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!

The Chopped Challenge

drinksProposed by: Circumstances

Reviewed by: Brave Souls

David:

Two brothers, one cocktail, only one chance to win…

Though not really—Jonathan and I would have to be in the same city to go head-to-head in our Chopped-style cocktail challenge. Instead, we’re treating the spirits and peripherals we’ve gathered as cocktailians as mystery basket ingredients.

The challenge… to make an unforgettable drink from these mystery ingredients, before… time… runs… out.

We gave ourselves 30 minutes to draw the slips of paper bearing the names of our ingredients and make and serve the cocktail, which is plenty of time for mixology. It’s so much time that I made three versions of my cocktail before settling on the “best.”

Our distinguished panel of chefs will critique their work… and one by one they must face the dreaded chopping block…

In the end only my wife and daughter were brave enough to test my efforts. When I described this challenge to people, I heard the same refrain, “That sounds like a very bad idea.”

Who will win the $10,000 prize… and who will be chopped?”

The contestants on Chopped are always playing for something—redemption, professional credibility, familial respect, some (usually pretty narrow) charity, fellow suffers of odd maladies, getting the ball rolling on some project (like a board game, twice), or pride. I don’t know about Jonathan, but my goals were more modest. I wanted to avoid spit takes.

“Two contestants think they have what it takes to be a Chopped champion. Let’s meet them…”

I’m actually not sure I do have what it takes. A big part of being a not-so-savvy cocktailian is the protection of the label. If you advertise yourself as incompetent, how badly can you fail?

I was trying to apply what I’ve learned, which—as I’ve said—isn’t enough. Writing “Crème de Menthe” and “Spanish Port” on slips of appropriately colored paper, I understood why Chopped contestants sweat so profusely.

Cocktailians… here are the rules. There is one round with its basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available are pantry and fridge.

categoriesWe divided the contents of our liquor cabinets into four categories—basic spirits, liqueurs, fortified wines, and other non-alcoholic ingredients like bitters, simple syrups on hand, grenadine, and the like. It’s hard enough to make a harmonious drink from three alcoholic components (never mind some weird bitter).

I’d already decided to interpret “pantry and fridge” liberally.

When the clock runs out our judges will critique your drinks on presentation, taste, and creativity.

At least two of those criteria didn’t seem so tough.

Please open your basket.

I let my wife draw my four slips of paper and opened them all at once:

  • basic spirit: aquavit (a basic because I figured aquavit is like gin… giant mistake)
  • liqueur: crème de violette (which I’ve always thought must be what perfume tastes like)
  • fortified wine: Spanish sherry (goody, some earth tones to go with purple and ochre)
  • other: cardamom bitters (perhaps the bossiest bitter—it has to get its way)

First I thought, “This was a very bad idea,” and then I tasted each ingredient just the way the contestants on Chopped do… when they’re stalling. In cocktail class, I learned each cocktail is actually six ounces, with two being ice or mixer. When I combined equal portions of the spirits and a single drop of cardamom, it came out to 4 ounces of army green. Fail.

Try again. I thought the crème de violette had to be less and the aquavit had to be less and who in their right mind would ever drink anything grayish green? So I reduced the crème de violette to half an ounce, made the aquavit and sherry one ounce each and, from the pantry, used a half an ounce of lemon juice. Then my hand slipped, and I ended up with three drops of cardamom. The color was better. The drink was wretched. Fail.

Too much sherry, still too perfumy, and I thought, “I kind of hate cardamom… and caraway… and these silly things I think are a good idea.” With a few minutes left I came up with what I’m calling Pomegranate Chaos:

  • 1 oz. Aquavit
  • .75 oz. Sherry
  • .25 oz. Crème de Violette
  • 1 drop cardamom bitters
  • .5 oz. blood orange juice
  • 2 oz. sparkling pomegranate juice

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Pour pomegranate juice to taste.

You will note that pantry and fridge ended up being pretty damn important.

Cocktailian, you’ve arrived at the Chopping block…

If you watch Chopped regularly, you know the judges have clear predilections. Never serve Scott Conant raw onions, don’t call something mole if Aaron Sanchez in on the panel, Marcus Samuelson will accuse you of not preparing an ingredient properly, and Alex Guarnaschelli hates pretty much everything (unless someone else hates it, in which case, she loves it).

Here is what I imagine my judges saying (and pretty much what they did say), “I like the color, and the juice and sparkling pomegranate give the drink a real freshness, but the basket items are all lurking, hidden like an ugly chair in the corner when company comes over. It’s drinkable, but the part I like least, the funky aftertaste, comes from the main ingredients.”

Ted will ask (he always, always does): “Well, this is not a simple matter—do you think you’ve got it figured out?” The judges always answer, “I think we have.”

Like Jonathan I tried a second drink, which I’m calling the Pola Debevoise, with more reasonable ingredients: gin, maraschino, brandy, lemon… and I added grenadine to tie it all up. I learned from the first round to diminish the stronger flavors and used .5 oz of the lemon and maraschino. Trying not to rely on the pantry too much, I included only .5 oz of the grenadine too. I chose an ounce of Brandy but relied on the gin as the dominant flavor (1.5 oz). The judges liked that one better, though I doubt I’d make any round two.

So whose drink is on the Chopping Block?

David’s Take: Uh, I think I know.

bottles 2Jonathan:

bottles 1My name is Jonathan and I have little experience, no celebrity mentor and there is no drive to be the best mixologist here or anywhere. I operate out of my home typically, although I have been known to guest star at a sporting event tailgate with an audience that is mostly college students. Not to say that they are an easy group to please, but left to their own choices they are apt to choose Busch Light. The only classical training that I have has been provided by the internet, books, the rare video and observation in the form of television watching. In short, I know little, provide drinks to a very small sampling and am self-trained. I am ready for Chopped Cocktail, though, since I have a cabinet full of spirits, liqueurs, bitters, fortified wines and assorted additives.

It is also my hope that I can be an inspiration to anyone who ever thought they could home bartend but were held back by having a second toe longer than the first. Morton’s foot sufferers may not have ever been told they couldn’t be bartenders, but given the chance I am sure they would. Imagine the strain and pain folks like me must feel as the pronounced second toe shifts extraordinary pressure to the second metatarsal. There were so many days standing in the kitchen that I felt I could not hold the Boston shaker for one more second, but persevered to create the finest drink I could. If I win, it will be a true victory for my second, but longest, piggy.

The true chopped has rounds for appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I really hoped, even with two attempts, to get a drink that could be a dessert but no luck. So here are my drinks with the appetizer first and entrée second.

drink picThe first choices revealed Irish whiskey, absinthe, lillet (rose’) and angostura bitters. It sounded a little like a Sazerac, at least from what I remember way back when we made that, so I went that direction. The first step was rinsing the ice with a little absinthe and then dumping the excess. I added the whiskey (1.5 ounce), lillet (1 ounce), and 2 drops angostura. The pantry provided a splash of simple syrup and an ounce of lemon juice. I shook all of that with the ice and strained into a coupe with a twist of lemon. The simple syrup may have been too much. For an appetizer it needed the bite of the bitters combined with the whiskey and acid of the lemon. The lillet provided enough sweetness by itself. Not a bad drink, but not the aperitif I wanted. The invented name (we need one of those, right) – The English Channel.

The second group was the entrée choice. This draw revealed rum, tuaca, sherry, and grenadine. These were mixed in a highball glass (1.5 ounce, I ounce, .5 ounce and 1 ounce respectively) along with orange juice (2 ounces) and seltzer water from the fridge. I added ice and garnished with lemon. It seemed a little tiki-ish so I should have added one of my leftover paper umbrellas to finish the drink.

This one was more popular with every taster except me. It had a similar color (keep in mind I am still color stupid) to the English Channel, but was much lighter in body thanks to the seltzer. Part of the concept of true tiki is multiple ingredients and I think tuaca has a future in that genre when it makes its next resurgence. It provides that unknown back flavor that would help distinguish the drink and make it hard to determine the secret recipes that are another part of tiki. This one I am calling Don the Chopped Amateur.

Jonathan’s take: When Ted pulls the shaker shaped cloche, I think I am chopped. Darn that stubby first toe.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Among the many drink related gifts I received this Christmas was a beautiful and well written book – The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. It is a great mix of information including more history and background on many of the cocktails that we have tried in the course of this blog. It also includes recipes for classics, twists on those classics (thus the subtitle “cocktails inspired by the classics”), and drinks that should be classics. After the chopped episode it might be time for one of those should-be classic cocktails called the Monte Carlo. It provides that important lesson that sometimes it is better to stir to chill instead of shaking to do so.

Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria

photo-51Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

What exactly is a cocktail? Seems like an odd question after so many weeks and proposed drinks, but it is important this week. The most basic definition is that it is a spirit combined with at least two other ingredients. Other descriptions expand that and suggest that it is at least one spirit plus a bitter element and a sweet one. What is clear is that all of our proposals thus far can be considered cocktails.

The reason for exploring this idea is that the drink of the week is a Fall sangria. A number of weeks ago I figured out that I would be the proposer for Thanksgiving weekend and started thinking about something that could be made for a crowd. For most Thanksgiving meals, I have tried to find some new way to use cranberries so the proposal had to be some kind of cranberry based sangria. The final thoughts were that the drink needed to be less spirituous than some of the previous proposals and of course complement the Thanksgiving meal.

My question for David when the idea of sangria came up, though, was whether it qualified as cocktail. It includes at least two spirits, although I struggle with the idea that wine or even beer qualifies as a spirit because of the lower alcohol content, sweet and borderline bitter elements so I suppose in its own way does.

There are so many sangria recipes that it was less about choosing one than combining different ideas to create something that met all goals. It also seems that Bobby Flay, of restaurant and Food Network fame, is the creator of many of the sangria variations available in the public domain. The recipe I used is a slight variation on his Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria:

20131128_164130-1

Nothing left but the fruit!

2 bottles red wine (I used Beaujolais Noveau since it is November)
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup applejack brandy
½ cup triple sec liqueur
Cranberry simple syrup (added a cup of cranberries to a half cup of simple syrup and simmered until they began to split)
1 cup orange juice
Sparkling pomegranate juice
Cranberries, orange slices and chopped Granny Smith apples

Combine all ingredients, except the sparkling juice, and refrigerate for at least six hours. Add the sparkling juice before serving.

It could have been the craziness of hosting Thanksgiving or the popularity of the sangria, but I forgot to take a picture until after all but the fruit was left.

I also completely understand why there are so many recipes as the concept is so basic that it lends itself to variations by wine, liquor, fruit, juices and as in this case by season. I wonder what a President’s Day sangria would be like?

Here’s David’s review:

Adam Carolla markets a product called “Mangria,” a version of Sangria that boosts the alcoholic content by adding vodka to the fruit and red wine. The assumption, I suppose, is that Sangria is a genteel drink, not suitable for the hard liquor crowd.

Though I’m no manly-man, I had similar impressions before trying this sangria. It’s a drink for parties, a nearly-punch alternative to beer and wine and, just as Jonathan said, questionably a serious cocktail. Though you can sometimes order sangria in a restaurant, it’s often a special—because they’ve made a mess o’ sangria—and no one I know makes a single serving the way they do martinis or Manhattans.

That’s too bad, based on this recipe. Besides combining some prominent seasonal flavors, like the pairing of orange and cranberry juice, this cocktail’s addition of pomegranate and some fizz made it celebratory yet fruitful, a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal. I let the sangria mix overnight as instructed by the recipe, which effectively made the parts overlap until, like many good cocktails, the ingredients became difficult to distinguish.

When Jonathan proposed this choice, I worried about the red wine, as most wine coolers or, especially mulled wine, seem too rich and not actually refreshing. I wish I’d thought of using Beaujolais as Jonathan did—I used Shiraz—as it might have made the drink even fresher, but Shiraz seems a spicy red to me and added that element without introducing the cinnamon or cloves that might have been overkill.

As I have for all recipes calling for triple sec, I used Mandarine Napoleon, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite liquor. It’s not at all overpowering and, being a little different from regular orange in flavor, I suspect it worked almost the way the orange rind on the slices did, a slightly—pleasantly—bitter undertone.

One quibble: I wish I’d had the same snazzy system of serving this drink that Jonathan did, a container with a tap at the bottom. We made ours in a pitcher, and, while it was a pretty pitcher, the cranberries kept plopping into people’s glasses. When I reached the bottom and looked at the remaining berries, I had the same thought I have every Thanksgiving. Who the hell ever thought of eating these things? I’m not sure what the fresh cranberries might contribute, as they looked exactly the way they did when I put them in. Though they decorated well, they hardly seemed necessary. If Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria becomes a Thanksgiving tradition in my house, I’ll leave the cranberries out… or substitute something actually edible.

And I’ll make more… as with Jonathan, it was gone before I even had a chance to take a decent photograph. Oh well, that may be the best recommendation of all.

David’s Take: a refreshing and celebratory addition to a wonderful meal.

x

Jonathan’s take: This will be a Thanksgiving tradition. If it’s not there will be some unhappy guests.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

I teach a Shakespeare course at school and have run into some odd drinks in my reading. One is a flip, which, though it doesn’t go by that name, has evolved over time to describe a class of drinks involving a spirit, eggs (I will use egg whites), and spirit. I haven’t decided which flip to try yet, but I’ve settled on rum as the spirit of choice.

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.