Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Battle of Trafalgar

Battle of Trafalgar

It wasn't that long ago that my bar consisted of nothing but rye, vodka, gin, dry vermouth, and a couple of tooth-achingly sweet liqueurs. The fabulous bars in Boston slowly introduced me to the world of craft cocktails, but I didn't think I'd ever be able to replicate most of them at home without spending a fortune on liquor. Now I know that this isn't the case; while you'll probably never be able to make everything a great bar can make, you can equip yourself with a lot of really versatile spirits that will give you tons of options.

As I wrote when I introduced Batavia Arrack, the cocktail that changed my mind was the Battle of Trafalgar. This recipe, invented by Aaron Butler at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, was so unique and delicious to me and GG that we decided we wanted to be able to make it at home. I searched online for the recipe, assuming I wouldn't find it, but there it was on Cocktail Virgin Slut, straight from Butler himself. Lime juice and honey simple syrup, check. I knew of Pimm's No. 1, and I was excited to see it playing such a central role in a cocktail not involving fizz and fruit. St. Germain was another familiar ingredient, and though I'm not sure we owned a bottle, I had definitely been wanting one. And then there was the Batavia Arrack, entirely foreign at the time but now a familiar sight on our bar. Buying all three was pricey, but they lasted a really long time, and we made a lot more than just Battle of Trafalgars with them.

What is it about this cocktail that was so good that it induced two cheapskates to spend so much on liquor? We just love the flavor. It's deep and sophisticated, with hints of bitter orange and spice and honey-sweet citrus. I think it's a truly brilliant example of cocktail craftmanship.

History: As I said, this cocktail was invented by Aaron Butler at Russell House Tavern. The name refers to a famous naval battle fought by the British against the French and Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805. It was a great victory for the British, led by Admiral Lord Nelson, whose statue now stands in Trafalgar Square in London. Unfortunately Nelson took a bullet wound during the action and died not long after.

Butler was an English History major, so he was familiar with all this when he named the cocktail. The Pimm's No. 1 is a very British liqueur, and the lime and Batavia Arrack evoke thoughts of the Royal Navy. I can't really explain why, but I've always thought the name was a perfect fit. It tastes like a cocktail Lord Nelson might have enjoyed after a victory.

Battle of Trafalgar

1 1/2 oz. Pimm's No. 1
3/4 oz. St. Germain
3/4 oz. Batavia Arrack
1/2 oz. honey simple syrup*
1/2 oz. lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass. Twist an orange peel over the cocktail and rub it along the sides of the glass, then discard. Toast Lord Nelson and enjoy.

*Honey simple syrup: combine equal parts water and honey and heat on the stove or in the microwave until honey is dissolved. Let cool before use.

Recipe from Cocktail Virgin Slut, courtesy of Aaron Butler.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Vanilla Punch

Vanilla Punch

I'm back from vacation! We did a beautiful tour around southern Utah and northern Arizona, visiting all the national parks in the area: Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, the Grand Canyon, and lots of things in between. We've always been snobs when it comes to travel, opting for international destinations over anything in the US, but this was a humbling reminder that America is a big and stunningly beautiful country.

My reading material for the trip was Imbibe! by David Wondrich, which tells the story of the "father of American mixology" Jerry Thomas and his cocktail recipes. I know, I know, even I can't believe I hadn't read it yet. I blame that pesky dissertation. Since a lot of the book is dedicated to technique and recipes, it should properly be read at home with a full bar and plenty of time, but it's not bad when you're watching the sun set over the desert, either.

Of the first few recipes, this one caught my eye in particular. It's very simple, but extremely tasty. Nothing I can write here could possibly rival Wondrich's humorous and informative prose, but I'll tell you a few things and urge you to pick up the book yourself if you haven't already.

From the mid-17th to mid-19th centuries, punches were some of the most popular cocktails, so much so that Wondrich has devoted his second book to them entirely. They consisted of spirits, lemon, sugar, and spices and were generally shared out of a large bowl. By Jerry Thomas' day, the bowl was old-fashioned and it was more popular to make individual servings of punch to order. This Vanilla Punch is one example. It's basically a brandy sour.

In the late 19th century, ice came in large blocks from which cubes or shavings had to be cut. This recipe calls for shaved ice (crushed will do fine). It is shaken in a Boston shaker and then served in the tumbler in which it was shaken, with a straw. Straws were a good deal more popular back then, given that most folks had bad teeth that would have made it painful to sip directly from a cold drink.

Though it's a simple recipe, I enjoyed this lovely, vanilla-scented sour. The Cognac gives it a sophisticated edge that is only intensified by its venerable age and illustrious pedigree. I wonder how similar the cocktail I made actually tastes to one that Jerry Thomas might have served. I like to imagine that it's similar. In that way, all of these classic recipes are an incredible link to the past.

History: The recipe appears in Thomas' 1862 How to Mix Drinks.

Vanilla Punch

2 oz. brandy (I used Pierre Ferrand Cognac)
Juice of 1/4 lemon (roughly 1/2 oz. for me)
2 tsp. sugar (I used simple syrup)
A few drops of vanilla extract

Combine brandy, lemon juice, and sugar in a Boston shaker. Add crushed or shaved ice. Shake until well chilled. Pour into tumbler half of shaker and add vanilla on top. Serve with a slice of lemon and a straw.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bar School: With a Twist

Lemon Twist

Sorry for the silence! We just painted our living room and kitchen, and our apartment was in complete disarray for days. I think we may have made a cocktail or two, but there was no doing it neatly or photographing it; they were rewards for hard work. Now everything is back where it should be and the walls are no longer an unpleasant off-white. But we're going on vacation next week, so I won't be blogging much then either. But I'll try to post a couple of things between now and then.

There are a few reasons why I decided to call this blog Garnish. One, admittedly, is that it was a cocktail-related word that hadn't already been taken. But the more I've thought about it, the more appropriate it seems. As I've gotten more careful about making cocktails, I've come to realize that a garnish can really make a drink. They are rarely just decorative. A hint of herbs or citrus can have a huge impact. Not only that, but a garnish is to a cocktail sort of what a cocktail is to me: a beautiful, delicious thing that isn't absolutely necessary but really adds something when you have it.

One of the most common garnishes you will see called for in a cocktail is a citrus twist. I've posted plenty of recipes that use them, but I've never really gone through how to properly garnish a drink with one. Unlike many garnishes, which are just plopped into the drink or hung on the side of the glass, a twist is a bit more involved. And a lot of people get it wrong. For one thing, it's not a slice of fruit. Just the peel. If you're meant to garnish the cocktail with any of the inner fruit, the recipe will refer to a slice, wedge, or wheel of citrus.

A twist also doesn't have to be curly. A twist is called a twist because of the action that the bartender performs over the drink, not its shape. The idea is to release the oils in the skin of the citrus fruit into the cocktail. These oils contain compounds called terpenes that give citrus fruit their distinct aromas. If you garnish your drink correctly, they'll also lend that aroma to your cocktail.

So, if you're making a cocktail that should be garnished with a twist, here's what you should do:

1. Wash your fruit well; the peel is going in your drink, after all.

2. Using a paring knife or a peeler, slice a thin section of peel from your fruit, as pictured above. You want to avoid getting much of the white pith on the peel. This part of the fruit is bitter and can add that bitter flavor to your cocktail. Go for a shallow cut, so that you can see the pores of the fruit through the underside. Just aim for an elongated shape. Sometimes I'll trim mine into something more creative, but the basic twist is just vaguely oval-shaped.

Lemon Twist

3. Take the piece of peel in both hands with the two sides pinned between your thumb and forefinger. Twist it over the drink with the outer peel facing down. This will release the oils into the drink. If you look carefully at the surface of your cocktail, you should be able to see the oils floating on the top.

4. Next, rub the outside of the peel along the sides of the glass to coat it with the oils as well.

Lemon Twist

5. Finally, drop the peel into the cocktail. You can actually discard it if you wish, and some recipes recommend doing so. Yep, that's right - it doesn't even have to go in there if you don't want. I've seen bartenders bring a cocktail over to a patron so they could see them do the twist before they threw out the peel.

And that's it! Quick and simple, but a very important technique for making good cocktails.

Friday, September 11, 2015

American Trilogy

American Trilogy

The American Trilogy is a variation on the Old Fashioned, an admittedly difficult cocktail to improve upon. Perhaps aware of this, the American Trilogy doesn't stray too far from the original recipe. With hints of apple and strong notes of bitter orange, it's lighter and less sweet than its cousin. If you drink a lot of Old Fashioneds, you might find it a welcome change.

Instead of using straight rye, the American Trilogy combines it with Laird's Applejack or Bonded Apple Brandy. Use the latter if you have it, but the Applejack will do just fine if not. Similarly, a white sugar cube can replace a brown one. You can also use simple syrup if you prefer a sweeter cocktail; much of the sugar will get left in the mixing glass if you use the cube.

History: The American Trilogy was invented by Richie Boccado at Little Branch in New York City. The "trilogy" in question probably refers to the rye, applejack, and orange bitters. The first two are recognizably American, and while we're not exactly world-renowned for our bitters, most of the varieties you pick up have probably been made here. The most common bitters brand, Fee Brothers, was founded in Rochester, NY in 1863.

American Trilogy

1 oz. rye
1 oz. apple brandy or Laird's Applejack
1 brown sugar cube
4 dashes orange bitters

Soak sugar cube in bitters and place at the bottom of a mixing glass. Muddle into a crumbly paste. Add rye, apple brandy, and ice. Stir well. Strain into a rocks glass. Serve neat or with one large ice cube. Garnish with an orange twist.

Recipe adapted from Punch.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Grilled Pineapple Margarita

Grilled Pineapple Margarita

The Margarita is a cocktail that positively begs for experimentation. There are so many different things you can do with it. One of the easiest variations is just to add different fruits. I already made Peach Margaritas, which were really good.

But these Grilled Pineapple Margaritas are better.

This recipe, from Erin of Platings and Pairings, is amazing. It requires a fair bit of preparation, but it's completely worth it. This is a whole other level of margarita.

First of all, you're not just throwing in some pineapple - it's grilled pineapple. If you've never grilled pineapple, you should know that it's delicious. It gets sweet and caramelized and smoky. You're going to want to grill it well ahead of time so it has time to cool. Try not to eat it all while you wait.

On top of that, this margarita uses jalapeno-infused tequila. It's the first time I've made it, but I can already see myself experimenting with it in lots of cocktails. This also needs to be made ahead of time. Since I didn't want to make a lot, I poured about 4 ounces of tequila blanco into a mason jar and added half a jalapeno, sliced. Though Erin recommended letting the tequila infuse for 12 hours, I tasted it after only one hour and thought it was spicy enough for me. The longer you let it sit (and the more jalapeno you use), the spicier it will be. If you overdo it, just add some more tequila to dilute it.

Erin's recipe calls for 1 1/2 ounces of the jalapeno tequila, but I decided to cut this back to one ounce and add 1/2 ounce mezcal to play up the smokiness of the pineapple. The final special touch is a teaspoon of vanilla, which really brings all the flavors together. It is so good!

Grilled Pineapple Margarita

1 oz. jalapeno-infused tequila*
1/2 oz. mezcal
1/2 oz. triple sec
2 slices grilled pineapple** (I used a little less)
1 1/2 oz. lime juice
1 oz. agave nectar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

*For jalapeno-infused tequila: Slice jalapeno and combine with tequila blanco. Use roughly one jalapeno pepper per cup of tequila. Let the tequila infuse until it's spicy enough for your taste, 1-12 hours. Strain to remove jalapeno slices.

**For grilled pineapple: Slice fresh pineapple into 1-inch thick rings. Remove the rind, and the core if desired (I removed the core after they'd cooked). Preheat a grill to medium-high. Grill pineapple slices for 4-5 minutes each side, until pineapple is softened and has browned grill marks. Let cool and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to make your cocktail.

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve to remove pineapple pieces. Erin suggests adding as much as 3/4 cup water in the blender to reduce the thickness of the liquid; I omitted it water, but did find it difficult to strain the mixture. Pour the strained cocktail into a shaker and shake with ice until well chilled. Coat the rim of a rocks glass with salt and fill the glass with crushed ice. Strain the cocktail into the prepared glass. Garnish with a piece of grilled pineapple.

Recipe adapted from Platings & Pairings.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Singapore Sling

Singapore Sling

As I assembled the laundry list of ingredients to make the Singapore Sling on my counter, I realized that I've been preparing you for this cocktail. I've written about gin, introduced Cherry Heering and Benedictine, and told you how to make real grenadine. Add some pineapple juice, lime, and bitters, and you have a Singapore Sling.

Since I'm making this cocktail for the first time, I chose to go with the recipe served at the cocktail's birthplace, the Raffles Hotel. As you'll find out below, the Raffles recipe is almost certainly not the original, which probably didn't contain pineapple juice. I think nixing the pineapple would make for a much better cocktail, but you could argue that today such a drink wouldn't be considered a Singapore Sling anymore.

In its current form, the Singapore Sling is a tropical drink through and through. It's the sort of thing you'd feel much better sipping on a beach than in your own home. I don't really see myself fixing one on a regular basis. I prefer my drinks, even my tiki drinks, a bit more spirit-forward. But it was really fun to make, and I'm glad it's now in my repertoire. I might experiment with a more classic gin sling recipe that doesn't use the pineapple. But this recipe would be a fun option for a party, and would be easy to make big batches of.

Singapore Sling

History: Classically, it's believed that the Singapore Sling was invented in (you guessed it) Singapore, at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel, by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon sometime around 1915. But, as usual, this is probably not true.

The first mention of a "sling" in Singapore comes from 1897, and people were already drinking cocktails that were very similar to the Singapore Sling between then and the date of its supposed invention in 1915. They were usually just called gin slings. Travelers wrote about drinking gin slings at the Raffles post-1915, but those who included a recipe make no mention of pineapple juice, which makes up most of the drink today. For example, in his 1922 Cocktails and How to Mix Them, Robert Vermiere provides what is considered the earliest recipe for a Singapore Sling (called a Straits Sling), and it's only gin, Benedictine, cherry brandy, lemon, bitters, and club soda.  So where did the story - and all that pineapple juice - come from?

Raffles Hotel
The Raffles Hotel

Well, the Raffles wasn't doing well in the 1970's, and its new manager decided to try and harken back to its glory days by reviving its colonial-era feel. Part of this was resurrecting the Singapore Sling. The original recipe had been lost, but something close was supposedly pieced together from old menus, the memories of the bartenders, and a recipe scrawled on the back of a receipt from 1936 that may or may not exist. That something is the recipe below. Cocktail historians agree that it sounds much more like a recipe from the 1970's invented to sell cocktails than a classic sipped by Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling the 1910's.

In the midst of this cocktail resurrection, one of the bartenders, Ngiam Dee Suan, claimed that it had been his uncle Ngiam Tong Boon who had invented the Singapore Sling. This is the first mention of Ngian Tong Boon in connection to the drink, so there's not really any hard evidence that he invented it, especially given the popularity of gin slings in Singapore before 1915. But the Raffles jumped on the possibility, and now claims that they have Ngiam Tong Boon's recipe books and his original Singapore Sling recipe locked away in their safe, quite an impressive bluff.

For more details on the Singapore Sling, check out these pieces by David Wondrich, Worldfoodist, and George Sinclair.

Where else should one partake of the Singapore Sling but at the Raffles Hotel?
Our Raffles postcard, currently part of a gallery wall in our apartment.

GarnishGuy and I went to Singapore in 2008 and got to wander around the Raffles a bit. It was absolutely gorgeous. It's impossible not to be enchanted by the sparkling white architecture, lush gardens, and Sikh doormen in impeccable uniforms. The hotel opened in 1887, and is named for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who negotiated the founding of the first British trade post on Singapore.

Knowing that the Raffles was the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, I really wanted to try one there, but they're about $28. Today it doesn't seem like much for the experience, but back then it seemed crazy. In the more expensive countries we visited (Singapore included), we were staying in hostels and living off spaghetti. We'd also just come from Malaysian Borneo, where you could get a huge plate of mee goreng for next to nothing, so we weren't about to shell out $60 on cocktails. We bought a postcard instead.

Singapore Sling

1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Cherry Heering
1/4 oz. Benedictine
1/4 oz. Cointreau
4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 oz. lime juice
1/3 oz. grenadine
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well; you want a nice froth on the top from the pineapple juice. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Garnish with a pineapple slice and a cherry.

Recipe from the Raffles Long Bar via Viet World Kitchen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bufala Negra

Bufala Negra

I've had this cocktail bookmarked for a long time. It just sounded so unusual: bourbon, basil, balsamic vinegar, and ginger beer. The flavor is incredibly interesting. Unlike the Strawberry Balsamic Smash, where a mere hint of balsamic vinegar enhanced the other flavors of the cocktail, the Bufala Negra is all about the balsamic. After I took my first sip, I wasn't sure I liked it. Then I took another, and another. As my palate slowly got used to the flavor, I enjoyed it more and more. When you roll it around on your tongue, you can pull out the savory notes of basil and balsamic.

The recipe specifies good aged balsamic vinegar, and I'd abide by that. In my experience the cheaper ones tend to taste more acidic, where as more expensive ones are sweeter and more flavorful. It could make all the difference in this cocktail. Plus, balsamic vinegar keeps forever and isn't something you use large quantities of, so it seems like a worthy splurge.

History: The original Bufala Negra was invented by Jerry Slater of H. Harper Station in Atlanta. His recipe uses a balsamic syrup instead of straight vinegar. John Greco of Philip Marie in Greenwich Village created this adaptation. As far as the name, I believe it means "black buffalo" in Portuguese.

Bufala Negra

1 1/2 oz. bourbon
1/2 tsp. simple syrup
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
4 basil leaves
2 oz. ginger beer

Muddle basil with simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker. Add bourbon and shake with ice until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer. Using a teaspoon, gently drizzle balsamic on top (most of it will sink). Garnish with a sprig of basil. Be sure to stir before you sip.

Recipe adapted from the New York Times.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mezcal Smash

Mezcal Smash

There's an entire shelf in my apartment dedicated to old issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetit that I've never looked at. I mean, I'm not just going to throw them away. They're filled with recipes! It turns out they're just about all on the internet, and you can even browse by individual issues, so the magazines are kind of redundant. But, much to the consternation of the poor movers who transferred at least two boxes of magazines to our new apartment, I insist upon looking through them before I throw them into the recycling bin. I did, at least, cancel my subscriptions once I accumulated a significant pile.

After my defense I finally found time to flip through a few issues. I went for all the summer ones to get some seasonally-appropriate recipes. The August 2012 issue of Bon Appetit had a whole double-page of smash recipes, including the Strawberry Balsamic Smash and this one, the Mezcal Smash. Since I love mezcal, I knew I had to try this one as well.

Mezcal Smash

I was intrigued by the lack of any citrus juice in the recipe, and ultimately I felt like it was a major flaw. It was just too sweet without it. But just a bit of lime juice rounded it out perfectly to my taste. The cinnamon simple syrup is a really nice compliment to the mezcal, and the pineapple flavor ends up pretty subtle. The smoky taste of the mezcal is front and center, but it's definitely softened. This would be a good gateway cocktail for mezcal skeptics. If you're sure you don't like mezcal, you could substitute in tequila instead, but I'd go for an anejo or reposado to make up for the lost flavor.

History: This Mezcal Smash was invented by Damon Boelte of Prime Meats in Brooklyn, NY.

Mezcal Smash

Mezcal Smash

2 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. cinnamon simple syrup*
1/4 oz. lime juice
2 1-inch cubes fresh pineapple

Place pineapple, cinnamon simple syrup, and lime juice at the bottom of a shaker or mixing glass and muddle to release the juices. Add mezcal. Double-strain into a rocks glass. Fill halfway with crushed ice and stir. Top with more crushed ice and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a pineapple leaf.

*For cinnamon simple syrup: combine 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water in a saucepan and simmer until sugar is dissolved, stirring. Add 3 cinnamon sticks and let steep, uncovered, until cinnamon flavor has infused the syrup. (I only used 1/4 cup each of sugar and water and steeped one cinnamon stick in it for about 3 hours.)

Recipe from Bon Appetit.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Eveleigh Lemonade

Eveleigh Lemonade

Sometimes you can imagine exactly how a cocktail will taste just by looking at the recipe. That's how I felt with this one, and I knew it had to be good. Chamomile-infused tequila is utterly perfect with lemon and honey, yielding a refreshing twist on spiked lemonade. Since the scent and taste of chamomile usually reminds me of cold winter evenings, this makes a nice end-of-summer cocktail to help ease the way to autumn flavors.

I did find that the honey didn't mix in quite well enough, leaving the cocktail a little more sour than I would have liked. Adding more was hopeless since the drink was so cold by then, so I mixed in a tiny bit of simple syrup. What I'd recommend is using honey simple syrup (equal parts honey and water) instead of straight honey, and maybe amping up the amount to as much as 1/2 ounce. Try it and see what you like.

Also, the recipe calls for Cocci Americano, which is a white Italian aperitif wine. It is often used instead of Lillet in the Vesper Martini. Here, I did the opposite, substituting Lillet since I don't have a bottle of Cocci Americano.

History: According to this article, the Eveleigh Lemonade was invented by Dave Kupchinski, bar manager of Eveleigh in Los Angeles, for an edition of the Sporting Life sponsored by Combier. It's still on the menu at Eveleigh.

Eveleigh Lemonade

1 oz. chamomile-infused tequila*
1/2 oz. Cocci Americano (I used Lillet)
1/2 oz. triple sec
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. honey (or honey simple syrup to taste)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake with ice until well-chilled. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

*For chamomile-infused tequila: Imbibe provides instructions for infusing an entire bottle of tequila, but I wasn't really planning on making that many cocktails, so I took about three ounces of tequila blanco and mixed in a small handful of chamomile and half the zest of a small lemon. I let it sit overnight, but I think more like three hours would be better. If you don't have chamomile, just use a chamomile tea bag.

Recipe adapted from Imbibe.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule

I always thought the Moscow Mule was a below-average cocktail. I've already mentioned that I'm not really a fan of vodka, and mixing it with ginger beer basically just tastes like... ginger beer. The mere invention of the Moscow Mule was nothing more than a marketing trick to get people to buy vodka and ginger beer. (Seriously. Read on.) What makes this cocktail any better than a rum & Coke or bourbon & ginger? Does it really deserve its own fancy mug? And are you really going to make them often enough to justify buying a set?

Well, I'm not going to write off a cocktail until I've made it myself. Copper mug and all.

Moscow Mule

I was heartened when I found a recipe for the Moscow Mule in the PDT Cocktail Book. Not only did its inclusion in such a respected publication bring it up a few notches in my estimation, but the recipe was a little more involved than the vodka + ginger beer + wedge of lime I'd imagined. It uses lime juice, simple syrup, and a fairly low ratio of ginger beer to everything else. In fact, I thought it was too low and ended up adding more.

The finished product is not bad. I knew it would be tasty, but it's also more sophisticated than I expected. I'll always prefer spirits with more flavor, but I can appreciate the Moscow Mule as a decent vodka cocktail. It would be a great option for guests in the summer time.

And how did I, the Moscow Mule skeptic, end up with two copper mugs? They were a free gift from Redfin after we bought our condo, and if I turned them around you'd see the logo emblazoned on the back. I'm all about the free stuff.

Oh, and full disclosure: I had to double the recipe to fill them.

Moscow Mule

History: It was 1941, and Jack Morgan, the owner of the Cock 'n Bull Restaurant in Hollywood, had a problem. He had recently started making his own brand of ginger beer, and no one was buying it. He shared his woes over a drink with two friends, John Martin and Rudolph Kunett, who worked for G. F. Heublein Brothers. They knew how he felt. Their company had recently started importing a Russian spirit called vodka, and the public wasn't interested in drinking it. They suddenly realized the solution to both of their problems. What if they mixed the vodka and the ginger beer together and started serving it as a signature cocktail? They tried it right then and there, and were pleased with the results. They named the cocktail the Moscow Mule, Moscow for Russia, and Mule for... well, no one is really sure. The cocktail is technically a type of Buck. It may have been called a Mule because of its "kick."

Martin traveled the country popularizing the drink, always in a copper mug so that everyone would know it was a Moscow Mule even in photographs. Why the copper mug? Well, apparently a Russian immigrant named Sophie Berezinski had designed the now-famous copper mug in her father's shop back in Russia, and had come to the US with about 2,000 of them to sell. Only - you guessed it - no one wanted them. Martin clearly saw the commercial advantage of serving the Mule in signature mug. He made ads with celebrities drinking out them, and Morgan engraved the names of his celebrity patrons on mugs that he hung behind the bar at the Cock 'n Bull. The cocktail's popularity soared, as did that of its main ingredient, vodka.

Smirnoff ads from the 1960's featuring Woody Allen, Monique Van Vooren, and the Moscow Mule.

In a way, this is a disappointing origin story for a cocktail. It was entirely a commercial endeavor, invented to sell products, orchestrated right down to its serveware. But on the other hand, it's kind of a great story. You can just picture the lightbulb going off in these guys' heads as they realize what to do.

And, if I'm being honest, it's really not a bad cocktail.

Moscow Mule

1 1/2 oz. vodka
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. ginger beer

Combine vodka, lime juice, and simple syrup in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a copper mug filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and stir gently. Garnish with a couple of lime wedges.

Recipe adapted from The PDT Cocktail Book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bottle Buy: Cherry Heering

Cherry Heering

Cherry Heering is a surprisingly difficult spirit to find information on. Given how long it's been around, I thought there would be a lot more out there. Even the Heering website doesn't really have much by way of history or details about how Cherry Heering is made. They do have a pretty cute advertising campaign right now (click on "Our Brand"), but they're light on the details. Luckily you don't have to know everything about a liqueur to enjoy it.

What I do know is that Cherry Heering is a Danish liqueur made from spirits, cherries, and spices that is aged in wooden casks. What spirits, you ask? Well, some sites say brandy and others say grain spirits. (I emailed Heering to ask, but they haven't gotten back to me yet. I'll update this if I find out.) The liqueur was invented by Peter F. Heering, who founded the company that produces it in 1818. It spread throughout the British Empire and is most notably included in the Singapore Sling, a cocktail I will definitely be covering soon. Today it is still produced by the same company, which doesn't appear to have been acquired by any of the big conglomerates.

Cherry Heering smells deliciously like brandied cherries. Its taste is much more subdued and complex than I expected. It's sweet, of course, but not absurdly so, and there's a lovely hint of spice at the end. I think I'd enjoy it straight after dinner. It's a fairly versatile ingredient that is also finding its way into a number of modern cocktails. There's a nice list of cocktail recipes on Heering's website. It can be used whenever cherry brandy is called for, but it is often specified by name.

I enjoyed this article by Tony Sachs in which he gets to taste two aged bottles of Cherry Heering, one from 1888.

Cherry Heering

Price: $30
Alcohol content: 24%
Popular cocktails: Singapore Sling, Blood & Sand, Remember the Maine

I probably should have made the well-known Blood & Sand to showcase Cherry Heering, but I don't have a bottle of blended Scotch. Instead, I suggest the Remember the Maine, which is a really good cocktail. It's sort of a Manhattan crossed with a Sazerac. It actually reminds me quite a bit of the De La Louisiane, the main difference being the replacement of the very herbal Benedictine with Cherry Heering. I kind of wish I could have a couple of those other cocktails side-by-side with this one to do a comparison and really pick out the flavor of the Cherry Heering in this one. It's subtle, but it's a natural pairing with rye and sweet vermouth.

Remember the Maine

History: The "Maine" we're meant to be remembering with this cocktail is the USS Maine, a naval ship that sank off the coast of Havana, Cuba on February 15, 1898 during the Cuban War of Independence. Though it remains unclear whether the ship was deliberately fired upon by the Spanish or whether a coal fire ignited its own ammunition, American journalists rushed to blame Spain in an effort to spur the US to declare war. Their rallying cry became, "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!" Later that year, the Spanish-American War began.

The Remember the Maine was invented or discovered by Charles H. Baker and first published in his 1939 book The Gentleman's Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Flask. By way of explanation, he writes:

"Remember the Maine, a hazy memory of a night in Havana during the unpleasantness of 1933, when each swallow was punctuated with bombs going off on the Prado, or the sound of 3" shells being fired at the hotel Nacional, then haven for certain anti-revolutionary officers."

The unpleasantness Baker is referring to was a coup called the Revolt of the Sergeants led by Fulgencio Batista against the Cuban government. The coup ended with Ramon Grau San Martin becoming president. Interestingly, it was only 100 days before Batista deposed him as well, putting Carlos Mendieta into power. This became something of a trend, with four more presidents coming and going before Batista himself was elected president in 1940.

Anyway, Baker, who traveled the world collecting cocktail recipes, was in Havana during Batista's coup. But where did the recipe come from? An earlier publication, The Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, includes a recipe identical to the Remember the Maine called McKinley's Delight - interesting since William McKinley was the U.S. president during the Spanish-American War. It's likely that these recipes share a single origin, with the McKinley's Delight the older of the two. In the 1896 U.S. presidential election, McKinley faced off against William Jennings Bryan, and for some reason they both ended up with signature cocktails: the McKinley's Delight for McKinley and the Free Silver Fizz (gin, lime, sugar, egg white, club soda) for Bryan. Quite a bit of history for one cocktail!

Remember the Maine

Remember the Maine

2 oz. rye
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
2 tsp. Cherry Heering
1 dash absinthe (I used Herbsaint)

Add absinthe to a coupe glass and swirl to coat. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Recipe from Punch.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Caprese Bites

Caprese Bites

Yesterday I wrote about how excited everyone seems to be about fall, while I'm kinda wishing summer would stick around a bit longer. I think part of the reason is my little balcony garden, which is still growing and just beginning to really produce anything. Besides a handful of cocktails, I haven't used my herbs and veggies in much yet. I've got to get cooking!

Caprese Bites

With home-grown cherry tomatoes and basil in hand, making these Caprese Bites seemed like an obvious choice. A few fresh mozzarella balls and a quick balsamic reduction and you've got yourself an easy appetizer. It's really tasty, easy to eat, and pretty cute to boot.

And how did I make that awesome zig-zaggy drizzle, you ask? With one of these nifty deco spoons that my sister brought me from Paris. It takes a little practice, but they're not that hard to use.

Caprese Bites

Caprese Bites

Cherry tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Mozzarella balls
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp. honey (optional)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

To make the balsamic reduction, pour balsamic vinegar into a saucepan. Heat on medium-high until it begins to simmer. Lower heat to medium-low. Add honey if desired (kind of depends on the flavor of your vinegar; I liked it best with a bit of honey) and stir. Allow mixture to simmer lightly, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by half and/or has a syrupy consistency (about 10 minutes for me).

Drizzle balsamic reduction onto a serving plate. Assemble bites by spearing a tomato, a folded-over basil leaf, and a mozzarella ball on a toothpick. I cut off the very bottom of the mozzarella balls so that they would stand upright. Arrange the bites on the plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Balsamic reduction recipe adapted from allrecipes.com.