Sex on the Beach

Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There’s a good chance I am a prude. I hadn’t given it much thought until I started reading the names of the many Peach Schnapps cocktails and considered there is little to no chance I would order any of them in a bar. Of course, what chance is there that I would be drinking Peach Schnapps in the first place.

When I proposed the Sex on the Beach cocktail I noted that there are many cocktails using Peach Schnapps and that most of them have a suggestive double meaning. I assumed in reading them that there must be some reason that was easily identified. Nope. Maybe the peach lends itself to that (fuzzy), perhaps the Schnapps are sweet and sneaky (all drinks referencing sex) or it could be that one thing just led to another (24 versions of some type of Sex on the…).

It isn’t just cocktails referencing sex though. There are a number that have peculiar names in general that, prude or not, I would never order.  Anyone imagine saying, “Excuse me bartender, could I have a Phlegm”? And what is the chance that you ask your friend to get you an Afterbirth, Alien Urine Sample or Cat Killer while they are up at the bar? If I am suggesting drinking a Dr. Kovorkean, I hope someone schedules an intervention and nothing is going to make me want to put down my beer for a Sewer Rat, Frothin’ Monkey Ass or Crackhouse. I have been known to scream F**k Me Running on the golf course but it has never been a drink of choice.

One more note about Peach Schnapps and liquor in general. I don’t ever buy the cheapest version of whatever spirit we are featuring nor do I buy the top end stuff. When I went to buy this liqueur though, there were cheap options and cheaper ones. It was one of the few times, out of fear of what else was in there, that I splurged for the expensive bottle. It was a whopping $10 which finally gave me an idea why the cocktail names suggested behavioral changes. All of this said, the basic recipe for Sex on the Beach is simple and satisfying.

1.5 ounces vodka
.5 ounce Peach Schnapps
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
1.5 ounce cranberry juice

Combine, shake with ice, strain into ice filled glass and garnish with an orange slice. The liquor.com recipe suggested an alternative addition of Chambord or Creme de Cassis but I skipped that. I did increase the Peach Schnapps a little because, frankly, that was the feature and it got lost otherwise.

David’s Review:

Another drink that, like Jonathan, I’d be embarrassed to order… and not just because of the name. As long as it wasn’t the first drink I ordered, I’m sure I’d have the gumption to name it. And it isn’t that drinks like this one seem more popular with women than men, because I really don’t understand those categories. My reluctance arises instead from the Peach Schnapps, which I’ll always associate with college “punches” designed to disguise intoxicating ingredients.

I wonder what sort of demand there is for Peach Schnapps. Unsurprisingly, the price point of a spirit is often an indication of its cache, and Peach Schnapps—the most upscale variety—will barely crack $10 even in Chicago. The taste is also some indication of its sophistication. No monks died for the secret of its eight thousand herbal ingredients, and no bottle passed over the equator just once to increase its familiarity with the smoky oak of its barrel. In fact, like many fruit flavored products, it tastes little like the ingredient it purports to represent. Peach Schnapps might be renamed “Peach Flavoring Schnapps”… but then they might have to give it away.

Yet, here’s the surprise. I really liked this drink. The vodka adds nothing, but combining orange juice and cranberry juice gives the cocktail a sharp citrus-y edge and brings the schnapps closer to the taste of an actual peach. I DID make the cocktail with Creme de Cassis and heartily recommend adding it. Sweet drinks like this one demand a bitter element, and, while it helped that we chose a cranberry juice from Whole Foods with minimal sweeteners, the Cassis contributed to that bitter note.

One more note: a key discovery of participating in this blog is how important fresh ingredients are. The schnapps is in no sense “real,” so it seems particularly important to squeeze some oranges or buy orange juice squeezed at the grocery. I don’t know if they sell Sex on the Beach in cans, but that would be nightmarish. What saves this cocktail is not the schnapps—which will likely occupy a spot in my liquor cabinet for a while—or the vodka but everything else. The everything else really matters.

David’s Take: Who’d have thunk I’d enjoy this cocktail so much?

Jonathan’s Take:

Next Time (Proposed by David):

I recently had a genever and black tea cocktail at a friend’s house and the close of summer inspires me to try something similar. I searched the internet for a recipe that combined those flavors and found Earl Grey Infused Gin Cocktail. The recipe calls for adding the tea to the gin, but I may add it to the simple syrup instead. There’s something about the combination that seems right for this time of year.

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Watermelon Cocktails

Proposed By: David

Pursued By: Jonathan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Jonathan’s Entry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

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

Low-Calorie Cocktails

Proposed By: Jonathan

Enacted By: David (and Jonathan)

It has taken me a long time to do this write-up. I introduced the concept of calories in cocktails and then began a search for background and ideas. Want to get an idea of the contradictory information related to that? One of the first lists I found for drinks to avoid included the mojito. Then I pulled up drinks that were lower in calories and my friend the mojito made that list too. Maybe the best place to start is by constructing a drink from base calories.

There are sources that claim one liquor has more or less calories than another. The bottom line though is that the calorie content is directly related to alcohol by volume and what else is included with that liquor. The concept of efficiency is as simple as knowing pure spirits derive all calories from the alcohol since there is little other than water and flavor (or so one hopes) in a bottle of liquor. A 40% spirit has 97 calories/1.5 ounce serving, a 45% spirit has 109 calories/1.5 ounces and a 50% spirit has 121 calories/1.5 ounce serving. It doesn’t matter if that 80 proof liquor is vodka or Scotch, it’s still going to be 97 calories. So there’s the first tip – if you want to count calories while drinking you should go with liquor neat, on the rocks or with no calorie club soda or seltzer.

The next step is to see what happens when you add mixers or liqueurs. The first part of many drinks is fresh fruit juice. Lime (8), lemon (8), grapefruit (11) and orange (13) juice don’t add many calories per ounce especially when you consider both the small amount used and the flavor they add. Standard mixers up the count especially when you consider that an average drink may include 4 or more ounces in the recipe. The calories per 4 ounce serving of some of the favorites are 40 for ginger ale or tonic and 48 for coke. Another popular option for adding that flavor and sweetness are simple syrups and their flavored versions. The problem is that a single ounce of simple syrup is around 75 calories. Liqueurs add the double dose of alcohol calories and the sugary additives that give them their flavor. Some of the more popular ones are triple sec (162), Kahlua (131), Amaretto (170) and sweet vermouth (60) with the calories measured per 1.5 ounce serving. That means a White Russian adds up to around 265 if you use heavy cream – and who wouldn’t?

The challenge was to bring down the calories per drink or to find lower calorie options. As I wrote earlier, one good option is to drink liquor straight, but this is a cocktail blog so that’s out of bounds. Another popular choice is to mix with seltzer and fresh juice. Basic addition will get you to 101 calories for 80 proof vodka mixed with 1/2 ounce of fresh lime and 4 ounces of club soda. That’s the equivalent of a light beer but who wants a light beer? That brings in the idea of rum (97), lime juice (8), mint (0), simple syrup (75) and club soda for 180 calorie mojito. Now we’re up to the equivalent of a high test beer (for those who want flavor plus vitamins/nutrients as any aficionado would point out), 2 light beers or 2 glasses of wine if you use a restrained pour.

There are also easy substitutes for basic drinks like a gin and tonic or rum and coke. Assuming both start with a 1.5 ounce spirit and combine with 4 ounces mixer (we will consider the squeeze of lime negligible) these drinks ring in 149 calories for the G & T and 145 for the Cuba Libre. The quickest way to get that down is to use a diet version of the mixer to drop the count to 109 and 97 respectively. This is just my taste in drinks mind you, but at that point I would reach for the ice cubes and a straight pour instead.

When it came down to it for proposed drinks with lower calories, I went with flavored simple syrups cut with club soda. On its face this doesn’t make a great deal of calorie sense but I think this method helps with another form of calorie math. Let’s assume that one cocktail leads to another. A martini with 1.5 ounce gin and 3/4 ounce vermouth is a total of 2.25 ounces at the rough 140 calorie level. Per drink that is a good low calorie option but 3 of those are about 7 ounces and 420 calories. A mix of 1.5 ounces vodka, an ounce of vanilla simple syrup and 6 ounces of club soda is an 8.5 ounce cocktail measuring in at about 170 calories. Two of those could last an entire evening with a total of 340 calories. Yet another version of this math is the mint julep. Two ounces of bourbon, an ounce of mint simple syrup, a spring of mint and lots of packed crushed ice is an afternoon sipper with around 240 calories. Except for my fellow blogger, who needs more than one Julep?

Here’s David’s Portion:

Like Jonathan, my scientific explorations suggest basic laws of low-calorie cocktails:

  1. Variation in proof aside, all spirits have essentially the same number of calories, which leads to an axiom…
  2. The lowest calorie option is drinking spirits straight, or…
  3. Mixing them minimally with botanicals or citrus (like a gimlet or a mojito), and not…
  4. Adding liqueurs or other secondary spirits that have a high sugar content and…
  5. Sparing yourself too many or too much mixers like ginger ale or coke because they too have a lot of sugar, hinting a better strategy might be…
  6. Using a little simple syrup and soda, but…
  7. Still keeping the cocktails to around 4-5 ounces… though a bartender once told me 6 ounces is the more standard amount, because of the melt from the ice in the glass and/or shaker.

A calorie being an inviolable unit of energy, there’s no getting around these laws, but I did experiment with a variation Jonathan didn’t mention, vegetable juices. When a Whole Foods opened near me recently, it occurred to me that some of their comically named concoctions—each invented to promote my personal health and wellness—might make interesting ingredients.

So I chose Lucky Juice-Iano (weighing in at a whopping 6.7 calories an ounce) and Juice Bigalow (at 13.75 calories per ounce).

The label of Lucky Juice-Iano says, “This killer combo of PEAR, CUCUMBER, LEMON, and SPINACH is like unloading a tommy gun of hydration to your mouth while helping you fight off illness like an old-timey gangster.” I’m pretty sure I ruined any boost to my immunity by adding an ounce and a half of gin (at 42% alcohol, I’m calling it 102 calories), but this cocktail seemed the more successful of my experiments. As long as you don’t put in more than an ounce and a half of the juice—spinach cocktail, anyone?—and add plenty of soda to dilute the feeling you might be eating your hedge trimmings, this drink is palatable and only costs you 112 calories. Truth in advertising, I also added (but didn’t count) a dot or two of Angostura. That helped.

Juice Bigalow’s labeling claims, “If APPLE, BEETS, CARROT, GINGER, and LEMON ‘got it on,’ this would be their lovechild. And said child would relieve stress so you can live a long life, both in and out of bed.” I’m not sure what any of that means or who writes such bizarre copy, but this experiment seemed more iffy. I thought tequila (at 40%, 97 calories) would be the match for Juice Bigelow, and I wasn’t wrong because somehow the spirit pushed its way through all those juices and soda to a position of prominence. Still, I’m no great fan of beets and confess that I mostly chose the juice for its color. A last-minute impulse to add a shake or two of tabasco seemed to balance the sweetness a little bit, but I’d have to work on the proportions to improve it. At 120 calories, this drink didn’t produce enough fuel to even consider it.

I don’t start many statements with “People, here’s the thing…” but here goes. People, here’s the thing, if cocktails become an element of your health regimen, there’s possibly a problem with your regimen.

Jonathan’s take: The most basic truth is that there are zero calories in water. This isn’t a water blog either.

David’s Take: Do you know the contemporary use of the term “fail”?

Next Time (Proposed By David):

As tempted as I am to suggest high calorie cocktails, instead I’d like to draw on a single ingredient plentiful this time of year, watermelons. Whatever Jonathan and I make has to include watermelons prominently. The rest is up for grabs.

El Pepino

Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Wish I could say that my delay in writing this post was that this cocktail, which, in my mind, is so close to a julep, is better offered closer to Kentucky Derby Day. Truth is, like a lot of people, I’m busier than I want to be and tired most of the time.

Here, however, is a drink that might pick people up. Having lived in Louisville for a while, I have a special affection for juleps. They remind me of spring itself, those sunny and temperate days that, over the past few months of gray rain and snow, you never quite let yourself believe possible. The new green of this time of year renews hope, and mint conveys that hope beautifully. Something about mint always offers a refreshing element in food and drink.

Two of the non-julep notes of this cocktail—lime and tequila—are borrowed from margaritas and offer festive and zesty flavors too. Here’s the recipe, which comes from Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails From the Lone Star State.

1/3 fresh diced cucumber

1 ounce Mint Simple Syrup

2 ounces 100% agave silver tequila

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Fresh mint for garnish

Cucumber spear, for garnish

Mezcal (optional)

In the botton of a mixing glass, muddle the cucumber and mint syrup. Add the tequila and lime juice and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with fresh mint and a cucumber spear. You can also float some mezcal on top, if you have it. Lamentably, I did not.

Cucumber seems a popular ingredient in food and drink recently. Though there’s nearly nothing to it in terms of calories and some people might think of it adding nothing but cellulose, it enhances the other fresh, botanical dimensions of this drink. As the description in Tipsy Texan suggests, this cocktail is suited to a warm day and touts, “You’d be hard pressed to find a cocktail more refreshing than this combination of tequila, mint, and cucumber.”

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

There is a general rule that I follow when gathering the ingredients for a cocktail. If there is an item that is difficult to find, secondary to all other parts of the drink ,or just missing from the pantry—I will skip that part. It is unusual yet there are examples where I have done that and noted it. I am talking about you Chinese five spice on the rim of the glass.

This proposal calls for muddled cucumber which is fairly unusual although not completely foreign. That said, it is hardly secondary when one considers all of the other parts of this drink, which are somewhat normal in mixology. The problem was, though, that I had everything ready when it came time to make the cocktail except a cucumber. There was just a moment of hesitation before I decided I could not accurately create the El Pepino without first going to get one. Good choice.

This is a drink that is the product of all its parts working together. The mint is subtle, the sugar in the syrup a smoothing agent, the tequila distinctive but not assertive, the lime juice a contrasting yet quiet acid as it should be. The cucumber jumps out. It makes El Pepino different and distinctive to the point that I think even those who are not fans of cukes would agree that without it the mix is fairly run of the mill. I am probably wrong but my guess would be that most bars don’t stock cucumber. That’s a shame because this is a drink I would actually order without hesitation.

Jonathan’s take: I hereby apologize to the cucumber and promise to find some Pimm’s in the back of my liquor cabinet so that the cuke may shine again.

David’s take: I won’t substitute this drink for my usual Derby Day julep, but maybe every other suitable occasion.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

I do not consider calories when ordering or making a cocktail. As a beer drinker that is probably a defense mechanism. There are those who do, however, and there are recipes with just that in mind.

Once again, the proposal is an idea rather than a specific drink. I am suggesting that we try cocktails with less calories. That does not mean making simple syrup with stevia leaves, although that is a consideration, rather it is to adjust the ingredients to trim the effect on the waist line. There is no calorie limit just a general concept to lower the total from the standard version of a cocktail or to create a new drink for those who are watching what they eat—or drink.

I feels some club soda coming our way.

Chilcano

Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The basis of the featured cocktail was a way to use up some of the different liquors I have accumulated. In the course of doing that though I found a cocktail that answered a nagging non-question and posed another. We will start with the cocktail and work towards the other two things.

The drink is The Chilcano which is a Pisco based drink. It is in the mule/buck style with a slight twist:

2 ounces Pisco
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce fresh ginger juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
Ginger ale (I used 4 ounces)
Angostura bitters

Mix everything except the ginger ale, add ice, top with the ginger ale and garnish with a lime peel. The twist is the ginger juice,which you can buy in small bottles, that adds a real kick to the drink. The simple syrup seemed unnecessary so I left it out as many variations of Chilcano recipes do.

This blog has been an education with huge amounts of information to process both good and bad. One of my least favorites are the lists of in and out cocktails as if you should choose what to drink based on popularity or lack of it. Sometime around the new year I read an article that included expert bartender opinions about cocktails. One of those bartenders suggested that Moscow Mules have overstayed their welcome. His thought was that it did not matter if you liked them—they were over ordered and it was time to move on. So the non-question is whether someone else should tell you what to like. If you want to drink a Mule, do it. If you want a great variation, however, try this.

The other question posed by this drink comes from the name. In Peru, the home of Pisco, Chilcano can be a cocktail or a soup that is considered a cure for hangovers. Chilcano de Pescado is a Peruvian fish soup that traditionally starts with a fish head broth. The idea is that this soup should be consumed the morning after over-consumption to alleviate the ill effects. That made me wonder what folks thought were the most effective and the most odd hangover cures, so I did an informal poll.

The list of effective cures is not too surprising. Sleep, analgesics, and water were clearly at the top of the list. The other common ideas, none of which were fish head soup, included sugary drinks, exercise, and hair of the dog. I’m not sure drinking more is so much a cure as it is putting off the pain or crying for help.

There weren’t too many odd cures, but there were some very specific ones. One person insisted that Dr. Pepper before bed was the magic elixir, one suggested extreme hard labor, and another was just as sure a late night greasy meal was the trick.

Long ago when David would eat such things, he and I tried the latter method. He was living in Louisville and we followed a long night of beers with a stop at the local White Castle for sliders (mini-burgers for the uninitiated) to make sure we felt fine in the morning. I can’t remember if it worked but have tried or seen plenty of variations of that over the years. In college a Greek grilled cheese was a very common end to a night. If that didn’t work, one friend of mine was sure a quick meal of basic McDonald’s cheeseburgers the next day would.

David’s Review:

Clearly, Jonathan hasn’t been taking care of this spirits larder. For me, the pisco we bought oh-so-long-ago is gone… and I may have finished another bottle since then. I could account for my pisco deficit in several ways. First, I have replaced the gin in gin and tonics with pisco and experimented with it in other drinks. I even made a caipirinha with pisco, which was quite good. Second, I try not to buy a new bottle of anything until some other bottle gets empty (see #1). Third, I like pisco a lot. Four, maybe I should stop drinking altogether.

I’d say that, with the exception of the ginger elements, this drink struck me as being very like a caipirinha, but that might be a little like saying “with the exception of beef, beef stroganoff is very like a tofu stroganoff.” There’s an analogy I’m sure Jonathan will understand. The ginger is rather important and finding ginger juice was much more difficult than obtaining pisco. I settled on a “ginger shot,” a nutritional form of ginger juice I found at Whole Foods. Another choice, a bottle of squeezable ginger from our regular grocery, proved too pulpy and too sweet.

Sweetness has become one of my biggest bugaboos with mixology. It seems most drinks are too sweet to me now, and simple syrup—even the ginger-grapefruit simple syrup I made for an earlier recipe—is something (along with Jonathan) I’d skip. Pisco isn’t sweet, but, redolent of grapes, the fruity scent seems enough for me. Plus, the simple syrup seemed to interfere with the Angostura, and I like to taste my Angostura—or what’s it doing there?

Those caveats out of the way, I really liked this drink. While pisco isn’t that distinctive a spirit, it isn’t vodka, which to me is a big blank. But it isn’t like whiskey, scotch, or gin either, flavors that are instantly recognizable and thus a little more touchy to mix. If I had a friend looking to try some new spirit, in fact, I might recommend pisco as a safe bet for something he or she might like.

Oh, and for hangovers, by the way, I always recommend a punishing (and penitent) workout followed by Gatorade or coconut water.

David’s take: If Jonathan still hasn’t exhausted his pisco supply, I’m willing to buy another bottle to help him get to the bottom of it.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t listen to the experts listen to me, The Chilcano is excellent. At least the non-fish head version is.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Our sister gave me a book for Christmas called Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State, and I’ve been dipping into it looking for our next cocktail. After much debate, I’ve chosen El Pepino, which is sort a tequila julep made with cucumbers in addition to the usual mint simple syrup. The recipe cites the drink as proof that tequila is a versatile spirit and not just for Margaritas. Plus, looking on the web, I discovered it’s Justin Timberlake’s favorite drink. So there.

Mock-tails

dbmProposed by: David

Co-fulfilled by: Jonathan

This proposal to make non-alcoholic drinks originally came in honor of Dry January, an actual event in the UK promoted by Alcohol Concern. People raise money for the charity by pledging to go without drink for one month. Of course, January is long over, and this post is (my bad) overdue. I should confess I failed anyway. About January 4th, I started researching whether one month really makes up for the other eleven—surprise, surprise, it turns out moderation is the best strategy for good health. I decided to moderate instead.

Besides, there’s nothing like a “mock-tail” to make you realize most of the work of drink-making isn’t the alcohol. A few libations call for infused spirits—and we’ve done some on this blog—but, when it comes to alcohol, the hardest part of any cocktail is buying the right kind (that, and sometimes paying for it).

To prepare my mock-tail this time around, I created two new simple syrups—juniper and grapefruit/ginger. The former I created because I had some juniper left over from making my own gin, and the latter just sounded good to me. And neither were terribly creative because the first thing I did was search for recipes online, and both popped up right away

In the world of the interweb, no one is unique.

And I had no trouble finding a plethora of mock-tail recipes either. One site offered a lengthy slideshow of concoctions invented by various restaurants, and another featured some non-alcoholic alternatives to familiar libations. No claims of “just like the real thing” appeared on any of these sites. No writer would be so foolish, and, as I was sipping my mock-tail I kept imagining a designated-driver twirling his umbrella as his friends laugh about nothing that makes the driver laugh. Still, most of the drinks I encountered seemed imaginative, at least distracting.

The cocktail I chose, the Virgin Cucumber Gimlet, comes from Ocean Prime, a nationwide restaurant:

1.5 oz club soda

4-5 slices muddled cucumber

1 oz fresh line juice

1 oz simple syrup

They said to “Combine ingredients and shake with ice,” but that’s loco. Shake all of the ingredients except the soda. Add the soda to the drink in a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a rolled cucumber slice, because, without alcohol, visuals are important.

I tried this drink with both of my simple syrups, and the juniper one seemed best. It gave the drink more character and complexity. Most of the mock-tail recipes I encountered seemed much too sweet to the point of being—dare I use the word again?—cloying.

This one was sweet as well, and I tried it with tonic water and without simple syrup (a little better), but, still, something seemed to missing. I finally decided it was gin.

Jonathan’s Part:

jbm2David and I will disagree about this. I have never understood tofu. The whole purpose, in my view, is to eat a meal that is ordinarily and properly prepared with meat without that essential ingredient. The tofu is just a substitute because the person eating the meal does not eat meat, not because anyone likes tofu. I am prejudiced but would be willing to bet that they would like the dish better if it were prepared the way intended.

Okay, now that I have irritated most vegetarians we need to talk about mock-tails. The whole purpose with them is to create a drink with everything but the alcohol, yet there is no tofu to substitute. Many of the best cocktails have a bitter or contrasting element that comes from the spirits or a dash of alcohol based bitters. There just doesn’t seem to be a good tofu/substitute for those elements.

jbm1That is not to say I don’t understand a usefulness for the alcohol-less drinks. Any mock-tail google search will lead to results that start with ideas for drinks for pregnant women, which is a worthy reason. Right behind that are the “my kid wants to drink what I do and a Manhattan just doesn’t seem right in a sippy cup” explanations. That doesn’t quite rate with pregnancy as a reason for mock-tails but okay. There are a few other explanations right down to page seven of the search which would probably lists drinks for ice road truckers who want a little pop yet they can’t afford the buzz right before sliding down treacherous highways.

I did find a couple of recipes that seemed worth a try though. The first was an Italian Cream Soda. It qualified for this blog if for no other reason than it required cooking up a fruit based syrup complete with straining. That syrup is combined with sparkling mineral water, then ice and finally a small pour of cream. It is beautiful, adaptable since many fruits can be used and quite tasty. Is it a cocktail? No, not really.

The second mock-tail also followed a theme that we know oh so well. The Juicy Julep uses three freshly squeezed, and/or strained, fruit juices. I had just established enough amnesia about juicing a pineapple to try it.
1 measure fresh pineapple juice (I used 1.5 ounce for the measure)
1 measure fresh orange juice
1 measure fresh lime juice
Roughly 2 measures ginger ale
Teaspoon crushed mint
Mint, pineapple, lime or whatever for garnish
Mix juices and mint, add ice, top with ginger ale and garnish

This one had some contrast and I think a little fresh ginger root crushed with the mint might have elevated it to the contrasting spice and sweet of a real cocktail. With the garnish, it even looked like a real cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: I liked the Juicy Julep especially after I threw in a shot of rum.

David’s take: #fail

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

The mock-tail being part of the no-alcohol January resolutions, I should reveal one of my resolutions. I am trying to pare down the liquor cabinet. It is made more difficult by needing certain things for the blog and not drinking any of the liquor except when we are experimenting with a new cocktail. That said, my goal has been, with the help of friends and neighbors, to finish off bottles and only replace them with a classic or local example of that spirit. That way three types of vodka should become one and all that gin should eventually be single bottles of the most classic categories. The other way to reduce is to use up some of the oddities like Pisco. While the Pisco Sour is the classic, the Chilcano is an intriguing alternative. Not sure I can make enough to finish off the Pisco but at least it will be progress.

Food With Liquor

jbm-popcornProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s David’s Entry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time (Proposed by David):

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

Spiked Pear Cider

img_1799Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Thanks to this cocktail blog, our history with good and bad holiday drinks is well-chronicled. I won’t return to Tom and Jerrys—ever—and the French 75—though it remains my favorite champagne drink. The time has come to move on, say goodbye to 2016, thankfully, and try something new.

As I mentioned last time, a Google search for “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails” turns up choices like Peppermint Martini, Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate, and other drinks rejected for being too sweet, too thick, too complicated, too unnatural, and/or too Seussian. Mostly they were too frou-frou. Though I’m not Fezziwig or the most uproarious holiday party guest, I’m no Scrooge. I try to keep my bah-humbugs to a minimum and keep the season well, but, sometimes, when I look at a Yummly page quilted with coupes of technicolor libations on elaborate tablescapes created for this time of year, I cry a little inside. Does it have to be such a big deal, really?

Plus, while I’m showing off my decision tree, let me confess that I try to consider friendly fire in choosing cocktails—the people around my brother and me, mostly our wives, who will have to share these drinks with us. During this season or any other, I’ve learned to reject the purely alcoholic combinations and know that the most welcome ingredients may be juice and some prominent liqueur we already have. That’s why I thought of Spiked Pear Cider. Its central ingredient is juice, not alcohol—it’s not at all boozy—and it’s both warm and a little fizzy.

  •  4 c. sparkling pear or apple cider
  • 3 c. pear juice
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 5 whole cloves
  • ½ c. brandy
  • 3 tbsp. orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
  • 1 Seckel pear

The preparation may seem a little complicated, but it isn’t. Just bring 3 cups of the sparkling cider, the spices, vanilla bean (I used a few drops of extract), and the 3 cups of pear juice (I recommend Jumex in a can. Bring that to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer it for 7 minutes. Stir in the brandy and orange liqueur after that. The recipe says to strain the liquid into a pitcher, but we skipped that part. We also halved the recipe. Top it with more sparkling pear cider and garnish.

Though we’re currently suffering a polar vortex here in Chicago, this winter has otherwise been warm, and I don’t think the hot part of this cocktail is all that essential. In fact, I could see returning to this recipe in June, maybe with a little iced tea added. My inner Thoreau wants to urge simplicity, simplicity, simplicity and doing what seems easiest and most comfortable during this harried time. Just enjoy yourself and each other, no extra assembly required.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

daisyOh those hazy, crazy, lazy days of late Autumn. First, we had the drink as a punch on Thanksgiving Day and now it will soon be Christmas and I am just writing the review. Hazy memory. I wish I could blame that on important things going on but it is really just a jumble of work, events, then some utility construction that has destroyed swaths of our yard and sent me to customer service purgatory on numerous occasions. The next time I call Time Warner will be the official edge of crazy. Finally, the picture that is included is my best illustration of lazy. As in, hey-dummy-you-forgot-to-take-a-picture-of-the-drink lazy.

This is the type of proposal that I love. David came up with a cocktail that could be made in advance (mostly), added a wonderful fragrance to the kitchen and served a group. It was the perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving so that is how it was served.

There were a few small changes that I made to the recipe. The most important was that I served it cold. That allowed us to make the base, with another slight change by using bourbon soaked vanilla bean pods, in advance and then top with chilled sparkling cider with each serving. The final change was that I used an apple/pear brandy that I had left from a Calvados drink we made earlier.

This punch is a mix of subtleties. The base has a background taste that just hints at the vanilla and cloves. In the same way, the pear and apple meld with neither being dominant. And unlike the many cocktails we have enjoyed with bubbly, the effervescence of the sparkling cider is muted by adding most of it during the mulling process. It could be my predilection for champagne drinks but I think it would be worth trying this with all the sparkling cider added to the base and then substituting sparkling wine for the topper. Especially if you drink this cold.

Jonathan’s Take: This is a Fall drink – subtle, quiet and simple like a day of drifting leaves.

David’s Take: If we do ever have a holiday party, I’ll serve this.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

We’ve gone so long between entries that another holiday is upon us. It is that time when we enjoy more confections, and food in general, than we do throughout the rest of the year. It is also the time for odd foods such as fruitcake which is rendered edible only through a thorough soaking in booze. We’re going to take a slight break from cocktails and try some foods that are enhanced or dominated by spirits. That can include candies, sides and main dishes as long as there is a liquor component.

Local Micro-Distilleries

img_0292Proposed By: Jonathan

Pursued By: David

Bigger is better, right? In the world of spirits one could think that must be the case. Name a well-known liquor or liqueur and it is probably owned by one of the ten largest conglomerates of all things alcoholic. The biggest of the big is Diageo. Their collection includes scotches like Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff in the vodka category and Baileys for a smooth liqueur touch. Throw in Guinness and a very long list of others and they are a one stop company.

There are plenty of others like them. Pernod Ricard is number two, Beam Suntory three and the most well-known name in rum, Bacardi, four. Bacardi doesn’t just limit themselves to rum though. Their varied stable includes Grey Goose, Dewars, Bombay and even the liqueur with one of the best marketing stories  – St. Germain.

The point is not that bigger is worse. These are well established brands that are using the recipes that made them popular, and they have to stick to industry requirements. Scotch, bourbon, and tequila as categories all include deep ownership from these large companies, but they still have to meet the laws that define that spirit.

The idea with the current proposal was to try something local in a classic or inventive cocktail. David was to use spirits found in and around Chicago and I have used some found in the Charlotte region.

It is actually an easy challenge that is getting easier. Two years ago North Carolina had around 30 micro distilleries. Today, the trail includes over 40 stops. Those spirits are heavy on moonshine but include a number of other liquors. The moonshine is understandable to anyone who has ever heard the history of stock car racing in the Carolinas. Early racers honed their craft of making race cars from publicly available vehicles (stock) in order to out run authorities when hauling illegal hooch. Of course, moonshine is really just raw unaged liquor and if you are going to start a distillery that is a good way to get started. The growing maturity of the industry is beginning to show with those white liquors being flavored (gin), aged (all sorts of whiskeys), and crafted (aged gin, brandy, sweet potato vodka and the like).

I made two cocktails but only tasted one of them. The first was a classic of sorts using single malt whiskey called The Modern Cocktail:

1.5 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon bar sugar
1.5 ounce Rua (Great Wagon Distilling) single malt
1.5 ounce Sloe Gin
Dash Absinthe
Dash orange bitters

Mix lemon juice and sugar in shaker, add ice and all other ingredients, shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with cherry.

The second was a suggestion included on the web site of the distillery called the Maple Cooler. Oddly, Muddy River Distillery is one of the few I found that offered unique ideas for their spirits.

3 dashes bitters
1.5 ounce Queen Charlotte’s Carolina Rum
1.5 ounce fresh orange juice
.5 ounce maple syrup
1 ounce club soda

Mix everything but soda in a shaker with ice, shake, strain into an old fashioned glass with ice and top with soda. Garnish with orange peel.

The Scotch drinkers that tried the Modern seemed to like it. Maybe even enough to have another before going back to Scotch on the rocks. I forgot to taste it myself but I did try the Maple Cooler. It was a nice crossover drink that people who like a little sweet, interestingly maple syrup sweet in this case, and those that like a non-sweet drink cocktail could agree on. It is a very nice use of the more complex spirit that Muddy River offers.

A few more things: I wanted to use Southern Artisan Spirits Cardinal Barrel Rested Gin in a drink. I did that back when we made gin and tonic variations, however, and decided not to repeat in a part as punishment  for them for not keeping their web site up to date. Al Gore invented the web to advertise craft spirits didn’t he? Carolina Distillery makes an apple brandy perfect for the Fall season. At our last tailgate a number of guests enjoyed a drink that was equal parts of that brandy, Barritt’s ginger beer and fresh apple cider. Made a bunch but never tasted those either.

David’s Entry:

img_1777Some believe cocktails are a waste of good spirits. If the bourbon, scotch, gin, or even vodka is good enough, they say, why adulterate it? That perspective certainly seems crucial to micro-distilleries hoping to attract connoisseurs willing to pay for the extra costs of small-scale production. Like many boutique-styled markets catering to those in the know, the process sometimes matters as much as the product.

Like Charlotte, Chicago seems to have a new micro-distillery popping up each week. For this post, however, I chose Koval, one of the first and the first distillery founded in Chicago since the mid-nineteenth century… if you don’t count prohibition bootleggers. Their website describes a “grain-to bottle mentality” that includes locally-sourced organic ingredients, milling and mashing on-site, and signature packaging and bottling. You’re as likely to encounter Koval at a Lincoln Park farmers’ market as at your neighborhood liquor store. They mean to establish themselves as a Chicago thing, and their marketing, though quiet, has been quite effective. Their product is also much respected. Since its founding eight years ago, Koval has won many gold, silver, and bronze medals at international whisky competitions.

The website points out that, in many Eastern European languages, “Koval” means “blacksmith,” but they prefer the Yiddish word for “black sheep, or someone who forges ahead or does something new or out of the ordinary.” I’ve tried a number of Koval products (they also make imaginative liqueurs), but for this post I’ll talk about their Rye Whiskey. Their rye is unusual because it’s made from 100% rye, but that’s not why I chose it. Rye is a spirit I may possibly maybe might know somewhat well enough to judge. Truth is, all those unadulterators have me at a distinct disadvantage—my palate has never been so advanced that I can speak confidently about what anything tastes like.

And I always sound ridiculous when I pretend I understand how to describe spirits. But here goes: people who know rye might expect spiciness and little of the mellow or corn-y warmth of bourbon, and this rye doesn’t have that sort of body either. But Koval’s approach isn’t to make a spicy rye. Theirs is clean and crisp—more white than brown sugar—and has a bright, light, and unusual quality. If you’re thinking about rye bread when you have a sip, you’re going to be surprised… this isn’t that.

Not that this isn’t good for sipping. Wine Enthusiast gives it a 91 and says, “This rye has aromas of vanilla and coconut. A faint sweetness shows on the palate, with initial notes of coconut and almond, while the finish is gently spiced and drying.”

And to that, I say, “Yeah, what they said.”

As this proposal asked, I also tried this rye in a classic cocktail, the De La Louisiane, which you loyal readers may remember is equal parts rye, red vermouth, and maraschino liqueur (with Peychaud Bitters in an absinthe-washed coupe). I figured that would give me the plainest picture of how Koval might stand up to other ingredients, and I was right. To be honest, however, the Koval nearly disappeared, which made me wonder whether it’s too refined for mixing.

Or maybe it’s just too refined for me. The expense of most micro-distillery offerings means they aren’t likely to supply my usual bourbon, rye, scotch, gin, or vodka. It’d be nice if local micro-distilleries could compete with multi-nationals on price, but alas and of course not. They’re a nice treat, yet remind me that, when it comes to boutique spirits, I’m just not worthy.

Jonathan’s take: I understand global companies but it sure is nice to support creative people making local product.

David’s Take: Like Jonathan, I support local commerce and spirituous ambition… though Old Overholt is probably too good for me.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

So, it’s that time of year again, and I googled “Unconventional Holiday Cocktails.” Disappointingly, many of the old stand-bys turned up (Mulled Wine, Eggnog, Hot Buttered Rum) as did many wretchedly sweet drinks (Peppermint “Martinis” and Spiced Coconut Hot White Chocolate). Finally, I discovered something that might be warm enough and light enough to enhance rather than drown the good cheer, Spiked Pear Cider.

Nice and Sloe

sloedmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Google “Sloe Gin Cocktails,” and you’ll receive a list of drinks with naughty names I won’t repeat. Nice and Sloe, in comparison, is the mildest innuendo to match this mild use of this unconventional, once forgotten spirit.

Sloe gin contains gin, but its singular ingredient is a wild British berry that, apparently, no one with any sense would eat. I’ve never tasted one, so I can’t say whether they are as terrible as accounts claim. But I read a British site that described them as “astringent, “bitter,” and, in a what I take as a typically understated British disdain, “generally unpleasant.”

Yet, there they are in bottle, made into gin according to a process that resembles a masonic rite. You pick ripe sloes immediately after the first frost (about now, late October to early November) and prick them with thorns from the sloe bush itself… or you can prick it with a metal fork, as long as it isn’t silver. Then you steep it for three months in regular gin in a dark place, making sure to… that’s enough. I suppose sloe gin is not the most complicated spirit (because it doesn’t have to go over the equator twice) but, like lobster, you have to wonder who thought of ingesting it first. Must be the months pickled in alcohol.

And, actually, sloe gin is sweet, sort of plummy and fairly bright, like a bitter cherry brandy with a whiff of lemon. For a time, people had to make sloe gin on their own, and the most popular sloe gin drink, a Sloe Gin Fizz, was consigned to black and white movies. Now sloe gin is in a liquor store and a double-entendre near you.

The recipe for the Nice and Sloe doesn’t star sloe gin, but there’s enough in the drink to make a difference:

5 to 8 mint leaves

1.5 ounces white rum

.75 ounces sloe gin

.75 lemon juice

.25 simple syrup

Add to an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake vigorously (to break up the mint) and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a mint sprig.

With sloe gin in my liquor cabinet, I may get to work experimenting. Though perhaps unusual and dated, it’s an interesting taste sure to be useful, if only to produce some bad puns yourself.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

sloejmMost of us have some gustatory kryptonite. That food or drink that can make us queasy, or at least immediately adverse, at mere mention. Sloe gin seems to fall into that category for a number of folks.

The food kryptonite list varies greatly from the specific to the general. For me, it’s Chex mix. That is the odd cereal, peanuts and spice mix that people often put together at holidays. I suppose it goes back to a Christmas season when I was a graduate student. I was training to run a marathon with David and my buddy Willard. There was little to eat in the house and my appetite was unending with all the training. Next thing I knew, I had overdosed on Chex mix and to this day I can eat little more than a handful at a time.

Other people feel that way about a more general type or whole groups of food. I know folks who loved oysters until they ate that one that was too big, too raw, too slimy or simply an oyster. There are others who exclude seafood completely. It’s the smell, the look or the concept that bothers them. Maybe they are just opposed to eating things that swim but the smell alone sends them running.

The list of kryptonite beverages, specifically alcoholic, almost always traces back to overindulgence. We have heard of people who swear off beer after a night of one, or twelve, too many – to a person they seem to come back though. Tequila is commonly anathema. I suspect that it is as much about what kind and how they drank it as it is about amount. No matter how it happened though there is typically no convincing these antis to change their mind.

My wife is one of those who cringe at the thought at of sloe gin. Just like others who feel the same, it started with a poor man’s version of the sloe gin fizz. There are sloe gin liqueurs that substitute for the real thing and that probably has a lot to do with it. They are usually low priced, artificially flavored and probably have more than a few odd by products included. Add in the middling level of alcohol, low enough to enjoy more than one and high enough to rue too many, and the cheap fizz is a recipe for regret. I should note, to protect my well-being, that she was much younger and a neophyte drinker when her sloe gin aversion began.

Oddly, the key to this cocktail is not the sloe gin it’s the rum. The recipe calls for a dry rum (not sure I had ever heard of such a thing) which is probably to make it less dominant and the drink less sweet. I used a rum from Charleston which is great on its own and works well in most cocktails but in this drink it overpowered the gin. The rum added too much sweet especially combined with the simple syrup so I should have tried a version without the syrup. What I could taste of the sloe gin was interesting. I purposely sought out an English version for authenticity and I’m looking forward to another drink where it is featured. Maybe, just maybe, I can talk my wife into a kryptonite fizz.

Jonathan’s take: There’s no aversion to this drink, I just think I need to do a better job making it.

David’s take: The sloe gin, lemon, and mint play nicely with the rum—an odd collection, maybe, but an amiable party.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

I’m not sure if there is a saturation of microbreweries, folks who are more interested in craft spirits, or both, but there is a proliferation of micro-distilleries. I have used local (defined in this case as North Carolina and adjoining states) liquors in many of the cocktails we have made. A large part of that is to avoid the huge conglomerates that dominate the spirit market, but it is also to support alcohol artisans. The proposal is to try a cocktail, or two, made with local spirits. A short amount of research has already shown that most makers offer a number of cocktail ideas for that very purpose.