Watermelon Cocktails

Proposed By: David

Pursued By: Jonathan

You may not know (unless you’re Cliff Clavin) that the watermelon appears in ancient Hebrew, Egyptian tombs, and medieval texts. Its history stretches 5,000 years, which means it’s about time Jonathan and I made it the focus of our cocktail-making efforts. This time, our charge was simple: make something with watermelon.

Mark Twain called the watermelon, “What angels eat,” but, thinking of the watermelons of my youth, I can’t believe anyone would say that. Those watermelons were crowded with annoying seeds to spit out. Though, in the tradition of older brothers everywhere, mine told me swallowing a seed would start a watermelon growing inside me, I can remember giving up after a wedge or two. Current watermelons are so much more civilized—seedless and full of juice.

That juice—more Clavin-esque information—may explain part of watermelon’s longevity. Some scientists believe watermelons were first cultivated in the Kalahari desert as sort of primitive water storage devices. Watermelons are 92 percent water (and 6 percent sugar).

Anyway, it’s the water of the watermelon that seems perfect for drinking. It’s relatively low calorie (less than most mixers anyway), and has a distinctive and fresh flavor very unlike the Jolly Rancher or Laffy Taffy bastardizations.

The natural spirits for watermelon are probably vodka (we’ve made a watermelon drink before) or tequilla, but I thought it would be fun to try it in a Tiki style drink, so I adapted a recipe called the Tiki-ti Five-O and substituted watermelon for orange juice. The original recipe from comes from an LA tiki bar, the Tiki-Ti, and was created by a tiki scholar named Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. I found it in Imbibe:

2 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Five-0 syrup (see below)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. watermelon juice
1/4 oz. ginger liqueur

Muddle the watermelon in a bowl and then pour the appropriate amount of juice into the shaker, add the other ingredients and ice, then shake well. You might need to strain into the glass because the watermelon is pulpy. As you might see in the photo, I powdered the top with Chinese five-spice (very sparingly) and garnished with a cherry and a watermelon cube. I also added an inedible slide of rind for color… wishing I had a watermelon pickle or a piece of candied ginger instead.

So the watermelon was a wonderful element of this drink. Paradoxically, however, it was not the star. I purchased some Chinese five-spice powder for one of our previous cocktails and am happy to have found another mixology use for it. To make the syrup combine equal parts honey and water and 1 tablespoon of Chinese five-spice powder for every cup of water. Stir constantly, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and then let cool. Though I sort of hate any appearance of cheesecloth on this blog, you will need three or four layers to strain out the grit of the spice. And shake the syrup before you use it. If all that seems a lot of trouble, it’s worth it. Five-O syrup seems a perfect tiki flavor, and it’s so much easier than buying or making a bottle of falernum. I’m going to make more Five-O syrup.

Here’s Jonathan’s Entry:

Watermelon is not my favorite fruit. It’s not from lack of trying though, and as long as I can remember, it has been a staple of summer. Thumping to find the perfect one, icing it down, finding a spot to flick or spit the seeds and slicing it up. The idea is great while the fruit is usually disappointing. Maybe it’s comes from starting with the sweetest and most ripe section and working towards the rind and least sweet part. It just never lives up to the hype.

It is a fruit that goes well with so many things though. Many drinks ago we tried a watermelon and basil drink that was wonderful. Before the and since I have tried watermelon with cucumber, mint, and peppers in both food and drink and all of those were great combinations. So this was a challenge I was ready to accept.

My research found far more drinks with white liquors combined with watermelon than dark liquor ideas. The first drink we tried combined the botanicals of gin, cucumber accent and the featured fruit, the Watermelon Cucumber Cooler:

1.5 ounce gin
2 slices cucumber
1.5 ounce watermelon juice or 3 one inch chunks of watermelon
.5 ounce simple syrup
.75 ounce lime juice
Pinch salt
1.5 ounce soda water

Muddle watermelon and cucumber (I went with fruit chunks instead of juicing a watermelon), add other ingredients except soda, shake with ice, strain into iced filled highball glass, top with soda and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

This drink reminded me of all the past experiences with watermelon—sounds great but only okay. It did meet the promised Cooler aspect, which is good for summer, but none of the flavors asserted themselves. Surprisingly the gin even got lost in this one.

The idea of the second drink was to find a good whiskey and watermelon combo. I will admit that the previous experience with using basil and watermelon led me to the Murricane. The drink was supposedly created for Bill Murray and christened with one his nicknames that refers to his mercurial personality:

2 ounce watermelon (I still used muddled chunks rather than juicing)
4-5 basil leaves
1.5 ounce bourbon
.75 ounce lemon juice
.75 ounce St. Germain liqueur
Ground pepper

Muddle watermelon and basil, add all other ingredients, shake with ice, strain into old fashioned glass with fresh ice and garnish with a small chunk of watermelon.

The basil and watermelon mix did not disappoint. This was a cocktail that combined the best parts of summer with the distinctive taste of bourbon. I’m not sure what the St. Germain did but I will credit it with blending everything into one harmonious drink.

Jonathan’s take: I’ll keep eating watermelon and given the choice I will have it with basil and bourbon.

David’s take: I know I’m supposed to sneer at the hipsteriness and trendiness of Tiki drinks, but this is one I’ll return to.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One liqueur we have missed, or avoided, is Peach Schnapps. For some reason, most of the drinks using the liqueur have names that are double entendres. The proposal is to make one of the more mainstream of those that also has one of the more tame names – Sex on the Beach. If you don’t believe that is a tame name check out the list of Peach Schnapps drinks on the Bar None web site. Heck, just check out the ones that start with F.

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.

St. Germain Cocktail

St Germain.JBMProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

There are times when I feel like my introductions are more eighth grade book report than history… if I was reading alcohol literature in eighth grade, that is. The book in this case has been mentioned before and is Jason Wilson’s Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits. The author is described as a columnist on travel, food and drinks, which is quite the career description. Darn, have to go on a business trip to France, drink and eat well and then write about it. Woe is me.

The fourth chapter of his book discusses the marketing and romance of the liqueur part of the spirit industry. The better and more mysterious the back story, it seems, the better the liqueur. In the case of St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, the author relates the tale of the simple, yet magical, gathering of the flowers necessary to make the elixir. This gathering story includes a very limited time and place when the flowers are ready to be picked (a few short days in May in the French Alps), mustachioed gatherers dressed in berets, and the simple transportation of bags of the harvested blooms borne by bike to be processed. The actual production of the liqueur is also said to be based on a special maceration process that gently elicits the honeyed sap of the flower without bruising and damage. It is all a marketing tale that the cynical, like me, will quickly dismiss yet it is still so evocative that I have always felt the need to have this liqueur. And now I do.

This is simple cocktail that features the St. Germain liqueur. There are two versions that I have found – one in Collins glass form and the other served in champagne flutes. I chose the former and mixed 1.5 ounces St. Germain, 4 ounces Prosecco and 2 ounces sparkling water. That was served over ice with a twist of lemon as garnish. If you want the more elegant fluted version, it calls for 1.5 ounces St. Germain poured into the glass with 2 ounces of sparkling wine. The liqueur is delicate, from all that careful gathering and maceration of course, so a simple sparkler works best.

Here’s David’s Review:

St Germain C.DMMy memories of Easter when Jonathan and I were growing up don’t include any special celebration on my parents’ part—certainly no Easter cocktail—and no deviation from the usual routine of church-going other than perhaps some “new” handed-down clothes and candy for breakfast. This Easter my wife and I are in the throes of a property search. We’re empty-nesters no longer responsible for hiding eggs or filling baskets, and this place has grown too big for us.

And the Saturday afternoon before Easter, which once involved dying eggs, was decidedly more quiet. The St. Germain cocktail, in fact, seemed an ideal accompaniment to our circumstance. It also is quiet, the liqueur being as subtle as the prosecco and the seltzer diluting even that. The lemon actually seemed assertive, and we added only a slice.

We enjoyed it. St. Germain is wonderful stuff in any concentration and who doesn’t like bubbly? The liberal quantity of seltzer made the cocktail super carbonated, but not many cocktails can be described as “refreshing” as this one can. Maybe I’m becoming an inveterate drinker, but my only complaint about was that it seemed almost too subtle. The combination of liqueur and white wine is wonderful by itself. A couple of Christmases ago, our son bought us a bottle of St. Germain and added it to champagne for dinner. You could create something less effervescent (and more striking) by choosing the champagne flute over the Collins glass, skipping the ice, and topping the cocktail conservatively with a splash of seltzer, if you add any at all. You might also substitute tonic, as I did on the second go-round, to cut some of the sweetness. The idea of introducing a second liqueur would also be interesting to me.

As holidays go, Easter has always seemed a little melancholy to me, coming as it often does before spring has really sprung and usually affording less of the relaxation offered by Christmas or even Thanksgiving. You might get Good Friday or Easter Monday off, but it’s a holiday generally taken in stride, a pause instead of a break. Perhaps the frantic search for a new home has infected me, but the St. Germain cocktail matches that on-the-run feel of this holiday—a pleasant celebration but nothing that will stop the world for long.

Jonathan’s take: The drink is simple and spring ready. It could probably use a tiny bit of one of its cousins, Benedictine or Chartreuse, to jazz it up though.

David’s Take: I know it sounds like I have faint praise for this cocktail, but that isn’t no praise at all. It’s quite drinkable (deceptively so), just muted.

Next Week (Proposed by David):

In honor of Washington DC’s cherry blossoms, which should reach their peak sometime in the next week or so, and my affection for all things Japanese, which inspires me to compose a haiku a day, I’m proposing a Cherry Blossom Tini. Though the name suggests a variation on a martini, the cocktail actually combines orange liqueur with sake and a little lime and cranberry juice. Another delicate cocktail of spring, it at very least promises to be beautiful.

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.