Thursday, October 11, 2012

MxMo LXVI: (It Ain't Easy) Bein' Green

This month's Mixology Monday theme is "Bein' Green", and it's hosted by the Wordsmithing Pantagruel.  The rules of the theme are cocktails whose ingredients concern anything that is the color green.  I've been known to use MxMo themes a bit liberally, but not this time...

There just aren't enough savory drinks, am I right?  Aside from the Bloody Mary, the savoriness of too many drinks are defined simply by their garnish.

This drink is an original of mine which I've been working on for about a year now, but it didn't start out as savory.  I originally sought to combine rye whiskey, celery bitters, and honey syrup... and so, of course, I used all three to make an Old Fashioned.  It didn't really work, and so after much trial and error (hiccup), the Tee Ball cocktail is what we have here today.

As for rye whiskeys, my new favorite is Knob Creek Rye.  It's spicier and more heavy on grain than most of them out there, and it's a real joy in the glass.

I suppose I have 3 ingredients that qualify for this week's MxMo theme.


Tee Ball

2 oz rye whiskey
.5 oz green Chartreuse
.5 oz dry vermouth
1 dash celery bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with an olive, or, should you appease the cocktail onion gods, an onion.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

MxMo LXV: Equal Parts

Thank god that Frederic of Cocktail Virgin Slut has taken the baton for running Mixology Monday, the biggest online cocktail party there's ever been.  It was getting stagnant there for a while, simply because Paul Clarke is a busy man, no offense to Fred.

The theme for this MxMo is Equal Parts: any cocktail whose ingredients are called for with equal parts, not including garnish, and maybe a dash of bitters, if you're being liberal.  I'm going to be extra liberal and call for 2 dashes of bitters and yet still qualify for the theme.

My entry is as simple as it is sacrilegious: the Saratoga cocktail.  What's the sacriledge?  That this Manhattan variation is better than the Manhattan.  That's it.

I was turned on to the Saratoga originally by an interview with Camper English conducted by the 12 Bottle Bar. (Question # 6)

The Saratoga is simply a rye Manhattan, half of whose spirit is replaced with brandy.  It is my opinion that this combination elevates the Saratoga into a realm of interest and complexity which surpasses both rye and bourbon Manhattans.

As per my suggestion, Rowen of the Fogged In Lounge mixed up a Saratoga to stack up with the slew of other Manhattans that he was comparing recently, and he half agrees with me, at the very least.

Though recipes vary little, my Saratoga recipe comes from 12 Bottle Bar, which comes from David Wondrich.  You owe it to yourself to make this drink, if you haven't, simply so you can strike down my preposterous claim above.


.75 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz brandy
.75 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with half a lemon wheel.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Our first obsessive today is Rowen of the Fogged In Lounge.  Far from the first time writing about the Manhattan cocktail on his site, this time Rowen's decided to ask his followers how they like to make their Manhattans.  In an exploration of the very subtle ways Manhattans can vary and also his peers' specific tastes, he's been mixing up each iteration and posting about them.

Just recently he reviewed the preferred Manhattan of yours truly.  Read it here.  His short description of its flavor proves to me that it turned out exactly as it should have.

Our second obsessive today is Dagreb.  Dagreb has an unhealthy(or perhaps, healthy) obsession with Angostura bitters.  I first got a taste of this (literally) when he issued his monster of a drink to my own hosted Mixology Monday, where Dagreb taught me that the number of dashes of bitters after which I begin to question myself is twelve.

Dagreb's latest move is one that I would almost certainly call satire, were I not familiar with Dagreb and his tastes.  Today Dagreb has taught me another thing: that the difference between potable and non-potable bitters means nothing.  Rifling through the internet's tributes to Angostura bitters, Dagreb finally drops the bomb by presenting an Old Fashioned that's anything but old fashioned... with the Angostura Bitters Old Fashioned.  After repeatedly calling him crazy and cursing his name,  you may ask yourself, "What kind of bitters do you add to an Old Fashioned made of bitters?"  You'll have to click and find out.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Few Vodka Drinks I Think Are Worth Drinking

Summer is waning but the heat is only barely letting up.  Don't underestimate the ability of a good vodka drink to cool you off.

Many people think that vodka is made from potatoes or grain, but the truth is that vodka can be made from any source material.  Traditional sources tend to be potatoes, barley, and wheat, but other sources can be (and sometimes are) things like rye, sweet potatoes, cane/molasses, beets, and fruits like grapes and apples.

What defines vodka is this: whatever fermented source mash present is distilled to a high enough percentage alcohol (removing enough impurities) in order to achieve a clean, subtle flavor.  Put another way: vodka's lack of flavor is (traditionally) what defines it.  The process to make vodka removes so much flavor that it doesn't matter whether you begin with grape juice, malt wort, or molasses.

Many new age vodkas go about distilling more lightly in order to keep natural flavors, but the vast majority of traditional vodkas aim to eliminate flavor, not keep it.  This is why it's recognized that the many vodkas' flavor comes most from the water used to dilute the distillate.

Does this mean that vodka has no value and should never be used in drinks?  Not exactly.

Vodka has the ability to enhance the flavors of simple cocktails, and sometimes even alter them a bit to something that's a bit greater than the sum of its parts.  And, depending on the vodka, you can also occasionally pick up some of the vodka's own characteristics in a drink.

As for vodka brands, there are a few widely acclaimed ones to which you should probably pay attention.  Tito's Handmade vodka is one that comes to mind.

Another brand which is gaining popularity is Iceberg vodka, from Canada.  The water for this vodka is acquired by the harvesting of icebergs that break off from Greenland and float to Newfoundland at a place called Iceberg Alley.  Gimmick or not, the vodka is good.  Its sweet on the tongue, and I can detect hints of citrus in it.  This bottle was sent to me as a sample, but any follower of this site knows that I don't hesitate to point out faults with freebies, if any.  I would recommend Iceberg to anyone.

Three drinks come to my mind when I think of tasty vodka cocktails.

The first is simply a Vodka Gimlet.  You can read about the Gimlet here and my rant about Rose's Lime Juice here.

The second is the simple Vodka Cranberry, my favorite version of which is below, along with the legendary Moscow Mule.

Vodka Cranberry

1.5 oz vodka
4 oz cranberry cocktail*
1 wedge lime

Combine vodka and juice into a glass, squeeze lime wedge into glass and then toss it into the mixture.  Add ice, and stir.

*Cranberry cocktail, the kind that has a plethora of other juices to sweeten it.  If you try to go new age and use a fresh squeezed organic not-from-concentrate cranberry juice, the cocktail will be undrinkable.

Moscow Mule

2 oz vodka
1 oz lime juice
3-4 oz ginger beer

Build ingredients over ice and stir.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cask: Culmination, and

Whether you're in the mood for a specific kind of drink or only have a select few ingredients to work with, is your friend.  CocktailDB is a sophisticated database of cocktails and the ingredients that comprise them, and what sets it apart is that it is a static database that contains only "classic" and "vintage" cocktails, as opposed to a site like which contains commercialized recipes and the hottest drinks that all the Bros are mixing up in modern Frat houses.

Along with being able to search CocktailDB by drink names and ingredients, the site also offers up a curious tool: the Mixilator.  Rowen of the Fogged In Lounge details a bit more about the Mixilator and his adventures with it here.

One of my pet peeves about CocktailDB is that it's bloated with mediocre recipes and recipe variations that are lost to time.  While it's occasionally possible to find a diamond in this mixological rough, you'll find that more often it's just a collection of laughable or unremarkable blither.


Browsing recently, I got excited about and took a chance with a recipe that managed to use 3 ingredients that I had homemade myself in the past.  Apple brandy?  I have my own aged apple spirit.  Gin?  Why, I have my own attempt at slightly-aged "apple-twisted" gin still lying around!  Plum brandy?  While it may not be quite what is prescribed, I do still have my slightly sweetened umeshu, or Japanese plum wine(which is really more like a liqueur).  Why, you could even conceive of creating the recipe's orange liqueur via my prescribed limoncello method!

Despite my self-aggrandizement, this is actually a really good, dry cocktail.  I encourage you to make it at home.  If you don't have the plum brandy, I imagine any dry fruit brandy or eau-de-vie would suffice.  My only peeve with the thing is that it's a variation of another drink, so its history or pervasiveness is probably impossible to calculate.

Casino Cocktail Variation

1.5 oz gin
.5 oz apple brandy
.25 oz plum brandy
.25 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash Cointreau

Stir with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. (Brandied cherry garnish optional, and my personal addition.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Infusion #6: Limoncello

Summer's cosmically here, and you should sip some chilled limoncello to welcome it properly.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur which is prolific in Italy and, if you've been so fortunate to have visited the place, that would already be clear to you. Anecdotal evidence has told me that just about every serious meal in Italy is followed by a small chilled glass of limoncello, and it's almost offensive if you refuse it. It's generally served neat and chilled, though you can really take it any way you like it, and you can even mix with it.

The bad news is that limoncello, for some reason, isn't very easy to find in stores. The good news is that it is easy as hell to make. The better news is that once you've mastered making limoncello, you've unlocked an easy way to make tons of kinds of your own liqueurs at home.

Making your own limoncello follows a beautiful and modular process that's easily adapted:

Step 1) Fill a vessel (preferably glass... empty booze bottles work) with an amount of vodka.

Step 2) Place into the same vessel an amount of lemon zest.

Step 3) Let vessel sit for an amount of time.

Step 4) Strain the zest out of the vodka, and add some amount of sugar.

(All ingredient and time amounts are nebulous because it's all to taste. A higher and lower spirit/flavorant balance will require more or less time for a proper infusion, respectively.  You should at least be using about 1 lemon's worth of zest for each cup of vodka.  The infusion should probably sit undisturbed for at least a week before straining.)

As I've been quoted saying in articles before, this is a GIGO situation: infusing crappy vodka with lemon peels doesn't improve how the vodka tastes. You don't need to use Grey Goose, but a middle shelf alternative should be fine.

Tradition dictates your lemon zest should be completely devoid of pith, which is bitter. But if you like a bitter note to your limoncello, you won't hear me complain. You can avoid pith in a variety of ways. I like to peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler, and then use the flexible tip of a sharp knife to shave most of the pith off from the back (I'm not a perfectionist). But if you want no pith at all, I would say the easiest way is to use a micro-plane to zest the fruit very lightly. Whether your zest is in long wide strips or fine flecks, it doesn't matter.

After letting the mixture sit, strain out the solids using a coffee filter. To this infused spirit you can add sugar. Since sugar does not dissolve well in alcohol, you should firstly make a syrup by dissolving the sugar into water, and then add the syrup to the spirit. You can make a simple syrup or a rich simple syrup, depending on how much additional water you'd like to add to your spirit to sweeten it, thereby lowering its proof.

Once you add your sweetener, you're ready to drink.  Chilled in the freezer and served neat is traditional, but I'll take it any way.

What's a good limoncello cocktail?  I might first direct you to my own Southern Soprano...

The directions above are an easy guideline which you can use in more generic ways than it seems.  All you need is 1) a solvent, 2) a flavorant, and 3) a sweetener.  In the case of limoncello, those 3 variables end up looking like: vodka, lemon peel, and sugar

I'll leave you with a list of variations that I myself have tried with varying degrees of success, some of whose names are made up and some of whose are not...

Meyer limoncello: vodka, Meyer lemon peel, sugar
Limonmielo: vodka, lemon peel, honey
Limettacello: vodka, lime peel, sugar - my personal favorite
Pompelmocello: vodka, grapefruit peel, sugar
Pomelocello: vodka, pomelo peel, sugar
Uglicello: vodka, Uglifruit peel, sugar
Gimoncello: gin, lemon peel, sugar
Mojitocello: white rum, lime peel & mint, sugar

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Original Remixes for Housewarming

We had a housewarming party a few weeks ago and I finally had the opportunity to mix drinks for my friends using my relatively lush home inventory. (If you weren't invited, I'm sorry. We had a guest list that already challenged the capacity of the apartment. We wanted to invite even more.) Incidentally, this experience confirmed that I don't have what it takes to be a good bartender, and I'm ok with that.

We had a small suggested drink list for the occasion which included the Saratoga(this version), the Cuba Libre(this version), the Monkey Gland(this version), and two originals which I've posted below.


The Madras is one of those easy training-wheel drinks both in terms of taste and ease of construction. Seemingly everyone knows how to make one and yet no one knows where it comes from. I can't find any historical information on the damn thing, so if anyone knows of it, please enlighten me.

The drink is simply orange juice, cranberry juice, and vodka. Admittedly, it's a strange combination, but the drink really works, managing to invoke an overall "tropical" crowd-pleasing flavor. I urge you to stay away from the versions that call for several times more cranberry than orange.

It was a matter of time before I figured that replacing the vodka with rum would be a capital idea. I suggest an aged rum that's in the funky Jamaican style. I'd go with a Smith & Cross or Appleton Estate, and I sometimes get away with Cockspur 5-Star. I've been making this one for years. No fancy names here: just the facts.

Aged Rum Madras

.75 oz aged rum
1.5 oz orange juice
1.5 oz cranberry cocktail
1 dash simple syrup

 Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and pour into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

This is one that we created specifically for the housewarming. It uses the aforementioned Cockspur aged rum along with Godiva Chocolate Vodka. The vodka is a curious ingredient... not really a replacement for creme de cacao, though it is slightly sweetened. The end result of our tinkering with it is a really classy drink that we call the Hwalisa.


1 oz aged rum(Cockspur 5-Star or Appleton V/X)
.75 oz triple sec
.5 oz Godiva chocolate vodka
1 dash orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Cask: Final

It was a good run, but the small little barrel has just sung its swan song. Almost 3 years ago, I began this very blog using my experiences with this small Copper Fox distillery cask as a flagship topic, if you will. In 2009, at-home aging was a topic scarcely written about online, and having valued unorthodox topics as a cornerstone for this site as I still do today, I took the cask project as a fitting starting line. Here in 2012, aging liquor at home is now a bit more popular online, though most of it concerns aging pre-mixed cocktails, not raw spirits, as I've mostly done. I chose this cocktail aging fad as my barrel's final batch.

Why final? Well look at the thing! Image quality aside, here is its before and after below.

Spilling and seepage have weathered it into a gnarly sticky mass. Over a half dozen batches of liquid have been aged in this vessel, a number that I feel is much above the average commercial spirit barrel's lifespan. I have no qualms with retiring this cask and purchasing another, should I feel the need to continue aging. (And I do!)

Scarcely 45 days ago I decided that the barrel was ready to work again, having rested from its last ghastly voyage. If you'll recall, I brashly tried to age a light fruity Sauvignon Blanc in it. After aging it much too long (if it could have been aged well at all), my resulting product resembled a vinegary vermouth more than a table wine. Apologetic to the cask, I left it in open air to fully dry. A month after that, I gave it a few flushes of nice hot water in order to extract any sour flavors before we continued.

And now we continue. Into the barrel's final gulp was, technically speaking, a variation of an Improved Scotch Cocktail, a glass of which would have been composed of a few fingers of Scotch whisky, a heavy dash of sugar syrup, a heavy dash of absinthe, a heavy dash of Maraschino liqueur, and a heavy dash of bitters.

A few notes on the ingredients. I had originally planned to use a young (and cheap) single malt Scotch, but was persuaded against it. I ended up using Johnny Walker Red Label, since popular consensus is that its age is somewhere near 8 years. Since the small barrel ages contents so quickly, I decided to let the input whisky err on the younger side.

I opted for a new American Maraschino liqueur: Leopold Bros. It's one of their newer products and is absolutely wonderful. As someone who finds the traditional Luxardo a bit overpowering, Leopold's restraint is very welcome. Go buy some now.

Instead of using aromatic bitters which is traditional for the Improved Cocktail, I used my own homemade coffee bitters, which I always felt went well with Scotch.

And now, a note on sugar. Most of the cocktails that you've probably seen aged in barrels are along the lines of Manhattans and Negronis. While there's a bit of sugar in each of those, I wasn't sure I had heard of any aged cocktails that contained simple syrup, or even a heavy liqueur for that matter, and I wondered if there was a good reason as to why not. My cocktail mix ended up being only about 1/15th sugar, and since I knew this was my barrel's last hurrah, I went for it.

In the end, the sugar wasn't a problem. I let the mix sit in the barrel about a month and a half, just to get a bit of age on the ingredients, namely the whisky.

My biggest surprise in the end was how bitter the mixture became. The aging seemed to magnify the bitters' bitterness several times over. In order to calm it back down, I actually doctored the final aged mix with an additional bit of each of the cocktail's other ingredients except the bitters. The final concoction is a bit more bitter than I'd like, but I don't want to tinker with it any more in fear of upsetting its already endangered balance.

The coffee and vanilla in the bitters bring out a bit of chocolate from the whiskey. The liqueur and the syrup offer just a bit of sweetness to counteract the formidable bitterness here. Like it normally does in the Improved Cocktail, the absinthe provides a bright and aromatic highlight to the mix, which definitely needs it in this case. And luckily for me, the barely detectable white wine tones from the barrel's last batch adds sweetness to this one, if anything. But to be quite honest, I'm not sure the cocktail is better now than before it went into the barrel, though I'm definitely enjoying trying to understand its transformation. This has been a success.

And so, this barrel is done aging things. I'm not done with it completely, however, and if you're wondering what I mean, you'll have to wait and see.

As I end my home-aging journey, a friend of mine starts hers. She is Courtney Randall of Cocktail Quest. Her interests lie in aging cocktails, not spirits alone, though she realizes that it's a smart move to soften the barrel's charred innards first by aging a spirit before subtler cocktails are poured in. In a move after my heart, she chose Wray & Nephew's White Overproof Rum.

Courtney managed to articulate one of my favorite things about aging at home, something I've thought about for years but never was able to say it so well, so I will provide her words here (mangled by myself):

"With a newly empty barrel [after aging the rum], surely it was time to batch up two liters of cocktail. But... I started to reconsider. Perhaps one more spirit round wouldn't be a bad idea; two unique barrel-aged spirits must be better than one.

You see, when a spirit is placed in a barrel, a certain amount will disappear. But it doesn't just evaporate. The wood soaks some of it up like a sponge, and the barrel is forever changed. Whatever goes in next will be affected. For example, if you barrel age a white whiskey, and then fill the barrel with gin, some of the barrel-aged whiskey flavors will be incorporated into the gin's flavor profile. But the barrel's flavor is not constant. Each time you change the contents, the barrel will take on the new flavors and yet lose some of its own."

Well put, Courtney!

If you've enjoyed reading about my hijinks with aging at home, do yourself a favor and follow hers in suit.

As I said, while my barrel is done aging contents, I'm not fully done with it just yet. Stay tuned for further hijinks, and thanks to all you readers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ephemeral Noms

I've begun another blog.

A hopeless consumer, I've always been enchanted with getting my hands on limited edition flavors of snacks and drinks that pop up intermittently in your grocery and convenience stores. After 20 years of such hawking, I consider myself an expert on the junk food landscape. Here's the full story. I figured it might be fun to document the curious iterations that I come across and that perhaps I might be so lucky as to gain a few readers, especially those from whom I can learn on this subject.

Did you know for their 100th Anniversary Oreo is offering a special edition that's flavored like birthday cake? Did you know that Pepsi just started producing a half-calorie version? What about the fact that you can buy marshmallow treats that use the Fruity Pebble cereal instead of Rice Krispies?

All of this you can learn and more at Ephemeral Noms.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Egotistical Cocktails, Part 2

It's time for another egotistical cocktail, an original cocktail which you yourself have created that may not differ greatly from one or more already-established recipes, but one that you newly name anyway.

In response to my last one, Rowen of the Fogged In Lounge said this:

"There are variations [of the Improved Cocktail] that are more strikingly different than others. Had you used one of Cruzan’s milder rums, one might be more tempted to call it an Improved Santa Cruz Rum Cocktail. But Blackstrap is unusual enough that [the] interchangeable quality of the Improved template seems secondary [to the unique flavor of the rum]."

At first I didn't understand what he meant, but now I do. My understanding was deepened when I stumbled across an old post from Darcy O'Neil, one of the old guard booze bloggers. His post outlines some basic guidelines on when a new cocktail deserves a new name or not. Luckily, my creations fall within his guidelines, though I shall still call them egotistical.

This is one that I cooked up years ago accidentally while trying to use up a bottle of tonic water before the fizz ran out. Since that day, I've found myself making them more and more... it really might be one of the best drinks I've come up with.

Technically, this could be called a rye & tonic with lemon bitters, but instead I'll call it...



2 oz rye whiskey
3 oz tonic water
1 dash lemon bitters

Build over ice in an old fashioned glass. No garnish.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rose's Lime Cordial, Remixed

In the wake of all the hate concerning Rose's Lime Cordial, I thought I'd deliver a few original drinks using the stuff that I've been making for the past year or so. I'm doing my part to even out the internet's love/hate balance for the cordial.

Rose's isn't the most versatile ingredient, but it's really damn interesting when paired with certain ingredients that compliment it. These are both Gimlet variations.


Gimlet & Tonic

1.5 oz London dry gin
.5 oz Rose's Lime Cordial
3 oz tonic water

Build in an old fashioned glass over ice. No garnish.

This is simply a Gimlet on the rocks with tonic to top.


1.5 oz London dry gin
.5 oz Rose's Lime Cordial
.25 oz Green Chartreuse

Stir with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

This is simply a Gimlet with a few dashes of Chartreuse.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rewriting History

I'm not really a big fan of Pimm's No. 1, and I never have been. Because of this, I devised my own Pimm's replacement. It's much better than the original Pimm's, I assure you. Pimm's is an out-dated product, anyway. No one drinks it anymore, right?

Pimm's cup

1.5 oz London Dry gin
.25 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash triple sec
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash tonic water

Pour into a tall glass, fill with ice, and top with ginger ale. Garnish with a slice of lemon and/or piece of cucumber.

Now, a question: Did what I just write irritate you?

It should. Let us count the ways: (to clarify, what I wrote above is not my opinion)

1) What I made here isn't a Pimm's Cup. Why? Because regardless of the actual name of the drink, it specifically calls for Pimm's No. 1. My (perceived superior) approximation of Pimm's No. 1 is a different ingredient, and therefore the drink above is really only a variation.

2) My "homemade Pimm's" flavor deviates from the original more than your average brand-swapping of spirits in most drinks. The resulting flavor of my Pimm's Cup is very different than the original Pimm's Cup, and so both drinks should really not bear the same name.

3) My distaste for Pimm's No. 1 gives me no right to change the Pimm's Cup without changing its name, especially if I'm serving it at a commercial bar or issuing the recipe to readers. I owe it to my patrons/fans for my drink titles to accurately describe what they're getting, and I owe it to the annals of cocktail history to do my best to serve drinks as they were originally intended, and if I don't, then I should document/notate it as such.


If you agreed, then you should have no problem switching "Pimm's No. 1" with "Rose's Lime Cordial" and "Pimm's Cup" with "Gimlet" in what I wrote above. Replacing the Rose's with lime juice and sugar gives you a delicious drink, but you should not call it a Gimlet.

Just recently this discussion has flared up again when Michael Dietsch purposefully visited/flamebaited the subject and Doug Winship did it inadvertently.

Right now, a popular trend is to make your own lime cordial. However, pre-mixed lime juice and sugar in a bottle is not a cordial. (One of the more interesting lime cordial recipes is here, which uses agar to make the mix crystal clear. The clarification process changes the lime flavor into a more subdued note.)

Even if you do make your own lime cordial, still use caution in what you call a Gimlet. Regardless of how delicious you think your own cordial is, if it tastes nothing like Rose's, then perhaps your drink is a Gimlet variation. The Gimlet cocktail calls for Rose's Lime Cordial, not simply a lime cordial, just like how a Pimm's Cup calls for Pimm's No. 1, just simply a fruit cup.

If you find that Rose's has no place in your house or on your menu, then academically, it makes more sense to remove the Gimlet from your repertoire than to remove Rose's from your Gimlet.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mixology Monday LXIV: the Main Brace

February's Mixology Monday is hosted again by Doug Winship of the Pegu Blog. His themes rarely disappoint, but this one is particularly ingenius, since it magically coincides with the theme for his blog this month (and every other February): tiki.

As Doug's submission roundup for this month will likely be a sea of citrus juice and rum(there are worse things in life), I've chosen to post one of the rarer tiki recipes that isn't very typical, like I did one year ago with the Flaming Coffee Grog.

The Main Brace may have one of the coolest names of any drink, but the drink itself might seem fairly mundane: you can either think of it as a tiki drink which replaces rum with red wine, or instead, a tiki take on sangria.

Why is the name so cool? Because it refers to a drinking ritual on seafaring vessels of old.

The main brace(or mainbrace) is the largest/thickest/heaviest rigged rope on a sailing ship, be it a common sailboat or a 3-mast Man-of-War. The braces of a ship were the ropes which helped turn the angle of the ship's sails, thereby steering the vessel. When armed ships engaged in battle, clever commanders knew that targeting a ship's steering apparatus with cannons, the main brace especially, was a much better way to disable an vessel than trying to sink it.

When main braces broke, only the strongest and most skilled of seamen could splice it(thereby mending it),
especially in the heat of battle. Those that succeeded on this herculean task were usually rewarded with extra rum that day. The rum reward for splicing the main brace became so customary and traditional that the term "splicing the main brace" was soon used as a euphemism for drinking on a ship, especially after a job well done. This term was said to be used as such in the British Royal Navy until well into the era of engine-powered ships, where braces were no longer even used. (I labored to avoid nautical terminology in this explanation. If you can handle the jargon, you can read more about it here.)

So, why does the Main Brace drink use wine instead of rum? No clue. That's part of the mystery. The Main Brace is one of those drinks that tastes way better than your imagination may guess when looking at the ingredient list. The recipe calls for a wine from Burgundy, but I tend to suggest that a very capable substitute is a dry red wine that has a full body, enough to stand up to the juices.

Main Brace

3 oz Burgundy (or red wine)
.75 oz orange juice
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz sugar syrup
.25 oz triple sec
.25 oz lime juice

Shake with ice cubes, and pour into a tall glass.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tiki Month 2012: The Grogalizer

Tiki Month 2012 has begun! If you're unaware, Tiki Month is one of the many curious creations of Doug Winship, the proprietor of the Pegu Blog. Instead of giving you a drink to kick off the month, I'll tell you about a tool that helps facilitate that which is tiki.

Each time I bring up the subject of tiki, especially when I "celebrate" February as Tiki Month, I usually decry the drink style as a barely-worthwhile laborious undertaking which may represent mixology's most dark and decadent corridors.

Imagine this frustrating scenario: it's Friday night, and you've just gotten home from work. You don your tropical shirt (or is that only me?), and you want to mix up a tiki beverage to take away the week's furrows from your worn, worn brow. You look toward your rums, your liqueurs... you notice that your fruit bowl is full of bright citrus varieties... you think toward all the bottles of juice and syrups that you have in your refrigerator or elsewhere...

But you know that it will still take a good while to flip through all your tiki drink books in order to find a drink that you'll actually have all the ingredients to make. I TOLD YOU TIKI WAS HARD!

Luckily for you, there's a interwebs solution to your problem: the Grogalizer, created by a dedicated tiki fan nicknamed Swanky.

The Grogalizer is a thing that could only have been made by someone familiar with the hardships of tiki: it's a sophisticated database which will simply tell you which classic tiki drinks you're able to make, once you've told it all the tiki ingredients that you currently have on hand. Specifically, the drink list it draws from are in the books of Jeff Berry.

Whether you only have handful of ingredients or a spread that rivals a craft cocktail bar, the Grogalizer can easily pinpoint which recipes suit your arsenal. To add to that, the Grogalizer can even tell you the drinks that you can almost make, should you feel a bit sacrilegious and attempt to make an ingredient substitution. As I always say: I'd prefer that you make a substitution and drink than not drink at all.

There are two catches, however:

1) You have to have an account in order to use the site, but it's free. I bet that the simple registration is required because the Grogalizer offers the ability to execute fairly complex database queries, technically speaking. Your search's results come from the cross-referencing of up to hundreds of variables, and since the Grogalizer is a small operation, I imagine that Swanky's modest hardware or software wouldn't be able to handle the load of random and casual visitors running intensive searches.

2) Your search results will not give you the recipes for the drinks that fit your criteria. Instead, they will give you the name of the drink, and the page number of the book in which it can be found. This was done deliberately, I imagine, to not break copyright.

Luckily, site registration takes seconds, and Jeff Berry's latest and most comprehensive tiki drink book is cheap.

Your excuses for not making tiki drinks (other than the seven I outline here, as well as those I offer above) grow few! Soon you too will be asking "Why is all the rum gone?" Viva Tiki Month!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

DLDGLG's Drink.Write Wrap-Up

In December of 2011 I attended the Cocktail and Spirits Online Writers Group's Drink.Write event series, which was a host of events held for booze bloggers and enthusiasts in Washington, DC. The events, conveniently, were bookends to the 2011 Repeal Day Ball, a grand event which celebrates the repeal of Prohibition many years ago.

Before saying more, I'll simply direct you to Done like Dundee, Gone like Gandhi, a humble blog run by an admirable young chap named Anthony who, in addition to a full time job, moonlights as a bartender at the bar of Last Exit in the District's Mount Pleasant. His writing reflects his love of drinking but also his ability to sling drinks from behind the bar.

Anthony attended Drink.Write and has splendidly documented the tale right here, and it includes great pictures of all of us!

If you'd like to be kept abreast of any future Drink.Write events, you can email SeanMike Whipkey at seanmike (at)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Infusion #5: Umeshu, Part II

Five months ago I let a few whole green pluots begin soaking in a bunch of soju. This was in a shoddy attempt to create my own version of umeshu, an East Asian plum "wine".

Because I'm on the other side of the earth, I settled for trying the recipe using an unripe version of some new-fangled cross-species instead of a traditional asian plum.

Much like seeing a movie before reading the book on which it was based, I can't tell you how faithful the final product is, but I can tell you how good it is.

It's good!

The infusion product ended up being a pale brown with almost a hue of green... ("before" and "after" pictured above) not bad considering that all this color was infused through the skin of the pluots.

The sweetness of the stuff is almost just right, between the initial sweetness of soju and the added sugar pulled from the fruit. Because of this, I only needed to add a bit of rich simple syrup in order to get it to my liking.

The final flavor is overwhelmingly of overripe plums... or even prunes, if you will. As someone who enjoys prune juice, I certainly enjoy this. A determined effort will reveal slight "green" flavors of sour plum and even perhaps the tannins that were once there. Sipping this umeshu certainly isn't a contemplative process where one strives to pick out flavors from a complex sip, but the process is, without a doubt, pleasant.

I would consider this umeshu infusion an overall success, though I have a feeling that my final brew is nothing like the real thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Guilty Pleasure

Even your average fan of fine film or fine food might occasionally enjoy a Kevin Smith flick or a Twinkie, no? Even a student of fine cocktails might occasionally enjoy a less-than-fine drink, am I right?

There's nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure, so long as you consciously recognize why it's guilty.

To make you feel better, here are five guilty pleasures of the legendary Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

Mine? It changes occasionally, but my go-to is the Blue Hawaiian cocktail. My preferred recipe has varied over the years, but here's my current one. Don't judge me, just drink.

Blue Hawaiian

1 oz cream of coconut
1 oz blue curacao
1.5 oz light rum
4 oz pineapple juice
1 dash lime juice

Shake everything in a shaker with ice cubes of any size, and strain into a tall glass with crushed or cubed ice. Garnish with anything as long as it's orange to contrast with the blue.