Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kool-Aid Cocktails, aka CRUNK JUICE.

At my old job (the one where I used to be an architect), my co-worker Nubia would tease me about making recipes for crunk juice. I had to ask her what that meant. I am not crunk. According to urbandictionary, crunk juice is a combination of Hennesy and Red Bull, preferably drunk from a pimp cup. In Nubia's experience, "crunk juice" refers to a highly alcoholic punch found at backyard parties, usually made with Kool-Aid. I like her version better, because honestly, Red Bull and cognac? Sounds pretty nasty.

I had kind of forgotten about the crunk juice when Kaye, my sister's sister-in-law (or my brother-in-law's sister, however you would have it), emailed me wanting suggestions for drinks to make with Kool-Aid. The words "crunk juice" were never mentioned, but still, my mission was clear. The people had spoken, and they wanted Kool-Aid cocktails.

First, I decided to do a little research (thanks, google!), just to see what was out there. Turns out the current Kool-Aid cocktail landscape is a barren wasteland of foul, sugary concoctions with names like "demon's blood" and "the purple panty dropper". With this in mind, I established some guidelines for my Kool-Aid cocktails. They had to:

A. have Kool-Aid in them (obviously),
B. be easy to make,
and C. bear at least a passing resemblance, taste and composition-wise, to real cocktails. This means I wanted them to actually taste like alcohol. The point of mixing drinks, at least in my mind, is not to doctor up booze with sugar and fruit juice so you can't taste it anymore - making cocktails is all about combining flavors, including the flavor of the spirit, into something new and different and hopefully delicious. Here's what I came up with:

The Tropical Storm
Inspired by that quintessential New Orleans cocktail, the Hurricane.

2 oz Tropical Punch Kool-Aid syrup
.75 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1.5 oz dark rum

To make the Kool-Aid syrup: Prepare a package of (unsweetened) Kool-Aid according to the directions, but add half as much water as the package calls for. (That is, one quart.)

To make a whole pitcher* of Tropical Storms (c'mon, you know you want to):
1 package Tropical Punch Kool-Aid
1 cup sugar
1 quart water
1.5 cups fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 bottle (750 ml) dark rum

*Word to the wise: make sure your pitcher is big enough before you start adding stuff. This version will make about 16 servings, so also make sure you have lots of friends.

It tastes a lot like Kool-Aid...but with a little twist. Might actually be closer to the original version than whatever it is they're serving up on Bourbon Street these days. (I've made hurricanes according to the original recipe, and I've sipped some at Pat O'Brien's, and they are not the same. At all.)

and then there's...
Instant Kool-Aid Sangria
Let's face it, sangria is one of the greatest things ever. Wine? Good. Fruit? Good. Wine + fruit? EVEN BETTER. I've made sangria with pretty much everything else...why not Kool-Aid? After all, not everyone has time to cut up all that fruit. Everyone has time for this.

2 bottles red wine (try an inexpensive merlot or cabernet)
1/2 cup sugar
1 packet unsweetened lemon-lime Kool-Aid
1 packet unsweetened orange Kool-Aid
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher. Serve over ice.

It's good. Not as good as real sangria...but still pretty good. And super easy to make. And did I mention super cheap? Bonus: throw some actual fruit into the pitcher, and see if your friends are fooled. Try substituting other flavors, too. I'm curious about lemonade + black cherry. (Updated to add: when using other flavors, you may need to add a little more sugar.)

And finally...
The Kool Blue Gin-Gin MuleOf all the bizarre and off-the-wall ingredients I've sourced for my drinks, one of the hardest to find was - you're not gonna believe this - berry blue Kool-Aid. I went to three different grocery stores before I found this stuff. I thought it had been discontinued. But then there it was, like the holy grail of Kool-Aid, beckoning from the shelves of the very last store I tried.

2 oz Berry Blue Kool-Aid syrup (prepare according to directions above)
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
1.5 oz ginger ale (or ginger beer, for a stronger ginger flavor.)

And the pitcher drink version:
1 packet unsweetened berry blue Kool-Aid
1 cup sugar
1 quart water
1 bottle (750 ml) gin
1.5 cups lime juice
3 cups ginger ale

Once more, berries + gin = win. It's highbrow meets lowbrow...meets delicious.

Oh yeah.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Maple Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito

My fellow booze bloggers at Drinking in America were big fans of my Smo-jito, so they asked if I would do a guest post for them. I thought of a strawberry mojito, since strawberries are all over the farmers markets right now, and then it just kind of evolved into...the Maple Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito. I know, that's a lot of ingredients. But trust me - it is a monument of deliciousness. Click here to view the full recipe, and while you're at it, check out Drinking in America - "a blog about drinking by people who like to drink". I can get behind that.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bartender's Choice @ Blue Bar at Brenner's

One Thursday afternoon I found myself sipping rum cocktails at the bar at Brenner's on the bayou. I can't believe I didn't know about this place before - it's right in the middle of Houston, a stone's throw from Memorial Park, but when you're sitting on the deck, cocktail in hand, surrounded by trees and by the bayou, you can hardly tell you're in the city at all. "It's just like summer camp, but with booze!", I kept telling Kassie, because I am so much of a city girl that my only reference for a place when you can't see any other buildings is summer camp. (Church camp, actually, where there is definitely not any booze.) So when our bartender, Michael Manahan - the creator of the rum old-fashioned you saw in the previous post - asked us if we would stick around and try a few more of his cocktails, well, I was all over that.

First up: something called the Botany Bay. Michael introduced this by announcing that he was about to make "one of the prettiest cocktails you've ever seen". I was skeptical. I drink a lot. Then I was served this:


The Bottany Bay - so named for a place in Australia where hibiscus flowers grow - is fairly simple: gin (preferrably Blucoat), elderflower liqueur (I'm assuming St. Germain, since it is the only elderflower liqueur), and hibiscus syrup (which sinks to the bottom of the glass to make this cocktail so, so pretty). It tastes almost as good as it looks, which is to say: it tastes quite good. It's hard to go wrong with gin and St. Germain.

Perhaps encouraged by the success of the very, very pretty gin drink, the bartender next served us a very pink combo of malibu rum, lemon juice, grenadine, and whipped cream vodka. His inspiration? A lemon cream pie. It was a little too sweet for my taste, but if you're in the market for drinks that taste like desserts, this could be just the thing - it really does taste just like pie. Then there's the little difficulty of what to call this drink - Michael told me he didn't have a name for it. So how do you order one, in the event you are craving a glass of boozy dessert? Fishing around for names, I came up with this gem - "Sex on the Bayou". Because 1. people always remember suggestive drink names (buttery nipple, anyone?), 2. it's place-appropriate, and 3. this drink certainly fits into the fruity, girly tradition of the sex on the beach. If you're too embarassed to go up to the bar and order sex (I probably would be, even though it was my idea), just ask for the pink drink that tastes like a lemon cream pie. They'll probably know what you mean.

One more thing you should know about the bar at Brenner's: their glasses are huge. (At least compared to the more moderate pours at the fancy cocktail bars I frequent.) Me, holding my giant glass in hand: "Kassie, this is so much booze." You'll get a lot of bang for your buck.

A survey of the damage after an afternoon spent drinking at Brenner's. Thank goodness I brought reinforcements.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Brugal Añejo Rum Old-Fashioned at Brenner's on the Bayou.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from the folks who represent Brugal Añejo rum. There are some cocktails on the menu at Brenner's steakhouse featuring their rum, they said - would I like to try them? Why, yes. Yes I would.

So last Thursday, I headed down to Brenner's, accompanied by loyal drinking buddy Kassie. (Before this I accidentally went to Brennan's, because my reading comprehension skills are slipping. More on that later.) I met the bartender, Michael Manahan, who made me one of his own creations, the Brugal Anejo Rum Old Fashioned.

Now, I'm quite familiar with the concept of an old-fashioned. I've sipped plenty at the Anvil, and made quite a few of my own, including this lavender and elderflower version. But this? This was like nothing I've ever had before. All the nuance you would expect from the interplay of flavors in a bourbon old-fashioned, with a wonderful smoothness. I could drink these all day.

What, I asked Michael, while sipping my way to booze nirvana, inspired him to put rum in an old-fashioned? This is really a very unusual product, he told me - more like a whiskey or a scotch. It's a blend of rums aged between 2-5 years in American oak barrels previously used for Jack Daniels. So of course then I wanted to try the rum straight - maybe I should've done this first? - and he obligingly poured me a little glass. Holy crap. I took a sip and was in love. It was sweet like a rum, but oaky like a nice old scotch. And so, so smooth - no rocks, no nothing. Just super smooth, drinkable rum. (And, at about $18 a bottle, it's a little more accessible than that 18-year-old scotch I was similarly enamored with.)

Want to make some old-fashioneds of your own? Here's how it's done. First, muddle a slice of orange, a cocktail cherry, and a couple dashes of bitters together with 1 tsp of sugar.

Add ice and 2 oz rum; shake and strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Top with a splash of soda water. I understand this is a bit different from the usual procedure for an old-fashioned (which doesn't involve shaking) - but it's hard to argue with the results.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The best of the infused vodka, and what to do with it.

If you've been following this blog, you might have noticed that for some time I've been working on perfecting a few different kinds of infused vodka. Along the way I made some infusions that were totally disgusting (beet and horseradish...blech), some that were just underwhelming (lemon and fennel), and some that showed promise. Those I tweaked, and tasted, and re-infused, and re-tasted, until I had honed them into delicious examples of alcoholic perfection. But what to do with all this wonderful booze? Sure, the vodkas I created were tasty on their own, but this is a blog about cocktails, not a blog about drinking straight hard liquor. Even if it's been infused with cardamom.

So here are the best of the infusions, followed by ideas for what to do with them. Feel free to use your imagination and come up with your own drinks. Or, you know, take the vodka straight. I won't tell anyone.

Celery + Bay Leaf
1.5 cups vodka
1/2 celery stalk
2 celery leaves
1 dried bay leaf

Infuse in a sealed glass jar for 2 days, shaking occasionally. Strain out the other ingredients and store the vodka in the freezer for up to a month. (Or maybe even longer. I mean, it's alcohol - doesn't it preserve itself?)

This recipe comes from the article in Martha Stewart Living that inspired all the infused-vodka madness. I've already sung its praises in a previous vodka-related post, so here I'll just say that it is delightfully savory, with just a tiny bit of spice on the finish. I will also say that it makes a pretty incredible martini.

Celery Martini
3 oz infused vodka
.75 oz dry vermouth

Shake (or stir) with ice and strain into a cocktail glass garnished with a celery stick.

Besides making recipes from the magazine, I also came up with some of my own. Such as:

Chocolate, Cinnamon + Chipotle
1.5 cups vodka
4 tablespoons cocoa nibs
1 dried chipotle pepper
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half

Directions: see above.

So much going on here. Deep, rich, spicy, dark. Perfect for making a cocktail that looks innocent enough, but packs a little unexpected punch.

The Twisted Russian
2.5 oz infused vodka
.75 oz heavy cream
.5 oz sugar syrup

Shake (or stir) with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

And last but not least:

Vanilla, Cardamom + Cinnamon
1.5 cups vodka
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cardamom pods
3 medium-sized chips of Vietnamese cinnamon

Directions: see celery infusion.

Where do I begin? This infusion smells amazing and tastes nearly as good. You have the sweetness of the vanilla balanced against the woody, earthy flavors of the cinnamon and cardamom. Both cinnamon and cardamom, incidentally, come from Southeast Asia, and you know what else comes from Southeast Asia? Thai Basil. Conveniently, I am cultivating some in the backyard, so I decided to throw it into the mix and see what happened.

The Thai Gimlet
4 leaves Thai basil
2.5 oz infused vodka
.75 oz lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup

Add the simple syrup and basil leaves to the bottom of a shaker and muddle thoroughly. Add the vodka and lime juice, shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Verdict: very interesting mix of flavors. The Thai basil brings a nice balance to a drink that otherwise might be a bit too sweet. Drink up.