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.

Rock Lobster

RLDBMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Built-in obsolescence suggests our blender should be dead. My wife owned it before we were married 30 years ago, and now I hear its grinding as the complaint of a very old man called to do the twist the way he did in 1961. Still, though we don’t summon the blender often, it works, and the results are better because the old man can still make it around.

This drink called the Rock Lobster (sorry if you’re like me and just the name gets the song going in your head) is a sort of Tiki drink. Seemingly a lot of stuff is in it—coconut rum, dark rum, banana liqueur, and “dashes” of grenadine, orange juice, and pineapple juice, plus half a banana, but the biggest ingredient is ice. Once blended, the consistency is like a smooth slushy, not quite as creamy as a piña colada would be, but just as tropical. The recipe appears below, but, to be honest—and you’ll see Jonathan agrees—the proportions seem a little loose. Who measures ice? Then you just add some of this and that to the pour a little dark rum over the top. Clearly, experimentation is required:

1 cup of ice

1 ounce coconut rum

1/2 ounce banana liqueur

Dash of grenadine

1/2 ripe banana (peeled)

Dash of pineapple juice

Dash of orange juice

Dark rum to top

One necessity—the banana seems integral, as it makes this cocktail less icy and, especially if you have a blender like ours, keeps separation to a minimum. As for the dark rum, you might try a spiced rum. I used Kraken because dramatic signage for it is everywhere in Chicago, but you may welcome something to break up the sweetness and banana-ness of this confection/concoction.

And invite friends. We were lucky enough to serve this drink during my nephew’s Pete’s visit to Chicago with his girlfriend Jenny. It was a suitably hot day, and, also suitably, they were just back from a Cubs game in which the home team lost. We had a reason to drown sorrows even if there were no real sorrows to drown.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

RLJBMThe question is whether my thoughts are generally disorganized or if I am suffering from brain freeze due to quickly slurping a Rock Lobster. Either way, I am all over the place when it comes to this drink but here are my iced down musings.

Ever since David proposed this tiki drink I have been questioning how to measure a “dash”. It’s not like we don’t have this measurement fairly often (think any drink with bitters here) but this recipe calls for dashes of three ingredients that seem fairly integral. They are also parts that I would typically go with fresh or homemade over packaged. The all knowing internet says a dash is 1/8 of a teaspoon. Let’s see, should I squeeze an orange, pulverize a pineapple and strain the juice, and mix my own grenadine for a dash of each?

There is more than one drink called a Rock Lobster. I’m sure David chose the cocktail because the B52 song by the same name is one of his favorites and I am guessing he chose this version because of the fresh banana, banana liqueur and coconut rum. Maybe it’s just because, as he suggested in his proposal, it’s damn hot. Good choice no matter why he made it.

As much as any tropical frozen drink this one calls for a straw. Combine that straw with smoothie consistency and banana dominance and you are guaranteed to drink this too quickly. I forgot the dark rum float at first but stopped to add it as soon as I remembered. That didn’t prevent the brain freeze nor did it keep me from drinking this like I thought a monkey was going to steal it. I should have added some chia seeds to slow me down but the speed quaff made for a fun walk with the dog afterward.

My final recipe used a mix of homemade and packaged. The recipe projected as sweet so I made my own grenadine where I can control the sugar and turn up the pomegranate. For the orange and pineapple though I went with a premixed carton of the two. I also erred towards a heavy pour for each of those instead of the suggested dash.

The result was one of the better tiki drinks I have tried. The coconut in the rum was much lighter than the typical coconut cream which allowed the fresh banana and liqueur to stand out. Even with the heavier pour, the orange, pineapple and grenadine were background flavors. Homemade grenadine did help tamp down the sweetness which was welcome. My one quibble was my own weakness – I drank it too fast.

Jonathan’s take: Fruit juice dashes can be more than bitter dashes no matter what the net tells you.

David’s take: I’ll save this drink for celebrations, as I don’t want to test our blender too often. With spiced rum particularly, it’s a worthy remedy to a hot day.

Next Time (Proposed by Jerry):

Yes, you read that right—we have a guest proposal from Jerry “Bourbon Jerry” Beamer, a frequent commenter and fan of this blog. We’ll be making an Old Fashioned Slush, a cocktail intended to serve a Labor Day crowd. Jerry says:

We are upping our game to a level of sophistication as Don Draper and Carrie Bradshaw come over for cocktails! This is a coming together of ingredients, people! What God has put together, let no man put asunder. We are fixin’ to feel the presence of others as we clink our cocktail glasses in celebration of our time together. We can do this cocktail party nice and easy or we can play it rough (listen closely and you will hear Tina Turner coming at you with Proud Mary—that is if you can hear what I hear and I know you can)—just like Tina, I am going to start off nice and easy as I propose the Old-Fashioned Slush** to the cocktailian Marshall brothers. This cocktail is made in advance of the red carpet since you do not want to be looking for bitters and sugar cubes with Don and Carrie on your porch!

Equal Parts Cocktail

ughProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Mixologist author Kara Newman describes equal parts cocktails as, “Easy to remember but challenging to develop.” Well, I guess that depends on your standards, on both counts. If you’re just looking to balance sweet, sour, bitter, and spirit, a host of combinations will develop in interesting ways. However, if you’ve had a few of these cocktails, remembering might be harder than you imagine.

Newman’s book, Shake. Stir. Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts, will come out in October. The book, she says, encourages versatility. She urges cocktailians not only to create new drinks but also to re-envision and re-proportion some favorites.

What appealed to me was simplicity. For once, I might make something I can remember when someone says, “How do you make that?

I’ve been experimenting with the equal parts cocktail for the last month or so—and sorry readers, our blog-silence is my fault, not Jonathan’s. I’ve reached important conclusions:

  • plan before you act—failing means failing entirely
  • don’t expect a single ingredient to establish itself as the star—maybe that will happen, but probably not
  • use ingredients you like by themselves
  • add some non-alcoholic elements; otherwise, the drink or it will be lethal

I made a number of these cocktails, and most I invented. I’ll offer two for your consideration—one sweet and one sour

Sam I Om (a Mimosa Variation)

one ounce each…

Gin

St Germaine

Lillet Rose

Orange Juice

Tonic

Shake the first four ingredients, add to glass and top with tonic

Whatever

one ounce each…

Lime Juice

Mezcal

Benedictine

Triple Sec

“Take a ratio that already works,” Newman suggests, “and just swap out elements one at a time until you end up with a drink you enjoy.” And maybe that’s all the advice you need to begin experimenting.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0218-2The first thought when I read David’s proposal was that I should make a sweet and a non-sweet drink. The second thought was that this idea would also allow me to re-visit the concept of layered drinks and the fascinating, to me, use of specific gravity to figure out the order of the layers. Neither thought was realized with great success.

There were all sorts of sweet and semi-sweet drinks that came to mind. I knew that I did not want to proportion a group of different alcohols which meant that I needed fruit drinks, milk products, syrups and the like to mix as a non-alcoholic portion. All of those make the drink sweet. I just could not come up with the equivalent in a savory or bitter drink although I hope on reading David’s intro that he was able to do so. The ultimate choice in this category was my version of the key lime cocktail:

1 ounce vanilla vodka
1 ounce tequila
1 ounce half and half
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce lime syrup (maybe it was cheating but I mixed key lime juice and simple syrup 50/50)

Shake everything together with ice and strain into a glass rimmed with crushed ginger snaps and garnish with a lime.

The result was an all too white, fairly sweet drink that fell well into the tiki category. Good but one was plenty.

One of the main purposes of the layered drink, besides testing specific gravity, was to use a liqueur from South Africa that seems to be gaining the popularity it deserves. Amarula is sweet cream liqueur from South Africa made from fruit derived from the marula tree. That tree is also known as the elephant tree due to the pachyderms fondness for it. Interestingly, elephants eat the fruit, bark and branches of the tree so they can be hazardous to its health except in the spread of fertilized seeds in their dung.

I made two layered drinks with amarula the first of which is called the Monk’s hood. That one, with specific gravity in parentheses is Kahlua (1.14), Frangelico (1.08) and amarula (1.05). The second one substituted white crème de cacao (1.14) for the Kahlua. The gravities are so close that separation was going to be difficult so I used chilled shot glasses, poured each liqueur over a bar spoon to introduce them delicately and chilled the drink to let them separate further. None of that worked very well but the drinks were great. As great as doing shots for a not too young person can be that is.

Jonathan’s take: I am sure that sometime this week I will wake in the middle of the night and realize a proportional drink with rye whiskey that I could have made. Then I will go back to sleep.

David’s take: Reviewing a whole class of cocktails? Clearly more empirical evidence is needed.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Vodka is not my favorite. It must not be David’s either since it is the major spirit that we use the least. The time has come, however, to try a cocktail with vodka at its core. There are plenty of classics that we could, perhaps should, try. There are also variations of those – such as the madras version of the screwdriver. It’s the beginning of blueberry season though so I am proposing the gravely named Razzle Dazzle cocktail.”

Melaza Punch

Melaza.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Maybe you know molasses, but, if you are like me (before this experiment), you only experience it as an ingredient in cookies or gingerbread or even baked beans. Turns out, molasses (or “treacle” in British) comes from sugar cane or beets (no surprise there) boiled down once (cane syrup), twice (light molasses) or thrice (blackstrap molasses). To me, molasses has a smoky, vaguely sulfurous taste… though it has no smoke or sulfur in it (except as a preservative). Molasses reminds me of the colder months because its sweetness isn’t quite so sweet, and the syrup is as dense and slow-moving as fall and winter.

Which led me to this recipe. We’ve tried fall drinks using maple syrup before and lately every upscale restaurant I visit features a cocktail sweetened with it. “What about molasses,” I thought, “aren’t there any molasses cocktails?”

Silly question. Of course… there are a number. I chose Melaza Punch from a list of molasses drinks because it seemed the one that tests the assumptions I make the flavors of fall. The syrup fits, but the spirit—tequila—and the mixers—pineapple and orange juice—really don’t. I suppose you could see this libation as liquid pineapple upside down cake, but I think of a “punch” as a summer thing.

Molasses is a strong taste, its thickness makes it difficult to mix, and, speaking in party terms, these ingredients only seem to have the bartender in common. They barely know each other. I knew I was taking a chance and risking returning to my early reputation as the crazy brother on this blog (though, let the record show, I never proposed a pumpkin butter cocktail). Still, why are we here if not to experiment or, perhaps more accurately, serve as guinea pigs?

Here’s the recipe from Kathy Casey:

  • 1.5 oz Milagro Añejo Tequila
  • .75 oz Fresh pineapple juice
  • 1 oz Fresh orange juice
  • .25 oz Light molasses
  • Garnish: Freshly grated cinnamon
  • Glass: Rocks

Add all the ingredients to a shaker. Stir, and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.

Incidentally, besides meaning molasses in Spanish, “melaza,” according to Urban Dictionary,  is a word Puerto Ricans use to describe something awesome, good, or excellent. Let’s see if Jonathan thinks the name fits…

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

melaza.jbmThis could be a research project, but I am way too lazy to do that for a blog. That research would be to determine how many times I have had to apologize for some aspect of a cocktail including its preparation and service. Simply put though, I need to do that for this punch.

We are back in tailgate season and I planned to serve this drink as part of a pre-game spread. That was accomplished, but, since I had to prepare and pack in advance, I took a shortcut. There was an orange juice carton in the fridge and pineapple chunks canned in their own juice so I used those non-squeezed options to save some time and trouble. I also added sorghum syrup as a substitute for molasses but that was on purpose. My only excuse was that it made an easy mixer that I could bottle, shake up to mix, and add to the tequila. In my defense too – have you ever tried to find fresh squeezed pineapple juice or tried to make it yourself?

A number of people tried the drink at the tailgate gathering, and they all found it too sweet. There is no doubt that, had I scanned the ingredients on the carton and can, I would have found added sugar. Combined with the sorghum, it was too much for the complexity and subtle notes that the anejo tequila provided. I knew that, knew I had served a bad recipe, and knew I would have to try again.

I made a second version later in the week. First I used my trusty hand juicer for the orange juice, which is so easy that I have even resorted to doing that when we have run out of store bought juice. Then I cut up a fresh pineapple, pulverized the core and some slices and let that slowly seep through a strainer. If you haven’t tried that, I would suggest you do it to understand why the home cocktailian would cut corners. Finally I mixed the drink using those juices and the sorghum syrup. It was incredible. The orange and pineapple juices were not too sweet and much lighter in consistency. The sorghum even added flavors that went beyond its sweetness that had been lost in the previous version. The star though was the tequila, as it was intended to be, with all its flavors on full display against the background of the fruit and syrup.

So here goes the apology. Lebo, Trevor, Medman, Seed, Mrs. Seed and others: I am so sorry that I served you an inferior cocktail. I wish you had been there to enjoy the real version with me, especially after juicing that damn pineapple, but you have to take my word for it that it was great. If you don’t want to do that, drop by because I still have tequila and I am sure I can scare up a pineapple and oranges.

Jonathan’s take: We say it over and over – use real ingredients even if it is a pain in the ass.

David’s Take: Wish I could say I liked it, but the molasses seemed dissonant to me, and, the most telling truth, I didn’t want another.

Next cocktail (Proposed By: Jonathan):

There are any number of pre-sweetened whiskeys. Southern Comfort has been around for a long time and now there are honey, honey/cinnamon and all sorts of other whiskeys that are all altered for those who don’t enjoy the hard stuff straight. They are technically liqueurs, at least as I understand the definition, and another of the classics is rock and rye. Garden & Gun magazine tells me that with the cocktail resurgence there has been an increase in bars that make that own version. That is what we are going to do. After that, it is up to each of us if we want to use it in cocktail, see what it is like on ice, or do both.

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.

The Painkiller

painkjbmProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The warm sun, cool blue water and light breeze all had to come from my imagination, but the painkiller still did its job invoking that setting. This is a relatively young drink created in the British Virgin Islands and The Soggy Dollar Bar of Jost Van Dyke. Daphne Henderson the owner of that bar gets credit for that creation. The story told on the Pussers Rum site, however, is that while Daphne may have made the first, it took some modification by the Pussers founder, Charles Tobias to perfect it. No matter how it came to be, here’s how you make your own concoction of this lovely tropical mix:

4 ounces pineapple juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce Coco Lopez (cream of coconut)
2 ounces Navy Rum

Combine all ingredients, shake well and serve over ice.

The type of rum may be one of the more interesting parts of this drink both for its style and the many drinking words associated with it. The name itself comes from the British Navy practice of providing a blended rum, or some derivative, to its sailors from the 1600’s up until 1970. Among those drinks was grog, named for Admiral Edward Vernon and his grogram (a type of fabric) coats. It was a mix of rum and lime, all the better to make the sailor happy and fend off scurvy.

The straight provision of rum was given in servings called tots which in turn is associated with the common spirit term of proof. It is said that sailors would mix the rum with gunpowder to see if that powder would still light and prove the rum had not been watered down. That meant that the alcohol content needed to be at least 57.5% which ultimately equated to 100 proof. Of course in the US, it is far more common to see actual alcohol percentage, but where proof is used it is twice the percentage of alcohol. Based on that 80 proof means 40% alcohol and that the gunpowder won’t light of course.

Another association with naval rum is one of the more interesting euphemisms. We have all heard classic expressions for drinking like bending your elbow, having a snort, or wetting one’s whistle. Perhaps a little more odd is washing the dust from your throat, and particularly odd is eating the pudding bag. I have no idea what the latter means, but you know I am going to use it.

The expression tied to serving rum on ships is splicing the mainbrace. It is associated with this rum and is used to signify either the regular time for tots or a special time to stop and have a drink. And probably something sailing related too, but as I said before this isn’t a sailing blog.

Here’s David’s Review:

painkillahIt felt odd to be drinking a Tiki drink as the sky grayed in anticipation of precipitation.

Chicago’s winter has been mild, as Chicago winters go, with some above-freezing days interspersed with vortex-induced single digits. We’re had little snow, so far, just forecasts featuring those two most loathed words, “Wintery Mix.” Chicagoans know not to crow over good fortune though—the next Lake Shore Drive closing snowpocalypse could be just around the corner, but this winter hasn’t called for any sort of painkiller… so far.

And it was no hardship to drink the Painkiller cocktail. This drink reminded me of a piña colada (with more pineapple and added orange juice to the coconut) and I’ve been a secret fancier of piña coladas for a while. Yet I confess I’m too embarrassed to order one outside of tropical climates. I define manhood liberally and think most men could use less bro-hood prohibitions and embrace all the feminine things they deny, but somehow I’m still squeamish about some snarky barkeep snorting over my ordering a piña colada. Maybe I could keep by Y-chromosome cred with a Painkiller.

Certainly ordering the drink out would be considerably easier than making the drink. Taking Jonathan’s advice from last week, I was determined to juice the fruit, which was easy enough for the orange, but not the pineapple. I couldn’t find any fresh pineapple juice in the frou frou grocery that usually supplies me with exotic ingredients, and getting the juice from the pineapple I purchased was laborious to say the least. Then there’s the cream of coconut, which was easy to find in two varieties—Thai Kitchen Coconut Cream without sugar and the Goya version with—but each can contained a substratum of waxy coconut oil. We blended the two types of cream of coconut together to reintegrate the fat.

By the time I’d combined all the parts in the glass though, I was already thinking, “This had better be good.” And it was. Refreshing and not as heavy as a piña colada, the painkiller is so fruity it balances the rum effectively without diminishing its spirit. Rum isn’t sweet, of course, but the dark version called for in this recipe (but not in a piña colada) imparts a caramel flavor that complements this collection of flavors especially well.

My only warning would be about the coconut. I don’t advise relying on the Goya cream of coconut because that’s dessert. If you have the time and energy to combine sweetened and unsweetened as we did, it’s worth it. If you don’t have time, use the Thai cream of coconut—the juices are plenty sweet—and consider tossing some of the coconut oil/wax. The drink will be lighter for it.

I felt like turning the heat up a little after downing such an icy concoction, but the drink is a healthy reminder that winter, even in Chicago, is finite.

David’s Take: As a harbinger of summer, this drink was out of place, but it was fresh, fruity, and welcome.

Jonathan’s Take: Winter got you down? Splice the mainbrace and have a painkiller and it will all get better.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

One of the regular features of The Chicago Tribune is a short column titled “Drink This” that describes a restaurant’s most notable cocktail. In early December the drink offered was A Chai Town, served at The Revival Social Club. The ingredients are intriguing—chai tea, vodka, ginger liqueur, honey, and nutmeg. However there’s one cagey element of this column. It never actually tells you how much of anything is needed. Nonetheless, I’m going to give this cocktail a try by coming up with my own damn proportions… and invite Jonathan to do the same.

The Black Eyed Susan

b-eyed sProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The Preakness Stakes is the second race of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Two weeks ago we celebrated the first race, the Kentucky Derby of course, with the traditional Mint Julep. This week’s cocktail is named after the official flower of Maryland and is the cocktail of The Preakness – the Black Eyed Susan.

Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore hosts the Preakness which was run for the first time in 1873, two years before the Kentucky Derby. Unlike the Derby which has been run every year since 1875, though, the Preakness missed a few years and was run at other tracks during its history. The race features its own traditions in the singing of Maryland’s state song (Maryland, My Maryland), a blanket of flowers for the winner (Black Eyed Susans or their substitute since they bloom later in the year), and the cocktail that we are celebrating.

The official cocktail has changed recipes over the year and any quick search will turn up a number of variations. The history began in a cloudy way when the first versions were premixed and the exact makeup kept secret by the company that made them. The story goes that the folks at Pimlico decided to make their own and a recipe was created to mimic the original. Since then though, there are versions different enough that they do not even contain the same base liquors. The Preakness web site includes what is now the “official” version made with Finlandia Vodka, St. Germain (an elderberry liqueur), and the juice of lemon, limes and pineapple. Needless to say it is official because it is sponsored by Finlandia and St. Germain.

My proposal last week was that we each try the version of our choice. Last year, before this blog was envisioned, our household celebrated the Derby with Juleps. The races that followed seemed to be a good excuse to try the traditional cocktails of each and we did just that. The Black Eyed Susan I made then included vodka and Kentucky whiskey (Early Times Kentucky Whisky, and yes, the spelling difference is correct). Based on that and few extra taste testers I found a recipe for a pitcher of the drink that was close to it:

1.5 cups vodka
1.5 cups rum, whiskey, or bourbon (I used bourbon)
.75 cups triple sec
4 cups orange juice
4 cups pineapple juice
1 tablespoon of lime juice

Garnished with an orange slice, cherry and fresh pineapple.

Add in some kind of crab dish, singing along with Maryland, My Maryland and you have your own tradition. At least until they change the recipe again.

beyedsuzDavid’s Review:

I had no intention of including St. Germain in this recipe, despite what the track says this year, but I did. It was on sale at a high falootin’ grocery I visit (but still mighty expensive) and I just couldn’t resist. Say what you will about the cost of St. Germain, it’s delicious and, I think, adds a great deal to this cocktail.

The Preakness usually goes unnoticed for me—it’s the first race after the Kentucky Derby—but this cocktail called for close attention. I’m no fan of pineapple juice, as the juice is another case where the fruit can’t be improved upon. Yet this drink offered a fresh and refreshing combination of flavors. Unlike Jonathan, I stuck to vodka and rum (and St. Germain), which made the fruit that much more prominent. In addition, St. Germain has an odd resonance with citrus. Tasted by itself, the liquor is positively protean, seeming at turns herbal, spicy, and fruity. And, at times, it tastes positively pineapply to me.

As we’ve suggested before, the ultimate review of a mixed drink is whether you order another, and we did. We missed the race—why so early, Maryland?—but the drink was a fine way to wind down as spring (finally) seems to be arriving in Chicago.

Maybe expense doesn’t matter so much if the result is a quiet moment of celebration. You don’t need a race or anything else, just the will for gratitude, a desire to acknowledge how good a moment of calm can be.

Jonathan’s take: Fruity. No other way to put it – fruity.

David’s take: Fruit is good, maybe even healthy. Whether it is or not, though, I’ll have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Time for another classic, I think. Let’s try a Tom Collins. I don’t have any idea who Tom Collins might be (though I’m certain I’ll find out), or how the drink arrived at that name, but as just about everyone seems to recognize the concoction, maybe it’s time to try one. We have the ingredients after all, and that’s a definite plus.

Singapore Sling

better?Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There is a great deal of consensus about the creator, location and basics of the Singapore Sling. The popular history of the drink is that the bartender Ngiam Tong Boon of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore made the first one in the early part of the 20th century. There is also agreement about gin as the main ingredient along with Benedictine, cherry heering or brandy, lime juice, and club soda.  Since the original recipe no longer exists, or at least it is probable it does not, proportions and extra ingredients vary from that point. That should not be surprising to anyone who has ever researched the origins of classic cocktails.

One of the first things you learn when exploring cocktails is that there does not seem to be a definitive history for any drink. Almost every classic cocktail we have tried includes multiple versions of the history, ingredients and proportions. For instance, even with all the consensus, there are those who suggest the Singapore Sling came about before the cocktail by that name was served at the Raffles Long Bar. Different versions include pineapple juice, orange liqueurs, sugars, wine, floats of liquor and a variety of garnishes just to name a few. In fact, there are almost as many recipes as cocktail guides and write-ups.

As an aside, I have enjoyed reading the many blogs about cocktails, although their existence explains part of my problem with this blog. When we started I had visions of great popularity, worldwide acclaim, visits to late night talk shows and branching into alternative endeavors. Who knows, I thought, maybe I would finally achieve the life long career goal for which both David and I have practiced since we were young television addicts—cartoon voiceover artist.

Unfortunately, we are just one blog of thousands exploring the realm of alcohol, and I will need to keep my day job.

The proposal last week suggested that David find a recipe to his liking since there are so many variations. I ended up doing the same after reading multiple suggestions and then changed that up as I made more drinks. The base recipe I used was equal parts (1 ounce) of gin, cherry heering, Benedictine and fresh lime juice. Those were all shaken with ice, 2 ounces of club soda and few dashes angostura bitters were added before serving over ice in a highball glass. The second drink added an equal part of pineapple juice to tone down the sweetness of the heering and I changed the bitters to orange.

It was surprising how the gin got lost in the drink and the Benedictine stood out. My sister-in-law suggested the drink made her feel like she should be on a cruise ship and that really summed it up. It is bright, cheerful and tropical. So much so it seems to cry out for an umbrella. Maybe that is why there are so many versions; it is satisfying, but everyone is looking for that magic combination that takes it to another level.

photo-80Here’s David’s Review:

It appears it’s been a tough winter everywhere and, of course, here in Chicago we like to believe we’ve had it worst with our fourth greatest inches of snowfall ever, our polar vortexes, and our temperatures lower than Antarctica lowered ridiculously again by wind chills. True or not, since winter hit in late October, I’ve been thinking, “Boy, I could use a Singapore Sling!”

Not really, but it was a welcome drink for early March, a reminder of tropical climes and a harbinger of spring. It has to be spring soon, doesn’t it, because how can they dye the Chicago River green if it’s covered with ice?

I like all the ingredients in this drink, every one, so their combination was wonderful to me. I used the classic Raffles Hotel proportions, and it’s complicated measuring out all its parts—harder if you’ve had one. Yet all the varieties of spirits seemed perfectly balanced against the freshness of the pineapple juice… also one of my favorite things. The pineapple garnish gave me a good excuse to eat the entire fruit. I know, I should be ashamed of myself.

After an abortive trip to the market—yes, Jonathan, it happens even here—I went with ingredients we already possessed, Luxardo Maraschino and Mandarine Napoleon in place of Cherry Heering and Cointreau, but the result was pleasing, fruity and fresh with a complementary hint of botanicals from the Benedictine and Gin. Naturally, I’m curious what this cocktail might be like with first-string components and intend to try it again sometime with its archival “necessities.” That said, I was quite satisfied. It’s a classic for good reason. Cocktails involving fruit juice always seem smoothest. Maybe I think somehow I’m being healthy… though the next morning usually disavows that notion.

Jonathan’s take: This is a drink for one of my favorite cartoon characters, the fellow who offered everyone a Hawaiian punch. I need to work on that voice.

David’s Take: Wonderful and welcome.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Erin go Braugh! St. Patrick’s Day is a big celebration around here, with roving bands of stumbling drunks swinging from trolleys and hailing taxis all over the city. I’m using the occasion to suggest something other than green beer. I’ve chosen a cocktail that’s suitably green, uses Irish whiskey, but is perhaps—and how could it not be?—more subtle: Irish Eyes. It’s compared to a White Russian, which I think Jonathan’s wife enjoys, so I’m hoping for the luck of the Irish. And isn’t everyone Irish on March  17th… or thereabouts on the calendar somewhere in there?