Hits, Misses, and Otherwise

It's water... really.

It’s water… really.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve received a few wonderful comments in the last couple of weeks responding to our request for favorites from our year of cocktailianism. If you want to contribute, please comment on THIS post. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, here are our lists of hits and misses.

David:

Our task this week is to identify drinks that pleased us and those that… well, then it gets complicated. I thought of many methods of approaching this assignment but finally decided on three categories—the discoveries, the stalwarts, and the duds.

Some of the proposed drinks, I already knew I liked—the Mint Julep, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine—and others like the Manhattan, LiberteaVieux Carré or the Horse’s Neck couldn’t go wrong because they combined ingredients that, separately, were already favorites. Jonathan will take his own course, but the only feasible method of deciding, for me, was to settle on cocktails that surprised me and cocktails that horrified me. Everything else was in-between.

In-between isn’t so bad. In another rating system, these cocktails might be called “honorable mentions.” They were good either because they’re classics or because they couldn’t go wrong. I’ve mentioned the Mint Julep, which carried so many positive memories it’s bound to be freighted with joy, but also Long Island Ice Tea, which I’d never tried but readily understood. Others, like the French 75 and Fall Gimlet, seemed great combinations, designed to assemble wonderful ingredients in something equal, if not greater, than their parts.

I also enjoyed the Sazerac, but maybe that was because my wife left just as I ‘d finished making two and so I was forced—forced!—to consume both.

The duds weren’t hard to choose because, invariably, they failed the ultimate test—I regretted the expense and trouble of making them. In this category are the Tom and Jerry (it seemed altogether too dense, both in conception and texture), the Aviation (my wife likes them and a colleague at school considers it his favorite cocktail, but the taste just seems bizarre to me), and Bloody Marys (maybe I’m just waiting for a good version, but, you know, I really don’t like tomato juice finally).

The worst of the worst? That would be the Blue Sky Cocktail (note to self: never choose a mixed drink for its color) and the Negroni (Campari really is wretched as far as I’m concerned, more lurid and bittter even than Malört—just be grateful you’ve been spared that).

Which leaves only reporting the best (IMHO).

As I said in my lessons of last week, there’s no accounting for matters of taste. My final selections arise from very personal and no doubt idiosyncratic preferences, but I’ll chose, in a sort of order, fifth to first: the Bengali Gimlet (because I’d never thought a cocktail could be so complex and distinctive), the Tabernacle Crush (because, more than any other cocktail we tasted, it seems most immediate and fresh), the Tallulah (because, while I’m sure I’d never have the courage to try something so complicated again, it really does speak to a cocktail as evocative of memory and experience, the Caipirinha de Uva (because, while it seemed exotic, it also seemed an old friend), and the La Marque (because my brother invented it so expertly… and how could I help being proud of him?).

Give me another week, and I might make new lists. Nonetheless, I stand by my choices… for another year, at least.

Empties

Empties… the inevitable result

Jonathan:

Who knew how hard this would be? The first challenge is going back and looking at each week’s cocktail. And of course, the second is trying to remember the specifics about those drinks. I finally decided to create a list labeled with the headings great, good, okay and bad. Once I had placed the sampled concoctions in those categories, it should have been easy to narrow from there. Oh well, wrong again

It should be apparent that, at least in my opinion, there are drinks that fit occasions, times and situations. One drink may be great as part of a meal, while another lends itself to quiet reflection and relaxation. As a result, I hate to rank the top five so I will simply say these are the ties for top spot

Libertea. This beverage is an excellent mix of herb, citrus, tea and bourbon flavors. The week we tried it, I made a mint version to go along with the recipe’s basil version but the recipe creators had made the correct choice with basil. One of the best parts of this cocktail is that it is made in a large batch, steeped tea first, and lends itself to gatherings (think tailgate parties because I am) and lasts a while in the fridge. Perfect for the neighbors who like to try the weekly creations but can’t make it every week.

French 75. This probably would not have made the list if I had not used the right sparkling wine. Early on in the blog, I had made a cocktail that called for white wine and made a very bad choice on type. With the French 75 I used a Cava and it was perfect. The only drawback is that once you open a bottle of bubbly you need to use it all so this drink demands you invite friends to enjoy it with you. Never mind, that’s not a drawback.

Horse’s Neck. The second drink of the series, this is a go-to cocktail now. It could hardly be more simple with bourbon, ginger ale, angostura bitters and lemon peel but the taste is complex and satisfying. The recipe requires a long strip of lemon peel for the name sake “neck” but a simple peel works just as well. Obviously, the better the ginger ale the better the drink.

Vieux Carré. David and I are of Acadian descent on the maternal line. If fact, our Mother grew up speaking as much, or perhaps more, in French than she did in English. You would think, based on that, it would be no problem for me to pronounce the name of this classic. Not so. I love the drink and all its complexities and nuances but for the life of me I can’t say it correctly in classic French or in the more apt New Orleans fashion. That won’t stop me from ordering one though, even if I have to say it over and over.

Hemingway Daiquiri. Last week, I said one of the things I have learned is that the classic sour cocktail (sweet, sour and spirit) is almost always pleasing to me. The Hemingway Daiquiri is a nice twist in that it uses maraschino liqueur for the sweet element and a mix of grapefruit and lime for the sour. Hemingway was a well-known imbiber and so far everything we have tried that was listed as one of his favorites has been worth it.

There a lot of other drinks that almost made the list. Some of them may have been tried in the wrong place or at the wrong time or else they would have been described above. David’s creation of The Pear Culture is one of those. We tried it in the Fall, which was the right time, but it needed a quieter place to enjoy the interesting mix of flavors. Another is the Vesper which begged for a relaxing evening and cooling sea breezes, at least in my mind. That could have been because it was one of the more stout mixes that we have tried and demanded slow, patient sipping.

The misses were few and far between thankfully. The common element for me seems to be oddly colored liqueurs – crème de menthe, blue curacao, crème de violette and Campari among those. Neither my wife nor I could, or would, finish the Greenback which is the best example of drink that did not look or taste appetizing. The Aviation had one of the best back stories and reasons why it was proposed. Added to that was the idea of Crème de Violette which seemed to be just the exotic ingredient that we were seeking in this quest. Unfortunately, the result was odd, the flavors conflicting and the color off putting.

David is much more adventurous in his suggestions and inspirations than I am, but he also brought us the Cinquecento and Blue Sky and those fall squarely on the never again list too. My greatest misses have used Scotch as the primary spirit. Maybe I picked the wrong Scotch or maybe Scotch should be enjoyed neat, but either way the Toast of the Town and classic Rusty Nail didn’t move me or make me want another.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

How can we be partially of French Canadian descent (the Acadian and Montreal connection) and not have tried Canadian Rye? La Belle Quebec uses Canadian whisky, brandy, cherry brandy, lemon juice and sugar. I sure hope I don’t kick off the second year with a dud.

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Tabernacle Crush

Tabernacle3Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

First, a little business. This blog is approaching its one year milestone, and Jonathan and I (no surprise) plan to celebrate. On August 9th, we’re going to write about what we’ve learned during this year of being a two person remote cocktail club, but then we’ll need your help. The next week (8/16) we want to write about what we consider the hits and misses in our selections. You, Dear Reader, might have something to say about that too. Jonathan and I recognize the same names as frequent fellow travelers on this adventure, and we would love to hear what you’ve tried, what you’ve liked, and what you’ve loathed. Please let us know. We promise to make you semi-quasi-proto-famous (just like us) by mentioning you.

Now onto this week’s business. Peaches—good peaches—don’t appear in Chicago until late July and disappear by the end of August. During that window, if you’re lucky, the grocery may present a few that actually smell like peaches. Those ripen. The others might as well be stones that, over time, soften to paste. A good peach is so good, a pasty one seems a particular crime.

The peaches I used for this recipe came from my wife’s visit to a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Lincoln Park, and proposing a drink dependent on such a rare and special fruit was a leap of faith. To be honest, I’m not sure where those peaches originated before that, but, around here, the common answer is “Probably Wisconsin.” I owe my wife… and Wisconsin… a debt of gratitude for the wonderful peach her visit produced.

To be candid, the name of this drink defies me—Tabernacle… what? Crush… what?—and I almost stopped right there, but, as a thrill-seeker and a summer-lover, I figured, why not turn my favorite sweet of summer into a drink. We can’t grow many things on our porch in Chicago, but basil is one plant that doesn’t mind the shade of taller buildings, so that was another plus.

Then I said a little prayer… “Oh please peach, be good.” I hope Jonathan had similar luck.

Here’s the recipe:

1/2 large peach, sliced

6 small basil leaves, plus more for garnish

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces gin

1 ounce Lillet

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Ice

Club soda

In a tall glass, muddle the peach with the 6 basil leaves and the lemon juice. Add the gin, Lillet and simple syrup. Add ice cubes and top with club soda. Garnish with basil.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JBM

Spent the whole week trying to remember the name of this drink. I could tell you what was in it, how it was prepared, and drinks that, I assumed, were similar. I just could not remember the name because despite some muddling that could become crushing with a little more vigor, the name makes no sense. I sure hope David has offered some enlightenment.

South Carolina is my common destination of choice for the spirit of the week. As I have described, they operate under a private ownership system as opposed to the state run system in North Carolina. The price difference is not that great from what I can tell, but there is often a much greater selection and the employees are much more willing to offer advice and recommendations. Of course this far into the endeavor, it is always more a question of which gin I will use rather than a need to buy more.

The southern Carolina is also the location of choice for peaches. A distant second to California in annual production, it is still a major producer, and there are roadside stands within 20 minutes of our house. Summers become a game of waiting for the first ripe peaches, then waiting for the different varieties—all with the goal of finding that perfect peach so sweet and juicy that a single bite can lead to peach nectar dripping from hand to elbow. This drink was just another excuse to go in search of that perfect peach.

This is also the third drink within the last month that used basil, but the description made me think it might well be the best combination. I’m not sure that part was true, but the use of the muddled peach was not a disappointment. The botanicals of the gin clouded the basil taste, while the peach shone through. It is very important to pick a peach for the drink that is ripe to the point of being mushy. The ripe fruit breaks up in the muddling and while that makes it more difficult to drink it gives the cocktail a wonderful color and full peach taste. This may be one of those drinks that a purist would snub, but in the heat of summer, and at a time when the perfect peach is a worthy pursuit, it is great refreshment.

Jonathan’s take: Odd name, wonderful drink to celebrate summer and peaches.

David’s take: I’ll try to recall this one next summer… though I’m sure the name will slip from memory.

Next week’s proposal (proposed by Jonathan):

It doesn’t seem to matter what I am reading, there is one classic that keeps coming up – the Pisco Sour. Pisco is a South American brandy made with grapes and the sour is the classic drink of the spirit. In fact, it is the national drink of both Peru and Chile. More on the arguments about that next week.