Gin and Bear It

OK, I was trying too hard for a title for this post.

Yesterday my calendar had 2 recipes, both calling for gin. The first was a 'rose martini' - gin, cointreau, and rose water. (I was also instructed to float rose petals on top, but hell hasn't frozen over yet.) It was a little sweet from the cointreau for me, and the gin (admittedly Tanqueray's version with lime etc.) overpowered the rose water, a taste I like in other things.

The second one was a Newport cooler: gin, brandy, peach liqueur (I used peach nectar), lime juice, ginger ale. Not too bad as a spring/summer drink, but I'm a ginger ale fan anyway. My only complaint might be that no one taste really stood out except maybe the peach, and it did in a good way, it wasn't overpowering. This is a drink I might mix again for a picnic or cookout. It's also a good drink not to follow exact measurements: I just eyeballed the ingredients as I sloshed them into the glass, the best way to make a lot of drinks.

Catching Up

I'm still running behind on my drinking. Some of the drink recipes lately call for weird stuff that I don't keep on hand: chocolate syrup, 7-Up, ruby port.

I didn't drink any alcohol at all over the weekend. I'm either un-American (no label pin either) or Southern Baptist. But now that I have some anise-based liqueurs, one of these evenings I can get to the recipes from the last 4 months that call for those. And I have several champagne cocktails to attend to, and a bottle of Sekt in the fridge all ready; I just wasn't in the mood over the weekend. I went and saw 21 instead, with dreams of card counting dancing in my head.

So yesterday was the birthday of Harper Lee (played by Sandra Bullock at the movies), author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the recipe du jour was appropriately called Tequila Mockingbird. Silver tequila (I used Patron), creme de cacao of all things, and a splash of lime juice.

It didn't taste as chocolately as I thought it would with the creme de cacao; you just got brief notes from that. But I still don't like silver Patron; it doesn't taste clean to me, more like Acapulco mud. I wouldn't make this one again, or maybe with a different tequila.

The other drink last night was an Income Tax Cocktail, the recipe for April 15th. I made one of these with a slightly different recipe last February when I filed my taxes (the earliest in decades). Last night's version called for gin (I used Tanqueray; they have a great site at, OJ, both vermouths, a dash of bitters (I used Regan's orange), and one other thing that's hiding in a crevice of my brain at the moment.

Verdict: I think I liked the February version better. I'm not big on OJ drinks; OJ tends to overpower the other flavors, here a nice gin. And I could have done without the sweet vermouth, which also manages to slug every other flavor in the ring. A glass of Tanqueray with a splash of lime would have done better at hitting my wet spot. (Or is it a dry spot?)

Evening Coffee

Twice in the space of just a few days my cocktail of the day calendar has had a recipe that called for vodka and some kind of coffee liqueur. The first one took vodka (I used Stoli), creme de cacao, a little strong coffee (left-over cold from the morning pot), and Tia Maria. As I said in my review of coffee liqueurs the other day, I don't think Tia Maria is all the coffee-y, but it just added sweetness here. The drink wasn't bad, a good after-dinner drink. It had a nice combination of flavors.

Today's just called for vodka, Tia Maria, and a slosh of lemon juice. I substituted Starbux liqueur for a strong coffee kick. This one's less successful: even with the Starbux, and the tartness of the lemon for balance, it tastes like just a sweet vodka drink. If I'd used Tia Maria it really would have been sweet. Verdict: if you want a coffee taste in the evening, drink the real thing. You can always move on to something stronger.

Scotland Meets Japan

With a little England in the mix.

I picked up a single malt Scotch during my liquor buying spree last weekend. (Not Glenlivet or any other big name. Single and Scotch. Gotta watch out for those. Especially when they're drunk and wearing kilts.) I went back to a recipe from three months ago for a 'smoky martini': gin, a dab of scotch, and a drizzle of dry vermouth. I'd also refilled my gin supply, moving up in the world with a bottle of Tanqueray made with Indian Rangpur limes.

Verdict: not bad. The Scotch worked surprisingly well with the gin. I didn't have a twist of lemon sitting around to spritz in it, but the gin had the lime and stuff in it. The two ounces of gin called for in the recipe didn't make a very big drink though.

Then, later, I cracked open (twist top opened, actually) a bottle of sake I bought for a recipe I haven't made yet. I don't think I've had sake before. What's the brand? Dunno. Can't read the label. That's how I picked it out though (and the moderate price): the label design, in my scientific manner.

So what did I think of it? I drank it cold. Interesting taste. I'm not sure how I'd describe it. I bet it's good with seafood. Isn't everything? It didn't taste like rice, though I didn't put my usual butter and soy sauce in it, which is how I usually eat rice. I'll have to warm it up one of these days and see how I like it that way.

I Feel the Earth Move under My Feet

Last Friday morning I woke up with a start in the dark about 5:40. The bed was shaking. Or so I thought. I jumped out of bed and threw on a robe. Nothing else was shaking or on the floor. I turned on some lights and went downstairs. Damn, dude, what are you doing up so early, sayeth several dozy animals from their comfy spots on the couch, rug, chair, etc. My big dog, Maddie, looked a little spooked, but she may have just been startled that I was up so early.

But, anyway, Friday was also the hundred and umpteenth anniversary of the great San Francisco quake. Honoring the anniversary, my calendar had a recipe for a San Francisco cocktail: sloe gin, equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, a dash of Peychaud's bitters. I'd never had sloe gin (unless when I was drunk) to my knowledge before I started this cocktail marathon, and it's sort of growing on me.

The best I can do to describe the taste is cherry-ish. Wikipedia says that sloes are related to plums, but they don't taste plummy to me. They also say that most sloe gins today are just flavored neutral spirits, so no sloes gave their lives that I may wonder why. I wonder why Emily Dickinson didn't write that line.

The San Fran cocktail wasn't bad, pretty sweet, but cherry-sloey with the extra kick from the sweet vermouth. I also mixed up the amaretto sour recipe for the weekend: just 2 parts amaretto and 1 part lemon juice. I've liked these for a long while and mixed them up on rare occasions, albeit with sweet and sour mix from a bottle. No more. Amaretto and lemon juice: perfection. No cherry, just the sadder but wiser drink. Emily, meet Meredith Willson.

Keeping the Doctor Away

During my shopping spree yesterday I finally found calvados, so I pawned one of the cats and bought a bottle. It's Daron with a label entirely in French, no English for the barbarians. I know what the word FINE (in all caps) means.

I decided to do a second day of taste testing and see if this expensive all-French apple brandy is better than the all-American applejack I bought a few weeks ago.

Much as I hate to give a thumb's up to the nation of French fries and waffles (well, that's Belgium, but they speak French), I have to say that calvados has more of the soul of the apple than applejack. Or maybe that was just the seeds talking. You can smell apple when you pick up the glass, and it has a strong apple foundation. Probably not Granny Smith, since it's French.

With applejack, on the other hand, you don't get the apple sniff, and the apple taste is much more subdued, almost to the point of there not being one. It tastes more like a brandy and less like fermented apples. The calvados is lighter.

I'm not sure I'll be sipping calvados after dinner, but it would work great in a dessert and probably blend just as great in a cocktail. Or go good with French fries.

Shot of Joe

I've gotten behind on my drinking and blogging this week. But today, with a little more discretionary spending available, I went shopping in the big city (Louisville) and picked up some stuff I haven't been able to find locally and replenished my liquor closet.

I need Tia Maria for a recipe, and I stocked up on Kahlua, so I decided to taste test of coffee liqueurs, which gave me a good excuse to buy some Starbux liqueur. I've had the Starbux before (I think) but not Tia Maria.

First, the light test: Tia Maria is the lightest held up to light, Starbux the darkest. The tastes pretty much go along with the colors. Starbux is like their coffee: strong and potent, almost too much. I got a strong coffee smell sticking my nose in the shot glass. Kahlua has a note in it I can't identify, but it tastes more caramely than like coffee, too sweet without redeeming qualities. Tia Maria is stronger than the Kahlua but seems a little bitter to my taste buds.

Tia Maria comes from Jamaica and is made with Blue Mountain coffee beans. I remember when I was first getting into coffee after being weaned off milk that Blue Mountain beans were considered the best you could buy. Starbux doesn't have Blue Mountain beans for some strange corporate reason. According to wikipedia, Tia Maria was developed by some English guy after World War II. He invited the guys from his club to test the brews in his lab until he got one that met their approval. I bet they had a lot of fun before stumbling home every night.

My favorite? Starbux. It's too strong, like most of their products, but it packs a good kick o' Joe, and a little half and half should cut it over ice, just like it does their coffees.


Today's cocktail #1 is called a Tulip in honor of the birthday of Tiny Tim. If you're too young to remember him, consider it a good thing. Just pretend it's in honor of tulips coming into bloom. The other cocktail for the weekend calls for Sambuca, and you've read my feelings about licorice/anise, so it won't get a tasting.

The tulip calls for equal parts apple brandy (I used Applejack) and sweet vermouth, a little apricot brandy, a splash of lemon juice (which I forgot).

On first sip my initial thought was Yuck. I didn't know if I would be able to get it all down. (Maybe the lemon would help.) After another sip or two it started to grow on me, but the sweet vermouth was overpowering. Besides Manhattans, my main use for sweet vermouth is in cooking. (I used the dry version with some sausage and a leek and a couple eggs for supper tonight; the dogs agreed with me that it was very good.)

So I wouldn't recommend the tulip, though using Calvados and a little less vermouth (and remembering to splash your lemon) might make the difference.

Bacardi Cocktail

My recipe for yesterday was a Bacardi cocktail. It's simple enough: rum, lime juice, dash of grenadine.

For my first attempt I used 110 cane rum. So much for Bacardi. It was too limey for me, though I used the 1 oz of lime juice called for. And the rum taste was too strong. I know, you can never have too much of a rum taste.

For my second try, I used Bacardi gold and a tad less lime juice. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, since it is called a Bacardi cocktail, the less expensive stuff was better. Not as limey, not as rummy. I was surprised to get a jolt of grenadine as I reached the bottom. Being heavier, it sinks, I guess.

Verdict: not a bad drink, but for the ingredients you're using, you might as well order a margarita.


A couple days ago, the recipe on my calendar again called for Pernod - the author must really like licorice/anise - so I went looking in my bartender's guide and came up with something called a Manhandler, sort of a Long Island ice tea minus the Coke and a few other ingredients: equal parts bourbon, vodka, Southern Comfort, and sloe gin.

I have a new motto: if it sounds awful, it probably tastes awful too. This wasn't great. I drank about 2/3 of it and rinsed the rest down the drain. The sloe gin really didn't work for me.

However, yesterday's drink (I forget the name, and who cares anyway) called for gold rum, apricot brandy, creme de banana, lemon juice, and a dash of sloe gin. This one was much better. The banana and apricot flavors together gave it a bit of a chocolate taste (or maybe I was thinking of the flavors in a banana split; I should have added strawberry liqueur).

I guess I'm going to have to bite the bullet and buy a bottle of Pernod, or else I'll be missing out on half the recipes in this calendar. The rules (my rules) don't say I have to drink the whole thing once I make it. They also now say don't mix bourbon, SC, and vodka.

Pursuit of Perfection

The cocktail in my calendar over the weekend was a non-alcoholic one using a lemongrass syrup, so I skipped it. Lemongrass might be good in ice tea at some point, so I'll keep it on my list to try when the weather gets warmer.

Yesterday's recipe was for the perfect martini, in honor of the end of Prohibition 75 years ago. Actually, April 7 wasn't the formal end. The amendment to kill off the 19th didn't come into effect until late that year (1933). When FDR got into office (did he really go for 15 years without a martini or a manhattan? I don't believe it), he promptly had Congress pass a bill saying that 3.2 beer could be brewed. (The amendment, in typically poorly worded government style, hadn't specified what constituted an 'alcoholic' beverage.) Busch and others promptly fired up their factories and hopped to the task at hand.

A perfect martini calls for your base of choice and both dry and sweet vermouth. This recipe calls for gin 2 to 1 to the vermouth, an awful lot of vermouth. But I'm a guinea pig for science, so I followed their recipe. For drink #1, I used my Absolut Mandarin. Verdict: well, it's certainly a sweet martini. But I liked it. The sweet vermouth brings out the orange.

For drink #2 I used gin, same proportions. Verdict: OK, but the vodka one was better. Sometime, if I can ever locate Lillet, I'd like to try a martini with that (or Dubonnet blanc, which is available locally).

I don't think I'll make a habit of using sweet vermouth. I'll go back to shaking the bottle of dry vermouth over the shaker like holy water. You only need a drop. A really dry one is the soul of the martini.

Drink Pink

This must be pink cocktail week at my cocktail calendar. The cherry blossom drink the other day was pinkish from the cherry brandy (artificially colored, admittedly) and wrist or two of grenadine. I finally picked up some KeKe Lime Liqueur at my liquor mart yesterday and had the stuff I needed for a cocktail from a few days ago.

Ingredients: cachaca, Keke, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, grenadine. I wasn't a fan of cachaca in the cocktails that called for it earlier this year, but it isn't bad in this drink. Which is really pink from the grapefruit juice. The lemon juice didn't overwhelm the other flavors, and the KeKe added a subtle lime flavor. I've always been a fan of grapefruit juice, and I actually had one sitting around to freshly juice and produce yet more dirty dishes to wash.

I even noshed while I was sipping this and watching the War Channel (aka the Military Channel). I had some brazil nuts sitting around, left over from the holidays (Christmas, not Rio Mardis Gras), so I put them on a little baking tray, drizzled olive oil and sprinkled some sea salt on them, toasted them in the toaster oven. Good stuff. I bet you didn't think I knew you could eat food with a cocktail.

Cherry Blossom Time

The recipe a couple days ago was for a cherry something in honor of the cherry trees coming into bloom in Washington. Brandy, cherry brandy, cointreau, lemon juice, splash of grenadine.

Verdict: pretty good, but a little sweet for my tastes. Maybe using real kirsch instead of my "cherry-flavored brandy" would help, or leaving out the grenadine. (I saw ginger brandy at the liquor mart yesterday; I can't imagine...) A tad less lemon would probably help it too, perhaps a tad more to cut the sweetness. I wonder how this would be with Applejack or Calvados, though apple and cherry isn't a combination you see in the juice aisle. Worth trying sometime.

Ducking Mandarins

My cocktail of the day calendar prescribed a champagne cocktail for yesterday. Who drinks champagne on a weeknight? And I wasn't in the mood. So I pulled out my shiny new bottle of Absolut Mandarin (drinking my way through it as fast as I can so I can try Absolut Pear) and mixed up a couple drinks, not in quick succession.

The first was a recipe from the Absolut site called a Mandolito. It sounds like something that Sarah Jessica et al. will be drinking in the upcoming Triple Sec and the City movie. Absolut, lemon juice, simple syrup, float blue curacao.

Not bad, though too much lemon juice. That turns it into sort of a spiked lemonade, which may be the point.

I didn't see any other recipes on line that turned me on, or that I had all the ingredients for, so I stirred together (not wanting to mess with the shaker again) some Absolut, a big splash of Limoncello, and a couple dashes of orange bitters to cut the sweetness. And I even drank it on the rocks, though as I got towards the bottom I remembered why I don't like drinks on the rocks. Now they're saying you don't need 8 glasses of water a day anyway.

That was even better, though I'm not sure the bitters worked with it. Hey, it was an experiment. And I fell asleep as soon as I hit the pillow.

Jack & Jill Went Up the Hill

To get an orange martini.

Yesterday's recipe was for an orange martini. We'll skip the description of how I was supposed to play around with the rim first (sugar, etc.), since I didn't mess with it. I didn't have any orange vodka, just Stoli. Should I add a dash of orange flavoring? No, I'd better do it right. So I headed out to the liquor mart. Grey Goose orange? Good god, that goose must lay golden eggs. Burnett's orange vodka was cheap enough (and I like their gin). But the siren call of Absolut Mandarin beckoned.

Then there was the Lillet blanc. I haven't been able to find Lillet locally. So, though I'd better do it right, I just pulled out the dry vermouth. I did have the orange flower water. Shake, rattle, don't stir.

Verdict: well, I like my vodka freezer cold, and this drink was only cocktail shaker cold. The first couple of drinks I was thinking Yuk. Maybe Lillet would help. But, not wanting to pour $3 of Absolut down the drain, I kept drinking, and it grew on me. When I locate a bottle of Lillet I'll try it again. And do it right. No sugar on the rim though. Do Europeans drink cocktails designed for preschoolers?

Today's recipe is a Jack in the Box (what was I saying about preschoolers?). Applejack, pineapple juice, splash of lemon, dash of bitters (I used orange). It's simple enough, and not bad, but I bet Calvados would work better, and the larger liquor emporium that I patronize is suddenly carrying it - maybe because I asked if they had it a couple months ago? But at $38 a pop, Mr. Jack can just wait on it. There's also a Jill in the Something drink for today, but she's a member of MADD (nonalcoholic), so we'll leave that one for another, dry, day.