Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stay Indoors. Read Books.


White Bear Cocktail

1 oz. Dry gin (A straightforward London Dry like Beefeater or Bombay does well)
2 oz. Grand Marnier
1 oz. Dry vermouth (I used my go-to brand Noilly Prat)
.25 oz. Lemon juice
3 dashes Sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica works great)
1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake everything with ice and strain into cocktail glass.

~ Adapted from "Burke's Complete Cocktail & Drinking Recipes"

At some point, the holidays were declared a time when everyone is supposed to be continually on the move. If you aren't manically hustling from store to store buying either gifts or provisions, you're supposed to be caroming from one party to the next. Neighbors, friends and employers traditionally throw all their holiday shindigs in the last few weeks of December, so there's certainly no shortage of reasons to leave the house.

But what if you hate leaving the house this time of year? Extroverts love the kind of relentless human contact that takes place at year's end, but what if you're the sort of person who'd rather just stay inside, lay dormant, and wait things out?

Look, I love a party as much as anyone. I enjoy throwing on the Santa hat and sloshing the nog when the opportunity presents itself. But there's a limit, and it's during these times I can appreciate the wisdom of bears. Hibernation is a very underrated state of being, and it can serve you well.

Case in point: Retreating from the Yuletide maelstrom allows more time to browse old bar guides for worthwhile cocktails. I found a fairly decent one in a pocket-sized tome from 1936 by a guy named Harman Burney Burke. I kicked the tires on the White Bear Cocktail and took it for a couple test drives with the assistance of the Bamboo Babe. Experimenting with a few dry gins and a few vermouths, we declared the drink sound, but lacking in one small area: tartness. The addition of a simple quarter-ounce of lemon juice pulls it out of the doldrums and adds the requisite snap.

(Also, I suppose that having tinkered with the recipe, I should follow the tradition of changing the drink's name. If anyone has a suggestion, feel free to offer it up. However, it's probably too late to propose it to Mr. Burke for inclusion in a future edition, since I'm guessing he's been attending the Great Happy Hour in the Sky for some time now.)

So if you're the type of person who loves the cavalcade of holiday revelry, I raise my glass to you and admire your stamina- Have one for me, and I'll catch up with you sometime in March. Until then, I'll be huddled beneath a stack of drink books* and making notes.

* They're surprisingly warm. Particularly the hardcover editions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Olde Tyme Fizze- Print Version!


A while back I mentioned the release of Darcy O'Neil's book Fix the Pumps, which at the time was available in downloadable format only. I just wanted to point out that due to overwhelming demand from technophobes like me, a print version is now available.

So if you're one of those folks who prefers the feel, smell and taste of honest-to-goodness paper and ink over soulless streams of digital matter, I suggest you zip over to Amazon and get a copy. Then you'll be able to whip it out at parties and show people that you used to be able to buy drinks containing lithium.*

*and you thought you made strong cocktails, didnt you?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Moonlighting: September '10


Here I go again, pointing you toward other places where you can marinate in my cocktail-centric musings. As always, I bear no responsibility for any ill effects your lifestyle may suffer as result of reading my blather...you click the clink, you take your chances.

Publisher, deejay, burlesque enthusiast and all-around retro impresario Java has just launched the latest issue of Bachelor Pad Magazine . This time around I ponder the relationship between cocktails and the undead...


Most vampires are well above the the legal drinking age and therefore know a good drink when they taste one.

And the BarNoneDrinks.com crew continues to damage its good reputation by letting me contribute each month...


You wouldn't believe how many of these signs are posted throughout Pittsburgh.


Drumming...drinking...they have more in common than you'd think.


What? You never saw a tiki wearing a nurse's cap before?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Boozin' and Infusin'


For several reasons, I rarely drink coffee. However, that doesn't mean I dismiss it entirely, as I tend to examine even things I don't particularly like for cocktail potential. Coffee has been used in a number of drinks for some time now, but what I wanted to do was find a way to simply use the beans themselves rather than actually make coffee and work that into the mix.

This dovetailed nicely with my desire to get involved in infusing spirits, which is something I'd been meaning to experiment with for a while. The conventional wisdom is that clear booze like gin and vodka tend to be the most infusion-friendly, but since I often choose not to heed wisdom, I thought I'd take a stab at infusing some rum.

The first step was swinging by my local coffee joint and asking for some nice, middle-of the-road coffee beans. The knowledgeable gent who runs the place suggested a medium-roast Costa Rican variety, and since I trust his expertise implicitly (especially since I know squat about coffee), I was off to the races. The next stage was finding some rum...

Fortunately I have a few bottles handy, so this step wasn't too hard. I decided to try several styles of rum, and found that the one that yielded the tastiest results was Zaya Gran Reserva. Zaya is a nice dark rum that falls on the sweeter end of the spectrum flavor-wise, and it matches up with coffee wonderfully, it turns out. This is not to say that white rums and gold rums won't work (they do), just that it may take a bit of fiddling and trial-and-error to get combos that work well for you.

So what does infusing a spirit entail? Well, it's basically dumping hunks of something flavorful into liquor so that the liquor will absorb the flavor of whatever you put in it. You can make it pretty complicated if you want, but it's a fundamentally simple procedure. Here's my method:

1) Put coffee beans in rum.

2) Wait 24 hours and take them out.

Yep, that's all I did. I used a ratio of 1:4 (for example, a quarter-cup of beans to a cup of rum), and that imparted a nice, solid coffee flavor without overwhelming the rum. I swirled the beans around a couple times and strained everything when I was done, but that was about it. Nothing really brain-breaking.

Flavor aside, I was also curious about whether any caffeine would transfer to the rum. After a brief consultation with a science-type guy I know, the answer he provided was "Yes." (He elaborated on this to a degree, but it's enough to know that it happens). I can verify this is true, because after sampling several infusions, I got tuned up pretty good. Experiencing both a caffeine AND an alcohol buzz simultaneously is a distinctive feeling, and now I have a glimpse into why the whole "vodka-and-Red Bull" phenomenon took off. Still, I don't recommend basing a cocktail around the concept of stimulants and depressants struggling for control of your nervous system. I seem to remember hearing something about that being bad from my 8th-grade health class, and if you can't trust the girl's gym teacher on matters of body chemistry, where can you turn?

Nonetheless, I encourage everyone who finds this idea appealing to do it. It's easy, and playing with combinations of different rums and coffee is big fun. Just bear in mind that the type of beans, the amount, and the length of time you leave them to soak will affect the end result. I found out that leaving them soak longer than 24 hours, regardless of rum type, will ratchet up the bitterness, and after a 2- or 3 -day soak, your rum will really have an edge on it. But if you like that sort of thing, then sally forth.

And of course, the whole point of this exercise was to have a nifty drink ingredient. Again, some experimentation was required, and it turned out the biggest obstacle I faced was using it judiciously enough so that everything didn't end up tasting like Kahlua. After trying several concepts and tinkering extensively, I put together something I can live with:

Java Wind

1 oz. Coffee-infused Zaya Gran Reserva rum
.75 oz. Brugal Anejo rum
.75 oz. Appleton V/X rum
.5 oz. Mandarine Napoleon
.5 oz. Demerara simple syrup
2.5 oz. Unsweetened pineapple juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 drops Fee's Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
6 drops Vanilla extract

Shake all with ice and strain into highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with orange peel and pineapple leaf.

Now I know that there are some gadget freaks and gearhead types out there expressing concern that most infusion methods involve an appalling lack of hardware and/or engineering. If you are one of those people, I direct you here, where you can indulge your perverse cravings for pressurized gases and precision-tooled metal.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Anatomy of the Drink: Mai Tai


"I went and sat on Hunter's lap for awhile, and he ordered a variety of drinks, and then he said, "Mai Tais!"
~ Anjelica Huston, "Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson"

"A Mai Tai, made properly, is strong enough to put permanent fissures in a fat man's brain, yet delicate enough to make his girlfriend try to conjugate verbs with her thighs. The ingredients might come from the Caribbean. The South Pacific might have made it famous. But the Mai Tai comes from California and is so by-God American that any bartender who can't make it should be shot for treason."
~ Joe Bob Briggs, "The Great Mai Tai Hunt"

"They're lethal."
~ Richard Nixon

The Mai Tai is one of a very small category of drinks I call "bulletproof." That is, you can give a drink of this type to virtually anyone and they'll like it. It's not easy to find a drink that appeals to almost everybody, yet the Mai Tai pulls it off. Even people who hate rum admit that it's pretty darn good.

Universally beloved drinks usually have a history, and the Mai Tai is no exception. However, I will not be dealing with that here, since Mai Tai lore has been well-documented elsewhere. If you find yourself craving the details of how this remarkable concoction came about, I suggest you start by checking out Beachbum Berry Remixed by Jeff Berry and And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. Both books devote entire sections to the Mai Tai and its significant place in the cocktail pantheon. If you want to go pick those up now and read the relevant parts, go ahead. I'll wait.

Back? Okay, great. What I will be doing is taking a peek at the drink itself. Specifically, the nuts & bolts of what makes this drink so great (and worth your time and trouble to make correctly). Now at this point, anyone who browses boozeblogs at least semi-regularly is thinking, "Jesus, another cocktail geek is writing about the freakin' Mai Tai??!!" Guilty as charged. My pixelated and pickled pen pals in the cocktail blogging community have already done an exemplary job in examining it from all angles, and the best I can hope to do here is humbly toss out one or two tidbits that may enhance the existing collective analysis of this classic drink.

Plus, I made a drawing of a tiki doctor giving a Mai Tai a physical exam. That has to count for something at least.

First, a quick gander at what is generally considered the authentic, original recipe from 1944:

2 oz. Wray & nephew 17-year-old Jamaican rum
.5 oz. French Garnier Orgeat
.5 oz. Holland DeKuyper orange Curacao
.25 oz. Rock Candy Syrup
Juice from one fresh lime

Shake everything with ice and strain into a double old-fashioned glass full of crushed ice. Garnish with half the spent lime shell inside the drink and a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Looks fairly simple, right? There's just a few problems:

1) Wray & Nephew 17-year old rum hasn't existed for decades.

2) To the best of anyone's knowledge, Garnier orgeat can no longer be found either.

3) The current formulation of DeKuyper's orange Curacao is almost certainly not the same as it was back in '44.

4) What the hell is Rock Candy Syrup?

5) And while we're at it, what the hell is orgeat? And Curacao?

6) How much juice can I get from a lime?

If we want to make at least a somewhat legitimate attempt to approximate what this recipe tasted like, we have to make some concessions. Remember, the ability to compromise is a virtue, so let's keep the common good (making a tasty drink) in mind and soldier on.

Now here you may be thinking, "But wait...on vacation last Summer I had a Mai Tai at 'Benny's Beachfront Bazooka Bar' in Panama City, and it had pineapple juice and orange juice and red stuff and came in a hollowed-out cantaloupe with a live tree frog impaled on a sparkler as a garnish. This recipe leaves a bunch of stuff out!"

The short answer is no, it doesn't. For the sad tale of how the original Mai Tai was bastardized into oblivion almost from the moment of conception, consult the sources listed above. For now, back to the drink...

Like I mentioned above, concessions have to be made even if we're trying to re-create this drink as faithfully as possible. To that end, there are a number of modified recipes that do a good job of approximating the original, but since it's impossible to know exactly what it tasted like from top to bottom, we have to make some allowances. Lighten up- it's only a drink after all.

After extensive trial-and-error with more recipes than I can remember, this is the one I happen to like best:

1 oz. Appleton V/X rum
1 oz. St. James Royal Ambre rum
.5 oz. Marie Brizard orange Curacao
.5 oz. Orgeat
.75 oz. Fresh lime juice

Shake everything with ice and strain into a double old-fashioned glass full of crushed ice. Garnish with half the spent lime shell inside the drink and a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

So let's break this sucker down...

RUM: The Mai Tai is a rum-based drink, and hardcore rum geeks did us a great service awhile back by suggesting that mixing equal parts aged Jamaican rum (the Appleton) and Martinique rum (the St. James) approximates the character and flavor of the long-gone 17-year old Wray & Nephew called for in the original. And for that we thank them. When you pair the right rums, the combination absolutely sings, and is the foundation of a worthwhile Mai Tai. In fact, the "One Jamaican, one Martinique" rule of thumb has proven so fun to follow, that it has compelled more than one Mai Tai enthusiast to tinker endlessly with 2-part rum combos in search of the "perfect" Mai Tai...which is really just the one you happen to like best. Follow their example and experiment on your own. There's a lot of rum out there, so don't be bashful.

ORANGE CURACAO: Orange Curacao is a liqueur usually made with bitter orange peel as the main flavor component, but formulas vary from brand to brand, some adding or substituting a variety of other ingredients and using different alcohols as a base. All you really need to know for making a good Mai Tai is to avoid the cheap stuff. How do you know what brands to steer clear of? A good place to start would be to check out the valiant efforts of this guy who has compiled more orange liqueur reviews than anyone I know of. I happen to prefer Marie Brizard for my Mai Tais, but as I said above, experiment until you find one you like!

(Oh, and in a pinch the blue stuff is fine, except that your Mai Tai will end up green.)

ORGEAT: Orgeat is a syrup flavored primarily with almonds and a small amount of orange flower water. Sometimes rose water is also added, but it's not crucial to the flavor. Orgeat is key in making a decent Mai Tai, and using a substandard one will sink an otherwise good drink. The general consensus is that making your own is ideal- It's nowhere near as difficult as it might sound, and I've found this recipe is simple and yields a wonderful-tasting syrup that is superior to any commercial product I've tried. However, if you don't feel like fiddling with all that, there's a person who can provide you with some that is the next best thing to homemade.

(Full disclosure: The labels for Trader Tiki syrups feature my dopey artwork, but don't let that influence your buying decision- The stuff on the inside of the bottle is top-notch.)

Also, people ask me all the time how to pronounce "orgeat", and since no two people I've ever asked say it the same way, I'm as stumped as they are. I've found that pronouncing it "almond syrup" usually gets the job done.

ROCK CANDY SYRUP: This is essentially simple syrup (sugar and water heated until the sugar dissolves). "Rock Candy Syrup" is the name Trader Vic's sells it under, but you can make your own simple syrup easily by combining sugar and water in varying ratios (1:1, 2:1, and so on). I use Demerara sugar because of the depth of flavor it adds, but since the Mai Tai recipe I like omits the .25 oz. simple syrup, I save it for other drinks. But if your Mai Tai needs a little sweetening, fire away!

LIME JUICE: It's been said a thousand times already, but bears repeating: Use fresh lime juice. That means buying fresh limes, cutting 'em open and squeezing out the juice by whatever means you prefer. And since limes can vary widely in size and juice content, I've found that .75 oz. is a nice amount regardless of how stingy or forthcoming your limes may be. Just remember- the little blast of citrus acidity and tartness the lime juice provides is another key component in a Mai Tai, so always use fresh-squeezed. Or the ghost of Vic Bergeron will angrily take up residence in your liquor cabinet and mock you viciously.

GLASS: The Mai Tai is served in a double old-fashioned glass. Why? Because Vic said so, that's why. Aside from that, a double-old-fashioned glass holds the liquid, a pile of crushed ice, a half a lime shell and a mint sprig perfectly. I admit to using a variety of tiki mugs for my Mai Tais from time to time, but that's no crime given their thematic harmony with the beverage in question. Remember: learn the rules before you break them.

ICE: Get hard, clean ice cubes and crush 'em. Put them in a hand-cranked crusher, wrap them in a towel and whack it with a rolling pin, throw them in the blender, use a Lewis bag and mallet, whatever...just pick a method that works for you and crush that ice. Then dump it in your glass where it will await the rich, amber embrace of your about-to-be-poured Mai Tai. Just make sure to leave a few cubes unmolested for shaking.

GARNISH: Hopefully you didn't immediately whisk one of your lime halves into the trash after juicing. If so, pull it out of the trash and place it into your drink. Just kidding. Take your clean, freshly-juiced half-shell and gently push it into the drink so it nestles regally amongst the sparkling ice and alluring liquid. Then get a healthy, robust sprig of mint and slap it a few times in the palm of your hand to release the minty essence. Slide it into the drink and admire your handiwork.

Lots of people like to use the Mai Tai as a blank canvas for their inner Bob Ross. This is fine, and given that the Mai Tai is a tiki drink, flowers, powdered sugar, orange peel sculptures and other ephemera aren't beyond the pale. I'd never deter you from using all the happy little trees you like, but I have an affinity for the minimalism inherent in a simple lime shell and mint sprig.

A quick note about straws- some people like 'em, some don't. Not using a straw gets the mint right up in your face and adds the aromatic component of the garnish. Conversely, using a straw keeps your moustache out of the drink. Your call.

Assuming you've followed at least some of the suggestions above and assembled your Mai Tai with care and diligence, you've got a bulletproof cocktail. Enjoy it with friends or just shovel down a few while watching Magnum P.I. reruns. It works either way.

And for those of you who need more Mai Tai mojo, here's a few other places online that have devoted considerable time & energy to examining this fine drink...


The Pegu Blog

The Pegu Blog strikes again!


Kaiser Penguin

Chip & Andy's Universe

Cask Strength

Cincinnati Cocktails

Friday, June 11, 2010

Moonlighting: June '10


Once again it's time to point you to other places where you can get a fat dose of cocktail-related foolishness rendered in words and pictures...

Bachelor Pad Magazine continues to bring it's bi-monthly cavalcade of retro-centric lifestyle goodies to your town! In the new issue I check out a classic cocktail that has me wishing the postal service would make some serious upgrades...


Wouldn't it be great if your mail was delivered by perky gals in jetpacks?

Also, the swell gang over at BarNoneDrinks.com continues to flout sound editorial policy by running my column each month...


I don't know if this book actually exists, but if it does, I want it.


Sometimes I wish a had a crystal ball I could use to determine my next drink.


If anyone out there actually has a grill shaped like a cocktail glass, call me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Un-Review: Spiced Rum Summit (Pt. 3)


It' s been a while since the last post, but rest assured that during that interval I was not idle. In fact, I was furiously crisscrossing the globe via my custom-designed jetpack. Why was I doing this? To scrounge up several more spiced rums to sample and evaluate, just like I did in part one and part two.

But enough chatter. On with the booze...

- Blackheart Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (pirate, scroll)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium/High. Ordinary clear glass bottle with a very cool parchment-type label depicting a sexy lady pirate painted in a retro pin-up style. It's a nice, fun design that puts a cheeky twist on the pirate theme that has become the standard for many spiced rums.

Proof: 93

Spice-itude: Low/Medium. Mostly vanilla with a bit of caramel and an odd artificial taste that is hard to identify.

Coke Compatibility: Medium. Works somewhat well with Coke, and mixing it takes some of the edge off. The overall impression is that it's tasty initially, but the drink ends up being a tad too sweet and artificial-tasting.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low/Medium. The label gets cred for the vintage pin-up, but the rum itself is lacking.

Another Round Likelihood: Medium. (But only with Coke or another mixer)

Overall Assessment: Aside from the label it's not terribly noteworthy, but you could do worse. Comparable to a mid-level rum dosed with vanilla extract. If you happen to trip across some, throw a splash in some Coke and call it even.

- RedRum VooDoo Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: No

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Wide-shouldered, vaguely coffin-shaped clear bottle with label bearing a bamboo motif and stylized tiki in gold foil (And as we've established, gold foil equals class) Setting aside the fact that there isn't a direct relationship between tiki and Voodoo (as far as I can tell), the general impression is one of nonthreatening exotica, so it follows suit with most other spiced rums' packaging.

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Low. Faint hints of vanilla, butterscotch and cherry, but not much spice bite to speak of. It's borderline over-sweet but startlingly smooth and can be easily sipped on its own.

Coke Compatibility: Low. Much like some other spiced rums, VooDoo seems to make the Coke simply taste like a flavored variety (in this case, cherry/butterscotch) when mixed. It also leaves a stubborn aftertaste.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. The "party time!" bottle design plus the lack of edge and flavor would make it more at home in a frat guy's backpack than in the grimy mitts of a flamboyant badass.

Another Round Likelihood: Low/Medium. If I was specifically in the mood for a rum without an aggressive alcohol OR spice zing AND on the sweeter end of the spectrum, then I might opt for a second round.

Overall Assessment: A rum with training wheels? The perfect brand for someone who doesn't like rum? A good choice for those who find Captain Morgan too demanding? All are probably true.

Speaking of the good captain...

- Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Sure. This is the iconic label design that launched the whole idea that pirates = spiced rum. It also launched a whole slew of imitators. I guess if a mischievous-looking, brightly-attired pirate can sell one rum, it can sell a bunch of other ones too.

Overall Packaging Coolness: Medium. Standard clear bottle with a label showing a jolly pirate standin- oh, screw it. You all know what it looks like.

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Low/Medium. For being arguably the best-known example of the category, it's surprisingly mild spice-wise. Not bad...just not remarkable in any way. The Budweiser of spiced rum.

Coke Compatibility: Since there are approximately 18,000,000 Rum & Cokes made with Captain Morgan every day, I think we can all agree that it works and move on.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: I don't know why this didn't occur to me sooner, but I'm wondering if a flamboyant badass presented with his/her likeness on a bottle of booze would think it to be the Ultimate Expression of Badassery or merely a corny, pitiful transgression. I'll get back to you after I've given this some more thought.

Another Round Likelihood: Okay, why not? (But only with Coke)

Overall Assessment: Honestly, it really doesn't matter what I write here. If you currently buy the Captain, you'll keep buying it. If you don't currently buy it, you're probably not gonna start.

- Barbarossa Spiced Rum -


(I should note here that this product is identical to "Calico Jack's Bonney's Best Spiced Rum" except for a minor change to the label and a lower proof.)

Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (scroll, boat)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Same as the "Bonney's Best" (reviewed here.).

Proof: 42

Spice-itude: Same as Bonney's, but even less so (if that's possible)

Coke Compatability: Making a Rum & Coke with this is not so much, "I'm having a Rum & Coke" as it is, "My glass of Coke tastes funny."

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: You've gotta be kidding.

Another Round Likelihood: Nope.

Overall Assessment: I'm not sure which is the case, but either Anne Bonney found some weak-ass rum and beefed it up, or this Barbarossa guy watered down an already underpowered product.

- Whaler's Spiced Rum -


Pirate, Boat, Map or Scroll on the Label?: Yes (boat)

Overall Packaging Coolness: Low. Squat, clear bottle with minimal label showing an old-time sailing ship (presumably a whaling vessel). Combined with the bright orange neck wrapper, the overall effect is akin to a glass bowling pin on a hunting trip.

Proof: 70

Spice-itude: Low. Difficult to pick out any specific spice flavors, but there is an unsettling taste I would describe as "buttery plastic" that tends to linger.

Coke Compatibility: Medium. Works surprisingly well in a Rum & Coke, but I wish it would cut through a bit more...it tends to get lost. Also, it imparts a strange, vaguely orange flavor, which is a plus if you like orange in your Rum & Cokes.

Flamboyant Badass Quotient: Low. Although the bottle shape makes it ideal to grab in a bar fight and break over someone's head.

Another Round Likelihood: Medium (But only mixed. And I'd want a heckuva lot of lime juice.)

Overall Assessment: Not the worst rum I've had, but I doubt I'd make a point of seeking it out.

Bonus item: There is a recipe on the back of the bottle for a drink called "Whale's Breath." I'm still undecided as to whether including a drink with that name will help or hinder sales.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Bibulous Bibliography: Beachbum Berry Remixed


A while ago I wrote about a book that has a permanent place next to all my shakers, stirrers, bottles and glasses: Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. Occupying an adjacent piece of real estate are the various books authored by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. (If my bookshelf was an actual neighborhood, these would be the guys who are always out the front lawn, drink in hand, starting impromptu block parties).

The books in question, Sippin' Safari, Grog Log and Intoxica! are the definitive bibles of tiki/faux-tropical drink-making and history, and any half-aware cocktailian owns 'em. As for the author himself, there's not much I can add that hasn't already been documented elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Berry's impact on the tiki drink landscape can't underestimated- if it weren't for him, we'd all be buying powdered Mai Tai mix and drinking the equivalent of rum Slurpees.

So yeah, the guy pretty much single-handedly saved classic tiki drinks from being lost forever. No small feat, which is why you should have at least one of his books behind your bar at all times. And if you had to limit yourself to only one, the book I'd recommend conveniently just came out last week: Beachbum Berry Remixed.

Don't worry- I'm not going to do a full-on book review here. This is because:

1) There are going to be a ton of better-written ones appearing in the coming weeks.

2) When I write big, long posts it really cuts into my drinking time.

So the here's the scoop: Beachbum Berry Remixed combines the info from Grog Log and Intoxica! and wraps it all up with a boatload of full-color photos and illustrations. You get recipes, you get history, you get anecdotes, and you get useful facts on ingredients, including brand recommendations and how to make some things at home (if you're so inclined).

More importantly, there's new stuff. BBR isn't a barely-disguised attempt to re-package existing material like some lame greatest hits collection. The Bum has provided a bunch of new recipes (both his own and newly-unearthed ones), and there's also fresh background material on people, places and potions sprinkled throughout.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention there's an entire section containing new original recipes by drink writers, cocktail experts, bartenders, and people who play with booze and then blab about it online (a.k.a. bloggers). If you're the kind of person who travels the boozeblog circuit, you'll notice some familiar names, as there are contributions by this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy (who, by the way, is attempting to make every single drink in the book), and yours truly (As with my appearance in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, I've yet again found myself among people far more knowledgeable and experienced than myself. Nonetheless, I'm extremely flattered).

Anyway, if you're still reading this, stop now and go buy a copy of Beachbum Berry Remixed from your favorite purveyor of mashed-up trees and ink. Then make yourself a drink from it. One of my favorites is...

Zombie (midcentury version)*

1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. unsweetened pineapple juice
1 oz. passion fruit syrup
1 oz. light Puerto Rican rum
1 oz. gold Puerto Rican rum
1 oz. lemon Hart 151-proof Demerara rum
1 tsp. Demerara sugar syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake well with lots of crushed ice and pour into a tall glass.** Garnish with a mint sprig.

* people who like this incarnation of the Zombie (like me) take considerable guff from those who prefer the other versions. Whether this is due to its hazy provenance, less-intensive rum profile or inclusion of passion fruit syrup remains to be conclusively determined. Regardless, I'm sticking to my guns.

** Because I'm a colossal nerd and take this stuff way too seriously, I like to shake with a few large ice cubes and strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Tomato, tomahto.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the Grogalizer has been updated and is fully operational! If you want to know what recipes from any of Jeff Berry's books you can make based on what currently resides on your liquor shelf, then the Grogalizer is what you need. Get over there and start mixing!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Whole Grain Mixology: Ginger-Mint Syrup



3 oz. Citadelle Reserve
.75 oz. ginger-mint syrup*
.5 oz. lime juice
1 Dash Angostura bitters

Shake everything with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with thin pear slice. (If you want to get fancy, cut it in the shape of a crown).

A while back I did a post entitled Whole Grain Mixology wherein I talked about how fun it is to make your own drink ingredients. I still think it's fun, and even more so when you go off-book and experiment with your own ideas.

I can't recall exactly what prompted it, but at some point I had a notion that mint and ginger might work well together, so I grabbed 'em both and took a stab at making a syrup. I thought the results weren't half bad, so the next step was finding a spirit to hitch it to.

I figured gin would be a good starting point. I had a small amount of Citadelle Reserve that seemed to be urging me from its spot on the shelf to pick it up and put it in the shaker (much like the One Ring exerted a pull on Frodo, enticing him to use it,** certain liquors will do likewise to a cocktail enthusiast). A healthy splash of lime juice and a dose of Ango sewed things up nicely, so I decided this was one worth writing down. Chalk up another one for making ingredients from scratch.

Next time: Bulgur wheat bitters!

*to make ginger-mint syrup: Get a decent-sized piece of fresh ginger. A good piece of ginger should be somewhat heavy and feel hard to the touch (if it the skin looks wrinkly or shriveled and feels squishy, keep looking). Cut off a hunk a little bigger than your thumb , peel it, and cut it julienne style.

Toss your ginger sticks into a saucepan with 1.5 cups sugar and 1 cup water over medium heat. Stir continuously until sugar is completely dissolved, and remove from heat. Take 5 or 6 large fresh mint leaves and gently roll them between your hands to release the minty goodness. Toss 'em into the ginger syrup, cover the pan, and let it sit for about 2 hours. Strain into the container of your choice (I like Berentzen Apfelkorn bottles because they're skinny and don't take up much space in my fridge) and refrigerate.

** Yeah, I made a Tolkien reference to illustrate part of the cocktail-making process. Don't act like you haven't seen things far geekier than this.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Moonlighting: March '10


If you're wondering why mailboxes everywhere are giddy with anticipation, it's because the new issue of Bachelor Pad Magazine is here! In this issue I unearth a classic cocktail and use it as a flimsy excuse to draw a pagan god brandishing barware...


Even divine beings need a cocktail from time to time.

And if those aren't enough booze-themed words & pictures for you, I encourage you to swing over to BarNoneDrinks.com and find answers to pressing questions such as...


WHY is a there a tiki in a cannon?


WHO gave an ice cube a crown and scepter?


WHERE can apples and sloe berries conduct a torrid affair?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010



Dragonfire Cocktail

2 oz. Jalapeno-infused tequila or vodka
1 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. orange juice
1 oz. lime juice
1 lime wedge, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, triple sec, orange juice, and lime juice, plus ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Garnish with lime wedge (or jalapeno round).

(To make jalapeno-infused tequila: add 1 jalapeno to 2 cups tequila. Allow to infuse for at least 2 hours. Remove jalapeno.)

The above recipe comes from Kara Newman's book Spice & Ice. Kara invited several food and drink enthusiasts (including me) to participate in a "virtual cocktail party" wherein we select a recipe from S&I, make it, and then do a post on it. Being that she has a keen understanding of the cocktail geek mindset, Kara encouraged the participants to tweak, alter and otherwise fiddle with the recipes if we were inclined to do so.

Since I am often inclined to do so (I'm a born tinkerer it seems), the first change I made was to swap in some Sriracha for the jalapeno. Documenting my love for Sriracha would require an entire post of its own, but for now I'll just say that this delicious, versatile chili-garlic sauce is one of my favorite condiments and I always have a bottle handy. It has legions of fans and its status as a cult item is coming to an end with many chefs and cocktail crafters discovering it (which can only be a good thing, in my opinion).

The other changes I made were to substitute Cointreau for the triple sec and add a half-ounce of Aperol to bring a little bright & bitter to the proceedings. Aperol is an ingredient I love to find uses for, since it's flavor isn't as overbearing as Campari, a similar product that I also like, but find more challenging to mix with.

What I ended up with is shown below. You can drink it anytime, but given the provenance of its ingredients, it's probably best enjoyed while watching a Fellini movie. In a Asian restaurant. With Salma Hayek*

Drago Amaro

2 oz. silver Tequila (I used Tequila Ocho plata)
1 oz. Cointreau
.5 oz. Aperol
1 oz. orange juice
1 oz. lime juice
8 drops Sriracha chili sauce

Combine everything with ice in a shaker. Shake well and strain into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with a lime slice skewered to a small chili pepper.

To check out the other drinks as they roll in and get more info on Spice & Ice, go here.

And if you wanna check out a couple of other drinks that use Sriracha, take a peek at these tasty beverages over at Rumdood and Cocktailbuzz

* I realize that since she shills for Campari, she'd probably complain about using Aperol, but this is my fantasy, so cut me a little slack, wouldja?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What I've Learned: Year Three


It's February again, which means another year of this nonsense has come and gone. But time doesn't pass without leaving a little residue on the ol' gray matter, so here's...

What I've Learned in my Third Year of Boozeblogging

~ Some spiced rums are very good, some are downright awful, and a lot are in between. Proceed with caution.

~ Living in a warm, sunny region is undoubtedly pleasant, but I really like being able to reach out the back door and chill my gin in a snowbank.

~ People representing liquor brands frequently contact me hoping I'll be interested their product(s). Some will send mass emails describing how awesome their stuff is and telling me why I should like it. Others will mail me a bottle. Guess which approach works.

~ Buy limes & lemons in bulk. It's cheaper, and you're less likely to be out of them at that crucial moment when your friend unexpectedly switches from white wine to Mai Tais.

~ My love affair with rye continues unabated. Hey, if it's good enough for the World's Toughest Milkman, it's good enough for me.

~ Watching sheer panic unfold during the Great Angostura Drought of '09 was hilarious (mainly because I had a full bottle)

~ There is no shame in buying a nut grinder solely to make orgeat with.

~ I fully realize I'm in the minority here, but I garnish my drinks at home. Even when no one is looking. I can't help it- it's part of the experience.

~ No matter how many ways it's described to me in glowing terms, I just can't embrace infusing booze with meat. However, I find the idea of snake wine strangely appealing.

~ My freezer now contains ice in cube, ball, small hemisphere, irregularly faceted, and sometimes cylindrical forms. Don't judge me.

~ Speaking of ice balls, find a way to make some at home. Regardless of whatever method you choose (like this one, this one, or this one), making them is fun as hell and they work great.

~ It is amazing how people who claim to not like whiskey will warm up to a correctly-made Old-Fashioned.

~ If you are offered the chance to judge a cocktail competition, do it. You will taste some great drinks, see some nifty bartending techniques and meet some very nice people. It will also force you to really think about what makes a good cocktail.

~ You can never have too many bitters.

~ There is considerable overlap between the foodie and booze nerd communities. No offense to the gourmands, but if I've got fifty bucks to spend on food & booze, I'm dropping two dollars at Taco Bell and the rest goes to the liquor store.* I'm going to get a lot more mileage from a bottle of Chartreuse than a fancy dinner.

~ Booze storage seems to follow a natural progression. I started with a liquor cabinet. Then it became a liquor closet. I now have a free-standing shelving unit in my basement. I'm guessing in the next year or two I'll be building a shed.

~ It is impossible to be morose if you are drinking from a tiki mug.

~ The reason I know what "Herkimer diamonds" are is directly attributable to my interest in cocktails. I'm still unsure if this is good or bad.

~ There are a lot of problems that can be remedied simply by judiciously applying Havana Club Barrel Proof.

~ As I pointed out in the last two installments of What I've Learned, the booze geek community remains a friendly, generous and encouraging collection of people. Most are wickedly knowledgeable, many are wonderfully off-kilter, and more than a few are genuinely inspiring. They all need to keep up the good work.

*This is obviously an exaggeration. I'd probably spend only about a buck twenty-five at Taco Bell.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Potable Pariahs: Midori


There are certain products in the pantheon of drink that are almost universally reviled by cocktail geeks, liquor snobs and discerning booze enthusiasts alike. These are products considered such egregious affronts to good drinking that simply uttering their name in the presence of discriminating drunks invites a fusillade of sneers and snickers.

As I've mentioned before, these perennial targets of booze nerd derision hold a strange fascination for me. I have a compelling, perverse need to somehow redeem these disreputable tipples, and the deeper the antipathy toward a given product is, the more attractive the prospect of salvaging it becomes.

So I began compiling a list of liquors that exist almost solely as punchlines among people who fancy themselves sophisticated swillers. I've labeled them "Potable Pariahs", and from time to time I'll trot one out here and take a gander. I promise nothing, but perhaps simply engaging in the act of reassessing a much-maligned product may grant it a small measure of dignity and redemption.

Or we could just find out that it's as crappy as everyone says it is.

Up first: Midori!

What is it?

Midori is a sweet, honeydew melon-flavored liqueur that is a vivid green color and comes in a distinctively-shaped textured bottle.

Why does it suck?

According to The Ultimate Book of Cocktails , Midori was "an instant hit" when it was introduced in 1978, so apparently somebody liked it. Its Wikipedia listing indicates its launch party took place at Studio 54, which seems entirely appropriate, because this stuff is pretty much the 70's in a bottle (insert your own observations about the relationship between cocaine use and subpar spirits here)

The two main indictments against it appear to be its color and taste. Color-wise, this stuff is greener than a recycling bin full of leprechauns. But I suppose if you use the Japanese word for "green" as the name of your product you really want to drive the point home, visually speaking (As if it really needed to be said, the label indicates in large print that Midori is artificially colored.)

In any case, Midori (much like blue curacao) probably bears at least a nominal responsibility for the rash of oversweet drinks that came in OSHA-certified hues in the late 70's and 80's...and that alone is enough to make the cocktail cognoscenti cringe.

Flavor-wise, I'm not certain that "honeydew melon" is really an accurate descriptor for Midori. I'm inclined toward "non-specific Jolly Rancher crossed with cough syrup" if I had to put my finger on it. It's definitely not the worst thing I've tasted by far, but it does have a decidedly synthetic quality that is hard to ignore. Also, this stuff just screams out to be mixed...I can't imagine anyone would want to just drink it straight.

How can we fix it?

Since it's so crushingly sweet, my instinct is to savagely bludgeon it into submission with something sour. Not a bad approach, but what I'm looking to do is actually retain some of the signature "melon" flavor while knocking down the sugar.

Employing my usual slapdash trial-and-error method (guided gently by whatever dubious intuition toward these things I can muster), I discovered that cachaca pairs pretty well with Midori in a 2-1 ratio, so with my base spirit in place, I chose lemon as the sour component. It seemed to do the trick, and while I generally like to double-strain my citrus in "up" drinks, I enjoy the textural quality of some pulp in this one. A fat dash of Peychaud's and some ginger for garnish brought it all home, so I called it a day. The only thing left to do was name it, and how could I not be inspired by its delightful radioactive green color?

Banner Cocktail

2 oz. Cachaca (Leblon*)
1 oz. Midori
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash Peychaud's bitters

Shake everything with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a long, thin slice of fresh ginger.

Can we consider Midori redeemed? It appears that if used judiciously, it can impart a unique, offbeat flavor to a drink. However, I doubt it will be able to overcome its perception as a novelty product and be embraced by serious hooch nerds anytime soon. But it's been around for over 30 years, so I don't think the manufacturer is sweating- There's apparently a big market for green drinks out there. Viva La Verde!

*Although my go-to brands of cachaca are Fazenda Mae de Ouro, Boca Loca, and Pitu,(depending on the drink) I've discovered that Leblon really works well in this recipe.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tartan on Your Tiki


Skye Tai

1.5 oz. Blended Scotch (Pig's Nose is great for this drink)
.75 oz. Amer Picon
.5 oz. Orgeat
.5 oz. Fresh lime juice
1/8 tsp. Absinthe
1 dash Fee's rhubarb bitters

Shake everything with ice and strain into double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lime slice and a cherry.

I've mentioned Thursday Drink Night before- It's the weekly online improvisational cocktail extravaganza where everyone is welcome to drop in, stick around as long as they like, and experiment with cocktail-making. I like to think of it as a jam session with booze instead of music. It's casual, friendly, and I guarantee it includes more references to Ting than any other chatroom you'll wander into. How's that for enticing?

A few weeks ago, the TDN theme was "Scotch", and I came up with the above recipe right around last call (sometimes the creative gears don't start turning until well into the night...TDN is funny like that). In any case, for reasons I'm still not entirely sure of, I was inspired to come up with a tropical-style drink. Scotch already has a reputation as being somewhat uncooperative in cocktails (with a few notable exceptions), so given my predilection to make difficult tasks even harder, I decided it would be a nifty challenge to see if I could get Scotch to behave itself in a tiki-ish cocktail.

I used the venerable Mai Tai as a loose template, retaining the lime juice and orgeat, but swapping in some new ingredients to take things in a different direction (toward the Hebrides, it seems). I'll be the first to admit it looks odd on paper (or screen), but it's gotten positive feedback from the intrepid souls who've tried it, so I'll consider it a keeper. Plus, it afforded me the opportunity to draw a tiki wearing a kilt and a Tam o ' Shanter, so really, the whole affair was out of my hands from the get-go.

Quick notes on some key ingredients:

1) I haven't empirically tested every blended Scotch out there, but I have found that Pig's Nose works wonderfully here. It's also great if you'd just prefer to dump it in a glass and enjoy it without fussing around with all the juice, syrup, ice and other miscellaneous distractions. As always, I encourage experimentation and investigation, and eagerly await your findings.

2) I haven't yet run across a commercially-made Amer Picon that I'm wild about, but the homemade stuff that my fellow boozeblogger SeanMike Whipkey of The Scofflaw's Den makes is fantastic, and it's what I use in this drink. His version is based on Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon recipe, which just goes to show how incestuous the booze geek community really is.


If you want some, contact SeanMike directly. I hear he'll do just about anything in exchange for a case of Miller Lite.

One more thing- Since this post revolves around a quasi-tiki drink, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that for the second year in a row, The Pegu Blog has transmogrified into The Tiki Blog for the entire month of February*.

* February is the shortest month of the year, but since Doug posts approximately every 17 minutes, he makes up for it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Lime In Winter



.75 oz. Brandy (I used Martell VSOP)
.75 oz. Cointreau
.75 oz. Jamaican rum (I used Appleton V/X)
Juice of one lime, strained*
1 dash Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice. Shake well, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lime.

~ from "Cocktail Hour" by Susan Waggoner and Robert Markel

Bring on the citrus! That's often my rallying cry this time of year, when thick snow covers everything, the temps plunge, and colds are flourishing (at least here in the Liquor Lab). Don't be stingy with our friend vitamin C- apply it liberally and aggressively.

My weapon of choice right now is the lime, and it's used to good effect in the Embassy, named after the Embassy Club, a speakeasy noteworthy for its Old Hollywood clientele. Aside from a decent belt of lime juice, the drink serves up healthy portions of three quality boozes, which combine nicely into a robust and sophisticated whole. It's got an unmistakable vintage taste...tart and punchy while stopping short of something that would come out of a juice box. It's both potent and smooth, and one of the best excuses to exsanguinate a lime I can think of.

Speaking of which, since I try to buy limes in bulk whenever possible (as I've noted before, I can be a cheap SOB), it's the citrus I tend to have on hand most often...mainly because the drinks I tend to like use it more often than lemon, grapefruit, etc. Aside from slaughtering huge numbers of them to make falernum, I'm always chasing the little green bastards around for one reason or another (even it's just for a nice garnish).

Since I'm always looking for an excuse to brighten my day with a little lime, lemme know what your favorite use for it is. (Except for you Corona drinkers- Ruining a perfectly good lime slice by drowning it in bad beer is shameful. Now go to your room and think about what you've done.)

*I find that the limes I use yield approximately 3/4 oz. of juice, which makes this recipe one of those easy-to-remember ones with equal proportions of the main ingredients. You're welcome.