Low-Calorie Cocktails

Proposed By: Jonathan

Enacted By: David (and Jonathan)

It has taken me a long time to do this write-up. I introduced the concept of calories in cocktails and then began a search for background and ideas. Want to get an idea of the contradictory information related to that? One of the first lists I found for drinks to avoid included the mojito. Then I pulled up drinks that were lower in calories and my friend the mojito made that list too. Maybe the best place to start is by constructing a drink from base calories.

There are sources that claim one liquor has more or less calories than another. The bottom line though is that the calorie content is directly related to alcohol by volume and what else is included with that liquor. The concept of efficiency is as simple as knowing pure spirits derive all calories from the alcohol since there is little other than water and flavor (or so one hopes) in a bottle of liquor. A 40% spirit has 97 calories/1.5 ounce serving, a 45% spirit has 109 calories/1.5 ounces and a 50% spirit has 121 calories/1.5 ounce serving. It doesn’t matter if that 80 proof liquor is vodka or Scotch, it’s still going to be 97 calories. So there’s the first tip – if you want to count calories while drinking you should go with liquor neat, on the rocks or with no calorie club soda or seltzer.

The next step is to see what happens when you add mixers or liqueurs. The first part of many drinks is fresh fruit juice. Lime (8), lemon (8), grapefruit (11) and orange (13) juice don’t add many calories per ounce especially when you consider both the small amount used and the flavor they add. Standard mixers up the count especially when you consider that an average drink may include 4 or more ounces in the recipe. The calories per 4 ounce serving of some of the favorites are 40 for ginger ale or tonic and 48 for coke. Another popular option for adding that flavor and sweetness are simple syrups and their flavored versions. The problem is that a single ounce of simple syrup is around 75 calories. Liqueurs add the double dose of alcohol calories and the sugary additives that give them their flavor. Some of the more popular ones are triple sec (162), Kahlua (131), Amaretto (170) and sweet vermouth (60) with the calories measured per 1.5 ounce serving. That means a White Russian adds up to around 265 if you use heavy cream – and who wouldn’t?

The challenge was to bring down the calories per drink or to find lower calorie options. As I wrote earlier, one good option is to drink liquor straight, but this is a cocktail blog so that’s out of bounds. Another popular choice is to mix with seltzer and fresh juice. Basic addition will get you to 101 calories for 80 proof vodka mixed with 1/2 ounce of fresh lime and 4 ounces of club soda. That’s the equivalent of a light beer but who wants a light beer? That brings in the idea of rum (97), lime juice (8), mint (0), simple syrup (75) and club soda for 180 calorie mojito. Now we’re up to the equivalent of a high test beer (for those who want flavor plus vitamins/nutrients as any aficionado would point out), 2 light beers or 2 glasses of wine if you use a restrained pour.

There are also easy substitutes for basic drinks like a gin and tonic or rum and coke. Assuming both start with a 1.5 ounce spirit and combine with 4 ounces mixer (we will consider the squeeze of lime negligible) these drinks ring in 149 calories for the G & T and 145 for the Cuba Libre. The quickest way to get that down is to use a diet version of the mixer to drop the count to 109 and 97 respectively. This is just my taste in drinks mind you, but at that point I would reach for the ice cubes and a straight pour instead.

When it came down to it for proposed drinks with lower calories, I went with flavored simple syrups cut with club soda. On its face this doesn’t make a great deal of calorie sense but I think this method helps with another form of calorie math. Let’s assume that one cocktail leads to another. A martini with 1.5 ounce gin and 3/4 ounce vermouth is a total of 2.25 ounces at the rough 140 calorie level. Per drink that is a good low calorie option but 3 of those are about 7 ounces and 420 calories. A mix of 1.5 ounces vodka, an ounce of vanilla simple syrup and 6 ounces of club soda is an 8.5 ounce cocktail measuring in at about 170 calories. Two of those could last an entire evening with a total of 340 calories. Yet another version of this math is the mint julep. Two ounces of bourbon, an ounce of mint simple syrup, a spring of mint and lots of packed crushed ice is an afternoon sipper with around 240 calories. Except for my fellow blogger, who needs more than one Julep?

Here’s David’s Portion:

Like Jonathan, my scientific explorations suggest basic laws of low-calorie cocktails:

  1. Variation in proof aside, all spirits have essentially the same number of calories, which leads to an axiom…
  2. The lowest calorie option is drinking spirits straight, or…
  3. Mixing them minimally with botanicals or citrus (like a gimlet or a mojito), and not…
  4. Adding liqueurs or other secondary spirits that have a high sugar content and…
  5. Sparing yourself too many or too much mixers like ginger ale or coke because they too have a lot of sugar, hinting a better strategy might be…
  6. Using a little simple syrup and soda, but…
  7. Still keeping the cocktails to around 4-5 ounces… though a bartender once told me 6 ounces is the more standard amount, because of the melt from the ice in the glass and/or shaker.

A calorie being an inviolable unit of energy, there’s no getting around these laws, but I did experiment with a variation Jonathan didn’t mention, vegetable juices. When a Whole Foods opened near me recently, it occurred to me that some of their comically named concoctions—each invented to promote my personal health and wellness—might make interesting ingredients.

So I chose Lucky Juice-Iano (weighing in at a whopping 6.7 calories an ounce) and Juice Bigalow (at 13.75 calories per ounce).

The label of Lucky Juice-Iano says, “This killer combo of PEAR, CUCUMBER, LEMON, and SPINACH is like unloading a tommy gun of hydration to your mouth while helping you fight off illness like an old-timey gangster.” I’m pretty sure I ruined any boost to my immunity by adding an ounce and a half of gin (at 42% alcohol, I’m calling it 102 calories), but this cocktail seemed the more successful of my experiments. As long as you don’t put in more than an ounce and a half of the juice—spinach cocktail, anyone?—and add plenty of soda to dilute the feeling you might be eating your hedge trimmings, this drink is palatable and only costs you 112 calories. Truth in advertising, I also added (but didn’t count) a dot or two of Angostura. That helped.

Juice Bigalow’s labeling claims, “If APPLE, BEETS, CARROT, GINGER, and LEMON ‘got it on,’ this would be their lovechild. And said child would relieve stress so you can live a long life, both in and out of bed.” I’m not sure what any of that means or who writes such bizarre copy, but this experiment seemed more iffy. I thought tequila (at 40%, 97 calories) would be the match for Juice Bigelow, and I wasn’t wrong because somehow the spirit pushed its way through all those juices and soda to a position of prominence. Still, I’m no great fan of beets and confess that I mostly chose the juice for its color. A last-minute impulse to add a shake or two of tabasco seemed to balance the sweetness a little bit, but I’d have to work on the proportions to improve it. At 120 calories, this drink didn’t produce enough fuel to even consider it.

I don’t start many statements with “People, here’s the thing…” but here goes. People, here’s the thing, if cocktails become an element of your health regimen, there’s possibly a problem with your regimen.

Jonathan’s take: The most basic truth is that there are zero calories in water. This isn’t a water blog either.

David’s Take: Do you know the contemporary use of the term “fail”?

Next Time (Proposed By David):

As tempted as I am to suggest high calorie cocktails, instead I’d like to draw on a single ingredient plentiful this time of year, watermelons. Whatever Jonathan and I make has to include watermelons prominently. The rest is up for grabs.

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.

Salty Dog

Salty DogProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

My daughter tells me that grapefruit juice increases the potency of alcohol. I can’t find any proof of that online, but I did run into how scientists originally stumbled on grapefruit juice’s affect on many (and I mean many) other drugs. Researchers testing alcohol’s interaction with drugs used grapefruit juice because, of all fruit juices, it hides alcohol’s taste best. Eureka, lo and behold, they discovered their flavoring agent interacted more.

It all has to do with the hepatic and intestinal enzyme cytochrome P450 isoform CYP3A4, of course.

I, naturally, am more interested in the other part of the story, that grapefruit juice is an effective vehicle for spirits… if you define “effective” as masking its taste. That may be so, but we’ve tried grapefruit based drinks before on this blog (Toast of the Town, The Hemingway Daiquiri), and I’ve only noticed that grapefruit juice tastes good.

The Salty Dog is another version of the Greyhound, which is simply ice, grapefruit juice, and vodka or gin. That cocktail first appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. He, however, just gets credit for naming the drink, as he refers to it as “a variation of the Grapefruit Cocktail.” Later, Harper’s Magazine attached that name to the bus line, describing it, apparently, as the favorite libation of people who hang out in bus terminal restaurants. Who knew?

And who knows why someone thought to add salt to the rim of the glass, but, as with a margarita, the salinity may be an effort to balance the sweetness of the juice. Personally, I thought it’d be fun to try another sweet and salty drink.

As I mentioned in proposing this drink, I like gin (like my brother), but many of the recipes for the Salty Dog call for vodka instead. I tried one with each spirit. Apparently many of the older recipes now using vodka—especially ones containing juice—originally called for gin and, as with this recipe, the gin botanicals echo the grapefruit. Some gin preparations, after all, include dried grapefruit peel.

The recipe is quite simple. This version makes two:

Coarse kosher salt

Ice cubes

1/2 cup vodka or gin

3/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice

Pour coarse salt onto small plate. Moisten rims of 2 highball glasses. Gently dip rims into salt to coat lightly. Fill glasses with ice cubes. Pour 1/4 cup vodka over ice in each glass. Divide grapefruit juice between glasses and serve.

I prefer to believe grapefruit juice enhances the gin’s flavor but perhaps I’m deceived. I’ll let my brother decide.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0033We have pulled back the curtain a couple of times so the following is no surprise, but is important to my review. David and I rarely communicate about what we are going to write. The roles are well defined—one proposes then introduces, the other reviews typically with some context. My role this week was to try the drink and provide my impression.

Sometimes our write-up has eerie similarity. For instance, in the Moving Sale entry we both, separately, identified three liqueurs as dispensable. The fact that they were the same three could be a coincidence, a statement about those liqueurs, or genetics. I choose the latter, but you can take your pick.

All of this is important because there is a chance that his write up and my review may overlap again this week. I cannot read about, think about or do anything with this drink without starting to hum “…let me be your salty dog” from the Salty Dog Blues. It has nothing to do with the drink, it is simply an association with the name.

The funny thing about the Salty Dog Blues is that there is as much debate about what “salty dog” means as there is about cocktail origins. Some sources use the name just as you would “old salt” to refer to an experienced sailor, but most provide a sexual context similar to “back door man” which is an illicit lover. That is more amusing when you consider that my other association with the song is the Andy Griffith Show and the fictional Darlings (the real life bluegrass group The Dillards with some added actors like Denver Pyle). The Darlings would show up in Mayberry, along with Ernest T. Bass typically, and Andy would end up jamming with them. And if you don’t think Andy was really playing, you don’t know that old Ange. Please take the time to pull up Salty Dog Blues on youtube so you can watch The Darlings and Andy. There is also a Flogging Molly song called Salty Dog which is excellent, but has more to do with pirates, and probably more in common with this drink. Pull that one up too.

I tried a couple of different mixes using the gins shown in my picture. And as an aside, I am trying to get an underwriter for this blog and our purchases even if Cardinal Gin is coincidentally a fantastic choice for the cocktail. Both used 2:1 grapefruit to gin, but one was fresh squeezed fruit and white gin and the other bottled, and sweeter, grapefruit juice with barrel rested gin. The former was fresh and very good but also tart to the point that one was plenty. The latter was closer to a Screwdriver with a little more sweetness and depth thanks to the flavorful gin. If I was going to drink more than one the latter would be the choice.

Jonathan’s take: Denver Pyle always got the Darlings song started. His intro for the Salty Dog Blues goes great with this drink: “That’s her. Just jump in and hang on!”

David’s Take: Pleasant. The salt gets to be a little much, though. In the end, I found myself avoiding the salty rim rather than seeking it.

Next week (Proposed By Jonathan):

We have a surprise for blog readers, and I won’t reveal it yet. I will say that the drink will be made with an Amer Picon that David has concocted. Not sure on what the specific cocktail will be, or what they will be, but I am sure that the pictures will be good.

Julep Varietals

JulepDMProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

When Jonathan and I went to the Kentucky Derby with our wives in the mid 80s, we parked our infield picnic blanket next to some proto-bros with a water balloon catapult. A couple of races in, they found their range and pinned a poor racing form seller inside his tin hut. An official-looking person arrived with commands to desist, but by then they were out of ammo anyway. Around three in the afternoon, they began launching their uneaten ham sandwiches instead.

People drink a lot at the Derby.

Churchill Downs’ mint juleps have a reputation for being a little watery, but I think I remember downing a few that day. And it makes me laugh when people talk about juleps as a genteel drink. At three parts bourbon to one part simple syrup, home versions can be quite strong. The idea is to sip them, allowing the ice to dilute their potency, but I enjoy them so much I seldom manage it.

A mint julep is technically a “smash,” a group of drinks defined by spirit (not necessarily bourbon), crushed ice, and macerated mint (or basil, or something leafy). The idea is to coat the glass with the oils of the leaf and lend an aromatic quality to the libation. In the classic julep, mint simple syrup is the short cut. In one of the julep alternatives I tried, “The Wild Ruffian,” (here’s a link to the recipe) the syrup is made of peach preserves, and the mint is pulverized with a muddler. That drink also called for cognac instead of bourbon, so I doubt anyone would recognize the concoction as a “julep.” Nor do I think Churchill Downs would ever serve one… or certainly not in the infield.

Another of the drinks both Jonathan and I tried was the Oaks Lily (recipe link), named for the featured race for fillies highlighting the day before the Derby. When I lived in Louisville, seeing the Oaks in the grandstands was actually affordable and accessible for commoners—no more, apparently—and the Oaks Lily is also suitably direct, relying on vodka over bourbon and cranberry and lime juices, plus a splash of triple sec, instead of simple syrup. Not a sprig of mint is to be seen anywhere, so it wouldn’t really qualify as a smash, just a way to preserve Saturday for the real julep.

As Jonathan explains below, he tried yet another julep alternative called a Bufala Negra, but, despite our experimentation, we both needed to make real juleps too. It’s not that they’re fancy—what could be plainer than 3:1 bourbon to syrup?—but they are tradition. And, if they are good enough for infielders, they are good enough for us.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

JulepJMIt has been my impression that there are many places where the idea of a mint julep is met with disdain. The drink is decidedly a bourbon concoction, but if you love bourbon you don’t need, or want, the dilution and sweetening of the mint or simple syrup. If it is the latter that you like, there’s a good chance that bourbon is not your favorite. All of that is a shame because of how well the flavors go together.

Many years ago David and I had a very bad bourbon experience, and I had sworn off the stuff. A beach trip with our siblings and families helped with my gradual tolerance, and eventual embrace, of the brown liquor. Each sibling had a night when they were responsible for dinner and a cocktail and David chose to make juleps. The key to his mix was a well-crafted mint simple syrup that, to me, makes the difference in a julep. By mixing mint in the syrup, there is no need for dissolving sugar in water, muddling of mint or waiting for the inevitable melding. The two ingredients just mix with their friend crushed ice and a long sip later make for a wonderful combination.

This week was about alternatives though and we tried a couple of them. The first was a drink that was suggested in Southern Living that both David and I tried. I trust that David has provided the recipe for the Blush Lily which is the magazine’s take on the classic drink. It is a nice alternative for those who don’t like bourbon although some may find it more tart than sweet with lime and cranberry as the juices. We tried adding a splash of Blenheim ginger ale and that seemed to address that aspect as well as extend the drink.

My second alternative julep is called the Bufala Negra. I have no idea where that name came from but it is a mix of bourbon and basil with an interesting twist:

4 basil leaves
1 tsp aged balsamic vinegar
½ ounce simple syrup
1.5 ounce bourbon

Muddle 3 basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and simple syrup. Add bourbon, crushed ice and stir. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.

The interesting part of this drink is how well the flavors mix. I was wary of drinking even a small amount of vinegar, but mixed with the basil and syrup it was a great match for bourbon. The end result was a less bourbon forward cocktail that still had the sweetness and herbal qualities of a classic julep.

Jonathan’s Take: The classic julep is still the best, but the Blush Lily is great for those who don’t love bourbon and the Negra is an interesting alternative for those who love variety.

David’s Take: The classic is still king, but the others are welcome variations

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I have been getting some grief about proposing the drink of Wimbledon well before the sporting event. The Pimm’s Cup is a classic drink of summer, however, and there seem to be a number of varieties that showcase different fruits. It is strawberry season all over the country and I wanted a drink that used that fruit without being a return to the sweetness and rum of tiki week.

Chai Town

chai1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Chicago is the city of many nicknames: The Windy City, Second City, City of the Big Shoulders, Chi-Town, Chi-city, chai2My Kind of Town, Paris on the Prairie, That Toddling Town, The Chi (pronounced “Shy”), The Chill (or Chi-Ill), The City That Works, City on the Make, The Third Coast, or—especially this weekend—Chi-beria.

However, “Chai Town” isn’t one of our nicknames, just clever.

Many languages translate tea as chai, but, in Starbucks, tea houses, and the other swanky locales for studying, meeting, and relaxing, chai is a drink of Indian origins, a decoction of green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn. Oh, and actual tea—the black, strong sort. I used tea bags, but it also comes as powders and concentrates. It’s spicy, but understated, no one part overwhelms the other, not even the tea.

The other parts of this drink seem designed to coax out the components, especially the ginger, which the ginger liqueur echoes. I used to own ginger liqueur but drank it up—my brother might accuse me of tippling like an old lady—so I used a DIY version I found online. Though the recipe was some trouble and required three days, the result was, I think, a success. It was sweet and hot and, while not as syrupy as the store-bought version might be, quite flavorful. Plus, it didn’t cost $30.

As I mentioned in the description last week, part of the challenge this week was building a cocktail on the basis of a list of its ingredients instead of a recipe. What to do about proportions? Last fall, I attended a cocktail class that described the ideal cocktail as six ounces, with one-third allotted to water resulting from a vigorous shake. You’ll find my solution below, but I admit to taking the easy way out. One of my Christmas presents was a three-part jigger with indeterminate compartments for a three element drink. The packaging (naturally) promises a “Home Cocktail Revolution” free of doling out portions, but that didn’t move me to rely on trust. I measured each of the sections and discovered the smallest was half an ounce, the middle was an ounce, and the third and largest one and a half ounces. The ginger liqueur took the smallest room, the vodka the medium sized room, and the chai (the star, I figured) the largest. The total, four ounces, left only the honey and nutmeg to accommodate. I added a teaspoon of honey at the end (and even then I found most of it at the bottom of the shaker, paralyzed by the cold). The nutmeg I sprinkled on top… just like last week.

Okay, so my answer for the proportions question was a little gimmicky. If you wanted a stiffer drink, maybe reverse the chai and the vodka or go full out on the ginger liqueur, but to me the balance seemed about right.

Here’s my recipe:

1.5 oz. chai tea

.5 oz. ginger liqueur

1 oz. vodka

1 tsp. honey

nutmeg

Shake the ingredient together without ice, add the ice and shake a few times more. Garnish with the nutmeg.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Jbm.chaiIt may not be the most correct use of the word, but I feel like David’s choice of drinks offered us the chance to be forensic mixologists. Obviously we had the four ingredients but not the ratios, and I admit to being stumped how to mix them. I tried looking for similar drinks, the ratios of standard coupe cocktails, and simply ones that used one or more of the four parts. None of that worked very well until I went back a few weeks to our chopped cocktail experience and a lesson from the show. Use one ingredient as an accent to another.

I am a southerner. Said it before and say it now. That means if I am having tea, chai or otherwise, it needs to have some sweetness. Ergo, the honey was the sweetener for the steeped tea, and I only had three ingredients to work with. Since most coupe style cocktails are 3 ounces of drink that left options for an equal part cocktail (1:1:1), or a more common 2:1:1.

The ginger liqueur was a revelation all by itself. First, David included a link to a do it yourself version and it was well worth the effort. Second, the comments that were included following the recipe did some things that almost no such section on-line ever does—they added to the instructions, explained parts of it, offered excellent alternatives and in general were delightful to read. Who knew that comments sections like that existed? And finally, the home made liqueur is fantastic, a drink all by itself.

The liqueur is strong and assertive, though, so I decided on the ratio that used less. Vodka, ginger liqueur, and chai tea (sweetened with honey) mixed at a 2:1:1. Based on the comments section with the liqueur recipe, I also decided it needed a lemon peel garnish. The drink was great, but most of that goes back to the assertive ginger. It had an interesting mix of flavors, increased because I had saved one of our infused vodkas from last year (lemongrass and ginger candy) in my freezer and used that instead of standard. It’s not a drink you will find in bars outside of Chicago perhaps, but take the time to make the liqueur and once you do that, try the drink.

Jonathan’s take: Lots and lots of tastes, all combining to work together. Like the rare on-line comment section

David’s take: Spicy and fun—a nice break from more intense cocktails, though not as dramatic either.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year we tried a Rosalind Russell at David’s suggestion, and I spent the week confusing one actress with another, Rosalind with Jane. I asked my youngest son to help with a suggestion for next week with the limitation that it contain chocolate bitters. And what do you know – there’s a Jane Russell cocktail that does just that. Now, if I can manage to keep from confusing her with Rosalind.

The Black and Gold Cocktail

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s David’s Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week (proposed by David):

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

The Cosmopolitan

Proposed by: Davidcosmodbm

Reviewed by: Jonathan

So many claims and counterclaims litter the relatively short history of the Cosmopolitan (or “Cosmo” if you’re a frequent user) that it’s hardly worth offering a history. Suffice it to say, many people thought of it… and many thought they were first.

Whatever its origins, however, the Cosmopolitan quickly became the cocktail of the moment in the 90s and is still quite popular, especially among women. One reason may be its use as the signature cocktail of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in Sex and the City. By the time they made the series into a film, Carrie’s friend Miranda is asking why they didn’t order them anymore. “Because,” Carrie says, “everyone else started.”

Perhaps because of Carrie Bradshaw’s endorsement, the Cosmopolitan, I’m told, is a woman’s drink. I don’t really understand why any cocktail needs to be described that way—what could be more absurd than saying a drink is more suited to men or women?

My interest in the Cosmopolitan came from the favorite drink of graduate school friends, a Cape Codder. That cocktail combines Cranberry Juice and Vodka, and whenever I visited, they’d place one in my hand around 5:15. I thought the bitterness of the juice worked well with the clean and super distilled alcohol. It was refreshing in a way screwdrivers are not because it was never too sweet or dense. The sweet and sour of citrus and the bitter of citrus peel in the Cointreau, I figured, could only add.

As it turns out, those ingredients add a great deal. Whether positively or negatively I’ll leave to Jonathan, but I didn’t feel particularly girlish drinking one.

Here’s the Recipe:

1 1/2 ounces vodka or citrus vodka

1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce cranberry juice

Orange peel for garnish

And here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Cosmojbm

We have flirted with the Cosmopolitan even though we had not tried it before. Sometime early in the blog, I erroneously referred to the Cosmopolitan in my proposal for a drink for the next week (either my research is faulty or David’s editing has corrected my idiocy because I couldn’t find the reference). I also stated that there is a similarity in the drink name between the Metropolitan and Cosmopolitan, even though there is no similarity in the drink.

The base of this week’s proposal is the neutral spirit vodka. There is always some criticism about vodka drinks, some deserved and some not. The deserving part, in my opinion, is when people insist on particular brands of vodka despite combining them with mixers that completely mask any taste even if there was some. The underserving part is to completely dismiss vodka because it is neutral. That lack of presence allows the other ingredients to stand out more. That is a quality accentuated in this drink.

We tried a couple of different recipes for the Cosmo. The first was true to David’s link and combined the vodka, Cointreau (I did use another brand), lime juice and cranberry juice. The benefit of the orange liqueur in this version was both body (from the brandy base) and taste. The negative was that the color was slightly off from what I expect a Cosmo to be since there is little cranberry. To adjust, I increased the cranberry in the second recipe and used Triple Sec for the orange taste. That one was lighter and more cranberry-er but lacked the depth of the first. Both benefitted greatly from fresh lime juice and probably would have from fresh cranberry if I could have figured out how to juice those little suckers.

The Cosmopolitan could be the drink that defines the negative of shelf ready mixers. Most of my experience with this cocktail has been a quick mix of one of those and vodka. The drink is easy, the look and color are right, but the taste is sugary and off. If you have ever turned your nose up at the thought of this once trendy drink, try it again with fresh ingredients. Worth it.

Jonathan’s take: The base alcohol makes a difference, but if you’re going neutral there is still hope with the right mixers.

David’s take: Though I love sweet drinks, I’d love to play with some of these proportions and try some orange bitters and less Cointreau.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

There was a time, may still be for all I know, when Jagermeister shots were very popular in bars. That was not my time. I had read recently that other liquor/liqueur producers have tried to replicate that success. One of those is Tuaca an Italian liqueur with flavors of herbs and vanilla. There is a cocktail called the Livorno that combines that liqueur with bourbon and bitters and that’s where we are going next week. I just hope I can find Tuaca.

Basil Watermelon Cooler

coolerJMProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

Last week’s introduction suggested this would be one of the drinks of summer. And what says summer more than watermelon and fresh herbs? Just like last week there is no back story to this drink. No famous bar, classic recipe, or standard ingredients. Our now slightly famous Sid doesn’t even have anything to say about it or where it came from.

The idea was to use items that are typically only available in summer – in this case, fresh basil and watermelon. Add to that mix ginger root, ginger ale and a spirit (vodka) and you have a drink:

3 large basil leaves
1 slice peeled ginger
1 two inch square of watermelon
.5 ounce simple syrup
2 ounce vodka
.5 ounce lime juice
Ginger ale

Place basil leaves, ginger slice, watermelon and simple syrup in shaker and muddle. Add ice, vodka, lime juice and shake. Strain into double old-fashioned glass filled with ice (I used a fine sifter to strain), top with ginger ale and garnish with watermelon and basil. The recipe rates the difficulty as “complicated” and it is. Get everything ready, invite friends, and make plenty.

There is some version of this drink on most summer cocktail lists at bars that vary their menu by season. And by some version, I don’t mean a watermelon and basil drink, I mean a fruit of summer and some herb mixed in an interesting way, a seltzer, soda or bubbly added and all followed with a chaser of refreshment. This particular combination is not going to show up in a book of cocktail classics, but if you are looking for something to add to the pantheon of summer libations such as the margarita or mojito, it is well worth the effort.

A couple of interesting parts of the recipe that I omitted. The vodka is very precisely identified as Grey Goose. I am no expert, as we have established, but I wonder if anyone could identify a version made with that vodka versus another wheat vodka, or even a corn or potato vodka. In fact, we tried a version with vanilla vodka and other than a slight aftertaste it was hardly distinguishable from the original. The other interesting part is that the ginger ale is not specified. As I have crowed before, in Charlotte we have Blenheim Ginger Ale and the drink is the better for it. The muddled ginger adds some spice, but the Blenheim asserts that spice in a wonderful way.

coolerAnd Here’s David’s Review:

Due to my generally cranky outlook, anything called a “cooler” doesn’t fill me with giddy anticipation. The word seems forever linked to bottles of ersatz wine occupying the 7 Eleven refrigerator case. They usually have “breeze” in their titles and come in unlikely flavors never meeting in nature. Besides, anyone expecting to be cooled by alcohol doesn’t understand its physiological effects. Don’t expect to survive in the desert with a bottle of rot-gut whiskey—I learned that from the westerns Jonathan and I watched as boys.

This cooler ought to shed the name but distinguishes itself in some important ways. First, the collection of fresh ingredients adds a great deal, especially this time of year when fresh is welcome. Watermelon is appropriately named, and the juice is wonderfully light and sweet. The ginger and basil, muddled together, give the drink deft spiciness as well. The combination surprised me, as they unexpectedly harmonized.

Like Jonathan, I like to try more than one drink… er, I meant variation… so I made a second version with some basil brown sugar simple syrup I’d created for a cocktail party earlier in the summer. Watermelon is watery, and I see why the simple syrup is there—to give the drink additional gravity. However, to me, my second version excelled the first because it gave more taste to the original, which seemed simply sweet. The herbal overtone deserves more heft from the other ingredients, particularly since I have only pedestrian ginger ale and, alas, no Blenheim.

Fruit drinks seem less potent to me, and the temptation to try another version—this one with a spirit other than vodka—almost possessed me. My one substantial objection to this cocktail is its base spirit, which adds little or nothing other than alcohol.

Okay, okay, I’m not crazy about vodka, but I also wonder if bourbon might further complement the spiciness of the drink (and my brown sugar simple syrup), while contributing a mellowness and depth the drink could use. My wife says that’d create too much competition, and it wouldn’t be a cooler anymore. I say, maybe you don’t find depth in a “cooler,” but I still think the drink would be refreshing, not too potent, and tasty.

David’s Take: A great drink for the season… though I may play with the ingredients enough to justify a name change.

Jonathan’s take: Yeah Sam, I’ll take the usual. You know that fruity one with the watermelon, basil and ginger. Yup, that one.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’d like to test my theory that bourbon might work as a summer spirit too, and, as the 4th is coming up, I’m proposing another summer cocktail, this one called The LiberTea. This cocktail combines ice tea and bourbon and a honey liqueur (or just plain honey). All the variations online are for a party, but I will work from the proportions to create a few servings. The recipes also call for basil, but, as we just did basil this week, I may substitute mint… or try both and compare.

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.

Drinking Out

Proposed by: Davidphoto-85

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Letting someone else mix your drink, I’ve discovered, isn’t so bad. You needn’t worry about imposing on your brother—the last person you’d want to impose upon—and there’s usually company, a welcome meeting of friends, the celebration of reconnecting.

This weekend, Jonathan and I went out. On my half, his friend Jerry Beamer and his wife Jean were visiting Chicago, and so we met at Epic, a restaurant downtown known as a “spot,” a place to get good food and good cocktails and good conversation. All of which we more than achieved. The evening went by in a blur, but it was, in every possible way, a pleasant blur.

Jerry ordered an Effen Avocado just before we arrived, a combination of Effen Vodka (brilliantly named), avocado puree, lime, and agave nectar. I didn’t taste any, but Jerry reported satisfaction, a pleasing combination of weight and spirit.

At dinner, Beth tried a G6, a combination of St. Germaine, agave nectar, and prosecco. Jerry’s wife Jean chose Crimson Love, Ketel One Vodka infused with lemon and lime, solerno—a blood orange liqueur—actual blood orange puree, and Aperol.

Jerry and I both decided on The Epic Mule, the restaurant’s variation on the Moscow Mule, served, appropriately and necessarily, in a copper cup and featuring—the deviation—tarragon simple syrup. With vodka and ginger beer and lime, it seemed refreshing, almost (not quite) like the water that accompanied the meal. I have to think that’s the whole point of metal vessels, to make you think you’re drinking from a spring with a ladle… though water never tasted so good.

For the second round, Jerry ordered more of the same, except that he substituted bourbon for vodka, and I had to follow suit. That drink, in my humble opinion, surpassed the first, with the complication of an amber spirit replacing the directness of clear. I hadn’t thought of adding lime to whiskey, but the combination was perfect, just as refreshing but more complex. It made me want to invent more lime-bourbon drinks.

The food was wonderful too.

All in all, the evening couldn’t have been better. Good history, good food, and good cocktails. Fun, I hope, for all, a reminder we must stick together. Company enhances cocktails, but ultimately communing with friends is why we’re here, to celebrate the warm connections we’ve made.

Here’s Jonathan’s account:

out

This week was a short break from making our own cocktails, but not a break from unique drinks. Thanks to Jerry and Jean’s (Bourbon Jerry and Jean-Baby to me) visit to Chicago it was a chance to try out the cocktail scene in our respective cities. And in that trying out, it gave us a chance to go to a part of Charlotte that we don’t visit often.

A simple Google search of best cocktails led me to Heist Brewery which seemed odd since one would assume that they would concentrate on beer. Bad assumption. Their menu includes interesting food with a local farm to fork emphasis served in small portions to encourage tasting a number of items. Added to that is their large and small batch micro-brews, beer cocktails, and what they term “craft cocktails.” They are located in a part of Charlotte that was formerly an area of textile mills and the accompanying mill village. What used to be a simple blue collar area is now a unique part of town that is home to micro-breweries, restaurants, live music clubs, and an interesting mix of housing.

We tried a couple of those cocktails and intended to try two of the beer cocktails. Many, many years ago our family made a stop in San Angelo, Texas. I have no idea how we ended up there and why but there are two things I remember about San Angelo – a train museum and horned frogs (or horny toads as we called them). La Marque had an occasional horned frog, but San Angelo was lousy with them.

That is all my way of explaining why I chose the one of Heist’s classics, the Horny Toad. It is made with Hornito’s tequila, jalapeño agave syrup, elderflower liqueur, fresh sour mix, a dash of Cholula and is garnished with jalapeño and lime slices. My wife had a Texas Mule made with Tito’s, vodka, fresh lime juice, and Heist made ginger beer served in the classic tin mule cup over crushed ice.

Both drinks were excellent and unique, but the Horny Toad stood out. First, it was beautiful in a way that none of my drinks seem to be. Second, the fusion of flavors made it spicy but not, and tart but not. It was perfectly refreshing and unique. The Texas Mule was also really good, especially the ginger beer, but the Toad was so assertive it made the Mule seem a little too calm.

And those beer cocktails? Debbie made her second drink a Horny Toad after tasting mine, and I couldn’t go to a brewery, stare at the brewing room, and not try a beer. Opting for their Porter to go with our small plates, I made another excellent decision. Thanks to Heist, it was an evening of them.

One more recommendation. It was National Pretzel Day on Saturday (we found that out later) so it was only fitting that our best small plate was beer cheese with soft, freshly baked pretzel sticks. That and a Horny Toad and you can’t go wrong.

Jonathan’s take: There is an art to true cocktails. It may have an odd name, but Heist’s Horny Toad proved that

David’s take: Hail to the mule… and visitors.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I don’t know if it is my proposal or David’s, but next week is the Kentucky Derby so we’re having Mint Juleps. I have already ordered a couple of julep cups, stocked a new bourbon, and made mint simple syrup. Jerry, that cocktail trying fool that he is, will be here to try them with us and I can’t wait!