Monday, December 13, 2010

MxMo LIII: The Spice Island Iced Tea

Is it mixology Monday again? How the hell did that happen? Seems like just yesterday I was boozing it up with the ghost of Ernest Hemingway. This month's theme, with your host Chris Amirault over at eGullet, is "Like That? You'll Love This!" The goal, as described here, is to introduce cocktail novices to fancy drinkin by using a "gateway" cocktail that's a schmancy twist on a drink they already know and love. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take a second look at one of the cocktails most reviled by serious mixologists: the Long Island Iced Tea.

Why is it that the cocktailing elite disdain the Long Island Iced Tea? Here, as I see it, are two reasons:

1. Most Long Island Iced Teas that you order at bars are unbearably sweet.
2. A Long Island Iced Tea (as you will see if you look at the recipes below) contains a great deal of booze. Yet somehow, it tastes delicious. Generally, the sort of people who order Long Island Iced Teas are those who don't like the taste of alcohol, but want to get drunk very quickly. This is abhorrent to the mixology elite, because A. they see booze as its own end, rather than a means to an end, which is: drunkenness, and B. they love the taste of alcohol (see "A") and don't understand why anyone would want to drink booze that doesn't taste like booze.

So what, exactly, does a Long Island Iced Tea taste like? I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine in high school. She asked me: "Why do you love Bagel Bites so much? (Because I used to really, really love Bagel Bites.) They don't taste like pizza, and they don't taste like bagels." I thought about it for a minute, and I realized - she was right. Bagel Bites don't taste like pizza, or bagels - they taste like Bagel Bites. And Bagel Bites taste awesome. In much the same way, a Long Island Iced Tea does not taste like tea. It doesn't even taste like alcohol at all. A Long Island Iced Tea tastes like...a Long Island Iced Tea. I guess you will just have to try it for yourself. (Just don't operate any heavy machinery for a while.)

In my mind, the LIT deserves a little bit of respect. ("LIT" is Will's acronym for this particular drink, since saying "Long Island Iced Tea" over and over again is a bit clunky. Technically, it should be LIIT, but that's even clunkier. Also, Will's acronym accurately describes what you will be if you consume just one of these.) You may not like the kind of people who drink it, but you have to concede that what it does, it does remarkably well. In fact - I would go so far as to say that the LIT is magic. Making a glass full of hard liquor taste like something you'd get at Sonic is nothing less than a feat. And there's nothing like a pitcher of LITs to bring the party.

The Long Island Iced Tea
1 oz vodka
1 oz gin
1 oz rum
1 oz tequila
1 oz cointreau (Or triple sec. but really...cointreau makes everything better. It's so expensive, it damn well ought to.)
1.25 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice (did you hear the part where I said fresh squeezed?)
1 oz simple syrup
.5 oz coca-cola

Build over ice in a pint glass. Stir before serving. I go a little easy on the vodka and gin - more like 7/8 oz.

One night while hanging out at Revolution (a neat little coffee shop/bar in Bryan) with Alan and Jen, I overheard the bartender describing her particular variation on a Long Island Iced Tea. She called it New York Mother (word I decline to print here, based on the slim possibility my mother will ever read this blog). It's just like a Long Island Iced Tea, only substitute whiskey and amaretto for the tequila and rum. I couldn't wait to get home and try this. I did, and the result? Huge success. My friends loved it. I've honestly never made a plain old Long Island Iced Tea ever again. You get the same what-is-it taste like with a traditional LIT, with a little bit of that warm, sweet brown-liquor flavor from the whiskey and amaretto. (And I sure do love me some whiskey.)

The Staten Island Ferry
(Credit for this much more mother-friendly name goes to Kendra.)
1 oz vodka
1 oz gin
1 oz whiskey
.5 oz amaretto
1 oz cointreau
1.25 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 oz coca-cola

The appeal of the Staten Island Ferry, of course, is that, like its predecessor, it packs a great deal of booze into a surprisingly palatable drink. This makes a great pitcher drink at a certain kind of party...just increase all the measurements to cups (1 oz = 1 cup and so forth), and add a handful of ice to the pitcher and stir to mellow out all the alcohol. Floating slices of lemon add a particularly nice touch, and will make your pitcher look particularly innocuous and Martha Stewart-y. (I mean - would Martha Stewart ever get you drunk? (Actually, I don't know how to answer this question, since Martha Stewart is a very multi-faceted person. But if Martha Stewart is drunk...well, I want to be there for that show.))

But you know me. A good drink, like a good work of art, is never truly done. Lately I have completely fallen in love with St Elizabeth's Allspice Dram. It is like the St. Germain of winter - I want to put that shit in everything. And since we already knew that Allspice Dram complements warm, bourbon-y flavors...why not try it in a Long Island? Or rather, in a Staten Island.

I am a cocktail freaking innovator. A cocktail Christopher Columbus. And Magellan. All rolled into one.

The Spice Island Iced Tea
1 oz vodka
1 oz gin
1 oz whiskey
.5 oz amaretto
1 oz cointreau
1.25 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 oz coca-cola
1/4 oz St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram

For those of you playing along at home, those are the same ingredients from the Staten Island - just add the Allspice Dram.

You guys - this is good. It's got the magic LIT taste, plus whiskey warmth, plus a little bit of spicy allspice dram goodness. I don't know if the Long Island Iced Tea will ever be truly acceptable to the cocktailing elite, but here's a drink that is a step in the right direction.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pimento Whaa?

From the bizarre catalog of forgotten liqueurs now being lovingly embraced by elite mixologists the world over comes...Pimento Dram. That's right. Pimento.


When most people think of pimentos, they think of those little red things stuffed into olives. I think of pimento cheese, which as a child was pretty much my favorite thing ever. If I could've eaten it for every meal, I would have. Neither of these sounds particularly like something you would want in your booze. (Although I made a surprisingly tasty drink with balsamic I'm not completely ruling it out.)

The pimento of Pimento Dram is the dried, unripe fruit of the pimento tree, native to the Carribean and Central America. The natives called it "pimiento" in Spanish, later Anglicized to "pimento", but the English christened it "allspice", because to them it combined the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The natives made a liquor from it by soaking the berries in rum, and the English took to this, because they've always been good at stealing other people's ideas. By the 1930s, that glorious post-prohibition cocktail explosion, Pimento Dram could be found all over Europe and the United States, and became a big hit in classic cocktails and Tiki drinks.

The 1980s was a dark era for mixology, when people stopped caring about the craft of cocktails and became far more interested in drinking copious amounts of vodka and getting sloshed. (I blame advertizing. And hey - it was the eighties. A lot of supremely cheesetastic music came out of this era, but nobody claimed it was a bastion of good taste.) Pimento Dram generally fell by the wayside and was no longer available, except in Jamaica.

With the recent resurgence of interest in classic cocktails happening in the States lately, somebody decided it was high time Pimento Dram made its comeback. But there was one problem...the name. In much the same way "rapeseed oil" became "canola oil", Pimento Dram became Allspice Dram. Just as no one could cook their vegetables in something starting in "rape" and feel even remotely comfortable, nobody could say the words "Pimento Dram" and conjure up anything even remotely worth drinking.

So Pimento Dram was re-christened Allspice Dram, and it is now available at your local liquor store, or at least at the downtown Spec's, that wonderful mecca of liquor and obscure foodstuffs. ("Foodstuffs" - now there's a word that doesn't get used nearly often enough.) I acquired a bottle, which turned out to be a good investment because I find its gingerbread-y smell to be completely intoxicating and want to put it in pretty much every drink I make. It is the wintertime equivalent of St. Germain.

Smell: Yum yum yum. A bit peppery, but mostly...smells like gingerbread. Yum.
Taste: I don't think anybody, even the producers, is advocating taking Allspice Dram straight, but I did, because I take my job as your guide to the wilds of booze very seriously and I want to bring you the best and most complete information possible. So the taste: starts out sweet, gets VERY peppery, finishes like it smells: all gingerbready and awesome. I feel compelled to point out, having already made several drinks with allspice dram at the time of the writing of this blog, that the peppery taste never comes out when you mix this stuff in cocktails - only the gingerbreadiness. Wonder why that is?

Finally, for your drinking pleasure, I present the Lion's Tail, a classic cocktail made with Allspice (aka Pimento) Dram. With many thanks to Ted Haigh and his excellent book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

The Lion's Tail
2 oz bourbon
3/4 oz Allspice Dram
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 tablespoon simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

Verdict: I like this. I really, really like this. I think my love of bourbon has been well established in this blog - and considering that Allspice Dram tastes like gingerbread, the Lion's Tail is basically a sweet, boozy marriage of two of the things I love the most. Mmm.

P.S. For another great idea of what to do with Allspice Dram, check out this post from the Tipsy Texan. Recipe by Tito's vodka, video by David Alan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last Tuesday at a cocktailing contest in Austin - the details of which you will find in my very next post. Stay tuned.

The Sweet & Spicy Southwest Margarita

My goal: to create a cocktail inspired by my love of the Southwest.

This sunset really happened.

My inspiration: the pretty light pink Prickly Pear margarita I had at the Arizona Room, on the edge of the Grand Canyon. A little sweet for my taste...but I could work with this. Here was my idea: a margarita with prickly pear and jalapeno (a la the award-winning cocktail Jason had at the Copa d'Oro). What could be more southwest than that?

Turns out prickly pears aren't so easy to find, at least in Houston. I started out making my Prickly Pear margarita with a monin prickly pear syrup, but the syrup was black, which made for a not so appealing drink. So I finally hunted down some prickly pear fruits ("nopales" in Spanish) at (where else?) Whole Foods.

So, as I get in line, so excited to have found the very last two cactus pears at Whole Foods, the cashier gives me a look of abject terror. Terror, and pity. "Have you been carrying those with your hands?", he asks me, as I place the prickly pears on the belt, clearly with my hands. "Because they'll cut ya." I look at my (uncut) hands while the cashier bags my prickly pears ever so gingerly, as if they had ebola. This is a very confusing conversation.

But it was all explained to me later by the Internet, Explainer of Many Things. Turns out that when you pick a prickly pear from an actual cactus, it's covered with little tiny spines that will lodge into your hands and make them feel like they're on fire. The cactus pears they sell at most grocery stores have been de-spined, but apparently my cashier was unaware of this. I think this is wonderful, because it means that my Southwest Margarita is made from something that is both beautiful and dangerous, just like the Grand Canyon itself.

I love the Grand Canyon so much.

So how does one juice a prickly pear? I'm glad you asked. It goes like this:
1. Cut off the ends of the prickly pear.
2. Make a long cut, about half an inch deep, lengthwise down the pear.
3. Starting at the cut, unwrap the thick outer skin of the pear, revealing the seedy flesh below.

Sarah Burkhart: do not look at this picture.

Yeah, I was a little creeped out writing the words "seedy flesh", but that's what a prickly pear looks like - very similar to a pomegranate. And the taste? It starts out a little bit vegetal and finishes very sweet, almost like bubble gum. The riper the pear, the more pronounced the sweetness will be. (You can tell the fruit is ripe because the skin will be a dark magenta.) I struggled for a long time to place the vegetal smell of the prickly pear until I realized what it reminded me of: snapping green beans at my grandma's house. I know, you're kinda grossed out. Green beans and bubble gum? Sounds weird, works. And it works especially well with tequila.

But first: how do you turn all that seedy flesh (sorry!) into something you can put into a drink? Chop the flesh up into little bits (about 1/4" square), throw them into a blender, and run the blender until the flesh is liquefied. Then, strain out the seeds using the strainer-and-a-spatula method found in this post. This is especially satisfying because the end product, the prickly pear juice, is bright, crazy, magenta, Barbie pink. It might be my new favorite thing.

El Nopalito (Prickly Pear Margarita)
2 oz tequila
.5 oz triple sec
.5 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
.5 oz agave nectar
.75 oz prickly pear juice (juice of about 1/2 nopal)

Just enough prickly pear flavor to keep things interesting. Prickly pears come from a cactus, tequila comes from a cactus...they're practically cousins, so it's no surprise that they play well together. But my southwest margarita needed something to make it even more beautiful and interesting and dangerous, so I added...jalapeno.

The Sweet and Spicy Southwest Margarita
2 oz tequila
.5 oz triple sec
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz agave nectar
.75 oz prickly pear juice
3 slices of jalapeno (plus more for garnish)

Muddle three slices of jalapeno (minus the seeds) in a pint glass. Add all the other ingredients, fill the glass with ice, and shake for at least 3o seconds. Strain into a glass full of crushed ice. Garnish with extra bits of jalapeno and add a little crushed ice and a slice of lime on top.

My favorite thing about this margarita is how damn pretty it is. I was pretty much obsessed with taking pictures of it. It doesn't taste bad, either - just like the nopalito, but with a little extra kick.

Also: lesson learned: never, ever, ever, garnish the rim of a glass with a jalapeno. It will set your mouth on fire. This may or may not have happened to me. I may or may not have stood around the kitchen, dabbing my flaming lips with a paper towel soaked in milk, while Betty (my taste tester for the occasion - thanks Betty!) laughed at me.

Beautiful...and dangerous. Drink up, kids.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kendra, here's what to do with that pesky rum.

I am always happy to help a friend. And when I hear that a friend has copious amounts of alcohol and is unsure what to do with it...well, that's like a cocktail emergency. And I am like a cocktail superhero. With great power, as they say, comes great responsibility.

Okay, this is a bit facetious. But for reals - Kendra, sojurning in the exotic land they call Germany, found herself with a surfeit of Bacardi Gold Rum. Did I have any suggestions? Well, it has been a while since my latest rum drink, but your bartender always relishes a challenge. Kendra told me she and the hubby had been making Rum n' Cokes with the confounding rum, but they tasted like medicine. Well, propitiously, I had just acquired a copy of Imbibe magazine, the one with the article about the 25 most influential cocktails of the last century. Right there, on the first page, was the Cuba Libre. I thought a Cuba Libre was the same thing as a Rum n' Coke. Not so fast!, said Imbibe magazine. The different between a Rum n' Coke is and a Cuba Libre is that a Cuba Libre has lime juice in it - and that is a big difference indeed (went the magazine). Also propitiously, I happened to have a bottle of Bacardi Gold, bequeathed to me by a certain generous friend upon her move to St. Louis. So I pulled out the Bacardi and made myself a real Cuba Libre.

Cuba Libre
(with thanks to Imbibe magazine and Jonathan Phillips.)
4-5 oz Coca-Cola
2 oz Bacardi Gold Rum
juice and peels of half a lime

Squeeze the lime and then drop it into the glass. (Not sure if this is official Cuba Libre protocol, but it looked pretty in the Moscow Mule so we're going with it.) Fill the glass with ice, and add the rum and coke. Garnish with a couple of lime wedges.

Verdict: The lime definitely adds a little something. I may never be satisfied with a plain old rum n' coke ever again. (Alicia tried it (right before we went for a run, which is a great time for a cocktail), and she liked it too. I'm not sure I can trust myself anymore, since I liked the Hemingway reviver.)

But I wasn't going to stop with just a dressed-up Rum n' Coke. To prove myself a master of my craft, I needed to come up with something a little more exotic. My second attempt involved pineapple juice, rum, and ginger ale. It was terrible. It is not recorded here. It tasted, as Kendra said of the original rum n' cokes, like medicine.

My third cocktail was much better. The thought process for cocktail #3 was as follows:

1. Isn't that a bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer?
2. Wasn't there some drink with blueberries and rum on the menu at the Anvil not too long ago?
3. Lori makes those drinks, the Scarlet Jos, with mixed berries and SoCo and sweet n' sour and club soda. So we know that frozen berries + booze + sweet n' sour + fizzy = Good.
4. Brown sugar + gold rum has been a winner in the past. Let's try that.
5. Ginger is one of those things (like champagne, or lemon) that inexplicably mixes well with everything. So let's get some of that up in there (because I am unemployed and I have all the time in the world and club soda is for wussies and we're gonna go CRAZY).

With all this going on, it wasn't too long until:

The Blueberry Gin Rum-y
Thawed (or fresh) blueberries*
2 oz Bacardi Gold rum (or any old rum)
.75 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice 1 tbsp brown sugar
Ginger ale (or Ginger beer, if you're feeling adventurous.)
crushed ice

*If you have fresh blueberries, they will work just as well as the frozen ones. The advantage of frozen blueberries is this: 1. You can get them any time of year, and 2. They are cheap. And they keep practically forever. (Maybe you are lucky enough to have some delicious Texas blueberries that you had the prescence of mind to freeze. If so, bully for you. I will have some, too, as soon as my blueberry bushes outgrow their blueberry-adolescence.) But what do you do with the frozen blueberries? Frozen blueberries are cold and hard and un-muddlable. Here is what you do: fill a glass with hot water from the tap. Place the frozen blueberries in the glass. Give the blueberries a couple minutes and then strain out the water. Ta-da! Cocktail-ready.

Cover the bottom of an old fashioned glass with the thawed blueberries. (If you're using a taller glass with a smaller bottom, make a double layer.) Add the sugar and lemon juice and muddle (or smoosh with the back of a spoon). You want to muddle enough to melt the sugar and break the skins of the blueberries. After muddling, fill the glass with crushed ice, add the rum and ginger ale, and stir.

Verdict: I did done good. It's sweet, with a little bit of spice from the ginger and a little bit of kick from the rum. Using ginger beer instead of ginger ale will make this a different drink entirely - not as sweet, with more pronounced spiciness from the ginger. It's a more complex and somewhat less accessible cocktail, so of course it's my favorite, since I like things that are complicated. But who are we kidding? They're both delicious. Do try this at home.

Monday, November 22, 2010

MxMo LII: Forgotten Cocktails...OF DEATH.

Good morning, campers! Time to rise and shine,'s Mixology Monday! This time, you get two cocktails for the price of one. This month's theme is "forgotten cocktails", with your host Rock and Rye, and both of my forgotten cocktails have these things in common:

1. Ernest Hemingway
2. The "hair of the dog"

That's right. Cocktails that will help you get over a hangover...or maybe just kill you.

Ernest Hemingway as a young hottie.

Ernest Hemingway was a talented and troubled American writer who apparently had a bit of a penchant for drinking. He was known to embark on "alcoholic sprees" with James Joyce, and he gave himself a scar on his forehead by pulling a skylight onto his head in the bathroom of his paris apartment, mistakenly thinking he was pulling on the toilet chain. (Wikipedia won't tell me for sure, but if you have ever been inebriated, you might recognize this as the sort of dumbass thing a drunk person would do.) Two of Ernest Hemingway's favorite hangover cures survive, both, interestingly enough, with the word "death" in the name.

First: Death in the Afternoon. Hemmingway's original directions for the drink are as follows (with thanks to "Pour 1 jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly." Obviously, there are some problems here. 1. How much is a jigger? Jiggers come in many different measurements. 2. I am not about to drink three to five of these things. Ernest Hemingway must've had the liver of a champion.

I discovered another recipe for "Death in the Afternoon" in one of my go-to cocktail books, the Art of the Bar. This particular recipe called for a mere 1/4 oz of pastis (pernod preferred) and a full glass of champange., where I found Earnest Hemingway's directions, called for a full 1.5 oz of absinthe (or the newly legalized absenthe) per flute of champange. What to do? Well, I used absenthe, because I had some on hand, left over from making my Harry Potter extra sinister, and I split the difference and put in 3/4 oz of absenthe for each glass of champagne. I feel this creates a good balance between the champagne and absinthe flavors, but if you'd prefer to add more absinthe, feel free. Earnest is on your side. I did not test out the efficacy of this drink as a hangover cure (although you might need one the morning after one too many Ron Weasleys), but I did drink it right after breakfast, which counts for something. Right?

Death in the Afternoon
3/4 oz absenthe
Fill glass with brut champagne.'s it taste? Some flavors are pretty shy. Absinthe (which, for the unintiated, tastes almost exactly like black licorice) is not. There is definitely something in your champagne. To my surprise, absinthe and champagne actually play pretty well together.* You get the taste of champagne, with a nice licorice-y finish that is interesting without being overwhelming. If you don't like the taste of absinthe, you will probably not like this drink. If you do...well, it may be your new favorite thing.

*I'm continually surprised by how well champagne pairs with bizzarre and sundry flavors. Like, champagne and guiness? Surprisingly not bad.

The second, and far more intimidating, hangover cure I sampled is something called Death in the Gulf Stream. The Art of the Bar book first made me aware of the existence of this Hemingway reviver; I have Seamus Harris, from Tales of the cocktail, to thank for the directions for Hemingway's original formulation:

“Take a tall thin water tumbler and fill it with finely cracked ice. Lace this broken debris with 4 good purple dashes of Angostura, add the juice and crushed peel of 1 green lime, and fill glass almost full with Holland gin. . . . No sugar, no fancying. It’s strong, it’s bitter – but so is English ale strong and bitter, in many cases. We don’t add sugar to ale, and we don’t need sugar in a Death in the Gulf Stream – or at least not more than 1 tsp. Its tartness and its bitterness are its chief charm. It is reviving and refreshing; cools the blood and inspires renewed interest in food, companions and life.“

Seamus interprets "Holland gin" to mean Genever, which is sweeter than the London dry varities; for whatever reason, Art of the Bar called for something called "Extra Dry Holand Gin", which I was unable to find at the trusty downtown Spec's, so instead I used just plain old London dry gin. I am supported in my decision by this article about the boozings of Ernest Hemingway from, so that's something.

Death in the Gulf Stream (aka The Hemingway Reviver)
Crushed ice
Juice and peels of an entire lime
4 dashes of Angostura bitters
Healthy dose of Holland Gin (or extra dry Holland Gin, or London Dry...I used Broker's, if you're wondering. The bottle came with a little plastic top hat on it.)

I cut the lime into quarters, squeezed them into the glass, threw the peels in, and added the bitters and crushed ice. Then I added the gin (almost all the way to the top) and gave it a little stir.

I was very, very afraid to taste this. Notice the part where there's no sugar? And that is a lot of bitters. And a lot of booze. But: verdict:

You guys...I think I'm a total lush. I was fully prepared to taste this and report back to you that it was absolutely terrible. So certain was I of its terribleness that I almost typed the words in before even trying it.'s kind of good. The lime is bracing, the gin is refreshing, and all that bitters gives it depth...I feel a renewed interest in food, companions, and life. No, I wasn't hungover to begin with. But this drink? It's like a swift, and not entirely unwelcome, alcoholic kick in the pants. old rogue.


One of your bartender's favorite books is Gone with the Wind. (I know, this post is about Harry Potter, not Scarlett O'Hara...but bear with me here.) The first cocktail book I ever owned is something called the Cocktail Bible, which is actually pretty terrible, as cocktail books go. (Creme de menthe in a long island iced tea...whaaat?) But on page 98, I found something that piqued my interest - signature cocktails for all the major characters in Gone with the Wind. (The Scarlett O'Hara - cranberry juice, SoCo, and a bit of lime - is pretty delicious.*) I loved it. It was the ultimate exercise in higher-level thinking...turn a fictional character into a cocktail. I could do this, right? I could totally do this.

*Disclaimer: I have not tried any of the others. Although maybe tonight is the night for a Rhett Butler??

Your bartender also loves Harry Potter - and the first installment of the last movie of the Harry Potter series came out this Friday, so what better excuse to cook up some delicious, creative, and original cocktails? I know that none of the Harry Potter kids are actually old enough to drink...but once they turned 18 (or 21 here in the US), here's what they would be quaffing.

The Hermione Granger

Here's what I was thinking when I started thinking about what would go into the Hermione cocktail...Hermione is a strong woman. She's smart, and she's very good at what she does (magic, being a giant deus ex machina), but that doesn't make her any less feminine. The casting agents could hardly have known that Emma Watson would grow from a bushy-haired know-it-all into the beautiful young woman she is today, but it's only appropriate: seventh-year Hermione Granger is both beautiful and intimidatingly smart. (In the words of Janis Ian: "Suck on that.") The Hermione cocktail is based on a lot of flavors (sloe gin, pomegranate, grapefruit) that are strong and manage to achieve that perfect sweet-tart balance. Together with champagne (fizzy, delicious, feminine without being weak) they combine to form a lovely cocktail.

Hermione Granger
1.5 oz sloe gin (Get the Plymoth. Usually I'm not a big pusher of top-shelf liquors, but trust me: you need the Plymoth. use the cheap sloe gin and this cocktail will taste like medicine.)
1 oz gin
.75 oz Pama pomegranate liqueur
.5 oz red grapefruit juice (Rio star!)
1.5 oz brut champagne

Combine the ingredients in a pint glass full of ice. Stir lovingly for 30 seconds (or more), and then strain into a cocktail glass.

The Ron Weasley

Ahh, Ron Weasley. A little bit Samwise Gamgee, a little bit everyman. The Ron Weasley started out with the pairing of whiskey (so manly!) and Campari (a bitter, very red Italian liquer). Because Ron is manly, a little bit rough - and a little bit bitter. (I would be, too, if my best friend were the second coming.) The pairing of whiskey and Campari presented me with more than a little bit of trouble, and a lot of drunken, frustrated weekday nights sampling versions of a Ron Weasley that turned out to be absolutley disgusting. I wanted to make my Ron Weasley with Jack Daniels, which is very headstrong young man, but it didn't start to gel until I switched to rye whiskey, which a bit more old-school. But hey - in addition to trying to stay true to the characters, I am also trying to make drinks that taste good. The Ron Weasley owes a little bit to the Old Pal, appropriately, and also a bit to the Blood and Sand - in its essence, it is manly, strong, a bit sweet, and a little bitter.

Ron Weasley
1.5 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz cherry brandy (I used cherry heering.)
.5 oz campari
.5 oz sweet vermouth
1.0 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice

Directions: same as the Hermione. Make sure you give the ice plenty of time to melt. This one is potent.

The Harry Potter

I will admit that I was completely without direction on the Harry Potter. Harry Potter's friends start off as carricatures and slowly morph into real people, which makes their transition into alcoholic drinks easier, but Harry Potter himself is a bit harder to pin down. It was Rachel who gave me the idea to start Harry off with chocolate - a very familiar, very everyman, very boy-next-door taste. Combine that with butterscotch and you have a sweet, warming cocktail. Add a teeny bit of absinthe and you have something sweet and familiar - with just a hint of something sinister. SPOILERS.

Harry Potter
1 oz vodka
1 oz dark creme de cacoa
1 oz butterscotch schnapps
1/2 oz heavy cream
1/2 tsp absenthe

Directions: See Hermione.

And the Verdict: I had a Harry Potter Cocktail Party, because how could I not? All the Harry Potter cocktails were a big hit. (I was a bit worried I just liked them because I'm a huge lush.) Hermione: sweet, a bit tart to balance it all out, a good starter for the other drinks. Ron: Very strong. Dudes liked this cocktail, while my girl friends tended to (not surprisingly, I suppose) prefer the Hermione. Some guys even went so far as to say that I gave Ron too much credit, and the drink was manlier than Ron himself. Ouch. The Harry Potter got good reviews: some people compared it to a white russian, or a buttery nipple; I think the taste is a bit more complicated than that. Sweet, but not too sweet. The little bit of absenthe makes you think. Like any good cocktail. Like any good book.

Now, dear reader, I think I will settle down with the Deathly Hallows a and stiff drink. (And these are all stiff drinks. Don't say I didn't warn you. :) Perhaps you should do the same.

And now...even more Harry Potter cocktails. Check out part 2 for Luna, Draco, Neville and Snape.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Backyard Bartender Coast-to-Coast: The Copa d'Oro

Remember the pretty green drink I made? With the pear brandy? The one where I juiced a cucumber? Well, the creator of this particular drink, Vincenzo Marianella, has a bar in Los Angeles (well, Santa Monica) called the Copa d'Oro, and pretty much as soon as I saw the menu I knew I had to go there. In fact, in my post about the Mr. Stair, I'm pretty sure I said that I might have to plan a trip to LA just to visit this bar.

Well, I did.

Figure 1: Santa Monica Beach. If you get on 1-10 in Houston and drive west for 24 hours, this is where you will end up.

Okay, so the Copa d'Oro was not my only reason for going to California. (I am not that hardcore about cocktails. Yet.) My reasons were fivefold:

1. I am currently unemployed (unfortunately, being a cocktail connoisseur does not count as employment), and as such have a surfeit of free time.
2. My good friend Jason and his lovely fiancee Rebecca (who writes this great wedding blog) live in Los Angeles and had graciously offered to let me stay with them. (This is important, when you're unemployed.)
3. I've always been intrigued by the fact that 1-10, which runs right through the middle of downtown Houston, goes all the way to California. This freeway I've known my whole life, that goes right past the Budweiser brewery and my parents' house, goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Just one road. So every time I drove to church, or to mom and dad's, there was this tantalizing thought of California, far, far, away.
4. The deserts of the Southwest (which 1-10 spends a lot of time in before it gets to California) were calling my name.
5. Did I mention there's this really great cocktail bar in Santa Monica?

So...did it live up to my expectations?

Figure 2: The Copa D'Oro.

Ambiance: Loved the beach. Loved downtown Santa Monica. (Except that it was a total bear to park, but that's everywhere in LA.) This I hate to say this, since the drinks were so good, but the decor was a little bit like what I would expect to see if the Cheesecake Factory were a bar. Very traditional. Lots of overstuffed leather.
Scene: Lots of young professionals. Already pretty hoppin at 7:30 on a Thursday night, and it got even busier as the night wore on.
Drinks: Wow.

For starters, until 8:30 the Copa D'Oro has a happy hour menu of classic cocktails for only $5, which is a pretty sweet deal for a snooty cocktail bar. I ordered a Clover Club, which was a lovely balance of fruity-ness and gin, but Jason won because he ordered a Gold Rush, which is: bourbon, lemon, and honey. That's all. And holy crap, was it good. It seems like, when it comes to Bourbon cocktails, the simpler the better, and this was one of those winning combinations.

Post happy hour we switched over to the main cocktail menu, which was a wonder to behold. Seriously, the waitress probably came about three different times to take our order, only to find me still staring raptly at the menu, unable to make a decision. I really, really wanted one of everything. Even now, as I peruse the menu on the Copa D'Oro's website, I feel a lingering sadness that I was unable to try them all.

After much deliberation, I finally settled on the ominous-sounding Judgement Day, a combo of pisco, elderflower liqueur, absinthe, pimento dram, and egg white. (Yeah, I went for the weird stuff.) Jason ordered a King De Bahia, which the waitress assured him was incredibly popular and had won several awards. (I told him he should add "drinker of award-winning cocktails" to his business cards.) Our drinks came, and...Jason won again. And how. The Judgement Day was good, but not mind-blowing. I mean, if you're going to call a drink the Judgement Day, it sure as heck better deliver. The King De Bahia, though - dang. The combo of cachaça, elderflower liqueur, passion fruit, and jalapeño - unusual, to be sure. And also freakishly, freakishly delicious.

Fig. 3: The King De Bahia. So full of win.

One of the most unique things about the Copa D'Oro is they have something called a Market Menu, where you can pick from a list of spirits and then add herbs, fruits, vegetables and different kinds of juice to your drink. So entranced was I by the main cocktail menu that I never got to try this. I was also a little worried. If you picked out a combo that was truly awful - say, Applejack, rosemary, grapefruit and jalapeño - would the bartender tell you that you were way off the mark and make another suggestion? Or would they just serve up your awful cocktail and charge you ten bucks for it? Or...and this possibility is truly mind-boggling - are they just such bartending badasses that it is impossible to go wrong? Someone needs to go to this bar and report back to me, because I am now incredibly curious.

So...the Copa D'Oro gets an enthusiastic (if slightly tipsy) thumbs-up from me. It's really too bad that 24 hours is a little too far to drive to grab a drink at the end of the workday. But hey, within only a few months, I've managed to drink wild and wonderful cocktails at bars on both coasts. All told, not a bad year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The French Bulldog

There is pretty much no limit to the places I will look for inspiration for my next drink. Case in point...this one got started in the shower. I have this grapefruit and lemongrass shampoo, and one morning I thought - "this smells lovely. I wonder if I could make it into a drink?". Only, you know, not with actual shampoo. So I knew grapefruit and lemongrass were a hit, and I knew that lemongrass and St. Germain (seriously, I can't get enough of this stuff) played well together, and I knew that grapefuit and gin were good together because that's a salty dog. (The Salty Dog is a classic cocktail, and also a pretty great dive bar in Port Aransas. (Seriously. If you're ever in Port Aransas, don't miss their karaoke night. Life-changing, maybe.))

Armed with this knowledge, I mixed them all up together, fiddled with the proportions a little - and it was good.

The French Bulldog

1.25 oz gin
1 oz Texas Rio Star red grapefruit juice (these are back in season - so love your booze and make it fresh.)
1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1.25 oz Dry Lemongrass Soda

Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass (a pint glass works well) full of ice. Stir for 30 seconds and strain into a cocktail glass.

This drinks wins for both ease of creation and sheer deliciouness. It's a beautiful balance of all the flavors. And it doesn't hurt that it so damn pretty.

Edited to add: It looks like the jerks at the Dry Soda Company have discontinued the lemongrass flavor, so if you must have lemongrass soda, you'll have to make your own. Or, what is much easier: substitute lemon perrier for the soda. I promise it's just as delicious.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fast-Food Face-Off: In-N-Out vs. Whataburger



This post is not about cocktails. Whatever.

Some of you may know (okay, anybody who knows me at all probably knows) that I am obsessed with Whataburger. Well, I recently went on a two-week road trip mini-odyssey in the Southwest and California, where not have Whataburger. Gamely, I decided to give In-N-Out, the Whataburger of the west, a try. I've always heard people raving about In-N-Out and I always thought, "it can't possibly be as good as Whataburger." In fact, I was sort of afraid to eat there, lest it actually be better and my beloved Whataburger tumble from the throne of Best Fast Food Ever. But every good faith deserves to be tested. And it wasn't like I was going to go two weeks without fast food, right? So I present to you, my loyal readers, my very thorough analysis.

Burgers: This one's a toss-up. The in-N-out hamburgers just taste quality. (After all, their slogan is "quality you can taste".) The onions are fresh, the meat is tastes like something you would make on the grill, and you can get one in about five minutes.

(I forgot to take pictures of my In-N-Out burger, so image:

On the other hand, a Whataburger hamburger has a certain...eatability. And no, I actually mean something by this - it is not just a random word I made up to avoid admitting that In-N-Out has better burgers. A Whataburger hamburger has a certain appealing floppiness. If this doesn't sound particularly positive to you, go get a Whataburger hamburger and you'll see what I mean. I promise, it's a good thing. It feels good in your hand, it feels good in your mouth. (And you thought mouthfeel was just for wines.) And it is exactly as tall as your mouth, so you don't have to smoosh it down before consuming it - this is something a lot of hamburger creaters ignore. The ratio of meat to fixins is delicately balanced, so that you taste not too much of one or the other. And if you order one with onions, it comes with pieces of onion that resemble actual onions, not tiny little mashed-up bits that are probably made in a laboratory somewhere. (I'm looking at you, McDonald's crackburger.)

Whataburger: Feels real nice. Tastes real nice.

Selection: Totally Whataburger. At In-N-Out you can order...burgers and fries. That's it.

Fries: Whataburger. In-N-Out actually has a little tray liner about how great their fries are. They're like, made from a special kind of potatoes or something. I was underwhelmed. Whataburger fries do have the issue that they sometimes vary in crispiness from location to location, but even the soggiest Whataburger fries are superior to the In-N-Out ones, in my opinion. They looked so nice, but then when I ate Maybe it's because...

Ketchup: Whataburger. Sometimes I wonder whether I just think Whataburger fries are awesome because I always eat them with Whataburger ketchup, which is hands-down the best ketchup ever. And then I realize that there are some mysteries that cannot be fathomed by the human mind.

Cult following: In-n-Out. I know, it's weird that I'm saying this, since even if nobody else really gave a damn, my own fanatacism about Whataburger would probably count as a cult following. But the thing is, people are just crazy about In-N-Out. I used to have an In-N-Out shirt (that I got from the In-N-Out in Las Vegas years ago, pre Whataburger obsession), and every time I wore it, guaranteed, at least one person I saw that day would freak out and be like, "omg I LOVE In-N-Out!!!!". And I would have to admit that I'd only eaten there once and it didn't totally like, blow my mind, which made me feel kind of lame, so I stopped wearing it. But yeah, In-n-Out lovers are nuts. And it has that whole secret menu items thing going on, and everybody knows people just love secrets. It makes you feel like you're a part of something. Of course, biting into a hot piece of Whataburger toast makes me feel like I'm a part of something, too. Part of something very, very delicious.

Atmosphere: In-N-Out. They're got that whole retro-fifties thing going on. Whereas Whataburger...well, when it comes to ambiance, it's just a fast-food restaurant. There are those old-school A-frame whataburgers that are super cool, but those are kind of a dying breed. And all that orange can get a little overwhelming.

Service: Whataburger. While the In-N-Out staff (in my experience) is freakishly perky, at Whataburger, if you eat in, they will actually bring you order to your table. (As opposed to shouting your order number at you across the restaurant.) And they've got those little orange trays with ketchup and everything. I don't know of another fast-food restaurant that does that.

So it's a tough call. The nice thing is, I'm not sure anyone would ever have to make this decision, since it seems like In-N-Out territory (west coast-ish) picks up about where Whataburger territory (Texas and its environs) ends. Is there, in fact, any city with both a Whataburger and an In-N-Out? Does such a fast-food mecca exist?** For me, I think the choice is clear. I rally to the banner of the orange and white. (But only when it comes to fast food. In football this is blasphemy.) Although maybe it's just the ketchup.

Best. Ketchup. Ever.

**Updated to add: thanks to the in-depth research tool that is Google Maps, I now know that such a place does exist, and it is called Phoenix, Arizona. Or Tuscon. Yet another reason to love Arizona. (The first, obviously, being that big old hole in the ground. I love me some Grand Canyon.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

¡El Sangre de Fresa!

As a mixologist, I am always trying to push the limits. It's a lot harder to impress me, booze-wise, than it used to be. Lots of drinks that would've seemed wild and wonderful to me a couple of years ago are now familiar territory. Like, basil in a margarita? Child's play. But then, while browsing through one of my favorite cocktail books, I found a recipe for a drink using balsamic vinegar. Yeah, like what you dip bread in at Italian restaurants. Whoa.

I knew I had to try this.

Firstly, I love anything with balsamic vinegar, and secondly, I was having a cocktail party and wanted to impress my guests with my use of innovative, wacked-out ingredients. I could just see my friends telling their friends - "oh my gosh, I went to this party and this girl made a cocktail with balsamic vinegar and my mind was blown". This was going to be legendary. The one big hurdle was - in order to make this history-making balsamic cocktail, I first had to create a balsamic syrup, using the directions below:

Balsamic Syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar

In a tall, straight-sided, medium pot, combine the sugar and water and heat over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Brush down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush to remove any lingering sugar. Continue to cook the sugar and water, gently swirling the pot occasionally to distribute the heat, until the water evaporates and the sugar caramelizes and turns to an amber color.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the balsamic vinegar to a simmer. When the caramel reaches the desired color, remove the pot from the heat and slowly add the balsamic vinegar. Take extra care when adding the vinegar, because it will bubble and pop violently when added to the caramelized sugar. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to dissolve any solidified caramel. Return the pot to the stove and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture has thickened slightly.
Create an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice water. Pour the syrup into a smaller bowl and then set it in the ice bath to cool, making sure the level of the melting ice is well below the level of the smaller bowl. Transfer the syrup to a small bottle with a lid and refrigerate. It will keep for up to six months or longer.

As a person who does not cook, I had the proper response to these directions, and that was: fear. Through people who actually cook I had heard of the difficulties and trials of making caramel, and I was very afraid. Only my desire for cocktail greatness could push me to attempt something so foolhardy. I wish I could say that my fears were totally unfounded, and that I created a perfect balsamic syrup on the first attempt. Only...not so much.

First try: burned the caramel.* I made the syrup anyway (because the balsamic vinegar was already simmering, and what was I gonna do?), but it was so thick it had to be scraped off the inside of the jigger when I tried to make a drink with it. Oh, and it smelled like burning.
*The only way to prevent this, I learned, is to not move from in front of the stove the entire time the caramel is cooking. In fact - don't even look away from the pot. Caramel burns fast.

Second try: used a pot that was too big.** All the water cooked off before the sugar caramelized and I ended up with...damp, slightly browned sugar. Fail.
**That part about the medium-sized pot? That's important.

Third try: Added too little balsamic vinegar (either I measured it wrong or let it simmer for too long - either way, I'm a moron) and ended up with some kind of giant, unholy balsamic caramel candy-thing. It was liquid until I put it in the ice bath, and I was so sure I had finally succeeded. Poor, disillusioned Nancy. I came back half an hour later to discover that in the ice bath, my "syrup" had congealed into a metallic brown brick at the bottom of the bowl.*** It was exactly like one of those brach's caramel candies I used to eat as a kid - except it smelled like italian food. And looked like an oil spill. (I say "smelled". I ate an octopus once - it wasn't fried or anything, and you could still see its tiny octopus head and tiny suckers on its tiny octopus arms - but I wouldn't eat this.) Giant, gooey, caramel-y fail.
***Important: pay attention to the part that says "thickened slightly". Don't worry if the syrup is still runny in the pot - it will get syrupy in the ice bath. If the syrup is syrupy in the pot - you will end up with a brick, like I did.


Fourth try: Finally got it right. Holy crap, this was hard.

So at long last, I was ready for:
¡El Sangre de Fresa! (that's "Strawberry Blood", for those of you who do not speakee the Spanish)
recipe from Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz, of the Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco.
2 strawberries, hulled and quartered
4 to 5 basil leaves (thank you, backyard herb garden)
1/2 oz hard-fought balsamic syrup
1 1/2 oz cachaça*
1/4 oz Cointreau**
1/4 oz fresh lime juice***
Soda water

*What is cachaça? Glad you asked.
**Or you can be cheap and use triple sec, like I did.

In a mixing glass, combine the strawberries, basil and balsamic syrup

and muddle into a pulp.

Top with ice and add the cachaça, Cointreau, and lime juice. Shake until cold, strain into an ice-filled pilsner or collins glass,

and top with soda water.

The first time I made this drink was for my cocktail party, so I made a whole pitcher, which was very brave of me. Many of my friends tasted it, which was very brave of them.

Kassie: This tastes like a salad.
Me: Drinks like a meal.
Aimee: ...interesting.
Garret: You know? I really like this.

So at the end of the night I sent Garret home with a schweppes bottle full of sangre de fresa. It's the first time I've ever made a doggie bag at a cocktail party. He seemed delighted with it.
But before you write this off as That Drink That Only Garret Liked - know that I made another. I had to, because I wanted to take purdy pictures for my blog and I hadn't gotten any in my pre-party frenzy. This time I shelled out for the Cointreau (my first bottle, and sheesh, was it expensive). Either this drink is bounds better with the Cointreau, or it just grew on me, because as I sipped Sangre de Fresa #2, I found myself thinking - you know, I might really like this. All the flavors are quite bold - the orange, lime, and strawberry catch you right away, with smoky/savory/vinegar on the finish. It's unexpected, bizarre, and - dare I say - surprisingly delicious.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wtf is Cachaça?

Short answer: cachaça is like rum, but from Brazil.

Long answer: you knew I would give you the long answer, didn't you?

First things first: how in the world does one say "cachaça"? For a long time (I am now embarrassed to think about this) I pronounced this word as "kuh-CHAH-kuh", and nobody corrected me because apparently no one else I know knows how to pronounce it, either. Finally, for this blog post, I consulted that greatest of all authorities, the internet. I've always said that Portuguese is like Spanish, but smooshier, and the word "cachaça" is no exception. Turns out the little thing that looks like a 5 under the last c (it's called a "cedille") alerts you that the c is a soft sound, so the word is actually pronounced "ka-SHAH-suh". Which will make you sound very sexy. Or, just like you have a lisp. Try this out early in the morning, when your sleepy voice is operating at a nice alto. (Or bass, or whatever. Does this happen to anyone else? I swear my voice is like an octave lower for about an hour after I wake up.) Ka-SHAH-suh. Ka-SHAH-suh. Kashahsuh. Kashahsuhhhh.

Kashahsuhhh is the third most consumed spirit in the world, because there are a lot of people in Brazil, and they like to drink. (The first and second are vodka - because there are a lot of people in Russia, and they really like to drink - and soju/shochu, an Asian spirit distilled from rice. (Which I have never, ever heard of, which probably means it will be the Next Big Thing on the cocktail scene.)) Cachaça differs from rum in that it's distilled from fresh sugarcane, whereas most rum is distilled from molasses. Molasses is a by-product of sugar production - it's what's left after the refineries boil the cane juice as much as possible to extract all the sugar crystals, because sugar producers are greedy bastards.

A great deal of cachaça is consumed in the form of caipirinhas. The caipirinha (kai-pur-EEN-ya - another sexy, unpronounceable word) is the national drink of Brazil. It's made of: lime, sugar, and cachaça. That's all. So, you might think - if cachaça is brazilian for rum, and a caipirinha is just cachaça, lime, and sugar - isn't that just a mojito, without the mint? I once thought this, too. And I was wrong.

See, because of the whole being distilled from fresh sugarcane juice thing, cachaça (according to the leblon cachaça website) has a "fruitier, fresher nose" and "distinctive vegetal notes remniscent of tequila". Well, I don't know what a nose is supposed to taste like, but I think this calls for...a taste test!

First the smell:
Rum: sweet, boozy, clean.
Cachaça: it smells like tequila. That's what I keep thinking of.

Then the taste:
Rum: Probably my $12 bottle of Baccardi was not really intended for sipping. But here are my impressions: Sweet, warm, almost like baked goods. Nice alcohol burn. This is hard liquor, after all.
Cachaça: Starts out sweet, like the rum, and then explodes into a whole bouquet of...something. (I'm seriously thinking about becoming a sommelier, if only to enlarge my vocabulary to describe taste sensations.) A bit smoky, a bit vegetal - it doesn't taste quite like tequila, but it's got that little extra something that makes tequila not quite as well-behaved as the other liquors. It's rich, robust, and unabashed. Like rum, but...manlier.

Lastly, because your cachaça education would not be complete without it, I give you...the caipirinha.

To start: take a lime and slice the ends off. Cut it in half, and remove the pith from the middle. (This part is bitter, so removing it will make for a sweeter drink.)
Cut the halved lime into four slices, and put them in a glass, along with two teaspoons of superfine sugar.
I once thought superfine sugar and powdered sugar were the same thing, but...I was wrong. Superfine sugar will dissolve completely, giving you a nice translucent caipirinha, whereas powdered sugar will dissolve but make the drink cloudy. I used powdered sugar. Don't tell anyone.

Muddle the limes and sugar together until the limes are juiced. Fill the glass with crushed ice -
And add 2 oz of cachaça. Give it a couple of good stirs, and you're ready to start savoring.

Verdict: The lime is a good compliment to the unusual taste of the cachaça. Not quite like a margarita, not quite like a may just have to try it for yourself.