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 Long Island Ice Tea

LIITProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are two parts to the introduction to this week’s cocktail—Long Island Iced Tea. The first is the background on the drink and the inevitable varying accounts of its origin. There is also a second part about how I ended up proposing what could be considered a party punch because of its large proportion of liquor, and another version worth trying.

One would assume that the Long Island part of the name is the biggest hint to the origin of this cocktail. In fact, many accounts attribute the invention to a bar in Long Island and a bartender with the catchy name of Bob “Rosebud” Butt. That is far too simple a history, though, and other accounts suggest a different bartender (Chris Bendickson), different locations of the same bar (the Oak Beach Inn) and that the drink’s origin predates the Oak Beach Inn concoction.

My favorite story of this cocktail reveals a personal bias. I was born in Maryland, reared in south Texas and have spent my entire adult life in North Carolina. That clearly makes me a southerner and with that a lover of true (sweet) iced tea. The concept of the Long Island Iced Tea is that the odd mix of numerous liquors, citrus, sweetening agents and cola resembles, or even mimics, actual sweet tea. How then, can this drink have been invented in Long Island, New York where they clearly do not know or appreciate (yes, I know this statement may offend) sweet tea?

That brings us to the community of Long Island in the southern city of Kingsport, Tennessee. This story of Long Island Iced Tea obviously bases the name on that community and a resident affectionately referred to as Old Man Bishop. He is said to have first introduced this alcoholic tea in the 1920’s and his son, Ransom Bishop, perfected it in the 1940’s. There are suggestions that they might have distilled their own alcohol which makes me wonder both why the mix of so many different liquors, as opposed to simple moonshine, and why tequila is part of most recipes. Those inconsistencies aside, I like this story better simply because a drink that mimics sweet tea needs to have come from a place where they know and appreciate true sweet tea.

The recipe I started with was equal parts vodka, gin, triple sec, tequila and rum. Added to that was one part homemade sweet and sour mix (3 parts water, 3 parts sugar, 2 parts lemon and 2 parts lime) and 2 parts cola. The first batch was too gin dominant and strong so I changed to half parts gin and triple sec and increased the sweet and sour and cola amounts. Not only did it taste better, and more like tea, but it decreased the alcohol content.

the drinkersSo why a cocktail that falls into a category that includes such party stalwarts as PJ, rocket fuel and battleship punch? This weekend was an annual golf trip that now includes 24 to 28 golfers but began with a smaller group of friends from college. I asked the core group to vote on the cocktail and they suggested this one despite my plea for something golf related such as the Hole in One cocktail. While we ended up with the Long Island Iced Tea we were able to accomplish the second golf related goal with another version of this cocktail. Substituting Blue Curacao for the triple sec and sprite for the cola creates a drink that is named for the cry of a golfer as he launches a shot deep into the woods or the depths of a water hazard – Adios, Motherfucker!

It’s a real drink, I promise.

Here’s David’s Review:

The Long Island Ice Tea was notorious when I was a college student, and classmates spoke of it as a sneaky drink that tasted like punch and then hit with an even bigger inebriating punch. They described having two or three (or four—we are talking about college) when they should have had one. The story really focused the mayhem that ensued.

Maybe that warned me away. More likely I busied myself killing brain cells in other causes. In any case, I’m perhaps the only undergraduate of my era never to have had one. My first LIIT came this weekend, and I’m rather glad. It is delicious. It is lethal. Had I encountered it earlier, my grades might have suffered.

Though it tastes little like tea to me, contains no tea, and isn’t really even the right color for tea, the Long Island Ice Tea somehow manages to go down as easily. I didn’t taste any of the liquors, not even the gin, which, unlike Jonathan’s, didn’t assert itself, nor did I get the sort of coughing kick you’d expect from four-plus ounces of alcohol. I read somewhere that a Long Island Ice Tea boasts 22% alcohol, yet it tastes like sodee-pop.

Does that make it good, its disguised potency, innocent and diabolical all at once? As a collegian, I’m sure I’d have said “Hell yeah!” As a more mature, refined, and sophisticated appreciator of cocktails, I have to say “Hell yes.”

You’ll note I only remove the exclamation point and turn to less colloquial language.

What’s most deceiving in the Long Island Ice Tea is the subtle balance it achieves, propping tequila against gin and gin against rum and rum against lemon and triple sec. I chose a recipe that threw coke in at the end to achieve the proper tea color (though, in my photographs, it didn’t) and even cola disappeared in the mélange of flavors. In television dramas people talk about ensembles. If, in this blog’s past, we’ve praised drinks for their achieving something greater than the sum of their parts, this drink deserves credit.

Is the Long Island Ice Tea my new favorite? No. It’s more than I can usually handle. As a vacation drink or as a celebration of good fortune though, it’ll do. I’ll return to it, I’m sure, when the occasion calls for it.

David’s Take: I almost wish it weren’t so good.

Jonathan’s take: If I want a drink that tastes like sweet tea, I think I will stick with the real thing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Okay, so maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve been eying that Chartreuse I see in the liquor store—how can you not be curious about a liqueur that gives rise to a color and not the other way around?—and I’ve been dying to buy some. This week, I’m gonna (and hope Jonathan can do the same… sorry, bro). My choice of cocktail is The Last Word, a combination of Chartreuse, Gin, Maraschino, and lime juice. Who knows what it will taste like, but at least it looks beautiful. Of course I said the same thing about The Aviation