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.

Equal Parts Cocktail

ughProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Mixologist author Kara Newman describes equal parts cocktails as, “Easy to remember but challenging to develop.” Well, I guess that depends on your standards, on both counts. If you’re just looking to balance sweet, sour, bitter, and spirit, a host of combinations will develop in interesting ways. However, if you’ve had a few of these cocktails, remembering might be harder than you imagine.

Newman’s book, Shake. Stir. Sip.: 40 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts, will come out in October. The book, she says, encourages versatility. She urges cocktailians not only to create new drinks but also to re-envision and re-proportion some favorites.

What appealed to me was simplicity. For once, I might make something I can remember when someone says, “How do you make that?

I’ve been experimenting with the equal parts cocktail for the last month or so—and sorry readers, our blog-silence is my fault, not Jonathan’s. I’ve reached important conclusions:

  • plan before you act—failing means failing entirely
  • don’t expect a single ingredient to establish itself as the star—maybe that will happen, but probably not
  • use ingredients you like by themselves
  • add some non-alcoholic elements; otherwise, the drink or it will be lethal

I made a number of these cocktails, and most I invented. I’ll offer two for your consideration—one sweet and one sour

Sam I Om (a Mimosa Variation)

one ounce each…

Gin

St Germaine

Lillet Rose

Orange Juice

Tonic

Shake the first four ingredients, add to glass and top with tonic

Whatever

one ounce each…

Lime Juice

Mezcal

Benedictine

Triple Sec

“Take a ratio that already works,” Newman suggests, “and just swap out elements one at a time until you end up with a drink you enjoy.” And maybe that’s all the advice you need to begin experimenting.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0218-2The first thought when I read David’s proposal was that I should make a sweet and a non-sweet drink. The second thought was that this idea would also allow me to re-visit the concept of layered drinks and the fascinating, to me, use of specific gravity to figure out the order of the layers. Neither thought was realized with great success.

There were all sorts of sweet and semi-sweet drinks that came to mind. I knew that I did not want to proportion a group of different alcohols which meant that I needed fruit drinks, milk products, syrups and the like to mix as a non-alcoholic portion. All of those make the drink sweet. I just could not come up with the equivalent in a savory or bitter drink although I hope on reading David’s intro that he was able to do so. The ultimate choice in this category was my version of the key lime cocktail:

1 ounce vanilla vodka
1 ounce tequila
1 ounce half and half
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce lime syrup (maybe it was cheating but I mixed key lime juice and simple syrup 50/50)

Shake everything together with ice and strain into a glass rimmed with crushed ginger snaps and garnish with a lime.

The result was an all too white, fairly sweet drink that fell well into the tiki category. Good but one was plenty.

One of the main purposes of the layered drink, besides testing specific gravity, was to use a liqueur from South Africa that seems to be gaining the popularity it deserves. Amarula is sweet cream liqueur from South Africa made from fruit derived from the marula tree. That tree is also known as the elephant tree due to the pachyderms fondness for it. Interestingly, elephants eat the fruit, bark and branches of the tree so they can be hazardous to its health except in the spread of fertilized seeds in their dung.

I made two layered drinks with amarula the first of which is called the Monk’s hood. That one, with specific gravity in parentheses is Kahlua (1.14), Frangelico (1.08) and amarula (1.05). The second one substituted white crème de cacao (1.14) for the Kahlua. The gravities are so close that separation was going to be difficult so I used chilled shot glasses, poured each liqueur over a bar spoon to introduce them delicately and chilled the drink to let them separate further. None of that worked very well but the drinks were great. As great as doing shots for a not too young person can be that is.

Jonathan’s take: I am sure that sometime this week I will wake in the middle of the night and realize a proportional drink with rye whiskey that I could have made. Then I will go back to sleep.

David’s take: Reviewing a whole class of cocktails? Clearly more empirical evidence is needed.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Vodka is not my favorite. It must not be David’s either since it is the major spirit that we use the least. The time has come, however, to try a cocktail with vodka at its core. There are plenty of classics that we could, perhaps should, try. There are also variations of those – such as the madras version of the screwdriver. It’s the beginning of blueberry season though so I am proposing the gravely named Razzle Dazzle cocktail.”

Almeria Cocktail

AlmeriaDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Almeria is a seaport in southern Spain on the Gulf of Amería, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. Having offered that fact, I’ve expended all my background knowledge of this cocktail.

I tried to find more. Wikipedia had nothing, Google was, for once, a cipher, and, search as much as I had time to search, no clue appeared in my cocktail books or favorite sites. Oddly, multiple versions of the drink appeared everywhere, but why and how? Who knows? I did find something called an Almeria Cocktail Dress, but meditating on their colors and silhouettes yielded nothing. Of course, as a history and English teacher, I’m well-aware of the chief pitfall of research, which, roughly translated, is “You can’t always get what you wa-ant.”

So, by extension, in introducing this drink that is little more than named, I guess I have to hope for what I need.

What I need is a fictional backstory. Along with the name, this cocktail suggests its origin in its base spirit. The recipe is quite rum-based—there’s the rum, if course, but also Kahlua, which combines coffee, vanilla, and rum—and collectively they speak to some bartender looking to evoke a few days spent in Almeria. I’m guessing coffee is very good there. I’m guessing the afternoons are languorous, that after a morning spent talking at the square, gathering supplies from a market and a lunch in a local café, nothing will do but a siesta, and, after that, nothing will do to counteract grogginess but something substantial (the egg) and also something jolting, the coffee. The day can’t be half-over for my bartender, he or she has most of the day’s work ahead, and there’s this signature cocktail that might have arrived in the twilight of dreaming:

2 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Kahlua
1 Egg white

Take care of the whites first. Shake them well without ice, then add ice and the other ingredients. Shake. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Okay, so this fiction I’ve invented, I admit, may come from a week spent visiting my daughter who is studying in Dublin. So many gray days left me thinking of another Irish coffee, one rooted in a sunny clime perfect for cocktails instead of the misty rain and penetrating cold right only or Guinness or maybe Smithwicks. All the time I was there, my imaginary bartender was too, head in hand, staring out the window at yet another sun-drenched (not rain drenched) day.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbm.amerThe proposal for the Almeria noted, correctly and amusingly, that the eggs in this cocktail would be greeted with some queasiness. It’s not like the use of eggs in drinks is unknown or even rare. We have tried sours and flips that used them and classic cocktails make great use of whites, yolks or both. The problem is not the idea of salmonella either. It is just the idea of going full Rocky with raw whites in a drink.

There are lots of suggestions for how to deal with this issue. Some folks suggest that the alcohol, in high enough concentration, takes care of any problem. There are others who suggest the use of powdered egg whites, pasteurized whites in a carton, or pasteurized whole eggs. I went with the latter just to see how they worked. Besides, they have a nice little “P” marked on them to let me know they are special or perhaps that their use is prudent.

I do hope David has explained where the name came from but this could easily be the breakfast cocktail. The coffee liqueur, egg and their friend rum seems like a strange twist on classic breakfast all while acting like a nightcap. The dark rum enhances the coffee flavor and the egg does what it is supposed to do – it gives the drink body and that promised mouthfeel. It is a drink that could substitute most places where one would want a nice cup of joe. Maybe not breakfast though.

This is also let me showcase my increasing skills with a cocktail shaker. I made an initial, vigorous shake without ice then added ice for another round of shaking. I bet if anyone had seen me they would have been impressed. Heck, I saw my reflection in the window and I was impressed. That should be good enough.

Jonathan’s take: I love coffee and eggs. Never thought about mixing them with dark rum and drinking it but I should have.

David’s take: Egg cocktails, I know, are unpopular, but they give a drink gravitas.

Next drink (Proposed by Jonathan):

The weather outside is frightful and the fire is so delightful. Okay, the weather is beautiful and warm here and the fire is mostly for ambience, but it is Christmas time and the perfect occasion to go back to a warm or hot drink. We have tried a few and this proposal combines some of the basics of those. It is a Hot Cider Nog that acts like an eggnog yet brings in its friend apple cider just to be different. It also has eggs, of course, which gives me another use for those prudent ones I bought this week.

The Black and Gold Cocktail

graduationThe Black and Gold Cocktail does not have a long storied history. Jerry Thomas did not create it in a fit of gold rush inspiration, there is no liqueur derived from some a long held recipe of a secret sect, no literary figure demanded one be placed in front of him as soon as he entered his favorite bar, and variations of it do not appear in hipster establishments. It seems to have been created for its color and to meet a need to match the black and gold that matches many sports teams. The one thing that does set it apart, however, is that there are not many black spirits.

The recipe for this drink calls for vodka and Goldschläger which is noted for the gold flakes that float in the clear spirit. It is quite simply two parts of a black version of the former mixed with one part of the latter. The problem with all of that starts with the black vodka. There appears to be only one type of that vodka, Blavod, and it is not being imported to the United States right now. That means that the only options are to create a black vodka (10 drops blue food coloring, 10 drops red, and 8 drops green per fifth of liquor) or to find another black liquor.

This is a good time for an aside about vodka. There seems to be a love/hate relationship with the spirit. Watch the right event or show on television and you can be assailed with commercials for vodkas to be requested by name. The funny thing is that almost all of those ads tout multiple distilations or many filters for that particular vodka which means that it is rendered almost tasteless. The reviews for Blavod note that the tree extract, black catechu, provides the unique black color but also adds a slight bitter aftertaste that detracts from the neutral spirit. Unless, of course, the taster is blindfolded and then they don’t notice anything. It is no wonder that cocktail and spirit reviewers eschew vodka and that, should trends be believed, it is going out of favor. Oh yeah, unless you count the numerous flavors that have been invented to add taste to the neutral base. In that manner it is not only not going out of favor, but is taking over the liquor stores. Anyone need a shot of pecan pie vodka for dessert?

All of this leaves the maker of the Black and Gold with decisions about the black portion. There is the make your own vodka, the slightly black chocolate vodka, the mostly black coffee vodka, and the more off course black alternatives of other spirits. Since the Goldschläger is a cinnamon schnapps, we looked for a taste to match that flavor. That choice was a coffee flavored java rum from Sea Island. Sea Island is another small batch distillery located on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina.

The resulting drink was a nice dark color, although the gold flakes of the Goldschläger were not terribly apparent, with a pleasing after dinner taste of coffee and cinnamon. It had a good balance of sweetness combined with the bitter coffee element that could have been achieved with coffee vodka, but I like to think the rum gave it a body and background that gave the cocktail a little more gravity and depth. The real purpose of this cocktail was to celebrate an event and one of those black and gold affinities. In this case my niece’s graduation and Appalachian State University. For both those purposes the drink worked well.

Here’s David’s Review:

black and goldFirst, congratulations to Lauren. It’s her graduation this recipe is meant to celebrate. That cannot go unsaid and, whether she appreciated this cocktail or not, I hope she appreciates what she’s accomplished.

I did appreciate this cocktail… and not just in comparison to the wretched blue cocktail I proposed for the last graduation we celebrated. Some months ago, during some simple syrup experimentation, I made one with Vietnamese cinnamon and used it up in no time. The heat and singularity of the flavor appeals to me, and, though I’ve never tried Fireball whiskey, I understand the appeal. I’m not sure about the flavor of gold flecks—or I should say I’m sure I didn’t taste them—and I read on Wikipedia that there’s only 13 mg of gold in a Goldschläger bottle, which means, based on today’s rate, they are worth 51 cents. Still, they’re mighty pretty when you stir them up.

As for the black in the Black and Gold cocktail, Jonathan and I had different solutions. He chose java rum and I chose the Gosling’s Black Seal rum we’d used for the Dark N’ Stormy. My rum wasn’t truly black, and I thought about making it blacker by adding food color. As you can see from my photograph, my version of black and gold was more brown than anything else. And two other blacker alternatives occurred to us, Kahlua and—going back to the beertails a couple of weeks ago—Porter. However, rather than drink another, I satisfied for brown and gold. The gold flecks were less visible than they might have been, but the mixture of the molasses overtones of the rum and the spiciness of the cinnamon seemed a good combination, gingerbread-y and festive. Of course, who knows what complexity the food color might add, but I’ll let someone with a finer palate figure that out.

Regardless of what you add to make the black of this drink, it’s for sipping. The Goldschläger is quite hot and don’t forget that this cocktail is pure alcohol. The recipe I used called it a Black and Gold Martini. The rum and the liqueur were far sweeter than a martini, but, if I had any complaint, it was the martini-like paint-thinner waft of ethyl that met you with each sip. The taste overcame it quickly… and maybe you need something neutral like vodka to cut the sweetness of the liqueur… but I can’t see drinking more than one of these.

As it happens, my college colors were also black and gold (though we always put the gold first), and I was happy to raise a glass to Lauren and hope she was celebrating her milestone and carrying as full a store of memories from her college days as I do of mine.

Jonathan’s take: Don’t look for this to appear on cocktail bar menus, but for an affinity drink you could do worse.

David’s Take: A nice warmer by the fire and appropriately fancy and celebratory.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My proposal is to make some room on my liquor shelf (because who knows what Santa might bring and I’m also uncertain my shelf can bear much more weight). As it’s winter I’m proposing an adaptation of a warm cocktail, which I’m calling Cherry Pisco Hot Chocolate. In the original recipe, the “Cherry” was “Orange,” but then my wife remembered how much Jonathan used to like chocolate covered cherries. He may be over them by now—it seems every Christmas someone (and sometimes more than one someone) gave him a box. I’m using Cherry Herring and the Pisco, however, because both need emptying more than my Grand Marnier. Jonathan can fill in the first blank any way he wants, but the hot chocolate is a requirement that, I hope, will be right for the season.

The B-52

Proposed by: JonathanB-52

Reviewed by: David

The B-52 is a shot, a layered drink, a dessert or a memory device depending on your perspective. Before addressing all of that though, where did the name come from? Is it the super bomber used by the U.S. military for well over 50 years now? The beehive hairdo whose upright form resembles the nose of that bomber? Or could it be the band formed long ago in Georgia famous for me and David because of the rock lobster?

In some way or another the name comes from them all. The B-52 is a stratofortress bomber built by Boeing since the 1950’s. It is still in use today and has become known, among many other reasons, for its easily identifiable nose structure. That structure in turn resembled a famous hairstyle that dates to 1960. The beehive hairdo has its place in history but could still be seen on musical stars, like Amy Winehouse, in the last decade. The shape of the bomber nose and the hairdo are intertwined in the name of the band that formed in Athens, Georgia in the mid 70’s. The group that became the B-52’s started with an unplanned performance that followed the sharing of flaming tiki drink. You have to love that story for the nice, neat package that creates for a drink blog. Of course all of that is if you believe one of the many creations stories for this cocktail.

The story that I am sticking with is the one that connects the drink back to the band, and from there all the way back to the bomber. In this version of creation, a bartender at the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta created the shot. Peter Fich was apparently known for naming his drink creations after his favorite bands and the mix of coffee liqueur, Irish cream and orange cognac was named for that band in Athens. Their name in turn was derived through a dream, or so the story goes, and the beehive hairdos favored by the two female lead singers. And of course the beehive hairdo was tied back to the plane and its distinctive nose structure. So in all the drink is named for a band, named for a hairdo, which looks like a bomber. Makes perfect sense.

This is layered drink whether you consume it as a shot or mix and sip. The first layer is one part Kahlua, the second is one part Irish Cream, and the final layer is one part orange cognac. There are other versions that substitute Frangelico for the orange cognac (B-51), tequila for the Irish Cream (B-52 in the desert), absinthe for the orange cognac (B-55), peppermint schnapps for the Irish cream (B-57) or amaretto for the cognac (B-54). I’m sure there are more than that, and that somehow my expanded liquor cabinet could help make them, but you get the idea.

Party stores sell cups of all sizes and thanks to the whiskey tasting from some months ago, I have a supply of 1.5 ounce cups. I mixed B-52’s, B-51’s, and B-55’s for a tasting group. The classic was by far the favorite, and brought back some fond memories (I did not press for details) for a couple of friends who were dating at the time they first enjoyed them and now fall into the happily married for longer than they care to admit category. Another nice connection.

Here’s David’s Review:

portrait3I don’t lead the sort of life that routinely—or mostly ever—includes shots. However, f you look at the B-52 as a scientific proposition, it hardly counts as serious drinking. It’s not about rushing alcohol to the brain at all. It’s about specific gravity.

My wife found an article she’d clipped from the Louisville Courier-Journal over 25 years ago that lists spirits according to their weight, so that, if you were extra careful and had a shot glass a meter tall, you might “build” a drink with nearly 100 layers of spirits.

In making my first B-52, I went with the classic recipe, but after that I tried other combinations that might cooperate with the formula. I tried a B-55 (also called a B-52 Gunship) that substituted absinthe for triple sec, and I tried adding scotch as the top layer (pictured above). My experiments were partly play, but I also hoped to find some flavor combination that, besides being aesthetically pleasing, might taste the best.

I was torn on whether to drink in layers or mix. On Thanksgiving night I tried layers. Last night, I tried stirring before I drank.

But here’s the trouble: I don’t like Baileys much…. which is to say I don’t like it at all. Cream and alcohol are an iffy mix—no liqueur should curdle, as far as I’m concerned—and to me Baileys is as opaque in flavor as it is in appearance. It’s supposed to taste like Irish Whiskey and does, but everything added makes it sickly-sweet. I know plenty of people who enjoy Irish Cream, but, for some reason, it reminds me of a Three Musketeers candy bar dissolved in alcohol. Even its smell puts me off a bit. I imagine the nightmares my mind would invent if I drank too much of the stuff… testy leprechauns and Irish step-dancing hippos.

I know, I know, it’s all a matter of taste. Someone loves every spirit. I wish I liked it, and maybe a reader can introduce me to the perfect use for Baileys. In the meantime, based on first exposure, I’m ready to give away my seven-eighths of a bottle of Baileys.

I’ll also throw in Blue Curaçao, Crème de Menthe, and Malört as a bonus. My wife finished the Campari or you could have that too. My list of abhorred cocktail ingredients is not that long, but it’s growing.

Being a fan of the ironic whimsy of the band the B-52s and a true product of the late 70’s and early 80’s, I wanted to be wowed, and it was fun to play with the various possibilities. Plus, these shots were beautiful in a nearly Seussian way and certainly different from anything else we’ve tasted. I may return to the idea of layering using the yellowed list my wife found. However, as the B in the B-52 (and its variations) must stand for “Baileys,” I’ll be looking for a B-52 without the B.

It could be I’m just not made for shots, but, as fun as the science was, I’m fine with mixing rather than building drinks.

David’s Take: More pleasing to the eye than to the palate, and, as I’ve learned over and over on this blog, taste matters most.

Jonathan’s take: Sweet story, sweet memories and sweet drink. The variations are fun though, and boy did I have folks asking for more.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Jonathan’s birthday falls on Pearl Harbor day, which is next Sunday, so I thought about proposing a Pearl Harbor cocktail… but that’s much too tropical, not at all seasonal. Instead, I thought it’d be interesting to try something with gin. Though it’s not generally seen as a winter drink either, a number of winter gin recipes online intrigued me. So I decided on a Winter Gin Sangaree. The word “Sangaree” comes from the Spanish root “sangre” or blood, which it shares with “sangria.” In the specific case of this drink, the term refers to a style combining gin and wine dating from the 1770s. For my purposes, however, this concoction is intended to honor my beloved brother, with whom I share bonds of blood and friendship… and cocktails.

Irish Eyes

Irish EyesProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

I learned recently that, among major cities, Chicago ranks third in the percentage of people who identify themselves as “Of Irish descent.” Boston and Philadelphia are ahead of us, but I’d bet my Shillelagh that, the Saturday they dye the Chicago River green, people who report being Irish jumps 1000%.

It’s an odd day to be sober, and I generally stay indoors. Venturing out means weaving between bands of luridly green revelers—shouting, laughing, and pointing at nothing I see. Trolleys roll by with loudly babbling passengers hanging out windows like rag dolls. Every bar seems packed to the walls, and the cabbies just smile all day.

These celebrants aren’t drinking Irish whiskey—at least not until their judgment’s gone—they drink green beer. This cocktail, Irish Eyes, is a little more sophisticated, and I chose it because the recipe I found compared it to a White Russian, a drink I associate with genteel settings. Plus, none of our mixed drinks have used cream or crème de menthe, and I thought we might expand our palette.

The other ingredient, as I mentioned, is Irish Whiskey, a variety of whiskey distilled three times, making it smoother and less smoky than Scotch and very different from Canadian Whiskey, Bourbon, or Rye. Irish whiskey uses a mash of cereal grains rather than specializing and, after falling from being the most popular whiskey in the U.S., it’s made a resurgence of late, so that, since 1990, it’s the fastest growing spirit in the world.

I chose Powers, and here’s why. Bushmills is older (licensed by King James in 1708) and Jamisons more well-known, but I drank Powers when I visited Ireland in 1980 on a college trip, sitting at the same table with Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon, two of my Irish poet heroes. I didn’t say much at that meeting, but I heard a lot. Though I can’t say I’ve had much Powers (or any Irish Whiskey) since then, but maybe that’s because I didn’t want to dilute such an important memory.

But enough whiskey-induced nostalgia, here’s the recipe:

Preparation:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into an old-fashioned glass.
  4. Garnish with the maraschino cherry.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure ’tis like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing
When Irish hearts are happy, all the world seems bright and gay,
And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.

The proposal this week was for a drink to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. It is certainly a much bigger celebration in Chicago than it is in Charlotte, but for that matter every city in America pales in comparison to Chicago on that front.

To help make up for that and as part of the celebration, I decided to brine (or corn in this case) a brisket to enjoy with boiled vegetables for a true holiday meal. That is a weeklong preparation that involves weaponizing pickling spices (heating and then crushing them in a sinus damaging way), and making a brine with water, salt, pink salt and sugar. All of that is mixed and the brisket soaked for the week in the solution. The vegetables are simpler since they are simply boiled in the liquid in which the brisket was simmered.

We have tried apertifs, digestifs, and drinks that go with meals. This drink was less after dinner than it is a dessert. It is also our first time using Irish whiskey. Both of those factors made it a nice follow up to the weighty, and salty, meal that preceded it. The crème de menthe was the interesting part, both in the pale green color it gives the drink and how just a small amount strongly flavors it. We did try a version with Kahlua instead of the crème de menthe and it might be my partiality to coffee, but it made an even better drink/dessert. Not for St. Patrick’s Day though, that is for the drinking of the green.

As for the chorus from Irish Eyes at the beginning? It has little to do with the review. I just thought since David had planted the tune in my brain all week, I would try to return the favor

Jonathan’s take: A nice little dessert beverage to celebrate the holiday.

David’s take: Tasted like melted mint ice cream with a kick to it… absolutely none of which was bad, actually.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):

Next Sunday is National Chip and Dip Day. It may not have the panache and acclaim of St. Patrick’s Day, nor be as important as the vernal equinox but how can we not celebrate? The day screams for a margarita and my proposal is Tyler Florence’s ultimate margarita.

Infused Vodka

20131215_163145Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The popularity of vodka is no doubt related to its neutrality. The most basic of spirits, it is almost entirely alcohol, ethanol specifically, and water. It can be made from a variety of sugars—complex or otherwise. Though potatoes may be considered the classic food to supply the ethanol after yeast digestion, the majority of vodkas are made from grains like wheat, barley, rye, corn and sorghum. Other vodkas are produced using fruits including the popular grape and even exotics such as horseradish, sugar beets and prickly pear cactus.

There are also a huge variety of brands and producers that cover the globe. It seems like there is a vodka made in every country and for that matter in every setting. Moonshine is nothing more than a homemade vodka fermented and distilled then left at higher alcohol content by skipping the “blooming” of added water. The loyalty to certain brands within that variety of producers is a wonder of marketing. Some years ago, I remember watching a magazine style news show that tested vodka brand loyalty through a blind taste test. Not surprisingly, people had difficulty identifying their brand, and, in many cases, their top choice in the taste test was not the one they ordered or bought the most often.

The idea this week was to take that neutral spirit and create unique flavors beyond those so prevalent in the market. Two of the flavors were not so much suggested as they were prescribed – vanilla/cardamom (a nod to The Splendid Table and Lynne Rosetto Kasper) and orange/chipotle. The third flavor combination was left as a wild card for each of us and the proposal included a challenge to use one of the flavored vodkas in a cocktail.

I knew that the infused vodkas I created would start with a classic vodka, but the third flavor variation was a difficult decision. I used a Polish vodka, Luksusowa, which is made with potatoes, although I need to be honest and admit there is no way I could identify it if given a blind taste test. My search for flavor ideas led me to the familiar that differed very little from what is on the mass market to the bizarre and there was no lacking for suggestions. One Pinterest site (I don’t pin myself but viewed it) I found had no less than 54 links to different ideas. The final choice was lemongrass/ginger candy.

It is a little embarrassing to admit that after all that reading, consideration, and some amount of consternation, my final cocktails did not include the wildcard choice. The classic White Russian, and a variant of it, were the cocktails of choice. The first version used 1.5 ounces each of the orange/chipotle vodka and Kahlua topped with two ounces of half and half shaken to provide a froth. A second version was much more seasonal and was a mix of 1.5 ounce parts of the vanilla/cardamom and Kahlua topped with frothed eggnog. The latter was the better of the two, but both benefited greatly from the infused flavors.

Some observations on infusing. It does not take long to impart the flavors of the additives to the vodka and bitter flavors, like the chipotle and orange, need to be monitored to make sure they don’t sit too long before straining them out. Even with the standard 40% alcohol content of vodka, it is a good idea to make sure you start with really clean vessels and to let it infuse in the refrigerator. The final product now resides in my freezer since they are flavorful enough to serve as a simple syrupy shot to party guests. As I suggested while channeling Martha, these would make nice Christmas gifts in a decorative bottle with written cocktail suggestion. Finally, I was going to use this concept to introduce the subject of classic toasts, but with David’s permission will save that for the end of this month.

gypsyHere’s David’s “Review”:

“Infused” means the alcohol picks up the flavor of whatever it contacts. How much time that take may vary, but it’s bound to happen. You could put a used gym sock in a mason jar with vodka and a transformation would occur. As Jonathan reported, the research I did online suggested so many options I had trouble choosing—there was basil-infused vodka and gummy bear-infused vodka and chai and horseradish and honeysuckle and milk and peanut butter cup and tomato…. and doughnut.

My own choice of infusion was Earl Grey and toasted marshmallows, and, within a few minutes, the marshmallows were gone and the vodka smelled and looked like tea. I’m not sure of the chemistry, but the process seems almost instant. I fretted over how long to keep the chipotle or vanilla in the jar, but a few tastes along the way told me—take out the cardamom now, take out the peppers, leave in the orange peels for a bit longer.

The choice of cocktail presented another challenge. No drink recipes call for Earl Grey infused vodka, so coming up with a good possibility required finding complementary flavors, a taste that might meld in some way. At first, I considered mixing each vodka with the same ingredient—grenadine seemed promising—but decided instead any ambitious cocktailian (not-so-saavy as he may be) wouldn’t look for so generic a solution.

I made a Gypsy cocktail, which combines a double part of vodka and a single part of Benedictine. I’ve grown fond of Benedictine during this cocktailian experiment. It appeals to me that, at any given moment, only three people know its recipe. I also like the taste, which is sweet yet herbal, complex and warm.

With Earl Grey, it was too much. The two forces fought and only a bitter stalemate remained. The marshmallow cowered behind the other flavors. The golden brown color lied—nothing mellow here, move along.

vodkasThe second Gypsy, however, delivered much more vividly. To start, cardamom and vanilla seem friendly and, combined with Benedictine, the mixture seemed amiable. I’ve said before that the best cocktails seem to hide their individual parts, and that certainly applied with Benedictine and vanilla-cardamom. Had I tried it without knowing its components, I might have had trouble guessing.

All in all, I enjoyed this process. I’m a little scared of the chipotle-orange vodka, but I intend to use it. I’m wondering now if vodka is my only choice, if some other spirit, rye perhaps, might welcome a friendly complementary flavor for infusing.

David’s take: I’m one of those people who believe vodka is one step from chemical alcohol—flavorless and potent. Infusing is one half-step more toward other spirits.

Jonathan’s take: The infusions really make me want to try making my own bitters, but for now I think I will just keep mixing what I made with eggnog.

Next Week (proposed by David):

It’s time to start the holidays in earnest, and I’m going to propose a Tom and Jerry, which isn’t named after the cartoon characters but has a much more venerable history, especially in the Midwest where it’s the favorite holiday libation instead of egg nog. Plus it’s served warm, a new adventure for us.