Thursday, May 6, 2010

Recent Cocktails - Wedding Preview

The mother stopped by the other night and I've been promising that she could try a couple drinks from our wedding list.  Since the opportunity presented itself, I whipped her up a "Final Ward" (a Last Word variation by Phil Ward of Death & Co.).  I also made myself a Northern Liberties since I couldn't let her drink alone.

Final Ward

1/2 oz. Sazerac 6yr. Rye
1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino
1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice

Shake well with ice. Fine strain into a cocktail glass.

Northern Liberties
    3/4 oz. Sazerac 6yr. Rye
    3/4 oz. Aperol
    1/4 oz. Lime Juice
    1/4 oz. Angostura Bitters

    Shake well with ice. Fine strain into a cocktail glass.

    They still both prove to be crowd pleasers.  Next up, I'm going to break out my new bottle of Plymouth Sloe Gin.

    Sunday, May 2, 2010

    Today's cocktails

    I spent yesterday in NYC and while I had a few cocktails there, none were exactly inspiring. I had drinks with my father and had a classic 3:1 martini (Bluecoat, Vya Dry, Fee orange bitters) which was fairly passable. It was the first time my father had a martini with more that a rinse of vermouth and he was quite pleased. We followed that with a botched round of Last Word's. The guy behind the bar ruined it by using Roses sweet lime. It is such a simple thing... I really don't know how you fuck it up.

    Last Word
    • 3/4 oz. Plymouth Gin
    • 3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
    • 3/4 oz. Maraschino
    • 3/4 oz. Lime juice
    Shaken and fine strained into a cocktail glass

    To make up for it, this afternoon I made one for myself. It was quite delicious with all the complexity refreshment that I crave from it. It was a hot one in Philly today, so it hit the spot.

    Last night we went to New York's finest raw food establishment, Pure Food & Wine. They had a Master Cleanse Tini on the menu (I know... groan at the mention of a flavored 'tini bastardization). My lady decided she liked the concept and asked me to make her one today. I agreed, but under the condition that I could turn it into a real cocktail and drop "tini" from the name. She agreed, so I came up with this:

    Master Cleanse Cocktail
    • 3/4 oz. Bluecoat Gin
    • 1/2 oz. Maple Syrup
    • 3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
    • 2 dashes Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
    • 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
    Shaken and fine strained into a cocktail glass
    It was quite delicious. Bitter balanced by the syrup with just a touch of spice (a touch too much for the lady, but I enjoyed it). I should have taken a picture, but we drank it too quickly. It was a lovely earthy color with the cayenne specks floating through.

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    Return to the Basics

    I have been spending an inordinate amount of time working on the cocktail list for my wedding recently. In the next week or so I have to train the bartenders and it forced me to look at my own technique and I noticed it lacking. This is always a good thing though as it gives me a reason to improve.

    The first thing I've learned is that I am not cooling my drinks efficiently. I was just putting 4 or 5 cubes in my shaker and having at it. I have started filling my glass all the way with ice before building my drinks and the difference is very noticeable. My lady no longer claims that my drinks are too boozy which definitely makes sense. A colder drink will numb the alcohol burn a touch, making a strong drink very palatable. The lesson learned here? Don't skimp on the ice.

    Second major thing I've learned is that one strainer isn't always enough. I purchased a fine strainer last week (a tea strainer will do just fine). I still use a hawthorne strainer on my shaker, but now pour my shaken drinks through my fine strainer as well to remove ice shards and citrus pulp. It is just one extra layer of refinement, making your presentation more precise. Lesson learned? While we want more ice in the shaker, that is where it should stay. Strain your drinks.

    Last major thing I've learned recently is that vermouth can actually taste wonderful. I have recently discovered Quady Vya vermouths (which happen to be the only vegan vermouth on the market as far as I can find) and it is flat out delicious. I've been drinking the sweet version on ice. It is that good. I also have heard that the euro version of Noilly Prat has replaced the stateside version and and it has put ours to shame. I have it on my list of bottles to pick up. Lesson learned? There is no reason to hide these wonderful wines in our drinks anymore. Go for more than a rinse or a 5:1 manhattan and let these flavors shine.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    Beer week...

    I get the creeping sensation that beer week is upon us. Now don't get me wrong, I like beer. I am going to Germany and Austria at the end of the summer and plan to drink tons of it. I just don't understand why we need to celebrate it. Well, maybe that's wrong. I'm just being jealous. Basically I want to know why there is no cocktail week in Philadelphia as well.

    Maybe that is what we need to elevate Philadelphia's awareness. I would like to challenge the bartenders of this great city to two things. First, I challenge you to make me a classic drink that makes me believe I am in a speakeasy from yesteryear. Second, I challenge you to make me a drink that makes wonder if it is even possible, something new and real and worth of a show on Bravo.

    If anyone can pull this off, let me know. I'll be at your bar post-haste. If enough of you can do this, maybe we can start our own "Drink Week."

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    The process of cocktail creation...

    The vast majority of drinks have an origin in another drink. This is true of most things in life, but in cocktails in particular, you can follow a drink's path through the ages just by looking at its construction. Look at the similarities between drinks. The Margarita is a Sidecar with tequila and lime instead of cognac and lemon. The Cosmopolitan is just Kamikaze with a splash of cranberry juice and Roses lime juice instead of fresh lime juice. A Vodka Martini is a Martini with Vodka instead of Gin.

    As a budding mixologist, you should have a repertoire of drinks that are your own. A chef should know about the tried and true recipes of yesteryear and his own collection of secret gems. A bartender is the same thing. In creating a new cocktail, the past is a good place to start.

    Let me give you an example of a drink evolution that happened over time in my hands. First we start with the mojito. They are sweet, yet fresh and light, all while being incredibly alcoholic.
    Muddle the following:
    • 2 bar spoon simple syrup
    • 5 - 6 large mint leaves
    • 1/2 oz. Lime Juice
    • 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
    • 2.5 oz. White Rum
    Shake with ice, fine strain over ice in an old fashioned glass, top with club soda.
    Garnish with a sprig of mint
    I love this drink and I celebrate it every spring with a dedicated Mojito party. I like to say that Mojito actually means "glass full of Rum" since they are so damned potent if made correctly.

    One spring at my Mojito party, I ran out of Rum (cardinal sin, I know). It was towards the end of the night but I wanted another Mojito. What was I to do? Easy. Break out the Gin.

    If you go through the exact same recipe above, but substitute Gin for Rum and a splash of ginger ale for the splash of club soda, you get a Gin Ginger Mojito. After a little more experimentation, I also discovered that I prefer this drink with Peychaud's Bitters instead of Angostura. Sounds good, right?

    Next we are going to take a further departation from the traditional Mojito. Stay with me for this one as it is a rather radical departation. I chose this though because the mint is an easy common thread to follow so you can still see the history of this drink.
    Late Spring Night:
    Muddle the following:
    • 2 bar spoon of simple syrup
    • 5 - 6 large mint leaves
    • 1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
    • 3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
    • 2 oz. Tanqueray Rangpur Gin
    Shake with ice, fine strain over ice in a cocktail glass with an Absinthe rinse.
    Garnish with a lemon twist
    This drink pulls from both a Mojito and a Sazerac. The Peychaud's/Absinthe rinse combination is a classic Sazerac move. The muddled Mint/Sugar/citrus is a classic Mojito move. Gin is just good, clean and refreshing. The end result is a very delicious summer drink that will wow your friends and relatives. It is served up, and has a slightly pink louche effect. It is very cool and distinctive in both taste and appearance.

    So the lesson is this: Take a second look at your classics and ask yourself what you can change, knowing what flavor combinations have potential, to create something new and unique.

    A few technique basics...

    When it comes to actually getting down to business and making your drinks there are a few things you should know:

    1. You most likely have a bartender friend that brags about his/her ability to free pour. I call shenanigans. In a speed bar where the speed with which you can crank out a drink is more important than the quality of the drink itself, free pouring reigns as king. In your home bar, or a place of artisan quality drinks, there is no excuse for not measuring your pours. Learn to make things exactly the same way every time. The only variation in the taste of your drink should come from the fruits and juices you are using, not from varying amounts of liquor. Liquor is a constant.

    2. If you are using fruits and juices in your drink, there will be some slight variation. Some limes are very tart, some are slightly sweet. You will never know what you have until you taste it. If you want to be incredibly anal, you can taste the juice before you add it to your drink so that you may compensate for this variation. Also this leads to the obvious point that fresh fruit tastes better. Fresh juices also taste better. Squeeze them yourself.

    3. Ice counts. Unless you live in NYC, tap water isn't good enough for your ice cubes. Break out the Brita or bottled water and make your ice from clean, filtered water. If you get really fancy, you can use cubes sized for the glass you intend to use. Remember, the bigger the cube, the less overall surface area your ice has. With less surface area, your drink will have less meltage. The goal of ice is to keep your drink cold, not water it down.

    A few basic recipes to start...

    Before we move on to the crazy concoctions of the modern bar, it is essential to learn a thing or two about the classics. Most drinks you see nowadays are just a variation on a theme, so might as well become well versed in the originals. Keep in mind that drinks are supposed to taste good to you, not someone else, so tweaking of proportions slightly is totally permissible. In that vein, I am going to give the classic recipe and if there is a version that I prefer, I will give you that as well.

    The Manhattan:
    This is the drink that most whiskey drinkers I know started with. It is sweet and palatable. The vermouth takes a little of the burn off of it to make it more approachable for those of you that aren't ready to go for the straight stuff.

    • 1.5 oz Rye
    • 1.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
    • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
    Served up in a chilled glass or on the rocks
    Garnished with 1 dried maraschino cherry
    This is a good recipe for someone with a sweet tooth. Modern tastes change and most barmen will serve you a Manhattan that is skewed a little more towards the whiskey side and away from the vermouth. Remember, if you are offered the choice of bitters or not, if you don't add bitters it is not a Manhattan. It is just crap in a glass. Some people prefer Bourbon instead of Rye.

    My typical Manhattan order:
    • 1.5 oz Rye
    • .75 oz Sweet Vermouth
    • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
    Served up in a chilled cocktail glass
    Garnished with 1 dried maraschino cherry
    This would still be considered a sweet Manhattan by today's standards, but that's how I like it.

    The Martini:
    First let's get this out of the way: A Martini is made with Gin, not Vodka. A Vodka Martini is made with Vodka. Are we all on the same page here? Good. The Martini holds a special place in my heart. I have been making them for my father since I was 12 years old. He has made sure that I know that the Martini was invented at the Savoy Hotel in London, the home of Gin (although I am now disputing this supposed fact with him after some research). He also likes to drill it in my brain that a Martini is supposed to be served in a frosted, small, delicate glass, not the 10 oz. monsters that are common today. If you can find a nice 4 oz. thin crystal Martini glass, I highly recommend buying at least 2.

    • 1.5 oz Gin
    • 1.5 oz Dry Vermouth
    • 2 dashes orange bitters
    Stirred and strained into a chilled cocktail glass
    Garnished with a lemon twist or a dried, pitted olive
    I guarantee that you have not had a Martini made like that. I have and let me save you the effort - it is just too much vermouth. I usually don't bash the classics. Usually I am their staunch defender. In this case, I think they made it like that because the Gin they served back then was probably nowhere near as good as the floral, clean Gins we drink today. Now most people order their Martinis dry. Typically though, they overshoot in the other direction. They are too dry. I lie somewhere in the middle.

    My typical Martini order:
    • 1.5 oz. gin (I like Bluecoat)
    • .5 oz. dry vermouth (one that has been kept in the fridge and hasn't turned)
    • 2 dashes orange bitters (I prefer Angostura Orange)
    Stirred and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
    Garnished with a lemon twist
    A quick note about the lemon twist. It should not contain any of the white part of the lemon rind. Only the outer yellow layer of the rind should be used. It should be literally twisted above the drink to release the fragrant oils it contains and then dropped in the drink. The white part is bitter and can damage an otherwise perfect drink.

    The Sidecar:
    You may be wondering why I am choosing the Sidecar. First and foremost because I think it is a cool drink. Second, because it is the base recipe for another popular recipe, the Margarita. No, the Margarita is not an original creation, it is just a variation on the Sidecar, which in my humble opinion actually makes the Margarita even cooler. Okay, back to the Sidecar. It is a drink from the earlier part of last century. Its purpose is simple: make Cognac appropriate for women to drink. At the time Cognac was strictly a man's drink. Hence, a little orange liqueur, and lemon juice and there you have it: a womanly drink. Yes, all you guys that think your Margarita is manly because of the high Tequila content, your drink is in fact a girly drink. Deal with it and enjoy it (and neither is girly in my book).
    • 1.5 oz. Cognac
    • 1.5 oz. Cointreau
    • 1.5 oz. lemon juice
    Shaken and strained into a chilled cocktail glass
    Garnished with a lemon twist
    On a mixing note, Brandy is an acceptable substitute (Cognac is just french brandy) and many people really enjoy a Sidecar made with Calvados substituted for Cognac. The proportions on the classic recipe are perfect though. Don't fuck with it.