Category Archives: Mixology Monday

MxMo updates

I’ve missed posting in the last couple of Mixology Mondays, mostly owing to my own incompetance, but I do want to take the time to announce the following two MxMo’s.

MxMo ExoticOctober 16 brings MxMo 8, on the theme of exotic drinks. Meeta’s hosting it, over at What’s For Lunch, Honey. Break out your tiki mugs, deck out your living room with palm fronds, get some Don Ho for your hi-fi, and check in with Meeta when you’re done. It’s summer in October!

MxMo BittersMixology Monday 9 takes place November 13, with the theme of bitters. Hosted in this space, appropriately enough, it’ll give you a chance to talk about, well, anything bitters related. Go crazy. Do you have a batch of homemade bitters brewing up on your back bar? Have you been experimenting with Aperol or Cynar? Fees or Underberg? The bitters can be your main ingredient or a highlight.

These things always sneak up on me, so I’ll be sure to post a reminder here a week before my MxMo.

NoMo MxMo?

I didn’t quite get my act together in time for this edition of Mixology Monday. I actually have a drink recipe in mind that I tested out in a small shot-sized batch last night, but there’s a certain ingredient I need to procure more of before I can mix up full glasses.

I’ll probably just post it later this week.

MxMo: Limon

MxMo LimonHey! It’s time for MxMo V: The One With the Whales, this month hosted by hosted by Jonathan at Jiggle the Handle. So grab a bowl of lemons, tart yourself up, and strap in: Look at the lemons/See how they juice for you/And everything you do/Yeah they were all yellow…

Twelve, on FlickrHaving become an avid reader of the Fine Spirits and Cocktails forum on eGullet, I came across a thread recently about limoncello. Forum reg. Katie Loeb posted to the thread, describing the techniques involved, and I started jonesin’ to make my own. But when I first saw the thread, Jen and I were in the midst of planning our cocktail party, coming up with the menu, and gathering the various spirits and other ingredients.

Finally, I came home with a dozen lemons and a bottle of high-proof Stoli. Coincidentally, the same day I brought home the stuff, I got the latest issue of Imbibe magazine, which had a photo essay (with text by Paul Clarke), showing how to make limoncello.

With two good sources in front of me, I broke out the Microplane, zested the hell outta a dozen lemons (and one lime), and soaked the gratings in the rocket-fuel voddy.

Twelve, on Flickr

And, hooboy, did it ever smell like rocket fuel in those first few days! I steeped it for about 20 days before straining it, adding more vodka, and pouring in some simple syrup. I let that sit for another week–some of it in a nice bottle and some back in the original jar.

Sunday, I finally uncorked the bottle and had a taste. Strong vodka in the nose as I sniffed a snifter of warm limoncello, but not so much vodka on the tongue. When we had it chilled later that evening, we neither smelled nor tasted vodka.

I mixed two cocktails with the limoncello. The first was a Sidecar/sour variation, which I’m calling a Lemon Cart.

Lemon Cart

  • 1½ oz. cognac
  • 1 oz. limoncello
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Technique: Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Add garnish.

I think Jen liked this more than I did. I thought it was perhaps a bit sweet. I thought about adding a dash of Regan’s orange bitters to spice it up a bit. Next time…

Twelve, on Flickr
Despite the hot weather, I was also grilling Sunday, so we were outside and needed refreshment. So for my next trick, I tried a Lemon Cooler.

Lemon Cooler

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 2 oz. limoncello
  • juice of half a lime
  • Lime wedge, for garnish

Technique: Build in a tall glass. Stir, top off with tonic water, and add garnish.

Our final limoncello test was old-school: straight and chilled. Well, not quite straight. Our freezer is packed full of food and ice trays, so there’s no real room, alas, to store a bottle of limoncello–not even a small bottle. I served it on the rocks, using the nice chunky ice cubes you can get with those silicone trays. I’d still love to try it straight from the freezer.

MxMo: Apéritif

MxMo AperitifStimulate your palate with some fun apéritifs, courtesy of the fourth Mixology Monday (hosted this go-around by Jimmy Patrick of jimmy’s cocktail hour).

Jen and I wanted to try something a little different this time. Since we so often get apéritifs along with appetizers when we’re out a good restaurant, we talked about doing some food pairings. We talked for a couple of weeks about what we’d have and what we’d pair. I knew, for example, that I wanted to try Cynar (having previously only had it in Audrey Saunders’ Little Italy cocktail at Pegu Club), so we took our cues either from what I wanted to mix with or from what she was eager to cook.

I would then write up the boozy stuff for this site and MxMo, and she’d blog the foodie bits over at the food blog Gastronome. So there you go.

Now on to the pairings. (All photography by Jennifer Hess. You can view full-sized versions of these pictures, and others, in Jen’s photostream at Flickr, or you can read her writeup of the foodie stuff at Gastronome.)

First up, the Adonis cocktail with figs, stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in serrano ham, and roasted in the toaster oven. Jen requested sherry, since it’s a classic pairing with figs and blue cheese, so I consulted my oracles to find a good sherry-based quaff. Difford’s Guide to Cocktails provided several options, and from them I chose the Adonis, a simple mix of sherry, vermouth, and orange bitters.

MxMo AperitifAdonis

  • 2 oz. dry sherry (Difford calls for Fino; we used Manzanilla)
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 3 dashes orange bitters (I used Fee)
  • Orange twist, for garnish

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange twist.

cynar and chokesThat’s a good drink. I was surprised by its smokiness, though. Sherry never strikes me as being smoky on its own, but somehow with the vermouth and orange bitters, the drink was smoky, like a scotch cocktail. Strange, but a nice example of the alchemy that occurs in a cocktail glass.

Our second pairing was artichoke-a-riffic: artichoke hearts topped with crabmeat and roasted in the toaster oven. The pairing for that was simple: Cynar on the rocks with a slice of lemon. We both found the Cynar a little sweet on its own, so perhaps we’ll shake it into a drink next time.

Our final pairing was another cocktail, but it requires explanation. …

The night after our cocktail party, we went to Dressler, a new restaurant in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We’d been to Dressler once before–on its opening night, we sat at the bar, and ate while talking drinks and barmanship with the friendly bartender. On our second visit, we had a different bartender, but he was every bit as personable as the first guy had been.

So we sat at Jim’s bar and ordered drinks and food. After pouring us each a couple of fine drinks, he started prepping something interesting. I saw bourbon and bitters and something else I didn’t quite make out. Then he did something strange. He strained that in a flute and topped it with champagne! And as Jen and I looked at each other and remarked on how intriguing that was, he set it down in front of Jen! “Try this, on the house. It’s a Seelbach, I think you’ll enjoy it.”

Jim’s a mensch, and a damn good bartender. We did indeed enjoy it, and when Jen requested it to pair with duck rillettes, I knew yet again how smart my wife really is. The smoky bourbon and the champagne cut right through the fattiness of the duck. (The rillettes, by the way, were my concoction, from duck confit that I made in early spring.)

Seelbach cocktailSeelbach Cocktail

  • 7 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 oz. bourbon
  • ½ oz. triple sec
  • 5 oz. chilled champagne

Technique: Rinse champagne flute with both kinds of bitters. Pour out most of the bitters, leaving a small amount in the bottom of the glass. Shake bourbon and triple sec over ice, and strain into flute. Top with champagne.

(The recipes I’ve seen for this call for shaking the bitters with the bourbon and triple sec. But Jim at Dressler rinsed the glass with them, and after mixing this once at home, I see why: the bitters overwhelm the cocktail if they remain fully in the drink. Either rinse the glass or shake the bitters, but cut back on the quantity.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, these were indeed apéritifs. Even with all that food, we still managed to eat grass-fed tenderloins and a salad for dinner, with a nice Chianti Classico.

MxMo: Mintology Monday

MxMo MintThe third MixMo challenge concerns mint (many thanks to Rick for hosting), which is lucky for me because it grows in abundance in our backyard garden. But I had to think for a while before deciding what to make. At first, I thought to perhaps do something with crème de menthe, but neither of us really likes it, so that was out.

I wanted to use the opportunity to try something new, or to vary an old recipe, rather than going boring and doing an unaltered stand-by such as a julep or a smash. But then Jen said, “Hey, didja think about doing an infusion?” (I’ve often talked about doing one but never gotten around to it.) With that good suggestion, I hit the ground running.

Backyard mintSo I headed out back and snipped off several mint leaves. I brought them inside, washed and dried them thoroughly, put them into a mason jar, and poured Very Old Barton bourbon over the leaves. I let it steep for three days, sampling it each evening, before finally removing the leaves. I used the minty VOB as the base for a simple, minty old-fashioned: bourbon, sugar, and bitters over ice, garnished with mint. It was nice, but not really that dissimilar from a julep.

Minty Old FashionedAs an unrelated “project,” I hit Google to find some good non-Negroni recipes that called for gin and Campari. I wanted a new (to us) recipe using Campari since although we both like Negronis, we wanted to try something different. In the midst of searching, I came across a review of a California restaurant called Cascal. The comments on the review included this intriguing quote:

Went here last night on a friends recommendation. Started with the La Gitana cocktail (gin, campari, mint, lemon and lime juice) which was good but awfully small for $8.

Those ingredients intrigued me, but I was on my own to determine proportions and preparation techniques. I hit up Google for more information but found nothing. If anyone’s encountered this drink before, please tell me. So one night last week, I experimented. I muddled mint leaves in a mixing glass with sugar and added equal parts gin and Campari, and a half-part each of lemon and lime juices (in other words, the combined citrus juices totaled one part–to balance the gin and Campari). The resulting cocktail was satisfying, but possibly too minty and sweet.

La GitanaSunday night, I tried again. This time, I kept the liquid proportions the same but I reduced the sugar and I didn’t muddle the mint. The mint still released its oils during shaking, thus flavoring the drink, but it was a subtler component of the cocktail. The result is a complex, well-balanced drink. What’s funny about it is that the Campari lays low while you sip, waiting until the finish to really kick your teeth.

La Gitana

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. sugar (I used turbinado)
  • 4 mint leaves

Shake all ingredients over ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. You can fine-strain to filter out the bits of mint leaves, or you can keep them in like I did and leave out a garnish. (I think they’re pretty, but they’re not to everyone’s tastes.)

This will sound strange, but I must confess to disliking the name “Gitana.” It’s the Spanish feminine form of “gypsy,” and it’s just a bit, I dunno, kitsch for my tastes, calling to mind gypsy stereotypes. But I don’t know when a drink becomes “yours” enough that you can rename it, so here I’ll just call it Gitana.

MxMo Roundup

Paul, at Cocktail Chronicles, posted a good roundup of the first Mixology Monday event. The other entries are all well worth reading, so if you’re interested, you won’t waste a minute of your time.

Rick, from Kaiser Penguin, commented here that he tried the Dempsey cocktail, after reading my post. He judged it syrupy, which is a good observation. I think a little citrus and possibly some bitters might help balance the flavors, but then it probably wouldn’t be a Dempsey anymore.

Mixology Monday: Pastis

Mixology Monday: PastisThe first Mixology Monday is upon us, and the theme is pastis. I’d never worked with pastis, but it’s an ingredient I wanted to learn about and experiment with, so I looked forward to this challenge.

Or, rather, challenges, because the first question is, what do you buy? I don’t know from pastis at all. I’ve sampled ouzo and real absinthe, but I’d never purchased any of the anise-liqueur family, so I didn’t know what was good or what to look for. I still will need to play around with this liqueur category before I feel comfortable with it.

There’s a saying that the French keep the best pastis for themselves; when you consider that the best-known pastis bottlings in the U.S. are Ricard and Pernod, neither of which are particulary loved by connoisseurs, you might have to admit that the old saying is true.

Jean Luc PicardSo, what do you look for? Luckily, we shop at the best liquor store in New York City and I trusted LeNell to help me out. She doesn’t even seem to carry Picard or Renault—excuse me, Ricard or Pernod—or at least, I never found them on her shelves. Among the brands she does stock, however, is Charbay, from California’s Napa Valley. LeNell explained that Charbay produces her favorite pastis; since it contains nothing artificial, the flavors are cleaner. A blog for French expats in California, Silicon Valley frogs, called it “un pastis entièrement naturel et sans colorant.”

Charbay pastisSo we brought home the Charbay, in part, I must say, because Jen loved the bottle. One fun thing about purchasing wines and spirits is that among the wide range of bottle designs, you’re sure to find a few to collect to display or to use as bottles to bring water to the table when you have guests. So, hell, why not consider aesthetics when you’re making your decision? Engage all your senses, dammit!

So we got it home. I poured a little into a glass and we had a sip. (Actually, Jen just sniffed it.) Strong! The flavors of the botanicals were really overpowering, and the pastis alone was also very sweet. This needed cutting, so it was time for mixing up some drinks. I had done a little research beforehand, and I found a few classic French drinks using pastis; I wanted to try three: la tomate, le perroquet, and la feuille morte. I made up some mint syrup and away we went.

The first concoction was la tomate: 1 part pastis, 1/2 part grenadine syrup, and 5 parts water. I mixed up two of these and brought them over. The water and grenadine cut the stronger flavors of the pastis, and yet the pastis still predominated. The amount of water in the drink made it really refreshing and hydrating with a touch of flavor from the other ingredients. Great for a hot day outside, after work, maybe served with a little ice to chill it.

Next up was le perroquet, sort of. My mint syrup wasn’t really green, and the pastis was colorless. The perroquet is supposed to be green, like a parakeet (hence the name), but the mint and pastis mixture was clear, so we skipped it, and I skipped ahead to la feuille morte—that’s 1 part pastis, 1/2 part grenadine, 1/2 part mint syrup, and 5 parts water. The color should approximate that of a dead leaf—again, hence the name. But again, because my mint syrup was so pale, the drink was just red like the tomate.

The mint added complexity. We both felt that although the tomate was refreshing it was ultimately a little dull. The feuille morte was better, but still not quite what we’re used to drinking. I still think this will be a good drink on a hot day, but otherwise, it didn’t send me.

Dempsey cocktailBy this time, we were up for serious drinking. The alcohol in the previous drinks was so diluted by water that we felt no buzz. Cocktails are about flavor as much as alcohol, of course, but don’t kid yourself. Cocktails are also about buzz. We needed buzz.

Difford’s Guide had a cocktail called the Dempsey: gin, Calvados, pastis, and grenadine. The apple and gin seemed like they’d contribute the complexity and balance that the earlier drinks lacked. So I mixed a couple up. Jen liked it quite a bit—the layers of flavor really appealed to her. I still thought it too sweet.

This was fun. I got a little tired of the anisey flavor after a while, but I still like the stuff. It’s just something I’ll have to drink in small quantities and not very frequently. I am, though, looking forward to experimenting further.