Monday, May 3, 2010

Balalaika & Week of May 2, 2010

Today we'll be drinking the Balalaika, a refreshing vodka-based cocktail that will likely remind you of the Sidecar.  First though, let's recap the Derby, take a quick look at a new cocktail book we'll be using, and talk about what we're drinking this week.

Balalaika cocktail

How about that Calvin Borel, eh?  He's one hell of a jockey.  From now on, I'm picking whatever horse Calvin rides. 

My choice, Ice Box, came in second place.  He made the late charge that I expected, and had there been another quarter mile he would have likely pulled ahead, but alas, it was not to be.  It was another excellent Derby, though the telecast needs some improvement. 

NBC needs to limit the cross-promotional garbage that comprises a fifth of the Derby program.  For example, in the midst of the multi-hour program, NBC showed a Top Chef competition.  I like Top Chef, a program that appears on Bravo under the NBC/GE umbrella.  However, Top Chef contestants, as talented as they may be, have no relationship to the Kentucky Derby.

The brief cooking competition was ridiculous, and poorly thought out.  The competition was purported to be about the food at the Kentucky Derby, and the featured ingredient was mussels.  Mussels?!  What relationship do mussels have to the Kentucky Derby?  Nothing at all!

So not only is NBC blatantly cross-promoting shows on their affiliated networks, but some producer chose mussels as the ingredient that showcases the cuisine of the Kentucky Derby.  Completely baffling.  The entire production reminded me of the 2nd hour that NBC added to the program The Biggest Loser.  One hour was sufficient to show the dramatic weightloss of the contestants.  The added 2nd hour meant more filler, and more emotional nonsense.  I no longer watch the program as a result.

Enough kvetching!  Let's talk about drinks, specifically, what we're drinking this week. 

What We're Drinking This Week:

Today, we're drinking the Balalaika, a vodka based cocktail that, as mentioned above, is reminiscent of the Sidecar.

Later this week, we're going to delve a little deeper into the liqueur Parfait Amour.

We're also going do something fun for Cinco de Mayo.  I'm not sure what we're drinking just yet, as I'm still trying to score a particular liqueur, Viuda de Sanchez, and it's not widely available in my area.  Not to worry though, I have a good man on the lookout for a bottle as I type.

If time permits, we'll also check out the French 75 cocktail - a classic that has been receiving a lot of well-deserved hype of late.

Soundtrack this week:  The soundtrack this week is the new Gorillaz disc, Plastic Beach.  If you're already a fan of Gorillaz, you'll like this album, and if you're unfamiliar with their work, expect a mix of rap, funk, beats, and crooning from former Blur frontman Damon Albarn.  The music is often dark and bouncy at the same time.

In an exciting addition to the cocktail book collection, I snagged a copy of the now out of print The Ultimate Book of Cocktails.  It's likely available at discount book store locations near you, and if you can't find it there, Amazon has it listed in its used section for cheap.  I bought mine for $7.  Go to the nearby Half-Price Books and you should be able to find it cheap.  Amazon has copies listed for as little as $3 or so, before shipping.

This book contains really nice pictures of each drink.  There are some interesting twists on each recipe, as well as a brief description of the cocktail itself, its origin, etc.  For as little as the book costs, I think it's a good addition to the collection.

Today's drink comes from the book, so let's check out it out in greater detail: the Balalaika.

The Ultimate Book of Cocktails, page 138


1 1/2 oz vodka
3/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz lemon juice

Shake the ingredients well with plenty of ice, and stain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add an orange-and-cherry garnish.

For this drink, I'm pulling out the Ketel One vodka, and in addition to the Cointreau, I'm using Nellie and Joe's Key West Lime Juice.  Feel free to use whatever vodka you have on hand.  In a pinch, you could sub out Cointreau for either triple-sec or Grand Marnier.

The Balalaika has a stronger alcohol taste than most of the cocktails we've made over the last few months.  In my opinion, vodka can often taste harsh at first in certain cocktails.  After one or two sips, the harsh nature of the liquor fades and becomes less noticeable.  I relate this to the fact that vodka adds little by way of flavor in this type of mixed drink, and with no additional flavor added, it's just adding alcohol content.  Sometimes, more alcohol content can be a little harsh.  This is not a hard and fast rule by any means, and the vodka fans may think I'm speaking out of turn.

This drink though, is both refreshing and lip-smackingly tart.  The Cointreau and lemon juice both add a vibrant citrus kick to the muted vodka flavor.  It's excellent. 

Between the Balalaika and the Sidecar, a cocktail with brandy instead of vodka, I do prefer the Sidecar.  The Sidecar is a smoother cocktail, plain and simple.

Looking forward to another stellar week here at The Amateur Mixologist.  Quick shout-out to a couple Indianapolis friends, and one friend out in NYC:

Indianapolis Amy, whose blog provides excellent insight into the "city that never sleeps; only has time to Nap"

Would I Buy It Again, a blog devoted to determining whether Indianapolis cuisine is worth a revisit (as well as some fast food reviews that are always entertaining)

-  NYC reader Tom who has written with interesting questions and commentary over the last few weeks.  It's always more fun when drinking with friends, so I do appreciate your support and readership.


For more drink links, random musings, and my attempts to be witty, check us out @IMakeDrinks on Twitter.
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