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.