Cohasset Punch #2

CocktailSProposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

The strange origin story of Cohasset Punch #2 begins with a Chicago bartender named Gus Williams, who was invited to travel to small Cohasset, Massachusetts by William Henry Crane, a popular comic actor of the Victorian period. According to accounts of the day, Chicago loved the actor’s creative use of transformative greasepaint and face prosthetics, and he was a much-demanded and much-lionized figure in Chicago theaters. The association between Williams and Crane was a business matter—to celebrate his success on the Chicago boards properly, Crane needed a bartender he could trust to serve drinks during the infamously large and raucous parties he hosted at his vacation home back east.

It was on this trip that Gus Williams invented Cohasset Punch, a cocktail using canned peaches, rum, sweet vermouth, orange bitters (later Grand Marnier), and lemon juice. The drink started with half a peach at the bottom of a large coupe glass, followed by ice, with the shaken spirit and lemon combination (plus some syrup from the peaches) poured over.

Williams carried his recipe, which he kept secret, back to Chicago, and it became one of the most popular drinks in his bar. Eventually, he sold his formula to The Lardner Brothers Saloon on West Madison Street, which they later adorned with a neon sign reading, “Home of Cohasset Punch.” The Lardner Brothers bottled the drink as well. Despite their efforts to keep Williams’ secret, the drink also became popular—under other names—throughout the city.

LadnerBrosStreetShotJJBy the 1950s, the sign was a curiosity, but for a long time, Chicagoans thought of it as the city’s signature cocktail. As I mentioned last week, it appears in Saul Bellow’s first novel Dangling Man when he describes the quintessential Chicago arts party with spare Swedish furniture, brown carpet, prints of Chagall and Gris, vines on the mantelpiece, and a bowl of Cohasset Punch. I haven’t read the novel, but my understanding is the punch went down much too easily. The evening ended with the hostess haranguing all assembled.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I made a Cohasset Punch as it was originally formulated—being a Chicagoan, I sort of had to. However, reviews that described the drink as “pleasant enough” encouraged me to focus on the update, Cohasset Punch #2 created by Mathias Simonis (from Distil in Milwaukee). The canned peach is gone—it’s so not 21st century, right?—and it adds cinnamon simple syrup, which involves steeping cinnamon sticks in regular simple syrup. You’ll see what Jonathan thought of the cocktail, but I have a spice store near me and bought some Vietnamese cinnamon for the syrup and, wow, it made a spicy and pleasant concoction. Here’s how to make the new and improved Cohasset Punch #2:

2 oz Rum
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Cinnamon Syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

And Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

The first thing everyone says, or asks, when you tell them the drink of the week is the Cohasset Punch #2 is, “What about #1?” David has described the differences so my simple response of “canned peaches” makes more sense. At least more sense than the other response, “So it could get to the other side.”

It is more than Labor Day as this week and weekend marked the end of summer with a celebration of marriage and the unofficial beginning of fall. My wife and I ended last week at a beautiful family wedding in Charleston and continued the fun at our first tailgate of the college football season in Chapel Hill. The first event was not short on festive parties, but the cocktail had to wait until the latter event to be unveiled.

The other part of the context of this week’s selection needs to come with a qualifier. That qualifier is that I do read books other than those related to libations, spirits, and drinking, but I am currently back on that category of non-fiction. I am reading And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. David’s suggestion of this cocktail came just as I was getting to the chapter related to the era of rum punch, so it seemed to be particularly apt.

There is little question, at least to me, that the best part of this drink is the cinnamon simple syrup, although that may also be why it is not found at more bars. That syrup provides a background taste and sweetness that gives the punch a depth beyond the classic image of punch. Both the orange bitters and lemon twist add to that depth. In fact, the first batch we shared with tailgaters was without the lemon twist, and there was a noticeable improvement when it was added. The drink could have been a little less sweet (maybe a substitute for sweet vermouth), but that may not be in keeping with the whole punch concept. This was the most elegant punch I have ever had, perhaps the only elegant one, and it punctuated the end of summer.

Jonathan’s take: Never doubt the subtlety of the perfect garnish (lemon twist in this case) and what it adds to a drink.

David’s Take: The story might be better than the drink, but cinnamon simple syrup has promise for future cocktails

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The suggestion is to return to the top 100 classics with the Tequila Sunrise. There is a wonderful article on the Huffington Post site by Anneli Rufus reintroducing the drink and providing some new twists available at bars across the country. David will have the opportunity to try one, or more, in person since three of those bars are in Chicago. My plan is to try the Rising Sun created at the Departure Restaurant and Lounge in Portland, Oregon, but I will have to make it myself. Any excuse to make my own grenadine is okay with me though.

 

 

Mai Tai

20140713_180821_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

I am afraid. Very afraid actually. Who could have known, before doing research on this drink and the background, that people are so into and argumentative about all things tiki. The disputes run deeper than the origin of the Mai Tai, there are debates, web sites and input all over the board about tiki decoration, tiki food and especially tiki cocktails. I can’t prove it, but am fairly sure that someone sent an attack yellow jacket to sting my hand yesterday to leave me incapable of typing. Despite the swelling and itching, though, in the name of all that is right in cocktailia, I am pushing forward.

The Mai Tai is included on virtually every list of the top 100 cocktails of all time. It meets the basic definition of two parts spirit (rum in combination of types), one part sour (lime) and one part sweet (the mix of orgeat and orange liqueur) at least in the basic recipes. The odd thing is that there is no simple, basic recipe.

This cocktail is less disputed as to the creator than it is about actual ingredients. There is little doubt that Victor Bergeron created a drink that is now known as the Mai Tai at his Trader Vic’s restaurant and bar in California. That drink highlighted an extremely well-aged rum (J. Wray & Nephew which is no longer available) and paired it with lime, orange curaçao, orgeat, and simple syrup. Sometime before that, however, Ernest Gantt (perhaps better known for his name alteration – Don the Beachcomber) had also made a drink ultimately called a Mai Tai. It is a much more complicated mix of ingredients which included grapefruit juice, Pernod, and bitters among other things. Search Wikipedia and one can find a link to wikibooks with no less than 11 recipes for the Mai Tai. I am perfectly happy to give both of them credit.

Not surprisingly, David and I exchanged messages this week about what recipe to use. I settled on this one, but even that changed a couple of nights later when I made the pictured drinks. From Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn from the Modern Mixologists:

1 ounce aged rum
1 ounce heavy rum
½ ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce orgeat

Combine the rum, Grand Marnier, lime juice, orgeat and ice in a shaker. Shake and pour, unstrained, into a rocks glass, add a half of the previously juiced lime and a sprig of mint. Of course, I added the parasols since we are talking faux tiki here.

The first test version, which I made after creating the homemade orgeat (still quite a task but worth it), included Pusser’s Navy Rum and an aged rum along with a Grand Marnier knock off. That drink had too many parts that came to the forefront. The official tasting version included the same aged rum, but substituted Muddy River Rum and triple sec for the Navy rum and Grand Marnier. It was a much better blend. The rest of the debate about all things tiki? You’ll need to take that up with Martha Stewart. Just watch out for yellow jackets

Here’s David’s Review:mt2

As a category, tiki drinks have an ironic appeal for me. The crazy glasses, the pastel colors, and the fruity profusion of exotic secondary ingredients make tiki drinks the circus clowns of the cocktail world. I might drink one just to grin at the monstrosity before me, just to inform the world I’m not afraid of stepping out and standing out.

As Jonathan notes, the Mai Tai may be the greatest of the tiki drinks, the granddaddy of the them all and, as such, bartenders have created many lurid and gaudy variations. Like Jonathan, however, I went with the classic Mai Tai to test the theory that serious cocktails can make do with elegant simplicity. I had to have the little parasols too, but otherwise I meant to do Trader Vic proud. Nor was I disappointed.

My appreciation of fresh squeezed lime increases each time we use it. Depending on the context, a lime can add sweetness, tartness, or a citrusy spiciness. In this setting the lime seemed to do all three, mixing with the caramel overtones of the aged rum to give the drink depth as well as freshness. Curaçao is a little sweet—I always wish it were more like marmalade than candy orange wedges. And my version included a “rock candy simple syrup” that is two parts sugar to one water. I’m unconvinced of the necessity of the extra sweet simple syrup, as Jonathan’s version includes no simple syrup the simple syrup I had, which was not so sweet, was too sweet. The orgeat, however, contributed an interesting weight and smoothness, almost like adding egg whites. I wish I’d made mine from scratch as Jonathan did, but the version I found was quite good… even if it was a little expensive. Plus, I have more, should I find other recipes calling for it.

I was tempted, of course, to put the concoction in a party-store-purchased pink plastic hurricane “glass,” decorate the rim with pineapple, and add a twisty straw along with a sword skewer of cherry, grape, and melon ball, but I’m older now. It would not befit my age and station any more than the Hawaiian print shirt still hanging in the back of my closet. Besides, any addition to this recipe would be gilding a lily. The secret of the Mai Tai, a couple of glasses tell me, is its assertiveness… no equivocation allowed.

My sister (who, coincidentally, is also Jonathan’s sister) and her husband visited Chicago this weekend, and, though they gave me no lengthy reviews, they seemed to appreciate the sour attack of this sweet and substantial drink. As my brother-in-law noted, it’s also a potent drink, and that’s sure to pave the way for greater enjoyment still. An accomplished and famous cocktail, the Mai Tai is clearly the product of careful and sensible proportions and blending.

David’s Take: I would have another… and another… though I’d ask how the bartender makes his Mai Tai if I ever order one out.

Jonathan’s take: I came into this week thinking fruit juices and rum when I thought Mai Tai, but leave fairly confident in Trader Vic and his simple orgeat version.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’d like to stay on the summer theme by suggesting the Tabernacle Crush, a cocktail featuring a fruit I love—peach—and an ingredient I’ve wanted to return to—Lillet. This one will also call for basil, but it’s an herb that even we Chicagoans can grow in the summer.

The Black Eyed Susan

b-eyed sProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The Preakness Stakes is the second race of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Two weeks ago we celebrated the first race, the Kentucky Derby of course, with the traditional Mint Julep. This week’s cocktail is named after the official flower of Maryland and is the cocktail of The Preakness – the Black Eyed Susan.

Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore hosts the Preakness which was run for the first time in 1873, two years before the Kentucky Derby. Unlike the Derby which has been run every year since 1875, though, the Preakness missed a few years and was run at other tracks during its history. The race features its own traditions in the singing of Maryland’s state song (Maryland, My Maryland), a blanket of flowers for the winner (Black Eyed Susans or their substitute since they bloom later in the year), and the cocktail that we are celebrating.

The official cocktail has changed recipes over the year and any quick search will turn up a number of variations. The history began in a cloudy way when the first versions were premixed and the exact makeup kept secret by the company that made them. The story goes that the folks at Pimlico decided to make their own and a recipe was created to mimic the original. Since then though, there are versions different enough that they do not even contain the same base liquors. The Preakness web site includes what is now the “official” version made with Finlandia Vodka, St. Germain (an elderberry liqueur), and the juice of lemon, limes and pineapple. Needless to say it is official because it is sponsored by Finlandia and St. Germain.

My proposal last week was that we each try the version of our choice. Last year, before this blog was envisioned, our household celebrated the Derby with Juleps. The races that followed seemed to be a good excuse to try the traditional cocktails of each and we did just that. The Black Eyed Susan I made then included vodka and Kentucky whiskey (Early Times Kentucky Whisky, and yes, the spelling difference is correct). Based on that and few extra taste testers I found a recipe for a pitcher of the drink that was close to it:

1.5 cups vodka
1.5 cups rum, whiskey, or bourbon (I used bourbon)
.75 cups triple sec
4 cups orange juice
4 cups pineapple juice
1 tablespoon of lime juice

Garnished with an orange slice, cherry and fresh pineapple.

Add in some kind of crab dish, singing along with Maryland, My Maryland and you have your own tradition. At least until they change the recipe again.

beyedsuzDavid’s Review:

I had no intention of including St. Germain in this recipe, despite what the track says this year, but I did. It was on sale at a high falootin’ grocery I visit (but still mighty expensive) and I just couldn’t resist. Say what you will about the cost of St. Germain, it’s delicious and, I think, adds a great deal to this cocktail.

The Preakness usually goes unnoticed for me—it’s the first race after the Kentucky Derby—but this cocktail called for close attention. I’m no fan of pineapple juice, as the juice is another case where the fruit can’t be improved upon. Yet this drink offered a fresh and refreshing combination of flavors. Unlike Jonathan, I stuck to vodka and rum (and St. Germain), which made the fruit that much more prominent. In addition, St. Germain has an odd resonance with citrus. Tasted by itself, the liquor is positively protean, seeming at turns herbal, spicy, and fruity. And, at times, it tastes positively pineapply to me.

As we’ve suggested before, the ultimate review of a mixed drink is whether you order another, and we did. We missed the race—why so early, Maryland?—but the drink was a fine way to wind down as spring (finally) seems to be arriving in Chicago.

Maybe expense doesn’t matter so much if the result is a quiet moment of celebration. You don’t need a race or anything else, just the will for gratitude, a desire to acknowledge how good a moment of calm can be.

Jonathan’s take: Fruity. No other way to put it – fruity.

David’s take: Fruit is good, maybe even healthy. Whether it is or not, though, I’ll have another.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Time for another classic, I think. Let’s try a Tom Collins. I don’t have any idea who Tom Collins might be (though I’m certain I’ll find out), or how the drink arrived at that name, but as just about everyone seems to recognize the concoction, maybe it’s time to try one. We have the ingredients after all, and that’s a definite plus.

The Blue Sky Cocktail

Proposed by: Davidblue

Reviewed by: Jonathan

My cousin Alan Bourque and I were particularly close because, besides being exactly the same age, we went to the same college. For a time, it appeared Jonathan’s son Josh and my son Ian might too. Alas, Carolina wait-listed Ian, but he and Josh have always enjoyed being together and have sought every opportunity to meet. And, even if they’re graduating from different schools over the next couple of weeks, they do share the same school color, which you can call Columbia Blue or Carolina Blue as you wish.

This week was all about color, and celebration. Remembering The French 75 fondly, I though it’d be fun to have a champagne (or prosecco) cocktail to commemorate our boys’ achievement. Blue Curaçao provided the color for the Blue Sky Cocktail, which, besides being properly named for our boys’ futures, I hoped might mimic a color that, after living in North Carolina, I can almost see with my eyes closed. Color isn’t my brother’s strong suit, but I want to say, “It’s the gesture. It’s the gesture.”

Once in college one of my roommates said I should add milk to his coffee until it exactly matched the shade of the cup it was in, and it took twenty minutes of careful calibration to get it right. When the coffee arrived cold, he wasn’t amused, but I like a challenge. The recipe for this drink is below, but—confession time—I was more focused on achieving the right tint than the right combination of ingredients. In fact—an uglier confession—the photo I’ve posted above isn’t this drink at all, which, with yellow champagne and lemon juice and brown amaretto, was aqua, the color of no sky I’ve experienced and not nearly faint enough to achieve the pastel glory of Carolina and Columbia. To create the concoction pictured, I combined only the blue curaçao with the champagne and added a little water and then some absinthe to create a milky hue.

The resulting drink was horrible, but it was, I think, a decent approximation of the right shade. There’s that, at least.

Here’s the recipe for a Blue (not really so blue) Sky Cocktail:

  • 1/2 oz blue curacao
  • 1/2 oz amaretto
  • 1/2 oz champagne
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Combine everything except the champagne in the glass. Add the champagne and stir gently.

photo-90Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Last week, David had many well founded reasons to avoid reviewing the Mint Julep. This week I feel almost the same. The proposed cocktail was to be part of our celebration of graduations – first my son, Josh, and then my nephew, Ian. I don’t want a negative review to seem like a sour note in what was in all ways a glorious weekend and series of graduation events. So to handle that, I will consider the drink and the celebrations separately.

We have tried a few different cocktails that have included sparkling wines, and I have learned the type of sparkler matters. This one called for champagne, whereas some of the ones we have had in the past have been very general (sparkling wine) and more specific (Prosecco). The Caiparinha de Uva recipe indicated sweet wine, but David was more successful in substituting Prosecco. I used all of that experience to decide on Cava as the sparkler of choice, and that was part of my undoing.

This cocktail seemed more like a battle than a blend. The Cava and the Amaretto both wanted to assert their will, if spirits can in fact make assertions. It was hard to get past the two of them and even begin to taste where the curacao and lemon juice came in. Even the color was a bit off, with more of a teal than the hoped for light blue. Despite my lovely nieces modeling the drink, one can see the color just wasn’t right or appetizing. I had to wonder if a simple dry champagne would have helped with both taste and color.

The celebration on the other hand was a harmonious blend of events. A party with roommates and their families, dinner with family, a gorgeous Sunday morning graduation ceremony and finally a luncheon to toast the graduate, mothers, and a bonus birthday (my oldest son’s) all made for the perfect weekend. My wife and I feel very blessed that both our sons are graduates of the university from which we received our degrees. Even more importantly, it is obvious that they each had their own great experiences and received a wonderful education all while learning to love the place just as we had.

Jonathan’s take: The cocktail, not so good, but the rest of the celebration, couldn’t imagine better.

David’s Take: I wish I were as happy with this cocktail as I am about Ian and Josh’s graduation. Too bad the Blue Sky Cocktail is okay, but not brilliant.

Next Week (proposed by Jonathan):

Two weeks ago we had Mint Jules with the Derby. This coming weekend is the second race of the Triple Crown, the Preakness. The official flower and cocktail of the Preakness is the Black Eyed Susan. The recipe has changed over the years (oddly in perfect correspondence with the liquor sponsorship), but last year I simply found the version that sounded best to me. Since David and I are our own sponsors, I propose we each do the same and pick the flower which we find the most appealing.

 

The Ultimate Margarita

Proposed by: JonathanMarge

Reviewed by: David

Our Mother asked me a few weeks ago how we come up with the cocktail of the week. Frankly, I think what she was really asking was “Why the heck did you drink that?” in reaction to some odd drink that we had tried. It did make me pause and consider how I arrive at a proposal. Most of the time, the genesis of the idea occurs in those obsessive wee hours of the morning when I am lying awake during a regular episode of insomnia. This week though, it was simply my turn to celebrate a national holiday, just as David had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. And what better way to celebrate National Chip and Dip Day than the classic margarita.

Here’s a surprise – the margarita has a murky and quirky history. There’s the story of a socialite from Dallas who created the drink as an experiment while hosting friends in Mexico. The problem with that explanation, despite her first name being Margarita, is that there are references to margaritas that pre-date her party in 1948. Next up is the showgirl who was allergic to liquor except tequila, and the bartender who created a drink to sidestep that allergy. Seriously, I am no allergist and don’t play one on TV, but allergic to liquor except tequila? Sounds plausible as a reason to become a shoeless expatriate, but little else.

That leaves a couple of explanations that make a lot more sense. The first is that the margarita is a cocktail version of the traditional tequila shot served with a wedge of lime and a bit of sprinkled salt. It does not take a leap of faith or an allergy to follow the progression from that to a salt lined glass with a lime and tequila mix in it. The second is my personal favorite explanation, though, because of its tie to my sweet yellow lab Daisy. A Daisy cocktail is a sour (alcohol, citrus and sweet element) with the addition of soda or seltzer. In particular, a tequila daisy contains lemon juice, sugar, tequila, orange liqueur and soda water. Add the fact that Daisy is a diminutive nickname for Margaret, and the English translation of margarita in turn can be “daisy flower” and you have a story worth swallowing.

The margarita is a classic for a number of reasons. It is easy to make, particularly if you don’t mind pre-made mixers, and easy to drink. It also invokes a relaxed and tropical atmosphere where worries float away thanks to a popular musical artist who shall go unnamed thanks to rabid trademark enforcement. Finally, there are so many options for variation simply by changing the type of tequila, the orange liqueur and/or the citrus. Don’t forget frozen or on the rocks either.

I chose the Tyler Florence recipe because it incorporates some of those variations while retaining the classic form. The recipe makes four servings by mixing ½ cup fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar, ¼ cup orange liqueur, ¼ cup triple sec, 1 cup tequila and the odd addition of ½ can of lager. All ingredients but the lager are combined and blended, the lager is added and mixed, and the drink strained into iced filled glasses that are salt rimmed (or not). Bold, strong and orange forward, this is an exceptional version of the classic.

margaritaHere’s David’s Review:

I occasionally order a margarita out—when the server describes something unlikely or exotic—but I don’t drink many. They’re sweet, slushy, more dessert-y than a before-dinner drink should be, and often scary, lurid hues generally not found in food (or, sometimes, in nature). Plus they delay my beer.

As Friday started my spring break from school, however, a margarita sounded awfully good, and this version was awfully good. I don’t know enough about the cocktail to say how commonly bartenders add a splash of lager, but, to me it made this drink.

Like many cocktails, margaritas balance sour and sweet, but the botanical element seems most powerful and important to me. Depending upon the orange liquor and triple sec you use—I used Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao and Luxardo Triplum, respectively—there’s a sort of marmalade taste that adds to the bitter lime citrus and the distinctive herbal aloe scent and cactus flavor of tequila. But the addition of the beer, which I registered largely as hops, take that element a step further. At first, the sugar in the recipe worried me, but now it seems entirely necessary, an effective counterpoint. If I hadn’t splashed the beer in myself (and I love splashing), I might not have guessed what lurked in this concoction, but I certainly noticed it when, on the second go-round, I forgot to splash. Without hops, this margarita seemed undistinguished, pedestrian. With hops, bueno.

I know who Tyler Florence is because he hosts one of my favorite Food Network shows, The Great Food Truck Race (and Tyler’s Ultimate, which I’ve never seen) , but when I saw the name of this drink, “Ultimate Margarita,” I harrumphed. “I’ll decide about that!” I said. I’ve decided my every margarita will follow his recipe from now on.

Jonathan’s take: From the addition of lager to the double dose of orange, this is not the run of the mill happy hour special margarita.

David’s Take: Wonderful. Let spring begin… too bad it snowed this morning.

Next Week (proposed by David):

When I think of a Rusty Nail, I picture a hard-bitten detective in the chilled half-darkness of some dive, bellied up to a bar, and waxing about the gritty streets and the poetic depravity of humanity. The cop is usually a little too far from pension and nursing his or her last ounce of optimism. But I’ve never had a Rusty Nail. The recipe, it turns out, has only two ingredients, and one is pretty sweet. So maybe just the name is hard-bitten. We’ll see next week.