Friday, February 29, 2008

Kinda like a Negroni...kinda like a Manhattan...


The Boulevardier

1 ½ oz. Bourbon (I used Bulleit)
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet vermouth
Stir with ice in mixing glass and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with orange slice, lemon twist, or cherry.

The other night I was gripped by a desire for Bourbon (I‘m usually gripped by a desire for gin or rum, but whisk(e)y has been clamoring for my attention with alarming frequency these days). I began searching for a suitable Bourbon-centric recipe, and struck gold with the March/April 2007 issue of Imbibe. In his column, the venerable Ted Haigh (a.k.a. Dr. Cocktail) details the history and composition of the Boulevardier with his usual top-notch skill...and I was sold.

I cracked the seal on a newly-purchased bottle of Bulleit, and dove in. As the Dr. notes in his column, this is basically a Negroni using Bourbon in place of gin. I’m a fan of the Negroni, so I figured I’d still be in safe territory once I made the swap.

When this drink settles in the glass it becomes a color I can only describe as “rosy-rust”- a truly beautiful hue that makes me think it needs to be on the cover of a cocktail guide asap (All you camera-slingers out there may want to make this one just for the opportunity to take a picture of it).

After a few decent sips got me well underway, I realized my overall impression was that this drink really tastes vintage. The ingredients pull together in a flavor combination that screams early-20th century (Haigh notes that the recipe first saw print in 1927). While definitely a whiskey-based recipe, the characteristic Bourbon flavor gets masked fairly well for the most part...the Campari and vermouth tag-team it, relegating it to an end note, revealing itself mainly on the finish.

I also realized about halfway through that this drink bears a striking resemblance to the Manhattan. The Campari lends it’s distinctive taste, but there’s still no hiding the tell-tale whiskey/sweet vermouth nucleus of the Manhattan.

So is the Boulevardier a Negroni with Bourbon instead of gin? Yes. Is it a Manhattan with Campari added? Sort of. (All the Manhattan purists will no doubt be gathering with pitchforks and torches as I type this).

Either way, it’s a great drink. And if it’s further incentive, it’s yet another drink I’d put in that category of “whiskey drinks for people who don’t like whiskey.” I used to be one of those people, and it didn’t take much to convert me. If I’d had a Boulevardier at a key moment, it would have taken even less.

UPDATE: I just realized that Paul over at the Cocktail Chronicles did a great write-up on this drink where he uses rye in place of Bourbon. Go check it out!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Japanese Caipirinha??


Caipirinha (standard recipe)

1.75 oz Cachaca
1/2 Fresh Lime
1 teaspoon superfine cane sugar

Cut ½ lime into thirds and muddle with the sugar in a rocks glass. Fill with ice cubes and add cachaca. Place mixing tin over glass, invert and shake well. Pour contents (do not strain) back into glass, and garnish with lime wheel.

(Like many cocktails, the Caipirinha’s ingredient proportions vary considerably depending on the recipe. It appears that most people adjust the amount of lime, sugar and cachaca to suit their taste. The above recipe is my favorite.)

Caipirinha (variation)

1 oz. Cachaca (I used Pitu)
1 oz. Sake (I used Momokawa Diamond)
1 tsp. Ground crystallized ginger
1/2 Fresh Lime

Grind the crystallized ginger until it forms a coarse paste. (I used a mortar & pestle, but since the ginger is soft, you should be able to grind it up easily in a bowl with the back of a spoon)

Cut 1/2 lime into thirds and muddle with the ginger in a rocks glass. Fill with ice cubes and add cachaca. Place mixing tin over glass, invert and shake well. Pour contents (do not strain) back into glass, and garnish with lime wheel.


I discovered the Caipirinha about a year ago and I immediately loved it. The simplicity of its recipe appealed to me, and the no-frills sweet/sour/spirit combo is fantastic. Plus, I get to play with my muddler. Any drink that calls for squashing stuff with a hunk of wood is OK in my book.

So when I was considering which classic drink to corrupt with my graceless tinkering, I gravitated toward the Caipirinha. I knew I didn’t want to add anything, which could potentially change the entire character of the drink. I also didn’t want to remove an ingredient and destroy the great three-way balance among the ingredients.

This left me with substitution. But rather than trying out random ingredients in a maelstrom of trial-and-error, I decided to let aroma be my guide. I closed my eyes and took several whiffs of the open cachaca bottle to see if it suggested anything (I’m an unapologetic bottle-sniffer, and can often be found rapturously inhaling the delightful fumes from my bottle of Luxardo maraschino. Don’t judge me.).

It wasn’t long before I had one of those “light-bulb-over-the-head” moments. Ginger seemed like it might be complementary, and since I had the crystallized kind (which contains sugar) handy, that’d take care of the sweetness.

After mashing some up in my trusty mortar & pestle, (getting to use another gadget...bonus!) I tried out the conventional recipe…substituting the ginger for the sugar. Unfortunately, the ginger got lost, overwhelmed by the punchy cachaca.

That’s when I opened the fridge and spotted the unopened bottle of sake.

Some sort of perverse inspiration struck, and I made another quick tweak: I knocked the ¾ oz. off the cachaca and replaced it with an ounce of sake. Yeah, I know I technically violated my earlier rule about not adding anything, but it’s my own rule and I can bend it if I want.

Anyway, I think it works. The cachaca still forms the backbone of the drink, but the sake puts a crisp, dry angle on it. And adding it somehow freed up the ginger, which now comes out as just a little wisp on the finish. Best of all, it still tastes fundamentally like a Caipirinha, which is great because I didn’t want to totally transmogrify the thing into something unrecognizable.

The only problem was I had no idea what to call it. I figured something like “Asian-inspired caipirinha” or “Caipirinha Japanese-style” was perfectly accurate, but lacked zip. I’ll keep working on it. Suggestions, as always, are encouraged.

And don't forget to swing by Jimmy's Cocktail Hour and check out all the other great contributions to this month's Mixology Monday!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Trendy new garnish: Haptics!


I recently ran across the term “haptics” (oddly enough in a promotional brochure for a local supermarket chain) and having never heard it before, did what I imagine many of us do when the giant cartoon question mark appears over our heads: scurry to the nearest computer to see what we can find.

According to the Wikipedia entry, “Haptics is the study of touching behavior”. As I delved further, I discovered haptics also deals with how human beings interact physically with technology, in devices such as video game controllers, artificial limbs, etc. Neat stuff.

Naturally, I wondered how haptics relates to booze. Surely this sophisticated science has some role to play in the realm of cocktails. I thought about how all of us in the drinkblogging community spend a lot of time discussing what goes into our drinking vessels…but maybe not much time thinking about the vessels themselves.

There’s plenty of information both in print and online as to what glass a particular drink is served in. What I’m curious about is not the correctness of the drink/glass pairing, but rather how do different glasses feel in my hand- and does that affect my perceptions of the drinking experience?

Now before anyone thinks I’m gonna go all scientific-like and lay out some master’s thesis…relax. I can be obsessive, but a comprehensive empirical study isn’t the goal here. (However, if you really want to see some top-shelf glassware analysis, check out Gabriel's treatise here). What I’m attempting is a more direct, intuitive approach. Basically, I wanted to riffle through my collection of glasses and see how I reacted purely to their shape, weight, texture etc., regardless of their contents. That counts as haptics, as far as I‘m concerned.

Like I said, this is off-the-cuff and completely unscientific. Also, my barware collection is relatively modest, so there are several glass types not represented here. I can only swipe so many from the corner bar before they get wise to me.

I’ve also assigned a letter grade to each glass type for style and ease-of-use. It’s just the kind of arbitrary abuse of power I relish.

On with the data…



I’ve probably consumed more drinks out of the iconic cocktail glass than other type. With all that practice, you’d think I’d be more at ease when holding this type of glass, but I still often feel like I might slosh my drink out of it. As a matter of fact, I don’t really get confident with a cocktail glass until I’m about a third of the way through my drink.

As a result, I favor the smaller 3 ounce-ish size, since the big fishbowl-sized ones in vogue now seem even more unwieldy to me. I tend to hold mine by the stem, just under the upper part because I’m paranoid about my hand warming up the drink. I’ve seen people cradle the upper part of a cocktail glass like a brandy snifter, but this just never felt right to me.

Still, for undiluted elegance I think this glass takes the crown. It takes a bit of concentration and attentiveness to use, but anything worthwhile takes effort, right?

Style: A
Ease of use: C-



Although it’s easier to hold than a cocktail glass, I feel like I have to actually be more careful with the cordial glass. It’s probably due to its small size- there’s an inherent daintiness that makes me feel like I should be handling it with padded, silken gloves. The damn thing just looks so fragile.

Plus, I don’t think there’s any way to look masculine holding one of these. I could be wearing an eye patch and drinking motor oil out of it, and it still wouldn’t help.

Style: C-
Ease of Use: C



Now I’m at the other end of the spectrum. The rocks glass is solid, cylindrical, and fills the hand nicely. It’s a utilitarian design to be sure, but it’s earned style points over time.

Holding it evokes gritty film noir detectives and hasty splashes of whiskey, but can also be classy with a crisp gin & tonic. Regardless, the rocks glass has heft & weight, and works almost anywhere. Although because of the straight sides, I do the “pinky-bracket” underneath to prevent slippage.

Style: B-
Ease of Use: A



Easier to hold and much more comfortable in the hand than a cocktail glass. The fingers naturally wrap around the distinctively shaped upper part, and despite it’s width, it rests comfortably. Only a barely-there grip is required The heavy, thick-walled types need a bit more muscle to hoist, but still feel natural.

I’ve field-tested the Margarita glass for over a decade at Jimmy Buffett concerts and can say that even while walking with one on uneven terrain after being over-served I experienced minimal spillage. A classic, functional design.

Style: A
Ease of Use: B



Not my favorite. The highball/collins family of glassware makes me feel like I’m drinking out of a length of pipe. Awkward, but could probably be remedied with a long straw. Also, it’s straight-sided design necessitates use of the pinky-bracket. Looks nice though.

Style: B
Ease of Use: D- (see me after class)


Double Old-fashioned

I love this glass. It’s got more bulk than the rocks glass, but somehow manages more style. It’s tapered sides fit the hand well, and it has a comfortable weight, even when full. It’s a great combination of heaviness and balance, although people with smaller hands may find it cumbersome.

Style: B
Ease of Use: A-


Tiki Mug

The umbrella term “tiki mug” includes a wide variety of shapes and sizes but what I’m talking about here are the ones most commonly seen: vaguely cylindrical, and about 6-8 inches tall.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a lover of tropical-style drinks, and therefore heavily biased. I think tiki mugs are almost the perfect drinking vessel. Their main drawback is that the contents of the mug are mostly hidden, (Oh, the mystery!) but there are many other advantages:

1) Their carved surface makes for a great grip. They’re almost impossible to drop, even when covered in condensation.

2) They’re thick, and can take a pretty good beating. This translates into a more confident state of mind while imbibing. Drink with confidence!

3) They hold a heck of a lot. Some larger specimens hold well over 12 ounces, so if you’re not a fan of frequent refills, this is your glass.

4) Cool factor. The majority of tiki mugs are fashioned in the shape of any number of pagan idols. Beat that, Pousse-Café glass!

Style: A+
Ease of Use: A (A+ with a straw)

Since no reputable crackpot study is complete without peer review, I encourage all of you to submit comments, suggestions, etc.. Feel free to bunk or debunk my assertions- I eagerly await your findings.

UPDATE: I just discovered Robert Hess recently discussed the iconic cocktail glass over at the Spirit World.