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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Sidecar

sidecar-jmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

It is a little hard to believe that there are any classics left for us to try. When you study cocktails—an exaggeration of the idea of “study” if ever there was one—it is hard to believe there are so many cocktails available to try in general.

The Sidecar has the typical disputed history, but what is not in dispute is its origin. This is a drink that derives from the brandy crusta. David Wondrich (yes that guy again) notes the crusta as the genesis of citrus in a cocktail. A New Orleans bartender, Joseph Santini, created the brandy crusta at the New Orleans City Exchange bar in the 1850’s. The recipes for these early drinks are complicated by ingredients (gum syrup), garnishes (half a lemon peel) and glassware (a wine glass that isn’t what most would call a wine glass) that need interpretation. Here’s the gist of the crusta after Wondrich finished interpreting:

2 ounces brandy,

1/2 teaspoon curaçao,

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 dashes bitters.

Take a wine glass, coat the rim in fine sugar, add the peel of half a lemon, mix all the ingredients in a tumbler with ice then strain into the glass.

It is easy enough to see how the Sidecar evolved from the crusta, but the question remains: who did it and where did the name come from? One story traces the drink to the now familiar, at least to discerning readers, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Sometime after World War I an American serviceman, who very responsibly caught a ride to the bar in a motorcycle sidecar, asked for something fancier than straight spirit and was served a mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice in equal parts. The Ritz Bar is also given as a Paris birthplace of the drink but the back story is the same.

Those stories are countered by a couple of others. There is the version where the drink was born in Buck’s Club in London. In the English version the proportions may be different, but the motorbike accessory is still cited for the name. Another idea is that the evolution of the crusta occurred in the city where it originated—New Orleans. My favorite part of that one is the different explanation for the cocktail’s name. When a bartender mixes too much of a drink, the extra is poured into a shot glass, and it’s is referred to as a sidecar. Although I overdo the mixers all the time—that’s why I typically use a glass that can handle the extra—I am not sure I have seen a professional bartender make that mistake. I like the term though.

The final issue for this cocktail are proportions. As noted earlier, if you order the Sidecar in Paris you will get equal amounts of all three ingredients. Others suggest that the best mix of cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice is 2:1:1 or 8:2:1. The latter is too complicated, and I like the lemon juice to be more dominant so I chose the former. Mix everything with ice in a shaker, shake and strain into a coupe that has been rimmed with sugar. Garnish with an orange peel. As my picture shows, I skipped the sugar and used a wedge of orange. I figure, if they can’t settle on a story, why should I follow the recipe exactly? That is why since Crustas were also made with other spirits, I made a Sidecar version with bourbon substituted for cognac. The whiskey was very dominant so I would suggest sticking with the classic version of the classic.

Here’s David’s Review:

sidecarThis cocktail is one of the few I’d tried when Jonathan and I started this blog, which, since I’d had about ten cocktails before this adventure, is saying a great deal. I was out with a friend who ordered a Sidecar and I took it as an omen. “I’ll have a Sidecar for his Sidecar,” I thought.

That was a long time ago, but I remember sitting with my friend at the bar watching the bartender agog at how unfussy the drink seemed, hardly the elaborate production of a libation I expected at the time.

Now I know, the only complicated aspect of most classic cocktails are their origin stories. Everyone, it seems, wants to get credit for making something so simple that anyone goofing around with basic ingredients might stumble upon it. The classics of the classics—like Old-Fashions and Manhattans and Martinis—morph into endlessly accessorized versions with the inventions and additions of ambitious mixologists. I’d be the last person to scorn their efforts because this blog is a tribute to some pretty clever combinations of spirits and mixers, but sometimes you just can’t improve on the essentials.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Sidecar is an essential. Like Jonathan, I followed Wondrich’s perambulations and experimented with proportions and ingredients—I’m with him on the bourbon, but, as I like a sweet counterbalance to lemon, I upped the curaçao a little—but really the recipe Jonathan offered is as sound as granite. And I liked this libation.

Would I make the Sidecar my signature drink? No. The conversation about “Which cocktail would you choose if you could only order one for the rest of your life?” continues. However, I am in awe of classic cocktails like the Sidecar because I can actually remember how to make them even months after my last one and also because they are reliably delicious.

Jonathan’s Take: In the beginning there were just spirits, then there were cocktails and after that there’s a sidecar load of variations.

David’s Take: The older I get, the bigger the appeal of the classics… but, then again, maybe I just want to become one.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Since Jonathan proposed a classic we’d somehow missed, and I’m going to propose a somehow missed ingredient—Sloe Gin. As always, introducing a new bottle to our liquor cabinets has to come with an apology, but I’m tired of walking past the Sloe Gin and thinking, “What IS that stuff anyway?” My research tells me sloes are wild and apparently beautiful British berries that have  astringent taste no one would like if it weren’t pickled in alcohol. I looked a number of recipes using it but finally settled on the naughtily-named Nice and Sloe (because I’m pretty sure Jonathan and I already own or can easily obtain the other ingredients).

The Crusta

FullSizeRender-22Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are two parts to this introduction. One part, of course, is the background and history of this drink. That history is part of the evolution of the cocktail as we know it and is tied one the most common birthplaces for tipples that have spanned generations. The other part is familiar territory for the blog ,which is the theme of how we get ideas and proposals for what we will try each week – or every other week now. It may be best to start with the latter.

I have an ever-growing library of books about spirits, cocktails and the things that go with them. Those books are in actual paper format and e-books. As an aside, it is hard enough to remember where I read what but that is magnified by trying to recall which format first. At least e-books have a search function once I get that far. Among the newest of those books is Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee. I almost always do a quick perusal of books as I get them and the first thing that jumped out from this one were some recipes to go with the cocktails. In a twist on the traditional New Year’s Day menu for health, luck and money we used two appetizer suggestions. One was a black eyed pea queso and the other country ham and goat cheese pinwheels. Throw in some corn and collard green pancakes with lemon zest sour cream and we had the peas, ham, corn and greens we needed to start our year.

The cocktail I chose from the book was a familiar one called The Crusta. But why was it familiar and where the heck did I read about it before? Here’s the recipe first:

Fine grained sugar
Wedge of lemon
1.5 ounces cognac or bourbon
.5 ounce orange liqueur
.25 ounce maraschino cherry liqueur
.5 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
Dash angostura bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Wet the rim of a wine glass with the lemon, put sugar on a plate and rim the glass in sugar, mix all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into the wine glass into which new ice has been added. Garnish with the orange peel.

There are multiple versions of this recipe as David pointed out to me in a welcome reminder that I had not told him which one we would be using. Although this one does not have any sweetener other than that on the rim, history tells us that it should.

The reason that this drink sounded familiar is that it is part of the evolution of cocktails. David Wondrich wrote about The Crusta in his classic book Imbibe (that one is an e-book in my library) and notes that it marks the addition of citrus to the cocktail world. The Crusta is among one of many classics that were invented in New Orleans and is most certainly near the top of that list chronologically.  It was created by Joseph Santini in the 1850’s at the New Orleans City Exchange bar or an establishment called the Jewel of the South that he opened a few years later. Southern Cocktails credits it to Santini’s Saloon but I will stick with Wondrich on cocktail history. The drink impressed the oft noted professor, Jerry Thomas, so much that he included it in his famous book on cocktails. He included a version with gin but brandy/cognac seems to be the most common.

I am still in the self-imposed alcohol free zone of January. I did employ my taster, though, and even had the poor guy try both a cognac and a bourbon version. Classic cocktail evolution and the recipe both make it obvious that this is a spirit forward drink. He likes bourbon more than the unfamiliar cognac and preferred that one. By the same token if gin is your favorite then follow the professor’s lead and go with that.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1369You have to understand something about this blog—sometimes it feels as if it’s all about the photo. When the recipe calls for a specific garnish, or the drink is supposed to separate into layers, or even when there’s whipped cream, I start to worry. The Crusta, from every version I saw online looked more aesthetically pleasing than I usually muster. The sugar is part of the cocktail, of course. It lends sweetness to every sip… but that orange peel?

My brother might tell you I’m a champion worrier and that, nine times out of ten, my worry is entirely unjustified. In this case, the relief of making the Crusta look like the pictures of it distracted me. I’d had most of one before I thought, “Hey, what’s this like?”

Much about the drink suggests its venerable heritage. For one, whether you used Bourbon or Brandy (and I also made one of each), the spirit pushes to the forefront of this cocktail. The lemon juice, curacao and maraschino seem simply complementary, pleasant background to the main event. The sugar on the edge of the glass will seem a little too much to some who prefer more bitter, but I didn’t mind as long as the bourbon/brandy came through.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my feeling about these cocktails sometimes drifts into fiction. I think about who might drink them and in what circumstance. I’ve never seen a Crusta on a cocktail menu, but I imagine a person-in-the-know (a cognoscenti, or cocktailscenti, if you were) ordering it. He or she does it, in part, to challenge the bartender and, in another part, to draw some line back to the proto-cocktails that started everything. They say cocktails are an American art like Jazz or early cinema, and I like that idea. I like thinking Americans know how to combine, how to make something inventive simply by putting several different, and occasionally seemingly disparate, parts together. This libation, held up to the light by my imaginary customer, promises a celebration of ingredients, and I approve. The originals are often the most satisfying.

David’s Take: Not sure I can take the pressure of presentation too many more times, but I loved this cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails without citrus? Say it ain’t so, and then say thank you to Joseph Santini.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Boy, I hope Jonathan is up for this. Now that my brother has returned from cocktail exile, I’m going to propose a serious drink, the author of Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess’ favorite, the Hangman’s Blood, a potent—even if literary—”cocktail.” Call it revenge if you like. With seven (yes, SEVEN) spirits, this drink may prove the better of the Long Island Ice Tea. We can each split one with our wives, that’s permissible, but I’m been threatening this drink for awhile… maybe it’s time.

 

Bushwick Spice Trade

IMG_1725Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When it comes to cocktail books, Jonathan is a bigger collector than I. After I try his proposed drink, I trawl the internet nervously, inserting various spirits I have (or want to have) in hopes of finding something interesting for our next post. People give me cocktail books, and, as an English teacher who’s supposed to love books, I ought to be poring over them. I’m not.

This week is the exception. I pulled out a book my wife gave me for Christmas last year, Shake, by Eric Prum and Josh Williams. It’s full of nifty pictures. It includes an opening statement of purpose, “Cocktails should be fun. Cocktails should be simple. Cocktails should be social.” It offers a section on “Cocktail Crafting” and then moves on to seasonal recipes, each with its own (pictorial) line-up of ingredients. This week’s cocktail is the first in the section labeled “Winter.”

Funny, the process seems a little more celebratory when someone devotes pages of photos to libations. This drink—described by the authors as only a little something to have on a night you are eating Asian take-out—seemed pretty fancy to me. Perhaps the pink peppercorns in the photo gave this drink a professionally exotic look, or the lovingly placed garnish, or the gleaming glassware, or the artfully blurred tabletop.

Here’s how you make two:

4 ounces gin

4 cubes cane sugar (I used demerara)

1.5 ounces lemon juice

4 slices fresh ginger

1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

4 basil leaves

Muddle the sugar cubes, lemon juice, ginger, pink peppercorns and basil in the bottom of a shaker. Add gin and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into coupes.

I’ve been to Bushwick in Brooklyn, detected no spice trade there, and can’t say the drink and the place are both so swanky. So what is it exactly that makes this drink say Bushwick? I think it must be the hipster aesthetic, the (seemingly) careless coolness of it all, a cocktail that’s fancy without trying too hard.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Bushwick.jbmIs it possible that a cocktail blog can be challenging? Of course it can. There are techniques that the professional bartender makes look simple that seem beyond my grasp. For instance, I am not sure I have properly garnished a drink yet. Some of the cocktails also require preparations that would push the skills of a chef. We have only made a couple of orgeats, yet I recall the difficulty of trying to filter them without ending up so sticky that I would be unable to move. Then there are ingredients, orange blossom water comes to mind immediately, that just don’t seem to be available. David offered that type of challenge again with pink peppercorns.

The odd thing about the peppercorns is that I was sure I had seen them a number of places before. If I had though, they had gone into hiding. Fortunately, I was able to track them down at the third place I looked (should I have been so lucky with orange blossom water) so I am not really complaining. Our sister, Laurie, had called just before my quest and was looking for a recommendation for a cocktail to go with an Asian inspired dinner club meal. This drink seemed perfect so I sent her the ingredient list and last I heard she was still looking for the elusive pink fruit and/or considering alternatives. There was a secondary theme, monkeys oddly, so hopefully she had better luck with the Monkey Gland mixers and had fun telling the backstory to that peculiar drink.

The other challenge to this drink is a really different one. Last week one of our neighbors came over to exchange some IPA’s, which she does not like, for some type of beer out of our mixed selection that she does like. Her explanation was that the next day would be the beginning of no-alcohol January for her and her husband. After she left, my wife and I decided that sounded like a worthy endeavor and we should join them. The challenge, of course, is that it is hard to do that and hold up my end of the blog.

The good news is that our neighbor, Rob, folded faster in the pursuit than Cosmo Kramer did in “The Contest.” His story is that he went for an early run yesterday and felt he deserved a beer. The even better news in all of this is that he is one of my more regular samplers which gave me the opportunity for a guest taster. So here’s Rob’s review (I did prepare the drink) of the Bushwick Spice Trade: it’s very basil-y. That’s pretty much it. He does like gin, he got a little spice from the peppercorns, or the ginger, and the sugar was not off putting. Mostly, it was very basil-y. I don’t think he would put it very high on the list of drinks that I have served him but maybe he just felt bad drinking it in front of those us who are still masters of our own domain.

Jonathan’s take: It is a lovely drink especially with all the floaties and I enjoyed making it. Sorry, all I got this time.

David’s take: The heat of the ginger and pepper played well with the gin and lemon juice.

Next Time (Proposed By: Jonathan)

Like David, I got a new got a new cocktail book for Christmas. This one is Southern Cocktails: Dixie Drinks, Party Potions & Classic Libations. We have already used the book for an alternative version of the lucky New Year’s meal, more on that in the write up, and there are some intriguing cocktails and cocktail variations that caught my eye in reading it. The one I am proposing is The Crusta. Invented in New Orleans, it can be made with cognac, bourbon or you can try one each way. There is a slight challenge left. It will still be January so I will need another taster. No camping out allowed and I will not buy pizza for everyone in the line.

Rock and Rye

Rock and Rye.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This is an inauspicious beginning. I wasn’t there but take it on good authority that early rye whiskeys were not good. They had off flavors that needed to be disguised and that mask was typically a sweetener. If you wanted to drink a bad whiskey it is doubtful that you wanted to water it down with any other liquid so bartenders provided lumps of rock candy for that purpose.

The evolution of the sweetened rye continued from that simple combination. Rye was livened up with sugar and a flavoring of fruit and herbs. The concoction became a popular curative, there’s that theme again, with the addition of herbs that helped, or purported to help, with chest and head congestion. One of these, horehound, is a flowering plant that has been used for centuries for congestion and respiratory issues. Modern researchers have determined that aspects of the herb may also be beneficial for other ailments and even for anti-cancer benefits. Try that excuse next time you want a drink.

Rock and rye lasted into and through prohibition due to these claims as a medicinal aid. Once prohibition ended, though, its popularity faded. If I were to guess, the attention on creating quality spirits once they became legal again probably chased away the need to mask bad liquors with herbs, fruit and sweeteners.

Part of the increased popularity of cocktails has been a resurgence of unique rock and ryes made both in bars and at home. The basic recipe is to start the infusion with fresh fruit, fruit peels, dried fruit or some combination of those. Herbs are added and then the crafted liquor is finished with the rock candy that provided half of its name. The recipe that I used is from Gun and Garden magazine and is credited to John Maher of Rogue Gentlemen bar in Richmond:

1 750 milliliter bottle of rye (they recommend Reservoir but there’s no way I am spending that much on whiskey and then doing some home flavoring)
Peel of half an orange
Peel of one lemon
10 dried cherries (I went tart here for a hoped for contrast)
½ cinnamon stick
1 clove
1 star anise
1 tsp horehound (had to use horehound candies since I couldn’t find the straight herb)
1 six inch piece string of rock candy soaked in Cheerwine (a regional black cherry soda) syrup (12 ounces of soda simmered until it is reduced to at least half that volume).

Combine the first 5 items in a glass container and set aside for 3 days. Add the rest of the items on the list and infuse for another day. Strain the mix and put back into the original rye bottle. That last part is not on their recipe but it made sense to me. Plus I had to try a little since the Cheerwine syrup added a little extra liquid. I added a few more dried cherries into the bottle because I had read somewhere that they do that in bars to identify their different mixes.

My proposal included the suggestion that we try this on the rocks and in a cocktail. The base rock and rye was very good served with ice and some Angostura bitters. I was extra careful not to add too much Cheerwine syrup when I did the infusion since I had used horehound candies and didn’t want it to be too sweet. The bitters also helped with that. Between the soda and the dried cherries it had a nice fruit flavor that went well with the rye. The cocktail was a simple mix of ginger ale and rock and rye. Oddly, the more basic ginger ale was better than the spicier versions as a mixer.

Here’s David’s Review:

DBMTo start, two confessions:

First, my Rock and Rye didn’t steep the proper number of days. Even though Jonathan and I have had this concoction in mind for a while and I’d gone to some trouble to obtain Cheerwine, I didn’t consult the recipe until Friday morning, which meant my wife quickly combining of the ingredients, my shaking it all weekend to compensate for brevity (every time I passed the jar), and delaying consumption until the last possible moment Sunday evening.

Second, I couldn’t find the horehound the recipe called for, even at my super-fancy spice store. They were sure the recipe meant horehound candy, but that didn’t make sense to me because the ingredient is measured in teaspoons. No matter, I couldn’t find the candy either. Asking about it did elicit some interesting and amusing expressions, however.

So here’s what I think of my admittedly imperfect version: it’s strong. I guess I missed the part where Jonathan suggested using it with a mixer. You need to know, when you drink this stuff, you’re essentially drinking some citrusy and spicy rye. Some of you may say, “Great!” but my rock candy hardly sweetened it. If you’re as unused as I am to drinking spirits straight, you will need to tell yourself to slow down.

And, to me, it tastes mostly like rye. Certainly the lemon and orange are there, but they come across mostly as a bitter finish, intruding on the rye only in the last taste. If I were steeping this mixture again, I might put the anise and other spices in earlier, as, in my version at least, they were so subtle as to be barely recognizable. The cherry didn’t stand a chance at all.

I read in one account online that the Rock and Rye available in bars was particularly appealing to an overindulgent customer who chose it because “It has fruit in it.” His rationalization makes perfect sense to me, which is perhaps why I’ll look for ways to mix this stuff into other cocktails rather than drinking it straight.

On a side note, some weeks ago, during a visit to my friendly neighborhood not-so-upscale liquor store, I spotted a bottle of liqueur labeled Rock N’ Rye, so I bought some, for comparison’s sake. It’s far sweeter—you’d have to pour all of the Cheerwine syrup into this iteration to get even close—and there must be some other stuff in the commercial version too. The store-bought isn’t as citrusy or spicy. As Jonathan always says, there’s no substitute for fresh (and actual) ingredients, and, in comparison, the liqueur just tastes like sweetened rye.

That said, I may pour some Cheerwine syrup into my bottle (hey, what else am I going to do with Cheerwine syrup?) and try my Rock and Rye in combination with ginger ale or soda. The idea (if not-so-much the reality) of both versions appeals to me, and I haven’t given up on my homemade libation.

David’s Take: Do you like rye and the peels of lemons and oranges? Ask that question before you invest your time and energy.

Jonathan’s take: May have to make a Thanksgiving version this week with orange peel, dried cranberries, nutmeg and allspice.

Next Time (Proposed By: David):

I sometimes think of my ingredients as athletes sitting on the bench waiting for the chance to get into the game. Next time, I’m calling in Dark Rum, Kahlua, and (my sister-in-law will likely hate me) eggs. It just seems the time to return to an egg cocktail, so I’m suggesting the Almeria Cocktail.

Maharani Cocktail

Proposed By: Jonathanjbm

Reviewed By: David

It would be a stretch to call anything related to a cocktail blog a responsibility although there are parts that feel that way. Each week we provide some background to the drink, its history, the reason we selected it or some context that affected our perception of it. More often than not that requires some shorthand that does not do justice to the drink or its creation. I suspect that most readers are more interested in the drink itself though so hopefully it works.

The reason I bring all that up is the name of this drink. To summarize that name I need to summarize a miniscule part of the culture of India and do so in less than a paragraph. The summary is so miniscule that I fear offending people who know and understand the incredible diversity of that country and subcontinent. Alas, I have my responsibilities as a not so savvy cocktailian, so here it goes.

The words raja and rani, and various spellings, are best known to me as crossword solutions. The true definition of raja or rani is a prince/king or princess/queen in India. From Sanskrit origin, the maha portion means a great prince or princess superior to the raja/rani. The maharani in particular can be the wife of the maharaja or the princess/queen leader. So what does that have to do with this drink? Absolutely nothing that I can determine, except perhaps the base alcohol, but it is that base of Tanqueray Rangpur that led me to this drink in the first place.

The recipe comes from another blog and I could not find any other reference to it anywhere. The Intoxicologist wrote the Straight Up Cocktail blog and it appears this is an original drink:

1.5 ounce Tanqueray Rangpur gin
1.5 ounce St. Germain
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
Lemon and lime wheels for garnish

Mix the first three ingredients, shake with ice (or stir in my case) and strain into a coupe. Garnish with the lemon and lime wheels.

It has been a long time since we used the Tanqueray Rangpur gin and I have to wonder why. Flavored with the exotic lemon and mandarin hybrid, this gin may be the best connection to the maharani name with its origin traced to Rangpur, Bangladesh. The unique citrus taste accentuates the gin even more than the classic combination with lime. I have found few liquors during this endeavor as interesting and appealing.

Here’s David’s Review:

dbmmWhen proposing cocktails, my brother—considerate soul he is—thinks of ingredients purchased for earlier recipes. Unintentionally, however, he makes choices that sometimes fill me with shame. That bottle of Chartreuse I’m supposed to have put aside… well… and that Mezcal… well… It’s not that I’m overindulging. It’s just that, when I like something… well… Please note that my bottle of crème de menthe is nearly full.

I did have enough St. Germain to make two Maharani cocktails for my wife and me, but the rest of the St. Germain disappeared long ago in various “experiments” and nightcaps. Anyone who has tried elderflower liquor probably relates.

And the Rangpur. I’m glad it’s still available at my local liquor superstore. Gin is my favorite base spirit, and I like all its manifestations. Whatever gin I have on hand goes into gin and tonics or even—once every great while—some martini variation. I can’t seem to hang onto gin for long. It’s amiable to so many cocktails. It’s not my fault.

Rangpur is also a particular favorite of mine. Like Jonathan, I’ve developed the habit of trying ingredients alone when we combine them in cocktails. Rangpur is less piney than dry gin, less sweet than Old Tom, more floral and, more citrusy than any other gin. At the same time, it’s hardly one-note. I also taste a bit of anise and maybe some bay leaf.

Not every sum is greater than its parts, but sometimes the promise of parts proves valid—what could go wrong with St. Germaine and Rangpur? A variation of the gimlet, this cocktail had me at the ingredient list. Fresh and sophisticated, the Maharani offers a dramatic citrus attack and the subtle herbal interplay of liqueur.

It’s also sweet, maybe too sweet for some people, and I wondered what it might be like to combine it with tonic in a taller glass filled with ice. Perhaps it’s my age, but bitterness seems natural to me. I looked for something to triangluate the acidity and sugar of this drink.

But I didn’t look that hard. If you like gimlets, you will love this cocktail. Maybe, like me, you won’t be able to keep the components long.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe the name came about because you feel like a maharaja or maharani when drinking this exotic and interesting cocktail.

David’s Take: I could order this one quite a few more times.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’ve arrived at our second anniversary on this blog and will celebrate the occasion as we did last year, by naming the drinks we liked best (and least) and offering some lessons for the year. I don’t know how Jonathan feels, but I actually feel that much more savvy. Nonetheless, we are more experienced… and that should yield some discoveries.

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.

Top 100 Cocktails

drink.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Proposed By: David

The proposal that each of us try a top 100 cocktail should have included a link to a definitive list. The problem, of course, is that there is no definitive list. Sure there are plenty of opinions, lists by drink category and even more scientific lists that purport to determine popularity by internet searches but all of them have differences based on their perspective.

David had sent me a list many months ago from a restaurateur in Houston. Bobby Heugel’s top 100 is from his restaurant Anvil Bar & Refuge. It has gone through the occasional revision but has remained mostly consistent in representing the best from various categories of drinks. Since I was going to be traveling, including in Houston, that seemed like a good list to use. It also seemed serendipitous and my plan was to go to Anvil to try the top 100 cocktail there. Only problem was that I read somewhere that Anvil is not open on Sundays (the day I would have a chance to go) so the best I could do was go by on the way to a couple of places near there on Westheimer Road.

We’ve written that David and I spent our formative years in Texas and that resulted in my being a lifelong Astros fan. My two sons and I were in Houston to see a couple of games, and my nephew picked us up on Sunday night to have dinner with him and my niece. We ended up in on Westheimer at a couple of wonderful places for a beer and then dinner and Anvil was in between. Anvil was open. Sometimes serendipity is a booger, but I sure am glad we got to spend some time with my niece and nephew.

It all worked out the next night though when my oldest son and I found a classic cocktail spot in San Antonio. The Last Word is not too far in distance from the Alamo but its location below street level is a long way from the standard tourist spots downtown. They have their own short list of classic cocktails, including some on tap and some of their own creations. After a long day of walking and a great meal, I chose the classic Boulevardier as both a digestif and a way to unwind and relax. Their version is served on the rocks (nice medium square ones) rather than strained into a coupe. Something worth trying for the Negroni in my opinion.

The Boulevardier is the older cousin of the Negroni. The latter may be the more famous with its mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but the former predates it based on published recipes. It substitutes whiskey, either bourbon or rye, for the gin and depending on taste includes more of that base rye or bourbon.

The drink dates back to the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris that is credited for the creation of a number of classics. Harry McElhone of that bar is sometimes given credit though it seems more likely that Edward Gwynne was the one who came up with it or inspired the drink. Gwynne had moved to Paris around prohibition and had started a magazine called The Boulevardier that was intended to mimic The New Yorker. The term “boulevardier” is synonymous with flaneur and indicates, on very simplistic terms, a stroller, lounger or man about town. That seems very apt for a sophisticated drink that combines the depth of whisky, the bitter of Campari and the smoothing properties of a quality sweet vermouth.

David’s Drink:

Bramble2One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about this blog is, “How long have you been doing it?” Recently—now that we’ve written about over 100 drinks—another question follows, “Are there any drinks left?”

Well, obviously. I’m not sure how many cocktails exist. That may be a Neoplatonic question, after all, more a matter of asking “What IS a cocktail and is it a material thing or an ideal that exists apart from the physical universe?” I’m sure, however, of more than 100. In fact, as Jonathan said, there seem to be more than 100 Classic cocktail lists for the top 100 cocktails. Using the list above, we’ve tried 27 (I counted) and that leaves 63 (times the number of other lists).

In choosing which of the remaining classics, I let my liquor cabinet do the talking. I looked for what was possible given my supplies, and I discovered a recipe, The Bramble, that asked for Crème de Mure (a blackberry liqueur), half a bottle of which I just so happen to possess, thanks to the generosity of a friend… and cocktail abettor.

There are many Bramble recipes online, but here’s a link to the one I used.

Like many of the classics, the Bramble is a simple concoction, relying on gin, simple syrup, lemon, and the Crème de Mure, but—also characteristically classic—it requires a certain sophistication in its use of these ingredients. If it’s to work really well, you need two types of ice, cubes to cool the cocktail (minus the liqueur) in a shaker and crushed ice for the glass. You also have to be pretty good at pouring patiently, as drizzling the blackberry over the gin—and lemon and simple syrup—soaked ice creates a cascading effect as the heavier liqueur drips through.

Alas, as you might see in the photo I’m not savvy enough to capture that moment in my photo. Nonetheless, take my word for it, for a second or so the drink was beautiful.

The non-egg-headed explanation for the proliferation of cocktails, of course, is that so many variables (and variables of variables) make a drink what it is. We’ve tasted a number of fruit based drinks recently, for instance, but what makes a Bramble different is the refinement of the liqueur. It isn’t fresh blackberry or blackberry syrup but closer to a brandy, so it gives this the mixture depth and gravity. In fact, the simple syrup is optional, as far as I’m concerned, because a Bramble is sweet enough without it, and the lemon doesn’t overwhelm the Crème de Mure, which has sufficient density to even things out.

As Jonathan explained, one reason for this week’s post is that he was in Houston and wanted a drink he might order out. I’m not sure many bars have Crème de Mure on hand, but, if they do, it’d be worth asking for a Bramble. You’ll certainly look like you know what you’re doing, and you’re likely to enjoy it too.

Jonathan’s take: It could just be the drink, or the good company with whom I enjoyed it, but I am ready to give Campari a try again after the delicious Boulevardier.

David’s Take: The Bramble is a genteel drink, and, as the Crème de Mure ran through the ice, I felt just a little savvy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My break from teaching is waning. As I approach returning to class, I’m up for a final celebration of one of my favorite fruits of summer, the fig. The recipe I’ve chosen seems the ideal transition to the fall ahead.  My proposal is a Roasted Fig Cocktail using the fruit cooked in balsamic vinegar, then puréed, then combined with bourbon, lemon juice, and a little maple syrup. I hope the prep won’t be too onerous… or at least worth it.

 

Sparkling Peach Sangria

IMG_0104Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

Sangria does not need a recipe in my opinion. I started with this write up with the mix that I used but every ingredient can be changed for another, and some of them can be left out entirely. There were a couple of exact recipes that I sent David, but it became apparent, especially after I got too lazy to buy more brandy and decided to use what I had, that the best bet was to wing it.

The mix can also be changed for taste. Want it more or less sweet for instance – use sugar, don’t use it, add more simple syrup, don’t add more, or change out between a dry or sweet wine. Some sangrias sparkle based on the use of seltzer, club soda or in the case of this recipe both soda and sparkling wine. Fruits vary by season, like the peaches that are front and center this week, and add to both the color and presentation. It’s all your choice and even though this is one of the ultimate group drinks, if you are making it you get to decide.

Sangria is associated with Spain and Portugal and the term is now protected within the European Union. That said, there are versions in every country and some suggestion that what we typically think of as sangria was actually created in the U.S. The classic versions are made with fruit, sweetener and wine. Almost every version I have read about or made also includes a spirit, like brandy, for fortification. It is usually made with red wine (the base word is sangre, or blood, after all) but the versatility has led to versions with white wine and sparkling wines.

The other thing to note is that it is a group beverage. I found a couple of recipes that broke it down to single servings but that was the exception. Most recipes are based on proportions that work from a full bottle of wine or more. That is also beneficial for another reason. It should be prepared in advance to let the flavors mix and meld so when the party starts there is no need to stop and mix.

Here’s a basic recipe:

Sliced fresh peaches
Blueberries
½ cup apple brandy (would have used peach or apricot if I had it)
¼ cup simple syrup
Lemon and lime juice (2 small lemons, 1 small lime)
½ liter club soda
1 bottle moscato

Mix everything except the moscato in a pitcher and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve, add the sparkling wine, stir gently and serve with ice.

And Here’s David’s Review:

SangriaDBMAs Jonathan has said before, it isn’t easy separating a drink and the occasion you try it. When you are with family and friends, almost any concoction might serve. You might never live down serving something wretched, but the memory would at least evoke warm mirth. If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that the company is far more important than the cocktail.

This weekend I was on the Rappahannock in Lancaster, Virginia visiting my sister and her husband as my mom visited. On Saturday night, when we made the sangria, the crowd swelled with my niece and nephew and their families and guests. We not only chose a recipe suited for a crowd, we doubled it.

And I think this drink was a hit. You can’t really mess-up Sangria. As long as you like fruit—peaches, in this case—and wine, there’s infinite potential for experimentation and amendment until you get it just right.

The recipe I used was a little different from Jonathan’s. It didn’t contain simple syrup because, between the moscato and peach brandy, it looked plenty sweet. Unlike Jonathan, I didn’t include lemon and lime juice. I hoped the citrus in the lemon-lime seltzer we used might be enough.

It wasn’t, and that’s where my sister’s brilliant amendment made all the difference. For the second batch, Alison suggested we add some lemon verbena from her herb garden. She macerated it before adding it to the drink, but you could also muddle it with the peach. Just don’t over-muddle as I always seem to do… or you’ll have to strain the drink before putting it in glasses. It doesn’t seem to take much to release the herb’s lemony smell, but the herb adds so much more than that, a spicy and fresh flavor that plays the same role basil does in so many drinks. If I have any objection to Sangria, it’s that it can be a little one-note and become more like party punch than a libation. I’m sure I never would have thought of including lemon verbena, but, as our meals this weekend made obvious, Alison knows how to add complex and harmonious flavors to enhance the whole experience.

The same might be said for this weekend’s celebration. Whatever combination of ingredients made their way into the sangria, the combination of people drinking it surpassed it. It’s especially tough this week to tell exactly what (or why) I’m reviewing.

David’s Take: My next sangria (and next and next) will include lemon verbena or some other herb.

Jonathan’s Take: I can’t help it. This one was just peaches.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Continuing our summer of summer cocktails and family, next week’s drink will include a an unusual ingredient generously supplied by our brother Chris from his garden in Tucson. He sent each of us a couple of mason jars of prickly pear syrup with instructions to use it in a cocktail. I thought at first we’d have to invent something, but it turns out the web offers many, many options. I’m suggesting a frozen prickly pear margarita with one important substitution, mescal for the traditional tequila. We’ll also be preparing some food (of our own choice) with the syrup, and I’m as excited about what will accompany the drink as I am about the drink itself.

Lemon Basil Cocktail

lemonade 11Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Occasionally envy hits me when I visit friends with gardens. Our patio gets sun, but it’s city sun, subject to deep shadows much of the day. In years past, we’ve always been able to grow some herbs in small pots, but that’s about it… and some years even those were anemic, besieged by the windy storms that hit Chicago this time of year. Still, it’s nice during the summer to boost a recipe with fresh oregano, thyme, or rosemary.

Basil is an herb well worth cultivating. It smells wonderful, and, with very little care, issues forth leaf after deep green leaf. This year, having moved to a new place about a month ago, we’ve relied on farmers for fresh basil, but it’s the same stuff, only grown by a much greener thumb.

This week’s drink isn’t the first we’ve tried with basil. Next to mint, it may be the most popular herb to add to cocktails. But it isn’t at all like mint. In cocktails like Juleps, mint seems part of the drink’s sweetness. Basil contributes something different, a spicy edge. When it comes to cocktails, “Botanical” may not sound so good to some people, but, in this case, the basil is botanical in being fresh and immediate. Depending on how much you use, it can be the star.

When I wrote the proposal last week, I described the Lemon Basil Cocktail as “another lemonade,” but it isn’t really that. It contains lemon, but the same level of citrus and potency you’d expect from a margarita or mojito rather than the sweet (and not that tart) accompaniment for hot dogs and hamburgers.

The short version: it’s a grown-up drink.

On muddling: like many of the drinks we’ve tried, this one relies on mashing ingredients with a muddler. I have what looks like a little baseball bat for that purpose, and I used it to destroy the basil and lemon to release their flavors. For this recipe, you’re supposed to muddle in the glass, adding triple sec, tequila, ice and club soda only after you’ve used your muscle to render the rest detritus.

I confess I didn’t. Perhaps there’s a limit to how much freshness I can handle, maybe I’m too much of a neatnik, but experience tells me it’s unappetizing to get to the end of a drink and discover a bolus of pulverized pulp. I’ll offer the recipe as it was written, but I squeezed the lemon and did the muddling in a cocktail shaker that strained out all evidence of my muscle. Knowing that I was tossing the remainder, I also used more basil than listed.

Here’s the recipe:

2 parts Silver Tequila
1 part premium triple sec
1/2 lemon
3 basil leaves
1/2 part simple syrup
Club soda

Muddle lemon, basil and simple syrup in a chilled glass. Add ice, triple sec and Silver Tequila. Top with club soda. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

drinkjbmThis drink follows one of the main themes I have espoused for cocktails. There are simply horses for courses. The literal meaning is that certain racehorses perform better on tracks that match their skills. In the figurative sense the expression is used throughout sports to describe performers who excel since the field, track, course or whatever corresponds well to their strengths.

Whew, that’s a long way to say this cocktail is made for the hot, humid weather in which we are mired.

Last week I watched the beginning of a Chicago Cubs game and some of the spectators were wearing jackets or pullovers. Seriously – long sleeves in July? It is a wonder that people are not heading out to work in shorts and t-shirts here in North Carolina. There have been more days that have reached 100 degrees than any summer since I moved here, and the ones that don’t get that hot come close. For some reason, it refuses to rain but the air hangs heavy like it should. We need long sleeve weather.

The cocktail is a variation on the mojito with basil and lemon tones that acts like a cool breeze. Given the same drink in the fall or winter and I am sure I would find it way too subtle and diluted. In the throes on this summer though, it is the ice bucket challenge, a trip to the mountains, toes in the creek or that special morning in June (the one) when the temperature finally dips to the mid 60’s that we miss so much. The highlight is the basil, which we have used a few times, and it marries with the tequila in a way that mint doesn’t. Instead of accentuating the spirit by adding similar flavors, it contrasts in a savory way that makes the tequila more distinctive and better.

There are two final notes. One of these was plenty. I could have had more, if only for the cooling effect, but something about the mix made it seem more potent than the recipe implies, so one was enough. The second thing is that I would recommend a slight adjustment to the recipe. Unless you are using really large lemons, substitute half of the club soda for sparkling lemonade (there was some left from last week). It boosts the lemon without losing any of the effervescence.

Jonathan’s take: I should have had one to drink and then poured one on my head. That would show this summer.

David’s take: Redolent of summer. How that for vocab?

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Maybe I’m still searching for that cooling effect, but it is time for a frozen drink. We haven’t tried one yet and it seemed like the perfect time to do so. There is one slight problem. I have a name for the drink, The Monkey Incident, but I don’t know what is in it yet. I promise to let David know sometime this week. Just as soon as it comes to me.