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.

Razzle Dazzle

RazzleJmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There is a grumpy old man living in my house. Children who ride their skateboards or bikes without helmets nearby know him as the man who asks them if their brains are valuable. He is the guy who screams at commentators on television about their grasp of the startlingly obvious. Shoot, it was only a few minutes ago that he went out and yelled at the deer for eating day lilies. I am trying really hard to be more positive but I am that old man and those are small examples compared to my most common areas of contempt.

A typical commute is punctuated with outbursts. Charlotte is surely not the only town where red lights are treated as suggestions but it could be one of the worst. It is a rare day when I don’t scream, to myself in the car of course, that just because you are late or lazy doesn’t mean we have to die. Folks who fly by on the main road near our neighborhood are greeted with 3 fingers on one hand and 5 on the other to remind them it is a 35 mile an hour speed limit. Many of them signal that they are only going one mile an hour over that. At least that is what I assume that finger means.

Fortunately my wife does much of the shopping. The nearest grocery to us is located in an affluent area and most of the shoppers are either residing in their own private Idaho or just don’t care about other people. I am working hard on that positivity so last weekend when we were there I was practicing Zen and the art of not committing murder. While I was silent and ignored my fellow shoppers, my wife was the one who stated out loud, in a much more cogent a way than I would have, that we had stumbled into an entire store full of people who were grocery shopping for the very first time in their lives.

The Internet is another regular source of frustration. Don’t put proper contact info, or worse don’t reply to the contact form you do put there, and it is doubtful I will ever do business with you. A slide show that won’t load instead of a simple list? Return arrow guaranteed. Don’t even get me started on sites that just don’t work – yes si.com I mean you.

Cocktails sites are among the worst. Maybe it is a law somewhere but who are they kidding by asking users to input their date of birth? A 13 year old who inexplicably wants to know how to make a Rob Roy takes about 10 seconds to supply any date that makes them 60. Some even ask what country you are accessing the site from. I would have to give up my grumpy card if I didn’t follow the rule that if the United States is at the bottom of your drop down list your site is banished to Siberia.

The link to the Razzle Dazzle violated all of this and whole bunch of grump more. The site includes the dreaded birthday input. That would be passable if I had remembered the recipe or written it down but I did not. Each time I accessed I swore it was the last time I would have a birthday. Added to that insult was a recipe that included parts rather than exact amounts. I cook and mix drinks enough that I would be fine with that but these proportions made no sense. Five parts vodka to four parts other liquid? First there is no base measurement that works with that and second that is a lot o’ vodka.

I won’t write out the recipe they supplied and will give what I used instead:

2 ounces vodka
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
8 or more blueberries
8 or more mint leaves

Muddle mint, blueberries, lime and cranberry juice. Add vodka and ice, shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with blueberry and mint leaf. It makes a beautiful if unsatisfying drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

DazzleDmI go to bars pretty much never, but with this drink I’ve been imagining sidling up the bar and drawling, “Give me the Razzle Dazzle.” Who knows what I’d get back—perhaps the bartender would break into tap dance and song or flash me some jazz hands…. or maybe deliver a deft and surprising punch to my nose.

Knowing the name of a drink rarely helps you with what’s in it. If I walked the streets of Chicago asking passers-by what’s in a Razzle Dazzle cocktail, I’m sure I’d get as many strange guesses as one of those Thanksgiving cookbooks first grade teachers assign their classes, the ones filled with surreal recipes co-authored by Dr. Frankenstein.

No Chicagoan, I bet, would say cranberry juice. There’s little that’s razzle-y or dazzle-y about cranberry juice, and in this concoction you might have trouble identifying the ingredient. Nor, if you told them about the cranberry juice, would they say “mint” because when is that a typical pairing? Then lime (because cranberry juice plus mint cry “lime”?) A passer-by might take the hint in the word “razzle” and say “raspberries,” but that, naturally, would be wrong, This drink contains blueberries… of course.

Maybe Dr. Frankenstein coauthored this recipe after all.

“Is this confluence of unlikely ingredients mellifluous?” you ask (well, maybe not in those exact words). I’m afraid the answer, for me, is a shrug. As photos convey, the Razzle Dazzle is beautiful, and the disparate flavors do, surprisingly, go together. But I’m not a vodka fan—it adds little or nothing. Plus, even if you switch out the vodka for gin or tequila, it involves muddling—which I never do without grumbling “This had better be good”—and leaves millions of blueberry seeds to sediment the drink and mint pulp to clog the shaker.

To be fair, my wife loved this drink. She may ask for another next weekend, but, unless we happen to have cranberry juice, mint, and blueberries handy, I will not ask for another. I love the name Razzle Dazzle (Razzledazzle Marshall would be a great name for a grandchild), but, as the name of a cocktail, Razzle Dazzle is a awful lot to live up to.

David’s Take: Perfectly palatable… not that memorable

Jonathan’s take: Maybe I have work to do on the positive attitude.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Having crawled over the finish line of the school year, I’m ready for summer ahead. That means it’s gin and tonic season for me, and I thought about proposing each of us make the perfect G&T next time. But that’s too simple, right? So, instead, I’m proposing we each create a gin and tonic variation. I found some suggestions, but they are only suggestions. Each of us will add a little something of our own Gin and Tonics in a (likely misguided) attempt to improve the classic… and get summer going at last.

Julep Varietals

JulepDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I went to the Kentucky Derby with our wives in the mid 80s, we parked our infield picnic blanket next to some proto-bros with a water balloon catapult. A couple of races in, they found their range and pinned a poor racing form seller inside his tin hut. An official-looking person arrived with commands to desist, but by then they were out of ammo anyway. Around three in the afternoon, they began launching their uneaten ham sandwiches instead.

People drink a lot at the Derby.

Churchill Downs’ mint juleps have a reputation for being a little watery, but I think I remember downing a few that day. And it makes me laugh when people talk about juleps as a genteel drink. At three parts bourbon to one part simple syrup, home versions can be quite strong. The idea is to sip them, allowing the ice to dilute their potency, but I enjoy them so much I seldom manage it.

A mint julep is technically a “smash,” a group of drinks defined by spirit (not necessarily bourbon), crushed ice, and macerated mint (or basil, or something leafy). The idea is to coat the glass with the oils of the leaf and lend an aromatic quality to the libation. In the classic julep, mint simple syrup is the short cut. In one of the julep alternatives I tried, “The Wild Ruffian,” (here’s a link to the recipe) the syrup is made of peach preserves, and the mint is pulverized with a muddler. That drink also called for cognac instead of bourbon, so I doubt anyone would recognize the concoction as a “julep.” Nor do I think Churchill Downs would ever serve one… or certainly not in the infield.

Another of the drinks both Jonathan and I tried was the Oaks Lily (recipe link), named for the featured race for fillies highlighting the day before the Derby. When I lived in Louisville, seeing the Oaks in the grandstands was actually affordable and accessible for commoners—no more, apparently—and the Oaks Lily is also suitably direct, relying on vodka over bourbon and cranberry and lime juices, plus a splash of triple sec, instead of simple syrup. Not a sprig of mint is to be seen anywhere, so it wouldn’t really qualify as a smash, just a way to preserve Saturday for the real julep.

As Jonathan explains below, he tried yet another julep alternative called a Bufala Negra, but, despite our experimentation, we both needed to make real juleps too. It’s not that they’re fancy—what could be plainer than 3:1 bourbon to syrup?—but they are tradition. And, if they are good enough for infielders, they are good enough for us.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JulepJMIt has been my impression that there are many places where the idea of a mint julep is met with disdain. The drink is decidedly a bourbon concoction, but if you love bourbon you don’t need, or want, the dilution and sweetening of the mint or simple syrup. If it is the latter that you like, there’s a good chance that bourbon is not your favorite. All of that is a shame because of how well the flavors go together.

Many years ago David and I had a very bad bourbon experience, and I had sworn off the stuff. A beach trip with our siblings and families helped with my gradual tolerance, and eventual embrace, of the brown liquor. Each sibling had a night when they were responsible for dinner and a cocktail and David chose to make juleps. The key to his mix was a well-crafted mint simple syrup that, to me, makes the difference in a julep. By mixing mint in the syrup, there is no need for dissolving sugar in water, muddling of mint or waiting for the inevitable melding. The two ingredients just mix with their friend crushed ice and a long sip later make for a wonderful combination.

This week was about alternatives though and we tried a couple of them. The first was a drink that was suggested in Southern Living that both David and I tried. I trust that David has provided the recipe for the Blush Lily which is the magazine’s take on the classic drink. It is a nice alternative for those who don’t like bourbon although some may find it more tart than sweet with lime and cranberry as the juices. We tried adding a splash of Blenheim ginger ale and that seemed to address that aspect as well as extend the drink.

My second alternative julep is called the Bufala Negra. I have no idea where that name came from but it is a mix of bourbon and basil with an interesting twist:

4 basil leaves
1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
½ ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounce bourbon

Muddle 3 basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and simple syrup. Add bourbon, crushed ice and stir. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.

The interesting part of this drink is how well the flavors mix. I was wary of drinking even a small amount of vinegar, but mixed with the basil and syrup it was a great match for bourbon. The end result was a less bourbon forward cocktail that still had the sweetness and herbal qualities of a classic julep.

Jonathan’s Take: The classic julep is still the best, but the Blush Lily is great for those who don’t love bourbon and the Negra is an interesting alternative for those who love variety.

David’s Take: The classic is still king, but the others are welcome variations

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I have been getting some grief about proposing the drink of Wimbledon well before the sporting event. The Pimm’s Cup is a classic drink of summer, however, and there seem to be a number of varieties that showcase different fruits. It is strawberry season all over the country and I wanted a drink that used that fruit without being a return to the sweetness and rum of tiki week.

The Cosmopolitan

Proposed by: Davidcosmodbm

Reviewed by: Jonathan

So many claims and counterclaims litter the relatively short history of the Cosmopolitan (or “Cosmo” if you’re a frequent user) that it’s hardly worth offering a history. Suffice it to say, many people thought of it… and many thought they were first.

Whatever its origins, however, the Cosmopolitan quickly became the cocktail of the moment in the 90s and is still quite popular, especially among women. One reason may be its use as the signature cocktail of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City. By the time they made the series into a film, Carrie’s friend Miranda is asking why they didn’t order them anymore. “Because,” Carrie says, “everyone else started.”

Perhaps because of Carrie Bradshaw’s endorsement, the Cosmopolitan, I’m told, is a woman’s drink. I don’t really understand why any cocktail needs to be described that way—what could be more absurd than saying a drink is more suited to men or women?

My interest in the Cosmopolitan came from the favorite drink of graduate school friends, a Cape Codder. That cocktail combines Cranberry Juice and Vodka, and whenever I visited, they’d place one in my hand around 5:15. I thought the bitterness of the juice worked well with the clean and super distilled alcohol. It was refreshing in a way screwdrivers are not because it was never too sweet or dense. The sweet and sour of citrus and the bitter of citrus peel in the Cointreau, I figured, could only add.

As it turns out, those ingredients add a great deal. Whether positively or negatively I’ll leave to Jonathan, but I didn’t feel particularly girlish drinking one.

Here’s the Recipe:

1 1/2 ounces vodka or citrus vodka

1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce cranberry juice

Orange peel for garnish

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Cosmojbm

We have flirted with the Cosmopolitan even though we had not tried it before. Sometime early in the blog, I erroneously referred to the Cosmopolitan in my proposal for a drink for the next week (either my research is faulty or David’s editing has corrected my idiocy because I couldn’t find the reference). I also stated that there is a similarity in the drink name between the Metropolitan and Cosmopolitan, even though there is no similarity in the drink.

The base of this week’s proposal is the neutral spirit vodka. There is always some criticism about vodka drinks, some deserved and some not. The deserving part, in my opinion, is when people insist on particular brands of vodka despite combining them with mixers that completely mask any taste even if there was some. The underserving part is to completely dismiss vodka because it is neutral. That lack of presence allows the other ingredients to stand out more. That is a quality accentuated in this drink.

We tried a couple of different recipes for the Cosmo. The first was true to David’s link and combined the vodka, Cointreau (I did use another brand), lime juice and cranberry juice. The benefit of the orange liqueur in this version was both body (from the brandy base) and taste. The negative was that the color was slightly off from what I expect a Cosmo to be since there is little cranberry. To adjust, I increased the cranberry in the second recipe and used Triple Sec for the orange taste. That one was lighter and more cranberry-er but lacked the depth of the first. Both benefitted greatly from fresh lime juice and probably would have from fresh cranberry if I could have figured out how to juice those little suckers.

The Cosmopolitan could be the drink that defines the negative of shelf ready mixers. Most of my experience with this cocktail has been a quick mix of one of those and vodka. The drink is easy, the look and color are right, but the taste is sugary and off. If you have ever turned your nose up at the thought of this once trendy drink, try it again with fresh ingredients. Worth it.

Jonathan’s take: The base alcohol makes a difference, but if you’re going neutral there is still hope with the right mixers.

David’s take: Though I love sweet drinks, I’d love to play with some of these proportions and try some orange bitters and less Cointreau.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

There was a time, may still be for all I know, when Jagermeister shots were very popular in bars. That was not my time. I had read recently that other liquor/liqueur producers have tried to replicate that success. One of those is Tuaca an Italian liqueur with flavors of herbs and vanilla. There is a cocktail called the Livorno that combines that liqueur with bourbon and bitters and that’s where we are going next week. I just hope I can find Tuaca.

Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria

photo-51Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

What exactly is a cocktail? Seems like an odd question after so many weeks and proposed drinks, but it is important this week. The most basic definition is that it is a spirit combined with at least two other ingredients. Other descriptions expand that and suggest that it is at least one spirit plus a bitter element and a sweet one. What is clear is that all of our proposals thus far can be considered cocktails.

The reason for exploring this idea is that the drink of the week is a Fall sangria. A number of weeks ago I figured out that I would be the proposer for Thanksgiving weekend and started thinking about something that could be made for a crowd. For most Thanksgiving meals, I have tried to find some new way to use cranberries so the proposal had to be some kind of cranberry based sangria. The final thoughts were that the drink needed to be less spirituous than some of the previous proposals and of course complement the Thanksgiving meal.

My question for David when the idea of sangria came up, though, was whether it qualified as cocktail. It includes at least two spirits, although I struggle with the idea that wine or even beer qualifies as a spirit because of the lower alcohol content, sweet and borderline bitter elements so I suppose in its own way does.

There are so many sangria recipes that it was less about choosing one than combining different ideas to create something that met all goals. It also seems that Bobby Flay, of restaurant and Food Network fame, is the creator of many of the sangria variations available in the public domain. The recipe I used is a slight variation on his Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria:

20131128_164130-1

Nothing left but the fruit!

2 bottles red wine (I used Beaujolais Noveau since it is November)
2 cups cranberry juice
1 cup applejack brandy
½ cup triple sec liqueur
Cranberry simple syrup (added a cup of cranberries to a half cup of simple syrup and simmered until they began to split)
1 cup orange juice
Sparkling pomegranate juice
Cranberries, orange slices and chopped Granny Smith apples

Combine all ingredients, except the sparkling juice, and refrigerate for at least six hours. Add the sparkling juice before serving.

It could have been the craziness of hosting Thanksgiving or the popularity of the sangria, but I forgot to take a picture until after all but the fruit was left.

I also completely understand why there are so many recipes as the concept is so basic that it lends itself to variations by wine, liquor, fruit, juices and as in this case by season. I wonder what a President’s Day sangria would be like?

Here’s David’s review:

Adam Carolla markets a product called “Mangria,” a version of Sangria that boosts the alcoholic content by adding vodka to the fruit and red wine. The assumption, I suppose, is that Sangria is a genteel drink, not suitable for the hard liquor crowd.

Though I’m no manly-man, I had similar impressions before trying this sangria. It’s a drink for parties, a nearly-punch alternative to beer and wine and, just as Jonathan said, questionably a serious cocktail. Though you can sometimes order sangria in a restaurant, it’s often a special—because they’ve made a mess o’ sangria—and no one I know makes a single serving the way they do martinis or Manhattans.

That’s too bad, based on this recipe. Besides combining some prominent seasonal flavors, like the pairing of orange and cranberry juice, this cocktail’s addition of pomegranate and some fizz made it celebratory yet fruitful, a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal. I let the sangria mix overnight as instructed by the recipe, which effectively made the parts overlap until, like many good cocktails, the ingredients became difficult to distinguish.

When Jonathan proposed this choice, I worried about the red wine, as most wine coolers or, especially mulled wine, seem too rich and not actually refreshing. I wish I’d thought of using Beaujolais as Jonathan did—I used Shiraz—as it might have made the drink even fresher, but Shiraz seems a spicy red to me and added that element without introducing the cinnamon or cloves that might have been overkill.

As I have for all recipes calling for triple sec, I used Mandarine Napoleon, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite liquor. It’s not at all overpowering and, being a little different from regular orange in flavor, I suspect it worked almost the way the orange rind on the slices did, a slightly—pleasantly—bitter undertone.

One quibble: I wish I’d had the same snazzy system of serving this drink that Jonathan did, a container with a tap at the bottom. We made ours in a pitcher, and, while it was a pretty pitcher, the cranberries kept plopping into people’s glasses. When I reached the bottom and looked at the remaining berries, I had the same thought I have every Thanksgiving. Who the hell ever thought of eating these things? I’m not sure what the fresh cranberries might contribute, as they looked exactly the way they did when I put them in. Though they decorated well, they hardly seemed necessary. If Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria becomes a Thanksgiving tradition in my house, I’ll leave the cranberries out… or substitute something actually edible.

And I’ll make more… as with Jonathan, it was gone before I even had a chance to take a decent photograph. Oh well, that may be the best recommendation of all.

David’s Take: a refreshing and celebratory addition to a wonderful meal.

x

Jonathan’s take: This will be a Thanksgiving tradition. If it’s not there will be some unhappy guests.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

I teach a Shakespeare course at school and have run into some odd drinks in my reading. One is a flip, which, though it doesn’t go by that name, has evolved over time to describe a class of drinks involving a spirit, eggs (I will use egg whites), and spirit. I haven’t decided which flip to try yet, but I’ve settled on rum as the spirit of choice.