Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tequila 301: Let's try some Tequila Cocktails!

Tequila is an amazing spirit to play with. There are sweet types, barrel-aged types, types that are infused with other flavors. It can be a little daunting but go out there and have fun with your spirits. Just remember, if a brand works great in one cocktail, it doesn't mean it's the best. It also doesn't mean it's great in every cocktail. Experiment, that's what life's all about, especially when you're drinking tequila.


Salt, 1 1/4oz Tequila, Lime wedge
Pour yourself a shot of tequila. Wet the back of your hand and shake some salt on it. 
Lick the salt, take the shot, and bite the lime. Enter any home in Mexico as a guest and you will probably be greeted with a shot of mezcal or tequila. This is a healthy thing to partake in and you should really know what tequila can taste like straight. This may not be the social style of shot seen in Mexico, but it's a common Americanized form that does have proper roots. Tequila used to be medicine; it would be prescribed by doctors. Some drinkers found the spirit straight a bit harsh. The salt opens up the palette and the lime helps cleanse it. Plenty of variations exist using sugar, lemon, or orange. 


2oz Silver Tequila, 1oz Cointreau, ¾oz lime juice
In a mixing glass add all the ingredients with ice. Shake and strain into a salt-rimmed margarita glass with ice. Garnish with a lime wheel. 
The first Margarita was arguably made by Carlos "Danny" Herrara in 1938, but that's not my favorite story. My favorite story is more about how the Margarita became popular. There was a bartender by the name of John Durlesser who competed in and won the 1949 All American Cocktail Contest with a drink called the Margarita. He did not explain the name of this drink. The drink became wildly popular across the globe. Over twenty years after the competition he revealed the true story about why he named the drink Margarita. 23 years before the competition he had gone hunting with his girlfriend. She was shot by a stray bullet and died before she could get medical care. In my opinion, the most amazing thing is that the drink gained so much popularity without the story being out.

Tequila Sunrise
2oz tequila, 4oz orange juice, 1/2oz fresh grenadine
In a highball glass with ice, add the tequila and the orange juice. Slowly dribble the grenadine around the inner rim of the glass. The denser grenadine will sink. Garnish with an orange and cherry. 
The original tequila sunrise was actually made with tequila, creme de cassis, lime juice, and soda water. This was back in the '30s at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. From the '70s to the present day the common recipe is what you see here.

2oz Blanco tequila, 3oz grapefruit juice, 1/2oz lime juice,  Club soda
Rim half a highball glass with salt and fill with ice. In a mixing glass with ice, add all the ingredients except the club soda. Stir all the ingredients together and strain into the highball glass. Top with about an ounce of club soda. Garnish with a lime wheel. 
Paloma, meaning dove, is another fairly simple highball cocktail. In Mexico, these drinks are even more popular than the Margarita. Ideally one would use grapefruit soda (Squirt), which you can find in the right stores. Commonly in America, one would use white grapefruit juice in this with club soda to get a similar result. 

special mention to: bee sting

“I’ve created a new drink! I'm calling it the Piñata Colada! It’s sweet and tasty, but when you wake up the next morning your head feels like it’s been hit with a stick.” 
- José N. Harris

Photo Credit: Wikimedia, pixabay

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Gin 401: Dissecting the Gin and Tonic

I once read that some Japanese bartenders and bar enthusiasts regard the gin and tonic as the face of the bar. Some students of mine may remember a few stories I told featured in this manga: Bartender. The story I'm referring to, however, takes a slightly less melodramatic approach than the first chapter. This chapter explains how every little detail of a Gin and Tonic affects how it ends up.

  • What is the water source? Is it filtered or purified?
  • Is it machine made or natural?
  • How clear or cloudy is the ice?
  • What is the size of the chunks?
  • What shape are they?
  • How many pieces do you use?
  • Do you keep it 2:1 or go a bit stronger or weaker?
  • What brand do you use?
  • How much do you use?
  • Do you use a syrup or go prepackaged? 
  • What brand do you use?
  • How much do you use?
  • Do you just build it in the glass?
  • Do you stir the cocktail?
  • What garnish do you use?
  • How do you cut it?
  • Do you extract any juice or flavor from it?
  • If so, do you add another bit for presentation

Most places, of course, use machine-made ice and it's typically not the largest size. Typically the glass is filled. The Gin, more often than not is whatever the customer requests or whatever is in the well. The tonic is often dispensed by the gun, Schweppes is the most common brand. Most bartenders don't mix it and just slide a lime wedge on the side, maybe a sip stick as well.

Try this drink with harder ice.
Try different gins. Bombay Sapphire East has a nice peppery note. Bluecoat is more citrusy
Schweppes is quite sweet. Try something citrusy or herbal like Fever Tree or Fentimans
See if your guests stir their G&T's. Some like keeping things separate.
Try squeezing in your juice or use the skin oils on the rim, or use some cucumber or lemon grass

For my new guests, I make my G&T's like this:
A tall thin highball glass is filled with hard, large, cubed ice
Add 1 part Tanqueray gin and then carefully float 2 parts Fentimans tonic water on top
Place a lime wedge (1/6 lime) on the rim of the glass and slide in two sip sticks
This is for a number of reasons. Hard ice melts much slower than cubed ice so the drink waters down slower. The guest can wait for there to be more water if they want. Tanqueray is a very popular gin but remains quite well rounded, not very citrusy or herbal. Fentimans is a nice herbal change of pace not everyone is used to. This is where I sort of make my mark. A guest will usually note something fairly unique about this and either smile curiously or require something sweeter or more acidic. I layer it so the guest has the choice of how to drink it. Some guests prefer sipping the gin straight through the straw and sipping the chaser from the rim. The thin glass helps keep the fluids separate as well. The lime I offer, and if the guest discards it I know not to offer it again. If they drop it in or squeeze it in I learn more about their tastes, that they like some acidity.

For myself, I usually make my G&T's like this:
A large rocks glass with a clear massive king cube that I crack with a bar spoon, maybe two. 
Add 1 1/2oz Bombay Sapphire East and then float 2oz Fever Tree Indian Tonic
Squeeze a lime wedge in, discard it, and put another one on the rim, take a sip stick and stir
I know I like my Gin and Tonics mixed. My choice of product has a nice Indian spice to it, in the gin and the tonic water. The cracked ice gets it cold quickly enough but will melt more to my liking at the end of the drink. I like to linger with my drinks and I like some variety in a drink. It starts with a nice spice and a dash of citrus and slowly gets easier to sip as I stir and the ice melts. If I want I can take the lime and zazz up the drink if it gets dull at all. 

"I exercise extreme self-control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast." 
-W. C. Fields

Photo Credit: wikimedia

Monday, December 22, 2014

Amatuer Flight: Aperitif / Digestif liqueurs

This is my first posting of an amateur flight. I've done several posts I call beginner flights, simple, accessible samplings for beginners to get their feet wet and experience the different varieties of spirits. This one I call an amateur sampling as I think one should have a foundation on spirits before they try a flight of these liqueurs straight. Most beginner drinkers might find some of these off-putting or too bizarre. Don't get discouraged, it took me a while to start to enjoy these flavors. 

Aperitifs and digestifs are a daunting group of spirits. Everyone knows vermouth is used in martinis and manhattans, but few even know what it is. You can drink these spirits on their own and in cocktails. They were not designed to be drank mixed up like so many liqueurs today. Most of them have a very long history and ought to be tried in their pure form.

1. Campari:
Campari is a fairly bitter liqueur first made in 1860, that most Americans admittedly don't like at first. It does take some getting used to. Americans are used to sweeter more savory things. Evolutionarily speaking bitter flavors became associated with poisons. Most medicines tend to carry a bitter flavor as well. Campari has a sweet note as well as a bitter one which can be a bit confusing, but once you start to feel the levels of the spirit you can start to see it's versatility in cocktails. One of my favorite drinks actually is the Boulevardier: bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari. It's very similar to a Manhattan but instead of Angostura Bitters, it adds this nice semi-sweet orange note to the drink, as well as having a color with a bit more pop.

2. Aperol: 
Aperol was created in 1919, coincidentally the year prohibition started in the United States, but it gained popularity in other countries. Some people think of Aperol as a more mild form of Campari. It pairs well with sparkling white wines and other more delicate flavors. In fairness, the proof is less than half that of Campari. The sugar content remains the same, however. When tasting this spirit straight you will say it tastes sweeter, as the other flavors are lessened the sweetness shines through a bit more. The flavor remains quite similar to Campari, bitter orange, with other notes of gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona. While Campari typically pairs with some more heavy spirits like whiskey and some gin cocktails, Aperol is more at home among softer flavors.

3. Fernet Branca: 
Fernet is an Italian amaro, made from a number of herbs and spices like myrrh, aloe, and saffron built over a grape spirit base. Fernet Branca has developed a massive cult following among craft bartenders. The herbal flavor profile again not very palatable to a number of drinkers not familiar with the craft cocktail world and assorted types of amaro. This liqueur has almost developed a sense of elitism. Ask any craft bartender if the like Fernet and they will smile and start to treat you with a higher level of respect unless you're like me and say you don't like it. It is served as a digestif, meaning it is taken after dinner to close the palette. Sometimes it will go with some coffee or espresso. The aroma is a lot like black licorice.

4. J
Jägermeister translated it means "Master of the hunt". Jäger has a great following of loyal drinkers. They don't see themselves as better educated though, or different in any way. They just like a rather odd drink. Jäger has a strong flavor of black licorice; some people actually equate it to cough syrup. It has gained a decent following in dive and college bars from the novelty of the Jäger Bomb. That combined with the iconic, near-indestructible, bottle and the old stories of deer blood in the recipe, along with the German prayer written on the label of every bottle and you gain quite a name for yourself. Not everyone will drink Jäger, but everyone knows what is. Jäger is quite unique in that it's one of very few spirits meant to be served ice-cold, yet straight. You can actually buy a custom Jägerator refrigerator to dispense instant ice cold Jager. Zehn kleine Jägermeister.

"There can't be good living where there is not good drinking." 
- Benjamin Franklin

Photo Credit: Wikimedia, Food Facts

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rum 302: Let's try some Tiki Cocktails!

Rum is one of the most playful spirits there is. There are some amazing aged rums that are great on their own or even can be used in similar pairings to whiskeys. Most people see rum as very sweet, which it is. It is constantly paired with fresh fruit juices and syrups to create stunningly beautiful concoctions. These are a few classic tiki drinks that are a pretty good jumping-off point into the world of complicated rum heavy cocktails.


Light and Dark Rum, Passion Fruit Juice, OJ, Lime, Simple Syrup, Grenadine
Squeeze juice from half a lime into a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour 2oz of light rum, dark rum, and passion fruit juice, 1 oz of orange juice, and a splash of simple syrup and grenadine into a large mixing tin with ice. Shake well. Strain into a hurricane glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cherry and an orange.
The Hurricane came about in 1939 at the New Orleans World Fair. It was named after the style of the glass it was served in, which was actually modeled after a style of lamp. The story is that Pat O'Brien, the creator of the drink, started creating incredibly rum heavy drinks to get rid of the rum stock the aggressive rum distributors coerced him to buy. Again many bartenders just wing this drink, throwing in other fruit schnapps or pineapple juice instead of using passion fruit juice. Good old New Orleans. When life gives you rum, have a party. 

Bahama Mama
Light Rum, Malibu, Banana Liqueur, Grenadine. OJ, Pineapple Juice
Add a 1/2 oz of light rum, coconut rum, banana liqueur, and grenadine to a mixing glass. Add equal parts of orange juice and pineapple juice to fill. Add a mixing tin and shake. Strain into a decorative glass with fresh ice.
The Bahama Mama is actually a pretty popular cocktail despite it having no clear history or origin. It started to gain popularity on the beaches of The Bahamas, but there is no credited creator. Because of this, it is hard to find an agreed-upon recipe. Some variations call for lemon juice, cherry liqueur, or even coffee liqueur. 

Pina Colada

Light Rum, Pineapple Juice, cream of coconut,
 Pour 2oz of light rum, 2oz pineapple juice, and 1 1/2oz cream of coconut into a large mixing tin with ice. Shake well and strain into a poco grande glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.
This drink was created by Ramon Perez at the Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Pina Colada probably actually originated as a frozen drink. Feel free to try this drink blended with a bit of cream or ice cream for texture. I simply don't want to see you trying to make a blended concoction with a pre-bottled mix.  The scale of this drink will naturally need to be adjusted depending on what glass you use or if you try it blended. There is actually a variation of the Pina Colada, the Kappa Colada, which uses brandy instead of rum. 

Mai Tai
2oz Jamaican rum, 1oz lime juice, 1/2oz orange curaçao, 1/2oz orgeat
In a shaker, add all the ingredients with some hard ice and give it a light shake, don't water it down too much. Strain into a rocks glass with shredded or crushed ice. Garnish with some mint.
This drink was either created by Trader Vic's or Don the Beachcomber. They were the two original rival tiki bars in California. The name translates from the Tahitian word for good. Most Mai Tais these days are shaken with crazy amounts of fruit juices, but the original was actually built over crushed ice to keep the flavor soft. Many people will opt to do a rum float on top of this as well. This is one of the pure original tiki cocktails, it's pretty stiff and not really that fruity, so do be careful

Special mention to: Zombie, Scorpion Bowl, Planters Punch, 151 Swizzle

Photo Credit: wikimedia

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Speed over Quality?

I recently started tending bar at a new location, a fairly casual restaurant. I was in training so they put me on the service bar. A ticket came in for a Manhattan and we were a bit slow so I naturally took the time to pull out my bar spoon and give it a proper stir. My other, senior,  bartender said, "I can't remember the last time I did that." This sparked a rousing conversation as to, WHY THE HELL NOT? He was used to busier shifts and had grown used to taking the shortcut of simply swirling such drinks. Now I've worked in such bars where these shortcuts are commonplace, but when I have time I've always done things with as much care as possible. I see this more and more these days, I believe it's a phenomenon primarily experienced in America. The fast-paced, fast food lifestyle has lent itself to drink. 

Many bartenders can probably cite Sweet and Sour mix to be the symbol of this phenomenon. Sour mix started as a shortcut some bars would use to save time when batching cocktails in high volume. simply juicing lemons and limes in bulk at the beginning of a shift with some sugar worked as an all-purpose ingredient for countless drinks. Shortly after, store brand sour mix emerged, possibly to make bartending more accessible to the home hobbyist. What's fact is that it started getting used in bars. A blend of artificial sweeteners and dyes and chemical concentrates actually replaced what's fresh that we had right in front of us. It's cheap, doesn't spoil, saves time, and takes less training. 

Now the nightlife thing has caught on in such a big way people have forgotten what things actually taste like. We've become so used to the speedy sugary convenience that we forgot what something of craft tastes like. While bars have always been a home to social interaction, they were also where a bartender was respected. These days people would be fine getting a drink from a robotic gun shooting it into a glass. I doubt anyone a century ago ever imagined someone would order a can of macro beer in a restaurant. The original Irish pub was meant to be a second home. You were to feel as though you were a guest in someone's living room. Perhaps we've come full circle to that and actually started drinking the same swill we get at home for five times the cost just to feel social.

I will yield I got my start in bars and even a bartending school that stressed speed rather than knowledge and technique. I learned that speed comes with practice. Practice the sloppy and rudimentary and you'll quickly become a decent bartender at a sloppy boring bar. Practice style and grace, learn the meaning behind the technique, and soon enough you'll be a great bartender in any bar.

I would apologize for being preachy, but I never met a preacher who apologized for it.

"Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company."
- George Washington

Photo credit: pikist

Gin 301: Let's try some Gin Cocktails!

Gin is actually an ideal ingredient to play with in cocktails. Most gin cocktails are kept pretty simple. Gins already have an array of flavors about them, from botanicals to citrus flavors and even cucumber. Gin can be enjoyed on its own but can also be complemented by so many other flavors and ingredients. 

2 1/2 oz. Gin, 1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth, olives
Add the ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir smoothly. When well chilled, strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an olive on a pick.  
The martini, of course, is the quintessential gin drink. Just two or three simple ingredients in a unique glass and you have yourself an icon. The ratios of this drink have changed a lot over the years. The original Martini was actually 1 part gin and 1 part vermouth. As premium spirits became more and more popular the amount of vermouth decreased. It actually got to the point where people would do drops of vermouth in their martinis. Some people, like Winston Churchill, actually take no vermouth in their martinis. These days people tend to average about 1 part vermouth to 6 parts spirit. 

1 oz. Gin, 1 oz. Campari, 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Add the ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir smoothly. When well chilled, strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
The Negroni is actually a hundred years old, almost exactly, according to many historians. It was named after an Italian Count who spent time in America as a cowboy and gambler. He would order these drinks when he returned to Italy. It's a very nice aperitif style cocktail. It opens the palette up to enjoy a full meal to come. It's a handy reminder of how other cultures enjoy multi-course meals. Drinks and food are served in waves. We open the palette, we pair with food, and we close on a high note. 

Tom Collins

1 1/2 oz. Gin, 3/4 oz. Lemon Juice, 3/4 oz. Simple Syrup, club soda
Shake the gin, sugar, and lemon juice with ice and strain into an iced Collins glass and fill with soda. Garnish with a cherry and orange slice.
The Tom Collins apparently got started as a part of a joke. It was named partly after the popularity of Old Tom Gin. The main thing was the joke popularized by Americans telling people that there was a guy named Tom Collins who saying talking smack about you at the bar. People would go to the bar wanting to start a fight and would instead be greeted by a crisp refreshing drink. The drink itself originates back in London where a gin punch was just topped with some fizzy water. These days, many people see it as an adult sparkling lemonade. 

Gin and Tonic
1 part gin, 2 parts tonic
In a highball glass full of ice, add the gin, then the tonic. Garnish with a lime wedge.
The G&T is a great staple that probably got started in the British Navy around India. Malaria was a huge problem for such tropical regions. The quinine in tonic water is a natural prevention method for malaria. Straight quinine is a bit unpalatable. Soldiers took to adding lime to it which improved the flavor and also helped fight scurvy. Gin was actually designed as a medicine. Gin was actually rationed out to soldiers and the concoction made sense. 

Special mention to: Aviation, gimlet, gin fizz

Photo Credit: Needpix, wikimedia

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whiskey 302: Let's try some Scotch Cocktails!

Scotch is a very fun spirit, but one that isn't played with quite enough. There are a few staples and simple cocktails, but scotch is typically just drunk straight. This appeals to some bartenders, however. When something hasn't been tinkered with and probed and prodded with it's a chance for a bartender to actually do something fun and unique.

Rob Roy

2oz. Scotch whisky, 3/4oz. Sweet vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir the drink until chilled. Strain the drink into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry
The Rob Roy in reality is just a Manhattan with scotch. which is partly what makes it such a good choice to be on my list of scotch cocktails. Some drinkers will also use orange bitters instead of Angostura. Others will use a twist of lemon or orange to garnish. The drink is named after a popular Scottish folk hero, Robert Roy Macgregor, a sort of Scottish Robin Hood, who was actually portrayed by Liam Neeson.

1 1/2 oz. Scotch, 3/4 oz. Amaretto
In a rocks glass, add the scotch, and then the amaretto with ice. 
This drink has a fun history. The drink is named after the great film but did technically exist before that as a "scotch and amaretto". People found that the drink perfectly represented the film and the mafia. Scotch has always been based on a warrior culture. Amaretto is an Italian liquor that has strong ties to love and family. The warrior and the family man was what the godfather represented. It's also the combination of my two favorite sipping spirits. 

Blood and Sand
3/4oz. Scotch, 3/4oz. Sweet vermouth, 3/4oz. Cherry Heering, 3/4oz. OJ
In a mixing glass add the ingredients. Add ice and shake. Strain the contents into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist or cherry
The recipe for the Blood and Sand first appeared in print in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. It's actually a pretty unique combination of ingredients. 3 very different spirits and one juice in equal proportions form an odd blend of fruity and smokey. I will yield, the first time I tried this drink I didn't like it. There seemed to be too many elements that should've been in conflict. Mastery of this drink really does show a great deal of knowledge and balance on a bartender's part.

Sin Cyn
1 oz. Scotch, 1 oz. Cynar, 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir the drink until well chilled. Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
This is a pretty modern drink you can find at the red owl tavern in Philadelphia. It's sort of a spin on the boulevardier, being bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth. This uses scotch instead of bourbon and Cynar instead of Campari. It's quite a similar cocktail but a bit less sweet from the tweaks. Cynar is also an Italian bitter liqueur, but with a prominent flavor of the artichoke. It is actually produced by the same company that makes Campari.

Special mention to: Penicillin, Rusty Nail, Presbyterian, The Modern

“Scotch whisky is made from barley and the morning dew on angel's nipples.”
- Warren Ellis

Photo Credit: Wikimedia, pikist