The Rob Roy (And a Return To Posting)

Proposed By: DavidRobRoyJM

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Thinking of ways to start posting in a blog inactive for nearly three years, I came up with openings to explain our absence:

The Awá tribe seemed friendly… at first.

When our memory returned, we were sitting in the rumble seat of 1938 Chevrolet.

Canoeing the Atlantic takes longer than expected, and soup spoons make poor paddles.

These possibilities of course are all inventions, but the truth won’t do either.

Somehow life got in the way of cocktail exploration.

But now, in present circumstances (read: necessary but onerous self-imposed house arrest), we have the time and inclination (read: the abject ennui) to start again. Jonathan actually proposed returning a while ago and, at that point, I opened my liquor cabinet and took a quick inventory of the remaining Blue Cacao, Galliano, Islay Scotch, Banana Liqueur, Bailey’s, Orange Blossom Water, and Celery bitters. I quickly gave up the idea of doing anything like Chopped (besides, we’ve done that before). However, circumstances (read: time stretching out like the Sargasso Sea) demand some sort of sacrifice at the altar of thrift.

I chose Scotch and the Rob Roy because, of all the alcohol in my collection, it’s the one I universally pass by. Every drinker has some story of a spirit they over-sampled and hence rejected forever, which may be enough explanation for why I don’t like scotch much. A better reason might be that scotch seems solitary and, to me, makes a poor mixer. The Islay variety in my cabinet is so leathery it would overpower the taste of a dead possum, and even the other almost-gone bottle I found—Glemorangie, a gift—is still quite distinctive (read: funky).

However, if you’re going to bypass just ice and try a scotch cocktail, the Rob Roy is a good choice. Essentially a Manhattan made with scotch, it supposedly arose to promote a long-forgotten opera with the same name and appears in just about every cocktail bible since 1890. The true provenance is more complicated, of course, but the Rob Roy is a straight-ahead highball your father and grandfather probably enjoyed.

Here is the recipe I used from the PDT Cocktail Book (edited to avoid brand names):

2.5 oz. ScotchRobRoyDMCropt

.75 oz. Sweet Vermouth

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with a lemon twist

As you may notice, the Rob Roy is all liquor and strong, so I punted (read: recalled my earlier scotch encounter) and substituted a crushed quarter of blood orange for the lemon twist. While the juice still did not stand much of a chance against the scotch, it did make the drink smell a little less like your grandpa’s pipe-smoking sweater.

And that’s all the review I’ll offer (because that’s Jonathan’s job this time) and just say it’s good to be back. Our mission is on another page of this blog, but every two weeks Jonathan and I will alternately propose and review a cocktail. We will also add one innovation: every other time, we will return to one of the cocktails already described, try it again, and offer our reappraisal in Instagram.

My first choice for reappraisal is the Americano and Negroni.

And here’s Jonathan’s review:

A cocktail centered on scotch. A stab at the seemingly impossible attempt to make that spirit harmonious with other ingredients and, through that, to elevate. Those scotch drinkers I know would simply ask, “Why?” “Leave it alone,” they would say—good Scotch and maybe some water and ice is all you need. Yet there are plenty of examples where mixologists have tried, and here we are with a classic to try again. Before I review this one though, it is a good time to reflect on the current state of affairs.

Almost all of us are in some altered state of living. We are staying at home, eating in, walking around careful to avoid others and, importantly, drinking what we have. If nothing else, it does seem like a good time for digging out that bottle of blended Scotch that never gets touched. And for hoping that a vacuum seal and refrigeration has kept my Vermouth passable.

It is rare when I am accused of being overly positive. That doesn’t mean I am a negative person. Like many I like to think of myself as realistic. This pandemic has caused me to break character and to purposefully seek the positives even if some of those are found in the amusing and ridiculous. I do not mean to ignore the seriousness of all of this just to practice some mental healthcare and lessen the stress.

One of the peculiar side effects of the stay at home orders are the results of the prohibition on haircuts and hair care. People are starting to show hair colors, curls, and some disheveled looks we have never seen on them. The alternative includes home trims, haircuts and, from what I understand, a run of hair dyes almost equal to the one on toilet paper. It is actually pretty amusing and interesting.

I was lucky and not so lucky in that respect. Just before that order closing those establishments, I got a haircut. That’s the good fortune. The bad part is that it was not a good hair cut which, as my wife likes to point out, is part of the roulette of the national chain salon I use. More good news, though, is that it is not the worst, by far, haircut of my life.

Like many young children, I cut my own hair one day. That was not the bad haircut, however. The bad part came later when our Mother discovered my more than usually disheveled head and asked our Father to “even it up.” It should be noted that I was, and to some extent still am, a pale skinned freckled child. I also had (definitely past tense) bright red hair and a particularly out of scale large head. Our oldest brother very affectionately called me “Pumpkin Head” or “Pumpy Freckles” for added effect. “Even it up” very quickly turned into “shave the child bald.” Still not the worst part though. That came when it was all done and Pumpy Freckles was sent off into the south Texas summer to play outside all day.

So here’s to all those new hairdos that we are sporting until we experience salon freedom. It could be worse.

Ah the Rob Roy (who from all illustrations had a fine Scottish haircut). It is a valiant effort to make scotch play nice. Some recipes call for Angostura bitters, but I took a cue from David and used orange bitters. My scotch of choice was a very basic blend and the end result was a quiet, unassuming drink. The scotch was not battling to get free and isolate in all its normal assertiveness. It wasn’t exactly sitting back either. In the end, the bourbon cherry garnish was the best part. It could have been worse.

Jonathan’s take: I think scotch just wants to be left alone. Maybe that’s the way it should be.

David’s take: Rob Roy isn’t a bad person, just not my type.

The Great Calabaza

Proposed by: Jonathanj.calabaza

Reviewed by: David

Ed walked into the bar, looked for a stool in the back corner and sat down. He had driven past this place fifteen minutes before and probably would not have noticed it if the “O” in the “Cocktails” sign had not been burnt out. Something about that and the nearly empty parking lot had nagged at him until he finally turned around and drove back.

It had been a long week at the end of a long year. Ed was a clown by profession. Things had gone well for a long time with birthday parties, parades, events at senior homes and even the occasional office party, but then the economy collapsed. Everyone’s entertainment dollars dried up, and the clown budgets were one of the first things to go. He tried not to blame his woes on an increasing fear of clowns among kids too, but he knew that was out there.

In desperation Ed had started doing magic shows, selling novelties and finally had resorted to being a rodeo clown. The rodeo circuit was tough with events often far away, and safety not even an afterthought. One night he went to protect a rider from a bull named Calabaza, for its oddly colored gourd shaped head, and when he went to jump in the barrel at the last second, he found it already occupied by some other clown. There were still days and nights when he could feel Calabaza goring him from behind.

As Ed sat down the owner, Sam, wandered over. “Looks like you need a drink. What can I get you?”

Ed thought for a moment and decided it was time to confront his demon. “I’ll have The Great Calabaza.”

“Never heard of that. You’ll need to tell me what’s in it, or at least what the liquor is.”

“It’s made with equal parts of mezcal and fresh orange juice.”

“I have bottled orange juice that we use for screwdrivers and the best I can do on the spirit is tequila.” Sam turned to get those, but he turned back and asked what a “calawhatzit” is.

“It’s actually a type of gourd like a pumpkin,” Ed answered, “but I was a rodeo clown and it’s the name of a bull that tore me up.”

“Okay then. Is there anything else besides the tequila and orange juice?”

Yeah, the rim of the glass needs to be moistened and a mix of Chinese five spice and salt coated on it.”

“I’m not sure you noticed,” Sam said, “but most people in here drink Budweiser and a shot is the most popular cocktail. I don’t keep Chinese five spice, and I don’t rim glasses.”

“Okay you can skip that, but it does need a little bit of lime juice.”

“Fine, anything else?”

“Pumpkin butter. A couple of tablespoons of pumpkin butter.”

“Get your ass out of my bar, clown.”

This bad fiction is sponsored by a cocktail with no history and no back story. Sure, one can assume that the name is a word play on The Great Pumpkin since a Calabaza is a West Indian gourd that looks like a pumpkin, but other than that, it is an obscure cocktail created by the aptly named writer – Autumn Giles. The exact recipe is:

1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 ounces mezcal
3 ounces fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons pumpkin butter
.5 ounce lime juice

Moisten the rim of a glass with lime, and press it into the mix of five spice and salt. Mix together the mezcal, orange juice, lime and pumpkin butter in a shaker with ice. Shake with ice and strain (I used a fine strainer) into the glasses filled with more ice.

As it ends up, and as my picture shows, I skipped the salt and five spice. That was a mistake since this drink can be sweet and needs that contrast of salt and spice.

And Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_0436I don’t begrudge most people’s pleasures. There are books and movies and music and food that seem terrible to me, but if you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, Nashville, Up With People albums, and stewed sea urchin, fine. I’m not judging, just skeptical.

Pumpkin mania particularly mystifies me. This time of year, they’re everywhere—not just on porches and stoops but in the groceries attached to cookies, air freshener, chips, cider, shampoo, pasta, gum, yogurt, hummus, and beer. To me… no judgment, remember… the beer is a particular affront, but each year, I discover more absurd pumpkin products. Why does Trader Joe’s need to sell pumpkin-flavored dog treats, and what’s the appeal of Pumpkin Spice Four Loko (or regular Four Loko, for that matter)?

The one use of pumpkin I approve of entirely is the (up to this year) annual Punkin-Chunkin’ in lower Delaware. There’s something quite astounding about watching gourds soar.

So imagine my shock when, prepared to scoff, snort, and sneer at The Great Calabaza, I discovered how good it is. I attribute part of its success to the mescal, which gives it an earthy and smoky base, but the spice in the pumpkin butter harmonizes well with it, the orange juice and lime cut the drink’s density, and the pumpkin is just sweet enough to hold it all together. The recipe I used called the cocktail “An autumnal riff on a margarita,” and that seems apt. Like a margarita it relies on a carefully tuned combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy.

The five-spice salt may seem an extra step—and you don’t need to make as much as the recipe calls for—but that element seems important too. Otherwise, the drink might evoke liquefied and spiked pumpkin pie. In fact, when we discovered we only had three (rather than four) tablespoons of pumpkin butter in the refrigerator, we made do, and it seemed plenty. With so many other flavors asserting themselves in The Great Calabaza, I almost forgot the key to it all was supposed to be my friend the pumpkin.

Would I ever order this drink in a bar? Probably not—because of my pride, and because of my disdain for the pumpkin bandwagon rolling down every grocery aisle—but it was a pleasant way to end a fall evening and, for at least a moment, made me appreciate the pumpkin phenomenon a little more.

David’s Take: A quite pleasant surprise and a blow to my pumpkin prejudice.

Jonathan’s Take: The color and ingredients speak of autumn, but the drink says “get your ass out of my bar, clown.”

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Sometimes, in thinking about the next cocktail, all I have is a glimmer of a hint of a day dreaming notion of a possibility. As a second grader in La Marque, Texas, I learned all about how people make maple syrup—I know, weird, right?—so I looked for a cocktail recipe using that flavor and found Medicine Man, a cocktail promising fall’s warm flavors and heat in the form of paprika.