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.)