Category: Cocktails

A Cocktail Road Map

By , September 16, 2003

In past blogs, I’ve offered recipes for cocktails, but written little about my more general attitude towards the concoction of a palatable potation. As this is a topic of great interest to me, I will regularly regale you with my thoughts on said matter, starting today.

I am an avid reader of books and pamphlets concerning the crafting of cocktails. One in particular that I find interesting is The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, a 1948 book by David Embury. It stands out to me not so much because of the recipes or tips contained therein, but because Embury writes in a very conversational manner, and is not afraid to state his opinions in a most authoritative tone. That is not to say that the book does not also impart some useful information; I especially enjoy Embury’s list of the “six basic drinks” that every bartender need know how to make:

Martini
Manhattan
Old Fashioned
Daiquiri
Sidecar
Jack Rose

Perhaps, or more aptly, clearly, in 1948 those were the most commonly ordered drinks, but things have clearly changed. Cocktail aficionado though I am, even I was unfamiliar with a Jack Rose cocktail before reading the book. And while I am intimately familiar with the sidecar (and you are too, if you read my blog on the drink this summer) it is not a very popular drink anymore.

Popularity aside, consider the above list to be a checklist, a road map if you will, for the next half dozen cocktail entries here. Our journey down libation lane will continue soon, and our first destination will be the realm of that most quintessential of all cocktails, the iconic martini.

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Daiquiri

By , January 23, 2004

In recent years, all manner of flavored daiquiris have appeared, most of which are made in a blender. A traditional daiquiri, however, is served in the manner of most cocktails– chilled and strained. It’s a very easy drink to make.

Daiquiri

2 oz. Brugal White Rum
1/2 oz. Lime Juice
1 tsp. Superfine Sugar

Shake the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Daiquiri

A couple bits of daiquiri knowledge:

1. Though we now refer to it as a “daa kuh ree,” the correct pronunciation is “die kuh ree.” Not that you should refer to it as such, for people will think you a moron; I’m just letting you know on account of it is interesting.

2. The Daiquiri’s origin, like that of most cocktails, is uncertain, but we do have some solid facts on this one. We know that in 1898, when Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders stormed Cuba, they landed in the then-unknown “squalid little village” of Daiquiri. Soon thereafter, an American mining engineer, Jennings Cox, created a cocktail from the most prevalent local ingredients, which he named after the village. Within a few years, John Linthicum, another engineer, brought the Daiquiri to the attention of Admiral Lucius Johnson, who in turn brought it back to the Army and Navy Club of Washington, DC. It was there that the drink became a hit, and to this day remains one of the world’s best-known cocktails, even if not everyone knows it is named after a Cuban village.

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Grenadine

By , March 15, 2004

I’m still building up to the recipe for a Jack Rose, and my next cocktail blog will be a recipe for exactly that, but today I need to cover another ingredient necessary for the creation of that drink. Before one can pour a Jack Rose cocktail, one needs grenadine. It is readily available in stores, but be judicious about what brand you choose if you decide to buy some. Most popular version don’t include any pomegranate juice, which is the primary ingredient in true grenadine, nor do they contain sugar, replacing it instead with high-fructose corn syrup. Truthfully, most store-bought grenadine is nothing more than sweet syrup and red dye.

Real grenadine is simple mixture of pomegranate juice and sugar, and is an integral ingredient to certain cocktails for a couple reasons. In addition to imparting a subtle tartness, grenadine imparts a striking blush to the cocktails it graces– the latter can be accomplished by any imitation product, but only true grenadine can offer the proper taste. Grenadine shouldn’t merely sweeten a drink, it should enhance its flavor.

You can find proper grenadine in stores, but why bother? You can make some at home quite easily. Here is a simple method I’ve come up with after much trial-and-error:

Grenadine

1 cups sugar
2 cups pomegranate juice (about 4 pomegranates)

The first step is to juice the pomegranates. I’ve tried many methods, including strainers, juicers, and food mills, but none work as well as simply getting your hands dirty. I halve the pomegranate, and twist and break it up over a chinois (a strainer will work, too) and then squeeze and smash the seeds in my hands. Gradually, all the juice will escape and filter into the bowl beneath the chinois.

Pour the pomegranate juice into a pan, and stir the sugar in slowly until it has completely dissolved. Place the pan over a medium flame, and stir often for about fifteen minutes, or until the juice has thickened into a syrup. Remove from heat and let stand. Once cooled, transfer to a glass jar. Simple syrup will keep for about two to three weeks if tightly sealed and refrigerated.

You can make any quantity you wish to make; just be sure to keep the proportion of juice to sugar the same (2:1) and you’ll be fine.

In addition to being used in cocktails, grenadine is tasty when drizzled over vanilla ice cream, among other things. I imagine it would be yummy atop a pancake.

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Manhattan

By , October 11, 2003

Talk about serendipity– when I sat down to write today, I decided to cover the next cocktail on the list I posted awhile back. I consulted said list, and saw that I promised a recipe for a Manhattan would follow that for a martini. Tomorrow I will be in Manhattan, today I am writing about the eponymous libation. How about that?

Predating even the venerable martini, the Manhattan was probably first concocted in 1881 or 1882 at the Manhattan Club in New York City. It is traditionally made with rye whiskey, though many bars pour it with a whiskey chosen seemingly random, so be sure to specify rye if you order one, lest you be served something less than optimal.

Manhattan

I reminded you in my previous cocktail post that a martini is better stirred than shaken; while a martini is less appealing shaken, a shaken Manhattan is almost undrinkable. The drink itself will be cloudy, and an unappetizing foam will congeal atop the drink, so please stir.

Manhattan Cocktail

2 ounces rye whiskey, preferably Rittenhouse 100-proof
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients over ice for about one minute, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a marschino cherry. Twist an orange peel over the drink to spritz the surface of the cocktail with the oils, then rub the peel around the rim of the glass, and discard the peel.

(If you cannot find Rittenhouse 100-proof rye, Old Overholt makes a fine substitute.)

A word about the maraschino cherry: the chewy, sweet cherries, reminiscent of formaldehyde, that you are normally served in drinks at bars are not suitable for a proper drink. You can make your own maraschino cherries from scratch easily enough, and I’ll provide a recipe in another post, but if you haven’t the time, I’d suggest garnishing the drink with the ordinarily-discarded orange twist rather than spoiling it with a fake cherry.

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Martini

By , September 24, 2003

I didn’t really stop to ponder what I had committed myself to writing when I promised to provide a martini how-to in my next cocktail-related blog. I cavalierly declared I would author such a piece without pondering the implications, for you see, a proper discussion of the martini begins with a rundown of the various types of gin that exist, at which point the discussion must move onto the shaken v. stirred debate. I haven’t even mentioned the question of how much vermouth to add, nor have I addressed olive v. lemon twist, the addition or omission of orange bitters, or sweet v. dry vermouth. I’ll also need to at least touch upon gin v. vodka. In short, a satisfactory dissertation on the martini must encapsulate all of the above into a concise and pithy sermon, lest it fall short of the mark. Translation– I have a lot of writing to do.

Concise is a relative term here, and this post will likely be a long one. As such, for anyone who wishes to skip all the details, and just pour themselves a drink already, I’ll start with the recipe for what I consider to be a perfect martini. If you are confused by what you read, or simply want to learn more about the drink and why I choose to craft it the way I do, read on.

Martini

Martini

2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce extra dry vermouth, preferably Noilly Prat
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir ingredients over ice for about one minute, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a lemon peel over the cocktail to spritz the surface with lemon oil, rub the twist around the rim of the glass, and then garnish cocktail with twist. Alternately, eliminate the lemon peel altogether, and instead place three speared olives into the cocktail before serving. If you wish to serve a gibson, garnish the drink with a cocktail onion in lieu of lemon peel or olives.

And now a word about gin. Excluding variations like Pimms No.1, Wacholder, flavor-infused gins, and various regional distillations, there are four primary types of gin. Chief among these varieties is London dry gin. London dry is the workhouse of the gin world. It is the only gin stocked by most bars, and is considered the default when a recipe calls simply for “gin.” Plymouth gin is a less dry, earthier gin. A few cocktails, for example a Douglas Fairbanks, specify Plymouth gin. Old Tom, a variety that is next-to-impossible to find today, is a sweeter gin, and the ingredient of choice for a Tom Collins. Genever, or Dutch, gin tends to be of a lower proof, and is compared at times to whiskey due to its malty flavor. It is occasionally specified as a cocktail ingredient, but is definitely the least common of the four types of gin in that regard.

Does one shake or does one stir one’s martini? One stirs. However, if anyone ever mentions stirring so as not to bruise the gin, that person perhaps ought to be bruised for talking such pretentious nonsense. Gin does not bruise. The reason a martini is stirred and not shaken is to avoid pouring a cloudy drink. Unless a drink contains fruit juice, or other ingredients that lend themselves to a cloudy concoction, one stirs. Shaking a martini results in a drink that is filled with tiny air bubbles and crystallized ice. The general rule is that when a cocktail contains only clear ingredients, stir it.

Before going any further, let’s now turn our attention to the oft-forgotten part of the martini recipe, vermouth. In recent years, people have developed an irrational fear of vermouth. I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s very common for bartenders to pour a martini and add perhaps 5 or 6 drops of vermouth into the drink, if any at all. Some merely swish some vermouth about in the glass to coat it, then empty the glass. The end result is a cocktail that is really no more than straight gin; that is not a cocktail. A cocktail is by definition a balanced mixture of at least three ingredients, not including the garnish. While it may be acceptable to concoct one that is composed of merely two ingredients, it is not acceptable to serve what is basically a shot of straight liquor and call it a cocktail.

So then, vermouth– add some. The martini was originally a 50/50 mixture of gin and vermouth. I find that a 4 to 1 ratio of gin to vermouth suits my palate, but 3 to 1 is also acceptable. Additionally, there are two things to note when discussing vermouth. First, vermouth does go bad; it is similar to wine in that regard. Keep it refrigerated and don’t expect it to last more than a few months. Second, contrary to popular belief, the dryness of a martini has nothing to do with how much vermouth one adds. A dry martini means a martini made with dry vermouth; the drier the vermouth, the drier the martini. A martini made with sweet vermouth is, not surprisingly, a sweet martini. The proper garnish there is a maraschino cherry, otherwise the recipe is the same save for the substitution of sweet for dry vermouth.

I add two dashes of orange bitters to a martini. This is not something anyone will notice outright, but it will offer a very noticeable depth to the complexity of the drink, and make for a better overall martini (or gibson).

Some people store their gin in the freezer to ensure a colder drink. This is a bad idea. Store gin at room temperature. Water is an important, though rarely mentioned, ingredient in nearly every cocktail recipe. During the stirring or shaking process the ice begins to melt, and can add up to an ounce of water to the drink. This is not only unavoidable, it is desirable. Water provides some of the balance necessary for making a proper cocktail. If the gin is the same temperature as the ice, the ice won’t melt as much, if at all, and the cocktail won’t turn out properly. This holds true for all cocktails. Unless otherwise necessary, as with vermouth, for example, use room temperature liquor to allow the ice to melt as it cools the drink.

Finally, a word on vodka in a martini. If you use vodka, it ceases to be a martini. The cocktail made with vodka and vermouth is called a kangaroo cocktail. Perhaps because a martini sounds infinitely classier than a kangaroo cocktail, vodka drinkers have sought to usurp the martini name. Nonetheless, a martini is never made with vodka.

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Old Fashioned

By , November 5, 2003

The Old Fashioned may well be the first drink to be known as a cocktail. At the very least, it is served in a glass bearing its name, a short tumbler that contains between 6 to 10 ounces of liquid. The drink itself was purportedly invented by a bartender the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, sometime in the 1880s.

I’ve read that the word cocktail was first defined, in an 1806 newspaper, as a mixture of spirits, bitters, sugar, and water. Now, I’m only guessing here, but I imagine that in the 1880s, someone ordered a drink of that nature, using whiskey, at the Pendennis Club, and it was referred to as a cocktail made the old-fashioned way, and the name stuck. I didn’t read that anywhere, I’m just hypothesizing, but I suspect that the Old Fashioned cocktail originated along those lines. Perhaps someone asked for an old-fashioned drink, and the bartender obliged him– the specifics are lost to the ravages of time, but I’m fairly confident it went down something along those lines.

Regardless of its origin, a properly made Old Fashioned truly epitomizes what a cocktail ought to be– liquor, bitterness, sweetness, and water mixed together to create a complex whole that is greater in taste than the sum of its parts.

Not only is there no agreement as to its origin, neither is there a definitive recipe for an Old Fashioned. Some bartenders add soda water, others plain water, some add no water at all. Some use a sugar cube, others use simple syrup. Some use a maraschino cherry, others just the juice from the maraschino cherry container, others use neither. Some use an orange, some don’t. Everyone agrees that bitters are required, but some use Angostura bitters, while some prefer orange bitters; some even use both. Most use bourbon, some choose rye, primarily for its greater complexity. In short, there is no consensus as to what makes for a proper Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioned

I’ve tried all sorts of configurations, and have settled on the following as my own particular favorite method for mixing one:

Old Fashioned

2 ounces bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Mix the simple syrup, bitters, and whiskey in an old fashioned glass. Add about 6 or 7 ice cubes, and stir gently, allowing some of the ice to melt, for perhaps 30 seconds. Slice a hefty strip, perhaps an inch wide and three inches long, of orange peel and twist it over the cocktail to spritz the surface of the drink with oil. Rub the rim of the glass with the inside of the peel, then insert the peel into the drink. Garnish the top of the drink with a maraschino cherry.

Some explanations for why I make my Old Fashioned the way I do:

simple syrup v. sugar cube – A sugar cube never fully dissolves into the drink, which not only means the final sips have an unpleasant grainy quality, but also that the ratio of sugar will be different throughout the drink. Simple syrup mixes perfectly into the drink.

bourbon v. rye – I am actually quite fond of Old Fashioned cocktails made with rye, but as so many other whiskey drinks are noticeably superior, in my mind anyway, when made with rye, I see the Old Fashioned as a chance for bourbon to shine.

garnish – Many bartenders muddle a cherry and/or an orange peel into the bottom of the glass, with the sugar, before adding the whiskey. I think this makes for a messy, chunky drink, and doesn’t really add anything to the cocktail. My method leaves you with a smooth drink, yet gives you the orange and maraschino essences, as well as the cherry to eat if you so desire.

club soda – I think it serves no purpose. The melted ice adds the appropriate amount of water, so why water it down further?

Experiment. Fine tune my recipe to suit your particular tastes. Just be wary if you order this drink in a bar, as I have found it nearly impossible to find a good one. If you know of a bar that serves a top notch Old Fashioned, please tell me, for I’d love to try one.

As always, coals to Newcastle!

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Sazerac

By , July 14, 2003

A Sazerac makes for a refreshing change of pace from the more common cocktails one may typically drink or order, and though it is a bit of process to craft one, it is certainly effort well spent.

The Sazerac is one of the oldest cocktails there is, some say the oldest, with original incarnations dating back to the 1830s. The version we know today can be traced back to the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans, where it was created by John Schiller. He refined earlier versions of the drink, originally built around cognac, into its present form.

Sazerac

Crafting a Sazerac is something of a process, which I’ll outline below in step-by-step fashion.

Sazerac

2 ounces Rye Whiskey
1 Sugar Cube
4 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 drop Angostura Bitters
1/4 ounce Absinthe
lemon peel

1. Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice and set it aside.
2. Place sugar cube in a second old-fashioned glass.
3. Add the Peychaud and Angostura bitters to the sugar cube
4. Muddle the sugar and bitters, adding a few drops of water if necessary, with a metal spoon, until it is nicely mashed.
5. Add the rye whiskey to the sugar/bitters mixture.
6. Add a few ice cubes to the drink, and stir. Set aside for a moment.
7. Empty ice from first glass, and add the absinthe.
8. Swirl the glass to coat the entire surface with absinthe, then empty out the remaining bit.
9. Strain the whiskey/sugar/bitters mixture into the chilled, absinthe-coated cup.
10. Twist lemon peel over the drink so that lemon oil cascades into the drink.
11. Rub lemon peel around the rim of the glass.
12. Discard peel.

There you have it, your very own 12-step program to personal happiness and fulfillment. Repeat as necessary!

A few important points to add:

The recipe calls for absinthe. I’ll devote a future blog to that spirit, but for the time being I’ll note a couple important points. First, you *can* legally obtain absinthe in the USA. You will have to order it from an overseas vendor, but it is not illegal to do so, nor is it illegal to possess it. However, it is quite expensive to do so. Not only is the absinthe itself pricey, but the shipping costs are exorbitant. You can end up spending $60 and up for a bottle. Fear not. The absinthe called for in a Sazerac is merely to add taste, and a level of complexity, to the drink, so one can substitute Herbsaint, available in American liquor stores at an affordable price, without compromising the integrity of the drink one iota.

If you don’t have a sugar cube, you can replace it with 1 teaspoon of simple syrup, which is easily made at home. Bring one cup of water to a boil, then add two cups of sugar. Once the sugar dissolves, turn the heat off and let the liquid cool. That’s all there is to it– you now have simple syrup.

Finally, some Sazerac aficionados forego the usage of the Angostura bitters, as it is not a part of the original recipe, but I find that a scant drop gives the drink a heightened complexity. Try it both ways and decide what you prefer. The only drawback is that you’ll have to drink two Sazeracs, not one, which really isn’t a drawback at all.

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Sidecar

By , June 21, 2003

If you ever want to bring a bewildered stare to the face of a bartender, you’ve but to order a sidecar. You’re guaranteed to get one of two reactions:

Reaction 1:

“Ummm, are you sure you don’t want something a little more, uhh, modern?”

Reaction 2:

“What the hell is a sidecar?”

More often than not, it’s reaction two that one gets. Regardless, the sidecar is a great drink, and well worth the effort of obtaining.

I tend to go through phases with my drinking in which I adopt a drink as my go-to favorite, and for about six months or so it’s what I order when I’m out at a bar. Eventually, a new concoction catches my eye, and I switch drinks. Until a few months ago I was all about the Vieux Carré, but my current cocktail crush is the aforementioned sidecar.

Sidecar

From what I gather, the earliest recipes for the drink appeared in 1922, making this a Jazz Age original, which, if you know me, is right up my alley. The Ritz Hotel in Paris claims to have invented the drink, but evidence overwhelmingly suggests that it was in fact created by a bartender named MacGarry at London’s Buck’s Club, sometime between 1918 and 1922.

Recipes vary; I’ve tried many variations. The ingredients are always the same, brandy, orange liqueur, lemon juice, and sugar, but the proportion of each is different depending upon the recipe. Below is what I consider to be the ideal ratio of ingredients for a perfect sidecar.

Sidecar

1.75 oz. Comandon VSOP Cognac
1 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Gum Syrup

Stir the lemon juice and gum syrup together, then add remaining ingredients and ice. Shake all ingredients, then strain into cocktail glass with a lightly sugared rim. Garnish with an orange wheel, or an orange twist.

Gum syrup is simple syrup with gum arabic added as a thickening agent. The gum arabic doesn’t affect the flavor of the drink, so you’re fine using regular simple syrup (or even just superfine sugar) in lieu of it, but it does add a silkiness to the drink that improves the overall drinking experience.

The sugared rim simply means dipping the glass into lemon or lime juice, than dusting the outside of the rim with sugar. This will coat the outer rim of the glass (see above photo). Make sure the glass itself is dry, lest the sugar drip along the outside, leaving you with a sticky glass to hold.

Note that some sidecar aficionados disavow the sugared rim, pointing out that it wasn’t until the mid-1930s that such a presentation of the drink became vogue. Call me new-fangled, but I think the sugared rim is part and parcel of what makes a sidecar a sidecar.

Coals to Newcastle!

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Simple Syrup

By , February 25, 2004

Last year I promised to share recipes for all six of the “basic drinks” that every bartender should know, according to The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I’ve covered five of the six, with only the Jack Rose standing between me and completion, but before I go any further, I need to cover some basic ingredients one often encounters in cocktail recipes. One of these, simple syrup, which I will cover today, has already surfaced in a recipe, the Old Fashioned, so it is with some chagrin that I belatedly present to you the recipe for said ingredient.

Simple Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup filtered water

Boil the water. Stir sugar in slowly until it has completely dissolved. As soon as the sugar has fully dissolved, remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool in the pan. Once cooled, transfer to a glass jar. Simple syrup will keep for a month or longer if tightly sealed and refrigerated. You can add a teaspoon of vodka to the syrup to prolong its shelf life.

You can make any quantity you wish to make; just be sure to keep the proportion of sugar to water the same (2:1) and you’ll be fine.

That’s all there is to it. It truly is a simple syrup to make, although that is not why it is called simple syrup. Use it in lieu of sugar when making most cocktails.

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Welcoming the Cocktail into the Blog Rotation

By , June 20, 2003

I’ve been wracking my brains to come up with topics for blogs. Most of my interests are not such that I think they make for entries that will appeal to my still limited, but growing, readership. So I sat down and listed the things in this world that appeal to me, and came up with one that I will incorporate into the rotation here: cocktails.

People drink, you see. I am a bit stuffy and old-fashioned when it comes to drinking, in that I prefer a carefully crafted cocktail to a beer or a stiff rum and Coke, but a drink is a drink. If anything, I’d like to see a return to the days of yore, when a night out drinking meant imbibing sophisticated and complex mixtures of obscure ingredients. Perhaps my future blogs will pave the way to such a Utopia.

So prepare yourself for my favorite drink recipes, and possibly some pointers on the art of cocktail mixing as a whole. Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to my current favorite drink, the sidecar.

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