Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Best Mint Julep You Will Ever Taste.

I love cocktails, but my favorite cocktail is the mint julep. Just sugar, mint, and bourbon - it's simple, it's delicious, it's brilliant, I wish I had thought of it myself. I used to angst over the perfect recipe for a mint julep - what kind of sugar? how much mint? what ratio of sugar to bourbon? - because I pride myself on making the best cocktails, and if I'm going to claim the mint julep as my favorite I should be able to make a damn good one. Right? But then I convinced one of the bartenders at the Anvil, my favorite local bar, to tell me their recipe for a mint julep. And then I stopped worrying, because this is the best mint julep you will ever taste.

The secret to its deliciousness is the 2:1 turbinado syrup. That means simple syrup, made with turbinado sugar, in a 2:1 sugar to water ratio. This stuff is lovely and thick and really delicious. If you have some left after making mint juleps, you can just eat it. I will not blame you.

How To Make the Best Damn Mint Julep Ever
2 oz bourbon
2 barspoons (teaspoons) 2:1 turbinado simple syrup
some mint (spearmint, from the backyard!)
oh, and crushed ice

Cover the bottom of an old-fashioned glass (or a silver julep cup, if you're all fancy) with a layer of mint leaves. Heck, make it a double layer if you really like mint. Pour the simple syrup on top of the mint and muddle it all real good. Then fill the glass with crushed ice. Then add the bourbon. Then stir. Then drink.

Bonus, because I like you: here's a video of New Orleans bartender Chris McMillian discussing the history and significance of the mint julep. His voice alone is a national treasure, but you'll want to watch because of the 'little bit of prose,' dating back to 1880, that he recites as he makes the drink. It begins like this: "Then comes the zenith of man's pleasure, then comes the julep, the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain." Amen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

When Life Gives You Lemons... Make Whiskey Sours.

My wonderful, teetotaling Baptist parents have a Meyer Lemon tree. It lives in a pot in the backyard and is mostly neglected, except for the occasional watering, but somehow that thing is just lousy with lemons. While my precious, coddled pink lemon tree this year produced... three lemons. But I don't mind their gardening triumph so much because, of course, they shared with me. ("Don't tell me what you are going to do with those," my mother said.) I thought briefly about making a pie, but I hardly ever cook, or even bake, and I don't even like pie. So instead I made a whiskey sour.

This whiskey sour is just a little bit more specialer than your average whiskey sour. Even if you don't have gardening parents, you can hunt down some Meyer Lemons at the grocery store when they're in season. (A Meyer Lemon is a cross between a traditional lemon and an orange, and is therefore a bit sweeter than the Eureka lemons you're used to.) The drink also makes use of a simple syrup made with turbinado sugar - the ratio of sugar to water here is 1 to 1. I like to use an overproof rye (like Rittenhouse) for this, but feel free to use whatever you've got around. I promise it'll still be delicious.

Meyer Lemon Whiskey Sour
1 oz Meyer Lemon juice (fresh squeezed, duh)
.5 oz turbinado simple syrup (1:1)
2 oz rye whiskey (overproof if you're a badass like me)

Shake (over ice) and strain into a glass. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Lafayette Cocktail.

So it is Mardi Gras, the part of the show where good Catholics party it up before the season of sobriety that is Lent. In celebration of the day, and of my (sort of) Cajun heritage, I bring you the Lafayette, a cocktail named in honor of the town that I was born in. If the Lafayette looks a little familiar, it's because it's really just an original Hurricane, made with extra-molassesy Black Strap rum. The rum is what takes this drink to the next level. It's sweet, and rich, and dark. And looks like pond scum. But don't let that deter you.

The Lafayette Cocktail
2 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum
1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 oz Passionfruit Syrup (this stuff can be a real bitch to find - get it on Amazon.)

Shake all ingredients over ice. Then pour them into a highball glass with ice, or whatever floats your boat. Then laissez les bons temps rouler.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Gold Rush - A Deliciously Simple Cocktail with a Twist.

I have a shameful secret. Occasionally, people ask me what my favorite 'everyday' cocktail is. Something to make after coming home from a long day at work. (Or after stepping into the kitchen from a long day at work. Working from home is pretty sweet.) My favorite cocktail to make at the end of a long day is: beer. Seriously, who wants to juice limes and muddle cucumbers and make syrups after nine hours of work? Not me. Cocktails are delicious. But I am lazy. 

However! Lately, the thing I find myself reaching for is not a beer, or even a nice tall glass of wine. It's a Gold Rush, a delicious (and stupidly simple) amalgamation of bourbon, lemon and honey. Jason gets credit for discovering the Gold Rush when we went to LA's Copa D'Oro, part of a disturbing trend where my friends always manage to order delicious-er drinks than me at schmancy cocktail bars. I thought of this cocktail when another friend texted me wanting to know of a good bourbon cocktail for someone who found an old fashioned a little too strong. Recollecting the Gold Rush and its bourbony deliciousness, I decided to mix one up for myself. Here are a couple of recipes I found, courtesy of the internets:

Gold Rush 1 
2 oz bourbon
.75 oz lemon juice (fresh-squeezed, and don't cheat)
.75 oz honey syrup

Gold Rush 2
(from the Lush Chef)
2 oz bourbon
.75 oz lemon juice
1 oz honey syrup

To make the honey syrup: mix one part honey with two parts hot water. Stir. Super easy. 

To make the drink: combine all the ingredients in a shaker full of ice, shake the hell out of it, and strain into a cocktail glass. 

I tried both variations: version 2 is a smoother cocktail, whereas the one with less honey is a little saucier. At the time I couldn't decide which one I liked better, but after a while I decided to go with version 2, mostly because this recipe lends itself quite well to the addition of a little bit of lavender bitters, which will give the drink a little something floral on the nose and a certain je ne sais quoi on the tongue. I've decided to call the lavender version 'Purple Rain'. I'm sure I'm not the first person to call a drink that. But I'm sure mine is the best. 

Purple Rain
2 oz bourbon
.75 oz lemon juice
1 oz honey syrup (from local wildflower honey!)
I dash lavender bitters (I used Bar Keep Lavender Spice bitters. Don't go too crazy with this stuff, or your drink will taste like a bar of soap.)

Quick, put on a Prince album. And drink up. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Tale of Two Daiquiris.

The good folks at Brugal Rum were kind enough to send me a bottle of their Brugal Especial Extra Dry, which, it turns out, makes a really lovely, balanced Hemingway Daiquiri. 

The Hemingway Daiquiri
2 oz white rum
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur

And as luck would have it, Texas ruby red grapefruit is just back in season, so get you some of that. To make the drink: shake over ice and then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with lime. 

So how does it taste? Just like it looks. If you've been used to daiquiris of the kind dispensed by slushee machines on Bourbon street late at night, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. This daiquiri is very light, and delicate, and pink

This particular recipe for a Hemingway Daiquiri comes from Jim Meehan (the PDT guy) by way of Food & Wine magazine. The other recipes I stumbled across did not quite agree on the proportions, but they did agree on the four basic ingredients: white rum, lime, grapefruit, and maraschino liqueur. Interestingly enough, according to Paul Clarke, the original Hemingway Daiquiri (which Hemingway invented and dubbed the 'Papa Doble', since I guess he was too modest to name a drink after himself), was composed thusly:

"...two and a half jiggers [or 3 3/4 ounces] of Bacardi White Label Rum, the juice of two limes and half a grapefruit, and six drops of maraschino, all placed in an electric mixer over shaved ice, whirled vigorously and served foaming in large goblets."

So of course I had to try that too. This wasn't the first time I had followed in the boozy footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, but I'll admit, I was a little intimidated. because you know, that's a whole lot of rum. Like a whole whole lot.

3 3/4 oz white rum
juice of two limes (I wound up with a little more than 2 oz, but I swear I have terrible luck with limes and always end up with the non-juicy ones, despite my best efforts)
juice of half a grapefruit (about 2.5 oz)
6 drops maraschino liqueur (I used an eye dropper to be extra super sure to be faithful to the original recipe. Okay, I might've gotten 7 drops.)

Then I put all those things in the blender, and kept adding ice, running the blender occasionally, until I got to the desired consistency.

So here are some things you should know about the original, for real, super-authentic Hemingway Daiquiri. For one thing, this recipe makes a drink that is truly massive. I had trouble finding a glass that would fit the whole thing. It's also quite tart, although not in a bad way - I found it to be light and incredibly drinkable, like a limeade with a little extra kick. This might help explain how Hemingway supposedly consumed 16 of them at one sitting. Actually, according to Paul Clarke (who got his info from Papa Hemingway, a memoir about the author written by longtime friend A.E. Hotchner), the recipe above was the formula for the drink served by Havana's La Floridita bar to tourists who wanted to drink what the legendary author drank. The drinks served to Hemingway, Hotchner indicated, came in glasses approximately twice the size of those used for the 'tourist' version. Let's do a little math, shall we?

3.75 oz rum x 2 x 16 = 120 oz

Um. Dang. 

So just to put that into perspective, a 'fifth' of rum (ie, a traditional 750 mL bottle) contains about 25 oz of liquor. 120 oz of rum = almost FIVE BOTTLES of liquor. Even if we assume that Hemingway's record was for the 'tourist' daiquiri, that's still an impressive two and a half bottles of rum consumed in one sitting. From this we can draw one of two conclusions:

A. This story is exaggerated a wee bit, or
B. Ernest Hemingway was a BEAST. 

Believe what you will. 

Whatever your thoughts on this, though, it's true that both Hemingway's original and the modern version are a surprisingly delicious, and remarkably efficient, alcohol delivery system. Cheers. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A new twist on an old favorite.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. It is also the mother of delicious cocktails. Such as! A few weeks ago (okay, maybe months - I've been a bit remiss in updating the blog) Gojee featured my blueberry gin rummy as one of their top 3 drinks of the week. Since my skills of the photography have improved since I originally conceived the drink, I decided to do another photo shoot - you know, make it look really good. So I went the grocery store, and bought blueberries and lemons and stuff, and of course when I got home I realized that, like a dummy, I didn't have any ginger ale. What I did have was a bottle of Dry Lavender Soda, and it looks the same in the photos, right? Nobody would know I cheated. So I made the drink with the lavender, and then I took some pictures of it, and then I tried it, because I was curious, and it was even better than the original drink. So there you go.

The Blueberry Gin Rum-y
Thawed (or fresh) blueberries
2 oz rum
.75 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
DRY Lavender Soda

Prepare according to the directions you find here.

Verdict: All the rummy blueberry sweetness of the original, but a bit lighter and more floral. In other words, just perfect.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Back to the Backyard.

I have sad news, and also happy news. My gig at the Kitchn is ending...because I've started working for Apartment Therapy full-time, as their Assistant Editor. (You should check it out, because it is the greatest website of all time. Except maybe for this one.) This is especially good news for you, because it means that the Backyard Bartender will be getting a little more love.

While I'm dreaming up new cocktails to delight you, here are a few treats from the end of my tenure at the Kitchn. Such as:

The Hot Toddy Project, Parts One, Two, and Three: a whole week's worth of ways to drink hot booze. All delicious, of course. This may not be super seasonally appropriate anymore (it is 85 degrees here (although it is almost always 85 degrees here)), but you can file this one away for future use.

There's also the his and hers gin and tonics, a schmancy re-mixing of these earlier his n' hers variations from the backyard. Originally conceived as a Valentine's day post, but delicious pretty much any time, I promise. Gin knows no season.

You may think you've had a Hurricane if you sipped some koolaidy concoction at Pat O'Brien's, but you haven't had a real New Orleans hurricane until you've made it the original way, with just dark rum, lemon, and passion fruit syrup. Passion fruit syrup is a bitch to find, so try Amazon if you're thinking about making this recipe.

I fell in love with Dowton Abbey, just like everyone else, so then of course I had to make some Downton Abbey cocktails. There are champagne cocktails for Sybil, Edith, and Mary, but I think the Edith might be my favorite.

And finally...start yourself off with a new bar for the new year. (It is no longer the new year, but it was when I wrote this post.) My list of 12 bottles any home bar should have turned out to be very popular and very controversial. (Most people thought two bottles of tequila was overkill, to which I say, hey - I really like tequila.)

That's all for now. But look for new cocktails, coming very soon to the Backyard Bartender.