Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Drink Five - Jack Rose

Our fifth cocktail is the Jack Rose.  Never heard of it before starting this blog. 

My lack of knowledge about drinks never ceases to amaze me - this, despite a solid four years spent in the frat house (Keystone Light, Natural Light and Natty Death...err...I mean, Natural Light Ice were the drinks of choice).

So what is this thing?  I'll give you three choices from which to it:

a) A whiskey based drink that contains Rose's lime juice as one of the additional ingredients.

b) A vodka based drink that is noticeably red in color due to the grenadine that is also in the drink.

c) A drink whose main traditional component is Applejack, an alcohol made from hard cider.

Have you picked your answer?

It's C. 

Applejack?  Never heard of it either, eh? 

Apparently, no one makes applejack anymore.  Not only that, I'm not sure anyone is making the Jack Rose anymore!  The Ultimate Bar Book - a book that has 1,000 drink recipes - A THOUSAND!!! - doesn't have a Jack Rose cocktail recipe. 

Thankfully, American Bar does have a Jack Rose recipe.  In it, they use something called calvados.  So, I've never even heard of this crap, and I definitely do not have it on hand.  Apparently, after some trusty internet research (the best kind), it appears to be apple brandy.

Already, I'm thinking to myself There's a reason this drink went out of fashion - it had calvados in it for Christ's sake!.  I had to run to the liquor store.  No big deal, except I had no way of knowing if they'd carry this calvados stuff.

And, I'm dressed like a schlub. 

I'm wearing a hoodie with a cardinal bird's face made to look like the ubiquitous Che Guevara face that adorns t-shirts in every Spencer's Gifts location (don't ask about this hoodie's origin...if you know, you know).  Not only do I look under 21 years of age, but I look like I might be robbing the place, as opposed to buying apple brandy.

The store did carry calvados.  They had a selection of calvados.  I could have spent over $100 a bottle if I had wanted to do so.  I decided against the expensive bottlings, and went for the middle ground - a $30 bottle called Calvados Noble-Dame.

Now at the store, the scotch aisle happened to be right next to the brandy/cognac aisle.  It wouldn't hurt to take a peek, just to see what they had, right?  What do you know - Balvenie Doublewood on sale?  Don't mind if I do!

So before I've even made this drink, I'm already out of pocket $75.  Yeah, that's right, I'm including the price of the scotch.  There's a chance that I make the Jack Rose this once, and never again.  I don't suppose I'll acquire a taste for apple brandy either, though we'll see.  I've spent more money on worse things.

Here's the recipe:

Jack Rose

American Bar, page 121

3/4 oz lemon juice
1 barspoon powdered sugar
dashes grenadine
1 1/2 oz Calvados

Shake over ice cubes in a shaker, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Even before my first sip, we know that this drink is going to be crazy sweet.  Between the lemon juice, the grenadine, the POWDERED SUGAR?!?!  Are you kidding me?  Who puts powdered sugar in a cocktail?

I'll cut to the chase - this thing is really awful.  I won't say it's undrinkable, but it's close.  It tastes like lemonade that's gone bad, if that's possible. You can't taste the apple brandy in any way, not that I know what it would taste like. 

It is very sweet too, in a chalky kind of way, in the way that ice tea mixed with too much Splenda tastes chalky.  Someone has to feel me on this one.

The drink was a dud - but maybe all is not lost - I mean, I still have the apple brandy, right?!  I'm going to pour myself a glass in a good ol' brandy snifter.  Look how classy it looks!

Holy hell this stuff is awful too!!  It tastes like it was made in the backyard of a meth lab.  How can anyone drink this?

Thank the lord I bought some scotch tonight - anything to wash this terrible terrible taste out of my mouth.

I do this all for you, my loyal reader, all for you.

Drink Four - Daiquiri

I've been watching a lot of the Olympic coverage.  I'm a sucker for the Olympics, always have been.

There are some weird aspects to the Vancouver games, namely, the important events are tape-delayed despite occurring in the same hemisphere, and the fact that the US has dominated the medal count - something that hasn't happened since the 1930's.

First, I think NBC does a pretty good job with the Games.  I think an argument could be made against one network covering the games, as opposed to multiple networks, but I'm not going to get into that discussion.  As the sole broadcasting entity, I think NBC is well positioned to show its US audience a lot of sport on its various channels.  Apart from the ABC/ESPN, I can't think of another network that has as many stations that comprise their available stations.  This allows NBC, among other things, to show curling on CNBC - which is pretty cool.

Even though they have a large number of channels upon which they can show the events, NBC has chosen to tape delay broadcasts for prime time.  I don't like NBC's decision.

We all find out results by way of the internet, or other TV or radio broadcasts, whether we're seeking them out or happen upon them.  It's inevitable with all the media available in this day and age.  And yet, tape delaying events presumes that either this is not the case, that we won't find out results, or, that even if we know the results we will watch the event anyway. 

The former is obviously incorrect - we do find out results.  That is, unless we go well out of our way to avoid the news.  We're talking log-off-the-internet level avoidance, given the breadth of news options available at every turn.  The latter is true for many, and would seem to be a good reason to go ahead and show the event live and in primetime.  I believe that the Games are performing really well in prime time, so what the hell do I know.

In my opinion, NBC should show important events live, and if warranted, repeat them in prime time.  What's wrong with that?  In doing so, people can choose to see the event live if they are able, and anyone else can avoid the news until primetime to see the big event.  NBC has at least 4 stations in which to broadcast events.  Use them!

Second, the US has been very successful in this year's Olympics, leading in the overall medal count and the number of gold medals won (or are at least tied for most gold medals at last count).

At one time, Nordic countries won medals because as Dan Jansen famously said (and I'm paraphrasing) "a lot of these sports are grocery store trips in these other countries."  It's weird when the US wins winter sport medals over Norway, Finland, and Switzerland.

And it doesn't hurt the American team that newer sports have been added that the US is particularly good at, like the half-pipe and mogel freestyle (which was introduced into the Olympics in the 1990's).  None of this is to say that the new sports are bad.  I love watching the half-pipe, I love watching mogels freestyle, I love watching ski-cross.  I think all of these sports have their place in the Olympics.  If you look at each of these sports individually, one can see why they belong, and we can safely root for our home team's athletes. 

In the aggregate though, particularly when the US dominates the Olympics in a way it traditionally has not, the Olympics begins to look like an Americanized-event, and less-so a world event.  I want the US to win, but not at the expense of whatever international quality made the Olympics so appealing in the first place.

Alright, let's drink.  Today we're making daiquiri's - very exciting!


2 ounces light rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Lime slice

Shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with the lime slice.

For this drink I used Bacardi Rum, Nellie and Joe's bottled lime juice, and completely took the easy way out and bought some Simple Syrup (that's the name on the bottle - it's made out of Nantucket).  I normally would have made the simple syrup - it is after all just water and sugar - but I really wanted to make chocolate chip cookies!!  No time for both this evening.

This is the first time I've used this bottle of Bacardi Rum.  I think I bought it from Costco 5 years ago, thinking "Hey, someday I'll need some rum, so I might as well buy a handle of rum."  Well, 5 years later, I was right.  

I might be pulling out the bottle far more often because this daiquiri is freaking good, and tart.  Very tart.  I tastes kind of like a lime-aid frozen drink.  There is little alcohol flavor as the rum is heavily masked by the lime juice and simple syrup.

And this is nothing like all the daiquiri's I've had in the past.  Now granted, they were overwhelmingly of the "strawberry" variety, but still - this is very different.  I can't get over how little alcohol I can taste.  You could finish off quite a few of these without realizing you're downing over a shot of rum in each glass (and these aren't big glasses).

As a kid, my family didn't go out to eat all too often, but when we did, typically at some family restaurant, my brother and I would order non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiris.  They were the highlight of eating out!  They were slushy and sweet, and probably now, as an adult, entirely undrinkable.  But back then - whoah buddy - you could have given me a keg of strawberry daiquiri and I would have been cloud nine, tapping that sucker like it was water in the Sahara. 

Just like the Sidecar, I will definitely have to bring this one back out in the summer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Side Project: Chocolate Chip Cookies

In the office kitchen today, there was a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, leftover from Friday's milkshake fixings.  I poured a small amount of the chocolate chips into my hand and threw then into my mouth.  They were delicious.  They also inspired me to make some chocolate chip cookies - AND THUS - the first Side Project on The Amateur Mixologist website! 

I've made chocolate chip cookies from a number of different recipes over the years.  I haven't found a go-to recipe just yet, despite many attempts (all of which have been good, but not great).

I found my recipe on a fantastic cooking and food website: 101 Cookbooks.

The recipe comes from a cookbook by David Lebovitz, called The Great Book of Chocolate, available here:

Here is the recipe (borrowed liberally from the 101 Cookbooks website):

Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) (115 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch (1cm) pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup(130 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

Adjust the oven rack to the top 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 300F (150C). Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat the sugars and butters together until smooth. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and baking soda. Stir together the flour and salt, then mix them into the batter. Mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Scoop the cookie dough into 2-tablespoon (5cm) balls and place 8 balls, spaced 4 inches (10cm) apart, on each of the baking sheets.

Bake for 18 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes about 20 cookies.

I made a couple of executive decisions:

1. I only formed 12 cookies and not 16.  I doubt it makes too much of a difference, the cookies I made are just a touch bigger than the recipe calls for.  As a result, they required a bit more time in the oven - 20-21 minutes as opposed to 18 minutes.

2. I left out the walnuts or pecans, and just added more chocolate chips.  I like walnuts.  I like pecans.  I like chocolate chips more.

The results were outstanding.

Right of the oven, they were perfectly chewy.  The low baking temperature, and long baking time, allowed the chocolate chips to melt away better than cookies past.

One benefit of my executive decision to make the cookies bigger is that the middle doesn't overcook, like smaller cookies might.  And, they're easier to dunk in milk - a huge plus.

There you have it - the first Side Project.  Big ups to Mr. Lebovitz and 101 Cookbooks for the recipe.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Drink Three - The Sidecar

This snow covered landscape has been with us for too long.  I'm all for snow; I'm all for large amounts of snowfall.  I just can't do this non-melting winter.  Seriously, none of the snow surrounding my house has melted to any significant degree since the turn of the new year.

I know I have nothing to complain about compared to my friends in places like DC - but still - I just want some 40 degree days to turn the tide.  Is that too much to ask?

Well, in honor of the snow (not really), I'm going to make the Sidecar - a classic cocktail that was likely first made in Paris.  This is our third drink in The First Six cocktails, before veering off into drinks unknown (it's so exciting!).

I've never had a Sidecar cocktail before, and I'm not really sure what it's all about.  I know that it's main component is cognac.  Cognac is region-specific brandy, in the same way that champagne is region specific sparkling wine.  There are some other rules - namely - the grapes used to make cognac must be "at least 90% Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche or Colombard grapes."

And, admittedly, I just tasted brandy of any kind, cognac or otherwise, for the first time last week. 

I was at the liquor store, buying various alcohol and mixers for the blog, and realized I had no brandy in my liquor supply.  I bought a bottle of Germain-Robin "Fine Alambic Brandy."  I was told to drink it like scotch, which I did.  I placed a small ice cube in the glass, and filled the glass with enough brandy to easily cover the cube (the ice cube was about a centimeter on all sides).  I let the cube melt away into the brandy before taking a sip.

It was excellent to drink.  I found it a little fruitier than the scotch that I'm used to drinking.  It is made from grapes after all.

When I was at the store though, the guy helping me explained that if I'm making drinks with brandy or cognac, that I should use something different, something of lower quality.  I didn't go well quality on you or anything, but did go down a price point.  I picked up some Very Special Hennessy. 

The Recipe


Lemon wedge
Superfine sugar
1 1/2 ounces Cognac (or brandy)
3/4 ounce Cointreau (or triple sec)
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Lemon twist

Rub the rim of a chilled cocktail glass with the lemon wedge and rim with sugar.  Shake the liquid vigorously with ice.  Strain into the prepared cocktail glass.  Twist the lemon peel over the top of the drink, and drop it in.

You already know that I'm using Hennessy for the drink, but what I haven't told you is that I'm going a bit off script and using Grand Marnier in the place of Cointreau.  You can see the Grand Marnier in the picture above.  I've checked around on the trusty internet to see what kind of difference this might make, and for a novice like me, I don't think it'll matter too much.

So how's it taste...

I'll just say that this drink is dangerously good.  I could down these at a really fast clip.  There's a sweet flavor and a tartness, neither of which is too harsh.  On a warm day, this drink would go down quickly.  It's deceivingly strong though.  It has more alcohol than either the Manhattan or the Martini.  The lemon juice cuts down the alcohol flavors, but each of the contributing alcohols is 80 proof.

I offered my buddy Eric a sip.  He tried it and requested his own Sidecar drink.  It's good, it's very good.  This will have to brought back out in the summer.

Update (2/22/10): I forgot to mention how much this drink reminded me of a margarita, but perhaps less astringent.  I don't know how this drink faded out of fashion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Drink Two - The Classic Martini

I had a soccer game tonight, which made the idea of drinking sound equally good and bad.  That is, bad before hand, and good afterwards.

We lost.  Score: 8-3.

I'll be honest with you, I'm not adding a whole lot to the squad.  There was a time when I was good at soccer, but that was 18 years ago.  Now, I'm lucky if I dribble successfully for a pace or two.

My favorite part of the gameplay?  The intensity and the shit talking.  There is so much shit talking coming from aged men, it looks like each of them just finished watching a Chris Rock special, got inspired, and thought up some lines to use in the match.

Some of the trash talk is an epic failure. 

A lot of it is in the realm of what I'll call the Fading Trash Talker.  This is when a guy starts complaining, maybe even starts down a nice path of what will be a derogatory statement and then...and then...nothing.  Either the game distracts him, or he just lost a train of thought.  These guys aren't all that old either.  It's as though their brain is suffering from a lack of oxygen, and these half-thoughts are the end result.

It was fun, even in the loss. 

Tonight's drink: The Martini. 

This has to be the most famous drink in history, right?  It's everywhere.  It's in movies, TV shows, it's a popular draw at nightlife locations (half price Martini Thursdays, etc.).  Truly everywhere.

But, I don't drink martinis!  Not historically anyway.  I've probably ordered a martini a few times and never really loved them - not enough to order one again and again.  I like gin so maybe I should like it more than I do.

And I'm going to put this out there - a dirty martini is not good!  I'm sorry ladies, it's not.  It's salt water.  It's also guaranteed to give you the worst fucking hangover imaginable.  You know what gives you a hangover?  More than anything else, it's dehydration.  So what do you think happens when you consume a pound of salt from 2-3 dirty martini's?  It's bound to hurt you, hard, the next day.

Let's get down to brass tacks...the drink:

The Recipe

Classic Martini

2 ounces gin or vodka
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Lemon twist or green cocktail olive

Stir the gin and vermouth in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Run the lemon peal around the rim, twist it over the drink and drop it in, or simply drop in the olive.

I used Bombay Sapphire gin, Martini & Rossi Extra Dry vermouth, and went the easy route with a simple green olive.  I like gin more than vodka, hence the reason I went with gin.

Alright, so how's this thing taste?  I love it.  Seriously, it's outstanding.

I'm surprised by this, though I'm not sure why.  I guess I just never had a memorable experience with the drink before.

It's like drinking really good cold gin.  I don't know how much flavor the vermouth is adding, because there is kind of a fruit forward taste to the drink - all of which I'm attributing to the gin. 

It's great though.  I might have to make this a regular order.  And, without having had the lemon twist, I can't imagine that it'd be a prudent addition.  The drink, with Bombay Sapphire anyway, probably doesn't need any more fruit or citrus flavor to it - it might too much of a good thing.  The olive doesn't add much, until I eat it I suppose, but even then, its a nice counterbalance to the rest of the drink.

Very solid, all around.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The First Drink - Classic Manhattan

Classic Manhattan Ingredients

In researching the Manhattan, I came away with little proof of its origin. You can read the same for yourself in the Wikipedia entry which nicely sets out a few of the origin-stories.

“A popular history suggests that the drink originated at the Manhattan Club in New York City in the early 1870s, where it was invented by Dr. Iain Marshall for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston's mother) in honor of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The success of the banquet made the drink fashionable, later prompting several people to request the drink by referring to the name of the club where it originated — "the Manhattan cocktail."[4][5] However, Lady Randolph was in France at the time and pregnant, so the story is likely a fiction. The original "Manhattan cocktail" was a mix of "American Whiskey, Italian Vermouth and Angostura bitters".”

I love this story because it has no basis in fact, and it's possible Lady Randolph drank heavily on the whiskey while pregnant (was she pregnant with Winston?).

The Recipe

Classic Manhattan 

2 ounces rye, bourbon, or blended Canadian whisky
3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry

Stir the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

For this recipe, I'm using Woodford Reserve bourbon, and Gallo sweet vermouth.  Mixing everything together was easy.  Taking the photos though, not as easy.

Steady now, steady

The finished product is pretty striking.  Against a white backdrop, the amber color of the bourbon looks good.

Classic Manhattan

My initial thought was how sweet the drink tasted, far sweeter than I ever remember at a bar. No doubt that the sweet vermouth is the likely culprit. It's also likely that my tastes have evolved. At one time, appreciating 40% alcohol, was just not going to happen. Now, I feel as though I can actually taste something, as opposed to a time not long ago when nearly all shots felt like someone poured rubbing alcohol down my throat. Neat scotch is my drink of choice, and so the flavor of the sweet vermouth is a little cloyingly sweet compared to what my impression would have been of the same drink even a few years ago.

I think the Woodford does make it drinkable. I love Woodford. It's probably my favorite commonly available bourbon. I can taste the bourbon through the sweet vermouth, even if my first reaction is the sugary buzz that I'm picking up right away.

I like the drink and I like the recipe, but I don't know how many of these I could consume. It's like any other sweet food or drink - a little goes a long way. I think one is enough. I think this might be a good choice before or after dinner. It's sweet enough that it's whet my appetite; it's about 6pm now, a good time to start thinking about dinner in an hour or two.

Looking forward to making a drier version of the Manhattan, I think it will be more suited to my tastes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The First Post

A seal walks into a bar.
The barman says, "What'll it be?"
The seal says, "Anything but a Canadian Club".

I don’t know anything about drinks.  You know, cocktails. 

I have consumed my fair share, but I can’t make them. 

It’s a weird thing too, that I know so little about making drinks.  I often order drinks that I know nothing about.  For instance, I’ve ordered Manhattans, but couldn’t tell you its contents, apart from the whiskey.  Even then, what kind of whiskey is it?  Is it bourbon?  Rye whiskey?  I have no clue. 

That’s no way to go through life.

So here we are – The Amateur Mixologist.  The name speaks for itself.  I know nothing of the art, but will forge ahead all the same.  Trying cocktails one by one, and hopefully learning what goes into the drinks I like, and the drinks I don’t. 

Just as I'm not a mixologist, I’m also not a professional writer.  Deep down in my heart of hearts, I would love to believe otherwise.  I didn’t say I was a good writer, so keep your expectations extremely low. 

The Goals
Here is what I hope to accomplish:

1.  Learn to make drinks.  Sounds simple enough, eh?  Have you tried making basic drinks?  I have – and the results are often terrible.  I can ruin a neat vodka order, if given a chance.

2.  Acquire a taste for drinks.  When I have somehow, someway, crafted a drink correctly, I often find it is far too strong for my tastes.  I’m not opposed to strong drinks, but when I make something like a Manhattan, it just doesn’t taste as I expect – maybe it just seems too strong, even if that’s how it’s supposed to be.  I suppose though, that I’ve never given such drink making, and such drink drinking, the critical focus it so justly deserves.

I should add too, that if I go to a bar, and order the same drink, it tastes far better, and is far more palatable.  Why is that? 

Are the drinks watered down at a bar?  It's very likely.

Do the surroundings that make it easier to drink something strong?  Probably so.

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but I’m going to drink until I figure them out.

3.  Write more.  I’m a writer deep down in my heart of hearts, remember?

The Books
To assist us with this journey, I have purchased two books:

Book One:
American Bar: The Artistry of Mixing Drinks, by Charles Schumann.

Book Two: The Ultimate Bar Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Cocktails, by Mittie Hellmich

I’ll tell you this: I can’t guarantee that the drinks in American Bar or The Ultimate Bar Book will be any good, but damn are these classy looking books!  Buy them for that reason alone! 
If you own these books, you will immediately be more charming to your friends, funnier, wittier, and all around more pleasant to those nearby.  Do it!

The Rules
In conceiving of this blog, I figured I had to include some rules for myself – if for no other reason than to keep me on task, and force me to drink certain drinks that I’d typically pass on.  Here are the rules:

Rule #1:  Recipes shall be chosen at random.

I have to include this rule, otherwise, I’ll just look for ways to drink what I already like.  The only exception to this rule will be the first 6 recipes I try, and, as warranted because of holidays, celebrations, or other occasions requiring a specific drink.

Rule #2:  I have to give each drink a chance. 

I can’t one-sip it and call it a day.  Even if I don’t like it, I have to give it at least a good college-try.

Rule #3:  I have to make 50 drinks in 100 days, from the date of this first post.  Thereafter, additional goals will be made and hopefully achieved.

Rule #4:  A drink should never be avoided as a result of little-to-no garnish availability.  New rule added as a result of the Violet Champagne d'Amour post.

The First Six
The first 6 recipes will be based on David Embury's book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, in which he wrote of six basic cocktails: the Manhattan, the Martini, the Old Fashioned, the Daiquiri, the Sidecar, and the Jack Rose.  I figure it’s best to start with these drinks before proceeding ahead with random recipes.  Think of it as the drinking equivalent of reading the classics before the modern literature.

So now that we have all that laid out, one blog post in the can, and a limitless horizon of vodka, vermouth, gin, bourbon, bitters and countless other friends to help us along the way, I say we drink.
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