Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, and as a Stocking Suffer: Some Last Minute Drink Ideas

First off, a Merry Christmas to those that celebrate the impending holiday, and whether you fall into that category or not, best wishes to you and yours in this holiday season.  I've been a bit too busy with the holidays to delve deeply into posting new content (soon though, I promise), but I've been reading a slew of great posts in the blogosphere about various drink ideas for the holiday season (or at least the wintry season), new and old, so I thought the least I could do is leave you with a roundup of some of my favorites of the ideas I've come across.

Sloshed! provides a recipe for the Winter Hill, a tasty sounding, citrus-laden hot toddy like beverage featuring satsuma oranges, lemon, bourbon, cointreau and mole bitters.

12 Bottle Bar has been doing a FANTASTIC roundup of The 12 Drinks of Christmas that I strongly urge you to check out.  Among my favorites:  a 500 year old Buttered Beere recipe, a recipe for Swedish Glӧgg (a spiced wine drink), and Charles Dickens Punch.

Chartreuse and Chocolate is a tasty sounding idea (by Jamie Boudreau, courtesy Camper English,

Boozeblogger has another 12 Drinks of Christmas roundup that is amusing to read, as well as providing some interesting ideas. I think my favorite is the Boozehopper.

A Mountain of Crushed Ice has three tasty drink ideas:  the XMAS Red, the Christmas Nui, and Bourbon Chocolate Milk Punch.  Yum! to all of them!

Several blogs, including 12 Bottle Bar and LUPEC Boston's, have suggested we try the old classic, the Tom and Jerry, a warm drink dating back at least to the early 19th century that features rum, cognac, simple syrup, hot milk or water, and the use of an entire egg.

Finally, Eggnog is of course a classic, and you can find some suggested recipes at A Jigger of Blog and Boozeblogger.

 Cheers, and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Local Events: LUPEC Boston Holiday Punch Party

I wanted to give a plug for the Holiday Punch Party hosted by the Boston chapter of the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC) tomorrow night (Monday Dec. 20th) from 6-11pm at Trina's Starlight Lounge in Somerville.  The event will include punch, snacks, and specialty cocktails, and will also feature a clothing drive benefiting On the Rise, "a Cambridge-based non-profit that supports the initiative and strength of women living in crisis or homelessness."  Articles of new or used casual winter women's clothing that are donated can be exchanged for a drink ticket at the event.  Swing by for what I'm sure will prove to be some great drinks, and help out a good cause while you're at it.

Cheers, and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mixology Monday (MxMo LIII): The Painkiller

This month's Mixology Monday is hosted by Chris Amirault of eGullet's Spirits & Cocktails forum.  The theme:  "Like that?  You'll love this."  The idea behind the theme is basically the question of what gateway drink might one suggest to bring a drinker of some of the more disastrous inappropriately named "-tini" drinks of the late 20th century and the like over to the side of more refined cocktail fare.  Maybe it's the word of the snowstorms in the midwest, or the cold that blanketed the Boston area this past week and now promises a return, but I went the tiki route for my suggestion, perhaps in the hope of generating some warm thoughts.  My suggestion applies to someone whose goto drinks include a piña colada.  Now, to be clear, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with a piña colada - it's frankly one of the greatest drinks invented for drinking on the beach.  That said, it is also a drink frequently butchered through the use of commercial mixes that often result in something mediocre at best.  So here's another option that I think a piña colada fanatic will also love:  The Painkiller.
Painkiller (from Beachbum Berry's Grog Log)
4 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
1 oz. coconut cream (Coco Lopez preferred)
2 1/2 oz. Pusser's Navy Rum (sub dark Jamaican if unavailable; I like Myers or Smith & Cross for this)
- Shake juices, coconut cream, and rum with crushed ice, strain into tall glass or tiki mug, dust with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Garnish with a pineapple stick, cinnamon stick, and an orange wheel.
According to Beachbum Berry, the Painkiller was invented in 1971 by George and Marie Myrick of the Soggy Dollar Bar on the island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.  The Beachbum also has some other great  notes about the drink and its origins, like the fact that the Soggy Dollar is a beachfront bar lacking a dock, thus the only way to get there is to jump off your boat and swim (but there's conveniently a clothesline in place to hang your soggy dollars out to to dry).  Another interesting fact provided is that in the early 2000s bartenders there apparently had a habit of grating Viagra tablets onto the drink, giving it a blue hue as well as...other properties.

The rum of choice for this drink, Pusser's Navy Rum, also has some interesting story to it.  The A Mountain of Crushed Ice blog has some details on this, as does the Pusser's website.  "Pusser" is a slurred reference to "purser," the naval officer in charge of the ships stores.  Back in the day, this also meant he was in charge of the seaman's daily allotment of rum, or "tot."  Yes, from about 1655, and only ending in 1970, members of the British navy would receive a daily allotment of navy rum.  After "Black Tot Day," the end of this long-held tradition, British navy rum disappeared for a bit until 1979, when entrepreneur Charles Tobias bought the recipe and rights from the British Admiralty and continued its production, also making it available for sale to the public for the first time.  The rum itself is a blend of different types of island rums, and includes old fashioned pot stilled rum in its blend.

The Painkiller is one of my favorite drinks that I've tried so far out of the Beachbum's recipes.  Give it a try, and hopefully your piña colada lover will love it as well.

**p.s. - my apologies for the lack of photo, but I appear to have thrown my back out this evening which quite literally put a crimp in some of my plans, such as having the time to take a decent photo.  The Art of Drink has a post on the Painkiller with some shots, however, if you are curious.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Drinks for the Season: Coquito

For today's seasonal drink, I'm sticking to my multi-cultural theme with a Puerto Rican Christmas time drink, Coquito.  Coquito is essentially a variant of eggnog, but has the distinctive characteristic of the addition of coconut cream (or coconut milk or juice in some recipes).

Here is a basic set of ingredients and recipe:
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz.)
1 can sweetened condesnsed milk (14 oz.)
1 can coconut cream (Coco Lopez) (15 oz.)
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup light rum (if you want to stick to Puerto Rican, DonQ is not a bad choice; Bacardi is also an option, or if you are less concerned with authenticity, Cruzan)
- Blend ingredients well for 3-5 minutes (watch your liquid amounts, if you are like me and have a small blender you may be maxing out/going over the capacity, in which case I suggest blending without the rum, halving, and blending the 2 halves with a half portion of rum).
- Bottle with 1 cinnamon stick and a 1/2 dozen whole cloves (optional, but I like the added spice). Store in refrigerator at least 2 hrs, preferably over night before serving.  Shake before serving to reduce any clumping.

Now, that said, I like to beef this recipe up a bit.  My suggestion, which is admittedly not very authentic, is to add 1/4 cup of Goslings 151 rum. My selection of Goslings 151 is very specific here; it has a bit of a brown sugar note to it that I think works well.  If you don't have Goslings 151, the next best thing I'd suggest is add 1/4 cup additional light rum and 1/4 cup Meyer's dark rum if available, or Goslings if you have that instead.  If all else fails, you can stick with my original spec or just add 1/2 cup more light rum.

Another note:  no egg in the ingredients.  This is an area of controversy, apparently.  Some are of the opinion that egg is required or at least optional.  One Puerto Rican friend of mine (and other Puerto Rican commentators on the Web) suggest that if you add egg, it's no longer Coquito, it's Ponche, which is a similar but different beverage.  From my perspective, to each his own (after all, I'm Polish, what do I know...); I will note that some commentators on the Web claim it's better without the egg, for what it's worth.  For my part, I will go on my friend's authority, plus the fact that if I'm missing the egg, I can just make eggnog and call it a day.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gift Ideas for the Holidays **Updated 12/10**

**Thanks to some feedback and additional links that have been circulating the web, I have added a few new items and links to other gift guides. Enjoy!**

The number of shopping days for the holiday season continue to dwindle, but if you are anything like me, you still have a number of people for whom you still need gifts (or perhaps there's a birthday or other event coming up?).  There's plenty of gift guides out there from various sources, but it's an opinionated enough topic that I felt that I might as well throw in my 2 cents and see if I can help with some gift ideas for the cocktail/spirits/wine/beer lover.  This list is one part my own personal wish list; one part items I have tested and enjoyed; one part cool items I just happened to run across; and one part suggestions from friends.  I tried to put in links where I could, but as an fyi, I get no kickback from any of these sites (if only...), and I didn't necessarily spend hours researching the best buys, so by all means shop around if you are looking for the best deal.  Also, if you have any suggestions to add to the list, comment away!  Finally, I'd like to offer special thanks to my friend Nick for his suggestions in the area of gifts for beer lovers. Thanks Nick!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy Repeal Day

December 5th marks the anniversary of Repeal Day, the day in 1933 when the 21st Amendment was ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition.  Lucky invitees in the DC area were able to celebrate in style last night at the 4th annual Repeal Day Ball at the Maison Biltmore (Drink Boston's Lauren Clark was one such lucky duck).  For those looking to celebrate, here are 2 cocktail ideas that I think are appropriate for the occasion:  the Scofflaw and the Twelve Mile Limit.

According to Robert Hess, the term scofflaw dates back to a contest held in 1924 to come up with a term to combat continued drinking under Prohibition that "best expresse[ed] the idea of a lawless drinker, menace, scoffer, bad citizen, or whatnot, with the biting power of 'scab' or 'slacker.'"  The winner was "scofflaw," which continues in modern usage to refer one who continuously flouts the law.  Not long after the term was coined, the drinkers provided their own retort, with Harry's New York Bar in Paris creating a cocktail named after the term.  A modern version of the Scofflaw is as follows:
Scofflaw (LUPEC Boston via Cocktail Virgin Slut)
1.5 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. French (dry) vermouth
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. grenadine
Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass
Hess provides a recipe that is more true to form for the era, using Canadian whisky:
Scofflaw (via Drink Boy)
1 oz. Canadian whisky
1 oz. dry vermouth
1/4 oz. lemon juice
1 dash grenadine
1 dash orange bitters
Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass

The Twelve Mile Limit hearkens back the Prohibition era laws that prevented sale, but not ownership of alcohol in the U.S.  The workaround some used for these laws was to have people go out by boat off the coast a sufficient distance to be in international waters.  In the early prohibition era, the distance that accomplished this was 3 miles off the coast; laws were later changed in an attempt to stop this practice, extending the limit to effectively 12 miles.
Twelve Mile Limit (Ted Haigh, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails)
1 oz. white rum
1/2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. brandy
1/2 oz. grenadine
1/2 oz. lemon juice
shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass

Cocktail Hacker has some great history on the Twelve Mile Limit cocktail here.

Looking for a good bar to celebrate Repeal Day?  USA Today has a list of "Ten Great American Cocktail Lounges" including, for the Boston locals, Eastern Standard.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Some Like It Hot

I was looking though my inbox today, and an update notice from Small Screen Network caught my eye by mentioning a classic drink that I had been researching quite recently, the Blue Blazer.  The Blue Blazer was actually a drink I had thought about using as the topic of my post for this month's Mixology Monday theme of forgotten cocktails.  Invented by 19th Century bartending master Jerry Thomas 150 plus years ago, and mentioned in a number of books discussing American cocktails particularly during the 1/2 century thereafter, it certainly qualifies (in the end, I went with a choice that was a bit less...perilous, just in case there were any readers looking to give it a try). 

Thomas' recipe is as follows:
Blue Blazer
1 wine glass (2 oz.) Scotch Whiskey
1 wine glass (2 oz.) boiling water
Using 2 large silver-plated mugs with handles, first add the whiskey and water to one of the mugs and then set it on fire.  Pour the blazing ingredients from mug to mug 4-5 times.  Add 1 tsp of pulverized sugar and serve in a bar tumbler with a lemon peel garnish (note: some subsequent variations add a sprinkling of nutmeg on top).
This technique creates the impressive effect of a blue trail of fire passing from mug to mug.  There is a drawing of the effect in Thomas' book that's somewhat of a hallmark of Thomas' work and classic bartending in general:

Now, actually getting this technique to work successfully is pretty challenging.  The initial concern, quite reasonably, might be not catching the room or oneself on fire.  It's actually getting the whiskey to ignite that's the first challenge, however.  Approximately 80 proof spirits have a hard time staying lit at room temperature.  The boiling water is thus no coincidence - heating the whiskey is actually part of what allows it catch fire more readily.  Having played around with it a little, I actually found that when trying to flame alcohol in this manner, I actually got the best results by 1)  first heating the vessel under hot water; 2) pouring the bulk of the spirits in the vessel; and 3) taking a metal spoon, pouring some of the alcohol in the  spoon, and then heating the spoon over a flame while holding it; 4) igniting the alcohol in the spoon while holding it over the vessel; and 5) pouring the flaming alcohol from the spoon into the vessel, which will then ignite the alcohol in the vessel.  Note:  as another potential challenge and hazard, I would also like to mention that once the alcohol is lit, it is not always the easiest to put out.  Letting it burn down some and/or putting it out by cutting off the oxygen may be necessary.  Also, it is extremely ill advised to try anything remotely resembling this in a glass container as it has a very high probability of shattering; metal and ceramic are the way to go, and even then, beware, they get hot!

**It goes without saying that this, and all of the flamed drink technique mentioned in this post are potentially very dangerous, and I encourage you to either leave it to experts and enjoy the show, or if you do attempt, take extreme extreme precautions**

Now, truth be told, the Blue Blazer is arguably more show than substance.  It's been derisively, if accurately, described as nothing more than heated whiskey with sugar water.  I actually find Jamie Boudreux's "hot toddy" variation from his Raising the Bar series much more interesting.  He uses bourbon, cognac, bitters, and some overproof rum (which should help with ignition) alongside some of his "old fashioned" simple syrup and cinnamon. 

Check out the episode below, and whatever you do, don't make yourself or your home into a blue blazer!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Drinks for the Season: Krupnik

As a person of Polish heritage, I feel that I would be remiss if my list of seasonal/holiday drinks did not include a taste of Polish culture.  So with that, I bring you:   Krupnik!  Krupnik is a traditional Polish spiced honey liqueur with an origin that dates back (in some form) to at least to the 18th Century, and some claim as far back as the 5th Century (although the ingredient list has evolved over time).  It is also drunk in Lithuania, where it is called Krupnikas.  Krupnik is said to have been used as an herbal/medicinal remedy for certain ailments, including the common cold.  Krupnik is also a traditional drink during wigilia, the traditional Polish celebration of Christmas Eve.  There are commercial versions of Krupnik available, including one made by Starogard Gdanski distillery, the maker of Sobieski vodka.  Homemade recipes for Krupnik (which are clearly where the fun is at) are said to be common family secrets handed down from generation to generation (although alas, I had to come up with my own).

Without further ado, here's the recipe I have used for making homemade Krupnik, a variation combining elements from a number of different recipes I've come across (see e.g. the sources at the bottom).

16 oz raw honey
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp cold water
3 cups boiling water
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole vanilla bean pod (split open)
1 small nutmeg, grated
zest from 1/2 lemon
zest from 1/2 orange
4 juniper berries, whole
10 allspice berries, whole
10 black peppercorns, whole
3 star anise fruits
750 ml vodka  (I used Lukosowa potato vodka)
- Combine 1 cup sugar and 2 tbsp cold water in large saucepan.  Heat until dissolved, then bring to a hard boil until caramelized, stirring well in the meanwhile.  The mix will begin to turn yellow-brown, and then begin to darken pretty quickly once the sugar begins to melt.  I suggest turning down the heat a bit once about half the sugar has melted and begun turning color.
- Remove from heat, then add 3 cups boiling water, being careful to avoid splatter.  Warning:  the mix will also steam heavily as the water is added. 
- Add in spices and zest. 
- Heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.  You should now have a wonderful smelling mix reminiscent of mulled cider (frankly, if you wanted break off here and blend in some apple cider instead, I wouldn't blame you and I bet the result wouldn't be half bad!). 
- Let cool for approx 30 minutes.
- Strain the syrup mixture through cheesecloth and coffee filters.
- Return syrup to a pot.  Begin heating and stir in honey until dissolved, straining off any floating residue with a slotted spoon.
- Bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat.
- Gradually stir in vodka.
Serve hot, or let cool and bottle.

The resulting liqueur has a potent honey taste to it with a number of delightful spiced notes.  

Some other recipes can be found here, here, here, here, and here.  Most use a similar general methodology to what I used, although some suggest a cold mix with more aging.  In some cases, the recipes suggest using rectified spirits (grain alcohol, or if you are Polish, spirytus) rather than vodka as the base.  I might go that route the next time around for comparative purposes (in Connecticut at least, there's some Polish import stores where you can actually buy Polish spirytus).  If you want to go this route, then, assuming you are using approx 190 proof neutral spirits, I would use between 1/2 and 2/3 the amount of spirits in the recipe (depending on how much bite you are looking for).  You can also tone down the sweetness some by dropping the amount of honey to 12 oz. 

If you are looking for something more do to do with your Krupnik than just drink it straight, some suggestions I've seen include adding it to either champagne or beer.  The Drinkgal website also has some cocktail ideas that use Krupnik here.

Na zdrowie!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Cocktails

Turkey Day commeth!  So, for anyone looking for a little something by way of drinks for the holiday, here's a few ideas. 

Let's start with a pretty simple one, the Turkey Feather.

Turkey Feather
2 oz. Bourbon (Wild Turkey is the obvious choice)
1/2 oz. Drambuie
1/4 oz. Amaretto
This is a solid drink for a whiskey enthusiast, but if you are looking for something that's either a bit more easy going or more of a challenge, I have something that fits the bill as well.  The In the Land of Cocktails website has a webisode featuring a cocktail from the head bartender at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, Ferrel Dugas:  the Drunken Pumpkin.  This cocktail has a fascinating array of ingredients:  Bourbon, Fee Brother's Pumpkin Spice Cordial syrup, an orange liqueur, lemon juice, black cherry vinaigrette, and simple syrup (with a rosemary garnish).  Now, looking at this list, if you are anything like me, your first reaction will be something like "oooooo" and your second will be "where the hell do I get Fee Brother's Pumpkin Spice Cordial syrup"?  And my answer to those of you in the Boston area for this is...I haven't a clue.  I hunted around, and no luck (you CAN order it online from Fee Brothers, however).  But, fear not, there's a solution to this problem, namely DIY!  A simple recipe for some pumpkin spice syrup that uses ingredients that aren't uncommon this season is as follows (based on recipe from Cook Like a Champion):

Pumpkin Spice Syrup
1 1/2  cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used Turbinado)
4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp ground cloves (I would probably try subbing 3 whole cloves on the next go-round)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin (in the interest of time, I used the latter)
-  Heat sugar and water in a sauce pan until dissolved
-  add other ingredients and cook 6-8 minutes while stirring (do not boil)
-  let cool for a bit, then strain and bottle

Note:  if you are thinking this might be excessive effort for a cocktail, I will point out that this will also give you the makings for a pumpkin spiced latte/pumpkin spiced coffee.  I for one find this a great bonus.

Even with my pumpkin spice syrup in hand, I was still lacking a few of the other ingredients used in the original recipe, so since I was changing things up anyways, I decided to play around with the Cranberry Shrub that I had recently mixed up.  I must say, the results were very pleasing.  I had to play around with the ratios a bit, but the result I liked best was the following:

Drunken Pumpkin (with a side of Cranberry)
2 oz. Bourbon (Eagle Rare)
1 oz. Pumpkin Spice Syrup, homemade
1/4 oz. Grand Marnier
1/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. Cranberry Shrub, homemade
If you are lacking in Cranberry Shrub, and also lacking in black cherry vinaigrette, I think you could use the original recipe and probably get away with substituting a more common vinaigrette like raspberry without too much harm.  I also omitted the garnish and still found it pleasing (I didn't try it, but you might even be able to leave out the orange liqueur and use an orange garnish instead if you want to experiment).

Finally, if you are still searching for another option, Glamnest has an interesting recipe for a Pumpkin Mojito that I have not had a chance to try, but which looks intriguing.  Also, I finally did get a chance to try an idea I suggested in my Cranberry Shrub post, namely adding the shrub to some pumpkin ale (in particular, Southern Tier's Imperial Pumpking).  I must say, the result was very tasty!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mixology Monday (MxMo LII): The Fancy Vermouth Cocktail

This month's Mixology Monday is hosted by Dennis of the Rock & Rye blog, with the theme for the month:  Forgotten Cocktails.  The objective of the theme is "to bring to light a drink that you think deserves to be resurrected from the past."  My choice for a cocktail that fits this description is one I was first introduced to at a wine-based cocktails class at the Boston Shaker.

Fancy Vermouth Cocktail (The Boston Shaker)
2 oz Italian (sweet) vermouth
1/2 tsp. maraschino liqueur
3 dashes bitters
Stir ingredients with ice, strain and garnish with quarter lemon.
The initial reaction of the unacquainted might be to cringe at this - not vermouth!  To reiterate the tirade that most cocktail enthusiasts will give on the topic for a second, vermouth has gotten a bum rap in recent decades.  The reason for this is primarily mistreatment.  Somewhere along the line, bartenders and the populace at large seem to have forgotten what vermouth actually is, namely a fortified wine.  The same people that would never dream of sipping an occasional glass from a bottle of white wine that's been sitting on the coffee table for a year would then take vermouth that was sitting in a liquor cabinet for a year or longer, dribble some into a shaker of gin, and call it a Martini.  Unsurprisingly, people going through these motions would find the smell and taste of said vermouth unappealing.  Why?  because the vermouth had gone bad! Really bad!  The simple test to show the distinction to someone is to have the person smell and taste the difference between a capfull of fresh vermouth versus a capfull from a bottle that's been sitting around for an eternity; there's a world of difference.  Thus, the common  wisdom with regard to vermouth is 1) refrigerate it after opening in order to help preserve it (a wine saver is not a bad addition as well); and 2) don't use old vermouth; even with refrigeration, most vermouths will begin to turn after a month at most (some last better than others; I have found that Carpano and Punte e Mes, for example, tend to still be usable after several months, although the taste does start to change a bit). 

Now, with the standard tirade out of the way, I will go on to add that I think that vermouth can be fantastic, and not just as a cocktail ingredient.  In fact, if Dennis had left out the word "cocktail" from the theme for this month and simply said "forgotten drinks," I think a worthy candidate would be vermouth in general, for the very history described above.  A good vermouth with nothing more than some soda and a slice of orange can be a wonderful aperitif.  Furthermore, there is a vast (and growing) array of excellent, and distinctive tasting vermouths available in the U.S., including newer offerings like Sutton Cellar's Brown Label Vermouth and offerings like Carpano Antica that could not be found just a few short years ago.

Good vermouth is also, unsurprisingly, the key to the Fancy Vermouth Cocktail above.  At the Boston Shaker class, we tasted a Fancy Vermouth Cocktail that used Carpano Antica Formulare sweet vermouth (the so-called king of vermouths) and Urban Moonshine Original bitters.  Carpano is quite simply, fantastic.  It is eminently drinkable on its own, which is why the subtle additions made in the Fancy Vermouth Cocktail work so well; they add something without drowning out the wonderful taste of the Carpano.  For a very different take on the same cocktail, with a much lighter note to it, I suggest trying Martini and Rossi's Rosato vermouth (I used Angostura for the bitters, although I something like the Bittermen's Boston Bittahs might also prove interesting). The Rosato has a light, crisp taste to it with some

As a final note, below is a list of some vermouths, or vermouth-like fortified wines that I am particularly fond of.  Some of these will actually be found in the aperitif aisle of a liquor store rather than with the vermouth (the ones listed with an * below are the ones that I have seen most commonly fall into this category).  Unlike many categories of alcoholic beverages, the term "vermouth" does not have a legally restricted meaning for purposes of labeling.  Consequently, it is largely up to the producers and the marketers whether to label their fortified wine with the term vermouth or not.  Again, because of the stigma that is sometimes associated with the term, it is often omitted from some products that might commonly be found filling the role of vermouth in cocktails.

Carpano Antica Formulare* - the best sweet vermouth out there, hands down.  It has a rich, deep flavor with hints of caramel.
Punt e Mes* - another sweet vermouth from the same maker as Carpano.  Punt e Mes is also excellent, but quite different than Carpano. It has more of a bitterness to it than Carpano, but also has a very fruity/botanical temperament.
Noilly Prat (Dry) - A French offering that I think is one of the best deals for the price; I like the dry in particular.
Martini & Rossi (Rosso & Rosato*) - An inexpensive Italian offering.  The red (Rosso) is a solid choice in the absence of some of the high end choices.  The Rosato is a new offering that makes a great aperativo.  It features hints of pomegranate, raspberry, cinnamon and lemon.
Dolin (Dry) - Dolin is a French producer of vermouths.  They are a bit higher price-point than Martini and Rossi or Noilly Prat, but their dry in particular is one of my favorites for a Martini.
Sutton Cellar's Brown Label Vermouth - A California-made vermouth with a bit higher price point that is marketed primarily as an aperitif. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Drinks for the Season: Cranberry Shrub

With Fall upon us, and the holidays close at hand, I figured it was about time to start up a thread on seasonal drinks.  Rather than start off with the easier one-offs like a hot tody, I decided I'd start out with some drinks that require a bit more time and forethought.  Conveniently enough, I have some ongoing projects that fit the bill perfectly, the first of which utilizes the Thanksgiving day classic, the cranberry.

My tale of cranberry begins thus.  Some weeks back, I attended a friend's wedding, from which my roommate's and I inherited some centerpieces.  One of these pieces was an arrangement filled with cranberries.  Not wanting them to go to waste, I brain stormed some ideas of how to use them.  My first idea was cranberry bitters (more on that at a later date).  Fast forward a bit, and some friends and I were at the Hungry Mother in Cambridge enjoying some cocktails.  One cocktail on their menu (the No. 64 I believe?) was particularly intriguing because its ingredients included blueberry shrub (also intriguing, it came in two variations; one using a fill of proseco, and the other beer).  Voila!  New plan:  cranberry shrub.

For those unacquainted with a "shrub" in the context of beverages and cocktails, I will first tell you that if you scour the Internet for information about them (as I of course did), the information on what constitutes a shrub and how they are made varies a bit.  This is not overly surprising, given that sources generally peg the origin of shrubs in the pre-colonial era, with ebbs and flows of popularity since then.  Here is what I've been able to gleam from my research, as well as the recipe that I went with for making my own shrub (and what I would change next time around).

Shrubs are fruit-based syrups used for hundreds of years in drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  One source I found identified a rise in popularity of shrubs in non-alcoholic beverages as part of the Temperance movement.  Some sources describe shrubs as primarily involving the elements of fruit, sugar, and, most unconventionally to the modern palate, vinegar.  This is where things begin to get dicey.  If you go back to Jerry Thomas' seminal 1862 work, How to Mix Drinks, sure enough you will find a recipe for Rasberry Shrub as follows:
Raspberry Shrub
1 quart of vinegar.
8 quarts of ripe raspberries.
After standing a day, strain it, adding to each pint a pound of sugar, and skim it clear, while boiling about half an hour. Put a wine-glass of brandy to each pint of the shrub, when cool. Two spoonfuls of this mixed with a tumbler of water, is an excellent drink in warm weather, Kid in fevers.

Thomas also has several other recipes listed in his book described as "Shrubs" including Cherry Shrub and Currant Shrub, which make no mention of vinegar.  Instead, the basic pattern includesfruit, brandy (or rum), and sometimes sugar.  The alleged etymology of "Shrub" doesn't lend much clarification.  The origin of the word shrub in this context is said to be related to the arabic sharba, meaning syrup.  In any event, I was gunning for a variation on Thomas' raspberry shrub recipe this time around because I think the vinegar element makes it a more interesting combination.  Even within this particular genre of shrub recipes, there were some further choices to be made.  Some recipes call for a hot mixture of ingredients; some call for a cold mix with additional aging; some add spices and additional elements; some say to age the cranberries with sugar for a day as a first step, while others say to age the cranberries with the vinegar. 

Picking and choosing among the compositions and preparation techniques out there, I settled on the following recipe for my cranberry shrub.  I went with a very basic recipe, involving a cold mix technique based on the technique attributed to Neyah White.

Cranberry Shrub
2 cups cranberries
2 cups sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar (I used an unfiltered organic)
- Muddle/bruise cranberries and (before or after), place in a large mason jar
- Add sugar and blend into a syrup
- Let sit for 24-48 hours
- Combine vinegar into syrup mix, stirring
- Let sit for 10 days in a cold place, shaking periodically to make sure sugar is entirely dissolved
- Strain, filter, and bottle

Overall, I think this recipe produced an intriguing product.   One improvement I would make is to bring out the cranberry taste more, as I find that the it gets lost a little to the vinegar. I think this could be achieved by upping the cranberry quotient a bit to 3, or even 4 cups and blending or crushing the cranberries more thoroughly.  Also, playing with the type of vinegar used might make for some nice variations - perhaps a white wine vinegar instead of the cider?

Now, with newly minted shrub in hand, the next question is...what to do with it?
What makes the fruit-sugar-vinegar shrub formulation interesting in a drink is the way the acidity plays with the sweetness in the shrub itself, and in sweet elements with which it is combined.  The Hungry Mother's route of using Prosecco thus looks like a natural pairing.  One mix I tried was the following, French 75 like drink:
3/4 oz cranberry shrub
1 oz gin (Plymouth)
Prosecco (approx 4 oz)

Shake cranberry shrub and gin with ice; pour into wine glass, top with Prosecco.
Other ideas that I'd like to try:
cranberry shrub + ginger ale
cranberry shrub + pumpkin ale!  In particular, I'd like to see how the shrub would play with the taste of Southern Tier's Imperial Pumpking.  The Pumpking has a distinctive pumpkin pie taste to it that would make for an interesting blend with the cranberry (very Thanksgiving).

The acidity from the vinegar in the shrub balances sweetness very well, thus any pairing with a sweet element has potential.

Here are some further sources for shrubs info of various kinds, which also include some further cocktail recipes involving shrubs as well:
Jaimie Boudreau's spritsandcocktails blog on Berry Shrub
Shaken, Not Stirred Blog
Cocktail Virgin Slut notes about shrubs and blueberry shrub
Note:  There's also at least one commercially available form of shrub from Tait Farms that is also sold at the Boston Shaker, for those in the Boston area.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Alas, the day job and other chaos has kept me from posting in a while, but fortunately some of that busyness has included some cocktail-related projects as well.  I have currently in progress a number of homemade creations including some peach amaretto (courtesy of the recipe in a recent issue of Imbibe), Regan's Orange Bitter's No. 5, some meyer lemon limoncello, and a cranberry shrub just to name a few!  More on those at a future date, as well as some other content that I've been working on.

In the meantime, I would like to take a moment to point out some resources I'm in the process of posting to this site, and as a bonus, some other interesting content on the web to keep you occupied in the interim.

As with many other cocktail blogs, I have a section of links posted with related resources such as other on-topic blogs.  However, I am also attempting to add a little something more.  In the Suggested Reading page, I've listed some of my favorite content from my cocktail book library, however I've also begun a list of some vintage reading related to cocktails and spirits from the 19th and early 20th Century.  Best of all, many of these books, with their copyrights now expired, are available in their entirety online thanks to Google Books.  Where available, I've provided the link to this content on Google Books, or if unavailable there, to any other source of the material I can find (such as reprints on Amazon).  I hope to keep updating this list as I can find additional resources.

Having provided some resources for the vintage cocktail world, I now leave you with a note from the modern cocktail world.  As mentioned on, a bartender-oriented reality tv show styled something like Top Chef and called "On the Rocks:  The Search for America's Next Top Bartender" has recently begun airing its third season.  The show features 2 Boston area talents this season, Trina Sturm of Somerville's Trina's Starlight Lounge and William Codman of Woodward at Ames Hotel.  Sadly, the show is a bit tough to catch here on the East coast (I've read the first 2 seasons didn't even air on this coast).  It airs at 1am on Saturdays on NBC (to make it even more challenging, the first episode actually listed as "Paid Programming" in the guide from my cable company).  Luckily, episodes are available on the show's website as well (the Internet to the rescue again!). 

That's all I have time for right now, but if nothing else you now have some reading and viewing material to tie you over until next time.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's in a Name, What's in a Drink: Part II

Even without polling the world of cocktail aficionados, there's some drinks that stand out as the epitome of the term cocktail itself.  One such cocktail is the Manhattan.
Manhattan (Ted Haigh, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails)
2 1/2 oz rye or bourbon
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine with ice in mixing glass and stir.  Strain into cocktail glass or over ice in a rocks glass.  Garnish with a cherry, twist, or both
The Manhattan is one of the few cocktails to have maintained popularity even through Prohibition to the modern day.  Ted Haigh describes it as one of the oldest cocktails still made exactly the same way it was 145 years ago.  That said, the Manhattan is not an only child.  In actuality, all the boroughs of New York, with the exception of Staten Island, have a namesake cocktail that has existed since the early 20th Century or before. These cocktails consist of:

The Bronx Cocktail
1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz orange juice
Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass, garnish with an orange wheel
The Queens Cocktail (Gourmet magazine)
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz dry vermouth
slice of pineapple
Muddle the slice of pineapple in a mixing glass with the gin. Add ice and vermouth.  Shake, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.note:  The Cocktail Book:  A Sideboard Manual for Gentlemen (1926) lists a different set of ingredients:  1 tsp grapefruit juice, 1/3 Italian (sweet) vermouth, 2/3 dry gin.
The Brooklyn Cocktail
2  oz rye or bourbon
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1 dash (or 2 tsp) Amer Picon
1 dash (or 2 tsp) maraschino liqueur
Shake with ice, strain into cocktail glass

While these Manhattan siblings may not have stayed in the bartender vernacular as steadily as the Manhattan over the past century, the cocktail renaissance of the recent decade or so has breathed new life into one of these siblings in particular.  The Brooklyn cocktail has found its way into a number of bars and bar books in recent years, notwithstanding the fact that Amer Picon, a French digestive bitters, is essentially a defunct ingredient.  A version of it is still produced, but it is currently unavailable in the U.S. and in any event is a reformulation that is half the proof of the 80 proof original, with an allegedly different taste.  Many bars have either substituted another amaro for it or use a homemade version, often following the recipe for Amer Boudreaux.  As a testament to the quality of the drink, the Brooklyn cocktail has spawned a wide breadth of modern variants, as discussed here, and here.  True to form, these cocktails are named for various Brooklyn neighborhoods:

Red Hook Cocktail
2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz Punt e Mes vermouth
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass
2 oz rye whiskey
½ oz yellow Chartreuse
½ oz sweet vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.
Cobble Hill
2 oz rye
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz amaro Montenegro
2 slices of cucumber
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a twist of lemon.
2 oz rye
1 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)
2 tsps maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
1 tsp Cynar
Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.
Carroll Gardens
2 oz rye (Rittenhouse)
1/2 oz Punt e Mes
1/2 oz Nardini Amaro
1 tsp maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
Stir with ice,strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon twist over the drink, wipe the rim with the peel and discard.
2 oz rye (Rittenhouse)
3/4 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica)
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
1/4 oz Amer Picon
Stir with cracked ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The theme does not end there, however.  Some bartenders in Boston have taken the homage to the boroughs a bit further, bringing gin into the mix in place of whiskey in some Manhattan and Brooklyn variants:
White Manhattan (Deep Ellum)
2 oz Bols Genever
1 oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
1 cube Demerara Sugar
2 dash Housemade Wormwood Bitters
White Hook (Lineage Restaurant)
2 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz Vya Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 dash Regan's Orange Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.
Finally, if touring the boroughs with the variants above proves too much, the venerable Manhattan can be made to take on quite a different character with more modest changes to the recipe. Using rye versus bourbon, or changing up the brand of whiskey used can yield a surprisingly different drink.  Changing up the bitters used can also bring a whole new dimension to the drink (I recommend trying the Bitterman's Xocolatl Mole Bitters).  Whatever your choice, this line of drinks provides an interesting way to tie together the past and the modern day with a template that has both stood the test of time and inspired a wealth of new creations. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ginger Beer Tasting & Cocktails

I stopped by the Boston Shaker on Friday night where the brand manager for Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer was holding a tasting event.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was offering up more than just samples of the ginger beer and some Dark and Stormies.  Instead, he was hand mixing up an array of 3 different cocktails involving ginger beer, and one non-alcoholic beverage that had been served up at the Honk! festival earlier this month.  The tasting menu included the following beverages, which were kindly provided on recipe cards to the attendees:

Gin Mule
3 oz London Dry Gin (Beefeater)
2 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 Barspoon Sugar Cane Syrup
3-4 lime slices
Combine ginger, lime slices and sugar cane syrup in mixing glass.  Muddle.  Add gin and shake.  Strain into ice-filled Collins glass.  Top with Barritt's Ginger Beer.

Racer Chaser
4 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
2 oz Pusser's Rum (Pyrat was subbed at the tasting)
Lime Wedge
Fill old-fashiioned glass with ice.  Add rum and Barritt's Ginger Beer.  Give gentle stir to combine.  Garnish with lime wedge and cherry. 

Monticello Lawnmower2.5 oz Rye Whiskey (Sazarac)
2 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
1 barspoon sugar cane syrup
3 dashes bitters (Angostura)
3-4 Sprigs Mint
2-3 lime slices
Combine mint, syrup, bitters and lime in mixing glass.  Muddle.  Add rye and shake.  Pour into ice-filled Collins glass.  Top with Barritt's.
and the non-alcoholic suggestion:
Hornblower (created by Todd Maul, Cleo Restaurant)
2 oz Cranberry Juice
1/4 oz Trader Tiki Orgeat
2-4 oz Barritt's Ginger Beer
1 dash bitters (Angostura)
Combine cranberry juice and orgeat in mixing glass (add bitters).  Stir to dissolve orgeat.  Pour over ice-filled highbasll glass.  Top with ginger beer.
While everything I tasted struck me as a solid, pleasantly tasting cocktail, I was particularly impressed with the Monticello Lawnmower.  This is probably not surprising, given that I'm a big fan of rye in cocktails generally.  The drink was reminiscent of a mojito, or even more so, a good Whisky Smash, with an added bit of spice from the ginger beer.

As for the Barritt's itself, the sugar cane taste in the ginger beer definitely comes through and gives it a distinctive flavor.  In all honestly, I find the taste a little too overpowering for me to pick it up as a casual soft drink.  That said, I think it is fantastic for mixed drinks.  The distinctive taste makes it seem much more like a true component of the cocktail, rather than just filler.  I picked up a few bottles of the beverage at the tasting, and am looking forward to playing around with it to see what other interesting applications I can come up with (and of course, to try and make a Monticello Lawnmower, because that was just fantastic!).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Local Events: Vermouth & Ginger Beer Tastings

The Boston Shaker is hosting 2 exciting tasting events in the coming weeks.  The first, is a (free) tasting of Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer to be held at the store from 5-7pm on October 22nd.  Barritt's is a sugar cane based ginger beer that promotes itself as "a zesty ginger soft drink, that has been bottled continuously since 1874."  The Boston Shaker crew will be offering up Dark and Stormy's using the brew, as well as a mystery cocktail!

Next week, on Friday October 29th, the Boston Shaker will then host an amazing sounding vermouth tasting with Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars, an artisnal .winery in San Franciso.  Several different vermouths will be sampled, and in addition, there will be a "deconstructed tasting" of Sutton Cellars Brown Label vermouth.  The event, which will run from 8pm-9:30, costs $45 and has limited seating.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's in a Name, What's in a Drink: Part I

The naming of drinks truly is an art unto itself, and as with many art forms there are occasionally recurring themes or conventions that can be identified.  An example of this is what one might call "the evolving cocktail."  What I'm referring to here are various lines of drinks that begin with a certain template drink that subsequently has one (or more) elements varied to produce a new drink, usually borrowing in its title from the original.  One of my favorite examples of this phenomenon is the prohibition era cocktail, the Last Word.
Last Word 
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse
The Last Word is itself a fantastic cocktail that has fortunately achieved a sort of renaissance after a long post-prohibition hiatus.  More than just resurfacing, however, the Last Word has spawned an impressive array of variations that provide a new spin on the drink by changing up some of its constituent elements, while generally keeping to a basic idea:  four ingredients, in equal parts, one of which is a tends to be a base spirit, one a citrus element, one Chartreuse (green or yellow), and one liqueur.  And, of course, there's the names!:  the Final Ward (not a variation with a spelling error, but rather a creation of NY bartender Phil Ward that subs rye and lemon juice for the gin and lime juice); the Next to Last Word (sub lemon juice for lime, St. Germain for Chartreuse);  the Latest Word (a Craigie on Main variation subbing genever gin for London dry) to name a few (a longer list here).  And of course, there's also the Monte Cassino, a variation that won the Esquire magazine's "Alchemist of our Age" competition early this year that substitutes rye for gin, Benedictine for maraschino liqueur, and yellow Chartreuse for green; it may break with the naming scheme in favor of a monastic one (it WAS made in celebration of the benedictine 500th anniversary), but it's delicious enough that I for one will not complain. 

Another example of this evolving cocktail theme is provided in Beachbum Berry's Remixed anthology:
Suffering Bastard (the original)
1 oz gin
1 oz brandy
1/2 oz Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz ginger beer, chilled

Dying Bastard
1/2 oz each of gin, brandy, and bourbon
1/2 oz. Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz. ginger beer, chilled

Dead Bastard
1/2 oz. each of gin, brandy, bourbon, and light rum
1/2 oz. Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz. ginger beer, chilled

Make no mistake, however; this particular theme in cocktail naming and construction is by no means solely a modern phenomenon.  An older example can be found in a set of American drinks recounted in the the 1892 book Drinks of the World:  Volume 1 (which incidentally, can be found on Google Books here, as with many other interesting reads now in the public domain):
Stick an orange full of cloves, and roast it. When brown, cut it in quarters, and pour over it i quart of hot port. Add sugar to taste, and let mixture simmer for half an hour.
The same as Bishop, with substitution of best claret for port.
The same as Archbishop, with substitution of champagne for claret.
The same as Cardinal, with substitution of Burgundy for champagne.
For my part, I find the evolving cocktail theme to be both fun to explore, and very instructional. It's an interesting experience to take a drink recipe that just "works" and to explore the effect of changing an element of that recipe.  Sometimes you get a straight out improvement on the original; sometimes you get something new and unique, but with throwbacks to its precursor; and, of course, sometimes you get something utterly undrinkable.  It is, in any event, a very useful way to learn how different flavors interact in a drink.  Also, if nothing else, it give you an excuse to get your pun on, and see what fun (and sometimes cringe-worthy) names are elicited by your new creation.

Inaugural Post

At long last, after many many moons of thinking about it and procrastinating, I've started a cocktail blog!  What finally pushed me over the edge?  Who knows - perhaps it was coming up with a name that I liked.  "Raised Spirits" seems very fitting to me (and not just for the obvious pun).  There's several different meanings to be had from the title that I think fit my goals and interests with this project.

First, there's the impression of good cheer that goes with one meaning of the expression, and which I associate with one of my favorite aspects of, well, drinking - the social aspect.  Whether it's at a good bar, at the home of a friend, or celebrating at a wedding or other event, there's a lot to be said for that feeling of clinking glasses in good company.  Beyond just highlighting some fun ways to fill the glasses of the potential glass clinkers out there, I also hope to carry this social meme a little further by enlisting the aid of some of the aforementioned friends that I regularly toast with to bring some of their insights to this blog.

A second (and ok, perhaps a bit more morbid) way of interpreting the phrase "raised spirits" is the idea of calling forth apparitions from beyond the grave.  This meaning is somewhat apt as well, in that I am very much someone that appreciates the rich history that goes along with cocktails and classic drinks, and I am always up for exploring the often delicious vintage drinks of bygone eras. Thankfully, I am far from the only one, as the trend towards the revival of vintage cocktails and spirits in cities across the country seems to be continuing to build steam, making what was old new again.

A third way to interpret "raised spirits" is the idea of raising up, or improving upon something.  I think this is fitting first in a historical way, as it harkens back to the origins of the cocktail as, put bluntly, a means to compensate for terrible quality spirits.  However, more importantly I think it also fits in the general sense of seeking improvement, going beyond the known to new frontiers.  It's this meaning that I associate with modern mixology and the new frontiers that today's bartenders are exploring, all of which piques my interest and is subject matter I hope to explore on this blog.

Finally, there's the somewhat literal interpretation - raising spirits in the sense or raising your glasses for a toast.  So in that vein, and in closing, na zdrowie!  Cheers!  and thank you for reading!