Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blackthorn (or Blackthorne)

One of the great things about the "Anvil 100" cocktail list I have been following is that in addition to naming the cocktail, it lists the principal ingredients. While it doesn't give proportions, I figured that it was just a good way of knowing what kind of drink I was going to be having (gin, vodka, etc) before trying to make it. However, it became very clear how important this was when concocting a Blackthorne - or Blackthorn. Or Blackthorne/Blackthorn. Allow me to explain.

The Anvil 100 lists the ingredients of a "The Blackthorn" as Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and absinthe. Now, these are the ingredients in the recipe which appears in Gary Regan's version of the "The Blackthorne" (emphasis mine) in his The Joy of Mixology book from 2003. This is the version I made - and it's terrible. Just bad - nothing good I can say about it. The whiskey and vermouth carry no weight in the cocktail, and the absinthe and bitters dominate the flavor (and not in any sort of pleasing way). So I thought "What the hell? Why would this make it on a list of supposedly unforgettable cocktails?"

Doing some research on line, I noticed that there were at least two other recipes for "The Blackthorn", neither of which has any of those ingredients in the recipe (well, one has rosso vermouth and the other has Dubonnet (an herbaceous wine-based spirit), so there is a common thread). The one I saw more often than not consisted of gin, kirsch, and Dubonnet. Unlike the first version I made, that actually SOUNDS like it would be good. So I chose to revisit this cocktail using the gin-based recipe.

The results were, as expected, the polar opposite from the first experience. This version was clean, crisp, and with just the right balance of sweet and herby so as to be complex without being "difficult." I emailed the website for the Anvil to clarify if they had mixed up the cocktail they wanted to highlight on their list. They didn't respond, so I will just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they meant to feature the much more pleasant gin variation.

UPDATE: Recently I noted that one of the many cocktail folks I follow on Twitter, @drinkswmindy, tends bar at Anvil, so I shot her a tweet asking whether their version of this cocktail was gin or whiskey based. She was kind enough to respond that they make the whiskey version (which coincides with the List), and added they use Irish whiskey. So, that part was consistent. Turns out what I screwed up was the vermouth - I had used sweet vermouth in my original attempt based on what appeared in The Joy of Mixology by the great Gary Regan. In fact, I believe it should have been dry vermouth, per this recipe from The Wormwood Society's web site. I remade this cocktail the other day with the whiskey and dry vermouth components, and it was a huge improvement. The whiskey, dry vermouth, and absinthe all complemented each other, allowing each ingredient to play a part - the absinthe didn't dominate, which it can often do if not used in proper proportion with other ingredients. Not the best cocktail I have ever had, but it was pleasant, and was light years from the abomination I had initially created. There may be a way to make the sweet vermouth work in this, but I'll leave that to much more skilled people than me to work out.

The Blackthorn

3 dashes Angostura bitters
3 dashes absinthe (I used Lucid)
1.5oz Irish whiskey (Jameson)
1.5oz french dry vermouth

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Blood and Sand

Cocktail naming conventions are funny. I read somewhere that you can tell the difference between a European cocktail and an American one by how their named. Example: In Europe, what's the name for a mix of gin and tonic? Gin and Tonic. In America, what's the name for mix of rye, creme de noyeau, and lemon juice? A Maryland Squirrel. You get the picture.

Drinks can be named for all kinds of things - historic events, famous (or not so famous) individuals, great works of fiction, etc. The Blood and Sand was named after a 1922 film about a bullfighter (Rudolph Valentino) involved in a love triangle - get it, blood of the bull, sand of the bullfighting ring? Whatever - given that origin, not sure why scotch would be the base spirit, and given that it is, you might think this is going to end up being a pretty sketchy cocktail taste-wise. Happily, you would be incorrect.

The recipe for this was originally (via the Savoy book) equal parts (3/4 oz) of all of the ingredients. The version I used bumps up the scotch to a full ounce while keeping the other at 3/4, and that works very, very well. Using a blended scotch (in my case, Johnny Walker Black) also works well - a highly peated single malt would throw off the balance of the other ingredients, for instance. Overall, a great, sweet yet refreshing cocktail. Doesn't make me feel any more like Rudy Valentino, but it also doesn't make me feel like sticking a bull with a sword as part of some arcane bloodsport, so all things considered, I'm fine with that.

Blood and Sand

1 oz blended scotch
3/4 oz orange juice
3/4 oz rosso vermouth
3/4 oz Cherry Heering

Combine ingedients in cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Bijou

Evidently this recipe is a more modern-day friendly version of a cocktail first recorded in 1900 in Harry Johnson's Bartender's Manual , which called for equal parts of the spirits - certainly would have made this a more herb-forward drink. But the proportions I used produced a smooth, flavorful and enjoyable cocktail with that special something that green chartreuse always brings to the party. And I also saw recipes which further muted the herbaceous nature of the cocktail by substituting dry vermouth for sweet - being that I was making this cocktail for Suz as well (not a fan of sweet vermouth), I followed that path, which I thought still produced a well balanced cocktail. My choice of gin was Plymouth since its milder flavor helped bring out the remaining herbal tastes in the other spirits.

The Bijou

3 oz gin

1 oz green chartreuse

1 oz dry vermouth

dash of orange bitters

Stir in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Aperol Spritz

Aperol is an orange flavored, slightly bitter liquor, very much like Campari. Italian in origin, it differs from Campari in it's more muted color (pink-orange, not bright red like Campari) and in its much less bitter taste compared to that other famous Italian spirit. Where as Campari comes on strong and then lingers on the palette for a good long time, Aperol gives you a quick, sweet hit and then finishes with a subtle bitterness which fades relatively quickly.

Spritzes as a drink type are typically just spirits that are combined with sparkling wine (traditionally, given its Italian origins, the Aperol Spritz uses Prosecco) and soda. There are other variations (adding water to stronger wines are sometimes known as straight spritzes), but this is the most common. I used Spanish cava as the sparkling wine - mainly because I had some left over from the Redskins game last week. It actually went very well, adding a slight sweetness to the whole drink which made it really refreshing and easy to drink.

Aperol Spritz

2 oz sparkling wine (prosecco or cava)
1.5 oz Aperol
splash of soda

Fill a cocktail glass with ice. Pour sparking wine first and then Aperol into the glass (add the Aperol second so it doesn't sink to the bottom), and then finish with splash of soda. Garnish with an orange slice.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Americano

I like really like bitter spirits. They aren't something I think of every time I sit down to have a cocktail, but some of the best cocktails I have had have had a bitter ingredient as one of the anchor flavors in it. And since I started experimenting with cocktails in May, I have acquired quite a few of the better known varieties - Cynar, Fernet Branca, Aperol, to name a few. And of course I have had my fair share of Jaegermeister shots (but we won't speak of that). But the one bitter liqueur I have had in my bar the longest, and is nearest to my heart, is Campari.

A bright, gorgeous red, Campari has a sweetness up front which is somewhat misleading, not really preparing you for the lovely bitterness that trails behind it and lingers on your palette for a long, long time. To me, the Americano is the perfect vehicle for this experience. Campari can be a little cloying and thick on the taste buds, so the addition of the sweet vermouth, and especially the club soda, keeps things light without masking that great bitteness Campari is known for. It's refreshing as you drink it, but the orange-tinged aftertaste that lingers in your mouth is the real attraction for any cocktail which includes Campari.

The Americano

1oz Campari
1oz sweet vermouth
2 oz club soda

Build in an ice filled collins glass. Add a twist of orange as garnish.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Algonquin

This is one of the 30+ cocktails on the Anvil 100 Cocktails to Drink Before You Die list that I had made before starting this project, and, being that it's a rye based cocktail, it's one I liked quite a bit. Typically when I make a cocktail, I'll make either just one for myself, or one for myself and for my wife, Suz, based on the base spirit. Suz doesn't really like gin (especially if it is a strong flavor in a drink), is so-so on whiskey, is neutral on vodka (appropriately), and really likes rum - so sometimes I'll make two of something if I think she might like it. This was one I thought she might like, since the rye is cut with vermouth and pineapple juice, which I thought might take enough of the edge off of the rye for her tastes.

After preparing the cocktail, we taste tested, and she asked me some really interesting questions. She didn't dislike the Algonquin, although she admitted it was a little too boozy for her tastes. But she wondered why the other ingredients (pineapple juice and vermouth) were in there at all? There was no hint of the vermouth at all in the flavor, and the pineapple was barely detectable. So what persuaded someone at the Algonquin Hotel in New York to use exactly these ingredients, and for it to become popular enough to warrant it becoming a signature cocktail?

Why cocktails are made the way they are is sometimes a well known story (like the Moscow Mule), very much in dispute (like the Martini), or there just isn't a lot known about them except maybe their place of origin (like the Algonquin). So why the bartender who made this drink did what they did is open to interpretation. But I like rye enough to not dwell too much on that - regardless of their reasons, they created a perfumey rye cocktail with a hint of fruit and a nice kick to it - that's about all I ask of my cocktails, really. And Suz ended up drinking the whole thing, so, philosophical differences aside, we evidently weren't too far apart on what the intended motivation of the Algonquin's originator must have been - a drained glass on the bar.

The Algonquin

1 1/2oz rye whiskey (Rittenhouse 100)
3/4 oz dry vermouth
3/4 pineapple juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Brandy Alexander

I'll admit that I had been confused about the relationship between brandy, cognac, and armagnac until very recently (like about 20 minutes ago). Looking for brandy in the local liquor stores, bottles I thought were brandy (like Hennessey or Courvoisier) said "cognac" on the bottle. It was actually tough to find just plain "brandy" that wasn't a fruit flavor (like blackberry). Turns out the relationship is pretty easy to understand. Brandy is distilled from wine (grapes) or other fruits. Cognac, from the Cognac region in France, is distilled from white wine and aged in oak barrels made from timber from the Limousin or Troncais forests in France. Armagnac differs from cognac in the distillation process, as well as the type of wood the aging barrels are made of (black oak from the Monzelun forest), but it is also distilled from white wine. So Cognac and Armagnac are specialized styles of brandy with very strict production criteria.

Given that, rather than searching around for just "brandy" for this cocktail, I chose to use a cognac - specifically a Kelt V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) champagne cognac. Kelt actually puts their cognac barrels on a ship and sends them on a three month sea voyage (Tour du Monde) which is supposed to increase the complexity of the spirit. The subtleties of the cognac are probably lost adding it to heavy cream and creme de cacao, but using the Kelt also makes sense since it's what I had on hand.

This is not a drink to start your evening off - this is a drink to elegantly and sweetly wrap up a long day, sipped by a fire, or while wrapped in a warm Snuggie (or Slanket, if you're one of THOSE types of people). It's creamy yet not thick, with a not-quite-sweet finish, the nutmeg adding a bit of that chilly fall evening feel to it. This cocktail is an ideal nightcap.

Brandy Alexander

2 oz Kelt V.S.O.P champagne cognac

1/2 oz creme de cacao
1/2 oz heavy cream
fresh nutmeg

Shake cognac, creme de cacao, and cream with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Grate nutmeg over top to taste

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hemingway Daiquiri

Ok, so the Hemingway Daiquiri really is way out of order on the list of 100. This should have been a review for a Brandy Alexander - but right now the weather in DC is sunny, upper 70's, and gorgeous. Not weather you would associate with a drink heavy on the cream and nutmeg. So, at my wife's request, I inserted the Hemingway Daiquiri into the order. Citrusy, refreshing, not really sweet at all, it fit the weather and the Friday afternoon, pre-Labor Day weekend mood much better.

I won't go too much into the history on this - Hemingway is obviously Ernest Hemingway, famous novelist, reporter, traveler, and booze hound. Tales of his drinking are legendary. And the fact that our wedding reception was held on the grounds of his house in Key West means the man holds a special place in my heart (and liver). I am sure he would view this 100 cocktail endeavor as a noble undertaking - kind of like an old man trying to catch a big fish in a little boat or some crap like that.

Hemingway Daiquiri

1 1/2 oz light rum
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz grapefruit juice

Shake all ingredients vigorously in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Airmail Cocktail

Some cocktails have rock solid recipes which can not be deviated from if they are truly to be called a correct version of that cocktail (for instance, a Dark and Stormy HAS to have Gosling's Black Seal rum in it, otherwise it must be called something else). Others are left open to wide interpretation - ingredients in some cocktails may vary by quantity, composition, proportion, and sometimes even base spirit. Looking up how to make the Airmail, I saw a pretty wide variation in the suggested recipe. All were rum based, but after that it got a little dicey - recipe for the honey syrup? Lot of different honey/water proportions. Garnish? some, none, and gray areas in between. Champagne or prosecco? Simple syrup or no? And appropriate glassware? All over the place - highball, champagne flute, champagne coupe, cocktail glass. I'm surprised there wasn't one which called for drinking out of a shrunken monkey head.

Given the defacto wide latitude being granted to me in creating this cocktail, I cobbled together a recipe from a number of sources. Although I couldn't find a history of the origin of this cocktail, given the call for "rhum" and champagne in most recipes I found, I would imagine it had its origins in the French-speaking Carribbean countries. Rhum agricole, or "agricultural rum," made from straight sugar cane as opposed to mollasses, is most popular in these countries. Given that, options such a Italian prosecco don't seem to make as much thematic sense as French champagne.

The results were just pretty good - I can see why this cocktail made it on Anvil's list, but I think the lime proportion I used was a little too high (recipe below reflects downward adjustment). Refreshing, sophisticated, not overly sweet - I would imagine that this would be fantastic sipped on the beaches of Martinique (since it was pretty good sipped in my kitchen.)


1 1/2 oz. rhum agricole
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. honey syrup (1 part honey/2 parts water)
1 oz. champagne
2-3 drops Angostura bitters
mint leaf for garnish

Combine rum, lime juice, and syrup in shaker. Add ice, shake vigorously. Strain into glass and top with champagne. Gently drop 2 drops of bitters on top of cocktail. Garnish by dragging mint leaf through bitters to create an attractive design, then laying mint leaf on top.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Absinthe Drip

My first cocktail as part of the 100 Cocktail Bucket List project is one of the simplest to make, but also has a lot of history and intrigue attached to it. Absinthe was banned in the United States and most European countries by 1915 because of fears that one of the chemical properties contained in wormwood (thujone) was a dangerous psychoactive drug. Commercial production started again in Europe in the 1990's, and production in the United States was authorized beginning in 2007.

Because absinthe is typically a very high proof spirit, it is typically consumed as a cocktail by adding ice cold water which is dripped over a sugar cube held over the glass by a special slotted absinthe spoon, The resulting cocktail will turn a milky white, called the "louche," which opens up all of the other herbal notes in the drink that would have otherwise been overpowered by the anise flavor and/or the alcohol content.

I had purchased some Le Tourment Vert (LTV) absinthe some time ago, based almost exclusively on the very cool looking bottle. Having read up on the subject some more in the intervening months, I opted to purchase Lucid brand absinthe, which is generally considered to be very good (unlike LTV ), and which is, unlike some of the other highly regarded absinthe brands, readily available within a block of where I work.

Unlike LTV, which had yielded very poor results when trying to use it to create an Absinthe Drip (no louche, so real difference in the flavor profile once water was added), the Lucid produced a lovely, milky cocktail which tasted of a generous assortment of herbs (not just anise).

All in all, a great start to this project. 99 more to go!

Absinthe Drip

2 oz absinthe (Lucid)
sugar cube
4 oz ice cold water

Pour absinthe into cocktail glass or special absinthe glass (these glasses generally have a bulbous bottom with a flared top - the absinthe should be filled to the line between to two halves of the glass). Place an absinthe spoon (or other slotted spoon) over the glass, and place sugar cube on the spoon. SLOWLY drop the ice water over the sugar, dissolving the sugar into the absinthe. The absinthe should go from a clear spirit to a milky white (the louche).

100 Cocktail Bucket List

A buddy of mine recently linked me to an article in the Houston Press regarding a list that Anvil Bar & Refuge had developed of the 100 Cocktails To Try Before You Die. While lists like this are always subjective, and inevitably leave out drinks which are near and dear to any imbibers' heart (no Esquivel??), the Anvil list does contain a very strong selection of cocktails which would appear on most lists as "classics" not to be missed. Looking at it from the perspective of someone interested in creating quality cocktails at home, I identified 30 on the list that I have made since "repurposing" this blog in early May - and there isn't one of the 70 cocktails left on the list I don't want to, or had not planned to, try eventually.

Given that, I have come up with an idea, somewhat based on that movie "Julie and Julia" (well, "somewhat" is probably an understatement - "extremely loosely based on the premise of" is more accurate):

I intend to create every one of the cocktails on this list by midnight on
December 31, 2009.

This gives me 121 days to make 100 cocktails (I will remake the 30 I have already made as part of this effort - they were great the first time, so why not?), which I think is more than enough cushion to accomplish my goal. Some of my assumptions at the onset of this project, which are open to change at any time:
  • I will attempt to go in order as much as is practical (things which might throw me off might be if I have to create or find a special ingredient I wouldn't normally have laying around)
  • I will make all of the cocktails personally - drinks at bars or made by others won't count
  • I will attempt to take pictures of every creation
  • I will also attempt to blog about what drink I make each time, at a minimum including the drink title, recipe, and a picture (and pics could come later as I don't have a fancy schmancy cell phone with a camera)
There will be no punishment for not accomplishing this (unlike a real bucket list, where if you don't complete the list, you're dead - cause and effect notwithstanding.) This actually solves an issue I have been having lately with trying to determine what to have every day (I know, rough life). This gives me a structure, a method to my drunkenness, which is easy to follow and easy to gauge my progress against.

Things start off this evening with the first drink on the list - an Absinthe Drip.

And yes, I know I use quotes and parentheses far too often. I'm not blogging about proper sentence structure here, people.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cocktailing in Manhattan, Part One - The Pegu Club

As with most things culinary, when you look for cutting edge innovation and trendsetting in America, two cities immediately appear at the top of any list – New York and San Francisco (DC…not so much, although things are improving on that front). Luckily for me, I had planned trips to both of those locations in back to back weeks in July, giving me a rare opportunity to experience (potentially) some of the great cocktail locations in America in a very short period of time. My first stop – New York, which has close to a dozen locations which have garnered interest and accolades within the cocktail and culinary community (not to mention the standard imbibing community). With the plan being to spend a week there, I figured that would give me ample opportunity to hit at least a couple of these locations and document what I found. Turns out a couple was in fact all I had time for, but the time spent at both locations - The Pegu Club and Flatiron Lounge - was about as well spent as one interested in cocktails could hope for.

The Pegu Club, located on West Houston in Soho, has a sterling reputation for the cocktails mixed there, as well as for those who mix them. Named after a famous British colonial officer's club in Burma, the bar and lounge, located up a flight of steps straight off the street, has an appropriately Eurasian feel to it - the wooden screens, dark and polished wood, and low slung furniture create an atmosphere of refined yet restrained elegance. Everything in the narrow, long space running along Houston Street is designed to be both comforting, but at the same time elevate the mood and heighten the senses - this isn't a place to slug back a shot of Jack with a Bud Light chaser (although there's nothing wrong with that).

Bottles of all kinds were lined up behind the bar - Cynar, Sazerac Rye, Green and Yellow Chartreuse, Plymouth Sloe Gin, Zwack. Bottles both common and exotic were contained behind asian-inspired screens which were made to mimic the same style of screens difusing the light coming through the north facing windows. This was a lounge, but absent the typical pretension associated with someplace identifying itself as one - this was a "club," but one everyone is invited to join.

I arrived on a Monday afternoon, only having been off the train from DC long enough to drop my stuff off at the hotel and catch the A Train to Soho. The room was almost completely empty except for one gentleman sipping a drink in a very well appointed suit. The bar filled out, but only slightly, as the afternoon wore on - I learned that Eben Klemm (beverage director of the B.R. Guest restaurant group), sat for a drink or two Taking my place at the bar, I looked at the cocktail menu and ordered their signature cocktail (always a good place to start) - the Pegu Club. London dry gin, orange curacao, lime juice, and angostura and orange bitters are shaken vigorously and then strained into a cocktail coupe. Tart, refreshing, slightly sweet, you could envision sitting on the porch in the humid heat of Burma having tray after tray of these delivered for your pleasure.

The Pegu Club Cocktail

2oz London dry gin
3/4 oz orange curacao
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
2 dashes each of Angostura and orange bitters

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge

The creation of this cocktail embodied everything I look for in a place that creates quality cocktails. My bartender, Yale, was extremely friendly and very willing to chat (I am sure at least partially because there was hardly anyone else in the place). The bar filled out, but only slightly, as the afternoon wore on - while chatting with Yale about ice and the most efficient shaking techniques (some think it makes a difference - others don't), I learned that Eben Klemm (beverage director of the B.R. Guest restaurant group), sat for a drink or two a couple of seats away. He had evidently been on a panel discussion about that very subject (dilution, temp, ice structure, etc) in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail. That's the kind of thing an actual raport with the bartender will get you - interesting tidbits about regular customers or facts about the craft that you wouldn't get elsewhere.

Yale's method for making the cocktails I enjoyed that afternoon were consistent, classic, and extremely professional. All of the quality cocktail places I have been to in the last year or so have the same characteristics:

- alcohol amounts are measured, not free poured
- shaken drinks are just that - shaken, HARD
- ingredients are absolutely fresh - fruit, juices, even bitters, tonics, and sodas are made on site or acquired form the highest quality vendors
- as the drink is strained into your glass, the pour is ended with a crisp snap of the wrist
- not necessary, but a nice detail - ice is cracked in hand with a barspoon in a discriminating way (i.e. would throw ice out if not cracked properly). Again, attention to detail and experience of the customer at the bar.
- the bartender taste tests your drink (with a straw, not a sip) before giving it to you. That indicates to me a desire for quality control and excellence - you can trust a drink that passes this test to taste as it should
- the bartender is engaging with the customers - even when slammed, he/she will always have a smile and a few words with a new customer sitting down at the bar

For my next cocktail, I asked Yale to come up with something she really liked. Proclaiming herself to be a "rye girl" (big points there), she mixed up a Red Hook - Rittenhouse 100 Rye, maraschino liqueur, and Punt a Mes, stirred, with a brandied cherry for a garnish. Boozy drink, with a great balance of sweetness and depth which rye imparts to almost any drink.

The Red Hook

2 oz Rittenhouse 100 Rye Whiskey
1/2 oz Punt e Mes
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Wanting to ensure my experience at the bar would extend into the evening (and not wanting to pass out on the A Train and end up god knows where), I decided to have some of the "bar" food. And awesome food it is - chicken lollipops with scotch syrup, pear compote, and lemon zest were fantastic, and their version of coconut shrimp w honey mustard sauce was delicious as well. Satiated but not full, I moved ahead with my mission to try as many cocktails at the Pegu Club as possible while still maintaining the ability to adequately operate my limbs.

At this point, there was a shift change at the bar, and Dell took over the helm of the place. I learned later that I was being served by one of the most highly regarded bartenders in NYC - and it was soon clear why that was.

PART II - Dell the Funky Homosapien (Bartender)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cocktail Hopping in Philadelphia ( Part 2)

Butcher and Singer was my last and best stop on my cocktail-related venture through Philadelphia. My experience there started with a Sidecar.

The Sidecar is a classic cocktail. As such, it saw a resurgence in the 90’s when the movie Swingers came out (sadly, I have yet to see it, so I don’t know whether the cocktail itself figures prominently in the movie, or whether the resurgence of cocktail culture in general generated renewed interest in the drink. I know, I am a cultural failure.) Consisting of brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice shaken over ice and strained into a cocktail glass, it’s got a great mixture of all the things that make a cocktail successful for me – sweet, sour, herbaceousness, and bite. At Butcher and Singer, they throw in a thinly sugared rim on the glass, which really punches the sweet up a notch at the front of the drink before the other flavors come into play. I actually prefer this – that little pop of sugar at the front really sets the stage for the other flavors.

At this point, having complimented the bartender on the drink, I asked for something that he really likes that people may not order very often or see in other bars. He suggested a French 75. I have seen more than a few references to this cocktail being made with gin as the base spirit – but other references, and the associated back-story, refer to cognac as the lead. This was the version prepared here, and I can’t argue with the results.

The story goes that the drink was created during World War I by flying ace Franco Lufbery who wanted a way to kick up his champagne. He added cognac, which would certainly do the trick. The result was said to have the same effect as a famous (or infamous-, depending on which side of the lines you were on)-at-the-time piece of artillery, a French 75mm howitzer. Thus, the French 75.

For the preparation, cognac, simple syrup, and lemon juice are shaken together. The bartender prepared a large brandy snifter by half filling it with crushed ice, over which the drink was poured. Champagne then topped the drink off. Again, the mixture of tastes (sour, sweet, herby, bite, with some dryness added by the champagne) really set the drink apart from your typical expectation for a cocktail.

It was at this point I decided that further exploration of the Philadelphia cocktail culture was probably best left to another day. Hopefully I’ll be returning soon, as I could see that there were obviously bartenders in Philly that cared about their craft, and that were on a mission to elevate the cocktail beyond the standard vodka martini or over-muddled mojito. And that’s a worthy mission in my book.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Crusty Bar

Since starting this cocktail adventure a couple of months ago, I have been seeking to fill out my home bar to the point where I had what I would consider all of the "essentials" - basically 90% of the ingredients I would need to make any random cocktail that caught my eye in a magazine, or I saw mentioned on line. That turned out to be a lot more labor, time, space, and funding intensive than I first thought. While you can certainly have what would be considered a fully stocked bar with just a few key bottles (Imbibe magazine recently had a great article suggesting what a good starting "home bar" consists of), creating one which enables you to really experiment with a wide range of classic and new cocktails is no small undertaking. And it can get ridiculous - just to represent the various styles and cross-sections of gin could take up 15 bottles - and that's assuming you skip the gin-n-juice variants (sorry Snoop).

I had a relatively decent stock on hand already - mostly from gifts, or bottles I bought here and there for parties or for my own use (which mostly consisted of bourbon). So filling in around that base was something which took a bit of research (through blogs, magazines, and cocktail books). Here is my current listing of spirits and supporting items on hand, along with a list of things which I have on my "to get" list.

Absolut New Orleans Vodka
Tito's Handmade Vodka
Stoliychnaya Vodka
Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka
Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin
Hendrick's Gin
Bacardi Superior White Rum
Cruzan Black Strap Rum
Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
Appleton Estate V/X Rum
Sauza Commemorativo Anejo Tequila
Patron Silver Tequila
Whiskey / Whisky
Johnny Walker Red Blended Scotch
Johnny Walker Black Blended Scotch
Wasmund's Red Single Malt Whisky
Wasmund's Silver Single Malt Whisky
Jameson Irish Whiskey
Maker's Mark Bourbon
Jim Beam Rye Whiskey
Others (ok, I got lazy with the labels)
Southern Comfort
Laird's Applejack
Berentzen Apfelkorn Apple Liquer
Drysack Sherry
Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve Porto
Kelt Tour du Mond VSOP Cognac
Barsol Pisco
Lillet Blanc
Lillet Rouge
Martini & Rossi Vermouth Rosso
Cinzano Extra Dry Vermouth
Punt e Mes
Campari Liqueur
Cynar Artichoke Liqueur
St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Heering Cherry Liqueur
Stock Maraschino Liqueur
Kirschwasser Cherry Liqueur
Galliano Liqueur
Frangellico Liqueur
Drambuie Liqueur
Benedictine Liqueur
Cointreau Orange Liqueur
Kahlua Liqueur
Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
LeTourment Vert Absinthe
Agua Luca Cachaca
DeKuyper Triple Sec
DeKuyper Creme de Cassis
DeKuyper Blue Curacao
DeKuyper Creme de Cocoa
Bols Blackberry Flavored Brandy (the bottle I have had the longest - no idea why)
Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps
Tres Agaves Agave Nectar
Korean Soju
Korean Blueberry Soju
Plum Gekkeikan Plum Wine
Hakushika Sake
Aalborg Akvavit
Angostura Bitters
Regan's Orange Bitters
Peychaud's Bitters
Rose's Grenadine

To Get
Absolut Citron
Chartreuse (Green and Yellow)
Sloe Gin
Fernet Branca

Of course there are others - do I need Ouzo? Are celery bitters really essential to my home imbibing needs? But that's the fun - reading about these spirits, their history, the drinks and personalities behind them - and then trying them out yourself. That's what interests me - that and having a nice drink as a byproduct. For even though a bad drink is (mostly) better than no drink at all, there is no excuse for a bad drink if you have the right ingredients, the right tools, and a willingness to experiment.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cocktail Hopping in Philadelphia (Part 1)

I recently had the opportunity to be in Philadelphia for work for a day and a half. I really like Philly - the place has an attitude all it's own (for better or for worse), and it is ALWAYS present no matter where you go in the city. I have been there over the years five or six times, and I always enjoy going back.

For the one evening I was in town, I stayed at the Ritz Carlton at 10 Avenue of the Arts, right at the corner where S. Broad Street hits City Hall (swanky!). As I checked in, I noted that majority of the huge atrium on the first floor was taken up by the 10 Arts Bar and Restaurant (one of Eric Ripert's establishments). Looking at the extremely long bar with their impressive spread of bottles , I knew this would be my first stop on my secondary motivation for being in Philly - finding some really well crafted cocktails.

Sitting at the sparsely populated bar (this was at 5:30 on a Tuesday), I looked over the cocktail menu, which had about 10 specialty cocktails on it. I focused in on 10 Classic Cucumber - I had just finished a two hour long drive from DC, and I was looking for something refreshing, but not sweet. The cocktail is made with Tanqueray 10 gin, organic cucumber slices, and a squeeze of lime stirred with ice in a sea salt rimmed rocks glass. This was VERY tasty - the more floral nature of Tanqueray 10 really complimented the fresh cucumber flavor, and the sea salt really set the whole thing off. As I drank, I asked the bartender where he would suggest I go for really well made cocktails. He confessed he was not the regular bartender (+1 for honesty), and asked a waitress if she could recommend a place. She pointed me to El Vez, about three blocks away.

El Vez (not to be confused with El Vez!), at the corner of Latona and S. 13th Streets just off of S. Broad, looked promising - outdoor seating, crowded and lively, interesting exterior. Stepping inside, my anticipation was somewhat diminished - El Vez is a mexican restaurant, which isn't something I automatically equate with good cocktails (outside of a margarita, and I have been more likely than not to have great margaritas at non-Mexican establishments). Sitting down at the crowded, centrally placed bar-in-the-round, I ordered some (very good) guacamole and chips and perused the drinks menu. Of course, margaritas were well represented (the Frozen Blood Orange sounded very tempting) but they also had a decent list of "specialty drinks" - I focused in on the El Tono. Made with cranberry infused bourbon, lime juice, and hibiscus tea, it sounded really intriguing - having done some of my own infusions recently, and thinking the combo of bourbon and tea would be pretty refreshing, I ordered one up.

The bartender was very efficient and professional - I like it when, before I am served a drink, a bartender takes a straw and pulls out a small sample to taste for correctness. The cocktail looked pretty - nice reddish hue from the cranberries (a couple sitting in the bottom of the glass), the tea aroma faint but present. Unfortunately, the cranberry taste was overwhelming - the tartness of the fruit was really the only thing that came through. I did note that I got the bourbon from near the bottom of the bottle, so it was possible the bourbon had been infusing for too long. But overall, that drink just reminded me that I didn't really like cranberry juice anyway (oh, yeah, that.) Sticking with my methodology, I asked one of the bartenders where they would go for a great cocktail. She highly recommended Apothecary across the street. I had heard of this place prior to coming to Philly - very innovative drinks, house made infusions and the use of fresh ingredients all promised good things.

Except it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Guess you gotta have a weekend at some point.

So, I went back and asked for an alternative suggestions. They mentioned I try Continental, which was a several block walk, but which they assured me would actually be, you know, open.
And good. So I headed west through the ever growing evening rush hour mass of humanity to seek the place out.

I never got there. I was struck by a restaurant and cocktail lounge with a large, neon champagne coupe on it's sign - Butcher and Singer. I figured that any place with a sign and name like that was pretty boldly saying "We make great cocktails for ladies and gentlemen that can tell the difference." Figuring they would never know whether I fit that category or not, I headed inside.

This was another double height space (probably a bank) that had been turned into a restaurant - dark, clubby, with modern lounge music drifting around in the background. The bar was actually very small - up front, it seated at most ten. However, immediately I knew I had made a good choice - the bartender was dressed in a crisp white jacket and bow tie, and he fronted a very well stocked bar (especially given the size). Sitting down, I asked what he would suggest for a classic cocktail - he suggested I start with a Sidecar. Excellent. This was actually a cocktail I had read a lot about, and was one of the cocktails that had become popular again when their became an increased interest in "classic" cocktails in the 90's. But I had never actually had one (although it was on my "to make" list). So I told the man to work his craft (I didn't really say that) and waited for classic goodness to be placed before me.

And I was not disappointed.

Next Time: The Butcher and Singer Experience

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Caricature

Bitterness (the taste sensation, not the emotional state) is a tough thing to do right. It's one of the basic sensations on the tongue (can't remember what part of the tongue - on the side somewhere I think) but it's not one people appreciate as much as, say, the sweet or sour regions. But from a drinks standpoint, bitter is a critical flavor profile - that's why there is a whole category of cocktail ingredients titled, in general, "bitters." It's like the drink version of the Asian food profile (sweet, sour, spicy) - used correctly, it's an essential component of a finely crafted cocktail.

Like any subject that people are passionate about, once you start delving into the details, it becomes much more complex than you had previously realized. Whether it be exotic cars, beer making, hot sauces, or cocktails, there is a level of minutia which is fascinating to the enthusiast, but possibly unnerving to the average person. Look at bitters - there is a whole cottage industry, and associated cocktail movement, surrounding something which is just a small flavor additive to a relatively small percentage of cocktails. Celery, orange, peach, Peychaud's, Angostura, St. Vitus - there are tons of variations and flavor profiles, and that's not counting the home/ bar produced variety. It's very much like hot sauces, with certain brands or types generating a loyal following and almost fanboy like devotion.

Campari isn't technically a bitter per se, more a bitter flavored liquor from Italy. In the past used as a digestif, it has become a pretty standard cocktail ingredient. Campari based cocktails, such as the Negroni (Canmpari, gin, and sweet vermouth), are making a resurgence along with other cocktails with a more complex flavor profile. This cocktail, with a mixture of bitter, sweet, and sour flavors, is both refreshing and complex at the same time - something easily enjoyed in your favorite lounge (if you can find a bartender who has heard of it), or outside on the deck with bitter-inclined friends.

The Caricature

2 oz gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz triple sec
1/2 oz Campari

Pour contents into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until your hand hurts from the cold - then shake another 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Esquivel

The concept of "lounge culture" has always amused me - I find it funny how much effort, money and stress goes into looking like you're cool, relaxed, and sophisticated. Although I really enjoy the music associated with lounge style (shout out to DC-based Thievery Corporation), it was pretty clear I was never going to be able to afford having a wardrobe which would even qualify me to get in the door at any establishment that strived to call themselves exclusive. Also, given the fact that I was not of European / Latin American / Middle Eastern descent, I was starting off with two huge strikes against me right there.

The very few times I have been in a lounge-type setting, I felt really, really out of place. On my first outing to the 18th Street Lounge in DC about 12 years ago, I was amazed that they let me in - I had heard it was extremely exclusive, and if you were a solo guy (or worse, a group of guys), you were not getting past the doorman. When they let me in, I felt all good about myself - figured I had on nice enough clothes and looked good enough to qualify as "one of the elite." It wasn't until a couple of years later that a friend, who WAS cool and good looking enough to be one of the elite, told me they let me in almost certainly because I got there early, and figured I would leave before it got really crowded and the "real good looking people" showed up.

I wasn't too crushed by this - at the time, paying $8 bucks for a skunked Heineken bottle wasn't my idea of a good time anyway (not that it is now - $3 tops). And you wonder just how much money people have when they can go to a "lounge," rent an exclusive table in a velvet rope secured area for $1500, and that doesn't even get you any drinks. That's another $300 per bottle for "bottle service" - which just means you can pour your own drinks. From a bottle. Just like you do at home. Hell, I can grab a bottle of Thunderbird, lock myself in my bathroom, and crank up some Eddie Money - THAT'S exclusive, my friends.

The whole point of this is that this cocktail, the Esquivel, is named after what many consider to be the founder of lounge music, and thus lounge culture - Juan Garcia Esquivel. A prolific musician from the late 1950's through the late 1960's, a compilation of his music came out in 1994 on a CD entitled "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music." Whether this kicked off the lounge music resurgence, or whether this came out as a result of young hipsters suddenly drinking martinis, smoking Cohiba's, and longing for the good old days of three martini lunches and bomb shelters, I don't know. But this cocktail is perfectly named - it is at once familiar, exotic, modern, retro, International, but yet also very American. That it's delicious is just a bonus - far more importantly, you LOOK good drinking it. And isn't that the whole point?

The Esquivel

2 oz light rum
1/2 oz Kahlua
1 oz pineapple juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
cinnamon and orange twist to garnish

Combine the rum, Kahlua, pineapple juice, and bitters in a cocktail shaker and shake for 20 seconds. Strain into a shilled cocktail glass. Top off with champagne, and sprinkle cinammon on top. Garnish with orange twist.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Landover Lemonade

Growing up in southern Maryland, I had the benefit of living within a few miles of a couple of "pick your own" farms. Although at the time I considered them more "stand out in the hot sun and sweat your ass off while picking food you could buy in an air conditioned grocery store" farms, it did mean that we often had extremely fresh produce available on the table almost all of the time. Silver Queen Corn, squash, strawberries, peppers, melons of all kinds - whatever was coming out of the ground that week was finding its way onto our plates (of course, so were Ho-Hos and Hamburger Helper - my Mom was no agro-food hippie, to say the least).

Recently my wife (a post-punk agro-food postmodern hippie) and I bought a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in PG County. It's essentially the same concept, except you pre-purchase the food, and for your share, you get a certain amount of whatever is fresh that week. We have had strawberries, garlic scallions, turnips, kale, lettuce, rhubarb, bok choi, and a number of other veggies and fruits so far. You are also allowed unlimited cuttings from their herb garden and access to some pick your own fields for free (we cleaned up on strawberries the first week - made a yummy strawberry rhubarb pie). So we head down there every Saturday to pick up our share.

Next to the spot where we pick up our share, there is a huge mulberry tree which Noe started picking berries from the first week. Having done some infusions lately, I decided doing a mulberry infusion would be a neat idea - hadn't seen that done before, and it was free, so why not? I had also picked a bunch of mint, and since mulberries have a pretty mild taste, I figured combining the two would be a cool thing to try out. I poured out some Stoli, added the berries and mint, and closed it up to infuse.

Turns out it only took a day for the vodka to take on a gorgeous purply-blue color and for the mint aroma and taste to infuse itself into the vodka. When infusing you don't want to let the ingredients go bad for obvious reasons, and mint and mulberries have a pretty short shelf life. So I had my mulberry-mint vodka - now what to make with it?

On Sunday afternoon, I went to a Nationals game with some friends. My buddy Brian went to grab us some beers, but as it was the 8th inning, they had stopped beer sales (why? WHY???). He brought lemonade back instead, and I think we both thought of the same thing simultaneously - that mulberry stuff would work great with lemonade! I can confirm that this is indeed the case - all of the flavors work really well together, and no ingredient overpowers any of the others. On a really hot day, a pitcher of these would be just the ticket.

As far as I know this is an original recipe. I am not married to the name, so if there are alternate suggestions, I am open to them (Suz really wants Bobbo Palmer, referencing the classic Arnie Palmer drink consisting of half iced tea and half lemonade - I'm just not feelin' it). No matter what you call it, it's pretty damned tasty.

Landover Lemonade

2 oz mulberry and mint infused vodka
4 oz lemonade
lemon rind for garnish

Fill highball glass with ice to chill. Add vodka and lemonade to a Boston shaker half filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds, and strain into highball glass. Add lemon twist for garnish.

Mulberry and Mint Infused Vodka

4 - 6 oz of fresh mulberries
1 bunch fresh mint
375 ml vodka

Wash berries and mint, and place into an airtight container. Add vodka and let infuse overnight. Strain vodka through a coffee filter or paper towel, discarding solids. Place vodka in an airtight container and keep for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Blue Hawaiian

What I choose to drink is, for the most part, tied to my mood and my general surroundings. I am probably not going to ask for a hot toddy at the beach in July, nor am I going to ask for a frozen margarita on the ski slopes of Vail (and I am not going to ask for a Hot Buttered Nipple anywhere...EVER). But sometimes you just gotta throw yourself a curve ball, change it up a bit (although those are two different pitches - I've never been great with sports metaphors). The weather in DC this last week has sucked - rain, rain, more rain, and at the end of the week, a nice dose of chilly to top it all off. Makes you want to punch the weatherperson in the spleen (except for Sue Palka - you'll always be aces with me, babe.)

So instead of opting for some cream based winter warmer, I decided to whip up a frozen Blue Hawaiian. I have made these a few times before, and they always remind me of sunny days, frothy surf, and sand between my toes, so I figured the culmination of a busy week involving travel, long discussions about organizational consistency, and sprained spousal digits was as good a time as any to blend some up. The blue color is so great - I think people feel happier just watching someone drink one of these.

There are frozen and non-frozen versions of this drink, but I felt like putting the blender to good use. I cracked the ice using another one of my vintage bar machines - the Ice-O-Mat (anything that ends in "-O-Mat" is awesome in my book.) I have a black one and a yellow one, but the yellow one is older and makes for a better pic. I don't know if you necessarily NEED a big honking metal contraption to crack ice, but it's fun to use regardless.

Weather over the weekend is supposed to be warm and sunny, finally. But for cold rainy days, I think a Blue Hawaiian is just the ticket to focus your thoughts on something other than the weather - like whether punching someone in the spleen is really the proper way to vent frustration (maybe kidney is the better way to go....).

Blue Hawaiian

1 oz light rum
1 oz Blue Curacao
2 oz pineapple juice
1 Tbsp cream of coconut
slice of pineapple and cherry to garnish

Combine ingredient in a blender. Add a handful of cracked ice and blend for 20 seconds or until smooth (you don't have to crack the ice if you have a workhorse of a blender that can real grind ice). Pour into margarita glass and garnish with cherry and pineapple slice

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tom Collins

When friends and I go out to drink, it's typically for beers, maybe the occasional shot or "typical" cocktail (martini, mojito, margarita, etc). And even though I frequent different types of bars (lounges, sports bars, restaurant bars) I never see a lot of variation in the drinks being ordered - nothing that we make me look over and ask "What's THAT guy drinking?" The Tom Collins is one of those drinks I never see anyone ordering, drinking, or even mentioning in a bar context. It's a classic cocktail, with it's origins in the late 19th century (although there is debate whether this is an English or American cocktail). But it's not one many people seem to enjoy.

That's a shame, as it's incredibly easy to make, refreshing, and looks great in a tall, cold glass. The comination of herbal, sweet and sour are all perfectly balanced, and sipping one on a hot day on the deck - or on a hot day in an air conditioned bar - is a real cocktail-based treat. It's a great drink for those who normally don't like gin - the lemon and the sugar mellow the typical sugnature flavors of gin, marrying it all together into a very enjoyable drink.

Tom Collins

2 oz gin (Bombay Sapphire)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
2 tsp super fine sugar (I used 2 tsp agave syrup)
4 - 6 oz club soda
1 orange wedge and 1 maraschino cherry to garnish (I didn't have the cherry - I really need to go shopping!)

Fill cobbler 2/3 full with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice, and sugar. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds.

Fill a collins glass with ice. Strain cocktail into the glass, and add club soda to taste. Stir with a swizzle stick slightly to blend. Garnish with orange wedge, squeezing slightly, and cherry.


Nothing says "overexposure" like a mojito. A drink that traces its origins to Cuba in the 16th century, it became the drink to have in the late 1990's for the urban hipster crowd. There was a time when you couldn't throw a lime without hitting a guy with a caesar haircut and huaraches, smoking a cigar and complaining about mint getting stuck in the straw of his mojito. Then came the backlash - when you started to see mojitos adverstised as the special at Bennigan's, you knew what was coming. I went to Cafe Atlantico in DC at the height of mojito hysteria and ordered one at the bar - I got an extremely condescending "We don't MAKE mojitos here..." response, which baffled me at the time (what don't you have? the limes? mint? sugar? rum?? is this a bar???).

Hipsterism aside, mojitos are a great drink. Simple to make (assuming you can muddle something without breaking a glass), pretty to look at, and the epitome of freshness, this is the perfect summertime cocktail. Freshness of ingredients is obviously key - I made mine with mint picked from a farm that morning, and fresh mint makes a world of difference. And I use club soda instead of lemon lime soda - you could use that if you drop the sugar, but I think the sugar gives it a much cleaner, non-cloyingly sweet taste. If you don't have fresh mint, make something else - even if it means having to change out of your huaraches.


2 - 3 sugar cubes
1/4 cup (about a small handful) fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 oz light rum (Bacardi)
3 oz club soda
lime wedge and mint sprig for garnish

In the bottom of a highball glass, muddle the sugar cubes, mint leaves, and lime juice together with a muddler, gently but firmly grinding the ingredients together until the sugar mostly dissolves. Don't use a muddler with ridges on the end, and don't beat the hell out of the ingredients - the point is to bruise them and release the flavorful oils.

Fill the glass with ice cubes, add the rum, and then the soda. Stir well with a bar spoon, pulling up a little to distribute the mint leaves throughout the glass. Garnish with lime wedge and mint sprig.

Catch Up Time

The thing about enjoying cocktails is that, typically, you don't come away from a close encounter with a great cocktail and think "I should sit down for 20 minutes and write about this" (Ernest Hemingway probably thought differently - but some people have a gift.) That being said, I'm getting a little behind on the posts, which I'll try and update today. Got a couple of good ones to share thoughts on, including a classic Tom Collins, one called a Bunny Hug which was more like a Bunny Slap to the Face, and a recommendation for an awesome piece of bar equipment (or I may just do one on all of my bar equipment....hmmmmm.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Don't Try This at Home

Sometimes things just don't work out. You come up with an idea that seems to make sense (say, sending a gerbil to the moon), may even be easy to implement (ie buy homemade rocket kit; stick gerbil in homemade rocket; light rocket), but the results just aren't what you were hoping for (ie flaming gerbil is imbedded in neighbor's roof, which is now also on fire). Thus was my experiment with coming up with a cocktail that would utilize the blueberry infused bourbon I made a couple of weeks ago.

Inspired by a recipe for blueberry infused bourbon and associated drink I saw in Imbibe magazine (I didn't have all of the ingredients for the drink in the magazine - anyone have a bottle of Benedictine just sitting around?), I had made a Blueberry Manhattan when my friend Ana came over for drinks and dinner the other night. I thought that was very good, but it was a little sweet, and the blueberry flavor didn't really come through. So I wanted to make something that would showcase the blueberry taste (otherwise why make the stuff in the first place, right?) and also add a little complexity to the flavor.

Looking through my cocktail books, I came across a recipe for a drink called a Rattlesnake. A bourbon based drink, but it added some lemon juice, egg white, and a dash of Pernod. Sweet, sour, bitter, creamy - sounded like the complex flavor profile I was looking for, and the blueberry / lemon / anise flavor I thought would be really nice complements for one another. I didn't have Pernod (sounds like I need to go shopping), so instead I planned to use some Le Tourment Absinthe (especially since it just called for a dash).

I placed all of the necessary ingredients in a Boston shaker, shook it vigorously, and strained into a rocks glass over ice, garnishing with a slice of lemon rind. Looked really promising - nice froth from the egg white, and the color was a really pretty bluish pink. Smelled good too, although more lemon came through than anything. So then the taste, None of the blueberry flavor, nor even the bourbon flavor, came through. The lemon was very up front, and the absinthe just made the whole thing taste "off." Figuring I needed to adjust the proportions, I made two other versions, increasing the bourbon content and lowering the lemon and ansinthe proportions. Still not all that good. At this point, having consumed three strong cocktails, I was in no condition to be doing unbiased critical evaluations of anything, so I bagged it.

Maybe I'll try the cocktail with the Benedictine in it (I think my father-in-law has a bottle). But as far trying to craft my own unique cocktail recipes, I think I'll hold off, make cocktails from "proven" recipes, and just work on creating some sort of fire retardant suit for a gerbil. R.I.P. AstroGerb v.1.0 - never forget :'(

Blueberry Infused Bourbon

1/2 pint of washed, whole blueberries
bourbon (amount will depend on size of the infusion container)

Place whole blueberries in a container which can be sealed air tight. Fill container with bourbon to at least completely cover the blueberries. Let sit in a cool place for approximately three weeks. Then drain bourbon through a coffee filter into as serving container, discarding the fruit. Keeps for 2 to 3 weeks.

Blueberry Rattlesnake

1 1/2 measures of blueberry-infused bourbon
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp simple syrup
1 egg white
few drops Pernod (I used Le Tourment Absinthe)

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake very well. Strain into a rocks glass and add more ice.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Food magazines are so hit and miss. I used to get Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and I think a couple of other food magazines, and in any given month, I might be able to pull two recipes from all of them combined that looked worth trying. Of those recipes, I would put, at most, one in my folder of "keeper" recipes every 6 months. But every few years one of those magazines would be stuffed with awesome recipes or food / drink ideas from fonrt to back. The June 06 Food and Wine is an issue like that - tons of great grilling suggestions, recipes, and wine picks. In their grilling section, I found a recipe for this refreshing cocktail - the Portonic.

Named probably because it's easy to describe if you're several barbeques into a long Memorial Day weekend ["ummmmm.....that drink with the port....and looking at my hotdog funny? You want a piece of thi..." (cue sound of drunk man falling into a kid's sandbox)], it's a great party drink because it's so easy to whip up as many as you need. White port is harder to find than regular port, but it's worth seeking out. Not as overly sweet nor as strong as a regular ruby or tawny port, it's great for mixing. In this cocktail, the bitterness of the tonic water cuts that sweetness even more, making for a very drinkable cocktail that's right at home at an upscale cocktail party or a backyard gathering of drunken pickle vendors.


2 oz white port
2 oz tonic water
1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Fill white wine glass with ice. Add port and lime juice, and then add tonic water. Garnish with a lime peel on a toothpick, or with a sprig of mint.

Frozen Banana Daiquiri

Exotic, tropical drinks always seemed very intimidating to me (not to drink, of course - drinking them is painfully easy.) Between the combinations of fruit, fruit juices, somewhat exotic liquors, and having to know whether the garnish was an umbrella, a chunk of fruit, or a shrunken monkey head, it all seemed like just too much info to bother processing just to make a drink. Zombies, Stingers, Blue Hawaiians, Daiquiris - more than happy to drink them if someone else was making them (and REALLY more than happy if someone else was buying), but I wasn't going to fool around with all that fussy stuff.

A daiquiri is the OPPOSITE of fussy - in fact, it's so simple, the only really fussy thing about it is its name. Created in Cuba at the end of the 19th century, and made fashionable in the US during the 1940's when rum was much easier to come by than gin, vodka, or whiskey (because of open trade policies with Latin America), a daiquiri is white rum, lime juice, and sugar. Period. It really doesn't get to much simpler than that. For my version, I just happened to have two bananas that were about to go south, so I threw those in as well for some extra flair and made a frozen version. This is a super easy drink to make and, given its simplicity, a really easy drink recipe to remember (which is probably why it became so popular - most drunks can remember how to put three ingredients together in a glass regardless of how many drinks they've had prior.) The non-frozen, non-banana version is shaken with plenty of ice and strained into a cocktail flute - the frozen version is blended with plenty of ice and poured into a margarita glass.

Frozen Banana Daiquiri

2 oz white rum (I didn't have any, so I used Appleton Estate)
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 ripe banana

Put all ingredients in a blender. Add ice to blender (to half full for one drink.) Blend until smooth. Poor into a margarita glass and garnish with a lime slice.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ginger Peach Martini

One of the things I like about making cocktails (and making beer for that matter) is that essentially all you're doing is cooking - you have the latitude to determine the recipe, the quality of the ingredients, the proportions. And nothing dictates the quality of your ingredients better than if you make those ingredients yourself. For this cocktail, I took inspiration from a great ginger martini they make at the Oval Room in DC (right near the White House), and from the bottle of peach infused vodka I had decided to whip up last week (and didn't know when I was going to use).

Despite the fancy sounding name - and even the two home produced ingredients - this is incredibly simple to make. And the resulting cocktail is gorgeous - that pink color in the drink is solely from the peach skins coloring the vodka during the infusion process.

Ginger Peach Martini

3 measures peach infused vodka (see recipe below)
1 measure ginger syrup (see recipe below)
1/2 tsp of fresh lime juice

Pour vodka, syrup, and lime juice into a pint glass. The add a handful of cracked ice cubes to the glass (important to add ice only when you are ready to start making the drink). With a bar spoon, stir the drink evenly for about 30 seconds (the volume of ice should be reduced by about a quarter as it melts off). Strain into a cold martini glass, garnish with a lime twist.

Peach Infused Vodka

375ml (roughly) of vodka (Stoli)
one slightly under ripe peach, sliced

In a container which can be sealed air tight (even better if it's a pretty bottle or decanter) and which will hold roughly 375 ml of liquid, place the peach slices in the container. Pour vodka over peaches, making sure that all the peach slices are covered with the alcohol, and seal. Make sure to use an almost, but not quite, ripe peach, as a ripe peach will deteriorate faster in the vodka and won't infuse its flavors as well. Place in a cool spot not hit by direct sunlight for about a week, or until the peach slices start to look a little bit darker than when they went into the container. Strain out the vodka through an unbleached paper towel. This can be done either into the serving container, or, if you want to use the container the vodka was being infused in, remove and discard the peaches, quickly rinse the inside with water, and pour the vodka back in. Vodka should last at least a month.

Ginger Syrup

2 cups organic milled cane sugar
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups of fresh ginger root, sliced (no need to peel)

Bring all ingredients to a boil, and then reduce hit to simmer until liquid is reduced by a third, about 45 minutes. Take liquid off heat and allow to cool to room temp. Strain into a sealable container, discarding ginger. Refrigerate. Syrup will keep for about three weeks.