Watermelon Cocktails

Proposed By: David

Pursued By: Jonathan

You may not know (unless you’re Cliff Clavin) that the watermelon appears in ancient Hebrew, Egyptian tombs, and medieval texts. Its history stretches 5,000 years, which means it’s about time Jonathan and I made it the focus of our cocktail-making efforts. This time, our charge was simple: make something with watermelon.

Mark Twain called the watermelon, “What angels eat,” but, thinking of the watermelons of my youth, I can’t believe anyone would say that. Those watermelons were crowded with annoying seeds to spit out. Though, in the tradition of older brothers everywhere, mine told me swallowing a seed would start a watermelon growing inside me, I can remember giving up after a wedge or two. Current watermelons are so much more civilized—seedless and full of juice.

That juice—more Clavin-esque information—may explain part of watermelon’s longevity. Some scientists believe watermelons were first cultivated in the Kalahari desert as sort of primitive water storage devices. Watermelons are 92 percent water (and 6 percent sugar).

Anyway, it’s the water of the watermelon that seems perfect for drinking. It’s relatively low calorie (less than most mixers anyway), and has a distinctive and fresh flavor very unlike the Jolly Rancher or Laffy Taffy bastardizations.

The natural spirits for watermelon are probably vodka (we’ve made a watermelon drink before) or tequilla, but I thought it would be fun to try it in a Tiki style drink, so I adapted a recipe called the Tiki-ti Five-O and substituted watermelon for orange juice. The original recipe from comes from an LA tiki bar, the Tiki-Ti, and was created by a tiki scholar named Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. I found it in Imbibe:

2 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Five-0 syrup (see below)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. watermelon juice
1/4 oz. ginger liqueur

Muddle the watermelon in a bowl and then pour the appropriate amount of juice into the shaker, add the other ingredients and ice, then shake well. You might need to strain into the glass because the watermelon is pulpy. As you might see in the photo, I powdered the top with Chinese five-spice (very sparingly) and garnished with a cherry and a watermelon cube. I also added an inedible slide of rind for color… wishing I had a watermelon pickle or a piece of candied ginger instead.

So the watermelon was a wonderful element of this drink. Paradoxically, however, it was not the star. I purchased some Chinese five-spice powder for one of our previous cocktails and am happy to have found another mixology use for it. To make the syrup combine equal parts honey and water and 1 tablespoon of Chinese five-spice powder for every cup of water. Stir constantly, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and then let cool. Though I sort of hate any appearance of cheesecloth on this blog, you will need three or four layers to strain out the grit of the spice. And shake the syrup before you use it. If all that seems a lot of trouble, it’s worth it. Five-O syrup seems a perfect tiki flavor, and it’s so much easier than buying or making a bottle of falernum. I’m going to make more Five-O syrup.

Here’s Jonathan’s Entry:

Watermelon is not my favorite fruit. It’s not from lack of trying though, and as long as I can remember, it has been a staple of summer. Thumping to find the perfect one, icing it down, finding a spot to flick or spit the seeds and slicing it up. The idea is great while the fruit is usually disappointing. Maybe it’s comes from starting with the sweetest and most ripe section and working towards the rind and least sweet part. It just never lives up to the hype.

It is a fruit that goes well with so many things though. Many drinks ago we tried a watermelon and basil drink that was wonderful. Before the and since I have tried watermelon with cucumber, mint, and peppers in both food and drink and all of those were great combinations. So this was a challenge I was ready to accept.

My research found far more drinks with white liquors combined with watermelon than dark liquor ideas. The first drink we tried combined the botanicals of gin, cucumber accent and the featured fruit, the Watermelon Cucumber Cooler:

1.5 ounce gin
2 slices cucumber
1.5 ounce watermelon juice or 3 one inch chunks of watermelon
.5 ounce simple syrup
.75 ounce lime juice
Pinch salt
1.5 ounce soda water

Muddle watermelon and cucumber (I went with fruit chunks instead of juicing a watermelon), add other ingredients except soda, shake with ice, strain into iced filled highball glass, top with soda and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

This drink reminded me of all the past experiences with watermelon—sounds great but only okay. It did meet the promised Cooler aspect, which is good for summer, but none of the flavors asserted themselves. Surprisingly the gin even got lost in this one.

The idea of the second drink was to find a good whiskey and watermelon combo. I will admit that the previous experience with using basil and watermelon led me to the Murricane. The drink was supposedly created for Bill Murray and christened with one his nicknames that refers to his mercurial personality:

2 ounce watermelon (I still used muddled chunks rather than juicing)
4-5 basil leaves
1.5 ounce bourbon
.75 ounce lemon juice
.75 ounce St. Germain liqueur
Ground pepper

Muddle watermelon and basil, add all other ingredients, shake with ice, strain into old fashioned glass with fresh ice and garnish with a small chunk of watermelon.

The basil and watermelon mix did not disappoint. This was a cocktail that combined the best parts of summer with the distinctive taste of bourbon. I’m not sure what the St. Germain did but I will credit it with blending everything into one harmonious drink.

Jonathan’s take: I’ll keep eating watermelon and given the choice I will have it with basil and bourbon.

David’s take: I know I’m supposed to sneer at the hipsteriness and trendiness of Tiki drinks, but this is one I’ll return to.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One liqueur we have missed, or avoided, is Peach Schnapps. For some reason, most of the drinks using the liqueur have names that are double entendres. The proposal is to make one of the more mainstream of those that also has one of the more tame names – Sex on the Beach. If you don’t believe that is a tame name check out the list of Peach Schnapps drinks on the Bar None web site. Heck, just check out the ones that start with F.

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!

Year Two: The Best and Worst

As promised, we are taking a look at the highlights (and lowlights) of our second year of tasting cocktails.

Jonathan

JanetoblameThis has been a wonderful year for the virtual cocktail club. That’s mostly because it has been less virtual. We have enjoyed beverages with friends, neighbors, groups and, most importantly, family. David and I even had a couple of drinks together this year. I hate to try to summarize it for fear that something will be left out although there are plenty of cocktails that stand out for one reason or another.

I don’t know about David, but I cannot recall attending any school that named superlatives. You know – “most likely to make friends with a cell mate” or “best dressed person studying phrenology” or even “class rodeo clown”. Yes, that was my second rodeo clown reference this year even if this one makes no sense.

I went back and reviewed all of the drinks we tried this year. Reviewed, not tried. What stood out the most is that we have picked better drinks. There have been a few duds, but for the most part the cocktails have been interesting, sometimes classic sometimes not, and have included a great number of ingredients. Based on that, rather than rank the drinks I would like to offer my superlatives.

Best name/worst drink: The Monkey Incident

It is a bit unseemly to pick a drink I named, but I loved it (the name not the drink). It came to me in a conversation with a co-worker that had absolutely nothing to do with cocktails. I think the reason I liked it so much is that there is something amusing to me about any odd animal reference, and I don’t think it is just me.

I have an enduring memory of one of my nieces, the one most directly related to David, his daughter. We did not see them that often but there was a period that whenever we did she would always make some reference to baboons. What made it so funny is that when she said the word it was almost as if it burst from her like there was an actual baboon crashing into the room.  “And then he danced like a manic baboon!”

The drink wasn’t funny and it wasn’t good. It was our first, and I think only, frozen drink. It was also the only use of crème de banana and now I am stuck with a bottle of the stuff. Bad drink, bad liqueur.

Best use of unique spirits that were actually good: Goldschläger drinks

Goldschläger was used in two different drinks and both were surprisingly good. The first was the Black & Gold which we used to celebrate another niece’s graduation from college. The intent was to create a drink that matched the school colors with the gold flakes floating in a dark spirit. It was so effective that the drink actually tasted good. Nice surprise.

The second use was the 3GT which mixed ginger beer, gin, Goldschläger and tonic. My take was that it could be a staple on bar menus and I still think that. A mix of ginger, botanicals, cinnamon and quinine seems quite odd until you taste it. The interplay is one of the few examples of a drink that is not dominated by a single ingredient.

Most likely to make someone say “what the heck is that”: Pear Bourbon Cider

The base of that drink was a pear cinnamon cider from Trader Joe’s. That cider was so good that I went back less than a week later to get some more. It was gone from the shelves and I suspect it is one of those Trader products that don’t last long like the black pepper cashews that disappeared a few years ago but were so good that I still look for them every time I go in. The cider and bourbon were best friends. So much so that you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. I knew I had used bourbon as the base and that pear was the fruit but would bet that folks drinking the cocktail could not have identified either specifically. The essence of a well-blended drink.

Ingredient most able to make others superlative: Any drink with a sparkling wine

We tried at least three drinks that included a sparkling wine and each of them was fantastic. The Vanilla Bourbon Champagne, Amazonia and Sparkling Peach Sangria all stood out and the effervescence from the bubbly was a big part of each. I could probably include the orange wheat shandy, which benefited in the same way from the beer, in that group too. It may not be manly, whatever that means, but the specific carbonation of wine and beer lifts the drink to another level.

Even better for me, it is not a drink that I want to drink in quantity rather it is one that is worth savoring. Pinky extended, of course.

King and Queen of the Prom: Prickly Pear Margarita

David is right—we are more savvy. I would be one of the last people that a person should ask to whip up a cocktail without use of a recipe because we make a different one each week, and I don’t repeat them enough to commit the bartending to memory. That said, I know so much more about methods, concepts and individual, often odd, ingredients than I ever did. What once was a foreign language when reading drink menus is now familiar and there is a good chance I even know some of the history or background to it.

When I was at The Last Word in San Antonio I asked the bartender if they made their own shrubs. He described a couple of new ones they were working on for future drinks, and I told him about the simple apple shrub we had made a few weeks before. Fortunately, my son David was the only person to hear the conversation, and he is far too nice to tell me what a cocktail nerd I have become.

The prickly pear margarita is great example of the classic mix of ingredients that make up a good drink. Spirit, sweet, sour and water are the base but in this case they were all twists on each of those categories. Front and center were two components made for each other – mezcal and prickly pear syrup. The mezcal is distinctive and smoky providing the platform for everything else and the syrup balanced it with a unique earthy (David’s very apt description) sweetness. They are cousins that seem more like brothers which is fitting since our oldest brother provided the homemade prickly pear syrup that we used. The drink was made complete with more sweetness from orange liqueur and the sour element of lime provided in two different ways. There is both fresh juice and a concentrated limeade that begged for the ice bath to cut its strength. This cocktail deserves its crown(s).

David

drinkHere’s a different approach to this task. I’m going to dare a few thoughts about the aesthetics of cocktails.

After two years of making a different cocktail almost every week, I guess I’m entitled to some conclusions… or at least some opinions. When we last engaged in this week’s exercise of choosing hits, misses, and stuff between, my assessments seemed rather scattershot. It’s hard to say why some cocktails “work” (and others don’t), and anyone examining my choices might discover no pattern, no underlying principle, or specific perspective, no aesthetic.

That’s okay—I’m hanging onto our no-pressure not-so-savvy status as long as possible—but I am beginning to recognize (and anticipate, even) what I like in a drink. For me, it all comes down to balance, interest, and impact.

Balance seems the most obvious trait—you want each ingredient to count for something and you want them to play together well. You seek harmony. You don’t want a shandy that’s too orange-y or Bloody Mary still too married to tomato juice. A whiskey too sour isn’t appealing, nor is anything over-cardamomed. Two of my least favorite weeks involved milk or cream—the wassail and the cherry pisco hot chocolate. In each case, the ingredients seemed at war with one another, each vying for attention. One of the drinks I return to often is the 3GT, a combination of flavors that, while quite different, combine well.

We’ve had a fruity year. That is, we’ve tried a number of cocktails featuring components like grapefruit, figs, prickly pears, rhubarb, peaches, strawberries, cranberry, and even pumpkin. If you count citrus, almost every drink contains fruit. More broadly, however, I’d say each has an interest, a central taste everything else dances around. Balance and interest may seem contradictory—one suggests a meeting of equals and the other a boss—but the two traits are more paradoxical to me. You need to taste everything, but without something particularly interesting, the drink doesn’t work. And it need not be fruit. Take the Vanilla Bourbon Champagne Cocktail. The name is a pile-up of sorts—or an effort to give every actor a line—but the vanilla seems the star, echoed by the mellow taste of bourbon and enhanced by the effervescence of champagne. I’m with Jonathan here… just about any cocktail with sparkling wine is good… well, not every.

When I say a cocktail needs impact, I don’t mean to say it’s potent—though potency is perhaps the most obvious impact in a cocktail—it could be its appearance, as with Tiki drinks or spice, as with the Medicine Man or Chai as in the Chai Town. I realize impact over laps with interest, but if interest is the central flavor cocktails dance around, the impact is the great enticer, attracting eyes, nose, or sensibility. Alcohol-y drinks aren’t for everyone. I’ve talked about my sister-in-law’s preference for fruity drinks, but a spirituous drink has some appeal for me, promising a break from the usual, especially when the usual seems so challenging. In that vein, I enjoyed the Jane Russell and the Monte Carlo, both of which matched spirit against liqueur against bitters, intense, potent, but distinctive.

This aesthetic of balance, interest, and impact may seem to exclude those standards like the whiskey sour or gin and tonic or martini, but I don’t think they do. Oddly, one of my favorite drinks over the last two years has been the Horse’s Neck, which might not seem to have so much going for it—just ginger ale, bourbon, and bitters. My justification is be that an effective cocktail needs some measure of each trait, and that, at times, one trait makes it all work.

Jonathan’s Take: I thought we would have run out of ideas by now, but on to year three.

David’s Take: Still not savvy, but getting there.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

The Daedalus is cocktail that I found in a book I have used for previous proposals – The Art of the Bar. It is one of few drinks I have seen that uses Irish whiskey as the primary liquor, excluding shots, and is combined here with a ginger syrup that also includes peppercorns to add a little spice. It should be a simple mix to start, again, our next year of virtual drinks together.

 

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.

Tiki Drinks

TikiJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The tiki craze began in the mid 1930’s. Restaurants that served Polynesian food and drink were opened by Ernest Gantt (later Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) in California. The concept was to invoke the exotic through food, drink, and décor and it attracted everyone from stars to those who simply sought an escape. That concept proved to be so popular that those restaurants grew to be chains that spread across the US and internationally. It lasted into the 1960’s before it began to die out.

Tiki cocktails were an odd mix of the created culture, exotic juices, and accessories. There was no real Polynesian food, just Asian and south Pacific, but the drinks used the flavors of those regions—coconut, pineapple, orange, pomegranate and passion fruit among them. They also mimicked the popular rum punches of the previous century except that most tiki drinks included a mix of different rums. Cocktails were served in special tiki mugs with large fruit garnishes and in the cliché version with paper parasols as the final embellishment

They should have been little more than a craze except for the fact that drinks were excellent and, because of that, popular. True tiki drinks included the fresh juices and mixes that have reappeared in the nouveau cocktail establishments that are so popular today. House made grenadine, fresh squeezed juices and mixes of simple, aged, spiced, and overproof rums all combined to make a potent drink, even if it was sweet and fruity. It should be no surprise that they are making a resurgence as people take the time to use quality ingredients to make complex drinks.

The problem for the home bartender is that very complexity. I began the first week of this concept trying to juice a fresh pineapple. I have no idea why it is so hard to find fresh squeezed pineapple, but in the end my only choice was to cube a fresh one, pulverize it in the blender and strain it through cheesecloth. And that was just one juice. As you will see in the recipes, there are typically multiple juices, more than one rum and other added spirits all of which offers a challenge for those mixing themselves.

The proposal was that we each try a couple of tiki drinks that we had not done before. In my case I chose the Scorpion, which was apparently popular as a group drink in large bowls with multiple straws, and the Blue Hawaiian.

Here are the recipes:
Scorpion

Juice of half a lime
¾ ounce brandy
¾ ounce light rum
¾ ounce dark rum
¼ ounce triple sec
1 ½ ounces orange juice

Lime wedge garnish
Shake with ice and pour over more ice. I added some pineapple juice, which some recipes included, at the request of the tasters.

Blue Hawaiian

¾ ounce rum
¾ ounce blue curacao
¾ ounce crème de coconut
2 ounces pineapple juice
Cherry and pineapple wedge garnish
Shake with ice and serve over ice. In this case, we added some neon food coloring because fresh pineapple juice and blue curacao create a less then “blue” Hawaiian. The other option is to make Painkillers which use similar ingredients, have essentially the same taste, and are a much more pleasant color.

And Here’s David’s Review:

easterAll hail il the tiki. Though a celebratory impulse always surrounds cocktails, tiki drinks raise that urge to a sense of abandon. The silly cups, the lurid colors, the fruity and spirited concoctions, the weighty and elaborate skewers of garnishes all say, “Let’s pretend we’re on vacation.”

Martinis tiki drinks are not. James Bond will never ask for a Bahama Mama or a Five Island Fizz.

On a trip out to the east coast my son (and friends) took my wife and me to a restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn called King Noodle. My son seemed disappointed that, since his last visit, the owners had swapped rough-hewn but tasteful paneling for the black walls and day-glow posters he expected, but the bar was suitably dim, the menu suitably surprising, and the drink service suitably lavish and languid. I started with a Planter’s Punch and moved onto an Ancient Mariner, but no one in the party chose the same libation. We traded plenty.

Besides a Planter’s Punch and Ancient Mariner, I tried a classic tiki Mai Tai, a Zombie, a Hot-Buttered rum, and Singapore Sling. The next night, in honor of my sister-in-law’s birthday, I created some tiki drinks myself, a Blue Hawaiian, a Blue Lagoon, and the old standard Dark n’ Stormy. So I tried nine tiki drinks, folks. Reviewing them all is just too much work, but testing so many varieties led me to some critical conclusions:

  1. Something in rum’s molasses-y overtone couples perfectly with fruit juice
  2. Even on an unexpectedly cold night, a good tiki drink has a warming, highly spirituous soul.
  3. Tiki drinks are best enjoyed out… unless you love blue curacao and keep ample passion fruit juice on hand
  4. It’s all about the layers, ethereal rum and dark rum, spice and sharp citrus flavors chasing each other
  5. One tiki drink is never enough. Try something new. Anyone who chooses a second round of their first choice should go back to Manhattans
  6. The cups are key, reflecting not only the unlikely combinations but also the pagan excess of the proceedings. No Easter Island style mug? Fine, but retrieve your most fanciful stemware from the back of the china cabinet. Let loose.

tiki glen rockAs I own no Hawaiian shirts, have never had the epithet “the beachcomber” tied to my name, and enjoy surf music only from time to (much separated) time, I’ll never muster the devotion necessary to become any more savvy about tiki than I am about any other style of drink. However, this vacation—in the both the literal and figurative sense—was quite welcome.

Jonathan’s take: The drinks are fantastic but save them for a tiki party so that all that trouble of making fresh juices and buying multiple rums is worth it.

David’s Take: Tiki-dom will never be everyday, but I won’t be embarrassed choosing a crazy cup when the opportunity arises.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

It’s Derby time! I wouldn’t be so boring as to propose a julip (though I love them), so I’ll be seeking some variation involving bourbon, mint, and sugar. I’m not entirely sure which I’ll choose or which Jonathan will choose, but I figure we can’t go too wrong. And I will be betting on the race, even if it’s only with friends for paltry sums. The Kentucky Derby is all about celebration, and I won’t (and can’t) miss out.

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.

Mai Tai

20140713_180821_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

I am afraid. Very afraid actually. Who could have known, before doing research on this drink and the background, that people are so into and argumentative about all things tiki. The disputes run deeper than the origin of the Mai Tai, there are debates, web sites and input all over the board about tiki decoration, tiki food and especially tiki cocktails. I can’t prove it, but am fairly sure that someone sent an attack yellow jacket to sting my hand yesterday to leave me incapable of typing. Despite the swelling and itching, though, in the name of all that is right in cocktailia, I am pushing forward.

The Mai Tai is included on virtually every list of the top 100 cocktails of all time. It meets the basic definition of two parts spirit (rum in combination of types), one part sour (lime) and one part sweet (the mix of orgeat and orange liqueur) at least in the basic recipes. The odd thing is that there is no simple, basic recipe.

This cocktail is less disputed as to the creator than it is about actual ingredients. There is little doubt that Victor Bergeron created a drink that is now known as the Mai Tai at his Trader Vic’s restaurant and bar in California. That drink highlighted an extremely well-aged rum (J. Wray & Nephew which is no longer available) and paired it with lime, orange curaçao, orgeat, and simple syrup. Sometime before that, however, Ernest Gantt (perhaps better known for his name alteration – Don the Beachcomber) had also made a drink ultimately called a Mai Tai. It is a much more complicated mix of ingredients which included grapefruit juice, Pernod, and bitters among other things. Search Wikipedia and one can find a link to wikibooks with no less than 11 recipes for the Mai Tai. I am perfectly happy to give both of them credit.

Not surprisingly, David and I exchanged messages this week about what recipe to use. I settled on this one, but even that changed a couple of nights later when I made the pictured drinks. From Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists:

1 ounce aged rum
1 ounce heavy rum
½ ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce orgeat

Combine the rum, Grand Marnier, lime juice, orgeat and ice in a shaker. Shake and pour, unstrained, into a rocks glass, add a half of the previously juiced lime and a sprig of mint. Of course, I added the parasols since we are talking faux tiki here.

The first test version, which I made after creating the homemade orgeat (still quite a task but worth it), included Pusser’s Navy Rum and an aged rum along with a Grand Marnier knock off. That drink had too many parts that came to the forefront. The official tasting version included the same aged rum, but substituted Muddy River Rum and triple sec for the Navy rum and Grand Marnier. It was a much better blend. The rest of the debate about all things tiki? You’ll need to take that up with Martha Stewart. Just watch out for yellow jackets

Here’s David’s Review:mt2

As a category, tiki drinks have an ironic appeal for me. The crazy glasses, the pastel colors, and the fruity profusion of exotic secondary ingredients make tiki drinks the circus clowns of the cocktail world. I might drink one just to grin at the monstrosity before me, just to inform the world I’m not afraid of stepping out and standing out.

As Jonathan notes, the Mai Tai may be the greatest of the tiki drinks, the granddaddy of the them all and, as such, bartenders have created many lurid and gaudy variations. Like Jonathan, however, I went with the classic Mai Tai to test the theory that serious cocktails can make do with elegant simplicity. I had to have the little parasols too, but otherwise I meant to do Trader Vic proud. Nor was I disappointed.

My appreciation of fresh squeezed lime increases each time we use it. Depending on the context, a lime can add sweetness, tartness, or a citrusy spiciness. In this setting the lime seemed to do all three, mixing with the caramel overtones of the aged rum to give the drink depth as well as freshness. Curaçao is a little sweet—I always wish it were more like marmalade than candy orange wedges. And my version included a “rock candy simple syrup” that is two parts sugar to one water. I’m unconvinced of the necessity of the extra sweet simple syrup, as Jonathan’s version includes no simple syrup the simple syrup I had, which was not so sweet, was too sweet. The orgeat, however, contributed an interesting weight and smoothness, almost like adding egg whites. I wish I’d made mine from scratch as Jonathan did, but the version I found was quite good… even if it was a little expensive. Plus, I have more, should I find other recipes calling for it.

I was tempted, of course, to put the concoction in a party-store-purchased pink plastic hurricane “glass,” decorate the rim with pineapple, and add a twisty straw along with a sword skewer of cherry, grape, and melon ball, but I’m older now. It would not befit my age and station any more than the Hawaiian print shirt still hanging in the back of my closet. Besides, any addition to this recipe would be gilding a lily. The secret of the Mai Tai, a couple of glasses tell me, is its assertiveness… no equivocation allowed.

My sister (who, coincidentally, is also Jonathan’s sister) and her husband visited Chicago this weekend, and, though they gave me no lengthy reviews, they seemed to appreciate the sour attack of this sweet and substantial drink. As my brother-in-law noted, it’s also a potent drink, and that’s sure to pave the way for greater enjoyment still. An accomplished and famous cocktail, the Mai Tai is clearly the product of careful and sensible proportions and blending.

David’s Take: I would have another… and another… though I’d ask how the bartender makes his Mai Tai if I ever order one out.

Jonathan’s take: I came into this week thinking fruit juices and rum when I thought Mai Tai, but leave fairly confident in Trader Vic and his simple orgeat version.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’d like to stay on the summer theme by suggesting the Tabernacle Crush, a cocktail featuring a fruit I love—peach—and an ingredient I’ve wanted to return to—Lillet. This one will also call for basil, but it’s an herb that even we Chicagoans can grow in the summer.