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.

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Pear Bourbon Cider

Proposed by: JonathanPearCiderJM

Reviewed by: David

First order of business the drink. It is described more than named as Pear Bourbon Cider. The recipe is straightforward, simple and in proportions suitable for a holiday punch:

2 – 3 cups bourbon
3 cups pear cinnamon cider
1 liter bottle of sparkling apple cider
1 cup of club soda
Pear slices for mix and garnish

Mix all ingredients, pour into double old fashioned glasses with ice and garnish with pear.

I never realized it before trying to find some background for this drink, but the definition of cider specifies apples. That’s a pretty boring fact, even if I can now annoy someone by pointing out that “apple cider” is redundant. The truth is that the cinnamon pear cider, whether named correctly or not, is the star of this drink. It is so dominant in flavor that the bourbon gets lost. As a public service I want to make sure and emphasize that in case anyone takes my suggestion to use this as holiday punch. The recipe suggests 2 – 3 cups of bourbon but if grandma wants to try it, double the sparkling cider. You could use just 2 cups of bourbon, of course, but this isn’t a cider blog.

Last week David pulled back the curtain to explain how he arrives at his drink suggestions and that it is not his favorite part of the process. To some extent, I am the opposite. I like to do the review more than I do the write up and as part of that I obsess about what to suggest next. We often correspond by e-mail making sure each of us are aware who has which week, possible issues with drink ingredients (who let David use up his Chartreuse!), and the timing of events and holidays that should be accompanied by an appropriate beverage.

Pay no attention to that bartender with the bulbous nose behind the curtain, ideas are all over. It should be no surprise, though, that the most common factor in what I suggest is the latest idea from my growing list of spirit literature. I also find ideas from other sources such as stealing them from cocktail menus and helpful suggestions from regular readers. It’s almost scary how often I get text messages accompanied by pictures of some wonderful looking cocktail. Now that we’re almost a year and half into this, David and I may need to sync up our Christmas lists to expand the ingredients, but there’s lots of places left to go.

Here’s David’s Review:

PearCiderDMThe only cocktail I invented for this blog was one I called The Pear Culture, and I couldn’t help thinking about it as I consumed Pear Bourbon Cider. The ingredients—the pear and bourbon combination—and the look of the two drinks—a golden and warm autumnal shade—were similar. The difference, however, was the Trader Joe’s connection. Where my cocktail called for puree, this recipe took a much lighter course with TJ’s Pear Cinnamon Cider (trademark). And where I included ginger (in the form of liqueur), this drink called for TJ’s Sparkling Apple Cider (trademark).

I admit, as I was making the drink, something said to me, “Where’s the ginger?” because I think ginger and pears go well together. For reasons I don’t understand—Former life? Propaganda by the ginger industry? Brain tumor?—having one ingredient makes me think of the other. I’m glad I resisted the temptation, though. The cinnamon in the cider provides some necessary spice, and the gravity of this drink, which was much lighter than my cocktail, made it more refreshing and quaffable.

All of which is to say, maybe this cocktail is the one I should have created.

I couldn’t resist a little experimentation though. The recipe I found online required adjusting the amounts because they were punch quantities, cups instead of ounces. For simplicity, I decided to convert cups to ounces, with the sparkling apple coming in around three cups, hence three ounces. However the instructions also contained varying proportions, offering “two to three cups bourbon (depending on your affinity for bourbon).” What a silly thing to say! It should be three, and, if it isn’t three, then look for another recipe.

And here’s another thing to try. If you look back at earlier posts, I think it’s safe to say Jonathan has an affinity for fruity cocktails—he’s certainly made me appreciate them more and seek them out at restaurants and bars—but, even with the effervescence of the club soda and cider and the touch of cinnamon, this drink could use a more prominent bitter element… not Campari or Malört or any amaro but maybe… well, bitters.

I’m under strict orders never to use the word “cloying” ever again so I won’t, but my recommendation would be to balance this drink’s sweet components with some exotic and mysterious counterpoint, something that will make your guest say, “Hmm. What’s that botanical I’m tasting?” As a great collector of bitters, I happen to have Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla and also Black Strap bitters (flavored with Molasses, Sarsaparilla, and Ceylon Cinnamon). I didn’t make two more drinks to try them out. “An affinity for bourbon” is one thing, but three drinks another. However, I did add a drop or two of The Black Strap before finishing the drink. It added a little something that’s missing, I think.

I may try the cocktail with Scrappy Chocolate Bitters next, which I also have on hand, naturally. Then there’s an idea I have for substituting Crabbie’s Ginger Beer for the sparkling apple cider and soda, and… well, you get the idea.

David’s Take: Perfectly pleasant and flavorful, but, with a little doctoring, it could be a more distinctive and memorable cocktail.

Jonathan’s Take: This punch needs a name and I think it should be Sneaky Cider. Where did that bourbon go?

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Picture a Venn Diagram. In the past, the set of beer drinkers and the set of cocktail drinkers rarely intersected. That is, their intersection was the empty set or the damn-near empty set. However, next week, Jonathan and I will follow one of the hip and trendy practices of bars all over the place and concoct (and of course imbibe) cocktails that incorporate beer. It’s a two-for-one week. I won’t dictate his choice nor he mine, but we will explore how beer might add or subtract from the mixed drink experience… and offer our usual largely uninformed but well-meaning commentary.

Dark ‘N Stormy

Proposed by: Jonathan20141019_165024_resized

Reviewed by: David

The questions I started with last week went unanswered, and this week is no different. Those questions were simply what the difference between a mule and a buck cocktail are, as well as what differentiates ginger beer and ale. As best I can tell, there is no answer because there is no difference.

There are multiple meanings to mule and buck beyond their cocktail uses. A mule is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey (forget learning cocktails, now I know a cross between the opposite sexes of each animal is called a hinny). It can also be a drug carrier, a women’s shoe with no strap on the back or some stubborn dolt who won’t give up trying to figure out why the heck a drink is called a mule. Buck could be the male deer in my backyard who is still pissed that our dog chased his fawn a couple of weeks ago, or the marker in poker that designates the next dealer, leading to the expression “pass the buck.” My favorite use is the adverb form of buck that means “completely” as in “I drank a bunch of dark ‘n stormys and next thing I knew I was running buck nekkid down the beach.”

The best explanation for why the words are used with cocktails goes back to the second drink featured in this blog – the Horse’s Neck. The original of that drink was simply ginger ale and bitters and did not include alcohol. When it was added, the name was amended to include “with a kick.” It makes only the tiniest amount of sense that the translation of that was from a kicking horse to a bucking mule, but that is the story that has evolved.

When it comes to cocktails, though, the use of mule and buck now means any drink that is mixed with ginger beer/ale, citrus, and a spirit. The best part of that is the simplicity. Take the ale or beer in four parts, the spirit in two parts and the citrus in one part and you have a cocktail. You don’t even have to stick with those proportions, and, if you toss in some bitters, who can blame you. There are more complicated variations that use ginger liqueur, as David mentioned last week, or ginger simple syrup but that ruins the utility of the basic recipe in my opinion.

The Dark N’ Stormy is trademarked by Gosling’s and use of any other rum besides Gosling’s Black Seal makes the drink a rum buck. To truly taste the cocktail by that name we went with the classic Black Seal in two parts, Barritt’s ginger beer (also from Bermuda) in four parts and an ample wedge of lime. If we added a little lime juice to the mix (that would be the one part mentioned above), you and Gosling’s lawyers don’t know about it.

There are so many rums and gingers that this is a drink, in its non-trademarked buck/mule form, that demands experimentation. The tailgaters that recommended the drink also made versions with Kraken rum, Crabbie’s ginger beer, Saranac ginger beer and the all of the combinations that allowed. The picture that is included is a version with Bacardi spiced rum that is lighter and lets the citrus come to the forefront. All of the versions were a hit, although I will admit that the true Dark ‘N Stormy was the best in my estimation.

It was a week when the country of origin for this drink, Bermuda, was truly dark and stormy thanks to Hurricane Gonzalo. It sounds like the island nation fared well, all things considered, and I’m happy we got to enjoy their national drink with true Bermuda ingredients.

And Here’s David’s Review:

dark.andI thought briefly about not buying Gosling’s Black Seal because, well, proprietary cocktail recipes reek of craven marketing and rampant capitalism. No one should own a cocktail in a free country, right? Fortunately, however, I read a review of the rum’s appearance as “A little foreboding” and its greeting as, “an enticing unpleasant aroma.” Then I had to have it. It wasn’t at all expensive anyway. And, just as described, its creosote color repelled light and offered a dense molasses and sulfury taste perfectly cut by lime and ginger beer. Almost from my first sip, I wanted another.

Last week, when Jonathan asked about ginger beer, I really didn’t know the difference, but I can at least answer one of his questions (I’m happy Jonathan answered the other). Now I understand that ginger ale uses fresh ginger—uncooked, unprocessed, the raw stuff—whereas ginger beer involves fermentation and is usually less sweet, more spicy. I used Fever-Tree ginger BEER (they have an ale version too), yet what struck me most was not the difference between beer and ale but how effervescence counters the weighty gravitas of a seriously dense spirit like Gosling’s. More trigeminal interference, I suppose.

While examining alternative recipes, I encountered one that urged leaving out the lime, but, to me, that would be a serious mistake. As with the Mules last week, fresh citrus adds sweet, sour, and bitter elements contributing to the cocktail’s complexity. In another case of the sum being greater than its parts, the burnt sugar taste of the rum, its hint of anise—almost like licorice—needs the spicy ginger and tart lime to dilute and lift it.

As Jonathan said, this cocktail, like many we’ve encountered lately, also seems amenable to improvisation. Though I haven’t tried it yet, I might substitute ginger liqueur (despite what my brother says) and a combination of tonic and seltzer. I might try paler rum—perhaps even caçhaca, though I suspect that will make it both lighter and less stormy, maybe light ‘n drizzly. I may even try garnishing with pickled ginger. Crazy, I know, but sometimes a week isn’t enough to explore one of these drinks, especially when it seems as well-conceived (good work, Gosling’s Black Seal people) and balanced as this one.

David’ Take: I’ll have another.

Jonathan’s Take: The rum mule/buck is an experimenter’s dream, but try it with Gosling’s and make their attorneys happy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Though it seems odd to suggest a Martinez before the Martini, the former is a predecessor to the latter—and maybe we’ll have to try a Martini after that. A sweeter drink involving gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitters, it promises to be another cocktail with some heft and potency… just my cup of alcohol. And, unlike a Martini, I’ve never had one… which is the fundamental requirement for being included on this blog, right?

The Mule (Moscow and Otherwise)

muler?muler?Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a drink a drink. Specifically, I’ve been wondering how so many varieties of mules (some call them bucks) can all be all one drink. How can one name fit seemingly infinite visions and revisions?

This week, my wife and I attended a cocktail class taught by Devin Kidner, the founder of Hollow Leg and a master mixologist for the Koval Distillery. Besides having a wonderful time on a roof deck with an awe-inspiring view of the Chicago skyline, we learned a lot about cocktails’ basic components and how they cooperate to create drinks’ distinctive tastes. One of the most illuminating lessons for me was that, once you identify the essential elements of a drink, you can mix, match, and adapt freely and without fear.

Taking that lesson to heart, I tried a couple of variations on the classic Moscow Mule, which traditionally includes lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer, often in nifty copper cups, which—thanks to a birthday gift from my wife—we now own. I can’t distinguish between ginger beer and ginger ale or say what a buck is. Wikipedia will have to help you with the drink’s history, but the web is crowded with many other less than traditional mules. Many restaurants and bars have signature mules. You can change the spirit and the juice and serve it in a glass. You can shake it with ice or make it in the cup. You can garnish it with mint or lemon or nothing. But nearly every mule recipe calls for ginger—ginger beer, ginger ale, ginger syrup, even (I suppose) real grated ginger or ginger candy.

Devin gave me the idea that a sweet liqueur can substitute for simple syrup, and I chose Koval Ginger Liqueur to stand in for the essential mule element. She also suggested, though, that carbonation is never incidental in a well-made mixed drink. It not only cuts the sweetness, but also often balances, enhances, or moderates the spicy and/or hot aspects of a cocktail, which she labeled as their trigeminal effects. You’ll have to ask her what that is, but, as the drink clearly needed something fizzy, I added seltzer for one variation and a combination of seltzer and tonic for another.

Then, just to make the whole enterprise even more complicated, I used bourbon instead of vodka, meaning my cocktail was more accurately a variation of a Kentucky Mule.

A little knowledge can be a powerful thing. Devin compares her mission to the old adage about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish, and it’s liberating to know that a manhattan or a sling or a mojito or a caipirinha can be just the starting point for cocktails in many different guises.

And on that copper cup… while it may not be essential, it does definitely add to the experience of a mule. The metal gets very cold and condensation quickly covers its surface. That’s pretty, but it also creates an enlivening and refreshing sensation similar to drinking spring water from a metal ladle, which—I’m guessing—could be another trigeminal effect. I’m not at all sure about the science, but now that we have those cups, I’ll be looking for other reasons to use them.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

mulishness2

There are so many questions that I hope David has answered. What is the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer? Is there a difference in a mule and a buck? Why does this cocktail have its own designated vessel and does it make a difference? What the heck does Moscow have to do with this anyway? To be so perplexing this classic is worth the questions.

My ginger beer of choice was Crabbie’s, a version from the United Kingdom. That really raised the initial question, since up to that point I thought the difference in ginger ale and beer was alcohol. Apparently not since when I asked in the store for ginger beer the helpful clerk responded with “alcoholic or non-alcoholic.”

This is a cocktail blog – I answered “alcoholic.”

The vodka this week was a grain version from Iceland called Reyka. I am still not sure that the brand, or even base material for the mash, makes much difference when it comes to vodka in cocktails, but this one has a really impressive label. If that means anything.

One of the things I cited as a lesson after our first year of this blog is that it makes a difference who you are sharing the drink with. We were very fortunate to be able to meet one of my sisters, her husband and my nephew in Asheville for the weekend and as a result shared the cocktail with them. It was, as I suspected, an affirmation of the lesson and that much better for the sharing.

There were actually two versions of the cocktail, as anyone who has paid attention should know. The first version used the Crabbie’s and I made a second with Blenheim ginger ale. Both drinks showcase the ginger with the ginger beer version more complex and the lime less prominent. The lime stood out in the Blenheim mix and the ginger, while stronger, did not have the background depth of the Crabbie’s. Push come to shove, I liked the Blenheim version better, but probably because the lime stood out and offered a contrast.

Jonathan’s take: Mule or buck, ale or beer, Borgarnes (Iceland) or Moscow, none of it matters when the cocktail is this good.

David’s take: A Mule is well-worth riding, copper cups or no.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Some of our regular tailgaters, my son David and his friend Trevor, asked if they could suggest a drink. Interestingly it is very similar to the Moscow Mule especially since they didn’t know that was what we were trying this week. They have proposed the Dark ‘N Stormy, another mule/buck using spiced rum, typically Gosling’s. I already tried different versions of the Moscow Mule so I imagine this week will offer more chances to mix up the ginger ale and beer to see how that changes things.

The Tom Collins

Proposed by: DavidTom

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I’ve reached the conclusion—duh—mixology is subtle. My brother and I encounter some exotic ingredients, but many drinks vary themes. We revisit the staples—juice, simple syrup, the major spirit and the minor one, maybe some stretcher like soda or tonic of ginger ale, and perhaps an element like bitters to challenge an untrained palate. The Tom Collins contains essentials and is even more basic than the archetypical cocktails’ constellation of ingredients. With just four parts, it’s simple.

Yet, our cocktailian adventures tell me every variation deserves a story. To me, it’s a wonder someone playing with these ingredients wouldn’t discover a Tom Collins, but disputation is more interesting, and, of course, there’s an argument.

Who invented the Tom Collins and how does the name arise? A cocktail called John Collins hits the historical record in London around 1860 as part of a song of the time. The name change, apparently, comes from “Professor” Jerry Thomas, the famous American mixologist whose description in 1876 gave the Tom Collins a name and place in bar lore.

But wait a minute. The name change may actually arise from London and the addition of Old Tom Gin, a slightly sweet version of Gin.

But wait a minute again. It turns out that the Tom Collins was also a hoax popular in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in 1874. People would approach someone they knew and say, “Do you know Tom Collins?” and then regale their listener with outrageous stories of the aspersions Tom had been casting about them in a nearby bar. Once the perpetrator had sufficiently riled the victim, the hoaxed person stormed into the bar and shouted, “Where is Tom Collins!?” The other patrons would roar with laughter, happy to discover (and I hope welcome) another snipe hunter.

No one really knows whether a Tom Collins is British or American—though plenty of people, apparently, fight half-heartedly over it. By 1878, it’s a popular drink in bars in New York and London, busily proliferating as people tinker with alternative spirits and other ingredients.

When it comes to provenance, cocktails soar to baffling complexity. You can’t know how hard I fought against making up my own story about the Tom Collins, including obscure German philosophers, time travel, an expedition to Africa, and some mighty angry hippos.

Instead, I’ll just give you the recipe:

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

OTomIt’s funny how even with the classics, like the Tom Collins, there is something to learn and the opportunity for a new liquor to be acquired. We’ve tried a lot of gin recipes and as a result learned quite a bit about gin. Even with that, I hadn’t read much about Old Tom gin or had a reason to use it. But if a drink is named after the gin type, and I lean towards the story that the drink’s first name comes from the liquor, I had to add to the gin collection with some Old Tom.

Another given is that there needs to be some variation of the classic to try along with the basic recipe. We subscribe to a CSA (community supported agriculture) where we pay a seasonal fee and get a bag of fresh produce each week. One of the benefits of this CSA is that we get fruit along with the vegetables plus a small amount of local maple syrup. You read that right—tapped and collected from maple trees in central North Carolina.

This year the farmer has added a quart of sorghum syrup too. Sorghum is one of the early sources for a sweetener that went out of style as sugar cane took over. A quick Google search will show that it is regaining popularity, and I thought it would be interesting to substitute a simple syrup made from sorghum syrup and water in place of the standard simple syrup.

This part is simple—the classic was better. Clear and sparkling, it is a great summer drink. Not sure I could tell a difference in the Old Tom versus another gin, but we can pretend. I expected that the sorghum version would add an extra subtle bitterness that is characteristic of the sorghum extract, but there really wasn’t any notable difference in taste. The color was the main change, and the golden brown, while pretty, wasn’t as appealing as the light color of the original. It was worth the try though.

Jonathan’s take:  It may be boring, but I’m not sure you can beat this classic for simplicity and taste.

David’s Take: Like most classics, this drink does little to offend. I’m not sure whether that’s a recommendation, but it’s certainly an affirmation.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):

Time for something different. I’ve been intrigued by types of tequila, and particularly mezcal. There are few cocktails made with mezcal in large part because of the assertiveness that results from the roasting and smoking of the agave. The drink that I am proposing is called the Old Oaxacan and it includes lime, mint and champagne to soothe the savage liquor. At least that’s what I hope.