Monday, March 28, 2011

Champagne Cocktail | 7 down 268 to go

Merriam-Webster’s  3rd definition of sublime: “tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur) or transcendent excellence.”

Thus is the classic Champagne Cocktail.

There’s only 3 parts to this:  5 oz. of Champagne, a sugar cube, and Angostura bitters.  Lemon twist to garnish.  Added individually, either the sugar or the bitters would do violence to this liquid gold, throwing its balance either to the cloying or the acrid.  But added to each other first and then to the Champagne and the effect is as Merriam-Webster describes above.

In culinary circles one often talks about controlling ingredients.  Using one flavor component to counter or constrain another.  That is precisely what this bev is all about.  Start with a sugar cube on a small saucer and place a few drops of bitters on it.  Let the bitters permeate the cube.  Once it is completely orange, drop it into a chilled, empty flute.  Then add the Champagne. Garnish if you so choose for some added brightness.  But frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary.  The cube fizzing from the bottom of the glass is all the decoration needed.

Quelle élégance!

UPDATE:  Champagne-based cocktails are de rigeur at Pride.  As nice as mimosas are, I wanted to bump it up a bit the last two years.  It's amazing what a simple sugar cube can do.

It's been such fun to introduce this to friends who've never heard of/had a Champagne Cocktail before.  Equally fun to watch their noses curl as the sugar gets doused with bitters and then dropped in the golden bubbly.  Ah, those first tentative sips...!  This has been  especially true for M. -- the daughter of dear friends and recently of drinking age. (Tough to admit as we all watched her grow up.  If she's now old enough to drink, that means there's just that much more snow on our roofs!).  M's. step-mom, S., is not a big drinker, but she does like her bolly.  So for S's. birthday this summer we arrived with a bottle of Veuve, a tin of sugar cubes, and a shaker of bitters as a gift.  Fortysomethings and twentysomethings alike enjoyed all the way around.

Ooo, la-la!  La boisson que se déplace!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

French 75 | 6 down 269 to go

Ok, when was the last time you had a Fresca?
The French 75’s as much a keeper as the Black Velvet was a bust.  Shake with cracked ice:
  • 1/4 oz gin
  • 1/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
Decant into a chilled flute and top with 4 oz. Champagne.  Garnish with lemon twist.

A neighbor friend joined us for some apps and a few F75's as a start to her evening out.  I must admit, by the second round, I was not being so meticulous in the measuring and was pouring 1/2-3/4 oz. of the gin & Cointreau with the juice of 1/2 a lemon each time.  They were still delightful.  Light, refreshing, citrusy.  A grown up, better Fresca.
Be warned, these go down eeeeasy!  I predict the F75 will get a lot of play on the deck this summer and be pressed into brunch service to relieve the venerable-but-tired Mimosa.

Possible variations include using lime juice instead of lemon, adding a dash of simple syrup and 2 oz. of brandy.  Honestly, I think this would be gilding the fleur de lys.  Substituting bourbon for gin makes it a French 95.

Factoids from H & M: The drink as it’s known now was first mixed somewhere between 1915 & 1920. They cite it as having been named after the 75 mm cannon known as the “Savior of France” during WWI, with a version of the drink (minus the Cointreau and citrus) sipped by French officers before battle.  Ah, courage liquid!

Black Velvet | 5 down 270 to go

It couldn't be simpler. Too bad it couldn't be good, too.
There are 3-5 different Champagne cocktails in the bible depending on definitions.  One is a Bellini, but that’s prosecco – not Champagne.  The other is a variation on a theme which I’ll get to in the next post.  Last night we tried two.
The Black Velvet.  I’ve been looking forward to this one for several reasons.  First, it couldn’t be simpler.  Two ingredients: Champers & Guinness (plus a lemon peal for "zing").  Next, I love both.  Finally, it represents the two ends of the taste continuum that The Partner & I constantly bounce along.  (His ability to swing so effortlessly from beer to Champagne tastes was a total surprise and one of the things that first attracted me to him.  It all came out during our first trip to Costco; but that’s another story.)
We can keep this one real simple.  The best thing about this cocktail was that once we were done experimenting we had open Guinness and Chandon that needed to be consumed.  H & M recommend 1 part Guinness to 4 parts Champagne.  I thought that was all wrong, even when The Partner pointed out that in a Champagne cocktail the star is the Champagne.  With the recommended proportions I thought it tasted like a caramel fizz.  Not that that’s a drink anywhere I know of, but that’s what came to mind.  Wanting to like this so we could make it a part of the new repertoire, I played with the proportions.  The results were bevs that tasted simultaneously like diluted Guinness and diluted Chandon.  Mmmmmmm…! 

At that point I totally agreed with my brother-in-law’s rechristening when he heard the description from my sister: “Black Velvet?  Sounds more like a Black Velour!”

Black Velvet
4 oz. chilled champagne
1 oz. chilled Guinness

Pour chilled Guinness into frosted champagne flute.  Add champagne and garnish with lemon twist.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cocktail Chat | First Order Out

I did it.  I had the opportunity to order a cocktail and I broke the chain.  Last night The Partner & I were out with one of our best couple friends.  They’d arrived at the club before us and were half way through their first round.  The server came to take our cocktail order.  The Partner went first.  I looked around the table and what did I see?  Dirty Marty, dirty Marty, Kettle rocks.  I just couldn’t do it.  Not…another…vodkaaaaaa!!!
So I screwed up my courage and said, “I’ll have a Manhattan.”  Such a rebel, I know.  But then came the inevitable next question.

“Do you have a preference of bourbon?” 

*Gulp*  I did not want to look like a noob.  So I played it off:  “What do you have?” 

“We have Maker’s Mark, Jack Daniels & Knob Creek.”  And what do you know?  In my mind’s eye I could see each bottle as he rattled them off.  I knew each one of them.  Had experience with each one of them.  I had a preference and could make an informed choice! 

Two rounds in and that gentle, heady buzz was humming, my limbs were warmed from the cold walk from the el, and my appetite was duly stimulated and ready for the delicious dinner that awaited us before the theater. 

Now that’s what this project was all about!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cocktail Chat | Serving Size

I decided that I would include a few longer form entries as I go.  They'll break from the micro-fiction limit of 250 words for these.  Not that any of the other entries have met that goal, save one.  But I'm trying.  Anyway, there's a lot of great information, history, factoids in Harrington & Moorhead's text that just can't make it into the cocktail review entries.  Thus I'm inventing the intercalary "Cocktail Chat".  To Serving Size...

One of the things that has drawn me to this endeavor is Harrington & Moorhead's underlying premise that for true enjoyment restraint and balance should be restored to the art and craft of cocktailing.  In relating the history of this class of beverages, they illuminate changes from the beverages and the culture of the cocktail's "classic period" to today.  Back in the day, a cocktail was an aperitif, meant to stimulate the taste buds and the appetite prior to a meal.  And based on our 4 samples thus far, they stimulate warm buzzes and conversation within and between imbibers as well!  Cocktails were not meant to be veritable bowls of liquor.  "Cocktails don't overwhelm the appetite in advance of a meal.  The misaligned trend of marketing 12-ounce Martinis only encourages drinkers to finish settled, lukewarm cocktails -- they may have come for dinner, but by the final gulp, they're more likely to need a tall glass of ice water and cab ride home" (3).

Last Friday night we came face-to-face with this exact condition.  We had dinner at one of our favorite bistros.  Our regular server -- not knowing about our new project -- simply brought us our usual:  Ketel One with several olives.  Usually we take it on the rocks.  Friday he brought them up.  And the above quote was exactly our experience.  Now we are not teetotalers by any stretch.  But there was so much booze in those glasses we still had leftover Martinis on the table even as the wine was being poured with our entrees.  Before they were even half finished The Partner was scooping ice from his water to his Martini glass to bring the vodka back up to tepid.  With apps, a bottle of wine, entrée & a split dessert, it was no small blessing to be only steps from a corner from which to hail a cab.  "Date Nite over.  Take us home!"

In the two weeks since starting this adventure, we've already become somewhat accustomed to the much more modest portions that decant when using Harrington & Moorhead's proportions.  And we've found we're no less worse for the wear.  I'd even go so far as to say, the comfortable buzz that comes from proper, more restrained servings of these potent brews is much more enjoyable than the hammer blow that comes from a tankard of Ketel.  We even get to enjoy it cold … all the way to the bottom of the glass!  When was the last time you had an empty glass that was still frosty?  How nice!  With smaller servings one can have a second and be nice and warm and comfy with room and wherewithal for dinner.  There you go.  Aperitif accomplished.

Info for your next cocktail party:  Did you know there's supposed to be a volume of empty space below the lip of the glass?  Did you know this volume has a name?  Neither did we!  According to Harrington and Moorhead it's called the collar.  And according to custom & skilled bartending, it should be at least a 1/4 inch from the lip of the glass.  We can see exactly how crazy serving sizes have become.  Go back and look at the pictures posted thus far.  The Manhattan & Astoria are in contemporary Martini glasses.  They're practically empty and make me feel like the stingy pour.  Then look at the photos of the Cuba Libre and the Bronx.  Those were served in glassware we inherited from our grandparents.  The glasses are full to within the proper distance of the collar.

Get ready for the next round.  This weekend's all about the Champagne cocktails! Ha-ha!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Astoria | 4 down 271 to go

Lemon peel garnish
Next stop on our spirited tour of the 5 Boroughs (oy, that one hurt even me!), we sip the Astoria.  Yes,  Astoria is a part of Queens and so as far as the name goes is not on a nominal par with the Manhattan or the Bronx; but come on, you get the idea.  Doing a bit of research beyond H & M, it would appear Staten Island is the only Outer Borough without a namesake cocktail.  No comment.

With 4 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth & a dash of orange bitters, this bev is shaken, not stirred.  H & M state that if orange bitters are not to be had one can substitute Grand Marnier, but it will be a bit sweeter.  I subbed a dash of Cointreau.  I also dashed Angosturas to be sure of some bitter counterpoint.  The pale, almost peachy hue was soothing on the eye.  There was some sweetness on the palate, but by the 3rd nip I was glad for the bitters and found it went down easily.  The Partner's face twisted at first.  To be fair, he had just brushed his teeth.  

Towards the bottom of the glass he thought the Astoria should get a mulligan when we have more orange bitters, less tooth paste, and more time.   That's fair.  We were late for a dinner res and I was pushing the whole cocktail thing.  Kid with a new toy.  While I should've waited, I'm glad I didn't.  We had an ah-ha moment at dinner as a result.  More on that later.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Bronx | 3 down 272 to go

Unh-huh. Radioactive orb=submerged maraschino
What should follow the Manhattan?  Why the Bronx, of course!  Only 24 hours after the last cocktail, I got off my lazy butt and went across the street. (Yes, with a Whole Foods literally across the street, there's never an excuse for the conditions of the last post -- to be juice- & fresh fruit-less.  Ever. But alas & alack…) With friends over for the afternoon, we needed some fresh OJ to mix this puppy up, so off I went.

H & M suggest that this "earlier, subtler version of the fruit-juice drink" be made with "just an ounce of fresh orange juice, equal parts sweet & dry vermouth, and an ounce of good gin."  They go on to say that at the height of its popularity, the old Waldorf-Astoria served so many of them they went through several cases or oranges a day (66).  (En fait, c'était où mes arrièrs grands-parents ont travaillé après avoir émigré aux Etats-Unis.  Grand-papy y étais le sommelier, c'est vrai.)

Tastes clearly have changed.  Three out of these four cocktailers did not recommend mixing this one up again.  With OJ as modifier, sweet vermouth as an accent, and Marichino as accent it was all too sweet. Way.  Number four, however, liking sweet bevs, was ready for a second when finished. 

It was wine for the rest of the afternoon.  Plusieurs de bouteilles!

1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. OJ

Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a maraschino or orange slice.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Manhattan | 2 down 273 to go

This one is a tumbler of laziness with a jigger of shame. The Partner & I pride ourselves on having a fully -- I mean fully -- stocked wet bar. Right down to the clear icemaker and mini-dishwasher and about 18 different kinds of glassware. So imagine our shame when we had no juices or fresh fruits in the house with which to mix & garnish our 2nd cocktail. Really? Our second drink and already we're punting? So we had to mix up something with no juice or fruit (Quel frommage. What? Yes, it's a joke.  I know it's "dommage".) As far as Hail Marys go, though, a Manhattan ain't too bad!

This cocktail is rich in history for me. My grandparents would make them by the pitcher for family gatherings. I remember all the relatives of that generation sipping these amber elixirs with little Maraschino orbs dancing in the glass bottoms. My mother tells the story of my first giggly, dancing buzz after one family dinner when I got away unchecked from the adults at the dining room table. I scampered into the living room and ate all the cherries out of the bottoms of their abandoned Manhattan glasses. What's past is prologue.

These days it's the mixed drink preference of my sister. On her 40th The Partner & I bought some Willett bourbon & mixed up a batch here in Chi, then dialed Scranton and sipped them while we chatted with her, also sipping one at the other end.

Using dried or marinated cherries gives a contemporary twist to this venerable bev. As of this mixing, I think I'm developing an appreciation. Bitters definitely take the sweet edge off, which is nice. Perhaps I'll take them up in homage to my grandparents.
Santé, papy et mamie!

2 oz. rye
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters (optional)

Stir with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a maraschino

Monday, March 7, 2011

Virgin Dive: The Cuba Libre | 1 down 274 to go

This is one for the summertime roof. Crushed ice for sure!
To our first foray -- the Cuba Libre! On Sunday -- gray day that it was -- The Partner and I were sitting around watching TV, not quite hung over from a great evening with friends and lots of wine & food the night before. Kinda looking for a hair or two of the dog, but not wanting to go crazy. The perfect occasion to start our Beverage Bible study. Thumbing through I find the CL. Coke is the modifier -- our favorite "soft drink" (as The Partner's fond of calling it because it's not as bad for you if you don't call it "Coke").

So our mixologist tour guides, Harrington & Moorhead, say the CL "hails from the Old School of American Bartending" and then go on to disparage it as "vapid…contrived" for "convenience not competence" and "rarely our first choice" (78).  Ha! So I suppose no big surprise then that this noob made it our first stop on this grand 275 cocktail tour.

H&M go on "it's worth setting the record straight: A Cuba Libre is not a rum and Coke"  (78).  Indeed not. In fact, it was the addition of bitters, gin, & lime juice to rum & Coke that allowed me to partake, given my disdain for rum & Cokes having learned how to drink (and get sick) on them. Be sure to use real Coke and not diet; and if you can, Mexican Coke. It's made with cane sugar. Don't let anyone tell you it tastes the same as high fructose corn syrup.

On our very first run-through my premise bore out. Three out of 5 ingredients are on my avoid list. But taken in combination with a couple other components made the concoction quite delightful. Light, not too sweet, a little fizz for texture. The bitters and the Coke even soothed our jumpy tummies from the riches of the night before. So much so that by the end of the second one The Partner passed me his empty Collins, nodded towards the bar and said with a warm, buzzy smile, "I could get used to these."

Cuba Libre
1 oz light rum 
1/2 oz gin
1/4 oz lime juice
2-3 oz Coke
2 dashes bitters

Pour ingredients except soda into chilled Collins  glass filled with ice.  Crushed ice is extra nice.  Top with Coke & stir.  Garnish with lime.

UPDATE:  The Cuba Libre featured prominently in two ways this summer.  First, as it has always been since first falling for it last March, it's an excellent hair-of-the-dog drink.  This makes total sense.  Back in high school when I worked in a pharmacy, we used to sell plain Coke syrup (sans bubbles) as a palliative for indigestion.  Ah, the wonders of Coke!  So the CL is a good one to do a quick turn around and start drinking again after a long night prior.

We also found that it was a good one to give you a jolt between waves at a party.  You know, when several guests have left the party, the evening is still young, energy is flagging, but you  don't want to crash, and more guests are on the way?  The CL gives a nice boost while keeping the party going.  I know, the amount of caffeine in the bev is minimal by today's standards.  But it could've been the original Red Bull and vodka back in the day.  One day on the roof this summer, R. enjoyed several, not having heard of one before.  In no time he was good to go!  

Viva la revolución!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Gettin' this party started

"Ketel One on the rocks (78)with a twist, please." "Ketel One on the rocks with a couple olives…thanks." "Ketel One up. Go ahead and throw a few olives in it." "Ketel One martini, please. You can put a twist in it." Really, the cocktail scene has been getting rather boring lately. I like my Ketel, good Dutchman that I am. But recently I've been craving more variety in the liquor department -- a problem I never have when I’m in the mood for beer. But I'm not a fan of many other liquors. I don't drink scotch, unless it's the really good stuff and I’m nursing it. I can't drink rum since I was weaned on it. And I really don't like sweet drinks.

Then the other day, I was going through my cookbook cabinet looking for a particular book. (I suffer not the same monotony when it comes to things culinary. Go figure.) Pushed behind other bigger books was Harrington & Moorehead's Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century. BING! It's a book of 275 different mixed drinks. My problems were solved. Sure there are ingredients here that I don't ordinarily imbibe. Bitters are, well, bitter. I think Gin is just odd. And why in God's name would I ever want to mix it with heavy cream, orange flower water & egg whites?? But perhaps if a few individual non-faves are mixed with a few faves the combined whole is greater than the sum of the parts? Maybe…?

The great thing about this book too is that it's not just a collection of recipes. It's history, storytelling, equipment list, picture book, and keyhole into culture via the venerable cocktail. For this student of history and literature it's enough to impel me to try these treasures. Heck, I could drink anything once. Several more times if I like it. Plus, how much fun would it be to be able to walk into a bar and order a Cuba Libre instead of something off the tired martini menu (and then be able to tell the bartender how to make it when he looks at me with blank expression)? Answer: It could be a lot of fun. And if not fun, certainly interesting.

So, here's the plan. I'm going to make 275 different cocktails over time. The results, thoughts, reviews, occasions, and hopefully a picture or two will be posted here to document this little tipple-tipple trip. And no, this isn't going to be any kind of Julie & Julia project with a daily labor of tortured, self-reflective, emo-hipster, existential angst tied to my bottle of bitters and a frigid shaker full of ice. This is to be enjoyed. Hopefully, after a couple of these frosty beverages with friends and Partner, it'll be fun too. And with any luck it'll even get silly!