Local Micro-Distilleries

img_0292Proposed By: Jonathan

Pursued By: David

Bigger is better, right? In the world of spirits one could think that must be the case. Name a well-known liquor or liqueur and it is probably owned by one of the ten largest conglomerates of all things alcoholic. The biggest of the big is Diageo. Their collection includes scotches like Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff in the vodka category and Baileys for a smooth liqueur touch. Throw in Guinness and a very long list of others and they are a one stop company.

There are plenty of others like them. Pernod Ricard is number two, Beam Suntory three and the most well-known name in rum, Bacardi, four. Bacardi doesn’t just limit themselves to rum though. Their varied stable includes Grey Goose, Dewars, Bombay and even the liqueur with one of the best marketing stories  – St. Germain.

The point is not that bigger is worse. These are well established brands that are using the recipes that made them popular, and they have to stick to industry requirements. Scotch, bourbon, and tequila as categories all include deep ownership from these large companies, but they still have to meet the laws that define that spirit.

The idea with the current proposal was to try something local in a classic or inventive cocktail. David was to use spirits found in and around Chicago and I have used some found in the Charlotte region.

It is actually an easy challenge that is getting easier. Two years ago North Carolina had around 30 micro distilleries. Today, the trail includes over 40 stops. Those spirits are heavy on moonshine but include a number of other liquors. The moonshine is understandable to anyone who has ever heard the history of stock car racing in the Carolinas. Early racers honed their craft of making race cars from publicly available vehicles (stock) in order to out run authorities when hauling illegal hooch. Of course, moonshine is really just raw unaged liquor and if you are going to start a distillery that is a good way to get started. The growing maturity of the industry is beginning to show with those white liquors being flavored (gin), aged (all sorts of whiskeys), and crafted (aged gin, brandy, sweet potato vodka and the like).

I made two cocktails but only tasted one of them. The first was a classic of sorts using single malt whiskey called The Modern Cocktail:

1.5 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon bar sugar
1.5 ounce Rua (Great Wagon Distilling) single malt
1.5 ounce Sloe Gin
Dash Absinthe
Dash orange bitters

Mix lemon juice and sugar in shaker, add ice and all other ingredients, shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with cherry.

The second was a suggestion included on the web site of the distillery called the Maple Cooler. Oddly, Muddy River Distillery is one of the few I found that offered unique ideas for their spirits.

3 dashes bitters
1.5 ounce Queen Charlotte’s Carolina Rum
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.5 ounce maple syrup
1 ounce club soda

Mix everything but soda in a shaker with ice, shake, strain into an old fashioned glass with ice and top with soda. Garnish with orange peel.

The Scotch drinkers that tried the Modern seemed to like it. Maybe even enough to have another before going back to Scotch on the rocks. I forgot to taste it myself but I did try the Maple Cooler. It was a nice crossover drink that people who like a little sweet, interestingly maple syrup sweet in this case, and those that like a non-sweet drink cocktail could agree on. It is a very nice use of the more complex spirit that Muddy River offers.

A few more things: I wanted to use Southern Artisan Spirits Cardinal Barrel Rested Gin in a drink. I did that back when we made gin and tonic variations, however, and decided not to repeat in a part as punishment  for them for not keeping their web site up to date. Al Gore invented the web to advertise craft spirits didn’t he? Carolina Distillery makes an apple brandy perfect for the Fall season. At our last tailgate a number of guests enjoyed a drink that was equal parts of that brandy, Barritt’s ginger beer and fresh apple cider. Made a bunch but never tasted those either.

David’s Entry:

img_1777Some believe cocktails are a waste of good spirits. If the bourbon, scotch, gin, or even vodka is good enough, they say, why adulterate it? That perspective certainly seems crucial to micro-distilleries hoping to attract connoisseurs willing to pay for the extra costs of small-scale production. Like many boutique-styled markets catering to those in the know, the process sometimes matters as much as the product.

Like Charlotte, Chicago seems to have a new micro-distillery popping up each week. For this post, however, I chose Koval, one of the first and the first distillery founded in Chicago since the mid-nineteenth century… if you don’t count prohibition bootleggers. Their website describes a “grain-to bottle mentality” that includes locally-sourced organic ingredients, milling and mashing on-site, and signature packaging and bottling. You’re as likely to encounter Koval at a Lincoln Park farmers’ market as at your neighborhood liquor store. They mean to establish themselves as a Chicago thing, and their marketing, though quiet, has been quite effective. Their product is also much respected. Since its founding eight years ago, Koval has won many gold, silver, and bronze medals at international whisky competitions.

The website points out that, in many Eastern European languages, “Koval” means “blacksmith,” but they prefer the Yiddish word for “black sheep, or someone who forges ahead or does something new or out of the ordinary.” I’ve tried a number of Koval products (they also make imaginative liqueurs), but for this post I’ll talk about their Rye Whiskey. Their rye is unusual because it’s made from 100% rye, but that’s not why I chose it. Rye is a spirit I may possibly maybe might know somewhat well enough to judge. Truth is, all those unadulterators have me at a distinct disadvantage—my palate has never been so advanced that I can speak confidently about what anything tastes like.

And I always sound ridiculous when I pretend I understand how to describe spirits. But here goes: people who know rye might expect spiciness and little of the mellow or corn-y warmth of bourbon, and this rye doesn’t have that sort of body either. But Koval’s approach isn’t to make a spicy rye. Theirs is clean and crisp—more white than brown sugar—and has a bright, light, and unusual quality. If you’re thinking about rye bread when you have a sip, you’re going to be surprised… this isn’t that.

Not that this isn’t good for sipping. Wine Enthusiast gives it a 91 and says, “This rye has aromas of vanilla and coconut. A faint sweetness shows on the palate, with initial notes of coconut and almond, while the finish is gently spiced and drying.”

And to that, I say, “Yeah, what they said.”

As this proposal asked, I also tried this rye in a classic cocktail, the De La Louisiane, which you loyal readers may remember is equal parts rye, red vermouth, and maraschino liqueur (with Peychaud Bitters in an absinthe-washed coupe). I figured that would give me the plainest picture of how Koval might stand up to other ingredients, and I was right. To be honest, however, the Koval nearly disappeared, which made me wonder whether it’s too refined for mixing.

Or maybe it’s just too refined for me. The expense of most micro-distillery offerings means they aren’t likely to supply my usual bourbon, rye, scotch, gin, or vodka. It’d be nice if local micro-distilleries could compete with multi-nationals on price, but alas and of course not. They’re a nice treat, yet remind me that, when it comes to boutique spirits, I’m just not worthy.

Jonathan’s take: I understand global companies but it sure is nice to support creative people making local product.

David’s Take: Like Jonathan, I support local commerce and spirituous ambition… though Old Overholt is probably too good for me.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

So, it’s that time of year again, and I googled “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails.” Disappointingly, many of the old stand-bys turned up (Mulled Wine, Eggnog, Hot Buttered Rum) as did many wretchedly sweet drinks (Peppermint “Martinis” and Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate). Finally, I discovered something that might be warm enough and light enough to enhance rather than drown the good cheer, Spiked Pear Cider.

The Tuxedo

Tux3Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This week’s cocktail comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, the first version published in 1882. You can still buy the book on eBay, and it’s apparently as relevant now as it was then. Written in a how-to style, it’s supposed to provide guidance on how to be a bartender as well as how to mix drinks. I wonder what it says about keeping bar and listening to customers. Everyone knows the stereotype, bartenders who function as amateur psychologists, doling out libation, wisdom, and painkillers in equal measure.

Oddly, it wasn’t really Harry Johnson I thought of as I sipped this drink, but Tennessee Tuxedo, a 1963-66 cartoon penguin voiced by Don Adams (of Get Smart) whose schemes often benefitted/failed on the basis of advice/complications from Professor Whoopee (voiced by Larry Storch, former star of F Troop). Of course, this drink has nothing to do with the cartoon, but the whoopee part struck me.

Aside from two dashes of bitters, the Tuxedo is all liquor. It’s called a gin martini, but it’s also related to the Poet’s Dream (which features gin, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine) and the Alaska (using gin and Yellow Chartreuse), and the Obituary (using gin and absinthe). It’s most closely related, however, to the Martinez, which, just like the Tuxedo, begins with gin and vermouth and maraschino. The difference is that, where the Martinez asks for red vermouth, Tuxedo’s includes dry vermouth and some anise. It is, in short, not designed for sweet drink lovers and quite potent enough to provoke a whoopee or two.

Which may be the reason for these drinks’ existence. There’s refinement and variety in the ingredients, but there’s also a slap-up-the-side-of-the-head immediacy from the first sip. I’m not a martini drinker, but the no-nonsense approach is probably what appeals to most fans. No fruit juice or mixer intrudes. You get the impression it’s the painkilling aspect of the drink that matters most.

And you don’t have to be too savvy to achieve that.

My role is not to review the drink (until later) but, for me, the success of drinks like the Tuxedo rely on whether the different secondary ingredients really make a difference or are just gussying up the drink’s actual purpose. I’ve always loved the expression “putting lipstick on a pig,” which communicates surface or trivial improvements designed to hide the truth. So is the Tuxedo putting lipstick on a pig? I don’t like to think so, but I’ll leave Jonathan (and you) to say.

Here’s how to make one:

  1. Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice.
  2. Stir.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

tux4One of the things I have learned in this pursuit is that I like gin. First off, I never knew there were so many varieties and I appreciate how the subtle, and not so subtle, differences in the types can change a drink. The characteristic flavor that some detractors refer to as drinking a pine tree is an interesting taste to me, and I like how the other flavors play off of that. It is also a versatile alcohol to mix and has probably been the main spirit in the largest number of our drinks.

The Tuxedo calls for Old Tom gin which is referred to as a milder, sweeter type of the spirit. I don’t get the sweeter part, but the milder description resonates. It doesn’t have the heavy juniper taste, but still has enough that you know you are drinking gin. That may not hold up to a strong tonic but when used in subtle cocktails like this one, it is perfect.

A standard martini is intended to be dry and basic. The promise of the Tuxedo is that it has the addition of maraschino liqueur and the background of the anise (absinthe in my mix). I had hoped that the touch of sweetness and the complexity of the absinthe would elevate the whole. Unfortunately, the amount of maraschino was so small that is got lost and the flavor of the anise, even in the tiny proportion you get from the ice wash, was dominant. I’m still not sure why the bitters are added, and since I forgot them at first I got to try one drink that did not include them and then did with no noticeable difference.

My neighbor came by try the drink and I made a couple of changes to his. I left out the absinthe since he hates licorice, and substituted maraska cherry liqueur for the maraschino. He had a second so I went back to the maraschino and substituted Peychaud bitters for the orange that I had been using. Since I can only provide feedback on color (the maraska made for a nice pink drink), I have to take his word for it that the latter was the better combination.

Jonathan’s take: The Tuxedo is nice drink, even if it didn’t live up to its promise.

David’s take: Good, but not great. I needed more nuance.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Every state probably has its own magazine, and North Carolina has a great example in Our State. I had not realized it, but each month they include a cocktail. Fortunately those can be found on-line and the one I am suggesting is a Carolina Hot Toddy. The recipe uses a North Carolina whiskey, but I want to use a local apple brandy. It is my fervent hope that this toddy is a celebration of the end of winter (sorry David) as it provides soothing comfort.

The Chopped Challenge

drinksProposed by: Circumstances

Reviewed by: Brave Souls

David:

Two brothers, one cocktail, only one chance to win…

Though not really—Jonathan and I would have to be in the same city to go head-to-head in our Chopped-style cocktail challenge. Instead, we’re treating the spirits and peripherals we’ve gathered as cocktailians as mystery basket ingredients.

The challenge… to make an unforgettable drink from these mystery ingredients, before… time… runs… out.

We gave ourselves 30 minutes to draw the slips of paper bearing the names of our ingredients and make and serve the cocktail, which is plenty of time for mixology. It’s so much time that I made three versions of my cocktail before settling on the “best.”

Our distinguished panel of chefs will critique their work… and one by one they must face the dreaded chopping block…

In the end only my wife and daughter were brave enough to test my efforts. When I described this challenge to people, I heard the same refrain, “That sounds like a very bad idea.”

Who will win the $10,000 prize… and who will be chopped?”

The contestants on Chopped are always playing for something—redemption, professional credibility, familial respect, some (usually pretty narrow) charity, fellow suffers of odd maladies, getting the ball rolling on some project (like a board game, twice), or pride. I don’t know about Jonathan, but my goals were more modest. I wanted to avoid spit takes.

“Two contestants think they have what it takes to be a Chopped champion. Let’s meet them…”

I’m actually not sure I do have what it takes. A big part of being a not-so-savvy cocktailian is the protection of the label. If you advertise yourself as incompetent, how badly can you fail?

I was trying to apply what I’ve learned, which—as I’ve said—isn’t enough. Writing “Crème de Menthe” and “Spanish Port” on slips of appropriately colored paper, I understood why Chopped contestants sweat so profusely.

Cocktailians… here are the rules. There is one round with its basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available are pantry and fridge.

categoriesWe divided the contents of our liquor cabinets into four categories—basic spirits, liqueurs, fortified wines, and other non-alcoholic ingredients like bitters, simple syrups on hand, grenadine, and the like. It’s hard enough to make a harmonious drink from three alcoholic components (never mind some weird bitter).

I’d already decided to interpret “pantry and fridge” liberally.

When the clock runs out our judges will critique your drinks on presentation, taste, and creativity.

At least two of those criteria didn’t seem so tough.

Please open your basket.

I let my wife draw my four slips of paper and opened them all at once:

  • basic spirit: aquavit (a basic because I figured aquavit is like gin… giant mistake)
  • liqueur: crème de violette (which I’ve always thought must be what perfume tastes like)
  • fortified wine: Spanish sherry (goody, some earth tones to go with purple and ochre)
  • other: cardamom bitters (perhaps the bossiest bitter—it has to get its way)

First I thought, “This was a very bad idea,” and then I tasted each ingredient just the way the contestants on Chopped do… when they’re stalling. In cocktail class, I learned each cocktail is actually six ounces, with two being ice or mixer. When I combined equal portions of the spirits and a single drop of cardamom, it came out to 4 ounces of army green. Fail.

Try again. I thought the crème de violette had to be less and the aquavit had to be less and who in their right mind would ever drink anything grayish green? So I reduced the crème de violette to half an ounce, made the aquavit and sherry one ounce each and, from the pantry, used a half an ounce of lemon juice. Then my hand slipped, and I ended up with three drops of cardamom. The color was better. The drink was wretched. Fail.

Too much sherry, still too perfumy, and I thought, “I kind of hate cardamom… and caraway… and these silly things I think are a good idea.” With a few minutes left I came up with what I’m calling Pomegranate Chaos:

  • 1 oz. Aquavit
  • .75 oz. Sherry
  • .25 oz. Crème de Violette
  • 1 drop cardamom bitters
  • .5 oz. blood orange juice
  • 2 oz. sparkling pomegranate juice

Shake first five ingredients with ice. Pour pomegranate juice to taste.

You will note that pantry and fridge ended up being pretty damn important.

Cocktailian, you’ve arrived at the Chopping block…

If you watch Chopped regularly, you know the judges have clear predilections. Never serve Scott Conant raw onions, don’t call something mole if Aaron Sanchez in on the panel, Marcus Samuelson will accuse you of not preparing an ingredient properly, and Alex Guarnaschelli hates pretty much everything (unless someone else hates it, in which case, she loves it).

Here is what I imagine my judges saying (and pretty much what they did say), “I like the color, and the juice and sparkling pomegranate give the drink a real freshness, but the basket items are all lurking, hidden like an ugly chair in the corner when company comes over. It’s drinkable, but the part I like least, the funky aftertaste, comes from the main ingredients.”

Ted will ask (he always, always does): “Well, this is not a simple matter—do you think you’ve got it figured out?” The judges always answer, “I think we have.”

Like Jonathan I tried a second drink, which I’m calling the Pola Debevoise, with more reasonable ingredients: gin, maraschino, brandy, lemon… and I added grenadine to tie it all up. I learned from the first round to diminish the stronger flavors and used .5 oz of the lemon and maraschino. Trying not to rely on the pantry too much, I included only .5 oz of the grenadine too. I chose an ounce of Brandy but relied on the gin as the dominant flavor (1.5 oz). The judges liked that one better, though I doubt I’d make any round two.

So whose drink is on the Chopping Block?

David’s Take: Uh, I think I know.

bottles 2Jonathan:

bottles 1My name is Jonathan and I have little experience, no celebrity mentor and there is no drive to be the best mixologist here or anywhere. I operate out of my home typically, although I have been known to guest star at a sporting event tailgate with an audience that is mostly college students. Not to say that they are an easy group to please, but left to their own choices they are apt to choose Busch Light. The only classical training that I have has been provided by the internet, books, the rare video and observation in the form of television watching. In short, I know little, provide drinks to a very small sampling and am self-trained. I am ready for Chopped Cocktail, though, since I have a cabinet full of spirits, liqueurs, bitters, fortified wines and assorted additives.

It is also my hope that I can be an inspiration to anyone who ever thought they could home bartend but were held back by having a second toe longer than the first. Morton’s foot sufferers may not have ever been told they couldn’t be bartenders, but given the chance I am sure they would. Imagine the strain and pain folks like me must feel as the pronounced second toe shifts extraordinary pressure to the second metatarsal. There were so many days standing in the kitchen that I felt I could not hold the Boston shaker for one more second, but persevered to create the finest drink I could. If I win, it will be a true victory for my second, but longest, piggy.

The true chopped has rounds for appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I really hoped, even with two attempts, to get a drink that could be a dessert but no luck. So here are my drinks with the appetizer first and entrée second.

drink picThe first choices revealed Irish whiskey, absinthe, lillet (rose’) and angostura bitters. It sounded a little like a Sazerac, at least from what I remember way back when we made that, so I went that direction. The first step was rinsing the ice with a little absinthe and then dumping the excess. I added the whiskey (1.5 ounce), lillet (1 ounce), and 2 drops angostura. The pantry provided a splash of simple syrup and an ounce of lemon juice. I shook all of that with the ice and strained into a coupe with a twist of lemon. The simple syrup may have been too much. For an appetizer it needed the bite of the bitters combined with the whiskey and acid of the lemon. The lillet provided enough sweetness by itself. Not a bad drink, but not the aperitif I wanted. The invented name (we need one of those, right) – The English Channel.

The second group was the entrée choice. This draw revealed rum, tuaca, sherry, and grenadine. These were mixed in a highball glass (1.5 ounce, I ounce, .5 ounce and 1 ounce respectively) along with orange juice (2 ounces) and seltzer water from the fridge. I added ice and garnished with lemon. It seemed a little tiki-ish so I should have added one of my leftover paper umbrellas to finish the drink.

This one was more popular with every taster except me. It had a similar color (keep in mind I am still color stupid) to the English Channel, but was much lighter in body thanks to the seltzer. Part of the concept of true tiki is multiple ingredients and I think tuaca has a future in that genre when it makes its next resurgence. It provides that unknown back flavor that would help distinguish the drink and make it hard to determine the secret recipes that are another part of tiki. This one I am calling Don the Chopped Amateur.

Jonathan’s take: When Ted pulls the shaker shaped cloche, I think I am chopped. Darn that stubby first toe.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Among the many drink related gifts I received this Christmas was a beautiful and well written book – The Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. It is a great mix of information including more history and background on many of the cocktails that we have tried in the course of this blog. It also includes recipes for classics, twists on those classics (thus the subtitle “cocktails inspired by the classics”), and drinks that should be classics. After the chopped episode it might be time for one of those should-be classic cocktails called the Monte Carlo. It provides that important lesson that sometimes it is better to stir to chill instead of shaking to do so.

The B-52

Proposed by: JonathanB-52

Reviewed by: David

The B-52 is a shot, a layered drink, a dessert or a memory device depending on your perspective. Before addressing all of that though, where did the name come from? Is it the super bomber used by the U.S. military for well over 50 years now? The beehive hairdo whose upright form resembles the nose of that bomber? Or could it be the band formed long ago in Georgia famous for me and David because of the rock lobster?

In some way or another the name comes from them all. The B-52 is a stratofortress bomber built by Boeing since the 1950’s. It is still in use today and has become known, among many other reasons, for its easily identifiable nose structure. That structure in turn resembled a famous hairstyle that dates to 1960. The beehive hairdo has its place in history but could still be seen on musical stars, like Amy Winehouse, in the last decade. The shape of the bomber nose and the hairdo are intertwined in the name of the band that formed in Athens, Georgia in the mid 70’s. The group that became the B-52’s started with an unplanned performance that followed the sharing of flaming tiki drink. You have to love that story for the nice, neat package that creates for a drink blog. Of course all of that is if you believe one of the many creations stories for this cocktail.

The story that I am sticking with is the one that connects the drink back to the band, and from there all the way back to the bomber. In this version of creation, a bartender at the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta created the shot. Peter Fich was apparently known for naming his drink creations after his favorite bands and the mix of coffee liqueur, Irish cream and orange cognac was named for that band in Athens. Their name in turn was derived through a dream, or so the story goes, and the beehive hairdos favored by the two female lead singers. And of course the beehive hairdo was tied back to the plane and its distinctive nose structure. So in all the drink is named for a band, named for a hairdo, which looks like a bomber. Makes perfect sense.

This is layered drink whether you consume it as a shot or mix and sip. The first layer is one part Kahlua, the second is one part Irish Cream, and the final layer is one part orange cognac. There are other versions that substitute Frangelico for the orange cognac (B-51), tequila for the Irish Cream (B-52 in the desert), absinthe for the orange cognac (B-55), peppermint schnapps for the Irish cream (B-57) or amaretto for the cognac (B-54). I’m sure there are more than that, and that somehow my expanded liquor cabinet could help make them, but you get the idea.

Party stores sell cups of all sizes and thanks to the whiskey tasting from some months ago, I have a supply of 1.5 ounce cups. I mixed B-52’s, B-51’s, and B-55’s for a tasting group. The classic was by far the favorite, and brought back some fond memories (I did not press for details) for a couple of friends who were dating at the time they first enjoyed them and now fall into the happily married for longer than they care to admit category. Another nice connection.

Here’s David’s Review:

portrait3I don’t lead the sort of life that routinely—or mostly ever—includes shots. However, f you look at the B-52 as a scientific proposition, it hardly counts as serious drinking. It’s not about rushing alcohol to the brain at all. It’s about specific gravity.

My wife found an article she’d clipped from the Louisville Courier-Journal over 25 years ago that lists spirits according to their weight, so that, if you were extra careful and had a shot glass a meter tall, you might “build” a drink with nearly 100 layers of spirits.

In making my first B-52, I went with the classic recipe, but after that I tried other combinations that might cooperate with the formula. I tried a B-55 (also called a B-52 Gunship) that substituted absinthe for triple sec, and I tried adding scotch as the top layer (pictured above). My experiments were partly play, but I also hoped to find some flavor combination that, besides being aesthetically pleasing, might taste the best.

I was torn on whether to drink in layers or mix. On Thanksgiving night I tried layers. Last night, I tried stirring before I drank.

But here’s the trouble: I don’t like Baileys much…. which is to say I don’t like it at all. Cream and alcohol are an iffy mix—no liqueur should curdle, as far as I’m concerned—and to me Baileys is as opaque in flavor as it is in appearance. It’s supposed to taste like Irish Whiskey and does, but everything added makes it sickly-sweet. I know plenty of people who enjoy Irish Cream, but, for some reason, it reminds me of a Three Musketeers candy bar dissolved in alcohol. Even its smell puts me off a bit. I imagine the nightmares my mind would invent if I drank too much of the stuff… testy leprechauns and Irish step-dancing hippos.

I know, I know, it’s all a matter of taste. Someone loves every spirit. I wish I liked it, and maybe a reader can introduce me to the perfect use for Baileys. In the meantime, based on first exposure, I’m ready to give away my seven-eighths of a bottle of Baileys.

I’ll also throw in Blue Curaçao, Crème de Menthe, and Malört as a bonus. My wife finished the Campari or you could have that too. My list of abhorred cocktail ingredients is not that long, but it’s growing.

Being a fan of the ironic whimsy of the band the B-52s and a true product of the late 70’s and early 80’s, I wanted to be wowed, and it was fun to play with the various possibilities. Plus, these shots were beautiful in a nearly Seussian way and certainly different from anything else we’ve tasted. I may return to the idea of layering using the yellowed list my wife found. However, as the B in the B-52 (and its variations) must stand for “Baileys,” I’ll be looking for a B-52 without the B.

It could be I’m just not made for shots, but, as fun as the science was, I’m fine with mixing rather than building drinks.

David’s Take: More pleasing to the eye than to the palate, and, as I’ve learned over and over on this blog, taste matters most.

Jonathan’s take: Sweet story, sweet memories and sweet drink. The variations are fun though, and boy did I have folks asking for more.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Jonathan’s birthday falls on Pearl Harbor day, which is next Sunday, so I thought about proposing a Pearl Harbor cocktail… but that’s much too tropical, not at all seasonal. Instead, I thought it’d be interesting to try something with gin. Though it’s not generally seen as a winter drink either, a number of winter gin recipes online intrigued me. So I decided on a Winter Gin Sangaree. The word “Sangaree” comes from the Spanish root “sangre” or blood, which it shares with “sangria.” In the specific case of this drink, the term refers to a style combining gin and wine dating from the 1770s. For my purposes, however, this concoction is intended to honor my beloved brother, with whom I share bonds of blood and friendship… and cocktails.

The Greenback

Proposed by: DavidGreenback

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The Greenback is the rarest of cocktails for this blog—it has no provenance I can find, no noted inventor, no disputatious history or colorful but apocryphal naming myth. It is, in short, just a drink.

That’s not so bad, as it allows me to invent:

One, British import-export agents developed the Greenback in a remote South American tropical outpost because they admired the local sloths whose inactivity invited the growth of green stuff in the fur on their backs.

Two, some guy named Sid (later famous for inventing butterscotch schnaps) came up with it in the Dekuyper research and development lab during the late 60’s when Sid’s boss yelled daily for more uses for crème de menthe.

Three, the Greenback was invented by those giant-eyed space aliens in honor of the feature of their mates they love most.

Here’s the origin myth I’ve decided to launch into cyberspace. It involves some nameless home bartender bemoaning an imbalance of ingredients in his liquor cabinet, stuff he’s not quite sure what to do with. There’s lemon and gin in this drink, and they’re common enough, but crème de menthe is one of those bottles he wants to hide when company comes over. My recipe also includes absinthe, which, even if you like it (I do) just doesn’t come up all that often.

So, anyway, this imaginary beleaguered bartender combines these ingredients to devise a lovely emerald concoction which he dubs The Greenback because it reminded him of the Civil War monetary policy continuing into the latter half of the 19th century that introduced unsecured green paper money backed—supposedly—by federal deposits of gold that—supposedly, but probably not—became the basis for the emerald city in The Wizard of Oz, according to dubious allegorical readings of the novels.

None of these stories are true or likely, but that’s all I’ve got. That and the recipe (which I doctored a bit from online sources and the Anvil cocktail list:

20140622_160951_resized-1Here’s the recipe:

½ oz. absinthe

1 oz. lemon (or lime)

1 oz. crème de menthe

1 and ½ oz. gin

Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake and serve in martini glasses.

And here’s Jonathan’s review:

It is fairly common that David and I communicate during the week (e-mails because, face it, who calls anymore) about the cocktail of the week, the exact recipe and what we plan for future weeks. We occasionally even sneak in a few comments about the rest of our lives. That is, in the end, the real purpose of our virtual cocktail club – that we talk more than we have in the past. Not so much because we aren’t close, but because we are both bad communicators especially for two people who rely on, and manage well, that skill on a daily basis.

This week communication was difficult, David was busy and I had a professionally challenging week, but most of the conversation was about the recipe. Specifically, where do you see Absinthe in this drink? I should have asked the more challenging question about why on earth we were using Crème de Menthe again. Ever.

The drink is almost lost in my picture, but as much as you can, look at the color. If we eat with our eyes first, we also drink with them first and no drink should be that color. The Crème de Menthe is as forward in this drink as the color would suggest. I had tried this week to find what type of gin worked best (our previous drinks would suggest that every gin drink calls for some specific type) but could not find a single recipe that did that. That is for good reason, in that the gin is completely lost. And the lemon, or lime in some cases, in the recipe? It adds just enough astringency to the Crème to make you feel as though you just flossed and are enjoying your Listerine rinse.

The funny thing, as I tried it a few more times before tossing the rest, is that I was sure David would like this drink. I don’t know why or how, but there was something so peculiar that I was confident he would taste a redeeming quality. Not me.

Jonathan’s take: This is our second drink with Crème de Menthe (Irish Eyes was the first). I have a bottle available for whoever wants it.

David’s take: Oddly, I liked this drink. Crème de Menthe is awful stuff to be sure, but—to me—this drink found a suitable disguise.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

My thought was that this is the time of year when so many publications, print and on-line, list their drinks of summer. I asked my wife for suggestions, and one Pinterest page later, we settled on a cocktail with watermelon and basil. It’s a basil watermelon cooler and it hardly qualifies as a hard core. But it sure looks like a good way to use all of that basil I have growing, and with this heat any excuse for watermelon is a good one.

 

The Blue Sky Cocktail

Proposed by: Davidblue

Reviewed by: Jonathan

My cousin Alan Bourque and I were particularly close because, besides being exactly the same age, we went to the same college. For a time, it appeared Jonathan’s son Josh and my son Ian might too. Alas, Carolina wait-listed Ian, but he and Josh have always enjoyed being together and have sought every opportunity to meet. And, even if they’re graduating from different schools over the next couple of weeks, they do share the same school color, which you can call Columbia Blue or Carolina Blue as you wish.

This week was all about color, and celebration. Remembering The French 75 fondly, I though it’d be fun to have a champagne (or prosecco) cocktail to commemorate our boys’ achievement. Blue Curaçao provided the color for the Blue Sky Cocktail, which, besides being properly named for our boys’ futures, I hoped might mimic a color that, after living in North Carolina, I can almost see with my eyes closed. Color isn’t my brother’s strong suit, but I want to say, “It’s the gesture. It’s the gesture.”

Once in college one of my roommates said I should add milk to his coffee until it exactly matched the shade of the cup it was in, and it took twenty minutes of careful calibration to get it right. When the coffee arrived cold, he wasn’t amused, but I like a challenge. The recipe for this drink is below, but—confession time—I was more focused on achieving the right tint than the right combination of ingredients. In fact—an uglier confession—the photo I’ve posted above isn’t this drink at all, which, with yellow champagne and lemon juice and brown amaretto, was aqua, the color of no sky I’ve experienced and not nearly faint enough to achieve the pastel glory of Carolina and Columbia. To create the concoction pictured, I combined only the blue curaçao with the champagne and added a little water and then some absinthe to create a milky hue.

The resulting drink was horrible, but it was, I think, a decent approximation of the right shade. There’s that, at least.

Here’s the recipe for a Blue (not really so blue) Sky Cocktail:

  • 1/2 oz blue curacao
  • 1/2 oz amaretto
  • 1/2 oz champagne
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Combine everything except the champagne in the glass. Add the champagne and stir gently.

photo-90Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Last week, David had many well founded reasons to avoid reviewing the Mint Julep. This week I feel almost the same. The proposed cocktail was to be part of our celebration of graduations – first my son, Josh, and then my nephew, Ian. I don’t want a negative review to seem like a sour note in what was in all ways a glorious weekend and series of graduation events. So to handle that, I will consider the drink and the celebrations separately.

We have tried a few different cocktails that have included sparkling wines, and I have learned the type of sparkler matters. This one called for champagne, whereas some of the ones we have had in the past have been very general (sparkling wine) and more specific (Prosecco). The Caiparinha de Uva recipe indicated sweet wine, but David was more successful in substituting Prosecco. I used all of that experience to decide on Cava as the sparkler of choice, and that was part of my undoing.

This cocktail seemed more like a battle than a blend. The Cava and the Amaretto both wanted to assert their will, if spirits can in fact make assertions. It was hard to get past the two of them and even begin to taste where the curacao and lemon juice came in. Even the color was a bit off, with more of a teal than the hoped for light blue. Despite my lovely nieces modeling the drink, one can see the color just wasn’t right or appetizing. I had to wonder if a simple dry champagne would have helped with both taste and color.

The celebration on the other hand was a harmonious blend of events. A party with roommates and their families, dinner with family, a gorgeous Sunday morning graduation ceremony and finally a luncheon to toast the graduate, mothers, and a bonus birthday (my oldest son’s) all made for the perfect weekend. My wife and I feel very blessed that both our sons are graduates of the university from which we received our degrees. Even more importantly, it is obvious that they each had their own great experiences and received a wonderful education all while learning to love the place just as we had.

Jonathan’s take: The cocktail, not so good, but the rest of the celebration, couldn’t imagine better.

David’s Take: I wish I were as happy with this cocktail as I am about Ian and Josh’s graduation. Too bad the Blue Sky Cocktail is okay, but not brilliant.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):

Two weeks ago we had Mint Jules with the Derby. This coming weekend is the second race of the Triple Crown, the Preakness. The official flower and cocktail of the Preakness is the Black Eyed Susan. The recipe has changed over the years (oddly in perfect correspondence with the liquor sponsorship), but last year I simply found the version that sounded best to me. Since David and I are our own sponsors, I propose we each do the same and pick the flower which we find the most appealing.

 

The Monkey Gland Cocktail

Proposed by: Jonathanmon-key

Reviewed by: David

The Monkey Gland cocktail may be one of the most often referenced drinks other than the true classics. Obviously that has something to do with the intriguing name and the odd history of the drink. It only takes a cursory search to determine the drink was originated in the 1920’s in Paris and that the name is derived from a strange surgical procedure. Dr. Serge Voronoff had surmised that male virility diminished with age. His hypothesis, apparently, was that an increase or addition of testes could reverse that trend and he was known for a surgical practice of grafting monkey testicles into male patients. He was correct in the sense that an increase in testosterone could have positive effects, but not in the idea that surgically implanted monkey parts would do that.

As an aside, I find it interesting that the more of the times led to calling the monkey testes by the more benign term “glands.” There are certainly terms that would be more accurate although they may be considered “…so profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.” That Douglas C. Neidermeyer quote (Animal House 1978 and I could not resist sneaking it in) is my way of saying that a drink called Monkey Nuts, Monkey Balls, Monkey Testicles, or Poor Damn Monkey would be far more correct.

meatThe thing that goes unexplained in the history of the drink is why a bartender decided to name a drink after the popular surgical technique. A previous drink from the same era that we tried, the French 75, was named after a World War I artillery piece, but that seemed to be tied to the force with which the drink hit. In this case, the drink could just have easily been named after the jazz explosion, Bohemian lifestyle of prohibition fleeing expatriates or the popularity of cubism in Paris of the 20’s.

There are a few variations on the recipe for the Monkey Gland, but the one I used came from the book referenced last week: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh. It is as follows:

1.5 ounces dry gin

1.5 ounces orange juice

1 teaspoon pomegranate grenadine

1 teaspoon absinthe

The recipe was another chance to use some of the skills and ideas that we have tried in other cocktails. The first is that the absinthe is used to flavor the ice or coat the cocktail glass (Sazerac), the orange juice is best fresh squeezed (numerous citrus cocktails) and the grenadine is better when homemade (the La Marque).

The other thing that needs mention is that there is also a popular sauce called Monkey Gland Sauce. It is really a glorified ketchup, and is popular with steak. As the true carnivore in this endeavor, I felt the need to cook some up to enjoy after the cocktail. There are a number of recipes available, but all of them use chutney and none that I found specify what kind. Since this sauce is popular in South Africa I used an English style plum chutney which was excellent, but I can imagine a chunkier chutney (like our sister Alison’s pear chutney) would be even better.

monkeyHere’s David’s Review:

Though any mention of “Monkey Glands” seems an absolute turn-off, I enjoyed this drink. Fresh-squeezed nearly-any-fruit seems wonderful to me, and Gin, well, I’ve yet to find a sweetness it couldn’t moderate and/or complicate. All of which is to say, I was a sucker for this cocktail from the start.

Except for the name. I don’t like to think of surgery when I’m drinking, especially not on my nether regions.

The hidden secret of this cocktail may be the absinthe—it’s an odd thing I’ve noticed about absinthe, when you notice the taste, it seems a mistake, but when it’s some part of the mystery or what you’re drinking, the anise adds so much. I’d say that’s the case here. Only a splash—in my mind—makes this drink.

Or perhaps, sometimes, a cocktail is about chemistry. The sour, acidic addition of citrus gives this drink an edge. What if a drink relies entirely upon pH, the unbalanced attack of a flavor one side of neutrality?

My son is home from college, and I shared this drink with him and a friend. I loved it just as the recipe described it, but they enjoyed it more when I changed proportions, adding more orange juice to compensate for the alcoholic contribution of gin. The potency appealed to me, but you might try experimenting with proportions. One beauty of cocktails is subtlety—the slightest change can make a big difference.

Clearly, I’m no food writer—I have to rely on a very limited vocabulary in communicating exactly what these drinks taste like—but I liked this one. I guess you will have to try it for yourself to understand why. Or why not.

But the name, please.

Jonathan’s take: I suggested that this week was a choice between surgery or the cocktail. Really glad that I chose the cocktail, it was fantastic.

David’s take: Fruit always seems to contribute so much for me, and, in this case, the fresh orange juice was a delight in itself. Add alcohol, what’s not to like?

Next Week (proposed by David):

You can read into this choice if you like, but I’m going to propose a drink called The Suffering Bastard that uses gin, bourbon, lime, ginger ale, and bitters. It’s one of those drinks touted as a “hangover remedy” (though this cocktailian would recommend Gatorade, coconut water or—hey, whattayaknow—water). Technically, this is a drink for a warmer season, but here in Chicago we like to pretend.

The Americano and Negroni

Proposed by: Jonathancamparicropt

Reviewed by: David

Absinthe is purported to have a slight hallucinogenic effect. There was no immediate effect from the Sazerac a few weeks ago, at least that I am aware of, 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 go back to my review from last week to read that I found the Cinquecento 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 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.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan really, but described by David):

Jonathan will be on a golf outing with his buddies, so I’m ceding the floor to him, the senator from North Carolina. After the Cinquecento tailgaiting debacle, we discussed trying some Bloody Mary variation(s). I’m going to let Jonathan choose what will work best in that setting… and look forward to something without Campari.

The Sazerac

Proposed by: David-1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Okay, I probably should have known that when my college-age son suggests a drink, it will knock me on my ass. A beer drinker usually, I’m unaccustomed to anything as potent as a Sazerac. Mind you, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, just that the Mad Men generation must be much more inured to inebriation and much more accustomed to the fundamental shift in attitude accompanying such a drink.

The recipe is simple, easy enough to describe:

2 oz. Rye

dash Angostura bitters

dash Peychaud’s bitters

Absinthe (or anise substitute)

simple syrup (or sugar cube)

lemon twist

Prepare two highball glasses. Chill the first (one recipe suggested filling it with ice water in preparation). In the second highball glass, muddle a sugar cube with a little water or add simple syrup, then combine the ice with rye and bitters. Take the chilled glass and, pouring out the ice water (if that was your method) swirl the absinthe to coat the glass. Discard excess. Rub the lemon peel on the edge of the absinthe glass and add it to the bottom. Then strain the contents of the rye glass into the absinthed glass, leaving ice behind.

The end result is lovely, golden and inviting. I added a sugar cube to the bottom of the glass, perhaps gilding the lily, but the added sweetness seemed much welcomed, especially with the edgy taste of the 95% rye I chose. Something exotic lies behind this drink, a licorice undertone that marks it as celebratory, colorful. I enjoyed it.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

It’s been my experience that when something is considered a “classic” there’s good reason for it. Suggesting that it might, in fact, be the first true cocktail gives this drink a lot of reputation to which it must live up. I probably added a bit of importance by making the taste testing a group affair at a gathering of four couples. We are long-time friends and had gotten together to celebrate each couple being married in 1988 and marking (or will be) a 25th anniversary this year.

The four men in the group are made up of two predominant beer drinkers and two Scotch drinkers. The Sazerac is a strong drink the bite of which is not lessened by the addition of simple syrup (I used a brown sugar simple syrup for this drink) or the twist of lemon. The Scotch drinkers were more inclined to the taste even if the distilled grain of choice was rye instead of barley, and decided, as long as I was in charge of the making, they would be happy to do the drinking. The beer drinkers (like David, that would describe me) sipped on their drinks much longer. That could be a sign that we were discriminating and savoring, but it also could be interpreted that this one may be too sophisticated for us. I don’t want to give our wives short shrift. They tried the drink also, but there was no great clamor for me whip up some more for them.

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Two things to add about Absinthe. Considering the addition to the drink is just a swirl in a cold glass and then pouring the rest out, it is very distinctive. The other is that, now that I have a whole bottle of the stuff, I would welcome suggestions as to what I should do with the rest. Okay three things really: celebrating multiple 25th anniversaries leaves the pun “absinthe makes the heart grow fonder” impossible to leave unsaid.

Jonathan’s take: I will try it again, if for no other reason than to use the absinthe, but, unless I find myself in New Orleans, probably would never order it.

David’s take: I’m not sure I’d order this drink too often. As much as I enjoyed the Sazerac, it’s a little like a martini to me, too much for the humble mind of this cocktailian.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Someone has to end the brown liquor theme and I am going to do it. I’m also breaking from the classics theme and suggesting a variation on the Mojito. The Pink Mojito recipe I have found falls squarely into the trendy category and seems like a good choice for the end of summer that Labor Day marks.