La Paloma

palomajbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

Paloma, La Paloma, the Dove or as one odd reference suggested Paloma Tequila. This is a cocktail I chose, in part, for its increasing popularity and many variations. It has those. What it needs is a name on which everyone can agree. For our purposes, and for history as you will read, I like La Paloma.

The link in the last blog post proposal takes you to a Feast Magazine write up that includes history for the cocktail and a couple of different recipes. That means readers should know the history, or does it? They write that the cocktail traces back to the town of Tequila in the Jalisco state. The bartender who can claim it was Don Javier Delgado Corona. Quibblers would want say that it is such a basic drink, essentially in the family of the Tom Collins, that there were probably many versions created in many places. Even the name is linked to questions about where it came from with the suggestion that it might be as old as an 1860’s folk song called “La Paloma.”

The recipes are fairly consistent with simple versions using grapefruit soda and others using fresh grapefruit juice.

2 ounces blanco tequila
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
Grapefruit soda

Mix the first three ingredients, add soda (4-6 ounces) and ice. Garnish with lime, grapefruit or nothing.

2 ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon agave syrup or simple syrup
Club soda

Mix everything but the soda, then add that and ice. Garnish away.

There are recipes that say salt the rim of the glass instead of adding it to the drink. If you choose to use grapefruit soda expect lots of recommendations. The sodas list includes Fresca (it’s lighter but don’t do it), Jarritos (you’ll need a Mexican market), Squirt, Izze, or Whole Foods Italian grapefruit soda. Those are just some of the options.

There were lots of tasters so I made versions with blanco tequila, reposado tequila, Fresca (which is why I know not to use it), Squirt and Izze. A half ounce of lime didn’t seem like enough so there was probably more in each cocktail too. I didn’t make the fresh grapefruit version but if I was to make this a regular drink I think the combination of fresh juice and agave syrup could be just right. It would really be the Tom Collins of Jalisco then.

Here’s David’s Review:

palomadmWhen I mentioned to a friend that Jonathan and I were trying a Paloma for the next blog post, she said, “Isn’t that a sort of Margarita?” Certainly, some connections suggest so—tequila, for one, and also lime and salt. If you like your margaritas exotically flavored—prickly pear, anyone?—the grapefruit isn’t any serious adulteration. Blending grapefruit juice, agave syrup, lime, tequila, and ice with a machine… you might call that a margarita.

Yet, here’s a case where differences matter. I like margaritas, but I like this drink better. For one thing, preparing it does not require electricity. It’s shaken. Plus, though the Paloma has the sweet and sour (and salty) mix of a margarita, it doesn’t start, as many margaritas do, with a frozen mix that renders it an adult Icee. This cocktail did not seem nearly as sweet—grapefruit soda means you can skip the agave syrup—and, more tequila-forward, it presented itself as more than a way to hide spirit. A Paloma isn’t dessert. It feels… sophisticated.

Maybe this drink is the branch of the mixology tree margaritas ought to have followed.

In our experiment, we tried some variations Jonathan didn’t, choosing mezcal as the tequila and even substituting half the mezcal for gin in one version. Everything we tried was satisfying, but the mezcal added the most. Between sweet, sour, the salty, bitter, and smoky the Paloma seemed one of the most complex cocktails we’ve tried. The addition of botanical complexity of gin was perhaps a step too far, but why not test the envelop? The result was interesting, suggesting the range a basic recipe can cover when swaping one element for another.

Recently I wandered into a music review online. I don’t read them generally because they feature so many descriptors I barely understand. One I do understand, though, and one of my favorites, is the prefix “proto,” which I take to mean before what we have now, the more basic past some present relies upon. The Paloma felt like a proto-cocktail to me, a combination evolution can work with.

Jonathan’s take: You want summer? You deserve summer and this drink is it.

David’s Take: One of my favorites, in all its variations.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Most cities likely have a cocktail column by now, a few paragraphs buried in the home section or weekly magazine. They can’t hide from me, and last week’s Chicago Tribune included an article that intrigued me—“Cocktails With Equal Parts Are Easy, Yet Sophisticated.” For next time, I’m inviting Jonathan to join me in inventing an equal portion cocktail. No specific ingredients, no history we’re beholden to, no famous and magical mixologist—just equal ingredients.

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Prickly Pear Margarita

Prickly.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This week’s cocktail isn’t our first margarita… but it’s certainly our most exotic one. Our brother Chris sent us each two mason jars of prickly pear syrup, which formed the basis for a frozen margarita using mezcal and, as a bonus, some food item using his gift.

Our brother Chris loves plants, especially fruiting plants and cacti. I’m pretty sure he joined The Cactus and Succulent Society before he hit his teenage years. Early this summer, when Chris posted a photo of a pitcher of syrup from his prickly pear fruit harvest, I asked him in a comment what it tasted like. His response, “Like prickly pear,” didn’t tell me much, but now that I’ve tried it myself, I see the sense in his answer. The syrup reminds me a little of raspberries (though not so tart) and a little like aloe (though not nearly so bitter) and watermelon (though not so watery) and somewhat like kiwi (though mostly in texture). Any attempt I’ve made to triangulate (quadrangulate?) its flavor, however, ends with the simple assertion that it tastes wonderful. And it’s mild, lending a distinctive flavor while playing well with all the citrus in a margarita.

My version of this week’s margarita was frozen, and though we don’t have much experience with that method of preparation, I’ve noticed the cooler a drink is, the more dramatic its trigeminal effects. As I don’t have a margarita machine, the ice remained mostly chunky, not the slushy you might expect from a trip to your local Mexican restaurant. The ultimate goal of any margarita is refreshment… though it’s nice if it’s potent too. I’ll leave for Jonathan’s review whether prickly pear syrup helps achieve those ends.

Here’s the recipe (for two servings):

1/2 cup crushed ice
1 ounces freshly-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce undiluted frozen limeade
2 ounces Mezcal
1 1/2 ounces Triple Sec
1 ounce Prickly Pear Cactus Juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar or corn syrup
Lime wedges for garnish

In a blender, add crushed ice, lime juice, Tequila, Triple Sec, prickly pear juice, and sugar or corn syrup; cover and mix ingredients (a pulsating action with 4 or 5 jolts of the blender works the best). Correct with additional sugar or corn syrup if it is too tart. Serve in Margarita Glasses with coarse salt or Margarita Salt on the rims of the glasses and a lime slice, and serve immediately.

As for food, I left most of that to my daughter, who suggested we marinate some shrimp in a few simple spices (old bay, mustard and garlic powder, salt and pepper) then grill them on the barbeque. Along with the shrimp, she made corn cakes featuring corn cut from the cob and a mixture of salsa plus chipotle pepper with adobo sauce and a liberal amount of prickly pear syrup. The combination was spicy, smoky, and earthy—like mezcal—without being too sweet. A hearty hors d’oeuvre rather than main course, it seemed a great complement to the margarita.

I still have another jar of syrup remaining. I have many other plans for it—other cocktails among my schemes—and perhaps those will make some appearance in later posts. In the meantime, the only remaining thing to do is to thank my brother Chris for introducing me to such an intriguing and enticing ingredient.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

prickly.jbmA few years back I found a go-to recipe for grilled salmon. It is as simple as sprinkling the fish with chili powder, grilling it and then finishing it in the last few minutes with a glaze of 50/50 bourbon and honey. You can add a cedar plank to the grill surface to cook it on for a little je ne sais quoi, but that is just complicating delicious.

The first thought I had when our oldest brother said he was sending prickly pear syrup, even though I had never tried it, was that I needed to find a way to use it in a recipe. That turned into a modification of the go-to salmon recipe. We switched the fish to wild caught mahi-mahi, used blackening seasoning instead of chili powder and then added a coating of prickly pear syrup mixed with tequila for the last couple of minutes of grilling. It’s still peach world in our house, so we also made a peach salsa to cover the grilled fish.

And then there was the drink. David had suggested a prickly pear margarita with mezcal substituted for the tequila. The recipe called for prickly pear juice and sugar, but since we had a syrup the sugar seemed unnecessary. I used tequila for round one then switched to mezcal for the second. The recipe calls for half a cup of ice, which is hard to measure in cubes so I kept adding more to try and adjust for the limeade concentrate. That, and it is hot and humid, especially when grilling, so more ice seemed like a good idea.

The end result were two of the best margaritas I have ever tried. The tequila version was very lime forward between the fresh juice and the concentrate though the prickly pear toned that down a little. The mezcal version had the smoky deeper taste of that spirit and, for some reason, seemed more in keeping with the prickly pear. If I had to decide between the two, the mezcal version was more complex and balanced, so that would be the choice. One other thing to add—once you start adjusting and increasing the ice, one recipe is plenty for two drinks.

David’s Take: A wonderful variation that makes what’s become a rather cliché cocktail into something new and exciting again.

Jonathan’s take: Still got plenty of prickly pear syrup so I think pancakes are next.

Next Week (Proposed By Jonathan):

I rely on David to do all the hard work for the blog. When we started the idea was that he would give me the sign in and I would learn to use the WordPress site to do my part. Feigning stupidity, or actually being stupid, ended that idea, and now I just send him my part by e-mail and he completes the post. Since I don’t do the posting, I also rely on him for statistics like how many visits we get and even how many posts we have done. It should be close to or just above 100 (David’s Note: it’s 103) and my proposal for next week is that we do a wild card week to recognize that. Each of us will independently try a top 100 cocktail (there are lots of different lists to choose from) that we haven’t tried for this blog and likely have never tried. It will be a good test of genetics to see if we end up trying the same drink. It will also be a good test of memory to see if we try a drink that we haven’t written about before.

 

Salty Dog

Salty DogProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

My daughter tells me that grapefruit juice increases the potency of alcohol. I can’t find any proof of that online, but I did run into how scientists originally stumbled on grapefruit juice’s affect on many (and I mean many) other drugs. Researchers testing alcohol’s interaction with drugs used grapefruit juice because, of all fruit juices, it hides alcohol’s taste best. Eureka, lo and behold, they discovered their flavoring agent interacted more.

It all has to do with the hepatic and intestinal enzyme cytochrome P450 isoform CYP3A4, of course.

I, naturally, am more interested in the other part of the story, that grapefruit juice is an effective vehicle for spirits… if you define “effective” as masking its taste. That may be so, but we’ve tried grapefruit based drinks before on this blog (Toast of the Town, The Hemingway Daiquiri), and I’ve only noticed that grapefruit juice tastes good.

The Salty Dog is another version of the Greyhound, which is simply ice, grapefruit juice, and vodka or gin. That cocktail first appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. He, however, just gets credit for naming the drink, as he refers to it as “a variation of the Grapefruit Cocktail.” Later, Harper’s Magazine attached that name to the bus line, describing it, apparently, as the favorite libation of people who hang out in bus terminal restaurants. Who knew?

And who knows why someone thought to add salt to the rim of the glass, but, as with a margarita, the salinity may be an effort to balance the sweetness of the juice. Personally, I thought it’d be fun to try another sweet and salty drink.

As I mentioned in proposing this drink, I like gin (like my brother), but many of the recipes for the Salty Dog call for vodka instead. I tried one with each spirit. Apparently many of the older recipes now using vodka—especially ones containing juice—originally called for gin and, as with this recipe, the gin botanicals echo the grapefruit. Some gin preparations, after all, include dried grapefruit peel.

The recipe is quite simple. This version makes two:

Coarse kosher salt

Ice cubes

1/2 cup vodka or gin

3/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice

Pour coarse salt onto small plate. Moisten rims of 2 highball glasses. Gently dip rims into salt to coat lightly. Fill glasses with ice cubes. Pour 1/4 cup vodka over ice in each glass. Divide grapefruit juice between glasses and serve.

I prefer to believe grapefruit juice enhances the gin’s flavor but perhaps I’m deceived. I’ll let my brother decide.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0033We have pulled back the curtain a couple of times so the following is no surprise, but is important to my review. David and I rarely communicate about what we are going to write. The roles are well defined—one proposes then introduces, the other reviews typically with some context. My role this week was to try the drink and provide my impression.

Sometimes our write-up has eerie similarity. For instance, in the Moving Sale entry we both, separately, identified three liqueurs as dispensable. The fact that they were the same three could be a coincidence, a statement about those liqueurs, or genetics. I choose the latter, but you can take your pick.

All of this is important because there is a chance that his write up and my review may overlap again this week. I cannot read about, think about or do anything with this drink without starting to hum “…let me be your salty dog” from the Salty Dog Blues. It has nothing to do with the drink, it is simply an association with the name.

The funny thing about the Salty Dog Blues is that there is as much debate about what “salty dog” means as there is about cocktail origins. Some sources use the name just as you would “old salt” to refer to an experienced sailor, but most provide a sexual context similar to “back door man” which is an illicit lover. That is more amusing when you consider that my other association with the song is the Andy Griffith Show and the fictional Darlings (the real life bluegrass group The Dillards with some added actors like Denver Pyle). The Darlings would show up in Mayberry, along with Ernest T. Bass typically, and Andy would end up jamming with them. And if you don’t think Andy was really playing, you don’t know that old Ange. Please take the time to pull up Salty Dog Blues on youtube so you can watch The Darlings and Andy. There is also a Flogging Molly song called Salty Dog which is excellent, but has more to do with pirates, and probably more in common with this drink. Pull that one up too.

I tried a couple of different mixes using the gins shown in my picture. And as an aside, I am trying to get an underwriter for this blog and our purchases even if Cardinal Gin is coincidentally a fantastic choice for the cocktail. Both used 2:1 grapefruit to gin, but one was fresh squeezed fruit and white gin and the other bottled, and sweeter, grapefruit juice with barrel rested gin. The former was fresh and very good but also tart to the point that one was plenty. The latter was closer to a Screwdriver with a little more sweetness and depth thanks to the flavorful gin. If I was going to drink more than one the latter would be the choice.

Jonathan’s take: Denver Pyle always got the Darlings song started. His intro for the Salty Dog Blues goes great with this drink: “That’s her. Just jump in and hang on!”

David’s Take: Pleasant. The salt gets to be a little much, though. In the end, I found myself avoiding the salty rim rather than seeking it.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have a surprise for blog readers, and I won’t reveal it yet. I will say that the drink will be made with an Amer Picon that David has concocted. Not sure on what the specific cocktail will be, or what they will be, but I am sure that the pictures will be good.

The Ultimate Margarita

Proposed by: JonathanMarge

Reviewed by: David

Our Mother asked me a few weeks ago how we come up with the cocktail of the week. Frankly, I think what she was really asking was “Why the heck did you drink that?” in reaction to some odd drink that we had tried. It did make me pause and consider how I arrive at a proposal. Most of the time, the genesis of the idea occurs in those obsessive wee hours of the morning when I am lying awake during a regular episode of insomnia. This week though, it was simply my turn to celebrate a national holiday, just as David had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. And what better way to celebrate National Chip and Dip Day than the classic margarita.

Here’s a surprise – the margarita has a murky and quirky history. There’s the story of a socialite from Dallas who created the drink as an experiment while hosting friends in Mexico. The problem with that explanation, despite her first name being Margarita, is that there are references to margaritas that pre-date her party in 1948. Next up is the showgirl who was allergic to liquor except tequila, and the bartender who created a drink to sidestep that allergy. Seriously, I am no allergist and don’t play one on TV, but allergic to liquor except tequila? Sounds plausible as a reason to become a shoeless expatriate, but little else.

That leaves a couple of explanations that make a lot more sense. The first is that the margarita is a cocktail version of the traditional tequila shot served with a wedge of lime and a bit of sprinkled salt. It does not take a leap of faith or an allergy to follow the progression from that to a salt lined glass with a lime and tequila mix in it. The second is my personal favorite explanation, though, because of its tie to my sweet yellow lab Daisy. A Daisy cocktail is a sour (alcohol, citrus and sweet element) with the addition of soda or seltzer. In particular, a tequila daisy contains lemon juice, sugar, tequila, orange liqueur and soda water. Add the fact that Daisy is a diminutive nickname for Margaret, and the English translation of margarita in turn can be “daisy flower” and you have a story worth swallowing.

The margarita is a classic for a number of reasons. It is easy to make, particularly if you don’t mind pre-made mixers, and easy to drink. It also invokes a relaxed and tropical atmosphere where worries float away thanks to a popular musical artist who shall go unnamed thanks to rabid trademark enforcement. Finally, there are so many options for variation simply by changing the type of tequila, the orange liqueur and/or the citrus. Don’t forget frozen or on the rocks either.

I chose the Tyler Florence recipe because it incorporates some of those variations while retaining the classic form. The recipe makes four servings by mixing ½ cup fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar, ¼ cup orange liqueur, ¼ cup triple sec, 1 cup tequila and the odd addition of ½ can of lager. All ingredients but the lager are combined and blended, the lager is added and mixed, and the drink strained into iced filled glasses that are salt rimmed (or not). Bold, strong and orange forward, this is an exceptional version of the classic.

margaritaHere’s David’s Review:

I occasionally order a margarita out—when the server describes something unlikely or exotic—but I don’t drink many. They’re sweet, slushy, more dessert-y than a before-dinner drink should be, and often scary, lurid hues generally not found in food (or, sometimes, in nature). Plus they delay my beer.

As Friday started my spring break from school, however, a margarita sounded awfully good, and this version was awfully good. I don’t know enough about the cocktail to say how commonly bartenders add a splash of lager, but, to me it made this drink.

Like many cocktails, margaritas balance sour and sweet, but the botanical element seems most powerful and important to me. Depending upon the orange liquor and triple sec you use—I used Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao and Luxardo Triplum, respectively—there’s a sort of marmalade taste that adds to the bitter lime citrus and the distinctive herbal aloe scent and cactus flavor of tequila. But the addition of the beer, which I registered largely as hops, take that element a step further. At first, the sugar in the recipe worried me, but now it seems entirely necessary, an effective counterpoint. If I hadn’t splashed the beer in myself (and I love splashing), I might not have guessed what lurked in this concoction, but I certainly noticed it when, on the second go-round, I forgot to splash. Without hops, this margarita seemed undistinguished, pedestrian. With hops, bueno.

I know who Tyler Florence is because he hosts one of my favorite Food Network shows, The Great Food Truck Race (and Tyler’s Ultimate, which I’ve never seen) , but when I saw the name of this drink, “Ultimate Margarita,” I harrumphed. “I’ll decide about that!” I said. I’ve decided my every margarita will follow his recipe from now on.

Jonathan’s take: From the addition of lager to the double dose of orange, this is not the run of the mill happy hour special margarita.

David’s Take: Wonderful. Let spring begin… too bad it snowed this morning.

Next Week (proposed by David):

When I think of a Rusty Nail, I picture a hard-bitten detective in the chilled half-darkness of some dive, bellied up to a bar, and waxing about the gritty streets and the poetic depravity of humanity. The cop is usually a little too far from pension and nursing his or her last ounce of optimism. But I’ve never had a Rusty Nail. The recipe, it turns out, has only two ingredients, and one is pretty sweet. So maybe just the name is hard-bitten. We’ll see next week.