Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.

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The Hemingway Daiquiri

Proposed by: JonathanDaiquiri

Reviewed by: David

The Daiquiri would probably make most lists of the classic cocktails. In its most simple form it is comprised of rum, a sour such as lime juice, and a sweet component. The variations on that basic recipe are seemingly endless, and in fact the Gimlet that we enjoyed some time ago is the same concept with gin instead of rum.

The proposal for this week is a Hemingway Daiquiri which uses two fruit juices for the sour and a liqueur for the sweet. Although there are various recipes for this drink, the specific one I used came from an e-book by Robert Willey called Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists (Joseph Schwartz and Jim Meehan).

20131116_184304Here’s the Recipe

1.5 ounce light rum
¾ ounce Maraschino liqueur
1 ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe

The daiquiri like many drinks has a number of claimants for its invention. It has been around since the late 1800’s and the many versions altering the simple three part ingredients make it likely that there were a number of inventors. The word “daiquiri” probably comes from a beach near Santiago, Cuba as noted in a Wikipedia history which makes sense based on the rum base.

One historical fact that is clear, however, is that it was another favorite of Ernest Hemingway who enjoyed his at Havana’s El Floridita bar (different sources note his version was called the Papa Doble). I had suggested in the proposal last week that someone should consider writing a book about Hemingway, his many favorite drinks and the locations in which he drank them. That book has been written by Philip Greene and is called To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. I have not read it, but based on reviews think that I will (as part of cocktail scholarship of course).

A couple of weeks ago with the Bourbon Cider, I noted trying to use local ingredients. One of the things that I have found is that similar to local wineries and breweries, there are an increasing number of local distillers. The rum I used for this recipe comes from a small town in North Carolina just outside of Charlotte. Muddy River Distillery is located in Belmont only offers the single product – Carolina Rum. I am no aficionado, but was very impressed with this Catawba River product and thought it worked really well in this drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’ve earned the “not-so-savvy” of “not-so-savvy cocktailian” by being singularly ignorant of drinks others know well. That includes daiquiris, which I not only don’t drink but can’t spell (without the help of spell check).

That said, the ingredients of this drink were familiar, and, on the imaginary scorecard for this brotherly experiment, a few of my proposed cocktails have been unsuccessful because of their unfamiliarity. Some tastes, I’ve learned, play nicely together, and others do not. Jonathan seems to have a knack to choosing complementary elements and a particular gift for recognizing recipes that combine fruit flavors with the appropriate spirits.

Though the grapefruit juice and lime gave this drink strong acidity, the maraschino liqueur  mellowed that taste considerably. The recipe I used called for simple syrup as well, and that also balanced what could have been a very tart drink. Even with my use of the more herbal taste of cachaça, which I chose over traditional rum or a rhum agricole, I found this daiquiri easy to drink. Friends joined us in testing this cocktail, and the decision for a second round came without question. It was, in every way, drinkable.

My only quibble comes from comparison. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a number of sweet drinks, and I wonder if Hemingway’s daiquiri might benefit from a little less sugar. The Papa Doble Jonathan mentions appeared in my research as a variation to this drink that doubles the rum, and, had I not already had two daiquiris, I might have tried that. Or I could have followed Jonathan’s recipe and skipped the simple syrup. The maraschino liqueur isn’t super sweet, but perhaps it’s sweet enough—with fresh lime and grapefruit—to make less (or no) simple syrup welcome.

Now that I’ve had a daiquiri, I may return to not thinking of myself as a daiquiri drinker, at least not in Chicago in November.  More sun and less wind and rain seem required. As much as I enjoyed this cocktail, I’m still looking for a libation that teeters riskily just at the edge of dissonance. So far, most of my proposals have teetered and fallen, but I have a feeling that, somewhere out there in cocktailia, exists an unlikely drink that makes music from less likely notes. For now, however, Hemingway’s Daiquiri is a joyful Caribbean tune worth celebrating.

David’s Take: This cocktail was easy to drink and pleasant in every way. Some summer afternoon, I may return to it, but my mind is on fall.

Jonathan’s take: I like the continuity of ingredients from one week to the other, in this case Maraschino liqueur. That slight cherry sweetness along with the grapefruit brought a nice variation to a cocktail that I thought I knew well.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the pears abundant this time of year, and my mind has been on doctoring some of the pear cocktail recipes I’ve seen and combining some of those seasonal flavors in a new cocktail. Specifically I’m going to try to reproduce the flavor profile of a wonderful pear tart I encountered a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have a name yet, but, in addition to pears, this cocktail will bring in ginger, vanilla, and sparkling wine.

The Fall Gimlet

Proposed by: DavidGimlet

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Even the name “Gimlet” has an interesting history. The word used as a description of a drink appears first in 1928, and many people associate it with a tool for drilling tiny holes with piercing, penetrating precision. Others say the cocktail commemorates the British navy surgeon Thomas Gimlette (active 1879-1913), who developed the lime-centered drink as an anti-scurvy measure. These theories may or may not be true, but the drink itself has been around long enough to make tracing it back challenging.

I read somewhere that, in the current surge of cocktail drinking, the Gimlet has largely been left behind. Why isn’t clear, but I have my own theory. Rose’s Gimlet is a dusty choice, a bartender’s friend, automatic and easy. It was a staple of your father’s generation, more cloying than sweet, more like a can of cocktail than the fresh, sophisticated, and often exotic mixed drinks popular now.

Fresh lime juice restores some of the drink’s vitality, but the recipe I proposed for this week, the Fall Gimlet, also adds warmth in the form of a trendy cocktail sweetener, maple syrup. Any gimlet requires a sweet element—simple syrup or sugar—but the idea behind this drink is to balance the sharp citrusy attack of fresh lime with the amber and mellow complexity of the woody syrup. I suppose it’s called a Fall Gimlet because we’re closer now to harvesting maple syrup, but the color is also perfect for the name, the same yellow ochre of some of the leaves turning on a tree outside my window now.

As I had trouble imagining limes in Vermont, I was a little worried proposing such an odd combination, but I thought it might be worth a try and enjoyed the direct and refreshing promise of this cocktail. Here’s the recipe, which requires no elaborate preparation:

1.5 oz. Gin

1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

¾ oz Maple Syrup

Add Gin, Lime, and Maple syrup to an empty glass or shaker, add ice, shake and strain.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jonathan's GimletsCropt

This has been said before (in fact it is the basis of this blog), but I am a neophyte when it comes to cocktails. The closest I have come to a mixed drink most of my adult life has been a margarita or mojito.

There was a time though when I tried a few cocktails in hope of being more sophisticated. I have always been inclined towards alternative music, but thanks to my Dad I had an understanding and appreciation for jazz and the classics. There came a point in young adulthood that I began listening to Sinatra and Billie Holiday. About that same time I thought martinis were the sophisticated drink and that would be my cocktail of choice. The only problem is that I didn’t like them, other than as a marinade for olives or cocktail onions. When the olives began to out crowd the Gin, I decided I needed a new option. That was when I discovered the Gimlet.

A simple mix of sweet Rose’s Lime Juice and Gin shaken with ice yielded an accessible drink that gave an air of sophistication. My love of beer won out though, and the Gimlet was left behind. Now I am wondering why.

This drink, especially with the fresh lime juice and sweetened by maple syrup is, to me, the best of the drinks we have had so far. The tartness of the lime is perfect with the Gin botanicals and the maple sweetness acts to soften those flavors and accentuate them at the same time. I also have to admit that as the first drink of Fall the maple syrup makes perfect sense.

Just to push the point I decided to try a variation of the recipe David proposed called the Old Vermont. That drink alters the proportions and adds orange juice and a couple of dashes of bitters (I used Peychauds) to the mix. I liked this variation just as much although my fellow taste tasters liked the simple Gimlet better. Those fellow tasters included old friends who I first met as a freshman in college in 1979 and my neighbors the next day. Just wanted to point that for anyone worried about consumption level.

David’s Take: I enjoyed the combination of flavors in this drink–the botanical gin, the mellow maple syrup, and the fresh and tart lime. They played surprisingly well together.

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Jonathan’s take: An old friend revisited was the theme of the weekend and this classic fit that perfectly. I could go back to this any time.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We haven’t used much Rum yet so next week’s drink will feature that with a tiny variation. I have already let David know that the drink of choice will need to be enjoyed on a beach which is slightly unfair since he is in Chicago and I will be in South Carolina, but he can pay me back with some winter classic later.