La Belle Quebec

LaBelleProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The choice this week is more about the liquor than it is the cocktail. My somewhat overfull shelves in the liquor cabinet include rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, bourbon, Scotch, Irish whiskey, American whiskey and some sweetened versions of a few of those. It was time to try Canadian and the vehicle was somewhat of an afterthought. As it turns out, at least in my opinion, that is a shame.

Canadian whisky or Canadian rye is not nearly as regulated as its counterpart to the south. In the U.S. rye (whiskey not whisky) must contain at least 51% rye grain in the mash with the remainder likely corn and barley. It is aged in charred oak barrels that have not previously been used. Canadian whisky is referred to as rye whisky more out of tradition than actual makeup. The mash mix may contain some rye but there are no restrictions on how much if any. Aging is accomplished in wood barrels, but once again the methods do not mandate the type of wood, charring or if they have been used previously. It follows a stereotype, but when it comes to Canadian whisky, those Canucks don’t let a bunch of rules bog them down.

The whisky I chose more resembled a scotch than the rye whiskey we have used in previous drinks. I bought Canadian Club small batch classic. Bottled at 80 proof, it does not identify the exact mix in the mash, and, with 12 years of aging in charred oak barrels, it is as smooth as a single malt to me. I tried a very small amount straight to compare it to the rye, and, though I am not one to taste all the subtleties, my first thought was that I need to offer it to friends who are scotch drinkers to see what their reaction will be.

This is a cocktail blog and I don’t want to forget the drink itself. La Belle Quebec is an obscure drink I found in an older Gary Regan book The Bartender’s Bible. The recipe is

1.5 ounce Canadian whisky

.5 ounce cherry brandy

.5 ounce brandy

.5 ounce lemon juice

half teaspoon fine sugar

Shaken with ice and strained into a coupe.

I used Cherry Heering instead of cherry brandy because I had it and would suggest that in doing so the sugar could be omitted to create a cocktail with a little less sweetness. The end result was a very nice drink, hardly deserving obscurity. It has a nice color, smooth taste and finish and just enough complexity to make it interesting.

photo 4-31Here’s David’s Review:

My wife and I have visited Quebec—we honeymooned there and made a return visit for our 25th wedding anniversary. She does much better with the French than I do, but it doesn’t matter much. Everyone seems equally friendly whether you say “Bonjour” or “Hello.” I’m a little surprised, in fact, that in our visits to Quebec City, no one has offered me one La Belle Quebec.

The flavors are certainly appropriate—Canadian Whisky, Brandy, and the one non-brown (but still dark) spirit I substituted for cherry brandy, Cherry Heering. Though the lemon juice lightens the combination a little, this cocktail is as potent and dense as it sounds. And, with sugar added, it’s quite sweet. About half-way through her glass—full or empty, you decide—my wife wondered if it would be a sin to fill the balance with seltzer. I joined her, and the drink seemed more refreshing, more suited to the heat that has finally descended on Chicago now that it’s late August and really ought to start cooling off.

Which is a natural segue to my review. I liked this drink. The warmth and depth and gravity of the cocktail would make it wonderful after dinner, but—if you need loosening up—maybe before dinner is good too. We have a deck of cards from the Chateau Frontenac that depicts the old hotel covered in snow, and I couldn’t help picturing us sitting in the hotel bar, happy we didn’t have to go out and happy for calm and friendly company. For me, it fits the same category as the great dark drinks—Sazerac, Manhattan, Vieux Carré, De La Louisianne, etc.—and we will never try enough of those as far as I’m concerned.

Is it the best summer drink? No. If you like the taste and want to have couple, the addition of seltzer isn’t a bad idea, particularly if you include lemon seltzer. Is it too sweet? Maybe, and I’ll certainly skip the sugar in the recipe when I make it again. Here’s “however”: I sometimes hear people say something has “Good bones” when they mean it has solid components, whatever objection you might have to their assembly or appearance. That.

On a related note, having never tried Canadian Whisky I was curious to try some on its own. A regular reader of this blog undoubtedly knows I favor the darker spirits (and the darker versions of the lighter spirits), and I’m grateful to Jonathan for introducing me to this one—it has the spiciness of rye and mellowness of bourbon and a clean, direct flavor all its own. Those Canadians are onto something.

And Cherry Heering, it’s delicious. Jonathan sent me an email earlier this week saying I should have Heering from an earlier recipe (I didn’t—I substituted something else). Then he added, “Unless you’ve been tippling like an old lady.” I don’t know. Maybe I will tipple that Heering away… or find another cocktail where it takes a central role.

David’s Take: Worth adding to the repertoire, and I’ll definitely return to it this winter.

Jonathan’s Take: I like the idea of less rules, and I like La Belle Quebec. A good combination.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, I’ve been looking for a definitive Chicago cocktail and have finally found one, The Cohasset Punch. I know it’s wrong that it should be named after a small town in Massachusetts, but (as always) there’s a story behind that. A popular drink from the turn of the 20th century until after World War II, it even appears in native son Saul Bellow’s debut novel, Dangling Man. The specific version I’m choosing is the update, The Cohasset Punch #2, which will require cinnamon simple syrup. I may also sneak in the original as well, which will require a canned peach… really.

Drinking Out

Proposed by: Davidphoto-85

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Letting someone else mix your drink, I’ve discovered, isn’t so bad. You needn’t worry about imposing on your brother—the last person you’d want to impose upon—and there’s usually company, a welcome meeting of friends, the celebration of reconnecting.

This weekend, Jonathan and I went out. On my half, his friend Jerry Beamer and his wife Jean were visiting Chicago, and so we met at Epic, a restaurant downtown known as a “spot,” a place to get good food and good cocktails and good conversation. All of which we more than achieved. The evening went by in a blur, but it was, in every possible way, a pleasant blur.

Jerry ordered an Effen Avocado just before we arrived, a combination of Effen Vodka (brilliantly named), avocado puree, lime, and agave nectar. I didn’t taste any, but Jerry reported satisfaction, a pleasing combination of weight and spirit.

At dinner, Beth tried a G6, a combination of St. Germaine, agave nectar, and prosecco. Jerry’s wife Jean chose Crimson Love, Ketel One Vodka infused with lemon and lime, solerno—a blood orange liqueur—actual blood orange puree, and Aperol.

Jerry and I both decided on The Epic Mule, the restaurant’s variation on the Moscow Mule, served, appropriately and necessarily, in a copper cup and featuring—the deviation—tarragon simple syrup. With vodka and ginger beer and lime, it seemed refreshing, almost (not quite) like the water that accompanied the meal. I have to think that’s the whole point of metal vessels, to make you think you’re drinking from a spring with a ladle… though water never tasted so good.

For the second round, Jerry ordered more of the same, except that he substituted bourbon for vodka, and I had to follow suit. That drink, in my humble opinion, surpassed the first, with the complication of an amber spirit replacing the directness of clear. I hadn’t thought of adding lime to whiskey, but the combination was perfect, just as refreshing but more complex. It made me want to invent more lime-bourbon drinks.

The food was wonderful too.

All in all, the evening couldn’t have been better. Good history, good food, and good cocktails. Fun, I hope, for all, a reminder we must stick together. Company enhances cocktails, but ultimately communing with friends is why we’re here, to celebrate the warm connections we’ve made.

Here’s Jonathan’s account:

out

This week was a short break from making our own cocktails, but not a break from unique drinks. Thanks to Jerry and Jean’s (Bourbon Jerry and Jean-Baby to me) visit to Chicago it was a chance to try out the cocktail scene in our respective cities. And in that trying out, it gave us a chance to go to a part of Charlotte that we don’t visit often.

A simple Google search of best cocktails led me to Heist Brewery which seemed odd since one would assume that they would concentrate on beer. Bad assumption. Their menu includes interesting food with a local farm to fork emphasis served in small portions to encourage tasting a number of items. Added to that is their large and small batch micro-brews, beer cocktails, and what they term “craft cocktails.” They are located in a part of Charlotte that was formerly an area of textile mills and the accompanying mill village. What used to be a simple blue collar area is now a unique part of town that is home to micro-breweries, restaurants, live music clubs, and an interesting mix of housing.

We tried a couple of those cocktails and intended to try two of the beer cocktails. Many, many years ago our family made a stop in San Angelo, Texas. I have no idea how we ended up there and why but there are two things I remember about San Angelo – a train museum and horned frogs (or horny toads as we called them). La Marque had an occasional horned frog, but San Angelo was lousy with them.

That is all my way of explaining why I chose the one of Heist’s classics, the Horny Toad. It is made with Hornito’s tequila, jalapeño agave syrup, elderflower liqueur, fresh sour mix, a dash of Cholula and is garnished with jalapeño and lime slices. My wife had a Texas Mule made with Tito’s, vodka, fresh lime juice, and Heist made ginger beer served in the classic tin mule cup over crushed ice.

Both drinks were excellent and unique, but the Horny Toad stood out. First, it was beautiful in a way that none of my drinks seem to be. Second, the fusion of flavors made it spicy but not, and tart but not. It was perfectly refreshing and unique. The Texas Mule was also really good, especially the ginger beer, but the Toad was so assertive it made the Mule seem a little too calm.

And those beer cocktails? Debbie made her second drink a Horny Toad after tasting mine, and I couldn’t go to a brewery, stare at the brewing room, and not try a beer. Opting for their Porter to go with our small plates, I made another excellent decision. Thanks to Heist, it was an evening of them.

One more recommendation. It was National Pretzel Day on Saturday (we found that out later) so it was only fitting that our best small plate was beer cheese with soft, freshly baked pretzel sticks. That and a Horny Toad and you can’t go wrong.

Jonathan’s take: There is an art to true cocktails. It may have an odd name, but Heist’s Horny Toad proved that

David’s take: Hail to the mule… and visitors.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I don’t know if it is my proposal or David’s, but next week is the Kentucky Derby so we’re having Mint Juleps. I have already ordered a couple of julep cups, stocked a new bourbon, and made mint simple syrup. Jerry, that cocktail trying fool that he is, will be here to try them with us and I can’t wait!

Singapore Sling

better?Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There is a great deal of consensus about the creator, location and basics of the Singapore Sling. The popular history of the drink is that the bartender Ngiam Tong Boon of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore made the first one in the early part of the 20th century. There is also agreement about gin as the main ingredient along with Benedictine, cherry heering or brandy, lime juice, and club soda.  Since the original recipe no longer exists, or at least it is probable it does not, proportions and extra ingredients vary from that point. That should not be surprising to anyone who has ever researched the origins of classic cocktails.

One of the first things you learn when exploring cocktails is that there does not seem to be a definitive history for any drink. Almost every classic cocktail we have tried includes multiple versions of the history, ingredients and proportions. For instance, even with all the consensus, there are those who suggest the Singapore Sling came about before the cocktail by that name was served at the Raffles Long Bar. Different versions include pineapple juice, orange liqueurs, sugars, wine, floats of liquor and a variety of garnishes just to name a few. In fact, there are almost as many recipes as cocktail guides and write-ups.

As an aside, I have enjoyed reading the many blogs about cocktails, although their existence explains part of my problem with this blog. When we started I had visions of great popularity, worldwide acclaim, visits to late night talk shows and branching into alternative endeavors. Who knows, I thought, maybe I would finally achieve the life long career goal for which both David and I have practiced since we were young television addicts—cartoon voiceover artist.

Unfortunately, we are just one blog of thousands exploring the realm of alcohol, and I will need to keep my day job.

The proposal last week suggested that David find a recipe to his liking since there are so many variations. I ended up doing the same after reading multiple suggestions and then changed that up as I made more drinks. The base recipe I used was equal parts (1 ounce) of gin, cherry heering, Benedictine and fresh lime juice. Those were all shaken with ice, 2 ounces of club soda and few dashes angostura bitters were added before serving over ice in a highball glass. The second drink added an equal part of pineapple juice to tone down the sweetness of the heering and I changed the bitters to orange.

It was surprising how the gin got lost in the drink and the Benedictine stood out. My sister-in-law suggested the drink made her feel like she should be on a cruise ship and that really summed it up. It is bright, cheerful and tropical. So much so it seems to cry out for an umbrella. Maybe that is why there are so many versions; it is satisfying, but everyone is looking for that magic combination that takes it to another level.

photo-80Here’s David’s Review:

It appears it’s been a tough winter everywhere and, of course, here in Chicago we like to believe we’ve had it worst with our fourth greatest inches of snowfall ever, our polar vortexes, and our temperatures lower than Antarctica lowered ridiculously again by wind chills. True or not, since winter hit in late October, I’ve been thinking, “Boy, I could use a Singapore Sling!”

Not really, but it was a welcome drink for early March, a reminder of tropical climes and a harbinger of spring. It has to be spring soon, doesn’t it, because how can they dye the Chicago River green if it’s covered with ice?

I like all the ingredients in this drink, every one, so their combination was wonderful to me. I used the classic Raffles Hotel proportions, and it’s complicated measuring out all its parts—harder if you’ve had one. Yet all the varieties of spirits seemed perfectly balanced against the freshness of the pineapple juice… also one of my favorite things. The pineapple garnish gave me a good excuse to eat the entire fruit. I know, I should be ashamed of myself.

After an abortive trip to the market—yes, Jonathan, it happens even here—I went with ingredients we already possessed, Luxardo Maraschino and Mandarine Napoleon in place of Cherry Heering and Cointreau, but the result was pleasing, fruity and fresh with a complementary hint of botanicals from the Benedictine and Gin. Naturally, I’m curious what this cocktail might be like with first-string components and intend to try it again sometime with its archival “necessities.” That said, I was quite satisfied. It’s a classic for good reason. Cocktails involving fruit juice always seem smoothest. Maybe I think somehow I’m being healthy… though the next morning usually disavows that notion.

Jonathan’s take: This is a drink for one of my favorite cartoon characters, the fellow who offered everyone a Hawaiian punch. I need to work on that voice.

David’s Take: Wonderful and welcome.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Erin go Braugh! St. Patrick’s Day is a big celebration around here, with roving bands of stumbling drunks swinging from trolleys and hailing taxis all over the city. I’m using the occasion to suggest something other than green beer. I’ve chosen a cocktail that’s suitably green, uses Irish whiskey, but is perhaps—and how could it not be?—more subtle: Irish Eyes. It’s compared to a White Russian, which I think Jonathan’s wife enjoys, so I’m hoping for the luck of the Irish. And isn’t everyone Irish on March  17th… or thereabouts on the calendar somewhere in there?

Infused Vodka

20131215_163145Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The popularity of vodka is no doubt related to its neutrality. The most basic of spirits, it is almost entirely alcohol, ethanol specifically, and water. It can be made from a variety of sugars—complex or otherwise. Though potatoes may be considered the classic food to supply the ethanol after yeast digestion, the majority of vodkas are made from grains like wheat, barley, rye, corn and sorghum. Other vodkas are produced using fruits including the popular grape and even exotics such as horseradish, sugar beets and prickly pear cactus.

There are also a huge variety of brands and producers that cover the globe. It seems like there is a vodka made in every country and for that matter in every setting. Moonshine is nothing more than a homemade vodka fermented and distilled then left at higher alcohol content by skipping the “blooming” of added water. The loyalty to certain brands within that variety of producers is a wonder of marketing. Some years ago, I remember watching a magazine style news show that tested vodka brand loyalty through a blind taste test. Not surprisingly, people had difficulty identifying their brand, and, in many cases, their top choice in the taste test was not the one they ordered or bought the most often.

The idea this week was to take that neutral spirit and create unique flavors beyond those so prevalent in the market. Two of the flavors were not so much suggested as they were prescribed – vanilla/cardamom (a nod to The Splendid Table and Lynne Rosetto Kasper) and orange/chipotle. The third flavor combination was left as a wild card for each of us and the proposal included a challenge to use one of the flavored vodkas in a cocktail.

I knew that the infused vodkas I created would start with a classic vodka, but the third flavor variation was a difficult decision. I used a Polish vodka, Luksusowa, which is made with potatoes, although I need to be honest and admit there is no way I could identify it if given a blind taste test. My search for flavor ideas led me to the familiar that differed very little from what is on the mass market to the bizarre and there was no lacking for suggestions. One Pinterest site (I don’t pin myself but viewed it) I found had no less than 54 links to different ideas. The final choice was lemongrass/ginger candy.

It is a little embarrassing to admit that after all that reading, consideration, and some amount of consternation, my final cocktails did not include the wildcard choice. The classic White Russian, and a variant of it, were the cocktails of choice. The first version used 1.5 ounces each of the orange/chipotle vodka and Kahlua topped with two ounces of half and half shaken to provide a froth. A second version was much more seasonal and was a mix of 1.5 ounce parts of the vanilla/cardamom and Kahlua topped with frothed eggnog. The latter was the better of the two, but both benefited greatly from the infused flavors.

Some observations on infusing. It does not take long to impart the flavors of the additives to the vodka and bitter flavors, like the chipotle and orange, need to be monitored to make sure they don’t sit too long before straining them out. Even with the standard 40% alcohol content of vodka, it is a good idea to make sure you start with really clean vessels and to let it infuse in the refrigerator. The final product now resides in my freezer since they are flavorful enough to serve as a simple syrupy shot to party guests. As I suggested while channeling Martha, these would make nice Christmas gifts in a decorative bottle with written cocktail suggestion. Finally, I was going to use this concept to introduce the subject of classic toasts, but with David’s permission will save that for the end of this month.

gypsyHere’s David’s “Review”:

“Infused” means the alcohol picks up the flavor of whatever it contacts. How much time that take may vary, but it’s bound to happen. You could put a used gym sock in a mason jar with vodka and a transformation would occur. As Jonathan reported, the research I did online suggested so many options I had trouble choosing—there was basil-infused vodka and gummy bear-infused vodka and chai and horseradish and honeysuckle and milk and peanut butter cup and tomato…. and doughnut.

My own choice of infusion was Earl Grey and toasted marshmallows, and, within a few minutes, the marshmallows were gone and the vodka smelled and looked like tea. I’m not sure of the chemistry, but the process seems almost instant. I fretted over how long to keep the chipotle or vanilla in the jar, but a few tastes along the way told me—take out the cardamom now, take out the peppers, leave in the orange peels for a bit longer.

The choice of cocktail presented another challenge. No drink recipes call for Earl Grey infused vodka, so coming up with a good possibility required finding complementary flavors, a taste that might meld in some way. At first, I considered mixing each vodka with the same ingredient—grenadine seemed promising—but decided instead any ambitious cocktailian (not-so-saavy as he may be) wouldn’t look for so generic a solution.

I made a Gypsy cocktail, which combines a double part of vodka and a single part of Benedictine. I’ve grown fond of Benedictine during this cocktailian experiment. It appeals to me that, at any given moment, only three people know its recipe. I also like the taste, which is sweet yet herbal, complex and warm.

With Earl Grey, it was too much. The two forces fought and only a bitter stalemate remained. The marshmallow cowered behind the other flavors. The golden brown color lied—nothing mellow here, move along.

vodkasThe second Gypsy, however, delivered much more vividly. To start, cardamom and vanilla seem friendly and, combined with Benedictine, the mixture seemed amiable. I’ve said before that the best cocktails seem to hide their individual parts, and that certainly applied with Benedictine and vanilla-cardamom. Had I tried it without knowing its components, I might have had trouble guessing.

All in all, I enjoyed this process. I’m a little scared of the chipotle-orange vodka, but I intend to use it. I’m wondering now if vodka is my only choice, if some other spirit, rye perhaps, might welcome a friendly complementary flavor for infusing.

David’s take: I’m one of those people who believe vodka is one step from chemical alcohol—flavorless and potent. Infusing is one half-step more toward other spirits.

Jonathan’s take: The infusions really make me want to try making my own bitters, but for now I think I will just keep mixing what I made with eggnog.

Next Week (proposed by David):

It’s time to start the holidays in earnest, and I’m going to propose a Tom and Jerry, which isn’t named after the cartoon characters but has a much more venerable history, especially in the Midwest where it’s the favorite holiday libation instead of egg nog. Plus it’s served warm, a new adventure for us.

The Batida de Coca

20131004_170208-2Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

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This week is our first foray into Rum as the primary spirit. Well technically, it is our first time using Cachaca which is a Brazilian Rum. The drink is the batida de coco and the recipe is

2 ounces Cachaca
3 ounces coconut milk
2 tsps. simple syrup
1 ounce sweetened condensed milk

Mix all of the above (vigorously since it has condensed milk), and serve over ice. Almost any fruit juice can be used in this drink and I read other recipes that blended it with ice to make a frozen drink.

My oldest son, David, had suggested a cocktail using Cachaca. The standard drink using this Rum is the Caipirinha (the national drink of Brazil) but it was too close to last week’s Gimlet. I also was planning on going to the South Carolina coast and with an odd October weekend with highs in the mid 80’s the Pina Colada type drink was appealing. It is a little unfair that my brother would be experiencing much less hospitable weather in Chicago, but I was hoping that he could still find a beach where he could enjoy the drink. We actually violated the virtual cocktail set up and talked by phone and since Chicago had a spate of thunderstorms going through, I gave him a pass on the beach.

There is a mistaken impression that Rum is all distilled from fermented sugarcane juice. That is true for Cachaca and Rhum agricole, but the majority of Rum is made from distilled molasses which is the thick syrup left over after sugarcane juice is filtered and heated to crystalize the sugar. I used Leblon Cachaca which is a beautiful pale grass green and probably too fine of a spirit to adulterate with condensed milk.

The versions we made included the straight coconut, guava and then coconut/pineapple. One of the suggestions in recipes is to add nutmeg or cardamom (either would be good in the simple syrup) to cut the sweetness. That sounds a lot like a Painkiller and seems like a good excuse to go back to the beach the next time the weather is this beautiful.

Here’s David’s Review:20131004_170519

If you can judge a cocktail by your appreciation of its ingredients, this drink was a winner from the start. I love coconut milk (in curries), sweetened condensed milk (in fudge), and simple syrup (anywhere). Though I’ve never tried cachaça, what’s not to like?—A “rum” made with fresh cane syrup, Brazilian, in a tall elegant bottle, all good. Sometimes the sum is less than the whole and sometimes greater. I enjoyed Batida de Coco immensely. Though it was certainly sweeter than I’m used to in a pre-dinner drink—it was as sweet as dessert—this cocktail evoked a sunny beach, an afternoon free of anything like work.

Cachaça is often called Brazilian rum, but it doesn’t taste at all like rum to me, having a much more direct flavor—more like vodka—with an almost tequila-like complexity. The combination of this spirit with so many sweet ingredients doesn’t erase its immediacy, and the clean taste of cachaça does much to balance the weight of ingredients like sweetened condensed milk. Looking at a mixed drink resembling milk is a little disconcerting, I admit. A drink so white promises little complexity. Jonathan advised adding a little nutmeg or cardamom to cut the drink’s sugary heaviness, and that was good advice. It dressed up its appearance as well as moderating its taste. The little spiciness added a great deal. It made me wonder what coffee or some other bitter note might add as well. I may try that later.

I’m not sure I could drink a Batida de Coca every cocktail hour or even once a week—it seems made for moments you see the promise of total relaxation—but as a step out of the usual it seemed especially enjoyable. Sweet without being cloying, dense without being heavy, smooth without being thick, it seemed the perfect escape, a brief trip to Brazil or, at least, to somewhere much warmer and more tranquil than Chicago in October.

David’s take: A fun drink, worth reserving for those times when fun is not only possible but the top priority of the occasion.

Jonathan’s take: This drink is too decadently sweet and rich to drink more than one, but I have to admit that one was delicious.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

I’ve been wanting to return to Rye for a while, and I found a drink that combines many of the ingredients we’ve gathered over the last few weeks, the De La Louisiane. This drink is a combination of Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Absinthe, and Peychaud Bitters. I’m a little worried about finding the three brandied cherries required, but what’s life without a few challenges?

The Fall Gimlet

Proposed by: DavidGimlet

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Even the name “Gimlet” has an interesting history. The word used as a description of a drink appears first in 1928, and many people associate it with a tool for drilling tiny holes with piercing, penetrating precision. Others say the cocktail commemorates the British navy surgeon Thomas Gimlette (active 1879-1913), who developed the lime-centered drink as an anti-scurvy measure. These theories may or may not be true, but the drink itself has been around long enough to make tracing it back challenging.

I read somewhere that, in the current surge of cocktail drinking, the Gimlet has largely been left behind. Why isn’t clear, but I have my own theory. Rose’s Gimlet is a dusty choice, a bartender’s friend, automatic and easy. It was a staple of your father’s generation, more cloying than sweet, more like a can of cocktail than the fresh, sophisticated, and often exotic mixed drinks popular now.

Fresh lime juice restores some of the drink’s vitality, but the recipe I proposed for this week, the Fall Gimlet, also adds warmth in the form of a trendy cocktail sweetener, maple syrup. Any gimlet requires a sweet element—simple syrup or sugar—but the idea behind this drink is to balance the sharp citrusy attack of fresh lime with the amber and mellow complexity of the woody syrup. I suppose it’s called a Fall Gimlet because we’re closer now to harvesting maple syrup, but the color is also perfect for the name, the same yellow ochre of some of the leaves turning on a tree outside my window now.

As I had trouble imagining limes in Vermont, I was a little worried proposing such an odd combination, but I thought it might be worth a try and enjoyed the direct and refreshing promise of this cocktail. Here’s the recipe, which requires no elaborate preparation:

1.5 oz. Gin

1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

¾ oz Maple Syrup

Add Gin, Lime, and Maple syrup to an empty glass or shaker, add ice, shake and strain.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jonathan's GimletsCropt

This has been said before (in fact it is the basis of this blog), but I am a neophyte when it comes to cocktails. The closest I have come to a mixed drink most of my adult life has been a margarita or mojito.

There was a time though when I tried a few cocktails in hope of being more sophisticated. I have always been inclined towards alternative music, but thanks to my Dad I had an understanding and appreciation for jazz and the classics. There came a point in young adulthood that I began listening to Sinatra and Billie Holiday. About that same time I thought martinis were the sophisticated drink and that would be my cocktail of choice. The only problem is that I didn’t like them, other than as a marinade for olives or cocktail onions. When the olives began to out crowd the Gin, I decided I needed a new option. That was when I discovered the Gimlet.

A simple mix of sweet Rose’s Lime Juice and Gin shaken with ice yielded an accessible drink that gave an air of sophistication. My love of beer won out though, and the Gimlet was left behind. Now I am wondering why.

This drink, especially with the fresh lime juice and sweetened by maple syrup is, to me, the best of the drinks we have had so far. The tartness of the lime is perfect with the Gin botanicals and the maple sweetness acts to soften those flavors and accentuate them at the same time. I also have to admit that as the first drink of Fall the maple syrup makes perfect sense.

Just to push the point I decided to try a variation of the recipe David proposed called the Old Vermont. That drink alters the proportions and adds orange juice and a couple of dashes of bitters (I used Peychauds) to the mix. I liked this variation just as much although my fellow taste tasters liked the simple Gimlet better. Those fellow tasters included old friends who I first met as a freshman in college in 1979 and my neighbors the next day. Just wanted to point that for anyone worried about consumption level.

David’s Take: I enjoyed the combination of flavors in this drink–the botanical gin, the mellow maple syrup, and the fresh and tart lime. They played surprisingly well together.

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Jonathan’s take: An old friend revisited was the theme of the weekend and this classic fit that perfectly. I could go back to this any time.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We haven’t used much Rum yet so next week’s drink will feature that with a tiny variation. I have already let David know that the drink of choice will need to be enjoyed on a beach which is slightly unfair since he is in Chicago and I will be in South Carolina, but he can pay me back with some winter classic later.

The Pink Mojito

Proposed by: Jonathanp mojito2

Reviewed by: David

There are folks who are fanatical about barbecue. They insist that one type (beef or pork typically), style or place is the absolute best. Having spent my formative years in Texas and all my adult life in North Carolina, however, I am an equal opportunity eater. I can’t proclaim what is the best type, style or place simply because I have not tried them all. That hasn’t stopped me from trying though.

What does this have to do with cocktails? I was introduced to the mojito by some friends only a few years ago. Since that time, I have tried a number of variations at many different places and, like barbecue, am not sure what is the best because I have yet to try them all.

More savvy cocktailians have probably already discerned that my proposal statement from last week is not correct. The mojito is a classic cocktail with a history that is probably over 150 years old and a cast of associated characters that includes one of the great drinkers (who also dabbled in writing) of all time – Ernest Hemingway. He had the good fortune to enjoy a mojito in its birthplace of Cuba while the closest I have come is the best one I have had to date. Just down the street from Hemingway’s Key West home is the Blue Heaven restaurant and whether it is the actual drink or the wonderful setting, I would recommend stopping in to try one for yourself if you are nearby.

The other tie to barbecue is the speculation that the name Mojito is related to food preparation and citrus-spice mojo marinade. While I am not sure if that connection is real, it seems like a good enough reason to connect these two pursuits and enjoy the mojito with the mojo marinated and grilled meat of your choice.

The mojito lends itself to experimentation through variations in the liquor, fruit and additives. The version I have chosen is credited to Hakkasan, a restaurant in London. Sadly, I have never tried it in person although it does seem like another good reason to visit London.

The recipe is as follows:

2 ounces Cabeza tequila (I think any quality agave tequila will work here)

½ ounce brown simple syrup

20 mint leaves

½ lime

Cranberry juice

Muddle mint and lime with simple syrup and pour over crushed ice. Add tequila and top with cranberry juice.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’m not the guy who wears long pants on a July beach or shows up in a resort bar sporting a paisley tie… but close. Drinks identified with Key West or London or Cuba are unfamiliar, and, to my knowledge, I’ve never owned a bottle of Tequila—blancho, joven, reposado, añejo, or other.

So imagine my delight encountering the pink mojito—a drink equally bright and complex, minty and citrus-y, sour and fruity, bitter and bright. Jealous of Jonathan’s brown simple syrup, I substituted cane syrup, and the addition only enhanced the island quality of the cocktail. I’ve had a mojito before (well, once) but the cranberry juice created a nice astringency, a natural echo of the tequila’s agave tang. And this drink is sweet and minty, resonant of the juleps I know well from multiple Derby parties in Louisville and elsewhere. My wife has been growing mint all summer on our porch, so I was happy to make use of her labor, and maybe nothing is better than the flavor liberated by a freshly muddled tender mint leaf.

My one critique is the bolus of organics gathering in bottom of the glass, waiting for your last swallow. Maybe it’s my problem, my fastidiousness, the same stiffness that would have me wear the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place, but I like my cocktails shaken, strained, and clear. Perhaps, in that, I’m not yet ready for the tropics, not yet ready for the overabundant foliage of abandon.

That said, the ultimate judgment lies in wanting another. My wife and I finished the first with an immediate, “How about more?” Having all I need to create another, I’ll add pink mojito to my list of cocktail options, even in Chicago February when summer is far away and a distant memory.

David’s take: Love it. Wish it were acceptable for the whole year, even though it couldn’t be further from my usual tastes.

Jonathan’s take: The Pink Mojito won’t make my top ten. The cranberry overwhelms the line and mint, which is the best part of the drink.

Next week (proposed by David):

My sister-in-law, an Italian, sent us a very funny advertisement for Fiat’s 500L or “Cinquecento,” which inspired me to find a cocktail worthy of its quirkiness and celebration of eccentricity. I found one in the Cinquecento cocktail, a combination of vodka and bitters, which my source site describes as unusual because it’s “vodka being used in a recipe that’s well thought out,” one of the top 101 best new cocktails for 2013.

Please join us in enjoying the Cinquecento!

The Tallulah

proposed by: Davidcok-whiskey-peanut

reviewed by: Jonathan

source

If you are from the south (and of a certain age), you might remember old men at the local gas station funneling salted peanuts through their fists into the neck of their coca colas. The idea was simple—to combine sweet with earthy and salty.

This recipe comes from a Birmingham, Alabama, gastropub called Ollie Irene. The drink is named after a co-owner’s aunt, apparently quite a bourbon lover.

I proposed it because—like most humans I guess—I like sugar and salt. But I especially like them together, and this cocktail gave me a chance to do that intriguing thing only old men seemed to be allowed to do.

The Tallulah combines bourbon with a sugary mixture of coke and an orgeat (OR-zjhot) of peanuts, sugar, vodka or brandy, and a teaspoon of orange blossom water.

1.75 oz. Jack Daniel’s
1 oz. peanut orgeat*
Coca-Cola

The most laborious portion of the recipe is creating the orgeat, which involves boiling unsalted peanuts in a simple syrup then allowing the mixture to sit. When you strain the peanuts from the liquid with cheese cloth, it’s a mess.

Peanut orgeat
makes 1 ¼ cups

2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 tsp. orange flower water
1 oz. brandy or vodka

Pulverize peanuts in a food processor. Meanwhile, combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to boil for three minutes, then add peanuts. Lower heat, allowing mixture to simmer for several more minutes, then gradually increase the temperature. When mixture is about to boil, remove from heat, and cover.

Let mixture sit for at least six hours. Then strain it through cheesecloth, discarding peanuts. Add orange flower water and brandy or vodka. Keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

The toughest ingredient to find is proportionally the smallest, the orange water. Jonathan found alternatives, but the description of orange water on Serious Eats intrigued me:

To the uninitiated, orange blossom water’s flavor is a surprise. It transports the clean brightness of orange groves to a field of wildflowers on a muggy day. The finish on the tongue is pleasantly bitter, much like chewing on orange peel. Okay, so it kind of smells like old lady perfume. But those blue-hairs are on to something. A wee dash of it gives food (and cocktails) an almost otherworldly quality.

Otherworldly? I don’t know. Blue hair? Absolutely… and now I have a lifetime supply.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

The only time I tried mixing salty peanuts with Coke, despite a lifetime in the south, was during a college break summer spent as a septic tank inspector. My partner in the internship tried to convince me that RC Cola and peanuts was a delicacy. I’m not sure whether it was the situation or the oddity of the mix but it never caught on with me.

This drink achieves the peanut part with a peanut syrup that was an adventure to make. I had to substitute orange liqueur and an orange rind for the orange blossom water, but I think I got the concept right. The other challenge was filtering the peanut syrup which despite some sticky effort ended up a little chewy. The end result worked in the drink and would probably be tasty over ice cream which I will certainly test since I have some left.

The Tallulah itself was excellent even without a nostalgic tug. I fact, it made me wonder if bourbon wouldn’t have made septic tank inspection a little more fun. I did end up adding more Coke and salted peanut garnish after drinking half of it and thought it was better that way.

The last thing I will add is that I am always looking for food and drink combos. This drink seemed to be most appropriately combined with something classic so I had it with barbecue chicken, or more accurately while I barbecued the chicken.

David’s verdict: I’d have another another year from now.

Jonathan’s verdict: The Tallulah was a nice change, but I prefer sweet mint to adulterate my bourbon over peanut syrup.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):
You may not be able to tell a book by its cover but a great cover can sure be an attraction. I kept coming across Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All by Brad Thomas Parsons while I was looking for something new to read. Each time I saw it the cover pulled me in, even though I had never had any interest in bitters (probably from the negative reaction to a really bitter Manhattan years ago). The book is a great compilation of history, instruction, recipes and how-to for those who want to make their own.
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Next week, we’ll continue with the bourbon theme and try a Horse’s Neck, a drink made with bourbon, lemon, ginger ale, and Angostura bitters. You’ll need a channel knife.