Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another Classic Sipper: The Rob Roy Cocktail

Of late, I've been returning to some classic cocktails and making them to their original specifications.  This sounds, and in a way is, unexciting but it serves a couple of purposes.  First, there is a reason why many classic cocktails achieved the notoriety that they did: they are good cocktails.  Second, as I make novel drinks using unconventional ingredient combinations, I think that it is helpful to maintain a grounding in the tastes and ratios of classic cocktails.  It's kind of like making sure you remember your geometry to be an architect.

I think that there are a few basic classic formulas, of which a number of spin-off cocktails, some of which themselves are classic cocktails, are based.  These include the Manhattan, the Martini, the Old-Fashioned, and the Daiquiri.  Last night I tried one that I don't think that I'd had before, the Rob Roy, which is clearly in the Manhattan family, much like the Monte Carlo and the Paddy Cocktail, which I recently described.

2 ounces of Scotch
1 ounce of sweet vermouth
1 dash of orage bitters

Stir ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled whiskey glass, and garnish wiht a maraschino cherry.

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity): 7
Much more so than the Paddy Cocktail or the Monte Carlo, this cocktail is really about the base whiskey.  In fact, because I think Scotch is a more pronounced spirit than bourbon or rhy, it is more about the base spirit than a Manhattan is as well.  This drink to me presents a bit of a tension, where the flavors don't really play nice the way bourbon and vermouth do.  It has a harsh element (for extra manliness), but nonetheless is quite tastey and makes you feel like an old man in a dive bar.

Versatility:  6.5
This is a strong cocktail and one that folks who don't like straight Scotch might not be too fond of.  I don't think that this works well for most parties or the patio.  It's more of a quiet sipper while reading or chatting with a couple of friends.

Hassle (Cost and Time): 8
This Rob Roy is no trouble at all to make, with only a few ingredients and no juicing or syrups.  The costs is highly variable depending on the Scotch, but for mixing I woud use a blend, so it shouldn't be too bad.

Overall:  7
This Rob Roy is a slightly harsher Manhattan.  If you are a big Scotch fan, it might be better.  I tend to prefer bourbon.  I also tend to go with an orage peal rather than the cherry.  I'm not sure if there are any specific changes that I would make.  The ratios are right and the taste is what it intend to be if that makes sense.  You could add in any number of secondary ingredients in addition to or in place of the vermouth.  These include cynar, elderflower liqueur, or Cointreau.  Such changes would, however, fundamentally change the drink, which is all about the Scotch.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Irish Surpise: The Paddy Cocktail

I have previously discussed how produce availability can determine drinking, but so too can the booze.  Certain spirits and vermouth have a very limited shelf life once opened and this was the case with my Dollin sweet vermouth, which I wanted to get more out of before it sours.  Looking though a couple of books, I came upon a drink called the Paddy Cocktail that uses both sweet vermouth and Irish whiskey.  Though I've long had some Jamison, I've never been super keen on Irish whiskey, preferring bourbon or rhy for the most part.  Nonetheless, I gave this drink a try.

1 ounce of Irish whiskey
1 ounce of sweet vermouth
1 dash of Angostura bitters
Lemon twist

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon.

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity): 8
Though not complex, this was one of the cleanest, most coherent cocktails that I've had in a while.  The lemon and bitters bridge the vermouth and whiskey. It was far smoother than any drink I've had using Irish whiskey and really showcased the vermouth without being sweet.

Versatility (when and for whom the drink works): 7
This drink works for any number of occasions and people, with the only caveat being that it is strong.  As such, folks like my wife who prefer drinks that are cut with something other than booze might not be in love with it, though she though it was pretty good, if a bit strong for her tastes.

Hassle (Cost and Time): 8.5
This drink was very easy to make (the only easier drinks involve simply pouring the booze on the rocks and no straining and drinks with no garnish).  The ingredients were quite cheap as well. 

Overall:  8
This Paddy Cocktail surprised me.  As I mentioned, I'm not the biggest fan of Irish whiskey.  However, with its ease and simplicity, combined with the seamless transition from ingredient to ingredient, this cocktail proved excellent and worth having again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Booze Pairings: Dental Work

Yesterday I had some dental work, which involved four large needles entering my jaw.  Sometime after dinner, which involved me comically trying to open my mouth and chew when half my tongue and lower lip were numb, the local anesthetic started wearing off and a decent amount of pain ensued, probably more from the shots than the drilling.  I considered ibuprofen but decided to use alcohol instead to alleviate my pain (important note: I was not given anything but local anesthetic.  Do not drink with real pain killers).

So what is a good drink to follow up dental work?  A couple of criteria come to mind.  First, it must be strong.  No Pimm's Cups here.  Second, given the discomfort and partial numbness remaining in my tongue, it's probably not worth the expense or effort to concoct something real high end or fancy.  I wasn't in the mood to spend to much time juicing, muddling, or making syrups anyway.  For high amounts of alcohol with low cost and effort, to families of cocktails come to mind.  First is the martini family.  Second is the Manhattan family, which I opted for, making a Monte Carlo.

Monte Carlo Cocktail

2 ounces of rhy (Old Overholt)
0.75 ounce of Benedictine
2 dashes of Peychaud's bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and garnish with a cherry.

This pretty well hit the spot.  While still quite boozy, the Benedictine made it a bit smoother than a Manhattan's sweet vermouth would.  The bitters kept in in balance and the cherry, well the cherry looked nice.  The cocktail did its job by blunting the pain in my jaw and tasted pretty good in the process.  Cheers!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Centering a Cocktail Around Maraschino: The Glass House

Conventional wisdom relegates some spirits to the back of the bus.  They might provide a nose or an aftertaste for a drink, maybe help balance other flavors, but seldom provide the dominant flavor.  Examples of such liqueurs that come to mind include creme de menthe, Gran Marnier, and elderflower liqueur.  At best they tend to share the stage.

Maraschino liqueur fits into this group.  With its very strong flavor profile, it tends to add a bit of complexity to drinks or balance other strong spirits like Green Chartreuse, which it dances with in the Last Word.  I've been wary of this spirit in the past, having been less than thrilled with the way that it seemed to knock certain cocktails out of balance.  I don't particularly care for the Martinez for this reason (and yes, I used actual Old Tom Gin).  Recently, I decided to try to build a cocktail around this maraschino and devised the Glass House.

The Glass House

1.25 ounces of Old Tom Gin (Ransom)
0.33 ounce of maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
0.75 ounce of fresh red grapefruit juice
1 dash of angostura bitters

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. 

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity): 7

I think it worked pretty well.  The cherry flavor is still a bit bracing, not exactly sweet but very strong.  I think that the grapefruit juice succeeded in largely offsetting the sweetness of the maraschino and Old Tom Gin, which I used instead of conventional gin because of its louder herbal background.  If anything, I might in the future reduce the maraschino amount.

Versatility (when and for whom the drink works):  6
I would also put this drink firmly in the camp of cocktails to be slowly sipped with some contemplation.  While good, it is not an easy drink and not a casually refreshing one.  Sort of the equivalent of watching Mad Men or Breaking Bad (though not to say this cocktail should be as well regarded as they are - perhaps Boardwalk Empire is the better comparison.)  Further, I think a lot of people aren't real big on cherry flavor in anything other than cherries.  Such people, including my wife, might struggle to enjoy this cocktail.

Hassle (Cost and Time):  6
The drink was fairly expensive, using both Old Tom Gin and Luxardo and took a moderate amount of time to make with the juicing.

Overall:  6.5
This is an interesting drink and one that features some unusual flavors and combinations to reasonably good effect.  It is challenging and not accessible to everyone. 

Potential Modifications
I might lower the maraschino a bit.  I also think that white grapefruit juice, with a stronger and more bitter taste might better balance the cocktail.  Such balancing would essentially change its nature of the cocktail to one that balances two strong flavors instead of one that surrounds one strong one.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Latin Negroni: The Agavoni

One of the things that I've been seeing crop up more and more in both cocktail bars and in the cocktail nerd community is the mixing of geographically disparate spirits to make unconventional cocktails.  Although cocktails have always combined spirits from different places (think gin and vermouth or absinthe and rhy) for certain spirits, there seems to be a limited amount of geographic diversity.  I don't see too many Northern European spirits like genever gin mixed with rum for instance.  Sometimes there is a good reason for that because the flavors just don't work out but other times I think some creativity is rewarded.  That brings up a drink I made last night, the Agavoni, courtesy of Bastian Heuser editor of the German magazine, Mixology.

As the name somewhat implies, this drink combines agave, the primary ingredient of tequila, with the Negroni, an Italian cocktail that includes gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.

The Agavoni

0.75 ounce of blanco tequila (Tres Generations)
0.75 ounce of Campari
0.75 ounces of sweet vermouth (Dolin)
2 dashes of orange bitters

Fill an old fashioned glass with ice cubes.  Add ingredients and stir gently.  Garnish with a grapefruit peal.

I thought that, while sharing the Negroni's bitter interplay between the vermouth and the Campari, the Agavoni, felt a little more accessible, even with the orange bitters.  The tequila created a smooth, almost herbal background when combined with the bitters and grapefruit peal oils.  All and all, this makes a nice sister drink the Negroni.  It is not as clean as the Negroni, but the added complexity is coherent and purposeful.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mixology Monday: The Hiding Quetzal

This week's Mixology Monday, hosted by Adventures in Cocktails, challenges participants to create a cocktail highlighting a niche spirit.  I've been recently playing around with a bottle of guaro, a Costa Rican spirit, which I picked up on vacation.  Guaro, as I've described before, is sugar cane-based and very mild, perhaps closer to vodka in flavor than to rum.

My recent attempts to accompany the spirit with mild secondary ingredients to highlight it have led to weak and muddled cocktails - in part because of a misguided foray into watermelon juice.  Here, I've decided to flip things rather violently with the Hiding Quetzal Cocktail, named after the famous but elusive Costa Rican bird, surrounding the spirit with very strong and opposing flavors. 

The Hiding Quetzal

1 ounces of guaro
0.2 ounce of Benedictine
0.25 ounce of Campari 
0.25 ounce of lemon juice

Shake ingredients with ice and garnish with a lemon peal.

I enjoyed this drink quite a bit.  The guaro provides a background flavor and texture.  You can taste the guaro initially but it quickly gives way to a surprisingly good interplay between the Campari (maybe the most bitter spirit I have) and the Benedictine (perhaps the sweetest).  The lemon juice brings the flavors together and keeps the drink on the savory side.   

Friday, June 10, 2011

Explorations in Guaro

In an effort to put something together for this month's Mixology Monday (using obscure base spirits), I've decided to try to do something with guaro, the very mild sugar based spirit from Costa Rica that I've previously blogged about.  Though cane-based, guaro is probably closer to a coarse vodka in taste.  Much like they like their cheese, evidently Costa Ricans like their booze a bit subdued.  Guaro is traditionally consumed with lime and sugar like a daiquiri, though I've had it with mango as well.  I've made a several attempts, none of which quite hit the mark for different reasons.

After a disastrous experiment involving guaro, lemon, and cynar that I won't go into any more, I though that I'd stay with a tropical theme but use a more northern, but still mild, sweet mixer, watermelon.  The resulting cocktail is called the White on White.

White on White

2 ounces of guaro
1 ounce of watermelon juice
0.5 ounce of lime

Stir ingredients with ice and pour into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a twisted lime peal. 

Meh.  The goal of the drink was to surround guaro with as mild of flavors as possable in order to allow the natural flavor of the guaro to show through.  The problem was that rather than create subtlety, it led to blandness.  Not a bad drink, as my wife an attest, but not a memorable one.  Sort of the Miller Light of cocktails - high on "drinkability" but not so much on flavor.  Watermelon is a very mild sweetening agent (not a whole lot sweeter than water), requiring me to use a good bit of it to get the desired effect and the lime is similarly fairly mild, which in many cases like my Painted Forest Cocktail is a good thing, but contributed to the washed out flavor here.

My next attempt tried to keep with the watermelon but feature another booze instead of the lime and be more of a stiff drink.

Halo Effect

1.5 ounces of guaro
0.75 ounce of watermelon juice
0.5 ounce of lemoncello (homemade)

Shake ingredients with ice and pour into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a mint sprig.

Better but still not great.  The lemoncello probably came through more than the other ingredients.  Though boozy, and not as watered down, this drink came across a bit sweeter and gave way to a pretty solid lemon taste.  I think my lesson here is that there is a reason that you don't see watermelon juice used in cocktails:  it's flavor per volume ratio just isn't high enough. I'm going to give guaro another shot but probably pair it with a couple of stronger spirits and let it add the booze but not flavor quotient.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Taste of Mint: Drinking by Produce

There are a lot of reasons to drink specific cocktails.  I've I've discussed, sometimes cocktails should match an occasion.  Other reasons  include wanting to try a new spirit, drinking whatever is local when on the road, and needing to please others with specific tastes.  This time of year, I'm reminded that, as with my dinner table, whatever produce is fresh can dictate my drink menu.  For instance, June might be the best time to drink something with strawberries.  July is the time for a Pimm's Cup with fresh cucumber.

Well, via the bounty of a friend's CSA (local food share) we have some fresh mint.  That combined with a beautiful mild Friday night and my wife's suggestion had me looking for new cocktails with mint.  As a general matter, there are three, somewhat related, types of mint cocktails.  One is the bourbon-based mint julep.  Two is a tiki drink/daiquiri and three is tequila-based drinks.

Primo Trace Smash

2 ounces of bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
1 dash of maraschino liqueur 
3 lemon wedges
1 ounce of simple syrup
5 mint leaves and a spring for garnish
1 raspberry or strawberry

Muddle mint and lemon and pour with other ingredients into an old fashioned glass with ice and garnish with berry and mint.

This was a pleasant but generally unmemorable drink.  It was really all about the bourbon with the maraschino and lemon adding a bit of nuance and balance around it.  Next time, I might tweak it a bit by using more lemon and less simple syrup.

Mexican Mojito

2 ounces of blanco tequila (Tres Generations)
1 ounce of agave nectre
1/2 a lime in wedges
1/2 a lemon in wedges
splash of club soda
10 mint leaves plus a sprig for garnish

Muddle lemon, lime, and mint, add tequila and agave, stir, and pour into a glass with ice.  Add club soda, stir gently, and garnish with a mint sprig.


As the name implies, this taste a good deal like a Mojito.  However, the agave and tequila gives it a nice twist.  My wife drank this one and thought it was "awesome" and it "got her over her aversion to tequila."  I thought it had a little more going on than the normal Mojito, as I consider decent blanco tequila a more complex spirit than white rum.  Overall, although not the most adventurous cocktail, this is an excellent drink, particularly for those who like their drinks on the light side.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Stiff Apertif: The Wild Pear

As a general matter, I don't drink a lot of aperitifs.  Maybe it's just a cultural thing where some people like Italians, who historically have consumed drinks like vermouth prior to meals, like a little warm up to meals with sweet alcohol but for the most part (the occasional port excepted) it's not my thing.  That said, I've been playing around with a couple recipes, wanting to make a proper cocktail that was refreshing and didn't seem too heavy as a pre-meal drink but with sufficient weight to stand on its own.  This led to the following drink, which is one of my favorite original cocktails.

The Wild Pear

1 ounce of pisco (Diablada)
0.5 ounce of pear brandy (Koening)
0.25 ounce of simple syrup
1 healthy dash of angostura bitters
a slice of pear

Stir ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a slice of skinned pear (preferably ripe). 

Taste (flavor, balance, and clarity):  9
The pisco and pear brandy work really well together.  The pisco gives a rough herbal element that gives way to the pear taste during the swallow.  The simple syrup keeps the drink from being too boozy, while the bitters prevents the syrup and pear brandy from making the drink to sweat and adding a bit of depth.  I though that his was a very easy to drink, though strong cocktail.  Also, I used a very ripe pear for the garnish, which sponged up the alcohol for a nice treat at the end.

Versatility (when and for whom the drink works):  8
This drink works in most occasions.  It can be an aperitif though the cocktail also stands on its own. I will note that though she didn't dislike it, my wife found the drink a bit strong for her preference.  Thus, for those who aren't real big into strong cocktails or brandy flavor this might not be the best choice.

Hassle (Cost and Time):  6
The ingredients are not especially expensive, though I used some nice pisco.  However, it's a fair amount of trouble to make.  First, I strongly recommend using homemade simple syrup.  Additionally, you have to skin and slice a pear.

Overall:  8
I really enjoyed this drink and will break it out with company in the future.  It has a very coherent and crisp taste that transitions nicely between the different elements.  It also makes for a nice presentation with the pear.

Potential Improvements
No real improvements.  I might up the simple syrup to 0.5 ounces for those who like their drinks a little less boozy though.