Thursday, March 31, 2011

Champagne Cocktails With the In-Laws

Last weekend my Mother and (step) father in-law paid us a visit.  Following cherry blossom viewing I decided to make them cocktails.  There are some drinks that I like but cannot frequently make for logistical reasons.  I’m a big port fan, but you kind of have to commit to it because the bottle goes bad in less than two weeks.  Champagne cocktails fall into this group of well.  My wife and I have no problem polishing off a bottle of champagne in an evening but doing so with liquor in the champagne necessitates company or a willingness to get fairly sloshed.  As such, the in-laws provided an opportunity to try making a few things.  

For my wife, I concocted a drink with of St. Germain elderflower liquor and lemon.

Blumen Blasen (German for "blooming bubbles")
½ ounce elderflower liquor
¼ ounce of lemon juice
Fill rest of flute with champagne

Directions:  But liquor and lemon juice in flute, followed by champagne and swirl gently to mix.

I thought this had a very light taste and the lemon juice kept the elderflower liquor from overpowering the drink and making it too sweet.  This is also a good drink for someone in the mood for a less stiff drink.  Not surprisingly, my wife requested another.
I next made a stiffer drink for my wife’s step father.

Brasserie Lebbe (courtesy of Jason Wilson)
3/4 ounce of pear eau de vie (I used conventional pear brandy)
¾ ounce of Tuaca
½ ounce of lemon juice
3 ounces of dry champagne

Directions:  Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full wiht ice.  Add the eau de vie, Licor 43 or Tuaca, and lemon juice.  Shake virorously, then strain into a champagne flute.  Top with champagne.

Evidently my champagne flutes were too small, as this necessitated a goblet.  I had a sip and it seemed to be a complex drink where the champagne was barely detectable but created a crispness.  The recipient also enjoyed it.

For my mother in-law I made a drink that I’ve had before with my wife to good effect.

Goodnight Kiss (courtesy of Jason Wilson)
Sugar cube
Splash of Campari
Drop of angostura bitters
4 ounces of champagne

Directions:  Put sugar cube in flute, followed by a splash (1/2 a capful) of Campari and a drop of bitters.  Cover with champagne and allow to sit for a moment for the sugar to dissolve a bit.
My mother-in law is a big fan of Campari and with the sugar this makes for a very subtly drink.  More flavored champagne than a true cocktail.  I would later finish the bottle, making her another one of these.

For myself, I wanted to go off the reservation a bit.  A couple months earlier I bought a bottle of Green Chartreuse and was still exploring ways to use this ingredient.  Green Chartreause is in one of my favorite cocktails (the Last Word) but it doesn’t always play nice with others.  It tends to overpower a lot of drinks both because it’s 110 proof and because of its strong flavor profile.  I searched the internets for a recipe and found one.

The ChaChaCha (courtesy of some idiot)
¾ ounce of Green Chartreuse
1 Generous dash of Peychaud’s bitters
Top flute with champagne.

Directions:  Put the Green Chartreuse and bitters in the flute followed by the champagne and swirl gently.

The result:  Epic fail.  Everyone tried this thing and nobody could take it.  Perhaps it is that Green Chartreuse is a strong spirit and needs to be used in small doses or in conjunction with other strong flavors to balance it, but the result was unanimous.  I got about half way through and came to the conclusion that I hated it and saw no reason to polish it off – the ingredients were already wasted.
This brings up a bit of a philosophical question for cocktail nerds, or snobs of any sort.  Clearly, we value originality and moving beyond our comfort zones.  That said, at what point is it alright to admit “I don’t like this”, even without better reason that it looks, sounds or taste bad to you, and move on?  I find this is the case with a few boozes.  I want to like single-malt scotch.  It seems cool.  There is a long history of the spirit and a lot of interest.  However, to quote Ralph Wiggin, “It tastes like burning.”  My nostrils fill with smoke smell and my mouth and throat with the flame.  Perhaps I’ll later acquire this taste like I have mushrooms and Jazz or perhaps not like I haven’t with olives and Bluegrass.

Fortunately, I followed this drink up with a better one that I concocted.  I had some leftover lemon juice from my earlier juice.  I remembered that sloe gin and lime play very well with ginger ale in the Cloudy Sky, perhaps my wife’s favorite drink.  So for this one I substituted lemon juice and champagne, making for a slightly less sweat version of this flavor profile.

Spring Sunset
½ ounce of sloe gin (I used Plymouth)
½ ounce of lemon juice
Fill rest of the flute with champagne

Directions:  Put sloe gin and lemon juice in the flute and top with champagne.  Swirl gently to mix.

This was very nice.  It was not a challenging drink in that it involved a fairly sweet ingredient and the fairly sour but simple one with a slightly tart background of dry champagne.  Nonetheless, this proved a relaxing follow-up to the ghastly ChaChaCha. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Old Pal Cocktail


1 ounce of rhy
3/4 ounce of dry vermouth
3/4 ounce Campari
lemon twist

Directions:  Stir and pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with lemon

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity): 7
I'm of mixed minds about this drink.  If you want a strong but tart drink, this is an excellent choice.  The taste is layered with the rhy and Campari coming through and the vermouth laying in the background.  On the other hand, it is not balanced.  That might not always be a bad thing though.  While I typically don't prefer drinks with multiple sweet or bitter taste (the vermouth and Campari are both pretty bitter, as is the lemon), the drink has a very coherent flavor profile, which I appreciate.  While I'm usually not a fan of putting ice in drinks, I think it really helped the Old Pal.  Because the drink is so strong, it lends itself to sipping. Further, I think the ice took away the "sharpness" of the vermouth so that as the 20 or so minutes that I drank the the Old Pal wore on, the flavors blended better and the rhy came through a bit more, which was a good thing.

Versatility (when and for who the drinks works): 3
 This is a strong drink that one must sit down and savor to enjoy. I don't think of the Old Pal as something I would quaff on my patio while working the grill.  This is more a drink that I sip while chatting with friends or reading.  This is not a drink for the casual imbiber, such as my wife.  Most of my friends shy away from particularly bitter drinks and they don't get too much more bitter than this.

Hassle (cost and time):  9
This drink is really easy to make.  Just dump the ingredients in the shaker, stir poor, and garnish.  Further, the ingredients, especially with my middling rhy and Martin and Rossie vermouth were quite cheap. 

Overall:  6
I initially didn't much care for this drink, finding the Campari and dry vermouth redundant, as the drink settled and the ice melted a bit, it really came together though.  More than bitter, I would call this drink spicy, with relatively hash notes from the Campari and rhy and accented by the lemon. That said, I think the Old Pal is for a very specific setting and won't work well for most people, hence the low rating - but for the right person and the right time, it can be a low-effort gem.

 Potential Improvements
 I like the interplay with the rhy and the Campari, though I might use a tad less of the former, as it's by for the strongest flavor in the drink.  My concern is more with the dry vermouth, which feels a little redundant with the Campari and perhaps pushes the Old Pal to be a little bit more bitter than is ideal.  I might try replacing it with 1/2 ounce of Contreau.  Alternatively, 1/2 ounce of lemoncello would maintain the citrus flavor of the lemon and Campari but sweeten the drink little.

Update:  The Orange Pal
I made this cocktail again but substituted 1/2 ounce of Contreau for the vermouth.  Although perhaps a little less coherent, I thought the drink had better balance.  A friend of mine tried it and though it was an elegant cocktail that was much less challenging than the traditional Old Pal.  Though Contreau is a bit pricier than vermouth, I'll bump this cocktail up to a 7.5 because I think it is more balanced and a lot more people would enjoy it than the rather bitter Old Pal.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Let's Pretend It's Not Winter. Pimm's Cocktail!

This winter has been dragging on forever, though snow has given way to cold rain in basement-flooding amounts.  In an effort to make believe it is Spring, I purchased some Pimm's No. 1 and made Pimm's Cups.  For my wife, I made what I think is a pretty standard Pimm's Cup with 1.5 oz of Pimms, a squirt of lemon juice, a cucumber spear, and ginger ale, served in a large glass with ice cubes. For mine, I added a bit of gin, but the idea was similar.

  • 1.5 ounce Pimm's No. 1
  • .5 ounce of gin (Beefeater)
  • squirt from lemon wedge (with remaining wedge in drink)
  • cucumber spear
  • 3-4 ounces of ginger ale
Directions:  Mix ingredients in large glass full of ice cubes and stir

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity):  8
This drink taste as refreshing as any alcoholic beverage you will find.  The cucumber note gets stronger the longer you savor the drink.  If anything the gin is a distraction, and perhaps there is something to the original recipe.

Versatility (when and for who the drinks works):  6
This is clearly a warm weather beverage, my spring fantasy notwithstanding, and is best enjoyed outside.  I think a number of people would like this drink, though some dudes might blanch that it is pretty weak on the alcohol, even with the gin.

Hassle (cost and time):  7
The Pimm's Cup is pretty cheap to make, particularly if you end up not wasting the rest of the cucumber.  Although it doesn't take long to make, I don't tend to stay stocked in cucumbers, so some planning is necessary.

Overall: 7
This is an incredibly refreshing drink - one of the few alcoholic beverages of any kind that taste good enough that I'd have with no alcohol.  Although it's best and highest use might be to sip while reading on a hammock on an early summer day.  This drink is also a nice change of pace from some of the very boozy classic cocktails.

Potential Improvements:
I might play up the fresh tastes by adding a but of celery bitters and perhaps a dab of honey.  I've seen variants of this drink with grapefruit as well.

Church and State Bar

After dinner, I finally made it to a cool bar I'd been hearing about for a while.  It was Church and State in the upcoming H Street neighborhood here in D.C.  The bar, which sits upstairs above a restaurant was decorated with items that looked to be from churches, in particular the lights and a round stained glass window.  Although only of few folks were there at the time (we stopped by around 7:30) it had a really cool vibe.  We sat at the bar and the first thing that struck me was that I hardly recognized any of the bottles on the wall.  The bartender told me that it was one of the bar's theme's of sorts and that they get their liquors stateside, largely from California and make other ingredients.  The only exception might be rum - though perhaps Porto Rico counts as domestic.  My wife had a Jack Rose (probably her standard drink), which she liked.  I had a Sazerack, which was made quite well.  We chatted up the bartender a little bit, and true to DC form, he was here while trying to sell his documentary.  All in all, a cool bar - though I still prefer my neighborhood haunt - Sidebar.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Jasmine Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin (Beefeater)
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce Cointreau
  • 1/4 ounce Campari

Combine in an iced cocktail shaker:

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity): 6
I thought that while the Jasmine was refreshing and had a clear grapefruit taste, it lacked balance.  The slightly bitter base of gin was combined with the lemon juice and Contreau to make a very tart drink – the Contreau was insufficient to balance it.  The Campari note overwhelmed others.

Versatility (when and for who the drinks works):  7
This drink works for only those who like pretty tart/bitter drinks.  My wife was not a huge fan, and to some extent neither was I.  Conversely, I served it to someone who hates sweet drinks and she liked it, as did another guests.  On the positive side, the drink works in pretty much any setting.  It can be sipped, casually imbibed at a party, and enjoyed in any weather.

Hassle (cost and time):  8
It didn’t take long to make this drink, just juicing one lime and throwing a few ingredients in a shaker.  Additionally, none of the ingredients costs especially much.  TO save cash, especially when serving this in a party, you could downgrade the gin to Gordon’s and use triple sec instead of Contreau.

Overall Score:  7
This drink was refreshing but strong.  It might have run a little bitter for my taste, though I can see the appeal.

Potential Improvements:
I've seen a version of this drink  with 1/2 oz gin, 1 ounce of Cointreau, 3/4 ounce of Campari, and 1/2 ounce of lemon juice.  I'll have to try this, as it sounds a bit more balanced.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Last Word Cocktail

In this space, I will rate drinks by several measures with the idea being to both figure out which drinks I like the best and to compare iterations of the same drink.  This recipe is courtesy of a Jason Wilson Washington Post column.


  • Ice
  • 3/4 ounce gin (Plymouth)
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce green Chartreuse
  • 3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)


Shake ingredients with ice and strain, preferably into a martini glass.
The Grades

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity): 9
This delicious cocktail deftly balanced the very strong notes of maraschino and chartreuse.  Previously, I’ve found lowering maraschino content in drinks because it overpowers the aftertaste – and not in a good way.  The Last Word, one of my first forays into green Chartreuse, twists between the Chartreuse and the maraschino from fist touch on the tongue to the aftertaste, with the lime as a backdrop and the gin providing weight.  As strong as the flavors are, the drink was pretty refreshing, probably from the lime juice.  Not quite my favorite drink but pretty close, the Last Word possesses a pleasing and unique taste.

Versatility (when and for who the drinks works):  8
My wife typically doesn’t like really strong drinks but she liked it quite a bit, though she thought the aftertaste was a bit funny.  I haven’t had the chance to let any friends sample the drink, but I think my buddies will enjoy it.  The Last Word works in a number of venues and isn’t seasonal.  I think that this drink is one that you want to sip and enjoy and perhaps break out on special occasions.  If it were music, it would be something that you played to listen to and not to serve as background.

Hassle (cost and time):  6
The Last Word is pretty expensive.  In addition to the limes, the expensive Chartreuse and Luxardo maraschino liquor can’t be substituted for.  I also used pricey Plymouth gin, which save for what I think of as more delicate drinks, using Beefeater or Bombay Sapphire for certain others.  On the plus side, despite juicing limes, it didn’t take too long to make.

Final Score:    8
I don’t think that the Last Word will be on my regular rotation or I’ll be serving when hosting too many parties because it uses top shelf stuff and takes a bit of time to make.  It’s somewhat wasted as a social lubricant.  However, when I’m feeling a thoughtful and in the mood for something a bit different from the typical Manhattan or Negroni or want to introduce a new drink to someone, I’ll break this out.

Potential Improvements:
No major changes come to mind. Next time, I might slightly lower the maraschino to bring out more of the Chartreuse.  Doing so would also require slightly decreasing the lime for balance.

Hosting an Old Man Party

Recently, my wife and I hosted  an "old man party" for a group of friends, some of whom brought booze to share.  Few things are more awkward to me then trying to offer drinks to people and having to orally go through a laundry list of drinks until one sounds good.  Instead, (being off work the Friday of the party) I crafted drink menu.  I focused on seasonal drinks (hold the Mai Thais).  Here is the menu that I made and notes I made the next day.  My wife even printed them out on fancy paper for some class.

Cocktail Menu

The base liquors for tonight are gin, brandy, and whiskey.  Feel free to request a half-sized cocktail.

Strong Classics

Manhattan:  bourbon, sweet vermouth, and angostura bitters garnished with orange peel or cherry

Not surprisingly, guests gravitated to the more exotic drinks but at the end of the day a good Manhattan can compete with anything.

Martinez:  gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters

I liked this drink but am very careful the with maraschino liqueur.  The first time I made it, I think I used too much (1/4 an oz) and it overpowered the drink and gave it a funny aftertaste.

Negroni:  campari, sweet vermouth, and gin, garnished with an orange peel

The Negroni earned decidedly mixed reviews.  While a favorite of mine, one of my guests thought it was “utterly undrinkable.”  Bitter stuff isn’t for everyone evidently.

Old Pal:  rhy, dry vermouth, Campari, and lemon twist

Rolls Royce:  gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, and Benedictine

One guest tried this one, which I'm pretty partial to.  He liked it, though thought it was a tad boring.  There is some truth to that, insofar as it doesn't have any especially potent flavors (only a teaspoon of Benedictine), but I would disagree to an extent.  The Rolls Royce has every bit as much going on as a martini and them some, so I think the comment primarily reflected disappointment in not trying something more exotic.

Monte Carlo:  rye, Benedictine, and Peychaud’s bitters, garnished with a cherry

This drink was pretty well received. I tried a variant of this with a squirt of lime juice and no cherry that I liked better, but that might be my bias against maraschino cherries.

Kinda Sweet

Cloudy Sky:  sloe gin, lime juice, and ginger ale

The Cloudy Sky proved the favorite of the ladies, including my wife.  It takes a while to make but is well worth it.  We used pretty good ginger ale with a strong ginger taste – much stronger than Canada Dry.  The ginger ale pulls in both the tart of the lime with the sweet of the sloe gin.

Jack Rose: applejack, lime juice, and grenadine with simple syrup optional 

Probably the sweetest drink on the menu.  My wife finds the real version too strong so I cut it with about a teaspoon of simple syrup and add a bit of extra lime juice.

Livorno:  bourbon, Tuaca, and Peychaud’s bitters, garnished with a cherry

One of my favorite of the sweet drinks, as I like the combo of bourbon (Buffalo Trace) and Tuaca.  I garnished it with an orange peal instead.

Philly Sling:  applejack, sloe gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and angostura bitters
This got good reviews and is a bit like the Cloudy Sky.

Sidecar:  Cointreau, cognac (brandy), lemon juice on sugar rimmed glass with an orange peel.  A dash of orange bitters optional

One of my favorite classic cocktails, though I don’t have any Cognac at the moment and substitute Brandy.  It’s good for sipping for a while and less good if you have ambitions of numerous drinks because of the amount of sugar.

So So Cocktail:  gin, sweet vermouth, applejack, and grenadine

Not well received by the two who tried it.  I think this goes to a lot of people not liking sweet vermouth.  Next time, I’ll have to reduce the vermouth quotient in the menu.

A Little Different

Mamie Tailor:  scotch, lime juice, and ginger ale

One of the most like drinks, I ended up making a few.  There were guests who weren’t real big Scotch fans but liked this drink because it kept some of the flavor but cut the harshness.  I used a bit more Scotch than the recipe called for, as the Scotch (Remy Martin 12-year-old) was kind of invisible.

Under the Tartan Sun:  Tuaca, scotch, and tonic water, with a lime wedge

Not sure what to make of this one.  One of my guests liked it.  I tried one and found it muddled with a bit too much going on.  I’m not sure if I like Tuaca and scotch.

White Bear:  gin, sweat vermouth, dry vermouth, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and angostura bitters

Getting Started

In the last year, I've gotten really into trying and tinkering with cocktails.  Through this blog, I'd like to share thoughts and get input from the cocktail nerd community.  While not a theme per se, a trait of this blog is that it will have a pretty analytical approach.  Although enjoying cocktails is largely subjective, in order to figure out which drinks merit trying again, tinkering with, or avoiding at all cost, I'll be ranking cocktails by taste (flavor, clarity, and balance), versatility (when and for whom the drink works), and hassle (cost and time).  I'll also give overall impressions and ways that I might change the drinks the in future.

The blog will also feature missives about experiences hosting or attending cocktail parties or what I've tried or observed when out on the town.  I'm also very excited to get feedback from others.