Friday, July 17, 2009

Gin Cocktail

Also known as a "Gin and Bitters," this drink is incredibly simple. Basically a combination of gin and Angostura bitters, it is nonetheless a great little drink. I made this with a recent acquisition, Hendrick's Gin, and found it to be smooth, almost like slightly botanic-tasting water. All in all, it is almost painfully sophisticated and incredibly yum.

Gin Cocktail
(from Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide)

2 ounces gin
2 dashes bitters

Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bronx Terrace

Since I'm running so far behind, I think I'm going to just do some fast posts for a while. I've been keeping up on my drinking -- boy, it sounds strange to say that -- but I've let the writing lapse a bit. At any rate, here goes a shot at catching up.

Of course, the name "Bronx Terrace" caught my attention. There's something about the old-fashioned, almost fussy "Terrace" attached to my good old Bronx. The blend of courtly and coarse just sounded perfect.

The drink itself was oddly refreshing, with a taste that landed somewhere between a gin rickey and a martini. It was slightly sweetened by the dry vermouth, with a somewhat delicate flavor that I really liked. I drank it on my fire escape -- a real Bronx Terrace.

Bronx Terrace
from Mr. Boston's Official Bartender Guide

1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
1/2 ounce lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add a maraschino cherry.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gin Shots

When I was younger and a lot more flush, I would think nothing of plunking down top dollar for the few luxuries that I enjoyed. However, with age, poverty, and a greatly narrowed social life, I have long since learned the art of economizing. This is especially evident when one considers my liquor cabinet.

In my grad school days, I usually kept a bottle of Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire gin on hand, and would gladly argue for hours about the relative merits of various top-shelf tipples. Recently, however, I bought my first bottle of gin in years. It was New Amsterdam.

In my defense, I will point out that it was cheap, it had a cool bottle, and it tasted pretty good when I tried it in a taste test at my local liquor store. However, in the fullness of time, I have come to the conclusion that it actually has notes of cheap perfume, and is redolent of some sort of industrial process.

My other gin, Rogue's Spruce, came from Sebbie, the incredibly cool lady whose image appears on Rogue's chocolate stout. I met Sebbie at a "Taste of Oregon" culinary event in the Lower East Side. We hit it off immediately, as she helped me sneak my wife and daughter in. Later, when I admitted that I was too soused on good Oregon absinthe to effectively review Rogue's new gin and spice rum offerings, she sent me home with a fifth of each.

The hazelnut spiced rum has long since gone to meet its maker, but my impressive restraint has kept the gin around for quite a while now, although I am rapidly reaching the end of the bottle. As the New Amsterdam demonstrates, finding a suitable replacement isn't exactly an easy prospect.

Before I finished my Rogue and New Amsterdam, I decided to taste test the two to get a better feeling for gin. Here's what I came up with:

New Amsterdam: Rough, industrial taste, sweetish. When chilled, rough tones smoothed out and it tasted overwhelmingly sweet.

Rogue: Much milder than the New Amsterdam, with vegetal, cool tones. Strong taste of cucumber and spruce. When chilled, the alcohol flavor almost disappears completely, rendering it supersmooth and very chilling.

On a side note, New Amsterdam's roughness is surprising, particularly given that the Rogue is actually about 10 proof higher.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Basil's Bite

When our friends Jen and Joey visited a few weeks ago, Virginia and I bumped up our alcohol consumption a bit. This isn't to say that we are usually teetotalers or that Jen and Joey are a bad influence; the truth of the matter is that they are just a great pair to hang out with, and tend to be fine companions when one wants to take a trip through the liquor cabinet.

One night, shortly before they left, Joey and I decided that we had grown bored with the meager offerings of my booze collection. In search of mountains unclimbed and wonders untasted, we wandered down to North End Liquors, my favorite local booze emporium.

As a side-note, most liquor stores in my neighborhood are vaguely reminiscent of a methadone clinic. To purchase something, one walks into a narrow, cramped little room. On three sides, there are walls constructed out of bulletproof glass, through which one can see the establishment's entire selection of booze. By a combination of pointing, yelling, and performing a sort of booze-themed game of charades, one picks out the liquor of choice, ascertains the price, and passes over the dough.

Needless to say, the entire experience is a little unsatisfying, particularly for those of us who like to read labels or comparison shop.

The North End Liquor Store on Webster Avenue, near Fordham Road, may well be the only traditional liquor store on this side of Arthur Avenue. The shop always has a great selection of bargain-priced wines, as well as all the basic liquor-cabinet standards. Best of all, it consistently maintains a good selection of weird little liqueurs and bizarre tipples.

On the night in question, Joey and I decided that our goal was to find the most bizarre booze that the store had to offer. After about fifteen minutes of searching, we narrowed the field down to three choices: Kummel, a German caraway-flavored liqueur; Aperol, which was flavored with "China, Gentian, and Rhubarb"; and Cynar, which boasted an image of an artichoke and looked like something devised by a Soviet-era propagandist. After some soul-searching -- and the sad discovery that the Kummel wasn't even in the store's database -- we decided that both the Aperol and Cynar were needed at home.

When we got back to the apartmen, we discovered that we loved the Aperol and hated the Cynar. To be fair, however, after a few shots and some bleary-eyed contemplation of the Cynar's label, we felt an unexplainable desire to overthrow the government and put an artichoke in charge.

At any rate, that's where it all lay until I found this recipe in Mr. Boston. Not only did it use the weird-ass liqueurs that were gathering dust in my liquor cabinet, but it even made use of basil. Seriously, what could be better?

Admittedly, it isn't the best drink. I made it with Rogue, my better gin, but even that couldn't erase the horror of the Cynar. The finished product was mildly sweet and complex, with a really unpleasant, vegetal, bitter aftertaste that was slightly reminiscent of homemade absinthe. After a while, the aftertaste faded, but never completely went away.

Bottom line, this tasted like some sort of nineteenth-century vegetable tonic that was supposedly good for you, but was later found to contain laudanum.

Basil's Bite
(from Mr. Boston Official Bartender Guide

3 basil leaves
2 ounces gin
1 barspoon Cynar
3/4 ounce Aperol

Muddle Basil leaves. Add ice and shake with remaining ingredients. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a small basil leaf.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Alexander's Sister Cocktail

There was a time when I was deeply addicted to creamy cocktails. From White Russians to Nuts and Berries, B-52s to Brandy Alexanders, I drank them all; depending on how many I put down, I occasionally licked the glass. Basically, as long as a drink had the flavor and texture of melted ice cream spiked with Everclear, I was happy.

Not quite a girl-drink drunk, but close enough.

The inimitable Julie introduced me to my first grown-up creamy drink. A bar-poured B-52 can be truly beautiful: lovingly-balanced layers of Kahlua, Bailey's Irish Cream, and Grand Marnier line up in a glass, suggesting a smoggy sunset or perhaps the sienna-toned frames of cinematic memory. The color palette is pure Indiana Jones, and the flavor is a rich mix of rich and sweet. Yes indeed, a well-executed B-52 is a work of art.

Admittedly, most of our freshman year B-52s were a lot sloppier; in fact, I remember a couple of nights in which we basically put down glass after glass of a khaki-colored ooze that we surreptitiously poured from a convenient plastic flip-top container. While not quite as aesthetically pleasing as a properly executed B-52, they were easier to hide from the cops, should the need arise.

Maybe I'll learn to make a perfect B-52. Now THAT would be a useful skill.

While the B-52 occupies a special place in my heart, I chalk up my creamy drink love to bad childhood influences. When I was a rugrat, my father often took us out to eat at various military bases, where I soon learned a vital lesson: for all their culinary shortcomings, most Officers' clubs are able to put together a first-rate mint parfait. The layers of vanilla ice cream, interspersed with thick lashings of creme de menthe, were a delicious introduction to the world of booze.

The Alexander's Sister cocktail brings to mind the best aspects of those childhood parfaits. The relatively small amount of light cream translates into a drink that isn't quite as heavy as most creamy cocktails. It also isn't too complex, either. Basically, this is a nice ice-creamy concoction that is lightly minty, a bit more grown up, and extremely refreshing.

As a side note, the little sprinkle of nutmeg on top was nice, but could be easily substituted for chocolate shavings, a sprig of mint, or even a maraschino cherry.

Alexander's Sister Cocktail
(from Mr. Boston Official Bartender Guide

1 ounce dry gin
1 ounce creme de menthe (green)
1 ounce light cream

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh-grated nutmeg on top

Sunday, July 12, 2009


A word about vermouth:

I always thought that dry vermouth came from white grapes, while sweet vermouth came from red. It turns out, however, that the rich auburn color of sweet vermouth actually comes from caramel. This is reflected in the brownish tinge that it often gets when mixed with lighter ingredients, and in its slightly creamy sugary flavor. It is sometimes called "Italian" vermouth, to differentiate it from "French," or dry vermouth.

Both dry and sweet vermouth are fortified with brandy and flavored with a wide variety of herbs, spices, and flowers. In the beginning, one of these herbs was wormwood, the active ingredient in absinthe. "Vermouth," in fact, is a French derivation of "Vermut," the German word for wormwood. In addition to its name, wormwood also gave vermouth a reputation as an aphrodesiac, a link that continues forth to today's martinis.

Supposedly, vermouth no longer contains wormwood; however, given the secrecy of its ingredients, it's hard to tell what, exactly, goes into the mix. Taken straight, it tends to have a slightly funky, vegetal flavor that isn't really all that pleasant. However, mixed into other drinks, it often blooms, offering a complexity that can be pretty delightful.

For some reason -- I'm not sure why -- drinks that contain equal parts sweet and dry vermouth are often referred to as "perfect." For example, a perfect martini contains sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, and gin. Today's drink, the Addington, could also be classed as a perfect cocktail.

In truth, however, the "perfect" title may be a mite extravagant. After the ice melted and the orange twist melded, this turned into a good drink; initially, though, the vermouth flavor was strong and way too funky. It might be nice with a splash of fresh orange juice, but that is probably another drink altogether...

(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
cold club soda
orange or lemon twist

Pour vermouths into chilled highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with club soda, stirring lightly. Drop in orange or lemon twist.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Palm Beach

During my freshman year of college, the biggest influence on my social development was probably my friend Julie. Possessed of two older siblings, she'd had years of instruction in all the important things, like how to mix a drink, how to befriend a bartender, and generally how to avoid appearing spastic in social situations. Better yet, Julie had lived in Greece, where the drinking age was low and largely unenforced. All in all, she had a wealth of knowledge about alcohol, bar behavior, and general sophistication, much of which she imparted with generosity and flair.

Over my Christmas break, she invited me to a New Year's party at her cousin's house. With vague promises of drinking, debauchery, and unimaginable delights, she convinced me to throw myself into a frenzy of total strangers and awkward interactions.

It would be fair to say that I was the star student of Julie's informal finishing school, and she was almost as nervous as I. In the days leading up to the party, she gave me all sorts of advice and admonitions. I was not only a partygoer; in the context of this event, I would also be a representative of my generation. I was to drink well and regularly, showing that I, like my elders, was capable of consuming liquor with vigor and elan. I asked for -- and received -- advice on dress, behavior, and other key aspects of the vital social graces. By the time the day arrived, I was prepped within an inch of my life.

Julie was no fool: she realized that, while her older cousins and siblings would be providing the booze, she and I would be providing much of the cultural currency. Consequently, we worked out a playlist of cool Indigo Girls, B-52s and Edie Brickell CDs that I should bring. Also, she suggested that offering my hosts a bottle of something or other would be a classy move.

The booze proved problematic. I was eighteen, didn't have a fake ID, and was located far from the grasp of any older relatives who might have been willing to contribute to my growing delinquency. I looked about three years younger than my age, and had neither the confidence nor the grace to pull off the old "Mister, will you buy me a bottle" trick. As the quick days between Christmas and New Years dropped away, it became clear that providing booze was going to be a serious issue.

Finally, with the party drawing nearer and nearer, I worked up my nerve and snagged an old, half-empty bottle of sweet vermouth from my parents' living room liquor cabinet. I wrapped it in an old sweater and smuggled it out to my car.

When the party came, I showed up, CDs and vermouth in hand. The site of the bacchanal -- a tract home in Herndon, Virginia -- turned out to be far less frightening than I had expected. The host's children were sweet and surprisingly polite when their parents whisked them upstairs to bed. All in all, it was oddly reminiscent of the parties that my parents used to throw when I was a little kid.

While my CDs were greeted with enthusiasm and interest, the sweet vermouth inspired a long, uncomfortable pause. Finally, Julie's brother Peter stepped into the breach, proclaiming "Great! Now we can have Manhattans!" I could have hugged him. Later, in fact, I think I did.

Although I didn't know a Manhattan from a Long Island Iced Tea, I appreciated the save and smiled as if Peter had perfectly guessed my intention. I handed over the sweet vermouth and settled into a great party.

The next morning, I woke up in a strange bed with a dry mouth and a grinding headache. Over the next half hour or so, I caught glimpses of my fellow day-after zombies as I drank coffee, tried to joke with the kids, and hustled out the door. On my way to the car, Julie's cousin ran out and handed me a bottle. It was the sweet vermouth, untouched since the previous night. Realizing the difficulty of smuggling it back into the house, I tried to talk her into keeping it. She politely -- yet firmly -- refused.

At any rate, I have since learned that a little sweet vermouth, carefully applied in the right place, can be a bit of heaven. This is one such case: the Palm Beach is a good summer drink, slightly tart, yet balanced with a creamy caramel taste. It is cool, refreshing, and has a nice light tan color.

Palm Beach
(from The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide

1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened grapefruit juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.