Local Micro-Distilleries

img_0292Proposed By: Jonathan

Pursued By: David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David’s Entry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time (Proposed by David):

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

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Gin and Tonic Variations

DM G and TProposed and Realized By: David

Also Realized By: Jonathan

“The gin and tonic,” Winston Churchill once said, “has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” He was alluding to the British East Indian Company’s invention of the concoction as a way of delivering quinine, which was believed to be an anti-malarial medicine. However, knowing Churchill, it’s possible he was talking about the self-medicating properties of gin.

I prefer the explanation of the drink’s prominence offered by Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every planet has its own version of gin and tonic, all developed independently from one another and pronounced essentially the same. There’s something about the “G and T” (or “Gin Tonic” as it’s called in some countries) that demands invention. The drink was simply meant to be.

And, to support Adams’ theory, it turns out tonic doesn’t cure or prevent malaria because you’d have to drink too much of it (and keep drinking too much of it) to reach even the minimal level of quinine necessary to suppress the disease. Science has taught us something important about gin and tonic, however—rather than doubling the bitterness by combining its three main ingredients, the similarly shaped molecules glom onto each other to mitigate their bitterness. I take that discovery as further proof of Adam’s belief in the inevitability of gin and tonic.

So why would someone want to adulterate it, and why would we use this space (again) to encourage such an abomination?

I thought of a post devoted to the drink by itself debating the proper tonic water (I like Fever Tree or Q, by the way), the proper gin (more later), and the proper proportion of gin to tonic, but all that sounded fussy. Let me be that rare voice of political tolerance in our contentious age and state that all the people, Republicans and Democrats, should compose gin and tonics as they wish, according to their tastes.

As you’ll see, Jonathan was much subtler, thorough, and scientific in his pursuit of proper ingredients. For me, adulteration felt like a different sort of test—not can you mess-up a Gin and Tonic, but can you actually stay true to the Neo-platonic ideal of gin-and-tonic-ness while also introducing a variation that might actually enhance its essential nature?

My first experiment was to follow a basic formula:

1.5 ounces Gin

.5 ounces something else

3 ounces tonic water

the squeezed juice of one-eighth of a lime

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried all sorts of things for that something else—Lillet Rose, St. Germaine, Pimm’s #1, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Maraschino Liqueur, and Benedictine—and most of the results were passable, but no gin and tonic. The best were the ones with a certain je ne sais quoi, the ones that elicited the comment, “What’s different about this?” Of the ingredients above, Pimm’s #1 and Lillet were the most successful that way. Maraschino was also subtle. The worst? Benedictine.

Like Jonathan, I also bought dried juniper berries and other spices (though not in a nifty kit) and steeped them in vodka to create my own gin… and added sumac to regular gin… and used varieties of gin available in my liquor cabinet… and foisted all these varieties on various people. Jonathan’s testers are clearly better than mine. Everyone around me is sick of gin and tonics, so sick that their most thoughtful comments were “That’s nice,” or “Yuck.”

But not me. I’ll just say one thing about my experimentation. Nothing really ruins a gin and tonic… until it makes it something else.

Here’s Jonathan’s Approach:

JBM GTAlternatives of the classic gin and tonic? How hard could it be – change the gin and change the tonic. Heck, go crazy and change the garnish. One look at my liquor cabinet illustrates the true challenge, though. I have Old Tom gin, London dry gin, Rangpur gin, botanical gin, barrel rested gin and, after a quick search for tonic syrups that resulted in the purchase of a pre-measured spice mix, my own homemade gin.

You don’t need to go beyond tonic to understand the variations available. Quinine water, as we used to call it, ranges from classics like Seagrams, Canada Dry and Schweppes to a long list of high end and small batch sodas that grows each year. These include nationally available brands like Fever-Tree, Q and Fentimans to small batch soda versions found locally. There are also many syrups, I have used and love Jack Rudy’s, that can be mixed with club soda to make your own tonic water. Simple math made me realize I had to control the variables so I settled on premixed tonics.

The next question was gin. The classic uses London Dry and if the tonic was going to be dominant that made sense. As I noted, while searching unsuccessfully for new syrups I went into the Savory Spice Shop (a growing national franchise). They had a pre-packaged mix of spices to infuse vodka and make your own gin so that became another option. I also had a barrel rested gin, Cardinal, from nearby Kings Mountain N.C. and the gin style liqueur, Pimm’s No. 1, so I was set there too.

All that was left to do this right was to assemble taste testers and figure out ratios. My faithful panel was nice enough to gather for the task at hand and a forgotten shot glass made ratios approximate (I would guess it was 3:1 tonic to liquor). Here’s the three versions I made:

Prohibition (homemade) gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic
Lime wedge garnish

Barrel rested gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic in one session and Schweppes in another
5 drops Crude (Raleigh small batch brand) roasted pineapple/vanilla bitters
Lime wedge garnish

London dry gin
Pimm’s No. 1
Schweppes tonic
Mixed fruit garnish

The first mix was the most classic and the least liked. The gin was great. So good, in fact, that it was better by itself on the rocks. The nice part of make your own is that you can add and subtract spices. The juniper berries went in by themselves for 24 hours to emphasize that spice and the other spices were added for a final 24 hours.  If you are one of those people who don’t like the pine qualities of gin, though, you could add the juniper at the same time as the other spices (coriander, lavender, bay leaves, allspice and cardamom) and infuse for only 24 hours total to reduce their dominance. If gin is your favorite part of the G & T this may be the best option for your taste.

The second cocktail was a conservative variation yet well received. Barrel rested gin, at least the Cardinal version, is mellow and less spicy. The bitters added a subtle and different background flavor. I made this one with both the high end tonics and the less expensive stuff with the latter providing a quieter base to showcase the gin and bitters.

My final option was a G & T take on the Pimm’s Cup.  A number of Pimm’s Cup recipes suggest adding gin to increase the spirit quotient so I followed that idea by mixing Pimm’s and gin equally then adding tonic. The more assertive tonics worked really well here since it needed a mixer that stood up to the liquors. This is one to garnish with summer fruits like peaches, blackberries, blueberries and the like. The classic Cup addition of cucumber would probably work well also.

Jonathan’s Take: The T is my favorite part so high end tonics and syrups are well worth the cost.

David’s Take: Can I be a purist and an experimentalist at the same time? I’d like to try.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One of my testing panel members suggested a drink called Serendipity. It will require that I go against my goal of reducing the number of spirits in my cabinet by adding Calvados. The drink includes the addition, always welcome, of a sparkling wine though so I think it is worth it. Plus, I have to listen to my testers since they are practically professionals at this point.

The Crusta

FullSizeRender-22Proposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are two parts to this introduction. One part, of course, is the background and history of this drink. That history is part of the evolution of the cocktail as we know it and is tied one the most common birthplaces for tipples that have spanned generations. The other part is familiar territory for the blog ,which is the theme of how we get ideas and proposals for what we will try each week – or every other week now. It may be best to start with the latter.

I have an ever-growing library of books about spirits, cocktails and the things that go with them. Those books are in actual paper format and e-books. As an aside, it is hard enough to remember where I read what but that is magnified by trying to recall which format first. At least e-books have a search function once I get that far. Among the newest of those books is Southern Cocktails by Denise Gee. I almost always do a quick perusal of books as I get them and the first thing that jumped out from this one were some recipes to go with the cocktails. In a twist on the traditional New Year’s Day menu for health, luck and money we used two appetizer suggestions. One was a black eyed pea queso and the other country ham and goat cheese pinwheels. Throw in some corn and collard green pancakes with lemon zest sour cream and we had the peas, ham, corn and greens we needed to start our year.

The cocktail I chose from the book was a familiar one called The Crusta. But why was it familiar and where the heck did I read about it before? Here’s the recipe first:

Fine grained sugar
Wedge of lemon
1.5 ounces cognac or bourbon
.5 ounce orange liqueur
.25 ounce maraschino cherry liqueur
.5 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
Dash angostura bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Wet the rim of a wine glass with the lemon, put sugar on a plate and rim the glass in sugar, mix all of the ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into the wine glass into which new ice has been added. Garnish with the orange peel.

There are multiple versions of this recipe as David pointed out to me in a welcome reminder that I had not told him which one we would be using. Although this one does not have any sweetener other than that on the rim, history tells us that it should.

The reason that this drink sounded familiar is that it is part of the evolution of cocktails. David Wondrich wrote about The Crusta in his classic book Imbibe (that one is an e-book in my library) and notes that it marks the addition of citrus to the cocktail world. The Crusta is among one of many classics that were invented in New Orleans and is most certainly near the top of that list chronologically.  It was created by Joseph Santini in the 1850’s at the New Orleans City Exchange bar or an establishment called the Jewel of the South that he opened a few years later. Southern Cocktails credits it to Santini’s Saloon but I will stick with Wondrich on cocktail history. The drink impressed the oft noted professor, Jerry Thomas, so much that he included it in his famous book on cocktails. He included a version with gin but brandy/cognac seems to be the most common.

I am still in the self-imposed alcohol free zone of January. I did employ my taster, though, and even had the poor guy try both a cognac and a bourbon version. Classic cocktail evolution and the recipe both make it obvious that this is a spirit forward drink. He likes bourbon more than the unfamiliar cognac and preferred that one. By the same token if gin is your favorite then follow the professor’s lead and go with that.

Here’s David’s Review:

IMG_1369You have to understand something about this blog—sometimes it feels as if it’s all about the photo. When the recipe calls for a specific garnish, or the drink is supposed to separate into layers, or even when there’s whipped cream, I start to worry. The Crusta, from every version I saw online looked more aesthetically pleasing than I usually muster. The sugar is part of the cocktail, of course. It lends sweetness to every sip… but that orange peel?

My brother might tell you I’m a champion worrier and that, nine times out of ten, my worry is entirely unjustified. In this case, the relief of making the Crusta look like the pictures of it distracted me. I’d had most of one before I thought, “Hey, what’s this like?”

Much about the drink suggests its venerable heritage. For one, whether you used Bourbon or Brandy (and I also made one of each), the spirit pushes to the forefront of this cocktail. The lemon juice, curacao and maraschino seem simply complementary, pleasant background to the main event. The sugar on the edge of the glass will seem a little too much to some who prefer more bitter, but I didn’t mind as long as the bourbon/brandy came through.

If you’re a regular reader, you know my feeling about these cocktails sometimes drifts into fiction. I think about who might drink them and in what circumstance. I’ve never seen a Crusta on a cocktail menu, but I imagine a person-in-the-know (a cognoscenti, or cocktailscenti, if you were) ordering it. He or she does it, in part, to challenge the bartender and, in another part, to draw some line back to the proto-cocktails that started everything. They say cocktails are an American art like Jazz or early cinema, and I like that idea. I like thinking Americans know how to combine, how to make something inventive simply by putting several different, and occasionally seemingly disparate, parts together. This libation, held up to the light by my imaginary customer, promises a celebration of ingredients, and I approve. The originals are often the most satisfying.

David’s Take: Not sure I can take the pressure of presentation too many more times, but I loved this cocktail.

Jonathan’s take: Cocktails without citrus? Say it ain’t so, and then say thank you to Joseph Santini.

Next Time (Proposed by David):

Boy, I hope Jonathan is up for this. Now that my brother has returned from cocktail exile, I’m going to propose a serious drink, the author of Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess’ favorite, the Hangman’s Blood, a potent—even if literary—”cocktail.” Call it revenge if you like. With seven (yes, SEVEN) spirits, this drink may prove the better of the Long Island Ice Tea. We can each split one with our wives, that’s permissible, but I’m been threatening this drink for awhile… maybe it’s time.

 

The Tuxedo

Tux3Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This week’s cocktail comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, the first version published in 1882. You can still buy the book on eBay, and it’s apparently as relevant now as it was then. Written in a how-to style, it’s supposed to provide guidance on how to be a bartender as well as how to mix drinks. I wonder what it says about keeping bar and listening to customers. Everyone knows the stereotype, bartenders who function as amateur psychologists, doling out libation, wisdom, and painkillers in equal measure.

Oddly, it wasn’t really Harry Johnson I thought of as I sipped this drink, but Tennessee Tuxedo, a 1963-66 cartoon penguin voiced by Don Adams (of Get Smart) whose schemes often benefitted/failed on the basis of advice/complications from Professor Whoopee (voiced by Larry Storch, former star of F Troop). Of course, this drink has nothing to do with the cartoon, but the whoopee part struck me.

Aside from two dashes of bitters, the Tuxedo is all liquor. It’s called a gin martini, but it’s also related to the Poet’s Dream (which features gin, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine) and the Alaska (using gin and Yellow Chartreuse), and the Obituary (using gin and absinthe). It’s most closely related, however, to the Martinez, which, just like the Tuxedo, begins with gin and vermouth and maraschino. The difference is that, where the Martinez asks for red vermouth, Tuxedo’s includes dry vermouth and some anise. It is, in short, not designed for sweet drink lovers and quite potent enough to provoke a whoopee or two.

Which may be the reason for these drinks’ existence. There’s refinement and variety in the ingredients, but there’s also a slap-up-the-side-of-the-head immediacy from the first sip. I’m not a martini drinker, but the no-nonsense approach is probably what appeals to most fans. No fruit juice or mixer intrudes. You get the impression it’s the painkilling aspect of the drink that matters most.

And you don’t have to be too savvy to achieve that.

My role is not to review the drink (until later) but, for me, the success of drinks like the Tuxedo rely on whether the different secondary ingredients really make a difference or are just gussying up the drink’s actual purpose. I’ve always loved the expression “putting lipstick on a pig,” which communicates surface or trivial improvements designed to hide the truth. So is the Tuxedo putting lipstick on a pig? I don’t like to think so, but I’ll leave Jonathan (and you) to say.

Here’s how to make one:

  1. Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice.
  2. Stir.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

tux4One of the things I have learned in this pursuit is that I like gin. First off, I never knew there were so many varieties and I appreciate how the subtle, and not so subtle, differences in the types can change a drink. The characteristic flavor that some detractors refer to as drinking a pine tree is an interesting taste to me, and I like how the other flavors play off of that. It is also a versatile alcohol to mix and has probably been the main spirit in the largest number of our drinks.

The Tuxedo calls for Old Tom gin which is referred to as a milder, sweeter type of the spirit. I don’t get the sweeter part, but the milder description resonates. It doesn’t have the heavy juniper taste, but still has enough that you know you are drinking gin. That may not hold up to a strong tonic but when used in subtle cocktails like this one, it is perfect.

A standard martini is intended to be dry and basic. The promise of the Tuxedo is that it has the addition of maraschino liqueur and the background of the anise (absinthe in my mix). I had hoped that the touch of sweetness and the complexity of the absinthe would elevate the whole. Unfortunately, the amount of maraschino was so small that is got lost and the flavor of the anise, even in the tiny proportion you get from the ice wash, was dominant. I’m still not sure why the bitters are added, and since I forgot them at first I got to try one drink that did not include them and then did with no noticeable difference.

My neighbor came by try the drink and I made a couple of changes to his. I left out the absinthe since he hates licorice, and substituted maraska cherry liqueur for the maraschino. He had a second so I went back to the maraschino and substituted Peychaud bitters for the orange that I had been using. Since I can only provide feedback on color (the maraska made for a nice pink drink), I have to take his word for it that the latter was the better combination.

Jonathan’s take: The Tuxedo is nice drink, even if it didn’t live up to its promise.

David’s take: Good, but not great. I needed more nuance.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

Every state probably has its own magazine, and North Carolina has a great example in Our State. I had not realized it, but each month they include a cocktail. Fortunately those can be found on-line and the one I am suggesting is a Carolina Hot Toddy. The recipe uses a North Carolina whiskey, but I want to use a local apple brandy. It is my fervent hope that this toddy is a celebration of the end of winter (sorry David) as it provides soothing comfort.

The Martinez

Proposed by: DavidVersion 1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Someday I mean to create a cocktail family tree akin to the Rock and Roll blackboard scrawl in School of Rock created by Dewey Finn (aka Ned Schneebly, aka Jack Black). It will be full of  Biblical “begats” and “knows,” crisscross fertilization and looping circumferential hints of influence. Some lines will have to be dotted, of course, and paired with question marks.

The lineage of the Martinez seemed clear at first, and a confident Y on my imagined family tree. But for gin, it might be a Manhattan—so clearly it followed that—and, after its creation, some bartender likely preferred dry vermouth over sweet (and left the dash of liqueur and bitters out) and created the Martini. Though a Martinez tastes nothing like a Martini, some of my sources said it predates the Martini by ten years, citing it as part of the 1887 version of—what else?— Professor Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders’ Guide. In this version of the story it was created for someone going to (maybe from, depending on the account) Martinez, California. Or maybe it was because they served it in the Occidental Hotel to people going by  ferry from San Francisco to Martinez, California.

But it gets more complicated. Cocktail historian David Wondrich believes the Martinez and the Martini developed in the 1860s, simultaneously, the former on the west coast and the latter in New York. He discounts Jerry Thomas as inventor of the Martinez, saying the 1887 edition of his Bar-tenders Guide, published two years after Thomas’ death, may have copied an earlier version described in O.H. Byron’s 1884 Modern Bartender’s Guide. Then again, you may remember that Byron may have been a composite rob-job of Thomas. You see how quickly all this resembles a soap opera full of dubious parentage and dark family secrets.

Because Byron connects the Martinez clearly to a Manhattan, instructing a bartender to mix a Martinez “Same as a Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky,” and because the Martini doesn’t appear in published guides until 1888, I’m calling the Martinez a precursor… until Maury Povich comes along to settle the dispute.

Whatever the order of things, the original Martinez called for Old Tom Gin, which, loyal readers of this blog will know, was an earlier version sweetened slightly to smooth out the rough edges in questionable distillations. The sweetness of Old Tom changes the drink, and including it makes the Martinez seem a very—use-your-binoculars—distant relation to the Martini. However, substitute dry gin, and the Martini and the Martinez will look like cousins. Choose the bitter Carpano Antica as the sweet vermouth and they may look like brothers.

I ran into a number of recipes that called for different bitters and different liqueurs. You might try it, for instance, with Genever for the gin, curaçao for the liqueur and angostura as the bitter (as one recipe does). I’ve listed the basic formula below, but nothing prevents you from playing around… and perhaps adding your own line to the family tree.

Here’s the Recipe:

2 ounces gin

3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

Dash of orange bitters

Lemon twist for garnish

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain, pour. Twist the lemon peel over the glass and drop it in.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

martinez

The gin lessons continue. We’ve tried cocktails with London Dry Gin, Old Tom Gin, and different botanical and complex gins. My favorite so far has to be the citrus infused Rangpur Tanqueray gin that was used in the Bengali gimlet. This drink specified the use of Old Tom, an older style that is said to have a touch of sweetness without all of the herbal complexity. That specification seemed odd to me considering there is also an equal part of sweet vermouth in the recipe. Of course, wondering almost always leads to experimentation.

The other part of the experimentation goes back to eating, and drinking, locally. Early on in the blog I tried a rum that was made nearby, Muddy River rum, and began to get interested in the local distillery movement that has followed on the heels of the exploding local brewery trend. I haven’t forgotten that interest, but there have not been that many opportunities to try other local spirits, especially since so many of those are vodka or more neutral versions of other liquors. This recipe, and my question about gin type, led me to Southern Artisans Spirits in Kings Mountain, N.C. and their botanical gin—Cardinal.

The first version of the Martinez was tested with neighbors and used the Old Tom. It had the expected sweetness and the gin was, at most, subtle. That does not exactly match the idea that this cocktail is the precursor of the Martini, although it should. Most Martinis are so heavy in gin that it has become a cliché to suggest ways to nod to the vermouth without actually using it. With the equal parts of gin and sweet vermouth this drink had a mix of flavors, and body from the vermouth, that was much more pleasant. A lesson that Martini makers may wish to consider.

The following day we tried the drink with the Cardinal gin, and, not surprisingly, the botanicals came forward. It had been my guess that this would be a welcome contrast to the slight sweetness, but in truth the Old Tom version was more harmonious. The cocktail improved as it warmed, but still fell short.

One last comment that is more accurately a confession. I have been using Maraska cherry liqueur in drinks that call for maraschino liqueur. It explains taste differences as well as some of the color variation between my drinks and the ones David has made. I also thought it might be the reason that I disliked the Aviation cocktail so much. Out of fairness, and because the Martinez reminded me of it, I decided to give the Aviation another try. The color was much better (it is included in the picture with the Martinez) and the drink an improvement from what I remember of the original tasting, but still not one I would put on the go-to list.

Jonathan’s take: Want to try a martini? Try this first and you’ll understand the interplay of vermouth better.

David’s Take: Keep the sweetness at bay with a bittersweet vermouth and this cocktail is complex.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

It is autumn and thoughts turn to the flavors of the season. We’ve tried apples and pears so it needed to be something different. The drink is the Great Calabaza and the different ingredient is pumpkin. There are drinks that use puree, seeds or butter with the latter the case in this drink. Add mezcal to that and it should be interesting.

The Last Word

this oneProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof features a bar moment where one patron asks another, “What is that you’re drinking?” His answer: “”Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”

I confess my chief interest in The Last Word was Chartreuse. As a visual artist, I’m fascinated with color, and chartreuse is one of my favorites, a slightly gray green, but spring green not evergreen or hunter. The idea that a color comes from liqueur intrigued me, as did its history, which goes back to a secret recipe of 130 herbs, plants, and flowers given to Carthusian Monks in 1605. Chartreuse appeared commercially in 1764, which is, oh, only 250 years ago.

But, I confess, my choice was self-indulgent and not terribly considerate because, first, my brother Jonathan is color-blind (and who knows how he sees chartreuse) and second, this shit is expensive! When I visited the liquor store to buy it, I immediately emailed my brother with an apology, which I’ll make again publically now.

Sorry Jonathan, I wish I’d looked at the price before choosing it.

At least this cocktailian adventure has history to recommend it. The Last Word is a drink with recent antiquity too, invented during prohibition in Detroit, the entry point for much of the Midwest’s bootlegging—Canada was, as always, much more sensible during those years—and, at first, the drink enjoyed considerable popularity.

The Last Word largely disappeared, however, until returning in Seattle, at the Zig-Zag Café when bartender Murray Stenson found it in Bottoms Up! Ted Saucier’s 1951 bar guide. Possibly the color recommended it most, as the combination of lime and Chartreuse is a charmingly watery green, in evening light almost luminescent. Chartreuse, after all, is the drink of vampires and turns their eyes a lurid shade.

You hear me. I’m trying to sell it, working to justify the expense and trouble. Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard…

So here’s the recipe:

  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce green Chartreuse

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, and shake briskly for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

colorHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

The laws that govern alcohol sales in North Carolina are bizarre to say the least. First, there are still plenty of dry (no sales of alcohol whatsoever) cities and counties. Even some counties that are fairly urban are still dry with sales of any type of spirit permitted only within the cities. On-premise sales typically include beer, wine and liquor, though not always all of them. Off-premise sales allow beer and wine to be purchased from private stores while hard liquor must be obtained in state owned ABC stores.

The fun part used to be the customer service philosophy of those state run stores. When I was first of legal age, shopping for alcohol was an uncomfortable experience. The workers were trained, or so it seemed, to bring an enforcement and puritanical attitude that asked the unspoken questions “Are you old enough and do you really need that demon alcohol?” That attitude, luckily, has changed and workers are now helpful and friendly although they are still limited in the information they provide.

Why is this important? Depending on the drink and its ingredients, I try to decide if the nearby ABC store or the more helpful SC stores are my best bet. The only part of this cocktail that I did not have was the proprietal Chartreuse, so I decided that there was no need for advice nor a real cost advantage to going south. The last part, of course, based on an assumption that the 3 monks who hold the secret recipe for Chartreuse are also hard and fast capitalists who make you pay for that closely held information. Boy was I right on that one.

David compared this drink in his introduction to the Aviation. That is a fair comparison, I think, with one exception – I really liked this one. The first part that is similar to the Aviation is the amount of alcohol in the drink. The Chartreuse by itself is higher proof than the gin, and the only non-alcoholic part of the mix is the lime. The other part that is reminiscent is the odd color. The mix of chartreuse and the deep red of the maraschino give this cocktail an odd pomegranate color, or so my more color adept wife tells me. The biggest difference was the background herbal flavors of both the liqueur and the gin which mixed perfectly. The citrus of the lime, and oil from the garnish, was a nice counterpoint to that. Add in a beautiful spring day, and this was a relaxing aperitif to sip the afternoon away.

Jonathan’s take: The color and herbal depth made this different and unique. This one was worth the monk-determined value.

David’s Take: Pleasure mixed with guilt—I guess pleasure wins. As precious as Chartreuse is, it tastes good. Can’t help scratching my head over our two drinks’ color difference… but what else is new?

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I feel the need for a drink that celebrates spring and the approaching warmth of summer. Of course, I also feel the need to use my newly acquired Chartreuse. There are recipes for Chartreuse and tonic, but since the liqueur goes so well with gin and lime, I am proposing that we make a standard gin and tonic but split the gin with an equal amount of Chartreuse. Add some mint leaves and celebrate.

The Hemingway Daiquiri

Proposed by: JonathanDaiquiri

Reviewed by: David

The Daiquiri would probably make most lists of the classic cocktails. In its most simple form it is comprised of rum, a sour such as lime juice, and a sweet component. The variations on that basic recipe are seemingly endless, and in fact the Gimlet that we enjoyed some time ago is the same concept with gin instead of rum.

The proposal for this week is a Hemingway Daiquiri which uses two fruit juices for the sour and a liqueur for the sweet. Although there are various recipes for this drink, the specific one I used came from an e-book by Robert Willey called Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists (Joseph Schwartz and Jim Meehan).

20131116_184304Here’s the Recipe

1.5 ounce light rum
¾ ounce Maraschino liqueur
1 ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe

The daiquiri like many drinks has a number of claimants for its invention. It has been around since the late 1800’s and the many versions altering the simple three part ingredients make it likely that there were a number of inventors. The word “daiquiri” probably comes from a beach near Santiago, Cuba as noted in a Wikipedia history which makes sense based on the rum base.

One historical fact that is clear, however, is that it was another favorite of Ernest Hemingway who enjoyed his at Havana’s El Floridita bar (different sources note his version was called the Papa Doble). I had suggested in the proposal last week that someone should consider writing a book about Hemingway, his many favorite drinks and the locations in which he drank them. That book has been written by Philip Greene and is called To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion. I have not read it, but based on reviews think that I will (as part of cocktail scholarship of course).

A couple of weeks ago with the Bourbon Cider, I noted trying to use local ingredients. One of the things that I have found is that similar to local wineries and breweries, there are an increasing number of local distillers. The rum I used for this recipe comes from a small town in North Carolina just outside of Charlotte. Muddy River Distillery is located in Belmont only offers the single product – Carolina Rum. I am no aficionado, but was very impressed with this Catawba River product and thought it worked really well in this drink.

Here’s David’s Review:

I’ve earned the “not-so-savvy” of “not-so-savvy cocktailian” by being singularly ignorant of drinks others know well. That includes daiquiris, which I not only don’t drink but can’t spell (without the help of spell check).

That said, the ingredients of this drink were familiar, and, on the imaginary scorecard for this brotherly experiment, a few of my proposed cocktails have been unsuccessful because of their unfamiliarity. Some tastes, I’ve learned, play nicely together, and others do not. Jonathan seems to have a knack to choosing complementary elements and a particular gift for recognizing recipes that combine fruit flavors with the appropriate spirits.

Though the grapefruit juice and lime gave this drink strong acidity, the maraschino liqueur  mellowed that taste considerably. The recipe I used called for simple syrup as well, and that also balanced what could have been a very tart drink. Even with my use of the more herbal taste of cachaça, which I chose over traditional rum or a rhum agricole, I found this daiquiri easy to drink. Friends joined us in testing this cocktail, and the decision for a second round came without question. It was, in every way, drinkable.

My only quibble comes from comparison. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a number of sweet drinks, and I wonder if Hemingway’s daiquiri might benefit from a little less sugar. The Papa Doble Jonathan mentions appeared in my research as a variation to this drink that doubles the rum, and, had I not already had two daiquiris, I might have tried that. Or I could have followed Jonathan’s recipe and skipped the simple syrup. The maraschino liqueur isn’t super sweet, but perhaps it’s sweet enough—with fresh lime and grapefruit—to make less (or no) simple syrup welcome.

Now that I’ve had a daiquiri, I may return to not thinking of myself as a daiquiri drinker, at least not in Chicago in November.  More sun and less wind and rain seem required. As much as I enjoyed this cocktail, I’m still looking for a libation that teeters riskily just at the edge of dissonance. So far, most of my proposals have teetered and fallen, but I have a feeling that, somewhere out there in cocktailia, exists an unlikely drink that makes music from less likely notes. For now, however, Hemingway’s Daiquiri is a joyful Caribbean tune worth celebrating.

David’s Take: This cocktail was easy to drink and pleasant in every way. Some summer afternoon, I may return to it, but my mind is on fall.

Jonathan’s take: I like the continuity of ingredients from one week to the other, in this case Maraschino liqueur. That slight cherry sweetness along with the grapefruit brought a nice variation to a cocktail that I thought I knew well.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the pears abundant this time of year, and my mind has been on doctoring some of the pear cocktail recipes I’ve seen and combining some of those seasonal flavors in a new cocktail. Specifically I’m going to try to reproduce the flavor profile of a wonderful pear tart I encountered a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have a name yet, but, in addition to pears, this cocktail will bring in ginger, vanilla, and sparkling wine.

The Aviation

Proposed by: Davidaviation

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The Aviation cocktail might be described as “Heirloom” in the same way tomatoes are—passed down within families and a little funky. Heirloom tomatoes are recognizably tomatoes but variously colored and bulbously strange—this cocktail is pre-prohibition, mixed in an ordinary, familiar way but strange in its combination of ingredients and flavors.

Apparently (because, once again, I’m relying on someone else’s research) the first manifestation of the Aviation comes from Hugo Ensslin, who offered a recipe for the Aviation in a 1916 work, Recipes for Mixed Drinks. He includes a dash of Crème de Violette as well as Maraschino liquor and one part lemon juice to two parts gin as the complete elements. But Crème de Violette largely disappeared from bartenders’ larders and so the true Aviation vanished as well, replaced by violetteless versions. The heirloom Aviation did not return until Rothman and Winter Crème de Violette reappeared in the US in 2007.

Crème de Violette is certainly funky. The color leads you to expect grape, and, while there’s an understated fruitiness to the liqueur, the taste is really floral. Like lavender and orange blossom, its aroma and taste seem more suited to perfume than food, and it may be an acquired rather than intuitively delicious flavor. Gin adds an herbal or botanical element intended to balance what might otherwise be more flowery than flavorful, and, while taking the violette out of the drink would make it something else, you can understand the impulse to veer toward the mainstream. This drink is strange.

Part of the cocktail’s original appeal must have been visual, as it steers the other parts of the drink toward a lovely opalescent blue-purple, the color of a litmus sky at dusk or dawn. Of course, you can’t drink art, but this cocktail seems aimed to test that assumption. With a cherry sunk in the vortex of martini glass, it’s a lovely concoction however it tastes.

Here’s a recipe:

2 oz. Gin

½  to ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

¼ oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur

¼ oz. Crème de Violette

Place a brandied cherry (or Luxardo maraschino cherry) into a well-chilled martini glass. Combine all the ingredients over ice, shake, and strain into the glass.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

The inspiration for the proposed drink really intrigued me. I am always behind on pop culture and have not seen the show The Blacklist. The idea that we were trying a drink that was created a long time ago and brought back to the fore through an obscure reference in the show was great though.

The other thing that piqued my interest was the use of the two liqueurs, one of which is particularly odd. The maraschino liqueur shows up in a few cocktails, and I had hoped we would find a way to use it if for no other reason than I would be able to have it on hand for some other drinks I had considered. The Creme de Violette is the one I would label odd.

I’m still not sure if it is actually made from flowers of the Alps or is a creation that resembles them, but either way it looks, smells, and tastes like nothing I have ever had.

I have learned from David that it is worthwhile to taste the ingredients separately, especially when they are something new. In this case I didn’t do that until after I made the drink and then I went back to see what each component was like. Both the maraschino and Creme de Violette are interesting (and sweet) on their own with each having a unique assertiveness.

The Aviation invoked a quick thought that derived from its inspiration. That thought was that after Spader’s character ordered the drink and his colleague tasted it she must have quickly exclaimed “Ce n’est pas formidable!” Simply put, I hated it. The color was off-putting even for the color blind, the smell was reminiscent of underwear drawer sachet, and the ingredients clashed with each other. The cliché is that it tasted like cough medicine so I won’t say that, but I will say the best part was that it was soothing to the throat.

Another thing I have noticed as we have considered and tried drinks is that particular brands of liquor are recommended for certain drinks. The Gin of choice in our house is Bombay Sapphire which is very botanical. That may have been a bad choice for this cocktail since it made the clash of flavors even more pronounced.

Jonathan’s take: It’s too easy to say this drink didn’t fly. My fellow tasters, however, challenged me to create a new drink called the Dirigible that would crash and burn worse than this.

David’s take: Hmm… I’m not really sure what I think. This cocktail seemed in every way peculiar to me, a novel taste perhaps, but one I’m unlikely to acquire.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

If there is not already a book about the drinks of Hemingway there should be. It could be part travel book, part literary history, and part cocktail guide. The maraschino liqueur will come in handy as we try the Hemingway Daiquiri.