El Pepino

Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Wish I could say that my delay in writing this post was that this cocktail, which, in my mind, is so close to a julep, is better offered closer to Kentucky Derby Day. Truth is, like a lot of people, I’m busier than I want to be and tired most of the time.

Here, however, is a drink that might pick people up. Having lived in Louisville for a while, I have a special affection for juleps. They remind me of spring itself, those sunny and temperate days that, over the past few months of gray rain and snow, you never quite let yourself believe possible. The new green of this time of year renews hope, and mint conveys that hope beautifully. Something about mint always offers a refreshing element in food and drink.

Two of the non-julep notes of this cocktail—lime and tequila—are borrowed from margaritas and offer festive and zesty flavors too. Here’s the recipe, which comes from Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails From the Lone Star State.

1/3 fresh diced cucumber

1 ounce Mint Simple Syrup

2 ounces 100% agave silver tequila

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Fresh mint for garnish

Cucumber spear, for garnish

Mezcal (optional)

In the botton of a mixing glass, muddle the cucumber and mint syrup. Add the tequila and lime juice and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with fresh mint and a cucumber spear. You can also float some mezcal on top, if you have it. Lamentably, I did not.

Cucumber seems a popular ingredient in food and drink recently. Though there’s nearly nothing to it in terms of calories and some people might think of it adding nothing but cellulose, it enhances the other fresh, botanical dimensions of this drink. As the description in Tipsy Texan suggests, this cocktail is suited to a warm day and touts, “You’d be hard pressed to find a cocktail more refreshing than this combination of tequila, mint, and cucumber.”

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

There is a general rule that I follow when gathering the ingredients for a cocktail. If there is an item that is difficult to find, secondary to all other parts of the drink ,or just missing from the pantry—I will skip that part. It is unusual yet there are examples where I have done that and noted it. I am talking about you Chinese five spice on the rim of the glass.

This proposal calls for muddled cucumber which is fairly unusual although not completely foreign. That said, it is hardly secondary when one considers all of the other parts of this drink, which are somewhat normal in mixology. The problem was, though, that I had everything ready when it came time to make the cocktail except a cucumber. There was just a moment of hesitation before I decided I could not accurately create the El Pepino without first going to get one. Good choice.

This is a drink that is the product of all its parts working together. The mint is subtle, the sugar in the syrup a smoothing agent, the tequila distinctive but not assertive, the lime juice a contrasting yet quiet acid as it should be. The cucumber jumps out. It makes El Pepino different and distinctive to the point that I think even those who are not fans of cukes would agree that without it the mix is fairly run of the mill. I am probably wrong but my guess would be that most bars don’t stock cucumber. That’s a shame because this is a drink I would actually order without hesitation.

Jonathan’s take: I hereby apologize to the cucumber and promise to find some Pimm’s in the back of my liquor cabinet so that the cuke may shine again.

David’s take: I won’t substitute this drink for my usual Derby Day julep, but maybe every other suitable occasion.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

I do not consider calories when ordering or making a cocktail. As a beer drinker that is probably a defense mechanism. There are those who do, however, and there are recipes with just that in mind.

Once again, the proposal is an idea rather than a specific drink. I am suggesting that we try cocktails with less calories. That does not mean making simple syrup with stevia leaves, although that is a consideration, rather it is to adjust the ingredients to trim the effect on the waist line. There is no calorie limit just a general concept to lower the total from the standard version of a cocktail or to create a new drink for those who are watching what they eat—or drink.

I feels some club soda coming our way.

Mock-tails

dbmProposed by: David

Co-fulfilled by: Jonathan

This proposal to make non-alcoholic drinks originally came in honor of Dry January, an actual event in the UK promoted by Alcohol Concern. People raise money for the charity by pledging to go without drink for one month. Of course, January is long over, and this post is (my bad) overdue. I should confess I failed anyway. About January 4th, I started researching whether one month really makes up for the other eleven—surprise, surprise, it turns out moderation is the best strategy for good health. I decided to moderate instead.

Besides, there’s nothing like a “mock-tail” to make you realize most of the work of drink-making isn’t the alcohol. A few libations call for infused spirits—and we’ve done some on this blog—but, when it comes to alcohol, the hardest part of any cocktail is buying the right kind (that, and sometimes paying for it).

To prepare my mock-tail this time around, I created two new simple syrups—juniper and grapefruit/ginger. The former I created because I had some juniper left over from making my own gin, and the latter just sounded good to me. And neither were terribly creative because the first thing I did was search for recipes online, and both popped up right away

In the world of the interweb, no one is unique.

And I had no trouble finding a plethora of mock-tail recipes either. One site offered a lengthy slideshow of concoctions invented by various restaurants, and another featured some non-alcoholic alternatives to familiar libations. No claims of “just like the real thing” appeared on any of these sites. No writer would be so foolish, and, as I was sipping my mock-tail I kept imagining a designated-driver twirling his umbrella as his friends laugh about nothing that makes the driver laugh. Still, most of the drinks I encountered seemed imaginative, at least distracting.

The cocktail I chose, the Virgin Cucumber Gimlet, comes from Ocean Prime, a nationwide restaurant:

1.5 oz club soda

4-5 slices muddled cucumber

1 oz fresh line juice

1 oz simple syrup

They said to “Combine ingredients and shake with ice,” but that’s loco. Shake all of the ingredients except the soda. Add the soda to the drink in a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a rolled cucumber slice, because, without alcohol, visuals are important.

I tried this drink with both of my simple syrups, and the juniper one seemed best. It gave the drink more character and complexity. Most of the mock-tail recipes I encountered seemed much too sweet to the point of being—dare I use the word again?—cloying.

This one was sweet as well, and I tried it with tonic water and without simple syrup (a little better), but, still, something seemed to missing. I finally decided it was gin.

Jonathan’s Part:

jbm2David and I will disagree about this. I have never understood tofu. The whole purpose, in my view, is to eat a meal that is ordinarily and properly prepared with meat without that essential ingredient. The tofu is just a substitute because the person eating the meal does not eat meat, not because anyone likes tofu. I am prejudiced but would be willing to bet that they would like the dish better if it were prepared the way intended.

Okay, now that I have irritated most vegetarians we need to talk about mock-tails. The whole purpose with them is to create a drink with everything but the alcohol, yet there is no tofu to substitute. Many of the best cocktails have a bitter or contrasting element that comes from the spirits or a dash of alcohol based bitters. There just doesn’t seem to be a good tofu/substitute for those elements.

jbm1That is not to say I don’t understand a usefulness for the alcohol-less drinks. Any mock-tail google search will lead to results that start with ideas for drinks for pregnant women, which is a worthy reason. Right behind that are the “my kid wants to drink what I do and a Manhattan just doesn’t seem right in a sippy cup” explanations. That doesn’t quite rate with pregnancy as a reason for mock-tails but okay. There are a few other explanations right down to page seven of the search which would probably lists drinks for ice road truckers who want a little pop yet they can’t afford the buzz right before sliding down treacherous highways.

I did find a couple of recipes that seemed worth a try though. The first was an Italian Cream Soda. It qualified for this blog if for no other reason than it required cooking up a fruit based syrup complete with straining. That syrup is combined with sparkling mineral water, then ice and finally a small pour of cream. It is beautiful, adaptable since many fruits can be used and quite tasty. Is it a cocktail? No, not really.

The second mock-tail also followed a theme that we know oh so well. The Juicy Julep uses three freshly squeezed, and/or strained, fruit juices. I had just established enough amnesia about juicing a pineapple to try it.
1 measure fresh pineapple juice (I used 1.5 ounce for the measure)
1 measure fresh orange juice
1 measure fresh lime juice
Roughly 2 measures ginger ale
Teaspoon crushed mint
Mint, pineapple, lime or whatever for garnish
Mix juices and mint, add ice, top with ginger ale and garnish

This one had some contrast and I think a little fresh ginger root crushed with the mint might have elevated it to the contrasting spice and sweet of a real cocktail. With the garnish, it even looked like a real cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: I liked the Juicy Julep especially after I threw in a shot of rum.

David’s take: #fail

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

The mock-tail being part of the no-alcohol January resolutions, I should reveal one of my resolutions. I am trying to pare down the liquor cabinet. It is made more difficult by needing certain things for the blog and not drinking any of the liquor except when we are experimenting with a new cocktail. That said, my goal has been, with the help of friends and neighbors, to finish off bottles and only replace them with a classic or local example of that spirit. That way three types of vodka should become one and all that gin should eventually be single bottles of the most classic categories. The other way to reduce is to use up some of the oddities like Pisco. While the Pisco Sour is the classic, the Chilcano is an intriguing alternative. Not sure I can make enough to finish off the Pisco but at least it will be progress.

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.

 

Serendipity

SerendipityProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

We don’t post as often now but having reached the three year mark it is increasingly difficult to come up with a proposal. While driving to the coast to meet friends, I was thinking about the gin and tonic alternatives I’d be serving them and wondering what I would suggest for the next drink. Nothing came to mind, but one of those friends was talking about a drink he had tried at a bar in Greensboro, N.C. He knew I liked cocktails topped with sparkling wines and thought it was one I would enjoy. The word escapes me but it was almost as if I had discovered my proposed drink by accident.

The Serendipity cocktail is a somewhat recent invention of the bartender Colin Field at the Hemingway Bar in the The Ritz Paris. The history of the drink is short, but that bar and others in Paris have long histories and are credited as having been the source of some of the classics. French 75, Sidecar, Monkey Gland, and (erroneously as it ends up) the Bloody Mary are just some of those.

The two bars were locations where the famous chose to drink also. Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, Humphrey Bogart, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were all known to drink at Harry’s New York Bar and The Ritz in Paris. Even James Bond, thanks to Ian Fleming, had a drink at Harry’s.

Despite the fact that the Serendipity is not that old there are various recipes. If we only had a time machine (pronounced in true Dr. Evil fashion) we could get an exact recipe from The Hemingway Bar. Or we could simply fly to Paris and ask since that bar and The Ritz recently reopened after a major renovation. The time machine sounds more fun though. Here are two similar options:

6 mint leaves
1 teaspoon bar sugar
3/4 ounce Calvados
1 ounce clear apple juice
3-4 ounces brut champagne

Mint
1 ounce apple juice
1/2 ounce Calvados
1/2 ounce pear brandy
3-4 ounce champagne
Slice apple

For both recipes you bruise the mint, add other ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a glass with ice, top with champagne and garnish (the apple slice in the second recipe or mint and peach slices for me). I also used mint simple syrup instead of sugar and a peach/pear brandy instead of Calvados.

This is a simple, subtle yet refreshing drink. The original concept was to use apple juice from Normandy with French Calvados and champagne. Since I couldn’t get apple juice from France I chose another (less expensive) option for the brandy and garnished with peach slices to make it a true fruit salad. I would suggest the sugar or syrup if using a brut champagne.

David’s Review:

SDMA friend in college famously combined unlikely foods in his dining hall meals. He like mashed potatoes with his tacos or a side of jello salad with spaghetti. He loved to squeeze a packet of Chinese mustard into his macaroni and cheese. When we commented, he always offered the same answer. “Hey,” he’d say, “it’s all going the same place.”

I’m still not sure I know what that means (or don’t want to think about it), but I get the spirit of his approach: only unimaginative people avoid crossing categories. It’s all food.

When it comes to cocktails, some people don’t like mixing beer with spirits… or wine with spirits… or beer with wine. Okay, I get the last one, but it seems a shame not to give an occasional beertail a try, and it’s a particular shame to avoid cocktails like the Serendipity that top the concoction with a splash of champagne.

What does champagne add? The current political climate leads me to believe there’s no convincing anyone of anything, but I’ll try anyway. Here are the pluses:

  • Effervescence: I’m sure it’s a trigeminal thing, but the the bubbles definitely contribute to creating a refreshing experience.
  • Subtle sweetness: The longer this blog goes on, the more my taste for sweet abates. Sparkling wine seems to add just enough.
  • A different sort of intoxication: Beer brewers sometimes add champagne yeast last in order to digest the last bit of unmetabolized sugar. There must be something to that.
  • An unacknowledged (and unnoticed) relation between ingredients: The connections between spirits are often hidden, but champagne and Calvados both come from fruit, apples and grapes.
  • Deep associations: Somewhere in my lizard brain is the notion that champagne is somehow more celebratory… though I doubt many lizards realize the connection.

I didn’t try the peach version Jonathan discussed, but I loved the common version of this cocktail. As is often the case with a classic, everything about it seems subtle. The mint is bruised, not muddled (and, like Jonathan, I tried mint simple syrup… but thought it was too much). Calvados, while obviously apple-y, isn’t cloyingly so. When Jonathan told me about the Serendipity, he apologized for sending me to the liquor store for another ingredient—both of our bars are now full with enough choices for a block party—but he needn’t have worried. Calvados has a more versatile taste than I expected and, in future experiments, will make my tasters say, “What’s that other flavor?” Finally, the apple juice adds a fresh element to this drink without overwhelming it. If fact, in my opinion, you could do without sugar or simple syrup altogether.

David’s Take: One of my favorites, though it seems too special to drink all the time.

Jonathan’s take: Another wonderful drink thanks to a champagne topper.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Here in Chicago we are just getting some relief from some hot days, but, on the east coast, it’s hotter today than anything we experienced. It seems time for a blender drink, so I’m proposing the Rock Lobster. Since we’ve already had B 52s, it seems appropriate, but I’m ready for some fruit. It will also be fun to use that banana liquor languishing in my cabinet.

Razzle Dazzle

RazzleJmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There is a grumpy old man living in my house. Children who ride their skateboards or bikes without helmets nearby know him as the man who asks them if their brains are valuable. He is the guy who screams at commentators on television about their grasp of the startlingly obvious. Shoot, it was only a few minutes ago that he went out and yelled at the deer for eating day lilies. I am trying really hard to be more positive but I am that old man and those are small examples compared to my most common areas of contempt.

A typical commute is punctuated with outbursts. Charlotte is surely not the only town where red lights are treated as suggestions but it could be one of the worst. It is a rare day when I don’t scream, to myself in the car of course, that just because you are late or lazy doesn’t mean we have to die. Folks who fly by on the main road near our neighborhood are greeted with 3 fingers on one hand and 5 on the other to remind them it is a 35 mile an hour speed limit. Many of them signal that they are only going one mile an hour over that. At least that is what I assume that finger means.

Fortunately my wife does much of the shopping. The nearest grocery to us is located in an affluent area and most of the shoppers are either residing in their own private Idaho or just don’t care about other people. I am working hard on that positivity so last weekend when we were there I was practicing Zen and the art of not committing murder. While I was silent and ignored my fellow shoppers, my wife was the one who stated out loud, in a much more cogent a way than I would have, that we had stumbled into an entire store full of people who were grocery shopping for the very first time in their lives.

The Internet is another regular source of frustration. Don’t put proper contact info, or worse don’t reply to the contact form you do put there, and it is doubtful I will ever do business with you. A slide show that won’t load instead of a simple list? Return arrow guaranteed. Don’t even get me started on sites that just don’t work – yes si.com I mean you.

Cocktails sites are among the worst. Maybe it is a law somewhere but who are they kidding by asking users to input their date of birth? A 13 year old who inexplicably wants to know how to make a Rob Roy takes about 10 seconds to supply any date that makes them 60. Some even ask what country you are accessing the site from. I would have to give up my grumpy card if I didn’t follow the rule that if the United States is at the bottom of your drop down list your site is banished to Siberia.

The link to the Razzle Dazzle violated all of this and whole bunch of grump more. The site includes the dreaded birthday input. That would be passable if I had remembered the recipe or written it down but I did not. Each time I accessed I swore it was the last time I would have a birthday. Added to that insult was a recipe that included parts rather than exact amounts. I cook and mix drinks enough that I would be fine with that but these proportions made no sense. Five parts vodka to four parts other liquid? First there is no base measurement that works with that and second that is a lot o’ vodka.

I won’t write out the recipe they supplied and will give what I used instead:

2 ounces vodka
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
8 or more blueberries
8 or more mint leaves

Muddle mint, blueberries, lime and cranberry juice. Add vodka and ice, shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with blueberry and mint leaf. It makes a beautiful if unsatisfying drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

DazzleDmI go to bars pretty much never, but with this drink I’ve been imagining sidling up the bar and drawling, “Give me the Razzle Dazzle.” Who knows what I’d get back—perhaps the bartender would break into tap dance and song or flash me some jazz hands…. or maybe deliver a deft and surprising punch to my nose.

Knowing the name of a drink rarely helps you with what’s in it. If I walked the streets of Chicago asking passers-by what’s in a Razzle Dazzle cocktail, I’m sure I’d get as many strange guesses as one of those Thanksgiving cookbooks first grade teachers assign their classes, the ones filled with surreal recipes co-authored by Dr. Frankenstein.

No Chicagoan, I bet, would say cranberry juice. There’s little that’s razzle-y or dazzle-y about cranberry juice, and in this concoction you might have trouble identifying the ingredient. Nor, if you told them about the cranberry juice, would they say “mint” because when is that a typical pairing? Then lime (because cranberry juice plus mint cry “lime”?) A passer-by might take the hint in the word “razzle” and say “raspberries,” but that, naturally, would be wrong, This drink contains blueberries… of course.

Maybe Dr. Frankenstein coauthored this recipe after all.

“Is this confluence of unlikely ingredients mellifluous?” you ask (well, maybe not in those exact words). I’m afraid the answer, for me, is a shrug. As photos convey, the Razzle Dazzle is beautiful, and the disparate flavors do, surprisingly, go together. But I’m not a vodka fan—it adds little or nothing. Plus, even if you switch out the vodka for gin or tequila, it involves muddling—which I never do without grumbling “This had better be good”—and leaves millions of blueberry seeds to sediment the drink and mint pulp to clog the shaker.

To be fair, my wife loved this drink. She may ask for another next weekend, but, unless we happen to have cranberry juice, mint, and blueberries handy, I will not ask for another. I love the name Razzle Dazzle (Razzledazzle Marshall would be a great name for a grandchild), but, as the name of a cocktail, Razzle Dazzle is a awful lot to live up to.

David’s Take: Perfectly palatable… not that memorable

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I have work to do on the positive attitude.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Having crawled over the finish line of the school year, I’m ready for summer ahead. That means it’s gin and tonic season for me, and I thought about proposing each of us make the perfect G&T next time. But that’s too simple, right? So, instead, I’m proposing we each create a gin and tonic variation. I found some suggestions, but they are only suggestions. Each of us will add a little something of our own Gin and Tonics in a (likely misguided) attempt to improve the classic… and get summer going at last.

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.

Amazonia

Amazonia.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

One of my favorite moments in Saturday Night Live history is the “More Cowbell” bit featuring Will Ferrell and, most notably, Christopher Walken. Renowned record producer Bruce Dickinson (Walken) orchestrates Blue Öyster Cult’s recording of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” At each new take of the song, Dickinson instructs the percussionist Gene Frenkle (Ferrell) to contribute more and more cowbell. Dickinson shouts, “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.”

Don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this… for me the spotlit spirit this week, cachaça, is a sort of cowbell. One of the basic spirits in South America, it’s nonetheless exotic for most cocktailians and, yes, like cowbells, a little goes a long way.

One difference: I enjoy cachaça much more than cowbell. Cachaça hails from Brazil and was first distilled by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century. It starts with fermented sugarcane juice rather than the cooked sap. Rums start from molasses and other forms of processed sugar, but cachaça offers a much fresher, more natural, almost woody flavor. Where rum might remind you of pralines, cachaça evokes chewing on those sugarcane logs you can still find in the grocery produce section.

This post began when, visiting my sister last weekend, I checked out her liquor cabinet (a bad habit I’ve developed) and discovered three-quarters of a bottle of cachaça left over from a previous visit and previous cocktail. Loving cachaça as I do, I marveled at how she managed to hang onto it, and she said, “I have no idea what to do with it.”

Of course. Cachaça—and cowbell—isn’t for everyone, but, for me, once you have some, it begs to be used. My personal mission became finding the perfect drink for my sister. So I searched the web and found, among the top five cachaça cocktails, the Amazonia, one devised by Naren Young at the Bobo Restaurant in New York in 2008. It doesn’t actually feature that much of the Brazilian spirit, but, along with sparkling wine, it adds a prominent note. A bonus is that it includes mint, which apparently is busy taking over my brother’s and sister’s gardens.

Here’s the recipe (makes one cocktail):

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cachaça
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 8 to 10 ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) Champagne or any sparkling wine
  • 1 apple slice

In cocktail shaker, stir together cachaça and mint. Using wooden muddler or spoon, pound and press just until mint is bruised. Add ice, apple juice, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Strain into Champagne glass. Top with Champagne. Place apple slice in drink and serve immediately.

Who knows what Jonathan thinks about cachaça (or cowbell), but I’m always up for finding alternative uses for some of the bottles proliferating in our liquor cabinet.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

amazonia.jbmI have some pretty standard fears and a few that may be less normal. Thirteen is my lucky number so no problem with triskaidekaphobia, but I cannot say the same about heights (acrophobia), which must be genetic since I share that trait with our mother. One of my somewhat more peculiar fears, actually less a fear than the fact that they creep me out, is coulrophobia or the fear of clowns. Have you heard the annoying way they all laugh? Now, thanks to David, I have a fear of commas. There is no official phobia for that since the Greek and Latin for comma is essentially comma.

David told me last week that he does need to do some occasional editing especially when it comes to my violation of the Oxford comma rules. That he edits my contributions, for clarity and grammar not content, is no surprise and is welcome. He is a professional after all. I do take some pride in my use of our native language, though, and now I plan to write with nary a pause unless absolutely necessary.

By now this should make one wonder if I even tried the drink this week or if I tried too many. I did try it and loved it. We could probably create a list of our favorite drinks that are topped with sparkling wine, and it would be a matter of splitting hairs between the best of the best. There is something about that additive that elevates and enhances a drink. The only drawback, as I have mentioned before, is that once you open that bottle of bubbly you need to use it.

There are not too many variations of the Amazonia, but one that I did find suggested white cranberry juice instead to the apple juice. Looking for a more clear drink I chose that route although I could only find peach/white cranberry. It is such a small amount that there is probably not much difference other than there is an interesting sweetness. The garnishes were an apple slice, blueberry and raspberry. The last two were just because I have both those plants in my yard, and the total harvest is so small that I wanted to showcase them. Might have wiped out the total raspberry haul in one round of drinks depending on what the deer miss over the next week.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I should invest in champagne splits and try topping all of my drinks with it.

David’s Take: I gotta have more cachaça. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cachaça… and (personal taste) maybe a little less sparkling wine.

Next week (Proposed By: Jonathan):

The very first drink in this blog came from Garden and Gun magazine. I am suggesting another called the Redless Snapper that was created at Foundation bar in Raleigh and featured in an article in the magazine about local spirits. I could be accused of making another shameless attempt at a sponsorship from Cardinal gin but the truth is I have been trying to find a lighter version of the Bloody Mary. This drink is a variation on the Red Snapper (the gin version of Bloody Mary) and uses tomato water in lieu of tomato juice. Making that tomato water is a little complicated, so I apologize in advance to anyone making these drinks along with us.

Moving Sale

Moving Sale Ver 2Proposed By: David

Enacted By: David and Jonathan

Maybe the expression, “Necessity is the mother of invention” shouldn’t apply to cocktails. Putting aside the troublesome aspects of drinking being a “necessity,” mixology seems a more deliberate science involving arduous research and development, subtle variation and adjustment, measurement and refinement. The ingredients are too precious after all, and no one wants a bartender who presents some sloppy, improvised “invention.” And yet…

We’re moving this week, and, for the past week or so, I’ve been roaming my house sorting through our possessions, boxing some and giving or throwing the rest away. Anyone who’s transplanted recently knows that moment when you realize these things possess you and not the other way around and decide you really should have hired a hot-air balloon for your move instead of a truck.

As fun as it is being a not-so-savvy cocktailian, my liquor shelf feels especially burdensome, with all those bottles I’d opened for a few ounces and the others I’ve used nearly to the bottom. Well, the luridly colored Crème de Menthe, Crème de Violette, and Blue Curacao will have to come with us, and—who knows?—someday I may have a serious hankering for Kahlua or Tuaca (because stranger things have happened), but surely I can do something about those dregs.

Anyway, that’s the thinking behind this week’s cocktail challenge. I wanted to invent a drink called The Moving Sale to consume those spirits and other ingredients near exhaustion. On my mythical moving company hot-air balloon, every ounce is precious, so I gathered some candidates for casting off and set out to experiment.

Had my standards been lower, I could have chosen a number of bottles, but I ended up with just those pictured above, each with an ounce or two of liquid remaining, plus some stuff in the refrigerator like coconut cream and homemade grenadine that simply had to go. I even included my Pechaud and Orange Bitters, though it might take another year or so to spend the last couple of ounces of those.

Here are the two drinks I invented (followed by a brief appraisal):

Moving Sale Drink 1Moving Sale 1:

1 oz. Frangelico

2 oz. Aquavit

2 oz. Grenadine

1 oz. Lemon Juice

Fill a shaker with ice and all the ingredients, shake, and serve.

The Frangelico stands up remarkably well against the Aquavit, and, because it’s on the sweet side with the addition of grenadine, it needs the lemon and bitters to balance it.

Moving Sale 2:

2.5 oz. Tequila Blanco

2 oz. coconut cream

Macerated Mint Leaves

2 dashes orange bitters

Fill a shaker with ice and all the ingredients, shake, and serve.

This one seemed a little odd to me. For one, coconut cream must work better with rum and, for another, mint and coconut? Still, as strange as it seems, this version had a nice botanical gravity.

Here’s Jonathan’s version:

This week’s drink proposal, concept really, was birthed from David’s need to purge before a move. Every time David mentions relocating I think back to when he and my sister-in-law, Beth, left Louisville. He is anything but a sentimentalist when it comes to things, at least ordinary things, and he claimed that each time during that move there was a disagreement about whether to move something or chunk it he slipped a note in the box. That note said something to the effect that if it had not been discovered before the next move the item or items had to be abandoned.

With that memory in mind, I have been imagining Beth paying him back. I see her dropping tiny waterproof capsules into the odd bottle of spirit. Each capsule in this scenario contains an even tinier note that tells the discoverer the liquor must be dumped if the note has not been read by a set date. Of course, I haven’t told my wife about this strange fantasy for fear that I will someday wonder what is floating in those bottles of crème de menthe, blue curacao, and crème de violette.

The real idea for this week was to take three items that were in short supply and exhaust them in a simple mixed drink. It could also have meant that I was supposed to make up my own drink, but during the week I rediscovered the Preakness cocktail. Devoted readers and followers of all things horse racing know that the official drink of The Preakness is now the Black Eyed Susan (a new sponsored version), but at one time it was a Manhattan variation. It is a mix of 2 ounces rye whiskey, 1 ounce red vermouth, ½ teaspoon of Benedictine and two dashes of Angostura bitters. All of that is stirred with ice, strained into a coupe and garnished with lemon peel.

If the true intent was to empty bottles it was a smashing success. First, I had an old bottle of vermouth that had long ago gone bad in the fridge and it was emptied and recycled without using any of it. The next dead soldier was a bottle of rye. In fact, I thought I had two of those, but the other must have gone away long ago so we worked on finishing a wheat whiskey that may never be gone. The bonus was that we had relatives over and a dwindling bourbon bottle breathed its last vanilla and oak scented breaths. We’re not moving so I can’t wait to see what takes their place.

Jonathan’s take: I like this idea. Wonder what crème de violette, crème de menthe and blue curacao mixed together would taste like?

David’s take: Maybe both of my drinks should be called accident, but—if so—they were happy accidents.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I knew there had to be a classic that we have missed, and there was. Since David will still be in the process of moving, I am suggesting a whiskey sour. Surely in a big city like Chicago, David can find that and a few dozen variations too no doubt.

 

Pimm’s #1 Cup

pimmsJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

This drink has intrigued me for a long time. I am not ashamed to admit that it was simply the name and pictures of the drink that did it too. The first part was curiosity about who, or what, Pimm was and whether there were other numbers of cups. Pull out or pull up any well illustrated cocktail guide and one will see what I mean about the pictures. The drink is usually an amber liquid packed with fruit, cucumber, mint and ice. It screams summer.

It ends up that James Pimm was a restaurateur in London who owned an oyster bar. The number 1 elixir he created in the 1840’s was a liqueur of gin, quinine and herbs meant as a curative (what else) and digestif. It was mixed in large batches, much like the punches of American bars of the 1800’s, and served by the tankard or cup full. The popularity increased to the point that it began to spread to other bars, eating establishments, and eventually by the bottle.

The popularity of the #1 continues today. It is a popular summer drink in Britain with various sources suggesting that 40-80 thousand pints are sold during the Wimbledon tennis tournament alone. Even New Orleans claims the drink (erroneously) as a summer cocktail of lower alcohol content for those who don’t want to drink less, but do want to pace themselves. There were other numbers, five others in fact, that were made with different spirit bases but only the #1 and a winter cup are sold widely now.

There doesn’t seem to be one definitive recipe, and I will be curious to see how David concocted it. The basics are one part of Pimm’s #1 to two to four parts mixer with a garnish of fruit, cucumber and mint. The mixer of choice is lemon-lime soda (called lemonade in England apparently), but alternatives include ginger ale or soda water for those who want to cut the sweet. I made three versions but each started with this basic mix of liqueur, cucumber and fruit:

2 ounces Pimm’s #1
1 slice cucumber (recipes said English cuke but I have no idea what that is)
1 wheel of lemon
A few pieces of quartered strawberries
Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries

In the basic version those were stirred together, ice added, and it was all topped with 4 ounces of lemon lime soda that was stirred in lightly. I forgot the mint, but that would have been a good time to add it.

Other versions simply added or substituted. The first was a strawberry version that started the day before. I blended up a bunch of strawberries, strained them through a sifter until I had a cup of liquid, and then warmed that in sauce pan with a cup of sugar to make a strawberry syrup (nothing simple about it). In case you were wondering, it is excellent drizzled over a piece of toast that had been smeared with peanut butter. That’s healthy, right? The final version was the basic recipe with ginger ale instead of lemon-lime soda. The standard Blenheim worked well although someone who really wanted to elevate the drink could try the extra hot. The subtle Pimm’s might get lost in that though.

The end result of all this experimenting is a cocktail as healthy as any we have tried. I tasted the strawberry syrup version, but preferred the basic or the ginger ale mix. All of the tasters ended up digging out the fruit at the end and eating it as the dessert part of the cocktail meal. Tasty.

And Here’s David’s Review:

PimmyMy encounters with British literature, television, and cinema have taught me some important Britishisms like “in hospital” instead of “in THE hospital,” the pronunciation of “Frus-TRAIT-ed” and the spelling of “gaol” instead of “jail.”

This exposure to British culture has also created some lasting curiosities, like, “How do you pronounce ‘Pshaw’?” and “What the hell does Pimm’s taste like?”

Thanks to Jonathan, I can at least tentatively answer one of those questions. As is my practice, I tried a little Pimm’s before adding it to this week’s cocktail. I decided Pimm’s is red. It’s amber, as Jonathan said, but it tastes rather, well… red. It’s not that it’s strawberry or cherry or cinnamon or punch or anything that must be red. It possesses the unspecified flavor of foods with a convenient rather than essential color. It’s citrusy (sort of) and spicy (sort of), which I suppose makes it a good mixer with soft drinks, gin, and other spirits.

By itself, meh.

The proper sort of additives, however, must really make this drink. I made my version with lemon, strawberry, cucumber, and mint. I see how the combination works. Lemon is more sour than sweet, and, when a strawberry is perfect, it’s sweet but also acidic. Cucumber has a surprisingly distinctive settling strength when it’s used indulgently. Mint is aromatic, and, though it’s not as important here as in a julep, it renders the cocktail a more complete sensory experience.

But I also made strawberry syrup. And that syrup… and that Seven-Up. I suspect that, with better strawberries or less sugar, I might like the syrup more, but it was dense and sickly sweet and, for me, sunk any chance of the drink being refreshing or light. The Seven-Up only added to that effect. We tried other versions—my wife had a second made with lemon-lime seltzer and I used tonic for the second version—but both still seemed heavy. If I was going to create a drink like this from scratch, I’d just muddle the cucumber, strawberry, and mint and have done with it.

Of course, I’d like to try this drink at Wimbledon. What drink wouldn’t taste better amid such pageantry? And whenever one of our concoctions doesn’t wow me, I wonder what I must have done wrong, what secret I missed in preparing it. How can such a popular drink not wow me? Perhaps the problem was how I cooked the syrup or the proportions of soft drink to alcohol or the gray (or should that be “grey”) stormy weather outside that seemed to call for a tarp and a rain delay. I don’t know. I just wasn’t blown away.

I’m happy, however, to have a bottle of Pimm’s #1 to experiment with, and some interesting possibilities for its use occurred to me right away. Maybe Pimm’s means to be a supporting player, the understated actor who draws no attention to him or herself but assembles the assemble. I’ll find out.

Jonathan’s take: Some days, like this Mother’s Day spent with Pimm’s, I wish we could stop at favorite drink for a while. Science and experimentation beckons us though.

David’s Take: I wanted to really love it and only liked it.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’re moving soon, and I keep staring at my liquor shelf, thinking which bottles are closest to being empty, which contents can be consumed and bottles jettisoned before we load everything else on a truck. Thus, selfishly, I’m proposing a drink called “Moving Sale” invented in his own way by Jonathan and my own way by me. The rules are that it consist of three ingredients we might exhaust. My respect for the spare and simple life grows as we gather our stuff in boxes. Let’s raise a drink to casting off.

Julep Varietals

JulepDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I went to the Kentucky Derby with our wives in the mid 80s, we parked our infield picnic blanket next to some proto-bros with a water balloon catapult. A couple of races in, they found their range and pinned a poor racing form seller inside his tin hut. An official-looking person arrived with commands to desist, but by then they were out of ammo anyway. Around three in the afternoon, they began launching their uneaten ham sandwiches instead.

People drink a lot at the Derby.

Churchill Downs’ mint juleps have a reputation for being a little watery, but I think I remember downing a few that day. And it makes me laugh when people talk about juleps as a genteel drink. At three parts bourbon to one part simple syrup, home versions can be quite strong. The idea is to sip them, allowing the ice to dilute their potency, but I enjoy them so much I seldom manage it.

A mint julep is technically a “smash,” a group of drinks defined by spirit (not necessarily bourbon), crushed ice, and macerated mint (or basil, or something leafy). The idea is to coat the glass with the oils of the leaf and lend an aromatic quality to the libation. In the classic julep, mint simple syrup is the short cut. In one of the julep alternatives I tried, “The Wild Ruffian,” (here’s a link to the recipe) the syrup is made of peach preserves, and the mint is pulverized with a muddler. That drink also called for cognac instead of bourbon, so I doubt anyone would recognize the concoction as a “julep.” Nor do I think Churchill Downs would ever serve one… or certainly not in the infield.

Another of the drinks both Jonathan and I tried was the Oaks Lily (recipe link), named for the featured race for fillies highlighting the day before the Derby. When I lived in Louisville, seeing the Oaks in the grandstands was actually affordable and accessible for commoners—no more, apparently—and the Oaks Lily is also suitably direct, relying on vodka over bourbon and cranberry and lime juices, plus a splash of triple sec, instead of simple syrup. Not a sprig of mint is to be seen anywhere, so it wouldn’t really qualify as a smash, just a way to preserve Saturday for the real julep.

As Jonathan explains below, he tried yet another julep alternative called a Bufala Negra, but, despite our experimentation, we both needed to make real juleps too. It’s not that they’re fancy—what could be plainer than 3:1 bourbon to syrup?—but they are tradition. And, if they are good enough for infielders, they are good enough for us.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JulepJMIt has been my impression that there are many places where the idea of a mint julep is met with disdain. The drink is decidedly a bourbon concoction, but if you love bourbon you don’t need, or want, the dilution and sweetening of the mint or simple syrup. If it is the latter that you like, there’s a good chance that bourbon is not your favorite. All of that is a shame because of how well the flavors go together.

Many years ago David and I had a very bad bourbon experience, and I had sworn off the stuff. A beach trip with our siblings and families helped with my gradual tolerance, and eventual embrace, of the brown liquor. Each sibling had a night when they were responsible for dinner and a cocktail and David chose to make juleps. The key to his mix was a well-crafted mint simple syrup that, to me, makes the difference in a julep. By mixing mint in the syrup, there is no need for dissolving sugar in water, muddling of mint or waiting for the inevitable melding. The two ingredients just mix with their friend crushed ice and a long sip later make for a wonderful combination.

This week was about alternatives though and we tried a couple of them. The first was a drink that was suggested in Southern Living that both David and I tried. I trust that David has provided the recipe for the Blush Lily which is the magazine’s take on the classic drink. It is a nice alternative for those who don’t like bourbon although some may find it more tart than sweet with lime and cranberry as the juices. We tried adding a splash of Blenheim ginger ale and that seemed to address that aspect as well as extend the drink.

My second alternative julep is called the Bufala Negra. I have no idea where that name came from but it is a mix of bourbon and basil with an interesting twist:

4 basil leaves
1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
½ ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounce bourbon

Muddle 3 basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and simple syrup. Add bourbon, crushed ice and stir. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.

The interesting part of this drink is how well the flavors mix. I was wary of drinking even a small amount of vinegar, but mixed with the basil and syrup it was a great match for bourbon. The end result was a less bourbon forward cocktail that still had the sweetness and herbal qualities of a classic julep.

Jonathan’s Take: The classic julep is still the best, but the Blush Lily is great for those who don’t love bourbon and the Negra is an interesting alternative for those who love variety.

David’s Take: The classic is still king, but the others are welcome variations

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I have been getting some grief about proposing the drink of Wimbledon well before the sporting event. The Pimm’s Cup is a classic drink of summer, however, and there seem to be a number of varieties that showcase different fruits. It is strawberry season all over the country and I wanted a drink that used that fruit without being a return to the sweetness and rum of tiki week.