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 Blue Sky Cocktail

Proposed by: Davidblue

Reviewed by: Jonathan

My cousin Alan Bourque and I were particularly close because, besides being exactly the same age, we went to the same college. For a time, it appeared Jonathan’s son Josh and my son Ian might too. Alas, Carolina wait-listed Ian, but he and Josh have always enjoyed being together and have sought every opportunity to meet. And, even if they’re graduating from different schools over the next couple of weeks, they do share the same school color, which you can call Columbia Blue or Carolina Blue as you wish.

This week was all about color, and celebration. Remembering The French 75 fondly, I though it’d be fun to have a champagne (or prosecco) cocktail to commemorate our boys’ achievement. Blue Curaçao provided the color for the Blue Sky Cocktail, which, besides being properly named for our boys’ futures, I hoped might mimic a color that, after living in North Carolina, I can almost see with my eyes closed. Color isn’t my brother’s strong suit, but I want to say, “It’s the gesture. It’s the gesture.”

Once in college one of my roommates said I should add milk to his coffee until it exactly matched the shade of the cup it was in, and it took twenty minutes of careful calibration to get it right. When the coffee arrived cold, he wasn’t amused, but I like a challenge. The recipe for this drink is below, but—confession time—I was more focused on achieving the right tint than the right combination of ingredients. In fact—an uglier confession—the photo I’ve posted above isn’t this drink at all, which, with yellow champagne and lemon juice and brown amaretto, was aqua, the color of no sky I’ve experienced and not nearly faint enough to achieve the pastel glory of Carolina and Columbia. To create the concoction pictured, I combined only the blue curaçao with the champagne and added a little water and then some absinthe to create a milky hue.

The resulting drink was horrible, but it was, I think, a decent approximation of the right shade. There’s that, at least.

Here’s the recipe for a Blue (not really so blue) Sky Cocktail:

  • 1/2 oz blue curacao
  • 1/2 oz amaretto
  • 1/2 oz champagne
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Combine everything except the champagne in the glass. Add the champagne and stir gently.

photo-90Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Last week, David had many well founded reasons to avoid reviewing the Mint Julep. This week I feel almost the same. The proposed cocktail was to be part of our celebration of graduations – first my son, Josh, and then my nephew, Ian. I don’t want a negative review to seem like a sour note in what was in all ways a glorious weekend and series of graduation events. So to handle that, I will consider the drink and the celebrations separately.

We have tried a few different cocktails that have included sparkling wines, and I have learned the type of sparkler matters. This one called for champagne, whereas some of the ones we have had in the past have been very general (sparkling wine) and more specific (Prosecco). The Caiparinha de Uva recipe indicated sweet wine, but David was more successful in substituting Prosecco. I used all of that experience to decide on Cava as the sparkler of choice, and that was part of my undoing.

This cocktail seemed more like a battle than a blend. The Cava and the Amaretto both wanted to assert their will, if spirits can in fact make assertions. It was hard to get past the two of them and even begin to taste where the curacao and lemon juice came in. Even the color was a bit off, with more of a teal than the hoped for light blue. Despite my lovely nieces modeling the drink, one can see the color just wasn’t right or appetizing. I had to wonder if a simple dry champagne would have helped with both taste and color.

The celebration on the other hand was a harmonious blend of events. A party with roommates and their families, dinner with family, a gorgeous Sunday morning graduation ceremony and finally a luncheon to toast the graduate, mothers, and a bonus birthday (my oldest son’s) all made for the perfect weekend. My wife and I feel very blessed that both our sons are graduates of the university from which we received our degrees. Even more importantly, it is obvious that they each had their own great experiences and received a wonderful education all while learning to love the place just as we had.

Jonathan’s take: The cocktail, not so good, but the rest of the celebration, couldn’t imagine better.

David’s Take: I wish I were as happy with this cocktail as I am about Ian and Josh’s graduation. Too bad the Blue Sky Cocktail is okay, but not brilliant.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):

Two weeks ago we had Mint Jules with the Derby. This coming weekend is the second race of the Triple Crown, the Preakness. The official flower and cocktail of the Preakness is the Black Eyed Susan. The recipe has changed over the years (oddly in perfect correspondence with the liquor sponsorship), but last year I simply found the version that sounded best to me. Since David and I are our own sponsors, I propose we each do the same and pick the flower which we find the most appealing.

 

The French 75

French75Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The first order of business is this week’s drink, the French 75. Like many of the cocktails we have tried there is some dispute as to its origin. The best information points to Paris and a drink named after an artillery weapon because of its hard hitting conclusion and that is the one I like the best. Clearly dating to at least the early part of the 20th century, the French 75 is named after a 75mm howitzer and is a mix of spirit, sweet, citrus, and sparkling wine. There is some disagreement, or at least a difference in taste, about whether it should be made with gin or cognac. Here is the recipe that I decided to use:

1.5 ounce Cognac

.5 ounce simple syrup

.5 ounce fresh lemon juice

Sparkling wine (I used Cava this time)

The idea of proposing a sparkling wine based drink is that we are in that holiday period of drinks that are part of gatherings and celebrations. This drink fills that role wonderfully. Not as basic as a simple pour of bubbly, the French 75 adds a complexity through the cognac and along with that a kick. It may be a factor of suggestion, but the drinks with effervescence always seem to cry out for sipping lest they hit with the quick power of the aforementioned artillery piece.

A secondary purpose of suggesting this drink was to introduce the concept of toasts. The subject would take far more than a simple blog post to explore, but as with the drink, tis the season for such things and there are some basics worth exploring.

Toasts are definitely cultural, and any discussion should include the customs and etiquette that accompany them. Certain countries, think Ireland, are famous for toasts of all types while others, Russia in this case, are cited for a toast before each drink. It can be considered bad taste to toast with water, to not drink after toasting, or to miss out on touching glasses with each person toasting. One of my favorite tidbits is that toasting may have started with mistrust and the partial sharing of drinks to be sure that none of the drinks were poisoned. In fact, it is said that the touching of glasses, the clinking that has become spoken in many cultures, is a sign of trust the drink need not be shared to ensure the absence of poison. The best part of almost every cultural tradition of toasting is the recognition that the sharing of drinks is the sharing of company. That is something I always consider, even if David and I share virtually, as I try each week’s drink.

Almost everyone has a favorite toast even if they do not know the origin. I have always liked the simple “a votre sante” which is most basically translated as “to your health”. Similarly many offer “salud” or “health” to say the same thing, which is the common wish that your fellow drinker experience good health or good fortune. Na Zdrovie is another well-known example of wishing “to your health” although most associate it with incorrectly with Russian toasts (it does not actually translate that way) instead of the Polish Na zdrowie where it actually is a wish for health.

My favorite toast has always been “here’s mud in your eye” although, and probably because, I have no idea what that really means. There are biblical explanations (Jesus rubbing clay in the blind man’s eyes to restore his health/sight), historic (soldiers in muddy trenches), and agricultural (used by farmers for no good darn reason that I have heard). The best explanation, or at least the one I like the best, is that it originates from horse racing. The idea is that the lead horse has clear racing and those that follow have the mud of the race course flying in their eyes as they trail. An alternate, but similar, explanation is that it was a way of saying “so long” before downing the drink and taking off on horse with mud flying back at the other drinkers. No matter what the explanation – here’s mud in your eye!

french 752Here’s David’s Review:

Though I’d never describe myself as a “foodie,” I’ve eaten in enough fancy restaurants to know that simplicity and sophistication often arrive together. A good chef makes salad, asparagus, mashed potatoes and seared scallops so delicious, you may feel as if you’ve never really consumed them before.

I feel that way about the French 75, which, with just four ingredients, offers a bright, refreshing, and novel cocktail. Though the lemon juice makes this drink somewhat reminiscent of a gimlet or even a daiquiri, the cognac gives it more warmth and depth, and the sparkling wine (we used prosecco) gives it a light, celebratory lift.

It seems the perfect accompaniment to hor d’oeuvres and conversation, sweeter than white wine and yet tart enough not to be cloying. After last week’s dense, eggy, homestyle cocktail, this one seemed especially buoyant, more nectar than batter. Using no spices or bitters, the French 75 is direct and natural, the perfect answer to all the heavy food and buttery, cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y, clove-y flavors proliferating this time of year.

Online, like Jonathan, I found recipes that called for gin rather than cognac, but, to me, gin would only scuttle the drink. Introducing botanical and bitter elements would certainly make its flavor profile more complex, but simplicity seems the soul of this cocktail’s appeal.

As Jonathan says, this drink gets its name from a French field gun because it’s supposed to possess a similar kick, but I’m not sure it has much in common with artillery. Quite the contrary, the drink went down very easily. We had it Christmas afternoon just before the meal and regretted that we only had enough lemons for each of us to have one, as the French 75 seems something you could drink a lot of.

While my experience with champagne tells me having many might be a bad idea, you may find your judgment slipping if you like this drink as much as I did.

On the matter of toasts, I received a book devoted to the topic in my stocking, a suitable accompaniment to this week’s drink. Among the information offered is a list of toasts by nationality. My favorites, strictly by pronunciation (because I have no idea of meaning) are: Gan Bei (Gan BAY: Chinese), Hulu pau (Hoo-lee pow: Hawaiian), Heko (hee-ko: Swahilii), and Vô (Voh: Vietnamese). Please don’t ask me any more—they just sound cool.

Jonathan’s Take: The classics, and French 75 is certainly one, never seem to disappoint. Consider adding it to your New Years traditions.

David’s Take: Here’s one I’ll remember and repeat for celebrations ahead.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My proposals haven’t always been so successful, so I’ve decided to embrace being the bold and quirky cocktailian brother. I’m sending Jonathan to the liquor store for Aquavit (a Scandinavian caraway flavored spirit) to create a drink named after Rosalind Russell, the actress most famous for His Girl Friday and the movie version of Auntie Mame. She also married a Danish-American, which may be where she developed a taste for Aquavit, a rather odd ingredient. I hope everyone is up for a challenge—who knows what to expect, besides fun, fun.