Category Archives: Mixology

Mixology Monday: A Simple Twist of Great

mxmologoOkay, kiddos, it’s that time of the month again! Mixology Monday! This month’s theme is a pip, Superior Twists. Our host this month is Tristan Stephenson of the Wild Drink Blog. The remit is simple:

This month’s Mixology Monday is all about twists on classic cocktails, that for one reason or another do an even better job than the drinks upon which they are based.

This could be as simple as a classic Margarita with a dash with a special touch that completes it, or maybe as complicated as a deconstructed Hemingway Daiquiri with a homemade rum foam/caviar/jus/trifle. It might be taking a classic like a Manhattan and using Tequila instead of Bourbon?

In that spirit (ho ho!), I’m offering up the Ruirita, a rhubarby twist on the Margarita. First, lemme give you fools the recipe, and then I’ll tell you how I came up with it and which unsuspecting dolts I thieved my ideas from. So!

Ruirita

  • 2 oz. tequila, blanco (make sure it’s 100% agave; I used Inocente–why? because I had a free sample and the bottle’s sexy, but also because it’s a good tequila)
  • ½ oz. Cynar
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup
  • 3 dashes Fee’s Rhubarb bitters
  • 2 drops orange flower water, to rinse glass

Shake over ice. Rinse chilled glass with orange flower water. Pour the flower water into the sink, and fill glass with love.

Smile.

Now, I had been thinking about this drink over the weekend, trying to decide what I wanted to do. I remembered the rhubarb bitters Jen bought me a few months ago, and how I hadn’t really used them much. I then started thinking how I’d like to try them with tequila. Off to Google!

I didn’t find many rhubarb/tequila pairings, but the first thing I found was from Jacob Grier, who put up a drink with tequila, port, rhubarb bitters, and Benedictine. That sounded fabulous, JG, but wasn’t the way I was headed. (Jake revisited the tequila/rhubarb bitters idea in his post for this very MxMo, so be sure to check it out on Jacob’s site. Again, we’re headed in different directions, but he’s done a man’s job with his drink.)

However, Jacob did point me in another direction that I wanted to explore–Cynar artichoke bitter liqueur. Yes, artichoke and rhubarb. Jacob’s post mentions a drink that Robert Simonson discussed last year. Robert’s quaff inspired me to try Cynar and rhubarb, but it was my own warped psyche that led to the tequila, rhubarb, and artichoke delight. Jen and I love Cynar, and I don’t think I make enough opportunities to play with it.

The final element that I cribbed from another blogger was the orange flower water. A post on Kaiser Penguin has a drink with a glass rinse of the rhubarb bitters and the flower water. I wanted the orange to hint of the orange liqueur you normally find in a margarita, but orange flower water can quickly overpower a drink, so I chose the rinse. Rinses tend to engage the nose more so than the taste buds, so that seemed the way to go. However, I wanted the rhubarb bitters incorporated into the flavor of the drink, so I didn’t use them in the rinse.

So, I built the Ruirita in a mixing glass, stirring and tasting. I added the tequila, Cynar, lime, and bitters first, not wanting to deviate far from a traditional margarita. But Cynar’s more bitter than a Cointreau or another triple sec, so I needed a bit of sweetness. I didn’t want to add another liqueur–frankly, with tequila, Cynar, rhubarb, lime, and orange, there’s already enough going on with the drink’s flavor. So I added a touch of simple syrup, to provide neutral sweetening.

What resulted was a pretty damn good drink, I thought. Well balanced and complex, but not confused. The flavors melded very well. Jen was surprised, in fact, and wondered what demon had infested my soul to suggest this particular combo of ingredients. (That’s exactly the way she put it, by the way: “Man! What demon haunteth thou so that you blendeth these ingredients in yon tail of the cock! I shalt call upon the church for an exorci— Hey, this is pretty good. Wow.”)

So, try it please, and let me know what the hell you think.

(Photograph by Jennifer Hess.)

The Dave Initiative

For a couple of years now, I’ve had a subscription to Esquire magazine. I don’t have much use for a lot of the stuff in there. The celebrity profiles are often silly (April’s is by a writer who “prepared” for his Ben Affleck interview by going on a four-day bender in Vegas, trying, I suppose, to out-man’s-man the man’s man he was interviewing). I don’t share Barry Sonnenfeld’s gadget fetish. And who can afford a $9,700 watch, anyway? Probably no one I want to know.

But the one can’t-miss feature every month is Dave Wondrich’s booze column. I usually read that as soon as my issue arrives each month. And the April column’s a beaut. Dave shares with us a formula for creating new cocktails. (It doesn’t seem to be on the Esquire site yet; when I see it, I’ll edit this post and link out to it.) I’ve now mixed up three different drinks with it, and I have to say, it’s a keeper. Here’s the idea: you start with your base spirit: gin, whiskey, rum, tequila, whatever you want. Add fortified wine (port, sherry, vermouth, you name it) and a splash of liqueur. Top with two dashes of the bitters of your choice. Here’s the basic recipe.

The Basic Cocktail

  • 2 oz. spirit
  • 1 oz. fortified wine
  • 1 tsp. liqueur
  • 2 dashes bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

DSC08492As I said, I’ve done three drinks with this already. The first drink I’m not sharing here, not yet anyway. It’s a gin drink, and I want to enter it into competition at the Mixoloseum‘s Beefeater edition of Thursday Drink Night, on March 26. I’ll post the recipe after that evening. The second attempt featured Kilo Kai rum as the base, and I used Wondrich’s exact proportions.

Bitter Regret

Stir and strain. Photo, at right, by Jennifer Hess.

This was a delicious drink. Enough body from the port to match the spice in the rum, and the cherry flavor was really subtle. Tasty, tasty stuff. The next drink, however. Enh.

Not Quite Right

  • 2 oz. Inocente tequila
  • 1 oz. Martini & Rossi bianco vermouth
  • 1 tsp. St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

This drink was too sweet as formulated. I think the bianco’s just too much for the tequila in these proportions. Worse, though, is that the St.-Germain just disappeared in it. I added a touch more tequila, and it balanced out well with the vermouth, but I think I need a drier vermouth for this and perhaps a little more St.-Germain. Still, though, this has potential. I’ll have to work on it further.

Overall, this was a fun experiment with a versatile basic recipe. I’m eager to try more combinations out and report back to you. I already have some ideas in mind for bourbon or rye, and I’d love to play with a smoky scotch in this.

Recipes for Jen’s Dish

For those who heard me on Jen’s Dish, and for those who did not, here are the recipes I talked about on her program.

Whiskey Rebellion

Drink #1 comes from Portland (OR) bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler.  Jeff volunteered this recipe when I asked for bourbon-based drinks involving maple syrup. I tried it at home and loved it. The best thing is, it perfectly bookends the Savoy drink that follows. Jeff demonstrates that you needn’t bury your ass in the past and you needn’t follow the modern trend of infused vodkas to make an excellent drink.

Whiskey Rebellion

  • 2 oz. pecan-infused bourbon (I used Wild Turkey 101)
  • 1/2 oz. maple syrup
  • 3/4 oz. fig jam
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 dashes of bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Apple Jack Rabbit

The second cocktail is adapted from the Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock. Craddock was an American disgusted by Prohibition; he grabbed the first boat out for England, and settled in to the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London.

These proportions are based on Erik Ellestad’s, at Underhill Lounge. Erik’s working his way through the Savoy book, and he’s having a great time with it. Erik found Harry’s proportions to be a little sweet, and I agree, so I’m going with Erik’s recipe.

The one thing to note is that Erik used the Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, which I can’t find in Rhode Island. I used Laird’s Applejack, which is a blend of apple brandy and neutral grain spirits. The Bonded Apple Brandy has nothing in it but the brandy. The blended, since it also has grain spirits, is less appley than the bonded. I’d rather have the bonded, but I’ll take the blended when I have to.

Apple Jack Rabbit

  • 1-1/2 oz. Laird’s Applejack
  • 1 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. maple syrup
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

MxMo: Cocktail Virgin

Hey! The awesome ladies of LUPEC Boston are hosting this month’s edition of Mixology Monday, and it’s a subject that I feel kinda warm-and-fuzzy about. Pink Lady posts about a random encounter she had with a Christian-rock musician who had never had a cocktail but wanted to try one, and she wasn’t sure what to recommend. Funny. I used to be a born-again Christian. I don’t remember any of my Christian friends drinking anything stronger than beer or Communion wine. If today’s Christians are looser, I’m cool.

I remember the day I decided to start trying mixed drinks. It was my last day on the job at Pearson Education in Indianapolis, where I copy-edited computer books. I was leaving for Bloomington, 50 miles south, for a master’s program in library and information science. To celebrate my last day, I met up with a bunch of friends for dinner and lots of drinks.

Up to this point, I drank mostly beer and some bourbon, on the rocks or neat. In a weird little emo stage after “breaking up” with a girl I had hardly dated, I chose to drink as much vodka as I could before passing out. I think I had a third of a bottle. Ironically, I had, by this point, turned my back to a moonlighting stint at a liquor store and had never really tucked into the offerings on hand. I was intimidated by all the choices. The big plastic bottles scared me, but the other options frightened me even more. I didn’t know where to begin.

So, my final day of work arrived. I pulled into Buffalo Wild Wings (classy, that’s me) early and awaited my friends. I decided to get brave, to venture into a new frontier of drinking–the mixed drink. The <gasp> cocktail. I wracked my brain trying to decide what to order. Beer with the wings, of course, but what to start with? I’ll ease the suspense. My answer? Gin and tonic.

That, my friends, was my gateway drug into this delightful hobby. (How I got from gin and tonic to Tales of the Cocktail is another post.) That’s the mixed drink that popped my cocktail cherry. What popped yours? (Comment below. Don’t be ashamed.)

In that spirit, I wanted to propose a gin-based fizzy drink. You might recall, from such classic episodes as Guilty Pleasures, that my first drunk drink drunk was at a cousin’s wedding, when I was 14 and drinking a gin-and-Sprite Tom Collins. So I have no qualms about holding gin up as a cherry popper. If I can do it, anyone can.

Shut up and give us a drink, you holler? Okay, dammit. Serve this to your cocktail virgins.

Hail Mary Fizz

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Grand Marnier (Cointreau, triple sec, whatever)
  • 1/2 oz. Meyer lemon juice

Shake over ice. Strain into a highball glass. Top with fizzy water–tonic, soda, whatever. I sprayed in some soda from my phancy phountain. Garnish with your best wishes and love.

Year Four

anniversary_graphics_a3As I noted in my previous post, last month marked the third anniversary of A Dash of Bitters. And although my wallet’s hurting a little right now, I still have every intention of keeping the blog going through the next year. I started this site as a way to simply record the new drinks I was mixing at home, and to talk a bit about what we drank when we’d go out. My goal was to use the fact that I had this blog to be an incentive to push myself to try new things, and to always stay fresh.

With that in mind, I have one big project in mind for this year, and I’m going to need your help. But first, an explanatory note. One question that cocktail novices often ask is, “Where do I begin with this hobby? There are so many brands to choose from in each category, and there are so many categories to explore!” A common bit of advice to these folks is to narrow your focus: choose a drink or a type of liquor and build from there.

Robert Hess expands on this in his Essential Bartender’s Guide:

Rather than starting with a shopping list of products to buy, why not select a cocktail you want to make. Look up the recipe for that cocktail, and pick up just the products you need for that one drink. Simple, straightforward and effective.

…[M]ake that drink over and over again. Reach a point where you really understand what each ingredient is doing to the drink, and how the way you prepare it comes into play. Play around with the recipe a little bit. Perhaps look up a few alternate recipes and see how the drink is changed.

So, that’s the plan. I want one new drink that I will play with and blog about over the course of the coming year. I might not need a whole year to do this, but we’ll see. What I want from you is, suggest the drink. I have a few ground rules, though:

  1. Rum. It must include rum. White, golden, dark, whatever. Rum’s a spirit I’m still largely ignorant of and it intimidates me a little. This project will allow me to cycle several brands of rum through the same drink so I can start to learn differences between brands. If I move on from this drink and do this a second time, that new drink will also be rum-based.
  2. The drink, obviously, should be versatile enough that it can work with more than one brand of rum. I doubt that’ll be a problem, but I suppose it could be.
  3. I’d prefer the drink to be relatively simple. I don’t mean daiquiri-simple, with rum, juice, and sugar (I’ve pretty much mastered the sour, which is what a daiquiri is), but I also don’t want a drink with something like 8 or 9 ingredients, 3 of which are various types of rum.
  4. I’m open to tiki drinks, but see point 3.

An excellent example of the type of recipe I’m looking for would be the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail, which Doug Winship wrote up last week. In fact, if the only comments on my post are the sound of chirping crickets, I might start with that drink. What I like about it is that it’s adaptable. You can try different rums in the base. You can swap out Grand Marnier for the Cointreau. If, like me, you’ve never made your own falernum, you can make some, and then judge the drink side-by-side against a version made with John Taylor’s Velvet, or another commercial product.

Please help. You know you want to.

MxMo XXXVI Hits You Where It Hurts

Happy Mixology Monday, fellow tipplers! The theme this month is Hard Drinks for Hard Times, and the host is the hard man himself, Matthew Rowley. What Matt wants to know is, has the recession affected your drinking, and if so, how? Matt, himself, has already chimed in on this problem, with a story that begins with his own recent job loss.

I understand where he’s coming from.

Y’see, in the last few months, my own working life as a freelance copy editor has dried up to nothing. When Jen and I moved to Providence in April of last year, I was very busy. So busy, in fact, that I was turning projects away and supporting both of us, while Jen searched for work in her field. I was so busy, too, that I didn’t see any reason to seek out other work, or make contingency plans in case things fell apart.

Which, of course, is just what happened. Things fell apart, and at the moment, I’m not working at all.

Fortunately, Jen’s salary is enough to cover our living expenses, so that any money I might bring in goes toward savings, travel, spendier bottles of liquor and wine, and so on.

As my workload has dwindled, our drive to the bottom of the liquor industry’s pricing structure has quickened. We’ve been rocking the Evan Williams since before Dave Wondrich sung its praises in Esquire. (At about $22 for a 1.75-liter bottle, it’s almost stupid not to buy it.) I’m feeling especially lucky in that my personal favorite martini is based on Beefeater, which we can get in 1.75L form for about $30 around here.

We’ve even lately–it is like confessing a murder–brought in boxed wines for our everyday drinking, saving our bottled-wine budget for weekends and holidays.

But enough about this–two more comments, and I’ll move forward with a drink recipe.

What Does This Mean for A Dash of Bitters?

I’m happy to announce that this month marks the third anniversary of this blog, A Dash of Bitters. Despite our recent change of fortunes, I have every desire to push on to year four, and I have plans for the next year that will stun and amaze you! I’ll even ask you to help me out with ideas for my Big Project of 2009! More on that in a week or two.

Is Dietsch Going to Tales of the Cocktail?

Less happily, my current unemployment is forcing me to reconsider my commitment to attending�Tales of the Cocktail this year. This is not an easy decision, but unless my workload rises to at least part-time levels soon, there’s no way we can save the money in the short time between now and July. Further, Jen has a newborn niece and an 88-year-old grandmother; she’s never met her niece and hasn’t seen her grandmother in three years. I have a teenaged nephew I haven’t seen since he was a pre-teen nephew. Our travel priorities for 2009 are for family, I hope you’ll understand.

If things change, I’ll be happy to let everyone know that I or we will be in New Orleans this July, but at this moment, I can’t possibly see it happening.

Onward.

We’ve been living pretty high off the product samples lately, and they’ve really helped us eke our way through some otherwise-dry patches. I thought, for this MxMo, I’d put together a drink based almost entirely on product samples.

Main ingredient, Bulleit bourbon. I love this stuff. The mashbill is such that it apparently has the highest rye content of any bourbon on the market. I love rye, so perhaps that explains why I love Bulleit so much.

Next up, Cherry Heering, followed by B&B. A little Grand Marnier, some fruit juice, and a hit of bitters. Squirt on some charged water, and that’s your thing.

The bourbon, Cherry Heering, and B&B were all product samples. I had the Grand Marnier on hand, alongside bitters and citrus.

What we’ve got here is a Singapore Sling variant, of course. I call it the Recession Special Sling, after the hot dog specials at Gray’s Papaya in New York. We both loved it. Now, finally, the recipe:

Recession Special Sling, using whatever the fuck I had on hand already

2 oz. bourbon
1/2 oz. Cherry Heering
1/4 oz. B&B
1 oz. Grand Marnier
3 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake, strain into a Collins glass, and top with club soda or charged water.�

DSC07791
photograph by Jennifer Hess.

MxMo: New Horizons

Onward, young rangers, to a new horizon! Let us strike out across this great land to explore strange new territories, seek out new life and new ci…

Uh. Oops. Heh.

The theme of the January MxMo is Change. How appropriate, right? New horizons, new ideas, change. Our challenge, from the anonymous Scribe of A Mixed Dram, is appropriate–to simply “Try something new!

Huzzah!

My choice for this challenge features the bitter liqueur Ramazzotti, an Italian tonic that you can sip as an aperitif or a digestif, or even just mix into a cocktail. Now, I’ve had the Ramazzotti on hand for a long time. I bought it in Brooklyn, back before we moved to Rhode Island. My plan was to make a small batch of Jamie Boudreau’s Amer Picon replica. Well, I’ve had the bottle for nearly a year, haven’t made the Amer Picon, and have seen Ramazzotti in local liquor stores. So what’s the point of letting this bottle languish in a box for another year?

I grabbed a copy of Robert Hess’s new book, The Essential Bartenders Guide, at Borders last week. (This is a book that’s screaming, loudly, for an editor. A full review of the book is pending.) Among the recipes in Hess’s book is the Chaplin, a mix of bourbon, sherry, Ramazzotti, Cointreau, and orange bitters. That’s what I chose to mix up tonight. The Chaplin is a good drink, well balanced but on the tart side. It’s not bitter, by any means, but it’s nothing to serve to anyone with a sweet tooth. The nuttiness of the sherry really shines. (I’m starting to really love sherry in cocktails.)

Photograph by Jennifer Hess

Chaplin

  • 3/4 oz. bourbon whiskey
  • 3/4 oz. dry sherry
  • 3/4 oz. Ramazzotti
  • 1/8 oz. Cointreau
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • lemon twist, for garnish

Technique: Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

Tawky Tawny

Yesterday morning, Jen was catching up on her blog reading and asked me, “Have you ever heard of the Ruby Rye cocktail?” I said No, and she said one of the food bloggers she reads had a drink by that name at Gramercy Tavern or someplace. All the blogger said was that the drink had port. I googled and found next to nothing. But a drink called Ruby Rye has to also have rye in it, I’d hope, so I decided to wing it.

I have a couple of bottles of Sandeman’s port that I received last month for review. I didn’t mix with them at first because I wanted to sample them on their own. Jen and I always like to have port on hand for Christmas and New Year’s, and so the arrival of the Sandeman’s was very timely.

Anyway, I didn’t get anything together in time for the Sandeman chat at Thursday Drink Night, but I wanted to mix with it, and this was a good excuse. I figured I’d make it easy on myself, because I am at heart a lazy bastard. So I went with a Manhattan variation, swapping out the port for the vermouth. It’s tasty, although I think a spicier rye might be better in it. (I used Old Overholt.)

AnonycocktailIt’s a simple recipe, and although I haven’t named it, I’ll give it to you here anyway.

The Cocktail with No Name

  • 2 oz. rye whiskey (I used Overholt)
  • 1 oz. port (Sandeman Founders Reserve)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Angostura)
  • Lemon twist, for garnish (I left that out, but I think it’s the way to go)

Technique: Stir briskly over cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

As if it matters, this photo’s actually my own. I figured I’d take a crack at the pretty picture-taking myself for once.

Happy New Year!

As promised/threatened, I made the Ford Cocktail that Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh recommended on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. Doc said to Liane Hansen that this is a drink he wants to revive in 2009 and rightfully so. It’s delicious. He describes it as lovely and beautifully balanced, and once again, the doctor’s prescription is right on the money. I’m happy to do my part.

Although the only source Haigh mentions is “an 1895 book,” I was able to uncover it with my fancy Google fu–George J. Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks.

Text not available

Modern American Drinks How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks By George J. Kappeler

Haigh modernized the measurements for Hansen as follows:

Ford Cocktail

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. dry vermouth
  • 3 dashes Benedictine
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange twist, for garnish

Technique: Stir over cracked ice in a mixing glass. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

Notes: Doc didn’t actually mention the garnish to Hansen, but since it’s in Kappeler’s, I’ve added it. You can see from Jen’s photo that I used lemon. You might recall that Jen’s allergic to orange. Finally, to address the perennial question–how much is 3 dashes of Benedictine?–I dashed the orange bitters first into my measuring cup and noted the level. I then carefully measured a roughly equal amount of Benedictine.