The Alexander

August 5th, 2010

The history of the Alexander cocktail, as far as I can deduce, is lost to us 21st century bar keeps, but we do know that the drink has been around since before the time of Prohibition. The lost story of the drink does not mean, however, that we can’t enjoy what the cocktailians of history have left us in this sweet, cocoa-tinged concoction.

Many of the current recipes I’ve found for the Alexander call for equal parts of the ingredients shown below, but as I’ve found with other cocktails, the recipes from decades past exemplify the true spirit of the drink by calling for a larger portion of the base liquor. Still, a balance between sweet (less base liquor) and dry (more base liquor) should be your aim if you’re making this cocktail for the first time, so I’m providing the recipe below as a starter (feel free to adjust the amount of gin to produce a cocktail that suits you):

2 oz. gin
1 oz. creme de cacao
1 oz. cream

Pour the contents in an ice-filled shaker and shake vigorously until cold. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Alexander

A more common variation of this old-school cocktail is made with brandy in place of the gin, called a Brandy Alexander or a Panama. You’ll often see a dash of ground nutmeg sprinkled on top of the finished Brandy Alexander as a garnish, which adds a nice touch to a cocktail that could rival spiked eggnog during the Christmas season. The gin-based version of this cocktail will give you a good result regardless of what gin you use (within reason), whereas to make a great Brandy Alexander, it would be wise to use high-quality brandy or cognac.

However you decide to take the Alexander, I hope you enjoy, and know that you’re indulging in a cocktail whose story lies somewhere with the bartenders of old; a cocktail that survived the ups and downs of the 20th century largely in its original form to inhabit the knowledge of those bartenders keeping cocktailian traditions alive today.

The Mojito

August 2nd, 2010

I think I’d have trouble finding a person that likes to drink but has never had a Mojito. In recent years this drink has certainly made a significant impression on bar scenes everywhere and with good reason: the concoction is appealing across a wide range of tastes, brilliantly refreshing and sweet, and perfect for a day at the pool or a night in the city.

The Mojito originated in Cuba as a result of centuries of combining the rum made on the island with other prominent Cuban crops: sugar, lime and mint. Today there are many variations on this drink, but the one that I’ve used with success is based on Gary Regan’s “Joy of Mixology” recipe which he learned from Lou Cantres at the Carnegie Club in Manhattan. Here are the ingredients first:

2 oz. white rum (Bacardi)
club soda
4 lime wedges
3 teaspoons of granulated sugar
8 mint leaves
3 sprigs of mint

The Ingredients

Now the delicate process of creating the Mojito:

Place the lime wedges, granulated sugar and mint leaves in a mixing glass or at the bottom of a shaker.

Limes

Mint Leaves

Sugar

Muddle these ingredients until the sugar has dissolved into the juice of the limes.

Muddle

Fill the shaker with ice and add the white rum.

Add the rum

Shake briefly to cool the mixture. Fill a highball glass with ice and the sprigs of mint.

Glass filled with ice and mint sprigs

Strain the liquid from the shaker into the highball glass.

Almost done

Top off the glass with the club soda.

The Mojito

Now it’s time to relax by the pool and enjoy your refreshing Mojito!

The Negroni

July 29th, 2010

This cocktail is said to have been created in Florence, Italy in 1919 at the request of one Count Camillo Negroni. The story goes that the bartender serving Count Negroni took the Americano cocktail, which was popular at the time, and replaced its club soda with gin while keeping the proportions of the Italian vermouth and Campari intact. The result is the Negroni: a clean, yet bold cocktail whose combination of vermouth and Campari bitters make for a very complex taste.

There’s an understanding about Campari that a drinker has to try the bitters three times before actually liking the taste. This was definitely true for me, since the taste permeates and stays in the mouth well after you’re done drinking, but the complexity of Campari is extremely appealing. When enjoying the Negroni, I’d suggest taking sips and letting the drink sit on your tongue before swallowing…this way you’ll get the full effect of the bitter and vermouth pairing, and you’ll allow yourself to explore the complexity of the cocktail while adjusting to the bitters. Here’s how to make it:

1.5 oz. gin
1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
1.5 oz. Campari
Orange peel

The Ingredients

Build the liquid ingredients in an ice-filled old fashioned glass. Stir briefly and add the orange peel.

The Negroni

How to chill cocktail glasses

July 22nd, 2010

In a number of entries I’ve talked about using chilled cocktail glasses for your drinks. This is just about the simplest “how to” that I’ll probably ever write on this blog, but I figured that it should be written about nonetheless because it’s an essential technique in preparing presentable cocktails. Here’s the thing: all you have to do is put your glasses in the freezer. Put them in before you start making your drinks, prepare your cocktails in a mixing glass or shaker and then remove the chilled glasses from the freezer and pour. Keep in mind this is usually only for “cocktail glasses”. It’s not common practice to chill old fashioned glasses or high ball glasses, etc. (unless of course the recipe you’re making calls for it).

Now, let’s talk about some glass-chilling don’ts. I’ve seen some people rinse their glasses with water before placing them in the freezer and I disagree with this practice. The water can bead as it’s freezing and then you end up with bumps of water on the surface of your glasses, which can in turn introduce more water into the cocktail as those beads melt…not cool. Another thing to mention here is that chilling your glasses will often bring out any blemishes on the surface of the glass caused by an inadequate clean. So unless you want your guests or yourself drinking out of glasses with noticeable blemishes or spots, make sure that you’re always working with well-cleaned glasses.

The goal in chilling your cocktail glasses is, in the most basic sense, to keep your cocktails cold for a longer time. This helps in the delivery of the drink since cocktails are meant to be enjoyed cold. In another sense, the look of a chilled cocktail glass really steps up the presentation of a cocktail and implies that the bartender spent extra time and care in preparing your drink. Chilling your cocktail glasses when making fine drinks is simply required to provide the proper taste and visual effect to the drinker…and it’s so easy!

The Martini

July 15th, 2010

It’s time to cover that titan of cocktails: the Martini. This is the cocktail that anyone who at least knows there’s a difference between vodka and gin will recognize by name, by look and by taste. It’s been a giant on the bar scene since its inception in the late 1800’s, right through to Bond’s notorious “shaken, not stirred” preference (however improper), and it even survived the Martini spin-off craze in the 90’s that added every fruit imaginable to the drink as a main ingredient (Remember Zach Braff’s character on the show “Scrubs”?…”I’ll take an Appletini, but hold the ‘tini’”). Hold the apples, hold the pomegranates, hold the passion fruits…here comes the classic Martini.

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: if you ever find yourself stranded on a remote island and in search of civilization, just start making a Martini and people will come out of the woodwork to tell you that you’re making it wrong. Anyone who really likes Martinis has a very particular way they want theirs made, and most of them will tell you their way is the only way that cocktail should be made…and they’re probably right. The Martini is one of those cocktails that holds it’s own personal character to whoever the drinker is, and as long as whomever is preparing the cocktail does so with the correct ingredients, the proportions are up to the recipient.

I once had dinner with a friend that sent his Martini back twice before accepting it on the bartender’s third try. His reasoning: the drink tasted too watery, and he was probably right based on his own perception of his perfect Martini. He belongs to the school of thought that a Martini should only be made with chilled gin (a bottle stored in the refrigerator or freezer), and any hint of ice melting into the drink during a stir is cause for a complaint. I don’t particularly agree with this method because as David Embury says, “ice is one of the essential ingredients of a cocktail” and the use of ice in cocktail making provides us with a balancing agent that reduces the burn of the alcohol while maintaining the flavor and presence of the liquor.

So even though everyone has his or her own way of making their Martini, what I’m providing here should be a good starting point in terms of the proportions between the gin and vermouth and the directions for preparation:

2.5 oz gin
0.5 oz dry vermouth
1 olive

Ingredients

Pour the gin and vermouth into an ice-filled mixing glass (or a shaker as the picture shows). Gently stir the ingredients until the outside of the of the mixing glass is cold. The Martini is a stirred cocktail due to the use of the clear liquor (the shake is too violent for the drink to come out presentable).

Stir

Place an olive in a chilled cocktail glass and strain the liquid from the mixing glass into your cocktail glass.

The Martini

Enjoy!

The Martini

The Pineapple Gimlet – Hawaiian Inspired Cocktails (Part 2 of 2)

July 12th, 2010

…two Big Pineapple Cocktails deep, I was trying to think of how I could create a pineapple-based, Hawaiian-inspired drink for my wife, Erica. I had made her a Big Pineapple Cocktail but she didn’t like the way the alcohol tasted in the mixture and she wanted something more sweet. Sometimes the best answer to the problem at hand is the simplest one.

Erica’s favorite cocktail is the Gimlet. She likes the taste of lime and the overall sweetness of the lime cordial combined with simple syrup. Masked in that Gimlet is the base liquor, vodka, which is notorious for being able to blend well in the mix and not give off an overpowering alcoholic taste. So I said to myself, why not just make a Gimlet and replace the lime cordial with pineapple juice? I give you:

The Pineapple Gimlet

1.5 oz vodka (Smirnoff – nothing like Russian liquor in a Hawaiian-themed drink, right?)
1.5 oz pineapple juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
Dash of blue curacao (optional)

Shake in an ice-filled shaker, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add 4 pineapple chunks on a toothpick as garnish.

The shake actually creates a bit of a froth at the end of the shaker pour so let the froth drip out to coat the top of the drink. Then you can take the toothpick garnish and stir within the cocktail glass to create a swirl effect with the froth.

The Pineapple Gimlet

To spice up the presentation of the drink I also dashed a cap-ful of blue curacao on the top of the cocktail. Some of the blue liquid stays on top of the froth while the rest filters down to the bottom of the drink to create a blue-green layered effect.

Dashed with blue curacao

I presented my creation to Erica, and it was an immediate success! She really enjoyed the extra sweetness of this cocktail, and since I used vodka as the base liquor there wasn’t any overbearing taste of alcohol. The visual effect of the yellow and blue was also appealing (though you can really serve it with or without the curacao). So, we sipped our pineapple-based cocktails, enjoyed the Hawaiian-inspired meal Erica had prepared and had ourselves a relaxing, tropical evening.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into pineapple-based, Hawaiian-inspired cocktails. I had a lot of fun making these and I’ll definitely use these recipes in the future whenever the need arises for a Hawaiian-style drink…I hope you will too!

The Big Pineapple Cocktail – Hawaiian Inspired Drinks (Part 1 of 2)

July 8th, 2010

My wife and I were recently talking about taking a vacation to Hawaii, and though we’re not sure when we’re going to go on that vacation, we figured “why wait to get to Hawaii when we can experience at least the food and drinks of Hawaii here.” So, to celebrate that tropical state of ours, we decided to make ourselves a Hawaiian-themed dinner and my part, as usual, were the drinks. The food/fruit that comes to my mind first when I think of Hawaii is pineapple, so I decided that my cocktails would be based around that fruit. I got myself a big can of pineapple juice from the store and some pineapple fruit as well.

The first cocktail I made was based on the premise that many tropical cocktails use rum as a base liquor. The sweet taste of rum compliments tropical fruit to provide a light, relaxed taste conjuring up images of beaches and palm trees (the Pina Colada is a great example, but we’ll cover that drink sometime else). I also added triple sec to this first cocktail to give the drink hints of orange, but also to keep the taste of the alcohol very present in the mix; I didn’t want the fruit in the cocktail to overpower the drink. Here are the portions and directions for preparation:

The Big Pineapple Cocktail

1.5 oz white rum (Bacardi)
1 oz pineapple juice
0.5 oz triple sec
(Cointreau)

Shake in an ice-filled shaker, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add four pineapple chunks on a toothpick as a garnish (no garnish on the picture below, but you get the idea).

The Big Pineapple

I prepared this cocktail as the first try for our dinner and I definitely enjoyed it. You can taste the alcohol (which in my opinion is what a cocktail is supposed to taste like), and the pineapple was present, but not overbearing. The drink also left a clean feeling on my palate after I was done which is a definite plus in my book (no sickening sweet aftertaste that sometimes accompanies fruity drinks).

Thinking that I had hit it on the nose the first time, I made one of these for Erica, but unfortunately it didn’t appeal to her. She didn’t like the alcoholic taste and she said that it wasn’t sweet enough. So, back to the drawing board…at least I had Erica’s leftover Big Pineapple Cocktail to enjoy while I considered what drink I could make for her…

The White Russian

July 5th, 2010

If you like drinks with a creamy, coffee taste, the White Russian is for you. Random pop-culture reminder: this was the favorite drink of Jeff Bridges’ character ‘the Dude’ in the 90’s Coen brothers movie “The Big Lebowski”. While ‘the Dude’ liked to enjoy this creamy cocktail at the bowling lanes, I find that it makes a great casino drink…it’s just the right atmosphere: sitting down to a blackjack table, ordering up a White Russian and going to town. Also, I don’t know too many bowling lanes that serve great cocktails, but I do know casinos that do. Next time you’re in Las Vegas, grab a White Russian and say “Hit me!” Not going to Vegas anytime soon? Go ahead and make one for yourself…it’ll be worth it. Here are the ingredients:

2 oz. vodka
1.5 to 2 oz. cream or milk
1/2 oz. coffee liqueur
(Kahlua is standard)

The Ingredients

Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker until cold. Strain the mixture into an ice-filled old fashioned glass.

The White Russian

You’ll also often see the vodka and Kahlua shaken and then placed in the glass with the milk or cream poured over top. The structure of the drink is a matter of personal preference, and using this method of building the drink in the glass is another example of using the glass to measure out the liquids rather than using the direct measurements I’ve given above. After a enjoying a good number of these White Russians, I find that the proportions above are appealing to me, but as always, you should experiment to find out what you like, and what appeals to whoever you’re making this drink for.

The Manhattan

July 1st, 2010

This cocktail is a classic. The Manhattan is a drink that predates the Martini as one of the first cocktails to introduce vermouth as a main ingredient in conjunction with the base liquor. Traditionally made with sweet vermouth, using bourbon as the base, the Manhattan is truly a one-of-a-kind cocktail that is smooth to the taste and easy on the eyes. The look of a balanced, well-constructed Manhattan is one that exemplifies class and sophistication. If you’re a single guy, and you see a girl at a fine drinking establishment enjoying one of these cocktails, it would be well worth your while to strike up a conversation…but beware: she may be out of your league.

The Manhattan was created in the late 1800’s at a time when Italian (sweet) vermouth was making its way into popular use on the cocktailian scene. Though it’s not quite clear who invented the drink, it’s likely that it was first created in New York City at an establishment named the Manhattan Club.

As with many cocktails that have been around for more than a century, the Manhattan has its variations. My preferred recipe is derived directly from Gary Regan’s “The Joy of Mixology”. I prefer Regan’s recipe for its incredible look, and the complex, yet smooth taste achieved with the perfect balance of ingredients. Here’s how it goes:

2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry

The Ingredients
(Don’t mind the bottle of Coppola Malbec in the corner…great bottle of wine though!)

Stir the liquid ingredients (including the bitters) in an ice-filled mixing glass or shaker. This is not a shaken cocktail. For the best results in terms of look and taste, stir the ingredients gently until cold.

Stir in an ice-filled glass or shaker

Add the cherry to a chilled cocktail glass, and pour the stirred mixture over the cherry.

Pour over the cherry garnish

And there you have it…the classic Manhattan. The drink that’s as thrilling as NYC, and just as intoxicating.

The Manhattan

How to rim a glass

June 28th, 2010

Rimming a cocktail glass is a simple task that can add a cool visual effect to your drinks while at the same time providing a unique taste and texture that is quintessential to a number of cocktails. Take the Sidecar, for example. Without the sugar rim, the Sidecar wouldn’t have the sweet finish that’s characteristic of the drink (too much sour without the balance of sweet). It also wouldn’t look as cool, and presentation is just as important as taste when we’re talking about quality cocktails. If the drink doesn’t look great, no one is going to expect it to taste great.

Alright, let’s get down to it. Here’s what you’ll need:

A cocktail glass
A small plate
A lemon or lime wedge
(usually whatever fruit is acting as the garnish on your cocktail)
The rimming ingredient (granulated sugar, salt, powdered sugar, whatever you want – be adventurous!)

Spread the rimming ingredient, whatever ingredient you want to end up on the rim of your glass, on the plate. Make a cut into the lemon/lime wedge so that you can easily slip the fruit onto the edge of the glass. The juice of the fruit will act as a sort of glue, allowing you to easily coat the glass with the rimming ingredient. We’ll say we’re using sugar for simplicity’s sake so I don’t have to keep saying “rimming ingredient”!

Insert the edge of your cocktail glass into the notch you just made on the fruit wedge, and apply the juice of the fruit all the way around the outside edge of the glass. You should wipe the juice of the fruit a 1/4″ to a 1/2″ down from the edge of the glass depending on how deep you want the sugar to extend. I say apply the juice of the fruit to the outside edge because the proper way to do this is to only apply the grains of sugar to the outside of the rim (you don’t want stray grains falling into the cocktail each time you take a sip).


Apply the fruit juice

Okay, now that you’ve readied the glass, it’s time to apply the sugar. Hold your cocktail glass sideways over the plate with the sugar so the outside edge of the glass is horizontal. Gently press the glass edge down into the sugar to apply the grains of sugar to the outside edge of the glass. Lift the glass back up and rotate to the next clear spot on the glass edge.

Apply the rimming ingredient

Do this until the entire edge of the glass is covered in sugar.

A sugar-rimmed glass

And there you have it…you’ve just learned a skill that could probably get you a part-time bartending gig at your local Applebee’s. Now go make a Sidecar or Margarita, or better yet, invent your own cocktail that uses a rimmed glass. Have fun!