A weblog detailing cocktails, spirits, liqueurs, barware, bars, and bitters. Maintained by Michael Dietsch, a writer and hobbyist mixer in Brooklyn.
XLV, XLV, hm. How does this work again? Subtract 32, divide by 9, multiply by … uh, wait, that’s not right. Oh, oh, I see. It’s 45. 45?! Geez, whodathunk. The theme this month, chosen by the boffins at Cocktail Virgin, is tea (tisanes included). Pip pip!
With a month or so to go before Cook & Brown opens, I’ve been thinking a lot about the cocktail menu. So when I’m mixing drinks at home, I often have an eye out for drinks that might play well on the menu, both immediately upon opening and also months down the road. To reiterate, the remit at Cook & Brown will be to source our ingredients locally when possible and to cook (and mix) with a seasonal focus. So if I’m going to play with tea, it should be local tea. That in mind, I returned to a farmers market vendor I’ve mentioned here before, Farmacy Herbs. A couple of their teas had promise, but for my purposes I chose the Unwind Your Mind blend, of chamomile, catnip, and lemon balm. One purpose of a good cocktail is to relieve stress and banish the worries of the day, and I thought a relaxing tea might help.
I figured I’d add a little local honey and because they’re available right now, Meyer lemons. I shook it and topped it off with a little Q Tonic to make a refreshing twist on the ol’ Gin and Tonic. Not seasonal to dead of winter, sure, but should be lovely in the hotter months. Gotta think ahead, y’know. For the actual C&B menu, I’ll probably use the tonic from a local soda brand, Yacht Club, instead of Q. And eventually, I’d like to play with a house-made tonic.
Blackstone G & T
- 2 oz tea-infused gin
- 3/4 oz. Meyer lemon juice (will probably use regular lemon in summer)
- 3/4 oz. honey syrup (equal parts honey and water heated on the stove)
Shake over ice, strain into ice-filled chimney glass. Top with tonic water.
DISCLAIMER: I am no longer a part of Cook and Brown.
With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s time to plan for festive cocktailing! Mrs. Bitters has already started prepping our locavore Thanksgiving (there’s a story behind it being locavore, but you’ll have to wait for it), so now’s the time for me to plan my approach. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I know I want to get some Calvados and make a batch of sage simple syrup, so that I can mix up the Apple Sage Old Fashioned I created for the autumn issue of Edible Rhody (still on the stands, so if you’re local, grab a copy–it’s the one with the cranberry bog on front).
For my second drink, I’m still working my brain on it. In Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Malt Adovocate editor John Hansell edited a small advertising supplement on whiskeys. Included was a piece on cocktails by Gary Regan, or gaz regan as he apparently prefers to be called these days. Old gaz included four cocktails in the piece, one of which I think I’ll adapt for Thanksgiving. Here’s the gaz version:
- 1-1/2 oz. scotch
- 3/4 oz. B&B liqueur
- 1/4 oz. absinthe
- 1 lemon twist, for garnish
Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.
As gaz discusses in his piece, scotch marries well with anise flavors, and we definitely found that to be the case here.
Earlier this year, I picked up a bunch of anise hyssop from a local herbalist. Back then, I used it in a variation of the New Orleans classic cocktail, the Vieux Carre. On Saturday, when we were at the market, we stopped by the Farmacy table to pick up some local honey for Thanksgiving baking. They happened to have as well some small jars of honey infused with the anise hyssop. I immediately started thinking about cocktail applications and eagerly bought a jar. I might do a variation on the Babbling Brook. Or, I might do a scotch Sazerac instead, with a syrup made from the hyssop honey. I don’t think I’ll go wrong either way.
How about you? What Thanksgiving-themed drinks are you planning to mix this year? Do you have special Thanksgiving snacks that pair well with cocktails? Sound off in the comments!
Recently, I received samples for review of House Spirits Distillery‘s Aviation Gin and Krogstad Aquavit. I’ve bought several bottles of Aviation over the last couple of years. I like it, even though it’s considered a “New Western”-style gin–meaning it de-emphasizes juniper to focus on other botanicals. Now, I like a juniper-forward gin. I always have a 1.75L bottle of Beefeater to keep on hand and threaten the cats with, and to my mind there’s no better martini than one made 3 parts Beefeater to 1 part vermouth. But I also like tripping through other styles of gin, and Aviation’s no exception.
The Krogstad, though, is new to me, and to be honest, so is aquavit as a spirits category. I can’t really judge the Krogstad except on its own merits, since I’ve never sampled its competitors. I really like it, though. It carries notes of anise and caraway right at the front, and it’s very tasty. I’m looking forward to what some might consider an unconventional use for it. I have a recipe for home-cured salmon, and where this recipe calls for Pernod, I’m planning to use Krogstad in its place. Yummy, yeah?
UPDATED with photo by Jennifer Hess
But I’m not here today to review the products or speak of charcuterie. I’m here for cocktails, and I have a doozy that I whipped up to showcase these spirits. I call this the Mah Nà Mah Nà. If you want to know why, you’ll have to buy me a drink and I’ll tell you. This quaff, though, is a botanical bomb, all the more reason to love it.
Mah Nà Mah Nà
- 1 oz. Aviation gin
- 3/4 oz. Krogstad aquavit
- 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. yellow Chartreuse
- lemon twist, for garnish
Shake it over ice like Animal, strain it into Miss Piggy’s slipper, and enjoy.
Hey, folks. My fall 2009 column for Edible Rhody magazine is now online. As a reminder …
The focus of the column is on using seasonal, local ingredients in cocktails. Each column will have two recipes–one that I mix and one from a local bartender. Trust me, my focus will always be on classical techniques and interesting spirits.
So, now you can see whether I made good on that promise. First, though, the stunning cover:
Who knew there were cranberry bogs in Rhode Island? I didn’t! Now, the column (if you want to read the text without squinting, click here):
Photo for the article is by local photographer Chip Riegel, and boy did I have fun mixing drinks for a photoshoot at 9am.
Apple Sage Old-Fashioned
For this drink, I was inspired by traditional Thanksgiving flavors, particularly apple and sage stuffing.
- 2 ounces Calvados apple brandy
- 1/2 ounce sage simple syrup (recipe follows)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters (when I made this at home, I used Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Bitters, which were superb in this, but aren’t for sale in Rhody as far as I know)
- Apple slice, for garnish
Build in an old-fashioned glass over ice. Add garnish.
Sage Simple Syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
Add sugar and water to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. When sugar dissolves, remove from heat. Add sage leaves and stir. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain into a jar (discard sage leaves) and refrigerate. Will keep for one month.
photograph by the ever-loyal Jennifer Hess
Pippin’s Pear of Aces
This drink is by Providence bartender Bonnie Siharath. At the time of writing, she was at Chinese Laundry, but that restaurant closed just a week before this issue was released. I have not yet followed up to see where she’s landed. The food at Chinese Laundry was inspired by the tastes of East Asia, and this drink follows that theme.
- 1/2 fresh pear
- 1/2 stick of cinnamon
- 1 ounce Wokka Sake vodka
- 1 ounce Gray Goose pear vodka
- 1 ounce Asian pear nectar
- 1/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
- pear slice, for garnish
Gently muddle pear and cinnamon in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, vodkas, nectar, and lime juice. Shake well and strain through a tea strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.
Tonight at Thursday Drink Night, in the Mixo chat room, we’re hosting Allison Evanow, founder of Square One, and bartender H. Joseph Ehrmann, to discuss Botanical, the latest offering from Square One.
Here’s a great recipe that uses this spirit.
- 3/4 oz. Square One Botanical
- 3/4 oz. Cointreau
- 3/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
- 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 2 dashes absinthe or Herbsaint
- stemless cherry, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Add garnish.
(Disclaimer: Square One sent me a sample bottle of Botanical.)
Hey! It’s another edition of Mixology Monday, and having sat out August’s entry on vodka cocktails, I decided to get back in the game this month with September’s theme, Dizzy Dairy. Led by group manager Chris Amirault (who this very evening is leading a cocktail class at Providence’s La Laiterie–go Chris!), the eGullet team chose a dairy theme, interpreted broadly as anything you’d find in the dairy section of your local supermarket–milk, cream, eggs, soy milk, cheese, whey, curds, whatever.
Now, I’ve had a bottle of Kahlua Coffee Cream sitting around for a few weeks now–a sample bottle that I received for review purposes. Kahlua Coffee Cream is a limited-edition product that will soon be released for the holidays. The bottle describes it as Kahlua’s coffee liqueur blended with cream. I could have simply built a cocktail on that cream component, but I decided that would be cheating and planned to add my own dairy-case ingredient. More on that in a bit.
So starting with the Kahlua Coffee Cream, I figured I’d be going for a dessert drink. I’m sure that wasn’t necessary, but one thing I’ve never done around here is blog about dessert cocktails. The BarSmarts guys are pretty strong in advocating that bartenders have well-made dessert beverages to serve to restaurant patrons, and who’m I to argue with those gentlemen?
My final inspiration here was Papa Clarke’s article in this weekend’s Chronicle about chocolate in cocktails. The very point of his piece runs contrary to what I’m doing, I’m afraid. His object was to show that chocolate need not be ghettoized as a sweet ingredient, and of course that’s just where I’ve relegated it. Chocolate in cocktails is more new territory for me, and so I’d rather blend for sweet than savory on my first go-around.
So it goes.
A couple of ingredient notes. I decided to make this drink a flip, in part to sort of approximate the flavors of ice cream, and in part because I don’t make many flips. So of course my other dairy-case component is a whole egg. Also, I pulled this together very much at the last minute today. I wasn’t even sure what I was building until I started building it. So while the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters might have been a logical choice for this drink, I still haven’t picked up a bottle.
Micky Ficky Flip
- 2 oz. amber rum (I used Mount Gay Eclipse)
- 1 oz. Kahlua Coffee Cream
- 1 tsp. cinnamon syrup
- 2 dashes whiskey barrel bitters
- 1 tsp. cocoa powder
- 1 whole egg
- ground red chipotle, for rimming the glass
Add rum, Kahlua Coffee Cream, cinnamon syrup, bitters, cocoa powder, and egg to shaker. Dry-shake without ice to blend all ingredients. Add ice to shaker and shake again. Coat half the rim of a cocktail glass with chipotle. Strain cocktail into glass.
- 1 stick canela Mexican cinnamon
- 2/3 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup water
The other day, a reader commented:
I’m new to cocktails. I’m intrigued by cocktail menus at restaurants, but could never decide what to order. Could you recommend a good “starter” cocktail for a novice? I’d like to try Wondrich’s basic recipe but don’t know what kind or brand of spirit to buy.
I’ll go back into the Wondrich recipe later, but for now, let me make some suggestions for what to order and what to mix at home.
How I Started
When Jen and I got into cocktails, we were lucky. It was 2005, and we were living in New York. Flatiron Lounge had been open a couple of years and we were starting to go there once a month or so, often enough that some of the bartenders recognized us. (We wound up there with our wedding party after getting hitched at the marriage bureau in Manhattan, but that’s a story for another day.) Pegu Club opened later that year, so we had an excellent choice of bars at which to meet after work and bend our elbows.
It was at Flatiron that I first fell deeply in love with a cocktail. That drink was the Sidecar. It quickly became one of my favorite drinks, and I believe it’s a perfect starter cocktail, both to order out and to make at home. Here’s why:
- When made right, it’s delicious, absolutely yummy, and one of the finest drinks ever invented.
- It’s a great introduction to cocktail theory, or the art of balancing the booziness, sweetness, and tartness of a cocktail. A good cocktail is an aperitif, an eye-opener. It eases you out of the stresses of the day and prepares the mind and appetite for a good meal. A drink that’s too boozy, too sweet, or too tart dulls the palate. Where the right balance lies varies from drinker to drinker, though. Some like a tarter Sidecar than others. You’ll figure it out.
- It’s easy to make right, unless you’re a cretin.
- Its ingredients (cognac, lemon juice, triple sec/Cointreau/Grand Marnier) should be available in just about every bar you’d walk into. If you’re in a bar that doesn’t have all these things, order a beer. If you’re at a bar that has cognac and triple sec, but only sour mix, order a beer. Or find another bar.
- Any good bartender should know this drink. If you have a bartender who doesn’t know this drink, you can easily walk him or her through it, unless the bartender’s a cretin.
- It belongs to a certain family of drinks that mixographer Gary Regan calls New Orleans Sours. I’ll leave aside the origin of that term, and provide you the names of the sidecar’s best-known cousins: the Margarita and the Cosmopolitan. What these drinks have in common is their basic structure: roughly 3 parts spirit, 2 parts triple sec or other orange liqueur, and 1 part citrus juice. (The Cosmo adds a hit of cranberry juice.) So once you learn the Sidecar, you’ve essentially also learned the Margarita and the Cosmo. And also the Pegu Club cocktail, the Between the Sheets, the Maiden’s Blush, and so on.
- Once you’ve learned the New Orleans Sour family, you can improvise and make your own version.
- Finally, when making a Sidecar, you can engage in a bit of theater. When you twist an orange peel to spray the oils from the peel into the drink, you can flame the twist so the oils ignite before hitting the drink. This never fails to get a response from guests, whether at a bar or at home. And it’s fun for you, the home bartender.
The Sidecar has a simple recipe; let’s look at the formula I mentioned earlier: 3 parts spirit, 2 parts triple sec or other orange liqueur, and 1 part citrus juice. You can go down-market with this, as I explained in my post about the Flea Bag Sidecar–inexpensive American brandy and basic triple sec–but I suggest you don’t. Not if you really want to love this drink.
The problem with the Flea Bag variant is that American brandy and standard triple sec are both sweeter than their French counterparts, cognac and Cointreau. To counteract that, you need to up the level of lemon juice in the drink, to balance the flavors out. Then the drink risks becoming too lemon-flavored. It wouldn’t necessarily be too tart, but it would upset the balance of orange and lemon flavors that this cocktail requires. That said, the Flea Bag variant is great if you’re skint, but otherwise, I urge you to stick with cognac and Cointreau.
Now that we’ve established the cognac, things get a little confusing. Go to a good liquor store and look at a couple of bottles. In the range that you can probably best afford, you’ll be looking at either VS or VSOP. (A good liquor store will also have an XO, or Extra Old, but if you can afford that, buy it for sipping, not for mixing.)
photograph by Jennifer Hess
What’s the difference between VS and VSOP? VS is Very Special, or barrel-aged for at least two years. VSOP is Very Superior Old Pale, or aged at least four years but often much longer. VSOP is a richer, more flavorful cognac than a VS, and thus makes a more flavorful Sidecar, but it’s also more expensive. Frankly, to start out, I’d buy a 200ml or 375ml bottle of a VS, of a known brand like Martell, Remy Martin, Courvoisier, etc.
Then play with the formula. Start with the classic–3 parts cognac, 2 parts Cointreau, and 1 part lemon juice. A “part” here is 1/2 ounce for one drink, 1 ounce if you’re mixing for two. Here’s the basic recipe:
- 1-1/2 oz. cognac
- 1 oz. Cointreau
- 1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- Orange twist, for garnish
Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.
Now you can start playing with that. If you’re a nerd like I am, you can take up the better part of an evening, watching old noir movies on the DVD player while testing Sidecar variants. The drinks writer David Embury liked his cocktails superdry and very boozy. His formula was 8 parts cognac, 2 parts lemon juice, and 1 part Cointreau. (That’s 2 oz. cognac, 1/2 oz. lemon juice, and 1/4 oz. Cointreau.) Way too medicinal and harsh for my tastes, but maybe you’ll love it!
Okay, then, have fun, and salud!
Are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat? After delays of the bad kind (an inability to find a certain rum without special-ordering it) and of the very, very good kind (more on that, I hope, on Wednesday, 9/16), I finally had the chance to run a couple of El Presidente recipes through their paces. Verdict? One recipe is excellent, and the other, not so much.
First, a reminder: the El Presidente has four ingredients–rum, curacao, dry vermouth, and grenadine. I’ve been using Martini & Rossi dry vermouth, and my grenadine is home-made. Those two ingredients are the same in both drinks. (I may in the future try a different vermouth; if so, I’ll note that in my writeup.)
Proportions will vary from drink to drink as I try various permutations.
photograph by Jennifer Hess
Let’s start with the Not So Much recipe and explain what might have gone wrong. I started here, with the classic recipe. For the rum, I used Myers Platinum, as Paul Clarke recommends in that link. It was this rum that I had to special-order. I have no idea why; every liquor store I’ve been in in Providence carries the Myers Original Dark, but not one of them carries the Platinum. I wanted the Platinum for three reasons: first, I like the way Paul describes how it tastes in the drink; second, I’m not a huge fan of Puerto Rican rums, and even less a fan of Bacardi; third, and most important, one major point of this project is to get me trying new rums.
And the Platinum is good enough for mixing, I think. Let’s back up. Myers’s Platinum Rum is a white rum (obviously–platinum should give that away), pot-distilled, aged in oak, and charcoal filtered. The aroma’s not complicated, I’d say–tones of vanilla and caramel, of course, from the oak aging, plus a hint of chocolate. The flavor’s light and crisp, without the chemical aftertaste of some white rums. Some say it’s a bit flat; I don’t agree, but then I don’t have the experience with rum tasting that others do. This is a rum for mixing, though, not a rum for sipping.
For the curacao, I went with Grand Marnier. (Yup. If you have experience with this cocktail, you’re starting to see why this version didn’t work for me.) Orange curacao is strangely hard to find around here, so I decided to grab something from my shelf rather than getting a special bottle. And I had a feeling the Grand Marnier might not work for me, but I thought I would learn something about building rum drinks by trying anyway.
At the classic proportions (2 parts rum; 1 part each of vermouth and GM; and a dash of grenadine), the drink bombs. The Grand Marnier gallops over every other ingredient. You can taste the rum, but it’s not the centerpiece that it should be. You cannot taste the other ingredients, or at least I couldn’t. A Platinum Presidente merits further exploration, but it certainly needs work.
The second version was built precisely according to Matt Robold’s comments and specs, left here in a comment:
One thing on the El Presidente.
I’ve been playing around with the recipe a bit, and I find that the orange liqueur seems to dominate the drink a tad [gee, Matt, ya think?]. My current favorite approach is:
1.5 oz gold rum (I’ve been using Mount Gay Extra Old)
.75 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz orange liqueur (using Clement Creole Shrubb)
1 tsp grenadine
I’ve even been playing around using a lemon peel twist instead of orange, which oddly enough was working beautifully last night.
Now this is a much better drink. Delicately balanced and crisp, this version lets every ingredient express itself.
A note or seven on the ingredients: Mount Gay Extra Old is a brown rum, with aromas of caramel, toffee, warm spices (cloves, allspice, nutmeg). On the palate, it’s spicy and almost peppery. A great sipping rum, this one also mixes well, as this cocktail demonstrates. Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb is among the drier of the orange liqueurs, a little more subtly orange, and generally less of a hit on the palate. There’s a reason Grand Marnier is often sipped neat after dinner: it’s so viscous and sweet that it coats the tongue and palate, easing them to sleep after a great meal. The Creole Shrubb isn’t like that; I wouldn’t say it’s an eye-opener or an aperitif, but it’s certainly peppier.
I’ll be working through other variations in the next few weeks, but it’s safe to say, Robold’s version is the one to beat.
So, I get a lot of PR pitches. Most cocktail, wine, and food bloggers do. Some of them are smartly targeted and personalized, but many of them are just kind of dumb. I opened my Gmail account one day to see an email that started “Dear Dash.” An amusing nickname, true, and I suppose that’s better than the “Dear <vname>” message I got one day. And, frankly, I can’t even begin to imagine what the PR folks for Women’s Health magazine are thinking in sending me information on dieting, women’s nutrition, and Madonna’s organic lifestyle.
Now you’ll understand why it was a delight to read a PR email that started this way:
Hope all is well. I couldn’t help but notice, from reading your blog, that you have a thing for ginger.
Pitch-perfect PR. By my rough count, there are… let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 posts that feature or mention something gingery as a drink ingredient. So thank you, Yun Yu, from Fox Greenberg Public Relations, for actually paying attention to what I do and what this blog’s about–not specifically ginger, but about creatively pairing strong flavors and fresh ingredients with spirits.
Thank you, too, for sending up a bottle of Xanté pear and cognac liqueur while all my pals were at Tales of the Cocktail. This stuff is tasty. It’s hard to balance the flavor in a product like this, to keep it from being cloying, but the distillers did a fine job on this one. Morgenthaler describes it well, in a piece where he rightly and humorously sends up its marketing (Xanté’s PR firm is great, but its marketers are insane):
The opening nose is reminiscent of pears poached in cinnamon and wine. The first sip reveals a moderate amount of heat, which dissipates quickly leaving behind an extended finish of basic sugars, pear, light caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and banana.
I find it just a little too sweet to sip neat or on the rocks, but it blends beautifully into cocktails. I think my favorite use for it is in a sidecar variation, with lime juice instead of lemon, and the triple sec reduced just a smidge.
I also find that it pairs well with rum, in an old-fashioned, with Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. In fact, the marriage of pear, vanilla, and Fee’s warm Christmas spices reminds me so much of Yuletide that I’m going to tuck some of the Xanté away for the holiday season.
Now, what’s this to do with ginger? Well, Yun, in contacting me, suggested the Xanté Ginger Martini cocktail. I know, I know, I know; I’m not crazy about the name either. A martini is strictly a drink with gin and vermouth and maybe some orange bitters. It’s not a drink with cognac liqueur and anything else. But call it what you may, it’s a damn fine drink. Here’s the recipe as Yun sent it.
Xanté Ginger Martini
- 1-1/2 ounces Xanté
- 1-1/2 ounces lemon juice
- 1 ounce simple syrup (I’d cut this back to 1/2 ounce, personally, but I was using a rich 2:1 syrup made with Turbinado sugar)
- 1 piece of fresh ginger
- 1 thin slice of fresh ginger, for garnish
In a mixing glass, muddle the ginger. Add Xanté, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and float garnish on top.
Tell you what. Not only is this a fine drink, where all of the elements play well together, but the ginger really helps to bring the pear to the fore. And as we found out last night, Spanish Marcona almonds make a perfect accompaniment to this cocktail. I almost didn’t want to have dinner.