Monday, November 29, 2010
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.
(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.)
*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
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.
First: Death in the Afternoon. Hemmingway's original directions for the drink are as follows (with thanks to esquire.com): "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. Esquire.com, 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.
So...how'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 flavorwire.com, so that's something.
Death in the Gulf Stream (aka The Hemingway Reviver)
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. But...but...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.
Ernest...you old rogue.
*Disclaimer: I have not tried any of the others. Although maybe tonight is the night for a Rhett Butler??
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 place...eh. 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.
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.
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
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.)
1.25 oz Dry Lemongrass Soda
Verdict: 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
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 they...do 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 juicy...it tastes like something you would make on the grill, and you can get one in about five minutes.
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.)
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 them...eh. 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.
**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.)