Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pink Ribbon Punch

Barbecues are among my favorite events to throw. This is thanks primarily to two easy, delicious things: grilled meat, and punch. I like to think that our summer gatherings are becoming known for both.

This particular version was inspired directly by cheap, tasty-looking watermelon, so I garnished it with some frozen into large ice blocks, with watermelon frozen in the middle, you guys! This is something I've always wanted to try but never had the foresight to manage; my wife, however, dubbed it "very Martha Stewart," which I'm pretty sure was derogatory. Whatever! It looked nice.

The following makes about half of the gargantuan amount seen to the left, which still didn't quite make it to the end of the party. I admit that I may have dumped a bit of it on the table trying to pour the dregs out of the punch bowl.

1 L watermelon juice (well-strained)
750 mL prosecco (something cheap and dry)
500 mL white rum (Bacardi)
500 mL soda water
4 oz lime juice
4 oz lime-coriander cordial
4 oz cranberry grenadine
4 oz Cocchi Americano

Combine in a punch bowl and float some large ice cubes to keep things cool (it helps if everything's well-chilled beforehand).

That's a pretty damn weird mix of metric and imperial units, I know, but it's how I measured, and it turned out really nicely, so I'm recording it verbatim.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: The Worst Cocktail Day

A little something different for you this evening, friends. I don't normally skew into reviewing other peoples' writing; after all, those people get published, and I do this just as a hobby. But my wife sent this to me earlier today and I nearly had a stroke at my desk.

Did you know it was World Cocktail Day today? Despite my obvious interest, I had absolutely no clue, being not only generally oblivious to the date but also a committed hater of fake holidays. (And anyway, if you're going to celebrate a cocktail-themed holiday, why the fuck wouldn't it be it Repeal Day?) Fortunately we have David Holloway, writing at AL.com, to tell us all about it.
Today is World Cocktail Day and I can hear many of you muttering under your breath reading this space you thought everyday was World Cocktail Day.
You can practically fucking hear him chortling as he writes this. Not off to a good start.
You can celebrate accordingly but I know how I plan to mark the occasion; more on that in a minute. 
Okay, I'm sure you've got some good options lined up! Maybe we'll get some historical gems: a Sazerac, a Sidecar, a Martinez, something special and authentic...
A cocktail is defined as "any generic alcoholic mixed drink, cocktail may mean any beverage that contains two or more ingredients if at least one of them contains alcohol."
That can mean just about anything and rightly does.
...Not promising, David. Cocktails should be special! "Just about anything" doesn't cut it.
You never know when somebody will ask me a question about a Fuel-Injected Sidecar Cocktail and I better know the answer. 
I... wait, what? First of all, that sounds like a horrid shot-of-the-week that some hungover college town bartender cobbled together after reading the back of a discount-rack cocktail guide. Second, do you own and manage a bar that you forgot to mention? Do people actually ask you shit like this? Are you that desperate for friends? Is that why you seem so desperate to "mark the occasion"?
...the adult libation of choice for me will most likely be a variation of a classic drink made popular by one of the great movie spies of all time.
Oh no. No, no, no no no no no...
James Bond's drink of choice (at least the early Bond played by Sean Connery) was a vodka martini.
God dammit, David! A vodka martini? That faux-sophisticated bastardization of a real, proper cocktail? Let's get one thing straight: a "vodka martini" is not a Martini. Neither gin nor vermouth are optional. Granted, they take a little care to assemble, but together they make for one of the most sublime cocktails around, one which has quite rightly lasted for over a hundred years. Why would you mess with that, David?
I fell for them straight off. But it wasn't until I discovered the dirty version of that iconic ligation that I really fell for them.


The Dirty Martini is a martini in which the bartender adds a healthy dose of the olive juice to mix to make it extra special.


I once ordered a dirty martini in a bar in New Orleans and the bartender asked me if I wanted it Britney dirty or Madonna dirty. I went for the Madonna version.
OH HAHA, HAHA, HAHA. SUCH FUNNY. It's funny because Madonna is so dirty, and also because a dirty martini is like drinking a salt lick! Especially when you make it like this:
...1 fluid ounce brine from olive jar...
A whole fucking ounce? GODDAMNIT DAVID WHY ლ(ಠ益ಠ)ლ
So to be the best host you can be how about pouring some extra olive juice into a small glass and serving it with the drink so that your guest can add more if they desire? And if it's me, I will most likely do just that.
How about no, because that is not a thing that ANY human with even a rudimentary set of taste buds would EVER WANT. That's fucking ENOUGH out of you, David. Go sit in the goddamned corner and eat a garnish tray of olives. You deserve it. Afterwards if you're good we'll let you suckle the bar mats. I'm sure you'll give us another 2,000-word masterpiece out of the experience.

Do me a favor, folks. Listen to nothing this man says about this or any other topic. Do not drink a dirty "martini", ever. It is a garbage drink for garbage people, people such as David. Grab a cocktail book, pick a page at random, and make that. You will have a better World Cocktail Day, I guarantee it.

Next year, let's show him how it's done.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Plaza Nueva

So you've got all this god-damned weird booze hanging around and you're wondering what to do with it. The answer, of course, is to make several of these. Okay, it's a partial answer, but it'll take care of half the bottles.

Regular readers (all 3 of them) may recognize this name as a throwback to one of my earlier personal recipes, one of the few that's ever actually made it onto a menu. Plaza Vieja, meet Plaza Nueva. I think I would tout this one as both a more faithful and much tastier take on the original Vieux Carre, but my past self might accuse me of bias.

Also, linking back to those older takes makes me realize that I've been keeping this little blog for over three years. God damn.

1 oz Fidelitas Obstler
1 oz Espolon Anejo
1 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
1 dash green Chartreuse
2 dashes Regan's No. 6 Orange Bitters
2 dashes Bitter Truth Xocolatl Bitters
2 drops salt solution (or a couple grains of sea salt sprinkled into the mixing glass)

Rinse a cocktail glass or small snifter with mezcal (which I keep in an atomizer, same as the absinthe, for just this sort of application) and place in the freezer. Stir the remaining ingredients and strain into this glass, then garnish with a lemon peel expressed over the top and discarded (so that it doesn't get in the way, you see).

Hanging Garden

I love mint in cocktails, but it's an annoyingly short-lived ingredient. A properly stored syrup will keep for months; you can keep citrus in a bowl for at least a week; mint, once it's picked, will only make it a couple days before it starts to wilt. It's sad - but even sadder, that's one of the exact reasons that we're planning on hanging planters on our front porch. Fresh mint on demand!

1 oz vodka (Moskovskaya)
3/4 oz Fidelitas Obstler
3/4 oz gin syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
12 mint leaves

Shake the liquid ingredients first, then add the mint leaves and shake briefly and brutally; you want to break up the mint a bit without bruising it too much. Strain (but don't double-strain; you want those lovely green specks) into a cocktail glass and gaze at the frothy goodness that requires no additional garnish or fine, float a fucking mint leaf on top, then, if you've got extra.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Coriander Gimlet

A very straightforward drink here, but a good one! Among the first cocktails I was introduced to when I turned of age was the gimlet, and I grew to dislike it pretty quickly. I blame Rose's lime "juice" (nope) for turning me away, though shitty rail vodka probably contributed too. But that's unfair to the poor gimlet, which is a classic in its own right, and which can be much improved with a little care.

A homemade replacement for Rose's crud is really the core here, but I'm intentionally leaving off the recipe for now. I've got a roundup planned for some of the syrups and mixers that we saw pop up over Mocktail Month, and this will be included there, since I actually created it in April but never used it in a mocktail worth recording.

2 oz gin (whatever you like; I believe I was finishing off a bottle of New Amsterdam)
1 oz lime-coriander syrup
1/2 oz lime juice

Shake and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish? No, you fool. Drink it and garnish with a refill.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Spirits: Bizarre Booze Roundup

Woohoo! Having finally escaped the clutches of Mocktail Month, we can get back to serious drinking! Sipping. Sampling. Analysis. Whatever.

It was a good month, and certainly a helpful way to recalibrate, but now it's been a while since we did some spirits review. Heck, it's been a while since I went out and bought a bunch of booze based on whatever caught my eye - but that was exactly what happened the other evening.  It started as an innocent stop (honestly) with the notion of grabbing a bottle of wine, and ended with whatever you'd call this motley collection. God-damned strange is what I'd call them. Some very appealingly, others... less so, but still interesting. Let's have a taste, shall we?

St. George California Agricole Rum

About: The wizards of St. George Spirits feature prominently in one of my favorite recent non-fiction books, Adam Rogers' Proof. They make one of my absolute favorite gins, plus a California single malt, plus a great domestic absinthe, so I tend to trust their judgement. This is, according to the bottle, their rendition of an agricole-style rum (and, to be fair, if I'm going to blatantly ignore the whiskey/whisky debate, it seems pedantic of me to point out that it should be spelled "rhum" here) and is pot-distilled from fresh sugarcane. The label also includes the word "audacious", which... yes. That is a positive term for it.

Notes: The instant I opened this it smelled familiar, but impossible to place. I had to enlist my wife's help (she has a much better sense of smell than I) and she nailed it immediately. Olives: this stuff absolutely reeks of olives, specifically buttery little castelvetranos for some reason. The nose is so one-note and intense that it's really offputting; it's overwhelming even from a few inches above the glass. After a few minutes to sit it starts releasing some rhum-y notes of rubber and gunpowder, which is good because damned if I want to drink it before then. On the palate, those olive notes mercifully take a backseat; it's a more traditional rhum character, with fresh grassy sugarcane, intense vegetal notes, more petroleum (sounds like a bad thing, but it's very central to the style) and a little bit of melon. Then, god-dammit, the olives take over the finish with their vague brininess, backed up with modest congener funk that lingers for a while. A little lump of ice actually brings out the brine much more than I would have thought. I'm going to have to reserve this one for cocktails, where the saline character might bring some intriguing depth; I fucking love olives, but apparently not in my rum. Gotta say, I'm pretty disappointed in St. George right now. Either I got a poor batch of this, or they're being very "audacious" indeed.

Fidelitas Obstler

About: The name, and the origin, is extremely German. It looks to be an unaged brandy, and the label tells me it's a blend of 20% pear and 80% apple brandy, though it doesn't say whether they're combined before or after distillation. This delightfully translated page tells me that the distiller makes a number of other products, some of which I think I've tried, notably a raspberry brandy. However, my favorite part is this:
Especially the pear brandy is popular and well known among friends of the fruit moth. He is sorted fired from the Williams Christian pear, which has a particularly strong flavor.
Indeed. I have no idea who these "friends of the fruit moth" might be.

Notes: Very ripe and delicate compared to a lot of unaged brandies I've had; the nose smells like nothing so much as smelling the outside of a ripe, sweet Bartlett pear. Interesting, given that it's only about 20% pear brandy. Creamy pear predominates on the palate too, though there are some sweet apple notes present, with boatloads of vanilla and a little amaretto-ish sweet almond flavor for backing. Really dig the sweet, smooth body of this one. The finish is quite gentle too relative to similar spirits, just a little tickle of white pepper and a touch of lingering heat. This would be a really nice dessert sipper, but I'm looking forward to a trial run in some cocktails too.

Espolòn Añejo Tequila

About: This one may not look like an oddity at first, but it definitely is for two reasons. First, it's a relatively cheap yet high-quality añejo tequila! That's neat, but not a big shock given how much I enjoy Espolòn's reposado product. After spending about a year aging in classic white oak, this older edition is also finished in ex-bourbon barrels, ones from the Wild Turkey distillery, no less (yum). This has a subtle but definite effect on the final flavor, adding a bit of charred bourbon character to an already complex spirit. Here is a decent interview with a more detailed description of the process and product. I am totally on board, especially given that I found it for less than $30, at which price I really should have grabbed another half-dozen bottles before they realized their terrible mistake.

Notes: All classic, aged tequila on the nose. Rich, vegetal, full of ripe pineapple and oxidized notes reminiscent of a medium sherry. That's a pretty apt description of the palate, too. There's definitely a lot of rich caramel, pineapple, and guava. Some grassy and red-pepper notes provide a bit of backup, but the interesting part is a very dry-sherry-like saline character, with even a little bit of the iodine notes that Islay scotch is famous for. The bourbon finish takes hold in an oaky flush towards the end, with some dark spicy notes and more of that oxidized sherry flavor. Tequila that reminds me of scotch? Yeah, actually, and it's awesome!

Koval Millet Whiskey

About: Remember when we talked about Koval's oat whiskey and I off-handedly joked that they had a millet variety too? Well, I fucking found it! Right next to the oat product, and a "four grains" variety; not too surprising, I wouldn't have known where to shelve this either. Looking at this induces a kind of vertigo for me, as my most personal experience with millet is when I fed it to my childhood pet parakeets as a treat. Since it's gluten-free, and has a protein content very similar to wheat, it does appear to have had a slight resurgence in health-food circles as an alternative grain, but I don't know if I'll ever see it as anything other than birdseed. And here's some whiskey made from the stuff. God damn, don't we live in strange and exciting times?

Notes: Another very unusual nose for the category, this one like nothing so much as bubble gum. There's some woody scent behind that, and a sort of amaretto character, thankfully; this isn't a repeat of where we started. It's just a very odd scent to encounter floating atop what appears to be a fairly standard American whiskey. Unsurprisingly, that floral sweetness carries over into the palate, which is mostly inoffensive; very perfume-y, to be sure, but with a bit of rye-like bite and a good caramel presence that keeps things from being one-note. I'd describe the spice as being heavy on nutmeg and clove; maybe a bit like apple pie, complete with the apple. The finish delivers much the same but ends on that very floral character, kind of like rose water. Not sure I like this one as much as the Oat Whiskey, but it's still fascinating in its own way, and the flowery notes might make a good match for summer.

Those, my friends, are some strange spirits. I'm still figuring out what to do with them (aside from the tequila; it's Cinco de Mayo tomorrow, after all) but I will gladly report my findings.

Mocktail Month Addendum: Berry Motijo

Mocktail Month being officially over won't stop us. Increasingly my wife (aiming to provide a health-conscious counterbalance to, well, me) is requesting booze-free drinks, and I'll be damned if I won't build up a repertoire to keep her happy. After all, she's dealt with me building up a high-test repertoire to keep myself happy. It's the least I can do.

This is really just a tea-soda hybrid; an iced tea augmented in the same fashion as sparkling water, with a hefty handful of mint to boot.

5 oz chilled green tea
1 oz strawberry-lemon syrup
3/4 oz lemon juice
12-15 mint leaves

Muddle the mint in the bottom of a shaker with the syrup. Add the juice and tea, shake like crazy to break up the mint, and strain over fresh ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a wide swath of lemon peel, or another big bunch of mint, or a fresh strawberry, or all of the above.

Mo-"tea"-jo? Get it?!? (I know, it's fucking terrible, but it works.)

I think we might take this whole Mocktail [insert arbitrary unit of time] concept and generalize it into another regular thing. The Mocktail Moment. I like it!