Category Archives: Mixology Monday

MxMo: Rum

Mixology Monday logoOne recent afternoon, Mrs. Bitters and I were in our new favorite wine and spirits shop, Eno Fine Wine and Spirits on Westminster Street. While Jen shopped for that evening’s vino, I studied the spirits shelves. One thing that caught my eye was Thomas Tew Rum, distilled very near by, in Newport, RI. The distillers are also, in fact, the makers of the microbrewed Newport Storm beer.

The Mrs. and I are semi-committed locavores. When we can buy local, we do, but when we can’t, we don’t sweat it. But having just moved here, we’re sampling as much of the local produce as we can, from shellfish to meats to veggies to, yes, rum. We’re not just blindly supporting local producers, we’re just avidly curious about what’s available here.

From what I’ve read, there aren’t many U.S. distilleries producing rum right now. When you find one in your back yard, at the same time the next MxMo post is all about rum… why the hell not?

So of course we bought the Thomas Tew, fool!

Tiki, Flickr

photo by Jennifer Hess

Thomas Tew has a good story. Newport was once a major rum distiller, and the Thomas Tew cats are trying to hew closely to the traditions of the past–distilling in a pot still, naming their product for a famous pirate, that kind of thing.

So, how’s the taste? Wellllll, it needs improvement. According to the markings on my bottle, I’ve got a sample of the third barrel that Thomas Tew has produced. When I bought the rum, I asked at guy at Eno, “Have you had this? What did you think?” He said he thought the flavors were good, but the rum was a bit thin. I think that’s a valid assessment. Sipping it neat, I found a simple, tasty dark rum. I didn’t find anything “unpleasant,” as some tasters have, but I didn’t find much complexity in the rum, either. I don’t know if it’s worth going out of your way to procure a bottle, but if the distillers tweak and improve their recipes, I think they can produce a damn fine rum.

For mixing, I wound up adapting the Kona cocktail from Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. The copy I have entreats me to refrain from posting his recipe without his permission. I don’t have his permission, or that of his estate, but it doesn’t matter much because I didn’t hew to his formula that closely anyway. His recipe calls for Puerto Rican rum, lemon and lime juices, and maraschino.

I started with the Thomas Tew and the other ingredients, shook ‘em up, and tasted the results. Not quite what I wanted. I wound up adding a touch of Gosling’s Black Seal, and that was just the right thing to do.

I kinda putzed around with this recipe, so I’m not sure of my final proportions, but let’s say this:

  • 1-1/2 oz. Thomas Tew rum
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. maraschino (Luxardo, in my case)
  • 1/4 oz. Gosling’s Black Seal

Technique: Shake, strain, enjoy.

MxMo: Limit One

For this month’s Mixology Monday, I decided to highlight a cocktail called the Diamondback, which I first saw in the September/October 2007 issue of Imbibe magazine.

Our taskmaster, Rick, demands we tax our livers with drinks that “contain at least 3oz of 80-proof spirit or have less than 1/2oz of non-spiritness.” No Rick! Don’t throw me in the briar patch! Anything but the briar patch!

The recipe in Imbibe credited the Diamondback as Murray Stenson’s variant of a recipe that first appeared in the book Bottom’s Up, by Ted Saucier. Saucier’s volume calls the drink the Diamondback Lounge and credits it to the Lord Baltimore Hotel, in Baltimore, Md. The hotel itself is still around, but I see nothing about the Diamondback Lounge.

Saucier’s original calls for rye, applejack, and yellow Chartreuse. Stenson’s says rye, applejack, and green Chartreuse. (Don’t worry; I’ll list both recipes at the end.) You might see where I’m going with this. I chose bonded rye (100 proof), bonded applejack (100 proof), and green Chartreuse (110 proof).

That’s a lotta proof.

When I first mixed this drink, I realized immediately that it had a strong bite and so I understandably assumed that both the drink and the lounge were named after this charming critter:

Turns out, I was probably wrong.

As I was researching this post, I learned that an animal called the diamondback terrapin is the state reptile of Maryland. Sports fans should recognize the terrapin as the mascot of the University of Maryland, and college-journo geeks (I know you’re out there) will remember that the U of M student publication is the Diamondback. So, the real culprit for my achin’ head? This beast:

Man, I thought it was a snake fucking me up. Turns out it was a freakin’ turtle. I’m so embarrassed.

Diamondback Lounge, Bottom’s Up

  • 1 jigger rye whiskey (I used Rittenhouse bonded)
  • 1/2 jigger applejack (Laird’s bonded)
  • 1/2 jigger yellow chartreuse
  • Ice

Technique: Shake well. Serve over ice in old-fashioned glass. Decorate with sprig of fresh mint.

This is okay, although it’s a little mild, and I don’t think the mint adds anything.

Diamondback, from Imbibe

  • 1-1/2 oz. rye whiskey
  • 3/4 oz. applejack
  • 3/4 oz. green Chartreuse
  • Ice cubes
  • Garnish: Cherry

Technique: Stir ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish.

Diamondback

photo by Jennifer Hess

You’ll note from the photo above that I forgot the garnish. A cherry makes more sense to me here than mint does, anyway. This is a better drink than the version with yellow Chartreuse, since the green has more backbone and brings more botanical notes to the drink. Still, I think equal parts applejack and Chartreuse result in a drink that’s a tad too sweet for my tastes.

Hence, if you’ll forgive me…

Diamondback Terrapin

  • 1-1/2 oz. rye whiskey
  • 1 oz. applejack
  • 1/2 oz. green Chartreuse

Build in an old-fashioned glass over ice. Stir until chilled. Garnish with your own best wishes or deepest fears.

MxMo?

I have to bow out of this one, I’m afraid. Apologies and complements to Jimmy Patrick, who adulted up and chose to host this batch. Sad thing is, I knew what I wanted to do. I have the three Sazeracs at home–the baby, the 18, and the Thomas Handy. I wanted to compare them straight and in Sazeracs.

But we’ve had a busy month. In addition to the full-time day job, I’ve had two or three freelance jobs going at any time. And if that weren’t enough, we’ve been very busy trapping the nine stray cats in our backyard and getting them in to the ASPCA to be neutered. One of the nine has a broken leg and several are sick enough to need antibiotics before they can be neutered.

Our top priority right now is taking care of these cats. It’s one reason I’ve been so quiet here and it’s why Jen hasn’t been posing as frequently to Last Night’s Dinner. And last night, at the time Jen and I had planned to sit with straight rye and with Sazeracs, compare them, and take tasting notes–we were both just out of gas. And then, to spend an hour or so doing the write-up?

Sorry, kids, just not happening.

MxMo 23: Brandy

Twenty-freakin’-three? Holy crap, we’re just shy of the two-year mark! Many, many thanks to Marleigh for hosting this month’s Mixology Monday!

Brandy MxMo is a challenge. With so many fruit brandies out there, how do you choose? Aside from apple brandies, I haven’t quaffed much from the many barrels of non-grape brandies that are available. So I played it safe and chose cognac. I looked through a lot of recipes–some familiar, others new–trying to find something that excited me. I thought briefly of the Between the Sheets, since I love the rum/cognac marriage, but I figured, if I’m going familiar on the spirit, I should at least take a chance on an unfamiliar recipe.

I finally clicked over to the drinks database at Esquire magazine, selected Brandy as my main spirit, and paged through the recipes. The Brandy Daisy caught my eye. As reimagined by Dave Wondrich, it’s not quite the Daisy of yore.

Traditionally, the daisy mixes a spirit with lemon juice and some sort of sweetener. The Brandy Daisy usually calls for both grenadine and sugar, apparently, and then it’s poured over crushed ice, topped with seltzer, and decorated with fruit. Wondrich prefers the recipe of the Englishman Edward Spencer, who uses yellow Chartreuse to provide the drink’s sweet tones.

Behold.

Brandy Daisy

  • 1-1/2 oz. brandy (I used cognac)
  • 3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice

Technique: Stir well with cracked ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled Collins glass and top with a splash of chilled club soda or seltzer. Wondrich notes: “To bring this more in line with Daisy orthodoxy, half-fill a silver julep mug or stemmed wine goblet with cracked ice, pour in the ingredients, top…with a couple ounces of seltzer or club soda, and stir until the glass frosts. Decorate with sprig of mint and wheels of orange and lemon and harpoon with a straw.”

I pared it down even farther and then, to further piss off the drink gods, used a different glass! I omitted the fizz and the fruit and served it up, in a cocktail glass. Wondrich would tell me, rightly, that I made a Sidecar variant, with the Chartreuse replacing the orange liqueur.

So be it.

Lip-smacking good. Yellow Chartreuse is sweeter than its green counterpart and not quite as complex on the palate, so it’s probably the best choice for mixing with cognac. Although yellow Chartreuse can overwhelm a drink with its sweetness, I still love its undertones of honey. This drink really plays to that. The lemon cuts through the sweetness while still allowing some notes of honey to play off the herbal tones and the cognac. Mixed to spec, this is a very well-balanced drink.

Dave also mentions a version by his hero Jerry Thomas, which uses curacao and just a weeeeeee bit of rum. That sounds delightful as well. And, just for shits and giggles, let’s say you replaced the fizzy water with, oh, I dunno? A fizzy wine? I don’t know what ol’ Longbeard would say, but you could invite me over for that!

MxMo 21: Gin

mxmo ginSo, Mixology Monday hits 21 this month; instead of carrying us drunks on its own dry back, it can finally step up to the bar its own damn self and order a tipple. Don’t let us down MxMo. If you’re gonna be all about the Jager shots, I just don’t know….

Tip of the hat to Jay for hosting this month and choosing the theme.

For my part, this became another MxMo post from the Department of Fall-Back-and-Punt.

I just finished mixographer David Wondrich’s book, Imbibe!, and I found a great drink idea in there–one that combines ingredients I’ve never mixed before. I was excited to try it, but I was missing a key ingredient, Plymouth gin. Unfortunately, the liquor stores near my office were out of Plymouth and the less I can say about the liquor stores by my apartment, the better. I’ll just mention the words “bulletproof” and “partition” and let you work out the rest.

“Bushwick,” he said with a shrug, “whattaya gonna do?”

My instinct told me that my gin on hand, Tanqueray, probably wouldn’t work well in the cocktail I had in mind, so I came home to consult my cocktail books and find a Plan B. I’ve made a lot of gin recipes over the last couple of years and wanted something new.

tuxedo cat is dressed for dinnerAs I read, I heard a weird scraping sound at the back door, accompanied by a noise that sounded like mewing. We’ve been caring for some stray cats, and I was sure it was one of them, hungry and begging for kibble.

Jen came home about then and we carefully opened the door to investigate. The handsome fellow to your right had clawed a hole in the screen, climbed through, got trapped, and panicked. We let him out, spit-patched the screen with a bit of strapping tape, and brought kibble to him and his siblings.

I then started leafing through the Savoy and found the perfect solution:

Tuxedo Cocktail (No. 2)

  • 1 Dash Maraschino. [for two cocktails, I used 1/4 tsp. Luxardo]
  • 1 Dash Absinthe. [1/4 tsp. Lucid]
  • 2 Dashes Orange Bitters. [4 dashes Regan's]
  • 1/2 Dry Gin. [3 oz. Tanqueray]
  • 1/2 French Vermouth. [3 oz. Noilly-Prat]

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Add a cherry. [I skipped the cherry.] Squeeze lemon peel on top.

Sometimes inspiration scratches at your back door.

MxMo XIX Sparkles

Apologies for posting on the quick this time–the day job’s crunch period is whipping my ass, and on top of that, Jen and I are prepping for a cocktail party (more on that, I hope, next week, if I live through it). This month’s theme is fizzy drinks, hosted by Cocktailnerd.

This is based on a drink first served us over a year ago at Flatiron Lounge. Jen requested a Seelbach, but we couldn’t remember the precise recipe offhand. The bartender took what ingredients we could remember, thought for a moment, and offered her take on it. You’ll note it’s basically a Red Hook but with added bubbly.

I wish I could say I used Red Hook Rye for this, but it’s still a bit out of my budget. This version uses bonded Rittenhouse. Note, too, that I used Carpano Antica instead of Punt e Mes. Chalk that up to how busy we are. Neither of us had time to get to a shop with Punt e Mes, so I used what was on-hand.

Red Hook Fizz

  • 2 oz. rye whiskey
  • 1/2 oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. Luxardo maraschino

Technique: Shake over ice, strain into an ice-filled glass, and top with fizz.

MxMo: Hair of the devil

mxmo18-orangeIt’s fitting that this month’s MxMo should be about orange. Some of the first mixed drinks I ever quaffed had orange juice as an ingredient. In fact, I’ll let you in on an embarrassing secret, one that will no doubt get me 86′d from any bar that any of you might happen to tend or haunt… one of those orangey drinks was <cough>fzynvl</cough>. What can I say?! I was 14!

As an adult I traded up to the screwdriver, but it wasn’t long before that just seemed boring. I mean, voddy and OJ? Let me tell ya something, buddy–that crap’s just watered-down fruit juice.

And now, unfortunately, although I love orange juice, I seldom mix with it. Mrs. Bitters is allergic, I’m afraid. She can have neither orange nor grapefruit. Luckily, other citrus is clear, and that’s a good thing because without lemon or lime at my disposal, I wouldn’t bother with this site.

But that brings us to today’s MxMo, hosted by the zodiacal intoxicant herself, Gwen. The theme, orange.
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MxMo 17: Aw, shucks…

mxmo17-blog loveI am aching with envy that so many of our fellow drinks nerds will be overheating and overimbibing in New Orleans later this week, for Tales of the Cocktail. I really can’t imagine a better way to spend a weekend. But this has just been a hard year, financially, for many reasons that I won’t elaborate on. We haven’t even seen our families this year, let alone traveled for fun. We’re hoping 2008 will be a better year, in that regard.

But staying at home is even harder for me since I really just genuinely like so many of the cocktail bloggers. We really seem to have carved out a very open subculture. I think it’s just the spirit of the bar, and don’t mind the pun. Belly up, and someone you’d snub on the subway is suddenly your drinking buddy.

It’s easy for me, then, to get into the mood of this month’s MxMo. Our host, Paul, asks, “Why’d you start crossing your cocktail shaker with your keyboard?” That’s a very good question. I post more sporadically than I’d like to, so I often ask myself how committed I am, and what I’m doing this for.

My wife, Jennifer, and I try to eat thoughtfully. We shop at farmers’ markets for seasonal, local ingredients; we love free-range, grass-fed meat and poultry; and we eat sustainable, low-mercury seafood. We also keep a garden of veggies and herbs, some of which wind up muddled in my mixing glass. Jen has a food blog, so beyond providing the context for our drinks, I’ll not belabor this point; if you want to know more about our eats, go see Jen.

We like to drink thoughtfully, as well. No, wait… we love to drink, just as we love to eat. Thoughtfully. We could hammer back Wendy’s cheeseburgers in the same way we could hammer back cosmos and cheap margaritas–but who wants that?

Loving something, especially food and drink, really means knowing that thing, so we put as much care into drink as we do into food. Jen’s thing is food; mine is drink.

So a few years ago, I decided to learn as much as I could about spirits and cocktails. To that end, I started reading a few cocktail blogs. I tested recipes from those blogs and slowly started buying up the books those bloggers recommended. After trying some classics (martinis, Manhattans, Aviations, etc.), I wanted to branch out. One of the first big challenges I tried was the Police Gazette cocktail, which Paul Clarke wrote about in June 2005, well before I even started blogging.

The Police Gazette comes to us via Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail, by William Grimes. Here’s the recipe, as Paul recounts it:

Police Gazette Cocktail

  • 3 ounces whiskey
  • 2 dashes French vermouth
  • 3 dashes simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters (Paul notes that “Fee Bros. Old-Fashioned Aromatic Bitters lend a nice, spicy touch to this drink”)
  • 2 dashes curacao
  • 2 dashes maraschino liqueur

Technique: Stir with ice & strain into cocktail glass; garnish with a cherry.

Boy, I can’t recall what whiskey I originally used for this drink, but I do know that I used some generic triple sec, in place of curacao, and Stock for the maraschino.

Tonight, however, I went a little higher scale in re-creating this drink. I used the Grimes proportions but better ingredients. I still don’t have a good curacao at home, but I do have Grand Marnier. I’ve also tossed over the Stock maraschino in favor of Luxardo (more on this at a later date). Finally, I now have both the Fee’s Old Fashioned Bitters and the Fee’s Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned. (Goddamn if that barrel-aged ain’t great.)

Also, although I’m usually fairly cavalier as to what constitutes a “dash,” in this case I knew I needed more precision since so many of the ingredients called for dashes. There’s no sense having a heavy dash for one ingredient and a light dash for another. So I adopted a convention where one dash equals one eighths teaspoon, so that two dashes could easily and consistently be one quarter teaspoon.

So, since I’ve already kept you too long, lemme give you my proportions for two drinks’ worth of the Police Gazette:

Police Gazette Cocktail

makes two drinks

  • 6 oz. whiskey (I used Rittenhouse bonded rye)
  • 1/2 t. French vermouth
  • 3/4 t. simple syrup
  • 1/2 t. Fee’s Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned Bitters
  • 1/2 t. Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 t. Luxardo Maraschino

Technique: Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. I had no cherries, so I didn’t garnish.

This is a drink of spice and flavor, especially if you’re using good ingredients. I wouldn’t mix this often, simply because it’s too much precise measuring, but it’s great to have every so often, on those days when you really crave taking however long it takes to make something out of the ordinary.

MxMo: Not really

I really wanted to participate in this month’s Mixology Monday, but sometimes life just gets in the way of your plans, y’know?

We have a couple of stray cats who frequent our backyard. A few months ago, one of them done got herself knocked up. She delivered her babies at the end of April, and after eight weeks, they started moving to solid food. This was the ideal time to adopt them out.

Homeless kittens in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is just one of those great human-interest stories that no one can pass up, and so, to our surprise, we found shout-outs on New York magazine’s Intelligencer blog and Gothamist.

So that was my weekend. I might have, otherwise, sourced recipes, histories, and ingredients for Mixology Monday, but instead I rescued kittens from a neighbor’s yard (with the neighbor’s permission) and helped the babies get into new families.

They’re all adopted now, and we’re working on getting the mama cat into a safe home. The full story, with photos, is on my wife’s Flickr stream, if you’re interested.

For actual cocktail goodness, however, click over to Morsels & Musings for this month’s MxMo. I promise my next post will have fewer kittens and more cocktails.