serious cocktail. Though you can sometimes order sangria in a restaurant, it’s often a special—because they’ve made a mess o’ sangria—and no one I know makes a single serving the way they do martinis or Manhattans.

That’s too bad, based on this recipe. Besides combining some prominent seasonal flavors, like the pairing of orange and cranberry juice, this cocktail’s addition of pomegranate and some fizz made it celebratory yet fruitful, a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal. I let the sangria mix overnight as instructed by the recipe, which effectively made the parts overlap until, like many good cocktails, the ingredients became difficult to distinguish.

When Jonathan proposed this choice, I worried about the red wine, as most wine coolers or, especially mulled wine, seem too rich and not actually refreshing. I wish I’d thought of using Beaujolais as Jonathan did—I used Shiraz—as it might have made the drink even fresher, but Shiraz seems a spicy red to me and added that element without introducing the cinnamon or cloves that might have been overkill.

As I have for all recipes calling for triple sec, I used Mandarine Napoleon, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite liquor. It’s not at all overpowering and, being a little different from regular orange in flavor, I suspect it worked almost the way the orange rind on the slices did, a slightly—pleasantly—bitter undertone.

One quibble: I wish I’d had the same snazzy system of serving this drink that Jonathan did, a container with a tap at the bottom. We made ours in a pitcher, and, while it was a pretty pitcher, the cranberries kept plopping into people’s glasses. When I reached the bottom and looked at the remaining berries, I had the same thought I have every Thanksgiving. Who the hell ever thought of eating these things? I’m not sure what the fresh cranberries might contribute, as they looked exactly the way they did when I put them in. Though they decorated well, they hardly seemed necessary. If Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria becomes a Thanksgiving tradition in my house, I’ll leave the cranberries out… or substitute something actually edible.

And I’ll make more… as with Jonathan, it was gone before I even had a chance to take a decent photograph. Oh well, that may be the best recommendation of all.

David’s Take: a refreshing and celebratory addition to a wonderful meal.

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Jonathan’s take: This will be a Thanksgiving tradition. If it’s not there will be some unhappy guests.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

I teach a Shakespeare course at school and have run into some odd drinks in my reading. One is a flip, which, though it doesn’t go by that name, has evolved over time to describe a class of drinks involving a spirit, eggs (I will use egg whites), and spirit. I haven’t decided which flip to try yet, but I’ve settled on rum as the spirit of choice.

The Pink Mojito

Proposed by: Jonathanp mojito2

Reviewed by: David

There are folks who are fanatical about barbecue. They insist that one type (beef or pork typically), style or place is the absolute best. Having spent my formative years in Texas and all my adult life in North Carolina, however, I am an equal opportunity eater. I can’t proclaim what is the best type, style or place simply because I have not tried them all. That hasn’t stopped me from trying though.

What does this have to do with cocktails? I was introduced to the mojito by some friends only a few years ago. Since that time, I have tried a number of variations at many different places and, like barbecue, am not sure what is the best because I have yet to try them all.

More savvy cocktailians have probably already discerned that my proposal statement from last week is not correct. The mojito is a classic cocktail with a history that is probably over 150 years old and a cast of associated characters that includes one of the great drinkers (who also dabbled in writing) of all time – Ernest Hemingway. He had the good fortune to enjoy a mojito in its birthplace of Cuba while the closest I have come is the best one I have had to date. Just down the street from Hemingway’s Key West home is the Blue Heaven restaurant and whether it is the actual drink or the wonderful setting, I would recommend stopping in to try one for yourself if you are nearby.

The other tie to barbecue is the speculation that the name Mojito is related to food preparation and citrus-spice mojo marinade. While I am not sure if that connection is real, it seems like a good enough reason to connect these two pursuits and enjoy the mojito with the mojo marinated and grilled meat of your choice.

The mojito lends itself to experimentation through variations in the liquor, fruit and additives. The version I have chosen is credited to Hakkasan, a restaurant in London. Sadly, I have never tried it in person although it does seem like another good reason to visit London.

The recipe is as follows:

2 ounces Cabeza tequila (I think any quality agave tequila will work here)

½ ounce brown simple syrup

20 mint leaves

½ lime

Cranberry juice

Muddle mint and lime with simple syrup and pour over crushed ice. Add tequila and top with cranberry juice.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’m not the guy who wears long pants on a July beach or shows up in a resort bar sporting a paisley tie… but close. Drinks identified with Key West or London or Cuba are unfamiliar, and, to my knowledge, I’ve never owned a bottle of Tequila—blancho, joven, reposado, añejo, or other.

So imagine my delight encountering the pink mojito—a drink equally bright and complex, minty and citrus-y, sour and fruity, bitter and bright. Jealous of Jonathan’s brown simple syrup, I substituted cane syrup, and the addition only enhanced the island quality of the cocktail. I’ve had a mojito before (well, once) but the cranberry juice created a nice astringency, a natural echo of the tequila’s agave tang. And this drink is sweet and minty, resonant of the juleps I know well from multiple Derby parties in Louisville and elsewhere. My wife has been growing mint all summer on our porch, so I was happy to make use of her labor, and maybe nothing is better than the flavor liberated by a freshly muddled tender mint leaf.

My one critique is the bolus of organics gathering in bottom of the glass, waiting for your last swallow. Maybe it’s my problem, my fastidiousness, the same stiffness that would have me wear the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place, but I like my cocktails shaken, strained, and clear. Perhaps, in that, I’m not yet ready for the tropics, not yet ready for the overabundant foliage of abandon.

That said, the ultimate judgment lies in wanting another. My wife and I finished the first with an immediate, “How about more?” Having all I need to create another, I’ll add pink mojito to my list of cocktail options, even in Chicago February when summer is far away and a distant memory.

David’s take: Love it. Wish it were acceptable for the whole year, even though it couldn’t be further from my usual tastes.

Jonathan’s take: The Pink Mojito won’t make my top ten. The cranberry overwhelms the line and mint, which is the best part of the drink.

Next week (proposed by David):

My sister-in-law, an Italian, sent us a very funny advertisement for Fiat’s 500L or “Cinquecento,” which inspired me to find a cocktail worthy of its quirkiness and celebration of eccentricity. I found one in the Cinquecento cocktail, a combination of vodka and bitters, which my source site describes as unusual because it’s “vodka being used in a recipe that’s well thought out,” one of the top 101 best new cocktails for 2013.

Please join us in enjoying the Cinquecento!