Grand Autumn Cocktail

-1Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

My proposal for this drink included a wish that I could enjoy the cocktail on a crisp October evening by the fire pit. I did enjoy the cocktail, although the crisp evening by the fire eluded me. We have not had the rain which has besieged our neighbors in South Carolina, but it has been rainy and quite inhospitable for time outside. Especially on the usual cocktail Saturday and Sundays.

The Grand Autumn cocktail comes from Better Homes & Gardens magazine. I hope the fact that my wife is a subscriber makes it legal for us to use it with proper credit since you need a password to get the recipe on-line. Here is the recipe either way:

2 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce St. Germain
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
3 ounces ginger beer

Mix the first four ingredients and shake or stir with ice. Strain into a double old fashioned or mule cup, add the ginger beer and ice, and stir gently. It is an Autumn drink so Barritt’s or Gosling’s are a good choice for the ginger beer to get that nice Fall color. I also chose a rye whiskey for a more peculiar reason even if it loosely falls into the family part of this blog.

I am an Astros fan, which is typically painful to admit, but, this year, I’m proud of their progress. Growing up south of Houston it was the only reasonable choice to root for the home team, and my affection was cemented through free tickets provided to area students who made the honor roll. There was a point when all five kids in our family were eligible, and we had far more tickets than our parents had energy for trips to the Astrodome. Somehow my oldest son has the same affliction, and even our youngest seems to have a soft spot for a team that I most often reference as “The Sortas” for their ineptitude. This year was an exception (even if they did lose to the Royals), and the three of us enjoyed a weekend in Houston to see them in person. Now, what does that have to do with rye whiskey?

I went shopping for the whiskey at the same time the Astros were struggling to get one of the last spots in the playoffs. They didn’t have the brand I was looking for and I had settled on another option and headed to check out. At that point I spotted a display of Yellow Rose rye from Houston. It seemed like an omen and when it comes to sports I am very partial to omens. Since that purchase, the Astros have made the playoffs, dispatched the Yankees and are holding their own with the Royals. When you are an Astros fan and usually just hoping for relevance, that’s a lot. Thank you Yellow Rose.

Here’s David’s Review:

grand.dmSometimes, in odd Walter Mitty moments, I imagine this blog being picked up by some liquor company and climbing on a gravy train so full of gravy I don’t have to work anymore. That’s not likely to happen—though, if some liquor giant is out there, let me just say “Please?” Yet if it were to happen, one of my top candidates would be Crabbie’s Ginger Beer. I confess I love the stuff and would love having my consumption of it fully subsidized.

Which is to say I loved this drink. Rye (another favorite) and Elderflower liqueur (now in less expensive forms than St. Germain) add to the appeal, but really it’s ginger beer. Something about ginger’s zing complements spirits, adding interest to any concoction.

The lime and bitters, of course, are good too, but they almost seemed nods to other cocktails like bucks and Manhattan varietals. I suppose they add, but, really, you know, it’s the Crabbie’s Ginger Beer.

Are you listening, Crabbie’s? I’m not hard to find.

Now, why this is a Grand Autumn cocktail is a complete mystery to me. Even after each seasons of drinking, I’m sometimes unsure of why one drink settles in one time of year. I wouldn’t dare drink a gin and tonic in December, but I suspect that’s conditioning rather than any intrinsic summeriness associated with gin, or tonic, or both together.

Someone out there in cyberland may tell me that Rye is a warm spirit or that ginger is evocative of seasonal fare or that elderflower, redolent of blossoms now blown, adds a wistful longing for the just passed. I get all that. I do. Generally, as an English teacher, I’m all in favor of reaching after meaning (read: bullshit), but this drink just didn’t say autumn to me, not at all.

Not withstanding that somewhat peevish criticism, however, it was mighty good… thanks, Crabbie’s Ginger Beer.

Jonathan’s take: Sing with me – There’s a Yellow Rose of cocktails, that I am going to drink…

David’s Take: I think I’d like it in any season… I bet you can guess why.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

I’m still on this autumn thing, so I’m going to make another attempt at another concoction presented as a seasonal cocktail, a Melaza Punch, featuring molasses, the ostensibly autumnal ingredient. We’ve tried Maple syrup, so why the heck not? The wrinkle here is that this drink also includes Tequila and Pineapple Juice, so it’s really stretching the fall envelope. I’m interested in hearing what Jonathan thinks of this seasonal question, and what better way to elicit a fiery response but to put the issue to a big test.

Maharani Cocktail

Proposed By: Jonathanjbm

Reviewed By: David

It would be a stretch to call anything related to a cocktail blog a responsibility although there are parts that feel that way. Each week we provide some background to the drink, its history, the reason we selected it or some context that affected our perception of it. More often than not that requires some shorthand that does not do justice to the drink or its creation. I suspect that most readers are more interested in the drink itself though so hopefully it works.

The reason I bring all that up is the name of this drink. To summarize that name I need to summarize a miniscule part of the culture of India and do so in less than a paragraph. The summary is so miniscule that I fear offending people who know and understand the incredible diversity of that country and subcontinent. Alas, I have my responsibilities as a not so savvy cocktailian, so here it goes.

The words raja and rani, and various spellings, are best known to me as crossword solutions. The true definition of raja or rani is a prince/king or princess/queen in India. From Sanskrit origin, the maha portion means a great prince or princess superior to the raja/rani. The maharani in particular can be the wife of the maharaja or the princess/queen leader. So what does that have to do with this drink? Absolutely nothing that I can determine, except perhaps the base alcohol, but it is that base of Tanqueray Rangpur that led me to this drink in the first place.

The recipe comes from another blog and I could not find any other reference to it anywhere. The Intoxicologist wrote the Straight Up Cocktail blog and it appears this is an original drink:

1.5 ounce Tanqueray Rangpur gin
1.5 ounce St. Germain
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
Lemon and lime wheels for garnish

Mix the first three ingredients, shake with ice (or stir in my case) and strain into a coupe. Garnish with the lemon and lime wheels.

It has been a long time since we used the Tanqueray Rangpur gin and I have to wonder why. Flavored with the exotic lemon and mandarin hybrid, this gin may be the best connection to the maharani name with its origin traced to Rangpur, Bangladesh. The unique citrus taste accentuates the gin even more than the classic combination with lime. I have found few liquors during this endeavor as interesting and appealing.

Here’s David’s Review:

dbmmWhen proposing cocktails, my brother—considerate soul he is—thinks of ingredients purchased for earlier recipes. Unintentionally, however, he makes choices that sometimes fill me with shame. That bottle of Chartreuse I’m supposed to have put aside… well… and that Mezcal… well… It’s not that I’m overindulging. It’s just that, when I like something… well… Please note that my bottle of crème de menthe is nearly full.

I did have enough St. Germain to make two Maharani cocktails for my wife and me, but the rest of the St. Germain disappeared long ago in various “experiments” and nightcaps. Anyone who has tried elderflower liquor probably relates.

And the Rangpur. I’m glad it’s still available at my local liquor superstore. Gin is my favorite base spirit, and I like all its manifestations. Whatever gin I have on hand goes into gin and tonics or even—once every great while—some martini variation. I can’t seem to hang onto gin for long. It’s amiable to so many cocktails. It’s not my fault.

Rangpur is also a particular favorite of mine. Like Jonathan, I’ve developed the habit of trying ingredients alone when we combine them in cocktails. Rangpur is less piney than dry gin, less sweet than Old Tom, more floral and, more citrusy than any other gin. At the same time, it’s hardly one-note. I also taste a bit of anise and maybe some bay leaf.

Not every sum is greater than its parts, but sometimes the promise of parts proves valid—what could go wrong with St. Germaine and Rangpur? A variation of the gimlet, this cocktail had me at the ingredient list. Fresh and sophisticated, the Maharani offers a dramatic citrus attack and the subtle herbal interplay of liqueur.

It’s also sweet, maybe too sweet for some people, and I wondered what it might be like to combine it with tonic in a taller glass filled with ice. Perhaps it’s my age, but bitterness seems natural to me. I looked for something to triangluate the acidity and sugar of this drink.

But I didn’t look that hard. If you like gimlets, you will love this cocktail. Maybe, like me, you won’t be able to keep the components long.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe the name came about because you feel like a maharaja or maharani when drinking this exotic and interesting cocktail.

David’s Take: I could order this one quite a few more times.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’ve arrived at our second anniversary on this blog and will celebrate the occasion as we did last year, by naming the drinks we liked best (and least) and offering some lessons for the year. I don’t know how Jonathan feels, but I actually feel that much more savvy. Nonetheless, we are more experienced… and that should yield some discoveries.

Prickly Pear Margarita

Prickly.dbmProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This week’s cocktail isn’t our first margarita… but it’s certainly our most exotic one. Our brother Chris sent us each two mason jars of prickly pear syrup, which formed the basis for a frozen margarita using mezcal and, as a bonus, some food item using his gift.

Our brother Chris loves plants, especially fruiting plants and cacti. I’m pretty sure he joined The Cactus and Succulent Society before he hit his teenage years. Early this summer, when Chris posted a photo of a pitcher of syrup from his prickly pear fruit harvest, I asked him in a comment what it tasted like. His response, “Like prickly pear,” didn’t tell me much, but now that I’ve tried it myself, I see the sense in his answer. The syrup reminds me a little of raspberries (though not so tart) and a little like aloe (though not nearly so bitter) and watermelon (though not so watery) and somewhat like kiwi (though mostly in texture). Any attempt I’ve made to triangulate (quadrangulate?) its flavor, however, ends with the simple assertion that it tastes wonderful. And it’s mild, lending a distinctive flavor while playing well with all the citrus in a margarita.

My version of this week’s margarita was frozen, and though we don’t have much experience with that method of preparation, I’ve noticed the cooler a drink is, the more dramatic its trigeminal effects. As I don’t have a margarita machine, the ice remained mostly chunky, not the slushy you might expect from a trip to your local Mexican restaurant. The ultimate goal of any margarita is refreshment… though it’s nice if it’s potent too. I’ll leave for Jonathan’s review whether prickly pear syrup helps achieve those ends.

Here’s the recipe (for two servings):

1/2 cup crushed ice
1 ounces freshly-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce undiluted frozen limeade
2 ounces Mezcal
1 1/2 ounces Triple Sec
1 ounce Prickly Pear Cactus Juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar or corn syrup
Lime wedges for garnish

In a blender, add crushed ice, lime juice, Tequila, Triple Sec, prickly pear juice, and sugar or corn syrup; cover and mix ingredients (a pulsating action with 4 or 5 jolts of the blender works the best). Correct with additional sugar or corn syrup if it is too tart. Serve in Margarita Glasses with coarse salt or Margarita Salt on the rims of the glasses and a lime slice, and serve immediately.

As for food, I left most of that to my daughter, who suggested we marinate some shrimp in a few simple spices (old bay, mustard and garlic powder, salt and pepper) then grill them on the barbeque. Along with the shrimp, she made corn cakes featuring corn cut from the cob and a mixture of salsa plus chipotle pepper with adobo sauce and a liberal amount of prickly pear syrup. The combination was spicy, smoky, and earthy—like mezcal—without being too sweet. A hearty hors d’oeuvre rather than main course, it seemed a great complement to the margarita.

I still have another jar of syrup remaining. I have many other plans for it—other cocktails among my schemes—and perhaps those will make some appearance in later posts. In the meantime, the only remaining thing to do is to thank my brother Chris for introducing me to such an intriguing and enticing ingredient.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

prickly.jbmA few years back I found a go-to recipe for grilled salmon. It is as simple as sprinkling the fish with chili powder, grilling it and then finishing it in the last few minutes with a glaze of 50/50 bourbon and honey. You can add a cedar plank to the grill surface to cook it on for a little je ne sais quoi, but that is just complicating delicious.

The first thought I had when our oldest brother said he was sending prickly pear syrup, even though I had never tried it, was that I needed to find a way to use it in a recipe. That turned into a modification of the go-to salmon recipe. We switched the fish to wild caught mahi-mahi, used blackening seasoning instead of chili powder and then added a coating of prickly pear syrup mixed with tequila for the last couple of minutes of grilling. It’s still peach world in our house, so we also made a peach salsa to cover the grilled fish.

And then there was the drink. David had suggested a prickly pear margarita with mezcal substituted for the tequila. The recipe called for prickly pear juice and sugar, but since we had a syrup the sugar seemed unnecessary. I used tequila for round one then switched to mezcal for the second. The recipe calls for half a cup of ice, which is hard to measure in cubes so I kept adding more to try and adjust for the limeade concentrate. That, and it is hot and humid, especially when grilling, so more ice seemed like a good idea.

The end result were two of the best margaritas I have ever tried. The tequila version was very lime forward between the fresh juice and the concentrate though the prickly pear toned that down a little. The mezcal version had the smoky deeper taste of that spirit and, for some reason, seemed more in keeping with the prickly pear. If I had to decide between the two, the mezcal version was more complex and balanced, so that would be the choice. One other thing to add—once you start adjusting and increasing the ice, one recipe is plenty for two drinks.

David’s Take: A wonderful variation that makes what’s become a rather cliché cocktail into something new and exciting again.

Jonathan’s take: Still got plenty of prickly pear syrup so I think pancakes are next.

Next Week (Proposed By Jonathan):

I rely on David to do all the hard work for the blog. When we started the idea was that he would give me the sign in and I would learn to use the WordPress site to do my part. Feigning stupidity, or actually being stupid, ended that idea, and now I just send him my part by e-mail and he completes the post. Since I don’t do the posting, I also rely on him for statistics like how many visits we get and even how many posts we have done. It should be close to or just above 100 (David’s Note: it’s 103) and my proposal for next week is that we do a wild card week to recognize that. Each of us will independently try a top 100 cocktail (there are lots of different lists to choose from) that we haven’t tried for this blog and likely have never tried. It will be a good test of genetics to see if we end up trying the same drink. It will also be a good test of memory to see if we try a drink that we haven’t written about before.

 

Sparkling Peach Sangria

IMG_0104Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

Sangria does not need a recipe in my opinion. I started with this write up with the mix that I used but every ingredient can be changed for another, and some of them can be left out entirely. There were a couple of exact recipes that I sent David, but it became apparent, especially after I got too lazy to buy more brandy and decided to use what I had, that the best bet was to wing it.

The mix can also be changed for taste. Want it more or less sweet for instance – use sugar, don’t use it, add more simple syrup, don’t add more, or change out between a dry or sweet wine. Some sangrias sparkle based on the use of seltzer, club soda or in the case of this recipe both soda and sparkling wine. Fruits vary by season, like the peaches that are front and center this week, and add to both the color and presentation. It’s all your choice and even though this is one of the ultimate group drinks, if you are making it you get to decide.

Sangria is associated with Spain and Portugal and the term is now protected within the European Union. That said, there are versions in every country and some suggestion that what we typically think of as sangria was actually created in the U.S. The classic versions are made with fruit, sweetener and wine. Almost every version I have read about or made also includes a spirit, like brandy, for fortification. It is usually made with red wine (the base word is sangre, or blood, after all) but the versatility has led to versions with white wine and sparkling wines.

The other thing to note is that it is a group beverage. I found a couple of recipes that broke it down to single servings but that was the exception. Most recipes are based on proportions that work from a full bottle of wine or more. That is also beneficial for another reason. It should be prepared in advance to let the flavors mix and meld so when the party starts there is no need to stop and mix.

Here’s a basic recipe:

Sliced fresh peaches
Blueberries
½ cup apple brandy (would have used peach or apricot if I had it)
¼ cup simple syrup
Lemon and lime juice (2 small lemons, 1 small lime)
½ liter club soda
1 bottle moscato

Mix everything except the moscato in a pitcher and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve, add the sparkling wine, stir gently and serve with ice.

And Here’s David’s Review:

SangriaDBMAs Jonathan has said before, it isn’t easy separating a drink and the occasion you try it. When you are with family and friends, almost any concoction might serve. You might never live down serving something wretched, but the memory would at least evoke warm mirth. If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that the company is far more important than the cocktail.

This weekend I was on the Rappahannock in Lancaster, Virginia visiting my sister and her husband as my mom visited. On Saturday night, when we made the sangria, the crowd swelled with my niece and nephew and their families and guests. We not only chose a recipe suited for a crowd, we doubled it.

And I think this drink was a hit. You can’t really mess-up Sangria. As long as you like fruit—peaches, in this case—and wine, there’s infinite potential for experimentation and amendment until you get it just right.

The recipe I used was a little different from Jonathan’s. It didn’t contain simple syrup because, between the moscato and peach brandy, it looked plenty sweet. Unlike Jonathan, I didn’t include lemon and lime juice. I hoped the citrus in the lemon-lime seltzer we used might be enough.

It wasn’t, and that’s where my sister’s brilliant amendment made all the difference. For the second batch, Alison suggested we add some lemon verbena from her herb garden. She macerated it before adding it to the drink, but you could also muddle it with the peach. Just don’t over-muddle as I always seem to do… or you’ll have to strain the drink before putting it in glasses. It doesn’t seem to take much to release the herb’s lemony smell, but the herb adds so much more than that, a spicy and fresh flavor that plays the same role basil does in so many drinks. If I have any objection to Sangria, it’s that it can be a little one-note and become more like party punch than a libation. I’m sure I never would have thought of including lemon verbena, but, as our meals this weekend made obvious, Alison knows how to add complex and harmonious flavors to enhance the whole experience.

The same might be said for this weekend’s celebration. Whatever combination of ingredients made their way into the sangria, the combination of people drinking it surpassed it. It’s especially tough this week to tell exactly what (or why) I’m reviewing.

David’s Take: My next sangria (and next and next) will include lemon verbena or some other herb.

Jonathan’s Take: I can’t help it. This one was just peaches.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Continuing our summer of summer cocktails and family, next week’s drink will include a an unusual ingredient generously supplied by our brother Chris from his garden in Tucson. He sent each of us a couple of mason jars of prickly pear syrup with instructions to use it in a cocktail. I thought at first we’d have to invent something, but it turns out the web offers many, many options. I’m suggesting a frozen prickly pear margarita with one important substitution, mescal for the traditional tequila. We’ll also be preparing some food (of our own choice) with the syrup, and I’m as excited about what will accompany the drink as I am about the drink itself.

Redless Snapper

bloodless.jbmProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

It may be more common to say there are two camps on any subject, yet when it comes to the Bloody Mary there seems to be three. Of course there are those who love them and those that do not, but there is also a third group that wants to love them.

The lovers have many reasons. They are one of the few cocktails that are associated with breakfast or brunch, mixing and matching ingredients makes them adaptable and customizable, and switching the liquor not only changes the taste but changes the name. Finally, how many drinks include the juicy rationalization that you are actually drinking something healthy? Okay, maybe I am the only one who claims that.

The detractors have their points too. Tomato juice is the main ingredient and it dominates the drink. Don’t like tomato and you won’t like the drink. The thickness, spiciness, acidity and garnishes are all cited by those who much prefer a Screwdriver as a spirited part of their breakfast or brunch.

That final group is the one this week’s cocktail may attract. I have a friend, we’ll just call him “Willard” to guard his anonymity, who wants to like the Bloody Mary but can’t get past all of the negatives listed above. It is the thickness of the tomato juice based mix that really holds him back, and he challenged me to try and find an alternative. Clam juice, water and even orange juice (yes, there is a version of the Mary with orange juice) couldn’t cut the thickness to move him from one group to the other. So it was with some interest that I read about the Redless Snapper.

This cocktail is the creation of Kevin Barrett at Foundation Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was one of the drinks featured in an article in the February/March 2014 edition of Garden and Gun about spirits distilled in the south. It uses Cardinal Gin made in Kings Mountain, North Carolina and is technically a Red Snapper because of the gin substitution for vodka. The key to the cocktail, though, is that it uses tomato water made with fresh tomatoes instead of the standard mix.

The recipe for the tomato water is as follows:

6 large tomatoes, peeled and cut up
3 tsp. lime juice
½ green or red pepper
½ small clove of garlic
1 -2 tsp. fresh horseradish
1 jalapeno (optional)
Salt and pepper

Blend all ingredients except salt and pepper until smooth. Heat in a saucepan until it turns from the pink color to a deep red. Let it cool and strain through a fine strainer and then cheese cloth until it reaches the clarity you want. Add salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate. It reads harder than it really is.

The drink doesn’t specify the amount of tomato water to use but here’s the way I made it:
Moisten the rim of a highball glass with lime and roll in Old Bay seasoning

2 ounces gin
3 ounces tomato water
2 dashes celery salt
Ground black pepper
2 dashes hot sauce
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Serve in the highball glass with ice and garnish with the usual suspects – lime, olive, cornichon, celery, pickled okra – your choice.

Obviously you could use vodka to make a standard Blood Mary but either way it makes a much lighter cocktail that takes advantage of fresh tomatoes and the desire for a softer drink more appropriate for summer. Maybe even a drink that Willard would like.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1043Looking at this recipe for the first time, I recognized it immediately as a sneaky version of a Bloody Mary. The name strays from the usual witty word-play—“Redless Snapper” makes no use of “Mary” as most varieties do—but maybe “Bloodless Mary” was just too much.

Like “Willard,” the part of a Bloody Mary that always gives me the most trouble is the tomato. Gazpacho, I love—it takes advantage of perfect tomatoes in their juiciest peak along with a number of complementary fresh and—this is key for me—uncooked ingredients.

Despite approximately 258,000 repetitions by advertisers, I’ve never wished I could have had a V-8 (what never?… no never) because tomato juice tastes cooked to me, like tepid pasta sauce, too dense to be a satisfactory beverage.

Thus, the notion of “tomato water” in the Redless Snapper appealed to me, as it promised the taste of tomatoes without the usual gravity of tomato juice. Plus, this Bloody Mary used gin (increasingly my favorite spirit) and perhaps enough citrus to leaven the heaviness of the cocktail. The preparation of the tomato water was arduous to me—maybe I’m just developing an antipathy for straining—but I had very high hopes for this drink.

My wife liked the Redless Snapper quite a bit, but I’m still convinced tomato cocktails are just not for me and maybe I should figure out how to spike gazpacho. This drink was much lighter and much more refreshing, its savory elements weren’t overwhelmed by the tomato taste, and it accommodated the gin well. I still consider myself a member of Jonathan’s third group. It’s my problem, must be a former life thing or some scarring event from my childhood I can’t remember.

But we still have plenty of tomato water remaining, and I may try it again some Sunday when a get a hankering for a brunch-style drink. Next time around, however, I may try changing the proportions, with more citrus and more gin to diminish the tomato that, even as water, still seems too much for me.

Jonathan’s Take: I have always been in the lover of Bloody Mary camp but this is good. Still need a side of Tums to go with it too.

David’s Take: Foiled once again by another attempt to rehabilitate the Bloody Mary, alas.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Summer seems the perfect time for beer, and I’m proposing we try a variety of Shandy—beer with citrus, usually lemonade. Next week’s version is called the Orange Wheat Shandy. Americans have taken to adding a slice of orange to Blue Moon beer (brewed by Miller-Coors), and that’s the idea… yet, beer-snob that I am, next week’s “beertail” ventures further than average, substituting the more hearty, and older, German Hefeweizen (a cloudy brew with substantial body and a yeasty taste redolent of cloves and bananas) for the imitation Belgian Wit-bier and trading fresh orange juice for the one measly orange slice.

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.

Tiki Drinks

TikiJMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

The tiki craze began in the mid 1930’s. Restaurants that served Polynesian food and drink were opened by Ernest Gantt (later Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) in California. The concept was to invoke the exotic through food, drink, and décor and it attracted everyone from stars to those who simply sought an escape. That concept proved to be so popular that those restaurants grew to be chains that spread across the US and internationally. It lasted into the 1960’s before it began to die out.

Tiki cocktails were an odd mix of the created culture, exotic juices, and accessories. There was no real Polynesian food, just Asian and south Pacific, but the drinks used the flavors of those regions—coconut, pineapple, orange, pomegranate and passion fruit among them. They also mimicked the popular rum punches of the previous century except that most tiki drinks included a mix of different rums. Cocktails were served in special tiki mugs with large fruit garnishes and in the cliché version with paper parasols as the final embellishment

They should have been little more than a craze except for the fact that drinks were excellent and, because of that, popular. True tiki drinks included the fresh juices and mixes that have reappeared in the nouveau cocktail establishments that are so popular today. House made grenadine, fresh squeezed juices and mixes of simple, aged, spiced, and overproof rums all combined to make a potent drink, even if it was sweet and fruity. It should be no surprise that they are making a resurgence as people take the time to use quality ingredients to make complex drinks.

The problem for the home bartender is that very complexity. I began the first week of this concept trying to juice a fresh pineapple. I have no idea why it is so hard to find fresh squeezed pineapple, but in the end my only choice was to cube a fresh one, pulverize it in the blender and strain it through cheesecloth. And that was just one juice. As you will see in the recipes, there are typically multiple juices, more than one rum and other added spirits all of which offers a challenge for those mixing themselves.

The proposal was that we each try a couple of tiki drinks that we had not done before. In my case I chose the Scorpion, which was apparently popular as a group drink in large bowls with multiple straws, and the Blue Hawaiian.

Here are the recipes:
Scorpion

Juice of half a lime
¾ ounce brandy
¾ ounce light rum
¾ ounce dark rum
¼ ounce triple sec
1 ½ ounces orange juice

Lime wedge garnish
Shake with ice and pour over more ice. I added some pineapple juice, which some recipes included, at the request of the tasters.

Blue Hawaiian

¾ ounce rum
¾ ounce blue curacao
¾ ounce crème de coconut
2 ounces pineapple juice
Cherry and pineapple wedge garnish
Shake with ice and serve over ice. In this case, we added some neon food coloring because fresh pineapple juice and blue curacao create a less then “blue” Hawaiian. The other option is to make Painkillers which use similar ingredients, have essentially the same taste, and are a much more pleasant color.

And Here’s David’s Review:

easterAll hail il the tiki. Though a celebratory impulse always surrounds cocktails, tiki drinks raise that urge to a sense of abandon. The silly cups, the lurid colors, the fruity and spirited concoctions, the weighty and elaborate skewers of garnishes all say, “Let’s pretend we’re on vacation.”

Martinis tiki drinks are not. James Bond will never ask for a Bahama Mama or a Five Island Fizz.

On a trip out to the east coast my son (and friends) took my wife and me to a restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn called King Noodle. My son seemed disappointed that, since his last visit, the owners had swapped rough-hewn but tasteful paneling for the black walls and day-glow posters he expected, but the bar was suitably dim, the menu suitably surprising, and the drink service suitably lavish and languid. I started with a Planter’s Punch and moved onto an Ancient Mariner, but no one in the party chose the same libation. We traded plenty.

Besides a Planter’s Punch and Ancient Mariner, I tried a classic tiki Mai Tai, a Zombie, a Hot-Buttered rum, and Singapore Sling. The next night, in honor of my sister-in-law’s birthday, I created some tiki drinks myself, a Blue Hawaiian, a Blue Lagoon, and the old standard Dark n’ Stormy. So I tried nine tiki drinks, folks. Reviewing them all is just too much work, but testing so many varieties led me to some critical conclusions:

  1. Something in rum’s molasses-y overtone couples perfectly with fruit juice
  2. Even on an unexpectedly cold night, a good tiki drink has a warming, highly spirituous soul.
  3. Tiki drinks are best enjoyed out… unless you love blue curacao and keep ample passion fruit juice on hand
  4. It’s all about the layers, ethereal rum and dark rum, spice and sharp citrus flavors chasing each other
  5. One tiki drink is never enough. Try something new. Anyone who chooses a second round of their first choice should go back to Manhattans
  6. The cups are key, reflecting not only the unlikely combinations but also the pagan excess of the proceedings. No Easter Island style mug? Fine, but retrieve your most fanciful stemware from the back of the china cabinet. Let loose.

tiki glen rockAs I own no Hawaiian shirts, have never had the epithet “the beachcomber” tied to my name, and enjoy surf music only from time to (much separated) time, I’ll never muster the devotion necessary to become any more savvy about tiki than I am about any other style of drink. However, this vacation—in the both the literal and figurative sense—was quite welcome.

Jonathan’s take: The drinks are fantastic but save them for a tiki party so that all that trouble of making fresh juices and buying multiple rums is worth it.

David’s Take: Tiki-dom will never be everyday, but I won’t be embarrassed choosing a crazy cup when the opportunity arises.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

It’s Derby time! I wouldn’t be so boring as to propose a julip (though I love them), so I’ll be seeking some variation involving bourbon, mint, and sugar. I’m not entirely sure which I’ll choose or which Jonathan will choose, but I figure we can’t go too wrong. And I will be betting on the race, even if it’s only with friends for paltry sums. The Kentucky Derby is all about celebration, and I won’t (and can’t) miss out.

Cherry Blossom Tini

sake 2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

The Japanese word for cherry blossom—sakura—is one of the first characters a school child learns to write, and the week or so of peak blooms holds a central place in the culture. I have a special affection for Japanese aesthetics, and, if former lives are real, I’m sure I’ve been Japanese. Then again, maybe I was Helen Herron Taft, the First Lady responsible for the exchange that brought cherry trees to Washington, DC in 1912.

I write a haiku a day on another blog and, as I compose, I often think about one of the central tenets of Japanese art, the balance between sabi (simplicity or, more broadly, poverty) and wabi (impermanence or, more broadly, freshness). Together they foster an appreciation of those instants when direct and uncomplicated observations give momentary pleasure. These ideas contribute to an interest in economy and intimacy, an unexpected joy in asymmetry and imperfection, and a shared sense that anything, even the most unconventionally beautiful, can be cause for celebration. Most importantly, sabi-wabi suggests right now is really all that’s important.

Perhaps you see the connection to cocktails.

This particular cocktail mimics the pink of the cherry blossoms while also deploying sake, the Japanese rice wine, and other smaller quantities of delicate influences: orange liqueur, orange bitters, lime juice, and cranberry. I suppose the combination might be considered a punch or another version of the cosmopolitan, but the name suggests some comparison to a martini, the most straightforward sabi-wabi cocktail I can imagine.

If you go online, you can find a number of sites predicting and reporting the moment cherry trees are most laden with blooms, both in Washington and in Tokyo. When I did my research before proposing this cocktail, I consulted those sites, and, sure enough, this week my Facebook page featured plenty of selfies in front of pink blankets of blossoms. I hear that, though we think of the pure aesthetic enjoyment of visiting groves of flowers, apparently the picnics occasioned by the celebration can be quite raucous. That too seems to fit the Cherry Blossom Tini.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

jbmsakeA couple of months ago my youngest son and I went out for a mid-week sushi dinner. The restaurant was offering a saketini special where they would make any classic martini with sake. With little to lose, it was just 3 bucks, we both ordered dirty saketinis – a mix of olive juice and sake. There was a lot to lose. The sake was viscous like a roux gone bad and with the brine of the olive juice created a combination that could best be described as tepid sea water. I am ashamed to say I drank it all. It was either out of some bizarre sense of pride that having ordered it I had to finish it, or the lasting legacy of the “clean plate club” where we were encouraged as kids to finish all the food we were given.

So when David suggested the drink for this week, my first reaction was fear. Never mind that my bad experience was probably a mix of low-end sake and a poorly selected combination. I was afraid. Fortunately it was all for naught. The Cherry Blossom tini started off better, at least I think it did, because I chose a better sake. It also benefitted from a combination of orange, lime, and cranberry that are much more closely aligned with the rice wine than green olives.

Doubtless there is a drink that uses vodka instead of the sake was included in this cocktail, but this mix benefitted from the body that the sake provided. One of the added benefits touted for this drink is that sake is a much lower proof than standard cocktail spirits like vodka. The experience with this drink makes me wonder how many other cocktails could benefit from subbing out vodka or gin for a quality sake.

One last thing to taunt David. I wanted to include a picture of this drink with the spectacular pink blooms of our kwanzan cherry tree. Alas, spring is far enough along here in Charlotte that we are on the down side of that bloom, as well as the white dogwoods. The azaleas are incredible right now, so we mixed the last cherries, some dwindling dogwoods and a few azaleas to provide the backdrop to the drink.

Jonathan’s take: I need to go back to that sushi place and try a better combination. Or maybe I should buy my own sake for even tastier mixes.

David’s take: It seems I’ve been using the word “delicate” a lot, which is a way of saying I want to use it again… but I especially enjoy using the word this time.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Other than beer weeks and our first annual retrospective weeks, we haven’t taken any time off. And we won’t be doing it now dad gummit! I did note to David that I have an annual golf trip coming up and it seems appropriate that I select the drink for that week. So my hybrid proposal is both a way to (kind of) take some time off, to give me the selection for golf week, and to honor the resurgence of tiki (trust me, it’s coming). About.com’s cocktail section includes an article on essential and popular tiki drinks. We have tried some of the classics, but I am proposing that we try 2 more over the next couple of weeks. There will be single write up to lessen our “work” load. For my part, I will be choosing between the Scorpion, Blue Hawaiian, and Beachcomber, but will offer David the option to choose among those and the other classics that we have yet to try.

Caipirinha

CachacaProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The World Cup in Brazil should have been your introduction to this cocktail, but if not get ready for the Olympics next year. We have tried a couple of cachaça cocktails, the batida and the caipirinha de uva, but had not tried this classic yet. Considered one of the 7 most basic cocktails, it is simple to make and will vary with each version of cachaça that you try. There is little doubt that the popularity of the Olympics and the simplicity of the drink will make it the cocktail of the summer next year.

To start with, cachaça is a sugar cane spirit produced almost entirely in Brazil. Rum is also a sugar cane spirit at its most basic, but the difference is that rum is produced from the molasses left at the end of sugar production while cachaça is made from fermented sugarcane. Rhum Agricole is similarly produced straight from the sugarcane. The result is a liquor that varies with each type of sugarcane or the region in which it is grown.

Cachaça and the caipirinha made with it have been around long enough that there are a number of versions of the history of both. Cachaça production probably dates to the 1500’s and Portuguese influence on Brazil. The spirit was then mixed with lime and sugar to cut the harsh taste that was distinctive of early cachaças. Much like many of the other rum and citrus drinks there also has to be truth to the mix being popular for sailors as a combination of inebriant and way to ward off scurvy.

Though a couple of translations of caipirinha exist, both speak to its popularity with the masses. One source indicates that it means “little countryside drink” while another says it is “little peasant girl.” Either way it is the traditional way to serve cachaça and varies with each example of the Brazilian spirit. I offered that if David preferred using Rhum Agricole, a spirit produced primarily in Martinique, he could make a Ti’ (short for petit) Punch which is also a basic mix of spirit, sugar and lime and another indicator that this cocktail has multiple origins.

There are a few variations of the recipe for a caipirinha but they all follow the simple mix of 2 ounces cachaça, half a lime and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. I made three versions (for three people), one with 2 teaspoons of demerara sugar, one with 2 teaspoons of leftover vanilla rich simple syrup from last week, and the third with 3 teaspoons standard simple syrup. All three included cutting the lime into smaller wedges, muddling with the sugar, and then adding c cachaça and ice. The demerara may have been the most successful if for no other reason than the rough crystals making the muddling easier. The cachaça was a gold version from Ypioca, and I would have tried one with Leblon, but discovered it was all gone. Wonder how that happened.

Here’s David’s Review:

CappydickUnfortunately much of what I know of Brazil derives from a report I gave in Ms. Cullen’s seventh grade social studies class, and caipirinha, I’m sure, didn’t make my parade of geography, politics, exports, imports, flora, fauna, and celebrations.

However, it’s easy to imagine caipirinha as a sort of national cocktail. It’s direct and simple—just juice, sugar, and spirit—but the inclusion of cachaça also makes it distinctive. The directions seemed complicated at first, but I can see, with a little practice, concocting the drink might become as unconscious as mixing a martini.

And, if you like cachaça, you stand a good chance of liking this drink. And I do like it. Describing how something tastes is never easy because you have to resort to nebulous vocabulary and/or comparisons, but I’d say cachaça is rum’s uncultured cousin. Rum seems refined to achieve a molassy, aged sophistication, but cachaça is more forthright, almost like an alcoholic version of coconut milk fresh out of the nut, intensely organic and somehow dense, just a step past chewing on a sugar cane or cactus fruit. I know it sounds a little dicey to say cachaça’s smells and tastes “funky”—especially because I don’t mean like James Brown, but like fruit just past ripened. Still, there’s something real about cachaça, as if someone just made it instead of synthesizing it in a laboratory.

With the caipirinha, it helps that lime adds an acidic counterpoint and also that, by muddling the lime, you invite some welcome bitterness. As I used confectioner’s sugar, the sweetness diffused nicely through the liquid without becoming over-sweet or dominating the cachaça.

I don’t recall this from my seventh grade report, but I’ve read that Brazilians love their sweets, and, as Jonathan did, I’d advise playing with the type and quantity of sugar you include in your recipe. And I do mean your recipe because—if you like caipirinhas—you’ll want to spend some time perfecting your version of it. As many of our other cocktails have demonstrated, infinite subtlety arises from playing around with a few simple ingredients, and I’d be willing to bet every Brazilian has some secret to impart about making the proper caipirinha.

David’s Take: If you’re searching for a worthy pursuit, you could do worse than devoting yourself to making the perfect caipirinha.

Jonathan’s Take: Cachaça, and the caipirinhas made with it, varies with each type. Since it is so distinctive, choose your cachaça wisely.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

For some time now, we’ve been skirting the Martini, trying variations that swap out one ingredient or experimenting with exotic secondary ingredients. This week, I thought “Maybe it’s time to just go for for it, to make a damn Martini already,” but then I thought, “Nope.” So I’m proposing yet another alternate, one that comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual of 1882 and is called The Tuxedo. It includes dry vermouth but also a little Maraschino liqueur and an absinthe wash, and I’m making mine with Old Tom gin, true to the original.

The Great Calabaza

Proposed by: Jonathanj.calabaza

Reviewed by: David

Ed walked into the bar, looked for a stool in the back corner and sat down. He had driven past this place fifteen minutes before and probably would not have noticed it if the “O” in the “Cocktails” sign had not been burnt out. Something about that and the nearly empty parking lot had nagged at him until he finally turned around and drove back.

It had been a long week at the end of a long year. Ed was a clown by profession. Things had gone well for a long time with birthday parties, parades, events at senior homes and even the occasional office party, but then the economy collapsed. Everyone’s entertainment dollars dried up, and the clown budgets were one of the first things to go. He tried not to blame his woes on an increasing fear of clowns among kids too, but he knew that was out there.

In desperation Ed had started doing magic shows, selling novelties and finally had resorted to being a rodeo clown. The rodeo circuit was tough with events often far away, and safety not even an afterthought. One night he went to protect a rider from a bull named Calabaza, for its oddly colored gourd shaped head, and when he went to jump in the barrel at the last second, he found it already occupied by some other clown. There were still days and nights when he could feel Calabaza goring him from behind.

As Ed sat down the owner, Sam, wandered over. “Looks like you need a drink. What can I get you?”

Ed thought for a moment and decided it was time to confront his demon. “I’ll have The Great Calabaza.”

“Never heard of that. You’ll need to tell me what’s in it, or at least what the liquor is.”

“It’s made with equal parts of mezcal and fresh orange juice.”

“I have bottled orange juice that we use for screwdrivers and the best I can do on the spirit is tequila.” Sam turned to get those, but he turned back and asked what a “calawhatzit” is.

“It’s actually a type of gourd like a pumpkin,” Ed answered, “but I was a rodeo clown and it’s the name of a bull that tore me up.”

“Okay then. Is there anything else besides the tequila and orange juice?”

Yeah, the rim of the glass needs to be moistened and a mix of Chinese five spice and salt coated on it.”

“I’m not sure you noticed,” Sam said, “but most people in here drink Budweiser and a shot is the most popular cocktail. I don’t keep Chinese five spice, and I don’t rim glasses.”

“Okay you can skip that, but it does need a little bit of lime juice.”

“Fine, anything else?”

“Pumpkin butter. A couple of tablespoons of pumpkin butter.”

“Get your ass out of my bar, clown.”

This bad fiction is sponsored by a cocktail with no history and no back story. Sure, one can assume that the name is a word play on The Great Pumpkin since a Calabaza is a West Indian gourd that looks like a pumpkin, but other than that, it is an obscure cocktail created by the aptly named writer – Autumn Giles. The exact recipe is:

1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 ounces mezcal
3 ounces fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons pumpkin butter
.5 ounce lime juice

Moisten the rim of a glass with lime, and press it into the mix of five spice and salt. Mix together the mezcal, orange juice, lime and pumpkin butter in a shaker with ice. Shake with ice and strain (I used a fine strainer) into the glasses filled with more ice.

As it ends up, and as my picture shows, I skipped the salt and five spice. That was a mistake since this drink can be sweet and needs that contrast of salt and spice.

And Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_0436I don’t begrudge most people’s pleasures. There are books and movies and music and food that seem terrible to me, but if you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, Nashville, Up With People albums, and stewed sea urchin, fine. I’m not judging, just skeptical.

Pumpkin mania particularly mystifies me. This time of year, they’re everywhere—not just on porches and stoops but in the groceries attached to cookies, air freshener, chips, cider, shampoo, pasta, gum, yogurt, hummus, and beer. To me… no judgment, remember… the beer is a particular affront, but each year, I discover more absurd pumpkin products. Why does Trader Joe’s need to sell pumpkin-flavored dog treats, and what’s the appeal of Pumpkin Spice Four Loko (or regular Four Loko, for that matter)?

The one use of pumpkin I approve of entirely is the (up to this year) annual Punkin-Chunkin’ in lower Delaware. There’s something quite astounding about watching gourds soar.

So imagine my shock when, prepared to scoff, snort, and sneer at The Great Calabaza, I discovered how good it is. I attribute part of its success to the mescal, which gives it an earthy and smoky base, but the spice in the pumpkin butter harmonizes well with it, the orange juice and lime cut the drink’s density, and the pumpkin is just sweet enough to hold it all together. The recipe I used called the cocktail “An autumnal riff on a margarita,” and that seems apt. Like a margarita it relies on a carefully tuned combination of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy.

The five-spice salt may seem an extra step—and you don’t need to make as much as the recipe calls for—but that element seems important too. Otherwise, the drink might evoke liquefied and spiked pumpkin pie. In fact, when we discovered we only had three (rather than four) tablespoons of pumpkin butter in the refrigerator, we made do, and it seemed plenty. With so many other flavors asserting themselves in The Great Calabaza, I almost forgot the key to it all was supposed to be my friend the pumpkin.

Would I ever order this drink in a bar? Probably not—because of my pride, and because of my disdain for the pumpkin bandwagon rolling down every grocery aisle—but it was a pleasant way to end a fall evening and, for at least a moment, made me appreciate the pumpkin phenomenon a little more.

David’s Take: A quite pleasant surprise and a blow to my pumpkin prejudice.

Jonathan’s Take: The color and ingredients speak of autumn, but the drink says “get your ass out of my bar, clown.”

Next Week (Proposed by David):

Sometimes, in thinking about the next cocktail, all I have is a glimmer of a hint of a day dreaming notion of a possibility. As a second grader in La Marque, Texas, I learned all about how people make maple syrup—I know, weird, right?—so I looked for a cocktail recipe using that flavor and found Medicine Man, a cocktail promising fall’s warm flavors and heat in the form of paprika.