Cherry Pisco Hot Chocolate

IMG_0528Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Like any family, ours gathers familiar and funny memories and, while we don’t recall them exactly the same way, the disputes hardly matter. Each represents the joy we found in growing up together.

One of my favorite stories involves my father’s scheme for creating a Christmas more glorious than grand. He would drive all five children to a local five-and-dime store and then give each child six dollars with which to buy six presents. The store was small—it only had one toy aisle—and our shopping spree required stealth, speed, misdirection, and guile.

My strategy was to buy the same things for each person each year. One of my sisters would receive bath beads with dissolving skins, and, once the Christmas spirit passed, these became projectiles. My older brother received another plastic lizard… though he was already too old to play with them.

Jonathan was toughest, but I had faith anything related to sports would make him happy. Only… this store had nothing more sporty than super-balls… and what can you buy for a dollar? One year, I discovered a baseball with a stick in it—it was purely decorative, filled with cork, intended to be stuck into a flower arrangement—but I cut the stick off and claimed it was an regulation baseball. The first time Jonathan walloped it, the ball hooked a few feet into the infield and came to rest a new shape, flattened like a moon of Mars. “Wow,” I said, “you can really hit!”

The six-dollar experience hasn’t worn off altogether. Some few Christmases later, I learned Jonathan loved chocolate covered cherries and, on more than one holiday, bought him a box. This week’s cocktail is an adaptation designed to mimic those cherries… while also using some ingredients gathering on my liquor shelf. I worried Jonathan might be tired of chocolate cherries, but he assured me he wasn’t. I hope he wasn’t being nice, as he was after the destruction of the one-hit-wonder baseball.

The cherry flavor in this cocktail comes from Cherry Heering, and the original recipe suggests you can use rum as the primary spirit. Rum’s cane sugar profile makes sense with chocolate, I think. But, as the name of this cocktail suggests, it calls for Pisco, a Chilean (or Peruvian) brandy, which is not something I ever imagined being pared with chocolate. I’m sure I never had a Pisco-flavored chocolate covered cherry, which is at least some deviation from the usual.

Here’s the recipe… adapted:

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

pinch kosher salt

3 cups whole milk

4 ounces milk chocolate chips

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

3 ounces Cherry Heering

4 ounces pisco or rum

4 (2-inch) segments orange zest

Whipped cream and candied orange peel garnish
In medium saucepan, stir cocoa with sugar and salt. Stir in milk, milk chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate. Heat over medium heat until, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and mixture is hot. Gently whisk to completely homogenize mixture.

Add Cherry Heering and Pisco or rum. Divide into four serving cups. Rub rim of each cup with orange zest. Top with whipped cream, candied orange peel, and orange zest. Serve immediately.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JBMMy sister-in-law’s memory is excellent. I did, and do, enjoy chocolate covered cherries. Those can range from the cheapest—I hope everyone knows that is defined by how many have broken and are stuck to the inner plastic—to the exotic. I am proud to say the higher end versions are where I lean, but not so proud to admit that I will eat any type. I am also not beyond the rationalization that the fruit, and dark chocolate in some cases, offers some measure of health food status to the confection. Do not attempt to dissuade on that either because it would ruin the whole fruit pie for breakfast deception too.

There is no way to review this cocktail without stating that it is chocolate. Cocoa powder, milk chocolate chips and bittersweet chocolate chips ensure that. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of each type of chip and whether that is volume or weight (my assumption), it exceeded the ability of the milk to completely dissolve. One of the tasters, we’ll call him Josh, described it as liquid candy bar and that is most apt. We tried more whipped cream to cut it, but it remained only slightly below chocolate fountain consistency.

The best part of the drink was the Cherry Heering, not surprisingly given my bias. I’m not sure where the Pisco went but am glad that it was there to help keep all of that chocolate from reconstituting as a solid. Since we decided to alter the recipe and use Heering instead of Cointreau, I skipped the orange zest and candied orange garnish but it would have been a nice touch. I wonder if they make chocolate covered cherries with candied orange? Might need to go look for that.

Jonathan’s take: I have to try this one again with much less chocolate for research purposes.

David’s take: I like chocolate, but I’d like less chocolate here.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

By now you should have made your list, checked it twice, and be completely confident you have determined the naughty/nice categories. There should be wrapped presents for all close family, trifles or better for the neighbors and a stock of end of year goodies to consume before the resolutions kick in. Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree, decked halls, and rum soaked fruit cake should complete the list. So what is left? Wassailing of course. Next week, we’ll be preparing a wassail with whatever recipe the maker chooses. The only requirement is that it contain enough spirit to stir the imbiber to share a few Christmas carols with friends and family.

Cohasset Punch #2

CocktailSProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The strange origin story of Cohasset Punch #2 begins with a Chicago bartender named Gus Williams, who was invited to travel to small Cohasset, Massachusetts by William Henry Crane, a popular comic actor of the Victorian period. According to accounts of the day, Chicago loved the actor’s creative use of transformative greasepaint and face prosthetics, and he was a much-demanded and much-lionized figure in Chicago theaters. The association between Williams and Crane was a business matter—to celebrate his success on the Chicago boards properly, Crane needed a bartender he could trust to serve drinks during the infamously large and raucous parties he hosted at his vacation home back east.

It was on this trip that Gus Williams invented Cohasset Punch, a cocktail using canned peaches, rum, sweet vermouth, orange bitters (later Grand Marnier), and lemon juice. The drink started with half a peach at the bottom of a large coupe glass, followed by ice, with the shaken spirit and lemon combination (plus some syrup from the peaches) poured over.

Williams carried his recipe, which he kept secret, back to Chicago, and it became one of the most popular drinks in his bar. Eventually, he sold his formula to The Lardner Brothers Saloon on West Madison Street, which they later adorned with a neon sign reading, “Home of Cohasset Punch.” The Lardner Brothers bottled the drink as well. Despite their efforts to keep Williams’ secret, the drink also became popular—under other names—throughout the city.

LadnerBrosStreetShotJJBy the 1950s, the sign was a curiosity, but for a long time, Chicagoans thought of it as the city’s signature cocktail. As I mentioned last week, it appears in Saul Bellow’s first novel Dangling Man when he describes the quintessential Chicago arts party with spare Swedish furniture, brown carpet, prints of Chagall and Gris, vines on the mantelpiece, and a bowl of Cohasset Punch. I haven’t read the novel, but my understanding is the punch went down much too easily. The evening ended with the hostess haranguing all assembled.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I made a Cohasset Punch as it was originally formulated—being a Chicagoan, I sort of had to. However, reviews that described the drink as “pleasant enough” encouraged me to focus on the update, Cohasset Punch #2 created by Mathias Simonis (from Distil in Milwaukee). The canned peach is gone—it’s so not 21st century, right?—and it adds cinnamon simple syrup, which involves steeping cinnamon sticks in regular simple syrup. You’ll see what Jonathan thought of the cocktail, but I have a spice store near me and bought some Vietnamese cinnamon for the syrup and, wow, it made a spicy and pleasant concoction. Here’s how to make the new and improved Cohasset Punch #2:

2 oz Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

The first thing everyone says, or asks, when you tell them the drink of the week is the Cohasset Punch #2 is, “What about #1?” David has described the differences so my simple response of “canned peaches” makes more sense. At least more sense than the other response, “So it could get to the other side.”

It is more than Labor Day as this week and weekend marked the end of summer with a celebration of marriage and the unofficial beginning of fall. My wife and I ended last week at a beautiful family wedding in Charleston and continued the fun at our first tailgate of the college football season in Chapel Hill. The first event was not short on festive parties, but the cocktail had to wait until the latter event to be unveiled.

The other part of the context of this week’s selection needs to come with a qualifier. That qualifier is that I do read books other than those related to libations, spirits, and drinking, but I am currently back on that category of non-fiction. I am reading And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. David’s suggestion of this cocktail came just as I was getting to the chapter related to the era of rum punch, so it seemed to be particularly apt.

There is little question, at least to me, that the best part of this drink is the cinnamon simple syrup, although that may also be why it is not found at more bars. That syrup provides a background taste and sweetness that gives the punch a depth beyond the classic image of punch. Both the orange bitters and lemon twist add to that depth. In fact, the first batch we shared with tailgaters was without the lemon twist, and there was a noticeable improvement when it was added. The drink could have been a little less sweet (maybe a substitute for sweet vermouth), but that may not be in keeping with the whole punch concept. This was the most elegant punch I have ever had, perhaps the only elegant one, and it punctuated the end of summer.

Jonathan’s take: Never doubt the subtlety of the perfect garnish (lemon twist in this case) and what it adds to a drink.

David’s Take: The story might be better than the drink, but cinnamon simple syrup has promise for future cocktails

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The suggestion is to return to the top 100 classics with the Tequila Sunrise. There is a wonderful article on the Huffington Post site by Anneli Rufus reintroducing the drink and providing some new twists available at bars across the country. David will have the opportunity to try one, or more, in person since three of those bars are in Chicago. My plan is to try the Rising Sun created at the Departure Restaurant and Lounge in Portland, Oregon, but I will have to make it myself. Any excuse to make my own grenadine is okay with me though.

 

 

LIbertea

iteaProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

As far as I’m concerned, the southern intonation of “sweet tea” can’t be rendered phonetically in prose, as it contains bent notes divergent from most American English. Though sweet tea as a concept entered my consciousness long ago, my clearest memory of hearing the term was during college at Wake Forest, late one semester when I was flush with unspent meal credit. That was the only time I’d think of visiting the Magnolia Room, the most upscale of all the dining options, complete with white tablecloths, baskets of rolls before dinner, and student servers. I remember scheming to make our server, a friendly classmate from Charlotte, use the words “sweet tea” over and over just to hear them spoken properly.

I like to hear Jonathan’s wife Debbie say the words as well—she knows, as a true North Carolinian, how they ought to be delivered. Maybe sweet tea isn’t exclusively a North Carolina thing, but it receives proper reverence there, and rightly so. It’s can’t be good for you, but, if you have a sweet tooth as I do, it’s a treat.

All of which is prefatory to saying this week’s cocktail, Libertea, feels like a variety of sweet tea to me… only alcoholic. I found the recipe online and thought it’d be appropriate for July 4th celebrations. Despite the name, I seriously doubt Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Patrick Henry invented this cocktail. It must have originated with the folks who make Wild Turkey, as it involves both the bourbon and a cordial called American Honey made by the same company. Add lemonade and black tea to the liquor, and you have an Arnold Palmer—who also went to Wake Forest, by the way—only with a kick.

The recipes, in fact, demand you make the stuff in quantity. I couldn’t find any versions that whittled the contents down to a single serving. So, like Jonathan, I split it between a mint and basil version. While it looks intimidating to pour in alcohol measured in fractions of a cup, the potent part of the recipe is proportionally small—which is to say, you can drink a lot before you realize it’s creeping up on you… sort of the way your weight creeps up on you if you subsist on sweet tea. I’ll leave the full review to Jonathan but will offer at least this warning—yes, the bourbon is in there, wait.

And I’ll tell you the recipe, of course:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups lemonade
  • 4 black tea bags
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I made half a batch with basil and half with mint)
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 cups American Honey Liqueur

Preparation: In a large saucepan, boil 2 cups water.Remove from heat; add 4 teabags of black tea. Steep 8 minutes; discard teabags. Add 2 cups cold water and lemonade; transfer to pitcher and chill. Add fresh basil (or mint) leaves. Using a wooden spoon, crush leaves until fragrant. Stir in bourbon and American Honey.

liberteaalsoAnd here’s Jonathan’s Review:

David has felt that he has been on the schneid in his cocktail choices. A quick review of the last couple of months shows that it is not true, although I might suggest that he avoid suggesting oddly colored drinks. I also don’t believe that tasty or even enjoyable mixes were ever part of our mission. It makes perfect sense that we would hope to suggest and try something we could enjoy, but our mission was to explore”… exotic, classic and forgotten mixed drinks.” Whether he was on the schneid or not doesn’t matter this week, as this is one of the best cocktails that we have tried.

The recipe has a lot of steps like many of the ones we have sampled recently. This one began, as I am sure David has described, by making tea, adding lemonade and infusing with basil. We both decided, following David’s suggestion in his introduction, to try infusing half with basil and half with mint. I gave up on the idea of working out proportions and decided instead to make the full batch (split for the infusions) since there are usually others who want to taste the week’s creation and it probably keeps pretty well. Plus there is always the hope that our follower, Jerry, might show up in town with cup in hand.

The highlight of the Libertea is the perfect amount of enough sweetness to the drink. Between the lemonade and the American Honey, the sweet combines perfectly with the bourbon, basil (or mint), and black tea spices. I am inclined towards iced tea as a beverage anyway, and often mix it half sweet and half unsweet, so this is the alcoholic version of that. Add the lemonade and I have to wonder why someone hasn’t worked out how to make this a bar staple. Since we tried two versions, it should be noted that the basil version, to me, was the better of the two.

Jonathan’s take: Tea, lemonade, bourbon and spice mixed to perfection.

David’s take: Nostalgic and intoxicating… perfect.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I wanted to go back to rum as the base. There are quite a few exotic and tropical alternatives, but I decided to go with another classic of the tropical set – the Mai Tai. Some recipes require two mixes, grenadine and orgeat, which need to be made in advance but the version I am leaning towards skips the grenadine. All recipes require small paper parasols.

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

 

Irish Eyes

Irish EyesProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I learned recently that, among major cities, Chicago ranks third in the percentage of people who identify themselves as “Of Irish descent.” Boston and Philadelphia are ahead of us, but I’d bet my Shillelagh that, the Saturday they dye the Chicago River green, people who report being Irish jumps 1000%.

It’s an odd day to be sober, and I generally stay indoors. Venturing out means weaving between bands of luridly green revelers—shouting, laughing, and pointing at nothing I see. Trolleys roll by with loudly babbling passengers hanging out windows like rag dolls. Every bar seems packed to the walls, and the cabbies just smile all day.

These celebrants aren’t drinking Irish whiskey—at least not until their judgment’s gone—they drink green beer. This cocktail, Irish Eyes, is a little more sophisticated, and I chose it because the recipe I found compared it to a White Russian, a drink I associate with genteel settings. Plus, none of our mixed drinks have used cream or crème de menthe, and I thought we might expand our palette.

The other ingredient, as I mentioned, is Irish Whiskey, a variety of whiskey distilled three times, making it smoother and less smoky than Scotch and very different from Canadian Whiskey, Bourbon, or Rye. Irish whiskey uses a mash of cereal grains rather than specializing and, after falling from being the most popular whiskey in the U.S., it’s made a resurgence of late, so that, since 1990, it’s the fastest growing spirit in the world.

I chose Powers, and here’s why. Bushmills is older (licensed by King James in 1708) and Jamisons more well-known, but I drank Powers when I visited Ireland in 1980 on a college trip, sitting at the same table with Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon, two of my Irish poet heroes. I didn’t say much at that meeting, but I heard a lot. Though I can’t say I’ve had much Powers (or any Irish Whiskey) since then, but maybe that’s because I didn’t want to dilute such an important memory.

But enough whiskey-induced nostalgia, here’s the recipe:

Preparation:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into an old-fashioned glass.
  4. Garnish with the maraschino cherry.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure ’tis like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing
When Irish hearts are happy, all the world seems bright and gay,
And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.

The proposal this week was for a drink to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. It is certainly a much bigger celebration in Chicago than it is in Charlotte, but for that matter every city in America pales in comparison to Chicago on that front.

To help make up for that and as part of the celebration, I decided to brine (or corn in this case) a brisket to enjoy with boiled vegetables for a true holiday meal. That is a weeklong preparation that involves weaponizing pickling spices (heating and then crushing them in a sinus damaging way), and making a brine with water, salt, pink salt and sugar. All of that is mixed and the brisket soaked for the week in the solution. The vegetables are simpler since they are simply boiled in the liquid in which the brisket was simmered.

We have tried apertifs, digestifs, and drinks that go with meals. This drink was less after dinner than it is a dessert. It is also our first time using Irish whiskey. Both of those factors made it a nice follow up to the weighty, and salty, meal that preceded it. The crème de menthe was the interesting part, both in the pale green color it gives the drink and how just a small amount strongly flavors it. We did try a version with Kahlua instead of the crème de menthe and it might be my partiality to coffee, but it made an even better drink/dessert. Not for St. Patrick’s Day though, that is for the drinking of the green.

As for the chorus from Irish Eyes at the beginning? It has little to do with the review. I just thought since David had planted the tune in my brain all week, I would try to return the favor

Jonathan’s take: A nice little dessert beverage to celebrate the holiday.

David’s take: Tasted like melted mint ice cream with a kick to it… absolutely none of which was bad, actually.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):

Next Sunday is National Chip and Dip Day. It may not have the panache and acclaim of St. Patrick’s Day, nor be as important as the vernal equinox but how can we not celebrate? The day screams for a margarita and my proposal is Tyler Florence’s ultimate margarita.

The La Marque

Proposed by: JonathanLa Marque

Reviewed by: David

The first cocktail in this endeavor was the Tallulah. It was a nostalgic nod to combining cola and salted peanuts. You can go back through the weeks to find our reviews, but in general it was someone else’s nostalgia and made me start thinking about some food or beverage that David and I shared in our past that could inspire a cocktail.

The other piece of background that many of you probably already know that David wrote a book, The Lost Work of Wasps, that is a series of essays about memory and memories. It is a fantastic exploration of what we remember, how we recall things and some of the thoughts about memory that others have shared. The first thought that stood out to me in reading it are that memories are as unique as those who hold them. Just as a single event can be perceived differently by two people observing it at the same time, our memories are shaded by our perception immediately and shaped by that perception over time. The second thing I thought about is how it is not always the earth-shattering that we recall most vividly, but instead those things that resonate with us no matter how seemingly trivial. It is that last thought that brought me back to Big Red Soda.

Big Red Soda dates back to 1927, or so the label tells me. It was a regional soft drink only distributed in Texas and Kentucky and was unique for both its flavor and nuclear red color. Described as an American cream soda, it does not have a flavor associated with red (think cherry or strawberry) as much as it does the vanilla presence of cream soda. Other flavor descriptors include lemon and orange, although from my own perspective there is something “red” to it. The rights are now owned by a national company and it is available all over, which is something I did not realize when I sought it out during a visit to Texas recently.

The memory part is that it stands out as the drink of our childhood. There were always the ubiquitous colas and variations, but Big Red was unique to where we lived. It was a special treat to go the 7-11 or gas station within walking distance or when our Mother bought a six pack. It was also a great disappointment when our other brother, the oldest of five children, explained in logical detail why the extra bottle of every six pack was rightfully his. Just as David explored in his book, I am sure there are flaws to this memory, but before trying it again I could always recall its presence and the odd color without any recollection of the exact taste.

My cocktail version was never intended to be a perfect mimic. The most important parts were vanilla, the red color and carbonation. It is a very sweet soft drink and losing some of that was a good trade off for the adult alcoholic version. The drink starts with vanilla vodka, one of the astounding number of flavored vodkas available, and includes Grenadine, a cocktail staple, in a made-at-home version. The red is achieved with pomegranate in part because of taste but mostly because, where we grew up in south Texas, pomegranate bushes grew well enough that they could be encountered in many yards. The following is the recipe I came up with through the help of a taste-testing spouse and friends, and yes, I made them try the original Big Red first:

1.5 ounce vanilla vodka (I didn’t skimp here and went with Stoli’s)

1 ounce triple sec for the orange

1 ounce grenadine (recipe for home made follows)

3 ounces club soda

lemon wedge to garnish

Mix all the ingredients, add ice and stir.

This version of Grenadine is less sweet and, though I may be color blind, got me mighty close to the right color:

1/4 cup sugar (I used demerara sugar because I had it for another drink)

1 cup pure pomegranate juice

seeds from 1/2 fresh pomegranate

1 small lemon

x

Bring sugar, pomegranate juice and the slightly smashed seeds of half a pomegranate to a boil, then reduce to simmer for at least five minutes to concentrate it to a more syrupy consistency. Once that is done, halve the lemon, squeeze the juice into the syrup and drop the halves into the syrup. Let it steep and cool then remove the lemons, strain it through cheese cloth and add a little regular vodka as a preservative if you think it will stay in your refrigerator more than a couple of weeks. Seems like a lot of trouble, but worth it for a less sweet grenadine.

Here’s to memories and a drink I call the La Marque in remembrance of a the small town in Texas where we grew up.

And here’s David’s review:

My brother has me at a disadvantage here. I remember my older brother’s elaborate argument for the special privilege of the sixth soda but don’t remember Big Red nearly as well as Jonathan does. I might have more luck recreating a cocktail based on Yoo-hoo than this one… as horrible as the thought of a Yoo-hoo cocktail seems to me. With no clear memory to match it against, the La Marque seemed appropriately sweet, appropriately complex, and appropriately flavorful. I wish I could compare it to Big Red, but smells and flavors seem hardest for me to recall. They say it is the most evocative sense, and that’s certainly true. But you either have those sense memories or don’t. And I don’t. That said, I could approach this drink without a clear context, and I’d loved it.

I especially liked the grenadine, which I do remember as I bring back the days we wandered through our neighborhood, pillaging gardens for pomegranates our neighbors must have hoped to keep to themselves.

Rather than Triple Sec, I chose a cordial I might drink later, Mandarine Napoleon, which presented more tangerine flavor than orange, a sweet and astringent flavor to balance and complement the lemony (but mellow) pomegranate. I think it added a different undertone, something more bitter and spicy than pure orange might have. Sorry Jonathan, I just couldn’t face a neglected bottle of triple sec in my bar.

I have to say again what a difference homemade grenadine makes! My recipe wasn’t quite as complex as Jonathan’s—I used pomegranate juice exclusively without any real pomegranate seed—but the effect was just as dramatic, introducing a distinctive and rich element, fruity and lush.

This cocktail may be the adult version of Big Red, less sweet and more complicated than the original, but it also stands on its own, without the connection. Hats off to my brother for creating such an interesting and innovative cocktail. I’d like to come up with something so evocative myself. …I’m thinking.

Jonathan’s Take: La Marque sweep the cocktail scene? No. Was it good? Yup

David’s Take: I’d order this cocktail—it was interesting and refreshing, true to our Texas roots, so what’s not to like?

Next Week (proposed by David):

My wife and I will be visiting in San Antonio, where my sister and mom live. I’d like to introduce them to a new spirit, something outside their ken, so I’ve decided to use Cachaca and recreate the national drink of Brazil, Caipirinha de Uva. I know my brother-in-law is fond of martinis, so I hope he’ll be okay with this wine, fruit, and rum cocktail.

The Tallulah

proposed by: Davidcok-whiskey-peanut

reviewed by: Jonathan

source

If you are from the south (and of a certain age), you might remember old men at the local gas station funneling salted peanuts through their fists into the neck of their coca colas. The idea was simple—to combine sweet with earthy and salty.

This recipe comes from a Birmingham, Alabama, gastropub called Ollie Irene. The drink is named after a co-owner’s aunt, apparently quite a bourbon lover.

I proposed it because—like most humans I guess—I like sugar and salt. But I especially like them together, and this cocktail gave me a chance to do that intriguing thing only old men seemed to be allowed to do.

The Tallulah combines bourbon with a sugary mixture of coke and an orgeat (OR-zjhot) of peanuts, sugar, vodka or brandy, and a teaspoon of orange blossom water.

1.75 oz. Jack Daniel’s
1 oz. peanut orgeat*
Coca-Cola

The most laborious portion of the recipe is creating the orgeat, which involves boiling unsalted peanuts in a simple syrup then allowing the mixture to sit. When you strain the peanuts from the liquid with cheese cloth, it’s a mess.

Peanut orgeat
makes 1 ¼ cups

2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 tsp. orange flower water
1 oz. brandy or vodka

Pulverize peanuts in a food processor. Meanwhile, combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to boil for three minutes, then add peanuts. Lower heat, allowing mixture to simmer for several more minutes, then gradually increase the temperature. When mixture is about to boil, remove from heat, and cover.

Let mixture sit for at least six hours. Then strain it through cheesecloth, discarding peanuts. Add orange flower water and brandy or vodka. Keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

The toughest ingredient to find is proportionally the smallest, the orange water. Jonathan found alternatives, but the description of orange water on Serious Eats intrigued me:

To the uninitiated, orange blossom water’s flavor is a surprise. It transports the clean brightness of orange groves to a field of wildflowers on a muggy day. The finish on the tongue is pleasantly bitter, much like chewing on orange peel. Okay, so it kind of smells like old lady perfume. But those blue-hairs are on to something. A wee dash of it gives food (and cocktails) an almost otherworldly quality.

Otherworldly? I don’t know. Blue hair? Absolutely… and now I have a lifetime supply.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

The only time I tried mixing salty peanuts with Coke, despite a lifetime in the south, was during a college break summer spent as a septic tank inspector. My partner in the internship tried to convince me that RC Cola and peanuts was a delicacy. I’m not sure whether it was the situation or the oddity of the mix but it never caught on with me.

This drink achieves the peanut part with a peanut syrup that was an adventure to make. I had to substitute orange liqueur and an orange rind for the orange blossom water, but I think I got the concept right. The other challenge was filtering the peanut syrup which despite some sticky effort ended up a little chewy. The end result worked in the drink and would probably be tasty over ice cream which I will certainly test since I have some left.

The Tallulah itself was excellent even without a nostalgic tug. I fact, it made me wonder if bourbon wouldn’t have made septic tank inspection a little more fun. I did end up adding more Coke and salted peanut garnish after drinking half of it and thought it was better that way.

The last thing I will add is that I am always looking for food and drink combos. This drink seemed to be most appropriately combined with something classic so I had it with barbecue chicken, or more accurately while I barbecued the chicken.

David’s verdict: I’d have another another year from now.

Jonathan’s verdict: The Tallulah was a nice change, but I prefer sweet mint to adulterate my bourbon over peanut syrup.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):
You may not be able to tell a book by its cover but a great cover can sure be an attraction. I kept coming across Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons while I was looking for something new to read. Each time I saw it the cover pulled me in, even though I had never had any interest in bitters (probably from the negative reaction to a really bitter Manhattan years ago). The book is a great compilation of history, instruction, recipes and how-to for those who want to make their own.
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Next week, we’ll continue with the bourbon theme and try a Horse’s Neck, a drink made with bourbon, lemon, ginger ale, and Angostura bitters. You’ll need a channel knife.