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!

The Long Island Ice Tea

LIITProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are two parts to the introduction to this week’s cocktail—Long Island Iced Tea. The first is the background on the drink and the inevitable varying accounts of its origin. There is also a second part about how I ended up proposing what could be considered a party punch because of its large proportion of liquor, and another version worth trying.

One would assume that the Long Island part of the name is the biggest hint to the origin of this cocktail. In fact, many accounts attribute the invention to a bar in Long Island and a bartender with the catchy name of Bob “Rosebud” Butt. That is far too simple a history, though, and other accounts suggest a different bartender (Chris Bendickson), different locations of the same bar (the Oak Beach Inn) and that the drink’s origin predates the Oak Beach Inn concoction.

My favorite story of this cocktail reveals a personal bias. I was born in Maryland, reared in south Texas and have spent my entire adult life in North Carolina. That clearly makes me a southerner and with that a lover of true (sweet) iced tea. The concept of the Long Island Iced Tea is that the odd mix of numerous liquors, citrus, sweetening agents and cola resembles, or even mimics, actual sweet tea. How then, can this drink have been invented in Long Island, New York where they clearly do not know or appreciate (yes, I know this statement may offend) sweet tea?

That brings us to the community of Long Island in the southern city of Kingsport, Tennessee. This story of Long Island Iced Tea obviously bases the name on that community and a resident affectionately referred to as Old Man Bishop. He is said to have first introduced this alcoholic tea in the 1920’s and his son, Ransom Bishop, perfected it in the 1940’s. There are suggestions that they might have distilled their own alcohol which makes me wonder both why the mix of so many different liquors, as opposed to simple moonshine, and why tequila is part of most recipes. Those inconsistencies aside, I like this story better simply because a drink that mimics sweet tea needs to have come from a place where they know and appreciate true sweet tea.

The recipe I started with was equal parts vodka, gin, triple sec, tequila and rum. Added to that was one part homemade sweet and sour mix (3 parts water, 3 parts sugar, 2 parts lemon and 2 parts lime) and 2 parts cola. The first batch was too gin dominant and strong so I changed to half parts gin and triple sec and increased the sweet and sour and cola amounts. Not only did it taste better, and more like tea, but it decreased the alcohol content.

the drinkersSo why a cocktail that falls into a category that includes such party stalwarts as PJ, rocket fuel and battleship punch? This weekend was an annual golf trip that now includes 24 to 28 golfers but began with a smaller group of friends from college. I asked the core group to vote on the cocktail and they suggested this one despite my plea for something golf related such as the Hole in One cocktail. While we ended up with the Long Island Iced Tea we were able to accomplish the second golf related goal with another version of this cocktail. Substituting Blue Curacao for the triple sec and sprite for the cola creates a drink that is named for the cry of a golfer as he launches a shot deep into the woods or the depths of a water hazard – Adios, Motherfucker!

It’s a real drink, I promise.

Here’s David’s Review:

The Long Island Ice Tea was notorious when I was a college student, and classmates spoke of it as a sneaky drink that tasted like punch and then hit with an even bigger inebriating punch. They described having two or three (or four—we are talking about college) when they should have had one. The story really focused the mayhem that ensued.

Maybe that warned me away. More likely I busied myself killing brain cells in other causes. In any case, I’m perhaps the only undergraduate of my era never to have had one. My first LIIT came this weekend, and I’m rather glad. It is delicious. It is lethal. Had I encountered it earlier, my grades might have suffered.

Though it tastes little like tea to me, contains no tea, and isn’t really even the right color for tea, the Long Island Ice Tea somehow manages to go down as easily. I didn’t taste any of the liquors, not even the gin, which, unlike Jonathan’s, didn’t assert itself, nor did I get the sort of coughing kick you’d expect from four-plus ounces of alcohol. I read somewhere that a Long Island Ice Tea boasts 22% alcohol, yet it tastes like sodee-pop.

Does that make it good, its disguised potency, innocent and diabolical all at once? As a collegian, I’m sure I’d have said “Hell yeah!” As a more mature, refined, and sophisticated appreciator of cocktails, I have to say “Hell yes.”

You’ll note I only remove the exclamation point and turn to less colloquial language.

What’s most deceiving in the Long Island Ice Tea is the subtle balance it achieves, propping tequila against gin and gin against rum and rum against lemon and triple sec. I chose a recipe that threw coke in at the end to achieve the proper tea color (though, in my photographs, it didn’t) and even cola disappeared in the mélange of flavors. In television dramas people talk about ensembles. If, in this blog’s past, we’ve praised drinks for their achieving something greater than the sum of their parts, this drink deserves credit.

Is the Long Island Ice Tea my new favorite? No. It’s more than I can usually handle. As a vacation drink or as a celebration of good fortune though, it’ll do. I’ll return to it, I’m sure, when the occasion calls for it.

David’s Take: I almost wish it weren’t so good.

Jonathan’s take: If I want a drink that tastes like sweet tea, I think I will stick with the real thing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Okay, so maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve been eying that Chartreuse I see in the liquor store—how can you not be curious about a liqueur that gives rise to a color and not the other way around?—and I’ve been dying to buy some. This week, I’m gonna (and hope Jonathan can do the same… sorry, bro). My choice of cocktail is The Last Word, a combination of Chartreuse, Gin, Maraschino, and lime juice. Who knows what it will taste like, but at least it looks beautiful. Of course I said the same thing about The Aviation

 

The Vesper

20140208_175743_resizedProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

There are a few themes to our cocktail choices. Not surprisingly for novices, we have tried a number of classics like last week’s Manhattan. The most common cocktail glass choice has been some variation on the coupe. Odd liqueurs, fortified wines and herbals have all become more commonplace in our combined bars. Cocktails are best matched to the correct setting and situation. Finally, there has been a literary lean in the choices that has included a nod to Hemingway that lead to the author of a book on his drinks visiting and commenting on this site.

This week’s cocktail, the Vesper, combines many of those themes. The drink’s origin, at least the undisputed part, is Ian Fleming’s first James Bond book Casino Royale. It is a variation on the classic martini served in a coupe. The ingredients are gin, vodka and a fortified wine, Kina Lillet, so obscure that it is no longer made although there are recommendations for a substitute.

The recipe that I used is very close to one recommended by Ted Haigh as translated from 007’s precise instructions to a bartender:

3 parts gin (Gordon’s for Bond but Boodles in this case based on Haigh’s recommendation)
1 part vodka (Tito’s since it is grain based which I will explain below)
½ part Lillet Rose’ (Blanc is one substitute, Cocchi Americano another)
Twist of lemon as garnish

Combine liquids, shake with ice (to make sure it is very cold and perhaps slightly diluted by the melt), strain and garnish with the twisted lemon rind.

James Bond dictated the recipe to the bartender in a casino bar. He then tasted it and was so satisfied he decided it would later need a proper naming. His only quibble, consistent with the discernment associated with the character, was that a grain-based vodka would be an improvement over the potato based one the bartender used. That was splitting hairs by Bond’s own assessment, although he used a French expression (“mais n’enculons pas des mouches”) that is much more colorful than splitting hairs. I’ll leave the translation to everyone’s Google skills.

This is a drink that needs a scene like that painted by the author Fleming. He placed it in the casino bar as Bond meets his CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, for the first time. I felt like it was most appropriate for the waning daylight hours of a warm day. Perfect for sipping while the light slipped away and the cool of the night wandered in.

photo 2-16Here’s David’s Review:

I’m no martini man, classic or otherwise. I’ve had a few—surprisingly many for a person who has never acquired a taste for them—but perhaps I’m simply not dry enough or droll enough or sophisticated enough or just too coarse. I would be the worst Bond ever, worse than Timothy Dalton and much worse than George Lazenby. Gin is wonderful, vodka is—to my taste-buds—flavorless whether it’s grain, potato, or kitchen refuse, and Lillet (I used Blanc) seems quite pleasant. Lemon is good too.

Still, bringing the coupe to my lips and greeted by that familiar solvent smell, I had to hope their sum would be greater than the parts. My experience with martini-type drinks leads me to expect the initial burn of ethanol and the secondary warmth of nearly instant inebriation.

Okay, that’s not so bad, but it’s also not the sort of encounter I seek. Is it wrong to want a more disguised purpose?

The Vesper needed slow and steady sipping and very careful savoring. I tried to detect the separate components and monitor their influences on one another. I invoked all my senses as everyone tells me to and awaited the lift that invariably arrives after the first few swallows.

Still, here’s my verdict: I’m sorry.

Before you sigh and huff, Martini lovers, I want you to know it’s me. One of the only Latin phrases I know by heart is “De gustibus non est disputandum,” or “There’s no disputing matters of taste.” I’m not giving up on martinis—quite the contrary, I mean to figure out at last what others see in them—but I can’t pretend. I’d rather have bourbon on the rocks.

But, hey, a silver lining: I’ve made friends with the spirits expert at my local Plum Market, and she persuaded me to try a different (read: more expensive) type of vodka, Karlsson’s Gold, which is refined exactly once. Most distillers create vodkas refined over and over to the point of clear and clean consistency, but this one actually has a sort of flavor softer than you’d expect, if you can understand that. Granted, it’s potato and not grain (as Bond prefers) and didn’t redeem this drink for me, but it was a good discovery, something I can look forward to using again.

Jonathan’s take: Completely mixed reviews in my household on this one. It is definitely for martini lovers and demands the right setting.

David’s take: It’s me. It’s me. Martinis are just not my thing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

I’ve been feeling guilty about making my brother wander the planet in search of Aquavit and have been thinking about ways to make his search worthwhile. I’ve decided on a cocktail called A Sling of Sorts #2, which seems to me suitably arcane, involving simple syrup, port, and seltzer. As we turn toward spring (a Chicagoan can hope, can’t he?), the light character of this drink might be welcome….

Infused Vodka

20131215_163145Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The popularity of vodka is no doubt related to its neutrality. The most basic of spirits, it is almost entirely alcohol, ethanol specifically, and water. It can be made from a variety of sugars—complex or otherwise. Though potatoes may be considered the classic food to supply the ethanol after yeast digestion, the majority of vodkas are made from grains like wheat, barley, rye, corn and sorghum. Other vodkas are produced using fruits including the popular grape and even exotics such as horseradish, sugar beets and prickly pear cactus.

There are also a huge variety of brands and producers that cover the globe. It seems like there is a vodka made in every country and for that matter in every setting. Moonshine is nothing more than a homemade vodka fermented and distilled then left at higher alcohol content by skipping the “blooming” of added water. The loyalty to certain brands within that variety of producers is a wonder of marketing. Some years ago, I remember watching a magazine style news show that tested vodka brand loyalty through a blind taste test. Not surprisingly, people had difficulty identifying their brand, and, in many cases, their top choice in the taste test was not the one they ordered or bought the most often.

The idea this week was to take that neutral spirit and create unique flavors beyond those so prevalent in the market. Two of the flavors were not so much suggested as they were prescribed – vanilla/cardamom (a nod to The Splendid Table and Lynne Rosetto Kasper) and orange/chipotle. The third flavor combination was left as a wild card for each of us and the proposal included a challenge to use one of the flavored vodkas in a cocktail.

I knew that the infused vodkas I created would start with a classic vodka, but the third flavor variation was a difficult decision. I used a Polish vodka, Luksusowa, which is made with potatoes, although I need to be honest and admit there is no way I could identify it if given a blind taste test. My search for flavor ideas led me to the familiar that differed very little from what is on the mass market to the bizarre and there was no lacking for suggestions. One Pinterest site (I don’t pin myself but viewed it) I found had no less than 54 links to different ideas. The final choice was lemongrass/ginger candy.

It is a little embarrassing to admit that after all that reading, consideration, and some amount of consternation, my final cocktails did not include the wildcard choice. The classic White Russian, and a variant of it, were the cocktails of choice. The first version used 1.5 ounces each of the orange/chipotle vodka and Kahlua topped with two ounces of half and half shaken to provide a froth. A second version was much more seasonal and was a mix of 1.5 ounce parts of the vanilla/cardamom and Kahlua topped with frothed eggnog. The latter was the better of the two, but both benefited greatly from the infused flavors.

Some observations on infusing. It does not take long to impart the flavors of the additives to the vodka and bitter flavors, like the chipotle and orange, need to be monitored to make sure they don’t sit too long before straining them out. Even with the standard 40% alcohol content of vodka, it is a good idea to make sure you start with really clean vessels and to let it infuse in the refrigerator. The final product now resides in my freezer since they are flavorful enough to serve as a simple syrupy shot to party guests. As I suggested while channeling Martha, these would make nice Christmas gifts in a decorative bottle with written cocktail suggestion. Finally, I was going to use this concept to introduce the subject of classic toasts, but with David’s permission will save that for the end of this month.

gypsyHere’s David’s “Review”:

“Infused” means the alcohol picks up the flavor of whatever it contacts. How much time that take may vary, but it’s bound to happen. You could put a used gym sock in a mason jar with vodka and a transformation would occur. As Jonathan reported, the research I did online suggested so many options I had trouble choosing—there was basil-infused vodka and gummy bear-infused vodka and chai and horseradish and honeysuckle and milk and peanut butter cup and tomato…. and doughnut.

My own choice of infusion was Earl Grey and toasted marshmallows, and, within a few minutes, the marshmallows were gone and the vodka smelled and looked like tea. I’m not sure of the chemistry, but the process seems almost instant. I fretted over how long to keep the chipotle or vanilla in the jar, but a few tastes along the way told me—take out the cardamom now, take out the peppers, leave in the orange peels for a bit longer.

The choice of cocktail presented another challenge. No drink recipes call for Earl Grey infused vodka, so coming up with a good possibility required finding complementary flavors, a taste that might meld in some way. At first, I considered mixing each vodka with the same ingredient—grenadine seemed promising—but decided instead any ambitious cocktailian (not-so-saavy as he may be) wouldn’t look for so generic a solution.

I made a Gypsy cocktail, which combines a double part of vodka and a single part of Benedictine. I’ve grown fond of Benedictine during this cocktailian experiment. It appeals to me that, at any given moment, only three people know its recipe. I also like the taste, which is sweet yet herbal, complex and warm.

With Earl Grey, it was too much. The two forces fought and only a bitter stalemate remained. The marshmallow cowered behind the other flavors. The golden brown color lied—nothing mellow here, move along.

vodkasThe second Gypsy, however, delivered much more vividly. To start, cardamom and vanilla seem friendly and, combined with Benedictine, the mixture seemed amiable. I’ve said before that the best cocktails seem to hide their individual parts, and that certainly applied with Benedictine and vanilla-cardamom. Had I tried it without knowing its components, I might have had trouble guessing.

All in all, I enjoyed this process. I’m a little scared of the chipotle-orange vodka, but I intend to use it. I’m wondering now if vodka is my only choice, if some other spirit, rye perhaps, might welcome a friendly complementary flavor for infusing.

David’s take: I’m one of those people who believe vodka is one step from chemical alcohol—flavorless and potent. Infusing is one half-step more toward other spirits.

Jonathan’s take: The infusions really make me want to try making my own bitters, but for now I think I will just keep mixing what I made with eggnog.

Next Week (proposed by David):

It’s time to start the holidays in earnest, and I’m going to propose a Tom and Jerry, which isn’t named after the cartoon characters but has a much more venerable history, especially in the Midwest where it’s the favorite holiday libation instead of egg nog. Plus it’s served warm, a new adventure for us.

The La Marque

Proposed by: JonathanLa Marque

Reviewed by: David

The first cocktail in this endeavor was the Tallulah. It was a nostalgic nod to combining cola and salted peanuts. You can go back through the weeks to find our reviews, but in general it was someone else’s nostalgia and made me start thinking about some food or beverage that David and I shared in our past that could inspire a cocktail.

The other piece of background that many of you probably already know that David wrote a book, The Lost Work of Wasps, that is a series of essays about memory and memories. It is a fantastic exploration of what we remember, how we recall things and some of the thoughts about memory that others have shared. The first thought that stood out to me in reading it are that memories are as unique as those who hold them. Just as a single event can be perceived differently by two people observing it at the same time, our memories are shaded by our perception immediately and shaped by that perception over time. The second thing I thought about is how it is not always the earth-shattering that we recall most vividly, but instead those things that resonate with us no matter how seemingly trivial. It is that last thought that brought me back to Big Red Soda.

Big Red Soda dates back to 1927, or so the label tells me. It was a regional soft drink only distributed in Texas and Kentucky and was unique for both its flavor and nuclear red color. Described as an American cream soda, it does not have a flavor associated with red (think cherry or strawberry) as much as it does the vanilla presence of cream soda. Other flavor descriptors include lemon and orange, although from my own perspective there is something “red” to it. The rights are now owned by a national company and it is available all over, which is something I did not realize when I sought it out during a visit to Texas recently.

The memory part is that it stands out as the drink of our childhood. There were always the ubiquitous colas and variations, but Big Red was unique to where we lived. It was a special treat to go the 7-11 or gas station within walking distance or when our Mother bought a six pack. It was also a great disappointment when our other brother, the oldest of five children, explained in logical detail why the extra bottle of every six pack was rightfully his. Just as David explored in his book, I am sure there are flaws to this memory, but before trying it again I could always recall its presence and the odd color without any recollection of the exact taste.

My cocktail version was never intended to be a perfect mimic. The most important parts were vanilla, the red color and carbonation. It is a very sweet soft drink and losing some of that was a good trade off for the adult alcoholic version. The drink starts with vanilla vodka, one of the astounding number of flavored vodkas available, and includes Grenadine, a cocktail staple, in a made-at-home version. The red is achieved with pomegranate in part because of taste but mostly because, where we grew up in south Texas, pomegranate bushes grew well enough that they could be encountered in many yards. The following is the recipe I came up with through the help of a taste-testing spouse and friends, and yes, I made them try the original Big Red first:

1.5 ounce vanilla vodka (I didn’t skimp here and went with Stoli’s)

1 ounce triple sec for the orange

1 ounce grenadine (recipe for home made follows)

3 ounces club soda

lemon wedge to garnish

Mix all the ingredients, add ice and stir.

This version of Grenadine is less sweet and, though I may be color blind, got me mighty close to the right color:

1/4 cup sugar (I used demerara sugar because I had it for another drink)

1 cup pure pomegranate juice

seeds from 1/2 fresh pomegranate

1 small lemon

x

Bring sugar, pomegranate juice and the slightly smashed seeds of half a pomegranate to a boil, then reduce to simmer for at least five minutes to concentrate it to a more syrupy consistency. Once that is done, halve the lemon, squeeze the juice into the syrup and drop the halves into the syrup. Let it steep and cool then remove the lemons, strain it through cheese cloth and add a little regular vodka as a preservative if you think it will stay in your refrigerator more than a couple of weeks. Seems like a lot of trouble, but worth it for a less sweet grenadine.

Here’s to memories and a drink I call the La Marque in remembrance of a the small town in Texas where we grew up.

And here’s David’s review:

My brother has me at a disadvantage here. I remember my older brother’s elaborate argument for the special privilege of the sixth soda but don’t remember Big Red nearly as well as Jonathan does. I might have more luck recreating a cocktail based on Yoo-hoo than this one… as horrible as the thought of a Yoo-hoo cocktail seems to me. With no clear memory to match it against, the La Marque seemed appropriately sweet, appropriately complex, and appropriately flavorful. I wish I could compare it to Big Red, but smells and flavors seem hardest for me to recall. They say it is the most evocative sense, and that’s certainly true. But you either have those sense memories or don’t. And I don’t. That said, I could approach this drink without a clear context, and I’d loved it.

I especially liked the grenadine, which I do remember as I bring back the days we wandered through our neighborhood, pillaging gardens for pomegranates our neighbors must have hoped to keep to themselves.

Rather than Triple Sec, I chose a cordial I might drink later, Mandarine Napoleon, which presented more tangerine flavor than orange, a sweet and astringent flavor to balance and complement the lemony (but mellow) pomegranate. I think it added a different undertone, something more bitter and spicy than pure orange might have. Sorry Jonathan, I just couldn’t face a neglected bottle of triple sec in my bar.

I have to say again what a difference homemade grenadine makes! My recipe wasn’t quite as complex as Jonathan’s—I used pomegranate juice exclusively without any real pomegranate seed—but the effect was just as dramatic, introducing a distinctive and rich element, fruity and lush.

This cocktail may be the adult version of Big Red, less sweet and more complicated than the original, but it also stands on its own, without the connection. Hats off to my brother for creating such an interesting and innovative cocktail. I’d like to come up with something so evocative myself. …I’m thinking.

Jonathan’s Take: La Marque sweep the cocktail scene? No. Was it good? Yup

David’s Take: I’d order this cocktail—it was interesting and refreshing, true to our Texas roots, so what’s not to like?

Next Week (proposed by David):

My wife and I will be visiting in San Antonio, where my sister and mom live. I’d like to introduce them to a new spirit, something outside their ken, so I’ve decided to use Cachaca and recreate the national drink of Brazil, Caipirinha de Uva. I know my brother-in-law is fond of martinis, so I hope he’ll be okay with this wine, fruit, and rum cocktail.

Bloody Mary

bloodyProposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

The senator from North Carolina was grateful to be ceded the floor to make this week’s selection and chose the Campari Mary.

No, I’m not serious and, as David suggested last week, I proposed the Bloody Mary and its many variations.

The story of the Bloody Mary and its history is clouded by the many folks who want to take credit. What cannot be doubted is that any number of people probably came to the conclusion that vodka and tomato juice would go well together (Penne alla Vodka anyone?) and that this concoction would somehow be best served for breakfast. What is intriguing to me is that this drink became associated as a hangover cure and be referred to as “the hair of the dog.” Just as I cannot relate to someone who thinks “I believe that gin would be a lovely substitute for club soda,” I can’t imagine thinking that tomato juice and vodka mixed with any number of spices would be a cure for a sour stomach (unless that cure involved projectile spewing). Just as an aside, I would also not be inclined to think that the best cure for a dog bite would be to put the hair from that same dog in the wound… yet that is apparently the origin of the saying.

The Bloody Mary is another classic that lends itself to numerous variations. Some of the better known and more interesting are the Bloody Maria (tequila), Red Snapper (gin), Bloody Scotsman or Smoky (add scotch along with the vodka) and of course the Bloody Shame (no alcohol). There are also numerous additives. Most basic recipes include tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, celery salt, black pepper and hot sauce. From there savvyones have added horseradish, peppers, olives, dill pickle spears, pickled okra and a long list of spices.

I created my own Bloody bar like the ones that have been popular with brunch spots. I threw in a few surprises but included the liquors mentioned above, low salt tomato juice (there’s enough salt in the remainder of the ingredients) and the other basics listed earlier. This was a drink to share. That means a bunch of friends on a golf trip were my willing taste testers, especially if I made the drinks. Between us we tried the traditional Bloody Mary, a Bloody Maria, Red Snapper, Bloody Smoky, Bloody Caesar (clamato juice) and Screw Mary (orange juice). The latter was awful but the rest were nice. I must admit a preference for the tequila version as it adds more taste than vodka.

We also varied garnishes. Those included traditional celery as well as olives and cornichons.

Though maybe I should have added some antacids so there’s no need to look for dog hair.

Here’s David’s Review

Bloody Marys are unusual drinks. For one thing, they have nutritional value. After two different types, I felt full and (relatively) virtuous that I’d consumed vitamins with my vodka. Though I was drinking these Bloody Marys in the p.m. instead of in the a.m., I understand why they are the beverage most likely to accompany breakfast or brunch. A close friend of waffles and eggs, Bloody Marys suggest something solid and reliable, respectable even.

From my perspective, too many variables surround creating a Bloody Mary to review it accurately. I found a recipe for a Bloody Mary mix that included Dijon mustard and green olive brine that seemed pretty distinctive and tried two variations on top of that—a Bloody Smoky (with Scotch) and a Bloody Bishop (with Sherry). Who am I to pass judgment on a class of drinks when I experienced just a taste and still have a lot of the homemade mix in my refrigerator?

I confess, I don’t drink tomato juice. Never have I slapped myself on the forehead and uttered, “I could of have a V8!”—perhaps if I accidentally drank a cup of hemlock I would, but, otherwise, no. Though I used V8 as the base for my Bloody Mary, tomato juice is dense and intense—a taste I associate with substantial bag lunches and health kicks. So spiciness and other flavors are everything. Without the proper bite of Tabasco (I used both regular and chipotle) and pepper, a Bloody anything won’t work. That, and the spirit. With the gift of vodka, gazpacho might make a tasty drink.

As a 54 year-old who’s never purchased Scotch, I particularly enjoyed the Bloody Smoky, which balanced the sweetness of tomato with an subtle peatiness. I cut down on the vodka to compensate for adding an Islay variety of Scotch (1 ounce vodka, one-half Scotch) and the effect was wonderful, particularly when I added a few more drops of the chipotle Tabasco, which is similarly smoky. The Bloody Bishop was also good and for some of the same reasons. Vodka seems such a neutral spirit to me—perhaps I haven’t learned to taste it yet—so the character of the second spirit appears important even in combination with substantial and spicy tomato juice. The sherry I used was not the dry sort and, though there was just a taste of it in the drink, it steered the Bloody Mary in a sweeter and nuttier direction.

Bloody Marys are idiosyncratic drinks, particular to a specific circumstance. Yet, with such broad variations in ingredients they’re hardly one drink at all. As an aperitif, they don’t work well—My wife and I didn’t feel much like dinner after our experimentation. And, sadly, I don’t have the sort of life where I can sabotage the cold judgment and absolute sobriety of the rest of the day for a morning Bloody Mary. As a very occasional excuse to start the day happy, I’m sure they’re wonderful.

David’s take: The genre of Bloody Marys is too vast to judge so summarily. More sampling seems called for.

Jonathan’s take: the versions are endless and while one is plenty, no single one needs to be like the other. My only must is horseradish as without it all versions are a little flat.

Next Week’s Drink (proposed by David):

After some bitter and/or elaborate weeks, I propose taking a sweet and simple turn while reusing our supplies in a Fall Gimlet. As a proper Gimlet should, it contains gin and fresh lime juice—no Rose’s Lime Juice for this cocktailian!—plus an unconventional sweetener to be revealed next week.

The Cinquecento

Proposed by: Davidcinquecento

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Can’t help thinking about my brother when I propose these cocktails—I worry they’re too elaborate or require too many new and strange ingredients or are simply too fussy. To be honest, my contributions have been on the baroque end of the cocktail scale.

And a little capricious. This week’s drink, the Cinquecento, came to me because a.) I was looking for a vodka drink with bitters (because those seem rather rare), b.) I like saying its name—Cheenko-chennnto— and c.) it evoked the quirky sophistication of the Fiat 500Ls now proliferating in Chicago. It also reminded me of a commercial my sister-in-law posted on facebook where a couple buying the car discovers, to their surprise, that it comes with an authentic Italian family in the back seat. A montage follows. The couple becomes Italian. I’d like to become Italian.

This cocktail isn’t that elaborate in preparation, but it requires three varieties of alcohol:

  • 1.5 oz  Vodka
  • .5 oz Bénédictine
  • .5 oz Campari
  • .75 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Garnish: Grapefruit twist

Glass: Coupe

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and double strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

The provenance of this recipe is elaborate. One of Gaz Regan’s top 101 new cocktails of 2011, it originates with Fredo Ceraso, who entered it (as the winning selection) in an “Anyone Can Be a Mixologist” contest at Louis 649 Bar in Manhattan. In Mr. Ceraso’s description he says, “This cocktail is called the Cinquecento (500 in Italian) to honor the two modifying spirits: DOM Bénédictine (celebrating its 500th anniversary) and Campari (which hails from Torino, home of the iconic Fiat Cinquecento).”

I’m learning, however, that cocktails offer a palette of colors and tastes (and even textures) that transcend the accident of their birth. This cocktail, a lovely persimmon hue, is more substantial than light. Mr. Ceraso also mentions in his write-up that grapefruit juice naturally complements Campari, and I’d agree. I’d actually never tried Campari before, but it possesses a similar sweet bitterness prominent in this cocktail. My wife, who’s made it her mission to pair these drinks with sensible snacks, supplied some salty and sharp cheddar on rye crackers. That combination seemed perfect to me, as the bitterness of this drink (at least in my version) might otherwise be too persistent. It was pretty persistent anyway.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

Wow! Looking at David’s proposed drink and reading the ingredients, there were a lot of directions I thought I might be going with this review. Never thought I’d end up where I am though.

The review begins with a confession. We were tailgating before a college football game that began at 12:30 so this drink was going to be enjoyed at breakfast rather than as the aperitif that it is intended to be. The addition of grapefruit juice gave me some comfort that it might work, although that thought was countered by the fact the drink is almost all liquor/liqueur.

Some more quick background is that although I can be negative, I rarely put it in writing or take action. Angie’s List calls us to solicit reviews because we don’t provide them. Bad service at a restaurant? Your tip just went from 20% to 15% mister. Really lousy service? Okay, I’m going to show you with only 10%.

You might guess by now that I really disliked this drink. I made a couple and ended up passing them around to almost everyone at the tailgate and it wasn’t just me. The comments ranged from “tastes like something mixed up at a high school party” to “I think I’ll have something else now.” Even with the help, I couldn’t finish mine, as the combination of all the bitters made me feel like I needed to shave my tongue. To be fair, I will try it again with a juice that is sweeter than grapefruit and as an aperitif to see if anything changes. Sure hope so.

Jonathan’s take: This was a bad “wow.” Tasting overly like pure alcohol and very bitter, it’s not my drink.

David’s take: The distinctive honeyed, spicy, and bitter taste of this cocktail grew on me… but, then again, maybe that’s the alcohol talking.

Next Week (Proposed by Jonathan):

The best part of this week’s drink was the color of the Campari. It made me think of Cosmopolitans, which is one of my wife’s favorite drinks. I was already leaning towards Gin as the base liquor, and I wanted to begin to use some of the ingredients we have been accumulating as part of this endeavor, so I am proposing a Campari Cosmopolitan. There are a couple of options for the recipe, and I will include both for some experimentation.