On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution repealing Prohibition was passed. Eighty some-odd years later, the anniversary of this momentous occasion inspired the three gents behind A&T to actually post some thoughts. On this particular occasion, it's not about making the perfect drink but rather making do with what you've got at hand.
Hello beloved readers. Yes, it's been a while since we posted here. That doesn't mean we haven't been putting things out in the world. Don't forget to follow our Instagram and Facebook pages for more regular updates. That said, in honor of this most hallowed of days, we thought we'd grace the interwebs with some of our long form thoughts on what we've been drinking, specifically how to make do when the great thirst grips you but supplies at hand might be lacking. And here.we.go.
Behind the bar.
John: Somehow, despite our best efforts, December 5 snuck up on us again this year. As I write this, I'm sitting in a mosquito-netted bed in a homely hotel in Iringa, Tanzania. I befriended the resident bartender, Albert, but his expertise is mostly limited to opening up bottles of Safari and Kilimanjaro beers. With a little cajoling, I got him to let me behind the bar.
Albert testing a first trial of the Iringa 75.
The pickings were slim. Very slim. Speaking frankly, it was mostly bottles of forgettable South African wine, generic whisk(e)ys and gin, a few "malt" beverages, and Konyagi, a Tanzanian cane sugar liquor. Albert was enthusiastic, however, and was willing to help pull together the fixings for some fresh lime juice, brown sugar simple syrup, and Savanna Cider (also from South Africa). He even donated some fresh mint - apparently a former guest was known to enjoy mojitos. With Albert's help I got to work, much to the amusement of a group of Peace Corps Volunteers who had just arrived at the hotel.
Ultimately, I came up with what I'm calling the Iringa 75, a play on the city of origin (Iringa) and the beverage of inspiration (French 75). It is very Charles H. Baker-esque. Albert seemed to like it. This was very much a beverage of the moment and one that might be tough to re-create (if you wanted to), but it will get you where you need to go. The Recipe:
A rose in a fisted glove, Eagles flying with doves, etc.
Fill a Collins Glass (or equivalent) with ice and add: Konyagi: 2-3 second pour Lime Juice: 1-2 second pour Brown Sugar Simple Syrup: 1 second pour Savanna Cider: Fill to the top of the glass (3-4 second pour)
Slap a few mint leaves, drop into the glass, and stir with abandon. Take a sprig of mint, give that another slap, and set it gently at the top of the drink. Consume quickly.
David: "Snuck up on us again" as in "John reminded us in October and then we all forgot until two days ago."
I've been focused more on wine than cocktails recently, with the result that my wine selection rocks, but my bar is a little low. Some things I can't go without - good gin, for instance - but everything else has atrophied somewhat. Yes, for the record, I AM ashamed of that.
With that in mind, I went looking through what I HAVE got - which, like any of you, is more than you might think if you're willing to get a bit creative - and came up with this, which I'm calling An Apple A Day.
I had some Laird's applejack left, which is good solid stuff. Because it's apple-derived, I made an apple simple syrup. I have some fennel bitters that I put together recently, and apple pairs beautifully with the green, vegetal, slightly anise flavor of that. One of the few things those bitters WILL pair really well with, which of course means I need to go pick up more applejack.
John, in his present location, will confirm my understanding of the phrase "first world problems."
Making flavored simple syrup is way easier than you might think... simple syrup itself is only 1 part sugar, 1 part water, mix them together in a pot on the stove, then heat it and stir it until the sugar dissolves. That's it. Seriously. I had an apple on hand, so I peeled it, chucked the peels in as it heated, and let them cool in the syrup. Presto, apple simple syrup. Duplicate that with anything you happen to have around... lemon? Add lemon peel. Ginger? Black pepper? Knock yourself out, simple syrup's a totally blank canvas.
Lemon lifts the drink, the acid meshing with and helping to integrate the rest of the flavors - really ties the drink together, you might say. I was trying to think of something to add a bit more interest, then remembered I had a smoker and - weirdly enough - some applewood chips to put in it, which is the kind of synchronicity that rarely happens. SO, understanding that the Gods were obviously behind me in my time of tribulation...
The Recipe: 2.5 oz Laird's applejack. I'd say "or whatever apple brandy you have on hand," except that it's probably Laird's, so there you go. .5 oz lemon juice .5 oz apple simple syrup about half of a quarter oz of fennel bitters.
I am sadly out of Oola gin, which I'd picked up in Seattle last year
If you don't have a smoker, no worries - the drink turned out great without it, but it's a nice touch. If you DO have a smoker, what I did is wet the inside of the glass with a touch of the applejack to hold the smoke, then upended the glass and stuck the smoker nozzle under it. If you don't have fennel bitters, no worries, be creative. Basic aromatic will work fine, but orange? Pairs great with apple and as a bonus, you can groove on the irony while you sip. Black walnut? Ditto, reinforces a nice earthy touch - minus the irony, of course.
Since the drink's got fruit juice and syrup, I shook it rather than stirring it. An extra apple peel made a nice garnish, but I did it again (quality control, don't y'know) with some fennel pollen along the rim of the glass, and that was awesome. I also made it (quality - hic - control, don'y'know) with a brandy that I picked up in Kosovo recently, and it was great with that too.
Pablo: For the record, I'm also ashamed of David.
That's only because I suffer from the opposite problem. Whereas John finds himself in locales that may not have what we'd consider a well-stocked bar and David has a healthy wine collection but limited spirits, I don't travel as often these days and I have a well-stocked liquor cabinet; it's not necessary to divulge actual figures since my wife will read this but there is an overflow problem...depending on who you ask. It's not about quantity but storage. Though I am under strict orders not to buy any more bottles until we go through some of what we've got. There was nothing said about others buying me bottles. 'Tis the season, after all.
In order to free up space I pulled every bottle out to reorganize and set aside those which were down to a few ounces and in the spirit of making do with what I had set aside I stirred together a little something. My options included: Vitae Modern Gin, Vitae Golden Rum, Laird's Applejack, Dalmore 12, and Punt e Mes. The only trouble with this approach is that I only had one shot, almost literally, to make something work and lo and behold I came up with something tasty and fitting for these fall days: Tempting Eve, an easy equal parts cocktail.
Tempting Eve and Christmas cheer
The Recipe: 1 oz Vitae Golden Rum 1 oz Laird's Applejack 1 oz Punt e Mes flamed orange zest for garnish
This came together better than I hoped and works perfectly for this chilly fall weather we're in.
Part of why we do this, aside from the obvious, is the creativity creating cocktails affords us, whether you're in a far flung place with only a half dozen "ingredients" behind the bar or at home with too many bottles for your own good and imposing your own limitations. Or at David's house.
On June 7, 2018 the Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup. Hot damn.
They did it!
Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals (not the last time you'll see this phrase here). Yowzers. For those of us who care about such things, it was a release 43 years in the making. It was a cathartic experience that inexplicably made hundreds of thousands of people in streets, bars, and homes across the DC-Maryland-Virginia area suddenly cry out in joy, "is it just me or is it dusty in here?" For others, it was a great introduction to the game of hockey.
Ovechkin & Backstrom Lift Stanley Cup Together - YouTube
The A&T gang watched on over the following weeks, albeit some more closely than others. We rejoiced in seeing the Caps continue the time honored tradition of consuming any number of goodies, liquid and otherwise, out of the Cup. When Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals Video Coach Brett Leonhardt turned the Cup into a giant Margarita machine, well, we felt inspired.
So without further ado, here's what the A&T guys would drink out of the Stanley Cup!
Pablo: At over two gallons and nearly 300 ounces, there's enough space in the top bowl for, conservatively, 50-60 cocktails. The real question, though, is how best to honor the players for this achievement, finally, but also DC fans who have waited this long to see the Washington Capitals as the Stanley Cup Champions? John: Oh, oh, I'll start! Without question, I would fill Lord Stanley with Sydney Crosby's tears. That's right, two gallons of Sniveling Sid's sweet, sweet tears. He'll have to legally change his name to Scott Tenorman once we're done. To balance out the sweetness and give it a little added kick I suppose you could throw in some gin and lemon juice. That would be totally optional, though. Pablo: Hmm, I suppose that's better than the blood of my enemies... I was thinking something more classic. John: Oh. That would be more dignified, I guess.
David: Wait...did Sydney Crosby hit more home runs than anyone else?
David: Regardless whether it's that and not touchdowns I'm thinking of, I'd go for something red. Yeah, red. That rings a bell, something to do with... something. To do with this. A Negroni, for example. Not to mention that it's part bitter, to commemorate the 43 years of pain and hardship; part sweet, to commemorate the victorious scoring of more baskets than the other team; and part gin, because... gin.
For me, the Campari is integral just for the color, although if you don't care so much about that point, Cynar - which is also bitter, but has a really earthy and artichoke tone - can replace it and make it a bit more layered. For the sweet vermouth, I like Dolin, because I have standards. This, however, is one of the few drinks where I'm less picky about the gin, because the strength of the other two ingredients tends to overpower. Go for bog-standard Bombay, which is awesome and underrated in this day of the craft-distilled, the new-world and the small batch, and call it a day.
John: Not only did Crosby not hit any home runs this season, he also threw out exactly two fewer opening pitches than Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Winner Alexander "Oh Captain, My Captain" Ovechkin did this past June. While your knowledge of hockey is abysmal, David, your choice of drink is an excellent one.
Pablo: I was initially impressed that David even knew who Crosby is until I realized John just mentioned him immediately before. In one of the infinite universes where I am on the Stanley Cup Champions Washington Capitals team, I'd personally go the route of a Perfect Manhattan or Vieux Carré. Hmm... or something with gin. Yes, definitely gin. In this world, though, I think a Vesper would best get the job done.
Originally James Bond ordered the Vesper a la, "Three measures of Gordon's; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel." I wanted to go with something gin heavy to really pay homage to the team and their huge accomplishment since gin is such a diverse spirit found nearly everywhere, and is particularly popular across Europe. I opted to replace Gordon's with DC's own Green Hat gin, of course, in particular their Fall/Winter Ginavit--with strong notes of not only juniper but of caraway. The aquavit notes are also a nice nod to Lars Eller, who is not only the first Dane to win the Cup, but also the man who knocked in the game-winning/Cup-winning shot. The vodka works well here paying tribute to not only Captain Alex Ovechkin but also the other Russian players on the squad and the KHL. To shake things up, figuratively and literally in this case, I used a fennel tincture to add a bit of depth and complement the gin. On top of that I added a few dashes of lavender bitters and garnished with an apple to bring all the pieces together.
John: Pablo, your garnish game is on point, as always.
Like David, I really wanted to emphasize the color red in honor of the Rock the Red era that Ovie helped usher in. In a nod to the types of beverages more traditionally consumed out of the Cup, I also wanted to add a little effervescence to the party. I figured cutting the alcohol level with something like sparkling wine would also help reduce the number of fatalities that might ensue from drinking 2 gallons of a standard cocktail. Last but not least, I was keen to limit the drink to three ingredient, an homage of sorts to the three stars on the Caps' current jerseys, which are themselves a reference to the District, Maryland and Virginia areas that have supported the Caps all these years.
What could possibly fit this bill? Well, roughly a century ago, the Americano gave way to the Negroni. More recently, at the Milanese Bar Basso, the Negroni begat the Negroni Sbagliato. Translated roughly as "mistaken" or "amiss", the Sbagliato was allegedly created when a bartender mistakenly grabbed a bottle of Prosecco instead of gin, thus returning the Negroni to it's lighter, bubblier origins. Not only is the drink delicious, it seems uniquely fitting that one created by mistake be raised in honor of the 2018 edition (and Stanley Cup Champions) of the Washington Capitals, who were more an afterthought than favorite at the start of the year after failing to take advantage of their "two year window" to win the Cup in past seasons.
So, in recognition of a Caps team that unexpectedly but oh so joyfully brought the Cup home, I give you Sbagliato Babes:
What's up, Sbagliato Babes?
Combine 1oz Campari and 1oz Capitoline Rosé in an old fashioned glass (a thematically-appropriate coffee mug is also an acceptable vessel) over a large block of ice and give it a good stir. Then add 3oz sparking wine and give it a quick, gentle stir; I used a South African MCC Brut because the wait for the Cup felt like it took roughly 1,200 years. If you feel inclined to add some grapefruit bitters, it certainly won't hurt. Enjoy while reminiscing about Ovie and the gang exorcising their demons and beating John Tortorella, Sidney Crosby and the Deadguins, Chris Kunitz and the Tampa Bay Rangers, and Marc-André Fleury and his Vegas Vaudevillians on their way to finally hoisting the Cup. Or, if you actually have access to said Cup, multiply the recipe by about 50 and find a few friends to do Cup stands with you.
Bring it home, boys.
Washington Capitals sing "We Are the Champions" after winning the Stanley Cup - YouTube
In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, Pablo delves into a topic befitting his personality: bitters.
A few years ago Gabriella Mlynarczyk said (not to me, in an interview) that “technically, in the classic cocktail world, a cocktail is not a cocktail unless it contains bitters. If you don’t add bitters, you can taste something missing. They add this final kind of balance that brings everything together–like the glue.”
Like so many others, for a long time the only bitters I had in my kitchen were Angostura Bitters--they went in a Manhattans, the Old Fashioned, the Martinez... they added that extra depth of flavor. Little by little I started paying more attention to other, non-Angostura bitters being used by friends and bars in not only other cocktails but also a Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the Martinez. It wasn't long after where, according to my wife, I went off the deep end with bitters--apparently I don't need dozens of varieties. I respectfully disagree(d). Hence...
I picked up Brad Parsons' Bitters book and began reading about the history of bitters, the must haves, their near extinction, their resurgence, the best cocktails to showcase them, and most importantly, how to make your own.
But first a quick note about bitters' cousin: tinctures. Bitters are not tinctures; tinctures are more of a one-trick pony but certainly have a place in cocktails--tinctures are an extract of a specific ingredient to highlight that flavor and/or aroma. A rosemary tincture for example is just a matter of infusing fresh rosemary into a few ounces of high proof alcohol for a few days. Once you strain out the rosemary you're left with a green, rosemary flavored and scented extract, which I tend to use with citrus-forward gin martinis or shrub cocktails. But I haven't ventured too far down the tincture path really.
So, shrubs... no wait, back to bitters. Bitters are non-potable, meaning you won't drink them on their own. On paper bitters are very basic:
The flavoring agent
The bittering agent
The base liquor
Once you look at the range of possible ingredients in any of those categories the complexity and possibilities begin to really shine through. The flavoring agent is pretty straightforward and doesn't have to be singular. They can be combinations of fruits, spices, herbs, and nuts. You can find fruit forward bitters like orange, lemon, cherry, apple, grapefruit. There are also herbal and botanical options: celery, hibiscus, rosehip, and lavender. And then there are bitters that make you think that they "were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." Some of the more common spices I use are cardamom (green and black), all spice berries, star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass, and whole peppercorns (and not just black). A bitters recipe will usually include a combination of fruit flavors combined with spices.
And then there are the bittering agents, which also have specific flavor or aromatic qualities, and which will, that's right, provide bitterness and bring all the ingredients together. Part of my going off the deep end I mentioned earlier meant investing in various bitters in part by leafing through Parsons' book to see what his recipes called for as well as others I found online. Part of my collection now includes: angelica root, barberry root, black walnut leaf, burdock root, cinchona bark, citrus peel (notably orange and lemon), dandelion root, devil's club root, gentian root, licorice root, orris root, quassia bark, sarsaparilla, wild cherry bark, wormwood, and more. The flavor profiles between some bitter ingredients can be very subtle and others more obvious. In general what I tend to do when I get a new ingredient is what I assume a chef would do, take a piece and pop it into my mouth and figure out how it tastes to me and how best to capture and complement that flavor in recipes. Alternatively you could steep some in a tea or make a tincture to extract the flavor. The most common agents I use are quassia, angelica root, gentian root, and wormwood. In some cases I arbitrarily swap some out for others. However, in some cases it'd be difficult to find a substitute; for example, cinchona bark contains quinine, which is what's used to make tonic water, and is pretty unique in that aspect. Otherwise trying these ingredients is a matter of trial and error.
Most mixologists agree that whatever base you use, which has to do with the flavor profile you're building, should be at least 100 proof; I tend to use Smirnoff Vodka 100 proof, but also have Everclear, Cruzan 151 Rum, and Wild Turkey 101 on hand. More often than not I'm using vodka or Everclear since it's a neutral base and the bitters flavor itself is highlighted.
So once you have all the ingredients, then what? A lot of recipes in Parsons' book call for a quart-sized jar and two cups of high proof alcohol. When I'm trying my own recipes I start way smaller usually using one to one and half cups of high proof alcohol. I write down every recipe so I know what to adjust in the future. Keep in mind that every recipe takes about three weeks from start to finish.
After getting all your ingredients into a jar it's mostly hands off from there. Store in a dark, cool place and shake daily for two weeks. After two weeks, strain the solids from the liquid using cheesecloth. Save the liquid and strain again (and again and again) until you've gotten as much sediment out as possible. Then take the solids and put them into a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and then drop it down to a simmer for 10 minutes, and then let cool completely. Put the pot contents back into a jar, store, and again shake daily. After another week, strain the solids and toss them and, little by little add some to the original extracted liquid. What you're doing here is cutting down the proof and keeping the flavor without diluting it. In some cases, if it's too strong, too bitter, you can add simple syrup to the mix.
When sampling bitters the proper etiquette is to first, as I've been taught, have a few drops put into the palm or on top of your hand, rub your hands together together, almost like you're testing cologne or perfume, and smell. To taste it, I'm not sure what proper protocol is but I typically either put a few drops directly into my mouth because I was raised by wolves, or put some into a spoon and taste directly. The real taste test is how does it work in a drink.
I tend to test every bitter either in a martini or an Old Fashioned since both cocktails really allow for the bitters to be highlighted. However, every once in a while I'll make a bitter without having a cocktail in mind for it and some trial and error goes into mixing variations, spirits, ratios, to see what works together the best. For example, when I received some beautiful saffron from Afghanistan, enough to make me worry about it going bad, I thought I should try to preserve it in my own unique way hence my attempt at saffron bitters. The first batch were fine, too much saffron, not a lot of depth, not enough bitterness. But with my second batch I added more depth, flavors, and bitterness while still maintaining the saffron's essence. And while nice in a martini in particular, it was David who really highlighted the color and flavor of the saffron bitters in the Graveyard of Empires.
If you happen to have extra saffron laying about try out my (current recipe):
1 tsp saffron
1 lemongrass stalk
2 crushed green cardamom pods
2 crushed black cardamom pods
1 tbsp dried lemon peel
1 tbsp quassia
1.5 cups of high proof vodka (I use Smirnoff 100)
Combine all ingredients into a jar, shake daily for two weeks, strain solids (over and over) and dilute. I know, I know, I'm going against the "standard" process I stated earlier but for this batch I dilute it with filtered water instead of stewing it because there aren't a ton of ingredients to stew really, but also to preserve that beautiful golden orange color.
And all this to say nothing of potable bitters like amaros (e.g. Averna, Rammazzotti) and bitter liqueurs (e.g. Campari, Cynar, Fernet). That'll be for another day.
March 6 is a special day of the year for the guys here at A&T. For it was on this day (or thereabouts), twenty years and a few acid flashbacks ago, that the world first met The Dude. Or El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing. As with most great works of art, the film in question was not appreciated immediately upon release (perhaps a source of subconscious inspiration for the drinks that follow). Over time, however, it has evolved from a late-night, dorm room classic to a national treasure. No, seriously - in 2014 the Library of Congress selected it to be added to the National Film Registry for its cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance. While that's just, like, their opinion, man, we get it. So today, on the Day of the Dude, we honor The Big Lebowski.
In the past we've honored the day by re-posting David's original write up on the Dude's beverage of choice, the White Russian. While that post and the drink deserve a look on this hallowed day, in honor of The Big Lebowski's big 2-0, the guys decided to take a crack at crafting original cocktails inspired by the Dude and his compadres. And no, none of these fine drinks are made with cannabis tinctures or bitters. Sorry guys.
With that out of the way, we invite you to pull up a seat at the bar (careful, it might bite), mix a White Russian or crack open your favorite sarsaparilla, and drop on in to see what condition our condition is in. If you abide, we're sure you'll enjoy yourself. ______________________________________________________ PABLO: Coming up with cocktail names is the easy part, what it encompasses and how it represents the cast is a little more challenging, but I knew right away I wanted to give a nod to Jesus. I mean the Jesus. For someone who has as little screen time as Quintana, he certainly makes an impact--you can't mention The Dude, Walter, or Donny without having to throw in a "Nobody fucks with the Jesus!" Sure, he has a checkered past, having spent time in Chino for being a pederast and all, but on those lanes, that creep can roll. So in homage to Quintana, I created "That Creep Can Roll".
With the Jesus in mind, I knew at least two elements had to be there: first, with a name like Jesus Quintana I knew I wanted the base to be Havana Club; and, second, the color had to really honor his bowling jumpsuit--I immediately thought Creme de Violette (in lieu of beet simple syrup and Falernum), but maybe next time.
"That Creep Can Roll"
2 oz - Havana Club Rum .5 oz - Nemiroff honey pepper vodka .5 oz - beet simple syrup .5 oz lemon juice .25 oz - Velvet Falernum 1 egg white 1 Luxardo cherry (to represent the bowling ball)
Immediately this drink is more complicated and with way too many ingredients than certainly The Dude would prefer, but we're talking about Quintana and I think he'd approve. That being said, you can actually taste all the distinct flavors. It comes out a pink-purplish color with the rum coming through first and then getting the other flavors on the back end--the heat from the vodka, the earthiness from the beet, the tartness from the lemon, and the sweetness of the Falernum. The egg white isn't necessary but it really brings the drink together and would suit the Jesus.
I wanted to play around with more drink ideas, but, you know, Shabbos and all. ______________________________________________________ JOHN: I'll be honest, I was at a bit of a loss when we first broached the subject of this post. Aside from White Russians, lane-side Miller Genuine Drafts, or a toke from a bowling pin pipe, there doesn't seem to be much variance in the Dude's choice of poison. So I opted to draw inspiration from some of the peripheral players found in the film and ended up, circuitiously, with the "Yes, Yes."
Around the time we first started talking about posting an homage to the film, I also happened across an exceptionally tasty chilli gin from Ginifer, of the Johannesburg-based Angel Heart Distillery. I immediately made the connection with Flea, Peter Stormare/Karl Hungus' celluloid partner in nihilism and extortion, and the world famous bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (get it? chilli gin... chili peppers? Yes? Yes.).
The leather clad, German nihilists in turn led me to a bottle of Sau-Schwanzl-Beiber, a German-made "Liqueur from noble herbs" (thanks Google Translate!) that I picked up at a Secret Santa party a year ago. It reminded me ever so slightly of Green Chartreuse, upon which I immediately realized I was halfway to a Lebowski-inspired Last Word. So why "Yes, Yes"? Consider this drink a paler, slightly sweeter, and more naive imitation of the Last Word, just as Philip Seymour Hoffman's Brandt is to Mr. Lebowski himself.
Switch out lime juice and Maraschino for lemon juice and Frangelico (a quasi-nod to our Kahlua-soaked hero), and you've got yourself a beverage... I won't say a cocktail, cause what's a cocktail? But a beverage, and I'm talking about the "Yes, Yes" here, a beverage that, well, it's the beverage for this time and post. It fits right in there. And that's the "Yes, Yes", on the A&T blog.
1 oz - Ginifer Chilli Gin .75 oz - Lemon Juice .75 oz - Sau-Schwanzl-Beiber .33 oz - Frangelico
Combine the ingredients with ice and shake/stir with a finger, then strain into an old fashioned glass and garnish with a lemon wheel. Or use whatever glass you have on hand and skip the garnish. And, you know, take it easy.
______________________________________________________ DAVID: Right. So in fine Dude-ish fashion, it took a while for this to tie together. I blame the World Bank, the Court of Master Sommeliers and a particularly raucous game of Cards Against Humanity on Saturday night. In no particular order. Basically, there were a lot of ins and outs, a lot of what-have-yous, and then for a while I was stuck on trying to design a "3000 Years of Beautiful History" cocktail, but Manishevitz does not make for a good ingredient. Trust me on this. I'll try again later, maybe involving something local from the hometowns of Moses and Sandy Koufax.
"Donny, You're Out of Your Element!"
In the meantime, however, I definitely didn't want to do just another White Russian--all due respect to His Dudeness, there's only so much you can do with that drink--but I did want to tip a hat to it again. So in that spirit (see what I did there?), I give you Donny, You're Out of Your Element!
This is sort of a three-way hat-tipping. First, it is a White Russian, shotified instead of in its natural lowball-on-the-rocks element. Second, layered drinks--especially shots--had a bit of a heyday back in the Nineties, when our favorite movie debuted, so rather than mix this per normal, I've layered the Kahlua, milk and vodka.
Parenthetically, although some of you out there may send nasty-grams over this, it really doesn't matter which vodka you use. We now know this definitively because science, although if you do enough soul-searching I think you'll find we all knew it already anyway. Not to lay too much smackdown if you do have a favorite vodka... say what you want, at least it's an ethos!
Third, in honor of Donny, who loved bowling, the glass is rimmed with ash. Before anyone freaks out, it's just charred toast, nothing macabre--and actually it adds a nice touch to the drink. The crux of my problem with White Russians is that they're overly sweet, not much to the taste of a guy who goes first and foremost for every bitter thing in sight. The charred toast, however, provides a slight earthy bite that offsets the otherwise sweet ingredients.
In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, David presents the Sazerac. Every city has a personality. Like people, some are stronger than others, more complex, more forthright or mysterious, urbane or rustic. Infinite variations given history, and climate, and population... but some cities have a more powerful energy to them. A soul, something beyond and encompassing the combinations of people, buildings and sights that we usually think to describe.
New York, for example, has a frenetic youth about it; a constantly unsatisfied questing energy and a jagged sense of old things transplanted together into a new place and fitting well not because the edges are gone and the shapes meshed, but only because of the commonality of that itch.
Case in point: Bourbon St., on a... Monday.
New Orleans, on the other hand, is a modern American city with something ancient and feral underneath it. A powerful place--strong enough to hold off the homogenization that's befallen so many big cities. A place that still holds to the most genteel and gracious Southern traditions, as well as failing to shed the weedy violence of race and segregation. It's a city where the oldest restaurants in the United States still ask diners to wear a jacket for dinner, while half a block away a screaming mob of tourists and college kids gets blindly obliterated on a nightly basis.
It's a place of culture, music and one of the world's unique and great cuisines--that latter owing a great deal to the fact that it is also built on a history of colonial violence and a major hub of the Atlantic slave trade. Modern indeed in many ways--and yet all but the most obtuse observer is going to get the strong sense, no matter which of the varied neighborhoods they walk, that age and ghosts and half-remembered gods are a constant presence, felt but unseen. It's a city that can't be described now without being described then.
All of which sounds like an over-the-top introduction to a cocktail, but in addition to its other gifts--Creole and Cajun cuisine, jazz and other such minor contributions to world culture--this city gave us the Sazerac. Especially in recent times, the drink's become a bit of a touchstone. New Orleans takes its traditions seriously, and puts a very high value on continuity as well as resilience and renewal, and the Sazerac has been there through it all.
Seriously--this drink has seen the Civil War and the Great Depression, made it unscathed through Prohibition, and survived Hurricane Katrina (which ten years ago this month, had most of the city underwater--now's a particularly fitting time to celebrate survival and continuity!)... and that's just a short list of the stuff that happened on our own soil during its tenure.
All drinks are imbued with some sort of psychological gestalt--which one is best for which sort of mood, which intended effect, etc. Through deep and involved study, which I hope all of you duly appreciate, I've come to the conclusion that the Sazerac is the drink of choice when remaining unflappable and steadfast despite the arrival of barbarians at the gate.
This is one of the first American cocktails, up there with the Old Fashioned (appropriately enough) for age and endurance, and still one of our greats; like the city, a combination of flavors with both a sweetness and a bitter burn in the background. It has its roots in 1838, in Antoine Peychaud's New Orleans-based apothecary--which actually makes perfect sense, since the infusions and bitter mixtures that invariably went into the first generations of cocktails were made by apothecaries, not bartenders. It's now become a staple sipping cocktail, taking its rightful place in the pre-Prohibition pantheon. Its constant youth as a symbol and staple of New Orleans, turned and returned to over the years whenever people were in need of a reminder that things survive, has kept it from getting stale.
Also like that wonderful cocktail, the Old Fashioned, you can call it a "grandpa drink" all you want--but you'd better be tough if you're going more than one round with it.
The basic recipe is thus:
1.5 oz rye or bourbon whiskey
a touch of either absinthe or Herbsaint--more on this in a minute
simple syrup, to taste
Peychaud's bitters. 2-3 dashes would be standard. If you're me, it's more like 8 or 9.
This should be stirred vigorously with ice to chill it, and then served in a lowball glass with a twist of lemon. Easy.
So, a few quick notes on the ingredients...
Sharing New Orleans origins, a "real" Sazerac should only use Peychaud's bitters--the brand is one of the extremely few to have survived the ravages of Prohibition and come out again the other side. I have to say, although I may incur a voodoo doll or two for saying it, I actually prefer my own bitters to Peychaud's... but the deep red color of Peychaud's does add a bit of visual interest to an otherwise "basic brown" drink.
The original recipe called for French brandy--which I admit I haven't tried, but sounds interesting. The usual modern version uses rye, which I prefer slightly to bourbon for its drier and more botanical notes as opposed to the slightly sweeter corn-based bourbon. Here's a fun fact: A&T's other half, John, points out that the Sazerac's shift away from Brandy correlates suspiciously with the mid-19th century Great French Wine Blight, which laid waste to their vineyards and disrupted supply of grape-based spirits worldwide.
Two other fun facts, while we're on the subject: One, the blight was possibly caused by an infestation of phylloxera aphids from (oops) America, although the truth of the matter remains debated. Two, in order to rebuild the destroyed vineyards, most of the French winemakers were forced to graft their surviving vines with (gasp) phylloxera-resistant American rootstock, which by one line of reasoning means there hasn't really been such a thing as "purely French wine" since the mid 1800s. Mentioning either of these points to someone from France is a very efficient way to start a fight.
Back to the subject at hand: you can balance the sweetness/roughness factor by adding more or less simple syrup--less for bourbon to let its other dimensions shine through, and perhaps more for rye, which can often use the balance. In either case, I don't use much: a teaspoonful or less, just a dash. This is a whiskey-based drink and accordingly strong, but the addition of the simple syrup shouldn't be enough to "candy" the drink, just to take the edge off the roughness and put it into sipping territory.
The absinthe-or-herbsaint question is an interesting one, and the simplest answer is of course "go with your taste," and then stand fast and prepare to repel boarders rabid counter-arguments. There's a huge variation in types and brands of absinthe, so it's a bit of a non-starter to approach this question as thought it were as simple as an either/or debate. Herbsaint, on the other hand, is a singular thing--essentially an absinthe-like anise liqueur, almost unheard of outside of Louisiana unless you've got a bar that really knows its stuff, but without the wormwood. It has a thicker mouthfeel than absinthe--not quite syrupy, but certainly a bit more viscous than the norm--a clear emerald green color and a dense, humid, herbaceous quality to it.
The Sazerac in its native environment, at Galatoire's in New Orleans' French Quarter. A relative puppy to some of the old-guard restaurants, founded only in 1905.
Herbsaint made its way into the world largely as a replacement for the now happily re-legalized absinthe. Either one will work for this drink--I strongly recommend making one each way, and drinking them with a friend while having a happy argument over which one worked better. In either case, very little of it goes into the drink itself. Ideally, a small amount is poured into the lowball, swirled to coat the glass (or, if you're particularly coordinated, the glass is tossed into the air and spun hard) and then the excess dumped out. Just a trace remains.
The bitters, rye and simple syrup are then poured into the coated glass. A twist of lemon finishes it up, and there we have it. The sweetness and the bitter should balance just as the smoothness of the whole should balance with the whiskey burn.
Altogether, a civilized drink with something feral behind it.
In "Two Guys and a Drink", Dave and John focus on a single drink and experiment with multiple recipes and ingredients as they search for their own "perfect" recipe. Of course, the "perfect" recipe is purely subjective; as with life, the cocktail is a journey, not a destination, and you should find your own.For this post, they are taking on a travel-inspired original: Once Upon a Cape
Check, check... is this thing on? What do you know, it is. So, you may have noticed we've been MIA on the blog for a while. But that doesn't mean we haven't been documenting our drinking endeavors. Keep an eye out for our more regular online activities on Facebook here and Instagram here and here.
Enjoying the view... or contemplating ratios for a new A&T Original?
It's rare the two halves of A&T are in the same time zone, let alone in the same room long enough to share a drink together in person. For a few blissful weeks in October, though, David and John managed to squeeze in a much needed reunion in beautiful South Africa. From Faerie Glen to Maboneng, Hout Bay to Franschhoek, Pilanesberg to... some very off-the-beaten-path destination in Limpopo, the A&T crew rode again. And wouldn't you know, they came up with a drink to commemorate the whole thing.
First photographic evidence of the Once Upon a Cape.
The details are a little fuzzy. Best as they can recall, the drink that came to be known as Once Upon a Cape was born in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town. After a full day of touring, which included a harrowing - and ultimately futile - whale watching tour in Walker Bay and a coastal drive along False Bay, David and John found themselves back at the rental house, face to face with a bottle of New Harbour Spekboom Gin, a smattering of assorted spirits and other mixers, and a bit of time on their hands. The horror.
Proudly South African...with a touch of Swiss, because why not!
For whatever reason - divine intervention, inspired taste, dumb luck... who's to say, really - the combination of ingredients actually came together quite quickly: New Harbour gin, lemon juice, Caperitif, Suze Fruits Rouges, and honey syrup. Initial experiments were positive but found lacking, the whole somehow less than the sum of its parts. True to form, the addition of bitters (Angostura, initially) helped bring balance to the whole endeavor. From there, repeated - some might say excessive - experimentation led to the discovery of subtleties theretofore overlooked.
John's bar. Shelves courtesty of friend of the blog, Pablo.
Eventually David and John found their way back to Pretoria and the friendly confines of John's home bar, and all the amenities it has to offer. Further tinkering led to the final recipe found here with the drink more or less in tact from its Cape Town origins, save for the replacement of Angostura with Bittermens' 'Elemakule Tiki bitters. From there attention turned to christening the damn thing, which turned out to be a far more animated affair then creating the drink in the first place. Eventually, after much back and forth, David's eminently better half, Sharon, chimed in with Once Upon a Cape and the matter was put to rest. And there was much rejoicing.
This is supposed to be a cocktail blog, not a travelogue, right? How about some thoughts on the actual drink.
John: There is a lot going on here, and it starts with the gin. New Harbour has a more traditional, London Dry taste than some of its brethren in the growing South African gin market. The juniper and pine notes really shine through, along with a touch of citrus. It manages to hold its own, which is saying something given the potent flavors each of the ingredients bring to the table... err, glass.
The Caperitif, a recently revived South African quinquina, and Souze add to the complexity of the drink, contributing bitter, herbal, and earthy tones. The lemon juice and honey ground the drink, bringing needed citrus and sweetening components while adding a bit of texture, as well. I tried substituting simple syrup from fine granulated sugar for the honey syrup, and it just didn't work.
All this talk about liquid goodness has me parched. I'm off to make a drink. David?
David: We've come up with a couple of drinks thus far, but this is the one that I think shows the most promise. It's worth going slightly heavy on the gin in order to make sure it shines through the rest of the ingredients, which are all strong enough that they can overpower it otherwise. Slightly, though--otherwise the gin itself will do the overpowering. The quarter-ounce seems to hit that balance. I wasn't able to refill my South African gin stocks on the way home--due entirely to the fact that every spare bit of space in my baggage had a wine bottle in it. This isn't as heartbreaking as it might otherwise be because it's some seriously good wine... but I digress. That'll have to go into a different blog. In the meantime, you'll have to take John and me at our word, that South Africa has a seriously good distilling scene, and they're making some amazing gin down there.
If you can't find that--and if you're not in South Africa, I'm (very) sad to say you probably can't--you can take heart from the knowledge that there's a ton of good gin being made all over the place these days. Far from limited to the bog-standard London Dry, there are plenty of options, and I like more of a new-world style for this drink. Three distillers in Washington DC alone are making great stuff.
I didn't have any of that either--obviously I need to go shopping again--but I did have some very nice Cold River gin from Maine. Not a standout favorite, but it's a very solid performer with strong juniper in the foreground, and a nice grassy softness right behind that. It did the job well.
For the honey syrup I used a very dark, strong buckwheat honey from Pennsylvania. That's much stronger than what we used in South Africa, but I'd definitely go with something local regardless. Interestingly as much tweaking as we did with the recipe, the type of honey you use really will make a difference as well--this one, almost molasses-colored and strongly earthy, gives a different flavor and a different color to the drink. It's worth playing around with, as "honey-flavored" is actually a very wide spectrum. Play with the concentration as well--I used about equal parts honey to water given how powerful this particular stuff is, but with lighter-flavored honeys you might want to bump the concentration up a bit.
I used my own bitters for this... but the Bittermens Tiki is a really good pick.
All in all... refreshing and sharp, but with a complexity that balances it out really nicely. Gin and lemon can easily become overpowering, combining into something better suited to poolside rather than speakeasy, which is how I usually understand "refreshing" when I see it in print; but the strength and complexity of the rest of the ingredients keeps that at bay.