Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cocktail Chat | NYE 2011


It’s the day to reflect on what’s gone on over the previous 364 days. 

I can honestly say, until now I’ve never been as conscientious about maintaining a journal or log.  I suppose we can blame the liquor! 

I start every morning starts with a meditation from a fantastic little book, 365 Tao.  The meditation for today, the last day of the year and the last one in the book is entitled, oddly enough, “Continuation”.  Master Deng suggests that life is a series of cycles.  Endings are merely the lead-in to new beginnings.  Interestingly enough, Deng also suggests that the stage for any particular ending is usually set mid-cycle, long before the actual ending occurs.  Hmmm….  Things that make you go “Hmmm…”.

I’m definitely feeling this in regard to the current state of this blog.  It’s been a lot of fun and certainly a dilettante experience –  inconsistent, learning many little things about a subject but not being a master of any of it.  I’ve played with my interest in photography in a different way and (trying) to let go of the need to take every shot with my SLR and occasionally using my phone, point & click, or iPad.   And I’ve absolutely held to what I stated at the outset, that this little adventure absolutely would not be my Julie & Julia moment.  And I do feel pretty good about writing 58 entries over 8 months.  I’ve never been this consistent with a journal.  Ever. 

Diletantte Cocktailer has also brought some cool new opportunities.  First & foremost, we’ve expanded our palates beyond Ketel One martinis.  I mean it now when I say I like gin & bourbon!  We’ve added classic ingredient items to our bar that have given our offerings breadth, depth, and conversation opportunities, such as St. Germaine, Lillet, Pernod, & Chartreuse.  The cook in me sees that a cocktail recipe is no different than an entrée recipe, blending disparate ingredients to make a new, complex whole.  We learned that 2011 wasn’t the year of the pomegranate only in the grocery store as we now have two bottles of pomegranate liqueur, gifted to us from friends.  Our friends, A & R, have introduced us to The Drawing Room, an amazing restaurant cum speakeasy here in Chi.  We watched PBS’s Prohibition the old fashioned way – watching it “live” as broadcast – no TiVo  – and understood our Chicago roots in history and “The Great Experiment”.  And we learned how those bizarre and contradictory 13 years are still influencing contemporary American society.  The Partner has given me some wonderful new glassware as has his parents. And just last week for Christmas, The Partner’s mom  gave us an exciting new addition to our bar library with The PDT Cocktail Book from the St. Mark’s speakeasy.

Forty-eight down.  Two hundred twenty seven to go, huh?  That’s only 17% of H & M’s tome sampled.   Master Deng says the ending is set mid-cycle.  I feel it in this case.  For the past couple months I’ve been feeling that the blog was getting a bit stale.  I’ve been itching to use the new gifts and resources and add them to the blog.  Thus, I’m wondering, do we really need to sample every one of the 275?  Hasn’t the bible served its purpose in expanding our palates?  Is it time to move on?  

When this project first started, all we had was a dusty recipe book pulled from the back of a cabinet and boredom with our current tastes.  Now, eight months later, our cocktailing horizons have expanded.  So, I’m feeling the need to evolve Dilettante Cocktailer.  I’m not sure how that will happen or in what form it will take, but this project has led me to a number of different experiences and new resources that I’d like to explore & share.  Plus, an added benefit might just be to get The Partner to find some other way of responding besides the now classic refrain about “these classic cocktails…”.

So here’s to ending and continuation.  Starting a new cycle, the seeds of which were planted in an earlier moment. 

Here’s to 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tequila Sunrise | 48 down 227 to go




Mom & dad's pitcher, which mom said hadn't been used in decades. Glad we could dust it off for such a festive cocktail!




The eyes of several family members were peering over my shoulder on Christmas morning as I scanned the  bible snaps I brought on my iPad for Holiday festivity.  I had assumed the bar setup duties* for the day and decided that a couple cocktail pitchers would be in order.  Since this is our family, Manhattans would be one of them - served from the same pitcher my grandparents used at their parties so long ago.  The task at hand: Determine what the second pitcher would be.

My sister and I have a Christmas tradition (besides placing the Baby Jesus in the manger and wishing him a happy birthday).  We meet in the kitchen, usually after the bulk of dinner is over and toast the day & each other with a shot of tequila.  Therefore, the entire page of tequila recipes had to come with on the iPad.  The peering eyes included my sister and my Latin America-trotting aunt.  When I swiped to the tequila page and paused, a common cry came up:  “Ooo, Tequila Sunrise!  I haven’t had one of those since …”

“…college,” said sister.

“…the Sandinista revolution,” said aunt.

So Tequila Sunrise it was: a solid cocktail that holds its own either as a parallel breakfast bev to mimosas and screwdrivers or as a mid-afternoon happy hour when something warm and sunny is desired.  It certainly intrigued the rest of the family and triggered conversation of past brushes with the tipple even if they didn’t partake this time around.  And this was probably a good thing.  For unlike the Do Be Careful, do be careful here.  This is a classic proportion, remember, and on an empty stomach while putting the finishing touches on the mashed potatoes, one will absolutely rise into the warm tequila sun! 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tequila Sunrise
1 1/2 oz. tequila
2 oz. orange juice
1/4 oz. lime juice
dash genedine
Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled Collins glass filled with ice.  Garnish with lime wheel.

* Props to The Partner who did most of the bar tending for the day.  He did an awesome job!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Leap Year | 47 down 228

Merry Christmas! 

Leap Year even looks like lemon cough syrup!

The Partner & I are celebrating with my parents, sister, bro-in-law & nieces.  Not wanting to miss more blog time, I brought along some simple recipes from the bible that might make Christmas merry & bright.  Perhaps more appropriate for New Year’s than Christmas Eve, we kicked off the holiday with the Leap Year

A rather medicinal mix, highly reminiscent of a lemony cough syrup, we understand the name.  We recommend serving once every four years -- only if you must.  Here’s to something more festive and satisfying tomorrow and as the week goes on.

Leap Year
2 oz. gin
½ oz. Grand Marnier
½ oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. lemon juice
Shake over cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist or orange twist.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wild-Eyed Rose | 46 down 229 to go


‘Tis the season to be hectic…

Wow, one wouldn’t think that during the Holidays it’d be difficult to find time to throw one back.  But things have been so crazy with both mine and The Partner’s work schedules.  Plus, has anyone else noticed that there don’t seem to be as many holiday parties this year?  Guess that’s a minus, actually.  Thus, entries have been sporadic.  My instinct is to apologize to those who have asked, “Hey, are you still doing the blog?”  But I’ll fight the urge and get over the guilt I feel for not writing more consistently.  I mean, "dilettante" is right in the title, for Pete’s sake!

On to why we’re here.  Wild-Eyed Rose.  I’ve discovered there’s an unexpected quality just the right amount of grenadine imparts to a tipple.  I’d characterize it at “creaminess”, believe it or not.  Odd, I know.  But in the proper proportion, it brings a velvety smoothness with almost hints of vanilla.

“Hmmm…fruit punch!” was The Partner’s remark upon seeing this glass of red.  He sipped, seemingly approvingly, before the qualifying drone about “these classic cocktails” began.  Then he qualified it with, “…although I did just brush my teeth.”
 
At this I finally put my foot down.  As he is a bit of an oenophile, I came back, “Y’know, you would never open a bottle of nice wine, pour it into Riedel stemware, let it breathe, take your first sips and cast judgment on its ultimate quality all after you just brushed your teeth.  I think you need to start respecting the venerable cocktail in the same way.  From now on, I will refuse to serve you if you’ve just brushed your teeth!”  Oy.  Partners.

But the smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth, the glint in his eye, and the lack of protest all indicated the rightness of my reprimand.  As we neared the bottom of the glass, the lips started smacking and the glass started dancing back and forth – both signals that another round is desired.  As time was ticking on our Date Nite dinner reservation, I had him try his hand at mixing while I hopped in the shower and got ready for the night out.  Remember… the benefit of grenadine comes from just the right amount … in the proper proportion.  Still, the lovely red hue did make it a Wild-Eyedly appropriate cocktail for this festive season :-)

Wild-Eyed Rose
2 oz. Irish whiskey
1 oz. lime juice
½ oz grenadine

Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a lime squeeze and a maraschino (and do squeeze that lime for the proper balance!).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Do Be Careful | 45 down 230 to go

The name here sure makes it sound dangerous, doesn’t it?  Do Be Careful is fun to say, tasty, but ultimately, not in need of a special license to enjoy or chaperone to guard against one’s foolishness showing up naked on FaceBook.  A bright, citrusy bev that’s mediated by the dash – and I do mean dash – of grenadine, the DBC is innocuous and goes down nicely for a couple rounds.  We’ll make them again.  Moving on….
 
So, the real story this week is the cocktail vessels themselves.  Check those out!  Recently, I’ve been thinking to myself that the photos were getting a little stale.  We only have so many styles of glassware and seeing the same ones repeat over and over on the blog was getting monotonous.  Wow…is this the Dilettante or the Debutante who can’t be seen in the same outfit one cotillion to the next?  But what’s a home mixologist to do?  Do you know what quality drinkware costs???  Anyway, The Partner was apparently reading my mind.  (Honestly, I never expressed my thoughts out loud or even hinted!)  As I was about to decant the DBC’s into a set of our martini glasses, he stopped me and pushed a box across the bar.  “This is really for Christmas, but I think you might want to open it now.” 
 
Awesome.  Constantly chilled bevs that are never watered down.  Some cocktailing designer was really thinking on this one!
 
Do Be Careful
1 ½ oz. gin
¾ oz. Cointreau
¾ oz. lemon juice
1 dash grenadine

Shake with fine ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a maraschino.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bourbon Squash | 44 down 231 to go

When you’re getting ready to go out for the evening – you know, showering, primping, preening, running an iron (or a few squirts of wrinkle releaser) over your clothes, getting dressed – it always helps to have a cocktail in hand as you do it.  And while it was not my intention to make these the “hull entries” of the blog, only a page away from the Appetizer was the Bourbon Squash.  Deliciousness in a pint glass.

To be sure, one of the qualities that makes this such an all-around experience is the fact that it engages all the senses, but especially that of hearing in an unusual way.  Like some of its cousins, such as the Mint Julep, Mojito, Old Fashioned, the Squash is made directly in the glass.  The familiar, wet shlaaka- shlaaka- shlaaka of the shaker maraca is replaced by the sound of the ice shaver.  But even better, after packing the ice in the glass over the juice, syrup and hulls, you pour the bourbon over the ice.  As the liquor seeps through, the ice melts and settles making a sound that might best be described as the cocktail version of Snap, Crackle & Pop.  Yet it’s a wholly different sound.  Between the scent of the wafting citrus oils, the vibrant visuals of a divided glass with orange & yellow hulls in the lower half and the icy gravel in the upper half, then this subtle and unexpected music, this cocktail is a synesthesiac sensation.

As much as I disdain straws, definitely use one here, at least to start.  The layering makes for two distinct taste sensations with the sweet acids below and the smoky smoothness above.   The straw lets you mix the bourbon slushy into the liquid below.  As the ice melts and the flavors blend, this is one of those cocktails that’s different with every sip. If only we had discovered this one in the summer.  To June 2012!

Bourbon Squash
2 ½ oz. bourbon
1 oz. orange juice
½ oz. lemon juice
1 t. simple syrup
Squeeze the juices into a pint glass, dropping the hulls in too.  Pack glass with shaved ice.  Pour bourbon over the ice and stir.  Serve with cocktail straw.

UPDATE: Hands down, this was the favorite sipper of the summer.  We've turned many a friend on to this simple-yet-dramatic cocktail.  If you have not tried it yet, hurry, hurry, hurry.  Looking at the ingredients it seems rather wintery with the citrus & bourbon.  But it is summer through and through -- light on the palate, different with every sip, and served in a pint glass.  If you make this for friends, make it a surprise.  Don't tell them what you're making them and ask them to trust you.  The Wow! factor when served intrigues even the non-bourbon drinker.  Several friends have said to me, "I don't like bourbon, but I really like this!"  Such was the case this Labor Day weekend when we spent all Monday in S. & D.'s pool tossing back these bad boys.  D. is now a bourbon drinker...at least in it's Squash form!  

Appetizer | 43 down 232 to go

This week has been a lesson in delayed gratification.  I’ve been craving a good Old Fashioned for about a week now and was looking forward to one or two kicking off the weekend.   But last night I was forced to drive back from Springfield when my train was delayed 2 ½ hours.  I couldn’t take it, so rented a car and made it back to Chi well before the Lincoln 304 out of St. Louis.  Another job well-done, Amtrak!  But by the time I got home, having missed our late dinner reservations at Vincent, all I could handle was a hot shower, a bottle of wine, and some pizza – all of which The Partner had waiting for me.

I still want that Old Fashioned.  But since I missed posting last night, I needed to get this in before the OF.  I have to admit to being intrigued by the Appetizer.  Between the name and the ingredients, I was thinking of this cocktail like a pint of Guinness – a meal all on its own.
 
Never underestimate the power of citrus hulls to fruitify one’s cocktail without the acidic sting.   The Appetizer is a surprisingly smooth cocktail with a bright, round, fresh sweetness.  I was nervous with the Peychaud's bitters, ready for The Partner to curl his nose and wince with an “Eeew, licorice!”  But instead, I was rewarded with an “Oh, that’s nice, dear….  That’s nice!”

On to the Old Fashioned...finally!

Appetizer
2 oz. rye
3 dashes Cointreau
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 lemon hull
1 orange hull

Shake with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Vesper | 42 down 233 to go

Little did I realize when I purchased my first bottle of Lillet that this tipple would bring me back to a boyhood and indulgent adult pleasure:  James Bond.  As H & M lay out in their history, Ian Flemming describes the recipe for the Vesper in Casino Royale.  It is named for the character, Vesper Lynd, the double agent who also steals Bond’s heart.  It’s the Vesper that started the whole “shaken, not stirred” thing and was initially known as the Vesper martini.

The key to this is the Lillet, a delightful wine based aperitif with citrus & herbal fortifications that bring out a crisp, enjoyable orange flavor.  On a separate note, I’m looking forward to using this to in my own experimenting, particularly come the summer time. 

The proportions here, I will say, are not the best.  It starts very ginny and finishes like a mouthful of Bactine.  But with a few more drops of the lovely Lillet (and perhaps an ice cube for chill and light dilution), this is a wonderful cocktail.  And yes, even The Partner went back for seconds.

Vesper
2 oz. gin
1 oz. vodka
½ oz. Lillet blonde

Stir ingredients with cracked ice and serve in chilled cocktail glass; garnish with orange wheel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bianco | 41 down 234 to go

It was official this week.  We're done with warm in the Windy City.  We needed the heat on two days this week.  No matter what I did today, I was just cold.  So when it came time to start thinking about happy hour, something brown just seemed warm and comforting.  Honestly, a noggy Milk Punch was really calling my name.  But we need to push forward rather than run repeats, so the Bianco it was.

We'll file this one under Manhattan lite.  It hit the basic flavor notes, but the first few sips had that same kind of light, hollow quality you get when drinking an artificially sweetened diet beverage.  It's not a terribly rich cocktail and lacks the full mouthfeel of its more citified cousin.  I suppose this could be something one could offer a sipping partner who is dieting or generally concerned about caloric intake and spin it as a "low-cal" option.  Ha!  Which of course, it's not.  But it sure feels and tastes like one.  Gotta love that dry vermouth!

Bianco
2 oz. bourbon
1 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake with cracked ice and decant into a chilled cocktail glass, garnishing with a lemon twist.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sensation | 40 down 235 to go

We had a number of lemons on the verge and the last of the mint in our garden beckoning before the first frost.  Hence the Sensation.  This turned out to be a decent bev to use them in.  What has become the usual reaction was the same here.  Our contemporary palettes found even this limited citrus in combination with the gin a bit too acidic in the first round.  Not as bad as some, but still a bit much for what we're used to.  However, The Partner agreed to a second and I poured slightly less lemon juice in the round.  The cherry heering – sweeter than maraschino liquer -- was brightened by the gin making it a palatable sweetness.  The mint lent an aromatic quality without being toothpaste-fresh. 

Happy Birthday, Kissy!

Sensation
1 ½ oz. gin
¼ oz. maraschino liqueur
½ oz lemon juice
3 mint sprigs

Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glasses and garnish with mint.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Adelle Special & Blarney | 39 down 236

Going a little crazy this week.  Doing two at once…oooooo!  I got one, The Partner the other.  Then we swapped.

Not too sure the Adelle Special was our favorite.  Peat dominated the flavor here.   Not really a surprise given the ounce-and-a-half of scotch.  For the avid scotch drinker who’s looking for something a bit different, this could be the thing with the nearly equal part or curacao.

Given the name and ingredients, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to call the Blarney the Irish cousin to the Manhattan.  Sweet and on the thin side, this is a nice tipple when you want something with the flavor notes of a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned but not quite as heavy.  Between the two, it was the Blarney we had seconds of.  Good stuff before heading out for dinner and clubbing.

Adelle Special
1 ½ oz. scotch
1 oz. orange curacao

Stir with cracked ice; strain into chilled tumber filled with ice.  Garnish with a lemon or an orange twist.

Blarney
2 oz. Irish whiskey
1 oz. sweet vermouth

Stir with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cocktail Chat | Prohibition


Enjoying a glass of Jester shiraz while watching Ken Burns's Prohibition on PBS, underwritten (in Chicago) by Binny's .

Delicious in so many ways!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Green-Eyed Monster | 37 down 238 to go

“I'm the Green Fairy... The hills are alive, with The Sound Of Music!”

The Partner is working late again tonight.  So given his notorious dislike of all things licorice, it was an opportunity to sample a Pernod bev.  I know I’m one of only a handful of peeps who actually like – no, love – the movie, Moulin Rouge.  IMHO an entire course could and should be taught on the literary and sociological aspects of the film.  It is a film of a particular moment that was soon obliterated by 9/11.  For myself, its appeal rests in the fact that it drew together so many of my interests – framed storytelling, literary conventions galore, popular music, Broadway music, it is a musical, iconic actors who actually sang themselves -- ahem --  sans Auto-Tune -- whatever you want to say about their quality, the amazing Christine Anu as Arabia, and (...wait for it...) one of my oh-so guilty pleasures – Ms. Kylie Minogue – was the embodiment of Absinthe herself as the Green Fairy!  Could Homo ask for more?

Huh?  Oh, yes, the drink!  The Green-Eyed Monster is a mouthful o’ licorice.  The fact that it only takes a quarter ounce of Pernod makes no difference.  All the other liquid in the tipple serves only to dilute the syrupy aromaticity of the Absinthe.   If you like this kind of thing, go for it.  But this is such a strong flavor, it’s very much a one note wonder – unlike Nicole, Ewan, John, Jim, Richard, Christine, aaaand … **sigh** …  Kylie.



Green-Eyed Monster
2 oz. Irish whiskey
½ oz.sweet vermouth
¼ oz. Pernod
1 dash Angosturas

Shake with cracked ice and serve in a chilled cocktail glass with a lemon twist.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cassis | 36 down 239 to go

Meh.  That’s the most there really is to say about the Cassis.  It just seemed a generic whiskey drink….  Even after you get the proportions right.  The first round my mixing was slightly off and the ratios were out of balance.  I didn’t even finish the first round, preferring to dump it and start fresh.  Breaking out the ol’ shot glass, I measured this time around (I’ve put pourers on our liquor bottles and have taking to counting to measure.  Tom Cruise ain’t got nothin’ on me!). 
   
The second time around the effect was much lighter and brighter.  But all-in-all, it came off as a poor riff on a Manhattan, which, now that I think about it, might be why The Partner finished his first and had a second.  Though he did move on to an actual Manhattan afterwards. 
When it’s all said and done, the best thing that I can recommend for the cassis is that it gives you a reason to use your cassis.  Though I’d just assume have the champagne cocktail by the same name.

Cassis
2 oz. bourbon
½ oz. dry vermouth
¼ oz. cassis

Shake over cracked ice and serve in chilled cocktail glass garnished with a lemon twist.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Derby Fizz | 35 down 240 to go

Finally, an opportunity to draw in some of the interesting facts with which H & M pack the front of the bible.  In order to broaden the reading (and drinking!) experience, they included recipes for other drink families beyond the holy cocktail.  These include tall drinks, punches, grogs and toddies, pousse-cafés, and pick-me-ups.  H & M group fizzes and Collinses together in the tall drinks family, with the distinctions between them centering on 2 factors:  ice and, once upon a time, glassware.  Collinses have ice, fizzes do not.  If you have the bar bounty that is a diversity of glassware, Collinses should be served in a 10-14 ounce glass.  Fizzes go in something smaller than 9 ounces.

To the bev!  In appearance, a Derby Fizz has a distinctly Weiss-like appearance.  It also reminds of an old-fashioned egg cream…but with waaaay more kick!  I have to admit, the DF was a little challenging in that the egg whites and simple syrup give it a distinctly creamy, mellow aroma more akin to a milkshake or egg cream.  But the flavor has all the strength of an alcoholic beverage.  That being said, it’s not harsh or sharp but light, bright, with hints of vanilla and citrus.  Don’t think milk punch or eggnog though.   This is something very distinct.

H & M, in describing the sours category of the tall drink family, say they are closely related to the fizz.  Compare the DF recipe with a sour base: distilled spirit, sugar, lemon juice (sometimes a dash of OJ), shaken with cracked ice.  So a fizz could be a “sodaed” sour ?  Seems like.
 
With the dissonance between the nose and the flavor this fizz is an acquired taste.  But it will grow on you if you let it.   Be warned:  As with so many of the Alchemist’s cocktails, one gets your toes atinglin'.  Two and it's time for dinner!

Derby Fizz
2 oz. bourbon
½ oz. lemon juice
2 t. egg white
¼ oz curaçao
Seltzer

Shake all the ingredients, save the seltzer.  Pour into a chilled wine glass.  Top with seltzer and garnish with lemon twist.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Buster Brown | 34 down 241 to go

Anyone out there remember Buster Brown shoes?  Yes, I’m dating myself.   But my point is this.  Find yourself an old pair of Buster Browns from when you were, like, four.  Drop them in some grain alcohol with a lemon and a little sugar.  Let them hang out overnight.  For happy hour the following day, strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass and you’ll have all the pertinent flavor notes of the Buster Brown.

If ever there was a cocktail so clearly concocted for desperate Prohibitionees to get drunk off some bad, backyard hooch, this is it.  Now granted, I didn’t use Willet’s.  But frankly, I don’t know that it would have mattered and it would have been a waste of some very nice bourbon.  So luck was with us there.

The concoction was thin, sweet, and smokey with all the negative connotations of the latter.  The citrus and sugar combined to bring out more burnt char than smoke.  Not a pleasant combination.  I only made one round of this, to be fair.  Perhaps a second would have helped, as it often does.  But I was flying solo tonight and just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

As usual, the recipe follows.  Perhaps you’ll have better luck than I did and find something redeeming in this bev.   If you do, please drop a comment below.

Buster Brown
2 oz. bourbon
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ t. sugar
2 dashes orange bitters

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  A maraschino in the garnish.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bee’s Knees | 33 down 242 to go

Labor Day came to Chicago and the Universe threw a switch.  Ever since, it’s been nothing but fall weather.  When I did the food shopping Thursday, the display that greeted me upon entering the grocery store was a huge display of nothing but apple cider.  In a pique of sadness, this child of summer even posted a rather mercurial haiku-cum-status update on Skype:  “Mercury struggles. Days are shorter, sun lower --  Summer's death throes come.”

So it’s in this spirit, on a rainy Friday afternoon as the photo shows, that I felt compelled to try the Bee’s Knees -- an attempt to cling to the last echoes of the halcyon days....  A simple cocktail with the flavors and spirit of summer.  And if you need any further encouragement to try it, The Partner reports that after the Abbey, the Bee’s Knees so far is his favorite of the more traditional cocktails from the bible.  Salut!

Bee’s Knees
2 oz. gin
½ oz. lime juice
1 bar spoon of honey

Shake with cracked ice; strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a lime wheel.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Abbey | 32 down 243 to go

So there’s not much to talk about with the Abbey.  It’s the very first in the back of H & M, thus consisting of nothing but a recipe.  Looking online, there’s not much to report either, save that it seems to have been invented and was wildly popular in the 1930’s and can be found in another cocktail bible, The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Indeed, recipes I came across online are updates for modern palates, using Lillet’s & orange bitters, each of which renders a somewhat sweeter, less bitter experience than this original.

So far, it’s The Partner’s self-proclaimed favorite.  Upon reflection, he took a Goldilocks stance, describing it as not too acidic, not too sweet, but juuuust right.  In the moment after the first sip, though, he put it this way:  “MMMM!!  GIN…!  It’s not sour….   Mmm-hmm!  Very nice!”   After he finished his first (a full 3 sips ahead of me), he not-so-subtly held his empty in front of him intoning, “Yes, please. I’ll have another!”  And I didn't even get the stock lecture on "these classic cocktails".  Progress.

This is a good aperitif, with a light juniper base and orange accent.  Getting to the bottom of the glass, it does take a decidedly sweet turn as you down the cherry-infused liquid from the maraschino garnish.  In an odd example of role-reversal, I had to stop at two while The Partner could’ve gone for a third.  Between the sweet last sips and the OJ, it was becoming a bit thick on my palate.  Perhaps some fresh-squeezed OJ would be better as it’s a bit thinner.  (Home squeezed, not the kind they sell in the grocery store that mulches the entire orange.)

Snapping the pic and seeing the cherry nestled in the crook of the martini glass I couldn’t help but think of those Screwball ices we used to get from the ice cream man as a kid.  What were those little balls at the bottom of the ice, anyway?  Gumballs?  I think I need to try to find one of those.…

Abbey Cocktail
2 oz. gin
1 oz. orange juice
1 dash sweet vermouth
1 dash bitters

Shake with cracked ice and pour into chilled cocktail glasses.  Garnish with a maraschino.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bennett Cocktail | 31 down 244 to go

The Bennett Cocktail came from the back of the bible, so there’s no history to this from H & M to share.  However, according to Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails, How to Mix Them (1935), the Bennett was very popular in Chile and was named after a popular Chilean millionaire, businessman and landowner.

The Partner and I enjoyed this one as an aperitif one night when he had to work quite late.  We were both starving, but dinner was warm and ready to go whenever we were.  As soon as I got the text that he was on a homeward-bound train I started icing the glasses.  This cocktail would be a delicious delay of gratification.  And delicious it was.  The tart astringency of the gin, lime and bitters was smoothed out by the simple syrup.   After the first couple sips, I found myself thinking of bubble gum.  I know that might make some of you wince, but note my choice of words here.  I won’t say it tasted like bubble gum.  It didn’t.  However, as I sipped, I did think of it.  And this was not an offensive thing.

After the first round, The Partner, who I think is officially Patience personified with this project, did what has happened enough times now that I can call it a trend.  He asked if his next round could be “one of your fantastic Manhattans.”  Hey, blog mission accomplished, right?  At least he’s not defaulting to Kettel anymore.   But after the requisite lecture on the problem with “these classic cocktails”, and I agreed to make him a Manhattan to accompany my second Bennett, he rather quickly and willingly decided to join me.  Then, giving his imprimatur, “This one’s nice.  I’d do it again.  It’s a keeper.” 
Ah, a toast to expanding horizons!

Bennett Cocktail
2 oz. gin
½ oz. lime juice
½ tsp. simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake with cracked ice and serve in chilled cocktail glasses.  Garnish with a lime squeeze.

(BTW, skulking around the Web looking for history about the bev I found several recipes that called for sugar instead of simple syrup.  I’d advise against such pinch-hitting.  Beyond mere sweetness, syrup adds a smoothness and dimensionality to a cocktail that sugar does not.  Sugar is just sweet and will make a bev sandy if not held in solution.  Take the few minutes needed to make simple syrup.  Then it’s on hand for such cocktails.  Plus, it keeps for ever.) 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Scofflaw | 30 down 245 to go

We're experiencing a brief delay on the bev snap.
Well, wasn’t that the nice little unintended hiatus?  Summer’s been a little hectic.  Work, travel, family, home renovation.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  But let's act as if with this entry we’ll be back to our more regular – dare I say weekly? – entries.

So on to it.  It figures our summer reentry cocktail also has an etymological connection (Don’t ya love that, A.?)  According to H & M, according to H. L. Mencken, the Scofflaw was invented and took its name only days after the coining of the word "scofflaw" itself.  Reportedly, on January 16, 1924, the Boston Herald kicked off a contest to find a new term for “the lawless imbiber of illicit drink”.  “Scofflaw” won.  In Chicago, the Tribune was reporting that across the Atlantic in Paris, expats were flagrantly thumbing their nose at Prohibition albeit several thousand miles away.  It reported that their favorite cocktail was a new one invented
at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris the day after the Herald announced the contest winner.  In honor of expat imbibers, the inventor decided to name it after the new edition to Webster’s.

Tart and dry, the vermouth and lemon juice together impart an almost grapefruity note.  A definite aperitif, these are sipped and take a little time to get down.  Truthfully, I think it’s more beautiful to look at than to drink.

So, is it a keeper?  Well, let's see.  The Partner exhibited the now instant and automatic wince that comes no matter what H & M goody he puts to his lips.  I must admit that I too paused at the first sip.  My final determination didn't come until I got to the bottom of the glass.  It was so-so.  The Partner at this point scrunched his nose as if I'd just farted.  "You know, all these classic cocktails are the same.  They're all so acidic." He then proceeded to tell me once again how “these classic cocktails” are a cultural and gastronomic anachronism.  (Not his exact words, but you get the gist.)  I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to argue with him this time…or to have another.  So we transitioned to something else.   Perhaps that there is the answer to the question.  It's probably why the Scofflaw's popularity ended even before Prohibition did. 

Scofflaw
1 1/2  oz. Canadian whiskey
1 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1 dash grenadine
1 dash orange bitters

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Margarita | 29 down 246 to go

Without exaggeration, The Partner and I can say that prior to today, we have not had a Margarita.  I know this may cause some consternation around Lakeview where up to this moment El Tapatio and our friend, M., have held the title for Best Margarita.  This version is of a different caliber.

To be fair, we did not make this Margarita strictly by the book.  It is a bit of an improv – and not getting a baseline, for sure.  While this may seem like I’m getting cocky, let’s look at it as needing to make necessary substitutions when different ingredients are in-house.  We were out of Cointreau so substituted Grand Marnier.  And as mentioned in the previous post, we’re desperately trying to drink down a store of OJ.  So orange juice subbed for lemon juice.  We also prefer ours on the rocks without salt.  All that being said, this version was one of the smoothest and tastiest we’ve ever had.  When out of balance, Margaritas can cut in one or a combination of 3 ways:  Too much booze and it burns the throat.  Too much syrup and it scratches the 
throat.  Too much citrus juice and the acidity burns the tongue & tonsils.  Often, heartburn is the result more than any kind of enjoyable warm fuzzy.  This version perfectly harmonized the 3 components of liquor, sugar, and citrus.  It was smooth, vibrant and refreshing. 

As several guests arrived for a spontaneous roof party, these flowed easily throughout the evening without gumming up the palate with syrupy sweetness.  Several guests remarked at their goodness and one was even surprised that it was a Margarita.  How tragic.  This is what Chi-Chi’s has wrought.

Margarita
1 ½ oz. tequila
¾ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. lime juice

Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled wine goblet or cocktail glass with kosher salt on the rim; garnish with a lime wheel.


UPDATE:  This recipe continues to yield, hands-down, the best Margarita The Partner and I have ever had (sorry M. :-).  In the original post above, I didn't strictly follow the recipe as written.  But I've since mixed it exclusively as written and it is smooth, citrusy, balanced sweetness, dangerous.  A staple on the roof this summer, especially with guests who tended towards the familiar, all said this was the best Margarita they'd had.  If you haven't taken the opportunity to mix this bad girl up, do it!

Mojito | 28 down 247 to go


Mojitos should be made in a particular order to release
the botanicals in the mint & limes.
The mint in the herb garden has gone all Audrey 2 on us and The Partner has been yearning for mojitos ever since we planted the stuff.  So I figured what better way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend than with an antes de la revolución Cuban bev allowing me both to hack down the rabid space plant and satisfy The Other Half all at the same time?

The best mojitos I’ve ever had are served up at Nacional 27, here in Chicago.  Rimmed with raw sugar and served with a sugar cane swizzle stick, these are the stuff of legend.  These days, mojitos are everywhere, most of them either too thin and flavorless or too syrupy and sweet.  All in all, most are just plain bad.  I think that’s because muddled anything is labor-intensive for a bartender who doesn’t enjoy crafting.  To be fair, usually one person ordering a mojito leads to everyone ordering a mojito.  So when half the bar orders cocktails requiring a lot of squeezing and muddling, round after round I can kinda understand the irritation in their eyes when you ask for one.  That is if they’re not being poured from a mix.  So they probably make them subpar to discourage consequent rounds and thus more muddling.  But I digress…

There are two keys to making a good mojito and they both have to do with the volatile oils of the key ingredients.  To start, muddle the mint with a little of the simple syrup and a splash of the seltzer.  The sugars and bubbles help draw out the oils in the mint.  Only muddle until you can smell mint wafting up from the glass.  The other trick is to leave the lime hull in the glass so the rind releases the citrus oils, adding to the play of bitter & sweet.  While you’re squeezing the juice of a full lime, you only need half the hull for the proper balance.  When well crafted, a mojito should be light, bright and terribly refreshing on a hot summer day.  Imbibers should be able to enjoy several rounds without experiencing sugary, syrupy overload.

Mojito
2-3 oz. light rum
1 lime
½ oz. simple syrup
8-10 mint sprigs
Seltzer

Put the mint, simple syrup and a splash of seltzer in a 16 oz. pint glass and muddle until you can smell the mint.  Then squeeze in the lime juice, including half the hull to the glass.  Add the rum, stir, fill with ice.  Top with seltzer and garnish with mint sprigs.


This isn't even a good pic and it's not even as big as it got.  Ah, mint!
UPDATE:  The venerable mojito, like it's cousin, Margarita, was the go-to bev of summer mainly for our guests on the roof.  It was familiar, exotic, and it helped to have had a bumper crop of some of the best mint we've ever grown.  In fact, it's still going strong and I'm going to try to keep it through the winter.  

We got more than a friend or two to their happy place with this tipple.  And the recipe here, like the Marg, often brought claims of being the best the bevver's ever had.   

**Dilettante blushes.**  

**The Partner rolls his eyes.**  

(Not really.  He pretty much beams with pride, but the former maintains the humorous caricature.)   

I now understand why bartenders hate mixing mojitos -- especially when they're busy.  They take forever to craft.  And that's why I've stopped ordering them out.  But, I will admit, when it's only a handful of friends on a warm summer day and no one's in a rush to go anywhere or do anything, all that muddling is worth the effort.  The mojito really isn't that complex, but it does have a big wow factor!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Satan’s Whiskers | 27 down 248 to go

Not an orange to be had so we garnished with lime twist.
How does one kick off Date Nite as the first night of a 3-day weekend?  With Satan’s Whiskers, of course!  After Pride, we had so much leftover OJ we were walking up and down our hall giving jugs of it away to the neighbors.  (Anita Bryant would be so proud.)  Still we had three cartons of it in our own fridge.  That being the case, I thought this sounded like a good way to get rid of some of that liquid sunshine.  But at ½ an ounce a serving, we’d be drinking Satan’s Whiskers well past the weekend and never put a dent in the reserves.

Looking at the ingredients, one would think this would be very orangey.  Believe it or not, it’s not.  It has an interesting effect on the palate in that one can taste each ingredient, yet no one dominates.  That being said, I could see how if a bartender is not meticulous in the pour this could be a mouthful of sweet vermouth which would be decidedly unpleasant.

When considering whiskers, how do you like them, straight or curled?  H & M distinguish between “straight” and “curled” versions of the bev.  Use Grand Marnier for “straight” and Curacao to give them a curl.  Since we were mixing before we were reading, we enjoyed the straight variety as we were out of Curacao and only had Grand Marnier.  They also suggest enjoying the drink curled if it’s light out and straight if it’s dark.  We were a little out of sync on that score too, but both the infusion and the evening were delightful just the same.

While we enjoyed this tipple on a warm summer night, it is rich.  Two was our limit before switching over to something lighter and brighter.  Moscow Mules are becoming our fall-back of choice on that score.  (The Partner loooooves the copper cups.)  Ditto on the Cuba Libre -- especially when you want to keep the party rolling but need a little jolt to keep the eyes open!

Satan’s Whiskers
¾ oz. gin
¾ oz. sweet vermouth
¾ oz. dry vermouth
½ oz. orange juice
½ oz. Grand Marnier
1 dash orange bitters

Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange twist.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cocktail Chat | A Critical Mixology Lesson

Every year, The Partner and I host a Pride brunch.  Most years we have about 15-25 people show up.  We cook easy brunch things, serve up the usual brunchy cocktails like Mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Screwdrivers.  This year we had two occasions to change things up and go all out.  First was our deck.  We've just finished an expansion of it that includes a fun new outdoor bar.  The other occasion was this little project we're on with the bible and the blog. 

As we planned our respective menus, I decided that the usual drink fare were fine, however the morning would need something new to reflect our growing expertise in the mixological arts.  Given that the morning moves quickly and we're on a schedule to walk over to the parade by late morning, the special bev would have to be something I could mix a batch of in advance and just pour into a glass when requested.  Not wanting to experiment with something new for a party, I turned back to the blog, zeroing in on both the "Make it again, Sam" and "summer" tags for inspiration.  Everyone remember the Jasmine ("I'll have a Jaaaasssmine...")?  Seemed perfect.  It was breakfasty in its ingredients, tasted like grapefruit juice when mixed, and bonus of bonuses for the day:  IT WAS PINK!

After a trip to Costco for some large scale high end ingredients (I was mixing for 40.) and a cool, spigotted dispenser, I got to work the morning of the affair.  I collected the ingredients, pulled my measuring cups, squeezed six pounds of fresh lemons.  I mixed it all together and tasted.  Now here's the lesson: unless the drink is specifically a punch, you can't just scale it up.  A simple and proportional conversion from ounces to cups simply does not work -- which is what I did.  How clever and mathematical I felt!  But when finished mixing and adding a healthy amount of ice, I didn't have a punch, I just had a cocktail of Brobdingnagian proportions.  It was amazing how something that is so delicious and refreshing in a four ounce martini glass was utterly lacerating in a twelve ounce drinking glass filled with ice.

What was supposed to be a simple mixing task had now become a rescue mission.  Guests were minutes away from walking in the door and I had to find a way not to waste over $100 of perfectly good premium liquor.  Taking a moment, I breathed and with a little positive self-talk I told myself that I would not panic.  This was now an improvisation, no different from when I'm cooking without a recipe.  It would just require some thought to the ingredients necessary to achieve the desired flavors and textures coupled with a routine of mix and taste, mix and taste until all elements were balanced and harmonious.  Luckily, The Partner had already made a pitcher of simple syrup just to have on hand.  Luckily, too, we live across the street from a Whole Foods.  Figuring my budding Pride Punch was suffering from an over abundance of sharp base and accent liquors as well as an acidic juice, it would need more sweetness to soften it up.  I grabbed a carton of sweetened lemonade from across the street and added about two cups of that to the mix.  Next, I added about half a cup of the syrup.  With a few more tweaks with each new ingredient I finally arrived at the perfect balance of sweet to tart, brining the sharp presence of alcohol down to a mere suggestion.  Mixed with ice and it was the perfect cooler on a sunny, summer Pride morning!

It's here that I have to give a shoutout to our neighbor, Y.  She came over right on time and before everyone else and was the instrumental set if taste buds and opinions that helped me complete this concoction.  Y, babe, I know this was not your cup of tea, but you took one for the team to save the day, and I appreciate that.  Clearly, we were successful.  As the picture shows, it was popular.  Peeps were so disappointed when the barrel ran dry two people were picking the tankard up off it's base and tipping it ten ways to Sunday to eek out the last few drops from the tap.  Ah, I love an enthusiastic Pride!
LOOK at all those "Jasmine Pride Punches"!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rob Roy | 26 down 249 to go

Chicago this spring has been miserable.  I’m not sure if I’ve cracked this joke in an entry before, but even if I have, the weather’s been sucky enough that repeating it bears up:  I don’t remember moving to Seattle. 

So, we’re sitting on the deck, getting to the end of our Moscow Mules – a decidedly warm weather bev.  The Partner asks, “So what’s next?”  It’s at that moment that I realize the gloriously warm sunny day has turned gray and damp yet again.  This is no longer Moscow Mule weather. 

“Feels like a we need something warming, with a brown liquor,” says I.

“Yes, I’ll have a Manhattan!” says he.

We’re not making repeats today, thinks I, and I hit the bible.  Rob Roy!

While H & M declare, “When all else fails, we turn to the Rob Roy ….”  Here’s my declaration:  A Rob Roy  is the poor, country cousin to the Manhattan.  Wooo!  What a difference an ingredient makes.  Not wanting to give up on a second round, I made another for myself.  Sometimes drinks get better with another round.  And for The Partner:  a Manhattan.  (“No, really, can I please have a Manhattan and can you make it with the good bourbon?”  Sure, baby.  Why miss a chance for a side-by-side comparison?) 

Seriously.  Night and day.  And it’s not just the difference between a maraschino and a lemon twist.  A RR is noticeably rougher.  Less refined.  It stings the back of the throat – relatively speaking – to be sure.  It even looks anemic sitting next to its Uptown cousin. Ok, really, I guess it wasn’t horrible.  But if a bartender can make this then he can make a Manhattan and why wouldn’t I want a Manhattan then?  Unlike H & M, we’ll be able to try another route when all else fails.

From time to time, I must admit that The Partner has a point. 

(Don’t tell him that though or there’ll be no living with him.)


Old Fashioned
2 oz. whiskey
½ oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon twist or a maraschino cherry.

Moscow Mule | 25 down 250 to go

It’s been a week.  Actually, it’s been several weeks.  In a strange flip, I had to work on Saturday and The Partner did not.  I made it known that when I got home I would be thirsty and would want something tall, cold and refreshing.  By 7am yesterday morning I had already settled on the Moscow Mule to fit the bill. 

The Partner had attempted to make these years ago when I found a set of the special copper cups and asked what they were for.  He snapped right to and made some in response to the question.  To be honest, I don’t remember liking it too much.

This time around, though, it was just what the doctor ordered.  The ginger beer made for a nice spicy note that hit the tongue and throat with a good gingery smack.  The copper totally imparts a metallic note.  The Partner says that’s what he likes about it – that copper zing reacting with the acid of the lime and the zap of the ginger.  I, on the other hand, am still uncertain about this.  I am certain, however, that if I put the contact end of my power cord to the cup it could recharge my cell phone!  I made it both in the copper and in a Collins glass.  Both were cold and refreshing and one can absolutely taste the difference between copper and crystal.  No matter the vessel, these go down super easy.  [Say it like Wile E. Coyote says, "Suuuper-Geeenius...."]

H & M tell the elaborate story of how the MM came to be.  Here's the 30 second version.  A Connecticut-based food and liquor distributor rescues Smirnov vodka from the Bolsheviks and its exile in France, anglicizes the name to Smirnoff and nearly gets fired for it because it's the 1930's, Americans don't drink vodka, and there's the whole pinko-commie thing happening.  He hits the Left Coast with his vodka and meets up with a failing Hollywood restaurateur who makes ginger beer on the side to keep his business afloat.  They in turn get together with a friend who also has business troubles and is trying to unload a stash of copper cups she bought from some copper factory.  Together they concoct the Moscow Mule, sold in copper cups with a kicking mule on them -- "warning of its bite."  During the Korean War, the MM gains notoriety due to a fit of typically American anti-communist pique akin to the whole "freedom fries" nonsense after 9/11.  Then with some post-pique marketing legerdemain it becomes the drink of the youth culture.  Only in America.

Moscow Mule
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. lime juice
4 oz. ginger beer
Stir the vodka and lime juice in a glass with cracked ice.  Top with the ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge.


UPDATE:  Ahhh...  the mule!  How refreshing.  What a palate cleanser.  What a reset during a long, hot day on the roof.  And while there have been only four vodka bevs featured on the blog, it's good to have this one available when dear friend, S., is over.  Can't drink gin, you know.  Causes barney-mugging.  Next time you're antiquing, do look for the official cups.  They're a definite conversation starter.  Plus, just look how they sweat!  Ahhh.... 

Friday, June 10, 2011

All caught up

Well, the blog is finally caught up and updated.  There's been a lot going on in the lives of The Dilettante and The Partner in the last few weeks.  Work has been crazed.  Birthday and holiday weekends have come and gone.  But mainly we've been under the weather and totally unmotivated to cocktail or blog.  However, as of this post, the blog is completely caught up.  Work is still crazed and health is not yet 100%.  But hopefully we're turning a corner.

Some housekeeping:  All the "new" entries have been posted in their chronologically imbibed order.  So you will find them in posts back in May.  They include Maiden's Prayer/Between the Sheets, Old Fashioned, and a Cocktail Chat linked to the MP/BtS.

We're looking forward to getting back on track and hope you'll continue to join us along the way.

Peace,
The Dilettante

Cocktail Chat | Prohibition v. Today

Quite a time, Prohibition.  At a time when liquor production and consumption were driven underground, purveyors used drink names to entice imbibers.  Pussyfoots, Cubanolas, Bosom Caressers, Maiden’s Prayers, Between the Sheets were just some of the “clever” names for cocktails of the day.  And since Prohibition did away with a regulated alcohol industry, that meant individuals were left to brew their own liquor for speakeasies and customers.  The results were often low-quality and foul tasking brews.  Thus many other – usually sweet and upwards of 5 to 8 ingredients – were added to mask the terrible flavor of the base spirits. 

Additionally, many inferior brews had the unfortunate & permanent side effect of killing many of those who drank them.  In 1927 alone approximately 12,000 people died from drinking substandard, homemade spirits.  Interestingly enough, it’s worth noting here that the common notions of blindness & death from drinking poorly distilled spirits is a myth.  These deleterious effects were a result of people mixing ethyl (grain) alcohol with methyl (wood) alcohol to extend the overall product.  It’s methyl that’ll blind or kill.  In fact, even low-grade distillation won’t kill.  Though poor distillation is likely to cause a hangover bad enough to make one pray for death if the levels of fusel alcohols are too high.  So there really is something to the notion of premium and top shelf liquors having less deleterious effects.  That is, if they’re highly distilled and not just a faddish label.  But I start to digress….  

All this fascinating info causes the Dilettante to consider two things:  First, in this day and age that is about as opposite from Prohibition as one can get, with vast quantities of some of the finest liquors ever produced, why are cocktail menus hawking such cloying concoctions calling themselves “martinis” such as the Godiva Chocolate, Key Lime Pie, and the Tango Mango?  Certainly there’s no need to mask inferior base products with all that sugar and nonsense.  Given what The Partner and I have experienced through this grand experiment thus far, namely that many classic cocktails tend towards the bitter and sour, perhaps the current cocktail age is a reaction to that of our parents’ and grandparents’.  Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of taste.  Back in the day, the taste was towards the sour & bitter.  Today it’s towards the sweet.  Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that there are so many different flavors that can be infused into vodka that mixologists feel compelled to create concoctions that make use of them.  It’s kind of like war –rarely is a weapon created that doesn’t get used.

The second consideration is the cleverness quotient.  A quick perusal of Drinknation.com gives us a flurry of silly names that are familiar to most anyone: Sex on the Beach, Kamikaze, Blow Job, Incredible Hulk, Redheaded Slut, Liquid Marijuana.  While bartenders are still creating goofy names, what’s changed is that they’re not as clever as they are obvious in their references to sex & drunkenness.

I think something’s lost when we rely on flavoring a base and letting that carry the cocktail.  Cocktailing is not unlike making tea or coffee.  All three kinds of drinks include a certain amount of ritual and ceremony in their preparation and a level of sociability in their consumption.  There’s an artistry and process with cocktailing that is as much a part of the whole shebang as the drinking.  After all, what’s more interesting and exciting:  getting some grapefruit flavored vodka, splashing some 7-Up in it, and tossing a lemon twist on top?  Or shaking gin, Cointreau, & lemon juice until the tin is frosty, frosty, then popping a bottle of Champagne to top the mix with, taking a sip and discovering, "Hey, it’s Fresca!"
 
Before March, I wouldn’t think to pose such a question.  Since then, I’ve come to prefer the latter for the artistry, the conversation, the fellowship, the surprise, and of course, the gentle buzz.


References:
Harrington, Paul, and Laura Moorhead. Cocktail: the Drinks Bible for the 21st Century. New York: Viking, 1998. Print.

Smiley, Ian. The Home Distilling Professionals - Smiley's Home Distilling. Web. 10 June 2011. .

Drinknation.com. Web. 10 June 2011. .

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cocktail Chat | Recent Repeats

It’s been a crazed couple of weeks and the Dilettante has been a bit remiss about keeping up with the bevy of new bevs we’ve been trying.  But between work, The Partner’s birthday, and a holiday weekend, there’s been precious little time to write.  My goal is to get everything up to date this week.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some recent repeats we’ve enjoyed on the social scene and on the roof now that the weather in the Old Northwest is finally looking less like the weather of the New Northwest.
I’m here to report that I’ve living the whole point of this project, not ordering my old Ketel and instead have settled into Manhattans when I go out.  It’s tasty and one any bartender can make.  Back in March, Betz commented on the Manhattan post that a bartender once recommended that she try a dash of Worcestershire in her Manhattan.  One Kiss Creations then tried it and liked it.  Intrigued, I gave it a shot.  It’s wonderful!  When just a dash is added, the sauce doesn’t give any discernable flavor, actually.  Instead it imparts a depth, some dimension.  The foodie in my wants to say it’s umami, the 5th taste the Japanese have identified as “savoriness”.  It’s an enjoyable counterpoint to the sweetness of the rye & vermouth.  So I highly recommend!  Thanks for the suggestion, Betz!

For the Chicagoan followers, head over to Sprout, Dale Levitsky’s place, of Top Chef fame.  He makes his own Worcestershire, crazy man that he is.  Not only are the Manhattans incredibly well made, but if you ask for the homemade stuff they’ll add it to your drink.  (Then be sure to order the Steak course on the tasting menu.  But be warned, it’ll be a tough transition back to Lea & Perrin’s.)

As the weather’s turned warmer here in Chicago, I’ve gone back to the “summer” tag.  Twice now I’ve made the Pegu at home.  I then ordered it out, again at Sprout.  Despite the fact that H & M say it’s making a resurgence, the server had no idea what it was and needed some coaching.  Taking the chance paid off handsomely.  He even asked if I had a preference of bitters.  He then wanted feedback to take back to the bartender.  Impressively, the first try was spot on – pale orange color, citrusy dryness, refreshingly cool.

The other cocktail we’ve had now more than once is the Cuba Libre, both at home and out.  This one too, needs a little coaching if ordered out.  Be on alert, though.  If you find a mixologist who has heard of a CL, be prepared to coach that this is not simply a rum & coke by a hoity toity name, or that’s what you’ll likely get.  I busted this one out for the season inaugural of our roof deck.  While The Partner sipped wine spritzers in the 90 degree sunshine, I went to CL route.  When our friends, C., N. and baby A. dropped in for a surprise visit, C. joined me.  “Wow,” he said, coming up from his first sip.  “This is nice…  I like it!  It’s very refreshing…  I could drink a lot of these, especially on a hot summer day.”  

Not only do I love validation, I also love not drinking alone! The great thing about the Cuba Libre too is that it’s a soothing hair of the dog after a night of over-indulgence.

What’s been very interesting as I venture out with new beverage requests is the responses of the servers and bartenders tasked with stretching filling my order.  They’re expanding their own repertoire and their responses have run the gamut.   Everything from the server at Sprout who wanted feedback for the mixologist and asked my bitters preference, to the bartender who sent out a bottle of Worcestershire sauce with my drink because he was too timid to add the unexpected accent to my drink.   Still another listened to my ingredients list and then consulted a recipe book he had stashed under the bar.  I love that one.  There’s no shame in not knowing if you know where to go to find the info you need. 
So far, taking the chance to ask for a new cocktail when going out and coach it along makes for some great conversation with new and interesting people.  Plus, it’s good to have the only unique cocktail at the table or along the bar.  After all, these are the things of which cocktailing’s all about.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Old Fashioned | 24 down 251 to go

In another nod to the ancestors and not wanting to work too hard for this evening’s cocktail, we went with the Old Fashioned.  This is another one I remember the adults drinking at parties when I was a kid.  The cherry and the orange in the glass always seemed so exotic to me.  And the rich smell of the bourbon mingling with the pipe smoke from my father and grandfather… heady stuff.

This is another super easy one that requires some muddling, which is always fun.  And can I say, wow, right to the brain!  Starting with a real kick, they get sweeter and easier as they goes down.  The combination of bitters and sugar adds that je ne sais quoi dimensionality as they balance and counter each other, just as they do in a Champagne Cocktail.

H&M dispute whether the OF may have been the first American cocktail.  Regardless, it’s indeed and oldie.  They offer two versions of the history of the OF and say they won’t take sides.  I on the other hand will.  My fave of the two is the far more interesting one that traces its origins back to the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790’s.  When the new Federal government levied its very first excise tax on whiskey to raise some money to pay down the national debt, folks on the frontier didn’t take it so well.  (Sin taxes?  Deficit spending?  Regionalism?  Tax rebellion?  What exactly has changed in 220 years?)  Westerners found it particularly onerous arguing it hit their pocketbooks harder than Easterners’ since farmers made whiskey from surplus grain left over from the harvest.  Whiskey also operated as an alternate currency since money on the frontier was often scarce.  Poor folks were sometimes paid in whiskey.  So for them it was also an income tax.  When tax officials tried to collect, in many instances the response turned violent.  This was particularly the case in the southwestern counties of Pennsylvania where the rebellion was centered.  In Kentucky, as it turns out, no one was trying to collect the tax.  So some farmers and tavern owners moved their whiskey operations there.  When they went, they took with them their recipe for the Old Fashioned.

As a result of this muddled history (yep, hadda do it!) there’s some disagreement about whether the bev was originally made with bourbon or rye.  Today however, use whichever is your fave and you’ll not only be correct, but you won’t be disappointed either.

Old Fashioned
2 oz. whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 t. sugar
Splash of seltzer

In a chilled Old Fashioned glass, muddle sugar, bitters, orange wheel, and a maraschino cherry until the sugar is dissolved.  Add whiskey and ice and seltzer.  Stir.  Optional: garnish with a lemon twist.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Maiden's Prayer or Between the Sheets | 23 down 252 to go

Maiden's Prayer with edible flower garnish
Pussyfoots, Cubanolas, and Bosom Caressers are just some of the cocktails that kept the Maiden’s Prayer & Between the Sheets company during Prohibition.  There’s a lot of interesting info H & M share about cocktails & culture during this era.  I started to include it in this post, but it was going too far afield.  Instead, it can be found at this Cocktail Chat entry instead.

This is a sort of twofer.  When made with gin, it’s the Maiden’s Prayer and an aperitif.  When brandy is the base, it’s a digestif and called Between the Sheets.

It pays to make this one as a true top shelfer.  I mixed Hendrick’s gin, Bacardi light rum, & Cointreau.  If you can find them, use sweeter Meyer lemons for the juice.  Your jaw will hit the floor when you get to the cashier, but for two rounds they’re worth it.  The MP is wonderfully citrusy, light, bright, with just a hint of tartness to give it some dimension.  And simpler it couldn’t be with equal parts of all ingredients.   After we finished the Meyer lemon juice our appetites were primed for dinner and off we went to one of our favorite bistros (the fact that the chef’s Dutch has nothing to do with the love affair, I’m sure :-)

After dinner we came home & decided to give the aperitif a try.  While we had to “settle” for regular lemon juice, we did use Courvoisier for the brandy.  The Between the Sheets had a distinctively different note, obviously, with the brandy.  It had a mellow sweetness, not cloying at all.  The lemon juice and Cointreau maintained the citrusy notes for balance.

“What’s this one called now?” asked The Partner upon draining his glass.
“Between the Sheets,” I replied.
With that devilish smirk of his and a come hither glint in his eye he set down his empty and headed for the boudoir….  
Between the Sheets with lemon twist garnish

Maiden's Prayer/Between the Sheets
Equal parts of each (3/4 oz.)
+gin (Maiden's Prayer)/brandy (Between the Sheets)
+light rum
+Cointreau
+lemon juice
Shake with crushed ice, strain & pour into chilled  goblet or cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist or edible flower.