Nice and Sloe

sloedmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Google “Sloe Gin Cocktails,” and you’ll receive a list of drinks with naughty names I won’t repeat. Nice and Sloe, in comparison, is the mildest innuendo to match this mild use of this unconventional, once forgotten spirit.

Sloe gin contains gin, but its singular ingredient is a wild British berry that, apparently, no one with any sense would eat. I’ve never tasted one, so I can’t say whether they are as terrible as accounts claim. But I read a British site that described them as “astringent, “bitter,” and, in a what I take as a typically understated British disdain, “generally unpleasant.”

Yet, there they are in bottle, made into gin according to a process that resembles a masonic rite. You pick ripe sloes immediately after the first frost (about now, late October to early November) and prick them with thorns from the sloe bush itself… or you can prick it with a metal fork, as long as it isn’t silver. Then you steep it for three months in regular gin in a dark place, making sure to… that’s enough. I suppose sloe gin is not the most complicated spirit (because it doesn’t have to go over the equator twice) but, like lobster, you have to wonder who thought of ingesting it first. Must be the months pickled in alcohol.

And, actually, sloe gin is sweet, sort of plummy and fairly bright, like a bitter cherry brandy with a whiff of lemon. For a time, people had to make sloe gin on their own, and the most popular sloe gin drink, a Sloe Gin Fizz, was consigned to black and white movies. Now sloe gin is in a liquor store and a double-entendre near you.

The recipe for the Nice and Sloe doesn’t star sloe gin, but there’s enough in the drink to make a difference:

5 to 8 mint leaves

1.5 ounces white rum

.75 ounces sloe gin

.75 lemon juice

.25 simple syrup

Add to an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake vigorously (to break up the mint) and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a mint sprig.

With sloe gin in my liquor cabinet, I may get to work experimenting. Though perhaps unusual and dated, it’s an interesting taste sure to be useful, if only to produce some bad puns yourself.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

sloejmMost of us have some gustatory kryptonite. That food or drink that can make us queasy, or at least immediately adverse, at mere mention. Sloe gin seems to fall into that category for a number of folks.

The food kryptonite list varies greatly from the specific to the general. For me, it’s Chex mix. That is the odd cereal, peanuts and spice mix that people often put together at holidays. I suppose it goes back to a Christmas season when I was a graduate student. I was training to run a marathon with David and my buddy Willard. There was little to eat in the house and my appetite was unending with all the training. Next thing I knew, I had overdosed on Chex mix and to this day I can eat little more than a handful at a time.

Other people feel that way about a more general type or whole groups of food. I know folks who loved oysters until they ate that one that was too big, too raw, too slimy or simply an oyster. There are others who exclude seafood completely. It’s the smell, the look or the concept that bothers them. Maybe they are just opposed to eating things that swim but the smell alone sends them running.

The list of kryptonite beverages, specifically alcoholic, almost always traces back to overindulgence. We have heard of people who swear off beer after a night of one, or twelve, too many – to a person they seem to come back though. Tequila is commonly anathema. I suspect that it is as much about what kind and how they drank it as it is about amount. No matter how it happened though there is typically no convincing these antis to change their mind.

My wife is one of those who cringe at the thought at of sloe gin. Just like others who feel the same, it started with a poor man’s version of the sloe gin fizz. There are sloe gin liqueurs that substitute for the real thing and that probably has a lot to do with it. They are usually low priced, artificially flavored and probably have more than a few odd by products included. Add in the middling level of alcohol, low enough to enjoy more than one and high enough to rue too many, and the cheap fizz is a recipe for regret. I should note, to protect my well-being, that she was much younger and a neophyte drinker when her sloe gin aversion began.

Oddly, the key to this cocktail is not the sloe gin it’s the rum. The recipe calls for a dry rum (not sure I had ever heard of such a thing) which is probably to make it less dominant and the drink less sweet. I used a rum from Charleston which is great on its own and works well in most cocktails but in this drink it overpowered the gin. The rum added too much sweet especially combined with the simple syrup so I should have tried a version without the syrup. What I could taste of the sloe gin was interesting. I purposely sought out an English version for authenticity and I’m looking forward to another drink where it is featured. Maybe, just maybe, I can talk my wife into a kryptonite fizz.

Jonathan’s take: There’s no aversion to this drink, I just think I need to do a better job making it.

David’s take: The sloe gin, lemon, and mint play nicely with the rum—an odd collection, maybe, but an amiable party.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

I’m not sure if there is a saturation of microbreweries, folks who are more interested in craft spirits, or both, but there is a proliferation of micro-distilleries. I have used local (defined in this case as North Carolina and adjoining states) liquors in many of the cocktails we have made. A large part of that is to avoid the huge conglomerates that dominate the spirit market, but it is also to support alcohol artisans. The proposal is to try a cocktail, or two, made with local spirits. A short amount of research has already shown that most makers offer a number of cocktail ideas for that very purpose.

 

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Melaza Punch

Melaza.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Maybe you know molasses, but, if you are like me (before this experiment), you only experience it as an ingredient in cookies or gingerbread or even baked beans. Turns out, molasses (or “treacle” in British) comes from sugar cane or beets (no surprise there) boiled down once (cane syrup), twice (light molasses) or thrice (blackstrap molasses). To me, molasses has a smoky, vaguely sulfurous taste… though it has no smoke or sulfur in it (except as a preservative). Molasses reminds me of the colder months because its sweetness isn’t quite so sweet, and the syrup is as dense and slow-moving as fall and winter.

Which led me to this recipe. We’ve tried fall drinks using maple syrup before and lately every upscale restaurant I visit features a cocktail sweetened with it. “What about molasses,” I thought, “aren’t there any molasses cocktails?”

Silly question. Of course… there are a number. I chose Melaza Punch from a list of molasses drinks because it seemed the one that tests the assumptions I make the flavors of fall. The syrup fits, but the spirit—tequila—and the mixers—pineapple and orange juice—really don’t. I suppose you could see this libation as liquid pineapple upside down cake, but I think of a “punch” as a summer thing.

Molasses is a strong taste, its thickness makes it difficult to mix, and, speaking in party terms, these ingredients only seem to have the bartender in common. They barely know each other. I knew I was taking a chance and risking returning to my early reputation as the crazy brother on this blog (though, let the record show, I never proposed a pumpkin butter cocktail). Still, why are we here if not to experiment or, perhaps more accurately, serve as guinea pigs?

Here’s the recipe from Kathy Casey:

  • 1.5 oz Milagro Añejo Tequila
  • .75 oz Fresh pineapple juice
  • 1 oz Fresh orange juice
  • .25 oz Light molasses
  • Garnish: Freshly grated cinnamon
  • Glass: Rocks

Add all the ingredients to a shaker. Stir, and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.

Incidentally, besides meaning molasses in Spanish, “melaza,” according to Urban Dictionary,  is a word Puerto Ricans use to describe something awesome, good, or excellent. Let’s see if Jonathan thinks the name fits…

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

melaza.jbmThis could be a research project, but I am way too lazy to do that for a blog. That research would be to determine how many times I have had to apologize for some aspect of a cocktail including its preparation and service. Simply put though, I need to do that for this punch.

We are back in tailgate season and I planned to serve this drink as part of a pre-game spread. That was accomplished, but, since I had to prepare and pack in advance, I took a shortcut. There was an orange juice carton in the fridge and pineapple chunks canned in their own juice so I used those non-squeezed options to save some time and trouble. I also added sorghum syrup as a substitute for molasses but that was on purpose. My only excuse was that it made an easy mixer that I could bottle, shake up to mix, and add to the tequila. In my defense too – have you ever tried to find fresh squeezed pineapple juice or tried to make it yourself?

A number of people tried the drink at the tailgate gathering, and they all found it too sweet. There is no doubt that, had I scanned the ingredients on the carton and can, I would have found added sugar. Combined with the sorghum, it was too much for the complexity and subtle notes that the anejo tequila provided. I knew that, knew I had served a bad recipe, and knew I would have to try again.

I made a second version later in the week. First I used my trusty hand juicer for the orange juice, which is so easy that I have even resorted to doing that when we have run out of store bought juice. Then I cut up a fresh pineapple, pulverized the core and some slices and let that slowly seep through a strainer. If you haven’t tried that, I would suggest you do it to understand why the home cocktailian would cut corners. Finally I mixed the drink using those juices and the sorghum syrup. It was incredible. The orange and pineapple juices were not too sweet and much lighter in consistency. The sorghum even added flavors that went beyond its sweetness that had been lost in the previous version. The star though was the tequila, as it was intended to be, with all its flavors on full display against the background of the fruit and syrup.

So here goes the apology. Lebo, Trevor, Medman, Seed, Mrs. Seed and others: I am so sorry that I served you an inferior cocktail. I wish you had been there to enjoy the real version with me, especially after juicing that damn pineapple, but you have to take my word for it that it was great. If you don’t want to do that, drop by because I still have tequila and I am sure I can scare up a pineapple and oranges.

Jonathan’s take: We say it over and over – use real ingredients even if it is a pain in the ass.

David’s Take: Wish I could say I liked it, but the molasses seemed dissonant to me, and, the most telling truth, I didn’t want another.

Next cocktail (Proposed By: Jonathan):

There are any number of pre-sweetened whiskeys. Southern Comfort has been around for a long time and now there are honey, honey/cinnamon and all sorts of other whiskeys that are all altered for those who don’t enjoy the hard stuff straight. They are technically liqueurs, at least as I understand the definition, and another of the classics is rock and rye. Garden & Gun magazine tells me that with the cocktail resurgence there has been an increase in bars that make that own version. That is what we are going to do. After that, it is up to each of us if we want to use it in cocktail, see what it is like on ice, or do both.

Grand Autumn Cocktail

-1Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

My proposal for this drink included a wish that I could enjoy the cocktail on a crisp October evening by the fire pit. I did enjoy the cocktail, although the crisp evening by the fire eluded me. We have not had the rain which has besieged our neighbors in South Carolina, but it has been rainy and quite inhospitable for time outside. Especially on the usual cocktail Saturday and Sundays.

The Grand Autumn cocktail comes from Better Homes & Gardens magazine. I hope the fact that my wife is a subscriber makes it legal for us to use it with proper credit since you need a password to get the recipe on-line. Here is the recipe either way:

2 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce St. Germain
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
3 ounces ginger beer

Mix the first four ingredients and shake or stir with ice. Strain into a double old fashioned or mule cup, add the ginger beer and ice, and stir gently. It is an Autumn drink so Barritt’s or Gosling’s are a good choice for the ginger beer to get that nice Fall color. I also chose a rye whiskey for a more peculiar reason even if it loosely falls into the family part of this blog.

I am an Astros fan, which is typically painful to admit, but, this year, I’m proud of their progress. Growing up south of Houston it was the only reasonable choice to root for the home team, and my affection was cemented through free tickets provided to area students who made the honor roll. There was a point when all five kids in our family were eligible, and we had far more tickets than our parents had energy for trips to the Astrodome. Somehow my oldest son has the same affliction, and even our youngest seems to have a soft spot for a team that I most often reference as “The Sortas” for their ineptitude. This year was an exception (even if they did lose to the Royals), and the three of us enjoyed a weekend in Houston to see them in person. Now, what does that have to do with rye whiskey?

I went shopping for the whiskey at the same time the Astros were struggling to get one of the last spots in the playoffs. They didn’t have the brand I was looking for and I had settled on another option and headed to check out. At that point I spotted a display of Yellow Rose rye from Houston. It seemed like an omen and when it comes to sports I am very partial to omens. Since that purchase, the Astros have made the playoffs, dispatched the Yankees and are holding their own with the Royals. When you are an Astros fan and usually just hoping for relevance, that’s a lot. Thank you Yellow Rose.

Here’s David’s Review:

grand.dmSometimes, in odd Walter Mitty moments, I imagine this blog being picked up by some liquor company and climbing on a gravy train so full of gravy I don’t have to work anymore. That’s not likely to happen—though, if some liquor giant is out there, let me just say “Please?” Yet if it were to happen, one of my top candidates would be Crabbie’s Ginger Beer. I confess I love the stuff and would love having my consumption of it fully subsidized.

Which is to say I loved this drink. Rye (another favorite) and Elderflower liqueur (now in less expensive forms than St. Germain) add to the appeal, but really it’s ginger beer. Something about ginger’s zing complements spirits, adding interest to any concoction.

The lime and bitters, of course, are good too, but they almost seemed nods to other cocktails like bucks and Manhattan varietals. I suppose they add, but, really, you know, it’s the Crabbie’s Ginger Beer.

Are you listening, Crabbie’s? I’m not hard to find.

Now, why this is a Grand Autumn cocktail is a complete mystery to me. Even after each seasons of drinking, I’m sometimes unsure of why one drink settles in one time of year. I wouldn’t dare drink a gin and tonic in December, but I suspect that’s conditioning rather than any intrinsic summeriness associated with gin, or tonic, or both together.

Someone out there in cyberland may tell me that Rye is a warm spirit or that ginger is evocative of seasonal fare or that elderflower, redolent of blossoms now blown, adds a wistful longing for the just passed. I get all that. I do. Generally, as an English teacher, I’m all in favor of reaching after meaning (read: bullshit), but this drink just didn’t say autumn to me, not at all.

Not withstanding that somewhat peevish criticism, however, it was mighty good… thanks, Crabbie’s Ginger Beer.

Jonathan’s take: Sing with me – There’s a Yellow Rose of cocktails, that I am going to drink…

David’s Take: I think I’d like it in any season… I bet you can guess why.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

I’m still on this autumn thing, so I’m going to make another attempt at another concoction presented as a seasonal cocktail, a Melaza Punch, featuring molasses, the ostensibly autumnal ingredient. We’ve tried Maple syrup, so why the heck not? The wrinkle here is that this drink also includes Tequila and Pineapple Juice, so it’s really stretching the fall envelope. I’m interested in hearing what Jonathan thinks of this seasonal question, and what better way to elicit a fiery response but to put the issue to a big test.

Bobby Burns

BB4Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

“Hey, where have you been?” an imagined reader may be crying. For the first time since starting this blog, Jonathan and I took an unanticipated stop. We’re both terribly busy and, when illness intervenes or anything surprising, it’s tough to find the time to make a cocktail. Sad but true. So we’re going to be scaling back, offering our cocktailian journey every other week rather than every week.

Policy announcement passed, onto this week’s drink…

Robert Burns (1759–96) is variously known as as Robbie Burns, Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s Favorite Son, the Ploughman Poet, Robden of Solway Firth, the Bard of Ayrshire and, simply, “The Bard” but not, anywhere I can find, “Bobby Burns.” He is THE Scottish poet, an early practitioner of Romanticism, a general aesthetic hero in his homeland, William Wallace with a quill.

A large portion of Burns’ fame springs from his writing in Scots vernacular as English overtook his nation. Though he was the son of a tenant farmer, a tenant farmer himself, and not a college graduate, he rose to prominence in his own lifetime. “I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as… to see my birthday,” he wrote, “inserted among the wonderful events in the Poor Robin’s and Aberdeen Almanacks…. and by all probability I shall soon be the tenth Worthy, and the eighth Wise Man, of the world.”

Okay, I’m not sure he ever made those books and those lists I never I heard of, but he is famous enough to have a cocktail named after him.

Many Americans know Burns (without really knowing him) because they sing his lyrics to Auld Lang Syne each New Year’s Eve or because they’ve heard a few lines from “A Red, Red Rose.” Even though I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in literature, I don’t know his work that well either. I just like cocktails with literary names.

My true attraction to this week’s drink, however, was the main spirit Scotch. Like Jonathan, I have some unfortunate memories of encountering it and some deep-seated need to rehabilitate it. How can any decent cocktailian, really, sidestep one of the chief whiskeys and the favorite of so many connoisseurs?

That would be like, well, dissing a major poet of Scotland.

My hope for the Bobby Burns hinges on its other ingredients, Benedictine and Sweet Vermouth. The drink from this blog that has come closest to winning me over to Scotch was, after all, another sweet entry, the Rusty Nail. That, however, was Scotch overkill, as it combines Scotch and Drambuie, Scotch liqueur. The Bobby Burns promises something like the Vieux Carré, a Manhattan style concoction. There’s no fruit—so no distraction from the spirits—but Scotch purists probably oppose even this much adulteration.

2 oz. Highland malt scotch
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. Bénédictine

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

The Bobby Burns is the creation of Dale DeGroff, author of The Essential Cocktail and one of the favorites of this blog. For my version, I chose Glenmorangie, a reasonably priced single-malt that, as the picture indicates, even came with two nifty glasses. Right now, some reader is probably saying, “Hey, those glasses are for Scotch, not some wifty sweet drink” or, alternately, “Hey, what do you work for Glenmorangie, or what?” I’ll accept either insult if, at long last, I’ve found a palatable use for Scotland’s most famous export.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

bobbyjbmIn the last drink review David quoted Stephen Dedalus and for this drink he proposed one (purportedly) named for the Ploughman Poet, Robert Burns. I sense that I have exited the cocktail blog world and entered an English literature course. Of course he says he was looking for a successful Scotch based cocktail, but that is too simple.

Our close followers probably noticed we missed a week. That was my fault. Between a bad cold and work obligations, I never had a night when I could, or wanted to, try the cocktail or any alcohol at all. There are those that claim a medicinal benefit to liquors. In fact it kept the distilling industry alive during prohibition to some extent. I even cited that medicinal claim at one point when I noted that our Dad had a sore throat/cold cure that consisted of bourbon, honey, lemon juice and occasionally onion. I still think that was to induce his whining children to fall asleep and have never looked to spirits for their curative properties. The end result was that it took me two weeks to try the Bobby Burns and any opinion I express should be couched in terms of still limited tasting abilities.

Scotch based drinks are a short list and I think I have an idea why. Scotch is very assertive and doesn’t play well with others. There was hope though as this mix with sweet Vermouth and Benedictine had more promise than the others we have tried.

I used a blended Highland Scotch, Dewar’s, to try and tamp down the assertiveness. It still overcame the sweetness and herbal tones of the other additions. If you like Scotch, my guess is that those additions would be unwanted distractions and if you do not favor Scotch they are not enough. It was better than any Scotch drink we have tried, which is saying something, but my recommendation would still be to leave the Scotch neat, on ice, or alone.

Jonathan’s take: The Bobby Burns is a lovely Fall color but Scotch was not the medicine I needed.

David’s take: Maybe Scotch is the loner of the spirits.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I love Fall which should be apparent from my past drink selections (and that I have said that before). My love does not include pumpkin beers or the abominations that are committed in the world of coffee concoctions, but the rest of the tastes of the season are great. And what says Fall more than Better Homes & Gardens? I am going back to that source for the Grand Autumn cocktail. Made with rye whiskey, St. Germain, lime juice and ginger beer, I hope that it can be enjoyed on a crisp October evening with nice fire in my new fire pit.

Roasted Fig Cocktail

Figgy2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Figs are, for me, lovable fruit. If they were human, they might be those amiable friends you take for granted. Sure, they’re less than gorgeous and at times positively gritty, almost too real inside, but you can’t doubt their sweetness, even when it’s subtle. And, if you’re lucky, when the time is right, they seem to just be there, waiting for you to reach out.

Jonathan, both my sisters, and my older brother grow (or have grown) figs, and they may regard them differently. I never think of figs’ proliferation, their appeal to birds or deer, and the obligations of using an overabundant yearly harvest resourcefully. They will never be the zucchini yield my coworkers seems to proffer. I regard them as supermarket treats. They never last long enough.

All those feelings account for my search for a cocktail exploiting figs. This summer, this blog has focused on seasonal fruit, and, as we edge toward fall, figs seemed the ideal choice. If the groceries are already offering Octoberfest beer, why not turn toward some of the warmer flavors of autumn? The particular recipe I chose also includes a nod to the shrub we tried a few weeks ago. The roasting that creates the fig puree owes a great deal to the balsamic vinegar balancing sweet and sour. The inclusion of maple syrup and bourbon only add to the transitional character of this cocktail. It’s neither a light nor refreshing cocktail of summer. Instead, it’s rich and dense.

Yet, I’m hoping it’s also a little fun. Maybe that’s because I can’t help thinking of that old Nabisco ad. Those “of a certain age” will remember it—a nebbish-y guy named “Big Fig” wearing a fig costume calls on the piano player Hal to help him sing a paean—decidedly off-key—to the virtues of Fig Newtons. Meanwhile he does a dance that’s not nearly as difficult as he thinks. At one point, he cries, “Here’s the tricky part!” and strikes a pose. Of course it’s not tricky at all. My brother and I could do it at ease, from memory. It’s ordinary, and most viewers at the time probably said, “How silly.”

Maybe I’m alone in extolling the virtues of underappreciated figs, but… well… I love them.

Here’s the recipe:

For the fig purée:

  • 12 ripe figs, halved
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

For the cocktail:

  • 1 heaping teaspoon fig purée
  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon
  • 1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce maple syrup
  • Dash orange bitters

Directions

  1. To make the fig purée: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the figs in a 9″x9″ metal baking pan and pour the balsamic vinegar over top. Bake for 12 minutes, stirring twice to prevent burning. Remove the figs from the oven and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  1. Pour the figs and remaining liquid into the blender and purée until fully blended. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  1. To make the cocktail: Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add fig purée, bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup, and orange bitters. Shake for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmfig

We have used some odd ingredients. For instance, the very first cocktail included a peanut orgeat. A regular orgeat with almonds, which we also made and used, is different enough but that peanut one was messy, sticky and oddly delicious. The Bengali Gimlet included so many spices that I still have a small part of the spice shelf devoted to the left overs. There have been vinegars, multiple syrups, and a few peculiar fruits. This week was a different fruit and a vinegar. Bonus.

The combination of figs and balsamic vinegar to create a paste wasn’t hard and it did result in wonderful smelling kitchen. I used black mission figs mostly because that was what I could find but also because the ones I am growing have been an easy snack for all of the critters that have been enjoying my attempt at an edible landscape. It created a paste that is a dark purple studded with gold seeds which is lovely. I hope the picture shows off both the purple and the gold floaties as it was quite a visual.

The drink itself was interesting which discerning readers will recognize as transparent code for “I won’t be making more of these.” It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it especially with it unique taste. It just wasn’t special enough that I would be blending up a batch of fig paste each week to make more. The bourbon also got lost in the drink to the point that I think the proportion needs to be increased to at least 2 ounces. It might also cut some of the thickness of the paste, which you get with that heaping teaspoon.

My question now is what do I do with the rest of that paste? I am afraid that the balsamic vinegar would stand out too much to throw some in a smoothie. I could have bought some frozen pastry dough and whooped up some homemade newtons, but that thought only occurred to me after we had been shopping. Not to mention that there is probably not enough paste even after all the scraping I did to get it out of the blender. I think the best option is crostini, cream cheese and a schmear of paste. Mmmm, fig paste!

Jonathan’s take: One of the prettiest drinks that we have made

David’s take: Certainly not an everyday drink, but enjoyable

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Did anyone know there is more than one Maharani cocktail? Me neither. The one I am proposing uses Tanqueray Rangpur (that goes back to the Bengali Gimlet) and St. Germain. I still have both and am hoping that David does too.