Amazonia

Amazonia.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the recipe (makes one cocktail):

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

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

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

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week (Proposed By: Jonathan):

The very first drink in this blog came from Garden and Gun magazine. I am suggesting another called the Redless Snapper that was created at Foundation bar in Raleigh and featured in an article in the magazine about local spirits. I could be accused of making another shameless attempt at a sponsorship from Cardinal gin but the truth is I have been trying to find a lighter version of the Bloody Mary. This drink is a variation on the Red Snapper (the gin version of Bloody Mary) and uses tomato water in lieu of tomato juice. Making that tomato water is a little complicated, so I apologize in advance to anyone making these drinks along with us.

Caipirinha

CachacaProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The World Cup in Brazil should have been your introduction to this cocktail, but if not get ready for the Olympics next year. We have tried a couple of cachaça cocktails, the batida and the caipirinha de uva, but had not tried this classic yet. Considered one of the 7 most basic cocktails, it is simple to make and will vary with each version of cachaça that you try. There is little doubt that the popularity of the Olympics and the simplicity of the drink will make it the cocktail of the summer next year.

To start with, cachaça is a sugar cane spirit produced almost entirely in Brazil. Rum is also a sugar cane spirit at its most basic, but the difference is that rum is produced from the molasses left at the end of sugar production while cachaça is made from fermented sugarcane. Rhum Agricole is similarly produced straight from the sugarcane. The result is a liquor that varies with each type of sugarcane or the region in which it is grown.

Cachaça and the caipirinha made with it have been around long enough that there are a number of versions of the history of both. Cachaça production probably dates to the 1500’s and Portuguese influence on Brazil. The spirit was then mixed with lime and sugar to cut the harsh taste that was distinctive of early cachaças. Much like many of the other rum and citrus drinks there also has to be truth to the mix being popular for sailors as a combination of inebriant and way to ward off scurvy.

Though a couple of translations of caipirinha exist, both speak to its popularity with the masses. One source indicates that it means “little countryside drink” while another says it is “little peasant girl.” Either way it is the traditional way to serve cachaça and varies with each example of the Brazilian spirit. I offered that if David preferred using Rhum Agricole, a spirit produced primarily in Martinique, he could make a Ti’ (short for petit) Punch which is also a basic mix of spirit, sugar and lime and another indicator that this cocktail has multiple origins.

There are a few variations of the recipe for a caipirinha but they all follow the simple mix of 2 ounces cachaça, half a lime and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. I made three versions (for three people), one with 2 teaspoons of demerara sugar, one with 2 teaspoons of leftover vanilla rich simple syrup from last week, and the third with 3 teaspoons standard simple syrup. All three included cutting the lime into smaller wedges, muddling with the sugar, and then adding c cachaça and ice. The demerara may have been the most successful if for no other reason than the rough crystals making the muddling easier. The cachaça was a gold version from Ypioca, and I would have tried one with Leblon, but discovered it was all gone. Wonder how that happened.

Here’s David’s Review:

CappydickUnfortunately much of what I know of Brazil derives from a report I gave in Ms. Cullen’s seventh grade social studies class, and caipirinha, I’m sure, didn’t make my parade of geography, politics, exports, imports, flora, fauna, and celebrations.

However, it’s easy to imagine caipirinha as a sort of national cocktail. It’s direct and simple—just juice, sugar, and spirit—but the inclusion of cachaça also makes it distinctive. The directions seemed complicated at first, but I can see, with a little practice, concocting the drink might become as unconscious as mixing a martini.

And, if you like cachaça, you stand a good chance of liking this drink. And I do like it. Describing how something tastes is never easy because you have to resort to nebulous vocabulary and/or comparisons, but I’d say cachaça is rum’s uncultured cousin. Rum seems refined to achieve a molassy, aged sophistication, but cachaça is more forthright, almost like an alcoholic version of coconut milk fresh out of the nut, intensely organic and somehow dense, just a step past chewing on a sugar cane or cactus fruit. I know it sounds a little dicey to say cachaça’s smells and tastes “funky”—especially because I don’t mean like James Brown, but like fruit just past ripened. Still, there’s something real about cachaça, as if someone just made it instead of synthesizing it in a laboratory.

With the caipirinha, it helps that lime adds an acidic counterpoint and also that, by muddling the lime, you invite some welcome bitterness. As I used confectioner’s sugar, the sweetness diffused nicely through the liquid without becoming over-sweet or dominating the cachaça.

I don’t recall this from my seventh grade report, but I’ve read that Brazilians love their sweets, and, as Jonathan did, I’d advise playing with the type and quantity of sugar you include in your recipe. And I do mean your recipe because—if you like caipirinhas—you’ll want to spend some time perfecting your version of it. As many of our other cocktails have demonstrated, infinite subtlety arises from playing around with a few simple ingredients, and I’d be willing to bet every Brazilian has some secret to impart about making the proper caipirinha.

David’s Take: If you’re searching for a worthy pursuit, you could do worse than devoting yourself to making the perfect caipirinha.

Jonathan’s Take: Cachaça, and the caipirinhas made with it, varies with each type. Since it is so distinctive, choose your cachaça wisely.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, we’ve been skirting the Martini, trying variations that swap out one ingredient or experimenting with exotic secondary ingredients. This week, I thought “Maybe it’s time to just go for for it, to make a damn Martini already,” but then I thought, “Nope.” So I’m proposing yet another alternate, one that comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual of 1882 and is called The Tuxedo. It includes dry vermouth but also a little Maraschino liqueur and an absinthe wash, and I’m making mine with Old Tom gin, true to the original.

Dark ‘N Stormy

Proposed by: Jonathan20141019_165024_resized

Reviewed by: David

The questions I started with last week went unanswered, and this week is no different. Those questions were simply what the difference between a mule and a buck cocktail are, as well as what differentiates ginger beer and ale. As best I can tell, there is no answer because there is no difference.

There are multiple meanings to mule and buck beyond their cocktail uses. A mule is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey (forget learning cocktails, now I know a cross between the opposite sexes of each animal is called a hinny). It can also be a drug carrier, a women’s shoe with no strap on the back or some stubborn dolt who won’t give up trying to figure out why the heck a drink is called a mule. Buck could be the male deer in my backyard who is still pissed that our dog chased his fawn a couple of weeks ago, or the marker in poker that designates the next dealer, leading to the expression “pass the buck.” My favorite use is the adverb form of buck that means “completely” as in “I drank a bunch of dark ‘n stormys and next thing I knew I was running buck nekkid down the beach.”

The best explanation for why the words are used with cocktails goes back to the second drink featured in this blog – the Horse’s Neck. The original of that drink was simply ginger ale and bitters and did not include alcohol. When it was added, the name was amended to include “with a kick.” It makes only the tiniest amount of sense that the translation of that was from a kicking horse to a bucking mule, but that is the story that has evolved.

When it comes to cocktails, though, the use of mule and buck now means any drink that is mixed with ginger beer/ale, citrus, and a spirit. The best part of that is the simplicity. Take the ale or beer in four parts, the spirit in two parts and the citrus in one part and you have a cocktail. You don’t even have to stick with those proportions, and, if you toss in some bitters, who can blame you. There are more complicated variations that use ginger liqueur, as David mentioned last week, or ginger simple syrup but that ruins the utility of the basic recipe in my opinion.

The Dark N’ Stormy is trademarked by Gosling’s and use of any other rum besides Gosling’s Black Seal makes the drink a rum buck. To truly taste the cocktail by that name we went with the classic Black Seal in two parts, Barritt’s ginger beer (also from Bermuda) in four parts and an ample wedge of lime. If we added a little lime juice to the mix (that would be the one part mentioned above), you and Gosling’s lawyers don’t know about it.

There are so many rums and gingers that this is a drink, in its non-trademarked buck/mule form, that demands experimentation. The tailgaters that recommended the drink also made versions with Kraken rum, Crabbie’s ginger beer, Saranac ginger beer and the all of the combinations that allowed. The picture that is included is a version with Bacardi spiced rum that is lighter and lets the citrus come to the forefront. All of the versions were a hit, although I will admit that the true Dark ‘N Stormy was the best in my estimation.

It was a week when the country of origin for this drink, Bermuda, was truly dark and stormy thanks to Hurricane Gonzalo. It sounds like the island nation fared well, all things considered, and I’m happy we got to enjoy their national drink with true Bermuda ingredients.

And Here’s David’s Review:

dark.andI thought briefly about not buying Gosling’s Black Seal because, well, proprietary cocktail recipes reek of craven marketing and rampant capitalism. No one should own a cocktail in a free country, right? Fortunately, however, I read a review of the rum’s appearance as “A little foreboding” and its greeting as, “an enticing unpleasant aroma.” Then I had to have it. It wasn’t at all expensive anyway. And, just as described, its creosote color repelled light and offered a dense molasses and sulfury taste perfectly cut by lime and ginger beer. Almost from my first sip, I wanted another.

Last week, when Jonathan asked about ginger beer, I really didn’t know the difference, but I can at least answer one of his questions (I’m happy Jonathan answered the other). Now I understand that ginger ale uses fresh ginger—uncooked, unprocessed, the raw stuff—whereas ginger beer involves fermentation and is usually less sweet, more spicy. I used Fever-Tree ginger BEER (they have an ale version too), yet what struck me most was not the difference between beer and ale but how effervescence counters the weighty gravitas of a seriously dense spirit like Gosling’s. More trigeminal interference, I suppose.

While examining alternative recipes, I encountered one that urged leaving out the lime, but, to me, that would be a serious mistake. As with the Mules last week, fresh citrus adds sweet, sour, and bitter elements contributing to the cocktail’s complexity. In another case of the sum being greater than its parts, the burnt sugar taste of the rum, its hint of anise—almost like licorice—needs the spicy ginger and tart lime to dilute and lift it.

As Jonathan said, this cocktail, like many we’ve encountered lately, also seems amenable to improvisation. Though I haven’t tried it yet, I might substitute ginger liqueur (despite what my brother says) and a combination of tonic and seltzer. I might try paler rum—perhaps even caçhaca, though I suspect that will make it both lighter and less stormy, maybe light ‘n drizzly. I may even try garnishing with pickled ginger. Crazy, I know, but sometimes a week isn’t enough to explore one of these drinks, especially when it seems as well-conceived (good work, Gosling’s Black Seal people) and balanced as this one.

David’ Take: I’ll have another.

Jonathan’s Take: The rum mule/buck is an experimenter’s dream, but try it with Gosling’s and make their attorneys happy.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Though it seems odd to suggest a Martinez before the Martini, the former is a predecessor to the latter—and maybe we’ll have to try a Martini after that. A sweeter drink involving gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitters, it promises to be another cocktail with some heft and potency… just my cup of alcohol. And, unlike a Martini, I’ve never had one… which is the fundamental requirement for being included on this blog, right?

One Year Drinking With My Brother

embarrassingAs announced, we’re celebrating a year’s worth of posts by putting aside our usual practice to reflect on all the lessons we’ve learned as not-so-savvy cocktailians:

Jonathan:

One of the many benefits of growing up in a large family are the things you learn from your siblings. Some are more important than others, but all add to who you are. David and I are the fourth and fifth children, respectively, of five in our family. As the two youngest we shared rooms, seats next to each other in cars, places at the table and spots on couches. More than that we shared a lot of time with each other, and even today I hear myself using expressions that I know come directly from him. One of my absolute favorites is and has been the description of someone as “a master of the startlingly obvious.” And that is what I feel like I am with my observations and lessons gleaned from our first year of this blog. That won’t stop me from sharing my thoughts though.

1. A close observer/reader should know that fresh ingredients and homemade mixers are the key to better drinks. To make cocktails I have juiced lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, pomegranates, and kumquats. Simple syrups have been created from sugar, brown sugar, demerara, sorghum, maple syrup and honey. Those syrups have been flavored with herbs, spices, nuts and more fruit. Store-bought sweet and sour, grenadine and orgeat? Why, when you make your own during the week. The end result may take longer, but the difference is well worth it.

2. It is often repeated in our weekly write up, but prior to this blog, beer and wine were pretty much the extent of drinks I enjoyed. I always assumed, however, that I knew the basics of liquors and the drinks made with them. Wrong, very wrong. Gin might be the best example of a liquor with incredible variation and types, so much so that using the right one in a drink can drastically improve the taste. Then there are the liquors that I never knew existed (a few of which I could still get by without knowing Mr. Campari) like aquavit, cachaça, and pisco. The stories of these unique distillations is in itself a lesson in history and culture. Every time I think we are reaching some level of understanding and knowledge, there is another one that appears and begs to be used. I hope David is ready for Cynar because it, and a pronunciation guide, will make an appearance soon.

3. We compared notes this week and the next lesson is one that overlaps for us—taste. There have been more drinks that we have both enjoyed, and a few where we both did not, than there has been disagreement. Next week we will get a better idea of that when we choose our hits and misses, but, before that, there are some generalizations to be drawn. The classic cocktail, in my mind, is the standard sour. Liquor, sweetener and sour element are the basics of that drink. Almost any mix that has followed that simple idea has met my approval. I especially like those with interesting sweeteners like maple, or odd sours like grapefruit. There are other categories of drinks besides the sour, such as those with effervescence from sparkling wine or club soda, that also stand out but in a pinch I fall back on the sour.

4. Another general rule of taste is the use of bitters. It is an odd ingredient in most drinks because, to my taste, it never stands out. In fact you can rarely identify that one has been added, but, like salt, it seems to intensify and improve the other parts of the drink. The drinks that are all liquor, bitter elements and actual bitters have not been my favorite, but take a simple drink like bourbon and ginger then add some Angostura and you can taste a transformation.

5. My final lesson is one that I did not really learn so much as re-learn. Drinking is a social experience. The first and most obvious part of that is the very basis of this blog. David and I started this as a way to interact more, even if it was a virtual interaction. Along the way, my wife has joined me in almost every weekly tasting, as David’s wife has in his. Our children are adults so they not only try some of the drinks, but are great sources for suggestions. There have been tailgates, family visits, happy hours, celebrations and random get-togethers with friends and neighbors. It has reached the point that even as the specific drinks escape memory, the events do not. Of course there is also the virtual interaction with readers who comment on-line, or through text and e-mail. It is a rare week when I do not receive some feedback, suggestion or drink recipe in some form or another. Those of you who keep sending pictures and menu snippets, and you know who you are, keep sending them and I will keep looking for edible glitter.

booksDavid:

I few weeks ago, when we were thinking about ways to celebrate our 52nd post on this blog Jonathan speculated how long we’d keep it up, then asked, “Until we’re famous?” That sounds good to me, mostly because we aren’t famous yet and therefore must continue. This enterprise is too much fun to give up. Beside the benefit Jonathan has mentioned—our increased communication—a weekly cocktail gives me something to look forward to, and, yes, I’m learning. Sure it’s not the same as learning differential equations, but growth is growth. Don’t judge. Though I’m not yet a savvy cocktailian, I’m certainly savvier. Thinking about the lessons of the year, many occurred to me, and as Jonathan said, most won’t be surprising. Still they’re important… just the way this blog is important even if we aren’t famous (yet).

1. Get to know someone. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the helpful and friendly people who answer my every silly question about the difference between Cachaça and Rum and Rhum and Rum. Echoing Jonathan, this blog teaches me how much there is to know, but it also teaches me how many patient, generous, and funny teachers are out there. I don’t get a “Norm!” when I visit my local upscale grocery, but I do get, “What’s the cocktail this week?” and some thorough and thoughtful advice.

2. The alcohol isn’t everything but it’s something. Let me say for the record that inebriation isn’t a good hobby, but Jonathan is right, part of the joy of cocktails is that they announce an intention to relax and a desire to put aside much too crowded and busy lives to share relaxation with others. Were my brother and I involved in a remote popsicle club, I’m sure that’d be fun too, but, in moderation, spirits are much more fun.

3. De gustibus non est disputandum: I’ve memorized few Latin phrases, but I know that one. It means, “There’s no disputing about matters of taste.” Week to week, I’m struck by how differently people react to cocktails. Just when I think no one could possibly stomach an Aviation, my wife asks for another. Human organisms must experience taste (literal and figurative) in so many different ways. And, not to be too philosophical, but what’s worth celebrating more than that?

4. On a related note, smell matters, and not just smell but all the senses matter. I’ve discovered every sense is critical to a cocktail—its look and its taste and its smell and its “mouth feel.” Okay, so maybe its sound doesn’t matter so much, but really enjoying a cocktail requires engaging your whole sensory self. Maybe, in fact, that’s the secret, pausing long enough to appreciate the extraordinary apparatus with which we’re blessed.

5. Don’t overcomplicate the complications. A few times during this journey—okay, more than a few—I’ve thought “Why all the steps?” Yet trouble is part of the investment you make in the result. Although I worry sometimes about all the hoops I make Jonathan leap through—particularly in the spirit-backward state that is North Carolina—anything wonderful is worth working for. I have nothing against simple and elegant cocktails, but as in many matters, the journey endows the destination with special meaning.

Next Week:

Jonathan and I will be examining the hits and misses we’ve encountered this year. It’s not too late to let us know what you think!

Pisco Sour

20140726_173224_resized-1Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

What could there be to argue about with a cocktail? Invention, ingredients, proportions, neat or iced, glassware, and base spirit are probably only a fraction of the list in drinks we have tried so far. My proposal last week noted the beverage of the week is the national drink of both Peru and Chile but the differences cover most of that list.

The first part of this drink may be the area of the most concord (that’s a grape pun in case you missed it). Pisco is a clear or lightly colored spirit that is considered a brandy since it is made from grapes. In particular it is a pomace brandy due to it being fermented from the must (juice, skins, seeds and stems) with the solid parts of that must being the pomace. Although Pisco is aged, it is done in neutral vessels so there is no added taste from that part of the process.

There are different types of Pisco (besides the differences between Peruvian and Chilean Pisco) that are related to the type of grape, whether it is made from a single grape, and how much residual sugar is left after fermentation. For purposes of this drink, I used acholado Pisco which is a blend of grape types.

The name Pisco probably originated from a geographic area of Peru and that has added to the dispute. Peru considers the designation limited to spirits from that region only similar to the wines of Bordeaux. Chile produces Pisco and uses the name as a designation of a liquor created from the fermentation of grape must. In the United States, the products of Peru and Chile are both sold under the appellation of Pisco.

The Peruvian Pisco Sour was first created in the 1920’s. It was the invention of Victor Morris in a bar he operated in Lima. The drink evolved until it eventually included Peruvian Pisco, lime juice, sweetener, egg white and bitters. The Chilean version, with its own story of invention, does not include the egg white or bitters and uses a Pisco made in Chile. I used a recipe from the Brad Thomas Parson’s book Bitters that is clearly in keeping with Morris’ recipe so my Pisco is from Peru:

2 ounce Pisco
1 ounce lime or lemon juice (I used lime)
.5 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Angostura bitters

Dry shake the Pisco, lime, simple syrup and egg white. Add ice to the shaker, shake again and strain into a coupe. Drip or dropper 4 drops of Angostura on top and create your own design by spreading it.

The end result looks familiar but has a unique taste. The Pisco has an earthiness, maybe it is the marc/pomace, but otherwise I see how it can be described as similar to tequila. It still seems odd to add a raw egg white to drink, but the body that it imparts is noticeable. In fact, one of the cautions I would add is the lift provided by the egg is so great that you need to be careful that the top of the shaker doesn’t dislodge and spray drink. Not that I did that (again) as far as anyone knows.

PeescoHere’s David’s Review:

After nearly a year of cocktails, I’ve begun to connect one to another. Some cocktail has a similar color, or complexity, or flavor profile to one we’ve tried before. Another is very like fill-in-the-blank except….

This cocktail reminded me a bit of the version of the Caipirnhia (the Caipirnhia de Uva) that we tried last October. As Pisco (whatever its origination or appellation) is a grape-based spirit, this drink brought the same taste forward along with the organic freshness of cachaça. Of course Pisco isn’t cachaça, and I don’t want to sound like I’m lumping all of South America together in its cocktail preferences. My appreciation for South America, though I’ve never been there, is far more nuanced, I assure you. It’s just that, with the simple syrup—I made a particularly viscous, almost butterscotch-y batch for this recipe—this drink had the same rich sweetness, the same direct, highly spirituous approach.

For my version of the Pico Sour I went Peruvian all the way, with a Peruvian Pisco and a Peruvian formulation of the recipe. My liquor doyenne at the store where I shop explained in great detail how the two nations formulate and regulate their versions of Pisco separately.

“Which do you like better?” I asked.

“This one,” she said, which was Pisco Portón, a highly refined and potent version of the drink… and one of the more beautiful spirit bottles I’ve encountered.

When I went home I looked at descriptions online because I’m a better reader than listener, and, for a few moments suffered buyer’s remorse. The Chilean version seems more raw, more immediate. I quickly got over that, however, when I tasted the Pisco I’d purchased. Yes, it’s strong. It’s also smooth and complex.

This cocktail was wonderful, and, in praising it, I have two important observations to offer. First, egg-whites add so much substance and refinement to cocktails. I don’t know why any one would malign including them. Second, not to be a snob or anything, but please don’t buy sour mix. The addition of fresh-squeezed lime (or lemon) does so much more for a cocktail than any saccharine bottled who-knows-what. Certainly there are times to cut corners and seek ease over sophistication, but cocktail hour should never be one of those times.

Jonathan’s take: I won’t argue, disagree or dispute. Nice, simple, tasty drink.

David’s take: The grape-sweet and citrus mixture seemed excellent, particularly with the substance of egg-white.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Next weekend, my family and I are going to be in San Antonio and participating in a “Gourmet Club” at our sister’s house. The theme is Indian cuisine, and I looked for something appropriately sub-continent for the evening. What I found is called The Bengali Gimlet. It includes curry spices associated with Indian cooking. I have no idea what to expect—other than some elaborate preparations—but feel confident this cocktail will be something new and different. And gourmet, of course.

 

 

The Hemingway Daiquiri

Proposed by: JonathanDaiquiri

Reviewed by: David

The Daiquiri would probably make most lists of the classic cocktails. In its most simple form it is comprised of rum, a sour such as lime juice, and a sweet component. The variations on that basic recipe are seemingly endless, and in fact the Gimlet that we enjoyed some time ago is the same concept with gin instead of rum.

The proposal for this week is a Hemingway Daiquiri which uses two fruit juices for the sour and a liqueur for the sweet. Although there are various recipes for this drink, the specific one I used came from an e-book by Robert Willey called Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists (Joseph Schwartz and Jim Meehan).

20131116_184304Here’s the Recipe

1.5 ounce light rum
¾ ounce Maraschino liqueur
1 ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe

The daiquiri like many drinks has a number of claimants for its invention. It has been around since the late 1800’s and the many versions altering the simple three part ingredients make it likely that there were a number of inventors. The word “daiquiri” probably comes from a beach near Santiago, Cuba as noted in a Wikipedia history which makes sense based on the rum base.

One historical fact that is clear, however, is that it was another favorite of Ernest Hemingway who enjoyed his at Havana’s El Floridita bar (different sources note his version was called the Papa Doble). I had suggested in the proposal last week that someone should consider writing a book about Hemingway, his many favorite drinks and the locations in which he drank them. That book has been written by Philip Greene and is called To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. I have not read it, but based on reviews think that I will (as part of cocktail scholarship of course).

A couple of weeks ago with the Bourbon Cider, I noted trying to use local ingredients. One of the things that I have found is that similar to local wineries and breweries, there are an increasing number of local distillers. The rum I used for this recipe comes from a small town in North Carolina just outside of Charlotte. Muddy River Distillery is located in Belmont only offers the single product – Carolina Rum. I am no aficionado, but was very impressed with this Catawba River product and thought it worked really well in this drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’ve earned the “not-so-savvy” of “not-so-savvy cocktailian” by being singularly ignorant of drinks others know well. That includes daiquiris, which I not only don’t drink but can’t spell (without the help of spell check).

That said, the ingredients of this drink were familiar, and, on the imaginary scorecard for this brotherly experiment, a few of my proposed cocktails have been unsuccessful because of their unfamiliarity. Some tastes, I’ve learned, play nicely together, and others do not. Jonathan seems to have a knack to choosing complementary elements and a particular gift for recognizing recipes that combine fruit flavors with the appropriate spirits.

Though the grapefruit juice and lime gave this drink strong acidity, the maraschino liqueur  mellowed that taste considerably. The recipe I used called for simple syrup as well, and that also balanced what could have been a very tart drink. Even with my use of the more herbal taste of cachaça, which I chose over traditional rum or a rhum agricole, I found this daiquiri easy to drink. Friends joined us in testing this cocktail, and the decision for a second round came without question. It was, in every way, drinkable.

My only quibble comes from comparison. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a number of sweet drinks, and I wonder if Hemingway’s daiquiri might benefit from a little less sugar. The Papa Doble Jonathan mentions appeared in my research as a variation to this drink that doubles the rum, and, had I not already had two daiquiris, I might have tried that. Or I could have followed Jonathan’s recipe and skipped the simple syrup. The maraschino liqueur isn’t super sweet, but perhaps it’s sweet enough—with fresh lime and grapefruit—to make less (or no) simple syrup welcome.

Now that I’ve had a daiquiri, I may return to not thinking of myself as a daiquiri drinker, at least not in Chicago in November.  More sun and less wind and rain seem required. As much as I enjoyed this cocktail, I’m still looking for a libation that teeters riskily just at the edge of dissonance. So far, most of my proposals have teetered and fallen, but I have a feeling that, somewhere out there in cocktailia, exists an unlikely drink that makes music from less likely notes. For now, however, Hemingway’s Daiquiri is a joyful Caribbean tune worth celebrating.

David’s Take: This cocktail was easy to drink and pleasant in every way. Some summer afternoon, I may return to it, but my mind is on fall.

Jonathan’s take: I like the continuity of ingredients from one week to the other, in this case Maraschino liqueur. That slight cherry sweetness along with the grapefruit brought a nice variation to a cocktail that I thought I knew well.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the pears abundant this time of year, and my mind has been on doctoring some of the pear cocktail recipes I’ve seen and combining some of those seasonal flavors in a new cocktail. Specifically I’m going to try to reproduce the flavor profile of a wonderful pear tart I encountered a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have a name yet, but, in addition to pears, this cocktail will bring in ginger, vanilla, and sparkling wine.

The Caipirinha de Uva

CDrinkProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Caipirinha (pronounced “kye-pur-een-yah”) is the national drink of Brazil, the web tells me, and Brazilians everywhere enjoy variations on its main ingredients, lime, sugar, and cachaça, a Brazilian rum Jonathan and I used a couple of weeks ago. The particular recipe also included green grapes (that’s the “de Uva” part, as uva is Portuguese for grape) and a sweet white wine.

Some cocktail historians say Caipirinha started as a cure for the Spanish Flu incorporating lemon, garlic, and honey. That sounds pretty horrible to me, but the modern version—the alcoholic version, like the variation included here—is still used as a remedy to the common cold. And that’s not so bad.

The key addition to the original recipe (after the subtraction of garlic and honey) was sugar, intended to balance the lime. This version adds the white wine (and fresh green grapes) to make the drink even sweeter. I substituted Lamarca prosecco for the Riesling, as I sought some celebratory element to commemorate a visit to my sister and mom in San Antonio. I also hoped a drier prosecco might keep the sugar from overwhelming the lime:

  •  4 lime wedges (from 1/2 lime)
  • 7 green grapes
  • 2 teaspoons raw sugar, such as turbinado or Demerara
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) cachaça
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) semisweet white wine such as Gewürztraminer
  • 8 to 10 ice cubes

Preparation

In cocktail shaker, stir together lime wedges, 5 grapes, and sugar. Using wooden muddler or spoon, pound and press until fruit is crushed and juices are released. Add cachaça, wine, and ice, and shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Pour into old-fashioned glass. Thread remaining 2 grapes onto skewer, place in drink, and serve immediately.

Okay, I didn’t really follow these preparation instructions at all well. I mixed the sugar, grapes, limes, and cachaça first, shook them, and then poured the liquid over ice. Rather than shake up the prosecco (not a good idea since just opening the bottle sent the top flying and foam geyser-ing), we added that until our glasses were full. One more note about the muddling: once you’ve mushed the grapes and lime wedges and sugar and such, the cocktail shaker is pretty crowded with stuff. Not much comes out before all that dams the pouring process. You’re going to need to turn it upright a few times to get all the liquid out, but, be patient, it will all leak out.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

This is our second drink with Brazilian Rum, cachaça, and it is the one that I first considered before proposing the Batida. As has been noted it is the national drink of Brazil, but David chose a version with semi-sweet wine as part of the recipe. Once again this drink was shared during a pre-game tailgate at a college football game.

I was really looking forward to using the cachaça, especially after David’s pinpoint review of the taste and complexity of this liquor when we used it before. The cachaça did not disappoint in both its smell and taste. Just opening the bottle brings on a bouquet that would make a wine drinker jealous. The addition of muddled grapes, lime and sugar increased the interest in the drink.

The problem for me was the addition of the wine and in particular my choice of Riesling for its slight sweetness. The Riesling ended up overpowering many of the flavors including the main ingredient, cachaça. I had considered David’s suggestion of using a sparkling wine and am sure it would have been an improvement. I also thought about going my own way with mint in the muddle and wished I had tried that too. Finally, it took me at least three rounds to figure out that the drink needed a non-ice shake to dissolve the sugar before adding ice to the final shake.

David’s take: The lime and cachaça are stars here. I think my variations to this variation made a difference. The prosecco kept it light and less than cloying.

Jonathan’s take: There were a lot of taste testers for this one and we were consistent in thinking we should have tried the Cachaca, lime and sugar by themselves.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I heard somewhere that North Carolina, where I live, is one of the largest apple producing states. Ends up it is 7th, and in honor of that and Fall I think we should use apple cider in a drink. It’s also time to go back to brown liquor and we’ll do that too.

The Batida de Coca

20131004_170208-2Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s David’s Review:20131004_170519

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week (Proposed by David):

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