Watermelon Cocktails

Proposed By: David

Pursued By: Jonathan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Jonathan’s Entry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

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

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Food With Liquor

jbm-popcornProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

My initial idea for this proposal was to make foods that fell into the categories of candy, side dish and entree. It may have been the season, or perhaps an intersection of need and opportunity, but that changed to gift, snack and tradition.

As time has passed, my wife, and to some extent I, have come up with a list of edibles to give as gifts to friends and family who have enough stuff. That list has included peanut brittle, toffee, and chocolate covered pretzels. This year Debbie added ginger bread cake and I made some blog inspired bourbon balls. The recipe I chose was more cookie than candy but there are options for both in the bourbon category. The base was ground Nilla wafers, chopped roasted pecans (presoaked in bourbon), cocoa powder, confectioners sugar, corn syrup and the requisite bourbon. All of that was mixed, chilled, formed into a ball and then rolled into a mix of cocoa and confectioners sugar. They were intended as a gifts and ended up there so I only got to try one. If bourbon was the goal, these morsels achieved that in abundance. I hope the recipients like bourbon.

That second category, snack, says a lot about the down time and bowl games that are a welcome part of the week between Christmas and New Years. There are not as many ideas for savory, liquor added snacks (especially that don’t entail cooking out the alcohol) as there are candies yet I found one appropriate for both my and David’s expertise.

In high school David and I worked at a two screen movie theater. It was small enough that any one day could include duties in ticket sales, concessions, projectionist and even clean up when The Rocky Horror Picture Show caused the regular cleaning crew to quit until the show’s run ended. The best job, and perhaps the one both of were the best at, was chief popper. Although the theater had small machine at the concession stand, most of the corn was popped and bagged over three hour marathon popping sessions in an isolated room behind the projection booth. Those bags supplemented the show corn downstairs and, incidentally, taught us the lesson that the secret to movie popcorn’s excellence is that it is reheated with dry air to provide the all important crispness.

The second recipe relies on that secret. The basic idea is to mix a small amount of liquor with melted butter, spices and whatever else sounds good. I made a butter, tequila, lime juice, brown sugar and cayenne pepper mix that was then poured over microwave corn (my apologies to the Reynolda Cinema popping room). The final step was to spread the popcorn over a cookie sheet and reheat it for 10 minutes in a 300 degree oven for the perfect crispness. Choose you own topping but don’t skip that last step.

Fruit cake is less a tradition of the season than it is a traditional joke of the season. Supposedly no one likes it or eats it but we know that is not true. There is a company in rural North Carolina, Southern Supreme, that makes an excellent cake. I ordered one, having missed making a purchase earlier in the season, with the idea of soaking it in rum. Christmas had already passed when I started to google exactly how to do that and it was only then I discovered my two mistakes. First, I didn’t need google. As one would expect with true traditions, my wife already knew what to do from having watched relatives growing up. Second, I was supposed to wrap the fruitcake in a clean dish towel or cheesecloth and apply the rum once every few days over a period ranging from a month to months. The cake is hidden away in a tin or container during that period until it has reached that perfect consistency and booziness. My mother-in-law apparently hid this wonder from her girls when they were kids by putting it on top of the refrigerator. She must have done the same when her sons-in-law came along. I will need to get back to everyone on how this turns out.

Here’s David’s Entry:

tacosSome people are “show cooks”; that is, they like to cook for audiences, but when it comes to the day-to-day business of preparing nourishment… meh. And, me, I’m not even a show cook. Eating for me is closer to feeding—if a zookeeper came along and slipped something through a slot in the door, I’m not sure I’d mind.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate good cooking—I’d prefer my zookeeper to be adept—just that I rarely have the will to prepare meals and rarely enjoy anything I make, for show or otherwise. So perhaps you can understand how challenging this food with liquor proposal has been for me. When it comes to bourbon balls, I could never touch the ones they make at Muth’s Candy in Louisville. As for fruitcake, I’d love to try Jonathan’s, but I’m pretty sure any fruitcake I created would make a better artificial fireplace log. I’m loath to try anything so ambitious.

Every party has a pooper, I know. But I did fulfill this proposal, albeit in my own lazy way. I prepared Queso Flameado with Shrimp and Salsa Ranchera, and, if that sounds fancy, it was…  and wasn’t. Really, this recipe might be renamed “Cheese and Shrimp Tacos,” except that it includes the dramatic steps of making your own salsa and of flambéing the cheese with tequila. After using what we call “an outboard motor” (immersion blender) to smooth out the canned chopped tomatoes, you add shrimp and tequila, get a long match, say a prayer to keep your eyebrows, and call everyone over to watch.

For just a second there, I felt like a show cook after all, and I enjoyed the results. The instant of completion is the optimum moment to eat. The cheese is quite melty, and the tequila imparts a complexity you may not expect, almost as if the dish included the complicated mélange of spices common in Indian food. And, yes, let me repeat, I enjoyed this food I made. I may cook with tequila again, who knows?

The second recipe I want to offer uses bourbon, which I thought, before experimenting with tequila, was the friendliest liquor for cooking. Though it isn’t quite the season for it, we always enjoy a bourbon and chocolate infused pecan pie commercially called, and trademarked, “Derby Pie”®. If anyone asks, however, please tell them we always call it “Museum Winner’s Pie” when we prepare and eat it and discuss it with others. You can find various forms of this “We Can’t Call It What it Really Is Pie” online, but the critical steps are making a soup out of butter, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips, pecans, and bourbon, pouring that soup into a pie shell, and then baking it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. It couldn’t be easier. Even a lazy-bones like me can manage it.

Jonathan and I were lucky to grow up in a household where my mom—a wonderful, amazing cook—saw to our culinary education. I learned a lot and have most of the basic techniques down. Unfortunately, little actual affection for cooking stuck. Fancy or plain, liquor or no liquor, in the kitchen I feel I’m sometimes channeling my dad, whose “beans and noodles” and “fried bologna sandwiches with ketchup” made us rush our mom’s recovery from every illness. I love to watch the Cooking Channel. That and playing grumpy sous-chef are often as far as I get, but—okay, I admit it—it was fun being pushed out of my comfort zone for this proposal.

Jonathan’s take: I just realized we never sent Bourbon Jerry and Mr. Seed any bourbon balls. I might have to make more.

David’s take: My biggest discovery was that tequila is food-friendly. Who knew?

Next Time (Proposed by David):

‘Tis the season for resolutions and diets, and there’s been a movement afoot to make January a month without alcohol. To that I have to say, “Oh well.” Still, I mean to give it a try. So this time I’m proposing Jonathan and I each create a “Mocktail,” a drink just as complex (and special) as a cocktail without alcohol. Though I fear I may once again play “Doubting David,” I’ll use this month to consider exactly what makes a libation special.

Old-Fashioned Slush

img_0263-1Proposed By: Jerry Beamer

Reviewed By: Jonathan and David

The cocktail proposal was supplied by our guest proposer Bourbon Jerry. More on him later but here is his recipe ( complete with his commentary) for the Old Fashioned Slush:

Ingredients:

2 cups of freshly-brewed strong black tea*(4 regular size tea bags does the trick)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 (12-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 (12-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
6 cups water
2 cups bourbon**
7-Up, ginger ale, or any lemon-lime carbonated beverage, chilled

Garnishes:  Lemon rind curls, maraschino cherries

* Steep tea bags in 2 cups boiling water for 3 minutes.

** The amount you use depends on how strong you want your drink to be. I usually use 2 cups of bourbon whiskey and that should not be too strong for those sensitive to such things. Your drink will be as good as the bourbon you use, so use a good-quality bourbon, but don’t go crazy—Pappy rides alone.

In a large, freezer-safe container, mix together the tea, sugar, orange juice concentrate, lemonade concentrate, water, and whiskey. Place in freezer and freeze at least 6 hours. NOTE: The bourbon will keep the mixture from freezing solid.

When the bourbon mixture is frozen, you are all set!

When ready to serve, remove frozen mixture from the freezer and let stand for approximately 5 minutes.

To serve, scoop (an ice cream scoop works great) bourbon slush to fill a glass approximately 3/4 full. Top with lemon-lime beverage of your choice. Don’t stir, but let beverage mingle with the frozen tea before drinking.

img_0259-1Jonathan: My neighbor typically asks what the next drink will be, with every intent to be there to try it, and he was surprised we had a guest proposal. In fact his exact words were “how can there be a guest proposer on a brother blog?” I think I can explain that by describing Jerry and this Bourbon Jerry character that appears occasionally.

I met the Jerry that preexisted the bourbon version in 1979. He was my suite mate in college. My parents had unloaded me and my stuff and skedaddled for their calm empty nest. I was still orienting when Jerry, his family and his girlfriend’s family started moving him in. That girlfriend is now his wife of over 30 years and is also a Marshall by birth. Since we have assumed we are cousins, with absolutely no genealogical research, that makes Jerry my and David’s cousin-in-law. But there is more.

David met Jerry not too long after I did. A few years later David had moved to New York for grad school and thought nothing of inviting me, Jerry, our assumed cousin and another friend to visit for spring break. That trip included a few adventures with an odd plastic parachutist, visits to some off the path New York locations and some inventive housing that allowed all of us to. Ram into two tiny dorm rooms. David could easily call Jerry a cousin/friend too before it was all over. My memory isn’t much but I am pretty sure that trip was when David introduced Jerry to McSorley’s Old Ale House and another life-long acquaintance began.

Jerry has remained a steadfast friend since but in recent years has assumed the mantle of Bourbon Jerry. While the standard Jerry is calm, logical and even keeled, he is always up for an adventure small or large. Jerry can be counted on to travel on his own or to grab other friends and join any celebration.

A few years back that was a simple college football tailgate. Jerry joined up with another couple and came to Chapel Hill. Somewhere along the way he and the other fellow put a healthy dent in a bottle of whiskey (the third member of their group was a very responsible chaperone), enjoyed some more at the alumni center and then joined our group. I have to admit that despite their Inability to stop giggling like small children it was hard to tell how much they had imbibed. Gradually though, the spirit took over and a whole other Jerry appeared. From that point on, Bourbon Jerry has assumed his role as an alter ego making appearances here and there including at least one in Chicago I suspect.

The true Jerry is a gentleman and scholar. He has taken to the Bourbon Jerry role with a passion and study that includes research, group taste testing and seeking out hard-to-find bourbons. If it were legal, I am sure he would be mixing his own mash, distilling and aging

So what about this slush he proposed? The recipe shows it is intended for a group. In Jerry’s case it has become a go to holiday gift for friends. We tried it with a group at the beach and it hit all the right marks. It is very adaptable since you can adjust the liquor, make it sweeter or more bourbon-y by adjusting the amount of Sprite and as frozen as you choose. It turned out to be best described as the one bourbon drink that non whiskey drinkers liked. One good suggestion was to pour the mix into gallon ziplocs to make it easier to divide, freeze, unfreeze and enjoy.

img_1742David: Were Jerry a character in a Dickens novel, he would be a “hail fellow well met,” full of good cheer at every greeting, the friend you’d forgotten was so winning, so affable and warm. Jerry made it to Chicago a couple of years ago, and Jerry and Jean and Beth and I had a wonderful dinner complete with excellent cocktails.

Jerry, I remember, asked to substitute bourbon in his.

Jerry arrived with a photograph I’d forgotten from that trip to NYC, and a bunch of questions about the past, present, and future. Even though we did a lot of catching up, in many ways it was as if we’d never lost touch. That is the secret of Bourbon Jerry, I suppose—time seems immaterial, a mere nothing despite its steady passing.

Because we really have no friends, we halved his recipe and still had some left for about three weeks. I tried it every which way… with ginger ale and sprite and tonic. I liked the tonic best, as the drink is mighty sweet (almost like the orange concentrate it includes). Our frozen concoction really wasn’t that strong, however, and my most successful additive was to take the frozen mixture and… add more bourbon. This cocktail is quite reminiscent of an old-fashioned, and I figured Don Draper (and Bourbon Jerry) would approve.

And this drink opened my eyes to a whole new school of slushy possibilities someone might keep on store for reconstitution. I have experimenting to do.

Jonathan’s Take: everyone needs a cousin-in-law like Bourbon Jerry.

David’s Take: Sweet, but versatile… and lasting.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have used a number of lists of classic drinks to help with ideas. The latest one that I read was simply 10 drinks and the only one we have not tried is the Sidecar. I’m ready to go back to a classic and certainly have the cognac to use.

The Crusta

FullSizeRender-22Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are two parts to this introduction. One part, of course, is the background and history of this drink. That history is part of the evolution of the cocktail as we know it and is tied one the most common birthplaces for tipples that have spanned generations. The other part is familiar territory for the blog ,which is the theme of how we get ideas and proposals for what we will try each week – or every other week now. It may be best to start with the latter.

I have an ever-growing library of books about spirits, cocktails and the things that go with them. Those books are in actual paper format and e-books. As an aside, it is hard enough to remember where I read what but that is magnified by trying to recall which format first. At least e-books have a search function once I get that far. Among the newest of those books is Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee. I almost always do a quick perusal of books as I get them and the first thing that jumped out from this one were some recipes to go with the cocktails. In a twist on the traditional New Year’s Day menu for health, luck and money we used two appetizer suggestions. One was a black eyed pea queso and the other country ham and goat cheese pinwheels. Throw in some corn and collard green pancakes with lemon zest sour cream and we had the peas, ham, corn and greens we needed to start our year.

The cocktail I chose from the book was a familiar one called The Crusta. But why was it familiar and where the heck did I read about it before? Here’s the recipe first:

Fine grained sugar
Wedge of lemon
1.5 ounces cognac or bourbon
.5 ounce orange liqueur
.25 ounce maraschino cherry liqueur
.5 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
Dash angostura bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Wet the rim of a wine glass with the lemon, put sugar on a plate and rim the glass in sugar, mix all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into the wine glass into which new ice has been added. Garnish with the orange peel.

There are multiple versions of this recipe as David pointed out to me in a welcome reminder that I had not told him which one we would be using. Although this one does not have any sweetener other than that on the rim, history tells us that it should.

The reason that this drink sounded familiar is that it is part of the evolution of cocktails. David Wondrich wrote about The Crusta in his classic book Imbibe (that one is an e-book in my library) and notes that it marks the addition of citrus to the cocktail world. The Crusta is among one of many classics that were invented in New Orleans and is most certainly near the top of that list chronologically.  It was created by Joseph Santini in the 1850’s at the New Orleans City Exchange bar or an establishment called the Jewel of the South that he opened a few years later. Southern Cocktails credits it to Santini’s Saloon but I will stick with Wondrich on cocktail history. The drink impressed the oft noted professor, Jerry Thomas, so much that he included it in his famous book on cocktails. He included a version with gin but brandy/cognac seems to be the most common.

I am still in the self-imposed alcohol free zone of January. I did employ my taster, though, and even had the poor guy try both a cognac and a bourbon version. Classic cocktail evolution and the recipe both make it obvious that this is a spirit forward drink. He likes bourbon more than the unfamiliar cognac and preferred that one. By the same token if gin is your favorite then follow the professor’s lead and go with that.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1369You have to understand something about this blog—sometimes it feels as if it’s all about the photo. When the recipe calls for a specific garnish, or the drink is supposed to separate into layers, or even when there’s whipped cream, I start to worry. The Crusta, from every version I saw online looked more aesthetically pleasing than I usually muster. The sugar is part of the cocktail, of course. It lends sweetness to every sip… but that orange peel?

My brother might tell you I’m a champion worrier and that, nine times out of ten, my worry is entirely unjustified. In this case, the relief of making the Crusta look like the pictures of it distracted me. I’d had most of one before I thought, “Hey, what’s this like?”

Much about the drink suggests its venerable heritage. For one, whether you used Bourbon or Brandy (and I also made one of each), the spirit pushes to the forefront of this cocktail. The lemon juice, curacao and maraschino seem simply complementary, pleasant background to the main event. The sugar on the edge of the glass will seem a little too much to some who prefer more bitter, but I didn’t mind as long as the bourbon/brandy came through.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my feeling about these cocktails sometimes drifts into fiction. I think about who might drink them and in what circumstance. I’ve never seen a Crusta on a cocktail menu, but I imagine a person-in-the-know (a cognoscenti, or cocktailscenti, if you were) ordering it. He or she does it, in part, to challenge the bartender and, in another part, to draw some line back to the proto-cocktails that started everything. They say cocktails are an American art like Jazz or early cinema, and I like that idea. I like thinking Americans know how to combine, how to make something inventive simply by putting several different, and occasionally seemingly disparate, parts together. This libation, held up to the light by my imaginary customer, promises a celebration of ingredients, and I approve. The originals are often the most satisfying.

David’s Take: Not sure I can take the pressure of presentation too many more times, but I loved this cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails without citrus? Say it ain’t so, and then say thank you to Joseph Santini.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Boy, I hope Jonathan is up for this. Now that my brother has returned from cocktail exile, I’m going to propose a serious drink, the author of Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess’ favorite, the Hangman’s Blood, a potent—even if literary—”cocktail.” Call it revenge if you like. With seven (yes, SEVEN) spirits, this drink may prove the better of the Long Island Ice Tea. We can each split one with our wives, that’s permissible, but I’m been threatening this drink for awhile… maybe it’s time.

 

Hot Cider Nog

ACNogJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

One could posit that the proposed drink is more a posset than an eggnog. That assumes, of course, that one knows the difference between a posset and a nog or even what a posset is.

The history of eggnog can be traced back to England and a hot drink that sometimes doubled as a dessert. Possets date back to at least the 15th century based on their appearance in historic documents. Samuel Pepys wrote of eating a sack posset in his diary and was referring to a warm milk drink that was curdled with sack (like a sherry), sweetened and spiced. The classic version included milk or cream, sugar, spices, an ale or wine for curdling, and some kind of thickening agent. Special pots, much like a fat separator for gravy only much fancier, were used to pour out the lighter liquid to drink while leaving the thicker part to eat like a custard (a syllabub if you want to be technical). Later versions added eggs although both eggs and dairy were available mostly to the upper class.

Shakespeare referenced possets in a number of plays. David is the Shakespeare scholar in our family so I am sure he immediately thought of Lady Macbeth in reading that word. She used a drugged posset to render Duncan’s guards immobile so that Macbeth could steal in and assassinate the king. It appears she even enjoyed a spirited version of the drink to fortify herself:

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold
What hath quenched them hath given me fire

This beverage tradition of possets traveled to the colonies. Milk, cream and eggs were of much wider availability which could have led to greater popularity. The sack or sherry was replaced with the more common spirit, rum, in the colonial version. Speculation on the name relates to both the addition of rum and the type of cup in which the drink was traditionally served. Rum, or grog in common parlance, led to a drink called egg and grog. It was served in a small rounded wooden cup called a noggin (yes that is where the slang reference to the head probably started) and became egg and grog in a noggin. Finally, nog is slang for ale, which was of course one of the original ingredients in the posset.

Whatever the origin, what we call eggnog makes its regular appearance as the holidays approach and the weather, in theory, turns colder. The version that I proposed came from Southern Living and included an unusual addition unless you consider the evolution of the drink. This Hot Cider Nog adds apple cider which harkens back to the cider, ale or wine used in a posset:

2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
1 cup apple cider
2 large eggs
½ cup cider
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream and cinnamon sticks for garnish

Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large saucepan and gradually warm while stirring occasionally. The recipe recommends cooking until the thickened liquid coats the back of a spoon. I whisked the liquid almost constantly until it reached a temperature of 160 degrees to ensure those pesky eggs were safe but the milk and cream not overly scalded. The bourbon goes in last and I did bump the amount up to ¾’s cup.

There are recipes that suggest the final product should be cooled and even aged in the refrigerator for periods up to or even beyond six months. Our eggnog did get cooled but it had little time to age in a house full of family and guests. The odd addition, cider, was really not distinctive in the drink and fortunately did not curdle the milk. It did make for a lighter eggnog that was much better than the usual store-bought versions.

Here’s David’s Review:

NogDMIt occurred to me (ever so briefly) that I might save myself all sorts of time and trouble by just buying eggnog at the grocery. Making eggnog yourself is a delicate process—too hot and you have bits of scrambled egg in your drink and too cool and you might as well be Rocky before a morning run. Plus, the commercial stuff is readily available, and as a child, I loved it. I always looked forward to the holiday season when that carton hung around in the back of the refrigerator. I wouldn’t think of adulterating it with alcohol.

But now I know how caloric commercial eggnog is. Its preternatural viscosity probably derives from the sap of a South American tree, and the only eggs that go near it must start as powder. I’m a grown-up now. Making my own eggnog can’t be that daunting.

Well, okay, it was. Jonathan suggested a thermometer to assure the mixture didn’t reach 180°, and I’m glad he did. It seemed to keep the curdling down to a minimum and the cocktail from being too viscous. The apple cider also made the nog a little thinner than usual, which fooled me into thinking it might not be thickening as it should be. I worried more than I should (not surprising news for anyone in my family) but the whole concoction came together suddenly… accompanied by a sigh of relief.

And the result was well worth it because the cider undercut the usual sweetness of eggnog with a pleasant acidity. The whip cream added too, as it melted almost immediately and made the drink creamier and richer. While the holidays offer no shortage of celebratory libations, this one seemed a particularly suitable nightcap.

Jonathan is more of a historian than I am—as he mentioned, I’ve taught Shakespeare for years, yet have always wondered what the heck a “posset” is—but I’m the sentimentalist. Tradition impresses me most. Eggnog hardly seems a 21st century drink, and I have a hard time believing millennials, with all their post-modern fixations, will keep it going. However, that groceries still stock eggnog, that Starbucks still makes it a prominent ingredient, that people still drink it (at least in all of those cheesy holiday movies), all that suggests some elements of the past are hard to erase. In this case, I’m glad.

Jonathan’s take: Homemade eggnogs really are better.

David’s take: My favorite version of eggnog yet… eradicates my Tom and Jerry nightmares, almost.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

My collection of cocktail books isn’t as extensive as my brother’s, but I have a few. I thought I’d pick one from a gift I received last Christmas called Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails. The authors, Eric Prum and Josh William, are from Brooklyn, where my son lives (in Bushwick), and I’ve been particularly intrigued by one of their winter cocktails called The Bushwick Spice Trade. It uses Gin, sugar cubes, lemon juice, and—for spice—basil, pink peppercorns, and fresh ginger. The authors say, “We like to pair this intriguing cocktail with spicy Asian take-out when frigid temperatures call for a night in.” After so much celebration, that sounds good to me.

Roasted Fig Cocktail

Figgy2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Figs are, for me, lovable fruit. If they were human, they might be those amiable friends you take for granted. Sure, they’re less than gorgeous and at times positively gritty, almost too real inside, but you can’t doubt their sweetness, even when it’s subtle. And, if you’re lucky, when the time is right, they seem to just be there, waiting for you to reach out.

Jonathan, both my sisters, and my older brother grow (or have grown) figs, and they may regard them differently. I never think of figs’ proliferation, their appeal to birds or deer, and the obligations of using an overabundant yearly harvest resourcefully. They will never be the zucchini yield my coworkers seems to proffer. I regard them as supermarket treats. They never last long enough.

All those feelings account for my search for a cocktail exploiting figs. This summer, this blog has focused on seasonal fruit, and, as we edge toward fall, figs seemed the ideal choice. If the groceries are already offering Octoberfest beer, why not turn toward some of the warmer flavors of autumn? The particular recipe I chose also includes a nod to the shrub we tried a few weeks ago. The roasting that creates the fig puree owes a great deal to the balsamic vinegar balancing sweet and sour. The inclusion of maple syrup and bourbon only add to the transitional character of this cocktail. It’s neither a light nor refreshing cocktail of summer. Instead, it’s rich and dense.

Yet, I’m hoping it’s also a little fun. Maybe that’s because I can’t help thinking of that old Nabisco ad. Those “of a certain age” will remember it—a nebbish-y guy named “Big Fig” wearing a fig costume calls on the piano player Hal to help him sing a paean—decidedly off-key—to the virtues of Fig Newtons. Meanwhile he does a dance that’s not nearly as difficult as he thinks. At one point, he cries, “Here’s the tricky part!” and strikes a pose. Of course it’s not tricky at all. My brother and I could do it at ease, from memory. It’s ordinary, and most viewers at the time probably said, “How silly.”

Maybe I’m alone in extolling the virtues of underappreciated figs, but… well… I love them.

Here’s the recipe:

For the fig purée:

  • 12 ripe figs, halved
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

For the cocktail:

  • 1 heaping teaspoon fig purée
  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon
  • 1/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce maple syrup
  • Dash orange bitters

Directions

  1. To make the fig purée: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the figs in a 9″x9″ metal baking pan and pour the balsamic vinegar over top. Bake for 12 minutes, stirring twice to prevent burning. Remove the figs from the oven and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
  1. Pour the figs and remaining liquid into the blender and purée until fully blended. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  1. To make the cocktail: Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add fig purée, bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup, and orange bitters. Shake for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmfig

We have used some odd ingredients. For instance, the very first cocktail included a peanut orgeat. A regular orgeat with almonds, which we also made and used, is different enough but that peanut one was messy, sticky and oddly delicious. The Bengali Gimlet included so many spices that I still have a small part of the spice shelf devoted to the left overs. There have been vinegars, multiple syrups, and a few peculiar fruits. This week was a different fruit and a vinegar. Bonus.

The combination of figs and balsamic vinegar to create a paste wasn’t hard and it did result in wonderful smelling kitchen. I used black mission figs mostly because that was what I could find but also because the ones I am growing have been an easy snack for all of the critters that have been enjoying my attempt at an edible landscape. It created a paste that is a dark purple studded with gold seeds which is lovely. I hope the picture shows off both the purple and the gold floaties as it was quite a visual.

The drink itself was interesting which discerning readers will recognize as transparent code for “I won’t be making more of these.” It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it especially with it unique taste. It just wasn’t special enough that I would be blending up a batch of fig paste each week to make more. The bourbon also got lost in the drink to the point that I think the proportion needs to be increased to at least 2 ounces. It might also cut some of the thickness of the paste, which you get with that heaping teaspoon.

My question now is what do I do with the rest of that paste? I am afraid that the balsamic vinegar would stand out too much to throw some in a smoothie. I could have bought some frozen pastry dough and whooped up some homemade newtons, but that thought only occurred to me after we had been shopping. Not to mention that there is probably not enough paste even after all the scraping I did to get it out of the blender. I think the best option is crostini, cream cheese and a schmear of paste. Mmmm, fig paste!

Jonathan’s take: One of the prettiest drinks that we have made

David’s take: Certainly not an everyday drink, but enjoyable

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Did anyone know there is more than one Maharani cocktail? Me neither. The one I am proposing uses Tanqueray Rangpur (that goes back to the Bengali Gimlet) and St. Germain. I still have both and am hoping that David does too.

Top 100 Cocktails

drink.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Proposed By: David

The proposal that each of us try a top 100 cocktail should have included a link to a definitive list. The problem, of course, is that there is no definitive list. Sure there are plenty of opinions, lists by drink category and even more scientific lists that purport to determine popularity by internet searches but all of them have differences based on their perspective.

David had sent me a list many months ago from a restaurateur in Houston. Bobby Heugel’s top 100 is from his restaurant Anvil Bar & Refuge. It has gone through the occasional revision but has remained mostly consistent in representing the best from various categories of drinks. Since I was going to be traveling, including in Houston, that seemed like a good list to use. It also seemed serendipitous and my plan was to go to Anvil to try the top 100 cocktail there. Only problem was that I read somewhere that Anvil is not open on Sundays (the day I would have a chance to go) so the best I could do was go by on the way to a couple of places near there on Westheimer Road.

We’ve written that David and I spent our formative years in Texas and that resulted in my being a lifelong Astros fan. My two sons and I were in Houston to see a couple of games, and my nephew picked us up on Sunday night to have dinner with him and my niece. We ended up in on Westheimer at a couple of wonderful places for a beer and then dinner and Anvil was in between. Anvil was open. Sometimes serendipity is a booger, but I sure am glad we got to spend some time with my niece and nephew.

It all worked out the next night though when my oldest son and I found a classic cocktail spot in San Antonio. The Last Word is not too far in distance from the Alamo but its location below street level is a long way from the standard tourist spots downtown. They have their own short list of classic cocktails, including some on tap and some of their own creations. After a long day of walking and a great meal, I chose the classic Boulevardier as both a digestif and a way to unwind and relax. Their version is served on the rocks (nice medium square ones) rather than strained into a coupe. Something worth trying for the Negroni in my opinion.

The Boulevardier is the older cousin of the Negroni. The latter may be the more famous with its mix of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, but the former predates it based on published recipes. It substitutes whiskey, either bourbon or rye, for the gin and depending on taste includes more of that base rye or bourbon.

The drink dates back to the famous Harry’s New York Bar in Paris that is credited for the creation of a number of classics. Harry McElhone of that bar is sometimes given credit though it seems more likely that Edward Gwynne was the one who came up with it or inspired the drink. Gwynne had moved to Paris around prohibition and had started a magazine called The Boulevardier that was intended to mimic The New Yorker. The term “boulevardier” is synonymous with flaneur and indicates, on very simplistic terms, a stroller, lounger or man about town. That seems very apt for a sophisticated drink that combines the depth of whisky, the bitter of Campari and the smoothing properties of a quality sweet vermouth.

David’s Drink:

Bramble2One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about this blog is, “How long have you been doing it?” Recently—now that we’ve written about over 100 drinks—another question follows, “Are there any drinks left?”

Well, obviously. I’m not sure how many cocktails exist. That may be a Neoplatonic question, after all, more a matter of asking “What IS a cocktail and is it a material thing or an ideal that exists apart from the physical universe?” I’m sure, however, of more than 100. In fact, as Jonathan said, there seem to be more than 100 Classic cocktail lists for the top 100 cocktails. Using the list above, we’ve tried 27 (I counted) and that leaves 63 (times the number of other lists).

In choosing which of the remaining classics, I let my liquor cabinet do the talking. I looked for what was possible given my supplies, and I discovered a recipe, The Bramble, that asked for Crème de Mure (a blackberry liqueur), half a bottle of which I just so happen to possess, thanks to the generosity of a friend… and cocktail abettor.

There are many Bramble recipes online, but here’s a link to the one I used.

Like many of the classics, the Bramble is a simple concoction, relying on gin, simple syrup, lemon, and the Crème de Mure, but—also characteristically classic—it requires a certain sophistication in its use of these ingredients. If it’s to work really well, you need two types of ice, cubes to cool the cocktail (minus the liqueur) in a shaker and crushed ice for the glass. You also have to be pretty good at pouring patiently, as drizzling the blackberry over the gin—and lemon and simple syrup—soaked ice creates a cascading effect as the heavier liqueur drips through.

Alas, as you might see in the photo I’m not savvy enough to capture that moment in my photo. Nonetheless, take my word for it, for a second or so the drink was beautiful.

The non-egg-headed explanation for the proliferation of cocktails, of course, is that so many variables (and variables of variables) make a drink what it is. We’ve tasted a number of fruit based drinks recently, for instance, but what makes a Bramble different is the refinement of the liqueur. It isn’t fresh blackberry or blackberry syrup but closer to a brandy, so it gives this the mixture depth and gravity. In fact, the simple syrup is optional, as far as I’m concerned, because a Bramble is sweet enough without it, and the lemon doesn’t overwhelm the Crème de Mure, which has sufficient density to even things out.

As Jonathan explained, one reason for this week’s post is that he was in Houston and wanted a drink he might order out. I’m not sure many bars have Crème de Mure on hand, but, if they do, it’d be worth asking for a Bramble. You’ll certainly look like you know what you’re doing, and you’re likely to enjoy it too.

Jonathan’s take: It could just be the drink, or the good company with whom I enjoyed it, but I am ready to give Campari a try again after the delicious Boulevardier.

David’s Take: The Bramble is a genteel drink, and, as the Crème de Mure ran through the ice, I felt just a little savvy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My break from teaching is waning. As I approach returning to class, I’m up for a final celebration of one of my favorite fruits of summer, the fig. The recipe I’ve chosen seems the ideal transition to the fall ahead.  My proposal is a Roasted Fig Cocktail using the fruit cooked in balsamic vinegar, then puréed, then combined with bourbon, lemon juice, and a little maple syrup. I hope the prep won’t be too onerous… or at least worth it.

 

Shrub Cocktails

Shrub.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Yes, “shrub” is a funny word—as is, Monty Python fans will tell you, the word “shrubbery.” Normally a shrub is a woody plant smaller than a tree with several main stems arising at or near the ground, but in cocktailian lore, the word derives from sharāb, Arabic meaning “to drink,” which also gives us “sherbet” and “syrup” as metathetic variants… of course.

A shrub combines three basic ingredients: fruit, sugar, and vinegar. It’s the vinegar that’s strange, but the history of shrubs goes back to medicinal cordials of the 15th century and early cocktails 17th and 18th century England, when the lack of refrigeration may have made vinegar an almost inevitable part of every fruit syrup. Shrubs, often called “drinking vinegars,” were thought to have health benefits and were particularly popular in the American colonies. They often included infusions of herbs and spices as well as various fruit and rinds.

To us, it may seem odd to drink vinegar, but, if people make cocktails from pickle and olive brine, how’s a shrub strange? Trust me, the combination of sweet and sour flavors will be more familiar. As I said in my proposal last week, a shrub makes a lot of sense if you don’t live in Florida or California and are looking for a locally grown alternative to citrus.

Plus, in these-here modern times, shrub has become hip, and it’s easier to make (and more appetizing) than just leaving sweetened fruit on the counter until it begins to turn. You can make it with a hot or cold method or you can add the vinegar right in the cocktail glass. Some people don’t even want alcohol. Combined with carbonated water, shrubs may have been some of America’s earliest soft drinks.

The particular fruit I chose for my shrub was rhubarb, not because it’s another funny word but because we had some topping we’d been using for angel food cake and ice cream. However, any fruit would work… even prickly pear, I bet. Then you add some spirit (I chose bourbon), and perhaps some bubbles to lighten things up (I chose ginger ale), and some bitters. I chose cardamom bitters because that’s what the recipe I used called for… and I like to show off that I have such strange bitters… and I haven’t yet found a drink that cardamom bitters didn’t overwhelm (until now).

Here are the recipes, first for shrub and then for the drink I chose.

Fruit Shrub:

2-3 parts fruit
1 part apple cider or red wine vinegar
2/3 parts brown or white sugar

Shred or macerate fruit

Add Sugar

Cold Method: combine with vinegar and refrigerate, strain out fruit before using.

Hot Method: heat fruit and sugar, cool, add vinegar and refrigerate, strain out fruit before using.

Note: the hot method matures more quickly and is ready to use once it’s cool. The cold method takes longer because the flavors need to meld over a few days.

Bourbon Shrub Cocktail:

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce fruit shrub
3-4 dashes cardamom bitters
Ginger ale
2 apple slices

Fill a cocktail glass with ice and add in bourbon, apple shrub and bitter.

Stir gently and top with ginger ale.

Garnish with apple slices.

This formula is only a guideline, of course. Bourbon and rhubarb seem a congenial couple to me, but with so many variables to explore, a shrub could become (and has become) the basis for any number of cocktails using every sort of fruit and every sort of spirit. The English liked rum and brandy with their shrubs, so if this recipe doesn’t work for you… try another. Before I made a shrub, I never thought of drinking vinegar, but now I may add gin, or vodka, or scotch, or aquavit… boy, my liquor cabinet is full.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

schrub.jmThere are a number of classic commercials that I cite on a regular basis. The Popeil pocket fisherman, that portable wonder, is useful anytime one needs to compare something to an item so simple and ingenious that you wonder why you didn’t invent it yourself. Seriously, how is it still not popular? Chisanbop was a math aid that purported to turn kids into adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing aces in no time. The method was something akin to creating an abacus with your fingers and I still reference its possible use anytime some quick mind bending calculations need to be made. Of course that reference is not complete without a completely inaccurate display of Chisanbop calculations. The other regular reference is Jogging in a Jug.

Jogging in a Jug was a magic health elixir that claimed to help a person enjoy all the benefits of a running regimen without stepping a foot outside or on a treadmill. During the height of its popularity, before those pesky government health experts shut it down, I actually tried the stuff. One taste and it was obvious that a main ingredient was vinegar – apple cider vinegar as it turns out. Mixed with fruit juices to make it palatable, it enjoyed some success in sales, but now it is simply a reference to miracle cures.

This week’s drink with its odd mix of shrub and bourbon brought to mind that magic cure. The shrub is much more complicated than mixing fruit juices with vinegar but follows the same concept. The sweet apples and brown sugar create just enough distraction so that you don’t think about the fact that the liquid you are drinking is predominantly vinegar. So much so that the shrub by itself wasn’t bad at all.

The funny part is that the combination with bourbon is interesting, so different that I can’t recall another drink like it, and really good. Almost every drink we try, especially this far into the project, can be compared to something else but not this one. The shrub was distinctive and dominated the drink in a good way. I didn’t have cardamom bitters (I used Peychaud’s) and would have been interested what they added even though it is doubtful they would have changed the emphasis.

My final thought is that I have no idea what I am going to with the rest of my shrub. I guess it is there if I decide it’s time to start running again, and I really don’t want to get off the sofa.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I hope David is not a purist (actually we know that he is not) because I think we should make a non-traditional sangria. The season of fresh peaches is dwindling, and I want to try a lighter sangria made with that fruit and white wine before the peaches go. It is also a drink that can be made in large quantities, and David will be with a big group of ready tasters. There will be a basic recipe but this is a drink that can, and should, vary with what’s available.

Jonathan’s take: Is it just me or do I look lighter after that drink?

David’s Take: Quite a discovery. You think you’ve learned everything, and then…

Blackberry-Bourbon Lemonade

RedjbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

We grew up in a small town near Galveston Bay. At least that is what I usually say even though it may be more accurate that we spent our formative years there. We lived there pre-school, elementary, middle and, for David, the first two years of high school. It was a great place to be a kid, at least in my estimation, because the town was small (we moved across town and the two houses were barely over a mile apart). You could leave the house in the morning and show up again at dinner without anyone wondering where you had been.

It was also an area that allowed for food gathering. The bay and bayous were within walking and biking distance, which meant crabbing and fishing for most of the year. There were also plentiful figs and berries. Mulberries grew on trees and were okay but not worth stealing from the birds, but the blackberries that grew in open areas were definitely worth the occasional interaction with an indigo or hognose snake (I think they were there to eat things that eat blackberries). Straight snacking or filling a pouch by turning up the bottom of my shirt, I grew up with an affinity for blackberries.

My wife was the one who suggested this week’s drink. The lemonade and bourbon were interesting, but it was the picture of blackberries floating in the drink that sold me. And all of that was before I realized there was a blackberry/rosemary syrup. That syrup is medium on the difficulty scale, although the smell alone is worth it. The name may be too complicated for Yankee Candle, but some candle entrepreneur should figure how to replicate the sweet and savory odor of the simmering stems of rosemary with a mound of blackberries. It tastes wonderful too:

12 ounces blackberries by weight (a couple of cups by volume)
1.5 tbs of rosemary (three to four short stems)
¾ cup water
¼ cup sugar

Mix water and sugar in a saucepan to combine, add rosemary and blackberries, bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Spend the last 5 minutes smashing the blackberries and then strain – through a colander first and a fine mesh screen second.

The drink is easy on the mixing scale:

2 ounces bourbon
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
2 tsps blackberry/rosemary syrup
1/3 cup sparkling lemonade

Mix the bourbon, lemon juice and syrup in a shaker with ice. Strain into a highball or double old-fashioned glass, add the sparkling lemonade and ice then garnish with fresh blackberries.

Better Homes and Gardens also provides the proportions to make it by the pitcher full. My recommendation is to invite folks over and do exactly that.

Here’s David’s Review:

Red.dbmNo sense in being coy. I loved this week’s cocktail. I would go as far to say it was one of the best we’ve tried… which leaves me very little else to say except to explain why.

I’ll start, however, with the one reason I didn’t love this cocktail. I have a love-hate relationship with syrups, and the central element of this cocktail meant pulling out the cheesecloth again. Syrups (especially this one) are worth the trouble, and it’s not like it’s impossible to boil fruit with sugar. The sticky point arrives when it’s time to eliminate parts of that mixture you don’t want. Perhaps my impatience dooms me, but I end up staring down the fine mesh screen as it clogs and slows to an agonizing drip. Forcing the liquid out with a spoon leaves too much behind, so I end up squeezing the stuff through cheesecloth.

All this kvetching leads to a prayer: someone somewhere out there (please!) must know how to separate pulp and syrup without so much trouble or mess. I’d love to learn your secret.

In the meantime, I’m sure my hands won’t be stained red for that long.

What I do love are blackberries. Like Jonathan, I especially appreciate the nostalgia they evoke. I vaguely remember picking them at some farm in coffee cans, but I can still taste the variably sweet and sour variety that sprouted wild in the Texas town where Jonathan and I grew up. My own recollection is that few summer days passed without pausing to grab a couple from the brambles, snakes be damned. Sometimes we even gathered enough in our T-shirts to convince our mom to make cobbler. Of course, we never thought of combining them with rosemary, but the influence of the herb is subtle and perfect.

Which is another thing I loved about this cocktail—each ingredient seemed assertive without being overwhelming on its own. Though you taste the bourbon, it doesn’t take center stage. The syrup is clearly blackberry, but the lemon in the drink keeps it from coming across as too sweet or heavy. I used Izze Limon as my sparkling lemonade because I couldn’t find anything else, but that choice seemed serendipitous. The touch of lime and the understated sweetness of the soft drink made the final concoction light and refreshing, perfect for a July 4th afternoon.

When Jonathan sends his portion of our post, I nearly always find we’ve touched on similar ideas. Even before he sent his part, I’d written the same advice: leap directly to making a pitcher of this stuff. Creating the syrup is the only downside, so make a lot—red hands be damned—and look for friends to share the plenty of summer blackberries.

David’s Take: One of my favorites.

Jonathan’s take: The blackberries drew me in, the syrup and bourbon increased my interest and the drink clinched it. I’d fight a hognose for it.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

Summer—even in Chicago—brings verdant growth… and farmers’ markets. It’s fun this time of year to recognize the peaks of various plants, as rhubarb gives way to peaches and asparagus to tomatoes. This week’s recipe is a Lemon Basil Cocktail, another lemonade involving an herb, this time made with tequila, triple sec, lemon, and the tender basil that is just beginning to appear for sale in Chicago. At first I thought about mixing things up more—we are on a streak of fruit drinks—but why not take advantage of summer’s bounty?

Drinks With Amer Marshallon

AmerProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

A number of factors make this week’s post unusual. First, though I proposed the drink, it builds on a version of a spirit no longer available in the U.S.—Amer Picon—that David concocted from an internet recipe over the span of a month or so.

Second, the two of us are together… like, in one place… and at the same time… actual, not virtual.

We’re visiting our sister and mother in San Antonio, and, in the spirit of this too uncommon event, we thought it would be fun to construct this week’s post as a dialogue between our blog’s two cocktailian brothers.

Here goes:

JM: So, David, what is Amer Picon exactly?

DM: It’s an amaro. The word means “bitter” in Italian, but Amer Picon is a French variety no longer available in the states. A guy named Gaetin Picon developed it in the 1830s as an aperitif meant to aid digestion. The recipe changed in the 1970s—they altered the ingredients and lowered the proof a lot—so the current commercial version in Europe is very different from the original, Still, a lot of classic recipes call for it. You won’t find it at any liquor store, and, on the web, you’re more likely to encounter a discussion of what might substitute for it than a way to obtain it. That’s what I did. After a friend made me his version of Amer Picon, I returned the favor by making one of my own.

JM: How did you make it?

DM: I sent away from some dried orange peels—two ounces from bitter oranges and two from sweet orange—then put them in a big glass jug with some high proof vodka. They stayed together for a month. The recipe actually asked me to leave the jug two months, but I compensated by shaking the mixture up every time I passed by it. I think I was driving everyone mad with all the shaking. Then I added Amaro Ramazzotti, another amaro with gentian root and quinine and a little sweetness, some water to reduce the proof, and about half a bottle of orange bitters. I was supposed to use blood orange bitters, but I couldn’t find those. Instead I chose orange bitters aged in Old Tom Gin barrels.

JM: How do you know if it tastes anything like the original Amer Picon?

DM: I don’t, obviously. The internet recipe is a guess, and, changing the bitters and choosing the orange peels I did, I decided to call it Amer Marshallon. But I thought you might approve of the name.

So, anyway, it’s your turn. Why did you choose the Amer Picon cocktails you did?

seven drinks JMJM: Since Amer Picon (or Amer Marshallon) isn’t readily available, there are very few recipes that call for it. The classic cocktail is Amer Picon punch, which is the national drink of Basque, and we have Basque origins. Since we’re visiting our mother though, and she is the mother-in-the-law of our three spouses, I chose the Mother-in-Law cocktails. I also chose the Brooklyn cocktail because we were serving a lot of people and did a Bushwick version of the Brooklyn in honor of David’s son, who lives in that section of Brooklyn.

DM: And the recipes?

JM: The Mother-in-Law is the most complicated… and this version makes three drinks.

1 tsp. Peychaud bitters (but we couldn’t find any and chose Orange instead)

1 tsp. Angostura bitter

1 tsp. Amer Picon

½ oz. orange curacao

½ oz. simple syrup

½ oz. maraschino liqueur

9 oz. bourbon

DM: So what’d you think?

JM: I only tasted it, but the mild sweetness was more to my preference.

DM: For me, it was also the sweetest, and maybe the most subtle. There really isn’t a huge influence from any of the secondary ingredients, though. As it’s nearly all alcohol and the others complained it was too strong.

JM: The other drinks were a Brooklyn and a variation of the Brooklyn called the Bushwick… these both make one drink.

Brooklyn:

2 oz. rye

¾ dry vermouth

2 tsp. Amer Picon

2 tsp. maraschino liqueur

Bushwick:

2 oz. rye

¼ oz. Amer Picon

¼ oz. maraschino

DM: What was the difference, do you think?

JM: I only tasted the others, so it’s hard for me to say, but the dry vermouth made the Brooklyn less sweet, and it seemed even more potent.

DM: I thought so too, though I preferred it to Bushwick. I drank half of mine then switched with someone to try the Bushwick.

ad 1JM: I have a three-drink rule and succumbed to trying some Texas beers before we started.

DM: Me too, and maybe I should have had some rules, but… well… I didn’t. I had plenty of everything.

JM: So, what was the Bushwick like to you?

DM: It seems like we’ve used sweet vermouth a lot. Unless you choose a bitter form of it, sweet vermouth adds an almost punch taste.

JM: Punch taste?

DM: You know, like Tahitian Treat, or Hawaiian Punch.

JM: Ah, the drinks of our youth.

DM: Overall, I’d say I need to find some new uses for the Amer Marshallon. Your wife told me she doesn’t like these all-alchol drinks, and I’m beginning to understand her perspective. I may find some new ways to couple Amer with fruit… to balance its bitterness and echo its sweet elements.

JM: Or maybe just a splash with some lemon-lime seltzer. Or add it to something that calls for bitters.

DM: What would you think of it with tonic instead? You know how I love my tonic.

JM: If you love it, drink it. If you don’t love it, don’t drink it. There’s a rule for you.

DM: A good one. In any case, it was fun to actually make the drink together. Besides dividing the labor, I learned much more about how you operate as a cocktailian.

JM: Virtual has been great fun and accomplished our goal of communicating much more. Actual is a lot more fun.

DM: And those were our takes.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Visiting our sister, I recognized that she has a half a bottle of cachaca from my last visit, so I looked for something that might make effective use of it. I chose the Amazonia, in part because the description said it’d be perfect for Sunday barbeque. Having tried some good barbeque on this trip, the recipe appeals to me. Summer has more than begun in Texas, but back in Chicago, we are just starting to de-winterize our grills.