Amazonia

Amazonia.dbmPublished 6/15 and Re-published 6/20

Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

One of my favorite moments in Saturday Night Live history is the “More Cowbell” bit featuring Will Ferrell and, most notably, Christopher Walken. Renowned record producer Bruce Dickinson (Walken) orchestrates Blue Öyster Cult’s recording of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” At each new take of the song, Dickinson instructs the percussionist Gene Frenkle (Ferrell) to contribute more and more cowbell. Dickinson shouts, “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.”

Don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this… for me the spotlit spirit this week, cachaça, is a sort of cowbell. One of the basic spirits in South America, it’s nonetheless exotic for most cocktailians and, yes, like cowbells, a little goes a long way.

One difference: As much as I enjoy a good cowbell, I like cachaça much more. Cachaça hails from Brazil and was first distilled by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century. It starts with fermented sugarcane juice rather than the cooked sap. Rums start from molasses and other forms of processed sugar, but cachaça offers a much fresher, more natural, almost woody flavor. Where rum might remind you of pralines, cachaça evokes chewing on those sugarcane logs you can still find in the grocery produce section.

This post began when, visiting my sister, I checked out her liquor cabinet (a bad habit I’ve developed) and discovered three-quarters of a bottle of cachaça left over from a previous visit and previous cocktail. Loving cachaça as I do, I marveled at how she managed to hang onto it, and she said, “I have no idea what to do with it.”

Of course. Cachaça—and cowbell—isn’t for everyone, but, for me, once you have some, it begs to be used. My personal mission became finding another use for the spirit. So I searched the web and found, among the top five cachaça cocktails, the Amazonia, one devised by Naren Young at the Bobo Restaurant in New York in 2008. It doesn’t actually feature that much of the Brazilian spirit, but, along with sparkling wine, it adds a prominent note. A bonus is that it includes mint, which is busy taking over gardens everywhere.

Here’s the recipe (makes one cocktail):

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cachaça
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • 8 to 10 ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) Champagne or any sparkling wine
  • 1 apple slice

In cocktail shaker, stir together cachaça and mint. Using wooden muddler or spoon, pound and press just until mint is bruised. Add ice, apple juice, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Strain into Champagne glass. Top with Champagne. Place apple slice in drink and serve immediately.

Who knows what Jonathan thinks about cachaça (or cowbell), but I’m always up for finding alternative uses for some of the bottles proliferating in our liquor cabinet.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

amazonia.jbmI have some pretty standard fears and a few that may be less normal. Thirteen is my lucky number so no problem with triskaidekaphobia, but I cannot say the same about heights (acrophobia), which must be genetic since I share that trait with our mother. One of my somewhat more peculiar fears, actually less a fear than the fact that they creep me out, is coulrophobia or the fear of clowns. Have you heard the annoying way they all laugh? Now, thanks to David, I have a fear of commas. There is no official phobia for that since the Greek and Latin for comma is essentially comma.

David told me last week that he does need to do some occasional editing, especially when it comes to my violation of the Oxford comma rule. That he edits my contributions, for clarity and grammar not content, is no surprise and is welcome. He is a professional after all. I do take some pride in my use of our native language, though, and now I plan to write with nary a pause unless absolutely necessary.

By now this should make one wonder if I even tried the drink this week or if I tried too many. I did try it and loved it. We could probably create a list of our favorite drinks that are topped with sparkling wine, and it would be a matter of splitting hairs between the best of the best. There is something about that additive that elevates and enhances a drink. The only drawback, as I have mentioned before, is that once you open that bottle of bubbly you need to use it.

There are not too many variations of the Amazonia, but one that I did find suggested white cranberry juice instead to the apple juice. Looking for a more clear drink I chose that route although I could only find peach/white cranberry. It is such a small amount that there is probably not much difference other than there is an interesting sweetness. The garnishes were an apple slice, blueberry and raspberry. The last two were just because I have both those plants in my yard, and the total harvest is so small that I wanted to showcase them. Might have wiped out the total raspberry haul in one round of drinks depending on what the deer miss over the next week.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I should invest in champagne splits and try topping all of my drinks with it.

Re-take (6/28/20): It’s this simple – Cachaça is one of my favorite spirits. Rum in general is great for cocktails but the vegetal extra of Cachaça is even better. The Amazonia showcases that. There is some disagreement in my household about whether the mint is necessary and I will leave that up to the drinker.

David’s Take: I gotta have more cachaça. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cachaça… and (personal taste) maybe a little less sparkling wine.

Re-take (6/28/20): This drink is more complicated than I remember—all of the different flavors are hard to separate (which is a good thing). It would be worth experimenting with the quantities to discover how I like this drink best.

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Next time (Proposed By: Jonathan):

I have been reading a cocktail book from Death & Co. (a renowned cocktail bar in New York) called Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails. A lot of their rum cocktails use Rhum Agricole and one in particular cites, in no uncertain terms, a dislike for Cachaça. I’d like to test that hypothesis and make the Brazil 66 cocktail with both spirits. All for scientific purposes of course.

 

Jalapeño Shrub Cocktail

ShrubDMProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I revived this project, we decided on two types of entries—re-posts and new posts. I did not count on my dim memory. In my mind, this cocktail recipe employing a shrub was supposed to be a new post. All week, however, I’ve been fighting a sense of deja écrit, and it turns out I was right.

Sigh. I’m not going to go through the amusing and interesting facts about shrubs that my earlier self mastered and forgot mastering. The highlights are as follows:

  1. A shrub is a mixture of fruit juice, spices, and vinegar.
  2. Shrub is from the Arabic sharāb, which means “to drink,” and also gives us “sherbet” and “syrup” as metathetic variants, though I no longer can recall what metathetic variants are.
  3. Around since at least the 15th century, shrubs include vinegar as a way of preserving fruit juices, and people once saw them as medicinal.
  4. Some people just add shrubs to club soda, no alcohol.
  5. Shrubs are hip.

I think I might have saved 350 words there.

Jonathan and I had a text exchange earlier this week, though, that did make me see shrubs in a new light. He reminded me that some nutritionists describe vinegar as “jogging in a jug” because it apparently activates an enzyme called AMPK that encourages the body to burn fat, particularly the sort of fat that surrounds organs as you grow older. Before you go out to buy a gallon of apple cider vinegar, I should also say that Jonathan thinks the sugar in a shrub might nullify any benefit the vinegar might offer… and then there’s the gin.

Anyway, the best reason for making a shrub—or drinking vinegar, for that matter—is because you like the taste. Not everyone will. The sweet and sour is a little strange, and, as the particular recipe we tried included jalapeño and basil, it may seem even stranger. It’s not my job to write the review this week, so I’ll keep my position on shrubs to myself for now. I will say that adding shrubs creates cocktails just as identifiable and distinctive as ones that feature eggs… though very different… if that makes any sense.

Jalapeño Shrub Cocktail:

For the shrub…

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large jalapeños, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • .25 cup basil leaves
  • .25 teaspoon coriander powder

For the cocktail

  • 1 ounce shrub
  • 1.5 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces soda
  • Lime for garnish (though you could use jalapeño, of course)

Making this shrub is a little complicated, so read to the end to get a sense of the whole process. FIRST you create a mash with the fruit, the jalapeños and sugar and leave that for 48 hours. At the same time, SEPARATELY, combine the other ingredients. THEN, after the 48 hours, strain both the fruit mixture and the vinegar mixture and combine them.

The cocktail recipe itself says to combine the ingredients in a glass with ice, but you might notice from my photo above that instead I put everything (except the soda!) in a shaker and added the soda last.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

ShrubJM

The first time we tried a cocktail using a shrub in 2015, I disparaged “Jogging in a Jug.” That drinking vinegar (same as a shrub) was popular years ago but then disappeared after the makers were accused of making false health claims. Now research shows there are benefits from ingesting vinegar that may include increased metabolism, blood sugar improvements, heart health, and maybe even skin health.

I recently read How Not to Diet by Dr. Michael Greger. That book is a thorough review of nutritional studies and vinegar is among the items for which he finds evidence of tangible benefits. I need to be quick to add that sugar and alcohol are not on his beneficial list although capsaicin the chemical compound found in hot peppers is. Capsaicin is noted for activating brown fat. Since this is a drink blog, I will simply say that is a good thing.

My version of this cocktail included a strawberry shrub, lime juice, and an American Dry gin, Conniption, which is made in Durham, North Carolina. The shrub itself was made from the instructions in David’s recommended recipe with local strawberries instead of blueberries. The coriander and basil did not come through, but the jalapeño was very present. In fact, that background mild spice and the subtly infused gin were the highlights of the drink. I thought going in that tequila or mezcal would be a better choice of spirit, but I can’t see how either would complement the shrub better than the Conniption.

Jonathan’s take: Who knew that a vinegar based cocktail could be so good – and good for you too!

David’s take: I generally like shrub cocktails and frequently order then when I’m out… I just wonder about this one, which with the shrub… and basil… and jalapeño… and gin isn’t just a little TOO busy.

Our Re-take Next Time (proposed by David): In my proposals, I hesitate to insist Jonathan go out and buy a spirit long gone, but, nonetheless, I’d like to revisit the Amazonia, which features cachaça AND sparkling wine. A spirit that has become one of my favorites, cachaça lends every cocktail a tropical feel for me, and when is sparkling wine ever a bad idea?

The Mule (Moscow and Otherwise)

muler?muler?Published: 10/13/14… Republished: 5/31/20

Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

mulishness2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retake Photos (l to r, Jonathan and David)

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Jonathan’s RE-take: The mule/buck is not only one of the few cocktails I know from memory, it is one that I can remake easily based on preferences of the drinker. For this re-take I started with with an idea from a pre-COVID trip to Curacao back in January. We visited the Curacao distillery at Landhuis Chobolobo. They make a Tamarind Mule with their tamarind liqueur and tequila. I mixed it up a little with Ted Haigh’s recommended Blenheim extra hot ginger ale and mezcal instead of tequila. The taste testers loved the hot ginger, the smoky aspect of the mezcal and the unique flavor of the tamarind. The tequila version was very good too. Ginger, spirit, citrus repeat…

David’s RE-take: As someone who loves ginger ale, any sort of mule is welcome for me. I made mine with Goose Island Ginger Ale in two varieties—tequila, a “Mexican Mule,” and rye, which apparently is a Maryland Mule (though I never knew Maryland was known for its mules). If I had to choose between the two, I might choose Maryland, though that pains me. Perhaps if I’d had some mezcal and tamarind like Jonathan….

Next Time (proposed by David): Jonathan is working on a shrub! I love shrubs. And I love gin. I found a recipe that combines the two ingredients. We will make some adaptations, naturally but this choice offers a bonus—jalapeño. We haven’t had many hot cocktails on this blog, so I’m looking forward to it.

Gold Rush

IMG_1520Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

How is it possible? The history of cocktails tells us the first that met that definition and name was created in the early 1800’s. Yet here we are in 2020 and the history of this week’s Gold Rush cocktail, a 3 ingredient mix by the way, is less than 20 years old.

The Bee’s Knees cocktail is more widely known. The lore is that the Bee’s was the result of prohibition era gin being softened with the sweet of honey and the distraction of lemon. The true story it seems is that this gin cocktail traces back to Paris in the late 1920’s. It is attributed to the widow, and adventurer, Margaret Brown. She and her bartender were the first to mix gin (an ample 2 ounces) with honey syrup and lemon (3/4 ounce in most versions). Margaret Brown, by the way, is better known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown – a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic.

The bourbon version of this cocktail, the Gold Rush, did not arrive until the early 2000’s. An investor and bartender, T.J. Siegal, at New York’s Milk & Honey bar created this drink as an alternative to a Whiskey Sour. The honey syrup provides the sweetness and the lemon the acid with bourbon as the perfect foil. As I asked to begin this background – how did it take so long?

The Gold Rush

2 ounces bourbon (don’t skimp and use something you like by itself)
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce honey syrup (I mixed at a 2:1 honey water ratio)
Shake with ice, strain onto ice in a highball glass and garnish as you like. I used some pineapple sage leaves because I had them.

I made a Gold Rush and a Bee’s Knees since I had the ingredients for both. Just sub gin for the bourbon in the latter and serve in coupe with a twist.

Here’s David’s Review:IMG_1510

Make enough cocktails (and drink enough) and you’re bound to consider the fundamental qualities of a cocktail, like how many ingredients it should have, what proportions, which flavors to complement and/or contrast others, or which seemingly peripheral elements like temperature or drinking vessel suit the drink best. No such basic laws actually exist, of course. No Neoplatonic cocktail sits in another plane of reality serving as the ideal for every iteration. However, for me, one cocktailian truth seems fundamental—cocktails should only be a complicated as they need to be.

Back in the old days when I visited restaurants instead of having them visit me with greasy bags and styrofoam, some involuntary skepticism rose up in me as I read the cocktail menu and found drinks with seven or eight ingredients. Many proved wonderful. The ones that wove multiple flavors without hiding any of them showed amazing skill and tested the limits of my preference for only necessary complexity. Other cocktails, however, just seemed muddied by too many and too varied components.

All of which is a long preamble to saying I liked the Gold Rush. When Jonathan proposed it, I immediately thought about the sore throat cure my father-in-law used to give my wife as a child—it was the sixties—but I really appreciated the clarity and sincerity of this drink. Though I might cut down on the honey simple syrup a little bit, this cocktail fulfills my cocktailian Occam’s Razor especially well.

As if often the case when you reduce the number of ingredients, you need to assure the quality of the Gold Rush’s few parts. But, even with so simple a formula, you have a lot of room for experimentation. I can imagine a different bourbon, honey, or Meyers’ lemon (instead of regular lemons) would make a big difference.

Jonathan’s take: I know this will surprise you – but how did it take so long!

David’s take: Could be a classic (and I’m not sure why it’s not)

Jonathan’s proposal for the next drink: We will return to one of the basics the Mule (Moscow and otherwise). I have a feeling that Mezcal will make an appearance in my version.

The Americano and Negroni

Proposed by: Jonathancamparicropt

Reviewed by: David

Republished… originally published 9/15/2013

Absinthe is purported to have a slight hallucinogenic effect. There was no immediate effect from ingesting it in a Sazerac, but I am going to claim a delayed effect. Somehow I thought I had read about a version of the Cosmopolitan that used gin and Campari. The more savvy cocktailians (maybe we’ll just call them savvyones) know the classic Cosmo is vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and lime. It might be a stretch to substitute gin and Campari for the vodka and cranberry and call it a Campari Cosmo. I still want to begin to use some of the ingredients that we have acquired and to offer some possible variations though, so my proposal for this week was both the Negroni and Americano.

The Negroni is a drink attributed to Count Camillo Negroni in Florence Italy. Apparently the Americano was not strong enough so the Count suggested replacing soda water with gin. I cannot say that is a suggestion that would come to me naturally, but you only have to look at my review of the Cinquecento, which I found more than a bit too powerful and bitter. After that experience, I read that Campari, as a bitter, is an acquired taste which also factored into my suggestion of two alternatives for this week.

The Americano is in many ways the simpler drink, It is made up of 1 ounce of Campari, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and club soda. Served in a highball glass it is garnished with a twist of orange. The bitterness of the Campari is really knocked down by the sweetness of the vermouth and dilution of the club soda. It was so much more enjoyable and, like a bitter IPA beer, was great with spicy food.

A Negroni is equal parts (1 ounce) of Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. It is also served with a twist of orange, on ice in an old fashioned glass. We tried it as an aperitif as it was intended and although it was a strong drink it mellowed as the ice melted. Overall it was complex and enjoyable. The Americano impressed me as a drink that people who like gin and tonic would enjoy as an alternative.

Here’s David’s Review:

Jonathan mentioned that online recipes call each of these drinks “an acquired taste.” As a great acquirer of tastes, that didn’t scare me. Quite the contrary, it inspired me. Black coffee, obscure documentaries, and knowing the minute details of the history of the hammer-throw make you feel special. You get used to justifying what others find strange, and then you begin to take pride in it, and then you start to annoy friends by urging odd things upon them. Later, when they complain, you sigh, “Oh well, maybe it’s an acquired taste.”

Only, I don’t like Campari. It isn’t the bitterness exactly, but the sort of acrid smell and undertone (like licking an aspirin) that turns me off. That, and the syrupy mouth feel. And the lurid, obviously dyed color. I could get used to Campari—you could probably get used to sipping shampoo—but, as we’re only drinking one cocktail a week (or, in this case, two), I’d like to enjoy the main ingredient… which, in case it’s not yet clear, I don’t.

Jonathan is right that, in the Americano, at least other ingredients balance the bitterness. The sweet vermouth is truly sweet. Its vaguely herbal undertone doesn’t add much bitterness—though, like the Campari, a dandelion flavor lurks in it—and the soda lightens the whole drink. I maybe might could possibly enjoy this cocktail… if it weren’t for the Campari, which made the whole concoction taste like, well, a concoction.

Gin is one of my favorite spirits (and, in fact, I love gin and tonic) so it pains me to say I liked the Negroni less. Gin IS medicinal, wonderfully so, but, in combination with the vermouth, and especially the Campari, the drink seemed an unsuccessful attempt to mask some sorcerer’s cure. Cocktails aren’t good for you, and one item that’s sure to make my future essay, “The Education of a Cocktailian,” is that mixed drinks shouldn’t taste like prescriptions.

Okay, I know someone is going to go all Sam-I-Am on me, tell me I’m being unfair to Campari and haven’t given it the chance it deserves. I only know a few Latin phrases, and one is my response: de gustibus non est disputandum or “There’s no disputing about matters of taste.” Maybe some of our dear readers love Campari and feel hurt by my rejection, and sorry. Your taste buds must be built differently than mine. We can’t all like the same things. And some tastes you don’t even like enough to acquire.

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Jonathan’s take: There is a lot to be said for introducing strong, new tastes slowly. The progression from Americano to Negroni was more gradual and made each that much better.

David’s take: Damn you, Campari.

Jonathan’s re-take: My recollection was that I did not care for the Negroni but my take in 2013 was fairly positive. No matter, this time around it was tasty enough that I would consider buying another bottle of Campari.

David’s re-take: Sorry Campari… my wife loves a Negroni, and, since the original post, we compromised by making them with Aperol instead. It seems less like bitter candy. 

Proposal: The next post will be a new cocktail for us – kind of. The Gold Rush is another 3 ingredient cocktail that is a version of a Bee’s Knees with bourbon subbed in for gin. And it’s an excuse to make another simple syrup!

Sex on the Beach

Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There’s a good chance I am a prude. I hadn’t given it much thought until I started reading the names of the many Peach Schnapps cocktails and considered there is little to no chance I would order any of them in a bar. Of course, what chance is there that I would be drinking Peach Schnapps in the first place.

When I proposed the Sex on the Beach cocktail I noted that there are many cocktails using Peach Schnapps and that most of them have a suggestive double meaning. I assumed in reading them that there must be some reason that was easily identified. Nope. Maybe the peach lends itself to that (fuzzy), perhaps the Schnapps are sweet and sneaky (all drinks referencing sex) or it could be that one thing just led to another (24 versions of some type of Sex on the…).

It isn’t just cocktails referencing sex though. There are a number that have peculiar names in general that, prude or not, I would never order.  Anyone imagine saying, “Excuse me bartender, could I have a Phlegm”? And what is the chance that you ask your friend to get you an Afterbirth, Alien Urine Sample or Cat Killer while they are up at the bar? If I am suggesting drinking a Dr. Kovorkean, I hope someone schedules an intervention and nothing is going to make me want to put down my beer for a Sewer Rat, Frothin’ Monkey Ass or Crackhouse. I have been known to scream F**k Me Running on the golf course but it has never been a drink of choice.

One more note about Peach Schnapps and liquor in general. I don’t ever buy the cheapest version of whatever spirit we are featuring nor do I buy the top end stuff. When I went to buy this liqueur though, there were cheap options and cheaper ones. It was one of the few times, out of fear of what else was in there, that I splurged for the expensive bottle. It was a whopping $10 which finally gave me an idea why the cocktail names suggested behavioral changes. All of this said, the basic recipe for Sex on the Beach is simple and satisfying.

1.5 ounces vodka
.5 ounce Peach Schnapps
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
1.5 ounce cranberry juice

Combine, shake with ice, strain into ice filled glass and garnish with an orange slice. The liquor.com recipe suggested an alternative addition of Chambord or Creme de Cassis but I skipped that. I did increase the Peach Schnapps a little because, frankly, that was the feature and it got lost otherwise.

David’s Review:

Another drink that, like Jonathan, I’d be embarrassed to order… and not just because of the name. As long as it wasn’t the first drink I ordered, I’m sure I’d have the gumption to name it. And it isn’t that drinks like this one seem more popular with women than men, because I really don’t understand those categories. My reluctance arises instead from the Peach Schnapps, which I’ll always associate with college “punches” designed to disguise intoxicating ingredients.

I wonder what sort of demand there is for Peach Schnapps. Unsurprisingly, the price point of a spirit is often an indication of its cache, and Peach Schnapps—the most upscale variety—will barely crack $10 even in Chicago. The taste is also some indication of its sophistication. No monks died for the secret of its eight thousand herbal ingredients, and no bottle passed over the equator just once to increase its familiarity with the smoky oak of its barrel. In fact, like many fruit flavored products, it tastes little like the ingredient it purports to represent. Peach Schnapps might be renamed “Peach Flavoring Schnapps”… but then they might have to give it away.

Yet, here’s the surprise. I really liked this drink. The vodka adds nothing, but combining orange juice and cranberry juice gives the cocktail a sharp citrus-y edge and brings the schnapps closer to the taste of an actual peach. I DID make the cocktail with Creme de Cassis and heartily recommend adding it. Sweet drinks like this one demand a bitter element, and, while it helped that we chose a cranberry juice from Whole Foods with minimal sweeteners, the Cassis contributed to that bitter note.

One more note: a key discovery of participating in this blog is how important fresh ingredients are. The schnapps is in no sense “real,” so it seems particularly important to squeeze some oranges or buy orange juice squeezed at the grocery. I don’t know if they sell Sex on the Beach in cans, but that would be nightmarish. What saves this cocktail is not the schnapps—which will likely occupy a spot in my liquor cabinet for a while—or the vodka but everything else. The everything else really matters.

David’s Take: Who’d have thunk I’d enjoy this cocktail so much?

Jonathan’s Take:

Next Time (Proposed by David):

I recently had a genever and black tea cocktail at a friend’s house and the close of summer inspires me to try something similar. I searched the internet for a recipe that combined those flavors and found Earl Grey Infused Gin Cocktail. The recipe calls for adding the tea to the gin, but I may add it to the simple syrup instead. There’s something about the combination that seems right for this time of year.

Low-Calorie Cocktails

Proposed By: Jonathan

Enacted By: David (and Jonathan)

It has taken me a long time to do this write-up. I introduced the concept of calories in cocktails and then began a search for background and ideas. Want to get an idea of the contradictory information related to that? One of the first lists I found for drinks to avoid included the mojito. Then I pulled up drinks that were lower in calories and my friend the mojito made that list too. Maybe the best place to start is by constructing a drink from base calories.

There are sources that claim one liquor has more or less calories than another. The bottom line though is that the calorie content is directly related to alcohol by volume and what else is included with that liquor. The concept of efficiency is as simple as knowing pure spirits derive all calories from the alcohol since there is little other than water and flavor (or so one hopes) in a bottle of liquor. A 40% spirit has 97 calories/1.5 ounce serving, a 45% spirit has 109 calories/1.5 ounces and a 50% spirit has 121 calories/1.5 ounce serving. It doesn’t matter if that 80 proof liquor is vodka or Scotch, it’s still going to be 97 calories. So there’s the first tip – if you want to count calories while drinking you should go with liquor neat, on the rocks or with no calorie club soda or seltzer.

The next step is to see what happens when you add mixers or liqueurs. The first part of many drinks is fresh fruit juice. Lime (8), lemon (8), grapefruit (11) and orange (13) juice don’t add many calories per ounce especially when you consider both the small amount used and the flavor they add. Standard mixers up the count especially when you consider that an average drink may include 4 or more ounces in the recipe. The calories per 4 ounce serving of some of the favorites are 40 for ginger ale or tonic and 48 for coke. Another popular option for adding that flavor and sweetness are simple syrups and their flavored versions. The problem is that a single ounce of simple syrup is around 75 calories. Liqueurs add the double dose of alcohol calories and the sugary additives that give them their flavor. Some of the more popular ones are triple sec (162), Kahlua (131), Amaretto (170) and sweet vermouth (60) with the calories measured per 1.5 ounce serving. That means a White Russian adds up to around 265 if you use heavy cream – and who wouldn’t?

The challenge was to bring down the calories per drink or to find lower calorie options. As I wrote earlier, one good option is to drink liquor straight, but this is a cocktail blog so that’s out of bounds. Another popular choice is to mix with seltzer and fresh juice. Basic addition will get you to 101 calories for 80 proof vodka mixed with 1/2 ounce of fresh lime and 4 ounces of club soda. That’s the equivalent of a light beer but who wants a light beer? That brings in the idea of rum (97), lime juice (8), mint (0), simple syrup (75) and club soda for 180 calorie mojito. Now we’re up to the equivalent of a high test beer (for those who want flavor plus vitamins/nutrients as any aficionado would point out), 2 light beers or 2 glasses of wine if you use a restrained pour.

There are also easy substitutes for basic drinks like a gin and tonic or rum and coke. Assuming both start with a 1.5 ounce spirit and combine with 4 ounces mixer (we will consider the squeeze of lime negligible) these drinks ring in 149 calories for the G & T and 145 for the Cuba Libre. The quickest way to get that down is to use a diet version of the mixer to drop the count to 109 and 97 respectively. This is just my taste in drinks mind you, but at that point I would reach for the ice cubes and a straight pour instead.

When it came down to it for proposed drinks with lower calories, I went with flavored simple syrups cut with club soda. On its face this doesn’t make a great deal of calorie sense but I think this method helps with another form of calorie math. Let’s assume that one cocktail leads to another. A martini with 1.5 ounce gin and 3/4 ounce vermouth is a total of 2.25 ounces at the rough 140 calorie level. Per drink that is a good low calorie option but 3 of those are about 7 ounces and 420 calories. A mix of 1.5 ounces vodka, an ounce of vanilla simple syrup and 6 ounces of club soda is an 8.5 ounce cocktail measuring in at about 170 calories. Two of those could last an entire evening with a total of 340 calories. Yet another version of this math is the mint julep. Two ounces of bourbon, an ounce of mint simple syrup, a spring of mint and lots of packed crushed ice is an afternoon sipper with around 240 calories. Except for my fellow blogger, who needs more than one Julep?

Here’s David’s Portion:

Like Jonathan, my scientific explorations suggest basic laws of low-calorie cocktails:

  1. Variation in proof aside, all spirits have essentially the same number of calories, which leads to an axiom…
  2. The lowest calorie option is drinking spirits straight, or…
  3. Mixing them minimally with botanicals or citrus (like a gimlet or a mojito), and not…
  4. Adding liqueurs or other secondary spirits that have a high sugar content and…
  5. Sparing yourself too many or too much mixers like ginger ale or coke because they too have a lot of sugar, hinting a better strategy might be…
  6. Using a little simple syrup and soda, but…
  7. Still keeping the cocktails to around 4-5 ounces… though a bartender once told me 6 ounces is the more standard amount, because of the melt from the ice in the glass and/or shaker.

A calorie being an inviolable unit of energy, there’s no getting around these laws, but I did experiment with a variation Jonathan didn’t mention, vegetable juices. When a Whole Foods opened near me recently, it occurred to me that some of their comically named concoctions—each invented to promote my personal health and wellness—might make interesting ingredients.

So I chose Lucky Juice-Iano (weighing in at a whopping 6.7 calories an ounce) and Juice Bigalow (at 13.75 calories per ounce).

The label of Lucky Juice-Iano says, “This killer combo of PEAR, CUCUMBER, LEMON, and SPINACH is like unloading a tommy gun of hydration to your mouth while helping you fight off illness like an old-timey gangster.” I’m pretty sure I ruined any boost to my immunity by adding an ounce and a half of gin (at 42% alcohol, I’m calling it 102 calories), but this cocktail seemed the more successful of my experiments. As long as you don’t put in more than an ounce and a half of the juice—spinach cocktail, anyone?—and add plenty of soda to dilute the feeling you might be eating your hedge trimmings, this drink is palatable and only costs you 112 calories. Truth in advertising, I also added (but didn’t count) a dot or two of Angostura. That helped.

Juice Bigalow’s labeling claims, “If APPLE, BEETS, CARROT, GINGER, and LEMON ‘got it on,’ this would be their lovechild. And said child would relieve stress so you can live a long life, both in and out of bed.” I’m not sure what any of that means or who writes such bizarre copy, but this experiment seemed more iffy. I thought tequila (at 40%, 97 calories) would be the match for Juice Bigelow, and I wasn’t wrong because somehow the spirit pushed its way through all those juices and soda to a position of prominence. Still, I’m no great fan of beets and confess that I mostly chose the juice for its color. A last-minute impulse to add a shake or two of tabasco seemed to balance the sweetness a little bit, but I’d have to work on the proportions to improve it. At 120 calories, this drink didn’t produce enough fuel to even consider it.

I don’t start many statements with “People, here’s the thing…” but here goes. People, here’s the thing, if cocktails become an element of your health regimen, there’s possibly a problem with your regimen.

Jonathan’s take: The most basic truth is that there are zero calories in water. This isn’t a water blog either.

David’s Take: Do you know the contemporary use of the term “fail”?

Next Time (Proposed By David):

As tempted as I am to suggest high calorie cocktails, instead I’d like to draw on a single ingredient plentiful this time of year, watermelons. Whatever Jonathan and I make has to include watermelons prominently. The rest is up for grabs.

El Pepino

Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Wish I could say that my delay in writing this post was that this cocktail, which, in my mind, is so close to a julep, is better offered closer to Kentucky Derby Day. Truth is, like a lot of people, I’m busier than I want to be and tired most of the time.

Here, however, is a drink that might pick people up. Having lived in Louisville for a while, I have a special affection for juleps. They remind me of spring itself, those sunny and temperate days that, over the past few months of gray rain and snow, you never quite let yourself believe possible. The new green of this time of year renews hope, and mint conveys that hope beautifully. Something about mint always offers a refreshing element in food and drink.

Two of the non-julep notes of this cocktail—lime and tequila—are borrowed from margaritas and offer festive and zesty flavors too. Here’s the recipe, which comes from Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails From the Lone Star State.

1/3 fresh diced cucumber

1 ounce Mint Simple Syrup

2 ounces 100% agave silver tequila

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Fresh mint for garnish

Cucumber spear, for garnish

Mezcal (optional)

In the botton of a mixing glass, muddle the cucumber and mint syrup. Add the tequila and lime juice and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with fresh mint and a cucumber spear. You can also float some mezcal on top, if you have it. Lamentably, I did not.

Cucumber seems a popular ingredient in food and drink recently. Though there’s nearly nothing to it in terms of calories and some people might think of it adding nothing but cellulose, it enhances the other fresh, botanical dimensions of this drink. As the description in Tipsy Texan suggests, this cocktail is suited to a warm day and touts, “You’d be hard pressed to find a cocktail more refreshing than this combination of tequila, mint, and cucumber.”

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

There is a general rule that I follow when gathering the ingredients for a cocktail. If there is an item that is difficult to find, secondary to all other parts of the drink ,or just missing from the pantry—I will skip that part. It is unusual yet there are examples where I have done that and noted it. I am talking about you Chinese five spice on the rim of the glass.

This proposal calls for muddled cucumber which is fairly unusual although not completely foreign. That said, it is hardly secondary when one considers all of the other parts of this drink, which are somewhat normal in mixology. The problem was, though, that I had everything ready when it came time to make the cocktail except a cucumber. There was just a moment of hesitation before I decided I could not accurately create the El Pepino without first going to get one. Good choice.

This is a drink that is the product of all its parts working together. The mint is subtle, the sugar in the syrup a smoothing agent, the tequila distinctive but not assertive, the lime juice a contrasting yet quiet acid as it should be. The cucumber jumps out. It makes El Pepino different and distinctive to the point that I think even those who are not fans of cukes would agree that without it the mix is fairly run of the mill. I am probably wrong but my guess would be that most bars don’t stock cucumber. That’s a shame because this is a drink I would actually order without hesitation.

Jonathan’s take: I hereby apologize to the cucumber and promise to find some Pimm’s in the back of my liquor cabinet so that the cuke may shine again.

David’s take: I won’t substitute this drink for my usual Derby Day julep, but maybe every other suitable occasion.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

I do not consider calories when ordering or making a cocktail. As a beer drinker that is probably a defense mechanism. There are those who do, however, and there are recipes with just that in mind.

Once again, the proposal is an idea rather than a specific drink. I am suggesting that we try cocktails with less calories. That does not mean making simple syrup with stevia leaves, although that is a consideration, rather it is to adjust the ingredients to trim the effect on the waist line. There is no calorie limit just a general concept to lower the total from the standard version of a cocktail or to create a new drink for those who are watching what they eat—or drink.

I feels some club soda coming our way.

Chilcano

Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The basis of the featured cocktail was a way to use up some of the different liquors I have accumulated. In the course of doing that though I found a cocktail that answered a nagging non-question and posed another. We will start with the cocktail and work towards the other two things.

The drink is The Chilcano which is a Pisco based drink. It is in the mule/buck style with a slight twist:

2 ounces Pisco
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce fresh ginger juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
Ginger ale (I used 4 ounces)
Angostura bitters

Mix everything except the ginger ale, add ice, top with the ginger ale and garnish with a lime peel. The twist is the ginger juice,which you can buy in small bottles, that adds a real kick to the drink. The simple syrup seemed unnecessary so I left it out as many variations of Chilcano recipes do.

This blog has been an education with huge amounts of information to process both good and bad. One of my least favorites are the lists of in and out cocktails as if you should choose what to drink based on popularity or lack of it. Sometime around the new year I read an article that included expert bartender opinions about cocktails. One of those bartenders suggested that Moscow Mules have overstayed their welcome. His thought was that it did not matter if you liked them—they were over ordered and it was time to move on. So the non-question is whether someone else should tell you what to like. If you want to drink a Mule, do it. If you want a great variation, however, try this.

The other question posed by this drink comes from the name. In Peru, the home of Pisco, Chilcano can be a cocktail or a soup that is considered a cure for hangovers. Chilcano de Pescado is a Peruvian fish soup that traditionally starts with a fish head broth. The idea is that this soup should be consumed the morning after over-consumption to alleviate the ill effects. That made me wonder what folks thought were the most effective and the most odd hangover cures, so I did an informal poll.

The list of effective cures is not too surprising. Sleep, analgesics, and water were clearly at the top of the list. The other common ideas, none of which were fish head soup, included sugary drinks, exercise, and hair of the dog. I’m not sure drinking more is so much a cure as it is putting off the pain or crying for help.

There weren’t too many odd cures, but there were some very specific ones. One person insisted that Dr. Pepper before bed was the magic elixir, one suggested extreme hard labor, and another was just as sure a late night greasy meal was the trick.

Long ago when David would eat such things, he and I tried the latter method. He was living in Louisville and we followed a long night of beers with a stop at the local White Castle for sliders (mini-burgers for the uninitiated) to make sure we felt fine in the morning. I can’t remember if it worked but have tried or seen plenty of variations of that over the years. In college a Greek grilled cheese was a very common end to a night. If that didn’t work, one friend of mine was sure a quick meal of basic McDonald’s cheeseburgers the next day would.

David’s Review:

Clearly, Jonathan hasn’t been taking care of this spirits larder. For me, the pisco we bought oh-so-long-ago is gone… and I may have finished another bottle since then. I could account for my pisco deficit in several ways. First, I have replaced the gin in gin and tonics with pisco and experimented with it in other drinks. I even made a caipirinha with pisco, which was quite good. Second, I try not to buy a new bottle of anything until some other bottle gets empty (see #1). Third, I like pisco a lot. Four, maybe I should stop drinking altogether.

I’d say that, with the exception of the ginger elements, this drink struck me as being very like a caipirinha, but that might be a little like saying “with the exception of beef, beef stroganoff is very like a tofu stroganoff.” There’s an analogy I’m sure Jonathan will understand. The ginger is rather important and finding ginger juice was much more difficult than obtaining pisco. I settled on a “ginger shot,” a nutritional form of ginger juice I found at Whole Foods. Another choice, a bottle of squeezable ginger from our regular grocery, proved too pulpy and too sweet.

Sweetness has become one of my biggest bugaboos with mixology. It seems most drinks are too sweet to me now, and simple syrup—even the ginger-grapefruit simple syrup I made for an earlier recipe—is something (along with Jonathan) I’d skip. Pisco isn’t sweet, but, redolent of grapes, the fruity scent seems enough for me. Plus, the simple syrup seemed to interfere with the Angostura, and I like to taste my Angostura—or what’s it doing there?

Those caveats out of the way, I really liked this drink. While pisco isn’t that distinctive a spirit, it isn’t vodka, which to me is a big blank. But it isn’t like whiskey, scotch, or gin either, flavors that are instantly recognizable and thus a little more touchy to mix. If I had a friend looking to try some new spirit, in fact, I might recommend pisco as a safe bet for something he or she might like.

Oh, and for hangovers, by the way, I always recommend a punishing (and penitent) workout followed by Gatorade or coconut water.

David’s take: If Jonathan still hasn’t exhausted his pisco supply, I’m willing to buy another bottle to help him get to the bottom of it.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t listen to the experts listen to me, The Chilcano is excellent. At least the non-fish head version is.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Our sister gave me a book for Christmas called Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State, and I’ve been dipping into it looking for our next cocktail. After much debate, I’ve chosen El Pepino, which is sort a tequila julep made with cucumbers in addition to the usual mint simple syrup. The recipe cites the drink as proof that tequila is a versatile spirit and not just for Margaritas. Plus, looking on the web, I discovered it’s Justin Timberlake’s favorite drink. So there.

Mock-tails

dbmProposed by: David

Co-fulfilled by: Jonathan

This proposal to make non-alcoholic drinks originally came in honor of Dry January, an actual event in the UK promoted by Alcohol Concern. People raise money for the charity by pledging to go without drink for one month. Of course, January is long over, and this post is (my bad) overdue. I should confess I failed anyway. About January 4th, I started researching whether one month really makes up for the other eleven—surprise, surprise, it turns out moderation is the best strategy for good health. I decided to moderate instead.

Besides, there’s nothing like a “mock-tail” to make you realize most of the work of drink-making isn’t the alcohol. A few libations call for infused spirits—and we’ve done some on this blog—but, when it comes to alcohol, the hardest part of any cocktail is buying the right kind (that, and sometimes paying for it).

To prepare my mock-tail this time around, I created two new simple syrups—juniper and grapefruit/ginger. The former I created because I had some juniper left over from making my own gin, and the latter just sounded good to me. And neither were terribly creative because the first thing I did was search for recipes online, and both popped up right away

In the world of the interweb, no one is unique.

And I had no trouble finding a plethora of mock-tail recipes either. One site offered a lengthy slideshow of concoctions invented by various restaurants, and another featured some non-alcoholic alternatives to familiar libations. No claims of “just like the real thing” appeared on any of these sites. No writer would be so foolish, and, as I was sipping my mock-tail I kept imagining a designated-driver twirling his umbrella as his friends laugh about nothing that makes the driver laugh. Still, most of the drinks I encountered seemed imaginative, at least distracting.

The cocktail I chose, the Virgin Cucumber Gimlet, comes from Ocean Prime, a nationwide restaurant:

1.5 oz club soda

4-5 slices muddled cucumber

1 oz fresh line juice

1 oz simple syrup

They said to “Combine ingredients and shake with ice,” but that’s loco. Shake all of the ingredients except the soda. Add the soda to the drink in a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a rolled cucumber slice, because, without alcohol, visuals are important.

I tried this drink with both of my simple syrups, and the juniper one seemed best. It gave the drink more character and complexity. Most of the mock-tail recipes I encountered seemed much too sweet to the point of being—dare I use the word again?—cloying.

This one was sweet as well, and I tried it with tonic water and without simple syrup (a little better), but, still, something seemed to missing. I finally decided it was gin.

Jonathan’s Part:

jbm2David and I will disagree about this. I have never understood tofu. The whole purpose, in my view, is to eat a meal that is ordinarily and properly prepared with meat without that essential ingredient. The tofu is just a substitute because the person eating the meal does not eat meat, not because anyone likes tofu. I am prejudiced but would be willing to bet that they would like the dish better if it were prepared the way intended.

Okay, now that I have irritated most vegetarians we need to talk about mock-tails. The whole purpose with them is to create a drink with everything but the alcohol, yet there is no tofu to substitute. Many of the best cocktails have a bitter or contrasting element that comes from the spirits or a dash of alcohol based bitters. There just doesn’t seem to be a good tofu/substitute for those elements.

jbm1That is not to say I don’t understand a usefulness for the alcohol-less drinks. Any mock-tail google search will lead to results that start with ideas for drinks for pregnant women, which is a worthy reason. Right behind that are the “my kid wants to drink what I do and a Manhattan just doesn’t seem right in a sippy cup” explanations. That doesn’t quite rate with pregnancy as a reason for mock-tails but okay. There are a few other explanations right down to page seven of the search which would probably lists drinks for ice road truckers who want a little pop yet they can’t afford the buzz right before sliding down treacherous highways.

I did find a couple of recipes that seemed worth a try though. The first was an Italian Cream Soda. It qualified for this blog if for no other reason than it required cooking up a fruit based syrup complete with straining. That syrup is combined with sparkling mineral water, then ice and finally a small pour of cream. It is beautiful, adaptable since many fruits can be used and quite tasty. Is it a cocktail? No, not really.

The second mock-tail also followed a theme that we know oh so well. The Juicy Julep uses three freshly squeezed, and/or strained, fruit juices. I had just established enough amnesia about juicing a pineapple to try it.
1 measure fresh pineapple juice (I used 1.5 ounce for the measure)
1 measure fresh orange juice
1 measure fresh lime juice
Roughly 2 measures ginger ale
Teaspoon crushed mint
Mint, pineapple, lime or whatever for garnish
Mix juices and mint, add ice, top with ginger ale and garnish

This one had some contrast and I think a little fresh ginger root crushed with the mint might have elevated it to the contrasting spice and sweet of a real cocktail. With the garnish, it even looked like a real cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: I liked the Juicy Julep especially after I threw in a shot of rum.

David’s take: #fail

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

The mock-tail being part of the no-alcohol January resolutions, I should reveal one of my resolutions. I am trying to pare down the liquor cabinet. It is made more difficult by needing certain things for the blog and not drinking any of the liquor except when we are experimenting with a new cocktail. That said, my goal has been, with the help of friends and neighbors, to finish off bottles and only replace them with a classic or local example of that spirit. That way three types of vodka should become one and all that gin should eventually be single bottles of the most classic categories. The other way to reduce is to use up some of the oddities like Pisco. While the Pisco Sour is the classic, the Chilcano is an intriguing alternative. Not sure I can make enough to finish off the Pisco but at least it will be progress.