Melaza Punch

Melaza.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Maybe you know molasses, but, if you are like me (before this experiment), you only experience it as an ingredient in cookies or gingerbread or even baked beans. Turns out, molasses (or “treacle” in British) comes from sugar cane or beets (no surprise there) boiled down once (cane syrup), twice (light molasses) or thrice (blackstrap molasses). To me, molasses has a smoky, vaguely sulfurous taste… though it has no smoke or sulfur in it (except as a preservative). Molasses reminds me of the colder months because its sweetness isn’t quite so sweet, and the syrup is as dense and slow-moving as fall and winter.

Which led me to this recipe. We’ve tried fall drinks using maple syrup before and lately every upscale restaurant I visit features a cocktail sweetened with it. “What about molasses,” I thought, “aren’t there any molasses cocktails?”

Silly question. Of course… there are a number. I chose Melaza Punch from a list of molasses drinks because it seemed the one that tests the assumptions I make the flavors of fall. The syrup fits, but the spirit—tequila—and the mixers—pineapple and orange juice—really don’t. I suppose you could see this libation as liquid pineapple upside down cake, but I think of a “punch” as a summer thing.

Molasses is a strong taste, its thickness makes it difficult to mix, and, speaking in party terms, these ingredients only seem to have the bartender in common. They barely know each other. I knew I was taking a chance and risking returning to my early reputation as the crazy brother on this blog (though, let the record show, I never proposed a pumpkin butter cocktail). Still, why are we here if not to experiment or, perhaps more accurately, serve as guinea pigs?

Here’s the recipe from Kathy Casey:

  • 1.5 oz Milagro Añejo Tequila
  • .75 oz Fresh pineapple juice
  • 1 oz Fresh orange juice
  • .25 oz Light molasses
  • Garnish: Freshly grated cinnamon
  • Glass: Rocks

Add all the ingredients to a shaker. Stir, and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.

Incidentally, besides meaning molasses in Spanish, “melaza,” according to Urban Dictionary,  is a word Puerto Ricans use to describe something awesome, good, or excellent. Let’s see if Jonathan thinks the name fits…

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

melaza.jbmThis could be a research project, but I am way too lazy to do that for a blog. That research would be to determine how many times I have had to apologize for some aspect of a cocktail including its preparation and service. Simply put though, I need to do that for this punch.

We are back in tailgate season and I planned to serve this drink as part of a pre-game spread. That was accomplished, but, since I had to prepare and pack in advance, I took a shortcut. There was an orange juice carton in the fridge and pineapple chunks canned in their own juice so I used those non-squeezed options to save some time and trouble. I also added sorghum syrup as a substitute for molasses but that was on purpose. My only excuse was that it made an easy mixer that I could bottle, shake up to mix, and add to the tequila. In my defense too – have you ever tried to find fresh squeezed pineapple juice or tried to make it yourself?

A number of people tried the drink at the tailgate gathering, and they all found it too sweet. There is no doubt that, had I scanned the ingredients on the carton and can, I would have found added sugar. Combined with the sorghum, it was too much for the complexity and subtle notes that the anejo tequila provided. I knew that, knew I had served a bad recipe, and knew I would have to try again.

I made a second version later in the week. First I used my trusty hand juicer for the orange juice, which is so easy that I have even resorted to doing that when we have run out of store bought juice. Then I cut up a fresh pineapple, pulverized the core and some slices and let that slowly seep through a strainer. If you haven’t tried that, I would suggest you do it to understand why the home cocktailian would cut corners. Finally I mixed the drink using those juices and the sorghum syrup. It was incredible. The orange and pineapple juices were not too sweet and much lighter in consistency. The sorghum even added flavors that went beyond its sweetness that had been lost in the previous version. The star though was the tequila, as it was intended to be, with all its flavors on full display against the background of the fruit and syrup.

So here goes the apology. Lebo, Trevor, Medman, Seed, Mrs. Seed and others: I am so sorry that I served you an inferior cocktail. I wish you had been there to enjoy the real version with me, especially after juicing that damn pineapple, but you have to take my word for it that it was great. If you don’t want to do that, drop by because I still have tequila and I am sure I can scare up a pineapple and oranges.

Jonathan’s take: We say it over and over – use real ingredients even if it is a pain in the ass.

David’s Take: Wish I could say I liked it, but the molasses seemed dissonant to me, and, the most telling truth, I didn’t want another.

Next cocktail (Proposed By: Jonathan):

There are any number of pre-sweetened whiskeys. Southern Comfort has been around for a long time and now there are honey, honey/cinnamon and all sorts of other whiskeys that are all altered for those who don’t enjoy the hard stuff straight. They are technically liqueurs, at least as I understand the definition, and another of the classics is rock and rye. Garden & Gun magazine tells me that with the cocktail resurgence there has been an increase in bars that make that own version. That is what we are going to do. After that, it is up to each of us if we want to use it in cocktail, see what it is like on ice, or do both.

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Lemon Basil Cocktail

lemonade 11Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Occasionally envy hits me when I visit friends with gardens. Our patio gets sun, but it’s city sun, subject to deep shadows much of the day. In years past, we’ve always been able to grow some herbs in small pots, but that’s about it… and some years even those were anemic, besieged by the windy storms that hit Chicago this time of year. Still, it’s nice during the summer to boost a recipe with fresh oregano, thyme, or rosemary.

Basil is an herb well worth cultivating. It smells wonderful, and, with very little care, issues forth leaf after deep green leaf. This year, having moved to a new place about a month ago, we’ve relied on farmers for fresh basil, but it’s the same stuff, only grown by a much greener thumb.

This week’s drink isn’t the first we’ve tried with basil. Next to mint, it may be the most popular herb to add to cocktails. But it isn’t at all like mint. In cocktails like Juleps, mint seems part of the drink’s sweetness. Basil contributes something different, a spicy edge. When it comes to cocktails, “Botanical” may not sound so good to some people, but, in this case, the basil is botanical in being fresh and immediate. Depending on how much you use, it can be the star.

When I wrote the proposal last week, I described the Lemon Basil Cocktail as “another lemonade,” but it isn’t really that. It contains lemon, but the same level of citrus and potency you’d expect from a margarita or mojito rather than the sweet (and not that tart) accompaniment for hot dogs and hamburgers.

The short version: it’s a grown-up drink.

On muddling: like many of the drinks we’ve tried, this one relies on mashing ingredients with a muddler. I have what looks like a little baseball bat for that purpose, and I used it to destroy the basil and lemon to release their flavors. For this recipe, you’re supposed to muddle in the glass, adding triple sec, tequila, ice and club soda only after you’ve used your muscle to render the rest detritus.

I confess I didn’t. Perhaps there’s a limit to how much freshness I can handle, maybe I’m too much of a neatnik, but experience tells me it’s unappetizing to get to the end of a drink and discover a bolus of pulverized pulp. I’ll offer the recipe as it was written, but I squeezed the lemon and did the muddling in a cocktail shaker that strained out all evidence of my muscle. Knowing that I was tossing the remainder, I also used more basil than listed.

Here’s the recipe:

2 parts Silver Tequila
1 part premium triple sec
1/2 lemon
3 basil leaves
1/2 part simple syrup
Club soda

Muddle lemon, basil and simple syrup in a chilled glass. Add ice, triple sec and Silver Tequila. Top with club soda. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

drinkjbmThis drink follows one of the main themes I have espoused for cocktails. There are simply horses for courses. The literal meaning is that certain racehorses perform better on tracks that match their skills. In the figurative sense the expression is used throughout sports to describe performers who excel since the field, track, course or whatever corresponds well to their strengths.

Whew, that’s a long way to say this cocktail is made for the hot, humid weather in which we are mired.

Last week I watched the beginning of a Chicago Cubs game and some of the spectators were wearing jackets or pullovers. Seriously – long sleeves in July? It is a wonder that people are not heading out to work in shorts and t-shirts here in North Carolina. There have been more days that have reached 100 degrees than any summer since I moved here, and the ones that don’t get that hot come close. For some reason, it refuses to rain but the air hangs heavy like it should. We need long sleeve weather.

The cocktail is a variation on the mojito with basil and lemon tones that acts like a cool breeze. Given the same drink in the fall or winter and I am sure I would find it way too subtle and diluted. In the throes on this summer though, it is the ice bucket challenge, a trip to the mountains, toes in the creek or that special morning in June (the one) when the temperature finally dips to the mid 60’s that we miss so much. The highlight is the basil, which we have used a few times, and it marries with the tequila in a way that mint doesn’t. Instead of accentuating the spirit by adding similar flavors, it contrasts in a savory way that makes the tequila more distinctive and better.

There are two final notes. One of these was plenty. I could have had more, if only for the cooling effect, but something about the mix made it seem more potent than the recipe implies, so one was enough. The second thing is that I would recommend a slight adjustment to the recipe. Unless you are using really large lemons, substitute half of the club soda for sparkling lemonade (there was some left from last week). It boosts the lemon without losing any of the effervescence.

Jonathan’s take: I should have had one to drink and then poured one on my head. That would show this summer.

David’s take: Redolent of summer. How that for vocab?

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Maybe I’m still searching for that cooling effect, but it is time for a frozen drink. We haven’t tried one yet and it seemed like the perfect time to do so. There is one slight problem. I have a name for the drink, The Monkey Incident, but I don’t know what is in it yet. I promise to let David know sometime this week. Just as soon as it comes to me.

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.

A Sling of Sorts #2

Sling2Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

While I have no idea why this drink is labeled “#2,” the other part of its tail end, “Of Sorts,” seems important. The name needs “Of Sorts” because purists might be upset it’s called a “Sling” at all. A sling isn’t supposed to be a cocktail, as the term “cocktail” originally classified drinks that, unlike slings (and like this drink), contained bitters. The true sling, which predated cocktails, omitted bitters and featured some sort of alcohol (naturally), some sweetener (sugar or simple syrup), and water (bubbly or still). Most slings now contain fruit juices—especially the most famous Singapore Sling—but juices weren’t originally required. One site I visited said a sling must contain nutmeg to be a sling.

It’s a free country, and you purists, if you’re listening, have a perfect right to scoff at my not-so-savvy rube-ish-ness. However, I also have a right to say that attempts to maintain an earlier order often seem desperate, like insisting shorts aren’t really pants because they don’t reach your shoes or that harmonicas aren’t instruments because there’s no fingering. Words shift their meaning and, besides, I didn’t name this drink. All drinks fit under the umbrella of “cocktail” in this new golden age of mixology. My message to purists: get over it and join the modern world.

Still, I have to admit there’s a lot of perverse variation in this sling. It contains not only bitters (the original recipe called for Bolivar bitters, but Angostura is a type of Bolivar bitter), but also Aquavit, hardly your typical spirit, and Port, which probably has no business going near a cocktail, much less something called a sling.

Maybe this drink is yet another demonstration (as if I needed one) of my inner mad-scientist. I like trying stuff. Ask my kids about cookies made on the grill. It’s fun finding out what happens. I figure the worst outcome is discovering what doesn’t work. Ask my kids about cookies made on the grill.

Mistakes are useful. How often do these wild forays into randomness bring positive results? My lifetime success rate, I’d say, is about 30%. Not enough for most, but enough for me. If we’re out to enlarge our mixology palette and have Aquavit in our bars, why not use it? Doesn’t everyone want to brag about drinking something garnished with a fennel frond?

Here’s the recipe (adapted generically):

  • 1.75 oz Aquavit
  • .75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • .75 oz Simple Syrup
  • .5 oz Port
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 oz Seltzer

Instructions: Shake all ingredients but the seltzer over ice. Add seltzer and double strain into collins glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a Fennel Frond.

Sling2aHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

So, here we are back to the traveling Aquavit. Combined with Port and bitters that can’t be found in Charlotte and I had to wonder what David was doing to us. It ends up he was sending a Valentine to Spring and the hope for warmer weather.

I had fled Charlotte this week for the warmer climate of Denver, yes that is in the correct order of places, only to return to the lingering remnants of the storm. Our weather is nothing compared to Chicago, but there has already been enough cold and now snow that I am ready for the longer, warmer days that are hopefully on the way.

This cocktail is a wonderful prelude to those days. It has been written many places that the best drinks are a combination of many ingredients, each enhancing the others. That’s true in this case. The Aquavit stands out, yet the other ingredients don’t disappear. I wish I was able to locate the Bolivar bitters, but the orange bitters I used acted as a perfect counterpoint with the simple syrup and lemon juice. Add a little seltzer and suddenly it was spring, even if my picture this week says otherwise. The final touch was the lovely color which I can only assume David intended to honor Valentine’s Day.

Jonathan’s Take: This could be a staple of spring and summer cocktails even with its odd ingredients.

David’s Take: A great discovery and worth revisiting, especially since I still have plenty of Aquavit.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

We started this project as beer drinkers and will stray from our cocktail mission to send each other samples of micro-brews. I have a cross section of NC beers to send that I will introduce and for which David can provide an opinion.

The French 75

French75Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The first order of business is this week’s drink, the French 75. Like many of the cocktails we have tried there is some dispute as to its origin. The best information points to Paris and a drink named after an artillery weapon because of its hard hitting conclusion and that is the one I like the best. Clearly dating to at least the early part of the 20th century, the French 75 is named after a 75mm howitzer and is a mix of spirit, sweet, citrus, and sparkling wine. There is some disagreement, or at least a difference in taste, about whether it should be made with gin or cognac. Here is the recipe that I decided to use:

1.5 ounce Cognac

.5 ounce simple syrup

.5 ounce fresh lemon juice

Sparkling wine (I used Cava this time)

The idea of proposing a sparkling wine based drink is that we are in that holiday period of drinks that are part of gatherings and celebrations. This drink fills that role wonderfully. Not as basic as a simple pour of bubbly, the French 75 adds a complexity through the cognac and along with that a kick. It may be a factor of suggestion, but the drinks with effervescence always seem to cry out for sipping lest they hit with the quick power of the aforementioned artillery piece.

A secondary purpose of suggesting this drink was to introduce the concept of toasts. The subject would take far more than a simple blog post to explore, but as with the drink, tis the season for such things and there are some basics worth exploring.

Toasts are definitely cultural, and any discussion should include the customs and etiquette that accompany them. Certain countries, think Ireland, are famous for toasts of all types while others, Russia in this case, are cited for a toast before each drink. It can be considered bad taste to toast with water, to not drink after toasting, or to miss out on touching glasses with each person toasting. One of my favorite tidbits is that toasting may have started with mistrust and the partial sharing of drinks to be sure that none of the drinks were poisoned. In fact, it is said that the touching of glasses, the clinking that has become spoken in many cultures, is a sign of trust the drink need not be shared to ensure the absence of poison. The best part of almost every cultural tradition of toasting is the recognition that the sharing of drinks is the sharing of company. That is something I always consider, even if David and I share virtually, as I try each week’s drink.

Almost everyone has a favorite toast even if they do not know the origin. I have always liked the simple “a votre sante” which is most basically translated as “to your health”. Similarly many offer “salud” or “health” to say the same thing, which is the common wish that your fellow drinker experience good health or good fortune. Na Zdrovie is another well-known example of wishing “to your health” although most associate it with incorrectly with Russian toasts (it does not actually translate that way) instead of the Polish Na zdrowie where it actually is a wish for health.

My favorite toast has always been “here’s mud in your eye” although, and probably because, I have no idea what that really means. There are biblical explanations (Jesus rubbing clay in the blind man’s eyes to restore his health/sight), historic (soldiers in muddy trenches), and agricultural (used by farmers for no good darn reason that I have heard). The best explanation, or at least the one I like the best, is that it originates from horse racing. The idea is that the lead horse has clear racing and those that follow have the mud of the race course flying in their eyes as they trail. An alternate, but similar, explanation is that it was a way of saying “so long” before downing the drink and taking off on horse with mud flying back at the other drinkers. No matter what the explanation – here’s mud in your eye!

french 752Here’s David’s Review:

Though I’d never describe myself as a “foodie,” I’ve eaten in enough fancy restaurants to know that simplicity and sophistication often arrive together. A good chef makes salad, asparagus, mashed potatoes and seared scallops so delicious, you may feel as if you’ve never really consumed them before.

I feel that way about the French 75, which, with just four ingredients, offers a bright, refreshing, and novel cocktail. Though the lemon juice makes this drink somewhat reminiscent of a gimlet or even a daiquiri, the cognac gives it more warmth and depth, and the sparkling wine (we used prosecco) gives it a light, celebratory lift.

It seems the perfect accompaniment to hor d’oeuvres and conversation, sweeter than white wine and yet tart enough not to be cloying. After last week’s dense, eggy, homestyle cocktail, this one seemed especially buoyant, more nectar than batter. Using no spices or bitters, the French 75 is direct and natural, the perfect answer to all the heavy food and buttery, cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y, clove-y flavors proliferating this time of year.

Online, like Jonathan, I found recipes that called for gin rather than cognac, but, to me, gin would only scuttle the drink. Introducing botanical and bitter elements would certainly make its flavor profile more complex, but simplicity seems the soul of this cocktail’s appeal.

As Jonathan says, this drink gets its name from a French field gun because it’s supposed to possess a similar kick, but I’m not sure it has much in common with artillery. Quite the contrary, the drink went down very easily. We had it Christmas afternoon just before the meal and regretted that we only had enough lemons for each of us to have one, as the French 75 seems something you could drink a lot of.

While my experience with champagne tells me having many might be a bad idea, you may find your judgment slipping if you like this drink as much as I did.

On the matter of toasts, I received a book devoted to the topic in my stocking, a suitable accompaniment to this week’s drink. Among the information offered is a list of toasts by nationality. My favorites, strictly by pronunciation (because I have no idea of meaning) are: Gan Bei (Gan BAY: Chinese), Hulu pau (Hoo-lee pow: Hawaiian), Heko (hee-ko: Swahilii), and Vô (Voh: Vietnamese). Please don’t ask me any more—they just sound cool.

Jonathan’s Take: The classics, and French 75 is certainly one, never seem to disappoint. Consider adding it to your New Years traditions.

David’s Take: Here’s one I’ll remember and repeat for celebrations ahead.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My proposals haven’t always been so successful, so I’ve decided to embrace being the bold and quirky cocktailian brother. I’m sending Jonathan to the liquor store for Aquavit (a Scandinavian caraway flavored spirit) to create a drink named after Rosalind Russell, the actress most famous for His Girl Friday and the movie version of Auntie Mame. She also married a Danish-American, which may be where she developed a taste for Aquavit, a rather odd ingredient. I hope everyone is up for a challenge—who knows what to expect, besides fun, fun.

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?

The Pink Mojito

Proposed by: Jonathanp mojito2

Reviewed by: David

There are folks who are fanatical about barbecue. They insist that one type (beef or pork typically), style or place is the absolute best. Having spent my formative years in Texas and all my adult life in North Carolina, however, I am an equal opportunity eater. I can’t proclaim what is the best type, style or place simply because I have not tried them all. That hasn’t stopped me from trying though.

What does this have to do with cocktails? I was introduced to the mojito by some friends only a few years ago. Since that time, I have tried a number of variations at many different places and, like barbecue, am not sure what is the best because I have yet to try them all.

More savvy cocktailians have probably already discerned that my proposal statement from last week is not correct. The mojito is a classic cocktail with a history that is probably over 150 years old and a cast of associated characters that includes one of the great drinkers (who also dabbled in writing) of all time – Ernest Hemingway. He had the good fortune to enjoy a mojito in its birthplace of Cuba while the closest I have come is the best one I have had to date. Just down the street from Hemingway’s Key West home is the Blue Heaven restaurant and whether it is the actual drink or the wonderful setting, I would recommend stopping in to try one for yourself if you are nearby.

The other tie to barbecue is the speculation that the name Mojito is related to food preparation and citrus-spice mojo marinade. While I am not sure if that connection is real, it seems like a good enough reason to connect these two pursuits and enjoy the mojito with the mojo marinated and grilled meat of your choice.

The mojito lends itself to experimentation through variations in the liquor, fruit and additives. The version I have chosen is credited to Hakkasan, a restaurant in London. Sadly, I have never tried it in person although it does seem like another good reason to visit London.

The recipe is as follows:

2 ounces Cabeza tequila (I think any quality agave tequila will work here)

½ ounce brown simple syrup

20 mint leaves

½ lime

Cranberry juice

Muddle mint and lime with simple syrup and pour over crushed ice. Add tequila and top with cranberry juice.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’m not the guy who wears long pants on a July beach or shows up in a resort bar sporting a paisley tie… but close. Drinks identified with Key West or London or Cuba are unfamiliar, and, to my knowledge, I’ve never owned a bottle of Tequila—blancho, joven, reposado, añejo, or other.

So imagine my delight encountering the pink mojito—a drink equally bright and complex, minty and citrus-y, sour and fruity, bitter and bright. Jealous of Jonathan’s brown simple syrup, I substituted cane syrup, and the addition only enhanced the island quality of the cocktail. I’ve had a mojito before (well, once) but the cranberry juice created a nice astringency, a natural echo of the tequila’s agave tang. And this drink is sweet and minty, resonant of the juleps I know well from multiple Derby parties in Louisville and elsewhere. My wife has been growing mint all summer on our porch, so I was happy to make use of her labor, and maybe nothing is better than the flavor liberated by a freshly muddled tender mint leaf.

My one critique is the bolus of organics gathering in bottom of the glass, waiting for your last swallow. Maybe it’s my problem, my fastidiousness, the same stiffness that would have me wear the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place, but I like my cocktails shaken, strained, and clear. Perhaps, in that, I’m not yet ready for the tropics, not yet ready for the overabundant foliage of abandon.

That said, the ultimate judgment lies in wanting another. My wife and I finished the first with an immediate, “How about more?” Having all I need to create another, I’ll add pink mojito to my list of cocktail options, even in Chicago February when summer is far away and a distant memory.

David’s take: Love it. Wish it were acceptable for the whole year, even though it couldn’t be further from my usual tastes.

Jonathan’s take: The Pink Mojito won’t make my top ten. The cranberry overwhelms the line and mint, which is the best part of the drink.

Next week (proposed by David):

My sister-in-law, an Italian, sent us a very funny advertisement for Fiat’s 500L or “Cinquecento,” which inspired me to find a cocktail worthy of its quirkiness and celebration of eccentricity. I found one in the Cinquecento cocktail, a combination of vodka and bitters, which my source site describes as unusual because it’s “vodka being used in a recipe that’s well thought out,” one of the top 101 best new cocktails for 2013.

Please join us in enjoying the Cinquecento!