The Daedalus Cocktail

DaedalusJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There is not much Greek mythology that I remember. That is a great shortcoming when playing along with Jeopardy. It is also surprising considering how much it was taught throughout my early education. Surely David does not share this hole in his knowledge. One story that I do remember, however, is the tale of Daedalus and Icarus.

Daedalus was a craftsman and had been imprisoned on an island. He could not escape by land or sea so he used his skills to weave together feathers with string and wax to make wings. Once he was sure it would work, he created a second pair of wings for his son Icarus. Before they escaped by flying away he warned Icarus that flying too high would cause the sun to melt the wax and the wings to fall apart. Like many a petulant child, Icarus became excited by the thrill of flight and forgot his father’s admonitions. The sun began to melt the wax and the wings fell apart. Icarus plunged into the sea below and drowned.

I am not sure if there a greater parable that the story provides or if it has anything to do with this drink. It is entirely possible that the story is as apparent as it seems – pay attention to your parents. Maybe ancient Greeks told this to their children as a warning that they should heed what they were told. Kind of a “eat your peas or you will plunge into the sea and drown” piece of advice. The same may be true of this drink. Try this cocktail and feel the thrill of flight. Or try too many and experience the calamity of a dip in the raging ocean.

The recipe appears to be an original from the bartenders at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar. Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz have included it in their book The Art of the Bar as an example of drink that features carefully made syrups. The syrup is slightly more difficult than the standard simple syrup:

1.5 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 ounces peeled and thinly sliced ginger
1.5 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a simmer and then simmer 40 minutes longer (presumably to infuse and thicken). Strain and refrigerate.

The drink is then a simple mix:

2 ounces Irish Whiskey
.5 ounce ginger syrup
Dash of orange bitters
Orange peel garnish

Combine first three ingredients with ice, stir for 20-30 seconds, strain into the appropriate cocktail glass and garnish with the orange peel. I loved the ginger syrup and used a little more than indicated in the recipe. I also found that the whole drink extended well by adding some ginger ale and serving with ice.

Here’s David’s Review:

daedalusdmFirst, I have to thank my wife, who made the ginger syrup and purchased the missing ingredients for this cocktail while I was away assistant coaching at a downstate cross country meet. The bus left at 5 am. It returned at 6 pm.

Perhaps that description of events also explains my reaction to the Daedalus. The ginger syrup seemed improved with its small infusion of pepper and, while I couldn’t say whether Irish Whisky or another type would make a difference—my palate isn’t so exacting—the proportion of spirit to sweetness seemed good. At not even three ounces, this drink seemed a little small, but maybe that was the situation too.

Like Jonathan, I also thought about the name of this drink. I too know the Daedalus of Greek myth, the creative wizard who designed the labyrinth on Crete and was imprisoned to protect its secrets. But I can add that, in ancient Greek art, daidala are a play on Daedalus’ name, ceramic sculptures of particular artistry as a general tribute to his creative genius.

Nothing in any of that, however, suggests to me Irish Whisky, orange bitters, or peppery ginger spirits. It took me two helpings to see a connection. Perhaps this drink is a tribute to Stephen Dedalus, the hero—and alterego—of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Critics say the protagonist’s name arises from Joyce’s theme of exile, his desire to escape from the constraints of his national religion and politics and his simultaneous nostalgic tie to the cultural forces that made James Joyce (and Stephen Dedalus, ostensibly). “Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience,” Dedalus says, “and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

That, by the way, is on my to-do list as well.

Perhaps these grand words account not only for the Irish Whisky but also for the more exotic elements of this cocktail, the ginger/pepper and orange. What makes this drink work, in my estimation, is the combination of expected and unexpected, its warmth and spiciness, its bracing potency and sweetness.

Of course, I may be entirely wrong, but, after a full Saturday away, it certainly seemed a welcome return to me, a recipe worth remembering.

David’s Take: I’m grateful to my wife that we have the ingredients for more.

Jonathan’s Take: Why is Scotch Whisky called “Scotch” but Irish Whiskey not called “Irish”?

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Speaking of Scotch… I think it’s time we return to the spirit. We’ve tried a couple, but this time I’d like to pursue a drink based on the literary hero of Scotland, Robert Burns. The Bobby Burns cocktail includes Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, and the dreaded Scotch. It’s always tough to guess what’s left in our liquor larders, but I’m guessing we have plenty of scotch.

The Monkey Incident

Proposed By: Jonathanjbm.bananas

Reviewed By: David

First there is just a murmur. Something is going on but no one is talking, not even speculating. But then there’s more. A rumor and maybe even someone who knows another person who has heard. It’s very possible that something is awry and people are being misled. You can’t talk about it though because no one is sure. Finally it starts to break the surface.

There’s been a monkey incident.

This is a drink that invented itself from a reference that became a name. Like the tag that becomes the name of the band that plays intro to the lead in for the main act. I heard a reference to a monkey incident and thought it should be a drink, or at least an answer to a variety of questions:

“Yes officer, I was speeding but I got an urgent call. There’s been a monkey incident.”

“She could have been the one, but there was no way I could tell her about the monkey incident.”

“I had a drink. They made me wear the hat. And then next thing I knew there was a monkey incident.”

“The monkey incident? Yeah, that could’ve started it, but the elephant didn’t help things.”

“Everything was good. No, it was great. All of a sudden things went bad. That stupid monkey incident.”

When I proposed this drink, I didn’t have anything except the idea that it needed to be frozen and called “The Monkey Incident.” I won’t say I was flooded with ideas, but I quickly learned that anyone who honeymooned in the islands had some type of frozen monkey drink and remembers it to this day, And by remember, I simply mean they enjoyed the drink but have no earthly idea what was in it. But it did have “monkey” in the name.

The starting point was to learn what monkeys eat. Anything they are fed is the answer, but given the choice they are omnivores and bananas, at least the type people eat, are not the first choice. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, insects and even (gasp) other monkeys can be part of their diet. There was no way I was making a drink with actual monkey, so the base had to be rum (the tropical effect) and the cliché banana. A lot of drinks start with that and add fruit (so I am not sure if this original), but here is the final recipe:

1.5 ounces rum (I went with gold but white works)
.75 ounce banana liqueur
2 ounces fresh pineapple
2 ounces coconut water
2 ounces vanilla ice cream
2 dashes orange bitters
Ice

Mix everything in a blender or smoothie maker. Blend well and garnish with tiki supplies and fresh pineapple.

Here’s David’s Review:

monkeys2As often happens, my brother anticipated my next move. Recently my daughter and I engaged in a few thought experiments regarding how a mixologist might convert various desserts into cocktails. Then Jonathan revealed the Monkey Incident.

One of our brainstorms concerned Banana Foster, a New Orleans flambé of bananas, brandy, brown sugar, and orange zest topped by ice cream.

“What we’d need,” I said to my daughter, “is banana liqueur.”

Now I know exactly what banana liqueurs are out there.

This cocktail marks a departure for this blog in a number of ways. First, and most obviously, we’re usually working from recipes and this cocktail is new—though it relies on tried-and-true combinations of flavors. Second, we’ve generally relied on fruit to impart their taste, and this time we’re relying on the surrogate banana liquor. Third, it’s frozen… and creamy… and dessert-y. We haven’t done that before.

Though I wasn’t quite sure when to serve this drink—before dinner or well after or mid-afternoon?—I really enjoyed it. At one point Jonathan’s suggested we might cut the sweetness of the drink by including almond milk as well as ice cream, and that’s what I did. The banana liquor was quite a discovery. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of banana flavoring (or any flavoring relying on chemical mimicry) but the version of banana liquor I chose—99 Bananas—not only evoked the fruit powerfully but also, at 99 proof, packed quite a punch.

The overall effect was an adult milkshake, substantial and sweet but also potent and fun, a slice of vacation perfect for the dog-days of high summer. I’m not sure the Monkey Incident actually is a Bananas Foster equivalent—perhaps the pineapple changed it, made it seem closer, in some ways to a Piña Colada—but the rum (I used Black Seal) adds the same spicy element you find in Bananas Foster amid the confection.

In fact, if I could be so bold as to offer an amendment, I’d recommend going further with spice, perhaps topping this cocktail with a dash of cinnamon or ginger to enhance its complexity.

But that may be more polished than Jonathan wanted. I enjoyed this drink as is, its childlike—but not childish—combination of tropical flavors. I began thinking about Baked Alaska

Jonathan’s take: I need to apologize to David for making him buy banana liqueur. But there was that monkey incident…

David’s Take: Hard to know when to serve it (or what to serve it with) and certainly not an everyday sort of cocktail, but a great treat.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Talking to a Chicago mixologist committed to easily accessible, local ingredients, I heard about some interesting sour alternatives to the absolutely-NOT Chicago citrus many cocktails rely upon, and that conversation led me into the world of Shrubs, vinegared syrups that add a sweet and tart element to drinks. Next week, I’m proposing a shrub cocktail. We’ll be following the formula of a specific recipe that requires bourbon. Other than the necessity of that spirit, however, the sort of shrub Jonathan and I concoct can be anything we think might add.

Orange Wheat Shandy

beert1Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Giving up some of your other favorite libations, Jonathan might agree, is the sacrifice of being a devoted cocktailian. Before we started this journey toward savvy-dom, I considered myself a “Beer Snob.” Actually, the name of a local bar—Beermiscuous—might be a more accurate descriptor. The opposite of brand-loyal, I’ve tried and tested just about every style of ale, lager, stout, porter, and barley wine. I’ve read up on methods of drying and toasting malt, encountered many varieties of hops, and studied the brewing traditions of regions and nations. I’ve even brewed beer myself—terrible, undrinkable stuff… but still.

Beer and wine make odd companions for spirits, but we’ve found a number of valuable ways to incorporate them. The trick seems to be finding what goes with what, recognizing which spirits echo, enhance, and complement beer and wine. This week’s recipe, however, aims to put beer first, pairing a hefeweizen (wheat beer) with orange juice to create a “beertail.” In this case, beer is the star.

As purists would have it, wheat beer is a bastard child. It steps outside the four essential components of beer—water, hops, barley malt, and yeast. Those four variables were plenty for the authors of the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1487. Wheat contributes to a cloudier and slightly denser brew, with esters redolent of apples or bananas. These qualities make orange a suitable accompaniment, something tart to balance the dry quality of wheat beer. Blue Moon, a Belgian Wit beer, takes advantage of this combination, balancing citrus against the gravitas of wheat.

The recipe calls this cocktail a “Shandy,” a combination of beer and juice (or soft drink) that’s appealing for its low alcohol content. In some parts of Europe, shandies are exempt from laws that apply to other alcoholic beverages, but the convention of combining beer and something sweet isn’t strictly a way of evading the law to sell to minors. The earliest versions, called “shandygaffs,” appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, long before people figured out maybe the consumption of alcohol isn’t so good for youngsters’ noggins.

For this week’s cocktail, I chose a Great Lakes Wheat Beer, Sharpshooter, described as a “Session Wheat IPA,” a little hoppier and less potent than a typical hefeweizen. The subtle addition of the orange peel added to its bitterness and, I thought, might cut some of the sweetness of the freshly squeezed orange juice. Just as with the primary spirit of any cocktail, however, this one could be very different with a different version of hefeweizen.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 6 parts wheat beer
  • 1 part freshly squeezed orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
  • a dash of almond extract (optional)
  • Thinly sliced oranges

Combine beer, orange juice, and almond extract in a pitcher. Stir; serve with sliced oranges.

When we visited in San Antonio a few weeks ago, Jonathan’s wife mentioned she liked the cocktails best when they weren’t “100% alcohol.” A drink like this one aspires to a lighter, more refreshing concoction suitable for summer afternoons.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

beertail.jbmI love beer. Hefeweizen, or any wheat beer, is not my favorite as the subtlety is lost on me, but it’s still beer. I also love orange juice. Fresh squeezed, from the waxed carton, or from concentrate, I start every morning with it (fortunately I cannot say that about beer) and would miss it as much as coffee if I tried to do differently. Put those two together and what could go wrong? Not much as it ends up.

The beer of choice was a Hefeweizen from Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. It is called Hornet’s Nest after the name given to Charlotte during the Revolutionary War. The British commander, Lord Cornwallis, called Charlotte a “Hornet’s Nest” after encountering fierce resistance from the populace.

The beer is anything but fierce. It is a classic of the form – unfiltered, mellow and smooth. The orange juice was fresh squeezed as the recipe dictated but I did differ from a couple of points. First, I made each Shandy individually by mixing one bottle of the Hefeweizen with 2 ounces of orange juice instead of making a full batch and stirring like Martha Stewart told us to do. Martha also called for a small amount of almond extract and instead of figuring out how much to add to a single drink I skipped it. The Shandy was missing something though, so I added a couple of dashes of orange bitters for some contrast. It could be my imagination, but trying it before those dashes and after I think they added something.

I do need to note another small thing. My picture is a homage to our sisters. One glass is from a microbrewery/restaurant in Boerne where one sister lives, and the second is a pint glass from Virginia where the other lives. I picked it up in Charlottesville where our sister and brother-in-law spend fall afternoons rooting for the Cavalier football team. That can be a struggle, depending on how Virginia is playing, but the UVA baseball team just won the College World Series (baseball) and the glass is another way to say “congratulations.”

Jonathan’s take: It was surprising once it was all put together, but I really like this.

David’s take: I may keep experimenting with shandies—the concept of mixing different types of beer with different juices is as interesting as this individual example.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I really hate to make David make another syrup, but I have to do it. At least this one, like the strawberry syrup from a few months ago, can be used on pancakes if there is anything left. The cocktail is from Better Homes and Gardens, of all places, and is a Blackberry-Bourbon Lemonade. Blackberries are part of our youth so it seems fitting that we incorporate them in a drink in syrup and fruit form.

Drinks With Amer Marshallon

AmerProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

A number of factors make this week’s post unusual. First, though I proposed the drink, it builds on a version of a spirit no longer available in the U.S.—Amer Picon—that David concocted from an internet recipe over the span of a month or so.

Second, the two of us are together… like, in one place… and at the same time… actual, not virtual.

We’re visiting our sister and mother in San Antonio, and, in the spirit of this too uncommon event, we thought it would be fun to construct this week’s post as a dialogue between our blog’s two cocktailian brothers.

Here goes:

JM: So, David, what is Amer Picon exactly?

DM: It’s an amaro. The word means “bitter” in Italian, but Amer Picon is a French variety no longer available in the states. A guy named Gaetin Picon developed it in the 1830s as an aperitif meant to aid digestion. The recipe changed in the 1970s—they altered the ingredients and lowered the proof a lot—so the current commercial version in Europe is very different from the original, Still, a lot of classic recipes call for it. You won’t find it at any liquor store, and, on the web, you’re more likely to encounter a discussion of what might substitute for it than a way to obtain it. That’s what I did. After a friend made me his version of Amer Picon, I returned the favor by making one of my own.

JM: How did you make it?

DM: I sent away from some dried orange peels—two ounces from bitter oranges and two from sweet orange—then put them in a big glass jug with some high proof vodka. They stayed together for a month. The recipe actually asked me to leave the jug two months, but I compensated by shaking the mixture up every time I passed by it. I think I was driving everyone mad with all the shaking. Then I added Amaro Ramazzotti, another amaro with gentian root and quinine and a little sweetness, some water to reduce the proof, and about half a bottle of orange bitters. I was supposed to use blood orange bitters, but I couldn’t find those. Instead I chose orange bitters aged in Old Tom Gin barrels.

JM: How do you know if it tastes anything like the original Amer Picon?

DM: I don’t, obviously. The internet recipe is a guess, and, changing the bitters and choosing the orange peels I did, I decided to call it Amer Marshallon. But I thought you might approve of the name.

So, anyway, it’s your turn. Why did you choose the Amer Picon cocktails you did?

seven drinks JMJM: Since Amer Picon (or Amer Marshallon) isn’t readily available, there are very few recipes that call for it. The classic cocktail is Amer Picon punch, which is the national drink of Basque, and we have Basque origins. Since we’re visiting our mother though, and she is the mother-in-the-law of our three spouses, I chose the Mother-in-Law cocktails. I also chose the Brooklyn cocktail because we were serving a lot of people and did a Bushwick version of the Brooklyn in honor of David’s son, who lives in that section of Brooklyn.

DM: And the recipes?

JM: The Mother-in-Law is the most complicated… and this version makes three drinks.

1 tsp. Peychaud bitters (but we couldn’t find any and chose Orange instead)

1 tsp. Angostura bitter

1 tsp. Amer Picon

½ oz. orange curacao

½ oz. simple syrup

½ oz. maraschino liqueur

9 oz. bourbon

DM: So what’d you think?

JM: I only tasted it, but the mild sweetness was more to my preference.

DM: For me, it was also the sweetest, and maybe the most subtle. There really isn’t a huge influence from any of the secondary ingredients, though. As it’s nearly all alcohol and the others complained it was too strong.

JM: The other drinks were a Brooklyn and a variation of the Brooklyn called the Bushwick… these both make one drink.

Brooklyn:

2 oz. rye

¾ dry vermouth

2 tsp. Amer Picon

2 tsp. maraschino liqueur

Bushwick:

2 oz. rye

¼ oz. Amer Picon

¼ oz. maraschino

DM: What was the difference, do you think?

JM: I only tasted the others, so it’s hard for me to say, but the dry vermouth made the Brooklyn less sweet, and it seemed even more potent.

DM: I thought so too, though I preferred it to Bushwick. I drank half of mine then switched with someone to try the Bushwick.

ad 1JM: I have a three-drink rule and succumbed to trying some Texas beers before we started.

DM: Me too, and maybe I should have had some rules, but… well… I didn’t. I had plenty of everything.

JM: So, what was the Bushwick like to you?

DM: It seems like we’ve used sweet vermouth a lot. Unless you choose a bitter form of it, sweet vermouth adds an almost punch taste.

JM: Punch taste?

DM: You know, like Tahitian Treat, or Hawaiian Punch.

JM: Ah, the drinks of our youth.

DM: Overall, I’d say I need to find some new uses for the Amer Marshallon. Your wife told me she doesn’t like these all-alchol drinks, and I’m beginning to understand her perspective. I may find some new ways to couple Amer with fruit… to balance its bitterness and echo its sweet elements.

JM: Or maybe just a splash with some lemon-lime seltzer. Or add it to something that calls for bitters.

DM: What would you think of it with tonic instead? You know how I love my tonic.

JM: If you love it, drink it. If you don’t love it, don’t drink it. There’s a rule for you.

DM: A good one. In any case, it was fun to actually make the drink together. Besides dividing the labor, I learned much more about how you operate as a cocktailian.

JM: Virtual has been great fun and accomplished our goal of communicating much more. Actual is a lot more fun.

DM: And those were our takes.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Visiting our sister, I recognized that she has a half a bottle of cachaca from my last visit, so I looked for something that might make effective use of it. I chose the Amazonia, in part because the description said it’d be perfect for Sunday barbeque. Having tried some good barbeque on this trip, the recipe appeals to me. Summer has more than begun in Texas, but back in Chicago, we are just starting to de-winterize our grills.

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.

 

Cherry Blossom Tini

sake 2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The Japanese word for cherry blossom—sakura—is one of the first characters a school child learns to write, and the week or so of peak blooms holds a central place in the culture. I have a special affection for Japanese aesthetics, and, if former lives are real, I’m sure I’ve been Japanese. Then again, maybe I was Helen Herron Taft, the First Lady responsible for the exchange that brought cherry trees to Washington, DC in 1912.

I write a haiku a day on another blog and, as I compose, I often think about one of the central tenets of Japanese art, the balance between sabi (simplicity or, more broadly, poverty) and wabi (impermanence or, more broadly, freshness). Together they foster an appreciation of those instants when direct and uncomplicated observations give momentary pleasure. These ideas contribute to an interest in economy and intimacy, an unexpected joy in asymmetry and imperfection, and a shared sense that anything, even the most unconventionally beautiful, can be cause for celebration. Most importantly, sabi-wabi suggests right now is really all that’s important.

Perhaps you see the connection to cocktails.

This particular cocktail mimics the pink of the cherry blossoms while also deploying sake, the Japanese rice wine, and other smaller quantities of delicate influences: orange liqueur, orange bitters, lime juice, and cranberry. I suppose the combination might be considered a punch or another version of the cosmopolitan, but the name suggests some comparison to a martini, the most straightforward sabi-wabi cocktail I can imagine.

If you go online, you can find a number of sites predicting and reporting the moment cherry trees are most laden with blooms, both in Washington and in Tokyo. When I did my research before proposing this cocktail, I consulted those sites, and, sure enough, this week my Facebook page featured plenty of selfies in front of pink blankets of blossoms. I hear that, though we think of the pure aesthetic enjoyment of visiting groves of flowers, apparently the picnics occasioned by the celebration can be quite raucous. That too seems to fit the Cherry Blossom Tini.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmsakeA couple of months ago my youngest son and I went out for a mid-week sushi dinner. The restaurant was offering a saketini special where they would make any classic martini with sake. With little to lose, it was just 3 bucks, we both ordered dirty saketinis – a mix of olive juice and sake. There was a lot to lose. The sake was viscous like a roux gone bad and with the brine of the olive juice created a combination that could best be described as tepid sea water. I am ashamed to say I drank it all. It was either out of some bizarre sense of pride that having ordered it I had to finish it, or the lasting legacy of the “clean plate club” where we were encouraged as kids to finish all the food we were given.

So when David suggested the drink for this week, my first reaction was fear. Never mind that my bad experience was probably a mix of low-end sake and a poorly selected combination. I was afraid. Fortunately it was all for naught. The Cherry Blossom tini started off better, at least I think it did, because I chose a better sake. It also benefitted from a combination of orange, lime, and cranberry that are much more closely aligned with the rice wine than green olives.

Doubtless there is a drink that uses vodka instead of the sake was included in this cocktail, but this mix benefitted from the body that the sake provided. One of the added benefits touted for this drink is that sake is a much lower proof than standard cocktail spirits like vodka. The experience with this drink makes me wonder how many other cocktails could benefit from subbing out vodka or gin for a quality sake.

One last thing to taunt David. I wanted to include a picture of this drink with the spectacular pink blooms of our kwanzan cherry tree. Alas, spring is far enough along here in Charlotte that we are on the down side of that bloom, as well as the white dogwoods. The azaleas are incredible right now, so we mixed the last cherries, some dwindling dogwoods and a few azaleas to provide the backdrop to the drink.

Jonathan’s take: I need to go back to that sushi place and try a better combination. Or maybe I should buy my own sake for even tastier mixes.

David’s take: It seems I’ve been using the word “delicate” a lot, which is a way of saying I want to use it again… but I especially enjoy using the word this time.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Other than beer weeks and our first annual retrospective weeks, we haven’t taken any time off. And we won’t be doing it now dad gummit! I did note to David that I have an annual golf trip coming up and it seems appropriate that I select the drink for that week. So my hybrid proposal is both a way to (kind of) take some time off, to give me the selection for golf week, and to honor the resurgence of tiki (trust me, it’s coming). About.com’s cocktail section includes an article on essential and popular tiki drinks. We have tried some of the classics, but I am proposing that we try 2 more over the next couple of weeks. There will be single write up to lessen our “work” load. For my part, I will be choosing between the Scorpion, Blue Hawaiian, and Beachcomber, but will offer David the option to choose among those and the other classics that we have yet to try.

The Martinez

Proposed by: DavidVersion 1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Someday I mean to create a cocktail family tree akin to the Rock and Roll blackboard scrawl in School of Rock created by Dewey Finn (aka Ned Schneebly, aka Jack Black). It will be full of  Biblical “begats” and “knows,” crisscross fertilization and looping circumferential hints of influence. Some lines will have to be dotted, of course, and paired with question marks.

The lineage of the Martinez seemed clear at first, and a confident Y on my imagined family tree. But for gin, it might be a Manhattan—so clearly it followed that—and, after its creation, some bartender likely preferred dry vermouth over sweet (and left the dash of liqueur and bitters out) and created the Martini. Though a Martinez tastes nothing like a Martini, some of my sources said it predates the Martini by ten years, citing it as part of the 1887 version of—what else?— Professor Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders’ Guide. In this version of the story it was created for someone going to (maybe from, depending on the account) Martinez, California. Or maybe it was because they served it in the Occidental Hotel to people going by  ferry from San Francisco to Martinez, California.

But it gets more complicated. Cocktail historian David Wondrich believes the Martinez and the Martini developed in the 1860s, simultaneously, the former on the west coast and the latter in New York. He discounts Jerry Thomas as inventor of the Martinez, saying the 1887 edition of his Bar-tenders Guide, published two years after Thomas’ death, may have copied an earlier version described in O.H. Byron’s 1884 Modern Bartender’s Guide. Then again, you may remember that Byron may have been a composite rob-job of Thomas. You see how quickly all this resembles a soap opera full of dubious parentage and dark family secrets.

Because Byron connects the Martinez clearly to a Manhattan, instructing a bartender to mix a Martinez “Same as a Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky,” and because the Martini doesn’t appear in published guides until 1888, I’m calling the Martinez a precursor… until Maury Povich comes along to settle the dispute.

Whatever the order of things, the original Martinez called for Old Tom Gin, which, loyal readers of this blog will know, was an earlier version sweetened slightly to smooth out the rough edges in questionable distillations. The sweetness of Old Tom changes the drink, and including it makes the Martinez seem a very—use-your-binoculars—distant relation to the Martini. However, substitute dry gin, and the Martini and the Martinez will look like cousins. Choose the bitter Carpano Antica as the sweet vermouth and they may look like brothers.

I ran into a number of recipes that called for different bitters and different liqueurs. You might try it, for instance, with Genever for the gin, curaçao for the liqueur and angostura as the bitter (as one recipe does). I’ve listed the basic formula below, but nothing prevents you from playing around… and perhaps adding your own line to the family tree.

Here’s the Recipe:

2 ounces gin

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

Dash of orange bitters

Lemon twist for garnish

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain, pour. Twist the lemon peel over the glass and drop it in.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

martinez

The gin lessons continue. We’ve tried cocktails with London Dry Gin, Old Tom Gin, and different botanical and complex gins. My favorite so far has to be the citrus infused Rangpur Tanqueray gin that was used in the Bengali gimlet. This drink specified the use of Old Tom, an older style that is said to have a touch of sweetness without all of the herbal complexity. That specification seemed odd to me considering there is also an equal part of sweet vermouth in the recipe. Of course, wondering almost always leads to experimentation.

The other part of the experimentation goes back to eating, and drinking, locally. Early on in the blog I tried a rum that was made nearby, Muddy River rum, and began to get interested in the local distillery movement that has followed on the heels of the exploding local brewery trend. I haven’t forgotten that interest, but there have not been that many opportunities to try other local spirits, especially since so many of those are vodka or more neutral versions of other liquors. This recipe, and my question about gin type, led me to Southern Artisans Spirits in Kings Mountain, N.C. and their botanical gin—Cardinal.

The first version of the Martinez was tested with neighbors and used the Old Tom. It had the expected sweetness and the gin was, at most, subtle. That does not exactly match the idea that this cocktail is the precursor of the Martini, although it should. Most Martinis are so heavy in gin that it has become a cliché to suggest ways to nod to the vermouth without actually using it. With the equal parts of gin and sweet vermouth this drink had a mix of flavors, and body from the vermouth, that was much more pleasant. A lesson that Martini makers may wish to consider.

The following day we tried the drink with the Cardinal gin, and, not surprisingly, the botanicals came forward. It had been my guess that this would be a welcome contrast to the slight sweetness, but in truth the Old Tom version was more harmonious. The cocktail improved as it warmed, but still fell short.

One last comment that is more accurately a confession. I have been using Maraska cherry liqueur in drinks that call for maraschino liqueur. It explains taste differences as well as some of the color variation between my drinks and the ones David has made. I also thought it might be the reason that I disliked the Aviation cocktail so much. Out of fairness, and because the Martinez reminded me of it, I decided to give the Aviation another try. The color was much better (it is included in the picture with the Martinez) and the drink an improvement from what I remember of the original tasting, but still not one I would put on the go-to list.

Jonathan’s take: Want to try a martini? Try this first and you’ll understand the interplay of vermouth better.

David’s Take: Keep the sweetness at bay with a bittersweet vermouth and this cocktail is complex.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

It is autumn and thoughts turn to the flavors of the season. We’ve tried apples and pears so it needed to be something different. The drink is the Great Calabaza and the different ingredient is pumpkin. There are drinks that use puree, seeds or butter with the latter the case in this drink. Add mezcal to that and it should be interesting.