Wassail

jmwassailProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Let’s get this part over with:

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green;

Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too.

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year.

There are more verses but that should be enough to get the song stuck in your brain. But if not, maybe you need a little wassail.

Some time ago, when we tasted the French 75 as a matter of fact, I discussed toasts as part of the drinking experience. I’m not sure how I missed wassail at that time because the name probably derives from a toast, and the use of the word “toast” itself may come from this drink. There are different spellings but the derivation of the name of this punch probably began with waes hael a cheer offered to wish either “good health” or that the receiver “be fortunate.” Since that cheer was offered in conjunction with the drinking of a wine or apple cocktail, the punch became wassail and the cheering/singing wassailing. The toast part is a little more contrived.

One use of the wassail punch was to celebrate the Twelfth Night of Christmas with a blessing of the orchard. A mulled apple punch was made, and revelers surrounded the oldest apple tree. Singing and dancing ensued to help bless the tree, the orchard and the harvest so that it would be bountiful. This ritual included soaking pieces of bread, toast, and then hanging that toast in the tree. Thus the wassailing, singing and wishing of good health was a toast. It’s stretch, but it makes as much sense as soaking toast in your punch.

The recipe I used for wassail put this drink well into the difficult category, and it may be hard to find a version that does not. It comes from another blog, The Nourished Kitchen, and can be summarized as follows:

Separate six eggs, mix the yolks until shiny and the beat the whites to a stiff peak. Fold those two together and then temper that mix with some of the mulling liquid. Finally, remove the sachet, combine the egg mixture with the mulled cider, and drop the baked apples and orange into the punch. Serve warm with an optional piece of toast floating in the drink.

I made the punch ahead on Christmas Eve and then refrigerated it while we went to a candlelight service. When it was first made the eggs formed a foamy meringue floating on top and did not combine well. Reheated, that foam combined but was a little clumpy so in retrospect, I would suggest making, mixing, and drinking. Either way, it was a pleasant punch and here’s hoping it brings good fortune and health.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_0538My favorite:

Wassail! wassail! All over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

All week I’ve looked forward to finally tasting the drink I’ve sung about so often. Though I have no white maple tree bowl to drink it from, wassail seems the perfect complement to the traditions of Christmas, especially as, with guests, we gathered a group to drink it.

The recipe, I admit, was daunting. As Jonathan did, the one I chose calls for separated (and them separately whisked) eggs that you then fold back together and temper before adding them to the drink. Not to mention the baked apples and the clove studded orange, the slow heating of the liquid to approach but not achieve boiling, spices added and spices bobbing a cheesecloth bag. After a full Christmas Day in the kitchen, I grumbled, “This better be good.”

Was it?

Well, it was warm, which was welcome. After last week, I wanted to redeem hot cocktails, and I’ve decided they can be good—not something I might have said last week.

And wassail isn’t as syrupy as I feared. The cider adds some pleasant sweetness, and, as I substituted one bottle of not-too-hoppy brown ale for one bottle of hard cider, the wassail was spicy without tasting like one of those fruitcakes people always say are the best thing you’ve ever eaten (that end up looking and tasting like sugared fireplace logs).

The addition of eggs wasn’t so bad either. Wassail is hardly eggnog. The whipped eggs don’t incorporate much. The drink is still thin, just with a cloud of froth on top. For me the cloud didn’t add much, but perhaps it’s meant as a neutral element to balance against the spices. As long as I didn’t think of that front as raw eggs, I could enjoy it.

I’ve never been a fan of mulled wine, and I was grateful to discover that wassail isn’t mulled wine either, but a drink with its own character—mild and not so sour, flavorful and not so aromatic—that reminds me of bread more than fruit.

All in all, I enjoyed it. Would I make it again? Maybe if I were having a party, but it won’t make my list of favorite drinks, nor will I ever have the gumption to order it out. At least, however, I’ll have something to say if I ever sing about it. “I’ve tried that,” I can say, “it’s pretty good.”

David’s Take: I’m grateful to have tried wassail, even if it seems too laborious to consume more than once a year.

Jonathan’s take: I’ll never hear that song again and wonder what the heck wassail is, that’s for sure.

Next Week (Proposed by Circumstances):

Perhaps you’ve seen the Food Network Program, “Chopped.” At the beginning of each episode, the host Ted Allen tells the contestant, “Each course has its own basket of mystery ingredients, and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available to you are pantry and fridge…our judges will critique your dishes on presentation, taste, and creativity.” In honor the new year, Jonathan and I thought it might be fun to stage a “Chopped” of our own, by creating four categories:

a.) basic spirits (rum, whiskeys, gin, vodka, tequila)

b.) liqueurs

c.) fortified wines and the like (cognac, port, sherry, brandy)

d.) other items we’ve purchased to make cocktails (bitters, simple syrups, spices, etc.).

We’ll write the name of each item we have in the four categories then draw one from each—four mystery ingredients in all—to create a cocktail in 30 minutes. Our “pantry and fridge” will be whatever else we have around—juice, soda, etc. Next week, we’ll reveal our recipes… and let you know if (according to whatever judges we get) you should try them.

Metropolitan

metroProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I don’t really know who Jerry Thomas is, but every cocktailian turn I take, there he is in his white shirt, bowtie, vest, and sleeve garters throwing a drink from one glass to another. Fans of Jeremiah P. Thomas (also known as “The Professor”) consider him “The Father of American Mixology” and credit him with inventing most of the drinks we consume today. The rest, of course, are variations of libations he created.

The Metropolitan can be traced back to Thomas, even though, gasp, it’s not included in The Bar-Tender’s Guide (or How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion). The recipe first appears in Modern Bartender’s Guide by O. H. Byron in 1884, but, cocktailian historians—and, by the way, can someone tell me how you get that job?—say that Byron may have been a composite, a convenient name under which recipes might be gathered by some clever, profit-minded editor. And from whence did this editor collect these drinks, including The Metropolitan Cocktail? You guessed it—from a bar where Jerry Thomas (also known as the “Jupiter Olympus of the Bar”) worked. Other drinks in the Byron collection certainly came from Thomas, so some people want to attribute the Metropolitan to him as well.

Past a certain point, who invented a drink can become a little silly. When the ingredients are as basic as the ones included in a Metropolitan—brandy, vermouth, simple syrup, and bitters—its discovery seems inevitable. Somebody’s peanut butter was going to end up on someone’s chocolate, if you follow my ancient advertising history allusion.

Purists might argue, in fact, that the Metropolitan is little more than a variation on the Manhattan and hardly deserves a separate name. However, others—Impurists?—probably celebrate every variation as a subtlely new experience. One of the regular readers of this blog (I won’t reveal his identity, but his initials are Steven Coberly) wanted to know which bitters I had in mind for the drink. The original recipe called for “Manhattan Bitters,” which were likely, or like, Angostura. However, because this combination is so basic, using Peychaud’s or Orange or, my current favorite, Bittercube Blackstrap Bitters can move the cocktail’s taste dramatically one way or another. I tried a few bitters… but not all at once.

Just stay away from the cardamom bitters. I mean it.

One more note, don’t confuse this drink with the vodka cocktail also called The Metropolitan. Names, apparently, are also subject to secondhand discovery. The vodka Metropolitan is closer to a Cosmopolitan.

Another one more note—I ran into some sites that disagreed on proportions. Though the recipe I used calls for one and a half to one (brandy to sweet vermouth), some suggested two to one. If you’re using Carpano particularly, a little less vermouth will make a sweeter, more robustly brandy-y cocktail. But my advice is to experiment. I bet that’s what Jerry Thomas did, and he set the world record for the most honorifics awarded in one lifetime.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 ounces brandy

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 teaspoon simple syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

metro2

There is a show on the Esquire network that I have been telling David about. Called the Best Bars in America, the show follows two comedians, Sean Patton and Jay Larson, as they travel and sample at bars that have been featured in Esquire. There are plenty of drinks featured that we haven’t tried and probably won’t, but others have appeared on our list or should. One of the cocktails I noted while watching is the Metropolitan.

The interest may stem from the name, the appearance, or the idea that it is related to two drinks that seem quite dissimilar. Those drinks are the Manhattan (that similarity should be easy enough to see) and the other is the Cosmopolitan. Okay, as David says, the second one is similar mostly in name.

I need to state up front that there have been few times that I can remember drinking, much leas enjoying, brandy. This week’s cocktail is alcohol forward, and, even with the sweetening effect of the vermouth and simple syrup, enjoying brandy is important. The wonderful thing is that the interplay of ingredients allows one to do just that. The brandy is still very present, and it’s important to choose a quality one that holds up to that dominance. The vermouth softens it and even has enough sweetness that the simple syrup really isn’t necessary. The bitters are the final measure that round out the drink. I used peach bitters, mostly because I thought this could use some fruit, but I need to go back and try it with Angostura. Especially since this is a brandy Manhattan.

Jonathan’s take: The subtle differences in cocktails are making more sense and this is proof.

David’s Take: The simplicity of this cocktail, for me, achieves elegance. This cocktail seems a warmer, grapier Manhattan, and I intend to continue refining its combinations.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We have accumulated a variety of whisky and whiskey. I think it is high time to explore some of those again in two ways. The first is an idea David had promoted which is a taste testing to directly compare the types and rate them against the other. After choosing a winner, the second idea is to use that spirit in another classic drink—the Old Fashioned. Sean and Jay always have my head reeling by the end of each show with the amount of drink they have consumed. Part of the trick next week will be to keep my head from reeling due to the testing.

The Black Eyed Susan

b-eyed sProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The Preakness Stakes is the second race of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Two weeks ago we celebrated the first race, the Kentucky Derby of course, with the traditional Mint Julep. This week’s cocktail is named after the official flower of Maryland and is the cocktail of The Preakness – the Black Eyed Susan.

Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore hosts the Preakness which was run for the first time in 1873, two years before the Kentucky Derby. Unlike the Derby which has been run every year since 1875, though, the Preakness missed a few years and was run at other tracks during its history. The race features its own traditions in the singing of Maryland’s state song (Maryland, My Maryland), a blanket of flowers for the winner (Black Eyed Susans or their substitute since they bloom later in the year), and the cocktail that we are celebrating.

The official cocktail has changed recipes over the year and any quick search will turn up a number of variations. The history began in a cloudy way when the first versions were premixed and the exact makeup kept secret by the company that made them. The story goes that the folks at Pimlico decided to make their own and a recipe was created to mimic the original. Since then though, there are versions different enough that they do not even contain the same base liquors. The Preakness web site includes what is now the “official” version made with Finlandia Vodka, St. Germain (an elderberry liqueur), and the juice of lemon, limes and pineapple. Needless to say it is official because it is sponsored by Finlandia and St. Germain.

My proposal last week was that we each try the version of our choice. Last year, before this blog was envisioned, our household celebrated the Derby with Juleps. The races that followed seemed to be a good excuse to try the traditional cocktails of each and we did just that. The Black Eyed Susan I made then included vodka and Kentucky whiskey (Early Times Kentucky Whisky, and yes, the spelling difference is correct). Based on that and few extra taste testers I found a recipe for a pitcher of the drink that was close to it:

1.5 cups vodka
1.5 cups rum, whiskey, or bourbon (I used bourbon)
.75 cups triple sec
4 cups orange juice
4 cups pineapple juice
1 tablespoon of lime juice

Garnished with an orange slice, cherry and fresh pineapple.

Add in some kind of crab dish, singing along with Maryland, My Maryland and you have your own tradition. At least until they change the recipe again.

beyedsuzDavid’s Review:

I had no intention of including St. Germain in this recipe, despite what the track says this year, but I did. It was on sale at a high falootin’ grocery I visit (but still mighty expensive) and I just couldn’t resist. Say what you will about the cost of St. Germain, it’s delicious and, I think, adds a great deal to this cocktail.

The Preakness usually goes unnoticed for me—it’s the first race after the Kentucky Derby—but this cocktail called for close attention. I’m no fan of pineapple juice, as the juice is another case where the fruit can’t be improved upon. Yet this drink offered a fresh and refreshing combination of flavors. Unlike Jonathan, I stuck to vodka and rum (and St. Germain), which made the fruit that much more prominent. In addition, St. Germain has an odd resonance with citrus. Tasted by itself, the liquor is positively protean, seeming at turns herbal, spicy, and fruity. And, at times, it tastes positively pineapply to me.

As we’ve suggested before, the ultimate review of a mixed drink is whether you order another, and we did. We missed the race—why so early, Maryland?—but the drink was a fine way to wind down as spring (finally) seems to be arriving in Chicago.

Maybe expense doesn’t matter so much if the result is a quiet moment of celebration. You don’t need a race or anything else, just the will for gratitude, a desire to acknowledge how good a moment of calm can be.

Jonathan’s take: Fruity. No other way to put it – fruity.

David’s take: Fruit is good, maybe even healthy. Whether it is or not, though, I’ll have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Time for another classic, I think. Let’s try a Tom Collins. I don’t have any idea who Tom Collins might be (though I’m certain I’ll find out), or how the drink arrived at that name, but as just about everyone seems to recognize the concoction, maybe it’s time to try one. We have the ingredients after all, and that’s a definite plus.

Chicago Beers

20140226_191524_resized-1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Here’s a second week of beer, this time from Chicago, home of the polar plunge.

Chicagoans have a thing about people who claim to be from Chicago and are actually from Chicago-land (read: suburbia). It’s easier, we all know, to say you’re from Chicago the city than to admit (and explain) what BFE town you really inhabit. I notice, however, that—quite hypocritically—Chicagoans are quite willing to call those BFE’s “Chicago” when it comes to beer.

I chose beers from ChicagoLAND, featuring those breweries that most Chicagoans have decided to adopt for this—and only this—purpose. I drew the line at Indiana, but just barely. Here’s the rundown:

Ticklefight Barleywine (Solemn Oath Brewery): Solemn Oath is actually in Naperville, a god-forsaken place, but they’re a bold, and adventurous brewery, introducing beers in various styles and then moving on. The best, they promise, will return, but they mean to try as many new brews as they can. I didn’t know much about them before choosing this beer—maybe for its name—but barley wine is a style I love, potent and rich.

Heavenly Helles Lager (Church Street Brewery): Home is Itasca, Illinois, west of the city, but let’s forget that. Not loving this style, I found this beer listed at the best in a taste test of Chicago lagers. I also loved their origins, which began when a son decided his engineer dad, needed a hobby and suggested home brewing. It’s a relatively new concern—2012—but Joe Gregor, the dad, traveled widely in Germany and meant to give this beer his particular love, featuring “Unique malt complexity” and “a straw-colored clarity.” That means almost nothing to me but sounds good.

Domaine Du Paige (Two Brothers Brewing Company): The two brothers of Two Brothers, Jim and Jason Ebel, started as home brewers and their company is 100% family owned. Domaine Du Paige is a French Saison inspired by their time in France, described as “toasty” and “caramel,” but it’s only one of a very diverse family of beers. I actually hoped to send Jonathan Cane and Abel, one of my favorite Rye beers, but their whole collection is interesting.

Over Ale (Half Acre Beer Company): Now Half Acre is in Chicago, actually not too far from where I live. I’ve tried nearly all their beers, and, even when they’re outside my tastes, I enjoy their efforts. They describe Over Ale as “A styleless wonder,” but a more precise description of the beer is a brown ale with less roasted malt character. I’d call it a session beer. Though at 6% ABV and in tall cans, it offers enough to make someone quite happy.

Eugene Porter (Revolution Brewery): Revolution is a place in my (sort of) neighborhood but almost impossible to visit because of the hipster crowds that crowd oldsters like me out. Part of the problem is that their food and ambiance is quite good too—bacon fat popcorn and a long mahogany bar—so getting there is difficult. Eugene Porter is named after my personal hero, Eugene V. Debs, a man who ran for president from prison in 1920 (Vote for prisoner 9653!). It’s uses Belgian malts and is black, black, black—intense.

5 Grass Hoppy Ale (5 Rabbit Brewery): Actually Bedford Park. 5 Rabbit Brewery takes its inspiration from Atzec mythology, and 5 Grass (Macuilmalinalli) is a god of excess, that, according to the website, “reminds us that all living things form a grand community that is counting on us to do our part as thoughtful, caring stewards and good neighbors to all life.” Okay. It’s a pale ale, supposed to be smooth and drinkable, and posses “the fresh outdoorsy aroma of the desert” along with sage, rosemary, and Tasmanian pepperberry.

Like Jonathan, I regret omitting breweries, Goose Island, probably the most commercially successful of the microbreweries in Chicago (they call themselves “Chicago’s Craft Beer,”) and Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, which I’d consider the premier brewery in the Chicago area, with complex and flavorful offerings that are consistently masterful. But, alas, I had to draw a line somewhere.

beerbgoneHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

A few years ago I read a book by Garrett Oliver called The Brewmaster’s Table. Oliver is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and the intent of the book is to match beers with food. It is so much more, though, including a history of beer, explanation of methods and mostly a fantastic description of beer styles. It inspired me to try different beers even if they felt out of my taste zone. I had hoped that this two week experiment would do the same. That goal was accomplished.

Like David, I feel inadequate describing the microbrews and the subtlety of their flavors, but I can tell you what I like and what leaves me indifferent. I will also rank these beers from least favorite to favorite, although in one way or another I liked all of them.

6. Heavenly Helles. I guess lager is just not my thing either. It is described punnishly as a “righteously good beer” and it is good. Where it did not live up to description, was in its crispness, and being spicy and floral. The flavor was mostly monotone to me with little differentiation from first taste to last. I do have to say the color was fantastic.

5. Domaine Dupage. You would think that a beer made by Two Brothers Brewing had to be tailor-made for the brothers’ blog. It also had an instant appeal as a style of beer rarely encountered (French style country ale) in a market flooded by different versions of a small group of styles. The problem was that it promised a sweet start with a cleansing hops finish, and while the first part was there the second never appeared. It also noted that it was particularly good with food, and that in fact was so. I drank the last part with some garlic heavy white pizza and they paired very well. Just one more note: I collect caps from different beer and the cap from this brewery is one of the best I have ever found. Love their logo and that they advertise themselves on the cap (what a concept).

4.  Tickle Fight American Barley Wine. This was the most intriguing when I first unpacked the box. I have seen, read and heard of barleywine but had never tried it. It is strong at almost 11% alcohol, but that doesn’t cover up the subtlety of taste. The effervescence, slight sweetness and lingering hops taste are all extremely interesting. Would love to see what Garrett Oliver’s advice for food pairing with barleywine is because it is definitely a beer that would enhance a meal. Alas, I leant the book to someone and it never came back.

3. Over Ale. This is the first one that I tried, and I made an overt effort to enjoy it without reading how the brewery described this ale. My guess was that it was a brown ale (it is a caramel color) or American ale. It ends up they describe it as a “styleless wonder” and that is what it is. No matter its description, it had great body and a smooth taste that was consistent from one sip to another. If this is a Chicago Ale, I would love to have more.

2. Eugene Porter. The label, or design of the can in this case, is similar to People’s Porter one of my favorite NC beers so I was favorably inclined. I also love porters in general and this lived up to my expectation. Porters have great body and balance and this beer exemplified those qualities. A lot of beers of this and other styles claim caramel and chocolate notes but don’t meet those promises. This one does. A really dark porter, it had mellow and melded flavors in perfect balance. My only regret is that I did not save it for the perfect 70 degree afternoon we had today. It would have been a great complement to the weather.

1. 5 Grass. There is a home experiment where you can taste a small piece of paper and gauge a predisposition to certain preferences. David’s son, Ian, sent our family the test many years ago and it explained a lot about the preference differences between my sons. I am just guessing, but I think the same differences would be true between me and my brother. I love India pale ales and pale ales whereas he questions why they are so dominant. The notes on this beer talk of deserts, pine flavors, unusual hops, and all sorts of spices. I didn’t get that. What I did get was the crispness of the style, the added florals of the hops and the perfect mix of flavors that the best of the cocktails we have tried have exhibited. IPA’s are a fantastic beer to pair with food (spicy food in particular) and 5 Grass holds true to that. It’s also darn tasty just by itself.

eugeneJonathan’s take: David sent an incredible spectrum of beers. I hate that I had to rank them, but am happy that I got to drink them.

David’s take: It’s been a fun two weeks. Though I’ve tasted many of these beers before, this tasting made me wonder if I’ve given them my full attention, the attention they deserve.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

David described a sling in his introduction to A Sling of Sorts #2. That brought to mind a drink I have heard referenced so many times, but have never tried – the Singapore Sling. There are differing theories to the history of the drink and also different recipes. I am going to leave it up to David to choose what recipes he wants to try.

Bourbon Cider

photo-48Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

This week’s drink was a Bourbon Cider intended to showcase fall flavors. Going back to brown liquors, Bourbon to be precise, the drink pairs the spirit with apple cider and spices associated with Fall. The recipe comes from Saveur magazine and starts with a simple syrup made in the standard manner with the addition of cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, and cloves. That syrup is used in the following recipe:

1.5 ounce bourbon

3 ounces apple cider

.75 ounce ginger syrup

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Shake these ingredients with ice, pour into a coupe or martini glass and garnish with dried apple (I used fresh apple slices since that is what I had).

The proposal last week introduced the drink with a nod to North Carolina’s apple production. In that vein I thought it was important to find a local source of cider and used one produced in the NC mountains. There has been a great deal of emphasis nationally on using local ingredients, and we have tried to do more of that with everything we consume.

That said, the Bourbon was anything but local. A spirit that is called Bourbon must be at least 51% corn mash, made in the US, and aged in charred oak barrels. The amount of time in those barrels determines whether it is a straight whiskey. The traditional Bourbon is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, but I followed a recommendation and used an American Straight Bourbon whiskey produced in Hillsboro, Oregon and aged in Indiana – Big Bottom. The recommendation came from the staff of store just south of us in South Carolina. One of things I have learned through our cocktail adventures is that a good liquor store includes having someone who can offer guidance to the novice. Since the NC stores are run by the state and limited in their advice and guidance, that means making the short trip across the state line.

This would be good time to beg forgiveness. On both my side of the family and my wife’s, we have relatives from Kentucky who would consider a Bourbon from somewhere other than the bluegrass state to be a sacrilege. There are Bourbon producers throughout the US though and, as I found this week, exceptional versions made in those distilleries. Maybe the next time one of them visits, I can curry their favor by offering a taste of Big Bottom or another American Bourbon.

This cocktail will vary with every version of cider used and, with so many varieties of apples, the possibilities are endless. The syrup offers subtle background notes and changing the spices would make it easy to personalize. The final way to change it up is to use different Bourbons.

Here’s David’s review:drink

Well, Illinois has no apple production to speak of, but we found plenty of ciders available to us.

On tasting this cocktail, my wife said, “This is the adult version of the post-hayride drink.” I don’t have much more to say beyond that. We tried it just after returning home from visiting our daughter at college—so perhaps that added to the homebody comfort embodied in this cocktail—but we were happy to come back to something so simultaneously welcoming and unfamiliar. Only the temperature of the drink seemed different. The apple cider, cloves, and other spices in this drink fit the fall and seem particularly appropriate to today’s added hour. Our version of the syrup could have used more ginger, I think, as I’ve learned to appreciate the combination of bourbon and ginger before, but that hardly diminished the effect of the spices, especially the cloves. Though it seemed a little odd to be drinking something so fall-spicy from martini glasses, otherwise my wife and I enjoyed this drink immensely.

If you try this cocktail yourself, here’s one piece of advice—be careful to strain the syrup carefully. The drink is dense enough without the granularity of the syrup. Alternately, you might try drinking this cocktail hot instead of cold. The mulled feel of the drink might lend itself well to mugs instead of glasses. I can see it as a ski-drink, sipped beside a fire after a day on the slopes. Of course, you should take that advice for what it’s worth. Having grown up in Texas and having never spent any time in a chalet of any sort, I may be fantasizing some other person’s life. Perhaps apre-snow shoveling would work here in Chicago.

Jonathan’s take: I have to credit my wife and neighbors for this: if there is a drink for every season, this is the one for Fall. Apples, bourbon and fall spices – perfect.

David’s take: A perfect drink for fall, all the flavors evocative of the season in combination, a homecoming appropriate to this time of year.

Next week (proposed by David):

My brother may hate me for this, but my proposal for next week is an Aviation, a drink that appeared in an episode of Blacklist (a television series I enjoy) and in a number of other places I’m interpreting as signs. It uses an odd liqueur called Creme de Violette and gin. It’s one of the classics, I’m told, and, looking at the pictures online, it seems particularly beautiful. I know it means another bottle in the cabinet—and one that may be challenging to use again—but I’m hoping it will be worth it. We’ll see. We’re experimenting, right?

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 De La Louisiane

Proposed by: David20131013_174451

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The De La Louisiane cocktail served as the signature drink of the Restaurant de la Louisiane, once described as “the rendezvous of those who appreciate the best in Creole cuisine.” The recipe might have disappeared from cocktailian lore if not for Stanley Clisby Arthur’s Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, published in 1937.

I’m sure that makes me sound quite savvy, but I got it all off the web. For a cocktail that reportedly—and reportedly and reportedly—nearly disappeared from the earth, it sure is everywhere in cyberspace.

Truth is, I chose this cocktail because I have all the ingredients and, knowing how busy weekends are, hoped for something a little easier than usual. Silly me, I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough, as it called for a brandied cherry garnish. One can’t simply buy brandied cherries (one must make them) and, because it’s October, you won’t find many cherries about. My wife and I found some maraschino cherries—not the lurid, Campari colored ones, but really dark ones—and I also made some brandied figs, which I thought might make a good substitute.

This is a potent drink that calls for equal parts of its main ingredients:

photo-41¾ oz. Rye

¾ oz. Sweet Vermouth

¾ oz. Benedictine

a dash of Peychaud Bitters

a dash of Absinthe (or substitute—many asked for Herbsainte)

Our savvy readers may recognize this drink as similar to the Sazarac, sharing as it does New Orleans and two ingredients (rye and absinthe), but the absinthe is much more subtle in the De La Louisiane, a shade instead of a shadow, and the sweetness provided by Benedictine is botanical, not neutral like the simple syrup in a Sazarac.

Steve&LoriMy wife and I were headed to a house warming and invited a couple of friends to share the De Le Louisiane with us as part of what—my guest told me—F. Scott Fitzgerald would call “A Dressing Drink” and my children would call “Pre-gaming.” Whatever you want to call the event, it was fun to have company in our weekly cocktailian adventure.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

This theme has come up a number of times already – that many of these cocktails are situation and setting appropriate. Obviously, the aperitif and digestif are intended for before and after dinner respectively but we have also proposed drinks suitable for a summer evening, sitting beachside and in the case of this week’s drink and the Sazerac for quietly sipping at a dark bar or by the fire.

Certainly an enhanced experience based on setting is not exclusive to cocktails. This week marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi. I heard a story on NPR marking the date and talking about his many great operas. I have never fully appreciated opera, but as they played pieces it was not a stretch to think that sitting in an ornate theatre, or sipping a simple wine in Italy, the music would be transcendent.

The La Louisiane Cocktail offered a broader range of tastes than the Sazerac to which it is so similar. In particular, the interplay between the herbal Benedictine, the sweet vermouth and the rye whiskey was noticeable and welcome. It is odd, considering that licorice is not a favored taste for me, that the background absinthe was also very much forward in this cocktail and really added to it. I took the opportunity this week to make my own brandied cherries to use as a garnish. Not sure they added to the drink, but it was a nice snack at the end.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails like these make me feel like warming my feet by a fire and singing like Robert Goulet. Excuse me while I do just that.

David’s Take: A truly enjoyable cocktail–perhaps it was the company, but this drink seemed a great start to any evening.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The time has come in this project to propose a drink of my own creation. We started with the nostalgic Tallulah, someone else’s nostalgia, and my proposal will reach back to a non-alcoholic drink from childhood. The only hint I’ll give is that anyone wishing to try it should make a batch of homemade grenadine this week.

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 Fall Gimlet

Proposed by: DavidGimlet

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Even the name “Gimlet” has an interesting history. The word used as a description of a drink appears first in 1928, and many people associate it with a tool for drilling tiny holes with piercing, penetrating precision. Others say the cocktail commemorates the British navy surgeon Thomas Gimlette (active 1879-1913), who developed the lime-centered drink as an anti-scurvy measure. These theories may or may not be true, but the drink itself has been around long enough to make tracing it back challenging.

I read somewhere that, in the current surge of cocktail drinking, the Gimlet has largely been left behind. Why isn’t clear, but I have my own theory. Rose’s Gimlet is a dusty choice, a bartender’s friend, automatic and easy. It was a staple of your father’s generation, more cloying than sweet, more like a can of cocktail than the fresh, sophisticated, and often exotic mixed drinks popular now.

Fresh lime juice restores some of the drink’s vitality, but the recipe I proposed for this week, the Fall Gimlet, also adds warmth in the form of a trendy cocktail sweetener, maple syrup. Any gimlet requires a sweet element—simple syrup or sugar—but the idea behind this drink is to balance the sharp citrusy attack of fresh lime with the amber and mellow complexity of the woody syrup. I suppose it’s called a Fall Gimlet because we’re closer now to harvesting maple syrup, but the color is also perfect for the name, the same yellow ochre of some of the leaves turning on a tree outside my window now.

As I had trouble imagining limes in Vermont, I was a little worried proposing such an odd combination, but I thought it might be worth a try and enjoyed the direct and refreshing promise of this cocktail. Here’s the recipe, which requires no elaborate preparation:

1.5 oz. Gin

1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice

¾ oz Maple Syrup

Add Gin, Lime, and Maple syrup to an empty glass or shaker, add ice, shake and strain.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jonathan's GimletsCropt

This has been said before (in fact it is the basis of this blog), but I am a neophyte when it comes to cocktails. The closest I have come to a mixed drink most of my adult life has been a margarita or mojito.

There was a time though when I tried a few cocktails in hope of being more sophisticated. I have always been inclined towards alternative music, but thanks to my Dad I had an understanding and appreciation for jazz and the classics. There came a point in young adulthood that I began listening to Sinatra and Billie Holiday. About that same time I thought martinis were the sophisticated drink and that would be my cocktail of choice. The only problem is that I didn’t like them, other than as a marinade for olives or cocktail onions. When the olives began to out crowd the Gin, I decided I needed a new option. That was when I discovered the Gimlet.

A simple mix of sweet Rose’s Lime Juice and Gin shaken with ice yielded an accessible drink that gave an air of sophistication. My love of beer won out though, and the Gimlet was left behind. Now I am wondering why.

This drink, especially with the fresh lime juice and sweetened by maple syrup is, to me, the best of the drinks we have had so far. The tartness of the lime is perfect with the Gin botanicals and the maple sweetness acts to soften those flavors and accentuate them at the same time. I also have to admit that as the first drink of Fall the maple syrup makes perfect sense.

Just to push the point I decided to try a variation of the recipe David proposed called the Old Vermont. That drink alters the proportions and adds orange juice and a couple of dashes of bitters (I used Peychauds) to the mix. I liked this variation just as much although my fellow taste tasters liked the simple Gimlet better. Those fellow tasters included old friends who I first met as a freshman in college in 1979 and my neighbors the next day. Just wanted to point that for anyone worried about consumption level.

David’s Take: I enjoyed the combination of flavors in this drink–the botanical gin, the mellow maple syrup, and the fresh and tart lime. They played surprisingly well together.

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Jonathan’s take: An old friend revisited was the theme of the weekend and this classic fit that perfectly. I could go back to this any time.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

We haven’t used much Rum yet so next week’s drink will feature that with a tiny variation. I have already let David know that the drink of choice will need to be enjoyed on a beach which is slightly unfair since he is in Chicago and I will be in South Carolina, but he can pay me back with some winter classic later.

The Americano and Negroni

Proposed by: Jonathancamparicropt

Reviewed by: David

Absinthe is purported to have a slight hallucinogenic effect. There was no immediate effect from the Sazerac a few weeks ago, at least that I am aware of, but I am going to claim a delayed effect.  Somehow I thought I had read about a version of the Cosmopolitan that used gin and Campari. The more savvy cocktailians (maybe we’ll just call them savvyones) know the classic Cosmo is vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and lime. It might be a stretch to substitute gin and Campari for the vodka and cranberry and call it a Campari Cosmo. I still want to begin to use some of the ingredients that we have acquired and to offer some possible variations though, so my proposal for this week was both the Negroni and Americano.

The Negroni is a drink attributed to Count Camillo Negroni in Florence Italy. Apparently the Americano was not strong enough so the Count suggested replacing soda water with gin. I cannot say that is a suggestion that would come to me naturally, but you only have to go back to my review from last week to read that I found the Cinquecento more than a bit too powerful and bitter. After that experience, I read that Campari, as a bitter, is an acquired taste which also factored into my suggestion of two alternatives for this week.

The Americano is in many ways the simpler drink, It is made up of 1 ounce of Campari, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and club soda. Served in a highball glass it is garnished with a twist of orange. The bitterness of the Campari is really knocked down by the sweetness of the vermouth and dilution of the club soda. It was so much more enjoyable and, like a bitter IPA beer, was great with spicy food.

A Negroni is equal parts (1 ounce) of Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin. It is also served with a twist of orange, on ice in an old fashioned glass. We tried it as an aperitif as it was intended and although it was a strong drink it mellowed as the ice melted. Overall it was complex and enjoyable. The Americano impressed me as a drink that people who like gin and tonic would enjoy as an alternative.

Here’s David’s Review:

Jonathan mentioned online recipes call each of these drinks “an acquired taste.” As a great acquirer of tastes, that didn’t scare me. Quite the contrary, it inspired me. Black coffee, obscure documentaries, and knowing the minute details of the history of the hammer-throw make you feel special. You get used to justifying what others find strange, and then you begin to take pride in it, and then you start to annoy friends by urging odd things upon them. Later, when they complain, you sigh, “Oh well, maybe it’s an acquired taste.”

Only, I don’t like Campari. It isn’t the bitterness exactly, but the sort of acrid smell and undertone (like licking an aspirin) that turns me off. That, and the syrupy mouth feel. And the lurid, obviously dyed color. I could get used to Campari—you could probably get used to sipping shampoo—but, as we’re only drinking one cocktail a week (or, in this case, two), I’d like to enjoy the main ingredient… which, in case it’s not yet clear, I don’t.

Jonathan is right that, in the Americano, at least other ingredients balance the bitterness. The sweet vermouth is truly sweet. Its vaguely herbal undertone doesn’t add much bitterness—though, like the Campari, a dandelion flavor lurks in it—and the soda lightens the whole drink. I maybe might could possibly enjoy this cocktail… if it weren’t for the Campari, which made the whole concoction taste like, well, a concoction.

Gin is one of my favorite spirits (and, in fact, I love gin and tonic) so it pains me to say I liked the Negroni less. Gin IS medicinal, wonderfully so, but, in combination with the vermouth, and especially the Campari, the drink seemed an unsuccessful attempt to mask some sorcerer’s cure. Cocktails aren’t good for you, and one item that’s sure to make my future essay, “The Education of a Cocktailian,” is that mixed drinks shouldn’t taste like prescriptions.

Okay, I know someone is going to go all Sam-I-Am on me, tell me I’m being unfair to Campari and haven’t given it the chance it deserves. I only know a few Latin phrases, and one is my response: de gustibus non est disputandum or “There’s no disputing about matters of taste.” Maybe some of our dear readers love Campari and feel hurt by my rejection, and sorry. Your taste buds must be built differently than mine. We can’t all like the same things. And some tastes you don’t even like enough to acquire.

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Jonathan’s take: There is a lot to be said for introducing strong, new tastes slowly. The progression from Americano to Negroni was more gradual and made each that much better.

David’s take: Damn you, Campari.

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

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