Proposed by: Jonathan
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:
I 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.