La Paloma

palomajbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

Paloma, La Paloma, the Dove or as one odd reference suggested Paloma Tequila. This is a cocktail I chose, in part, for its increasing popularity and many variations. It has those. What it needs is a name on which everyone can agree. For our purposes, and for history as you will read, I like La Paloma.

The link in the last blog post proposal takes you to a Feast Magazine write up that includes history for the cocktail and a couple of different recipes. That means readers should know the history, or does it? They write that the cocktail traces back to the town of Tequila in the Jalisco state. The bartender who can claim it was Don Javier Delgado Corona. Quibblers would want say that it is such a basic drink, essentially in the family of the Tom Collins, that there were probably many versions created in many places. Even the name is linked to questions about where it came from with the suggestion that it might be as old as an 1860’s folk song called “La Paloma.”

The recipes are fairly consistent with simple versions using grapefruit soda and others using fresh grapefruit juice.

2 ounces blanco tequila
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
Grapefruit soda

Mix the first three ingredients, add soda (4-6 ounces) and ice. Garnish with lime, grapefruit or nothing.

2 ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
.5 ounce fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon agave syrup or simple syrup
Club soda

Mix everything but the soda, then add that and ice. Garnish away.

There are recipes that say salt the rim of the glass instead of adding it to the drink. If you choose to use grapefruit soda expect lots of recommendations. The sodas list includes Fresca (it’s lighter but don’t do it), Jarritos (you’ll need a Mexican market), Squirt, Izze, or Whole Foods Italian grapefruit soda. Those are just some of the options.

There were lots of tasters so I made versions with blanco tequila, reposado tequila, Fresca (which is why I know not to use it), Squirt and Izze. A half ounce of lime didn’t seem like enough so there was probably more in each cocktail too. I didn’t make the fresh grapefruit version but if I was to make this a regular drink I think the combination of fresh juice and agave syrup could be just right. It would really be the Tom Collins of Jalisco then.

Here’s David’s Review:

palomadmWhen I mentioned to a friend that Jonathan and I were trying a Paloma for the next blog post, she said, “Isn’t that a sort of Margarita?” Certainly, some connections suggest so—tequila, for one, and also lime and salt. If you like your margaritas exotically flavored—prickly pear, anyone?—the grapefruit isn’t any serious adulteration. Blending grapefruit juice, agave syrup, lime, tequila, and ice with a machine… you might call that a margarita.

Yet, here’s a case where differences matter. I like margaritas, but I like this drink better. For one thing, preparing it does not require electricity. It’s shaken. Plus, though the Paloma has the sweet and sour (and salty) mix of a margarita, it doesn’t start, as many margaritas do, with a frozen mix that renders it an adult Icee. This cocktail did not seem nearly as sweet—grapefruit soda means you can skip the agave syrup—and, more tequila-forward, it presented itself as more than a way to hide spirit. A Paloma isn’t dessert. It feels… sophisticated.

Maybe this drink is the branch of the mixology tree margaritas ought to have followed.

In our experiment, we tried some variations Jonathan didn’t, choosing mezcal as the tequila and even substituting half the mezcal for gin in one version. Everything we tried was satisfying, but the mezcal added the most. Between sweet, sour, the salty, bitter, and smoky the Paloma seemed one of the most complex cocktails we’ve tried. The addition of botanical complexity of gin was perhaps a step too far, but why not test the envelop? The result was interesting, suggesting the range a basic recipe can cover when swaping one element for another.

Recently I wandered into a music review online. I don’t read them generally because they feature so many descriptors I barely understand. One I do understand, though, and one of my favorites, is the prefix “proto,” which I take to mean before what we have now, the more basic past some present relies upon. The Paloma felt like a proto-cocktail to me, a combination evolution can work with.

Jonathan’s take: You want summer? You deserve summer and this drink is it.

David’s Take: One of my favorites, in all its variations.

Next Time (Proposed By David):

Most cities likely have a cocktail column by now, a few paragraphs buried in the home section or weekly magazine. They can’t hide from me, and last week’s Chicago Tribune included an article that intrigued me—“Cocktails With Equal Parts Are Easy, Yet Sophisticated.” For next time, I’m inviting Jonathan to join me in inventing an equal portion cocktail. No specific ingredients, no history we’re beholden to, no famous and magical mixologist—just equal ingredients.

The Blinker

Proposed By: DavidBlinkerDBM

Reviewed By: Jonathan

It’s “Spring” break here in Chicago, but the quotation marks refuse to come off—only a few hours last week crested 60 degrees, and, though some trees are thinking about budding, most of the landscape remains gray. Yet, when I get back to work, I’ll no doubt encounter the tanned faces of all those people who escaped the city for Florida or other warm climes.

At least we have grapefruit from those places.

This week’s cocktail, the Blinker, features citrus in a wishful way. On some sites, it’s described as a “winter citrus cocktail,” and that label fits the way Chicagoans consume grapefruits this time of year. Though Americans have become accustomed to getting any fruit we want any time of year, grapefruit remain a popular winter treat here. Organizations still sell boxes or bags of grapefruit to raise money. People occasionally give prodigious amounts of citrus as thank you gifts to distribute among officemates.

The Blinker dates back to times when a winter grapefruit was probably more exotic. Though the exact origins of the drink recede into the fog of history, the recipe emerges in Patrick Gavin Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual, published in 1934, and Ted Haigh (or Dr. Cocktail) renovated it for his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails in 2004. The original recipe called for grenadine, but his version uses raspberry syrup or raspberry preserves. Here’s the iteration that appears in my source, The PDT Cocktail Book:

2 oz. Rye Whiskey

1 oz. Grapefruit Juice

.25 oz. Simple Syrup

1 barspoon Raspberry Preserves

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

What makes the Blinker a winter cocktail is the rye, which, besides lending a spicy backdrop to the citrus, makes the drink more robust than gin would. However, you could try this cocktail—as my wife and I did—with gin as well. The result is more botanical than robust (and probably has a different name I didn’t discover) but the gin version highlights the grapefruit nicely. The raspberry certainly adds to both rye and gin, but using gin makes grapefruit the star.

The recipe I used didn’t call for a garnish, but what fun is that? I added a twist of grapefruit peel I’d rubbed on the edge of the coupe. One recipe online said not to use ruby red grapefruits, but we did. The color was gorgeous. Besides, Jonathan and I used to eat a lot of Texas ruby reds. Our older brother achieved almost factory efficiency cutting and dispatching them. The smell of a grapefruit peel still provokes powerful nostalgia for me and makes me long for short-sleeve shirts… or at least no coat heavier than a windbreaker.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

blinker.jbmClassics have usually stuck around for good reasons in particular because they taste good. But what about a classic that disappears, gets dusted off and then comes back with a slightly different identity?

David sent me a link for the Blinker which like most references credit Ted Haigh with its resurgence. I have Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails so I turned to that as a primary source. The part that intrigued me was that it was originally made with grenadine, one of my favorites, yet Haigh changed it up to add raspberry syrup. It is also interesting that the current recipes for this cocktail all use the raspberry but with little consistency in the type specified. Oh the quandary of mixology – what kind of raspberry syrup should I use or dare I break ranks and make it with grenadine?

Well, who am I to question Ted Haigh? I went with raspberry syrup. I made my own simple syrup with fresh raspberries. Once that had simmered a little to thicken, I let it cool, strained it and added a little vanilla vodka (there has been little use for that in my liquor cabinet) to stabilize it.

The final proportions, which I am curious to compare to David’s, were two ounces rye, one ounce fresh grapefruit, and two teaspoons raspberry syrup. The classic did not fail. Rye stands out but the full ounce of grapefruit provided a counterbalance. The raspberry was a little lost except for color and sweetness. I think a thicker and sweeter syrup might have worked better and given the drink more body. This seems to be a drink that is meant to be about the rye, though, and I am good with that.

Jonathan’s take: Still wonder what the grenadine did to get jettisoned.

David’s take: I like rye. I like grapefruit. Together? The jury is still out.

Next Time (Proposed By Jonathan):

There are so many quality tequilas and mezcals available, which we have written about before, and I keep trying to find cocktails that highlight them. Searching for that brings up a drink that seems to be slowly pushing the Margarita back – the Paloma. My guess is that the resurgent cocktail movement has deemed the Margarita pedestrian while the Paloma is a less known, just as malleable for crafting new versions and well suited to warm weather refreshment. Or maybe I hope all of those things.

Salty Dog

Salty DogProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

My daughter tells me that grapefruit juice increases the potency of alcohol. I can’t find any proof of that online, but I did run into how scientists originally stumbled on grapefruit juice’s affect on many (and I mean many) other drugs. Researchers testing alcohol’s interaction with drugs used grapefruit juice because, of all fruit juices, it hides alcohol’s taste best. Eureka, lo and behold, they discovered their flavoring agent interacted more.

It all has to do with the hepatic and intestinal enzyme cytochrome P450 isoform CYP3A4, of course.

I, naturally, am more interested in the other part of the story, that grapefruit juice is an effective vehicle for spirits… if you define “effective” as masking its taste. That may be so, but we’ve tried grapefruit based drinks before on this blog (Toast of the Town, The Hemingway Daiquiri), and I’ve only noticed that grapefruit juice tastes good.

The Salty Dog is another version of the Greyhound, which is simply ice, grapefruit juice, and vodka or gin. That cocktail first appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. He, however, just gets credit for naming the drink, as he refers to it as “a variation of the Grapefruit Cocktail.” Later, Harper’s Magazine attached that name to the bus line, describing it, apparently, as the favorite libation of people who hang out in bus terminal restaurants. Who knew?

And who knows why someone thought to add salt to the rim of the glass, but, as with a margarita, the salinity may be an effort to balance the sweetness of the juice. Personally, I thought it’d be fun to try another sweet and salty drink.

As I mentioned in proposing this drink, I like gin (like my brother), but many of the recipes for the Salty Dog call for vodka instead. I tried one with each spirit. Apparently many of the older recipes now using vodka—especially ones containing juice—originally called for gin and, as with this recipe, the gin botanicals echo the grapefruit. Some gin preparations, after all, include dried grapefruit peel.

The recipe is quite simple. This version makes two:

Coarse kosher salt

Ice cubes

1/2 cup vodka or gin

3/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice

Pour coarse salt onto small plate. Moisten rims of 2 highball glasses. Gently dip rims into salt to coat lightly. Fill glasses with ice cubes. Pour 1/4 cup vodka over ice in each glass. Divide grapefruit juice between glasses and serve.

I prefer to believe grapefruit juice enhances the gin’s flavor but perhaps I’m deceived. I’ll let my brother decide.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0033We have pulled back the curtain a couple of times so the following is no surprise, but is important to my review. David and I rarely communicate about what we are going to write. The roles are well defined—one proposes then introduces, the other reviews typically with some context. My role this week was to try the drink and provide my impression.

Sometimes our write-up has eerie similarity. For instance, in the Moving Sale entry we both, separately, identified three liqueurs as dispensable. The fact that they were the same three could be a coincidence, a statement about those liqueurs, or genetics. I choose the latter, but you can take your pick.

All of this is important because there is a chance that his write up and my review may overlap again this week. I cannot read about, think about or do anything with this drink without starting to hum “…let me be your salty dog” from the Salty Dog Blues. It has nothing to do with the drink, it is simply an association with the name.

The funny thing about the Salty Dog Blues is that there is as much debate about what “salty dog” means as there is about cocktail origins. Some sources use the name just as you would “old salt” to refer to an experienced sailor, but most provide a sexual context similar to “back door man” which is an illicit lover. That is more amusing when you consider that my other association with the song is the Andy Griffith Show and the fictional Darlings (the real life bluegrass group The Dillards with some added actors like Denver Pyle). The Darlings would show up in Mayberry, along with Ernest T. Bass typically, and Andy would end up jamming with them. And if you don’t think Andy was really playing, you don’t know that old Ange. Please take the time to pull up Salty Dog Blues on youtube so you can watch The Darlings and Andy. There is also a Flogging Molly song called Salty Dog which is excellent, but has more to do with pirates, and probably more in common with this drink. Pull that one up too.

I tried a couple of different mixes using the gins shown in my picture. And as an aside, I am trying to get an underwriter for this blog and our purchases even if Cardinal Gin is coincidentally a fantastic choice for the cocktail. Both used 2:1 grapefruit to gin, but one was fresh squeezed fruit and white gin and the other bottled, and sweeter, grapefruit juice with barrel rested gin. The former was fresh and very good but also tart to the point that one was plenty. The latter was closer to a Screwdriver with a little more sweetness and depth thanks to the flavorful gin. If I was going to drink more than one the latter would be the choice.

Jonathan’s take: Denver Pyle always got the Darlings song started. His intro for the Salty Dog Blues goes great with this drink: “That’s her. Just jump in and hang on!”

David’s Take: Pleasant. The salt gets to be a little much, though. In the end, I found myself avoiding the salty rim rather than seeking it.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have a surprise for blog readers, and I won’t reveal it yet. I will say that the drink will be made with an Amer Picon that David has concocted. Not sure on what the specific cocktail will be, or what they will be, but I am sure that the pictures will be good.

The Toast of the Town

Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Toast3The proposal last week noted that we have not tried a cocktail with Scotch. There are classic cocktails like the Rob Roy or Blood and Sand, but don’t seem to be nearly as many variations with Scotch as there are with other whisky (or whiskey). On the other hand, Scotch whisky can vary by being single malt, single grain, blended and all of that with different distilleries by region. The single malt is simply water and malted barley, while the single grain, oddly, can use other grains but is made at a single distillery. The blends make this more complex by blending more than one single malt, more than one single grain, or single malt with single grain.

Once a neophyte grasps that, and the taste variations that come along with it, there are the recognized regions and the differences that brings. The regions are Speyside, Cambeltown, Islay, Lowland and the Highlands. One of the things I find most peculiar is that while Scotland may be an island itself, it has small islands on which they make Scotch. That seems like a region too, but those are included in the Highlands region. Islands are highlands? Of course they are.

Not complicated enough yet? Scotch must be aged in oak casks for at least 3 years to meet requirements but can be, and is, aged much longer to mellow, smooth and increase the complexity of taste. Someone could, and no doubt has, spend their lifetime taste testing all the single malts, single grains, the blends derived from them, and the aged Scotches. I know that I have few friends who would happily volunteer for that task.

The cocktail this week is a relatively new one created by Mike Ryan at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago. It is called the Talk of the Town and I found it in the e-book Speakeasy Cocktails. It uses a blended Scotch from the Famous Grouse family called Black Grouse. Black grouse is described as being smoky and smooth which was appealing as a contrast to the standard sweet and sour (citrus) that make up so many cocktails.

2 ounce Black Grouse blended Scotch

.5 ounce fresh grapefruit juiced

.5 ounce fresh lemon juice

.75 ounce honey syrup (simple syrup made with honey instead of sugar)

Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass.

In the proposal I suggested that David may want to go to Sable to try this drink. Interesting that, as David notes, it doesn’t appear on the menu any longer. Not sure this is a verdict on the cocktail, or a comment on the cocktail bar that is constantly mixing and re-mixing to find new combinations.

Here’s David’s Review:Toast 2

I’m compiling a list of bars and restaurants I’d like to visit when my brother comes to Chicago. If you were to arrive here on or around St. Patrick’s Day or the evening of some post-season game, you might think Chicagoans are all nomadic drunks, but we have some sophisticated drinkers too. We don’t all have mustaches, drink PBR, and bray about “Da Bearrs.” Just about every eatery on my list features a cocktail special to that place and—as a bonus—many serve good food.

So I was happy to visit The Sable Kitchen and Bar, one of the dim minimalist, black-furnished, in-the-know spots that seem to appear on every corner inside the loop. Perhaps you have them in your city too—this one had an eight-foot long fireplace filled with a video screen displaying flames. Because it was 1° F the night my wife and I visited, we’d have liked a real flame more, still I’m not making fun. One of the most wonderful aspects of living in Chicago is its celebration of, well, celebrations. Any excuse for a libation will do. Certainly a cold night will do.

But enough civic pride. When we arrived at The Sable, I explained we were on a mission—I might have said… “from Gawd” in that Blues Brothers way, but everyone has heard that around here so it’s understood. The cocktail menu rebuffed us. It didn’t include The Talk of the Town, but our waiter carried the recipe off, explaining their bartenders could make anything.

He returned with the drink and news—they knew the drink after all, as “The Toast of the Town,” and it had appeared on some previous incarnation of their cocktail menu. The drink I tasted, however, seemed a little cobbled together. The recipe calls for honey simple syrup, and this version seemed to have a too-generous squirt of honey in it. Too sweet and nearly hiding the Scotch, for which I’d longed.

Fortunately, he’d brought just one, and, by the time my wife’s arrived, the bartender had evolved—or changed—and I understood how this cocktail works. Though I hadn’t had the chance to try Black Grouse by itself, it’d been advertised as a peaty spirit, and the citrus and honey served to blunt, without eradicating, the somewhat leathery taste of the Scotch. Her drink was lovely, and I wanted to steal it.

We have an Islay Scotch at home. It comes from an earlier drink recipe, but we only use it now to illustrate to guests how strange and “challenging” a spirit can sometimes be. I’ve been trying to rehabilitate Scotch ever since that unfortunate evening before I participated with my fiddler college roommate in a reenactment of the Battle of the Greensboro Courthouse (don’t ask), but I’ve been unable. Now, finally, I feel I’m making progress. Why shouldn’t I like Scotch, why shouldn’t it go with citrus and honey and whatever else, why shouldn’t I join the ranks of those in Chicago and elsewhere who find Scotch the most subtle spirit, a gift of the Celtic gods?

David’s Take: Scotch purists would say any mixed drink is an unjust adulteration of the perfected moderated spirit, but, properly executed, this drink was delicious.

Jonathan’s take: The smokiness that seemed so inviting may be the drawback to this. The initial taste is blended and wonderful, but the peat lingers at the finish.

Next week (proposed by David):

Oddly, here in Chicago we’ve been having Manhattan week (of 14 days, apparently… see earlier comments about Chicago) with assorted restaurants offering their own variations. Suddenly I wondered, “How have we missed trying such a classic?” I thought it might be fun to invite Jonathan to try the traditional type—or one of those variations—while I try another version. So let’s hop Southwestern to LaGuardia and New York to try a Manhattan.

The Cinquecento

Proposed by: Davidcinquecento

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Can’t help thinking about my brother when I propose these cocktails—I worry they’re too elaborate or require too many new and strange ingredients or are simply too fussy. To be honest, my contributions have been on the baroque end of the cocktail scale.

And a little capricious. This week’s drink, the Cinquecento, came to me because a.) I was looking for a vodka drink with bitters (because those seem rather rare), b.) I like saying its name—Cheenko-chennnto— and c.) it evoked the quirky sophistication of the Fiat 500Ls now proliferating in Chicago. It also reminded me of a commercial my sister-in-law posted on facebook where a couple buying the car discovers, to their surprise, that it comes with an authentic Italian family in the back seat. A montage follows. The couple becomes Italian. I’d like to become Italian.

This cocktail isn’t that elaborate in preparation, but it requires three varieties of alcohol:

  • 1.5 oz  Vodka
  • .5 oz Bénédictine
  • .5 oz Campari
  • .75 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Garnish: Grapefruit twist

Glass: Coupe

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

The provenance of this recipe is elaborate. One of Gaz Regan’s top 101 new cocktails of 2011, it originates with Fredo Ceraso, who entered it (as the winning selection) in an “Anyone Can Be a Mixologist” contest at Louis 649 Bar in Manhattan. In Mr. Ceraso’s description he says, “This cocktail is called the Cinquecento (500 in Italian) to honor the two modifying spirits: DOM Bénédictine (celebrating its 500th anniversary) and Campari (which hails from Torino, home of the iconic Fiat Cinquecento).”

I’m learning, however, that cocktails offer a palette of colors and tastes (and even textures) that transcend the accident of their birth. This cocktail, a lovely persimmon hue, is more substantial than light. Mr. Ceraso also mentions in his write-up that grapefruit juice naturally complements Campari, and I’d agree. I’d actually never tried Campari before, but it possesses a similar sweet bitterness prominent in this cocktail. My wife, who’s made it her mission to pair these drinks with sensible snacks, supplied some salty and sharp cheddar on rye crackers. That combination seemed perfect to me, as the bitterness of this drink (at least in my version) might otherwise be too persistent. It was pretty persistent anyway.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Wow! Looking at David’s proposed drink and reading the ingredients, there were a lot of directions I thought I might be going with this review. Never thought I’d end up where I am though.

The review begins with a confession. We were tailgating before a college football game that began at 12:30 so this drink was going to be enjoyed at breakfast rather than as the aperitif that it is intended to be. The addition of grapefruit juice gave me some comfort that it might work, although that thought was countered by the fact the drink is almost all liquor/liqueur.

Some more quick background is that although I can be negative, I rarely put it in writing or take action. Angie’s List calls us to solicit reviews because we don’t provide them. Bad service at a restaurant? Your tip just went from 20% to 15% mister. Really lousy service? Okay, I’m going to show you with only 10%.

You might guess by now that I really disliked this drink. I made a couple and ended up passing them around to almost everyone at the tailgate and it wasn’t just me. The comments ranged from “tastes like something mixed up at a high school party” to “I think I’ll have something else now.” Even with the help, I couldn’t finish mine, as the combination of all the bitters made me feel like I needed to shave my tongue. To be fair, I will try it again with a juice that is sweeter than grapefruit and as an aperitif to see if anything changes. Sure hope so.

Jonathan’s take: This was a bad “wow.” Tasting overly like pure alcohol and very bitter, it’s not my drink.

David’s take: The distinctive honeyed, spicy, and bitter taste of this cocktail grew on me… but, then again, maybe that’s the alcohol talking.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The best part of this week’s drink was the color of the Campari. It made me think of Cosmopolitans, which is one of my wife’s favorite drinks. I was already leaning towards Gin as the base liquor, and I wanted to begin to use some of the ingredients we have been accumulating as part of this endeavor, so I am proposing a Campari Cosmopolitan. There are a couple of options for the recipe, and I will include both for some experimentation.