50 Shots of America: Massachusetts

In 2005 I took my first plane ride ever up to Plymouth, Mass., to learn the new accounting system my company purchased. (Actually, we flew into Boston–late–and drove to Plymouth by way of Rhode Island… whoops!) At any rate, we didn’t get a chance to do much sight-seeing (one of these days I *will* visit Salem) but we did make it into town to see Plymouth Rock.

Or, you know, what’s left of it.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to gaze on this pebble of our Nation’s history (we’re talking about the site of the second permanent English settlement in North America, after all) let me break it down for you:

It’s a rock. In a cage.

After years of being gouged at and dragged around town the powers that be put what was left of the bit of glacial rock (1/3rd of it’s original size, by then) back where it came from, on the beach, surrounded by a promenade and covered by a portico. You walk up and look down. At a rock in a cage (there are gratings–bars–that allow sea water into the enclosure and back out again).

But, you know, it works. At least they don’t charge you to see it, otherwise it’d be like paying a dollar at the fair to see the world’s smallest horse.

Which brings me to this week’s beverage:

Rockin’ Tea Party

1 oz strong-brewed Tea
1 oz Cranberry Juice
.5 oz Gin
1 Sugar Cube

Combine the tea, juice and gin in a shaker over ice and shake vigorously. Place the sugar cube in the bottom of the shot or cordial glass and strain the mixture over it.

In this little sipper we have several facets of Massachusetts represented: Plymouth Rock, of course, by the sugar cube, tea for the 1773 Boston Tea Party–one of many early actions in MA that spurred us into the American Revolution, cranberry juice for it being the 2nd largest cranberry-producing state and gin for it’s part in the temperance movement.

Oh, yes, there’s some irony in creating a cocktail for the state that is directly responsible for Prohibition and, therefore, “bathtub” gin. But all’s well that ends well, and Prohibition definitely didn’t last.

Other things Massachusetts is responsible for? Check out the short list:

  • the Presidential families of Adams and Kennedy
  • Transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson
  • the Telephone, 1876
  • Johnny Appleseed and a whole host of cider-apple trees
  • Volleyball, 1895
  • the first Subway system in the US, 1897
  • Birth Control Pill, 1954
  • Vulcanized Rubber, 1839
  • Sewing Machine, 1845

XYZ and so forth

Okay, barflies! I’m going to wrap up this little trip through the Alphahol in one fell swoop of a post for a couple of reasons.

a) we’re at the “difficult” letters, and
b) I wanna talk about the Zombie before Halloween instead of 2 weeks after.

So indulge me: 3 cocktails in rapid fire!

XYZ Cocktail

1.5 oz Rum of your choice
3/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Lemon juice

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Whew! This one is strong–of course, it’s mostly booze. If you like a softer drink, try this with caution, and because there is so little to work with substituting a generic Triple Sec for the Cointreau is going to result in a sub par Xperience.

Your Favorite Aunt

1 oz Gin
1 oz Brandy
1 oz Sweet vermouth
1/2 oz Lemon juice
1/2 oz Simple syrup

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Discovered this one while trying out sweet vermouth recipes and it’s actually quite tasty. It is, again, high on the alcohol and short of mixers but it’s a good sipping drink.

And, finally…

The Zombie

1 oz White rum
1 oz Amber rum
1 oz Dark rum
3/4 oz Lime juice
3/4 oz Pineapple juice
1/2 oz Apricot brandy
1/2 oz Papaya juice
1/2 oz Simple syrup
1/2 151-proof Rum

Combine all but the 151 in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake vigorously–as if you were running from a zombie–then pour into a very tall glass (don’t strain). Float the 151 on top of the drink and garnish elaborately–a spring of mine, lime wheels and cherry all dusted with confectioners sugar; orange and pineapple slices or some other tropical fruit. Serve with a straw–sipping from the top will give you a mouthful of the 151 and not much else, not the desired result.

A bit complex but the taste is worth it. If you have trouble finding papaya juice, puree or nectar (as I did) juicing your own isn’t as difficult as it seems. Sure, it’s not like a citrus fruit that’s juice is easily available, but if you don’t have an electric juicer, here’s how I got it done.

Juicing a Papaya

  1. Slice the papaya in half, lengthwise, and remove the black seeds and any light-colored membranes.
  2. Slice each half into quarters to make it easier to separate the pink flesh from the skin and lighter rind.
  3. Cut up the long slices and place in a decent-sized bowl with high sides.
  4. Crush the fruit with a muddler, pestle or wooden spoon until no longer solid.
  5. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a smaller bowl, working the mash gently with a spoon to get the maximum juice out.

Now, I got about an ounce of juice from a quarter of an 8-inch papaya and it was a bit pulpy so, as I sipped the resulting drink, did get a bit separated but it didn’t make the drink at all unpleasant to imbibe. I’ve read that you can also substitute orange juice but I think I’d go with mango juice (something generally easier to locate) before going with the more mundane OJ.

Of course, this year’s Pumpkin Party is going to be a brunch, so I think I’ll leave the Zombies off the guest list. Instead, for those who wish to imbibe, I’ll be serving Bloody Marys, Mi-moan-sas, and Boo-linis. Have a good holiday, folks, stay safe and drink responsibly.

Vermouth

So, this past week I actually completed the coursework and tests for my BAC: BarSmarts Advanced Certification and, having assured my mother than no, I am not planning to become a bartender (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I gotta admit: I learned some stuff!

Granted, I enrolled in the course for precisely that reason. When I started this Friday blog feature I thought I had a pretty decent grasp of the basics, only to find out how much I had absolutely no clue I didn’t know. And I still have quite a ways to go, but the BarSmarts Wired course started to fill in the gaping chasms in the cocktail portion of my brain (hmm… wonder what part that would be, actually, lol) and the empty spots on my home bar. The lists of even classic drinks that I still have to try as well as the bottles that must be added to my collection now that I know of their existence is long, very long.

One such nugget of information that truly surprised me was the existence and use of Sweet Vermouth. If vermouth rings a bell it’s probably in the context of the notions many have about just how little of it should be included in a Dry Martini (anywhere from a capful to rinse the ice to a nod in the bottle’s general direction). I will say here that I do not like the Dry Martini, I do not like it, Jenn I am. I do not like it with the vodka, I do not like it with the gin. I do not like them shaken nor stirred nor dirty with an olive served. I do not like the Dry Martini.

BUT! Did you know that in it’s original (late 1800s) form, not only was a martini composed of equal parts gin and vermouth it was made, of all things, with SWEET Vermouth. With a dash of orange bitters as well.

Original Martini

2 oz Gin
2 oz Sweet vermouth
dash of Orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Rather than clear, this martini is actually a color somewhere between red and iced tea, the flavor is far more mellow and palatable (to me, at least) than those nasty ol’ Dry Martinis I’ve had in the past and this is totally thanks to the Vermouth.

Being a fortified wine, if you ever taste Vermouth straight (which is not something I’d tried before now) you can definitely detect the grape base beneath the varied aromatics. Strangely enough, the Sweet Vermouth reminded me of a beef stew sort of warmth and cozy feeling–a good example of the elusive umami (that fifth flavor or taste you may have heard of). Aside from the soup reminder, it’s also reminiscent of a tawny port which probably makes more sense than my first impression. Generally I sway towards the ruby and cherry ports, but the Vermouth was certainly tasty on it’s own and I can see why it was originally conceived as an aperitif.

More experiments with this new-to-me flavor-toy are forthcoming, I can assure you. After tracking down some Campari I plan to try out several other classic Sweet Vermouth cocktails, as well as play with the novel idea presented that sherries or ports could, in fact, be substituted for the vermouth in cocktails.

A side note: amusingly enough, as I composed this post, Pandora graced me with a track to fit the mood, as it were: Tanita Tikaram’s “Twist In My Sobriety

No Malaria Here!

This post was brought to you by the letter Q, not exactly an easy one to match in the Alphahol so I went with a tried and true favorite: Tonic Water, which is flavored with (among other things) quinine.

Apparently, the Gin & Tonic habit began as a way for the British of the East India Company in the like to improve the flavor of the strongly flavored Tonic (what we get now has a far lower concentration than the original) which was used as a preventative against Malaria. Now, for those who don’t especially _like_ Gin, you might be thinking that Tonic must have been all sorts of bitter if Gin made it more palatable (which was exactly Todd’s thought). I’m not sure I’d like the full-strength stuff myself, but I’m quite the fan of what I’ve had so far.

When looking up things to serve with Tonic Water, other than Gin or Vodka, I came across all sorts of ______ Tonic–pretty much any spirit plus Tonic Water and there you go. Still, others got a bit more inventive. Take for instance:

Melon Tonic

1 oz Vodka (I used vanilla, of course)
1 oz Melon liqueur
1 oz Tonic water
dash Lemon juice

Stir together in a low-ball glass and sip.

Now, this one, to me, needed a bit more tonic water to balance out the cloyingly sweet melon (and I like melon drinks) but nonetheless tastes like a melted snow-cone with a kick. Definitely one to keep around. I also found a half-gin & [grapefruit] juice, half-tonic mixture that was okay (rather just have the Gin & Juice, personally) but the surprise favorite was this:

Southampton

Tonic water
Squeeze of lime
Several dashes of bitters

Stir lime and bitters (use as much as you like, 3 dashes was recommended and seemed okay for a short glass) into tonic and sip on a hot day in place of a cool breeze.

When I say surprise, Todd even liked this one best out of the three we tried tonight and he’s not a tonic fan. Bitters kinda remind me of Worcestershire sauce (in a good way) and that slightly warm flavor added to the chilled Tonic and lime made for a very tasty drink. Might even be a good brunch alternative for a Bloody Mary for those (like me) who are sensitive to tomato juice in any sort of quantity.

Finally, I know I’ve mentioned this before but I have to again, it just wouldn’t be right not to. Fred and Friends makes wonderfully quirky kitchen gadgets and the Gin and Titonic ice cube molds are no exception. I actually found this, in person, at a local game shop last night and have since sunk an icy Titanic and -berg in both mixed drinks and juice. For the truly surreal experience, I’d suggest dunking them into a blue beverage, but in a nice Gin & Tonic it’s just as fun.

Pomegranate Snark

A while back–maybe a year or so, that’s pretty long in Internet-years–I was part of a conversation among friends which resulted in the following question: If you had a drink named after you, what would it be called?

Now, this was back when I was a bar novice. I stuck to rum & Cokes, Kahlua & cream (or the stand-by Amaretto Sour), avoided vodka at all costs and didn’t know there were more than 3 or 4 types of rum. And by types, I mean regular (white), dark, spiced and 151. Maybe I didn’t even qualify as a novice, yet, come to think of it. At any rate, I did at least come up with a name for my drink: the Snarky Little Tart.

I also knew enough, or thought I did, that the little should signify a shot or some other small portion and the tart naturally led me to think something from DeKuyper’s Pucker line-up. I was on a serious gin kick at the time, so that would be the base and since this was a drink about me, it should definitely be red, so I was leaning towards watermelon or, more appropriately, cherry pucker. That is until I found pomegranate liqueurs at the store and, thus, the Snarky Little Tart had it’s debut.

Snarky Little Tart

1 Ice cube
1 oz Gin
.5 oz Vanilla cordial
1 oz Pomegranate liqueur
splash of Club soda

Build the drink over the single ice cube in a double-shot or cordial glass. Swirl.

This isn’t a bad drink, especially for the first-time mixologist that I was. But, now, a year or two later (really, time flies, all spent online) and several more experiments under my bar towel, I think it’s time to give the ‘Tart a little more room and a polish.

Trying out the different combinations is almost more fun than sipping the triumphant final drink, so I thought I’d go into what changes I made and why. First was the Vanilla cordial, originally made for me by a friend it’s not something that everyone is going to have on hand and not something I’ve ever made myself. The bottle of vanilla vodka never seems to leave the top of the bar these days, so it was a natural first choice when updating the drink. Second choice was to add some pomegranate juice since I wanted a bit of mixer to cut the straight alcohol and I really wanted to get away from the club soda, even if it was only a splash.

Unfortunately, the vanilla vodka didn’t play as nicely with the rest of the ingredients, it was a bit harsh in some ratios and just too bright in others. Then it dawned on me that the Cordial was a brandy base, and I had a wonderful brandy-vanilla flavor tucked away under the bar in the form of a bottle of Tuaca . This turned out to be the magic bullet that pulled together the different flavors (excepting the vanilla vodka, of course, it was just too pointy, even for Snark). So after about 4 different goes, we finally agreed on a winner:

CHF Snarky Tart

1 oz Gin
1 oz Tuaca
1 oz Pomegranate liqueur
2 oz Pomegranate juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker half-full of ice and shake with a touch of bitter wit. Quoting some Dorothy Parker wouldn’t go amiss, either.

This slightly more mature version of it’s younger shot sibling retains the tartness, the color and the touch of gin but goes down much smoother and is meant for sipping.

PS-Pomegranate Snark (along with a long derivation that led to Snarky Cheerleader) was another potential name for the spruced-up cocktail.

Gin!

Growing up, the only gin I was interested in was the card game of the same name, which Mom and I would play in the evenings on a regular basis. When I reached the legal drinking age, it was one of the liquors I figured I’d never like. After all, it smelled like the tree by the neighbors door and who wants to drink a tree?

Until an old boyfriend (he of the dirty martini, which I still don’t like) introduced me to the tart goodness that is the Gin & Tonic. Oh, my, but it was love at first sip. But, like all new loves, there’s an adjustment period. While attending an event with an open bar I had, perhaps, one (or three) drinks too many for the amount of catered hors d’oeuvres available to balance them out (or lack there of). It didn’t help that the bartender was an old high-school acquaintance and mixed with a generous hand. The party was fun, the next day not so much.

And then there was the time, in an attempt to be suave and sophisticated, I took a nod from the barenaked ladies’ song, “Alcohol,” and attempted to order it as a “G&T.” The guy behind the VFW bar had no clue what I was talking about. Kinda takes the wind out of your sails.

I don’t measure my gin & tonics, nor my gin & cranberries or gin & grapefruits, I just sort of eye-ball it and, like it’s predecessor for the top cocktail spot–the Rum & Coke, it depends a lot on my mood and tastebuds how much juniper berry I really want to taste in relation to everything. Seems the suggestion is 2:1, tonic to gin, and I guess I go more like 4:1 when it’s juice instead of tonic.

One problem some people have with gin & tonic is the tonic, more specifically the taste of the quinine. For the gin and the lime without the taste of quinine, try this recipe for a sharp citrus cooler perfect for Summer days:

Lime Rickey

3/4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
Ice cubes
1 1/2 oz gin
Chilled club soda
Lime wedge

Dropped the squeezed lime half (which the juice was squeezed from) into a highball glass, and then fill the glass three-quarters full with ice cubes.

Add the gin and lime juice. Top with club soda. Stir, but not too much. Garnish with the lime wedge and serve with a stirring device, preferably a long thin spoon.

—from Good Spirits, AJ Rathbun

Random Appetites: Martini Mishaps

Welcome to cocktail hour, kiddies!
This Will Never Do...

This Will Never Do...

First, a little background may be in order:

The classic martini is made with gin and vermouth (2:1 ratio) and garnished with either cocktail olives or a twist of lemon. The vodkatini made popular by 007 himself has become accepted as a substitute and with it have come numerous flavor variations. The common element, though, is that there be either gin or vodka in the drink.

I’m no purist, to be sure, as I find the straight martinis to be way too bracing for me. (This has a lot to do with my first encounter involving a dirty martini–one that’s had a splash of the olive juice added–that was way too strong for mixer-loving me.) Beginning in the Fall of 2005, however, I learned to love flavored martinis with a passion and spent over a year on a Mangotini kick like you wouldn’t believe. An unfortunate New Year’s Eve experience has since put me off the mango variety, mores the pity, but such is life.

From the online menu...Being somewhat adventurous and quite enamoured with pomegranates of late, I ordered a Pomegranate Martini at a local chain eatery named for a knowledgeable fruit and a very possessive insect. First of all, I only glanced at the description, but even if I’d committed it to memory it would not have prepared me for what the hapless waiter served me. When he approached the table I noticed the martini glass was rimmed. Unusual, yes, but the sweeter martinis often feature a sugared rim so I didn’t really give it much thought. He offered to pour the first one for me and I let him (less chance of me wearing it that way, after all) and he walked away. At the first sip I was horrified: it was not a sugar rim but SALT. When I finally unpuckered the lower half of my face from the shock I debated returning the drink for one with slightly less sodium or just wiping the salt off and making the best of a bad situation. Since the waiter took a bit to return, I went with the second option and was still trying to divide the salt from it’s host when he did return.

Of course I asked him why on earth anyone would SALT the rim of a martini. To which he answered, well, it’s actually a margarita. Pardon? He claimed that there really was only one pomegranate cocktail on their menu and it was a margarita. Um, no, have a glance at the menu if you would. Now, what I don’t see (nor had I tasted) was any tequila in there (which is sorta required for it to be a margarita) and it’s certainly NOT what was on the menu. [It should be noted that the online menu does feature a pomegranate margarita, as well, but it was not on our drink menu this particular visit.] Had I paid more attention to the description, though, I probably would have ordered something else since it does feature orange liqueur, sweet and sour and soda… not the way I like my Pomatinis. But whatever. The whole visit was questionable and will probably be our last trip to fruit-buzz’s for a while.

How is this a martini?Now, remember when I said there should be either gin or vodka in the drink to make it a martini? Well, another affront was spotted at yet another chain restaurant named after a gem of a day (this one chosen as it was one of the few recognizable, reliable eateries in a little Southern town). Why we continue to patronize these places is beyond me, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. This particular cocktail I did not try, opting instead for a glass of Sangria, but it clearly violates the entire notion of a martini. Last time I checked sake was neither made from potatoes or juniper berries, so no dice! I suppose if we were really trying to make a cause for a sake martini, vodka can be made from grains and rice is a grain so rice wine could maybe… nope, sorry, can’t do it, doesn’t count! It should be noted that this same musically-inclined eatery featured a curious cocktail called a “Chilled Grape Martini” which did include vodka but just makes me wonder why not just drink wine?

Mixology 103

comic-2008-07-18.png

Here’s the text-only version:

Snarky Little Tart

1 Ice Cube
1 oz. [Gordon's] Gin
.5 oz. Vanilla Cordial (recipe at the link, used spiced rum instead)
1 oz. [DeKuyper] Pomegranate Liqueur
Splash of Club Soda

Swirl it all together in a double-shot or cordial glass. (A martini glass would be fun and fit me, too, but it’s not really a martini so only use those in a pinch ;-)