Chai Town

chai1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Chicago is the city of many nicknames: The Windy City, Second City, City of the Big Shoulders, Chi-Town, Chi-city, chai2My Kind of Town, Paris on the Prairie, That Toddling Town, The Chi (pronounced “Shy”), The Chill (or Chi-Ill), The City That Works, City on the Make, The Third Coast, or—especially this weekend—Chi-beria.

However, “Chai Town” isn’t one of our nicknames, just clever.

Many languages translate tea as chai, but, in Starbucks, tea houses, and the other swanky locales for studying, meeting, and relaxing, chai is a drink of Indian origins, a decoction of green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn. Oh, and actual tea—the black, strong sort. I used tea bags, but it also comes as powders and concentrates. It’s spicy, but understated, no one part overwhelms the other, not even the tea.

The other parts of this drink seem designed to coax out the components, especially the ginger, which the ginger liqueur echoes. I used to own ginger liqueur but drank it up—my brother might accuse me of tippling like an old lady—so I used a DIY version I found online. Though the recipe was some trouble and required three days, the result was, I think, a success. It was sweet and hot and, while not as syrupy as the store-bought version might be, quite flavorful. Plus, it didn’t cost $30.

As I mentioned in the description last week, part of the challenge this week was building a cocktail on the basis of a list of its ingredients instead of a recipe. What to do about proportions? Last fall, I attended a cocktail class that described the ideal cocktail as six ounces, with one-third allotted to water resulting from a vigorous shake. You’ll find my solution below, but I admit to taking the easy way out. One of my Christmas presents was a three-part jigger with indeterminate compartments for a three element drink. The packaging (naturally) promises a “Home Cocktail Revolution” free of doling out portions, but that didn’t move me to rely on trust. I measured each of the sections and discovered the smallest was half an ounce, the middle was an ounce, and the third and largest one and a half ounces. The ginger liqueur took the smallest room, the vodka the medium sized room, and the chai (the star, I figured) the largest. The total, four ounces, left only the honey and nutmeg to accommodate. I added a teaspoon of honey at the end (and even then I found most of it at the bottom of the shaker, paralyzed by the cold). The nutmeg I sprinkled on top… just like last week.

Okay, so my answer for the proportions question was a little gimmicky. If you wanted a stiffer drink, maybe reverse the chai and the vodka or go full out on the ginger liqueur, but to me the balance seemed about right.

Here’s my recipe:

1.5 oz. chai tea

.5 oz. ginger liqueur

1 oz. vodka

1 tsp. honey

nutmeg

Shake the ingredient together without ice, add the ice and shake a few times more. Garnish with the nutmeg.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jbm.chaiIt may not be the most correct use of the word, but I feel like David’s choice of drinks offered us the chance to be forensic mixologists. Obviously we had the four ingredients but not the ratios, and I admit to being stumped how to mix them. I tried looking for similar drinks, the ratios of standard coupe cocktails, and simply ones that used one or more of the four parts. None of that worked very well until I went back a few weeks to our chopped cocktail experience and a lesson from the show. Use one ingredient as an accent to another.

I am a southerner. Said it before and say it now. That means if I am having tea, chai or otherwise, it needs to have some sweetness. Ergo, the honey was the sweetener for the steeped tea, and I only had three ingredients to work with. Since most coupe style cocktails are 3 ounces of drink that left options for an equal part cocktail (1:1:1), or a more common 2:1:1.

The ginger liqueur was a revelation all by itself. First, David included a link to a do it yourself version and it was well worth the effort. Second, the comments that were included following the recipe did some things that almost no such section on-line ever does—they added to the instructions, explained parts of it, offered excellent alternatives and in general were delightful to read. Who knew that comments sections like that existed? And finally, the home made liqueur is fantastic, a drink all by itself.

The liqueur is strong and assertive, though, so I decided on the ratio that used less. Vodka, ginger liqueur, and chai tea (sweetened with honey) mixed at a 2:1:1. Based on the comments section with the liqueur recipe, I also decided it needed a lemon peel garnish. The drink was great, but most of that goes back to the assertive ginger. It had an interesting mix of flavors, increased because I had saved one of our infused vodkas from last year (lemongrass and ginger candy) in my freezer and used that instead of standard. It’s not a drink you will find in bars outside of Chicago perhaps, but take the time to make the liqueur and once you do that, try the drink.

Jonathan’s take: Lots and lots of tastes, all combining to work together. Like the rare on-line comment section

David’s take: Spicy and fun—a nice break from more intense cocktails, though not as dramatic either.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year we tried a Rosalind Russell at David’s suggestion, and I spent the week confusing one actress with another, Rosalind with Jane. I asked my youngest son to help with a suggestion for next week with the limitation that it contain chocolate bitters. And what do you know – there’s a Jane Russell cocktail that does just that. Now, if I can manage to keep from confusing her with Rosalind.

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Pear Bourbon Cider

Proposed by: JonathanPearCiderJM

Reviewed by: David

First order of business the drink. It is described more than named as Pear Bourbon Cider. The recipe is straightforward, simple and in proportions suitable for a holiday punch:

2 – 3 cups bourbon
3 cups pear cinnamon cider
1 liter bottle of sparkling apple cider
1 cup of club soda
Pear slices for mix and garnish

Mix all ingredients, pour into double old fashioned glasses with ice and garnish with pear.

I never realized it before trying to find some background for this drink, but the definition of cider specifies apples. That’s a pretty boring fact, even if I can now annoy someone by pointing out that “apple cider” is redundant. The truth is that the cinnamon pear cider, whether named correctly or not, is the star of this drink. It is so dominant in flavor that the bourbon gets lost. As a public service I want to make sure and emphasize that in case anyone takes my suggestion to use this as holiday punch. The recipe suggests 2 – 3 cups of bourbon but if grandma wants to try it, double the sparkling cider. You could use just 2 cups of bourbon, of course, but this isn’t a cider blog.

Last week David pulled back the curtain to explain how he arrives at his drink suggestions and that it is not his favorite part of the process. To some extent, I am the opposite. I like to do the review more than I do the write up and as part of that I obsess about what to suggest next. We often correspond by e-mail making sure each of us are aware who has which week, possible issues with drink ingredients (who let David use up his Chartreuse!), and the timing of events and holidays that should be accompanied by an appropriate beverage.

Pay no attention to that bartender with the bulbous nose behind the curtain, ideas are all over. It should be no surprise, though, that the most common factor in what I suggest is the latest idea from my growing list of spirit literature. I also find ideas from other sources such as stealing them from cocktail menus and helpful suggestions from regular readers. It’s almost scary how often I get text messages accompanied by pictures of some wonderful looking cocktail. Now that we’re almost a year and half into this, David and I may need to sync up our Christmas lists to expand the ingredients, but there’s lots of places left to go.

Here’s David’s Review:

PearCiderDMThe only cocktail I invented for this blog was one I called The Pear Culture, and I couldn’t help thinking about it as I consumed Pear Bourbon Cider. The ingredients—the pear and bourbon combination—and the look of the two drinks—a golden and warm autumnal shade—were similar. The difference, however, was the Trader Joe’s connection. Where my cocktail called for puree, this recipe took a much lighter course with TJ’s Pear Cinnamon Cider (trademark). And where I included ginger (in the form of liqueur), this drink called for TJ’s Sparkling Apple Cider (trademark).

I admit, as I was making the drink, something said to me, “Where’s the ginger?” because I think ginger and pears go well together. For reasons I don’t understand—Former life? Propaganda by the ginger industry? Brain tumor?—having one ingredient makes me think of the other. I’m glad I resisted the temptation, though. The cinnamon in the cider provides some necessary spice, and the gravity of this drink, which was much lighter than my cocktail, made it more refreshing and quaffable.

All of which is to say, maybe this cocktail is the one I should have created.

I couldn’t resist a little experimentation though. The recipe I found online required adjusting the amounts because they were punch quantities, cups instead of ounces. For simplicity, I decided to convert cups to ounces, with the sparkling apple coming in around three cups, hence three ounces. However the instructions also contained varying proportions, offering “two to three cups bourbon (depending on your affinity for bourbon).” What a silly thing to say! It should be three, and, if it isn’t three, then look for another recipe.

And here’s another thing to try. If you look back at earlier posts, I think it’s safe to say Jonathan has an affinity for fruity cocktails—he’s certainly made me appreciate them more and seek them out at restaurants and bars—but, even with the effervescence of the club soda and cider and the touch of cinnamon, this drink could use a more prominent bitter element… not Campari or Malört or any amaro but maybe… well, bitters.

I’m under strict orders never to use the word “cloying” ever again so I won’t, but my recommendation would be to balance this drink’s sweet components with some exotic and mysterious counterpoint, something that will make your guest say, “Hmm. What’s that botanical I’m tasting?” As a great collector of bitters, I happen to have Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla and also Black Strap bitters (flavored with Molasses, Sarsaparilla, and Ceylon Cinnamon). I didn’t make two more drinks to try them out. “An affinity for bourbon” is one thing, but three drinks another. However, I did add a drop or two of The Black Strap before finishing the drink. It added a little something that’s missing, I think.

I may try the cocktail with Scrappy Chocolate Bitters next, which I also have on hand, naturally. Then there’s an idea I have for substituting Crabbie’s Ginger Beer for the sparkling apple cider and soda, and… well, you get the idea.

David’s Take: Perfectly pleasant and flavorful, but, with a little doctoring, it could be a more distinctive and memorable cocktail.

Jonathan’s Take: This punch needs a name and I think it should be Sneaky Cider. Where did that bourbon go?

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Picture a Venn Diagram. In the past, the set of beer drinkers and the set of cocktail drinkers rarely intersected. That is, their intersection was the empty set or the damn-near empty set. However, next week, Jonathan and I will follow one of the hip and trendy practices of bars all over the place and concoct (and of course imbibe) cocktails that incorporate beer. It’s a two-for-one week. I won’t dictate his choice nor he mine, but we will explore how beer might add or subtract from the mixed drink experience… and offer our usual largely uninformed but well-meaning commentary.

Dark ‘N Stormy

Proposed by: Jonathan20141019_165024_resized

Reviewed by: David

The questions I started with last week went unanswered, and this week is no different. Those questions were simply what the difference between a mule and a buck cocktail are, as well as what differentiates ginger beer and ale. As best I can tell, there is no answer because there is no difference.

There are multiple meanings to mule and buck beyond their cocktail uses. A mule is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey (forget learning cocktails, now I know a cross between the opposite sexes of each animal is called a hinny). It can also be a drug carrier, a women’s shoe with no strap on the back or some stubborn dolt who won’t give up trying to figure out why the heck a drink is called a mule. Buck could be the male deer in my backyard who is still pissed that our dog chased his fawn a couple of weeks ago, or the marker in poker that designates the next dealer, leading to the expression “pass the buck.” My favorite use is the adverb form of buck that means “completely” as in “I drank a bunch of dark ‘n stormys and next thing I knew I was running buck nekkid down the beach.”

The best explanation for why the words are used with cocktails goes back to the second drink featured in this blog – the Horse’s Neck. The original of that drink was simply ginger ale and bitters and did not include alcohol. When it was added, the name was amended to include “with a kick.” It makes only the tiniest amount of sense that the translation of that was from a kicking horse to a bucking mule, but that is the story that has evolved.

When it comes to cocktails, though, the use of mule and buck now means any drink that is mixed with ginger beer/ale, citrus, and a spirit. The best part of that is the simplicity. Take the ale or beer in four parts, the spirit in two parts and the citrus in one part and you have a cocktail. You don’t even have to stick with those proportions, and, if you toss in some bitters, who can blame you. There are more complicated variations that use ginger liqueur, as David mentioned last week, or ginger simple syrup but that ruins the utility of the basic recipe in my opinion.

The Dark N’ Stormy is trademarked by Gosling’s and use of any other rum besides Gosling’s Black Seal makes the drink a rum buck. To truly taste the cocktail by that name we went with the classic Black Seal in two parts, Barritt’s ginger beer (also from Bermuda) in four parts and an ample wedge of lime. If we added a little lime juice to the mix (that would be the one part mentioned above), you and Gosling’s lawyers don’t know about it.

There are so many rums and gingers that this is a drink, in its non-trademarked buck/mule form, that demands experimentation. The tailgaters that recommended the drink also made versions with Kraken rum, Crabbie’s ginger beer, Saranac ginger beer and the all of the combinations that allowed. The picture that is included is a version with Bacardi spiced rum that is lighter and lets the citrus come to the forefront. All of the versions were a hit, although I will admit that the true Dark ‘N Stormy was the best in my estimation.

It was a week when the country of origin for this drink, Bermuda, was truly dark and stormy thanks to Hurricane Gonzalo. It sounds like the island nation fared well, all things considered, and I’m happy we got to enjoy their national drink with true Bermuda ingredients.

And Here’s David’s Review:

dark.andI thought briefly about not buying Gosling’s Black Seal because, well, proprietary cocktail recipes reek of craven marketing and rampant capitalism. No one should own a cocktail in a free country, right? Fortunately, however, I read a review of the rum’s appearance as “A little foreboding” and its greeting as, “an enticing unpleasant aroma.” Then I had to have it. It wasn’t at all expensive anyway. And, just as described, its creosote color repelled light and offered a dense molasses and sulfury taste perfectly cut by lime and ginger beer. Almost from my first sip, I wanted another.

Last week, when Jonathan asked about ginger beer, I really didn’t know the difference, but I can at least answer one of his questions (I’m happy Jonathan answered the other). Now I understand that ginger ale uses fresh ginger—uncooked, unprocessed, the raw stuff—whereas ginger beer involves fermentation and is usually less sweet, more spicy. I used Fever-Tree ginger BEER (they have an ale version too), yet what struck me most was not the difference between beer and ale but how effervescence counters the weighty gravitas of a seriously dense spirit like Gosling’s. More trigeminal interference, I suppose.

While examining alternative recipes, I encountered one that urged leaving out the lime, but, to me, that would be a serious mistake. As with the Mules last week, fresh citrus adds sweet, sour, and bitter elements contributing to the cocktail’s complexity. In another case of the sum being greater than its parts, the burnt sugar taste of the rum, its hint of anise—almost like licorice—needs the spicy ginger and tart lime to dilute and lift it.

As Jonathan said, this cocktail, like many we’ve encountered lately, also seems amenable to improvisation. Though I haven’t tried it yet, I might substitute ginger liqueur (despite what my brother says) and a combination of tonic and seltzer. I might try paler rum—perhaps even caçhaca, though I suspect that will make it both lighter and less stormy, maybe light ‘n drizzly. I may even try garnishing with pickled ginger. Crazy, I know, but sometimes a week isn’t enough to explore one of these drinks, especially when it seems as well-conceived (good work, Gosling’s Black Seal people) and balanced as this one.

David’ Take: I’ll have another.

Jonathan’s Take: The rum mule/buck is an experimenter’s dream, but try it with Gosling’s and make their attorneys happy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Though it seems odd to suggest a Martinez before the Martini, the former is a predecessor to the latter—and maybe we’ll have to try a Martini after that. A sweeter drink involving gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitters, it promises to be another cocktail with some heft and potency… just my cup of alcohol. And, unlike a Martini, I’ve never had one… which is the fundamental requirement for being included on this blog, right?

The Mule (Moscow and Otherwise)

muler?muler?Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a drink a drink. Specifically, I’ve been wondering how so many varieties of mules (some call them bucks) can all be all one drink. How can one name fit seemingly infinite visions and revisions?

This week, my wife and I attended a cocktail class taught by Devin Kidner, the founder of Hollow Leg and a master mixologist for the Koval Distillery. Besides having a wonderful time on a roof deck with an awe-inspiring view of the Chicago skyline, we learned a lot about cocktails’ basic components and how they cooperate to create drinks’ distinctive tastes. One of the most illuminating lessons for me was that, once you identify the essential elements of a drink, you can mix, match, and adapt freely and without fear.

Taking that lesson to heart, I tried a couple of variations on the classic Moscow Mule, which traditionally includes lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer, often in nifty copper cups, which—thanks to a birthday gift from my wife—we now own. I can’t distinguish between ginger beer and ginger ale or say what a buck is. Wikipedia will have to help you with the drink’s history, but the web is crowded with many other less than traditional mules. Many restaurants and bars have signature mules. You can change the spirit and the juice and serve it in a glass. You can shake it with ice or make it in the cup. You can garnish it with mint or lemon or nothing. But nearly every mule recipe calls for ginger—ginger beer, ginger ale, ginger syrup, even (I suppose) real grated ginger or ginger candy.

Devin gave me the idea that a sweet liqueur can substitute for simple syrup, and I chose Koval Ginger Liqueur to stand in for the essential mule element. She also suggested, though, that carbonation is never incidental in a well-made mixed drink. It not only cuts the sweetness, but also often balances, enhances, or moderates the spicy and/or hot aspects of a cocktail, which she labeled as their trigeminal effects. You’ll have to ask her what that is, but, as the drink clearly needed something fizzy, I added seltzer for one variation and a combination of seltzer and tonic for another.

Then, just to make the whole enterprise even more complicated, I used bourbon instead of vodka, meaning my cocktail was more accurately a variation of a Kentucky Mule.

A little knowledge can be a powerful thing. Devin compares her mission to the old adage about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish, and it’s liberating to know that a manhattan or a sling or a mojito or a caipirinha can be just the starting point for cocktails in many different guises.

And on that copper cup… while it may not be essential, it does definitely add to the experience of a mule. The metal gets very cold and condensation quickly covers its surface. That’s pretty, but it also creates an enlivening and refreshing sensation similar to drinking spring water from a metal ladle, which—I’m guessing—could be another trigeminal effect. I’m not at all sure about the science, but now that we have those cups, I’ll be looking for other reasons to use them.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

mulishness2

There are so many questions that I hope David has answered. What is the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer? Is there a difference in a mule and a buck? Why does this cocktail have its own designated vessel and does it make a difference? What the heck does Moscow have to do with this anyway? To be so perplexing this classic is worth the questions.

My ginger beer of choice was Crabbie’s, a version from the United Kingdom. That really raised the initial question, since up to that point I thought the difference in ginger ale and beer was alcohol. Apparently not since when I asked in the store for ginger beer the helpful clerk responded with “alcoholic or non-alcoholic.”

This is a cocktail blog – I answered “alcoholic.”

The vodka this week was a grain version from Iceland called Reyka. I am still not sure that the brand, or even base material for the mash, makes much difference when it comes to vodka in cocktails, but this one has a really impressive label. If that means anything.

One of the things I cited as a lesson after our first year of this blog is that it makes a difference who you are sharing the drink with. We were very fortunate to be able to meet one of my sisters, her husband and my nephew in Asheville for the weekend and as a result shared the cocktail with them. It was, as I suspected, an affirmation of the lesson and that much better for the sharing.

There were actually two versions of the cocktail, as anyone who has paid attention should know. The first version used the Crabbie’s and I made a second with Blenheim ginger ale. Both drinks showcase the ginger with the ginger beer version more complex and the lime less prominent. The lime stood out in the Blenheim mix and the ginger, while stronger, did not have the background depth of the Crabbie’s. Push come to shove, I liked the Blenheim version better, but probably because the lime stood out and offered a contrast.

Jonathan’s take: Mule or buck, ale or beer, Borgarnes (Iceland) or Moscow, none of it matters when the cocktail is this good.

David’s take: A Mule is well-worth riding, copper cups or no.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Some of our regular tailgaters, my son David and his friend Trevor, asked if they could suggest a drink. Interestingly it is very similar to the Moscow Mule especially since they didn’t know that was what we were trying this week. They have proposed the Dark ‘N Stormy, another mule/buck using spiced rum, typically Gosling’s. I already tried different versions of the Moscow Mule so I imagine this week will offer more chances to mix up the ginger ale and beer to see how that changes things.

The Pear Culture

pear cultureProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

After tasting the La Marque a few weeks ago, I was more than somewhat intimidated at the idea of inventing a drink of my own. Followers of this blog will know my history of proposing drinks is a little spotty, so creating one seemed even more risky. Nonetheless, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and this week, I feel compelled to try.

My inspiration comes from two sources—the desire to use pears, my favorite fruit this time of year, and a pear tart I’ve tasted combining Bartlett (or Williams) pears with spicy ginger and rich vanilla. By itself, a pear can be merely sweet, and maybe that’s why the world doesn’t seem to demand much in the way of pear liqueur or pear-infused spirits, but their mellowness and subtle astringency can be drawn out by other flavors.

For the ginger, I chose The King’s Ginger I love the taste of this liqueur—it’s great on its own—but, for the spice, I’ve also included Powell and Mahoney Old Ballycastle Ginger, a mixer that might match Jonathan’s Bleinheim. As I experimented, I started out with the vanilla vodka we used in the La Marque. After re-trying the vodka, however, I decided instead for Bourbon because it evokes vanilla overgenerously and seems to give the drink more depth. As for the prosecco, I thought it might effervescently echo the pear flavors while also cutting some of the density of pear juice or puree. Plus, I got the idea of combining champagne and bourbon from The Seelbach, a cocktail invented at the Louisville hotel. The Angostura is to give the cocktail a bitter edge and save it from cloying sweetness.

I know, you’re saying, “Listen to you, getting all Food Network-y!” Well, these cocktailian forays are serious business! We’ve learned the names of so many famous drink inventors. I wouldn’t want to be known as the originator of something vile like (I’ll restrain myself, Mr. Campari).

The name of this cocktail, by the way, is pure caprice. I like the idea of a secret pear culture, which I picture as a nerdy group of devotees worshiping one of the less vaunted fruits. I would be one of said devotees.

pearculturealso2Here’s the recipe:

1.5 parts pear juice or puree

1 part bourbon

1 part ginger liqueur (or syrup)

.5 parts spicy ginger ale (Old Ballycastle for me)

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Prosecco

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Add some to a fluted glass and top with prosecco. Garnish with a slice of pear or lemon.

pearculture3Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

It already seems that the best of our proposed drinks rely more on the additional ingredients than the spirits. The peanut orgeat, fresh squeezed juices, a variety of simple syrups and homemade grenadine are just a few of the examples. So when David proposed a new drink with a base of pear puree or nectar, the first thing that came to mind is how we could doctor that ingredient to accentuate it.

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This drink as proposed also used a spiced simple syrup. As an alternative, I took the pear nectar and mulled it with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, and added a bottle of spicy Blenheim ginger ale. The ginger ale was a last minute change because I couldn’t find a piece of ginger root that I thought we had (I actually thought the dog had eaten it, but fortunately was wrong). The resulting pear juice was thicker and spicier than it had started out and provided a nice cross between puree and nectar.

x
The final recipe I used was two parts mulled pear juice, one part bourbon, angostura bitters and something close to two parts Prosecco. I mixed the first three ingredients and shook them with ice, strained and added the Prosecco. The cocktail that resulted was a great hit with a large group. The pear gave it a really unique taste, and the Prosecco (I had neglected to use it an earlier cocktail) lightened the thickness of the mulled and chilled liquid. It was also another example of how the simple addition of bitters cut some of the fruit sweetness.

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There is new whisky popular with folks much younger than me called Fireball Cinnamon Whisky that mimics the old fireball candy. The Blenheim ginger ale had already made my mulled pear juice spicy, but I made a second version of the drink using the Fireball. I have to admit that I did not taste that version, but those who did liked it even better. That is saying a lot considering how much they liked the first version.

Jonathan’s take: The last time we talked, David had not decided on a name for this drink. You could call it Bobski and I would be ready to make some more.

David’s Take: Being the inventor, it’s untoward to say I really liked this cocktail… so I won’t say it… but you get the idea, right?

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

It is Thanksgiving week and since we will have a large group at our house I am proposing a Fall sangria. There are scads of recipes for sangrias, but I have reputation for cranberry concoctions at Thanksgiving to uphold and the recipe will have feature them prominently.